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. Christ Church Episcopal," 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 Connor 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 afghan 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 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 confidences 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.
Continue on to Act IV
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