edited by: Toni Rae, Claire, and Bonnie
"You want me to what!"
Blair Sandburg couldn't believe what he'd just heard, and had to give a shocked look to the clearly demented person seated behind the desk. Next to him, he knew without even looking that his partner Jim Ellison wore a similar expression on his face. Shock, though, was quickly wearing off in favor of anger and indignation. Wasn't it bad enough that Garrett Kincaid -- all around pain- in-the-ass and purveyor of some Top-Forty nightmares for a while, or at least until Lash sashayed into the picture -- was finally on trial again after six long years of legal delays?
This news only made the situation worse, something Sandburg hadn't believed was possible. It was something he simply hadn't expected, even if the strategy made a certain kind of sense.
"It really won't be that bad, Detective." Assistant District Attorney Lisa Ames sounded as if she didn't quite believe her own words. Sandburg remembered the ADA well, especially after the grilling he'd received from her the first time they'd met. She'd only been a legal assistant at the time Kincaid had taken over the precinct, but she'd been a very sharp assistant with lots of pointed questions as to why he'd been there and what action he'd taken.
"How can you say it won't be bad?" After his partner's words, Blair caught the look the ADA shared with the fourth member of the office. The federal prosecutor, William Sikes, had yet to say a word.
Ames sighed. "Look, everyone here knows that Kincaid won't pull any punches in his defense." Her observation was greeted by brief nods around the room. "All we want to do is make sure that nothing gets by and that we've prepared for every attack he can possibly make. Unfortunately," with a glance at Sandburg, "that means we want you to keep a low profile, in and out of the courtroom."
The Fed spoke for the first time. "Like it or not, Detectives, it comes down to this: Kincaid's facing federal charges. That means federal prison time, and he won't hesitate to use whatever he can."
"Which is one reason we were willing to give jurisdiction to the feds, provided that the state charges were kept," Ames wasn't shy about interrupting. "Plus, the federal district court has better security, lessening the chance that there'll be trouble."
"Our judges aren't as tempted, either," pointed out Sikes. The reference to the first issue they'd discussed still burned. Kincaid had bribed a state court judge to give him a lesser sentence last time, and he'd used that golden opportunity to take a basketball stadium full of hostages. The judge had since turned state's evidence. "At any rate, Sandburg," continued the fed, "your testimony is a linchpin holding the pieces together. Not only were you present during the PD hostage situation but you were up close and personal during his capture."
"That's one way of putting it," Blair muttered.
The fed didn't appear to have heard, or if he did, he chose not to acknowledge the remark. "In addition, you were inside the stadium when Kincaid took control."
"So were Jim and Si... Captain Banks."
"But not to the extent you were. That makes you a big stumbling block for the defense, and I can practically guarantee they'll attack your credibility."
Jim didn't like the turn this conversation was taking, Blair could tell, from the way his partner's jaw had clenched and the tight little lines around his eyes, and he didn't much like it either. It almost looked like Jim was squinting away from a particularly painful light. He supposed that painful memories counted. "How do you know that," he heard Jim ask.
Sikes didn't appear fazed by the hostile tone of the question. "Because that's what I would do in MacPhee's shoes." Sandburg knew that Fitzgerald MacPhee was Kincaid's high-priced defense attorney.
"Terrific," Blair muttered again. "With friends like you..."
"Don't worry, Detective. It won't be that bad."
"That's easy for you to say."
There wasn't anything left to say after that, so the detectives hurried from the ADA's office to the parking lot. Even though gray skies threatened rain with continued clouds and low temperatures, the day appeared positively glowing with sunshine after what they'd just been through. Both of them had testified in the past, but everything was different now. So much had changed. This would be Blair's first trip to the witness stand since the day of the dissertation fiasco. So much was riding on his testimony, much more than ever before.
Neither spoke on the ride home, both caught up in their own thoughts. Blair wanted so badly to put Kincaid in prison where he belonged. The militia leader was facing major charges now -- state and federal -- and he had very little to lose. The list of charges alone that Blair had witnessed were staggering, ranging from attempted murder to arson.
Theft of federal property, though, that had been a surprise. Apparently, Kincaid had some followers in the military and they had been stealing a large portion of his militia's weaponry from Uncle Sam. In hindsight, it made sense, considering the man had used goddamned Stingers, for Christ's sake. Blair wiped his sweaty hands, remembering the sound ringing in his ears after the building next to them had blown, thinking how the very earth had been shaking in terror at the madmen taking refuge atop its soil. Considering the nature of what Kincaid had already been doing, he supposed the charges for transporting weapons across state lines made sense.
Blair wanted to shake off the gloomy mood. None of this kind of thinking was making him feel any better. Trouble was, none of the other subjects he could think of were any more pleasant. They could talk about the upcoming testimony and how they could work around hiding the Sentinel secret even further in red tape, but that discussion would inevitably lead to the dissertation. In fact, practically anything having to do with the trial tomorrow would lead back to the dissertation. God, wouldn't it ever be over? Would the specter of that act always hang over him, casting its shadow over everything he said and did?
"The DEA took care of that for us, Chief."
Jim's quiet words stopped Blair in his tracks on his way up the stairs, and he glanced inquiringly at his partner. "Took care of what?"
"The dissertation mess. The DEA gave us a plausible excuse why you would have said and done what you did, a reason that wasn't exactly the truth but was just as good. It was the reason the excuse was made public." Jim looked at him, and his face gave little of his feelings away to the casual watcher. Blair knew better; Jim was nervous but doing his best not to show it. He shared his partner's worry. After the death of an agent, the DEA had insinuated corruption within Major Crime and against himself in particular, creating a lot of road to cover for the prosecution in order to prove credibility. At the very least, they would have to retrace everything that had happened for the jury's benefit.
"How is it you always know what I'm thinking?"
"Professional secret." With that, Jim ruffled Blair's hair before unlocking the door to the loft. "Come on, we've got a lot to talk about."
In spite of those words, neither spoke until after dinner had been eaten and all the regular evening activities had been completed. They'd tried distracting themselves with a variety of subjects, ranging from sports to Joel and Megan's distressing rapidly-appearing-to-be-serial rape- murder case. They had even discussed the odd pieces of mail Simon had been receiving over the past several days. The notes weren't threatening or even slightly criminal in nature; they were vague, filled with somewhat personal hints, and a bit disturbing. After the fourth one had arrived, mentioning a long-closed bar on Greenfield Avenue and written in the same scrawled green ink, Simon had sent all of them to Forensics, but they'd found nothing of value. Eventually, all those topics had been thrown out in favor of what was really bothering them both.
Jim tossed out the first glove. "Look, Blair, this will be just like any other case. You get up, tell the jury what happened, and that's it, you're done." He directed his gaze to where his partner sat on the couch, his eyes firmly on the beer bottle in his hand, seemingly entranced by the water running down its side. "It'll be more difficult to work around the senses, considering, but we can do it. We've done it before."
"Not before." Blair shook his head. "Not like this. This time, the defense has real ammo to use against me and anything I have to say. My credibility--"
"There's nothing wrong with your credibility." Jim's voice was firm. "We've been over this. It's been handled. As far as the defense goes, I've heard a bit about Fitzgerald MacPhee. He's fair so long as the judge is watching, but he won't hesitate to use anything at his disposal otherwise. What's more, he's not too discriminating about his choice of clients."
"Most of the cops I know would be delighted if MacPhee wound up dead, whether or not his case ended up on their desk." Blair wasn't sure what to say to that, but he could tell that Jim wasn't sure why he was even saying it. "He's gotten so many criminals off on technicalities and delays and bails they didn't deserve... Sometimes I wonder how people like that can get off time and time again."
"Hey, the rule is innocent until proven guilty."
Jim glanced over, softly, to where his partner sat on the couch. The now-forgotten bottle sat on the coffee table, sans coaster, in flagrant violation of at least two house rules. For some reason, Jim smiled to see it; seeing Blair actively resist the rules for the first time in several days -- distracted by worry -- outweighed the potential for furniture damage.
"True, and that DEA press conference proved you innocent, or at least, not guilty." He grinned at a sudden thought. "I don't know if you've ever been innocent, Chief."
"But you know why it's necessary, though, right? Why he has to go over everything with us in court, even old events?"
"I understand exactly what Sikes is getting at. In order to win, they've got to accurately predict what moves the defense is going to make and then properly counter them." Blair sighed. "Better to deal with the bad stuff themselves rather than let the defense spring it, and make a bad impression on the jury."
Jim nodded grimly. "A chess match... and we're the pawns." He wasn't sure he liked the chess analogy, in spite of its accuracy.
Blair snorted. "Actually, I'm the knight to be sacrificed in order to capture the opposing king. Shah mat, you know. The king is dead."
"It's usually the queen being sacrificed, you know."
"Hey, man, exactly what are you implying?" Blair aimed a mock swat at his partner, but found his fist blocked and soundly held by a sentinel hand. His other fist flashed out, and met with the same fate. According to what he'd learned at the Academy, any strategic move he made next would probably not be the correct one to make. Temporarily defeated, he released Jim's hands and watched his partner retreat towards his bedroom before approaching his own.
"Nothing, Sandburg. Nothing at all." Jim waited until he had reached the top of the steps and his partner had made it almost to his door before speaking. "At least, nothing I'd admit to."
Jim made his escape.
Even with the aid of his eye-mask, he spent the next two hours tossing and turning in bed, unable to rest comfortably enough to sleep. He'd spent some of that time wondering where the clove-scented air freshener he'd smell in the ADA's office was hidden, but finally chalked it up to being an adjunct odor of some kind, one carried inside from some unknown outside source. While mostly unnoticeable by the others in the room, Jim had been forced to dial down his sense of smell for nearly the entire meeting. It didn't help that he could hear Sandburg downstairs also struggling to sleep. They desperately needed rest in order to be sharp tomorrow but nerves kept them awake.
Jim could guess what his partner was worrying about. It wasn't just the trial and the awkward questions that would likely demand equally awkward answers; even that prospect wasn't likely to faze Blair too much. Nor was it the idea of seeing Kincaid's ugly face again. While these things no doubt added to Sandburg's stress level, they weren't the main problem. Jim wasn't quite certain what that dilemma was, though. He supposed it all came down to worrying whether or not the dissertation fiasco was truly behind them, whether or not everything he'd given up would blow up in his face.
All those bad memories seemed to take this golden opportunity to gang up on Blair. He'd likely have nightmares tonight, and if not tonight, then tomorrow night. That was the problem with trial testimony: having to relive the experience through detailed questioning brought all the pain and misery back, as strong as it had been immediately after it had happened.
Kincaid represented a lot of pain, but it had to be done to make sure that the militia leader would never hurt anyone again. Jim was grateful, though, for one thing: David Lash had not survived to go on trial.
Blair might not have survived the reawakening of those memories; the ones he had now were bad enough. Jim was fairly sure he wouldn't have been able to manage either. But he wasn't going to think about either Kincaid or Lash, unless it was a dream about happily strangling them both. He wasn't even going to think about Blair.
Right now he had to sleep.
Finally the meeting was drawing to a close. Too many people were packed too closely together, and the smell of misery permeated the room. While it was a handsome room, the participants said nothing of interest. The defense attorney had very little left to say, here in this expensive boardroom, no doubt paid for in sweat, blood, and pain. "Garrett also wanted me to deliver a message, one for you to pass on in turn."
Fitzgerald MacPhee focused his dark eyes on the lean man seated to his right, and waited until the man nodded. "The plan is to go forward, and the package is coming by ground." The man's clear tone and vague terms made his position clear; the less the lawyer knew about anything currently being discussed, the happier he would be. All lawyers had an innate grasp of deniability.
That was fine, he could respect that. The second in command knew what it was like to have to deny knowledge. He'd been like that once himself but now things were different. Nodding to the others in the room, he waited until they'd exited before continuing the discussion. Lighting a cigarette, he knew speaking to them wasn't necessary. They knew what they were to do, what the successful completion of the plan required.
"Garrett mentioned something else." The lawyer paused, no doubt for effect, but all those professional mannerisms were lost on him. They had ceased to matter.
"You are in command until he returns. He also wants to see a lieutenant punished?" Puzzled, MacPhee's voice rose in pitch on the last word. That, too, had ceased to matter. "I assume that means something in particular to you?"
"Oh, yes." The second in command knew its meaning exactly. As a master of body language, demanded by his professions, he could tell that the lawyer understood perfectly, at least the meaning if not the particulars. The most important part of the message had already been delivered: command. Furthermore, Kincaid had said nothing about modifications.
"Be cautious, Joseph."
"I don't need to be. They do." Kincaid had also provided for revenge. After being unofficially in charge for nearly two years, it was nice to see his efforts rewarded. Also nice was being made formally in charge until such time as matters changed. Yes, there would definitely have to be some alterations made to the plan.
Minor alterations, of course.
Nearly two weeks had gone by since the opening statements, and the prosecution had gone through their witness list in sequence. For whatever reason, Sikes had decided to begin his case with eyewitnesses to describe the action, and progressed to behavioral experts to expand on what those actions meant. Forensic experts were then called to explain what evidence had been gathered at the crime scenes, and to detail what conclusions were scientifically drawn from that evidence. The list of evidence against Kincaid was staggering.
By ending his case with three final eyewitnesses -- the three most important -- Sikes hoped to slam the point home to the jury. While sometimes scientific and technical evidence would confuse jurors at trial, good persuasive eyewitnesses could win a case using nothing but their testimony alone; it all depended on whether the jury believed what they said.
Thus had Sikes rattled off in his speech earlier that morning when the fed had shut up Ellison and his partner in separate rooms while waiting to take the stand. Logically, Jim knew all this and he also understood the prosecutor's reluctance to have Sandburg wandering the streets right now. The less he, hell, either of them, were heard or seen, the less opportunities for Fitzgerald to stir up trouble. Jim didn't doubt that the man would try. He was a defense attorney, after all.
Why they called these 'green rooms' Jim didn't know. The walls had been painted an ugly yellow color, and the last emotion he felt right now was relaxation. Blair would know, he thought. Or maybe those are for actors?
Simon was on the stand right now, and had been for about an hour. Of course, his captain had been called yesterday afternoon but court had adjourned before the defense got to cross-examine. Jim felt that might have been a good thing; it gave Simon a chance to rest up and prepare for what that weasel would do. He'd heard but hadn't mentioned to Blair that MacPhee tended to be... flamboyant and... intense. Instead, the detective had tried to concentrate on how he planned to counter any antic the defense might pull.
At least that way, he was less likely to eavesdrop on Simon's testimony. Not eavesdropping on Blair would be harder.
Finally, Jim heard the knock at the door, and knew it was time to go. A few minutes walk down the back stairs and suddenly they had arrived at the packed courtroom. He sincerely hoped the trial wasn't being televised but found the idea unlikely. Ignoring Kincaid was even easier than he'd expected, and Jim just breezed past the defense table like it didn't even register on his radar.
Sikes was alone at the prosecution table, which meant Ames was elsewhere doing something for the case. Going over testimony with Blair, perhaps; Jim knew all too well how stressful this was. Neither of them had slept well last night, but at one point in the early morning he'd woken to hear Blair's racing pulse, followed by a loud thump and a muffled curse.
The prosecutor rose gracefully, approaching his witness, and began his questioning with simple things. Beginning with the siege of the precinct building and ending with the capture of Kincaid after the stadium incident, Ellison told all relevant points of the stories as precisely as he could. What he saw occur, who was involved and how, what he concluded from his observations, based on his training and experience. It was hard, saying what he saw and did at the time, when he now understood what had been happening floors above him.
To think that while he and Simon were trying to rig a motorcycle to do their bidding, Joel was slowly bleeding to death, and Blair was fighting for his life. Still, the point of view was important where witness testimony was concerned; that was one reason why Blair was so important to the case.
Sikes finished his line of questioning by asking Jim what facts regarding Kincaid and the Sunrise Patriots had later come to light. They hadn't learned too much that hadn't been known previously: extreme right-wing militia group, strongly anti-government, paramilitary, with strong racist, ethnic and separatist leanings. Most members were firm believers in the Fundamentalist Church, paying special regard to the Book of Revelations.
The group had been investigated by most of the federal alphabet soup at one time or another, and although suspicion had run rampant, there had never been enough evidence to make pressing charges worthwhile.
As the prosecutor returned to his seat, MacPhee wasted no time in addressing the court. "Detective Ellison, I must commend you for giving such clear testimony to the jury."
Jim didn't like this approach. "Thank you." As first impressions go, Fitzgerald MacPhee didn't look very intimidating. Slim in build, dark hair a bit longer than he'd anticipated -- considering who he was defending -- fair skin, and average height, all wrapped up in a blue suit and power tie. Most striking were the man's eyes, dark brown and sleepy-lidded, what Carolyn used to describe as 'bedroom eyes'. No doubt, though, the man was as sharp as the proverbial razor.
"I am a bit confused on two points, however, and I hope you can clear those up for me." The defense counsel sidled closer to the witness stand, but stopped far enough away so that no claims of intimidation could be made. In addition, the distance gave the jury the image that he spoke and acted with deference and respect. "First, you stated that, at the time of the alleged incident at Cascade Sports Arena, you knew my client was at fault."
"But you were not in the main arena at the time this alleged incident took place."
"That's correct. I was questioning some witnesses about the murder of David Cassadine when this happened.
"That being the case, how do you know my client was involved?"
"I heard his voice on the television, announcing what he had done, shortly after I arrived at the scene."
MacPhee raised an eyebrow. "Really? You must have been one of the first people on the scene. How did you know to be there at that time?"
"The information I had found linked Cassadine and Berman directly to the defendant. They had gone to the Hall of Records to copy the blueprints of the Cascade Sports Arena." Jim knew exactly what the man had been implying. "As soon as I learned that, I figured the defendant meant the arena as his next target."
"How did you determine that?"
"Before I left for the stadium, I called dispatch and tried to alert stadium security. I was too late for their security. By the time I arrived there, the defendant had also gained control of the cameras. The media was everywhere, but I sneaked past the snipers the defendant had posted."
"How did you do that?"
Jim smiled, his lips thinned with memories. "You forget, Counselor, I used to be an Army Ranger. Getting by amateur militia boys was like a tiptoe through some alleged tulips." Temptation won out, and he sneaked a glance; Kincaid's face was the color of radishes. "I used the paramedic squad as a shield, and made my way to an outside entrance of the old duct system, using it to get into the building."
"One marked, no doubt, 'authorized personnel only'?" Jim's nod gave the attorney room to continue. "Are you 'authorized personnel' then?"
Jim gave his opponent a stern look. "First and foremost, I'm a police detective. I knew something was wrong inside the arena, and I used my police authority to go where I needed to go. In that sense, I was authorized."
Point, Jim thought, I think. "I made my way through the duct system and began tracking what the defendant was doing. I located the defendant just in time to observe him herding my captain, my captain's son, my partner, and several civilians into a truck."
"And how did you react?"
"I jumped on top of the truck and hung on until it stopped." Jim resisted the temptation to see Kincaid's face. "After that, I opened the hatch and prepared the troops."
"Did you call for back-up at any time during this operation?"
"That's a violation of procedure, isn't it?"
"Yes," Ellison admitted. "But there simply wasn't time. I couldn't call while inside the duct system because all cell phones were blocked. If I had done so from the top of the truck, I risked that either the defendant or one of his men would see or hear me. There was really no choice but to wait until the situation was no longer critical."
"You seem to take a great deal of chances, Detective."
"With myself, yes. Not with the lives of civilians and fellow officers."
"Very well. My second question, Detective, is this. You are partnered with Detective Sandburg."
Jim nodded, steeling himself for a possibly painful question. Still, he'd caught the faint hesitation in the man's voice and sensed the hissed cursing coming from Kincaid when his partner's name was mentioned. "Yes." And the best partner I've ever had, he wanted to add.
"I would think that you, Detective, are the senior and therefore wiser partner. At least, one would hope so."
"Yes." Although some would dispute which of us is wiser, Jim thought with amusement, and I strongly suspect it wouldn't be me.
"That being the case, why did you think that arming several civilians in pursuit of an alleged criminal thought to be armed and dangerous was the correct procedure to follow?"
Hell, that was a good question. Simon had asked him the same question the day after, and he'd been there, but Jim still hadn't come up with a decent answer. He didn't think he knew exactly why he'd done that, but it had simply seemed like the right thing to do. Such an answer probably wouldn't go over too well in the jury room.
"There were very few of us, and several of them. The Sunrise Patriots had better weapons than we did, and we'd taken ours off the three soldiers we'd surprised." Jim looked MacPhee in the eye and mentally dared him to say something. "It all came down to a matter of capturing the bad guys. The more people we had, the better our chances."
"Didn't one of them, in fact, accidentally alert your quarry to your presence before your group was ready?"
"Yes, that's true."
"And you still insist it was a good chance."
"Absolutely. In fact," Ellison borrowed the defense attorney's phrasing, "the civilians played a crucial role in the defendant's capture. If that tear gas canister hadn't made it through the submarine's hatch before it closed, he would surely have gotten away."
"I see. Your Honor, I'm finished with this witness."
Jim Ellison expected that Blair would be sworn in for his testimony immediately afterwards; that was the move he hoped to see. That way, they could both finish and put this whole mess behind them. The motion to adjourn for lunch break didn't exactly sit well with him.
Since Blair hadn't testified yet, they couldn't have lunch together either. Actually, his partner would probably be forced to have lunch brought inside the building. His testimony had to be protected from any hint of undue influence; the prosecutor was being careful. Unfortunately, this meant Jim would have to go back to the station... that in turn meant he would be shackled to a desk until Blair returned. With a grimace, he left the courtroom, and wasn't surprised to see ADA Ames following him into the hallway.
"You did very well, Detective."
"Thanks." Jim hesitated a moment, unsure whether the request he wanted to make would be allowed. What the hell, the worst she can say is no. "Listen, could you call me when Blair goes up against MacPhee? From what you and Sikes have said, I think he's going to need the support when he's done here."
Lisa Ames looked down and nodded agreement, but her expression didn't change. "Unfortunately, you're probably right. I'll give you a call when it's time."
Some of his worry dissolved, knowing that he would be there for Blair when he was able, but the rest remained like a solid lump of cold hard coal in his stomach. Still, if he was going to spend most of the rest of the afternoon chained to a desk, Jim figured a visit to Wonderburger was in order.
He had to keep his strength up, after all.
Lunch had been a total disappointment, but Blair had been too keyed up to even look at food anyway. How did they think he could eat right now?
As soon as Blair heard himself called to the stand, the butterflies in his stomach morphed into birds. He mentally slapped himself and tried to act like none of this was bothering him. Whether he was succeeding was anyone's guess. It wasn't like he had never testified in court before, even in front of defendants he really hated, but this was different. While the reasons for the difference weren't totally clear, Blair supposed it was because Kincaid marked a signpost in his life. Even though he hadn't even seen Jim until after everything was said and done, the siege at the PD was when he really began to feel useful. It marked the point when he really began to think he might be able to manage being a pseudo-cop.
Little did he know that feeling was a sign from God.
Remembering past court trials and Ames' recent pep talk, Blair Sandburg carefully answered the prosecutor's questions. They went over everything, from the foundation -- who are you, what do you do, and why were you there in the first place? -- to the nitty gritty questions. He laid out what he had done during the sieges, as well as what he had heard and seen the defendant do, and what the defendant's soldiers had done under orders. They'd been over this: personal narration only, nothing you heard from someone else. He allowed himself to give a couple opinions of what he thought had been happening, but those were okay if kept to a minimum.
Time dragged on, and they hadn't even gotten to the scary part yet. Finally, Sikes asked the question that made his stomach roll in distaste.
"Not too long ago, the Governor and some key people in the police department gave a press conference about your presence in the station."
"Were you involved in putting it together?"
"No." Blair hoped he wasn't blushing; admitting he'd had nothing to do with his own defense seemed... odd, somehow. That didn't make him any less proud of having such good friends and colleagues, though. "I wasn't aware it even existed until it aired."
"Can you tell me why the press conference aired?"
"It was given to counter accusations coming from the media as a result of a raid on a warehouse. During the raid, the DEA had an undercover man in place but neglected to mention that fact to us. The agent died during the raid." Sandburg glanced at the prosecutor's table; encouragement in her eyes, ADA Ames nodded imperceptibly in his direction. "I was singled out for blame, and that press conference was given as a means to make certain that the public knew the truth about what really happened, rather than what facts the media chose to report."
"You don't think the media told the truth about the incident?"
"I think they told what portions of the truth they knew would make a sensational story, but they certainly weren't too interested in asking anyone else's opinion -- unless it involved shouted accusations at people simply trying to make a living." He tried to keep his feelings to himself. The whole mess that Don Haas had created with the help of a leak in the DA's office still rankled. "But, then, that's just my opinion." From the looks on the jury's faces, some of them agreed with his perception of the vultures.
"I understand that several accusations were made?" Sikes wasn't finished yet on this issue.
"That's correct. Several incidents about my past were explained, thus ending the disputes regarding my honesty. The DEA had been implying -- though no charges were officially made -- that I was a dirty cop." That rankled too.
"No." Sandburg chuckled, shooting a grin at the jury. "If I was, I'd be living in Tahiti where it's warm." A brief ripple of amusement went through the spectators.
"Did you notice changes in people's attitudes following that press conference, considering what had happened?"
"For the most part. I was just happy that more accusations weren't being thrown at Major Crime and the Academy because of something I had been accused of doing." He wasn't sure the answer came out the way he wanted it. "It was bad enough that I was being singled out as a bad guy when I hadn't done anything wrong. For my co-workers and colleagues to be judged guilty by association..." Sandburg ended his thought on that note, unwilling to consider what might have happened had that press conference not taken place. He knew he'd have turned in his badge and gun, but what would he have done afterwards? Would he have left town, left Jim for Jim's own protection, for the protection of everyone else? Even if he had taken that step, where would that painful path have taken him?
Talk about a road to nowhere. Blair repressed a shiver and focused instead on the prosecutor's next question.
"Detective, one last question. Considering your actions during the sieges of Cascade's Central Precinct and the Cascade Sports Arena, would you have done anything differently?"
"Nothing at all." Except I might've saved us all this trouble and kicked Kincaid out of the damn helicopter when I had the chance. The thought startled him. I'm starting to sound like Jim more every day.
"Thank you, Detective." Turning toward the judge, Sikes addressed the courtroom. "The prosecution has completed examining this witness, your Honor."
Judge Holbrook harrumphed softly in apparent acknowledgement. "Very well." He turned toward the defense attorney, who was already rising from his seat in anticipation. No, it wasn't just anticipation, he looked excited. Slavering with joy, in fact, like a wolf loose in a sheepfold. The ironic observation didn't cheer Sandburg up in the slightest.
"May I approach the witness, your Honor?" His voice was calm and his expression reserved, but something glittering in his eyes belayed the lawyer's real feelings. Receiving the proper command to continue, MacPhee walked to within a few feet of the witness stand. The act made Sandburg uncomfortable, but that was probably the lawyer's intention. "I'm afraid, Detective, that I am a bit confused about your account of the events with which my client is charged. For example, you earlier told this court that, during the stadium siege, you were seated on ground floor level."
"That's correct. I was seated with Captain Banks and his son Daryl."
"Did you know what Detective Ellison was doing during this time?"
"I knew that he was gathering information related to the Cassadine murder, and planned to join us later."
"No." The defense attorney's eyebrows shot up.
"What did you think Detective Ellison was doing while you were allegedly being held hostage by my client?"
Sandburg ignored that 'alleged' and considered the question. Truth be told, he hadn't had the slightest idea what Jim was doing. He hadn't even known where Jim was, most of the time. "I didn't know where Jim was. Because I knew the siege was being broadcast on television, I had assumed he was outside the gates doing something to capture Kincaid and free the hostages."
"How do you expect me to answer questions regarding my partner's actions, considering I wasn't with him?" Take that. What did you hope to gain by asking me that, anyway?
"True enough." MacPhee smiled, but it wasn't a good expression. "During this alleged crisis, where were you?"
"Daryl Banks and I had been at the concession stand, but when the defendant took control, we slipped through their nets. I'd hoped to get Daryl out of the building entirely, but the best I could do was keep him with me and keep us both safe."
"Very well. What did you think the defendant planned to accomplish by allegedly taking hostages inside the Cascade Sports Arena?"
"Since I am not the defendant, I have no idea why he would take such an action." Blair knew the lawyer was trying to trip him up by getting him to speculate. Even though Kincaid's motives, like those of most militiamen, probably wavered between politics and financial matters, he knew offering an opinion about someone else's motives was not allowed in court unless specifically requested. MacPhee was unlikely to ask. "Surely there was another way to acquire season tickets."
A look from the judge quelled the snickers from those watching.
MacPhee wiped all traces of annoyance from his face, and displayed a brittle smile. "I see. Very well." He seemed to be uncertain of how to react to that comment. "Turn your attention to the alleged hostage situation at Cascade's Central Precinct." When Blair nodded, he continued. "This was your first official day at the precinct as an observer, correct?"
"Yes. I'd observed Detective Ellison unofficially during the Switchman case, but that marked my first official day."
"Quite a way to begin."
"It certainly was. I'm not likely to forget it," Sandburg pointed out.
"Tell me, considering your lack of training in situations like that, weren't you concerned that you might be misinterpreting what was happening?" MacPhee looked like he was worried about something, but possibly he wanted to give the impression of being a savior to the city. "Didn't you wonder if it was a drill of some sort?"
"Not at all."
"Why is that?"
"I find it unlikely that, in the course of a drill, people would be shot and killed. That buildings would be blown to smithereens. That teenagers would be dangled out of a building window and their lives threatened."
"Perhaps these things were staged."
"With real bullets?"
"You would know, wouldn't you? According to your account, you took some reckless chances in the course of your adventure."
"I wouldn't call them reckless."
"What would you call them, then?"
"Please," offered MacPhee. "Explain yourself."
"When the defendant's people finally caught me--"
"How did they do that, if you don't mind me asking?"
"I wound up stranded on a window-washer's scaffold with someone shooting very real bullets at me."
"How did you get there?"
"I was trying to get outside so I could give the cops out there some information as to how many bad guys were inside and how they were armed. My plan was to get on the scaffold and then use its winch to lower myself to the ground." Blair shrugged. "It didn't work out that way."
"The defendant and some of his people happened to be looking out the window and saw me. Then they started shooting, and I had no other choice but to surrender." He thought on that for a moment. "Well, I could have jumped but that wasn't a good option."
"What happened after you surrendered?"
"I was taken to Major Crime's squad room to be questioned. The defendant was less than pleased that a scruffy, Jewish, long-haired grad student had outwitted his soldiers." Blair remembered the conversation very well. He was fairly sure his ribs had recalled every word for the next two weeks.
"What did you tell them?"
"That I was an undercover narcotics officer, Lieutenant Sandburg, and my assignment was Rainier University."
"You lied to them so easily?"
"For a couple important reasons." Blair thought he understood what tactic the defense was taking. If MacPhee could make the jury believe he had a history of lying, well, Kincaid would have a better chance of winning a shorter sentence. Maybe that was why the lawyer was letting him talk, hoping to hang him with a noose of his own testimony; most defense attorneys tried to limit your answers as much as possible.
"First, if they believed me to be someone relatively important, then they might be willing to use me as a mouthpiece for negotiation. At the very least, the subterfuge kept me alive. If they'd known I was Nobody-Grad-Student, my body would have gone right out the window with a couple holes in it."
"You really think so?"
"They dangled a fourteen-year-old out the window for no reason other than he happened to be visiting his father at work. Daryl survived because he had value. I had none. They had no reason to keep me alive. Second, keeping their attention on me meant they weren't paying any attention to Captain Taggart."
"But you don't deny lying to my client?"
"No, I don't. My reasons were sound."
"You mentioned earlier that my client allegedly planned to take you along with him, when he fled the precinct in a helicopter."
"Why do you think he would do such a thing?"
Sandburg shrugged. "Why do bank robbers call for a car and then try to bring one of the tellers with them?" He answered his own question. "Insurance, just in case the police had any tricks up their sleeves. If they tried something, he still had a hostage to use against them."
"But the situation never got that far, did it?"
"How did you force the craft to land?"
"The pilot and the defendant were distracted by Detective Ellison clinging to one of the wheel struts. While they were watching him, I grabbed a flare gun and pointed it at the pilot."
"Did you say anything to him?"
"I told him that either he would take us down or I'd shoot him, and that I had no qualms about shooting him because I'd flown helicopters in Desert Storm." Blair still didn't know where that had come from, but it had worked like a charm.
MacPhee raised an eyebrow. "Did you fly helicopters in Desert Storm, Detective?"
"Did you serve in that military action at all?"
"Do you even know how to fly a helicopter?"
"What would you have done if the pilot had called your bluff?"
Blair had asked himself that question before. "I'd have tried something else, something that would have forced him to land."
"I don't know, off the top of my head." Blair sighed, resisting the urge to rub away his slowly developing headache. "Maybe threatened Kincaid if the pilot didn't land. I'd have thought of something."
"And if you hadn't?"
"Detective Ellison would have."
MacPhee looked him up and down, as if taking stock of the man seated in front of him. "So, Detective, in one day, you foiled an alleged hostage situation, saved several people, were taken hostage twice, and forced a helicopter to land. That's rather ambitious for your not-really-first- day-on-the-job, isn't it?" The man's eyebrow looked to be heading skyward again.
"Not really. My life was at stake."
"My last set of questions, Detective. I'm confused about some of the details surrounding the press conference given by Captain Banks, the Governor, the Commissioner, and some of your colleagues." MacPhee strolled over to his table for a moment, glancing at his briefcase before wandering to stand as close as he dared to the jury box. "If I remember correctly, much publicity regarding your first press conference was made in the aftermath of the DEA shooting. You do remember the first press conference, don't you?"
At last, the question Blair had been waiting for. "I remember."
"You publicly admitted to fraud, Detective, and to repeated deception about your work. If the details given more recently were the truth, why weren't those details released previously? Certainly the whole matter would have made more sense, and clipped the madness in the bud." MacPhee paused for effect. "Did you choose to withhold the truth because it wasn't as newsworthy?"
Blair hoped he didn't look as shattered as he felt. 'Shattered' probably wasn't even really the right word, since an awful lot of anger lived along with his memories of the dissertation fiasco. Anger, frustration, shame, and confusion. He'd wanted to howl with rage, again and again at the injustice of it, but there'd never been any real point in getting angry. Even though Naomi had pulled the trigger, Blair himself had loaded the gun and cocked the hammer.
Apparently, the defense had a simple strategy at this stage: show that Detective Sandburg has a history or habit of fraudulent behavior whenever it suits his needs. The boy who cried wolf syndrome, he snickered mentally. How appropriate.
"Objection!" Sikes wore a determined expression along with his double-breasted suit.
The judge was unmoved. "Grounds, Mr. Sikes?"
"Your Honor, Detective Sandburg's testimony hinges entirely on his credibility," MacPhee pressed. "Surely the defense is entitled to pose questions that are within the scope of the prosecution's questioning. Further, we will come to our point shortly, if allowed to continue."
Judge Holbrook settled back in his seat and made a steeple of his fingers. "Overruled, then, but come to that point quickly, Counselor."
"Well, Detective?" MacPhee had a crocodile smile curving his face, a lion feeling out the wounded animal in the pack, or the piranha scenting the blood in the water. Sandburg mentally slapped himself back from hysteria, as this was neither the time nor the place; on the other hand, this certainly was a jungle.
Where was Mowgli when you needed him, huh?
"If you recall, that week had been hugely difficult. Endless working days with little sleep and we were both under a great deal of stress. When the publisher contacted me originally, I refused outright and thought that was the end of it." Blair struggled to stay objective, to keep his thoughts clear for presentation. "I never expected him to take his argument to the university, and I certainly never expected the university to even consider such an agreement without my permission. The added stress of that only made matters worse, and when Zeller -- a hired killer -- fired on the bullpen, hitting Captain Banks and Inspector Connor, I knew I had to stop things."
Sandburg glanced at the jury briefly before focusing his attention on the man in front of him. "Was it the best thing I could have said? Probably not. It cost me years of study and several friendships I thought were sound. Would I do it again, if I had to? Absolutely."
"So the document released to the press had never been submitted as a dissertation?"
"Correct." Please, don't ask the next question.
"Had you planned to eventually submit it as a dissertation?"
Blair had thought about this question, long and hard, in the couple years since those fateful days had occurred. Technically, he'd 'gone native', becoming what he studied, becoming a Guide to a Sentinel. That one slip immediately tainted any conclusions he might have drawn, regardless of any other precautions he'd taken. Once he'd realized -- as far back as Brackett, if truth were told -- that he was sliding down that slippery slope, Blair had strongly considered changing his official dissertation topic. At least, he'd had Jim to catch him before he fell. "No. My dissertation of public record is on closed societies such as a police department."
"Not according to Rainier University." MacPhee smirked. "Their records state you were studying sentinels, a so-called piece of modern folklore."
Sandburg took up the challenge. "And so I was, until the time came to write my dissertation and no sentinels had fallen at my feet." He shrugged, spreading his arms wide, turning the palms of his hands upward. "Instead, I had a chance meeting with Detective Ellison and we became friends. I proposed the ride-along as a means to my thesis, and he agreed."
"Without informing the university?"
"I didn't want to make the change official until I was certain I'd be able to secure all the information that was needed. There was no guarantee the officers would even talk to me, outsider that I was, and I had to experience much of the details to fully understand them." That had certainly been true enough. During the early days, merely walking into a room where cops had been present caused frost to form on his eyelashes and hair. If the cops hadn't been from Major Crime, well, he counted himself lucky if he left the room without frostbite. "Plus, it's also a matter of public record -- my encounters with the defendant, for example -- that I had a great deal of difficulty juggling my responsibilities at both the precinct and at Rainier." Blair blushed faintly in embarrassed remembrance. He wasn't certain admitting this would help his case, but he was trying to prove his veracity to the jury. "Too many times, Detective Ellison and I would get caught up in solving a case and I would forget a thesis committee meeting."
"And other kinds of meetings as well."
"I did the best I could," Sandburg defended. "If I couldn't be there, for whatever reason, I made sure my classes got covered as often as I could manage. I attended as many of the meetings as I could make. There was no way I could put a meeting about safety rules ahead of a witness' questioning about a murder; not when I could pick up the brochure of new rules that evening and read them later. If my presence somehow made the witness more comfortable and therefore better able to speak, then I believed staying was my duty as a citizen. It sounds corny, but it's the truth."
"And the second press conference, Detective?"
"What about it?"
"What was its purpose?"
"To tell the public the truth, as I stated earlier." Blair sighed mentally. "The DEA had accused me of being crooked and had been trying to muddy all of Major Crime by association. The press conference was given to defend me in particular, and the department by extension."
"You make it sound like the DEA gave you a pardon."
"Hardly. The DEA provided a reason to tell the public the truth about what had really happened and why."
"So why didn't you say any of this earlier?" MacPhee gave a good impression of being genuinely concerned. "Didn't the threat to your credibility, or the career you'd worked so hard and long for, bother you?"
"Objection, your Honor," Sikes snapped, "the witness has already answered that question."
The judge looked sharply at the defense attorney. "Sustained. I suggest you move along, Mr. MacPhee."
"Of course, your Honor. I've finished with this witness anyway." Before a word could be spoken to free Sandburg from the stand, MacPhee directed an aside to the jury in a firm voice. "How proud the Department must be to have found such an honest man."
"Your Honor!" Eyes blazing, Sikes leapt to his feet, and pushed his chair so far out of the way that it narrowly avoided clattering to the floor.
"Withdrawn." MacPhee smiled and hurried to his table.
"I want that comment stricken from the record."
Restrained fury glittered on the judge's brow. "So noted." He then turned his gaze on the jury, and aimed his next words at them. "You are not to consider the defense's comment as a portion of the record. It is not to be considered in your deliberations."
Even though the objection had come, it had come too late and the damage was done. The jury had still heard, and in spite of the instructions, they would remember the words. They would remember the meaning the words brought. He couldn't bring himself to look at the jurors' faces. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what they thought.
Sandburg only vaguely heard the order releasing him from the stand, blocking out everything else. He had to struggle to keep his game face on while he fought the instinct to run out of the courtroom, away from the lawyers, away from Kincaid, and away from the memories. Even though he knew, without a doubt, that Jim would be waiting for him, Blair couldn't let himself worry about what his partner would think, or say, or do. He needed to leave the courtroom and Jim for a while to think.
Blair didn't stop moving, didn't allow himself to do much more than breathe before he'd made it to his destination. This woodsy portion of Black Lake Park -- even though there was no lake, it was so named for the shadows that made up much of the scenery -- had been an outdoor haven for him way back when. Rainier students frequently hung out here, and he'd been no exception. During the summertime, the trees were so heavily laden with leaves that a person could hide with ease; because of this fact, the area was often used as a lover's lane of sorts.
At least he didn't have to worry about being told to leave University property. The park officially belonged to the city, even if mainly students used it. Blair made his way to a shaft of sunlight surrounded by shuttered shadows, and sat in its rays to watch the bare branches of skeletal trees wave in the breeze.
A skeleton waving goodbye? Blair shivered, violently pushing that image away. Who was he fooling anyway? He'd seen the tragic expression on Jim's face as he passed him wordlessly outside the courtroom, and understood that his partner knew what he was feeling. Still, the whole exchange regarding the diss fiasco -- even though that road had been well traveled, all talked out beyond recognition -- had frazzled him almost like it had happened yesterday.
Well. Almost like it had happened yesterday.
What a difference a couple of years made. He'd known within a few weeks of working with Jim that he enjoyed the academic challenge that his Sentinel provided, but over the next few months he'd come to the startling conclusion that police work also made an enthralling adventure. Neither a merry-go-round nor a roller coaster, as he'd once described them at different times, but now Blair found the experience to be more like an entire amusement park. Sometimes the ride was quiet and soothing, going in endless circles, but other times the ride rocked and rolled with reckless abandon. People of all shapes, sizes, colors, and motivations roamed the grounds. There was food and drink and a reason to make merry. You didn't need a ticket to enter the Funhouse or the Hall of Mirrors, but the sideshow had been closed down a long time ago.
After all, no freaks were allowed at this circus.
"How proud the Department must be to have found such an honest man." The words rankled spitefully. It had been a long time before he'd been able to admit to himself how much he enjoyed the work, almost as much as teaching. True, there was something undeniably special about being present when students succeeded, or helping them reach enlightenment about a particular concept. Yet serving truth, serving justice... it felt almost like a calling.
There was the added benefit, of course, that Naomi would, and did, hate it. Blair had tried to squelch those unhealthy feelings, to process the assorted memories of hurt and betrayal where she was concerned. It had been hard but he'd been able to forgive... most of her actions. She'd meant well. Too bad it just hadn't worked out that way.
He was meant to be with Jim, wherever Jim was. First and foremost, he was a Guide to his Sentinel. As it should be. As it was meant to be.
So many of the major events of his life had taken place on the campus of Rainier University. He'd found out about Jim because of his connections on campus, a girl he'd met in a class and had dated. He'd first met Jim -- really met Jim -- on campus in the small basement office he'd loved so much. Their first real bonding experience had been a trip under the chassis of a garbage truck on a University avenue. So many good things had taken place there: lazy afternoons doing research, kicking back to live music and great food at Hill and Dale, and shopping for bargains at Marshall Square. Listening to the bells of Hendricks Chapel ringing in the morning, and catching a cup of tea at the tiny coffee shop in the chapel basement; those things had begun his day. Now his day started in any of a myriad of ways from interviewing witnesses, or visiting crime scenes, or stomping the paperwork beasts before they multiplied.
"...An honest man." Campus had also seen painful events take place. Ventriss. Alex. Chancellor Edwards. All of the events associated with those people had centered on the truth. Truth toward others, truth toward his Sentinel, and truth toward himself. Surely those lessons had to mean something.
Blair knew that leaving the womb of academia, so to speak, had been the right thing to do. If he really was being honest with himself, he'd outgrown that place. He loved learning, loved teaching, always would, but he simply no longer belonged there. He couldn't go back to being who he'd been in his life pre-Jim. Professor Sandburg had grown up and moved on to become Detective Sandburg.
So, all these things being true, who did that make him exactly?
Blair looked up to see his partner standing there, his face wrapped in concern and pride. At first, he was startled to see how difficult it was to actually see Jim, and couldn't quite grasp why. Only then did the realization of the dark sky make sense. Blair couldn't believe time had passed so quickly. Jim set his hand on his partner's shoulder and squeezed gently in support.
"Time to go home, partner."
The waiting was going to drive Blair crazy.
He'd given his testimony over a week ago now, and waiting for the jury to come back from their deliberations and deliver a verdict was going to drive him absolutely stark-raving nutters. Jim was most of the way there; he'd jaw-clenched and shiver-twitched so often over the past few days that Sandburg expected a pleading visit from the Tooth Fairy any time now. Blair knew he wasn't doing too well himself; sleep was a joke, and his stress levels were off the charts.
They'd been put on desk duty the next day, as soon as the prosecution had rested its case, forced to sit around on the off chance that one or both of them would be recalled to the stand by the defense. Apparently, there was a stupid rule stating that, in the event of recall, the witness had to be able to re-take the stand within four hours. Simon probably chained them to their desks in order to prevent something typically Ellison-Sandburg from happening. Yeah, Blair could see it. They'd get the call, but be caught up in a pursuit-of-armed-and-fleeing-suspect followed by yet another vehicle gone west and possibly yet another visit to the Emergency Room. Even if the ER visit didn't pan out, they'd be so bogged down in red tape that they'd be lucky to make it to the courthouse in four days, let alone four hours.
Simon had received another note that morning, and this one proved to be the most disturbing one so far. It mentioned Joan, their friend's ex-wife, by name. All of them knew what none of them wanted to say. If the mysterious note-writer knew about Joan, then he or she might know about Daryl. The big captain had already called both his son and his ex-wife, carefully inquiring about their well-being, but it wasn't like he could come right out and ask whether or not they'd noticed any unsavory persons prowling nearby. Since the note didn't actively threaten anyone, Simon couldn't even press for protection.
All things considered, Jim was less than pleased. That may have been due to the fact that after their arrival in the bullpen each day following their testimony, happy detective faces had met them, eager to shove off piles of cold cases for re-examination and research onto their desks. Big, dusty piles of cold cases.
It was almost enough to make a sentinel cry.
So, the celebrated detective team of Ellison and Sandburg sat at their desks, drank huge quantities of caffeinated beverages, pored over filthy piles of largely depressing unsolved cases, waited, and fumed. Naturally, Jim did most of the fuming. Blair tried to lose himself in the files. Listening Joel and Megan argue the merits of possible suspects in their rape-murder case didn't help matters either.
Overlooking the grisly and disturbing aspects, the case was a puzzle. At first, there had been some indications that the perp might belong to a hate group of some kind. The vague descriptions they'd gotten from their few witnesses -- tall, bald, ordinary-looking, driving a black car, and with a swastika tattoo on his left bicep -- had seemed to bear out the hypothesis. When the first Caucasian victim of the killer appeared, however, that theory lost some of its credibility. The victims didn't know each other, didn't live near each other, and didn't have anything apparent in common. Forensics had found some fibers and other trace evidence. A couple latent fingerprints had been found, but a computer search brought up no matches. If the prints brought up nothing, the semen found at the scene brought up even less. Going for them, though, was the atrocious coloring of the fibers; forensics was pretty certain that they were carpeting fibers found in cars. The orange-yellow color striated with coarser black threads had a ghoulish look, and Blair couldn't imagine why anyone would want it.
"Our guy is a cat owner," Joel pointed out, hanging up the phone. He'd been talking for quite a while, getting an update from Forensics. "Serena even managed to identify it as Persian hair." The long white hairs had been found at several of the scenes, and the detectives guessed the perp had carried the hairs in on his own clothing, leaving them behind like a blood trail.
"One of the techs owns a Persian cat." He smiled, wickedly. "Hers is black, though."
"Another damn cat," muttered Jim absently. "Did Serena say anything about the car?"
"The FBI labs came back, saying it was a Dodge, and the color was a subtype used in Dodge Chargers." Joel grinned wider. "The company only made that color during the late 1970s. Needless to say, it didn't sell very well." His statement was met by grins all around the room. Everyone associated with the investigation so far had commented on the ugly carpeting.
With the exceptions of Rafe and Brown, who had exited the bullpen to begin a new case, the room settled down to work. Megan and Joel busied themselves with the new evidence, checking through the DMV records for Dodge Chargers. From those files, they would have to sort out the male owners owning a black one from that time period. Then, if luck was with them, one of those owners would turn out to be one of their few suspects. If not, well, they'd at least be able to bring him in for questioning.
Or so they hoped.
Sandburg and Ellison, on the other hand, turned their attention back to the files and fuming, respectively. From the fierce expression on her face, Megan looked like she was devoting more attention to figuring out the connection between the victims, and the killer's motive for choosing them. All four victims could have been picked at random or by opportunity, but Blair hoped not; that would make him harder to catch, his guilt harder to prove. He shuddered away abruptly from that line of thinking. It came too close to memories he didn't want to think about.
Jim's soft question earned him a smile. "Yeah, fine. Just thinking about their perp, that's all."
"That's the trouble, Chief, you were thinking."
Despite the terminal boredom, time passed quickly. Joel and Megan had managed to cut their possibilities to three. All owning a car that matched a description seen by the witnesses and some of the evidence. Still, it wasn't enough. There had to be something more, like a motive. Luck wasn't with them, as the possibilities turned up by the DMV lead failed to be any of their previous suspects. Their case returned not quite to square one, since they could still interview the car owners; maybe one of the suspects had borrowed the car from the owner. True, Blair admitted, that's unlikely, but too many criminals do too many stupid things.
Just as the group prepared to leave for their homes -- all at the same time, which in itself was odd -- Ellison's phone rang. He was at the phone so fast that no one could remember him moving. Blair could see his hopes for a mostly normal weekend going down the drain as the conversation progressed. Finally, Jim hung up the phone and turned to his partner. "Time's up, jury's back."
"About time. What were they waiting for, an engraved invitation?"
"I just hope Kincaid didn't manage to get to anyone inside the jury. That would be all we'd need." Jim looked threatening.
Sandburg had to admit it did sound like something the militia leader would try. After all, he'd be so sure of a conviction -- since the system was out to get him and couldn't be trusted -- his so- called righteousness would convince him that tampering would be within his rights. He frowned. Of course, tampering would probably be too subtle for Garrett Kincaid. Considering their past run-ins, he'd be more likely to pull something more flashier, something more politically oriented, something he could use. But the district courthouse has the best security in the city. It's federal property, for God's sake. The nagging little voice in the back of his mind wouldn't let up. And Central Precinct was full of cops, but that didn't stop him, did it?
Still, Kincaid was in custody. What was he going to do behind bars? That's what they said about Al Capone, remember? Blair didn't like what his traitorous mind was thinking and tried to ignore it by changing the subject. "So much for dinner. You'd think the jury would've had the decency to wait until after breakfast."
Jim either didn't notice or didn't care about the sudden change in topic. "I'm just glad we'll have it over with. That way, we can actually enjoy our weekend."
"Why do you have to be so reasonable?" Blair's attempt to grumble didn't go unnoticed, and his partner grinned at him merrily. Handing Jim his coat, Blair put on his own and prepared himself for the March-lion-roaring outdoors. True, he had to emotionally prepare himself for the verdict; only the sentencing hearing still down the road would be more nerve-wracking. "Still, when I'm in charge--"
"--I'll move to Canada."
Smacking Jim in the side with a mock blow, Blair finished his sentence as if his Sentinel hadn't spoken. "--I'll follow Shakespeare's lead and have all the lawyers killed. Or at least kept in cells until they're needed." They hurriedly exited the bullpen, blood singing excitedly in their ears, ringing for justice.
Neither had seen Megan and Joel stop in their tracks and look at each other.
Patience had always been one of his best virtues. As second-in-command of the Sunrise Patriots, that particular trait stood him in good stead, especially where Kincaid was concerned. His plan was coming together beautifully; soldiers were in position all over the federal district courthouse, waiting for the right moment in which to strike. All of them awaited his orders. Those who had specific tasks knew them and knew they were not to fail. He had given himself orders, too, and had not failed in carrying them out to the best of his ability.
While dear Lisa was a lovely girl, she was too... modern for his tastes. She spoke very little about what she worked on, as was proper for her position as an Assistant District Attorney, but very often it was the things she didn't say that proved most interesting. With the right props, the right nudges, she could be pushed gently in the right direction. You'd think that a lawyer would be better trained in the art of manipulation.
But then, she was a woman, so perhaps her sex was her failing.
It hardly mattered now.
Joseph had waited patiently for the correct time to reveal himself to his quarry. Knowing his dear old friend Banks would have been keeping a close eye on Kincaid's trial, he planned to keep a close eye on the cop. Little things would garner attention at first, and then -- when the time was right -- he would move on to something larger. Nor did he plan to continue sending his little messages too frequently. One here, one there, and perhaps others when least expected. That would be enough.
Before he'd awakened to the truth, he had enjoyed complexity; still, that concept had its place. However, the more serious the task, the simpler the parts had to be. By breaking a complex thing into its component parts and dealing with them separately, the matter solved itself. Here, simple would work; the target would be expecting something complicated.
The lieutenant would not risk missing the verdict, and the plan took advantage of that fact. Weapons -- nothing too large or too flashy, mind -- could be hidden and carried inside by Patriots posing as members of the cleaning crew or a construction group. After all, no one sees the janitors cleaning their building; they certainly don't take the time to notice what they look like or learn their names. How delightful a game to use society's own failings against it.
He did not waste time wondering why he had chosen to be reborn in this fashion.
The action would not play out the way he knew Kincaid wanted. He hoped that it would gain him freedom, but he knew better. The police would be expecting the Patriots to do something, even if they were not certain what. They would be watching... just not in the right place. After all, until Kincaid escaped, he was in charge of the Sunrise Patriots. Being in charge was a good feeling.
Joseph LaCasse intended to enjoy it for as long as possible.
Quiet now, he thought, the stage is set... and now the curtain rises. 'A Tragedy in Three Acts', Act One, Scene One.
Jim sighed in frustration; he seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. He and Simon flanked Blair, moving towards the large courtroom where the trial was being held. Now, at this late hour, only people associated with the trial or those working for the courthouse in some fashion or another had a right to be here.
None of them really wanted to be here at all, but Blair believed it would be good closure. Something to put the whole thing behind them or something like that. He hadn't said anything else of import -- he talked a great deal, but said very little of substance -- and that was something they would have to deal with damn soon. Who would have thought it? Jim Ellison, wanting to talk about feelings and bad memories and other bad stuff guaranteed to keep you up nights. Usually, that was Sandburg's line. Sandburg didn't want to talk about any of this.
Jim wasn't an idiot. He knew how painful these past several weeks had been for Blair, had been for both of them, but when this last ring of Hell was over, they were going to have that talk. Everything seemed to hinge on whether the jury believed what Blair had to say, if they could understand what had happened and what it all meant. Sure, he and Simon had been there through varying degrees in both the PD siege and the Arena situation, but Blair had been on the inside both times. Jim knew that anyone would think that with all the evidence they already had, but Sandburg's testimony directly connected the two events to each other and to Garrett Kincaid. The jury needed to convict. If they did, they had won a victory worth so much more than just the obvious; they'd have won their lives back to some extent. If not, well, Jim feared he might lose Blair altogether.
Maybe it wasn't quite that serious, but Jim worried about the situation anyway. He glanced around, and there was that damned out-of-place smell again. Cloves. Where the hell was it coming from?
Extending his sense of smell outward, piggybacking sight to follow, he tracked the sharp scent towards an unknown male in a far corner. The ADA was locked in a heated conversation with him, and that seemed suspicious. White male, tall and gaunt, almost shoulder-length dark hair, calculating eyes, Jim thought automatically. It crossed his mind briefly that the man had a vaguely familiar look but what it was eluded him. His face was chiseled, and there was pain lining those eyes. Still, the eyes had a smirking look.
That didn't ease his suspicions. True, he had no real reason to be suspicious except for two things. One, Kincaid was involved, and two, Blair Sandburg was in the building. He focused his hearing and, in those brief moments, recognized a disintegrating relationship and mentally backed away. She was saying things like "But I know we can make this work" and he was responding with "No, there's no point in trying". Same old story. Jim had been down that road before, and knew it was posted as a Dead End Street.
The man smelled of cloves and smoke and, strangely, jasmine. Jim watched him leave quickly in a huff, limping slightly with a fast gait. Time and necessity often accustomed a person to an injury. He'd seen old Army buddies who walked like that, and it brought back brief flashes of memory; the sound of chambering shells, the smell of gun oil. He allowed his hearing to wander a bit, checking in a tiny fit of justified paranoia. It bothered him, everything so far bothered him. Why choose now to break off a relationship? Why in such a public place and manner?
"Weird to see the cleaning crew out during court time."
"It's not official court time, Sandburg. They've got to do it at some point."
The words drifted over his consciousness, but Jim was still searching... dammit, there's that clove smell again. Jim heard some vague construction noise but there didn't seem to be enough of it, not enough to justify the amount of crew he had counted walking around out here. Plus, his nose told him that gun oil and metal were present there in addition to wood, glue, and electrical grit. "Simon?"
"Kincaid's got men in the building."
"Construction crew, I think."
Next to him, Blair sighed. "I'd been thinking earlier that it wouldn't be like him to not try something."
"It wouldn't be like Kincaid to go quietly, would it?" Jim didn't even have to look at the man to know the captain was annoyed. "I can just see all the paperwork coming from this. That son of a bitch does it on purpose."
He saw his partner swallow a smile in an effort to keep it off his face, and managed to hide his own. Sandburg frowned and turned to him questioningly. "You remember the blueprints, right?"
He did. Sort of. As soon as the two of them had learned where the trial was going to be held, they'd gotten hold of the floor plans for the building and done their best to memorize them. This time, they'd figured, if anything happened, they'd at least know their way around the place. "A bit."
"Cool." Sandburg bounced restrainedly at his side, and kept his voice equally subdued. After all, they were in public and didn't want to attract attention. "What did you smell that led you to the bad guys?"
"Cloves. Smoke." He felt Simon start next to him, but didn't want to pull away from Blair's tone of voice long enough to ask why; the question would keep until later. He couldn't ignore that Guide voice. He didn't want to.
"Okay, Jim, this is what I want you to do. Send your sense of smell out, slowly, and find that smoky clove smell." Blair waited a moment. "Got it?"
"In your mind, next to the dials, I want you to visualize a layout of the federal courthouse using the blueprints we looked at." Jim nodded, saying nothing. "As you track the smoky clove smell through the building," Blair continued, keeping one hand on his sentinel's back, "I want you to follow its path on the blueprints. Okay?"
"Okay." After a few moments of silence, Jim opened his eyes and looked at his two friends. "Found them. They're in the basement below the holding cells, and they're prepared for a firefight." After finding the right place, he'd focused his hearing there, hoping to gather as much information as possible.
"Great." His tone might have been dismayed, but Jim could see the pride and joy in his Guide's eyes. "We're going to discuss this later, you know."
He wasn't surprised in the slightest. "Later, Darwin. We'd better come up with a plan, and fast."
It wasn't long before the doors were opened to the public. The courtroom was packed with people, waiting to hear the verdict. It came as no surprise, Jim was happy to say.
Guilty, on all counts.
Jim busied himself by watching the courtroom. If Kincaid had men in the building, he had to have arranged a way to keep them informed of what was happening. Therefore, he had to have a man in the courtroom. Kincaid hadn't even flinched when the verdict was read, as if none of it mattered. If he was planning to escape, then that could be a reason. But how would they get a message through the building? Scanning everyone he could, Jim lit onto a reporter with no obvious identification. He was sitting with one of the local news crews, but they didn't have the same... feel to their character as he did. Hell, he couldn't totally explain it himself.
It just felt wrong. The man was nervous as hell, clicking the pop-top of a pen up and down in an erratic fashion. If he kept the irritating behavior up much longer, he'd get threatened with contempt. What would he do then, if he really was a Patriot?
Tearing himself away from the thought, Jim jumped up as soon as the judge adjourned the proceedings. He watched as the young pseudo-reporter was followed into a nearby men's restroom. The jury would be held over for the sentencing phase, but at least the worst was over as far as the trial was concerned.
Brown waved to him from the door of the restroom. Now, a trial of a different kind was in session.
Jim heard Simon behind him ordering Kincaid into position. They didn't want to use him as bait because that had too many things that could go very wrong if they'd miscalculated. Nor could they take him to the holding cells, for obvious reasons. Taking him outside through one of the main doors as they would ordinarily otherwise do carried too much risk. Instead, they planned to take Kincaid, wearing a hood to avoid the press, to the federal prison by way of a side fire exit; there, he could be taken in shackles and under heavy guard. His escort would be wearing Kevlar, in case what they expected came to pass.
It wasn't the best plan they'd macgyvered together, but hopefully it would serve. Ten minutes before the rendering of a verdict didn't exactly provide the best of platforms on which to make these kinds of decisions. Jim liked to think that he was a think-on-your-feet kind of guy. After all, he was a former Army Ranger... and that made him wonder why he hadn't been able to come up with a better plan. What was that he'd been saying earlier about anticipating the enemy's moves before they're made?
That was why a similar group, heavily armed and wearing Kevlar, would be heading down to the cells. A detective from Arson would play the role of Kincaid. If they tried to break him out, they'd have a surprise waiting for them. Hopefully, surprise would be on their side.
He and Sandburg had the next phase of the trap. After all, it was Blair's testimony that probably hammered the final nail in Kincaid's coffin, so revenge was a good possibility. There was no way to tell; besides, if the plan to free their leader failed, the Patriots might try to get revenge in another fashion. Still, none of them could be sure of what motives were at work here.
That was why the three of them planned to double back around towards the holding cells from the opposite direction as the decoy team. If one of their objectives was to kill a star witness, then Blair would offer the opportunity. Jim had been less than pleased at this portion of the plan, but his partner had forcibly reminded him of a few things. First, Blair was a cop now. Second, Blair was a cop now. Third, Blair was a cop now.
Simon hadn't been much help, pointing out the number of times Jim had deliberately offered himself as a target. "Plus," he'd said, "it's not like we've much choice. It'll cut the amount of people that each side will have to cope with so long as we hit them simultaneously."
After hurrying down the stairs to the basement level, the two of them flanked Sandburg as far as they could before taking their positions. Simon remained at his position, and Blair took the lead while Jim continued to move forward in the middle position. His gun at the ready, he had to be able to give Simon the signal to move, and yet keep his eyes on his partner. Senses extended, he swept the area, hoping to catch them before they came too close.
Reaching one arm out behind him, Jim gave Simon the signal to stand by. Gunfire exploded from the darkness where he'd heard the noise, and he saw his partner draw his own weapon. He knew Blair had fired, and saw him take cover in a doorway. The Patriots moved forward, shooting at both of them. However, Jim could see that those firing in his direction apparently wanted only to keep him still, but the shots at his partner made no excuses as to what they wanted. Those shooters wanted them both dead, but most of the bullets seemed to be headed at Blair.
A little closer. Jim fired again, forcing one of the Patriots to shift position to the left. In order to stay out of his comrade's kill zone, everyone else in line had to move to accommodate the action. Two more shots, and they were almost in the right place, but dammit he had to reload.
Blair fired, picking up the slack, and then fired twice more to keep them from advancing on his position. Jim hurriedly reloaded his gun before shouting out the signal.
Hoping he'd set them correctly to restrict the flow to the basement, Simon hit the controls on the sprinkler system. Rain burst from the ceiling, pouring down upon the Patriots like a thunder crash. Switching it off, he joined his detectives in capturing the shocked militiamen.
Next to him, Sandburg was grinning.
"Nothing," he said innocently. Too innocently. Simon narrowed his eyes and glared until Sandburg continued speaking. "Do you suppose Kincaid'll be madder than a wet hen when he finds out?" Simon shook his head.
Jim snorted. "At least we've captured a group of turkeys... too stupid to get out of the rain."
"You figure we've bagged our limit?"
Leaving this group of militia to Simon, Ellison and Sandburg prepared to enter stage two of the plan. They -- as the dumb cops -- were supposed to think that the threat had been extinguished with the capture of the assassination team. The group leading Kincaid out would then move along with impunity, giving the Patriots just what they wanted. None of them believed that Kincaid would make a murder attempt without making a play for escape as well; actually, Jim would have expected the man's priorities to be reversed. He waved Sandburg to his position with a grin before continuing down the hallway to where their trap would be sprung.
After hurrying up a set of maintenance ladders running directly parallel to the western elevator, the pair waited for their cue. Sandburg hadn't slowed down when faced with the climb, but had thrown himself at the obstacle and begun climbing like his life depended on it. Jim could hear the prisoner muttering threats and inventive curses, but his hearing also picked up the heartbeats of six others nearby. Since this floor was supposed to be deserted, except for the two of them and the escort team, they had to be militia.
The federal district courthouse was laid out like a giant equal sign with a line drawn down the middle. The escort team was walking down the hallway, having come from the far eastern stairwell. Sandburg waited at the western intersection, where he panted softly to catch his breath. His own position was towards the southern intersection, waiting in a corner conference room. There, he could watch without being seen until it was too late, playing the spider to the flies. Those militiamen, by process of elimination, had to be those approaching from the northern stairwell. His nose picked up the distinctive odors of oil and gunpowder, but the third scent confirmed their long-shot supposition as a winner. Although that damned clove smell was rapidly becoming an annoyance, it was distinctive enough to differentiate the bad guys from the good guys.
As soon as the heartbeats belonging to the militia sped up in anticipation, Jim stepped forward to meet them, springing the trap with his gun at the ready. "Cascade PD! Put down your weapons!"
Despite his shackles, Kincaid sprang at one of his escort, throwing himself on top of the man. The attack set off the shooting. Jim found himself wishing for a few more eyes and at least one more pair of hands. Not only did he need to control the militia and protect himself from their bullets, but he also had to protect his fellow officers and keep an eye on Kincaid. Two shots took two of them down, but Kincaid and a Patriot were struggling with one of the officers. Jim had just lined up the shot when Kincaid's helper took a bullet and crashed to the floor in a heap.
One of the other officers had gotten there first, and a quick glance told him that the others had taken the three remaining Patriots down. Either dead, injured, or otherwise defeated, they were no longer a real threat; Jim knew that was yet to come. Morrison, one of the escort team, was down, and his gun was missing. "Kincaid," he shouted towards the alcove where he knew the militia leader had taken cover with the weapon. "Give it up, you're surrounded!"
"I'll see you in Hell first, Ellison!"
"Not if I see you first." Linking up sight to hearing -- the better to judge exactly where the son of a bitch was lurking -- Jim fired another shot, smiling as he followed its smoke trail edging along Kincaid's cheekbone. The burn would be relatively slight, but its impact would be great. The trick shot, hopefully, would force the militia leader to break cover and head to the western junction, where the nearest available fire escape was located. They all had felt fairly certain that Kincaid would never attempt to leave through the normal exits; if the basement had been an option and time on their side, they'd have tried to place a team in the sewers just in case.
Kincaid fired a volley of shots, forcing all of the police in the confrontation to take cover, before running towards the only open path available. That was just where they hoped he would go. How the hell was he managing this in shackles, anyway? Leaving the officers to guard their prisoners and see to their colleague, Jim chased after the militia leader. He was pushing Kincaid right to where Blair was lying in wait. While it wasn't a plan he was pleased with, maybe this was something his partner needed to do. When Jim had found him sitting in the park a week or so ago, Sandburg's facial expression had haunted his dreams.
However, that didn't mean he planned to leave his partner to the wolves, so to speak. The detective paced Kincaid, keeping just enough behind to let him think he had a chance, but close enough to force the militia leader to keep running as fast as he was able. Piggybacking sight and hearing, Ellison wanted to make sure he didn't miss anything of what would happen next. Kincaid was almost there...
As soon as the militia leader set foot into the junction, he sprawled full-length onto the floor. The gun went sliding along the linoleum; Kincaid had dropped it, in order to break his fall. Throwing the broom into the hallway behind him, Sandburg popped out from cover and leveled his pistol at the man's chest, keeping him from leaping for the weapon. "Don't even think about it," he heard Sandburg say, just as he made it to the scene. And just where the hell did he find that broom so fast?
Pushing Kincaid over onto his stomach to check the shackles, Jim grinned to find them intact. "Worked pretty well, wouldn't you say, Chief?" After dragging the swearing militia leader to his feet and taking much joy in reading him his rights, Ellison and Sandburg turned their prisoner back to where he could be put safely back in custody.
Only then did Blair answer his question. "Checkmate."
Hours later, the trio found themselves in Simon's office, muddling through reams of federal paperwork. They'd left most of the result from their hunting trip until tomorrow but, even so, they'd be lucky to get any sleep tonight. Jim wasn't looking forward to the probable meeting with the feds in the morning. True, some of the Patriots had escaped but not many, and also true, there were likely to be more where they came from. This also wasn't the last they'd heard of Kincaid and his militia... though not for lack of trying. Kincaid was safely in custody, cursing a red-white- and-blue streak about the sentencing.
None of that was what bothered him.
Jim didn't even have to worry about the rape case any longer. Joel and Megan had closed it, having linked all the victims to the practice of law in some fashion. One victim had been a lawyer, but another had merely played one on television. The third victim had been a geology student with the same last name -- though unrelated -- as a famous law firm. The most recent and last victim had been an artist named Rosencrantz who had done some sketches for a legal case. They'd discovered that one of their suspects had an unbearable hatred of attorneys and litigation in general after being forced to file for bankruptcy ten years earlier. Exactly how he'd determined Elaine Rosencrantz as a lawyer, Jim wasn't certain, but he supposed it had something to do with the character from Hamlet who was declared dead in the fifth act. The character carried letters to the English king to have Hamlet killed, and here the person drew pictures to be used in court against the defendant. It made a twisted kind of sense.
"Simon," Jim began, "something about that clove smell bothered you tonight. What was it?" He remembered, after identifying the smell out loud, how bewildered Simon had appeared in the quick glance he'd taken.
Their captain gazed out the window, and watched the snow fall softly for a moment before speaking. "My old partner -- back when I was in uniform, riding a squad car -- smoked these truly awful clove cigarettes." Simon's voice was pensive. "I remember that the smell got into everything. Anyone he spent time with smelled like those damn things."
"What happened to him?"
"There was a shooting, and he took a bullet in the kneecap." Simon shrugged sadly. "Dislocated the patella or something, and the doctors disabled him out of the force. He moved away not long after that, couldn't stand to be in the city and not be a cop here again..." Opening a desk drawer, he pulled out a well-handled photo showing several young men and women in their late twenties. Passing the image to his friends, Simon pointed out two young men grinning at the camera. "That's me, and that's Joe."
"Joseph LaCasse. A good cop."
Jim hesitated. "Simon, all those men we caught tonight... they reeked of cloves. It was everywhere."
"You think Joe had something to do with this?" Shock written all over his face, the captain sat upright in his chair as he spoke, forcibly steadying his weight against his desk. It was clear that Simon Banks did not want to believe that a cop, much less a cop he'd known so well, would do something like this.
"I don't know." He studied the second man in the photo carefully. Older, tougher, more worn than he'd been then, and with longer hair, but the resemblance was unmistakable. "Before we tracked that clove smell to where the Patriots were holed up, I'd noticed it earlier. ADA Ames was talking to a man I'd never seen, a now-ex-boyfriend from what I'd overheard, and the smell was coming from him." Jim looked up from the picture and met his captain's eyes. "I can't be sure, but I think it's him."
Blair grabbed his sentinel's arm. "Didn't you say on the way over here that you'd smelled cloves before we even testified? Was that in her office?"
"Yeah. She must've carried the smell inside the office on her clothes." Jim gently handed the picture back to his captain, and watched him put it back inside the drawer. "He probably used her for information and dropped her when she was no longer needed."
"He didn't get involved in the escape, either."
"He didn't need to be," Banks spoke up. "The Joe I remember was always thinking. He might not have wanted me to place him at the scene because I could recognize him, but he also must have known that we would never be able to prove anything. That he could walk in, do this, and wave goodbye as he walked away." He shook his head, trying to clear it. "I don't know." Rubbing away the beginning of a monster headache, he wondered what he was supposed to think now. "Joe was a good cop. Once." He paused. "And we can't prove he was there, that he had anything to do with this, can we?"
"Not unless one of the prisoners decides to confess. The clove smell is circumstantial at best." Jim knew there had to be more than just a smell; surely more people than that smoked clove cigarettes. Besides, he was the only one who could have smelled it. Of course, ADA Ames could place him in the city, but that was circumstantial at best. Even together, their evidence leaked like a sieve. "LaCasse kept himself out of the situation as much as possible, but it looks like he may have known or even hoped we'd figure out he had played a part in the attempt. He may not have gotten Kincaid out or even got his men away, but I think he achieved what he wanted."
"A message to let me know he's here." Simon sighed. "And I hate to mention it, but I think he has been all along..." His voice trailed off into silence.
Blair had a thoughtful expression on his face. "You said that LaCasse had been shot. Where did that happen?"
"The Zodiac Club... on Greenfield Avenue."
"The one mentioned in the fourth note." Jim nodded slowly as he spoke. "That means--" He didn't even want to finish the sentence.
"He'll be back. Not tomorrow, and not next week. But eventually."
"Good. It gives us time to figure out what game he's playing and to make the next move." Jim looked at his friends, watching myriad emotions flit across their faces. "We'll see who wins this chess match."
Many thanks to everyone who beta-read. Thanks also to Beth, who beta-read while under the influence of the flu; Beth is still Super-Beta. Even more thanks to Trish. Tremendous thanks to Cindy for her never-ending support and encouragement, for plot-checking, and for keeping those Muses on the twisted and narrow path. *g*
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