Production No. CVT509

written by:
Virginia Foster
(with much assistance from Heidi McKeon)

edited by: Emerald, Jon Gabriel and Mary A Browne


Sunday night, After Midnight
Westlake Mall

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.

Monday Morning,
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.

"Yes Detective?"

"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."

Blair nodded.

"No shopping for accessories," Simon grinned.

"Ha, ha," Blair replied dryly waving his hand at Simon and following Jim out the door.

Monday afternoon
Westlake Mall

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.

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