Production No. BPP-616
edited by: Cassima and Shallan
MEET THE CAST
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."