Blair waited until noon. When there had still been no word from Jim, he decided just to go over to the loft and see for himself. He parked in his old spot and took the elevator up. He was a little surprised that the door to the apartment didn't just magically open for him as he approached it. With Jim's hearing, he would already know he was there.
He knocked and waited. There was no answer. He knocked again more loudly.
"Hey, man. Come on. I know you're there. I saw the truck outside."
"Go away, Blair." He heard muffled through the door.
"No way, man. Now open up."
There was silence.
He banged on the door with his fist. "You can let me in, or I can drive you crazy. Your choice, man."
The door abruptly flung open, rattling on its hinges. "What?" Jim demanded angrily, his face red.
It didn't take a Sentinel to figure out he'd been drinking.
Blair pushed past him into the loft. "You should probably shut the door. Unless you want everybody knowing your business."
Jim glared at him, but he did close the door. "Don't take that as an invitation to stay."
"Fine, man. Whatever. So how much have you had to drink?"
"That's none of your fucking business."
"How much, Jim?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Not that much. God knows not nearly enough. These fucking senses-- I get a damned headache before I'm even close to getting drunk."
"Why are you trying to get drunk?"
Jim stalked past him to go stand by the glass doors. "Anybody ever tell you that you ask way to many damned questions, Sandburg?"
"I think you might have mentioned it from time to time. So what else did Simon have to say after I left?"
Jim stared out over the water. "That he thinks I'm guilty."
"No way, man. Simon wouldn't believe that. He knows you."
Jim laughed, a truly disquieting sound. "Yeah, that's exactly the problem. He knows me."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I fit the profile."
"No-- Uh--" Blair broke off.
Jim turned around, his eyes bright with anger. "You think so, too, don't you?"
"Not that you-- Oof." He landed hard against the wall.
Jim held his wrists above his head, pinned to the wall. "What are you doing here, then? Huh? You get a thrill out of walking into the lion's den, is that it, Sandburg?"
"You know it isn't. You know I don't--"
"Are you going to be cooperative? Or do I have to get rough? You want to take your clothes off for me? Or should I tear them off you? You want to get down on your hands and knees? Or should I just throw you down and start ripping you apart?"
"Don't do this."
"Is that how you like to get fucked? Is it, Blair? Do you like it dangerous and non-consensual?"
"Just fucking stop it already!" Blair shouted. "Before you say something you really regret." He wrenched one of his wrists loose and stroked Jim's hair and then touched his face. "I know you don't mean it. I know you're upset. And you know I'm not afraid of you. So just quit trying to push me away. You're not going to scare me off like this."
He felt Jim go still, and then the pressure on his wrist relented. Blair wrapped him up in a hug. He could feel Jim's body shaking.
"Maybe you should be afraid," Jim mumbled against his shoulder.
"Of you, man?" He shook his head. "Never." He tightened his arms around Jim and rubbed his back. "It's going to be okay."
Jim pulled back, and Blair could see all the pain and confusion in his eyes. "There's evidence against me, " he said, shakily.
"It's all circumstantial."
"For now. But-- That shirt. There's no way it's not mine. And that blood? It's got to be the victim's."
"We don't know that."
"But we will. Soon enough."
"So something's going on here. Something shitty. That's hardly a first for us. We'll figure it out."
"I don't think-- It's not a good idea for you to get involved in this, Chie-- Blair."
"Oh, forget it, Jim. You're not getting rid of me. So make your peace already."
"I'm serious here."
"So am I."
"But you haven't heard-- You may not still feel--"
"I doubt that very much. But I do want you to tell me. We need to get everything out on the table, so we know what we're dealing with." He reached out for Jim's hand. "Come on. Let's go sit down, and you can fill me in."
He pulled Jim over to the sofa. They settled next to each other. Jim didn't let go of his hand, and he didn't pull it back, either.
"So what happened?"
Jim stared down at the rug. "They found something else. A knife."
"The one the perp uses?"
Jim nodded. "Probably. There was blood. They're going to match it with the victim's."
"Okay. So what does that have to do with you?"
"Simon showed it to me. It looks like my hunting knife."
"Are you sure?"
"It's got to be. The first thing I did when I got home was check my stuff downstairs. No knife."
"And you're sure you couldn't just have misplaced it?"
Jim looked at him skeptically.
He sighed. "Okay, man. So you're organized within an inch of your life. You didn't lose it. The perp must have somehow gotten your shirt and the knife. We'll just have to figure out how."
"That's not all," Jim said, shifting in his seat uncomfortably. "I have to tell you why--"
"Why they think you're doing it?"
Jim nodded, his expression pained. "According to the profile, the precipitating event is a break up."
Blair couldn't help smiling. "Hey, that's what my profile says, too."
Jim stared at him. "You did your own profile?"
"Uh, well, yes. You know, I wanted to help out somehow."
Jim shook his head and smiled. "That's just so like you, Chie--" He broke off, awkwardly.
"Hey." He touched Jim's leg. "I like it when you call me Chief. It's my nickname. You gave it to me, and I'm keeping it. So let's not let this asshole ruin it. Okay?"
"I just don't want to sound like him."
Blair shook his head. "You couldn't. Don't give him any power, man. He's a prick, and he doesn't deserve it."
Jim thought about it, and finally nodded. "Okay. I know you're right. Chief."
Blair smiled at him. "That's better. Okay, so back to the evidence. The profile could resemble any number of people. It doesn't mean squat. And besides, you don't have a recent breakup. That part doesn't fit you."
"Chief--" Jim hesitated. "You're too close. You're overlooking the obvious."
Blair frowned, puzzled.
His mouth dropped open. "You've got to be kidding."
"I'm not. That's what they think."
"But we-- We're not--"
"I know. But they-- It doesn't seem to matter."
"Well, that's just stupid."
"I wish it were. Unfortunately, it makes a certain kind of fucked up sense."
"No, it doesn't. What? You're mad at me, so to get even, you go out and start assaulting complete strangers who have nothing to do with anything? I don't think so."
"Chief, the most recent ones-- They looked like you. And this last victim said-- The perp accused him of being disloyal."
"Oh. Fuck. So they think this is about the dissertation somehow."
"But Simon knows better."
"What do you mean?"
"He asked me-- Do you think it's possible I could be doing this in some kind of-- really fucked up zone. And not even know it?"
"No. That's ludicrous. You're completely incapacitated during a zone out. That's pretty much the definition of what a zone is."
"But I have repressed things before. Maybe I could be--"
"Those were memories of traumatic experiences from the past. You buried them to protect yourself. But you did experience the moment when it was happening. You knew what you were doing at the time. What Simon suggested would have to be--" He waved his hand in the air. "Some kind of altered consciousness. A fugue state. Or multiple personality disorder. You don't have that."
"I just-- How can you be so sure? With all the fucked up shit that has gone on with me over the years."
"Are you missing time? Do you have gaps in your memory? Have you had any experiences where you found yourself somewhere, and you couldn't remember how you'd gotten there?"
Jim frowned in concentration. "Well, I have been working really crazy hours these past few months. It all kind of blurs together. I don't feel like I was exactly wide awake for all of it."
Blair shook his head. "That's not lost time. It's completely normal. None of us can attend to what's going on around us a hundred percent of the time. We all go into, like-- these little mini zone-outs all the time. The question is: Do you feel like there's a significant stretch of time that's unaccounted for?"
Jim wrinkled his forehead. "Nooo. I don't think so." And then he breathed out heavily. "No. I'm positive. There's nothing." His expression cleared, and Blair could see the relief in his eyes. "Thank God, Chief. Thank God. I can't tell you how panicked--" He shook his head.
"Geezus, Jim. Did you really believe you might be responsible for this?"
"No-- I mean, I didn't think so. It's just with my history I don't feel like I can really rely on my memory."
"Ah, man." Blair laid his hand on Jim's back. "You're not out doing stuff you don't remember. I promise you." He squeezed Jim's shoulder. "Hey, man. When was the last time you ate?"
Jim shook his head. "I don't know. Yesterday. Breakfast, maybe."
Blair sighed. "You need food. I'm going to go see what you have. I'll whip us up something."
He headed into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. "Oh, geezus. There's nothing but condiments in here."
"I've been kind of busy."
"What have you been eating?"
"Whatever I could grab."
Blair held up his hands. "I don't even want to think about it. I'm ordering Chinese from the healthy vegetarian place. Don't argue. You need the nutrients."
"I'm not arguing." Jim said. And then he added quietly, "Thanks, Chief."
"No problem, man. No problem." He picked up the phone. "You want your usual?"
Jim nodded. "Sounds good."
He called and placed the order. The restaurant always delivered incredibly quickly, and by the time they'd finished putting out plates and silverware and napkins, the door bell was ringing. Blair grabbed the bag of food while Jim paid for it.
They sat down together and started to eat.
Jim looked at him from across the table and said, "Feels like old times, huh?"
Blair held his eye. "Yeah."
"So, uh, I heard that you were enrolled in the forensic psychology program at Barton."
Blair nodded. "Yeah, man. It's really interesting. I'm finding out all kinds of things about the criminal mind."
"Is that why you did the profile on our guy?"
He paused a moment, and then he shook his head. "Not really. I just-- If things were different, I would have been helping you on the case. I didn't like not being part of it."
Jim smiled. "You miss the roller coaster, huh?"
Blair looked down at this plate. "Something like that."
After dinner, they carried the dishes into the kitchen, and Jim started washing them. Blair took up a spot beside him and dried.
Jim cleared his throat. "Chief?"
"Mmm-hmm," Blair said, concentrating on not dropping the slippery dish he was holding.
"It, uh--" He stopped washing. "It hasn't been the same."
Blair looked at him. "Not for me, either."
"You didn't call. I thought you would."
"I, uh, well--"
"I know. You needed to start a new life. It's just-- I thought you'd forgiven me."
"I did. I mean, there was nothing to forgive."
"Then why did you leave? I've been going over and over it in my mind every day for the past six months, and I still don't understand. Why?"
"I just-- I couldn't stay." He searched Jim's face. "You didn't call me, either."
"I couldn't face it. I'm a coward, I know. But I just couldn't stand the thought of hearing you say it."
"That you hate me."
"You know I don't hate you."
"I ruined your life."
Blair shook his head. "No, you didn't. Look, Jim, nobody wanted this. Nobody caused it. Naomi had the best of intentions when she e-mailed my dissertation to that publisher. I never meant to hurt you by putting your name in the text. I just-- I wanted to see it, the truth of it, what you are and what you can do, the sheer miracle of it, just for my eyes only. I wanted to read the story of Jim Ellison, not Sentinel X. And you-- Well, you had every right to be upset."
"I know it doesn't always seem like-- But I want you to know that I do trust you. More than I've every trusted anybody else."
Blair smiled. "I do know that, Jim. Honestly, I do."
"So why did you leave?" Jim asked. "Was it the academy?"
Blair looked away. "No-- Well, yes. Sort of." He paused. "The day I quit, I was coming into the locker room when I overheard the other cadets talking about us. They were trying to figure out why you'd still want me around if I'd betrayed you the way I said I had. They started wondering if maybe it was true after all, that you really were a Sentinel."
Jim blinked. "Oh."
"Yeah." Blair sighed. "I should have realized. I just never thought that far ahead when I decided to do the press conference thing. I never considered what it might mean for us afterwards."
"So you just unilaterally decided what to do? You couldn't come to me and tell me? We couldn't have tried to figure out something together?"
"I didn't see what good that would do. Come on, man. What other option was there?"
"I don't know. But we could have thought of something."
Blair shook his head. "No. Anything less than a complete break would have left people suspicious. And that would have left you in danger. And giving up my-- It would have meant nothing. I just couldn't have that."
Jim looked over his shoulder, avoiding his eyes. "I missed you."
Blair touched his arm. "I missed you, too."
"I'm glad you're back. Even if it's-- I'm still glad."
Blair reached for him. It felt like coming home when Jim wrapped his arms around him.
They held onto each other until Jim finally pulled back. "I have to go. I'm sorry," he said, his voice filled with regret. "I have to go down to the station to be interviewed."
"I'll come with you."
Jim shook his head. "I don't think that's a--"
"I am coming with you. So don't even."
Blair thought he would put up more of a fight, but instead Jim just nodded and said, "Okay, then."
Blair grabbed his coat.
Blair smiled at him. "You're welcome, man."
Jim sat at the familiar gouged wooden table in the interview room, his back stiff and straight, as he waited for the questioning to begin. He knew Blair was watching from behind the two-way glass, and that was at least some comfort. Somehow, he'd managed to wheedle and beg Simon until he finally caved and broke every rule in the book by letting him into the observation room. Although his lawyer from the Officer Defense department was sitting right next to him, it was Blair's presence behind the glass that made him feel that he wasn't quite so alone.
"Before we begin," his lawyer said. "I just want it noted for the record that Detective Ellison has agreed to this interview of his own volition. He's making every effort to cooperate fully with this investigation."
Branson, the IA investigator, smiled at him from across the table, in the way that IA guys always smiled. It said: Hey, there's no problem here. We're both cops. I know how it is. I'm on your side.
"Of course," Branson said. "Detective Ellison's cooperation is duly noted for the record. And I personally appreciate your help, detective."
He nodded coolly. IA guys were masters of bullshit.
Branson turned a page in the file that lay open in front of him. "So, Detective-- Hey, I don't suppose it would be all right if I called you Jim, would it?" he asked and smiled again.
This time, it was the let's be buddies smile.
"Hey, thanks there, Jim. I appreciate that. I mean, there's no reason we've got to have a stick up our butts about this thing, now is there? We're just trying to gather some information. And we're looking to you for a little help."
Jim kept his face expressionless and said nothing.
"Okay, then. So, I've been reviewing the duty roster, and you certainly have been putting in the hours lately, haven't you?"
"I do my job."
"Oh, don't be so modest, Jim. You've been working your ass off. You've got enough overtime pay coming practically to retire on." Branson laughed.
"All that work must start to take a toll after awhile. Huh? I know how that is. The pressure can really start to get to you."
"I can handle the pressure. I wouldn't be a cop if I couldn't."
"Sure, sure. I didn't mean to suggest anything different."
"So, Jim, you deny having any involvement in this recent string of sexual assaults, is that right?"
"Yes, that's correct. I had nothing to do with it."
Branson nodded. "I'm inclined to believe you. I mean, you're a highly decorated officer with a distinguished career. Hell, you've got the best arrest rate in the city. Who knows? Maybe in the history of the Cascade PD. So, I know you're good a guy. A good cop. I mean, there have been some incidents in the past. But you were eventually cleared every time, right?"
Vasquez glowered at him. "We're not here to discuss ancient history. And as you just said, Detective Ellison has an exemplary record. So let's get on with the matter at hand."
"Sure, sure. No problem, counselor." He turned to Jim. "I just wanted to let you know that I admire the good work you've done and that I think you're a good cop. That's all. Just so you know."
Jim kept his face neutral and waited for what was coming next.
"Of course, it doesn't really matter what I think," Branson continued. "We get a complaint against an officer. We get wind of any kind of suspicion, we have to check it out. That's just the deal. And my superiors down at IA-- Well, they're troubled by some of the things that have surfaced recently with this case. I mean, first of all there's the shirt." Branson made his voice almost apologetic. "You admit that it's your shirt?"
"It seems likely."
"Because you own a shirt like that?"
"But it's missing?"
"And your shirt had small splashes of white paint on one of the cuffs. Is that correct?"
"Do you recall the last time you saw your shirt?"
Jim shook his head. "It's been several weeks. I don't know exactly. Maybe a month. Maybe a little more."
"It didn't strike you as odd that it just vanished out of your closet?"
"I thought I'd lost it in the wash," he said, tersely.
"Oh. Okay. Well, I can see how that could happen. The shirt we found, though, had blood on it. Was your shirt also stained with blood?"
He silently ground his teeth together. "No," he said.
"Do you have any idea whose blood it is on the shirt?"
"I have no way of knowing."
"Do you think it could belong to the most recent victim?"
"As I said, I have no way of knowing that."
"We did find it very near the crime scene. And the victim was stabbed in the shoulder when he fought back against the perp. I just want to get your opinion, you know, as an ace detective. Doesn't it seem likely that the blood is probably the victim's?"
"My best guess? Yes, it probably is."
"Of course, we'll know for sure when the DNA match comes back. We should have that tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe it'll come back that it isn't the victim's blood after all. That would certainly help you out if that's the case." Branson turned a page in the file and read. "Oh," he said and made a clicking noise with his tongue. "But then there's the issue of the knife. We found that near the crime scene, too. I believe Captain Banks showed it to you?"
"Yeah. It's a beauty, isn't it? I mean, you know, if it hadn't been used in the commission of a crime and all. But apart from that, it's a fine piece of workmanship. I believe you have one just like it?"
"Yeah. I do."
"What do you use something like that for?"
"It's a hunting knife. I take it camping. Fishing. That kind of thing."
Branson nodded. "Outdoorsy kind of stuff, huh?" He chuckled. "I have to admit that I'm not much into roughing it myself. Me? I'd rather stay home and watch the game while I'm drinking a beer and lying on the couch. But you-- You must enjoy getting out of the city, getting back to nature."
"That probably comes from your military background, huh? You were a Ranger, right?"
"Yeah, I remember reading about you. Time magazine, no less." Branson whistled appreciatively. "You were a real hero, sticking it out in the jungle all by yourself for eighteen months. You must have really learned a thing or two about surviving in the wild, huh?"
Jim stared at him coldly.
Branson waved his hand in the air. "No need to answer that. I'm sure you did. I'm sure you know all about handling a knife like that. Me? I'm lucky not to lose fingers when I'm just in the kitchen helping my wife fix supper. I'm not really that much into knives myself, to tell you honestly. What about you, Jim? You feel comfortable with a knife in your hand?"
"That's enough," his lawyer interjected. "He's already told you what he uses the knife for. I think we've covered this."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Vasquez. You're right. I was just curious. That's all." Branson looked over at Jim. "I apologize there. I didn't mean to get out of line."
"No problem," he said.
God, I hate this asshole's fucking guts.
"Are you able to produce your hunting knife, Jim? You know, the one that so closely resembles the knife we've got down in the lab checking for prints. Did you bring it down here with you today to show us?"
"I can't find it."
Branson's eyes widened in faux surprise. "Really? I'm amazed by that. I thought for sure you'd be able to produce your knife, and that would be the end of it. Did I tell you that there was blood on the knife, too? I apologize if I left that out before. But we did find blood. Do you have any idea whose blood that could be?"
"So your knife didn't have any blood on it the last time you saw it? You wouldn't have put such a gorgeous piece of workmanship away dirty, would you?"
"No," he said through clenched teeth. "Of course not."
"And when was the last time you saw your knife?"
Jim ran a hand through his hair. "I think it was the last time I went camping, which was early last fall."
"So that's been a while. Where did you last see the knife?"
"In the storage area in the basement of the building where I live. That's where I keep all my camping gear."
"And this storage area is locked?"
"Who has a key?"
"I see. Did anyone else ever have a key?"
"My ex-wife Carolyn and my former roommate Blair Sandburg."
"They both returned their keys?"
"Could either of them have made a copy?"
"I guess. But I doubt it. I can't think of any reason why they would have."
"Hmm. Okay. So, really, it looks like you were the only one who had access to the place where the knife was kept. So, let me just ask you again, just to make sure. Is it your statement that you had no involvement in these attacks?"
"Yes, that's right. I had nothing to do with it."
"Then how do explain your shirt that has blood on it and the knife that has somebody's prints on it, quite possibly yours--we'll know that for sure tomorrow--along with somebody's blood, most likely the victim's?"
"Someone must have taken them from me."
"I don't know."
"Why do you think somebody would take them?"
"Isn't that obvious? To frame me."
"Ah, a frame. So that's what this is."
"Yes. That's exactly what this is."
"Hmm. Okay. I see how that could be one possibility. But I've got to say that this guy must be really good. This framer."
Jim looked away, working to keep his temper under control.
"I mean, not only does he have your shirt and your knife, but he seems to keep exactly the same schedule you do. Where were you around eleven p.m. on April 14? Not at work. We already know that."
"I was at home."
"You seem pretty sure about that. You don't want to check your calendar or anything?"
Jim sighed. "I was working days then. If I wasn't at work, then I was at home."
"It was a Saturday. You didn't go out with friends or anything?"
"So you were at home. Alone?"
"You didn't have any company?"
"Any phone calls?"
"I don't think so. But you could always check the phone records."
"Yeah, we did that, actually. No calls in or out. Not on your home line or your cell. And you know what? That's true for all the other attacks, too. That would be April 19 at 2:00 in the afternoon, April 30 around nine at night, and May 3 between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Can you tell us where you were at those times?"
"I was home. Like I said, I've been working days. Long days. I've been going to bed as soon as I get home. April 19 was the last day I had off. I slept most of the day."
"Yes," he said, irritably.
"Anybody stop by? Did you get food delivered? Stop to talk to a neighbor? Is there anybody who can verify that you were, in fact, at home."
Jim shook his head. "Not that I know of."
"That's pretty interesting, don't you think? I mean, you'd expect this guy, this framer, to screw up sometime, to strike even just once when you were at work or out with friends or sometime when you had an alibi. Do you have any thoughts on how this guy has been so perfect in his timing?"
Jim tightened his jaw. "Maybe he's been watching me."
"Hmm. Okay. Well, that certainly is one possibility," Branson said, letting the sarcasm seep into his voice. "So none of these times you were out with friends, huh? When was the last time you got together with people, Jim?"
"I don't know."
"Was it recently?"
"I've been busy working this case recently."
"Mmm-hmm. But what about before that?"
"You know what it's like to be a cop."
"So, no dates? No nights out with the boys? No going out for drinks down at Hennigan's with your buddies after your shift?"
"No, not lately."
"So, it sounds like you keep to yourself a lot."
"Like I said, I've been busy on the job."
"Okay, let's talk about that. You have a partner?"
He shook his head. "Not really. I work with different people on different cases."
"Cops in Major Crimes tend to work with a partner, don't they?"
"But not you?"
"Not at the moment. But I have before."
"So why not now?"
"I just haven't found the right fit."
"You mean, since Mr. Sandburg is no longer a consultant with the police department? Is that correct?"
"Yes, it is."
"Are there other detectives in the Major Crimes unit who would be available to partner with you?"
"I guess so."
"There have even been some new hires in the past few months, haven't there? New blood coming into the unit. Don't you think you've had more than adequate opportunity to find-- What did you call it? The right fit?"
"I don't know how to answer that."
"Okay. How about answering this instead? Have you even tried to find a new partner?"
Jim glared at him.
"Or did you just decide after Mr. Sandburg bailed on you that you'd prefer to stay a lone wolf? Isn't that really the case?"
Jim crossed his arms over his chest.
"Okay. That's all right," Branson said. "You don't have to say anything you're not comfortable with. I think I know the answer to that, anyway. So let's talk about the assault on May 5. We do know for sure where you were that night. We've got the bartender's statement and some other witnesses. How do you think this framer of yours managed to pull that one off? I mean, that's pretty fucking brilliant. To strike while you're in the same general area. What were you doing there, anyway?"
Jim sighed. "I had a hunch. I went to check it out."
"And that hunch was?"
"That the guy might hang out at mixed clubs, so he could watch men without drawing too much attention to himself, without having to come right out and go to a gay club."
"But you didn't mention this line of investigation to anyone you work with before going off to pursue it?"
"It was a spur of the moment type thing."
"I see. So do you hang out at the Starlight yourself, Jim?"
"I don't get out much."
"So you've never been there before?"
"Mmm. Okay. So according to the other statements we have, you also ran into your former partner there."
"So what was that like seeing him?"
"It was fine."
"It was, wasn't it? It didn't stir up anything in you?" Branson watched him curiously. "I heard Sandburg didn't make it at the academy."
"He decided against it."
"Wussed out, huh?"
"No. He decided against it."
"Well, if you say so. You do know him better than I do. Just curiously, though, when was the last time you'd seen him before that night outside the Starlight?"
"I don't know. It had been a while."
"About six months."
"So it sounds like you guys had a falling out."
"We just hadn't seen each other."
"Isn't that unusual? I mean, I got the impression the two of you were pretty close."
"People get busy. Their lives change."
"Mmm. Yeah, I guess that can happen." Branson drummed his fingers on the desktop as he made a notation in the file. "The thing is, though, that Sandburg kind of screwed you over, didn't he? I mean, he made up all that superman shit about you and almost got you killed, from what I hear. Then you fixed it so he could get a chance at the academy, and he bailed on you completely. You weren't even a little pissed off about that?"
"No, I wasn't."
Branson raised an eyebrow. "You're a better man than I am, then. I don't know which part of it would have made me more furious. But you weren't angry at all?"
"No. It wasn't Blair's fault."
"He didn't write that shit about you being a--" He referred to the file. "A Sentinel?"
"It was a mistake," Jim said, his voice clipped.
"If that was a mistake, then it was a lulu. I'm kind of surprised you still wanted him to be your partner."
"He's a good partner."
"Would you say he's the best you've ever had?" Branson asked, his face innocent, but his voice dripping with innuendo.
"He's the best partner on the force I've ever had. Yes."
"Then it must have really stung to have him betray you like that. And then disappoint you by dropping out of the academy."
"I told you it was all a mistake. No one's fault."
"Mistake or not. Fault or not. It must have been upsetting."
"I've already told you how I felt about it. Can we move on now?" Jim asked, acidly.
"Sure, Jim. Sure thing. I didn't mean to hit a nerve. It's just-- You just keep having problems with your partners, don't you?"
"What the hell?" Jim asked, with a hot rush of anger.
"I don't see how that is at all relevant, Detective Branson," Jim's lawyer objected.
"I was just making an observation, counselor. One partner stabs Jim in the back. The other dies on him. I don't know. It's like a pattern or something."
"Confine your questions to the matter at hand, or the interview is over," Vasquez advised him.
"No problem, counselor." Branson held up his hands in mock surrender. "So, Jim, were you having a sexual relationship with Mr. Sandburg?"
"What? No!" Jim denied, his face hot and red.
"How is that relevant?" Vasquez demanded.
"This is a sex crime, counselor. The perp we're looking for has most likely had homosexual relationship in the past, or at least the desire for one. He's also experienced the loss of a significant relationship recently. So the nature of his relationship with Mr. Sandburg is not just relevant. It's critical."
"Blair and I were not lovers," Jim insisted.
"But you lived together."
"Roommates. Uh-huh." Branson looked at him appraisingly. "Did Mr. Sandburg pay rent?"
Jim looked away. "Not exactly."
"Not exactly? You pretty much either pay rent or you don't. Did Mr. Sandburg?"
"Not formally. But he paid for stuff around the house. He bought groceries. That kind of thing."
"He paid the utilities?"
"No, not usually. He was a grad student. He didn't have a lot of money."
"So, really, letting him live with you was kind of a charity thing."
"We're friends. Friends help each other."
"Mmm. I wonder what else friends do for each other."
"That's out of line," Jim's lawyer instructed the IA detective.
Branson nodded. "And I apologize." He rested his chin in his hand. "So, Jim, you never had sex with Mr. Sandburg, despite the fact that the two of you lived in the same apartment, worked together very closely, and you were, by all accounts, pretty damned inseparable? It was all just purely platonic."
"Have you ever had sexual relations with another man, Jim?"
Jim turned to his lawyer, outraged. "What the hell does that have to do with anything? Do I have to put up with this bullshit?"
The lawyer threw him an apologetic look and leaned in to whisper in his ear. "Of course, you can always invoke your fifth amendment right. But this question is relevant to the crime, and unfortunately, taking the fifth would look bad. You haven't been charged with a crime yet. It might be better just to answer. But absolutely don't lie."
The man pulled back, and Jim scowled unhappily.
This is such a fucking nightmare.
"So, what about it, Jim? Have you ever been with other men in a sexual way?"
"Yes," he said through clenched teeth.
"But not with Sandburg?"
"Because it just wasn't like that."
"Didn't find him attractive, huh?"
"Mmm. But that's not what I asked you, is it?"
"I've had enough of this. Ask me something else."
"Okay." He nodded. "I can do that. Did you have a sexual relationship with Jack Pendergrast?"
"You fucker!" Jim hissed.
"That's enough," Jim's lawyer warned the interrogator. "You've been over this area. Mr. Pendergrast has been deceased for years. He has absolutely nothing to do with this investigation."
"Sure, he does, Mr. Vasquez. I think Detective Ellison here has a pattern of becoming involved with people he works with. He married Lieutenant Plummer. He lived with Mr. Sandburg."
"That wasn't--" Jim started to protest.
"I know," Branson said and smiled mockingly. "You said it was platonic. But right now, I'm interested in what your relationship with Jack Pendergrast was. I mean, I could go out and ask some questions. Get in touch with people you used to know. I'm sure there's someone who can tell me what I want to know. Or you could just save me the trouble and tell me yourself. At any time, did you have a sexual relationship with Jack Pendergrast?"
Jim stared into space, the blood pounding in his temples. "Yes," he finally admitted.
"Were you still involved at the time of his death?"
"How did it end?"
"It just didn't work out."
"Who ended it?"
"It was Pendergrast, wasn't it?" Branson asked.
Jim's jaw ached. "Yes."
"And why was that?"
"He became involved with somebody else."
Jim stared down at the table. "Yeah."
"You didn't like that, did you?" Branson asked, his tone insinuating.
He didn't look up or answer.
"I don't think you did. And what did you do about it? Huh?"
He stayed silent.
"You fucked her, didn't you? You waited until they were having problems, and then you fucked his girlfriend to get even with him for dumping you. That's it, isn't it? That's what happened."
He shook his head. "It wasn't like that."
"I think it was. I don't think you take rejection well, Jim." He shook his head earnestly. "Not at all. I think somebody pushes you--you push back. You certainly got back at Jack Pendergrast, didn't you? I mean, there he was getting blown away, and you were off banging his old lady."
Jim shot out of his chair, knocking it over. "Fuck you! Just fuck you! You don't know what you're talking about."
Branson leaned forward eagerly in his chair, his eyes bright. "That's right, Jimmy. Show me how mad you get. Show me what you do when somebody ticks you off."
Vasquez grabbed Jim by the arm. "Sit down, detective."
Jim glared at Branson.
"I said sit down!" Vasquez raised his voice.
Jim took a deep breath.
"Don't let him push your buttons," his lawyer told him quietly.
He nodded. His head was pounding, and he felt sick to his stomach. But he forced himself to pick the chair up, sit back down and collect himself.
"One more stunt like that, and I report you," Vasquez told Branson.
"I'm just doing my job here, counselor."
"No, you're not. You're enjoying it. A little too much. And we both know it. So ask the rest of your questions. Things that actually pertain to the case. And then we're finished here."
"Fine, fine. I just have a few more things."
"Keep it brief," Vasquez advised him.
The investigator nodded, and then he turned to Jim. "Do you ever fantasize?"
"Cut the bullshit, detective!" Vasquez snapped at him.
"Do you like to look at pornography, Jim? Hmm? Do you like to look at other men, see them naked and defenseless, watch them getting fucked against their will, getting raped? Do you?"
"That's it!" Vasquez yelled.
"When you have sex with other men, are you always on top, Jim? Or do you bottom, too? Huh, Jim? Do you sometimes let other guys fuck you? Are you ashamed of how you like to take it up the ass? Was that the problem with Pendergrast? You got tired of being on the receiving end all the time? Did that hurt your pride? Is that why you went out and fucked his girlfriend?"
Vasquez rose to his feet. "Get up," he said to Jim. "We're finished here."
Branson stood, too. "Is that why you get off on fucking guys against their will? Huh, Jim?" he asked, his tone relentless. "To make up for being a bottom slut at heart. Is that why you like to make them bleed? Why you rape straight men? Is that it, Jim? Does that make you feel like a big shot? Huh? Like you're a real man?"
Jim followed Vasquez to the door.
"Is that what happened with Sandburg?" Branson taunted. "Is that why you're out raping these other men? Was he straight and you couldn't have him? Or did he want to make you into his little bottom boy and that hurt your fragile ego?"
He'd already taken more than he could stand, and this was the last straw. He pulled his arm back, but Vasquez managed to grab his fist before he could throw the punch. "Don't. That's exactly what he wants," his lawyer said.
He reluctantly let his arm drop to his side, thankful that Vasquez had stopped him from doing something really stupid. No that he couldn't help regretting that he wasn't going to get to smash Branson's nose in.
"Thanks for your cooperation, Jim." Branson smiled nastily at him. "It's been very-- well, enlightening I guess is the word for it."
Before he could react, Vasquez shoved him out into the hall.
"Tell your client not to go anywhere, counselor. When we get the reports back from the lab, we'll be over to see him," Branson called after them.
Vasquez closed the door. "You realize, of course, that this isn't at all good."
Jim nodded, shell-shocked. Oddly enough, despite
everything else he had to worry about, the thing that made his
stomach hurt the most was knowing that Blair had just witnessed
all of this.