By Brate and Gemini
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.
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.