Back to Part 1 SVS-19: Become the Moon by Maggie, Part 2
Ringing, ringing, over and over. Jim woke with a jerk. The phone. Blair snored through the event, draped heavily across Jim's chest, warm and oblivious. Jim grabbed the receiver.
"Jim, it's Simon. We've got another murder."
"Shit. Okay. What time is it?" Jim blinked at the clock, trying to bring the red numbers into focus.
"Five. I'm dressing now. I'll meet you and Sandburg at the scene, north end of Union Park." Simon paused. "You got that?"
"Yeah, yeah. Union Park, north end. Got it." Jim rubbed his thumb against Blair's cheek. "Any info yet?"
"You can tell Sandburg his music connection played through. The victims are Vincent Allegri and his wife."
Jim scanned his memory, trying to place the name.
"Pianist," Simon offered. "He was local talent, scheduled for a concert this weekend. Looks like we might have a serial killer on our hands."
The park consisted of eighty acres of woods in the center of Cascade's art district. Galleries lined Union Street, which marked the south boundary of the park. On the northern edge, Theatre of the Woods sat with its large, white dome. Vincent Allegri's body lay on the ground behind the theatre, hands missing, arms dangling into a stream that ran in a curving path through the wood. His wife, Mona, sat in the style of Roger Stone: propped against a tree, knife protruding from her chest.
Jim had told Blair of his dream on the drive to the park. Now, over an hour later, he pulled Blair aside to pick his brain. As they moved from the crime scene, Blair kept glancing back, looking toward Mona Allegri's body.
"You with me, Chief?" Jim pulled Blair's chin forward.
"Yeah, yeah." Blair shivered as the wind picked up. "Weird how her eyes just follow you, isn't it?"
Jim glanced at the dead woman and shrugged. "I hadn't noticed." He rubbed his forehead, last night's headache lingering after too little sleep. "Any ideas here, Chief?"
Blair blew out a breath and ran one hand through his hair. He suffered from bed head and, under other circumstances, Jim would have found it amusing. Now, all he wanted to do was smooth the curls back and tame them.
"If we're looking at consistencies in method, we have several factors to choose from: the spectator, the removal of body parts." Blair frowned. "The question is where are his hands?"
"Planted somewhere, no doubt." Jim shrugged. "The dogs are sniffing out the territory around the crime scene and into the park. At this point, I feel like I might as well join them. I'm sure I'd have better luck at tracking the physical evidence than I am at putting the pattern together here."
Blair nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, well, at least one clear thing stands out. Water is the focal point for this murder."
Jim glanced at the process underway to pull Vincent Allegri's body away from the stream's edge and into a body bag.
"Where does this stream empty?" Blair asked.
"There's a pond toward the middle of the park." Jim returned his glance to Blair in time to see light flare in his eyes. "Why? What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking that Vincent Allegri bled to death, like Dan Hampton." Blair walked toward the stream. "But his blood fed this stream instead of the earth. "
"And how does that connect?" Jim asked.
"The person behind all this has a jones for nature, trees in particular. Add this to the use of Ogham and it points to druidic ritual." Blair paused as if expecting Jim to take the theory and run.
"So..." Jim pursed his lips and stared back.
"So," Blair waved his hands. "He's performing the murders in accordance with the realms."
"Realms." Jim folded his arms and nodded, wisely.
Blair grinned. "Trees are the bridge between the realms of earth and sky. Water is how they communicate. Areas with water are sacred, a source of inspiration."
"It all sounds like a power trip."
"Yeah." Blair nodded. "I'm guessing so anyway. I mean he's obviously putting his own spin on the whole thing, but there's enough similarity to make me guess there's a connection."
"Your guess is good enough for me, Chief." Jim draped an arm around Blair's shoulders and steered him toward the stream. "Let's see where this takes us."
Wind rattled the trees above them, bending limbs in the direction of the stream. Leaves dropped into the water, swirling in small currents, dipping under then bobbing up to the surface like arrows pointing the way. The path of the stream ended at a large pond surrounded by trees.
"Pond of the Moon," Blair read the plaque near the water's edge and snorted. "Kind of a dull name."
"Don't knock simplicity, Chief."
Blair grinned. "I would never knock you."
Jim whapped the back of his head.
Jim smiled at the mild complaint then turned away from the pond and focused on the stream. It grew wider near the mouth where rocks and twigs caused the water to rush and tumble. A burst of sunlight through the clouds bounced light off the water's surface and Jim blinked. He moved his glance to the ground bordering the stream and his vision narrowed, suddenly caught by a line of symbols drawn into the earth.
"Here we go, Chief."
Blair whipped around to face him then followed the direction of Jim's finger. They squatted near the stream and Blair sucked in a breath. He pulled out his notepad and pen, and jotted down the message as Jim dialed Simon's number on his cell.
"Simon, you can tell them to call the dogs off and send Forensics south to the pond."
"Found the hands?"
Jim dialed up scent and found a trace of blood. "Yeah, and our next clue."
"On my way," Simon said.
"Beauty is mine." Blair clicked his pen and dropped it back into his pocket. "That's what it spells. 'Beauty is mine.'"
Jim blew out a breath. "Vague as hell."
"Let's think about your latest dream," Blair said. "Was there anything about it that you could connect to beauty?"
"I don't know." Jim frowned. "The wind became music. I guess that..."
"What?" Blair pounced on Jim's hesitation.
Jim remembered it then, the start of the dream and the round, white moon, resting as a backdrop to the woods. It had pulled him in, lured him forward.
"The moon was beautiful," Jim said. "There was so much light. Every tree cast a shadow. I remember light filtering through the woods."
The forensic team arrived then, followed by Simon. Vincent Allegri's hands were found buried beneath the section of earth where the killer had traced his message. Jim watched the process of gathering evidence from the scene, aware of Blair pacing along the pond's edge, twigs snapping beneath his feet. Finally, he gave in to his partner's nervous energy and took his leave of the site. He caught up with Blair, who now stood at the entrance to the Nature Center not far from the pond. He stood in front of a bulletin board, fingers pressed against his lower lip.
"Okay Chief, let's go."
Blair reached blindly for Jim, eyes still focused on the bulletin board.
"Look," he said.
Jim glanced over Blair's shoulder and drew a quick breath. Among the posters stapled to the board was an advertisement. It held the image of a woman with the moon behind her, the moon from Jim's dream, large and round and white, pierced by trees. He glanced lower to read the caption for the photo. "Elena Moon wears Radiance, the scent for beautiful moments."
"Where have I seen her before?" Jim asked.
"She's on all the 'Welcome to Cascade' billboards across the city." Blair turned to Jim. "She's from here. She won some local contest for a modeling contract."
"Didn't I tell you, Chief? I knew you'd figure all this out." Jim grinned and squeezed Blair's shoulder.
He pulled his cellphone out and dialed Simon, watching Blair's eyes shine and his cheeks turn pink as he shrugged and tried for casual.
"Captain," Jim said. "I think we may have caught a break..."
Newman Studios were located on the top floor of Rayburn Tower. It took Jim's badge and a call to Major Crime confirming their business to get them in. A tall man with a clipboard and a frown met them at the elevator.
"Larry Morgan." He nodded at them. "I'm Elena's manager. What can I do for you, Detective?"
"I need to ask Ms. Moon some questions," Jim said.
Blair watched the photo shoot underway in the center of the large room. Elena Moon stood in a flowing dress, fabric swirling around her from the breeze of a fan. Painted on the wall behind her was a white moon, topping a band of trees. The trees formed a thick forest of dark green with black hues casting shadows between them, creating a feel of dimension, a sense of presence.
"Turn your face up." A photographer directed her, snapping picture after picture. "That's it. Good."
"Perhaps I could answer your questions," Morgan offered.
"Thank you, but we need to speak to Ms. Moon," Jim said. "We're hoping she can help us with our current investigation."
Morgan checked his wristwatch. "This session is about to wrap. Can you wait ten minutes, then I'll call for a break?"
Jim blew out an impatient breath but nodded.
"Thank you, Detective." Morgan tapped his clipboard and walked away.
"Jim, chill out." Blair whispered. "No sense in pissing her off. Actually, you might want to let me do the talking. She's probably used to special treatment, man. I doubt she'll like your hard-ass style."
"What am I going for, Mr. Congeniality?" Jim spared him a disgusted look. "Don't worry about it, Chief."
"Sorry," he muttered. "Sheesh, touchy."
Blair hid a grin and turned to look around the studio. A row of photographs against one wall snared his attention: a series of black and white images of the moon. Hazy and surreal, they captured the moon in all its phases.
"This isn't working. You aren't giving me anything to work with, Elena." The photographer sounded irritated.
Blair returned his attention to the set, where the man was settling Elena into a different pose, a painful looking position with her back arched. He motioned for one of the crew to bring the fan closer then walked back to his camera, adjusted the height of the tripod and began shooting.
"How long do I have to hold this, Jack?" Elena asked him after a few moments.
"Allow the pain to show, Elena. Not everything is about smiling." He kept shooting, picture after picture. "That's it. That's it," he said as Elena's eyes shot sparks.
Hair swirled about her face in long tendrils, coiling and snapping in the breeze. Her arms began to quiver from the effort of holding the pose.
"Jack, this hurts."
He kept shooting. Blair thought at first he was ignoring her, but then looked closely and reconsidered. Shoulders hunched, eye to the lens, he seemed lost in his own world. He was a big man, taller than Jim and about Simon's weight. Blair guessed him to be in his mid-forties.
"The lady needs a break." Jim brushed past Blair and stalked toward the set.
"Oh boy," Blair murmured as he caught the no-bullshit tone in Jim's voice.
The set grew quiet and the photographer turned to stare.
"Pardon me?" He blinked at Jim as if shaking off a daze.
Jim pulled his badge out. "Detective Ellison. I need a moment with Ms. Moon."
"Oh, I see." He nodded and turned to Elena. "Seems you have a visitor, Elena."
Elena unwound and stretched before walking toward Jim.
"What's this about?" she asked.
"Is there someplace we can speak privately?" Jim asked.
"This might be a good time for a break," Morgan said. "Ten minutes. Elena, why don't you take these gentlemen to the lounge area?"
The crew scattered and Elena led them to a corner of the studio with soft chairs, bottled water and fruit. After the initial exposure, Blair decided he didn't like Elena Moon. She was beautiful and intelligent with undeniable charisma. All in all, she was great except for the fact that she looked at Jim as if he were the last chocolate truffle in the box.
"Detective Ellison, is it?" She scanned Jim as if sizing him up. "You saved my life. Another second in that position and I would have been stuck." She smiled again, lips softly curving. "Call me Elena, please."
"Elena." Jim smiled back, a friendly smile, a damn sight friendlier than Blair felt it needed to be. "Is your work always that intense?"
Blair sighed and glared at Jim. Damned if he wasn't going for Mr. Congeniality.
"Jack is truly an artist," Elena said. "And he's a perfectionist so working with him can be a challenge, but it's worth it. He's helping me build a career." She tilted her head and lifted one eyebrow. "So, do you have a first name, Detective?"
"Jim," he offered quickly.
Blair felt invisible.
"Good to meet you, Jim." She offered her hand for a shake.
Jim shared his smile with her again, the mega-watt rendition, and Blair felt a slow burn begin somewhere in the vicinity of his spleen.
He coughed. Twice. And Jim finally turned to him, smug look in place.
"Oh, sorry Chief." He grinned like a bastard. "This is Blair Sandburg."
"Oh, hi," Elena said.
She plopped into one of the chairs, grabbed an orange and began to peel it.
"Is this about Dan?" She waved Jim and Blair toward the chairs beside her.
Blair shot a surprised glance at Jim, who sat on the chair to Elena's right while Blair perched on the overstuffed mushroom-shaped contraption to her left.
"You knew Dan Hampton?" Jim asked.
"I dated him a few months ago, before my career took off," she said. "It didn't work out, though. He took up with some runner at the college." She smirked. "I heard he dumped her too."
"When did you last see him?"
"Actually, it was only a couple of weeks ago," she said. "I ran into him here at the studio. He was going to do some sort of public service ad for the college. He invited me out to lunch and we caught up on old times." She shook her head. "I can't believe what happened. Have you found who did it?"
"We're still investigating," Jim said. "Do you know of any reason why someone might have wanted to kill him?"
"He was driven. He could be an asshole," she shrugged. "He made enemies."
She pulled the orange into halves and offered Jim one.
"No thanks," he said. "There was another murder early this morning. Did you by chance know Vincent Allegri?"
Elena paled and glanced sharply at Jim.
"The pianist." She looked at her hands. Blair noticed they were shaking. When she spoke again, her voice was a whisper. "He's dead?"
"Yes." Jim leaned toward her. "Elena, if you know something, you need to tell us."
She squeezed her eyes shut and took a breath.
"He was married. It would be harmful if word got out... I mean, he wouldn't want his wife to know," she began then paused and looked at Jim. Her eyes grew bright.
"His wife was also murdered," Jim said.
"Oh." She blinked and tears rolled down her cheeks. "Oh my God."
"Were you involved with Vincent Allegri?" Jim kept his voice low.
Elena nodded. "We had an affair. No one knows. It only lasted a couple of months. He wouldn't leave his wife, so we ended it." Her breath hitched. "God, Vincent."
"I'm sorry," Jim said.
She looked up, studied Jim for a moment as if gauging the truth behind his words.
"Thank you." Warmth crept into her eyes.
"Elena, until we find who is responsible for these murders, it would be a good idea to keep you under police protection." Jim spoke gently. "You could be in danger."
Morgan walked up to them at that moment.
"Larry, not now," Elena said.
"Elena, the crew is ready to resume. Jack has to get more time with you. We're barely half through with this set and his shooting schedule is jammed tomorrow. Can you wrap whatever business this is up so we can get back to work?"
Morgan hovered and Blair nearly flinched at the glare sent their way. Elena tossed the orange back in the fruit bowl and stood. She wiped her face with the back of her hand.
"You've been crying." Morgan grabbed her chin and turned her face toward him. "Damn it."
"Hey, there's no reason to..." Blair began then stopped as Jim stepped forward, knocking Morgan's hand off Elena.
"Look, Ace, my business with Ms. Moon takes priority over your shooting schedule." His voice was low, his attention focused.
Blair wondered if he should count to ten or just jump between the two of them now.
Jack Newman had walked over and now stood beside Blair. He clasped Blair's shoulder.
"Is there a problem?"
"Jack," Elena said. "I don't think I can finish the shoot today. I've got... There's been..."
"It's alright," Jack said. "We'll figure out another time. Are you in trouble?"
Elena sighed and shook her head. "I don't know. There's been a murder. The police think I could be in danger."
"My God, who was killed?" Jack looked to Blair.
"I would prefer that we not discuss the case right now," Jim said then turned to Elena. "We need to work out the details for your protection."
"I want you to stay with me." Elena grasped Jim's arm. "You can watch over me, can't you?" Her voice rose as she looked at Morgan. "Larry, I want you to arrange it. Do you hear me?"
"Elena, calm down," Morgan said. "Let's hear what the Detective has in mind."
"Those letters! Larry, you have to show him the letters," she said.
"Letters?" Jim looked at Morgan.
"She's received some strange mail." Morgan shrugged. "It's to be expected. She's a celebrity."
"We should have shown them to the police, Larry. I told you!" Elena looked pale.
Jim took her arm and guided her back to the chairs. She sat heavily and dropped her face in her hands.
"How about you show them to me now?" Jim looked pointedly at Morgan.
"They're at my office. I'll have to find them," Morgan said. "Do that." Jim sat beside Elena. "Can you bring them to the Major Crime Unit?"
Morgan folded his arms across his chest and nodded as Jim turned his attention back toward Elena.
"I need to ask you a few more questions, Elena," Jim said.
"Okay." Elena grasped Jim's hand.
Jim began to speak then paused to shoot a look of irritation at Newman who seemed in no hurry to leave the conversation. Blair decided to head off further conflict at the pass.
"Um, Mr. Newman, why don't we give them some privacy? Would you mind showing me around your studio?"
Newman held Jim's gaze for a second before replying. "I would love to show you around." He looked at Blair and smiled. "Please, call me Jack."
Jack's hand slid from Blair's shoulder to his waist. Jim's jaw twitched and Blair felt a tiny flutter of satisfaction-- just enough to take the edge off as he watched Elena weave her fingers with Jim's.
"Are you a detective?" Jack asked as they walked toward the set.
"No. I'm a consultant for the department," Blair said. "How about you? How long have you had this studio?"
"Two years. I mainly freelanced before then. It takes time to build up a client base and, to be honest, I was reluctant to get into the business of fashion photography."
"Too dull. Clothing and perfume. Please." Jack rolled his eyes. "But, it does support my more artistic endeavors."
"Elena seems to think your commercial work is artistic," Blair said.
They stopped near the edge of the set and Jack removed the camera he had been using in the shoot from the tripod.
"Yes, well, Elena is an exception. She has a quality the camera loves. I actually look forward to working with her." He grinned sheepishly. "Sometimes I can get carried away with a thought as you saw today. She usually lets me get away with it."
Blair nodded. "You looked like you were really into the moment."
"Exactly. I lose myself in moments. Perfect description. Especially if the subject matter I'm focusing on intrigues me." Jack smiled at him. "I imagine I could grow quite lost in a moment spent with you."
Blair blinked and looked away, laughing nervously. "Yeah, well, I've been known to lose a few people." He whirled a finger near his head. "My thoughts can spin out of control; and they tend to spill out. It can be annoying."
"Oh, I doubt that." Jack tucked a curl behind Blair's ear. "Do you mind if I take a shot or two?"
Blair frowned. "What?"
"Your picture." He tilted Blair's chin up. "You have a unique look, quite lovely."
Blair felt his face grow hot. "Um, I don't know..."
Jack pointed the camera toward Blair and adjusted the lens. "This won't hurt a bit."
Blair tried not to flinch at the click and whirr as Jack took several shots. He felt stupid and totally uncomfortable, and therefore began to jabber.
"You know, in some cultures, taking a picture of someone is equated with stealing their soul. Of course, you probably know that. I mean, no doubt..."
"What do you believe?" Jack asked.
"I don't know." Blair looked at the camera, felt the stare of the lens. "It might explain why I feel uncomfortable whenever I get my picture taken."
Jack laughed. "It's good for me that Elena doesn't have that issue." He took one more shot then laid the camera on a table behind him. "I'm sorry, Blair. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. Holding a camera, capturing images, is like breathing for me. It's essential. I forget how abnormal that is." He walked closer to Blair. "Can I make it up to you? Dinner perhaps?"
Blair jerked in surprise as Jim suddenly appeared beside him.
"Chief, Simon is sending over an officer to watch Elena." Jim's palm felt warm against his shoulder. "We'll need to head to the station as soon as he gets here. Simon wants an update."
"Sure, Jim. Are you finished with Elena already?"
"For now." Jim nodded. "She's pretty upset. We'll talk with her again later." He turned his attention to Jack. "My apologies to you, Mr. Newman, for having to interrupt your session." Jim's voice held an edge. "If you don't mind, I have a few questions I need to ask you."
"Certainly, Detective. What can I help you with?"
"Elena mentioned that Dan Hampton was a client of yours."
"Yes. It began as work for the college, some advertisements about the track program. It wasn't for profit. Also, since he turned out to be a friend of Elena's, I donated a bit of time to help him create a portfolio. I did a shoot at the college, some shots of him on the track. I've never developed them." Jack frowned. "Terrible shame. Do you have any idea who might have killed him?"
"We're building a list of suspects," Jim said. "Do you know why he came to you for the work?"
"He told me it was because the college recommended me." Jack shook his head. "I more had the feeling it was Elena's idea. I think she had feelings for him."
"Why did you think that?" Jim asked.
"I overheard Larry lecturing Elena about him, telling her to give up on Dan because he wasn't interested in her." Jack frowned. "The boy was all ego. I imagine he wanted to date someone who wouldn't outshine him with the press." He shrugged. "But that's just my guess. It wasn't my business."
"Do you still have the film you took of him at the track?" Jim asked. "Would you be able to develop it for us?"
"Certainly. I'll work on it tonight," Jack said. "You can plan to pick the photographs up this evening if you like."
"That would be great. Thank you."
The officer assigned as protection for Elena arrived just before noon. She took the news that Jim would not be able to personally guard her with a small tantrum, followed by tears. Jim's promise to check on her frequently was the final compromise and Blair found himself pondering fame and the fifteen-minute theory as they stood waiting for the elevator. Jim pressed the button impatiently and Blair glanced back to see Jack placing camera equipment into a case.
"Damn slow elevator," Jim groused.
"Ah, the model isn't around so now you're in a hurry to leave." Blair stared at the elevator and waited for a response.
"Jealous are we?" Jim asked.
"Oh, please." Blair heaved a sad sigh. "It's so obvious she has a thing for father-figures."
"Could be," Jim said, aggravating Blair to no end by not taking the bait. "Of course, it could also mean that she likes tall men. You know, the kind who can look her in the eye without sustaining a neck injury."
Blair rolled his eyes then glared as Jim rocked back on his heels, grinning the grin of a Cheshire. The elevator dinged and Blair pulled his altogether too happy lover inside.
"Laugh it up, De-tec-tive..."
The elevator doors closed and Blair found himself pressed against the wall and effectively silenced by a hungry mouth on his. Then, just as quickly, the doors opened and Jim pulled away from him.
"Oh." Jack stood outside the elevator, camera case draped across his shoulder, a look of surprise on his face. "Oops."
"Sorry. Really. Our oops, not yours," Blair babbled.
"Must have forgotten to press the button once we got in here," Jim said.
Blair stared at Jim and wondered how he managed to sound so calm with his face flaming like that.
"Not a problem. I'll catch the next one." Jack grinned and winked at Blair as the doors slid closed.
Jim pressed the button for ground level. Twice.
"So, what's with the wink action from the picture man, Chief?" Jim resumed his previous position within Blair's personal space. "He's working hard at putting the moves on you. Any reason I should be worried?"
Blair cupped Jim's ass and squeezed. "Depends on if there's any reason I should be worried, Daddy?"
He grinned like a loon until Jim pressed the stop button.
"Shit, Jim. What are you doing? He's up there waiting. He's going to know."
"Exactly." Jim pressed his hands on either side of Blair's head and smiled. It was the dangerous smile, the one that made Blair consider helmets and safety bars.
"Oh man," he said then shut up while Jim Ellison used his mouth to explain precisely where he stood in relation to photographers and models and the way things were in the Sandburg-Ellison universe.
They returned to Major Crime and made Simon Banks a happy man with report of possible motives for the murders and a plausible link to Elena Moon. He sat behind his desk and nodded at them.
"Good work, both of you. Now, get me a list of possible suspects."
"Her manager is pulling together mail from fans and a list of admirers who have struck them as odd. Elena couldn't give us any names of personal acquaintances she felt could be involved in the murders," Jim said.
"Couldn't or wouldn't?" Simon asked.
"That's what we're going to find out, sir." Jim tugged at Blair's sleeve until he slid from his current perch on the conference table.
Simon's phone rang and he dismissed them with a "Get to it."
Blair followed Jim to his desk and began to ask where they should start when Simon's door suddenly opened.
"Joel called. He and Connor are watching the warehouse," he said. "They've got confirmation on the buy. It's going down fast. The Hawks have just arrived and Kennet is on his way. Let's move."
"Don't worry, Chief," Jim had said. "This will be a cakewalk."
Blair sat inside the surveillance van now, thinking how full of shit his partner was. Simon adjusted his headset and spoke to the audio/video technician in the back of the van. Simon directed the team into position around the warehouse then checked in with the SWAT commander. Snipers were positioned on surrounding roofs to take advantage of the view provided by large windows near the roof of the building. It looked to be a secure setup for the bust, but Blair felt on edge. Too much had happened over the past two days, too much information floated in Jim's head. Distractions. Blair knew Jim's ability to focus whirled on a level far above his own, but right now Jim was out there and Blair was stuck a block away with a pair of binoculars and no means to touch him, to rein him in from doing something stupid, something heroic, something typically Ellison. Blair bounced his knee until Simon's glare registered, then he sat still and focused the binoculars on a stack of crates to the left of the entrance. Jim crouched somewhere behind those crates.
Simon called for an audio check and each of the team responded in turn.
"Come on," Blair muttered to no one in particular.
"Kennet will show, Sandburg. Just settle down." Simon adjusted his own binoculars. "Speak of the devil..."
Blair looked forward and saw a black limousine pulling up to the front of the warehouse.
"Looks like Kennet has arrived." Simon's voice crackled across the radio as he informed the team. "Everyone hold their position until I give the word. We give him time to hang himself before moving in. I want him on tape with incriminating evidence the DA can bank on."
"Check," echoed in response.
Large doors opened to allow the limousine in. Blair and Simon swiveled to face the back of the van where a television monitor displayed the action from inside the building. Blair spotted Kennet as he stepped from the back of the limo and walked toward the leader of the Hawks.
"'Bout time we met face to face, Big Man." The gang leader spoke first.
"Normally, I don't deal directly with the customers but for you, Tucker, I make an exception." Kennet smiled like a politician. "I see a long and lucrative partnership in our future."
"Cut the crap and show us what you got." Tucker pointed to the crates resting several feet away from them.
"Of course." Kennet nodded at a man with a crowbar who stood near the crates.
The man put the tool to use and soon the crates were open. Assault rifles and various other weapons Blair couldn't identify were distributed to the gang who grinned and whistled.
"Where's the ammo?" someone yelled.
"In the crate," Kennet answered. "Where's my product?"
"Keep it down." Tucker scowled at his men then returned his attention to Kennet. "Looks like you've kept your end of the deal." He snapped his fingers and one of the gang brought what looked like a trash sack forward. Tucker reached in and removed a smaller bag. "Best meth in the state of Washington. You're getting the sweet end of this deal, Big Man."
"Since we are businessmen," Kennet said, "I know you'll understand the need for a brief test of the product."
Tucker tossed the bag to Kennet. "Knock yourself out."
Minutes passed as a man in a dark suit and thick glasses performed what looked to be a tedious process of quality testing. Finally, he stood, pushed the glasses up his nose and nodded at Kennet.
"Looks like we have a deal," Kennet said.
Simon smiled. "All units. Move in."
The scene became a blur of movement. Blair caught site of Jim after he shot the lock on the side door then barreled into the warehouse. Within seconds, the team stormed the building.
Blair watched Jim duck and roll as shots rang out. His stomach clenched despite the practiced ease of Jim's movements. He struggled against the urge to reach forward and touch the monitor, as if covering Jim's image with his hand might keep him safe.
"Keep down, damn it," Blair hissed as Jim lifted his head, steadied his gun and fired.
"SWAT team, take your shots," Simon ordered.
Jim lay on his stomach, returning fire, as the scramble for ammunition in the crate began. Kennet ducked inside the limousine while his men fell around him. The limo lurched forward then into reverse, squealing backwards out of the warehouse and directly toward Jim. Blair's heart stopped.
"Ellison, roll!" Simon barked into the radio.
The world shrank to one square of movement on a black and white screen. Blair felt displaced, thrown from his body as he watched the impossible: Jim disappearing beneath a flash of black metal. Then, in an instant, the universe righted itself as the limo disappeared from the screen, replaced by the sight of Jim Ellison, whole and alive, sitting up, taking aim. Blair hurtled back to himself, gasped like a swimmer at the finish line, and felt his heart begin again. Jim fired and Blair heard the pop of a tire, the squeal and groan of metal on metal. Then Jim was up and running, off the screen, out of sight, and Blair knew it was over before the team called out "all clear," before Simon barreled out of the van, before the technician shot a fist in the air. It was over and Jim Ellison had a lesson to learn about the definition of the word cakewalk.
By evening, the paperwork on Jim's desk had tripled, and the flurry of activity in Major Crime had settled into the focused hum of wrapping things up and heading home. The bust had gone down without a single casualty on the side of law enforcement. The District Attorney smiled at Simon, who in turn smiled at the group of tired looking detectives in the bullpen. Features about the bust and the size of the weapons and meth stash that had been taken off the streets played on every news station in the city. Jim endured ribbing over the scowl the cameras had captured as he pushed Kennet into the back seat of a black and white unit at the scene.
"The least you could have done is smile, Jim," Connor teased.
Jim glared at her without heat. He could take the jokes so long as Kennet was behind bars. Nothing short of a collar on the latest case could make him feel better. All in all, it had been one hell of a good day. Of course, Blair was pissed about the under-the-limo maneuver he'd barely pulled off, but Jim had some ideas about how to smooth those feathers, including a reminder about a certain garbage truck. He grinned and reined in that train of thought as his cock began to anticipate the mission.
"What are you grinning about?" Blair reached around Connor and placed a file in Jim's out box.
"He's proving his face won't crack if he smiles, Sandy." Connor winked at Blair.
"Isn't there paperwork accumulating on your desk, Connor?" Jim asked.
"Yes, and it's going to stay there until tomorrow," she said. "I'm done in."
Jim's phone rang. Connor, who happened to be perched on the desk beside it, picked it up.
"Jim Ellison's desk." She paused. "Yes, he's right here."
Jim reached for the receiver but Connor handed it to Blair. "It's a Mr. Jack Newman for you, Sandy."
She stood and patted Jim on the stomach. "You're scowling again, Jimbo."
Jim ignored her as she walked away, his attention focused on Blair.
"This is Blair Sandburg." Blair took Connor's place on Jim's desk.
Jim dialed up his hearing without shame. This probably had relation to their current murder case. Actually, it damn well better have some relation or the picture man might find himself on the painful end of an Ellison bad mood.
"Blair, this is Jack Newman. We met earlier today."
"Yes, of course, Mr. Newman. What can I do for you?" Blair asked.
"Well, for starters, I need to remind you to call me Jack." He laughed. "I hope you don't mind me calling you Blair?"
Jim huffed out a disgusted breath.
"No, not at all." Blair signaled Jim to hush.
"I'm calling to let you know I have the pictures developed that you and your detective wanted," Jack said. " I think you will find them useful."
"Why do you say that?"
"I would prefer not to speak about it over the phone."
"Could you bring them to the station?" Blair asked.
"Unfortunately, I have a pressing deadline. I'm working in the darkroom now and must catch a flight to Paris later tonight. Would you be able to bring your detective to the studio before midnight and pick them up?"
"Sure, we can drop by." Blair glanced at Jim. "We have a few things to tie up here at the station first."
"Yes, I can imagine you are busy. I heard of the arrests today. All Elena could speak about during her session with me was Detective Ellison. He's fast turning into quite the hero to her."
"Yeah, well, that seems to be a recurring role for him." Blair's voice took on an edge.
Jim smacked him on the thigh and made wrap-it-up motions.
"We'll be by later, Jack."
"Thank you, Blair. I appreciate this."
Blair hung up the phone and turned to Jim with a dark look. "So, Mr. Hero, I suppose you caught all that?"
"'Would you be able to bring your detective to the studio?'" Jim mimicked the photographer's lofty tone. "Interesting that he asked to talk to you."
Blair shrugged. "Maybe heroic types like yourself scare him."
"Could be." Jim nodded. "He should ask his supermodel how to get over that phobia."
Blair spared him a disgusted look. "'Model,' Jim. Lose the 'super' part. I doubt anyone's heard of Elena Moon in Paris. I doubt they've heard of Eleanor Kowalski either, which is her real name."
"Minor detail." Jim fought the urge to grin. "Well, he's going to have to wait an hour or so until I can finish the arrest record. Simon seems to think I need to write down the details now or they'll dwindle by tomorrow."
"Gee, can't imagine why he'd think that, considering how verbose you are."
"Careful, or I'll make you write it for me." Jim trapped Blair's neck in the crook of his arm and let his knuckles dance the noogie. "Glad to see your mood's improving, Chief."
Blair pulled free and sent a mild glare his way. Face flushed, lips turned up in a half smile, he rested in the perfect angle for a kiss. Jim nearly groaned at the effort involved in not leaning in and staking his claim on that mouth.
"Yeah, well, I'm going to need some help keeping my mood elevated when we get home." Blair's eyes sent a message.
Jim felt warm. He felt warm all over.
"Not a problem, Chief."
Blair grinned as Jim adjusted himself before sitting down to finish typing his report in the computer. Blair reached across the desk to the file holding the letters Morgan had dropped by earlier in the day. Each page was ziplocked in a bag. The only fingerprints identified on them so far belonged to Elena and Morgan. Jim had looked them over quickly, in between dealing with fallout from the bust, but still needed to study them. There were only three letters, one received each month since Elena began the modeling campaign.
"So what do you think of those, Chief?"
"I had a chance to read them and do a little research." Blair put his glasses on and lifted one of the pages from the box. "It sounds like whoever sent them thinks Elena is some kind of Moon Goddess."
"The promise of sacrifice in her name no doubt is what has her spooked," Jim said.
"Yeah. Makes you wonder what the sacrifices were before the killer began focusing on humans."
"And why two in two days?" Jim asked.
"Well, I've been thinking about that," Blair said. "Since the killer is into Celtic ritual, maybe he's putting his own spin on the ritual of the 'Threefold Death.' Like for instance, the Lindow man. Archeologists found his body in a bog in England. He'd been hit in the head, strangled and tossed in the bog to drown. He died of three things at once, one death for each of the realms: earth, sky, water."
"Chief, it's been a long day. Cut to the chase." Jim rubbed his forehead.
"Okay, okay." Blair leaned forward and peered at him over his glasses. "My theory is that our killer is performing one murder in each of the realms. Dan Hampton's death happened in the realm of earth, Vincent Allegri's in the realm of water."
"That leaves one more realm," Jim said. "One more ritual."
"Yeah." Blair nodded. "And tonight is the third night of a full moon."
"Great," Jim said. "And to find the next two victims, all we have to do to is search the sky."
Blair struggled to hold back a yawn as they arrived at Rayburn Tower. It was a few minutes before ten and he wanted nothing more than to be home in bed with Jim wrapped around him. A storm threatened and they hurried toward the entrance as rain began to fall. Blair opened the door to the building then yelped as a blast of wind took it from his grasp, slamming it shut again. They finally made it inside as a roll of thunder shook the glass of the entryway. The guard at the front desk had been informed they were coming so allowed them in without question.
"Well, aren't things just convenient tonight," Jim said as the elevator opened right away.
He followed Blair inside and pressed the button for the top floor. The elevator shuddered from air rushing through the shaft. Blair frowned and watched numbers flash red as they passed each floor, until Jim leaned forward and distracted him with a kiss.
"This elevator has a strange effect on you, man." Blair grinned.
Jim had time to pull him in for another kiss with serious intent before they arrived. He pulled back as the doors opened, looking at Blair's mouth with a firm air of satisfaction. Blair touched his lips and wondered if they looked as well used as Jim's. He followed Jim out of the elevator and shook off that train of thought as he spotted Jack sitting at a table on the far side of the room.
"Hello." Jack waved at them. "Thank you both for stopping by. Please, come join me."
They passed by the set, which looked unchanged from earlier today. It was well lit and the camera sat ready on the tripod. They arrived at the table and Jack stood to greet them.
"Working kind of late, aren't you?" Jim asked. "Are these normal hours for you?"
"It's a deadline crunch. Plus, I'm a nightowl so I don't mind. It's good to be alone in the studio so I'm not distracted," Jack said. "Actually, I suppose I work late most nights. It's a good thing I love what I do. How about you, Detective?"
Wind rattled the windows on both ends of the large room. Jack motioned to chairs around the table and they sat. He looked at Jim, apparently intent on hearing an answer.
"The job has its good days," Jim said.
Jack quirked his lips, and nodded. "Today was a good day, wasn't it? It's obvious you have great passion for what you do. For many things, I would say." He glanced at Blair.
"Right." Jim looked ready to move on from the small talk. "So, what do you have for us?"
Jack pointed to a folder on the table. Jim picked it up and pulled out several glossy black and white images. Blair looked over his shoulder as he flipped through ten photos of Dan Hampton running on the track at Rainier.
"You mentioned to Blair that there was something you thought we'd find useful about these," Jim said. "I'm not seeing anything unusual. Am I missing something?"
"Actually, there are a few more photographs to print from the roll I developed. I was just about to head back into the darkroom to finish them. It won't take long." Jack tugged gently on Blair's arm. "Come with me, Blair. I'll show you my secrets."
Blair glanced at Jim and caught his look of impatience as he followed Jack toward a door beside the set.
"Make yourself comfortable, Detective," Jack called to Jim over his shoulder. "We won't be long."
The darkroom was small. One side of the room held an enlarger and strips of developed film hung from pegs on the wall. A sink with a long counter took up the other side of the room. Blair noticed two pans on the counter each filled with fluid.
"I'm old fashioned." Jack flipped two light switches near the door, first plunging them into darkness then bathing them in dim red light. "I develop my film and print my photos individually by hand. I know there are machines and computer programs these days that could pull me into the modern age, but to me this is art. Art is hands on, touching what you create, becoming part of it."
Blair watched him choose a strip of film, place it on the enlarger, put paper down for the image, then start the process.
"That explains why you work so late," Blair said.
Jack laughed. "Probably."
He lifted the piece of paper from the enlarger and handed it to Blair.
"Drop that in the first pan on the sink," he said. "This is the best part."
"I don't want to mess it up." Blair began to feel uncomfortable. "Maybe you should just do it."
"You'll do fine. Just drop it in and push it down into the fluid with your fingers." Jack took Blair by the shoulders and turned him to face the sink. Blair did as instructed. He felt a small thrill as an image began to form on the paper. His fingers felt slick and they tingled as he pressed the edges of the paper under the surface of the chemicals.
"Exciting, isn't it?" Jack's breath blew across his ear.
The tingling became fire in Blair's fingers. It shot up his arms and Blair gasped at a sudden rush of heat through his body.
"Something's wrong," Blair cried out as muscles cramped in his hands and legs.
Jack curled his arms around Blair's waist and held him up.
"It won't hurt for long." Jack kissed Blair's cheek. "You'll relax soon and we can begin. Your warrior waits outside for us. His heart will be the offering tonight. The Goddess wants passion." He trailed kisses down Blair's jaw to his neck. "Wish I could keep you. I'd change the rules if I could. But you're the source for his passion. You must witness the sacrifice, then join him."
"Jim," Blair moaned as the flush began to fade, replaced by a heavy feeling, dragging him down, turning his legs to rubber.
"Look." Jack shook him and Blair's head lolled down until his eyes caught the image below him. It was Roger Stone with light fading from his eyes, fear lingering in his expression. "I captured the moment, didn't I?"
"Oh my god..." Blair tried to struggle but his arms were useless. "Jim!"
"Shh." Jack cupped Blair's chin and pulled his face up. "I'll be quick. You won't suffer."
He brought his mouth to Blair's and kissed him, pushing his tongue in, stealing Blair's breath. The world spun into a blur of red and Blair lost the fight. He slid into darkness with Roger Stone's image burned into his mind, speaking to him of terror and things to come.
Jim tossed the photographs on the table and paced toward the set. Jack Newman's routine of getting off by flirting with Blair under his nose was going to stop. If this whole thing turned out to be a waste of time, Newman was going to find his trip to Paris delayed by a stop at Cascade PD, courtesy of Jim Ellison. He'd think up charges. There had to be a law against pissing off a detective to this degree.
His fingers began to itch and he rubbed them together, wondering absently what the grainy feeling was. He looked at his hands and saw a fine white powder coating his fingertips. He looked at the photographs, narrowed his vision to the surface of the top photo and saw the same powder residue. Thoughts swirled in his head and clicked into place. He extended his hearing, caught the sound of Blair's voice, thick with pain: "Something's wrong."
Jim rushed toward the darkroom just as a flash of heat shot up his arms and through his body. He reached for his gun, but his fingers cramped as he pulled it from the holster and it dropped to the floor, skidding away from him. The cramping spread up his arms then down to his legs and he fell, landing on the floor in the middle of the set.
He tried to focus on Blair, but the sounds around him whirled together into a roar. He struggled to think as his mind screamed that Blair was in pain. Jim grunted with the effort it took to pull himself to his knees. The cramping began to ease, replaced by numbness that began in his feet and climbed higher. He felt heat against his back from the lamps behind him, creating a circle of light on the set and casting the rest of the studio into darkness. The air became heavy and the sounds in the room grew distinct again. He sucked in a breath and looked around him, saw his gun too far away, saw the moon round and white through the window, saw a forest come to life as trees on the wall seemed to weave forward then back. Then the door to the darkroom opened and Jim's world narrowed to the sight of Blair, limp in Jack Newman's arms.
"Detective." Jack looked at Jim's gun. "I see you've lost something."
"What did you do to him?" Jim struggled to make his mouth work.
"The same thing I did to you." Jack smiled and kissed Blair's forehead. "You've both been drugged, but Blair's dose was stronger than yours because he has to stay still longer than you do."
"You son of a bitch!"
Jack propped Blair against the wall of trees and sat next to him. "I wish he'd wake up though. We can't begin until he does." Jack looked at Jim as if he should understand things. "He has to watch. There's no other way to be sure I've captured your soul. He'll recognize you inside of me."
"You can't get away with this." Jim tried to think. "Give it up now and I'll do my best to see that you get help."
Jack stared at him for a moment, then began to laugh. He drew Blair into his arms. "I don't need your help, Detective. I need your heart. You have a warrior's heart. The Goddess recognized it the moment she saw you. It's what she wants." He traced a finger along Blair's cheek. "She's fertile now. I'm not surprised she chose you. She wants your passion." He pushed curls from Blair's face. "I'm not afraid. We're nearing Cutios, the month of winds, and we're in the upper realm. No one can touch us here."
Jim struggled to keep track of the conversation. It was growing harder to focus, harder to turn his neck and lift his arms. Newman's hands were on Blair and sweat trickled down Jim's face as he tried to move. God, he wanted to pound his fists into Newman, wanted to kill him, but his legs were numb. His body felt useless. He needed to think. He took a breath and told himself to calm the hell down.
"Why does Elena have to get what she wants?" Jim tried for a reasonable tone.
Jack blinked at him. "Elena isn't the Goddess. She's just the muse." He looked out the window, toward the moon. "The Goddess sent her to me. She uses Elena to tell me what she wants. You should feel honored." Jack shook his head. "Why am I wasting my breath? There's no way for you to understand this."
Jack turned his attention to Blair, tapped his cheek. "Time to wake up." He ran his thumb along Blair's lips. "You'd make a fine muse. It's a shame to have to kill you."
He leaned down, pressed his lips to Blair's and Jim's vision filled with red.
"Take your fucking hands off him!" Jim barely recognized his own voice.
Jack looked up. "Forgive me, this is cruel, isn't it?" His eyes glowed with conquest. "I don't mean to gloat."
Jim tried to swallow and the sound was a dry click. Jack stood and arranged Blair to face Jim. He walked away from the set and into the dim edges of the room, mumbling about preparations and tools. Jim's vision blurred as he tracked Newman moving about in a dark corner of the studio. He seemed no more than a shadow, a black and shifting shape. Jim's mind swirled. He had to think of something, had to do something. Then Blair moaned and began to wake. By instinct, Jim leaned toward him and nearly fell on his face. His hand landed on something sharp and he winced.
Pain. He'd felt pain. A memory flashed; it was Blair's voice harassing him about anesthesia and pain and tests they needed to run: Pain might override the effect of drugs on your system.
Jim brushed his hand across the floor again, searching, searching. Then he found it, a silver tack. He managed to lift it then drive the point deep under the nail of his thumb. He nearly gasped at the pain then forgot his thumb as a wave of sensation swept over him. His legs and feet tingled then stung as nerves woke with a flare of needle pricks. He dialed down touch and sound seemed to dim as well.
"Jim." Blair's voice barely reached him and Jim looked up into terror filled eyes.
"Easy, Blair," he whispered. "It's gonna be okay, Chief."
Blair tried to move, but Jim could tell his muscles weren't cooperating. Jim turned toward the corner of the room where Newman had been-- then froze.
"I think we're ready." Newman stood beside him now, a large knife in one hand.
"Blair, do you see?" Jack lifted the knife. "Watch me now."
Jim heard Blair's breath hitch then forgot everything except moving as the knife came down, flashing light off its edges. It moved in an arc toward his chest and Jim lunged up, knocking his shoulder against Jack's arm. Jack roared in surprise and the knife fell with a clatter. Jim seized the moment and slammed his body back against Newman. They both fell and Jim landed hard on top. He rolled off quickly, grabbed Newman, pulled his fist back then brought it down in a furious blow. It landed like a sledgehammer, knocking Jack's face sideways, flooding Jim with satisfaction, but not enough, not nearly enough. He smashed the fist down again and again.
"Jim!" Blair's voice came to him from a distance. "Jim, stop!"
Blood pounded in his ears as he paused, fist ready.
"He's out, Jim. You've got it covered." Blair's voice cracked. "Please, man, come on."
Blair, he thought, Blair. Jim turned and the panic in Blair's eyes rocked him. In an instant, the anger vanished. He cuffed Newman then moved to Blair, nearly falling, but finally reaching him. Jim kneeled beside him and pulled him into a tight hug.
"You scared the shit out of me," Blair gasped against Jim's shoulder. "Quit scaring the shit out of me!"
"Done, Chief. I'm done."
He felt Blair trying to move, trying to circle his arms around Jim's waist.
"Goddammit!" Blair slumped against him. "Can't move. I can't..."
"Easy, I've got you." Jim rubbed his palm up and down Blair's back and rocked gently until both their hearts stopped racing.
He pulled back after a moment, held Blair's face in his hands and checked him over.
"You look fuzzy," Blair said.
"Yeah, well, you look dopey."
Blair blew out a shaky laugh and Jim smiled.
"You okay?" Blair asked.
"I think I'll make it." He tucked Blair's head under his chin. "Just let me do this for another minute."
"Not a problem," Blair said. "Hang on as long as you want, man. Long as you want."
Jim kissed the top of Blair's head then pulled the cellphone from his pocket and dialed for an ambulance and back up. Blair murmured something.
"What was that, Chief?"
"Feels like they're watching us, like they've watched everything." Blair sounded groggy. "It's like they're real."
Jim followed Blair's glance toward the set, took in the image of trees and shadows.
"Nah, Chief, that's not the real thing." He cupped his palm against Blair's cheek, tilted his face up, then kissed him gently. "This is it. This is the real thing right here."
SVS-S4: Spring Special by Various Authors
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