Jim sat down at his desk and unwrapped the double jumbo cheeseburger Taggert
had brought back for him. Four hours of interrogating Rupert Crowley, with or
without his lawyer, was more than anyone should have to deal with. Ah. Perfect.
Grease ran off the burger, sliding over his hands. He opened his mouth to take
a bite, and the phone rang. He wiped one hand clean and picked it up.
"Hey, Partner." What, did the kid have some kind of remote cholesterol
detector? "How'd your class go?"
"Fine. What happened at the gallery?"
"We arrested Rupert Crowley."
"For the murder?"
"Not yet. We don't have the evidence. But we've got him for breaking into the Hatch Gallery, and for robbing you last night."
"Yep. Your backpack was in the trunk of his BMW. All your stuff was still in
"No. They were gone."
Blair's voice fell with his hopes. "Oh. What about the copies?"
"Gone, too. Sorry, Partner. You did all that work for nothing."
"No, Jim. It's my fault."
"Don't start, Sandburg."
"Did you search his apartment yet, Jim?"
"Yeah. We found the paintings stolen from the gallery, and the keys to the file
"He was pretty stupid, huh?"
"Most of 'em are, Partner."
"I guess." Blair was silent for a moment. "Why'd he do it, Jim?"
"Jealousy. Arthur Hatch dumped him for someone else."
"Oh." There was a problem with that theory. Jim waited, to see how long it
would take Blair to figure it out. While he waited, he took a bite of the cheeseburger. He
was still chewing when Blair said, "Jim. What about the masks?"
Bingo. Eight seconds. "What about them?"
"Well, if Crowley killed Arthur Hatch because he got dumped, then where do the
masks fit in?"
"You think they should?"
"Come on, Jim, they have to. Why else would he steal the packing slips? If the
masks had nothing to do with Arthur Hatch's murder, then Crowley wouldn't care who found
out what happened to them. He wouldn't have had any reason to steal the slips or break
into the gallery."
"Unless he was trying to throw us off. Make us think Hatch was killed because of
"Do you think that's it?"
"It could be. You said there's nothing about Wainwright's mask that would make it
worth killing for."
"Yeah, but Jim, there are twenty-three other masks out there. Maybe one of them is
worth killing for."
"Maybe. Do me a favor, Partner. Try to remember as many of the names from the
packing slips as you can, and write them down."
"Okay, man. Um, you should ask Toni, too."
"Ms. LeClaire's already working on it."
"What?" Outrage filled the younger man's voice. "Jim, you figured all
this out already, didn't you?"
"It occurred to me."
"Then why'd you let me go through it all again?"
Jim grinned. "Just testing, Professor."
He laughed. "Don't worry, you passed. See you later, Partner."
Jim hung up the phone, and ate his cheeseburger. It was cold, but the call had been
worth it. He'd make a cop out of the kid yet. Hell, Blair was already a cop in everything
but name and paycheck. And respect. Okay, so he was young. And he didn't look like a cop.
Or act like one. And they couldn't explain exactly what it was that made him so invaluable
without telling everyone about the Sentinel thing, which Jim was not prepared to do. None
of that mattered. Blair was his partner, and should be accepted as that. Period.
Jim wiped his hands and opened the top drawer of his desk. He'd stopped by Records
earlier and asked Sandy for a copy of the calls that had come in to his phone yesterday.
She'd obliged cheerfully, not quite hiding her disappointment that Blair wasn't with him.
Jim popped the tape into the player, set the volume so low that no one else could hear,
and turned it on. He fast-forwarded to Blair's call, received at 9:03 P.M., and listened
to the conversation between his partner and Martin Ballard. Then he played it again. And
"Huh?" Jim started, looked up to meet Joel Taggert's eyes.
"What's up with you, man? You all right?"
"Yeah. Sorry, Joel, I was just--concentrating." Jim shut the tape player off.
"What can I do for you?"
"Have you got the Anderson file?"
"Yeah, it's--" Martin Ballard walked past the door, heading down the hall to
the men's room. Jim heard the door close. He stood, grabbed a file from his desk, and
thrust it into Taggert's hands. "Excuse me, Joel."
Ballard was washing his hands when Jim entered the men's room. The stalls were empty;
there was no one else in the room. Good. Ballard looked up. Jim kept his voice quiet and
"We need to have a talk, Ballard."
"What's the matter, Ellison?" Ballard grinned. "Not getting any at
Jim grabbed Ballard's shirt and shoved him up against the wall, holding him there with
an arm across his throat. "Listen very carefully, Marty. When my partner calls, you
don't lie to him. You don't tell him he can't reach me. You put him through. Do
you understand that?"
Ballard tugged on Jim's arm, trying to pull it away from his throat. His eyes were
bulging, his heart pounding, and he was starting to sweat. "I don't know what you're
talking about, Ellison."
"You know exactly what I'm talking about, Marty. Sandburg called here last night,
looking for me. You told him I was only taking emergency calls."
"Did he tell you that?"
"You calling my partner a liar now, Marty?"
Anyone else would have known better. Not Ballard. "Yeah, I'm calling him a liar.
And I'll bet he lied about other things, too."
Jim went still, easing the pressure on Ballard's throat. "What other things,
Deceived by the lightness of his tone, Ballard got brave. And even more stupid.
"You know, Ellison. He put out for another guy, then got scared you'd find out. So he
cried rape. Chicks do it all the time. You think your little piece of ass is any
Jim yanked Ballard away from the wall, slammed him back again. He wanted to kill him.
He wanted to rip the disgusting bastard's throat out. He could do it. They'd taught him a
lot in covert ops. Ballard was pale, sweat running down his face, but he tried to tough it
"Let go, Ellison. I'll bring charges."
"No you won't, Marty. Because if you do, I'll play the tape of your conversation
with Sandburg for the Captain." Ballard turned gray, and Jim smiled. "You forgot
incoming calls are taped, didn't you, you stupid shit? It's all there, 'sweetheart', every
word of it."
"So? Sandburg was calling to tell me he'd found evidence vital to a murder case
we're working on. Because of you, he didn't get through. Because of you, he was robbed at
gunpoint, and the evidence was stolen. Because of you, my partner could have been
killed. What do you think the Captain would do if he heard that, huh, Marty? You do
exactly what I tell you, or the tape goes straight to Banks."
"What--what do you want?"
"I want you to treat my partner with the respect he's earned. That means no more
insults, no more innuendos, no more lies. You don't talk to him unless you have
to for police business, and when you do, you're polite. You don't talk about him
at all, to anyone, unless it's to say what a wonderful job he's doing and how much you
wish you could be half the cop that he is. And if he ever calls me again, and you answer
the phone, you put him through to me no matter where I am or what I'm doing, and you do it
immediately. Now, you'd better understand all this, Marty. Because if I even hear
a rumor that you're not showing my partner the proper respect--and you'd be
amazed how good my hearing is, Marty--if I hear even a rumor, I will give that tape to
Captain Banks. But before I do, I will pound your sorry ass into the ground. Is that
Ballard's eyes were practically popping out of his head. "Yeah."
"Good." Jim released Ballard, and stepped back. "Now get out of
Ballard fled the men's room. Jim turned to the sink and washed his hands clean.