Production No. BPP-608
edited by: Karen, Kimberly Workman and Christina.
MEET THE CAST
The nightclub vibrated with music on the cutting edge of hip. Multicolored strobe lights roamed across the dance floor, illuminating beautifully sculptured, gyrating bodies. In the center of the dance floor, a backlit, circular bar stood out like an oasis in a strangely lavish desert. Three bartenders moved along the inner ring of the bar, serving customers and keeping an unobtrusive eye out for trouble.
Like most of the clientele and all of the employees, the young man winding his way across the dance floor was of Asian descent. His black leather jacket and jeans were a bit more casual than the clothes most wore, but were pricey enough that they appeared to be a fashion statement. He might have been a bit too young to be allowed into a nightclub, but in a room full of people clinging desperately to youth, his appearance garnered no more interest than a few envious glances.
He stopped at the bar, signaling one of the bartenders with a two-fingered salute. The bartender, a hard-faced man on the wrong side of middle age, gave him a brief nod. A few minutes later, the bartender brought a drink down to the young man, casually slipping him a small package along with the glass. The young man was slightly less casual as he took the package and tucked it into the pocket of his coat.
He took a few minutes to finish the drink, then continued on across the dance floor towards the back of the nightclub. A false wall camoflaged three doors, two leading to restrooms. The young man chose the third door, stepping through it into a brightly lit hall lined with doors marked "Office", "Storeroom", and "Exit". As the door shut behind him, the music abruptly dimmed, and the mingled smells of alcohol and a hundred different perfumes were replaced with the scent of sawdust and a faint trace of cigarette smoke.
Each time he'd come here, he'd been given instructions to leave by the back door. He always did as he was told, and in all that time he'd never seen anyone else in the office or storeroom. It was sheer surprise at the sound of voices coming from the office that made him stop this time.
"That wasn't the agreement, Harlan."
"I-I did the best I c-could..."
The young man recognized the first voice. It was his employer, Mr. Chang, a man he had decided never to piss off. Apparently Harlan, whoever that was, hadn't had the sense to make the same decision.
The young man wondered if he should keep going forward, which would take him past the office's partially opened door, or go back and leave by the club's front door, a move that would be noticed by the bartenders and bouncer and might just get him in trouble with Mr. Chang. Either way, he could be pretty sure Mr. Chang would figure out that he'd heard the conversation going on in the office--which probably was a completely harmless, business-related discussion. Probably.
"'Best' doesn't allow for failure, Harlan. I told you to have those plans to me by yesterday. And yet, today my men visit your house to find you packing to leave the country. Surely you can see how I might question your willingness to do as I asked."
"N-no, Mr. Chang, I was going to b-bring you what I had. I j-just c-couldn't get it all."
He definitely needed to get out of there before anyone found him eavesdropping. If he could get back to the hall door without anyone hearing him, he could open it and slam it shut hard enough that the people in the office would notice. Hopefully they'd think he'd just come in.
"I don't have any use for people who aren't loyal to me, Harlan. I'm afraid you've outlived any usefulness you might have had."
"No, Mr. Chang, please..."
"Joe, take Harlan here for a ride. I just had these floors refinished."
The young man swallowed heavily. He started backing towards the door behind him. A part of his mind scrambled for a different explanation, but the part that had suspected all along what he was getting into screamed at him to run before it was too late.
Two men stepped out from the office door, one holding a gun on the other. All three froze for an instant. Then the young man turned and bolted back into the nightclub, ignoring the shouts behind him.
"Hey, Jim, I thought you wanted to see this game," Blair called back toward the kitchen. He raised himself up enough on the couch he was sprawled across to see over the back, shaking his head as he saw what Jim had found to distract himself. "Something wrong with the cabinet door?"
Jim grunted, his mouth full of screwdriver. He moved the door back a fraction of an inch, shook his head, and squirted the hinge with the bottle of spray lubricant he held in one hand. Another minute nudge to the door apparently didn't bring the results he wanted, because he mumbled something around the screwdriver that didn't sound too polite and attacked the hinge with the lubricant again.
Blair wrinkled his nose. "I don't know how you can stand the smell of that stuff. It's strong all the way over here."
Jim took the screwdriver out of his mouth. "It's better than listening to that squeak."
"If you say so." Blair leaned back on the couch, turning his attention back to the game. The Seahawks had just gained ten yards, and he'd missed the entire play.
"Trust me," Jim said grimly. "This door shifts every time someone walks across the floor."
"Yeah, but you're missing the whole game."
"I can hear what's happening."
"No kidding." Blair gave up. Jim was a grown man. If he got more enjoyment out of eradicating a squeak than relaxing in front of a game, that was his business.
The second quarter was half over before Jim finally collapsed on the other couch, a bottle of beer in one hand and a bag of chips in the other. His expression reflected the grim satisfaction of a man who had fought a strenuous battle and only won by virtue of incredible determination. Blair didn't bother to hide his smirk.
"Was your mission successful?" he asked.
"Shut up and watch the game."
Blair did as he was told, but only because the Seahawks' running back was headed for a touchdown. Two steps ahead of the Colts' safety, the running back glided into the end-zone, somehow managing to make it look effortless.
"That was classic." Blair glanced away from the instant replay to look at his partner. "Looks like someone oiled him, too."
Jim threw a chip at him. "Funny, Junior. Maybe you should quit the force, start a stand-up routine."
"What, and leave you to chase after the bad guys all on your lonesome?" Blair shook his head. "Nah, that'd make it too easy on them."
"Don't do me any favors."
Blair just grinned, not fazed in the least by Jim's scowl. "Don't feel bad, Jim. It's not your fault people slow down as they get older."
"I'm still faster than you, Sandburg... or am I forgetting who it was that was gasping for air after chasing Darren Fallows up two measly flights of stairs last week?" Jim grinned triumphantly, obviously thinking he'd gotten the last word.
Blair almost hated to burst his bubble. "They say the memory is the first thing to go."
"Right after the smart-ass partner," Jim agreed.
The ringing of the phone saved Blair from having to come up with a clever answer. He grabbed it, saying crisply, "Sandburg," then wondered when he'd started channeling Jim.
"Hey, Blair, it's Steven. Is Jim around?"
"Yeah, just watching the game. Hang on."
Blair handed the phone across to Jim. "It's your brother."
"Thanks." Jim stood up and walked over to the kitchen.
Blair listened just long enough to make sure there was no emergency, then firmly turned his attention to the game. He might be certifiably nosy, but Jim could be extremely touchy about his privacy when it came to his family. Blair had learned to respect that--unless there was good reason not to.
After a few minutes, Jim hung up the phone and came back to the couch.
"Anything going on?" Blair asked casually.
"Steven and Michelle are having dinner with Dad later this week. Steven wanted me along for moral support." Jim grimaced. "Luckily, we're working nights this week."
"I thought they were getting along better?"
"Yeah, but Steven's convinced it could end at any second. He--"
The phone rang again, interrupting him. Blair grabbed it again, forcing himself to say a more normal "Hello?"
"Sandburg, I need you and Ellison down at the Argonet Street docks," a familiar voice barked.
"Hi, Simon. How's your weekend?" Blair asked dryly. "We've been enjoying our time off. Thanks for asking."
"Cute, Sandburg," Simon growled. "You two are next up on the roster, and you've got a smaller caseload than everyone else, so you get this one. You're going to love it."
"Gee, thanks, Captain. What is it, another militia group out to take over the city? A mad bomber? A mad bombing militia group?"
Jim grimaced, obviously putting the pieces together and coming to the conclusion that their weekend was over. He stood with a sigh, using the remote to shut off the TV before heading toward his room.
"You'll see when you get here. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise."
"Thanks a lot." Blair sighed. "We'll be there as soon as we can."
A steady drizzle washed the Argonet Street docks. Blair shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat and shivered, thinking longingly of the warm couch he'd just left. Chilly, overcast days like today were made for staying indoors, not traipsing around a place that smelled like last week's catch, dealing with matters of mortality.
He and Jim had arrived at the docks to see an all too familiar scene: a couple of uniforms were stringing up a police line to keep out the few curious onlookers who'd chosen to brave the weather, the police photographer snapping pictures of the body, Simon standing in the middle of everything with an unlit cigar in his mouth, occasionally snapping an order. Jim had wrinkled his nose at the smell but hadn't commented, his attention already focused on the body. Blair had stayed silent as well, letting Jim scan the area as they made their way through the sparse crowd to Simon.
"It's about time," Simon said as soon as they were within speaking distance. "We've got an unidentified body, definitely male, but that's about all we know at this point. Cause of death was probably a single, execution-style gunshot to the head, but the coroner will have to examine the body to be sure."
"How was it found?" Jim asked.
"Man fishing off the pier over there." Simon indicated a short walkway several yards from the main dock. "The body got snagged on his line. He called it in as soon as he realized what he'd caught. The EMTs had to drag the body down here before they could get it out of the water, though. Something about the height of the dock. They marked the point where the body was found with a pole."
"Let's see what we've got," Jim said, nodding at the body.
"I'll just go down and see where they found the body," Blair said quickly. Jim shot him a sardonic glance, not fooled in the least, but Blair had long ago decided it was more embarrassing to puke on a corpse than to avoid the corpse altogether, however obviously the avoiding was done.
The fishing pier was really a short strip of decking angled away from the main dock area. The boards were slick from the drizzle, and Blair had to concentrate on his footing as he made his way over to the rail that surrounded the edge of the pier.
The metal pole the EMTs had stuck down into the water still had a net attached to the top end, showing what its original purpose had been. Crouching down, Blair studied the water around the pole, squinting to see through its murky depths to the sand below. Given the way the waves lapped up against the pier's piling, the body was just as likely to have washed up here from another spot as to have been originally dumped here.
Blair shook his head. Unless the coroner could shed some light on the man's identity, they weren't going to have much to go on to find the murderer. He stood slowly, tucking a few strands of damp hair behind his ear, his eyes still fixed on the water. Murky or not, he could see down to the sand, which meant that the body would have been fairly visible if anyone was looking, even if it had washed up under the pier. The docks were busy during the day, bustling with fishermen and loading crews. That meant the body couldn't have been there long, or else someone would have seen it.
He started to turn back toward the main dock. Something nagged at the corner of his eye, though, and he turned to look back at the water. Yes, he had seen something, but he couldn't tell for sure what.
"Hey, Jim!" he yelled for appearance's sake, even though Jim would have heard him if he'd spoken normally. "Come take a look at this."
Jim stood up, pulling the sheet the coroner had provided over the corpse, and walked over to join Blair.
"What's up, Chief?"
Blair pointed at the water. "I thought I saw something down there. Might be important."
"Might be trash," Jim countered, but he looked where Blair was pointing. His face took on that intent expression that meant he had totally focused his senses on something. "Or not."
"What? What is it, man?"
Jim reached down and snagged the pole, rotating it so that he could use the net to catch whatever he'd seen. Blair leaned over the rail to catch the net as it came up, digging out the object Jim had retrieved.
"Yuck." Blair couldn't help a grimace as he wiped slimy sand off the object and held it up for Jim to see. It was a coin, much the same color as a penny, but closer in size to a Canadian dollar. On either side, some sort of symbol was inscribed.
"Anything you recognize?" Jim asked, running his fingers over the symbol on the side facing them.
Blair frowned at it. "It's Asian, most likely Chinese, but I'd have to do some research to have any idea what it stands for. Was the dead guy Asian?"
Jim shrugged. "Hard to tell. He'd been in the water a couple of days, and apparently the fish were hungry."
Blair winced. "I really needed to know that. Thanks."
Jim grinned, but he didn't say anything as he clapped a hand on Blair's shoulder and steered him back toward the main dock.
"Was there anything on the body that could identify it?" Blair asked as they walked. "Anything that, you know, they might have missed in the first inspection?"
"Nothing so far. It was so bloated from the water, there wasn't much to see."
"Great." Blair slowed down, lowering his voice. "And did you do more than look?"
Jim gave him a sardonic look. "Yeah, Teach. I've actually been doing this for a while, you know."
Blair gave him his most annoyingly cheerful look. "You don't say."
As they reached the main dock, Simon called out to them, "You boys find anything?"
"Just this." Jim held out the coin. "We'll need a run down on those symbols."
Simon nodded. "I'll get Forensics on it."
"Thanks, Simon." Jim handed the coin to him. "Come on, Chief, I want to finish checking out the area."
Jim led the way into the loft, pausing to take Blair's coat and hang it with his own on the coat rack. Blair headed past him into the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator, he stared into it with a preoccupied expression.
Jim crossed over to collapse on the couch, sighing wearily. He hated running around in the rain. "You planning on cooking dinner, Sandburg, or do you just need to cool off?"
"Huh?" Blair looked at him. "Oh, yeah. I was thinking maybe hamburgers? Or there's some leftover linguini I could heat up."
"You were thinking that hard to come up with leftovers?"
Blair grinned. "It's a tough decision, man." He grew more serious. "No, I was thinking about this case. If that was an execution, it might actually make finding the killer simpler."
"Do tell, Darwin." Jim walked over and leaned on the kitchen island. Blair had that intent look he got when he was turning something over in his mind and finding an angle no one else had seen. All he needed was a little room to talk it through.
"If it was an execution, it's most likely going to have to do with some sort of business transaction. Crimes of passion aren't usually that well planned and carried out." Blair opened the freezer and grabbed a package of ground beef. "No guarantees, of course, but it's an angle to work with."
Jim nodded. "And that's something we're pretty short on right now. Our best hope--" He paused, distracted by a sound outside the front door. The elevator had stopped on their floor, but he'd ignored it until he heard footsteps approaching their door.
"We've got a visitor." Jim went over to the door but waited to answer it until whoever was outside knocked. He blinked in surprise at the person standing outside. "Sally?"
"Hello, Jim." His father's housekeeper clutched her purse in front of her nervously. "I'm sorry to interrupt."
"No, no, come in." Jim stepped back, frowning in concern. Of all the people who might have shown up, Sally was the last person he would have expected.
"Sally?" Blair walked out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on his jeans. "Hey, you're just in time for supper."
Sally stepped into the loft, smiling tremulously at them both. "No, I can't stay. I shouldn't have come..."
"Don't be silly." Jim put a hand on her elbow, steering her toward the couch. "Let me take your coat."
Sally handed him her purse and coat, but she still looked like she'd bolt at any second. Jim watched her worriedly. She'd always been an incredibly calm, centered woman, able to handle the crises inherent to two growing boys and a demanding employer.
"Sit down," Blair urged, his voice taking on a gentle tone that Jim recognized.
Sally responded to it, relaxing subtly as she sank onto the couch. Jim sat down beside her while Blair chose the opposite couch.
"What's wrong?" Jim asked. "Is my dad okay?"
"Oh, yes, he's fine." Sally took a deep breath. "I probably shouldn't have come, but I just didn't know what else to do. I'm truly at my wits' end. I'm so afraid something terrible has happened..."
"To who?" Jim prompted as she trailed off.
"Shawn. My nephew, my sister's boy. I'm sure I mentioned him to you?"
"A few times," Blair said.
Jim could tell he was trying not to smile. Her nephews and niece were one of Sally's favorite topics. Her pride in them was plain every time she mentioned them.
"My sister called me this morning. She was frantic. Shawn didn't come home the last night, or the night before that." Sally looked down at her hands, clasped tightly in her lap. "He's nineteen, old enough to take care of himself, and it's not unusual for him to spend the night with a friend. He always calls, though, or comes in the next morning and checks to see if she needs anything before he goes to work. He's always taken good care of his family ever since his father died. He's a good boy. He'll be the first in our family to go to college."
Jim touched her arm gently. "Has your sister contacted the police?"
Sally shook her head. "No. She refuses to. She says he's fine and there's no need, but she's terrified that she's wrong, I could hear it in her voice." She covered Jim's hand with her own. "I know you have your work to do, Jim, but I'm worried for him. Is there any way you can look for him?"
"Of course we can," Blair answered before Jim had a chance. "We'll just need some ideas where to start. Friends, the name of his employer, anywhere he normally hangs out, that kind of thing."
Jim shot Blair a look he was sure the younger man could interpret, but he nodded as he turned back to Sally. "I'm sure everything's okay, but we will poke around a little and see what we can come up with."
"Oh, thank you!" Sally smiled, the worry lines around her eyes fading. "Jim, Blair, I don't know what to say. I know I'm worrying over nothing, but I can't seem to help myself."
"Well, don't worry anymore," Jim answered. "I'm sure we'll find him safe and sound."
Sally beamed at him, and he could only hope he wasn't wrong.
Jim filled his own mug and Blair's with coffee. Carrying them both over to his desk, he handed one to his partner before taking a sip out of the other.
"Forensics come up with anything on the body?" he asked.
Blair glanced up from Jim's computer screen, where he was reading his email. Jim wondered, as he often did, why it was that Blair persisted in using Jim's desk when he'd been assigned his own when he'd come into Major Crime as a full detective. Not that it mattered, particularly, any more than it mattered that Blair was completely incapable of writing a report with sentences less than fifteen words long. It was just one of those weird Sandburg things Jim had long ago learned was pointless to try and change.
"Sam said they have some preliminary information, but no identity yet." Blair pushed his glasses up on his nose as he turned back to the computer. "Our mystery man is, in fact, a man, but we knew that already. He was Caucasian, estimated age somewhere between thirty and forty-five. Most likely a white-collar worker because he didn't have much of a tan or any calluses that indicated long-term manual labor. No major identifying marks or scars." He paused to scroll down the email he was reading. "Cause of death was a single shot to the head prior to total immersion in the bay."
"Caucasian between thirty and forty-five? Well, that narrows it down to a third of the city." Jim took another sip of his coffee. "Anything on that coin you found?"
Blair read a little further, then shook his head. "All she said on that is that she's looking into it, and she'll try to have more information by this afternoon."
"In the meantime, what do you say to poking around the docks a little? Maybe someone out there saw something, or we'll get really lucky and someone will be missing."
Blair shot him a dry glance. "Your definition of luck is truly bizarre, man."
"What can I say? I have this truly bizarre partner who's warped my outlook on life."
"Funny, Jim. You're going to get a sense of humor one of these days, I just know it."
Jim smirked at him, then drained the last of his coffee. "Come on, Junior. I want to drop by Cybernet Solutions on the way and see if Shawn's been in to work the past few days."