The man sat on the hard park bench on the edge of the Rainier University campus. Crossing his legs and shifting his weight in an attempt to find a more comfortable position on the unforgiving surface, he wondered yet again why he'd been called. The uneasiness that had begun with the strange phone call made his stomach churn. It was unusual to be singled out; they were a team. What was going on? Pulling his jacket more tightly around himself, he anxiously peered around again, searching the area for the person he was waiting for; there was still no sign of him.
The light rain continued to fall. Cars moved up and down the boulevard behind the waiting man, throwing up occasional sprays of water when they passed through the myriad of puddles. The man idly watched the people walking by. A young mother strolled along the sidewalk, her raincoat-clad children in tow. Dozens of Rainier college students hurried along on their way to classes, backpacks slung over their shoulders and brightly colored umbrellas bobbing over their heads. A handful of boisterous students were playing Frisbee in the rain, running, slipping, shouting, and laughing at their own antics. A young couple wandered by, holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes as love wove its spell on them.
They all seemed happy, carefree. It made his own fear and dread all the worse by comparison. Pulling back the left sleeve of his jacket and checking his watch once again, he finally acknowledged that his meeting was going to be a no-show. He wasn't sure whether he should feel relief or concern. He'd decided to leave when he felt something slam into his chest. Comprehension dawned in his eyes as the life left his body.
~~ Act One ~~
Bright sunshine lit the Rainier University campus. That was unusual enough, in the rain-prone city of Cascade. Coupled with the warmer-than-average temperature, it brought out everyone with a free moment to enjoy the delightful day. Classes were in session as usual, but students and faculty spent as much of their free time outside as they could, enjoying the fresh air, the blue sky, and the cheering sunshine.
Blair Sandburg strolled across the campus toward Hargrove Hall, waving to some grad students he knew as he passed them. He'd been at the library doing research for the seminar he was teaching on 'Symbols and Hidden Meaning in Cultures,' having agreed to fill in for the ailing professor who normally taught it, and now he was going to bask in the sunshine and fresh air as he made his way to his office. Heaven knew it was probably the only time he would have to enjoy it. He needed to get some more journal references from a printout he had forgotten in his office and head back to the library again. This afternoon he was going to instruct Denise, his TA, on what to write for the next exam he was giving his class, and then he had office hours. After that, he was going to meet Jim at the station. Jim's pile of paperwork had reached a height that rivaled Mt. Rainier, and the detective needed Blair to help him cut the stack down to size before Simon had a fit. Since Blair now got paid for his work at the station, he couldn't complain about the paperwork. Well, he could complain, but it didn't pack the same punch as it did when he'd been working for free. Closing his eyes and turning his face toward the sun's welcome rays, he smiled at the invigorating feeling.
"Mr. Sandburg, Mr. Sandburg!"
Reluctantly, Blair opened his eyes and turned to see who had yelled his name. He watched as one of his students, Cassandra Harris, ran toward him, one hand waving wildly and the other clutching her slate blue backpack. "What do you need, Cassandra?" he asked when she slid to a breathless stop next to him.
"I've got a question on the lecture from this morning," she said sweetly. She smiled as she dropped the backpack to the sidewalk and squatted briefly, digging out her notebook. Rising, she tipped her head slightly to one side, flirting unabashedly.
Blair sighed inwardly. He really needed a few minutes to himself. Maybe she would be willing to talk to him later. "You could come during my office hours this afternoon, and I'd be glad to go over everything." Blair smiled to soften his suggestion.
"It's a quick question, I promise," the young woman said, coyly fluttering her eyelashes.
Blair sighed. He knew her flirtation was a ploy, and he still fell for it. "Okay, quick question." He readjusted his backpack where it hung over his shoulder and turned his attention to his student.
Cassandra grinned in triumph. She opened her notebook and started to tell him her problem. "Now, when you said that the tribe in Africa...."
Blair caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He glanced up and froze. His heart was suddenly pounding fast and hard. There's no way! He craned his head to get a better look, but the object of his interest was no longer in sight. No, please, not him again. He came back to reality at Cassandra's insistent plea.
"Mr. Sandburg, you're not even listening to me."
He glanced absently at the woman who was standing impatiently in front of him, her notebook in one hand. Her irritation was easy to see as she planted her other hand on her hip, elbow jutting out; a pout appeared on her face. But he couldn't spare any time; this could be a dangerous situation and he had to contact Jim. His gaze returned to the area where he had seen the figure, but no one was there.
Noticing the annoyed woman who was still staring sullenly at him, he realized he needed to explain his somewhat eccentric behavior. "I'm really sorry, Cassandra, but I've got to go now. I'll be happy to answer anything this afternoon or in class Friday." Then he rushed away before she could voice any protests. Not bothering to return to his office, he practically ran all the way to his car, now oblivious to the nice weather.
"I'm telling you, man, it was him," Blair repeated adamantly. He put his hands on Jim's desk, careful not to disturb the files scattered across the surface, and leaned forward intently, gazing at his sentinel.
"Listen, Chief. Brackett is securely locked away in federal prison. There's no way he's out and roaming around Rainier again." Jim watched his partner straighten and resume his frantic pacing, leaning back in his chair to watch. "Why don't you sit down before you fall down, buddy?"
Blair circled his partner's desk once again before flopping into a chair. He ran his hands through his long, curly hair and closed his eyes. Despite his efforts, his calm disappeared almost right away, and he jumped back to his feet and began pacing again, his hands flying as he tried to control his agitation. "Jim, I know what I saw. And remember, I told you a couple of weeks ago that I saw someone who looked like Brackett? We thought it was just a coincidence, someone who looked like him from a distance. But I saw him clearly this time. I know it was him. Could you please at least check it out?"
"Already have Simon on it." Jim continued watching his friend, amusement and fondness bringing a slight smile to his face. Blair was energetic and often got excited, but he didn't panic easily, and if he said he had seen Lee Brackett on the Rainier University campus, there had to be a good explanation. Maybe Brackett's evil twin? Nah, Brackett's the evil one. It would have to be his... what... his good twin? He shook his head at the irrelevant thought and focused again on his partner.
Blair looked at the detective with a measuring gaze. "Really?" he asked, a hint of doubt still tinting his voice.
"Yeah, Chief, really. Simon's calling a friend in the Justice Department to make sure Brackett is safe and sound in prison."
As if summoned, Simon appeared in front of Jim's desk. He stood there for a moment, holding two manila folders in front of him as if they were a shield. "Bad news, guys."
"I don't want to hear this, do I?" asked Blair nervously.
"Probably not, Sandburg. Brackett is out and about. Has been for about two months."
"Two months! Why weren't we notified? What the hell is going on, Simon? How did he get out?" Jim demanded. "After what he pulled here, he should be locked away forever." Furrows appeared on his forehead as he remembered Brackett's threat to release the Ebola virus into Cascade if Jim and Blair didn't comply with his demands.
"My contact couldn't get any details, just that the order came from fairly high up. Brackett's release is apparently legitimate, and his records have been sealed. Unfortunately, Arthur doesn't have the authority to open them."
Jim realized Blair was uncharacteristically silent. "Chief, you okay?" His voice was gentle, and he touched the younger man on the shoulder, looking at him closely.
Blair shook his head as if to clear it. "Yeah, man, I'm fine." He lowered his voice. "Do you think he'll make trouble with your senses?"
"I don't know, but whatever he's doing in Cascade, I'll be watching for him." Jim's voice was cold, hard.
"We'll be watching for him." Blair laid his hand on Jim's shoulder. He smiled when Jim nodded solemnly.
Simon cleared his throat to get his detective's attention. "Jim, I have something to take your mind off Brackett. You, too, Sandburg, now that youíre officially drawing a consultantís salary." The corner of his mouth quirked in an almost-grin as he glanced at Blair, who flashed a quick smile in response.
Simon's expression turned solemn again as he waved the manila folders in front of Jim. "There've been two murders with similar, and rather strange, circumstances. I'd like you to look into them."
Jim scowled, "Why isn't this under Homicide's jurisdiction?"
"Like I said, the circumstances are fairly unusual. Why don't you talk to the M.E.?"
"Yes, sir." Struggling to control his concerns and anger about Brackett being turned loose on an unsuspecting public, Jim took the files from Simon and nodded curtly. Shoulders held stiffly, he rose and stalked out of the bullpen.
Blair looked at Simon and shrugged. He followed his partner to the elevator. He had to sprint to catch up with him, and slipped into the elevator behind Jim just before the doors closed.
Neither partner noticed the tall, slim man in the police uniform who had been watching them for the last few minutes. After the elevator left, he brushed his brown hair back from his forehead, slipped on his cap, and made his way to the stairwell.
As the elevator descended, Blair watched Jim struggle to contain his misgivings over Brackett's release. Finally, he could take it no more. "Jim, c'mon, you've got to calm down."
The icy blue glare was turned on him. "Sandburg, not five minutes ago you were bouncing all over the bullpen when you thought Brackett was out there. Now we know he is, and you're telling me to be calm?"
"All I'm saying is, if you let your emotions control you, Brackett will have a better chance of slipping in somehow. And we can't let that happen."
Jim sighed; he knew Sandburg was right. After a moment he answered quietly, "I know. It's just that he threatened you and the whole damn city, and now he's free."
Blair laughed, a short, sharp sound. "Oh, I remember only too well. But this time we're forewarned, and we'll be waiting for him." The elevator signaled their arrival at the floor that housed the morgue with a soft ding.
The duo walked together into the coroner's office. Dan Wolf, the chief medical examiner, was busy on the phone. He glanced up at his guests and smiled, then gestured for them to take a seat in the adjoining conference room.
Jim sank into one of the chairs in the small, glass-walled room, wearily dropping the file folders Simon had given him onto the round table. While waiting for Dan to finish his call, Jim opened the first case file and began reading the information. Blair sank into another chair and regarded his partner contemplatively as Jim scanned the reports.
After a few minutes, Blair quietly asked, "So what's up with the new cases?"
"Monday, Sean Caine was found dead, slumped on a bench in Gordievsky Memorial Park. Passer-bys apparently thought he was sleeping. Even though it was raining." Jim looked at his partner.
Blair had a look of disbelief on his face. "They thought he was sleeping in the rain? Man, what people won't do to avoid getting involved." The younger man shook his head.
Jim nodded slightly. "When someone went to retrieve a Frisbee that had landed near him, they noticed the blood on the front of his coat and called the police. Seven people who were in the immediate area at the time he was found reported having seen and heard nothing out of the ordinary."
"So how did he die?"
"That's what we're here to find out."
Blair rolled his eyes at Jim's obvious avoidance of the question.
Jim ignored him, opened the next file, and continued his summary. "The second victim, Marcia Baxter, was found by a neighbor on her front porch the day after Caine was killed."
"Right. We don't have an estimated time of death yet. Her next-door neighbors had come over to ask her to watch their cat for a couple days, and, as with the witnesses who found Caine, they had neither seen nor heard anything unusual prior to finding her body."
Dan ended his phone call and stood. He entered the small room to greet the pair. "What can I do to help you, gentlemen?" he asked, shaking hands with Jim and Blair in turn.
"We're here to discuss the Caine and Baxter cases." Jim closed the folders and rested them in his lap.
"I'll be happy to share them with you, they're throwing me for a loop."
"What's so special about them?"
"Let me show you," Dan responded, leading them into the morgue.
The twosome followed, Blair looking a little grim, but determined to be there to help Jim focus. Blair was breathing carefully through his mouth to avoid the smells that often made him feel queasy. Jim lightly placed his hand on his partner's back in a supportive gesture, and Blair flashed him a soft, grateful smile.
Dan moved across the room to the wall lined with morgue drawers and pulled out the drawer containing one of the bodies. Withdrawing four gloves from the dispenser mounted on the wall, he offered one pair to Ellison and pulled the other pair onto his own hands.
Jim nodded his thanks, donning the offered gloves.
Dan drew the sheet back and exposed the upper half of Sean Caine's corpse; a loosely sutured incision ran along the length of the torso. "Now, you see this hole?" he asked, pointing to a small puncture in the chest above the heart. He waited until both men nodded before proceeding. "Some type of projectile went into this man's heart. But there's no exit wound." He looked at them, one eyebrow cocked.
"A bullet?" Blair ventured.
"That's what I thought as well; obviously, that's the most likely scenario in a case like this. But when I opened him up, I found... nothing."
At the mention of "opening" the body, Blair made a face and swallowed visibly, but still asked, "What do you mean 'nothing'?"
Dan looked at Blair from across the body, "I mean, where there should have been a bullet, there was just a hole. It's as if, once the bullet did its job, it disappeared."
Silence hung in the large, tiled room, echoing loudly as they considered Dan's statement.
"That's not possible," Jim spoke up at last.
"I'm not saying it's possible, I'm just saying that's what apparently happened." Dan shrugged. Stepping to his left, he pulled out another drawer and moved the sheet to reveal the hole in the second victim's chest. "The same with Ms. Baxter. We've established her time of death as one to two hours before she was found, by the way," he said, glancing at Jim.
The detective nodded.
Dan pointed at the hole; it was similar to the one in Caine's chest. "There's a definite path that the projectile traveled, but it ends... empty. No gunpowder residue, no burnt flesh at the wound -- as could be made by some kind of laser -- no nothing. Each scene was gone over carefully by forensics, and nothing was found that might have caused this. I tell you, I'm stumped."
Blair was looking at the body, brows drawn together in thought. Suddenly he straightened, and his face lit up. "Maybe he was killed with ice bullets?"
Jim looked at Blair like he'd grown a second head, and Dan cleared his throat, suppressing a chuckle.
"You know, like in Dick Tracy?" Blair tried again, moving his hands through the air as he tried to convince the others.
Jim rolled his eyes and began examining the entry wound carefully. "Right, Chief. You've been reading too many comic books again."
Blair glared at him, exasperated.
Dan looked up as his phone rang in the office. "Excuse me, guys."
"No problem, Dan. Do you mind if I take a few minutes to check over the bodies myself?"
The M.E. smiled; he had seen Ellison seemingly perform miracles before. "Of course, just lock them back up when you're done, okay?" He let himself out of the morgue.
Blair waited until the door closed, then turned to Jim. "Okay, Jim, take a deep breath and focus." Using his "guide" voice, the young man helped his sentinel check out the bodies systematically, employing Jim's highly developed senses of vision, smell, and touch in turn. The smells in the morgue and the presence of the bodies did not bother Blair when he was in his guide mode; he was totally focused on Jim's needs. Finally, Blair asked, "You getting anything from either of them?"
"Not a thing, Chief." Jim exhaled noisily. "He's right, there's nothing here."
"Maybe you're not picking up anything because you're still wired from the news about Brackett."
Jim gave him a dirty look, then turned to gaze down at the body he had just examined. "I'm not 'still wired' and I know the difference between when I'm missing something and when there's nothing to find," he snapped.
Blair backed off, his hands raised in surrender. "Whoa, man, whatever you say."
Jim closed his eyes for a moment. When he spoke, his weariness was obvious in his voice. "I'm sorry, Chief. It's frustrating. I can usually get something...."
"That's okay, man. Like you said, there could be nothing here to get."
"I don't see anything, I can't feel anything, and I'm not smelling anything that shouldn't be here. Even the path the projectile traveled is clean; it doesn't make any sense."
Reminded of the smells that belonged here, Blair became aware of his slightly queasy stomach again and decided he'd finally had enough of the morgue. Even after all these years of working at Jim's side, he still could tolerate only so much before it started to bother him. "Uh, Jim, if you don't need me any more, I'd like to...." Glancing apologetically at his partner, he nodded toward the door.
"No problem, Chief, I'll be out in a minute." After watching the slightly pale anthropologist leave the tiled room, Jim turned back and tried extending his senses over Sean's body once more before giving up. He re-covered the bodies and pushed both drawers shut. Securing the door to the morgue as he emerged into the outer office, he peeled off the gloves and dropped them into a trash bin.
Dan looked up from the papers he was going over as Jim came out of the morgue. "Any luck?" he asked hopefully. He frowned in disappointment at Jim's negative response. "Okay, well, I'll let you guys know if I find anything else, or if any of the tissue samples turn up anything of interest," he said as they were leaving. "The final report should be on your desk by tomorrow afternoon."
Blair stood from the chair near Dan's desk. He had been using meditation techniques to help calm his body's queasiness. He moved toward Jim.
Jim was relieved to note his friend's color had almost returned to normal. "Thanks, Dan. I'll let you know if we find anything that might help," he said, guiding his partner toward the door.
"Thanks, Jim. 'Bye, Blair. Good luck," Dan said. He returned to his perusal of the papers on his desk.
After pushing the UP button by the elevator, Blair turned to Jim. "Don't forget I have to get back to Rainier for my meeting with Denise and my office hours."
"Right, Chief. What time will you be done?"
"I have office hours from three to five."
"Okay, I'll pick you up at 5:15, then?"
"Sure, that would be great, thanks, man."
"Meanwhile, I'm going to get started on the investigation into the victims' backgrounds." A soft ding indicated the arrival of the elevator. The doors slid silently open, and they stepped inside the car. "I'm going to start at their places of employment," Jim continued. "I guess the paperwork will have to wait," he said with an evil grin.
Blair chuckled. Then his demeanor became serious. "You gonna be okay?" he asked, concern creasing his brow.
"Yeah. I'm just going to talk to them. If I need your help I'll call."
"Okay." Blair faced the doors as the elevator slowed and opened on their floor.
Watching the bounce in Blair's step as they walked toward Major Crime, Jim noted with amusement that Blair quickly recovered from his visit to the morgue.
After letting Simon know their plans, they grabbed their jackets and went down to the parking level.
Blair left Denise finishing up the exam, reflecting on how fortunate he was to have a decent TA easing his workload, and made his way to the Political Science Department.
Unnoticed, a silent figure shadowed him.
Blair entered the building and walked down the hall to the office of the former-CIA-agent-turned-professor who had befriended him years before. He knocked on the door, entering at the call of "Come in."
Jack Kelso smiled from behind his desk. "Hey, there, Blair. How's it going?"
"Hi, Jack. Not that great, as a matter of fact," Blair answered.
Kelso took in his friend's dour countenance and sat up straighter in his wheelchair. "Is there something that I can help you with?" He waved a hand toward take a seat.
Blair sat in the chair facing his associate. "I sure as hell hope so. It seems that Lee Brackett has been released."
"Oh, my God."
"So I take it you had no idea?"
"No. And I'm a little shocked. Apparently my connections didn't feel the need to let me know. I'm sorry, I should have been able to warn you."
"It's not your fault, Jack," Blair commented, shrugging his shoulders slightly. "We were just thrown for a loop. I was wondering if you could look into his release and let me know why he got out. He might be involved with a couple of deaths that have happened in the last few days."
"That's no problem. I'll get on the phone right now. I'll call and let you know when I have something. Anything else?"
Blair shook his head and stood up to leave. "Nothing else; not yet, anyway. I really appreciate this, Jack. I'll be in my office until five. After that you can call me on my cell."
The professor smiled and waved goodbye, then picked up his phone and punched in a series of numbers. As Blair left, he could hear Kelso already talking to his first contact.
At 4:55 that afternoon, Blair started putting his books and papers into his backpack. He reached to put his cell phone in with the rest of the items just as the phone on his desk rang. "Hello, Blair Sandburg."
"Hey, Blair, it's Jack. Why don't you stop by before you go? I found out some things."
"Cool, thanks, man. I'll be right there."
Blair kept his cell phone out, shut his backpack, and slipped into his jacket. He slung the pack over his shoulder and left his office, switching off the light and locking the door behind him. As he left Hargrove Hall and headed toward Kelso's building, he punched the speed dial for Jim's cell phone.
"Ellison." Blair could hear traffic sounds behind his partner's voice.
"Hey, Jim, it's Blair."
"Hi, Chief. Everything okay?"
"Yeah. I need to get something before I leave. Can you pick me up outside the Poly Sci building instead of Hargrove?"
"Sure. I'll be there in about ten minutes."
"Thanks, man! I'll hurry."
Jim carefully stretched the muscles in his neck and shoulders as Blair climbed into the truck. "Why don't we call it a day, Chief? I brought the case files along, and we can go through what I found out when we get back to the loft."
"Sounds good. Why don't we pick up Chinese on the way home? I don't feel like cooking tonight."
"Call it in," Jim agreed. "We can pick it up on the way back to the loft, Simon's going to meet us there to watch the game, so order plenty. You know what his appetite is like."
Blair chuckled as he dialed the restaurant.
~~ Act 2 ~~
An hour later, the three men were settled at the table in the loft with food and cold beers.
"So what did you find out today, Jim?" Simon asked, spooning a generous serving of rice on his plate.
Jim finished dishing out some cashew chicken. Sighing, he laid down the serving spoon and scooped up his chopsticks. Opening the file folders, he spread them out, careful to keep them away from the little white containers of food scattered across the table.
He pointed at the report with the tip of his chopsticks. "The first victim, Sean Caine, age 42, had a PhD in electrical engineering from Texas A&M, graduated in 1985. Worked for Geiger Electronics for the past four and a half years. He was part of a team developing software for interfacing with extremely complex robots that will be used in manufacturing high-tech items. Before that he worked for ten years at Casio Design Center in New York City. Divorced five years ago. One child, a boy, lives with his mother in New York. Ex-wife is an associate editor with 'New York Fashion' magazine. No overt hostility between Caine and his ex.
"According to preliminary reports, he had no known enemies, and no one was particularly mad at him. He was a fairly pleasant man, no serious vices, nothing to make anyone take a dislike to him, from what his coworkers said. Bank balances are in the comfortable range, but not large enough to raise any eyebrows: no unusually large deposits or withdrawals within the past five years. Had a tidy sum in his 401k and a few Certificates of Deposits. Owned his house, only six years left on the mortgage. Car paid for. No remarkable debts. No police record other than a few parking tickets which were paid promptly."
After swallowing his mouthful of steamed veggies and rice, Blair responded, "Doesn't sound like much there. No obvious motive for someone to kill him."
Jim nodded, "Yeah. Hey, pass the wonton soup, Simon."
Simon pushed it across the table. "Okay, what about the second victim? Anything there?"
The detective spooned some soup into his bowl. After enjoying a few sips, he returned his attention to the papers, pushing the information sheet on the second victim where the other two could easily see it. "Marcia Baxter, age 45. Got a Masters in bioengineering from MIT, 1981. Originally from Olympia, but living in Cascade for the past 18 years. Worked under National Science Foundation grants for most of that time, under various researchers in the Biomedical Department at Rainier University." Jim paused, looking thoughtfully at Blair.
Blair returned his gaze, and then both voiced their thought. "Brackett."
Simon looked back and forth between the two men. "You think she's connected to Brackett?"
Jim shrugged. "Yeah, could be. It makes sense that he would have had a contact in the Biomedical Department, someone who would have told him about the planned transport of the Ebola virus and provided him with information on how to access it." Jim wiped his fingers on a napkin and grabbed a pen, making a note to look into possible connections between Baxter, Brackett, and the CIA. "She was working there when the virus was stolen, so she could have provided him with the intel."
"Right, right." Blair was bouncing slightly in his chair, his enthusiasm bubbling up. "I wonder if maybe Brackett was planning something with her...." He stopped, looking at Jim, a speculative expression on his face. "Maybe she tried to double-cross him? Or backed out on something they had planned? That would give him a motive to kill her."
"Maybe." Simon took a bite of Hunan beef and chewed thoughtfully. After swallowing, he poked his chopsticks toward the file and said, "But it could be too obvious, too. Let's not jump to conclusions. We don't have anything solid to tie Brackett to these murders."
"Yeah." Blair said. He enthusiastically dug back into his food. "Okay, what else do we have on Baxter?"
"Let's see..." he reviewed the file. "She was married in 1982; husband was a senior executive at a large computer firm... the firm did some contracts for the US government, mostly computer firewall protections and anti-hacker stuff. He died, car crash, in 1996. No foul play suspected in his death. She was alone, no kids, no known significant other, no roommate, very few friends. In fact, she was something of a loner after he died, according to her coworkers. Smoked a half a pack of cigarettes a day. Occasionally had wine with dinner. No gambling or other vices. She had over $500,000 in her bank accounts and CD's."
Jim paused to take a bite of his dinner.
Simon raised his eyebrows. "That's pretty good money for a researcher."
The detective continued. "That's what I thought, too. I traced the money back, and found it originated with a half-million dollar life insurance policy that paid off after her husband's death. She saved and invested that money--probably for retirement--and lived off her research position earnings. No significant deposits or withdrawals since the life insurance payoff in '96. Owns a modest house, paid off in '96 with a portion of the life insurance money. Car loan almost paid off. A few credit cards, moderate balances, nothing unusual. Had a couple speeding tickets, that's about it. No known enemies. Coworkers described her as 'quiet, pleasant, keeping to herself.'"
"Jeez, not much to go on for either of them." Blair laid down his chopsticks
and pushed his half-emptied plate away. "Mmm, that was good. Hand me a fortune cookie, Jim."
The detective glanced at him, and then looked back at the report, absently pushing a plastic-wrapped cookie toward his partner. "I have to say, Simon, these two people are remarkable in how relatively unremarkable they are. Other than their advanced degrees and some similarity in their lines of work -- electrical engineering and bioengineering -- there's not really anything to tie them together. No indications they knew each other. But apparently they were both killed with the same weapon, within a day of each other. There must be some connection."
"'Anger brings forth cold emotions, while love brings warmth,'" Blair said evenly.
"What?" Simon looked at him, confusion obvious on his face.
"I said, 'Anger brings forth cold emotions, while love brings warmth.'" The younger man said to his friends, waving a small slip of white paper between them. "My fortune."
"Oh." Jim said, rolling his eyes. He dug into his cooling cashew chicken while he had the chance.
"Sandburg..." Simon grumbled.
"What?" Blair just grinned back at him.
Simon shook his head and prodded Jim, bobbing his chin at the packets of cookies. "Give one here."
Jim tossed over a fortune to his captain and took one for himself. Both men rattled the paper and read their fates with dubious looks that soon turned dark.
"What? What?" Blair demanded to know. "I told you mine! You have to tell me yours!"
"Sandburg," Simon growled, apparently with some strange idea that it could depress his younger friend's high spirits.
"No good, Simon," was the comeback. "Office hours are over. So tell, guys!" He poked Jim in the ribs, drawing an "I'll get you for that, Sandburg," but managed to pluck the fortune out of Jim's hands.
"'He who keeps his money never lacks for friends,'" Sandburg quoted sententiously.
Simon snickered. "You don't have anything to worry about then, Jim, do you?"
The tightwad of Major Crimes glared haughtily.
"Hey, Jim, I want you to know that I'm here for you, buddy," Blair offered with solicitude. "Or at least until you go bankrupt. Agggggghhhhhh! Not the hair!"
Simon cracked up again as the detective and the student made war on each other. But the combatants drew to an unspoken peace and both turned on the third man as one.
"So, Simon, what did you draw?" Jim purred as he toyed with his prey before pouncing.
Blair went for a frontal attack, trying a pre-emptive strike on the missing fortune.
"Just get away from that!" the captain snarled and snatched up the paper, batting him down. But he was pinned to the mat and knew it. He sighed gustily.
Jim and Blair exchanged triumphant glances. "we're listening!" they said as one.
Simon swallowed manfully. "Your face is your fortune in romance."
An awed pause followed. Then, "Man, Simon, you're already bankrupt!"
Jim had to hold Simon back or murder would have been done in the loft.
Blair scooted his chair a few inches away from Simon and cleared his throat, turning back to business and studiously avoiding Simon's glare. He turned to look at Jim. "So you don't know if they know each other, Jim?"
"What?" Jim said after swallowing.
"Caine and Baxter -- Did they know each other?"
"No indication that they did. We'll have to check that out further. You free to come in tomorrow to help?"
"I have classes and office hours until eleven tomorrow, so why don't I meet you at the station after that?"
"Sounds good, Chief. I'll do some checking on the web and make a few calls. When you get there we can go talk to some more people, see if anyone knows if the two had ever met." He turned to Simon. "Are you still keeping a lid on the victims' identities, Simon?"
"Yes. Their names have not been released to the press, pending notification of relatives, the usual spiel. We are keeping this as quiet as possible for now, given the strange situation. But we're not going to be able to stay
silent for long. You gentlemen need to make some progress soon."
"Yes, sir." Jim nodded to Simon and exchanged a tired smile with his partner.
There was companionable silence for a few minutes as they finished their meal. They worked together to clear the table and put the leftovers in the fridge. Blair collected the trash and ran the bag down to the dumpster so the lingering aroma of the spicy food wouldn't disturb his friend's sensitive nose during the night. Jim washed the few dishes, and Simon wiped off the table.
Soon they were all settled in the living room. The television flickered silently as they waited for the game to start.
Leaning forward, Blair asked, "So, do you want to know what I found out today?"
"Okay, I'll bite. What did you learn today, Sandburg?" Simon asked, a teasing hint of condescension in his voice.
Blair rolled his eyes, then spoke, his voice solemn. "I talked to Jack Kelso, and he gave me some information on Brackett." He toed off his shoes and tucked his legs under him on the couch, making himself comfortable.
"You what?" Jim leaned forward, frowning at his partner. "Chief, don't go poking around like that. There's no telling what Brackett might pull if he feels threatened."
"C'mon, man. He's apt to do anything he's planning anyway. It's not like this would set him off, assuming he even finds out about it. I just thought that the more information we gather, the more ammunition we'll have."
"Sandburg," Simon interrupted, his voice a mixture of amusement and concern, "you're acting like you're preparing for war."
"I just might be. I'd rather be prepared this time." Blair was serious in both tone and expression.
"He's right," Jim said to his superior. "According to the profile Kelso gave us last time Brackett was making a nuisance of himself, Brackett likes to make elaborate game plans to keep ahead of his opponents. Anything we can learn might help prepare us for whatever he's up to, or at least give us a fighting chance." Turning back to Blair, he asked, "What'd you come up with, Chief?"
"Jack said he talked to a couple of his old friends and they'd heard rumors of who was behind Brackett's release."
"What's their intel?"
"A man by the name of Albert James. He's one of the top directors in the CIA." Blair shifted his attention between the two men as they processed this information. Simon and Jim exchanged a worried look.
"So, why would Albert James want to release Brackett?" Jim asked.
"Of course, Jack doesn't know for sure, but he suggested it might be something Brackett has on James, maybe blackmail of some kind. Another possibility would be that James needs Brackett for a job. The problem with that explanation, obviously, is that Brackett's been in prison for a couple years, and there are other agents roaming free who should be able to do virtually anything Brackett could." Blair glanced somberly at both men. "Of course, Brackett could have offered to provide the services of someone who does have special talents." He stared meaningfully at Jim.
The sentinel gazed back, something -- anger? despair? -- making his eyes look shadowed, hollow. The thought of being used, of having criminals or even his own government coerce him into using his abilities as they pleased, had haunted him for years.
Blair maintained eye contact with his friend, trying to provide support.
After a minute, Simon broke the tension. "Or maybe the others have a conscience," he said softly. He leaned back in his chair and sighed. "Brackett never appeared to have one."
"It's not a desired characteristic for people in his field," Jim replied cynically.
Suddenly too restless to sit still, Jim stood and wandered toward the balcony doors. He looked out over his city, thinking about the possible consequences of Brackett on the loose. Abruptly, he stiffened and cocked his head, listening to something only he could hear. He snapped his head toward the left and peered out the window so he could see whatever it was he had heard, his vision easily piercing the darkness cloaking the area outside the loft. "Son of a bitch!" Jim whirled, ran toward the kitchen, opened the drawer where he kept his weapon when at home, grabbed the gun, and raced out the loft's door without another word.
Simon stared after him for a moment, then snapped out of his shock. Grabbing his cell phone from his jacket and his gun from its holster, he bolted out the door after his detective, figuring that, whatever the hell was going on, Jim would probably need backup.
"Jim, Simon, what's going on?" Springing to his feet, Blair ran after them when there was no answer. He saw the two men practically flying down the steps and followed along as quickly as he could, his stocking-clad feet sliding dangerously on the stairs.
Jim streaked past Bradley Lathrop, the owner of the unit below Jim's loft, who was leading a refined-looking older woman up the stairs to the second floor. The startled woman pressed against the wall of the stairwell and screamed when she saw the seemingly mad gunman coming toward her. She had barely recovered from Jim's passage when Simon ran by, also clutching a gun. She stood pressed against the stairwell wall, her mouth open and her hand fluttering over her chest.
Blair, seeing the woman's horrified expression, slid to a stop to offer a quick apology. Lathrop turned and dashed down the stairs after Jim and Simon, shouting angrily. Blair smiled and patted the woman's hand. "I'm sorry, ma'am. Don't worry. They're police officers. There's nothing to worry about." Then, with another quick smile, he turned and took off again, hurrying down the stairs after the other men as fast as he could without slipping.
The chase ended abruptly when Jim left the building, swerved to avoid a passerby, dashed into the street, and then was forced to jump back to avoid being hit by a passing car. The detective stood straight, his entire body rigid with tension, and peered around angrily as Blair finally made it outside.
The incensed owner was dancing around, trying to get in Jim's face to express his rage. "This is the third time this month you've scared away a prospective purchaser! I'm trying to sell the unit below yours! Why? I'll tell you why! Because I can't keep steady renters! They can't stand living under crazy people who have psychos and criminals chasing them and who engage in gunfights in this building on a weekly basis!"
Jim completely ignored the Lathrop. And he was good at it, to the utter frustration of the outraged man.
Blair hurried to Jim's side. "What was that all about, man?" he asked, gasping as he stepped in a cold puddle and felt his socks immediately get soaked. He peered despondently at his sodden socks.
"Brackett," Jim growled in response, tucking his weapon in the back waistband of his pants. "He was watching us from an SUV parked in front of the flower shop." He jerked his chin toward the building that housed the florist's. It was far enough away from their building that the former-CIA agent would be able to observe their actions in the third-floor loft from street level with appropriate long-range surveillance equipment. "He took off as soon as he realized I was coming after him."
Simon was looking around, gun still in his hand. At the same time, he was talking softly into the cell phone he held to his ear in his other hand, requesting units in the area to be on the lookout for Brackett.
Turning his attention from his soaked socks to his seething partner, Blair watched the muscles in Jim's jaw flex. He asked, "Any sign of him, man?"
With his guide's hand on his arm, grounding him, Jim swept the area with his senses. "No, he got away." Jim sighed in exasperation. "I didn't get down here quick enough."
"Too bad you can't fly, man," Blair commented, but he stopped chuckling when he saw his partner's scowl directed at him.
Continuing to ignore Lathrop, who had finally run out of steam and was now simply glaring at them, Jim turned to re-enter the building.
Just then, the woman they had frightened came out the door. When she saw Jim walking toward her, she scuttled quickly away from the building, moving to stand next to Lathrop. Her expression was a combination of horror and fear. Jim turned to apologize, but she shrank back further and looked as though she might scream again. So he settled for a muttered, "Sorry, ma'am, police business." Then he opened the door and slipped inside.
After another look around, Simon followed him.
Before he joined the other two, Blair watched the woman confront Lathrop. He was trying to assure the woman that, no, this building wasn't really full of crazy people with guns, and he was sure she would like the apartment that was for sale. But the woman's response indicated that it didn't matter, she would look elsewhere.
Figuring discretion was the better part of valor in this case -- not to mention the desire to avoid being the brunt of the angry condo owner's ire, Blair sloshed into the building, following Jim and Simon up the stairs, leaving wet footprints behind.
Jim was surfing the web when Blair arrived at the station the next day. "Find anything interesting?"
"Yeah, apparently The Cell was voted one of the worst films of 2000."
"I meant about the case, Jim." Blair swatted at Jim's arm as he moved closer to his partner's desk.
"Yeah, a bit." Jim started to let Blair know what he had found when he stopped short. "Hmm...What's this?" he murmured as a flashing icon on the computer monitor caught his eye.
"It's a high priority e-mail." He clicked to open it.
"What's it say?"
"'Got some mysteriously dead bodies?
Wondering if the murders are related?
If you're stumped,
The Penny Man at Rainier Biomedical can help.'"
Blair laughed. "You're joking!"
"No, look!" Jim pointed at the screen.
Blair leaned over his partner's shoulder, peering at the monitor. He silently read the message, then looked at Jim. "What the hell?"
The detective snorted quietly and shook his head. "Look who it's from."
Blair looked at the header. The sender was 'Clues_R_Us@helper.net.'
"Oh, funny." Sarcasm fairly dripped from the detective's words. "This has got to be a joke." Jim leaned back in his chair, rubbing his forehead wearily.
Blair perched on the edge of the desk. "Maybe it's a joke. But how many people know about this? Not many. This might be someone who wants to be an informant. Maybe we should check it out, see if we can trace the e-mail?"
Jim snorted. "You know as well as I do how easy it is for someone to keep an e-mail anonymous, but it's worth a try." He sighed. "Well, regardless of who sent it, we are stuck in this case. We might as well take a trip over to the Biomed Lab." After saving and printing out the message, Jim shut down his computer. Then he stood, stretching his long body, loosening muscles stiff from sitting too long.
Jim snatched the hardcopy of the message from the printer. They walked over to Simon's office. Jim knocked and opened the door at Simon's hollered "Enter!"
"Ellison, Sandburg. What have you got for me? Any leads on the Caine and Baxter cases?" Simon took his glasses off, laid them on the desk, and rubbed his eyes. The stack of paperwork piled in his OUT box testified to the time he had spent going over his detectives' reports that day.
"Maybe..." Jim started.
"Yeah, Jim got this weird e-mail--" Blair interrupted. He stopped abruptly when Jim glared at him.
"I got a tip saying there are answers about this case at the Biomedical Lab at Rainier." Jim shifted his eyes from his partner to his captain. "It's a strange message; could be a joke, but we thought we'd check it out." He handed the printed copy of the message to Simon.
The captain slipped his glasses back on, taking the paper from Jim. He read the message quickly, his eyebrows crawling higher and higher on his forehead. He looked up at Jim. "Is this for real?"
"I don't know, sir. Like I said, we don't have any other leads right now; this may be legit."
"Clues 'R Us?" Simon shook his head. "Somebody needs to get an imagination." He chuckled, and handed back the paper to Ellison. "Well, check it out. Any idea who the, uh, 'Penny Man' might be?"
Jim and Blair traded a quick glance.
"Lincoln?" Blair said, shrugging.
The other two men sighed, looking dubiously at the anthropologist.
"Well, I'm trying here, guys! Give me a break!" He grinned, bouncing on his toes.
Simon sighed. "Okay, check it out, Jim. Let me know if anything turns up."
"You got it, sir. Come on, Darwin."
"What about Copperfield? Or Penney? Or Copperhead. Maybe Centurion? Century? Hey, maybe 'cents' like scents? Or senses?" Blair continued throwing out possibilities as they left the office.
The ride to the university was silent, each man absorbed in his thoughts. They were nearing the Rainier campus when Blair spoke. "You think Brackett's planning to pull something there again?"
"I'm not putting anything past him." Jim glared grimly at the vehicles in front of him as he waited for the traffic light to turn green. "He broke in there much too easily the first time. They've tightened their security since then, but I suspect that's not likely to stop him. Especially if he has a contact inside."
A few minutes later, they arrived at the Rainier campus, parked in the lot closest to their destination, and made their way into the Biomedical Research Lab. They chatted about various things as they walked.
From a building across the street, a pair of eyes followed their movements, staring through high-powered binoculars. A compact video recorder and long-range microphone mounted on a tripod silently recorded their movements and casual conversation. A rather lengthy record had already been made. But more was needed.
Once inside the building, Blair followed Jim to the building directory, which was posted near the elevators in a hallway off the lobby.
"Well, I'll be damned," Jim said softly.
"What?" Blair looked at the name Jim indicated. "Matthew Lincoln, PhD, Director, BioMedical Computer Engineering Lab, Room 345. So there is a Lincoln here! Hey, I was right!" He beemed at his partner.
"Yeah, I suppose it's bound to happen occasionally." Jim's lips twitched briefly. "And we're going to pay him a visit." He moved to push the call button for an elevator, only to discover there wasn't anything to push. A closer inspection revealed that a key was required to use the elevators. Moving to the stairway, he pulled on the door. Locked. Damn. "Well, I guess he'll have to come to us, if we can't go to him. Come on, Chief."
Blair followed him as he made his way to the reception desk. The nameplate on the desk read, "Ms. Perkins."
"Excuse me, ma'am. I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade Police Department. I need to speak to Dr. Matthew Lincoln," the detective requested of the gray-haired woman behind the desk, flashing his badge.
She started slightly when she saw the badge, staring at it nervously and then peering up at Jim. After a moment, she plastered a smile on her face and nodded. "Certainly, sir." She motioned for them to have a seat in the waiting area. "I'll inform Dr. Lincoln you're here," she told them as she picked up her telephone. They stepped a few feet away, but remained standing.
She glanced at them furtively as she talked with the person she had called, presumably Lincoln. After hanging up, she informed them that Dr. Lincoln was coming down to talk to them. She sat down and returned to her work, although she continued to toss curious looks in their direction.
Jim and Blair didn't have long to wait before a man exited the nearest elevator and waddled imperiously toward them. He was about forty years old and short, with a fire-plug shaped body. His mouse-brown hair was graying at the temples and pale gray-brown eyes peered at them from behind wire-rimmed glasses. Jim noted that the smile on the man's face was as false as it was wide.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen, I'm Matthew Lincoln, head of the Computer Engineering Lab. How can I help you today?"
Displaying his badge, Jim said, "I'm Detective Ellison with the Major Crime Unit of Cascade PD. This is my associate, Blair Sandburg. Can we speak to you in private, Doctor?"
Lincoln swallowed nervously, cleared his throat, and said, "Uh, certainly, Detective. This way." He led them to a door behind the reception area. It opened into a tiny conference room that held a small round table and four chairs; a telephone sat on a small table in one corner. Aside from the light switch and a sign instructing occupants how to leave the building in case of a fire, the walls were bare. "Have a seat, gentlemen." Lincoln gestured to the chairs. He shut the door after they had entered and awkwardly settled his squat body into the chair nearest the door.
Jim and Blair sat down at the table, and Jim spoke. "We have reason to believe there may be someone planning a crime, something to do with your facility."
"What are you talking about?" The man's gaze scanned the featureless room before returning to his visitors. "We haven't had any problems like that in a long time." He paused, squinting through his glasses at the two men sitting across the table. "Not since one maniac stole the Ebola virus and another took off with some nerve gas." He shuddered dramatically.
"That's exactly the problem, Dr. Lincoln. Lee Brackett, the 'maniac' who took the virus, has been released from prison."
At the mention of Brackett's release, Lincoln paled. Gulping quickly, he tried to recover his friendly facade. "Why do you think that has anything to do with us here? And why me? I don't even work with dangerous substances. Perhaps you should talk to campus security."
Jim watched the man carefully, tuning into Lincoln's heartbeat and respiration. Blair, knowing Jim was using his senses, leaned forward slightly so his arm brushed against Jim's, to keep him grounded.
Jim continued. "We received a tip that something may be happening here, something to do with you or your lab, specifically." Lincoln's heart began beating faster. Hmm, Jim thought. Interesting. Let's up the ante. "We were also told that you might know something about two murders that happened this week." Bingo! Lincoln's heartbeat sped up even more and his breath caught for a moment.
"M-murders?" Lincoln's voice was almost squeaking. "I-- Why are you talking to me? Why would I know anything about any murders?" His eyes widened.
Jim almost laughed at the man's histrionics. But years of practice kept his expression neutral. "Dr. Lincoln, is there anything here that someone, say Brackett, might find worthwhile to steal? Or something harmful he could use to hurt someone? Is there anything here he might be willing to kill two people for?"
With a rueful laugh, Lincoln shook his head sadly. "Not unless he's interested in rather unremarkable programming code or commonly used biomedical processes. After the last 'incident,' the Biomedical Lab lost its federal and state authorizations to house anything 'with the potential to harm humans or animals, directly or indirectly.'"
They could almost hear the quotation marks as he spoke.
Lincoln continued, not trying to hide the bitterness in his voice. "We're no longer trusted with anything vital. We're not even trusted with anything potentially vital. It's been more than a year and still we can't seem to get any government cooperation. No," he said pitifully, shaking his head, "there's nothing worth stealing -- or killing for -- here."
Jim had continued monitoring the man's physiological state. Despite the calm Lincoln was trying to project, his heart was thumping loud and hard in his chest and his breathing was rapid. The sentinel also noticed the fine sheen of sweat that had appeared on the man's forehead and above his lip.
Jim narrowed his eyes, his head tilting slightly to the right. "So there's nothing dangerous held here?"
"Of course not. I already told you that!" The man was actually spluttering in indignation as he spoke. "The most dangerous thing we have is the mold growing in our refrigerator."
Riiiight. All Jim's 'detective warning bells' were going off at full volume.
Lincoln continued. "We're no longer certified to test or even hold anything considered dangerous." He sniffed disdainfully at his two visitors. "Now, if there's nothing else, I have an experiment that needs my attention."
Jim noted that Lincoln's nervous symptoms seemed to be receding. The detective decided to give it one more try before releasing the man. Shifting in his seat, the detective said, "I just have one more question, Dr. Lincoln." He opened the files he was carrying, withdrawing pictures of Caine and Baxter. He set them on the table in front of the researcher. "Do you know either of these people?"
Lincoln's heart sped up again. But, consummate actor that he apparently was, his voice remained even. "No, I don't know the man. But Dr. Baxter works here at the lab occasionally. Why do you need to know?"
"They both were killed recently."
The man put his hand over his heart. His face showed the appropriate shock. "Oh, my! How awful. Do you know who did it?"
Keeping an eye -- and an ear -- on the man, Jim found himself admiring the doctor's acting skills. Lincoln's physiological responses did not come close to matching his dramatic display of shock and grief. The detective had no doubt that the man knew both victims and was not surprised at the news of their deaths. Had he helped Brackett kill them? Or perhaps he just knew they had been killed? Maybe he was the murderer. But then how did Brackett fit into all of this?
"Not yet. But don't worry, Doctor, we'll find out. Thank you for your help, Dr. Lincoln. Here's my card. Give me a call if you think of anything that might be important. And don't worry, if we find out anything else we'll be sure to let you know."
The researcher gingerly took the card from the detective and handled it nervously for a moment before stuffing it into his jacket pocket. "Yes, of course, Detective. I'll call if I think of anything." His earlier fake smile was again plastered on his face.
Jim stood and waited for Blair to exit the room before following him. Lincoln remained where he was seated, gazing fretfully after the two men.
Jim and Blair left the building, pulling on their jackets as they emerged into the drizzle. They had not gone far when Blair stopped. A man who had exited the Biomedical Lab building preceding them was walking along the adjacent sidewalk. "Hey, Jim, hang on a second." He turned toward the man. "Ron! Ron McGrath!"
McGrath, who was tall and gaunt with slightly stooped shoulders, increased his pace, not even glancing over his shoulder, though Blair's yell was loud enough that the man must have heard.
"Hey, Ron!" Blair tried again, breaking into a trot.
Finally, Ron stopped, giving a reluctant sigh that Jim's sensitive ears heard clearly, then turned around to look at Blair.
"How are you doing, Ron?" Blair came to a stop in front of Ron, grinning widely as he offered his hand to the man.
Ron swallowed, his bobbing Adam's apple prominent in his skinny neck. "Not too bad, Sandburg. Enjoying the classes I'm teaching," he answered, briefly shaking the proffered hand. His pale eyes flickered toward Jim, who stood at Blair's shoulder.
Blair turned to Jim and explained, "Ron, here, is a visiting professor in the Comp Sci department. He helped me set up a web-based tutorial for my students."
Jim nodded hello, reaching out to shake the man's bony hand. "Professor McGrath."
Blair turned to face Ron as he continued, "This is my friend, Detective Jim Ellison." Ron seemed to flinch slightly when he heard Jim's title, but Blair pressed on, unaware of his reaction. "I didn't realize you were involved in the Biomed Lab, man." Blair tipped his head toward the building McGrath had just left.
"Well, Dr. Lincoln invited me to join a project when he learned of my background. It was, um, rather intriguing, and I couldn't resist his offer." He started to glance around, as if looking for an escape.
Guessing that McGrath's connection to Lincoln was probably not a coincidence, especially given the mysterious e-mail and the timing of McGrath's appearance, Jim decided to push the issue. "Do you mind telling us what that project is about?"
A little flustered, Ron sputtered, "It...well...IÖI'm not at liberty to say. Confidentiality agreement and all." The protruding Adam's apple bounced up and down again.
"Of course." Jim smiled without humor. "It's just that we've got some information that there could be someone after something... perhaps some type of virus?"
At the mention of the word 'virus' Ron paled. He glanced at his watch and backed away, saying, "Oh, it's getting late. Sorry, I've got an appointment, I've really got to be going." He started hurrying away. "Uh, it was nice meeting you, Detec- Detective Ellison. Bye, Blair." He started to turn away, hugging his raincoat tightly around his thin body.
Blair, who had been watching the interaction between Ron and his partner, stepped forward, placing a hand on McGrath's arm. "Ron, are you in some kind of trouble?" As Ron paused, Blair persisted, "If you are, maybe we can help you."
"Professor," Jim said, "I don't mean to frighten you, but there have been two murders that may be tied to something that's going on in the Biomed labs. If you know anything you should tell us, please do. It's possible you might be in danger as well." Noting that the man seemed even more upset, Jim pressed one of his cards into his hand. "Here's my card. Call if you think of anything."
Looking around fearfully, not even seeming to hear Jim's words, Ron shrugged off Blair's hand and moved away, waving his hands in denial. "I don't know what you mean. I have to go...I'm late for my next lecture." This time, he scurried away before either man could say another word, Jim's card clutched in one thin hand.
"That went well." Blair stared after him, nonplussed.
"It's not that bad, Chief. At least we know something's up for sure. And we're starting to get a list of possible players. Now we figure out what they're up to."
"Are you forgetting I'm a detective? I'll detect."
Blair could hear the humor in his friend's voice. He followed his partner, shaking his head. "This'll be something to watch," he murmured.
"I heard that."
Blair grinned at Jim's back as they continued their trek through the softly falling rain toward the shelter of the truck.
~~ Act 3 ~~
Blair was slumped in a chair next to Jim's desk, reading an anthropology journal article. The bullpen hummed around him, the noise level ebbing and flowing as the various members of Major Crime went about their duties.
"Here it is," Jim crowed triumphantly as he pulled a sheet of paper off the printer.
"What?" Blair looked up from the article.
"I e-mailed Dr. Price, the woman who was in charge of the Ebola virus when Brackett stole it."
"Yeah," Jim rolled his eyes, "Sonia." It still annoyed him that she had chosen to tour the town with Sandburg rather than with him. "Anyway, she never heard of Sean Caine or Marcia Baxter. However, she says your friend Ron McGrath was the computer consultant on a Virology Task Force in Spokane three years ago."
"And that means..." Blair trailed off, eyebrows raised questioningly.
"It means he worked on projects dealing with viruses for the CDC."
"Which means?" Blair continued to look quizzically at his partner.
"Chief, who's supposed to be the smart one here?" Jim ignored the finger Blair flashed at him and continued, "It means he was on a team that had access to restricted viruses."
"And, in the course of his work, he may have been able to 'borrow' one? Maybe that was the background he was referring to."
"Exactly." Jim smirked at his partner. "Told you I could detect."
"Oh, yeah, you're the king, Jim." Blair grinned cheekily as Jim reciprocated the disrespectful gesture. "So where does that leave us?"
"I'm going to arrange to have McGrath picked up for questioning."
"You don't think that will tip our hand?"
"No. Besides, we don't have much of a hand to tip. I'm hoping this will deal us a better one."
"Love the analogy, Jim," Blair said dryly, a smirk on his face.
Jim's comeback was cut off by the sound of his phone ringing. He snatched up the receiver. "Ellison," he said curtly. After listening for a few minutes, he said, "Okay. Pernici's, forty minutes," and hung up. "Grab your jacket, Chief, we've got a meeting."
Standing at the far end of the counter in Pernici's Deli, Sandburg asked, "So what exactly did he say again?" He began tapping his foot in agitation.
Jim peered around his partner, watching the entry to the warm, bustling deli for Ron McGrath. "I already told you. McGrath said he was hired to work on a virus, but he's now afraid that what he knows is going to get him killed. He said he'd meet us here to talk."
"He didn't say anything about who he works for or why?"
Jim sighed in exasperation. "Sandburg... that's all he said!" After waiting a beat, he snapped, "Stop shaking your foot."
"Okay, okay. Sorry, man. Calm down!" Blair shook his head and watched his partner as they waited. Jim seemed unusually tense. Wondering if Brackett was the reason for that tension, he said, "I just don't like the idea of Brackett hanging around."
Jim glanced at him, then back to the door. "Neither do I, but we have no proof that it's Brackett who's behind these murders, just our suspicions. And Lincoln's involved somehow, too. Hopefully McGrath can shed some light on this."
Blair started tapping his foot again. Jim glared at him, irritated. Blair smiled in an attempt to appease his tense partner and raised his cup, taking a sip of his coffee. Without realizing it, he then started tapping the side of the cup.
Jim was about to swat at his partner's fidgety fingers when the detective straightened. Looking out the wide windows of the deli, he saw Ron McGrath striding toward the door, looking around nervously as he walked.
"There he is, let's go." Jim tossed his cup in the trash and walked toward the door. Blair dropped his cup after Jim's and hurriedly followed.
They were almost to the door when they saw McGrath stiffen, reach awkwardly toward his back with one hand, then collapse with a look of shock and pain on his face. Racing through the door to his side, Jim quickly began checking the limp body. Blair tried to keep back the curious people who were beginning to crowd around them, while simultaneously dialing 911 on his cell phone.
"Is he dead?" he quietly asked his partner while waiting for the operator to respond.
Jim shook his head. "Not yet. Shot in the back. No exit wound that I can find." He shot a meaningful look at his partner, and then returned his focus to McGrath, continuing first aid.
The 911 operator answered, and Blair turned his attention to the call, succinctly requesting an ambulance and police backup at their location. He was put on hold as she dispatched the units.
While he waited, Blair looked down at McGrath. The man was bleeding from the middle of his back. Jim had placed McGrath on his stomach, his head turned to one side, with Jim's jacket cushioning it. Jim had slipped on a pair of latex gloves -- he always kept some with him for collecting evidence. Now he pressed one gloved hand down firmly on the wound to try to staunch the flow of blood.
"Jim?" Blair asked softly, the phone still pressed to his ear. "Didn't you hear the gun?" Blair kept his voice down so the curious bystanders wouldn't hear him.
"I didn't hear anything!" Jim snapped back. "Wait a minute.... Chief, his back feels... cold."
"Jim, c'mon, man, it's wet and chilly out here. Everything's cold!"
"No." Jim shook his head impatiently. "I mean around his wound. The skin is cold where the bullet entered."
Blair looked at him, confused. Before he could ask any more questions, the operator came back on the line, and he focused on providing her with the additional information she needed.
"It's okay, Jim, there was nothing you could have done for him. His aorta was nicked and he would have bled out no matter what you did." Blair looked around the loft, wishing there was something he could say that would make his friend feel better.
Jim, sitting on the couch, put his head into his hands. "I should have been able to hear something. See something. Warn him or protect him. Something, dammit!"
"You probably did hear something," Blair commented sitting in the chair next to him.
Jim raised his head and looked at him dubiously, cocking an eyebrow.
"C'mon, you know the drill. Let's access that fabulous sensory memory you have." Sandburg reached over and gently pushed the sentinel backward until Jim rested against the back of the couch. "Now, relax, Jim, and listen to my voice."
Jim complied and soon his Blair's soothing voice made the tension lessen and disappear. His muscles relaxed and his breathing slowed and deepened. He easily slid into the trance-like state they had found allowed him to recall sensory details with an astonishing degree of accuracy.
"Now, think back to when we were waiting in the deli," the low, comforting voice continued. "I was talking to you, you had told me to stop tapping my foot. I took a drink of coffee, and then you spotted Ron. You started for the door. What were you hearing?"
His eyes closed, Jim tipped his head to one side, as if he were actually listening now, not remembering something that had happened hours before. "Two women discussing their shopping trip, an argument about the price of a sandwich, and...A couple making out in the back."
Blair snickered softly at the mention of the couple, then suppressed his amusement to focus on the task at hand. "Okay, good. That's good, Jim. Now block out all the people talking and tell me what you heard as we got up to the door, just before McGrath collapsed."
"Food cooking, telephones, lots of traffic, a siren a few blocks away, some road repair equipment, more people talking, and...Something else," Jim frowned in memory. His head tipped a bit more to the side as he concentrated.
"What else?" Blair prompted.
"A hiss. Sounded like an air leak or something."
"That's good, that's good. Anything else?" Blair strove to keep his voice low and even, despite his excitement.
"No! There's no gunshot or hammer being cocked or anything like that." He opened his eyes back up to gaze at his partner. His face revealed his frustration. "Dammit, Blair. A hiss of air? What good is that?"
Blair made a calming motion with his hands. "Okay, Jim, take it easy. I think the hissing noise is important. You picked it up out of all the other miscellaneous clatter around you. We should concentrate on finding out what that was." Blair got up and started pacing the room.
The sentinel leaned back against the couch again. After a moment, he said, "Maybe someone ran over a nail, and it punctured their tire."
"Is that what it sounded like?" Blair stopped pacing for a moment, turning to face his partner.
"Mmm....No....Not exactly." He watched Blair resume his rounds. "We should call the morgue. See if they've found anything," Jim said, changing the subject.
"I can guess they'll say, 'No, there's nothing to find.' Assuming it's the same as the others, which it sure seems like it is." Blair plopped back in the chair, face crunched as he thought about his friend's death. "Damn. Ron was a nice guy, too. He helped me with that program." He shook his head and buried his face in his hands. "Man, we told him to trust us, and look where it got him."
Jim took a deep breath, studying Blair carefully, not quite sure what he could say to ease the young man's burden. He knew it was difficult for Blair when someone died, especially if he had known the person. Shaking himself from his thoughts, Jim stood and moved to the phone, briefly resting a hand on Blair's shoulder in silent support as he passed him.
While Jim called the station, Blair again stood, walking over to the balcony and looking pensively out over the city.
Jim joined him a few minutes later, standing close enough that their shoulders just touched. He, too, looked out over their city.
"Any luck?" Blair finally asked when Jim remained silent.
"No. No bullet, no nothing. Just like Caine and Baxter. The lab reports have started coming in from those two, though. They detected minute amounts of an as-yet-unidentified chemical in the tissues surrounding the entry wounds. They're working on figuring out what it is. It might help us understand how they were killed."
Blair glanced at Jim then turned to look outside again. "Do you think he's still out there?" he asked, his voice hushed.
"Who? Brackett?" Jim felt Blair nod next to him. "I'm sure he hasn't given up on whatever scheme he's cooked up. I just hope we're able to find the answer before we lose any more people. Come on, Chief, we'd better get some sleep." He draped his hand around his friend's shoulder as they turned away from the balcony doors, again lending him his support.
Blair peered past the windshield wipers that were valiantly trying to keep the window clear of the omnipresent rain. "Uh, Jim, I thought you were going to drop me off at Hargrove Hall. Why are we back here?" he asked as they pulled up to the Biomedical Lab once again.
"Lincoln is central to all this, the common factor in all the murders. We have to figure out what the key is."
"Well, we've got to hurry, man. I have a meeting in forty minutes."
As they walked toward the entrance of the lab building, rain slid down under Blair's collar, tracing a cold, wet trail down his back and making him shiver. It reminded him of the too-cool shower he'd taken that morning. Jim had used more than his share of the hot water -- again. He looked appraisingly at Jim, his eyes narrowed and his lips curling slightly in irritation. "Hey, Jim, you suppose they'd rent me a lab or something, cheap?"
Jim looked at him, confusion written in the lines on his face.
"Well, it's a lab, they've got to have showers, right? And I'll bet they don't run out of hot water here!"
Jim gently swatted the back of Blair's head, shaking water droplets loose from his damp curls. "Let's go, funnyman," the detective said as he held the door open.
The receptionist saw them coming and swiftly picked up the phone. After speaking quickly, she hung it up and faced them. "At Dr. Lincoln's standing request, I've called security, gentlemen, so if you will leave now, there will not be a problem."
"I don't see us having a problem, ma'am," Jim responded coldly. "This is an official police investigation into two -- make that three -- murders. I'll speak to whomever I need to, and your security people will not hinder me, or I'll arrest them for interfering with a police investigation. Furthermore, if you interfere, I'll have to arrest you as well. Now, I just want to discuss something with Dr. Lincoln. Let him know we're here, will you?"
Gulping, she seemed to shrink in on herself a bit. "I'm afraid he's not here. He hasn't come in yet this morning."
"Well, Ms. Perkins," Jim said, glancing at the name plate on her desk, "maybe you can help me." Jim turned slightly and acknowledged the two security guards who had come to stand behind them. "Gentlemen. I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade PD." He flashed his badge. "I'm investigating a series of murders. I trust you won't be interfering?" He gave them a cold look and turned back to the woman. The guards glanced at the receptionist and then at each other. Finally they stepped back a few feet, evidently not eager to cross the police detective.
The receptionist gave the security men a dirty look when they backed away, then turned to Jim. "Well, what is it?" she snapped defensively.
The detective opened the file folder he was carrying and brought out a picture of the first victim. "Do you recognize this man?"
After giving him a suspicious look, she glanced at the pictures. Then she wrinkled her brow and her entire demeanor changed. "Why, yes, of course. He's a researcher for Mr. Lincoln's project," she stated, puzzled.
Blair glanced at Jim, then at Ms. Perkins. "You mean Sean Caine worked here, too?"
She looked up at the two men and said, "Well...yes. He works in Lab D, although come to think of it, I haven't seen him for a few days."
"Do Marcia Baxter and Ron McGrath work in Lab D as well?" Jim questioned, pointing at the other two pictures he had put on the desk.
"Why, yes. Yes, they do. What is this all about?" She was starting to look a bit concerned. Remembering that the detective had mentioned three murders, she finally seemed to realize that these three people in the pictures must have been the victims of the murders. Her face paled suddenly, and she sank back into her chair. "You mean they were...they were the ones who were killed?" Her voice was a whisper.
"Are you all right, ma'am?" Jim asked.
"Um, yes, yes, I am," she said softly. "I just, I didn't know...."
"Ma'am?" It was one of the security men. "Do you need us any more? It's time for us to make our rounds."
She shook her head, "No, everything is under control. Thank you for coming." The security guards disappeared around the corner, leaving the three alone in the lobby.
Blair had moved around the reception desk when the woman had paled. He kneeled next to her and gently patting her hand where it rested on the arm of her chair. "Are you all right, Ms. Perkins?"
"I will be. Thank you, young man. It's just such a shock. It also explains--" She suddenly stopped talking, as if afraid of revealing something she shouldn't.
"Explains what, Ms. Perkins?" Jim encouraged, his voice low and non-threatening.
"Well..." She paused, glancing down where Blair was patting her hand. She looked into Blair's sympathetic eyes, then back up at the tall detective. "Matt--Dr. Lincoln--has been rather...stressed lately."
Jim nodded slightly, continuing to look steadily at her.
"I mean, well, he's been gone for long periods of time lately, and normally he practically lives here." She took a deep breath, and continued. "And when he's been around, he's been edgy. Nervous, you know? Looking over his shoulder, that kind of thing. He's been sending and receiving a lot of faxes, too. I normally don't see his faxes, of course, but his machine went on the fritz for a few days, and he asked me to handle his 'in and out' faxes until it was repaired," she explained.
"Do you have any idea what the faxes concerned, ma'am?"
She squirmed. It was obvious that she knew something, but was uncomfortable admitting that she had looked at information she shouldn't have. "Um..."
"Ma'am, it's important that we know what you've seen. Someone has killed three people already. We want to stop them before anyone else is hurt. Please, what were the faxes regarding?"
"Well, they were about a virus." Her voice was so low that Jim wouldn't have heard her if not for his sentinel hearing.
"A virus? Like the Ebola virus?" Jim asked sharply, exchanging a quick look with Blair.
"No! Oh, no, nothing like that!" She seemed appalled that he would even consider such a thing. "A computer virus."
"A computer virus?" Jim looked doubtfully at Blair.
"Could be valuable, Jim. Depends on what it does," Blair said, as if reading Jim's thoughts. "It could be designed to extract and transmit confidential information, such as industrial secrets, for example."
Jim thought for a moment then nodded. "Okay. Ma'am, do you know who he was exchanging faxes with?"
"No, not offhand. He just gave me phone numbers, not any names."
"Can we get the records of those faxes? We can trace the phone numbers, find out who he was in touch with."
"Certainly," she said crisply. She rose and moved over to the credenza where a copy machine, printer, and fax machine sat. Efficiently pressing the appropriate keys, she produced a report of all fax calls in and out for the previous month. "This should cover most of them," she said, handing the sheet to Jim.
"Thank you, Ms. Perkins. Chief? I'm going to call Simon, let him know what we've found. Excuse me, ma'am," he said, nodding to the woman as he stepped away from the desk and punched a button on his phone.
Blair turned his most reassuring smile on the receptionist, telling her that they really appreciated her help. They could hear the murmur of Jim's voice as he spoke on his cell phone.
"Well, sure. I mean, someone killed them...." Suddenly she stiffened slightly and asked, "What about Nick?"
Jim, alerted by the sudden change in her posture, pulled the phone away from his ear. "Who?"
"He's the other researcher on the project, isn't he in your files?"
"Simon, I'll call you back. Okay, sir." Tucking the phone in his pocket, Jim stepped up to the desk again. "No, his name hasn't come up yet. What's his full name?" Jim pulled his notebook and pen out, setting the pad on the counter.
"His name is Nick Isacks, and he works at Geiger Electronics on Federal Avenue."
Jim nodded when Blair murmured, "Caine."
"Can you give us his address, phone numbers, some way to contact him?"
She looked uncertain about whether she should give out personal information, even if it was to the police.
"Please, Ms. Perkins. Mr. Isacks' life might depend on our finding him before the murderer does."
She gulped, then turned and pulled out a file. Flipping through it quickly, she located the information on Isacks. She pulled the card and put it in the copy machine, punching the COPY button quickly. She handed the copy to Jim and re-filed the card.
"Thank you, Ms. Perkins. Someone will be contacting you for your statement. Will you be here for the next couple of hours?" Jim tucked his notebook and the folded papers she had given him into his jacket pocket.
"Yes, I work until 5:30."
"Okay, thank you again. Here's my card in case you need to reach me." He set it on her desk. "Come on, Chief." Jim turned to leave.
Blair stood, patting the woman on the shoulder. "Thank you so much. We'll be out of your hair now." He smiled again at the woman.
She smiled back, and then looked at Jim. "Detective?"
Jim halted, turning to look at her again. "Yes?"
"Dr. Lincoln's always been somewhat...ruthless in getting grants and such, but I never thought he'd take it that far."
"We'll find out what happened, Ms. Perkins. Don't worry." Jim smiled at her, his previously stern face softening. With a departing nod, he turned and headed toward the exit.
Blair walked alongside Jim, hurrying his pace to keep up. "Okay, well, I've got to get to my meeting, man. Think you can handle this from here?"
"I'll try to manage, Sandburg," Jim said dryly. "I'm heading over to Geiger Electronics to have a talk with Mr. Isacks."
"Good luck. I'll catch you later. And, Jim? Be careful, man."
Two hours later, Blair was leaving Hargrove Hall. He heard his name being called and turned to see Jack Kelso wheeling along the sidewalk toward him.
"Hey, Blair! How's the investigation going?" the professor asked when he was close enough.
"Pretty good. We found out all the victims worked at the Biomedical Lab on a project together. Jim's hunting down the last of the group."
"That's good news. Have you figured out who the killer is?"
"We thought at first that it was Brackett, but now we suspect the guy who's heading the project, a Dr. Matthew Lincoln."
"Don't know him," Jack said, shaking his head slightly.
"Well, we're in the process of trying to pin down a few more details, then I think Jim's going to get warrants for his arrest and to search his lab."
"I'm glad you're making progress on the case."
"Well, we think we've got the motive and the murderer, but we still haven't been able to figure out how the killer is doing it."
"What do you mean?" Adjusting the satchel resting in his lap, Jack tilted his head as he listened.
Blair quickly explained the circumstances surrounding the "unexplainable" deaths, and the apparently vanishing bullets. He even mentioned his earlier comments to Jim about the Dick Tracy ice gun, with a self-deprecating grin. He trailed off when he saw Kelso's expression. "Is something wrong, Jack?"
"I hate to say it, but that sounds awfully familiar. You got time to come to my office?"
"Hey, if it'll solve this case, I have nothing but time." Blair tightened his grip on his backpack as they turned toward Jack's office.
Kelso looked warily around the campus grounds as they started toward the Poly Sci building. "Have you heard any more from Brackett?"
Blair shook his head angrily. "Jim caught him spying on us, but he got away. We haven't seen or heard from him other than that."
"Well, as they say, that may be good news."
"Yeah, that's what they say." Blair didn't sound convinced. A few minutes later they made their way up the ramp to the door of the Poly Sci building. Blair held it open as Jack wheeled into the brightly lit hallway.
~~ Act 4 ~~
Jim sat in the waiting room of Isacks' office. No amount of strong-arming had gotten him any closer to the man. He simply had to wait for Isacks' meeting to be over. Finally, three people filed silently from the inner office and headed into the hall. After speaking briefly to Isacks over the telephone, the receptionist signaled that Jim could enter the office.
"Yes, how may I help you?"
Jim brought out his badge and flashed it. "I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade PD. I have a few questions to ask you."
"Should I get my lawyer?" he asked, smirking, and signaling Jim to have a seat. Isacks sat down smoothly in the tall-backed leather chair behind the desk, running one lean hand over his thinning hair.
Jim sat down and replied seriously, "You might want to." Nick Isacks' smile faltered, and Jim continued. "Have you been working on a project at Rainier Biomedical Lab?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"In the last four days, there have been three deaths, all people associated with the project. I'd like to prevent any others. We were told you also work on the project. That means you could be the next target."
As Jim relayed this information, Nick's face drained of all color. "Who? Who died?" he whispered.
"The victims were Sean Caine, Marcia Baxter, and Ron McGrath."
Nick fell back in his chair, gasping. "Oh, my God, he killed them." His hand again smoothed his hair down, in what appeared to be a nervous habit.
"Who killed them?" Jim watched the man carefully, monitoring his vital signs to see if Isacks was telling the truth.
"Matt Lincoln. It had to have been him." Isacks' eyes seemed haunted.
"What were you and the others working on?"
"A computer virus protection program. We informally called it a virus seeker," Isacks said guardedly.
"A virus protection program? We had heard it was a virus program." Jim watched the man as he fidgeted.
"No, it was designed to actively protect systems against viruses...sort of like an 'intelligent' computer immune system." His voice was very quiet. "But, I swear, I was helping to guard against viruses, not cause problems!"
Jim sighed. "I suppose a program like that would be worth a tidy sum. Would it be enough to kill for? Is that why you think Lincoln would want your coworkers dead? "
Isacks looked at Jim for a moment, as if measuring his trustworthiness. The hand slid over his hair again, once, twice. Then he sighed. He leaned forward again, resting his hands on his desk. Unable to remain still, he began fiddling with a paper clip he picked up from his desk. Finally, he spoke softly, his eyes lowered. "Ron found out Lincoln was in debt -- in serious debt -- and had embezzled some of his grant money to pay it off. Ron decided that he wanted a piece of the pie, so he started to blackmail him." Isacks hesitated before continuing, then met Jim's eyes levelly. "I didn't have anything to do with it, I swear. And as far as I know Marcia and Sean didn't either. I'm not even sure they knew anything about the embezzling or blackmail. Lincoln must have assumed we all knew...." The man's eyes suddenly grew wide and he looked at Jim with a panicked expression. "Oh, my God, you really think he'll try to kill me, too?"
"It's possible, Mr. Isacks. We can provide protection for you until this is settled. So you think the blackmail was the reason Lincoln would have killed the others?"
Isacks again smoothed his thinning hair back, his gaze falling to the desk again. "Maybe. But the four of us also suspected that Lincoln might be trying to sell the virus seeker on the open market. But he wouldn't be able to do that if we're -- if I'm still alive. He couldn't risk us turning him in, I suppose. Lincoln's always been highly paranoid and rather ruthless." He raised his eyes, and Jim could see the fear in them. "He's got to kill me."
"Don't worry. You'll be placed in protective custody immediately. Excuse me a moment. I'll call my captain, get the arrangements started." Jim pulled out his cell phone and called Simon. He briefly explained what Isacks had told him, and they made arrangements for the scientist to be picked up by two plainclothes officers, who would then whisk him to a secure location. After concluding the short phone conversation, Jim looked back at the nervous man. "Why didn't you know something had happened to your fellow workers until now?"
"We have, uh, had--" the man swallowed, remembering for a moment the fate of his colleagues. He cleared his throat, and continued. "We often didnít see each other for days. We each were involved in different aspects of the project, and Lincoln had us working different schedules. It wasn't unusual for us to go a week or more without seeing each other. It was an unusual situation."
"Riiight." Jim shook his head slightly. "I suggest you take care of anything that needs your attention, sir. You will most likely be out of touch for a few days."
"Yes, of course." Isacks signaled his secretary, who quickly entered the office. He started giving her a long list of things to take care of.
Blair rushed into the bullpen looking for his partner and nearly crashed into Brown. "What's up, Hairboy?" H grabbed Blair's shoulders and helped him regain his balance, then looked down at the younger man with a hint of amusement.
"Sorry, H. I didn't hurt you, did I?" Blair smiled a little when Henri shook his head. "I'm looking for Jim."
"He's down getting a couple warrants; he's cracked that case you were working on," Henri reported, gesturing in the direction of the elevator. "Not yet," Blair replied heading to Jim's desk. "Don't tell me you have information the great Jim Ellison doesn't have?" H said, grinning.
"Not for long, he doesn't, H," came Ellison's amused voice. They turned as he approached. Jim's mouth tipped up on one side. "Don't you have some work to do, Brown, or are you waiting for Sandburg's help again?"
"Again? What are you talking about, man?" H put a surprised look on his face, spreading his hands in a gesture of innocence. Then he laughed and patted Jim's shoulder. "Don't worry about me, Ellison. I have Rafe to solve all my hard cases." Shaking his head and still grinning, he grabbed his jacket. "Speaking of Rafe, he's waiting downstairs for me. Later, guys!" He waved and headed to the elevator.
"So, what you got, Chief?" the detective asked, plucking his jacket from the coat tree and starting to put it on.
"The murder weapon."
That statement stopped Jim with one arm in his jacket; he looked at his now-smirking partner in astonishment. "What...? How...? Where did you find it?"
"Jack Kelso figured it all out."
"You have it now?" Jim started to move toward his partner.
"No, man, I don't have it." Blair rolled his eyes, holding out his empty hands. "But I do know what kind of weapon is being used. Jack thought my description of the 'disappearing bullets' sounded familiar and so he checked some of his old files. In them was a reference to a project called 'Arctic Blast.'"
"And that is..."
"A gun that fires bullets made of ice," Blair said. "Real-life Dick Tracy!" he added smugly.
"Ice bullets." Jim looked at him disbelievingly. He finished sliding on his jacket.
"Yup. Ice bullets. See? I was right! You gotta start listening to me more, man!" Blair was bouncing on his toes.
"Ice bullets." Jim said again, nodding slowly. "And you're never going to let me forget this, are you?" He turned and started toward the elevator.
"Nope." Blair couldn't stop grinning. He practically danced next to Jim as they walked to the elevator.
Jim pushed the DOWN button and looked at his excited friend. "Ice, huh? Hence the cold around the wound."
"Yup. And the lack of a bullet in the body. Jack had thought the project had been canned, but apparently someone finished it up. Someone at Rainier's Biomedical Lab, coincidentally enough," Blair said sardonically.
"Hm. I wonder if our Dr. Lincoln might know this person," Jim said thoughtfully.
"That would be my guess." Blair gazed at his friend.
"Does Jack know how this 'ice gun' works?"
Blair became animated again, his hands flying as he described the prototype weapon. "The original plans had bullets kept on dry ice until they're needed. The ice bullets had a special chemical added to slow the melting process until introduced into a warm body. Then--"
"Chemical? Do you know what it was?"
The elevator arrived, its doors sliding silently open. Two people got off the elevator and walked past Jim and Blair toward Major Crime. The partners stepped inside the car and Jim pressed the button for the garage level, and resumed their conversation.
"Uh, no, Jack didn't know or else didn't tell me, why?"
"Remember the chemical residue in the tissues around the victims' wounds, Chief?"
The door slid shut, and the car started moving smoothly down.
"Yeah! I'll bet that's what it's from. Anyway, the bullets were loaded into a specially designed, high-speed ceramic rifle--"
"Ceramic so it could be carried past metal detectors, I presume," Jim said.
"Yeah, I'd guess that would be why. " Blair paused for a moment, watching the floor indicators switch on and off as they descended. "Anyway, the ice bullets were propelled from the gun using compressed carbon dioxide. Once a bullet enters the body, where it is exposed to the necessary temperature, it starts melting almost immediately. So by the time an autopsy is performed, there's no sign of it."
Jim nodded slowly. "Other than the minute traces of chemicals in surrounding tissues."
Blair looked at him expectantly.
"I'm still finding this hard to believe, Chief. How could an ice bullet withstand the explosive force of discharge? And how could it penetrate a body? Wouldn't it shatter on impact?"
"Well, apparently the chemical helps prevent that. And Jack mentioned that the bullets had a special shape that greatly improves penetration."
Jim shook his head slightly, a small smile on his lips. "Well, okay, if you say so, Darwin. Hey, thank Jack for me."
"Why did he use the ice gun? I mean, why not just a regular gun?"
"Hard to know, Chief. Maybe he hoped to keep us running in circles. Or maybe he didn't have easy access to a traditional weapon. The guy must be quite a shot, given his accuracy."
The elevator slowed, stopped, then opened. They walked out, heading into the garage.
"Hey, Jim, what did H mean about you cracking the case, anyway?"
Jim quickly updated Blair about the virus-seeker program, Lincoln's apparent embezzlements, and his possible attempts to sell the virus. "Also, we checked up on the phone numbers for the faxes. There were initial faxes sent to people in top positions at several high-tech companies. The last dozen were exchanged with a Douglas Finch, vice-president of marketing, at Evergreen Techware, in Seattle."
"He's the one who was going to buy it?"
Jim nodded. "Apparently. Unfortunately, we don't have enough proof yet to arrest Finch. But we're working on it."
"Damn. All this is over a computer anti-virus program."
"And a few hundred thousand in embezzled grant money. I know, the world's a crazy place."
He pulled out his keys, searching for the truck key. "Let's get over to Lincoln's house. I've got the warrant for his arrest, and Simon is sending some uniforms to the Biomedical Lab with the warrant to search it for the program. Forensics will be going with them to look for the gun and virus seeker, among other things."
Blair started to agree when he was suddenly shoved down hard; stunned, he found himself lying on the floor of the garage. Jim was squatting next to him, peering out toward the street and adjacent alley across from the entrance to the garage. He swiftly pulled his weapon from its holster.
Blair's startled, "What's going on?" was explained when he heard what had to be an ice bullet shattering on a nearby car. Moments later, another hit the pavement, then a third smashed against the wall behind them. Shards of ice sprayed the ground.
Noticing a few other people coming into the garage, probably drawn by the unusual sounds, Jim shouted, "Get down! Shooter! Down!" The men and women quickly ducked behind the nearest shelter. Those who were armed pulled out their weapons, searching carefully for the person who was firing at them.
Blair watched his partner carefully seek his target. "How'd you know?" Blair asked, amazed.
"I heard the release of CO2. That's the noise I couldn't identify when McGrath was killed."
Blair shook himself out of his stunned state and decided lying in the open wasn't the smartest idea. Dropping his backpack, he pulled his legs under his body until he was squatting and scooted behind the nearest vehicle, seeking better shelter from the icy death splattering nearby. "Can you spot him?"
Jim concentrated on the noises around him, filtering out all but the hiss of the weapon, and quickly zeroed in on the sniper. "He's behind the dumpster in the alley outside." Jim listened a bit more. "He's muttering about being out of bullets. He's going to make a break for it." Jim was already on the move as he barked the last words.
Blair sprinted after Jim and saw him disappear around the corner. Blair followed, almost slipping in a puddle near the entrance of the alley. He saw Jim tear down the alley, chasing the suspect. The fleeing man flung the weapon toward Jim, trying to slow him down. Jim smoothly deflected the weapon, which crashed off the brick wall and landed with a muted thud on a pile of twine-tied corrugated cardboard. The detective doggedly continued after the man.
Blair slowed as he neared the street where Jim and the perp had gone. Two uniformed officers who had been in the garage with them ran by, guns drawn, to provide backup for the detective. He heard Jim yelling at the perp and peeked around the corner. Jim had the situation under control.
With the two armed officers there to help Jim, Blair turned back to keep an eye on the weapon. He moved slowly toward the weapon that lay cracked on the pile of mushy cardboard. He knew better than to touch it, figuring there would be plenty of fingerprints on it. He examined it as best he could without touching it as he waited for forensics to arrive.
Jim caught up to the shooter just around the corner. Lincoln might be a gifted researcher, but he was in lousy physical shape. Ellison grabbed him around the throat and threw his chunky body against the brick wall. "I really don't appreciate someone using my partner and me for target practice," he growled, his face only inches from Lincoln's. "I'm going to read you your rights, and then you're going to tell me everything I want to know." Jim slammed him against the unforgiving surface again for emphasis before twisting him around so he was leaning against the wall, hands splayed out on the bricks. After quickly frisking Lincoln, Jim yanked out his handcuffs and restrained him, explaining his rights with the ease of long practice.
By the time the detective was finished and asked him if he understood his rights, Lincoln was sputtering and blustering, demanding his lawyer in a whiny voice.
"Very well, Lincoln. We'll talk in a little while." Glancing at the two uniforms, he said, "Take him in and book him, guys."
They moved closer. Each took one of Lincoln's arms and led him toward the station. The cuffed man continued whining as he waddled awkwardly between them.
Ellison watched them until they had turned into the alley. Then he went to find his partner.
Forensics personnel, along with what seemed like half of the officers from the station, were swarming around the alley, taking pictures and carefully collecting the now-defunct ice gun. Blair looked up as Jim entered the alley. He had just seen the two officers haul Lincoln toward the station and knew Jim would not be far behind.
Blair moved toward his friend. "You okay, man?"
"Now I am, Chief. You all right?"
Blair nodded, falling into step alongside Jim as they headed toward the station. Blair grabbed his backpack as they went through the garage and walked toward the elevator.
Before going to Major Crime to write up their statements, they stopped by the booking area to be sure everything was being taken care of. Lincoln was booked on three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. Additional charges, including embezzling and fraud, would be added once all the details had been sorted out.
Jim arranged to have the man brought upstairs for questioning once he was processed. Then Blair and Jim went upstairs to fill Simon in on the situation.
Jim and Blair were telling Simon about Lincoln's interrogation. Jim had spent an hour and forty-five minutes with the perp in the interrogation room, using Ellison Intimidation Techniques Number 3 and Number 5, according to a grinning Blair. And Lincoln had, understandably, cracked under the pressure. Despite his lawyer's repeated whispered urgings to be quiet, the man had finally spilled everything. Not too surprisingly, given the unusual weapon he had used, he admitted that he had received assistance from "someone high up in the government."
"But he agreed to give up his sources, is that right?" Simon stared at the two men in front of him. Sandburg had taken up residence on the table in his office, while Jim was leaning against the frame of one of the windows, arms crossed over his broad chest.
"Well, I think Lincoln figured it'd be easier than getting shoved through a wall." Blair grinned at his glowering partner.
"I wasn't going to push him all the way through, Chief," Jim said sulkily; the twinkle in his eye belied his tone. "I was just going to...dent it a little."
"So who was his contact?" Simon asked.
"He hasn't told us yet. I think he's hoping to use it to force the D.A. to work him a deal of some sort."
"Damn." Simon rubbed his forehead as the week's stress finally caught up to him. "But you think it was Brackett?"
"Hard to know, sir, without any way of tying them together."
"Did you get the statement from the Isacks about his involvement?"
"Yes, sir. Unfortunately, he never had any contact with anyone higher than Lincoln; he won't be able to help us any further along those lines. But he had some paper documentation about McGrath blackmailing Lincoln that will corroborate the motive. And he has been released from protective custody now that Lincoln's been captured."
Simon was about to answer when his phone rang. "Banks," he barked into the receiver. Jim and Blair unabashedly eavesdropped on their side of the call. "What do you mean? No chance?" The two listening men perked up at hearing this. "He refuses? What about Isacks?"
At this, Blair dropped his head onto his chest and mumbled something under his breath.
Simon finished his phone call with a terse, "Fine. Yes, I understand. No, I don't like it. Yes, fine. Good-bye."
"Lincoln's getting off, isn't he?" Blair asked bleakly.
"No, Sandburg, on the contrary; he's going to prison for a long, long time." Simon took off his glasses and pinched the top of his nose, trying to stave off an impending headache. "Lincoln's not the problem."
"What do you mean, sir?" Jim spoke up.
"Nick Isacks has been taken into federal custody and is unavailable for a trial or further questioning."
"Why?" Blair asked.
"I don't know. It's 'classified'." Simon shook his head, disgusted with the often-confusing machinations of the federal government.
"And?" Jim prompted.
"And by the time our forensics crew arrived at Rainier Lab, the place was spotless. There was nothing out of place. Nothing on any of the computers -- not just no files, the entire system had been wiped clean. The topper is that Dr. Lincoln's house 'mysteriously' burned down this afternoon shortly after he was arrested. Luckily, no one was hurt in the fire, but it's a total loss."
"So they won?" Blair asked, confused.
"No, Sandburg, we caught a dangerous criminal who will be locked away for a long time and we have taken the prototype for that weapon off the streets. But we can't win at everything."
"I'd like it better."
"Wouldn't we all, Sandburg. Go on, you two. Get out of here. I have work to do," he said gruffly. His slight smile as he waved them out betrayed his affection for the two men.
"C'mon, Chief, I'll spring for some of that tofu crap you like so much." He put his arm around Blair, pushing him out of Simon' office.
"It's not 'crap,' Jim. Just because something doesn't have 500 grams of fat in it does not make it crap."
"Sure, sure," Jim smiled at his partner's prattle and almost crashed into him when Blair abruptly came to a stop.
"What's he doing here?" Blair asked angrily, nodding his head in the direction of Jim's desk. There, sitting in Jim's chair like he owned the place, was Lee Brackett.
"What are you up to now, Brackett?" bellowed Jim, stalking toward his tormentor. Others in the room stopped to stare.
Brackett smiled genially before answering Jim's question. "Why, I just stopped by to congratulate you two on a job well done." Standing, he offered his hand for them to shake. Both men ignored it. Shaking his head sadly, Brackett pulled his hand back and stepped around the desk. "I was worried for a little while there but you finally came through. Good job. I was starting to think that I would have to send you another e-mail."
"That was you?" Blair asked incredulously.
"Of course." Brackett's voice held the same cocky indifference Blair remembered so well from the last time they'd dealt with him. "I knew what was going on and figured I'd die of boredom before you two morons got a clue...so I gave you one. It sped up the process quite nicely." Brackett raised his eyebrows and started to back away when Jim advanced on him, eyes full of menace.
"You knew what was going on?" Jim asked, cold anger tingeing his voice. "You knew Lincoln was the killer and you didn't notify us immediately? You risked how many people's lives, including our own, to play your little game?"
"What fun is a game without the risks?" he answered. Brackett straightened up, smoothing his clothing, and smiled again. "I just came by to say 'so long,' I've gotten all I need from you guys."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"My dear Blair, I can't spoil the game. That would be rude. Anyway, I have places to go, people to avoid seeing. You can understand, I'm sure?"
Jim stepped forward. "You're not going anywhere except to a holding cell."
"Now, now, Detective." Brackett grinned, raising his hands. "I've been released free and clear by some very powerful people. You can't touch me, and you know it."
Jim clenched his jaw, taking another menacing step forward, but Brackett held his ground. "You've said your piece, Brackett, now get the hell out of here." Jim gestured toward the elevator.
"As you wish, Detective." Brackett's grin widened, and he raised his hand in a mocking salute. "See you soon."
The others in the room, who had been watching the interchange with lively curiosity, resumed their activities as Brackett left the bullpen.
Jim and Blair looked at each other and groaned in anticipation of future Brackett games.
"Couldn't you just shoot him?" Blair asked hopefully.
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