Act IV

The next day Blair approached Jim at his desk in the Major Crimes bullpen, carrying a large bottle of aspirin. He held it out helpfully. He could tell Jim was still suffering as a result of the previous night's sensory spike.

"Whoa," Jim said, wincing. "Easy. Don't shake it. It sounds like a freight train."

Henri Brown walked up, a cheerful smile on his face. "Hey, Jim. How you feeling, man?"

"I'd feel better if you were a little quieter," Jim groused.

Henri sat down straddling the chair next to Jim's desk, holding a file. He had a big grin on his face. "So, how'd that flower thing go?"

"Like a charm. What d'you got?" Jim asked grumpily.

"I've got some great news for you." Henri grinned.

Jim held out his hand and Henri slapped it. Blair was trying not to smile.

"Sam just sent some stuff up from Forensics," Henri said.

"All right," Jim said wearily. He held out his hand again and, once again, Henri slapped it. Smiling, Blair looked away.

Cheerfully, Henri said, "Are you ready for this? They got fingerprints off your leather jacket."

Jim held out his hand again and Brown slapped it yet again. Blair bit his lip, trying not to laugh. Jim grabbed the file away from Henri. "Would you just give me the damn thing, man?"

Unruffled, Henri said, "Some cat whose name is Lo Minh."

"Lo Minh?" Jim echoed. He read the information from the file. "This guy's wanted by the Hong Kong police. Several charges, including murder, assault with a deadly weapon, drug smuggling." Jim hesitated for a moment. "Affiliated with the Shang Syndicate."

"Who is this guy?" Blair asked. He felt a sudden sense of dread. There was something about the way Jim had said that….

"I don't know," Jim said. "Let's go find out." He closed the folder and stood up.

An hour later, Jim and Blair were back from their trip to the Summit Hotel. Jim, keeping tight rein on his emotions, was filling Simon in as they walked into the break room. "He was staying at the same hotel as Lila, under the name Tyler Chin. The desk clerk saw him and Lila Hobson together several times."

"It certainly fits the profile of our killer," Simon said. "What I want to know is how she fits into all this. What is she, just some high-priced mistress?"

Jim sighed. Don't lose it, Ellison. He doesn't know. Jim saw Blair look up at Simon and rub his eyes. Simon finally picked up on what was going on and winced.

Trying to ignore the undercurrent, Jim continued. "Whatever the connection, sir, they're definitely together."

"Sorry, Jim," Simon apologized. "But we've got to find these guys before they leave the country. I'll notify immigration."

"Uh, but their job's not done yet, sir," Blair said. "The third monk is still alive."

"Oh, the kid's got a point, Captain. The Shang Syndicate probably has to kill this guy to set an example for the other members."

"Well, it's gonna be pretty hard to kill this monk inside our city lock-up," Simon said.

"So, let's make it easier," Jim said.

"What?!" Simon looked at Jim askance. "Are you nuts, Jim? That's the last thing I need, to have our last remaining monk killed because of some harebrained scheme to draw out the killer." He glared at the detective.

Jim looked at him coolly, feigning indignity. "'Harebrained'? I rather thought it was a good idea." He looked at Blair, who nodded agreement.

Simon rolled his eyes, muttering about the paperwork that would result if the guy got killed and how the last thing he needed was the commissioner on his back again.

Blair snorted and Jim grinned as the three of them headed back to Simon's office to make plans.

A couple hours later everything had been arranged. The 'transfer' had been set up, the local media had been informed of the event, surveillance had been set up, and all the major players were in place. Now, if the assassin would cooperate.

Chou, the police officer serving as the interpreter, was driving. Blair sat next to him in the passenger seat. The monk was behind Chou, and Jim sat behind Blair. As Chou drove along the streets of Cascade, Jim carefully scanned the sides of the road, maintaining contact with Simon via walkie-talkie.

Simon, who was in his office, reported, "All the local TV stations are carrying our story about moving the suspect to lock-up. If our hit man is paying attention, he'll know about it. What route are you taking?"

"West on Chelsea, then heading south on Waverly, right through the heart of Chinatown, sir."

"All right, everybody stay alert," Simon ordered.

The monk, who was looking increasingly nervous, said something in Chinese.

Chou translated. "He says Chinatown's too dangerous. This is where his friend was killed."

"Tell him he's safe with us," Jim said.

Chou translated Jim's answer to the monk.

They pulled to a stop in the middle of a block because a truck was blocking the street.

Jim spoke into his walkie-talkie to update Simon. "Seems as though we've hit a roadblock, Captain. This could be a set-up." Then he said to the people in the car with him, "Uh, you guys just stay put, keep your eyes open, and stay calm. I'm going to go and check it out."

He got out of the car and cautiously walked the forty feet to the large truck that was parked sideways so it effectively blocked the entire street. He carefully looked into the truck's cab. There was no sign of anyone in or around the vehicle.

Jim had finished his inspection of the truck when he heard a commotion back in the car. He looked over at the vehicle and saw the monk hit Chou with his cuffed hands then get out of the car.

Blair shouted, "Hey, what are you doing? Where you going? Get back here." Then, louder, "Jim!"

The monk took off, running down sidewalks and knocking people aside. Jim chased after him. A block from the car, a motorcycle appeared. The rider was dressed totally in black, with a black helmet and opaque visor.

Jim winced as he suddenly saw a brilliant flash off the lights of the bike. He continued to run after the monk as the fleeing man ran toward the bike. Someone set off a string of firecrackers, which startled the monk into turning around. He saw Jim.

The cyclist slid to a stop and got off the bike, raising the triangular knife toward the monk. Jim, seeing the threat to the man he was protecting, grabbed the monk and whirled him away, standing in the biker's way. The biker paused. Jim got more visual sensory flashes, this time off the biker's helmet.

The biker got back on the bike and sped away.

Jim stood there, watching.

After returning the monk to lockup, and taking care of the requisite paperwork, they retreated to the loft to try to figure out what was going on. It was only a couple hours later, but felt longer.

"If it was Lo, why didn't he kill you?" Simon asked Jim.

Jim shook his head slightly. "I don't know, Simon. It doesn't make sense to me."

Blair came out of his room, talking on his cell phone. "Thanks, Sheila. Thanks for all your help." He shut the phone off and said, "Hey, guys. I had a friend at the university do some research on daggers. And it turns out that a triangular-shaped dagger that's dipped in poison is a favorite weapon of the Chinese Triad. They use it for assassinations. She faxed me over a picture." He showed the picture to the two men.

Jim looked at the picture and winced as yet another sensory spike struck him. "Oh. Sorry, guys." He tried to catch his breath. "Phew. Mm." He sat down unsteadily at the table.

Simon hurried to his side. "Jim, what's wrong?"

Blair moved around the table, coming up on Jim's other side. He knelt next to his partner, laying a comforting hand on Jim's arm.

"Uh... my, my head. Uh..." Jim shook his head, trying to regain his equilibrium.

Glancing at the picture in his other hand, then back at Jim, Blair suggested, "Why don't you take a look at this picture again?" He shifted so he could hold the picture in front of his partner.

Jim looked at it for a moment then pushed it away, discomfort obvious on his features.

"This picture's causing the spike," Blair said confidently. "Jim, have you ever seen a dagger like this before?"

Jim said, "No, no. I don't know. Uh..." He struggled to get the pain in his head under control.

"This could be the key," Blair said. "I want you to take a look at this again and then free-associate, all right? Just, just... see where it takes you." He patted Jim's arm.

"How could a picture cause anything?" Jim asked.

"Come on, we've done this before," Blair said, his voice falling into a lower timbre and becoming more soothing. "Just relax and do your breathing. Good. Okay, now look at it. See where it takes you."

With a combination of irritation and apprehension, Jim looked at the picture and then took a deep breath. He leaned back and closed his eyes. He was somewhat surprised when he started to have a memory flash.

It was seven years ago in Bali. Jim and Lila were in a hotel room, resting together on their bed. After a few lazy kisses, they sat up.

"Mm," Lila murmured. "We better get ready for dinner." She nuzzled against him again. "Mm."

"Do you think?" Jim asked, caressing her gently.

"Yes," she responded. She turned and handed a necklace to Jim. "Would you tie this for me, please?"

"Mm-hm," he responded. He leaned down and kissed her neck. Then he started fastening the necklace.

Jim was suddenly aware of the loft and of Simon and Blair again. Simon was sitting down next to him at the dining table.

"Anything?" asked Blair.

"Yeah," Jim said, a touch of amazement in his voice. "Lila and me, in Bali."

"What were you doing?"

"We were in the hotel room... right before dinner."

"All right, well, take a look at this again, all right?" Blair said, holding the picture up, "'cause it's obviously triggering something."

Jim looked at the picture again. Sure enough, more memories flooded his mind.

Jim was fastening the necklace around Lila's slender neck. He fumbled with the tiny clasp.

Laughing lightly, Lila said, "Jim! You take too long." She rose from the bed, holding the ends of the necklace herself.

"It's a two-man operation," he said in his own defense. He stood up. He couldn't help the smile that seemed to be on his face most of the time. Lila was something special.

"Uh-huh," Lila said as she went into the bathroom, fastening the piece of jewelry herself.

"Anything else I can do?" Jim asked.

"Would you get me my lipstick, please?" Lila asked from the bathroom. "It's on the nightstand."

"I can do that," Jim said with a touch of amusement. He walked over to the nightstand to get the lipstick from her purse. He paused when he saw a dagger with a round, carved white handle and a short, thick, triangular metal blade inside. He pulled it out and examined it with the critical eye of an army Ranger--Former army Ranger, he corrected himself sternly.

Lila came out of the bathroom while he was examining it. "It's for self-defense. To protect me from men like you," she said teasingly. She took the dagger from him and put it back in her purse.

Stop it, Ellison. That's all behind you now. Enjoy yourself. Jim held up the lipstick.

"Thank you," Lila said, taking it from him.

He smiled at her.

"But how could I forget that?" Jim asked, looking at Blair and Simon in confusion.

"It was seven years ago," Blair said gently, leaning across the table. "It was right after you got out of Peru. You were probably still suffering from post-combat stress syndrome."

"I don't understand this bit about the dagger," Simon said, looking at Blair. "I thought she was causing his sensory spikes. What does the dagger have to do with it?"

Jim answered him. "It's probably my senses warning me, Simon."

"Right. Like an alarm," Blair said. "She and the dagger have always been connected, so when he looks at the dagger, it would set off the same spike."

The phone rang and Jim went to answer it. "Ellison."

Lila's voice came across the line. "Jim?"

He hesitated a moment, then said, "Lila." He gestured at Simon to start a trace on the call.

"The police were at my hotel looking for me," Lila said, an accusing tone in her voice.

"We know all about you and the Shang Syndicate. The best you can do is to turn yourself in." He tried to keep his best "neutral" voice on. It was difficult.

Jim could hear Simon's voice as he spoke softly into his cell phone. "This is Captain Banks. I need a trace put on Detective Ellison's home phone."

"Jim, you don't understand," Lila said.

"Then explain it to me and then turn yourself in," he said flatly.

"If I do, they'll kill me, Jim." She was pleading now.

"We're gonna protect you." We'll try. God knows we'll try.

"They can reach anyone anywhere."

"I'm gonna be with you. Nothing's gonna happen to you. You'll be safe." I hope.

There was silence on the line for a moment, and then Lila spoke. "All right. But I'll only turn myself in to you. Meet me at the McNeil Athletic Field at 3:00. Jim... please come alone." The line went dead.

Simon said into his phone, "Thanks." He shut off the phone. "She was on some sort of tricked-out cell phone. They couldn't get an exact fix."

Not surprised, Jim nodded. "She wants to meet me at the McNeil Athletic Field at 3:00. Alone."

"Absolutely not, cowboy," Simon said firmly. "We'll send somebody else."

"If we send the posse, she's going to smell a rat."

"What about these spikes?" Simon asked, concern obvious on his face. "You'll be completely helpless."

"Not necessarily," said Blair thoughtfully.

"What?" Simon said, looking at him.

Turning to Jim, Blair said, "We're talking about your senses here. They're to protect you and the tribe, all right? And you can dial them back. And I can help you." He gazed at his sentinel.

"Jim?" Simon called on the walkie-talkie. He, Brown, and Chou, along with a number of uniforms, were already in place, watching the athletic field.

Jim answered Simon as Blair pulled the truck up next to the field. "Simon. All right, when she shows up, I need five minutes before you move in."

"You got it," the captain responded.

"You all right?" Blair asked quietly.

Jim glanced at him. "Yeah." He wasn't, of course, but it's not like he could admit it. Not here, not now. He climbed out of the truck.

After Jim had walked a few feet away from the truck, Blair said into his walkie-talkie, "Radio check. Radio--"

Wincing, Jim said, "Turn it down!"

"I'm sorry," Blair said. He twisted the volume control knob down. Then he set down the walkie-talkie and drove the truck away, leaving Jim alone.

Feeling very alone, and dreading what was coming, Jim walked along the sidewalk next to the field. After a few long minutes, he saw a motorbike heading his way. The biker slowed to a stop and turned off the machine. She got off and removed the black helmet, setting it on the bike. Finally, Lila stood before him.

Over the headset, Jim heard Simon say, "All right, she's here. Five minutes, everyone."

Stay professional, Jim reminded himself as Lila walked toward him. He tried his best to squash his feelings, to achieve the flat, emotional deadness where he could do what was necessary. Instead, he felt a queasy dread. He didn't want to do this. He realized that, despite everything, he still loved her. He forced himself to speak. "You wanted to talk."

"Please don't hate me," she said. Her eyes pleaded with him.

"You're a murderer," his voice said. His heart was crying out in pain. He struggled not to let his emotions show.

"I told you, you might not like the truth," Lila said sadly.

With a touch of bitterness, Jim asked, "Did I ever hear any of the truth?"

Eyes down, Lila replied, "Most of it." She turned away. "I grew up in Hong Kong. My father was a British expatriate, but his investments failed and when he died, there was nothing left."

"How tragic." Jim forced himself to sound hard, uncaring.

"I was ten years old, Jim!" Lila cried, turning toward him. "Living on the streets. Do you have any idea what that's like? The Syndicate took me in. They fed me. They protected me."

Jim felt as if his heart was twisting within his chest. With an iron will, he tamped down his feelings. Stay professional, damn it! Focus on your job. Focus on… on what she does. "They also taught you how to kill," he said softly.

"They were the only family I had." Lila's voice was almost a whisper. In her eyes were anguish and a begging for… understanding? Forgiveness?

Jim knew she thought he had rejected her explanation. He wanted to give her absolution, to take her into his arms, to take her away and forget all that and start over and the hell with everything else. But he couldn't. He was a cop, and this was his job. Sometimes--not often, but sometimes--he hated his job.

Changing the focus of the conversation, Jim asked, "Who is this man 'Lo'?"

"He's my overseer," Lila said, turning away again. Her voice was flat, emotionless. "Last month in Tokyo, I missed a target, so this time, the Syndicate sent Lo to keep an eye on me. See, I thought I missed because I was tired, but it was more than that. But then when I saw you again, I realized what I wanted."

As Lila was speaking, Jim started having a sensory spike.

"I want to get out, Jim. I want to start over," she pleaded, her voice cracking with emotion. She looked back at him.

Jim lifted his hands to his head, wincing in pain.

Lila moved closer. "Jim, what's wrong?"

Jim heard Blair's voice over the walkie-talkie. "Oh, he's in trouble." Then, "Oh, she's got a knife!"

A knife? Jim thought dully, through the pain of the sensory spike? No, Lila, no. He struggled to gain control over his unruly senses.

"Come on, Jim, dial it back." It was Blair's voice, coming over the walkie-talkie. "You can control this."

Jim focused on the familiar voice, the familiar commands.

"Dial it back," Blair urged.

Obeying the voice of his guide, Jim wrenched the appropriate dials down. Control returned, and Jim saw Lila holding the triangular knife. He looked at her sadly. "So, you want to kill me now, huh?"

She shook her head. "I can't," she choked out. She tossed the knife into the street.

The part of him that was in love with her was singing at her refusal to hurt him. But the cop part of him demanded that he arrest her. At least she's safe, he rationalized. He pulled out his cuffs and fastened one to her wrist. "You're under arrest," he said levelly. "You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney."

"I lied to you about who I am, Jim... not about how I feel," Lila said earnestly, gazing at him intently.

Jim swallowed down the lump of feelings that threatened to choke him. He was about to continue giving Lila the Miranda warning when he heard the bolt of a rifle being pulled back. He looked up in the direction of the sound and saw Lo aiming a rifle at them.

Pulling Lila behind the cover of a pillar, he shouted, "Look out!"

A bullet zinged past them, kicking up splinters of concrete where they had been standing, moments before.

Over the radio network, Jim could hear Simon issuing orders. "We have sniper fire! Somebody give me a location!"

There were more gunshots.

"There! Sniper's at the top level of the parking ramp!" came Simon's voice.

Jim leaned out around the tree, trying to radio, but Lo fired again.

"I can't get off a shot," Jim said.

Lila moved around in front of Jim. She gazed at him, and then kissed him. After looking at him in the eyes for another moment, she ran out into the street.

Jim shouted, "Lila!"

A shot rang out from Lo's rifle; Lila crumpled in the street. A moment later, Jim fired at Lo, hitting him. Lo tumbled from the building, falling several stories to the ground below.

Jim vaguely heard Simon yell, "Sniper's down! All units move in now!"

Jim ran over to Lila, who lay motionless, facedown in the street. He knelt next to her. Gently he turned her over. He lifted her head and shoulders, cradling her to his chest. "Hang in there. You'll be all right," he said desperately.

Lila looked at him; then her head fell to the side, her eyes staring at the sky. She was dead.

"Lila..." Jim said hollowly.

He rested his head on hers as police cars pulled in around him. He was barely aware of Simon and Blair approaching after they got out of Simon's car.