edited by: Antoinette and Eagle Eye
Parker's Jewelry and Antiques
Jacob Parker barely glanced up as he heard the bell over the door signal the arrival of a customer. He carefully finished adjusting the prong on the diamond ring he was repairing before setting down his tools. "Let me know if I can show you anything."
A deep and familiar voice responded, surprising him. "I've got a burning love for some diamonds."
"Excuse me?" The elderly man blinked at the blurry figure before removing the heavy magnifier he was wearing. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust before he could clearly see the man standing in front of him. Jet-black hair, combed into a pompadour and set off with strong sideburns. He wore a leather shirt and leather pants. An acoustic guitar set off the ensemble and helped conceal the small revolver currently pointed at Parker's mid-section.
The man just smiled, one side of his mouth crooked higher than the other. "You heard me, Big Boss Man. Hand over the diamonds. The ones in the safe, not the low quality crap you have in that case over there."
When he pointed to the still life behind Parker's head that hid the wall safe, Mr. Parker knew that he was not dealing with an amateur. He removed the painting and began to spin the dial even as he felt the familiar pain tighten across his chest. His knees buckled as the safe door swung open. Unable to utter a sound, he pointed to the bottle of nitroglycerin tablets on his workbench.
Also silent, the man emptied the trays of loose diamonds into the sound hole of his guitar. As he turned to leave, he picked up the bottle and tossed it into the elderly man's lap.
"Here." A soft thwack sounded as Rhonda dropped a stack of files on Ellison's desk. "We stopped using form 82-12 over three months ago. These have to be redone using 82-18."
Behind him, Blair gave an amused snort. "Told you so, man."
Jim ignored him as he addressed the willowy blonde. "Come on, what's the big deal? I just used up the forms that I had in my desk. It's not like there's any difference." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew it was a mistake.
"No difference? Form 82-12 is blue. Form 82-18 is green; this is so it isn't mistaken for 83-79. You of all people should be able to notice that." She picked up one of the new forms and waved it under Ellison's nose.
"Umm, what's an 83-79 for?" Rafe's question momentarily distracted the angry woman.
"You, I'll get to in a minute." Without taking a breath she turned back to her original victim. "As for you, don't even think about taking those old forms and running them through the copy machine onto green paper. I know what to look for."
Jim tried to look offended. "Rhonda, would I do that to you?"
In answer she placed another stack of forms on his desk. "Changing the paperwork after a case is closed requires form 79-334 to be filled in triplicate. One copy is attached to the new form, one copy is attached to the old paperwork and one copy goes into my files. Captain Banks will have to sign off on it too." A third stack appeared on his desk. "For the cases that are still open, you'll have to use form 9437-22."
"In triplicate?" Jim ignored the snickering that came from his partner's vicinity.
"Of course." After giving Ellison a sweet smile she turned her attention to his partner. "All right, Blair, let's talk about your paperwork."
"My paperwork? What's wrong with my paperwork?" Now Sandburg's desk had its own stack of rejected papers. Blair began shuffling through them, determined to prove Rhonda wrong.
Rhonda began to explain. "When you are using form 5497-D the arresting officer must initial each and every..."
"...item listed on the indicated line. Yeah, yeah, I know that, I read the notice. Blair paused, waiting for Simon's secretary to realize her mistake.
"You read the notice? That's great, Blair." She raised her voice to be heard throughout the bullpen. "It would make my life so much easier if everyone would read the notices when they came through from Records." Rhonda dropped her voice again as she continued to question Sandburg. "Did you read the addendum?"
"Umm, addendum?" Sandburg ignored the snickers that now came from his partner.
Rhonda, too, ignored the other man. "Initials must now be in a contrasting color ink to be more visible on the originals. Sorry, Blair, but at least that's an easy fix." She gave Ellison one last sweet smile before moving on to Rafe's desk.
Sandburg was very glad he didn't have to raise his voice to be heard by his partner. "What's got her all wound up?"
Jim glanced around, then leaned across the desk before answering. "Vice got hit with an internal audit yesterday. Rhonda found their secretary in the ladies room crying."
"That bad. Our audit is in less than two weeks. Simon's even more wound up about it than Rhonda."
Blair thought about it. This was a lousy time for crime to slow down in Cascade. Beside him, Jim turned his focus towards Simon's office and grinned, catching Blair's attention. "What?"
"A robbery just got bumped up to Major Crime. Simon's on the phone with Captain Marks." Jim slowly closed the file folders on his desk. "If we don't want to spend the next two weeks in paperwork purgatory..."
"I've got it, man."
Simon stepped out of his office. "Heads up, this has just been kicked up to us from robbery. Who's next up on the roster?" A wave of bodies moved forward in unison, but the team of Ellison and Sandburg were ready. By the time Rafe and Brown were detangled from the tall, blue-eyed man that they had collided with, Sandburg had the case notes securely in his grasp. Simon just shook his head at the eagerness of his team and returned to the safety of his office.
Megan pointed a finger at the men as they left. "You ever play hockey, Jim? That was a pretty slick move."
Ellison gave her a snappy salute as he shoved his partner out the door.
"What have we got, Chief?" Jim waited for an answer as Sandburg studied the paper in his hand.
"Well, either Simon has had way too much coffee this morning, or I need new glasses, because the only part I can really read is Parker's Jewelry and Antiques at the Cascade Mall. It's something to do with diamonds, I guess."
"We'll find out soon enough then." Jim pulled out of the department garage and immediately slammed on the brakes. He and Blair stared at the man jogging across the driveway and into the station lobby.
"Didn't that guy look just like Elvis Presley?" To double check, Blair took off his glasses and wiped them on his shirttail.
"He's a little young for Elvis, but yeah, Junior."
Outside Cascade Mall
The collection of black and whites surrounded an ambulance and marked the center of the action. Jim pulled the truck as close as he could. Both men automatically moved towards the figure on the stretcher. A familiar uniformed officer met them. "Detective Ellison, Detective Sandburg, I'm glad you're the ones handling this one." Further away, her partner was handling the growing crowd.
"What have we got, Lynn?" Blair prepared to take notes as Jim moved closer to the victim.
"The old man is Jacob Parker, he had a heart attack during the robbery. You're not going to get much out of him; he must have been hallucinating or something. The wall safe was empty but according to Parker's son, there was over $100,000.00 in loose diamonds stored in there. No other witnesses, forensics is sweeping the place now."
"Thanks." Blair closed his notebook and moved beside his partner, as the victim was loaded into the waiting ambulance. He noticed that Jim was rubbing the bridge of his nose, a sure sign that the older man was developing a headache. "Did you get anything out of him?"
"Nope, unless you believe that he was held up by a ghost with a guitar."
"A ghost with a guitar? OK, I'm not going to ask for the details about that one. Let's see what Serena's got." Blair just shook his head as he followed Ellison.
Parker's Jewelry and Antiques was one of the larger stores in the north end of the mall and had entrances from both the mall and the parking lot. Jim stopped to talk to the technician who was finishing up on the exterior door.
"Tell me we got lucky." Jim had a hopeful look on his face; this was the kind of case that attracted attention from both the brass and the media and he did not want to have to publicly admit that his eyewitness had fingered a ghost.
"Sorry, detective." The young forensic technician gave an apologetic smile. "There's only one set of prints on the door, and I think they belong to the victim."
"Only one set of prints on the door to a business? Doesn't that strike you as a bit odd?" Jim focused on the glass door and could see nothing that had been missed.
Officer Jessie Buxton, now finished with crowd control, walked up in time to hear the exchange. For once she had the answer for the detective who seemed to know everything. "Actually, the mall has a contract to have all the exterior glass power washed every Wednesday before opening."
Jim nodded; this was not shaping up to be his day. "Could the perp have been wearing gloves?"
The technician thought about it for a minute. "It's possible, but I really don't think this door was used. I think some part of the victim's prints would have been smudged if someone else had used the door after him."
Sandburg joined in on the discussion. "So our guy is bold enough to come in through the mall entrance? Why? The parking lot isn't that busy, so why take the chance?"
"Who knows? According to Mr. Parker, he was robbed by the ghost of Elvis Presley, complete with guitar." Jim moved through the store, Sandburg at his side. Officers Buxton and Crowder remained outside to keep the few remaining spectators away from the crime scene.
"Wait a minute." Blair reached out and grabbed Jim's arm. "Did you say Elvis? The guy outside the garage..."
"Yeah, I know. We've just got to face it, Chief. It's just going to be a weird day." Jim's voice trailed off as he looked past his partner.
"Jim?" Sandburg followed his Sentinel's line of sight and stared at the image he saw outside the store. "I think our day just got a whole lot weirder."
Inside the Cascade Mall
Across the mall from Parker's Jewelry and Antiques was the food court. At the table nearest the walkway sat a heavyset, middle age Elvis Presley. Two tables down sat a younger Elvis wearing a western shirt and cowboy boots. Coming out of the bookstore was Elvis in his signature cape. Another Elvis, this time in a Hawaiian shirt, was sitting on a bench, strumming a guitar.
Inside the jewelry store two dazed detectives looked back at each other. It was Sandburg that broke the silence. "I think I'd have preferred the ghost."
"That's only because you don't see them." Relaxing now that his sanity was no longer in question, Jim couldn't help but grin. "Besides, how many of them can there be? Let's start with him." Ellison pointed to the Elvis with the guitar. "Maybe we'll get lucky." He marched out into the mall, ignoring the mutterings about flying pigs.
"Excuse me, sir, we'd like to ask you a few questions." Jim pulled out his badge and made sure the other man could see it.
The young man gently placed his instrument on the bench beside him. "Baby, what do you want me to do?"
"How about you tell us your name your real name for a start."
Jim's demeanor seemed to deflate their suspect. "I'm Edwin Hodgkin, from Kid, Montana." He pulled out his wallet and handed over his ID. Jim glanced at it before handing it over to Sandburg, who was taking notes.
"Well, Edwin, what time did you get to the mall this morning?" Ellison couldn't help but grin at the real name he had been told.
"I'm... I'm not sure. Here." Hodgkin pulled out a city transit receipt from his pocket and handed it over. Ellison looked at the computer generated time stamp. This particular Elvis was still on the bus when the robbery took place.
"All right, thank you." Jim handed the paper back and waited while Sandburg handed back the ID. "That's all we need, thank you for your help." The two men moved on to the next closest Elvis, this time the middle aged Elvis.
Jim studied the flashy rings on the man's hands as Sandburg questioned him. Finally he had to compliment the man on the quality of the fake stones.
Elvis just grinned. "Seeing is believing."
Another Elvis coming out of a nearby shop was also questioned. In real life he turned out to be Reginald Montgomery, a plastic surgeon from Detroit. When asked his age, he replied, "I was born ten thousand years ago."
Ellison charged down the walkway, bent on catching up with another dark-haired man in a rhinestone studded jumpsuit. Blair reached out and snagged his sleeve. "We can't question them all; we don't even know how many of them there are."
"So let's find out how many there are. There can't be that many."
Blair took a good look at his partner. The taller man didn't sound annoyed at all. "All right then -- stop, look and listen. What can you tell?"
Jim stretched out with all his senses, using his friend as an anchor. The distinctive voice seemed to echo all around him, until he realized that he was hearing it from every corner off the mall. Sight almost made him dizzy, as he seemed surrounded in a life size slide show of the man's life. He recognized the smell of stage make up and spirit gum. At last there was one image that made him smile. Bingo.
"Come on, this way." Without waiting for a response, Jim began moving towards the south end of the mall. Blair turned back and shrugged at Serena before following.
"You've got to be kidding." The object of Ellison's quest was now close enough for Sandburg to see, and he slowed down in amazement.
Jim knew the moment his target became visible to the other man. He reached back and snagged Blair's arm, pulling him along.
"I'd rather have done paperwork. Really, Jim, we could go back to the station and..."
"Are you chicken?" Jim watched his partner squirm.
Blair stopped just short of stamping his foot. "No, I am not chicken, I just think we need riot gear before heading into that... that place."
"I'll put you in for a bravery commendation. Now come on, we don't have all day." Jim grinned at Sandburg as he dragged the younger man into the temporary headquarters of Elvis International, the home of the world's largest Elvis Impersonators Convention.
The Office of David Hayes, Director of Elvis International
"Mr. Hayes, these detectives are here to see you. They say one of our Elvis's is in a little bit of trouble." With a suggestive wiggle the platinum blonde in the white halter dress turned and left the room. Jim couldn't help but stare at her retreating form until his partner whacked him on the arm.
"Having 'Marilyn' as my secretary is one of the best perks of this gig." Hayes shared a knowing smile with Ellison as Sandburg just rolled his eyes. "Now what can I do for you gentlemen?"
Sandburg cleared his throat, drawing Jim's attention back into the room. "One of the jewelry stores in the mall was robbed earlier this morning. The suspect was an Elvis Presley look-alike."
"You're accusing one of my impersonators of being a criminal?" Hayes stood behind his desk and glared up at the two detectives. "Next, you'll be claiming that the convention is involved somehow."
Ellison moved closer, interrupting them. "Nobody is accusing anyone yet. We're just asking for your cooperation. Just how many participants do you have for this convention of yours?"
"We still have people arriving, but we expect registration to hit 700 by the time we officially open on Friday." He gave a wave at the stack of boxes behind his desk. "That's one impersonator for each song the King recorded. Cascade will have a record breaking event, gentlemen." Hayes seemed rather pleased with himself.
"That's a lot of people. Tell me, do you know each of them personally?" Jim seemed to be headed somewhere with this, so Blair didn't interrupt. In fact, he was more than happy to stay in the background on this one. Something about grown men dressing up as a deceased, drug-addicted singer gave the younger man the creeps.
"Not personally, no. You have to understand, detective, the type of men we have here are not capable of doing such a thing. To even accuse them is an insult to the memory of Elvis."
"Oh, brother." Sandburg's sub-vocalization was enough for sentinel ears.
Jim smiled and put on his most diplomatic face. "Then you'd want to help us clear them as quickly as possible."
"Nice try, detective. If you want a look at our records, you'll have to get a warrant." Hayes stood up; indicating the meeting was over. "Now, if there isn't anything else, I have a great deal to do before our opening ceremony tomorrow."
"We'll be in touch." The unspoken 'with a warrant' was obvious in Sandburg's tone.
"Man, this is too weird." Blair gave a dramatic shudder as they pulled out of the parking lot. "Why aren't you freaking out?"
Jim didn't say anything as he eased out into mid-day traffic. His silence got Sandburg's attention. "Oh, Jim, don't tell me that you are one of those closet Elvis fans?"
That got a response. "Didn't Naomi listen to his music?"
"Naomi? Are you kidding? Can you see her swooning at the feet of any man, especially one that was that conservative?"
Ellison snorted at that observation. "He was not conservative, Chief."
"Maybe not to Ed Sullivan, but to Naomi and the people she hung out with, he was pure white bread." Blair took a good look at his partner. "What do you remember about his music?"
"When I was a kid, before things happened, my mom had a convertible. Dad wasn't too thrilled about the car, but for her birthday he had this really great sound system put in it. We used to drive up and down the coast with the top down and the music full blast."
"Always. Dad hated Elvis, so it was our secret. I think she had every 8-track he ever put out."
Blair bit back a smile as Jim began to unconsciously hum Long Tall Sally. "So, tell me, what kind of music did your dad like?"
Jim barked out a laugh, then smothered it before answering. "Dean Martin, all the way."
The younger man managed to choke out "I'm sorry" before he began laughing. Before Jim could think of a way to defend his father's choice of music, his cell phone interrupted them.
"Ellison... yeah, Simon, we're on it." He tossed the phone to his partner and executed a U-turn at the same time.
Blair fumbled with the phone as he waited for an explanation.
"Silent alarm at another jewelry store. Looks like our boy's still at it."
"Great." Blair flipped the lights on and prepared to take down the King.
Rings, Etc. Custom Jewelers
The Sentinel paced restlessly. There were too many people in and near the small store for him to properly use his senses, and over half of them were reporters. A theft the size of the one that morning was big news, and the herd of journalists were still on the scene when the second robbery occurred. Most of the media knew to stay out of Ellison's personal space, but a new face in the crowd didn't seem willing to back down.
"Detective Ellison, are the police ready to make a statement in regards to this rash of robberies?" Any other questions the pushy reporter may have had for him were interrupted by an equally pushy junior detective.
"Listen, you people have managed to totally destroy this crime scene. Fingerprints, footprints, trace evidence, you've managed to trample it all." Every news crew on site captured Sandburg's words, and every reporter was suddenly focused on him. Further out in the mall, the murmuring of the crowd switched from 'stupid cops' to 'damn reporters'. Ellison raised an eyebrow at the suddenly defensive reporters, but let his partner continue to take the lead.
"The people have a right to know." Another member of the media tried to justify his actions.
"Of course they do." Anyone who knew the young man could see that Sandburg was on a roll. "The public also has the right to expect to be safe while shopping, and the owners of these jewelry stores have the right to conduct business without threat. You are the ones that don't have the right to take that away from them."
For the first time since the swarm of reporters had arrived, they were silent, and Sandburg wasted no time. "You people want to know what goes on during an investigation? Guess what, you're going to find out firsthand. Fingerprints, shoeprints, hair samples and clothing fibers need to be collected from each and every one of you so you can be matched against the evidence found at the crime scene. I suggest you line up in an orderly fashion."
As the senior reporter at the crime scene, Don Hass stepped forward to protest Sandburg's decree. "You don't have a warrant; you have no right to demand..."
"You mean that you're not volunteering to help clear up the mess you caused?" Blair jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. "Do you want all those potential witnesses to see you destroy a crime scene and then walk away just because you believe the Constitution gives you the right to?" As usual, he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.
Hass was enough of a gambling man to know when he'd been had. The rest of the reporters quickly came to the same conclusion and quietly lined up behind him. The two detectives and the uniformed officers moved slowly away from the group. In the center of the activity, Ellison could hear Serena's muttered threats of retaliation against Sandburg and him.
"All right, Einstein, you obviously have a plan. Spill it." Jim glanced behind him; the crowd seemed uninterested in their departure.
Buxton and Crowder both grinned at the two men. Lynn's grin grew even wider. "Slick move, they're so busy covering their own butts, they've forgotten about everything else."
Sandburg returned the grin and bowed to the ladies. "How many jewelry stores are there in the mall?"
Jessie thought for a moment. "There's four of them."
Jim knew exactly where his partner was headed. He focused on the mall map further down the corridor. "Buxton, you and Crowder head towards the one at the north end of the mall. Sandburg and I will head for the other one. Let's see if we can catch him in the act." Without waiting for a response, he began jogging down the walkway.
They were close enough to see the store they wanted to check on when Jim abruptly stopped. "Damn it."
Blair instinctively recognized the look on his Sentinel's face. "We're at the wrong store, aren't we?"
"It's going down right now. Let's go!" Jim took off running leaving his shorter legged partner pressed to keep up with him.
Ellison could see Lynn Crowder searching through the mob of people already gathering outside the exclusive jewelry store. Dozens of the Elvis impostors roamed the corridors. Inside, angry voices were drowning out the calm reassurances of Jessie Buxton. As they came closer, the uniformed officer merely shrugged her shoulders. Jim acknowledged the failure on his way into the store.
"Why are you still here?" The middle-aged man was obviously agitated with what he perceived as a lack of effort by the Cascade PD. "He was dressed up like Elvis Presley. How hard should it be to track someone like that?" He stormed past the three officers and out into the mall. "Oh, my. Perhaps it will be a little harder than I thought."
Mac's Seafood Grill
"Are you sure we have time for lunch?" Blair glanced at the wall clock in the lobby. Interviewing the last two robbery victims and setting up surveillance at the remaining jewelry store had taken them into late afternoon. "Simon..."
"Simon's got meetings with the brass all afternoon. We won't be able to brief him for another hour at the earliest. Besides, we're bringing him a piece of Mac's peach cobbler."
"Soothing the savage beast, Jim?"
Whatever retort the other man had planned was halted by the arrival of the waiter. As they followed him to their table, Blair glanced down at his feet. "Hey, Jim," the younger man's voice was sentinel soft. "Take a look, he's wearing blue suede shoes."
Jim managed to stifle his cough as they sat down. The waiter gave them a strange look as he recited the specials of the day. "Today we have crawfish served with fried potatoes, our own clambake, and hot dog with our own homemade chili." Both men opted for their favorite clam chowder and sourdough bread and began to review the case so far.
"Seven hundred suspects, Jim. How are we going to narrow it down from that? Our victims couldn't tell us anything beyond that it was Elvis Presley. The DA's gonna love that."
"Let's see what the sketch artist comes up with. Chances are they'll remember more when it comes right down to it. What I don't understand is why the mall merchants didn't know about this convention. You'd think something this big would have been brought to their attention." Jim absently stirred his chowder. "You know what's really strange? All those boxes in Hayes' office were marked Seattle."
"Then why isn't the convention there?"
"One more question for our next visit with the man."
Blair laughed. "You just want to see his secretary again."
"And you don't?"
"Come on, man, if she were still alive, she'd be old enough to be my grandmother." Blair grabbed the check and headed for the cash register, Jim only a few steps behind.
"Thanks for that image, Sandburg."
The Bull Pen
The team of Ellison and Sandburg entered the bullpen in their usual manner; Ellison in front with Sandburg close behind, talking up a storm. Jim came to a screeching halt when he saw another Elvis, this time sitting at Megan's desk. Blair peered over the taller man's shoulder and without waiting for an explanation shoved his partner into Simon's office, barely giving Jim time to open the door.
"Don't you two ever knock?" Banks looked up, already well into his familiar rant when he realized the unusual manner in which the two men had entered his office.
"They're all over the place, Simon. Cascade is crawling with them."
Simon stared at the young man, totally clueless as to what he was ranting about. Ellison seemed rather amused by the whole affair. "Jim, what is your partner babbling about? What's crawling all over Cascade?"
Blair answered before Jim could even open his mouth. "Elvi."
"What in the hell is an Elvi? Gentlemen, I'm waiting." Simon glared at them, daring them to say the wrong thing.
"Elvi, Simon. As in plural for Elvis, many, many times plural. Did you know that Cascade is hosting an Elvis impersonator convention, and that our perp was dressed up as Elvis?" Jim paused, waiting for the reaction.
The cigar dropped out of Simon's hand. "Please tell me that you're joking."
"Sorry, sir." Ellison was getting a perverse pleasure out of this. "Their headquarters is in the mall where all the robberies have occurred, and they are expecting 700 participants."
Banks barely managed to pick up his cigar before he dropped it again. "Did you say 700? There's 700 Elvis Presleys here in Cascade?"
"That would be Elvi, sir."
Jim chose to ignore Sandburg's comment. "And one of them is our robbery suspect. We're going to need more manpower, Simon."
"We even have an Elvi loose in the bullpen." That got the captain's attention.
"What?" Simon stood up for a better look.
"Over there, at Megan's desk. See him?" Blair practically bounced as he pointed out the other man. "He's not in costume, but look at that hair."
Banks headed for the door. "Let's see what the man has to say."
"Conner, are you going to introduce us to your friend?" Ellison sat on the edge of the desk opposite of Megan's. Banks and Sandburg stood on either side of him.
She stared at her boss and co-workers as if they had spouted horns. "Is there a problem? He picked up a visitor's pass downstairs." When they didn't answer, she continued. "Well, gentlemen, this is an old friend of mine from back home, Jason Meade. He's here for a convention this week. What is going on?"
"Convention, the Elvis convention?"
"Yeah, mate." Jason blushed a little at Ellison's question. "Most people don't make the connection without the costume. How'd you happen to notice?"
"Do we have a story for you, Mr. Meade. Why don't you join us for the briefing?" Blair smiled and motioned towards the conference room.
"That is why we need to get in the convention's inner circle." Bringing the rest of the team up to date on the robberies, Sandburg leaned back in his chair. Around the table, Rafe, Brown, Conner and her friend seemed amazed by the developments.
Simon just shook his head. "No wonder Captain Marks was so happy to kick this one up to us."
"Now that we're stuck with it, we need a person on the inside." Jim's focus never left Jason Meade. It was a look that Megan recognized all too well.
"No! Absolutely not! Jason is a respected member of the entertainment community of impersonators. It would be career suicide for him to do anything even remotely connected to the case."
"That's all right, we aren't sending in a civilian. Jim can go in undercover if it comes to that." Simon peered at the other man over his glasses.
"Excuse me! Simon, are you nuts! I can't... there's no way that..." Jim stood up and started pacing the small room. The other detectives smiled behind their hands.
Blair was the first to speak, experience with the Sentinel made him brave. "Jim's right, Simon. He doesn't have enough hair to pull it off."
"Very funny, Sandburg." Jim didn't know whether to be relieved that he would be getting out of it, or annoyed at Blair's reasons. "Are you all forgetting that the director saw me already?"
"It's all a moot point. Jim can't pull it off." Rafe spoke for the first time, drawing everybody's attention away from Ellison. "It takes weeks to perfect the moves and months to do the voice. These guys are the best of the best in what they do. If you can't compete, you'll never make it through the front door."
Henri stared at his partner. "Since when did you become the expert in all things Elvis?"
"Bloody hell!" Meade leaned across the table at Rafe. "It is you, I was sure I had made a mistake before, but you were at the Las Vegas Invitational maybe five or six years ago. Am I right?"
There was absolute silence before Banks spoke. "Is there something you'd like to share with the group, detective?" When no answer was forthcoming, he reminded the younger man that a group of investigators such as themselves could find out the information with or without his help.
"All right, all right, I worked as an impersonator while I was in college. I made more money in one evening than most of my buddies did working seven nights a week." Rafe slid down in his seat as he spoke, waiting for the laughs to start.
"So, you have a history. These people would know you, and it wouldn't be suspicious if you joined at the last minute." Despite his smile, Jim had a very serious look on his face. "We could make this work."
"Oh, come on, there has to be another way." Rafe turned pleading eyes to his captain. "Besides, I have a lot of reports to redo before the audit."
"If it comes to that, Brown can do your paperwork." Simon ignored the looks the two men were giving him and turned his attention back to Ellison and Sandburg. "Do we have any proof that the convention is involved?"
"Just a lot of circumstantial evidence, Simon."
Ellison concurred with his partner's statement. "We also don't know why the convention was moved at the last minute. I checked with Seattle, they've been hosting it for three years now. Apparently there was some sort of a falling out between the convention organizers and the management of the facility they were using. Nobody there is talking about it."
"It's all hush-hush here, too." The current Elvis in the room seemed puzzled by the change also. "There was no hint of a move until about three weeks ago, when everybody got a form letter telling us the new location. They gave us the number of a travel agent who helped us change hotel bookings, but not a word as to why."
"Did you ever attend the convention in Seattle?" Sandburg had the expression that told everyone that he was onto something. "Tell us about the mall they were at."
Jim started to say something, then thought better of it and waited for Meade to answer the question. Meade shook his head, confused. "I went two years ago, but it wasn't at a mall, it was at the convention center there. It was a heck of a lot nicer than what they've got this year. If it weren't for the chance to see Megs here, I would have canceled -- that and the fact that it was too late to get a refund on my airfare."
"Where are you going with this, Sandburg?" Simon had his own suspicions, but he wanted to be sure.
"There's nothing to steal at a convention center, except some overpriced souvenirs. Seattle is big enough that a lot of people wouldn't have heard about the convention, so an Elvis coming in off the street to rob a store would have attracted a lot of attention. Now, all of a sudden, the convention is crammed in a little mall and everywhere you look is an Elvis. Talk about hiding in plain sight, we don't have enough officers in the entire city by night to arrest every suspect when one of those stores is hit." Blair finally had to stop and take a breath, and Megan jumped in.
"So, was the convention moved to perpetrate the crime, or did they just take advantage of the situation?"
Simon tapped his fingers on the table. "That's what we need to find out before we send someone undercover. Jim, you and Sandburg continue to work on the robberies here."
Jim nodded as Sandburg answered for both of them. "We've got the surveillance tapes from the security cams at the mall to go through, and witnesses from two of the robberies are meeting with the sketch artist. Maybe we'll get lucky."
Simon turned to Brown. "You and your partner check out the Seattle connection. I want to know exactly why they aren't in that convention center."
"You're off the hook, my man." Brown grinned at Rafe. "Though I don't know what the problem was. Why'd you quit, anyway?"
"Man, you don't know what it was like, women trying to tear my clothes off..." His voice trailed off as they left the room.
Blair turned to his companions. "He considered that a downside?"
It actually felt rather good to the Sentinel to beat his head on the tabletop. Anything to break the monotony of watching the tape from thirty different cameras.
This time he encountered something soft that smelled like his Guide. Ellison opened his eyes a crack to see the palm of a hand under him.
"Jim, Jim, Jim, I leave you alone for two minutes and you're already indulging in self-abuse." When no smart comeback was forthcoming, Sandburg played his trump card and waved a cup in front of the bent head. "I come bearing gifts."
"These tapes are useless." Ellison took a deep sip of the dark nectar. "There's too many of them milling around to know what to look for."
"I told you that four hours ago."
"I hate you." Nonetheless, there was a smile behind the words. "Tell me we got lucky with the sketch artist."
"The witnesses were able to describe in great detail..."
"Yes!" Ellison allowed himself a moment of joy.
"...the clothes Elvis was wearing. Unfortunately, it was different for each store he hit."
"Damn." For a minute, Jim looked like he was going to start banging his head again. "Did we get anything we can use to track this guy?"
"Well, they did agree on the pompadour hair."
"That's helpful as hell, Sandburg. You're telling me we've got squat, right?" Jim pinched the bridge of his nose, frustrated beyond words.
"Not necessarily. The costumes were pretty unique. Maybe we can narrow it down that way, but you need to take a break from those tapes." Sandburg reached over and gathered up the tapes Jim had been viewing. "Rafe and Brown just got off the phone with Seattle. Let's see what they've got."
"All right, but what are you doing with the tapes?" Jim watched him juggle the pile before reaching over and taking part of them himself.
"Serena's going to pull still shots of each of the Elvi for us. Maybe we can narrow things down with the costumes." Blair now had a free hand and opened the door for his partner.
"Smart man, we're about due to catch a break."
The Bull Pen
Jim pulled out a chair and swung it around before straddling it. Blair just hoisted himself onto Brown's desk with a grin. "What's the word, gentlemen?"
Ellison raised an eyebrow, but was too desperate for a break in the case to take that opening. Instead, he waited for Rafe.
"The group had all their permits in order in Seattle. The last bit of paperwork went to the permit office just two days before Elvis International announced the move to Cascade. The city administrators were sorry to see them go." Rafe flipped through his notes. "I talked to a guy named George Tay. He said it was a big draw, and that there were no problems with any of the past conventions. Brown's been talking to the manager of the convention center itself. If anything happened to force them out of Seattle, it had to happen on that end." The dapper detective turned to his partner.
Instead of answering right away, Brown turned towards Rhonda. "Rhonda, I've got some faxes coming in from Seattle. Would you keep an eye out for them?"
She didn't even look up from the pile of folders on her desk. "Sure thing, Henri. How are your paperwork revisions coming along?"
Brown flashed a smile in her direction. "I'm working on the last one now -- should be on your desk before the end of the day."
Rhonda finally looked up and returned his smile. "That's wonderful! How are the rest of you coming along?" When no responses were forthcoming, she shook her head. "I thought so."
Brown was still smiling when he turned to his colleagues. "Rhonda's happy with me."
Jim wasn't. "The case, Brown, what about the case?"
"Oh, yeah." Brown flipped through a notebook he'd pulled out of his shirt pocket. "I talked to the Management Company of the convention center, and they are pretty baffled about what happened too. Apparently Elvis International complained about some vandalism done at the last convention and it spiraled until they demanded the Management Company start providing round the clock security for all their staff members and absorb all the repair costs. What's really weird is all the vandalism reports we could find were about damage to the building. Elvis International wasn't the victim at all."
"So why were they the ones complaining?" Sandburg looked as confused as the rest of the group.
Brown shook his head. "I don't get it either. They're faxing us copies of all the correspondence they've had with Elvis International. I'm hoping that we can make sense of the whole thing. It's turning into another chicken and the egg thing."
"Chicken and the egg?" Jim knew he would regret the question as soon as he opened his mouth.
That had been too easy, and Brown grinned at the rest of the group. "Yeah, do you and Sandburg always get the weird cases, or do the cases turn weird because you're on them?"
"I like that one." The feminine voice startled the men. When they turned around, Rhonda was standing behind them, a stack of papers in her hand. "Your guy in Seattle is sure being cooperative. He sent a copy of every correspondence he's had with David Hayes since last year's convention."
"Losing a convention had to be a professional blow. He probably wants to show that it wasn't his fault. I'm just glad he felt that way rather than making us get warrants for all this." Brown flipped through the stack. "They're all signed or initialed by David Hayes."
Jim glanced down at his watch. "Damn, their business office closes in less than an hour."
"It's not that far." Rafe looked out the window. "You'll be ahead of the traffic."
"Serena's pulling still photos of the impersonators from the mall surveillance tapes. I was hoping to match them up to the suspect sketches before we went back over there." It went unsaid, but Jim was hoping to see Hayes's reaction to a photo of their suspect.
"Ask and yea shall receive." Sandburg tilted his head towards the door as Serena walked through, carrying a large envelope.
She smiled as she placed it in front of Ellison. "Thanks to Blair's suggestion, we've got it narrowed down pretty much. I'll let your talented eye make the final selections." Serena patted Sandburg's shoulder. "Thanks for the suggestion, it opened up a great deal of dialogue at the same time."
Ellison turned and studied his partner, waiting for an answer. "Well?"
"There's a group from the academy here today. They're very..." Sandburg paused, fishing for the right word, "...enthusiastic, and their instructor wanted them to see that not all police work is exciting car chases and shoot-outs. He had them observing in the labs."
Jim knew the way his partner's mind worked. "You put them to work."
"Twenty pairs of fresh eyes, who could turn it down?" Sandburg reached over and emptied the envelope onto the table. "All she asked them to do was pull out any photos where they saw a similarity in the costume. It would have taken us the better part of a day to accomplish it, and they got a first hand look at what real police work is most of the time. Some of them really got into it. A couple of them were even asking about specializing in forensics."
Rafe started to laugh. "Only you, Sandburg."
The cadets had done a pretty good job and it only took a few minutes for sentinel vision to narrow the field down to what he considered the most likely candidates. Again and again he returned to the same picture. It was grainy and out of focus slightly. If it hadn't been for the distinctive guitar carried by that particular Elvis, no one probably would have caught it.
"What's with that one?" Blair reached out and plucked the picture out of Jim's hand. "What are you seeing?" Blair's focus kept switching between the photo and his partner.
"I'm not sure. There's something there, I'm just not sure what it is yet."
"You'll get it, you always do. Come on, let's go talk to Hayes." Blair turned back to Brown as he stood. "Tell Rhonda that I should have the rest of my paperwork changes done by tomorrow afternoon at the latest."
"I'll tell her. What about you, Jim, any messages?"
Ellison thought for a moment, then smiled. "Just tell her Jim said hello." When that comment was met by groans, he added, "tomorrow night. What about you, Rafe?"
"Have you seen my pile? It's gonna take a week." Rafe shook his head at the thought of the pile of paperwork waiting on his desk.
"So, you're going to be the one last holdout to Rhonda's happiness?" Brown couldn't help but rub it in.
"Yeah, man, put the blame on me. Your time will come."
Office of David Hayes, Director of Elvis International
"I'm sorry, Detective Ellison, Mr. Hayes is a very busy man; he has meetings scheduled until the mall closes. He squeezed you in once, but from now on, you're going to have to make an appointment." Marilyn leaned forward and gave Jim her most sultry smile. "I'm done for the day in a half an hour; perhaps there is something I can do for you, personally."
"I don't think so." Before Jim could open his mouth, Blair had answered for him. He quickly recovered.
"I appreciate the offer, but this is still official business. Now, if your boss can't be bothered to meet with us willingly tonight, you can bet that we'll be back in the morning -- with a warrant."
"Marilyn, here is the revised copy of tomorrow's schedule." Jim was so focused on the secretary that the voice from behind him came as a shock and he barely had time to move before Hayes ran into him. The older man looked up from his notes, seemingly surprised to find the two detectives back in the office.
"Detectives, this is a surprise, you caught me on my way home."
"Home?" Jim looked past the other man to see his own amazement mirrored on his partner's face. "A busy man such as yourself, I thought you'd be here to all hours of the night working."
"One of the perks of being the boss." Hayes moved past them to set his papers on her desk. "I get to go home at a decent hour and leave the hours of extra work to my underlings."
Blair started to open his mouth, but the expression on Jim's face stopped him cold. It was obvious that his partner didn't want to trip their hand about the conversation they had just had with his secretary.
Jim answered him smoothly. "We thought you'd like an update on the investigation." Behind them, the young woman's heartbeat increased dramatically. "Perhaps in your office?"
"Oh, of course. Marilyn, hold my calls please." Hayes seemed flustered by the cordial behavior of the two men as he ushered them into the inner office.
Once they were seated around the desk, Jim pulled out the photos and spread them out. Blair explained to the other man what they were. "The witnesses to the robberies were able to describe the clothing our robber Elvis was wearing in pretty great detail. He changed clothes each time, but we were able to get some close matches through the mall security cameras. We'll be going back through the videos and tracking each of these individuals, but we thought that you might have some insight into them."
Jim gave his most charming smile. "We understand that you wish to keep the convention out of the investigation, and we'll do our best to accommodate you, but there's a great deal of interest in this case. I'm sure you understand our position."
Hayes visibly blanched and without an argument he started to study the photos laid out on his desk. Eventually, he handed one photo over to Ellison. "I've never seen this Elvis before. He's not part of this convention, I'm sure of it. The rest of them I know, some of them for years. If you want to see for yourself, I can have their resumes pulled in the morning. They haven't been unpacked from Seattle yet."
Jim stared at the photo he had been handed. It was the same picture that had bothered him at the station. Something about this particular Elvis set off all his alarms. He studied it, the pixels drawing him in.
"You seemed pretty sure of the rest of them." Blair caught Hayes's attention while he kicked Jim's foot under the table. The Sentinel's slight jump told him the zone had been adverted.
"When you work with these men for years, you get to know them. Yes, I'm sure. Doesn't this prove what I was saying before? One of those Elvis's isn't one of mine; that's your crook. Find him, find what he stole." Hayes seemed rather pleased to be proven right. "I guess now you can't say to clean up your own backyard."
Ellison focused on the man before asking the question that had actually brought the two detectives back to the mall this evening. "Tell me, why did you move the convention from Seattle? From what we were able to understand they were sorry to see the convention go."
"Sorry? They were sorry to see us go? Why, they practically ran us out of town. I couldn't begin to tell you how many times they had Marilyn in tears with their phone calls and harassment." Any other comments the man had were put on hold when the lady in question knocked on the door, then stuck her head in.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, sir, but I have the papers you need to sign ready for you." With a sultry smile she entered the room, turning the few steps to the desk into a showgirl walk. Hayes's heart rate had risen slightly when he had been defending her honor, but it went through the roof when presented with her assets. Even Sandburg noticed how flushed he became when she leaned over to hand him the papers.
One by one, she flipped through the stack, only showing the last few inches where a signature was required. Hayes blindly signed each sheet, barely tearing his eyes away from the view. Across the desk, Ellison and Sandburg exchanged knowing glances.
Jim pushed his plate away and leaned back in his chair. "That hit the spot tonight, Chief. Thanks."
"It seemed like a good night for comfort food." Blair agreed and began clearing the table. "Today was a little weird for my taste."
Jim took the bait as he gathered the rest of the dishes and followed Blair to the sink. "I don't know, Simon would probably say that no case is too weird for the Sandburg zone."
"Simon was safely tucked away in his office all day, if you hadn't noticed. He didn't stick his head out until we had Elvi in the Bullpen." He started to fill the sink with soapy water; pointedly ignoring Jim as the older man scraped the crusted cheese off the casserole that had been filled with homemade macaroni and cheese. "By the way, Jim..."
Ellison pulled the pan closer to him. "If you're going to tell me that you used low-fat cheese in this, just keep your mouth shut. I prefer my ignorance in the matter. All right?"
Blair wisely kept his thoughts on the subject quiet.
After the kitchen was done, both men adjourned to the living room. Blair popped a video in and turned it on. A grainy image of Cascade Mall showed on the large TV. "Well, Darwin, how many tapes are we going to have to watch tonight?" Jim stretched out on the sofa and toed off his shoes. "Did you bring any popcorn?"
"Very funny, Jim. This tape should be it. It's set up to start where our mystery Elvis was seen. Let's see where he went." Both men fell silent as their suspect appeared on the television. The clothing matched what was seen during the second robbery. Elvis walked in a direction leading away from the robbery location, then disappeared behind a grouping of potted trees, one of many inside the mall.
"Is that it?" Jim turned to his partner. "That's all we've got on our suspect's movement that day?"
"Hey, hey, hey, it's more than we had this morning. Tomorrow, we go back to the mall and retrace his steps and see if you can pick up on anything. In the meantime, do you think this is contrasting enough?" Blair held up a red pen, a remnant of his days at the university.
Seeing such a visible reminder of the days before startled the Sentinel, and for a moment he didn't know what his friend was referring to.
"After all, the auditors should be able to see this on my paperwork. Do you need one too?"
"Nah, that's ok. I used a blue pen; that should be good enough for even government auditors. I didn't know that you had any of those left." Jim could remember many nights when Blair would sit on the floor and grade papers on the coffee table while Jim watched the game. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
Blair didn't seem to notice Jim's melancholy mood. "I was cleaning out my closet last week to send some stuff to the Goodwill. Found it in a coat pocket. Who'd have thought it would come in handy again?"
Before he could come up with a suitable answer, Blair was finished with the required changes to the forms. He clipped the pen to the top file folder and dropped the stack on the coffee table. Finally, Jim opened his mouth. "Are you taking that pen to the station tomorrow?"
Blair bounced to his feet. "Sure, why not? What, are you afraid that I'll start correcting Simon's paperwork?"
"I hope not, Chief." Jim had to snort at the image of Simon Banks sitting down at his desk to a stack of paperwork with red checks, comments and smiley faces. "I think this case is better than what he would do to you for that one. Good night, Sandburg, I want to get to the mall before they open so we can look around without interruption."
"Merchants can get in at seven. If we went then, it would give us two hours before they even open the place to the public." Blair stood in front of his bedroom door, stretching and twisting his back. "Then you can treat me to breakfast."
"Oh, I can?" The corner of Jim's mouth twitched. "That's very thoughtful of you." He moved to the phone and dialed in a familiar number, waited, then dialed an extension. At Blair's puzzled look he explained. "I'm leaving a voice mail for Rafe and Brown to check into our lovely Marilyn Monroe clone. There's something strange about what's going on there."
"Jim, while you're at it, have Megan keep tabs on her for a while tomorrow. If nothing else, we'd know what she looks like in real life." Blair waited until Jim gave him a nod, then retired to his bedroom.
Mall security was waiting for the two men. Jim barely acknowledged them as they unlocked the door and admitted them. Blair picked up the slack. "Hi, guys. We really appreciate you meeting us. It's almost impossible to reconstruct a criminal's path with a lot of civilians underfoot."
The heavier of the two introduced himself as Bob as he locked the door behind them. "You said that you want in Parker's store, by yourselves, right?"
"Is that a problem?" Jim didn't want to not cooperate with the mall officials, but he didn't want them nearby when he was using his senses either.
Blair stepped closer. "Did your boss tell you what we need to do in there?" He knew the answer, since he had been the one to speak to their supervisor.
The smaller man's nametag proclaimed him as Kent, and he had a slight lisp. "No, sir, he just said you needed back in the store."
"You know what trace evidence is, right?"
Blair's question seemed to set something off in the man. "Yes, I sure do. Been studying it on my own. Are you going to use an ALS?"
Jim bit back a groan; the last thing they needed was a self-taught expert hovering. The other security guard's words eased his worry.
"Sees three episodes of CSI and the man thinks he's a blooming expert. Don't pay him no mind, detective. Kent and I will just wait out here until you're done." Bob tugged the other man's sleeve and led him to a nearby bench.
Ellison and Sandburg entered the empty storefront and moved towards the empty safe. Blair handed Jim a pair of latex gloves. "Here, gotta make it look good for the peanut gallery."
Jim rolled his eyes as he snapped on the gloves. "Just what are we officially looking for, Einstein?"
"Fiber samples that may have settled overnight." Blair began to use the lift tape on random spots on the carpet. "You do your thing, start with sight." The two men moved through the store, using a sentinel's touch to examine the scene. Nothing caught the Sentinel's eye, however another sense had better success.
"Perfume, Chief, I smell perfume."
Blair stopped, tape in hand. "Perfume, are you sure?"
"Yeah, it's actually pretty concentrated, and familiar. I've smelled it recently, I just can't place where."
"File it away, we'll figure it out later. Is that it?" Blair began to put his samples in an envelope.
"Yeah, let's see if we can figure out where this guy goes after he hits a place. He seems to disappear awfully fast." Jim stood up and stripped off his gloves. "Care for some mall walking?"
"Lead on, McDuff." Blair shoved the envelope in his coat pocket and followed Jim out into the dimly lit mall. With their two tag-alongs, the partners walked the corridor that lead to the heart of the mall. As they passed the pastry shop Jim stopped to take a deep breath. He waited for a smart comment from his health conscious friend, but only silence greeted him.
Jim turned to find his partner communing with nature, studying a grouping of large potted shrubs and trees against the wall between two store entrances. It was strikingly familiar. Blair turned and spoke, only it was to the men trailing along behind them.
"Is this the only way the mall groups their plants together?" Blair wasn't sure exactly why he asked, but the marked similarity between this oasis of greenery and the one the suspect had disappeared behind bothered him. He moved closer, the other men following.
"It's no big deal." The self-appointed expert announced. "It just helps the janitors find the access closets."
"Access closets? Just what are these closets, and how many are there in the mall?" Jim started analyzing the possibilities in his mind.
The older guard realized that the detectives were onto something. "I'm not sure, we've never really counted them. There is one in every branch aisle of the mall, and probably a half dozen in the main areas. The janitors store their supplies and carts in them. They're not very big, maybe ten feet deep."
Ellison's droll voice interrupted the man's babbling. He was obviously not amused. "Could we see inside one of these closets?"
"Excuse me?" Jim drew himself to his full height and glared at the guard. Behind him Blair muffled a snicker. Watching Jim terrorize rent-a-cops was a favorite pastime of the junior detective.
Kent backed away, unwilling to back his coworker in the face of the taller detective's wrath. Bob seemed to realize his error and rushed to explain himself. "I...I mean that we don't have the keys. Only the janitors have them."
"Then why don't you get a key from one of the janitors." Jim had to actually wait while the men thought about what he had asked.
"They don't come in for another hour. We'd have to get authorization to ask one of them to come in early." Behind him, Kent nodded to the other man's words.
Blair finally stepped in. "Where do the janitors get their keys -- the Janitor Fairy?"
They actually seemed to consider the question until Ellison exploded. "Does management have a key?"
"Miss Martin keeps track of all the keys in the mall." Kent looked pleased with himself over that remembered fact. When no additional information was produced, Blair gently prodded him.
"Where would we find Miss Martin?"
"In her office..." Two pairs of blue eyes stared at him. "...Umm, upstairs."
The vague growl he heard seemed to shake Bob from his stupor. "You go through the service corridor that's next to Rothman's Bookstore."
"Thank you." Blair gave a slight shove to get his partner moving in the indicated direction. They were almost home free when Kent opened his mouth again.
"You know we may be working together soon, Detective Ellison."
At that moment Sandburg desperately wished for some sort of psychic link with his Sentinel so the other man would have been able to hear his mental scream of 'no, don't answer him'. No such luck.
"Oh, really?" Jim turned back around to see the young security guard.
He grinned back at Ellison. "That's right, I've applied to the police academy. I'm sure I'll be in the next class. Who knows, maybe if I'm real lucky you'll be my training officer after I graduate." His grin widened at the thought.
This time Sandburg really shoved Jim to get him moving again. Once they were safely in the service corridor and away from prying eyes, they both leaned against the wall. Jim had a panicked expression on his face that Blair hadn't seen since they got in trouble with Simon for not following procedure one too many times. Jim swallowed hard. "You don't think..."
Blair laughed softly. "Hey man, don't worry. You're a detective; they won't make you be his training partner unless the mayor or the commissioner is really pissed... oh, man, you are so screwed."
"Have I mentioned how much I hate you?" Jim glared at his laughing partner.
Office of Miss Abigail Martin, Cascade Mall Management
Jim sat back smugly as Blair tried for the third time to explain to the elderly woman why they wanted to look in the janitor's closets. "Yes, ma'am, I understand that only the janitors have access, we just want to check..."
"I assure you, young man, that this mall only hires the most respectable people to work here. I won't have you suggesting otherwise." Miss Martin peered over her glasses at Blair, daring him to argue.
"I'm sure that your people are the best in their fields. However, we need to officially eliminate every possibility -- clear your people." Blair felt like he was grasping at straws. "Have any keys ever turned up missing?"
That brought the woman up short, and she blushed deeply. Both men noticed her reaction and waited for an explanation. "Actually, we have one key missing. Ray reported his key was gone about a month ago."
Jim leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk edge. "Were the locks changed afterwards?"
"Heavens, no. Who would want to break in to a janitor's closet?" She realized what she had just said as Jim reached out a hand. Without further discussion she dropped a spare key into his hand.
Jim leaned against the wall as Blair unlocked the access closet closest to the scene of the first robbery. "You know, if you're wrong about this, we're never going to hear the end of it with that woman."
"What do you mean, 'if I'm wrong?' you were there too." Blair looked up at Jim as the door swung open. "Partners to the end, buddy." Any other comment he may have had stopped when Jim held up his hand.
"That smell is here again."
"The perfume, are you sure?" Blair kept in back of his Sentinel as Jim methodically searched the small room.
"There's nothing here, but the smell. Let's move on." Jim pinched the bridge of his nose.
Blair relocked the door behind them and followed Jim to the site of the second robbery. Starting there, they searched to find the familiar groupings of potted greenery. Here too, they found only the smell of perfume. Jim knelt down, giving the floor one last going over. "I know where I recognize that perfume from." He turned around to better gauge his partner's reaction. "Marilyn."
"Really?" Blair thought for a minute, his face puzzled. "Why didn't you recognize it before now?"
"It wasn't that strong on her. All I was consciously aware of smelling when we were in the office with her was hairspray."
Blair sat on the floor in front of Jim. "All right, let's think about this. What do you think, does she wait here for him while he commits the robbery, then helps him hide the evidence?"
"It's possible. We also have no idea what she looks like without her Marilyn persona. We would have never noticed her on the tapes." Jim stood up, "I guess it's time to check out what's behind door number three."
Blair followed him out and again locked up. "You know, we should have suspected her from the beginning."
Jim raised an eyebrow at him. "Why, because you didn't like her?"
"No, because diamonds are a girl's best friend." Blair automatically ducked as he spoke, but this time Jim just groaned.
They were both still chuckling when the reached the plants closest to robbery number three. This was where their suspect had disappeared on the tape. Opening this door, they found a slightly different scene, as this closet held one of the mall's janitor's carts, and was slightly larger than the rest. They pulled on gloves and Blair started examining the cart, as Jim worked the rest of the room.
"They weren't as careful in here. Look." Blair pulled out a torn piece of paper that showed a crude map of the mall. The four jewelry stores were clearly marked, as were the nearby closets and service corridors. "Maybe we can get some fingerprints off this."
"Am I ready for a break on this one. Well, look at that." Jim bent down and pulled a tissue out from under the shelf that housed floor cleaner. It was crumbled and torn, but still coated with heavy make-up.
Blair bounced on his toes as Jim slid it into an evidence bag. "Well, was it his or hers?"
Jim thought for a moment. "His, I think. The stage make-up is darker than what she would wear, and I could smell some spirit gum residue. Our Elvis had the long sideburns, and if they were fake, that would have been the best way to hold them up."
"If he rubbed hard enough, there might be some skin cells in there too. Let's keep our fingers crossed that Serena can pull some DNA from it." Blair held the two pieces of evidence, each neatly bagged, as Jim continued to search. A sparkle near the back corner caught his attention.
"You have any tweezers, Sandburg?"
Blair pulled a pair out of his coat pocket. "Never leave home without them. Course the ladies give me funny looks..." He paused as he saw the expression on Jim's face. "Too much information?" Jim just nodded as he took the tweezers.
Deft fingers removed a silver-backed rhinestone from a crack in the floor. "Looks like our boy is shedding."
Blair held out one more bag. "All we need now is a costume to match it to."
"Preferably with the right Elvis still in it."
Blair plopped down in his chair, grabbing a handful of his partner's french fries on his way down. "Hey, eat your own lunch." Jim pulled his food closer to him. "What did Serena say?"
"She ummm..." Blair swallowed with a gulp and a grin. "She said that there should be enough epithelial cells to get a DNA sample from the tissue."
"Any fingerprints on the map?" Jim finished his lunch and was wiping his hands on his napkin.
"Yeah, she got some pretty good ones actually. All we need is something to match it up with." Blair picked up his sandwich and started picking at it. "Now what, back to the tapes?"
"Now that we know what we're looking for it should go a lot easier." He broke off as Megan's friend entered the bullpen.
Jason Meade leaned against the desk across from Jim. "Hey, detective, Megs asked me to meet her for lunch. Do you have any idea when she should be back?"
"Any time now. Dills was suppose to relieve her at one o'clock." Jim stood up and tossed the remains of his lunch in the trash. "She was checking on something for us, but we'll make the briefing as quick as possible."
"Thanks, I understand how busy you guys are, but I sure don't get to see her as much as I'd like. How's the case going, if you don't mind me asking?"
Blair snorted. "Unfortunately, all our witnesses remember are the clothes. That, and a generic Elvis face that could be any one of the 700. We matched up a photo to one of the costumes, but it's probably not going to be much help."
Jason started chewing on the inside of his lip. "The costumes, you say... you know that is a real big signature of a lot of impersonators. There's a lot of money to be had in making them, and each designer has their own look."
"Sandburg, why don't you show him the..."
"Got it, Jim." Blair handed copies of the sketches across to Meade. "Is it unusual for an Elvis to have three different costumes?"
"At up to $5,000.00 apiece?" He let the partners do the math as he studied the drawings. "I think I recognize these."
"Really?" Jim sat back down waiting for more information.
"I'm not 100% sure, but..."
Blair encouraged him to continue. "That's all right. Just tell us what you think you remember, and we'll check into it."
"Ok, three or four years ago there was this guy trying to break into the scene... yeah, I remember him now. He was real enthusiastic, but there was something wrong with him." Jason's words trailed off, as he appeared to try and grasp an elusive memory.
"What do you mean, something wrong with him?" Jim was trying to be patient, but this was one case he wanted to close in a hurry.
"He had this tic sometimes." Jason's fingers tapped against the desktop as he thought back. "And sometimes he would just shout out words for no good reason."
"Tourette Syndrome?" Blair recognized the most public of the symptoms.
The other man nodded. "I think that's what someone called it. It never showed when he was in his persona, but nobody would hire him."
"Do you remember his name, or anything else about him? Would his family have sold his costumes?" Blair couldn't believe the person with the answers had been under their noses the entire time.
"Someone in his family made them for him -- his sister, maybe. I always kinda figured some of the trouble he had getting started was because here was this nobody with better costumes and props than most of the big name impersonators."
"People resented him?" Jim could understand where this would lead. "It would really help us if you could remember his name or anything else about him."
Jason thought hard for a minute. "I know his first name was Robby, but I'm not sure about his last name. It was Shepard or Shale... something like that."
"All right, that's a start." Jim would have liked to have his name, address and social security number, but he'd take what he could get at this point. "Do you know what ever happened to him?"
"Nope, it was like he just dropped off the face of the earth one day. Of course, sometimes I'm out of the loop a bit, being in Australia. You might check with some of the other guys." He shook his head; sorry that he couldn't help more.
Blair thought for a bit. "You said he had nice props along with the wardrobe. What kind of props?"
"He had a beautiful acoustical guitar, just like what Elvis had on his TV special." The two detectives obviously recognized the item, but before they could comment, Megan Conner arrived.
"Hi, Jason, guys, have I got some news for you." Megan pulled off her coat and draped it across her chair. Blair interrupted her before she could get started.
"Let's grab Rafe and Henri and take this into Simon's office. I think we've all had an interesting morning."
As the group filed into Simon's office, the big man downed three aspirin tablets. Blair frowned in concern. "You ok, Simon?"
Banks just glared at them. "Pre-emptive strike. Now what have you got?"
The group listened as Sandburg and Ellison brought them up to date on what they had found at the mall, editing slightly the discovery of the perfume, in deference to the outsider that was with them. Jason explained the significance of the costumes, and how he had recognized them.
"What background did we find out about Marilyn?" Jim turned towards Rafe and Henri for the next piece of the puzzle.
Henri opened the file they had brought in. "For starters, she goes by Gayle Adams, but her real name is Gayle Sheldon. She's been working as a Marilyn impersonator for about three years. A little over two years ago she was hired as a full time Marilyn for Elvis International. It only took about six months for her duties to be expanded to include being David Hayes's private secretary. Scuttlebutt has it that she is the real power behind the throne."
"Sheldon...?" The expression on Meade's face told Ellison and Sandburg exactly what he was thinking. Blair leaned forward, excited by the possible connection.
"What about family?"
Both Rafe and Henri searched through the file until Rafe came up with what they were looking for. "Here it is; father died in 1983, mother lives in a nursing home outside of Tacoma, one brother, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound three years ago."
Jim was pretty sure he knew the answer, but he asked anyway. "What was the brother's name?"
Rafe nodded. "Robert, Robert Sheldon."
"Robby..." Jason whispered his question. "Did he kill himself in late March?"
"March 29th, how did you know?" Henri closed the file as he waited.
Jason rapped his knuckles on the table, obviously distraught. "The third weekend of March is a big one if you're an Elvis or want to be. How well you do at the competition gets you established for the rest of the year. There's big money in impersonating if you get the right connections and the right contract."
"You were there?" Megan laid her hand over Jason's arm.
"Yeah, I was there, so was Robby. You've got to understand, Robby was like two different people. In costume, up on stage, he was Elvis. He had it all, the walk, the hips, the voice, the singing. He was good, really good."
"And off stage?"
"He was this weird little guy that made funny noises and would swear to himself. He did real good in the competition, but then he was kicked out because of his backstage behavior."
Blair threw down his pen. "Which was because of a medical condition that he had no control over. Damn it, when are people going to get out of the dark ages?"
Meade gave a rueful smile. "It gets better. The judge that tossed him out was David Hayes."
Simon took control, looking directly at Jim. "Let's go through the timetable, starting three years ago, March."
Blair listed off the first event as he stood up and moved to the white board. "Mid-March, Robby loses his shot at his big break because of something he had no control over." The younger man's anger over the injustice was apparent as he wrote on the board.
Jim picked up the thread. "Days later, he kills himself." There was a momentary pause as Blair wrote that fact on the board.
Rafe fished out the paper he needed before handing the file over to Brown. "Less than six weeks later, his sister, using an assumed name, is hired by the man she blames for her brother's death."
"How many different characters do they have there? I thought they were just Elvis's." Simon glared at Sandburg, daring him to correct his term for multiple Elvis.
Meade interrupted whatever comeback Blair had planned. "She's the only one. For a while it was kind of a publicity stunt. They'd have Marilyn surrounded by a dozen different Elvis Presleys."
"What happened?" Brown's face turned dreamy as he thought about Marilyn.
"I'm not sure." Jason frowned as he leaned forward. "Hayes started acting jealous, then the next I heard she was his private secretary. Guess she caught his eye."
"Or another body part." Megan's comment had the men choking.
Jim started thinking out loud. "She had more and more control over the daily operations of the convention."
"When things fell apart between the convention and the people in Seattle, she was the go-between, the only one who really knew both sides." Sandburg continued the thought.
"The next thing anyone knows, the convention is moved from a large convention hall to a shopping center with lots of stores to rob." Megan picked up the thread.
The theory bounced back to Ellison. "Robberies that are committed by someone wearing her late brother's Elvis costumes. She and her accomplice get a fortune in diamonds and the man who destroyed her brother is blamed."
Simon looked at his people. "Good theory, now how do we prove it?"
"For starters, guess who she had breakfast with this morning?" Megan gleefully looked around the room before she laid out her trump card. "Alan Parker, son and sole heir to Parker's Jewelry and Antiques."
"How very interesting. I think it's time to talk to the young Mr. Parker. What do you think, Chief?"
Blair grinned back at his partner. "After all, he's sure to want an update on the robbery before he collects all that insurance money." He paused as another thought crossed his mind. "Our robbery suspect knew about the safe and the diamonds in it. At the other stores he just stole what was in the display cases."
Jim agreed. "The diamonds at Parker's were the main target, the rest was icing on the cake." He turned to Simon. "Do we still have uniformed officers at the mall?"
"There's a total of four. Two are on roving patrol and two are stationed outside the store that hasn't been hit yet. We've kept them pretty visible because of the media's interest in the case."
"Those reporters have been falling all over themselves trying to explain their bungling at robbery number two." Blair blushed as the rest of the group chuckled at him. The reporters at the scene had certainly learned a great deal about evidence collection that day. Much more than Serena had wanted to teach them.
"Have two of those officers bring the younger Mr. Parker in. It's time to discuss the situation with him."
Jim gave a brief acknowledgement to Simon. "In the meantime, we've got more video tape to watch."
"Have fun, we're going to lunch." Megan gave a cheeky grin as she and Jason left.
"Here we go." Jim leaned forward and watched the screen as their mysterious Elvis disappeared behind the now familiar greenery. "Now let's see who comes out." Less than five minutes later, a figure in dirty coveralls and a cap pulled low came out from behind the same greenery. Plastic bags filled the cart he was pushing and Jim squinted to see them.
"What else do you see?" Blair couldn't see much detail in the grainy image.
Jim's eyes never moved from the screen in front of him. "Those garbage bags, do you see them in the cart?"
If Blair moved any closer, his nose would have been touching the glass. "Yeah, I think so. What about them?"
"One of them is shaped like a guitar. I'll bet the costume and the diamonds are in the other bags. He just dumps everything into garbage bags and nobody pays the slightest attention to him."
"Nobody pays attention to the janitor, man. That's par for the course." As they watched, the figure picked the bags up out of the cart and walked through one of the exterior doors, passing the arriving officers on the sidewalk before moving out of camera range.
Blair sat back, amazed. "Unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. When did she come out of there?"
"Good question. Let's fast forward, see what we find." Jim watched intently as the tape sped through the next hours. When they got to the time where the second robbery had occurred, Blair hit stop.
"I don't know how she slipped out of there, Chief, but I sure didn't see her. Where's the tape showing the corridor near the second robbery?"
"Here." Blair slid the next one into the player. "Serena and the cadets labeled all of them for us."
"Yeah, Jim?" Blair was bent over, fast-forwarding to the needed time mark on the tape.
"In case no one else says it, that was pretty impressive work yesterday." Jim waited to see what the response would be.
Blair straightened up and turned around. "Yeah, those cadets did a great job with all the data. It sure saved us a lot of time."
Jim wasn't sure if his friend was being deliberately obtuse or if he really didn't understand what he had accomplished. "You, Sandburg. You turned what was suppose to be a punishment into a learning experience. I checked, some of those cadets were on the verge of being washed out of the program, and this afternoon they are asking questions about investigative procedures that their instructors are having a hard time answering."
"I guess part of me will always be a teacher." Blair shrugged his shoulders. "Their enthusiasm was there, it just needed to be focused. No big deal. All right, this is the same time as our suspect left the first access closet."
Jim let the change in subject slide. He knew how uncomfortable his partner was with praise, so he moved closer to watch the tape.
Again the same pattern repeated. Within moments of the robbery, Elvis had slipped into the janitor's closet and only minutes after that an undistinguishable janitor strolled out to move unnoticed through the mall.
Tape three yielded much the same results, only this time the mystery janitor strode out with only the bags; the cart had been left behind.
"Damn." Jim leaned back, frustrated, while Blair tried to look at the bright side.
"So, she must have been in there earlier, checking them out. When we find her, we'll find a way to connect her to the robberies."
Jim stood up and gathered the scattered tapes. He thought while the last tape was ejecting then turned to his partner. "I hope so, Chief, because otherwise she's going to walk." A disgusted look crossed his face before he spoke again. "They should be bringing Parker in about now. Let's go."
Alan Parker glared at the men across the table from him. "Detectives, I really must be getting to the hospital to see my father. I hope you have some good news that I can pass along."
Ellison went straight to the point. "Mr. Parker, how many people know about the wall safe?"
The question seemed to throw Parker off track. "What? What does that have to do with anything?"
Sandburg leaned forward, not bothering to hide the surprise on his face. "Excuse me, this was a robbery, remember? Somebody broke in and robbed your store. Somebody who knew about the safe and specifically told your father to open it. Now, how many people knew about the safe?"
Parker sagged in the chair. "I don't know how many people my father told."
"And you?" As Parker shrank back, Ellison moved forward, never leaving the man's personal space. Parker looked up defiantly.
"You act like you think I'm involved."
Sandburg leaned back, casually flipping through the folder of crime scene photos. "Wouldn't be the first time our victim and suspect turned out to be one in the same."
"Why would I steal from myself?" Parker looked between the two men, his mood changing to anger.
"How about $100,000.00 in insurance money?" Sandburg continued the investigation, allowing Ellison to monitor the other man's reactions.
Parker snorted. "That will go to paying for the diamonds. Barely."
"You'd still have the diamonds." Parker's response to the accusation was quick as he stood, knocking his chair over in the process.
"I didn't steal them!"
The two detectives shared a look, then changed the tenor of the interview. Ellison leaned back now and forced himself to project a relaxed image. "Tell us about Gayle Adams."
"What about her?" Parker slumped further into his seat. "When she thought I was going to be wealthy, I was the greatest thing in her world. Now that I'm broke... she dumped me this morning at breakfast." Silence greeted him, forcing him to draw his own conclusion. "You think she's involved."
Sandburg kept his words soft. "Did she know about the safe?"
"Yeah." Parker buried his face in his hands. "She knew about the safe, and the shipment of diamonds." After a moment, he looked up at the two detectives. "She played me for a sucker, didn't she?"
"It's beginning to look that way. I'm sorry." Sandburg studied him for a minute. "It would help you if you could prove you weren't part of her scheme."
Ellison answered his question. "Agree to a DNA test. It's the easiest way to rule you out as her accomplice." Parker appeared to give the suggestion some thought before nodding his agreement.
A few swipes on the inside of Alan Parker's cheek were all that was necessary for a DNA sample. The lab assistant gave him a shy smile as he left the room and she returned to her work. Ellison and Sandburg observed the quick test before moving on, themselves.
Mid-day found the break room quiet. Jim dug through his pockets for enough change to retrieve two candy bars from the machine while his partner poured them each a cup of coffee. As they sat down to enjoy their break, Jim pulled out the blurry picture of their suspect again. Blair watched as sentinel vision raked over the image. "What's bugging you about that picture, man. What do you see?"
Everything finally clicked for the other man, and he looked up with a smile. "It's not what I see, it's what I don't."
Simon Banks' Office
Grinning, Ellison laid the photo on the tall captain's desk. "See what's missing?"
Banks looked back and forth between the two men standing over his desk. "Is he playing a game with me, Sandburg? The mayor is going to be calling soon for an update, again."
"Sorry, Simon, if there is a joke, I haven't been let in on it yet." Blair hitched one hip up on the wooden surface. "Whatever was nagging him about that picture, he finally figured out, though."
"So let's have it. What did you finally see?"
"Didn't." Blair's mutterings caught Simon's attention.
"Didn't see. He finally noticed what he didn't see." Banks just shook his head at the younger man and turned to Ellison.
"I don't know what your partner's babbling about, but give me something to tell the mayor."
Ellison's grin widened as he turned the photo slightly, pointing to the fuzzy figure caught on it. "It took me a while, but look at Elvis' neck."
Banks just raised an eyebrow.
"Sorry." Ellison looked a little contrite, but didn't lose his smile entirely. "There's no visible adam's apple."
"Are you sure?" Banks mentally kicked himself as the words passed his lips. Not expecting an answer, he adjusted his glasses as he studied the photo. Finally he looked up. "I can't see anything, but if you say so..."
Blair snatched up the picture and started laughing. "Are you telling us that he's a she?" When Jim nodded, Blair continued his train of thought. "And she's her?"
Again Jim nodded, noticing the confused look on his captain's face. "Nobody to split the diamonds with."
Blair tossed the picture back on Simon's desk. "So how do we prove it?"
With a start, both men answered the question. "The DNA sample." Blair continued the thought a step further.
"Even without another sample to match it to, the profile will tell us if it came from a man or a woman. That's all we need to know right now. Thanks, Simon." Blair hurried to catch up with his partner.
Simon stared at the closing door. "You're welcome, but for what, I have no idea."
Serena looked up as the two men barged into her lab. Ellison started speaking before his partner had fully cleared the door. "Serena, do you have the results on the tissue we found at the mall?"
"Yes, I do -- and you're not going to believe what I discovered." The dark skinned woman smiled. Rarely did she have the chance to give Jim Ellison surprising news.
Before she could give her report, Ellison jumped in. "Let me guess. Our Elvis is a woman, right?"
There was dead silence, then Serena slammed her folders onto the countertop. "You always do that to me, Ellison."
Jim grinned and gave the woman a quick peck on the cheek. "I got lucky. I'll let you surprise me someday, I promise Serena." He turned to Blair. "Shall we go arrest Elvis, or should I say Elvetta?"
Blair smirked at the thought of the upcoming visit to Elvis International. "It will be a pleasure."
Office of David Hayes, Director of Elvis International
Marilyn, AKA Gayle Adams, AKA Gayle Sheldon sat at her desk, filing her nails when the two detectives walked in. She looked up, mask already in place. "I'm sorry, gentlemen, but Mr. Hayes isn't in at the moment." She leaned forward; making sure the taller of the two men had a good view of her cleavage. "Or is there something I can do for you?"
"Actually, there is." Jim sat down and leaned forward, meeting her across the desk. "I have just a little bit of jewelry for you." He dangled a pair of handcuffs in front of her.
For a second, neither one of them moved. Then she shoved hard against the lightweight desk, slamming it into Ellison and knocking him backwards. Jim rolled with it and came back onto his feet just in time to see his partner grab the woman. He had a firm grip on her, even though she was kicking and cursing at him. "You've got her?"
"Yeah, just get the cuffs already." Blair wrinkled up his itching nose as the strong hairspray made it burn. Jim turned to retrieve the cuffs when the door opened again. She was ready.
"What do you think you're doing?" David Hayes entered his outer office to find his secretary struggling with a familiar man. Without hesitating, he rushed the other man, breaking his hold on the woman. She raked down Sandburg's leg with her high heel then pushed her boss into Ellison as she bolted through the door.
By the time Ellison got himself untangled from the angry, confused man, Sandburg had struggled to his feet also. The two of them ran out the door, guessing on her direction from the wake of destruction in her path. She was almost to the exit doors by the time they caught up with her, and this time they took no chances with her. Blair kept one knee pressed against her back while Jim fastened the cuffs around her wrists.
"Let's go." Jim pulled her to her feet and turned her towards the uniformed officers that were approaching.
She looked at Ellison and Sandburg, then turned to look at the patrol officers. Frustrated, she stamped her foot. "I want my agent."
Sandburg laughed as he limped closer. "Lady, I hate to break it to you, but you're a little beyond his help now. If I were you, I'd get a lawyer."
She drew herself up and glared at him. "They'll be making a movie about my life before the ink's dry on your arrest report. I'll be the classic heroine who defended the memory of her brother and you'll be the bumbling cops who..."
"Who were smart enough to catch you. Don't forget that part." Blair shook his head at the cold woman. "What about Alan Parker? Where does he fit into your little movie?"
She didn't have an answer as she was led away.
Even non-sentinel ears could hear the buzz of voices as soon as they got off the elevator. Blair turned a questioning eye to his partner. "What's going on?"
Jim cocked his head slightly as he listened in on their co-workers. A smile began to form on his face, then slowly faded. He turned back to Sandburg. "Do you want the good news or the bad news first?"
"Is this a trick question? Just tell me, man." Blair braced himself for another horrible case.
Jim hung his head for a moment before looking at his friend. "Okay, the mayor is really happy that the case is solved." He held up his hand as Blair started to interrupt. "He's so happy that he convinced the commissioner to cancel the audit." Jim waited for the response.
"He canceled the audit. The one Rhonda has been preparing for, for weeks. Now that every file is absolutely perfect and up to date on the right paper, with the right color ink, and in triplicate, he's canceled the audit?" Blair stared at Jim, willing him to change his story. No such luck.
"Yep, that just about sums it up."
Blair thought for a second. "After all that work, Rhonda's probably not too happy right now."
"I'd call that a massive understatement, Chief." Jim started to edge back towards the elevator.
"Are we going to face it like men or are we going to run like chickens?" A crash from behind the frosted glass door settled the question and the two men bolted for the elevator, laughing and clucking all the way.
I'd like to thank the staff of BPP. A series of family emergencies has made this a very difficult year for me, and they bent over backwards to give me the time and support to finish this episode.