Tinderbox Part 2
The detective and the police consultant were barely over their initial shock at the report when Captain Simon Banks made his first appearance of the day at Major Crime.
He was one weary, worn man. His face was a little ashen, and he appeared to be suffering from a major stress headache. Jim and Blair got one look at him, and took charge. Jim went scrambling for his aspirin while Blair grabbed a club soda from the vending machine in the break room. Together they knocked at his office door.
"Come!" The word was hardly a cough. Jim raised his brows, and Blair hunched his shoulders in reply. They entered, holding out their offerings.
Simon ran a bleary eye over the bottle and can. "Oh. Aspirin. Yeah. Thanks." He took up the bottle and fumbled with the cap until Jim took it away and tipped out four tablets.
"Six," Simon asked hoarsely, "and let me have fifteen minutes of peace."
Blair consented to the upped dose and left the soda can with their division head. Jim and Blair retired, while Simon tried to recover from the budget meeting.
"They want me canned," the police consultant whispered to his partner. "I can feel it."
"Don't be so hasty, Chief. We're the mayor's fair-haired boys, even if you could stand a new haircut!"
A ruffling hand had a curly head ducking, with the ritual protest, "Not the hair, man! Not the hair!"
The two repaired to their own desks and gathered up the notes and forms they needed to issue a preliminary report to Captain Banks, when he was ready for them.
Seventeen minutes later, Simon stuck his head out of his office and called, "Ellison! Sandburg!" and went back in. It was so pallid a display that everyone in Major Crime began to conjecture about what had gone on in the budget meeting.
The partners sat down, spread out their documents, and took a good look at their boss and friend. Simon looked haggard and miserable. Jim caught an intense glare from his partner and sighed. Blair's shamanic need to heal was one of his foremost instincts and he was making his intentions crystal clear. Luckily, he actually knew some good stuff about driving away pain. The real question was whether Captain Banks would accept his help.
"Simon?" Blair asked, his voice hardly at half-level.
"What, Sandburg?" Banks had his palms above his eyebrows, trying to hold back a swell of pain.
"Give me a few minutes, and I can help you feel better."
"I can do more," the shaman said simply, and his boss gave in.
"Make it quick."
So Blair did. A short massage on his shoulders, loosening the muscles in his neck and jaw, mild stroking of the temples, and, finally, a gentle massage of the scalp had Simon almost recovered.
"That's good, Sandburg. Real good. Enough for now though. I just want this day over so I can go home."
"S'okay," Blair agreed, and took his place beside Jim again. "But tell us what went wrong in the meeting first."
Banks tried to stare down Sandburg, but he was up against the department's resident medicine man on a matter under said man's jurisdiction (even if it had been an appointment by spirit guides no one else but Jim and Blair ever saw), and Banks lost.
"It was a bitch of a meeting," he said, leaning back exhaustedly. "I hate having to defend people whose records are exemplary and should speak for themselves. Anyway, Hanratty wants to run on a bill of slashing taxes while increasing services."
"Oxymoron, anyone?" Blair asked sarcastically.
"So what's that mean for Major Crime?" Jim wanted to know. It wasn't looking pretty, and if Blair was right about his position with the department, Mayor Hanratty was going to regret her decision; James Joseph Ellison would see to it.
"She beat around the bush for a while, started talking about excess personnel, golden handshakes and lay-offs, and finally named names."
"Me, it was me, wasn't it? I knew it!"
Simon frowned uncomprehendingly. "No, it's not you, Sandburg. You and Jim are our best team. She's after Megan and Joel."
"What?" Two voices as one made the question resound against the walls.
Simon waved them back. "I told her she couldn't axe them, that if she was going to ship Major Crime a personal request every week for the two of you to handle, we had to have the best possible backup to handle the real cases Major Crime should be on."
"Oh, man," Blair breathed. "What did she say to that?"
Simon smiled triumphantly. "She backed off instantly and I think she's going to try to take the cash out of education. Again." But the smile took all the stuffing out of him, and he still looked tired and achy.
Blair was conflicted about that decision.
Jim squeezed his shoulder, and decided it was time for a change of topic.
"We wanted to report on the Calverton fires."
"Oh, God, tell me you've got it wrapped up already, please!" Simon closed his eyes and prayed.
"Well, we did some decent investigative work yesterday," Jim stated. "And we interrogated both Roddie and Marilys Calverton, who are having a not so amicable divorce..."
"...Although they've split up the real estate evenly, it seems no one wants the kid," interrupted Blair. "Say hey for a dysfunctional family."
"They've both got a main squeeze on the side and seem okay with it. Marilys is romancing the pool boy, right under her son's eyes, not to mention his father's. We really thought we were on a hot trail there. Especially since she's expecting a cash settlement, and the insurance payoffs would have provided that nicely." Jim was shaking his head, lips tight.
"So what changed, gentlemen?" Simon looked back and forth at the crest-fallen faces of his best team and closed his own eyes. "Okay, hit me with it."
"It turns out the security guard was drugged so he couldn't get out of the building, and would die in the fire. We got the coroner's report and Forensics' confirmation as you came in."
Simon opened his eyes. "The real target was the guard? How does he figure into this?"
"Well, Joel was outlining the motives for arson before, and we're wondering if it was arson to cover up the guard's murder." Blair was throwing out ideas with his hands. "We don't know anything about his private life yet, but maybe he was stealing from the floor. Those bolts of fabric are huge and even small pieces, a few yards, would be pricey. Do it regularly and you've got a lot of money in costly fabric. How you fence it, I have no idea."
"I think it could be something else, Chief. It could be blackmail."
"Yeah? Who and how?"
Jim had his elbows on his widespread knees. "He's there at the business daily, and he has complete access to the business records."
"They'd be password protected," Blair started.
"Yeah, but you saw the rabbit warren that office was, four people in one room. I don't think the password test stands up."
"Yeah, you could be right."
"So if either Roddie or Marilys, or anyone else in the chain of command, for that matter, were skimming, the guard would be right there, ready to know it."
"That means he could have been in on it, doesn't it?" Blair asked. "He could have been helping with the arson fires all along, and then died in one of his own doing, 'cause someone poisoned his snack."
"That's where it was, Simon. Ativan in his thermos. It's the stuff Marilys was popping."
"Ativan? Would it do that?"
Blair was knowledgeable about the drug. "Oh, yeah, favorite drug-of-choice for panic attacks. Among other things, it has a muscle relaxant effect. They have no taste to speak of, dissolve nicely, and work quickly. Put a few in some coffee and there'd be nothing to suspect. He'd feel very relaxed and sleepy and bingo! He's ready for the murderer to spew a killing smoke cloud his way. Joel says it doesn't take a lot of smoke to kill. There was more than enough in the third fire to do the job."
Simon pushed at his eyeballs with his fingers. "Okay, the target's the security guard. But we can't stop at business motives. Almost all homicides involve family."
"Yeah," Jim said, "and this M.O. is easy, both the way the fire started and the poisoning of the thermos."
"So you've got a go for investigating the guard, for business-related motives and for personal family motives." Simon began to organize things on his desk, preparatory for leaving for the night.
"You know, Jim, Simon, I can't see Pearl Franklin as being the murder...."
Simon surged up out of his chair, towering over the still-seated detective and consultant. "Did you say Pearl Franklin?"
"Yeah – " Blair began.
"Her husband is Dwight Franklin?"
"Yes," Jim confirmed.
Simon found second wind. "There is absolutely no way Dwight and Pearl Franklin could be involved in anything, anything illicit or irregular! No way!" He sat back and fulminated silently.
After a moment, Jim asked carefully, "Personal friends, Simon?"
At least half a minute elapsed.
"You knew him when he was on the force?" Jim guessed.
Simon was glaring at one of the angels in his collection. He bit down hard on his lower lip and went dead still.
"Partners?" Jim asked.
Simon swung back to face him, nearly lunging over his desk. "Let me tell you something, Jim Ellison. You think you know about partners? About what they mean to each other, what they do for each other, how to be a good one? You don't know SQUAT." He pounded his desk with a fist like a sledgehammer.
Jim and Blair look at each other out of the corners of their eyes. Simon was getting more than a little carried away.
"Dwight Franklin was my best friend when I was only a patrolman. You white prep school boys with your scholarships and your networking and every choice in the world yours for the asking. You don't know what it was like then to be black and on the force." Simon's voice was sharp and venomous. "But he did and I did. He made sergeant, and sergeant was all he'd ever be, because that's where the glass ceiling hit you as you tried to move up. The people you came into contact with were mostly black, because that's the way the statistics were skewed, and that was the perception of the times. They hated you, the other cops hated you, and your superiors were scared to death you might just rise to their level and become a threat to them.
"There was no winning. Not for Dwight Franklin. But he taught me his ethics – to stand tall and do what was right whatever it was and whatever the fallout. He knew he couldn't go further than sergeant, but when I got partnered with him, he told me to plan on making Captain, and maybe even going higher. Education, he said, a college education, and maybe service in one of the arms of the military. He said to do whatever I had to do to make my bones. I'd climb over him, he said; he went before me so I could have a chance at a real future. Oh, not me personally, but some black kid from Cascade looking to make a difference in law enforcement."
Simon drew in sobs of air. "The number of times he saved my life...I can't count them. You don't count them when it's your partner who does that kind of thing for you. You just do it in return, when you can, and thank God for the man who's standing at your side."
There was silent prayer in the shuttered office. Then Simon went on.
"He retired early, a knee injury. I don't think Joel ever met him. He never came around the station again. He and Pearl simply melted into the background. I should look – ah, God, I should have looked him up long before now, but I let myself get busy with Joan and Daryl and then the divorce, and the sentinel thing." Simon paused, his eyes especially bright.
"Dwight Franklin was one of the straightest arrows I ever knew, and I am personally affronted at the thought that the two of you would even call his character into question. How dare you? And Pearl? What this will do to her! Go on, get out of my office! I don't want to look at your pasty white faces any longer today. Get yourselves gone, and don't come back today, and do your best not to come in tomorrow, either!"
Simon strode to the door, flung it open, waited for his men to beat a retreat and slammed the thing so hard the glass shivered.
Now everyone had a headache.
Neither man spoke as they went to their desks and gathered together their files. They left the bullpen with every eye on them. No one had escaped hearing Simon's diatribe, and all were glad they had not been the cynosure of it. Jim and Blair avoided everyone on their way out, and did not speak until they got to the truck.
"I've never seen Simon like that," Blair said at last. "Never."
"He has a temper; you know that." Jim was paying attention to the traffic with iron control.
"Yeah, but to blow up at us like that? In some kind of spontaneous self-combustion? He doesn't do that sort of thing! To anyone!"
Jim sighed. "Blair, if you'd walked in and started talking about this great new lead you had and were following up and then it turned out it was me you were talking about, how do you think he'd have responded?"
"Oh." Blair leaned back. "You're his best friend. He'd have put me in the hospital."
Jim's head spun toward him. "He's not a violent man, Chief!" he protested.
Blair scratched his head. "No, I meant for observation. He'd think I was nuts."
"Nuts." Jim shifted his attention to the road again. "I guess it must seem nuts to him that his mentor is now under suspicion. In one short skip from 'he's maybe a crook' to 'he's your oldest friend'. Tough way to break it to someone that he's lost a buddy he trusted and owed a lot to."
"Yeah. That could have gone better. I'm really, really sorry about that." The shaman peered out his window at the setting sun. "So what do we do now?"
"I'm thinking we go back and see Pearl Franklin again before Simon orders us not to."
"WHAT? Simon will have a cow!" Blair's face was disbelieving.
"Yeah, but it's like when Orvelle Wallace was under suspicion. You couldn't believe it, and you were right not to, but we had to investigate anyway."
"Only this time it's worse."
"Simon's in charge of the investigation into Dwight Franklin's murder. He can't stop us; IA would be investigating him instead. But he wants to, and every second we spend on the questions of Franklin's bona fides and why anyone would want him dead, is a second spent in hell."
Blair let out a gust of wind. "I guess we'd better get this investigation tied up as soon as possible."
"What you said," Jim agreed, and swung the truck toward the intersection of Walnut and Duval.
They knocked on the door of Apartment 203, and it was answered readily. A tall, gray-haired man in a priest's collar opened up to them. "Yes?" he asked politely.
Jim held up his badge and made the introductions. "We need to speak to Mrs. Franklin, Reverend Ah --."
"Coyne," the minister said. "I don't think Mrs. Franklin is up to an interview, let alone an interrogation." His eyes snapped with warning.
Blair looked beyond the other two, into the small living room. She sat in front of a television tray, picking at things on her plate. He turned to the minister, who was taking a firm stand with Jim about the widow not being harassed by the police. "Please, Reverend," he said. "We have a mutual friend, Jim and I, and Mrs. Franklin. We won't be hard on her."
"And it's got to be done, Reverend Coyne. Like it or not," Jim put in adamantly.
The minister stared from sentinel to shaman and finally nodded. "All right, but if you upset her, it's going to be over!"
The two from Major Crime nodded and entered the Franklin home, Coyne immediately behind them.
"Pearl, dear, these two...."
He couldn't get the words out before Pearl looked up and saw Jim and Blair. "Oh, yes! You're the men investigating my Dwight's killing! Please, please come in and tell me what you've found." She patted the sofa at her side.
Coyne gave up in defeat, and Jim took a footstool while Blair sat beside the widow.
'What a difference a day makes.' Pearl Franklin had aged twenty years since the night before. Every pain she had ever borne was in her body anew, every fear in her face, every loss in her eyes.
Both Jim and Blair were suddenly out of words.
But Pearl surprised them. "Tell me what you know!" she insisted, dropping her fork into her early dinner, the sort of casserole dish that appears when there is a death in the neighborhood. "You know something I don't, and it's my Dwight been killed! So you tell me, boys! And don't beat around the bush!"
The flare of spirit had been good for her. Though she still was wan and haunted, she had bright eyes again.
"Ma'am, I don't mean to cause you worry," Jim said.
Pearl put up a hand. "I'm an old woman," she said, "and I'm old-fashioned in my ways. I know where Dwight is now, and he can't be hurt any longer, so I can't be worried for him. You go ahead and tell me what you have to tell me."
"Ma'am," Jim said again, "Mr. Franklin died of smoke inhalation."
"Was it his heart, detective?" the lady asked keenly.
"No, ma'am. I'm very sorry to have to tell you this. Someone had drugged him first, before the fire started. He couldn't get away to save his life because he was already unconscious."
Pearl reared back in astonishment. Blair put out a hand and held onto hers, and when she didn't repulse him, he stretched his other arm out around her shoulders.
She was slow to regain the ability to speak, but eventually she said, "Who would want to kill my Dwight?" in utter bemusement. "Boys, this can't right!"
Blair patted the hand beneath his and squeezed it again. "That's why we came to you, Mrs. Franklin. If anyone would know a reason for someone to want to murder your husband, it would be you." He bowed his head to her.
She was transfixed by the nice young man's deep blue eyes. "I know you'd want to know about insurance money, first, right?"
"My dear Pearl!" the priest started.
"No, no, Hubert! I was a policeman's wife for a long, long time, and I know what these boys have to do." She put out her free hand and stretched it for Jim to grab hold of.
Jim swallowed hard and took the woman's hand. The three of them were joined in their task.
"Now let them ask their questions, and don't interrupt us again!"
Coyne backed off, shaking his head, twitching his lips. Blair wondered what the basis of his Sunday sermon would be.
"Now, you want to know about money, don't you," Pearl said comfortably, one tiny hand under Blair's, the other held between Jim's two big ones. "Well, there isn't anyone but Dwight and me left. Oh, my, I meant, me, now." Tears were starting to well up, and Jim held out his handkerchief. "Thank you, detective. My Dwight, he retired early; he had a knee problem from when he fell chasing after a robber, and it would have kept him behind a desk, which he didn't want. The surgery now is so much better, and we saved real hard for him to be able to get it, and he did, and he never had any more trouble with it. But it was too late for him to get back on the force, so he started taking jobs as a security guard.
"He worked at a couple of malls, but the teenagers were too fast for him, even with his fixed-up knee," Pearl wore a slight smile, "and when the job at Calverton Cascade Corporation came along, it was a godsend."
"How so?" Blair asked.
"The kind of work he was used to, which was important to him. No one ever stole the fabrics, naturally. But there was always some fear of vandalism. A lot of damage can be done to things that expensive with just a can of spray paint. Dwight had a feeling of accomplishment from him doing his rounds at night, that chasing kids at a mall couldn't give him." Pearl was glowing gently. "And we needed the money, too. As you can see."
Certainly, the little apartment showed no signs of great wealth.
"Do you have relatives, Mrs. Franklin?" Blair wanted to know.
"No, none now. We outlived our only child, young man, and that is something no parent should have to go through. Dwight – well, they're together now, and that's the main thing." Now Pearl was patting Blair's hand. "Susan was our darling, our beauty." She stopped, lost in reminiscences.
"We saw a picture," Jim started.
"Dwight always carried her picture. It was the only one we had of it. We saved for that too, to get a portrait studio to do it. It was beautiful, wasn't it? And in color, not black and white!"
Jim stroked the hand in his.
"She died when she was seven. Chicken pox was going around, and she caught it, and the doctor said to give her baby aspirin. So we did." Pearl was silent.
"Reyes syndrome?" Blair asked on a breath.
Pearl nodded, looking at someone not in the room. "Our beautiful child. We never fully got over it, but, well, maybe now Dwight and Susan..." her voice trailed off.
Everyone held his peace until Pearl came back to herself.
"So there's no one to help out financially, and no one to inherit anything, and all we have left – because we've been borrowing against Dwight's policies for a long time now – is insurance for the funeral. I guess I need to make arrangements, now that the autopsy is done, don't I?" She had begun to weep, with huge tears rolling down her cheeks of which she scarcely seemed aware.
"We'll help you there, Pearl, don't you worry," Hubert Coyne offered.
Pearl nodded. "Thank you, Reverend. I know I can count on my friends." She smiled, but the tears ran and ran.
"Mrs. Franklin, there are only a couple of other questions," Jim began, reluctance making his words heavy and gluey.
The cop's widow knew what they needed to know. "That's all right. That's all right. I know the drill, as they say these days." She managed a tiny smile up at Jim. "No, he didn't have any more money lately than he had before; no, he never mentioned anything that seemed out of the way; no, he didn't know of anyone stealing from the company. I mean, at Calverton's, there was always a little employee pilfering, like a yard or two of fabric for a dress. There's a name for it, but I can't remember what it is." She stopped and closed her eyes, thinking hard.
"Shrinkage?" Jim asked.
Pearl brightened. "That's the word. Shrinkage. No one worried a hoot about it. In fact, it was almost expected that the employees would take a little now and then, especially for weddings or prom dances for kids. Dwight had a problem adjusting to that, that some theft was expected and condoned. It always seemed wrong to him. But Calverton's didn't pay a lot of people well, and I guess that they thought people wearing their silks and satins at dances and such might end up advertising the materials." She hunched a shoulder at the oddity of the ways of doing business.
Then she went on. "If there was any big theft, anything like cooking the books or forging checks or such, I can't help you there. I'm sure Dwight didn't know anything, and that there wasn't anything to know, or he'd have known it. But I'm bamboozled as to why anyone would want to kill my Dwight. Why wasn't burning the silk enough? Why did my Dwight have to die too?"
Now she was gasping in her misery. Hubert Coyne lifted away the television tray and knelt before her, his arms going around his parishioner. Jim and Blair were still holding on for dear life.
She sobbed herself out in a few minutes, all that her body could manage after a day spent in tears and prayer. She looked up again with eyes alive and angry. "I want whoever did this to be stopped. I don't know who it is, but I want it stopped. Is there anything else I can tell you that will help you find the killer, boys?"
They got a more detailed rundown on the schedule Dwight kept to than was in his employee record: his hours from nine p.m. to six a.m., with an initial inspection of the whole building, which took an hour or so. He'd retire to the office, write up his initial report, and then venture out for regular inspections of individual areas over the rest of his hours – the outer fenced yard at one point, the basement with its electrical and utilities hook-ups, the far rear of the fabric stacks, then closer areas, one after the other. Each inspection had to be written up. Every night's work was like every other night's. The only thing that varied was Dwight's lunch.
"I made him lunch. He liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and tuna fish with onion cut into it, and salmon with pickles. I'd make coffee fresh and put it in the thermos. He liked it black and strong. Or sometimes, when it was very cold, I'd make him cocoa. He'd take his lunch with him, and though he didn't usually eat until later, he would drink his coffee or cocoa as he made his reports."
"Ma'am, did Dwight ever take the drug Ativan?" Jim asked.
"Ativan? No, detective, he didn't. You can look through the bathroom cabinet and check the bedroom, but we only had stuff for colds and such from the drugstore, plus my blood thinner and his heart medication. I know Ativan isn't one of those."
Jim availed himself of the invitation while Coyne and Blair helped to soothe Pearl.
"All done, Chief," Jim commented as he came down the narrow hallway past the kitchen and into the living area.
By then, Pearl had fallen into a deep sleep. Coyne accompanied the men to the door.
"I know you had to do that," he said, "but it seems a cruel thing for a bereaved woman all alone to have to go through." There was a tinge of blame in the words, despite the disclaimer.
Blair stepped in front of his larger partner, who was about to try to justify things at length. "Reverend Coyne, our boss is Simon Banks. Remember that name. Simon Banks. Tell Mrs. Franklin that's who we work for. Tell her no one wanted to do this, Simon least of all. She will understand, and maybe she can help you understand too."
He waited until Coyne nodded reluctantly. "Talk to the Victims Services worker – she has one, right?" – Coyne gave a name, Teresa de Salvo – "and tell her to look into the Policemen's Benevolent Fund for Mrs. Franklin, if she hasn't already done so. And remember to tell Mrs. Franklin that our boss is Simon Banks."
He pushed Jim out the door without another word. That was enough, and more than enough, for all of them.
They returned to the bullpen. It was not quite six o'clock, but they were hoping that Simon Banks had gone home. No such luck. They truly wished they had heeded the man's advice to stay away. Daryl Banks had arrived, summoned probably, to learn of the death of his 'Uncle' Dwight from his father directly. There were runnels of tears on his cheeks as he took plodding steps out of the captain's office, and he hissed at Jim and Blair as he passed them, "How could you? How could you even think...?" He broke off, unable to finish, and shook away Blair's calming hand. He almost ran to the elevator.
Simon's door banged like a detonation.
Megan Conner intercepted the detectives.
"Listen, boyos, I don't know what you and Captain Ahab in there were on about earlier, but he's out hunting Great White Whales, and you two qualify. I'd steer clear of him, if I were you." Megan made her escape from Major Crime as if she were expecting a pack of hunting dogs at her heels any minute.
Rafe, Henri, and Joel all sent pity-vibes their way. It was unnerving.
Jim stiffened his shoulders while Blair collapsed into himself. They both slunk to their desks, feeling Simon's fish-eye on their shoulders with every step. They fell into their chairs and hid behind their computers.
"This sucks majorly, Jim."
"This sucks rocks."
"This sucks Mount Rainier."
"This sucks the whole damned Cascade Range."
"This sucks the Rockies."
"This sucks the Rockies and the Andes."
"This sucks the Rockies and the Andes and starts all over again."
"Yeah, that's about right."
That avoidance technique had gone as far as it could. "So, now what do we do?" Blair was tired. He was emotionally drained from lending Pearl Franklin moral support, and hadn't recharged yet.
"I don't know about you, Chief, but I wanna clear Dwight Franklin before we leave tonight." Jim pinched at his eyes. His tic was thumping almost through the skin of his jaw; with every pulse of it, his shoulders grew stiffer.
Ever attuned to his partner's well-being, Blair thought that if he tried hard enough, he might be able to see Jim's migraine. The aura should be scarlet and magenta and snake green, all mixed together. Then he dragged himself back to reality. "I don't know how much good we can do here tonight, Jim. I'm bushed."
Jim smiled slightly. "I know, but I hate this stand-off with Simon."
Well, hell! Jim had just admitted to an emotion! Blair blinked a little before he gathered himself to answer. "Yeah, I hate it too. But I'm really not much good here at the moment, you know?"
"Stick with it, buddy. I don't want to do much more tonight myself. But I'm so focused on the Calverton menage, I've gotta do something more on Dwight Franklin to re-orient myself." Jim made a moue of ruefulness. "Someone wanted Franklin, a citizen, killed. He didn't leave any money behind him. I can't believe Pearl killed him."
Blair was shaking his curls. "Nope. No way, man."
"She was telling us the truth, in every word she said," the human lie detector said. "I can't go for a jealousy motive. He and Pearl looked to be as devoted as two people can be."
"Yeah, you got that right."
"Revenge is a maybe."
"A case he solved? Someone out on the streets again who he put away? Now, that motive I could buy!"
"Otherwise, Chief, we're back to him having some kind of knowledge, and if he wasn't blackmailing anyone...."
"He couldn't have been. There wasn't any money around that apartment, or in his wallet. They're living poor, Jim."
"Yeah, I know. If he did have information, he didn't know it. How do you pick a dead man's brains? This case is hinky."
"Like Joel said." The partners looked at each other solemnly.
"Okay, let's do a background check, see if anything turns up, then do the math on the solve records and the released prisoners, Chief. Maybe we'll come up lucky."
By nine o'clock, they had come up dry. There wasn't a thing in Dwight Franklin's past to question, nor in Pearl's either, for that matter. As to Dwight's career convictions, nothing matched. Blair had resorted to working backwards through the family members of each felon, and there was no one left in Cascade to care about the release or death in prison of someone who had been convicted twenty years earlier.
Nor had Dwight Franklin been assigned many high profile cases, no major crimes as such. The glass ceiling prevented him rising not only in rank but also in experience. The top level he had risen to was as a member of the Fraud Squad. His perps didn't rate much in terms of length of prison sentences or emotion expended; they were career thieves who knew that the price of doing business was often a stretch in jail. Anyone who had defrauded real money during Dwight Franklin's career was the catch of a co-worker, someone whose skin was as white as his collar. It was very disheartening.
Throughout their computer work, Simon had flicked at the Venetian blinds on his windows every few minutes and glowered at his men. Jim heard every rattle, and Blair caught every tightening of his partner's lips. The investigators had the uncomfortable knowledge that if they hadn't come back, Simon would probably have accompanied Daryl home. But with Jim and Blair in the office, doing the obvious computer checks, Simon Banks could not leave. Not when his ex-partner was under suspicion.
None of the three good friends was in the least bit happy, and it seemed as if Jim's migraine was contagious.
"So if someone wanted Dwight dead, it looks as if it has to be connected to Calverton's," Jim concluded. "But I'll be damned if I can see a connection here. If there's a financial motive, we'll either get Roddie's or Marilys' consent to check the books, or go shopping for a judge who'll give us a subpoena. If there is one who can believe in a connection between Dwight's death and the accounts at Calverton's." His words were thin, and Blair woke up. His partner's face was blanched.
"Jim, you're in too much pain to think, aren't you?"
"Nah, I can –"
"Sentinel to Shaman, here!" Blair reproved him with firm gentleness.
"Yeah, well, okay, I'm not really good to go any longer." Jim tossed down the pencil he had been toying with and saved his material on the computer. "Wanna go get some dinner?"
"Fine by me." Blair wasn't about to plead his own lack of hunger. If Jim was willing to get gone, and, even better, eat, Blair was all for it. "Pick up Chinese and go home?"
"Yeah. Cantonese or Sezchuan?"
They stood and negotiated for cashew chicken, sweet-and-sour shrimp, lo mein and both egg rolls and spring rolls as if the fate of Cascade depended on their menu. Blair opened his cell phone and called the order in as they crossed to the coat hooks for their jackets.
They picked their way out of the bullpen with their faces carefully looking everywhere but at Simon's office.
Blair made the call; they shambled into his place to share dinner and try to unwind. When he got a very good look at Jim's pallor, the shaman decided the sentinel needed to get off his feet and quickly.
"Hey, buddy," he said in tones too soft to make an aching head wince, "sit down here, and put your feet up." He patted the dark red couch invitingly.
Jim was stoical. "I don't need babying, Sandburg!" he protested loweringly.
"Who said anything about babying, Jim?" the consultant asked mildly. "I know I have a headache, and I'm gonna take something for it. I think you have a migraine." He cocked his head knowingly and Jim looked away. "You gonna be able to keep dinner down if you eat now?"
Shit! Busted! "No," the sentinel replied, a major concession on his part.
"So we'll eat later. I'll get you one of your painkillers."
"I'll get one for myself!" Jim said, outraged.
Arms folded, Blair looked him over carefully. "You can't climb a circular staircase," he stated. "I'm going. You aren't even gonna be able to keep the migraine stuff down without a gravol tablet. I'll bring one of them too."
White-faced and black-tempered, Jim was teed off but couldn't gainsay his partner's assessment of the situation. He lay down and swallowed the capsule of Fiorinal and the anti-nauseant when presented to him, with a smoky glare. Sometimes Blair rubbed him the wrong way, and badly. He pulled the throw rug over himself before the man could do it for him. He wasn't a child, after all. Grimacing, he closed his eyes.
Blair left him alone for a moment, then returned. Jim was surprised to feel gentle fingers at his temples. The scents of lavender and mint were cooling. The apartment was silent except for the background whooshes of compressors and water in the pipes. Blair was the loudest thing in the room; his breathing was slow and steady and Jim found himself listening to it as the trails of fragrance marked the air he himself took in, and then he was asleep.
It was much later when he woke, more than an hour. Jim came to, to find his partner dozing in one of the beanbag chairs. As he sat up, Blair stirred also.
"Headache better? Time for dinner?" the guide asked, yawning and stretching. "Whoa! I guess I must have nodded off." He smiled sheepishly. "I meant to keep an eye on you."
Jim shook out his arms and loosened his neck muscles with a few twists of his head. "Yeah, it's pretty much all gone. I guess it's time for dinner. What happened to it?"
Blair had no trouble keeping track of Jim's pronouns. "I put it in the oven to keep warm. It should still be edible." He got a quick grunt in return.
The pair got out the plates and cutlery and napkins in their accustomed way, though they were a floor below where they usually ate. By unspoken agreement, they piled the boxes of food on the breakfast bar and took adjoining stools. Other than 'Pass the rice, please.' and 'Is there any more of the cashew chicken?', they ate in silence. Both were too engaged in their thoughts to speak. The dishes were soaking in the sink, the boxes discarded, before either of them said a word.
"Anything on TV?" Jim asked with supreme indifference.
"Nah. Nothing I wouldn't choose to miss. I think there's some bocce ball championship on, if you wanna watch it."
"Not today, Chief, if ever." Jim paused, drawing in a deep breath, still scented with the fragrant oils. "I don't think I'm gonna want to watch TV until this case is solved."
Blair waved him to the couch where he had slept, and Jim reshuffled the pillows to either end as Blair folded up the throw rug and put it over the back of the sofa. They took their usual spots and stared at the black face of the television.
Perhaps five minutes of solitary musing in the company of his friend passed, when Blair finally spoke up. "I don't know, Jim. This one is strange. I can't figure it."
"Yeah, 'hinky', we call it," the cop said distractedly, as if his partner of four years would not know the police slang they'd been throwing around all day.
"I mean," Blair persisted, pulling his legs up under him and grabbing a cushion to squeeze, "why would anyone want to kill Dwight Franklin? If you're right, and he knew something someone didn't want him to know, you'd expect he'd know, you know?"
Jim's forehead wrinkled. "Slow down," he demanded. "I didn't follow that."
Blair leaned back and sighed. "He worked Fraud. He was a trained investigator. If the man knew anything that could get someone in trouble, wouldn't you think he'd know it himself? And from what Pearl said, turn in the bad guy?"
Jim's lips turned down. "Well, yeah!" he said tersely. "I thought that was pretty obvious. Tell me something I don't know, Chief!"
Why the sudden friction between them? Blair looked at him sideways. "Headache coming back?" he guessed.
"No, my headache isn't coming back!" Jim flashed back. "I wish you'd stop it with the Great Healer routine! I'm capable of dealing with a migraine without your help!"
Blair dropped the cushion into his lap and his mouth formed an 'O'.
"Plus I don't think it helps any for you to suggest your great ideas about what Dwight Franklin should or shouldn't have known, since we can't very well ask him what he did know, can we? Or do you want to try some New Age shit and channel him?" Jim threw his pillow across the room.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Where's this coming from? You're not mad at me," Blair protested, casting his cushion aside and standing to address his partner. "I didn't kill anyone!"
"No, but you're not helping to catch the killer, are you?" Jim was up and pacing. "That's the sort of thing a partner is supposed to do, you know?"
Blair's lips thinned and his eyelids narrowed. "I'm doing my best, Jim. But neither of us has a handle on this damned murder, and I'm as frustrated and lost as you are."
"Who said I'm frustrated and lost?" Jim snapped, his arms flinging out. "Who said that?"
Blair was eyeing the detective carefully. "Okay," he admitted, with a coolness he did not feel, "I'm the one who's frustrated and lost." He paused and looked away. "You're right on the money." Snide, and proud of it.
Jim rounded on him, but Blair was staring at the beanbag chair he had been sacked out in earlier. Swiftly, Jim got up into his face. "Look at me when I talk to you!"
Blair recoiled in astonishment. "Back off!" he shouted vehemently, with a hard upwards shove at Jim's shoulders.
That thrust Jim back a couple of paces. He spun around.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Blair flared out. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Look, okay, it's not you, it's this case," Jim said, his back to his partner, his hands in his hair. "Someone wanted Dwight Franklin dead, and covered it up, or tried to, by setting a bunch of fires at the Calverton properties. I'm supposed to be the great investigator who solves this mystery, but right now, I don't have a direction to go in."
Blair went to stand at Jim's shoulder, but when he laid his hand on Jim's back in commiseration, his partner used his Black Ops training, ducking low, then swiftly and silently elbowing his partner in the gut.
As if Blair were the enemy.
A whoosh of air was torn from Blair's diaphragm as he doubled over. "Jim!" was the desperate mouthing. Blair's arms were windmilling, trying to keep him upright and not go sprawling over the furniture to the floor.
Jim sprang toward him and caught him before he could fall. "God, Blair, I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" He held on tight until he was sure Blair had regained his footing.
"Geez, Chief, are you all right?" Jim was doing a protective pat-down. "I must be more antsy than I knew!" His hands left Blair to grip convulsively at the nape of his neck.
"Yeah, you are. Son of a bitch!" He heaved for air. "You can be one scary dude, you know, man?" He sobbed for breath. "Don't ever do that again! I'm not your punching bag!" Blair's eyes were blazing. It was not until his breathing evened out that he tackled Jim again. "So you wanna tell me what the hell that was all about? What's wrong, Jim?"
The sentinel stared at his shaman. "I'm supposed to be investigating the murder of Dwight Franklin, and all my instincts are pulling me away from him."
"You're thinking about the Calvertons, aren't you?" Blair asked sagely.
Jim closed his eyes and nodded once. "I'm certain that the answer to the mystery lies with them. I don't know what Dwight knew, but I have this awful feeling that Roddie or Marilys knocked him off for some reason, but there's no evidence and I can't figure out why," he groaned.
Blair said, "You're thinking about Lloyd Rodney, too, aren't you? I know I am."
Jim opened his eyes, and poured out his soul. "I'm the sentinel, the great protector of Cascade, and I'm supposed to protect that kid, but I don't know how. I'm certain the answer lies with the Calvertons. If Roddie or Marilys did kill Dwight, you know, Blair, neither of them wants the kid around. So what happens if...." He stopped dead.
Blair filled in the gap in logic. "What happens if Lloyd Rodney is the next victim?" He slowly extended his arm and put his hand on Jim's shoulder. Jim did not jibe this time. "I've been thinking the same thing." He drew his friend back to the sofa. "There's got to be an answer, something we're overlooking, some piece of the puzzle we haven't found yet, Jim. But we'll find it. I'm sure we will."
Jim sat again. The doubt, responsibility and guilt in his eyes were not new to the sentinel; his protectorate of Cascade was more burdensome to him than anyone except his shaman knew. "What if we don't?" he asked hoarsely. "I can't stand the thought of that child's murder on my conscience."
"Don't even think like that!" Blair shouted, shocked to his core by Jim's sudden confidence in him. "We just have to stay on top of things. Is there any way to get the kid out of his family's hands for a few days?"
Jim looked tiredly at his knuckles. "Nothing I know of. I mean, look at him, Chief! He's living in a mansion with a dog and a butler and a cook and a swimming pool and a tennis court, and even if he shouldn't be riding a motorcycle at his age, it's hardly child abuse. I couldn't even get a warrant to examine him for signs of child abuse, not with what we've got now! And we don't know if his parents are hitting him, or if they are, if they're leaving bruises or welts. All we've got to go on is suspicion. All he may be suffering is the emotional pain of knowing neither of his parents wants custody. And, oh, boy, you can be sure he knows that!"
Blair was nodding. "Yeah, he knows that. A kid knows if his parent wants him."
"That kid is so alone, Chief. So terribly alone." Jim held his head in his hands.
"Yeah, I know." Blair's voice was low.
They fell quiet again. A few moments later, Jim made motions to leave for the loft, and Blair accompanied him to the staircase, watching as his friend ascended. When Jim reached the top, each man stole a glance at the other.
"Good night." He's so alone, the sentinel of the Great City, right from childhood, and he's got so much responsibility on his shoulders, always has. Damn William Ellison, anyway! 'Just' the emotional pain of knowing your parents don't want you! Grace walked off and left him for whatever reason, but I bet it was to get away from good old Bill, and he cared more about his money and his social prestige than about how to help his son come into the inheritance of his sentinel gifts! Calling Jim a freak! How could he do that to his own son? God, even Roddie and Marilys at least pretend to be proud of their kid! I wish so damn much that Bill hadn't alienated Jim and Steven from each other, so he had a brother to rely on when the going got tough. But wishes don't seem to come true for Jim Ellison, do they? Still.... "Sleep well."
"Good night." He was so alone, growing up. Bouncing around from place to place, always an outsider who had to find a way to fit in, then yanked out of wherever it was to go somewhere else, where he was an outsider again. God knows what Naomi did for a living, and whether she was around or not. But she surely had her men friends. Did she flaunt them in front of the poor kid, like Marilys does with Troy-Troy? Whatever. If she didn't even know who his father was, well, there's the answer to that question! He learned the lesson well: people are temporary. All people, everywhere. I wish he'd had someone in his family to confide in, to trust with his feelings, instead of however many therapists in however many cities. There's no changing the past, no matter how much he needed someone there for him, I guess. If only.... "You too, Chief."
Neither of them slept a wink, and both arose with headaches.
Breakfast, Tuesday morning, was normal: bagels and low fat cream cheese, coffee to keep two investigators going on the caffeine, and Sandburg's ritual algae shake, in the loft. However, the team skipped going directly into the office that morning. A phone call to Rhonda left a message for Simon: they would be at the loft going over the case for a while, and then would go out to the Calverton mansion again. They had written up their notes of the second interview with Pearl Franklin and the failure to find anything in Dwight's past or present which would give a motive for murder, and they told Rhonda how to find them if Captain Banks needed to see them. Candidly, they admitted to each other, they didn't want to see Simon and knew that Simon didn't want to see them.
It would have been more courageous, perhaps, to report directly, but both Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg were feeling the effects of the stress from the Calverton case, and both were united in their fears for the child, Lloyd Rodney. They spent the morning in the loft, tearing the case to shreds. Every report was read and read again, every tip examined for something that might help, the uselessness of reviewing the police tapes of bystanders at the scene debated. They made lists of motives and stuck names beside each, and when they found themselves hypothesizing that Jennifer and Troy were in cahoots to engineer second marriages to the Calverton of his or her choice, they gave up in self-disgust.
They made grilled cheese sandwiches, drank milk and talked. Finally, since all else had failed, they decided that if they were going to protect the child, the only way they knew how was to press the Calvertons harder and harder, and hope they caught a break somehow. It was the sole strategy they could come up with.
So Jim and Blair drove to the mansion a little before two in the afternoon of an overhung day with gray clouds all around, and sought entry to speak to Marilys.
They were met at the door by the butler.
"I'm sorry, but neither Madame Calverton nor Monsieur Calverton are at home," he informed them. Arthur Treacher would have been impressed by the solemnity of the dignified English tones. The guy even looked the part, tall, stone-faced, impressive in his morning coat.
Jim flashed his badge as he put his foot in the door. "We're here to talk to you," he improvised on the spot.
The butler wore a look of faint disdain. "I cannot help you in your inquiry, Detective. I had nothing whatsoever to do with the death of Mr. Franklin."
Well, at least the help knew the names of the help.
"Nevertheless, there are questions I need to ask you," Jim alleged.
That got them inside the mansion, and off to a room the butler called a 'buttery'. The butler was a Charles Albany, he lived in the gatehouse rather than in the mansion proper, he did all the household accounts and went over them monthly with Marilys, and quarterly with Roddie, and there was nothing out of the way in the finances of the household of which he was aware. The live-in staff were himself, in the gatehouse, the maid-cook in her own quarters inside the house close by the kitchen, the garage man who lived above the cars, and, this year, the boatman and the poolboy who were sharing living quarters in the poolhouse. They had contracted for extensive maid services with a professional firm; the Calvertons preferred not to have too many people in the house overnight.
Jim gave him a passing grade on his internal endocrine levels. Albany was telling the truth.
"What do you know about the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Calverton?" he tried next.
Here was the point no plus, beyond which the manservant would not go. "I cannot see the relevance of that question to the death of Mr. Franklin," Albany said with his eyes glinting hard. "I believe the legal term for this kind of thing is 'fishing expedition.' If you want to know anything about the Calvertons, please apply to them, or bring a subpoena, gentlemen. I am not a crappie to bite at your lure. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to attend to."
He stood and did a masterful job of walking the men out of the mansion and to the truck. Albany continued to the gatehouse, watching as the detective and consultant drove out, and closing and locking the gate behind them. Then he disappeared inside the outbuilding.
Jim stopped the truck a few hundred feet beyond the gates, and motioned for Blair to get out and follow him. Coming in low, they got as close to the electrified fence as was safe and crouched down. Jim pointed to an open window in the gatehouse, then to his ear, and looked significantly at Blair.
"Okay, then," Blair said softly. "I got your back, buddy. Go for it." He hung one hand on Jim's shoulder and the other closed over the sentinel's own.
Jim opened himself wide for sound stimuli.
Blair talked him through it. "Get rid of the wind in the trees," he whispered. "Filter it out. Now the bird sounds, calls and flying. Also the other little animals scampering around. Focus on the gatehouse, on Albany's voice. Don't zone, Jim. Listen to what he's doing, for as long as it takes." He added the touch stimulus of patting Jim now and again, to keep him from concentrating too deeply on his hearing.
"Got it, Chief," Jim whispered, and tugged at Blair's arm. They made for the truck and Jim drove about half a mile away from the estate, parking behind some bushes.
"Now what?" Blair asked softly.
"Albany was on the phone to his bookie, who wants his debts cleared up fast. So we wait until the guy leaves."
It was only fifteen minutes before Jim's hyper-intense eyesight spotted the man driving a Cadillac away from the house. "Geez," he said. "The butler gets the gatehouse and a Caddy? We're in the wrong business, Chief."
Blair whacked his biceps with the back of his hand. "You're in the right business, James," he said pretentiously. "Home, my man!"
"Right business, wrong employer," Jim grumbled, popping Blair on the top of his head. "Cheapskate that you are."
Blair cowered away. "Not the hair! Not the hair!" he begged, altogether unconvincingly.
They smiled at each other as they drove up to the locked fence and asked again for admittance. This time it was Rosalita whom they saw, and she readily let them in, agreeing to talk to them. They drove to a parking area for deliveries, off to the side by the kitchen area, and gained entrance to the house.
Libby yipped excitedly from her wire crate. Rosalita was dusting her floury hands, and gave the dog a fond look. "She likes you, Señor Sandburg," she said softly as Blair bent and put his hand through its open doorway, to scratch beneath the beard and on top of the curly head. "You, too, Señor Ellison."
Jim was content with a 'Hi, girl', but Libby wagged her tail enthusiastically at him, before going back to eating up all the attention his partner was giving her. Rosalita was beaming fondly; a guy with a dog was a babe magnet, no matter how adult the babe. Have to hand it to Sandburg, Jim thought; he sure knows how to crash through caste barriers. Then he went to work.
"Rosalita," he began. "I'm sorry. I don't know your last name, señorita." He flashed the irresistible Ellison grin.
"It is Señora, Señora Munez," the maid-cum-cook answered. She swept hair the colour of evening back behind her ear. "But please call me 'Rosalita', señor. My husband, he is dead." She was simpering.
The babe magnet was obviously forgotten.
Blair turned his grin on Libby.
"Rosalita, then," Jim went on, "I was wondering if you could help us. We're concerned about Lloyd Rodney."
Rosalita frowned deeply. "For why would you be concerned about Lloyd Rodney?" she asked suspiciously.
"We want to be sure he's getting the right kind of care," Blair put in mildly.
"What, you think I do not take good care of him when his parents are away?" The Latina's hands were on her hips and her voice had skyrocketed.
"No, no," Jim said. "We're certain you look after him just fine. But we have questions about how his parents treat him."
Rosalita did not retreat from her anger. "They treat him like his parents. This makes no sense! You waste my time, señor!"
Blair decided to take a hand. "Look, Rosalita, we saw Lloyd Rodney riding a motorcycle yesterday."
"Si, si. It is his birthday present." The maid was uncomprehending. "Tomorrow is his birthday. His father teases the boy, but he is good to him. He said that they would go to the ballet for a birthday present when Madame got the tickets, but that was a joke. Lloyd Rodney was upset by the teasing, so Monsieur gave him his present early to make up. A motorcycle! Now, tomorrow, Monsieur Calverton could not take the boy out on his yacht this year, so he gives Lloyd Rodney a circus, a whole circus, for a party, with all the school children. They have the celebration tomorrow. What is wrong with that? What more could they do for him?"
"Well, now, a child of Lloyd Rodney's age is too young to ride a motorcycle," Jim said with concern in his eyes. "He could be easily hurt in a fall."
Rosalita shrugged. "Boys have to learn about these things. They have given him all the padding and the helmet, and he is not allowed to go off the estate, only to ride around it. There is a long path from the lawns through the woods to ride to the boathouse on the river. He takes that, and then rides back again. But the motorcycle, it is for, I'm not sure of the word, it is for making him look important to his friends." She raised her brows to see if the men had gotten the point.
Jim was dealing with a pang of sympathy for Lloyd Rodney. "He's not popular, then?" The kid was more alone than he had ever considered.
"No, señor, he is not." Rosalita sighed sadly. "He is small for his age, and he burns in the sun, not tans, and he's too smart. Like a genius. He gets good marks in school without even trying. It is hard for the other boys to like him. He doesn't like them much either, I think. They call names, all kinds of names, and say he's fat, but he's not. He's just not thin, poor child, but now he thinks he's fat." Rosalita sighed again. "He will ride his motorcycle to show off to his friends tomorrow. Maybe he will make friends, maybe not. But he is outside and that is good. He spends too much time in his room."
Blair interjected, "Could we see his room, please?"
Rosalita, who had clearly forgotten that the consultant was in the kitchen still, said, "Yes, I suppose. It is only a room, after all. But you must not touch his computer! He becomes very cross when anyone touches his computer!"
Jim was amused. "My partner is the same way. No one is to touch his computer, either."
Flashing back on when his mother had last used his computer, Blair was silent. He nodded.
"Well, then," Rosalita said, and led the way up to the second floor. Even Libby followed, though she stayed outside in the hallway when the humans entered the room of the son of the house.
Lloyd Rodney's room was every child's dream. If there was a toy for boys, he had it. Not only did he have a full computer set-up that made Blair's mouth water, but his own television, VCR, DVD player, stereo system, Nintendo and Sega; and a games table for four in case anyone wanted to play checkers, chess or cards. There were chessmen on the board; a game was being played.
"Yes, yes, he spends much time on the net," Rosalita said when asked. "He plays this game, and, I think, Quake, with others. He makes friends on the computer more easily than in school. Or at the country club." She looked sad.
Jim prowled around the room, pulling back the curtains. There were bars on the window. "What on earth are these for?" he asked with a growl.
Rosalita stared at the detective's anger. "It was that little girl who was killed. Joanna Bennett? Is that her name?"
"Jon-Benet Ramsey?" Blair asked, remembering the lovely blonde child killed at Christmas three and a half years before, in her own house, with no one ever arrested for the crime.
"Si, si, that's the one. Madame and Monsieur Calverton put in the bars to protect Lloyd Rodney. And the lock on the door, too, later." She pointed to a standard key lock opening in the knob of the door standing open against the wall behind it. "They worry so about him. He is their only child."
Jim wandered around. The en suite bathroom had a Jacuzzi in the tub, but was otherwise unremarkable. He opened the cabinet, but there was nothing except the normal things a ten, or rather, almost eleven-year-old might need. He stepped back into the bedroom and wrinkled his nose with distaste.
Blair noticed and made a mental note to ask what Jim had picked up, later.
"Well, that's all I need to see here," the detective said. "Can we see Mr. and Mrs. Calverton's room?"
The maid looked doubtful. "There is nothing to see, señor. They have separate rooms."
"Oh, all right. But that must be the last of it. I have work to do. Mr. Albany will expect tea when he returns."
They agreed to the maid's terms, and got the ten cent tour of the parents' suites. Marilys was delightfully done up in white on white on white, and Libby took a flying leap onto the lace bedspread, stretching out with a big doggy grin.
"Silly puppy," Rosalita said. "You get down from there!" She clapped her hands.
Libby scrambled down, hid behind Blair, and as Jim walked into the bathroom, Rosalita right after him, she jumped onto the bedspread again.
Blair was hiding a smile.
Jim opened the cabinet and found a treasure trove of pharmaceuticals. He impressed the names on his memory, but the one he was most impressed with was a large economy size bottle of Ativan, prescribed by a physician the detective knew to be a leading psychiatrist in Cascade.
He swung the mirror shut, and moved back into the bedroom. "Okay, that's it for this room."
Rosalita saw Libby where she shouldn't be again, and tried to scoot her off the bed with a pat to her rear. Libby yipped in pain, then licked Rosalita's hand to show there were no hard feelings.
"Sorry, little one," Rosalita said. "But you have to learn! You are not allowed on the bed! It is pure white lace and you will soil it and maybe catch your claws too!" She shook her head at the dog, and the dog stood up, shook herself all over, and leaped onto the plush carpet.
Jim made a quick job of looking at the dressing room and the parlor or morning room, which were parts of Marilys' suite, finding nothing of note. He nodded decisively and ushered the maid and his partner out, Libby at their heels.
Rosalita then showed the Major Crime team the bedroom belonging to Roddie Calverton, and it was lustrous in taupes, blues and silvers. Other than exciting envy in the hearts of the men viewing it, there was nothing at all professionally intriguing there. Libby provided the most excitement, again popping up onto the satin bedspread and curling up on one of the pillows. Rosalita pushed at her to get her to move and plumped up the pillow again.
"Back in your crate with you," the maid said. "That's all the time I can give you, señores. Perhaps tomorrow. There will be the circus, though."
Jim and Blair exchanged glances, and decided to come out with the big question. "Rosalita," Jim said firmly, "we have to know one thing."
"Si? What is that one thing?" Rosalita was losing patience.
"We have to know if Mr. or Mrs. Calverton has ever been mean to Lloyd Rodney."
"Mean to him? No, I have never seen them be mean to him," the maid said in confusion. "He teases him, but that is all. What is this about?"
"Have they ever hit him?"
"No, no. They do not hit him!" Now there was fear in her eyes. "You are trying to put words in my mouth! Monsieur and Madame Calverton have always been good to Lloyd Rodney! They have never hit him! Stop, stop. I will lose my job! Stop now with these questions. I cannot help you anymore. You must go!"
With that, she rushed the men out of the house. They arrived in the rear parking lot to see Troy Whatever messing about with a chemicals kit at the poolside. Opportunity was knocking, and the men answered.
"I'm Detective Ellison, and this is my partner, Dr. Sandburg."
"Oh, yeah, cool, dude." Troy stood up. He was as beautifully made as a statue of Achilles, golden from the California sun, and as brainless as a cuckoo clock. His sherry-brown eyes were glassy and not completely focused. He brushed shiny dark hair off his forehead.
Marilys seemed to like dark men with good hair, Jim decided. It was the hair that did it. Yeah. That was why she went for Sandburg and not me. Huh!
"Uh, Jim?" Blair hissed sentinel-soft.
Jim shook himself out of his reverie. "We're investigating...."
"Oh, yeah, cool, dude. Ask away."
Well, okay then. "What do you know about the Calverton marriage?"
"They're, like, getting a divorce," Troy said amiably. "It's cool."
"What does 'It's cool' mean, exactly?"
"They have so much money, it doesn't matter. Too much to spend in a dozen lifetimes. Makes things way easier when there's more than enough to go around, ya know?
"Uh-huh. How do they feel about the divorce?"
"Oh, hey, they're cool." At a silent prompt, Troy continued. "He's cool, she's cool, it's cool, dude. It's like, he has his secretary Jen, and Marilys has me, and that's the way it is and, everybody's happy." He grinned like a loon. "Sweet."
"When you say he has Jen and she has you, what kind of relationship are you describing? Why are you here?"
"Oh, for the sex, dude! She's one cool chick. They say women don't reach their sexual peak until way late, and she's, like, the queen of sex." His head was bopping forward to some internal rhythm running through his veins. "We get real mellow together, and then it's, like, anything goes! Sweet!"
"What happens when the divorce is finalized? Will you and Marilys get married?" Blair was fascinated.
"Oh, hey, no, not gonna tie myself down like that! Plus, like, there's the kid. Not playing daddy any time soon. Nah, this is, like, about this summer. I have a cool pad to play in, the poolhouse is really sweet, and, like, she's paying me mucho money for the pool job and, dudes, I gotta tell you, the sex is great! I go back to California when it gets, like, cold. Nothing keeps me away from the sun, ya know? Then she, like, hires a ski instructor and they do the bunny thing and then, like, it's summer again." Troy showed even more teeth.
"What about the kid?"
"What about the kid?"
"What can you tell us about him?"
"I don't know. Like, nothing." Troy shrugged.
"He been swimming yet?"
"Nope, like, too cold still."
"Do you know if either of his parents ever hit him?"
"Marilys and Roddie? No way! They're, like, too laid back for that. The little guy kinda keeps to himself. Roars around on that motorcycle a lot recently. That's cool." Troy was ducking and bobbing with his head.
There was only one last thing to ask him. "Uh, just for the record, what's your last name?"
"Hey, dudes, I'm Troy-Troy the Poolboy!" He started giggling.
Jim had to suppress an overwhelming need to smack the coke out of him. "You do have a last name other than 'The Poolboy', don't you?"
"Oh, yeah, you're, like, the pigs. No sense of humor. Okay, okay, um, it's Smythe. S-M-Y-T-H-E. Yeah, that's me. Troy Smythe." There was that big grin again.
There was no getting sense out of the kid. He was cranked to the gills and happy with it. Jim left his card with him, knowing it would do no good at all.
As the partners went back to the truck, Blair remembered his mental note. "Hey, Jim?"
"You made this face in Lloyd Rodney's room."
"Yeah. Like you smelled something you didn't like."
"Oh! Yeah, I did. Urine, a faint odor of it."
"In the bathroom?"
"No, in the bedroom. I thought it was from the bathroom until I went in there and came out again."
"In the bedroom, huh?"
"Yeah. I figure the kid's wetting his bed."
"Regressing from all the stress." Blair was more than sad at that conclusion.
"That's what I figure. So many people think divorce doesn't hurt the kids as long as the parents are civil, and it isn't like that, Chief."
"You and Stevie?"
"Yeah. Stevie regressed too. He needed a lot of reassurance, Chief."
"I can imagine."
You can imagine, Chief? Shit, I bet you lived it over and over again. Only Naomi didn't bother to get married as she went through men. 'Detach with love'. How many times did you regress? When did your panic attacks start? Why were you in therapy when you were in diapers? Naomi, you have a lot to answer for.
So Stevie regressed when your parents divorced? No reassurance from William, that's for sure. 'Suck it up, you're a big boy now.' Geez, Jim, how young were you when you had to take on the responsibility of protecting Stevie from the world? Not that William ever actually abdicated his role; he was too busy pitting you kids at each other. With your sense of duty, you must have gone through hell. William, some day you're gonna have to face your karma for what you did to your sons. I am so glad I'm not you.
The silence in the truck was almost total, each man lost in his own thoughts. Blair broke the stillness first.
"Let's do dinner at my place tonight. I've got some frozen chili that I can nuke pretty quick. Unless you feel like something else?"
"No. That sounds fine. I'm really not all that hungry."
Blair sighed. "Me neither. Especially when I think about how that poor kid is being treated by his own parents. Talk about being selfish! Imagine being so caught up in your own life that your very own child is thought of as an inconvenience! Apparently, making money is more important to 'Roddie' than taking care of his son." Blair's emphasis on the man's name showed what he thought of the 'upper class' moniker.
"Roddie?" Jim sounded surprised. "What about Marilys? You'd think a mother would show at least a little maternal instinct, wouldn't you? In this case, I think Lloyd Rodney would actually be better off living with his father. Marilys takes pills like they were candy, and is fooling around with her latest boy toy right in front of the kid. At least Roddie is stable and can give him a sense of direction."
"Jim, there's more to being a good parent than giving a kid a sense of direction. Kids need love more than anything else. Naomi may not have had a lot of material things, but I always knew she loved me." He wasn't sure why, but Blair suddenly found his defenses going up. He was almost relieved when they left the upper-class neighborhood and began to encounter more middle-class surroundings. He realized that he had felt like a poor relation when he and Jim had visited the Calverton offices and grand estate, while his partner seemed to feel right at home.
"That may be true, Chief, but stability is also important. A child needs to know that he has a place to call home. A place where, no matter what else happens, he'll feel safe and protected. Naomi may have loved you, Blair, but she didn't do you any favors, constantly moving you from one place to another."
Blair's eyes widened as he stared at his friend. "Oh, and I suppose the great William Ellison should be considered a paragon of parenthood, all because he provided you and Steven with a big house and lots of things! Give me a break. You said yourself he tried to pick out a wife for you when you were a little kid. How sick is that? And what about all the other stuff he put you and Steven through while you were growing up? You trying to tell me now that your nice house and fancy lifestyle made up for all the crap? That's bullshit, Jim, and you know it!"
Jim's knuckles visibly whitened as he gripped the steering wheel. They only relaxed slightly as he turned the truck onto Prospect Avenue. "But your lifestyle growing up was okay? Is that what you're trying to tell me? Watching your mother constantly flit from one man to another, but never staying with any of them long enough for you to get settled anywhere? I've lost count of how many 'uncles' you've told me about. How many schools were you yanked out of, then have to be 'the new kid' yet again somewhere else? How many friends have you had to leave behind, because your mother decided she was tired of her current lover and wanted to move on? How much illegal drug use were you exposed to as a child? Or other types of illegal activities? I'm not surprised you once said you'd been in therapy since you were in Pampers! It doesn't seem to me that Naomi exactly had your best interests in mind; only her own!"
Busy pulling the truck into his parking space, well into his rant, Jim missed seeing Blair's face pale at the accusations against his mother. But it didn't take sentinel hearing to make out how loudly the passenger door of the truck was slammed as Blair exited the vehicle.
The trip into the building and up the flight of stairs to Blair's second floor apartment was made without either man speaking. Jim followed Blair into his home and shut the door behind them. He had barely hung up his jacket when Blair turned to face him, eyes blazing.
"I don't know what your problem is, Jim, but you've been ragging on me ever since this case started, and I'm getting damn tired of it. Suddenly nothing about me is good enough for you, is it?"
It was Jim's turn to stare. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Blair started to tick off his list, using his fingers. "Let's see. One, as soon as good ol' Roddie showed up at the fire and I tried to talk to him, you literally pushed me aside, like I wouldn't know how to talk to someone like him. Two, apparently you're embarrassed to be seen with me, the way I usually dress, especially around these snooty, high-toned people, to the point of insisting I wear your clothes! Huh? Huh? Three, lots of constant little digs – like when I was sitting in that chair at Roddie's office and you said I'm not used to the better things in life and I never will be. Saying that I have the wrong last name to be accepted by these people, and let's not forget that that was right after the 'trailer trash' comment I meant to be sarcastic, but I guess you didn't."
Blair's voice was becoming louder and more agitated. He gulped in air, rocking back and forth from leg to leg. "Where was I? Oh, yeah. Four, at the station. It was bad enough putting up with the guys' jokes about wearing your clothes, but you actually used a napkin on me as a bib while I was eating! You seem to think that your sweater is more important than my dignity. Thanks a lot, Jim. Thanks a whole hell of a lot. But you wouldn't let me take the damn thing off when I wanted to, would you?
"I guess the bottom line here is that you think I'm beneath you because of the way I was raised, and if I don't look and act precisely like you, I'm not good enough. Right? Right!" Blair crossed his arms and glared at Jim, daring him to dispute what he had just recounted.
Jim scowled back before answering, his own voice rising in annoyance. "Look, Sandburg, you're taking all this a little too personally. Yes, I wanted you to dress a little nicer than you usually do, because appearances matter to these people. They're more likely to talk to us if they think we're more on their level. I'm sorry if that offends your New Age sensibilities, but that's life in the real world. Learn to deal with it! As for the rest, I think you need to develop a thicker skin if a few little jokes are gonna set you off like that. Geez, after all the comments you've made about my clothes and hair, I guess we both know now that you can dish it out, but you can't take it, huh?"
Too wound up to stay still, Blair started pacing, hands waving in the air. "'Develop a thicker skin.' Yeah, right! I guess that goes with what you were telling me before, you know, the lesson on how to be a good detective: Be sneaky; leave your scruples and emotions in the truck, no matter how you feel; just do the job! Sorry, Ellison, but despite my mother's apparently horrible job of raising me, Naomi did manage to teach me ethics. Something it seems William never got around to with you. Funny thing, though, when I actually did what you said, forgot about my scruples and played up to Marilys to get the info we needed, you got mad."
Blair suddenly threw his hands wide and turned to face Jim, shouting, "What the hell do you want from me, Jim? I'm tired of always having to do what you want, everything has to be your way or the highway. When does my opinion start to matter? When do I start getting some respect?" His voice lowered in volume, but not in intensity. "I've been with you for over four years now. Doesn't that count for something? Do I ever get to come out from under your shadow? You call me your 'partner' when it's convenient for you, but you never really let me act as a full-fledged partner, do you? Never let me have an equal say in any investigation. You and Simon both treat me like some wet-behind-the-ears 'kid' who still doesn't know what floor Major Crime is on!"
Jim's frayed nerves had reached their breaking point. If Sandburg wanted the hard truth, he'd get it. "That's because you're not an equal partner. And you know why as well as I do. You're not a cop. You're only a consultant. You don't have the training or the experience of any detective on the force. Sure, you help out with cases, but technically you don't actually 'work' them as lead investigator, or make the collars yourself. I'm the detective here, remember? And if it's respect you think you're not getting, well, Junior, that's something you have to prove you deserve!"
"Everyone has to prove himself to you, don't we? You can never accept anyone at face value. We have to show that we can measure up to the great Jim Ellison's – or is it William Ellison's? – laundry list of standards. Thank God Naomi never tried to make me feel like I had to stand in judgment of everyone I met."
"Maybe if she had been a little more discriminating, you wouldn't have been nearly...." Jim stopped himself.
Blair wouldn't let him back off. "Nearly what, Jim? If you've got something to say, then say it!"
"All right. Raped. On that expedition when you were ten. What kind of mother sends a ten-year-old off on an out-of-country expedition with a relative she barely knows and a group of total strangers, so she can go off somewhere with her latest lover? I saw it all, remember? I know how you felt when she left. And I know it was a miracle you weren't molested on that trip. Nothing Dad ever did to me can equal that level of negligence!"
Blair stood absolutely still; his hands, slowly clenching, were the lone signs of movement. Only Jim's combat training allowed him to barely miss having his jaw bruised by the fist that swung at it. Stepping back out of reach, Jim held out his arm, palm outward towards his still-seething partner. "Stop right now, Blair. You don't want to do this."
Anything else Jim might have had to say was stopped by Blair's suddenly pushing past him. He opened his apartment door. "Get out."
Damn! Maybe he'd gone too far, reminding Blair of that trip. But in Jim's mind, there was nobody to blame but Naomi. "Look, Chief –"
"No, Jim. Right now, I need you gone. And don't use the staircase."
As he walked to the open door, Jim noticed that Blair's cheeks were flushed and that he was shaking with anger. Maybe it would be best to leave. Jim paused at the threshold. "This isn't over yet. We still have several arsons and a murder to solve."
Blair's voice was strained. "Whatever. Or are you calling my professionalism into question now, too?"
Jim knew enough not to answer. "I'll pick you up in the morning."
The door closed between the friends with a resounding thud.
It was an irritated, sleep-deprived Jim who knocked on Blair's door the next morning. From the looks of his partner when he answered the door, Blair hadn't gotten much sleep either. Moving into the kitchen, Jim helped himself to a cup of coffee as Blair headed back to his bedroom to finish dressing. Neither man had spoken a word. Jim wondered if his ex-roommate was still mad. Not that he himself hadn't every right to still be upset; Blair had said some pretty nasty things to him the night before.
Jim raised his voice slightly so Blair could hear him from down the hallway. "I thought we'd take another look at Calverton's financial records this morning, look for any large deposits or withdrawals around the time of the fires, or even in the last couple of days. The bank should have its records updated for the beginning of the week; it's all computerized. How does that sound?"
There was a definite pause before Blair's almost neutral voice answered. "Whatever you say, Jim. You're the detective. I'm only the untrained, lowly tagalong, after all."
Oh, damn. He was going to hear about that line for a long, long time. "C'mon, Sandburg, you know what I meant. Don't start blowing things all out of proportion!"
Blair came into the kitchen wearing his usual jeans and flannel. He gave Jim a look as if daring him to say something about his clothing. "Who's blowing things out of proportion? All I'm doing is repeating what you said. Is it all right with you if I have some coffee before we leave?"
Jim rolled his eyes and carried his cup into the living room while Blair fixed his coffee. "Y'know, Chief, you talk about wanting to be respected, then you spout off dumb shit like that. I do have an enormous amount of respect for you. In fact, sometimes I think it's the other way around." At Blair's puzzled look, he continued. "Sometimes I think you tend to look down on me and the rest of the cops at the station, because we don't have as much education as you do. Call it intellectual snobbery."
"That's a crock of shit and you know it! I've never done anything to make anyone think that I believe I'm better than anyone else! I wasn't raised to believe that having something other people don't, whether it's material things or college degrees, makes you better than the next person. Unlike some people, Naomi didn't believe in a social caste system."
Okay, Chief, you opened this can of worms again. "Naomi didn't believe in a lot of things, did she? Anything having to do with following rules. Self-discipline or self-denial. Anything that wouldn't fit in with her gypsy lifestyle, she totally ignored, under the pretense of 'doing her own thing'. And she apparently taught you to believe just like her."
Blair's coffee cup hit the counter so hard that some of the dark liquid splashed over the top, but he didn't even notice. "Her 'gypsy' lifestyle? As opposed to the nice, 'normal', middle class lifestyle that you obviously feel everyone should embrace?" He pinned Jim with a look as he warmed up to his subject. "Did you ever hear about how the gypsies in Europe were almost wiped out as a culture? Not by the Nazis, like most people think, though they did their part in exterminating the 'undesirables' like gypsies, and Jews, or even slavery in some of the European nations. No, this happened later, after the war, in the fifties and sixties and seventies. It seems the righteous middle class of the time thought the gypsies' lifestyle wasn't a proper way to raise children, so they took their children away. They came right in and basically stole the gypsy children, so they could be adopted into 'good' homes. Is that what you think should have happened to me? I should have been taken from my own mother so I could have been raised in a style more to your liking?"
Jim opened his mouth to respond, but before he could get a word out, Blair, almost as agitated as he had been the former evening, had stomped out of the kitchen and was walking and talking again.
"But you know what, Jim? I'm glad, grateful even, for the way my mother raised me. Know why? Because, despite my unconventional childhood, I was raised to believe in myself. I didn't need money, or material things, to know who I was. I had a very secure self-image. Even though I was always smaller than other kids my age, I never thought of myself as a freak, or too short, or too skinny, or different-looking. I didn't wet the bed. I didn't abuse animals or taunt the smaller kids. In fact, I...."
"Wait!" Jim cut him off urgently. "Repeat what you just said, about not feeling different"
Something in Jim's voice made Blair stop, and mentally rerun his words. "Um, I never felt too short or too skinny or different. I didn't wet the bed or abuse animals...Oh. My. God. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Jim nodded and reached out to clap Blair on the shoulder. "MacDonald's Triad. Jesus, Blair, it all fits. We had all the clues; we just didn't put them together right. Grab your jacket. We're going to the Calvertons' right now."
They ran out the door, both knowing that though the case might be solved, it was definitely not over.
"Geez, Jim, slow down!" Blair was thrown against the back of his seat and the side window as his partner steered the screeching truck around an inconvenient corner.
The sentinel's right arm automatically went out to protect his guide, and Blair patted it comfortingly. "I'm okay, buddy. I'm tougher than I look."
Jim Ellison did not acknowledge that he heard, but he drew his arm back again.
"You know, we may be wrong, Jim," Blair started, hoping that perhaps engaging Jim's rational side would slow him down a little.
"We're not wrong," Jim came back at him. "We were slow to catch on, but we're not wrong, Chief."
Blair fell silent. He was morally certain that they weren't wrong, too. But this skittering around in a truck through the avenues of Cascade during the tag end of rush hour traffic was scary. He made a careful decision to let Jim just do it, drive like a sentinel, drive like Jim Ellison. He wondered if that were an even scarier thing, and shielded his eyes with his hands. Yeah, driving with Jim was pretty much the pinnacle of the roller coaster ride.
After an eternity, or perhaps half an hour, the truck hit the side-roads in country club country. Jim was driving as fast as ever because he had more ground to cover out there, but at least there were no pedestrians or cars to worry about. Blair settled back to being worried for Jim instead. The entrance to the Calverton estate loomed up and the gates were wide open.
The place was in pandemonium. The circus had come to Lloyd Rodney.
"Ooooooh, shit!" Jim had to brake suddenly in order to avoid a tyke riding, of all things, an ostrich. "Is that even safe?"
Blair preferred to keep his comments on what constituted a safe ride to himself.
Ellison pulled the truck behind the gatehouse onto the lawn, and damned the turf. He and Blair got out and tried to take their bearings.
It wasn't easy. Though the lawn leading immediately to the house was clear, every square inch on the left side of the circular drive was jam-packed with things.
There was a midway with games and prizes that, from the looks of the kids carrying stuffed rabbits and snakes, weren't fixed. The sideshows were limited to displays of skill, sword-swallowing, juggling with torches, contortionists' acts and the like; no 'freaks' or 'oddities' were allowed in the Calverton universe. A petting zoo of wild creatures took up the interest of the children while they waited for rides on a pair of ostriches, a pair of zebras, and a very large elephant complete with howdah. Clowns ran everywhere, clowning, and a few rode gussied-up golf carts in skits involving cops, robbers, firemen and big plastic 'bombs' full of water.
In the center of the side lawn was a huge marquee, and around it trapeze artists were limbering up, while the roars of big cats could be heard off beyond the hub of the action. An equestrienne led her horse back and forth to accustom it to the new location, its sights and sounds and smells.
Popcorn and peanut stands, candy floss machines, taffy apple booths and hot dog carts stood waiting for the mothers of the attendees to decide it was appropriate for their little ones to start stuffing themselves. Ten in the morning was a trifle early, they seemed to agree, from lawn chairs and chaise longues well away from the noise and bustle. But they were all drinking orange juice with bubbles in it, and Jim knew mimosas when he saw, heard and smelled them. The chatter was about leaving the children in the care of the help, and arranging for their chauffeurs to pick them up again later. But, of course, Sweet Annabelle and Dear Cynthia and Precious Ginnie had to stay to share a morning pick-me-up with Darling Marilys and congratulate her on a job well done under pressure. The circus, they all said, was brilliant.
Privately, though, a few were tossing around words like 'tawdry' and 'tacky' and 'overdone', behind Darling Marilys' back.
Jim didn't care. He had one mission and one mission only: to find Lloyd Rodney.
Blair was there to urge him on, and to help him concentrate in the great din and hurrah going on around them.
"Try sight first, Jim. Scan the area. You know the animals are supposed to be there; let them fade. The tent should be there, let it fade. The people in make-up and costumes, the concession booths, the games – let them all fade. See only the children. Go over them one by one. Is he there? Have you found him?"
Jim pulled back from a focus that hurt, it was so tight. "No, I don't see him anywhere around."
"Okay, sound. You know his voice. Cancel out the parents' chatter. Cancel out the animals' noises. Cancel out the concessionaires and barkers. Hear only the children's voices. Listen to them one by one. Do you hear Lloyd Rodney?"
Jim jerked back again. "Nothing, Chief. It's too much! Finding one kid in a freaking circus? With an elephant in the side yard yet? I can't deal with this!" The sentinel threw his arms out wide.
"Okay, then, we'll ask."
The simplicity of this suggestion made Jim smile. "Okay, Chief, we'll ask."
He led the way to the group of mamas. The ladies put up sunglasses to get a better look at the two undeniably handsome men bearing down on Marilys.
"Why, Jimmy, and Blair! How lovely to see you! Come to enjoy Lloyd Rodney's birthday party? The whole lower and middle schools came. Isn't it fun?" Marilys was waving at Rosalita to come serve her new guests.
"Where is he, Marilys?" Jim asked urgently.
"Where is who?" Marilys was not slurring her words, but Jim had his doubts about whether she was completely sober. If she had taken one of her Ativan tablets on top of her mimosa, and this madhouse would make anyone anxious, it would account for her failure to make sense.
"Lloyd Rodney," Jim said slowly and gently. "We need to find Lloyd Rodney."
"It's very important, Marilys dear," Blair coaxed in his most dulcet tones. "Can you tell us where Lloyd Rodney is?"
Marilys frowned prettily and looked around the area. "I don't know, exactly. He was here a minute ago. I think he was pitching baseballs at milk bottles. Maybe he won something and ran up to his room to put it away. You can go in and look for him, if you like." She took another mimosa glass from the salver Rosalita offered, and Jim took it swiftly from her hands.
"I think that's enough for right now, Marilys. We'll want to talk to you in a while, and you'll want to be fresh for it." Jim stuck the fluted wineglass back on the salver and sent Rosalita on her way with a nod.
"Oh, well, really!" Marilys was fluffing up her hair with indignation.
Blair smiled warmly at her. "It's for the best, my dear."
"Oh, well, then," Marilys said, holding out her hand, "I'll survive." She giggled.
Blair bent over the hand, his jeans and flannel shirt apparently acceptable wear for a circus day, and Marilys cooed something Jim did not even try to hear.
"Okay, Chief, we'll check the house. I'll take the upstairs, you the downstairs, neither of us goes into the basement or third floor unless we're together. I don't expect he's hiding, so if he's here, we should find him readily enough."
The hunt was on.
Jim went straight for Lloyd Rodney's bedroom. It was barren of little boys, but Jim was not disappointed entirely. He commandeered what he had found, and went about searching the rest of the upper area.
"No one down here, Jim," Blair called out.
Jim danced down the long staircase. "No one upstairs either. I listened overhead in each of the rooms, and couldn't hear anyone above me. Let's do the basement."
"Sounds like a plan."
The partners switched on all the lights to the lower level and split up to canvas it. Again, no one, nothing.
"Damn!" Jim swore. "Where's the kid gotten to? We've got to find him, Chief! God knows it's not safe...!"
"Calm down. We'll find him, we'll find him. Once we do, we'll keep an eye on him and make sure he's in safe hands."
Blair's pats to Jim's back transmitted a degree of certain calm. Jim steadied himself.
"Okay, back to the circus. He could be there after all, and I just missed him." Jim led the way up.
Out in the bright sunshine, Blair had to tell Jim to dial down his eyesight, and once that was done, Jim again extended his hypersensitive senses. This time, he got lucky.
"Shoot, Chief, he's been out here all along. He's messing around in the circus tent."
A sudden silence befell the investigators. They looked wildly at each other, and then there were wings at their heels.
But by the time they had gotten to the tent, there was no trace of Lloyd Rodney again. He had circled the marquee, and while out of sight, had disappeared.
Lloyd Rodney was not the object of their search at that moment. Instead, Jim was rampaging through the tiers of seats, kicking away at sawdust, and sneezing heartily. Blair was likewise involved, checking the perimeter of the tent, where it met the ground.
"Nothing," Blair reported breathlessly.
Jim was still sneezing. He shook his head to indicate that his search had come up empty too, and Blair pushed him out of the enclosed area and into free air.
"Cough it all out, Jim," he ordered. "Man, you can't get a break on this case, can you? First the smoke and stuff, and now sawdust and feathers and animal hair and greasepaint. Go ahead and cough and sneeze it out of your system. We'll have to hope that we don't have to go back into the tent again."
Jim's eyes were streaming, and he was hacking up a lung, from the sounds of it. But a few minutes later, he was fine once more.
"Wish we had a filter for you," his partner said with concern.
"Never mind that. We still have one small boy to find in all this hubbub. We know he was here a few minutes ago. Let's look around, and ask the other kids."
They finally struck gold.
One of the boys watching the sword-swallower very carefully refused to turn his head, but pointed back over his shoulder. "He's over by the performing dogs show, I think."
That said, the boy went back into his trance state.
The dog show was visible from where Jim and Blair stood, and, sure enough, there was Lloyd Rodney watching poodles and terrier mixes do amazing things with balls, hoops, and unicycles. He was amid a group of about five kids, and Jim tuned into the conversation.
"They're talking about the dogs. Whether Libby as a pure-bred is smarter than any of the circus dogs. Lloyd Rodney is standing firm on the fact that she would have to be; she cost more than any of the 'mongrels', as he calls them," he reported.
"Looks like he's safe for a bit, then," Blair said. "How do we keep him safe from here, though?"
Jim jogged to the gaggle of women on the other side of the drive, Blair following a step behind.
"Marilys," Jim said commandingly, ignoring a passel of 'ooh's' and 'ahh's' from the other women, "we need to talk now, and I want you to tell me where Albany is."
"Well, all right, then, Jimmy," said Marilys, getting up and gracing her guests with look of triumph. Fifty-two, and she had two gorgeous men demanding her attentions. It was more than enough to make up for the tackiness of the circus. "Albany should be in the gatehouse. Why?"
"We need him out here as fast as he can get here. Excuse us, ladies," Jim said, sketching a bow, and winning a collection of smiles and 'buh-bye's' and winks as he and Blair escorted the hostess to the front door of the mansion.
"I'll call him then," Marilys said, and produced a cell phone from a pocket.
Within five minutes, Albany was at their side. "Really, Madame, I was working –"
Jim did not have time for a squabble with the butler. He cut in, "We need you to keep an eye on Lloyd Rodney, Albany, and this is a very serious matter."
Marilys eyed Jim uncertainly. "'Serious'?" she echoed. "Is Lloyd Rodney in danger? Albany! Don't let anything happen to Lloyd Rodney!"
So a spark of maternal interest did burn in the breast of the matron of the house! Who'd have thought it?
Jim gave further instructions. Albany was not to attract the child's attention. If Lloyd Rodney moved to another circus attraction, Albany was to keep him in sight. If he looked as if he was wandering off, Albany was to telephone Marilys immediately and report it.
Albany was bitter-faced at playing nanny, but he took his orders from Madame and turned to watch the boy.
Blair and Jim scurried Marilys into the house.
"Marilys, call Roddie."
"Why, Jimmy, why would I do that? He's busy today, or else he'd be out on the Constance III with Lloyd Rodney, and I wouldn't be trying to entertain with a wretched circus going on around me!" Marilys was perplexed, hard-done-by and sullen, all together.
"Call Roddie." Velvet-wrapped steel.
"But he's with the Chinese manufacturers, and today was the only day...."
"CALL RODDIE. NOW!"
That penetrated Marilys' haze of drugs and alcohol. "Well, all right, but you're going to have to do the talking. I certainly can't persuade him to take a day off work whenever I want him to." She beeped the numbers into her phone, handed it off to Jim, then flounced to one of the window seats in the parlor, and watched her garden in lieu of the circus attractions.
"Jennifer, give me Roddie. Tell him it's Jim Ellison and it's an emergency."
"I don't give a damn about the Chinese manufacturers; put him on the phone now!"
"Listen, lady, you put Roddie Calverton on the phone within ten seconds or I'll personally come down there and ten seconds after I arrive, you'll have lost your job – whatever it really is. Do you understand?" This was the Black Ops Ranger speaking.
Jennifer got the message. So did Roddie. He picked up the phone.
"Ellison, I don't appreciate –"
"Get home, Roddie. Now. There is something I have to tell you and it isn't pleasant. Tell your associates it's a family emergency. Because it is."
"It had better be, Ellison. It's going to cost me millions if this deal goes sour."
"Come home, Calverton. You're not going to have a red cent left if you don't get here soon."
"Are you threatening me?"
"Don't be ridiculous. And don't waste my time or my partner's. You wanted the arsonist found. We found him. Get here now."
With that, Jim hung up and handed the unit back to Marilys Calverton, who was staring at him with admiration. "No one speaks like that to Roddie. No one."
Jim was under-impressed. "Long overdue then."
Blair put in a heartfelt, "Oh, yeah."
They spent the time waiting for Roddie to show up, in clarification of some facts with Marilys, turning conjecture into reality. The two men muttered back and forth about things Marilys obviously couldn't understand and didn't wish to. They had to stop her from hitting the Ativan again and to send Rosalita away with the new mimosa Marilys had rung for; withal, they were relatively overjoyed when Roddie finally pulled up in the Silver Seraph.
"Now what was so urgent that I had to leave in the middle of making a deal that can bring me in roughly fifty million dollars over the next seven years?" Roddie was dangerous. The predator in him was coming to the fore.
Blair looked at him sympathetically.
With waves of his hand, Jim motioned both Marilys and Roddie to a couch, and he and Blair took the loveseat perpendicular to them.
The Calvertons were silent. There was something in the atmosphere which even they in their self-absorption could not avoid sensing.
Blair took the podium. "This is going to be hard to take, and I have to say I'm sorry to tell it to you. But Jim and I have the goods on this case, and you need to know."
Roddie and Marilys exchanges glances full of apprehension. He took her hand.
"Have you ever heard of MacDonald's Triad?" Blair asked.
"No," Marilys replied wonderingly.
Roddie shook his head.
"It's a finding in criminology that goes back as far as 1963, Mr. and Mrs. Calverton, when a researcher named MacDonald noticed that there are three characteristics that appear in childhood among certain criminals." Blair waited for the implications to sink in.
"This had better be damned good, Ellison, because I'm gonna have your hide and his for this, this, travesty of law enforcement!" Roddie fell quiet, but it wasn't a still quietness.
"Oh, my God," Marilys whispered. "Oh, my God." She said it over and over again, and didn't stop all through Blair's explanation.
"It keeps showing up," the consultant went on. "The three factors in childhood are fire-setting, abusiveness to small animals and/or children, and enuresis."
"Enuresis?" Roddie said with astonishment.
"Bed-wetting past the usual age of toilet training," Blair explained gently. "All three of these behaviors are to be found in your son, Lloyd Rodney. We believe that he is the arsonist. We also believe that he deliberately killed Dwight Franklin, for the thrill alone."
"You, you, you can't prove any, any of this," Roddie
stumbled. "Lloyd Rodney doesn't hurt people or animals, or set fires, or wet the
bed! He's no killer! He's a little boy!"
Jim tapped his nose. "He wets the bed, Roddie. You may not notice the smell, but I do. That's provable. And little boys have killed before now." He sighed.
"We saw how Lloyd Rodney behaves with Libby. He's abusive toward her, hitting her with sticks, and yelling at her. He may have kicked her in the side; she's got a huge bruise there. At first, we thought we were seeing the cycle of abuse happening, with you abusing Lloyd Rodney, and him turning around and hurting Libby as a result. We're sorry for that." The shaman was sincere on that point.
Roddie's face took on an absent look. "The cats."
Marilys turned gray.
Blair raised his eyebrows.
Calverton went on. "We thought they ran away. The tabby, and the calico. They were indoor cats. Declawed. We thought they ran away. They wouldn't have a chance against anything...out there." His head shot up, sheer horror on his features. "No more. No more. I'm calling my lawyers." He reached for his cell phone.
Blair stretched out a gentle hand to restrain him. "You might want to hear what we have to say first. We're not at the point of charging him with any crime. We're just explaining things to you, that's all."
Jim nodded reassurance.
Roddie let himself be persuaded to wait for the full telling.
"Setting the fires was just too easy, Roddie," the consultant went on. "He had access to all the keys. He only needed a supply of cleaning fluid or gasoline for an accelerant, a paper plate, and a candle to light so it would burn down while he made his get-away, before the conflagration burst out. He's got the motorcycle, and that's transportation and gas both." He left the next part for Jim to tell.
"He also has the candles," Jim divulged. "I found a box of twelve hidden in a hollowed out book in his bedroom. They're cheap candles, made of tallow, animal fat, not beeswax. I smelled it at the main warehouse. I smelled it again here, today." He stopped for a moment for his hearers to catch up to him. "But I was in his bedroom yesterday, and I didn't smell tallow there then. Urine, yes, in the bedroom and not the bathroom, but no tallow smell. Today I found the box of tallow candles. A new box, Roddie, and four of them are missing."
Marilys' hands were at her mouth, and she was emitting small cries like a dumb animal.
Roddie collapsed into himself for a moment, and then surged up. "Where is he?" Calverton demanded. "Where is the boy?"
"He's outside at the circus. We left Albany to keep an eye on him, with orders that he call if Lloyd Rodney made a move to leave." Jim hung his hands over his knees. "We needed to tell you first, and...."
But Calverton was already storming out the door.
"Oh, hell," Blair muttered as he and Jim jumped up, right behind him. Marilys was crushed into the couch; anything like walking was beyond her ability.
Calverton stopped dead at the edge of the patio. The flock of interested geese dissuaded him from any overt emotional displays. But he had hellfire and damnation glinting in his eyes, and a kind of wash as of the waters of Acheron spilled out from the man's sheer force of character. People all over the estate stopped and turned to look at him, never knowing why.
But Lloyd Rodney knew. He was tormenting Libby with a stick, trying to make her jump through a hoop and ignoring his comrades' taunts about her worthlessness, when he felt his father's deadly glower aimed at him. He confronted his father at that distance, with equal parts of challenge and fear, and dashed for the garage.
Albany, shocked out of his mental meanderings, tried to grab him, but was too far away, and pulled out his cell phone. It had hardly started to ring in Marilys' pocket before the growl of the motorcycle drowned out all other sounds.
Lloyd Rodney was off and running.
The men hurtled off the patio, leaving squeals of dismay, some of them real, behind them.
Lloyd Rodney, on his motorbike, a little too small for it, but not enough to stop him from riding, toured in and around the circus. He stampeded the ostriches and zebras, and caused the elephant to trumpet defiance and take a few quick, long strides towards him. Lloyd Rodney knew instinctively that she was not his friend; when he'd ridden in the howdah, he'd poked and pulled at her ears. The boy zipped away, and Elaine the elephant's cry turned to victory.
She set the child on a new course though, one which he could more easily reach than the men, as he slammed through the midway without heed for the pedestrians. The men were caught up in the turmoil of the animals rioting and the boy running rampant. When they realized he had swung away from the gates and back to the woods behind the mansion, they knew he was heading for a dead-end. Only, he still had the gasoline and candles, and he probably had the matches too.
They had to catch him. They were on foot, but they had to catch him.
Jim took Roddie by his well-tailored lapels and shook him hard. "How do we catch him?"
Roddie was seething, but helpless in Jim's steel grip. "We can't. The bike's too fast. We don't have anything small enough to follow him into the bush. It's over."
"Idiot!" Jim threw in his face. "We have to try. He's going for the boat, Roddie."
Blair was bouncing back and forth on his feet, ready to sprint.
"So what if he burns the boat?" Roddie yelped.
Blair grabbed at the back of the entrepreneur's jacket, tore him from Jim's grasp, and shook him some more. "There's a boatman at the boat. Lloyd Rodney's already killed once, Roddie, or have you forgotten that fact because it only concerns the little people? Is the boatman expendable to you because you don't know his name? Because, let me tell you, he's not expendable to us! Your kid's escalating the violence! Have you gotten the picture yet? Now tell us, how do we get there faster than he can?"
Blair was so close up and in Roddie's face that Roddie could count the fillings in the man's teeth. He had great incentive to come up with an answer. In a second, he did. "Rosalita! She knows! There's a berry patch, and a path to it, but I don't know where it starts. It should come out just below the hillocks. The bike can't handle them, so the bike path goes around them. You might make it. You might make it!"
Jim was already on his way to Rosalita's side. She looked scared out of her wits, but she was self-possessed enough to gesture toward the start of the pathway into heart of the bushes. Jim's sentinel vision was enough to do the rest.
He pointed the way for Blair, and then neither of them had time or breath for speech.
They ran full out, ignoring the snags of old thorns and the stings of sappy new shoots.
Jim kept the way as clear as he could for Blair, and his partner watched Jim's footfalls carefully, avoiding any trouble spots the detective turned up.
They hurdled fallen logs. They spooked a deer, thankfully female, who fled from them. They tore Blair's flannel shirt from his back when it became inextricably snarled at the edge of a wild rose thicket.
When they finally reached the clearing, surrounded by blueberry and raspberry bushes, Jim threw his partner a question with his eyes and Blair nodded back. They redoubled their efforts.
All the time they kept thinking, He's got to be ahead. How far ahead is he? How much faster can I go? What if we don't make it in time?
They were two men in top physical condition. They had adrenaline pumping to beat the band. But could they beat Lloyd Rodney, a small baby of a killer, on his motorcycle?
Blair found himself belting out 'John Henry' in his mind, the tempo going faster and faster, his calves and thighs forcing the pace on and on.
When they reached the first of the hillocks Roddie Calverton had spoken of, it seemed a thing of huge proportions. Surely it couldn't be that high? Surely there couldn't be more like it?
Jim and Blair shared looks of distress as they bent double and wheezed for more breath. But there was no stopping now. They drew in all the air their diaphragms and intercostal spaces could store.
Jim threw a fist forward and yelled hoarsely, "Go!"
They ran. The angle of the side of the hill was not as steep once they brought their arms and hands into the running. Clambering, climbing, slithering, it was all running. Sandy mounds and salt sea grasses were torn and destroyed as they ran and ran.
Once at the top of the first hillock, they had a panoramic view of the area around.
Lloyd Rodney was a good two miles to the east, but the boathouse was due north of Jim and Blair. There were two more hillocks to go, but Lloyd Rodney seemed to be distracted, patting at his pockets, and he wasn't riding flat out.
He also hadn't seen them. He wasn't looking for pursuers coming overland by a different route. Clearly, the boy had never gone berrying with the help.
Jim stopped to grab more oxygen, and Blair stopped too, breathing deeply.
"We've got a good chance," Jim said. "Even if we don't get there before he does, we can probably stop him doing anything violent."
"Gasoline splashes," Blair spoke his greatest fear. "The Asian boatman."
Jim looked horrified. "Oh, God, no."
"Run?" Blair suggested.
"Yeah," Jim said, and they sped up the rate.
Down the first hillock was relatively easy, though they had to be careful of going too fast and turning an ankle. Climbing the second hillock was only easier than the first because it was not as high; the incline was steeper, though. They did not pause for speech at the top of it, dragging in deep draughts of air, and then off again on the chase.
The third hillock was the treacherous one. The soil was sandier and the footing unsafe.
On the way up, Jim lost his balance for a moment as a clod of gritty soil loosened beneath him, and he came down hard on his right side. Blair was beside him in a trice, but Jim only nodded a silent I'm okay, I'm okay, and let Blair pull him back on his feet again.
They reached the top.
The boathouse was a mere thousand feet away; the glorious, 40-foot classic cutter, made of mahogany on oak, the Constance III, was within hailing distance. But they had no voices left to hail with, and all their strength was in their legs, shaky and wobbly though those were.
But they would have to do.
The men had to run.
Lloyd Rodney was at the dock.
The wizened boatman, who looked to be Korean, came out from the hatchway to wave at the child. He leaped off the deck and onto the dock.
Lloyd Rodney smiled back, sweetly, angelically, and as he stowed the cycle well away from the dock, he reached around for something strapped to the back of it.
Jim and Blair groaned despairingly.
It was a Thermos.
The old man was smiling and nodding, as the boy uncapped the Thermos with deadly hands. The child paused for a moment, the cup hanging from a finger as he patted himself down, and Jim saw Lloyd Rodney finally locate what he had been searching for in his pockets.
A book of matches.
The Korean boatman urged Lloyd Rodney onto the boat with gestures and bobs of his head. Boy and man stepped aboard, chattering to each other.
Cop and consultant ran.
They took no care for themselves this time. Blair pitched head first over a tussock and let himself roll, heedless of any bruises. Jim managed to keep from falling, but he tore down the hill making new footholds with every heavy step.
They reached the dock.
Lloyd Rodney was holding the cup steady as he poured it full of poison.
The men trampled down the pier and leaped on board.
Lloyd Rodney turned and screamed with anger, a banshee's cry of rage which had no words, but struck the spirit as if it were a lance of sound.
The Korean man started, and stared.
He never received the cup of champagne, the cup with which he had been intended to celebrate the life of Lloyd Rodney Calverton, the last thing he had been meant ever to do in the child's monstrous plan.
The sentinel and shaman slowed. They had their quarry almost within reach. They prowled closer and closer.
No one said a word.
Lloyd Rodney backed up and away from his nemeses. He slithered backwards, closer and closer to the taffrail.
"Oh, no, you don't!" Jim exploded, and pounced on the child.
Lloyd Rodney dropped everything he had – cup, thermos, matches, and suspicious white pills – overboard.
He had time for one huge exultant shining burst of glee, full radiance turned on the sentinel and shaman, and then he became a little boy again.
He started to cry. "Hong Do! Hong Do! Help me! Who are these people? What do they want?" He sniffled woefully. "I'm scared! Help me!"
The Korean boatman was indignant. He ordered the cop and consultant off the boat with commendable authority. Jim showed him his badge, and told him he was there at Roddie Calverton's behest. The man's face puckered with disbelief and displeasure.
"Did you drink any of that wine?" Blair demanded of the boatman, just to be completely certain.
The man shook his head slowly.
"Why does that matter? It's only a cup of champagne, and he didn't drink any of it." Lloyd Rodney hiccupped as he continued to cry, sobbing for all he was worth. "Why are you angry? Why did you frighten me? It was only some champagne to celebrate my birthday! Why shouldn't Hong Do have some? Mommy's friends are all having some! So's Mommy!"
He cried and cried and cried, and the boatman put his arms around the little boy.
Jim flipped open his cell phone and called Roddie.
After a brief conversation, the boatman was handed the phone, and he got his orders from his employer. He moved back, and the boy was left alone.
Lloyd Rodney spun to face the water and tried to make a dash for it.
Jim reached out and grabbed the demon child before he could dive off the boat.
Lloyd Rodney was a fountain of unleashed passion. He screamed, kicked, and tried to elbow Jim in the ribs and off the boat. His voice screeched incessantly.
Jim flinched, and Blair told him to turn the dials down.
Jim's face cleared. He picked up the hellion and threw him over his shoulder. Blair got the motorcycle up and running, and between them, handing off the bike in exchange for the boy as they went, they shared the labor of bringing Lloyd Rodney home.
The child wailed defiance all the way to the rolling, green lawn.
When they reached the end of the motorcycle route to home, Blair had the boy hoisted over his wide shoulder, and Jim was on the cycle.
"Let me go! Let me go!" Lloyd Rodney was still kicking and squirming.
Jim didn't respond verbally at first. He stopped the motorcycle, got off and scooped the kid up and off his partner's shoulder and onto his own. Then he spoke. "It's over, Lloyd. Give it up."
"Lloyd Rodney! It's Lloyd Rodney!" The child was well on the way to becoming hysterical with rage. Jim took it all in stride and bore him off at a halting jog across the lawn, leaving Blair to ride the cycle to the mansion.
When they arrived, Jim scoured the site for the boy's parents.
Roddie had apparently cleared the mansion of the encampment of Marilys' friends; no one was sipping mimosas any longer. The school children had disappeared, presumably along with said friends. The circus was tearing down, preparing to leave, completely engaged in their tasks and uncaring about the drama inside the great house. To all intents and purposes, the family was alone.
Roddie appeared at the patio doors. "Where's my son! What did he do? Jimmy, what's happening?" Roddie begged to know.
Carrying the combative kid like a sack of potatoes, Jim filled the father in on the doings of Lloyd Rodney at the yacht. Tiredly, he handed the boy over to Roddie Calverton, who used a firm grip on him.
Blair had left the motorcycle behind, and came up to the group.
Roddie looked into two exhausted faces. "Thank you, both of you," he said. "The boatman?"
"Hong Do doesn't have any idea of what was happening. We got there in time."
"Thank God." The comment came from more than one throat.
Lloyd Rodney made a play for sympathy with Roddie. He turned his back on the men from Major Crime, threw himself at his father with his arms wide, and burst into more crocodile tears. "Daddy! Daddy! They hurt me and they're frightening me! Make them stop!"
But Roddie Calverton grabbed his son's upper arms and held him at a distance. He was unmoved. His face was adamant, his eyes fire opals. "No more, Lloyd Rodney. No more lies, no more pleas, no more tears. We're going to get at the truth, and then we're going to decide what to do."
Lloyd Rodney recoiled. He tried to pull away, and when that wouldn't work, he held himself perfectly still, trying to psych his father out with his own basilisk stare. When that didn't work, he spoke loudly and firmly. "I want my lawyer."
Roddie's mouth curled. "Inside."
Lloyd Rodney said it again. "I want my lawyer." He said it often, in the hearing of everyone he came close to, Albany, Rosalita, Troy, a couple of circus joeys, and his parents and the best team from Major Crime.
Finally, when they were all in the parlor again, Lloyd Rodney broke free of his father's grasp and headed straight for a big overstuffed chair. He plopped into it, grabbing a pillow and picking and tearing at the threads. "I'm not saying anything until my lawyer gets here," he announced, intent on his labor.
Roddie watched the predator he had sired. The one challenging him, too young to establish supremacy in the pride. Then he spoke. "You get the protection your parents give you, son. That's all. We're not calling our lawyers. Do you understand me?"
Lloyd Rodney looked up, all wide eyes and innocent. "Yes, Daddy. I understand you. Do you understand me?" Oh, but he was sly.
Marilys reached for another Ativan, and this time they let her have it. She never could have made it through the interview without it, and she needed to hear what had happened. She was escorted by her husband to the corner of a large couch, and he sat next to her. Jim and Blair took their places together on an adjoining sofa. No one took his or her eyes off Lloyd Rodney as they seated themselves.
Jim started talking. "Three fires, Lloyd Rodney. Over six weeks. Not counting today's attempt. What made you decide to set the first one six weeks ago?"
Lloyd Rodney professed ignorance. "I don't know what you mean. I didn't set any fires."
"Oh, yes, you did," Blair put in. There was something compelling in his rich voice, something that couldn't be ignored. He was making a charge against the child that did not entirely fall under the letter of manmade law, witnessed by more than the few humans in the parlor. "Now answer the question."
Lloyd Rodney stared with hatred at the shaman. "I don't know anything," he tried, but as Blair stood and took a step forward, he went on quickly, "but hy-po-the-tic'ly speaking, the person who set a fire might have done it if someone else hadn't been nice to him. If someone maybe insulted him."
Jim asked, "What happened in your life six weeks ago? What made you angry? Who insulted you, and how?"
Lloyd Rodney blinked, and said, "I don't know what you mean. It was just a hypothetical thing I said. I don't know if it happened really." He picked at the threads, eyes hidden.
Blair responded, answering the question. "Six weeks ago your parents gave you a gift. A gift you didn't appreciate. A gift you didn't want. A gift most boys would give their teeth for, but one that wasn't good enough for you. Your parents gave you a dog."
"Libby?" Marilys whispered. "He started this over Libby?" She began to gasp like a gaffed fish.
Roddie swayed closer to her and held her. He looked up at Jim with desperate eyes, and Jim rang for Rosalita to bring coffee and brandy.
Lloyd Rodney looked up, surprised. "Libby? You didn't want her, mom. She's too big, not worth the money you paid for her, a bad investment, not going to make you any money in the future. If you didn't want her, why would I?" He peered at his mother, genuinely curious.
Jim said, "Two weeks ago, it was the secondary warehouse you burned down. What triggered that?"
"I haven't done anything," Lloyd Rodney alleged coolly. "I keep telling you that, but you don't seem to understand it." He let silence overtake him then.
The room was still as people pondered.
Roddie spoke up, quietly, with conviction. "I teased you about the ballet tickets. That's why. You felt insulted. So you burned my warehouse."
"'Your' warehouse, Daddy?" Lloyd Rodney asked. "I thought it was 'our' warehouse, a Calverton warehouse." There was venom in the last few words, and another pause ensued.
Rosalita brought in a full tray, and Roddie saw to it that his wife got a cup of coffee inside her, and the thirsty runners also. Lloyd Rodney was ignored through the coffee ritual, and he finally spoke up. "I want some juice, Rosalita. Grape juice."
"Si," the maid began, but Roddie held up his hand.
"No. No juice for Lloyd Rodney. Not yet. He's not thirsty. He hasn't been running or talking. He doesn't need any juice."
Baffled, Rosalita followed orders and left the room.
It was war between father and son.
Jim led them deeper into dark territory. "The main warehouse fire, Lloyd." The boy's angry protest was ignored. "Why did you set the main warehouse fire?"
"Now, that I don't understand," Roddie said. "Nothing happened around that time. He'd already gotten the motorcycle. He liked it. What could have set him off then?" He was at a loss.
Marilys, in the circle of her husband's arms, gave the answer. "It was the yacht, Roddie. He never believed that you wouldn't go sailing on his birthday."
"But the meeting with the Chinese was set up over a week ago," Roddie insisted. "It wasn't anything new or different, not on Sunday."
Marilys persisted. "Yes, I know, Roddie, but Lloyd Rodney didn't understand. He thought that your sailing on his birthday was almost, I don't know, sacred or something."
"A hallowed tradition," a faux-bass voice intoned from the overstuffed chair. "Sounds rather silly to me."
It didn't sound silly to the adults in the room.
"Pretty typical for his sort to live in their fantasies," Blair muttered to himself. "So he only came to realize it on Sunday?" he wanted to know.
"Yes. Along with the tickets to Coppelia. He didn't want to believe that either, but it was as if it finally hammered home that he wouldn't be going out on the Constance III after all, when we told him we expected to be leaving for the ballet by 7:30 p.m., and he must be ready then." Her voice hitched. Marilys couldn't look at her child as she spoke. "The two outings seemed to be linked together in his mind. I don't know why, but they were."
"One he wanted to go to, the other he didn't, and he was living in denial about both," Blair said consideringly. "Forcing him to confront the one made him face the other. Yes, that could do it."
"But the man, Lloyd Rodney!" his mother said piteously, finally raising her gaze to the child of her womb. "Why did you murder a man you didn't know and who had never done you any harm?" There were tears rolling unheeded down Marilys Calverton's face. Her husband daubed at her cheeks with his silk handkerchief. She was oblivious to everything but her son.
Lloyd Rodney picked at threads.
"He killed Dwight Franklin because he could, Marilys," Jim told her bluntly. "He had burned down two Calverton locations, and he was escalating – retail store to secondary warehouse to main warehouse, faster and faster -- and he was looking to up the thrill of the sport. Isn't that right, Lloyd?"
"I don't speak to people who can't remember my name," the child said grandly.
But the partners were giving him no outs. Blair pressed on. "And the yacht today. And the boatman. Same M.O., but this time you were going to be there to see it. That made a big difference to you, didn't it? Being there and seeing the fire on Sunday. Bet when you were watching the warehouse burn from the car, you loved it and suddenly knew what you'd been missing. Yeah."
There was a telltale flush on the boy's cheeks. Even in hindsight, what he had seen was still exciting to him.
Everyone else's stomachs turned over.
"Why the yacht?" Roddie asked, fatigue fogging his voice.
Everyone stared at the boy who was playing with his pillow. He had drawn into himself somehow, as if concentrating his energies. When he looked up, his face was contorted demoniacally, and Marilys gave a little scream.
"What better than the yacht?" he giggled. "The Constance III. The Calverton cutter. All that family tradition. Not going to be much family left, though, when you split up, Mommy and Daddy. Too bad you can't work out which of you is going to get to take me home with you when you do. You know, your 'constant' arguing bores me." He punched violently at the pillow, and all along one side, the stuffing began pouring out. He bobbled the thing, deriving some unholy satisfaction from it, judging by his grin.
Roddie put out a trembling hand for the brandy. Jim moved forward, got the bottle, poured out a huge tot into an empty coffee cup, and held it for Roddie to drink. "Take it all," he advised, and poured out another. "That's for later."
Roddie looked up. "There's more?" he choked out.
Blair said gently, "Yes, there's more. We told you about the MacDonald Triad –"
"The MacDonald Triad?" Lloyd Rodney asked brightly. "What's that?"
"You'll be quiet, boy. One way or another, you'll be quiet. You are here on sufferance. Do you understand?" his father demanded.
Lloyd Rodney settled back sulkily.
"In newer criminological and true crime books, it's being called the 'homicide triad' now," Blair let them know. "We told you how we knew that Lloyd Rodney was the arsonist, but we didn't tell you the full implications of that finding."
Marilys tried to stand. "I don't want to be here. Roddie, take me away! I don't want to be here!" All of her sagged, her skin, her figure, her face. She was a woman in her fifties and her life was waning before their very eyes.
Roddie captured her arm and pulled her down beside him. "I think you have to be, dear."
She turned toward him and buried her face against his shoulder.
Lloyd Rodney watched, remote.
"It's not guaranteed, by any means, and there are too many variables for social scientists to gauge exactly how or why this type of thing happens, and by no means does every child who displays the traits turn out this way, but when criminologists look back in time, the finding is clear: serial killers consistently demonstrate the MacDonald Triad in childhood. These are people who don't stop at one murder. The ones who go on and on and on. For no reason but the kick of it. As Lloyd Rodney first killed Dwight Franklin, and then tried today with Hong Do. It's almost like an addiction." Blair fell silent at the dreadfulness of what he had reported.
"Serial killers?" Roddie could not seem to wrap his mind around the concept. "But they're abused children from the lower classes." His voice rose high. "What have they to do with Lloyd Rodney?"
Jim shook his head pityingly. "Roddie, the statistics aren't like that. We checked them out. Most serial killers are from families where the mother is a homemaker and the family has a stable, self-sufficient income. Middle class and up. At least a third have superior intelligence. They seem to have everything going for them."
"But the picture isn't that pretty," Blair elaborated. "They have a poor body image, and we know that Lloyd Rodney thinks he's short and fat, and is teased for it at school. They are great at manipulating people to get what they want, too, and Lloyd Rodney plays the part of the darling poor-little-rich-boy to perfection. These kids are often are habitual liars, but you'd know more about that than we do. Then, too, the parents usually divorce during their childhood, most before the children are twelve years old."
Both Marilys and Roddie looked appalled at that.
"They're usually abused, but the concept of abuse isn't solely about violence, a child being hit or whipped," the consultant went on. "It also can involve an emotional distance of the parents from the child, a kind of abandonment right from birth, even though the family is still a nuclear unit. Emotional neglect may even be more important than any other type of abuse, in creating a child who has no conscience, who has no mercy, who cannot love, and who kills for sport."
Marilys turned dead white. Roddie was carved of granite.
"There are a whole lot of other factors that play into this, too," Jim added. "Lloyd Rodney is young still. Whether he'd fit any of the other characteristics that apply to adult killers, we can't tell. But he fits the serial killer pattern, insofar as what is known about them in childhood, and with Dwight Franklin and Hong Do merely four days apart...." The detective paused and there was compassion in his face for the two people responsible for unwittingly creating a sociopath in the family. "You have a clear and present danger in your home, and the bars on his bedroom windows, and the cheap doorknob lock on the outside of his door that you put there to pen him in at night, won't help. Not if he wants to kill again. Especially since he's a poisoner."
Lloyd Rodney issued a giggle that raised the hairs on all who heard him.
"How long have you been afraid of him?" Blair asked softly, with a compassionate glance at Marilys' pillbox. "How much do you trust in the bars and locks at night? He sets fire for revenge. He kills for thrills. I think you have to consider your own safety in all of this."
Marilys went into a panic attack on the spot, and it took two of her Ativan tablets to bring her down again. She was almost unconscious by then.
Lloyd Rodney cocked his head dismissively. He tore at the pillow until there was a lull and he took center stage again. "Well, all that's interesting, of course, but I love my Mommy and my Daddy, and I'd never want to lose them! I'd never hurt them, or this house, or the businesses, or anything."
Roddie got up and went to kneel before his boy's chair. He held Lloyd Rodney down so that the child could not avoid seeing him. "You are a fool," the father said.
Lloyd Rodney was all contempt.
"You'd never hurt us? We'd have to be cretins to believe that, and you got your brains from us, you know."
Lloyd Rodney's eyes opened wide. Apparently, he had never thought of his parents as having brains.
"You'd never hurt the businesses?" The man laughed joylessly. "You've nearly destroyed them already."
"How!" Lloyd Rodney hit back, yelling in his father's face. "How did the arsonist, whoever he was, nearly destroy the businesses?"
"What did you think would happen when you set those fires, boy?" Roddie Calverton demanded.
"Whoever set the fires probably figured there was insurance money. That's what people burn their own buildings down for. Insurance money." Lloyd Rodney was smug.
Blair said quietly, "Your father's right. You didn't check your facts. You are a fool."
Lloyd Rodney speared him with open detestation, but his father took him by the chin and forced him to face him again.
"I don't have any more insurance, Lloyd Rodney. You took care of that."
"I don't believe you," the child said, miffed. "You're lying."
His father's hand flew close to the child's face, and the boy cowered back, as if suddenly realizing he was not the master of ceremonies there.
"I'm not lying. Too many big claims in too short a period of time. Does that make sense to you, my little genius? No insurance company will take a five hundred dollar premium to issue a one hundred thousand dollar policy to someone who's made three claims higher than that already this month! They've cancelled the policies."
Lloyd Rodney stared open-mouthed from his father to his mother, to the detective and the consultant. "I didn't know that," he muttered to himself. There was doubt in his eyes that had not been there before.
"And I've lost an entire season's income, which was not insured, and there is no replacing it. And I pulled out of a meeting today that might have brought us many millions over the next few years, because of you!"
Lloyd Rodney got his back up. "You didn't have to come," he said. "You wouldn't come to sail with me. You could have said no to them!" He tossed his head at Jim and Blair.
"You have no idea what you've done, have you?" Roddie marveled. "I don't think you ever will." He looked at Jim and Blair and saw confirmation in their eyes. "What will you do now?" he asked.
"Absolutely nothing," Lloyd Rodney asserted with ripe satisfaction. "There's no evidence because I didn't do anything." He grinned that same demonic smile again.
Jim and Blair exchanged glances. Jim had to say it. "He's right about what the law can do, Roddie. There isn't any evidence to link him to the fires except that he has access to gas, matches and Ativan, and the tallow candles I found in his room."
"Twelve candles, for my eleventh birthday and one to grow on," Lloyd Rodney said glibly. "Everyone has access to gas, matches and Ativan. Everyone I know, anyway." His gaze bounced off Marilys' pillbox.
Jim stared forbiddingly at the boy. It had no obvious effect.
"He probably takes them himself," Lloyd Rodney said nonchalantly. "Lots of people do." But his foot had begun to hit the chair, and it was picking up speed and growing harder in its thumping until his father grabbed it and stayed it.
Blair looked at Roddie. "He's your problem, I'm afraid. You'd better get him a lot of expert help. I wouldn't trust him an iota, and you might want to consider a bodyguard for him. Or rather, to protect others from him."
"Aren't there any social service agencies we could send him to?" Marilys rejoined the conversation. She was peeking at her son, clearly terrified.
Blair looked at his shoes. Jim had to tell her. "No one wants an arsonist as a foster child. He can't be gotten into a young offender's program because we haven't sufficient proof against him. We can't make him a ward of the court because you're not abusing him and you're supplying him with all the necessities of life and then some. What do you expect the rest of the world to do about your little boy, Marilys? Roddie?"
Roddie looked long and deep into the china blue eyes of his fair-haired son. "Do you know what you deserve, Lloyd Rodney?" he asked.
"A piece of birthday cake!" The child clapped his hands.
Lloyd Rodney became very still.
"This is a death penalty state."
"I'm too young." Lloyd Rodney had turned mulish.
"Eleven-year-olds are in a gray area," Jim told him. "At twelve, virtually everywhere, you'll find yourself fully accountable for committing adult crimes. With what you've done and what you've tried to do, I think they might well make an exception for you now that you're eleven. Oh, and don't go thinking you can move out of state and start killing again."
Blair put in his two cents, speaking very deliberately. "You really have been stupid about this, Lloyd Rodney." He waved off the child's foul response. "Yeah, stupid. A one-shot arson deal, and you'd have gotten away with it with no one knowing any different. Multiple times – that draws attention down on your head. Killing people – you're on our short list now, you know?"
Lloyd Rodney's face dropped. His eyes wandered around the room.
Jim spoke, and it was the panther protecting Cascade. "I know you, Lloyd Rodney. I have your spoor in my nostrils. If you so much as throw a rock at a tin can, I'll be there breathing down your neck. Change addresses? I can follow you anywhere. Change the crime? You'll be my first suspect now and forever. I will spread the word about you, Lloyd Rodney Calverton. Every police officer and law enforcement agency in North America will know who you are. Step out of line, and you will go down as hard as possible. God help you if you ever pick up a packet of street dope; you will go away for the rest of your life. Oh, and in case you were thinking of bumping off Mom and Dad for your inheritance, the law doesn't let you inherit, no matter what the pre-nuptial agreement says."
Lloyd Rodney turned red.
"You know," Blair said conversationally, "life in prison isn't all it's cracked up to be, either." He looked at his fingernails. "Yeah, sure, there's lots of violence, and the new fish, like you, get gang-raped and humiliated pretty much all the time, but then there's the rest of it, too, the totally boring down time. No Quake or chess games on the computer. Or Nintendo. Or Sega."
Lloyd Rodney was hawk-eyed.
"No calling out for pepperoni pizza or Chinese."
The boy hung on Sandburg's lips.
"No motorcycle, no swimming pool, no tennis court, no yacht."
"No stereo system, no cable or pay-per-view TV, no choice of movies, no comfy mattress and extra blankets in winter." Jim was speaking as if at random.
"Lights out for a curfew. No dates, when you get around to wanting dates, except maybe the roommate they assign you, no visits to the country club, no Rolls, no Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. There aren't very many geniuses doing hard time, and it isn't because they're too smart to get caught; it's because they know the risk isn't worth taking, and they don't do the crime in the first place."
"You know, I wouldn't want to be doing life without the possibility of parole," Jim said.
"Neither do you, little boy," Sandburg said to the murderous child.
Lloyd Rodney snarled back.
"You really are rather stupid for a genius," Sandburg advised him again. "All it takes is calculating the risk and thinking through the consequences. Sure, there's only one in a hundred or two hundred who can claim to be a bona fide genius, but, hey, you know, there are a lot more people than that in Cascade. Add up all the people you know, kid. If the list tops a hundred, there's someone who knows you who's as smart as you are, and maybe even smarter. Anything you can figure out, they can figure out. Jim and I figured you out in four days. There are geniuses working for the CPD, lots of them, all working together to stop people like you. You'll never be able to learn all the scientific stuff – forensics, police procedures, criminology, law, 'cause there's just too much of it – so you'll never be safe. Someone, somewhere, will be able to ID you, Lloyd Rodney Calverton. Think about it."
Blair got up from his seat and stretched. "You hungry, Jim?"
"Yeah, I could eat," his partner said. "Marilys, Roddie, I think we're done here."
"Please, oh, please," Marilys Calverton begged them, not knowing what she wanted them to do.
Roddie went back to his wife's side. "Let them go. We have a lot to talk about. A lot of thinking to do. Jimmy, let me walk you to the door." He rang for Rosalita, so that Marilys would not be alone with her son.
The men headed for the main entrance.
"Thank you, Jimmy," Roddie Calverton said simply. "And you, Dr. Sandburg."
"You have a hell of a time ahead of you," Blair said bluntly. "I wish I could believe you can sleep safely in your beds, but...." his voice trailed off.
Jim was shaking his head. "I wanted to solve this case, but this I never wanted, Roddie. If he hadn't tossed all the evidence overboard so it went swirling down the current as we watched, we might have had a fair case against him for poisoning, or attempting to poison, the boatman. As it is, we don't stand a chance."
"I feel sick," Roddie admitted. "He must be mad. Maybe I can get him into a psychiatric institute somewhere?" He sounded as if he knew he was grasping at straws.
"You can try," Jim said, "and I hope you succeed. But he's not really insane. Think of the planning that went into this, and he's only a little child. Look at how cool he's been as we questioned him. No admissions, a complete denial of knowing anything. He's a stone cold killer, Roddie. When he's eighteen and out on his own -- because you'd never be able to keep him in an institution when he comes of age -- you'd better have a hideout somewhere safe. He doesn't love you. He doesn't love anyone but himself, and he never will."
"Man, I'm sorry for you and Marilys," Blair said, holding out his hand to shake Roddie's. "I wish you both well."
"I'll tell Charlotte Hanratty that I'm convinced you've done an excellent job of investigation." Calverton was at once noble and pathetic. He tugged strangely at the heartstrings. He had Marilys as well as Lloyd Rodney to deal with. For all their money and advantages, it was their characters being tested in the forge, and they could be shattered or overwrought and destroyed, as much as strengthened in this trial by fire. "She doesn't have to know, does she?"
"You brought us into this by using her," Jim said wearily. "What do you think?"
"Ah," Roddie said, hanging his head.
"There is one last thing," Blair put in.
"Dwight Franklin's widow. They were hardly getting by with his pension and his paycheck; there's no insurance."
"I'll pay her a pension for the rest of her life, Dr. Sandburg, one bigger than his paycheck, and you can trust me to make it sound plausible to her. She won't need for anything. And if she has anyone or anything she wants to have money, now or later, I'll see to it that it's there. I know my obligations." Calverton stood tall and squared his shoulders. His face was severe.
They all shook hands.
It was time to grab something to eat, and then go and report in.
"...and that, Sir, is why, even though we know who did it, we don't have an arrest for the fires or the murder." Jim sat back and watched as Simon absorbed his verbal report of the results of their investigation of the Calverton case. Despite the satisfaction of the solve, it was hard for him to come to terms with the facts: a spoiled, malicious ten-year-old child had been responsible for everything. For once, despite his nurturing, shamanic nature, even Blair had no pity for the culprit, especially as the kid had sat there and practically dared them to find a way to prove he had committed the crimes. There was no remorse in the boy, and no way to heal the lack of a soul.
As Simon busied himself looking over the case folders, Jim sneaked a glance over at his partner, sitting in the chair beside his. Blair had hardly spoken a word since they had left the Calverton estate, and hadn't interrupted him once while he updated Simon on their findings, both reasons enough for concern. Now he was sitting way too still, staring at nothing. Before Jim could say anything, Simon spoke.
"Based on what you've told me, this is one seriously mentally unbalanced kid. It really galls me that because he committed all his crimes so young, he wouldn't be held accountable, even if we had the evidence we needed. I agree about the boy; even if the evidence was solid for poisoning the boatman, the kid makes a sympathetic figure, there's no harm done that a jury could be told about – the fires and all being irrelevant – and the idea that kids don't understand what death really is: no, you're right. There'd be no point in trying to make a case against him. The DA would kick it."
Simon smacked his desk. "I hope the Calvertons are at least planning on getting him some kind of help. I don't mind telling you that the thought that he is out there, free to come and go, scares the daylights out of me."
Blair showed some life then. "Jim put the fear of God in him, or at least the fear of Jim Ellison. I think the kid understood for the first time that cops aren't all as brainless and stumbling as in the TV shows he watches. Jim did a real good job of that. If Lloyd Rodney never commits another crime, it will be Jim who worked that miracle." He lapsed back into nonbeing.
Simon shot Blair a quick peek, then switched to Jim, one eyebrow raised.
"He left out something important, Sir. It was Blair who pretty much convinced Lloyd Rodney that if he was as smart as he thinks, he wouldn't be committing crimes and risking life in prison. He put that in terms a kid could understand: no computer games, no pizza, no stereo. I think he got through to him. I hope so, anyway." Jim nodded once. He shifted uncomfortably, never looking at Blair.
Simon leaned back in his chair, his gaze sweeping over both men sitting in front of his desk. "All in all, gentlemen, despite the lack of an arrest, this is a fine piece of detective work."
Jim sat up a little straighter. "Thank you, Sir. I hope the mayor accepts Roddie's assurances on that point.
Simon waved his hand in the air. "I'll take care of Her Honor. I intend to speak to her personally about the results of this case. Maybe now she'll think twice before getting involved in the handling of a police investigation." A look of sadness came over his normal game face, and his voice took on a wistful tone. "I just wish he had been stopped before...well, before Dwight. I still haven't been able to make myself call Pearl yet. Now that I have an answer, I haven't decided whether to tell her or not. I don't think it would be of much comfort to her to know that her husband was killed because a spoiled brat was having a major temper tantrum." He set his jaw, and again looked directly at his two tired-looking men. Time to do the right thing.
"Jim, Sand-, uh, Blair, speaking of temper tantrums...." A weary hand removed gold-rimmed glasses and tossed them onto the desk, landing on top of the manila folders scattered there. "I believe I owe you both an apology for my outburst yesterday. Even though I was shocked when I found out who the security guard was, I had no right to lash out at you two. You were just doing your job, investigating every possible lead. Had it been anyone else who'd been murdered, I wouldn't have thought twice about your suspicions; in fact, I was agreeing with you right up until you called Dwight by name.
"I'm also sorry about some of the personal remarks I made." Simon looked down at his hands for a moment, then faced his men with remorse in his eyes. "It was very unprofessional of me as a police officer and your captain. You can both be assured that such behavior won't happen again. If either of you want to file a formal complaint, feel free to do so; I won't protest it." Picking up his glasses, Simon put them back on and watched each man's face for any reaction.
An awkward silence filled the room as no one said anything. Finally, Blair filled the gap.
"It's okay, Simon. I think this case made us all a little crazy. There were a lot of things about it that seemed to bring out the worst in all of us. Don't worry about it; nobody's going to file anything. Right, Jim?"
Jim had been concentrating on the meaning of Blair's words and was a bit startled to hear his name. "Huh? Oh, right. It's already forgotten, Simon, really." Now he had something very important he had to do. "Do you need us anymore right now?"
Relieved at being back in his friends' good graces, a sly grin crossed his face as Simon answered Jim. "No, I think we're done here. I will need a pretty detailed account of everything in your reports. Especially about this MacDonald's Triad. Why don't you get started on it now? I want at least a preliminary report today. Then you can take the rest of the afternoon off; you both look a little trashed."
Jim winced. They'd stopped at the loft to shower and tend to the worst of the thorny rose scratches Blair had taken, a few deep, bloody, and still with the points embedded. But Jim had blown off the ankle he'd twisted when he went down hard in the mad dash to stop Lloyd Rodney from killing again; he'd refused his partner's help with it. Now, he had to admit to himself, he was paying for it. He lowered his head. It would take more than a shower and some bandaging to repair the damage done to them by this case.
They stood to leave.
As Jim followed Blair out of the office door, he heard Simon whisper, "See if you can get Sandburg out of the office for a few minutes. I'll let you know when you can bring him back."
A small nod behind Blair's back told the captain he had been heard. Simon leaned back in his chair with a satisfied sigh; today had suddenly taken a rare turn for the better in the last hour and was going to get even better soon.
Jim knew what was behind Simon's whispered words, and had already planned exactly how to occupy his partner's time for a while. As Blair started to head towards their desks, Jim took hold of his upper arm and gently pushed him around toward the front of the division.
Surprised at the change in direction, Blair missed seeing Henri give Jim a furtive thumb's up as they passed the other detective's desk.
"I could use a little help, Chief," Jim muttered, steering his partner over to Rhonda's desk. "Hey, Rhonda, you got an Ace bandage and some of that arnica goop Sandburg here brews up?'
"Your ankle is bothering you, isn't it? I knew you came down worse than you were letting on, on that last fall. It's starting to swell, isn't it?" Blair accused, starting to mutter darkly about sentinels who used denial as a medical prescription, to their own detriment.
Simon's blonde secretary was apparently too busy to take notice of the men directly, but she opened a large desk drawer, took out a bandage and tossed it over her shoulder for Blair to catch, and let Jim filch out the pot of bruise cream. When Jim looked back to mouth a 'thank you', Rhonda grinned broadly.
Jim limped out of Major Crime, Blair at his side lending an arm, and maneuvered them into an empty interrogation room. Once inside, he let go of his unwitting prisoner to lock the door and flip the switch on the 'Interview in Progress' sign on the outside wall, insuring they would not be disturbed. When he turned back around, he found that Blair had moved to the far side of the room, his body stiff as he watched Jim warily. He had dropped the bandage on the large interview table he was keeping between them. Now that the adrenaline rush from their discovery and confrontation with Lloyd Rodney had run its course, it wasn't surprising that Blair's always-active mind was probably focusing on their own confrontations earlier. That would explain why his best friend had been so quiet in Simon's office. Considering the things he had said, especially about Blair's mother, Jim didn't blame his guide for being tense.
Surprised that Blair spoke first, Jim let him continue.
"I'm not sure why you brought me down here, but I'm beginning to think it isn't your ankle. I really don't want to fight anymore. I've been thinking about what you said, about me not having the training and experience of a real detective. And you're right, I don't. I guess that I've been 'playing' cop for so long now that sometimes I forget that I'm not really one. Even if Simon does remind me of that little fact every chance he gets." He tried for a grin, but failed miserably. "Anyway, if this is about your wanting to tell me that you don't want me hanging around with you on the job anymore, it's okay. I understand. I guess I've only been fooling myself, thinking that I've been any kind of real help to you as a detective."
Jim watched as Blair refused to meet his eyes. Instead, he seemed to find the battered metal tabletop he was standing behind very interesting. It must have really hurt Blair to hear him say that, after all this time and everything he'd been through, his partner didn't think his opinions and ideas were worth anything because he hadn't gone through the Police Academy. How could he have said something so utterly wrong, so mean, to the one person whose opinions he valued above anyone else's? He felt like a rat. Not the laboratory kind, either, but one from deep in the sewers of Cascade.
As much as he hated opening up and becoming vulnerable, this was one time Jim Ellison had to be perfectly honest with himself and his all-but-official partner.
"Blair." He was still talking to a curtain of hair. "Blair, I...I didn't mean it the way it sounded. I was angry. I do value your ideas, more than I let you know. Your input has helped me solve more cases than I ever did on my own. And I don't just mean your help with my senses, either. We both already agree that you're the expert there. Besides your four years of experience riding with me, you've got years of life experiences that let you notice things any cop would miss. I want your thoughts and suggestions on the hard cases, and on the day-in, day-out nitty-gritty police stuff too. You're more than Jack Pendergrast ever could have been to me, Blair. We double-teamed Lloyd Rodney Calverton together, and may have made a difference there that no other cop and I could have done. You are my partner, Partner."
Slowly, Blair's head came up until his eyes met Jim's. It was one of those rare times when the sentinel's face was open, allowing his true emotions to show through. Blair saw the truth and relaxed slightly.
Sensing his guide's reaction, Jim decided to keep going. He needed to mend some dreadfully broken fences.
"About all that other stuff I said, about your mother, I didn't mean any of that either. I was only –"
"Yes, you did," Blair contradicted him. "And I meant everything about your father."
Blair sighed and walked around the table to stand in front of Jim. "I was up half the night thinking about all this. What we said to each other, and what we didn't say. I think what you said about Naomi and what I said about William are what we both have been thinking about each other's parent for a long time now. But we could never say it out loud. So the anger kept on building, without an outlet, getting hotter and hotter.
"When we thought that Lloyd Rodney might be being abused, if not physically then at least psychologically, it simply reinforced how we each felt, that the other had been 'abused' as a child. You feel that Naomi's constant 'detach with love' lifestyle was harmful to me. I've always hated how cold William was to you and how bad he made you feel about yourself." Blair's smile this time was genuine. "Ironic as it sounds, we were actually putting down the way each other was raised because we care so much. We were mad we couldn't change certain things for each other during our childhoods, which we perceived as harmful." He paused to let Jim think about what he had said. "Does that make any sense to you?"
Jim stared at his partner. Blair had managed to put into gentle words exactly what he had been feeling, but could only express in loud and hurtful ways. "You are a friggin' genius, you know that, Darwin?"
"I've been trying to tell you that ever since we met!" He whacked the broad chest in front of him with the back of his hand. "Took you long enough to figure that out. Um, so, is your ankle really okay?"
Jim shook his head. "It can use some glop and the bandage."
"Let me get a look at it." Blair snagged the cream as Jim sat and put his leg up on a chair. "Oh, yeah, that's a nasty looking bruise and it is swelling. Needs an ice bag now. We'll have to do with a bandage and my bruise cream – not, glop, you goop -- my personally prepared, safe for sentinel senses, arnica and witch hazel bruise cream I should sell the rights to for millions...."
He ran on and on like that until the cream was carefully rubbed in, the sock and shoe replaced, and Jim testing out the results with approving noises, limping slightly up three paces and back three paces. Blair stood back and watched.
Jim looked up with thanks in his eyes, and saw that there was worry in Blair's. "What?"
"So, like, we're really okay now? You know, like, if I promise not to punch William in the nose next time I see him, you'll promise to be nice to Mom next time she comes to visit?"
Blair still had doubts, then, deep and serious doubts. The tension was back in the room, thick as wallpaper paste.
"Deal," Jim said, still feeling the cold between them. "And, we're okay now."
Blair gave the very slightest of nods, and turned away, busying himself with putting the lid back on the cream jar. "Jim?"
God, wouldn't Blair even look at him? Jim was supremely uneasy. All the guilt from his behavior of the last few days suffused him again; he had taken Blair too much for granted, had stopped thinking of him as a human being with feelings. What else had he done or said to hurt his partner? He sucked in a deep breath. "What is it, Chief? Tell me."
"Umm. I know that you think I should have had a more stable childhood, and that's okay," Blair hurried to affirm as he moved his head and looked Jim in the eyes intensely, "but you don't really think that my Mom's a...a tramp or a bad mother, do you? You don't really think she's like Marilys?"
Jim could feel Blair tense up from across five feet, waiting for his answer. Despite his own inner feelings about how Naomi had neglected Blair, there was no way he was ever going to deliberately hurt his friend as badly as he had earlier. "No. No, I don't Chief. She may have had a different way of seeing things, but that's the life she was comfortable leading. Anything else would have gone against her nature. Besides, look how great her kid turned out!" Blair's look of relief told him it was definitely the right answer.
"Thanks, Jim." Even as Blair seemed to accept that answer, the previous air of sadness and anxiety returned. Damn! Jim could feel that something still was not right between them.
But before he address whatever issues Blair still had, Jim suddenly became aware of another voice. Simon's, and he did not sound happy. // Jim! Where the hell are you two? We've been waiting for over fifteen minutes now. Get yourself and Sandburg back here on the double! //
"Uh-oh, Chief. Simon's looking for us. I think we need to get back to that report right now."
Blair shook his curls, still looking sad and tired; Jim knew precisely how he felt.
"Oh, hell, Jim! How long have we been gone? He wanted that preliminary report done fast. He must be going ballistic by now."
Jim rolled his eyes in fellow feeling. After unlocking the door and turning off the sign, he followed Blair back to the bullpen, his limp much better.
Blair slowed down as he went through the Major Crime doors. Almost all the detectives were crowded around Jim's desk with a none-too-pleased Simon towering behind it, arms crossed. Oh, shit. He probably has them all looking for that report. "Uh, Simon. Give us a minute and we'll get that prelim knocked right out. Won't take any time at all, right, Jim?"
Simon scowled. "How do you expect to get any work done with all this stuff all over Jim's desk?" At those words, the detectives moved aside to reveal in the center of the desk a large, square, chocolate-frosted cake with two lit candles, a 3 and a 1, beside each other. The blue icing read 'Happy Birthday, Blair!'. The rest of the desk was covered with colorfully wrapped presents. Blair stood and stared, not moving until Jim placed both hands on his shoulders and slowly pushed him forward until he was standing beside the desk.
"'Bout time you decided to show up. Thought we were going to have to have your birthday party without you." The gleam in his eyes made up for Simon's gruff voice.
"C'mon, Sandy, make a wish and blow out the candles."
Instead of leaning forward, Blair turned his head around and looked up at Jim, who still had his hands on the smaller man's shoulders. "You...you knew about this? The whole time?"
"Yeah, Chief, I knew. Now you better hurry up and blow out those candles. The natives are getting restless."
"Okay!" Blair closed his eyes for a few seconds, then a small smile appeared. He opened his eyes, leaned forward, and blew out both candles, to a round of applause.
"So, Hairboy, what'd you wish for?"
The smile was back. "Can't tell, H, or it won't come true. Now, are all those presents for me?"
For the next hour, the main sounds emanating from Major Crime was that of tearing paper and laughter as the department's consultant opened his mostly gag gifts, and, later, the softer mumbles as a birthday cake rapidly disappeared.
As Jim helped Blair carry his presents from the surprise birthday party into his living room, he noticed how tired his guide looked.
On the drive home, Blair, ever the anthropologist, couldn't help but compare his small but heartfelt party to the lavish, literal three ring circus the Calvertons had arranged for Lloyd Rodney's birthday. The main difference, he had pointed out, was that the detectives had wanted to be there, wanted to help him celebrate, while there probably wasn't a child at the larger party who wouldn't have been there if it hadn't been for the lure of the circus. And Lloyd Rodney was probably well aware of that fact, too.
Jim was struck by the irony of two such opposite people sharing the same birthday. Blair, who was the epitome of what Sally used to call 'good people', and Lloyd Rodney, a sociopath in the making. Life was strange sometimes.
Stomachs were rumbling. An impatient and hungry sentinel argued that it would be faster and easier for him to pick up something for dinner, rather than ordering anything in. Having let Blair select the cuisine in honor of the day, Jim left to go pick up the food.
Blair collapsed on the couch, going over his birthday loot again, in his partner's absence. He had to laugh at some of the gifts. Like the battery-operated pink Energizer Bunny toy from Henri. Or the gaudy, psychedelic-patterned tie from Rafe, who had quipped that at least then they knew he owned one! The large, super economy-sized can of pine-scented room deodorizer from Jim got a big laugh, since he was always complaining about the natural cedar chips Blair still put in his bathroom.
One made him smile gently. Daryl had somehow stolen into the party and given him a set of refrigerator magnets depicting wolves, the only ones suitable, he said, for a lair. Jim and Blair both got a turn at clapping him on the back, and from Simon's beaming face, all was right on the Banks front again.
Sighing, Blair leaned his head back against the top of the couch. Despite the silly nature of most of the gifts, it left a warm feeling in his heart for Blair to know that there were people who cared enough about him to throw him a surprise party. Only one thing would have made this birthday perfect, but no amount of wishing on his birthday candles could change the past. He closed his eyes and waited for Jim to get back. He nodded off.
A loud noise somewhere in the apartment building startled Blair awake. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, not having meant to fall asleep. Looking at the time on the VCR, he began to wonder where Jim was. It was taking a pretty long time to go grab some Thai take-out. But before he could start to worry, there was another loud bang, this one on the lower part of his door.
"Open up, Chief! My hands are full."
"Coming! Took you long enough. A man could starve – " Holding the door open, Blair stopped talking when he saw the large cardboard box Jim was awkwardly carrying. He looked past the man to see if anyone else were with him, then stepped back out of his way. "Damn, Jim, how much food did you get? Are you expecting more people?"
"Nope." Instead of heading into the kitchen, Jim walked into the living room and, crouching down, put the box on the floor. He grinned as he watched Blair's eyes go wide with disbelief."
"On the floor? Jim, uh, this is Thai food, not Japanese, right?" Blair shook his head. "I can't believe you put a box of food, possibly leaking food, on my floor."
"Payback is a bitch." Jim smirked devilishly. "I'll get the plates while you open the box." Standing up, Jim took a few steps back and stood aside as Blair sat down in front of the box and reached to open it, muttering to himself.
"I can just imagine if I ever did that when I was living upstairs! I'd still be scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush."
He barely got the first flap open when...
...he was attacked by a brown-and-white flying missile, which almost knocked him over.
It took him a few seconds to recognize the excited dog who was trying to lick his face off.
"Libby! Omigod. Libby. What are you doing here, girl?" He looked up even as he kept petting the obviously overjoyed dog. "Jim?"
"Happy Birthday, Chief."
"Happy.... You mean she's mine? To keep? But how?"
"The more I thought about how Lloyd Rodney was treating her, the more worried I became. So, during your party, while you were busy, I called Roddie. I told him about how we'd seen the kid abusing her, and how she seemed to bond to you. When I told him today was also your birthday, he agreed to let you have her. He also promised that Lloyd will never get another pet. So here she is." Jim hesitated and a little uncertainty crept into his voice. "That is, if you want her. I know I was presuming a lot by going out and getting her without asking you first, so if you decide not to keep her, we can figure something else out. But she's not going back there, back to Lloyd Rodney Calverton."
By then, Libby had found the cuff of Blair's jeans, and was trying to pull the pant leg off him. Blair was laughing as he tried to save his jeans from a ferocious twenty-pound terrier.
Seeing his friend's happiness, Jim couldn't help laughing too. "There are some toys and stuff in the box. Maybe you can distract her."
Looking into the container, Blair saw that the bottom had been lined with a soft towel. It also held two small plastic bowls, a retractable leash, a few dog toys, a half-empty bag of dog food and a sack of dog treats. "Let me guess; Rosalita packed the box."
"Yeah. She seemed to be the only one sorry to see her go."
"Well, I can use the box as her bed for now. I'll have to get some more dog food."
"Yeah, and a groomer. One plus factor is that that kind of coat doesn't shed, according to Rosalita. It keeps growing out until it's way too long and has to be clipped." Jim hid a smile at the thought of photos of owners who looked like their companion animals.
But Blair just nodded, ticking off more necessities. "Find a vet, too. Hey, I wonder if she's been fixed yet. How do you tell if a female dog's been fixed?"
"You're asking me? How should I know?"
"I figured you must have had a pet once. You might know these things." Blair sounded at a loss.
Jim sat down on the couch, moving a few of the other birthday presents aside. "You never had a pet, Chief?"
Blair shrugged as he reached to scratch Libby's ears. He had given her a chew toy, and she was happily lying next to him as she mangled it to death. As soon as his hand touched her head, her tail started thumping. "Nope, no pets. Couldn't. Not with all the, you know, moving around and stuff. Some of Naomi's boyfriends didn't like animals."
Or small boys either, I'd bet, Chief. "Well, it looks like you've got one now."
"Yeah. She's not too big, and already housebroken. She won't be any trouble, willya, girl?" As he started to run his hand down her back, she managed to roll over and was soon enjoying a wonderful tummy rub. "You like that, don't you, girl?"
Jim was tempted to get down and join them, but he knew how important it was that Libby understand right from the start that she belonged to Blair. As he watched them commune silently, Jim congratulated himself on sticking with the struggle to make Libby stay in the box; Blair had to let her out of her confinement; it was for Blair's sake that Jim had rescued Libby, and it was with Blair that she should bond. Not Jim, even if he had been her chauffeur to the lair. Jim saw the total loyalty and adoration in Libby's eyes for Blair when he scratched her chin, and was satisfied.
As soon as Blair stood up, Libby was right by his side. Looking around, Blair wondered out loud, "Now, where are we going to put the rest of your stuff?" He picked up the box and carried it to an out-of-the-way corner of the living room and started emptying the rest of Libby's things from it. "Okay, your bed can go here."
Jim grinned. He'd bet ten-to-one that Libby never spent even one night in the box. At the first whimper, she'd be out and with Blair.
Blair was in the kitchen, putting the dog food and treats away. As soon as he set her bowls on the floor, Libby stuck her nose in one and looked at her new owner. "You hungry, girl, or maybe thirsty?" Filling both bowls, he put them back down and watched as Libby immediately started eating. "Guess so."
Returning to the living room, Blair sat down next to Jim. "Wow. I have a dog. Wait till Naomi finds out."
"So you really don't mind that I surprised you with her? I mean, a dog is a pretty big responsibility."
"No, Jim. I'm glad you did." Blair and his best friend watched as Libby left the kitchen and started exploring her new home, her sensitive nose checking out everything within reach. When she found something personal to Blair, like his jacket or backpack, she would sniff a little longer, her tail wagging, and move on to something new. "I figure I can take her out in the morning, and get Joey Myers down the hall to walk her after school. I'll pay him five dollars a week, though he'd do it for free, he's been dying for a dog but they have two cats. I'll give his mom a key. He's a good kid; if I'm late for some reason, I'm pretty sure I can rely on him to feed her and take her out again too. Hey! Where's she going?"
Both men jumped up as the dog's explorations led her to the spiral staircase. After a few tentative upward sniffs, she started scrambling up the steps.
"Where's she going?"
"What's she doing?"
The humans followed her up the stairs, and found her nosing around the loft. She seemed a little confused. She trotted happily into Blair's old bedroom and out again, and around the kitchen and bathroom, but at the base of the steps to Jim's bedroom, she raised her head, sniffed, sneezed, and turned back.
"She's caught your scent up here, Chief," Jim said, with some surprise. He hadn't thought of that before, and wondered why.
"Yeah, I guess; the loft must smell of both of us. Must have her confused."
Libby was working things out. All of the downstairs smelled deliciously of Her Person, but up here smelled of him more strongly in some areas than others, and everywhere upstairs smelled nicely of Her Other Person. She had learned in her short life to be careful of some people, but she had already decided that Her Other Person was all right. He had been kind to her, he had brought her home to Her Person, and, most importantly, Her Person liked him. Therefore, he was accepted into her pack.
More than satisfied with her new surroundings, she bounced onto one of the couches and promptly curled up at one end.
Jim began to rush over to her. "Oh, no! It's one thing that she's figured out how to get up here, but there will be no jumping on the furniture!"
A hand on his arm stopped the detective from moving forward.
"Don't start yelling at her her first night here. I have those old blankets the guys used when we were moving my things downstairs. We'll fold one up and put it on the floor. That'll be her bed when she's up here, until we can get something better. It'll only take a minute to get it. Don't do anything until I get back, okay?"
The request was unnecessary, since, as soon as she heard Her Person move, Libby was flying off the couch to follow him. She hesitated at the railing, more leery of going down the strange twisting stairs than up them, but her need to be with Her Person overcame her fear and she tentatively made her way down. By the time she reached the bottom, she had gotten the hang of navigating in a circle and was panting with success.
Jim shook his head as he watched. If there had ever been any doubts about whom Libby belonged to, there weren't anymore. Granted, she was just a dog, but maybe, just maybe, she could start to heal the Sky-shaped hole in Blair's heart.
Jim mused about things for a while, and realized with a start that it was taking rather a long time to get a blanket. He went downstairs, and at the bottom of the staircase he could hear two heartbeats coming from Blair's room. The first thing he saw from the bedroom doorway was Libby, lying in the middle of Blair's bed, head between her paws, looking sadly at Her Person, who was now the most important thing in her life.
Then he saw Blair, standing in front of his dresser, the blanket in a heap at his feet. At an angle, Jim could see he was holding a framed photo of himself and Sky, arms around each other's waist, laughing at the camera. His index finger was slowly tracing an outline around the young woman's image. The tangy scent of salt was in the air.
Jim spoke softly, so he wouldn't startle his guide. "Hey, Chief."
Despite the gentle tone, Blair still jumped. He carefully put the picture back on the dresser, then quickly wiped his cheeks with the heels of his hands. "Sorry, Jim. Didn't mean to take so long."
He picked up the blanket, and Libby's head cocked in anticipation of getting up and following Her Beloved New Person. She knew something wasn't right with him, and she had no intention of letting him out of her sight. She looked over at Her Other Person. Maybe he knew what was wrong and could help.
As if reading the small dog's mind, Jim moved to Blair and took the blanket from him, letting it drop on the floor. "Blair, it's all right. It's all right to be upset and miss Sky, especially today of all days. You don't have to hide your feelings. Not from me. It's better to talk things out."
Blair blinked up at him. "This coming from the King of Repression?"
"Yeah, well, I've had a not very old, but still very wise, shaman try to teach me that ever since I met him. I guess the lesson's finally sinking in."
Blair glanced at the photo, then looked at Jim. "Well, the shaman learned another valuable lesson himself."
Placing one hand on Blair's shoulder, Jim maintained steady eye contact. "What would that be?"
Covering Jim's hand with his own, Blair spoke softly. "That we never know what will happen. One day, everything's fine; the next, and someone you love could be gone forever. Sometimes you never get the chance to say 'Goodbye'. Or 'I'm sorry'." Tears started falling from Blair's eyes again, but he ignored them. "I... I don't want that to happen to us, Jim. I don't think I could stand it if something happened to you, and we still had this stupid argument, about who had the better or worse parents, hanging over us."
The tears were coming faster, but neither man moved. "I'm sorry, Jim. I don't care what kind of father William was. I only care about the man his son grew up to be. The best friend I ever had. Please, Jim, let's not be mad at each other anymore."
Instead of answering, Jim simply pulled his best friend close and wrapped his arms around him, relieved when he felt Blair reciprocate. He laid his cheek on a soft bed of curls, his own eyes suspiciously bright. "I'm sorry too, Blair. I'm not mad. I don't think I was ever mad at you. I was mad about what I thought might have happened to you. I think this case got to both of us. You were the handiest target when I got worried and frustrated." Jim swallowed and said hoarsely, "I'm sorry, Chief. Let's promise to try not to let outside influences come between us again. Okay, Buddy?"
All Blair could manage was a few nods, but it was enough.
They stayed like that for several minutes, each holding onto what was most important to him, until a small whimper caught their attention. Two heads turned to see Libby standing at the edge of the bed, worry clearly showing in her eyes.
Reluctantly, they moved apart, as Blair reached out a hand and petted the wiry-haired head. Immediately, her tail started wagging.
"It's all right now, girl." Blair turned and smiled at his partner. "Everything is all right now." The smile slowly faded. "Well, except for one thing."
"What the matter, Chief?"
Blair looked at Libby, then back at Jim.
"What are we supposed to have for dinner?"
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