by Kristine Williams
Blair shed everything but his boxers and t-shirt, then blew out the candle and hurried under the blankets before the chill of the room could set in. With a sigh, he pressed his face into the pillow, glad to be home. The conference had been great, and seeing Dr. Stoddard again was something Blair had looked forward to. But there was something about this past week, something he couldn't really put a finger on, that was making him grateful to be home. Maybe it was this trial? Jim must have mentioned it before Blair left. Whether he'd paid attention or not at the time, he did understand what this trial could mean for all involved. And he also knew that, threats or no threats, nothing would keep his partner from doing his job. And there was nothing Blair could do about it. He remembered telling Dr. Stoddard all about Jim, and what kind of man he was. And how pig-headed he could be when it came to his own safety. Naturally, his old mentor had found these qualities to be very admirable, and not something that should be a source of worry for Blair. He had almost wanted Eli to agree with him, if just for his own sake, but he knew it wouldn't happen. And in all honesty, he was more glad to have his old friend so pleased with his new one. Maybe in a way, Jim had felt this when Incacha met, and then approved of, him? He gave his pillow a shove, adjusted his shoulders, and dug further into the blankets. All he wanted to do right now was sleep.
And sleep he did. By the time he registered Jim's voice on the phone in the living room, the sun was streaming in. He lay there for several minutes, enjoying the warmth of the bed and listening to his partner's voice. Smells of coffee and toast wafted in, waking him further. He couldn't really put it off much longer, no matter how cold the room was. With one breath against the chill, Blair hurried out from under the warm blankets and scurried into the bathroom. It was still warm from Jim's shower, so he couldn't be too late getting up. Still, he hurried. This mob case had every nerve in his body on edge, even though he wasn't a part of it. It was a case already in completion when he met Jim, an arrest he'd made months before his stakeout on the Switchman case. Something Blair hadn't even paid much attention to outside of the usual media information.
But at the time, cop work didn't interest him at all. Not even Jim's work. It was a few months into his new life that the rollercoaster began to interest him. And still, it was only the rollercoaster of Jim Ellison's work that held any allure for Blair. Take away his partner, and there was nothing about the justice system that could hold Blair's enthusiasm.
An enthusiasm that right now was centered on breakfast. When he emerged from his room, dried and dressed, the table was set with Cheerios, toast, orange juice and coffee.
"Sorry I slept so late, Jim. I should still be on East Coast time, guess I was worn out from the flight." Blair sat down, reaching first for the coffee Jim was pouring.
"We've got plenty of time." Jim poured the last of the coffee into his own cup and sat down, reaching for the cereal. "You know, you don't have to come in. This trial isn't going to involve you at all."
"No." Blair's protest was almost too loud, even to his own ears. "No, Jim, I want to. I mean, you never know when you might need help, right?" God, that sounded lame. And now Jim was looking at him with an odd expression. "Besides, I still don't like the idea that there's no security." He dove into his Cheerios, hoping to forestall any protests, and possibly find a reason for his own insistence.
Jim shrugged and shoved a spoon into his bowl. "Suit yourself, Chief."
"You're not worried?"
"About you, or the trial?"
Blair let out an exasperated sigh, rolling his eyes ceiling-ward. "Jim."
"Sandburg, I'm not worried. I'll be cautious, as always, but worry gets you nowhere. Besides, I'm sure you'll do plenty of that for both of us."
"Great." I'm sure I'll have to.
Meeting with the DA did little to alleviate any of his worry. In fact, just as their meeting came to an end, so did any hope Blair had of this being an easy trial.
"So, that's about it, Detective. You'll be called in tomorrow, if all goes as planned, right after the dock worker and the florist give their testimony."
Blair was barely listening to the DA. He'd expected Beverly Sanchez, but she wasn't on this case. Instead, they had Assistant DA Milton Rue. The man hardly oozed confidence, the sheen of sweat on his upper lip obvious to anyone with or without Sentinel sight. His nervous habit of tapping the ever-present ballpoint pen in his right hand against his thigh had Blair so annoyed, he was tempted to reach out and grab the offending instrument. Trusting this man with his partner and a case against a mob family was going to take a sheer force of will Blair doubted he had.
"Have there been any threats?" Blair asked Milton, but he was looking at Jim.
"Not since last week, actually." Milton smiled nervously. "There's really just a few family members considered a threat, and they've been seen in New York as recently as two days ago, so we feel they've moved on." Milton turned back to Jim. "Probably starting up a new organization and washing their hands of this one."
"That's not very likely." Jim shook his head, then turned toward the door as someone knocked and entered, carrying a box to Milton. "Unless there was some unrest in the group before this, I can't see them turning their backs on family."
Milton nodded, and looked at the box he'd been handed. "This is for you, Jim."
Every nerve in Blair's body fired, raising alarms he didn't even know were there. Before he could protest, Jim had the box, but to his relief his partner was staring at it intently. If ever there was a time Blair wished he could see, hear, or even smell half the things Jim could, now was that time. After a full minute of what he hoped was a serious Sentinel go-over, Jim began to open the box.
"Careful, Jim." Blair spared a quick glance at Milton, who wore an expression of surprise and sudden fear.
"Relax, it smells like newsprint." Still being careful, Jim opened the package. He reached in and pulled out a sheet of paper. "I think we'd better call Simon."
Blair reached for the note Jim handed over,
then scanned it quickly. "Can we worry now, Jim?"
"Do you still want to testify?" Simon read the note out loud, then reached into the box and pulled out the clippings Blair had already seen. Clippings from newspapers all around the country, covering the murders of several key witnesses in various mob cases. Cops' murders.
"It's a standard scare tactic, Captain. Nothing we haven't seen before." Jim poured some coffee into his cup from the pot in the Captain's office, then held it up and glanced at Blair.
"Yes, and we've also seen this before." Simon held up a handful of clippings, and glanced at Blair, who was holding out his cup while Jim poured the last of the coffee into it. "And what about you, Sandburg? You're being awfully quiet about all this."
Blair shrugged, trying hard to look casual. He wanted to lock all the doors, handcuff Jim to the table and stop this whole trial from happening. "What good is my opinion, Simon? Jim's going to do whatever he wants to anyway, regardless of how dangerous it is." He didn't have to see the looks both men directed at him to know how that sounded. Blair glanced up at Jim and raised both eyebrows. "Well, it's true, isn't it?"
Jim made a face, setting the coffeepot down, then glanced at Simon for a moment. "Sandburg, what would you like me to do? Just forget the trial, let Burgini and his men get off so they can go back to their protection racket?"
Blair sighed and shook his head, stepping back toward the table in the center of the office. This felt like an old argument, one he was used to losing. "I just don't think this is worth your life, Jim. Yours or anyone else's."
"They've already killed five shop owners who refused to buy their protection." Jim followed Blair to the table and sat down opposite him. "And that's just the five we know of."
Blair let out an exasperated sigh and hid behind the coffee.
"Listen, you weren't around during this case, Chief. It's been so long even the media forgot what this city went through when Burgini and his family were in business. You know full well I can't back down." Jim paused, glancing at the Captain, who had gone to the door. "If I did, what would happen next time?"
"I know, I know. I wouldn't expect you to." Blair held up a hand, warding off logic and the truth. He was working up a comeback when Simon slapped a folder down on the table between them.
"This is all we could get on the rest of the family."
Jim opened the file and spread the contents out on the table. "Is this Giovanni?"
"Who's Giovanni?" Blair pulled the photo closer, gazing down on a face he'd seen before, somewhere.
"He's Don Burgini's nephew." Simon sat down, pulling a cigar from his shirt pocket.
"He looks familiar." There was something about the man's face, his eyes, that held Blair's attention.
"Anthony Giovanni. Rumor had it he was going to take over the business. But he changed course in college, opting for a doctorate in Psychology over the law degree he started out after."
Blair glanced over to Simon. "So, if he's so high up in the family, and he wasn't part of this arrest sweep, then isn't he the one delivering threats?"
"I doubt it, Chief. Giovanni is in New York, according to the FBI. There was some fallout in the family a few years back, setting Giovanni outside." Jim shook his head. "I think he's pretty much washed his hands of this side of his family." There were more photos in the file, case reports and arrest records. "There's plenty of lesser cousins in town to keep an eye out for."
Blair glanced at the other photos while Jim and Simon discussed potential targets and safe houses for the jury. None of the other faces meant anything to him, nor did the conversation his partner and the Captain were having. The photo of Giovanni was the only thing holding Blair's attention. The photo, and the strange memory it was trying to evoke. It wasn't just a memory, but a feeling. A feeling that was adding to his sense of uneasiness about this case. An uneasiness he had no business feeling. Jim knew what he was doing. If he said this trial was nothing to worry about, then it probably wasn't. And he never would have expected his partner to back out of anything. Jim wasn't like that.
"Come on, Chief." The photo of Giovanni was snatched from Blair's grasp and returned to the file now in Jim's hand. "Time to get to work."
Not wanting to let on that he hadn't been listening, Blair stood and followed Jim out the door, hoping he hadn't been asked to do something. Jim set the folder on his desk, then sat down and pulled Blair's chair closer to the computer.
"Let's start at the top and work our way down."
Blair sat down and pulled out his glasses. "Start with what?"
"The FBI's been keeping tabs on all the family, tracking their movements in these last three months." Jim opened the file and pulled out Giovanni's photo. "We'll start with him, and see just where he's been this week."
"There's something about this guy that bothers me." Blair stared at the photo once again while Jim was keying into the computer. "I'd swear I've seen him before."
"Maybe you have. He's a psychology professor from New York. He could have been to the University when he lived here. Or maybe you saw his picture somewhere."
All logical explanations, but not right. "I dunno, man."
"Well, I don't think we have to worry about him anyway." Jim pointed to the screen. "He's in New York. This report was logged just an hour ago, in fact." He reached for the next photo in the folder. "Let's try another."
And they did. Each nephew, cousin, son-in-law, even a few of the third cousins on the maternal side. All were present and accounted for in nearly every city BUT Cascade. Most of them seemed congregated in or around the state of New York. All of this led Jim to believe the family was setting up shop on the East Coast, leaving their former leader to pay for his mistake of being caught. Even the FBI was buying into that idea.
"But that doesn't explain the note, Jim," Blair insisted for the third time since they sat down to eat. Oddly enough, Jim had chosen Italian. Sitting in the restaurant with the lights low and the place packed made Blair nervous. He could only hope the Sentinel part of Jim wasn't shrugging off the danger as casually as the rest of him was.
"Sandburg, do you have any idea how many times threats like this are mailed, phoned, or hand delivered during a high profile case?"
"Hundreds, I'm sure." Blair reached for his wine and shook his head. "But I'm not talking about any of them, Jim. I'm talking about this one."
"Okay, this one so far has been nothing to worry about." Jim set his fork down and reached for his water. "What do you expect me to do, here, Chief? Let a guilty man go free because someone mailed me a nasty note? What kind of cop would that make me? What kind of person would that make me?"
A live one. Blair swallowed the last of his wine, hoping the flush rising to his cheeks could cool the fire. Jim was right, he knew that. He was right about it all. But something about this case, a case Blair really knew little about, was eating away at him. It had to be connected to Jim, and his safety.
"You ready to go home?"
Blair looked up, realizing then he'd been staring at the table. "Yeah." He followed his partner out to the truck, constantly glancing around in the dark parking lot.
"Relax." Jim opened the door and climbed in, watching as Blair did likewise on his side. "Look." With a nod of his head, he indicated a car parked halfway down the road, engine running. "Jenkins and Brown."
Blair shot an accusing glance at Jim. "They're following us? You knew they were there, and you let me sit in there and worry?"
"Sandburg, I didn't know they were there." Jim started the truck and looked at Blair. "I didn't see them till we came out. Figures Simon would be as paranoid as you."
Great, now I'm in a league with Simon, that's a first. Blair shook his head, but said nothing more the entire drive home. While he stared out the passenger side window, he could sense Jim glancing both at him and the rearview mirror often. Blair felt a need to apologize, to find some reason for his own anxiety about this case, but he couldn't. He could no more understand his own fear than he could expect Jim to back out of testifying.
And this isn't me. Blair might be uncomfortable with the idea that Jim would be so willing to die for something like this, but he knew to do anything less wouldn't be the man he'd come to know. It had been those very qualities that Blair had gone on and on about to Dr. Stoddard, with pride, no less. And here he was, making an ass of himself.
When they parked, their followers parked half a block down. Blair watched the sedan shut its lights off and sit anonymously at the curb. "Are you going to go talk to them?"
Jim locked the truck and shook his head. "Nah. They've got a job to do, let's go inside and let them do it."
Blair turned to follow his partner inside and found Jim beside him. One arm draped over Blair's shoulders as they started to walk to the door, adding to his growing feeling of guilt. "Will they be here all night?"
"Probably." Jim reached for the elevator button. "I'm sure by now Simon has tails on all the witnesses and the members of the DA's office."
Blair sighed, but waited until they were inside and sitting in the living room checking the ball game scores before he continued. "Jim, listen, I'm sorry if I made you think you should go against your convictions or anything. I just...I guess--"
"You were just concerned, Chief," Jim supplied, leaning back into the cushions of the couch so he could prop his feet on the coffee table.
"Yeah, I was. And I am. But that's no excuse." Blair was sitting on the opposite couch, feet tucked up under his butt as he faced Jim. One hand left its gesturing to run fingers through his hair before he resumed. "You know what you're doing, and what you have to do to make things right."
"Didn't you once say that I was a...what was it? A walking crime lab, with organic surveillance equipment?"
Blair nodded impatiently, embarrassed to have his own words tossed back. "Yeah, I know. I just worry sometimes, okay?"
Jim laughed shortly. "Of course it's okay, Chief. I'd worry about you if you didn't."
"Hey, somebody's got to, right?" With a sigh, Blair sat back, pushing an errant strand of hair out of his face. "I guess talking to Dr. Stoddard this week brought a few things home for me."
Obviously intrigued, Jim glanced at Blair, eyebrows raised. "Oh? Like what?"
Damn, now I've done it. He shrugged, trying to lighten the situation he'd dug for himself. Even so, he knew it wouldn't work with Jim. His Sentinel friend could see right through his attempt to avoid a subject. "Like the value of certain friendships. And the differences between them." He risked a quick glance at Jim and found him listening with interest. All hope of squirming out of this episode of true confessions was waning fast. "I just found myself telling him all about you, and after a while I think I was as impressed as he was."
"After a while?" Jim shook his head once, smiling. "And here all this time I thought you were impressed since day one."
Blair looked up and rolled his eyes, almost grateful that Jim was making this easier on him. Being this open about his own feelings, to himself or even to his friend, was still not something he did too often.
"So, what else did Dr. Stoddard have to say about me?"
"Oh, man, he was so intrigued!" Instantly Blair allowed himself to change channels, feeling the enthusiasm charge into his body with the remembered conversation. "Not only that I'd found an honest to God Sentinel, but that you've been able to incorporate your senses into your work. I used to theorize about what kind of job would be ideal for a Sentinel in the modern age, and then bam! In you walked with the perfect answer." Jim was rolling his eyes again, probably at his attitude and enthusiasm, but Blair didn't mind. He continued, undaunted, explaining how Dr. Stoddard had wanted to know all about Jim's ability to use his hyperactive senses in his work as a detective. They had both agreed police work was the best use of such a gift, protecting the larger tribe of society and honoring the tradition.
By the time he finished telling Jim everything he could remember from his trip, it was nearly midnight.
"Well, Chief, I'm gonna call it a night."
Blair stood, easing his feet out from a position they'd fallen asleep in hours ago. "What about Jenkins and Brown?"
"They're on the job, partner, they'll be fine." Jim headed for the bathroom, shrugging.
"Yeah." Blair started for his room, pulling off his shirt as he went. "I tell ya, Jim, next time Dr. Stoddard is in the States, you've got to meet him." He tossed the shirt to his bed and began to unbutton his jeans, turning to face Jim, who was walking out of the bathroom.
"Why, so you can show me off ?" Jim tossed his hand towel at Blair with a mischievous grin, hitting him in the face.
"You wish." Blair rolled his eyes at his partner's teasing mood, then tossed the towel back. "Of course I want to show you off, man. Come on, you're the embodiment of my life's work. I want every researcher I know or ever thought of knowing to know you're for real." Jim opened his mouth to protest and Blair raised a hand, stopping him before he could start. "I know, I know, not until you say so. Trust me, Jim, other than Lee Brackett, the only people even reading my papers are the boring academic types who wouldn't know a crime if they saw one."
"Let's hope they don't." Jim carried the towel back to the bathroom, then headed for his stairs. "We're going in tomorrow, so set the alarm."
"Stop worrying, Chief," Jim called from the stairs.
Blair laughed shortly. "No promises, man." he whispered.
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