Act IV


The guard opens the gate, and I walk down the hallway to Chapel's glassed-in cell. It's early, barely six am, and the son of a bitch is lying on his cot, looking like he hasn't a care in the world. Well, I'm here to rattle his cage and put him on notice. "Hello, Warren."

He turns his head slightly toward me, but doesn't get up. "Do we know each other?"

"How'd you manage to get out of your cell last night? My guess is that it's somebody who works here."

I hear his heart rate speed up slightly, but when he answers me, his voice is calm. "You must be mistaken. I only go out of my cell for therapy sessions."

"Someone saw you, Warren."

Another spike in the heart rate, and his tone hints of restrained anger. "Who? That little weasel, Sandburg?"

I play dumb. "Who? Name doesn't ring a bell. You're killing people in my city, and I'm going to stop it."

As I walk away, I can hear him say, "Nice talking to you."


When I get home, Blair's sitting on the sofa, going through what I recognize as the personnel files from Conover. From his room, I can hear the sounds of Cassie stirring. "She still here?" I ask, even though I know the answer.

Blair looks up at me with a smile as I head to the coffeepot in the kitchen. "Yeah, I woke up a while ago, but figured I'd let her sleep. She needs it."

I pour two cups of coffee and bring one to Blair, handing it to him over the back of the couch. I study the file he's reading over his shoulder. "You know, Chief, you're going above and beyond the call on this one. I mean, somebody else could be doing this work here."

He takes a sip of his drink, then shakes his head. "No. Uh-uh. I want this one. This guy, he tried to kill me, man." His gaze wanders to the still-closed French doors. "And he's got Cassie thinking she's losing her mind. It's all just fun and games to him, you know? I'm going to find out who he's calling."

I take a seat on the sofa arm. "Well, how's it going?"

Sighing, he says, "It's going pretty slow. I mean, these things are really detailed. Take this guy, Jed Harris. 'Draft pick, NFL third round. Injured his leg in a car accident. Ruined his career.' Even with all this extensive information here, I'm still looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack."

"Make that two needles: the one Chapel was talking to, and the one who let him out of his cell."

The door to Blair's room opens and Cassie appears in the doorway, yawning. "God, Blair, why'd you let me sleep in? I should have been at work hours ago. Captain Banks is going to be pissed." She notices me. "Hey, Jim."

Setting the files down, Blair gets up from his seat and walks over to her. "It's okay. I called Simon this morning, told him you were going to be helping Jim and me all day." He slips his arms around her waist and leans in for a kiss. When they part, he asks, "How are you feeling this morning?"

"Better. No more nightmares." She slips her hand behind his neck, and returns his intimate greeting.

I can see where this is going, and busy myself with reading over one of the files. A few minutes later, Blair sits down next to me again. I look up to see Cassie's disappeared, and I hear water running in the bathroom. After a bit, she reappears and heads toward us. I vacate the seat next to Sandburg and start for the kitchen. "Coffee?" I ask as I pass her.

"Yes, please, that would be great. Black." She sits down beside Blair and picks up one of the files. "These the personnel files?"

"Yep, a whole mess of 'em," he responds. "They're all checking out, though."

"I have two teams doing interviews," I say from the kitchen, "--friends, relatives…nothing out of the ordinary yet." I return to the living area and hand Cassie a mug. "Here you go."

"Thanks." She takes a sip, puts down the folder she was looking at and picks up another. "You guys, I think I know her. Her name wasn't Alex Walsh either."

I lean over the back of the couch to study the photo of a woman with her hair pulled back in a military-type bun. "Who is she?"

Cassie sets the file down and cradles the coffee mug in both hands, closing her eyes. "Okay, Chapel's first victim was a guy by the name of Luther Van Owen. He was a petty thief. He'd robbed and killed this gas station owner, and he walked on a technicality. The gas station owner had a sister. She'd just gotten out of the army. God, what was her name?" Frustration is apparent on her face.

"It'll come to you. Keep going," I urge.

She sighs. "Okay, okay, when Chapel was arrested and was put on trial, she was there every single day. She was absolutely fixed on this guy. God, what was her name?" Blair pats her knee, and her eyes fly open. "Janine! Janine Carpenter! That's it!"

Grabbing the file from her, I head toward the door.

"Jim, where are you going?" Blair asks.

"Down to the station. This is the first real break we've gotten in this case. Thanks, Cassie." She smiles at me, and Blair gives her a hug as I head out the door.


After a couple hours on the phone, I've found out more than I want to know about our suspect. Catching up with Simon in the hallway, I fill him in. "Janine Carpenter was discharged from the army because of a psychological imbalance."

Simon shakes his head. I know what he's thinking--Cascade seems to be a magnet for all the nutballs in the world. "What was her specialty?"

"Communications. The army taught her how to shoot a gun, fight with her hands, and tap into phone lines."

The captain rolls his eyes. "'Be all that you can be.' All right, let's bring her in."

"Very good, sir." I head off to organize a strike team. Given her background, Carpenter can only be considered armed and dangerous.


I pull the truck to a stop outside Carpenter's house. Other squad cars and the S.W.A.T van surround the building. I glance over at Blair as I adjust my headset radio, then make sure my vest is securely fastened. "This should be by the numbers, but just in case, keep your head down."

He looks a little alarmed, but says, "Thanks for the tip," as I get out of the truck. I check in with Simon, then direct the team to take their places.

When I'm sure everyone's ready, I key on my mike. "All right, let's move out. Go! Go!" Drawing my weapon, I lead the raid on the house, heading up the driveway while the rest of the squad approaches the house from all sides.

Without warning, all our best-laid plans go to hell. One of the heavily armored S.W.A.T. members steps onto the lawn, triggering an explosion. It sets off a chain reaction, and suddenly dirt and shrapnel and men are flying everywhere. There's nothing I can do but yell helplessly for them to get down, to get back.

In the midst of this is the roar of an engine as a lime green Volvo bursts through the closed garage door of Carpenter's house. It's coming straight at me and I dive out of the way, taking another officer with me. Rolling up to one knee, I squeeze off a couple shots to no avail. The car speeds away parallel to the line of cop cars. The muzzle of a gun protrudes from the driver's side window, and automatic weapons fire strafes the cruisers.

I take aim again, this time using my sight to draw a bead on the back of the car. I'm aiming for the rear tire, but the driver swerves and my bullet hits the gas tank. The explosion sends the Volvo into a roll. It comes to land on its roof.

I can hear Simon yelling about officers down as I trot toward the vehicle. For a moment, I entertain the notion that someone might still be alive. Then the second blast blows it apart.


It's much, much later when I convene with Simon in his office. In the midst of directing the clean-up and transport of our injured to the hospital, he told me he received a phone call from Dr. Burke just as we started the raid, saying Chapel had escaped from Conover. With any luck, it was Chapel in the car with Carpenter.

I'm filling Simon in on what we found at the scene. "She had the whole perimeter mined. It's a miracle we didn't lose more men."

Banks nods, his expression grim. The loss of one man is one too many. "Amen to that. What about the bodies inside the car?"

"Wolf is trying to get some dental records on them. The heat and velocity of the explosion will make a conclusive ID nearly impossible."

"Yep. His report said he sent metal fragments over to Cassie's lab for analysis. There is one thing he is sure about, though: there was a man and a woman inside that car."

"We're going under the assumption that Chapel made it to the house before we did."

Leaning back in his chair, Simon pulls out a cigar. "Well, this whole thing probably has Cassie breathing a lot easier."

I shake my head. "I doubt she'll feel safe until she knows for sure. Chapel really did a number on her. She and Sandburg are at the loft now. I'm going to pick them up for a little late-night chow. You want to join us?"

He waves at the pile of paperwork on his desk. "Oh, no. I've got to wade through this. I'll take a rain check, though."

"You got it. Check with you later." I start to leave, but something he said nags at me. "Sir, did you say that Wolf sent metal fragments over to Cassie's lab?"

He gives me a puzzled look. "Yeah, why?"

"There's something I want to check out. I'll talk to you later." Exiting the office, I head downstairs to forensics.

Once inside the lab, I go looking for the evidence from Carpenter's house. Finding it lying out on one of the workbenches, I go through the plastic bags, looking for anything that seems like it doesn't belong. Finding the one containing the metal fragments, I open the bag and remove them. Rolling them around in my hands, I explore the texture. It's smooth and fine, not what I'd expect from an auto part. Bringing a piece to my nose, I sniff. Doesn't smell like steel. Smells like…Sandburg's glasses? His frames are made of titanium, which resists corrosion from skin oils and sweat.

Reaching for the phone, I dial Conover.

<Dr. Burke.>

"Dr. Burke, this is Jim Ellison."

<I was just heading out the door.>

I turn the shard of metal over in my fingers. "I need to know something. Did Warren Chapel have any major surgery where a bone would've been replaced by a titanium rod?"

<No.>

"You sure about that?"

<I'm positive. He had a complete physical examination when he got here. There were no surgical scars.>

I flash back to Blair reading aloud from the personnel files that morning. "There was a guard named Harris who was in a car accident. What about him?"

There's a pause, then he says, <Actually, as I remember, he had a hip replacement. It's interesting you should ask about him.>

"Why is that?"

<Well he never showed up for the night shift. Nobody seems to know where he is.>

If alarms weren't going off in my head before, they are now. "Thanks," I say, and slam the phone down. Chapel's alive and on the loose. And the first person he's going to go after is Cassie.


Leaning against the counter in the loft's kitchen, I admire the view. Blair cleans up well. His back is to me as he adds coffee into the top of the coffee maker. "Cassie, you going to want some of this?"

I shake my head. "No, I don't think I want any more coffee. I'd like to be able to sleep tonight for the first time since this whole thing started."

Turning around, he comes over to me, resting his hands on my waist. "You sure sleeping is what you really want to do tonight?" He raises one eyebrow at me suggestively and I laugh.

God, it feels so good to laugh, good enough that I catch his face between my hands and kiss him. Blair kisses back, and for several moments the nightmare of the past few days is forgotten.

The lights go out.

I break away from him, panic seizing me. "Blair…"

"Just relax. It's probably just a fuse." As soon as the words are out of his mouth, the lights come back on. "See that?"

"Who reset the breaker? Blair, you've got to cut the power to disarm the security system."

Giving me a worried look, he grabs my hand and starts pulling me toward the hallway. "Get in the back, quick."

But before we can reach the door to the fire escape in his room, a figure dressed in black and wearing a ski mask steps through the French doors, the gun in his hand pointed at us. Reaching up, he pulls off the mask.

"Hello, Cassie," Chapel hisses.


Speeding toward the loft, I'm arguing with dispatch over the radio. "The operator said the phone was out of order."

<We're waiting for the utility company.>

Damn it, I don't have time for this. Chapel's with Blair and Cassie right now! "I don't have time to wait. Now get me some backup! I'm almost there."

<All right. All units to 852 Prospect…>

I press the accelerator to the floor.


Chapel forces me to tie Blair to one of the kitchen chairs, then he does the same to me. He tightens the ropes binding my wrists, then rests his gun on my shoulder as he presses his lips close to my ear. "You're getting to be a real nuisance, Cassie. You killed someone I cared about. She was an extension of me…and you tore her away."

"Your friend killed herself," Blair snaps.

Chapel turns his attention to Blair, moving to stand in front of him. "I don't think I was talking to you!" Without warning, he raises his arm and backhands Blair across the face. His head rocks back from the blow, but he doesn't make a sound. "I was right about you, wasn't I? You are Cassie's little friend."

Blair's tongue flicks out to taste his split lip. "Yeah, well, you remember my friend, don't you? He's coming here."

Grabbing a fistful of Blair's hair, Warren yanks his head back. Sticking the gun in his waistband, he wraps his fingers around Blair's throat. "That's what I'm counting on." He tightens his grip, and Blair begins to struggle.

"Warren, stop it!" I yell.

"Sorry, Cassie, I'm going to have some fun. I haven't had fun in a very long time."

Blair's choking and gasping, rocking the chair, all to no avail. When his eyes start to roll back in his head, Chapel finally releases him. Blair bends forward, his chest heaving.

"Warren, please, leave him alone. He's not part of this, not part of you and me."

He pulls Blair up by the hair again and punches him in the stomach. What little air was in Blair's lungs rushes out with a wheeze. "Oh, no. He's a part of this all right." He puts his foot on the bottom rung of the chair to keep it from moving, then strikes Blair in the face. He groans.

I'm straining at my bonds, tears running down my face. "Stop it! Stop it! Leave him alone. Please, please, Warren…"

He hits Blair again. Blood begins to run from his nose. "That's it, Cassie, beg. If you beg prettily enough, I might stop."

"Please, Warren, please," I cry. "I'll do whatever you want, just stop hurting him."

That seems to interest him, and he lets go of Blair, who moans and gags, spitting out blood.

Chapel walks over to me, taking my chin in his hand. "Tell me more, Cassie. What do you have to offer?"

Swallowing hard, I manage to whisper, "Why don't the two of us just take off, huh? Just me and you. You don't need Sandburg. What's the point in killing him? It's me you want."

Chuckling evilly, Chapel shakes his head. "That would be too simple. This is the best part of the game." Letting go of me, he goes back to Blair. "I'm going to work on your friends--" Grasping Blair's left hand, he takes hold of his little finger and yanks it back. The snap is loud as a gunshot, and Blair shrieks. "--and let you live with the memories, knowing that one day I'll visit you again." Chapel pulls his gun and begins to stalk through the loft. "So where's our hero?"

"Oh god, oh god. Blair…" I lean toward him. "Blair…" With an effort, he lifts his head to look at me. One eye is nearly swollen shut, and blood is still flowing from his nose and his lip. He blinks, and a tear slips down his cheek.

"So'kay, Casssie, so'kay," he whispers in an attempt to comfort me. It only makes me cry harder.


Pulling up to the loft in the truck, I turn off the ignition and start to get out when I hear the sound of a fist meeting flesh, and Cassie's near hysterical pleading.

<Stop it! Stop it! Leave him alone! Please, please Warren…>

Cold rage flows through my veins. Starting the truck up again, I move it to underneath the fire escape. Jumping into the bed, I grab hold of the bottom rung of the ladder and pull myself up. Bypassing the exit into Sandburg's room, I continue up to my bedroom window. Raising it, I scramble over the sill.

Drawing my gun, I'm creeping across my bedroom when Blair screams. My icy calm turns to red-hot fury and without a second thought, I leap over the railing with a roar to land on top of Chapel. My weapon is lost in the impact but it doesn't matter. We struggle, Chapel managing to get off a few wild shots, before I pound his head into the floor.

"Jim! Jim! JIM! Stop! He's out! Stop! You have to help Blair!"

Cassie's words finally get through to me, and I let Chapel's limp body drop. Getting to my feet, I hurry to Blair's side. He's slumped in the chair, unconscious, his breathing ragged. Quickly I free him, easing him carefully onto the floor, using the sleeve of my shirt to clear the blood from his mouth and nose. "God, Chief, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner."

A sob from Cassie makes me look up into her haunted eyes. "Is he…he's okay, right? He's going to be okay?"

Backup in the form of Simon and the S.W.A.T team picks that moment to break down the front door. "Medic!" I yell, "I need a medic over here!" Then I'm forced to vacate my spot next to Sandburg, to watch helplessly as the paramedics prepare him for transport to the hospital while Cassie sobs quietly in the background.


Standing outside the door of Blair's hospital room, peering around the door jam, I gather up my courage and knock quietly. Even though he's lying on top of the covers, dressed and ready to check out, his eyes are closed, and if he's truly asleep, I don't want to wake him. His eyes open at the sound and he gestures for me to come in, then pats the space on the bed beside him.

I cross the small room slowly, not sure I'm welcome, but needing to see him one last time. He looks worse now than he did bleeding and choking on the loft's floor. The whole left side of his face is a mottled black and purple, his left eye only partially open. A splint is taped in place on his left pinky, and a black and blue mark from an I.V. needle mars the back of his hand. There are invisible injuries as well, two broken ribs, apparent only when he shifts against the pillows, then winces.

"Hey," I say softly.

He gives me a brilliant smile and pats the bed again.

"No, I shouldn't. I can't stay, and besides, I'll probably hurt you."

"Please?" he asks, his voice a hoarse whisper.

I sit down, my heart breaking. I don't want to do this, but better now, before he starts to really care. I'm far enough over that line for both of us.

His uninjured hand grasps mine, squeezing gently. It's a struggle to hold back the tears. "I can't stay long," I state.

Blair gives me a puzzled look, then says, "But I want you to stay. I've hardly seen you the past two days. Simon got you working overtime? After what we went through he should at least give you some time off."

I shake my head. "No, no, not working. I just needed to do some thinking."

He catches a glimpse of my reason for being here then, but chooses not to ask the question I know is on his lips. Instead he says, "Jim told me this morning that Chapel's being sent to another facility out of state. Bet you're glad the whole thing is finally over."

I look down at his hand in mine, running my thumb over his knuckles. "I'm sorry, Blair, but it's never going to be over. Chapel escaped once. There's no guarantee it won't happen again."

When I meet his eyes again, Blair seems to be studying me, staring into my soul. "You're leaving, aren't you? That's what you came to tell me, that's why you can't stay," he says, his voice roughened further with emotion.

I can only nod in reply.

He lets go of my hand to touch my cheek. "Cassie, this isn't the answer. If you start running now, you'll be running forever. Believe me, I know."

I'll keep running the rest of my life, if it'll keep you safe. But I don't voice those words aloud. Instead, I answer, "For me it is. You would have never been hurt if you didn't know me. Chapel knows what that did to me, knows how to hurt me through you."

"So what? You think if you're not here that he won't come after me? That's assuming he gets the chance to escape again. I don't buy it, Cassie."

Rising from the bed, I pace the floor. "If I'm not here, he doesn't have an audience, and that's what he wants most of all. He gets off on watching me watch you suffer. Don't you think I've thought long and hard about this? I have to leave, to disappear."

"Spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder?"

"Yes! If that's what it takes!" I wipe at the tears starting to fall.

Blair gazes at me sadly. "Then he wins."

"It's not about winning or losing, Blair. It's about me doing what I have to to keep myself, to keep the people I care about safe."

He's silent for a moment, then says so quietly I have to approach the bed to hear him, "Isn't there anything I can say to change your mind, to make you want to stay?"

"No," I reply firmly, but of course I'm lying. There's one thing he could say that would make me reconsider, but both of us know he's not ready for that yet, and I'm not going to ask him to lie to me. "I've made up my mind, Blair."

He considers that, then says, "Okay, I can respect that." Blair holds out his hand to me. "Can I at least give you a goodbye kiss?"

Nodding, I sit on the bed again. Putting his arms around me, he gives me a careful hug. I squeeze back gently, then kiss him tenderly on the lips. It's too short, and too soft, but I've already hurt him enough. "Goodbye, Blair." I leave the room and don't look back.


Cassie's been gone maybe five minutes when Jim arrives to take me home. "Hey, Chief, you ready to go?"

I swing my legs over the edge of the bed. "Yeah, man, way more than ready."

Jim grabs me by my good elbow and gives me a lift up. "I saw Cassie's van in the parking lot, had a U-Haul attached to it. She moving?"

I laugh bitterly. "Yeah, right out of my life."

His eyes narrow, and if I didn't know Cassie was on her way out of town, I'd fear for her safety. "She dump you, Chief?"

The lump in my throat grows big enough that it takes a couple extra seconds to force the words past it. "No, not really," I reply sadly. "She's leaving out of guilt, mostly. She blames herself for what Chapel did to me. She has you beat in the guilt trip department, hands down." I smile up at him, trying to convince both of us that it's not a big deal.

Jim simply grunts noncommittally and grabs my small duffel bag.

But later, when we've ridden halfway home in silence, he asks, "Do you think there's anything I could have said to her to convince her to stay? You know guilt tripee to guilt tripee?"

I chuckle a tiny bit--anything more than that hurts. "No, man. Cassie had her mind made up. I maybe could have convinced her though, if I'd told her I love her."

Coming to a stop at a light, Jim glances over at me. "Do you?"

I shrug. "I don't know. I thought what I felt for her could turn into that, but I wasn't there yet. So I didn't tell her. Didn't want to say it, and have it turn out to be a lie, you know? She's been through enough, we both have. Better to quit now, before a breakup would be really painful."

"Hmm," is Jim's answer to that.

I have a feeling he knows I'm lying about the not being painful part.


Sandburg's already in bed and long asleep when I make my round of the loft, checking to make sure the doors and windows are locked. I pause in the open doorway to his room and just watch him sleep for a moment. He's restless; he never wants to take enough pain pills to do more than take the edge off. The comforter slips halfway off the bed onto the floor, and I walk over, picking it up and tucking it around him again.

Cassie's not the only one with something to feel guilty about. I screwed up, big time. I did the one thing a cop should never do--I made an assumption with no basis in fact. The man in the car with Carpenter could have been anyone, yet I assumed it was Chapel, and that Blair and Cassie were safe from someone who had tried once before to kill them both. My mistake nearly cost them their lives.

Hell, it cost Blair someone he cared about. So what if he didn't love her? Didn't mean he didn't need her as a friend.

And I know what it's like to need a friend.

Pausing in the doorway as I leave, I whisper, "I'm sorry, Chief. I'll do better next time."


The end


 

Act III