Some Enchanted Evening
by Sue Kelley
See notes and disclaimer in part one.
Bish was the first to move. Heavily, slowly, but every movement threatening, he stood up, took a step toward Jim. "You don't talk to Judy like that!" His voice was a low growl.
Jim blinked. The young man was three or four inches taller than Ellison himself and easily fifty pounds heavier.
"Bish!" Judy Elliott grabbed his arm gently, swinging him around to look at her. Her eyes were oddly intent as she framed his face with her small hands. "It's okay. Detective Ellison isn't an enemy. He has a job to do." She caressed his face. "It's all right," she added softly.
An expression of confusion crossed the behemoth's face, followed by stark fear. "I'm sorry," he said uncertainly. "I'm sorry, Judy... did I do something wrong?"
"No, sweetie, you didn't do anything wrong." Judy threw a pleading look at Ellison. "Why don't you go to your room for awhile? You bought those new comics yesterday, you haven't read them all, have you?"
"I can go read my comics?" The young man's face lit up; Jim was reminded suddenly of Sandburg, how he looked when he discovered a new element of Jim's senses.
Bish started from the room, then turned back. He stepped closer to Jim. "I'm sorry, Detective Ellison, I shouldn't have yelled at you."
Jim cleared his throat. "That's all right, um, Bish. It was just a misunderstanding. As a matter of fact, I used to like comics myself, would you mind if I came in later and looked at yours?"
Bish beamed. 'Not like Sandburg', Jim realized suddenly. 'More like a little kid who just got a treat...'
"Cool!" Bish burbled. "I've got Batman, and X-Men, and Spider Man... I had Spawn but Judy made me get rid of them. She said they gave her the creeps." He laid a massive hand on Jim's arm, pointing to the alcove off the kitchen. "My room's back there, whenever you're ready." He moved away with his shambling gait and the pieces all fell into place for Jim. He waited until he heard the sound of a door close before he turned to the two women. Judith Elliott forestalled him before he could say anything.
"Thank you," she said simply.
"He's..." Jim hesitated. "Retarded" was the word that came to mind but he was pretty sure there was a different term used these days. "Special," he finished lamely, remembering how Sally, the housekeeper his father had employed, always referred to Mikey Collins who had lived down the street when Jim and Steven were kids. Mikey had Downs Syndrome.
A faint smile touched Judy's lips. "Very special," she agreed. She sighed and sank down into a kitchen chair. "About that money in Jasmine's account," she started.
"Should I leave?" her sister asked.
"That's not necessary," Judy said before Jim could say anything. "Detective, as I'm sure you've guessed, Jasmine was blackmailing me."
"What?" Cynthia gasped.
Even thought he'd been expecting the answer, it still angered Jim. "You didn't feel this was pertinent information, Ms. Elliott?"
The former beauty queen lifted her head proudly. "It would only have been pertinent if I had killed her. I did not kill Jasmine!"
"What was she holding over you?" Jim demanded to know. Judith said nothing.
"Judy," Cynthia said warningly.
"It had nothing to do with the murders, or the business," Judith Elliott said at last. "And I can't tell you, Detective. There's too much of a chance... well, let's just leave it that I can't tell you."
"Let's *not* leave it there," Jim fired back.
"It has nothing to do with who poisoned the mousse!" she snapped.
Jim drew breath to roar back at her, but a sudden, startled gasp stopped him. He swung around to look at Cynthia, whose already-pale face had gone three shades whiter. Ellison could hear the rapid beat of her heart. "What is it?" he asked.
Cynthia's eyes, huge with apprehension, met his. "Detective, there were two bowls of mousse left over last night--"
"You said you sent one up to someone else's room--" Jim started, then he realized what she was thinking. "Oh my God. Whose room?"
"Claire Thomas. She was on an assignment last night." She visibly shook, terrified. "I haven't seen her today. Have you, Judy?"
Judith Elliott shook her head slowly, eyes widening with alarm. "My God, you don't think she's lying up there, unconscious or-- dead?"
Jim bolted for the back stairs, both women on his heels.
Up the three flights of the back staircase. Judith Elliott indicated the first door on the left, next to the one that Jim knew was Blair's room. He waved her back as he knocked firmly on the door. "Ms. Thomas?" he called. After a brief wait, he turned the old fashioned, painted china doorknob. Somewhat to his surprise, the door was unlocked and swung open to reveal a good-sized bedroom. It was rather dim inside, as the heavy drapes had not been pulled, but Jim of course could see easily, and there was no one inside. The emerald silk coverlet was smooth over the double bed. Jim clicked on the overhead light, so the two women could see, and nodded at them to enter. Cynthia went immediately to the bedside table, reaching for the glass dessert bowl that sat there, still covered with clingy cellophane wrap.
"Don't touch that, please," Jim snapped. Cynthia snatched her hand back as if the bowl was hot. The Sentinel turned in a circle, surveying the room. There was a faint scent, probably perfume, and he frowned as something teased at his memory.
"Excuse me? What's going on?"
The three of them turned at the sound of a woman's voice. Jim saw a slender brunette, possibly a few years younger than he, wearing a long, light-colored raincoat. She glanced from him to the two women, and her next comments were addressed to them. "Judy? Cyn? What's going on here?"
"Where have you been, Claire?" Judith asked in relief.
"Ms. Thomas?" Jim interjected. At her nod, he went on, "We need to know what time you got in last night."
Claire Thomas looked uncomfortable. She unbuttoned the top two buttons of her raincoat, revealing wine-red silk, then shrugged. "Excuse me, but who are you and what business of it is yours what time I got in?"
"Claire!" Judith snapped. "This is Detective Ellison. He's investigating Jasmine's murder."
"Oh." The woman flushed. "I'm sorry... I'm just still in shock, I ran into Tony downstairs and he told me....I can't believe it-- Jasmine, murdered!"
Judith sighed. "You didn't come home last night, did you? That's the same dress you were wearing when you left."
"I'm sorry, Judy. I didn't mean to lie, I just knew you'd say not to go. David called, he wanted to meet.... I left the reception early and met him for a drink. One thing led to another...."
"You left the reception early?" Judith's voice was cold as ice. "Claire, if you want to have a drink with your philandering ex-husband on *your* time, that's entirely your affair. But when you're on *my* time, he damn well better pay for the pleasure of your company." She snorted. "And how many times have I told you to throw away those shoes! Do you think men don't look at your feet?"
Claire shuffled one foot in what was indeed a rather worn-looking black leather shoe. "It was raining last night," she said weakly.
"It's always--" Judith started. Her sister nudged her.
"Judy, this is not the time!" she hissed.
Claire Thomas stepped back. "Is it all right if I go to my room and change?" she asked. After glaring at her for a full thirty seconds, Judith nodded.
Jim heard the ornate chimes of the front doorbell. Glancing at his watch, he hoped it was Rafe back from the bank. The younger detective could help interrogate the residents of the house. He stepped toward Blair's door, knocked softly, then opened it quietly, hoping his Guide was asleep.
The room was empty.
'I told him to stay in his room,' Jim thought. Then he shrugged. 'Oh well, Sandburg does what he wants!' The younger man had probably felt better and gone for a walk to help him think.
*** *** ***
Jim sighed and stretched his long legs out under the antique cherry desk in Judith Bolt's study. "Who's left?" he asked Rafe.
The younger detective flipped through his notebook. "Three more... no, four. Tammy Cooper, Scott Giacomo, somebody named 'Bish', and Judith Elliott." He flipped the notebook shut. "So far, we aren't getting much. No one heard anything, saw anything, or admits to seeing Jasmine Ronaya after dinner. And, with the exception of Claire Miller, they all give each other alibis."
"For what they're worth," Jim commented. "Most of them were watching the TV. The living room is big and supposedly only one or two lights were on. You know how it goes, you're interested in a movie and someone gets up, to get a drink or go to the bathroom, you don't know exactly how long they've been gone, even if you paid any attention to who it as in the first place. Besides, the ME's preliminary report puts the time of death sometime after midnight, when everyone was supposedly in their rooms, alone." He sighed again. "Get in contact with Miller's ex-husband," he said after a minute. "Make sure *her* alibi holds up, that'd be at least one we could cross off the list."
Rafe made a note of it. "So who do you want to see next? Or should we take a lunch break?"
Before Jim could answer, there was a light tap on the door and it opened to reveal Judith Elliott. She seemed rather ill at ease as she stepped inside. "Detectives... there are lunch fixings in the dining room. My sister and I would like you to join us for the meal. There's plenty of food."
"That's very nice of you, but--" Jim started.
Judith held up her hand to stop his refusal. "Please... Detective Ellison. My sister has prepared enough to feed a starving third world nation. Her coping mechanism is cooking. Please don't hurt her feelings by refusing." She managed a smile. "Even policemen have to eat."
Jim and Rafe exchanged glances, then Jim nodded. "Thank you."
"Thank *you*." Judith stood aside to let Rafe leave the room, but then caught Jim's arm. "If I might... have a word with you, Detective Ellison? In private?"
Jim looked down at her for a second, then nodded for Rafe to go ahead and leave. He stepped back inside the study, closing the door. Judith went to the desk and pulled a package of cigarettes from the top drawer. Jim manfully stifled a cough as she used a crystal lighter to fire the smoke.
The silence stretched between them.
"You wanted to speak with me?" Jim finally prompted.
Judith took a deep breath. "Don't ever make the mistake of underestimating my sister, Detective," she said, not looking up from her study of the carpet. "She could give Corinna Bolt lessons in being a femme fordable!"
Not seeing what Cynthia Elliott or Corinna Bolt had to do with anything, Jim kept silent.
Judith Elliott studied her hands. There was a long silence. Finally, just as Jim was deciding she wasn't going to tell him, she said flatly, "Jasmine found out that Bish is my son."
After a startled silence, Jim slowly commented, "Well, I'm sure that would have been... awkward, for you, but was it worth all of that money to keep it quiet?"
"It's worth everything I have to protect my son," Judith responded quietly. "Bish doesn't know, Detective. No one does, except Cynthia, and now you. I gave my baby up for adoption. I mean, I was nineteen, unmarried... I'd been the runner-up in the Miss America pageant, I had a scholarship to UCLA, I thought the world was ripe for the taking. Instead, I was ripe for the taking, by some smooth talking con artist I met at a party one weekend. I never saw him again.
"So I gave the baby up. I didn't see any other choice; to be honest, I'm not sure I looked for one. I finished school and then I met Paul." Her voice changed, became soft, almost reverent. "He had everything... money, good looks, family background... and he fell in love with *me*... the ex-beauty queen from the hick town in Oklahoma. He gave me the kind of life I thought only happened in movies. Only thing was, we couldn't have children. I wanted a baby... I wanted Paul's baby, but I couldn't have it. So I started thinking about the baby I *did* have, somewhere.
"Then Paul was killed. For over a year, I just drifted. Then I started trying to find my child. I had to know he was okay. And I did find him, but he wasn't okay. Bish's... it's short for Bishop... adoptive parents had been killed in an accident. He'd been injured, brain damaged. No one wanted him, and he was in a school...." she shuddered. "School was what they called it. It was an institution, a horrible place. I had to get him out of there. It took over ten thousand dollars in legal bills, but I got custody of him. He was fifteen."
She looked directly at Jim. "Do you have any idea what my mother-in-law would say if she knew the truth? My grandmother- in-law? All my high society 'friends'? But I could live with that, but I couldn't live with Bish looking at me and knowing I gave him up when he was a baby.
"I have no idea how Jasmine found out. No idea at all. About three weeks after she moved in here, she left a letter on my desk with a copy of Bish's original birth certificate. It wasn't my copy, I checked that. She never said anything to me directly, but every few weeks another letter would show up on my desk, and I would get a cashier's check and deposit it into her account."
There was a long silence again, which Jim broke with the words, "Do you have her notes?"
"No. I couldn't risk anyone finding them. I burned each one after I got it." Judith stared at Jim imploringly. "Detective, I didn't kill Jasmine. I didn't even mind paying her that much, it was almost like absolution for giving Bish up when he was a baby."
Jim stood up. "Ms. Elliott... take some advice from someone who's been there, and forgive yourself. You did the best you could. The accident wasn't your fault, and you're doing everything you can for your son now."
His cell phone rang. Judith, tears sparkling in her eyes, excused herself and slipped from the room.
Simon was on the other end of the line. "Jim, I just got a call from the VP at Jasmine Ronaya's bank. Jasmine Ronaya's account has been emptied. Someone calling herself Jasmine Ronaya withdrew every penny and closed the account; went to one of the branch offices on the north side of town. Told the manager that a family emergency had come up and she had to leave town suddenly."
"When was this?" Jim snapped.
"That's why the VP called when he got the record of transaction. It was at nine this morning. Hours after the real Jasmine Ronaya was murdered!"
*** *** ***
"I want to know where you cops are coming off, asking all these questions!"
The strident male voice assaulted Jim's ears as he entered the dining room. The owner of the voice, Jim tentatively identified him as Scott Wheeler, one of the inhabitants they had yet to interview, had Rafe backed into a corner and was yelling at him. The young detective had a plate piled high with food and a glass of iced tea in his hands and looked as if he wasn't sure what was going on. Jim quickly glanced around. The long dining table was loaded with platters of sandwich makings: roast beef and turkey and ham, loaves of fresh baked bread, white and wheat and fragrant oatmeal. Two tureens of soup: one smelled like chicken, the other fish chowder. Five different kinds of salads. A platter of cheeses. The sideboard was loaded with desserts, baked fudge and miniature cheesecakes and chocolate-dipped fruit. A silver serving cart held a frosty pitcher of iced tea and several crystal glasses. The room was full of people, loading plates with food, but they were all frozen in place, watching the tableau in the corner. Blair wasn't in the room. Jim sighed, wondering where his roommate had got to, then strode forward. "Is there a problem here?" he asked, directing his words to Rafe although his steely blue eyes never left his antagonist.
"Yeah, there is!" Wheeler practically yelled. "What do you *mean* by asking all these questions about Jasmine? What business is it of yours? She's dead! Let her rest in peace."
"As we haven't asked *you* anything yet, I'd be interested to know what kind of questions you think we're asking," Jim responded, calmly but his voice was cold.
"I heard the type of questions you've been asking," the young man spat out. "Who was here, who was there.... what difference does it make? The girl hung herself. That's bad enough, why are you trying to say that we should have known something was going on?"
Jim eyed him steadily. "Mr. Wheeler--I assume that's who you are-- why are you so sure that Jasmine Ronaya committed suicide?"
The man fell back, a stunned expression on his face. "What--? she had to have... are you trying to say... it couldn't have been an accident!"
"No, it wasn't an accident," Jim agreed, his eyes never leaving Wheeler's face. He watched as the truth dawned on the young man.
"Are you saying that she was... murdered?"
One of the girls--Jim couldn't tell which one--muttered, "Well, good morning Scott! Where the hell have you been?"
Jim waited, then said, his words slow and measured, "The preliminary evidence strongly indicates that Ms. Ronaya was murdered."
There was absolute silence in the room.
"No," Scott Wheeler whispered. Then, louder, "No!"
He looked around wildly. To Jim, it appeared as if he was staring accusingly at all and sundry. Then, so quickly that neither Jim nor Rafe could stop him, he bolted from the room. Seconds later they heard the slamming of a door.
No one said anything. One of the girls giggled nervously. Judith and Cynthia both looked upset, Tony Giacomo looked perturbed. Claire Davis put her plate down. The *thump* as the plate contacted the table sound absurdly loud in the hush.
"Well, I guess we know now who Jasmine's boyfriend was," she said, pouring herself a glass of iced tea.
"What do you mean, Ms. Davis?" Jim asked alertly.
She shrugged. "It's awful to say, now that she's dead, but Detective, surely you've gathered Jasmine didn't much like any of us."
"I've gathered none of you much liked her," Jim countered.
Another girl --'Tammy Cooper', Jim thought-- looked upset at his outspokenness. "I wouldn't say we disliked her, actually. It was more that she didn't like us."
"Oh, come on," Claire drawled. "Tammy, you've been glaring at Jasmine ever since Blair came to live here. And I don't think he's interested in either one of you."
Jim had to restrain a smile her words. The impulse vanished as he again realized how long it had been since he had seen his partner. He was opening his mouth to ask if anyone knew where Blair was when he was interrupted by his cell phone ringing again. Muttering a thousand curses on the head of Alexander Graham Bell, Jim pulled it from his pocket and barked his name.
"Ellison, have you finished interviewing those people yet?"
"Almost," Jim answered, aware that he was the focus of everyone's attention. He stepped through the double doors into the short passageway that led to the kitchen. "What's going on?"
"If Rafe can finish over there, I need you back here pronto. We have some new information about Marc McBerry's death."
"*Marc* McBerry?" Jim questioned. "I don't understand--"
Simon cut him off. "I don't know all the details. Cassie Wells just called and she's not making a lot of sense. But apparently McBerry's death might *not* have been an accident."
*** *** ***
Rafe did full justice to the lavish lunch spread, then invited Tammy Cooper to accompany him to Judith Elliott's office.
He had no problem getting her to talk. Indeed, once her first shyness had worn off, she rattled on happily. The problem was trying to weed out useful information from the flood of gossip she released. Before fifteen minutes had elapsed, Rafe knew more about the personal habits of the house residents than he and Ellison had gleaned all morning, including Claire Thomas' longing for her philandering soon-to-be-ex-husband ("He's a doctor and he's worth BIG money, but he won't dish out more than a pittance to her.") He learned that Tony had a girlfriend somewhere who didn't know what he did for a living, that Judith Elliott slept with a picture of her dead husband underneath her pillow, and that "somebody" in the house did cocaine on a regular basis and was in deep to one of the city's less reputable "lending institutions". In vain, Rafe struggled to return the conversation to Jasmine Ronaya. "What was she like?" he asked for the third time.
Tammy shrugged. "She was okay." She looked as if she was going to say more, then closed her mouth again.
"You know, Ms. Cooper," Rafe said smoothly, "In this kind of situation someone like you is just the kind of witness we pray for."
He waited. As he'd hoped, she swallowed the bait. "What do you mean?"
"Well, with all of these people living together, it's hard to get a grasp on personalities. You know. Who likes whom a lot, who doesn't like whomever.... someone like you, with a real feel for people... you're a Godsend to us." He could see she was buying it, so he went on, "You know, medical evidence aside, it's possible Jasmine could have killed herself. Would it surprise you if she had?"
A moment of silence, then Tammy nodded her head. "I don't believe she'd kill herself," she said flatly. "Jasmine was only interested in Jasmine, Detective, and maybe in her mysterious boyfriend. She kissed up to Judy because she's the boss, but the rest of the women... she didn't even acknowledge we were around."
"Women?" Rafe repeated alertly. "What about the men?"
"Well, that was different. She made a play for all of them, oh, nothing really obvious, she just played the poor helpless female to the hilt. She had poor Bish dancing attendance on her, and even Tony babied her and took care of her. One time she lost her bankbook and she had all of the guys tearing the house apart looking for it while she cried and stood around wailing and wringing her hands. It finally turned up in her desk drawer... where I bet it had been all the time! She just wanted to make a fuss. She carried on about being all alone in a strange country.... her father is a diplomat, for Heaven's sake, and she grew up in Paris and London and New York. Like she couldn't figure out how to cope in Cascade?"
"Now, that's interesting," Rafe purred. "What about the other girls? Did they see her the same way you did?"
"Well, I don't know. I mean, I think Cynthia does... or did. She never let Jasmine get away with much, when Jasmine first came here she didn't want to make her bed or clean her own room and she kind of implied Cynthia should do it, as she was a 'servant'." Tammy laughed at the memory. "Cynthia put her in her place, but fast! Jasmine really didn't like Cynthia but she couldn't say too much because after all Cynthia is Judy's sister. But she--"
A shrill scream tore through the house.
After a stunned moment, Rafe burst from the office and into the empty hallway. He heard the scream again, from the back of the house, and made his way there, Tammy on his heels.
The two of them burst through the kitchen door. The room was empty but a narrow door in the corner was open. Rafe remembered the door from earlier in the day. At the time he'd assumed it was a pantry or a broom closet or something, but now, as he moved cautiously toward it, one hand resting on his gun, he realized it masked a narrow staircase leading down to the cellar. One dim lightbulb hung overhead.
Cynthia Elliott was frozen halfway down the staircase, one hand tightly clutching the spindly railing, the other pressed tightly to her mouth as if to stop any further screams. Her horrified gaze was directed downwards. Gently Rafe moved her out of the way so he could see."
"Damn!" The word was torn from him as his stunned eyes recognized the motionless body crumpled on the cold cement floor.
Blair Sandburg didn't move.
*** *** ***
Jim fumed as he stormed into the office of the Chief of Forensics. "Okay, Welles, I'm here," he barked. "What's all this about?"
Cassie wasn't alone. Simon Banks and two other men were there. Jim recognized them: Dominic Luca, who was Simon's counterpart in Robbery/Homicide, and Paul Cox from Internal Affairs, who had investigated the high-speed pursuit that had resulted in the death of Marc McBerry. The atmosphere in the room was charged. Cassie's cheeks were flushed and her eyes swollen as if she had been crying.
"What's going on?" Jim repeated, looking from one to the other.
Cox held out a manila file folder. "Detective, I own you an apology."
"For what?" Jim asked.
"The investigation into Marc McBerry's death should never have been turned over to IA. His death was not even remotely because of you."
"Wait a minute, let me catch up here," Jim said. "I was the detective that went to arrest him, he rabbited and jumped in his car and I gave chase. He crashed--"
"Well, not exactly," Luca said. He glared at Cassie. "Dr. Welles, would you like to chime in here?"
Jim shifted his attention to the redhead, noticing almost absently how rapid her pulse was. "Welles?" he prodded.
She looked anywhere but at him. "We just got the results back from the tests run on his car. He may not have rabbited at all, Jim. His car was sabotaged."
"What?" Jim responded icily.
"It wasn't obvious!" Cassie said desperately. "The accelerator chain was weighted, once he'd reached a certain speed, his gas pedal would just stick to the floor." She went on, her words rushed, "It was deliberate, Jim, it had to be, there was no way it could have been a mechanical error, they actually found the weights still on the chain."
"Who's they? Jim demanded. "Why are we just now finding this out? McBerry died a month ago!"
Cassie flushed even more and looked down at the floor. Almost absently, she reached into her drawer for her asthma inhaler. Luca rolled his eyes and said acidly, "For some reason, Dr. Welles decided that the tests on McBerry's car should be shuffled out."
'Shuffled out' was a term coined by Cassie's predecessor, Jim's ex-wife Carolyn Plummer. The Cascade PD only had the one Forensics department to service six stations and twenty-four precincts. When they got bogged down, "routine" or "secondary" things were "shuffled off" to Seattle PD for analysis. Under no circumstances should the McBerry case have been considered either routine or secondary, as it involved a ongoing murder investigation as well as an Internal Affairs investigation of a Cascade detective. Obviously, from the withering looks the three higher-ups were giving Cassie, they were as aware of that little detail as Jim was.
Still, Jim frowned. "A month?" he questioned. "I thought the whole point of shuffling off was to speed things up. Is Seattle snowed under?" That didn't make a lot of sense, as the bigger city had four forensics labs as opposed to Cascade's one.
"She didn't send it to Seattle," Simon said quietly. "She sent it to Seacouver."
*Seacouver*? "That's over two hundred miles away! And it's smaller than Cascade," Jim blurted.
"I have a schoolmate working there," Cassie said miserably. "She thought she could get right to it... only they had an outbreak of some weird decapitation murders and she got behind..."
"Seacouver is *always* having decapitations," Luca growled. "It's like, the city pastime or something."
As furious as he was with Cassie, Jim felt a tiny inkling of pity for her. In spite of her very irritating personality, Cassie took pride in her department and he imagined this was probably bad enough for her, even *without* the three captains glaring at her. He opened his mouth but whatever he would have said was interrupted by the shrill scream of his cellular phone. He groaned as he reached for it.
Then, at the sound of Rafe's opening sentence, all thoughts of Cassie's problems fled from Jim's mind.
"Jim... we found Blair. You need to meet us at Northside Medical Center. Jim, hurry!"
Jim leapt from his truck and bolted through the automatic double doors below the "Emergency Entrance" sign. He found himself in a narrow hallway leading to another set of double doors. On his right, the hallway opened onto a big waiting room. Televisions sets mounted near the ceiling in two corners were turned to competing channels; the room was ringed with fiberglass scoop-bottom chairs in lemon and orange and dingy white. Racks and low tables held dog-eared magazines. The place smelled of alcohol and disinfectant and urine and sweat, so strongly that Jim momentarily felt he would retch.
There were only a few people in the waiting room. A youngish woman with long auburn hair and black fingernail polish looked up at him, then back at the magazine in her lap. The petite blonde woman next to her was clutching her cigarette pack, obviously dying for a smoke in defiance on the plainly posted "Clean Air Policy". An elderly black man tirelessly rocked a sleeping infant. A large Plexiglas window was marked "Emergency Check In Here". Jim had just stepped toward it when the Men's Room door swung open and Rafe emerged. He altered his course to catch the other detective. "How is he?" he asked intently.
Rafe nodded to a couple of seats next to the wall and guided Jim there. "I don't know. They wouldn't let me go back there with him and no one has come out yet." Obviously trying to ease Jim's torment, he said, "The paramedics didn't think he had any spinal cord injuries or broken bones, but, well, he didn't regain consciousness all the way here in the ambulance."
Jim sat down limply. "What the hell happened to him?"
Rafe shook his head. "All I know is what I told you on the phone. Cynthia Elliott started to go into the cellar for something--I never did figure out why--and she saw Blair at the foot of the stairs. I guess he fell, or was pushed."
Jim eyed the other detective. "Which one is it?"
"I don't know," Rafe admitted. "There are a couple of storage rooms down there, one of the girls said Blair had stored some stuff down there, or was going to, or something. The stairs are pretty steep. He *could* have fallen. Only--" Rafe broke off and looked doubtful.
"What?" Jim pressed.
"Well, he had... has, some kind of wound on the back of his head, right about here." Rafe put his hand to the back of his own head. "The paramedics didn't seem to think he would have gotten it from hitting his head on the stairs or the floor as he fell."
Jim stood up abruptly and strode to the window. Yanking out his badge, he rapped sharply on the Plexiglas and waited for the clerk to open it before he said, "I'm Detective Ellison and my partner, Blair Sandburg, was brought here by ambulance. How is he?"
The clerk--she looked to be in her mid twenties and of Hispanic descent--pointed back at the waiting room. "Just have a seat and someone will be out to talk to you."
"How. Is. He?" Jim thundered.
"I. Don't. Know." The clerk expertly matched Jim's tone. "Just have a seat and I'll let the doctor know you're here."
"Can I go back there with him?"
"That's against hospital policy. Just have a seat, Detective," the clerk said again. "Someone should be out here shortly." She slid the window shut with a bang.
Not knowing what else to do, Jim eyed the double doors, but they were closed and there was no way to get in unless the clerk activated the button that opened them. He returned to Rafe, noticing that the two women were giving him sympathetic looks. "Don't mind Patti," the auburn-haired women said.
"Patti?" Jim echoed.
The women jerked her thumb at the clerk. "She doesn't open those doors without a damn good reason."
"You know her?" Jim didn't much care about the answer but at least the conversation diverted his mind from Blair for just a second.
The blonde women laughed humorlessly. "We've been here a lot lately."
Just then, the outside doors flew open and a wild-eyed women in her mid-thirties whirled in. She caught sight of the two women and flew over to them. "What *happened*?" she all but shrieked.
The auburn-haired woman winced; the blonde one said, "Now, Dana, calm down--" That was all she had the chance to get out. The newcomer whirled around and covered the distance to the clerk's window in three long strides. "I'm Dana Adams and you have my daughter Michelle back there." Her voice was shaking and her hands clenched. The clerk didn't say a word, just hit the button. With a muffled *beep* the doors opened and the woman raced through, not sparing a glance for anyone else.
Jim's mouth dropped open. "I thought you said she wouldn't let anybody back there without a damn good reason!"
The auburn-haired women laughed a little bit. "Dana Adams *is* a damn good reason! You *don't* want to be between that woman and her kid. I should know, I've been on the receiving end of her tongue lashing enough times." She sobered instantly. "And I probably will be again before the night is through."
"We *both* will be," the blonde muttered.
Just then, the clerk tapped on her window and pointed at Jim. When he approached her, she slid the window aside and said, "Dr. Manzelmann is treating Mr. Sandburg and she said it's okay if you go back." She pressed the button to open the doors again. "Mr. Sandburg is in Trauma 12. Just turn right past the doors, go all the way to the end of the hall and turn left."
*** *** ***
Dr. Manzelmann turned out to be a woman with long brown hair pulled back into an untidy ponytail and a rumpled white lab coat over wilted green scrubs. Despite her disheveled appearance that spoke of a long duty day, her eyes were bright and slightly amused as she introduced herself to Jim and said, "My patient, that is, Mr. Sandburg, seemed to think that you would tear the doors down if we didn't let you back here."
"You mean he's awake?" Jim demanded, relief sweeping though him making him weak in the knees.
The doctor's smiled faded a bit. "Well, not right now. He regained consciousness for a few minutes and was very insistent that you be allowed in here." She nodded her head at the curtained-off cubicle. "Now, I'll make a deal with you, you can stay here with him as long as you stay out of the way and step out when we ask you to. That's fair, isn't it?"
From experience with hospital emergency rooms, Jim knew that it was more than fair. He nodded. "But how is he? Is he going to be all right?"
"So far everything is looking pretty good. No broken bones, no spinal cord injuries. No internal bleeding. He does have one hell of a concussion," the doctor added dryly. "We're going to be sending him for a full skull series and a CT scan in a few minutes." She hesitated. "He referred to you as his 'partner', but then he told me he was a grad student at the University. Is he talking about life partner or--"
"He's a civilian consultant to the police department." By now, Jim could deliver that line without even a thought. "He was working undercover when he got hurt. But he's also my roommate and my best friend. He's family, Doctor; I want the straight story."
The woman nodded. "We'll know more after the CT scan. But Detective, I have to tell you, it's extremely unlikely Mr. Sandburg would have received the kind of head injury he has by falling down a flight of stairs. Offhand, I'd say he was bashed over the head with a heavy object."
*** *** ***
Jim pulled the curtain aside and stepped into the cubicle, going immediately to the exam bed. Blair lay covered by a sheet and blanket, a large padded dressing on his head. His hair was greasy with ointment and Jim grinned, imagining how his roommate would react to *that*.
The grin faded as he looked into the pale face, mottled with marks that would soon turn into livid bruises. Blair lay so still that Jim had to fight the desire to shake him. He took a deep breath and glanced at the portable monitor tracking Blair's vital signs, then looked back at his roommate and opened his senses, doing his own catalogue. The rhythmic thumping of Blair's heartbeat filled his ears, bringing with it the message of life. Jim shuddered inwardly as he thought how easily it could have been silenced forever. Looking down at the still face, he marveled again at how this young man had come to mean so much to him.
Their relationship had almost ended before it began. Torn and confused by senses out of control, Jim had been in no mood to listen to the long-haired refugee from an ashram who had appeared in his hospital room, handed him a card, and then disappeared, all in the matter of minutes. He was even less likely to listen when arrived at the university and recognized Sandburg as the guy from the hospital. He'd slammed the younger man up against a wall (Jim still squirmed when he thought of that) and stormed out, only to zone out at the sight of a spinning Frisbee. Risking his own life, Blair had shoved him out of the path of a garbage truck. The first time he'd risked his life for Jim, but not the last.
A slight moan aroused him from his reverie. Concerned, he slid onto the rolling stool next to the bed and gripped Blair's hand a little more tightly. "Chief? Can you hear me?"
Heavy eyelids fought to rise over glazed blue eyes. The eyes stared at him blankly for a moment (the longest in Jim's life as his imagination painted all sorts of scenarios about Blair having brain damage or amnesia or something) then a spark of recognition leapt into them. Lips moved, forming a word which Jim couldn't hear even with Sentinel hearing. He didn't need to hear it. He knew Blair had whispered his name. "Yeah, Chief, it's me. You're going to be fine, Sandburg. You're in the hospital," he added as the eyes flickered around the room and widened in alarm. "Rafe found you at the bottom of the basement stairs. You managed to give that hard head of yours a concussion."
"did...I fall...?" Slightly louder this time but still barely a thread of sound.
Jim hesitated. He didn't want to possibly give Blair any false memories, but he could tell the kid was in no shape for any kind of questioning now. Already his eyelids were fighting the battle to stay open. "Something like that," he said finally. He gripped Blair's shoulder reassuringly. "Go back to sleep, Chief. I'll be here when you wake up again."
*** **** ***
Concluded in Part Three...