Let's see. This story has just about everything: corrupt cops, calculating politicians, murder, blackmail, drug deals, men lusting after Blair, men lusting after Jim (this is NOT Slash, trust me), a pinch of h/c, and a smidgeon of smarm. Definitely a full plate.
My original characters: FBI Deputy Director Jordan first appeared in my story An Essential Friend and is mentioned in a couple of others. Detective Zack Dalton joined Major Crimes in Outside Looking In. D.A. Raymond House first appeared in Faith. Any other characters you don't recognize are newly imagined.
Warning: The episode Sentinel Too is heavily referred to in this story. And there is a mention of the ubiquitous Blind Man's Bluff.
This story is a little long in K so it's in two parts. Part 1 is below. Click Part 2 to go directly to the next part.
As usual, feel free to contact me.
Prologue: Penetrating The Surface
Prologue: Penetrating The Surface
Zack Dalton, Cascade's newest Major Crimes detective, hung up the phone with a worried look in his eyes.
"What's wrong?" his partner, Joel Taggert asked. Much older than Zack, Taggert was also a relatively new member of the Major Crimes unit of the Cascade, Washington Police Department. He had spent most of his career as the captain of the Bomb Squad but chose to spend his remaining years on the force as a detective. It was safer... most of the time anyway.
"We need to talk. I have some information about... you know." He glanced at a strangely empty desk near the door, the one that had belonged to Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Jim was a detective, the best they had-- hell, maybe the best on the west coast. He was partnered with an anthropology grad student who was officially an observer for the department. But he functioned as Ellison's full partner. It was weird, but it worked, and everyone was used to seeing them together.
Back in July their captain had called Ellison into his office. Five minutes later the detective had stomped out of the office, telling Captain Banks what he and some mysterious others could do with his badge. The occurrence, while not frequent, was nothing new so they had ignored it. Ellison and Banks were both volatile men, but they were friends and whatever the brass was bringing down on Ellison's head, the captain would intervene on his behalf and all would be well.
But it hadn't happened that way. The next day Ellison's desk was bare and as the days turned into a week and even longer, it stayed that way. Finally, some of them got up enough courage to ask the captain what had happened. His terse, "No comment," signaled something had come down from the top. Really worried now, they approached Ellison-- a dangerous tactic even in the best of times. "Politics," he had declared bitterly and the pent-up anger behind that one word made them back away. Desperately, they tried their last avenue of information. If approaching Ellison seemed scary, approaching his partner with the express desire to interrogate him without the detective's approval, was downright foolhardy. Joel, closest to both men other than Captain Banks, was sent in to do the job. The anthropologist nimbly eluded him.
The last straw was when Captain Banks had come into the bullpen and announced in what seemed to be a calm voice that Jim Ellison now worked for the Seacoast P.D. and that they should all wish him well. Only the veterans in the department noticed the catch in the captain's voice, saw the sadness deep in his brown eyes.
"You have a meeting place in mind?" Joel asked, remembering the past events all too clearly.
"I just finished my deck and it's a nice fall day."
Joel nodded. "I'll pass the word around."
"I got a call from an old pal of mine who's working in Seacoast," Zack began hours later as he set out a bowl of pretzels. "He asked me questions about Ellison... and Sandburg."
"What kind of questions?" Henri Brown asked.
Zack blushed. "Whether they were boyfriends and stuff like that."
The men-- Joel, Henri, and his partner Rafe-- exchanged knowing glances. "What did you tell him?"
"That I was on a major case and would get back to him. I was just so shocked that I couldn't think of the right thing to say."
"I don't know why you were shocked, man," Rafe said, with a sad shake of his head. "We had suspected this all along."
"I know... but I was hoping we were wrong. Damn. You think they would have trusted us with the truth."
"That's not the way these things work," Joel said. "I was worried about them before, but now..."
"You think the captain knows?" Rafe asked.
"Of course he does. You think they could do this and he wouldn't know? Hell, he's probably been in on it since the beginning," Brown added.
Joel nodded. The fight, the sudden move, everything, suddenly made sense. Oh, God. "They moved to Oregon, guys."
Rafe paled as the thought occurred to him too. "It's just getting worse, isn't it? You know, it was bad when we were just speculating. Now that we know it's true..." A shudder ran down his back.
"Well, we just have to suck up our personal feelings and give them our support," Joel said firmly. "So Zack, what are you going to tell your friend when you call back?"
"Uh, that we knew the two of them lived together and that the affection between them was obvious?"
"You might want to mention how they like to keep in physical contact when one or the other is in the hospital," Rafe added.
"Yeah, that Ellison stroking action. Man, it was almost mesmerizing just to watch it. Made me feel better and I wasn't even the one hurting. And then there's Blair's voice. They say music calms the savage beast, but music has nothing on Hair Boy's voice. The station hasn't been the same without it," Brown said, his tone heavy with sorrow.
"Remember when Jim matched it? That time in the garage when Blair was high on Golden? Then Blair collapsed and Jim just cradled him in his arms... That's a good one to tell, Zack," Rafe pointed out, refusing to acknowledge he was misty-eyed.
"I think I need a beer," Joel said, angry and sad at the same time. Zack passed out the icy bottles and he raised his high in the air. "To Jim and Blair. May God protect them."
"Because they sure as hell won't be able to count on anyone else," Brown added. Their friends were undercover and out of state. Which meant federal jurisdiction. Which meant they were on their own.
Level I: Testing the Waters
Level I: Testing the Waters
"I don't know any more than you do," Jim Ellison said to Blair Sandburg for what seemed like the fortieth time. "You were sitting there eating your breakfast just like I was when Simon called." Captain Simon Banks was their commanding officer at the Cascade Police Department. Actually he was Jim's commander since he was a detective in the Major Crimes Unit. But he was also Blair's because the anthropology grad student was an observer at the station and functioned as Jim's partner.
"You don't think it's strange that we get a call on a Sunday morning, our Sunday morning off, to attend a meeting at the D.A.'s office? We don't even have any cases pending trial, do we?" Blair asked from the passenger seat of Jim's Ford truck.
Jim shook his head. "Samuelson pleaded out, Tanner is being held over for federal charges and Milton..."
Blair knew about Milton; he'd hung himself the day following his jury selection. "So why are we meeting with the D.A.?" he asked anxiously. "For the life of me I can't think of anything I've screwed up bad enough to be called on the D.A.'s carpet." Blair was adamant about not becoming a cop but at times worried that because he wasn't formally trained he would mess up a case and a criminal would walk.
"Stop being paranoid, Chief," Jim chided gently. "If you'd done something wrong, I would know about it and Simon would know about it, which means you definitely would know about it. All this speculation is causing your pulse to race and your blood pressure to rise. In less than ten minutes we'll have an answer and I'm sure there will be plenty of time to panic after that," he added reasonably as he entered the parking garage of the Cascade Justice Building. Because he was a cop, and because he was just as concerned as Blair, he made note of the cars in the nearly deserted garage. Apparently "Justice" in Cascade only worked 9 to 5, Monday through Friday.
Simon's car was easy to spot; not only was he their commander but a personal friend. The luxury vehicle with the government tag had to belong to D.A. Raymond House. It was the third car that made Jim pause. It was a short black limo with tinted windows, a huge antenna in the back center, and two suited men obviously watching it.
"Feds," Blair whispered. They had worked with the FBI several times in the past. It was always an "interesting", if not nearly fatal, experience.
"Probably Whitney," Jim guessed, feeling a little less uneasy. Deputy Director Jordan Whitney headed the regional Bureau office in Seattle. The man had proven easy to work with, generally letting them handle whatever co-investigations with minimum federal interference. He parked and after flashing their I.D.s at the two agents, they headed toward the elevator.
"What do they want, Jim?" Blair asked once again as the cubicle sped them toward the top floor.
"Sandburg, please don't make me kill you when there are feds above and feds below and I probably have little chance of escaping," Jim said with an aggrieved sigh. "I know Simon will be sympathetic; he's wanted to kill you on several occasions. But the others may not be so kind."
Blair rolled his eyes at his partner's idea of humor, but he agreed with one thing. "Okay, I'm going to shut up now." He felt blue eyes beaming down on him and he glanced up to face them with his own darker blue version. "I'm serious, Jim. Something major is up, man, and I've decided I'm going to let you and Simon handle it."
"Whatever it is, Chief, involves both of us. Simon made that pretty clear."
"I don't care. I trust you to make the decision for both of us."
"What's up with you, Sandburg?" Jim demanded. "You usually bitch about me making unilateral decisions, especially when I try to keep you out of potentially dangerous situations."
"I know, Jim. Just because I'm shorter and have this beautiful mug, you tend to treat me like a kid. Hell, Simon even calls me one even though I'm nearly thirty. I'll admit it annoys me at times," he said with a rueful smile, "but I have the feeling today I'm going to appreciate it."
"I thought I was the one with the hypersenses."
"Jim, man, the Sandburg gene for fear recognition goes back further than any of your Sentinel genes," Blair commented, speaking of Jim's genetic makeup which predisposed him to be a Sentinel, a person who had heightened senses.
Before Jim could reply, the elevator opened. Simon waited for them. "Thanks for coming down on such short notice," the captain said as he escorted them down the hall.
"What's going on, Simon?" Jim asked his friend, sensing he had already been briefed.
"Listen first, then we'll have a chance to talk." He ushered them into a conference room. "You know the D.A. and Director Whitney." They shook hands then focused on the unknown and only woman at the meeting. She was in her late fifties and her whole manner was one of no-nonsense. "This, gentlemen, is Sarah Weinstein, Attorney General of the State of Oregon."
"Please to meet you, ma'am," Jim said as he questioned Simon with his eyes. What was the AG of Oregon doing in Washington?
"Gentlemen, I've heard some very good things about you," she said and gestured for everyone to have a seat around the long table. After seeing the detective and his pony-tailed partner, she was feeling quite confident about the plans that had been discussed earlier. "I know you're probably confused right now, so let us get started." She handed them each a folder. "These are facts and figures concerning Seacoast, Oregon. Seacoast is similar in size to your own Cascade but as you can see, the crime rate in Seacoast is considerably higher. This is due in large part to the heavy drug traffic coming into and out of the city. Sometimes being a port is a blessing; sometimes a curse. In Seacoast, it is definitely a curse."
"What have you done about it?" Jim asked tersely. He hated drugs with a passion. A designer drug had briefly blinded him and almost killed Blair.
"The local police seemed unable to contain the growing market, so the state police were sent in. After several failed raids, it was determined that the Seacoast P.D. is rife with corruption. The drug cartel was kept aware of the state's every movement. Acting on that information, an officer was sent in undercover. Unfortunately, we miscalculated how high the corruption went and the extension of the department's resources. In short, after three months undercover, our man was returned to us in a trash bag."
She paused to let that sink in. "We now have reason to believe it goes as high as the chief of police, the commissioner , and perhaps the mayor. That was why I contacted the FBI."
Whitney, hearing his cue, cleared his throat. "A.G. Weinstein asked for the loan of an agent to get inside the Seacoast P.D. The agent would have to have an impeccable background, a past so tightly scripted even seasoned investigators couldn't unravel it. He would have to, of course, be a policeman. There would have to be a logical reason why he was transferring to Seacoast. And he would have to have some kind of weakness which would make him a prime candidate for solicitation. In this era of technology it is hard to create a background that can withstand close scrutiny. Apparently the first man's that was sent in could not. So if we couldn't manufacture such a person, I thought we needed to find the real thing. That is you, Detective Ellison. I know I have no direct authority over you, but you have, in the past, shown a willingness to help us if the need arose. "
Jim knew this was where Whitney was headed, but he hadn't figured out all the details. "So you want me to go in as Jim Ellison. Why would I leave Cascade and what supposedly is my vice?"
"The reason and the vice are one in the same," Whitney said. "Blair Sandburg."
Simon saw that both Jim and his partner were confused and figured he was probably the best one to straighten it out for them. "Jim, if you agree to this, certain people in the D.A.'s office will 'discover' you and Sandburg are lovers. You will be given the option of leaving or being exposed. You'll quit, apply to the Seacoast department, and you and Blair will move to Oregon."
The room was silent until Jim uttered a terse, "No."
"Please, detective, if you think that your reputation--" Weinstein started.
"I don't give a--" He paused, remembering his audience. "I'm not worried about my reputation, ma'am."
"They wouldn't hurt Blair," Simon said, understanding what was always Jim's first concern. "He would be the collateral hanging over your head. He'd probably be safer in Seacoast than here in Cascade."
"But what about his studies?" Jim inquired. They, himself included, tended to forget Blair was a student with a life outside the department.
"If you both accept this assignment, he'll take classes at the University of Oregon at Seacoast. We want to make this seem as real as possible, Jim."
"Great. Seems as if the four of you have it all figured out," Jim replied dryly.
"This is not a done deal, Jim, no matter what it appears to be," Simon said, glaring at the others and daring them to say otherwise. "This is not just some undercover mission that lasts a few days. To get to the top, to reach the puppetmaster in charge, you're going to have to go in deep. It may take months, maybe even a year for them to trust you enough for them to slip and give you what we need. That's a year out of your life. It's not something you can decide in an instant. You two need time to figure out if this is something you can do. I've assured the D.A., A.G., and the Deputy Director that you will seriously consider the assignment and get back to them as soon as possible."
"But I can only wait so long, detective," Weinstein said. "Every moment wasted is another crime in Seacoast."
"What you're asking is a year out of my life and my partner's, ma'am. Surely that bears weight as well," Jim replied, his tone polite but his gaze chilled. "There's no way I will rush that decision, A.G. Weinstein. Simon, we'll meet you at the loft. Director Whitney, thank you for your confidence in us. Mr. House, good to see you. We're out of here, Chief."
Simon watched his men leave. "With all due respect, Ms. Weinstein, you do not want to push Jim Ellison. If he decides to go through with this, he'll be doing you a favor."
"There you are incorrect, sir," she replied, accepting the fact she may have been in the wrong. "If Det. Ellison goes through with this, he'll be doing every honest cop in the country a favor."
Simon Banks waited for the elevator to take him to his friends' loft and wondered what to say to them. On paper, the plan was perfect. Anyone scrutinizing Jim's background would find an exemplary military record, a solid police history as a detective, and a steadfast relationship with one Blair Sandburg. Hell, the Seacoast cops could ask anyone about Jim and Blair and the answer would be that they were virtually inseparable. They lived together, worked together, even vacationed together. The only thing they didn't do together was sex.
And despite what Weinstein had implied, he knew neither of the men would have trouble with the pretense. Both were very comfortable with their sexuality or anyone else's. That was the odd thing about Jim. He appeared to be the uptight military type who was intolerant of anything or anyone that didn't fit his definition of normal and for a while, that's who he had been. Then Sandburg-- ponytail, meditation beads, jungle drum music, and all-- had invaded his life and suddenly he was Mr. Tolerant.
Okay, he understood why Jim accepted Sandburg. It wasn't like he had any choice. Suddenly having his senses go out of control had unnerved the detective and of course he clung to the one person who not only knew what was happening to him but also gave him his control back. But knowing the grad student had changed the core of Jim Ellison. He wasn't as cold. He laughed and joked with friends. He had them over for poker games. He listened to their problems and tried to help. Even more surprising, he put up with Sandburg's friends. If that wasn't love, what was?
A Hollywood casting director couldn't have found a better match for the undercover role than Jim, and Simon was astonished at how quickly Whitney had come to the same conclusion. Jim fit the profile so perfectly, it was almost scary. There were several openings in the Seacoast department and since the corruption was widespread, any job would put Jim in the position of being propositioned. Seacoast had a combined Vice and Narcotics Squad; Jim had worked vice before Major Crimes. He had several commendations, had been policeman of the year... Seacoast would have to work very hard in coming up with an excuse not to hire the man.
And giving up a year of their lives wouldn't have a deep impact on either man. There were no significant others to miss, no kids wanting to know where Daddy was, not even a dog that would grow lonesome in a kennel. Sandburg, of course, would have to stop eyeing every female ass that walked by, but Simon wasn't the least bit concerned; he was fairly certain the kid was capable of giving up sex for the rest of his life-- if it meant his Sentinel was protected. And that brought the captain to the only one major obstacle standing in the way of their assignment: the Sentinel himself.
That was exactly what Sandburg hit him with as soon as he stepped his foot inside their door. "Simon, how is he supposed to go in without me?"
"You're the whole point of why he can go in at all, Sandburg," Simon pointed out.
"You know what I mean, man," Blair argued, knowing Simon wasn't that obtuse. "I won't be with him at work. You know he needs me." Jim's senses came in handy most of the time, but if he focused too hard with one sense, he zoned and became unaware of his surroundings.
"It won't be like he'll actually be working cases. He won't have to use his Sentinel abilities."
"He's a cop, Simon. He will work the cases and he will use his Sentinel talents. You know that as well as I do."
Simon had no answer so he turned to the man who had been silent since his arrival. "Why are you acting like you're not even in the room? Furthermore, why is this just the opposite of what went on down at Justice? The both of you trying to drive me nuts?"
Jim laughed. "That would be an awfully short trip, wouldn't it, Simon?" The captain even had to smile at the too true statement. "Blair trusts me to handle the police matters, Simon, and I trust him to deal with the Sentinel concerns," he explained as he handed his friend a beer to match the ones he and his partner already had. Maybe it was early in the day to be imbibing, but it wasn't every day you were asked to sacrifice a year of your life.
"So, Sandburg, are you saying he can't do this?" Just like Jim, Simon too trusted that Blair knew what was best for the Sentinel.
Blair was silent for a moment. "No, I'm not saying that." He sighed and wiped the condensation off the long-necked bottle he held. "Jim doesn't zone nearly as often as he used to and as long as I'm around to watch what he eats and drinks, and as long as he honestly keeps me informed of any problems he's having, he can do this."
Jim was surprised Blair had come to the conclusion so quickly and was pleased his friend was so confident in his abilities. "So how long have you known about this, Simon?"
"About an hour before you did. Whitney called me himself. I think he was worried about how the two of you would react to playing gays."
"What did you tell him?"
"The same thing you almost told Weinstein. By the way, it's nice to see your diplomatic tact is improving, Jim. I doubt if the A.G. would have appreciated the profanity."
"She has a lot more to worry about than my language, Simon. They've already been careless so many times in this investigation. How can we be sure we won't get burned? How do we know that someone in her office isn't playing for the opposing team?"
The same questions Simon had asked Weinstein when this plan was proposed. If he hadn't been satisfied with the answers, Jim and Blair would have never been called in. "She's the only one who knows what's going on, Jim. Her office knows she flew to Seattle to talk to Whitney, but they know nothing of this visit to Cascade and your potential involvement."
"If we go under, who will be our liaison?"
"You, the A.G., and Whitney will work that out, I guess."
Jim shook his head. "You will be our contact or no deal."
"Jim, we just can't--"
"I can and will do whatever is necessary to protect Sandburg and me, Simon," Jim argued. "One undercover man is already dead. How can I trust these people?"
"If you don't trust them, then don't do it, Jim," Simon advised.
"So I'm just supposed to sit back and let Seacoast's corruption start to infect the rest of the Northwest? You know if the drug lords are allowed to take over one city, they will try for others and the next thing you know, this will be out of anyone's control. I cannot let that happen."
Simon stared at him, startled by the solemn vow he heard. "I thought the Sentinel's territory was merely Cascade."
"I think it's widening," Blair said, having thought about it for a while now. "As he gains more control of his senses, as they strengthen, he becomes more capable of handling a larger territory and he does so. I'm not even sure it's a conscious decision."
"So what are his limits, Mr. Expert?" Simon snarled. He did not need to know his detective considered the whole Northwest his to protect. He already had more work than he could handle.
Blair looked at Simon and then at Jim. "I don't think there are any."
"So, you're telling me that somewhere down the line I'm going to lose my detective to a higher purpose, right? Why don't I just hand him over full-time to Whitney right now?" Simon asked in frustration.
"Because I don't want to go," Jim stated softly. "I'm satisfied being a Cascade detective, Simon. In fact, I'm worried about leaving you for this long."
"We'll manage somehow without you," Simon said, wondering if it was true. Looking back, he realized as soon as a tough case landed on his desk, he immediately lobbed it off to Jim and Blair. No wonder they ended up in the hospital so often. "Think of this as a vacation from your standard venue of serial killers and psychos."
"But after a vacation, my job is waiting for me," the detective said meaningfully.
"No one will be taking over your desk, Jim."
"But won't it look suspicious if I'm not replaced?"
"Budget cuts. Major Crimes will be temporarily downsized."
"That's a relief." Simon saw from the look on Jim's face that it was. Why choose being an underpaid city employee when just a word could vault him to being a federal agent with an unlimited budget? "This is where I belong, Simon," Jim explained, seeing the captain's confusion. "Maybe not for always, but definitely for now."
Simon nodded. "It's your call, Jim. It always has been. What about you, Sandburg? You okay with this undercover assignment? Changing schools and all?"
"It's cool, Simon. Thanks for arranging it," Blair replied, saluting the captain with his bottle.
"Why do you think I had anything to do with it?"
"Who else would care, Simon?" the anthropologist asked, without any rancor. "Whitney and the A.G. see me only as Jim's way in. If he gambled, drank, or did drugs, I wouldn't be in the equation at all. The only person in that room who gave a damn about me, Simon, is you."
"I think I'm going to enjoy this time away from the two of you," Simon said hollowly. They were starting to know him too well. It just wasn't natural. But what was where Sentinel and Guide were involved?
Much later in the day, the door closed behind the captain. "The A.G. wasn't too pleased to hear all the restrictions you and Simon came up with," Blair remarked as he cleaned up the remains of the strategy session. How the two older men stayed healthy was a complete mystery to him. Junk food junkies both.
"Pleasing the A.G. is the least of my worries, Chief. I'm not risking our lives on some half-assed plan she came up with because Seacoast, and therefore her reputation, is one big timebomb. If we do this, we do it my way," Jim asserted. At least Whitney understood. The deputy director had agreed with every point they'd made during the teleconference.
"The right way," Blair reiterated. "By the way, I've been meaning to thank you, Jim."
"For what?" Disrupting your life one more time?
"You never once suggested I stay here in Cascade. I was just waiting for you to say I didn't have to be there, that I didn't have to live with you for us to be an item. That it would make more sense if I was left behind to continue my work at Rainier U." He turned to take their glasses to the kitchen when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"You would have preferred that?" Jim asked quietly.
Blair allowed his partner to search his turquoise eyes. "No, Jim. I wouldn't have preferred that. I want to be with you."
"But this is your home."
Blair put the dishes in the sink and looked around the loft. It was not only his home, but the first one he'd ever had. His mother had kept them on the move during his childhood, a restless flower child in search of something she had yet to find. He looked at his stuff scattered about the apartment. Some of it he remembered adding, some of it had just appeared, and Jim had accepted all of it as easily as he had accepted the presence of someone else in his very personal space. "It's true I've lived here longer than I've lived anywhere my whole life. But it's not the place that's my home, Jim."
Jim looked away uncomfortably. "Well, just in case, I'm not getting rid of the loft. I'm not subletting it or leasing it. I want it waiting for us when we get back. You don't have a problem with that, do you?"
Blair thought of the doors Jim had installed for him, the organized disorganization of his room, and all the revelations that had occurred in this small space. "No, Jim. I don't have a problem with that at all."
Level II: Submersion
Level II: Submersion
"Finally calling it a day, lieutenant?"
The tall man smiled, switching his briefcase from one hand to the other as he patted his suit jacket in search of his car keys. "I think I should, sergeant. If I stay any longer, it will be another day."
The desk sergeant glanced at the clock. "That's true, sir. Drive safely now." The lieutenant threw up his hand in acknowledgment and left the building. The sergeant shook his head. Wonder when the newness will wear off, he thought as he turned back to the usual slate of hookers and underage drinkers. The head of the detective unit had been on the job a couple of months and he had yet to see him leave the office on time. He admired that, but knew it wouldn't last. The good workers eventually caved in and lowered themselves to the depths of the rest or they up and left. He really hoped the lieutenant did the latter. The man didn't seem the type to be able to function at half-capacity. It would destroy him.
Lt. Jim Ellison opened the door to his department-issued, champagne-colored Chevy Caprice, tossed the briefcase to the passenger's seat, then folded his long body inside. For a second he just sat there, centering himself for the long drive home. He and Blair lived in a remote area on the coast. In a few years, it would probably be heavily developed with neighbors every few yards but for now, they were the only ones around. They had chosen it because it fit their cover; no one with a secret relationship wanted neighbors nearby. Neither was bothered by the isolation. The quiet was good for Jim and whatever was good for Jim, Blair supported.
The thought of Blair waiting for him at home spurred him into action, which consisted of cranking the car, shrugging out of his suit jacket and unloosening his tie. In a little over a month, he'd grown weary of having to dress for work. He truly longed for the days of sweaters and slacks. But those days were gone. Not that the Seacoast detectives had a dress code, but he was no longer a mere detective. The hiring board had taken one look at his resume and had offered him the position of Chief of Detectives with the rank of lieutenant. That had caused a minor temblor in the undercover scenario, but it had finally been agreed that maybe this put him in a better position to be invited into the "inner circle" than being a detective would have. So Jim had twenty men working under him and an office that he rarely left.
Blair was ecstatic with Jim's new position. It meant that the Sentinel would not be working cases on his own. He was a director-- assigning cases, reviewing work, tossing in a mixture of support and discipline. In short, he was Simon and Simon rarely got hurt. In fact, the only person not pleased with the job was Jim. For the first time in his life, he wasn't in the field. He told people what to do and he had to wait until later to see if they had actually done it. It stifled the Sentinel and frustrated the former detective.
What was more frustrating, however, was watching cases being deliberately sabotaged. So far, the detectives hadn't been the ones to screw up. Probably a directive had come from the top for the detectives to behave themselves until the new chief could be properly evaluated. How long this would last was an unknown, but until it changed it was the support services-- forensics, evidence control, and the patrol officers-- who caused warrants to be faulty, lost evidence, and contaminated crucial crime scenes.
For some reason, maybe all his detective instincts hadn't been sucked out of him by the four walls of his office yet, Jim thought that a change was coming soon. The feds would be pleased to hear that. Sandburg's weekly chats with Simon had been completely boring from their point of view. Of course, Simon had been fascinated by the changes in their lives. He'd told Blair that he expected Jim to behave better when he got back since he now knew the trials of being administration. He also had been relieved that Jim wasn't working the field, especially since his Guide couldn't be by his side. Simon and Blair in complete agreement. Why does that only happen when it put some kind of restraint on me?
"Hi, Jim. How was your day?" Blair asked, looking up from his laptop as Jim let himself into the small beach house. It wasn't the loft, but it was comfortable.
"The same as every day, Chief," Jim answered, placing his briefcase next to Blair's backpack. "My dinner in the usual place?" Poor Blair got stuck with cooking almost every night because Jim was now keeping administrative hours, which meant he came home when his desk was reasonably clear.
"Top shelf of the fridge. Just pop it into the microwave."
"First, I'm going to get out of these clothes." Jim disappeared into his bedroom which was directly across from Blair's. "Anything going on at the U?"
"Don't you ever read your email, man?" Blair asked in exasperation.
"Not if I can help it," he called as he slipped into a T-shirt and sweats. "I'm new at this academic stuff, remember?"
Blair grinned and reflected on how different their lives had become. In Cascade, he was the one who went through the changes of sublimating his life into Jim's work. In Seacoast, it was the direct opposite. Right after they had moved, his car had broken down and a grad student he had befriended had driven him home. Jim had been there and since explanations seemed appropriate, he had "confided" to his new friend that he and Jim were keeping their relationship a secret because he was a cop and they had been run out of one town already. Well, Damien had thought that was a shame and had invited the two of them to one of the get-togethers on campus because UOS was a progressive place that understood love was love. They had gone as a way of strengthening their covers and Jim had gotten into a discussion with some of the faculty in the Criminal Justice department. In the end, he found himself teaching a senior seminar for the fall semester.
"Good thing I know your password," Blair said as Jim walked by toward the kitchen. "The Law School has heard about your work in Criminal Justice and wants you to do a guest lecture."
"So they can figure out how to screw cops on the stand even worse than they do now? Not likely," Jim said, lifting the corner of the wrap on his plate. "What is this, Sandburg?"
"You had it before and declared it edible." Jim shrugged. If he'd eaten it the first time around... "You know your superiors may want you to do the lecture. I mean, they were quite eager when they learned about the Criminal Justice offer."
"They just want to put me on display to assure the public that the police department is on the up and up. Jim Ellison-- poster boy for good cops. Aren't enough students suffering already?"
"Suffering? Jim, they had to put up a sign in the Registrar's Office that your seminar was just for seniors because so many students wanted to pick it up before the drop/add period ended. The dean has already asked me if I thought you could possibly do two sections next semester," Blair added, delighted at his friend's success. Jim may have been surprised by how well the students liked him, but he wasn't; it had been Jim who taught him everything he knew about law enforcement.
"And what did you tell him?" He opened the microwave door before the first obnoxious ding.
"I told him to talk to your commander or the commissioner."
"Aw, hell, Chief. You may as well said yes."
"Okay, we'll email them your acceptance tomorrow."
"You're enjoying this too much, Sandburg," Jim groused, getting a fork.
"Hey, I don't get to chase after you anymore, dodging bullets and 2x4's. I have to get my kicks some way," Blair said, laughing as he hit the save button. There. A paper finished ahead of time. Never accomplished that in Cascade. "We still on for the weekend?"
"Yeah. It'll be great to give up being Lt. Jim Ellison for a while and just be me-- flannel shirt, sweater and all. Did you find all our fishing gear?"
"How could I not? Whenever I moved before, I stuck stuff in boxes and left. You, on the other hand, made me label each and every box before it was sealed. So I went to the box that read 'fishing gear' and guess what I found?" Blair teased.
"And what did they say about teaching old dogs new tr--" He paused as a phone began to ring. Damn. It was the green one, the one Blair was forbidden to answer because it was the number Jim had given to his co-workers and since he didn't want anyone to know he was living with another man... "Ellison," he said abruptly into the receiver.
Blair could tell immediately from the sudden appearance of Jim's jawbone that all was not well. He listened to his roommate's occasional grunts and terse questions, then headed to Jim's room, retrieving the clothes that had recently been discarded. Well, in Jim's case discarded meant hung to one side of the closet as opposed to the other. He brought them into the living room and helped him dress as he continued the conversation.
"I'm on my way." Jim hung up the phone and finished buttoning his cuffs. "It seems some of my detectives were invited along to a narcotics bust without my knowledge. The operation somehow spun out of control and there are several men down."
"I don't know. Everything's still a big mess right now. I don't know when I'll be back."
Blair nodded. "Be careful, okay?"
Jim secured his gun and squeezed his roommate's arm. "I will be, Chief."
Blair heard a car door shut and he hurried to the window to see Jim slowly make his way along the walk. He rushed to the door, the morning sun having been up for quite some time. "Hi, Jim," he said softly.
"Chief," Jim acknowledged, brushing past him to collapse on the sofa. He yanked at the tie that felt as if it were trying to choke him, but he knew the real culprit was his emotions. "You heard?"
Blair brought over a mug of coffee, then perched on the back of the sofa. "Yeah, it was on the morning news. Three officers dead, one of them a detective. Five others are in the hospital."
"That's where I've been all night-- the hospital. I sat there with the families and tried to comfort them. God, I wish you'd been there, Chief." He braced the mug with both hands as he sipped the strong brew. Just what he needed after the night he'd had.
"I wish I had been there too." It felt wrong not to be with his partner, not to back him up, regardless of the situation. "Did you find out what went wrong?"
"Not yet. But I will," he promised grimly.
Blair patted his shoulder sympathetically and was appalled at the tightness of the muscles he found there. "You must have a killer headache," he said, shifting so that he could massage both shoulders equally. "Once these bricks start feeling like flesh again, I want you to take a shower and a nice long nap. By the way, when's the last time you ate? You were called away last night before you could eat dinner. Please tell me you got something at the hospital cafeteria?"
Jim sighed as the kinks melted beneath his partner's skilled hands, then shook his head. "Not hungry, Chief. And although the shower sounds good, I can't sleep. I have a class at ten, remember?"
"I'll put a note up on the classroom door. The students will understand."
Jim shook his head. "This seminar is for them to know what it's like to be a cop. Death and injury are parts of that. It's inevitable, Chief. Whether you are a cop or just associate with them, you're going to end up at a cop's funeral one day."
Pessimistic but true, Blair thought, remembering the funerals he had attended with Jim. The services were always somber, military-style affairs, and he wasn't sure whether that made them more dignified or just incredibly sadder. "Mind if I sit in? My class isn't till later."
"Moral support, Chief?" Jim questioned with a bemused smile.
"Whatever gets us through the day, Jim." He rested his hands on his partner's shoulders and bent close. "This isn't Peru, buddy."
"They were under my command, Blair. It's close enough." Jim jumped up and disappeared into his room.
Blair took his place on the sofa and stared at the glass doors that opened onto the deck and its view of the ocean. That had been a major selling point in choosing the house. The real estate agent had brought them out to the house just on the off chance they might like it. He'd had trouble getting rid of it because it was so remote and the rocky coastline just beyond was a danger to children. But the Sentinel had stood on the deck and told his Guide that the sight and sound of the ocean was having a curious, calming effect on him. Blair had told the agent to get the papers ready even before a price was quoted.
Jim was definitely in need of the calming effect today, Blair thought despondently. Until now, this undercover operation had seemed like a vacation. No crazed people coming after him. No crazed people coming after his partner. He'd been able to go to class and complete his assignments without interruption. He had made new friends and Jim had become part of his university life. Except for having to deny himself female companionship, which he had come to think of as a period of purifying abstinence similar to a fast, life was pretty good here in Seacoast.
Hanging around the precinct in Cascade, he'd heard about the dangers of going undercover, forgetting the reason why you were pretending, hell, forgetting you were pretending altogether. So he should have been prepared, on alert for this to happen. But it had happened anyway. Somehow they both had forgotten, or ignored, people had already died trying to bring these people down and that it was possible others would fall during the course of their investigation. Now, not only had people died, but Jim's hands were tied and he could do nothing to avenge the deaths or prevent others from happening. His mission was to find the leaders and see how deep the corruption ran. Taking down the people directly responsible for the killings would do no good; it was the people supporting and directing them who were the real danger. So his cover had to be kept no matter how much blood flowed.
Damn it, Blair chided himself. Even though it was Jim who was doing the actual work, he had a job too. He was supposed to back Jim, if not at the department then at least here in their home. That meant if Jim needed to be anchored in reality, he should have been the tether. Instead, he had been the one who dragged Jim into the university routine, had volunteered him for teaching next semester when, by all accounts, they should be hoping to have this case over and be back in Cascade by then. Man, talk about blowing it big time.
"Hey, I haven't lost you too, Chief?" Jim asked, leaning over the back of the sofa, a towel wrapped securely around his waist. He'd been heading to his room after his shower and had made a comment about feeling a little more human. When Blair hadn't made a reply, he'd come to the living room and found his friend lost in thought.
Blair leaned his head back against his friend's arm. "Nah. I'm not going anywhere. Haven't you figured that out by now?"
"I'm not thinking too clearly at the moment," Jim admitted.
"It's not something you have to think about, Jim. You can just know it, okay?"
"Okay. Thanks for grounding me, Chief."
"Funny. I was just thinking about how I haven't been doing that. I've done a lousy job of being here for you, Jim. I'm sorry."
Jim gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Apology unaccepted because it's unnecessary. At the moment you are the only thing keeping me sane, Chief. I couldn't do any of this without you."
Blair stood and walked around the sofa, wrapping his arms around Jim. "As I said, I'm here to stay, big guy. Now, what can I do to make you feel better?"
"I already feel better, Chief."
"Shhh. I'm offering to comfort you. You should take me up on it. It's not often the roles are reversed, you know," Blair reminded him.
"More often than you realize," Jim said softly, then smiled at the pleading eyes looking at him. "Come on in the bedroom. I'm sure we'll think of something."
Jim looked up from his desk, startled. He'd been so lost in his thought that he hadn't heard anyone approach. He was so tired. Maybe he should have done like Blair suggested and canceled his class. But no, the discussion he'd had with the students had been worth it. Maybe when something like this occurred to someone in the class down the road, they would be able to handle it better. Maybe it would keep one future cop or law enforcement official from succumbing to the pressures of the job as they so often did.
"What is it, Kathy?" Kathy Hill was the division's secretary.
"Commander Mallory wants to see you in his office at your convenience."
"Thank you," he said, reaching for the folder he had already prepared. Everyone at the precinct knew Commander Mallory's "at your convenience" meant "right now." Thankfully, he had been prepared for such summons and had completed his investigation into the night's events. From what he could gather, his detectives had participated in the operation thinking they had his approval. Why they thought so was still a mystery.
The elevator whisked him to the tenth floor where the administrative office suites were. Padding across the thickest of carpets Jim was led to his commander's office. "You wanted to see me, sir?" he questioned politely.
Jacob Mallory adjusted a Star Trek paperweight-- a Romulan Bird of Prey to be exact-- on his desk before looking up. He was obsessed with having his office just so. Maybe because it was one of the few things in his life over which he had control. "Have a seat, lieutenant. I suppose you know what this is about?"
"Yes, sir." Jim handed him the report he'd put together and sat quietly as Mallory read through it. He wasn't worried about anything he had put in the report; he'd merely told the truth.
"I see this says you had no knowledge of your detectives being included in this detail," Mallory said moments later, with no inflection in his voice.
"I didn't, sir."
Mallory pulled open his desk drawer and extracted a folder laying exactly as he'd left it."This report will say you did as soon as you add your signature to the last page."
"When I what?" Jim took the offered report and quickly scanned it. It stated he had known about the activity, had authorized the use of his detectives, and was terribly saddened by what had occurred but that was the risk policemen took every day. When Jim finally looked up, Mallory was handing him a pen. He shook his head. "I can't sign this, sir. It's a lie, one that ended up with one of my detectives dead."
Mallory nodded. "It is. But you will sign it, lieutenant." When Jim refused to take the pen, the commander reached again into a drawer. This time he brought out a manila envelope. He hesitated only a fraction of a second before he opened it, oddly saddened by what the contents would do to the proud man sitting across from him. He'd been like him once-- cocky, self-assured, hell, even a bit self-righteous. But that would change quickly. He upended the envelop onto his desk, frowning as the papers, photographs and miniature cassettes littered his small, but sacred, domain. "To save time, I included the transcripts of the tapes."
Jim's hand trembled as it went through the envelope's contents. The photographs gave away the purpose of the packet rather quickly. They were all of him and Blair in their home or on their deck. In one, he had his head in Blair's lap. Oh, yeah. That was the day they had painted his office and the smell had given him a blinding headache. He'd barely been able to drive himself home. In another Blair was feeding him. Some new concoction he had refused to taste and Blair had chased him around the house with a fork until he tried it. Actually, it hadn't been half bad. One was taken earlier in the day because Jim recognized the towel he was wearing as Blair embraced him. Gee, getting a hug from a friend after one of my officers was killed. How sinful.
Flipping through the pages and pages of transcripts, he saw snippets of conversations he and Blair had shared. Idle chatter mostly, nothing that they wouldn't have said in the loft back in Cascade. Put in the right light, there could be hints and innuendoes, maybe a few double entendres, but, hell, that could be said of most conversations. He felt his anger flare as he continued to gaze upon the evidence of the blatant invasion of their privacy.
"I can tell you right now, indignant anger will only get these posted around the station," Mallory said, knowing how Ellison would react. "Rumor has it you've already been run out of Cascade. Want to try for city number two?"
"What I do in the privacy of my home should be none of your affair," Jim spat out between clenched teeth.
Mallory laughed. "Come on, lieutenant. Lose the constitutional, liberal crap and face reality. Perversions like yours are not appreciated in the police department. At best, no one will want to work with you. At worst..." the commander shrugged.
"Is that supposed to be some kind of threat, sir?" Jim asked, fighting to maintain his temper. He could easily dismiss the pictures and the recordings because there was nothing "shameful" going on in any of it. But just the thought of someone photographing them and listening to their conversations...
"I don't swing that way, but even I will admit your lover is kind of cute. It would be a shame if something were to happen to that--"
Before he could finish the sentence, Jim was leaning across the desk and in his face. "You can do whatever you want with me, but do not make the mistake of threatening my partner! Do I make myself clear, sir?"
Mallory rolled his chair back slightly in an unconscious retreat. He was impressed. The man was still fighting even after seeing the evidence. As soon as he'd seen his bookie's "black book" laying on his superior officer's desk, he had conceded the battle. "Sign this paper and no one will threaten either of you, lieutenant."
"Fine!" Jim scribbled his name onto the report. He sat back in his chair and rubbed his temples. "How long do I have, sir? I'm teaching at the university, you know, and my partner is taking classes there. Can we at least finish out the semester before you release this?" he asked in resignation.
Finally. Mallory had begun to worry that turning this man was going to be more difficult than it was worth. Thank God his weakness was so personal... and apparently meant so much to him. "Lt. Ellison, as long as play on the right team, you don't have to worry about this. You and your 'partner' may conduct your business as you so desire. Understand?" He picked up everything and put it back into the envelope, handing it to Jim with a benevolent smile. "We appreciate the fact that our men are only human and therefore have imperfections, Jim. We hope you will appreciate our leniency."
"I do, sir," Jim said, nearly crushing the envelope. "Is there anything else you need from me?"
"Not right now. In fact, you look a bit ragged. I hear you were at the hospital all night. Why don't you take the afternoon off and be 'comforted'?" Mallory offered, remembering the words of the last tape. It was an unfair dig, but Ellison needed to be reminded of his position.
"Under your watchful eyes and ears? I'd rather not," Jim argued.
"The surveillance has been pulled." Jim looked doubtful. "You can trust me, Jim."
"Because you own me now?"
Mallory smiled. "There is that. Good afternoon, lieutenant." He watched the man leave his office, then dialed a number on his private phone. "He's in," he said quickly. "No, I don't anticipate any problems. It appears Blair Sandburg has him by one ball and we have the other."
Level III: Breathing Underwater
Level III: Breathing Underwater
"I'm worried, Simon," Blair admitted as he joined the captain in their regular meeting place, a small mountain cabin located between Cascade and Seacoast.
"Something happen this week?" the captain asked quickly. So far, everything had been going smoothly. He had met with both Blair and Jim at the lake during their fishing trip and had learned of Jim's meeting with Mallory. The news that Jim had finally been approached by the group had been greeted with sighs of relief on all sides.
"No, it's just..." He shook his head, wondering if he should burden the captain with his fears.
"Spill, Sandburg," Simon ordered. "If there's a problem, we need to know about it. Mallory and the others are keeping up their end of the deal, aren't they? The surveillance had been pulled and you haven't been hassled, have you?" he added thoughtfully. Could that be the problem? Damn kid probably wouldn't bother to tell his partner if they were after him.
"No, it's nothing like that, Simon," Blair assured him. Jim knew the exact moment surveillance had ceased, the same way he'd known when it began. The electronic bugs had hummed a merry tune to Jim and the photographer with his telescopic lens was as visible to the Sentinel as the sun itself. So the words on the tapes had been scripted for the most part, the photos posed for. Even though Jim had "swept" the house, they were still careful about what they said. And as far as he was concerned, they had never intruded into his life. He had never been followed and Jim hadn't detected any bugs in his office or the classrooms. Apparently, he was nothing to this unholy gang except collateral against Jim.
"Sandburg, if you have concerns, tell me," Simon implored worriedly. "The feds don't have to know everything we discuss."
Blair looked at Simon gratefully. "It's about Jim, captain. You know there was another incident two nights ago. No one was killed, but there were a couple of close calls and the only connection Jim has is Mallory calling him up to his office to sign off on the incidents. He's getting impatient with being on the outside. I'm afraid he's going to do something to force the issue."
"Damn it, no!" Simon shouted. "Tell him to let this play out at whatever speed it comes, Sandburg. Everyone is pleased at the development of this so far. Tell him not to screw it up."
Blair laughed without humor. "Reality check, Simon. This is Jim we're talking about. He's the Sentinel. He sees a wrong and he wants to correct it right then. Sitting on his ass waiting for them to include him isn't what he considers a viable option."
"Well, he better re-consider," Simon sputtered. "He knew going into this that this was going to be a long ride."
"And you knew going into this that Jim was going to sit back only so long," Blair argued. "I warned you, remember? He's not an observer; he's a doer. And there's extra pressure on him now that he's a lieutenant. There are men and women under his command getting hurt and killed, sir. That puts a different slant on the impersonal scenario we planned at the loft. If Jim sees a way to get in deeper, he's going to take it and he doesn't have to wait on anyone's approval. Remember all those clauses and codicils that you both made the feds agree to?"
Simon pinched the bridge of his nose. "Those were for his protection, not for him to go off on his own. These people are dangerous, Sandburg. It's already been shown that they are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way. If he comes on too strong... Rein him in, Blair."
He knew how serious Simon was by the use of his first name, but he also knew the captain was overestimating how much control he had over Jim. "I'll do my best, Simon, but..."
"There can't be any 'buts', Blair. This is Jim's life we're talking about."
"I know that, captain, but we both know Jim."
The cabin fell silent.
"I beg your pardon?" Commander Mallory said in disbelief, staring at the officer sitting arrogantly before his desk.
"I'm not signing any more of these false documents," Jim said calmly.
"I see. Why is that? Have, uh, circumstances changed in your home life?" That was the problem with blackmail. Sometimes circumstances changed.
"No. We are very happy with each other. But we're not happy with this situation. We both agree we'd rather be outed than run the risk of me doing federal time. And because of the ineptness of your little blackmailing group, that's exactly what all of us are facing," Jim said strongly.
"You think we're inept?" Mallory repeated dryly. He was intrigued by this sudden turnaround. He'd known from the beginning Ellison was a fighter, but he had signed the last couple of reports with calm obedience. What had changed?
"No. I think the people controlling the action are inept. I think you are merely useless," Jim observed. "I do more than you do. There are papers that need my signature, orders I have to sign off on. All you ever do is jerk my chain and considering the ring in my nose, anybody's 92-year-old grandmother could do that. So, like the good little errand boy that you are, Mallory, run to your superiors and tell them I said either play the fucking game right or get off the field."
"And if they don't accept this challenge?"
"I walk. San Francisco's department has an opening. I'm sure they won't mind who I'm living with."
Ah. That was what had inspired this performance. He had another job offer... in a city which would admire, not condemn, his life choices. "And what if you aren't allowed to walk?"
Jim tapped his fingers impatiently against Mallory's desk. "I'd rather be dead than be a cop doing federal time."
"But what about your partner?" Always remind the challenger of his weakness.
"Killing him will only make me mad. And I'm not a very nice person when I'm mad," Jim said flatly.
"So now we're down to trading threats?"
"You're making threats; I'm making promises. If something happens to Blair, I will kill each and every one of you involved in this little enterprise. Apparently you didn't bother to read between the lines of my military records, did you?" Jim asked with a tense smile.
"You were in the Army. You went down in Peru. You were rescued, then you resigned. What did I miss?" Mallory recited.
"Oh, the missions that are still marked 'classified' after all these years, the sheer stupidity of the statement that I went down to Peru to help the natives protect themselves. You really think our government would waste money on teaching Indians to build better spears?" Jim laughed, rolling his eyes in disbelief. "Besides, the Chopec are better warriors than our people will ever be. The things they can do with a knife..." He gave an exaggerated shudder. "Those eighteen months were a hell of a learning experience."
"I see," his C.O. said respectfully. "I will pass your 'concerns' on to the proper authorities."
"Do that." Jim stood but before leaving, he reached out and deliberately knocked over the pewter Enterprise-D on the desk. Then he winked at Mallory and left.
Mallory immediately set the figurine to rights and reached for the phone. "It's Mallory," he said into the receiver. "We have a situation."
"Jim! You're home on time," Blair said as his roommate stepped through the door. "What's wrong?"
"No 'what a nice surprise' or 'it's good to see you before the sun sets'. Make a guy feel unloved, why don't you?" Jim retorted dryly.
Blair huffed a noisy sigh. "Of course I'm glad to see you, Jim. It's just that I wasn't expecting you so early. Dinner isn't ready yet." He motioned toward the oven.
"Sandburg, I don't come home just because I know there's food waiting for me. When I eat isn't a big concern."
Blair narrowed his eyes and scrutinized his partner. "No, but something is. I have some stuff I want to talk about too. Change clothes and we'll have a beer on the deck." That was code for discussing the case. Although Jim was certain all the monitoring devices had been taken out of the house, they were still careful about what they said. On the patio, between the crash of the ocean and the nice sound system they had installed out there, they could talk in relative safety.
"That sounds good," Jim said. "I take it you had a productive day?"
"Just a lot of discussion that's probably going to end up as a waste of breath."
"Can't wait to hear the details of that," Jim remarked sardonically, then froze, cocking his head to focus his hearing. "Someone's coming. Did Damien say anything about dropping by?"
Blair shook his head. "He's out on a dig until the weekend. And our other friends probably couldn't even find this place."
Jim undid the snap that held his gun in his shoulder holster. "Go out onto the deck, Chief. If something happens, you know what to do."
Blair paled. "What's going on, Jim?" A simple visitor shouldn't be making him this nervous. For all they knew it could be the realtor or maybe someone from the university had managed to find them.
"Just do as I say!" He knew how unhappy Blair was about the command as the door slammed shut behind him. Hell, he was going to have to do some serious apologizing after their surprise visitor left... assuming of course, he was still alive. Pushing the group might not have been one of his brightest ideas, but he'd been tired of waiting for them to make a move and he could "see" the disaster waiting ahead: a major bloodbath was coming if something wasn't done soon. The attorney general hadn't want to tip her hand so the state police were still determined to take out the drug trade in Seacoast and the opposition was just as determined not to give in. It was apparently left up to the Sentinel to do something to break the stalemate.
Well, this was doing something all right. Either he was going to be in a position to steer the opposition in another direction or he was going to be dead and Whitney was going to send in a surgical team and take out any, and every, body who got in the way. He just hoped Blair had sense enough to hightail it back to Cascade if things went wrong tonight. That, of course, was the plan, but Blair was known to be innovative at times.
Jim stood in the doorway and trained his senses on the approaching vehicle. A single car with a single occupant-- Mallory. That was a good sign. Mallory was a gopher, not an assassin. So had the commander come on their behalf or had he followed him home for his own purposes? "This is a surprise, Commander Mallory," Jim said cautiously.
"You have a considerable drive home, lieutenant," the man said as he stepped out of his car and looked around. "Nice, but a little lonely."
"You know I value my privacy, sir."
"Is that why I'm not getting an invitation to come in?" Mallory asked with a trace of a smile. He had known Ellison wouldn't be happy to see him. Probably why he had followed him home instead of asking him to stop by his office before leaving for the day.
Jim pushed the door completely open. "Mi casa es su casa," he said dryly.
Mallory brushed past him and entered. The first word that came to mind was comfortable. None of that blatantly gay stuff associated with most homosexuals. "You and your lover have good taste. Is he home, by the way?"
"Why do you want to know?" Jim asked sharply.
Mallory held up his hands. "Back off, Ellison. I'm not here on some lethal mission. In fact, I'm here with what you may consider good news." He walked over to the bookcase and looked at the pictures they had on display. Most were of the lieutenant and his "boy", Blair Sandburg. He had to admit, he could see why Ellison was attracted to him. There was something very sensual about the man and it was obvious in the pictures that the two of them cared quite a lot for each other. But who was this third man who appeared in a number of pictures as well? The tall, black fellow looked familiar. "Who is this?"
"Captain Simon Banks, my commander back in Cascade," Jim said easily. He and Blair had both agreed it would be more suspicious if they had gotten rid of everything about their former life, so the pictures of Simon had stayed.
"Your commander's picture? Does that mean you want one of me too?" Mallory commented with a lift of his eyebrow. He vaguely recalled running into Banks at a conference a few years ago.
"Simon is a... was... a close personal friend," Jim said reluctantly with a trace of anger.
"It hurts, doesn't it?" Mallory said softly. "When they turn their backs on you, instantly forgetting the good times you've shared? Too bad we can't turn our memories off like that, eh? It's the forgive part of that old saying they have trouble with; they sure as hell have no trouble with forget."
"Commander?" Jim said softly, confused by this nostalgic, but bitter, tangent.
Mallory shook his head, laughing at himself for getting lost in the past. His past. "I have orders to drive you to a meeting."
Jim frowned. "What kind of meeting?"
"You call people inept, Ellison, they want explanations. So you're going to get your chance to explain."
Jim shrugged. "I don't have a problem with that. But I can't drive myself?"
"Not with a blindfold on."
"Oh." Jim angled his head toward the patio. "I have to let Blair know I'm leaving."
Jim let himself through the patio door which wasn't quite closed. "I take it you heard everything?" he said sarcastically as he joined his partner, shutting the door firmly behind him.
Flashing blue eyes targeted his. "What the hell have you done, Jim Ellison?" Blair said in a furious whisper. "Just today I warned Simon that this was going to happen. And you know what he said? 'Rein him in, Sandburg.' But it was already too late, wasn't it? You just had to go do your own thing, without discussion, without arranging back up. Do you know how pissed I am with you right now?"
"You knew this was coming, Chief," Jim said defensively. "I couldn't just sit back and--"
"Why couldn't you? It's your job, man!"
"No. My job is to take these people out as quickly as possible. I'm sorry if you don't care for my tactics--"
"Fuck the feds!"
"And fuck me too, Jim? Is that it? No one's opinion counts but yours? This is all about you, right? Lone Wolf Ellison rides again!" Blair spat out angrily. His voice was kept deliberately low, but thanks to Jim being a Sentinel, he knew none of his ire was being lost.
"I don't have time for this, Sandburg. I have a meeting to go to," Jim said icily. Damn it. He wasn't acting selfishly this time. And he wasn't playing the hero or the Lone Wolf. He just wanted... what he wanted. Maybe there was some truth to what Blair was saying, but now was not the time to start analyzing his motives. Not when he had to face the unknown. "We'll have to talk about this later, Chief."
Blair understood when he heard the word "chief". That told him the reason for his anger hadn't gone unnoticed, that the message had gotten through. But Commander Mallory was in their living room, looking because he couldn't listen, and Jim was right; now was not the time. He touched Jim's arm. "You be careful," he demanded.
"I will be."
"I'm serious, Jim. You haven't been using your senses as much as before. They may be rusty. And you sure as hell don't want to zone," he said worriedly.
Mindful of their audience, Jim put his arms around Blair and kissed the top of his head. "I had a good teacher. I won't forget what I've learned."
Blair laughed against his chest. "I feel like a mother sending her little boy off to school by himself for the first time. Before when I couldn't be beside you, Simon and his back up were right behind you. Now you're going to be out there alone."
"I've been there before, Chief," Jim gently reminded him.
"Yeah, I know. And I didn't want you to have to go through that again."
"Then I won't. You'll be with me in spirit, won't you?"
Jim was still smiling as he joined Mallory in the house. "He isn't particularly happy about this is he?" the commander questioned, having watched the entire byplay.
Jim shrugged and reached for the jacket of his suit. "He worries about me."
"But you managed to alleviate his fears?"
"Then what was that touching last scene about?"
"That was about not wanting to part with anger between us."
"Because you're going to this meeting?"
"Because I'm a cop and there's always a chance I won't make it back home," Jim explained, staring at the man curiously. "Why the questions, commander?"
Mallory just shrugged. "You're a lucky man, Ellison."
"I've been knowing that for quite some time, Mallory." They walked out to the car.
"Hey, Chief." Jim twirled around, allowing his partner to see he was uninjured, then sat on the chaise lounge beside Blair's. "I think I may be in, Blair," he said with a grin.
"You met with the top guys?" Blair asked eagerly. Maybe this case was almost over and he could get back to being at Jim's side like he was supposed to be instead of sitting out on the deck and worrying himself to death for the past three hours. It had taken all the restraint he had not to jump up and run to the door when he heard Mallory's car pull up into the drive. He didn't want to overdo the anxious lover act.
"'Met', in this case, is a relative term. Mallory didn't make me put on the blindfold until we were back in Seacoast. When it was removed, I was in an interrogation room."
"At your precinct?"
Jim frowned. "I don't think so. Nothing smelled familiar and I couldn't hear any other people than those nearby or any other sounds of activity. I think it was abandoned."
Blair nodded, proud that Jim had thought to use his hearing on his own. "What happened?"
"I was questioned via the intercom system so I never got to see anyone. But I could feel them watching me from the two-way mirror."
"How many of them were there?"
"Eight. Only seven asked me questions though. But I know there were eight separate heartbeats. And that's not including Mallory. He stayed out in the hallway the whole time. I think I was right about him just being an errand boy."
"What were you asked?"
"Why I thought they were incompetent. I told them these confrontations with the state police were just going to get the federal government on their tails and in a fight with the feds, they were going to lose. They wanted to argue that they had no control over these situations and I told them they either needed to gain control or get out of the drug business altogether."
Blair shook his head at Jim's characteristic bluntness. "Oh, that was diplomatic of you, Jim. Are deliberately trying to get them pissed off at you or is it just a natural byproduct of your personality?"
"You say the nicest things to me, precious," Jim cooed, still on a high from the meeting.
Blair rolled his eyes at the obnoxious moniker. "Well, considering you're still in one piece, I guess they didn't take offense."
"Actually, they wanted to know how I knew so much about their operation."
Blair paled. "And you told them...?"
"That when they hired me I was a detective which meant all my investigative skills hadn't been numbed out of me by paperwork yet. I could tell by their physical responses, they liked the answer."
"You seem to be kicking a kick out of this, Jim. That's a dangerous attitude," Blair warned.
Jim sobered. "I know it seems like I'm not taking this seriously, Chief. But I am. It's just such a relief to be doing something other than sitting in my office signing papers. I assure you, I was on my guard every minute and I will continue to be during the rest of this investigation. I know we've been pretty lax lately, gotten too comfortable in our roles. But it stops now. I think we both know what's at stake. I've known ever since I spent the night at the hospital."
"So have I." It was really getting weird how so many of one's thoughts mimicked the other's. "Come on and let's get you fed."
"Guess I didn't make it home for dinner on time after all, huh?"
"Just as long as you make it home, Jim."
The detective threw his arm around his partner's shoulder. "No wonder Mallory's interested in you."
"Say what!" Blair nearly shouted.
Jim grinned. "You have an admirer, Sandburg. He asked me all kinds of questions about you. Told me I was a lucky man and he really wants to meet you."
"And what are you planning on doing about this?" Blair asked sternly.
"I invited him over for dinner next week."
The older man laughed. "It'll be okay. I just think he's lonely. His wife and friends left him because of his gambling habit and I think your steadfast loyalty to me is attractive to him. Maybe you can get him to talk."
"And if it's something more?"
Jim tugged his partner's ponytail before moving to the refrigerator. "That'll be okay too. Because you belong to me and no one else, precious. Mallory knows that and if he doesn't, then I'll make sure he has no doubts."
Blair fluttered his eyelashes. "You'll protect my honor, kind sir?"
"Sure will. It'd be hard as hell finding someone to replace you in the kitchen, precious."
Jim ducked as "Precious" picked up a throw pillow and did just that.