"Okay, people, read Chapter 11 and I'll see you on Friday." Blair Sandburg dismissed his students at Ranier University and starting refilling his backpack. He was so intent on what he was doing, he didn't notice the two suited men remaining in the seats at the back of the classroom until he heard the applause. He looked up and his eyes widened in surprise.
"So, Professor Sandburg, you want to show us how that mating dance goes again?" one of the men taunted laughingly.
Blair raced to the back of the room to greet the two Baltimore policemen. "Tim, Detective Pembleton, what are you doing in this neck of the woods?"
"Woods is right," Frank Pembleton said with a frown. "Do you feed the trees steroids out here or what?"
Tim Bayliss shook his head at his partner. "Frank prefers his skyscrapers to have electric lights and fire escapes."
Blair shook their hands, then perched on the back of a chair. "I'm serious. What are you guys doing here? And why didn't you tell me you were coming? I would have arranged to have the day off, Jim too. By the way, cool glasses, Tim."
"A prisoner was being extradited from Baltimore to Seattle so we volunteered for the job. Thought the change of scenery would be nice," Bayliss said.
"Tim volunteered," Pembleton explained. "I'm his partner, so I was forced to tag along."
Bayliss scowled at his fellow detective. "Anyway, we're on our way back. Our plane leaves Cascade Airport at midnight."
Blair looked at his watch. "Not much time at all, man. Let me get my stuff and then we'll head over to the station and get Jim."
"Whoa, Sandburg," Pembleton said firmly. "We can't take the man away from his job."
Blair grinned. "Sure we can. Simon will understand."
"Simon? You call your captain by his first name?" Bayliss asked, impressed. He had assumed Captain Banks was like his own Lt. Al Giardello, a stickler for protocol. Although most of his men addressed him as Gee, that was as personal as it got.
"Yeah, but only sometimes to his face," Blair snickered, as finished zipping his backpack. "Besides, Jim's only doing paperwork this afternoon. I was just on my way over to help him."
Bayliss looked at Pembleton, both of them thinking how weird it was that a college student moonlighted as a policeman's partner. But then that wasn't the only weird thing about Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. A few months ago the four of them had spent a night investigating a murder in Baltimore. Thanks to the gentlemen from Cascade, the name on the board had changed from red to black within hours. During the process of the investigation, however, Pembleton and Bayliss had noticed Ellison seemed to have some sort of edge, some way of getting information before lab results got back. Even the murder itself showed Jim wasn't "normal"; he'd seen the murder occur from quite some distance away. Weird and slightly spooky.
It seemed, however, the people in Cascade didn't see anything wrong with Ellison and Sandburg, but the two Baltimorans managed to get some strange and/or hostile stares as they accompanied Sandburg to the police station. When these looks were paired with questions of Blair's well-being, Bayliss finally asked the anthropologist what was going on.
Blair smiled. "Sorry, guys, but in those suits you look like federal agents. We're not so formal around here."
Pembleton had noticed that. Apparently grunge wasn't just a Seattle thing. "And federal agents are the enemy? I mean, they act as if we intend to harm you."
"Uh, it's a long story," Blair said, turning slightly red with embarrassment. "Just understand that I have a tendency to get into trouble and the guys around here have a tendency to be a little protective of me. Come on to the elevator. Major Crimes is seven floors up."
"Sandburg's here," Captain Simon Banks said to the detective sitting on the other side of his desk. It was a slow crime day, but these two were veterans of the department. They knew there was always work to be done if one looked hard enough; hence, they were busy discussing the unsubstantiated claims of certain fishing lures.
Jim Ellison looked at his superior officer in amazement. "This Sentinel thing isn't catching, is it?"
Simon shook his head. "You're becoming a creature of habit, Jim. Sandburg comes into the building and your head cocks to one side just slightly. Dead giveaway, man."
Jim smiled. "I'll try to control myself in the future, Simon."
"And there goes that little frown which means something's not quite right with your partner."
Jim shrugged. "He's excited about something."
Simon sighed. "And here's my frown which means keep him away from me. Sandburg's bouncy enough without adding excitement to his matrix."
Jim upped his senses a bit. "He's not alone." He sniffed, smelling something vaguely familiar. He rapidly ran through the list of what it could be, a list that was nearly a mile long now that Sandburg had him memorizing every scent that caught his attention. Baltimore crab? He grinned and moved toward the door. "Help, Simon, we're being invaded by the East Coast," he called loudly enough for the men approaching the Major Crimes bullpen to hear.
He walked out to meet the two visitors and Blair, Simon following curiously. "Captain Simon Banks, may I present Detectives Frank Pembleton and Tim Bayliss, Baltimore Homicide."
"Ah, Al's guys. Nice to meet you, gentlemen. I hope you're not here on business?"
"No, sir," Pembleton said, taking the extended hand. "Just passing through for the evening."
"Yeah, they're flying out tonight, captain," Blair said suggestively.
Simon knew Blair's tricks. Calling him captain so politely meant he wanted something. He saw the kid looking at Jim eagerly. Such an open book. "And what do I get in return, Sandburg?"
Blair didn't even pretend not to understand. "An update of Major Crime's homepage?"
Not bad. It would make the unit appear to be on the technological edge. "Deal. Take him and get out. Hope you enjoy your visit, gentlemen." Simon shut his door and returned to his desk.
"Told you it would be easy," Blair crowed.
Jim shook his head slowly. "Why do I feel so used?" he muttered as he reached for his jacket.
"Maybe it was because you were just bought for the price of a website," Bayliss pointed out helpfully.
"Thanks for reminding me why I'm glad you came for a visit," Jim said dryly, his blue eyes brimming with amusement. "So what's the master plan, Chief?"
Blair shrugged. "There's not a lot of time to do anything and that's quite a long plane ride facing our guests. So I thought we'd take it easy. Cook dinner at the loft and lay low. If that's okay with everyone?" Nods were all around. "Great. Now we head to the market."
Jim saw Pembleton's reaction to that suggestion and felt sorry for the guy. After all, he was married--probably didn't know what a market looked like and didn't care to find out. "You can go to the market, Chief, but I'm heading back to the loft for a beer. Anyone want to join me?"
"Sign me up, Ellison," Pembleton said quickly.
"I think I'll join Blair," Tim decided.
"Perfect," Blair nearly shouted. "Jim, you take Det. Pembleton--"
"Can't we make it Frank," the detective interrupted.
Blair thought he was a little daunting to be called Frank, but if he'd managed to get comfortable with Jim the Intimidating, he could handle Frank the Daunting... "Sure, Frank. Jim, you and Frank can head to the loft in the truck and Tim and I will use their rental car."
"Where's your car, Chief?"
"I left it in the lot at the university. No one will mess with it."
"Pity," Jim said sourly.
Blair rolled his eyes. "We really have to work on your sense of humor, man. Let's get out of here before Simon changes his mind."
Blair and Tim got off on the first floor since the rental car was in the visitor's lot while Jim and Pembleton rode on to the parking garage below. Pembleton eyed the blue and white pick-up with disdain. "You people truly believe in casual, don't you?" Jim unlocked the passenger side door for him. "What, no gun rack?"
Jim just smiled and got in the truck. "Your prejudice is showing, friend."
Jim didn't know it but he'd hit a sore spot with Frank. Ever since the Wilson case, a homicide involving a wealthy Black family, Frank had been questioning his racial bias-- something he didn't think he had a problem with until that case. He still wasn't sure his mishandling of the murder of the family's maid was due to color-blindness or because he had held Felix Wilson in such high regard. It was damn hard to discover your hero had feet of clay. "I'm sorry, Jim."
"Apology accepted, Frank." Jim could feel something brewing in the man and he wondered if that was what Blair had been hinting at earlier. He'd been so eager for them to pair off in this manner and that signaled he thought Jim should have a talk with Frank. About this? Or was it something else? He needed to get the detective talking. "So how's that little boy of yours?"
Pembleton's head shot around. "You know about my son?"
"Sure. Tim mentioned it to Blair and Blair passed on the news." Was something wrong with that?
"Blair and Tim have kept in contact?"
I think I just found the problem. "You don't talk with your partner much, huh?"
"What's to talk about?" Pembleton asked offhandedly, but it did bother him the way he and Tim seemed to be drifting apart. Was that because of the Wilson case too or had it started back with his stroke?
Jim sighed. "I'm going to be honest with you, Frank. I think Sandburg wanted the two of us to be alone so I could give you a crash course in Ellison's Guide For The Proper Care And Feeding Of Partners."
Pembleton laughed. "A course in what? You're kidding, right?" Jim wasn't smiling. "Hey, man, I don't need this."
"Don't worry," Jim said comfortingly. "It goes really well with a cold bottle of beer." He pulled into a parking space and led his companion up to the loft.
"Nice place," Frank said, looking around. "Neater than I expected, considering your roommate. But then I remember him complaining about house rules. That part of your partner handbook?"
Jim grabbed two bottles of beer from the refrigerator and motioned for Frank to join him on the balcony. "Nah. Roommates have a whole other guide. You ready to get started?"
"What, no handouts?" Frank remarked dryly, uncomfortable with the subject. "Can't you just tell Blair you tried and I just couldn't comprehend?"
Jim smiled. "I promise to be gentle, Frank. And if it makes you feel any better, conversation on your part is optional."
"In other words I can just sit here and ignore you?"
"If that's what you want. But Rule # 1 sort of demands you pay attention."
Frank held up his hand. "Just so I'm prepared, how many rules are there?"
"I can handle that." He took a swig of the beer. Nice. He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. "Proceed, Professor Ellison."
"Rule # 1: A partner's job is to watch your back, therefore distractions are bad."
Pembleton opened his eyes and peered curiously at Jim. "That's it?"
"Think about it," Jim ordered gently.
Pembleton did and he concluded that it made a lot of sense. A cop couldn't work properly without someone watching his back. And if the person chosen to watch said back had his mind on something else... Maybe Ellison was right; he should at least listen to what the man had to say. "Okay, where do we go from here?"
"Chapter 1: Identification of Distraction. There are three main types of distractions: a) personal: something is happening in your partner's personal life, usually family or significant other oriented."
Like an uncle who sexually abused you as a child. When Tim had admitted that to him, he'd felt so much hurt for his partner. And then when he had followed him and saw Tim was trying to take care of the bastard in his old age...
"Next distraction is b) partnership: a misunderstanding, argument, betrayal, whatever has come between you," Jim continued, listening to Frank's breathing and heartrate, not to mention watching the reactions on his face, to gauge when the man was ready to move on.
Back to the Wilson case. Tim had gone behind his back to side with Ballard and Gharty. It had hurt, far more than he let on. Suddenly he had felt as if he were alone in the middle of an ocean. And the bad thing was that Tim had been right to let the others do the investigation their way. Had he ever told his partner that? Or was Tim still living with the guilt?
"Finally, we have c) work-related distractions: cases that are so bad they stay with your partner, haunting him whether solved or unsolved."
Adena Watson. Would Tim ever get over his first big case? Would he ever see a murdered child and not have Adena's face and battered body in the back of his mind? "What's Chapter 2?" he asked hurriedly.
Jim nodded. This was going well. Frank wasn't nearly as stubborn and self-righteous as he wanted to appear. He cared for his partner, just had trouble admitting it and showing it. Jim could relate. "The Removal of Distractions."
"Well?" Pembleton asked impatiently. Tim and Blair would be back soon.
"You have to talk them out."
He should have known that coming. Everyone thought talking solved everything. He just didn't get it. "Why? How are a bunch of words going to make a difference?"
Jim looked at him in amusement. "You, Frank, the master of the interrogation box, are questioning the power of the spoken word?"
"How? How is it different, Frank? In both instances you are searching for the truth, for answers. You make people tell you things they swore they would never admit to, maybe things they had buried so deep they had convinced themselves the events had never happened. You do this with strangers everyday. You can't do it with a friend?"
Pembleton shook his head. This was becoming too out there, too New Age-ish, too Californian... too damn close to making sense. "So I just walk up to Tim and say, 'hey, man, spill your guts?'"
Jim shook his head. "Thankfully there's Chapter 3: The Feeding of Your Partner. It helps you connect. First you have to feed him mentally. Whether it's your case or his, ask for his help. Talk the case over with him, exchange opinions."
Okay. So I've been ignoring him for the past few weeks. The last case Pembleton had, he'd asked another detective to partner with him because Tim had stepped out for a minute. Tim hadn't been happy about it, but he had asked if he could help. Wonder if Sandburg had already given Tim an oral copy of the partner guide?
"You also have to feed your partner spiritually. That means you have to share. You can't expect him to open up to you if you don't do a little yourself."
Well, at least he had that one covered. Tim was there when Mary, his wife, had been rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section. He had "shared" with his partner that night, hadn't he? He had even mentioned how he'd never had to wait in a waiting room before. Of course, Tim said he had, waiting with Mary when Frank had his stroke... Had he ever thanked Tim for that, for being with Mary and their little girl Olivia while he was in the hospital?
"And lastly," Jim said, watching Frank's thoughts flicker through his face, "you have to feed them physically. Something beyond the coffee room doughnut or a quick lunch on the job. Go out to dinner together or better, cook dinner for him."
"I have a wife, you know," Pembleton pointed out.
"That works. Tell your wife to have a night out with her friends. You invite Tim over and the two of you babysit the children together."
He, Tim, and two babies. Mary would have a fit. But she would enjoy having a night out with her girlfriends. Having the C-section had taken a lot out of her and now that he had rotated back to Homicide (he'd spent the summer working Robbery), he wasn't around to help her with the kids as much. "Okay, Ellison. What's next?"
Jim held up his hands. "That's all there is to it, Frank."
"What? No touchy-feely stuff? No wilderness jamborees?"
Jim laughed. "You can do the wilderness bit if you want to. Sandburg and I try to go camping or fishing every so often."
Pembleton shook his head. "Keep your big woods, man. I'm city born and bred. If I want to see animals I go to the zoo. If I want to see fish, I go to the Aquarium. The only other time I want to see fish is on my plate, preferably non-moving."
Jim heard Blair's voice and consciously stopped his head from tilting. It was as if Sandburg had timed his "partner speech" and knew the exact moment to return. He listened closely as the voices moved away from the loft. Where were they going? Probably to the store on the corner. Wonder what Blair had forgotten to buy? Then Jim heard a cry of pain.
"Shit!" he yelled, leaping to his feet. Pembleton had no idea of what was happening but when Jim took off for the door, he was right behind him.
There was chaos on the street. A dog was barking, a woman was crying, Blair was shouting for everyone to calm down, and Bayliss was yelling for someone to "get it off my foot!" The two newcomers decided to act first and get the story later. Both went to the car that was against the curb and pushed it back, and off Bayliss' foot while Blair set the brake. Pembleton helped Bayliss to the back seat of the rental car and Jim kneeled down to inspect the damage.
"I was an army medic, Tim," he said to reassure his patient. "Anybody want to tell me what happened?"
Dog, woman, Bayliss, and Blair all started up again. "I think the man wants one story," Pembleton said, his voice cutting through the noise. "Tim, you tell us what happened." He figured his partner was in pain and relating the events would take his mind away from his foot.
"I was going to get some candy to eat on the plane at the store. Suddenly, this car rolls right over my foot. I look up, and in the driver's seat there's only a dog."
The woman spoke. "My Mitch. He must have moved the gears or released the brake or something. He didn't mean anything. It's my fault. I'm so sorry."
"Anybody call the police?" Pembleton asked.
"The store clerk did," Blair said. "How's the foot, Jim?" he asked, putting his hand on his partner's shoulder to give Jim a chance to inspect the foot with the full scope of his sensitive touch without zoning.
"Broken in two places." He felt Bayliss tense up. "But they are both clean, simple fractures. You should heal quickly. Chief, take him to the emergency room for X-rays. Pembleton and I will handle the cops and get all this straightened out, okay?"
"Where was this in your handbook?" Pembleton asked Jim as they watched their partners drive away.
"An appendix. There will always be additions, Frank."
Three hours later, the four men settled down to a dinner catered by the local KFC. It was funny, but the evening turned out just as Blair had planned--just a little later, and a pair of crutches hadn't been in the picture. Once everything had been cleared up, the incident had become the comedy highlight of the day and Bayliss spent most of his time trying to talk Pembleton out of telling the guys back in Baltimore that he had been run down by a dog.
"Come on, Frank. You can tell them a child did it, can't you? Or that it just slipped out of gear by itself? I mean it's bad enough I'm going to be on these crutches but to have to listen to all those dog jokes... Have a heart, Frank."
Pembleton looked at Jim and winked. "You're boring our hosts, Tim. Thankfully it's time for us to leave anyway. I must say it's always interesting with you two," he said to Blair and Jim.
"I was about to say the same thing," Jim said as he helped Bayliss to his feet. "Just think what would happen if we spent more than just a few hours with each other."
"Armageddon?" Pembleton guessed.
Blair sighed. "I knew it was a danger leaving you two together so long. I'm sorry, Tim, but I think my partner may have given your partner his lack of a sense of humor."
"Don't sweat it, Blair. Frank never had much of one to begin with," Bayliss said, grinning.
"This from the man who is dependent on me to make it back to Baltimore since he has two extra legs and one less foot to deal with." They rode down the elevator together. "Say goodbye, Tim, before I leave you," Pembleton said, as he held the door for his partner.
"Goodbye," Bayliss said obediently. "Remember our plans, Blair."
"I'll work on them, Tim. You do your part, okay?"
They watched the car fade into the night, then headed for the stairs. But Blair suddenly stopped and turned around. "Thank you, Jim."
"For what?" he asked, almost crashing into the other man.
"For understanding what I wanted you to do. For actually doing it. And for doing it so well, I could sense the difference in Frank immediately."
Jim shrugged. "The thanks should go to you, Chief. You're the one who taught me everything I know about being a partner."
Blair laid his hand on Jim's shoulder. "I think we taught each other, man."
Jim looked at his partner and felt the connection flowing through them. This was what he wished for Pembleton and Bayliss. This instance in time when you and your partner could discuss anything like... "Chief?"
"Do I want to hear about these plans you and Tim are making?"
Blair burst out laughing. "Nah, not right now. But I'll let you know when." Blair grinned and ran up the stairs.
Jim followed at a more sedate pace. "You do that, Chief," he said softly. "You do that."
Because the flight wasn't full, the stewardess had moved Pembleton and Bayliss to first class so that the broken foot could have more room. "How you doing?" Pembleton asked as the flight leveled off.
"I'm okay." He closed his eyes, then opened them again. "Did you see my X-rays, Frank? My foot was broken in two places. He knew."
"Yeah, well, Jim Ellison knows a lot of things. But he's a good man and that's what matters."
"You're exactly right, Frank." He patted his coat pockets. "You don't have any gum or anything, do you?"
"Here, Tim." Pembleton reached into his pocket, pulled out a small paper bag and handed it to his partner.
Bayliss took it and peered into the bag cautiously. Then he smiled. "You got my candy, Frank! And it's all the ones I like. How did you know?"
"I'm a detective, Bayliss. It's my job to know such things." From the corner of his eye, he could see the huge grin on Tim's face. Ellison was a genius. "I don't think I told you, but this trip was a good idea."
"I'm glad you enjoyed yourself, Frank."
Pembleton could see Bayliss really meant that. "I'm sorry about the Wilson case, Tim. You weren't wrong to let Ballard and Gharty question the Wilson son."
"I just wanted to cover your back, Frank. If you were headed in the wrong direction--"
"Which I was," Pembleton interjected objectively.
"Then I wanted to make sure our other options were open. Because I knew eventually you would figure it out. You're too good of a cop to go down the wrong trail for long."
"I let prejudice blind me."
"No, you put too much faith in your idol. You forgot he was just a man."
Pembleton gazed at his partner. "Are you sure of that? Because I'm not."
Bayliss nodded. "I'm sure enough for the both of us, Frank." He yawned and felt the pain pills he'd popped at the airport starting to take effect. "Wake me when we land in Baltimore, okay?"
"Will do." Pembleton reclined his seat and laughed silently. Ellison was one sly dog. In all his talking, he hadn't mentioned the fact that what was good for one partner, ended up being good for both. Now he was going to have to remember Ellison's Guide For The Proper Care And Feeding Of Partners so he could pass it on. To whom first? Meldrick? It was already too late to save him and Kellerman. And Falsone, well he wasn't too sure of him yet. He was a bit too cocky and he seemed to ask a lot of questions about stuff he should leave alone. What about Munch? The man didn't exactly have a partner. He and Kellerman were supposed to be working together but he'd had that New York case with Falsone... Who was left? Ballard and Gharty? But they didn't seem to have any problems.
Well, it seemed he was going to have to keep the information to himself for a while. He couldn't really see himself saying all those things Ellison had said anyway. Maybe he would write it down. And sell it to law enforcement agencies all across the country. Hell, he wouldn't even mind sharing the millions with the crew in Cascade.
Cascade? That reminded him. "Hey, Tim, what kind of plans you making with Sandburg?"
Bayliss tried to open his eyes but they refused to function. "Trust me, Frank," he said sleepily. "Just trust me."
Pembleton nodded and adjusted the pillow the stewardess had handed him. "I do, Tim," he said firmly. "I do."