By EJ Katz
Written for PetFly by: Ron Taylor
internal thought in * *
~~~~~~~~~~ Prologue ~~~~~~~~~~
Soft light filtered in from the half opened blinds allowing sun to illuminate the two men seated across from each other at a massive mahogany desk. One man, older, harder, was leaning forward slightly, his full attention focused on the man across from him. This man was obviously younger by probably close to ten or even fifteen years. He was of oriental descent but he spoke without a trace of an accent. For the moment neither spoke as the younger man looked over the page of data he’d been handed. His eyes rose to lock with the other man.
"So you see the trouble we’re having. This could only have been done by someone inside this company. I need your help, Dennis. You’re the best at what you do." The man steepled his fingers together and notched them under his chin. His eyes were glued to the man across the desk from him as he waited for a reply.
"I understand, Mr. Ventriss. I’ll do my best, as always. Is there anyone you suspect or a place you want me to start?" Dennis Chung, self-proclaimed Cyber-detective, asked his client. It was not the first time he’d been called in to work for Norman Ventriss. The guy paid well and was a pleasant enough fellow, though the whole ‘I am richer than you therefore better than all’ rule could definitely be applied to this man sitting across the ornate desk from him.
The office like the man screamed money as well as power. Norman Ventriss, owner of Questscape Enterprises, was a man used to getting his own way. Dennis was used to dealing with wealthy clients but did not adopt the same mentality, in fact he looked upon it as a necessary evil in his line of work.
"I have a couple of thoughts but nothing concrete," Ventriss informed the detective as he passed a thin folder across the desk towards the private detective. Chung took it and flipped it open. He gazed at the document in side then closed it.
"I’ll get right on this, Mr. Ventriss." Together the two men stood, shook hands and Dennis left the office.
Same Time, Undisclosed Location:
The desk was littered with papers, many looking like blueprints for a building. Two young people stood leaning over examining the papers closely.
"We go in here," The young man was saying. Beside him was a younger woman, in her early to mid-twenties. Her short blonde hair kept falling into her eyes and she continued to push it behind her ear but not once did she switch her attention from the papers. The man was describing a route they would take. Anyone who had been watching them might have known instantly that they were planning something big, but what exactly it was they were planning might have eluded them.
"Are you sure he won’t be there?" the young woman asked. She was quite pretty though wearing a little too much makeup; her fingers nervously tucking her hair behind her ears once more.
Her companion, a young man, also in his early twenties smiled at her. His eyes, angry or maybe bitter, were hidden behind ugly yellow glasses that did nothing to enhance his features. They softened slightly when he looked at her. "Yeah, babe. He has an appointment. We can be in and out before he ever knows we were there." The man turned to the young woman and took her into his arms. His fingers made quick work of the buttons on her blouse. He kissed her deeply even as she wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.
"God, Brad, what if they suspect something?"
"Come here." He tugged at her until she moved forward into his arms. "They know nothing and will know nothing until we tell them. It is a simple in and out job. You know the old man has something planned but there is no way to pin this to us. All we are doing is making sure that jerk has nothing to track back to us; just a preventative measure, promise."
He kissed her hungrily to which she responded with enthusiasm. He moaned at her greedily and plundered her mouth. She gripped his shoulder and pulled away, breathing harshly.
He grinned laviciously. "We have a few minutes." He watched her face until she nodded, pushing him back to the bed against the far wall.
They sank down together into a tangle of limbs.~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~The late morning sun was bright as the black sports car slowly left the driveway. Once out of sight the two young people appeared from the bushes and moved to the window. The man pulled a small cylindrical device from his pocket. A quick twist and he used it to cut a large hole in the window glass. He pulled a spray can from his back pack, which he sprayed into the open window. A fine mist settled in the air and illuminated a thin red line. He glanced at the woman next to him. She nodded and they carefully stepped through the window and over the laser light.
The interior of the house was brilliant with the early morning sunlight streaming in through huge front windows and a set of skylights in the main hall. With the owner out it was silent inside and the duo made no noise as they took the stairs to the second floor of the modern split level home.
The young man seemed to know exactly where to go as he led the girl into an office. On a large desk sat a computer. It was off but a flip of a switch and the internal motor hummed to life. The girl sat at the desk. As soon as the computer and monitor were completely on and working she typed the commands to check the files then after confirming what she was seeking she began the process to download the hard drive before erasing it completely.
The man picked up a wallet lying on the desk. "Damn. Forgot his wallet. There’s going to be trouble." He turned to the woman who still sat before the computer. "How’s it coming?"
"I’m in," she told him. She paused from saying more when the sound of a car engine came from the street below. Glancing out side they watched as a black sports car slowed and turned into the driveway.
"He’s back. Keep it running. Keep it running," The young man told the woman. She nodded and resumed her work. Suddenly hearing footsteps she quickly hid in the closet, the computer not even half done.
Seconds later a young Asian man entered the office.
Dennis Chung, self proclaimed cyber-detective stopped cold at the sight of his running computer. He was certain he’d turned it off before leaving earlier. Another glance told him that someone had entered the house and from the progress on the screen he knew they probably still were. Typing quickly he halted the download, glanced around then left the room in search of whoever it might be. He made his way back downstairs to the living room.
"Don’t move," a young voice commanded. A voice he knew only too well.
"Brad? This is crazy," Dennis told his attacker. He was surprised by the brashness of the young man, especially after he caught sight of the gun in the other man’s hand.
"Your father… "
"Shut up! Get on the floor." Brad moved closer, his finger tightening slightly on the trigger. Dennis sensed his anger and arrogance in the way he stood, ready to shoot the detective.
Dennis twisted and attacked. He knocked gun away, causing Brad to step back in surprise. The older man crouched into a ready position waiting for the younger man to attack, knowing he would. Instead something hard crashed over his head and he nearly dropped to the floor. Pure instinct controlled his reaction as he spun and backhanded the girl before realizing what he was doing. She collapsed quickly, fear marking her face. He hand came up to wipe the blood from her lip. The blow to the head had slowed his reactions and before he was able to turn back to face Brad, the boy had retrieved the gun and a single shot rang out, then there was nothing.
For a long moment silence reigned, then "Oh, my god, Brad. Are you crazy?"
"I had no choice," Brad told her, his voice was completely steady with no trace of the panic that was so clearly in the girl’s voice.
"You… You killed him." She stared in shock at the man lying sprawled on the Chinese rug, now covered in slowly spreading blood.
For a moment Brad stared down at the body of the man his father had hired to stop the disappearance of secret computer programs from his company. Programs he was completely unaware his son was taking and selling for profit. "Well, there’s no turning back. All right, sweetheart?"
He reached down and held his hand out to the woman. She took it and he helped her gain her feet. "Look, we knew there might be problems."
"But not this. You’ve got a gun?"
"It’s for our protection. Okay? Suzanne, look, forget about it. He’s dead. Now somebody might have heard the shot. So what do you want to do? You want to continue with the plan?"
For a moment Suzanne appeared to think about it. There was a visible shift in her face as she came to a decision. The pretty features seemed to harden. "Let’s finish it… Fast." Her voice was cold and calculating, no trace of the earlier panic evident now.
They moved back upstairs where Suzanne resumed the download. Five minutes later the computer beeped its completed process and she typed the command to erase the hard drive. When she finished, Brad removed a strange looking device from his shoulder bag. He attached it to the side of the computer. She plugged it in. It hummed for twenty seconds then it was removed.
"It’s done," Brad told her.
Suzanne checked the computer. "We’re clear."
Jim Ellison entered the house through the front doors, pulling on rubber gloves. Joel Taggart stood in the front hallway up a single step where he watched as Serena Chang examined the body of a young Asian man lying on an expensive Chinese woven rug. "Well, what have we got?" Jim asked the two as he approached.
Serena looked up at him then back to the body. "Well, we’ve got one set of fingerprints — probably the victim’s — but these two hair strands are not. One came off the victim’s jacket, the other one upstairs, next to a computer. Same colour, same length." She held up two small evidence bags each containing one strand of blond hair.
"Blond, huh?" Jim crouched to look over things. He looked at the bags, ignoring Serena’s ‘Mm-hmm’ in reply. His sight zoomed in on a matching hair at the open window. "You got another one at the point of entry."
Serena looked up surprised at the window, more than eight feet away. "No. We swept that clean."
Jim shook his head, realizing his mistake. He quickly tried to cover. "I think you missed one. I saw it when I checked the window before coming in."
Serena walked over to look. Joel crouched across the body from Jim. Jim looked up at him before pointing to the body. "The weapon that was pressed against him. It was probably a nine mil. Whoever did this knew him and he knew them."
Ellison stood and headed for the window, Joel on his heels.
Joel had to admit to himself that he was rather excited. This was his first major case since he’d switched over from the Bomb Squad to Major Crimes as a full detective. He knew his investigative skills were more than adequate but considering that much of what he’d investigated previously had to do with bombings this was new and he was so ready.
He watched as Ellison examined the window. Sure enough Serena had discovered another blond hair, the same as the other two, at least as far as she could tell without her equipment. Taking an educated guess Joel told Jim, "If I was coming to nail him, I wouldn’t have wasted time cutting out the window glass. I would have picked the lock. It’s a lot faster."
Jim nodded. "They cut the window to bypass the alarm then used an aerosol spray to expose the trigger beam."
"Aerosol?" Joel asked, wondering how he could possibly know that.
"Yeah. My guess is that the victim came home and found somebody here."
Joel missed seeing Jim as he stood once more and walked away, following some trail only he could see. "Hmm. Which would mean that, uh… Jim?"
"Here Joel," Ellison called. Joel followed his voice to an office area upstairs. Jim was standing there with a slightly puzzled look on his face.
"Hmm. So you think that, uh… "
Ellison interrupted him, "someone wanted something. Probably something in this room." He paused. "Man, something’s weird."
"Yeah. Nothing’s been disturbed. Look, they even left his wallet. Dennis Chung, thirty-seven. He’s got a private investigator’s license." Joel scrambled through the wallet but there was nothing else of value. He put the wallet into a plastic evidence bag to be examined more closely later. "Looks like nobody took anything."
"Maybe they didn’t need to," Ellison commented. He shivered slightly. "There’s an electromagnetic charge in here."
Now it was Joel’s turn to be puzzled. "How’d you get that?
"You don’t feel the hair on your arms standing up from static electricity?"
"No," Joel began but then he realized it was true, the hair on his arms was in fact standing up. He could hardly feel it but it was there. He watched as the senior detective picked up a paper clip and let it go in front of the computer casing. It snapped sharply to it where it stuck like a magnet. Or like the computer had been magnetized.
Jim confirmed this theory when he spoke next. "This equipment’s been magnetized. I’ll bet all the data in the computer and the files and the safe down here has been wiped out. They even tore the labels off all these disks." He held one up in verification.
Joel snorted in disbelief. "So we got nothing?"
"No. We have someone who wanted to break in and bypass the alarm system when nobody was home. Someone who wanted to steal the files or erase them. Someone who was surprised when Dennis Chung came home. This murder was unplanned. Our someone knows we’re looking for them. My guess is they’re going to crack and make a mistake."
"Right," Joel replied but he didn’t feel entirely convinced.
Blair Sandburg was in his element, standing at the front of his classroom, teaching young minds and imparting knowledge. God, how he loved this. As he spoke his eyes wandered over every student, mentally calling role and placing names to faces. He knew each student, knew what they liked to study, whether they were serious Anthro students or just trying to catch an ‘easy’ class. Of course his class was never ‘easy.’ He was well known for challenging his students, offering them projects and essays that made them think. Those that took his classes liked that and it made him popular among his colleagues.
"Today children are sacrificed on the altar of neglect and abuse, but in ancient tribal customs, it was a matter of solemnity. Ritual sacrifice by definition means surrendering of value of something that was physically and morally and sexually uncorrupted, which means that everybody in this room would have been safe, right?"
There was a general murmur of laughter at Blair’s words at the same time the door opened and two students walked in. Blair knew them both. Brad Ventriss was a lazy student, who got by on what his father’s money bought, and rarely did any extra work so he barely skimmed by on what he did do. Suzanne Nadine, his girlfriend, was a harder worker but still a borderline student. She was nice enough when she wasn’t with Brad but something about the unpleasant young man brought out the worst in her and Blair didn’t much care for either of them.
"Sorry, Mr. Sandburg," Suzanne apologized as she walked past him to take her seat near the top row of the lecture hall.
"Perfect timing. We were just talking about human sacrifice," Blair told them, trying to ignore his frustration at their interruption.
Brad Ventriss turned to walk backwards, a malicious grin on his face. "That’s kind of like me sacrificing my day to be here."
"Yeah. That’s exactly what it’s like. That’s funny. Why don’t you take your seat," Blair told him, waiting impatiently for him to sit. He watched as Brad paused up the steps, them continued on to take a seat beside a pretty brunette girl. As he walked by, he stooped and stroked her leg before sitting. She pulled away then moved seats.
Blair covered his watching of this transaction by speaking yet again, even as Brad picked up a manila envelope left on the desk by the other student. "Yeah, hurry up, before we all fossilize. So, um, where were we?"
The lecture continued for the full length of the class. While he lectured, Blair’s mind kept coming back to what he’d seen. He remembered Jill Gordon from another class he’d taught. She’d always been a good student, a hard worker who earned her high grades fairly. She’d been a bright happy woman but lately she seemed a little withdrawn. Blair wondered vaguely if Bard Ventriss had anything to do with that change.
Before he realized, the bell was ringing to signal the end of class. Student began to rise and make their way to the front of the room.
"Next week we’ll be reviewing Mayan city planning and going over the final exam. Let’s have those term papers, people. Come on, everybody. I’m sure they’re not all that bad." Students dropped their papers on Blair’s desk as they left. Brad dropped off the manila envelope. Blair picked it up.
He opened envelope and pulled out the papers inside to see a yellow note paper clipped to top of the first page:This finishes it. So stick to the deal.Rick~~~~~~~~
"Hey. After everything I went through to get Jill to back off, what are you doing messing with her? Unless you… really did it," Suzanne demanded as she caught up with Brad in the quad.
For a moment it didn’t look as if Brad would stop, but her hand on his arm reached him and he turned. "Hey, come on. I told you. She was high and I pushed her off and she got pissed. Look, she’s just trying to squeeze money out of my old man. You know what that’s like. All right, we’re going to be out of here in a week. Everything’s fine."
"Fine, yeah. We just killed somebody and ran," Suzanne mumbled.
"Hey! Everything we brought in, we brought out. There is no way they can pin us to this guy," Brad reassured her, soothing a hand up and down her back as he embraced her.
"What if he had hard copies on all the stuff we erased? I mean, there’s all kinds of things that could have been there." She was still worried but the warmth of his embrace relaxed her and she felt better.
"No. It’s fine," he told her. For years they had been best friends. Then when they were old enough they had become so much more. At times he’d wondered why he still stuck with her. Then, he would remember her in the sack and it all came back. He did love her, in the only way he really knew how. She was, on the other hand, completely devoted to him and to pleasing him. He knew it and he used that knowledge to his benefit but he also knew that the moment she became a liability she was history. Of course the secret thing was she loved this, the suspense, the lawlessness of what they were doing. She thrived on the violence even though she tried so hard to hide it from herself. But he knew. He knew and exploited that knowing. He grinned, then leaned in to kiss her.
Blair searched the quad for the familiar figure of his student. Time to confront him, maybe this time would be the one time his Daddy’s money couldn’t buy him out. Ah, there. Blair rushed up the pathway to where Brad and Suzanne were kissing.
"Hey, Brad. Brad Ventriss. You know a guy named Rick Feldman?" Blair asked. He took the slightest bit of pleasure in knowing he’d startled the two.
"Um… "Brad began, but Sandburg cut him off.
"He’s a grad student, taught an anthropology section here last year."
"Don’t know him."
"Well, I do. And I also know his handwriting and it looks a lot like this." Blair held up the manila envelope, the first page with the yellow note still clipped to it. "You know, you might have gotten away with it, but you didn’t even bother to look at the first page. Buying a term paper also buys you an ‘F.’ Arrogant and stupid is not a good combination."
Ventriss reached out and gripped Sandburg’s shoulder, intent on holding him in place. "Hey."
"Get your hands off me." Blair shrugged, trying to loosen the hold.
"I didn’t buy the paper, all right? You’re not asking me any questions here? There’s no discussion? You’re just going to give me an ‘F’?"
Suzanne cut in before things got out of hand. "Hey, let’s just chill, okay, guys? I’m sure we can work this out."
"Yeah. Chill," Blair mocked as he managed to remove Brad’s hand.
"Oh, yeah, we can work it out all right. If he likes his job, he’ll drop it," Brad sneered. The confidence he displayed angered Blair and it took a lot to not just flatten the smug face into the pavement.
"You threatening me?"
"You keep pushing my buttons, Sandburg, you’ll find out. Let’s go." Brad wrapped an arm around Suzanne’s shoulder and the two left, walking away from Hargrove Hall and away from the fuming Blair Sandburg.~~~~~ Act II ~~~~~Jim pulled the truck into the first spot, right outside the bank. He shifted into park and looked over at his passenger. "This is the place here."
"So what’s here, Jim?" Joel asked.
"Well not Sandburg. He was going to meet with us but I don’t see him. Chances are he got caught up with school work. We’ll just have to do this ourselves. This is where Chung’s girlfriend works. Ummm, a Jennifer Olson. She’s a loan officer here. I’m hoping she might know why Chung was murdered or at least what sort of job he was working. I’m also hoping she might know if Connie Roberts was a client or a suspect of Dennis Chung’s."
"Who’s Connie Roberts? And where did you get that?"
"I found it in Chung’s note pages. He left an imprint." He handed Joel a picture in a frame and a yellow page with a flash of pencil across it showing clearly the name of Connie Roberts. "Telling the girlfriend never gets easy. I’m glad you’re here, Joel. I need your help on this one."
Joel smiled at Jim, at the offhanded compliment the senior detective had thrown his way. Yeah, this was going to be a good move, he thought as together they entered the front doors of the modern bank and asked to speak with Jennifer Olson.
Jennifer Olson was a pretty woman, young and pleasant featured. She smiled in greeting and showed them back into her office. "We’ve never had police in here before. Now, how may I assist you in your banking needs?"
"We’re not here on a banking matter, Ms. Olson. We’re here investigating a case involving Dennis Chung," Jim told her, gently.
"Dennis? What’s wrong?" Jennifer Olson turned to face them, concern already beginning to form on her face.
"How long have you known Mr. Chung?" Ellison queried.
"About two years. Is Dennis in trouble?" the young woman demanded to know.
"There’s no real easy way to put this, Ms. Olson. Um, Dennis was murdered this morning," Jim said softly, glancing briefly at Joel just before the young woman stumbled back as if struck.
"Oh… No. No. That can’t be." Jim reached out quickly to grip her arm and lead her to a chair.
"Perhaps you should sit down, ma’am." He helped her sit them took a seat on the corner of her desk while Joel sat in the chair across from her. Tears ran down her face.
"No… "she sobbed. Jim handed her a tissue from the box on her desk. He nodded for the soft spoken Taggart to take the lead in questioning her.
Joel waited until she managed to get herself a little under control. His hand rested lightly on her knee, offering support without words. Finally, he spoke, "Ms. Olson. Jennifer. We understand how difficult and painful this must be for you, but we need your help — for Dennis. You see the quicker we get the information we need, the better chance we have of finding out who killed him. Do you understand?"
She sniffed but nodded. "Yeah."
"We know he was a private investigator, but we don’t know anything about his clients."
Ms. Olson smiled a fond smile as she remembered. "He liked to call himself a cyber-detective. Most of his clients are corporations who believe their computer networks have been invaded or tampered with."
"Are you familiar with his cases?" Joel asked. "Sometimes people in a relationship will talk about their jobs."
"No. He never talked about his clients. He trusts me, but he knew it wasn’t right. I mean, he’s privy to sensitive corporate secrets. Dennis is a good man — not cynical. He’s proud of doing what’s right. Kind of strait-laced. You should see his sock drawer… . " This brought on more tears but her voice was steady as she continued, "And the way he folds… I’m sorry. Is there anything else you need to know?"
"Do you know the name ‘Connie Roberts’?" Jim finally interjected a question.
"No. Is she involved?"
"We’re not sure, just a name we are checking into. Is there anything else you could tell us?"
Jennifer turned to look at him but shook her head, her face was slightly red and wet with tears and her shoulders shook with barely suppressed emotions. "I’m not helping you, am I?"
Joel replied, "You’re doing just fine. If you come up with any other information, please give us a call," he said gently handing her one of his cards with the precinct number on it. "There’s someone there who can reach us day and night."
"Okay." She took the card and placed it inside her jacket pocket.
"We will not give up on this," Joel reassured her with a smile. His gentle face showing his own hurt for her.
Jennifer smiled at him in thanks. "Thank you."
Blair approached the bike rack and the sole student unlocking his bike. He wasn’t sure how to approach this topic with this particular person. Rick Feldman was a friend and had been for a while. To have to ask this with the potential to ruin his academic career wasn’t something he looked forward to, but unfortunately it was necessary. "Hey Rick."
"Oh, hi, Blair. How you doing?" Rick grinned as he caught sight of Blair.
"Uh, not too good, Rick," Blair told him, holding up the term paper. "You know, you can get thrown out for this. I don’t care about Brad Ventriss, but you, I mean… Why did you do it? If you needed some money, you could have just come to me."
Rick’s face dropped. "It’s not money. I didn’t sell it."
"You wrote this paper: ‘This finishes it, so stick to the deal. Rick.’ What kind of deal could you have made with a schmuck like Brad?" Blair demanded, his voice rising slightly in hurt.
Rick lowered his eyes, unable to meet Blair’s. "Can’t you just look the other way?"
Blair shook his head in sadness. "No, I can’t. I’m sorry."
"Fine — then do what you have to do." Rick shrugged and resumed unlocking his bike. Blair watched him for a moment, surprised that he would give in so easily. This wasn’t the same Rick Feldman who had sat in with him in their freshman year when the faculty decided to close the main cafeteria and set up the local vendors instead. This wasn’t the same Rick Feldman who never backed down from anything. Decision made, Blair stopped Rick from leaving.
"Hey, why don’t you just talk to me, all right? I’m your friend. I really do want to help here."
For a long time Rick merely stared at him, judging him. Finally he spoke, his voice lower but full of hate and anger. "Okay, look… The deal was I write his paper and he stays away from Jill.
Blair remembered earlier in class when Brad had chosen to sit next to Jill Gordon and she had flinched and moved seats. "Jill… Uh, Jill Gordon… From my class?"
"Yeah, we’ve been going together this term. I’m in love with her." For an all too brief moment the hatred was replaced with a tender expression and a faint smile but then it was gone, like it had never been.
"So… is he harassing her?" Blair asked, struggling to understand the lay of the situation. He obviously wasn’t getting it since he still didn’t see what was so bad that Rick felt compelled to cheat for someone else. However Rick’s next words filled that blank in with horrible clarity.
"The son of a bitch raped her."
Rick stepped back as if horrified by what he’d just revealed. "I shouldn’t have told you that. Look, he ran into her at a bar and he slipped some Rohypnol into her drink. She’s so torn up about it she can’t be with me. And he’s still coming on to her."
"Did she go to the police?" Blair’s own justified anger at the troublesome student jumped significantly.
"Yeah, but she’s afraid of him. She just wants to drop it."
"Why?" Blair asked, truly puzzled by that remark. "Why wouldn’t she want this dealt with?"
Rick shrugged. His face was full of anger again but it had grown into something closer resembling rage. "Maybe she thinks it’ll calm me down because I just want to take a baseball bat to his face. Or maybe because his family’s money can drag this into a nasty rape trial. So she came up with this deal."
Blair considered all this new information, filing it away for future reference. "All right, uh… I will keep you out of this for as long as I can, all right?"
Rick looked relieved. "Thanks, man."
"Yeah." Although still not sure he was doing the right thing, Sandburg agreed. He turned to leave when Rick stopped him.
"Hey, Blair? This guy’s whacked. Watch your ass."
The next stop was the head of the Anthropology Department Sidney Oldham. Blair found Sidney just as he was leaving. For the most part he got on well with the man although at times Oldham got on Blair’s case over his dissertation. Right now however there were serious accusations and something had to be done. In his position of Teaching Assistant he needed bigger guns and for that he would have to deal with Sidney.
"Sidney, you have a minute?" Blair called as he jogged up to the older man.
"Sure if you will walk with me." Blair fell into step with the head of the department and explained what he’d been told. He wasn’t thrilled with Sidney’s response.
"Sidney, you’re the head of the department. You have an accusation of date rape. You have to take that seriously.
"Of course, Mr. Sandburg. But it’s only an accusation. If the young woman won’t come forward, there’s nothing the university can do. Or, I imagine, your police department," Sidney explained with his usually slow elocution that tried even the most patient of saints.
"But what about this paper? It’s a serious violation of the academic code," Blair persisted.
Sidney kept walking even as he replied. "You’ve heard of the proposed Ventriss Gymnasium named after Norman Ventriss, head of Questscape, the internet giant?"
"Yeah. I don’t care who Brad’s father is."
"You should. Look, the grade you give won’t make any difference to Brad Ventriss’ life, but it could have a large effect on yours and the university’s."
Blair stopped, stunned by Sidney’s view of the situation. "So, what do you want me to do?"
"Give him a ‘C’ and forget it."
"So just let it slide. Like nothing ever happened." That wasn’t something Blair could do, not with Ventriss. Not with the smug threats he’d given Blair not an hour before.
"Your police world is very black and white. If you spent more time here, you’d realize these hallowed halls are very grey."
Now that angered Blair no end. "It needs a paint job, Sidney," he retorted before turning off and heading back to his office. He had to get to the station. He had things to check out.
"Also, get down to Forensics and see if they’ve popped open the safe from Chung’s office." Jim was saying to Joel as they exited the elevator. The soft cadence of Blair’s heartbeat had caught his attention as soon as they had pulled into the underground parking lot and he found suddenly he’d missed having his partner by his side. Although he was a little ticked Blair had forgotten to meet them at the bank like he’d promised.
"Sure, Jim, no problem. Oh, hey, listen, if it’s all right, I’d like to stay on this one and keep working it," Joel requested.
"Yeah. All the way. Great. Hey, Joel?"
"Nice work with Chung’s girlfriend."
Joel grinned happily. "Thanks."
Jim watched him walk away for a moment before he headed for his desk where Blair was working on the computer, completely oblivious to the fact that he’d missed his meeting with Jim and Joel at the bank.
"Chief, it’s nice of you to beam down. What are you doing here?" Jim gestured to the computer. Blair barely glanced up before returning his gaze to the screen.
"A kid in my class tried to pass me a plagiarized term paper. Daddy’s money’s bought off my department head and probably the whole school. He threatened me when I said I’d fail him."
"Threatened you? How?" Jim asked, his instinct picking up on the possibility of a very real threat potential.
"Nothing overt, just warned me off I guess but I have a bad feeling with this guy. I never did like him and this just pushed my buttons the wrong way."
"What are you doing with this?" Jim asked as he once more gestured to the computer. A profile came up but there was no picture and very little data.
"Well… He also drugged and raped one of my students," Blair began, Jim cut him off.
"Drugged and raped a student?" This was serious; if this was true then this kid was bad news. A warning was one thing but this kid, if what Blair said was true then this kid could potentially be dangerous. He’d have to do a more thorough check into the guy after they solved this murder case. In the meantime, maybe a little gentle dissuasion to keep Sandburg from getting in too deep.
"Yeah." Jim glanced sharply at the defeated tone in Sandburg’s voice.
"Was there a report filed?" Jim needed to know. If there was a way to get this kid off Sandburg’s back then he would find it and take it. He’d nearly lost Sandburg once, he wasn’t prepared to do it again any time soon.
"Yeah, but she changed her statement. She was threatened and backed off I guess. I was hoping this wasn’t the first time, you know maybe so I’m checking to see if the kid’s got a rap sheet."
Jim flinched, this was worse than he’d expected. Time to do a little scaring of his own. It was necessary to get Sandburg to back off and fast. No messing with trouble, it would find him soon enough. "This is the kid?"
"Brad Ventriss. Looks clean," Jim told him with as much nonchalance he could muster.
"I know. Where else can we look?" Blair gazed up at him with a hopeful expression, pleading and demanding all at once.
Jim took the bull by the horns and gave it his best shot at shooting down this line of inquiry. "I don’t know, but, uh, any place other than right here." He pushed the chair Blair was sitting in out of the way and took his own seat, opening the first file as he did so.
Blair watched him, stunned at his manner. "What’s going on? What are you doing?"
Jim shrugged, carefully maintaining his ‘I don’t care’ approach. "Look, Chief, what would you like me to do? Kid’s got no charge. I got names to run in a murder case. I’d love to help you out, but my hands are tied with nothing else to go on. It’s just the law."
Blair gaped at his partner. "It’s just the law?"
"Just the law. That’s great to hear you say that. What about what’s right?" Sandburg rose to his feet, every ounce of his considerable anger causing a tight trembling in his body. "How many times have I heard you say that?"
Jim cringed inwardly, refusing to allow Blair to see how much this was hurting him not to be able to help but the situation was too grave and Blair needed to back off before he got seriously hurt. A little heartache was better than physical pain any day. "Why don’t you take it easy? Don’t let your anger take you out of the game. One of your better lectures, remember?"
Blair stared down as Jim became completely engrossed in his work on the computer, typing with his slow but efficient manner as he called up the first name in the file. "No," he murmured as he stormed off, passing by Simon without a single glance and definitely no apology as he bumped him to one side.
Simon watched him leave. "What was that all about?" he asked Jim who was rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"Something at school," Jim informed the captain, hoping it would get dropped. He didn’t want to deal with that right now. Once this case was dealt with he would help Sandburg with his problem but right now he had a murderer to catch.
Simon didn’t speak for a minute, just watched. Jim tensed waiting for some rebuke but it never came. Instead Simon opened a file he carried. "Look, we ran the name ‘Connie Roberts’ through the system, came up with a match with a woman who works for Questscape. Before that, she was a computer programmer dealing with classified material at the Pentagon. Sounds like something our cyber-detective would be interested in."
"Sure does. I’m going to find Joel and see if we can’t talk to this Ms. Roberts and make some headway on this case. These can wait, Ms. Roberts sounds a little more solid right now."
"I think I saw Joel down in Records, waiting on some files," Simon informed him as he headed for his office and a cup of coffee.
Jim grabbed his coat and made for the elevator. "Thanks, Simon," he called as he went.
Joel was waiting for the elevator when Jim got off at R&I.
"Hey, Jim. They were swamped so they are going to send the files up in a few minutes. You got something?"
"Maybe. A Questscape employee name of Connie Roberts might know something. Her name got flagged since she was a past employee of Uncle Sam and the Pentagon. I thought we might go pay her a visit." Ellison stepped back onto the elevator, indicating Joel should follow. He passed the file he carried to the larger man who opened it as the elevator descended.
It took thirty minutes to reach the offices of Questscape. The sprawling office center was only four stories high but covered nearly forty acres. The glass and metal of the building reflected the sun even as it had only just begun its descent into the early evening sky. The two detectives leaned against Jim’s truck which he’d parked beside the Roberts woman’s burgundy sedan. It was just after five thirty when she finally appeared.
"Ms. Roberts," Ellison asked as she drew near.
"I’m Detective Ellison. This is Detective Taggart. Could we have a minute of your time?" His words were a question but his tone indicated otherwise. They would be talking. She must have sensed it also because her heart sped up just slightly.
"I have to pick my kids up at soccer practice. Does this have to be now?" she asked her voice was steady and calm.
"This is a murder investigation, ma’am. Everything about it is right now," Jim told her with a smile.
Joel started the questions, "Ms. Roberts, uh… What it is you do at Questscape?"
Puzzled, the dark skinned woman answered, "I design anti-viral programs for our software. My work is very sensitive to leaks and industrial espionage. I don’t think I can say anything else."
Jim followed the good cop/bad cop mentality as he pushed a little harder. "Ma’am, wouldn’t you rather cooperate with us than have us obtain a warrant for your files?"
"Why would you think this involves me?" She was clearly more nervous now though she hid it well.
"Do you know the name Dennis Chung?" Joel asked.
"No. I’ve never heard of him." *Ahh, gotcha,* Jim thought as her heart rate spiked suddenly and sharply. He smiled faintly.
"Is that all you need from me?" she asked, clearly determined to get away.
Jim nodded. "Go get your kids. You’ve been very helpful."
"Thanks. I really appreciate it."
*I’ll just bet,* Jim thought as the two men stepped back and allowed her to get into her car and drive off.
"She’s lying, man." Joel told Ellison without a doubt.
Jim smiled and nodded. "Good call, Detective."
The Next Day:
Blair stood outside the front doors of the building where he waited impatiently for Jill Gordon to appear. He shuffled back and forth as his nervousness rose. For reasons he couldn’t figure out, he needed to deal with this whole Brad Ventriss deal. He knew Jim had been right earlier but that didn’t make it any easier. Something about the student just got on his nerves and to think that he was getting away with some of the crap he was pulling.
Finally a distant bell rang and the front doors flew open spilling students out into the warm afternoon sunlight. Then Jill appeared, walking with two friends. He could hear her say good-bye to the two girls, promising to meet them later. Then her eyes met his and she seemed to slump momentarily before approaching him. Her face was hidden behind a mask of weariness.
"Jill," Blair greeted her as she came up to him.
"Mr. Sandburg." The greeting was flat as if she had expected this meeting. Blair assumed Rick had told her he’d talked to Blair earlier.
"Yeah, I was wondering if we could talk." He motioned over to a nearby bench and was mildly pleased when with only a second’s hesitation she made her way over to it. He followed along beside her. After they were seated she turned to him.
"You want to talk about Brad Ventriss?" she stammered a slight bit on the creep’s name and Blair suddenly found himself wishing he’d gone about this differently. How? He didn’t know, just some other way.
"Uh, yeah," he stuttered, unsure how to proceed.
Jill nodded. "Rick told me he talked to you."
Ah, neutral ground. "He really cares about you. He didn’t mean to… "
She interrupted him, "I know, but he just doesn’t understand how I feel."
"You know, I’m not too sure that I do either, but you should talk to somebody. You shouldn’t deal with this by yourself." Now some of the earlier anger was returning and with it came the determination to pay Ventriss back for every wrong his father had bought the youth out of over the years.
"You know, if you go after Brad, he is just going to take it out on me," Jill pleaded.
"Well, he’s not just going to go away. Look, you’re not alone in this. All right? It involves you, it involves Rick And now it involves me and I want to nail this guy."
"What are you going to do?"
"I don’t know. But it might help me if you tell me why you changed your original statement to the police."
Jill’s face seemed to blank out for a time as she obviously got lost in her memories. As Blair watched, her brows furrowed as if in pain but a minute later it vanished and her eyes went dead again as she recited her story.
"After the drug wore off, and I realized what he’d done, I went to the campus cops, and they brought in Cascade P.D. A few days later, I went home, and my Mom told me that my Dad had been fired from Complexium Communications. I didn’t want to add to what they were already going through, so I never told them what happened. Then I get this anonymous note saying that if I dropped the charges against Brad, it would help my Dad get his job back."
"But… Brad’s father’s the C.E.O. of Questscape, not Complexium," Sandburg said in confusion trying to connect the two companies with Brad Ventriss. He knew Brad’s father ran the he internet giant but Complexium was unfamiliar to him.
"Yeah, but Suzanne Nadine is Brad’s girlfriend, and her father runs Complexium."
"Her father’s Henry Nadine?" Blair was speechless. How could he not have connected Henry Nadine with Suzanne? He recovered and asked the next hard question. "And did you confront her?"
Jill shook her head. "No. She’d just deny it, and I can’t prove it. But when I withdrew my statement, I told the police that I’d been high and that I couldn’t really be sure what happened, my Dad got rehired with back pay."
That drove Blair’s anger back up. He wanted to hit something, or better yet, someone. "Guys like Brad think that they’re untouchable. That’s their weak spot. Let’s, uh, let’s get out of here."
Blair looked over and saw Brad watching them from across the quad. The cold dark eyes hidden still behind those horrid glasses, sent shivers of revulsion up Blair’s back. He wanted to get out of there, and fast. Blair put his hand on Jill’s back to lead her away, he doubted she’d even seen Ventriss. Once across the quad, they parted ways and Blair returned to his office to get his mail and his pack before heading home to sort things out and decide the next step. And that step he wasn’t looking forward to at all. Talking to Chancellor Edwards was never a pleasure for him, especially since the woman absolutely hated him.
He entered his office, threw his stuff together, noting excitedly that the latest ARJ had come it. He put it in his pack, picked up the phone and dialled the chancellor’s office. She was out, but he made an appointment to see her with Brad about the plagiarism issue. The other issues could wait for later, first things first.
Ventriss sat by the pathway where he would watch Sandburg and that Jill bitch. God she was hot! He was not able to hear what they were talking about but he could guess. He’d seen Sandburg talking to that jerk Feldman earlier and was pretty sure that little Jill was complaining about the rape charge.
"Damn hippie freak," he cursed under his breath. Anger filled him as he watched the two stand and walk away. He met Sandburg’s gaze with a cold one of his own even as plans began to form. Oh, Sandburg would pay. There was no doubt of that. As soon as Sandburg and Jill Gordon were out of sight, Brad rose and hurried the opposite direction. He had calls to make.
Blair whistled happily as he read his journal. He had long since mastered the art of reading and walking at the same time. His pleasure came from the fact that for ten minutes he could put this whole nasty affair with Brad Ventriss behind him and read his latest entry to the Anthropologist Review Journal. He was on his way home to have lunch with Jim, something he was really looking forward too, regardless of their earlier spat.
Overall, he was quite pleased with himself over this whole Ventriss thing. Hopefully if he could convince Jim Ventriss had indeed raped Jill, then maybe the school would back off. Lately dealings with Sydney and Chancellor Edwards were not very positive. He shook his head and once more directed his attention to the journal in his hands. He never saw the black Mercedes park just outside the underground parking lot of the apartment.
Brad Ventriss sat in the driver’s seat of the black car. He had debated whether to be there when this happened or to find himself an alibi, but he knew Suzanne would back him regardless. Besides he really wanted to witness Sandburg’s downfall.
"Okay, that’s him. Make it fast. Hey," the man paused and glanced at him. "Make it hurt."
The two men stepped out of the car, waited until Sandburg was close enough, then one of the men grabbed the unsuspecting teaching fellow. Brad chortled at the expression of agony that passed over Sandburg’s face as the first punch landed in his stomach. Oh, this would be so much fun.
Blair started as he was grabbed. The journal fluttered to the ground, crushed under the feet of the man who grabbed him. Before he had a chance to lament its demise, the second man slammed a fist into his gut. Blair sucked in air in a hard rasping sob. The pain of the blow lanced through him, robbing him of the ability to breathe. The second blow caught him in the side. He bent forward, held upright only by the hands of the first man whose face he couldn’t see.
The third blow caught him high on the cheek. His head swung hard to the right and he felt the skin break. Blood trickled down his face preventing him from seeing clearly. Throbbing pain raged through his body and face but he didn’t have time to even recover from that. He was tossed to the side where he landed painfully, scrapping his hands and ripping the knees of his jeans. He rolled to try and soften the blow against the hard concrete. Darkness flitted across his vision. He could barely make out the sounds of a car door opening or feet moving around him.
He tried to get to his feet, desperate to defend himself. Dizziness assailed him, making him weak. The last thing he felt was the blow of a hard object striking the side of his head.
Jim paused, shifting the groceries from one arm to the other. He could have sworn he heard the sounds of a scuffle. A sharp cry echoed through the alley and he recognized the voice instantly. He dropped the bag and raced around the corner. Two men stood over his guide, a baseball bat over one man’s head preparing for a blow. Anger filled Jim, his vision red with rage for these men attacking his friend. With a growl he grabbed the bat from the man’s hands and flung it away. He attacked both men, pushing one away from his guide with a huge fist to the face. The second man went down with a well placed kick. Even as he went to complete the next move, he heard the familiar sound of a gun cocking. He paused as a third man called for him to stop.
The two men on the ground rose unsteadily and climbed into a waiting car. Jim was unable to see the driver and the car was missing a license plate. However he dismissed it as a low groan from the ground returned his attention to his injured friend.
"Blair? Chief, you all right? Let me see. Let me see." he asked as he checked out the battered man.
"Yeah, Chief. What the hell happened?"
"I… um… two men. It hurts, Jim. My head." He tried to raise a hand to his head but Jim caught his wrist and held it down.
"I know, Chief, but don’t touch. Can you stand?"
"Yeah, help me?" Blair asked, reaching out with one hand. Cautiously Jim helped him stand.
"All right, let’s get you cleaned up. Come on." With Jim’s help the two made their way to where Jim had dropped the groceries.~~~~~ Act III ~~~~~"Peas?" Blair asked as he placed the cold bag on his face. His head throbbed, but his vision was clear though a bruise had formed covering most of the left side of his face. He almost grinned as he placed the second bag on the lump forming at the back of his head, but it hurt to much for him to fully form the smile. "And carrots?"
"Yeah, it was the only thing I had that was frozen. Are you sure you don’t want to get checked out at the hospital?" Jim asked with concern. He took over holding the bag of carrots so he could check out the lump. It wasn’t too bad, the skin wasn’t broken nor bleeding.
Blair shook his head. "No, I have had more than enough of hospitals for a while. Jim, this wasn’t a mugging. It was Brad Ventriss. He saw me talking to Jill earlier — the girl he raped."
Deep cold dread raced through the detective’s body at the words. He’d suspected something like this would happen, but he’d hoped that by discouraging Blair he could avoid it. Unfortunately he’d forgotten how daunting Blair could be when he put his mind to something. "Did you see him?"
Blair shook his head, then groaned at the movement which aggravated his headache.
"We have nothing to go on. You know that. You just gotta back off," Jim informed his partner, forcing himself to take a firm stand again. Right now he was in no position to help get this kid off his guide’s case and until he was, he needed Blair to stay out of it.
"What do you mean ‘back off’? When have you ever backed off?" Blair was angrier than he could remember being in a long time. He had to force his reaction back. His anger wasn’t directed at Jim and it wasn’t fair that he be punished.
"If I had I backed off on certain things in my life, they would have gone down a lot easier."
"I can’t stand this kid. He thinks he can get through by just buying and scaring off people?" Anger made his voice rough and the words seemed to trip over each other on their way out. Of course it didn’t help that he had a split lip and throbbing headache.
"He’s got you so angry you can’t even think straight. Chief, listen, there is no evidence that Ventriss was involved. It isn’t that I don’t believe you but… well… I think we need to go down to HQ and file a report. I promise we will deal with Ventriss as soon as I get this murder case cleared up. Okay?"
Blair stared at his best friend with an expression of hurt. Yeah he knew what Jim was saying but for a just a few minutes he would like the detective to commiserate with him and support him. He placed the bag of peas back on his face. "Yeah, that’s fine, Jim."
Jim’s cell phone chose that moment to ring. He answered it. "Yeah… No, it’s all right to call… Where are you?… Are you all right?… I’ll be there in 20 minutes." He hung up. "Let’s get going. I’ll drop you off at the station for you to file that report. I’ll meet you… "
"No way man, I am coming with you," Blair interrupted.
Jim thought for a moment. He didn’t like the whole idea of Sandburg tagging along with him right now. At least not injured like this. Personally he would prefer his partner to get checked out but a doctor, but he did understand his reluctance to do so. "Fine, but why don’t you throw on some shades, huh? I don’t want you to scare any of the other kids. Come on, let’s go."
The drive was spent in complete silence. Jim was feeling bad about what Blair was going through but he had more important things to deal with. *A murder investigation for one.* He made himself a promise that when this was dealt with he would help Blair deal with Ventriss.
"We’re going to see Jennifer Olsen. She’s Dennis Chung’s girlfriend," Jim told Sandburg. He glanced over at the grad student who still held a bag of peas to his face. Blair had refused to look at him since the comment about the shades. He could feel the anger pouring off the younger man but was unsure about what he’d done or said to have caused such anger. Not to mention how to fix the situation.
When Blair didn’t comment, Jim continued, "I am hoping she’s learned something new. I’m glad she called. We need a break on this case."
Still nothing. Jim heaved a sigh as he pulled the truck into the same spot he and Joel had parked in earlier. Even once they were inside the main area of the huge bank, Blair kept the sunglasses on. Ellison could almost feel the hurt and anger that Sandburg still felt. He cursed himself six ways to Sunday for his thoughtless comment. What was wrong with him. He wasn’t normally like this. Briefly he wondered if it were some lingering effects of Alex Barnes. Considering it hadn’t been all that long ago since that spectacular screw up.
"Were here to see Ms. Olson," Jim told the receptionist. The young girl glanced only briefly at Jim’s badge, her eyes returning to the anthropologist’s face and the now brightly coloured eye, only half hidden behind the dark sunglasses.
A few minutes later they were seated in Jennifer Olson’s office. She ohhed and ahhed over the injury. "Are you sure I can’t get you something for that? A bag of ice?"
Blair shook his head gingerly. "Uh, no, I’m fine. Thank you."
Jennifer nodded in understanding. "I appreciate you both coming. Especially the way you must feel. Detective Ellison told me about you when I said Dennis had an interest in anthropology. He’d like it that you’re working on this for him."
"Yeah, the universe has a strange way of tying things together, doesn’t it?" Blair winced as a twinge of pain flared. He pushed his glasses a little higher on his face and turned to Jim. "Best if you take it from here, Jim."
Jim spoke to Jennifer, "You said you found something for us?"
"Yes, maybe. Did you find some photos in Dennis’s safe?"
"No, no. Just some computer disks that had been erased."
"Dennis left this at my place the other night" She told them, sorrow filling her words. "I know he sometimes photographs his subjects, but it might not be anything. I know there are a couple of photos of me."
She handed a camera over to Blair who took it carefully. Together the two men stood and thanked her. Once more Blair remained silent on the drive to the station. Jim figured eventually they would have to talk about what was going on, but right now he just wanted to focus on this damn case and then deal with what was going wrong between the two of them.
In the elevator up to Major Crimes, Jim once more attempted to break the silence, "How you doing, Chief?"
Blair stared up at him for a moment. "Okay. Head aches still."
*Wow, an honest answer.* Jim grinned at his partner. "Tell you what, Chief. You head over to my desk and I will take this over to the lab and get this developed. We’ll need to show this to Simon if there is anything important in here. Let Simon know what we found."
"Sure, Jim," Sandburg said with what sounded to Jim a lot like relief.
"Oh yeah, one other thing…" he paused as Sandburg glanced back. "Take some aspirin."
Blair smiled that special smile that told Jim everything was alright in the world before getting off the elevator and heading into the bullpen. Jim waited for the doors to close once more then headed up one more floor to the lab. He left the camera with the tech who promised to have it for him in an hour. Jim nodded and went to find Joel.
Blair entered the bullpen, face hanging slightly so his hair obscured the terrible bruising around his face. He wanted to fill out the paperwork for the assault but he knew as well as Jim had that there was no evidence that Ventriss had anything to do with it. What Blair knew in his head and what could be proven were two completely different things and he had worked with the cops long enough to know that without evidence there was nothing to be done. Instead he made his way to Simon’s office and knocked lightly.
"What?" Simon barked from behind the closed door. Blair entered.
"Simon? Jim wanted me to let you know we are back. He’s just up at the lab getting some photos developed for the Chung case."
"Christ, kid. What happened to you?" Blair shrank back slightly but entered at the concern in Simon’s voice.
"Oh, just.. umm… Two guys got the jump on me in the alley earlier," Blair explained briefly.
"Did you file a report?"
"No, nothing to report. Didn’t really get a good look at either of them. Although I did notice a black Mercedes nearby. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time, too busy getting my head kicked in I guess." He gave a self-deprecating shrug. "I am just going to work a little on Jim’s paperwork ’til he gets back."
"Sure, let me know if we can do anything."
"Thanks, Simon." Blair exited the office, shutting the door carefully behind him. He then took a seat at Jim’s desk, pulling from its recesses a giant economy size bottle of aspirin Jim kept there. He swallowed two with the water in the bottle from his pack. Then he began the tedious process of completing Jim’s paperwork while he waited for his partner’s return.
An hour and fifteen minutes later:
Jim dumped the pack of pictures on the boardroom table then took the seat beside Joel, across from Simon. Sandburg didn’t look much better than he had earlier. *His head must still be hurting,* Jim surmised, silently. He tried to catch the young man’s eye, but Blair studiously ignored him while Simon grabbed the pack of pictures and opened it, pulling the photos from within.
The tech had made them up into large 8×10 sized pages. The shots were crisp and clean. The first few were of Jennifer Olson, the rest were of others.
Simon pawed through the photos, passing them one by one to Jim who then passed them on to Joel. "Most cyber-detectives just deal with the computer terminals. Evidently, Mr. Chung liked to know the people in front of them."
"That’s his anthropologist touch," Blair spoke up, surprising them.
Jim smiled fondly at his partner. "Sandburg found he has a connection to the victim."
While the other two men were occupied with their photo’s Blair stuck his tongue out at Jim who returned it even as he grabbed the next picture Simon handed to him.
"This one’s wearing your sunglasses, Sandburg. You connected to her, too?"
Jim looked at it, recognizing immediately the woman they’d spoken to earlier. "That’s Connie Roberts. She designs computer software at Questscape."
"Yeah, we think she lied about not knowing Dennis Chung," Joel added as he took the print.
"Who do we have here? Co-worker?" Simon asked, passing the next picture to Jim.
Jim did not recognize the young man at all. "Hmm… I don’t know him."
Joel agreed, "Hmm… He’s not on our radar."
Blair hadn’t really been looking at the pictures Joel handed him, his mind still occupied on other things, like the throbbing of blood in his still hurting brain. However this one caught his attention and he grabbed the picture from Joel. "Let me see that. That’s him!"
"You know that guy?" Simon asked, annoyed at the interruption but willing to let Sandburg talk if he could add to the case.
"Yeah. It’s my nightmare student. That’s Brad Ventriss."
Those words slammed into Jim like a freight train. Things just went from bad to worse. He almost missed Simon ordering the kid be brought in for questioning. He almost missed Joel rising to make the call to get Brad Ventriss to come in. But he didn’t miss the flash of some strange emotion that flickered briefly across his guide’s features. Their eyes met across the table and they both knew this was far from over.
Later that afternoon:
Jim paced the length of the interrogation room. Brad Ventriss sat in a chair on one side of the table, facing the one way mirror.
"Do you know a Connie Roberts?" Jim asked.
Brad shrugged. "Yeah, of course I know who Connie Roberts is. She works for my Dad."
"You have an intimate social relationship with all of your father’s employees?" He dropped the photo on the table next to Brad who barely glanced at it.
Ventriss looked up at the big detective briefly. "Just the females."
Jim didn’t like the smug, arrogant attitude of the young man. "She seems a bit, uh, mature for someone like you."
"Yeah, well, you know the chicks like a guy who can last all day. Probably been quite a while for you, hasn’t it?" Ventriss snickered as he taunted Ellison but the big man didn’t bite.
"Don’t worry. You’ll find all the action you need where you’re going." Jim heard Ventriss’ heart jump at that bit but outwardly the bastard remained carefully contained. His hearing also picked up an angry conversation in the viewing booth behind the mirror.
<When is he going to nail him?>That was Blair.
<Why don’t you just shoot him?> Simon. Jim almost grinned as he heard cloth rustle and he could just imagine Banks revealing his weapon in offering to Blair. He returned to the business on hand once more.
"Tell me something, Junior. If this is just a simple sexual relationship and you really have nothing to worry about why is your lawyer here?" Jim asked nodding pointedly towards the thin man at the end of the table.
"Mr. Norman Ventriss retained my services. He wanted to be sure his son was treated properly," The lawyer spoke up for the first time.
"Look, what’s going on? Is that Jill Gordon chick all bent out of shape again or what?" Ventriss asked, his calm demeanour breaking slightly. It was obvious that he was nervous though still trying to hide it.
"No. Those charges were dropped. This is something entirely different," Jim said as he stepped around the table and dropped into a crouch beside Ventriss. "Oh, I guess you don’t know. See, that was just rape. This is murder."
"What are you saying — I smoked some guy, what?" Ventriss asked, although Jim easily caught the frantic beating of his heart.
"I never said anything about gender here."
"Do you have something to charge my client with?" the lawyer demanded in anger.
"See, I think you know who took this picture," Jim told the young man as he placed a second photo on top of the first. "I think you know what happened."
Suddenly Ventriss’ heartbeat leveled out as if he’d resigned himself to whatever happened, or maybe he just knew there was no evidence. His next words answered the question of which it was as he said, "Prove it."
"Prove what?" Jim asked in innocence.
"Whatever!" Ventriss huffed as he leaned forward as if to get up. Jim grabbed him, gently but with enough force to drop him back into his seat. He squeezed the student’s shoulder gently but again enough pressure to get his point across.
"You’re a smart kid. You got it all figured out, didn’t you?" he almost whispered.
"That’s enough, Detective Ellison," The lawyer demanded. "Unless you are charging my client, this session is over."
Brad Ventriss stood and with his lawyer left the room.
Blair came out of the viewing booth as Ventriss walked passed. For a long moment they just stared at each other, Blair with an almost neutral glare, Ventriss with undisguised venom. Then the student was gone, leaving Blair alone and feeling somewhat bereft.
"You okay there, Chief?" Jim’s concerned voice asked. Blair nodded. "I understand now."
"What?" Blair asked, confused.
"About Ventriss. He has that unique ability to get you really angry without really provoking you doesn’t he?"
A slow, pleased grin lit Blair’s face as understanding hit him. For the first time since Jim had stopped the attack on him, his head felt clear and the throbbing that had accompanied him since then had almost vanished. "Yeah, he does, doesn’t he."
"Come on, Chief. I’ll buy you a coffee before we get back to work," Jim said, reaching out and gripping Blair gently around the neck, his thumb rubbing a comforting circle on the bare skin briefly before tweaking a curl.
"Hey, man. Not the hair." They laughed together as they entered the break room.
"Have you done this before?" Suzanne asked as she leaned over watching Brad typing into the computer.
"Don’t worry. I know how the system works." He looked up into her pretty eyes.
"The cops must know everything."
"The cops don’t know squat. They’re just trying to rattle me. I’ve watched my father get away with all kinds of crap. Trust me, the cops aren’t going to do anything."
"Only if our dads are behind us. If we get married, your father is going to cut you off."
"There. Can’t very well connect us to Connie if Connie isn’t here." Brad finished what he was doing and leaned back into the chair. He reached out and pulled strings tying the front of Suzanne’s blouse.
Suzanne giggled in her nervous aroused way that he loved so much. "What are you doing?"
Brad grinned at her. "A little office work."
"Not now," She told him but she didn’t move away. If anything, she moved slightly closer.
"Yes, now!" Brad hissed. "Everything now. I’m not going to spend years working in some office trying to become a V.P., I’m going to pick it all up in one swoop. If we make all this money, our fathers aren’t going to care if we get married. They’re not going to care what we do."
Then he kissed her.~~~~~ Act IV ~~~~~The next morning Jim and Blair met in Simon’s office again.
"So Chung was tracking Connie Roberts for tampering with computer files. So, what’s Brad? Was he a partner?" Blair asked.
"Maybe. Kid’s in deep though. Why does he bug me?" Jim griped.
Simon snorted. "Because he called you old and told you you couldn’t hack it with the ladies."
Jim shook his head in disagreement. "I don’t have a problem getting old nor do I have a problem with the ladies."
At that moment Joel entered and on hearing Jim’s comment, he made his announcement. "You got a problem with one lady, Jim. Connie Roberts and her kids just left the country on a Questscape private jet."
"So our case’s off the map," Blair spit out angrily.
Jim immediately spoke to soothe his partner. "No, no, wait a minute. Your boy is nervous. That’s a given. So we got to force him to make a mistake somehow. Let’s talk to daddy."
Ventriss’ Senior’s private secretary showed the two men into the luxuriously furnished office of the CEO of Questscape. The man himself rose from behind his desk but deigned to shake either man’s hand. He motioned for them to sit.
"Mr. Ventriss, we are investigating the murder of Dennis Chung. We found out that he was doing some investigative work for you. Could you tell us what for?" Jim started as he and Blair took a seat.
"We discovered some altered log files on our net server. I had to consider the possibility that someone could have hacked in and stolen our new internet upgrader, so I called Dennis Chung."
"No one else knew he was working for the company?"
"I didn’t tell the team they were being investigated, no," Ventriss told him. Jim kept one ear open to detect any attempt to lie or alter the truth of Ventriss’ replies.
"Did anyone ask if you brought in someone from outside?" Blair interjected. For a moment it appeared the Ventriss might ignore the question but finally he spoke again.
"Our programmer Connie Roberts did. I didn’t tell her who it was, although I’ve trusted her."
"Did you authorize her use of the company jet?"
"No. Someone made it seem like I did." Norman Ventriss sounded angry but Jim detected no jump in the heart rate so he decided that Ventriss suspected what might be going on. All Jim had to do was get the man to talk about it and hopefully he would let something slip.
"So, if someone stole and sold your new program on the open market, what would that be worth?" Again it was Blair who asked and again Ventriss was slow to answer. Jim knew the man was aware of whom Blair was and things would get ugly if he didn’t take control. While it was beginning to appear very likely that Sandburg’s school problems were very much related to this case, it was neither the time nor the place to face them. Before Jim had a chance to jump in Ventriss finally answered Sandburg’s question.
"We’ve solved some of the speed delivery problems of the internet. Someone could become very rich."
Blair once more beat Jim to the punch and asked one more question. "Dennis took this photo of Connie and your son. And you think that’s just a coincidence?"
Norman Ventriss blew. "If you’re implying my son is involved in this mess, I resent your method of questioning."
"Mr. Ventriss, This is a murder investigation," Jim calmly tried to explain once more.
"I know what you’re doing. I have no problem with that, but your associate Mr. Sandburg — and I do know who you are — has his own agenda. He’s the one hounding my son… " Ventriss was beyond enraged, although his voice trembled only enough for a sentinel to detect, every line in his body screamed anger.
Blair didn’t seem to notice. "Me?"
"… Framing him for a violation of the academic code."
"Oh, I’m framing him?"
"Is this some sort of personal crusade?"
"Mr. Ventriss…" Jim started but was interrupted once more.
"Because I know how to wage a crusade of my own. You think I’ll take your word over that of my son’s?"
"That depends… on how well you know your own son."
Norman Ventriss stood in dismissal. "Good day, gentlemen."
Jim knew then that he’d lost control of that interview. There was no way Ventriss would say anything now to implicate his son. It was obvious to him that even if the man knew what his son was up to, he would back him to the hilt against the cops and it wasn’t really Blair’s fault. For the first time in a long time he was the one to keep his cool. There was nothing to be done now but try to pick up the pieces.
They were ushered out of the office and two minutes later found themselves on the sidewalk outside.
"You’re becoming very dear to that family," Jim said but there was a grin in his voice.
"What’s not to like?" Sandburg snorted indignantly.
"Well, your face is a little bit scary."
"You know, I don’t think he knew his son’s connection to Connie Roberts," Blair stated, ignoring Jim’s teasing comments.
Jim returned to business at hand. "I think you’re right."
"None of this tells us who knew about Dennis Chung."
"We’ve only talked with one father."
"What about Brad?" Blair questioned.
"Don’t worry about Brad. Taggart’s on him. Look, I don’t want you to even think about him ’cause every time you do, you lose your cool."
"Oh, would you not start with that crap again? I won’t lose my cool." Blair threw out as his heartbeat rose and his breathing grew ragged.
Jim grinned at him. "What is this?"
Blair huffed. "It’s me losing my cool."
"That’s cool," Jim snickered as he caught the grin on his friend’s face as Blair passed him.
"Okay so where to now?" Blair asked as Jim pulled the truck out of the lot.
"Chung also did work for Complexium Communications. I want to check with a Henry Nadine to see if this might have something to do with them also or if their name was because of past business," Jim informed the grad student.
"Okay, but I should warn you that there is another connection there with Ventriss."
"Great. What?" Jim queried.
"Henry Nadine’s daughter Suzanne is Brad’s girlfriend."
"God, this thing just keeps getting better and better," Jim groused. For several long minutes there was silence while each contemplated the case or the problems that faced them.
Blair for his part was finally feeling calmer about the whole Ventriss thing. It was beginning to look like this kid was in more trouble than just buying a term paper. He almost smiled at that thought. He forced it away. He knew he shouldn’t be pleased about the fact that if they could collect enough evidence a twenty-two year old kid would be going to jail, probably for the rest of his life along with his girlfriend who was only twenty-one. Man that sucked.
He watched the scenery as Jim drove along Washington Drive up Memorial to the sprawling building that housed the Nadine residence.
"Apparently Nadine took a day off today," Jim told Blair who started slightly.
"Sorry lost in thought. This his home then?"
"Yeah. You coming?"
"Definitely." Blair hopped out of the truck as soon as Jim had parked. They were greeted at the front door by an older woman who directed them out to the back yard.
"Man, this looks like a national park." Blair breathed out as he took in the beautiful surroundings. The flower gardens, the orchard and the hedge work was definitely something out of a park setting and it was nice in a forced sort of way rather than the natural woods setting that both men preferred.
"Look at this. Aphids again," Henry Nadine told them as he joined them. He introduced himself and shook both their hands before continuing. "Makes me wish for the old days , crop-dust the whole place with D.D.T."
"We need to ask you about your… " Blair began.
"… relationship with Dennis Chung," Nadine finished for him.
"Was he working with you at the time of his death?" Jim asked.
"No, he wasn’t. I’d used Dennis’s services many times before because my company is a constant target of hackers."
"Are you aware that Norman Ventriss had recently hired him?" Blair questioned.
"Yes, Norman told me that he suspected a hacker raid and was bringing in Dennis to shut it down."
"And you had no such problem?"
"No, not that we know of," Nadine told Jim.
Blair stopped and looked at the older man. "Your company and Questscape are direct competitors in the marketplace, right?"
Nadine nodded. "Tenaciously competitive. But we’d never steal from each other. Neither of us can afford it."
"Didn’t it bother you that Dennis knew both your systems?" Jim wanted to know.
"No. We both hired Dennis because we could trust him. He was a good man."
"Your daughter Suzanne and Brad Ventriss are close, aren’t they?" Blair asked changing the subject.
Nadine looked questioningly towards Blair as if wondering where that question was leading to before he answered. "Yes. His father and I realize we have to fight a little more often to keep up with the Montague’s and the Capulet’s."
"Did your daughter know Dennis Chung?"
"I’m teaching her the business. I showed her how to stop hackers and I’m sure I mentioned Dennis, but, uh, no, they never met."
"Is she on the payroll?"
"No. She receives an allowance. $10,000 a year. I want her to know the value of money."
Jim and Blair exchanged glances, then thanked the man before leaving him to his contemplation of aphids and crop dusting.
"You’ve seen the way these people live. Maybe Suzanne thought her old man shorted her with the ten grand. But would she rip off the company and commit murder?" Simon told them once they were all gathered around his board table.
"I don’t think the murder was planned," Jim offered.
"I don’t think these fathers have any idea who their kids really are." Blair was pacing along the side of the table nearest the window.
Joel watched him with a fond grin but spoke to Simon and Jim, "The kids think dad probably won’t prosecute."
Blair stopped his pacing for a moment. "They stand to make a lot of money when they sell the software to some offshore Asian company that’ll just knock it off and then these two will skip the country just like Connie Roberts."
"Yeah, it’s all pretty clean except that Dennis Chung came home," Jim agreed.
"Yeah, it’s all too crazy," Simon replied but his tone was thoughtful as he considered the possibilities.
"Not when you’re twenty," Jim pushed.
"So you want the warrant for hard evidence?" the captain asked.
"Yes, now!" Blair burst in.
Simon groaned, "We got to get this kid on Prozac. I’ve fielded one call from the mayor’s office about how this is being handled. I do not need his teeth in my backside!"
Jim smirked. "So, no warrant?"
"I didn’t say that. I would just like us to go easy with these families."
"’Easy with these families.’ Great. So money does buy special privileges," Sandburg exclaimed.
"Yes, Sandburg. Welcome to the real world." Simon was about to say more when a knock sounded on the door and a man entered and handed Simon a piece of paper.
"Message for you, Captain."
Simon took it. "Thank you." He waited for the officer to leave before reading it.
Simon looked up at Sandburg sharply. "Why am I getting your messages and why do you have a meeting with Chancellor Edwards and Brad Ventriss who is including his attorney?"
Blair froze, he’d forgotten that. "I filed a code violation against the little… "
Simon stood up suddenly, towering over the much shorter man. "Look, I want you to back off. If you don’t, the brass will come down and close this investigation. I would have to terminate your involvement with this department. I kid you not."
"I got it, Simon I am sorry I filed it days ago and I just forgot about it with everything else going on. Unfortunately I can’t back out of this now."
"Well you better do something, Sandburg, or this ends now."
"Gotcha. Later." Blair grabbed his pack and raced for the elevator.
"So, Simon? That warrant?" Jim requested, grabbing his captain’s attention and drawing it from his partner.
"Right the warrant."
Blair squirmed in his chair. This meeting wasn’t going the way he wanted it to go. Of course he would be more than willing to drop the whole thing, but the lawyer was pulling up stuff that was just not sitting well. And of course Chancellor Edwards had never much liked him anyway.
He turned his attention back to the conversation at hand. Chancellor Edwards was speaking to him. "Mr. Ventriss says that you had no interest in hearing his side."
"Well, I thought I heard his side when he threatened me." *There that was reasonable,* Blair thought.
Edwards didn’t look like she thought so though. "If you’ve something to add, Mr. Ventriss now would be a good time."
The lawyer was the one who responded. "If I may, Chancellor Edwards. Our concerns go beyond Mr. Sandburg’s failure to hear Brad out. They go to the quality of education that Brad and, in fact, the rest of the students, are receiving."
Blair stared at the man in surprise. "Excuse me? What are you talking about?"
"Since Mr. Sandburg began his research with the police, he has missed more teaching days than any other T.A. on campus, including a sudden and unauthorized 12-day trip to Peru two years ago. Yet in three years, Mr. Sandburg has not officially submitted so much as a draft of his doctoral thesis," The lawyer continued.
Chancellor Edwards looked back towards Blair. He just wanted to curl up and hide except his pride would never allow that. "Mr. Sandburg, is there some compromise we can reach that would satisfy you and save us all a lengthy investigation?"
Blair firmed his resolve and explained, "Chancellor Edwards, I don’t see how this institution could retain its credibility if we allow basic standards to be ignored. I’m not just talking about academic standards here."
The chancellor shook her head. "I see a need for cooperation and I’m not getting it from you."
"Not getting it from me?" Blair fumed. "Well, what about him? How is it that he can sit there without saying a word?"
Chancellor Edwards interrupted, "It seems clear to me that with your attitude, we’ll have to settle this without you."
"Fine." Blair rose to his feet to leave. He turned to the door but was stopped once more by Chancellor Edwards’ cold words. He turned back to face her slowly as they washed over him.
"I must also inform you, documented proof of the extent of your absenteeism has been forwarded to my office and constitutes what we feel is a breech of your contract. Therefore, you are being dismissed permanently."
Blair could barely get the last word out of his throat as it threatened to constrict his breathing. "Fine."
He turned and walked out without looking back.~~~~~ Act V ~~~~~Joel entered Simon’s office again. He felt like he’d spent more time in this office than he had in the bullpen since joining Cascade PD. He grinned as he saw Jim and Simon huddled together going over some files. Well he had goodies too. "Hey, guys. The forensic boys dropped off a few items from the search of Suzanne Nadine’s apartment."
He dropped the box onto the table and began pulling out plastic wrapped items, handing each to Jim to check over. "Here’s your basic blond hair and here’s your basic… "
"Electro-magnet." Jim gave a small smile of approval.
"Yeah, with carpet fibers stuck in the coil. And here is some fiber from Suzanne’s rugs. I’m going to take all of this to the lab right now, okay?" Joel added.
Jim took the samples. "Hold on a second."
Joel watched as Jim opened the sample of fibers from Suzanne Nadine’s apartment, then took the small piece of fibre from the electromagnet. He kept his grin carefully hidden but his mind whirled at what he witnessed once again. His attention was drawn back to what Jim was saying.
"This is nylon… And this is wool. Same fiber that they found at Dennis Chung’s."
Joel decided to tease the younger detective. "Captain, you ought to get the department to offer the detective science course that Ellison took." He winked at Ellison.
Simon missed the wink and merely responded, "Yeah, I’ll look into that."
The door to the office opened and a rather dejected looking Blair Sandburg entered.
"Hey, Chief. How was the meeting? Keep your cool?" Joel wondered about that statement but said nothing, content to just watch. He really wanted nothing more than to solve all the young man’s problems, much the way a father might their child. Blair had become special to Joel, especially since the whole church bombing situation when Blair had helped him regain his confidence. No one really knew this, but Blair was one of the main reason’s he’d moved over into Major Crimes.
Blair was speaking, "Yeah. And then I got fired."
Simon looked up at him, startled. "Fired?"
"Yeah, it was a total set-up. They used my attendance record as grounds for dismissal."
"Can they make that stick?"
Blair shrugged and with a wry grimace repeated Simon’s earlier words, "Welcome to the real world, Simon."
"So what are you going to do?" Jim asked.
"I went and talked to a lawyer and he said we actually have a case, but you shake the guy’s hand and it costs $500." He looked at Simon. "There isn’t any extra coin in the department payroll, is there?"
Simon knew Sandburg was only half joking but he responded seriously, hoping to alleviate the younger man’s fears. "Sandburg, you know we don’t pay observers, but if I’m still here next week, I’ll see if we can invent a job."
"What do you mean if you’re still here?" Blair inquired.
"Because we’re going to bring in your buddy Brad and that’s going to bring down a lot of heat."
"Yes," Blair enthused, then as if realizing what he’d just done he apologized. "Uh, the bringing-him-in part not the heat part. Sorry."
"All right, look, if we’re going to pull this shell game off, we’ve to do it right," Simon told the three men before him. "So far we only have circumstantial evidence that Brad stole Questscape secrets through Connie Roberts and that Suzanne knew about Dennis Chung. So, we’ll present the fathers with the physical evidence that link their son and daughter to the crime scene. Let’s be on our best behaviour, gentlemen."
Joel just grinned. "I am just going to take this down to Forensics then I will meet you downstairs."
"Thanks, Taggart," Simon told him. They all departed to complete the tasks they needed to finish before proceeding with the arrest.
The estate of Norman Ventriss and his family was located just north of the city, easily accessible by car, boat or helicopter. It was a beautiful piece of coastal property lined with old cedars, pines and a couple of Douglas firs. Unlike the Nadine’s place, this one was more in line with nature, and as such, was much more aesthetically pleasing to the senses.
Jim breathed deeply of the softly scented air, filling his lungs with the sea breeze, pine sap, fir leaf scent and cedar bark scent, all of which left him feeling pleasantly mellow. He stood with Simon in the front of the house, while Joel waited with Blair just outside the gates. Norman Ventriss stood before the two cops with his lawyer and Henry Nadine, who just happened to be there.
Jim found that slightly circumspect but said nothing for the moment. Instead he allowed Simon to take the lead since he was the diplomat of the two.
"Normally, we’d just put out an A.P.B. on Brad and Suzanne," Simon was saying, "but considering your standing in the community, we decided to give you an opportunity to have your children turn themselves in."
"Yes, with your cooperation, Captain Banks has managed to keep this whole affair out of the press as much as possible," Jim added. He felt more than heard Simon tense at the implied threat but neither of the fathers recognized it for what it was.
Henry Nadine was mortified. "I find my daughter’s involvement in this… there are no words. I pray you’re wrong."
Norman Ventriss was just calm and collected as he replied, "We don’t know where our children are. We’ll act quickly to do what’s right. Mr. Covington will contact you to arrange processing. Thank you, gentlemen." With that he dismissed the two policemen and turned his back on them to walk away. Nadine and Covington, the sleazy lawyer followed.
Jim and Simon walked away, toward Joel and Blair.
"Hang on a sec, did his ‘I pray you’re wrong’ sound like, ‘I’m going to sue your ass’?" Jim asked with a tiny smirk. He stopped before just out of sight of the nearest window but still out of sight of the gate.
"No more than ‘to do what’s right’ meant ‘cut and run.’" Simon agreed.
"Are we cynical?"
"No." Simon grinned wickedly. "What have you got, Jim."
"Give me a second." Jim tuned his hearing into where the two fathers now stood talking with their supposedly missing children.
<Why don’t you tell me what you were going to do with my company secrets? Well?> Norman Ventriss was demanding to know.
Jim heard the rustle of fabric as if someone shrugged then he heard Brad’s voice. <Just what I learned from you there, Dad — make money. We figured the company would take a hit… >
<You’re damn right it would.> Ventriss Senior’s voice cut in.
<But you’d write it off. I mean, that’s what you always seem to be doing anyway. That way, we’d be set. That’s how it was all supposed to go down.> Brad was arguing, vehemently.
Suzanne Nadine now spoke. <Chung’s death was an accident, Daddy… He wasn’t supposed to be there. We were just defending ourselves and… >
<How much did you two arrange to pocket by this venture?> Nadine asked.
<About $20 million.> Brad informed them.
Jim almost swore at that but waited hear the rest of the conversation.
<We have to get you both out of the country as soon as possible. We’ll sort all this out later.> Norman Ventriss told his son.
"The two kids were there the whole time. Where’s our chopper?" Jim told Simon as they rushed to collect Taggart and Sandburg. The other two men were already heading their way.
"What’s up?" Blair asked as Simon replied, "Waiting for my signal."
"Call them," Jim informed him. "Let’s take this around back."
The four men headed for the back of the estate at a dead run, Simon taking up the rear as he radioed for the helicopter. "Air Unit One — immediate response. We have two suspects attempting to evac by helicopter."
Jim kept his hearing on the group they were racing to reach. Even over the sudden rush of rotor blades he could hear the conversation taking place.
<Okay. After the transfer, they’ll be in Rio tomorrow.> Ventriss was telling Nadine.
<I just wish we didn’t have to do it this way.> Nadine complained.
Norman Ventriss’ voice was like ice as he replied to his friend and business competitor. ,We’re past wishing, Henry.>
Just then Jim rounded the corner at a dead run. Ventriss saw them and pushed his son faster.
"Get in! Get in! Come on!" Ventriss yelled.
Brad rounded on his father. "Get your hands off me."
"Sorry, Daddy!" Suzanne sounded sad to be leaving, but not sorry for what she and Brad had done.
Both kids got in.
You’ll be all right! I love you!" Nadine told his daughter. He stepped back as Jim cleared the concrete patio. He was still too far away to stop them as they closed the door and the helicopter took off.
"Hey! I’d call that chopper back if I were you," he informed them coldly as the others arrived, include the back up. He heard the sound of the police chopper as it appeared over the tree line and settled on the ground thirty feet away.
"There’s nothing we can do," Ventriss told them, his heart racing.
"We’ll have to fix that." Jim glared at them before jogging to the police chopper.
"Keep with him, Sandburg," Simon told the observer.
"Why did it have to be a helicopter?" Blair groaned.
Simon snorted. "What would you prefer? A boat? Go!"
Blair raced over and jumped into the back of the bird, buckling himself in even as it rose off the ground.
Jim yelled, "ALL RIGHT, LET’S MOVE! LET’S MOVE!"
Blair pulled on the head set. "Hello, hello, hello. Hello, hello, hello."
Jim grinned. "We got you, Chief."
The helicopter took off, chasing off in the direction the other helicopter had vanished.
Henry Nadine turned and lit into Simon. "A father can’t just stand by and let his daughter spend her life in prison."
Simon was unsympathetic. "Perhaps if you’d spent more time being a father, they wouldn’t be going to prison. Taggart."
Joel nodded at Simon’s gesture. He would enjoy this. People who had money, who thought they were above the law because of it, were his pet peeve. He began the procedure of cuffing the two men. Two uniformed officers cuffed Nadine and Ventriss as he read them the Miranda. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…"
Simon watched with a smug look of satisfaction. *Of course,* he thought, *if Ellison can bring the twisted duo in then everything can get back to what counts for normal around here.* Then he froze. *What about Sandburg’s job?* He’d have to discuss that with Joel, see if they couldn’t work something out.
Blair was trying desperately not to look out the open doorway beside him. He leaned inwards and forwards trying to see as little as possible of the huge drop that was only inches from him. To focus elsewhere, he tuned in to Jim’s conversation with the pilot.
"He’s probably trying to use the canyon as cover. Let’s keep them in sight. When we get over a clear area, we’ll try and force them down."
After a few minutes, Blair grew comfortable enough that he watched the beautiful Pacific Northwest coastline as it raced past. The river they followed meandered through some of the most incredible wilderness he’d ever known.
Without warning the helicopter dropped and the pilot called out, "Hang on. It’s going to get rough."
Blair gripped his seat with a white knuckled grip and gave up on watching the scenery. Instead, he kept his eyes straight ahead and focused on the helicopter before them.
"Just stay with them," Jim said to the pilot.
"He’s going to try and lose us in a ravine," the pilot returned.
"Don’t let him get out of your sight."
The pilot swore, "I lost visual."
Blair had lost sight of them also and apparently so had Jim who asked, "See them?"
"Uh-uh," Blair mumbled.
Jim strained to catch sight or sound of the other copter. "Come on. Where are you?" he whispered.
Without warning the other bird appeared from around a corner. It skimmed overhead, knocking the pursuing chopper aside in a rush of rotor wash
"There he is," Jim exclaimed at the same time the pilot called out, "Man, look out!"
"Hang on," Jim cried out. "Are we going to crash?"
Blair caught the slight tremor of fear but only because he knew the residual trauma of Jim’s other helicopter crash while in the Army. He knew the thought of a second crash would be terrible, but he also knew Jim would continue until he couldn’t any more. This was no exception.
"We’re caught in his rotor wash," The pilot informed them as he struggled to regain control.
Blair had grabbed on to the back of Jim’s seat in an attempt to stabilize himself. His own fear was threatening to send him straight into a panic attack. He never realized he’d grabbed Jim’s coat in the process.
"Hey, Chief, get a grip — on something other than me!" Jim called out even as the helicopter evened out once more, the pilot back in solid control.
Blair released his tight grip and heaved a heavy breath. "All right, all right. I’m good. I’m cool."
"Lost them again," The pilot said.
Blair looked around, needing to finish this and catch the two fugitives. "Where the hell did he go?"
He watched as Jim also turned his head, seeking sign of the other chopper. Finally Jim pointed. "There!"
"They must be making a run for Canada," Blair suggested as the bird flew north.
"I’m on them." The police chopper turned to follow but Jim stopped him.
"No. Keep heading south."
"They’re not on board," Jim continued. "He must have dropped them. Move out over the water. They could be on a boat."
As they continued south, following the original flight of the helicopter, they spotted a racing motor boat. Two figures could easily be seen and Jim confirmed that it was them.
"Follow that boat!"
Jim reached for the loud speaker and called out to Ventriss who was driving. "This is the Cascade Police Department. Heave to and shut off your engine."
Instead of slowing, Ventriss pushed the throttle to full and they moved ahead, even faster than before.
"Bring it around!" Jim told their pilot.
"How we going to stop them?" Blair asked, as Jim removed his headset.
"Like a runaway stagecoach."
Blair gaped at the detective. "What are you talking about? That means jumping."
"Right." Jim grinned manically
"Well, that’s crazy."
Jim agreed easily. "Right."
Blair swallowed hard. "What if they swerve and you miss? That leaves me."
"Right." Jim was distracted now as the helicopter maintained position at high speed right over the speedboat. He was preparing to jump so he missed the fear that replaced Blair’s normally energetic features.
"Don’t miss," Blair pleaded miserably. The whole thought of having to jump into the water, especially so soon after the fountain was not pleasant. In fact, despite the pools in Sierra Verde, he had avoided any body of water, even the bathtub, except to shower; the fear of drowning still too vivid.
Blair watched as Jim looked up to meet his eyes, obviously having heard the fear there and he nodded his understanding. Then he spoke to the pilot, "See if you can get right over them."
Below, he watched Brad turn the boat, trying in vain to lose the helicopter but the chopper pilot was too good and he managed to maintain his position. Jim climbed out on the pontoon of the chopper, holding tight to the door frame. He heard a whisper from Blair, "Oh, you’re crazy."
"Bring it over," Jim told the pilot who did so, lowering another couple of inches.
Blair watched Jim jump, sucking in a harsh breath as the sentinel hit the boat just as Brad swerved the boat again. Jim slid off the edge, grabbing a hold of the railing, hanging on tightly as Brad fought hard to dislodge him. They were in open water, heading for the open sea. Blair knew they had to stop them before they got outside jurisdiction and into international waters.
As he watched Jim hang on side of boat, Brad abandoned the steering wheel and grabbed a long pole with a big hook at one end.
"Jim," Blair screamed over the white noise of the helicopter rotors. Jim glanced up in time to avoid the blow of the staff to the railing, right where his hand had been. Three more time Brad tried to knock Jim’s hands off the railing. Blair noticed that Suzanne hadn’t taken the wheel of the boat and it had turned slightly and was now heading for the shore, still going too fast.
He turned back to the fight as Jim grappled with the staff. He tugged at it, obviously trying to get Brad to release it. The student would not let go, but he did lose his balance and he tumbled over the rail.
"Brad," Suzanne screamed.
In horror, Blair watched as Jim lost his grip and fell in after Brad, a glancing blow by Ventriss’ foot hitting him in the head. He didn’t have time to see if Jim was alright before his attention was grabbed by the still speeding boat. Suzanne was standing at the stern, watching the two men in the water. The boat was not that far from the rocky shoreline and if he didn’t do something soon, Suzanne Nadine would be killed.
"Stay with the boat!" he commanded the pilot, who nodded and kept speed with the boat. Blair climbed out where Jim had been not that long ago. He held tightly to the door frame. "What am I doing? What am I doing? Stay with him. Down lower."
"You’ve got it," The pilot called back.
"Lower!" Blair begged, forcing himself to focus on the moving boat.
"I’m working on it."
"Can’t you get any lower?!"
The pilot glanced back. "Not without landing it on the boat and at this speed we’d all be killed. Now, jump!"
Blair jumped. He landed hard on the deck but managed to stay upright. Suzanne noticed him for the first time and picked up the handiest object, a fire extinguisher.
"We’re not going to have a problem here, are we?" he asked, in his sternest teacher voice. Suzanne backed off, lowering the extinguisher. Blair grabbed the throttle and wheel, one in each hand. Quickly he reduced the speed, at the same time he turned the boat to point away from the rocks. It was going to be close but the reduced speed gave him a little more manoeuvring room and he managed to skid past the rocks with only inches to spare. He breathed a sigh of relief as he turned the boat back to find Jim and his fugitive student.
Jim flinched as Brad Ventriss’ foot knocked him on the side of the head. It caused him to release his grip and he too fell into the freezing Pacific Ocean. Briefly he submerged, rolling with the force of the fall, increased by the speed they’d been going. Cold water washed over his head, taking the numbness from the kick away. For a moment, panic filled him. The fear of deep water not entirely gone, he noted as it flared. A sudden swell of water from Ventriss as he kicked to get away roused him, bringing his mind back to the job. He pushed himself up to the surface.
His head broke through and he gulped in the fresh air, gagging slightly on the strength of the salt water scent. Ventriss was only a few yards from him but moving with long strong strokes, swimming hard for shore. With a strong push, Jim struck out after the youth. His longer arms and stronger stroke quickly closed the gap between them. His hand brushed Ventriss’ foot and he caught him around the ankle, dragging him back and slightly under water. The killer struggled with a strength born of desperation. He kicked out, connecting with Jim’s ribs even though the detective managed to twist slightly and avoid most of the blow.
Knowing his own strength, Jim held back, not wanting to hurt the kid, even though all his senses screamed to kill Ventriss for having had his guide beaten.
"Brad Ventriss, you are under arrest for murder," Jim told him with smug satisfaction. The youth merely scowled but said nothing as he sputtered in the water. His hands flailed about trying to escape the strong grasp of the detective. A foot lashed out and knocked Jim in the thigh, narrowly missing something vital.
With a predatory glare, Jim growled deep in his chest, his fist flew out and smacked sharply on Ventriss’ jaw. The younger man went out cold with barely a sound. Jim caught him around the chest and looked around for the speedboat.
His heart froze as he caught sight of it, heading straight for the rocks. The helicopter hovered over it and a figure fell onto the boat. Two seconds later the boat turned, narrowly avoiding the shore. Heaving a sigh and a gulp of air, Jim struck out towards the craft. He focused on reaching in, rather than focusing on the fact that he was far enough from shore for it to still be deep water here. His fears, while not gone were definitely fading.
He was so focused on swimming, dragging his burden with him that he was unaware of when a hand reached down.
"Need a lift, Big Guy?" his partner’s voice called down.
"Yeah, thanks." Jim accepted the hand up, pushing Ventriss up before climbing on board himself. The youth was coming around, moaning then grumbling as he rose unsteadily to his feet.
"Sit down. You’re rocking the boat," Jim told Ventriss, before snapping one cuff on him, then threading it through a steel bar gunwale and snapping the other to Suzanne.
Blair grinned as the soaking young student. "Hey! If you noticed, I’m not in class today! I hope you don’t file a grievance!"
Both Brad and Suzanne glared back at him but said nothing.
"Head for shore, partner. Let’s find Simon."
"You got it." Blair replied as he headed once more for shore.~~~~~ Epilogue ~~~~~Blair entered the bullpen which was as usual a bustle of activity. He spotted Jim immediately, talking on the phone and headed over.
"Yeah, well, thanks, Pete. Give my best to your mom. Bye." Jim hung up and looked at Blair. "Hey, your face is looking better. How’s your head?"
Blair smiled at Jim’s concern. "Good. Well better." He corrected at Jim’s disbelieving glance.
"School was good?"
Blair shrugged. "The dean and I worked things out. Actually I think Simon might have had something to do with that. I need to thank him."
"What did Simon do?"
"The dean said Simon had gone to see him in regards to Ventriss’ arrest. He in turn went to the chancellor and had words with her who then passed it on to me. She wasn’t pleased and she wouldn’t tell me what he said to her but she did give me my job back."
"That’s great. That was Pete. He’s got us tickets for the game tonight. You up for that?"
"Yeah, sounds great. Let me just go talk to Simon. I’ll be right back."
Blair headed for the captain’s office. Jim watched him knock then enter. When the door closed, he gathered their coats and headed for the elevator to wait for his partner. Bad guys in jail, case closed, friendship on track, life was good. Everything else was just gravy.~ The End ~Please remember to send feedback to our authors. Feedback can be sent to: [email protected]Next week’s episode: Four Point Shot by Lyn Townsend