by Kristine Williams
Jim rubbed burning eyes, weary from something deeper than a lack of rest. Blair was finally asleep in the bed beside his, after a couple of hours of frustrated tossing and turning. He was going to give his partner another hour before trying to wake him, but the concussion seemed pretty mild.
As badly as his side was aching, he counted them both lucky. If Simon hadn't given him that kevlar vest, insisting he put it on, Blair's bullet would have ripped right through him. And if Carpenter's aim had been a fraction of an inch to the left, Blair would be dead. But if he had realized what was happening sooner, he was confident he could have talked his friend through this and ended it all before anyone was hurt.
"And if the Cubans had pushed a button in the 60's, we'd all be dead." This was doing no good. Second-guessing past events didn't serve the present. He glanced at Blair, watching him sleep for several long minutes. Thoughts of a mission, long ago, returned unwelcome. The only thing stopping him from charging down to the Station and tearing Burgini's heart out with his own hands, was the knowledge that Blair had been spared the memory of what really happened. And Burgini hadn't been directly responsible.
Eventually, he'd have to help his friend go back and remember. Blair would no sooner let that entire week go than Jim would have, but he was going to have to make sure it was done right. He'd have to control it in some way. If Jim could spare him anything even remotely near what he'd been trained to discover, he damn well would.
"Jim, what time is it?"
Startled, he realized Blair was looking at him, awake. "It's just after 5:00. How's the head?"
Blair swung the blankets off and brought his legs out. "I'm okay."
"Hey, Chief, it's early still. Get some more sleep."
"Yeah, in a minute. I have to go to the bathroom." Slowly, he got up and made his way to the door at the far end of the room, navigating by the still-bright lights of Cascade's darker side.
When he returned, Jim sneaked a quick look at his eyes with Sentinel precision, noting the sameness in pupil size. He wasn't sure if Carpenter was guilty of good aim or blind luck, and he didn't really want to know, either way.
"I'll wake you at 7:00, so we can get to the Station."
Blair sat back down. Unable to suppress a yawn, he nodded and lay back. "What about you?"
"I'll sleep when this is over." Jim ran a hand over short hair, absently realizing he needed a cut soon. Before he could give it another thought, Blair was asleep again.
6:30 came just as Jim felt he might doze off. The sky was beginning to lighten with the promise of a sunrise through a blanket of dark grey clouds. He checked with Jenkins, who had day duty in the hallway, before taking a shower, trying to be quiet enough for Blair to get a few more minutes of uninterrupted rest. The bandages that were supporting his ribs had begun to irritate and pinch, so he removed them before stepping into the hot spray. As the water washed over short hair and ran past bruised ribs, Jim let the dark thoughts that had kept him awake all night flow out. Several hours of old memories, new regrets and the vision of his own gun once again in Blair's hands had done nothing to improve or erase the situation they were in.
There wasn't much that would. Their only hope of justice now lay in the hands of a criminal. Even a clear memory of Giovanni kidnapping Blair, or Marsha's husband, wouldn't provide any real evidence, when the acts of both men depended on them being psychologically under outside influence. That alone would render any testimony questionable.
Jim sighed and turned off the water, wincing a little against the stabbing in his right side. Blair's aim was pretty damn good, for a man who hated guns. The dark red and purple welts suggested it might be a good thing Jim had never managed to get his partner onto the firing range. Blair very well could have taken his head off.
"Oh, God, Jim, did I do that?"
Jim turned to find Blair standing behind him, looking at the marks with a pained expression on his face. The bruise surrounding the bandage over his head wound wasn't much larger this morning than it had been last night.
"It's nothing, Chief." Jim smiled, shrugging off the injury, then pointed to his friend's head. "At least I didn't do that."
"Yeah, well, I wish you had." They traded places in the narrow bathroom so Jim could shave, using the disposable razor the hotel had provided. "At least then I'd feel better about it."
"What does that mean?"
Blair reached into the shower and turned on the water. "Jim, do you realize this is the second time I've flipped out in the Station, taken your gun, and started shooting?" He tested the water with a hand. "And, it's the second time Carpenter was there to point a gun at me."
Jim shook the can of shaving cream, then dispensed a handful and watched Blair get into the shower.
"If this keeps up, Simon's gonna kick me out of there for the safety of the Precinct."
He shrugged, applying the cream. "If he does, we'll just move a desk down to the lobby. There's that spot near the stairwell, kinda out of the way." The razor was sharper than he'd expected, surprising for a disposable. "I could use the exercise."
"Very funny, Jim."
One glance through the steam cloud rising over the glass doors reassured Jim his partner was truly in better spirits than he'd been a few short hours ago. Something as personal as having a memory stolen, an entire week of memories, while someone was inside your head, flipping about as if your thoughts were a Rolodex, was one of Jim's worst nightmares. Having helped do much the same to enemies on orders from his superiors was bad enough. It was duty. But it wasn't something he had wanted to see in his life as a cop, and it was never something he had wanted to see happen to Blair.
But happen it had. All they could do now was deal with it.
In reply to his growling stomach, as much as his inability to breathe in the humid air of the small room, Jim washed his face of the remains of shaving cream and walked out of the bathroom. "I'm gonna call Simon, then order breakfast. Might as well take advantage of room service while we're here."
"Get lots of coffee."
It wasn't very good. Hotel coffee was never strong enough for Blair, and it usually had a freeze-dried aftertaste Jim hated. But they got through it with plenty of orange juice. Simon had gone to the loft and brought back changes of clothes for both men earlier that morning.
Blair set his coffee down and ran a hand through wet hair. "I want this guy, Jim."
Looking up, he could see a hard determination reflected in his partner's blue eyes, replacing the anxiety of the day before. "We'll get him, Chief."
"What about Simon?"
"What about him?" Jim poured another glass of orange juice, glad he had ordered plenty since it was the only thing washing down the coffee.
"Will he let me stay? As your partner, I mean. After what I did--"
"Don't worry about it. He knows this wasn't your fault, any more than the time in the garage."
"Yeah, but that was different. Jim, if the department decides I can't be there anymore, if they take away my observer status, I can't work with you."
"No, no way they would, Chief." Jim shoved the last bit of toast into his mouth and reached for the coffee, then changed his aim and picked up the orange juice instead.
"Jim, I shot you in the middle of the Station." Blair was leaning forward, looking from Jim to the table in a nervous avoidance of unpleasant information.
"Sandburg, unless I pressed some charges, there's nothing more than an accidental discharge of a weapon to deal with."
Blair nodded slowly, then raised both eyebrows for a moment and smiled. "Thanks, Jim."
"Just protecting my interests." Jim would have reached out then to slap Blair gently on the side of the head, but he remembered the bruise and slight concussion. "Let's go, partner."
They had to endure an escort back to the Precinct, riding in the back of Jenkins's car, but once inside they were deemed safe again. First stop was Jim's desk, followed immediately by a trip to the lunch room, where they both filled up on some decent coffee. Except for some bruises and a sore ribcage, it felt normal again for Jim. Blair was beside him, intent on following everything he said about the case, asking his usual questions and not straying far while they waited for word that Burgini was in the interrogation room for them. It wasn't until the doughnut girl walked by, smiling at Blair, that Jim realized just how closely his partner was sticking with him.
"Okay, Chief, do you remember how to access those FBI shared files?" Jim glanced at the girl as she passed, then Blair, who had skipped his usual trip with the pretty blonde to the elevators.
"Yeah, sure." He pulled his glasses out of a pocket and set down the mug of coffee.
"Bring up Giovanni's file, and let's see where he is. I'm gonna go talk to Simon for a minute, see what's taking them so long bringing Burgini over."
"Right." Blair practically immersed himself in the computer, bending over the keyboard as he pulled his chair closer.
Jim carried his coffee cup to the Captain's office, walking slowly enough to listen around the bullpen. It was full of the usual crowd, minus Carpenter, who was probably out on the streets. Except for the occasional look in their direction, Jim hadn't noticed any unusual attention being paid to him or Blair. Sandburg had nothing to be ashamed of, and he was ready to defend his partner against anyone claiming otherwise.
"Hey, Jim." Simon was reaching for his coffeepot when Jim walked in. He lifted it in offering and Jim nodded. "How's Sandburg holding up?"
"He'll be fine, sir."
"Dr. Gates can see him tomorrow."
Jim shook his head as he sat on the table facing Simon's desk. "Sandburg and I talked about it last night, I don't think he'll need to see her."
"I checked with the Department. Sandburg's covered for seeing her." Simon answered what he assumed was the question, and sipped his coffee.
"No, that's not it, sir. I--we talked about it. I don't want him going through that if there's nothing to be gained."
"Jim, we have to at least try to build a case. I realize it won't get far, but--"
"You're right, Simon, it won't." Jim held up a hand. "You and I both know that's true. Sandburg and I can handle this. Besides, if Burgini is going to help, we won't need to try anything else."
Simon sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes. "Thank God Sandburg waited until you had that vest on."
"Yeah." Jim was ready to drop the subject and move forward. "When can we talk to Burgini?"
"Well, they're bringing--"
The Captain was interrupted by a phone call, which he answered while Jim drank his coffee. He didn't need to turn around to know Blair was sitting at his desk, still pouring over the computer. He didn't even have to concentrate to feel his partner behind him. It was a sensation Jim rarely thought about, but was constantly aware of.
"All right, Jim. Burgini's down the hall. He's willing to make a deal and the DA's leaning toward accepting. We just need to find out what he's got."
"Good enough." Jim finished his coffee and led the way out of Simon's office, heading for his desk. "Okay, Chief, we're on. Burgini's here."
Blair looked up from the screen, glancing first at Simon, then Jim. "They lost Giovanni some time late last night."
Jim glanced at Simon, then Blair. "That's not too surprising. Let's go have a talk with his uncle." He put a hand on Blair's shoulder and guided him toward the hall. "We'll see if he has any answers."
The three of them followed the main corridor to the interrogation rooms at the far end. Inside, Simon moved to the observation area, where he could watch Burgini from the darkened side of the one way mirror. As Blair moved to follow the Captain, Jim caught his arm.
"You're with me." Jim quickly examined his friend's forehead, then reached up and moved some of Blair's long hair over what little of the bandage was showing. He gave Blair's shoulder a quick, reassuring squeeze and nodded toward the door. "Ready?"
"Yeah." Blair's answer sounded far from convinced, but there was no hesitation in his walk as Jim entered the room.
Don Burgini sat at the end of the table, hands shaking slightly as he brought a cigarette up to his lips. The head of a once thriving syndicate had lost most of his usual air of confidence. Jim could hear his increased heart rate as he looked from the Detective to his partner. This was no longer a man who felt he could buy any judge, order a hit on any cop, and rule any neighborhood he saw fit. This man was afraid of something he knew no one could protect him from.
"Your nephew's been a busy man."
"Tony's insane." Burgini glanced around the room as if expecting someone to jump out of the wood paneling. "That's why I kicked him out of the family."
Jim pursed his lips, catching the quick jump of the man's heart and the immediate appearance of sweat on his upper lip. "I heard he left."
"Yes, he left. To start up his own business." Shaking fingers flicked ashes off the end of a cigarette that had yet to touch his lips. "He came to me with his new idea, and when I refused to finance him, he left. The man's insane, I tell you. What he was proposing went beyond anything the family should be involved with." Nervous eyes darted around, looking for something, or someone, to settle his gaze on. "He would have brought the FBI and CIA down on us if word of what he was doing got out."
"And what exactly was he doing?" Jim knew the answer, but he had to hear it. Blair had to hear it.
Burgini glanced from one man to the other, flicking more ashes from the unused cigarette. His nervousness was building, as was his desperation to keep it in check. "He said he'd found a way to get into a man's head. Make him believe things that weren't true, make him do things he normally wouldn't do. He thought he'd found the perfect way to do a hit, leaving him clean." Again ashes flicked into the tray in the center of the table. This time they were followed by the butt of the cigarette as it was mashed into oblivion. "The kind of manipulation he was talking about is obscene. And it's cowardice." Burgini's voice rose in indignant anger. "I told him, if you want a man dead, you kill him. Or you pay someone to do it. You don't manipulate innocent people to do family business!"
Jim shook his head, glancing at Blair. The irony wasn't lost on his partner, but he remained quiet as he stood against the wall, watching everything Jim did.
"So what was this all about? If your nephew wanted you dead, he would have gone after you, right? Was this all just a test, to see if the new business would fly?"
"It was a warning." The shaking of his voice was unmistakable, as was the man's increased heart rate and sweat output. "He called me last week, in prison. Said he could get me off if I wanted to come East, and help him with the new business." Another cigarette came out of a pocket and shook its way out of the pack. "New business, he called it." A match burst to life and lit the end of the cigarette. "Tony can't run a business, that's why he needs me. I told him he was a fool, that this new trick of his would never work. So he tells me he'll prove it. He'll kill someone in the DA's office, then give me another chance to join him in New York. If I refused, he'd take out someone in the Police Department." Burgini glanced at Blair. "Then, he said if I refused again, he'd have me killed."
Jim's blood ran cold as his jaw clenched hard. Burgini did know, he was aware of what his nephew had done to Blair, and Wanda and Frank Wu. He could feel his hands close around the older man's neck, could imagine forcing the life out of him with ease. But he had to stay in control just a little longer. Instant gratification wouldn't net him the man directly responsible. And Blair was there, his heart beating right next to him. Alive. There was time to make sure revenge was complete.
"Why would he bother to kill you? Why not let you go to prison?"
"Because I know things about him. Just like he knows things about me." He stared at the smoke curling up from the white stick. "We have enough on each other to keep the courts busy for years."
"Did he say how?"
Burgini nodded. "One of the guards in the jail. But the FBI man already stopped him."
"What?" Jim looked up to the mirror, but even Sentinel vision couldn't penetrate the one way glass. "What FBI man?"
"The one who made me the deal."
Jim turned to see Simon standing at the door, accompanied by two uniformed officers who entered the room.
"Out here." The Captain nodded behind him, then left.
With a nod to Blair, both men followed Simon out of the room, leaving Burgini with two officers and his smoldering cigarettes. Outside the interrogation room, they met two dark-suited men waiting, grim-faced, in the side observation area.
"Detective Ellison, these are agents Bent and Morrison, FBI." Simon's introduction was hardly necessary.
"What the hell's going on here?" Jim ignored Agent Morrison's offered hand. "You've taken over this case? Since when?"
"Since Giovanni's little experiment was successful, Detective," Morrison replied calmly. "We're not taking over completely here. We will require your cooperation."
"Our cooperation." Jim's statement was directed at the agents but his attention was focused on his partner. This nightmare was again spiraling out of control.
"As I was just explaining to your Captain, we've leaked word to Giovanni that the attempt on a detective failed, and that the man who was programed to do the hit remembered everything."
"You what!?" Jim's anger flared as he shot Simon an accusing look.
"Jim, I just heard about this myself." Simon held up a hand, glancing at Blair.
"Detective, if you'll calm down and let us explain." Agent Morrison seemed completely unperturbed at Jim's outburst, but Agent Bent had the good grace to appear affected.
"I don't understand." Blair stepped into the conversation by moving closer to Jim.
With a heavy sigh, more to calm himself down than convey irritation, Jim turned to his partner. "They're using you as bait, Chief. They're using both of us."
"I know that, Jim." Blair was looking up at him, a quiet anger behind his eyes. "I don't understand the problem."
"Sandburg..." Jim glanced at the agents, then took Blair by the arm. "Come here." Leading his partner out into the corridor, with Simon following, Jim tried to understand this situation from Blair's point of view.
"Jim, if this is the only way to catch Giovanni--"
"It's not safe." They stopped several yards away from the interrogation room door and Jim took a deep breath. "Sandburg, the only thing this will do is put you in danger. Even if Giovanni walked through that door right now, we have nothing to hold him on other than his uncle's word. And right now we don't know how far we can trust that."
"Jim, I want this guy." Blair's voice was hard, colder than he'd ever heard it. Even having Simon Banks standing there did nothing to cool his anger. "He stole a week of my life. Because of him, I nearly killed you. Because of him, Wanda and her husband are both dead. If it were you, you'd do this!"
"Jim, there's no other way. Not now that they've already started this." Simon glanced down the hall. "They were with Burgini all night last night. God knows what kind of deal they cut with the man."
Jim shook his head, closing his eyes as he breathed deeply, hoping both of these men would see the danger in this situation in the short time it would take for him to collect some thoughts. He wanted Giovanni too. Dead. Doing life in some hell hole. Anywhere but in Cascade, looking for Blair. "Burgini said he had enough on his nephew to put him away."
"It's out of our hands now, Jim. Giovanni couldn't have had time to set anyone up to take out Sandburg, so he's coming out here to do it himself."
"That was a pretty strong assumption on their part." Jim glanced down the hall where they'd left the agents.
Simon shrugged. "They took a chance, I suppose."
Jim's jaw clenched as he looked from Simon to Blair. "They're always the ones taking chances. It's up to us to take control."
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