Blues for Henri Brown 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.

End Act 3

Go to Act 4