"We aren't home yet, Sandburg," Jim reminded his companion as he looked for the correct exit.
"We leave in the morning. All we have to do is deliver this gift for Simon, eat a few of those famed Maryland crabs, and we're out of here. What?" he asked quickly as Jim swerved the car to the side of the road and stopped. His partner didn't reply but continued to look off in the distance where Baltimore Harbor gleamed in the setting sun.
"Damn it!" Jim said as he got out of the car. "We need to find a phone, Chief."
"What's up, man?"
"I just saw a body go flying off a balcony of a hotel and land in the harbor. I need to call it in."
Just then a highway patrol car pulled up behind them. "Trouble, gentlemen?"
"Yes, sir," Jim said respectfully, keeping his hands where the officer could see them. "I'm Detective Jim Ellison of the Cascade P.D. in Washington... State," he added belatedly to clear up any confusion. "I just saw a body fall into the harbor."
The man looked at him incredulously but either he saw something in Jim's eyes or he took into consideration Jim's profession, and went to his car and called the incident in. "Harbor Patrol is sending a rescue team out. If you'd be so kind as to follow me into the city, I'm sure the local police would like to talk to you."
Jim nodded and got back into his car. "What were you saying earlier, Chief?"
Sandburg, who'd stayed in the car because he knew his long-haired presence might have affected Jim's credibility with the other officer, just shook his head. "Nothing, Jim. I said nothing at all."
Blair watched Jim scan the harbor as the divers kept coming up empty handed. His friend's jaw was clenched and he wasn't sure if it was because the local policeman who was with them doubted Jim had seen anything, or the rescue team was taking too long, or because he wanted to be out there in the water with them. All Blair was sure of was that the Sentinel was getting tense and that wasn't a good thing. "They'll find the body soon, Jim."
"I think it was a woman, Chief."
"Really?" He looked around and saw that the officer had drifted off down the street. "Let's see if we can get a little more detail. Close your eyes, Jim, and I want you to picture what you saw. But I want you to slow it down, frame by frame. Are you with me so far, Jim?"
"Yeah," he said slowly. "I see her falling. Short hair, dark. She wearing blue... a blue pantsuit."
"Good, Jim. Now go back to the first moment you saw her. Where was she?"
"Twelfth floor, third balcony. There's someone holding her but she's blocking my view. I can't see him. Now she's over the rail and falling."
Sandburg spotted two men walking purposely toward them. "Okay, Jim, you did great. Come on back now. Come back to the present."
Jim blinked. "It's murder, Chief."
"What's murder?" a bald, African-American man asked as he came up behind Jim.
"And you are?" Jim asked.
"Detective Frank Pembleton and my partner, Tim Bayliss. You were saying something about murder, sir?"
"Just speculating, detective. I'm Jim Ellison and my partner, Blair Sandburg."
"From Cascade, Washington. On the police force there, correct?"
Pembleton glanced at Bayliss. "Ah, a multi-purpose division. Impressive. We just work Homicide."
"Homicide? So you've found her then?" Blair asked eagerly.
Once again the two Baltimore detectives shared a glance. "Her?" Bayliss asked. "First it was a body and now it's a 'her'?"
"Yes, detective," Jim replied, not liking the tone of the question. "I believe it was a female, dark hair, pantsuit."
Bayliss looked at the harbor, then back to the highway where carlights streaked by. "And you saw all of this from up there?" he asked cynically.
"My partner has very good eyesight," Blair retorted defensively. Back in Cascade people had stopped questioning Jim's ability to see or hear what others didn't. It was frustrating to be hit with the skepticism again.
"Hey, detectives, we got something," the officer ran up to them and said.
Minutes later, the harbor patrol boat came up to the dock. In the bottom lay the corpse of a dark-haired female wearing a blue pantsuit.
"Det. Ellison, we're going to need you to come with us to the station," Pembleton said curtly, pointing them toward a white Cavalier parked nearby.
"Do you know a Lieutenant Giardello?" Jim inquired.
"Why do you ask?" Pembleton replied suspiciously.
"I have a gift for him in my car and since we were going downtown anyway, I wondered if we could drop it off or leave it somewhere where he could get it."
"You know the lieutenant?" Bayliss asked.
"No. But my captain, Simon Banks, does and he asked us to deliver a package to him."
Pembleton rolled his eyes. "By all means, get the lieutenant his package. I wouldn't want to have to explain to Gee that a murder investigation got in the way of his gift."
Blair was impressed by the size of the squad room. "In a place this size, I might even have my own desk, huh, Jim?"
"You don't have a desk?" Bayliss asked curiously.
Blair flicked his eyes to Jim, who shrugged and silently told him it was his mess, so get out of it. "Technically, I'm not a cop."
"Then what are you, technically, Mr. Sandburg?" Pembleton was beginning to wonder about these visitors from another precinct. Their story was getting more farfetched by the minute. One claimed to have seen what he couldn't have possibly seen, not from where he claimed he was anyway, and the other had pretended to be a cop.
"I'm a police observer, Det. Pembleton."
"Which means what?"
"I'm an anthropology grad student at Ranier University. I'm studying the police as part of my dissertation."
"But Ellison said you were his partner, isn't that right, Det. Ellison?"
"What exactly does a police observer do?" Bayliss asked when it became apparent Ellison wasn't going to elaborate.
"Anything Jim tells me to do," Blair answered lightly, trying to ease the tension. Why had he opened his mouth at all? He knew the routine; let Jim talk to strange cops because he knew the secret handshake and all that. All he had to do was be quiet and they barely would have noticed him.
While Bayliss led them to a desk, Pembleton went and tapped on a door. "Gee, there's someone out here to see you."
He was joined by a large dark-skinned man who exuded power. Blair could immediately see why he and Simon were friends. "Lt. Giardello, this is Det. Jim Ellison and his partner, Blair Sandburg from Cascade, Washington."
"Cascade? That's Simon Banks' territory, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir," Jim said, handing him the white box he'd carried across country. "Captain Banks sends his regards and says to tell you that you know where the other one is. He was sure you'd understand once you opened the box."
"Oh, I will, will I?" Giardello tore through the ribbon and opened the box to reveal one rubber fishing boot. He broke out in a broad grin and started laughing. "Oh, yes! I know exactly where the other one is." The men looked at him expectantly. "Private joke," he said, wiping away the smile. "You're Simon's men, detective?"
"And the ones who called in about the body in the harbor, Gee. We need to complete our report."
"Carry on, Frank. It was good meeting you." Giardello smiled and went back to his office.
Pembleton cleared his throat. "Since you're a cop, I hope you understand that you two need to be interviewed separately."
Jim shrugged. "Sandburg, tell Det. Bayliss whatever he wants to know." Blair followed the detective quietly. "So, Det. Pembleton, here or in the interrogation room?"
Pembleton smiled and led him to the place known affectionately as "the box". "So, how did you know I wanted to talk to you?"
"You're the primary detective and I'm the primary suspect."
"Has anyone said you're a suspect? Has anyone read you you're rights? I just want to ask you questions that's all."
Jim laughed. ""I know more about the murder than you do. Therefore I am a suspect. But don't worry. I'll waive rights if it will save time."
Pembleton liked it when they were a challenge. "Tell me why you're here, detective."
"For the past six days, I've attended a conference on serial killers at the FBI Building in Washington, D.C. I can give you a list of people who saw me and I'm sure the surveillance tapes are on file somewhere. Just make the request."
"And was you 'partner' with you?"
"He spent most of his time in libraries and museums. I'm sure he will supply Det. Bayliss with a list."
"Why were you in Baltimore?"
"Our captain asked us to deliver the package to your lieutenant since we were going to be close by. Our plane leaves in the morning, so the plan was to drive here, eat, and get a room for the night near the airport."
"But you saw a murder."
"Did you know the victim, detective?"
"How did you know what she was wearing?"
"I saw her fall. Ask the highway patrolman. He pulled up immediately afterwards."
"Until time of death has been set that doesn't prove anything."
"Then we need to speak with the medical examiner."
"He's correct, Frank," Giardello said, entering the room. "Captain Banks says these two are the best team he's got and if you knew Simon like I know Simon, you'd know how good that is. He also says if Ellison saw a murder, he saw one and if we want to get it down in black on the board, the quickest way would be to let Ellison and Sandburg do what they do best. So get out of the box and back on the streets."
"But, Gee, Sandburg isn't even a cop," Pembleton protested.
"So what? You need a badge to follow orders? Apparently not. Go. Get out of my station."
"What the hell happened, Jim?" Blair asked as he and his friend followed the Baltimore cops down the stairs. "One minute I'm being grilled about your whereabouts and the next we're on the case."
"Giardello talked to Simon. By the way, I wonder who won the pool?"
"I think it was Brown. I think he pulled Day 6, evening."
"Excuse me?" Bayliss said. "I couldn't help overhearing about a pool?"
Blair blushed. "Jim and I rarely have a vacation where something doesn't go wrong. The pool was the day and hour someone would call the station and ask for verification of our identification. If it was a hospital or another police department, the winner would receive an extra fifty bucks."
Bayliss howled. "That doesn't bother you?"
"I drew 'no call'. I was hoping I'd win," Blair admitted.
"Detective?" Bayliss asked. Sandburg was easy to get along with, but Ellison seemed more temperamental than Pembleton- if that were possible.
"I pulled Day 2."
The ride to the M.E.'s office was quick and silent. In the hall, Blair turned to Jim. "I think I'll wait out here."
"I'll wait with Sandburg," Bayliss told his partner.
"Whatever," Pembleton said and pushed through the doors, with Jim on his heels.
"Two of a kind, huh?" Blair said, indicating the disappearing pair.
"I was thinking the same thing. They can be annoying, huh?"
"Eccentricity often accompanies brilliance."
"Uh huh. I take it because it comes with the badge. Why do you?"
Blair shrugged. "Jim's my friend. He needs me."
"He admits that?" Bayliss asked. "He admits you're friends and that he needs you?"
"Yeah. Not often, but yeah."
"And here I thought we had something in common. I can't even get Pembleton to invite me over for dinner. I bet you and Ellison have dinner together all the time."
"Since we live together, I'd say that was a pretty safe bet."
"You live together?"
"Yeah, my apartment sort of blew up and Jim was nice enough to offer me his spare room."
"Great. Just great. My partner's wife left him and I didn't even know anything about it. That's how much we share. So Jim's not the hardcase he appears to be?"
"I wouldn't say that. You should see his list of 'House Rules'. Can you say 'Type A Personality'?"
"Frank had a stroke two years ago. Right there in the box during an interrogation. God, we thought we had lost him."
Blair could see the remembered horror in Bayliss' eyes and understood. How many times had he wondered if he'd lost Jim? "Hard to imagine life without them, isn't it?"
"I didn't want Frank to be my partner when he returned to duty."
"Fear makes us stupid at times."
Bayliss looked at him in amazement. "You actually understand, don't you?"
"Yeah," Blair said with a small laugh. "If there's a problem with partnership, Jim and I have been through it. Doubts, fears, women, bombings, shootings, kidnappings, psychos, we've survived it all. Then we go out and do it all over again."
"Why? I still don't understand why you do this."
Blair shrugged. "There was a point in time when I was offered this great opportunity to go Borneo as a research assistant to a favorite professor. I wanted to go. Jim gave me his blessing. I even packed. Then we received word that Simon, our captain, and his son had disappeared and were presumed dead in a remote part of Peru. They told Jim he was crazy to go down there to look for them. Politically, the region was unstable and you were literally taking a chance with your life just by approaching the area. Why take the risk for friends who most probably were already dead? But Jim was determined to go, either to find them or bring their bodies home for proper burial. I got on the plane with Jim and haven't looked back since."
Bayliss shook his head at the dedication Blair had. What had Ellison done to deserve such loyalty? "How did you hook up with Ellison?"
"Jim didn't have a partner and my butt fits nicely into his truck's passenger seat," Blair said flippantly, easing the somber mood. Although Bayliss seemed easygoing, a minute ago there had been a haunted look in his eyes that chilled the Guide. He wondered if anyone ever sat down with the detective and let him, hell, even forced him to talk about what he must have seen or experienced on the job. Blair personally hated it when Jim took it upon himself to make the younger man confront the "boogymen", but it made sleeping, and living, a lot easier.
"Truck? You get to drive a truck on the job? That's great!"
"Not for the truck."
"I bet it's a nice one with all the options, right?"
"You're referring to the one Jim had when I met him, but there was this incident... Then Jim got a Ford Expedition. Gotta love those sports utility vehicles. It was luxury indeed," he said in fond remembrance.
Blair nodded. "But there was another incident... Now Jim has this blue piece of-"
"History, Sandburg, a classic pick-up," Jim said as he and Pembleton came out of the morgue. "Let's roll, Chief. We're going to the crime scene."
"Alleged crime scene," Pembleton corrected, marching down the hall.
"Should try a Cavalier," Bayliss said as he hurried to catch up with his partner. "Despite numerous 'incidents', they never go away. I take it the lovely Dr. Cox didn't come up with anything helpful?" he asked Frank, wondering if that was why the detective was so obviously ticked off. He also knew that Julianna Cox, Baltimore's Chief M.E., could become quite scathing if rushed.
"The good doctor informed us that time of death was approximately 6:32 p.m. That's according to the watch found on the body which stopped upon impact with the harbor. The woman was dead beforehand, however. Strangled. The fingerprints should be ready in a few hours."
"She thinks we'll be able to get fingerprints?" That was a break. It was rare for fingerprints to show up on skin.
"No, she didn't know whether there would be fingerprints or not. But he," he said, jerking a thumb back toward Jim, "he's certain that there are fingerprints. He even knows the killer is right-handed because, according to him, the right imprints are deeper than the left."
"How did Cox take his comments?"
"At first she was pissed, then he told her to check the hands for foreign material. Apparently the victim scratched her assailant. Most of the tissue washed away, but our man from Cascade spotted some residual material in the crevice of the nail on her left index finger. Needless to say, the doctor was impressed."
"What about you, Frank? Are you impressed?" Bayliss couldn't resist asking.
"Shut up, Tim."
Blair had listened to the byplay with interest and looked up at his tall partner. "You were showing off, Jim," he said in a whisper only a Sentinel could hear. "Was she pretty?"
"Not bad, Chief," he admitted with a smile. "But I wasn't showing off; I was merely playing team ball. That's what Simon wants us to do, right?"
"Yeah, right, Jim."
"Mr. Thomas Bailey? We're sorry to disturb you, sir, but we're with the Baltimore P.D. and we have a warrant to search this room," Pembleton told the sleep-rumpled man who appeared in the doorway of Room 1206 of the Harborview Twin Towers.
"I don't understand. Did something happen?"
Jim listened to the man's pulse and couldn't tell whether his reaction was due to being awakened in the middle of the night by police or because he was lying. He had a feeling it was a little bit of both.
"Sir, if you would just wait down the hall with the officer, we would appreciate it," Pembleton was saying as he shoved past the man and went inside. "Okay, Ellison, this is your show. Do you want to check the balcony to make sure this is the room you 'saw'?"
"It's the right room." Jim could smell the woman's perfume in the room, an odor much stronger than the one which remained on the woman's clothing they had inspected at the morgue. He did go to the balcony, however, looking for proof Pembleton could comprehend. Sometimes the enhanced senses made a case difficult; he knew certain facts but had to find another way of proving them to others. That was where Sandburg's obfuscations often came in handy.
But with Pembleton and Bayliss looking so closely over their shoulders, he knew it was left up to him. He searched the railing for fingerprints but found none. Apparently the killer had cleaned up behind himself. No fingerprints at all was evidence in a way, but it didn't prove a murder had taken place. He nearly smiled as he spied something stuck in the mortar of the bricks edging the balcony.
"Didn't Julianna say something about a ring?" he asked as he reached into the evidence case for a pair of tweezers. Pembleton had refused to bring along an evidence team until he was satisfied Jim had actually been able to locate the crime scene.
"Julianna?" he heard Bayliss whisper to Blair.
"He's a fast worker," Blair whispered back, earning a glare from Jim.
"There was a ring with an empty setting. The stone's probably resting at the bottom of the harbor."
"No, it's right here." Jim held up the modest diamond, maybe a single carat.
Pembleton got on the radio and requested a forensics team. "Okay, gentlemen," he said when he completed his call. "Let's get Mr. Thomas Bailey into the box."
"You don't have to sit in here with me, Tim," Blair said as he and Bayliss got comfortable in the observation room. Through the one-way mirror they watched a nervous Bailey squirm at the interrogation table.
"I think it's going to be a pretty good show, Blair," the tall cop said, he and the police observer beyond the formal stage now. "In here I won't have to watch my facial expressions. Besides, I think I would just cramp their style."
They watched their friends enter the box. "Are you comfortable, Mr. Bailey?" Pembleton asked as he took a seat across the table from the suspect. Jim just paced the room, seeming to study the walls. "Cigarette? A glass of water?" he added, indicating the carafe on the table.
"I just want out of here."
"You were read your rights, Mr. Bailey. You understand you could have a lawyer with you?"
"I don't need a lawyer. I haven't done anything wrong."
"Where were you between six and seven this evening, Mr. Bailey?"
The man frowned as if he were struggling to remember. "I believe I was eating dinner."
Bailey shrugged apologetically. "I'm not sure of the name. I'm just visiting Baltimore. I took a walk and just stopped into a restaurant I passed."
"Well, maybe if you told me what you had, I can narrow it down for you," Pembleton said congenially.
Slick, Pembleton thought. Name the food of choice in Baltimore. "Sir, did you have coffee with your meal?"
Jim suddenly perched on the corner of the table. "Trina Hampton," he said abruptly.
"What? Who?" Bailey asked, jerking his head from one detective to the other.
"Was the coffee good, Mr. Bailey?"
"Trina Hampton's coffee was always good," Jim said. "Trina lived in Edgewood too, didn't she?"
"Yes," Bailey said distractedly.
"Yes, the coffee was good or yes, Trina Hampton lived in Edgewood?" Pembleton drilled.
"If Trina's coffee was so good, why did you leave Edgewood and drink someone else's coffee?" Jim tossed out.
"Did Trina Hampton know about Mrs. Bailey, Mr. Bailey?"
"Did you kill her because her coffee wasn't any good?"
Bailey had had enough. "Stop all this talk about coffee! Trina's coffee had nothing to do with this!"
"With what, Mr. Bailey?" Pembleton asked.
"Why did you kill Trina?"
The questions were nearly simultaneous and Bailey broke from the strain of trying to keep the conversations separated in his head. "You know everything, don't you? You know about the coffee bar Trina ran in Edgewood and about our affair. You know I killed her, don't you?" Neither detective said a word. "Trina kept pushing for us to get married. I gave her an engagement ring to shut her up and that seemed to work." He paused and Jim handed him a glass of water. "She called me midweek. Said she'd made reservations for us here in Baltimore. She made them in my name because I travel a lot for my job and it wouldn't seem strange, you know."
"What went wrong, Mr. Bailey?" Pembleton asked.
"Trina somehow found out about my wife. She met me here to work out a deal. She threatened to expose our relationship if I didn't pay her off. I told her to go ahead; it would only make her look like a slut. But Trina was smart or maybe I'd told her too much. Anyway, she told me of her plan to let it slip to her customers the name of the man she was engaged to. Edgewood is not all that big- eventually someone would tell her I was married and she'd pretend to be heartbroken. The sympathy would then go her way." He took a sip of water. "I'm a regional manager for a family-oriented fast food chain. They wouldn't appreciate my name coming up in that kind of scandal. And my wife comes from a very prominent family. They would make sure I ended up with nothing. I had to stop Trina."
"How did you do that?" Jim asked quietly.
A tear slipped down Bailey's face. "All I really meant to do was scare her. But I enjoyed the silence that came when I put my hands around her throat. Before I realized what I'd done, she was dead. I didn't know what to do. I had a dead girl in my room and I knew there was no way I could carry her down twelve floors without getting caught. I went out to the balcony to think. It was dinner time and I didn't see anyone around. Nothing on that side of the hotel but the harbor. It seemed so simple. Even if someone saw her fall, they wouldn't know from where." The man looked at his trembling hands. "Oh, God! What have I done?"
"Confessed, Mr. Bailey," Pembleton said, getting up from the chair. He and Jim left the man to his sobbing.
"It was great of you guys to drive us to the airport," Blair said as they made their way to Pier C of Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "If we'd had to turn in the rental car, we would never make this flight."
"Don't worry about the car. Gee said a couple of uniforms owed him a favor anyway," Bayliss explained.
"It was also nice of you and your partners to keep the Waterfront open a little longer so we could finally eat your famous Baltimore crab."
"What's the use of owning your own place if you can't make exceptions for friends, Blair?"
"You'll have to come to Cascade so we can repay the favor. Jim's cooking is a little on the heavy side-"
"But pronounceable compared to yours, Sandburg," Jim said as he and Pembleton walked ahead of them.
"However, his cooking is quite edible. As is mine," he added, making a face in Jim's direction.
"I saw that, Chief." They neared the proper gate. "It was nice working with you, Pembleton," Jim said sincerely, holding out his hand.
Pembleton accepted it. "I can honestly say the same, Ellison. I'll let you know how the case is coming, but it should be open and shut."
"Bayliss," Jim said, turning. "It was good working with you too. Be sure to keep your partner on his toes."
"I think you've given me a lesson or two in how to do that," the detective replied with a smile before turning to Blair. "I think I believe you about the 'House Rules' now."
"As if I could possibly make them up." Blair reached into his wallet and pulled out a card. "These are the numbers for both the loft and my office. If you ever need to talk, man, give me a call, okay? Remember what I told you. Been there, done that, you know?"
Bayliss took the card. "I remember. Thanks, Blair."
"Got to go, Chief." Jim indicated the stewardess was accepting tickets.
"I'm coming, Jim. Take care, guys."
Pembleton and Bayliss watched the doors close behind their friends, then headed toward the exit. "I think I'm going to miss them, Frank."
"Miss them or the way they solve a case?"
"Both. You have to admit they were special. I think they had something psychic going on." Pembleton snorted derisively. "No, I'm serious about this, Frank. Didn't you notice how they seemed to hear what each other was saying even if they weren't in the same room?"
"You're wrong, Tim," Pembleton said as they skirted a crowd from a deboarding plane. "They didn't do anything. It was always Ellison who heard and who saw."
"So you did notice something strange," Bayliss said excitedly. "But Blair has something to do with it. He told me Jim needed him."
Pembleton frowned, wondering how much of himself he would be revealing if he told Bayliss his thoughts. Then with a silent "what the hell", he confessed to his partner. "There was this show on television in the late seventies/early eighties called The Greatest American Hero. You remember it?"
Bayliss was stunned that Pembleton had watched something so plebian, but wisely refrained from comment. "Yeah, I remember it. Wasn't it about a geeky high school teacher who found a superhero suit and lost the instruction book?"
Pembleton nodded. "I think Sandburg is the book."
Bayliss frowned, not getting it at first. Then he realized his partner had uncannily put the situation into tidy, sensible, perspective. "That's deep, Frank."
"Yeah, well, that's what happens when you've had a long night." He reached into his pocket for the keys to the Cavalier. "Here. You drive."
Bayliss smiled. "You're right, Frank. It has been a long night."
"Wasn't it nice of Lt. Giardello to call and get us upgraded to First Class," Blair said as he settled into the wide seat.
"My legs certainly appreciate it," Jim said. "There's some good people in Baltimore."
"Yeah, I had a nice time. And I know you enjoyed yourself. Did you give Julianna your number, man?"
"Only in case she ever found herself in Cascade, Chief," he replied with a slow smile. "What was that between you and Bayliss at the gate?"
"I think his cases haunt him, Jim. I don't think he has anybody to force him to spill his guts on a regular basis like I do."
"Just trying to protect your soul, buddy."
"I'm beginning to understand that, Jim. All in all, though, being with Frank and Tim wasn't a bad way to spend a Friday night."
"I could think of worse," Jim agreed, stretching some of the kinks out of his tired body. "If the engines weren't so noisy, I think I could sleep straight through to Cascade."
"Oh," Blair exclaimed, digging into his backpack. "I ran into a friend of mine who works at NASA. They've designed these special earplugs for the astronauts and ground crews of the shuttle program and I snagged you a pair. Here they are." He handed them to Jim. "What do you think?"
"Comfortable," Jim said as he slipped them in. Too often his enhanced sense of touch was easily irritated. "And excellent at dampening sound." He looked at his friend and smiled. "No matter what you do, you're always thinking about ways to help me. Thank you, Chief."
"You're welcome, Jim."
Content to be together, healthy and whole, Sentinel and Guide slept side by side as the silver plane winged them toward home.