by Kristine Williams
He awoke with a start, suddenly realizing he had been asleep, and he could no longer hear anyone playing cards. There was a blanket over him, and Mike was sitting on the chair, facing the couch. He looked up from the newspaper the instant Blair jumped,
"You okay?" Mike was halfway out of his chair before Blair could wave him off.
"Yes, I'm fine." He looked around the room. "Just, startled, that's all." Blair glanced out to the balcony and saw Jim there, talking on the cell phone, looking in. He eased his legs off the couch and pushed the blanket aside, rubbing his face. Jeff was just coming in the front door and Blair saw him crushing a cigarette under his heel in the hallway.
"Hey, your partner owes me three hundred," Jeff said, grinning as he came back into the apartment.
"That's being held over for the rematch, remember?" Jim was stepping back into the living room, closing the balcony doors.
"Sure, as long as he's sleeping on the couch then, too."
Blair laughed a little, shaking his head. "Hey, I tried to tell you guys, I've been playing for years."
"He's my secret weapon." Jim said, smiling. "Listen, that was Simon. He's coming over in an hour. The deal's all set."
"Hey, isn't there a game on?" Mike reached for the remote and Blair stood slowly, pushing the blanket all the way off his lap,
"I need a shower." He pushed the hair from his face as he started down the hallway.
"Are you going to be okay?" Jim was beside him and Blair felt a hand on his back. "It's been a few hours since..."
Blair nodded, swallowing against the remembered pain. "I know." He stopped in front of the bathroom and looked up at Jim. "Hey, maybe it's over, huh?" He knew that didn't sound convincing. He certainly wasn't convinced.
Jim smiled for a moment and squeezed his shoulder, "Yeah, maybe." He nodded towards the bathroom behind Blair. "Just don't lock the door."
"Yeah." Blair raised his eyebrows and glanced around for a second. He felt like he was about to step into the lion's den, but it was just a shower. Surely he could get through a quick shower without... "Thanks, Jim."
He stepped into the bathroom and Jim walked back down the hall. Blair pushed the door shut, but didn't make it latch. He stood for a long time, just staring into the mirror, willing another attack to hit then, if it was going to, and not in the shower. He took several deep breaths. Nothing. He undressed. Nothing. He stepped into the shower, and as quickly as he could, cleaned the sweat and exhaustion from his body, if not his mind. He stepped out the minute the shampoo was out of his hair, toweled off as fast as he could, then hurried into his room for clean jeans and a shirt. Nothing. Maybe it was over?
By the time he found a clean pair of socks, Simon was coming into the living room. He walked back down the hallway, pushing wet hair back with one hand, and nodded to Simon. They were gathered in the living room and Blair stopped at the kitchen table, sitting there instead.
"This just might be easier than we thought," Simon said, taking off his coat and draping it over the chair. "It seems Brackett has been in touch with a man named," he flipped open a notepad that he had pulled from his pocket and scanned it for a moment. "Dimitri Vladstoyavich. Another of Cascade's more recent immigrants from Russia with a somewhat mysterious past." He put the notepad back into his pocket and looked at Jim. "Vice has a man on the inside of Vladstoyavich's operation, and he recognized Brackett as having been to visit Dimitri just yesterday. What about, he doesn't know."
"But if it's known Brackett has been to see him, we can use that to our advantage." Jim said, glancing at the others, then to Blair.
"What if it's not known?" Mike asked.
"Then we make it known." Jim replied. "Surely, if we plant a seed with Kostov, he'll have ways of finding out who's been in to see a rival of his. They must have spies in their organizations, just like any other mobster would."
Blair just listened, trying to put the pieces together in his head, trying to make it all work. He didn't want to ask about Kostov, or Brackett. He still felt this was all his own fault, but he wanted to believe Jim. He wanted to believe it was just the workings of a madman's mind, and no one's fault. He wanted to believe this plan of theirs would work, and they would get not only Brackett, but Kostov as well. Maybe that would make up for some of it. He wanted to believe it would be over soon.
"Already done," Simon was saying. Blair looked up, wondering if he had missed anything. "Vice is sending word through their sources to Kostov as we speak. If I'm right, he'll be contacting us soon."
"What if he just goes after Brackett himself?" Jeff asked.
Jim shook his head, "No, I don't think he would. He knows Brackett, at least well enough to hire him for his own dirty work. And if he knows him that well, then he knows Brackett is too good to be taken out by any of Kostov's own men. If he had a hit man that good, he would've taken out Delaney himself."
Blair still didn't understand how their plan was going to net them Brackett, but he didn't want to ask. He was watching Jim, watching him clenching his jaw. The flexing of the muscles on the side of his partner's face was the only outward sign he could pick up that told him Jim was angry. Was he angry with Brackett, or at the way he was being left out of this investigation? He really should be out there, be a part of this. Blair was feeling better, and hadn't had an attack in hours, maybe it really was over?
"I need to get back to the Station. If I'm right, we should be hearing from Kostov soon." Simon stood and picked up his coat, glancing at Blair. "With any luck, this will all be over soon, Sandburg."
Blair nodded, raising his eyebrows for a moment. "Yeah." Jeff and Mike walked to the door with Simon and Blair moved over to stand next to Jim. "Listen, Jim, if you want to go with him, I'll be okay." He tried to sound convincing.
"No, Chief, I'm staying with you." Jim flexed his jaw muscle once more, then stopped. "This will all be over soon enough. Then, it's back to business as usual."
Blair nodded, looking away, then back to Jim. "Okay."
"So, Ellison, what's for dinner?" Jeff returned from seeing the Captain out and stood in the living room, rubbing his hands together.
Jim glanced at Blair, smiling.
"Go ahead," Blair said, laughing. "I'm that not hungry."
"Pizza," Jim replied.
Blair fixed himself a salad while the three Detectives enjoyed pizza for the
second night in a row. They passed the time watching football, then another round
of poker that Blair was asked not to join in on. He willingly agreed, and decided
to get some real sleep. There hadn't been another attack, and he was beginning
to believe it was over. He fell asleep easily, letting the sounds of a poker game
fill his mind, forcing out the hiss of steam and dripping water that still echoed
in his head.
The room was dark, and dripping wet from the pipes overhead. Brackett was nearby, he had just seen him run past but the steam was making it hard to see. Where was Jim? He said he'd be there. He said he'd take care of Brackett. There was a sound behind him and Blair turned. Brackett was there, a gun in one hand, a syringe in the other. He started to walk slowly towards Blair. Where was Jim? Blair turned, tried to run, but the pipes were too low, blocking his way. He spun back around and Brackett was beside him. There was movement off to the left, and Blair looked. Jim was there, standing several yards away, with his gun drawn. He'd take out Brackett now. It was over. Blair looked over to Brackett. He was watching Jim, and smiling. Jim raised his gun and took aim. Blair watched, waiting. What was he waiting for? Shoot! Blair glanced at Brackett, then back to Jim. The gun moved, and Jim aimed straight for Blair. What was he doing? Blair stared at his partner, holding his eyes. He couldn't read those eyes. Jim just stared back at him. Suddenly the gun went off, and Blair felt the bullet pierce his chest, tearing straight through his heart.
Blair sat up, pulling at his chest. Someone was holding him and he opened his eyes, realizing it had been a dream. It was just a dream.
"Hey, Chief, take it easy." Jim was holding on to him, sitting on the edge of the bed. "Are you okay?"
Blair nodded, pushing the hair from his face. His forehead was sweaty. "Yeah. I'm okay. Just a bad dream." He was still trying to calm his breathing, and his heart wouldn't stop racing. "I'm okay."
"Hell of a dream, Chief. Your heart is racing." Jim stayed there, holding Blair's arms.
"Yeah, hell of a dream," Blair replied. He swallowed hard against the memory and looked around. "What time is it?"
Jim waited a moment, looking into Blair's eyes. "Almost six," he replied. "Simon just called, Kostov wants a meeting."
Blair looked up, "You're kidding? It worked, then?"
Jim stood, nodding. "It's working. We need to go to the Station, you feel up to it?"
"Yeah." Blair opened his eyes wide for a moment, trying to push out the last of the nightmare. "Yeah, I'm fine." He started to get off the bed.
"Go ahead and take a shower. We've got some time before Kostov wants to meet."
Blair nodded, crossing the hallway to the bathroom as Jim walked
back to the livingroom where Jeff and Mike were still sitting. They must have
had night duty this time. Simon never could go very long without a cigar.
"Is the kid okay?" Mike asked, looking up from his coffee.
"Yeah, he's fine." Jim replied, accepting the plate of scrambled eggs Jeff was handing him. "Just a nightmare."
Mike nodded in understanding. "Sara had nightmares for weeks after that kidnaping incident. I can imagine what some time with Brackett would do."
"Yeah." Jim busied himself with the eggs. He knew exactly what some time with Brackett could do to a person's sleep patterns. He didn't often have a problem leaving work at the office, but sometimes there came along a case, or situation, that no matter how hard you tried, wouldn't leave you alone. But in all of them, once you caught the perpetrator, and they were safely behind bars, the nightmares could end. But in Brackett's case, after the mountain, as sure as Jim was that he had gone over the falls and died, the nightmares still visited. And now, he could only imagine what was going through Blair's mind. Physical pain was easier to get rid of. Jim couldn't make the dreams stop. But he could stop Brackett.
Jim kept both ears tuned to his partner in the bathroom, listening for any sign that he was having another attack. He made it through his shower, and back into his room. He was just finished putting on shoes when Jim heard the muffled cry of pain. He rushed down the hall, finding Blair clutching the door, trying to straighten up.
"Easy, easy." Jim grabbed him by the arms. "Sit down."
Blair was shaking his head. "No, it's okay. It's over." He straightened up and looked at Jim. "It's over."
Jim held on, searching Blair's face. His partner was a good liar, but he couldn't hide anything in those eyes, if you knew where to look. "Listen, I'd rather keep you with me, but if.."
"No, I'm okay. Let's go." Blair pushed Jim's hands away, but didn't refuse when Jim took his arm and helped him down the hall.
"You need to eat something first." Jim ushered Blair into a chair and Jeff handed him a plate of the eggs. "Kostov called Simon late last night. It seems he is in need of our help."
"That was fast." Jeff said, cleaning up his breakfast dishes. "He must have bought vice's story about Vladstoyavich having a hit out on him with Brackett?"
Jim shook his head, glancing at each of them. "He didn't have to. Apparently, it's true."
"What?" Blair looked up in surprise.
"Brackett is out there drumming up business. Kostov's own men found out, he's offered to do the hit for two million. And Vladstoyavich took the bait."
"So now what?" Blair asked. "If the hit is real, what do we do?"
"We offer three million for Valdstoyavich."
Blair looked at him, eyebrows raised, and he explained.
"We have Kostov convinced that Brackett's after him, which just happens to be true. So, we get Kostov to offer Brackett three million to turn the tables. Then, when they meet to set up the deal, we get Brackett."
"What about Kostov?" Blair asked, glancing at the three men. "You can't just let him go."
"We'll let the DA worry about that." Jim replied. "You ready?"
Jim and Blair drove to the Precinct in his truck, with Mike Jenkins following, and Jeff Clark driving ahead. Jim was certain Brackett had other things to do than to follow them, but he wasn't about to take a chance. He'd keep Blair with him until this was over. They pulled in to the parking garage and Jim scanned the area with all his senses before letting Blair get out. Once convinced it was safe, they both got out of the truck. Mike and Jeff walked ahead to get the elevator. Jim had just turned to Blair when his partner suddenly cried out in pain and doubled over, clutching his stomach. He was in front of him in an instant, holding him up.
"Dammit, we should have left you in the hospital." He held Blair by the shoulders as his partner braced against the truck, still doubled over, teeth tightly clamped down. He shook his head, but was unable to speak through the pain. "Easy, easy. Breathe. Come on, just breathe. Slow and steady." He held him, feeling the tension in every muscle, willing it to stop. "Easy now." He could feel Blair slowly begin to relax, minutely easing up on the pressure in his jaw.
"It hurts!" he said, trying to breathe.
"I know. I know." God, would this never end? Blair was still bent over, and he slowly let his head rest against Jim's chest for support, trying to breathe in a steady pattern. Jim could feel the spasming easing up, and Blair slowly began to gain control. He held him, moving his hands from Blair's shoulders to his back now that he was standing more on his own. "Hang in there partner. Hang in there."
"I'm so tired," Blair said, finally able to speak with less effort though his voice was shaking. He took a few more deep breaths, leaning into Jim, then straightened up.
Jim moved his hands back to Blair's shoulders and looked into his eyes. He was still shaking a little, but Jim could feel the tension easing up. "It's almost over. We'll go back to the hospital after we meet with Kostov, get you checked out."
Blair nodded, taking a few more deep breaths.
Jim looked across the garage to the elevator. Jeff and Mike were waiting, holding the doors. "You ready?"
"Yeah." Blair pushed off from the truck and Jim released one shoulder, keeping a hand on Blair's back as they walked to the waiting elevator.
Once upstairs, Jim saw Blair to the viewing room on the other side of the two-way mirror then he went inside the interrogation room with Simon. Kostov was already inside, smoking his third cigarette, waiting.
Simon entered the room, followed by Jim. He watched as Kostov extinguished his cigarette, then pulled another from the pack in front of him and struck a match. Nicholai Kostov had been in the protection racket since coming over from Russia three years ago. Jim had been on the case for months, ever since a diamond dealer in Cascade was found dead, beaten to death. His wife said he had refused to pay that month's installment to Kostov. But it had taken more than that to get Kostov arrested. They had him, after months of trying, as long as they could get Delaney to testify. And that had gone sour the night Brackett...
"You wanted to see us, Kostov?" Jim walked to the far side of the room and leaned against the wall, looking at the man as he lit his cigarette.
Kostov looked up, glancing from Simon to Jim. He took a long pull, then blew the smoke out through his nose slowly. "I am thinking you wanted to see me," he said, examining the end of the cigarette.
Jim shrugged, glancing over to Simon. "I didn't want to see him. Did you want to see him, Captain?"
Simon moved around to stand beside Jim. "Nope. Not me." He shook his head. "Our case against you was thrown out two days ago, Mr. Kostov. What would we want to see you about?"
Kostov shook his head slowly, smiling. He took another drag and let the smoke trickle from his mouth. "It just may be that you and I can work together."
Jim laughed. "Now, that's funny. I certainly can't imagine what we could do for you. Or you for us. Can you, Captain?"
"No, I can't." Simon leaned forward, placing both hands on the table. "Just what is it you think you could do for us, Mr. Kostov?"
"I can give you someone. Someone you are wanting." He said, taking another drag. "But, there would be of course something in it for me, da?"
Jim shook his head, pursing his lips for a moment. "I can't think of anyone off hand that you could give us."
"Let us not play games." Kostov crushed his cigarette out and looked at the two men. Jim could see the tiny beads of sweat beginning on his upper lip, the minute change in his heart rate, and the slight shaking of his hands as he smashed the butt in the tray. "You know of Lee Brackett. He is what you Americans call a 'hired gun'. He is in Cascade, and I can get him for you."
Simon and Jim exchanged puzzled looks, then Simon turned back to Kostov. "Well, if that's true, then we can let the CIA take care of him. That's out of our department. So, if you'll excuse..."
"The CIA will not have him!" Kostov replied heatedly. Jim could see the sweat building, and Kostov's pupils began to constrict with the tension. "They have washed their hands of the entire matter. That is why Brackett is available." He leaned forward and took another cigarette from his pocket. "That is why he is so desirable among people in my position."
"And just what do you mean by that?" Jim leaned forward, staring Kostov down.
"I am not at liberty to give details, you understand. Unless we are talking with your DA person? I am not a fool, gentlemen. I can give you Brackett, but I have no desire to go down the same road as he."
"I've had enough of your games, Kostov." Simon stepped away from the table and moved beside Kostov. "Word is out, Brackett's coming after you. Some one named Vladstoyavich hired him to take you out. That's right, isn't it?"
Kostov looked from Simon to Jim, then lit his cigarette with visibly shaking hands.
"That's it." Jim nodded his head as if only now understanding. "So, in order to save yourself, you come to us and offer up Brackett in return for...for what?"
"Diplomatic immunity." Kostov replied, smiling.
"Sorry, that's not our department." Simon looked at Jim. "Come on Jim, I think we've got other things to do than waste our time here."
"Wait!" Kostov held up both hands as Jim moved to follow Simon. "I will discuss this further. In exchange for your assistance, I will consider leaving Cascade, as a token of my gratitude."
Simon laughed and Jim shook his head, glancing at the ceiling. "Gratitude, the man says."
"What makes you think you can get us Brackett anyway? If he's got a contract on you, you're as good as dead," Simon said, still standing at the door. "If he's as good as they say he is, then he'll take care of our problem for us. Hell, we just may hire him ourselves."
Jim had to bite down hard against an automatic reply to what Simon had just said. He knew they were playing the game, but he had to work his jaw for a few seconds to get past it.
"I can get him." Kostov said. "You have to help me. It is your job as American policemen to, what is it you say? Protect and Serve?"
It was all Jim could do to maintain his composure. Having Simon in the room helped, and the higher goal of nailing Lee Brackett. "How?" was all he could say.
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