"Um...86,745." Blair read off the numbers, then looked at Jim. "You got something?"
He checked the numbers again, to be sure, then looked at Blair. "Yeah. 30 missing miles. Look at this." Jim pointed to the printout and his partner moved closer. "Each time the jeep was brought in or taken out, the mileage was recorded. See there, between coming in, and going back out, there's a difference of only 1 mile. That would be driving around this lot here, taking it to be filled up at those pumps..." Jim pointed to the gas pumps at the far end of the lot. "Then over there to be cleaned. Then out again." He glanced back at the office and Blair looked up. "But between Mr. Handleson returning it yesterday, and right now, there's 30 miles added."
"So, after Mr. Handleson returned the jeep, someone took it out?"
"Seems that way, Chief."
"Well that narrows it down then, right?"
Jim glanced around the lot. He could see two young men washing another car at one end. A quick focus on them revealed a preoccupation with the latest issue of Penthouse. He looked back at the office, seeing Miss Peters and a customer inside. "Lets go find out who has access to these cars."
Jim led the way back to the office. They had to wait while Miss Peters finished signing out a Cadillac to the elderly gentleman at the counter. After she handed over the keys, and one of the car-washers brought the car to the door, Jim approached.
"I need to talk to the person who checked in the jeep yesterday. Would that be you?"
"No, I was off yesterday." Miss Peters looked apologetically from Jim to Blair. "I'm new here, and just work the reception desk, so I'm not real up on the mechanics. Yesterday was Susan on morning shift. She got off at noon." She paused a moment, thinking. "And then from noon till 8PM was Steve."
"Yes, Steve Perry. He's the manager. He should be on tonight sometime around 9PM. They switch shifts sometimes." Her eyebrows rose momentarily. "Is there something wrong, Detective?"
"Who had access to the jeep today?"
She considered that for a moment. "Well, I've been at the desk since 7:30 this morning. The detailers had it around 3:00...Steve was in a few times to work on payroll earlier this morning, but I didn't see him much."
"I'd like to talk to Mr. Perry." Jim reached into his pocket for a business card. "If you could have him call me when he comes in."
"Of course, Detective." She accepted the card with a smile.
Jim turned and put a hand on Blair's back, ushering him out the door. "Come on, Chief. It's been one hell of a long day." They returned to the patrol car and Jim checked his watch. So far in one day, they'd been to an officer's funeral, been shot at, alienated once again at the Precinct, Blair had been shot at again, and it was only now 5PM.
"Jim, if you think it was someone working here, don't you think we should talk to them all? Or at least find this Perry guy?"
"Sandburg, first of all, I'm exhausted. Second, we've got very little to go on here. A partial plate, the faint smell of gunpowder, which by the way could be anything. Maybe this Handleson guy owns a gun, and just got back from the firing range. We could be following a dead end here. And until we have something better to go on, I need to get home and get some sleep."
"Jim, there's the smell of gunpowder..." Blair held up a hand and began to check off points as he spoke. "The missing 30 miles...the partial plate. Come on, Jim, that's a lot more than you've had other times."
"How about motive, Chief? How about suspects?" Jim shook his head. "Until we talk to this Steve Perry, and find out who had the keys to that jeep, and who could have taken it out without being noticed, we don't have much of anything."
Blair sighed and sat back in the seat, shaking his head. "I still don't get this, man. I mean, who would want to kill you right now except,"
Jim shot Blair a look at the same time his sentence
trailed off. He was about to tell him to leave it alone when Blair held up a hand
and nodded, saying nothing. The drive back became as quiet as the drive out.
Back at the Station, Jim traded in the patrol car for his truck, with a new side window. They found Simon in his office and Jim presented what little they had found.
"Well, forensics came up empty." Simon hung up the phone and looked at Jim. "You're sure you smelled something in there?"
Jim nodded, but he knew it was useless information. "I'm sure."
"It could have come from anywhere, Jim. The man who had the car before the cleaners got to it. Hell, it could have been one of those kids doing the cleaning."
"I know, sir. This Steve Perry should be calling me later this evening. Maybe we'll get somewhere with him."
Simon rolled a cigar between his fingers in thoughtful contemplation. "Why does this Perry guy sound familiar to me?"
"I don't..." Jim shrugged, trying to place the name.
Suddenly Blair snapped his fingers. "Steve! That's it. Back at the hospital, didn't officer Blake say that Simmon's had a boyfriend? She said his name was Steve."
"I'll talk to Karen." Simon said matter-of-factly. "She's been at Janet's house, with her parents, since the funeral this morning."
Jim agreed. It was hard to believe the funeral had even been that same day. He was exhausted, and his jaw was aching from the tension. It was getting harder to block out the conversations outside the office as he tried to concentrate on Simon, and not the other officers milling around.
"You two go home and wait for this Perry guy to call."
Jim didn't miss Simon's eyes as they shot a glance out the windows to the bullpen. He hadn't been missing the undercurrent out there, either. "Right. Come on, Sandburg." As much as Jim wanted to make a stand, and make Blair take a stand himself, he knew it would be better for morale in general if they weren't at the Station. His card had the cell phone number, and there was no need for them to wait it out there at the desk. And he was far too tired to put up with any more of Carpenter's bullshit.
Blair quietly followed, staying very close as they walked through the office toward the elevator. Most conversations stopped as they walked down the hall, but Jim could hear two officers arguing in the mens room about the shot at the grocery store that took out his window. Jim bristled, fighting the urge to walk into the bathroom and confront the talkers...until he heard the rest of the conversation while waiting for the elevator.
Jim sighed quietly, hearing his partner being defended. He'd been angry himself with Blair for having voiced his suspicions to Simon, creating yet another undercurrent of hostility at the Precinct. But, angry or not, he meant what he said about sticking with his partner, and his choices. He could be frustrated with Blair, and still support him. But he'd be damned if he was going to let his friend off the hook completely. If Jim had to work with these men, then Blair was going to have to work right beside him.
The drive home did little to sort things out. It was beginning to look like Carpenter was off the hook, but was Karen on it? If Janet did indeed have a boyfriend who was seeking revenge, he'd have to have gotten some information from someone about who had been at the shooting, and could identify Jim and Blair. Did they have a suspect now, as well as an accomplice?
When they got home, and carried the groceries upstairs, Jim had a raging headache. "Watch out for glass, Chief." He reached into a bag and pulled out the beer, but decided against having on. "I think they vacuumed most of it out."
"You hungry?" Blair started to put the groceries away.
"Not very." Jim kept searching for the aspirin he knew he'd asked Blair to put on his list. "You did get aspirin, didn't you?"
"Oh, yeah." Blair reached into his pocket and produced the bottle. "There ya go."
Jim took the pills, but decided against asking why they were in Blair's pocket, and not a bag. It probably wouldn't work anyway. But if it could just last long enough to let him get a handle on the rest of this day, then he could be free of the headache. He took two pills out, then washed them down with some tap water, grimacing at the metallic taste.
"So what now? We just sit here and wait?" Blair closed the cupboard and looked at Jim, eyebrows raised.
"Not exactly, Chief." He checked the cell phone battery, then put it in his pocket.
"Well what, exactly?"
"You're going to wait here. Simon might call, and if he does, he'll use the regular line." Next he checked his gun out of habit. "I'm going back to the car rental agency to meet this Steve Perry."
"Jim, that doesn't sound like a good idea, man. Let me come with you, at least."
"No." Jim shook his head and reached for a light jacket against the evening chill. "I want you here in case Simon calls." If his growing suspicions were correct, he needed to get to Perry while Simon was with Karen. "You stay put. I need you by the phone. If Simon calls after talking to Blake, I need to know about it." Jim pointed a stern finger at his partner, emphasizing his point.
Blair reluctantly nodded.
"I'll be back. You call me if you hear anything."
"Be careful, Jim."
"Yeah." He left quickly and hurried down to the truck, scanning the area as he approached. The area was clear. Driving to the agency, he fervently hoped this lead wouldn't pan out. As much as they needed an answer, and an arrest, he still didn't want any officers to be involved, however secondhand. But it was beginning to look more and more like cop killing cop. Or at least trying to help. If it was true--if Blake was feeding information to a distraught boyfriend--Jim didn't want Blair there when the arrests were made. His partner was in it deep enough around the Station. First an officer's death, with implications about Jim having saved Blair while letting Simmons die. Then, just when Jim thought that might blow over quickly, this whole mess with Carpenter started up. If indeed an officer was responsible for trying to kill Jim, he didn't need Blair there when it went down. For his partner's sake, if not his own.
His headache wasn't going away. In fact, when he pulled into the lot for the second time that day, it was raging quite nicely. Inside the office he found a man behind the counter.
Jim produced his ID. "Pardon me, are you Steve Perry?"
The middle aged man looked up, squinting at the badge and Jim's photo. There was a pause, while he pulled thick glasses from his pocket and put them on. "No, officer, I'm not." He removed the glasses, but continued to squint as he looked at Jim. "I'm Sean Perry." One chubby finger pointed to the name tag he wore on his shirt pocket. S. Perry. "Can I help you with something?"
Jim's headache was pushed to the side as the pieces tried to fit into place. "I was here earlier..."
"Oh, wait..yes. You must be the one who took my '96 Jeep? The red one? She told me the police took it for evidence or some such thing."
"That would be me." Jim put his ID back into his back pocket and looked once again at the name tag. "Miss Peters tells me there's little access to the vehicles when they're not in use here. Can you tell me where you were this afternoon, first at noon, then again around 3:00?"
Mr. Perry pursed chubby lips for a moment. "Well, I woke up around 8:00. Breakfast was at home. After the morning news, channel 4, I drove in here to work on payroll. I was here from 9:15 until noon exactly. At that time, I went to my mother's for lunch, then took her shopping. Dinner was out, with mother and my maiden aunt. Then I came to work."
Jim had a brief flash on a certain Professor he knew, then shook himself back into the conversation. "Can you tell me, does Miss Peters have access to the vehicles during the day? Could she arrange for someone to use a car and keep the records from showing that use?"
Perry frowned. "Well, technically she could. She certainly has the keys available. But the mileage would show a use not logged in the computer. But I should think Susan would have said something, had anyone taken a car out. She's the bookkeeper."
"Yes. Susan Petrochinie. She worked today for a half-shift. Susan and Steve have a time share worked out."
"Susan and Steve?" Jim's headache was completely forgotten as the pieces all fell into place sharply.
"Yes, Steve Peters. You spoke with
her this afternoon."
Jim dialed the loft and again heard a busy signal. Frustrated, he canceled the call and dialed Simon's office.
"Captain, it's Ellison."
"Jim, did you find anything out?"
"Yes, sir, I did. This Steve Perry, she's the woman we spoke with today."
"That's right. Did you get anything from Blake?"
"As a matter of fact, she's here now."
There was a pause, and voices could be heard. Jim stopped at a red light and focused on the conversation in Simon's office. The Captain had set the phone down, instead of putting Jim on hold. He could hear the entire conversation.
"All right, Blake. Who exactly is Steve Perry?"
"She and Janet were lovers. They wanted to marry if the law ever passed. We never talked about their relationship. Janet feared what would happen if the other cops found out she was gay."
"She works at the car rental agency on Yessler?"
"Yes." There was a pause and Jim could hear the shuffling of feet on the floor. "You have to understand, Captain, she was completely distraught over Janet's death."
"What I understand is that someone took a shot at Detective Ellison. And again at his partner, Blair Sandburg, thinking he was Ellison."
"No, she wouldn't make a mistake like that."
"What?" Jim flinched at the sudden increase in volume with Simon's question.
"I mean, she's too experienced with firearms not to know who she's shooting at. Captain, I don't know that it was her. I just know that she was devastated when Janet was killed, and like the rest of us, she needed someone to blame."
"And what would give her a reason to blame Ellison?"
"She didn't blame Ellison." There was a pause and Jim realized he'd just sat through a green light. "Look, Captain, I admit I may have started a few rumors the other day. But I was upset. And Carpenter didn't help much, what with him so eager to spread around what little I did say."
"Just what are you saying now, Blake?"
"I'm saying that Steve doesn't blame Ellison. She blames Sandburg."
Jim had heard enough. He canceled the call and hit the speed dial for the loft as he floored the truck through the newly changed light.
"Dammit." The phone went unanswered. He hung up and called again, dialing straight this time in case he had made a mistake. Still nothing. He'd told Blair to stay put, and wait for Simon's call. Someone must have called earlier for the line to have been busy. Or Blair had called out. Damn him! If he suddenly remembered a date for that night, Jim was going to skin him alive! He parked the truck and hurried up the stairs, all senses fully open to the room at the end of the hall. There was nothing to hear. No movement. No talking or heartbeat greeted Jim as he opened the door, gun drawn.
"Sandburg!" The loft was in perfect order, no windows
broken or doors kicked in. Blair's keys were gone, and so was the baseball jacket
that had been hanging by the door. "Dammit!"
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