Pulling his flannel shirt on, Blair shivered a little in the chill morning air. Like son, like father: apparently, William Ellison didn't like heat any more than Jim did. He wondered if it was an aversion to heat itself or to paying the heating bill. Whichever, it made things uncomfortable for Naomi Sandburg's progeny.
He opened the bedroom door just as the shower started running. Perfect. Shoes in hand, Blair argyle-footed it down the hall and folded himself to the carpet with his back against the bathroom door. At his normal volume, he said,
"Morning, Jim. Since you can hear me just fine and I can't hear you at all, this seems like a great time for a talk. Just stay calm and hear me out, man, I wouldn't want you to get soap in your eyes or anything. Anyway, here goes: I think you should call Simon. I mean, you're going to have to anyway, since you're not planning on showing up for work today, but I think you should tell him about the blackmailer. I know you don't want to. I know this is about your mother's reputation, and that's important, but Jim, not telling Simon is just--well--dumb. I know you. I know you have no intention of just giving this schmuck the money and walking away. You're going to arrest him. But what happens when you do that, Jim? Simon finds out what's been going on and rips you a new one, that's what. You know I'm right, man. Besides that, it doesn't make sense to go after this guy without backup. Sure, I'll be backing you up, but Steven said this guy was huge, right? Don't you think there should be other guys with guns on your side? And, I know I said this before, but I really think it would be a good idea to put a tap on your father's phone. If nothing else, you'll get the blackmailer's voice on tape, right?
"Okay, I'm done. You can be mad if you want, but after you've had your morning dose of caffeine, you'll know I'm right. I trust you, Jim. I know you'll do the right thing."
The bathroom door jerked open. Deprived of his support, Blair tipped over. Lying on his back, he looked up into the stratosphere, where Jim's lathered face loomed. The shower was still running.
"You know I'm right, Jim."
"Wasted lecture, Professor. I already called him. He'll be here in an hour."
"Oh." Blair sat up. "Well, good."
"You think I could shave in peace now?"
"Sure, Jim. Go ahead."
Jim shut the door. Grinning, Blair climbed to his feet and went downstairs to see about
They were gathered in William Ellison's living room. William sat on the couch, his jaw set, his eyes hard. Blair imagined he must have worn that same expression when cutting the figurative throats of his business competitors. Simon sat in an armchair facing him, leaning forward, long arms and legs at precise angles. Jim paced back and forth, arms folded, jaw working. Blair had placed himself out of the line of fire, close enough to do the observer thing, and to douse fires if the situation called for it.
Simon took a deep breath, held it while he put on his "not a criminal, not an underling, not even an observer, can't yell at him" expression, and let it out slowly. "Mr. Ellison, we understand your concerns, but--"
"I don't think you do, Captain. But the fact remains that I have not given my permission for a wiretap on my telephone."
"Mr. Ellison, do you or do you not want the man who shot your son to go to prison?"
"All I want is for him to go away. I want to pay him and have done with it."
"For God's sake, Dad," Jim said, planting himself in front of his father, "Mom's been dead for almost thirty years. Whatever this guy has, it can't hurt her now."
"It's not your mother I'm worried about."
"Then what are you worried about? Your reputation? Your standing in the community?"
"You, Jimmy! I'm worried about you!"
"Whatever it is, Dad, I can handle it."
"Why? What is it, Dad? What does this guy have?"
William shook his head. "Just let me pay him, Jimmy. It's for the best."
"I can't do that, Dad. I have to do my job."
"There are more important things than your job."
"That's not what you used to say to me and Steven."
The older man winced. "I was wrong. Please, Jimmy."
Quietly, "Dad, I can't do what you want. You know that. Now help me do my job: leave the tap in place."
William looked at everyone in the room, finding no support. "I guess I don't have much choice."
Jim squeezed his father's shoulder. "Thanks, Dad."
The call came at 10:13. On the first ring, his father went pale, and Blair's head jerked up from the book he was reading. On the second, Jim picked up the receiver and held it to his father's ear.
The voice was male, unremarkable, but careful to enunciate. "The Mattson Warehouse, in one hour."
Jim snatched the receiver away. "Make sure you have everything with you. Including the negatives."
"Jimmy!" the voice crowed. "It's you, isn't it?"
"Who is this?"
"You don't know me. But I know all about you, Detective. My business is with your father."
"Not anymore. You deal with me or you get nothing."
"Fine. But we do it my way. I'll send you what I have after I get the money. And if I see another cop anywhere, the whole world finds out about your mother. Do you understand me, Jimmy?"
"What makes you think I care?"
The bastard burst into laughter, tried to say something, failed, and hung up.
Jim managed to put the receiver down without smashing it. "Let's go, Chief."
The dark van hugged the side of an abandoned factory, out of sight of the Mattson Warehouse. Inside, Jim touched the wire affixed to his kevlar vest one more time, making sure it was secure. The tech officer fiddled with something, muttering to himself, mostly cursing the equipment that had been state of the art five years ago. Blair barely perched on the seat next to him, his gaze fixed on Jim, as it had been for the last fifteen minutes.
"I don't like this," he said for the thousandth time. "I should go with you."
"No," Simon and Jim chorused automatically.
"Chief, I explained this to you," Jim said, refraining from adding how many times he'd explained it. "He's expecting one man: me. Any more--even just you--could scare him off."
"You need someone to watch your back," Blair insisted.
"That's what the wire's for. And why Brown, Rafe, and the rest of the unit are on the rooftops."
"Come on, Jim, I'm not some rookie fresh from the Academy. A whole SWAT team's no good if they can't see the guy. And all the wire will do is let us listen while he shoots you."
"Nice to know you have such faith in my abilities, Sandburg."
"Hey, man, nobody has more faith in your abilities than I do. But you need backup."
"And that's exactly what I've got."
"Forget it, Chief. You're staying here."
Blair turned pleading eyes on the captain. "Simon...."
"No. No way, Sandburg. In case you've forgotten--again--you are an observer."
"Sure," Blair said bitterly. "Until you need me to go undercover in a car-theft ring, or seduce some gun-runner's daughter. Then I'm 'part of the team'."
"I'm not going to argue this with you, Sandburg. You don't belong in that warehouse and you know it."
"Neither does Jim."
"It's his job."
"And watching Jim's back is mine."
"Time to go," Jim announced. He picked up the briefcase full of cash and opened the van door. "You two behave yourselves while I'm gone."
He swung up into the truck, slinging the briefcase onto the seat beside him, resolutely not thinking that was where Blair should be. Blair was exactly where he should be right now. If he concentrated, he could still hear his partner arguing with Simon. Jim shook his head. Simon should know better. Saying you weren't going to talk about something with Sandburg was the surest way to guarantee a barrage of Blairisms.
Jim parked in front of the Mattson Warehouse and got out. He could hear Rafe, Taggert, and the rest on the roofs of the adjoining buildings, talking to each other over their mikes, but he didn't look to see where they were. Gun in one hand, briefcase in the other, he went in, automatically extending his hearing to try to pinpoint the blackmailer's location.
Jim flinched at Simon's bellow. The van door slammed and rapid footsteps sped away from it. God dammit, Blair, what the hell are you doing? God dammit, he knew what Blair was doing: backing him up. And the little bastard had timed it so that Jim couldn't send him back. Dammit! Damn him! Damn it all!
Footsteps. Two floors up. And a heartbeat, not fast, no excitement or fear there. A voice filtered down; not a shout, he spoke in a normal conversational tone.
"Right on time, Jimmy. Come right up. I'm sure you can find me."
Jim froze, heart slamming in his chest. He knew. This guy knew about the sentinel thing. How? He'd been on alert before; now his awareness tripled. He saw clearly into the darkest corners, heard the slightest sound, felt the air moving around him. He knew where the blackmailer was to the inch, smelled his deodorant, his cologne, the scent of his new clothes and polished shoes.
His footsteps silent, the sentinel glided to the stairs and up, sparing a wish that his shaman would stay outside before his concentration centered wholly on the threat waiting for him above. The enemy felt no fear? That would not last. The enemy was a skulker, a sneak, a coward who hid in shadows. Exposure would bring the fear-sweat; teeth at his throat would set him trembling. He could not threaten the tribe. He would not.
Panther-shadow paced him up the stairs, flowed across night-blackened walls, vanished in the light spilled from a doorway, dim to normal eyes, sun-bright to his until his sight adjusted. He hugged the wall, listening. The enemy hadn't moved. The sentinel swung around the corner, gun trained on the man who stood in the center of the windowless room.
The man smiled. He was tall, taller than Simon, and so wide that his shoulders must brush either side of the doorway. The sentinel saw other details, and ignored them. The cop took care to file them in his memory. Greying hair was cut in one of those Clooney/Caesar things that no one else could carry off, and a goatee divided an expanse of chin. Rafe would know the designer of the navy blue suit, and probably the shirt and tie, too. To Jim, they said only "expensive". Broad fingers gripped a .45, the index finger encircled by a gold ring cast in the shape of a lion's head. He turned the gun slightly.
"You showed me yours, and I showed you mine," he said. "Now that the display's out of the way, put yours down in the hall and kick it away, please."
"Now why would I do that?" Jim asked, grinning back.
"Because you don't want Don Hass doing a story on Detective James Ellison, superfreak? I'm sure the public would love to know the real reason behind your remarkable arrest record, Jimmy."
Instinct screamed at him to kill, to eliminate the threat. Jim fought it down, forced it to the back of his mind. The sentinel could not be in charge here. He had to play along, had to find out where the blackmailer had stashed the pictures of his mother. Taking the jerk out now could be disastrous. Blocking the panther's image from his mind, Jim did as he was told.
"Good boy. Now, come here. Not too close."
Jim stopped six feet away. "How did you find out? And what has this got to do with my mother?"
"Daddy didn't tell you? Now that's interesting. There's not a lot of trust in your family, is there, Jimmy?" When Jim didn't respond, he said, "Are you sure you want me to explain this now, in front of whoever's on the other end of that wire you're wearing?"
Jim scowled. "Just tell me."
"All right. My name is Robert Lyons. Doctor Robert Lyons. My father was Dr. Andrew Lyons. A psychiatrist, as I am."
"Should that mean something to me?"
"It will. Thirty years ago, a young woman came to my father for help. For years, she had been experiencing sudden increases in the acuity of her senses. Sometimes, they lasted for moments, sometimes for hours, even days. They could be quite painful, and were always frightening. Doctors had been unable to find anything physically wrong with her, but the surges in sensitivity, if you will, had become more frequent. Understandably, she thought she was losing her mind. So, she had separated from her husband, leaving their two sons in his care."
"My mother," Jim whispered.
Lyons nodded. "My father agreed to treat her. After a few sessions, he became convinced that her problem was not one of the mind, but of the body, no matter what the other doctors had said. She did exhibit signs of depression, but given the circumstances, it would have been surprising if she hadn't. Being the kindly man that he was, my father determined to help her.
"Unfortunately, unlike your Mr. Sandburg--Oh yes, I've seen him, Jimmy--my father had no resources, no information from which to extrapolate a course of treatment. He felt sorry for Grace, but he didn't know what to do for her. Oh, he tried. He tried many things, and conducted countless tests, hoping that something would work. Sadly, nothing did. Your mother's sensory attacks continued to grow worse. My father believed that her despair over his failure caused her suicide. Personally, I believe it was fear. And of course, the divorce. "
"Suicide...." Lyons faded from his sight, the gleeful voice receding. His body went numb. He couldn't see. Couldn't hear, or feel. The world vanished from his awareness, leaving him alone. Everything was grey. Everything was gone.
"Jim! Snap out of it, man. You have to come back now."
A voice penetrated the grey nothing. Shaman. Guide. Blair. Blair was here. Oh, God, Blair was here.
Jim snapped back, his senses slamming open. Lyons was still talking. Out in the corridor, Blair's heart hammered.
"--tell you that, either? Your family has some definite issues, Jimmy. I'd get into counseling, if I were you."
Lyons didn't know Blair was there. Thank God. "You're lying. My mother didn't kill herself. She was sick."
"Now you're in denial. I should have expected it. It's all true, Jimmy. Fortunately for me, my father was so fascinated by your mother's case that he kept meticulous records. He took notes, he taped their sessions--he even went so far as to film some of them. I had the films transferred to videotape, they make fascinating viewing. You'll find that out for yourself, one way or another."
"You bastard!" Jim took a step forward, stopped himself just before Lyons raised the gun higher.
"Anger. You're progressing. But don't let it control you, Jimmy. I'd hate to have to kill you." Lyons waved the .45 at Jim's chest. "Down to business. I'd like you to take that wire off, please."
Lyons' punch knocked him off his feet. Jim shook his head, trying to clear away the fog. Jesus, Lyons was as strong as he looked. No one had ever flattened him like that.
Lyons sighed. "Don't aggravate me, Jimmy. Do it, or I'll be forced to shoot you. That would be painful, wouldn't it? More painful than it would be for anyone else. I'd love the chance to observe you as my father observed your mother. A multi-generational study would be fascinating."
"That son of a bitch!" came from Blair, too low for anyone else to hear. "Jim, I've got your gun. What do you want me to do?"
Jim climbed to his feet, determined not to touch his throbbing jaw. "I already have an observer. He's waiting."
"Okay, man," Blair breathed. "But if he tries anything else, I'm coming in."
Jim removed the wire, and tossed it on the floor at Lyons' direction. Lyons beamed.
"Good. We're leaving now. But first, I think you should work out some of that aggression, Jimmy. Smash it."
Jim stomped on the wire until Lyons was satisfied.
"Feel better now? I know I do." Lyons gestured to his left. "Move to that wall, please. Take the briefcase with you."
"Do you see the top right-hand bolt on those shelves? What am I saying? Of course you do. Pull the bolt out halfway and stand clear."
Jim pulled. As he watched, the bolt slowly sank back into place, and the wall swung outward, shelves and all. Beyond was a wooden staircase, leading down.
"Clever, isn't it? During Prohibition, this warehouse was used by rum-runners.
I've made some improvements. Soundproofing, for one." Lyons pulled a flashlight from
his pocket and waved the .45. "After you, Jimmy."
Oh God oh God oh God. Blair pressed back against the wall, Jim's gun clutched in both hands. Lyons was taking Jim down some sort of secret passage. Simon and the guys would be here any second, but he couldn't wait, Lyons could shoot Jim whenever he wanted. He had to follow them now and make sure that didn't happen, make sure Lyons didn't get away, with or without Jim.
Blair heard the secret door closing and hazarded a look around the doorway. They were gone. Okay. He dug the flashlight out of his jacket, clicked it on, and went directly to the shelves. The bolt was a reach, but he managed, and slipped through the second the wall opened wide enough. Shit. He had to do something to let Simon know where they were. What...?
Blair shrugged out of his jacket, putting both flashlight and gun down to do it--Okay, not bright, but what else was he supposed to do?--and stuffed it between the door and wall. With luck, it would keep the door open. If not, he'd lost a perfectly good jacket. Again. Police work was hell on a guy's wardrobe.
Gun and flashlight again in hand, Blair started down the stairs. He couldn't see the bottom, couldn't see or hear Jim and Lyons, though he was sure Jim could hear him. Man, he hated stuff like this. He'd never liked horror movies. "Don't go into the basement, Blair." But the idiot always went, and here he was, playing the idiot. Of course, in the movies, the ones who got it were always the ones who'd gotten some. The way his love life was going lately, he should be perfectly safe. Besides, Lyons wasn't a slasher, he was just a blackmailing psychiatrist. A giant blackmailing psychiatrist, who beat the crap out of people who annoyed him, then shot them just to make sure he got his point across. Nothing to worry about. How long were these stairs, anyway?
Was that light down there? Blair stopped and snapped off his flashlight. Definitely light. He thumbed the flashlight back on, careful to shine it only on the next couple of steps, hoping Lyons wouldn't see it. The gun was getting slippery. Sticking the flashlight in his mouth, he shifted the gun to his left hand and wiped his right on his jeans.
Voices. He was getting close. He could see another open wall, the light coming from a room beyond. He couldn't see Jim or Lyons, but that was okay; it should mean that Lyons couldn't see him either. He hoped.
Only about ten more steps. Blair turned the flashlight off and pocketed it, slowing down so he wouldn't trip. He stepped off onto a concrete floor and crept toward the open wall, put his back not-quite-touching it, and edged along to the end. Mentally rehearsing the fastest prayer to the most well-disposed deity he knew, Blair risked a lightning-quick peek, glimpsed Lyons' back, and tried another, longer look.
Lyons had his back to the door, the briefcase in one hand, gun undoubtedly still in the other, though Blair couldn't see. Jim faced him, hands at his sides, looking as cool as ever. That non-expression drove the bad guys crazy. Blair had tried to cultivate one himself, but even when he could manage to keep his face still, he couldn't do anything about his eyes. Jim said they always gave him away. He could bluff at poker, he could obfuscate with the best of them, and he could bullshit his way through meetings with a police captain or an academic advisor. He just couldn't look as though he didn't care. He wasn't sure if that was good or bad, in the general scheme of things.
"What now?" Jim asked.
"Now we close the door and wait for your cop friends to give up and go away. They'll be certain we slipped away somehow, and expend their efforts on trying to figure out where I could have taken you. Just to be on the safe side, I'll give them a few hours."
"Then I leave and you stay here."
"Simple as that?"
"Not quite. Before I leave the country, I'll call your father and have him wire a small deposit to a little account I have set up in the Cayman Islands. He was willing to give me a hundred thousand to protect you. Think how much he'll pay to get you back alive. Once I'm safely away, I'll let Daddy know where you are."
"What about my mother's records?"
Lyons waved his arm. Yup, he still had the gun. "They're here, Jimmy. Feel free to take them with you when you go. And if for any reason I don't get safely away, you can die knowing they're securely entombed with you. At least, until the city finally gets around to demolishing this place."
Jim grinned at the huge man, laughing softly.
"What's so amusing, Jimmy?"
"You, Lyons. You think you've got all the angles covered."
"Yes. I do." Sharply, "You know, it might be fun to shoot you after all, Jimmy."
That's your cue, Sandburg. Blair stepped into the doorway, bringing Jim's gun up with both hands. "I wouldn't do that, Lyons."
Lyons glanced over his shoulder. Geez, the guy could at least look surprised. "Mr. Sandburg, to the rescue. All alone?"
"The cops are right behind me." My hands are not shaking. My hands are not shaking. "Drop your gun."
"I don't think so."
Lyons started to turn. Oh God, don't! Blair squeezed the trigger, but Jim was already lunging at Lyons. Lyons switched his aim. Both guns went off. Jim cried out in pain, but there was no answering cry from Lyons. Jim fell to one knee, clutching his arm. Oh God, Jim! Blood was leaking through his fingers. Don't look, you idiot, watch Lyons, watch Lyons! Blair wrenched his gaze away from Jim. The briefcase slammed into his wrist--Ow! Shit!--sent the gun spinning from his hands. It clattered to the floor, but he didn't see, he was too busy staring up into Lyons' grinning face and not at the gun in the enormous hand, not at the gun, don't look at the gun, Sandburg, you complete fuck-up.
"No rescue this time," Lyons said.
Blair closed his eyes. Oh, man, Naomi's gonna be pissed. God, Jim, I'm sorry.
The gun went off and he flinched. Flinched? He was supposed to fall dead, wasn't he?
Blair opened his eyes. Lyons crashed to the floor, blood spreading across his back and chest. Jim still knelt, the backup gun from his ankle holster in his bloody fingers, left arm hanging at his side. Blood soaked his sleeve and dripped from the tips of his fingers.
"Oh my God, Jim!"
First snatching the gun from Lyons' lax fingers--he'd learned something in three years--Blair threw himself down beside Jim. He yanked his shirttail from his jeans, tore off a strip of cloth, and wrapped it around Jim's arm. Jim hissed when he touched it, and swore, but didn't pull away.
"Dial it down, Jim," Blair murmured. "Come on, man, you can do it."
"Simon's coming," Jim gritted.
"Great. In here, Simon!" he shouted. Jim winced, and Blair grimaced in sympathy. "Sorry, Jim. Geez, I'm sorry. I screwed up."
Jim relaxed a little, the pain under control. "You did fine, Sandburg."
"I almost got us both killed, man. That is not 'fine'. I should've waited for Simon."
"Did I hear that right?" Simon stood in the doorway. He surveyed the scene, snapped, "Get an ambulance!" at Brown, then approached Jim and Blair. "Sandburg, did you actually admit that you should have waited for me?"
Blair couldn't meet his eyes. "Yeah."
Jim shook his head. "If you had, Lyons would have shot me."
"Jim, he did shoot you."
"This is nothing, Sandburg. If you hadn't been there, I would have had to make a move then anyway. And Lyons wouldn't have been distracted."
"I missed. I pulled the trigger and I missed. I had King Kong standing six feet away from me, and I missed. How is that possible? Oh, God." Blair sank back on his heels, feeling the blood drain from his face. "I tried to shoot him. I tried to shoot someone."
Simon's hand came down to grip his shoulder. "You did what you had to do, Sandburg."
"Yeah. Yeah. I know. I know. I--" Shut it down, Sandburg. Shut it down! Blair shivered and looked up at the captain.
"Simon, what's taking that ambulance so long?"