One day later
Hopping out of the old Ford, Sandburg could hardly contain his impatience. "C'mon, man. You have got to see this car! It's incredible."
Jim sat behind the wheel a few moments longer, watching his partner disappear into the sales office of the car lot. Blair had been telling him for days about a car he had spotted during his searches and Ellison had shared that enthusiasm until he found out a few more details about the car. He was still feeling guilty about the Volvo. It had been Sandburg's pride and joy. Even if those feelings had been tarnished from time to time by the car's frequent bouts of temperament. So when Blair had walked in one night and announced that he had just seen the car of his dreams, Jim had been almost as excited as his friend.
"It's a classic, Jim. The body needs some work, but it's still beautiful. Blue. Rally stripes. A convertible. The interior is spotless and the engine... man, it's clean enough to eat off of, " Blair had rambled as he poked through the meager offerings of the fridge. "Hey! Whose week was it to do the shopping? Anyway..." He closed the door to the refrigerator, an apple in hand. "It's probably more than I can afford. There wasn't any price tag on it. But a friend of my mom had one when I was a kid. We had some great times in that car. I remember swinging on the roll bar and giving Mom a heart attack or two. If I can find some way to buy it, I'm going to do it."
Ellison had watched as the younger man's face beamed at the memories. "It sounds great, Sandburg. But..." Blair had grabbed his jacket from the chair and was headed for his room. "You didn't say what kind of car it is."
Laughing, Ellison's partner stopped at the door to his bedroom. "Oh yeah, I guess that'd help. It's a Mustang Cobra, Jim."
"A Cobra?" The sentinel's enthusiasm sank. "Great," he sighed at the closed door.
Now, as he sat in his truck, he tried his best to fight down some memories of his own. Old and painful memories. The Cobra had been the beginning of an end for him. He could still see his father's face and hear the barely controlled rage in his voice. It had been that day that he had finally admitted to himself that things would never really change between them. He was never gonna have a dad that would do the things with him that fathers and sons were supposed to do. Or what a young James Ellison thought they should do and longed for them to do.
Jim could still remember it like it was yesterday.
William Ellison stood beside the sleek '65 Mustang Cobra. The bright cherry colour of the car paled in comparison to his flushed expression. Jim had heard his father calling for him in "that" tone of voice and had reluctantly followed him into the garage. At first he couldn't see what had his father so upset. The car, the car he hoped to own someday, was there, gleaming in the overhead lights. Without realizing what he was doing, he ran an appreciative hand along the trunk, savouring the feel of the cool metal. The few times his father had allowed him to actually drive the car he had felt the power of it and had enjoyed that feeling. He always felt free when he was behind the wheel.
His father's snarl made his head snap up. "Sir?" He felt himself shrink under the man's glare. "What I was doing?"
Grabbing his son's arm, he dragged him closer and pointed to the front fender and headlight. "Explain this!"
Jim's mouth dropped open when he saw the smashed glass and dented steel and chrome. "I... I didn't have anything to do with this, Pops!" He turned plaintive eyes on the older man when the grip on his arm became tighter and he was given a good shake. "You've got to believe me."
"All I believe, young man, is that you won't be accompanying me on my business trip. You can use the time at home to consider your actions and the consequences of those actions." A tight-lipped frown crossed the man's features. "You obviously need a more disciplined life than you're getting here, Jimmy. Maybe this is my fault since I'm not at home enough. I had hoped that you would at least take responsibility for what you've done."
"But I..." Jim Ellison rubbed at the spot where his father had held him. The look the older Ellison fixed on him told him that any explanation would go unheard. And what could he possibly say? He wasn't going to rat on his little brother. So with his silence he had been tried, found guilty and now could only wait to discover what the sentence would be. "May I go now, sir?"
"Yes, go ahead. And Jimmy?" William waited for his son to turn to look at him before continuing. "I'm sorry that it had to come to this."
With a sigh that seemed to have been called up from the bottom of his soul, Jim walked the long path down to the street, not really sure where he was headed. "Why'd you do it, Stevie?" he whispered. "Did you know he'd come after me?"
Shaking himself, Jim got out of the truck to follow his friend. "Grow up, Ellison. Time to move on and just let it go." The Ellison men had since closed up some of the distance that had developed between them. The sentinel was probably closer to his father and brother than he had ever been. Or could ever remember being. But the old hurts, no matter how deep they were buried, would still surface every now and then. He was, however, determined to not let his past interfere with his partner's excitement. As he started for the sales office he spotted Blair standing in the doorway, watching him with an inscrutable expression. Forcing a smile that he didn't really feel, the sentinel gently nudged his friend back into the room. "Well, c'mon, Sandburg, let's see this classic you've been gushing about."
"Gushing? I haven't been gushing, I've been... effusive." Seeing his friend's raised eyebrow, Blair laughed. "Okay, okay, so there's no difference." He punched Ellison in the arm. "But Jim, wait'll you see it. It's out back. I think I've got the guy convinced that we can take it out for a test drive without him escorting us."
"Oh, and how did you manage that?"
Blushing slightly, Blair looked away. "I showed him my badge."
Shaking his head in mock dismay, Ellison couldn't suppress a grin. "Sandburg, Sandburg, Sandburg. Who would have thought it." Enjoying watching his friend squirm, and ready to continue his teasing, he had to hold onto his next jibe as the salesman approached them.
"Ah, there you are, Detective Sandburg!" Carl Abbot called. He introduced himself to Jim, shaking his hand with enough enthusiasm to almost make him wince. "And Detective Ellison. Are we ready to see what this car's got? I've had them move the car to the lot and hang some temporary plates so we can take it out on the road." He waved at the men to follow him.
The smile that Blair turned on his friend reminded Jim of a kid on his birthday, getting ready to open the box he knows holds the gift he's been waiting for. And it was that smile that pushed away the reservations he had about seeing the Cobra. "I'm right behind you, Chief."
The car sat in the far corner of the lot, nearly hidden by the SUVs and vans that seemed to populate many of the used, or, as they were being called these days, the "previously owned" lots. The top of the convertible was down, showing off the cloth interior and outdated instrument panel. The sentinel had never seen anything so lovely. Blair hadn't exaggerated.
Ellison emitted a low whistle as he got closer. "It's a beauty, Sandburg."
"What did I tell ya, Jim?" The younger detective circled the car, admiring the fast lines and the whole look of it. "It needs some work on the body." He shot a pointed look at the car salesman.
Abbot just rocked on his feet and smiled the stereotypical slick smile of a salesman. "Oh, I'm sure we can work something out, Detective."
Sliding into the driver's seat, Blair popped open the hood. "Take a look at the engine, Jim. It's absolutely solid." He followed his partner to the front of the car, watching as the sentinel inspected the motor. For some reason it was important that his friend approve of the car as much as he did. He held his breath as Jim looked at the block. When he saw Ellison's nod, and the slow grin that came to his face, he felt his excitement go up another notch. "They don't know the whole history of the car, but Mr. Abbot assures me that it's never been in an accident. I thought that maybe you could really look at it for me."
The sentinel didn't miss his shaman's slight stressing of the word "look". A hyper sense of touch would be able to find any places that the car might have been welded after any serious damage to the body. "Sure, Sandburg, I can do that." Giving his partner a knowing grin, he started his examination of the classic. "This a '69, Carl?"
"You know your Mustangs, Detective. That's what it is. It's rare to find one in this great shape not going through a collector." Abbot followed Ellison as he checked the body. "You're not going to find any flaws."
"Well, so far, you're right." He looked up at Blair from where he was crouched down by the rear wheel well. "Chief?" Sandburg looked almost ill. "What?"
Swallowing, Blair turned to Carl Abbot. "I'm sorry, Carl, but I don't think I can buy this car."
The salesman laughed a slightly nervous laugh. "Now, now, Blair, we haven't even talked price yet. You don't want to be too hasty."
The sentinel had slowly straightened and was staring at his partner, trying to guess what had caused his abrupt turnabout. It didn't take long for him to light on a possible reason. Putting a hand on Abbot's shoulder, he gently steered the man towards the showroom. "Why don't you let me do a little arm twisting here, Carl?" He gave him a wide grin and watched as a very confused salesman headed back to his office. "Okay, Blair, what's this all about? I thought you loved the car?"
Sandburg turned a wide-eyed stare at his friend. "But Jim, I can't buy this car. I am so sorry, man. I didn't even think." He started to pace back and forth in front of the Mustang, his hands flying in his exasperation. "Oh man, the last thing you probably want to be looking at every day is that car."
Ellison leaned against the convertible, his arms folded across his chest, tracking his partner's movements as if he were watching a tennis match. "What makes you think that I don't want you to buy this car, Darwin?"
Blair stopped dead in his tracks, slowly pivoting to look at his friend. "I just thought that after all the stuff that happened with your dad and Steven that it would be a reminder. That was a pretty ugly time for you, Jim. I don't want to do something that's going to be almost rubbing your nose in it."
"I'm going to be honest with you, Chief," Ellison spoke as he stepped away from the car. "When you said it was a Mustang I was a little less than thrilled, but I'm okay with it now." He took another step closer to his friend, and resting his hands on his shoulders, gave him an earnest look. "Buy the car, Blair."
"But," Sandburg began.
"No buts. You said it yourself. The car needs some work. Right?" Ellison smiled at his partner's confused look. "That's the kind of thing a guy might have done with his brother or his best buddy when he was growing up. I never got that chance when I was a kid, Blair. I was thinking that maybe I might now. That's if you want my help. So whaddya say?"
After a few seconds consideration, the corner of the young detective's mouth lifted into a crooked smile. "I'd say I just bought me a car, Ellison," he drawled. Catching sight of Abbot, with his nose almost pressed against the showroom window, Blair laughed and waved the man out. "Let's take this thing out on the road."
Red-faced and breathless, Abbot ran up to the two men, keys in hand. "I'm glad to see that you've reconsidered, Blair." He tossed the keys into the detective's open and waiting hand. "If you don't mind, I think I'd like to come along with you for the ride. I have a very strong feeling that this will be the last chance I get to ride in this car." The salesman smiled expectantly at Sandburg and Ellison.
Going to the Cobra, Jim opened the passenger door and threw the front seat forward. With a wave of his hand, he ushered the man in. "After you, Carl." Once the salesman had climbed into the back, he took the passenger seat, mildly amazed that the old thrill and anticipation of sitting in a Mustang was back.
Sandburg jumped in behind the wheel, taking a deep breath before slipping the key into the ignition. He gave his friend a sideways glance. "You're sure?"
"Positive, Sandburg." Jim settled back against the seat and door, laying an arm across the seatbacks. "Let's go." Chuckling, Ellison watched as his longhaired partner slipped on a pair of sunglasses and adjusted the rear-view mirror.
The roar of the car's engine was drowned out by the sound of screaming tires. All three men in the Cobra spun around in their seats to see a souped-up Trans Am convertible, complete with Mag Wheels. Its top was down, revealing two teenagers in the front seat. The car cut across the lot and disappeared onto the street within a matter of seconds. Abbot's gasp from the back seat confirmed what both Ellison and Sandburg had been thinking. "I can't believe it. They're stealing the car in broad daylight!"
A wicked grin crossed Jim Ellison's face. "Think you can take 'em, Chief?"
"Take them?!" Carl Abbot's panicked shriek died as the Mustang hit the street. Frantically reaching for his seatbelt, the salesman quickly buckled himself in and hunkered down into the seat. "Oh dear."
"Ya see them, Sandburg?" The detective had spotted the cream coloured Trans Am four cars in front of them.
Concentrating on the traffic ahead of him, Blair gave a quick nod. "Yeah, I can just make out the back end. What do you think? Do I have room to move up?" The thought that a police siren would have come in handy quickly flitted through his mind.
Jim leaned out, trying to gauge the distance and cars between them and the thieves. "Nah." He couldn't keep the disgust from his voice as he yelled into the wind. "Traffic's too tight. Wait a minute..." With a triumphant grin, he looked at his partner. "They're going to turn, Chief. Saw one of them just point to a street up ahead." He paused as he watched the stolen car make a hard right. "Yeah, yeah, we got 'em. You're going to do a right. There's a Starbucks on the corner."
The sentinel had barely finished his sentence when the coffee shop's sign loomed up ahead. Blair pressed down on the gas, ever so slightly, as he expertly responded to the coaxing of the engine. With a gentle touch, he shifted gears and worked the clutch. The Cobra held the tight corner, gliding through the turn.
"Nice, Sandburg." Jim nodded his approval as he pulled his cell phone from his jacket. "I guess I had better call this in."
Still grinning from his friend's words of praise, Blair pushed the car a little more. The street they were on was deserted except for the Mustang and the Trans Am and Sandburg was fairly sure it was headed towards the harbour. If they had any hope of stopping the thieves it would have to be before they got into the labyrinth of warehouses that lined the docks. "Jim?" His partner had just finished relaying the information to dispatch.
"I know," Ellison shouted over the sound of the car. "There's only one way we're going to be able to do it." He twisted around to regard Carl Abbot. "How you doin' back there, Carl?" At the man's thumb's up gesture the sentinel laughed. "Great. Now how about moving over to the other side, behind Blair." At first he wasn't sure if the salesman had understood him. The man seemed rooted to his spot, but after a shaky nod he unfastened his seatbelt. Satisfied, Jim focused his sight on the car ahead of them.
"Okay," Blair shouted. "What do you have planned, partner?"
He leaned across to talk into Sandburg's ear. "I want you to get up alongside them, Chief. Just keep pace with them."
"Got it. Then what?" But Ellison had already moved back to his spot and had released his seatbelt. From the corner of his eye, it looked to Blair as if Jim was starting to climb into the back. Risking a quick glance, he saw that that was exactly what his friend was doing. "Jim?!"
"Just keep steady once you get up there, Sandburg." The detective grabbed hold of the roll bar and swung himself onto the back seat. Wrapping his arm around the bar, he pulled his gun from its holster. "Okay, Sandburg! Move up!"
Blair's eyes nearly popped out of his head as he caught sight of his partner in the rear view. "Ellison! What do you think you're doing?!" Oh man, why ask? You know exactly what he's going to do. Pulling up alongside the stolen car, Blair swore that his friend had watched his last action movie or western. This was just too way over the top. Even for Jim!
The Cobra slowly edged up on the speeding Trans Am. Ellison had no doubt that Sandburg would keep pace. Now he just had to have as much faith in himself that the short leap to the other car was "do-able". Edging over, he put one foot on the door, his legs tensing as he mentally prepared himself for the hurdle. He could feel the adrenaline pumping, spurring him on. The two cars were side by side, only inches apart. That partner of his was one hell of a driver. Drawing in a deep breath, he knew it was now or never. He jumped. For one precarious moment he thought he wasn't going to make it, but a second later he found himself sitting in the back seat of the Trans Am. The Mustang fell back to tail the other car once again.
"Hello, boys," Ellison growled as he leaned across the seats, putting his gun in clear view. "What say we pull this over?"
A half-hour later both teens were sitting comfortably in the rear of a squad car on their way to Cascade PD.
"Carl, are you sure that you're okay to drive the Trans Am back to the dealership?" Jim wasn't really sure he liked the flushed complexion of the man. "I can take it back and you can ride with Blair."
Abbot laughed. "No, no, I can do it." He looked at both detectives and one by one shook their hands. "Gentlemen, that was one of the most exciting things to ever happen to me! I can't wait to get back to tell the rest of the team." He got into the car, a huge smile on his lips. "No one is going to believe this." He started the car. "Blair, I'm sure that we can come to an agreement that should be mutually satisfactory." He chuckled as he shook his head. "I still can't believe you did that, Jim. I thought cops only did that in Lethal Weapon movies. Well, I'll see you both back at the lot." With that he gave them a wave and sped off down the street, tires squealing.
Ellison and Sandburg stood next to the Cobra, watching the Trans Am.
"So, tell me, Jim," Sandburg started mildly. "Are you completely out of your mind?!" His voice had risen to a quiet shout.
Still riding high on the adrenaline rush, Ellison clapped his friend on the back and got into the passenger seat. "Maybe I am, Chief," he chuckled. "No more out of my mind than someone who took on terrorists with a vending machine and a flare gun. And then there was the hot dog vendor's cart. A baseball..."
With mock exasperation, Blair got into the car. "All right, all right, I get your point. But if you think I'm going to let you drive this car once I've bought it then you really are out of your mind. But you know," he grinned at his friend. "Carl was right. That was definitely something."
The small elevator rode quietly up the three floors to the loft. Jim Ellison leaned against the metal handrail that circled the elevator car, grinning at his partner. Sandburg hadn't stopped smiling since they left the Retro Ride Classic Autos dealership. After signing the appropriate papers, and having his hand vigorously shaken by Carl Abbot, Blair Sandburg was now the proud owner of a 1969 Mustang Cobra... and a car loan.
"So how does it feel, Chief?"
"Good," Blair nodded and after a little consideration, his smiled widened. "Great, in fact." Shoving his hands into his pockets, he leaned against the opposite wall. "But, I have to tell you, I nearly panicked when it came time to sign the papers. I need another loan payment like I need a hole in the head."
Laughing, Jim preceded his shaman from the elevator. "I thought I noticed your hand shake a little bit, there." He waited for Blair to exit the car, allowing him the lead. "But I think it was a sound deal. You sure gave the car a workout for a test drive."
"Well, you know, Jim, it's a big investment, right? You have to know what you're paying for. Is the car sound? Is the body in good shape? How is it going to handle in a high-speed car chase with your partner suddenly losing his mind and pulling a crazy stunt? Things like that." With a smirk, he turned to wink at his friend. "I don't think that this is a sale that Carl's going to soon forget." Sandburg fished his keys from his pocket. "And yeah, the car really handled well." He was just about to swing the door open when Ellison pulled him back.
Jim held a finger to his lips. "Company" was the quiet explanation. "No heartbeat, but let's take it slow," he whispered. Holding his gun at chest level, he gestured for Blair to push the door wider. With catlike stealth, the detective slipped into the loft, quickly taking his position behind the kitchen's island for cover. Looking back to the door, he saw Sandburg crouched and ready to move in. His young partner had his gun drawn, set to provide backup. The sentinel shook his head "no" and signaled for Blair to stay where he was.
The apartment was covered in deep shadows with the sun hidden behind the neighbouring buildings. Edging to the side of the cabinet, Jim was able to get a clear view of the entire area. His vision easily cut through the gloom of the separate areas. Nothing moved. Concentrating on his hearing, he filtered out the sound of his friend's breathing and heart, surprised and vaguely proud to find that Sandburg, while understandably tensing for whatever might present itself, was calm. The young man had become a first-rate cop in a very short time. Hearing revealed the same as sight. Nothing. The loft was empty. Letting out a breath, he relaxed and returned his weapon to its holster.
"Clear?" Blair had moved into the apartment. He took a survey of the rooms and could see nothing amiss. "Well, if we had a visitor, he was awfully neat." Hanging his jacket by the door, he looked at his friend questioningly. "What tipped you off?"
"What was it you said before, Sandburg? About having a bloodhound for a partner?" Jim's face was still grim as he moved into the living room area. He tapped his nose. "I smelled that same smoky smell. The one I noticed when that guy was bothering Billy McGregor." Doing a three hundred and sixty-degree turn, he stopped facing the stairs that led up to his bedroom. "That guy was definitely in here. He must be one hell of a break-and-enter expert. I didn't notice any damage to the lock on the door, did you?"
"No," Blair admitted. "But then, I wasn't really looking for any." Going back to the front door, he checked around the lock and handle for any signs of it being forced. "Not even a scratch on it, Jim." He was talking to empty air. Ellison had gone upstairs and was standing by his bed. "You find something?"
"Oh yeah." The sentinel's answer came through a clenched jaw. He went to the railing. "Heads up," he called before he tossed the intruder's calling card over the side and down to his partner.
Puzzled, Blair easily caught it. "Oh no." A long rubber snake, the kind found in a joke shop or in stores around Halloween, hung limply from his fingers.
"Has the jury reached a verdict?"
The jury foreman stood and responded, his voice sure and strong. "Yes, your Honor, we have." He then handed the bailiff the slip of paper on which he had written the jury's unanimous decision. The bailiff crossed to Judge Hancock's bench and handed him the verdict. Hancock silently read the verdict then raised his eyes to solemnly regard the defendant in his latest high profile case. After a moment he returned the paper to the bailiff. With a curt nod, the bailiff returned the document to the jury foreman.
"The defendant will rise," he intoned. Brooks rose confidently to his feet and turned to squarely face the twelve individuals who now controlled his fate, his expression cold.
Hancock also turned to face the jurors. "How do you find Graham Brooks?"
Taking a deep breath, the foreman read the verdict aloud. "We, the jury, find the defendant, Graham Brooks, guilty of the murder of Nyajiru. We find him not guilty of the attempted murders of Blair Sandburg and Billy McGregor."
Almost immediately, pandemonium reigned. The entire visitors' gallery began to buzz as everyone voiced their opinion of the jury's decision. Simon Banks shouted his surprise and disappointment at the verdict. Ellison's mouth dropped open in shock and he angrily pushed to his feet, flinging off his partner's calming hand. Judge Hancock banged his gavel, attempting to regain control of his courtroom. In the middle of it all, Brooks calmly turned to regard the irate sentinel and then smiled that insane smile that the detective had come to detest. Blair stood and grabbed for his partner, afraid he might attack the arrogant African shaman. "Jim!" he hissed, clenching Ellison's forearm in a vise-like grip. "It doesn't matter! He was found guilty of murder, Jim! We've won. It's over." He literally whispered the last phrase, which captured his Sentinel's attention more surely than any outburst would have.
Tearing his glare from Brooks, Jim turned to Blair and took in the weariness in his guide's eyes. As he opened his mouth to reassure his friend, all hell broke loose in the back of the room. Ellison spun to find that the man who had threatened Billy McGregor the previous day had leapt to his feet and was furiously pushing his way through the visitors' gallery toward his partner and him.
Pushing Blair behind him with one hand, Jim deftly slid his weapon from the holster at the small of his back with the other. The man roughly shoved a startled middle-aged woman out of his way, ignoring everyone except the two men in his sights Ellison and Sandburg. Coming face to face with Jim's Sig Sauer stopped him in his tracks, but did nothing to stem the ensuing tirade. "Your fault!" he screamed, pointing a shaking fingering at the detectives. "This is all your fault! It's a conspiracy to ruin a great man and you're in on it! Both of you! You'll pay for this! You have to pay for this!" He stiffened as courthouse security personnel grabbed him and he tried to wrench his arms from their insistent grip. "You'll pay for this, Ellison! You have to pay!"
"Get him out of here!" Simon Banks snapped, coming to stand beside his detectives. "Stand down, detective," he instructed Ellison quietly. Ellison complied only because the threat had been neutralized, not because his superior officer had ordered it. Returning the weapon to its customary place in its holster, he turned to speak to Simon but was interrupted by yet another disturbance, this time coming from the hallway. "What now?!" he barked rhetorically, shoving the courtroom doors open to enter a hallway awash with mayhem. The two security guards were sprawled on the floor, a tangle of arms and legs with several other men and women, all trying to extricate themselves and succeeding only in confusing the issue further. Several by-standers were trying to assist them and everyone was talking excitedly. There was no sign of the incensed courtroom observer.
"Damn," Jim breathed, turning to his partner and captain with a pained expression. "He's long gone."
"We got Brooks, Jim," Blair offered as consolation. He moved around his partner to offer his assistance to the tangled mass of humanity on the floor. "He's going away for a long, long time. Everything else is just an annoyance, man."
Ellison closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. "Yeah," he finally agreed. "Just an annoyance. C'mon, Chief, let's get out of here."
In the courtroom, Brooks' housekeeper, Emily Webster, wiped a tear from her eye and then slipped out of the now deserted courthouse, unnoticed.
Graham Brooks was escorted down the long line of chairs to the last stall in the visitors' area. In standard prison dress, he carried himself with elegance and pride. Even after a week of prison life he remained haughty, looking down at the inmates and guards. He smiled smugly as he saw many heads, fellow prisoners and visitors alike, turn to watch him. His smile widened, almost becoming genuine, as he caught sight of his visitor. Behind the Plexiglas window sat his little friend, Frederick Herrington.
Herrington's eyes seemed to glaze over as he watched the shaman's approach. He felt that same awe and twinge of fear that always preceded his talks with Graham Brooks. The man exuded power and Herrington wondered that anyone could be immune to its affect. Rising out of his chair, he waited patiently for the African to take his seat and settle himself. Receiving the near imperceptible nod that he was ready, Herrington sat and lifted the phone to his ear.
"Ah, Ricky," Brooks crooned. "I am very pleased to see you. Have you been busy?"
The small man nodded his head and smiled. "Everything that we talked about is coming to pass." His hand curled into a fist. "It is happening just like you said it would."
"Why, you sound surprised, Mr. Herrington." The shaman's smile was chilling. "You have not started to doubt me, have you?"
Herrington's expression froze. "No! I could never doubt you!" He leaned forward and clutched a hand to his heart. "You've shown me the way. Now all I want to do is make those that have hurt you pay." He looked furtively over his shoulder. "I'm ready to do more. Tell me what it is that you want me to do."
"Listen closely, Ricky," Brooks whispered into the receiver. "I think that our two friends, and that worm at the airport, need to be reminded that they are not free of me just yet." He gripped the handset tightly. "I will leave the details to you. Don't forget, the one that I have chosen is not to be seriously damaged. Bruised," he sneered. "That is acceptable, but I have my own plans for the detective."
"What about his partner?" Herrington's eyes lit up. "He should pay for the humiliation he's caused you. He should be taught a lesson for rejecting you."
The shaman's eyes narrowed. "He will learn that he has been a fool to turn away from me. Scare him, Ricky, but don't harm him. I want him to be there at the end. I want him to realize all that he has lost." His voice became a growl. "He should never have tried to keep from me that which should have been mine. His partner will finally acknowledge my power and accept my guidance as his shaman. As it should have been from the start."
"And the other one?" Herrington's excited breath came through the phone. His mouth twitching as he waited for instructions.
"The other?" Graham Brooks waved a well-manicured hand in the air. "He is nothing." His smile was like ice and he chuckled when he saw his follower cringe from it. "Have fun with him."
"You know that I'll do as you ask. You can count on me." Ricky Herrington returned the handset to its cradle and stood. Giving his mentor a slight bow, he backed away from the stall.
Graham Brooks waited until Herrington had disappeared into another room before mentally preparing himself to return to his cell. He wanted to enjoy his few moments of freedom from his small confines. At least he had not been forced to share his cell with another. Yet. Hearing the soft-soled footsteps of the guard coming to escort him back to the cellblock, Brooks closed his eyes. Even the pungent aroma of smoke from Ricky's Turkish cheroots was preferable to the smell of too many human beings forced to inhabit their confined space. Shrugging off the guard's hand from his shoulder, the shaman stood. "Please, do not touch me." He stared down his nose at the man, holding his gaze until the other looked away. Smiling, he brushed past him. "I am now ready to return."
Three Weeks Later, Starkville Prison
It was good to have a murderous reputation, Brooks decided as he regarded the vial in his hand. It had really taken ridiculously little persuasion to convince one of the orderlies in the infirmary to "misplace" a few very special items in the drug cabinet. It had been easy to convince the man that Brooks had acquaintances on the outside that could be a threat to his family if he didn't follow Brooks' instructions. It would have been easier to steal it himself, however, the warden, in a moment of startling clarity, had refused the shaman access to the infirmary. Inconvenient, Brooks admitted to himself, but not insurmountable. After having been given the appropriate incentive, Margrave had followed his instructions to the letter, mixing the ingredients into a single, powerful potion and transferring it to Brooks in the mess hall line.
Brooks uncapped the vial and, with an enigmatic smile, downed the contents. He quickly filled the glass tube with water and flushed it down the utilitarian toilet. Then he made himself as comfortable as possible on the hard prison bunk and waited for the potion to take effect.
Jim Ellison replaced the telephone receiver in its cradle and swore sharply. His partner interrupted his intense scrutiny of the report on his computer screen to regard the detective in concern. "What's the matter, Jim?" he asked, barely remembering to click 'Save' before rising and crossing to Ellison's desk.
Ellison pushed his chair back and heaved a large sigh. He definitely did not want to pass this information along to his partner. Things had just started to settle down for them and now it looked as if the disruptions were to begin again. "They've just taken Graham Brooks to the hospital. A guard found him unconscious in his cell about an hour ago. The prison doctors haven't been able to revive him, so they've transferred him to Cascade General."
"Do they have any idea what happened?" Blair was doing a good job of masking his surprise and dismay. Under guard Brooks might be, but he was still out of prison and that made him a danger.
"Not so far." Ellison rubbed at his forehead and met his partner's eyes. "Blair..." he began, only to be interrupted by his partner grabbing his coat and tossing it in his direction while pulling his own off the coat rack.
"Let's go find out what the hell's going on," Blair said grimly as he turned and stalked toward the elevator. Jim hurried to follow, his anger at the situation continuing to build. When were they ever going to catch a break?
The elevator ride down to the parking garage was slow and silent, the car stopping at virtually every floor below Major Crime. Blair was disinclined to talk and his expression remained unreadable as he stared at a spot on the soiled carpeting that covered the floor. Passengers flowed on and off the elevator at each stop, their conversations brief and mundane. A casual greeting here, a "how's the family" there, and the typical complaints about workloads swirled around the silent partners. It was as if life were tossing them an emotional lifeline to reassure them that the world was, indeed, still functioning normally despite the new evidence to the contrary.
"It's too convenient," Sandburg finally mused aloud as they made their way across town. He was staring pensively out the window of Jim's "sweetheart", his elbow propped on the window ledge, thumb and forefinger worrying his bottom lip.
"I agree," Ellison nodded, keeping his eyes on the traffic-filled road ahead of him. They slowed to a stop at a signal light and Jim turned to regard his partner. "It's just too convenient for Brooks to fall ill so soon after being convicted..."
"Unless it wasn't of his own doing."
The sentinel frowned, his forehead creased in confusion. "What? You're losing me here, Chief. Wasn't it you that just said it was too convenient? Now you've suddenly decided that this is someone's idea of revenge?"
"I'm just playing devil's advocate, Jim, trying to see all the angles. Doesn't mean I believe one any more readily than another. It just means there might be another possibility, that's all."
"No," Ellison shook his head as he shifted his foot from the brake to the accelerator and moved forward with the flow of traffic. "He's up to something. I can feel it in my gut."
"Or maybe it's the double cheese Wonder Burger and chili fries you had for lunch?"
"You're killin' me, Sandburg," Jim growled in mock annoyance as he made the turn into the Cascade General parking lot. He pulled into a No Parking zone, slid the gearshift into Park and tossed a Cascade PD identification card on the dash.
"It's not me, Jim, it's all that grease you eat that's killing you," his guide retorted before he pushed open his passenger door and stepped to the pavement. "I can almost hear your arteries hardening, man!" He grinned as he joined his partner by the driver's door.
"Nah, that's not my arteries you hear hardening, Darwin, it's the sound of all those synapses in your brain frying as they fire all at once. You gotta stop thinking so hard, Chief." Jim playfully shoved his partner across the hospital driveway, glad to see that the morose mood had seemingly passed. Halfway across the drive, Jim patted his jacket pocket only to discover that he had left his cell phone in the truck. Remembering how often he used to have to admonish his partner about the same offense, he decided discretion was the better part of valor and called out, "I left my cell phone in the truck. You go on and I'll catch up in a minute."
Blair grinned at Jim's uncharacteristic lapse, gave him a thumbs-up gesture to acknowledge the instruction, then continued to cross the street that fronted the main entrance to the hospital. Upon reaching the curb, he turned to gauge his partner's progress -- just in time to catch a glimpse of a blue streak from the corner of his eye. It was a car, headed directly for his partner, who was casually strolling across the drive toward him.
"Jim!" Blair shouted the warning at the same time that the sentinel picked up the out-of-place roar of an engine and scream of spinning tires. Jim spun to catch sight of the car hurtling across the parking lot toward him, and then instinctively launched himself back towards the pick-up truck he had just vacated. He hit the ground hard and rolled under his truck as the speeding car fishtailed past him. The high-pitched sound of rending metal sent a spike of pain through his head and he temporarily lost himself in a sensory overload. When he literally returned to his senses, it was to find himself still huddled beneath his truck, his hands covering his abused ears. He felt a pressure on his forearm and shifted his gaze to discover Blair stretched out on his stomach next to the truck, his expression clearly bordering on near panic. Blair's mouth was moving, but Jim heard no sounds. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs and mentally grasped the dials as Blair had taught him to do so long ago. After he had cranked the hearing dial back a few notches, Blair's voice filled his head.
"Jim? Jim, are you okay, man? C'mon, Jim. You're scaring me here. Jim?"
"I'm okay, Chief," Jim managed to grind out as he began to wriggle out from under the truck.
Blair, realizing what his friend was doing, reached out a hand and helped pull the detective into the open. "Thank God, man!" Blair prattled in relief. "You had me scared to death, Jim! Are you okay? Did he hit you? Do you need an ambulance?"
Jim had to smile at that last question and he waved a hand vaguely toward the hospital entrance, where a crowd had quickly gathered following the incident. "Considering our location, I think an ambulance is hardly necessary," he teased softly. Then he swiftly added, "And I'm fine, Blair, really." He presented his arms and head for inspection. Beyond a few rips in his favorite shirt, he was clearly unscathed. "See?" he assured his partner. "Hardly a scratch on me."
Blair wasn't completely convinced. "So what was with that little zone out thing?" he prodded, glancing around quickly to make sure no one was within earshot. "You were out of it for almost a full minute, man!"
"My hearing went off the scale," Jim reluctantly admitted. "I wasn't prepared for it and I sort of, I dunno, overloaded I guess." When Blair's brow furrowed in thought, Ellison could tell the former anthropologist was ready to go into full sentinel research scientist mode, so he quickly changed the subject. There were more important things to cover at the moment, although Jim strongly suspected that Sandburg would disagree with him, given the opportunity. "Did you see the car? Did you see where it went after it missed me?"
Sandburg nodded, motioning with his chin in the direction the car had gone. "Didn't get very far," he responded, rising to his feet and pulling his partner with up with him. "Lost traction trying to swerve to hit you when you rolled. It ended up taking out a light post instead." Ellison saw the deformed wreckage of the vehicle, its passenger side almost totally encircling the base of a parking lot light standard. The driver's door was open and the vehicle was obviously empty.
"The driver?" Jim demanded, gently shaking off his partner's well intentioned, but unnecessary, attempts to support him. He strode towards the wreckage. "I'm fine, Blair," he assured his upset partner as he leaned into the driver's compartment. After only a cursory examination and a deep breath, Ellison turned to his partner. "It's him."
"Who, Jim?" Blair was scrutinizing the interior of the car as well. He knew he couldn't hope to see a fraction of what the sentinel saw, but it made him feel better to be doing something besides standing there looking as shaken up as he actually was by his partner's close call.
"Our loft visitor. This car is filled with the same scent I detected at the loft. Get forensics down here, Chief. I want to know who this guy is. I'm starting to take this personally."
Emily Webster strode confidently through the corridors of Cascade General. She was professionally attired in a crisply starched nurse's uniform, her cap perched jauntily atop the brown wig she wore. Heavy glasses disguised her eyes. She had learned long ago that the secret to successfully infiltrating any situation was to act as if you belonged there, so she boldly rounded the corner of the vacant nurses' station and pulled a patient chart from the revolving holder. As she pretended to read the information on the chart, she surreptitiously scanned the hallway to her right. Three doors down from the nurses' station was Graham Brooks' room, closely guarded by a formidable-looking uniformed officer. She glanced at her watch. It was almost time. She performed a mental countdown, keeping an eye on the policeman down the hall and fingering the syringe in her pocket.
When her countdown reached 'zero', the officer, as if on cue, leapt to his feet and pushed open the door to Brooks' room. Emily could hear the "distressed" cries of her employer as he awakened from his drug-induced unconsciousness. She smiled slightly as the shaman increased the intensity of his wails. He was certainly putting on a good show. If he wasn't careful, he was going to attract the attention of the other nurses on the floor, which would make her job that much harder. Killing the smile, Emily returned to character and dashed down the hall to enter the hospital room to find the police officer struggling to hold a supposedly disoriented Brooks in bed. "What happened?" 'Nurse' Webster demanded as she bent to check the patient's vital signs.
"I don't know!" the flustered officer responded, gasping for breath in his efforts to contain the patient. "He just woke up and started screaming!"
"I'll have to sedate him," Emily stated, raising her voice to overpower the anguished cries of her employer. "I'll need you to hold him securely while I give him the injection."
"Just hurry!" the officer begged, totally discomfited by the actions of the previously unconscious man. He leaned heavily over Brooks in an effort to hold him still so the nurse could sedate him.
Suddenly the agitated patient stopped struggling and, in a move the officer would never quite be able to describe, wrapped him in an unbreakable hold. Emily quickly moved in and injected the drug she'd intimated was intended for Brooks into the incapacitated officer's jugular vein. Within seconds the officer was unconscious, sprawled across Brooks' bed.
As he extricated himself from the unconscious policeman's weight, Brooks fondly greeted his housekeeper with a smile and a "Nice to see you, my dear."
Emily returned her employer's smile, then turned her back as he quickly dressed in the clothing she'd earlier bribed an orderly into smuggling into the room. "I'm glad you got my messages. I wasn't sure you'd know who they were from and I wasn't at all sure they would reach you. I was having to use some fairly unreliable avenues of communication."
"You did wonderfully, my dear, although I admit it did take me a bit to realize it was you who was sending the supportive messages."
"I was afraid to sign my name for fear that they would catch me and I wouldn't be able to help you get away. I could only hope you'd figure it out."
Slipping his feet into his favorite Italian leather loafers, Brooks assured his housekeeper, "Your ingenuity was most impressive, Emily. I cannot tell you how touched I am by your loyalty." He rose to his feet and laid a hand on his blushing housekeeper's shoulder. "Now, shall we depart this appallingly depressing place?"
Emily nodded and quickly crossed to the door. Opening it just a crack, she cast a glance up and down the hallway. Determining that nothing and no one posed a threat, she hurried to the nurses' station to procure a wheelchair. Upon her return to the room, Brooks settled himself in the chair and grasped the duffel bag and a large vase of flowers Emily "borrowed" from an adjoining room. He now looked like any other departing patient as the housekeeper/nurse cheerfully pushed him through the hallways of Cascade General, chatting about how glad he must be to be going home.
She pushed him out the front entrance of the hospital to a waiting car, solicitously helped him into the passenger side of the vehicle and then pushed the wheelchair out of the way. Only then abandoning the nurse ruse, Emily quickly slid into the driver's side of the car, yanking the nurse's cap from her head and smiling gleefully at the escaped inmate riding beside her. As they sped away from the hospital, they noticed a crowd had gathered around what appeared to be a traffic accident in the parking lot. "I wonder what that's all about?" Emily questioned aloud. Brooks merely shrugged and smiled slightly.
Dom Cantelmi handed his phone to the young security guard. "You sure it was him, Billy?" McGregor had just rushed into his office, breathless. He had spotted the same man who had threatened him in the courthouse cafeteria. "Sit down, kid. Catch your breath." The airport chief of security's father instinct had suddenly kicked in. The young man sitting in front of him had already been through too much because of one Botswanan's visit to the States.
"I'm okay, Dom." Billy's face was flushed and his breathing came in quick pants. He had sprinted back to the offices when he had lost sight of the stranger from the cafeteria. Calling Ellison at his work number, he had been told that the detective was not at his desk. His frustration at not being able to reach the detective hadn't lasted long. He remembered seeing Ellison's cell phone number tacked to the bulletin board in his boss' office. "I need to get in touch with Ellison and Sandburg. I didn't think that crazy guy would actually show up here." A strand of blond hair fell into his eyes as he dialled and he pushed it back out of the way.
Cantelmi paced the length of his office. "We've got everyone on the lookout for the guy. I'm sure someone'll spot him." He stood over McGregor. "Any answer yet?" At the younger man's shake of the head he threw his arms up in the air in exasperation. "What kinda detective doesn't answer his cell phone?" At Billy's chuckle, he scowled. "What? You think this is funny, McGregor?" His expression softened to let his friend know that he was kidding. "I just don't like the idea of somebody who's threatened you running around loose, here. You are not, you hear me, not leaving my sight until Ellison and Sandburg get here."
"Yes, sir." Billy's smile faded when he heard someone answer the phone. "Detective Ellison! Jim! This is Bill McGregor. That guy from the trial. He's here." He listened intently, nodding, until Cantelmi leaned down and whispered that, as good a detective as Ellison was, he wasn't going to be able to detect his nods. Rolling his eyes at his supervisor, Billy listened again. "Okay, Jim. I'll stay put until you get here. How long do you think that'll be?" He mouthed twenty minutes at Cantelmi. "Okay, Dom's office. Sure."
"He's on his way?" Cantelmi's hand rested on the younger man's shoulder. "Good. Now you do like you promised and stay put until the police get here."
"But, boss!" Billy began his protest. He stopped at Cantelmi's look. "Okay, okay. I'll stay."
"Dom?" A tinny-sounding voice came from the speaker on the security chief's desk. "The guy we're looking for is on Departures level. I saw him heading for Gate 23B. You want me to stop him?"
"No!" Dom had hit the reply button. "We don't know how dangerous he is. I don't want you going after him alone. Just keep him in sight. The police are on their way. They should be here in about 15 minutes. Keep us updated, Frank." He turned to see how McGregor was reacting to the news. The chair Billy had been sitting in was empty. Slamming his fist down on his desk, he pressed in a code on the radio and waited for Frank to call in.
"Yeah, Dom? What's up?"
Sighing, Dom Cantelmi told his man to keep an eye out for Billy. "He's on his way down there, Frank. Make sure he stays safe."
Ricky Herrington melted into the shadows when he saw the airport security guard. He had systematically searched each area of the huge airport, knowing that his path would eventually cross McGregor's. And he hadn't had to wait very long for his quarry to make an appearance. The blond guard had come skidding around a corner, heading almost directly for him. A slow, sick smile tugged at Ricky's mouth. Brooks had told him that he would be successful if he continued to believe that the shaman guided him towards greatness. And Herrington certainly believed. Everything that Graham had told him during the days of the trial had come to pass. Now it was time for the student to help the master. Stepping into the light, he waited just long enough for McGregor to see him. Turning on his heel, he ran for the cargo service area and safety. He wanted to laugh out loud when he heard the security guard follow him. Could things have worked out any better?
"Frank! Frank!" Cantelmi's impatience was clearly broadcast through the handi-talkie. "Have you found Billy yet?"
"No, boss." The aging guard had begun to double back, sure that he had missed McGregor. "If he was heading my way I shoulda seen him by now. You sure he was coming this way?"
Dominic's voice lost its impatience as the worry he felt took over. "I'm sure, Frank. This isn't good. Keep looking."
Billy McGregor couldn't believe what he was seeing. The man from the trial stood out in the open, smiling at him! Billy knew he was being taunted, but he had finally had enough. He was tired of being told to leave it to others to handle. The creep was standing there, right in front of him. There was no way that he was going to stand back and wait for the police.
As if reading the security guard's mind, knowing that McGregor was ready to take up the pursuit, the stranger turned and ran into a restricted area. Cursing softly under his breath, Billy ran after him. A small voice in the back of his mind told him to cool down and think about what he was doing. It cautioned him to wait for the police. He quickly shut down that voice. He was well trained in how to handle situations involving problem passengers. He had taken on his fair share of angry or hysterical people. He had no doubt that he could handle one little man on his own.
The corridor that led to the cargo areas was poorly lit and lined with doors on each side. There was no way that he was going to be able to search them all before the stalker disappeared. Reaching for his radio, he intended to call Cantelmi and have him arrange for some of the other guards to help him. But all he found was air where his handi-talkie should be. Groaning to himself, he remembered putting it down on the filing cabinet in Dom's office. He hadn't bothered to pick it up when he ran out of the room.
"Just great," Billy berated himself. "Now what?" In the answering silence he thought he heard the soft swoosh of a door closing at the end of the hall. Smiling, he trotted to the last door and pushed it open. A small security light shone in a far corner, bathing the room in its red glow. Stepping further into the room, and letting the door close behind him, McGregor had only seconds to realize he had made a mistake. A sinewy arm snaked out and around his neck, dragging him backward and onto his knees. Thrown off-balance, he landed solidly against his attacker. Knowing that he was fighting for his life, he wrapped his hands around the other man's wrists, and tried to struggle against the iron grip. With each inch McGregor thought he had won, the choking hold around his neck only became tighter, closing off his windpipe. Panicking, he attempted to drag in some much-needed oxygen. As the edges of his vision began to blur, he managed to jab an elbow back and into the man's stomach. He heard the painful gasp that followed and waited for the vise around his throat to loosen.
"You shouldn't have testified. I warned you that if he went to prison you would pay." Hearing those words as if in a tunnel, McGregor made one last desperate try to break free of the strangling grip. He threw himself back against the other man, hoping to stun him under his weight as they hit the floor, but his attacker managed to turn with the fall, still maintaining his death grip. "Too late, Billy. It's time to pay up."
The security guard felt one arm around his neck go impossibly tighter while the other arm released its hold. His attacker brought his palm up against his temple and slowly pushed. What little air had been able to seep through was now cut off completely and McGregor knew that he had lost. His oxygen-starved brain mercifully shut down seconds before a muffled crack echoed in the room.
Ellison, Sandburg and Cantelmi ran for the general area of Gate 23B. Frank had reported in, and while he hadn't found Billy, he had spotted the other man running for the private airstrips.
"Which way was he headed?" Ellison's question came out as a sharp demand when he reached Frank.
The security guard, responding to the tone, quickly pointed to the blacktop outside the panoramic windows. "He went out that door and headed for Hangar 12." He watched the detective disappear through the door and then turned tortured eyes on his boss. "I can't find Billy anywhere, Dom. I was just going to check down there." He nodded at the hallway that led to the cargo storage area.
Staying back to help find McGregor, Sandburg led the two men down the gloomy corridor. "We're going to search these rooms together," he said mostly for Cantelmi's benefit. The chief of security had looked ready to start checking the rooms on his own. "We don't know if that guy was working alone." Blair prayed that the stranger from the trial was indeed working alone. If he wasn't, it was very possible that his partner was heading for more trouble than he bargained for. "We'll start with the last room and work our way back. If Billy was chasing the man who threatened him, it makes sense that the guy'd try to put as much distance between them as possible."
Reaching the door at the far end of the hall, Blair opened it. He had his weapon in one hand, motioning for the two men to remain outside. One quick glance inside told him all he needed to know. The blond security guard's body lay motionless on the far side of the storage room. He moved to kneel next to the body, feeling for a pulse. Even before his fingers had touched the cooling skin he knew it was a futile gesture. McGregor's head lay at an odd angle. Billy's neck had been snapped.
"Oh dear Mother of God," Dom Cantelmi's anguished gasp came from behind the detective. "He was just a kid."
Jim Ellison burst through the double doors and onto the tarmac. Breaking into a run, he started in the direction Frank had pointed out. Hangar 12 was easy enough to spot. Large yellow letters stood out on black paint. As he ran he noticed that out of all the buildings located in this particular area of the airport, Hangar 12 was the only one that seemed open. Their courtroom stalker had either been very lucky or had been planning his visit to Cascade International for some time. But this fact could also play into the detective's hands, Jim realized. With this one building being the only place someone could hide, it was going to make his job that much easier to find him.
Coming to a halt just outside the hangar door, the sentinel paused. Using any of his hyper senses, with the exception of sight, was going to be impossible. The jets' high-pitched whines were almost constant. He didn't want to take the chance on listening for breathing or a heartbeat. Trying to use smell would have been a waste of time with the fumes of fuel and burning rubber hanging in the air. Sight would be his only edge. Using the darkness of the hangar as a shield, the detective slipped into the large shed. He let his eyes adjust from the bright afternoon sun to the artificial night in the building before trying to use his hyper-sight. The place echoed with the strangely comforting rumble of jets taking off. It sounded like distant thunder. Inch by inch, his vision burrowed deeper into the dark recesses of the hangar, looking for any signs of movement or the flash of colour from clothing in the blackness. Equipment was scattered across the floor and suspended from the ceiling. Crates were stacked against walls and piled in the centre of the hangar. Nothing seemed out of place at first glance. Slowly edging around the perimetre of the building, Jim checked every possible hiding spot. There weren't all that many. The man had disappeared. The detective had probably run right by their stalker if he had doubled back. With a frustrated sigh he started back for the airport to see if McGregor had been located.
Any hopes that the security guard had been found, safe and sound, were dashed when Jim saw his partner walking towards him across the blacktop. Sandburg's body language always told the story even before he started to speak. His friend was hurting, that was obvious by the downcast eyes and the slump of his shoulders. He knew he was going to hear the worst.
"Chief?" Ellison had reached his friend's side.
Looking up, Blair shook his head. "McGregor's dead, Jim." His mouth twisted into a frown. "We found his body in a room in a restricted area. His neck was broken." Sandburg looked away to gaze across the airfield. "Cantelmi's posted a guard at the door to the room. He's professional enough to know he's got to preserve the integrity of the scene until the coroner gets here, but man, he's really broken up about this."
"Damn." The word was gritted out. "This didn't have to happen, Sandburg. Why didn't he wait for us? All he had to do was wait."