imbrillig, Emsworth, Carolyn
Thursday morning, Cascade Police headquarters
"Honest, Jim," Detective Blair Sandburg continued as the elevator doors closed. "You'd like them if you actually tried one. Perhaps if I put tomato juice in it."
His partner and roommate, Detective James Ellison, simply shook his head. "Forget it, Chief. Even tomato juice won't mask the smell of that stuff."
"Perhaps fresh squeezed orange juice? The citrus might cover the algae smell."
"I said forget it. I won't drink one of your green shakes."
Blair rolled his eyes as he shook his head. "You'd think I was trying to make you eat green eggs and ham." The elevator doors opened.
Jim chuckled as he stepped out. "Actually, I'd probably try green eggs and ham, if they smelled better than algae."
"Hey you two, Simon's looking for you," Detective Joel Taggart announced as they walked into Major Crimes.
Studying Joel's worried face, Jim's good humor vanished. "Any idea why?"
Joel shrugged. "Not sure. But I think he's been on the phone with the top brass."
Jim sighed. That wasn't a good sign.
Captain Simon Banks was sitting behind his desk rubbing his forehead, another bad sign. Noting the aspirin bottle next to his elbow, Jim briefly wondered if he and Blair could still make a run for it. However, Jim wasn't one to abandon his duty. "Captain? Taggart said you wanted to see us?"
Banks replaced his glasses and glared at his team. "No, actually, Commissioner Mathews wants to see you."
"Cool," Blair piped up enthusiastically. Then he noticed the grim expressions on the others' faces. "Not cool?"
Jim continued to stare at his captain. Quietly, he asked, "Calling in the marker?"
Simon shrugged, looking grumpier. "The first of many, I'm sure."
"Marker?" Blair asked. "What are you guys talking about?"
"In order to authorize your admission into the Academy and assignment as Jim's partner, we had to tell the commissioner that your only fraud was your press conference declaring yourself a fraud." Simon paused as Blair's eyes grew wide, absorbing that fact and its implications. "That's the reason he was so agreeable. He liked the idea that he could call on Jim's abilities when he has a case that needs 'special handling'."
Blair switched his gaze back and forth between Jim and Simon. "So, basically, you guys sold your souls to the devil to get me hired into Major Crimes?"
"Yours, too, Chief," Jim wearily pointed out. He turned back to Simon. "What does he want?"
"Our collective butts up to his office immediately," Simon replied sourly.
Blair had never been to the section of police headquarters housing upper management. It was quite a change from the rest of the building. There were soft, clean, deep blue carpets and light blue walls, all tastefully decorated and immaculately clean. The door opened to reveal a huge circular walnut desk three times bigger than the one Rhonda used. As the secretary announced their arrival to her boss, Jim and Simon stood tensely while Blair stared at the framed print hanging in the reception area. Blair figured it was worth more than a month of his new detective's salary. However, he didn't have a chance to study it for long. Apparently, the commissioner had meant it when he said 'immediately', because she sent them right in. A voice deep inside his head, which sounded suspiciously like Naomi, reminded him that top level pigs couldn't be trusted. Between the voice and the tension radiating from his partner, Blair felt like Daniel walking into the lions' den.
Mentally silencing the voice as he followed his larger friends inside, Blair was soon feeling even more out-of-place. The atmosphere of the inner sanctuary was infused with prestige and power. The young man was beginning to realize his joke about selling their souls to the devil might not have been so far off. Or at least to an archangel. Surely the commissioner is one of the good guys. I hope.
The commissioner was a trim man in his late forties not much taller than Blair. His straight, dark blond hair, peppered with a few strands of white, was cut conservatively. He walked out in front of the imposing desk to offer his hand to Simon. His pleasant, deep voice greeted, "Hello, Captain. Always a pleasure." Then he turned to Jim. "Detective James Ellison. I've been looking forward to talking with you again."
"Sir." Jim nodded politely as he shook the hand.
"And you must be our new Detective Sandburg." Blair found himself shaking the hand belonging to the hard blue eyes studying him. "You sure managed to set the academy on its ear in record time."
"Ah, sorry, sir," Blair managed to strangle out. "I really didn't plan to find a militia there. I just kinda stumbled across them. I couldn't believe they'd have the nerve to recruit at the police academy." Jim softly and covertly stepped on Blair's foot, trying to stem the tide of nervous chatter. Blair shot him a swift glare, but stopped talking.
"That's okay, son." The commissioner waved his hand, dismissing any criticism. "Means we were right in sending you. I need cops like you and Ellison. Cops who are sharp, can get the job done, and have an edge over the criminal element in our fair city." With another sweep of his hand, he indicated the three chairs in front of his desk. As they sat down, he continued the conversation as he walked back to his own dark leather chair. "I have a case for you that will require an edge to keep our city's reputation." Jim, Blair and Simon exchanged glances as the commissioner sat down. "Are any of you familiar with the Riley Dam Arts Festival?"
"Sure," Blair blurted out. "It's the city's largest arts festival held in the old craftsmen district near Riley Dam. While it started 50 years ago as a venue to encourage Cascade's arts community, it has grown into an international event. Artists from across the country and around the world come here to participate, making it a huge tourist draw. It features both exhibitions of well- known artists in addition to a competition for new and upcoming artists. Categories range from oils, prints, photography, sculpture, dance, music, poetry, fiber..."
"Fiber?" Jim interrupted.
"Yeah, like quilts and stuff."
"When is this festival?" Simon interjected before Blair could continue his list.
"Starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday," Mathews answered.
"Why do you need us?" Jim asked bluntly.
The corner of the commissioner's mouth barely twisted up as he turned his attention to Ellison. "The RDA committee has been getting threatening letters, claiming that the sender will sabotage the festivities unless the festival is canceled."
Blair whistled. "Isn't that kinda short notice? I mean, people come from all over the world for this. How can you just cancel it?"
"We can't without making a very black mark on Cascade's good name," Mathews replied grimly. "Nor does the committee want to bow down to terrorism. Yet they're worried there may be trouble." The commissioner shrugged. "There may be trouble or it could be a prank. Security has been increased, but the patrolmen will have their hands full dealing with lost kids and pickpockets. I'd feel better if I had my sharpest pair of eyes there to specifically watch for sabotage."
"What is the security set up?" Simon asked, wanting to get back into the conversation. The more information he had, the better he could arrange backup for his team if they required it.
"There will be a rotating group of about twenty festival workers who roam about, but their primary focus is answering questions and making sure the festival itself runs smoothly. Then we'll have about four pairs of patrol officers in uniform at any given time. They will walk around the area to provide a visible presence and handle any trouble. Then..." The commissioner paused a moment, then reluctantly continued, "There will be a group of People Defenders."
"People Defenders?" Jim repeated, puzzled.
"They're a group like the Guardian Angels," Blair explained. "I didn't know we had a chapter in Cascade, though."
"Just recently formed," Simon replied. "Daryl said he saw them near his high school recruiting last spring."
"Daryl?" Mathews asked.
"My son," Simon replied, a touch of pride evident in his voice.
Mathews nodded. "I've talked to the other cities with chapters. Apparently, they can be both a hindrance and a help, depending on the situation and who's leading them."
Jim glanced at the commissioner. "Any word on Cascade's chapter leader?"
"A former gang member called Elijah Colburn. He's from one of the better chapters, but hasn't been around here long enough to make much of a name for himself yet."
"What do you want us to do?" Blair asked. It seemed to him that the place would already be crawling with security.
"I want you two to walk around the festival, keeping an eye out for possible trouble. If there is any, you're my first line of defense for neutralizing it."
That evening, warehouse district
Gloom hung heavily in the barren room, not quite hiding the dingy gray walls and scuffed up tile floor. Only a small lamp placed on the room's single piece of furniture cut the darkness, throwing dark, eerie shapes which chased each other along the back wall. At an ancient metal and plastic dining room table sat a man hunched over a laptop. His face was in the shadows as he tapped on the keyboard. To his right, under the strong circle of light from the lamp, sat a stack of papers. On the top were two newspaper clippings. The first headline declared, 'The Sentinel: Cascade's Protection Against Crime', while the second, partly tucked under the first clipping, announced, 'Sandburg Declares Sentinel Research a Fraud'.
Fingers flew across the laptop's keyboard, intent on the hunt. The screen shifted until the emblem of the Cascade Police Department was displayed, its blue design sharply contrasting against the white background. Another couple of clicks later, 'Major Crimes' was displayed in bold letters, along with the name of Captain Simon Banks. Swiftly, it was replaced by a duty roster. A deep chuckle carried over the clicking keyboard as the page for the Riley Dam Arts festival appeared. Windows full of schedules, artists' names, and other miscellaneous information were soon flashing across the screen.
Finally, the man leaned back in his chair and further into the surrounding darkness. A hoarse, slightly accented voice whispered, "Now we will see what is truth and what is fraud, Captain Ellison." The laptop screen now displayed a colorful map of the Riley Dam District.
Next morning, Riley Dam district, North side of Dam
As Jim parked his blue and white '69 Ford truck, Blair studied the map of the Riley Dam district in his hands. "Man, this is a large area to cover."
Jim could only nod his head in agreement. The Riley Dam district covered several blocks on either side of the Togash River. Small shops and art galleries lined the banks with the Riley Dam just upstream. The old dam, with the river water flowing over moss-covered concrete, provided a delightfully rustic feel to the historic area. A two-lane bridge, dating from the same period as the dam, arched between the banks. Its weathered lines blended well with the natural surroundings. With the numerous trees in autumn splendor, Jim briefly wondered why anyone needed an arts festival here. The natural beauty would outshine anything man could create. Then he pushed the thought away as he got out of the truck. He had a job to do.
Blair was still studying the map. "At least they put the food booths together. Five years ago, they were all scattered about so you couldn't find what you wanted. This year they have concentrated them into two rows, one on either side of the river."
"As long as they aren't serving your algae shakes, it doesn't matter to me." Jim knew he could simply follow his nose when he got hungry. It was certainly a lot more reliable than Blair's map reading skills. He glanced over the embankment to the water twenty feet below. "Though if you look, you might be able to get some more breakfast down there."
"Very funny, Jim." As they approached the festival's partitioned-off section, Blair glanced at his partner. "Is the waterfall bothering you?"
Jim shrugged. "Not really. Like you suggested before, it's constant enough I can tune it out."
"One obstacle down, a hundred more to go," Blair muttered darkly. Knowing well the festive chaos that permeated the popular arts festival, he was worried about how the multitude of sounds, colors, and scents would affect his partner. His dissertation may be a distant and painful memory, but Blair's true research continued as long as he protected his sentinel.
"I'll be fine, Chief," Jim assured him as they walked over to the uniformed officers setting up by the first barricade.
When the younger patrol officer turned around, Blair called in surprise, "Hey, Crowder!"
Rookie Officer Lynn Crowder gave Blair a wide smile, green eyes sparkling. "Hi, Sandburg! What're you doing here?"
Blair shrugged. "Just going to keep an eye on things." He glanced around them. "When do the festivities start?"
"In about thirty minutes," the pretty brunette answered. She turned to the slim, yet tough looking woman beside her. "Blair, this is my new partner, Officer Jessie Buxton. Jessie, this is Detective Blair Sandburg. We were at the academy together." She turned to give Ellison a smile. "And I've never been formally introduced to Blair's partner."
"Detective Jim Ellison," the older woman interjected. She gave him an acknowledging nod. "'Morning, Detective."
"Good Morning, Officer Buxton," Jim greeted. "Can you point us to the festival headquarters?"
"It's over there behind the stage." Buxton indicated a path through the various white canvas booths being set up.
Jim immediately headed in that direction, Blair a step behind him and waving good-bye to Lynn. They were half-way to the stage when Jim started chuckling. "What?" Blair asked.
"Buxton just told Crowder to stay sharp."
"Because," Jim paused a moment to remember the exact words, "if Ellison and his partner are here, something big is up."
"Man, do you have a reputation or what?"
"You, too, Chief. Lynn said that after what you did at the academy, she'd believe it."
~Crackle~ "Man, do you have a reputation or what?" ~crackle~
Perched on the flat roof of a ten story building near Riley Dam and hidden in the shadows of a nearby ventilation shed, a long, lanky man listened in on the conversation. His canvas shirt and pants matched the tan stone of the building. To his right, a state-of-the-art dish on a specialized tracker system picked up the private communication between the partners. High-tech binoculars followed them into the small trailer parked by the sidewalk.
"So you have a reputation, Ellison. Have you earned it?"
The trailer's interior was dark compared to the sunshine outside. Trying to adjust his eyes to the change, Jim accidentally bumped a man standing only a step away from the door. "I'm sorry," Jim apologized.
"You should be!"
Jim glanced down at the snarling man with a French accent. Very slender and much shorter than even Sandburg, the dark haired man was wearing a black tunic that reached mid-thigh and matching tight pants. A black beret and ankle high boots completed the outfit. Taking a deep breath and ignoring the man's rudeness, Jim attempted to step around him.
"Where do you think you are going!" demanded the man, tipping his head back so Jim could see his narrow face. "If they make me, Franchot Pascalle, stand in line, so shall a no-name like yourself!"
Seeing the bewilderment on his partner's face, Blair quickly jumped in. Holding out his hand, he enthused, "Franchot Pascalle? Wow, I love your work."
The artist pointedly ignored Blair's hand. "What's not to love?"
Jim rolled his eyes. He had had just about enough of the jerk. It was a struggle to force his voice to remain calm and polite. "Excuse me, sir. We need to see the committee vice president."
"What makes you so important?" the artist retorted.
"We're security," Jim forced out of his clenched jaw as he held up his badge. Using his bulk, Jim pushed his way past the man and stepped around the registration table, Blair on his heels.
As they walked towards the back, Blair whispered, "Jim, don't you know who that was?"
"An arrogant foreign jerk?" Jim growled.
Blair rolled his eyes. "One of the most famous living abstract painters in the world, man."
"So," Jim replied, "I hate abstract art. Give me Charles Russell any day."
"The Western painter? Figures."
Jim held back his retort as he knocked on the door. Stepping inside, Jim found a tall woman, gray hair in a tight bun, barking orders at her assistant. "...make sure the crew knows to anchor those booths well on the bridge. We don't want any of them to fly away like last time."
"Yes, Mrs. McAllister," the chubby man with curly red hair responded with a long-suffering sigh.
"Mrs. McAllister?" Jim held out his hand. "Detectives Ellison and Sandburg. Commissioner Mathews sent us."
"Right, you are the ones who are going to look into the threats," she replied with the kind of limp handshake that Jim hated. "Dennis can give you the letters."
The assistant nervously shuffled through the folders. Offering one to Blair, he asked, "You don't think there'll really be trouble, do you?"
"We plan to make sure there isn't any," Blair comforted him. "Is there someplace where we can look at these?"
"The bedroom next door isn't being used," he replied.
Ten minutes later, Blair leaned back and sighed. "Not much to go on here."
"Nope," Jim replied as he studied the two neatly typed letters. "Printed on cheap paper by a computer printer. I don't see a fingerprint or even a stray mark."
"All they say is that the festival has strayed from its original purpose of promoting local art and, unless all the outside exhibits are shut down, there will be trouble." Blair shook his head. "Doesn't even give us a hint of what to look for. Do you think the writer is serious?"
Jim shrugged. "Hard to say. It might be a prank to simply upset the committee or it could be dead serious."
"How can we tell?"
"We can't, until the first 'accident' happens." Jim stood up. "Time to starting patrolling, Chief."
By the time they stepped out of the trailer, activity was picking up. Booths filled the street, leaving the street's center as well as the sidewalks on either side free for pedestrian traffic. A small crowd was already gathering in front of the tall outdoor stage where an emcee was providing information before introducing the first group. Jim focused on the feet of the dancers waiting for their performance. "Sandburg, are those clogs?"
Blair turned, squinting at the stage. "Well, I can't see the footwear, but the outfits do suggest clogging."
"Great," Jim groaned. "Let's get out of here before they start and give me a headache."
Chuckling, Blair led the way down the fairway. They were at once immersed into the festivities. "Man, Jim, how are we suppose to find sabotage in all this?"
"Just try to find what's out of place," Jim replied. Without a thought, each of Jim's sentinel senses went on alert. Jim swiftly noted two patrol officers, waist belts thick with radios, night sticks and other items, walking along the right sidewalk. To the left, a customer was trying to haggle the price of a painting with the artist. The young couple up ahead were more interested in each other than the festival, ignoring a glassblower setting up his delicate wares. Under the shade of an oak tree turning orange was an ice cream vendor. Dark hair carefully arranged in a mass of braids and beads, she was giggling as a young man in a red beret flirted with her. Jim's brow wrinkled slightly as he studied the man's light red and blue jacket. It looked like a uniform of sorts, but didn't match any of the gang symbols he knew.
Blair followed Jim's gaze. "I think that's one of the People Defenders."
"As long as they flirt with girls and stay out of my way, we won't have a problem." Jim muttered.
Suddenly, a high female voice shrieked, "Oh MAN! You're PERFECT!" Jim jumped as a woman dashed over to him and started circling. Her dark brown hair was covered in a brightly colored scarf, its wild flower pattern matching the woman's long gypsy skirt. The turquoise blouse reflected in her blue green eyes, which were currently examining Jim like he was the last piece of chocolate pie on the counter. "Look at those biceps! That chest!" She moved her hands about as if measuring Jim's dimensions from a distance. "Muscles! Oh my, you've got muscles! I love muscles. And that sweet, tight..."
"Ma'am!" Jim blurted out as he dodged out of touching range. "Excuse me, Ma'am?"
"You're perfect," she sighed again. "You must model for me!"
"Model?" Jim asked politely, trying not to panic. He took a glance at his partner, who had stepped closer to the booth the woman had dashed out of. The sudden widening of Blair's eyes plus the accompanying smirk did not bode well.
"Oh yes, model. I need models for my drawings. Woman aren't too hard to convince to take off their clothes, but good looking, muscular men..."
"Take off my clothes?" Jim practically squeaked. Blair stood by, hand curled around his mouth and nearly doubled over from his effort not to laugh at his partner's predicament.
"Of course. The human body is the most interesting of subjects, don't you agree?"
"Not mine!" Jim declared. He quickly took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Ma'am. I don't model."
"But you're perfect!"
"Thank you for the compliment, but I'm sure there's lots of other 'perfect' men out there for you." Jim hastily assured her as he backed down the street.
"Not really," she called out after him. "Don't you want to be immortalized?"
"No, thank you," Jim called back nervously, then muttered to himself, "I've already had that offer this year." He swiftly turned around and continued walking, his face beet red.
"Come on, Jim," Blair teased once he caught up. "How bad could it be?"
"I didn't see you volunteering, Sandburg," Jim growled.
"Actually, I think it would be fun, but I'm not the one who's 'perfect'."
"Drop it, Chief."
"No, I think that's what she wants you to do with your boxers," Blair snickered. After another glance at his embarrassed partner, Blair decided he'd teased enough for now.
Trying to regain his composure, Jim stopped at the closest booth. "Now, this is something I'd hang on my wall."
Blair studied the photo of a curved desert rock, its red and textured surface seeming to swirl elegantly across the scene. "Rather calming."
"With the work we do, I'll take calming." Jim leaned forward to read the tag, then whistled. "Though for that price, I could almost fly out to the desert and snap my own shot."
"At least cover the air fare," Blair agreed. They stepped further into the booth. "Here's another nice one with the rocks curved around a small puddle of water."
For the next hour, the two men looked through the booths on the south side of the river while keeping eyes and ears alert for trouble. However, once they reached a booth of intricate wooden sculptures, Jim paused to rub his temples. "Jim?" Blair questioned softly.
"Sudden headache," Jim explained. His fingers extended the rubbing to around his eyes. "Feels like a migraine."
Blair searched around them, noticing the booth nearby. "I bet it's the glues used on the sculptures. Who knows what kind of chemicals are in them? Can you dial it down?"
"Huh?" Jim mumbled hazily, trying to think.
"Turn down your sense of smell," Blair hissed barely under his breath, not wanting the crowd around them to hear him guide his sentinel.
Just as Jim started, another smell caught his attention. "Wait."
"There's something else." Jim replied, his soft voice full of pain and confusion.
"Okay, big guy, can you ignore the glue? Identify it and filter it out."
Struggling, Jim managed to filter out the acrid chemical odor, easing the headache. He then recognized the other scent instantly. "Chief, it's propane."
"I think we're close to the side street with the food booths," Blair pointed out. "Maybe that's the source."
"Probably, but it's too strong for just cooking," Jim replied as he swiftly walked in the direction of the odor. Turning the corner with Blair nearly jogging to keep up, Jim focused his sight onto the smell. A spare propane tank sat on the curb next to the 'Buddha's Mexican Grill' sign. Next to it, a small Asian man was about to strike a match. "STOP!!!!" Jim shouted, racing to the portable grill to grab the man's arm. "GAS!"
Behind him, he could hear Blair telling the other vendors to turn off any open flames. Within seconds, Jim had dropped to one knee as he inspected the tank. Blair lightly touched his shoulder. "Jim?"
"Right here," Jim pointed. "This line has been cut just enough to slowly leak gas."
"Guess our letter writer isn't fooling around," Blair softly muttered as he took in the gathering crowd.
Glancing around at the vendors and the stores behind them, Jim inwardly shuddered at the thought of the explosion and possible damage. "No, they aren't fooling around at all."
"What's the trouble here?"
Jim stood up to find himself staring into the face of a large black man wearing a People Defenders' jacket. "It's being taken care of."
"Are you giving this man trouble?" the man questioned sternly, getting into Jim's face.
Blair immediately identified the angry face as the same one he had studied the night before. It was Elijah Colburn, the leader of the People Defenders. However, the picture had not shown the huge chip on the man's shoulders. Blair could also see Jim's gaze growing steadily colder on his inquisitor. Deciding an argument on a busy festival street right after a near disaster wouldn't help anyone's nerves, Blair quickly announced, "Actually, we're the Cascade PD."
The man gave Blair an examining, almost derogatory look, focusing on the short ringlets Blair now fought with on a daily basis. "With that mop? Give me a break."
"Detective Ellison?" A shocked voice interrupted.
Jim's glare quickly turned to surprise. "Marcus Watson?"
The young man in a People Defenders jacket walked in between his leader and the detective. "Hey, man! How's it hanging?"
On the rooftop
"Glue smells give you a headache, yet you found a tank before it exploded. Is this an example of you using your heightened senses? Or are you just overly sensitive?" A gloved hand reached for a prescription bottle nearby, popping the lid and shaking two pills into the other hand. After a quick sip from his canteen, the watcher again picked up the binoculars, training them on Ellison talking with the tiny Asian vendor. "How do you handle the enormous input streaming in from your senses? Do you have a way to filter it, or is it hit and miss? You are becoming even more of a puzzle, Ellison."
Half an hour later, Jim and Blair stood under an oak talking with Marcus. "I don't understand," Jim told the young man. "Why did you join the People Defenders?"
Marcus sighed. "Hey, you know the neighborhood my old man lives in, right? While he and the other tenants have cleaned up our building and a good part of the street, there's still a lot of crime all around them. Plus I graduate from Rainier in another two years. I know after I get my first job I'll be finding my own place out of the neighborhood. You guys know my father - he'll never accept money from me to move someplace else and he's getting older. So I figure if I help get this chapter of the People D's started, then there'll be someone to keep an eye out for my old man and the other tenants when I'm not there."
Jim nodded, understanding Marcus' concerns. "What do you think of Colburn?" Jim tried not to let his still simmering anger show on his face. He didn't like a civilian getting in the way of his police work.
"He's okay. I think he's still trying to prove the People Defenders are on the up and up, so he tends to overdo things." A small smirk crept across Marcus' face. "He especially doesn't like big guys pushing around little guys."
"Hey, man, Jim kept that man from toasting himself and the booths next to him," Blair pointed out.
"Yeah, I know that," Marcus chuckled. "But Eli didn't see that. He doesn't know you're the good guys yet."
"So, what are you studying at Rainier?" Jim asked, changing the subject.
"Electrical engineering." Marcus then turned to Blair. "I saw your press conference." Blair looked down, not sure what to say. "Hey man, I know you're one of the good guys. I trust you did what you had to do, and it takes guts to stand up to the press like you did."
"No prob. And I'm not the only one on campus who thinks that way. Just thought you should know. "
A grateful smile stretched across Blair's face. "Thanks, that means a lot."
Jim spotted Simon weaving his way through the crowd. "Here's our captain. Take it easy, Marcus."
"You too, man. I hope you keep finding those leaking tanks before they explode!"
Sending a friendly wave after Marcus, Blair followed his partner to meet their Captain. A scowl was plastered across Simon's face as he again checked the booth's banner. "Buddha's Mexican Grill? Only in America." He then turned to his men, growling, "Tell me this was an accident."
Jim and Blair both shook their heads. "The gas line was definitely cut," Jim reported.
"Damn." Simon looked around at the vendors, who were slowly returning to their businesses. "Did anyone see anything?"
"Nothing anyone's reporting," Blair answered. "They were all too busy getting their own booths set up."
Simon studied the crowd swirling around them. "The owner of the one that nearly blew?"
Jim shrugged. "He and his nephew didn't notice anyone out of place. The nephew said that Dennis from the main office was over to confirm their reservation. They had a few customers stop by to ask when they'd be open. One of the other vendors asked if they knew where the electrical outlets were. A couple of the People Defenders helped them move a few things."
"Since Marcus Watson was one of them, we suspect they were just being helpful," Blair added.
"Marcus Watson?" Simon asked, trying to place the name.
"The kid who helped us with the armored car accident that wasn't an accident but a cover for counterfeit money," Blair reminded him.
"Oh, right," Simon nodded. He turned his gaze to the glass windows near the Buddha's grill booth, picturing the destruction that was avoided. "Why is it I doubt we've seen the last of the sabotage?"
"Because we probably haven't," Jim replied grimly.
Simon sighed. "Well, there is no way you and Sandburg can cover this entire circus by yourselves. Rafe and Brown caught that convenience store robber last night, so I've ordered them to be here around noon."
"Simon, we only have one Jim," Blair quietly reminded him.
"Yes, but they are trained police officers. The more eyes we have, the better. Hell, if Connor and Taggart weren't already busy, I'd have their butts down here, too."
Jim nodded. With this kind of crowd over this large of an area, they would need all the help they could get.
Back on patrol, Blair studied the people around them more intently. How could you pick out a person with a grudge from the rest of the crowd? Psychotic people looked as normal as everyone else. Blair's own experiences with Lash proved that. It could be anyone from the elderly man studying a sculpture on the right to the sweet-faced young woman explaining a black and white photo to several people on the left.
Feeling the growing tension in his partner, Jim tapped his shoulder to gain his attention. "Hey Sandburg, how about some lunch?"
Blair glanced back towards the crowd still gathered around the food booths. "I suspect it'll be a while before they're in business."
"Yeah, but didn't you say there was another set on the other side?"
Blair smiled at his partner. "Yeah, there is. "
"Then let's go."
Together they walked across the bridge. With all the booths anchored along the railing, it was hard to see the dam upstream. Blair made a mental note that they would have to look at the art there later. They had barely reached the other bank when Jim paused, tilting his head to the right. Blair placed his hand on Jim's shoulder, grounding his friend without upsetting Jim's delicate hearing.
Jim's frown grew deeper; he could hear a crackling that was out of place. As he turned to the right and walked down the aisle of booths, he recognized the sound as a fire. Barely aware of Blair beside him, Jim stopped in the middle of the lane, trying to piggyback his vision to the crackling he heard. Just as his partner opened his mouth, a 'whoosh' drew his eyes to one of the booths. Flames were shooting out of a nearby trash receptacle to climb the white canvas wall.
"FIRE!!!!!!!" Jim shouted. The crowd around him then spotted the flames and began to scatter, knocking down some of the exhibits. Franchot Pascalle rushed out of the endangered booth. Ignorant of the fire, he shook his fist in the air, swearing in French at the people rushing by.
Jim and Blair had to fight their way through the crowd to reach the fire. Jim yanked off his jacket and hit the canvas with it, trying to beat out the flames.
Blair's frantic eyes landed on the booth next door. It contained sculptured water fountains, advertised as a 'delight to the senses'. For once, Blair had other things on his mind besides sentinel tests when he noticed the water flowing through them. "Excuse me," Blair blurted out to the women who had stepped out of the booth as he raced to the nearest fountain. He yanked out the hose from behind the fountain and pointed it at the burning canvas next door. A thumb placed just so squirted the water in a steady stream. He managed to douse both the fire and his partner.
"Sandburg," Jim muttered as he wiped the water from his eyes. The sound of clapping caught his attention. The women from the fountain booth and those who had stayed to watch were applauding Blair's efforts. Always the showman, Blair gave them a courtly bow.
"Take your FOOT off my CREATION!"
Jim turned his head to find Pascalle glaring at him. Glancing down, Jim realized his foot was on a corner of a painting knocked over by the crowd. As he gingerly lifted his boot, the artist snatched the painting off the ground. Pascalle held it out at arms-length, frantically searching the brown and red textured work. Jim's brow wrinkled as he scanned it. Heck, my niece's kindergarten class could have done a better job than that with their finger-paints.
Apparently, that wasn't what Pascalle thought. "Look what you've done!" the artist cried out. "You have marked my work, you huge oaf!"
"I was trying to save the rest of your booth," Jim defended himself. He took another look at the painting. "Besides, how can you tell? The mud is the same color as that brown shade."
The artist's face turned red with anger. "You...You..." he spurted, then began ranting in French. Jim simply rolled his eyes as the artist continued his rampage.
Struggling not to laugh, Blair turned to see two patrol officers wade their way through the spectators. Blair waved them over. "Hi, I'm Detective Sandburg," Blair introduced himself softly, presenting his badge. "We have a possible arson situation. I need you to keep the crowds back so we can preserve the crime scene and interview witnesses." As the two officers began their assignment, Blair yanked out his cell phone and called in the fire. Then he checked on his partner. The artist was beginning to run out of steam.
"Mr. Pascalle," Jim finally inserted. "Your booth was on fire and we expect it may be arson. You will need to answer some questions."
"WHAT! Why should I, Franchot Pascalle, answer any questions?"
"Do you want someone to get a second shot at burning down your work?" Jim asked icily. Pascalle frowned. "Then I suggest you cooperate. My partner will take your statement." Ignoring Blair's 'oh-thanks-a-lot' glare, Jim waved him over as he himself stepped back. Jim knew another minute with the Frenchman would have ignited his temper and quite possibly ruined any chance of getting meaningful information from their victim.
Besides, the sentinel wanted to use his own 'forensics lab' on the flash point before the official unit arrived.
Ten minutes later, Simon stormed through the spectators. "You know, I'd barely reached my car when the call came in," he grumbled to Ellison.
Jim simply shrugged and got down to business. "I think our saboteur is getting creative." As Blair joined them, Jim pointed his gloved finger at a small mass of metal and wiring he had carefully pulled out of the trash can. "This looks like it was set on a timer to start the fire."
Blair glanced around them worriedly. "Do you think there could be more of them?" The three men exchanged looks, then Simon stepped back and pulled out his phone. "What do we do now, Jim?" Blair whispered.
"Stay alert," Jim replied grimly. He waved at Serena and her team as they waded through the spectators. "I have a feeling our saboteur has more than these 'toys' up his sleeve."
While pointing out the areas he wanted checked, Jim heard something that seemed out of place. He tilted his head, picking up the faint sounds of excitement and panic through the crowd noise. In the background, Simon closed his cell phone, only to have it ring again.
"What do you hear, Jim?" Blair asked softly.
"Something's wrong on the other side of the bridge," Jim replied, his brow wrinkling as he tried to sort out the sounds he wanted from the chaos.
"WHAT!" Simon roared suddenly, causing Jim to wince. "Is he okay? Is the fire out?" Both Jim and Blair turned to stare at their Captain. "Okay, Brown, we'll be there in a minute." Simon flipped his phone shut. "Let's go. Brown and Rafe just put out another fire."
As they arrived at the scene on the North side of the bridge, Brown and a young couple were carefully stacking mounted photos away from the blackened section of a booth. Nearby, Rafe sat on a stool as a pretty blonde poured water over his hand.
Frowning, Jim walked over to Rafe. "You okay?"
Rafe glanced up at the senior detective. Jim could detect traces of soot on his face along with faint lines from the pain. "Yeah, I'm okay."
"He burnt his hand saving my work," the blonde inserted. Jim could detect a slight German accent to her words. "He was very brave."
Noting the obvious hero-worship in her blue eyes, Jim forced back a smirk as he gently lifted Rafe's injured hand. "I was a medic in the army," he assured the young woman as she frowned. After a quick examination, Jim nodded. "Mostly first degree, but a few places are starting to blister." He smiled at the young woman. "Keep pouring the water over it slowly until the EMTs get here." He patted Rafe's back then walked back over to the rest of his unit.
"...the photos while I and a couple of the other vendors beat out the flames," Brown was reporting to Simon. "I think Rafe burnt his hand on one of the hot frames."
Blair sent a worried glance at his partner. Jim returned a quick smile, reassuring him that their co-worker would be okay. Blair nodded then pointed out, "It started in a trash can again."
"I've ordered all the trash cans replaced and checked," Simon added. He shook his head. "Wonder how many more of these we'll find?"
Blair glanced at the banner on the outside of the booth. "Meta Snyder," he softly read. His eyes narrowed as his mind began making connections. "Sounds German."
"She does have the accent," Jim told him, wondering where his partner's thoughts were going.
"And much of her work deals with Bosnian and Kosovo refugees," Henri added.
Blair's eyes widened as he put it together. "So we have sabotage at a French painter's booth, a German photographer's booth..."
"And Buddha's Mexican grill," Jim groaned, catching on to the trend. "He's going after the 'outsiders'."
The lanky body stretched on the rough surface shifted stiffly, painfully. Yet in spite of the complaints from the old injuries, the man of the shadows still trained his attention on his prey below. The high-tech binoculars focused on Ellison, watching as he lifted the hand of the injured detective, noting the gentle pat on the back before Ellison returned to the others. "Is that weakness I see, Captain Ellison? Do you, once a man of ice, care about the others you serve with? My, aren't we getting soft?"
Two hour later, food booths on South side of Riley Dam District
Blair drew a long slurp of raspberry banana smoothie into his mouth. Leaning back against a tree, he slowly swallowed the cool, tangy drink as he willed his muscles to relax. The day was only half over, yet it felt like two long ones. He and Jim had managed to catch two more trash can devices before they ignited while Brown and Rafe had found a third. The People Defenders caught a fourth one once the trash inside was fully engulfed. Finally, the festival crews had replaced all the receptacles within the area, so the danger was now over. Yet Blair suspected there would soon be something else to take its place.
Sighing, Blair glanced over to his partner. Jim was rubbing his forehead, practically ignoring the buffalo burger in his other hand. Blair frowned, then glanced around. The crowd was growing as people who could take a half-day off work arrived. The afternoon sun was heating the exhibits, intensifying the fumes from paints and glues. Plus, Jim's senses had been in a constant state of alert since they'd arrived. Add in the performing arts students down the street, banging on gongs and shouting rap to the crowd, and it would be a miracle if Jim didn't have a headache. The commissioner's project for them was becoming much bigger than Blair ever dreamed it would. A project they were pulled into simply due to the forced revelation of Jim's senses.
At the touch on his arm, Jim lifted his head and blinked at his partner. "You okay? You want to move away from the gongs?"
Jim forced a smile for his friend, though he suspected it came out more like a grimace. "Yeah. They're starting to get to me."
"Can you tune them out?"
"No, I'm afraid I'll miss something if I do."
"Okay, let's walk." They turned in the opposite direction, quietly strolling along with the festival-goers. After several minutes, Blair softly whispered, "I'm sorry, Jim."
"Sorry?" Jim, totally baffled, glanced down at his partner. "Why? You didn't cause my headache."
"Yeah, but if it hadn't been for my diss, we wouldn't be on this assignment."
Jim sighed. He really didn't want to have this conversation now, though he had been expecting it. He tilted his head toward an empty alley. "Come on, Chief." Once they were safe from any prying ears, Jim leaned against the brick wall. "Okay, spill it."
Blair took a moment for a deep breath, centering his thoughts. Then the deep blue eyes met his partner's. "I'm sorry, Jim." Unable to stand still with his unsettled emotions, Blair began to pace. "Because of that whole dissertation fiasco, you and Simon had to tell the commissioner about your senses. So now he can jerk us around whenever he wants. Otherwise, we wouldn't be on this assignment, you wouldn't have a headache, and Rafe wouldn't have a burnt hand. And that makes it all my fault."
"Sandburg." The quiet growl halted Blair's feet, turning him to face the speaker. "It wasn't about the dissertation, Blair. It was about me needing you to back me up full time."
"Yeah, but if I hadn't had to declare myself a fraud, you and Simon wouldn't have had to sell your souls to the commissioner to rescue me from my own disaster."
"You did it to protect me. No one has ever done that before."
"You wouldn't have needed protecting if my dissertation hadn't hit the media."
Jim shook his head. "You still don't get it. The only thing that matters here is that we are officially partners. We don't have to worry about someone coming in and revoking your observer pass like Finkleman did. If that means we have to take a special assignment from Mathews every once in a while, so be it. If the assignment's tough and gives me a headache, I'll handle it. It's a small price to pay to keep the best partner I've ever had."
Blue eyes drilled into blue, trying to force the other to understand. Finally, Blair took a deep breath, releasing some of his tension and guilt. His eyes glowed with the warmth Jim's words had generated in his soul. "Thanks, Jim."
Jim stood away from the wall and shrugged. "That's just the way it is, Chief. Besides, if we weren't on this assignment, Buddha would have blown up with his grill and several artist would have lost their art. Not that Pascalle's stuff would have been that great of a loss." Blair couldn't help but chuckle, further lightening his mood. "And I wouldn't worry too much about Rafe. His injured hand paved the way for a night out with the pretty Miss Snyder."
"Really?" Blair exclaimed. "Maybe I should try that approach."
"Don't even think it, Sandburg." Jim turned towards the main street. "We should get back on patrol."
"What about your head?" Blair asked as he trailed him.
Jim shrugged. "I'll survive."
The watcher laid a hand against his earpiece as he glanced at the tape recorder next to him. He wanted to be certain that he had that informative conversation on tape. "So, your little friend declared himself a fraud to protect you. Does that mean you are the real thing?"
Two and a half hours later, south side of the bridge
"Here," Blair shoved the cold drink into his partner's hands. "Maybe this will help."
Jim sighed as he took a sip of the lemonade. "Thanks, Chief." Eyes closed, he tossed two aspirin into his mouth, washing them down with more lemonade. He forced his eyes to open. "How're Brown and Rafe doing?" Rafe had managed to convince the paramedics and his captain that he could continue the patrol with H., but Jim knew his hand had to be hurting nearly as much as Jim's head.
"Everything's still quiet," Blair reported.
"'Quiet' being a relative term," Jim commented softly. He winced when a little girl squealed nearby. "I will definitely be glad when this day is over."
Blair studied his sentinel. "You think you can handle two more days of this?" Jim's face had grown paler as the day progressed.
"I can if we have to," Jim replied. "I want to catch this firebug before he actually hurts someone." A faint 'crack' reached his ears. Taking another swallow of his drink, Jim began to listen for a repeat of the noise.
"There has to be an easier way to do this," Blair grumbled. "You can't be expected to find any little thing that just might go wrong in this entire district."
~creak~ Determining the direction of the noise, Jim pushed away from the tree. His pain was forgotten as he stepped towards the noise, focusing his senses on that which was out of place.
"I mean, it would be a whole lot easier if we had some clues and could start looking for the bastard instead of just searching for his handiwork," Blair continued. Suddenly, he noticed his partner was moving away, his head slightly tilted. "Jim?"
Jim's feet slowly moved in the direction of the sound. When another, louder creak rang in his ear, Jim picked up the pace.
Realizing his partner was in sentinel mode, Blair swiftly caught up. From the tilt of the head, Blair guessed Jim was listening for something. That kept him quiet, not wanting to upset the delicate balance shifting around in his friend's sore mind. When Jim turned to the right and started to trot, Blair stayed beside him.
~groan~ The sound was closer now. Jim suddenly stopped in the middle of an intersection, glancing around as he searched the area.
"Jim?" Blair barely whispered.
"Metal under stress," Jim forced out. With most of his concentration on finding the problem, his sentences were short and abrupt. "Louder. Nearby."
Blair's eyes immediately joined the search. A flash of red drew his eyes to the stage tucked into a courtyard. "What about..."
"The stage," Jim finished, his feet already racing to the source. As they approached, Jim noticed three young teenage girls in brightly colored silks, their painted hands and feet moving intricately to the sounds of eastern music. Then Jim noticed a very subtle shift of the platform. Damn
With a quick burst of speed, Jim raced to the front of the stage just as the front of the platform dropped several inches. Two girls fell hard and struggled to keep from sliding off the smooth surface. However, the third, who had been balancing on one foot near the front, tumbled off the edge. Vaulting over a couple of spectators seated on the ground, Jim barely managed to catch the slim girl before she could fall four feet to the concrete sidewalk below. As he realized what he had just done, Jim's eyes met the large brown ones looking at him in shock. "Hi," he stuttered.
"Hi," replied the soft, shy voice.
The girl nodded. Jim gently sat her onto the ground as applause erupted from the audience.
Thirty minutes later, under the stage
"This is the bolt," Jim pointed.
Serena hid her smile. If she had any doubts before, this certainly cleared them. No average person could see anything in the gloom under the stage. But then, she never really believed Sandburg would commit fraud, either. No wonder Ellison always seemed to find tiny bits of evidence her team had missed. She carefully swung her flashlight to where Jim was pointing, giving the man a chance to adjust to its light. She didn't want to hurt the Cascade PD's secret weapon.
Focusing on the area, she picked up a bolt from the ground. Her gloved hand turned it around under the flashlight as she studied it. "Yes, this definitely looks like it was cut part way. That stressed it enough that it would eventually give way."
Jim grimly nodded as Serena confirmed his suspicions. "So it could have been done earlier in the day." He glanced around, thinking of the crowds and performers that had surrounded the stage since the start of the festival. It would have been hard for someone to slip underneath unnoticed.
"It probably was done very early. I can't believe three slim girls could cause this much stress."
"No, but there was a polka demonstration on right before them," Jim replied thoughtfully. He caught the eye of the forensic technician. "Let me know if you find anything else."
Serena nodded, then touched his arm, "Jim? The components for those arson devices were purchased locally. Sam is trying to hunt down who bought them right now."
"Thanks." Jim tipped his head to her, then climbed back into the sunshine. Spotting his partner interviewing one of the festival organizers, he turned towards that direction when he was stopped by a small hand placed on his arm. He glanced down to see the teen he had rescued.
"I wanted to thank you for saving me," she said softly, her warm brown eyes sincere.
Jim gave her one of his rare, warm smiles. "It was my pleasure, Miss...?"
"Miss Lemke. I hope the rest of your performances go much smoother."
"Me, too," Asha giggled.
"Asha!" Jim glanced over the teen's shoulder to see an older woman who looked to be of full Indian blood.
"There's my mom. Thanks again!"
"You're welcome," Jim replied, returning her wave as she ran to her mother. Taking a deep breath, the detective could feel anger stirring in his chest. If he hadn't reached her in time, that sweet girl would be on her way to the hospital with broken bones instead of going home. Jim turned to join his partner, more determined than ever to stop this would-be terrorist.
Blair had finished his conversation with the festival worker as Jim approached. "After the Bharatanatyam dance performance, this stage had a Scottish Highland bagpipe group scheduled. Earlier, there was a Salsa band, the polka group from Wisconsin, and an Irish dance troupe from overseas."
"Outsiders," Jim groaned, rubbing his forehead. "Did Brown and Rafe check the North side stage?"
Blair frowned at the evidence of Jim's continuing headache, but continued. "Yeah, but no evidence of sabotage. However, Henri said that stage had acts like folk dancing, jazz, and country swing. Basically, your traditional American venues and all local acts."
Jim lifted his head to squint at his partner. "So all the so-called 'outside' groups were concentrated on the sabotaged stage, while the others were on the safe one?"
Blair nodded, his eyes growing wider as he caught Jim's implication. "So which came first? Was that stage sabotaged because of the concentration of foreign acts?"
"Or did someone schedule it that way?" Jim finished the thought. He and his partner traded looks, each having the same thought: Was this an inside job?
A sudden ring from his cell phone broke the silent exchange. Jim yanked out the phone and answered, "Ellison." Blair watched intently as Jim listened. "Okay, We'll be there in a couple of minutes."
"What's up?" Blair asked worriedly as Jim clicked the phone shut.
"The committee just received another letter from our saboteur."
Simon's tall frame was easy to spot over the crowds around the festival headquarters. Jim zoomed in and soon he and Blair were standing next to him. Simon indicated the trailer with a tilt of his head, and soon was leading his men inside.
Once they had entered the bedroom they had used earlier, Simon turned to his men. "Any luck with the stage incident?"
Sentinel ears picked up movement behind the thin RV wall. Not wanting to reveal what they suspected to someone who might be involved, Jim replied, "A few theories."
Simon glanced at his best detective. When Jim didn't continue, his eyes narrowed.
"Will tell you later," Jim explained with a tug on his ear. Blair's eyes grew wide at the implication.
Scowling, Simon picked up a piece of paper from the table. "Here's the latest."
After pulling on a pair of gloves, Jim took the note. Blair glanced at him. "Anything?"
"As clean as the other two," Jim replied. "Looks like the same paper and printer." He then read the message, Sandburg reading over his arm.
"What is with this guy?" Blair asked. "How can he stop the festival? Most of what he's done so far has been minor."
"Thanks to you two," Simon pointed out. "Had anyone been injured today, the press would have eaten the committee alive on this evening's broadcast." He noticed Jim rubbing his eyes. "Jim, are you all right?"
"Long day," Jim replied.
"Long day filled with loud noises and obnoxious odors," Blair added.
Simon's frown deepened, easily reading between the lines. "There must be a better way of dealing with this."
"That's what I said," Blair confirmed.
"So," Simon continued, ignoring Sandburg's interruption, "What we need to do is catch this terrorist wannabe before he does anything else."
"The stage was probably sabotaged early this morning," Jim pointed out. "We should start looking at who was here before the area was opened to the public."
"You mean, like security, festival workers, artists, performers..." Blair began listing off, suddenly realizing the size of the task. Then he traded glances with his partner, silently thinking they would be starting with the festival organizers.
Still mindful of possible prying ears, Jim added, "Hopefully, whatever information Sam finds should help us narrow it down." Jim rolled his shoulders, trying to ease some of his tension. "What time is it?"
Simon glanced at his watch. "Five twelve. The festival should be closing down for the night."
"Then lets get the information and start working. We need to find this jerk before tomorrow morning."
On the other side of the wall, Mrs. McAllister's assistant, Dennis Faye, turned away, his face a mixture of anxiety and anger.
Two hours later, Major Crimes conference room
Banks paused in the doorway, studying his men. Brown was at one end of the table, searching through piles of folders and trying not to sneeze from the dust. On his right was Rafe. The young detective's bandaged left hand was elevated on a stack of books while his right hand tapped on his laptop's keyboard. Further down the table was Ellison, comparing two lists while rubbing his temple. Simon scowled as he noted Jim's pale face. As much as he wanted to order Ellison and Rafe home, time was too precious if they were to stop the saboteur before the next morning. Then he realized he was one detective short. "Where's Sandburg?"
"He ran down to forensics for the reports," Ellison replied absently.
Rafe gave his Captain a wan smile. "He is, after all, the most junior detective here." The rest couldn't help but chuckle, remembering how many times they'd used that same line on Rafe the past couple of years.
"Any luck so far?" Simon asked.
The three men shook their heads almost in unison. "We've ruled out a few people, including the leader of the People Defenders," Brown reported.
"I would have liked it to be him," Jim admitted, "But as Sandburg pointed out, he's new to the area and wouldn't have known the history mentioned in the letters."
"Plus, the People D's only found one of the fires," Rafe added. "If it was to give them publicity, they would have been at all of them."
Startled, Simon leaned back out the door to spot Sandburg rushing towards him. "Sandburg! Can you at least try to conduct yourself like a detective?"
"But I found our break!" Blair enthused, not the least bit phased by his superior's reprimand. He slipped past Simon, waving papers at his fellow detectives as he sat down at the conference table.
"What?" Jim asked patiently, trying not to wince at his partner's raised voice.
"Remember Dennis, Mrs. McAllister's assistant?" Blair could barely keep from bouncing as all eyes at the table focused on him. "He's on the list of people who bought timers with the same lot number as the ones found in the trash cans."
Jim's eyes widened. "Of course! He'd have been the one to assign acts to the stage and be one of the first people to arrive."
"He'd have also made the booth assignments," Brown added. "He'd know who was where, and plant the arson devices accordingly."
"Plus he could run around the festival without anyone questioning him." Blair waved his hands in the air.
"Let's not jump to conclusions, people," Simon interrupted. "We need a motive."
Rafe had been swiftly running searches on the laptop, barely wincing as he used his injured hand. "He has listed on his application form six years in the Navy with experience in electronics."
"With experience in electronics, how'd he get a clerical job with McAllister?" Jim asked.
"One of his references is his grandmother, Deborah Ralston." Rafe glanced up at Blair. "Why is that name familiar?"
"Because she's a big name in the Cascade Arts community," Blair groaned. "That's how he got the job. It's all in who you know."
"No," Brown mumbled, shaking his head as he searched his memory. "That's not it. Wait, wasn't there a Ralston committing suicide in the news recently?"
"A Debbie Ralston," Simon nodded. He turned to Rafe. "See if you can pull up the file."
"I can't believe I missed that one," Blair muttered as he walked around to stare over Rafe's shoulder.
"It would have been while you were at the academy," Simon explained as he followed the younger man. "You were probably too busy to pay attention to the news."
Once the report was on the screen, Rafe became aware of four pairs of eyes behind him. As he glanced back nervously, Blair suddenly groaned. "Oh man."
Jim shook his head. "Debbie's festival application for her sculptures had been turned down, which was felt to have contributed to her depression. And Dennis Faye is listed as a half brother." He caught his Captain's eye. "I'd say there's your motive."
Simon sighed. "Brown, get a warrant and pick up Mr. Faye."
"Simon," Jim began, ready to point out that it was his and Blair's case.
"No." Simon glared at the his friend. "Blair is driving you home so you can get some sleep and hopefully get rid of that headache." Then Simon turned his gaze to his other injured detective. "And Rafe is going home so he can take the pain meds for his hand and get some sleep." Now glaring at all his men, he growled, "Those are your orders, people. Now move it."
Dawn, next morning
Jim groaned as the annoying sound penetrated his sleep.
Propping himself up on an elbow, Jim ran a hand over his face.
With another groan, Jim pushed himself up. Hearing his roommate answer the phone below, Jim sat down on the edge of the mattress. While his headache was gone, he still felt like he'd been run over by a steamroller.
Jim immediately focused in on the conversation, recognizing Simon's voice. "...APB out on him now, but who knows where he could be."
"I suppose it'd be asking too much to hope he's left town," Blair moaned.
"I'm not willing to risk thousands of people on it."
"True," Blair agreed with a sigh. He looked up as Jim joined him, the sentinel's gaze directed at him instead of the sash he was tying. "You want us at the festival now?"
"Okay, we're on our way." Blair hung up and met his roommate's eyes. "You heard?"
"Enough to figure out they don't have Faye."
"Nope, though Brown found the parts for the arson devices in his basement." Taking a deep breath, Blair added, "And they found the instructions and the makings for a bomb."
"WHAT!" Jim exclaimed. He instantly turned back to the stairs, "Let's get moving, Chief."
On the rooftop
One hand wrapped around a steaming cup, the watcher held his binoculars in the other. He focused at the various black-clad men searching the festival area, several with dogs by their side. "Now why would the bomb squad be out this early?" the watcher wondered. "Today could be quite interesting."
Twenty minutes later, North side Riley Dam District
They found Simon talking with an officer handling one of the bomb-sniffing dogs near the bridge. As man and dog walked away, Blair called out, "Hey, Captain! Any luck?"
Simon scowled. "No. No Faye and no bomb."
"So, maybe we interrupted his plan?" Blair suggested hopefully.
Jim slowly shook his head, watching a few artists give the bomb squad a funny look. "We may have disrupted him, but in an hour there'll be thousands of people on these streets. Faye may attempt to slip in, plant his bomb, and leave unnoticed."
"Great," Blair muttered under his breath.
Jim raised his eyes to meet Simon's. "Any ideas?"
"Only to make sure everyone's eyes are peeled for this jerk. Unless," Simon glanced around and lowered his voice. "You two have some kind of special sentinel way of tracking him?"
Blair and Jim could only shake their heads. "I'm sorry, Simon, but between the crowds and the size of the area, my senses aren't that good in these conditions. There's just too many places to hide and we don't have a clue where to start."
Sighing deeply, Blair glanced around. He noticed Marcus Watson and Elijah Colburn approaching them. "Hey, what if we enlist a few more pairs of eyes?"
Jim quickly spotted what had grabbed his partner's attention. "Sandburg..."
"We just said we need everyone watching, and the People Defenders will be here anyway," Blair pointed out.
"Good idea, Sandburg," Simon agreed.
Jim simply rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything as Marcus and Colburn joined them. "Hey Ellison, was that a bomb dog I just saw?" Marcus asked.
"Yes," Jim replied curtly.
"Anything we should know about?" Colburn asked.
The three cops exchanged looks. "Would you and your group be willing to keep an eye out for someone, then let us know if you see them?" Simon asked.
"It's a matter of public safety," Blair added.
"Sure," Colburn replied. "What's up?"
Rooftop, three hours later
Even his stiff, painful muscles couldn't keep the watcher from enjoying the show. Watching the cops searching the immense crowds for someone without success was inspiring. Especially when for once they weren't looking for him. Yet his eyes continued to search out Ellison and his little partner. He had a feeling the sentinel would be in on the chase soon. Perhaps he could learn about his adversary and his special talents.
South side, Riley Dam District
The festival was in full swing. The Saturday crowd was much larger than the one from the day before as people enjoyed the unseasonably nice weather and the time off work. Yet the noise and odors were nearly overwhelming to the sentinel. Jim was tempted to dial all his senses down, yet to do so might allow their bomber to slip by unnoticed. So Jim gulped down more aspirin, stayed close to his partner, and prayed for a break.
Then a welcome voice came over his and Blair's headsets. "One of the People D's just saw Faye by the North side stage" Simon called, "Brown and Rafe, go check it out."
Jim and Blair exchanged looks. "Should we back them up?" Blair asked.
Jim shook his head. "We don't know for certain that's who it is yet. But we can head in that direction just in case."
Suddenly, Brown's voice roared over the radio. "Suspect is on the run, heading west along the river."
"Now we back them up," Jim determined. He and Blair began to jog towards the bridge, their only route to the chase.
A few minutes later, Rafe's gasps sounded in their ears. "Suspect's... crossing the... bridge."
"Damn," Jim muttered as he picked up the pace, Blair in his wake. They had just emerged into the cross street in front of the bridge as a gasping Faye stepped off. Spotting the two detectives, he grabbed the nearest person. Jim and Blair skidded to a stop as Faye pulled out a knife and held it to Franchot Pascalle's throat.
"Back off," the redhead growled, swinging his frightened hostage around so that he could see both Ellison and Sandburg as well as Brown and Rafe coming off the bridge. People swiftly scattered, swirling around the four detectives focused on their suspect.
"What's going on?" squeaked Pascalle.
"Shut up!" ordered Faye, his eyes darting between the detectives.
"Come on, Faye," Jim commanded gently, slowly walking towards the bomber with his gun aimed at his head. The detective was faintly aware of Blair clicking off the safety on his gun, of Brown trying to ease around to the left of the suspect. "You have no place to run."
"I'll kill him!" screamed Faye, his eyes wild.
"So," Jim shrugged as he continued to ease forward. "What's one less abstract painter? Now, if he was into Western art, that'd be another story."
Faye stared at Jim in surprise, never expecting that response. Jim's words also added to Pascalle's fear and shock. Overwhelmed, the artist fainted, slipping out from under Faye's arm. It provided the opening Jim was hoping for. The big detective lunged, grabbing Faye's knife hand. Within seconds, Ellison had disarmed the suspect and pinned his arm behind his back.
The other detectives converged, Rafe handing Jim his handcuffs while Blair knelt by the artist. "Sir," Blair called, softly patted the man's cheek. "Mr. Pascalle?"
"Am I dead?" the artist moaned theatrically.
"No," Blair chuckled. "You're not even scratched."
"No thanks to that uncouth detective with bad taste." Pascalle glared at Jim who pointedly ignored him.
"Well, that detective saved your life," Blair pointed out as he helped the artist to his feet. He quickly handed Pascalle over to the festival medics, then raced to catch up with Jim and their suspect.
Police van near festival headquarters
"Where's the bomb, Faye?" Simon growled at the chubby man sitting at the table. The man simply smiled.
"Tell us where is it, Faye!" Jim barked. The man jumped, his smile disappearing as he glared at Ellison.
Blair studied their suspect. Realizing that directness wasn't getting them anywhere, he decided on a more round about approach. "We're just going to bring in the bomb sniffing dogs again," Blair calmly pointed out. "We'll find it with or without your help. But the DA might be more lenient if you cooperate."
Faye began to laugh. "You won't find it until it blows up. Then your precious festival will be history."
"You," Jim roared, about to storm the suspect.
Blair jumped between the suspect and his partner. "Come on, Jim. Cool down."
"Sandburg, take your partner for a walk and send in Brown and Rafe," Simon ordered.
Jim gave the suspect one last glare before leaving the room.
Once outside, Jim paced under a shade tree, muttering obscenities to himself. Blair leaned against the trailer, deep in thought. Finally, the younger man asked, "Jim, if you wanted to do the most damage with a bomb, where would you put it?"
Jim stopped pacing and faced his partner. "What do you mean?"
"Faye is pretty certain of himself in there. The bomb has to be here, and it has to be set to go off. So where would he put it?"
Forcing back his anger so he could think again, Jim replied slowly, "His targets are the 'outsiders'."
Blair frowned a moment, then his eyes brightened. "Wait a minute." He yanked out the festival map he had kept in his back pocket. Dropping to the ground as he grabbed a pencil out of his pocket, Blair began to scribble on the map.
"Sandburg, what are you doing?"
"Coloring in all the potential targets," his partner absently explained. After a few minutes, Blair sat back up on his heels. "This is strange."
Jim knelt beside him. "What?"
"All the artists from out of town are near the river." Suddenly, everything clicked. Jim and Blair stared at each other in horror. "Oh God, the bomb's on the dam!" Blair breathlessly exclaimed.
Jim jumped to his feet as he reached for his headset still hanging around his neck. Flipping it on, he barked, "Simon, the bomb's on the dam!" Then he chased after his partner.
Blair was reaching for the door that led into the concrete structure when Jim grabbed his arm. Shouting so that he could be heard over the roaring water, he explained, "No, Chief. It might be booby-trapped." The younger man immediately jerked his hand away. Jim carefully slipped past him, focusing his sight on the door. After a minute, he nodded. "It's clear." Carefully, he eased the door open.
"Can you see anything?" Blair shouted back. Brown had called over the headset that it would take the bomb squad at least ten minutes to get to the dam. That was ten minutes they didn't know if they had. Simon and the rest of the security force were trying to organize an orderly evacuation of the area, but that would take even more time.
Jim frowned. With his hearing turned down due to the falls, he could barely hear his partner. "No. Any idea where to look?" As he spoke, Jim carefully eased himself inside.
"If you want to take out an entire dam, you'd place it on a stress point," Blair replied as he slid in after his partner. It was less noisy within the structure, though Blair could almost feel the force of the water in the air. "Though I doubt Faye is enough of an engineer to know where they are."
"Agree." Jim's eyes swiftly adjusted to the gloom inside. "Did Henri say what kind of bomb he built?"
"C4, I think. Rafe said it might have been from a Navy source. Do you think you can smell it?"
Jim began to turn up the dial, only to wrinkle his nose in disgust. "It really stinks in here."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Even I could have told you that." He paused as Jim coughed. "Try to filter out the mold first. Then see if you can smell C4."
Closing his eyes, Jim mentally pictured the dials as Blair had taught him. Carefully adjusting the images, he finally caught a whiff of what he was looking for. "This way." Blair jogged after him to a point about midway into the dam. Then Jim pointed in the gloom. "There."
"Hey man, I can barely see my hand in front of my face here. Where are you pointing?"
"It's where the old turbine used to be," Jim absently explained as he dropped down to the floor. Leaning over the shaft, he spotted the bomb. There were less than 2 minutes on the timer. Jim took a deep breath. There was no way he could allow the device to go off. "Can you hand me your pocket knife, Chief?"
Blair knelt down and carefully laid his Swiss army knife into his partner's palm by feel alone. "How much time do we have?"
"You don't want to know," Jim replied as he took the knife and pulled out the blade with the wire cutter. He leaned further into the shaft. As Blair heard him slide, he firmly grabbed the larger man's legs.
Taking another deep breath and holding it, Jim carefully clipped the wire on the thankfully simple device. The timer stopped. Then Jim yanked out the detonator. "That's done."
Blair carefully helped him up. His eyes were more accustomed to the dark so he could see his sentinel's relieved face. The two men exchanged grins. Again, they had managed to protect their tribe.
Rooftop, two hours later
The lanky man scribbled in his notebook. This little adventure had given him a lot to think about. Now that his suspicions had been confirmed, his adversary seemed even more dangerous. Ellison could prove to be a major obstacle when he was ready for his first contract in a few months. He would have to continue to study Ellison, to test him, to find some weakness before then. It would be a lot of work, but he always did like a challenge.
North side of bridge
"...even Commissioner Mathews was impressed," Simon declared to his best team. "Hopefully, this should keep him off our backs for a while."
Blair basked in the wide grin on his Captain's face. Simon was rarely that happy, so Blair decided to enjoy it while he could. Then Simon frowned as he took a closer look at his senior detective. "Jim? You still have that headache?"
"New one," Jim muttered, rubbing his forehead. "The glues on these sculptures are a killer."
"Then why don't you two head home? You can get the paper work to me later."
Blair flashed him a smile. "Thanks, Simon."
"That's Captain Banks to you, and if you don't get out of here now, I'll find something else for you to do."
"On our way." Jim gave his partner a gentle shove way from the Captain and towards freedom. Soon, the two men were walking through the festival one last time to get to the truck.
"Man, I am SO ready to go home," Blair declared as he rolled his head from side to side.
"Agree," Jim sighed. "I feel like I could down a bottle of aspirin and sleep for a week." Then he felt eyes staring at him. Glancing to the right, he moaned, "Oh great."
"What?" Blair asked in confusion.
"That woman who thinks I'm 'perfect' is pointing me out to a friend," Jim grumbled as he picked up the pace. He carefully tilted his sore head, listening in on the conversation.
"Cool," Blair teased. "You could always take her up on her offer."
"Only if you do, too," Jim retorted. "In fact, it sounds like her friend is very interested in drawing you."
"Really?" Blair immediately perked up. "Is she cute?"
Jim barely held back a smile. "I can't say. He isn't my type."
Blair's eyes widened. "HE?"
Jim nodded, a smirk sneaking across his tired face. "Yep."
Blair glanced nervously over his shoulder. "You know, if we cut in through here we could get to the truck faster."
"Right behind you, Chief."