William Ellison's House – 10:30 am

//Well, the key to my survival was never much in doubt. The question was how I could keep sane trying to find a way out. Things were never easy for me. Peace of mind was hard to find. And I needed a place where I could hide.//

Jim snorted. Tell me about it, Phil. Annoyed, he silenced the radio. He was getting sick of that song.

As he stopped the truck in front of his father's house, he admitted it still looked the same. Perfect. Imposing. Impressive. Just the sort of house that gave the impression it housed the successful all-American family.

Jim snorted and remembered…

Jimmy Ellison forced himself to eat breakfast. His stomach was fluttering wildly in anticipation of the championship game that afternoon. But he knew his father would be angry if he didn't eat the proper breakfast. He glanced to where his father sat reading the financial pages of the local newspaper and calculated if he could slip part of his bacon onto his brother's plate. He decided not to even try when he saw Stevie's smirk.

Sally, their housekeeper, appeared from the kitchen with more coffee for his father. "It looks like it's going to be perfect weather for the game, Jimmy."

"Just make sure you come home with a trophy, right, kiddo?" William Ellison glanced at his elder son.

"I'm going to try," Jimmy promised.

"Just remember, winning isn't everything," Sally gently spoke.

"It's how you play the game." Both Jimmy and Stevie recited with giggles.

"Correction." William folded his newspaper and pointed his forefinger at his sons. "Winning isn't everything…it's the only thing. Don't ever forget that."

Shaking his head, Jim pushed the memories aside and got out of the truck. As he walked to the door, he saw his father's neighbor stare at the truck then at Jim before turning to go back inside his house.

You're making some sort of statement, right? Some sort of anti-establishment thing?

Shut up, Steven, Jim silently told his absent brother as he knocked on the front door.

//What would I do if we passed on the street? Would I keep running away? Soon I'd have to face the facts. We'd have to sit down and talk it over. And that would mean going back.//

The door opened a few seconds later, and both men stared at each other in surprise.

//He sat me down to talk to me. He looked me straight in the eyes. And said…//

"Jimmy." William Ellison's face broken into a hesitant smile. "It's been a while."

"Yeah, Dad," Jim admitted. "Can I come in?"

"Sure, of course." William opened the door and stepped aside. "You look good."

He looks old. Jim looked around. "You, too. Place looks the same."

William half-smiled. "Come on upstairs." He led the way from the foyer up a half-dozen steps to the living room.

"How's Sally?" Jim asked.

William genuinely smiled. "Older, like the rest of us." He stared at his son. "She'll be sorry she missed you. She's out shopping."

Jim resisted the urge to squirm. "Well, tell her 'hello' for me, okay?"

William nodded. "Sit down, Jimmy."

"This isn’t a social call, Dad. I'm working on a case," Jim explained.

William frowned. "The stranglings? I read about them in the paper."

"I thought you only read the financial pages," Jim said before he could stop himself.

"You think it's the same person?" William asked after a moment. "After all these years?"

"We're not sure," Jim admitted. He forced his stiff shoulder muscles to relax. "I…um…I could use your help."

"Of course." William nodded. "Whatever I can do."

"I need any old pictures or clippings you might have from that time period," Jim explained. "I know you…Sally kept scrapbooks and stuff."

William nodded. "Everything that old is packed away upstairs. Your scrapbooks are in your room."

Following his father upstairs, Jim fought to keep his breathing even. Wonder if this is why Steven's gotten back with the old man? Old man! I never thought my father would be an old man. Grey hair…slower step…slight shortness of breath after climbing the stairs... He stopped at the door to his old room before following William inside.

As his father opened the closet door and began moving boxes around, Jim swore he saw a glimpse of his younger self sitting at the small desk doing homework, lying on the bed staring up at the ceiling, listening to…

"What exactly are you looking for?" William asked from inside the closet. As he turned around, he had a large box in his hands.

"Here, Dad, I'll get that." Jim automatically took the box and sat it on the bed. "So many things in this case happened a long time ago. I thought that maybe some of this stuff would jog my memory." He opened the box and began putting items on the bed.

William smiled and picked up a photo of Jim and Steven in the back yard with model airplanes in their hands. "Look at this. Remember? Steven and his air force." He chuckled. "He'd spend all day building these things and then you boys would take them outside and have dog fights." He shook his head. "We had some good times, didn't we?"

"Did we?" Jim coolly asked, not even glancing at the picture in his father's hands.

William sighed. "Come on, Jimmy. I admit was a preoccupied with work. But I had a job to do and did the best I could."

Jim stared down at a photo in his hands. It was 1973…the day of the championship football game. Both teams were lined up, facing the camera with a mixture of smiles, pride, and determination. And he remembered….

Jimmy Ellison rode his bicycle slowly enough that his little brother could keep up on his smaller bike. He listened to Stevie's chatter with half an ear as he thought about the up-coming game.

The park was just ahead, and most of the players and parents were already there. Suddenly two boys blocked their way.

"Watch where you're going, rich boy," the taller of the boys sneered. "You don't own the park."

Stevie confidently leaned forward. "Jimmy's gonna kick your butt, Aaron."

"You can't buy this trophy, punk." Aaron shoved Stevie's bike back a few inches. "You've got to earn it."

Jimmy quickly kicked the bike's kickstand down and started to get off his bike.

"Okay, players! Gather 'round!" One of the parents shouted. "Time for the official photograph!"

"Take my bike over there, Stevie," Jim ordered. He saw the troubled expression on his little brother's face and patted his shoulder. "It's okay."

"Kick his butt good, Jimmy," Stevie ordered.

Jimmy nodded with a quick grin then ran to join his teammates.

"Everybody get closer," the photographer urged. "Now, let's get the proud parents in as well. Stand next to your sons, people! That's it…big smile!"

Jimmy couldn't smile…feeling the empty space behind him.


Jim slowly looked at his father, then handed him the picture. "What's missing in this picture?"

Simon's Office – 10:42 am

"I tried to diffuse it as much as possible, but this has gotten out of hand, Sandburg! Jim just can't go around shoving reporters without provocation!" Simon snapped as he stalked into his office.

Aware of several sympathetic looks from the detectives in the bullpen, Blair carefully closed the door of Simon's office behind him. "It wasn't much of a shove," he pointed out. "And it wasn't totally without provocation. That jerk asked Jim if he was responsible for Wayne Hollow committing suicide."

Simon sat down behind his desk with a sigh. "As much as I can sympathize, we could be looking at a lawsuit." He glared at Blair who stood nervously on the other side of the desk. "And you have to admit this entire case has gotten Jim completely off his game." He looked down at the files on his desk. "Considering his past involvement in this case and with this turning into a media circus, it's gotten too personal for him. I may have to pull him off it."

"Simon, you can't do that!" Blair objected.

Simon raised his eyebrows and stared coldly at the young observer.

"Well, okay, you can," Blair quickly admitted. "But…Simon, you can't!" When Simon grunted, he continued. "It's personal for the killer, too, Simon. He's the one who's shoving all this at Jim. And serial killers, you know they never do anything impulsively. Every action has a reason." He took a deep breath. "Like it or not, Jim's a part of the case. The killer won't let him stay out of it."

Simon sighed. "I know. That's why I haven't pulled him yet." He pointed at Blair. "But he can't go around assaulting reporters." He turned around to pour a cup of coffee. "Too bad it wasn't Haas. Man gets on my last nerve on a good day!"

Blair tried not to smile. "Any idea who the reporter was?"

Simon shook his head. "He didn't look familiar. Maybe a free-lancer." He looked up as someone knocked on the door. "What?!"

Detective Henri Brown apologetically smiled. "Sorry to interrupt, but there's a call for Sandburg on line 3."

"Sandburg!" Simon barked. "You know how I feel about personal calls!"

Blair held his hands up in defense.

"It's a Monica Leonard," Henri briskly explained. "She says she was Robert McCain's student assistant."

"Yes!" Blair hissed. "Simon, this could be important."

Simon motioned towards his phone and nodded in dismissal to Henri.

Blair picked up Simon's phone and activated the speaker. "Monica? This is Blair Sandburg. Thanks for calling me back. I'm with Captain Simon Banks of Major Crimes."

"Ms. Leonard, I understand you were Robert McCain's assistant," Simon gently spoke. "And you've been out of town?"

"Um…yes." The girl's voice was soft and mournful. "I'd gone home for a long weekend for my parents' anniversary."

"Cool. Which anniversary?" Blair made 'shooing' motions at Simon who was frowning at him.

"Twenty-five." Monica's voice brightened. "Can you believe two people being together that long?"

"It's very commendable," Simon admitted. "Is there anything you can tell us about Dr. McCain's project on serial killers?"

"Well, not too awfully much," Monica answered. "I don't know exactly where he was going with the project as a whole. But he'd become very interested in the Country Club Stranglings. He'd devoted a lot of time to it." There was a rustling noise. "But something really weird happened."

"What was that?" Simon frowned.

"Well, he'd done a video interview with this guy…an old man who was really ill," Monica explained. "I mean, he was terminal, you know? So Dr. McCain videotaped it rather than rely on notes or an audio recording. He seemed to think it was really important to have a visual record."

"Who was the man?" Simon reached for his pen.

"Foster. Mick Foster," Monica recalled. "I wasn't there for the interview. Dr. McCain did it on his own."

"So what's the weird thing?" Blair gently asked.

"Well, Dr. McCain wanted copies of the tape," Monica explained. "He went to the Theater Arts Department to get it copied, but their dubbing equipment was down for repair. I've got a friend who owns a video store so Dr. McCain left the tape there. My friend was going to copy the tape and then drop it off at my mailbox where I live. They were there when I got back this morning."

Simon frowned at the pause. "And?" he urged.

"Three of them, just like Dr. McCain wanted." Monica's voice shook. "But when I put them in the VCR, they were blank. I thought, you know, my VCR had gone on the fritz. So I tried a friend's VCR. Same thing. So I took it to the Theater Arts Department to try their VCRs. I tried two of them and all of the tapes are blank. One of the guys here says they've been degaussed."

"What?" Simon looked at Blair.

"Electronically erased," Blair admitted with a wince.

"And there was this envelope stuck between two of the tapes," Monica added. "I thought it was just a mix-up until the guys at the Theater Arts told me about Dr. McCain. They recognized the name on the envelope."

"Who's name, Monica?" Blair demanded, bouncing on his toes.

"It says Jimmy Ellison."

"Where are you now, Ms. Leonard?" Simon quickly asked.

"Ummm…the Theater Arts Department. There are a lot of people here," Monica hesitantly answered.

"Detective Ellison will be there shortly," Simon promised. "Until then, please stay there."

"Okay," Monica promised in soft voice.

Simon disconnected the call and got to his feet. "Sandburg, get Ellison on the phone. The two of you get over there and get those tapes and envelope." He threw open the office door. "Brown! I need you to check out a video store!"

William Ellison's House – 10:47 am

William studied the picture with a frown. He gently traced the face of his son who stared at the camera with an expression of determination that seemed out of place on such a young face.

He'll never get it. With a frown, Jim returned his attention to emptying the boxes. He saw several scrapbooks marked 'Jimmy' and opened one. Flipping past school pictures, he saw the newspaper account of Bud's death. And he remembered….

"Okay, guys, this is the last play." Jimmy Ellison seriously looked at his teammates. "We gotta stop 'em." When the other boys nodded, he put his hand out. "One. Two. Three! VIKINGS!"

They broke from their huddle and ran to the line of scrimmage. Seconds later, the opposing team faced them. Jimmy knelt across the line from Aaron.

"It ain't over yet, rich boy," Aaron promised.

"You shouldn't 've pushed my little brother," Jimmy muttered.

Aaron sneered as his quarterback called the play. "Bears! Red 57! Set! Set! Hike!"

The players rushed at each other. The quarterback faked to his left then spun around to throw the ball to Aaron who began running down the field. Several of the defensive players tired to catch Aaron but missed.

Jimmy caught a glimpse of Aaron's smirk as he changed direction. Determination flashed across his small face as his legs pumped. With one eye on Aaron and the other on the rapidly approaching goal line, Jimmy lowered his head and ran faster. Ten yards from the goal line, he tackled Aaron, bringing him down.

Yells of delight from the Vikings' sideline mixed with moans from the Bears' sideline. Jimmy's teammates ran up to them and began hugging each other.

"Yeah!" Jimmy pumped both fists into the air. "All right! Yeah!" Looking past his teammates, he saw Stevie on the sideline also jumping up and down, screaming his head off. He turned, looking at the bleachers, but didn't see Bud. He felt his smile faltering even as his teammates pulled him towards center field.

The winning team had their team photo taken then they shook hands with the losing players. Jimmy and Aaron glared at each other as they barely touched fingers. Then the game ball was presented to Jimmy.

Jimmy's eyes widened as he thought about how proud his father would be. Not only was he bringing home the championship and trophy, but the game ball was his as well.

After receiving the congratulations of his teammates, Jimmy walked to where Stevie waited with both bikes. His little brother's eyes were wide with pride. "Wow! The game ball! Can I sign it too, Jimmy? Huh? Please?"

"Sure, guess so." Jimmy turned to watch the people leaving the field. "I wonder where Bud is? He promised to come."

Stevie shrugged, taking the ball from his brother's hands. "He works like Dad. Probably something came up. HEY!"

Jimmy spun around to see that Aaron had taken the game ball from his brother. "Give it back, Aaron. It doesn't belong to you."

"Make me, rich boy," Aaron sneered. He backed away, flipping the ball between his hands. "You want it!" He kicked the ball into the nearby trees. "Go get it."

"Kick his butt, Jimmy!" Stevie demanded, pointing at Aaron.

Jimmy hesitated, remembering the punishment he'd received from his father the last time he'd gotten into a fight.

Aaron backed away to join his friends, all of them laughing. As Jimmy stood there, Aaron sneered and led his friends away.

"Jimmy!" Stevie complained.

"Never mind, Stevie," Jimmy replied. "He's not worth it." Staring into the trees and then at the waning sunlight, he sighed. "Wait here with the bikes. I'll get the ball." He took a few steps then turned back around. "Remember, stay here unless Aaron and his buddies come back. If they do, you ride home real fast. Got it?"

"I'm not afraid of 'em!" Stevie crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I won't run."

"You do as I say," Jimmy sternly ordered. "I can lose 'em in the woods. That'll make 'em look like real idiots."

Stevie snickered. "Yeah! Like idiots!" He nodded in agreement. "Okay, Jimmy. But hurry. We don't wanna be late for dinner."

Jimmy turned and ran into the nearby woods. Even though Aaron hadn't been able to kick the ball very far, he'd heard the ball hit a few trees and bounce further than it could have been kicked. Accurately running between the trees, his eyes automatically compensated for the fading sunlight. He smiled when he saw the ball lying at the base of a tree a few yards away. As he grabbed the ball, he heard something deeper in the trees. Standing, he looked in the direction of the noise.

Eyes widening, he saw a man lying in the shelter of a tall tree. Blood covered his chest. Even as Jimmy recognized Bud, he saw the man standing next to Bud's body back away. Noticing the large red birthmark on the man's neck, Jimmy gasped as the man faded into the darkness.

"I don't think the rest of this stuff will be of any help."

Jim blinked in surprise then looked at his father. "Right. Yeah." He looked back at the scrapbook and remembered…

Everything blurred after that. He vaguely remembered running back to Stevie and then running home, leaving their bikes at the park. But he remembered talking to the two police officers.

"When I looked, I saw the man with the knife," Jimmy insisted. He felt the firm pressure of his father's hands on his shoulders.

"The one with the mark on his neck?" The dark-haired officer wrote in his notebook. "By the edge of the woods?"

"Yes, sir," Jimmy firmly nodded.

"Son, that's over 75 yards away," the second officer gently pointed out. "And it was twilight."

Confused, Jimmy nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Officers, if it's okay with you, I'd like to take him home now," William suggested.

"I'm not lying!" Jimmy turned until he could stare up at his father. "You believe me, don't you, Dad? I wouldn't lie!"

"Calm down, Jimmy," William quietly answered. "It's going to be okay." He squeezed his son's shoulders, not wanting the boy to see his worry. "I'm just going to talk to the detectives for a minute." When Jimmy nodded, he walked back to the officers. "I'm sorry, guys. I want to apologize for my son's imagination."

"It's okay, Mr. Ellison," the dark-haired officer smiled. "It's understandable. From what we've heard so far, Mr. Heydash was very important to these kids. Especially your son. This is got to be hard on him, and he just wants to help." The man shrugged. "But it's obvious he couldn't have seen what he says he saw."

William nodded, more than a little embarrassed.

"The best thing to do is reassure him that he didn't do anything wrong," the officer continued. "And maybe get him some sort of counseling."

William nodded again. "Thank you for your understanding."

Jimmy took one look at his father's face and stayed silent as they walked the three blocks home. It didn't look like his father knew whether to yell at him or shake him.

William's jaw twitched with almost every step. By the time they reached the house, he still hadn't said a word. Instead, he opened the door and silently pointed up the stairs.

"I didn't lie," Jimmy sadly whispered.

"Jimmy, I've warned you about your fantasies, haven't I?" William asked, not hearing his son's words.

"It wasn't a fantasy," Jimmy denied. "Sometimes I can see and hear things."

William wearily shook his head. "No, you can't, Jimmy. No one can. This isn't a game!"

Stopping in front of Jimmy's bedroom door, William put a hand on his son's shoulder. "This is serious. A man is dead. Do you understand?" He gently shook his son. "Your nonsense could keep them from finding out who did it!"

"But, Dad…" Jimmy stared into his father's blue eyes, trying to find the words to explain…to convince.

"No 'buts'!" William firmly interrupted. "You've got to stop pretending like this or people are going to think you're some sort of a freak! Is that what you want?" He ignored the tears appearing in the corner of his son's eyes. "You are so stubborn, Jimmy! How can I get this through your head? Do you want people to think there's something wrong with you?"

"No, sir," Jimmy whispered, lowering his eyes.

William nodded, releasing his son. "Get ready for bed, Jimmy. No more pretending."

Jim dropped the scrapbook, hearing his father shut the closet door. He rubbed both eyes and sighed.

"Jimmy? What's wrong?" William asked with concern.

"I told the truth," Jim mumbled.

"What?" William put a hand on his son's arm. "What truth?"

Jim lowered his hands and picked up the scrapbooks. "Let's take these downstairs."

William frowned but silently followed.

In the living room, Jim spread out the scrapbooks on the table. He reopened the one with the newspaper account of Bud's death. On the opposite page was the picture of the two football teams that had played for the championship earlier that day. "Dad, do you remember any of these boys and their parents?"

William peered at the picture and frowned.

"I think this guy was named Aaron," Jim pointed.

"God, Jimmy, I wouldn't know," William sighed. "I mean, I didn't get involved with any of these parents. I didn't go to that many games."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, I know. But think, Dad. Anything you can come up with might help. What happened then is connected with this case. And the murderer knows more about both than I do!"

William stared at the photograph. "It's been 25 years," he mused with a shake of his head. "The boys…they're not familiar. But the parents…" He suddenly tapped the photo, pointing at one man. "He called several times and actually came to my office once."

"Who is it?" Jim demanded.

William closed his eyes, thinking hard. "Foster. Mick Foster." He opened his eyes and eagerly smiled at his son. "I'm positive. He said his name with such conviction." He looked back at the photo. "He was always complaining about the football league. Something about his dissatisfaction with the league and how the teams were equipped. He didn't feel his son's team was as well equipped." He nodded again. "He seemed to have a real chip on his shoulder. He wanted to start another league and was looking for supporters. I told him no. I had no problems how the league was run. But the man just wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. When he showed up at my office, I had security escort him out and told him I'd report him for harassment if he contacted me again."

"Foster." Jim stared at one boy in the photo. "Aaron Foster. He must have been Mick Foster's son."

"Probably," William agreed. He hesitated, then continued. "Jimmy? Upstairs…you said you had told the truth. What did you mean?"

Jim slowly put the scrapbook on the nearby coffee table. "I remember now…about finding Bud's body. I'd repressed it until this all started." He turned to look at his father. "I remember seeing the killer, Dad. I was telling the truth that night." He felt the anger rising and breathed deep. "But all I ever got from you was that there was something wrong with me. I had 'fantasies.' I made stuff up. Until I finally…shoved everything I was deep down inside of me." He got to his feet and remembered the words Blair had told him more than once. "Dad, what I have is a gift. It's a pain in the ass sometimes, and somebody helps me with it. But it's a gift and who I am. I can help people with it."

"I know, Jimmy," William quietly admitted as he also got to his feet.

"No, Dad, you don't understand," Jim protested.

"Yes, I do." William faced his son and stared into his eyes. "I knew you were telling the truth that night."

"What?" Jim half-whispered.

William sighed. "I was trying to protect you. I didn’t think people would understand. I'm your father, and I didn't understand. How could I expect someone else to do so?" He ran a hand through his graying hair. "They would think you were different, and that would hurt you. I didn't want anything or anyone to hurt you. You're my son, Jimmy. I had to protect you." He looked away from Jim's angry, accusing eyes. "I wish I could have done it better." He walked out of the room. "I need something to drink," he muttered.

What Jim might have said was lost when his cell phone rang. Turning away, he pulled it out and barked, "Ellison!"

"Hey, Jim!" Blair spoke. "You're still at your dad's, right?" Not waiting for an answer, he rapidly continued. "Henri's dropping me off. We need to talk to Dr. McCain's assistant. She's back in town. Henri says he'll have me there in fifteen minutes."

"Okay, see you then," Jim closed the cell phone. He sat on the couch and idly reached for another scrapbook. He was surprised to see pictures of himself as a child, including his report cards. The back of the scrapbook was filled with newspaper and magazine articles about him as a man, including his wedding announcement. God, Sandburg would have a field day with this stuff!

"I'm sorry, Jimmy, I didn't ask. Would you like something to drink?" William gazed down at his son, not sure how Jim would react.

Jim looked up to see William standing next to the couch with a glass of water in his hands. "Uh…no, thanks." He closed the scrapbook. "That was work. My partner's coming by. I'll need to go."

William gently put the glass on the table. "Ironic, isn't it? Now you and Stevie are the ones with business to take care of."

Jim grunted and got to his feet.

"Jimmy…that picture," William hesitated. "The one with the boys and their parents. I'm sorry I…I should have been there."

"Yeah," Jim nodded.

William frowned, searching for the right words. "I was a single parent before anyone else. A single father. It was all so different than anything I'd known. The man went out to earn a living and the woman raised the kids. That's what I was taught. That's what I knew."

Jim nodded. "Some men did more."

"Like Bud?" William's eyes flickered with pain and anger. "I'm sorry about that, too."

Jim remembered Steven's words and half-shrugged. "Water under the bridge, I suppose."

"I'm trying to get past this," William hesitantly spoke. "I'm not the man I was. And I made a lot of mistakes. With both you and Steven. I was so concerned…" He stuffed his fists in his pants pockets. "Half the time I was sure Child Services would show up to make sure you boys were properly cared for. When I arrived home the night Bud died and saw the police car in front of the house, I was positive someone had…" He shrugged. "What I knew I had going for me was that I was a 'good provider'…even if it did take me away from home." He looked away from his son's eyes.

Jim didn't know what to say. Too many years stood between them. Too much stood between them. At least for now.

Both men were startled when the doorbell rang.

"That's probably my partner." Jim frowned, looking at his watch. He followed his father down to the front door.

"Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg. Is Jim here?"

Jim rolled his eyes at his partner's expression. God, we're not kids with you wanting to know if I can come out and play! He moved past his father. "Right here, Chief." He missed the surprised look on his father's face.

Hardly looks like the sort of person who could help Jimmy. Then William realized the time had long since passed when he could protect his son from the outside world. Or that his son would accept that protection. "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Sandburg," William sadly smiled. "I'm William Ellison."

"Great to meet you." Blair stuck out his hand. "And I'm Blair."

"I gotta go, Dad." Jim hesitated on the front step, then tapped Blair on the arm, jerking his head towards the truck.

"Be careful, Jimmy," William half-smiled. "I'll tell Sally 'hello' for you."

Jim nodded. "You…you take care of yourself, too." Before his father could say anything else, he turned and walked towards the truck.

With a half-apologetic smile, Blair raised a hand in silent farewell and followed his partner.

Act II

Act IV