Immortal End Game
The meal was excellent, the steaks larger than I had expected, and when I found I couldn't finish mine, Jim Ellison surprised me by offering to do so. I sit back from the table, sipping at the hot tea that had come with my dinner, watching him.
Most people go through life merely eating whatever is placed before them, not really taking the time to enjoy the tastes. Immortals, like myself, tend to get a little jaded about food after a few dozen decades, but even I have a few dishes that will send a frisson of pleasure through me. From the expression on the Detective's face, he's not one to just inhale a good meal, but rather, he seems to be savoring every bite.
Eros! Where are these thoughts coming from? I excuse myself from the table, moving back to the couch, as the idea I want Ellison to savor me, like he did the steaks, washes over me.
"Lee? You okay?"
I turn to see his eyes on me and I sink into the cushions. "I'm fine. Just had to get away from the table before I started nibbling..." Seeing his eyebrow quirk up in a silent question, I respond, "Oh, don't worry, I'm more than stuffed. Finish your meal. Please?"
"Don't you mean your meal?"
The giggle that escapes me sounds vaguely like an errant school girl's. "What ever. I just enjoy watching you eat..." Shit, that was not what I meant to say! Grabbing the newspaper from the table, the one I haven't had a chance to read yet, I hide my rising blush behind the rustling paper.
The silence nearly kills me with its intensity and after I'm sure I have my... lust under control, I drain off my tea and, dropping the paper back to the table, I excuse myself once more.
In the bathroom, I look at my reflection in the mirror. The blush hasn't completely left my cheeks, my eyes are damn near glowing and I stop to think about my reaction to the man I just left in the living area of my suite. When I had first seen Ellison, I had flashbacked to my one encounter with Laird William MacAlasdair. Their features bear so many similarities... Damn. Could that be it? I'm attracted to Jim because I'm almost positive he's a descendant of that ancient Scotsman?
Cupid's Arrows! Even just thinking about both men in the same thought has my stomach turning into butterflies. I want this one, if only to see if the talents of the ancestor had been passed down to the ever so great grandson. Reaching for my toothbrush, I try to turn my thoughts away from the path they seem determined to wander down.
Azir, my husband, gone from my life only three short months. Would he approve? Could he forgive me? Rinsing my mouth, I choke back a sob, knowing the answer. Yes. Azir el Sadih was a very unusual man; he had to be. We worked together as spies for so long, using whatever means were at our disposal to gather the intelligence we were sent after. Oftentimes, that meant me using my body to loosen tongues, or to compromise the target. But the past seventeen years hadn't been like that. I had been loyal, monogamous, to Azir. And I had enjoyed that. But Jim Ellison...
Opening my toilette kit, I pull out a bottle of rare heather/lavender water and, after wetting a cloth down with the mixture, apply it to my heated face. The scent calms my mind even as the water bestows its cooling effects. Before I leave the small room, I run damp hands through my hair, spreading more of the scent around me. I need to remain calm, in control of myself.
I step back out to the bedroom, pad over to the door leading to LaFollet's room and, against Jim's better judgment I'm sure, unlock the door and push it open a crack. I know that I'll know when Jan-Michel returns, but I need Jim to hear it too, or I'll give my secret away, and my Watcher's as well.
Returning to the living area, I see Jim has pushed the portable table, minus the teapot and pitcher, out of the room and has settled on the couch. I hope the hotel's staff removes the table from the hall before too long, or Jan-Michel may just figure out I have a guest when he returns. I'm really starting to worry. He's not called and it's nearly midnight. What if he runs into the Immortal who gunned down John David? Who tried to do the same to me?
Recalling the love seat isn't nearly as comfortable as the couch, I throw caution to the winds and sit back in the spot I had left. Which, conveniently, places me close to the man I've decided I want, if only for a short time.
"You seem a little preoccupied, Lee." He's refilled my tea and hands me the mug after I'm settled, my legs curled up underneath me.
"Sorry. I'm just not used to being watched and I keep wondering where Jan-Michel is."
His hand is warm on my shoulder. The mild squeeze, meant to be reassuring, only sends a flush of pleasure through my veins. "You want to try calling him?"
I sigh, "I'd say yes, but I don't think he took his cell phone with him."
"Try. It'll make you feel better."
Twisting in the seat, I reach to the phone and dial the number I know belongs to the phone Jan carries for his role as my employee. There's no answer. I long to try his other phone, his Watcher issued one, but I don't have the number. Reluctantly, I hang up the handset. "Nothing. I don't want to distract him from whatever it is he's doing, but I need to be the one to tell him about John David."
The hand that reaches up and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear is gentle. "Look, I'll tell him for you. If you want?"
I lean my head against the hand lingering on my hair. "That's sweet of you, Jim. Thank you."
Silence fills the space between us, as his hand keeps stroking my hair, causing the scent of the heather and lavender to waft into the air. I let my eyes close, luxuriating in the touch which has slowly worked its way under my heavy, long hair to lightly caress the nape of my neck. I shiver, not wanting him to stop, but to continue touching me.
His hand stops, and I open my eyes to look at him. "Jim?"
He moves in slowly, stopping only when his face is scant inches from my own. "What are you doing to me, Lee Eolia?"
"What do you mean?" I lick my lips; the color I applied earlier isn't doing its job for they've gone dry.
"I've only felt this way a few times in my life..." He keeps his left hand on my neck, and his right one takes up my left, his fingers playing a teasing game with my palm, then twining, lacing our fingers together. He glances down and touches the band on my ring finger. "Maybe it'd be better if I go..."
I grip his hand in mine, tightly. "No. Please? Stay?"
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure." I bring my free hand up to clasp him by the back of his head, and pull him close. His short hair is so soft against my skin. Our lips lock together and I'm drowning in sensations he's stirring in my body.
He's gentle, his hands freely roaming over the robe I'm still wearing, and I begin my own exploration of his body, even as Jim's feather light touch finds its way under the neckline of the silver shot white cloth. I turn slightly aggressive and help him to lose the sweater he is wearing then start on the buttons to his shirt, sliding it off his wonderfully muscled shoulders, just as my robe slips off my own.
"Oh, gods. Yes." His lips are starting to drive me towards the madness that is blind passion and lust, as he takes his kisses from my mouth, down my throat, stopping at my breasts where he pays exquisite attention to both, before untying the belt of my robe. He's near my naval before I stop him, and practically crawl on top of him, starting my own trail of kisses from his throat, working my way downward even as my hands, joined by his own, work his belt free and start to unzip his pants.
I'm just starting to slide those jeans over his hips, discovering, to my delight, he's not encumbered by more layers, when the tingling which has nothing to do with my arousal zips up my spine into my head. Jim must have heard something, for we're both moving at the same time; I've just pulled my robe back on, he's trying to button up his shirt, when the door in the bedroom opens.
"Lee? You still awa..." LaFollet walks into the room and stops dead in his tracks.
Jan-Michel LaFollet, having made arrangements for John David to watch Lee Eolia for him, left the Excelsior at noon to track down a few buddies of his from his time in the Navy. Men and women who might be able to dig up the information he needed.
At seventeen thirty hours, he realized there was no way for him to get back to Cascade from Portland before the others returned, and Lee would start to worry about him. He still had to stop and file his report on the incident last night with the Watchers. Pulling over at a public rest stop, he placed the call to the hotel, leaving a message for Lee. That done, he got back in the rental car he'd had delivered to him, thus leaving the Lexus for John and Lee to use if needed, and got back on the highway.
In five hours, he'd managed to track down the one person who could possibly shed some light on QuestScape and its owner. He was to meet his contact in two hours, in Seattle, at a coffee bar of all places. Pulling into Seattle, locating the coffee shop, he realized he had forty minutes to kill and called the home office of WindHawk Securities.
"Ruth? Jan-Michel. I need a favor from you, sweetie." He listened as the secretary asked about the trip and the news the security check had gone bad. "Yes, I know. It was just a case of bad timing; you know how Lee is. If there had been a problem, she would've backed out of the test." Leaning his head against the smooth glass of the phone booth, he finished asking his favor. "Ruthie, what I need you to do for me is to find the contract Azir faxed to us, the one for QuestScape, and fax it to me. I'm not in Cascade right now, I'm in Seattle." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the business card he'd picked up from Kinko's, just across the street from the coffee bar, and rattled off the fax number to her. "Send it as soon as you can will you? Yes, I'll let Lee know you're praying for her. Take care."
When the fax came through, he had only five minutes to spare. Deciding to read over the contract after the meeting, Jan-Michel crossed the street and entered the coffee bar. His contact was sitting exactly where they said they would be, in the corner closest to the back of the shop and near the rear exit, their back against the wall. "Stertz?"
Taking a long drag off her cigarette, the dark haired, light complected woman nodded and gestured for him to sit. "Welcome to Seattle, LaFollet."
"Thank you for agreeing to meet with me." Jan-Michel gave his order to the waiter who stopped by the table, asking for an Irish Coffee, waiting for him to leave before looking at his companion. "So? What were you able to find out?"
Stubbing her smoke out in the ashtray, Brianna Stertz leaned forward. "Plenty. What do you want first? The background on Norman Ventriss or the upshot of what his company was reportedly working on for the DOD?"
"DOD, first, background later."
"Good." Brianna reached under the table and brought up a file from her open satchel, laying it before him. "First off, it wasn't a zip-drive that was taken from QuestScape." Seeing the surprised look on the man's face, she waved off his question. "Yes, there was a theft, but I don't think your boss had anything to do with it. The item which was reportedly taken was a DVD-RAM, holds up to 5.2 Gigabits of data... As to what was on the disk, I'm willing to bet it was the laser guidance system QuestScape was contracted to work on three years ago - and was due to be delivered next week."
Jan-Michel was reading over the file his one time girlfriend had handed him, and found the information on the program she was talking about. He let out a low whistle, just as the waiter returned with his liquor laced coffee. "Thank you." He sipped the potent brew, stalling as the waiter also placed another cup of coffee in front of his informant. Once the kid was gone, he smiled at her. "Brianna, the insurance against theft of this program alone could fund the POTUS Detail at Camp D for a year." He was referring to the Detail that worked Camp David for the President of the United States.
"I know. Convenient it was stolen, just when the company is about to face trouble that would make what is dogging Microsoft's tail pale by comparison, isn't it?"
"Wait a second." Pulling the faxed contract from his coat pocket, he read over the outline of the job Azir had set up. "Damn! That son of a bitch! Ventriss specified the date the test of his security systems would take place, and that the target was to have been a dummy. Fuck!"
"Mrs. Sadih wasn't on the mark when she talked with Ventriss, was she?"
"No. She lost her husband right after this contract was signed. I think she was going to do this job, honor Azir's deal with Ventriss, then retire from the business."
"She was set up, but I don't think Ventriss was behind what happened to her." Brianna pulled up another file, sliding it over to him. "Mr. Ventriss lost his only child, an adopted son, back in September. Bradley was bad from the word 'go' - was actually caught stealing sensitive data from his father's company, killed the investigator Daddy V had hired to look into the matter - and got killed in a jailhouse brawl while awaiting trial." She tapped the folder. "I'm just speculating here, but I'm sure his son's crimes are what gave Ventriss the idea to 'steal' the program, if only to hide the fact it wasn't working."
Brianna shrugged as she lit up another cigarette. "I've got a friend on the inside of QuestScape, in Development, and as of two weeks ago, he tells me they couldn't get the program to boot up without smoking the motherboards of seven computers."
Jan-Michel sank back into his chair. "It's a dud. He can't deliver on his contract with the Department of Defense, so he arranges for WindHawk to take the fall - maybe even arranging to have the program destroyed before Lee ever walked into the building - and he collects a huge insurance settlement."
"More than that, Jan. The DOD probably will extend his contract and he could have a new team start from scratch instead of trying to 'fix' the program he already had. What needs to happen to forestall that is for the disc to be found, intact, and turned over to DOD."
"I let Lee walk right into the middle of this shit." He took a huge drink of his coffee, relishing the burning sensation the heated alcohol left behind in his throat. "Damn, I had a feeling I should've stopped her, but I allowed her to talk me into going along."
Brianna leaned over the table, catching the blond man's hand in her own, squeezing it hard. "You couldn't have known, Jan. Don't beat yourself up over this." Waiting until he had his emotions under control, she asked her own questions. "So, tell me. Report, Watcher."
Falling into a familar procedure, Jan-Michel put away his bodyguard persona and became the Watcher he was, giving the Archivist a full report, omitting his new status, about the previous evening's events. Two more cups of Irish Coffee and 90 minutes later, he left the coffee shop to return to Cascade.
It was well after eleven in the night when he pulled up to the Excelsior, but he still wasn't in the mood to return to his room or report to Eolia what he's found out about Ventriss and QuestScape. He'd lied to Brianna, the woman who had recruited him into the Watchers, the woman he'd once loved. He hadn't admitted his Immortality, nor that he felt he was growing too close to Eolia, maybe even falling in love with her - an admission of either of those facts could get him pulled from his post as her Watcher. Maybe even force him to resign as her employee, her bodyguard, and she was too vulnerable right now to have that kind of upheaval in her life.
The hotel's private bar, for members and guests only, was still open and he needed a drink to wash away the pain and taste of the lies that had fallen from his lips in Seattle. "Glenlivet, neat." His order was given to the bartender in a clipped voice, not inviting conversation. The man cut him off at seven drinks and Jan admitted to himself he was finally drunk. Paying the bar tab, he carefully made his way up to his room, nearly tripping over a portable table in the hall just outside the elevator.
That damnable sensation he now knew meant 'immortal in the area' hit him hard, driving away the fuzziness the alcohol had given him, as he strode past Eolia's room. "Good, she's here." Keying open the door to his room, he spotted the connecting room door that was cracked open and the light spilling through the slight opening. Muttering under his breath, he decided there was no time like the present to tell his boss what he'd discovered. Pushing through the door, he called out.
"Lee? You still awa..." The sight before him told its own story. Eolia's hair was mussed, her cheeks flushed and her eyes alight with passion. What shocked him was who she was with. "Ellison?!"
I walk over to LaFollet and tap his chin, "Close your mouth, Jan." He snaps it shut, turning hurt eyes to face me.
"What were you doing? As if I couldn't guess?" The snide remark drops into the room, lowering the ambient temperature.
"None of your business," Jim growls as I slip past Jan-Michel into my bedroom and leave the two men alone in the living area. I nearly have another heart attack as I hear, "She's your employer, not your possession."
"You have no right, Ellison!"
"NO! Get out! Leave! I don't want to hear it!"
"You should leave as well. I won't stand here and let you bad-mouth Lee."
"Oh, I'll leave all right. Kicking your ass down the stairs if I have to!"
"You're not man enough to do that, LaFollet!"
"Try me. Just go ahead and try me, Ellison."
"I need to call..."
"Then do it! But get the hell out of here!"
Oh, that tears it! I'm not some prize to be fought over. I rush back into the room, barely holding onto my temper. "Jan! Enough! Jim? I'm sorry, make your call, I just need to talk to my bodyguard for a minute." I grip my Watcher by his arm, which he tries to shake off, but I only dig my fingers, hard, into his muscle. "Now, LaFollet!"
I slam the door of the bedroom shut, after pushing Jan-Michel through it ahead of me, and glare at the blond man until he drops his gaze. "Good. Now listen to me, Jan-Michel Wyatt LaFollet... Jim was here because you weren't..."
"I left John David in charge. Where is he?"
The color fades from my bodyguard's face. I didn't mean to be so harsh, to tell him the news like that, but he didn't seem like he was in the mood to really listen. He sinks to the bed, and I join him there on the edge.
"What happened? You should have been safe here..."
I sigh, girding myself to tell the story. "We weren't here. I woke up around two and realized if we were to stay here, because of the investigation, then I needed to do some shopping. I dragged John all over the city with me. We were cutting through a back alley and," mindful of Ellison's presence in the suite, I stick to the story I had told Detective Rafe, "I saw him go down. No noise, nothing to warn either of us. He just fell."
Jan-Michel must have caught on to what I wasn't saying. There was an understanding light in his hazel orbs and he reached out to clasp my hands. "I shouldn't have left you alone."
"Jan, you couldn't have known. And you could've died as well." I'm certain the Immortal in the alley wouldn't have hesitated to take my Watcher's head, after shooting him.
"Who's going to tell his parents? His fiancée?"
I gently squeeze the hands holding mine, "C and Sharee are going to take him back to Rochester; they'll handle it. I wish I could do it myself, but we're stuck here until this QuestScape business is tied up."
I rise to my feet, eager to see Jim again before he leaves.
"And Ellison? What's going on there?"
I shake my head, opting to ignore the question, and open the door to see Jim's on his cell phone, probably calling Blair like he had promised to. "Jim?"
"Hang on a second, Chief." He drops the phone to his side, "Yeah, Lee?"
"So am I."
"I'm here now, Ellison. You can leave my charge alone." Jim's hand drops from my cheek, which he had barely touched.
Oh, geez. LaFollet has followed me back into the room, and he's still in a pissy mood over what he thinks he saw. "Jan? I warned you. Back off. What I choose to do, who I choose to do it with, is none of your concern when I'm tucked away in my rooms."
My anger flares. "Is dead! I know that! But he wouldn't want me to just fade away, pining his loss! I'm a grown woman! A woman with needs! You're just my damn bodyguard! Get the hell out of here!" His eyes harden, sending a look that was obviously meant to warn the detective off, before he spins on his heels and returns to his room, slamming the connecting door.
"Uh, yeah, Chief. I'll meet you downstairs in fifteen minutes." Jim hangs up his cell phone, pocketing the device in his coat pocket. "I should go."
"I'm sorry about Jan's actions, Jim. He was out of line." I reach up to lightly caress his face, pleased to see him lean into the touch, and then he catches my hand, kissing the palm before I can pull away. "Gods, keep that up and I won't let you go."
The smile is flirtatious. "Promise?"
Standing up on my toes, I wrap my arms around his strong neck, pull him towards me and kiss him. Feeling his tongue flicker over my lips, I open up to his invasion. All too soon, the moment is over and he's pulling away from me.
"I want to see you again."
My knees weaken and I lean against his hard, now clothed, body. "So do I." A final hug and kiss is all I get before the man leaves me in need, and he's out the door before I can think to call him back.
Locking the door behind him, I turn off the lights and return to my lonely bed, lost in the thoughts that if I'm lucky, maybe I can get one Jim Ellison to join me--soon. Still dressed in Azir's robe, I turn off the bedside lamp and try to sleep. Damn, I should've asked Jan-Michel what he was able to find out. Too late now, better to wait for the Watcher/Immortal to cool off before I ask.
Dee wrapped her fingers around the smooth brass dowels of the headboard, trying very, very hard not to simply grab her lover and just take what she needed. His mouth moved down, his tongue leaving damp trails over her stomach, his breath cooling the warm patches, creating goosebumps. Her back arched up off the mattress as she tried in vain to maintain contact. She watched him watch her as his fingertips traced over her skin, moving slowly downwards. Oh, goddess, she was ready, had been ready for nearly twenty minutes, and still he tortured her. His hand stroked over her hip and to the inside of her thigh, ignoring her aching need, his fingers tickling the back of her leg.
"You like that, angel?" he purred.
"Fuck you, Blair," she snapped at him, and he laughed.
"I'll bet that's what you want," he replied seductively. "Only I'm not ready to give that to you now. You know you like what I'm doing." He bent down, planting a wet kiss at the junction of her thigh and hip.
Of its own volition, her hand let go of the headboard and snagged in his hair, trying unsuccessfully to guide him to where he was needed most. "Uh, uh. You're not playing fair. You promised." Getting up from the bed, Blair crossed the room to the closet, and returned a moment later, carrying what she recognized as the silk belt from her robe. Her heart began to pound in her chest.
"Lobo, you know I don't like being out of control. It's hard enough for me to lie here and not touch you. I can't do this."
"Shh, of course you can, baby. I know not being 'on top' is difficult for you. I'm just going to make it easier, okay?" He looped the soft cloth around her right wrist, tying it off in a quick-release knot, then threaded the other end through the bars of the headboard and tied her left wrist the same way. "See? You don't have to fight your instincts anymore, because it's out of your hands. You can get free any time you want, and you know our safe word." He cupped a hand to his ear.
"The safe word is 'wolf'." She tugged on her bonds, nervous and excited all at the same time.
Blair leaned over her, kissing her deeply, thoroughly, then ran his hands down her body, followed more slowly by his mouth. He teased her breasts with tiny licks and bites, hardening her nipples into points he sucked and caressed. He moved down over her stomach, his hands rubbing in long strokes over her abs and down her thighs, while he kissed and licked and nipped at her smooth skin. She could feel herself surrendering under his touch as every nerve ending came alive. "That's it, lover. Relax for me."
He moved between her thighs, his hands and mouth still teasing, still avoiding the area she wanted him so desperately to touch. He was kissing his way up her inner thigh, having flipped her legs over his shoulders, blowing oh so gently on her hot, damp skin. She felt her muscles quivering in anticipation, needing him to taste her, needing to climax from that intimate caress…
And the phone rang.
"Son of a bitch! Hold that thought, honey." Disentangling himself from between her legs, Blair fumbled for the phone. "What!"
"Didn't you ever hear of saying 'hello' when you answer the phone?"
"Jim, this is not a good time." The hand not holding the phone began to stroke Dee's stomach, and he was rewarded with a low moan.
"You told me to call when I needed picked up. I need picked up. Hang on a second, Chief." Blair found himself listening to a slightly muffled conversation. "Yeah, Lee?"
"So am I."
"I'm here now, Ellison. You can leave my charge alone." Uh-oh. Who in the hell is that?
"Jan? I warned you. Back off. What I choose to do, who I choose to do it with, is none of your concern when I'm tucked away in my rooms." Must have been LaFollet. Sounds like Jim did exactly what Blair had warned him about.
"Is dead! I know that! But he wouldn't want me to just fade away, pining his loss! I'm a grown woman! A woman with needs! You're just my damn bodyguard! Get the hell out of here!" Blair winced at the sound of a door being slammed.
"Jim, man, are you still there?"
"Uh, yeah, Chief. I'll meet you downstairs in fifteen minutes."
Hanging up the phone, Blair looked back at Dee. "Did you get all that?"
Sighing, she said, "Yeah, I got all that. Sounds like I will have to do some smoothing of ruffled feathers. I think Lee and I ought to do brunch tomorrow."
"Angel, I'm sorry, I don't want to leave you this way…" He was already off the bed, pulling on his jeans.
"Think of it this way, I'll be waiting for you when you come back." Dee licked her lips seductively, and Blair suddenly had a problem getting his zipper up.
Yanking a sweatshirt over his head, he turned around to face her. "You still going to be tied up?"
She raised an eyebrow at him. "You want me to be?"
He shuddered, and knew she was probably overdosing on the pheromones rolling off of him. Leaning over the bed, Blair kissed her, feeling her tongue slide over his. When they parted, he said, "Yeah, I wanna come back to find you just like this. Wild and untamed and dangerous."
She growled at him. "Tell Ellison no stops on the way back."
Blair headed down the stairs. "Right! No stops! And he owes me and you big time!"
Blair turned the truck onto the street leading to Lee's hotel. He'd been thinking about what he was going to say to Jim from the moment he'd left Dee's apartment, and he still hadn't come up with the right approach. He slapped his hand against the steering wheel. Damn it, he just should have come back after dropping Dee and Megan off. With both himself and Jim there, any impropriety could have been avoided. He shook his head. He couldn't believe Jim. As many times as he'd gotten in trouble with female witnesses and suspects before, he'd still gone ahead and done it again, judging by the argument Blair had overheard.
He remembered the conversation he'd had with Dee earlier in the evening. "Then don't you think you owe Jim the opportunity to find this kind of happiness? He's the only one who can say whether or not he can deal with a relationship with one of us." Blair wanted Jim to be happy, he really did, and if Jim decided Lee Eolia was the woman for him, then he would give his blessings, regardless of his own feelings toward the Immortal. But right now she was a suspect in a case that was becoming more confusing by the moment. It was not the time to be starting a relationship, as Blair knew painfully well. Maya's face flitted through his memory, and he gripped the wheel a little tighter. If Jim hadn't learned from his own disastrous experiences, then he should have learned from Blair's. And as his Guide, I have the unenviable task of pointing that out to him, without betraying my Watcher's Oath. Perhaps a little humor to start off with?
Tires squealed on wet pavement as Blair pulled the blue-and-white Ford to a stop under the overhang in front of the Excelsior. Yanking open the passenger door, Jim swung inside. Letting out the clutch and shifting into drive, Blair broke the silence. "Your timing really sucks, man," he said with a grin.
"Hmm? What? Thanks for the lift." Jim was staring distractedly out the window.
Sighing, Blair slid around a corner, the truck fish-tailing for a moment before straightening out. Ellison grabbed reflexively for the dashboard, but didn't comment, his lack of response quite out of character. "Okaaaay, is the real Jim Ellison being held prisoner on some alien space ship?"
"Sorry, Chief. Guess my mind's still back at the hotel."
Uh-huh. Along with some other parts of his anatomy, if Blair knew his partner. "You didn't listen to a word I said earlier, did you?"
The other man turned his head toward Blair, his brow creasing in confusion. "You told me my timing sucked."
Blair shook his head and slammed on the brakes as the stoplight shifted from yellow to red. "I mean, from earlier tonight. My advice to you, guide to sentinel. You know--Jim, you don't know what you're getting into. Redheads and you don't mix, yada, yada, yada. Went in one ear and out the other, right?" He tried to keep his tone light, but his expression was serious.
Jim growled in his throat. "Chief, not now." Blair began to pull forward now that the light had turned green. "Christ! Watch where you're going, you almost hit that car!"
"Sorry! Sometimes you just make me so damn mad, you know? Like tonight, when from the moment you said you were staying with Lee, I knew you weren't thinking straight. Maybe you should've called me sooner…or taken a cold shower, a walk in the rain, something to cool down....."
"Oh for god's sake, Sandburg!"
"I heard every word of that argument Lee had with LaFollet. Sounded to me like the two of you got a little carried away and got caught."
"Shut up. It wasn't anything like that."
"Oh, no? 'I'm here now, Ellison. You can leave my charge alone.' LaFollet isn't someone to mess with Jim, and neither is Lee."
Ellison's eyes narrowed as he stared at his partner. "You know something I don't?"
"I know you. And you don't have the best track record when it comes to getting involved with suspects. The names Laura, Lila and Veronica ring any bells? And let's not get started on Alex Barnes." Blair received a snort in reply. "Fine, be that way. Just don't come running to me when things don't turn out the way you planned." He skidded through the turn onto Prospect Avenue.
"What is with you? And why are you taking it out on my truck?" The sentinel turned toward his guide, and Blair recognized the look of concentration on his face. He was being put under the Ellison microscope. "I interrupted something when I called, didn't I? Is that why I'm getting the third degree about my love life all of a sudden, because I interrupted yours?"
Blair flashed him a grin of triumph. "So now you're admitting you were putting the moves on her and got caught with your hand in the cookie jar."
Jim shrugged. "It's not like you've never been in the same situation. I remember last night, for example."
Bumping over the curb into the parking lot of 852, Blair shoved the truck into park and shut off the engine. "Sleeping with my girlfriend and screwing a suspect are two very different things, Jim." Hopping out of the Ford, he slammed the door and walked toward the building. Jim caught up with him on the second floor landing, grabbing Blair by the arm. His eyes flashing in frustration, Blair wrenched out of his grasp, but made no move to continue up the stairs.
"I don't need a watchdog, Sandburg. I certainly don't need you to tell me how to do my job and I resent the idea that you think I can't take care of myself when it comes to women. I hope you're planning on spending the rest of the night at Dee's place, because if you're entertaining any thoughts of continuing this conversation, I don't want you in ours." Taking the last of the stairs two at a time, Jim unlocked the door of 307 and slipped inside, closing the door and throwing the deadbolt, effectively locking his roommate out.
"Great! Just great, Sandburg! You handled that so well--not!" Blair used his key to Diandra's loft to let himself back in. Moving quietly across the studio, he started to strip out of his clothes as he climbed the spiral staircase to the master bedroom. "Dee? Angel?" No soft voice answered his queries. Reaching the top of the stairs, he saw his lover had fallen asleep, her hands still tied by the silk belt to the headboard. Not wanting her to wake with stiff muscles, he untied the belt and released her arms. Crawling into the bed with her, he snuggled up against her back, whispering, "Jim still owes us both, angel."
After tossing and turning most of the night, Jim stumbled out of bed just before ten in the morning. His head had still been reeling when he'd gone to bed, as he mentally reviewed the QuestScape Incident, his roommate's cryptic words, and what had nearly happened between himself and Lee Eolia. Jim had fallen into a restless sleep sometime around four AM. As he pulled on his robe, he did what had become a habit in the past few years; he scanned the loft with his senses, looking to locate his Guide, and found nothing.
Swearing at himself, Jim stomped down the stairs while sending his hearing ranging out even further, trying to see if, by chance, Blair had stayed overnight in Pallas' apartment. The lack of any sounds over there bothered him, until he recalled his last words to his friend, and worse, his actions. "You locked him out, Ellison. You didn't even really pay any attention to what it was he was trying to tell you."
Readying the coffee maker, he set it to brew while he took a shower. Sundays were normally his day off, to relax, putter around the apartment, cleaning or sometimes just taking a long drive or a fishing trip. He was shaving when his whirling thoughts about the encounter with Ventriss suddenly stopped and congealed for him. Jim managed to nick his chin with his twin edged blade as he jerked from the hard thought. "Damn it! Just how in the hell did he know to ask Connor about a disc?" Rinsing his blade, toweling off his face, he continued to ponder the question. "I didn't tell him, neither did Connor or Simon... Who called him? Could they have dropped the ball?"
Speeding through the rest of his morning routine, Jim gathered up his and Connor's notes and reports on the incident from Friday night and decided to take them in to the station.
Once there, his first stop was the Communications Office to have the phone logs from late Friday night until early Saturday morning pulled, along with the tapes. Then he stopped by Forensics, checking to see if they had found anything that might lead him to who had attacked Lee in the alley and had murdered her young bodyguard. The technician on duty coolly informed him that the lab was still sorting through everything, but they had managed to clear the rather ornate dagger, newly purchased if the receipt was any indication, and it could be released if needed.
Jim thanked the harried technician and left the lab. Taking the logs, tapes of all the phone calls that either came into or went out from the central precinct, and the notes and files up to Major Crimes, he was surprised to find Inspector Megan Connor already there. She was sitting at her desk, reading over a thick file and scribbling notes every now and then in a notepad.
Dropping his load on his desk, he crossed over to the Inspector. "Morning, Connor."
Megan nearly threw her pen at him. "Ellison! Don't. Do. That!" He could hear her heart racing, and she took a deep breath before growling, "Bloody heart attack in the making. You trying to get rid of me, Jimbo?"
Jim smiled, amused at her reaction. "Sorry about that, Megan. Thought that you would've heard me come in."
"That's your area of expertise, not mine, mate."
Trying to see what had her so engrossed, he nodded and leaned over her shoulder. "So? What's got you so wound up this morning?"
Flipping the file over so that the senior detective could see the case number and header, she replied, "Captain suggested that I read up on this case, to get a feel for how you and Sandy might react. And to maybe understand why you and Mr. Ventriss seem to get along like water and fire."
Reading the case header, Jim sighed. "The Chung murder... Can't say that I'm sorry that the punk that killed him is dead."
"That would be Bradley Ventriss, right?"
"Brad. Yeah, that's the one." He started to walk back towards his desk, not wanting to rehash the case, not now.
Megan reached out and managed to snag him by the sleeve of his jacket, pulling him back. "Jim? I get the impression that there is more to this old case than what is in the reports. I was on vacation when this went down back in May and it was out of the news when I got back. Then Sandy and I were undercover on the Cristo case when the kid was killed. Please, talk to me."
Jerking his arm away from her, then immediately regretting the action, he blew out a frustrated snort and nodded. "Okay. But not here." There were only a few uniforms and plainclothes officers in the bullpen, along with one civilian aide; but going strictly from memory, none of them had been involved in the Chung case. And while telling Connor what had happened might color her perception of Ventriss, and the case they were working now, he felt that she had a right to know.
Megan managed a quirky smile. "I could use a break, been here since before nine." She rose from her seat as he nodded, accepting her choice of locations to talk in.
"I thought that you and Dee worked out on the weekends?" Jim questioned as he led the way into the break room, holding the door for her, then closing it and engaging the lock.
"Normally." She walked over to the microwave and, after filling a cup with water, placed it in the machine to heat it up and pulled out a tea bag from the stash Jim knew she and Sandburg had placed in one of the drawers. "I think Diandra felt I could use the break, after the pounding that she gave me yesterday morning. Any way, she called me early this morning, saying she had other stuff to take care of and hoped that I didn't mind her begging off." Jim moved over to the coffee maker and poured himself a large mug of the bitter brew. The microwave dinged, and after setting the tea in the water to steep, she joined him at the table. Sitting down across from him, she said, "Okay, so tell me everything."
"You read the charges against Brad Ventriss?"
"Sure. Conspiracy to commit Theft, Breaking and Entering, and Murder. The charges of Theft, B&E and Murder after the crime was done. Strong Arm Robbery, Terroristic Threatening, Battery in the Third, Aggravated Assault on a Teacher or other School Official, Computer Records Tampering, Inference with Governmental Operations, Conspiracy to Defraud, Fraud, Introduction of a Controlled Substance into another, Rape--" The incredulous look on his face stopped her.. "What? Did I miss something?"
"You did that all from memory?"
"I was taking careful notes. About the only thing you didn't charge the kid and his girlfriend with was treason against the crown..."
"We thought about it." Jim sipped his coffee, his expression showing he was still trying to grasp just how she had managed to memorize all the charges that he and Joel Taggart had piled on Brad Ventriss. "How far into the file did you get?"
"Far enough to find that Susanne Nadine is doing the minimum sentence possible for her part in the crimes and that charges that were placed against Henry Nadine and Norman Ventriss, but not why they are still out walking the streets of Cascade. Back home, in Australia, Ventriss Senior and Henry Nadine would have been locked away until their trial dates."
"And what were those charges? Against the fathers?"
"You want the whole she-bang?" At his nod, she closed her eyes and recited, "Aiding and Abetting Felony Flight to Avoid Prosecution, Interference With Governmental Operations - specified as a Police investigation, and quite a few conspiracy charges. Mostly tied into the fact that they knew that their children had committed murder, theft, B&E, and strong armed robbery and still assisted them in their flight from justice."
"Do you know what happened with those charges, Connor?" Jim looked at her, saw her negative shake of her head and his grip nearly broke the cup in his hands. "They were dropped. Not even the Federal Government wanted to touch them after Ventriss' son died while in custody."
He snorted. "Politics. And a City/County Prosecutor who was afraid of the possible lawsuits that Ventriss and the Nadines could have filed against the City, the Police Department and yours truly."
Dee rapped on the door of the Presidential Suite, then took a step back. "Are you sure they're in?" Blair asked.
"Oh, yeah, they're there. My spidey sense is tingling." She was rewarded with a giggle from him. "Are you sure Jim won't be ticked that you just took off without talking to him this morning?"
Blair shrugged. "Maybe, but I couldn't get into the loft if I'd wanted. He locked me out last night."
"What? You didn't tell me that."
"You were asleep. I didn't want to wake you just to bitch about stubborn sentinels."
Slipping an arm around his waist, she pulled him into a one-armed hug. "I'm sorry about falling asleep on you. I'll make it up to you, I promise."
He kissed her cheek. "Believe me, I'm not worried about it." The door to the suite opened at that moment, revealing a cautious Jan-Michel.
"Mr. Sandburg, Dr. Pallas, is Lee expecting you?" He opened the door just enough for them to enter, and closed it behind them, then returned his gun to the holster he wore over his shoulder.
Dee raised a quizzical eyebrow at him. "Who were you expecting?"
"I…no one, that's just the thing. Can't be too careful." Crossing the living area, he knocked on the bedroom door. "It's okay, Lee. It's just Dr. Pallas and Blair Sandburg."
The door opened and Lee entered. Walking over to Dee, she gave her a hug. "Dee, I wasn't expecting you."
"I thought I should bring this by." Reaching inside her long duster, she produced the sword they had retrieved the night before, along with the wire bolo, handing them both to the other woman. "You're going to have to have the edge re-sharpened." Shrugging out of her coat, she laid it on one of the chairs and took a seat on the couch. Following her lead, Blair did the same.
Eolia looked the blade over carefully, immediately noticing the nicks. "Damn it! And I didn't think to bring my whetstone with me." She turned her attention to the wire. "What in the hell? Where did you find this, Diandra?"
"It was wrapped around the blade. Reminds me of a bolo."
"It's called a StrungBuck round. Not sold in the open market. Good thing I ducked when I did." She dropped the item in question on the coffee table, then wiped her hands down her pants leg.
"I should say so!"
Laying the sword aside, Lee dropped onto the loveseat, and Jan-Michel perched on the arm of a chair. "Yeah, in testing the rounds, the developers actually decapitated a few target dummies. Not the way I want to leave this life, you know?"
Blair leaned forward in his seat slightly, eying the strange weapon now lying on the coffee table. "So who would use such a weapon? Not any thief I've ever run into."
"They are mostly used by the Federal government agencies. I know the CIA used them back in the early 90's. But unless a shipment was stolen or misdirected, I don't see how someone could get their hands on them. As for who would use such a thing?" Lee shrugged. "I just don't know."
Dee chewed her lip, turning her suspicion over in her mind. Finally, she spoke her fear aloud. "An immortal perhaps? Though the odds of it hitting the intended victim at just the right angle would be too high to make it really effective as a weapon. A sword is still more accurate."
"I don't think so. Like you said, too inaccurate to make sure you get the job done. Not to mention, there's no honor in using that type of weapon in combat." Lee folded her arms across her chest, and Dee wondered at the defensive posture, automatically tuning in to her with her senses.
"Not all Immortals share our sense of honor, Lia. Besides, you would know if he were immortal, wouldn't you?" Lia's heart rate sped up slightly, but not any more than could be expected by remembering a traumatic experience.
"I think so, but I'm not sure. I mean, look at Jan-Michel. I used to be able to sense preemies, but I didn't with him."
Dee noticed that Blair and Jan-Michel were engaged in some form of silent communication. "Okay, what is it? The two of you know something we don't?"
Blair frowned. "I hate to bring this up, but…what if this guy's a Hunter?"
Jan-Michel shook his head. "We have no evidence to support that. As far as we know, his running into Lee at QuestScape was purely accidental. So a thief had some exotic weapons. Is it as far-fetched to believe he's some rogue CIA agent who happened to take some weapons with him when he left the agency?"
Dee felt Blair shudder next to her, and her hand automatically found his, giving it a comforting squeeze. "I have a friend who can look into that possibility for us," Blair replied, "and I'll talk to Joe about the Hunters, see if he's heard about them reforming or any of them continuing solo."
There was an awkward silence for a few moments, as each of them considered the horror that was the Hunters, a group of Watchers who had decided their role was not to watch and record, but to eliminate Immortals. Lee finally said, "Look I'm starved, how about the rest of you?" At their nods, she reached for the phone. "I'll order breakfast sent up, if we're going to be discussing this kind of topic." After taking everyone's orders, she called it in to room service, then settled back down in her seat. "Okay, Dee you've asked your questions, now it's my turn. What," she pointed her finger at Blair, "is he?"
Dee looked at Blair, who shrugged, then she turned her gaze back to Eolia. "What do you mean?"
The other immortal switched to Greek from English. "I've touched him, Dee. I felt something, some kind of power, but I can't tell. Is he to be one of us? Are you training him?"
Laughing lightly, Diandra replied in English, "Blair's a shaman, Lia. Not one of us." Her words sent a visible shiver through the other woman. "A good shaman, as unlike the one who hurt you as day is from night," she soothed, dropping once again into Greek.
Running a hand through her hair, Eolia took a deep breath, then smiled and nodded to show her mentor the memory had passed. "Oh. Maybe that explains the Aussie, too. I felt a similar... oh, I don't know, presence, from her as well."
Dee hesitated, shooting a brief glance at Blair, then said, "Megan and Blair share certain...qualities, yes."
"That's a relief. I thought I was losing my mind, sensing Immortals at every turn."
"No, there are not that many of us in Cascade, just myself, you and Jan-Michel, as far as I know." Dee gave her a grin. "Seacouver, however, is another matter."
"No kidding. MacLeod and those that are stupid enough to go there. Not a very restful city for Immortals. I don't think I've sensed that many Immortals since my last trip to NYC."
"Oh, I find it restful enough. I live in Mac's building," Dee said.
"I thought you lived here?" Lee asked.
Dee slid her gaze over Blair, feeling him squeeze her hand in return. "I split my time between the two."
The expression on Lee's face softened, and she smiled at them. "I'm glad that you found someone to share your life with, even if he is a mortal."
Shaking her head in amusement, Dee chastised the other woman, "Lia, your prejudice is showing. Mortals
are the same as us. Blair is not 'just a mortal'. He's my heart."
"I know. Sorry. It's just hard to watch your mortal lover age and die, while you remain the same." Lee pulled her feet up onto the cushion with her, wrapping her arms around her knees. "I think that's why
Azir's death is so troublesome to me. We were supposed to live and love forever."
"I'm so sorry for your loss, Lia."
Sighing, she said, "The worst part was even though we were separated by a whole nation, I felt him die. I never want to feel that pain again."
Dee nodded. "I know the feeling, Lia. It's what drove me insane when Lydia died."
"I'm not far from that abyss, Dee. I want to just let go and fall into it, but I can't. Not now."
"It gets better, I promise it does." Reaching across the space between them, she rubbed her friend's arm.
"I hope so." She switched from Greek back to English. "One other thing I wanted to ask you. Last night, in the alley, what were you doing to John? Why did Ji... Ellison call out for you?"
Dee had hoped Lee had forgotten about that, but she supposed there was no harm in revealing her ability, as long as it didn't leave the room. "I've learned to use my energy to heal others."
Lee's eyes widened in surprise, as did Jan-Michel's. "How? I don't understand."
" I...just push my quickening outside myself and into another, to speed up their own healing ability. It's hard to explain Lia, and it took me 2000 years to learn." Diandra extended her hand in front of her, palm up, and concentrated. After a few moments, her palm began to glow with a faint blue light, and tiny sparks danced across her skin. "A light display this small is fairly easy. Healing or something more powerful than this can be exhausting, depending on how much of my Quickening I expend."
"Gods, I can feel that, like I did last night. I didn't realize that we could do such a thing." Eolia sighed sadly. "Too bad I didn't know about that aspect of the Quickening before..."
The glow surrounding her hand slowly fading, Dee replied, "Even if I had arrived sooner, I don't know if I could have helped your friend. He had already released his spirit from this world. I'm sorry, Lia, I did the best I could."
A knock on the door forestalled whatever Lee's answer would have been. Getting to his feet, Jan-Michel crossed the room, his gun in hand. He peered through the peephole for a moment, then opened the door to admit the room service waiter. Once the bill had been taken care of and they had moved to the large dining table, Lee's gaze lit on Jan-Michel. "Jan? Did C and Sharee leave to go make arrangements for John David?"
Her bodyguard looked up from his plate to answer her. "Yes. May take a while, but they know they are to check in every hour with me."
"Good. And what about your talk with the manager here? Can we extend our stay?"
"That's not looking too good, Lee. Something about a convention and a previous booking."
"Damn. Okay, as soon as we're done here, start looking for other accommodations. I think the police made it very clear that you and I are not to leave town...."
Dee set her coffee cup down. "That's not a problem, Lia. The two of you can stay in my guest rooms. That will give you access to my workout studio as well." Feeling Blair kick her under the table, she raised an eyebrow at him.
"Dee, that's sweet, but I really shouldn't impose..."
"You won't be imposing...um, will she, Lobo?"
An unrecognizable emotion flickered across his face, then he replied, "No, that's fine."
Lee glanced across the table to LaFollet. "Jan, that sound okay to you?"
"Whatever." He looked at Dee. "You have a workout studio?"
She nodded. "Yes, it's fairly large. Enough room for martial arts or fencing. A universal machine, a heavy bag, etc."
"Great," Lee said with a grin, "just what I need to train him. And Jan? You'd best get used to carrying a sword, don't think that I missed the fact that you weren't yesterday."
"Lee, I don't have one, remember? I've worked out with Azir, but I always borrowed a blade before."
Getting to her feet, Lee said, "Wait here." Disappearing into the bedroom, she returned carrying a sword. "Here, I think Azir would want you to have this."
LaFollet looked shocked. "I.. I couldn't, Lee. You should keep it."
His teacher shook her head. "No, I have mine, plus my backup which Dee returned, so I'm covered."
Dee spoke up. "It's tradition, Jan-Michel. A teacher always gives their student their first sword."
A bright smile lit up Lee's face. "See, Jan? Can't argue with tradition." Crossing the room to stand before him, she presented him with the sword. "From Saladin to Azir to you. One day, you can pass it on to your
"I…thank you, Lee." Setting the sword aside, he turned his attention back to his food, seeming somewhat embarrassed by the whole thing.
As the meal was drawing to a close, Blair asked, "Jan, have you talked to Joe since you…um…crossed over?"
The new Immortal shook his head. "No, I reported to my superior yesterday, but I didn't mention it. And I don't really know Joe very well. I've only spoken to him on the phone a couple times and corresponded through email. I'm not really sure how to handle my situation."
"I think you need to let Joe know what happened, let him decide how to deal with it. I suspect he'll keep the knowledge to himself, but it's important that he know, to keep the Chronicles complete." Blair gave him a grin. "Besides, it's not like you're the first Immortal Watcher."
"I'm not?" LaFollet's voice was incredulous.
Dee laughed, and Lee looked amused. "Not by a long shot. In fact, rumor has it that the Watchers were started thousands of years ago by an Immortal who wanted to keep tabs on his fellow Immortals. Not to have an advantage over them, but to avoid them."
Blair nodded. "If the two of you don't have any plans for this afternoon, why don't we run over to Joe's in Seacouver, and we can let him know the situation. Any objections?" At the others' head shakes, Blair said, "Good, I'll give him a call and let him know we're coming. I should probably let Jim know where we're going, too."
"And I'd like to check in with Megan, in case she wants to come along. I think she's addicted to Joe's barbequed ribs," Dee said.
"Sounds like a plan then. Lee, can I use your phone?"
Megan Connor had left a brooding James Ellison in the break room, after his little revelation about the power of money and political clout on the Justice system of Washington State, and returned to her research on the QuestScape incident from Friday night. Now, three hours later, she was looking through the report Lee Eolia had given Rafe after the aborted attack on her in the alleyway.
"That can't be right, can it?" Reaching for the original case file, the one Captain Banks had cleared her to read, she paged through it until she found the vitals and booking photo of Bradley Ventriss. Comparing the stats in the old file with the statement the WindHawk Executive had given about the man who had shot her bodyguard, she muttered under her breath, "Damn, could it be?" Only one way to find out.
Calling down to Records, she requested the investigation file containing the report on Bradley Ventriss' death in the Cascade City/County Jail. The clerk on duty offered to bring the file up to her, but she opted to get it herself.
Crossing over to Ellison's desk, where the man was still listening to audiotapes through a set of headphones, she tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. "Jim?"
Looking up at her, pain clouding his normally clear blue eyes, he made a 'go ahead' gesture and pulled one of the earpieces from his ear. "What it is, Connor?"
"I've got to run down to Records for a few moments. I'm hoping Dee calls soon. Can I forward my calls to you?"
Jim glanced around the bullpen, seeming surprised to see he and Megan were the only ones there at the moment. "Yeah, sure. Where did everybody go?"
Megan answered over her shoulder as she crossed back to her desk, forwarded her phone and grabbed up the files she needed. "Got a call about an hour ago. Major pile up on the freeway. Uniforms went to assist just as the call came in from the field that the accident may have been caused by a drive-by. McMillan and Jorgenson responded from our department, along with Jones from the Gang Unit."
"Lucky them." Jim popped the tape out of the cassette player and loaded another one in. "Good thing we're officially off duty, huh?"
Clutching the files to her chest, she scowled at him. "Like you wouldn't have responded yourself if you had heard the call?" Her only answer was a derisive snort. "Right. You find anything on those tapes yet? Or did you really sneak in your Santana and Bad Company collection?" Thinking that was a good line to leave on, she did just that.
Jim winced as the sound of her heels hitting the hard flooring reverberated in his head. Mentally reaching out to 'turn down' his sense of hearing, he dug in his desk drawer for the bottle of acetaminophen tablets he kept stashed there. Washing two pills down with the last of his cold coffee, he grimaced and decided to refresh his cup. Walking into the break room, he found the communal pot completely empty and set about making more of the liquid nectar.
Once the machine was percolating, he turned his thoughts back to the tapes he'd already listened to, trying to sort out the sounds of the multiple tracks he found on them. The supervisor in Communications had offered to let him sit in her office and listen to the playback on the editing/playback machine - the one that would only play one of the 50 some odd tracks at a time - but he'd turned down the offer. From the size of his headache, Jim was regretting that action on his part.
The gurgling sound of the coffee maker finishing its task pulled him back to the here and now. Pouring a fresh cup, he walked back out to the bullpen and to the task he'd set for himself, auditory sorting of the multi-track tapes to find the one call with Norman Ventriss' voice on it.
After reviewing the last tape, and finding nothing on it that would explain how Ventriss had known what was reportedly taken from the lab, he went back to his notes from Friday's incident. Going over the names of the QuestScape workers who had been in the building when the alarms went off, he came across a name he thought he recalled from somewhere else, Sharee Milton. "Wait a damn minute..." Leaning back in his chair, eyes closed, Jim sent his mind back over the last two days. "Yes! Damn it, that's it!"
Reaching out to his phone, he looked over his notes and found the number that was listed for one Mrs. Milton and punched it in.
"Cascade Excelsior, how may I help you?" The woman's voice on the other end sounded vaguely bored.
"This is Detective Ellison, Cascade PD. I'm trying to get in touch with a Mrs. Sharee Milton, is she still registered as a guest?"
"One moment, sir." Jim picked up a pencil and started tapping it on the desk. "I'm not sure if this is who you're looking for, sir. But we do have a Mr. & Mrs. C. Milton registered."
"Thank you. Can you ring me through to their room, please?" The woman didn't say anything, just disconnected and he found himself listening to a ringing phone. After seven rings, he hung up.
"Okay, one more place to try..." Going back over his notes, he found the next number he needed to call and dialed.
"QuestScape. Shaping the future of technology. How can we be of assistance today?"
"I need to speak to someone in your Personnel office, please."
"May I ask who is calling?" This woman's voice sounded almost as bored as the one from the hotel.
"Oh! I'm sorry, but there's no one in that office on Sundays. If it's important, I can page the Personnel Manager for you, Detective."
After the now cheerful receptionist took down his information to forward to the person he needed to talk with, Jim opened his desk drawer to pull out a fresh note pad just as his phone rang. "Ellison."
"Detective, Samantha Smythers, you needed to talk to someone at QuestScape about something? How can I be of service?"
"You know who I am?"
"Of course, sir. Bunnie told me who needed to speak to me and Mr. Ventriss left explicit instructions that all QuestScape employees were to assist you, should you call or come by."
Bunnie? Probably an air headed blonde. "I'm just calling to confirm employment on a witness I interviewed after Friday night's incident."
"Oh, okay. I happened to be by the office when the page came out, so I'm in my office. Let me call up the right program... Okay, name?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Detective. But as of yesterday, Mrs. Milton and her husband are no longer working with us."
Smythers sighed. "Damn shame too. Sharee was working out great in our IS department and Clancy seemed to enjoy his work in our Hospitality unit."
"Did they give a reason?"
"One moment, I think I still have their papers here... Ah, I do. Death in the family. They haven't been with QuestScape long enough to have earned leave time, and they weren't sure how long they'd have to be gone."
"Thank you, Ms. Smythers. You've been very helpful." He hung up the phone and started to rethink the whole case. Clarence and Sharee Milton worked for QuestScape, but also for WindHawk Securities, the company that was owned by Lee Eolia. He started to scribble his thoughts down on paper, a technique he'd picked up from Sandburg over the years, letting his thoughts go where they wanted to, not bothering to track them.
After picking up the reports filed on Bradley Ventriss' death in the detention center, Megan made her way over to the coroner's office. She was hoping to find someone on duty who remembered the incident, or maybe even Dr. Dan Wolfe, the man who had done the autopsy on the younger Ventriss. Stepping into the chilly morgue, Connor smiled to herself. "Hey, Dan. Didn't realize you were pulling weekends."
The Medical Examiner looked up from behind the table he was standing at, his hands still inside the corpse on the slab, and nodded. "Only when my assistants get sick and we get a few too many cases to keep in the coolers. What can I do for you, Connor?"
Covering her mouth and trying to control her stomach, Megan felt slightly ill. The ME was continuing to examine the body and was pulling out various organs, laying them on another, smaller, table beside him. "I just wanted to ask you about an autopsy you did back in September."
"September? That's almost four months back. I'm lucky if I can recall what I ate for breakfast." Dan stepped away from the table, stripping off his gloves. "Let's go into my office, he'll keep for a while."
Following the heavily built Native American into his office, trying to ignore the blood and other stains on his lab coat, Megan doggedly went on with her line of questioning. "I'm hoping you can recall this one, Dan. Bradley Ventriss?"
"Ventriss? Oh yeah! The kid Ellison and Sandburg nailed on the Chung murder." Dan snorted. "Ironic he got capped himself in a damn jailhouse brawl. What did you need to know, Megan?" He poured himself a cup of coffee, silently offering some to his guest.
"No, thanks. Uh, how did he die?"
"Shank to the brainstem." Seeing her confusion, he tried to explain. "A shank is a homemade knife inmates tend to make when they're bored. This one might have even been made from a metal nail file, the entry wound was that small." Placing his cup on the edge of his desk, he walked back around to stand by her side and, with a gentle hand, pointed to a spot on the back of the Inspector's neck. "Went right in here, right between the c-1 and c-2 spots on the spine. Kid must have dropped like a stone and death was pretty much instantaneous."
"I see." Megan nodded and looked over the reports from the Jail investigation team. "They never found out who killed him or the weapon, right?"
"As far as I know." He picked up his cup and sipped from it. "There's another little weird incident that occurred right around the same time. Not related, but weird all the same."
"Oh? Tell me, I like weird tales. I tend to share them with the family back home."
"We lost a body."
"What?!?" Megan felt her heart racing, her mind clicking into overdrive as the possibilities started to scream in her consciousness.
"I had just cleared Ventriss' body to be released to the funeral home, where it was to be immediately cremated, when one of my assistants came in babbling about a body not being in the drawer it was assigned to."
"Does that kind of thing happen often?"
"No, it doesn't. The missing body was a vagrant, and while I hadn't done the post mortem examine yet, I figured he had somehow gotten mixed up with the ones who had already been cleared to go to Potter's Field." The ME shrugged. "First time that has ever happened on my watch, but probably won't be the last."
Megan nodded, thanked Dan for his time, and left the morgue, her thoughts in a tumble. Bradley Ventriss, killed by an unknown assailant, dead for just over four months, and now a case at QuestScape that involved possibly stolen programs. Was there a connection? Was the young Mr. Ventriss the real brains behind the original thefts from his father's company, or was he just the middleman? Was he really dead? Alone, in the elevator, Megan snorted and chided herself out loud. "Just because Dee's Immortal, doesn't mean they're everywhere. You're reading too much into this."
Stepping back into the bullpen, she barely had enough time to put the report files on her desk when Ellison called out to her.
"Connor, I want to go back over the scene at QuestScape. Wanna come with?" He was already swinging into his heavy leather jacket.
"Sure, mate." Grabbing her coat, the one she knew Sandy and Jim referred to as her 'pink dingo,' she followed him out of the offices and put aside her thoughts about Brad Ventriss. "What are you hoping to find, Jim? I thought we had covered the scene pretty well..."
"You had a point the other night. How did Lee get out of the building? And I'm hoping you don't mind, but I need to stop by the Excelsior on the way over to QuestScape."
"You going to ask Ms. Eolia out right how she got out?"
"Nope. I need to talk to her employees, the Miltons. They also worked at QuestScape until Saturday."
They had just reached his ancient truck when Jim's cell phone trilled out. "Just a second, Connor. Hello?"
Megan wished she had half the hearing ability Diandra and Jim had for the look on the senior detective's face was...interesting. Instead, she had to listen to just his side of the conversation.
"Hey, Chief. Yeah, sorry about that, I just wasn't in the mood to listen... Oh? Well, yeah, I think we can make it over there, hang on a sec." Jim looked over the bed of the truck at Megan. "Connor? You feel up to an evening at Joe's in Seacouver?"
"What? Oh, yeah, sure. Why not."
"Yeah, we'll meet you down there. What? Oh, Connor and I just have a few things to follow up on. No, that's why I asked her to go with me. Yeah, yeah, good training for us both. Sure. Talk to you later." Jim shut down the cell phone and climbed into the truck, unlocking her door by reaching across the cab.
"Jim? Why are we meeting Sandy at Joe's?" Megan had to ask as she joined him in the truck.
"He wanted a night out. Dee suggested they go down to Joe's and I guess LaFollet and Eolia are going with them." He cranked the truck over and backed out of the parking spot.
"That seem a bit odd to you?"
Jim smiled as he pulled out of the garage. "You didn't see it, did you?"
"LaFollet's tattoo." He tapped the inside of his wrist.
Megan caught the clue. "He's a Watcher? How does that tie in with Eolia?"
"I think he was her husband's Watcher. I called back to Seattle PD and had a chance to speak to the detective who worked Azir el Sadih's death. He claimed the crime scene was a mess, like a violent storm had passed through the area, but the weather that night had been clear."
"So Azir was Immortal! I knew it!" She slapped the dashboard in front of her in triumph. "But if Azir is dead, why is LaFollet still with WindHawk?"
"I think he didn't want to leave until Lee was over her grief. Maybe he's on leave from the Watchers."
"Yeah, or maybe she's Immortal?"
"Doubt it. I seriously doubt it."
Jim walked from the elevator to the door of the room the Miltons were registered to, followed by Megan. She waited as he knocked. "What are you hoping to find out, Jim?"
"I'm not sure, yet." The door to room 1508 swung open to reveal the husband, the tall Native American who had surprised Jim at Eolia's door the previous evening. "Mr. Milton? Detective Ellison and Inspector Connor," he gestured to Megan, who was also holding her Police ID up for the man to see. "I'd like to speak with you and your wife about QuestScape, if I could?"
Clarence Milton nodded and held the door open and motioned his visitors inside. "I kind of figured you'd be dropping by, Detective. Wait here, I'll go get Sharee."
They watched as the man disappeared behind a closed door. "Nice digs. QuestScape either pays better than I thought, or WindHawk Securities does." The room was smaller than the Presidential Suite they had seen last night, the one Lee Eolia was in, but only by half.
Sharee Milton appeared on the arm of her husband, a tiny woman compared to him, with almost twelve inches of height separating them. "C said you wanted to ask about QuestScape?" Her voice matched her body, tiny, sweet and almost child like.
Jim took the lead. "Yes, ma'am. I understand you no longer work for them? Either of you?"
"That's true, Detective. Sharee and I terminated ourselves Saturday, after the botched security check on Friday."
"How long were you employed there?" Megan asked.
"About a month. C and I are what's known as 'point men' - we arrive in the area of a security check long before the principle players, try to get hired on with the company and snoop around." Sharee sat down on a couch and invited the others to do the same. "It's all perfectly legal, as none of the information we send back to WindHawk is of a sensitive nature."
Jim scribbled a note on the pad he was working out of then looked over at the small woman. "There's been a question raised about what kind of information may have been taken from the Development Lab. Do you have any ideas on what was being worked on in there?"
Sharee seemed slightly uneasy. "Vaguely, but I'm not sure I should tell you."
"Why is that?"
"Because, if word gets out WindHawk divulged sensitive information, even in the course of a police investigation, none of our clients could ever trust us again," Clarence answered for his wife.
"Look, Milton, I don't mean to play hardball with you or your wife, but there is a chance someone at QuestScape is trying to set things up in such a manner that your boss, Lee, takes a fall for theft. Do you want to see that happen?"
The husband and wife looked at each other, some kind of silent communication taking place, then Sharee shook her head. "No, you're right, Ellison. C and I were thinking the very same thing while taking care of arrangements for John David." Folding her hands into her lap, Sharee sighed, then continued her thoughts. "The lab was working on a project for the Department of Defense. I had to go down there last week, Tuesday I think, and replace several motherboards. I overheard one of the researchers talking about how the last patch didn't solve anything and they really should scrap the whole project and start anew."
"Could that program have been stored on a disc? Something easily transported off site?" Megan asked, as Jim was trying to catch up on his notes.
"Maybe. But it would have to be a large disc, a DVD-RAM perhaps. But that isn't the only project that lab was working on, I'm sure."
"Mrs. Milton, were either of you aware of who had contracted with your company for the security check?"
Clarence smiled, "Of course. The whole team knew. Norman Ventriss."
Forty minutes later, Jim was pulling his truck into the parking lot in front of QuestScape, still not sure what in the heck he was hoping to find. Shutting off the engine, he looked over to Connor in the passenger seat. She had a pensive look on her face. "Megan? You getting as confused as I am?"
"Yes, I am. Did the security chief agree to meet with us?" she asked as she climbed out of the older model pickup.
"Sure did, even if he did grumble a bit about missing his football game." Jim slammed the driver's side door closed and joined his temporary partner on the sidewalk in front of the massive steel and glass building. Once inside, the Chief of QuestScape's internal security led them to his office where he had set up a TV/VCR and had several tapes waiting.
"I looked over the tapes after Friday's incident, Detectives, and I hate to admit this... But the quality is terrible. Mostly snow with only a few vague images."
"We'd like to look them over anyway, Mr. Bloch. And could we go over the lab again once we're through?" Megan asked of the man as Jim and he set up the first tape for viewing.
"No skin off my nose." Glancing at his watch, he made his excuses. "You know where the lab is, right? Well then, I'm just going to slip down to the break room and see if I can catch the last half of the game. You two need anything, anything at all, use the phone over there and call me at extension 2605." With that, the man left the two officers alone.
"Well, that was easier than I thought it would be." Megan slipped out of her coat, draping it over a chair, and walked over to Jim's side where he was already looking at the tape on the monitor. "Anything yet?"
"No. He was right; the quality sucks. I can barely make out any images on the tape."
"Step back a bit. Let's try using our heads and your eyes." Megan waited until Ellison had stepped back from the monitor and then closed in on his side, her hand resting on his back. "Forgive me if I get this wrong... Take a couple of deep breaths, concentrate on what you can almost see on the video, let my touch anchor you..."
The voice was wrong, but the technique sound, and soon Jim was sorting through the images on the screen. "Where did she come from?"
Stopping the tape, hitting rewind then play, he studied the tape one more time. "There's a woman, about Lee's height. She came into the lobby from the left, but I don't see where she came from..."
"A stairwell? The guard on duty had locked off the elevators."
"If so, then there are two stairwells and he only covered one. Damn, she disappeared off the screen, out of camera range. So she didn't leave by the front doors; I can see those." Jim stopped the tape and reached for the phone, dialing the extension the security man had given them. "Chief Bloch? Can you tell me where the entrances to the stairwells are in the lobby? Uh, huh. Okay, thanks. No, I think we're done here. We're just now going to head up to the lab." Turning back to Connor, he said, "There's a second stairwell, north side of the lobby. The doors are hidden by a group of ficus trees."
Megan grabbed her coat and followed him back out to the main lobby. Finding the potted trees was easy enough, as was the side entrance to the building, on the east side. "Looks like this may have been the way Ms. Eolia got out after all. She managed to avoid the security man by taking the stairs over there, crossed the lobby and went out this door."
"Maybe. Let's take a good look at the floor's layout when we get up to the lab."
Jim led the way up the stairwell the security guard had come up, asking Megan to stay behind, then try to come up as stealthily as she could. Even with his hearing dialed back to 'normal,' Jim told her he could barely make out the sound of her progress up the steps. That little test done, they walked over to the lab, finding the door open, with only the yellow 'crime scene' tape blocking entrance.
Slipping past the tape and into the room, Megan walked over to where the window that had been shattered was now covered with several pieces of plywood and particle board. Stepping to the side of the covered window, she looked out and saw a large pine tree situated fairly close to the windows. "Bugger, if Eolia jumped from the window to that tree, she's part monkey." Getting no response from her coworker, she turned to find him on his knees, reaching under a deep lab table for something. "Jim?"
"Just a second, almost got it." The strain in his voice as he reached his long arm under the table towards the baseboard was quite evident. "Got it! Damn, look at this, Connor." He held out a business card towards her.
Taking the card, she found it emblazoned with a four color picture of a hawk in flight and the logo of WindHawk Securities, International on the front. The name of Lee Eolia was featured prominently in the middle. Idly turning the card over, she chuckled at the note written there. " 'To Whom It May Concern, your security sucks. Lee Eolia, President, WindHawk'. Looks like she was telling the truth."
"Looks that way to me, too. I wonder who tried to kill her while she was in here." Jim looked around the room again. "I don't think forensics missed anything else. What was that comment you made about a monkey, Megan?"
"I'll show you. Come over here." She pointed out the distance Eolia would've had to clear to make her escape through the broken window. "See? I just don't see how she could have done such a thing without getting seriously hurt."
Looking over the tree, Jim said, "Damn, what could have caused that?"
"What is it you see, Jim?"
"About fifteen, sixteen feet up from the ground, there's a gash in one of the branches. More like a slit in the bark." He pointed to where he saw the damage then shook his head. "Sorry about that, I forget sometimes I'm the only one who can see stuff like that."
"That's okay, I'll take your word on it, mate." She slipped back into her coat. "Just don't ask me to climb that monster. Now, if you don't mind? I hear a plate of ribs calling to me from Seacouver."
Jim smiled, then chuckled as the sound of her belly grumbling at her came through loud and clear to both their ears. "Yeah, I think we're done here. Hungry?"
"Starved, like you didn't hear my tummy. If the weather holds, we should be able to make it to Joe's Place in about an hour. If you want, I'll drive so you can put your notes together." She walked out of the lab just as Jim's growling answer came forth.
"Not on your life, Connor. I've seen the way you drive."
Megan shrugged deeper into her coat as she paced around the large pine tree Jim had spotted the damage in. So much for getting to Joe's at a reasonable hour. If he's all out of ribs by the time I get there.. A sudden movement on her partner's part interrupted her thoughts. "Jim?" The man was actually climbing the tree like a young child.
"Just a sec, Connor. I spotted something up here..."
Feeling a little useless to the sentinel, Megan started to pace an ever-widening circle around the base of the tree, kicking at the pine needles and cones. She'd just booted aside a fairly large cone when something caught her eye. Pulling on a latex glove, she stooped down to pick up the small, saucer shaped, black object. It was made of plastic, that much she was sure of, but as to what it was? The sound of Jim dropping to the ground behind her made her look over at him. "Jimbo? Any idea on what this is?" She held up the object between two encased fingers.
Jim had reached a branch, one of the ones not damaged, and stretched out to snag the object which had caught his attention from the ground. It was a hair, dark brownish red, with a slight wave to it, and about 12 inches long. Holding it to his nose, he sniffed. No scent to it at all. Bracing himself against the massive trunk of the ancient evergreen, he placed the hair strand in a small, zip lock evidence bag, tucking it in his coat pocket, then casting his eyes back up to where he had seen the other damage to the tree. From this distance, he could see the gash he'd spotted earlier was deeper than it had looked. Shaking his head in frustration, he started to climb back down, stopping every now and then to look at the number of broken or bent branches as he did.
Megan called out to him as he reached the ground. "Jimbo? Any idea on what this is?"
Brow creasing, he walked over to her and looked at the item she held. Not wanting to touch it with bare hands, he held out another evidence bag for her. Megan nodded and dropped the piece of plastic into the pouch, which Jim then held up cautiously to his nose. "Whew!" He sealed the bag and took a closer look at the object. "Just what I thought..."
Rising to her feet, Megan rolled her eyes. "Okay, so what in the bloody hell is that thing?"
"If I'm not mistaken, it's a sabot slug. A specialized round used by some riot police to quell protesters. More reach and accuracy than a bean bag shot and packs one hell of a wallop - should you get hit by one."
"Jim, according to the witnesses, and Eolia herself, there were two shots fired at her. Where's the other round?"
"Good question." Digging up his cell phone, he placed a call to the Forensics lab, asked a few pointed questions, then requested a team be sent back out to sweep the area around the east side of QuestScape again. He even went so far as to tell them what he was hoping they'd find.
Megan chuckled as he disconnected the call. "You are not going to be on their list of most favorite people, you know that?"
"I know." Jim smiled as he gestured for her to lead the way back to his truck. "But I'll be damned if I don't get you over to Joe's in Seacouver, so I'm not going to stick around to hear the tech team complain. And don't try to lie to me, Connor. I can hear your stomach, quite clearly."
She reached out and lightly punched him on the upper arm, "Tune your damn ears off my bodily functions!" She stomped around to the passenger side of his truck as she muttered, knowing full well he'd hear her, "Bloody Sentinels and Champions. Between them, how's a Guide or a Companion supposed to have any privacy?"
Part 5Immortal Series