Joseph Culver had drifted from one job to another for several years before finally discovering his niche. Granted, what he did wasn't always legal, but he was good at it and it paid well. If only his boss didn't insist on coming in to work early on Mondays, it would be the perfect job.
It was a small matter, though, and he'd learned to live with it. On this particular Monday morning, he'd shown up only ten minutes late, early enough that his boss didn't give him that look that said he was being considered for fish bait. It had been an easy day so far. His boss had stayed in the office all morning, and Joseph hadn't had anything to do except run a few errands and watch early morning cartoons.
He was whistling as he made his way down to Personnel to pick up a couple of files. Just before he went in, though, he realized someone was already in the office, talking to Marilyn.
"That's S-h-a-w-n L-i."
Tensing, Joseph paused outside the door, listening carefully.
"Did he do something?" Marilyn asked, her voice sounding nervous. "We have a strict hiring policy, you know."
"No," a different voice answered. "He's a possible witness, though, and we were hoping we could catch him to see if he had any useful information for us."
"I'm sorry, but he hasn't reported for work yet this morning. He's actually a little late."
Joseph thought vaguely that at least one of the men in there must be pretty good-looking. Marilyn didn't put on that flirty voice for just anyone.
He didn't have time to enjoy it, though, even though Marilyn in a flirty mood was worth watching. His boss needed to know someone official was asking after the kid. He turned back toward the elevator that would take him to his boss's office.
John Chang frowned as he listened to Joseph's report.
"And you've made no progress on finding the boy?"
Joseph cleared his throat. "No, sir."
"I want him found before these cops locate him." Chang rubbed a finger over his lips. "He's a kid, and he's scared and on the run. He's either going to go to his family or his friends. Locate them, and you'll have the kid."
"I'll get right on it, sir."
Rain spattered down on the docks, washing it clean and leaving behind no traces of the previous day's activity. Blair pulled his coat around himself, wincing as water ran down the back of his neck. He'd never been too fond of being cold and wet, and here he was on day two of trying to grow mold.
Jim was going over the area near the buildings with the meticulousness only a sentinel could bring to the task. Blair kept half an eye on him while chatting with the dock workers, who were waiting out the shower.
"Can't say that I've noticed anyone missing," Carl Brenner said slowly, scratching at his sandy mustache with one rough finger. "Hey, Derrick, you seen anything weird lately? This detective here is looking into that body they pulled out of the bay yesterday."
Derrick, a huge black man with hands big enough to grasp both of Blair's in one of his own, ambled over, shaking his head slowly.
"Sorry, Detective. Nothing out of the ordinary's happened that I can recall. There ain't much traffic out here nights and weekends, though, unless a ship's coming in. It'd be easy enough for someone to drive up and dump something in the bay without anyone seeing." He grinned. "Hell, we pull all sorts of stuff out of the water all the time that people've thrown in. Tires, furniture, batteries... once I found a riding lawnmower."
"Well, thanks for your help anyway, guys." Blair shook their hands. "If you do see anything, give us a call at that number on my card, all right?"
"Sure thing," Carl said, and Derrick nodded.
Blair wandered over to where Jim was staring down at the water near the spot where the body had been found.
Jim glanced up at him. "No. If there ever was anything else here, it's gone now."
"Great." Blair sighed. "I guess we'll just have to hope that Sam comes up with something."
"I guess." Jim started back toward the truck, steering Blair with him. "If we don't get some kind of break, we'll have to consign this one to the dead case file."
They got into the truck, and Blair reached over and turned on the heat as soon as Jim started the ignition. His hair hung in wet rings around his face, dripping down the back of his shirt. Times like these, he could see the advantage of Jim's short cut.
Jim drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, staring out the windshield with a frown. Blair waited a few minutes, taking the time to wring out his hair, but when Jim didn't make any move to put the truck in gear or to say anything, he finally broke the silence.
"You thinking about anything in particular, or just counting raindrops?"
"I was thinking about Sally, actually, and Shawn."
"You think he's involved in something he shouldn't be?"
Jim shot him a sharp look. "Why, is that what you're thinking?"
Blair shrugged. "Just a feeling, you know? I could be wrong."
"Yeah." Jim sighed. "I've got the same feeling."
"Is that why you told that woman at Cybernet Solutions that he was a potential witness?"
Jim shook his head. "No, I just didn't want to create a situation at his job if he wasn't in some sort of trouble. Nothing like having cops come looking for you to give you a bad reputation."
Blair raised an eyebrow. Jim's style was usually more of the "bull in the china shop" variety, forging ahead without much thought to how other people might be affected. Blair suspected his sensitivity had more to do with Sally than Shawn. Jim didn't talk any more about his relationship with his father's housekeeper than he did about his relationship with his father, but Blair had seen the gentle affection in his eyes when she visited.
"I was thinking about checking out some of Shawn's friends after lunch," Jim continued. "Sally said he spent a lot of time down at the mall, didn't she?"
"Yeah. Might not be a bad idea to talk to his little brother and sister, too." Blair ran his fingers through his hair, wincing as he hit a knot. "They might know more about where he hangs out than his aunt would."
"Wouldn't surprise me." Jim finally popped the truck in gear. "What do you say to checking in at the station, then grabbing some lunch somewhere?"
"Sounds like a plan."
A note waited for them on Jim's desk, telling them to come down to Forensics to see what Sam had turned up.
"You sure you don't want to just wait up here for me, Chief?" Jim asked, the concern in his voice patently false.
Blair shot him a dirty look. He'd made peace with Sam months ago. He didn't even have to take the long way around to avoid her department when he was on that floor anymore. "Hey, man, I don't have a problem. You might want to be careful, though. Somehow Sam's gotten the idea that you're the one who made balloons out of all her rubber gloves for Hendrik's retirement party."
Jim laughed, but there was a touch of unease in his expression. "You didn't."
"Me?" Blair gave Jim his best innocent look as he headed for the elevator. "You coming?"
Sam was waiting for them, her manner all industrious efficiency as she looked up from her microscope. Blair caught Jim eyeing her warily, and he bit the inside of his mouth to hide a smile.
"We're still working on an identity for your body," she said before they could greet her. "We're trying to trace the dental records and checking on missing persons. But I did find something fascinating in this coin you pulled out of the bay."
"Oh, yeah?" Blair leaned over to see what she'd been working on. "I thought those symbols looked Chinese..."
"Life and death," Sam interrupted. "They're the Chinese symbols for life and death, but that's not the interesting part." She pulled Blair around so that he could get a good view of the object she'd been scrutinizing. "Look what was inside the coin."
Blair peered into the microscope. "It looks like... computer circuitry?"
"Exactly." Sam stepped back to let Jim look. "It appears to be a mini-transmitter. Not terribly sophisticated, but enough to transmit preset codes."
"Like a fancy security badge?" Jim asked.
Sam nodded. "That's what it looks like. Probably the shape of the coin and the raised symbols provided an additional measure of security."
"What's wrong with a good old-fashioned swipe card?" Blair muttered, then held up his hands in surrender when Sam gave him a sardonic look.
"So how does this help us?" Jim asked quickly, flashing Blair a warning look that said clearly not to get Sam started.
"Well, it's a pretty unusual little gadget, and," Sam paused dramatically, "there's a manufacturer's label engraved on the inside. I just found it before you came in."
"So we can contact the manufacturer and ask who they happen to be making high tech moola for," Blair finished. "Hey, great job, Sam."
"It was, wasn't it?" Sam squinted into the microscope again and scribbled something on a sheet of scratch paper. "I'll contact the manufacturer and let you know what they say, all right?"
"Thanks, Sam," Jim answered. "Call me when you know anything."
After a quick stop in Personnel to chat with Marilyn and get the kid's file, Joseph headed out to the home address listed in the file. The kid's home proved to be nice enough; nothing fancy, but the yard was well kept, and nothing had been allowed to run down.
As he watched through the course of the day, two different women, a young boy, and a younger girl went in and out of the house several times, but the kid he was looking for didn't show. Joseph's original plan had been to sit and watch until the kid showed up, but as noon approached, his patience began to wear thin.
The only thing Jim and Blair accomplished at the mall was lunch. Either no one at the music store where Shawn reportedly hung out actually knew him, or they were all trying to cover for him. The kid at the cash register, a suspicious-looking blond who seemed to be auditioning for the position of alternative rock poster child, was so close-mouthed Blair was almost certain he knew something.
"It's weird," Blair said as they were leaving the store.
"What, those kids' haircuts?" Jim asked.
"No, those kids. A few years ago, I would have been one of them, convinced that any time the cops showed, I was facing down the enemy." Blair shook his head. "It feels kind of strange being the enemy."
Jim clapped a hand on his shoulder. "I think that's called growing up, Sandburg."
"Yeah, next stop Geritol." Blair sighed. "In the meantime, we're no closer to finding Shawn than we were before."
"I think you were right about talking with his brother and sister," Jim said. "I'm going to give Sally a call and see if we can meet with them."
"I'll go grab us something from the food court while you're on the phone. Mexican okay?"
"Sounds good. Meet me at the truck when you're done."
By the time Blair got back with the food, Jim was off the phone.
"Sally's going to meet us at her sister's house," he reported, taking the food sack from Blair and pulling out a taco. "She said she's been over there most of the day, trying to keep her sister calm." He took a bite of the taco, then continued around it. "I talked to Sam, too. She called the manufacturer of that coin. They're going to check their records and call her back."
"So we're on our way to Sally's sister's house?"
"Yep," Jim answered. "Did you get any hot sauce?"
Sally's sister lived in one of the suburbs on the far side of the city. Once a well-to-do neighborhood, it had declined slightly in recent years as newer developments had sprung up. The houses were still nice, though, home to lower middle class families and couples who had retired in comfort, if not in style.
Jim pulled up to the curb at the address Sally had given him, noting automatically that Sally had beaten them there. Her car and another were parked in the drive. Several other cars lined the street, mostly lower priced and older models. In one yard a few houses down, two young children played a noisy game of war.
"Nice place," Blair commented as he got out of the truck.
"Yep. I hope nothing happens to change that."
They walked up the front steps. Jim raised his hand to knock, then froze.
"Did you hear that?"
"If I had a dollar for every time you asked me that..."
"Ssh." Jim cocked his head as if that let him hear better.
Blair hushed obediently. He felt his pulse quicken as Jim pulled out his gun. Blair followed suit, giving Jim a questioning look.
"Someone inside," Jim whispered. "Maybe more than one. Has a gun."
Blair nodded his understanding. "On three?"
"You go left, I'll go right."
Jim nodded approvingly, then whispered, "One. Two."
Before he could finish, a shrill scream echoed from inside the house.
Jim hit the door with his shoulder. It crashed into the wall as Jim dove through, angling to his right. Blair went in on his heels, heading off to his left. He had a flashing impression of living room furniture as his eyes searched frantically for a threat.
He heard another scream. Looking in that direction, he finally spotted Sally and another woman who had to be her sister standing protectively in front of two young teenagers. Jim was barreling toward them, aiming for the man who held a gun on them.
The man saw Jim coming and turned the gun toward him. Blair shouted something, he didn't know what, and threw himself at the man. He'd started moving too far away to get a good grip, though, and all he did was knock the man off balance.
It was enough to send the bullet plowing into the wall instead of Jim, though. The man stumbled forward, then caught himself and bolted for the door. Jim tried to change directions to follow him, but ended up crashing into Blair. They both went down, Jim's elbow in Blair's stomach, and for a second all Blair could see were black spots.
Vaguely, he heard another scream. The weight lifted off him, and he gasped for air.
"Sandburg? You okay?" Jim asked, sounding concerned.
Blair waved in his general direction to let him know there was nothing to worry about. Air was slowly filtering back into his lungs, and he was reasonably sure his ribs weren't crushed, no matter what they felt like.
"Sally?" Taking Blair at his word, Jim had turned his attention to the other occupants of the room. "Is everyone okay? Did he hit you?"
The black spots finally faded from Blair's eyes. He sat up gingerly, turning to Sally and her family. A cold anger hit him as he saw why Jim had asked his last question.
Sally was sporting a bruise on her cheek, and tears streaked both her face and her sister's. The children stared in stark terror. Jim put an arm around Sally, pulling her close as he squeezed her sister's arm.
"It's over now," Jim said soothingly. "Sandburg, the kids?"
Blair stood up, wincing, and crossed over to the kids. The boy pushed his younger sister behind him, eyeing Blair distrustfully.
"Jim, thank God you're here." Sally clutched at Jim. "I thought he was going to kill us."
Blair held up his hands placatingly. "Take it easy, guys, I'm a friend."
"Who was he? What did he want?" Jim asked. He urged the two women toward the couch.
"He was asking about Shawn." Sally's sister sank down on the couch. "He wanted to know where Shawn was."
"Who are you?" the boy demanded, pulling his sister closer to his mother.
"Oh." Sally's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, I'm sorry. My manners are gone. Ann, I've told you about Jimmy--Jim Ellison. This is his partner, Blair Sandburg. Jim, Blair, this is my sister, Ann Wong, my nephew, Alex, and my niece, Mary."
"Nice to meet you." Blair sat down in the recliner behind him, rubbing his stomach. He was going to have a bruise, he just knew it.
"Did you recognize him?" Jim asked.
Ann shook her head. "I've never seen him before. He came right after Sally got here. We thought it was you. Sally said you were coming. Mary opened the door, and he just shoved his way in..." She shuddered. "He kept demanding to know where Shawn is."
"I didn't have time to get a very good look at him." Jim glanced at Blair questioningly, and Blair shook his head. "We'll want to get a description from you. Maybe we can figure out who he was."
"I'll see about letting you look at some mug books," Blair added. "We may be able to get an artist to do a sketch we can distribute to other officers, too."
Ann shook her head. "No."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "Mrs. Wong..."
"No." Ann raised her chin stubbornly. "This is not a police matter. Shawn has not done anything illegal."
Blair saw Jim's jaw tighten and jumped in. "Mrs. Wong, whatever Shawn has or hasn't done, there's nothing legal about a man breaking into your house and threatening you at gun point. That is a police matter."
"But Shawn will become involved," Sally said quietly. "He has a future, Jim. He's going to college. That can't be jeopardized."
"Shawn's life might be jeopardized if we can't find this man," Jim snapped. He took a deep breath, softening his voice. "I don't know what Shawn's involved in, but whoever this man was, he's willing to break into your house to find Shawn. He's probably willing to do more than that once he finds Shawn."
Blair leaned forward. "We need to find Shawn before anyone else does, Mrs. Wong. If we can catch the man who threatened you, that could buy us some time."
Ann looked at Sally, her hands clutching at each other nervously. She glanced back at her other two children, who had been watching the conversation with silent fascination. Finally, she sighed, her shoulders slumping.
"All right." Taking a deep breath, she continued, "He was tall, about your height and build, Jim. He had blond hair and..." she frowned, looking at Sally questioningly. "Blue eyes?"
Sally nodded. "Blue eyes. His skin was very fair."
"He had a scar on his hand," Mary contributed softly. "Across his knuckles, like this." She ran a finger over her hand to demonstrate.
Jim walked over to the window and stared out for a minute. Blair, recognizing his need to plan, filled in the sudden silence.
"Is there anything else you remember about him? Any other unusual marks, something about the way he talked, maybe?"
Ann, Sally, and the children all shook their heads. Alex crossed his arms over his chest, giving Blair an oddly defiant look.
"Alex?" Blair asked gently. "Did you see something?"
"No," Alex snapped, turning away.
Alex froze at the sound of his mother's voice.
"Is there something you need to tell us?"
"No," he said with less certainty than before.
His mother gave him a hard look. He wilted under it, finally turning to Blair.
"Shawn's in a lot of trouble, isn't he?"
Blair nodded. "It looks like it."
"I know where he is."
"What?" Ann stood up, turning to glare at her son. "You knew and you let me worry all this time?"
"But, Mom, he told me not to tell anyone," Alex protested. "He said he'd be home in a few days, and he'd explain everything then."
"Where is he?" Jim broke in.
Alex hesitated again, but a glance at his mother made him swallow heavily and start talking. "He's staying with Lance."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "And Lance is...?"
"Shawn's best friend from high school," Ann answered. "He works out at the music store at the mall."
"I think we've met," Blair said. "Blond hair and an attitude?"
Ann gave a strained smile. "Yes, that would be Lance."
"I think I need to have another talk with Lance." Jim smiled grimly. "Sandburg, I want you to stay with Sally, Ann, and the children. Call Simon and see about those mug books, too."
Blair walked over to Jim, putting a hand on his arm to turn him away from the others so that they could speak privately. "Jim, I was thinking. Maybe we ought to move them to somewhere safer, where the bad guys can't find them."
Jim ran a hand over his face, then nodded. "Good idea, Chief. Any suggestions?"
"Your dad's cabin, like we did with Steven?"
"I don't know. It's a long way out there. A hell of a lot could happen in the process of getting them there, and you'd be on your own until I can get Shawn and find out what's going on here."
"What about getting some backup, then?"
Jim nodded. "If Simon will okay it." He thought for a minute. "Okay, here's what you do. Call Simon and see if he'll send some help, then take them home. They can stay there till I get Shawn, then we'll take everyone out to the cabin together."
"All right." Blair started to turn away, then glanced back. "Hey, be careful out there, okay?"
"Okay." Jim grinned, but there was a touch of seriousness in his eyes. "You too, Chief."