edited by: Toni Rae and Urban Angel
"Damn." Blair Sandburg slammed the file down on his desk in frustration.
Joel winced in sympathy as he saw the pained look on the younger man's face. "Maybe the Mayor's right. Maybe the bombings were just an elaborate ruse and the only real target was the fundraiser."
A shudder ran through the Bullpen as the members of Major Crime remembered that night. Their musical act had almost brought down the house only moments before their quick action had prevented an unknown bomber from literally bringing the house down.
"Yeah, man, time to join the real world. No cop solves every case he gets. It's time to let this one go." Brown knew how hard it was to admit failure on a case, even harder after the long run of successful solves the young detective had on his record. The constant complaints of City Councilman Russell Greensworth hadn't helped. He was using the inability of Cascade PD to solve this case as a re-election platform.
Out in the hallway Jim Ellison listened in, his partner's disappointment echoing loudly to his sentinel ears. H. was right, the first time you added your own case to the dead file was a bitter pill to swallow. There was no choice though; every lead had dried up. The damage remained, however. Four minority-owned businesses destroyed by fire; fires that had followed attempted bombings. Only the fifth attack had been different, as the accelerant used in the fires, HTA, had been placed with the bombs. The Mayor and Chief Warren were convinced that there was no mad bomber out to destroy the minority community, that the earlier attacks had been attempts to throw the police off the trail. Terrorists were the most likely culprits, but even leads on them had run out.
Jim took a deep breath and entered the Bullpen, a smile pasted on his face. "Hey Chief, you about ready for lunch?" His nose detected the familiar scent of cigar smoke coming from the elevator and he hoped to get his partner into the stairwell before Simon arrived.
Even as he said the words, the ding of the elevator could be heard. Sighing, Ellison moved out of the way as Banks stormed into the room.
"Yes, Sir." Blair sighed as he tried to find a way to convince Banks to let them stay on the case a little longer.
"Have you sent the bombing files down to records yet?" Banks paused as the younger man shook his head, disappointment written on his face. "Good." Waiting for Sandburg to react, he shoved his cigar back into his mouth.
"Simon, I'd really like to give this case a few more days. There could be a ton of reasons why our guy hasn't hit another target yet... wait a minute, did you say 'good'?"
Banks pulled the cigar out of his mouth as he leaned towards Taggart. "The boy catches on pretty good, doesn't he?"
The twinkle in his eye belied the seriousness of Taggart's tone. "Well Simon, he is a detective after all."
"Sir?" Even Jim wasn't sure where Banks was going with this. "I thought the word had come from upstairs that we were wasting our time looking for a terrorist who was probably already out of the country?"
The captain handed Sandburg a thick file and a search warrant. "Does the name Samuel Larson ring any bells?"
Blair thought for a moment before shaking his head and turning to his partner. "Not to me. What about you, Jim?"
"Talk about your 'blast from the past'. That's a name I haven't heard for a while. Isn't he still in prison?"
"Who is he?" Blair looked back and forth between the two men, waiting for one of them to fill in the blanks. Eventually Jim took pity on him.
"It happened about six months before we met. Samuel Larson was a top explosives expert in the Army until he was discharged - the rumor being that he was mentally unstable. He was convinced that he was kicked out to make room for the minorities that were coming up in rank - or at least that was the bull he was spouting. We thought he was going to be our link to Kincaid and the Sunshine Patriots, but before we could make the connection work he was arrested on federal weapons charges. He should have another five years on his sentence, at least."
"Apparently the parole board had other ideas." Simon perched on the corner of Sandburg's desk. "He fits the profile either way you want to look at it. He has a history of working with terrorist organizations and he's enough of a nut-case to pull something like this on his own."
Jim crossed his arms and stared off into space. "A nut-case with a vendetta against the minority community, especially the Vietnamese since he served over there." Jim turned his focus back to the room. "How long ago was he paroled?"
"Less than a month before the first bombing." Banks pointed with his cigar at the folded paper in Blair's hand. "Sandburg has the address his parole officer had on him. The last time he checked in was two days before the second attack."
Blair studied the files, taking a good look at the mug shot. "That's quite a coincidence."
"I don't believe in coincidence. Find him and bring him in." Banks bit down on his cigar and stormed into his office, effectively ending the conversation.
"Come on, junior, let's go." Jim reached over and grabbed both his and Sandburg's coats off of his desk. "Lunch is going to have to wait unless we hit a drive-thru on the way."
"How about that place on Western that just opened up? I think there's even a two-for-one coupon out in the truck."
Ellison growled as they walked towards the door. "Chief, if they sell tofu instead of french fries, then they are not a drive-thru. Period. End of discussion."
"Come on man, you like tofu."
"Yeah, it's right up there with root-canal surgery."
"But you've never complained when we... I mean..." One look at his Sentinel's face and Blair was out the door, Ellison hot on his heels.
Neither man noticed the thoughtful look on Taggart's face, nor did they overhear the phone call he was making as they left.
Jim glanced over at his partner, who was barely containing his excitement. "You know, there's a chance he may not be involved in all of this." Truthfully, Jim didn't believe this for a second, but he needed the younger man to be objective.
"Don't worry. There's not a chance in hell that he's involved."
"How do you figure that?" Jim watched the shorter man, a puzzled expression on his face. "You still think this ties into the Bomb Squad itself somehow?"
"Yeah, I do. I agree with Captain Nguyen that somehow this is connected with her arrival here. We just need to figure out how."
Jim still didn't understand Blair's enthusiasm. "If you think this is a total waste of time..."
"Hey, it kept the case active, didn't it? Besides, Larson is bad news no matter what. Anyone who is crazy enough to get mixed up with Kincaid needs to be off the street. Hopefully, by the time we get him put away, we'll have enough evidence to convince the Chief to keep the case open." Blair sat back with a smug expression on his face.
"Don't expect me to drag my feet on Larson just to give you more time, buddy."
Blair just grinned. "Nah, I'll just make you do all the paperwork by yourself. That'll give me plenty of time to track down our dirty cop."
"Laugh it up, Shecky. Just for that, we will be going to Wonderburger - after we check out Larson's place."
The Golden Orchid Restaurant
"Uncle Joey!" Out of uniform and away from the station, Phuc Nguyen looked too young to be the captain of a police unit. She gave the older man a brief hug before they followed the hostess to a quiet table in the back.
Joel smiled fondly, still seeing the gangly child that had so shyly watched him all those years ago in Vietnam. "I'm sorry for dragging you out on your day off Fooey, but I didn't think this could wait." He paused as the hostess seated them, nodding as she handed out the menus. As soon as she was out of earshot he continued. "It's about the bombings - they've got a suspect."
"That's great, I hadn't heard." Nguyen seemed relieved that the entire case could soon be put behind them. "How soon before we have an arrest?"
"If all goes well, Ellison and Sandburg should have him in custody this afternoon." Taggart toyed with the corner of his menu, unsure of how to voice his concerns.
Nguyen homed in on his discomfort immediately. "What's wrong?"
Joel sighed and pushed the battered paper away. "It just doesn't feel right, Fooey. When we were in 'Nam, did you ever hear of a guy named Larson?"
A pause before the shiny black tresses shook. "No, the name isn't familiar, but I only knew the men who were in our village. Is he your suspect?"
"Well, the big boys upstairs seem to think so."
"But you're not convinced."
Joel leaned across the table; his words tight and clipped. "Not by a long shot. I knew every explosives expert we had in country, Fooey. Every one of them - if not personally, at least by name and reputation. I'd never heard of this guy before he started blowing up stuff for Kincaid."
"Maybe he was in a different region, or he was there at a different time..."
"No." Joel shook his head in response. "I interviewed him when he was arrested before. That guy wasn't there - ever. I don't care what his file says; I'd be willing to bet a week's pay that he'd never set foot in Vietnam. So why his hatred of Asians?"
"Since when have bigots been logical?" Phuc reached forward and grasped Joel's hand. "I've read the files on Kincaid. It's required reading now for new hires. The man's insanity is only bypassed by his ego. If one of his followers is behind this, then you've got to expect the same type of behavior from him."
Joel squeezed her hand in return before releasing it and leaning back in his chair. "You don't seem surprised that suspicion has moved away from someone in your team."
"I've gotten to know my people." Nguyen took a sip of her water before continuing. "There may have been a few bruised egos that an outsider was brought in to run the unit, but nothing to suggest the kind of violence we've experienced."
"I still want to run some checks to be sure."
"No!" Nguyen slammed her glass down hard enough to slosh water on the linen tablecloth. "Not one man on my team has done anything to cause suspicion. You have no cause to drag them in front of IA!"
"Nothing formal, Fooey. Blair and I just want to make some subtle inquires. They won't even realize that we're checking on them." Taggart back-pedaled quickly. "I just need to know that you're safe; I promised your dad that I'd take keep an eye on you."
Phuc's response was stopped short by the arrival of the waiter and she used the reprieve to calm herself. Finally, the waiter retreated to the kitchen with their order and she took a deep breath before answering her adopted uncle. "You were always there when I was growing up, and I'll always be grateful for that." She paused and squeezed his hand. "I'm a grown woman now, a captain in the police department. Right or wrong, you have to let me stand on my own two feet or I'll never have the respect of the people under me."
Joel laughed in spite of himself. "Do I have to like it?"
North Side of Cascade
"Are you sure this is the address, Chief?" Ellison peered out the windshield at the small bungalow with the neat lawn and tended flowerbeds.
Sandburg pushed his glasses back up on his nose as he reread the papers Banks had given them earlier. "This is the address his parole officer had. Is he in there, can you hear him?"
Using his Guide to ground him, the Sentinel reached out with his hearing, encountering only the hum of electrical appliances. "No one is in there, but be careful. I wouldn't put it past him to have the whole place rigged."
"Why, do you think he knows that we're onto him?" Blair tried to peer into the window as he climbed out of the truck, letting the door close quietly behind him.
Ellison joined his partner on the curb. "Look at it this way. Either he's joined up with Kincaid's cronies and he's waiting for it to hit the fan, or he's not with them and waiting for them to retaliate against him."
"Retaliate? What did he do against the Patriots?" Sandburg quickly reviewed the case in his head. Nowhere in the files had there been any indication of the reason Larson had been given early release.
"Kincaid's in prison and Larson's out early. That's enough reason to get Kincaid pissed." Ellison carefully walked up the brick path, watching for tripwires or the slightest variation in the level of the steps.
Understanding the concentration required of the Sentinel, Blair remained quiet and behind the older man until he saw a delivery truck pull into a neighboring driveway. A gentle tap on the arm drew Ellison's attention outward before the truck horn blared. Jim smiled and nodded his thanks, pausing as he saw the question on his partner's face.
"In other words, Larson is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. He'd have been better off if he'd stayed in prison."
With a snort, Ellison resumed his examination of the outside of the home. "When you play with the big boys, they tend to play rough." He remained on the walkway and shouted out to the absent tenant, "Larson, Samuel Larson, this is the Cascade PD. We have some questions and a warrant to search the premises."
Blair rolled his eyes at the absurdity of waiting for a response from a man whom they both knew was nowhere near the house.
After waiting the appropriate time, Ellison moved up onto the porch and began to examine the door. Once he was satisfied it was safe; he motioned for Sandburg to join him. In unison the two men moved to the windows flanking the wooden front door. Ellison looked for booby-traps as his partner studied the austere room beyond.
"Looks clear." Ellison nodded to Sandburg.
One advantage Blair had from his years of teaching was the ability to make his voice carry without straining himself. Without effort, his words carried enough for the near-by neighbors to hear. "Mr. Larson, this is Detective Sandburg with the Cascade Police Department. We have a few questions that we need you to answer." He waited for a few seconds before knocking loudly on the door. "We have a search warrant, sir. Please open the door."
Deciding the show had gone on long enough, Ellison popped the door open with one quick kick, then stepped inside, senses on high. "Damn." Without any further explanation, he moved into the kitchen and down the basement stairs.
Once Ellison reached the bottom of the stairs he moved quickly across the unlit room. Sandburg, however, searched out the light switch on the near-by wall. Just as he was about to flip it on, Ellison shouted out a warning, "Chief, no!" and rushed back towards him.
Blair jerked back without hesitation. "What is it? Is it rigged?" He stepped out of the way just as Ellison reached him. "Jim, what is going on here, do you sense something?"
"Just don't touch anything right now, Sandburg. If an explosive is hard wired directly into the electrical system we won't know what will set it off. There's a flashlight in the truck if you need it." The Sentinel seemed agitated as he glanced around the darkened room.
The Guide responded by placing a calming hand on his Sentinel's arm. "Tell me."
Ellison turned a frustrated face to his friend. "There's C4 here, I can smell it; but I can't seem to track it."
The younger man understood the frustration. "Let me get the flashlight, and we'll figure it out. Just promise me that you'll stay here until I get back, all right?"
"Sandburg, I am perfectly capable of..." The glare from Sandburg stopped any protest Jim may have had. "Don't take all day getting the light." Sandburg had already started up the stairs when Jim shouted, "Don't touch anything in the house."
Blair grinned to himself at the words as he wondered just how many years they would do this before Ellison got out of the habit of reminding him of the most basic of details. Of course that was a two way street, a fact that the younger man conveniently ignored as he carefully entered the kitchen.
Satisfied that they were still alone in the house, Sandburg took a second to glance around as he retraced their earlier path. The sports section of the paper was laid out on the table; last night's score from the Jag's game in plain view.
"Shit!" Blair picked up his pace. "Jim, this morning's paper is on the table." He didn't have to shout, Blair knew his words would be heard by the man downstairs.
Within moments Blair was back at his Sentinel's side, his flashlight sweeping low arcs across the cluttered floor. In the far corner was an old table, covered with what appeared to be maps and crumpled newspapers. The two men picked their way through the boxes on the floor to get a better look at the contents of the table.
As Ellison opened his senses to the items on the chrome and Formica surface, Sandburg dug out two pairs of latex gloves from his coat pocket. With now practiced efficiency he snapped a pair on before handing the second set to his partner. Jim barely grunted a response as he took the gloves, still studying the scene in front of him. Once his had the gloves on he began to gingerly remove the newspapers and hand them to his partner.
The Sentinel bent down and examined the surface of the tabletop from every angle. Finally satisfied, he raised up and pointed out the bits of a clay-like substance wedged in the seams between the red Formica surface and the chrome edging. "There's our C4. Do you see it?"
Blair squinted at the smudges. "That's it?" His voice was incredulous as he stared at the bits. "That's all there is?" He looked around the room as he asked his next question; regretting it the second it was out of his mouth. "Are you sure?" The raised eyebrow and the knowing smirk was all the answer he needed.
Just to be on the safe side, Ellison continued to scan the large room as he wandered around, cell phone in hand. By the time his call for a forensic team had been placed he was absolutely sure there was no other C4 in the basement. Jim was quite pleased with himself as to how subtle he had been, and suggested they look around upstairs while waiting for them to arrive. He chose to ignore the smirk that was now on his partner's face.
Back upstairs, the partners went through the house systematically, Ellison using his keen senses and Sandburg using his years of experience as an observer and scientist. Only the kitchen and the bedroom showed signs of use, the rest of the rooms were covered with a thin layer of dust.
The bedroom caught the attention of Sandburg, for it was the only place they found personal items of Larson. "Look at this, Jim." Blair stood in front of the shabby dresser, which had been carefully covered with an obviously antique embroidered cloth. Centered on the handmade piece was a framed photo of a redheaded toddler.
Ellison, however, had found his own point of interest in the bedroom. "No, Chief, actually I think you had better come over here and see this. He stood unmoving, assuming that his partner would abandon his own find to join him.
With a sigh that the Sentinel chose to ignore, Blair moved to his side and began to study the multitude of photos that were pinned up on the short wall between the closet and the small bathroom the serviced the bedroom. All of the pictures featured a young boy about nine years old with familiar red hair. Lost in thought, Blair turned to look across the room at the framed photo.
"Well, now we know who his next target is." Ellison's humorless words brought Sandburg's attention back to the wall in front of him.
Blair shook his head as he responded, remembering the mug shot in Larson's file. "I don't think so, Jim. I think that's his son; look at the picture on the dresser. That one's a lot younger than these are. The kid's got the same red hair as Larson, too."
"There're a lot of redheads in the world, Sandburg. There're not all related. That photo is probably from whoever hired him, and he took the rest." Ellison turned back to the pictures on the wall. "Some of these were taken from pretty far away. See how grainy they are? And unless the kid's got a pretty small wardrobe, the majority of these were taken at the same time." Ellison pinched the bridge of his nose in a silent admission of the headache that was brewing.
Part of winning an argument with a Sentinel was knowing when to have one. Blair filed away the rest of his observations and reached out for Jim's elbow. "Let's leave the rest of it for forensics and take a look outside. Maybe we can spot something out there before we have a dozen technicians mucking up the yard."
A ghost of a smile crossed Ellison's face. He recognized the tactic and was grateful. Having his senses up that high for so long had given him the mother of all headaches, but he had been loath to admit to needing a break. "Sounds good, Chief. Forensics should be here any minute."
Sandburg steered the taller man towards the hallway. "This is all familiar territory. Dial it down for a bit until we start our sweep of the rest of the exterior." The easing of the pain lines on the Sentinel's face told the Guide that his words had been heeded.
Sunlight had weakly broken through the clouds while the men had been in the basement, and Jim gratefully stretched the kinks out in the rare warmth. The familiar heavy van that housed the mobile forensics unit could be heard turning onto the street and Jim turned to greet it only to find Samuel Larson standing at the end of the driveway, a bag of groceries in his hand.
This was too easy. Ellison charged down the drive as the other man bolted, dropping his bag. "Larson, Cascade PD. You're under arrest, Larson. Don't make it any harder on yourself." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sandburg frantically getting the attention of the driver of the van before joining the chase.
Larson had the advantage of knowing the neighborhood. He ran down a pathway that led to a local park. Once there, he crashed through the hedge and headed for the play equipment. Ellison pushed through after him, wincing at the sound of the branches snapping back to hit his partner in the face. Promising himself to apologize later, he closed the gap between himself and Larson. There were no children in the park, but there were enough older citizens enjoying the sunshine that he could not risk drawing his weapon.
Larson dashed in between the swings, grabbing one on his way by, then launching it towards the detective. Ellison saw it coming, but his momentum was too great to avoid the collision. Jim threw his arms up in time to avoid being hit in the face and was able to deflect the heavy canvas and iron seat to the side, but the force still put him down on one knee. His sensitive hearing picked up the sound of ripping fabric as a sharp pain ran through his leg. As he staggered to his feet, Ellison saw Sandburg swerve around the playground equipment in an attempt to cut Larson off.
The fugitive saw Sandburg's plan and twisted suddenly, changing direction in an attempt to cut back and escape through the far entrance of the park. As the younger detective tried to change direction to follow, his feet slipped on the loose sand and he went down.
Sandburg tucked his head down and turned his fall into a roll, bouncing back up only a few seconds later. Those few seconds had given Larson more of a lead as he headed for the parking lot and the street beyond.
His impromptu roll had reminded Blair that Jim's heavy flashlight was still in his hand as he cracked his knuckles on it. Attempting to slow the man down, Sandburg took aim and tossed the light.
Jim watched his favorite camping light spiral in the air, headed straight for their suspect. "Yeah, three points." With a barely noticeable limp, he picked up the pace to intercept Larson.
Larson saw the shadow of the object targeting him from the sky and put on a final burst of speed. His attempt was futile as it struck the back of his calf, tumbling him to the ground. Cursing, Larson staggered back to his feet just as the police department's forensics van pulled into the parking lot with three patrol cars right behind it.
"Give it up, Larson. You've got no place to go." Ellison's shout was still echoing as their suspect changed direction again, now headed for a nearby fence.
Not waiting for the patrol officers who were still crossing the parking lot, the two detectives also changed direction. The fence loomed over them, a good three feet taller than a standard fence. "You've got to be kidding," Blair muttered as he picked up his speed to try to make the height. Behind him, Jim was muttering his own string of curses.
Larson didn't speed up to make the jump; instead he slowed down and dropped to the ground. It was then that his two pursuers both saw the small gap under the wooden barricade, partially hidden by a juniper bush. Larson was tall and lanky; he had no trouble sliding through his escape route. Sandburg reached the hole next.
Blair watched as their suspect bomber propelled himself through the tight opening. He was a lot broader in the shoulders than Larson and wasn't sure if he would fit. He dropped to the ground and began to wiggle himself through the fence. Arms first, then head; he was doing well until his shoulders hit the wooden planks. One shoulder at a time, the shorter man continued to work his way through, ignoring the pain as the rough lumber ripped at his shirt, scraping his skin. Finally, he was able to grasp a tree root on the other side and use it to pull himself through. Behind him he could hear his partner yelling for assistance.
The sound of tender flesh ripping open tore at the Sentinel's heart. He dropped to his knees to pull Sandburg back, but the younger man persisted and moments later he was through the small gap. Ellison knew there was no way for him to follow his partner through Larson's escape hole but he refused to leave him alone to face the dangerous man. Ellison bellowed at the nearest officer.
"You! I need a boost; get over here!"
Patrolman Jeffrey Prochnow looked around to see who Detective Ellison was calling for before realizing that it was himself. Prochnow was a ten-year veteran with the department who had always had the honor of being the smallest man on the force. Even Sandburg had several inches and many pounds on him. What a lousy day to get pulled off desk duty thought the mousy man as he obediently trotted over to Ellison. Boosting the taller and heavier man anywhere was out of the question so without being asked, Prochnow bent down and braced himself against the fence, effectively becoming an emergency step stool.
Although grateful, Ellison didn't have time to give more than the merest of grunts in thanks before scrambling up and over the wooden blockade. Landing with a soft thud, Ellison dialed down the pain it caused in his ankle and knee. His focus was on the voice of his partner facing down a dangerous felon with nothing left to lose.
Sandburg was vaguely aware of his partner's climb over the fence as he followed the suspect down a narrow alley. One of the many nice things about having a sentinel for a partner was being secure in the fact that he would be able to track you when you got separated. This allowed Blair to keep his attention on the fleeing suspect.
Larson could feel his legs begin to falter as he struggled to keep ahead of the longhaired man chasing him. All he needed was a few more seconds to turn the last corner and he would be home free. The pounding of feet behind him pushed Larson as he turned the corner. Instead of finding a short driveway and path to freedom, he found himself face to bumper with a large parked delivery truck.
Getting through under the truck would be easy. Doing so before the tenacious cop chasing him caught up would be impossible. Seemingly out of options, Larson reached into his jacket and pulled out the cold metal sphere. In one fluid motion he pulled the pin that kept the device so harmless and lobbed it at his pursuer.
Expending every last bit of energy had brought Ellison to within twenty feet of his partner. Their suspect suddenly turned, a familiar object in his hand. Before Ellison could even draw a breath to call out a warning, the air lit up with a fiery fury.
Golden Orchid Restaurant
"So, how'd you do it?" Joel leaned back as the waitress removed his empty plate.
"Do what? Eat my noodles?" Phuc's eyes sparkled as she maintained an innocent face. "Really, Uncle Joey, I've been able to do that for a very long time. Hadn't you noticed?"
Joel tossed his wadded up napkin at his lunch companion. "Very funny, brat. Now, how did you pull those guys together?"
Phuc's smile became more serious. "Part of it was just giving them time."
"And the rest?"
"The annual evaluations were this last month. I took the tests right along with my men. Proving that I could handle the physical challenges just as well as they could quieted the dissenters. Then they found out that I had a mean fastball." Phuc waited for the reaction.
Joel started laughing. "In other words, they needed a pitcher for the squad's softball team."
"Exactly." Humor and pride was evident in her voice. "After I pitched a no-hitter against those egotistical jerks from Vice, nobody cared if I was a woman, or Asian, or from out of town. We're a well-bonded, cohesive unit now and I don't want suspicion from anyone to tear that apart."
The unspoken message came through loud and clear and Joel was appropriately chastised. "Okay Fooey, I understand."
Phuc felt bad for coming down on her long-time friend. "Tell you what, we're having a picnic tomorrow before the game with Narcotics. Why don't you come by the park and say hello to everyone. They'd love to see you away from the department - all the families are going to be there. If something about one of the squad members still bothers you after that, then I'll help you look into it. How's that?"
That sounded great to Joel, but before he could answer her, Phuc's cell phone began to ring. She had it to her ear before the second ring.
Watching her slip effortlessly into professional mode pleased Joel more than he would ever be willing to admit. It startled him when she suddenly sat straight up.
"What... how long ago? Were there injuries? What's the address?" Before Phuc could reach for her pen, Joel had his out and handed it to her. She barely acknowledged him as she scribbled an address on the palm of her hand.
Joel Taggart didn't miss the bomb squad, but it never crossed his mind to stay behind. By the time Phuc had ended the call, he had tossed enough money to cover lunch on the table and had retrieved both of their coats. When he realized how presumptuous the gesture seemed, he faltered.
Phuc didn't seem to notice. "Let's go. We'll take my rig."
"You don't mind my tagging along?" Joel couldn't quite keep the grin off his face.
"It's your case too." Phuc accepted her coat and headed for the door, causing Joel to rush to keep up with her. "Our bombing suspect didn't want to go down. Apparently he had some type of grenade with him."
"Oh, God!" Taggart grasped Phuc's arm and forced her to face him. "Ellison and Sandburg?"
Phuc kept her voice as soft as possible. "My people are on their way there. All they knew was that the suspect is still at large and an ambulance was dispatched to the scene."
Unidentified Storage Unit
The metal door squeaked in protest as it was swung open. A figure dressed in dark baggy clothes stood silhouetted against the afternoon sun. Not bothering with the light, the figure moved to the center of the room and knelt down next to a stack of boxes. Gloved hands slowly, reverently, opened the largest of them. Inside, wrapped carefully in well-washed cotton were dozens of blocks of a clay-like substance, each about the size of a man's hand.
Still in shadows, the figure picked up one of the blocks and caressed it lovingly. A raspy, hoarse voice broke the silence. "Soon, very soon, they will pay for what they have done to us."
With the practiced ease of someone who had driven in the chaos of Los Angeles traffic, Nguyen slipped her SUV through the jumble of vehicles to park between the ambulance and Simon Banks' familiar sedan. "Go check on them, I'll find out what went down." She gave Joel an encouraging smile, but did not expect an answer as he clambered out before they had come to a full stop.
Simon stepped away from the ambulance to greet Joel. "They're okay, Taggart; just a little battered."
"A little battered? We were told the guy lobbed a grenade at them. How on earth..." Taggart leaned against the side of the ambulance as the wave of relief threatened to buckle his knees. He wiped his hand across his face and took a shaky breath before continuing. "I was expecting body bags, Simon."
"I'm sorry." Banks rubbed a comforting hand across Joel's shoulders. "I didn't realize you had been told there was a grenade involved. It was a shock grenade, not an anti-personnel one."
"No shrapnel, thank God. I bet their ears are really ringing though." Joel's eyes widened as his own words sunk in. "Ellison?"
"Sandburg will take care of him." Banks was limited in what he could say on the subject, but those six words said it all and Taggart knew it.
Before either man could comment further, the ambulance door popped open and a sandy- haired paramedic they didn't recognize leaned out. "You can take Ellison home now. We're going to be transporting Sandburg in a few minutes." Seeing the concern on the faces of the two men in front of him, he continued, "Sandburg's shoulder is pretty banged up. I don't think there's a fracture, but it may be dislocated. He needs an x-ray to be sure."
The door opened the rest of the way and another paramedic helped a pale Jim Ellison out of the unit. One look at the hurting man and Banks wondered if he should be going to the hospital too. The paramedic saw Simon's concern. "He's bruised, but otherwise all right. His ears will be ringing for a few hours from that blast though."
That explained everything to Banks, and he immediately took charge of the situation. "Jim, I'm taking you home. Give Joel the keys to your truck and he'll pick Sandburg up at the hospital and drive him home."
The fact that Ellison handed over the keys to his 'sweetheart' without any complaints showed his friends just how much he was hurting. Joel took them with a reassuring smile. "You take it easy, Jim. I'll see you at the loft in a little while with Sandburg." He gave Ellison's arm a pat and moved away to find Nguyen.
Banks was worried about what the blast had done to the Sentinel's sensitive ears so he kept as quiet as possible as he helped Jim to his car. Once he had him settled, Banks moved back to the ambulance to check on his other battered detective.
"How ya' doing, kid?" Banks took a minute to study the younger man, resting on his right side on the narrow stretcher with his shirt cut away. Already, dark bruises were forming on the back of Blair's left shoulder, compounding the painful looking scrape underneath it. A nearly matching scrape was evident on the other shoulder. Loose gauze covered both of his forearms and his right hand. Sandburg was dozing and unaware of Simon's close scrutiny.
"It's not as bad as it looks." The voice of the paramedic drew Simon's attention. "Like my partner said, he took a considerable blow to his shoulder and you can see that it broke the skin, but we're pretty sure that there's no fracture. Whatever hit him left a nasty bruise that's gonna pretty much immobilize him for a few days."
"Elbow." A sleepy voice startled the two men.
"What was that, Blair?" Banks leaned closer to hear the explanation.
"Got squished between the ground and Jim... tryin' to... protect me... sure got... bony elbow." As the words faded out Banks looked at the paramedic in alarm.
"Don't worry, we've given him a heavy dose of painkiller. That's why he's drifting in and out. There's no sign of a head injury." The paramedic leaned over and spoke in Sandburg's ear.
"Mr. Sandburg, can you hear me?" After receiving a soft grunt in reply, he continued. "Do you know how you got the abrasions on your back? Did that happen when Mr. Ellison fell on you?"
Blair carefully licked his lips before answering, but his eyes remained closed. "The fence, got 'em crawling under the fence. Long day, man."
"I bet it was, cowboy." Gentle, healing hands carefully pulled a blanket over Blair then moved away.
"Sandburg... son," Banks waited until he was sure he had the younger man's attention. "I'm going to take Jim home. Joel's going to follow you to the hospital and give you a ride home when you're done. Is that all right?"
Blair nodded, but again didn't open his eyes. "Take care of him, Simon. He's got to be really hurting."
"What should I do for him?"
"He'll need to get the dials under control. Use the white noise generator... keep the loft kinda' dark... that'll help him regain control." Blair tried to shift around. "Damn, these painkillers, my legs feel like rubber. If I could get up, I'd refuse this little trip to the hospital; I hate to make Jim go through this on his own."
Banks was having similar thoughts about Jim dealing with the aftermath of the blast without his Guide, but knew that the younger man's needs were just as serious. He tried to sound indignant as he answered, but couldn't keep concern from coloring his attempt at humor. "What am I, chopped liver?"
"Nah, ham, definitely ham. Just help him as much as you can, Simon and I'll be there as soon as I can."
"I'll do my best, Blair." Simon didn't know where he could touch the prone form without causing more pain, so with a slight nod, he climbed out of the ambulance.
Taggart waited impatiently as Nguyen talked to one of her officers. Just as he was about to force his way into the conversation, she moved towards him. Joel didn't waste time with pleasantries. "Well?"
"We've recovered every surviving scrap of the grenade he used. Hopefully, we'll be able to find a serial number and trace its origin. The search of the house hasn't turned up any more of them, but the search won't be done for another hour." She knew how important this case was to everybody involved.
"What about the C4? Is it the same as what was used in the bombings?" Joel knew it would take time to get the lab results back on the chemical make-up of the explosive, but he trusted the instincts of the woman he had trained all those years ago.
Phuc understood the real question. "My gut tells me it's the same stuff. Looks like the heat's off my guys. Now it's up to Ellison and Sandburg to piece it together. How are they?"
"They'll be all right, just a bit bruised and battered." Joel's face didn't show the confidence that his words indicated, but Nguyen let it go as she joined her officers as they continued to comb the alleyway.
Banks winced as the keys rattled in his hand and the lock clunked open. Never before had he been so acutely aware of the myriad of noises that accompanied daily activities. Behind him, Jim Ellison was thin-lipped as he entered the loft and headed straight for the couch without uttering a word.
The captain immediately sprung into action, following Sandburg's instructions to the letter. He remembered one of them casually mentioning how Jim used the white noise generator to help him sleep sometimes, so Banks climbed the stairs before even removing his coat. Sure enough, next to the neatly made bed was the small plastic device. By the time he was back down the stairs, Banks had it working.
Still silent, Banks set the noise generator on the coffee table before turning off the corner lamp. After giving his eyes a moment to adjust he moved back to the front door and removed his coat, hanging it on one of the empty hooks. Simon stood there for a moment, studying the other man. Ellison was leaning back, his head tipped towards the ceiling. Tight fists were clenched on dirty, denim-clad knees. Even in the faint light through the windows from the setting sun Simon could see the lines of pain marring the strong face.
Banks took a deep breath and squared his shoulders before walking across the room to sit on the edge of the coffee table. "Jim? Jim, you need to dial everything down." He tried to keep his voice as soft and calming as he could, but the visible marks of pain on Ellison's face only increased.
Forcing down his escalating concern, Banks tried another approach. "Jim, let's just concentrate on your hearing. You need to turn down the dials. I know this is hard without Blair, but you need to get this under control before Sandburg gets back from the hospital."
"Blair?" For the first time since Banks had removed Ellison from the blast site, the Sentinel seemed aware of what was going on around him. "I hurt him, I felt the bones..."
"No. You didn't hurt him, Larson did." It was a struggle, but Banks kept his voice even. "Larson's the one who's been terrorizing this city, he's the one who chose to attack rather than surrender. Sandburg's hurt because of Larson's actions, but you can help Blair by working to get your senses back under control before he gets here."
Ellison thought for a moment before giving a stiff nod. As Banks began talking him through the dials once again, Ellison forced himself to breathe deeply and concentrate on his captain's words.
The Loft, Four Hours Later
Banks had a splitting headache, a throbbing throat, and a new appreciation for the work that a Guide does so very effortlessly. The progress that they had made was negligible and he was running out of ideas.
Jim was still on the sofa, still in pain, and still struggling to maintain control. Abruptly, he sat up, the first hint of a smile Banks had seen all day on his face. "Blair." His words were whisper- soft, the voice even hoarser than Banks'. The turning of the doorknob confirmed the Sentinel's hopes.
Taggart eased through the opening door, one arm securely around the pale young man he was supporting. After dropping the truck keys in the basket and making eye contact with Banks, he turned back to his charge. "Blair, let's get you into bed before you collapse on me, okay?"
Even Joel had to strain to hear the quiet response. "No. Couch." Joel started to argue, but then the Guide spoke again. "With Jim." Admitting defeat, Joel steered him towards the sofa, as Banks helped Ellison shift to the end of the sofa. Jim snagged several pillows and with Simon's help made a comfortable spot for his hurting friend.
Once Sentinel and Guide were situated, the two other men quietly moved to the balcony. Ellison tracked their progress until the balcony door slid shut, then he turned his full attention to Sandburg.
Sandburg lay on his right side, his head resting on the pillow that Jim had on his lap. The starchy smell of the sling that cradled Sandburg's left arm scratched at the Sentinel's nose. Under the sling, a hospital scrub shirt covered the heat of deep bruises. A hospital scrub shirt that had replaced the comfortable flannel the young man had started the day in. A momentary flash of anger hit Ellison as he remembered gifting his partner with that shirt on his last birthday. A small voice in his head reminded him that so much more could have been lost than a birthday present and he let the anger go as he continued to observe his friend. Eventually, sleepy blue eyes reopened and stared at him from a smiling face. Ellison couldn't help but smile back.
"Hey, Chief, how ya' doing?" Without a second thought, sensitive fingers began to smooth the tangled hair; carefully removing the debris he knew would make the younger man uncomfortable.
Sandburg recognized the grooming ritual for what it was, a need for the older man to reconnect, and didn't object. "I'm okay, man. Just a little bruised."
"Because of me." The guilt was back in full force and Ellison looked away.
"Jim." The frailty of the voice forced Ellison to look back. "When he threw that grenade, I thought I was dead. Then, before I could react, you landed on me and that thing exploded. All I could think... if that had been..." Blair stopped to take a steadying breath. "When I opened my eyes, I expected to see your dead body, cut to shreds from the shrapnel."
"It was a shock grenade, not an anti-personnel one."
"Did you know that when he threw it?" Blair knew the answer before he had asked the question and didn't expect a response. "You were ready to sacrifice yourself to save me; I think I can live with a few bruises."
Jim wasn't ready to let go of the guilt. "Are you sure it's just bruises?"
"Nothing's broken, nothing's fractured, everything's where it's suppose to be. The splinters have been dug out of my back and the gravel's out of my hands and arms. Now let's take care of you."
Rapidly becoming too tired to argue, Jim leaned back and let his Guide's presence wash over him as together they worked at bringing the rampaging dials under control.
Out on the balcony two exhausted old friends looked at each other. Simon was the first to speak. "How is Sandburg, really?"
"His shoulder was dislocated." Joel rubbed a callused hand over his face. "That's why he was in so much pain."
Simon shuddered at the thought of such a painful injury. "Ouch. Should he have left the hospital so soon?"
"It wasn't open to discussion. Sandburg made that abundantly clear. What about Jim? I can't imagine what that loud of an explosion would do to his hearing." Sometimes Joel tried to picture what life would be like with Ellison's gifts. This was one time he was grateful that he really couldn't imagine it.
"Sandburg makes it seem so easy." Frustration was apparent in the taller man's tone. "I tried everything I could think of, but I don't think I was much of a help. As much as I hate to see Sandburg hurting, I'm sure glad you brought him home." Banks reached for the door. "Let's find out how we can help them." Nodding in agreement, Taggart followed him into the living room of the loft.
Soft snoring greeted the two men as the door closed quietly behind them. Banks stared in amazement at the change in Ellison, now relaxed and sleeping peacefully. Silently Banks gaped at the sight, but before he could form the question Sandburg opened his eyes. A wordless conversation occurred between the three awake men as Sandburg slowly raised his right hand to press his finger against his lips. Banks continued to study the changes the Guide had brought about in such a short time as Taggart moved about the rest of the loft.
Joel handed a soft blanket to Simon as he balanced a full glass of water in the other hand. Simon took the offered comforter and shook it out before draping it over the pair. Then as Joel shook out Sandburg's next dose of painkillers he moved the phone to put it within reach from the sofa.
Sandburg watched as his friends saw to his comfort, then smiling, he closed his eyes. The two men understood their gentle dismissal and silently moved to the outer door, locking it behind them, and leaving Sentinel and Guide in healing slumber.
Banks' Office, The Next Day
"Simon, should we have left them alone last night? They were still in pretty rough shape. Maybe we should call them?" Taggart paced back and forth with an empty coffee mug, never stopping in front of the full coffeepot.
"They're doing fine. The lights in the loft came on about two hours ago so they'll be here anytime." Banks was studying several reports on his desk and didn't realize just how much information he had given away.
"How in the heck would you know that? Are we adding a psychic to our roster now?" Taggart paused, then grinned. "All those phone calls you've had this morning... you've got somebody checking on them, don't you?"
Thinking clear back to their days as rookie cops, Taggart couldn't remember a single time he had seen Banks blush. Before now. "You old softie, you've got someone watching out for them."
"I asked one of the patrols in the area to let me know when they saw some signs of activity over there, that's all." Banks went back to reading the papers on his desk. Before Taggart could come up with a retort, the phone rang and Simon lunged to answer it. As had been the case all morning, Banks' side of the conversation consisted of only a curt 'thanks' before hanging up the receiver.
Simon tried to ignore the man standing in front of his desk as the minutes ticked by. When that didn't work, he slowly and grudgingly admitted to the contents of the phone call. "They've left the loft, should be here any time now." When he heard the snickers start, Banks looked up with his best glare. "Go drink your own coffee, Joel." Several heads popped up as Taggart left Simon's office, openly laughing.
Joel was half way across the Bullpen when the doors opened, admitting Sandburg and Ellison. His laughter dried up as he looked at the two men leaning on each other as they limped across the room. "Hey guys, are you sure you should be here?"
Ellison gave the older man a tired smile. "We just want to get an update on the case and then Sandburg's going home." He pointedly ignored the expression on Sandburg's face as he looked past Taggart and addressed the captain. "We were hoping to review what forensics found at Larson's place, see if we can get an idea of his next move."
"Of course." Banks turned to Taggart. "Joel, why don't you round up what's come in so far and join us. Have Captain Nguyen come in too." Concern clearly written on his face, Simon held the door open wider as his two detectives hobbled through, Sandburg still sporting the sling on his left arm.
"How are you guys, honestly?"
Sandburg was the first to speak. "He's still got a residual headache, and there's still some ringing of the ears. We've worked on it some more this morning, but it'll be a while before he can shake off all the effects and..."
Jim cut him off when Blair stopped to take a breath. "Sandburg's gonna be pretty stiff and sore for a couple of days. The doctor said that..."
"When did you talk to my doctor?" Blair turned carefully to look at his partner.
Ellison looked sheepish. "I called this morning while you were in the shower. All he'd tell me was that he wouldn't release you for active duty for at least a week."
"That's fine, cause your knee won't be ready for that long either, even if we get your hearing back on line fully."
"I can hear just fine."
"No, you're having spikes. I can see it in your face."
"Gentlemen." Banks leaned forward to get their attention. "I get the point, you're both grounded for the rest of the week."
"Grounded?" Both voices asked in unison.
"Desk duty. I said that you'd be on desk duty for the rest of the week. Are you contradicting me?" Banks used his best glare on them.
Ellison took one look at his partner's face and realized it was up to him to answer the captain. "No, sir. Desk duty it is, sir." Only another Sentinel would have been able to hear the slight squeak at the end of his answer.
The arrival of Taggart and Captain Nguyen saved them all. Nguyen looked at the group curiously then Joel shook his head at her ever so slightly, stopping any questions she may have had. He sat down at the large table and subtly indicated a chair for Phuc. She sat down; curious about the conversation they had just missed.
Banks was all business as he started the meeting. "Captain Nguyen; thank you for meeting with us. I realize that your team has training drills this afternoon, so we won't keep you any longer than necessary. What can you tell us about the explosives from yesterday?"
"I must admit that I was very surprised at the sample of C4 that your men found yesterday. There was barely enough for the lab to run an analysis on, let alone for someone to find in a search of a room like that." She paused and studied Jim in an apparent attempt to get some answers to her unasked questions.
Taggart understood both her curiosity and the need to keep some things unsaid so he jumped in to keep the meeting on track. "There was enough residue to run an analysis, right?"
"Umm, yes." Joel's tactic worked and drew Nguyen's attention back to the investigation. "We've been able to match the chemical signature and the C4 that we recovered from the earlier bombing attempts is from the same batch that was produced in that house."
"You're sure production was there?" Ellison wanted to be sure to tie Larson to the bombings in every way possible.
"It appears so." Nguyen shuffled through the stack of papers she had brought in with her. "Some of the more volatile ingredients for the production of C4 come in specialized packaging and we found the empties under the basement stairs."
Blair sat up suddenly. "How much C4 did he make?"
"How on earth would we know that?" Simon's question was barely heard by Sandburg and Nguyen.
"Of course! If we take the amount of any one of those compounds and work it into the formula that we know he used in the production of the C4..."
"We can extrapolate the total amount that was produced." Sandburg finished her thought.
"Subtracting the amount that we've already recovered would tell us if there's anymore out there." Nguyen was already across the room and plugging the numbers into the computer as fast as Sandburg could read them off to her. Taggart looked on proudly as Ellison and Banks just shook their heads and waited for answers.
After the final numbers came up, Nguyen turned to the rest of the occupants of the room, her face ashen. "There's almost ten pounds unaccounted for."
Simon rubbed his face roughly as the words sunk in. "Obviously this case is a long way from being over. Any idea where he may have the rest stored? Or could his next attack be already underway?"
"What else do we know about Larson? Anybody come visit him, who did he hang out with?" Ellison stiffly climbed out of his chair and began to move about the room, forcing the tightness from his limbs. "This couldn't happen in a total vacuum, somebody had to have had contact with him."
Taggart opened yet another file. "According to the neighbors, Larson was a quiet guy, kept to himself. No visitors that they remember, no lights on at odd hours. That matches up with the forensic report. The only fingerprints they found were Larson's. Mrs. Kendrick, from across the street, remembers signing for an UPS shipment one day when Larson wasn't home, but that's about it."
"UPS? Oh that's great!" Disgusted, Sandburg tossed his pen onto the table.
"Detective Sandburg, many of the components in C4 are quite innocent on their own." Nguyen's voice was calm, even though she had thought the same thing on many occasions. "We can't ban every product that some criminal has found a corrupt purpose for."
"Joel, what about his phone records?" Ellison's frustration was beginning to show.
"We got the court order, records should be in our possession this afternoon."
Nguyen interrupted Taggart. "With a little bit of luck, we should have a trace on the history of that grenade he used on you two. We found a partial serial number; well, actually the first eight numbers, which should give us a pretty good idea of where it came from."
"Good." Banks looked pleased with what Nguyen had been able to put together in such a short time. "Let Taggart know as soon as you come up with something. He'll be taking the phone records to Ellison and Sandburg as soon as they come in."
Jim started to object. "Sir, I'll be..."
"At home too, for the rest of the day." Simon's tone indicated that discussion on the subject was a moot point, and Ellison wisely backed down. Banks continued. "Larson's mug shots have been distributed to area patrols. Maybe we'll get a break; Lord knows we need one."
Sandburg interjected. "What about the kid in the pictures? Do we have an ID on him yet?"
"No, and right now finding those missing ten pounds of C4 is more of a priority." Banks looked at Nguyen as he spoke, hoping that the missing explosives would be found without the necessity of risking the Bomb Squad members.
Phuc recognized that the meeting was winding down and excused herself to return to her own duties after assuring the men that her unit would be ready to handle that amount of explosives if necessary.
The door had barely closed behind Nguyen before Sandburg had Larson's map out of his coat pocket and on the table. "Larson didn't have anything marked on the map, but see what you can feel on it, Jim."
Ellison was trying to keep up. "What am I looking for, Chief?"
"I'm not sure, but you'll know it when you find it." Sandburg grinned at his partner.
Banks rolled his eyes as Ellison obediently began rubbing his fingertips over the oft-folded paper.
Taggart moved closer to Banks and Sandburg. "Forensics went over that with a fine tooth comb. They didn't find anything."
"They were wearing gloves, right?"
Simon answered Blair's question before Taggart could. "Of course they were, Sandburg. That's standard procedure."
Unaware of the argument going on behind him, Ellison quietly studied the map, using all of his senses.
The other three occupants of the room stopped and stared. Blair was the first to speak. "Where?"
Ellison pointed to an area of the map. "Here. The texture is different and there's something else..." His voice trailed off as he bent down to sniff at the map. Simon started to ask, but Sandburg's elbow silenced him. Eventually Jim straightened up and turned to the waiting group. "The oils from his hands are the most concentrated here, too. Almost as if he kept rubbing over this one spot."
Taggart turned his head as he tried to see what Ellison was pointing to. "So what's there?" He could feel Banks looking over his shoulder.
"Where do we need to be concentrating our efforts, Jim?"
Sandburg had already anticipated their captain's questions and pulled a new copy of the same map out of his coat pocket. "Here Jim, mark the areas on this copy of the map." While Ellison unfolded the fresh copy of the map, Blair pulled out a felt-tipped marker for him to use.
"Great idea, Sandburg." Banks was honestly impressed with the younger man's ingenuity, even more so when he pulled out a second copy of the map and began to transfer Ellison's information to it with a blue marker. Brown and orange marks were already on it.
Sandburg continued to inscribe as he answered the unspoken questions. "Orange is Larson's place; brown is the locations of the earlier attacks. Hopefully, we'll detect a pattern to all this pretty soon." Once he was finished, he tucked his copy back into his coat as Ellison handed the other two over to Banks.
Banks carefully placed the original map back into the evidence bag and handed the copy to Taggart. "I want you to check on every minority owned business in the target zone, and I want you two," he paused and turned to Sandburg and Ellison, "to go home! Is that understood? Taggart will bring the phone records to you when they come in. Now get!" Banks watched as his office emptied.
The Loft, Late That Afternoon
Ellison growled as he handed the sling back to Sandburg. "This doesn't do much good if you're not wearing it." Blair started to object until he looked up and saw the expression on his partner's face, then he silently slipped his arm into it and allowed Jim to help him with the straps. Ellison had to move gingerly, as not to bump into any of the stacks of files that surrounded the younger man. He could hear the rumblings of Sandburg's stomach, but the approaching smell of pizza meant that he didn't need to remind him to eat. Even limping, Ellison reached the front door only seconds after there was a knock.
"Hey Joel, come on in." Seeing that Taggart had the pizza boxes well balanced, he instead took the files the older man had tucked under his arm.
Taggart set the boxes on the kitchen table before moving next to the sofa. "I brought the phone records for you to go through. What are you working on now?" Taggart silently thought it looked like the records department had exploded and floated down into the men's home.
Ellison handed Taggart a soda as he answered for his partner. "He's trying to find a connection between Larson and someone in the department. He's kinda like a dog with a bone about it."
Taggart couldn't help but smile at the analogy. "Well, he might be right about that. Fooey tracked down that grenade as far as could be done with only a partial serial number." He picked up a slice of Sandburg's favorite pizza and moved closer to the young man.
"What did she find?" Sandburg grabbed the offered slice of pizza with his good arm.
Joel took a swallow of his drink before answering. "There were dozens of grenades with those same first numbers, but twenty of them were in our evidence lock up."
"Damn." That got Ellison's attention. "Have they all been accounted for?"
"According to the records, the ordnance in question was ordered destroyed by the Bomb Squad before Fooey took command. There's no proof that all twenty made it into the disposal canister." Taggart's slumped shoulders showed just how discouraged he was. "She wanted so much to believe that her people weren't involved in this."
"Maybe they weren't." Ellison was having a hard time with the idea that someone in the Bomb Squad would risk hurting one of their own. "How did the Cascade PD end up with the grenades? I don't remember a case where we confiscated them."
"We didn't." Joel flipped through one of the files he had brought with him. "Three years ago, a group of Eco-terrorists were busted up in the Puget Sound area. The grenades were confiscated then. They were traced to an ordnance shipment that was stolen in Florida last summer. Our department was charged with destroying the grenades once the trial was over."
"Proving how many were actually destroyed is virtually impossible after the fact." Sandburg whispered the words that no one wanted to say, as he went back to studying Larson's phone records.
Ellison approached the situation from a different angle. "Joel, what do we know about the original theft in Florida? How many grenades were involved? Any other weapons?"
Taggart shook his head. "The Army's not telling, but I've got some feelers out with my own sources. In fact..." Joel's words trailed off as he checked his watch before moving out to the balcony with his cell phone. Ellison watched with amusement; Taggart was as meticulous as Sandburg was in his own way.
"Hand me the map, will ya'." Blair's question caught the Sentinel by surprise and he looked around to see what his partner was up to. Sandburg was still seated on the sofa with his nose buried in the papers Joel had brought over, his right hand raised in anticipation of being handed the map. Whatever pattern the younger man had discovered would soon be shown on the city map if the red pen clamped in his teeth was any indication.
Jim bit back a laugh as he handed the folded paper to him. "What have you got there, Einstein?"
Sandburg carefully checked cross-streets as he made his red marks on the map. "Larson got a lot of calls from phone booths. Let's just see where they are all located."
"All?" Ellison wilted slightly at the sound of that.
"Yeah, no two calls were made from the same location, and look..." Blair was quickly marking red dots in three areas on the map. "All these calls came from one of three areas in town."
Jim zoomed in on the map and saw that Sandburg was correct. The calls came from three definitive areas, all three outside the quiet part of town that was so well worn on Larson's map. Cross-checking another file, Sandburg started marking with a green pen, carefully numbering each mark.
Sandburg didn't even look up as he answered. "The home addresses of current and former members of the Bomb Squad, going back ten years."
"Why that far back?" Ellison was much more curious and intrigued with his partner's theories than he would ever admit.
"Simple." Blair capped his pen and tossed it down on the coffee table as Joel came back into the room. "The Bomb Squad is its own micro-culture within the department. The officers within that unit work and train together at a level far beyond what the rest of us do. Yet, to achieve any real type of advancement they usually have to transfer to another division, or wait for one of the few senior officers to retire."
Ellison nodded to himself as he thought through what his partner was telling him. "Okay, let me get this straight. If Joe Blow were a member of the squad and wanted a promotion, he'd be better off to move to say, Homicide, where there are more chances to move up the ladder."
"Actually, that is usually beneficial to everyone." Taggart joined in the conversation, the look on his face showed that he had not been successful in his hunt for more information. "Since units like the Bomb Squad and SWAT aren't active enough on a daily basis to warrant a full staff, most of the guys pull a double duty, just joining the squad when we have something go down. Of course in Cascade, that happens a lot." Taggart smiled at Jim's raised eyebrow.
"Answer me this, Joel." Blair picked up one of his pens and began playing with it as he spoke. "How many of those shared-duty guys would be on the Bomb Squad full time if they had a chance?"
"I'd say all of them." Joel understood where Sandburg was headed. "So would most of the guys who gave it up because they're too high in rank in their everyday police job."
"And how many of the squad positions are absolutely, 100%, full time no matter how slow the violence and mayhem are?"
"Blair's right." Taggart answered Sandburg's question while speaking to Jim. "The only guaranteed position is the captain; the rest of members perform other duties within the department. And yes, before you even ask, I know that some of the past squad members applied for the captain's position as a way to get back in."
Jim tapped his thumb on his lip as he thought for a minute. "What do your instincts say about this, Joel?"
"At first I couldn't imagine the guys I worked with being involved in something like this, but every cop instinct I have has been screaming 'dirty cop' at me since this whole thing started. Fooey's convinced now that her unit's not involved, and I trust her judgment. I never considered a former squad member, but it sure fits."
"It literally fits, look." Now that he had the two larger men's attention, Sandburg pushed the map closer to them. In the center of one of the groupings of red dots that marked the origins of the phone calls that Larson had received was a lone green slash locating the home address of someone with ties to the Bomb Squad.
"Who is it?" Even the Sentinel had to turn up his hearing to catch Joel's pain-wracked words.
Sandburg consulted his list. "David Philips, does that name mean anything to you, Joel?"
"No way, absolutely no way is he involved in anything dirty!" Even Ellison was surprised at the passion in Taggart's voice. Jim tried to remember if he had ever worked with the man.
"Who is he, Joel? I can't remember ever meeting him."
"Only the finest and most honorable man I've ever worked with. There's no way in hell that he could be involved in something like this. He'll be at the park tomorrow to cheer on the squad at the game, you'll meet him then and you'll see that you're dead wrong about this."
Jim decided that it would be wise to change the subject. He tapped on the section of the map that they had marked off in blue; the area that Larson had handled the most. "What did we find out about the businesses in this area?"
Joel made a visible attempt to calm down. "That's an eighty block area. Most of it is a pretty ritzy section of town, but part of it is commercial. We've got twelve possible targets. Seven of them have enough security to handle the threat on their own."
"And the rest?" Jim already knew what Joel's answer would be.
"Extra patrols, that's all the brass would go for without something more concrete."
Sandburg was surprised, however. "That's all? That really sucks. What about the kid, any word on him?"
"Kid?" Ellison blinked as he tried to keep up with his partner, then he realized that Blair was referring to the unidentified young boy seen in the photos at Larson's house. Joel came to the same conclusion a few seconds later.
"Nope. He's not a missing kid, and there's nothing noticeable about the background of the photos to help us trace them."
"What about the lab that processed the prints, Joel? Can we track it that way?"
Sandburg's question was again answered in the negative. "Sorry, kid, we already tried that. It was developed at one of those national chains. There's at least twenty branches in town"
Jim had to agree. "So much for tracking him that way."
The three men sat deep in thought as they reviewed the files well into the evening. Finally, stiff and discouraged, Joel called it a night. "Sorry guys, I can't read any more of this tonight. Besides, Sandburg looks dead on his feet."
Ellison looked over at his partner and smiled. Taggart was right, it was time to put the younger man to bed. One attempt to move himself off the couch made Ellison wonder who was going to put him to bed, let alone Sandburg.
Taggart took pity on him and pulled Jim to his feet. "Why don't I help you clean this up?"
"That's okay, I've got to loosen up." Jim flexed his knees as he stood, taking a handful of soda cans into the kitchen. He returned with Sandburg's pain pills and handed them to Blair without a word.
Blair smiled a silent thanks as he shook out two pills and took them with the last few swallows of his drink. As Taggart watched the exchange, he gathered up the empty pizza boxes. "Well, at least let me take these down to the dumpster for you, since it's on my way."
"Thanks Joel." Jim followed the older man to the door and locked up behind him. He turned around in time to see Sandburg struggling to get up. "What do you need, Chief?"
Sandburg sank back down as he answered. "Was gonna help you clean up, man."
"Forget it, buddy. When those pills kick in, you'll be pretty loopy; don't want you falling on your face."
Sandburg's legs were already beginning to feel like rubber, but he would never admit it. Instead he tried to look insulted as he settled back down and picked up the map again, cross- checking the addresses with the print-outs that Joel had left behind.
"Hey, Jim!" The excitement in his voice brought Ellison out of the kitchen. "There's a private school in the area that you've got marked off."
"Come on man, that kid has to go to school somewhere. Just how many coincidences can we have in one case?" Blair watched his partner expectantly, waiting for that one moment he knew would come.
Ellison held out for a few seconds before admitting defeat. "All right, on our way to the softball game tomorrow we'll stop by the school and have one of the administrators look at the photos; see if they recognize the boy." He offered a hand up to his seated friend. "If you get a good night's sleep and feel up to it in the morning."
Blair accepted the help. "Thanks, Jim, I'll see you in the morning."
Ellison fondly watched him shuffle to the downstairs bedroom. "Good night, Chief."
The Loft, Early the Next Morning
Jim left the bathroom in a cloud of steam to find his roommate making a pot of coffee. Blair looked up and smiled, his hair still damp from his earlier shower. "Hey Jim, good morning. How's the headache this morning?"
"I think it's finally gone. You're moving around better. What about your shoulder?"
Blair slowly flexed and raised his arm for Ellison to see, but when he tried to pick up the milk for his coffee his gasp was audible to the Sentinel's sensitive hearing. "Better, but..." Blair anticipated what Jim was going to say, "I'll be wearing the sling while we're out for a few more days just to be safe."
The coffee was done and Jim poured two cups, handing one to Sandburg. "That's a good idea. You don't want to risk re-injuring yourself." He poured the milk in Sandburg's coffee and stirred it. "I've got an appointment with the principle at that school you located, do you feel up to going with me?"
"Yeah, sure." Sandburg visibly perked up. "Just give me a minute to finish getting dressed."
"Take your time. We've got..." Jim turned to look at the clock on the stove, "a little over two hours before we need to be there. I'll fix us some waffles while you're getting dressed."
"Sounds good." Blair picked up his coffee and took a large swallow. "What did you tell them?"
Ellison winced slightly as he bent to retrieve the waffle iron, but he kept his voice even. "I told her that we're tracking a possible stalker, but we haven't identified his target. She won't release the name of the kid if she recognized him, but she will notify the family and set up a meeting if they're willing to cooperate."
"Why wouldn't they be willing? I mean, if you're right and Larson is planning to hurt this kid..."
"Has anything about this case been easy?" Jim grinned at the expression on his partner's face. "Don't answer that one."
Rosewood Prep School
Ellison parked his beloved blue and white truck just outside the gate of the obviously expensive, private school. A security guard came up to the driver's side door and Jim rolled his window down. "I'm Detective Ellison and this is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We have an appointment to see a," Jim glanced down at the hastily scribbled note that was tossed on the seat, "Mrs. Janet Martin."
The guard scrutinized the two men then nodded. "Yes, she's expecting you. Would you mind entering the campus from the north end? The staff parking is on that side of the building and your umm, vehicle won't be so noticeable there."
"Gee, should I park with the maintenance crew?" Ellison's sarcasm was lost on the man who brightened considerably.
"Would you mind, sir? That would be really appreciated. Just follow this road around and make a left turn on Eastwood Drive. I'll let them know you're on your way." As soon as he turned away, Blair began to snicker.
"If we'd taken my car..."
"Shut up, Sandburg."
As expected, they were shown to a parking space between two shiny new trucks with the logo 'Al's Gardening' on the sides. Blair could have had a lot of fun with this, but decided he didn't want to walk home.
An administrative assistant showed them into a plush office. "Mrs. Martin will be here in just a moment. Can I get you gentlemen anything?" As Jim shook his head, she slipped back out into the outer office.
"Wow, this is nicer than the office Chancellor Edwards has." Blair whistled appreciatively.
"Grade school principle has a fancier officer than hers; yeah, that would get the old girl's goat." Ellison was finding the situation very humorous.
"Jim!" Blair barely had time to hiss out his name before the door opened again and an older woman walked in, her high heels silent in the soft carpet. She wasted no time before addressing the two men standing in her office. "Good morning, gentlemen. I understand that you have a photo you wish me to look at?"
"Yes, ma'am." Jim pasted a forced smile on his face, this woman really did remind him of Chancellor Edwards. He nodded at Sandburg who pulled one of the clearer photos out of an envelope. She didn't even glance up at the younger detective as she took the offered picture. Ellison listened to her heart rate carefully as she looked at it.
Her calm face was in sharp contrast to the hammering of her pulse. "Well, this does bear a slight resemblance to one of our students. I'll call his mother and see if it's convenient for her to come by and see for herself." Still carrying the image, Mrs. Martin left them alone again in her office.
"Convenient? If it's..."
"Sshh!" Ellison held up a hand as he tracked the uncooperative woman to her secretary's desk. Blair recognized the sight of a Sentinel tracking prey, so he wisely kept the rest of his comments to himself as he placed his hand on the small of Jim's back to ground him.
The wall barely muffled her conversation to the sensitive ears that were listening. "Mrs. Greensworth, this is Janet Martin from Rosewood... No, Andrew isn't in trouble, but there are two police officers here that seem to think that someone may be stalking him... Yes, that's right... Well if that is the way you wish to handle it... You're very welcome, Mrs. Greensworth." The harsh clunk of the phone dropping back into its receiver broke Ellison's concentration.
"Damn, this just got interesting." Before Sandburg could question his cryptic comment the office door reopened to admit its owner.
"She won't be able to come in until later this afternoon; would you mind terribly leaving this picture for me to show her then?"
"And 'she' would be whom?" Ellison already knew the answer, but wanted to see just how Andrew Greensworth's mother wanted to 'handle it'.
"Ma'am, I don't think you quite understand." Blair was seething at the very thought that the adults in this little boy's life refused to see the risks he was facing. "We are tracking a very dangerous felon who is facing prison for life. For some reason he has fixated on this kid..."
Jim interrupted his partner's impassioned plea with a sure-fire way to get a response from the family that he was convinced was involved. "This boy's stalker is also our suspect in the string of bombings we've had in Cascade. We know that he has a large stockpile of explosives still at his disposal, so we can only assume he's not done. We also know he's tracking this boy's activities, so anyplace he spends time could be a target. Our forensics people are close to identifying the boy also. We could wait for them, use their identification to go directly to the family's home... bring in a team... the search dogs can try to track our suspect from there..."
His subtle persuasion worked and the principle backed out of her office to make a second call. Sandburg waited until the door closed behind her before turning to his partner. "Who?"
"Russell Greensworth. Name ring a bell?" The corner of Ellison's mouth barely twitched as recognition dawned on Sandburg's face.
"As in City Councilman Russell Greensworth? Are you kidding?" Blair bit down on the inside of his mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
Myles Ferguson Memorial Park
The last of the morning dew was still visible under the tall trees that overshadowed the softball field as a lone figure quietly slipped into the dugout with a large backpack. Nimble fingers pried off a loose board on the back wall. More boards followed quickly and efficiently. A pause to check the perimeter was the only break in the masked individual's progress. Block after block of C4 was loaded into the hollow space and carefully wired together followed by a circuit board. The flashing lights on the board shone on the black knit watchcap as he set the timer for an eight-hour countdown. As the last circuit was completed he stood and whispered over his masterpiece. "There was only one worthy and tonight all of Cascade will know that."
At just a few minutes after 10:00am, a harried woman rushed into Mrs. Martin's office. The first words out of her mouth set the mood for her attitude. "Really gentlemen, was it absolutely necessary to summon me down here like some common criminal? The Cascade Garden Society is meeting at my home this afternoon, certainly this could have waited a day."
"The Garden Society?" Even Jim was shocked at that. "Don't you think that your son's life is worth a little more than a few flowers?"
"My husband is Councilman Russell Greensworth, and his security people are more than capable of protecting my son, obviously more capable than your department is. How long have you been trying to catch this man?"
"She's absolutely right." Three heads swiveled around at Sandburg's statement. "The councilman has always believed that he has a much better grasp of the workings of a criminal investigations than the department. When the press ask us what progress we've made, we'll just tell them that since Councilman Greensworth has such a personal involvement in the case, the police department is stepping back and letting him deal with the situation personally."
"You wouldn't dare!" The councilman's wife seemed less sure of herself. Behind her, Ellison grinned and let his partner continue, concentrating on the woman's reactions.
"Absolutely. Of course the reporters at our weekly update may be a little curious as to why he has such an intimate knowledge of the working of our suspect's mind, but hey, we'd be interested in the answer to that one, too. Just what relationship does he have with Samuel Larson, and how far back does it go?"
Her cool exterior had done nothing to hide her nervousness from the Sentinel's observation, but when his partner mentioned the name, Samuel Larson, her heart rate tripled and the stench of fear washed over her. Ellison almost felt sorry for her.
"Is Larson threatening your family?"
"No, he..." She broke off, staring at Mrs. Martin.
Blair was closer to the principle so he responded. "Ma'am, this is an official interview, so if you would give us some privacy?" Before she could come up with an argument, he had her out the door and effectively locked out of her own office. While that was going on, Ellison moved a chair over for Mrs. Greensworth.
"We're not the enemy here, but you're not giving us much choice if you don't let us help you." Both men waited until she finally nodded.
"My husband is not Andrew's father, Samuel is." She rushed to continue, as they struggled to grasp what she had just said. "Sam loves his son, he would never try to hurt him. Before, when he was involved with Kincaid, he wouldn't let Kincaid even know that we existed. He even paid for a fake birth certificate so Kincaid would never find us."
"What does your husband think about all of this, or does he even know?" Jim glanced over her shoulder to see his partner deep in thought, chewing on his thumbnail.
"He knows." She smoothed her skirt down over and over as she spoke, never once looking up into the faces of the detectives interviewing her. "I met Russell when Andrew was almost a year old. After we were married, he tried to track down Andy's father and discovered he didn't exist. I had to tell him the truth."
Jim pressed on. "How did he take it?"
Mrs. Greensworth finally looked up at Ellison. "I won't lie to you, detective. It almost destroyed our marriage, but when Russell realized what kind of men Samuel had been involved with, he understood why we kept it hidden."
"He forgave you?"
"We're still together."
While Jim was pondering her cryptic answer, Blair jumped in with some questions of his own. "Have the two men ever had any personal contact that you're aware of?"
"He went to see Sam in prison once to tell him that he was adopting Andy and to make sure that Sam wasn't going to cause any trouble."
"Did Larson cause any trouble?"
"Just how did your husband accomplish that?"
Mrs. Greensworth hesitated for just a second before answering. "We've never discussed it, Samuel's just never been a part of our lives since that day."
Blair opened the envelope and let the dozens of pictures slide out and onto the mahogany desktop and finished her statement for her. "That you've been aware of."
"Come on Jim, admit it. Does Larson sound like someone who's trying to blow up half of Cascade?"
Jim watched him out of the corner of his eye and smiled ruefully at his partner's optimistic view of people. "I'll admit that something is weird about the entire case. Maybe he's pissed at Greensworth for taking over as his kid's dad. Maybe someone did hire him and he was going to use the money to take off with the kid. We're not going to get any answers until we get Larson." Jim glanced down at his watch. "Didn't you promise to meet Joel at the park?"
"Yeah, but we need to stop and get some food to take with us." He pointed at a store across the street. "Why don't you pull in there? After all, it's a picnic, not an interrogation."
Jim tried to look insulted. "You don't think I can talk to someone without turning it into an interrogation?"
"I'm not touching that one."
Myles Ferguson Memorial Park
Jim parked as close to the covered picnic area as he could before climbing out of the truck and heading to the back end. He pulled out a brown paper bag full of chips and pretzels and handed it to Sandburg, then picked up three cases of soda, grunting slightly as he did. Taggart met them as they walked.
"Here guys, let me help." He smiled and took the chips from Sandburg, setting them down on the table.
Jim gave him a mock glare as he dumped his own load next to them. "Thanks, Joel, we appreciate the help."
"Here," Joel tossed him a ball. "Go warm those guys up for Fooey, would you? They're practicing on the north practice field. I'm gonna get the food set up here." Taggart gave Jim a knowing look as he handed him the perfect opportunity to casually interact with the men of the Bomb Squad.
"Thanks Joel, that sounds like a great idea." Jim smiled apologetically at Blair's sling as he handed over his cell phone before trotting out onto the field.
"There's a game this afternoon against the fire department's Arson Unit. Warm them up good, Ellison." Taggart yelled out at the retreating figure.
An older man with a cane limped past the tables piled high with food. He grabbed two sodas and gestured with them at Sandburg. "Hey, come join the walking wounded." Without waiting for Sandburg, he carefully walked over to the bleachers and sat down. Blair was only a few steps behind him and took the offered pop can as he sat down.
"I'm Blair Sandburg, Jim's partner. Have we met before? Your voice sounds so familiar."
Brown eyes crinkled in amusement. "I'm David Philips, the guy that sends in the calvery just in the nick of time to make you glory hounds look good."
"Our favorite dispatcher! I didn't even know your name." Blair's own words caught up with him. "Man, I'm sorry, that sounded really bad."
"Hey that's okay. We're the invisible division, always have been."
"Didn't you use to be in the Bomb Squad? What happened, if you don't mind my asking?" He glanced down at Philip's legs.
"It's all right. I spent seven years on the squad without as much as a paper cut. A drunk driver nailed us while we were driving back from my oldest son's birthday party. I've got more screws and pins holding my leg together than you can imagine."
Blair winced at the irony of it. "Damn, that must have been hard. What about your family, were they hurt?"
A shadow of pain flickered across the older man's face. "My wife was thrown through the windshield. It was a long road, but she's all right now. Our two boys were in another car. They weren't hurt, but they saw the whole thing. In some ways I think it was harder on them than it was on us, especially the oldest."
Blair took a long drink as he thought about his next question. Eventually, he decided to ask straight out. "Do you miss the street?"
Philips took his own time thinking about his answer and Blair cringed at how blunt he had been, but Philips seemed calm and sure of his response. "It's funny, I thought I would. I worked so damned hard, hoping to get back out on the street. I convinced myself that dispatch was just temporary; a good way to keep my finger on the pulse, if you know what I mean. Before I knew it, I found myself looking forward to going to work, more than I ever thought possible, maybe even more than when I was out on the street."
"Really?" That was not what Sandburg had been expecting.
"Yeah, protecting the brothers, there's something really special about that, and that's what I do now. Anything you face out there, I've already seen it and that means that I know just what kind of help to send out to you. When a patrolman goes home at the end of the day because his back up arrived in time... well, I did that and I feel pretty damn proud of it."
"Wow, I never thought of it like that before. I guess we keep you hopping sometimes."
Philips almost choked on his drink. "Hopping? Son, we've got a special set of codes for you and Ellison in dispatch."
Sandburg tried not to laugh, but he couldn't help it. "We're not that bad, are we?" Philips just laughed harder, and even Blair had to admit the truth to it. "Well then I'm glad that it's you on the other end of the mike. What does your wife think about it?"
"Actually, Lizzy's thrilled. She was emotionally fragile after the accident, still is. The doctors say it's because of the head injury. She doesn't need to worry about me like she did before. Besides, my youngest is a senior in high school this year and it's kind of nice to be more involved in his life. I missed that with my older boy."
Blair had no doubt now that Joel was right. This man was not their connection to the bombings that had plagued the city, but he did not want to appear to be rude. Especially to someone he had already come to admire. "You've got two kids, right?"
The wide grin showed that Blair had hit on David's favorite subject. "That's right. Jason's a senior, like I said. He's playing varsity football and basketball this year and is captain of the debate team. He's going to West Point after he graduates."
"That's great! No wonder you're so proud. What about your other son, is he in college too?" Blair set his empty can down on the ground next to him.
"No." The smile on Philips' face faded a bit. "Jeff's having a hard time 'finding himself'. He wanted to be a cop since before he could walk, even been a reservist for the past four years."
Blair could understand how any son of this man would want to follow in his footsteps. "Did he decide that it wasn't for him?
"No, he was worried that wearing glasses might hold him back if he wanted to be on the Bomb Squad or a SWAT member, so he went in for the surgery to correct his vision. Dr. Woo is a fine doctor, but Jeff was that one in five thousand that had complications. Now his eyes are so bad that he can't pass the physical. He can never be a cop."
"Oh man, that's harsh. I'm so sorry. Has he thought about what he's going to do now?" Blair felt sorry for the young man he had never met, but something was niggling at his brain.
"Well, he thought about becoming an electrician, like his grandfather, but his heart wasn't in it. I got him a volunteer position with a parole officer so he could see that there are different ways to protect people. Maybe he'll find his calling in that."
"Yeah, maybe." Blair hoped that the smile he had pasted on his face was convincing, because he was afraid he had just stumbled onto the link between Larson and the bombings. Before the other man could become suspicious, the ringing of Jim's cell phone saved him. He answered it absentmindedly, then snapped to attention.
"Yes, sir, we're on it." He had barely disconnected the call before yelling across the field. "Yo! Jim! We've gotta go!" He waited until he was away from Philips before adding a whispered, "got a lead on Larson."
Jim listened automatically when Blair gave him the address, but that wasn't foremost on his mind. He watched Sandburg out of the corner of his eye as the younger man absently chewed on his lip. Finally he couldn't take it anymore. "What?"
Blair didn't even try to play innocent. "What would you say if we had someone who's father lost his position on the Bomb Squad because of an accident? And that same someone lost out on being a cop because an operation didn't work, an operation performed by an Oriental doctor, so he tried being an electrician and that didn't work, so now he's a volunteer at the Parole Office."
"I get the feeling this isn't a hypothetical question, Chief." Ellison glanced over as Sandburg shook his head.
"Wish it was."
"Yeah, me too." Ellison echoed the sentiment as he pulled the truck in behind Rafe's car. Rafe waited until Ellison shut off the engine before walking up to the driver's side window, while Brown leaned against the passenger side.
"What have we got, Rafe?" Jim's voice was a little rougher than he intended.
"A black and white spotted Larson going into the bar around the corner. We've got all exits discreetly covered so we know he's still in there. How do you want to handle this?"
Sandburg answered for him. "I really don't want to face another one of those grenades again, and not in a crowded bar. Is there any way we can lure him outside?"
Jim thought for a minute. "Do we know anything about the bartender?"
"Bear's a pretty straight shooter." They all looked at Brown as if he'd grown another head. He defended himself easily. "Hey, they serve a mean pastrami sandwich, and it's on the way home from the gym."
Blair's muttered "no wonder Lori can't get him to lose any more weight" brought a chuckle to the Sentinel.
Rafe didn't need to hear the words to know what Blair was saying, but instead of fanning the flame he chose to ask the next logical question. "What have you got in mind, Jim?"
"Brown, if we called him and explained the situation, would he keep his wits and follow our lead?"
"Yeah, man, Bear's as cool as they come. If you're straight with him, he'll come through for you."
"We could use the excuse of a fire in one of the offices above the bar, ask them to evacuate because of it." Rafe was actually brainstorming out loud, but Ellison motioned for him to continue. "It would be pretty chaotic, but we could use that to our advantage." He moved back as Ellison opened the truck door.
"It'll work. We'll need the fire department to respond to make it look realistic though." Ellison looked down the street at the building in question.
Sandburg looked skeptical. "Fire fighters? What we need are cops, lots of cops."
"You're brilliant, Chief. That's it!" Jim leaned back into the truck and grabbed his cell phone.
Rafe and Sandburg exchanged looks. "What's it?"
"H, get me the number for that bar. I need to take a closer look, you guys stay here. I don't want to attract attention." Ellison was dialing Simon's number as he moved away.
While the other two men pondered what the Sentinel had planned for all of them, Brown tracked down the number for the bar.
Ellison appeared a short time later, still talking to Simon. "Yeah, Simon, I'm sure this is the best way... No, don't worry, I'll hear them in plenty of time." After he hung up, he turned to Brown. "Did you get the number?"
In response, Brown dialed his own phone and waited for the bartender to answer. "Hey Bear, it's Henri Brown; remember me? Yeah, 'pastrami man'... Listen, we've got a situation and we need you to stay very calm and listen to us. Okay? I'm gonna put Detective Ellison on the phone and he'll explain what's going on and what we need for you to do to keep your customers safe. He's a good man, just do what he says."
Brown's face said everything it needed to, as he handed the phone over. Jim's own expression answered him as he took the phone. "Bear, this is Ellison. A suspect is in your bar right now. The last time we tried to arrest him he threw a grenade at us, so we don't want to try and grab him in there with your customers."
Bear's voice was cheerful as he answered, but Jim could hear the underlying tension. "Well, I sure appreciate that."
"In a few minutes I'm gonna call you back, that'll be your signal. You start yelling at everybody that one of the offices upstairs is on fire and they have to get out now. It'll look real to them, don't worry and we'll have you back in business before the afternoon crowd arrives. Can you do that?"
"No problem." The voice turned a bit more serious. "You take care, you hear?"
Jim smiled even though Bear couldn't see him. "We'll take care of everybody." He disconnected and turned to the others.
"Now we wait." He held his hand up to forestall the questions as he focused his hearing on the interior of the bar. Nothing but normal sounds of mid-day chatter could be heard.
As they waited, Ellison unloaded two vests from behind the seat of his pick-up truck and tossed one to Sandburg. Rafe and Brown retrieved theirs from the trunk of their car.
Once again Jim checked on the occupants of the bar. The TV had been changed to MTV, instead of the news channel that had been on earlier. He breathed a sigh of relief, he hadn't thought of it, but now there was no chance of an over-eager reporter blowing their chance of ending this peacefully. Jim cast his hearing out further and caught the sound of approaching sirens. As they got closer, familiar voices were added to the mix.
"Fire trucks are almost here." He grabbed Brown's cell phone and hit redial. When Bear answered, Ellison was brief and to the point. "You're officially on fire. Count to twenty and then start yelling."
"Damn, I hate when he does that." Brown strained to hear as the sirens came into the range of normal hearing, then followed the others as they took their positions behind a dumpster close to the bar entrance.
Inside Bear's Bar and Grill
The short muscular man hung up the phone without ever saying a word. One of the waitresses gave him a funny look but he just shook his head at her; he had used the few minutes between calls to develop his plan and didn't have time to explain it. Instead, Bear moved into the back hallway and began opening and closing doors loudly. It was enough to catch the attention of his regular customers and when he burst back into the bar a minute later, they were waiting for an explanation.
"Fire! The office upstairs is on fire! Everybody out now!" To make it more convincing, Bear pulled the drawer out of the register and shoved it at his most trusted waitress. She dropped her tray of drinks and took it without question and ran for the door, grabbing the arm of the closest customer. Another waitress took the tip jar on her way out, the remaining patrons hot on her heels. Bear was close behind them, yelling warnings about the gas lines and explosions.
Three fire trucks were pulling up to the scene just as the first people rushed out the door of the bar. Sandburg stopped and stared at the familiar figure, minus cigar, hanging onto the truck. "Simon?"
The captain just grinned at the younger man as he hopped off the truck, a familiar auburn haired woman a step behind him. A second glance showed more than half of the 'fire fighters' had more experience with a gun than with a hose.
"Fire!" A bleached blond rushed out of the bar, a register till pressed tightly against her padded and lifted breasts. Next to her was a middle-aged man in a polyester suit who was coughing from the non-existent smoke. Behind them poured out an assortment of people, including their suspect. Larson kept his head down, trying to blend in as groups of firefighters rushed in with hoses.
The scene appeared to be total chaos. The 'firefighters' moved into the crowd, effectively herding Larson away from the bulk of the civilians. Larson was completely surrounded by the time he saw Ellison in the background.
"No!" Larson yelled out as he reached into his jacket. A high-pressured stream of water hit him from behind, knocking him face first onto the ground. He was quickly patted down and handcuffed, before being jerked to his feet.
Banks dropped his still dripping hose and waited for the others around him to shed their canvas turnout coats to reveal Cascade PD uniforms. "Take him down to the station, he's got a lot to answer for." After the disbelieving prisoner was transported, Simon dug a cigar out of his turnout, and turned around to come face to face with Sandburg.
"Looking good, Simon. Did you want to be a fireman when you were a little boy?" Blair tried to keep a straight face.
"All little boys want to be firemen, Sandburg." Their bombing suspect was in custody and Simon was feeling rather pleased with himself.
Blair grinned back at his captain. "Not me, Simon. I wanted to be a doctor. At least that's what I told the little girls."
"Don't you have a suspect to question, Sandburg? Take that partner of yours and get out of here." Simon's tone was grim, but he couldn't quite hide his smile behind the cigar.
Rafe came up behind the two men with Simon's overcoat that he had recovered from the fire truck. "That was a great move, sir. What made you think of using the hose?"
Banks handed the fire-fighting coat to one of the few real firefighters on the scene before he took his own coat from Rafe. "Well, I heard once that it was a pretty successful way to apprehend a felon, so I thought I'd try it myself." Still pleased with the outcome, Banks moved off to find the Battalion Captain and thank him for his help.
Once Larson was safely in custody, Ellison reached out with his hearing and tracked the voice he had come to know. He tracked it to the front of the building where a tall, gray-haired man stood. Behind the age, Ellison could see where the name 'Bear' had come from. The man looked like he had been a bouncer for many years before moving behind the bar. Jim moved to introduce himself.
"Are you Bear? I'm Detective Ellison."
The bartender turned to face Ellison, shifting the load in his arms to shake the offered hand. Jim raised an eyebrow at what the other man was holding.
The bottles tinkled as Bear shrugged his shoulders. "You said to make it look realistic. Who'd have believed it if I'd left my private reserve behind for the fire to get?"
Jim recognized the quality of the scotch from the label and nodded. "Yeah, you've got a point there, Bear. You can take your people back inside now. We appreciate everything you did for us."
Bear smiled back at him. "I'm just glad you gave us the chance. It's nice to know that real cops aren't like TV cops. Hunter would have just busted down the door and started shooting. What'd the guy do anyway?"
Ellison wisely ignored the crack about his favorite TV cop and instead answered the other question. "He's part of an on-going investigation. I can't really say more than that right now."
"Good enough." Bear began herding his patrons back inside the building. "When your case is done, come on by. We'll have a shot of the good stuff and you can tell me all about it. Deal?"
Interrogation Room Three
Jim tossed the files down on the table. "We've got you dead to rights, Larson. Just tell us why you did it. Who are you working for?"
"You don't understand." Larson slumped down in his seat, burying his head in his hands.
"So tell us." Sandburg sat across from the dejected man, a stark contrast to his pacing partner. "Why'd you bomb all those businesses? What did those people ever do to you?"
"Nothing." Larson straightened up and leaned forward. "They didn't do anything to me and I didn't do anything to them. You've got to believe me."
"Yeah, right. The C4 was cooked up on your basement. How do you explain that?" Ellison stopped pacing and leaned into Larson's face. "Wasn't real smart to keep the packaging. Getting sloppy there, Larson." He pushed away from the table and moved in back of their suspect.
Something passed across the face of the shackled man as he crossed his arms and leaned heavily on them.
Sandburg stared in shock as the realization hit him. "You wanted to get caught, didn't you?"
The question threw Ellison of guard, but rather than react, he waited to see where his partner was headed.
Larson seemed to deflate before their eyes, letting his head drop onto his crossed arms. "I did my time, I just wanted to be left in peace." He looked up at Ellison. "Was that so much to ask for?"
"Who wouldn't leave you alone?" Jim lowered his voice as he sat next to his partner. "Was Kincaid threatening your son?"
"You know about my boy? Damn."
Ellison pressed on. "What'd Kincaid want? What is that animal planning to do to my city?"
"It wasn't Kincaid." Larson let his head drop back down as he spoke, muffling his voice.
"Then who?" Sandburg had his suspicions, but he didn't voice them.
"I did everything I was suppose to. It's just not fair."
Ellison's patience was wearing thin. "Who wanted the C4, who's behind the bombings?"
"I don't have a name." Larson looked up, challenging Ellison to believe him.
"You expect me to believe that? Better start convincing me, or you'll go down for all of it." The only real evidence that pointed to anyone was pointing directly at Larson and Jim decided to exploit that. "The DA's got enough to charge you right now."
"It was a cop."
"Start talking." Jim's jaw muscle was working overtime as he leaned back and crossed his arms on his chest. On the other side of the two-way mirror, he could see Banks waiting for the answers also.
"I never saw his face, it was always in the shadows. The closest I ever got to him was across the street one time. He always called with my instructions, and gave me drop off points to leave the C4."
"So you saw a uniform. Big deal, do you know how easy those are to get a hold of? Even Kincaid had a couple." Ellison watched out of the corner of his eye as his partner began to quickly shuffle through the stack of files he'd put together. Even the map came out.
"No." Larson began shaking his head. "It was more than that. Within an hour, this guy knew what my parole officer and I had talked about. Every time. What in the hell am I suppose to think?"
Jim thought about who else could have leverage over the man. "What about Greensworth?"
"He and I have an agreement, he wouldn't do anything to me. I'm not a threat to him." Larson seemed comfortably sure of himself.
"But did Greensworth know that you've been following Andrew around, photographing him?" Ellison was more than a little curious about how the City Councilman would react to the news that Larson had followed the boy.
"They're not involved, leave them alone!" Larson shut down, unwilling to discuss his son's stepfather.
Ellison studied the situation. Larson had come to the end of what he was currently willing to admit to. Sandburg had found something in the files if his elevated heart rate was any indication. Out in the hall, Joel had arrived and obviously had information he felt was important to the case. It was time for them to review the facts and leave Larson to stew. Decision made, he turned towards the door. "Come on Chief, we're not getting anywhere here. Let's try another angle." He didn't look back as he left the room, Sandburg only a step behind him.
"What have you got, Joel?" Ellison approached the big man leaning on the far wall.
Joel smiled and tilted his head towards the interrogation room door as Simon joined them. "My sources finally came through with Larson's military records."
Sandburg groaned. "Don't tell us. He never even saw a bomb in the war."
"Better than that, he never even saw the war." Taggart waited for the reaction.
"What?" Ellison gave him an incredulous look. "You've got to be kidding."
Joel continued, glad to finally be the first one with the scoop. "Yep, he spent his entire tour stateside. He was an explosives expert, but it was all in theory. He never got any hands on experience until he got tied up with Kincaid. There's something else, too."
Jim wasn't sure he wanted the answer, but he waited for it.
"When the feds picked up Larson, Kincaid was ready to kick him out of the Patriots. He may be great at cooking up the stuff, but he couldn't build a decent bomb if his life depended on it. There's no way he could have built the bombs we've been dealing with."
There was no way around it, so Blair spoke up. "Joel, there's something I think you need to see before we go too much further. You too, Simon." When Jim nodded his agreement, Sandburg led the group into a nearby conference room.
Only the sound of turning papers could be heard as Joel and Simon reviewed what the two partners had put together. When they were done Taggart leaned back in shock as Banks began firing off questions.
"You really think that David Philips' son is the one behind the bombings?"
Blair opened his mouth to answer, but Jim cut him off. "We're suspicious enough that we want to bring him in for questioning."
Simon still wasn't convinced. "Just because he washed out of the Academy..."
"He didn't wash out, Simon." This time Sandburg wouldn't be quiet. "He was doing great, on track to be a top graduate. He wanted more, wanted to make his dad proud, and a freak accident during his surgery took that away from him. I think it was enough to push him over the edge."
"Motive, opportunity, and means are all there, Simon." Jim pushed the map towards the other men. "Sandburg's got it all tracked. All the calls to Larson came from three areas of town. We've already established that one was near the Philips home."
"And the others?" Banks was listening, but still wasn't convinced.
Blair leaned forward and tapped his fingers on the map. "One area includes the grandfather's electrical repair shop where Jeff Philips worked part time. The other group of calls surround the parole office where his father had him volunteering."
This time Banks was beginning to nod. "Larson said it was a cop. Does the kid have enough experience to pull it off, to convince Larson the department's dirty?"
There was an odd tone in Blair's voice. "David is the kind of dad that any kid would want to grow up to be like. Jeff probably paid more attention to his stories about work than most kids would have. Combine that with a couple of years as a reservist, plus his time at the Academy, and he's feasibly more of a 'cop' than a lot of guys on the force right now."
Ellison agreed with his partner's assessment. "Plus you've got to consider that Larson is already functioning under a cloud of paranoia. It wouldn't take much to convince him."
Banks turned to the fourth man, who had been unusually quiet. "Joel, what's your take on all this?"
Taggart rubbed his eyes as he spoke. "I've known Jeff ever since I coached his little league team and I don't want to believe this, but there's an awful lot here to ignore. Right or wrong, this is going to destroy a good man, and I don't want to see that happen."
"How do you want us to handle this, Joel?" Jim's words were unusually gentle, showing just how much he understood the other man's pain.
Taggart shot him a grateful look. "David has a right to know what's going down before we arrest his kid. We owe him that."
Ellison glanced at his watch. "The game should be starting soon. We can catch him there." Both he and Sandburg stood up to leave when Banks stopped them.
"Just remember, no matter how hard this is for Philips, there are ten pounds of explosives out there somewhere that we've got to find."
A look of understanding passed between the men before they headed for the park and their unpleasant task.
Myles Ferguson Memorial Park
Ellison and Sandburg slowly approached the dugout with Banks and Taggart behind them. Without warning Ellison stopped and tilted his head. Sandburg recognized the classic Sentinel pose and reached out to ground his partner.
Instinctively Blair knew what Jim was referring to. "The C4? Where?"
"The dugout." Behind them, the two older men stared at each other, appalled. The dugout contained the entirety of the city's bomb squad, plus a good dozen of its former members, including David Philips. Joel moved ahead of the group and caught Phuc's attention.
"Uncle Joey, I'm glad you're here. Come to cheer on the team?" The smiling woman was tossing a ball into the air as she spoke.
"I wish we were, Fooey. You're not going to believe this, but we've gotten an anonymous report about a bomb."
"You're kidding." She was obviously disappointed as she continued. "At least the whole unit's here, our response time should be great. Where is it?"
"Here, in the dugout. The squad is the target this time."
Phuc stared at Joel for a long minute, as an unspoken message seemed to pass between them. Finally she turned away and went to work. The field was evacuated, and all but a few, hand picked, squad members moved back to the far picnic area. Joel hated to be out of the action, but he needed to be there to talk to David Philips.
It had been agreed that Joel and Simon would be the ones to talk to David. Jim stood where he could monitor both the search for the bomb and the destruction of David Philips' world. Blair stood next to him in misery.
"Should you be helping them with the search?"
Jim pursed his lips as he shook his head. "No, they know what they're doing. They've found some loose boards; the bomb's behind them. Nguyen's good and her team's the best. How are you doing, Buddy?"
Blair stared over Jim's shoulder while he thought about his answer. "I feel dirty, like I destroyed a family. It should be me breaking this to David; I don't want him to hate Joel over this."
"Philips is a good cop." Jim reached out and tugged one of Blair's curls. "He'll be hurt, but he won't hate you for discovering the truth about his kid." A flurry of activity from the Bomb Squad caught his attention and he watched as Nguyen and her men disarmed the device. "You discovered what was going on before Jeff could kill anyone. Eventually that is going to mean a great deal to his dad. Come on, let's go talk to the man." Jim reached out and grasped Blair's good arm and they walked to the picnic area.
At one isolated table Simon and Joel sat with David Philips. As Jim and Blair moved closer, Jim could hear the pained words of Philips as he struggled with the discovery about his eldest son. Jim moved closer to Blair instinctively as the younger man came into earshot.
"No way, this isn't possible. Jeff's a good kid; he's just going through a rough time... that's all. He's my boy, I'd know if something like this were going on... I'd know."
Joel and Simon had no answer as the two men joined them. Jim started to speak, but a hand on his arm stopped him and he waited as Blair knelt in front of Philips.
"David... I'm sorry. I just followed the leads; I never dreamed they would lead to Jeff."
Pain filled eyes met Sandburg's. "You're still a rookie, you made a mistake. You'll see."
"I wish I did." Blair reached out to grasp Philips' hand but it was pulled away.
"My son would never hurt me, no matter what you say. If there was a bomb here, then Jeff had nothing to do with it. He loves me, don't you dare say otherwise."
"Of course he loves you, we all know that." Simon carefully considered his words before continuing. "This last year has been hard on him. He tried so hard to help you, now he needs your help."
"You want me to help you catch him. I don't know if I can do that, sir."
Jim gave him something to think about. "Wouldn't you prefer it were us, rather than a uniformed officer responding to an APB?"
Before he could answer, Philips' cell phone began to ring. David never looked away from the men in front of him as he pulled it out and answered. "Hello."
As much as the man hated to do it, the Sentinel found it necessary to listen in.
"Hey Dad, it's Jeff."
One lone tear traced down David's face. "Hey Jeff, how's my boy?"
"Dad, I've got a problem, are you busy?"
"I'm never too busy for you, son. You know that, right?" The young man on the phone seemed unaware of his father's pain.
"My car broke down, could I get a ride?"
Philips looked like he'd been stomach punched, but he kept his voice even. "Sure, where are you?"
"I'm at Fifth and Lamont, on the northbound shoulder. Can you hurry? I promised Mom that I'd be home by dark. You know how she worries."
"I'm leaving right now. I'll see you in a few minutes... I love you son." Philips disconnected the call and turned to Joel. "He said that his car broke down, that he needed a ride."
Joel nodded, not trusting his voice. Behind them, Phuc walked up, the detonator in her hands.
Jim stepped forward, giving the other man a chance to regain his composure. "What do you have Nguyen?"
It was obvious that Nguyen had walked into the middle of something, but to her credit she didn't ask the obvious question. "It was a standard timer, no booby-traps in the set up. All the unaccounted for C4 was wired to it, though. The blast would have taken out the entire park."
"How long..." Simon cleared his throat and tried again. "How much time was left on the timer?
"Thirty-seven minutes, why?"
"Thank you." Simon knew that it was a good twenty-minute drive to where Jeff Philips waited for his father. David had been right about one thing. His son would never hurt him.
Phuc recognized the dismissal and glanced over at Joel. He shook his head slightly at her and mouthed the word 'later'. Curious, but understanding, she moved back to the task of securing the C4.
David slowly stood up, leaning heavily on his cane. "Ellison?"
Philips looked older somehow, as he stood in front of his colleagues. "Just promise me he won't get hurt."
Jim nodded in understanding. "We'll do everything we can, I promise."
Corner of Fifth and Lamont
David Philips pulled in behind his son's battered blue VW and waited for the young man to climb in. A younger version of David Philips jumped in with a smile.
"Thanks, Dad. Sorry to pull you away from the game."
"That's all right." Images of childhood crossed David's mind as he smiled at his son. Christmas morning, birthday parties, the first day of school, where had all the time gone? The click of handcuffs echoed in the car and Jeff looked down to find himself cuffed to his father.
A familiar blue and white pick-up pulled in front of Philips's Chevy, followed by two black and whites. David looked past the cuffs to his son's pained face.
"I love you, son. I always will."
Blair slipped back to the truck as Jeff Phillips was placed in one of the black and whites. Deep in thought, he didn't notice when Jim joined him.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Jim reached out and tugged on a curl, hoping to draw a smile out of the younger man.
"We caught the bomber; we did our job." Blair turned a pensive face towards his partner.
Jim knew where this was going. "Yeah, we did, buddy."
"Then why do I feel so lousy?" Blair turned back to watch David Phillips lean against the remaining patrol car. Next to him, Jim watched the same scene, grateful that his Guide could not see the shaking shoulders so clear to Sentinel vision.
"Sometimes the bad guys are just as much of a victim as the people they hurt. All we can do is make sure the DA takes that into account. Can you live with that?"
Blair instinctively leaned into the warmth as Jim's hand moved from his hair to his neck. "I guess I have to. That doesn't mean I like it."
"Me neither, Chief. Me neither."
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