This universe just cries out for Jim-angst, so beware.
There's three first-person angles in this one, instead of two.
This is the third story in the Alternate Reality series. You need to read A New Day Dawns and Human Needs before this one.
Hope you enjoy!
P.S. Thanks for all the comments on Traces I, and for all the ideas for Traces II and beyond!
The young lady at the receptionist's desk, smiles up at me. I tell her my name is Captain Simon Banks, Cascade P.D. The smile remains. I add that I'm here to see Jim Ellison. The smile is replaced by a grimace, and --I won't testify to this, mind you-- her eyes look like they are about to glow red. "I'll have to see if Mr. Ellison is in," she growls and stabs at a button. A door opens behind me and I see a red-headed man who looks vaguely familiar. Man? Kid. I'm starting to wonder if this whole place is staffed by no one over twenty-one.
"Captain Banks, I'm Paul Garrity," he says and extends his hand. "I'm Mr. Ellison's assistant."
"Assistant?" I ask aloud. "Wait. I've seen you with Mr. Sandburg. I thought you were his assistant." According to my background check, Ellison is a private detective with one client, Blair Sandburg. Why would he have an assistant?
"This is a small office, sir. I assist everyone," Garrity says easily. "Mr. Ellison is a busy man, Captain. If you state the nature of your business, I'll see if he can fit you in."
Okay. Now I'm starting to get ticked...and maybe just a little worried. Something's happening and I'm not quite sure what it is. I'm a trained, armed officer in a lawyer's office, which means I have nothing to fear, right? Well, tell that to my usually right-on-the-nose instincts. They are currently screaming at me that these children I'm facing-- an assistant and a receptionist, for Christ's sake-- will toss my big, six-foot-four butt out of here if I'm not really careful. I won't say I haven't been intimidated before, and unlike some of the members of the badge, I'll even admit to having been scared. But never in a passive situation like this...confronted by two friendly-looking kids-- friendly-looking that is, until I said I was a cop looking for Ellison.
Some of my officers could take lessons from them.
"Mr. Ellison is an acquaintance of mine. I came to ask a favor of him," I explain slowly, my hands in clear sight at all times.
It's as if a big wind comes through the office and blows all the tension away. Suddenly, the smile is back and the woman's eyes are merely a warm, chocolate brown...and Garrity becomes this harmless creature who nods and says he'll check with Ellison. He even tells Audrey, the receptionist, to get me a cup of coffee. I decline the offer, not sure I want anything from these people-- without having it tested first.
"Come on back," Garrity calls and leads me to a door that states, "Blair Sandburg, Attorney."
"I'm here to see Ellison," I remind the kid gently.
He nods and opens the door, then walks away. "Come in, Captain Banks, " the attorney says and I come face to face with the famed man himself. Now, I know why this man scares me. In fact, he's scared a lot of people much richer than I am. He always aims for the pocket, and he prides himself on the number of clean "kills" he's had. Some say he is a champion of the poor and downtrodden. I thinks he gets his rocks off by watching the titans of industry squirm beneath his thumb.
"Quite a security force you have out there," I acknowledge, and he frowns.
Slipping into the room-- apparently through a door I hadn't noticed-- Ellison walks over to his boss and whispers something into his ear. The lawyer smiles. "Garrity!" he yells. The assistant appears a second later. "Bonuses for everyone this week!"
While this exchange is going on, Ellison comes over to me and we shake hands. "What can I do for you, Captain Banks?"
Sandburg's attention is full on us now, so I try to keep it simple and quick. "I need your translating skills again."
"With our ever-growing Asian population, I would think the police department would have this situation under control," Sandburg says dryly. I explain about the peculiarities of fate. "What exactly do you want him to do?" he demands.
Again, I get the feeling that I must tread lightly to get out of this office whole, if not alive. What is it about these people? "There's a new drug in town. It's called Golden, and people are dying from using it. Rumor has it that it's coming through the Chinese docks."
"Distribution?" Ellison asks.
"Mainly African-American runners."
"Sounds like your typical White set-up," Ellison replies with a shrug. "Add in as many minorities as possible to cover the true source."
I look at him shrewdly. "How do you know so much?"
"Spend ten years at Starkville U. and you pick up quite a bit of information."
I've never thought of a prison as being a university, but certainly the knowledge gained there can be considered a hell of an education. "I was hoping that we could go to the Asian sector--"
"We'd probably have better luck in Hawthorne," Ellison says, grabbing a jacket from a brass coatrack.
Hawthorne is a largely African-American community in the heart of Cascade. It's so named because philanthropist Alexander Hawthorne had done an early version of urban renewal back in the '60's, building large multi-level low income housing, a.k.a. projects. When he died a few years later, his descendants took the money for themselves, leaving buildings and property half- finished. It is really a very depressing, and therefore crime-ridden, area. "Our contacts there haven't given up much," I tell him.
"Then we'll try mine." He smiles as my face reveals my skepticism. "Chief?" He seems to be asking permission.
"Go protect the tribe, big guy."
They grin and it's at that moment that I know I'm out of my league. Whatever is going on in this office between the two of them, as well as the rest of the staff, is beyond my experience. Even the reason why I'm here in the first place, has been altered by these strange inhabitants. I wanted to go to the Asian quarter. Instead, I'm heading to Hawthorne. What else will these people change about me before this is over?
Screw the mayor. I'm never asking for help again.
"Go protect the tribe, big guy."
I grin at Sandburg. You have to give him credit; once he gets something into his head, he doesn't forget it. The Sentinel stuff I buy into. After all, I'm the one with the senses, right? But this crap about the Sentinel needing to protect his tribe.... Okay, I took care of the guys in prison, but that's just because...because they needed to be taken care of. It wasn't some biological or psychological imperative. Just like choosing to help the captain is not some need in me. He's a cop. I learned the hard way it's better to be their friend and not their enemy. You see, I'm not looking after the tribe; I'm looking after me.
The captain insists we take his car and since I wasn't looking forward to leaving my Jeep on a corner in Hawthorne, I don't make a fuss. If a car gets stripped, let it be a city-owned one. I tell Banks that I have to go home first. I was in court earlier so I'm in a suit. If I go to Hawthorne in a suit, they'll either think I'm an insurance agent, a cop, or part of some mob. Since I want them to know it's just me, sweater and slacks would be more appropriate.
I direct him into the parking garage and I slide in my card to get access to the elevator which goes to the penthouses. Banks looks at me oddly, but it's best not to speak to a cop unless he asks you a direct question. Outside the apartment I smile at the sounds coming from within. Mrs. Thomas is inside, watching her soaps. "So, is the trial over yet?" I ask as I let myself in.
"No. They're saving that for a Friday episode," she replies knowledgeably. "What are you doing home so early, sweetie? You're not feeling bad, are you?" she adds, eyeing me as if I were one of her grandsons. Back at the beginning, when Sandburg was training me to use my senses without zoning, I used to get bad headaches and have to come home in the middle of the day. If Sandburg had court or an appointment he couldn't get out of, he would call ahead and ask Mrs. Thomas to take care of me.
I bend down to kiss her cheek. If I'd had a grandmother, I would have wanted her to be exactly like this lady. "I'm fine. My new friend," I point to the captain, "wants to go out and play, so I thought I'd come home and change into my play clothes."
Mrs. Thomas looks at the captain suspiciously. "What's your friend's name?"
"Captain Simon Banks, ma'am," the captain introduces himself courteously. I head to my room.
"A policeman?" I hear her say as I open my closet. Then I hear-- I actually hear-- her pull herself up to her full 5'2" height. "You play nice with my sweetie, you hear?" Mrs. Thomas threatens softly.
The captain's heartbeat speeds up and I struggle to keep from laughing. I know he really doesn't believe her to be an actual threat, but I think it's getting to him that so many people perceive him to be a threat to me. I know how he feels, because I was kinda shocked in the beginning when I realized people were actually trying to protect me. Then I realized it wasn't about me. It's about Sandburg, you see. Just like the guard in the parking garage keeps a special eye on Sandburg's car because Sandburg had made sure his sister kept getting her disability check, or the lady at the cleaner's takes care with his clothes because she thinks he's cute, people are nice to me because Sandburg has indicated I'm special to him. I was kinda happy when I figured it out. It was weird enough having one person, Sandburg, caring about me. If all these other people actually cared, it would have been too much.
I change quickly and the captain looks like he appreciates my speed. "I'll try not to be too late, Mrs. Thomas. But Sandburg should be home on time."
"I made my grands a cake last night and brought you a piece. I'll wrap it up real nice and put it on your pillow, okay? That way Mr. Sandburg won't find it and lecture you. Although, as long as you're not diabetic, I don't see where a little sugar is going to hurt you," she tells me, stubbornly putting her hands on her ample hips.
"You're preaching to the choir," I say, indicating I don't have to be converted. Sandburg limits my sugar intake because he says with my sentinel biology, just a little makes me hyper. For the same reason, he doesn't let me drink too many soft drinks either. One day, maybe I'll get up the nerve to rebel and drink a Coke and eat a Twinkie. Until then, however, I'll munch on the occasional smuggled in slice of cake. "Go on back to your story, Mrs. Thomas. And let me know how the trial turns out, okay?"
"Okay, sweetie. You be careful playing with your policeman."
"Sure thing, Mrs. Thomas."
If I look like an axe murderer, someone surely would have told me by now, wouldn't they? Maybe I just resemble the son of Satan or something. It has to be something like that because everyone I've come in contact with today, seems to think I'm dangerous to the man in the elevator beside me. Even an old lady who barely came to my waist felt the need to warn me not to hurt Ellison. Who, or what, is he that everyone thinks he needs protecting? He looks quite capable of protecting himself, if you ask me...which no one has.
We reach Hawthorne and I feel my skin crawl. I know that as a cop, and an African-American myself, I should be immune to the stereotype of such a community, that I should be able to recognize that people are individuals and not just products of their neighborhoods. But, damn it, I am really glad I'm armed as we get out of the car and hit the street. My men and I have a few contacts here, but for the most part, the area will have nothing to do with the police. I doubt if we will find out anything new down here.
I glance out of the corner of my eye at my companion, surprised at the lack of tension in him. I feel self-conscious because of the suit I'm wearing, but he should feel self-conscious here because of the suit nature gave him. To be blunt, the only White people in this neighborhood are the ones seeking to score drugs or sex. He sticks out like a sore thumb, and I'm just hoping it doesn't cause problems.
Ahead is a corner containing five males. From the bandanas on their heads, I realize they are part of a gang. Just great. I try to steer Ellison away, but he just walks up to them and stares at one of the members. I reach for my gun.
The gang-banger's hands come up...and settle on Ellison's arms. "Caretaker!" he calls and with a grin they exchange a ritual handshake. "What's up, my brother?"
They talk for a while, the only words I understand are those I've heard my teenage son use (which I made him translate just to be sure I hadn't been insulted). Apparently, Ellison is also fluent in "ebonics", the language of the urban street. Maybe prison is a university. I lean against a wall while they talk, making sure my back is protected. Finally, the conversation draws to a close. Ellison gathers me with a nod of his head and we walk back towards the car.
"Caretaker?" I inquire.
"One of the nicknames I picked up in prison," he explains with a shrug.
Caretaker. Yeah, seems I'd heard rumors about him looking out for some of the "sweet young thangs" in Starkville. "The guy you were talking to-- you protect him in the joint?"
"Nah. Marcus hasn't done prison. His uncle would kill him if he did." He gives a little deprecatory smile, understanding his words aren't making any sense to me. "His uncle, Johnson, is a lifer. He doesn't want his nephew to end up like him."
"Then he should tell his nephew to stay out of gangs."
Ellison held up his hands. "Ease up, Captain. That's not a regular gang. They exist to help clean up the neighborhood. If someone gets into trouble, they know they can come to Marcus and his friends for help."
"That's what the police are for," I point out.
"Cops don't answer calls to Hawthorne after eight p.m."
"Bullshit," I say quickly.
He shrugs and continues to walk. "How many patrol cars have you seen since we've been here?"
I open my mouth, then shut it. Hell. It seems I'm going to need Ellison's help again. He definitely has a line on the people of the city that me and mine would never achieve. "You get anything useful?" I ask.
"There's a shipment due in tonight, Pier 28, at midnight."
I stop, staring at his back as he continues. Then he realizes I'm not beside him and he turns around. "That's what you wanted to know, right?" he asks innocently.
I just nod, feeling sick at the number of police hours that had been wasted trying to get the information this man had accessed in thirty minutes. "Thanks," I say huskily.
"De nada," he replies and turns back around.
He speaks Spanish too? I wonder how much it would cost to woo him away from service to Sandburg. Oops, that's right. "Woo" is probably the operative word there. I generally disregard rumor, but I've seen for myself that he lives with the man. Even if the department has enough money to afford him, Sandburg still has an "in" that we don't.... Sorry about that. I truly hate puns.
Just as he turns around, a man walks out of one of the apartment buildings and bumps into Ellison. A White man. I wonder what he's in the neighborhood for? Sex, drugs, both? Well, no time to bust him. I have a raid to plan before midnight. I expect to hear apologies or profanity as the two collide, but I don't hear anything. The two men are frozen as they stare at each other. That ol' cop instinct of mine flares up again. It's time for me to get out of Dodge. "Ellison," I call, hoping to ease the standoff. Both men turn. Well...shit.
"Captain Banks, this is my brother Stephen," Ellison-- my Ellison-- says and the tension I thought he should have had when we arrived, has finally made an appearance. Something tells me this isn't a family reunion that's going to lead to picnics and T-shirts with the family tree stamped on them.
"You snitching for the cops now, man?" the other Ellison sneers.
"He's assisting me in a particular matter," I feel compelled to say. Damn. Now I'm getting protective of the man. Time to put an end to this part of my day. "Let's head back to the office," I tell my "assistant".
"If my brother is free," Ellison begins, and the other nods, "I think I'll hang with him for a while."
What can I say except, "Okay." I mean, he's a grown man, capable of making his own decisions. If he wants to visit with his brother, what right do I have to stop him?
But as I get into my car and drive away, I get the feeling that I've done something terribly wrong.
I wonder if the captain realizes how expressive his face is...or maybe it's just that way to me because I'm a sentinel. Each day it gets harder for me to tell the difference between what I sense and what's normal. I often find myself saying to Sandburg, "Do you hear that?" or "Do you smell that?", and he'll just roll his eyes and I know I've unconsciously slipped into sentinel mode. Anyway, I can tell Banks is truly stunned by my accusation that cops don't work Hawthorne. My first thought is that he's a lazy cop. Then I realize he rarely has anything to do with patrolmen. He's Major Crimes, with a slew of detectives working for him. He doesn't have time to notice what the other cops are doing...or not doing. But now that he knows, I feel reasonably sure someone is going to be hearing from him soon.
The captain is also spooked by my ability to get information from sources he thought were tapped dry, and I'm feeling pretty full of myself. On the inside, I played it honest with Johnson and the rest of the brothers, and word always makes it to the street. So the people of Hawthorne, like Marcus, know I'm a straight shooter and in return, they give me my "propers", a.k.a. proper respect. Hey, I'm getting kinda good at this translator gig.
I'm so busy gloating over the fact that I've accomplished something the cops couldn't, that I don't sense the body coming out of the building until it's too late to avoid the collision. I open my mouth to make my apology, when I suddenly find myself without words.
It's his eyes which identify him for me. It's been nearly eighteen years since I've seen my brother. He was a gangly adolescent with acne and an attitude when I left. Now, he is a man. Although I'm four years his senior, I think I look the younger now. Probably because of the heavy tobacco smell coming from him. Smoking is bad for you in so many ways. Shit. I'm starting to sound like Sandburg. Anyway, I find myself staring and empty-headed. I go to Hawthorne to help out a cop and end up face-to-face with my brother. What a bitch.
We probably would have stood there forever, just staring at each other, if the captain hadn't interrupted us. I introduce him to Stephen, then beg off when Banks wants to leave. I mean, I can't run into my brother after nearly two decades and not talk with him, right? The captain leaves us and I become aware that now it's just me and my brother. There are so many things I want to know about him. I have a brother, yet I don't know him. Before, I don't think that would have bothered me. But Sandburg has taught me about being a brother and maybe now, I have the chance to have two of them. "Wanna go get a drink?" I ask, when it seems as if neither of us is going to speak.
We walk a couple of blocks and just like that, we are out of Hawthorne and into "Downtown Cascade", a recently rebuilt area with trendy nightclubs and bars catering to the upper middle class. No. Sandburg would call them the "sociably correct." Hmm. Maybe I should bring Sandburg down here. It would make him so happy to shut down the entire operation within a week.
We choose a bar, get our drinks, then slide into a booth. Conversation has noticeably lagged and I can feel him withdrawing. If I don't do anything soon, he's going to leave...and I don't want that. "How's Dad?" I find myself asking.
He shrugs. "Don't know. Did one of your numbers, Jimmy-- got the hell away from him as soon as I was legal."
There was more I could have asked about Dad, but working with Sandburg has taught me never to ask questions I don't want to hear the answers to. Hey, has anyone noticed how often I quote Sandburg? He admits to being obsessed with me. I think I'm returning the favor. "Where'd you go?" I opt to ask.
"Got a job, man, like everyone else in this fucking world, except you." He pulls out a pack of cigarettes, shakes one out, and lights up. "Hell, you're the only person I know who's never held a real job his entire life."
The cigarette smoke blowing directly in my face is starting to make me nauseous, so I concentrate on not getting sick instead of his words. Eventually, I'm able to make my senses adjust. "What the hell are you talking about, Stevie? I worked from the time I was able to fake my age."
He laughs, taking a swallow of his drink when he starts coughing. "Mr. Murphy gave you an after-school job of stocking the shelves of his little grocery story. That wasn't real work, man. When you got old enough for that, you got out of it by joining the Army. Hell, they gave you room, board, and fucking paid you. For what? Didn't have a fucking war the entire time you were in, did they?"
"Oh, there was a little something in the Middle East," I remind him.
"Were you there?" I shake my head. I was engaged in something else at the time. "See? Fucking charmed life. You come home, then get your ass thrown in jail for ten years, once again getting everything you need without lifting a single damn finger. Now, you're out of jail and what? Shacking up with some rich lawyer, right?"
"I'm a private investigator," I say, trying to understand how he can consider being in prison a good thing. And where the fuck had he come up with the idea that the Army wasn't work? I'd like to see him do the things I had to do there. Hell, he wouldn't have even made it through Basic.
"Yeah, a private eye with a cop babysitting him. What's the matter, Jimmy? Your lawyer didn't want his snookems out by himself?"
So, I'm remembering that it wasn't just my father I had run away from, okay? I'm sorta remembering that my little brother is an asshole in his own right. But that's all right, because now I'm a man and his snide nastiness doesn't have the power to hurt me. But.... "Watch what you say about Blair Sandburg, little brother. I can still kick your ass, and Dad's not around to stop me. Understand?"
He pales and gulps his drink, signaling for another. When the waitress arrives with his drink, she asks me if I want anything else, but I decline. I'm cautious with hard liquor. The decade in prison was a dry period and Sandburg, health freak that he can be, doesn't allow me to drink. Which doesn't bother me because the last time I drank, I lost control of all my senses and ended up a bloody mess the next morning. I give her a ten and ask for a diet Coke. She brings me the drink and my change. I tell her the ten was for her and that the Coke can go on my tab. She smiles and hands me her telephone number.
Stephen laughs and she moves away, embarrassed by his loudness. I sigh and ask him to tell me about his life, since mine was mostly front page news. Mellowed by the alcohol, he tells me I have a niece. She lives with "the bitch who's always ragging me about child support." Hearing that, I figure finding out the details wouldn't be much of a problem. I'll just have Garrity search the court records tomorrow. On the inside, men would rhapsodize about their kids and favorite nieces and nephews they liked to spoil. Now, maybe I would get a chance to do that.
A telephone rings and I realize Stephen has a cell phone. Either he's forgotten what I can do, or he thinks the noise in the bar is enough to cover what's being said, or he's too drunk to care, but he starts talking right there at the table. I don't consciously eavesdrop, but like I found out in prison, I hear a lot without even trying.
"It's still on schedule for midnight," the voice on the phone says.
"The amount we agreed on?" Stephen responds.
"Yes. You know, you can have your people cut it a bit more. Golden can be stretched and the customers can't tell the difference."
Stephen chuckles. "If you don't tell the boss that, I'll cut you in on the sale of the extra," he offers.
"Deal, man. Your people ready to move it?"
"Ready, willing, and able. Talk to you later. Ciao."
Stephen closes the phone and stands up. "I have some business arrangements to make, so I gotta split. Catch up with you later, man."
He leaves just in time for me to make it to the rest room to throw up. Wish I can say that makes me feel better, but it doesn't. It's one thing to remember your brother is a jerk. It's another to find out he's dealing drugs...and skimming his boss in the process. A goddamn drug dealer-- dealing in shit that is killing so many people that Major Crimes is involved. The knowledge hurts. I don't know why it does, but it does. I clean myself up, pay my tab, leave the waitress another tip, head outside, and throw up again in the alley.
As I sag against the wall of a building, I realize that at this particular moment in time I hate my brother, my father...and myself.
I pace the penthouse nervously. It's after midnight and Jim's not home. Earlier in the evening, I felt something flicker in the bond that connects sentinel and guide. It wasn't an echo of physical pain, but it was pain. I had immediately called Captain Banks, but according to the desk sergeant, "Captain Banks is involved in a special detail and cannot be reached." Did this mean Jim had gotten them a lead? And was the sentinel now somehow involved in this "detail" and wasn't allowed outside contact? That seemed to make sense and one of the reasons why I haven't gotten in my car and gone to look for my friend.
There's another reason too. I want Jim to have his freedom. That's why I teased him instead of "giving him permission" when the captain asked for his help. After my mom's visit, I'd begun to realize that I'd made Jim dependent on me. I hadn't meant for that to happen, but you look at Jim, and you get this urge to help him, you know? It's not because he seems needy. In fact, it's quite the opposite. He has this quiet strength that tells you he's going to make it, with or without you, and it just makes you want to stand up and applaud. He's like that Olympic athlete who has fallen, but he's determined to finish the race, so even though he's bloody and limping, you see him coming around the track and you, and the rest of the crowd who have refused to leave even though the winner has been crowned, cheer him on as he crawls across that finish line.
That's Jim, you know. Life has beaten the crap out of him. His mother leaves, and his father and brother blame him for that, punishing him for something that was NOT his fault. Then he has these senses, and instead of trying to help him make heads or tails of them, everyone tells him that they are bad, that he's bad for having them. He finally escapes the hell of home, finds a niche in the Army, but his old demons come back to haunt him and he runs away again...only to end up in jail for a crime he did not commit. By this time, most people would give up, either by succumbing to the image that society has of them, or by just ending it all. But not Jim. Jim's still trying, going against all odds. You'd have to be a really sick human being not to feel something for him, not to want to help him. That's why Garrity and Audrey jumped to his defense when the captain came calling. That's why Mrs. Thomas has a piece of cake waiting for him on his pillow. Not that I was snooping in his room. I went to the mall this afternoon and came across a couple of CDs that I thought he might enjoy, so I dropped them off in his room and just happened to spy the sweet treat. I admit it; we all spoil him rotten. But the sad thing is, he doesn't know it. The concept of someone treating him nicely is so alien, he can't even grasp it.
I hate his family.
The phone rings. "Jim?" I ask quickly.
"No, Mr. Sandburg, this is Captain Banks."
"Is Jim with you?"
A pause. "No, sir. I left him in Hawthorne hours ago."
"You left him in Hawthorne?" I sit heavily on some piece of furniture.
"He asked me to. He wasn't alone, though. He was with his brother and...."
Banks continues talking, but I'm beyond listening. His brother. Jim was with, or had been with, his brother. I don't know who I'm angrier at-- the captain for leaving Jim alone with the son of a bitch, Jim for staying with the son of a bitch, or the son of a bitch himself. Stephen Ellison is near the top of my list of people who had hurt Jim. He'd called Jim a freak when they were both children; there is a slim chance I can forgive him for that because he was only mimicking his father. He had bitten Jim on the leg so badly that Jim was permanently scarred; he was only a child so there's a slight chance of redemption for this abuse as well. But Stephen had been an adult at the time of Jim's trials, both the one that had sent him to prison and the one which had gotten him released. Had he come to see his brother during those times, come to see about his brother? Nah. Son of a bitch let his brother rot in prison without so much as a birthday card. That will never be forgiven.
Now, it seems that Jim had accidently ran into Stephen, and Captain Banks left the two of them alone. I'm not sure if that will be forgiven either.
"Mr. Sandburg, are you still there?" the captain's asking urgently.
"Jim isn't home, Captain Banks. He hasn't called. And if you tell me not to worry, I will cause you considerable pain. Do you understand?"
"I'll put out an APB on him," Banks offers quietly.
"You do that. Let me know the minute you hear anything."
I hang up the phone and grab my jacket. A few weeks ago I had promised Jim that if he stayed out too long, I would come looking for him. Well, in my opinion, it's been too long.
Hang on, Jim. I'm coming.
Shit, fuck, damn. I knew it. I just fucking knew it! I shouldn't have left Ellison. Why did I pick today of all days to ignore my instincts? And I had been feeling so good before I made the phone call. Ellison's information had proven to be 100 percent. The latest shipment of Golden to Cascade was in the hands of Narcotics, the shippers all in custody. The mayor had even called to say good work. That was why I had returned Sandburg's call so late. I thought it was Ellison trying to see if the bust had worked. I wanted to praise him as I had been praised. But the man hasn't made it home yet, and now his roommate is on the warpath, and guess whose neck is in his direct path?
I'm just a block away from the station, so I don't radio in an APB. I'll just do it from my office. But when I step into the station, I find it's not necessary. Ellison is waiting for me when I go to leave some forms at the front desk. I'm happy, mad, and worried at the same time. I'm happy because now Sandburg has no need to rake my life over the coals. I'm mad because if Ellison didn't want to go home, he didn't have any business dragging me into it. And I'm worried because the man looks awful. It's apparent he's been through something since I last saw him.
"Call your roommate," I say gruffly, even as I'm pushing him into the elevator for a short trip up to Major Crimes.
"Did you get the drugs?" he asks softly.
"Yes. Call your roommate before he turns over every rock in Cascade looking for you."
"Do you have enough to bring down the whole operation?"
"No. We only put a kink into the delivery system." I lead him into my office and pick up the phone. "What's the cell number?" He recites it distractedly. I dial.
"Sandburg." I hand the phone to him.
"It's me, Chief.... Captain Banks' office.... Okay." He hands the phone back to me. He doesn't say so but I know Sandburg is on his way. I call the front desk and tell them to direct him to my office when he arrives.
"This drug," Ellison begins hesitantly. "It's really bad shit?"
"Five deaths from the hallucinations it creates and three more from bad reactions. The really sad part is that the oldest one was only twenty."
He closes his eyes as if the information is causing him actual pain. "And this bust tonight, it won't stop it, will it? Come next shipment, more kids will die."
"That's the tough part about police work. You just learn to keep on going because eventually you'll get the break you need, and the network can be shut down," I say, wondering if that's what's bothering him-- the futility of it all.
"I think I have that break you're looking for," he says softly. Then he raises his head and I swear to God I have never been so close to pure misery before. "My brother," he whispers. "My brother is pretty high up in the organization."
Okay. Instead of hopping on the phone and getting all the necessary info on one Stephen Ellison, I merely stare across my desk at the man and say, "You sure you want to tell me this?" He nods stiffly. "Give me what you know."
He's going through the telephone call for the second time when Sandburg breezes into the office. "Jim," he calls and I watch him go through the same three emotions I experienced-- elation, anger, anxiety. "Oh, man," he sighs, taking the chair next to his friend. "Whatever trouble you're in, don't worry about it, okay? I'll take care of it." He looks to me for explanations.
"He's not in trouble," I tell him hurriedly. "It's his brother." Sandburg visibly relaxes. "Jim"-- I've never called him Jim before, but it fits this moment-- "overheard a conversation his brother had on the phone. It seems he's pretty deep into the distribution end of Golden."
"You're bringing him in?"
"Two of my men are searching for him right now."
"Good. Keep us informed. Let's go home, Jim," he commands.
"Can't. They, uh, want to try to make Stephen roll over on his boss. I think my presence will force him to consider their offer."
Sandburg nods and leans closer to his roommate, partner, whatever you call them these days. "Close your eyes and take a deep breath, Jim. Now, tell me what hurts."
Sandburg wraps his arms around Ellison and I know that it's time for me to leave because, damn it, I'm about an inch from hugging him myself. Happily for me, my detectives, Brown and Rafe, walk into the bullpen at that moment, dragging Stephen Ellison between them. I have to do the questioning myself because they haven't heard what Jim overheard.
I am so looking forward to taking this bastard down.
Jim's voice on the phone left me shivering, so I waste no time getting to the police station. Thankfully, I'm just waved through and directed to the sixth floor. My first thought when I see him is that he's whole-- no blood or visible injury. Then I'm angry because he could have called me earlier. Sure, I might have been miffed to find out he was with his brother, but I can sleep miffed; worried left me pacing. Lastly, I take in his pale, bloodless condition, and the pain that flashes in those wonderful blue eyes, and my heart breaks for him. I don't care that he was with his brother. I don't care that he didn't call. I don't care that he's in a police station. All I want to do is take him home.
"Whatever trouble you're in," I tell him, "don't worry about it, okay? I'll take care of it." Since he seems to be in no condition to tell me what's going on, I look to Banks for answers.
If I say I'm shocked to hear what Stephen Ellison is into, I would be lying. Any son of a bitch that could ignore the suffering of his own brother, surely didn't care about anybody else's suffering. I just hate that Jim is the one who overheard the conversation and has to be the one pointing the finger. He doesn't need this. I had just about convinced him that he has the right to be happy, and this happens.... You know, if I ever get to heaven, and the way I'm going now I probably won't, but if I do, me and God are going to have a long talk about the way he treated this man.
When I learn I can't take him home, I try to deal with his pain there in the office. This is a very private man, so I try to keep comfort to a minimum when we're not alone, but when he tells me everything hurts, and I know he means his heart, that is my undoing. I have to hug him. I feel him stiffen and I'm afraid I've been too bold, then I realize the detectives are bringing Stephen in.
The captain leaves and Jim adopts a listening pose. I don't have to ask him what's going on because I can tell from his little movements that Stephen is lying his ass off. Should have known he wouldn't go out of his way to give Jim a break. Eventually, Jim can't take it anymore, and he leaves the office and enters the bullpen. I guess since it's the wee hours of the morning and no one else is around, they opt to interrogate Stephen there instead of in one of the rooms set aside for that purpose.
Anyway, Jim walks over to Stephen. "Cooperate, Stevie," he tells him wearily. "They know everything."
"How do they know?" Stephen asks suspiciously. Jim touches his ear and-- yes!-- there is a spark of intelligence in the younger Ellison. His eyes widen in remembrance of his brother's talents, then they narrow in hatred. Without warning, he picks up a stapler from one of the detectives' desks and slams it against Jim's cheek.
Jim has been conditioned not to react to violence so he just stands there, blood coursing down his beautiful face. The rest of us, however, have learned to act. Stephen is pinned to the floor by three cops and me. When the captain is certain that his two men have him under control, he plucks me off the yelling man and tells me to take care of Jim. I reach a trembling hand toward the cut on his face, wincing because I know my touch is going to cause pain, but he doesn't react. That's when I realize he's listening to Stephen and Stephen is saying awful things about him, like that their father should have drowned him when he had the chance, or maybe he should have gone ahead and shot him instead of just threatening him with the gun, because then everyone would have been better off. Although Jim isn't crying, everyone else is close to tears and while one of the detectives handcuffs the prisoner, the other holds his hand over his mouth to shut him up.
By this time, Banks has handed me a roll of gauze and I have it pressed against Jim's cheek. I take Jim's hand-- which is way too cold-- and move it to replace mine. Then I walk over to Stephen. There is a physical resemblance to Jim, but that's it. When I look into his eyes, I see a soul that is just as dark as his brother's is light.
"Cooperate or don't cooperate," I hiss, glad when he pulls back from me. "It won't matter in the end. Because in the end, you will have to deal with me, you stupid fuck, and I guarantee your life, however short that might be, will be one steady, continuous hell. This is a promise I make on your brother's blood, blood you spilled. That's twice, Stephen. Twice you've marked this man, but I swear to you, this is the very last time you get close enough to hurt him."
"So he's that good of a fuck, is he?" Stephen asks when the detective removes his hand. "At least you found something you're good at, huh, freak?" he spits out in Jim's direction.
I swear I don't know where the letter opener comes from in my hand. I just know that when Jim grabs me, it's there, maybe a half an inch from Stephen's heart. "He's not worth it, Chief," Jim whispers raggedly.
"No, he's not," I agree. "But you are, Jim." I wrest my arm away from him. The three cops are just watching us. Probably could convince them to testify that I went temporarily insane.
"Don't leave me...alone again."
The letter opener drops to the floor. I step back toward Jim, but my words are aimed at Stephen. "Where you're going, you probably better learn to get good at it too," I say silkenly. "But then again your skill, or lack thereof, won't matter to your partners. All they're looking for is an asshole. And you are definitely that."
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jim sway, and immediately I forget his brother. "We need to get you to a hospital," I say as I steady him.
"Let me drive you," the captain pleads and I hear the guilt beneath his voice. Sure, why not? In the mood I'm in, I'd probably run over any Q-tips anyway. You know who I mean-- those white- haired old ladies who think 35 m.p.h. is way too fast.
We settle into the back of Banks' sedan and Jim mumbles something. "What's that?" I inquire softly.
"Don't wanna think no more," he slurs.
"Then don't," I say gently, smoothing my hand across his short hair. "Just dial everything down and let your guide take care of you."
How the hell could he be worrying about that piece of.... "Stephen will be fine, Jim."
He shakes his head. "Not Stephen. I had two brothers. Now, I have only one."
His eyes open for just a moment and the blue orbs scan me like one of those machines in Star Trek. He smiles, closes his eyes, and leans into my hand. "My brother."
What a hell of a benediction.
If anyone asks me for the details of what went on in the police station, I can't answer. Here is all that I can recall:
I find a bench and wait for Captain Banks.
The captain comes and leads me to his office.
He dials Sandburg and I talk to him?
Sandburg comes. I remember that clearly.
They bring Stephen in. He lies and lies until I can't stand it anymore.
"Cooperate, Stevie. They know everything." I touch my ear to remind him what I can do.
Pain, then numbness.
Words, words, words.
I wonder why no one else sees the letter opener when Sandburg grabs it. I stop him. Why? "He's not worth it, Chief."
When he wants to continue, I realize why I stopped him in the first place. If he does this, he will be taken away. "Don't leave me...alone, again."
Sandburg leads me to a car. I keep flashing on things Stevie has said and I don't want to. "Don't wanna," I whisper.
"Don't wanna think no more," I say clearly for my friend, my anchor. He touches me and tells me he will take care of me. Silly. I already knew that. He's more than my guide. He's.... "My brother."
His anger radiates off him like a high fever. He thinks I'm talking about Stephen. Not anymore. "I had two brothers. Now, I have only one."
This one I won't ever fear. This one will never let me fall. Never.
Captain Banks helps me get him home. The hospital wanted to keep him. I think they thought he was on something because of the spacey way he was acting. He only moved when I moved him. He only spoke when I urged him to. I refused to let them give him a local anesthetic when they stitched his face; his system was already far too depressed. Jim never flinched or made a sound. I asked them about scarring and they shrugged. That's okay. If he scars, I'll get the finest plastic surgeon to work on him. Stephen has left one permanent mark on him. I'll be damned if he gets a second.
The captain seems surprised when he sees Jim's room. It's rather obvious that the room is occupied on a regular basis, and is occupied by only one person. Damn. Another rumor bites the dust, I suppose. We strip Jim to his boxers and fluff the covers over him. I tell him to sleep and he obediently closes his eyes. Then Banks and I walk out to the living room.
"I'm sorry for whatever part I played in this," Banks says. "Any other relatives I should be wary of?"
"His mother ran out many years ago, so I have no idea where she is. But his father was last seen here in Cascade."
"And if he comes around?"
"Shoot to kill. Don't worry. I'll get you off without you losing your badge."
He peeps around the door into Jim's room. You have to look real hard just to see if he's breathing. "Okay."
I smile. "Welcome to the club, Captain."
"What club would that be?"
"Those who vow to protect Jim Ellison. You can't help yourself, you know. Everyone who gets even a brief glimpse of the man beneath all the superficial scars are instant initiates."
Banks frowns, and I realize he's a man who doesn't like unexplained compulsions. "Why?" he asks, assuming I must know the answer.
"Because it takes a rare soul to survive what he has, and remain intact...whole. Do you know how much of a miracle it is that he still cares? The love and care he's been on the receiving end of could be measured by the teaspoon. Yet, that hasn't stopped him from giving it."
"Caretaker," Banks says softly. "That's one of the names they gave him in prison."
Caretaker. So similar to sentinel. So definitive of the man. "We have to protect him, Simon."
A quick nod of agreement. "I need to get back to the station. I'll keep you informed on the Stephen Ellison matter."
The captain leaves and although it's late, I can't bring myself to head upstairs. Instead, I straddle a chair beside Jim's bed and rest my chin against the padded back. I can't see in the dark like he can, but the white bandage on his face sort of glows and eventually my eyes adjust enough so that I can watch his chest rise and sink. It takes me a while to realize I'm crying. But I'm not ashamed to be crying for this man. More tears than mine should have been shed for him long ago.
His brother by way of blood had betrayed him, let him down. His brother by way of heart would not be so careless with such a precious package.
"I see the label, Jim," I murmur softly. "It's as plain as day: Fragile! Handle With Care. So sleep and grow strong. Your army of protectors will watch out for you and even if they fail, I'll be right there beside you. If a piece gets broken, I'll hold onto it for you until we can put it back in place. And we will put everything back in place."
That's a promise from one brother to the other.