Slay It With Flowers
Production No. CVT513
Hephaistos and Karen
The skies had opened and the rain poured down. Blair squinted through the pounding rain on the windshield, barely able to make out the white lines on the road ahead of him. Just his luck -- he'd been done with the depositions and in the bathroom when someone had suggested food and he'd been unanimously volunteered to make the deli run.
A sudden flash of sodden fur in the headlights and Blair was stomping on the brakes, his car sliding slowly, inexorably forward on the slick road. The wheels locked, slipped, and caught, and finally he just sat for a still moment. The off-grey mop of fur slunk into the darkness, the thin tail flicking in the puddles. He took a deep breath and let up on the brake, inching forward again.
The car eased ahead, pushing back the heavy curtain of rain and darkness with its headlights. The all-night deli was only another mile away, and then he could return to the station with hot food and hotter coffee and maybe then they could all go *home*.
Out of the gloom, on the very edge of his vision, a single red light blinked lazily. Blair slowed and pulled over, and the light resolved into a crazily tilted sedan, one hazard light blinking, the other faintly glowing from under a coat of mud.
He emerged into a world of wet, the rain immediately soaking his hair and shoulders, mud and water under his feet trying to slip him up. His flashlight played over the maroon car in the ditch, mud liberally coating the sides and undercarriage. The mud was slowly trickling away in the onslaught of the rain, and Blair peered inside.
A dark form with long blonde hair slumped sideways over the emergency brake, but when Blair tried the door handle, the woman inside jumped. She turned and scrambled back and down into the passenger seat. When the door proved locked, she slumped in relief.
Blair sighed, and dug into his back pocket. He tapped on the glass, highlighting his badge with the flashlight. "I'm Detective Sandburg, ma'am, can..."
The blonde opened the door in a flash, interrupting Blair's dutiful 'Can I help you?' "Oh, thank goodness! I've been waiting and waiting for someone to come along, and I kept imagining all these dreadful thugs waylaying me and could you possibly call me a tow? I'd be ever so appreciative."
"Yeah, sure, I..."
"Oh, that's fabulous. I'm so glad you found me here and you're not a thug. Won't you come in out of the rain, I'm sure you're getting soaked."
"My phone's in my c..."
Blair bit his tongue as she interrupted again. "Oh, simply fabulous. I hope you've got a heater, don't all knights in shining armor have heated cars and cell phones?"
Five minutes later, Blair found himself ensconced in his car with the blonde, who lapsed into a worshipful, if unnerving, silence.
It was quiet in the bullpen, the late hour settling over the office like a soft blanket. The hallway was empty of echoing footsteps, and only a soft murmur of voices issued from the captain's office. The lights were still on of course, bright as day, but they didn't detract from the hush of quiet.
The phone rang, bringing Jim Ellison's attention away from reviewing his deposition. He was tired and hungry and his eyes were crossing from rereading the same paragraphs every time the new Assistant District Attorney wanted to ask him a different version of the same question. He glared at the phone through another ring before snatching it up. "Ellison."
The patter of the rain outside was amplified over the phone. Jim could hear the hollow echo of the sound of raindrops bouncing around the inside of what sounded like Sandburg's car. "Whoa, Jim, don't sound so happy to hear me."
"Where the hell are you, Sandburg?"
"Chill, man. I'm at Snokomish and Hathaway, but I'm gonna be a little longer than I thought. A car went off the road and I'm staying with the driver until the tow gets here. Man, it's really comin' down."
Jim sighed, then smiled tiredly. "Blonde or brunette, Chief?"
Blair laughed, and Jim caught the shifting sigh of pantyhosed legs crossing in the background. "The former."
"You'd better hurry, Sandburg, the troops are getting restless."
"Hey man, I promised Megan chocolate, she'll get her chocolate."
"Megan nothing. I want my cheese fries!" The line was quiet for a second as Blair took a breath. "And not a word about my cholesterol."
"I didn't say a word."
"You thought it."
"Yeah, uh... gotta go, tow's here. I'll be back soon. *With* cheese fries." Blair sighed dramatically.
"Drive safe, Chief." Jim smiled as he set the phone in its cradle. He paused to listen as Megan's heart rate spiked in the next room, and then she slowly restated her testimony in words a toddler should understand. He rose. Best to save the poor ADA before Megan decided to use him for croc bait.
Blair's entrance to the bullpen the next morning was greeted with a chorus of whistles. Detectives Rafe and Brown stood up, applauding.
Jim, a half-step behind Blair, swept the room, ending with the chaotic mess of papers that was Blair's desk, and the bouquet of roses that graced its top. The red-tipped white petals added a pleasant fragrance to the air. He nudged Blair in the small of his back. "Someone left you a present, Chief."
"All right, all right, chill, guys." Blair tried to hush the applauding duo, who stopped clapping, but kept grinning.
"Some blonde stopped by early this morning and left you those, said something about a wonderful evening?" Rafe held a small florist's card between his fingers.
Blair grabbed the card and scanned it quickly, then smiled delightedly. "Wow. Hey, I never got roses before." He rocked forward on his toes.
"'For my knight in shining armor. Love, Allison'?" Rafe quoted. "C'mon, spill."
"He pulled her out of a ditch last night, and let my cheese fries get cold waiting for the tow truck." Jim groused.
"Hey man, you buy me roses, next time I'll make the fries myself!"
Their laughter was cut short by Simon's bark. "Sandburg, Ellison!"
All heads turned, and Simon continued. "Helsang's Jewelry on Hathaway's been robbed. Get down there."
"On it, sir." Jim made an about face and deftly sidestepped Megan, just entering the bullpen. She nodded good morning, sipping carefully at her steaming mug.
Blair grabbed two roses from the vase and handed one to Megan with a small box that had come with the flowers. "Sorry I was late last night. Forgive me?"
Megan raised one eyebrow. "Is it chocolate?"
Blair nodded, grinning. "Allison sent it just for you as an apology."
"Then I forgive you." Megan tried for magnaninity, but the sudden gleam in her eye and the hasty snatch for the treat belied her. "Even for second-hand roses."
"You coming, Sandburg?"
"Yeah, man." Blair snapped the stem off his remaining rose and propped it behind his ear as he hurried out the door. "Hey, is it me?"
Jim snorted and stabbed the elevator button. "Only if you were a gypsy in a former life. Give." They were playing tug of war with the rose by the time the elevator arrived.
When they'd finally disappeared and Rafe judged them to be out of Sentinel-hearing range, he leaned against Megan's desk. "So, what's the scoop on Blair's new lady?"
Megan shrugged, maniacally unwrapping her precious chocolates. "He was supposed to go out and get me chocolate last night," she waved a negligent hand, "and I think Jim asked for something too, but there was this sheila in distress, and he stayed with her until pretty late. I gave up on the new ADA and left before Sandy got back, so I never got my chocolate." The plastic finally yielded, and Megan pulled out a single, round piece of brown manna.
"And?" Rafe persisted.
"And nothing. Her car broke down, Blair stayed, I know nothing else." Megan sank her teeth into her treat. "Ohh..." she mumbled, closing her eyes in pure bliss. "Hmm gmm Mm MmMmmMmm Mmm."
Megan took a sip of her coffee. "He got me chocolate-covered macadamia nuts."
"Connor!" Simon's door opened, and Megan dropped the chocolate guiltily. The aforementioned ADA stood behind Simon, an all-too familiar folder in his hand.
The old blue and white Ford pulled up in front of Helsang's jewelry, splashing in the puddles along the gutter. The clear glass exterior of the shop shone, even under the overcast sky that still spat down intermittent raindrops. The sidewalks were still damp from the rains of the night before, and rainwater trickled over mossy trash in the gutters.
"This looks familiar." Blair tossed the rose he'd been playing with onto the car seat and closed the door.
Blair craned his neck around. "I was just a block up from here last night."
"Your damsel in distress?"
Nothing more of import was said until they crossed the threshold of the store. The interior was sparkling clean, cases empty and gleaming. Jim wrinkled his nose, then glanced at his partner. "Didn't I tell you to leave the rose in the car?"
"Jim, I did." Blair turned his attention from the patrolman who was still with the store's manager.
Jim sniffed again. "Smells like a ... a flower shop in here."
"There's one next door. Maybe they share the ventilation?"
Jim wrinkled his nose and sniffed again. "All I'm smelling here is your rose, Sandburg. Come on, it's not like I'm going to track down diamonds by smell."
"Yeah, yeah, well, how about sight -- let's see if they left any prints..."
After an exhaustingly thorough search, they had found nothing, not even the owner's prints. "Wiped clean," Jim grumbled. "I think I can smell the Windex past the flowers."
"Nothing but your damn roses." Jim sighed, then pinched the bridge of his nose.
~ring~ They both jumped and checked their phones. "Ellison." Blair put his away.
"Jim." Simon's voice held an anxious tone that usually heralded terrorists, psychopaths or other threats of bodily harm to his partner. He glanced worriedly at Sandburg, who merely widened his eyes in a classic 'what?' look. "Connor's in the hospital."
Relief, shame, then worry flooded him. "What's wrong, Simon? She was supposed to be in court this afternoon."
"The doctors think it's too sudden an onset to be anything but poison. I want you down at the station, pronto, to check out her files, see if there's anything unusual about the case you two are testifying for. Rafe and Brown are watching her at the hospital."
"I'm on my way, Simon." Jim gestured roughly to his partner, and strode for the door.
"Hey, Jim, what's..." Blair turned and caught a fleeting glimpse of the tight, worried expression on Jim's face, and hurried after him.
It hit Jim like a wave -- the miasma of sickness roiling out of Major Crimes and specifically Simon's office. The sweet rose-scent, now familiar, was lost in the acid-stink of vomit and fearpainsweat. His face grew whiter as he groped for his dials, but he didn't break stride until he was by his captain's side. "What happened, sir?"
Simon shook his head and smoothed a wrinkle in the fax he held. "I don't know -- one minute she was fine, the next..." He handed the fax to Blair and clenched his fists. "It's a rare poison, they're still narrowing it down, but it's an ingestive," he met his detective's eyes and held them. "Jim, find it."
"Will do, sir."
Blair just shook his head. "I don't get it. She was testifying for a robbery today."
"And the triple-homicide next week?" Simon reached for his cigar, only now beginning to realize that it was currently crushed beneath his foot. "Don't leave any stones unturned, gentlemen."
Once out in the bullpen again, Jim frowned in concentration. The damn roses kept slipping onto his radar, obliterating anything that might be odd about the cold mug of coffee or the half-eaten chocolate on Megan's desk.
Blair nudged him, an unspoken 'What is it?'
Jim merely shook his head and picked up the coffee mug, sniffing. Ignore the roses, they're background... "French roast with chocolate syrup. Nothing..." He sniffed again. "She ate something with bread for breakfast. Something oily." He paused, sifting through his memories for the same smell. It had been shortly after Megan had first arrived. Pink dingo and tales of croc hunting and... "Where the hell did she get Vegemite in the States?"
"Vegemite? That's like, Australian for peanut butter, man."
"It's Australian for disgusting, that's what it is, Sandburg."
"Yeah, but it's not poisonous." Blair's grin seemed a little forced. "At least not to Australians."
Jim let any further protests die in a muttered grumble, and picked up the small golden box on the corner of the desk. "What are these supposed to be?"
"Macadamia nuts in dark chocolate. Megan said they were one of her favorites."
Jim's expression clouded. "I don't know what they are, but they're not macadamias."
Five minutes later, they were down in Forensics, handing the box and its contents to Serena Chang.
Blair shifted from foot to foot in front of the dingy apartment door. "Man..."
"C'mon, Sandburg. You're the knight, you get to talk to the damsel."
"You ever tell a girl you just met you suspect her of murder?"
"All the time, now ring the doorbell."
"You're the senior detective here, I just think you..."
"Should feed me a line of bull to make me intimidate her into confessing? C'mon, you can't be scared of her?"
The silence dragged out. "You're kidding me. You're scared of this petite little blonde who couldn't weigh more than a buck-oh-five sopping wet, who likely hasn't had a lick of combat..."
"Whoa, man, hold on there, Jim! You know better than that!"
Jim stopped, dumbfounded by the sudden turn into what he suspected might become the Sandburg Zone. "What?"
"You've dated! Admittedly, no one ever went out with you a second time, which might be explained by this, but you should definitely know by now the time-honored wisdom that fathers, or reasonable facsimiles thereof in my case, dish out to their sons, step-sons and girlfriend's sons."
Jim let his eyes cross as he swayed backwards.
Blair took a breath and rolled his eyes. "Don't even, Jim. You know. Never, ever, try to guess a woman's weight." He paused for a moment, considering. "Besides, she's maybe one-twenty, one-thirty."
"Oh, yeah, Detective?"
"Yeah, man, I've seen her sopping wet -- last night."
"Well, keep bragging, you'll get to see her again. Hopefully this time you can do more than guess her weight." Jim pressed the doorbell, then pulled Blair in front of him by his shoulders. "Oh Fearless One," he added sotto voce just as the door opened.
"You shit," Blair muttered through his welcoming grin, pitched only for Sentinel ears. "Ms. White?"
Allison of the roses swung the door wide and threw her arms around Blair. Jim smiled tightly. Perky. She was a few inches shorter than Blair, slender, and her blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail. The only thing missing was the cheerleading skirt and pom poms. "Oh, Blair! I'm so glad you dropped by! Oh, how fabulous!" She pulled back and stuck her hand out at Jim, cocking her head to the side. "And are you his partner Jim?"
Jim shook and released her hand as quickly as possible. "Detective Ellison, ma'am."
"Oh, that sounds just like my name, how quaint! I'm Allison. Oh, come on in, both of you, how fabulous." She paused in mid-stride. "I didn't give you my address, how..." Allison turned back to them, shaking her finger. "You're so clever, I'll bet you looked it up in one of your police systems."
"It was the phone book, to be honest." Blair shrugged apologetically as they stepped inside.
The interior of the apartment was in marginally better condition than the outside, cleaner, neater, but it still held the aura of age in the faded rose wallpaper and the dingy shine of wear patterns on the carpet. The furniture was overlaid with white slipcovers embroidered with roses and accented with rose-print pillows, but underneath it all, the cushions sagged with age and wear.
"Oh." Her smile wavered a second before perking up again. "Oh, good! Is there anything I can get you? Coffee, tea? I even have some more of those chocolates you wanted to give to your girlfriend."
"Inspector Connor, a colleague of ours, was poisoned this morning." Jim's solemn, pointed tones brought an instant, worried frown to Allison's face. "We have reason to believe that the chocolate-covered nuts you procured for Detective Sandburg were the agent that put her in the hospital."
"Oh!" Allison grew pale and wavered. Her arm under his hand seemed to thunder as Jim led her unprotestingly to the couch. Her pulse rate stayed elevated as she seemed to grope for words. "Is she... I didn't... Oh my god, I could have..."
"Ms. White. We have a few questions we need to ask you." Blair was softly insistent. "Where did you get the chocolates?"
She gulped for air, then spoke shakily. "Just, just next door. Matty makes up some special batches sometimes, and gives me some if they're really good, and, and, and I took this box a week ago when he was out."
"Where next door? Here at your apartment?"
"No, at the florist's, where I work." She sniffled a little. "Matty runs the candy-making part of the store, we call it next door, but it's really the same place, and sometimes we add jewelry from next door, the real next door, Helsang's, into an order, too, especially with V-Day coming up, and I didn't just get him in trouble, did I?"
"Not if it was just a mistake, Ms. White."
"Oh, it must have been! Matty wouldn't ever have wanted to hurt anyone, really!"
Jim almost rolled his eyes at that one, but settled for a significant glance at Blair. He sniffed, trying to clear his nose of the lingering rose-scent, but it was here, too. Not surprising, considering the woman worked for a florist. It also explained a lingering hint of cocoa butter hiding behind the roses. Still, neither scent sat quite right.
Jim dialed back his sense of smell and concentrated on listening to Allison instead. They managed to extract Matty's working hours from her, but further questions just seemed to agitate Allison into incoherence, and they left her to pursue the one lead.
The phone book, huh? Two can play that game, Detective Sandburg. Allison paged idly through the 'S' section, eyes focusing instead on a mental image of Blair. Those curls, those eyes... Finally, after reaching the Sandes, she stopped, irritated, and checked again.
'Sandburg B 852 Prospect 307...' Perfect. She carefully took a pair of scissors and cut out the address. The brown, no, the blue book, I think. It matches his eyes. The address was carefully pasted into the velvet-covered blank book she pulled from a drawer.
That small task successfully accomplished, she sat back, idly caressing the outline of the address. *Inspector Megan. Blair should have told me he worked with her. Now poor Matty will have to get in trouble.* She sighed and closed the book. Poor Matty. I would never hurt a friend of Blair's. He'll just have to pay the price... She smiled. Pity he likes chocolate so much. I'll have to send flowers to the funeral.
"Constable Kinsey, please." Jim waved away the file Blair held out to him as he waited on the phone. "No, I'm sure, Kinsey -- K I N S E Y, Kinsey. Yeah, sure, I'll wait." He hooked the mouthpiece of the receiver under his chin as the hold music came on, a country song of some sort.
"So who's that?" Blair opened the file himself as he leaned against Jim's desk. He smiled at Rhonda as she passed by with a stack of reports.
"Mountie in Victoria -- met her while I was liaising for the CIA." Jim shifted the phone to speak into it. "No, I'm waiting for Constable Kinsey." He returned his attention to Blair. "Anything on Matty past June '97?"
"Nope. Faked his Social, has a post office box for his tax records, so that's a dead end. His work records aren't computerized, and the clerk wouldn't contact the manager. He's supposed to be in for work tomorrow. So why a Mountie?"
"Come on, with a name like Matthieu Foucault, you're either French, Canadian, or Cajun, and I don't know anyone in Paris or New Orleans." Jim shrugged. "If this doesn't pan out, we can always look somewhere else."
"You sure you're not trying to put too much of an ethnic spin on the name, Jim? I mean, I knew a guy in my Intro Chem Class - Adrienne Barnadeau, and he had the thickest Texas accent I've ever heard."
"A twanger?" Jim arched an eyebrow.
"You could play him like a banjo," Blair grinned.
"Yeah, Kinsey. Nice to know they answer the phones promptly in Canada. Listen, I got a suspect I think might be from your neck of the woods..."
The hallways of Cascade General Hospital were bright but empty in the night hours. Outside the walls full of the scent of sickness and medicine, rain fell lightly, a soft pressure against the eardrum that didn't quite merit the rank of sound.
Blair slipped into the darkened hospital room, his shoes squeaking against the waxed floor. Outside the door, Jim stood watch with Rafe and Brown, his hearing stretched for the first sign of the nurse on duty. Gently, silently, he slid a hard plastic chair closer to the bed and sat down.
In one corner, a heart monitor beat steadily, and the other instruments added to the dim red and green glow of the room. "Megan?" Blair's voice was whisper soft, yet seemed to echo in the small space.
"Hey, Megan, we just wanted to check up on you. The doctors say you should recover fully as soon as the last of the toxins are flushed from your system. You'll be back eating Marmite and taking your coffee with sugar and chocolate within a couple of days.
"We're still trying to find out who made the chocolates. We haven't found our main suspect, but we've got a paper trail leading into Canada and then disappearing. It's like he didn't exist before two years ago. We're going to try and corner him at the store tomorrow. Jim called a friend in Victoria to see what the Mounties could dig up on him." Blair continued, detailing what little they had found out about Matthieu Foucault, who had appeared in Cascade two years previously and was now the chief confectioner at 'Confection and Other Scentiments'.
He further detailed their misadventures in trying to do a background check with Ottawa, which had resulted in nothing but hours on hold with a cranky Quebecois who refused to speak English. Blair paused finally in his narrative, his head drooping a little.
"I just wanted to say I'm so sorry, Megan. I had no idea what was in that box I gave you. I didn't mean -- god, I sound like such a whiny little kid, but I really didn't mean to poison you." A strangled laugh escaped him. "Jim says he'll check all of your chocolate for you from now on, just in case."
Blair glanced at the closed door. "I told him that since it was my fault, I'd have to do the taste-testing. After all, we don't want to ruin his figure." A soft knock at the door ended his jesting.
"Get better, Megan. We miss you."
The ride home had been silent, both men tired and worried, both content to let the engine noise and the emptiness of the streets after midnight lull them into a companionable quiet.
"Feel better, Chief?" Jim finally asked as the elevator doors slid open on the third floor.
"Yeah. I know she couldn't hear me, and I'll have to do it all over again, but it felt good to apologize."
"One thing, Chief."
"When she's conscious this next time around?"
"Yeah?" Blair's agreement this time was more drawn out.
"Lay off on the crack about my figure."
Blair snorted. "As if, man, that's the best part of the act."
Jim pulled out his keys and fit one to the lock. Before he could turn the key, the door swung open in front of him. On cue, both men exchanged a look and pulled their firearms, their bodies tensing minutely.
Blair nodded toward the end of the hall and the fire escape. Jim shook his head and paused for a moment, listening. The muscle in his jaw jumped once, twice, then stilled as Blair whispered quietly to him.
"Easy Jim, don't break your own jaw. What do you hear?"
"Nothing as in nothing or nothing as in..."
"Nothing as in the hum of the fridge, a squeaky pipe in 305, and some guy snoring in 304 nothing."
"Oh, that sort of nothing." Blair eased the door open and stepped in and to the side, scanning the room. Jim followed on the opposite side of the door, mirroring him.
The living room was a mess, cushions everywhere, books and CDs flung willy-nilly. Strangely enough, there was no major damage; the appliances were untouched, and the furniture had not even been shifted an inch. Jim flicked his eyes from Blair to his room, then headed down the hallway to check out the bathroom.
Blair flicked on the light to his room, gun ready, and then let it drop limply at his side. He was fairly certain that there hadn't been any tornado warnings in Cascade that day, and yet now his room resembled nothing so much as the collection of debris left over from a tornado-ravaged trailer park.
He dimly registered Jim's footsteps ascending the stairs, pausing, then descending. He was still standing at the doorway when Jim appeared at his shoulder, gun holstered. "What is it, Chief?" Jim stopped, stunned at the fury that would have been required to demolish his friend's room so thoroughly. "Oh."
She was not pleased. She hadn't found many names, but for each one she had taken it out on his room. The diary she'd laid hands on had mostly been filled with cops and guns and planes and serial killers and other thoroughly boring things. She'd have to go back and do a better search at a later date, just to make sure she hadn't missed anything.
Until then, though, she had a few errands to run before work and one special one at lunchtime. Thank goodness for answering machines.
The next morning, neither Jim nor Blair even bothered hanging up their coats as they walked into the bullpen. Instead, preempting Simon's summons, they headed straight for his office, solemn expressions mirrored on their faces.
"I hear we had a little break-in last night, gentlemen."
Jim nodded. "Living room was turned over, but Blair's room was completely trashed. No prints, either; whoever it was was wearing gloves and damn careful to boot. No prints, no mud, no hair."
"No salsa in the floorboards," Blair muttered, throwing himself into a nearby chair.
Jim favored him with a sour look. "And I can't smell a thing because of those stupid roses. The loft smells like them, the trucks smells like them," he sniffed. "Even your office smells like roses."
Simon clamped his cigar between his teeth and glared. Jim settled back against the desk, arms crossed over his chest. "We spent half the night tearing the place apart trying to find something and then the other half putting it all back together. Do you have some good news for us, sir?"
Simon nodded. "Megan's out of danger -- she's conscious, if not very coherent." He favored them with a tight smile. "Keeps asking if we'd killed the snake that bit her. Serena left a lab report on your desk, and I hope you will have more for me this afternoon than 'I think it's a Canadian, sir.'"
The truck was still warm from their morning drive to work, the back window only beginning to fog again in the chilly air. The streets were slick and wet, with wisps of evaporating water condensing again as they hit the colder air. In all, it gave a slightly eerie feel to the light traffic of the late morning.
"'Actually, sir, I think he's a Canadian felon, sir,'" Jim parroted back to his partner as Blair shifted in the truck seat next to him. "Insomnia does wonders for your wit, Sandburg."
"It was right there when I checked the fax from Victoria this morning. Matthieu Verte's wanted in two provinces for armed robbery, and he's hiding out in Cascade under an assumed name. How much simpler can it get?"
"So we'll pick him up. Something's not right, though."
"What, besides an obscure poison from Southeast Asia?" Blair referred to Serena's report on the toxin.
"Sarcasm does not become you either, Sandburg."
"What, like it's not blindingly obvious something's out of whack? He's Canadian, man. He holds up convenience stores with chain saws and hockey sticks. He's on the run from the Mounties, in hiding. What's he doing poisoning an Australian police officer he doesn't even know?"
"Unless he was trying to get Allison, instead."
"Now there's a thought."
"Oh, man, are we cranky this morning. Chill out, Jim."
"It's motive." They exchanged a look and Jim pressed the gas just a little closer to the floor. "What's her work address again?"
Serena Chang looked up from her microscope at the movement in her peripheral vision. "Thanks, John." She smiled at the mail clerk and his pile of brown inter-office envelopes. Stretching, she pushed back from her analysis of the brown streaks on a suspect's shirt, and turned to sort the mail.
Brought back to more of a sense of herself, she shivered in the cool air of the lab and pulled her coat closer around her. She sorted out the case files that Pommeran had asked for, and found herself with two envelopes addressed to Cassie Wells and Samantha Coppola. How odd... Curious, she peeked around the lab to confirm the inattention of the other two techs, and opened the envelopes.
Inside each were identical gold boxes with identical red ribbons and identical cards. Her first thought was of simple irritation, as she considered dressing down Blair and Jim for not sending her the boxes directly. They were even missing the proper evidence bags and markings.
Then, as she set down the envelopes, smoothing their surfaces, she noticed the handwriting, stark and plain. It had been some years since the last handwriting analysis seminar she'd been to, but laid out next to the simple cards, the jagged loops and circle-dotted i's were unmistakably identical.
Her hands trembled only for a moment before Serena calmly reached for an evidence bag, her notebook, and then the phone.
Roses. This time he could smell them from the street, and with them hints of other flowers and chocolate and mylar balloons. Inside the florist's, the scent was even more overwhelming. Jim found himself wishing he could sneeze or plead another allergy just to get away from the cloying scent that had lingered in his nostrils for a full day now.
The shop was open, the underlying decor of green and brown completely subsumed by the explosions of Valentine red on every display. "Good morning!" Allison popped up from behind the counter with a handful of ferns and a cheerful grin. "I thought you two might be here sometime today."
Blair smiled in greeting and gestured around the shop. "Are you the only one here? We're looking for Matty."
"Oh, he should be in back. I told him you might show up, and there was a batch of truffles that needed to be done before noon."
Blair glanced at Jim, already heading behind the counter. Jim shook his head, no, but followed him into the back. The kitchen, redolent with the scent of rich chocolate, was empty and clean. The battered copper pans were all hung on their hooks, and the only evidence of industry was a single pan of fudge on a rack.
Behind the stove, the door to the back alley was open a crack, swinging slightly in the gusts of a cold breeze.
Allison appeared at the doorway behind them. "Didja find him?"
"No -- do you have any idea where he might have gone?" Blair asked.
"Oh, no! Isn't he here?" Allison peered around the empty kitchen. "But why not? He's supposed to finish the truffles!"
Jim gritted his teeth, ready to let Blair ask the questions, but the tiny rose pendant around Allison's neck caught his eye. "Ms. White, where did you get that necklace?"
She preened, touching the chain and glancing coyly at Blair. "Matty gave it to me this morning. Isn't it pretty?"
"Yes, very," Jim lied through his teeth.
She continued to look at Blair for his response.
"Uh, yeah, nice. Do you have his home address?"
"Oh, sure. Over on Vivid Lane. 484, apartment C." She rattled it off from memory and smiled. "Is he in trouble?" She didn't seem too concerned.
"Yes." Jim strode out the door, reaching for his keys.
Hurrying after him, Blair looked back once to make sure they were out of earshot. "You saw it too?"
Jim nodded, opening the car door. "It's from Helsang's -- matches the description. Matty's back to his old tricks."
"Yeah, but one thing I don't get. Why would he give her jewelry if he's trying to kill her?"
"'Thanks for pointing out the cops are after me?' I don't know." Jim slid behind the wheel and started the truck. "I don't think Allison's giving us the whole story though."
Blair nodded and grabbed for the door frame as they pulled into traffic. "I know man, she creeps me out."
"I thought she'd be just your type, Sandburg. Pretty, perky, potential felon."
"Ha, ha, Jim. You're one to talk."
"Molly?" The tall, lanky student peered around the bookcase in the small office. "You in here?" He poked at a file teetering on the edge of a shelf at eye-level and rubbed his nose at the puff of dust raised by his action. "Moooo-lly!"
"I'm here, I'm here!" The brunette in question scooted her chair into view, putting down her crack-spined paperback. "I'm in hiding, Mark, what is it?"
"Susan wanted me out of the office, so she sent me out on mail rounds. You've got another box from your secret admirer." The last two words were sing-songed. "Who is this geek?"
"Some love-struck freshman in that seminar I'm TA-ing for Henderson." Molly smiled and shook her head. "He'll get over it." She peered at the package in Mark's hands. "Hey, looks like he's progressed from badly-rhymed sonnets."
Mark handed her the small gold box and perched on the edge of her desk expectantly. "So what is it?"
Molly shook her head. "I don't know, Mark, and I'm not going to find out." She held the box over her wastebasket and dropped it in. "I don't accept gifts from students."
"You are just too principled -- it's sick." He stooped to pluck the box from the trash can, and was thwapped with the paperback for his trouble. "Hey!"
Molly just laughed. "You don't know where that's been, Mark, now shoo."
Vivid Lane didn't live up to its name. It was a very drab side street, filled with tiny old houses packed closely together. The postage stamp sized yards were unkept, filled with weeds and trash. They had to slip between two of the houses, down a narrow, cracked sidewalk, to get to the second story apartment over the garage.
Jim paused halfway up the stairs. "Smells like roses, Chief."
Blair snorted. "Doesn't look like it."
"No, no, like the flower shop."
"He does work in one."
"No, he works in the kitchen. He should smell like chocolate. It doesn't sound like he's home, anyway."
The door at the top of the stairs was locked, but yielded almost embarrassingly easily to the application of Jim's shoulder. The door opened into a shabby little kitchen, dominated by a small table with a single chair. A door beyond the table led to a small, equally shabby bedroom.
The apartment was achingly bare, the kitchen cupboards yielding little besides junk food and an embarrassment of chocolate in all forms. Blair heard Jim return to the room and picked up a small gold box to show him. "Looks like he believes in his own cooking." Blair opened it to show half the contents gone.
"I wouldn't know about that. He's more of a direct kind of guy. I found a few bullets on the floor, but no gun." Jim traded the brass for the box and sniffed. "This has the same nut that was in Connor's."
"You sure? Why would he keep the poisonous stuff mixed in with the rest of it?" Blair opened one drawer, where half a dozen more boxes lay.
Jim opened a few of them. "These are normal. Maybe he didn't know."
Blair shook his head. "Why wouldn't he know...unless he wasn't the poisoner. And if he didn't, who did?"
"Allison gave you the chocolate in the first place, Chief. And she's the one who fingered Matty."
"Yeah, but what's she got against Megan?"
"Fit of jealousy?" Jim shrugged to indicate his bafflement.
"What, like keeping Megan away from Matty? She doesn't know Megan from a kangaroo. And why implicate Matty?"
"Well, why don't we ask her, Chief?" Jim slipped the box into an evidence bag from his pocket and left by the door held by his partner.
"Hey, isn't that Chris' place?" Blair sat up straight in the passenger seat as they passed an apartment building ringed with yellow tape and police cars.
"Christine Hong -- I was dating her about the time we ran into Lash."
Jim's brow furrowed in thought. "Have I met her?"
"Yeah, once, I think."
Jim froze suddenly, fists slowly whitening on the steering wheel. "She doesn't wear rose perfume, does she, Chief?"
Blair frowned. "Vanilla, I think. Why?" He had to grab frantically for the door handle as Jim brought the truck in a tight U-turn, slipping slightly through the slick puddles on the street, and pulled up behind one of the squad cars.
This once, Blair beat Jim to the officer in charge of the scene, and was inside almost before Jim's feet hit the pavement. "Johnson, what's the scoop?" Jim asked the sergeant, an older, balding man with the physique of a bodybuilder.
"Your partner said something about one of your current cases being related? Hell, the coroner's van hasn't even had time to get here." He shook his head and spat on the lawn. "Damn shame -- girl keeled over in her own kitchen, roommate found her." He nodded toward a shivering, crying girl wrapped in a blanket, staring blankly at the ground as an officer asked her questions.
"Mind if I take a look?"
"Go on ahead."
The last time Blair had talked to Christine had been over a year and a half ago, at a Math Department party. He couldn't remember the reason for the party -- the Rainier Math Department was famous for two things, beer and advanced number theory. Most people attended the parties for the beer. Christine had been there with her roommate, and they'd said hi, traded inconsequential updates on their lives, and moved on.
He remembered her dancing, later. She had always been a graceful dancer, throwing herself into the music and letting it dictate the beat and sway of her body.
There was nothing graceful left in her now. Christine lay sprawled across the bare linoleum of her kitchen, hand crabbed uselessly towards the fallen phone on the floor, a foot out of her reach. Her jaw was slack, her eyes open and empty.
Blair knelt by her side and reached out to close her eyelids. Behind him he felt a familiar presence, and he rocked back on his heels and stood.
"I'm sorry, Chief." Jim's comment was quiet.
"So am I, Jim." Blair shuddered convulsively and turned away, eyes shut tight.
On the kitchen table were a profusion of papers: envelopes, bills, cards, exams. Jim nudged aside an archeology midterm dated two years ago to uncover the source of the rose scent that had been plaguing him from the street. The gold box was open, a red ribbon still taped to its top. Two of the chocolates inside were missing, the girl on the floor mute testimony to their whereabouts.
Stuck in the tape of the ribbon was a small card. Jim flipped it open. Scrawled on the thick paper was the message: 'To Christine, from your secret admirer.' The pen had bitten deep into the paper, the slant of the words quick and angry. Also pressed into the thick paper were other words and numbers, almost visible to the non-Sentinel eye. 'Naomi Flt 1038.'
Blair's head came up and he carefully avoided putting the body in his field of vision. "It's Allison, isn't it?"
"When did you say your mother was visiting?"
"What? Sometime this week or next. She's going to call with her flight time." His expression grew worried. "Why?"
"This card has her name and a flight number. Are you sure you don't know what day she was going to be here?"
"No, man." Blair started fishing in his pocket for his cell phone. "Who's with Megan now?"
"You call Rafe and ask him to pick up Allison at the flower shop, I'll call Rhonda to see if Naomi's on today's flight."
Ten minutes later Blair flipped his phone closed with a savage snap. "She wasn't at the shop, Rafe's on his way to her apartment." He slumped against the truck door.
"And the airport?"
"Mom landed five minutes ago." Blair tapped his fingers against the window a few times. "Can this thing go any faster?"
"How many more traffic laws do you want me to break?"
Jim stepped into the terminal, took one whiff of the air and wrinkled his nose with a grunt. "You'd think people would bathe if they were going to be sitting in a box with fifty other people."
Blair nodded and pushed him towards the gates. "You can get to the plane faster. Naomi might still be there. I'll check the baggage claim."
Jim looked down at him, solemn. "On it, Chief." He pushed through the crowd and disappeared from sight.
Blair swiveled on his heel and started his hunt through the terminal.
"Blair!" After being stepped on and shoved by far too many over-tired, under-caffeineated travelers, the call took him by surprise. It was Allison, smiling sunnily and waving at him from the top of one of the baggage carousels. She seemed to be fiddling with something in her other hand."You're not supposed to be here."
Blair tried not to glance around wildly for his partner. "I had to meet someone's flight." He edged closer to the carousel.
Allison grimaced, then hid it behind a smile. "I know, you bad boy, that's why I'm here. I'm saving you the trouble." She nodded decisively and turned her attention back to the crowd.
"That's ok, Allison, I can take it from here."
"No!" She bristled, her lips curling back from her teeth in a feral snarl. "You're mine! I won't let her near you!"
Blair held up his hands placatingly, involuntarily backing up a step. "Ok, ok. How about Jim? Can he meet Naomi and then I don't have to?"
She frowned, then smiled shakily. "Yeah, I think so. Does she like Jim?" The last was said pleadingly, as if by a little girl.
"Yeah, yeah, she likes Jim. She really likes Jim." She'd better listen to Jim, too, and get the hell out of here! "Say, Allison?"
"Yeah, Blair?" She perked up and fluttered her lashes at him coquettishly.
"Now that we don't have to wait for Naomi, maybe you can come down and we can go somewhere and have a cup of coffee?"
"You mean, like on a date?"
Blair shuddered inwardly. "Uh, sure, like a date." Court date, maybe. Appointment with a shrink, maybe.
"Ok. But if it's a real date you have to pick me up at home. I'll need ten minutes to freshen up." She winked at him. "I have just one small errand to run. Buh-bye!" Allison hopped off the carousel and darted into the crowd.
Shit! Blair's stomach hit his shoes as he realized what the heavy chrome weight in her hand was. Jim would be able to tell what manufacturer and caliber it was, but it was enough to know the gun was large and likely loaded.
Allison dodged behind a heavy man with an enormous golf bag and disappeared. Blair slipped between two flight attendants and hopped up, trying to see over the mass of people entering the baggage area. Men and women streamed down stairs and escalators and milled around in the controlled chaos.
Trembling in his frustration, tossed by the sea of humanity, Blair was more than ready to whip out his badge and bully his way up the stairs when he saw Jim's head appear at the top of the stairs. No! He was reaching for his own gun even as he caught the flash of blonde and chrome out of the corner of his eye.
Naomi smelled like sage and cinnamon and grass, a tickle right under his nose that threatened a sneeze, but not quite. It was exotic and familiar at the same time, and right now, thankfully grounding. Eddies of unfamiliar smells surged around him, perfume and soap and aftershave and coffee and jet fuel.
Naomi was a little subdued; the faint crease of a pillow crossed one cheek, and she let Jim push through the crowd in front of her. He let himself listen absently to the murmur of her voice as he scanned visually for Blair and for their quarry.
"Anyway, I'm so glad you got my message. I hadn't planned on coming through Cascade until next week, but when Menthe called about the seminar she wanted to run on indoor herb cultiva..."
"When did you leave that message?" Jim asked distractedly.
"Let's see, we'd just left the monastery in Crestone, so it must have been last night. They had the most marvelous early morning za-zen meditation circle up there."
Last night -- during the break-in? A sudden hint of roses made Jim pause at the top of the stairs to the baggage claim, and he saw Blair's drawn face at the bottom and a flash of chrome close to his left.
His hearing went down, the screams of startled, frightened people around him muted as they swiftly cleared the area between him and Allison. He pivoted, the gun was almost within reach, the girl's eyes cold and inhuman through the sights.
They both froze. He was between her and Naomi, her aim unwaveringly on a shape she couldn't see.
"Mom!" Jim didn't flinch at Blair's strangled shout, but Allison's eyes widened with fright and comprehension and the terrible knowledge of a miscalculation. The gun wavered, she let the barrel drop, and Jim uncoiled from his crouch. He was within reach, another step and he had her, when her eyes changed again and she threw the gun at him in desperation.
Torn in a split second between flinching back and ducking down, muscle memory took over and Jim caught the gun, one hand reaching up and closing around the barrel as cold metal slapped into his hand.
Allison had turned and slid down the banister, heading for the exit and freedom. He reversed the gun and aimed. His shout of "Freeze, Police!" was still dim in his own ears, but he kept his hearing down. More people scattered as she reached the bottom. Jim let his sight zoom in -- center mass; his finger tightened on the trigger.
And then Jim let the gun drop, the corners of his lips tugging up. Allison lay prone on the ground, Blair's arms around her knees in a tackle Jim would have sworn was more appropriate for a football field.
Blair scrambled for his cuffs, rolling Allison onto her front to lock them on. He looked up, hands busy. "Hi Mom, how was your flight?"
Cascade General Hospital
This time, the hospital room was well-lit and quite a bit more crowded. Megan was still a little pale, but had propped herself up on her pillows and was holding court with the majority of Major Crimes. Simon and Jim were concertedly holding up the doorway while Rafe lounged on the end of the bed. Rhonda and Blair had claimed the two chairs on either side of Megan.
"The doctor says I'll be out tomorrow, but nobody seems to know what it was that got me!" Megan's frustration was a command, and Blair complied.
"Betel nuts. You may have heard of them before -- they're indigenous to the jungles of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Certain tribes chew the leaves, but the nuts are poisonous -- real nasty, but they apparently taste really good. You only had half of one, which wasn't enough to kill you."
"Thank goodness!" Megan's relief was echoed in the smiles around her. "So who actually made the chocolates?"
Rafe leaned forward. "Allison. She'd gotten the nuts in with some other flower shipment, and decided to make them up for an ex-girlfriend of her previous fixation, Matty Foucault. Then Blair shows up and she decides he's the cat's pajamas."
"Cat's...?" Megan shook her head at the odd expression as Henri Brown leaned into the room and interrupted.
"Well, considering the guy in question, even I'd go for Hairboy." They all laughed at that, and Brown continued, "We caught up with him at her apartment, writhing on the floor. He'd eaten some of her special treat, too. He got a little bigger dose than Connor, but he'll live."
Simon removed the cigar he wasn't smoking from between his teeth. "Well, we won't have to worry about either of them. There's a pair of Mounties showing up next week for the extradition of Mr. Foucault for his crimes in Canada, and Ms. White's sister has agreed with the DA to have her committed pending a psychiatric evaluation."
"And maybe next time, Sandburg will think twice about picking up strays by the side of the road," Jim added.
"Oh, for..." Blair threw his hands in the air. "Will you quit harping on those stupid cheese fries!"
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Stay tuned next week when almost no criminal activity, due to a blistery winter front, has the members of Major Crime reminiscencing about their experiences surrounding a certain holiday on an all new The Sentinel.