At the Bullpen

Jim and Blair were each finalizing their reports on the previous day's bust for the case file on Robert Johnson. Blair stood up as his report was printing out, grabbing his mug and Jim's. He headed for the break room to get a couple of coffee refills. Before he could leave the bullpen, he heard his Captain's voice.

"Ellison, Sandburg, my office! Right now," Simon bellowed from the door of his office.

The two men looked at each other and shrugged. Blair put down the two mugs before he followed Jim into Simon's office.

Simon got right to the point. "Both of you, sit down, be quiet and listen. Don't interrupt. I just got off the phone with the District Attorney. He has ordered that Robert Johnson be released. He felt that there wasn't enough evidence to hold him on the murder or attempted murder charges, so we have to let him go," Simon sat back and waited for the explosion. It didn't take long.

Jim vented first. His initial instinct was to pace, but his sore ankle prevented that, which just increased his ire. "His record is longer than my arm and his car was identified in the neighborhood that night!"

Simon had been just as angry as Jim was when the DA had called him earlier that morning. He had argued with the guy for almost an hour. Simon was ready for whatever arguments Jim and Blair could throw at him. "That's not enough. There were no prints found at the scene and none of the stolen property was found at his apartment. Ms. Dames picked him out of the photo lineup we did at the hospital, but being seventy years old with a wandering attention span doesn't make her the most convincing witness. The DA wants more before he'll pursue this."

Jim continued, his voice getting a little louder. "He also tried to kill Sandburg and me at the apartment. He fired his gun at us several times. What about that?"

"According to his story, he was sleeping on the couch when the two of you broke into his apartment. He never heard you identify yourselves as police officers. As far as he was concerned, he was defending himself against armed intruders. That's the story he gave during his statement to Rafe and Brown. IA doesn't believe him, so don't worry about an investigation, but the DA wants a clean case."

"I heard him moving around the apartment before we broke down the door!" Jim yelled.

"But you can't testify to that in court," Simon countered, starting to lose control and raise his own voice.

Blair reached over and put his hand on his partner's arm, before the situation escalated any further out of control. He looked over at Simon and asked calmly, "What about him threatening me in that alley? The two uniforms could back up my statement. Since Doug had already read him his rights and he knowingly waived those rights, everything he said would be admissible."

Simon shook his head. "The DA wants him for the attempted murder and murder charges. I argued these points with him before I called you guys in here. I agree with you. I'm not the enemy here, but the DA is adamant about not pursuing this case at this time. This isn't over, gentlemen. We haven't given up on these charges yet. Rafe and Brown are in charge of setting up a surveillance schedule to keep an eye on him. The DA said that if he leads us to the stash of property stolen from Ms. Dames' apartment, he'd take the case to trial. The DA wants a smoking gun. Remember, it's an election year. He's running for mayor and he only wants to prosecute cases he's sure he can win."

"Oh, brother," Jim said, rolling his eyes. "I don't know which would be worse, if the idiot we already have for a mayor gets re-elected or this idiot becomes the mayor."

"So, the theory is, if we give the guy enough rope, he'll hang himself," Blair said, thoughtfully, ignoring his partner's political incorrectness.

Jim started to head for the door. "I'll talk to Brown about adding Sandburg and me to the schedule."

Simon shook his head. "Hold up, Ellison. You're on desk duty for the next week. You're not released for even light duty yet."

Frustrated by his injury and the DA's stubbornness, Jim said angrily, "Simon! I can't just sit here and do nothing."

"Why don't you and Blair start checking on possible fences Johnson could use? Run an in- depth background check. I want to know about any family in the area, known associates and financial records. Turn over every rock the two of you can think of," Simon suggested. "Maybe you can also figure out where Johnson has stashed the stuff from the apartment and nail his ass to the wall."

"Let's go, Jim," Blair urged, tugging on his partner's arm. Watching his men solemnly exit his office, Simon rose to refill his coffee from the pot behind his desk.

As Simon stood at the window, looking through the blinds into the bullpen, he watched Jim limp to his computer to start a search on potential fences and known associates. Blair grabbed both mugs off his desk and started to head for the break room to grab some coffee.

"Sandburg, get your refills from the pot in my office. I just made it. It will taste much better than that dirty dishwater someone is trying to pass off as coffee in the break room."

"Thanks, Captain," Blair answered as he reversed his direction into Simon's office.

It was the least Simon could do. It was gonna be a long and tedious morning of computer searches, phone calls and file reviews. They were going to need the caffeine.

Park Place Apartments

Rafe looked over at the front door of the building. Four days of watching this suspect and nothing had happened. It appeared that Johnson knew he was being watched. The guy was being careful. He only left the apartment for work and for dinner. Seeing Johnson exit the building, Rafe nudged Brown and pointed. "Our suspect is on the move, but it looks like he's not taking his car."

As part of the investigation, Johnson's name had been run through the motor vehicles registration computer. Robert Johnson only owned one car, a late model blue Ford Explorer that was currently parked around the corner from the apartment building. More importantly, it was parked in the opposite direction from where Johnson was headed.

Henri reached for the car door. "Dinner time. I'll follow him on foot. I bet he's just headed to Wong's. You drive the car around the block. See if you can't get in front of him." Henri crossed the street and started to follow Johnson. Rafe started the car and drove past both his partner and the suspect and made a left turn at the light. Johnson never looked back. He headed straight for Wong's Chinese Restaurant two blocks down the street. This was Johnson's favorite place for dinner. It was the third day in a row he'd had dinner here. Henri watched as the suspect entered the restaurant and saw him following the hostess to a table. Henri entered a small coffee shop across the street from the restaurant.

Henri ordered two small black coffees. As he was waiting for the order, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed his partner's number. "Hey, Rafe, Johnson is inside. I'm across the street in the coffee shop. See if you can't find someplace to park the car around the corner and meet me here. You know the drill."

Henri found a table near the front of the store so he could keep an eye on the door of the restaurant. The bell over the door rang and Rafe entered the shop and sat down with Brown. Henri handed him one of the cups of coffee.

After an hour and a half had passed, Henri started to get worried. "This guy should be done by now! He's never taken this long to eat before."

Rafe nodded, then looked over at his partner as a horrible idea came to him. "Are you sure the front door is the only exit to the place?"

"Oh, God." Henri stood up so fast he knocked his chair over.

Rafe and Brown ran across the street, dodging the cars in the intersection, and entered the restaurant. Brushing aside the agitated hostess, both men scanned the patrons eating at the tables. There was no sign of Johnson. A horrified expression crossed Brown's face as he saw the side exit door.

"Damn! We lost him. Simon's going to kill us," Henri said dejectedly.

"Simon is not the one to worry about. I'm more afraid of Ellison. This guy threatened Sandburg. Ellison is not going to like it when we tell him he got away from us," Rafe answered.

Cascade Boys and Girls Club

"Come on, Joey, run the play. Just run the play," Orvelle mumbled as he paced the sideline. They were down by one point with only seven seconds left in the game. Joey Hillard had the ball. He was probably one of the most talented players on the team, but he was a loose cannon on the court. He wouldn't pass the ball to his teammates. He hardly ever ran the plays they had practiced. He had been taking wild shots all during the game, missing almost all of them. He also had the highest number of turnovers.

Upon Orvelle's order, Blair had taken him out of the game three times during the first half to try to settle him down. The third time, Orvelle said not to put him back in. The worst thing about this situation was that it wasn't a big ego or a selfish nature that caused Joey's problem; it was the result of listening to his father in the stands shouting out all the wrong things to do. Rather than doing what his coaches wanted him to do, Joey was listening to his father. The only reason Joey was back in the game at all was because two other guards had fouled out during the last part of the fourth quarter. There was no one else on the bench eligible to play.

Earlier, Orvelle had used his last time out to lay out the final play of the game. "Jason, I want you to inbound the ball to Joey. Joey, you have got to get the ball down court quick. We will only get one more shot. Joey, I want you to pass the ball to Michael at the post. Michael, keep your hands up high. You are the tallest person playing in the game, so use that height. Joey, if you pass the ball high, they won't be able to intercept it. Michael will take the final shot. You got that, Joey? Get the ball to Michael."

Both teams took up their positions on the court. The referee handed the ball to Jason and started to count. Jason passed the ball inbound to Joey. The opposing players double-teamed Joey, but he slipped out of the trap and got the ball down court. There was only three seconds left on the clock. Joey could hear his father in the stands yelling at him to take the shot.

Michael was wide open at the post, calling for the ball. Joey looked at him, but rather than passing the ball, he took a wild three point shot. The crowd fell silent as the ball headed for the basket. But instead of falling through the hoop, the ball bounced off the rim as time ran out.

As the other team was celebrating their victory, Joey walked off the court. His head was down as he sat at the end of the bench. The rest of his teammates ignored him as they headed for the locker room. His teammates were barely talking to him anymore. They couldn't stand his hot- dogging any more than the coaches could.

Orvelle rubbed his hand across his brow. "Blair, will you try talking to him? I've talked 'til I'm blue in the face and he just won't listen to me. I can't reach him. Maybe he'll listen to you."

"I'll give it a shot," Blair said as he walked over to where Joey was sitting at the end of the bench. Blair sat down next to Joey and started to talk. "Joey, you really need to quit listening to what your father is telling you to do during the games."

"I can't ignore my dad. I have to go home with him. I have to live with him. You don't know what he's like. You just don't get it." Joey tried to get up and leave but Blair blocked his path.

Blair knew that Joey wasn't paying any attention to what he was saying, but he tried to reach him anyway. "Look, Joey, I'm not telling you to ignore your dad all the time. But during the games, you have got to listen to what Orvelle and I are telling you to do. If you don't start listening to us, you're not going to be playing in the games anymore."

The threat of not being able to play caught hold of Joey's wandering attention. "You can't do that. I have to play. You're not the coach. It's not your decision to make!" yelled Joey.

"You're right. It's not my decision. It's Orvelle's decision and I agree with him. Look, you can take the top five most talented players in the NBA, put them on one team, but don't give them time to practice. Then, take five more players, put them on a second team and let them practice together for a couple of weeks. Five guys who can play together well will beat the five superstars every time. This is a team sport, Joey. Right now, you're playing for yourself, not for the team. That hurt us tonight. You have the talent to play in the big leagues, man. You've also got the brains when you choose to use them. You have got to learn to play with others or you won't be playing at all, not here and not for the NBA. Think about it." Blair paused, then asked, "Would it help if I had a talk with your dad? Maybe explain to him what our strategy is and keep you out of the middle of this?"

"No, man, you'll only make things worse. My dad doesn't like you. He's an alumnus of Rainier and knows all about you," Joey said, shaking his head. "You'll cause more trouble if you talk to him." Joey stalked away from Blair and headed into the locker room.

Blair walked back over to where Orvelle was standing. "I don't know for sure, but I think I just did more harm than good."

"I don't believe that, Blair, but I guess we'll just have to wait 'til Thursday to see. I'll give him one more chance. Excuse me, Blair. I'm gonna see if I can't speed those kids up and get them out of the locker room. I want to be out of here before dawn. I'll be right back."

Blair was watching Orvelle enter the locker room when he heard an angry voice behind him ask, "What did you think you were doing, benching my son? He's the best player you've got on this team. He's not gonna do the team any good sitting on the bench. You cost us the game when you decided not to let him play. Just who do you think you are?" Blair turned around and realized he was facing Joey's father.

Squaring his shoulders, Blair answered, "I think I'm the assistant coach, not you. You need to understand that it's up to the coaches to decide who plays and who doesn't. Joey didn't deserve to play tonight. He ignored everything we told him to do."

"My son has a great career as a NBA player in front of him and I'm not going to let you screw it up for him. You have no right making him sit on the bench. He needs to be playing."

"Look, this program isn't just about winning the game. How we win or lose a game is just as important as the final score. We are trying to teach these kids about teamwork and good sportsmanship, not just the skills of the game. If Joey is gonna play for us, he has to do what we tell him just like everyone else on the team. Besides, if he wants to succeed at the higher levels of competition, he's got to learn to be a team player."

"Who are you to talk so high and mighty? You're nothing but a big fraud. You can't teach him anything about teamwork or sportsmanship. How would someone like you know anything about that?"

"I'm not the one screwing this up for him. Hillard, please, let us coach him during the game. You are only confusing him and making things more difficult."

"Sandburg, I'm only going to say this once. I suggest you don't take my son out of the game again or you'll regret it." Hillard was trying his best to be intimidating, but Blair had learned from a master about standing up to intimidation. Jim had been twice as tough as this guy was when Blair had first met him five years ago.

"Hillard, I want you to listen right now. Orvelle and I are going to do what we think is best for the entire team, not any one player. If your son chooses not to be a team player, then he won't be playing here."

Unknown to Hillard, Orvelle and Joey had exited the locker room in time to hear the last exchange. "Do we have a problem here?" asked Orvelle.

"No, Coach Wallace," answered Hillard respectfully. "I think Mr. Sandburg and I have come to understand each other. Joey, get your stuff and I'll meet you out front," continued Hillard as he headed for the exit.

"Sure, Dad. I'll be there in a minute. I just need to grab my bag from the bench." Joey looked at his coaches, an apology on the tip of his tongue. He changed his mind, grabbed his bag and followed his father out of the building.

"Are you OK, Blair?" Orvelle asked, not liking the tail end of the conversation he had just overheard.

"Yeah, we just exchanged words. It's nothing I can't handle. He's just a little upset right now. He'll settle down once he thinks about what I've said. No harm done."

"So, what did you think of Michael's performance tonight?" Orvelle asked, changing the subject quickly. "He's coming along nicely as a post player."

"Yeah, but if we wind up playing man to man, he'll be in foul trouble really quick. His foot speed is just too slow for that type of defense."

"Hank is a much better defensive player, but his shooting percentage is pretty low."

"Too bad we can't merge them together into one player," Blair added with a laugh. "One of the cops at the station has a son who plays for West Side. He's always bragging about what a great outside shooting percentage his son's team has. A zone defense isn't going to work against them and we are playing them in the first round.

"I know. You're a great scout, Blair," Orvelle laughed. "Look, I'll worry about which offense or defense to play during a game, you worry about getting the right kids out on the court. That system has worked great for us so far, right?"

"I'm not going to argue with that statement. Now if we can only get the kids to follow our wonderful system," Blair answered as he held his hand up for a high five.

Orvelle returned the gesture, slapping the raised hand. "Right, and the likelihood of getting fourteen year old boys to listen to the two of us is?"

"Nil!" Both men said simultaneously.

Orvelle paused, looking carefully at Blair's face. "Are you sure everything is all right between you and Hillard? I really didn't like the direction he was heading."

"Yeah, he's no worse than your average undergrad who's worried about their GPA. I've dealt with this kind of thing before, every time I had to hand out a low grade."

"I hope you're right. He seems awfully hot-tempered to me. Let me get the lights and we're out of here," Orvelle said, heading for his office.

Blair exited the gym, waving goodbye to Orvelle. As he approached his car, he saw that the rear tire was flat. As he walked around the car, he realized that all four tires had been slashed. Oh man, thought Blair, this really isn't my night. He checked out the area, but the only other car in the parking lot was Orvelle's and Blair knew he hadn't done it.

Before Blair could call anyone, Orvelle pulled up beside him. "Blair, what are you--Oh wow, man, that's really a shame. Get in. I'll give you a ride home. No one is going to come out to this neighborhood tonight. You can arrange to have the car towed tomorrow."

Blair went around the front of Orvelle's car, and climbed into the passenger seat. He didn't notice the Ford Explorer parked around the corner or its occupant watching them pull away.

At the Bullpen

"Just have the car towed to Ernie's garage on Fourth Street. Tell him to replace all the tires. I'll be by at five to pick it up." Blair hung up the phone and looked over at the meeting being held in Simon's office. It had already been a very long morning and it wasn't even close to lunchtime yet.

Jim hadn't been very happy when he woke up this morning and found out what had happened to Blair's car the night before. Blair had been forced into a ten-minute question and answer period about why he hadn't called Jim. Then, when Jim figured out that Blair hadn't reported the incident, Blair had to listen to another ten-minute lecture on the circumstances and procedures for reporting a crime. When Jim had finally wound down, the first thing he had done was to call Simon to say they would be in late. Jim wanted to examine the scene personally.

Jim had checked the car and the area for evidence, but didn't find anything conclusive. When they finally got to work, the first thing Simon had told them was that Johnson had slipped away from the surveillance team the night before. Jim had immediately demanded that Johnson be brought in for questioning. After that suggestion had been quickly vetoed, he and Simon had adjourned to Simon's office to discuss the issue in private.

Shortly after, Simon had called Rafe and Henri into his office. Blair had been on the phone at the time. When he hung up, he debated joining them but decided against it, particularly since he hadn't been invited. It didn't matter, however, since the voices coming from the office were now loud enough for everyone in the bullpen to hear anyway.

Through the partially opened shades he could see Henri and Rafe standing in front of Simon's desk. From the looks on their faces, the meeting wasn't going very well. Jim had his back to him, so he couldn't tell if he was still angry. Simon was seated at his desk. He had his poker face on which even after years of playing cards with him, Blair hadn't deciphered. Blair picked up the file he had been working on yesterday. He'd find out soon enough what was going on in Simon's office.

"Jim, we don't know for sure that it was Johnson who vandalized Sandburg's car. The gym isn't exactly in one of Cascade's finest neighborhoods. It's right in the middle of the Blue Devil's territory. It could have been a gang dispute or even a random act of violence."

"The timing was right for it to be Johnson. Rafe and Brown lost him before 6:30. He would have had plenty of time to get to the club and slash the tires before Blair left the gym at 7:30."

"Who's watching Johnson now?" Simon asked.

"Megan and Joel have the watch until 11:00, and then Brown and I are back on him," Rafe replied.

"I'll ask the watch commander to increase the patrols, both around the Boys and Girls Club and around Johnson's apartment. In the meantime, Jim, stick close to Sandburg. Don't let him out of your sight. If Johnson is stalking him, you're the most likely person to spot him. Rafe, Brown, don't let Johnson out of your sight for one minute. We are running out of time on this. Now, all of you get out of my office and get back to work."

All three detectives exited Simon's office. Rafe and Brown still didn't look very happy. The glare that Jim gave the two men made it clear he wasn't pleased with his fellow detectives. Blair couldn't let this go on. As they passed by Blair's desk, he spoke up.

"It wasn't your fault, guys. It could have happened to any of us. Nobody's perfect, right, Jim?"

Jim, looking a little sheepish, answered, "Right guys. Sorry, this case has me on edge. Sandburg's right, it could have happened to anyone."

Expressions of relief crossed both Rafe's and Brown's faces.

"We understand, Jim. It's okay, and thanks, Hairboy. I still feel bad about your new car. By the way, how does your team look for this weekend?"

"Don't tell me you're betting on kids' sports, Brown. That's low."

"Hey, it's just a friendly wager with McMillian down in traffic. I'm sick of hearing him brag about his kid and that West Side team."

Blair chuckled. "They're looking good, H. Last scrimmage game is tomorrow night and the championship starts on Friday. I think we're going to give them a good game."

"Good luck, Blair. If things work out with Johnson, we'll come cheer you on. Let's go, Rafe. There are a few leads I want to check out before we have to relieve Megan and Joel tonight."

Skip Commercial