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."

End Act 1

Go to Act 2