Blues for Henri Brown 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