Blues for Henri Brown

By Susan L. Williams

 

Story Note: Written for Faux Paws Productions' Virtual Season 6

Act I

"Drop your gun! Drop it! On the ground! *Now*! Drop it and get *down*!"

"Chill, man. I'm--"

Gunshots slashed the air. Bullets ravaged flesh, and blood arced. A woman screamed. Two cops rose slowly from behind their gray cruiser, guns still aimed at the fallen man. A second man turned his head to watch the first bleed, but made no attempt to rise. Unnoticed amidst the chaos, a third man, some distance from the others, crawled away, scrambled to his feet, and vanished into the crowd of gawkers. While the older cop checked on the wounded man, the younger cuffed the second. A woman raced out of the restaurant and threw herself down by the wounded man, pushing the older cop away.

"Oh God. Oh God! You shot my husband!" She tore her dress and used it to staunch the flow of blood; looked up at the older cop. "He's one of you! He's one of *you*!" Blood soaked the fabric. "Oh, God, Henri!"

*****

Jim bullied and bulldozed his way through the ranks of hospital staff, ending in ICU, where against all regulations the room already held four people: Henri Brown, lying in the bed, a tangle of tubes and electrodes hooking him to a ventilator, monitors, medication--too many things to sort out; Brown's wife, Jasmine, seated in a cushioned chair, holding his hand, her dress torn and bloody; Ray Van Rafe, half-sitting on the windowsill, tie askew, vest unbuttoned, hair spiking from too many nervous run-throughs; and Simon Banks, raincoat still on, standing behind Jasmine with one hand on her shoulder. Three heads swiveled as they came in. Jim nodded at Rafe, and Blair held up a hand. Simon approached them. Blair went around him, giving Simon's arm a quick pat in passing, and went straight to the bed. He laid a hand on Brown's arm and stood in silence for a moment. Blair turned to Jasmine, took her hand, and spoke softly.

Jim switched his attention to Simon. "What happened?"

Simon drew him out of the room. "We're not sure. All we know right now is that Brown was shot by cops."

Jim closed his eyes. Smells assaulted him: medications, antiseptic, saline, blood. He opened his eyes, used sight and sound to dampen the odors.

"Who?"

"A couple of uniforms: Decker and Anderson."

He knew the names. Decker and Anderson had been the first to respond when Beverly Sanchez' body was found. "What's their story?"

"It's in IA's hands. I've been assured that their report will be on my desk first thing in the morning."

In the room beyond, Blair was murmuring reassurances to Jasmine, or maybe to himself. The beeping of the monitor competed with his voice. Rafe slid off the windowsill, paced, and jumped back up again.

"Who's in charge?"

"Sheila Irwin-Roberts."

Jim nodded. "Best we could get."

"That's right, Jim. So let her do her job."

Coolly. "What do you mean, sir?"

"You know exactly what I mean, detective."

Blair opened the door, a jerk of his head all the communication Jim needed.

"Excuse me, sir. Sandburg's reminding me of my manners."

Jim eased past Simon and entered the room.

*****

"Let's go, Sandburg."

Blair groaned, rolled up onto one elbow, and squinted through a tangle of hair, pretending he could see. "What time is it?"

"Oh-four-hundred."

"Oh, God." Blair flopped back down. "He's going military on me."

Jim suppressed a grin. "I'll go military on your ass if you don't get out of that bed. You've got ten minutes to get out here."

"Yeah, yeah." Blair sat up, shoved his hair out of his face, and got to his feet. "Always with the orders. Mr. Big Shot Senior Detective."

Jim moved aside and watched Blair weave his way to the bathroom. "That's Lieutenant Big Shot Senior Detective to you, Junior."

Blair gave him the finger and shut the door. Fifteen minutes later, he was out, awake, cheerful, damp and freshly shaved. Tucking in the tails of his black and white flannel shirt with one hand, he took the mug of coffee Jim handed him with the other, sipped at it to test its heat, and made a face.

"You're making the coffee too weak again, man."

Jim took a swallow. "Seems fine to me."

"That's to you, Jim. I don't have an extra strong sense of taste. Dial it down to Average Joe and add a couple more scoops next time, okay? Unless--Does the caffeine bother you?"

"No."

"Are you sure? Because we could get you some decaf, Jim. I know a little place where you can get a great blend that the owner swears you can't tell from--though maybe you could. Probably you could. But it's worth a--"

"Sandburg, I don't have a problem with caffeine. Just drop it, okay?"

"Yeah." Blair ducked his head, stared into his mug. "Sorry, Jim. I'm a little--"

"On edge. I know. This thing with Brown--"

"Yeah. You too?"

"We all will be. Everyone who works with him. You just try not to let it affect your performance on the job."

"Yeah." A grimace. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it." Jim clapped a hand to Blair's shoulder, shook him a little. "Now drink your hot water."

*****

They walked into the bullpen at 5:15, after a quick stop at the Jumpin' Java, where Blair acquired a twenty-four ounce cappuccino and Jim bought a bag of assorted pastries, none of them pineapple. Blair neglected to remind him of the sugar and fat content, the omission letting Jim know that at least one of the pastries would go to his partner. Pre-dawn was the only time Blair would indulge.

Blair flipped on the overhead lights and they went to their desks. Simon emerged from his office and made a beeline for the pastry bag. Before he reached it, Blair snagged a foot-long cinnamon twist covered in swirls of white and chocolate icing. Scowling, Simon snatched the bag away, peered into it, and extracted a gigantic bearclaw. He bit into it, and closed his eyes in bliss.

"Good morning to you, too, sir," Jim deadpanned.

Simon mumbled something unintelligible.

"Have you been here all night?" Blair asked.

Simon swallowed, and wiped crumbs of pastry from his lips. "No. I came from the hospital a couple of hours ago. Brown's condition hasn't changed."

"Damn," Jim whispered.

"Yeah. Rafe's staying with him and Jasmine at the hospital. I'm reassigning their cases. I want you and Sandburg to take over the Liefeld investigation."

"The protection racket?" Blair groaned. "They've been working on that for months."

"And getting nowhere," Jim added.

Simon displayed his shark's smile. "And now it's your turn. As my best detective team, I know you'll give it your all." He grabbed an apricot Danish and headed back to his office.

"But what about--"

"Connor and Taggart will be handling the Morgan case. Just leave the file on Joel's desk"

"Simon--"

The office door closed, effectively shutting them out and up.

*****

At 9:20, a red-haired woman carrying an interoffice envelope entered the bullpen, crossed to Rhonda's desk, handed her the envelope, chatted for a minute, and left. Blair greeted her as she went by, but she didn't stop to talk. Jim watched her out.

"Who was that?"

"Jim, she's been here for fifteen years and you don't know--"

"Sandburg." Jim rounded on him, not bothering to hide his irritation. "*Who*?"

"Jean Leavell. She's the secretary for Internal Affairs."

They watched Rhonda get up, envelope in hand, and walk to Simon's office. She knocked on the door, entered, handed Simon the envelope and went out, closing the door behind her. Through the blinds on the office windows, Jim watched Simon open the envelope, remove the contents, and begin to read. He would have read the documents too, without shame, but Simon held them at the wrong angle and he couldn't see. Fingers flying over the keyboard, Blair watched him watching, looking for some clue in his facial expression probably, or maybe just curious about whether he *could* read the documents, never mind that sentinel sight was a hell of a thing but it didn't *bend*. So far, anyway. If it could, Blair would be the one to figure it out.

Simon read every word, taking his time, drinking coffee, not skimming, occasionally going back to a previous page, driving Jim crazy with his insistence on absorbing all the details. By the time Simon put the documents down, people were giving Jim's desk a wide berth, and Blair was distributing shrugs and "Sorry, but you know how he is" smiles. Megan and Joel had taken up the Ellison-watch along with Blair, though Megan at least was trying not to be obvious about it, and apparently they all thought he was so focused on Simon that he wouldn't notice anything around him.

Simon raised his head, looked directly at him--okay, so he hadn't exactly been subtle either--and crooked a finger. Jim stood, uttered a quiet, "Let's go, Chief," and led the way into Simon's office. He collected cops and Rhonda as he went, like the Pied Piper of Major Crime. Simon scowled when they all crowded into his office, but didn't kick anyone out.

"As I'm sure you all know, I've got the preliminary report from Internal Affairs. They've recommended that Sergeant Decker and Officer Anderson be suspended with pay while the investigation continues."

"So there's some question about what happened," Blair said.

"Sandburg, this is Internal Affairs. There are always questions."

"What's Decker and Anderson's story, Simon?" Taggart asked.

"They took a call about a man with a gun at the Garlic Bulb. When they got there, two men were fighting in the parking lot. One had a gun. Brown came out right after them, with his weapon out. Decker ordered them to drop their guns and get on the ground. The perps did; Brown didn't. Decker warned him again. Brown made a move they interpreted as threatening, and they opened fire."

"Didn't they know he was a cop?" Connor asked.

"No. And according to them, Brown didn't identify himself."

"But that doesn't make any sense," Blair said. "Why wouldn't he?"

"We'll have to ask Brown," Simon said. "When he's up to it."

Or we could ask Decker and Anderson, Jim thought. He didn't say it out loud, but Simon looked his way, obviously expecting him to. He gazed back without expression, and Simon moved on, answering what questions he could, asking Rhonda to make note of those he couldn't with the intention of passing them along to Sheila. Most of the questions came from Blair--big surprise--so many that Simon finally shoved the report into his hands and told him to read it himself.

"All right, people. We're two men down, and you'll all be working overtime as it is. Better get to it."

They left Simon's office without another word; even Blair was quiet and subdued. Taggart hung back, waiting until everyone else was gone, then shut the door. Jim went back to his desk, not watching. But he listened.

"Joel?" Simon said.

Taggart shifted uncomfortably, his jacket sliding over his back, one hand sliding up and down his tie, fabric and skin rasping and whispering against each other. "I hate to bring this up, Simon, but--Decker and Anderson are white. Has anyone considered race as a factor in this?"

"It's mentioned in the report, but it's not an area of concentration. I'd like to think it won't be."

"Yeah." Taggart sighed. "Me, too."

*****

Blair grabbed a handful of his hair near the roots and pulled. "Man, we're never going to get anywhere with this case."

Jim returned his gaze to the report he was reading. Without Rafe's preening and Henri's bad jokes, the bullpen was unnaturally quiet. He could hear the mechanism of the clock on the wall, Taggart crunching his salad, Simon shuffling papers in his office. "Sure we will, Chief."

"How? The guy who made the original complaint against Liefeld is dead, and no one else will talk. It's been going on for years, and they just keep paying this schmuck. What do we do?"

"We talk to the victims again, see if maybe one of them is fed up enough to talk to us."

"You think we'll find anyone?"

"Depends."

"On what?"

"On whether or not the famous Sandburg charm is working."

A grin sneaked across his face. "I thought it was the famous Ellison charm."

"Nah. The Ellison charm *never* fails. But it's dangerous. It can only be unleashed in certain extreme situations."

Blair snorted. "Like when someone needs to be slammed against a wall."

"Worked with you, didn't it?"

Blair leaned over so far that he nearly fell out of his chair, and clapped a hand to Jim's shoulder. "Trust me, Jim, it wasn't your charm that got me. It was your utter cluelessness."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. You needed me, man. You were helpless."

It was his turn to snort. "Right. *You* needed *me*, Professor. You were desperate for a dissertation subject."

"Maybe. But not desperate enough to throw myself in front of a garbage truck. *No one's* that desperate. Though come to think of it, I've known people who did some pretty incredible things to get their doctorates."

"Like quitting their jobs and moving out of their homes?"

Blair winced. "Yeah. Like that. Pretty stupid, huh?"

"Not stupid, Chief. Just desperate. You got over it."

"Yeah. Yeah, I did." Too seriously. "Thanks to you, Jim."

Jim smiled. "Yeah. Well. I was desperate."

The smile reappeared. "See? You need me."

"Sandburg, the day I need you--"

"Is, like, a typical day for you, isn't it?"

Jim shook his head, trying not to laugh.

"Well, isn't it?"

Jim reached over and pushed Blair's head down toward the file folder on his desk. "Read, Chief. Find us an angle."

*****

Blair sat at an angle on the couch, leaning back against one of the Navajo-blanket patterned pillows, his head bent over the IA report. Jim could see the reflection of it in Blair's glasses; backwards was harder to read, but he could figure it out if he concentrated. Blair was on page four, the interview with Anderson, reading the rookie's account of--

Brown curls swung down, obscuring Jim's view of the glasses. He could have tried to read through them, but he didn't need to; he'd already read the report. This was Blair's third read-through. He must have it memorized by now.

"Chief?"

"Yeah?" Blair looked up. The wire-framed glasses always reminded him of the wired student, the kid, the almost-professor Blair had been when they met. He was a lot quieter now. Calmer. Angrier, sometimes, but not often. For a moment, Jim's own reflection gazed back at him in stereo, but he looked past it, to the troubled blue eyes. They'd visited the hospital again, brought coffee and takeout for Jasmine and Rafe. Brown was still unconscious.

"You know Anderson, don't you?"

"Yeah, we went through the Academy together. He's okay."

"Maybe you should go talk to him. Lend him a little support."

Blair studied him for a second, then nodded. "Yeah. That's a good idea. Do you know Decker at all?"

"No. But he's got some years in."

"He might appreciate a visit from someone in Major Crime. You know, another veteran. Just to let him know that we're not jumping to blame anybody."

"That's what I was thinking."

Blair stood up, removed his glasses, and tucked them into his shirt pocket. "So, I'll see you later, Jim."

"Yeah. Later."

*****

Blair climbed the creaking steps on the outside of the house and knocked at the door. Dark paint was cracked and peeling; pebbled glass kept him from seeing inside.

"Who is it?" The voice was male and close to the door.

"Dave? It's Blair Sandburg."

The door opened. David Anderson stared out at him. Light stubble covered his jaw; his brown eyes were bloodshot; his breath stank of alcohol. His Rainier sweatshirt was faded and paint-stained, but his jeans looked new.

"How are you doing, Dave?"

Anderson snorted. "Great. Just great, Sandburg. Couldn't be better."

"Can I come in?"

"Yeah, sure." Anderson stood back from the door to let him in, closed it behind him and went straight to a round table with two mismatched chairs. A half-empty bottle of scotch and a glass stood alone on the table. Anderson gestured at them. "You want a drink?"

"Nah, thanks. You wouldn't have any coffee, would you?"

"Keeps me awake. Don't need that right now."

Anderson poured scotch into the glass and drank half of it off at once. God. Blair shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from snatching the glass away from him.

"Maybe you should take it easy with that, man."

Anderson put his free hand to his ear. "Y'know, for a minute there, I thought I heard my mom's voice."

"Hey, rot your insides, see if I care."

"Yep. Definitely my mom." Anderson sat down heavily. "Do you want something, Sandburg?"

"I just came over to see how you're doing." Which would seem to be pretty shitty. "And to see if maybe you wanted to talk about it or something."

"I've talked about it. I talked about it to my captain. I talked about it to Internal Affairs. I talked about it to my priest. Talking doesn't change anything. I shot a cop. He might die."

"He's not going to die."

"You sure about that, Doc? That degree you're going for in medicine?"

"He's not gonna die, dammit!"

Anderson held up his hands. "Okay, man, okay. If you say so." He downed the rest of his drink. "If you say so."

Shit. Blair grabbed the bottle and started opening cupboards until he found the glasses. He snagged a faded Star Wars glass, poured it half full, and sat down, leaving the bottle on the counter. If Anderson wanted any more, he'd have to get up. If he still could.

"Dave, it wasn't your fault." Lame, Blair. Got any more cliches you can throw at him?

Anderson practically sneered at him. "How d'you know, Sandburg? You psychic now? Hey, I hear your partner sees ghosts. That true?"

"Come on, Dave. It's not like you did it on purpose. You didn't know Brown was a cop, right?"

"Right. I didn't know." The belligerence melted. Anderson's face--his whole body--sagged; the bloodshot eyes didn't see Blair anymore. "I didn't know. I didn't know he was a cop. He didn't--he never said. He had a gun, and he--I thought--I thought he was gonna shoot. I didn't know...."

"What about your partner?"

"Roy?" Anderson shook his head. "No. No. He didn't know. He would never--You can't know everyone, right? Right, Sandburg?"

"That's right, man. No way you can know everyone." Blair cupped his hands around his glass. Anderson focused on it like it was salvation. "Dave? I think you should hit the sack, man. You're going to have a hell of a hangover tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Anderson heaved himself out of the chair, stood swaying. He started to giggle.
"Don't you know, Sandburg? There's no tomorrow. Not for me. Not for Roy. Not for Brown. No tomorrow."

"Quit talking like that, Dave." And please, God, quit giggling.

Blair got up and steered Anderson out of the kitchen toward the bedroom. The bed was unmade, covers trailing on the floor, clothes strewn all over. Anderson dropped onto the bed without protest and sat there for a minute before he looked up.

"What if he dies?"

"Brown won't die, Dave."

"Are you sure? Blair, are you sure? At the hospital, they said--they said he might. He might die."

"I'm sure. Lie down and get some sleep, man."

Anderson threw himself back and lay staring at the ceiling. Blair went back to the kitchen, poured the contents of his glass and the rest of the bottle into the sink, and dumped the bottle in the trash. Snores emanated from the bedroom. Blair shook his head, sighed, and let himself out of the apartment.

*****

Jim stepped over a kid's plastic bike lying on its side and rapped on Decker's door. It jerked open fifteen seconds later, and Decker glared out at him. He was short, only a little taller than Blair, but broader, with the beginnings of a donut gut. Dark hair was slicked back with some kind of greasy crap; hazel eyes radiated hostility.

"What the hell do you want?"

Jim held up the six-pack. "Thought you might want to talk."

"What are you, my shrink?" He eyed the six-pack. "That some kind of bribe?"

"Nah. It's some kind of beer." Jim shrugged. "You don't want it, fine with me."

"You think I'm stupid, Ellison? You think I don't know Brown's in your unit? Hell, everyone knows the great Detective Ellison."

"But apparently, not everyone knows the great Detective Brown."

"That's right." Jim could see and hear Decker's fight with himself, whether to slam the door in his face or not, in the way his grip on the door tightened and his heart sped up. "I didn't recognize him, okay? He looked familiar, but I couldn't place him. He didn't ID!"

"So you shot him."

"Yeah, I shot him. He wouldn't drop his weapon. I thought he was gonna shoot. What else was I supposed to do?"

"I don't know."

"Fuck." Decker dropped his gaze, finally, ran a hand through his greasy hair. "You got any word on his condition?"

"The same."

Decker shook his head. "Anderson and I are screwed. That bitch in IA is looking to crucify us. If Brown makes it, we'll lose our jobs. If he doesn't, she's gonna want prison."

"Your concern for Brown is touching."

Decker's head came up again, his heart rate lurching into overdrive. "You think I don't care?"

"I haven't seen you at the hospital."

Decker's heart slowed a bit. "Yeah, well, I figure I'm not exactly welcome there." He looked away. "I've been on the Job eleven years. And now this. It's not right."

"No," Jim said steadily. "It's not."

His eyes narrowed. "Get out of here, Ellison. Tell Irwin-Roberts she wants to question me, she can do it at headquarters."

"Hey, this is just a friendly visit."

"Yeah. Right."

Decker shut the door.

*****

He was on his second beer by the time Blair got home. Blair shrugged out of his jacket and sat down on his end of the couch, slouching down to lay his head against the back. Jim offered him a beer, but he shook his head. He couldn't give the stuff away tonight.

"Have a nice chat?"

Blair rubbed at his temples, and sighed. "He was drunk." That explained the beer refusal. "He's really upset, Jim. He's convinced that Brown's going to die."

"Worried about his job?"

"No! Well, yeah, but that's not his main concern." Blair looked at him. "Is that what you got from Decker?"

"Pretty much. He's pissed off. Thinks he and Anderson are going to get railroaded."

"Did you get anything else?"

Jim shook his head. "All his physical responses were consistent with anger. If he was lying, I couldn't tell."

"Maybe they're not lying. Maybe it went down just the way they say it did."

"Yeah." Jim took a swallow of beer. "Maybe."

*****

Act II

Jim hung up the phone. Blair appeared at his elbow, big-eyed.

"How is he?"

"No change." He looked out the window. Watery sun shone through cloud cover, but darker, bigger clouds were moving over the water. They'd have rain again before noon. A riot of seagulls skimmed under the clouds, looking for fish. Dull silver schools streaked back and forth under the waves.

"That's not good, is it? Jim?"

He shook himself, drew his vision back to the loft. "I don't know, Chief. I'm not a doctor."

"How's Jasmine doing?"

"She's pretty worn out. Rafe's trying to convince her to go home and sleep for a while, but she won't do it."

Blair bit his lip. "Maybe we could go down there later."

"You think you could talk her into it?"

"It's worth a try. And it's not like we wouldn't be going anyway."

Jim nodded. "Give it your best shot, Chief."

*****

"Excuse me, sir."

Leaving Blair to continue their non-progress report to Simon, Jim picked up his phone.

"Ellison."

He could have sworn he felt a frozen gale blast from the receiver. "Detective."

"Sheila. What can I do for you?"

"You can get your ass up to my office. Now. And bring your partner with you."

He couldn't match her ice, but he did his best. "Yes, ma'am."

Jim hung up the phone and stood. "Sorry, sir. Sandburg and I have been summoned."

Simon's eyes narrowed. "You having trouble with your hearing, Ellison?"

"No, sir."

"Good. I'd hate to think you didn't hear me when I told you to let Internal Affairs do their job."

"Maybe Sheila just wants our help with something," Blair offered.

"I'm sure she does, Sandburg. And I'm sure you'll let me know exactly what that might be. Just as soon as she's done with you."

"Yes, sir."

They presented themselves in Internal Affairs three minutes later. The secretary smiled at Blair and rolled her eyes. Blair chuckled nervously, and followed Jim into Sheila Irwin Roberts' office, keeping slightly behind him. Sheila looked up at their entrance, and didn't smile.

"Sit down, detectives."

They sat. She didn't offer them coffee. Displaying a classic power tactic, Sheila finished reading through the document on her desk and signed off on it before she looked up again and folded her hands. Her gaze shifted from Jim to Blair and back again, slowly.

"I understand you've been conducting interviews on the Brown case."

"Well, Captain Banks assigned us the…." Blair's innocent act withered under Sheila's raised eyebrow.

"Don't even start, Sandburg. You and your partner seem to think I'm incompetent."

"No, not at all. We'd never think that, Sheila, you know that. Dave Anderson and I went through the Academy together. I just wanted to see how he was doing."

"Really." She looked at Jim. "And I suppose you went through the Academy with Roy Decker?"

"Just trying to help out a fellow officer."

"One who shot a Major Crime detective? Bullshit, Ellison. I know you. You think this won't get resolved unless you're on the case."

He opened his mouth--

"Shut up. I'm only going to say this once: Back off. If either of you goes near this investigation again, I'll report you. You got that?"

Jim stood. "Are we done?"

Sheila sighed. "Don't screw this up for me, Jim."

"For *you*?"

"For Brown. For everyone. Bad cops hurt us all."

"Are you sure they're bad?" Blair asked. "It could have been an honest mistake, couldn't it?"

"I'm not sure yet. I *am* sure that your interference could blow this investigation. I'm asking you to stay out of it."

"Understood," Jim said. "Let's go, Sandburg."

Blair scrambled to his feet and followed him out of Sheila's office. He waited until the elevator doors closed before he said, "Well?"

Jim sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Well what?"

"Come on, man. Are we gonna do what Sheila said and stay out of it?"

"We're going to do our job, Sandburg. Just like we always do."

"Whatever it takes?"

"Whatever it takes."

Blair bounced once. "Good."

*****

They entered Roth's Family Grocers at 11 a.m. The clerk directed them to the back of the store, where a man knelt stocking shelves with canned tomatoes.

"Excuse me. Mr. Roth?"

The man looked up: mid-fifties, graying, his square face lined, nose showing evidence of past breakage. "Yeah?"

"Cascade PD, Mr. Roth. I'm Detective Ellison, this is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We'd like to ask you a few questions."

"What about?"

"Protection."

Roth's heart sped up. "Don't need any."

"Because you're already paying for it?"

Roth stood slowly. Big hands clenched into fists, but remained at his sides. A vein in his temple throbbed. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Sure you do, Mr. Roth." Blair pulled a notebook from his pocket and flipped it open. "Detectives Brown and Rafe talked to you on…" Blair consulted the notebook, on which Jim could clearly see a grocery list. "January twenty-third."

"So? I told them the same thing."

Jim looked around the store. The fixtures were old, some of them dented, all of them scratched. The linoleum floor was clean, but worn down to the backing in spots. "Must be tough to keep a place like this going. Even tougher when you factor in what you're paying Liefeld."

"Who?"

"Grant Liefeld. Loan shark? Runs protection on the side?"

"Doesn't ring a bell."

"No? Maybe you've met some of his employees. Big guys, work out a lot."

If his heart pounded any harder, he'd have an attack. "No."

"No…. Well, you're a lucky man, Mr. Roth. Of course, if you ever *did* have any trouble, you'd call us."

"Sure."

"Sure." Jim shook his head. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Roth. Let's go, Sandburg."

*****

It was the same everywhere they went. The drycleaner, the dress shop, the gift shop, the florist--the owners weren't as hostile as Roth, but they were no more forthcoming, even to Sandburg. Liefeld had them terrified, and there was nothing any cop could say to convince them they'd be better off testifying against him than paying him.

"Dammit!" Blair slammed the passenger-side door. Jim winced, and Blair flinched in sympathy. "Sorry, man. It's just--How are we supposed to help these people?"

"Sometimes we can't."

"It's not right, Jim. People like Liefeld shouldn't be able to get away with crap like this. He needs to be put away."

"You'll get no argument from me, Chief. But in a case like this, if the victims won't cooperate, there's nothing we can do. We can't prove anything."

"What if we go undercover? All we'd have to do is wait for one of Liefeld's goons to approach us, and--"

"That would only work if we could convince one of the owners to cooperate."

"Oh." Blair deflated. "Yeah. You're right." He grabbed the file and flipped through the papers. "There's gotta be somebody in here who--" He picked up one of the documents. "Oh, my God."

"What is it?"

"Jim, the restaurant where H. was shot--that was The Garlic Bulb, right?"

"Right. So?"

"The owner's name is on the list of suspected victims."

"Let me see that." Jim snatched the paper from Blair's hand. Anthony Carver, owner, The Garlic Bulb. "Brown and Rafe talked to this guy three times."

"And he didn't tell them any more than the rest of the owners. But Jim--"

"It's a hell of a coincidence."

"Yeah."

Jim started the truck and put it in gear. "Let's go have a chat with Mr. Carver."

*****

The Garlic Bulb was packed. The bar and waiting area were filled, and people were milling around outside waiting for tables. Jim and Blair wove through the crowd, presented their badges, and asked to see the owner. The hostess--a pretty brunette who made eye-contact with Blair and somehow managed to flirt with her back to him--led them to an office in the back. Carver greeted them with the usual enthusiasm of Liefeld's victims, but was polite enough to offer them seats. Carver reminded Jim of his father twenty years ago: carefully combed hair, neat moustache, navy designer suit with a light blue shirt and red tie. His jacket was draped across the back of his chair.

"Is it always this busy at lunch?" Blair asked.

Carver frowned. "No. I thought the--incident--would keep people away, but it seems to be drawing them in."

"The 'incident'," Jim echoed.

"What would you like me to call it, detective?" Carver snapped.

"Hey, it's okay," Blair said. "We understand. This must be very upsetting for you."

"It is." Carver smoothed his perfect hair. "How is Detective Brown?"

"Still in critical condition."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Are you?" Jim asked.

Carver's heart went into overdrive. "What are you implying?"

"Not a thing, Mr. Carver."

"I've already told you people as much as I know. Detective Brown was shot by other cops. I didn't see it happen. The idea that I had anything to do with it is ridiculous."

"No one said you did."

"Take it easy, Mr. Carver," Blair said. "We're not here about the shooting."

"Then why are you here?"

Jim uncrossed his legs. "Detective Brown and his partner talked to you recently about a problem."

Carver's brows came down, but his heart rate didn't. "I have no problem. I told them that."

"We know what you told them," Blair said.

"We just don't believe you," Jim added in his most pleasant tone. "How much do you lose to Liefeld every week? Five hundred? A thousand? If business stays the way it is now, I guarantee you he'll want more. You gonna give it to him? Keep paying more and more until he puts you *out* of business?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. I don't know anyone named Liefeld."

"Sure you do. He eats here every couple of weeks. Comes in with bodyguards." Jim leaned forward. "Was he here when Detective Brown was shot?"

"No."

"You sound sure about that."

"I am."

"I thought you didn't know Liefeld."

"I don't know him personally. He's a customer, that's all."

"A customer. Has he ever paid for a meal? Or does he make you give him that, too?"

"The only thing he's ever gotten from me is a free drink." Carver stood. "We're done here, Detective Ellison. I have a restaurant to run."

"For how long?" Jim got up and steered Blair out of the office, turned at the door to look back at Carver. "Think about it, Mr. Carver. How long do you want to share your profits with that lowlife? How long before it's his restaurant and you're just the manager? If he lets you stay on at all."

Carver just glared. They made their way out of the restaurant, Blair pausing to collect the hostess' phone number, which he tucked carefully into his wallet.

"Looking for a free meal, Romeo?"

Blair grinned and waggled his eyebrows. "Maybe I'll get dessert afterwards."

"You are such a dog."

"Woof."

Jim whapped the back of his head. Blair clapped both hands to his skull, rubbing and finger-combing his hair at the same time. "Hey! Watch the hair, man."

Shaking his head, Jim climbed into the truck. Blair whomped onto the seat next to him, still grinning. God, he felt old.

"So what do you think?"

"I think she's really hot."

"About Carver, Einstein."

"Oh. Right, right. I think he's scared. Just like all the rest of Liefeld's victims."

"Yeah. But there's something more."

"Like what?"

"He was too quick to think that we connected him to Brown's shooting. Too nervous."

"It happened in front of his restaurant. It could just be that."

"It could be, Chief. But I don't think so."

Blair pulled the list of business owners out of his pocket. There were at least a dozen names they hadn't checked off yet, a dozen more people who would refuse to tell them anything, fearing retribution from Liefeld.

"You want to pick the next one, Jim?"

"Yeah." Jim snatched the list out of Blair's hand and tossed it back over the seat. "Fasten your seatbelt, Chief."

"Jim! What are you doing?"

He put the truck in gear and pulled out into traffic. "We're going straight to the source."

Liefeld headquartered in an innocuous-looking building in a mid-rent district, old, not flashy, but well kept up. A goon in a suit sat just inside the door. Two more occupied the outer office, one reading a magazine, the other chatting with the secretary, a cool blonde also in a suit. He did all the chatting; she ignored him. The walls were dark, the drapes matched, the furniture was antique, and the computer on her desk was the latest thing. It was hard to tell which impressed Blair more, the blonde or the computer. His eyes got about equally wide at first sight of each, but the blonde tipped the scales by making his heart race.

"Down, boy," Jim murmured.

Blair stepped on his foot. They flashed their badges at the blonde and asked to see Liefeld. The goons stood up. Violet eyes--they were contact lenses--looked from him to Blair.

"Do you have an appointment?" the blonde asked.

Jim smiled. "We don't need one."

She smiled back. "I'm sorry, gentlemen, Mr. Liefeld isn't in at the moment."

Jim leaned on the desk. "You wouldn't lie to an officer of the law. Would you?"

Blair tugged on his arm. "Jim, come on, man, she wouldn't do that."

"I'm sure you're right, Sandburg. And I'm sure she won't mind if we check." He smiled at her again. "Will you?"

The intercom on her desk buzzed. She pressed the button. "Yes, sir?"

"Send them in, Sharon."

"Yes, sir."

She opened the door for them. The goons tried to follow, but Jim shut the door in their faces, and they made no attempt to open it. Liefeld didn't look pleased at that. He was a spare man, in his late fifties, with a full head of silver hair and a deeply tanned, deeply lined face. His suit and tie were pearl gray, his shirt white, all very bright against the maroon walls and leather chair. Jim practically had to dial it down just to look at him.

"Sit down, detectives." Liefeld waved at the chairs in front of the desk. "What can I do for you?"

Jim settled back in his chair; Blair perched on the edge of his. He seemed fascinated by an ebony statue of a warrior on Liefeld's desk. It looked African; beyond that, Jim couldn't tell anything about it. Blair cocked his head, studying it. Liefeld's eyes narrowed.

"Mr. Liefeld," Jim said, "we'd like to talk to you about your business."

Liefeld tore his gaze from Blair. "I lend money to people who need it, Detective Ellison. There's nothing illegal about it."

Blair leaned closer to the desk.

"It's legal only as long as you keep the rates reasonable, and refrain from breaking people's legs when they can't pay," Jim said. "But that's not the business I mean."

Liefeld glanced from Jim to Blair. "I don't understand. That is my only business."

"Oh? What do you call extortion, Mr. Liefeld? A hobby?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about, detective."

"That's not what we were told."

Blair frowned. Liefeld frowned with him. "By who?"

Jim smiled. "That would be telling."

Liefeld twisted his face into a smile. "You're wasting my time, detective."

"What do you know about the shooting at the Garlic Bulb?"

"The cop shooting? Why should I know anything about that?"

Jim leaned forward, mirroring Blair's position. Blair didn't seem to notice, but a stifled grin told Jim all he needed to know. "Anthony Carver's one of your victims. He was going to talk to Detective Brown. You knew he was fed up, sick of you draining his business. But you didn't want to lose the income."

"So I had the cop shot instead?" Liefeld laughed. "You're reaching, Ellison. I don't have to shoot cops; you're taking care of each other without any help from me." Liefeld wiped his eyes, still chuckling. "Are we done? I have work to do."

Jim stood. "Let's go, Chief."

Blair nodded, standing, still looking at the statue on Liefeld's desk. He reached toward it.

"Don't touch that!" Liefeld snapped. "It's very old."

Blair grimaced, doing a little head-shake. "Not really, Mr. Liefeld. It's a copy. A nice one, hand-carved and everything, but it's probably only about ten years old. You can pick them up in Kenya for twenty-five bucks."

"Twenty-five--I paid--What the fuck do you know about it?"

"I'm working on my doctorate in anthropology at Rainier. I did a series of papers on the significance of tribal carvings. But don't take my word for it. I mean, I could be wrong. You should get it checked out by an expert."

"Sandburg."

"Right, Jim." Blair smiled at Liefeld. "Have a nice day."

Blair followed him out of the office. They were out on the sidewalk before Jim heard the splintering of wood. "Scratch one statue, Chief."

Blair winced. "That's too bad. It really was a nice one."

"So was all that true?"

"Jim! I'm an anthropologist. Would I tell a lie that could lead to the destruction of a centuries-old artifact?"

Wide-eyed outrage turned to a grin. Jim gave up. He walked around the truck and got in, shaking his head all the way.

"So, did you get anything from Liefeld?" Blair asked.

"No. The only thing that bothered him was you, Chief."

"You think he was telling the truth?"

"I think every word out of his mouth is a lie. But if he did order Brown's shooting, we'll have to find some other way to prove it."

"Would've been nice if he'd confessed."

"Yeah. Criminals never think of anyone but themselves."

"They're selfish that way." A sidelong glance. "So, now what?"

Jim sighed. "Back to interviews."

Blair groaned and flung his head back against the seat. "Can't we just *say* we did them? No one's going to talk to us anyway. Who'd know?"

"Simon would know."

"How?"

"He's the captain. He sees all, knows all."

"I thought that was your thing, Jim."

"Keep it up, Shecky."

*****

There were only two heartbeats in Brown's hospital room. Looked like some of the deli they'd brought would go to waste. They went in, and Rafe turned away from the bed. As always, he was wearing a tie, but his collar was unbuttoned and he needed a shave. He managed a smile in response to Blair's.

"Hey, man. Where's Jasmine?"

"Henri's Aunt Cami talked her into going home for a while."

"Bulldozed her, you mean. That woman is an irresistible force."

"Yeah, well, she had to be. Jasmine was pretty much an immovable object."

"Unlike yourself," Jim said, dropping the bag into his hands.

"Thanks." Rafe opened the bag, took out a roast beef sandwich and tore into it like he hadn't eaten in a week. Maybe it wouldn't go to waste. "I've been home a couple of times. Showered, slept a little. But…." He shrugged.

"You need to be with your partner."

"Yeah. I guess." His gaze shifted to Brown. "He's still out. The doctors don't know if--when he's going to come out of it."

Blair squeezed Rafe's shoulder. "He's gonna be okay. He's strong, and he's got the whole department behind him."

Bitterly. "Not quite the *whole* department."

"Hey, no negativity, man. H. needs positive vibes now."

"Right. You really believe that can help?"

"You'd be amazed."

Rafe shook his head. "I guess you'd know, Sandburg."

Blair backed off and looked to Jim, who shrugged. Blair raised his eyebrows. Jim rolled his eyes. Blair set his jaw. Jim sighed, and clapped Rafe on the arm.

"I've seen some pretty strange things. Stranger than Sandburg."

"Oh, ha-ha, Jim. You're a funny guy."

Jim allowed himself a grin. "It couldn't hurt, right? If nothing else, H. will get a laugh out of it when he wakes up."

"Yeah, he will." Rafe's gaze returned to Brown. "He will."

"Why don't you take a break?" Blair said. "Go out to the courtyard and eat your sandwich. It's pretty nice out there when it's not raining. Jim's got some questions about the Liefeld case anyway. I'll sit with Henri."

"Yeah." Rafe stood, and sighed. "Okay."

Blair slid into the chair Rafe had just vacated and shucked his coat off, prepared to stay for as long as he was needed. Jim steered Rafe out into the corridor and down to the elevators. The second they stepped out the door, Blair started talking to Brown, filling him in on the latest station gossip, sports scores, the progress of their other cases--whatever came into his head. Jim listened as the elevator descended, was still listening as he and Rafe went outside.

The courtyard *was* nice; he'd never really noticed. Small tables and chairs were set out under shade trees, and the winding flagstone path was lined with fragrant flowers. A fountain bubbled softly in the center of the enclosure. The usual assortment of coins gleamed in its shallow base. Rafe pulled a quarter from his pocket and tossed it in, looked at Jim and shrugged.

"Couldn't hurt, right?"

He nodded, but the fountain got nothing from him. They chose a table that caught the evening sun on its surface. Jim settled himself in the shade, leaving the sun for Rafe. Both roast beef sandwiches disappeared in silence, as did the kosher dill pickles, cole slaw, and juices. Upstairs, Blair was still talking. Rafe wiped his mouth and fingers with the napkin and sat back, nodding at the remains.

"Thanks. Sandburg said you had questions about Liefeld?"

Jim nodded, shifting Blair's voice to a distant background hum. "We talked to Anthony Carver today."

"Yeah, the Garlic Bulb. Great food." Rafe grimaced, staring at the table. "I don't think I'll eat there again."

There was nothing to say to that. "Does Brown eat there much?"

"No. Henri's a casual dining kind of guy."

"Did he tell you that he was going there the other night?"

"No, he didn't mention it. Why?"

"How does Carver strike you?"

A shrug. "Scared. Like all the rest of them."

"You think it's a coincidence that Brown was shot outside his place?"

Rafe looked up. "You think there's a connection? Liefeld and the shooting? But that would mean…. Shit."

"Yeah."

"But why? We've got nothing."

"Maybe Carver wanted to talk."

"Then why not shoot Carver?"

"Killing the goose?"

"Shit. Shit!" Rafe shot to his feet, walked away, turned back. "Why didn't Henri tell me?"

Jim spread his hands. "This is all guesswork. Carver isn't talking. It might all have gone down just like everyone says."

"You believe that?"

"I don't know. Sandburg and I will keep digging."

"IA isn't going to like that."

"We're working on the case assigned to us. If, during the course of our investigation, we find something IA needs to know, we'll tell them."

"Tell me first?"

Jim nodded.

Rafe sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I'd better get back. I promised Jasmine I wouldn't leave him alone."

"He's not alone," Jim snapped, instantly regretting his sharpness. "Sandburg's talking his ear off."

"Yeah?" Rafe considered this, and grinned. "Couldn't hurt."

*****

Relieved of duty, Blair said his good-byes and followed Jim out to the truck. They drove in silence until Blair noticed their surroundings.

"Where we going, Jim?"

"Back to Liefeld's."

"You think he'll tell us anything tonight that he wouldn't this afternoon?"

"I don't know, Chief. Maybe you could appraise something else for him."

Blair grinned, and subsided. Ten minutes later, they parked down the street from Liefeld's office. There were a few cars on the street, but no pedestrians. Light shone through the blinds in the windows and door to Liefeld's outer office. Jim could see the secretary still at her desk, and the goons still sitting where they'd been earlier. Didn't those guys ever move? He could hear two more heartbeats: someone was in Liefeld's office. One was presumably Liefeld, but no one was talking, so Jim couldn't be sure.

"Get out."

*That* was Liefeld.

"Mr. Liefeld--" The other one, whoever it was.

"*Out*. And don't come here again."

"Are they in there?" Blair asked.

He nodded. Liefeld's door opened, and a man came out. Definitely not Liefeld. African American, mid-thirties, soul patch--Christ.

"Christ."

"What? Jim? What's going on?"

The man stepped outside, looked around, and slunk away, moving as quickly as he could without running. He reached a junker Mustang, climbed in, and drove off, peeling rubber. Way to keep a low profile, idiot. Jim started the truck and pulled out, following at a distance.

"Jim? Who was that?"

"Terrell Johns."

"Terrell Johns? He's the perp who was arrested at the scene of Henri's shooting!"

"Thank you, Professor Exposition," Jim muttered. "I know, Chief."

"Are we gonna pick him up?"

"No."

"What?"

"We're going to see where he goes, call Sheila, and pass on the information."

"That's *it*?" Blair actually squeaked.

"That's it."

"But, Jim--"

"But nothing, Sandburg." Jim pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and handed it to Blair. "Call Sheila."

*****

Blair sighed and laid his head back on the couch, the tongue, hummus and sprout sandwich lying half-eaten on the coffee table in front of him. "Man, this sucks."

Jim returned his gaze to the newscast, taking a bite of his turkey and swiss. "You ordered it, Chief."

Blair slapped his arm half-heartedly, not bothering to raise his head. "Not the sandwich, Jim." They'd followed Terrell Johns to his apartment building in a run-down section of the city. Sheila had promised to pick him up for questioning first thing in the morning. "If Brown's shooting is connected to Liefeld, that means the fight between Johns and the other guy was a setup."

Jim nodded. "It also means someone told Liefeld that Brown would be at the restaurant that evening. He had to have time--What the hell?"

"What? Jim?"

He turned up the volume. The picture on the screen switched from Don Haas' grim countenance to a middle-aged, bearded African American man in an expensive suit.

"That's Ron Grafton," Blair said. "What's he--"

Jim held up his hand, and Blair subsided. Grafton all but grabbed hold of the nearest microphone.

"The shooting of Detective Brown is a clear-cut case of racism. The Cascade Police Department is protecting its white officers at the expense of what may be an African American man's life."

The newscast cut back to Haas. Jim turned the set off and sat back. Blair shot to his feet, gesturing at the darkened screen with his sandwich.

"Man, do you believe that? Accusing the Cascade PD of a cover-up? Where does that guy get off?" He paced, waving the sandwich around. "I used to admire him! I thought he did some good! But this--this is--"

"It's politics, Chief, pure and simple. We had to expect something like this, if not from him, from somebody else. The only thing I can't figure is what took him so long."

"Well, it sucks!" Blair stopped pacing, his back to Jim. "Jim? You don't think--maybe it could be true, do you?"

"I dunno, Chief. Right now, I think we know less about this case than we did when we started."

"Yeah." Blair looked at his sandwich. "I wish Brown would wake up."

*****

Act III

Jim stopped the elevator on five, handed his coffee to Blair, and got off.

"What? Jim!"

Blair trailed after him, demanding to know what was going on until they turned the corner to Internal Affairs. The corridor was packed with journalists, both television and print. Lights flashed, cameras whirred, and pens scribbled furiously. Jim pushed his way through the crowd, Blair right behind him, excusing them right and left, coffees held high so they wouldn't spill.

Flanked by Megan Connor and Joel Taggart, Simon stood in front of the conference room door. Grafton faced him, turned so the cameras got a good angle of his outraged face, loudly demanding to be let inside.

"I'm sorry, sir," Simon said, obviously not for the first time. "This meeting is not open to the public."

Grafton changed his tack. "Captain Banks, as an African American man, how can you let this go on?"

"I'm not letting anything go on, Mr. Grafton. Internal Affairs hearings are not open to the public. I didn't make the policy, but it is one I happen to agree with. If you'd like to discuss it, I'd be happy to sit down with you in my office right now."

Grafton didn't look happy. But there was no way to refuse and then claim he'd been thrown out. "Very well, Captain."

"Thank you, sir." Simon scanned the crowd. "Sandburg!"

"Yeah, Si--Yessir?"

"Escort Mr. Grafton to my office."

"Yes, sir." Blair handed off the coffees to Jim and graced Grafton with one of his better smiles. "Right this way, Mr. Grafton."

The reporters parted for them. Once Grafton was out of sight, Simon turned to Jim, Connor, and Taggart. "Clear this corridor. While you're at it, clear the whole damned building."

"Captain," Megan ventured minutes later, "Why did you give Sandy escort duty?"

"Because he's polite," Simon said. "Which is more than I can say for the rest of you."

"And harmless?" she added. "Non-threatening?"

"Is this going somewhere, Connor?"

"And…inquisitive?"

Simon's eyes widened. "Oh my God. Taggart! Get up there and rescue Grafton from Sandburg!"

*****

The elevator ride was quiet. Grafton stood stiffly, staring straight ahead, very deliberately not looking at him. Blair couldn't resist sneaking glances, wondering what the man was thinking, if his agenda was just political or if he was really concerned that Henri wouldn't get justice. He hoped it was the latter. But he wasn't counting on it.

The doors opened. Grafton stepped out, and Blair smiled again. "Just follow me."

He led Grafton through the bullpen to Simon's office, and offered him a chair at the conference table. Grafton sat at the head; Simon would love that.

"Can I get you some coffee, Mr. Grafton?"

"No." Grafton deigned to look at him. "You're a cop?"

"Detective." He grinned and held out his hand. "Blair Sandburg."

Grafton shook his hand perfunctorily. "Vice?"

"No, Major Crime. But I get that a lot. You'd be surprised how many people judge by appearances."

"Are you lecturing me, detective?"

"No, not at all. I don't do that anymore. Well, I try not to, anyway." Blair shrugged and smiled. "I used to teach anthropology at Rainier."

"Really."

Okay, minus one zillion on the interest scale there, change the subject.

"I've always admired your work. I haven't always agreed with everything you've said, but I remember when you got that women's shelter built in '92. I had a friend who--Anyway, Mr. Grafton, I've been thinking about it since I saw you on the news last night, and I was wondering. I mean, I can see how it might look, considering that Brown is African American and Decker and Anderson are white, and I know stuff like that happens all the time, so of course you could just be making an assumption based on that, but that would just essentially be jumping to an inflammatory conclusion, which I hope is not what you're about, so I was wondering, and I hope you don't mind me asking: Do you have any actual evidence that Brown's shooting was racially motivated?"

Grafton stood slowly, stared out the windows for a moment, then looked down at Blair, his eyes narrowed. All very calculated, yet it still managed to be threatening. "You said it yourself: the shooters are white, the victim is black. What more evidence do I need?"

"But that's not evidence. You're making assumptions based solely on skin color."

"Are *you* calling *me* a racist?"

"I hope not, Mr. Grafton."

Grafton stepped closer, his voice dropping. "You listen to me, you snotty little Jew bastard--"

Blair held up his hands. "Whoa, hey, calm down."

"Is there a problem here?"

Joel Taggart filled the doorway, looking seriously displeased.

"No," Blair said hastily, edging around Grafton toward the door. "No problem."

Grafton pointed at Blair. "This man called me a racist."

"From what I heard," Joel said, "he's right. Sit down, Mr. Grafton." Grafton opened his mouth to argue, but changed his mind and sat down. Joel squeezed Blair's shoulder. "Why don't you go find Jim? I'll stay with Mr. Grafton until Simon gets here."

"Yeah." Blair rolled his eyes, patted Joel's stomach in passing, and breathed, "Have fun."

*****

Blair met them at the elevator doors. Jim handed him his coffee--still untouched, and now lukewarm at best--and he took it without seeming to know what it was. Blair gave Simon one of his "butter would never melt in *this* mouth" grins, laughed nervously, and said,

"Simon, I can explain."

Uh-oh. Simon stabbed a finger at the floor. "Get in here."

Blair gingerly stepped inside the elevator, and Simon punched the button to shut the doors.

"What did you do, Sandburg?"

"Nothing! It was a perfectly reasonable question. Grafton's reaction was way over the top."

"What did you say to him?"

"I just asked him if he had any evidence that Brown's shooting was racially motivated."

Blair winced, waiting for the explosion. Simon folded his arms.

"And?"

"He wasn't happy."

"Sandburg--" Simon growled.

"What?" He glanced at Jim, who mouthed "evidence" at him. "Oh. No, he doesn't have any. You were right, Jim, this whole thing is just political."

"Not a surprise," Simon said. "But Grafton's motives don't rule out a racial connection in Brown's shooting."

"Does Sheila know that?"

"If she doesn't, she's in the wrong job." Simon opened the elevator doors. "You two get to work. I have a politician to pacify."

*****

Blair's fingers flew across the keyboard, typing up his report on their unproductive interviews the day before. Jim's fingers moved more slowly, but since his reports were less than half as long--even saying "the subject told us nothing" took Blair three paragraphs--it evened out. Their takeout coffee cups lay in the trash, half-full mugs on their desks, a granola bar with a single bite out of it next to Blair's, the scent of a donut next to Jim's.

Grafton was still in Simon's office, arguing, getting nowhere. Simon maintained a pained, patient expression, kept his voice down, stayed polite, and didn't give an inch. Apparently, Grafton didn't know when to cut his losses. Too bad: Simon shouldn't have to waste his time with that guy.

An eddy of silence spread from the elevators, punctuated by two sets of footsteps. Jim focused his attention on the doors, shaking his head in response to Blair's quiet, "What's up, Jim?"

Decker and Anderson came through the doors, Decker hanging back, looking grim with the certainty that this was a bad idea, Anderson forging ahead, lips pressed together in determination. No one said anything, but there were stares, and the stares were not friendly. Anderson marched straight up to Blair's desk. Blair stood to meet him. Jim didn't stand; he just watched.

"Hey, Dave," Blair said, flashing a smile. "How'd it go downstairs?"

"We're not supposed to talk about it." Anderson looked at the floor, up again at Blair. "Look, Sandburg, I, uh--sorry about the other night. I don't usually--"

"Don't worry about it, man. These are unusual circumstances."

"Yeah. I didn't expect--I didn't think anyone would--show up. You know? After what I did."

"Not just you, kid," Decker said.

Anderson gave his partner a brief smile. "Anyway, Sandburg. Thanks."

"Not a problem, man."

Anderson leaned closer. "How's Brown? We've been calling the hospital, but…."

"He's hanging in."

"But not better?"

Blair shook his head. Anderson turned away with a soft "Damn." Decker laid a hand on his shoulder.

Simon's door crashed open. Grafton charged out, Simon a few steps behind, pointed at Decker and Anderson, and roared, "You! You're the ones who shot Detective Brown!"

Decker's face hardened. "Come on, kid."

Anderson's expression didn't change. He shook Decker off and faced Grafton, his voice quiet.

"Yes, sir. We are."

"If the situation were reversed--if you were African American and Brown were white--you would be in prison now."

"Maybe, sir. Maybe we belong there."

"And maybe we don't," Decker said, stepping in front of Anderson. "Maybe it was Brown's own damn fault he got shot. Maybe it was nobody's fault. Whoever the hell you are, it sure as shit isn't *your* place to decide. *You* *weren't* *there*."

Decker turned his back on Grafton, spun Anderson around and shoved him toward the door. "Let's go."

Simon returned to his office and shut the door. Everyone else went back to their desks and immediately became absorbed in work. Grafton was left standing in the middle of the floor. Where was a cameraman when you needed one?

*****

Two completed reports, four more non-productive interviews and a decent bowl of chili later, they were back at the station. The checked in with Simon to report their complete lack of progress--always a joy--then went down to IA to see Sheila, armed at Blair's suggestion with takeout chili for her and for Jean the secretary. They had no trouble getting in to Sheila's office. She dug into the chili with a grateful smile.

"Any progress with Johns?" Jim asked.

Sheila shook her head. "We cut him loose."

Jim and Blair exchanged incredulous glances. "You did what?"

"We couldn't hold him. His story is, he borrowed money from Liefeld and went to his office to ask for more time to pay it back. Liefeld is hardly going to contradict him. Borrowing from a loan shark isn't illegal, just stupid. Without evidence of a crime, we had to let Johns go."

"Johns is connected to Brown's shooting," Blair said.

Sheila pointed with her cornbread. "You said that on the phone last night. How?"

"He was armed," Jim said, "he was probably supposed to be the shooter."

"But Brown conveniently got shot by cops instead? I think you're reaching."

"I don't think so. Brown and Rafe have been working on the Liefeld case--"

"For months, with no visible progress. There was no reason for Liefeld to have Brown killed."

"The owner of the Garlic Bulb wanted to talk. He called Brown."

"Can you prove that?" They didn't answer. She knew they couldn't. "Then I'm sorry, guys. Come back when you can."

*****

They wasted the rest of the day interviewing uncooperative shop owners. Blair tried to be his usual cheerful, friendly self, but Jim could feel him winding himself tighter and tighter. At six o'clock, they exited Milius' Meat Market with notebooks full of no, Blair walking so fast he was practically running. He whirled and grabbed Jim's forearms, his eyes wild. "I can't do this anymore, Jim! I can't do it! I want to punch somebody's lights out!"

Jim gripped Blair's shoulders. "Calm down, Chief."

"I don't want to calm down, Jim! I want to get this guy! I want to stop him! What's the matter with these people?"

"They're afraid. You know that."

"I know. I know. But God!" Blair tore away, flung himself away and paced, paced back, stabbed his fingers through his hair. "Liefeld's been getting away with this shit for years! It's like--it's like the Old West or something, like there's no one to protect the townspeople from the outlaws. It's worse: we can't even prove he's doing anything illegal."

"We'll get him, Sandburg."

"How, Jim? Tell me how?"

He had no answer. Blair closed his eyes, breathed deeply, nostrils flared. He scrubbed a hand over his face and opened his eyes again, the wildness tamped down.

"Sorry, Jim. This is--getting to me, I guess."

"No kidding." He clapped Blair on the shoulder and looked around. "Why don't we knock off for the day?" He turned Blair to face the shop across the street. "There's a bookstore. Go browse for a while."

Book-lust lit Blair's eyes. Once an academic, always an academic. "Where will you be?"

"Hardware store."

"Got a few screws loose?"

Jim whapped the back of his head. "Go, Tonto. We'll save the townsfolk tomorrow."

Blair laughed. "I am *so* not Tonto."

"Oh yeah? Who's the Ranger around here?"

"Okay, you got me, Kemosabe." Blair jogged across the street. "Take your time with the other wingnuts."

*****

A bell jangled when he pushed the door of the Literary Dragon open, and Blair smiled. He loved independent bookstores. They couldn't give the discounts that chains could, but chains didn't have the atmosphere. Chains were cold and clean and only in it for the money. Independents were warm and dusty. Independents were in it for the love.

Tucked in a corner, a bespectacled, stuffed, six-foot tall red and gold Chinese dragon sat reading *The Fellowship of the Ring*. On a shelf behind him, cinnamon incense smoked in a fat brass pot. Chairs and cushions were scattered along the aisles, those he could see unoccupied. There was no one at the register, but a tiny gong sat next to it. New books were at the front of the store, used at the back. He hadn't been in a bookstore in almost a month. Where to start?

A chain of thwaps and clatters followed by a particularly virulent Chinese curse word decided him. Blair bolted for the back of the store, swung around a corner to a minor disaster. Several wooden shelves had collapsed, taking dozens of books with them. A black-haired woman crouched in the mess, muttering soft curses as she checked each book for damage, then stacked it beside her.

"Are you okay?"

She practically jumped out of her skin. Her head whipped up, she lost her balance, and she fell, landing on the corner of a book. "Ai-ya! Thanks a lot."

"Sorry." Blair gave her a hand up. "I didn't mean to scare you. I heard the noise."

Standing, she was about five-foot one, with short black hair and fine lines around her eyes and mouth. He couldn't tell her age; she could have been anywhere between thirty and fifty. She gave a wry grimace.

"The shelves gave way. Again."

"They do that a lot?"

"I'm a bookseller, not a carpenter. Obviously."

"I'm Blair Sandburg."

"Janet Li. And no wisecracks about showers."

She went back to stacking books. Blair bent to help her. "You run this place by yourself?"

"Why? You looking for a job?"

He hid a smile. "Not right now."

Janet relented. "My granddaughter helps out after school."

"Granddaughter?" Revise that estimate up. "You can't be serious."

"Why not? She's a smart girl."

"That's not what I meant."

Janet kept her eyes on the books, but a small smile curved her lips. "I know."

They stacked the books in order, but Blair persuaded Janet to wait for Jim to arrive before replacing the shelves. If he knew his partner and hardware stores, Jim would have something in his little brown paper bag to fix the shelves with. If not, they could scrounge something from the truck.

Janet gave him smoky jasmine tea and sesame candy, and they sat chatting about books, anthropology, and Janet's granddaughter, who was, according to Janet, brilliant and destined for Harvard or Yale or possibly Oxford. Janet looked exactly like Naomi looked when she talked about him to other people. He'd bet the granddaughter was embarrassed as hell by it, but it was nice. When Janet wound down, Blair glanced around.

"Your store is great. Where'd you find the dragon?"

"My daughter made him. She's a fabric artist."

"I can't believe I've never been in here before. I thought I knew every bookstore in the city. How long have you been here?"

"A few months. We moved from Seattle."

"How do you like Cascade?"

Janet's expression went cold. "We should have stayed in Seattle."

"Why do you say that? Is business that bad?"

"Business is fine. It's the people you have to do business with…. Never mind."

"What do you mean?"

She shook her head and drank some tea.

Blair leaned forward. "Janet, is someone giving you trouble?"

She shook her head. "You don't want to know this."

"Yes, I do."

"No. It's not safe."

"Is someone threatening you? Janet? If someone's threatened you, you should tell the police."

"I can't tell the police!"

"Why not?" Blair raised a teasing eyebrow. "Have you done something illegal?"

"Of course not!"

"Has whoever it is threatened to hurt you if you do?"

"That wouldn't stop me!" she snorted.

"Then why? Why can't you tell the police?"

Janet leaned close to him, her voice a harsh breath. "Because it *is* the police."

*****

Jingling bag in hand, Jim entered the bookstore, prepared to roust his partner out of whatever incredibly dull tome he'd lost himself in. But Blair wasn't reading; he was sitting opposite a tiny woman with her back to Jim. When Jim came in, his head jerked up, his face pale. Jim's senses scanned the store, but couldn't find a threat. He went straight to Blair, who rose to meet him.

"Blair, what's--"

"Hey, Jim," Blair said shakily. "This is Janet Li. No jokes. Janet, this is my friend, Jim, I told you about. He'll fix your shelves."

"What?"

Blair reached down to grab his wrist and squeezed. "Um, Janet, I don't want you to freak out or anything. I'm going to ask you something. Have the police threatened you directly, or is it someone else? A guy named Liefeld?"

The woman's eyes widened. "You know him?"

"Kind of. Jim and I--Jim and I are cops."

She froze, her heart double-timing. "You work for him?"

"No! No, Janet, we're trying to put Liefeld away. We've been looking for someone to testify against him. He's doing this to everyone, Janet, all the other shopowners, but they're all too scared to talk about it."

"You tricked me."

"No. Janet, I swear, I didn't. I just came in to buy books."

"Liar. You said you were an anthropologist."

"I am."

"Blair doesn't lie," Jim said.

"I'm supposed to believe *you*?"

"Yes."

She glared. Jim glared back. Blair did the big-eyed, distressed, no-word-of-untruth-has-ever-passed-these-lips expression.

"Look," Jim said, "If we were working for Liefeld, what would be the point of all this? All he wants is your money."

"If I testify, the police will kill me."

"We'll protect you."

"Against your own?"

"Against anyone," Blair said.

She studied them, looked from one to the other, taking her time. "I'll think about it. In the meantime…."

"Yeah?"

"You said you'd fix my shelves."

*****

Jim stowed the toolbox and climbed in. Blair was already clicking his seatbelt. "Good job, Chief."

"Carpentry is my life, Jim."

"You're a laugh a minute, you know that?" Jim started the truck and pulled away from the curb. "I meant with Mrs. Li."

"Janet? I didn't do anything."

"You got her to trust you."

"I'm not so sure about that."

"I am. She likes you."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You better watch out or she'll be fixing you up with that granddaughter of hers."

"Jim!" Blair laughed. "She's not even out of high school! Besides, Janet's ambitions for her brilliant granddaughter do not include a lowly cop."

"Not even a lowly anthropologist cop with carpentry skills?"

"Not even." Blair's laughter died. "Liefeld has cops on his payroll, Jim."

"We don't know that for sure. Just because he says he does, doesn't mean it's true."

"But it could be. And if it is…."

"Decker and Anderson."

"Both?"

"Maybe."

Blair shook his head. "I can't believe that, Jim. I can't believe that Dave Anderson could do that."

"You don't *want* to believe it."

A sigh. "Yeah." Softly. "Damn, Jim. Dave's a nice guy. At the Academy--he treated me just like anyone else, you know? He didn't make me feel like some kind of pariah."

Shit. How often had that happened? "Chief--"

Blair scowled, anticipating him. "We're not talking about me, Jim. All I'm saying is that Dave Anderson is an okay guy. I like him."

"Decker's a good cop. Keeps his head under stress, been decorated a couple of times."

"So where does that leave us?"

"I don't know."

"Do we tell Sheila?"

"We'll tell Simon. He's the captain; let him decide what to tell Sheila."

"That's a plan I can live with."

*****

"Henri looked better. Don't you think, Jim?"

"Yeah. Maybe."

"Jasmine looks tired."

"Yeah. It's your night to cook, Chief."

"Again?"

"Yeah. What are you making?"

"Pasta."

"Again?"

"Yeah. Unless you want peanut butter sandwiches."

They stepped out of the elevator. The stench of alcohol almost slapped Jim back in. A man sat on the floor in front of their door, head down, upper body covered in a dirty, sweat-stained Cascade PD sweatshirt, blue-jeaned legs stretched out in front of him. He raised his head and looked at them: Anderson.

"Dave!"

Blair crouched beside him, trying to look for injuries without being obvious about it, but it didn't take sentinel senses to smell the alcohol. Anderson must have bathed in the stuff. His mouth stretched in something that was part grimace, part smile.

"I've been thinking, Doc."

"Yeah. That's great, man. Can you stand up?"

"Sure." Anderson bent his knees and pushed, overbalanced, and would have flopped over if Blair hadn't grabbed him. "Whoops."

Blair's knees wobbled as he struggled to support Anderson's weight and his own. "A little help here, huh, Jim?"

Jim snagged Anderson's arm and hauled him semi-upright. He unlocked the door, and together he and Blair got Anderson inside and onto the couch. Blair started to put coffee on, but Jim steered him out toward Anderson and took over the job himself. He thought about going upstairs and leaving them to talk, decided against it and stayed in the kitchen, visible but unobtrusive. Not that Anderson would notice the difference.

Blair sat on the loveseat, facing Anderson. He waited a few minutes, but Anderson just looked around like he'd forgotten where he was. Probably had. Blair cleared his throat.

"So. Dave. You said you've been thinking."

Anderson nodded soberly. You couldn't apply that adverb to anything else about him. Blair nodded with him, waited, glanced at Jim.

"What have you been thinking about?"

"That guy."

"Okay." Blair turned and looked at Jim. "How's that coffee coming?" He turned back to Anderson. "What guy, Dave?"

"You know, Sandburg. That guy this morning. The one who said me and Roy should be in prison."

"Grafton?"

Anderson shrugged. "That guy."

"Grafton. What about him?"

"Not him." Anderson shook his head. "What he said."

Blair leaned forward, his voice dropping. "You think you should be in prison?"

"I don' know. Maybe."

"Why, man?"

"When me and Roy left, I went home. I was thinking."

"That wasn't all you were doing."

A wry smile. "Thinking, drinking. Same thing, the last few days, Doc. Same thing. So I was…thinking…about what he said--that guy. About how if we were black and Brown was white--Brown, white, black. That's funny, you can get all confused--about how we'd be in prison if it was the other way around, and he was probably right, don't you think, Doc? I think he was probably right. I think me and Roy are damn lucky to be Caucasian right now. Don't you? Damn lucky."

"Maybe, Dave. But that doesn't mean you belong in prison, does it? Just because you're white?" Another glance at Jim. "There'd have to be some other reason, wouldn't there?"

Anderson fixed his bleary gaze on Blair. "You ever get beat up when you were a kid, Doc? You must have, you were a geek, right?"

Blair winced. Bad memories there. "Sure, yeah. I got beaten up once or twice. It happens. It would've happened more often, but I talked most of them out of it, and outran the rest."

"Yeah, well, I'm not that good a talker, and I wasn't that fast."

"Bet you weren't a geek, either."

Anderson actually looked smug for a second. "No. But I had to go through a black neighborhood to get home from school. And I didn't always have friends with me, you know what I mean?"

"Dave…"

"There were gangs, you know? They caught me, they'd beat the shit out of me, rob me--I even got stabbed once. Not bad, you know, it was just a scrape, but… I went through two years of that, Doc. Two years, and I was just a kid."

"Man, that's rough."

"Yeah. I thought I'd forgotten about it, you know? Put it behind me. I thought I was over it. I thought it didn't affect me. Didn't affect the way I do my job. But I was thinking, Doc. I was thinking. What if it does? What if that guy--that Grafton--what if he's right? What if I--What if I pulled the trigger because Brown was black? I belong in prison then, don't I, Doc? Don't I?"

"Dave, I think--I think you should talk to somebody."

Anderson vaulted to his feet, surprising Jim by actually managing to stay there. "I am talking to somebody, Doc! I'm talking to you!"

Blair stood. Jim moved closer, but a glance from Blair kept him out of the living area. Blair kept his voice low and calm, but Jim could hear his heart pounding, he could smell his distress, a layer of sorrow and sympathy under the alcohol astringency and the brewing coffee.

"I know, man," Blair said. "But I think you need to talk to a counselor, someone who can help you sort this out."

Anderson gripped his arm. Jim heard blood vessels bursting under Blair's skin. Tears streaked Anderson's face; his bloodshot eyes bored into Blair's. "Am I guilty, Doc? Am I guilty?"

"I don't know, Dave. I think you do. But you need help to figure it out. Your lawyer can refer you to a counselor. Or if you want, I can give you a few names. I really think you should do this, Dave."

"Yeah." Anderson released him and collapsed back onto the couch. "Okay. Okay, Doc. If you think so."

"Good. That's good, Dave. Tomorrow, okay?" Blair rubbed his arm where Anderson had gripped it, but Anderson was too far gone to notice. Blair moved past Jim into the kitchen. "For right now, let's get you some coffee, and then get you home. How does that sound?"

Anderson didn't answer. He was gazing in seeming fascination at the triangle of couch visible between his legs. Blair came out of the kitchen with a jumbo mug of coffee and handed it to him. Anderson stared at it as if he'd never seen the stuff before. Jim stood over him, and smiled. If Anderson didn't drink the damned coffee, he would personally pour the entire steaming pot straight down his throat. Anderson seemed to get the non-verbal message. He raised the mug unsteadily to his lips, and gulped. Jim smiled some more.

*****

They drove Anderson home in the Corvair--there was no way that drunk was puking in Jim's truck--and dragged him up the stairs and into his bed. Blair insisted on taking his shoes off for him; personally, Jim thought they should have dropped him just inside the door and left him to fend for himself. Let him dump his emotional trauma on somebody else. Sheila, for instance. Internal Affairs ate that kind of stuff up with a spoon.

After all that, Jim's hopes of Blair cooking anything edible shrank to nil. They stopped for wings and burgers at a sports bar that wasn't too loud or crowded, and had a decent female-to-male ratio. Not that they had the energy to do more than look, but good scenery was always appreciated. Caffeine woke them up just enough to get them thinking about the damned case again. Not what they needed. A night off was what they needed. And they'd have one, once Brown woke up, and they figured out exactly why he'd been shot. And oh yeah, stopped that bastard Liefeld and put him away for the rest of his life.

"How tired are you, Chief?"

"I've been worse. Why?"

"Think you're up to a little chat with Terrell Johns?"

Blair nodded. "I can do that." He tossed some bills on the table and stood. "You mean, you don't buy his story about borrowing money from Liefeld?"

Jim added his own money to the pile, and steered Blair out of the restaurant with a hand on his back. "Oh, I buy it, as far as it goes. I'd just like to know what he's doing to pay Liefeld back."

"Like, getting into fights at restaurants?"

"And maybe cop-killing."

They slammed the Corvair doors simultaneously. "I'd like to know who he was fighting with."

Jim nodded. "We'll ask. I'm sure Johns would be happy to tell us."

Maybe their luck was changing: Johns' Mustang was parked outside his apartment building. The outside door didn't lock; they went up the creaking, trash-strewn stairs to the fourth floor. Johns lived in 405. Jim knocked, and the door swung open. Damn.

Their guns were out in seconds. Not that it mattered. There was no one alive in the apartment. A gun had been fired inside recently; Jim could smell the cordite. And blood.

Jim headed straight for the body, Blair on his heels. Johns lay on his face, blood pooled beneath him. He hadn't been dead long; rigor mortis hadn't set in yet.

"Call the M.E., Chief."

Blair holstered his gun, pulled out his phone and turned his back to make the call, his tremors barely noticeable to anyone else. Jim looked around. Johns' killer was gone, he was certain of that. But he might have left something behind. His gaze swept the floor in a widening circle around the body, picking out every disgusting bit of crap in the decades-old carpet. A significant part of him that had just eaten hoped he didn't find anything--he did not want to touch that. There. What was--?

Jim pulled on latex gloves and bent over to pick up a quarter-inch scrap of white fabric. Blair was at his side in an instant with a ziplock bag.

"Jim? What is it?"

"Part of an ID label. From a cop's uniform."

"Oh," Blair said, his voice low. "Shit."

"Yeah."

*****

The M.E. arrived on the scene before anyone else. They had expected Dan Wolfe, but Wolfe must have taken the night off, because they got the new guy, Jason Lang. Could be worse. The guy needed to develop a closer relationship with his shower, but he was competent, and Jim was fairly certain he wouldn't screw up the scene. Lang slouched in, camera slung over his shoulder, and acknowledged Blair's greeting with an absent nod, his attention already fixed on the body. His clothes hung off him, and he wore one of those knit ties that screamed "geek" to everyone else. He whipped out a notebook and pen and walked around the body, taking notes, going around at least three times before he stopped and bent down to take a closer look. A frown stretched his long face, and he scribbled something down.

"He was shot twice with a .357 at close range," Jim said.

"Hmm?" Lang glanced up. "Uh, thanks, Detective..."

"Ellison."

"Ellison. Right. Sorry. Usually, we examine the body back at the, uh, morgue before we make that specific a determination. But, um, thanks."

Blair clapped a hand over his mouth in a completely unsuccessful attempt to hide his grin. "Why don't we leave him to it, Jim? We'll be outside if you need us, Jason."

Lang waved a skinny hand in answer, but Jim doubted he'd actually heard. He let Blair tow him from the room before Lang started taking pictures. There'd be a lot of them. With Lang, there were always a lot of pictures.

*****

Act IV

They went into the station late the next morning. Lang's report was already on Jim's desk, with a yellow sticky note that read, "How did you know?" Jim crumpled it up and tossed it in the wastebasket. They took the report into Simon's office and gave him the whole story, everything they'd been told or suspected, but that was all they had. There was no evidence other than the partial label Jim had found--which could belong to almost any cop in the city--no proof of anything. Right now, the closest they had to any kind of witness in either case was Janet Li, and she had yet to agree to testify.

Simon took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Explain to me again why you took it upon yourselves to investigate Brown's shooting, after being ordered to stay out of it?"

"We didn't, exactly," Jim said, at the same time that Blair said, "Sheila asked us to, sort of."

"What was that, Sandburg?"

"Sheila told us to come back when we had proof that Johns was involved in Henri's shooting. She wouldn't have said that if she didn't want us investigating."

"Whether he was involved or not, sir," Jim said, "we know Johns owed money to Liefeld. That makes him part of both cases. We can't work one without working the other."

"And now that Johns is dead, there are three cases," Blair added.

"None of which you are anywhere near solving at this time," Simon said.

"That's not true, sir," Jim said. "Mrs. Li is a potential witness. We have the partial label from the murder scene. And--"

"I know all that, Ellison. Let me know when you have a witness willing to testify against Liefeld, when you can identify whose uniform the label came from, and when you can tell me exactly what went down when Brown was shot."

"Yes, sir. Anything else?"

"Get out of my office."

"Internal Affairs?"

Simon heaved a sigh. "I'll take care of that. Out."

*****

Blair wadded up another perfectly innocent piece of paper and tossed it into his wastebasket. Two points. A half-drunk mug of coffee cooled on his desk, alongside a half-eaten blueberry muffin and a half-reread for the fourth time forensics report. "Hey, Jim?"

Jim frowned at his computer screen, where the form he'd been filling out moments ago had scrolled away into nothingness. "Yeah?"

"How complicated is it between us and Internal Affairs?"

"How do you mean?"

"Can we ask Roy Decker where he was last night? Or do we have to wait for Sheila to do that? I mean, we know where Dave Anderson was."

"That depends, Sandburg."

"On what?"

"On whether you want Sheila to be speaking to you or yelling at you this time tomorrow."

"Huh." Another piece of paper was sacrificed to the god of trash basketball. "How long do we wait?"

"We'll give her the day. Decker's not going anywhere."

"Yeah. So, what do we do now?"

"Bored, Orvelle?"

"Frustrated, Jim. I need to solve something. At this point, the mystery of why there are never any pumpernickel bagels on Tuesday would do it."

Jim contemplated his blue screen of death, and considered. "We could talk to Carver again. Maybe Johns' death will make him anxious to testify against Liefeld."

"Or not."

"Pessimist." Jim shut off his computer. "Let's go."

Blair grabbed his jacket and pulled his car keys out of his pocket. "I'm not a pessimist, I'm just considering all the possibilities."

"Uh-huh." They headed out of the bullpen. "You know, Chief, I actually know the answer to the bagel thing."

"You do not!"

"I do too."

"Oh yeah? What is it?"

"I'm not telling now."

"*What*?"

"No, forget it, you doubted me."

"Jim! Come on, man."

"Nope."

"Jim!"

*****

Carver clutched his office door, white-knuckled. "I'm sorry. One man's dead already; Detective Brown is seriously injured. I don't want to be next. I can't help you."

"This goes on until someone does, Mr. Carver," Jim said.

"It won't be me. I'm sorry."

A group of well-dressed people passed on their way to a table. Carver forced a smile and shook hands with Jim and Blair as though they were business acquaintances. "Thank you. Good-bye."

The hostess brushed against Blair on her way back. She smiled, and winked at him. Blair grinned and followed. Jim took his time getting to the hostess' station, where Blair was deeply immersed in flirting.

"I don't give my number to just anyone," she was saying.

"No, I know. Sorry. The case we're on has been crazy. Next week, definitely."

"You'd better."

"I swear."

Jim grabbed his elbow and dragged him away. "Duty calls, Don Juan."

"Bye, Cynthia."

She waved, and picked up the station phone.

*****

Blair put his head down on his desk. "Maybe we should quit, Jim. Maybe we shouldn't be cops anymore. We can't solve crimes. We can't catch bad guys. We can't make victims trust us enough to testify. Maybe we should go live in the woods and eat berries. You like the woods. I like the woods, when it isn't raining and no one's shooting at us. There are times when it isn't raining and no one's shooting at us, aren't there, Jim?"

Simon had come out of his office and caught most of this. He looked to Jim. "I take it you haven't made any progress?"

"Not so you'd notice, sir. Sheila talked to Decker."

"And?"

"He says he was home last night."

"Corroborating witnesses?"

"No."

Simon looked at his watch. "You may as well take the kid home. I think he's done for the day."

Blair raised his head. "No, Simon, I'm fine. I'm just getting my second wind."

"Uh-huh. And bears don't eat berries in the woods. Go home."

Blair sighed and stood up. "G'night, Simon."

The garage was quiet, the night shift either on the streets or at their desks at this hour. The Corvair was parked at a distance from the elevator, one of the disadvantages of coming in late. As they approached it, Jim threw an arm out to stop Blair, and drew his gun. Blair stared at him, whispering.

"What?"

Jim held a finger to his lips, took the keys from Blair, and crept silently toward the Corvair. Blair drew his own weapon and went around to the passenger side. His eyes widened, his brows drew down, and his lips curled back in a snarl. Uh-oh. Corvair damage. Jim mouthed a countdown, unlocked the door, and flung it open.

"Come out of there now! Hands where I can see them!"

"Don't shoot! Shit! Don't shoot! Jesus!"

Butt-first, a man half-crawled, half-fell out of the Corvair. Jim saw dirty jeans, a torn t-shirt, dark hair that needed a trim, hairy forearms, and grimy fingernails on raised hands. The man straightened up slowly, groaning all the way.

"Turn around."

He presented a brown-eyed, snub-nosed, bearded face that Jim had never seen before. Jim looked to Blair, who shrugged, his glare still murderous.

"Who the hell are you and what were you doing in my partner's car?"

"Rostman. My name's Kevin Rostman."

"You broke into my car!" Blair shouted, waving at the passenger door. "Jim, look at this! You son of a--"

"I'm sorry!" Rostman said hastily. "I had to get in. I had to hide somewhere. Look I'll pay for the repairs, okay?"

"Damn right you will."

"Don't hit him, Chief. We don't want him to claim police brutality."

"Can I shoot him?"

"That depends." Suppressing a grin, Jim turned a menacing gaze on Rostman. "What do you want?"

"You're the cops who found Terrell," he said, with an uneasy glance at Blair. "Right? You've been--asking questions."

"And?"

"I have information."

"Let's hear it."

"No way." Rostman shook his head. "I want a deal. I need protection."

"From what?"

"The same thing as Terrell."

"And that is?"

"Liefeld! Come on, man, give me a break here. I could've just run, but I came here to help you guys out."

"He's got a point, Jim," Blair conceded.

"Yeah," Rostman echoed. "Listen to the little guy. Can I put my hands down?"

"Or maybe we should shoot him after all." At Jim's nod, Blair patted Rostman down. "He's clean."

Jim holstered his gun, and Rostman lowered his hands with a sigh. Jim grabbed his arm and started back toward the elevator. "Let's go."

"Wait! Wait!" Rostman tried to dig his heels in. "I can't go in there!"

"Why not?"

Rostman lowered his voice to a whisper an eighty-year old could have heard half a block away. "Liefeld owns a cop, man. I'm dead if I go in there."

"Do you know the name of this cop?"

"No."

Jim rubbed his temples, trying to get rid of the ache.

"We could take him to the--"

"No! No way, Sandburg. We are not taking this lowlife home."

"Hey!" Rostman protested. "I resent that."

"Shut up, or I'll let Sandburg shoot you." Jim shoved him toward the Corvair. "Get back in the car."

"Where are we going, Jim?"

"I don't know yet. Just drive for a while."

They were five blocks from the station when Jim turned in his seat. Rostman had slumped down as low as he could get in the back seat. No one outside the car would know that he was there. "All right, Rostman. Talk."

"I want a deal."

"I'm not the DA. I can't promise anything."

"Then I can't talk."

"Your choice. Sandburg, stop the car and let Mr. Rostman out."

Blair obligingly pulled over.

"No! No, look, I--I didn't do nothin'. All I did was the fight."

"At the Garlic Bulb?" Blair asked. "You were the other guy?"

"Yeah. It was me and Terrell."

"Was Johns supposed to be the shooter?" Jim asked.

"No, man, we only did the fighting. We was supposed to get the cop outside, and to make sure he pulled his piece, that was all."

"At whose orders?"

"Liefeld's."

"You owe him money?"

"Yeah. He said, if we did him a couple favors, he'd let the payments slide, you know? We didn't expect nothin' like this. Terrell--man, Terrell was my friend."

"How did he know Br--the cop would be there?"

"I don't know. He just told us when to show up."

"Did Liefeld have Johns killed?"

"Who else? And if he killed Terrell, he'll get to me, too. He'll get to me. Especially after what I heard."

Blair glanced at Jim. "What did you hear?"

"I was in his office last night, just shootin' the shit with his secretary, you know? The blonde? She's somethin', huh?"

"Uh, yeah," Blair said, rolling his eyes at Jim. That particular blonde would never lower herself to "shoot the shit" with the likes of Kevin Rostman. "So then what?"

Well, Liefeld's door was open a crack, you know? And he starts getting loud, and I can hear what he's sayin', and I know right away that what he's sayin' is not somethin' I should be hearin'."

Jim faced him again. "What was he saying, Rostman?"

"Liefeld is orderin' someone taken care of. And he's specifyin' that the person he's talkin' to should wear his uniform when he does it. The person doesn't like this idea, which I gather because Liefeld gets mad and tells him to wear the uniform or else, that he needs to set an example by showin' people they can't go to the cops for help."

"What else?"

"That's it."

"No names?"

"No."

"No place, day, or time?"

"No, no, and no. Wait. Wait. Tonight. He said tonight. Well, he said tomorrow night, but this was yesterday, so that would be tonight. Right?"

"Could you be the intended victim?" Blair asked.

"No, man, if it was me, they'd have done me right there. But I got my ass out of there. I was gonna see Terrell, but when I got there, all you cops was there and Terrell was--Terrell was dead. You gotta protect me. You gotta get me into the Witness Protection Program or somethin'."

"How do you know we're not the ones who killed Terrell?"

Rostman shook his head. "Liefeld don't like you two. I don't know what you did to him, but it really pissed him off."

Jim pulled out his phone. Rostman's heart sped up, and he jerked forward, keeping his head down.

"What are you doing?"

"Getting you some protection."

"The Feds?"

"Better. The Australian." Megan picked up. "Connor? I have a little favor to ask…."

*****

They didn't talk in front of Rostman. As soon as Megan shut her door with a parting, "No worries," and they walked down her front steps, Blair looked to Jim.

"Dave Anderson was with us last night. It's got to be Decker."

"I know. Head over to his place. I'll call Simon, see if he'll let us take Decker in without the circus."

"Do you think he'll resist?"

"I hope not, Chief."

They got the okay from Simon and pulled up in front of Decker's apartment building in fifteen minutes. The area was quiet. Most people were asleep. A light was on in Decker's apartment, shining through the cheap vinyl shade. A shadow passed across it: Decker, probably. They climbed the stairs in silence, knowing the drill, neither happy about the arrest, though Jim thought they'd be relieved, later. Blair's heart was beating a little fast, but that might be the exertion of the stairs. There was no sound of television or stereo from Decker's apartment, just footsteps. Decker was pacing? He didn't come across like the nervous type.

Jim knocked on the door. The footsteps stopped, then started again, growing louder. Decker opened the door. He was kitted out in full uniform, including hat and polished shoes. Damn. A part of him had hoped.

"What do you want, Ellison?"

"I think you know."

"Just me? Or Anderson, too?"

"Just you."

Decker nodded. "You got some kind of proof?"

"We've got what we need."

"I doubt that."

Jim nodded at him. "Why in the uniform?"

Decker looked down at his shirt. "I got to feeling I might never get the chance to wear it again. Guess I was right."

That wasn't what he'd expected. "Let's go, Decker."

"Do it right, Ellison. Don't want me to get off on a technicality. Read me my rights."

Blair started to speak. "You have the right--"

"No." Decker locked gazes with Jim. "Not the kid. You do it, Ellison."

Jim nodded. He could give him that. He pulled his cuffs out, opened them, and took Decker's right wrist. "You have the right to remain silent."

"It's not me," Decker said.

Jim stopped, studied him. Decker's heartbeat was steady; he didn't flinch from Jim's scrutiny. He never had. "Are you saying it's your partner?"

"Christ, no. I'm saying it's not me."

Jim looked past him, into nothing, holding Decker's wrist, feeling his pulse. Blair moved infinitesimally closer to him, speaking softly.

"Jim?"

He dropped Decker's wrist. "Let's go, Chief."

"Jim?"

He grabbed Blair's wrist and hauled him away. Decker just watched. Blair pulled against his hold.

"Jim, what are you doing?"

"I believe him."

"That's great, man, but don't you think we should take him in anyway? If you're wrong--"

"I'm not wrong."

"*If* you're wrong, Simon's gonna have our asses in a sling."

"I'm not wrong." Jim pushed the door open and shoved Blair toward the Corvair. "Drive."

"Where?"

"Anderson's."

"Anderson's?" Blair started the car and pulled away. "Jim, it *can't* be Dave. We *know* it can't be Dave."

"It has to be."

"It *can't* be. Dave was with us last night."

"Not all night."

"Jim, he was passing out drunk. You saw him. You *smelled* him."

"I smelled a lot of alcohol. Doesn't mean he drank it."

"You think he was faking?"

"You know him better than I do, Chief. What do you think?"

Blair kept his eyes on the road. "I don't know. Dave's a good guy, Jim."

"Maybe he *was*, Blair."

"Shit."

Blair stepped on the gas.

*****

Blair pounded on Anderson's door, shouted his name. No answer. No sound from inside, no heartbeat, no breathing.

"He's not in there, Chief."

"Well, where is he?" Blair demanded, completely as though he expected Jim to know.

"Calm down and think. Rostman said this was going down tonight."

"Shit." Blair tangled his fingers in his hair. "Shit. Who's he after? You don't think it could be Janet?"

"No. Couldn't be. Liefeld couldn't know we talked to her."

"Then who?" Blair grabbed Jim's arm. "Carver!"

"Why?"

"I have no idea. But who else is there? Maybe he *was* going to talk to Brown."

"Or Liefeld thinks he was."

"Maybe Liefeld *still* thinks he is."

"Call Simon."

Blair ran down the stairs toward his car. "I'm driving. *You* call Simon."

*****

The Garlic Bulb was closed, the parking lot empty except for one car, presumably Carver's. They expected the front door to be locked, but it opened when they tried it. Jim drew his gun, Blair following his example a beat later. They crept through the darkened restaurant toward the office, Blair close on Jim's heels. The office door was open, light a skewed rectangle on the carpeted floor. Jim heard voices in the office.

"You don't want to do this," Carver said.

"You're right," Anderson replied. "I don't. Stand up, please."

Carver's chair rolled back on the carpet. His clothes rustled as he stood. "Why?"

"That's not your business, sir. Over here, please."

They reached the door. Blair crossed just out of the light and took up position on the opposite side. Anderson was profiled in the door, his weapon trained on an unseen target. Either of them could take Anderson out easily. Jim looked to Blair, to tell him he'd do it, but Blair gave a slight shake of his head, his only plea. Jim raised his eyebrows. This could go wrong. It could go wrong, and someone could die. But Blair shook his head once. This better not go wrong, Sandburg.

Jim started to step into the room, but Blair beat him to it by a half-step.

"Dave."

Anderson didn't turn--Give 'em credit, they were training the rookies right--but his eyes slid in their direction, took in the situation. He knew he'd had it--he had to know--but he didn't move. He kept his weapon aimed at Carver, who stood facing Anderson with hands raised, sweating, pale, waiting to die.

"Damn, Sandburg," Anderson said.

"Dave, come on, man. It's over. Put it down."

Anderson shook his head. "A cop in prison? You know what they told us in the Academy. How it would be."

"It's better than dead, man."

Anderson's finger shifted on the trigger. "I'm not so sure about that."

"Look, Dave, Liefeld's got some kind of hold on you, right? He's making you do this. Maybe you could make a deal with the D.A., testify against him."

"You want to make a deal with a murderer? That's not you, Doc."

"I'm trying to help you out here, Dave."

"Why? I shot your friend Brown. If I'd done it like I was supposed to, he'd be dead now. Why would you want to help me?"

"Because you didn't do it like you were supposed to. You're a decent guy, Dave."

Anderson laughed. "No. I'm not, Doc. *You're* a decent guy. My partner, he's a decent guy. Not me."

"Did you kill Terrell Johns?" Jim asked.

"No. I was supposed to, but--I was there. Liefeld said this was my last chance."

"Maybe he was right, Dave," Blair said. "Maybe it is. What's he got on you?"

"What else? Money."

"You borrowed from him?"

"Stupid, right? I thought I could pay him back, I really did, but I got behind and--that was it. That was it." A smile twisted Anderson's face. He rubbed his forehead with his gun hand, leaving himself wide open. Carver glanced at Jim, wanting to run, but Jim shook his head. "I'm fucked, huh, Doc? The Job's gone--Hell, my life's gone--all because I borrowed some money from the wrong guy."

"Your life's not gone, Dave. Not unless you throw it away. If you testify against Liefeld, we can get you a deal. Can't we, Jim?"

"There's a good chance, Chief."

"See? Come on, Dave, don't blow this, man, please." Blair did exactly what he knew not to do, what he knew Jim would ream him out for later. He holstered his gun and stepped closer to Anderson, holding out his hand. "Give me your gun, Dave. Don't die for that bastard Liefeld. Don't be just another one of his victims. Do the Job. Help us put him away."

Anderson's arm stretched out slowly, until his weapon hovered over Blair's hand, Anderson's finger still on the trigger, the muzzle now aimed at Blair. If he pulled the trigger, he couldn't miss. Jim locked his gaze on Anderson's eyes, his Sig Sauer trained on Anderson's heart. Anderson's heart beat wildly. Blair's was calm, steady, only slightly faster than normal. Jim's own was too fast, but his breathing was controlled. All his movements were controlled.

Something changed in Anderson's eyes. Jim readied himself to shoot, would have, but Blair saw it too, and didn't flinch. Blair remained steady, trusting, and Jim held his fire, held all his screaming instincts in check.

Anderson dropped his weapon into Blair's hand. Blair handed it off to Jim blindly and put his hand on Anderson's shoulder, speaking softly. Jim didn't listen. He couldn't listen. He thumbed the safety on Anderson's weapon automatically, stuck it in his pants, and crossed the room to Carver.

"It's okay, Mr. Carver. It's over."

Carver's shaking hands dropped to his sides. Jim's hands didn't shake. They wouldn't.

"Thank God," Carver said. "Thank God. He was going to kill me. Liefeld wanted me to be an example to the others."

"Anderson told you that?"

"Yes." Ignoring Jim's frown, Carver poured himself a scotch and drank it down. He smoothed his hair back, wiping sweat from his face, and looked at Jim. "I lied to you. I did tell Detective Brown I wanted to talk to him about Liefeld. I reserved a table for him that evening, but he was shot before we had a chance to talk. After that--" Carver looked away. "I was afraid. I thought, if I kept my mouth shut, I'd be safe. I'll have to testify against him now."

"We'd be grateful," Jim said. "You'll be helping a lot of people."

Carver smiled bitterly into his empty glass. "It's the only way to save myself."

Carver reached for the bottle. Jim turned to check on Blair. He could look, now. Blair was still talking quietly to Anderson. Anderson's hands were cuffed behind his back. By the book. Something, at least.

Carver followed Jim's gaze. "Your partner and Anderson know each other."

"They went through the Academy together."

"You wanted to shoot him, didn't you?" Jim looked at him, and Carver held up his hands. "I withdraw the question. But it seems to me that Officer Anderson is extremely lucky in his friends."

"Luckier than he knows."

*****

Lights strobed red and blue over Anderson's face. He sat with head bowed in the back of the Corvair. Blair had promised to take him in and book him personally. Jim would have preferred to let the uniforms take him, but you didn't break your partner's word. He rubbed the back of his neck, watching Simon approach. Carver was on his way to the station to give his official statement. He'd already called his lawyer. Simon's eyes flicked from Anderson to Jim.

"This is a bad business."

"Yes, sir."

"But at least it's over. Good work, Jim. You and Sandburg."

"Thanks."

"Where *is* your partner?"

Jim looked into the shadows at the side of the restaurant, where Blair had disappeared some minutes ago. Time enough. "Would you keep an eye on Anderson for a few minutes, Simon?"

He walked off without waiting for an answer, grinning as he heard Simon's muttered, "'Keep an eye on him'? Oh, of course, Ellison, of course. I'm only the *Captain* here, I have nothing *better* to do. I'll watch your prisoner for you while you play hide and seek with your partner."

Jim walked around the building, following a single heartbeat, too fast now, too much time for Blair to think, about what had happened and what *could* have happened. Blair always thought too much. He wasn't in the trees at the edge of the parking lot, or leaning against the wall. No, that would have been too easy. Blair had found a side entrance, reached by a set of cement stairs leading down to a steel door. He sat on the bottom step, under the dim light of a caged 40-watt bulb, his shadow stretching in front of him.

Jim descended to the step just above Blair.

"You know I'm going to have to kick your ass for that stunt."

Blair didn't even turn. "Don't start with me, Jim. I didn't do anything you wouldn't do."

You do things I wouldn't do every day. Jim sat beside him, the steps so narrow he had to squeeze himself in. Blair was shivering. "You okay?"

"I don't know." Blair shoved his hair back, not easy in such close quarters. "I keep thinking. I was so focused on helping Dave--on keeping him alive."

"Something wrong with that?"

"He said it himself, Jim: he shot Henri. He tried to kill our friend. I feel like--like maybe I betrayed Henri by wanting to help Dave."

"That's not possible, Chief."

"You think Rafe would agree with you?"

"If he was thinking straight, he would."

Blair shook his head. "I don't know, Jim. If it were you who was shot--"

"You'd do exactly the same."

"Y'see, Jim, that's the thing." Blair stood and climbed the stairs, rising into darkness. "I don't think I would."

*****

Released from a day of paperwork, interviews, more paperwork, and the arrest of Grant Liefeld on charges that included murder, attempted murder, extortion, and the attempted murder of a police officer, Jim and Blair entered the Literary Dragon, Blair reaching up to give the bell over the door an extra jangle. Jim sighed, grabbed the back of Blair's neck, and propelled him into the store. Sometimes it was like being partnered with a twelve year old. But not often enough, lately.

Janet Li poked her head around a bookshelf. "Blair! Jim!" She scowled. "Go away. I haven't decided."

"Janet, hey, good news," Blair said, and proceeded to fill her in on Liefeld's arrest. "With the testimony we've got, he should go away for the rest of his life. You won't have to testify at all."

"Good." She looked from Blair to Jim. "I suppose you think I'm a coward."

"No, ma'am," Jim said. "We know just how dangerous Liefeld is. We wouldn't want to put you at risk unnecessarily."

"Hmmm." Her eyes narrowed on Blair. "You look sad. I thought this arrest was good."

Blair forced a smile. "It is; it's great. It's just--the cop who was working for Liefeld is a friend of mine."

"That's too bad." She shrugged. "I can give you tea. Big help, I know."

Blair's smile was genuine, this time. "Tea would be nice."

Jim cell phone rang. He excused himself and turned away to answer it. The voice on the other end said two words. Jim hung up and clapped Blair on the back. "I've got something better than tea, Chief."

"Oh, yeah? What?"

"Brown's awake."

*****

Brown's hospital room was crowded with family, friends, and co-workers. He'd been moved from ICU to a semi-private room, but had no roommate at the moment. Vases and baskets of flowers filled the room; the bed was heaped with stuffed animals of various species. Guess it didn't matter how old you were, or what gender. People sent the same stuff when you were stuck in the hospital.

Jim and Blair made their way into the room with some difficulty, greeting everyone they knew, which was pretty much everyone in Blair's case. Blair's arms were filled with the enormous bouquet he'd insisted they stop and buy on the way, overriding Jim's completely logical assertion that Brown would have more than enough flowers and wouldn't particularly want them anyway. Jim carried the other present. The *sensible* present. And tried mightily not to sneeze every two seconds from all the perfume and pollen in the air.

Simon, Jasmine, and Rafe were closest to the bed, their attention entirely for its occupant. Brown looked haggard; he'd lost weight in the days he'd been unconscious. But he was smiling and joking with those around him, as he always did. He saw Jim and Blair, and grinned.

"Ellison! Hairboy!"

"It's about time you quit lying around, H.," Jim said.

"Looking good, Henri," Blair added.

"Feeling good, my brother." Brown's eyes fell on the flowers spilling out of Blair's arms. "All those? You shouldn't have."

"We didn't." Blair deposited the bouquet in Jasmine's lap. "These are for Jasmine. You've got more than enough, man. Jim's got your present."

Jasmine laughed, and breathed in the scent of one of the roses. "Thank you."

Brown took her hand and squeezed it. "Give, Ellison. It's not nice to keep a wounded man in suspense."

Jim handed him the paper bag he'd been carrying. Brown reached inside and pulled out the first container. He pried off the cover and took a whiff.

"Smells like heaven. What is it?"

"That," Blair said, "is Tanta Rose's chicken matzo ball soup. Made in her kitchen every Tuesday, and known to have brought grad students back from the brink of death or end of term cramming. And on one occasion, both at once."

"And that would have been you?"

"That's beside the point. The stuff works." Henri pulled out the next container. "Jim, tell the man what else he's won."

Jim cleared his throat. "That would be Sally's roast chicken with cherry glaze, wild rice, and stir-fried vegetables. We, uh, stopped by my Dad's on the way here."

"And?" Blair prompted.

"There's more?" Rafe was goggle-eyed, drooling in the bag's direction.

"Oh yeah," Blair said, "There's more. We stopped by the loft, too."

Joel and Megan crowded close, Megan clutching a stuffed wallabee sporting sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt. Joel fixed his eyes on the bag. "Not…?

"Yep. Blair Sandburg's patented Ostrich Chili."

Joel groaned. Brown beamed. "This is some fine eating. Thanks."

"We figured you'd get sick of hospital food pretty quick," Jim said.

"You know it." Brown's smile faded. "Captain said you got the shooter, that Anderson was dirty."

Blair's gaze dropped to the floor. "Yeah," Jim said.

Brown shook his head. "Man, you just never know. He seemed like a good guy."

"He was. Anderson made a mistake, and it snowballed. You got caught in the avalanche."

"D.A. made a deal with him, huh?"

"Anderson goes into the Witness Protection Program. We get Liefeld in exchange. You know how it goes, H."

"Yes, I do. I do."

"Deal or not, Anderson better not ever cross my path," Rafe seethed. "I swear if he does, I'll shoot the bastard."

Blair looked up, opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. Jim laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Naw, baby, you won't do that," Brown said lightly.

"Yeah, I will."

Brown gripped Rafe's arm. "Oh, no, my brother. I'm the one he shot. If I say no, it's no. And I say the deal's done. Let it go."

"I'd listen to your partner, if I were you," Simon said, deliberately looming over Rafe. "He's smarter than you are. Revenge won't get you anything but a prison sentence. After you get your ass kicked by everyone in Major Crime. Starting with me. Is that clear, Detective Rafe?"

"It's clear, Captain."

The shark's smile came out to play. "Good."

They stayed for half an hour or so, until Jim determined that Brown was growing weary of all the company and started the exodus. Blair's mood had lightened again, but he was still quieter than usual. As they walked through the hospital parking lot to the truck, Jim slung an arm around his shoulders.

"Okay, Chief?"

"I'm fine, Jim. Just--"

"Thinking. I know."

Blair grinned. "What? I was supposed to *stop* when I became a cop? Is that in the regs somewhere?"

"That's funny, Shecky. You should have gone into stand-up."

"Nah. I went for slapstick, like you. Ow!" Too late, Blair ducked away, laughing and rubbing his head. "Don't pull the hair, man."

They got into the truck, slammed their doors, and fastened their seatbelts with simultaneous clicks.

"What happens to Decker now?"

"Sheila does some more investigating, to make sure he wasn't involved. Anderson swears he wasn't, so it shouldn't take too long. He'll be reinstated, and assigned a new partner."

"It must be rough for him. I mean, to find out your partner's…."

"Yeah. They'll offer him counseling."

"You think he'll go?"

"No."

"Maybe we could--I dunno--invite him for dinner or something."

"I don't think so."

"Jim, he needs someone to talk to."

"Sandburg, we arrested his partner. I don't think he wants us to be his new buddies."

"Yeah. Guess not."

Shit. The whipped puppy voice. Jim glanced at him, took one hand from the wheel and gently punched Blair's arm. "It was a nice thought, though. I'll talk to some of the guys I know. Decker must have some friends on the force. Okay?"

Blair brightened. "Yeah. Okay. Good idea, Jim."

They found a parking space in front of Colette's, rode the elevator up to the third floor and let themselves into number 307. Blair took his jacket off and flopped onto the couch, idly flipping channels on the television. Jim took two beers from the refrigerator and handed one to Blair as he sat down. Blair found a women's volleyball game, and they watched that for a while.

"Hey, Jim?"

"Yeah?"

'There's one thing I can't figure."

"Only one, Einstein?"

"Yeah, I've pretty much got the rest of the universe figured out."

"Okay, what is it?"

"Who left the door of the Garlic Bulb unlocked for Dave Anderson?"

Jim took a swallow of beer. "I didn't want to have to tell you this, Chief. You might want to brace yourself."

"Not Cynthia."

"I'm afraid so."

"But she liked me!"

"Apparently, she also liked getting paid by Liefeld to let him know when Carver was talking to cops."

"Oh, man!"

"Sorry, Romeo."

"I am *never* getting involved with a woman I meet on a case *again*!"

"Uh-huh."

"You don't believe me?"

"Uh-uh."

"Jim, I am absolutely serious."

"Sure you are."

"Jim."

"Just like you were with Maya and Sonia and Amber."

"Jim!"

"And let's not forget Mara and Iris--especially Iris--and Genevieve and Katie and..."

"Jim!!!"

The End