Jim parked the truck and looked at Blair. "Okay, head up to my desk and bring up the files. I'll go to evidence lockup and get the videotape."
Blair nodded and got out of the truck. Jim noticed the look his partner received from the two officers in the garage, but he didn't think Blair saw them.
They walked to the elevator and Jim pressed the 5th floor button, then the 7th. Part of him wanted to go up with Blair first, and see him settled at his desk. That way, he could determine who was up there this morning and how the mood was running. But he couldn't. Blair had confided in him last night, which in itself was somewhat rare. Jim didn't want to ruin anything they had understood by babysitting him needlessly.
"I'll be right up." He got off the elevator on the fifth floor, trying not to look like he was in a hurry. Blair might need, and even want, a Blessed Protector. But he sure as hell didn't need a mother hen.
Still, he hurried. Evidence lockup was manned by one officer, Dan Grealy, a 20 year veteran who always had a kind word to say about everyone. Jim approached, smiling, and reached for the clipboard.
"Hey, Ellison, how's it going?" Grealy handed Jim a pen that he pulled out from behind his ear, nearly dislodging the hearing aid that was the reason for his desk assignment these past 9 years.
"Can't complain." Jim smiled, signing his name. He couldn't help but feel like his signature on these evidence check-outs was more a copy of Blair's forgeries of his own name sometimes.
Grealy leaned in conspiratorially, glancing around before speaking. Listen, from what I hear, you might want to keep a low profile today. Just a friendly word of advice."
Jim sighed, handing the pen back. "Oh? Why's that?"
Grealy shrugged. "Hey, if you want my opinion, you did the right thing. In fact, since I wasn't there, I can't say." The pen was returned to its position behind the officer's right ear. "Truth be told, none of them were there. And someday they'll all learn to shut the hell up when they don't know the whole story." Jim's signature was given the quickest of scans, then Grealy pulled the keys from his pocket, handing them to Jim. "I know a lot of bad feelings can get blown out of whack with rumors like this."
Jim accepted the keys and walked around the counter, behind Grealy. "Rumors like what?" He knew what they were saying, having picked up on all the conversations taking place when they thought he was too far away to hear. Even though he knew Blair couldn't hear three doors down, he could. Jim hadn't wanted his partner sitting next to him, filling out that report, while he was hearing what the officers in the mens room were saying.
"Well, rumors, like I say. Nonsense from people who weren't even there." Grealy followed Jim into the lockup room. "Everything from you saving your partner, to you pushing Simmons into the path of the sniper's bullet in order to save your partner."
Jim found the box containing the videotape he needed and pulled it off the shelf. "Well, Grealy, anyone who wants to know what really happened just has to ask." He handed back the keys to the lockup. Truth be told, which never would happen, Jim had made a choice. And he'd make the same one again.
"Hey, Ellison, I don't have to ask. I know you. And I've been around here long enough to know bullshit from daisies, I can tell you that." They were at the front counter again and the hallway was no longer vacant, but Grealy didn't lower his voice. He glanced around, then stood up just a little straighter. "When it comes down to brass tacks, you look out for your partner above all else. And for you, the responsibility is double, what with your partner being a civilian and all. And me, I like the kid." Grealy leaned forward then, his voice a whisper. "Even if he does forge your signature when I'm not on duty."
Jim laughed quietly, nodding. "Yeah." It was amazing sometimes what Blair could get away with, and even more amazing when Jim found out what others were letting him get away with. Was it his charm? His ability to get whatever he needed, from anyone who had it, was often amusing to watch. It made him an asset to Jim's work, as well as a very interesting character study.
But now, he was upstairs, possibly being hassled, and Jim needed to get up there. As the elevator doors opened, Jim heard the sound of Blair's fingers keying the computer. The only conversations he picked up were standard, work-related topics, but the tension when he entered the room was palpable.
"You got those files, Chief?" Jim stood in front of the desk and set the box down, removing one videotape.
"Yeah, right here, Jim." Blair stopped working on the computer and removed his glasses. He picked up three case files and stood.
"Let's go have another look at these tapes." Jim nodded toward Simon's vacant office. Blair picked up the files and followed. Jim kept his eyes straight, but his ears open, on the way to the Captain's office. Most conversation had halted when he walked in, and now it was resuming slowly. He realized then--and surprised himself for having thought otherwise--that they weren't blaming Blair for being alive, but Jim for having saved his partner. A partner who was, after all, not a cop.
He crossed Simon's office and put the tape in the machine while Blair sat down at the conference table with the files, spreading them out. To hell with what some of them were saying. Blair was alive, and Jim wouldn't change a thing he'd done. If it was in his power to bring Janet back, he would. But he'd never sacrifice his partner to do it.
"You don't think the DA's got enough to make this one stick?" Blair indicated the files and the tape that was now playing back, showing them the surveillance camera's viewpoint of the robbery.
Jim sat down opposite Blair and picked up one file. "They can always use a hook, Chief. And with the lawyer these guys bought, it could be tough."
They watched the tape, seeing the theft of the Brook Station diamond exchange. Jim had seen this tape many times, and so had forensics, but if they could find just one little thing to help put this case in the bag, he'd feel a lot better.
The tape played in front of him, but Jim's hearing wasn't focused on the TV. He'd picked up Blair's name being used at the far end of the bullpen, and without turning to see who was talking, he knew. Carpenter and Jenkins. Mike had always liked Blair, and was doing his level best to defend both him and Jim against a patrolman with one of the most tightly closed minds in all of Cascade.
"I still say that whole Golden thing wasn't right"
"What in the hell is right about being drugged, Carpenter?"
"He could have killed everyone down there with that gas line spilling out."
"And he didn't, did he? Ellison was in control of the situation."
"Oh? Like he was in control yesterday?"
"Were you there, Carpenter? Did you see what happened? I didn't think so."
"I don't get why he's gotta have that kid working with him anyway. I mean, he's an anthropologist, right? What the hell's that got to do with Detective work? Or is it more about homework?"
"Carpenter, you're really ignorant sometimes, you know that?"
"Well, it's possible."
"Jim? Jim, what is it?"
"What?" Jim started, focusing back into the room to find Blair looking at him intently.
"Jim, you were zoning. Did you see something on the tape?"
He shook himself slightly and reached for the remote to flip off the video. "No, I was just drifting, I guess." He stood and Blair glanced behind him into the bullpen.
"Drifting that way?"
"No, Sandburg, just drifting." He rubbed his face. "This video isn't exactly exciting." Blair rolled his eyes, obviously doubtful. "I've gotta go to the mens room."
Jim left him there to rewind the video and walked across the bullpen and out to the hall. Both Nelson and Carpenter were gone, and he didn't pick up any more conversations on the way to the bathroom. When he came out of the stall to wash his hands, Carpenter was there, admiring his reflection.
Jim said nothing and began to wash up.
"Well, Ellison, I guess we all know where we stand around you, huh?"
He turned off the water and reached for some paper towels. "I didn't realize that was ever a question, Carpenter."
"I'm just curious about one thing."
"Do tell." Jim lowered his eyelids, looking down at the slightly shorter man with as much disinterest as he could muster.
Carpenter turned to face Jim. "Is it only uniformed officers who rate lower than your tagalong, or would you sacrifice gold shields, too?"
Jim sighed, glancing over the man's shoulder in disgust. He chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment, making Carpenter sweat. The officer's heart rate had just begun to increase when he looked back down. "You know, there's something to be said for curiosity." Jim's jaw clenched once and he saw a glimmer of apprehension in Carpenter's face. "Keeps you guessing." He turned to leave and heard a short laugh.
"At least I don't have to guess what happened to that bag of Golden."
Jim stopped and turned around, staring at the officer.
"I wondered why he came down off that car so easily when you talked to him. Must be used to that, huh? Is that how you got him to calm down, with all that Golden in him? Do this often, Ellison?"
Jim could feel his anger growing, and made no attempt to hide it from his eyes or face as he stared at Carpenter. He knew arguing with this brick would get him nowhere, so he turned to leave.
"You just might want to keep a close eye on your little friend's back out there, Ellison."
Jim spun around, his anger having gone from cold disgust to hot anger. His fist connected with the shorter man's face. There was no hesitation, no chance for Carpenter to move away. The blow sent the officer reeling backwards, clutching his face. Jim stayed put, waiting to see if Carpenter would come at him, but he didn't.
"You got a problem with me, that's just fine." Jim glared at him, one finger making his point in the tense air between them. "I'm not asking you or anyone to like Sandburg, but keep this in mind; You have a problem with him, you'll have to go through me first."
Carpenter stood against the sink, blood pouring from his nose as he looked at Jim. He'd just opened his mouth to speak when the door to the washroom opened.
Jim glanced up when Mike Jenkins entered.
Carpenter, what happened?" Mike crossed the small room without pausing, glancing
at both men. "You gotta be more careful, man. It's so easy to get hit in the face
with these swinging doors." He glanced at Jim and smiled. "You might want to put
some ice on that hand, Jim. I've slammed into these doors before, really hurts."
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