edited by: Bonnie, Saga, and Carolyn
Pier #46, Cascade Warehouse District, Cascade Harbor
One of the few remnants of Cascade's early days as a fishing village sounded off every evening. The Seven O'clock Cannon had been mounted at the mouth of Cascade Harbor by General Leslie West, formerly of the Union Army, shortly after the founding of the town. The gun had served as a protection and warning system, but was used primarily to summon the fishermen back to port every evening. It had sounded a welcome to two centuries. The tradition of firing the gun each evening was carried on even after the small lighthouse had been added to Monument Point.
"God, I hate that thing."
Taylor Mallory picked up the binoculars that he'd dropped when the cannon had startled him, grateful they hadn't broken. It was too cold to go hiking back to the car for another pair. He'd forgotten how loud the thing was out here on the piers right below Monument Point.
Static crackled around the reply in his ear piece. "Nerves of steel?"
"Generally, there aren't cannons going off over my head while I'm working. What's wrong with these people, haven't they heard of clocks?"
The voice with a faint Australian accent scolded, "You should have more respect. It's part of your history."
"Not my history, cuz, I'm from Seattle. And I'd still love to take some cement and make it the Seven O'clock Paperweight. Hey, Dein, remember that episode of M*A*S*H when they--"
"Are you watching?" Dein shook his head. His cousin may have been blessed with the skills to circumvent every alarm system designed by mankind, but away from his computers and gadgets, the younger man's attention wandered. That was the reason Dein Mallory left his cousin to plan and execute their jobs and handled these meetings with clients himself.
"Yes." Still distracted.
Dein frowned. "Taylor?"
"Ye-es." Taylor rolled his eyes. "Relax, man, there's no one dumb enough to freeze their... selves... hanging out on the piers this time of night except us and that homeless guy who dresses like his dog." Taylor resumed watching the surrounding piers and warehouses. Through the infrared goggles, it was easy to keep tabs on the few derelicts and warehouse workers who came and went after hours. "Just some guys two piers down moving lumber into storage, a couple bums, otherwise--wait, headlights."
"Is it Acampos? Police?"
"No, no, I soo don't think so... oh man, you should see this one, Dein."
Dein wasn't interested in seeing--more importantly, in being seen. He stepped into the shadows of the warehouse until the vehicle passed.
"I haven't seen a bus that ugly since the Partridge Family... who is this guy? Some Flower Power reject?"
There were some sounds that were forever etched into Gene's memory: the babble of the creek outside the house he'd grown up in, the noise of the twister that had torn through his town when he was seven, the beautiful singing of his sister and her school's choir, some of the particularly cutting insults hurled his way each day when he and the other four black students made their way into the school each morning...
...and the disgraceful backfire that could only belong to one pile of rust on wheels. Gene recognized it even before the beat-up van sputtered and lurched to a stop near the warehouse. It looked even worse than he remembered--three colors of rust and primer, duct tape and plastic replacing the driver's side window, faded bumper stickers protesting every cause imaginable, several holes where the body had corroded altogether... and the same toxic smoke cloud pouring from the exhaust pipe. It had, after one ill-timed backfire, poured smoke onto police during an Anti-Vietnam rally, arguably the first time in history that the protestors had gassed the police. It was a relic of the sixties--not unlike its driver.
Gene was only grateful it was late enough that most of the other workers on the docks had gone home for the evening. For once, Obediah Sandburg's inability to arrive anywhere on time was a blessing. "This thing is still a disgrace, Obie."
"Hey, you remember."
"Oh yeah. You don't forget a van once you've pushed it from Salt Lake City to Berkeley."
"Now be fair, we only pushed it from Elko to Berkeley...that's mostly downhill."
"I thought we'd agreed you'd do the honorable thing and put this bucket out of its misery."
"You have no appreciation for classic vehicles, Gene, have I told you that before?" Obie's attempt to sound wounded was undermined by the fact that he was having no luck wrestling his rusted door open. When the door finally popped loose, a small, brown, black and white dog, which looked like several different kinds of terrier all mixed up, swiftly bounced over Obie's lap to drop to the ground. Intent obvious, the mutt swiftly trotted to the nearest pile of lumber.
"Oh no you don't. You have ten miles of forest right across the street," Gene shooed the dog away. The mutt growled, but continued on his way. "You were supposed to be here yesterday, Obie. What happened? Border patrol find that 'herb garden' you grow in that van?"
"Hey, those are medicinal. Strictly legit. Well, okay, there was just the one little misunderstanding at the border check, and the highway patrolman with no humor, and that one wrong turn, well two... and there was that incident with the motorcycle gang in Spokane, but that's a completely different and very disturbing story for another time. Anyway, I'm here now. I'm sorry, a hundred Hail Mary penances, but please tell me you still have my wood?"
Gene glared at his friend, but the sad, yet hopeful, puppy dog look soon won him over. He motioned Obie into the warehouse. "Haven't lost your knack for B.S., have you, Obie?"
"Can't. It's genetic. Part of the Sandburg Y chromosome--along with the hair, the eyes, and the regrettable sense of direction."
Gene finally let out a chuckle. "The scraps of lumber are in the warehouse." He pointed at the piles of broken wood. "Three bucks a piece, take what you need, just be out of here before the next shift starts."
"You are a lifesaver, Gene." Obie pulled out his wallet and stared at the bills inside. "Um, Gene, is that three bucks American or Canadian?"
"It's okay, cuz. Captain Flower Power there is just loading some wood, he's not heading this way..." Taylor turned his attention back to the street "...and I think our Mr. Acampos has just arrived. Car coming: four-door, oversized, dark and Mafia-looking."
"That's him. Is he alone?"
"I'm looking." Now all business, the younger man swiftly adjusted the binoculars to scan the incoming vehicle. "Just him and his shadow. You're good to go." With his left hand, Taylor flipped on a small tape player tucked in his jacket, recording Dein's conversation.
"Watch him." Taking a deep breath, Dein stepped out of the warehouse shadows on Pier 45, walking to meet Acampos halfway.
Acampos studied his surroundings. "A meeting on the docks at sunset? I think you've watched too many old mobster movies, friend."
Taylor watched as Dein greeted the man with a handshake. Rolling his eyes, he commented into his cousin's earpiece, "oh, right, our judgment is being questioned by a man wearing a purple shirt with a yellow tie--"
He didn't see the blow coming. There was barely a second between the impact of something striking the back of his head and the pain that shot through his skull. Then the world went black.
Unaware of the sudden halt to his cousin's surveillance, Dein continued the transaction. "What is it you Americans would say? 'It's not the place, it's what you bring to it?'" Dein produced a small box from his jacket pocket. He opened it, displaying the contents for Acampos. "One priceless diamond, The Dawn, as promised."
Acampos placed a jeweler's loupe to his eye and clicked on a flashlight. After a moment of study, he nodded in satisfaction. "Still exquisite. The family will be pleased."
Dein pulled the diamond away as he offered a palmtop computer. "The fee?" he inquired, a hint of steel in his voice as he slipped the box back into his pocket.
"Of course." Acampos began to awkwardly tap out the electronic transfer.
Suddenly, a deep voice cut into the night air. "I'll take the Dawn now."
Dein and Acampos turned to the figure just out of sight in the shadows. "YOU!" Acampos spit.
"Yeah, me. The Dantes should have known better than to steal back what was faithfully won."
"He cheated!" Before the outraged man could continue, two shots rang out in the night. Acampos fell back, dead.
Even before the second shot, Dein was running. "Taylor!" he forced into his mike as he raced towards the nearest shed offering cover. The silence increased his fears that his cousin was dead and he was next. Before he reached his goal, another shot rang out. Dein staggered a step, but continued to run.
"Do I even want to know what you're going to do with this much wood?" Gene asked as Obie loaded the lumber into the back of his van.
Obie rolled his eyes as he turned back, his steps betraying a slight limp. "No, no. If you want to know, come to the expo tomorrow. Booth 27."
"We'll see. Last time I went to one of your New Age Fairs, one of you witch doctors conned me into trying electro-acupuncture. I still have flashbacks. Hey, did I hear right--is your nephew working with Cascade P.D. now?"
"Ugh. Speaking of painful events in our lives."
"Hey, he's a good kid. Give him a chance to explain before you go Naomi on him."
"Believe it or not, Naomi is all for it, though she won't tell me why. She just tries to act like her only son becoming a pig was her goal all along. Personally, I think the whole family has gone loco."
Gene laughed as he led his friend to the warehouse office. "Hell, I'd say Blair's the smartest one of you yet."
As the two older men's voices faded away, Dein stumbled into view. Holding his side where blood flowed over his hand, he dropped to his knees next to the back of the van. With his clean hand, Dein slipped the large diamond out of its box, and shakily placed it somewhere inside the rusted vehicle. "Taylor," he managed to croak, "If you're alive, the Dawn is in that Flower Power's van. Cal plate CHB ~cough~ four five ~cough~ two one. In a kinda round ~cough~ box. Sign here ~cough~ ~cough~ for 'meditation ~cough~ aids'. Watch your back, ~cough~ cuz." Obviously fading, Dein miraculously regained his feet and staggered away.
Once Dein was out of sight, Obie and Gene exited the office. Pausing at the back of the van, Obie turned to shake Gene's hand. "Thanks, old friend. I appreciate the deal."
Gene just shook his head. "What else can I do, man? You just take care, and go easy on the kid."
Obie shrugged in a non-committal way, then whistled. Brody trotted back to the van, pausing to sniff the back. A growl rumbled deep from inside the little dog as he detected the foreign scent of blood.
"Oh, come on. I know it smells bad here. But I'm sure Blair's place is better," Obie scolded as he scooped up his mutt and climbed back into the rusty vehicle.
Back in the shadows, a dark figure paused from checking the still body of Dein. Yanking out a pad of paper from his pocket, he wrote down CA: CHB-4521.
Late that evening, Ellison's loft
Two weary men pushed open the door and shuffled into their home. Senior detective James Ellison pulled off his coat in slow movements, gingerly reaching up to hang it on the rack by the door. Then he held out his hand.
His partner and roommate, rookie detective Blair Sandburg, handed over his own heavy leather jacket. Noticing the older man wince as he hung it up, Blair quietly asked, "How's the ribs?"
"Sore," Jim replied grumpily.
"Not surprising, considering how hard you landed on those pipes chasing Matters," Blair commented, wincing himself at the vivid memory of his partner's fall.
"Yeah, but I got the bastard," Jim replied, satisfaction easing the tired grumble.
"Do you want me to help you with the dials?" Pain medication wore off too fast for the sentinel, so Blair often helped Jim imagine a dial to turn down his heightened sense of touch.
"Nah, I think a hot shower is what I need." Jim wearily shuffled towards the stairs leading to his bedroom.
"Okay," Blair replied with a yawn. "How about I heat up that leftover chili?" He turned to the kitchen on his right.
"Or call Wong's," Jim suggested over his shoulder, knowing the younger man was just as tired as he was.
Before Blair could respond, a knock reverberated from the door. Puzzled, Blair glanced to his friend. "You expecting anybody?"
Sliding his hand towards his shoulder holster, Jim shook his head. However, he hadn't even taken a step towards the door when his nose began to twitch. "Sage," the sentinel managed to utter before a huge sneeze bent him over with its strength.
"But Naomi's in Mexico," Blair answered the unspoken question as he returned to the door. The puzzled face turned to pure delight when he saw who stood there. "Uncle Obie!" Blair exclaimed as he hugged the person just outside of Jim's line of sight.
"Uncle Obie?" Jim repeated, as Blair led his visitor inside. Through watering eyes he swiftly sized up the older man, noting the blue eyes and brown curls that were similar to his friend's, though the hair was sprinkled with gray. As he struggled against another sneeze, he noticed the wiggling bundle of fur next to the newcomer's ankle. Great, sage AND a dog.
As if sensing his host's dismay, the dog trotted across the living room and jumped onto the couch. Obie snapped his fingers, trying to beckon the animal back. "Brody! No! Come here!"
The dog commenced to roll over on his back, stretch out, and fall asleep, much to Jim's stunned horror.
Obie shrugged and turned back. "How's my favorite nephew?" He held Blair out at arms length, studying him. "You feeling all right?" With a practiced eye, he noticed the fatigue in the young face. "Have you been getting enough ginseng lately?"
"Yeah, we just got in from work," Blair waved off his uncle's concern, his earlier exhaustion disappearing at the sight of his favorite uncle. "What are you doing in Cascade?"
Noting the subject change but going along for now, Obie smiled widely. "I'm in town for the New Age fair down at your wharf."
"New Age fair?" Jim inquired, wiping at his eyes. He knew some of Blair's relatives had ties to the mob, a thought that made the detective uneasy. However, he hadn't heard of mobsters hanging out with New Agers.
When Obie turned towards Jim and shot a questioning glance at his nephew, Blair quickly jumped in. "Uncle Obie, I'd like you to meet my roommate and partner, Jim Ellison. Jim, this is my uncle, Obediah Sandburg. He's Naomi's brother."
"Hey, Mr. Ellison, good to meet you," Obie greeted, holding out his hand.
"Call me Jim," Jim returned, reaching out to return the handshake just before a sneeze grabbed his attention.
Suddenly realizing the misery his roommate was in, Blair's eyes grew wide. "Oh man, did you clean your crystals just before coming here?"
Obie turned from his frowning study of the man he'd heard so much about to glance at his nephew. "Yes, why?"
"Jim's allergic to sage," Blair explained. He scooped up a box of Kleenex, yanking out several tissues to hand to his friend.
"Oh man, I'm sorry, Jim," Obie apologized. "But how do you stay clean?"
Jim blinked at the older man, a feeling of d‚j… vu flowing over him. "I shower."
As Obie opened his mouth to correct him, Blair jumped in, "Which might be a good idea right now. Go on, Jim. I'll figure out something for dinner."
Glancing at the orderly kitchen, Obie suggested, "Hey, you know, I don't get to cook on an actual stove too often. Mostly campfires and hotplates, that kind of thing. How about you change and relax, too, and I'll make you boys some dinner?"
"Wow, really?" Blair's eyes lit up at the thought. Then he remembered the last time his uncle cooked, which quickly cooled his enthusiasm. "You know, you really don't have to. We were going to order Chinese." Jim shot his partner a puzzled look, picking up on the change.
"It's no trouble." Obie waved away the suggestion. "I'm sure I can find something to fix for you. Then afterwards, I'll bring out your belated birthday present."
"Present?" Blair searched his uncle up and down with his eyes. "Where?"
"After dinner," Obie scolded. As he turned towards the kitchen, Jim noticed there was a slight limp to his steps.
"Just leave out the sage," Blair called back.
"No problem," Obie easily agreed. "I'll change my clothes and keep the sage in the bottle."
Twenty minutes later, Blair wandered out of his bedroom, cautiously sniffing the air. "What are you making?"
"Ostrich patties, wild rice, peas, and buttermilk biscuits," Obie announced proudly as he stirred a pot.
Blair nodded, thinking that it could have been much worse. He pulled up a chair to watch his uncle work.
"So, that's the detective I've been hearing so much about," Obie commented, turning to the frying pan.
Blair's eyebrows lifted, picking up on his uncle's fishing. "Yep, that's my friend, Jim."
"Kinda different from your normal set of friends."
"My so-called 'normal' set of friends dropped me when I left the University." Blair glanced up at Jim's bedroom, hoping his roommate still had his hearing turned down from his shower.
Obie shrugged. "I never expected you to be living with a cop... especially one who's an uptight former soldier."
Blair didn't miss the emphasis on the last word. He shot another nervous look up the stairs. "Jim's a great guy once you get to know him."
"Is he the one who talked you into becoming a cop?"
Blair sent a frustrated glare at his uncle's back. "No one talked me into it. I'm old enough to make my own decisions based on my own reasons. I'm thirty, not thirteen, you know."
"Oh, all of thirty." Obie shot him a measuring glance before checking the oven. "Blair, I'm not judging, I'm just saying, this is all rather... different... for you." Catching Blair's glare, he responded defensively, "What, I'm not allowed to be curious?"
Rolling his eyes, Blair was about to respond when he spotted Jim casually walking down the stairs. His roommate's face was a controlled mask as he carefully tugged the sleeves of his sweatshirt into place. Damn. No way Jim missed hearing this conversation. "Hey, Jim. Ribs feeling better after the shower?"
"Yeah." Jim carefully kept his face neutral, forcing back his anger at Obie's snooping. Reminding himself that the man was justifiably worried about his nephew's new career, he decided to pretend that he hadn't heard the conversation. Walking towards the two Sandburgs, Jim's nose twitched, categorizing the cooking smells floating out of the kitchen. He shot Blair a worried look. The younger man could only guess at the different spices and ingredients his uncle had probably tossed in that the sentinel was distinguishing, so he answered the non-verbal question with a shrug.
"Hey detective, I hope you're hungry," Obie greeted heartily, silently noting the exchange between the two men. "I was just about to put dinner on the table."
"More tired than hungry, I'm afraid." Hearing a quiet growl, Jim glanced under the table to spot the dog glaring at him.
"That's Brody," Blair replied, hoping Jim didn't get too upset with having a dog in his loft.
Fortunately for Blair and Brody, Jim felt too tired and achy to waste the energy arguing. He silently sat down and ignored the dog.
It wasn't long before Jim wished he had simply gone to bed. The ostrich patties were seasoned heavily with a variety of spices, overwhelming Jim's sensitive mouth and nose. There were bits of this and that in the rice, some of which Jim couldn't identify and wasn't sure he wanted to. Even the biscuits had tarragon in them, a combination Jim thought highly strange, but at least edible compared to the ostrich. Even Blair's stranger recipes smelled better than this meal.
At least the conversation was interesting. It was soon obvious that his friend was close to his uncle in more than looks. The two talked about Naomi's latest exploits, the situation in Chechnya, the National Monuments recently created, and the women they'd dated. Blair even told Obie about Desiree the witch. "Yeah, Jim and half of the tough guys in Major Crimes were actually scared of her."
"She was scary, Chief," Jim softly inserted. "She's a black witch, if she's Wiccan at all. I'm still betting on Satan worshipper."
"I dated a black witch once," Obie replied reminiscently. "She had my head going every which way."
"Wasn't that the one Mom dumped the tea on 'accidentally', and she claimed Naomi was trying to poison her?" Blair asked, his eyes gleaming.
Obie laughed, a sound that reminded Jim of Blair. "That's the one!"
"Was she the one who gave you the limp?" Blair asked, then remembered, "No, wait. You got the limp slipping into the wrong hut in Africa." Blair turned to his roommate, chuckling. "See, someone else has worse luck with women than I."
Jim lifted an eyebrow. "So your uncle has dated women who forced him at gunpoint to drive a getaway car, whose father is a gun smuggler, or has attempted to burn off his eyebrows because he overbooked?"
"Recently?" Obie exclaimed. "What woman was that?"
"Well, actually," Blair replied with a chuckle, "those were three different women..."
As Blair and Obie continued their trip down memory lane, Jim attempted to slip some of the meat to the dog lying under the table. Brody sniffed the offering, turned up his nose, and crawled further under the table. At least the dog agrees with me. I hope the poor thing has some plain old dog chow somewhere. Actually, even dog chow sounds better than this.
After eating a biscuit, managing to swallow some rice while trying not to think of what was in it, and poking at the patties a few times, Jim finally gave up and picked up the tea Obie had poured.
"Feeling okay, Jim?" Blair asked, noting how little his roommate had eaten. After the first bite, he had feared the patties would be too strong for the sentinel.
"Just sore," Jim replied, not wanting to offend Blair's uncle and prove he was an uptight former soldier. "In fact, if you don't mind, I think I'll just turn in."
Concern deepened in Blair's face. "Let me know if you need anything."
"I'll be fine, Chief. Just enjoy your uncle's visit, and remember we have work tomorrow."
"We'll try to keep it down, but you might want to put in your earplugs," Blair suggested. He didn't want to have to explain to his uncle why whispering in his room would still be too loud for his roommate above.
After Jim had climbed the stairs, Obie picked up a plate. "Let's get the table cleared off, and I'll show you your present."
Blair grinned widely. While it had been months since his birthday, it was normal for Uncle Obie to present gifts long after the fact. However, the gifts always made an impression. Other relatives may give toys, candy or clothing. Uncle Obie gave him neat stuff, like the tribal mask he had on the wall, or the walking stick from Africa, or the spinning top from Istanbul. It had been the various gifts and stories Obie would bring back from his travels that first piqued a young boy's interest in other cultures.
Once the table was cleared and the dishes in the sink, Obie picked up something near the door and followed Blair into his room. With a flourish, he placed it on the desk. There sat a wooden oval on a metal stand, approximately a foot high. Blair's eyes grew wide as he studied the carvings along the side. "Did you do this?" he asked as he ran his hands over the polished wood.
"Yep, this is my new business," Obie explained with a proud smile. "Go ahead and open it."
Releasing the latch at the top, five sections pulled down like slices of an orange. Each slice provided a holder for a candle and a container for burning incense. But what drew Blair's eye was the black stone at the center, resting on a wooden holder. "Is this Tourmaline?" he asked, running a finger lightly down the striated side.
"Yes," Obie confirmed. "I thought your meditations might benefit from removing the negative energy in your surroundings."
"Yeah, there's plenty of negative vibes dealing with the perps," Blair replied, purposely ignoring Obie's implied source. His finger touched another latch, springing open a small compartment on one of the slices. "Is this a tape player?" He focused back on his uncle, eyes shining. "This is like a mini meditation set up."
"Exactly," Obie smiled proudly. "By using various stones, incense, and music, it can be customized to whatever each individual needs."
"Cool. Though I bet I know the real reason." A smug smile stretched across Blair's face. "That gives you a chance to talk with the customers and hear all their troubles."
Obie laughed softly in deference to the dark figure sleeping upstairs. "That's right. You know me too well, boy."
Blair chuckled. "Should by now."
"So, when are you going to tell me what happened in your life?"
Suddenly on guard, Blair turned back to the gift. "I discovered I liked police work. I like helping people. I like the thrill of chasing after the bad guys. It made the university look dull and gray in comparison." In more ways than one.
"So you decided to chuck nearly twelve years of hard work for excitement?" Obie prodded. While nothing sounded false in this confession, the older man knew Blair was holding back.
"Yep, traded the merry-go-around for the roller coaster," Blair quipped, not wanting to go deeper. He turned and grabbed an armful of bedding. "Why don't you sleep in my bed tonight? I'll go sleep on the couch."
Obie watched his nephew's retreating back. Nice try, lad. But I know you too well, too.
Next morning, Major Crimes
As Ellison and Sandburg stepped out of the elevator, Jim growled, "Why MY bed, Sandburg?"
Blair threw up his hands. "Hey, Jim, I didn't tell him to sleep in your bed."
"Not only my bed, but the CENTER of my bed."
"You could have kicked him out."
"I did. TWICE." Jim suddenly stopped.
In front of him was Rafe, sitting at his desk, with Brown and Taggart standing next to him. Instead of studying the folders in their hands, they were all staring at Jim. "Ah, Jim," Taggart ventured hesitantly. "Exactly WHO was in the center of your bed?"
"Brody was," Blair answered helpfully, though only adding to the confusing.
Brown's eyebrow lifted. "And who is Brody?"
"Blair's uncle's mangy mutt," Jim grumbled, still upset.
"He's not mangy," Blair refuted.
"Blair's who?" asked Rafe.
"My uncle Obie's visiting..." Blair began.
"Uncle Obi?" Brown exclaimed. "I didn't know you were related to a Jedi!"
Blair rolled his eyes and continued his explanation. "Short for Obediah, not Obi Wan. Anyway, his dog Brody decided he liked Jim's bed best."
"And exactly how big was this dog that commandeered your bed, Jim?" Taggart asked, trying not to laugh.
Jim rolled his eyes and stomped to his desk. Trying desperately to hide his smirk, Blair indicated Brody's size to their co-workers using his hands.
"Man, Jim, I'm surprised you didn't drop kick something that tiny!" Brown roared, no longer able to hold back his laughter.
"Don't think I wasn't tempted," Jim growled under his breath.
"Wasn't there enough room for both of you?" Rafe suggested.
"Not when the mutt insists on the center of the bed," Jim retorted, only serving to increase his colleagues laughter.
Captain Simon Banks poked his head outside his door. "Ellison. My office. Matters' file. Now." Then he glanced at his laughing detectives. "Why aren't you working?"
As everyone else scurried to look busy, Jim dropped his head into his hands. "This just isn't going to be my day."
Blair kept his smirk to himself until his partner was safely inside their captain's den. Then he smiled widely as he opened a folder from his own in box.
A few minutes later, two men dressed in dark suits stepped into the bullpen. After a brief word with Rhonda, they walked over to Blair's desk. Looking up, the word 'Fed' shouted in the rookie detective's mind. The leaner of the two appeared to be part Japanese and wore his black hair cropped para-military style, with a suitably grim expression to match. The second man, thirty- ish, Blair would guess, had distinctly Chinese features, and smiled a broad, if phony, grin.
"Detective Sandburg?" The latter Fed approached, displaying his badge. "Good morning. I'm Agent Keane from the FBI. This is my partner, Agent Okuma," he indicated the unsmiling older man. "Your uncle is one 'Obediah Emerson Sandburg'?"
At Blair's nod, Keane leaned to sit on the edge of the desk, smiling a broad, if pathetically fake, grin. Okuma remained standing, fixing Blair with an unyielding stare, presenting an imposing front. Good Fed, Bad Fed, Blair sized them up immediately, Oh boy oh boy. Jim was right, it was going to be one of those days. "We need to ask you a few questions concerning your uncle," Keane was saying. "This won't take long."
"What's this about?" Blair asked suspiciously.
"When was the last time you spoke to your uncle?" Keane asked.
Keane exchanged an unreadable look with Okuma. "Do you know where he is now?"
"What's this about?" Blair repeated.
It was Okuma who answered, "He's a potential witness to a murder last evening."
"What?!" The shocked exclamation from Blair drew the attention of the other detectives.
"What's going on here?" Simon's voice suddenly growled behind them. Turning, the agents found the tall forms of Jim Ellison and Simon Banks glaring at them.
"And you would be?" Okuma asked.
"I 'would be' Captain Simon Banks, Sandburg's commanding officer. And this 'would be' Detective James Ellison, Sandburg's partner. I would like to see some ID." After studying the badges the two grudgingly displayed, Banks frowned at the agents. "I don't know what this is about, but you are distracting my other detectives. If you wish to question one of my men, I suggest you do so in my office--under my supervision." His tone brooked no argument.
Blair raised thankful eyes to his boss as he stood to follow the agents into the office.
Once inside, Blair sat as the two agents faced him. "Who was murdered?" Blair asked.
"WE are doing the questioning here," Agent Okuma replied.
Simon interrupted, "I think Detective Sandburg's question deserves an answer."
"This is a Federal investigation, Captain. I'm not at liberty to divulge details," Okuma argued.
Jim was leaning against the windowsill, arms crossed, matching Okuma glare for glare. "I don't want to step on any toes, here, but a murder on the wharf sounds like a matter for us locals. What's your interest in this?"
Keane answered, "All we can tell you, Detective, Captain, is that the victim was in this country illegally. The rest is strictly 'need-to-know'."
"If there's been a murder in my jurisdiction, I 'need to know'," Simon warned.
"As we said, Captain, this is a federal matter." Okuma leaned into Blair's personal space. "You saw him this morning. Do you know what your uncle did last night?"
"Yeah, he fixed dinner for Jim and me, cleaned up, and slept in my bed while I took the couch. What time last night was the murder?"
"Jim?" Agent Keane asked.
"That's me," Ellison replied. "We're roommates."
The Fed raised an eyebrow, but then turned back to Sandburg. "What time did he arrive?"
Blair glanced at Jim as he answered, "A little after eight." Jim nodded in agreement.
"Do you know what your uncle has been doing lately, Detective Sandburg?"
Blair shrugged. "Obie's into lots of stuff, but lately he's been making meditation boxes to sell at New Age fairs and online."
"Did you know that at these fairs, your uncle claims to be a doctor?" Agent Keane questioned.
Blair rolled his eyes. "My uncle is a doctor. He just retired from active practice because he hated the demands from the HMOs." Jim raised an eyebrow. Obie hadn't struck him as a doctor.
"There is a huge sum of money in his savings account," Okuma pointed out.
"That's part of his settlement money from Wholesome Pharmaceuticals."
"He seems to travel a lot," Okuma commented, trying to make it sound suspicious.
Blair resented the insinuation. Trying not to lose his temper, the young detective replied, "He traveled with the Peace Corps after he got his medical license. Plus he's done a lot of volunteer work with Doctors Without Borders for the past fifteen, twenty years." Both Jim and Simon looked surprised at that information. "All facts easily verifiable if you'd bother to do a simple background check."
"Why, you..." Agent Okuma began.
"Curt, lay off," Agent Keane interrupted. Okuma backed off, still glowering. Keane turned to Blair. "I apologize for my partner's manners, Detective. It's been a long morning. We're familiar with your uncle's admirable humanitarian work." The compliment was nearly as phony as the Fed's smile. "Where can we find your uncle now?"
"I imagine he's at the fair down on the wharf right now near his booth," Blair pointed out.
"All right, we will locate him there for questioning. In the meantime, stay where we can reach you."
"Is my detective under suspicion?" Simon queried.
"No, not at this time."
"Then he doesn't need to answer to you," Banks pointed out in his most authoritative voice. With one last scowl, Okuma followed Keane out of the office.
Once the door shut, Simon turned to Blair. "Do you have any idea what that was about?"
Blair shook his head. "Uncle Obie mentioned he bought some wood down at the docks from where his old friend Gene is working. He didn't say anything about seeing a murder."
Jim shrugged. "He may have been in the area and not seen anything."
"Let me guess," Simon commented with a sigh. "Finding trouble is a genetic trait of the Sandburg family?"
At Jim's questioning look, Blair slowly nodded. "Yeah, he and Naomi are both pretty good at it, too."
Simon rubbed the side of his nose. "Then I suggest you go find your uncle Obi Wan before the Feds do. Murder in Cascade is our jurisdiction, not theirs."
"That's Obediah, sir, not Obi Wan," Jim felt obliged to point out.
"I don't care if he's Darth Vader. I want to know why we weren't informed of a murder, who was murdered, and what bug climbed up our federal friends' collective butts. Go find him!"
The New Age Fair
The first rays of dawn were brightening the skies when Obie and Brody set out for the convention center and the "New Millennium, New You" Alternative Medicine Fair. The wharves, despite the colorful banners adorning the street lamps, weren't much more hospitable looking in the light of morning. It reminded Obie of the summer he'd spent selling magnetic bracelets at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. Tourists, vendors, street musicians, and panhandlers were beginning to wander along the piers of Cascade's water front, the former going about the business of sight-seeing and shopping, the latter three hoping for a small share of the tourists' money. Tour buses and boats were being cleaned and fueled in anticipation of another day's business. Obie watched the numbers on the passing piers until he spotted Pier 5 and the turn for the convention center directly across the street. A line of prospective customers was already forming, Obie noticed with satisfaction.
"An eager crowd, Brody, that's a good sign. Ready to look, ready to buy," he remarked.
Brody's growl was unimpressed.
"You doubt me now, but wait and see."
Obie had been half-right: ready to look they were. Ready to buy was a whole other story. Three hours and twenty-five explanations of the meditation kits later, the only thing at Obie's booth that had sparked interest was Brody.
"That's a dog." This from a bridling woman who, in Obie's humble opinion, wasn't one who should be pointing fingers.
"What, Brody?" Obie offered her his most winsome smile. "No, no, that's not a dog. Technically, he's a warm-blooded, four-legged, alternative anti-hypertension life-extension treatment."
The woman's glare could have frozen lava.
"Or 'dog'. 'Dog' is another way of putting it..." Obie shrugged.
"You can't have that animal in here! It's a violation of the Health Code to have pets in--"
"Right you are, ma'am, pets aren't allowed in here, with the exception of seeing-eye dogs, naturally. However, alternative medicines, medical devices, and therapeutic equipment is permitted for the duration of the Health Fair. And since scientific research has proven that animals--dogs, cats--reduce anxiety, tension, and lower blood pressure in their owners, that technically qualifies my friend, Brody here, to remain on the grounds as an 'alternative anti-hypertension treatment'."
The woman stared at Obie as if she was trying to decide if he was sarcastic or simply insane. "I'm going to complain to security." With that warning, she turned on her heel and disappeared into the crowd of customers and vendors.
"I understand. Have a nice day, ma'am," he called after her. Under his breath, Obie added, "Don't forget to visit the Custom Colonic booth, see what they can do to help you remove that stick..."
"Must be a cat person," a tall blond man commented as he thumbed the meditation kits with idle interest.
Obie indicated the retreating woman with a thumb. "The last person I saw who had that particular expression was my friend, Dugan Haperdash. We were in the Brazilian rainforest and I'd just told him that the rice in my rice pilaf wasn't really rice. He, at least, had cause to complain."
If there was one skill Obie had honed in his years of traveling from country to country, it was the ability to spot a person with a problem in one glance-over. A second glance usually told Obie whether that problem was emotional, physical, or other. It was a survival skill: The physically ill needed medicines, the emotionally hurting usually needed a friendly ear. In the case of 'other', it was usually someone disgruntled with Obie and his companions' presence and usually preceded an argument or a quick flight on Obie's part. One look at the young man standing at his table told Obie that the boy had problems. A second look told him it wasn't physical. That left 'emotional' or 'other'...
Obie leaned against the table, affecting a casual stance. "So, is it girls, school, money, or family?"
The boy blinked in confusion, "Huh?"
"Is it girls, school, money, or family?" Obie repeated. "Sorry, you're free to tell me to butt- out, it's just that you strike me as someone who's recently had the universe slap a cosmic whammy on his life. Usually, that means it's a problem with one of those four things."
The boy thumbed through the contents of an open meditation kit. "And, let me guess, whatever these gizmos are will solve all my problems for a modest fee?"
"These?" Obie shrugged, "Nah. I mean, they will give your immediate environment a pleasant smell--unless, of course, we're talking a gym locker or a high-traffic dorm bathroom. They'll play soothing sounds and cleanse whatever negative vibes are bugging you. In general, they'll give you a temporary non-pharmaceutical respite from life's little moments. To be honest, the only guaranteed problem-solver I know of is a human ear attached to a willing listener. I don't sell those myself, but I do have one to loan."
"That's a helluva sales pitch, man. You sell many of these with that kind of disclaimer?"
Now, the boy did laugh. "All right, then, let's have a look at these bad boys."
Obie grinned. "Sure thing. Do you know anything about crystals?"
The boy shook his head. "My knowledge leans more towards gems."
"Well, then, tell you what, I'll give you the crash course," Obie offered.
"Good enough... hey, what was in your rice pilaf, anyway?"
"Don't ask if you don't want to know."
Ellison stole another glance at his partner. Blair had been quiet since leaving headquarters. Too quiet, in Jim's opinion. As he waited for the light to turn green, the older detective finally ventured, "You didn't say your uncle was a doctor."
Blair shrugged. "Never came up."
After a pause and another red light, Jim made another attempt. "Doctors Without Borders, huh? Now that's a group that sees a lot of action."
Blair chuckled. "Obie doesn't usually talk about the action. But he sure has traveled to some interesting places." Fingering the cuff of his jacket, Blair dug into his memories. "That's what first sparked my interest in other cultures. He'd bring back all these fascinating objects from his trips, along with some of the wildest stories about the people he met and the things he'd seen." He turned towards his partner. "Even though we wouldn't see him for months at a time, Obie always treated me as someone special. He was the one who encouraged me with my school work, listened when I had a problem, and taught me how and when to fight. Hell, he's even the one who taught me how to shave. He's probably the closest thing I've ever had to a father."
Remembering his mentor Bud, Jim felt he could understand. "We'll figure this out, Chief."
"I know. I just worry about him, you know? Obie's a pacifist. I can't picture him involved in a murder."
"He probably isn't. It's probably just a case of the Feds getting over-anxious. You know how that goes, we've dealt with them before. And last time you taught them a thing or two about catching suspects."
As Jim had hoped, his partner chuckled. "Guess I should have filled my pockets with ball bearings, huh?"
Obie's booth, New Age Fair
So far, the morning was going more smoothly than Taylor Mallory had expected. Since awakening with a huge headache only to find Dein being placed in a body bag, everything had felt like it was spinning out of control. Waves of denial, anger, fear and guilt had slammed through him for most of the night. As the first rays of light peeked into the hotel room, his mind finally kicked into gear. Unable, for now, to claim his cousin without alerting the Feds to his whereabouts, the youngest Mallory had turned his attention to completing the job they'd accepted. Another family representative had arrived to replace Acampos and would still expect delivery of the Dawn. Dein and Taylor had never disappointed a client. Dein would expect Taylor to put aside his personal feelings and carry on, and that was what Taylor intended to do.
Tracking down the mysterious hippie-mobile had been a simple matter of hacking into the Department of Motor Vehicles mainframe and finding a name and address to go with the license plate numbers Dein had whispered. Their computer had put a name to the gray-haired flower child--Obediah Emerson Sandburg, M.D.--but the address was a general delivery to a post office in Scranton. Tracing the 'doctor's' whereabouts in Cascade had taken a bit longer, but Taylor had finally found the man registered with the New Millennium, New You medical freak-show.
Taylor had intended to simply find the van in the convention center's parking building, break in, and take the boxes. However, the cop patrolling the lot had a serious Nazi attitude and the nervous energy of someone just searching for a reason to use his gun. The young thief couldn't risk drawing attention to himself. Thwarted, Taylor had dared to venture into the fair itself. Still erring on the side of caution, not wanting to be cornered in the crowded convention hall, Taylor had paused long enough to deposit a special package in one of the food court's trash cans. From there, he had moved through the crowd of witch doctors and snake oil salesmen until he'd found the booth and the hippie doctor in question.
Now, Obediah himself was unknowingly cooperating by permitting Taylor to look through the various 'meditation kits' under the guise of looking at the different crystals. If it meant listening to a lecture on each crystal and its 'magical' properties, Mallory could deal with it. Besides, the old guy was actually kind of interesting, if a bit long-winded, and Taylor had to admit these 'meditation kits' weren't as odd as half the garbage being peddled around the hall.
"So, what kinds of tapes can you use with these?" Taylor kept the conversation going as he continued to work his way through the stacks of boxes. Just a few more to go--the diamond had to be here somewhere.
"Anything you like: rainforest, river, desert, wolves, drums... Jane's Addiction." Obie had to admit, he was beginning to wonder if the kid was sincerely interested or just a Looky Lou.
Taylor chuckled. "So, what does this crystal do?" He held up one of the kits.
"That one is for those of us still searching for romance. Like I said, specific stones for specific problems."
"I've got financial problems. What's the stone for that, a diamond?"
Obie laughed. "Actually, diamonds are more for love and amplifying your own personal characteristics. But if I had diamonds, trust me, I wouldn't be working a table in between 'Hot Dog on a Stick' and the 'Finding Yourself Through Astral-Projection' booths."
Taylor couldn't help but laugh at that. Turning to count how many boxes were left to search, he caught a flash of black out of the corner of his eye. He carefully glanced in that direction. Two Asian men in black suits walked through the crowds, looking very much out of place among the jeans and T-shirt crowd. There was no mistaking they were either Feds, Interpol, or mobsters.
Damn. So much for the subtle approach. Taylor reached into his pocket for the small box and the switch tucked inside. He glanced sidelong towards the food court, noting the thick plume of smoke beginning to rise from the trash barrel. People were beginning to jump from their seats in the court even before the plume reached the smoke alarm.
Rear entrance, New Age Fair
Blair and Jim had just pulled up to the rear entrance when the first surge of people burst from the convention hall in various stages of panic. With keen eyes, Jim could see past the crowd to the smoke that was filling the hall.
"Damn! Looks like a fire. Sandburg, get the trucks and paramedics down here." The truck had barely stopped before Jim was out of the vehicle and rushing for the building.
Obie was mid-way through his explanation on the powers of Amethyst when the alarm began to blare. What the--? He turned, searching for the source of the commotion, and spotted the smoke billowing in the food court. Those who had not noticed the smoke before then were galvanized to flee at the ring of the alarm. Immediately, vendors nervously started gathering up their wares while the crowd began to push towards the exits in a none-too-orderly fashion.
"Oh boy. I think that you should--" Obie was brought up short when he turned back to find the boy making a grab for the unopened meditation kits on the table. "Hey, what the h--"
Taylor had the grace to look apologetic. "I'm sorry, man." Obie didn't see the blow coming until the boy's fist connected with his right eye. He was unconscious before he hit the floor.
Then Taylor heard the growls. A small, furry streak shot from beneath the tables and, before Mallory could react, Brody's sharp teeth dug into his leg. Taylor let out a yelp of pain and tried to kick the beast away, but the dog held on all the tighter. The effort to dislodge Brody and hang onto the boxes threw Taylor off-balance. He stumbled backwards, tripped over the mutt, and lost his grip on the meditation kits. Boxes flew in all directions.
The commotion was enough to get the attention of the two Feds. With a sinking heart, Taylor saw the duo pushing their way through the sea of panicky bodies towards Obie's booth.
It was like running into the sensory equivalent of a brick wall. Jim's senses assaulted him the moment he stepped into the center. Dozens of different smells--perfumes, after-shaves, pungent herbs, aromatherapy oils, incense, flowers, and smoke--burned at his lungs and stung his eyes. The fire bell, the music pulsing from the overhead speakers, and people's shouts were deafening. He was blinded momentarily by strobes from the stage, by laser displays at a half-dozen different booths, and the smoke. The stimuli crashed over him like a wave, nearly overwhelming his Sentinel senses.
He had no idea how long he had stood there before Blair's voice cut through the din. "Jim!" A hand came down on his shoulder, gripping hard. "Are you all right? C'mon, man, concentrate. Dial it down!"
Jim focused, shutting out the stimuli one-by-one until he could bring his senses back under control. Concentrating on his sense of sight, he searched the room. Through the thinning smoke, he spotted Okuma and Keane. Their attention was focused on something--someone--at the far end of the hall. Jim followed their gaze, piggybacking his hearing with his sight. The first thing he heard was familiar barking. He traced the noise to the corner by the food court. Brody was nipping at the heels of a young blond man. Obie's boxes were scattered across the floor near the struggling young man. Obie himself was slumped unconscious nearby. The young man was gazing from the dog to the two Feds to the boxes. He kicked at Brody, trying to drive the dog away, but finally gave up and fled for the exit. Okuma and Keane were hot on the boy's heels.
"There!" Jim pointed Blair in the direction of Obie's booth.
"What?" Blair shouted above the din, struggling to see through the smoke.
"Someone attacked your uncle, but Brody drove him away. I'm going after him." Jim split off to intercept the thief while Blair raced towards Obie's booth.
Taylor dodged through the crowd, trying to ignore his throbbing ankle. When a collision with a large, panicked vendor spun him around, he spotted the Feds still close behind him. Damn, I can't let them catch me. Up ahead, he spotted a booth demonstrating motorized service carts. Nearby, a boy dropped the controls to one of the carts as his mother grabbed his arm, dragging him to an exit. With an extra burst of speed, Taylor reached the cart, scooped up the controls, then swiftly spun around. Expertly, he flipped a couple of switches, then tossed the controls into a nearby trash can. He darted through the exit as the cart crashed into the Feds.
As Taylor entered the crowds standing outside the hall, a stern voice shouted, "Freeze! Cascade PD!" Turning, he spotted Ellison pointing a gun at him.
So did everyone else. Instead of standing still or dropping to the ground, the already overwrought crowd began to stampede. Jim was pushed back as bodies glanced off him. Then someone reeking like a flower shop was shoved up tight against his body. The fragile control that Blair had helped Jim gain earlier was shattered, sending the sentinel into a sneezing fit. By the time Jim had gained control and was no longer buffeted by the crowd, the perp was gone.
Half hour later
"I told you, I don't know the kid. I thought he looked upset, I was being friendly. Then the alarms went off and the next thing I knew, the guy clocked me."
Obie had ignored Blair's concerned efforts to get him to sit down, preferring to help with those hurt in the melee that followed the smoke alarm. It hadn't been until the paramedics arrived that he'd allowed his nephew to coax him to a chair in the food court. Blair had allowed the newly arrived officers Buxton and Crowder to take charge of interviewing the various witnesses to the ruckus while he cleaned the small cut over Obie's right eye.
Now Agent Keane sat across the table from the elder Sandburg, using the same annoyingly insincere, friendly routine he'd tried on Blair as he questioned Obie. It was a toss up as to who was annoying who more--Keane with his repetitious interrogation or Obie with his inability to offer the Fed useful answers. Keane's friendly facade was fading quickly.
"You're sure you haven't seen the kid before?" Keane asked.
Outwardly, Obie was calm, but Blair could see the subtle squaring of Obie's shoulders that betrayed his irritation. "I'm sure."
"He wasn't on the wharf last night?"
"Maybe, but I didn't see him if he was."
With a frustrated sigh, Keane rose from the table. He paced for a moment, then crossed the room to join Okuma, who was talking with the fire marshal. Jim could easily keep an ear on their conversation from where he stood near the table.
"--no fire, but we found a smoke canister in one of the trash barrels," Okuma filled in Keane. "It had what looks like a homemade remote trigger attached."
"Definitely our boy's handiwork then "
Officer Crowder was helping to gather the boxes that Obie's attacker had left strewn across the floor. She waited until Keane had left the group before bringing the meditation kits to the table. "This is the last of them, Blair."
Jim pulled the rookie officer aside. "Hey, Crowder, do me a favor? Run one of these boxes down to the station and see if you can pull a print off it--and don't let Agents Jay and Kay over there see you."
"Not a problem," Crowder agreed.
Watching the pretty brunette walk away, Obie nudged his nephew. "Lynn, eh? Very cute. You ask her out yet?"
"She's a friend, Obie," Blair said.
"Turned you down, huh?"
Jim interrupted, "Heads up." Keane and Okuma were returning to the table.
"Dr. Sandburg, we need to ask you some more questions. If you'll accompany us back to our office..."
Blair opened his mouth to protest, but it was Jim who stepped between Obie and the two agents first. "Whoa, whoa, last time I checked, the doc isn't under arrest. Now, this alleged murder took place in Cascade and, unless you give me a good reason, it's not a Federal case. That puts the murder and this little incident under our jurisdiction, which makes Dr. Sandburg our witness. At least until someone informs our boss otherwise. So if you want to take Dr. Sandburg into your custody, either tell us who your John Doe is, who that kid was, or why he would start a stampede just to steal some boxes of crystal and incense?"
Keane and Okuma were pointedly silent.
"That's what I thought. In that case, we are taking Dr. Sandburg to our station to get his statement and if you want him to answer any more questions, you can ask him there." Jim waved Obie and Blair towards the exit.
Okuma warned, "You're treading a very thin line, Detective."
Jim grinned, "See you at the station, boys."
Obie gave them a wave. "You know, for the first time, I actually prefer going to the police station."
"So this is where you work," Obie commented as Blair and Jim led him into the bullpen. Ice pack on one eye, he studied the busy area.
"And right over here is my desk," Blair pointed as he directed his uncle to the chair beside it.
Jim covertly studied the older man. He had noticed that the slight limp from the night before had grown more pronounced after the robbery incident. Whether it was due to fatigue or stress, Jim wasn't sure. However, his instincts were telling him there was much more to the Feds' interest than a simple murder, and somehow the elder Sandburg was innocently in the middle of it.
"So, is this the holy terror that stole your bed, Jim?" Brown asked with a wide grin. He indicated Brody with his hand, who was in the process of sniffing the corner of Taggart's desk.
"Yep," Jim replied straight-faced. He scooped up the mutt and dropped him into Brown's arms.
Undaunted, the cheerful detective caught the dog and held him up for inspection. Brody made an attempt to lick his nose. "Hey, he's a cutie."
"So, do me a favor and take the 'cutie' for a walk," Jim suggested.
With a grin, Henri tucked the wiggling dog under his arm. "No problem."
Jim smirked and took one more step towards his desk before another voice interrupted, "Good day, Jim. Anything interesting happening?"
Jim turned to find Inspector Megan Connor standing behind him. "Just double vision in the Sandburg Zone," he replied.
Before Megan could ask him what he meant, Simon stepped out of his office. "I just heard about the smoke bomb and the attempted robbery at that New Age Fair. Tell me Blair's uncle wasn't in the middle of it."
"As a matter of fact, sir, he was," Jim replied with resignation, waving a hand in the Sandburgs' direction.
"Does this have anything to do with the Feds asking about him?"
"Yes, it does."
"Damn." Simon shook his head. "Isn't one of them enough?"
"What Feds?" Megan asked, feeling like she was a couple of steps behind.
"Oh, some Feds claim Blair's uncle was in the area of a murder last night," Jim explained. "We don't know what murder they're talking about, or why it would be a federal case."
"We might be able to narrow down the possibilities," Simon pointed out.
Jim nodded. "True. We know Obie made only two stops in Cascade before he arrived at my place--the gas station and the wharf. The murder had to have been at one of those two places, most likely the wharf from the questions."
Looking thoughtful, Megan glanced back at Blair's desk. "I wonder if it's the murders down by the wharves that has Interpol breathing down Homicides' necks."
Both Jim and Simon turned to stare at Megan in disbelief. "Interpol?" Simon repeated. "Just who on earth got whacked last night?"
"And what's the connection to a guy trying to rip off Obie's homemade wares?" Jim added.
Simon leaned towards Megan. "Connor, do a little digging down in Homicide and see what you can find out."
"Yes, sir," Megan replied.
"Hey, Megan!" Blair waved her over. "Could you do me a favor and find the sketch artist?"
"No worries, Sandy," Megan replied, stepping closer to the two Sandburgs. She smiled at the older man who bore a noticeable resemblance to Blair.
After a nudge from Obie, Blair add, "Oh, Megan, this is my uncle, Obediah Sandburg. Obie, this is Inspector Megan Connor. She's an exchange officer from Australia."
Obie bounced to his feet, dropping the ice pack on Blair's desk. "An honor to meet you," he greeted with a bow as he took her hand.
Megan smiled, charmed in spite of herself. "Nice to meet you too, Mr. Sandburg."
"Just Obie, please."
"Obie." Megan nodded and turned to search for the artist.
As soon as he judged her far enough away, Blair punched Obie in the arm. "Hey, back off."
Obie was still watching her. "Oh, so you've gone out?"
"NO!" Blair rolled his eyes. "She's a friend and a colleague."
"Ah, so you haven't gotten up the nerve to ask her yet."
"Obediah!" Blair hissed. At Obie's raised eyebrow, Blair confessed, "Okay, no, I haven't asked her out yet. I have to work with her, you know."
"Too bad," Obie sighed. "I bet that one's a great kisser."
Blair blushed. "I'm not telling."
Before the elder Sandburg could pry out any details, Jim and Simon walked over. "Obie, this is our Captain, Simon Banks. Sir, this is Obediah Sandburg."
Simon and Obediah quickly appraised each other as they shook hands. Then Simon gestured to his office. "Dr. Sandburg, why don't we discuss all this in private."
A few minutes later, Obie had told Blair and his co-workers everything that had happened. Thoughtfully, Jim asked, "You said he struck you, pardon the expression, as looking upset. Did he say anything that might give us an idea why?"
Slightly surprised that a cop would ask such an intelligent question, Obie paused a moment. "Well, he did ask if there was a crystal that would help with financial problems, like diamonds."
"I thought you only sold semi-precious stones?" Blair questioned.
"I do. I told him if I were selling diamonds, I certainly wouldn't be at that fair. We laughed, and continued talking. He seemed to me a nice, yet troubled, young man."
"Yeah, a nice young man who punched you," Blair pointed out sternly.
"But he did apologize first," Obie replied unperturbed.
"So, was the diamond comment just idle conversation, or something more," Jim thought out loud.
"And what does it have to do with Feds and a murder last night," Simon added. He glanced up. "Speaking of whom..."
Okuma and Keane had entered Major Crimes and were heading their way. Knocking sharply, they entered the captain's office without waiting for a response. As Ellison and Banks glared at them, they focused on Dr. Sandburg. The older Fed stood by the wall, fixing Obie with a burning stare. The younger Fed had taken a seat across from Obie uninvited. Keane ignored the detectives and the waiting doctor for several minutes, taking great interest in whatever was written on his own notepad. Finally, he chuckled, amused at something in the notes. "I will say, Dr. Sandburg, you brightened our lab tech's afternoon. There's certainly a, shall we say, colorful variety of items in your--what do you call them?"
"Meditation kits. When you boys are done 'identifying my colorful items', I'd like them back."
"I'm told it will take a day just to identify them all. I'm curious, what were you doing peddling roots and crystals at a small-time fair? I was under the impression you lost your license?"
"Misunderstanding. I cleared it up." Obie crossed his arms. "But you'd know that already."
"So why aren't you practicing medicine at a nice hospital somewhere in the U.S.? It would certainly be safer, wouldn't it?"
"I like to travel."
"I can see that. And you certainly get around. Africa, South America, Russia..." Keane read from his notes. "Tell me, have you ever been to Vienna? France? Monte Carlo? Australia?"
Obie shook his head. "There's not a lot of call for humanitarian relief in those areas."
"No, I expect not. You must meet quite a few people, traveling as much as you do. But you say you've never seen the young man who tried to rob you before today? Last night on the wharf, maybe?"
"Nope. I told you. I saw Gene, I saw three guys off-loading lumber from a truck, I saw a security guard. If there was anyone else on the wharf, I didn't see them."
"No one around your van? On the other piers?"
"I think there might have been a homeless gentleman relieving himself on a stack of pallets three piers down, does that help you?"
Okuma glowered. Keane ignored the barb. "So, if you couldn't place the thief at the wharf and you hadn't met him before this morning, what do you think he wanted with your little boxes?"
"Beats me. He seemed like a nice, yet troubled, young man."
Okuma snorted in disbelief. "A 'nice young man' who is not only a thief but a murderer."
"He didn't strike me as a murderer," Obie insisted.
Okuma pounced on the opening. "And you can spot a murderer, Dr. Sandburg? Was part of your medical training in mind-reading?"
"I can usually read people."
Okuma gave the older man a sneer. Obie was beginning to think this Fed had only three facial expressions: sneer, glower, and smirk. "Right, just like you 'read' the rebels in Rwanda when they ruined your knee?" Jim noticed Blair shoot up straight in his chair, eyes wide. He could also hear the catch in Obie's breathing and the slight quickening of his pulse at the remark.
Obie, however, maintained a poker face for the Feds. "I couldn't leave until the baby was delivered and got caught--but I knew they were murderers."
Blair shifted in his chair, eyes troubled and focused inward. Jim spared him a glance, remembering Blair had mentioned a whole different story concerning Obie's knee injury. Apparently, obfuscating about what really happened on the job to the family was another Sandburg trait.
Wrapped up in his own thoughts, Jim nearly missed it as Obie continued, "I can 'read', for example, that you've been in the field so long you think everyone is a bad guy. You've been fanning that cynical little flame ever since you got your arm broken--let me guess, you were DEA before the FBI and were guest of some little drug czar for about three weeks? Enough time to be sure that bone knitted crooked. Sorry, I couldn't help but notice."
"Obediah..." Blair hissed a warning.
"You hate your work, you hate the pay, you hate the hours, but you believe in what you do enough to stay in the field. Now, sweet face over there..." Obie indicated Keane, but spoke to Okuma, "...he loves his work. Give him five years more and he'll be a director. Probably yours. Must drive you crazy knowing that. Under those circumstances, I'd be walking around looking like someone just stuck my hand in a bear trap and was trying hard not to scream, too."
Simon held his breath as Okuma's face went to white to red to white again. Now I know where Blair's tough talk comes from. Blair himself was pale as he exchanged stunned looks with Keane. Behind his own poker face, Jim's muscles tensed, prepared to physically intervene if the Fed tried to kill Blair's uncle.
Then a sound escaped from Okuma's lips. When more chuckles joined the first small sound, everyone else in the room relaxed.
"Thank you for your cooperation, Dr. Sandburg. If you remember anything more, I expect a phone call." Okuma nodded to Keane, who gave Obie a dirty look as they left.
Megan waited until after the FBI had left, then slipped into the room. "I have the information you wanted, Captain."
"What did you find out?" Simon asked as he leaned back in his chair and pulled out a cigar.
Megan slid two photos onto the table. "Two men were murdered last night on the wharves. One was Alberto Acampos. He worked for the Dante crime family in Chicago as an appraiser."
"That explains the FBI involvement," Blair pointed out as he studied the photo.
"The other was an Australian by the name of Dein Mallory. He and his American cousin are international high tech jewel thieves, which is why Interpol is interested. Apparently, they have made some impressive scores all over the world. Just that no one has been able to prove anything."
"Do either of these men look familiar?" Jim asked Obie.
The older man shook his head. "I've never seen them before."
"What about the cousin?" Simon asked.
"His name is Taylor Mallory. From what Rodgers in Homicide said, Dein brought him into the business due to his high tech and mechanical skills. He's suppose to be very good with gadgets." Megan caught Ellison's eye. "By the way, Jim, I ran into Lynn Crowder. They were able to pull some prints off the kit. On a hunch, I had them compare the younger Mallory's prints. They match." She slid another photo across the table.
"That's him," Obie exclaimed.
Jim agreed with a nod. "Yep, that's definitely our little pugilist."
Everyone gathered to study the photo. "But why would a jewel thief be interested in one of your meditation kits?" Blair questioned, turning to his uncle. "Those semi-precious stones wouldn't even be a blip on this guy's screen."
Obie looked thoughtful. "No wonder that kid looked upset, losing his cousin just last night. I wonder if he has any other family?"
"Right." Obie blinked, then remembered, "You know, the whole time we were talking, we had been slowly working our way through each of the kits, discussing crystals and incense. And the kits he grabbed were the ones we hadn't reached yet."
"And your van was near where his cousin was killed." Blair snapped his fingers. "What if Dein Mallory managed to slip something inside before he died? You could easily hide something in those kits."
"Maybe something that was worth killing him and Acampos for?" Megan suggested.
"Diamonds," Jim inserted slowly, nodding his head. "Taylor asked you about diamonds, probably fishing to see if you had already found them."
"But why hit me?" Obie asked. "We probably would have looked through every one of those boxes if the smoke alarm hadn't gone off."
"Something spooked him," Jim pointed out. "He must have planted that smoke device just in case he needed a diversion."
"Okuma and Keane," Blair declared with a sweep of his hand. "They were on their way to the booth. No way Taylor could have mistaken them for anything BUT Feds."
"The records I saw did indicate that neither Mallory is known to carry guns," Megan interjected. "They seem to follow the old code of gentlemen thieves. So it's likely young Taylor would pick a non-lethal means to aid his escape."
"Using a high tech gadget," Blair nodded. "Definitely sounds like this guy's MO."
"So whatever everyone is looking for may still be in one of those boxes." Simon tapped his unlighted cigar against his finger. "Too bad the Feds have them."
"But if there were diamonds in them, you'd think the Feds would have found them already," Jim pointed out.
Obie shrugged. "True, but they don't have all of them." As the members of Major Crimes turned, the older man smiled. "I don't display every one I have. There are several in the van that are either half done, need fixing, or lack a coat of finish."
"All right," Blair exclaimed with a wide grin.
Banks held back his own smile and immediately took charge. "Okay, Sandburg, Connor, I want you to escort Dr. Sandburg back to the loft. It should be safe and comfortable enough for you to start looking through those kits." Simon, too, had noticed the fatigue on the elder Sandburg's face. "Ellison, go talk with your contacts in Interpol and the FBI, and see if you can dig up exactly what got the elder Mallory killed. More than likely, it's still spooking the younger one." The Captain leveled a stare at his people. "All we have so far is conjecture. I'd like facts as to why we have Feds up the wazoo by end of the day."
They had driven five minutes in silence after leaving the precinct. Blair being quiet was, Obie knew, like seeing the sun set in the North when in Alaska. He knew something was bugging the kid, and he had a good idea what. "It wasn't a lie, Blair."
"You told me and Naomi your knee was smashed in a fight over a woman." Blair was staring out the front window, deliberately not looking at his uncle.
"C'mon, Obie! Getting your knee crushed by Rwandan rebels sounds like a hell of a lot more than someone jealous over a tryst with a woman."
Blair had learned that what his uncle did was risky the night he was six years old. He'd been awakened by the sound of his mom yelling. There didn't seem to be anyone else talking in the house, though. Blair had climbed out of bed and crept to the kitchen, careful not to let her know he was there. He found Naomi yelling something about Uncle Obie into the phone. He hadn't pieced it together until much later that Naomi had freaked when a group of doctors near where Obie worked was killed. She had been on the phone that night trying to get the names of who had died, to find out what had happened to her brother. When Obie had returned, very much alive, they'd had a huge argument over whether he should return to his work or not.
"I never actually said 'tryst'..." Obie objected.
"Don't do that! Don't obfuscate, don't B.S. me, don't change the subject! I want to know what happened. The truth this time."
Obie hesitated. There were some things about his work in the Corps and in Doctors Without Borders that he'd long ago decided not to share with his sister or his nephew. Rwanda was near the top of that list. But Blair wasn't letting this go.
"What I told you was true, Blair. I was on my way to catch a plane out of Rwanda. There was a nice family near one of the villages who put me up for a couple nights. I didn't know who they were. The wife, Nysa was her name I think, was eight months pregnant. Malnourished. I was worried she would lose the baby, so I stayed a few days longer. And she went into early labor. I ended up having to do an emergency c-section right there. God, it was a nightmare. We were too far from any hospitals, the hut was filthy, I didn't have the right supplies. I was halfway through when the rebels came looking for Nysa and her husband." Obie gripped the steering wheel tighter, hoping he could hide his shudder from Blair. "I couldn't run, couldn't let her bleed to death, couldn't let the baby die. The rebels took me prisoner, too. Friend of my enemy is my enemy kind of thing, I guess."
Blair's tone was softer, some of the anger abated. "Why didn't you tell us?"
Obie laughed. "Tell Mount Saint Naomi? Are you kidding? I'd have been safer with the rebels." Blair stared back, waiting. "I didn't tell you or Naomi because I couldn't change who I was. I knew it was dangerous, and I accepted the risks because I was doing something I believed in. I didn't want you both to worry every time I took a job that something like that was going to happen to me."
Blair could certainly understand that. "Why didn't you tell me, then? I was an adult by that time. I thought we were supposed to be straight with each other."
Obie arched an eyebrow. "Do you tell Naomi and me everything that's happened to you since you started hanging around the police version of the A-Team? Have you even told me the real reason you flushed your doctorate and your career down the tubes? I mean, 'excitement'? I'm supposed to buy that?"
"That is so not the same..."
"Isn't it? Carrying a gun and a badge is a long way from Anthropology. C'mon! I thought we were supposed to be straight with each other."
Blair turned back towards the window. "Things got--complicated..."
Obie asked again, "Was it because of Jim?"
Blair rubbed his eyes, resisting the urge to bang his forehead against the dashboard. "I'm not a six year old kid with a case of hero-worship. No one 'made' me become a cop." Obie could always spot him in a lie, but he couldn't tell Obie the whole truth. What could he say, then? He quit to protect Jim? Yeah, right, and prove Obie's point... "I started working with the Cascade P.D. because Jim agreed to share some of his experiences with the Chopec in Peru with me for my research. I did some consultant work with the department in exchange for the help. When Rainier gave me the boot, Simon offered me a full-time job."
"But your doctorate--"
"My research could have caused problems for some of my test subjects if their identities were revealed. I promised that I'd protect them, but it eventually became apparent that I couldn't. You see, the University didn't care that publishing my work could destroy people, just as long as they could bask in the glory of what a great researcher they'd produced. When I realized that, I had to make a choice between my doctorate and keeping my word. What would you have done?"
Oh, that was a cheap shot. "But a cop, Blair?"
Blair smiled. "I know it can be dangerous, and I accept the risks because I'm doing something I believe in."
Obie felt the weight of his own words thrown back into his face. Stunned, he pulled into a parking space near the back door to Blair's building. Even after setting the parking brake, he couldn't come up with an adequate response that didn't sound hypocritical.
Megan stood on the sidewalk, waiting. "What kept you boys?"
"Obie never drives faster than twenty-five." Blair had to work at opening the passenger door. When it popped open, Brody bounded over Blair and leaped for the sidewalk.
"Have you seen what I'm driving? I'm afraid the thing will fly apart if I drive any faster." Obie circled around to the passenger side of the van. Blair had already slid open the main door. "Oh, man, it looks so empty in here." Obie stared unhappily at what was left of his meditation kits. "The Feds have all my best kits. I swear, if there's one scratch on any of them, I'm writing to my Congressman... it's still Tuberman, right?"
"I think you're off by a decade or three," Blair answered.
Megan was counting the boxes, dismayed by the number still left inside. They were going to have to open and check each one. "How many of these kits do you have?"
"Minus the ones sold or lifted by Feds and skittish young thieves, about eighty," Obie guessed.
Megan sighed, "This could take a bit."
Jim sighed as he hung up the phone. He didn't have any luck reaching his Interpol contact, while his FBI contact had been nearly as confused as he was. What on earth is going on? Thinking hard, Jim decided he had one more source to check out before going home to meditation kits that probably contained sage.
Blair wearily leaned back against the seat, staring at the opened kit in front of him. "That's all of them and no diamond. We must be missing something. Are you sure it wasn't in one of the boxes you sold?"
Obie shook his head. "Positive."
"Did you keep a record of people you sold kits to today?" Blair inquired, reaching for a notebook.
Blair threw up his hands in disgust. "You didn't, did you?"
Obie sighed, then confessed, "I didn't sell any to keep a record of, okay?"
Blair looked surprised. "Oh."
To smooth over the awkward moment, Megan gently inserted, "Maybe Mallory was wrong-- maybe it's in the van, not in the boxes. Did you notice anything unusual about the van when you left the wharf?"
Obie paused a moment in thought. "Wait a minute--one of the boxes had a broken latch. I think I stuck it under the seat so I'd remember not to sell it before it was fixed." He slipped out the side to enter through the passenger's door. Drawing the box out from under the seat, Obie gently opened the slices. "Oh, ho, man, anyone want to run off to Rio? How about it, Meg?" Leaning forward, he held up a fist-size diamond so that Megan and Blair could see it.
"Let me see it," Megan requested. After Obie handed it to her, she flicked on her pocket flashlight to examine it. "Simply breath-taking. Must be well over 45 carats, cut is perfect, colorless, oh dear, I really need my loupe to determine clarity." Megan studied the stone a moment more. "You know, diamonds this large are usually well-known, especially if they are missing. Sandy, mind if I use your computer?" At Blair's nod, Megan jumped out and rushed towards the building doors.
Obie queried, "'Sandy'?"
Blair shot him a glare. "Don't start."
It hadn't taken long to finish writing up the report on the incident at the fair. Jim made a quick detour to the nearest Fleet Foot store, then headed downtown. Sure enough, Jim found the bedraggled man at his favorite donut shop. Jim crossed the room and, by way of greeting, deposited a shoebox on the table in front of the man.
Sneaks looked at the shoebox, momentarily startled, then glanced up at Jim. He broke out in an ear to ear grin. Sneaks shook his hand enthusiastically. "Hey, if it isn't my favorite superhero of Cascade's finest! What's up, man? No sidekick today?"
Jim clapped him on the shoulder, then took a seat across the table. "I think he's trying to protect his new Nikes." Despite the odd payment that Sneaks demanded in exchange for information, Jim knew that not much went on in the city--especially around the waterfront--that the snitch didn't hear about.
Sneaks eagerly peeked into the shoebox. "So, what'd you bring me? Ooh, air pump high tops! How 90s! Very nice. Whatever you want to know, it must be important, eh?"
Jim moved the shoes just out of reach. "First things first: what have you heard about a mob- accountant and a jewel thief being killed on the waterfront last night?"
The snitch thought about that for a moment. "I didn't know about a jewel thief, but I do know about the unfortunate Mr. Acampos. Deplorable taste in shoes. Loafers with tassels, what's that about?" Jim raised an eyebrow impatiently. Sneaks continued, "Let's just say that those of us seeking refuge on the wharf have had to look elsewhere for accommodations. And I don't just mean because of the Feds poking around."
"The Dante Family?"
"For starters. However, there is another, shall we say, 'family' interested." Sneaks looked around, making sure none of the few people in the donut shop was too interested in their chat. "Do you know the Tang family?" Jim shook his head. "Well, I'm not surprised. They're nothing if not discreet about their activities. They came to Cascade four years ago to get ahead of the Reds, if you know what I mean."
"Before Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese?"
"Apparently, Mr. Tang didn't want to share his ill-gotten gain with the communists. But that's just part of it. Word is that Mr. Acampos was on that wharf to receive property belonging to the Tang family. I don't know what it was, but the Tangs have been very determined in their efforts to track down those responsible for its theft. The assumption is that Acampos had something to do with it, which is why he met an unfortunate end last night... and that the Dante family must have been the ones interested in acquiring the misappropriated property."
A mob war. Great. Jim let that sink in, then sighed. This gets better and better.
Sneaks was staring at the shoebox, bouncing a bit. "Does that help you?"
"It might. Thanks, man." Jim passed the box over to him.
Sneaks all but dove for the high tops, "Anytime, detective."
Twenty minutes later, outside Ellison's loft
There it is! Taylor nearly wilted with relief when he spotted the rusty van in the parking lot. Tossing the electronic tracker into the Escort's passenger's seat, he searched for a place to park.
It had been a long afternoon for the thief. After dodging the cop at the fair, Taylor managed to grab a bus to the hotel, only to find that there were Interpol agents swarming around it. For a couple of minutes, Taylor debated on simply skipping the country and finding a new identity. However, a phone call from the Dante family's new representative squashed that thought. It was bad enough having the Tangs mad at him, he didn't need the Dantes after him, too. So he had fallen back to plan C--locate the van again and wait until it was unoccupied and isolated. Thankfully, he had had the foresight at the fair to plant one of his toys on an uncorroded spot of the van's back bumper.
After driving for nearly two hours before picking up the signal, it looked like Taylor's bad luck streak had finally turned. The lot was quiet and Dr. Sandburg was nowhere to be seen. Shaking off his growing fatigue, Taylor slipped around the parked cars to his goal, ducking behind a Forerunner when an ancient blue and white truck drove through. The young thief quickly checked the van windows to make sure no one was inside, then pulled out his set of skeleton keys. It would probably be faster to break a window, but Taylor didn't want to damage Dr. Sandburg's vehicle. He felt bad enough for having to punch him.
"Looking for something?"
Startled, Taylor spun around to find the cop from the fair. The blue eyes seemed to drill a hole through him as an evil smile let the young thief know how much the man was enjoying the situation. Feeling his dwindling energy flow out of him with the slump of his shoulders, Taylor knew he had just crashed and burned. Sorry, Dein.
After borrowing a magnifying glass from Blair, Megan curled up on the couch to study the diamond and compare it to the information on the internet.
"I didn't know you knew about diamonds," Blair commented as he placed a cup of tea on the coffee table beside her.
Megan shrugged absently as she continued to work. "Australia is one of the leading producers of diamonds. I learned a lot after a couple of diamond theft cases."
Blair studied the stone, amazed at how easily it picked up the light in the room. "How much do you think it's worth?"
"Oh, at least twenty million of your American dollars."
Obie nearly choked on the herbal tea he was drinking. "Million? Man, I know some small countries that could survive on that for a decade. Maybe two."
"Yeah, but what we really need to know is who does it belong to and why was it in your van," Blair pointed out.
"Maybe Mike Tyson here can shed some light on that."
Everyone looked up to see Jim enter the loft, pushing a handcuffed Mallory ahead of him. Defensively, Taylor checked out the others in the room, only to blanch when he recognized Obie and his black eye. Brody planted himself between the thief and his master, snarling viciously. Unperturbed, Jim steered Taylor towards the couch. "Sit down, slugger."
"Where'd he come from?" Obie wanted to know.
"He seemed to have lost something in your van, Obie," Jim said.
"Ah, something like this maybe?" Blair held up the diamond, hiding his grin at the young thief's dismay.
Obie crossed the room to take a seat on the coffee table. "When you said you had financial problems, I guess you weren't kidding." Taylor didn't meet his eyes, stared down at the floor instead.
"Oh you don't know the half of it," Jim told him. "I just talked to our old friend, Sneaks. It cost me a good pair of high tops, but he told me a very interesting story about how Acampos was on that wharf waiting for Dein Mallory to bring him something that belonged to the Tang Family. Family in the Don Corleone sense of the word." If that was news to Taylor, the young man didn't show it.
Obie shook his head. "You stole a diamond that large from one mob family to give to another mob family and then lost it? Kid, you've got bigger problems than just money."
Jim was still scrutinizing the young man with one of his unnerving stares. "I'm willing to bet that the Tangs had something to do with your cousin's murder. I need to know what you know about the diamond and what happened last night."
Taylor still stared at the floor. "I want my lawyer."
"We're trying to help you, Taylor," Blair explained softly.
Taylor said nothing.
"What about your cousin, Taylor? Right now, the Feds think you killed him," Jim pressed.
Horrified, Taylor looked up. "I wouldn't--I'd never--!"
"I know that." It was Obie who answered. He steadied a stern uncle gaze at Blair. "Do we need these cuffs?"
"Yeah, I think so," Jim stated firmly.
Obie spared him an irritated glare, then turned back to Taylor. "Taylor, I know you didn't kill your cousin. But if you don't help Jim and Blair," Obie nodded to each detective in turn, "find out who did, you're going to go down for it. We want to find whoever did kill Dein, but that just isn't going to happen if we don't know all the facts. If you've got any idea what went on at that wharf last night or who killed Dein, you've got to tell them."
Taylor considered this a long while before grudgingly agreeing. "I don't know who killed him... We were on the wharves to deliver The Dawn to Acampos." Taylor bobbed his head towards the diamond, sending Megan into a frenzy on the computer. "Supposedly, the Tangs unfairly obtained The Dawn from the Dantes, and the Dantes wanted it back. It's supposed to be lucky or something." Taylor snorted, looking down. "It wasn't lucky for Dein. I was doing surveillance a couple of piers over when someone came up from behind, hit me, knocked me out... so I never saw his face. But I've got his voice on tape. Dein..." the young man's voice cracked. Jim could read the grief and fatigue in his face. "He, he always had me back him up when he met a buyer. You never know who's going to pull a double-cross, can't be too careful. We taped all the deliveries. Dein wore a wire, I ran the recorder."
"He was wired last night?" Jim asked.
Taylor nodded. "When I woke up, when I realized what had happened..." The boy took a deep, shaky breath. Obie reached over and clasped his shoulder, offering what comfort he could. "...The recorder got everything. Including Dr. Sandburg's license plate number. It was the last thing Dein said over the wire before he..." Taylor finally lost his composure. Obie rubbed the tense shoulder as the young man fought tears. Jim and Blair traded glances over their heads.
Megan softly broke the gloomy silence. "I found it. The Dawn was originally owned by Dennis and Patsy St. John in New Zealand. They loaned it for display at several museums in Australia up until they died in 1985. It says the diamond went to a relative in the U.S. in 1986. However, when that relative died in a car accident in 1990, The Dawn was missing from his estate. No one knows what happened to it."
"Perhaps used as payment on a debt to the Dante family?" Blair suggested. "Certainly no one would want a record of that kind of transaction."
After a moment's pause, Jim gently informed Taylor, "We're going to need that tape."
Taylor shook his head. "No, no way, man."
"Taylor--" Obie said.
"That tape is the only thing I have to bargain with." With the cops, with the mob...
"We can get you a deal. We can make sure you're protected," Blair put in.
Taylor laughed outright. "I don't trust cops."
"I'm not a cop. Do you trust me?" Obie asked. "We're the best friends you have right now, Taylor. I don't usually trust cops either, but I'll give you my word. Jim, Blair, and Megan, they will find out who killed Dein. And we'll all go to bat for you with the court, but you've got to meet us halfway, man."
Taylor looked at each in turn, then back to Obie, his indecision plain. "In my car. Down one block. In the glove box."
Ten minutes later, Jim returned with the tape, Simon following him in. "Where is our 'protected witness'?" the captain asked.
"He's in on my bed," Blair replied, nodding his head towards the doors. "Uncle Obie's in there with him, filling him up with spiced ginseng tea and talking to him about his cousin." He chuckled to himself at Taylor's reaction to the first sip of Obie's spiced cure-all tea. It had been all Taylor could do, as his eyes watered, not to spit the stuff out. He noticed Jim tilt his head a moment, then continue towards the stereo.
Simon frowned. "Is that wise? That kid's a flight risk if I've ever seen one."
"No worries, Captain," Megan replied with a large grin. "I handcuffed him to the bed."
Blair chuckled again, remembering his uncle's face as the older man had struggled to protest while still taken by Megan's charms. "Besides, I think Taylor's too tired to try much right now. I think everything's catching up to him."
"So let's hear what started his nightmare," Jim suggested as he punched the 'on' button. Together, the detectives and their captain listened to the final minutes of Dein Mallory's life.
As the tape ran out, Blair cleared his throat. "Sounds like Acampos knew his murderer."
"Yet Dein Mallory didn't," Megan added. "Or else he would have tried to warn Taylor with more than a vague, 'watch your back'."
"That still doesn't give us much," Simon pointed out. "All we really have is a double homicide and a witness who was unconscious during the killings. In fact, even now the only thing we could possibly charge Taylor Mallory with is delivery of stolen goods, and then we have no proof the diamond was stolen."
Blair shrugged. "And it's unlikely the Tangs or the Dantes are going to report it stolen, since neither can prove THEY have it legally." Then he noticed Jim rewinding the tape. "Jim?"
"Shhh." Jim carefully listened to the portion where the killer confronted the victims. He then rewound it, and played it again.
"You got something, Jim?" Blair asked.
Jim shook his head. "That voice is familiar, but I can't place it."
"Okay," Blair replied, shifting into his guide-mode voice, "why don't we play the tape again, and have you filter out all extraneous noise..."
Jim closed his eyes, concentrating only on the noises from the tape. "There! Footsteps walking away, then there's a voice distant from the microphone. Turn up the volume."
Blair turned the stereo's volume to max. Sure enough, a voice could be faintly heard, having a one-sided conversation as though the killer was talking into a phone or cell phone.
"I can't quite make out what he's saying..." Jim said.
"He's speaking in one of the Chinese dialects. I can't quite make it out either," Blair said.
"That definitely points to our killer being from the Tang family," Jim added.
"What should we do now, sir?" Megan asked Simon.
Simon scowled in thought. "Arrange transport to put The Dawn in a secured location, and place Mallory into a safe house until we have a better handle on the situation."
"What do we tell the Feds?"
"Nothing, unless they ask. And then as little as possible. Megan, take a copy of that tape down to the station and see if you can find someone to interpret it." Simon turned to Jim and Blair. "I want you down at the piers. Check out Taylor's hiding place. If we're lucky, you may find something there that the Feds missed."
Half hour later, Ellison's truck
Blair had made a second copy of Taylor's recording, which he had played and replayed on the drive to the wharf. Finally, though, he admitted defeat. He wasn't sure this was the same dialect he had learned, and Mandarin had never been one of his better languages. "I can't make it out. Man, I hope we find something at those piers." Blair drummed his fingers on the passenger's arm rest. "Except for the voice you think sounds familiar, we're running zip on clues."
Jim shrugged as he turned the corner. "If we don't, something will come to us. Right now, we're holding all the cards."
"Yeah, The Dawn and Mallory." The drumming picked up speed. "I can't BELIEVE how Obie is acting. I mean, the guy PUNCHED him, and now Obie's all 'poor kid'."
"I don't know. Makes perfect sense to me."
Blair turned to Jim in shock. "What?"
Jim shrugged again. "What if Taylor had slugged you instead of Obie? How would you feel then?"
"Well, of course I'd... well... I'd..." Blair threw up his hands. "Okay, I wouldn't be upset. But I'm young and can defend myself. Obie wouldn't hurt anyone, Jim."
Jim struggled to keep from smiling. "Oh, I'd say your uncle has been in his share of fights and can defend himself. Just like his nephew."
Blair thought a long moment. Then he glanced at his partner. "Is this how you feel when I get friendly with potential felons?"
"Every single time."
Jim parked the truck next to pier #46. Stepping out into the cold air, Blair zipped up his jacket and shoved his hands into his pockets. Glancing around, he commented, "pretty quiet right now."
Jim glanced at his watch. "Yeah, it's close to the time Obie was here. No wonder there were no witnesses."
"Taylor said he was positioned by the next to the last pylon?"
"Yep," Jim replied, his sentinel senses already on alert.
Blair fell in step behind his partner, allowing Jim to scan the area as they walked to the spot. Jim knelt down, touching a dark stain on the wood plank. "Blood. Did Obie check Taylor's head wound?"
"Yeah. Small cut and a nice size bump, but Obie didn't think he had a concussion or anything." Squinting across the water at the next pier, Blair observed softly, "This is a good place for a lookout."
"The best one for sighting the exchange on Pier 45," Jim agreed, surveying the area. "Which indicates whoever hit Taylor probably knew how he and his cousin operated, and thus where to look for him."
Blair paused a moment. "Would the Dantes or the Tangs know that?"
"Maybe. The Feds and Interpol might know their MO, too."
"Ah, man," Blair shook his head in disgust. "I do NOT like that idea."
"Neither do I, Chief. Neither do I. Especially considering Okuma is over there at the exchange site now."
"What?" Blair exclaimed.
"Let's go see what our not-so-friendly Fed is doing."
Okuma glared at the partners as they approached. "What are you doing here?"
Blair shrugged nonchalantly. "Due to all the heat, Homicide kicked the murders up to us. So we're doing our duty and checking out the scene."
"However, that doesn't explain why YOU are here," Jim added pointedly.
A faint look of unease crossed the agent's face before Okuma turned away. "I'm trying to get a better feel of what happened. Like where Taylor Mallory could have hidden before killing his cousin and Acampos."
"That's easy. Taylor Mallory wasn't here, he was on the next pier over," Blair explained.
Okuma turned to the young detective in surprise. Monitoring his heart rate, Jim knew he wasn't faking it. "What? But they found Mallory's gloves by the lamp post over there."
"No." Jim shook his head. "From Mallory's statement, he was monitoring the exchange from the next pier over. The evidence corroborates his story. In fact, the evidence indicates that the Tang family might be the real killers."
Dumbfounded, Okuma looked from one detective to the other. "I'm not Judge Ito, Detective, so don't tell me stories about 'real killers'. My evidence has Taylor's fingerprints on the murder weapon and his gloves--with Acampos' and Dein's blood on them--at the murder scene." His expression darkened.
Jim shook his head, "C'mon, Okuma. You've been in this game long enough to know a frame-up when you see one. Do you really think someone bright enough to by-pass security systems around the world without getting caught is dumb enough to leave his gloves and the weapon at a crime scene? Hell, there's nothing in Mallory's MO to suggest the kid has ever touched a gun."
Okuma had no response to that.
Blair and Jim exchanged a look. At Jim's nod, Blair produced the hand-held tape recorder. Okuma began to ask a question, then paused to listen. His expression changed from anger, to surprise, and finally, as the killer spoke, to a completely unreadable look.
"We're having it translated now--" Blair began.
Okuma interrupted, "He's talking to his grandfather. Apologizing for failing to find The Dawn, telling him that those responsible have been punished, promising to find the gem." The agent's features faltered for a moment, but only a moment. A stoic expression replaced it. "I owe your uncle an apology, Detective Sandburg. It would seem his instincts about Mr. Mallory were better than mine..."
"You recognize the voice?" Jim guessed.
Okuma nodded, his face grim. "When I was in the D.E.A., I busted a cocaine ring in San Francisco's Chinatown. One of the workers decided to turn evidence instead of serving the full jail time. He told us that the Tang family ran their ring and that they had someone on the inside of the FBI I was reassigned to the Bureau to find out who it was, with Keane as my partner since he is an expert on Chinese gangs. Recently, I started getting suspicious when--"
Hearing the faint click of a safety being released, Jim suddenly turned, pulling his gun. "Show yourself!"
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the waterfront
Simon parked next to Jim's truck and stepped out into the cold air. Glancing around, he immediately spotted what he was searching for. Muttering an oath, he walked over to the van barely concealed in the shadows. His approach went unnoticed by the man behind the wheel. Obie nearly jumped out of his skin when Simon crept up and banged loudly against the driver's window.
Obie opened the door. "Sheesh! Is giving someone a heart attack considered police brutality?"
"What the hell are you doing here? I told you to stay at the loft with Mallory." On the other hand, when did anyone in the Sandburg family ever do what they were told?
Obie climbed out of his van. "Yeah, and I promised Taylor I'd make sure the murderer was found. When I give my word, I follow through." The older Sandburg squirmed a bit under the captain's disapproving glare.
"Your nephew and Ellison are my best team. If there's anything to find, they'll find it."
Obie turned to the police captain in surprise. "Best team? Blair's just a rookie."
Bank's laugh was deep and hearty. "Ellison and Sandburg were my best team BEFORE Blair quit the university and went to the academy. As far as I was concerned, the only training the kid needed was in weapons. And even though Blair made marksman, I know his best weapon is still his golden tongue. Besides, Ellison shoots enough for both of them."
"And that doesn't bother you?"
"Hell, no. Those two complement each other. Together, they gave Ellison the best crime- solved record in the city. Now, your nephew can get his fair share of the credit."
Keane stepped out of the shadows, his own weapon trained on the detective. "Aren't we overreacting a bit? Though I want all of you to drop your guns." Blair carefully withdrew his empty hands from his pockets, holding them out from his sides. Jim, seeing the gun trained on his partner, carefully dropped his own.
Okuma followed suit, though anger stiffened his movements. "What are you doing here, Keane? You were suppose to be finishing up those reports."
Keane laughed. "And let you go out by yourself and find something you shouldn't? You should have left well enough alone instead of listening to these local idiots."
"I'd say their instincts are better than mine. It's you, isn't it? You planted the gloves and fed me the false reports."
Keane sadly shook his head. "I honestly hoped you wouldn't catch on, Okuma. Now I'm going to have to kill you as well as the two detectives."
"You aren't going to get away with this," Blair pointed out, covertly surveying the area for anything that could be used to their advantage.
"Why not? I already have everyone believing Mallory killed his cousin. Why not you three as well? Nobody's going to believe that thief."
"Considering Mallory is in police custody at the moment, your story won't hold," Jim quietly pointed out as he waited for an opening.
"I'll figure something out," Keane replied.
"Why, Paul? Why are you doing this?" Okuma asked, voice full of angry confusion.
"My cousin won The Dawn in a poker game from one of the Dantes' slower family members. The Dantes are now trying to claim that he cheated and that the Tangs should return it." Keane snorted at the absurd idea. "My grandfather likes having some American luck, so he refused. Then the Dantes hired the Mallory cousins to steal it. Someone had to get it back, and my grandfather asked me."
"You would risk your career for those thugs?" Okuma asked, incredulous.
"They are my family!" Keane retorted.
"Great, a Fed with a mob family," Blair muttered under his breath.
As Keane turned towards Sandburg angrily, the Seven O'clock Cannon thundered across the water. Startled, Keane lost his grip on his gun, allowing Jim to drop and roll to his own weapon. Realizing he was in trouble, Keane raced off the pier. Ellison shot, then jumped to his feet to give chase.
Simon paused as the Seven O'clock Cannon signaled the time.
Obie blinked, stunned that his Blair could be that good a cop. Before he could ask another question, both men heard gunfire.
"Get back in the van," Simon shouted, drawing his weapon. Spotting Keane racing off the pier, Banks searched the area with his eyes for a suspect. Keane jumped onto a nearby motorcycle, turned the engine, and shot down the waterfront.
Confused, Simon then spotted Ellison slide to a stop off the pier. Before he could call to his detective, Jim dashed over to a man about to get on another motorcycle. It was Obie's friend, Gene. "Excuse me, police business." Before Gene could say more than 'Wha...?" Ellison had grabbed the bike and was racing after Keane.
"Sorry, Uncle Gene," Blair shouted with a wave as he and Okuma arrived on the scene.
"Sandburg!" Simon barked. Blair raced over to him, shouting, "Follow Jim!" with Okuma on his heels. Knowing when to shut up and drive, Simon jumped into the van as Blair and Okuma slid into the back. "What the hell is going on?" Simon barked as he put the car in gear.
"Keane's the murderer," Blair panted.
"I should point out that this is not a pursuit vehicle--" Obie's protest was drowned out as the engine chugged, then roared to life, and the van lurched forward.
Jim was gaining ground with his borrowed bike, dodging crates as he narrowed Keane's lead. Keane glanced back, then ran up a couple of planks resting on a pile of concrete blocks. Flying over the water, he landed on the next pier. Though the bike skidded left then right, he managed to straighten it out and keep going.
Taking a deep breath, Jim gunned the engine and followed Keane. His landing was smoother, allowing him to gain another precious second on his perp.
From the van, Obie whistled. "Did I just see what I thought I saw?" He winced as several of his kits slid across the van as Simon maneuvered a sharp left.
Concentrating on his partner's chase, Blair simply replied with a worried, "yep."
Jim was still several yards behind the crooked agent when a forklift drove in front of the pair. Jim managed to hit the brakes and stop in time, but Keane wasn't so lucky. The bike skidded, then fell to the left, slamming its passenger into the wooden flooring before sliding into the forklift. Slowly, Keane sat up holding his left shoulder, only to find Ellison standing there with his cuffs. "Agent Paul Keane? You are under arrest for the murder of Dein Mallory and Alberto Acampos. You have the right to remain silent..."
Two days later, Ellison's loft
"Obie, what're you doing?" Blair finally gave in to curiosity at the smells wafting through the loft and stepped out of his room. He went to join his uncle, who was happily at work grilling something on the barbecue on the balcony, in spite of the chilly air.
Obie was making a show of spicing the food. "Once in a while, a man has to get in touch with his primitive, caveman nature--grab a big slab of meat and throw it on the fire..."
"So, what's cooking?"
Blair couldn't contain his smirk. "Some caveman."
As the two men watched the burgers sizzle, Blair asked, "How do you think Taylor's holding up?"
The day before, Jim and Simon had helped arrange for the Feds to release Dein's body for burial. The funeral was a small affair. After debating whether to send Dein home to Australia for burial, Taylor had ultimately decided to have his cousin laid to rest at a small cemetery in Cascade. The funeral had been that morning. Taylor had been allowed to go, under Okuma's guard. Obie, Jim, Blair, and Megan had attended. Taylor, still uncomfortable in the company of the Feds and police, had seemed grateful for the older Sandburg's presence.
Obie stared out over the city for a moment. "I don't know. Dein was all the family the kid had, so it's going to be rough on him. A lot depends on whether the Feds or Interpol send him to prison." The older man barely contained a shudder, worried about the kid in a cell.
"After that little speech to Okuma, it's a wonder you're not going in with him," Blair pointed out.
"Hey! I'll have you know Okuma actually offered me a job as a criminal profiler!"
"Still, I'd be watching my tax returns for the next five years. He can always suggest they audit you."
Another uncomfortable moment passed before Blair finally offered, "I'm sorry for coming down so hard on you about Rwanda before. After all, considering the highly abbreviated stories I give Mom about my adventures with the PD, I should be the first to understand."
"That's okay, Blair. I'm not much better, hounding you about your degree. I guess I'm just realizing that you're all grown up and have the right to change the world by the path of your choosing, just as I did. Why don't we agree that we each have the right to personal secrets, but the other has the right to know how much they should worry?"
"Deal," Blair replied, shaking Obie's hand.
Once the pact was sealed, Obie announced, "well, enough bonding, let's eat."
"Well, tofu and the mystery side dishes sound great, but I can't."
"Tonight's the last showing of the Aborigine Crafts exhibit at the art museum. I promised to meet Megan there in twenty minutes."
"Ooooo. A date with the great kisser?"
"It's not a date," Blair protested.
"Of course not." Obie couldn't quite hide the grin.
"Hey, remember that girl you had a crush on in the third grade? You made me buy you that--"
Blair flushed bright red. "You tell anyone about that, and I'll bring up the time in Brazil you got into that shaman's mushrooms and ran around declaring yourself king of the Mud People to the whole camp."
"Who told y--er, I have no recollection of that." Obie blushed in turn.
He was spared further teasing as the loft door opened and Jim stepped in.
"Hey man, how'd it go?" Blair asked his partner.
"Okuma got Taylor his deal. The kid will have to testify against Keane, but since there's no real evidence that Taylor and Dein stole The Dawn or anything else, Interpol is willing to drop their investigations. So he won't go to jail."
Flipping a burger on the grill, Obie couldn't quite hide the worry in his voice. "Will the Tangs retaliate? And what about the Dantes?"
Jim chuckled, "Right now, with Acampos' murderer behind bars and the ownership of The Dawn in the courts, the Dantes could care less about Taylor. Plus the Tangs are trying to keep a low profile, so as not to hurt Keane by any family association. Thus both should leave our little thief alone."
"What about Taylor?" Obie asked.
"Oh, the FBI will make sure Taylor gets a fresh start. In fact, I had a chat with Okuma's boss about his future. I wouldn't be surprised if Taylor ends up working as a consultant for their agency."
"How'd you manage that?" Blair asked, surprised.
"I just convinced Okuma and the boss that, with Taylor's skills, it might be better if he were working with them instead of spending time in jail learning how to be a better criminal. Without his cousin's influence, the kid's young enough that he can still turn things around."
"I hear that." Obie was impressed, in spite of himself. Maybe the uptight ex-soldier really was a softy at heart.
"That's great." Blair checked his watch. "But, now I've crossed the line from being Late to being Very Late. Gotta run. Enjoy your tofu burgers." To Jim, he added sentinel soft, "A word to the wise, Jim: if he makes something called 'jungle rice', avoid it." Raising his voice to carry outside, Blair called out, "See ya later, Obie!"
"'Jungle rice'?" Warily, Jim made his way onto the balcony, half-afraid to see what Blair's uncle had done to his barbecue. He winced at the strong odor of the odd spices Obie was using.
"Just a dash more--ah, perfect! Hope you're hungry. Brody! C'mon boy, dinner's on!"
A quick glance told Jim that the dog was hiding under the table again. He wished he could get away that easily.
"Listen, Jim, thanks for going to bat for Taylor with the Feds. I have to tell you, for someone who prides himself on being able to read people, I sure did misread you."
Jim shrugged. "Yeah, well, I wouldn't have pegged you for the Albert Schweitzer-type, either. I have a lot of respect for what you guys in the DWB do."
"Yeah, but it wasn't just the military/cop thing. I mean, it's not the career I would have picked for my nephew, I'll be honest." Obie paused, picking at the burgers with the spatula, "I think, maybe, I just got used to being the only Big Brother-figure in Blair's life. I didn't want to lose that special place. But, he's right, you're a good guy, Jim. If he's going to be a cop, I'm glad he has a friend like you looking out for him." Obie offered a grin, trying to be conciliatory. "And, hey, anyone who could survive eighteen months with the Chopec got to have something on the ball."
"Your work with the DWB ever take you down to Peru?"
Obie laughed, "Oh man, set the Way Back Machine! Let me think... Ouch!" Obie yanked his hand back from the fire as a spark singed his fingertip. "You got a potholder around here?"
"Yeah, sure. Hey, how about a beer?" Jim offered.
"Sounds great, thanks."
Jim ducked into the kitchen. He was almost to the refrigerator when his attention was drawn to the pots on the counter, all filled with Obie's foodstuff.
"Let's see, there was Africa, I spent quite a while down there before Rwanda. Then there was..."
"Then there was the stint in Bosnia..."
"Obie!" Jim called, voice a bit sharper this time. "What's in the bowl?"
"The small white one."
Obie beamed, "Oh--that's my specialty: Jungle rice. And let's see, yeah, I was in South America for awhile..."
Jim stared as the top layer of 'rice' moved. Just barely holding back a gag, Jim turned and swept Brody off the floor. Looking down at the mutt in his arms, he suggested quietly, "what do you say we eat out tonight?" Brody wagged his tail in agreement. Unseen by Obie, they snuck out the door of the loft.
"...for awhile. Hey Jim have you ever been down to Rio de Janeiro for the fes--Jim? Jim? Brody?"
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