Blues for Henri Brown 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."

End Act 2

Go to Act 3