(with much assistance from Heidi McKeon)
edited by: Emerald, Jon Gabriel and Mary
Sunday night, After Midnight
Dark figures darted from shadow to shadow, pausing only long enough to make sure they had not been spotted. They made no sound as they moved past the quiet stores. The four shapes reached the service entrance, waiting as the fifth member of the group eased the stolen key into the lock and slowly opened the door.
Silently, satchels were loaded into a black van. The fifth member nodded, signaling both approval and dismissal. The door was closed and the van pulled away. The four figures moved into the dark night, leaving no sound that they were ever there.
Cascade Police Department
Laughter rang from the elevator as the two occupants stepped off and headed for the Major Crimes bullpen.
"Sheeesh, Jim." Blair Sandburg said, laughter in his voice. "You make it sound like I'm joined at the hip to my new computer. All I did was spend the weekend making sure I had all the data transferred from the old laptop to my new iBook. And testing out the modem to be sure the air card worked.
Blair's partner, Jim Ellison shook his head. "But I didn't know you would be spending more time with the new computer than being sociable. It's a good thing your ISP is local, or your long distance bills would be sky-high."
"You know Jim, it's all your fault. You were the one who bought me the wireless hookup." Blair reminded him as they skirted around Rafe's desk on the way to their own.
"Well, I got tired of tripping over all those damn wires you had running out of your room."
Blair laughed as he settled down at his desk, which sat next to Jim's. Some days he still found it hard to believe everything that had transpired during the past year. Who would have ever thought of Blair Sandburg as a police detective? Still, he was happy. This was his life as it was meant to be and he was content with it.
Jim started to boot his computer up and grumbled when all he got were error messages. "I thought you said those tech geeks fixed everything?"
"Hey man, it's not my fault that Apple knew that the year 2000 was coming, and that Bill Gates didn't."
Just to be contrary, Jim added, "You sure about that, Chief? Bill Gates seemed to be having an awful lot of 'getting into the next century meetings' with corporate CEOs that managed to tie up the traffic in and around the city for hours." He should know. He'd gotten stuck in the traffic on the bridge several times.
Blair just waved him off replying, "So why has Microsoft crashed so many times while Apple is still up and running? Hmmm? And just what company went before the Supreme Court for Antitrust?"
Jim knew his partner could go on for hours about the differences between the two computer companies. As much as Jim liked to razz him about Apple, Sandburg's points were actually valid-- not that he'd tell him that! He grabbed the top folder from the pile on his desk and started to look at the older and rapidly getting colder case.
"Ellison! Sandburg! My office please!" The voice of Captain Simon Banks boomed across the bullpen.
The detectives looked at each other: Jim with a resigned sigh, Blair with a smirk. "Happy New Year, Jim."
"Good morning, Simon." Jim led the way into Simon's office and settled into a chair facing the Captain's desk. Blair perched in his usual spot against the conference table.
"So Jim, have you been able to pull Sandburg away from his new toy yet?" Simon offered them each coffee before refilling his own cup. He had been at the loft on Christmas day when Jim had presented his partner with the new computer. They had made jokes the rest of the day that Blair would forget to eat in his excitement over the gift. The highlight of their teasing Blair was when Jim told the younger man that his new "toy" was made from bullet proof material, but that he really didn't want to put the material to the test. Blair was unsure whether to believe Jim about the bulletproof material until Jim had actually showed him in print.
Jim smiled, "Eventually. I think he's sleeping with it though." He laughed as Blair rolled his eyes in exasperation at the two men.
"So what's up Simon? Or is this going to be a 'let's get Blair Day'." Blair asked, hoping to ward off another round of teasing. "Just don't tell me that I have to retype reports from anything dated 19- something."
"I'm happy to say that we don't have to do that. All that worrying and fussing over the department computers paid off and except for a few of the older computers, we didn't suffer a major loss." Simon paused as Jim choked back a laugh.
"I must have an older machine then." Jim told him. "I was trying to boot mine just a few moments ago and all I got was error after error."
Simon sighed. "Call the help desk and see if they'll send one of their geeks up here. Until they get here, you and Sandburg may have to share a computer. Unless he's figured out how to access the police files with his new blue toy."
Blair just rolled his eyes and ignored the chuckling from the two older men.
Simon picked up a file and leaned forward to hand it to the two detectives. "Time to get to work. It may be a new millennium, but crime continues on."
Jim took the file as Blair spoke up. "Actually, it's debated as to when the new millennium starts. Many people feel that it doesn't start until the year 2001. Since we generally count from 1 to 10, it makes sense that years would be counted from year 1 to 2001. It'd be silly to say we would have a year zero. With all the media hype, it's easy to confuse the Y2K issues with the start of a new millennium. Some people are blaming the movie, '2001: A Space Odyssey' on the confusion. Either way, a lot of people took it as an excuse to party extra hard this year.
He paused, seeing both Jim and Simon watching him with amused expressions on their faces. "Gee, just trying to share a little knowledge." He shook his head.
"Can I continue now?" Simon asked, and then did so, without waiting for an answer.
"Over the holidays, Westlake Mall merchants have been victim to a series of break-ins. There have been five robberies in a two-week period. All have taken place at night after the mall has closed. Which means no witnesses, but on the bright side that also means that no one has been hurt."
Jim read over the reports in the file, while Blair looked over his shoulder. "There's no mention of damage to the stores."
"That's because there hasn't been any. Who ever is doing this is getting in past all the security cameras, gates and locks, picking specific, high dollar items and getting out. Nothing broken."
"How about the security tapes?" Blair asked.
"Nothing. Someone turns off the cameras from the control panels. Which means they know how to operate the security systems."
"Don't they have security guards over there? I know they do during store hours, but how about after hours?" Jim handed the file to his partner.
"They have a couple of guards who are supposed to be patrolling, but whoever is doing this is getting in past them. It's a big mall and with the security cameras shut off, it would be relatively easy to get past the guards."
"What's the possibility of an inside job?" Blair asked as he looked over the report himself.
"We aren't ruling it out, but the security people all check out, some are even ex-cops." Simon replied, sitting on the corner of his desk. "I want you two to go over and talk to security again and then check out the merchants who were robbed. You know the drill."
The partners nodded, yeah, they knew the drill. Getting up and heading toward the door, they stopped when they heard Simon call to Blair.
"Yeah," Blair answered, pausing in the doorway.
"You'll notice one of the stores is a computer/electronics store."
"No shopping for accessories," Simon grinned.
"Ha, ha," Blair replied dryly waving his hand at Simon and following Jim out the door.
Jim and Blair walked through the mall, heading for the business offices located at the back of the food court. Around them, people went from store to store, shopping as though the holiday season was just starting instead of just ending.
"It's weird," Blair commented after dodging a woman with a twin stroller. "Malls and stores in general never fail to amaze me."
Jim looked at his partner and nearly walked into a small child happily clutching a black cat Beanie Baby. "Why's that, Chief? I'll admit that I don't like the crowds and noise, but what in particular baffles you?"
Blair gestured around him. "These days, stores have the holiday decorations up by Halloween. Consumers are barraged with decorations and music for two months in a continual attempt to persuade them to buy. Then bang it's all over. Here we are, just a week and a half after Christmas and there's not a decoration in sight. You'd never know the holidays had been. Christmas is barely over and there's already Valentine's Day stuff out."
His partner grimaced. "Now there's a commercial holiday. All designed to make a person spend more money than they normally would." He sighed, checking the list of stores hit by the robberies. "Let's get started on talking with the employees and owners at some of these stores. Where do we want to start, Chief?"
Blair looked over the list, and then looked up to see what was around them. "The electronics store is right over there, that's as good a place to start as anywhere. Especially since they were the first store hit."
"Let's go then."
The two detectives walked into the electronics store, and Jim immediately turned down his hearing to mute the sounds of equipment mixed with a too-loud radio. They looked around a bit until the clerk finished with the only customer in the store and turned to them.
"Can I help you with anything?"
"I'm Detective Ellison. This is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We'd like to talk to the owner if he's in. It's about the robbery last week."
The young man at the counter, whose nametag read 'Kevin Wells' blinked at the detective. "The manager isn't in today. His baby has been sick and he didn't come in."
"Maybe you could answer a couple of questions?" Jim asked, turning his senses on the clerk. Even with the uncomfortable hum of the various computer monitors and fans, he was curious as to why Kevin suddenly looked like he was hiding nervousness.
"Sorry, man. I only work the day shift. I didn't work the day of the robbery so there's nothing I can tell you about the store."
"Who does work at night and normally closes the store, the manager?" As Jim talked, he noticed that his partner was drifting around the store, looking at various items. He knew that Blair could still hear the conversation since the store wasn't that big.
"Sometimes Mr. Ivus, the manager. Sometimes Marcus Wilson, the night clerk, closes." Kevin paused. "But I don't think Marcus worked that night either."
Blair walked up behind his partner just in time to hear Jim ask, "Can you tell me when Mr. Wilson will be in? I'd like to speak with him; just a few routine questions. And when will Mr. Ivus be back? Tomorrow?"
"Sorry," the young man at the counter looked anything but apologetic. "Not a clue. I don't know his schedule and have no idea when he'll be in until he walks in the door."
The detective glared at the kid behind the counter. "Look, I'm not going to arrest him, I just want to talk with him. Surely you must have some idea of when he's supposed to be working. Isn't there a schedule you can check?"
Kevin just shook his head and shrugged.
"Excuse me?" Blair stepped forward, pushing past Jim to reach the counter while trying to ignore Jim's shocked look. "I'm looking for the memory upgrade kits for the iBook. Do you have any?"
The clerk, who hadn't been paying much attention to the other detective as Blair had wandered around the store, looked overly grateful at the distraction. "Sure man, we've got a few that just came in today. They're over here." Ignoring the older man and obviously forgetting in his nervousness that Blair had been introduced as a detective, he led Blair to a storage case with more computer parts displayed.
Jim opened his mouth to bring the conversation back to the investigation, but Blair shot him a look of warning. As Blair turned to follow the clerk he whispered under his breath so that only Jim heard him with Sentinel hearing, "Let me try something, Jim. Just don't remind him I'm with you."
The older detective stood watching the two men chatting happily about memory upgrades and zip drives. Letting his partner have a shot and playing along, Jim grumbled and stalked out of the store. He walked far enough down the row of stores so that he could still hear the conversation, but would not be seen by the store clerk.
"This is the first time I've tried swapping out memory." Blair said. "Is it hard? I've never been really good with the hardware stuff."
"Nah, the kit comes with complete instructions." Kevin laughed. "But if you do get into trouble with it, there's a number for tech support. Or you can call and ask one of us here."
"Cool! I called the other night asking about a game and the guy working that night was really into games. Is he here by any chance?" Blair looked around, hoping his partner was listening to the conversation. "I wanted to ask his opinion about one."
Kevin shook his head. "That sounds like Marcus. Sorry, but he generally only works in the evenings, on the closing shift. If you come back after seven-thirty, you'll catch him. Oh, he's off tonight, so try tomorrow night."
Blair grinned, setting the upgrade kit on the counter. "Thanks, man. I really appreciate it. Games are something of a major hobby of mine and I'm trying my hand at coding one."
"Just be careful," Kevin rang up the purchase, running Blair's credit card for approval. "Once Marcus gets started on gaming talk, you could be here all night. It's more than a hobby, it's his passion."
"Sounds like someone I definitely want to hook up with." Blair shook hands with the clerk and picked up the bag with his purchase. "Thanks for the help. Maybe with the memory upgrade, my roommate will quit making jokes about fruit flavored computers." Blair couldn't resist the jab at Jim, especially since it was Jim who bought him the 'fruit flavored' computer.
"Don't you hate it when they do that?" Kevin took the signed slip from Blair to store in the bottom drawer of the register. Blair saw his eyes widen as he saw Blair's full name, as though suddenly remembering whom Blair had come in with. Kevin simply shook his head and handed the bag with the upgrade kit to Blair. "Enjoy." He mumbled as he fled to the storage room.
Blair watched the clerk disappear, the turned to rejoin his partner outside the store. "I hated fooling him like that, but he's the one that didn't remember just being introduced."
"Let's get lunch and figure out who we are going to talk to next," Jim suggested.
"Sounds like a good idea. How about over there?" Blair pointed to a Panda Express.
Sitting down with their plates of fried rice, egg rolls and orange chicken, they began to divide the list of the remaining stores to make the questioning go quicker.
"I'll take the bookstore and the music store," Blair said between bites of egg roll. "Oh and I'll take the optical shop between them to see if they noticed anything weird going on prior to the robberies of both those places."
"What does that leave, Chief?"
"The jewelry store over by Victoria's Secret and you might as well talk to the people in Victoria's Secret and see if they saw or noticed anything out of the ordinary. Especially since it sits between a service door and the jewelry store.
"No way, Chief. Victoria's Secret is more your speed."
"Hi guys!" Megan interrupted.
"Megan, what are you doing here?" Blair asked, and then waved toward a seat indicating she should join them.
"I have something I need to exchange."
"Oh yeah, where?" Blair asked with a teasing smile.
"Victoria's Secret, why?"
"Hey Jim, there you go. You can take Megan in with you when you question them," Blair offered.
"Why are you questioning them? Does it have to do with the robberies?"
"We were just splitting up the places we had to check out and Jim is feeling awkward about going into Victoria's Secret to question them about whether they saw anything that could give us a lead in the investigation."
"No problem Jim, I'll go in with you and save you from the frilly stuff while you question the employees. Then you can help me decide which color and style looks better on me."
Jim sighed, "Do I even want to know what you'll be trying on?"
Megan laughed. "Maybe not until we get there. It might be safer that way."
"That's what I thought." Jim shook his head, wondering when he'd lost control of the day.
Blair snickered as he watched Jim get led away by Megan: he'd give anything to see what it was exactly Megan wanted Jim's opinion on.
The drive back to the station was quiet except for the occasional snickers from Blair, which earned him a scowl from Jim. He couldn't help it though! It was just too funny watching Jim futilely trying to act casual in the lingerie store full of women scooping up armfuls of after-Christmas sale panties. He'd come back in time to see Jim trying to usher Megan out of the store and not get stopped every step by women asking his opinion of a certain color or style.
Finally Blair couldn't resist the temptation any longer, and asked, "Jim, how come you were so uncomfortable in there? Didn't you and Carolyn ever go shopping together?"
Jim thought for a moment then got a small smile on his face, "Yeah... But shopping with Connor is a lot different that shopping with one's wife." Jim paused, giving his partner a warning glare, "Now if you have satisfied your curiosity, can we get back to the issue at hand. Did you find out anything about the robberies?"
Blair took pity on his partner and on the rest of the drive back to the station they discussed what they had discovered about the employees who were working on the nights the robberies had occurred.
Jim and Blair were no sooner through the door of the bullpen than Simon was calling them into his office. "Ellison, Sandburg! My office! Now!" His voice boomed throughout the room.
Blair caught the grimace on Rafe's face as they walked past. No one liked being called into the Captain's office; it rang too much of being called into the principal's office in grammar school.
Simon skipped the pleasantries as Jim and Blair walked in and took their usual seats. "Tell me you got something? The Chief is breathing down my neck about this case. Apparently the owners of the Mall, the De Bartlo's, know some people in high places and the pressure is coming down from the higher ups."
The partners filled Simon in on what little information they obtained doing the interviews. For everyone they had spoken to, it was the same story: no on had seen anything or the closing night person wasn't available. The lack of damage to shop doors and/or windows made it seem as if the robbers had keys or some other access to the stores. Simon's dislike of the lack of any remotely solid information was evident in the way he chewed on the end of his unlit cigar.
"I'm going to arrange for us to get some men in as extra security, but that is going to take a few days to get in place. Right now, I want you two to spend the night at the mall, after hours and see if you can turn up anything. There hasn't been any pattern to the robberies, but at this point I'm willing to try anything." Simon explained.
They spent the next several minutes talking over the details of the stake out and including how they were going to get in and when. They didn't want Mall security to know what they were doing in case there was a leak in the security company.
Simon sat back, satisfied with the plan they had outlined. "That's good for now. Why don't the two of you get out of here for a while and get some sleep before you show up tonight. I'll work on getting backup scheduled to be there if you need them."
Both detectives nodded gratefully as they made their way out through the bullpen and towards the elevator.
Jim could feel his Guide's hand resting lightly on his back as he extended his senses across the upper level of the mall. The silence was nearly overpowering as they walked silently past a department store before stopping in a small access hallway.
Blair watched the Sentinel and waited for him to finish. His partner stood listening intently until he finally glanced at his partner, a small grin on his face. "Come on, I think they're down this way, on the ground level headed for the food court.
"There's a jewelry store at the entrance of that hallway." Blair whispered. "Any bets that's where they are?"
His partner didn't argue with him. "Let's go back this way and down the stairs. That'll put us behind the jewelry store and hopefully they won't see us." With long-practiced ease of working together, Jim and Blair headed for the circular stairway. Blair's hand resting lightly on Jim's providing a focus for the Sentinel to keep him from zoning because the only way Jim could see in the dark was by using his heightened sight. It also kept Blair from falling down stairs that he couldn't see.
As they cleared the center of the mall and approached the jewelry store, four black-clad shapes slipped out under the partially raised gate. The last person out handed a black bag to one of the others and turned to lower the gate and lock it. That confirmed Jim's suspicions that the thieves had access to a master security key. Before the group had a chance to move, Jim stepped out into the middle of the hallway.
"FREEZE! CASCADE PD!"
The four figures froze and it didn't take Sentinel hearing to hear the soft "Oh shit" that came from the person who had locked the gate. Three pairs of eyes looked over the detectives in front of them.
"Drop the bags now. Hands in the air."
The tallest of the thieves nodded slowly, the bag dropping towards the floor as though complying with the order. The masked face looked at the other three, turning sharply. A male voice rang out.
The taller of the two remaining figures grabbed the bag as the other pulled an object from inside the bag. Suddenly a bright spotlight was turned on Jim and Blair as they rushed the thieves. Blair blinked and brought a hand up to shield his eyes.
The severe effect on Jim was immediate. His sight was dialed up when the light hit his dilated eyes. With a cry he fell to his knees, his arms going up in front of his face. Hearing Jim's distress, Blair turned to his Sentinel. Retreating footsteps made him think the thieves had run.
Blair never saw the large figure swing the black bag, which connected with the back of his head. The young man fell to the floor beside his partner, not moving.
Ellison struggled with the imaginary dial that controlled his sight, sighing in relief as he could finally make out dark shapes. He had heard the running footsteps and couldn't hear anyone close to him except for Blair. Something was wrong though.
As he got his sight under control, his sigh turned into a gasp as he focused on the still form of his partner on the floor. He reached out to feel for a pulse even as his hearing latched onto a steady heartbeat. Between that heartbeat and the lack of blood, he knew the young man was okay, just stunned. Jim pulled himself to his feet and took off after the retreating thieves.
Running down in the direction of the footsteps, he spotted one of the thieves carrying a black bag run out the service entrance beside the security office. He kicked the door open just in time to see a dark green van speed off through the parking lot.
"Damn." He muttered, as he tried to focus on the van only to find that the license plate was missing. With another softly muttered curse he went back inside to help Blair.
Monday late night
Warehouse, unknown location
"What the hell happened out there tonight?" Evans yelled, angrily staring at the four young people that stood silently in front of him. He had picked them because they had a lot in common and fit the profile set by his employer. All four were good looking, as if they belonged on a movie set instead of working in the local mall. Also, they were all friends and had been since high school, attending a local community college together. They all shared a love for the thrill of danger. Evans knew he had to be careful though, the boys had never done anything to land them in jail-- until now-- and that could make the players very nervous.
"We weren't expecting the cops to show," Marcus answered. "The rent-a-cops hired by the mall have always been easily avoided and not a problem. So why are they bothering us now?"
Sean spoke up, concern in his dark eyes. "Because I don't think they were the rent-a-cops. The guy that yelled said they were from Cascade Police. Those were real cops, man.
"So I whacked a real cop. Just great." Marcus grumbled, running a hand through his short brown hair.
"And robbery is any better?" Kevin smirked, hiding a grin as Evans turned a glare towards him.
"What else were you supposed to do?" Andy asked. "Besides, we got away and they can't ID us or connect us to the robberies. Right? If you hadn't have whacked him they might have caught us."
"I don't like it." Sean said. "This is getting out of control. This is supposed to be fun. Knock off some stores and make some extra cash. For the challenge, because we can. But now cops are getting involved and people are getting hurt."
"For crying out loud, Sean. I didn't hit him that hard. He was probably up and about before we got out of the building good. All I did was slow him down." Marcus moved to lean up against a nearby table.
"Young Andy is correct, the situation is changing. But I disagree that it is out of control. The rules are simply changing. Life is like that. Things do not always happen as they should and one must learn to adapt or be left behind."
Everyone turned to look at the new arrival standing the doorway. Evans straightened immediately. It was rare that his employer made an appearance after a job. But then they had never had a botched job before. For a fleeting moment Evans wondered how the man had known about the police interference.
"Mr. Anders, please come in. We were just going over tonight's results."
A tall man, dressed in a black suit that made him look extremely pale, eyed the group with an air of amusement before taking a seat at the table that Evans used as a desk. "Results? Such as the arrival of detectives from the Cascade Police?" The smile was still there, but it was cold and mocking. Evans swallowed nervously.
"Yes, Sir. We knew that several detectives were at the mall earlier today, but we had no idea they would be there tonight. We don't know if they knew to be there, or just got lucky. And how did they know where to find the team?" Evans gestured towards the four young men standing silently to the side. "They know how to do their jobs."
Much to his surprise, Marcus spoke up. "The cop showing up wasn't our fault. We did everything according to plan, just as we always do. They just showed up, like out of nowhere."
"Not exactly out of nowhere." Kevin muttered.
"What do you mean?" Marcus turned to stare at his friend.
"They were at the computer store on Monday." Kevin answered. "The tall guy was and I think the guy with him tonight came in after him. The tall guy said his name was Ellison."
"You didn't tell Ellison anything did you?" Anders asked, his voice low.
"No. All he wanted to know was about who worked night shift and closing. But I didn't tell him anything and he left when a customer came in." Kevin stopped, a look of horror on his face. "Damn. The other guy, Sandburg. He was the guy with Ellison tonight. He said he had called a few days ago and talked to someone about Apple games. I figured he had talked to Marcus and told him what night Marcus would be working."
Silence fell over the group, with the four younger members shifting uncomfortably. Finally Marcus said, "But that still doesn't connect me to the robberies." No one answered him.
Evans sighed, looking at his boss. "They still don't have anything to connect any of us to the robberies-- especially you or I. We are doing rather well, so we could ease off for a bit until the heat is off."
"I want out." Sean announced suddenly, cringing when all eyes turned on him. "I'm sorry, but the cops? This is so not what I signed up for! It's not fun anymore and it's just not worth the risk for me. I can't afford to get caught!"
"Damn it, Sean!" Marcus practically yelled at his friend. "We can't panic now. We're all in this."
Sean headed for the door, settling a ball cap on his head. "I'm not. I'm out as of now. Don't worry; I'm not going to the cops. I just can't do this anymore." Without waiting for an answer from the stunned group, he walked out the door.
The remaining group in the warehouse stared at each other. Marcus cleared his throat. "I'll go after him and get him to calm down. The cops tonight spooked us, but we'll be back at work tomorrow."
"Good night, gentlemen." Anders nodded, clearly dismissing the young men. They looked relieved to be able to go, leaving Evans and Anders behind.
The two men watched the group leave. Evans stood watching his employer. "The boy could be a problem."
"Then make sure he doesn't become a problem."
"What about the police involvement? Do we continue with the program?"
Anders stared at the closed door a few moments before answering. "Let's skip Tuesday night, but go ahead with Wednesday. The appearance of the authorities simply adds to the challenge."
"Yes, Sir." Evans breathed a silent sigh of relief as he left the warehouse and his employer behind. Anders must be in a good mood. The last time they had to change plans on the spur of the moment, more than one person had ended up dead.
"Jim, come on. I'm fine. Not even a concussion." Blair complained as he caught his roommate watching him intently. "No dizziness. No blurred vision. No bruises. My head doesn't even hurt today."
"So you feel like going in today?"
"Yes, Jim. Of course I do. Trust me, I've been worse off than this. But if it'll make you feel better, you can let me at the shower first." Blair laughed as he dodged past his roommate to occupy the bathroom.
Jim was saved from a reply as the phone rang.
Blair lost the rest of the conversation as he closed the bathroom door behind him, grateful for a short reprieve from questioning. Telling Jim he actually did have a headache was not part of the plan and nothing a couple aspirin and a cup of coffee couldn't fix. He emerged twenty minutes later, scrubbing at his hair to dry it. Another twenty minutes saw him leaving his bedroom to join a showered and dressed Jim in the kitchen.
"Who was on the phone?" Blair asked as he filled the juice glasses and followed Jim to the table.
"Simon. We need to eat and get on our way. A body's been found in a business park pond. He wants us to meet him and Megan there to take a look around."
"Far be it from me to question, but why? Megan can handle it."
Jim sat down to eat the scrambled eggs and toast. "Because the pond is less than two miles from Westlake Mall and the ID found on the body is for Sean Milner. He used to work at Cascade Used Books at the mall."
The two men finished their hurried breakfast in silence and left the loft.
Tuesday -- Late Morning
The 1969 blue and white Ford pulled to a stop beside the various police cars and emergency vehicles. The two detectives got out and Blair smiled as he heard Simon bellow an order at one of the uniformed officers.
"What's funny, Chief?" Jim asked, seeing his partner smile.
"Simon. There are times that a person doesn't need to be a Sentinel to find him in a crowd."
Jim was spared from commenting as they walked up to their Captain, who turned to greet them.
"Good morning, gentlemen. How are you doing, Sandburg?"
"I'm fine, Simon. One hundred percent. What have you got?" Blair smiled to let Simon know he appreciated the concern.
"Sean Milner. Twenty-one years old. Killed by a gunshot wound to the heart, then dumped in the lake. At least that's what the preliminary reports say. He was carrying ID and his employee badge from the bookstore at Westlake Mall."
"Wasn't that the first store hit by the robberies? On the same night as the electronics store?"
"Yes it was. And he had this in his pocket." Simon handed Jim a plastic evidence bag. Jim held the bag up for his partner to see.
"These look a little expensive for a bookstore clerk to be carrying around." Inside the bag were two sapphire rings and a matching necklace.
Simon nodded his agreement. "They still need to be checked for prints and compared to the list from the jewelry store that was hit two nights after the book store. I'd bet that these items are on the list."
Megan joined the group. "Good morning, Jim. Sandy. So does this look like it's related to your robbery cases?"
Jim nodded as he moved off to look around the site where the body was found. Blair and Megan followed so the Guide could keep an eye on his Sentinel.
Simon watched as Blair and Megan walked away, talking about the case, before moving forward to join Ellison. "Jim, do you think you could check out the scene and tell me if you find anything else?" Simon asked. This was too clean of a scene and he was hoping Jim would be able to find something, anything that would give him a direction to go in.
Jim walked around, lightly opening up his senses. Looking around the ground first he didn't spot much that was out of the ordinary: footprints leading up to and away from the pond in several places. His sense of smell didn't give him much to go on either. Just the normal wet, earthy smell of the ground from the overnight rain, plus a touch of pheromones from a couple using the bench to get a little late night action.
"Anything, Jim?" Simon asked but was waved off as Jim continued to walk around the scene.
Jim finally stopped beside Simon, noticing Blair had joined them again, "Anything?" Blair asked this time.
"Nothing out of the ordinary for a park and a pond. There wasn't any smell of gunpowder so that means he was dumped here after he'd been shot. There are several sets of footprints leading to the pond and away again but I doubt we could pin point which one carried Sean. There was another smell. Something I couldn't place, but I don't know what it is."
Jim looked at Blair, he could tell his partner was already gearing up to have him do some tests. "No Sandburg, I am not going to walk around town smelling things. It was probably something the couple who used the bench last night wore."
Simon shook his head, "Alright. I want you to go with Megan to Sean Milner's home. Let her handle the lead on it. I want you two as back up. And Jim," Simon waited until he was sure he had Jim's attention, "Use those senses of yours and see if you can detect anything out of the ordinary at his home."
The blue and white Ford pulled into the driveway smoothly behind the department car that Megan drove. Jim and Blair got out and waited for Megan to get her notes in order and take a deep breath before approaching the house. This was one part of police work that no one ever became accustomed to. They all knew this would be even harder because not only did they have to tell the family that a man was dead, but that he may have been involved in criminal activities.
Megan knocked on the door and introduced herself and the two detectives to the middle aged woman that answered the door. Mrs. Milner was dressed as though getting ready to go out for the afternoon. She quietly led them into the living room. The two men sat quietly as Megan explained what had happened and comforted the weeping mother.
After several minutes, Blair cleared his throat. "I'm sorry to ask this, Mrs. Milner, but may we look around Sean's room? Your son was found with items in his possession that came from a recent robbery at the mall. We think whoever did this may be connected to the robberies."
"You think my Sean was involved?"
"We don't know that. It's possible that someone he knew is involved."
The room was quiet as Mrs. Milner gathered herself and thought about the request. "If it'll help find the person who killed my son, then yes, you may see Sean's room." She looked up at her daughter who had slipped in the room to site beside her and was staring in shock at the news. "My daughter, Shelly, will show you."
Megan looked up at Jim and Blair. "The two of you go take a look. I'll sit here with Mrs. Milner for a bit."
They nodded and turned to follow the slim fair-haired girl up the stairs. She paused outside of a room at the end of the hallway. "This is... was Sean's room." Her voice shook. "Is there anything else you need?"
Blair put his hand on the girl's shoulder. "Do you feel up to a couple of questions? If not, we can do it later."
"I don't know. I guess so."
"How about friends? Anyone that Sean hung out with a lot?" Jim asked quietly.
Shelly shrugged. "One that I know of, Marcus Wilson. Maybe some other guys that work at the mall." Her voice caught. "I'm sorry." She turned and fled down the stairs to the living room to rejoin her mother.
Jim sighed, "There are definitely days I don't like this job."
Major Crimes Bullpen
Two very weary detectives exited the elevator and walked across the hall into the Major Crimes bullpen.
Blair picked up their coffee cups and headed for the break room while Jim gathered their notes on the robberies. They met at the door to Simon's office and entered at their Captain's invitation.
"So, how did it go yesterday?" Simon asked, once they had settled into chairs at his desk.
"We didn't really find a lot." Jim told him. "His sister told us that he hung out with a Marcus Wilson and some other guys from the mall. But there wasn't anything in his room to connect him with the robberies."
"Right now, the only connection we have," Blair continued, "is that his friend, Wilson, works at the electronics store at the mall that was robbed. So it's possible that if Sean was somehow involved, that maybe Wilson is too."
A knock on the door interrupted them. At Simon's invitation, the door opened and Joel Taggart stepped in. "Excuse me, Captain. Jim? There's a young lady out here that says she needs to talk to you and Blair. Her name is Shelly Milner. She says it's very important."
"What?" Jim turned to look out the window to see a young woman sitting at his desk. She accepted a cup of coffee from Rafe and continued staring at nothing.
Blair moved to stand beside him. "That's, Shelly Milner all right."
"Let's go see what she wants to tell us." Jim led the way out of Simon's office to his desk. "Miss Milner?"
Shelly Milner looked up with red eyes that clearly showed a lack of sleep. She took another sip of coffee before setting the cup down on Jim's desk. "Detective Ellison. Is there somewhere we can talk? I've been thinking about our conversation yesterday, about who would want to hurt Sean, and I think I've remembered something."
Jim nodded. "Of course. Let's go down here to an empty interview room, it'll be quieter. You remember my partner, Detective Sandburg?"
She nodded and shook Blair's hand. "Yes. Hello Detective."
Blair placed a hand on Shelly's arm and gently led her to the interview room. "Do you need anything else to drink? More coffee, or some tea?"
"Thanks, I'm fine." She shook her head. "You asked me yesterday about Sean's friends and if I knew of anyone that would want to hurt my brother. At the time, I didn't. But last night I got to thinking about it and remembered someone he had an argument with."
Glancing at Blair to make sure he was taking notes, Jim prompted. "Why don't you start at the beginning and tell us what you remember."
"Sean spent a lot of time hanging around with his best friend from high school, Marcus Wilson. They got along fine. They argued, but as friends. But then Marcus brought someone new over. His name was Evans. There was something odd about him. Menacing. I didn't trust him and made it a point to not be around when he was there."
"What was he like? How was he menacing?" Jim asked.
"He was older than both Marcus and Sean. He never smiled and he never stayed long when he was there. He'd come in, hand them a large envelope, talk for a bit and leave."
"Do you know what they talked about?"
"No. I only saw them. I was never close enough to hear what was being said. I'm sorry."
Blair patted her arm. "That's okay, Shelly. What you're telling us is a big help. Go on."
"Well, Monday night I heard Sean come in, then about twenty minutes later, Marcus arrived. They went to the garage and I couldn't hear what they were saying. Then a while later I went to the kitchen and heard voices in the garage. Angry voices. I looked out the window and Evans was there, arguing with Sean. Sean didn't look happy and Evans just looked very angry."
"What was Marcus doing?"
"Now that I think about it, Marcus wasn't there. He must have left before Evans got there. If he was there, he was quiet and I couldn't see him. I only heard Evans and Sean."
"What happened next?"
Shelly stared at the table. "I don't know." She whispered. "I went back upstairs, not wanting to get involved in Sean's business. I'm only older by a year and we don't get involved in each other's business. Maybe if I had..." her voice trailed off.
Blair moved to sit beside her and placed his arm around her shoulders. "No, don't think like that. There's nothing you could have done. If Evans is the man who killed your brother, then interrupting could have gotten you killed as well. You've done the right thing, by not interrupting and coming to us with what you know."
Jim gave her a few moments to collect her thoughts before continuing. "Is there anything else? You didn't happen to see what he was driving? Could you give us a description of Evans?"
"I'm not sure what he was driving that night, but one time I saw a van in the driveway. A dark green van. As for what he looks like, I only met him up close one time." She paused, trying to remember, shaking her head. "I'm sorry. Not enough to really describe. He looked older than Sean or Marcus, which seemed odd to me. At first I thought he might be someone they worked with."
Simon's office, Major Crimes
"So what do we have?" Simon asked the group of people sitting at the table in his office.
"According to what Shelly told us, we can connect Evans to Sean. They were seen together arguing. But we don't have a motive, or even a clear indication that Evans would be a suspect." Megan read from her notes.
"Other than they were seen arguing the night that Milner was killed." Jim reminded the Inspector. "That makes Evans our top suspect at this point. Him and Marcus."
"The green van. Shelly saw Evan's driving a green van when he was at their house. Any bets that it's the same green van that Jim saw at Westlake Mall on Monday night?" Blair added.
"That's a stretch, Chief."
"I know. But Sean was found with jewelry from Monday night's robbery in his pocket. What if it was put there after he was killed, to connect him to the robberies."
"Why do that? If not for the jewelry, there wouldn't be any reason to connect Milner's death to the mall robberies. More than likely, if the two are connected, the killer didn't know the jewelry was there," Jim pointed out.
Wednesday late night
"You can't be serious." Marcus stared in shock at the older man driving the van. "You want us to pull tonight's job? Without Sean?"
Evans shrugged. "I'm just following my orders. As you should. Mr. Anders wants us to continue with tonight's plans."
"Uh-huh. Not without Sean. We need four people to pull this off." Kevin added his objections to those made by Marcus.
"We've gone over how to handle it. There isn't time to get someone else. Now get your gear and get ready to go in." Evans stopped the van near the loading dock entrance.
Marcus, Kevin and Andy gave each other uneasy looks. Each was hoping that one of the others would be able to say something to stop the game.
"Well?" Evans' voice broke the silence. "Get going. We're on a schedule here."
Silently the three young men gathered their gear and climbed out of the van. Marcus checked around for anyone nearby. When he didn't see anyone, he pulled a copy of the master key from his pocket and led the way into the mall. A small voice in the back of his mind told him that maybe Sean had been right in wanting to quit, but he pushed the thought aside and slipped into the darkened mall.
"Anything?" Blair whispered his voice barely audible to compensate for Jim's hearing.
"Other than a television that was left on in Sears and a radio playing in the back of the bookstore, nothing." His partner murmured, "oh and the clocks in 'It's About Time."
"Don't focus on that. The last thing you need is to be listening to the clock store when all those clocks start chiming at the same time."
The two kept moving silently, stopping to peer into each store, looking for any signs that the security gates had been tampered with or that the thieves were in the mall. Simon had units standing by, but they had yet to move in so as not to spook the thieves and give away that the detectives were inside the mall.
Several minutes later Jim stopped, stretching out with his hearing. "There," he murmured, trying to follow the faint sounds with his sight but unable to because of the bends and turns in the hallways. "They're here and it sounds like they are somewhere at the opposite end of the mall. I can't tell what store because I can't see that far with the walls."
With Blair close behind him, Jim quickly led them to the upper level of the mall. As they entered the wing, Jim stopped again to pinpoint the sounds of drawers opening and items being put into cloth bags. "This way, Chief. They're split up between the three stores at the far end."
Blair looked around for possible escape routes to be covered. "Can you tell if they are ready to come out? Or who is going to come out first?"
Jim concentrated, letting his hearing guide his eyesight. He led his partner silently down the hallway until they had stopped in the shadows almost directly across from the three stores in question. The detective in him noted that the suspects were good; anyone else would never have spotted the intruders. But the Sentinel could pick out the dark shapes as bags were filled with merchandise.
He leaned close to his partner. "There. The Candle Factory. He's nearest the door, as though he's getting ready to come out."
The two detectives moved to stand against the wall, out of sight of the glass window that made up the front of the store. Jim heard the door open smoothly and as the thief stepped out, Jim grabbed his arm.
"Hold it right there. Cascade PD. You're under arrest for robbery."
The young man yelped and attempted to pull free from Jim's grasp, only to find himself pushed up against the window. "Let go of me, man. Guys!"
Jim quickly cuffed the suspect and barely managed to dodge out of the way as another person came at him from behind, swinging a black cloth bag. He reached for his assailant only to miss and land on the floor. Behind him he heard scuffling as Blair struggled with the third member of the group. Jim's suspect was running down the hallway for the center of the mall.
"Chief! Call Simon, tell him to move everyone in now!" Jim yelled as he ran after Marcus, thinking Blair was behind him. The sound of a slamming door told him otherwise. He focused his sight just in time to see Blair running down the hallway to close in on the third suspect who had pulled away from the detective.
Trusting his partner to handle himself, and after making sure that the captured suspect wouldn't escape, Jim took off after his own fleeing suspect, whose slim, dark shape had already reached the mall atrium.
The Sentinel chased the figure around the balcony overlooking the center of the mall and wasn't surprised when the man ran for the escalator at the far side. Realizing there wasn't a faster way down, Jim followed, and jumped the final uneven steps at the bottom of the escalator. He looked around quickly, hearing rather than seeing his suspect run towards a construction platform in the atrium's center, next to the elevator.
He focused on the suspect just in time to see the length of metal piping that the suspect scooped up and swung towards the detective. Jim dodged easily, jumping back out of the way. But with the force of the swing, the smaller figure couldn't stop the metal pipe from sliding out of his hands. Before either could move, the heavy pipe had flown from the suspect's hands into the glass casing of the elevator with devastating effects.
The all-glass elevator that was the centerpiece of Westlake Mall came crashing down around the two men. Jim turned away to avoid being hit by the flying glass. As the lower panes shattered, the upper panes of glass began to break away and succumb to the pull of gravity, bringing more glass down. Glass was still falling as Jim spun, looking for the suspect, mentally cursing if he'd gotten away.
"Jim!" Blair's voice cut through the sound of crunching glass. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. Where's..." Jim looked for his partner, staring at what he found.
Blair walked towards Jim, carefully stepping over broken glass, to check on the older detective. Sitting on the floor away from the major damage was an unhappy looking young man, handcuffed to the railing at the base of the elevator. Jim looked at his partner, "What did I miss?"
"Not much." Blair told him. "I caught my guy as he came off the stairs. By the time I could reach you, he," Blair motioned towards the subdued suspect, "had already swung and glass was going everywhere. He tried running, but not only did he not see me, he slipped on broken glass. He literally fell at my feet."
Jim shook his head in amazement as he heard Simon entering the mall with their backup.
"Ellison! What the hell happened here?" Simon nearly bellowed. "And are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Captain." Jim continued to shake bits of glass from his hair and clothes. "We've got three suspects. The one here, there's one upstairs at the far end." He stopped, looking at his partner.
"The third is back that way at the base of the circular staircase." Blair waited as Simon sent the patrolmen to pick up the suspects to transport them to the station. "That's all that were in here. How about outside?"
Captain Banks sighed. "Not quite as successful. There was a green van that we assume may have been part of this, but it got away from the patrol car. We did get a tag number this time and it was not surprising that it was registered to Evans."
"So we can definitely connect him to the robberies, but we still don't have solid proof to connect him to Milner's murder."
"He did it." All three turned at the mumbled voice from behind them.
"What? Do you know that for sure?" Blair asked, as he moved to crouch beside their suspect.
"I was at Sean's house after he said he wanted to quit. Evans came and threatened Sean. Said he wouldn't allow any of us to quit, that it would ruin the game. We didn't really think he'd go that far. But then Sean ends up dead." Marcus's voice trailed off as the officers came to help him stand up.
Blair stood as the officers led Marcus and the other two young men away. "Game? Someone thought this was all a game?"
"Perhaps to whoever is in charge. Either Evans or someone higher up." Banks looked over his two detectives. "Sandburg, get your partner home and cleaned up. The reports can wait a few more hours till morning."
Jim looked at his watch. "Captain, it is morning. As in 3:00am."
"That's what I meant. The reports can wait a few hours till the two of you can get in and write them." He smiled as he ushered his detectives out. "Unless you want to stay here and help sweep up glass."
"That was not my fault, Captain." Jim protested. "I just dodged the pipe. The suspect was the one that threw it and it hit the glass." He looked around. "But I'm still not staying to sweep it up." He followed his chuckling partner outside.
Early Thursday Morning
Warehouse, unknown location
"Mr. Evans. So nice to see you this morning."
Evans wasn't really surprised to hear the sarcastic voice of his employer when he pulled the van into the warehouse and stepped out of the van. Anders was sitting in his customary spot at the table in the empty warehouse. He had papers and charts spread out across the table as if he had been there for most of the evening. Only Evans knew the man had not been there when he picked up the van for the night's job.
"Good evening, Sir." Evans pocketed the van keys and moved to stand in front of the desk. He stood, waiting, until he thought the man at the desk had forgotten his presence. Then Anders spoke, his voice low and full of anger, for the first time since Evans had known him.
"Mr. Evans, would you care to explain just what the hell happened tonight?"
Evans shifted nervously. "Honestly, Sir, I don't know. There was no sign of the police when we arrived. Everything went as planned and on schedule until the detectives inside caught Kevin. By then it was too late so I went to the escape plan and got out. Had to avoid some cop cars, but I know I wasn't followed here. I do know my job."
Anders studied the man he had hand picked for the job. "I wonder about that now. At any rate, it doesn't matter. Circumstances have made it impossible to continue my game here. It's time to move to another city. I was getting bored here anyway."
"But... but what about the boys the police took into custody? They can identify me and they may be able to identify you. Granted they only met you the one time, but that could be enough." Evans watched as Anders calmly began stacking paper and putting it away in his briefcase. "Mr. Anders?"
"Yes, Evans. Oh, the young men will not be a problem. Even as we speak, they are being informed by someone in my employ that they never saw me, have never heard of me and they will not live to regret it if they say otherwise. The only person they will admit to knowing is you.
"Me?" Evans' voice almost squeaked in shock.
"Yes, you. You see, I really don't like it when someone messes up my games. So few things challenge me these days, except for their planning and execution. My entertainment is now ruined, and that is inexcusable." Anders casually straightened the papers in his briefcase, before he reached to pick up his coat. "And in my game, mistakes are not tolerated."
Evans opened his mouth to apologize, his eyes going wide as he watched Anders reach into the case to pull out a gun. He heard the shot but was dead before he realized he was hit.
Anders shrugged and placed the gun back in the briefcase. He put on his coat and strolled out of the warehouse to his car parked in the shadows. Within moments he was gone.
Major Crimes Bullpen
"Chief, would you stop that?"
"Stop what?" Blair asked around a yawn.
"The yawning. Stop it before I start." Jim told him.
"It's not my fault, man. I've gotten used to getting more than two hours of sleep a night."
"Then Simon needs to put you on more stakeout duty; we wouldn't want you getting soft on me now would we?" Jim teased his partner. "Besides, you'd get more sleep if you turned off the laptop earlier.
Blair just groaned and developed a sudden interest in the files on his desk.
"Good morning, gentlemen!" Simon's cheerful voice boomed through the bullpen.
Blair stared at Jim. Jim stared at Blair. Both detectives stared at Simon and were aware of their motions being copied around the room. It was no secret that Simon had been up at 3am like the rest of them.
"That is not the voice of a man who has only had a few hours sleep. He probably didn't get as much as we did." Blair stage whispered to his partner.
"That's because I managed to get home before daybreak and successfully fooled my body into thinking I got my usual eight hours." Simon said as he walked into his office. Five minutes later came the expected summons. "Ellison! Sandburg! My office now!"
Jim glared as Blair suppressed another yawn while they gathered up their notes on the mall robberies and Megan's notes on the Milner case. She had left everything typed up with a note that said that she was going back to her apartment for a couple of hours sleep.
Simon waited until both of his men were settled at the conference table and fresh coffee was steaming in the three cups before giving his detectives the latest news.
"Early this morning, we received a tip to check out a warehouse down at the docks on the south side of the city. There they found a green van matching the plates and description of the one that Evans had been seen driving. They also found a body."
"Don't say it, Captain." Jim groaned. "Evans."
"Exactly. Roger Evans was found dead, killed by a single gunshot wound to the head. Early tests show that it was not the same gun that killed Sean Milner. Evans was carrying a gun that we think was the one used to kill Milner. The gun was still holstered."
"So he probably knew his killer and never expected it."
"Which means there's another person involved in all of this somehow. Maybe the young men we picked up at the mall last night can identify him or her?" Blair said, skimming through the reports and notes from the events of the night before.
Simon shook his head. "Afraid not. They are willing to talk about Evans. Wilson still claims that Evans killed Milner and we can now connect them because of Evan's gun. All three say that Evans gave them their instructions and he was the only one they ever saw in connection with the robberies."
"Think they're lying?"
"Possible. But until one of them decides to say something, we don't have anything else to go on. There was nothing at the warehouse, except for the body, pointing to another person being involved. Megan, Rafe and Henri talked to them when they were brought in, but all three are adamant that they don't know anything about another person."
"Convenient, isn't it?" Jim mused. "Our main suspect is dead and the three people that could tell us who killed him aren't talking."
"Too damned convenient. But unless they talk, we have nothing. And their lawyers showed up this morning so they aren't talking at all now." Simon stood up to get a refill of coffee. His method of fooling his body into thinking he'd gotten eight hours sleep only worked if he had lots of coffee in his system. "We've got them for the robberies and because this is their first offense, it's not likely they'll do much jail time."
Blair slammed the file closed. "So they are willing to cover for the main person, the person who probably ordered Milner killed. That person gets away. That sucks."
"Yes it does, Chief. Unfortunately, there's not much we can do now. Just wait and hope something turns up." Jim stood up, stretching as he did so. "We just need to watch in case whoever is behind this shows up again."
Simon smiled at his two best detectives. "Good work on the case. Now if you'll excuse me, we all have work to do."
Jim and Blair picked up the files and headed back to their desks. "Hey Chief, think you can work some magic on this cranky computer?" Jim pointed at the still ailing computer on his desk "The computer guy came up and declared it DOA."
Blair laughed. "It's that old? But didn't you get a new one after Zeller shot up the bullpen? If the techs can't fix it, there isn't a lot I can do with it."
His partner snorted. "This is the government, I ended up with a spare from storage. I told them to go for bullet proofing on the next system, but that I'd pass on the fruit flavors."
"Funny, man. Real funny."