Production No. CVT-708
Melanie, Shallan & Cindy
MEET THE CAST
Jim led the way into the dimly lit street. He could hear his partner's soft steps hurrying to keep up with his long strides. There was near silence in the buildings around him and the sounds of cars stopping up ahead. The wet streets glistened oily black as they approached the intersection where Simon's car was parked. There, the Captain and Megan waited for the fugitive detectives.
Jim squared his shoulders and stepped away from the curb. He stalked up the middle of the empty street, ignoring the chilly mist that had begun to fall.
When they reached the middle of the block, Simon drew his weapon and pointed it at them. "Put your hands up. You are both under arrest." Megan stepped next to him, her own pistol at the ready.
Spotlights from the buildings around them flooded the street and made Jim draw back. "Nice conduct, sir. We come to you for help and you do this." Caught in the white glare of the lights, the mist seemed to swirl and coil about them as Blair halted beside him. As he drew his gun, the Sentinel's hearing picked up the voices crackling on the SWAT team's headsets.
"I'm taking you both in, now put down your weapons and surrender." The captain's deep voice echoed off the buildings around them.
"Simon... Megan... You know we aren't guilty." Blair's expression was full of disbelief and horror. Several news vans pulled up and were stopped by uniformed officers behind a hastily thrown up barricade. Wendy Hawthorne, from channel 24, and her cameraman crowded forward and started to film.
Another unmarked police car screeched to a halt and Rafe and Henri leapt out. They hurried to a point behind Simon and both spoke at once.
"Sir, you can't do it like this." Jim could hear the anguish in Rafe's softly accented voice.
"It's Jim and Blair, Boss." Henri sounded dumbfounded.
"Now listen-up. Both of you. You go help the uniforms with the press and stay out of this." When the two men seemed to hesitate he barked, "Unless you are ready to turn in your badges, you WILL obey my ORDER!"
Jim let a wry grin twist his lips as he watched the two men almost reel in shock at their Captain's vicious tone. He looked at Blair and spoke almost conversationally. "Remember what I said. We are NOT going to jail."
"Whatever happens, it was worth it." The young man smiled with almost blinding trust. Jim started to step in front of him, and was stopped when a strong hand caught his arm and held tight. "Not this time," Blair said gently and took his place at his partner's side.
"We aren't going to jail, Simon." Jim raised his revolver in one fluid movement. From the corner of his eye he saw Blair draw the small automatic and aim it at their Captain and friend. Then, it all became almost dreamlike. A deathly stillness settled on the street as the snipers radios crackled to life, gouts of yellow exploded from the muzzles of a half dozen rifles. Simon and Megan's shots were almost drowned out by those of the larger guns.
Jim felt the punch of the explosive impacts as they stitched across his chest, and he staggered back. Lying on the wet tarmac he reached out blindly for his partner. His sensitive fingers detected the cold leather of Blair's jacket, soaked now with something that smelled sweet and flowed thick and warm over his hand. For a moment, he let the contact comfort him. Then he was still.
How could everything go so crazy? Jim fought the oblivion that beckoned so seductively and tried to concentrate. How could their lives turn out like this in just four stinking days.
Four days before:
"Ellison -- Sandburg -- in my office!"
Jim had just settled down in his desk chair when Simon shouted the words. He stood up as Blair returned from the break room with his coffee. "Simon wants to see us."
"I thought I heard him bellow." Blair took a sip of coffee and led the way to the Captain's office. "Is something up?"
"He sounded pissed," Jim deadpanned. "Probably at something you did."
The young detective shot a look back over his shoulder as he entered the office. "I'm not the one who turned up on the local news a couple of days ago threatening Tommy Chambers."
"No Sandburg. You didn't threaten Fat Tommy." Simon picked up the thread of their conversation and glowered at his newest detective. "How about Dean Edwards?"
"What?" Blair stopped short and Jim edged around him.
"Somebody set fire to the Dean's office and the records room at Hargrove Hall last night."
Jim sat down, but leaned forward intently. "What does this have to do with Blair?"
"Was anyone hurt?" Blair looked shocked. "I didn't see anything on the news this morning."
"It was after hours." Simon replied, seeming to be studying his newest officer. "The sprinkler system came on. Did a lot of water damage."
"Oh, man." Blair plopped onto the other chair and shook his head. "The computers... all the student records."
"What does this have to do with Blair?" Jim repeated.
Simon took a deep breath. "Where were you last night at eleven-thirty, Sandburg?"
"I was... SIMON! YOU THINK THAT I...?" Blair raised his voice and looked from man to man.
"This is a load of crap, Captain." Jim's voice took on the cold official tone he used when he wanted to throw a tantrum, but couldn't quite bring himself to flout authority.
"I don't suspect you of anything, Sandburg." Simon looked at them wearily. "The only reason I brought this up was... well, someone at Rainier saw who threw the incendiary devices -- empty Snapple bottles filled with paint thinner -- into the offices."
"Who?" Blair paused and added, "who saw it, I mean?"
"George Coburn, the night security guard. He chased the perp to the parking lot. Almost got run down by the getaway car."
"I know George."
"And he knows you." Simon's expression got even more pained. "He said the arsonist looked like you. A lot like you."
"There are dozens of kids at the U who look like Sandburg." Jim snarled. "Hell... most of them do."
"Do they all drive blue sixty-nine Mustang cobras?" Simon sighed, and turned to Blair. "Where were you? Last night? Eleven-thirty?"
"At Natural Notions." When the two older men gave him blank looks, he added, "You know... the health food store?"
"At eleven-thirty at night?"
"I got there at eight. I stayed and talked to Parker for a while. He had a TV on and we watched the play-off game. Afterwards, I helped him hook up his scanner and DVD burner. Parker knows a lot about vitamins, but he's computer illiterate."
"Parker?" Relaxing a little, Simon had his pen ready.
"Parker Williams. He owns the place."
"This whole thing stinks, Simon." Jim was still angry. "Blair would never do something like that."
"George Coburn was reluctant to point the finger at Sandburg. " The Captain softened his voice as he looked down at the papers on his desk. "He thinks a lot of you... thinks you got a raw deal from the college."
"George is a conscientious guy." Blair said pensively, "and he's good at his job. It has to be a coincidence... someone who resembles me."
"And who drives a blue Mustang?" Jim frowned forbiddingly and studied his partner. The kid was just too damn trusting. "This Parker? Tell me he's not a flake? He'll be a good witness...?"
"Parker is almost deaf..." A small, wry quirk appeared at one corner of Blair's lips as something obviously occurred to him. "That's why I helped him install a video security system right after he opened the store. It's motion activated, and the tapes are time coded."
"I'll have Joel and Megan go pick up those tapes." Simon grinned slightly. "I take it that you are a major character in last night's production?"
"I imagine I'll turn up a few times." Blair said absently as he frowned and looked at Jim. "I'd like to talk to George, and maybe get Jim to do his lie detector thing.
"You'll stay clear of him, Sandburg." Simon took one look at Jim and added, "Jim and I will go talk to him. You will stay here and thank your lucky stars that your friend has a problem with shoplifters."
"I... I can almost swear... it was Mr. Sandburg." George Coburn looked up at the two imposing police officers as they stood in front of him. "I couldn't believe my own eyes."
"You say you saw Blair Sandburg throw firebombs into the record office and the Chancellors office?" Simon kept his tone neutral, as he gave Jim a warning look. The captain didn't believe -- didn't want to believe -- that his young detective had anything to do with the arsons. "Are you sure it was him?"
"Yes... No... he would never do something like that. I don't care what they say about him." George stammered as he paced the small office the custodian used. "I've seen a lot of students come through this place. Blair was the best of them."
"But...?" Jim looked more puzzled than angry as he voiced the janitor's unspoken word.
"But..." George hesitated and continued sadly, his voice barely audible. "It was him that I saw."
"Thank you, Mr. Coburn." The captain sighed as he watched Jim stalk out of the office. He didn't like this building, and he knew Ellison hated it here. The wide hallway was empty by the time Simon made his exit so he headed for the lot where he'd parked his car.
Ellison was outside, waiting for him on the steps of Hargrove Hall. He was sitting on the second from the top step, looking at that damn fountain. His pale blue eyes were distant and he was obviously reliving past horrors. Finally he spoke. "God, Simon. Something isn't right here."
"He wasn't lying, was he?" The tall captain sat down next to his detective, heedless of his freshly cleaned suit and immaculate topcoat.
"Only when he said he doubted it was Blair. The man thinks the world of Sandburg, but he also thinks it was him last night."
"Lucky the kid has those tapes to back up his story."
"Yeah... lucky." Jim hadn't taken his eyes off the fountain.
Three days before:
"Sandburg. Get over here and look at this." Henri was staring at the composite drawings spread out over the conference room table. "It could be you and Ellison. And these were from four different witnesses descriptions."
"Oh very funny, H." Blair glanced at the drawings of Jim and himself and shook his head. The guys had been teasing him since he was cleared of setting the fires at Rainier -- and it was getting old fast. "Doesn't the police artist have better things to do?"
"No Hairboy. These are the real thing. Four witnesses described the two men who shot Fat Tommy. They came up with these independently."
"Tommy Chambers' soldiers no doubt." Blair frowned as he remembered the pack of goons that made up Fat Tommy's 'posse'.
The crew of hoodlums had threatened the young detective when he and Jim got too close. The campaign of intimidation had culminated with a telephone call telling them that one of the pizzas delivered to their Monday night football gathering was poisoned. The caller had joked that 'Ellison's little buddy' had pretty bad luck with pizza. That night so did Rafe and Daryl Banks. All three ended up in the emergency room having their stomachs pumped. The poison had been nasty, undetectable by taste or smell and nearly lethal.
After that Jim and Simon had gone all out after Fat Tommy. The pizza delivery boy was dead and for a while so was the case. Then Jim overheard Tommy order a hit on a competitor.
They were very careful. Jim, Blair, and Simon went to great pains to include Homicide in the case. Independent evidence was obtained, witnesses turned, and Thomas Chambers was arrested.
And in a few short months, the evidence was mysteriously tainted, and the witnesses either murdered or frightened into silence. Jim was furious about being unable to testify about what he had heard. Even if he could tell the truth, there was always the possibility that it would be thrown out for legal reasons.
Earlier this week Tommy had strolled past Jim after the charges against him were dismissed and gloated. "Gee Ellison. Why so grim?" The huge man gave Blair an evil smile. "You look like you just lost your best friend."
Jim lunged forward and grabbed Tommy's jacket in both fists. "One way or another, you pig. I'm taking you down."
"JIM!" Blair had grabbed the tall detective and pulled him back, disturbingly aware of the press gathering around, taking it all in. "Come on, Jim. You know this crook is as stupid as he is ugly. We'll get the goods on him again, and he'll get to sample prison cuisine."
Jim calmed somewhat and matched Tommy's nasty grin with one of his own. "Hell kid. This marshmallow'll BE the prison cuisine."
Tommy gave Jim one last hate filled glare before he let his lawyer drag him off.
"What?" Blair was startled out of his reverie by Henri's call.
"You just flaked, man. Pulled an Ellison. Went off into la-la land."
"Oh. I was just... what did you say?"
"Tommy was at the restaurant alone... well... with a date. The witnesses that gave us the composites, were all regular citizens. Just folks having dinner in that restaurant. Most of them talked about the big guy's cold blue eyes."
Blair glanced at the copy of the report then looked at the drawings again. Two men -- these two men -- had walked up to Tommy's table in a crowded restaurant and while the smaller man protested, the tall one had shot the racketeer in the forehead.
According to the witnesses.
A tremor of fear danced over Blair's spine. Not again! It had to be a coincidence. "It wasn't Jim. I was with him all evening, so they can't say it was Jim."
"Hell, Sandburg. I know that." Henri laughingly punched Blair before gathering up the pictures. "You guys got alibis -- right?"
"We..." Blair hesitated, thinking of the wild goose chase he and Jim had been led on last night. A snitch of Jim's had called with a tip about the fires at Rainier. He insisted they meet on a deserted access road near the city dump. "We were waiting for a snitch who never showed up."
"In a bar...?" Henri sounded hopeful as he nodded at the young detective.
"City Dump." Blair had a sick feeling that there would be no ironclad evidence this time. No time coded videos. No impeccable alibi witness.
"Hell!" The muscular detective ran a hand over his shaved scalp and looked at the report again, this time without a smile. "Hell!"
James Ellison could hear his partner talking to Brown in the conference room. He had been on the fifth floor, after sniffing out some buttermilk doughnuts on the coffee wagon. Knowing Blair would berate him about them, he stayed at his desk, wolfing down two of the exquisite pastries. He absently tuned into the conversation down the hall, listening more to the tone than to the actual words.
"It wasn't Jim." His guide's voice -- his own name -- and the apprehensive way it was said, got Ellison's complete attention. Blair was scared. He... they were suspects in Thomas Chambers murder. And Blair, being Blair was telling the truth about their lack of an alibi. When you are on the wrong side of the law (and cops rely on crooks being too dumb to know this) the first rule is 'keep your damn mouth shut'. He popped the last of his doughnut into his mouth as he strolled out of the bullpen.
"Early in the morning to be cussing, Henri." Jim grinned as he walked into the conference room. He sensed his partner's uneasiness and pretended not to know why. "What's up?"
"Err... Jim. It seems that two guys who looked a LOT like us shot Tommy Chambers last night." Blair held out the drawings and the older man could see the eerie similarities.
"What?" Jim frowned. "These might look like us, but we were nowhere near that restaurant." He had heard about Tommy being hit, and had to admit to feeling not one twinge of sadness about it. However, it was a hell of a long stretch for anyone to think he was the trigger man. "I might not mind that the creep is dead, or even that people think I did it, but I'm insulted that anyone would think I'd do it so badly." Jim tried for blase. If he could joke about it, how could anyone think (even for an instant) that he did it.
"Yeah Jim." Henri said absently. "We all know you are much to neat to splatter Tommy's brains all over a bunch of diners."
"Yeah. If I did it, it would be," Jim grinned again as he pretended to consider, "a 'heart attack' or an 'allergic reaction'."
"Oh God! Will you guys cut it out." Blair's voice went up an octave as it got louder. "I can not believe you are joking about this. They described US! I don't care if your feelings are hurt and I don't care if you couldn't have done this because it was stupid because YOU couldn't have DONE this PERIOD!"
"Get a grip Blair." Jim seemed to dismiss his partner's worries. "They can't prove we did it -- because we didn't."
"Oh yeah, and innocent people NEVER get convicted of crimes?" Blair was still angry. "First the fires -- now this mess. And you're acting like it's nothing. Sometimes you have too much faith in the system." He was still scared too. "I know it doesn't always work."
"And here I thought you were always the optimist." Jim said blithely. "Growing up around Naomi must have made you cynical."
"Realistic," Blair kept his voice even. "Sometimes people got busted who didn't deserve it. Just because they 'looked guilty'."
"Relax Chief. Things will work out." Jim made sure his expression was filled with certainty. "We'll catch the hitters."
"Yeah Hairboy." Henri looked uncomfortable with the tense discussion. "Two funny looking guys like this should be easy to find."
Blair sat and muttered something about 'letting this go' while he banged his forehead on the table.
"Easy there." Jim took his shoulder and lifted him upright. "You'll give yourself a concussion.
"This is not a joke." Blair whispered almost soundlessly. "This is not a joke."
"Aww don't worry, Chief." Jim spoke softly, staring intently at his partner. When Blair didn't answer or smile the big detective grinned at Henri Brown, and ruffled his friend's thick curly hair. "I'm tellin' ya kid -- we're too cute to go to jail."
Blair's forehead hit the table with the first of an increasingly distraught series of thumps.