By: Lyn Townsend
Beta Read by: Izzy, Mary Shukes Brown and Lady Shelley
Written For PetFly by: Harold Apter
Internal thought in italics
Jim Ellison thought this was going to be an easy-going basketball practice
for a public service game to be played later that afternoon. Captain Simon Banks had told
him the match would bring some much-needed positive publicity to the Cascade PD and at the
same time, raise funds for charity. Jim hadn't needed much convincing. He loved playing
basketball, and playing against the Jags was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Now as he looked up into the glowering dark face of Archie Sloman, he was beginning to have second thoughts. The big Jags player had just knocked him roughly to the floor, in a fit of rage.
Jim pushed himself up and dusted off his hands. "I should run you in for assaulting an officer," he snarled. "Give you a ticket."
Sloman snorted derisively. "Man, you could cuff me and I'll still outscore you."
Jim shot him an angry glare and strode across the court to Simon Banks' side. The captain was also dressed in a dark blue jersey with the insignia of the Cascade PD on the front. Simon's teenage son, Daryl, who'd been watching the game from the sidelines, approached both men and offered Jim a cup of water.
Jim took it and thanked the young man, then turned to his captain. "I thought this was supposed to be a friendly, public service game," the detective grouched, flashing another icy stare at the smirking Sloman.
Simon patted Daryl's shoulder. "Why don't you organize some drinks for the rest of the team, son? I'm sure they'd appreciate it." He waited until Daryl trotted off before turning back to Jim. "Don't come to me for sympathy. You're the one that turned it into a blood sport by betting them we'd stay within 20 points of the final score."
"Yeah, well," Jim disputed, "so far it's only been my blood and this is just the practice."
"What's up with you and Sloman anyway?" Simon asked, as he watched the silent, angry by-play between the two men.
"I don't know." Jim shrugged. "Maybe he holds me responsible for Roshman's death."
"Jim, Roshman was gunned down in cold blood. We did everything we could. Sometimes that's just not enough. All the more reason for this game today, shows the public we're human."
"Yeah." A flurry of activity and hurrying footsteps at the top of the stairs caught Jim's attention. Sandburg had arrived, late as usual. The anthropologist bolted down the steep steps, almost losing his balance and tumbling the rest of the way in his haste. "Well, look who's coming," the detective said, watching Blair's hair fly out in all directions as he scurried onto the court. "The starting guard for the Woodstock All-Stars."
"Something going on with you two?" Simon frowned at the sarcastic comment.
Jim considered the question, finding it difficult to put into words the vague, uneasy tension that still existed between his partner and himself since Alex Barnes had come to Cascade and thrown their lives into turmoil. "No, not really. Just all that stuff with Alex and then we had some words over what should be included in his dissertation."
"I thought you got all that straightened out?"
"We did," Jim replied, watching Blair work his way through the Jags players, exchanging pleasantries and challenges, a wide grin creasing the anthropologist's face. "I guess I still feel we're dancing around each other a little. It's still a little uncomfortable, that's all. Every time he starts writing in that damn journal of his, I wonder how personal it's going to get. Sometimes I feel like I'm under a microscope."
"He handled himself pretty well on the Ventriss case," Simon put in, "despite his personal involvement. He's pulled you out of a couple of tight spots over the years and backed you up when I was ready to pull your badge, and his ride-along. Hell, he's the most hands-on observer I've ever seen. Cut him some slack, Jim. It's not that long ago, he was lying on the grass beside that damn fountain and we thought ."
"I know," Jim cut the police captain off brusquely with a wave of his hand, not wanting to revisit those memories. "We'll work it out, sir." Preferring to change the subject and lighten the atmosphere, Jim hooked a thumb at Blair. "Check it out. Sandburg working the crowd." The two older men looked on with amusement as Blair greeted the other players.
"Hey, guys. How you been?" Blair asked, slapping the chest of one of the tallest team members. "What's up, Tiny?"
Clyde Kenderson grinned and gave the anthropologist a high five. "Big guy! How you doing?"
Blair raised his arms above his head and waved them around. "I'm growing a couple inches," he replied.
Jim shook his head, but couldn't stop the grin that split his face. "I feel like I'm watching an old Pauly Shore movie."
Blair moved on to Gus Ivers and eyed him critically. "You gaining weight?"
The player patted his stomach. "A little bit."
Blair's eyes fixed next on a team member who was almost his own height. "Oh, yeah. I got you." He nodded appraisingly.
Wendell Petty glared at him. "Yeah, and I'll post you up, too."
Blair smiled widely. "I'm looking forward to it." He turned then to the coach of the Jags team, dressed like his players in a white jersey and basketball shorts. "Coach, what's up? Are you suiting up?"
The coach glowered at Sandburg with a look of annoyance that Jim wasn't sure was genuine or not. Not everyone took to Blair's particular brand of bouncy humor. Simon Banks was a good example. Simon had not accepted Sandburg easily at first. The captain had been impatient and sometimes downright unfriendly to the hyperactive young man. Watching him now, as Simon graced the civilian observer with a rare and tolerant smile, Jim knew the captain had come to like and respect Blair.
"Yeah, you got a problem with that?" Coach Brianski asked.
Blair held his hands up defensively. "No, I just hope you brought your game." He chuckled when the bigger man reached out and lightly cuffed the back of his head. Jim relaxed. Sandburg and his light-hearted attitude were well known here. Like he should be surprised. Ever since Blair had helped Jim out on a previous case where one of the Jags players had been implicated in a murder, the anthropologist had been an unofficial mascot for the team.
"Get out of here, you knucklehead," the coach growled.
Blair was still laughing when he joined Jim and Simon. "Hey, guys. Sorry I'm late. Had to finish a lecture. Changed in my car." He looked at Simon with a hopeful expression on his face. "So, uh, when am I going in, Coach?"
"Legally, Sandburg, you're not even here."
"Yeah, it's an insurance thing, Chief," Jim added.
Blair's eyes widened. "What are you guys talking about? They're going to be filming me. You both know that."
Jim shook his head. "They can't, Chief."
Blair unashamedly pulled out his best plea-bargaining line. "Come on, guys, I'm out there every day getting shot at. I get kidnapped." It seemed to be working. Both Jim and Simon were staring intently at him. "I deserve to be in this charity game." He leaned closer, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Besides, I already told everybody."
"What's her name?" Jim and Simon asked in unison.
"Jim, stop yanking the kid's chain." Simon put Blair out of his misery. "Don't worry, Sandburg, you'll be playing. Just try not to get hurt, all right? I don't need the insurance headache." He walked off to help Daryl with the drinks, still grinning at Sandburg's act.
Blair tried for an innocent look, then gave up and smiled. He was going to play against the Jags; that would be something to impress the ladies.
"Excuse me, guys. I'm Richie Berman. I'm with the Jags. I'm just doing a little roll call for the film people." A young man dressed in sweat pants and a tee shirt and holding a clipboard strode up to them, holding out his hand.
Jim shook the young man's hand. "Hi, Richie. I'm Jim Ellison."
Richie nodded enthusiastically. "We know you, Detective, after what you did for Orvelle last year."
Blair looked up at Richie, a frown replacing his smile. "Well, he did have a little help getting Orvelle out of that murder rap."
Jim nodded. "Yes, I did," he said agreeably. "I couldn't have done it without you. This is my partner," Jim explained to Richie.
Richie looked at Blair. "And you are?"
Blair's expression was grim. "Anonymous." He shot Jim an icy glare and strode toward the bench where Daryl was seated, muttering despondently. "Jeez, sometimes it'd be nice to get some recognition for what I do."
"Chief." Jim followed him, wanting to explain, irritation warring with compassion for Blair's feelings.
That was the crux of the whole matter, Jim thought as Blair stomped off the court. Blair was only too willing to throw himself wholeheartedly into whatever crime Jim was investigating, often providing the clue they needed to solve the case, or guiding Jim to pick up things ordinary investigators had missed. His enthusiasm had almost no, had gotten him killed, but when it came to writing the reports, he had to remain an unknown, simply an observer, because one out of place word in a case file could lead the commissioner or Internal Affairs to dig a little too deeply.
If questions were asked, Blair's observer status would be at an end. Simon had managed to renew the anthropologist's ride-along permit every ninety days for three years without raising any suspicion, but it would be crazy to wave Sandburg right under their noses.
Added to his worry Sandburg could be pulled at any time from Jim's side was Jim's own concern over just how public his personal life could become, despite Sandburg's assurances that the subject of his study would remain anonymous.
Every case report had to be carefully thought out and written. Too many times, criminals had walked free from court because Jim was not able to divulge how he could see and hear what he had. The wrong phrase read by the wrong person would have the Commissioner breathing down both Jim and Simon's necks. Jim had a very real fear that if his sentinel abilities became known, his police career would be at an end. Being a walking human crime lab had its advantages only if the enemy didn't know about the ace up your sleeve.
Daryl Banks rolled his eyes and bit back an expletive. His announcement
had not gone down as well as he'd thought it would. "Look, I can get into the Academy
in six months when I turn 18," he explained to his father, trying for a placating
tone even as he tapped a foot impatiently.
Simon shook his head. "And give up a full scholarship? Boy, have you lost your mind?"
Daryl sighed and cast around for inspiration. Blair was approaching. He appealed to the anthropologist. "Hey, Blair, help me out, man. My dad and I are arguing about what I should do with my life, and I want to know what you think."
Blair took in Simon's stiff posture, then turned to Daryl. "Well, legally, I'm not here, but go ahead."
"All right, look," the teenager began. "Why should I go to college and study about some crap I don't even care about, when I just want to be a cop like my dad?"
"There are better things for you to do with your life besides being a cop," Simon interjected quickly.
"Yeah, but it was good enough for you," Daryl replied. "Or are you trying to say that I'm not good enough?"
Simon looked down at his son. "Of course I'm not saying that. All I'm saying ." Simon stopped and rubbed at his forehead. "It's dangerous work for not enough pay. Now, you get into a good school, you can write your own ticket."
Two uniformed police entered the arena and beckoned to Simon. The captain shook an admonishing finger at his son before going to speak to the officers. "I'm not finished here, all right?"
Blair touched Daryl's shoulder. "If you feel passionate enough, I think you should do it, no matter who objects," he said, lowering his voice when Simon glared over his shoulder at him. "Just keep working on him. That's what I'd do."
Blair turned away and studiously ignored Simon's disapproval. The captain had obviously overheard his last piece of advice. He tried to concentrate on the game. Jim appeared to be having his own personality clash on court, if the shouting match and alpha-male bullying between Sloman and him was any indication.
Intending an attempt at peacemaking, Blair joined Simon at the top of the stairs just as the captain finished giving instructions to the officers.
"I want a task force unit formed right away to monitor this situation and I want updates every 15 minutes." Simon glanced quickly at Blair and turned back to his men. "With Kincaid on the loose, there will be something to report. I want to know about it before it happens."
He watched the men leave then turned back to Blair. "What do you want, Sandburg?" he asked peevishly.
Blair's voice was soft. "Kincaid?"
Simon nodded, his eyes scanning the action on the basketball court, searching for Jim. "Yeah, he escaped from a prison work detail near the Oregon border. The guards were jumped by a group of his Sunrise Patriots. Come on let's hurry up. We've got to cut this practice short." Simon ran back on court, waving his hand to gain Jim's attention.
"One more play, Captain," Jim said as he ran back up the court with Sloman in hot pursuit. Simon slowed his pace and nodded.
Blair felt shivers go through him and his eyes searched the darkened upper stands of the arena apprehensively. He knew he was being foolish. There was no reason for Kincaid to come there. The terrorist would be seeking a way out of the country as fast as he could. Still, everything about the man and his band of terrorists epitomized terror and evil, and Blair still remembered the threats Kincaid had shouted at him the last time they'd crossed paths.
Garett Kincaid had taken over the Cascade PD a couple of years before. It had been Blair's first day as an official police observer, and he'd managed to elude Kincaid's men for quite some time, taking out two of the Sunrise Patriots before being captured. Kincaid had taken an instant dislike to him, vowing revenge after Blair had pushed him out of an escaping helicopter and literally into Jim Ellison's arms.
"Shit!" Blair cursed, remembering Daryl had been at the station that day as well, and had experienced Kincaid's brutality first-hand.
The terrorist had dangled the then-fourteen-year-old out of an upstairs window, in order to taunt Simon and get him to agree to his demands to free his men from prison. Blair hurried over to Daryl, his stomach feeling suddenly queasy. Daryl was three years older now, and had certainly matured, if his resolve over his career choice was any indication. Blair was still not sure the young man would handle the news of Kincaids escape any better than he was.
"Hey, what's going on?" Daryl had busied himself getting drinks ready for the team, lining up plastic cups on the bench.
Blair studied the teenager, unsure if he was the one who should be breaking the news, not wanting to frighten him. "I don't want you to worry, but Garett Kincaid escaped from prison."
Blair held out a supporting hand as Daryl, stricken with shock, wavered for a moment. "Oh shit, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. Are you all right?"
Daryl nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I'm all right. I'm all right."
Blair took in the perspiration beading Daryl's upper lip and the trembling hands, not fooled for a minute. He looked up distractedly; Jim was calling his name and waving him onto the court. "Are you sure?"
Daryl sat down heavily on the bench but nodded again. "Yeah."
"Look, they'll catch him. He won't get away." With a final concerned look, Blair ran out onto the court. He watched as Jim tangled with Sloman again, both men exchanging heated words. Above the voices of the players and the thump of the ball, he could hear Daryl calling out to his father as he paced the sidelines in agitation. His attention was dragged back suddenly to the game as Jim sunk a perfect three pointer, then grinned triumphantly at Sloman.
"Yeah. You can open your eyes now. You'll see it on the 7:00 news, baby," Jim crowed.
Sloman scowled angrily at the cop and shoved him hard in the chest with both massive hands. Jim slammed backwards onto the floor with a thud. Blair ran up when Jim clutched at his ears, guessing the resounding whack Jim's head had taken on the floor had momentarily spiked his senses. Coach Brianski reached Jim first and helped him to his feet.
"You all right?" the coach asked.
Jim nodded and rubbed at the back of his head. "Yeah, thank you." Sloman stood watching now with his hands on his hips. "What's the deal, Sloman?"
Sloman shrugged. "I don't like you."
Jim stared at the big man, exasperation tensing his sweat-damp face. "You don't even know me."
Sloman's features hardened. "Yeah, well, lucky for me. Otherwise, I might have ended up like Roshman."
Blair moved toward Jim, seeing his partner stiffen at the unfair comment. A glare from the detective stopped the observer in his tracks. Jim wasn't in the mood for being placated.
Simon firmly took control of the situation, grabbing Jim's arm and pulling him away from Sloman. "Hey, come on. Shake it off," he advised Jim. "You're better than that. He just lost a friend."
Blair noticed Daryl on the sidelines, watching the confrontation, still pacing back and forth. He could see the play of emotions on the teenager's face turn from distracted interest in the argument between Sloman and Jim, to resolve just before he ran out on the court toward them.
Jim shook his arm free from Simon's grasp. "Losing a friend I can understand, but taking a grudge out on me? You said yourself there was nothing we could have done. Come on!"
"Hey, Dad, how come you didn't tell me that bastard was loose?" Daryl's voice was tight with fear.
Simon and Blair went to meet the still pale teen. Simon reached out and laid a hand on his son's shoulder. "Don't worry about it, Daryl. We'll catch him." The captain looked at Blair. "He still has nightmares."
Daryl shook off his father's hand but the pallor of the teenager's face betrayed his bravado. Blair shivered. The air in the arena felt suddenly cold on his damp skin. "You kidding me?" He gave Daryl a weak smile. "Join the club."
Daryl snorted derisively. "Give me a break, man. I was just a kid."
"It's nothing to be ashamed of, son," Simon assured him. "I still have nightmares about that, too." He looked up as Jim came striding toward them, anger pouring off him in waves.
"Captain, I've about had it up to here with the sportsmanship thing. I'm going out for a little payback ." He stopped short and stared at Blair. Blair knew he had never been good at hiding his emotions from Jim. The detective must have guessed something was terribly wrong. Blair glanced again at Daryl and saw he was grasping his father's arm tightly. "What's up?" Jim asked.
"Kincaid was sprung from prison." Simon broke the news.
Jim looked quickly at Daryl and Blair. "You guys okay?"
Blair laid a comradely arm around Daryl's thin shoulders and smiled wanly. "Yeah, man." He nodded. "We're cool."
"Why don't you three pack up our stuff?" Simon suggested. "I'll go explain to the team that something's come up. I don't want Kincaid's name mentioned to anyone outside the PD yet. No need to incite panic."
Jim and Blair headed back to the benches with Daryl in tow and sorted through their gear. Knowing time was of the essence, Blair hastily pulled his street clothes back on over his basketball jersey and shorts, and picked up his backpack. He waved to the players as he followed the others to the exit. So much for his star turn against the Jags.
"You guys gonna make it back for the game this afternoon?" Gus Ivers called out.
"Don't worry, we'll be back," Simon replied. "If we need to reschedule, I'll let you know. Duty first, gents."
Sloman's voice echoed across the stadium. "Make sure Ellison comes back. He's mine."
When Jim lifted a hand to flip Sloman the bird, Simon second-guessed his intention and pushed his arm down, flashing the detective a chiding glare. "Let's play nice, children."
By late morning, Simon was back in his office, speaking on the phone to
the State Patrol. He watched Daryl pace the floor agitatedly. He had wanted to send Daryl
home to his mother, but his son had insisted on accompanying them to the station. Jim and
Blair were down in Records, trying to track down leads on the whereabouts of known Sunrise
Simon concentrated on the voice on the other end of the line. He pressed home his point when the speaker paused for breath. "Look, we've had experience with this guy before. He and his militia took over our precinct. He doesn't do anything in a small way. It's all politically motivated. Yes, I understand, but... All right. All right, thanks. You let me know."
"What'd he say?" Daryl asked as he lowered his lanky body into the chair on the other side of the desk.
Simon pushed back in his seat and shook his head. "State Patrol has jurisdiction. They've notified departments in neighboring states. They want our cooperation, but they don't want us to get in the way."
"I don't get it."
"Politics, son, pure and simple."
"I still don't get it."
"One day you will."
Daryl sat forward in his seat and glared at his father. "Hey, Dad, why do you treat me like this? I mean, I'm going to the academy next year, but you treat me like I'm a little kid."
Simon scowled at the mention of the police academy, but let it slide for the moment. "If I thought that, Daryl, you wouldn't even be here discussing the case with me."
Daryl bristled. "No, see, you think I'm still scared of the dark. You think I'm scared of Mr. Big, Bad Garett Kincaid." He shook his head and squared his shoulders. "Dad, I'm not," he said hotly. He stood and headed for the door. "I'm going back to the stadium. The charity game's still going ahead, isn't it?"
Simon nodded. "I've organized a few of the off-duty men to fill in."
"Beats sitting around here waiting for nothing to happen."
"How will you get there? I can't leave right now."
Daryl thought for a moment. "I'll call Mom."
"Son, I'd prefer it if you didn't ."
"Mention Kincaid to Mom, I know," Daryl finished for him. "I'm not stupid, Dad." Sparing his father another sulky look before storming from the room, he ignored Simon's call for him to wait. He sidled past Jim and Blair as they entered the bullpen, not giving either a glance.
Jim gave the angry teenager a puzzled look. "Hey, Daryl, what's up?"
Daryl nodded briefly before trotting toward the elevator. "Hey." He walked into the car and slumped against the back wall.
"He still freaked out about Kincaid? Because I don't blame him in the slightest," Blair asked as he and Jim entered Simon's office.
"Yeah, but he won't admit it. You realize he wants to give up a full scholarship to Duke to go to the Police Academy?"
"Wow!" Jim grinned. "You must be proud as hell."
"Not," Blair muttered as he dropped into the chair vacated by Daryl.
Simon shot him an impatient look. "Hey, you stay out of this."
"It's his life, Simon," Blair spoke over the ringing of the phone.
The captain sent him another glare. "Spoken like a man who has no children." He reached for the receiver. "That he knows of, anyway. Banks." He ignored Sandburg's sour look, knowing his last comment had earned it. Focusing on the call, he nodded. "All right, I'll have someone check it out." He hung up the phone and turned to the other men. "That was a report of a possible homicide over on Mountain. Parking garage, 1300 block. Want to check it out?"
"On our way, sir."
On the drive over to the parking garage, Jim broached the subject of the
basketball game. "Look, Sandburg, you understand why you can't be included on the
players' list, don't you?"
Blair turned in his seat and nodded. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. It was childish of me to get all bent out of shape about it."
"No. You have every right to be pissed. I mean, you're there beside me when all the tough stuff goes down, then when something good happens, you're told you don't exist."
Blair stared out the front window for a long moment. "Jim, I know why we need to keep my observer status as low-key as possible. I guess it wasn't until we talked about my first dissertation chapter and the dangers of any information leaking out that might identify you that I really thought it through properly. I appreciate the strings Simon's pulled to keep me with you, despite his personal feelings about me."
Jim looked at him sharply. "Don't sell yourself short, Chief. Simon has a lot of respect for how you've handled things lately."
"Yeah, well, he obviously likes to keep that information to himself. Anyway, if the game goes ahead, I'm on the team unofficially. That's good enough for me."
Jim nodded, smiling to himself. He felt as though a small chunk of the wall erected between them since he'd thrown Blair out of the loft had finally been chiseled away. "Okay."
He pulled the truck to a stop inside the parking garage and approached the uniformed officer standing guard over the crime scene. Noticing the patrolman's eyes focus intently on Blair at his side, he waved the scrutiny away and held up his ID. "I'm Detective Ellison. He's with me. What have we got?"
The patrolman waved a hand at the body sprawled on the ground. "Guy passing through found him about a half-hour ago. No I.D." He shook his head sadly. "Looks like a mugging that went bad."
Jim nodded as he crouched next to the dead man. He waited until Blair knelt beside him, one hand going unerringly to rest against Jim's back. "I'll take over from here. Thank you." The officer nodded and walked away to his car.
Reaching out, Jim stroked his fingers over the dead man's temple, feeling the sticky residue of tape. "He was blindfolded, Chief. It must have been removed after he was killed." He gazed around the immediate area, dialing up his sight to search for any visual clues. Something glinted in the drain, catching his eye. "There's a fake dog tag down there." He sharpened his vision more to take in the etching on the medal. "Has 'Duty, Honor, Freedom' written on it."
He heard the almost inaudible gasp from Blair, felt the observer rock back slightly and the hand that rested on Jim's back clutched spasmodically at his shirt.
"Kincaid," Blair whispered.