A Day Like Any Other
The day had started out ordinarily enough for Simon Banks. Well, about as ordinary as it could get for the captain of Major Crime for the Cascade PD. He'd been woken at six am by a phone call from the warden of Starkville Prison, advising him that Luther Gardelli had been released the day before. Gardelli was a crazy son of a bitch, a pimp who took pleasure in beating up on his girls if he felt they were holding out on him. Jim Ellison, Major Crime's top detective had put the guy away three years earlier and Gardelli had sworn to pay Ellison back once he was out. Simon made a mental note to give Ellison the news as soon as he saw him, though he knew Jim would merely shrug it off. The detective was an ex-Army Covert Ops soldier. He shook off threats like Gardelli's like water off a duck's back.
His phone had rung again an hour later, just as he was headed out the door, already late for work. This time, it was his ex-wife, Joan, explaining that his arrangements for his son, Daryl's summer vacation would be inconvenient. She and Mike, her 'boyfriend', as Daryl disparagingly referred to him, were going to Florida and they wouldn't be returning until just before school was due to go back.
Simon had argued with her, reminding her that he was entitled to a specific visitation schedule and demanding that she cancel her trip, or at least leave Daryl with him. Joan had refused and snippily mentioned that Simon had been the one to cancel his last access visit with his son. She realized, she said, that his job meant that sometimes things came up that just couldn't be avoided. She didn't, at least, bring up the fact that Daryl had been taken prisoner by drug runners the last time Simon had taken him on vacation, or that the Sunrise patriots had held Daryl hostage inside the PD the year before. For that, Simon was grateful. He was still having enough nightmares and guilt over it all to last a lifetime.
Simon gave up at that point, knowing what she was really saying. "That's why I divorced you in the first place, because you always let your job take precedence over your family."
It was true, but there was little Simon could do about it. Joan had certainly been pleased enough initially with his promotion to captain, and more than happy to spend his increased salary. Neither of them had really been prepared for the amount of time that he would be stuck at the station, leaving Joan to care for Daryl by herself, or cancel previously made plans or vacations. Finally, he'd agreed reluctantly and told her to tell Daryl he'd organize something really special for them to do the coming weekend.
Feeling depressed and angry, he hung up the phone with more force than was necessary and headed out to his car. He was halfway to the PD before he remembered that he was supposed to give his old friend, Joel Taggart, the captain of the Bomb Squad, a ride into work. Joel's car was in the shop, and his wife, Marie needed her own for grocery shopping. Cursing at the terrible way his day was beginning, Simon did a U-turn and headed back the way he'd come.
Joel waited with good-natured impatience while Marie straightened his tie and brushed invisible tufts of lint from his suit jacket.
"So," she said, stepping back and eyeing him critically, "will you be home for dinner tonight?"
"That depends," he replied casually. "What's cooking?"
"Meatloaf," she replied with a glint of amusement in her eyes. "Of course, if you're going to be late, I could put a TV dinner in the oven for you."
"Six-thirty too late?' Joel asked, already salivating at the thought of his wife's special meatloaf, loaded with extras and topped with delicious gravy.
She laughed, shooing him away as he leaned forward to kiss her. "I'll manage."
Joel glanced out the window as he heard a car horn toot. "Simon's here." He grabbed her then and wrapped an arm around her ample waist, leading her to the front door. On the porch, he waited until she waved a greeting at Simon then kissed her cheek. "Love you, Marie. Now don't take so long with the shopping that you don't have time to get that meatloaf in the oven."
Marie waved the comment away with one hand. "You just be here on time for once." She glanced over at Simon, who hadn't seemed to have even noticed them, and said, "I wish he'd find someone else. He's a good man."
Joel nodded his agreement. "Yeah." He pulled Marie in close, so very glad that they hadn't had to go through the marriage hardships so many of his fellow officers had, and kissed her cheek again. "See you tonight."
"Don't be late," Marie admonished and Joel smiled and headed down to Simon's car, giving her a backward wave as he went.
"Are you coming with me or not, Sandburg," Jim yelled through the bathroom door. "I'm leaving in one minute 59 58 -"
The door burst open and would have caught Jim in the face if he hadn't had the forethought to step back.
Blair emerged in a wreath of steam, a towel slung around his waist, a second doing mop-up duty on his hair and a disgruntled look on his face. "I'm coming already," he groused. "Give me five, would ya?"
Ellison grinned, feeling smug. He'd already been up for an hour, had gone for a jog around the block and had a cup of coffee while reading the morning paper. Sandburg, on the other hand, had stayed up into the wee hours, as was his habit, grading or researching, keeping Jim half-awake with the interminable tapping of his computer keys, and had only woken when Jim had gone into his room and unceremoniously pulled the blankets off his bed. "I keep telling you, Chief, have an early night every now and then. It'd do wonders for your personality."
Blair glared at him. "My personality's fine, thank you," he replied archly. He stalked into his bedroom and closed the door.
"Five minutes and counting, Chief," Jim called out.
Five minutes and a few odd seconds later, Blair emerged from his room, dressed, still slightly damp but looking a little more awake. He hurried past Jim into the kitchen, sparing a longing glance at the now cold coffeepot before pulling a cereal bowl from the cupboard.
Jim shook his head and jangled the keys in his hand. "No time, Sandburg. I'll buy you breakfast on the way in."
Blair shot him a look that could only be described as disgust and turned to the refrigerator, scrimmaging for a moment before emerging victorious with an apple held aloft.
"You knocking back a free breakfast, Sandburg?" Jim shook his head in mock disappointment.
"A breakfast sandwich from Wonderburger I can live without," Blair replied. He bit into the apple with relish, then spoke around his mouthful, "but you can buy me a latte from Starbucks."
Jim rolled his eyes and dangled the keys in the air once more. Blair took the hint and hurried to the front door. He grabbed his backpack from under the coat hooks and ceremoniously waved Jim out the door ahead of him, finally cracking a grin when Jim whacked the back of his head on the way past.
Simon pulled into his parking space just ahead of Jim, and made a mental reminder to talk to him first thing about Gardelli. He waited with Joel for Jim and Blair to join them.
Blair was prattling on as always, something to do with fatty arteries and Wonderburger, bouncing on his toes like he always did when he was on a tear about something. Simon shook his head and shared a grin with Joel. He wondered how Jim put up with the constant chatter. Simon wasn't a sentinel and only had to endure the kid mostly during working hours but sometimes Blair's enthusiasm for everything overwhelmed Simon and he'd wish he'd never given in to Jim's plea to give Sandburg an observer's pass. A year ago, Jim would have turned those glacier-like eyes on someone like Sandburg, and stopped them dead in their tracks, but now
"I mean it, Jim. No wonder you're so grumpy first thing in the morning." Blair waved a half-eaten apple in Jim's face. "You are what you eat, you know."
"Oh yeah," Ellison replied, giving Simon and Joel a wink, "well, then how come you're not all green and slimy with that algae crap you drink?"
Sandburg pulled himself up to his full height. "I'll have you know that stuff has awesome health benefits. You should try it. Better than a sausage and egg sandwich." Blair screwed up his nose, but couldn't quite hide the smile on his face. "Can't be good for your insides either. Maybe that's why you're so anal."
Simon automatically tensed, waiting for the eruption of Mount Ellison, but instead the detective laughed outright and delivered a whack to the back of his partner's head.
"I'm gonna get you for that remark, Chief. Think we'll start our day at five AM tomorrow."
Blair punched Jim lightly on the arm and the two led the way to the elevator, pushing and shoving each other like a couple of school kids.
As soon as they walked into the Major Crime bullpen, Simon waved Jim into his office. "Not you, Sandburg," he ordered when Blair automatically followed Jim. With the way his day had begun, Simon just wasn't up to a session of Pollyanna Sandburg, and he didn't want Sandburg knowing about Gardelli just yet. Sandburg referred to Jim sometimes as his Blessed Protector but to Simon, it seemed the tag went both ways.
Simon walked behind his desk and poured coffee for the two of them then motioned for Jim to take a seat. "It's about Gardelli," he began.
Blair was leaning over, studying something on Ellison's desk when Jim and Simon exited the office. Blair turned, holding a small package aloft, a wide grin on his face. "You been holding out on me, Jim?"
Jim smiled back. "Whatcha got there, Chief?"
"Hmm, I don't know. Let's see " Thoughtfully, Blair held the package up to his ear and shook it carefully. "Doesn't rattle. Come on, Jim, give! Who's your secret admirer?"
Jim stopped suddenly and Simon almost ran into his back. "Put it down, Sandburg!" Jim ordered tersely.
Sandburg's smile faltered at the sharp tone in Jim's voice. "Aren't you gonna share?" he asked all the same. He lowered the package and held it at his side, looking like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"I mean it," Jim said tightly. "Put it down carefully on the desk and step away slowly."
Simon stepped up to Jim's side. The sentinel's gaze was on the package, as though it was a boa ready to strike. His eyes were narrowed, his nostrils flared. "Jim, what is it?" Simon asked, though he had a sinking feeling he already knew.
"I can smell explosives, Captain and the parcel's sweating."
Blair's eyes went wide at the pronouncement. "Jim?" he whispered.
"It's fine," Jim said calmly. "Just put the parcel on my desk and walk toward the door."
Simon was already reaching for the phone, dialing first Joel Taggert, then placing a call to the front desk, requesting an immediate evacuation. He hung up the phone and watched with his heart in his throat as Blair slowly lifted the parcel and slid it onto Jim's desk.
Jim nodded. "Good work, Chief. Now get out."
Blair hesitated. "You too."
"I'll be right behind you and Simon, Sandburg. Now, go!"
Blair began to take slow steps backward, his gaze never shifting from the deadly package. Jim pushed Simon ahead of him and followed behind.
"I can't hear a timer so it's probably rigged to a remote," Jim said.
"Taggert's on his way," Simon replied. At the entrance to the bullpen, he grabbed Blair's shoulder and spun him around so he was facing forward then gave him a gentle shove through the doorway.
He'd just made it into the hallway with Jim at his back, when the world exploded.
They'd been lucky, though that was a relative term, Simon thought. Carefully, he picked his way through the ruined bullpen that housed the Vice Squad. The bomb on Ellison's desk had been a ruse, presumably to lure everyone's attention away from the real bomb. Whether by design or mismanagement, the bomb had detonated at a time when the Vice squad room was pretty much deserted. One man had died though and two others were seriously injured. Others had been caught in the blast in the hallway and had suffered minor injuries.
Jim was squatting down amidst the rubble in the hallway, bandaging a patrolman's badly gashed arm. The detective had been the first to get up from where they'd been flung to the floor by the explosion and had quickly set about checking everyone out and setting up a triage area. He'd also been the one to enter the squad room and administer first aid to the badly injured detectives inside.
Simon rested a hand on Jim's shoulder and waited for him to look up. "How's it going?" he asked.
Jim shrugged. "There's still a couple more men who need to be checked out at the hospital." He patted the patrolman on the shoulder and stood. He gazed around, his expression bleak. There was guilt too, on Jim's grimy face. Simon had known Ellison long enough to know that he was blaming himself for not picking up on the fake bomb. Now was not the time to say anything, to offer placatory words. There would be time later, for the what-ifs and whys, over several cold beers, or maybe a shot or two of whiskey.
"Gardelli?" Simon asked.
"Maybe." Jim's focus remained on the job at hand, moving forward now to check the binding on a detective's sprained wrist. He glanced back at Simon. "Why the dummy bomb though?" He frowned and looked past Simon. "Sandburg, what are you doing? I thought I told you to sit down somewhere."
Simon turned to look at the grad student, who was picking his way through the wreckage with a cup of steaming liquid held in each hand. His normal bounce was gone, his face was white beneath the dust that coated it and a deep gash high on his forehead was bleeding through the bandage taped over it. Blair set one cup down on an undamaged office chair and swiped at the blood as it trickled into his eye, smearing it across his cheek.
"A couple of the clerks from Records came up to help," he explained somewhat breathlessly. "They were pretty shocked by the scene and one of them knew Detective Mason " He closed his eyes briefly. "She's pretty cut up." He looked exhausted, Simon thought, and probably as shocked as the clerks.
Jim stood and headed back to his partner. Taking the second cup from Blair's hand, and picking the first one up from the chair, he grabbed Blair by his shoulders and pushed him down onto the seat. Blair resisted for a moment, ready to protest then he wavered slightly and closed his eyes, swallowing convulsively. If it was possible, he went even paler.
Quickly, Jim gave Simon the coffee cups and turned his attention back to Blair. "Put your head down." Gently, Jim pressed Blair's head down between his knees, massaging the back of the student's neck. "Slow breaths."
After a moment, Blair straightened and nodded his thanks. "I'm okay," he said.
Jim pressed one of the cups into his hand. "Drink this."
Blair dutifully took a couple of sips. Lowering the cup to rest on one knee, he looked around at the devastation. "Why?" he asked.
Jim's hand continued to rub Blair's neck. "To get us back for pulling them off the streets, maybe. To keep someone from testifying. Who knows."
Blair looked up at Jim, frowning. "The other bomb," he said. "The fake. Do you think someone knows about your " He lowered his voice. "Your senses?"
"Where did you come up with that, Sandburg?" Simon asked, wondering once more at the leaps the young man's thoughts seemed to take.
Blair wiped again at his face, then accepted the cloth Jim gave him and held it to the cut, pressing slightly. "Maybe they thought with Jim's attention on the dummy bomb, they'd take everyone by surprise with the real one. Cause maximum damage."
"They succeeded," Simon said gruffly.
"Jim?" Blair's gaze was fixed on the sentinel, whose own eyes had become haunted.
"Possible, I guess," Jim replied. "We might never know." He turned to Simon. "I'll head out, sir, as soon as I get Sandburg checked out at the hospital -"
"I'm fine," Blair cut in.
Jim didn't even spare him a glance. "He's definitely going to need some stitches in that cut on his head. Once I drop him at home, I'll head out on the streets with Henri, see who we can scare up."
Simon nodded. "I'll run things this end." He looked down at Blair. "You're out on your feet, son. Go home and get some rest."
Blair nodded, his reluctance to leave Jim's side obvious. "Doubt I'll be sleeping anytime soon," he whispered.
Simon reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "None of us will be."
He watched the two men leave, their steps so much heavier, their shoulders hunched with the weight of what this day had brought, so unlike the carefree, joking men they'd been that morning. Feeling every one of his forty-plus years, and then some, Simon headed back into his own office and picked up the phone. "Joan?" he said when his ex-wife answered the phone. "We need to talk about Daryl."