Joel stormed into the bullpen, hurrying past Rafe's desk, and stopped at the captain's office. He knocked twice.
Joel turned the knob and pushed inward, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. "Well, they've searched both apartments, Jim's and Blair's, and, um, Simon..."
"I know." Simon sighed and slid his fingers beneath his glasses, rubbing at his eyes. "They found marijuana in Sandburg's office. I was just on the phone with the feds and the D.A." His eyes were somber. "This looks bad, Joel."
"Damn. You think they'd figure that a guy smart enough to be getting his PhD wouldn't be stupid enough to leave marijuana around his office to be found." Joel sank into the chair in front of the desk. "What are we gonna do?"
An almost hesitant knock on the door interrupted them.
"Come," Simon barked.
The door swung inward and Rafe peeked his head inside. "Sir, uh... Turn the television to channel five."
"Shit. Please, no more bad news." Simon grabbed the remote off the edge of his desk and hit the power button, then quickly turned to the news channel.
A reporter was on screen, speaking into a microphone as she stood in front of Rainier's Hargrove Hall. A few young people carrying signs marched behind her. "Advocates of legalizing marijuana have denounced Mr. Sandburg's arrest, claiming that governmental restrictions on marijuana place unconstitutional restraints on basic human rights, including the most basic right of all, that to life."
The camera cut to a young woman wearing glasses, a backpack slung over her shoulder. "I don't think the government has any business telling people or their doctors what drugs they can and can't use. Those dying from cancer, AIDS, and other painful and progressive illnesses have the right to use marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Don't law enforcement officers have dangerous criminals to arrest instead of wasting taxpayer money on interfering with nonviolent, humanitarian efforts?"
"Great," Joel muttered, "if this press keeps up, it's not going to matter if they clear Sandburg of all charges. He's already known as a drug dealer."
"I know. Damn." Simon flicked off the television. "Have we located Scott Boyle yet, Rafe? I want him found now. Someone put marijuana in Sandburg's office, and the feds found it. I don't want to give the real perps another chance to plant any more evidence."
Rafe blinked. "Uh, when did they find marijuana in Sandburg's office?"
"Just a little while ago. Why?"
Rafe stepped further into the office and closed the door behind him. "Sir, Captain, I..." He swallowed hard.
"Yes, Rafe? Spit it out."
Rafe's eyes flickered from Joel to Simon. "You know that Sandburg's got a kind heart, and he's into natural remedies..."
Joel rose from his chair to face Rafe. "What are you getting at?" A note of suspicion laced his tone.
Rafe straightened. "Can we be so sure Sandburg wasn't involved? It is a humanitarian cause, and well, he has been known to... I mean... with the peyote-thing on that old murder case, and..."
Joel took a step forward. "Sandburg didn't do this. He says he didn't do this, and I think he's earned our trust by now, don't you?"
Rafe nodded. "Of course. I just... Well, the evidence is starting to look pretty compelling."
Simon rose abruptly from his chair. "I understand your point of view, Detective. We're going to continue to operate under the theory that someone is framing Sandburg. We're going to find Scott Boyle and figure out who this Gil character is that Sandburg mentioned. Understood?"
Rafe nodded. "Yes, sir."
Simon's expression softened. "It takes a good detective to take an objective look at facts even when a close friend is involved."
Rafe nodded. "Yes, sir." Slowly, he turned toward the door, opened it, and looked over his shoulder. "Thank you."
"Damn, I'm sorry, Jim." Blair scrubbed a hand over his face and dropped onto the cushionless sofa.
The loft was a mess. Every cushion had been torn off and the covers unzipped and removed. Every cabinet and drawer hung open, their contents chaos. Clothes had been flung out of the closets and meticulously searched. Every nook and every cranny of the loft had been searched.
The warrant had particularly described the places to be searched and the items to be searched for. Drugs and paraphernalia. Incriminating documents. Cash.
Those items were small and varied enough to be hidden almost anywhere, giving the agent's authorization to search any place in both apartments.
"It's not your fault, Chief." Jim walked slowly around the loft, closing drawers and cabinets and picking up items. "Don't worry about it. It's easy enough to clean up this mess."
"Not so easy," Blair muttered burying his face in his hands.
Blair felt a warm hand on his shoulder, then the couch shifted slightly as a weight descended.
Blair dropped his hands and leaned back, limp, letting his eyes drift closed. "No." His throat tightened.
"We'll get through this, Blair. Just hang in there."
"I'm screwed, Jim." Blair lifted his head and looked at Jim, his gaze heavy and sad. "They've got enough evidence. My life is over. I'm going to be found guilty or have to plea bargain, and then I'll go to jail." His voice caught. A sob threatened. He shook his head. "And I'm already starting to take you down with me." He leaned forward and once again dropped his head in his hands.
A heavy arm slid across Blair's shoulders, and he felt himself pulled against Jim, the warmth of the other man's body penetrating his own.
"Listen to me, Blair." Jim's soft, strong voice rang in Blair's ear. "No matter what happens, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure you never again see the inside of a jail cell. Okay?"
Blair lifted his head slowly and looked at Jim, his eyes hot and puffy. He gave a slow, shaky nod.
Jim paced back and forth across the loft, the physical action doing nothing to reduce his anxiety over the maelstrom his partner seemed to be entrapped in. He focused his hearing on the apartment below, checking on Blair's current activity.
After the DEA investigators finished, and Joel had left with his own personal apologies, Jim sat down with Blair and asked him everything about what had happened at Rainier the day before. He listened quietly and took notes, not as if he could forget anything that was said. They went through everything twice, including physical descriptions of both the TA and the alleged Mobile Meals volunteer, as well as everything Blair ever knew about Boyle. He could see Blair becoming more and more quiet and despondent as they went on.
Once Blair had given him all of the information that he could remember, he helped Blair to clean up his apartment, after he'd declined a trip to their favorite pizza parlor for dinner. They'd tossed out a glass and a mug that had become cracked in the process, and Jim made a mental note to replace them at his earliest opportunity. After about half an hour, though, Blair could take no more, somberly thanking Jim for his help and asking to be left alone for a period of meditation. He'd promised to help Jim clean up the loft the next day, and again apologized for all of the trouble as he turned and walked away, shoulders slumped and head slightly bowed.
Now, as Jim listened, he could hear the soft echo of aboriginal music curling up the winding staircase, accompanied by a quiet sputtering of multiple candles. The gentle scents of vanilla and pine wafted upward as well. Sharpening his hearing, he could hear that Blair's breathing and heartbeat had finally slowed, not to the depth that he often reached during meditation, but a great improvement from the shallow, tense breathing and pounding heart that he'd been listening to for hours. Dammit, Blair shouldn't be worrying about anything more serious than whether his social life would be improved as a full-fledged PhD rather than your run-of-the-mill graduate student. Now that Blair seemed relatively safe and comfortable, it was time to get busy.
He picked up the phone and dialed Suzanne Tomaki at Rainier, who regretfully confirmed his expectation that Blair had been banned from campus pending results in the investigation against him. She cheerfully pointed out, though, that Jim had not been banned and that the Chancellor had left for the day long before. Making arrangements to meet at Hargrove Hall in half an hour, Jim quietly sneaked out, locking the door behind him.
Suzanne unlocked Blair's office door and stepped back after flipping the light switch. Jim registered her quick intake of breath as the lights came up to reveal an even worse mess than had been made in their apartments.
Jim gritted his teeth as he surveyed the room. Anything that could be identified as Blair's had been moved or tossed; papers had been strewn everywhere. Black fingerprint powder dusted many a surface. He didn't bother with gloves as he searched, as he knew that his fingerprints were already all over the room. Suzanne stayed back and out of the way as he worked through the room, stretching his senses and doing his own thorough search, finding only a tiny scent of marijuana. Had Blair actually had any significant amount of pot in his office, considering that he always kept his door closed, the odor would have been much stronger.
When asked, Suzanne showed him the evidence receipt slips that had been given to her as a representative of the university. He scanned through them, recognizing descriptions of several of Blair's artifacts, as well as his appointment calendar, class schedules and floppy disks. Looking around the room, he seemed to remember the location of an ugly lidded clay pot that seemed to be missing, identified on one of the slips as having contained a small baggie of marijuana, in the general vicinity of the faint scent that he had spotted earlier.
"This was it? One little baggie, found in a clay pot right on top of the front shelves? Even Blair could do a better job of hiding a stash, if it was his."
Suzanne nodded. "I thought that was pretty obvious, myself. I insisted on staying and observing; even though they didn't want me here, they couldn't refuse a representative of the university as long as I didn't get in their way. To be honest, they seemed a bit frustrated that they couldn't find more. I think that's part of the reason for the mess; they were just being obnoxious when they couldn't find more."
"I believe it." Jim looked around once more, then wiped his hands on his slacks. "Now where can I find Scott Boyle's office?"
"Jim, I don't know…"
"Look, Suzanne, you know as well as I do that Sandburg is innocent of all this. He could no more push pot than you could be a serial killer. Help us out here. Sandburg has deliberately kept from giving Boyle's name to the DEA investigators, to give us a chance to find him first. If those DEA jerks find Boyle first, they'll be happy to get him to roll over on Blair to save his own hide, and close the investigation. I can't let that happen. "
After a long moment of searching his face, she finally gave in.
"All right, he's up in 203a. I'll take you up. I haven't seen him around since Blair's arrest, so I'm not sure you'll find anything useful there."
They trudged side by side up the stairs and quickly located 203a. With a glance around to make sure that no one was watching, Suzanne located the appropriate key and let Jim in.
She closed the door before turning the light on, then suppressed a yawn as Jim eagerly pulled out a pair of latex gloves and began searching the room. Although he was unable to locate any marijuana, there was a persistent odor in several areas of the room, as though marijuana was often stored there or someone who frequently handled or smoked it used the room. Jim powered up the computer, only to find that all but the usual application files were password protected. He picked up a couple of disks from the desk and tried them, but found nothing other than class notes and drafts for papers on the accessible disks. There were others that were also password protected. Jim was not enough of an expert to get past the protection, but made a mental note that there was potential evidence there. He worked his way through every inch of the office's contents.
Suzanne interrupted with a clearing of her throat.
"Look, Jim, I've got to go and do a sweep of the campus, I've already missed two. I can't leave you in here unsupervised, no matter how much I want to help…"
"That's all right, Suzanne, you've been a huge help already. And I don't want to do anything to endanger your job. But I know this guy is involved, and I'm gonna find him and clear Sandburg."
He reluctantly followed her out of the office and watched her lock it behind them.
"Sorry I couldn't do more. Tell Blair that I'm keeping a good thought for him, okay?"
"You bet, Suzanne. Look, I'm gonna make a stop in the men's room on the way out. Let me know if anything comes up, will you?"
She patted him on the arm before she headed down the hallway. "You've got it, Jim."
He waited just long enough in the men's room to listen to Suzanne make her way out of the building and pull away in her Campus Police car. Just barely cracking open the door, spotting no student activity in the hall, he quietly exited.
Turning up his sense of smell, he walked slowly down the hallway. Trying to tune out the lingering odor of marijuana from the office behind him, he extended his senses and found another source of the distinctive fragrance in a nearby storage room. The smell was noticeably stronger, even through the scents of multiple cleaning products, and he guessed that it had been a regular supply room for the real perpetrators and could possibly still be holding some drugs.
Jim pulled a set of lockpicks from his jacket, carefully manipulating them to open the lock, then using his handkerchief to turn the knob and gain entrance to the closet. The strong odor of cleaning supplies assailed him, but as he tuned it out, the unmistakable smell of marijuana stood out clearly. Again using his handkerchief to move aside mops and brooms, he found his target in the second of four cases of bathroom cleanser. It looked just like the others, but the smell, almost overpowering to his sensitive nose, belied its appearance. He thought for a moment and left the room, locking the door carefully behind him.
Just as he decided on his plan of action, the slam of the heavy front door of the building and the sound of approaching footsteps stopped him in his tracks. Students and professors didn't usually come to Hargrove Hall to start their day at 5:30 in the morning. He quickly ran into the men's room so he could dive into a stall if necessary. The footsteps stopped at the second floor and hurried past him, and he opened the door a crack.
He watched as a red-headed young man matching the description that Blair had given swiftly entered Boyle's office and pulled the door closed behind him. Jim instinctively reached behind him for his weapon, finding only the small of his back instead of his well-worn holster. He began to reach for his back-up gun in the uncomfortable ankle holster when he had another idea. The cell phone came out of his jacket pocket and he hit the speed dial.
"Simon, it's Ellison."
"Do you know what time it is?"
"Um, late, I mean early. Look, Simon, I've located Boyle. I'm at Rainier and he's just entered his office."
The voice on the other end of the phone was suddenly more awake.
"Jim, be careful. Don't do anything stupid. He may be Sandburg's only chance."
"I know that, Simon. Look, I'm gonna hang back and follow him when he leaves. He might lead us to his partners, or at least more evidence to exonerate Sandburg. I'll keep you informed."
"I'll get Rafe and Brown up and on it. Call when you find anything, so they can back you up and make the arrest. We don't want the feds to try to toss anything out because they consider you a possible suspect yourself."
"I hear you, Simon. I'll keep in touch."
Returning the phone to his pocket and pulling out his back-up, Jim resumed his surveillance of Boyle's office. Forty-five minutes later, filled with mumbling, cursing, and slamming from behind the door, the TA turned out his light and left his office, carrying a worn, nylon backpack that he hadn't held earlier.
Boyle scuttled nervously down the hall, darting glances around as he approached the storage closet. Opening the closet door with a key, he disappeared inside. Jim let his hearing follow the young man and heard the rustling of a trash bag, the shifting of boxes, and what sounded like several items being dropped into the plastic bag. The student left the closet and headed down the hallway, the filled trash bag bumping against his leg. Jim trailed him carefully until Boyle reached the parking lot and climbed into an old Toyota. Jim then jogged over to his own truck parked in a dim area of the lot and pulled out the cell phone again as he started her up.
"Simon, Ellison…yeah, everything's all right. Boyle left with a full backpack from his office, along with a trash bag full of boxes from a storage closet just down the hall. Call Suzanne Tomaki at Rainier and tell her to check out that closet. It was locked and Boyle had a key. Ask her if she can call the feds and tell them she got an anonymous report of a sighting of Boyle there, and watch over them as they investigate. If they don't find any of Sandburg's prints in there, and he doesn't have a key, it should help his case a lot. What…yes, I'm following him now, heading east on Western and crossing 47th. He's driving a '85 or '86 silver Toyota, plate number 493 MGJ. Have Rafe and Brown head out in this direction and I'll call them directly when we arrive somewhere…No, don't tell Sandburg yet, I don't want to get his hopes up if nothing pans out. Talk to you later."
Jim focused on following the old Toyota through the quiet early-morning streets, responding when Rafe and Brown checked in and directing them to join him near a small, rundown house twenty minutes from the university. They climbed out and joined Jim standing behind the truck.
"What have we got, Jim?"
"I cased the house before you got here. I couldn't hear or see signs of anyone else being inside."
"Damn," Rafe cursed. "I'd hoped he'd lead us to his partners. I just can't believe that this kid is in it all by himself, or decided to frame Sandburg all on his own."
"I don't think so either, Rafe, but this could still work to our advantage. If we can snatch him up and spend some quality time with him before either his partners or the feds find out, we may be able to get more out of him and convince him that it's in his best interest to cooperate."
"Works for me, Jim," Henri smiled. "Are we ready?"
"Why don't you take the back, Henri, and Rafe, you take the front. I'll let you two get him under control before I join you. I don't want to sour the deal, you two have to be the arresting officers."
As they prepared to approach the house, Jim noticed the lights going off.
"Damn! Get down," he hissed as he dropped behind the truck.
They watched in frustration as the young man walked briskly to his car, the trash bag in his hand. He climbed in, started up, and backed out of his driveway, turning and driving in the opposite direction from the waiting detectives.
"Okay, here's plan two. Let's tail him, I'll take the lead since I can see him better. You guys follow me. Call Simon and fill him in, and ask him to get a couple of plain clothes officers out here to keep the house under surveillance. I don't think we want to move in to the house until we know more about Mr. Boyle."
"Right behind you, Jim," Rafe answered as they jogged back to their car.
Minutes later, they watched and waited at a small nondescript brick building that bore a black and white sign "Mobile Meals, a Not For Profit Organization.'" Boyle came back out almost immediately, carrying a large cardboard box with its top flap open to reveal a number of smaller white boxes, the same kind of box that Blair had been caught loading into a Mobile Meals van two days before.
The train of vehicles started back up, and they followed Boyle again, this time into the suburbs. He pulled up in front of a small but neatly maintained frame house, notable for the wheelchair ramp that had been added to access the front porch. Boyle exited his car, carrying two of the white boxes, and made his way up the steps. Ringing the doorbell, he only had to wait a few moments before being let into the home.
Again, Rafe and Henri joined Jim at the truck.
"I don't want to wait any longer. Let's see if we can catch him in the act. You two take the lead, and I'll follow you in. Let's be sharp, remember that Sandburg is counting on us."
Jim lagged back, waiting until the others had entered the house and for his name to ring out, before joining them in the house. He'd noticed the name on the mailbox on his way in. Henri had already taken the lead.
"Now Mrs. Sanderson, as I said, we're with Cascade Police, and we just want to talk with you and with Mr. Boyle here about his deliveries…"
He practically tuned out the discussion as he glanced around. The house was spotless, but threadbare. There was little furniture here in the living room, but there were numerous items of medical equipment. Beneath the sterile odor of antiseptic, and the odor coming from the white boxes and their carrier, he stepped back abruptly as his sense of smell was overwhelmed by the stench of illness. Illness, and impending death.
Jim glanced at the frail woman seated in the wheelchair, following the discussion in the room with confusion. Now that he took a second look, he recognized the yellowish gray tint to skin stretched too thin over old bones, the tint of great age, or of terminal disease.
He forced himself to return his attention to the interrogation of Boyle.
"Mr. Boyle, I’m Detective Ellison of the Cascade Police Department. You’re aware that we have a warrant to search the boxes you’re delivering."
Boyle gulped and nodded, glancing nervously at the old woman. "He showed it to me." Boyle gestured to Henri, then to the box. "Go ahead. Open it. You’ll find marijuana. I swear I’m only delivering the stuff to people like Mrs. Sanderson who need it. She’s got terminal cancer. The drug helps with the pain and nausea."
Jim sighed, his eyes lingering on Mrs. Sanderson. She sat quietly in her chair, her thin fingers picking at a thread on her faded blue skirt. Her white hair was thin and scattered, her skull almost bald, and her sunken cheekbones gave her a gaunt, weak appearance.
Jim knew the woman didn’t have much longer to live. He looked up at Rafe and Brown. They were both keeping their eyes off the woman, and the fine lines on their faces told Jim they were having a hard time with this new development.
Jim turned his attention back to Boyle. Even if the kid’s motives were humanitarian, he had gotten Blair involved in this, so he wasn’t entirely the nice guy he portrayed.
"Mr. Boyle," Jim kept his tone hard, "why did you frame Blair Sandburg?" He went for the direct line of questioning. If he could get Boyle to admit, in front of three detectives and an old lady, that Blair was innocent, the nightmare might finally end.
"I… I didn’t. I mean, I saw the news. I just…. I’m sorry." He sighed and sank to the sofa. "It was Gil. I… I didn’t want to get involved in all this. It started out being just a little bit here and there for the sick folks, but Gil found out what I was doing and threatened to turn me in unless I started helping him with deliveries. Then, he got Blair involved. I didn’t know he was setting Blair up. I swear. Blair’s a nice guy. I’d never do anything like this to him…not on purpose, I mean."
Jim felt some of his anger dissolve. He’d been a cop long enough to develop pretty good instincts about suspects, and he believed the kid was telling the truth. "Look, Boyle, we can see about getting the D.A. to cut you a deal, but you’re gonna have to roll over on Gil. Tell us everything you know. Sandburg’s out on bail right now, but he’s facing some serious charges if—"
Boyle’s head snapped up. "Blair’s out?"
Boyle rose quickly to his feet, and Jim saw Henri place his hand closer to his revolver. He gave a subtle shake of his head, and Henri relaxed.
"Detective, you gotta protect him." Boyle lost all color in his face.
Jim stiffened, his heart jumping into overdrive in the face of Boyle’s fear. "Why? What’s wrong?"
"It’s Gil. He… He scares me. He’s cold. A killer. If Blair’s out on bail and Gil wants him to take the fall, he’s probably going to try to kill him so the case stops there. There’ll be no trial and less risk that the truth will come out."
"Damn." Jim flashed a worried look at Henri and Rafe as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed Blair’s apartment. After four rings, when he got no answer, he hung up and tried Blair’s cell phone. It rang until the voice mail picked up.
"No answer," he told the two Detectives. "Get a patrol unit here to deal with this. We need to find Sandburg." Jim looked back to Boyle. "Do you have any idea where Gil might be right now?"
Boyle shook his head. "I’m sorry. No, but you’ve gotta find Blair. Fast."
Continue to Act 4
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