Production No. BPP-601
Paula & Robin
edited by: Zerena and Bonnie
MEET THE CAST
Never had the expression "tension so thick you could cut it with a knife" been more true, mused Detective James Ellison, shifting uncomfortably on the hard courtroom bench. The trial so far had been a back and forth sparring between the defense and the prosecution. Each man calling witness after witness to determine innocence or guilt. Snorting in disgust, he leaned forward to relieve the strain on his back. Innocence or guilt. What more proof did a jury need? They had an eyewitness. They had motive. Opportunity. Forensic findings. They had the bastard dead to rights.
Serena Chang and Dan Wolf had each had a turn on the stand to face the defence's challenges. They had both been raked over the coals as their ability to be objective witnesses was questioned. After all, had sneered Frederick Sykes, didn't they work for the same police precinct as the detectives who were involved in the allegations against his client? In addition, autopsy and forensic reports had been picked apart by Sykes in an attempt to discredit the findings. He wasn't going to go down without a fight. But then, Ellison thought, this was just the kind of case the lawyer went after. High profile, big money clients were his specialty. It wouldn't really matter if he won or lost. His face was being plastered on the front page of newspapers and he'd collect his very generous fee.
Sighing, the detective sat back, his elbow bumping against his partner's arm. Stealing a quick look at Sandburg, his train of thought switched tracks. What about the victims? Nyajiru's body had been sent back to Botswana to be attended to by his few remaining family and friends. He was at peace at least, Jim thought. But Nya hadn't been the only victim in Brooks' quest for power. Billy McGregor had been poisoned, almost fatally, because he stood in Brooks' way. There had been nothing malicious in the attack, nothing personal. McGregor had been an annoyance for Brooks, to be swatted away like some insect.
And Blair. That day had been the realization of one of the sentinel's nightmares. To know for certain that his friend was in danger, maybe dying, and he not being there had been one of the worst moments since he and Blair had become friends. When he had heard the phone drop from Blair's fingers as the poison Brooks had fed him took effect, it was almost more than he could stand. The detective knew that he had come very close to killing that day. He could have easily ended the African shaman's life in a blind rage. If it hadn't been for Simon's frantic call, he would have done it.
This wasn't only a case for murder, but attempted murder. Jim remembered almost going through the roof when Murdoch had seemed reluctant to include the second charge. "Too weak to try," he had claimed. But Ellison had fought to have attempted murder remain as one of the indictments against the African national. Brooks had to pay for what he had done to Billy McGregor and Blair. Knowing that the man would spend extra time in prison for trying to kill his partner would be the only conclusion that the sentinel could accept. And Jack Murdoch had finally been persuaded to see it his way.
Being so caught up in his campaign, Ellison almost hadn't noticed Sandburg's reluctance. At first he couldn't understand how Blair wouldn't be determined to have some retribution for what he had gone through. He had assumed that his friend would have needed that as much as he did. But Blair had held back. It wasn't until he had cornered Sandburg that he had discovered why. The dissertation fiasco had raised its ugly head once again. Blair was worried that his very public infamy would be used against him and ultimately hurt the entire case against Brooks. After ranting and raving that he was being overly sensitive, Jim had to agree, if only slightly, that his partner might have had a valid point. So the two of them had gone to Murdoch to see what could be done. The prosecutor had been less than pleased with the development, especially after having been almost strong-armed by Ellison to try Brooks for attempted murder. After a few days of thinking it over he had called the detectives and announced that the charges would remain the same and that he would not call Blair as a witness, letting the medical reports and Simon's testimony carry the weight of his attack. That his partner had even had to worry about any of it had Jim swearing under his breath.
"Everything okay?" The sentinel-soft whisper was accompanied by a hand on Ellison's arm.
Jim smiled down at Sandburg. "Yeah, fine," he whispered back. "Just got a little caught up in some memories."
Blair searched his partner's face for a few seconds, looking for any signs that he had just been given a line. Ellison could obfuscate with the best of them. Seeing none, he gave his friend a knowing nod. "I hear ya, Jim. It'll be good to just get past this." His eyes strayed from the sentinel's face to the witness stand. Graham Brooks was seated there, looking serene and not bothered by the fact that he was on trial for murder. It all seemed like some kind of game to the shaman, as if he was too far removed to be concerned about what was going on around him. The man had made Sandburg uncomfortable almost from day one. Now he just gave him the creeps.
"Surely, with all the evidence presented and the sworn testimony of reliable witnesses, you cannot expect this court to believe that you are not guilty of murder!" Prosecuting Attorney Jack Murdoch exclaimed, his distaste and disgust for the defendant evident in his voice. He propped a hip on a corner of the prosecution table, crossed his arms and pinned the defendant with a cold stare.
The defense attorney was out of his chair before the D.A. had finished his last word. "Your honour! I object! Is Mr. Murdoch seriously asking my client to comment on the proceedings of this trial and what the court will and will not believe?! I object to this badgering of my client. "
Judge Walter Hancock leaned forward, sending a pointed look in the prosecutor's direction. "Mr. Murdoch's last statement to the witness will be stricken from the record." Sighing, the judge sat back in his chair and directed his comments to both attorneys. "Let's remember that witnesses are questioned, not instructed to guess at the mood of a jury or a courtroom."
Leaning back in his chair, the subject of Murdoch's ire listened disinterestedly to the on-going exchange. With a small grin, he nonchalantly crossed his legs, picked at a non-existent bit of lint and smoothed the crease in his impeccably pressed slacks. Finally he raised disdain-filled, dark brown eyes to meet the glare of the district attorney. Ignoring the judge's instruction, Brooks chose to answer Murdoch's implied question. "I expect nothing from this court," he stated contemptuously. "Justice will be served. I am certain of that." Smiling malevolently, he dismissed the seething attorney and turned his attention to the visitors' gallery. His gaze fell upon Ellison and Blair Sandburg.
Blair felt as if he were being pinned by the unwavering glare. He stared back at Brooks, hoping his expression didn't betray his racing heart, shortness of breath, or jumbled thoughts. The man literally radiated evil, Sandburg thought. Why hadn't he realized that before? Because he had still been searching for a teacher, someone who could point him down the path of shamanism. Blair silently berated himself, never allowing his gaze to waver as he and Brooks wordlessly waged their war of wills. How many times did he have to screw up before he learned to simply trust his own instincts and go where his path led him, instead of looking for someone to show him the way? Brooks had deviously convinced him that he was incapable of being a shaman and guide to Jim and he had blindly allowed himself to be duped. Once again fear had ruled his decision. Hadn't he learned anything from Nya? Upon reflection, it was pretty ironic that he had so objectively labeled Jim as possessing fear-based responses without recognizing the same traits in himself.
Brooks' gaze slid from the Cascade detectives to a row farther back in the courtroom. Blair knew he hadn't won the unspoken battle with the African shaman; rather he'd been dismissed as an insignificant momentary distraction. He clenched his teeth and shifted slightly, his body language unconsciously reflecting his turbulent thoughts.
Next to him, Jim felt the anger and uncertainty radiating from his partner. Deliberately maintaining an outwardly unconcerned air, Jim surreptitiously placed a hand on his partner's knee and gently squeezed, silently communicating his support. Blair immediately relaxed at his sentinel's touch and regained his emotional equilibrium. He turned to see who had captured Brooks' attention and met the seething glare of Billy McGregor. The security guard was regarding the self-assured African shaman with outright loathing. As if feeling Blair's scrutiny, McGregor turned to face the young detective. Sandburg smiled slightly to convey his sympathy for the ordeal the man had suffered. Billy nodded his head to acknowledge Blair's commiseration and then turned his attention back to the proceedings. Scanning the rest of the faces in the gallery, Blair noted that, with few exceptions, the trial observers regarded the man on the witness stand with a singular distaste. With Jack Murdoch suddenly leaping from his chair, Blair realized that things were once again heating up. He directed his attention back to the front of the courtroom as the prosecutor voiced his objection to Brooks' haughty response. "Your Honor!" Murdoch protested loudly, "I move that Mr. Brooks' statement be stricken from the record."
Before the judge could rule, Sykes spoke up. "Your Honor," he drawled in obvious amusement, "I believe the prosecution is suffering from a bit of sour grapes. If you won't let him ask the question, then he doesn't want my client to answer it."
Murdoch was obviously incensed by the defense attorney's tactics, but was unable to retort before Judge Hancock slammed his gavel against the wooden block on his bench. "Gentlemen! I will not tolerate this type of behavior in my courtroom. This is a court of law, not a daycare. I suggest you both keep that in mind and limit your comments to appropriate courtroom behavior." He directed a strong look at both attorneys then turned his attention to the members of the jury. "The jury will disregard the defendant's response and the statement will be stricken from the record."
He impatiently motioned for Murdoch to continue and leaned back in his chair once more. Reining in his temper, Murdoch quickly stated, "No more questions, your Honor."
"Mr. Sykes, redirect?"
"No more questions, your Honor."
Judge Hancock glanced at the clock that hung at the back of the courtroom, then stated, "Court will recess for one hour, upon which time, both sides will present their closing arguments." He struck the gavel sharply against the block, then rose and made his way out of the courtroom and into his chambers.
Throughout the proceedings a solitary figure in the first row of the visitors' gallery had regarded the players in the courtroom drama with open hostility. All of the players but one Graham Brooks.
The banging of dishes and cutlery echoed down the long hall, accompanied by the less than pleasant aroma of overcooked vegetables. Wrinkling his nose at the odour, Jim Ellison wondered if there was some city by-law that demanded that all cafeterias had to smell this way. The small coffee shop, which occupied the basement level of the courthouse, was surprisingly busy for the late afternoon. Artificial lighting bounced off the white walls, causing the sentinel to almost wince against the glare. Whoever had been hired to decorate the eatery must have been a fan of the 'garish is great' period. There was nothing pleasing or welcoming about the place.
Jim sighed as he stuffed bills and coins into his pocket. It was turning into one very long day. Picking up his food, he followed Sandburg to a nearby table. "That's it?" Peering over the smaller man's shoulder, Ellison looked at the skimpy sandwich and carton of milk on his partner's tray. "That's all you're going to have?"
Shrugging, Blair dropped into the hard plastic chair. "Not hungry, I guess." He picked up the milk, giving it a solid shake before squeezing the spout open. "What kind of feeling did you get? You think Murdoch's going to win this one?" He started to peel the layers of plastic wrap that surrounded the sandwich. "Sykes really went at Dan and Serena. I can't believe the stuff he implied. They're both the best at what they do."
"It didn't look like Robert was too worried about the cross-examination," the detective answered. Reaching across to the table next to them, he snagged the once bright yellow squeeze bottle and added some mustard to his corned beef and rye. "And Dan and Serena... They've been through this too many times for it to bother them." He frowned at his partner's downcast expression. "What's bothering you, Chief?"
Sandburg took in a deep breath and let it out slowly before answering. "Brooks. Seeing him almost every day for the last week. Knowing what he did. What he tried to do. It's just... it's just hard. You know?"
"It's almost over, Blair," Ellison said gently. He wasn't surprised by his friend's confession. He hadn't missed the tension that radiated from the man as soon as they stepped into the courtroom. And Brooks was still playing with them. Every chance he got he would make eye contact, giving them both that insanely serene smile. That same smile Brooks had given him in the interrogation room when he said that it wasn't over. Brooks had called him naive that day.
Laughing softly, the young shaman picked up the carton of milk. "Just as long as we hear 'guilty' at the end of it all, I'll be a very happy man." He put the straw to his lips and took a short sip of the cool drink. "We've had that guy hanging over our heads for too long, Jim."
"There's too much evidence against him, Sandburg. Brooks'll be going away for a long time." The detective raised his sandwich to his mouth, but stopped. He had spotted Billy McGregor sitting across the room. And he wasn't alone. "Blair? You recognize that guy?" He pointed with his chin in McGregor's direction. "The one talking to Billy?"
Twisting around in his chair, the younger detective slowly nodded. He had seen the man a few times in the past week. At first he had assumed that the oddly dressed man was only one of the nameless street people who made their homes in the alleys and abandoned buildings of Cascade. Someone who had wandered into the courtroom, looking for shelter from the cold, wet weather. What kept drawing his attention back to the man was the almost reverent expression that he had every time he looked at Graham Brooks. "Yeah, he's been in court every day. Right?"
"And he's sat behind Brooks every day." Taking a bite from his sandwich, Ellison chewed thoughtfully.
"Can you hear what's going on over there?" Blair asked. He had seen McGregor's face grow a little paler as his conversation with the stranger continued. Turning back to his friend, he saw that his question had been unnecessary. Jim was already listening in.
"...Just think about that," was all the sentinel could hear before a woman with a young child walked by his table. A very upset young child. With a hiss, Ellison clapped his hands over his ears at the first high-pitched wail. "Damn."
Wincing in sympathy, Blair focused his attention across the room. He might not be able to hear what was being said, but he still considered himself a first rate observer. McGregor was leaning back in his chair now, as the other man shoved a bony finger in his face. The stranger's snarl seemed to become fiercer and Billy's colour a bit more sallow. Not willing to sit and witness the intimidation go on any longer, Sandburg rose from his chair and strode purposefully over to the two men.
The stranger, catching sight of the movement, quickly glanced over and favoured Sandburg with an equally intense glare. Donning a lunatic smile, he turned his attention back to McGregor, crouching lower until their faces were only an inch or two apart. With arms and hands now extended to each side of the airport security guard's chair, he had literally trapped the man where he sat.
Blair quickened his pace, dodging around the tables and their occupants. The man's demeanor had gone from intimidating to threatening. He reached the two of them in time to hear the words "don't forget" hissed into McGregor's very ashen face. Taking time to give Sandburg one more glare, the stranger straightened up and stalked away.
"Billy?" Blair had reached the security guard's side with Jim just a step behind him. "Everything okay?"
Dragging his eyes away from the retreating figure, McGregor gazed up at the two detectives. "That guy, he, uh, he was just some nutcase. He was going on about Brooks." He gave a quick, nervous laugh. "Told me that I had better be careful. Reminded me how easily Brooks had poisoned me." Noticing Ellison reach for his cell phone, his eyes widened. "What're you doing?"
"The man threatened you, Billy. I'm going to see about having him stopped before he has a chance to leave the building."
"No." Reaching up to grab Ellison's arm, McGregor stopped him. "Look, the guy's obviously not playing with a full deck. Just let it go." Billy stood up to leave. "I can take care of myself. I don't want to get into anything else. I did what I was supposed to do. I came in and testified, now I just want it to be over."
"But..." Jim started.
"No, detective." The security guard was adamant. "Brooks has been haunting my dreams. I don't want this to go on any longer than it has to."
Sandburg saw the look of determination on both his partner's and McGregor's faces. Neither man was going to give. "Look, Billy, we can't force you to file charges against this guy..."
"That's right, you can't." McGregor opened his mouth to speak again then closed it. Letting out a shaky breath, his expression relaxed. "I know you're trying to help, but I'm not going to worry about this guy. I'm sure that when the trial's over he's going to disappear back to wherever he came from." Looking down at his watch, he made a move to leave. "If I have any trouble, I'll call ya. I promise. I gotta get going. My ride's probably here."
"He's making a mistake," Jim snapped when McGregor was out of earshot.
Sighing, Blair leaned back against a chair. "Yeah, I think he is too."
"Hey, Chief, did you notice the smell that was on the guy?" He smiled at his friend's look of exasperation. "No, huh? It was faint with all the other food in here. He smelled kinda like smoke. Not cigars, not like Simon. Something different."
"Ah, the joys of having a bloodhound for a partner," Blair grinned, ducking at the expected swat. "Let's go, Rin Tin Tin."
The lawyers had finished their summations and the jury had entered the jury room to begin their deliberations. The witnesses and visitors had gone home and the judge had retired to his chambers. Graham Brooks sat, alone in a holding cell, awaiting the jury's pronouncement of his fate. A supposed jury of his peers. Brooks snorted softly at that thought. None of those people were his peers! Not one person in that courtroom was equal to him in any way. What gave them the right to decide his guilt or innocence for a crime they could not possibly understand? Only one person had the capacity to understand the depths of Brooks' brilliance. Blair Sandburg. But the fledgling shaman was still so caught up in the notion of goodness and right that he failed to see his budding prowess as a shaman for what it was... a source of enormous power to use for his own gain. Sandburg was sort of a longhaired cross between the cartoon character Superman and the very real man Billy Graham. Truth, justice, the American way and all men are brothers in the sight of God. Endearing concept, Brooks allowed, but painfully wrong. Graham Brooks was brother to no man.
Brooks broke off his musings at the sound of footsteps approaching his cell. Officer Baldwin, his assigned watchdog during the trial, paused outside his cell and shifted nervously from foot to foot. Brooks regarded him silently. Throwing a nervous glance over each shoulder, Baldwin then shoved a small envelope between the iron bars. Brooks didn't move. Baldwin waved the paper sharply and hissed, "Take it, damn it!"
"As I recall," Brooks said smoothly, rising to stand near the bars, "I'm not allowed to receive unapproved communications. So I can only assume that you came by this by nefarious means?"
"I said, take it!" Baldwin snarled, tossing the missive at Brooks' feet. "And don't worry about how I got it!" Casting another nervous glance around the area, Baldwin quickly scuttled away.
Brooks waited until the guard had left before he reached down to retrieve the envelope, which was small and unadorned. The guard had held it in his bare hand, so it was doubtful the envelope itself presented a threat. Being a man of herbs and potions, he knew how easy it would be for someone with a grudge and the appropriate knowledge to coat the envelope with a fast-acting poison. Envelope in hand, Brooks retreated to the back of his cell and settled on his bunk, his back to the cell door. Sliding his thumb under the flap, he quietly broke the seal, and then used the corner of his pillowcase as a makeshift glove to cautiously slide the folded paper from the envelope. Still using the pillowcase for protection, he opened the typewritten note and began to read:
The note was unsigned. Brooks was intrigued. Obviously the person had gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure that the note reached its intended recipient. The guard had to have been bribed to risk exposure and punishment to break a rule. "Interesting," he whispered, slipping the note back into the envelope and secreting it within his county-issue inmate jumpsuit. "Very interesting."