Some Enchanted Evening
by Sue Kelley
Summary: After one of his students is murdered, Blair goes undercover in an escort agency. Takes place in aired season three. Originally printed in Sentry Post 4.
Notes: Many thanks to betas Wendy Myers, Dawn Cunninghan, and to Sandra and Judy for all their help and feedback. PG for Language, Mild spoilers for season three eps, and Cassie Welles is depicted as not having a brain.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters associated with Sentinel. At the time this story was written they were owned by Pet Fly and UPN as well as otherse we won't talk about. Anyone with a last name of Bolt or Stemple was probably originally owned by Screen Gems Entertainment.
"You wanted to see me, Mr. Sandburg?"
Blair Sandburg looked up from the pile of papers on his desk to see a young woman hesitating in the doorway of his office. "Cami! Yes, please, come in." He sprang up from his chair to clear a seat for the slender blonde.
Cami Hughes didn't say anything as she sank into the offered chair, her pile of books and notebooks clutched to her chest like a shield. Blair inwardly shook his head as he perched on the desk in front of her, waiting patiently until emerald-green eyes hesitantly met his deep blue ones, then swung away again.
"Is this about my term paper?" the young woman asked hesitantly.
Blair waited until she looked at him again, then he took a binder from the stack on the corner of the desk and offered it to her. Cami hesitated, then, shifting the books in her arms to free up a hand, she took it from him, flipping it open to the first page.
"D," she said flatly, reading the grade scrawled in red pen. She let the binder fall to the floor. After a moment, she went on, her voice unsteady, "I'm not going to pass the course, am I?"
Blair slowly shook his head. "I don't see how," he said reluctantly. "Even if you get a perfect score on the final.... Cami, your work has fallen apart the last month. Not just in my class, but in all of them. You're an A student not even doing passing work." He paused. "I know how hard it has been, losing your... friend, but Marc wouldn't have wanted you to--"
"You don't know shit about what Marc would have wanted!" the girl exploded, erupting from her chair, books and notebooks flying everywhere. He obscenity startled Blair as much as the rage and hatred that distorted her beautiful face. "You and your cop friend killed him!"
Blair closed his eyes. "Cami, Marc fled from pursuit and rolled his car over an embankment." The graduate student's words were flat as he tried not to remember the horror of that afternoon. "I swear to you, Jim did everything possible to get him out of the car--but the gas tank had ruptured..."
The girl's shoulder heaved with the force of her emotion. "Your friend chased him because he thought he'd killed his aunt. He didn't! I know... I knew him! He loved that old lady, he wouldn't have killed her. He *couldn't*!"
"Jim just wanted to question him," Blair argued. "If he wasn't guilty, Cami, why did he run?"
"He was scared! Can't you understand that?" The girl turned blindly, knocking a stack of papers to the floor. "Oh, it's no use, you've got your mind made up just like the cops did. If they really wanted to find out who killed Angela McBerry, why didn't they look into that escort agency? That guy... Tony... he was the last person to see her, why didn't anyone think he killed her?"
"Well, there was the question of motive," Blair pointed out, making his voice very calm. "Marc McBerry inherited his aunt's entire fortune--"
"What was left of it! Where did all the money go, Mr. Sandburg? Did your police friends ever ask that?"
"I'm sure they did. Cami, witnesses saw Marc's car parked in front of the house that night... the police found jewelry his aunt had reported stolen in his room after... after he was killed."
"I don't care!" the girl screamed, backing toward the door, her face shredded by emotion. "It's because Judith Elliott is a Bolt! That's why no one has looked too closely at that 'escort agency' of hers. Marc didn't kill his aunt, and the police killed an innocent man!" She threw open the door and stumbled out, shoving past several students who were standing in the hall, mouths agape.
**** **** ****
Blair didn't tell Jim what had happened with Cami. He thought about it, but he knew Ellison was feeling badly enough that he hadn't been able to get Marc McBerry out of his car before it exploded. Instead, over the next two days he quietly began to research the murder of wealthy Angela McBerry. Technically the case was still open, but in actuality the police department was satisfied that her nephew Marc McBerry had strangled the elderly women, possibly when she walked in to find him stealing from her. The woman had reported several pieces of jewelry and objects d' art missing in the six months prior to her death.
Blair quickly found out what Cami had been talking about: over the same six months period there had been large amounts of money vanishing from the McBerry estate. A team of auditors was working on it, but, again, the theory was that somehow Marc McBerry had been embezzling from his aunt. How a twenty year old college student with little business knowledge and no involvement in the actual handling of the money had been doing this, no one knew.
It was finals week and Blair didn't have much free time. He knew he'd have to have evidence, more than just the ravings of a grief-stricken girl, before he could get his roommate and partner, Detective Jim Ellison of the Cascade Major Crimes division, to listen to him. Still, as he piled his materials together wearily, after another night with no sleep, he decided he'd tell Jim his concerns over the weekend. Today was the last final he had to give, and after a good night's sleep he'd be prepared to deal with Jim.
The students staggered into the lecture hall in groups, most of them having that hollow-eyed look college freshman and sophomores get toward the end of finals week. Blair kept a sharp lookout for Cami Hughes, hoping she'd at least make the attempt to take the final, but he never saw her come in.
The test period was two hours. As usual, Teressa Vicenzano finished first, laying her test booklet face down on Blair's desk fifty-five minutes after she'd started the test. She gave Blair a smile, mouthed "Have a nice summer" and slipped from the room quietly. Still, several other students looked up and glared at her back. Blair concealed a smile. Teressa was one of those students who whipped through a test and then left without ever checking it again. It had bothered Blair at first, but Teressa had never scored less than a B-plus all semester.
The door squeaked open again and he turned, wondering if Teressa had forgotten something, and was surprised to see his roommate standing there.
Blair's heart jumped. Jim would never come to the University during finals week unless there was something very wrong. Glancing over the rows of students bent over their tests, he went to the door. "Jim, man, what's going on?"
"Sandburg, step out in the hall, just for a minute, okay?"
Frowning, Blair followed the police detective down the hall several feet. "Okay, man, what's up?"
Jim Ellison took a deep breath. He fumbled something out of his pocket. Frowning, Blair saw that it was a clear evidence bag with an envelope sealed inside. The envelope was stained brownish-red, but he could make out his name written across it in shaken capitals. "What--" he started, reaching for the bag.
"I got a call, right after you left this morning," Jim said gently. "A young woman found stabbed to death in the park. We found this on her person."
Blair stared at Jim, waiting. His friend licked his lips and said, quietly, "Blair, it was Cami Hughes."
Three Weeks Later:
Jim Ellison was not a happy camper.
Or a happy detective, or a happy Sentinel. Jim Ellison was not happy, period.
In addition to being Jim's boss and one of only a few people that knew of his sentinel senses, Simon Banks considered himself Jim's friend. It was for that reason that he had tolerated the absolutely foul mood the other man had been in all week.
Truth be told, Simon wasn't really happy with the situation, either. Blair Sandburg was *not* a cop, damn it! He was Jim's Guide, which made him by necessity, Jim's partner, a job he performed brilliantly. But he was also a trouble magnet and Simon had lost count of the times that Jim, or another member of Major Crimes, had hauled their long-haired anthropologist out of danger.
It wasn't that Sandburg had never gone undercover before; he had. Simon didn't like the idea (in addition to liking the kid and worrying about him, he didn't relish having to explain to the commissioner and the mayor how a *police observer* got into such dangerous situations). Usually however, Sandburg had already convinced Ellison it was an okay idea. A few times it had been Ellison's idea. And the backup was there, in place, men they could trust, men who *knew* Sandburg wasn't a cop and didn't expect him to be able to get out of situations by himself.
Simon disapproved of the current situation, and Jim of course was furious about it. Which was why Blair had not bothered to discuss it with either of them before he'd volunteered his services to Denise Kalp, special liaison to the Mayor's office. By the time his partner clued in what was going on, Blair was already committed, and all of Jim's protests, be they carefully reasoned and calmly spoken, or--as was more likely--delivered at the top of his lungs, made no difference.
Jim stomped into Simon's office and threw himself down in the chair in front of the desk, glaring into space and clenching his jaw so tightly that Simon kept expecting the bone to erupt through the skin. Sighing, the black man poured his best detective a cup of coffee and handed it to him. Jim accepted it silently, glowering.
"Jim," Simon sighed. "What's done is done and you might as well stop fuming about it. The kid was determined to do this, and what's really bothering you is that the made the decision without your input."
Jim transferred his icy blue glare to his commanding officer. "What is *bothering* me," he ground out between tightly clenched teeth, "is that Sandburg is not a cop. That used to bother you, too. Sir," he added sarcastically.
Simon ignored the sarcasm. "Look, Jim, I'm not thrilled with this situation, either. But nothing changes the fact that Blair accomplished something no cop could have: he got on the inside of Judith Elliott's business. And he *did* volunteer for this. No one put pressure on him."
"That letter pressured him! He feels responsible for Cami Hughes's death."
And you feel responsible for Marc McBerry's!" Simon fired back. "Jim, we've got a murderer out there in the streets of this city! Two people are dead, three, if you count the McBerry kid. And the only lead we have is that escort service!"
"We should go in there with a warrant and confiscate Judith Elliott's files!" Jim growled. It wasn't the first time he'd made that pronouncement.
"Detective, whether you like it or not, hell, whether any of us likes it, Judith Elliott is a Bolt. Or at least the widow of one. It may not be right, but that name gives her certain privileges. And no judge in this state is going to give us a subpoena with no more evidence than we have. What are we supposed to say, that *you* know there's a link between Angela McBerry's murder and Cami Hughes? And *how* do you know? Because you smelled something at both crime scenes!" The moment the words left his mouth Simon wished he could pull them back. Ellison was feeling frustrated enough about not being able to identify the faint scent he'd smelled at both crime scenes.
Angela McBerry was a wealthy widow who regularly obtained an escort from Enchanting Evening Escorts. Judith Elliott, the owner of Enchanting Evening, admitted that, but denied any of her employees could have had anything to do with the woman's death. Suspicion had so quickly turned to Marc McBerry, the dead woman's nephew and sole heir, that very little investigation of the escort service had been done.
Until the murder of Cami Hughes, Marc McBerry's girlfriend. Stabbed once in the heart, Cami's dead body was found in Cascade's Riverfront Park, not half a block from the rambling mansion that housed the escort service. In the pocket of her jeans was a letter to Blair Sandburg, accusing the escort service of somehow being involved in the murder of Angela McBerry. The letter went on to say she was going to the house to accuse Judith Elliott and would mail the letter on the way.
But the letter had never been mailed, and there was no evidence that Cami had reached Judith Elliott's mansion. Elliott denied ever meeting the girl. Cami's death might have been passed off as just a bizarre coincidence if not for the faint, unidentifiable smell that Jim smelled that night in the park, the same scent he had smelled in Angela McBerry's elegant living room the night her dead body had been discovered.
It wasn't much of a link, but it was all they had, and Ellison and the rest of Major Crimes grabbed at it. Or, at least, they would have, had they been allowed to.
Judith Elliott didn't like Jim Ellison. She cared for his boss, Simon Banks, even less. And she detested the idea of her very high-class, exclusive, and completely reputable service, being dragged through a scandal such as the infamous Heidi Fleiss. And Judith Elliott had powerful connections.
At one point in her life, not too long after she had been a runner-up in the Miss America pageant, Judith Elliott had been Judy Bolt, wife of a perfectly nice man named Paul Bolt, who had unfortunately been killed when he flew his small, single engine plane into the side of a mountain. The Bolt family was rich; more than that, they were extremely powerful. The Bolt and Stemple families had essentially built the city of Seattle, and by extension the state of Washington, and rarely let anyone forget it.
Judy went to her former grandmother-in-law. Corinna Bolt called her friend, the Governor. The Governor called his political crony, the Mayor of Cascade. The next thing anybody knew, Major Crimes had been saddled with Denise Kalp, to "liaison" and "advise", which really meant to make sure Judith Elliott wasn't any more disturbed than she already had been.
Judith Elliott didn't want police undercover either as escorts or clients. That was okay with Jim Ellison; since he hadn't ruled her out as a suspect yet, he didn't particularly want her to know who was assigned. But it was difficult getting anyone undercover in either role: either Judy or her sister interviewed every single new client before they sent an escort, and in addition kept a private detective on retainer for background checks. It was even more difficult to get someone in as an escort: Judy hired only highly-educated, physically attractive people with impeccable references.
And that was where Blair Sandburg came in. Burning with misplaced guilt and responsibility, he'd gone to Kalp and volunteered to "infiltrate" the escort service. Somehow the Cascade PD had managed to keep Cami's last letter from the notice of the press, so there was nothing to link him to the investigation; Denise had taken one good look at his long dark hair, trim body and sapphire blue eyes, and decided he'd be manna from Heaven to the owner of an escort service. Without even mentioning what he was doing to Jim or to any other member of Major Crimes, Blair had sought out a friend, another grad student who had worked for Judy for several months, and got her to call Judy to set up an appointment for an interview. Realizing that living with a cop--moreover, the cop that was directing the investigation--could be a killing point on his resume, Blair lied and said Jim had kicked him out. He was homeless, Sandburg admitted ruefully, and, since he wasn't teaching during the summer, broke as well.
Whether it was the fact he was a doctoral candidate, or that he fluently spoke three languages besides English, or his good looks, or simply that she couldn't resist those puppy-dog eyes, Judy hired him. Blair was moved into her mansion on Rose Hill Road before Jim had completely figured out what was going on.
He'd been there ten days, had six "assignments", and learned nothing useful. In the meantime, Jim's temper, never very mellow, had become downright surly.
"Still no idea what it was you smelled?" Simon asked, his tone interested. Jim shook his head and glanced at his watch.
"Am I keeping you from something, Detective?" Simon added sarcastically.
Jim didn't respond to the sarcasm, realizing it came from frustration. He answered, "Sandburg is coming over tonight about eight. We're going to go over it again."
*** *** ***
'First time everybody's been all together since I came here,' Blair thought, studying the faces around the table as he nibbled at beef stroganoff.
Tuesday was apparently a slow evening in the escort business. Claire Davis was the only one with an "engagement": she was accompanying a visiting author to a late reception in his honor. Claire was in her mid-thirties, older than most of the rest of them, and divorced from a doctor who had supposedly treated her pretty shabbily. She was impeccably groomed as usual, wearing a mid-length wine-colored silk dress, and she was listening intently as Tony, sitting next to her, hastily gave her a rundown of the author's last book.
Judith Elliott sat at the head of the table, playing with her food rather than eating it. Her impeccably made-up face looked tense. Twenty years before Judith Elliott had been Miss California and a runner-up in the Miss America pageant. Much of that famed beauty was faded now, lost to too many cigarettes, too many hours of dedicated sunbathing. Fine lines surrounded her dark eyes and made furrows across her forehead. Her hair was bleached two shades too blonde for her skin tone, but Judith Elliott Bolt still had something of the quality that entranced men and had captivated a millionaire. Judy had called a "meeting" just before dinner. It was more like a briefing. In short, clipped sentences she explained that the police were still investigating the murders of Angela McBerry and Cami Hughes; that the escort agency was still under investigation as a possible link; that they were not to talk to any police without first discussing it with Judith or her sister Cynthia. Then, she had gone on to remind them that they were not to engage in romantic or sexual relations with paying customers. Her expression had been fierce, but that was all she had said, signaling to her sister to bring in the first of the dinner dishes.
Blair's eyes slid to where Cynthia sat at the foot of the table. Shorter and younger than her sister, she was plumper too, and possessed of a relentlessly cheerful disposition. Cynthia loved to cook and was building her own catering business, working out of the kitchen here in her sister's house. Her beef stroganoff was the best Blair had ever eaten. 'Too bad I can't take a doggie bag to Jim; he loves beef stroganoff.'
Next to Cynthia sat Bish. A huge, usually-silent young man with innocent eyes, Bish served as muscle around the house, took care of the lawn, and washed everybody's cars at least weekly. He lived in a small room off the kitchen and spent most of his free time in his room or with Cynthia in the kitchen.
Scott Wheeler was a writer, supposedly, supporting himself while waiting for his first novel to be published. He was friendly, but not as warm and welcoming as Tony Giacamo, who had been the first to join Judith's escort service and seemed happy enough to make it his life's work. Blair spent a lot of time with Tony; remembering he had been the last to see Angela McBerry alive, but the short, dark-haired Italian-American seemed genuinely upset by her death.
Blair's eyes drifted over Tony to study the slim, dark girl seated on the other side of him. Jasmine Ronaya. An exchange student at Rainier, she spoke English with an upper-class British accent. She was cordial, but not overwhelmingly friendly.
The other three members of the household Blair didn't know well. Tammy Cooper was the youngest, just nineteen. She looked and acted like a typical California beach bunny, but was studying premed. Erik Baker was the newest employee, next to Blair; he was entering his senior year at Rainier and never had much to say. Ty Nelson worked for Judy every summer; he was a point guard on the Rainier basketball team and the son of a Chicago banker.
Someone said his name and Blair looked up, startled, to see Tony staring across the table at him. "Blair? You with us?"
Blair felt his cheeks getting hot. "Sorry, man, my mind was wandering."
"To outer space, I'd say," Tony laughed, but his dark eyes were wary. "We were just talking about going out. Since we've all got the night off but Claire. You know? A movie, maybe hit a couple of clubs. You in?"
"Umm, sounds great, but I can't. I told my ex-roommate I'd get the rest of my stuff out tonight. If I don't show, he's likely to toss it out into the street."
"Oh, yeah, the cop," Scott joined the conversation, buttering another roll, his eyes never leaving Blair's face. "Saw him on TV yesterday. Sure seems like a hard-ass. How'd you ever end up living with him, anyway?"
The words fell into a pool of silence. Blair noticed everyone was looking at him, or trying hard to pretend they weren't. He took his time answering, carefully chewing and swallowing before he said, "My dissertation topic is on closed societies, you know? Police, military, fire departments, that kind of thing. So I managed to get permission to tag along with Jim for awhile. When I lost my place, I think he kind of felt responsible or something, anyway, I talked him into letting me rent a room from him." He forced a laugh. "Man, I'd have been better off joining the Marines, the guy is anal! Has a list of house rules a mile long. One day I made a misstep and the next thing I knew I was out of a place to live and persona non gratis at the station."
"Why don't Scott and I go over with you tonight, and help get your stuff?" Tony offered. "Better than you trying to move it all by yourself. Okay with you, Scotty?"
The other man nodded. "Yeah. I'd be glad to help."
Blair gulped air and water at the same time, trying to think of a way out of this one. "Hey, man, that's nice of you to offer, but, no. See, I owe him some money --the last month's rent-- and he's probably going to want to talk about it. Could get a little uncomfortable.
"All the more reason we should go with you," Scott insisted. "I mean, that guy looks dangerous, things could get hairy if he's as mad as you say. What do you think, Judy?"
Judy pursed her lips, studying Blair, who struggled to keep his face from revealing his sudden dismay. "Do you feel you are in physical danger from this man?" she asked him point-blank.
"Judy, he's a cop!" Blair protested. "He's just going to yell at me, then I'll get my stuff and get out of there. Embarrassing, but not dangerous."
Judy studied him with those hard, cold dark eyes, before she nodded. The subject was dropped.
*** *** ***
Blair was jumpy as he finally drove the Volvo away from the slate-gray mansion on the hill. Over and over he replayed the conversation in his head, wondering if maybe someone suspected him. 'Surely not,' he tried to assure himself. But he couldn't help watching in the rear-view mirror. That pickup truck, the light one... was it following him?
He changed lanes suddenly, watching as the truck did also. It stayed a few cars behind as he got on the freeway. Worried in spite of himself, Blair exited without signaling almost three miles before he planned. He ran the stop sign at the bottom of the hill, making a hard left and then getting back on the freeway going the opposite direction. No sign of the pickup truck, and he relaxed, exited again, then took the streets over to Prospect and the loft.
There were no headlights behind him as he pulled into the parking lot. He waited for fully five minutes before he finally got out of the car and pulled the empty boxes he'd scavenged from a liquor store from his trunk. As he was entering the building, he caught sight of a light-colored pickup, driving slowly past. Blair yanked open the door leading to the staircase and raced up the three flights, his boxes bumping into the walls.
Jim had the door open before Blair even hit the hallway. "What's wrong?" the Sentinel asked sharply, looking around before he gently pushed Blair before him into the apartment. He put his hands on his shoulders and looked at him, his face concerned. "Chief, what's wrong? Your heart is racing."
Blair gasped for breath. "Nothing, man, I mean, maybe something, I don't know. I think maybe I was followed." Quickly he told his partner about the dinner table conversation and about the truck he thought had been tailing him.
Jim guided him to the couch and sat opposite him, brow furrowed. "Does anybody there have a truck like that?"
Blair nodded. "There's one parked behind the house, I'm not sure who it belongs to, I've never seen anyone actually drive it."
Jim frowned. "I don't like it, Chief. I think we need to pull you out of there."
"Jim, there's no need! Everything's cool. Even if they were following me--" Blair stopped as a horrible thought occurred to him. "Oh, shit!" he groaned, falling back against the couch cushions. "Oh, man, what an idiot I am. If someone was following me, by trying to shake them I let on that I knew it!"
Jim nodded grimly. "I'm calling Simon," he said abruptly, reaching for the phone.
*** *** ***
If Jim had hoped that Simon would agree the situation was too dangerous for Blair to remain, he was sadly disappointed. Banks listened patiently enough, but rightfully pointed out that there was no real evidence anyone had followed Blair. "You know how many light-colored pick-up trucks there are in this city?" the captain asked rhetorically.
While Jim was on the phone, Blair took the empty boxes into his room and started filling them with his possessions. Several minutes later, Jim followed him into the room, rubbing his head as though he had a severe headache. "Chief, Simon--" he broke off. "What the *hell* are you doing?" he roared.
"I told them I was coming over here to get my stuff out," Blair reminded him. "It'd look pretty funny if I went back with empty cartons. Judy said I could store things down in the basement." He went on filling a carton with his books, very aware of the brooding silence from behind him. In a way, Jim's reaction relieved him a bit. Sometimes he couldn't help but wonder if he'd worn out his welcome; if Jim wouldn't rather have the loft to himself. The feelings had been growing in the weeks since Jim had repressed his Sentinel senses, only to regain them in order to find the killer of his old shaman, Incacha.
During those few days when Jim was without his enhanced senses, Blair had gone through agonies, wondering of what use was *he* in Jim's life; if Jim wasn't a Sentinel, he didn't need a Guide; did he still want Blair in his life? The younger man had tried to ask, but it hadn't come out right and he'd never really gotten an answer.
At least, Jim seemed agitated *now* about the possibility of him leaving. Blair hid a smile as he leaned over the box, stuffing a few more ponderous volumes into it.
*** *** ***
It was late, almost two a.m., before Blair reached the gray stone mansion. After he'd filled the cartons he'd brought, Jim had insisted they go out for a late snack. Then he'd mentioned, again, that faint and unidentifiable scent he'd smelled at both crime scenes. The thought of Jim not being able to control some aspect of his senses always worried Blair; so after they'd returned to the loft he'd bullied Jim into trying some exercises. Then they'd had a beer together and with one thing and another time had got by them.
There were a few dim lights burning in the downstairs windows when Blair pulled up through the covered stone arches into the paved parking area. His key only fit the front door, but the back door was closer so he went there first. Sometimes, when she had an important catering assignment the next day, Cynthia would be in the kitchen until the wee hours. Not tonight, though; the kitchen was dark, only one small light burning over the stove. Flickering light and shadow from the alcove that led to Bish's small room led Blair to believe the television was on in there. He risked knocking one or twice, quietly, but received no response. Either Bish couldn't hear him over the blare of the TV, or the big man had fallen asleep in front of it as he so often did.
Grumbling, Blair walked along smooth flagstone pathway that led around the house to the front door, using the key to let himself in. One small light was on in the entranceway, and surprisingly, another light beamed from the half-open door of Judith Elliott's office. He stepped to the door and peered in. The light was coming from the Tiffany lamp on the desk but there was no one in the office. The desktop was neat and orderly; a small stack of envelopes, stamped and addressed, in one corner. He hesitated, but for some reason he felt uncomfortable venturing into the office, so he left the light on and just closed the door.
His room was on the third floor in the kitchen wing. The corresponding rooms on the second floor, he knew, formed Cynthia's suite: she had a sitting room and a huge bathroom in addition to her bedroom. Blair hurried quietly past her rooms and up the narrower staircase that led to the third floor. Claire's room was the first one, his next to it. Around the corner in a dead-end hallway was Jasmine's room and the huge bathroom the three of them shared. He went there first, smelling as usual the faint but warring scents of the two women's perfumes; washed his face and hands, brushed his teeth and used the toilet. He tiptoed past Jasmine's door and closed his own before fumbling along the wall for the light switch.
There was a small tray on his bedside table, covered with a cloth napkin. Lifting the napkin revealed a glass dessert bowl filled with lemon mousse. A note beside it was from Cynthia. "You left before dessert tonight so this is for you! -C." He grinned as he quickly stripped down to his boxers and climbed into the big bed. He ate about half the serving of mousse before turning off the light and sliding into sleep.
His sleep was deep but restless, plagued by weird, surreal dreams. Time and time again he tried to struggle awake, only to be relentlessly dragged back into the heavy darkness that brought no rest.
The prolonged, shrill scream of his alarm finally jolted him awake, oddly panicked, his eyelids so heavy he could barely keep them open. His head and his heart were both pounding as he stumbled from the bed and out the door, intent on brushing his teeth to get rid of the awful taste in his mouth.
The bathroom door stuck a little as it sometimes did and he shoved against it impatiently, losing his balance when it suddenly opened. He scrubbed his teeth hard, replenishing the toothpaste twice, before he finally gave up and stripped off his boxers, reaching for the doorknob into the shower room. It was pitch black in there and he pressed the light switch. Acid white light flooded the small room.
Blair stumbled backwards, a scream rising from his chest but getting stuck in his throat. His horrified eyes captured the picture before them, the long green silk robe, the matching belt wrapped around the neck of the figure below the purple, congested face half-hidden behind dark, trailing hair.
The body of Jasmine Ranaya swung gently from the light fixture.
** ** **
Jim Ellison turned the corner to Rose Hill Road on two wheels, roaring up the hill and into the gently curving driveway. It was a cool, misty morning and every window in the long gray mansion was lit up, bright pools of golden light spilling out onto the manicured grounds. The driveway was full of cars, official vehicles with red and blue lights whirling atop them. Jim threw his truck into park and jumped out, swiftly striding to the clump of people huddled on the lawn. A tall figure intercepted him. "Easy, Jim," Simon Banks said, grabbing the Sentinel's arm.
Jim tried to shake him off. "Who's the victim?" he snapped. Fear, unacknowledged, unadressed, clogged his throat.
"It's not Sandburg," Banks assured him. "He found the body. It was a young woman named Jasmine Ronaya. British national. Hanging from the light fixture in the bathroom."
Jim barely heard the rest of his sentence, he was so relieved to hear his partner wasn't the victim. Then he frowned. "Sandburg found her?"
Banks nodded. "He's in the house." Then he pitched his voice so softly that only Sentinel ears could hear the next words. "Be careful, Jim. Remember, as far as these people know you and he aren't getting along very well."
Ellison clenched his jaw, then nodded, once. Personally, he wanted to take his partner out of this place tonight, but one wrong move could blow Blair's cover and possibly endanger his life.
Banks appeared satisfied and gestured Ellison toward the elaborately-carved front doors. Before he could move in that direction, they opened and Judith Elliott came out.
A different Judith Elliott than before, a frightened woman, her arms clutched around her as if she were very cold, in spite of the heavy velvet housecoat she wore. Her eyes, as they met Jim's, were terrified. "Detective Ellison," she greeted him, her voice shaking.
"Ms. Elliott," the detective returned warily. "I'm sorry about your... employee."
Tears spurted from Judith's eyes, spilled down her worn but still-beautiful face. "She was more than an employee, Detective.... they all are. We're a family here."
Jim held his tongue. Judith wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her housecoat and visibly tried to regain her composure. "Detective, I realize I haven't been as cooperative as you probably would have liked me to be since these killings started..."
"That's an understatement, Ma'am," Jim shot back.
"What you need to understand is that I *really* didn't think the murders had anything to do with me, or with this business. But now--someone, some killer, came into my home and killed Jasmine in her own bathroom! Where she had every reason to feel safe. Because, I don't care what that stupid woman says, Jasmine did not kill herself!"
"What woman?" Jim asked, puzzled, then he groaned as the answer occurred to him. "Welles is already here?" he asked his captain. Banks nodded.
"She's upstairs with Rafe."
Rafe was in the narrow hallway outside the bathroom, leaning against the wall with a glazed look in his eyes as Cassie prattled at him. Two Forensics techs were in the bathroom itself, managing to do their job without any guidance from their boss. Jim spared a glance at the pathetic body hanging from the ceiling fixture, suspended by a narrow blue silk belt that looked like it matched the robe which flared around the thin body. Jim took one look at the face, then looked away, unconsciously bracing himself to deal with Cassie.
"Jim!" the redhead exclaimed. "I didn't know you were here. You can relax--Rafe and I are sure it's a suicide."
One of the technicians in the bathroom looked up from the faucet he was dusting with fingerprint powder and started to protest, but Jim caught his eye and shook his head at him. "Mind if I make my own investigation, Cassie?" he asked mildly.
"Well, if you feel you have to. But it is *so* obvious." The woman started to walk briskly down the hall. "I'll bet you ten dollars we'll find a note in her room."
Rafe belatedly came awake as he realized where she was headed. "Dr. Welles," he protested. Cassie paid no attention. Jim gestured with a movement of his head and the younger detective took off after Cassie like an arrow loosed from the bow.
"Unless she can explain how the woman managed to hoist herself up there with no chair or anything else around that she could have climbed on, I don't think it's suicide," the technician said to Jim.
Stepping into the room, Jim could see what he meant. The bathroom was enormous, with the shower, tub and john all in separate alcoves. He glanced at the countertop around the sink, but immediately realized the ceiling was too high and Jasmine too short for her to have been able to stand on it and reach the fixture. The Sentinel looked away, oddly queasy. "As soon as the photographer is done in here, get the body down. The coroner should be here soon." He stepped out of the bathroom and asked the uniformed officer, "Do you know where Blair Sandburg is?"
"Who?" the uniform blankly. He was young, probably just out of the academy, and Jim noticed that he was studiously avoiding looking at the body.
"The guy who found her," Jim elaborated, forcing a patience he didn't feel. Something was urging him to get to his Guide.
"Oh!" the officer, "J. Grimes" according to his nametag, looked embarrassed. "Yeah. He's downstairs. In the kitchen, I think."
Blair was sitting at the round oak table in the kitchen, drinking something out of an oversized mug. A man about Blair's age, and a woman who looked to be several years older were at the table also. Another woman (Jim recognized her as Cynthia, Judith Elliott's sister) was at the stove, stirring something in a skillet. The wonderful aroma of fresh-baked bread and coffee reminded the detective he hadn't had any breakfast. Ruthlessly suppressing his hunger pains, he looked at Blair, eyes narrowing in concern at the kid's hunched posture. Mindful of Banks' caution, he grunted, "Sandburg."
Blair threw him a startled glance, then awareness quickly crossed his face. He looked down. "Jim." His voice was cool.
"I understand you found Miss Ronaya's body?"
Blair nodded. His face was pale. He lifted the mug with shaking hands. Jim shot a swift look at the other two people at the table, then noticed the way Cynthia paused over her work, obviously listening. "Is there some place I can talk to you in private?"
"Is that necessary, Detective?" Judith Elliott demanded from the doorway.
"Yes, ma'am, it is. I need to talk to everyone, and I need to hear what they know, not what they heard someone else say," Jim shot back. "I thought we had your cooperation now."
Judith held his glare for a minute, then looked down. "You do," she sighed, moving into the kitchen and accepting the mug of coffee her sister held out to her. "You can use my office." *** *** ***
The small room off the entrance hall was hot and stuffy and reeked of stale cigarette smoke. Nose wrinkling in distaste, Jim crossed to the leaded glass windows and opened them, letting gusts of fresh, damp air into the room. He glanced in concern at his partner, who slumped bonelessly in the leather armchair in front of the desk. "You okay?" he asked, coming around to lay a supportive hand on Blair's shoulder.
"Yeah." Blair rubbed his hand across his face. "It was just rough, finding her like that, you know?"
Jim sat on the corner of the desk and waited until the younger man looked at him. "I know, Chief, and I'm sorry to make you talk about it. But I need to know what happened."
Blair shrugged tiredly. "Jim, all I know is she wasn't there when I got home around two, and then when I got up this morning..."
"Did you hear anything during the night?" Jim hated to add the next part. "If she was alive when she was... put up there, there would have been noises." He didn't elaborate, nor, judging from the pallor of his Guide's face, did he need to.
The younger man shook his head wearily. "I don't think so. But I had these wild dreams all night, you know? Kept trying to wake up and I couldn't. It was like..." he stopped suddenly. A frightened expression swiftly crossed his face.
"Chief?" Jim prodded gently.
After several minutes, Blair looked at the Sentinel, his blue eyes huge in his pale face. "Jim, remember when I was in the hospital? After the Golden thing, I mean?"
Jim winced. As if he could ever forget *that*: the hiss of the respirator as it forced air into flaccid lungs; the erratic heartbeat, racing one minute, deathly slow the next; the frightening stillness of his Guide in the hospital bed. He rubbed a hand wearily across his eyes. "I'm not likely to forget that in this lifetime, Chief. Why?"
"The dreams.... that's what they were like, man." Blair frowned again. "I mean, I don't remember much about being in the coma, but I remember these dreams, and trying so hard to wake up, like I was swimming to the top of the water but before I could get there, something would drag me down again." Blair's voice had been dropping as he spoke and now he added the next words in a whisper. "That was what last night was like."
Caught in remembered horror, it took Jim a few minutes to realize what the younger man was implying. "You think you were drugged last night? How? When?"
"The lemon mousse!" Blair exclaimed.
They bumped into the coroner's assistants carrying Jasmine's body down the stairs. Blair averted his eyes from the stretcher and the bodybag and then ran up the last flight of stairs to the third floor. No signs of Cassie or Rafe; from the sounds of their conversation, the technicians were just finishing up. Jim stood close beside Blair as the younger man opened his door and silently pointed to the bowl on the stand next to the bed. It was partially filled with a congealed yellowish substance. Jim sniffed it once, then relaxed, opening his mind and allowing his Sentinel sense of smell take over. Lemon, sure, and something else.... but the problem was, Jim hadn't smelled the lemon mousse in its original state and couldn't identify the other substances as to whether they were foreign or not.
He shook his head. "I can't tell, Chief, we'll have to send it in for analysis." He studied Blair carefully, gauging the younger man's condition, comparing it in his mind to "normal" Blair. Pulse and respiration slower than usual, especially given the circumstances. He frowned, concerned. "I think we should swing by the hospital, get you checked out."
As he'd expected, Blair shook his head at that idea even as he sank down onto the bed. "I'm fine," he protested. "Just kind of groggy." He closed his eyes.
Jim opened his mouth to argue the point, but was distracted by the sight of the technicians preparing to leave. He went to the door and asked one of them to take a sample of the mousse and to dust the bowl for fingerprints, even though he doubted that would be of much help to them. Then, seeing Rafe down the hall, he walked towards him. "Where's Welles?" he asked. Maybe Cassie could analyze the mousse in that little crime lab on wheels she called a van and they would know something quickly.
Rafe rolled his eyes. "She left. Some evidence the DA needs ASAP for the Clinesmith trial has disappeared. Although she swears it hasn't, she just filed it somewhere else. Anyway, she went back to the station to find it. Jim, look at this." He handed the detective the evidence bag he had in his hand. "I found it in the victim's room, in the bedside table."
Jim took the bag. Inside was a bankbook, the hunter-green and gold insignia identifying it as being from the First State Bank of Cascade. Rafe wordlessly offered him a plastic glove and Jim slipped it on before opening the bag.
It wasn't a checkbook but a savings account passbook. The name on the account was Jasmine Ronaya, and the entries showed regular deposits going back over the last three months. The size of the deposits, and the total amount in the account, caused Jim's lips to purse in a soundless whistle.
"These escorts must get paid awfully well," Rafe said dryly.
"Yeah. Think I'll let Sandburg buy lunch," Jim returned, turning on his heel and heading back to Blair's room. The student was, impossibly, dozing, and Jim frowned before gently shaking him awake. "Take a look at this, Chief," he said, when Blair's eyes finally opened.
Blair stifled a yawn as he tried to focus on the book that Jim was waving in front of his face. He sat upright as he caught sight of the totals. "Jeez! Where'd she get that kind of money?"
"I gather this isn't all from her pay here, then?" Jim asked dryly.
"Hardly. Everybody here gets the same amount, supposedly, three hundred a week. Not bad, especially when you realize all living expenses are take care of, but nothing like *that!*" Blair did some fast adding. "She's depositing almost seven thousand dollars a month!"
"Maybe it's from her family," Rafe volunteered.
"I don't think so, I mean, if her family could send her that kind of money, what was she doing working for Judy? I always got the idea she was doing it to put herself through school, or help, rather, I know she was on some kind of scholarship." Blair pulled himself from the bed with a sudden spurt of energy. "I have a friend who works in the Financial Aid office during the school year, I can call her and ask."
"Later," Jim told him. He handed the bank book back to Rafe. "Take this, go to the bank. See if they'll let you see the records of deposit without a subpoena, find out where those deposits came from, what form, anything you can."
"The bank can claim that's all confidential," Rafe pointed out.
"If they do we'll get a court order. But the VP of that branch is Daniel Kruzen. He used to be a cop, long time ago. If he knows the account holder is a murder victim, he might bend the rules." Jim turned back to his roommate. "Chief, I want you to go with Rafe. He can drop you off at the hospital, make sure you're okay."
Blair shook his head. "No way, Jim, I'm fine. Just drowsy." He went on, forestalling the argument, "If Cassie analyses that mousse and decides there's something toxic in it, I'll go to the hospital, but for right now I'm staying here."
Jim spent the next three hours interviewing the various members of the household, gradually getting a picture of what the evening before had been like. He didn't mention anything to any of them about the lemon mousse possibly being drugged or the bankbook they'd found in Jasmine's room, preferring to wait until he had more information from Cassie and Rafe.
He reviewed his notes. The entire household with the exception of Paulo Somebody--no one seemed all that sure of last names, had eaten dinner together about six thirty. During the meal, Judy Elliott had mentioned the murder of Angela McBerry. Blair, Scott Giacomo, Tony Smith and Claire Thomas had all left before dessert, Blair to see Jim, the other two men to drop Claire Thomas off at the Emeraude Hotel downtown, where she was to meet her client for the evening. After leaving her there, they had returned to the house via a nearby video rental store, where they had rented several movies. Everyone in the house except Jasmine, Judy Elliott, Cynthia Elliott and Bish had spent the entire evening in the living room, watching movies and eating popcorn. There had been the occasional foray to the bathroom or for more snacks, but the no one remembered, or admitted, anyone else being gone for more than a few minutes.
Judy Elliott had spent the evening in her office, working on accounts. The door was open and several of the young people stated they had seen her at different times as they emerged from the living room.
Cynthia and Bish had cleaned up the kitchen from dinner, then Cynthia had started making food for a wedding reception she was catering over the weekend. She was battling a migraine, though, and about nine-thirty she had decided to go to bed. Jasmine Ronaya had entered the kitchen as Cynthia was leaving; apparently having been for a walk around the grounds.
The video-viewing group broke up shortly before midnight, adjourning to their separate rooms. Judith Elliott worked in her office until one and locked up the house before she went to bed.
"Then Sandburg got here about two," Jim mused aloud. He frowned. Leaving Elliott's office, he walked directly to the kitchen. As he had hoped, Judith Elliott and her sister were both there, along with the huge, silent Bish, whom Jim had yet to interview.
"Are you finished, Detective?" Judith Elliott asked, he voice ragged. She lit another cigarette from the butt in her fingers.
"Almost, I think," Jim answered pleasantly. "I just have one or two questions... When was the last time any of you saw the victim?"
Cynthia spoke up first. "As I said, she was just coming in when I decided to go upstairs. I asked her if she was going to her room and she said yes, so I had her take some dessert up to Claire and Blair's rooms, since they didn't get any. She went up the stairs after me."
Judith shrugged. "I saw her at dinner, I don't remember seeing her after that."
"She didn't join the group watching movies? Does that seem odd to you?"
"Not really. Jasmine was somewhat reclusive, she tended to be a bit of a loner. Not unfriendly, really, but she wouldn't usually join in with the others and their activities."
Jim turned to Bish. The big man hadn't said anything. Before Jim could ask him what he had done after Cynthia had left the kitchen, his cell phone rang. It was Rafe. Jim listened to the younger detective, then his eyes narrowed and he said, "Get the copies of those transactions and get back here." He hit the disconnect button, then, under the interested gaze of three pairs of eyes, he dialed Cassie's lab. "It's Ellison," he snapped into the phone. "Do you have the results of that analysis on the lemon mousse? What?... How much?" He sucked in his breath as he listened to Cassie's high, excited voice, then said, "Thanks," and disconnected while she was still squawking.
"What about the lemon mousse?" Cynthia asked suspiciously.
Jim decided to tell her. "We had the leftover mousse from Blair Sandburg's room analyzed. It was loaded with chlorpromazine."
Cynthia looked puzzled. "What's that?"
"It's a sedative. A very strong one. Strong enough," Jim ground out, "that if Sandburg had eaten the whole dish, in all probability he would have died." He ignored Cynthia's horrified gasp to swing on her sister. "I need to speak to you in private," he demanded.
Judy lifted her head proudly. "Anything you want to say to me you can say in front of them."
"I think it would be best if we spoke in your office," Jim insisted.
The woman refused to budge. Finally Ellison took a deep breath and stated, "We found a bankbook in Jasmine Ronaya's room, showing considerable deposits over the last three month period." His Sentinel senses picked up the sudden increase in Elliott's heartrate. "We checked the bank records. Jasmine Ronaya only had deposits from two sources, her regular paychecks from Enchanted Evening Inc, and nineteen five-thousand dollar cashier checks." He stopped. Cynthia looked puzzled, Bish confused, but Judith Elliott's face showed no reaction whatsoever. But her heartbeat thundered in Jim's ears as he added, "The cashier checks were drawn from an account at the First National Bank. An account in the name of Judith Elliott." He lifted his eyebrows. "Now, Ms. Elliott, do we want to move this conversation to your office... or downtown to mine?"
*** **** ***
Blair lay on the bed and stared tiredly at the ceiling.
His body ached from the need for sleep and his eyelids kept drifting shut. But his mind refused to shut down.
'I heard something last night', he thought, anguished. 'Why can't I grab hold of it?'
The harder he tried the more remote the memory became. Firmly, he closed his eyes, banishing sleep with an effort, breathing slowly and deeply, trying to ease his mind into a meditative state...
~~Dream and waking became mixed; nightmare of sleep and nightmare of waking impossible to differentiate between. Voices. Hushed. Hurried. A dragging sound. Words, making no sense.
Why this way?
It's a distraction.
She's asleep, isn't she?
She won't know what's happening. You're too soft. You knew this would have to happen eventually.
No I didn't. There should be some other way....
There's not! And we've come too far~~..
Quick, light steps in the hallway startled him awake. Blair sat upright in bed, cold sweat trickling down his neck and the small of his back. The clock showed thirty-three minutes had elapsed since he'd laid down. 'Oh, God. Was that a memory? Or a dream?'
He felt as if he were smothering suddenly and he lurched from the bed, stumbling to the window and forcing it open, dragging in deep breaths of cold misty air into his starving lungs. He shivered, feeling the cold dry the sweat, but he couldn't move to go back into the warmth of his room.
He looked down, noticing with surprise he was almost exactly above the spot where he had found the coat last night. *The coat!* He had forgotten to mention it to Jim. When he'd come in last night he'd tossed it across the blue slipper chair in the corner. Blair started to turn back into the room when a flicker of movement caught his eye.
His room was at the corner, where the north and west walls of the house joined. By leaning his head out, he could look directly into the room at fight angles from his.
Was that a flicker of something white again?
Determinedly, Blair drew his head back in and stepped back from the window. He found his shoes where he'd kicked them underneath the bed and tied the laces with trembling fingers. Then he slipped from his room, down the hall and around the corner.
Yellow police tape crossed the closed door of the bathroom. But no tape was stretched across Jasmine's door. Taking a deep breath, Blair put his hand on the doorknob.
It turned. The door silently opened.
He stepped inside, his eyes struggling to adjust to the dimness; he didn't turn on the light. Jasmine's dressing table was closest to the window and he could see fingerprint powder on her comb and brush, the elegant shapes of perfume bottles, the plain wooden chest where she'd kept her jewelry. Idly he noticed that the lid was slightly open.
He turned around, smelling the faint scent of her perfume and lotion as if it were impregnated into the very air of the room. A white half-slip and a bra were tossed over the back of the chair. A blue silk nightgown, the mate to the robe she'd been wearing when she died, was cast across the foot of the neatly-made bed.
The room was silent. Then, into the hush, Blair heard the creak of a floor board. Heart pounding, every sense on alert, he took a step toward the closet.
He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and he jumped, started to turn, saw a face. Even as he recognized it in stunned disbelief, a heavy weight smashed into his head and he crashed into blackness.
*** *** ***
Continued in Part Two...