edited by: Cassima and Shallan
Millennium Towers, Tuesday, 4:30am
The fog cast strange shadows on the reflective windows as the occupants of Cascade's newest high-rise complex slept in peace. Millennium Towers had just celebrated its first anniversary, and the occupants were proud of the zero crime rate within their walls. No one noticed the figure dressed in black as he slid down a narrow cable and slipped into one of the condominiums.
The only one to notice his arrival was Lady Beth, the purebred Persian cat who resided in the unit. Inside the impeccably furnished condo, the cat slunk under the bed as strange feet walked through the living room and into the bedroom without the slightest hesitation. She watched and listened as the stranger opened the jewelry box on the dresser and rummaged through it. The pampered cat backed further under the bed as the stranger left the room, settling in to wait for her owner to return.
With sure-footed confidence, the figure hooked into the climbing harness and stepped over the balcony rail, disappearing once again into the darkness. The only sound to be heard was the static of a radio tuned into the building's security channel.
The Loft, Wednesday, 7:00pm
Carefully balancing a box of Chinese take-out, Blair fumbled with his key for a moment before the door swung open, to reveal the smiling face of his partner, Jim Ellison. Blair grinned in return at Jim's greeting as the taller man took his burden.
"I knew I smelled Chinese."
Jim moved into the kitchen and set the box on the table. He began unloading the steaming cartons as Blair grabbed their dishes.
"Well, I'm certainly glad we honed those Sentinel senses for something so useful."
The Sentinel had waited for ages for that opening. "The nose knows."
Blair was digging a couple of sodas out of the refrigerator and snorted something unintelligible even to Jim's sensitive hearing. He leaned against the table, waiting for the explanation. "What was that, Sandburg?"
Blair looked back at Jim even as he pulled two soda cans out of the fridge, his blue eyes shining guilelessly at his friend. He handed one to Jim. "I said that we should be training you to sniff out truffles or something practical like that."
"Practical? You call that practical? The last time I checked, Cascade wasn't exactly a hot spot in truffle hunting circles, and I have no desire to go to France."
"Two words, Jim -- French Women. Your nose could pay for the whole trip." Blair continued to prattle on as Jim dished up a plate full of his favorites.
"Today's Wednesday, have you seen David?" As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted it. Most Wednesdays that the two men had off seemed to include a visit from David Phillips. Most Wednesdays, that is, since they had arrested David's eldest son. Jim felt deeply for the older man, how could he not? Witnessing the police dispatcher's realization that his beloved son was the infamous 'Cascade Bomber' had been painful for all involved, but none more so than for Blair.
If the Cascade Bomber had been anyone but Jeff Phillips, Blair would have been proud of the police work they did to stop the bomber's reign of terror. Instead, he cringed every time the case was brought up.
Jeff had refused to allow his parents to put up their home for his bail money, and was still at the county lock-up facility, waiting for his trial date to arrive. Every Wednesday his father spent the afternoon with him then went to the loft to vent his frustration at the situation. So far the elder Phillips bore no ill will towards Sandburg for putting the pieces together and identifying his son, but Jim was still uncomfortable with the visits.
Jim voiced his concerns. "I just don't want to see you getting hurt. You're really involved in this one, Chief. Maybe you should back off a little bit, punishing yourself over it won't do anyone any good."
"I'm not the one going to jail." The younger man's voice wavered slightly. "I'm just the one that is sending him there."
"His crime is sending him to prison, not you. Remember that Sandburg. Okay?" Ellison softened the words with a slight smile. He understood how hard it was on his partner to walk away from this family.
A sharp rap on the door interrupted them as they put away the leftovers. Jim recognized the wintergreen scent of the liniment David used on his leg. The heartbeat that accompanied it was unusually rapid. When he opened the door, Phillips rushed in, rather than to wait for his usual invitation. "David, what's wrong? Has something happened to Jeff?" Despite his earlier words of caution to Blair, Jim was also concerned about the young man and his father.
"Where's Blair?" David barely acknowledged Jim as he moved through the loft. Sandburg met him half way.
"David, tell us." Sandburg didn't waste time on formalities; he just led the other man to the sofa and pushed him down on it. Jim sat down on the chair across from them.
"He's giving up, Blair. I don't know how to help him." Phillips leaned back, the worry etched on his face.
"What happened? When I saw him last week, he seemed to be holding it together. Is he still having his sessions with the psychiatrist?" Blair absently chewed on the edge of his thumb, thinking of any reason for the changes.
"He refused to go this week; he seemed quiet Saturday when his mother and I went to see him and today..." When David's words trailed off, Blair prompted him to continue.
"What happened today when you were there?"
Before Phillips could answer, Jim's cell phone rang, startling all three of the men. Jim grabbed it before the second ring. "Ellison." His shoulders slumped as he listened to the voice of his commanding officer. "We're on our way, Simon."
Jim closed his phone as he turned to the others. "I'm sorry guys, there's been a burglary at the Millennium Towers."
"You're kidding!" Despite his own worries, Phillips recognized the significance of the location. "The press is going to be all over this one -- the impenetrable fortress gets robbed. You guys better watch your P's and Q's while you're there."
Sandburg glanced back and forth between the two older men. "What's so special about that place? I mean, I remember all the reports about how great it was suppose to be when it opened..."
Jim nodded at Phillips, encouraging him to explain the significance of the call. Phillips smiled grimly as he spoke to Sandburg. "This is the first time Cascade PD has been called to that building for anything -- ever."
"Oh, great." Blair immediately recognized the scrutiny they would be under, and the problems that would cause. "David..."
"I know, just see him when you can." Phillips walked to the door with Sandburg as Ellison hastily stuffed the leftovers in the refrigerator. All three were lost in their own thought as they left the building.
Jim slowed the truck down as they drove onto the grounds of the high-rise structure. Blair whistled as he craned his neck to see to the top of the chrome and glass building. In a way it reminded him of a medieval castle with four imposing towers rising above the rest. For the past year it had been an impressive sight from a distance, but up close it was amazing.
A patrol car was parked nearby and Jim pulled up next to it and rolled down his window. A uniformed officer walked up and greeted them. "Detective Ellison, Detective Sandburg, glad you're here. The building's security people are not happy that we were called."
"Willis," Jim's greeting was brief. "You mean that they intended to handle the complaint in- house?"
The young officer snorted. "They weren't going to even let us in the place until the news crew showed up." He pointed over his shoulder at the van from a local station setting up in the far corner of the parking lot.
"Really?" Ellison's eyebrow shot up. "Well, it's nice to see the media be useful for a change." He ignored his partner's laugh from the seat next to him as he looked at the building in front of him. The entire first floor appeared to be pricey boutiques with a few coffeehouses thrown in for good measure. The second level seemed to be high rent office space. Above that was another level he could not identify. Each corner housed a tower that soared another 15 stories. "Where are we headed?"
Willis straightened up and pointed towards the north end of the building. "That side is the entrance to the condos. The Chief of Security is a man named Martin Laferty. He's upstairs waiting for you in Serenity 9."
Jim just rolled his eyes as he put the truck back into gear. Sandburg wisely kept his comments to himself; he knew just how much Ellison enjoyed dealing with high society. Almost as much as he enjoyed security guards that thought they were better than Cascade's finest.
As they drove to the residential entrance of the building, Jim noted the gated driveways into the underground parking. Through the heavy iron bars he could catch a glimpse of the largest collection of luxury cars he'd ever laid eyes on. Beside him, Blair was hastily pulling his hair back into a leather tie. "No." He reached out and grasped the younger man's arm. "All these people have the right to expect from you is that you'll do your job."
Blair studied the other man. His eyes reflected the calm trust he had come to know, but this time there was more. It took a few minutes for Blair to realize he was seeing a touch of rebellion in his usually stoic partner. Grinning, he dropped the tie back in his jacket pocket. He grinned even wider when Jim managed to splash a nearby Rolls Royce as he pulled into what was obviously guest parking.
The two men walked through the doors and were greeted by one of the three security officers stationed in the lobby. His nametag identified him as Joseph.
"I'm Detective Ellison, and..."
"Your badges, sirs." The request was crisp and formal and irked Ellison who was wearing his badge in plain sight as was his partner. Biting down his temper, Jim removed his badge and held it up. Behind him, Sandburg did the same. Instead of examining them closer, the pimpled face young man took both badges and moved over to the desk. He handed them over to the security guard sitting in front of a computer monitor. The partners watched in shock as their badge numbers were entered into the computer and moments later their official ID photos showed up on the monitor.
Without as much as a thank you, their badges were handed back and they were buzzed through to the inner lobby. Blair looked over his shoulder at the security station as he and Jim rode the glass-walled elevator to the upper lobby on the third floor.
"Jim, how'd they get into the PD's data base? That stuff was right out of our personnel files!"
"I don't know, but I'm sure as hell gonna find out." Jim stormed down the hallway, past the elevator for the Unity Tower, towards the Serenity Tower. Blair rushed to keep up, noting with vague interest that the entire third floor overlooked a ground level courtyard with large windows that did not open.
The elevator for Serenity Tower was standing open, the operator obviously waiting for them. Ellison barely grunted as he entered, while Sandburg tried to be pleasant. "Hi, we need to go to Serenity 9. Can you tell us where that would be?"
The elevator operator looked down his long nose at the shorter man. With his elaborate uniform and pale blond features he reminded Blair of pictures he had seen of old-time Nazi soldiers. "Serenity 9 is on level T-9, of course. Each unit is an entire floor in the tower."
"Of course." Sandburg gave a stiff smile and turned to face the door. For such a modern building, the elevator ride seemed extraordinarily long.
A sour-faced man met them at the door and Jim gave him an appraising look. His steel-gray eyes were obviously assessing the two detectives as well. Jim guessed his age at about fifty, although with his shaved head it was hard to be sure.
"I'm Martin Laferty, chief of building security. You're the detectives Cascade sent over?" He made no attempt to introduce the young couple standing further in the unit. There was something in the man's attitude that irked Jim.
"We'll be the lead detectives in the case, although I'm not sure 'sent over' is the term I'd use. The last time I checked, this building was still in the city limits." Jim raised an eyebrow, clearly challenging the other man.
Much to his credit, Laferty didn't immediately rise to the bait. "We at the Millennium Tower tend to think of ourselves as a separate entity. The residents prefer to handle matters themselves."
Blair stepped in before Jim could respond. "Obviously, not all the residents feel that way, or we wouldn't have been called."
"That's right." Jim stealthily moved behind the man and began crowding him towards the door. "Now, if you will excuse us, we'd like to interview the victims ourselves." He managed to herd the man to the door and Sandburg opened it for him.
Laferty seemed surprised to find himself at the door. "Don't you want my help with the interview?"
Blair thought for a second about how to not insult the man. "Actually, we'd rather have a separate interview, then compare notes in the morning. We find we get more information that way." Laferty seemed to accept the explanation for the moment and Sandburg closed the door behind him before he could object.
Now that they were finally allowed access to the victim, Ellison wasted no time. He crossed over to the blond woman in a Donna Karan suit clutching a large white cat. Standing next to her was a tall man wearing a designer sports coat over a black turtleneck. They looked like the poster children for Yuppies of Cascade.
"I'm Detective Ellison." Jim pasted on a smile and extended a hand to the man. To his surprise, the woman stepped in between them and took it.
"Camille Erickson, detective. This is my acquaintance, Stuart Hill. I'm afraid he's the one that called your department." She gave Jim a weak handshake before returning to petting the cat.
Ellison and Sandburg gave each other a puzzled look. It seemed no one in this building wanted the police involved with any of the goings on. That made Jim suspicious. "Tell me, if Mr. Hill hadn't been here, would you have reported the burglary?"
"Of course not. That's what our security people are for. Your police department has enough to do taking care of the little people and all their problems. I really hate to bother you when I know that our people can deal with it." She smiled up at Jim before moving to one of the overstuffed chairs by the window.
Jim bit the inside of his lip as he counted, trying to control his temper. Ten didn't help, so he kept counting. Blair took pity on him and sat on the chair across from her. "Well, since we're here, why don't you tell us what happened. Give us a break from dealing with all those 'little people' you know."
She gave no reaction to the sarcasm in Blair's words, and Jim realized that she honestly thought they were grateful to be there. He could feel the instinctual grinding of his teeth as he began his questions, barely noticing Sandburg opening his notebook.
"All right, Ms. Erickson, first off -- could you tell us what you do for a living?" He decided to start out simple and to avoid any big words that might confuse her.
"You don't know who I am?" Her lower lip curled down in a pout as she looked between the two partners. Hill rushed over to comfort her.
"Shh, of course he knows who you are. Everyone knows you, sweetie. He just has to ask officially for his investigation, that's all."
"Really?" She batted her eyelashes and smiled. Hill continued, while behind him Jim pinched the bridge of his nose as a headache began to bloom.
"Of course, cupcake. Why, I bet he has one of your posters in his locker."
She seemed pleased with the idea and happily answered the question that by now Jim wished he had never asked. "I'm a pin-up girl. My poster is now more popular than Farrah was. Would you like me to autograph your copy?" She giggled and began to play with the cat on her lap.
Jim shot a pleading look at his partner who just smiled in return, fully enjoying the show. With a look that promised future payback, Jim returned to the interview. "Could you tell me what was stolen?"
"Only my diamond tennis bracelet. A lot of my jewelry was with me."
"With you?" Jim waited for her to elaborate.
"I was in Fiji on a photo shoot. I have a new poster coming out this spring."
Jim sent up a quick prayer to the patron saint of cops that the vacuous young woman would stay on track. It seemed to work.
"I just got home tonight, and when I started to put the rest of my jewelry away, I noticed that my bracelet was gone. While I was on the phone with security, Stuart called you people."
Jim nodded. "You're sure the bracelet is the only thing missing?"
Camille tilted her head, in obvious thought. "I think so. Sometimes I have trouble remembering what jewelry I have, if you can believe that, but I think everything else is there."
Ellison heard a sentinel-soft snort coming from the direction of his partner, which he chose to ignore. Instead, he asked to see where she kept her jewelry. With a smile and a flip of her hair, Camille Erickson showed them the bedroom, the jewelry box still open on the dresser. Jim moved just inside the door and began his sweep of the room. A smudge of dirt on the carpet just inside the balcony door caught his immediate attention. He bent over and felt it; the dirt was dry, telling Jim that it was not fresh. If it had been brought in on the shoe of the suspect, the crime had been committed at least a day ago, maybe longer. Blair opened the door and stepped out onto the balcony. Lights cast odd shadows on the tower walls and the courtyard below. Jim followed him and Blair spoke while Jim looked over the railing.
"Could someone have climbed up from the courtyard?"
"It's possible," Jim bent down and examined the railing closer. "But I don't see any marks to show where a climbing hook was used. Down from the roof is a better option. We'll check the courtyard to be sure, though." He straightened up and turned back towards the bedroom. "Forensics is here, let's see what they can come up with. That security guy has trampled every inch of the scene; I'm not going to be able to get anything."
The two men entered the living room just as Serena and her team were coming in the front door, escorted by a very irate chief of security.
Laferty stormed up to Ellison. "Just what is the meaning of this? Having a patrol car parked outside was bad enough. These people showed up in a police van, for pete's sake! What are the residents going to think?"
Jim couldn't help it, he really couldn't. "Maybe they'll think that the police are doing their job?" Even a blind man could see the sarcasm in Ellison's smile and Blair cringed as Laferty's face turned a most surprising fuschia.
"We don't need you people. My men are perfectly capable of handling this."
"How much experience do they have?" Sandburg's voice was soft and caught the attention of the other two men. "I mean, if this is the first crime committed in this building, then they have no experience. Otherwise..."
Jim recognized that his partner was onto something by the change in Laferty's heart rate and respiration. "Just how many crimes have you had here?"
Laferty lowered his voice as to not be overheard by the victim and her friend. "That is not your concern!"
Jim was on a roll, and Blair and Serena smiled encouragingly. "I'm making it my concern. Now, do we have your cooperation or do my partner and I start going door to door, asking your residents if they've been robbed while living here in the building?"
"No, actually we wouldn't." Blair's words surprised Jim as much as they surprised Laferty. Sandburg just smiled as he picked up a flyer from a nearby table. Jim focused on it and relaxed, letting his partner have a little fun at the expense of the pompous, arrogant man. "It would be much easier to attend the building's monthly meeting. That way we could talk to all of them at once. They might have some interesting things to say."
Even non-sentinel ears could hear Laferty's gulp. Realizing that the show was over, Serena gathered her team and began their work.
Laferty admitted defeat. "I'll have copies of our entire files ready for you in the morning. Is that good enough?"
Jim hid the smile that was threatening to break out. "That will be fine. We'll be in your office at 8:00 am. Now, we'd like to take a look at the courtyard while we're here if you don't mind."
"Of course. Access is through the upper lobby. I'll be sure to tell my men to give you their complete cooperation. If that will be all, gentlemen?" Laferty didn't wait for an answer as he bolted out the door. Jim turned to Blair and smiled.
"Gee, was it something I said?" Their own movement towards the door was stopped by the worried victim.
Blair intercepted the woman. "Yes ma'am, was there something else?"
"You don't think..." She blinked back tears as she stood between them, clutching her very unhappy cat.
Jim took a deep breath and started to explain that this type of robber seldom returned to the scene of a crime. Before he could get the words out she interrupted him.
"Lady Beth was here alone and she may have seen him, the robber, I mean. Shouldn't she be in protective custody or something? What if he thinks she could identify him?"
Blair recognized the call for help in his partner's eyes and interceded, putting his arm around her shoulder and guiding her back to the chair. "Lady Beth is a Persian, right?" As she nodded, Blair reached out to stroke the cat's head. She immediately jumped out of her owner's arms and scooted under the chair. "She doesn't like strangers much does she?"
This time Camille Erickson shook her head as she leaned over to coax the cat out of her hiding place. Blair patted her arm as he stood up. "I'd bet just about anything that she was hiding the entire time and he never saw her. I wouldn't worry, but to be safe I think I'd get a secondary lock for that balcony door. Okay?"
She nodded again briefly at Blair, then looked over his shoulder and gave her photo-shoot smile to Jim. "Thank you so much, Detective Ellison. I feel so much better knowing you're on the case." Jim gave her the briefest of acknowledgements as his ears turned a bright red. Blair grinned at his partner, while in the corner the soon to be ex-acquaintance of Ms. Erickson's looked miserable.
Serena barely heard the mumbled "report tomorrow" as Ellison made a beeline for the door and gave Sandburg a knowing grin as he followed his partner. Jim didn't slow down until they were safely on the elevator. "Sandburg, I want you to promise me something."
"Sure, Jim." He had a pretty good idea where this was heading, but he played along.
"If I ever, and I mean ever, get that desperate for a date with someone that... that..."
"Vacuous, dumb, empty-headed, self-absorbed..." Blair grinned as he rattled off the possibilities.
"Yeah. I want you to take your gun and shoot me in the head. Okay?"
"Jim, if you ever start thinking that that is your idea of stimulating companionship, I'll have to shoot you somewhere else, 'cause there sure as hell wouldn't be anything up there to damage." For emphasis Blair leaned forward and thumped Jim on the forehead.
Next to them the elevator operator cleared his throat and both men jumped guiltily. He let them sweat for a minute then turned to them and grinned. "It's a good thing she's a looker, otherwise she might have to get a real job." Both men agreed, albeit silently. Before they reached the lobby, Jim inquired about roof access and was told that there was a complete lock down on the roofs after 6 pm, only to be over-ridden by the fire alarm.
When the elevator opened Joseph was again waiting for them. This time, however, he was more than helpful as he showed them the doorway into the private courtyard.
Ellison paused just inside the doorway, giving Blair time to adjust to the darkness in the dimly lit garden. It really was quite amazing and probably a major selling point to the owners of the condos that towered above it. A stone stairway, obviously patterned after an ancient Roman influence, led down one level to the formal garden. The two men silently walked down the steps then turned around slowly to get the full effect.
Nothing outside the garden was visible from down here. Even the condos that surrounded it were protected by mirrored glass. Jim quickly determined which bank of windows belonged to Camille Erickson's unit and moved closer to that side of the garden, Sandburg at his heels.
"Jim?" Blair slowed down, forcing Ellison to turn around for the next question. "Have you looked around? I mean, these grounds look like they're maintained on a daily basis. You're not going to find a blade of grass out of place around here."
It just took a quick glance to prove to the Sentinel that his partner was right. Even the gravel paths looked to be freshly raked. "So what do you suggest?"
Blair thought a moment. "What about smell? This area is pretty protected from the wind; a strange odor would take longer to dissipate."
The corner of Jim's mouth twitched. "You mean find something that doesn't smell like obnoxious rich people?" Wisely, the younger man didn't dignify that with an answer.
With the familiarity born of years of practice, the two men began to work. Blair's hand rested softly on Jim's back as the Sentinel centered himself and began to search. The rich smell of earth was cast aside as were the multitudes of organic smells from the plants and bushes that filled the garden. Past that, on the far side of the garden, was an artificial smell of lilacs. Jim dialed up his other senses and picked up two rapid heartbeats. Hand signals showed Blair where they were headed and the pulled gun showed the possible danger. Blair responded by drawing his own gun and stealthily moving across the ground in sync with his partner. At Jim's signal, they separated to approach a mound of bushes from opposite sides. As they prepared to announce their presence, a feminine giggle broke the silence.
Blair snorted and holstered his gun. Across from him, Ellison lowered his weapon, but did not put it away as he announced their presence. "Cascade PD!"
A masculine "oh, shit!" and another giggle preceded two heads poking out from under the bushes.
Jim scowled at the two teenagers as he put his gun away. "What are you two doing out here?"
The boy crawled free and stood up. With a slick grin reminiscent of Brad Ventriss, he answered the question. "Well, officer, sir, if you can't figure that out on your own..."
Whatever retort Jim had planned was stopped by the emergence of the young woman from the bushes. "Don't be silly, Justin. Your dad probably sent them out here."
"Contrary to what you may believe, the police department has better ways to spend its time than to follow you kids around." Jim gave them his most intimidating stare. "How often are you out here and how late do you stay?"
"On nights that you don't get interrupted, that is." Blair's grin was infectious and defused the tension.
"Tiffany was grounded for two weeks for flunking her math class. Does that answer your questions?" Justin looked Jim in the eye without flinching.
"Pretty much." Jim unconsciously straightened his back, giving him more height. "You both live here in the complex?"
The young man he was questioning stuck out his hand and formally introduced himself, much to Ellison's surprise. "Justin Wallace, Harmony 1. Tiffany's family doesn't live up in the towers, but her father's the chief of security here. You've probably already met him."
Ellison gave an affirmative grunt as his partner coughed behind him. "If we have any further questions, we'll know where to find you. Now, why don't you kids go inside." He kept a strained smile on his face until they were through the door. Behind him, Sandburg began to quietly chuckle.
Jim turned around, attempting to put his most stern expression on his face and failing miserably. By now, Blair was openly laughing. "Well, officer, sir, if you have to ask..."
"Laugh it up, junior." Jim gave in and began laughing. "Come on, we're not going to find anything here. Let's go home."
"What about the roof? Did our guy rappel down from there?"
Jim picked up a clump of dirt and rolled it between his fingers, letting it crumble. "Probably. This soil isn't the same as what's on the carpet upstairs."
Security office, Millenium Towers, Thursday, 8:00am
Again, it took a few minutes to clear the obstacles before they were allowed into the inner sanctuary of the Millenium Towers. Blair used the time to call David Phillips, but missed him between home and the station. Before he could make another attempt to reach the man, Martin Laferty arrived in his office. They informed him of their suspicions in regards to the case.
"Inside job? Absolutely not!" Laferty's mood had not improved since the previous night. "The residents here are the cream of Cascade's society. They don't need to steal from each other."
"What about the support staff?" Blair was cringing even before his words were out.
"Listen, hippie," Laferty turned his wrath towards the junior detective. "I personally supervise the hiring of each and every person employed here. Every maintenance person, every groundskeeper, every security officer has passed my inspection, and that is obviously more stringent than your department policy."
Jim broke in before the pompous man could go any further. "Well Mr. Laferty, if that is the case, then we'll have to concentrate our efforts on the weak points of the building's security." He picked up the files Laferty had prepared for them. "We'll start by interviewing the victims of these earlier crimes. By the way, Laferty, we met your daughter last night. Did she get the grass stains out of her dress?" Jim smiled sweetly and didn't wait for an answer. "Let's go, Chief."
Sandburg was out the door well before Ellison, and didn't slow down until he had reached the courtyard. By the time Jim caught up with him, Jim could hear him muttering "I'm letting this go. I'm letting this go."
"You okay buddy?" Jim knew his Guide wouldn't let Laferty get to him for long.
Blair let out a long breath. "Yeah, I'm good, what about you? I can't believe you managed to let it 'slip' that we found his daughter rolling around in the bushes last night."
"I was just concerned about her wardrobe."
"Yeah, right." Blair couldn't help but laugh, which was what Ellison wanted. "Where to, oh tactful one?"
Jim glanced down at the files he carried. "Let's start with Mr. and Mrs. Charles Palmer. According to the report here, Mrs. Palmer reported a ruby necklace missing three months ago. Laferty was convinced that the old lady just lost it somewhere and the building owners reimbursed her."
"They reimbursed her? How much was it worth?"
"Apparently less then the building's reputation." Jim couldn't keep the disgust out of his voice. "They'd rather pay out than admit that a crime happened in their precious utopia."
"Great, what unit are they in?" Sandburg tucked his hair behind his ears and straightened his shirt. "Lead on, McDuff."
It took the two men a few minutes to figure out the layout of the complex. There was a separate elevator for each of the four towers, one at each corner of the building. Since the entire building covered the equivalent of several blocks, it was a long hike to find all the elevators. Tranquility and Serenity were at the front of the building, with an impressive view of downtown Cascade and the waterfront, while Harmony and Unity, where they were headed, looked out towards Rainier Mountain Range.
Once they were in the elevator on their way to Unity 10, Jim handed the files over to Blair. "It says here that Mr. Palmer is 93 years old and his wife is 91. With our luck, her necklace is in the freezer."
"According to this, she left it sitting on her dresser and then it was gone. Up until the one last night, I can understand why they didn't think there was a crime involved." Blair hated to admit understanding any of the actions of Laferty and his men.
Jim shook his head. "Maybe, but the other one should have raised all sorts of red flags."
Before Blair could switch to the other file, the elevator stopped and they were at the door to Unity 10.
Jim pulled out his badge and knocked on the door. A shuffling sound could be heard and after a long delay the door slowly swung open.
"Yes?" An impeccably dressed elderly gentleman stood in the doorway. A brass-topped cane supported much of his weight and Jim could see minute tremors in his arms.
"I'm Detective Ellison and this is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We're here about the necklace you reported missing." Jim waited for a response.
Mr. Palmer stared at the two of them, obviously confused. A voice from inside the condo reminded him of why they were there.
"Charles, those are the detectives Chief Laferty called about. Don't you remember?" A tiny, blue-haired woman moved next to her husband and smiled up at them. "Won't you come in?" She raised her glasses up to take a better look at them. "Now which one are you?"
Blair smiled and offered her his arm. "I'm Detective Sandburg. Why don't you sit down and tell us exactly what happened." Jim smiled and held the door open for Mr. Palmer, then followed him inside.
Once they were settled in the formal living room, Jim repeated Sandburg's question. "Mrs. Palmer, could you tell what happened when your necklace disappeared?" Mrs. Palmer smiled sweetly at him and rang a small silver bell. Moments later, a middle age Hispanic woman appeared.
"Rosa, dear, would you bring us some tea?" The maid nodded and without a word retreated back into the kitchen. The third repeat of the question was handled by Blair.
"My wife has plenty of jewelry, young man. She doesn't need to buy any more." The elderly man reached up to brush his hair back only to discover he was still holding his cane. After a moment's struggle, he handed the offending object to Jim and proceeded to smooth his hair back into place.
Jim looked between the Palmers, the cane and his partner, wondering when he had lost control of the situation or if he'd ever had it at all. Before he could say anything the maid quietly re-entered the room, this time carrying a large silver tray. She set it down on the gild table in front of them. Jim thrust the cane into her hand before she could move away. She just gave a knowing smile and took it back into the kitchen with her.
Mrs. Palmer clucked at her husband as she poured the tea. "Not a new one, Charles, the one I lost. These are the police officers that are helping Chief Laferty."
Mr. Palmer seemed to understand, "Chief Laferty -- a good man. You boys work for him?" or maybe not.
"Not exactly." Jim pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to ward off the headache that was threatening to take over. "Why don't you just tell us what happened."
"What happened? To Chief Laferty? Last I heard he was as fit as a fiddle." Mr. Palmer turned to his wife in confusion.
"It's all right, dear. Chief Laferty is fine; these boys are here about the necklace I lost." She patted her husband's knee.
"It's your necklace, what are they asking me for?" He turned away with his arms crossed. "Ask her."
"Yes, sir." The side of Jim's jaw twitched as he turned to the woman he was trying to interview in the first place. Before he could gather his thoughts again, she thrust a dainty teacup into his hand. The handle was too small for his finger to fit through, so he carefully held the rim as he glared at his partner who was having entirely too much fun watching the exchange. "Now Mrs. Palmer, if you could tell us, in your own words, exactly what happened when your necklace disappeared.
"Of course." She seemed inordinately pleased to have two men waiting for her words. "It was a Saturday, so Charles and I had been out to the symphony, it was a fundraiser you know, and then we had dinner at one of those charming places on the waterfront. I can't remember the name of it now, but they served the best..."
"The necklace, ma'am." Ellison was rapidly losing his patience.
"I'm getting to that, young man." She reached over and laid her hand on Jim's knee much as she had done to her husband earlier, but this time she squeezed his leg. Jim jumped, sloshing his tea. "Oh, my, what wonderful muscles. I really must introduce you to our granddaughter; she needs a big strapping man like yourself."
Jim grabbed the roaming hand and returned it to her lap, setting the teacup on the tray as he did. This time his voice bode no room for discussion. "The necklace, Mrs. Palmer?"
Chastised, the woman settled back into her seat. "Rosa had already left for the evening by the time we returned home, so I left the necklace on top of my dresser."
"Excuse me, ma'am," Sandburg interrupted, a puzzled look on his face. "Why does that have to do with putting your necklace away?"
The elderly woman blushed, much to their surprise. "I haven't been able to see those tiny numbers on the dial of the safe for ages. Rosa always opens it for us; she's been with us for years. In the morning I'm afraid we were a bit rushed getting to church and I forgot to put it back on. You see, I was wearing my black silk dress and the necklace looks so good with it." She turned back to Jim and smiled.
"Of course." Ellison didn't know what else to say that wouldn't derail the woman's story. He gave her his best smile in return and waited for her to continue.
"We were in the car before I realized that I didn't have my necklace on, and Charles wouldn't go back for it." She turned a sour look at her husband who had fallen asleep in his chair. Jim found himself envious of the elderly man.
"What time did you realize the necklace was gone?" Blair took pity on his partner and leaned into the woman's view.
"Well, let's see," she began counting her day off on her fingers. "After services we had lunch with the Reverend, then we went to see the new shelter the church is building for those poor homeless teenagers." She leaned forward and whispered, "We're funding it, you know, Charles and I."
Both Jim and Sandburg made the appropriate noises and waited for the story to continue. "After that we did some shopping then we stopped at the club. We were back home in time for Masterpiece Theater -- it's Charles' favorite show. I went in the bedroom to put things away and to get my necklace so I could put it on before the Hales came over; they always watch with us. It wasn't on the dresser, so someone must have stolen it while we were at Church. What kind of person steals from someone who is at church?"
It took Jim a minute to realize that there was a question at the end of her ramblings. "Most criminals don't care about things like that ma'am. Now, I have a few questions, if that is all right?" At her nod he continued. "How many people have a key to your condominium?"
"Charles and I, of course... and our wonderful Chief Laferty." She paused, pursing her lips in thought.
Blair tried prompting her. "What about Rosa?"
"Rosa? Of course not! We trust her implicitly, but the building has its rules."
"Rules?" Blair cut in before Jim could ask.
"All domestic workers are escorted in and out of the building at all times. We let Chief Laferty or his men know her schedule and they bring her right up to our door. At the end of her day, one of his officers walks her out to the bus stop. It's really wonderful knowing that Rosa is safe out there on the street at night."
"Yes, I'm sure it is." Blair grimaced behind the woman's back, increasingly uncomfortable with this building and it's rules. Jim just shrugged in response. As much as he hated it, policing attitudes was outside their jurisdiction. A reflection caught his attention and he focused on the elderly woman's ear.
"Mrs. Palmer, do you wear a hearing aid?"
"At our age? Of course, both my husband and I have hearing aids. Is that important?"
"We just want a complete report, ma'am." Jim neatly deflected her question as he stood up. He didn't need to enter the bedroom to know that there was a large sliding door that led to the balcony. "We'll let you know if we have any further questions."
"You do that, young man." She tugged on Ellison's sleeve, pulling him down to her height. "You need to get her some more hot tea with honey."
"Excuse me?" For not the first time on this case he was lost.
Mrs. Palmer discreetly pointed at Blair. "Her voice is so hoarse, she must have a horrible cold. You really should take care of her."
Jim bit the inside of his lip and ignored the glare he was getting from his partner. "Yes ma'am, I'll do that."
Before they made it to the door, Mr. Palmer woke up again and demanded to know who was in his home. This time Jim just shook the man's hand and introduced himself with a smile. "Jim Ellison, sir; we were just leaving."
"Ellison? I only know a William Ellison. Wild hellion, that one was." Still muttering, the old man wandered off and the two detectives escaped to the elevator.
Neither man said a word until the elevator was almost to the lobby. Blair looked straight ahead as he spoke. "I won't say a word if you don't."
Jim didn't hesitate. "Deal."
Once back at the upper lobby, they circled back around until they got to the elevator for the Tranquility tower and proceeded up. Blair glanced at the file again. "Mitchell Edmund Hawthorne III, I wonder if he's as stuffy as his name sounds?" His words were soft enough to only reach the ears of a Sentinel.
Jim just grinned at his partner, in deference to the man operating the elevator controls, but he was able to relax before they reached level 8. Once they stepped out onto the small landing between elevator and front door, they stopped and looked around for a minute. They were beginning to realize that each landing was decorated according to the taste of the owner of the condo on that floor. Ms. Erickson's had been sparse and modern, while the Palmer's had been filled with old-world antiques. This one was stark and cold. Rather than the carpet that they had seen earlier, this landing was floored in pure white marble. No area rugs softened the walk and the bright white walls glared harshly. The smell of harsh cleaning chemicals even burned Sandburg's nose.
"Dial it down, Jim. We must have just missed the cleaning crew."
"No kidding." Ellison blinked his burning eyes. "Let's get this over." He rapped on the door impatiently. When he heard a muffled voice from inside he didn't waste any time identifying them. "Mr. Hawthorne, we're here about the break-in. I'm Detective Ellison and this..." The door swung open and he lowered his voice, "is Detective Sandburg."
"Your badges, please." The short balding man held out his hand, unconsciously recreating the welcome they had had the day before. Jim forced himself not to roll his eyes as he and Sandburg showed him their identification.
Satisfied, he handed the leather cases back to their owners. "The building's management reimbursed me for my loss when it happened. Why are you gentlemen here?"
"Well, we'd like to catch whoever's responsible. There's been several burglaries in the building, and they may be connected." Jim was proud of how diplomatic he was being.
"Well, if you must," Hawthorne appeared bored by the entire thing, "but I insist that you remove your shoes."
"Our shoes?" That was not what Jim was expecting. He gave the man a better look and sure enough, he was wearing slippers. The two detectives exchanged glances and then toed off their shoes. Jim almost laughed out loud at Hawthorne's expression when he looked down at their feet. For once it wasn't his white socks that were drawing attention, it was Blair's striped ones. Eventually they were let into the condo; the plush white carpet was soft under their feet.
"I don't know what you expect to find; goblins stole my coins because they were cursed." Hawthorne carefully smoothed the white sofa before sitting down.
It was a toss-up as to which detective was more surprised, but it was Ellison that recovered first. "What makes you believe it was goblins?"
Hawthorne responded as if he were talking to a child. "It's the only explanation; after all, they never stepped on my carpet."
Jim started rubbing his forehead. "They never stepped on your carpet?"
"If you don't mind my asking, how can you tell?" Part of Blair was sure he really didn't want to know the answer, but the question was out before he could stop it.
In response, Hawthorne rolled his eyes as he spoke. "I rake my carpet every day, north to south, against the nap of course."
"Of course..." Jim glanced over at Sandburg who just shrugged his shoulders.
Hawthorne continued on, oblivious to the reaction of his interviewers. "That day, I raked right after I put the coins in the safe; there were no footprints in the carpet the next day when I went back in there.
Jim decided not to go any further with the carpet issue. "May we see where you keep your safe?"
As they followed him into what appeared to be a home office, Sandburg skimmed the files again. "Do you know if building security dusted for prints?"
Hawthorne tapped his lip as he thought over the question. "I don't think so; after all, it was Thursday."
"Thursday?" Blair decided that he really needed to get a handle of that side of his brain that was asking for answers that he didn't want to know.
"Of course; Tuesday and Thursday mornings are when I polish all the metal. Doorknobs, hinges, the safe, they were all polished that morning. I guarantee you, I didn't miss anything."
Ellison believed him. "What about the windows?"
"I clean the glass every morning." Hawthorne was obviously insulted by the question. "Doesn't everybody?"
"Not a word, Ellison." Blair's words were too soft for normal hearing to pick up, but they relaxed the stressed Sentinel.
Jim took a deep breath. "Of course sir, but we'd still like to look around."
Once inside the office the most noticeable feature, not surprisingly, was the large sliding glass door that opened onto the balcony. Jim studied the wall opposite it, paying close attention to the area nearest the safe. Undetectable to even sentinel vision until the light hit it just right was a circle where the wall had an unusual shine. Once he pointed it out, the other men could see it. Blair was proud of his partner, Hawthorne was upset that he had missed seeing it before. "You're good detective, but how does that get them into my office?"
"Simple." Jim walked over to the balcony door. "They gained access through the balcony and crawled along a rope suction-cupped to the wall. There were no footprints because they never left the rope."
By now Hawthorne seemed impressed. "Wow, you're very good, Detective."
Ellison couldn't quite keep the smug smile off his face. "Who knew about the safe?"
Hawthorne thought for a moment. "Well, let's see... Damien Vanderhorn, my business partner, of course. There's Andrew, my handyman, and Inga, the woman who comes in to do the heavy cleaning for me."
"How often is that?" Blair couldn't believe that any dirt had the chance to even land, let alone build up to require heavy cleaning. One look at his partner showed he was thinking the same thing.
Hawthorne didn't find anything unusual about the question. "Twice a week, three times if I'm going to be entertaining."
Jim shook his head and pointed out to the balcony. "Chief, let's take a look at the balcony while we're here." He turned to Hawthorne. "I suppose that's been cleaned a dozen times since the burglary too?"
"Well of course, I'm no slob."
To keep Ellison safe, Sandburg broke in. "Did you happen to notice anything out of place while you were cleaning out there?"
"Actually, yes." Hawthorne seemed lost in thought for a moment. "Now that you mention it, there were chips of paint under the railing."
This piqued the Sentinel's interest. "From your railing?"
"Of course not; I'd know if any paint was missing off my rail." Hawthorne was affronted at the thought that his property might have an imperfection.
After promising to keep him informed, the two detectives moved back to the door. Before they could leave, Hawthorne pulled a pair of tweezers out of his shirt pocket and bent down. Ellison stared in shock as a long curly hair was plucked off the white carpet and returned to Sandburg.
"I believe you dropped this."
Neither man said a word until the elevator deposited them back in the lobby. Sandburg dropped the hair on the lobby floor and began to laugh. "Man, I had it all wrong. All this time I thought I was living with Felix Unger -- turns out I've really been living with Oscar."
"Very funny." Jim tried to look insulted, but failed in the attempt. Before they made it safely outside, another resident of the building stopped them.
"You're the police officers that are here about the robberies?"
Both Sandburg and Ellison nodded, waiting for more information. The other man continued on.
"I'm Jack Wallace, I live in the Harmony tower." In a familiar gesture he stuck his hand out to Ellison.
Ellison shook the offered hand. "Harmony 1, right?" At the other man's confused look, Ellison continued. "We met your son last night. What can we do for you?"
"Well, I heard about the break-in last night and I started looking around my place -- you know?" When Ellison took out his notebook, he continued. "Part of my collection of antique snuffbottles is missing."
Jim gave the man an odd look. "You didn't miss them earlier?"
"They're not out on display. I remarried a year ago and they don't fit with my wife's decorating scheme." Wallace shifted his briefcase to his other hand to glance at his watch.
"Is it possible that they were just misplaced?" The timing of the discovery seemed a little strange to Ellison.
Blair had questions of his own. "When was the last time you remember seeing them and how many are missing?"
Wallace answered Blair's questions first. "I had them out about six months ago. The insurance company sent over an appraiser to update my policy and," he turned back to Ellison, "no, three dozen of them were not misplaced."
Jim didn't bat an eye, just continued to take notes. "What is the name of your insurance company?"
"Cascade Mutual." Wallace looked at his watch again. "I've already called them and they're sending someone out this afternoon at 2:00."
"Very good sir, now if we could take a look at your..."
"I'm sorry, but I am really running late." Wallace apologetically pointed at his watch. I'm going to be late for a meeting if I don't hurry. Why don't you gentlemen come back with the insurance people? That would be more convenient."
Jim's jaw clenched once, twice before he opened his mouth, and Blair beat him to the punch. "We'll be back then, no problem." He would have been upset by his partner's interruption, but the tight smile on Sandburg's face told him that the younger man was just as annoyed -- but he was better at hiding it. Sandburg continued, "just tell us one thing for now. The room they were kept in -- did it have a balcony?"
"No, they were in our den. That's on the other side of the condo. Is that important?" Wallace didn't wait for an answer or any further questions as he turned to go.
Jim finally found his voice as the other man walked away from them. "Egotistical a..."
"Airhead, right? The word you're looking for is airhead." This time the smile from Sandburg was genuine.
"If you say so, Chief." Ellison couldn't help but smile back.
In the truck
They made it almost half way back to the station before Jim's shoulders started to shake. Blair turned to him in concern. "Hey man, are you all right? Is it something with your senses?" The truck swung sharply into the parking lot of a local coffee shop and Blair could see that it was laughter that was making his partner shake. After a valiant effort, he too succumbed.
"Oh man, did you ever meet a guy like Hawthorne?" Blair wiped his face as he continued to laugh. "He was unbelievable."
Jim agreed. "What was unbelievable was the look on your face when he handed back that hair. I thought I was going to lose it right then." He shook his head as he took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. "If we have to go back there, I'm raiding your sock drawer."
"I've got a pair with toes that would be great for you." There was something in his voice that made Jim look at him.
"You don't want to wear them?"
"Nah, I've got another pair that would be even better." Blair looked at the coffee shop as he continued, "Let's grab a late breakfast before we go back to the station."
Jim didn't say anything, just shut down the engine and climbed out of the cab. Blair followed suit, not noticing the limp until they were half way across the parking lot.
The answer was unintelligible and Blair repeated the question. Finally Jim spoke up enough to be heard. "That old biddy bruised my leg."
His admission set off another round of laughter in his partner. "Oh, injured in the line of duty; do you want help filling out the incident report? We could bring her down to the station, question her, book her for assaulting an officer..."
"Breakfast is on me."
The mood lasted until after they ordered, then Blair took the opportunity to call David Phillips at his desk.
"David, it's Blair."
"Blair, how are you?"
"I think the better question would be how's Jeff?" Blair leaned back to give the waitress room as she set his plate in front of him. Through his cell phone he heard a deep sigh.
"It's not good, Blair. He's refused all visitors today, even me." There was a pause before Phillips continued, sounding very much like a broken man. "I don't know what to do to help him."
Jim watched the younger man settle in to listen to David spill his grief and worry, his breakfast growing cold in front of him. Jim picked up the fork by Blair's left hand and speared a chunk of pancake and shoved it at Sandburg's mouth. Blair rolled his eyes, but took both the hint and the fork.
By the time Phillips was done, Blair's plate was empty and the young Shaman set his phone down with a sigh. Before Jim could offer any sympathy, Blair had picked it up and began dialing. Jim signaled the waitress for more coffee as Blair launched into an all-out effort to get Jeff Phillips put on a suicide watch.
"You can't save everybody, Chief." Jim looked over at his despondent partner. He knew just how hard Blair had fought for Jeff's added protection. The answering words were so soft he had to dial up to hear them.
"I know. I just want to save this one."
Jim thought for a second as how to answer his partner. "As the arresting officer, you've requested a suicide watch, right?" He waited for the younger man's nod before continuing. "They can drag their feet for a few hours, but that's it. They'll have to comply with your request and that will give the psychiatrist time to help him. I know you want to do more, but you've done all you can. Are you going to be all right with that?"
Blair was quiet for a long time before he answered. "Yeah, I'll be all right; I just hope the same can be said for Jeff."
Back at the Bullpen 11:30am
"The Wallace robbery doesn't fit the rest of them," Jim announced as he handed Blair a cup of coffee and set his own down on his desk. "All the other items taken were small enough to slip in a pocket. Three dozen snuff bottles would make a rather noticeable lump in someone's coat."
"You just don't like Wallace or his kid." The tone was teasing, but Sandburg had a serious expression on his face.
Jim recognized what he referred to as Sandburg's thinking mode. "What?"
Blair looked up and flashed a grin at the other man. "If you're right about Wallace, then this might make a lot more sense. Just give me a few minutes to sort something out, okay?"
Jim kept quiet and flipped through the notes again in a half-hearted attempt to make sense of the case. Truthfully, spending the morning with the 'cream of Cascade's society' had left him with a headache that threatened to split his skull. At the desk across from his, Sandburg seemed extraordinarily cheerful as he worked.
The pencil never slowed in Sandburg's right hand as his left one burrowed in a desk drawer. "Here." Unceremoniously he shoved an aspirin bottle at Jim. "Take a couple of these before it gets any worse."
How'd he know I have a headache? Jim's silent musings were answered when Sandburg reached back into the drawer and pulled out a bottle of antacids. The bottle was a year old and still over half full, which told Ellison how much these people were getting to his partner, a rare occurrence.
Any commiseration they may have done was interrupted by the arrival of their captain. "Gentlemen, I'd like an update on the Millenium Tower case." He never slowed down as he requested their presence and Ellison downed the aspirin with the last of his coffee while Blair gathered up all the files.
Banks waited until the men sat down at the conference table and Sandburg had the files spread out in front of him again. "Tell me you have something. The mayor is not happy about this."
Jim unconsciously straightened up as he addressed the captain. "We have four break-ins that may or may not be connected, all occurring over the past several months."
"FOUR!! I thought we just got the one case last night?" Banks nearly snapped his cigar in half before he dropped it onto the table.
Ellison understood his frustration. "One of the thefts was just discovered this morning. The other two were handled in-house."
The captain was immediately suspicious. "What do you mean, in-house, and where are the files on the other robberies?"
Blair dug through the stack of papers and notes to pull out Laferty's thin files on the Palmer and Hawthorne incidents. "Apparently, the building's management didn't want to admit that the crime that plagues the 'little people' of Cascade had spread to their little slice of heaven so they were paying for any loss that was reported, as long as there was no public reporting of what had happened. Here's the files, Simon." With a disgusted grunt, he tossed the folders to Simon's side of the table.
Banks gave the papers a cursory glance. "You've got to be kidding."
Jim cleared his throat. "The best part, sir, is that their chief of security has agreed to cooperate with our investigation."
Behind the stylish glasses, one eyebrow raised up. "Oh, has he now? How wonderful for us."
With an evil smile Jim continued. "Yes, once they tapped into the department personnel files and checked Sandburg and me out, they allowed us up to the scene of the latest crime."
"How nice of them." Although Simon's expression indicated otherwise. Eventually the rest of Jim's words caught up with him and the eyebrow raised even higher. "Personnel files?"
Blair chimed in. "Yeah, man you wouldn't believe it. They ran our badge numbers through their computer system and lo and behold, we're seeing our official records on their monitors. It was creepy."
Creepy obviously wasn't the term Banks had for it. Rather than respond to the other two men's comments he leaned forward and hit the intercom button. "Rhonda?"
"Rhonda, I want the department computer specialist in my office yesterday."
Through the office window Jim could see the puzzled look on her face, but much to her credit, she was already on the phone. He turned back to Banks as the captain spoke to them again. "Tell me you're onto something."
"Maybe." Blair pulled out the paper he had been working on at his desk. "Take a look at this. This is the layout of the building." Jim nodded his understanding of the sketch immediately, while Simon took a few seconds longer to sort out the towers and the courtyard they surrounded.
"What are these?" Simon pointed to the narrow bands that connected the four towers.
"It's like a strip mall between the towers, all high-end retail and office space. They create the wall that surrounds the courtyard. The third level is the beginnings of the private part of the complex. From there up are only the towers. Each floor houses one condominium with balconies on the two inner sides. Let me label the locations of the items stolen and I think you'll see where I'm headed with this. For the moment, I'm ignoring the Wallace case."
Jim could see the pattern in his head before Sandburg could make a mark on the paper. Quickly it became visible to Banks also. The point of entry for the robberies had been the balcony facing the Harmony tower.
"Interesting, but why are we ignoring the Wallace case?" Simon looked expectantly at the partners. Jim nodded at Blair, so the younger man answered the question.
"Our thief is taking small, expensive items that are visible -- a necklace off of a dresser, a bracelet out of an overflowing jewelry box, and coins from a large exposed safe. In the Wallace's case, they lost 36 antique snuffboxes out of storage. I wouldn't be surprised if there haven't been other cases where something turned up missing and the people just thought they had lost it."
A rap on the door startled all three men and they turned to find Serena at the door. "Jim, I thought you guys would like the results from the Erickson case." Jim waved her in as Sandburg moved his papers to make room.
Serena sat down and slid a stack of papers at Ellison. "As you can see, there were no fibers or fingerprints that we can connect to the robbery. In fact, the only thing we could link to the perp was the dried mud by the balcony door, but I think you already knew that."
Jim ignored her last comment. "Anything you could tell about the mud?"
"According to the minerals we found in it, the dirt probably came from the Snoqualmie National Forest. More precisely, the northern most part of it..."
"Where some of the best mountain climbing in the northwest can be found." Blair finished her thought with a grin.
"What do you know about mountain climbing?" The question came from Ellison, but was reflected on the faces of the others in the room. Blair's dislike of heights was legendary in the PD.
"Some of the guys I went to the Academy with would go up there to climb every time they had enough time off. Apparently there is an area that the pros use to train before they go on big expeditions."
Jim nodded, deep in thought. "It would fit."
"You think a group of mountain climbers is robbing these people?" The expression on Simon's face told that he was thinking of how to inform the mayor about that theory.
"They're coming in through the balconies, sir. Serena has traced them to an area frequented by climbers, so it makes sense."
Blair added his own comment to Jim's. "Either that or Spiderman has turned to a life of crime."
The snort indicated that Banks was not amused by Blair's wisecrack. Jim just moved to the window, which got Sandburg's attention and he moved to his Sentinel's side. "What?"
Jim pointed to a building across the street that was taller than the station. "If you had binoculars, how many floors could you see into?"
Blair thought for a moment, Simon and Serena moved next to them as he studied the nearby building. "The level directly across from us would be easy. Directly above and below would be harder, but do-able." Understanding dawned on the younger man's face. "Anything past that would be at too much of an angle to see more than a few feet past the window."
Simon spoke up from behind them. "That narrows down how many people in the Harmony Tower could see into the homes that were burglarized, doesn't it?"
"It sure does." Jim turned back from the window. "Let's get back over there, Chief. I want to take a look up on the roofs before we meet with Wallace."
The phone on Simon's desk buzzed and the tall man reached to answer it. "Yes?"
Jim just had to crank up his hearing a bit to hear Rafe's voice on the phone. "Captain, there's been another burglary at the Towers. They're expecting Ellison and Sandburg as soon as they can get there."
Since they weren't alone, Simon relayed the message to them, noting Ellison's displeasure.
As the two men prepared to leave, a worried expression crossed Simon's face and he turned to Blair. "Is he playing nice with the rich people, Sandburg?"
"He's his usual, charming self." Blair paused as Simon put his head in his hands with a low groan. "Really, though, he didn't even complain when Mrs. Palmer..."
"How about some tea with honey, dear?" Jim's question brought the younger man up short and he blushed a bright red, immediately quiet. With a smug grin, Jim picked up the files and led the way out of Simon's office, Blair only a step behind him. As the door closed, both Simon and Serena broke out laughing.
Millenium Towers 12:45pm
This time when they arrived, the two men were ushered right inside with barely a glance from the group of security guards clustered around the computer monitor. The 'access denied' written across the screen gave Ellison and Sandburg a good idea of what their captain had been up too. Laferty was waiting for them in his office; his computer showed the same message.
With that image in the background, Ellison found it easy to be pleasant. "We heard that you've had another break-in."
It was pretty obvious to the other men that there was another subject that Laferty wanted to discuss, but to his credit he kept with the case. "The Martins reported a Ming vase missing."
Jim looked down at his watch. It was nearly 1:00. "How long ago did they report it?"
"The Martins aren't early risers." Laferty's vague answer let them come to their own conclusions.
"I see." Ellison looked over at Blair, a questioning look on his face. This one was setting off all sorts of internal alarms, as it did not fit the profile of the other crimes. Blair shrugged, his own doubts reflecting back at Jim. Blair had spent too many years as a student of human nature not to be suspicious of the timing of these new cases. The public admittance by the building staff as to the payoff on any lost item was bound to bring out the greedy no matter how wealthy they were.
Blair had a question of his own. "Where do the Martins live?"
"They're in Serenity 14." Laferty looked at the body language of the two detectives and became suspicious that they had more information than he had now. "I'd like to go up with you, since I haven't talked to them yet."
Rather than take the time to argue, Ellison opened the door for him. "After you."
The smell of alcohol greeted the Sentinel as soon as they stepped off the elevator and Jim knew exactly why the Martins weren't early risers. It took several knocks before the door was answered. A middle-aged man with a Bloody Mary in his hand stood there. "About time you got here." Without another comment, he pushed the maid out into the vestibule. "No need to call anyone; I'll walk her down myself."
The elevator closed behind Mr. Martin and the young woman before any of them could say a word. Hearing someone moving about in the unit, Ellison pushed the door open the rest of the way and walked in. Blair and Laferty looked at each other and followed.
"Mrs. Martin?" Jim walked through the unit, by now he was familiar with the layout, as they were pretty much all the same. In the living room he found a nervous woman attempting to paint her nails. The smell of nail polish burned his nose and his cough caught her attention. She jumped slightly, smearing the wet polish across her hand.
"Yes, who are you?" She relaxed slightly when she noticed Laferty standing behind him. "Chief Laferty, what can I do for you?"
Even Laferty was surprised by the woman's question. "We're here about the vase -- these men are detectives with the police department." When she didn't respond, he prompted her further. "Your husband called my office and reported that you had a Ming vase stolen last night."
"Oh yes, the vase that was stolen." All three men noticed her emphasis on the word 'stolen'. Jim dialed his senses back up, filtering out the alcohol and the nail polish and was struck by just how frightened she was. His instinct told him to let her stew for a while.
"Don't mind us, ma'am; we're just going to take a look around for a bit." He gave her his most disarming smile, which made her more nervous than ever, which was his intent.
Sandburg was pretty sure he knew where his partner was going with his approach and followed him out onto the balcony. Laferty started to question them but when he realized that they had left him behind, he hurried to join them.
The sliding door closed behind Laferty with a bang and he moved closer to the two detectives. "What in the hell was that all about? Why didn't you interview her?"
"Didn't it strike you a little odd that you had to remind her what was stolen?" Blair engaged the older man's attention, allowing his partner to work.
"More than a little odd, actually. So why aren't you pushing her about it? And what in the hell is he doing?" Laferty looked over at Ellison who was studying the deck surface and the potted plants that surrounded the edge, some of them taller than the railing.
"He's letting her stew and he's taking a good look at the probable point of entry while it's still fresh." Inwardly Blair cheered. Laferty seemed to be developing a grudging respect for his partner, though he'd never publicly admit it.
"They didn't come in through here." Jim stood up and brushed off his knees.
"Are you sure?" There didn't seem to be a lot of doubt behind Laferty's question.
"There's a light layer of dust out here, see? Our footprints are the only ones visible." By squinting hard Laferty could see what Ellison was referring to. Before he could ask Ellison just how he could see that, Sandburg spoke up.
"Take a look at those plants. Nobody could climb over those without knocking at least one of them over." Before the security chief could question him Blair continued, moving the leaves aside to show the surface of the soil in the pots. "See, the dirt hasn't been disturbed."
Ellison's focus was on the woman inside. She was pacing back and forth in front of the balcony door, her attention divided between the men outside and the far wall of the living room. Sandburg moved to his side.
"She doesn't act like your typical victim."
"Nope." Ellison couldn't help but notice their scrutiny was increasing her anxiety.
"Kinda early for the help to be going home." Out of the corner of his eye Blair watched Laferty watch them.
"Better than banker's hours. Shall we?" Jim opened the door for his partner. Blair slid in, followed by Ellison. Again, Laferty was left to play catch up as he rushed to follow them.
With practiced ease the two men began to work their magic. Blair sat next to the victim while Jim moved back and forth across the room. Every time he moved closer to the far wall, he could detect an increase of her heartrate and breathing. Sandburg kept interrupting her with questions about the missing vase, watching his partner carefully that he didn't zone.
Ellison studied the area methodically; keeping one ear tuned to the woman, as she became more and more agitated. When he bent down to examine the carpet, her gasp almost drowned out the slight crunch under his foot. Almost. Sensitive fingers brushed apart the nap of the carpet, searching against the burlap backing. He was rewarded by a tiny fragment of porcelain, then another. Jim dampened his index finger by exhaling on it and then pressed against the slivers. The moisture caused them to cling to his finger and he stood up and walked over to Mrs. Martin.
"Who threw the vase, ma'am?" Jim's voice was soft and it broke the dam. She began to quietly sob.
"He's a good man; he just drinks too much sometimes. He didn't mean it, honest -- he loves me."
Wisely, Jim moved aside and let his partner take over. Blair moved close and squeezed the woman's hand. "Mrs. Martin?"
"Pamela, it's Pamela."
"All right Pamela, no one is questioning how much he loves you, but you know that what happened last night wasn't right. You're going to have to be the strong one and get him some help. Can you do that?"
"How? I don't know how." She dabbed at her eyes with the tissue that Sandburg offered.
Blair had anticipated the question and was already writing phone numbers down. He tore the page out of his notebook and pressed it into the woman's hand. "Call these people, they'll help you do what you need to do." When she seemed to hesitate, he played a trump card. "If he's in some type of intervention program by the end of the week, we won't press charges."
"Falsely reporting a robbery is a serious thing, not to mention the fraud charges possible by requesting the Tower management or your insurance company refund you for a vase that wasn't really stolen. Call them now, all right?" He patted her arm as he stood up. "I put our number on there too. If we're not at our desks, they can forward the call to us."
"Thank you. I'll call; I promise."
Once they were back on the elevator, Laferty turned to Sandburg. "You did a real good thing back there, thank you."
The modest young man just shrugged his shoulders. "Helping people is part of the job; it's what we do. Humiliating them with an arrest wouldn't have done any good, but the possibility of it may force them to get help."
"I appreciate it." Laferty changed the subject as the elevator arrived at the lobby level. "What's the next step?"
"We meet with Wallace at 2:00, then we go up on the roofs." Jim didn't look thrilled with the prospect of interviewing Jack Wallace. "Unless he's too busy to meet with us."
"Wallace? Jack Wallace in Harmony 1?"
"Yes sir." Since they were working together easier now, Jim decided to try to pump Laferty for more information. "What can you tell us about him?"
Laferty thought for a moment. "He's new money, self-made at that. Drives himself pretty hard and expects the same from those around him."
"Including his kid?"
"Especially his kid."
Jim remembered what it was like to grow up with a demanding father and almost missed the rest of Laferty's words.
"He hasn't reported anything missing, what do you need to see him for?"
Seeing his partner's distraction, Blair answered the older man. "Apparently he has some things missing that he reported directly to his insurance company. We're meeting the company rep there in a few minutes."
Without asking, Laferty tagged along. The Wallace condominium was light and airy, with a definite feminine touch to it, the obvious doing of the new Mrs. Wallace. She led them into the living room before offering them tea. Biting back a laugh, Jim declined for both of them. Laferty gave them an odd look before declining also.
Ellison decided not to waste a lot of time on small talk. "Mrs. Wallace, we're here to meet with your husband..."
"Yes, I know, and it's Gina, please. Jack will be here soon; I called and asked him to pick up Justin from school on his way home." She turned to Laferty. "I hope Tiffany won't be too upset at having to take the school bus home by herself, but I worry that Justin and his father don't spend enough time together."
Since Laferty didn't seem inclined to say anything on the subject, Blair stepped in. "Is Justin your stepson, Gina?"
She gave a sad smile. "Yes, Jack and I have been married for only couple of years; Justin's mother died when he was quite young. It's been a hard adjustment for him, especially since the baby arrived."
The arrival of Jack and Justin Wallace precluded any further discussion. The younger Wallace seemed frightened to find them there. A short, balding man arrived moments later, and was introduced as the insurance adjuster. The entire group moved into the den.
Jack opened the large wooden chest that doubled as a table, and then Jim stopped him. "On the off chance that there are any fingerprints, we'd like to preserve this as a crime scene." He snapped on a pair of gloves. "Which box were they in?"
Wallace pointed out an old leather covered box near the side of the trunk. Jim bent down to recover it, noticing as he did the smell of fear that was emanating from the younger Wallace. The leather was old and cracked from dryness, making fingerprints almost impossible to retrieve after a time, but he didn't let on, instead watching to see Justin's reaction. Once he had the box, Jim moved to the desk with it.
Jim opened the box and immediately sneezed from the musty smell emanating from inside. Quickly he dialed down his sense of smell before looking at the contents. The box was half full of assorted small containers slightly larger than the pillboxes he remembered his grandmother having. At one time they had all been neatly wrapped, but now they were a chaotic jumble as whoever had taken them appeared to be after specific ones.
The fact that a thief would have taken the time to go through the entire collection struck Ellison as odd. "Do you know which ones were taken?"
Wallace nodded his head, obviously saddened by the information. "All the ones that had been collected prior to my first wife's death. Most of them had originally belonged to her father."
Jim may have been facing the senior Wallace, but all of his senses were tuned to the younger one. "That must be hard, losing something that is tied to her." Whatever response Jack Wallace was going to make was drowned out by the angry cry of his son.
"Why do you care? You just shoved all her stuff away like she didn't matter anymore!"
Justin's outburst didn't surprise Jim. Neither did it surprise the new Mrs. Wallace. When the teen sunk down in an overstuffed chair and buried his face in his hands, she waved her husband back and knelt down in front of him.
"Justin, sweetie, where are my grandmother's perfume bottles?"
"You put them up when Terry started walking." The answer was muffled through his hands. Behind him, his father was beginning to realize what the young man had thought when his mother's family heirlooms had begun to disappear from their home.
"And my collection of music boxes, the ones that have been in my family for over a hundred years?" When Justin finally looked up at her, she grasped his hand and continued. "When Terry started walking, we put a lot of things away. Things that were precious, that we wanted to hand down to you boys."
When Jim heard the barely vocalized whispers of apology he was pretty sure what had happened, and kept his tone as non-threatening as possible. "Where are they, son?"
"In my room." Justin's voice was barely above a whisper now. "I didn't think Dad would miss them and I remember Mom telling me the stories about how Grandpa got them..."
"So when you saw your father take them out to show the appraiser you decided to safeguard them yourself." Jim turned around, hoping to see some semblance of understanding in the father's face. What he saw was far beyond and he moved out of the way. Off to the side, Sandburg pulled Laferty and the insurance appraiser out into the hallway.
"Yeah. How'd you find out they weren't in the box?" Justin looked over as his father sat on the arm of the chair and drew him into a hug, his voice rough with emotion.
"When we heard about a burglary in the building, Gina and I started checking the valuables this morning after you left for school and..." Whatever else was said became private as Ellison shut the door behind him.
"They don't need us anymore."
Once they were back in the lobby the appraiser smiled and left without saying a word to them, while Laferty stared.
It didn't take long for the scrutiny to bother Sandburg. "What?"
Laferty shook his head. "You two just aren't normal cops."
"Yeah, we are." When Laferty started to object, Sandburg continued. "Maybe it's time you re-evaluate your opinion of the police department."
Laferty didn't have an answer, so Jim posed a question of his own. "There is one condominium in this complex that has a view into every room that a robbery has occurred. What can you tell us about who lives in Harmony 8?"
"Harmony 8? That would be Frank Cochran -- that's odd."
"Odd?" In Jim's mind this case passed odd about the time they were asked to put a cat in protective custody. Behind him his partner snorted in disbelief.
Laferty didn't seem to notice their reactions. "Mr. Cochran writes detective novels; I wonder if he'll use these in a book sometime?"
Jim was wondering if the robberies were going into a book right now, but he kept that thought to himself. One glance at Sandburg told him that his partner was harboring the same questions. To keep Laferty off guard he changed the subject. "We're going to be up on the roof of each tower for a while, see if we can tell how our guy is getting into places."
Blair had questions of his own. "Who runs the elevators at night?"
"After 10:00 pm, the only staff here is night security. The residents use the elevators themselves or if they have problems they can call for the staff." The building's security chief was much easier to deal with than at the start of the case.
"What about garage access?"
Laferty thought for a moment. "All the residents have card keys for the gates. Occasionally we issue cards for guests, but they're limited access -- usually only three days or less. There are none in use right now, and no one has reported their card missing or lost."
"Thank you, we'll keep you up to date." Ellison moved back towards the Harmony Tower elevator, effectively dismissing Laferty. Sandburg followed him and waited for the doors to close before speaking.
"Of all the people I would have expected in our faces about this case, Frank Cochran would have been at the top of my list. Wonder why we haven't seen him?"
"Good question, Chief." The elevator stopped at the top level and they walked across to the outside door. Once they were outside, Jim dialed the station.
"Rafe, I need you to run a check on someone for us."
"Yeah, man, what do you need?"
"See what you can find out about Frank Cochran."
"You mean the writer?"
"That's him. Get everything you can on him, especially his finances, and see if you can get any info about his next book if there is one."
"H. and I will get right on it, Jim."
Once that was out of the way the Sentinel began a methodical search of the roof, Sandburg at his side. "Look for what doesn't belong here. More than likely our perp had to spend an entire night out here each time. Let's see if we can find where he would hold up. Just be sure and do it before the doors lock. I so do not want to get stuck out here all night."
"We can always call if we get locked out."
Blair glared at his partner, "Let's not. We've finally convinced them we have a brain. I'd like to keep it that way."
Jim stopped in front of an air vent. "What do we have here?" A closer examination showed that the paint was knocked off the screws that held the cover in place and that they were loose enough to turn by hand. Once the cover was off, a canvas pack was visible inside. Carefully, Jim nudged the zipper open with his pen to reveal coils of black nylon cable and assorted rappelling gear. The faint smell of jerky and trail mix seemed to confirm that this was the hiding spot of their mystery man.
Blair pulled out his phone and filled Simon in on what they had found and requested forensics to respond, leaving the task of informing Chief Laferty to his partner. Jim grumbled at him, as he called downstairs.
As soon as the forensic unit arrived Jim and Blair slipped away with instructions to Serena to put a rush on anything they found. On their way back to the station they detoured to the park and their favorite hot dog stand. Jim made a beeline to the stand while Blair staked out a table in a quiet corner of the park. When Jim returned with two dogs with the works, Blair was just hanging up his phone.
Blair didn't seem to hear him, so Jim set his food on the bench in front of him and tried again. "Here's your dog, Chief... Earth to Blair?" Jim sat down and took a good look at his partner. "What's wrong?"
"Do you remember me requesting that Jeff be put under a suicide watch?" Blair picked at the bun of his hot dog.
"Did someone countermand that? We'll take care of that right now, I'll..." Jim was already dialing his cell phone when Blair reached over and grasped his arm.
"It's too late. When they went to implement it... he'd already..."
It was easy to fill in the blanks. "God, no! Blair, I'm so sorry... how's David, have you heard?"
"He was there when they found Jeff. No one's seen him since."
It was a very subdued pair that walked into the squad room. Whatever conversations were occurring ground to a halt as they had rarely seen those two men so down. Simon quietly opened his door and motioned them inside.
"How are you doing, Sandburg?" Without asking, Simon poured them each a cup of coffee. Blair took his with a sad smile.
"It wasn't my son that died, sir. I think the real question is how are the Phillips doing?"
Simon sighed and rubbed his face. "David's asked for an extended leave of absence, which we've granted. When the media finds out that the Cascade Bomber hung himself in his jail cell, it's gonna turn into a feeding frenzy. Better that they be away from all this."
Simon hesitated then drew an envelope out of his jacket pocket. "David asked me to give you this, Blair. I don't think he was up to seeing you in person, but he wanted you to have this." He waited patiently for Blair to take it.
Without a word, Blair took the envelope and slipped it into his shirt pocket. Jim found his silence unnerving, but before he could say anything there was a sharp rap at the door. All three of them jumped, and then Simon waved in Serena, Rafe and Brown.
Jim cleared his throat. "What do you have for us?" The new arrivals took up chairs around Simon's desk. Rafe was the first one to speak.
"Up until three years ago, Frank Cochran was a successful mystery writer. On New Years Eve three years ago he was in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. He's been in a wheelchair ever since and hasn't written one book. He's now broke and living on the advance he talked his old publisher into giving him."
Blair took a deep breath and was all business again. "Were you able to find out what his new book is about?"
"Oh yeah, man." Brown's deep rich voice rolled over them. "He's writing about a dashing and sexy cat burglar who targets high rise buildings. Sound familiar?"
Jim leaned back in his chair. "Really? How interesting. Just what facts is Mr. Cochran revealing about his antagonist?"
"Not much, just that between heists he spends his time climbing mountains."
Rafe interrupted his partner. "According to his publisher, they're spending a great deal of money on a private consultant. The guy's name is Cole Bishop and he is co-owner of a climbing equipment store here in Cascade."
That really got Ellison's interest. "What do we have on this Cole Bishop?"
"Not much," Serena looked like the cat that ate the canary. "Just his fingerprints on all the gear you found hidden on the roof."
"Yes!" Jim leaned forward again. "Where do we find Bishop?"
"Megan and Joel went to stake out his shop and found out that he sold his half this morning and took off for parts unknown." Rafe truly looked sorry. "We tracked him to an international flight that left around noon. By now he's on the tallest mountain in some country that doesn't have an extradition treaty and we won't be able to touch him."
Blair could hear it -- that horrible sound a case makes when it suddenly falls apart and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Without Bishop, there was nothing but circumstantial evidence against Cochran. The best they could do would be to tell Laferty the whole story and hope the owner's association would at least drive him out of the building. Without saying a word to anyone in the room, Sandburg stood up and walked out.
With a sad understanding Jim tracked his partner's path through Major Crime and out into the hallway. There he heard the sound of flesh hitting a solid object. Ellison slowly stacked all the files on Simon's desk and stood up to leave.
"Jim, what are you going to do?" Simon was worried about his best team.
Ellison turned back to look at his captain, an exhausted air about him. "I'm going to take my partner to get his hand x-rayed, then we're going home, sir. It's been a long day."
Jim stood in the kitchen watching his partner. Blair sat on the sofa, David's unopened letter clutched in his right hand. His left hand was resting gingerly against his leg. Jim retrieved the bag of frozen peas and two beers and went into the living room. Once Sandburg was settled with the peas on his wrist and the beer on the table in front of him, Jim moved to turn on the TV.
"Could we not watch the news tonight?" Jim watched his partner worry at the edge of the envelope. "I don't think I want to hear any SoundBits about how the Cascade Bomber met his end -- Okay?"
Jim detoured slightly and instead turned on the CD player. Soft jazz music filled the room. Without a word, he sat next to Blair and waited. Eventually the younger man opened the letter. One page was nestled inside. Jim could smell the briny bitterness of dried tears and braced himself for what was written inside. Blair read it silently and then blinked back tears. Just as the Sentinel thought he couldn't wait any longer, Blair handed it over.
On the single slip of paper was a brief message, but those few words were all his Guide needed to hear.
You tried. That was enough.
You tried. That was enough.
Blair leaned against his strong shoulder. "Some days it seems like we don't do any good, man."
Jim thought for a moment, then echoed David's message. "As long as we try, Buddy; as long as we try."
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