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Blair was quivering with rage.  "That supercilious SOB is going to pay, and pay and pay," he growled. Henri "H" Brown was glad Blair's ire wasn't turned toward him. "Tell me again."

"Joel came by about half an hour ago, called everyone here into Simon's office and closed the door.  He said Warren had suspended Simon without pay pending charges.  He said that he didn't know what the charges were.  Joel is acting captain for now."  Henri looked around and lowered his voice. "Joel said the best thing we can do is our jobs and to keep our heads down.  When Brian asked a question, Joel just said it wasn't the right climate for questions.  He said he'd be calling a department meeting as soon as everyone had been told." Henri shrugged, looking downcast.  "Sorry, Blair, that's all I know."

Blair called Jim's cell phone, which went right to messaging.  Almost immediately, his personal beeper went off, although it didn't alert H because Blair had it on silent mode.  "Jim's not answering," he explained as he hung up the phone.  "I'm going to see what else I can find out."

"Good luck, Hairboy.  Watch yourself and Jim, too."  

Blair nodded and left, taking the stairs all the way down to the garage level.  He looked around to make sure he wasn't being watched, then slipped out to the street.  He walked casually, keeping alert for anything that looked suspicious.  When he was sure he was alone, he looked at his beeper.  Instead of a message, it was a series of numbers and letters.  He hailed a cab and gave directions to a house in the suburbs.  

He let himself in, then reset the security system.  He went into the kitchen and made a pot of coffee, more for something to do than for any real need of it.  As the pot finished sputtering, Blair heard the front door open again.  He tensed and then relaxed when he heard Jim calling out softly.  Once Jim reset the alarm, he turned toward Blair with his arms open.  Blair wrapped his arms around Jim's waist, feeling more calm with Jim's arms enveloping him.

"You've heard," Jim stated rather than asked.

"Yeah, H told me what he knew, which wasn't much.  I figured when you didn't answer your phone, you couldn't."

Jim nodded. "It's a good thing we practiced all those beeper codes.  They came in handy."

They broke apart and went into the kitchen, where Blair poured the coffee.  They sat at the breakfast nook and looked at each other.  "What are we going to do first?" Blair asked.

"We're going to pull out everything we've collected for the past six months.  Then we're going to go to Internal Affairs."

"Jim, are you sure we can trust them?"

"We have to start somewhere, babe.  If IA refuses to do anything, we can take it outside.  It's why we have copies of everything scattered around, right?" Blair nodded.  "Sheila heads IA now.  We may have locked horns before, but I've always gotten a honest vibe from her."

"Okay, let's go see her."

*****

Six months earlier.

Blair stormed in the loft; Jim could practically see the steam coming out of his ears.  "I can't believe it!"

"Chief, calm down, you're going to have a stroke."

"Jim, I don't want to calm down.  How can you be so calm after what Warren did to us this morning?"

"Blair, I'm pissed at what happened, and I'm not sure what's behind it.  But we can't figure things out if we're blinded by anger.  I need you to have a clear head so we can figure this out."

Blair looked at Jim, and then broke and just started laughing. "Oh, boy, what a role reversal.  Aren't you the one who blows up and I'm the voice of reason?  Maybe we've been together too long; we're rubbing off on each other."

"Yeah, and I'm looking forward to many more years of rubbing, babe.  Come here."  Jim enveloped Blair and just held him for long minutes.  "I think that we're getting too close to something. Maybe it's McMasters as Simon suggests, or maybe it's something else.  But…"

"Your spidey senses are tingling.  Yeah, mine are, too.  I think it's time to do some surveillance. Try to look for patterns."

It was harder than they expected.  Most of what they found wouldn't qualify as misdemeanors.  Warren was a jackass, and an entitled one.  He regularly used his police force as his personal employees.  Jim wasn't the only one Warren requested for special investigations.  It seemed any time a crime was committed against someone related to Warren or his wife or even his friends, a detective from an appropriate department was asked to give it special consideration.  He commandeered city vehicles and requested police escorts, costing thousands of dollars and wasting dozens of man-hours on his whim to look important.  None of these were enough to get him more than a stern talking-to by the city council.  Unfortunately, most of the Council members were guilty of abusing city funds for their own perks, so nothing was going to happen.

Then, out of the blue, the dots got connected.  While investigating a series of assaults, Jim happened to go down to Booking with a suspect.  The joint was jumping; apparently there'd been busts all over the city.  There were a number of men and women being booked for prostitution and they were chatting quietly among themselves as they were being processed.  

"Well, I've got to go," one young redhead was saying to another who had raven hair and way too much makeup.

"You're not getting booked?" Raven Hair asked in surprise.

Redhead just gave a slight smile and walked away.  She clutched a paper in her hand.  Jim zoomed sight to see it was a partially-filled booking sheet.  The name on it was "Sherri Love".

Jim handed his perp over to a uniform with a quick remark that he would return shortly.  He followed Redhead out the door, then circled around so he could arrange to bump into her.  They collided hard enough to dislodge her purse and spill its contents on the sidewalk.  "I'm so sorry," Jim said loudly.  "I'm such a klutz, I wasn't looking where I was going."

"No problem," she said and started to pick up her stuff.

Jim stooped to help, picking up cosmetics, a billfold and the booking sheet, which he pocketed.  "Here you go," he said, handing her the other items.  "Are you sure you're okay?  I didn't hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine," She answered, looking at her watch.  "I've got to go."

Jim went back to Booking to finish with his perp, then went up to Major Crime.  Blair was working on their report.  Blair looked up and smiled. "How'd things go with Martin Sorenson?"

Jim shrugged.  "He's being processed right now.  He should make bail in a few hours.  I'll interview him once they're done downstairs."  Jim lowered his voice. "Something weird happened while I was there."  Jim explained the exchange between the women and the discarded booking sheet.  "Can you check her out and see what kind of rap sheet she's got?"

"Sure, give me a minute."  Blair's fingers flew across the keys.  He looked through several pages and frowned.  "Jim, she doesn't have any record at all."

"That's weird," Jim answered.  I know I've seen her on the streets down by one of the big massage parlors in Koreatown.  She's been in town long enough that she should have at least one arrest."

*****

Sheila Irwin, head of Internal Affairs, scrutinized Blair as he sat across from her desk--without Ellison by his side, for once.   "The Chief has asserted that there's a conspiracy to get rid of him so Major Crime in general and you, Ellison and Captain Banks specifically, can run your own fiefdom.  He says once you can get rid of him, the next Chief will be so cowed, no one will challenge your running the whole Department."

Blair rolled his eyes.  "Trust me," he said, "I don't want to stay with Cascade PD a moment longer than I have to. I want to see justice done and then I'm outta here."

Sheila raised an eyebrow in surprise. "You've had an offer from somewhere else?"

"I'm not at liberty to say," Blair replied, somewhat coolly.  "Chief Warren has set up an atmosphere of mistrust and unprofessionalism that permeates everywhere.  I hope you can see that and, more importantly, do something about it. If I can help accomplish that, I'm not concerned about what happens next for me."

"Okay, what have you got?"

Blair pulled out a sheaf of papers.  "Overtime paid, special requests for personal protection during parades and cocktail parties, requests for uniformed officers to be used as chauffeurs, requests for limos and helicopter rides to prestigious events."  Blair also had a spreadsheet that memorialized every event and the approximate costs for each one.  

Sheila looked at everything and shrugged.  "A shameful waste of taxpayers' money certainly, but hardly rising to an IA investigation.  What do you want me to do with this?"

"It's the start of a pattern.  A pattern of abuse and entitlement.  While these might not be crimes, they are sowing seeds of dissension through the department.  Doesn't that count for something?"

"We haven't received any complaints."

"And why do you think that is?" Blair asked, annoyed.  "When the abuse starts at the top, there's no one to report it to.  It was difficult to get these statements, and you notice they are all anonymous.  We know who wrote what and if you do a little digging on times and places from this list, you could probably figure it out.  But no one wants to talk for fear of losing a job over this."  Blair blew out a breath.  "The longer it goes on, the more likely it will get worse.  Is that what IA wants?  I thought you covered all Internal Affairs," Blair finished with a touch of bitterness.

"We do," Sheila snapped defensively.  "But someone has to be willing to talk, be willing to stand up.  We have no knowledge that anything like this has been going on."

"And you haven't asked.  Let me ask you this," Blair leaned back in his chair.  "Up until now, in the past year or so, you haven't had a lot to do, have you?  That last bust that Jim was involved with really helped clean out the bad apples in all departments, because you swept in.  So, you haven't needed to do much looking."  Blair looked up at her.  "Are you really so sure that nothing new is fomenting?  Nature abhors a vacuum is the saying.  Maybe you just need to look a little harder.  

"These so-called little things that Warren is getting away with set a bad example. As others see he can get away with them, then they will think the same.  Isn't that how it all starts? Good people seeing others getting away with things, so they feel it's okay to do a few little things under the table."

Sheila looked out her window.  "I can't deny that's how it starts many times.  I also can't deny that we haven't been looking under rocks and carpets as much lately."  She looked back at Blair.  "And I also can't deny that the atmosphere in all departments seems to be a bit… closed off."  She gazed at Blair with a suspicious look. "Why are you here now?  Why have you been holding onto these things until now?  What else have you got?"

Blair smiled, but not at all in a friendly manner.  "Now, you're starting to do your job." He pointed to the papers.  "It's what you'd expect in a good investigation.  Nothing actionable, but enough to point to a possible pattern. Not enough people willing to admit what's going on unless they had safety in numbers.

"As to why now, you've heard that Warren has suspended Banks on some to-be-named charges." Blair snorted. "What could Banks have possibly done?  He's honest to a fault, does his job with integrity and is politically savvy.  I expect the announcement of Banks' firing will amount to 'irreconcilable differences' so Warren can justify letting him go without any public hearing.  He'll put together a separation package that includes a non-disclosure clause.  Banks will have no choice but to leave or he'll never be able to work anywhere else.  That will be Cascade's loss and you know it."

Blair threw his own hard gaze back at Sheila.  "As to what else we've got, I have a request first.  What I'm telling you stays between us for now.  I trust you based on past performance, but I don't know the other IA investigators.  Agreed?"

"For now," Sheila nodded.

"We found a tenuous--and I stress tenuous--connection between someone in the upper echelons of the PD and the seedier side of Jason McMasters' network."

Sheila's eyes widened.  "It seems no one can lay a hand on McMasters.  He doesn't even have a traffic ticket himself."

"And doesn't that seem a little odd?" Blair interrupted.  "Rumor has it he's got his fingers in many pies, yet no one has caught him doing anything.  But the rumors persist."

"So, what have you got?"

"Well, you know that Vice has been working on busting these pop-up prostitution rings that are associated with massage parlors." Sheila nodded.  "Most weekends, they net at least half a dozen men and women.  Over time, pretty much every massage parlor has taken a hit.  Every one except those McMasters owns."

"What'd you find?"

"There was a young woman in Booking during one of those busts.  She walked out without being charged with anything.  And she had a partially-filled out booking sheet in her hand." Sheila nodded to continue. "I looked up the name on the booking sheet.  The name wasn't in the database as ever having been arrested.  Ever. Yet she's been seen in the Very Best Massage parlor on Sixth and Maple."  Blair nodded at her look.  "Known as a legitimate McMasters business.  We suspect McMasters might have Warren, if not quite in his pocket, then in a questionable relationship."

"And what makes you suspect Warren?"

"We talked to the Vice cop that busted the girl.  He was told to let it go."

"So? It could have come from Captain Loren in Vice, or even Lieutenant Brand."

"Could have, but we also ran into someone in Code Enforcement a few months ago.  There'd been some complaints about the cleanliness at Very Best Massage.  They started an investigation and then abruptly dropped it.  A month ago, we found a series of Traffic enforcement tickets that were quashed--all at McMasters known or suspected business sites."  Blair looked up. "Yes, it's tentative.  Yes, they might not be related.  But on the surface, it looks like a pattern.  A pattern that starts small and snowballs. Isn't that how your investigations normally start out?"

Blair blew out a breath.  "I don't know.  Maybe Warren started out good and saw how living the 'bad life' gets you perks that a cop's life just couldn't.  All I know is that he's started down a slippery slope and now he's hurting people I care about.  I don't want him to escalate to the point where it crosses from simple greediness to justified violence."  Blair looked hard at her.  "We've seen it before, right here.  You've seen it."  

"Okay," Sheila said and then sighed.  "It's thin, as you say, and not going to be easy.  But I didn't take this job for easy." She gave him a crooked grin. "So, now are you going to tell me why you're here without your shadow?"

"A couple of reasons.  One is that Jim is the one that recovered the booking sheet.  I know you've been on better terms lately, but it wasn't always that way.  I wanted you to interview him separately.  He can tell you how he got the sheet and anything else you need to know." Blair grinned.  "I'm giving you the privacy you need to conduct your business with Jim."

Sheila shook her head.  "I suspect cowboy methods were involved.  Okay, I'll call him in.  I assume these are my copies?" Blair nodded.  "Okay.  And thanks for caring enough to get involved."

"I don't know where this will lead, but I don't want Banks or anyone else who doesn't deserve it hung out to dry over this.  That's my motivation.  I'm hoping--counting--on you to prevent that."

Sheila nodded and stood. "You know, once I start I won't be able to keep you informed.  But I may be calling you in for a lot more questions."  Blair nodded his understanding and they shook hands.  From then on, they couldn't be allies.

*****

Sheila followed the niceties and poured Jim some coffee, inviting him to sit before beginning her questioning.  "So, Jim, how did you get involved in this… investigation of Chief Warren's activities?"

Jim smirked.  "Well, you know me, Sheila.  I keep my eyes and ears open.  I've felt for a while that there's been an uncomfortable atmosphere that's spread through the department."

Sheila looked hard at him.  "Uh-huh.  And was there anything particular that got your radar up?"

 Jim shrugged. "Well, I suspect you heard Warren called Detective Sandburg and myself on the carpet for how we handled an operation." Jim smirked again. "Apparently, we stomped on someone's dahlias and they complained."

"And you're so thin-skinned that this got to you?"

"No, the way he did it got to me.  Warren had eyes and ears out that morning to catch us out and send us directly to his office.  He didn't follow the chain of command, which by the way he's normally a stickler for.  He didn't inform Captain Banks about the situation and what he wanted done about it."

"And what do you make of that?"

"I think it was a snow job.  I think we were starting to get close to something and he wanted to rattle us and our department.  Put us on notice that he wasn't happy with how things were being run.  Put us on the defensive."

"And did it work?" Sheila asked, raising an eyebrow.

"You know better than that.  Warren is new enough and apparently was respected enough in his last job that he doesn't realize that most of us here don't snap to.  Especially when something doesn't feel right.  This just didn't feel right."

"So, what did you do?"

"Like I said, kept my eyes and ears open.  That's when we started to notice the little things.  I only thought he was using me as his personal bulldog when a Major Crime involved someone he knew.  He would ask Banks for me to be personally involved because of my track record.  We found he was also doing that in Vice, Robbery, Traffic, and Homicide.  He commandeered uniforms as escorts to events for no good reason. He insisted on a large contingent of officers when he was giving speeches to give the public the impression that the boys in blue are behind him.  Taking advantage of his position to build a little… empire," Jim finished with a look of disgust

Sheila stood up and crossed her arms.  "Cut the crap, Ellison.  Tell me about the booking sheet and what you did to get it."

Jim sighed.  "That was pure coincidence.  I was down in Booking after arresting someone on one of my own cases.  I heard a couple of the ladies talking and then one of them leaving.  The other was surprised that she was going to leave without getting arrested.  That twigged my attention."

"And…?"

"And I went out the back way and managed to run into her.  Literally.  Her purse spilled its contents, the booking sheet was in there and I lifted it.  Partially filled out.  We looked up the name and there's no record of her ever being arrested on any charge."

"And you're sure it's her?"

Jim tightened his lips, shaking his head.  "No, not sure.  I wasn't able to see her license to make sure it was the same name.  I fingerprinted the booking sheet.  It has my fingerprints, the booking clerk's fingerprints, and an unknown set of fingerprints.  Unless we arrest her for something--which isn't likely--I won't know that for sure."

"And why is arresting her unlikely?"

"Apparently, the word's been passed.  She and the other ladies who hang around McMasters' massage parlors are being left alone. Vice won't touch them."

"And what about you, Detective? Won't you touch them?"

"Prostitution isn't a Major Crime."

"My, I didn't know you turned up your nose at lesser offenses."

Jim looked at her consideringly.  "I suppose something could be arranged.  Maybe we could be hanging out in the area and maybe we could see something suspicious."

"Like loitering? Littering?"

"Dress code violation?" Jim said with a laugh.  "Sounds close to trumped-up charges to me."

Sheila shrugged.  "All in a good cause.  Just enough to get an ID and a valid set of fingerprints.  The charges wouldn't have to stick."

Jim raised an eyebrow.  "My, my, Lieutenant.  You're running close to the edge.  Does that mean you've got something worth following?"

"I really couldn't say.  You do your part, and we'll see if Ms. Love leads us anywhere.  Agreed?"  Jim nodded.  "Okay, then.  This conversation never happened."  Jim smirked once more as he left her office with a little salute.

*****

The seven people sat around the table and solemnly raised their glasses in salute.  Normally, they would celebrate a victory at O'Malley's in Downtown.  But there was nothing to celebrate and no one felt victorious.  Nothing to celebrate, except for the return of Simon Banks as head of Major Crime, fully cleared by Internal Affairs.  And nothing victorious, as the story of Chief Warren's complicity with Jason McMasters was revealed.  

In the end, Sherri Love, aka Donna Marshall from Medford, Oregon, played a vital role.  She was too green to withstand Sheila Irwin's expert interrogation and gave up names, places and methods used by the McMasters organization to elude the police.  Let loose from their restraints, Vice made busts all over the city, forcing McMasters to retreat and regroup.

There was not enough to charge Warren with a crime, but more than enough to embarrass him publicly. The City Council gave him the option to resign quietly, without compensation or recommendation.  Warren at first objected, but when he was informed that staying would initiate a civil suit aimed at getting him to pay back the taxpayers' money he'd used for his own purposes, he complied.  He left for parts unknown.

As stories of Warren's abuses made the department rounds, more and more anger ran through the rank and file.  A mixture of embarrassment and resentment persisted, until Ellison and Sandburg started holding up a mirror to the worst complainers.  The "fool me once" adage came up more than a few times.  While the Assistant Chief scrambled to pick up the pieces, Banks quietly met with the other captains with a plan to heal the damaged department.

So, instead of O'Malley's, they were having dinner at Tutti Mangia on the outskirts of the city, a restaurant known for its food and discretion.  Simon Banks took a long sip of his bourbon and Coke, enjoying the sweet, smoky flavor.  He looked around at his core of trusted team: Rafe, Brown, Taggert, Connor, Ellison and Sandburg.  Although he didn't know the details, he knew that these were the ones who never gave up, risking their careers, and perhaps their lives, to clear his name.    He waited until the waiter took their food orders before speaking.

"Well, gentlemen and lady, I'm ready for details.  I want to know what's been happening while I've been… out of touch, and how you managed to get me back to my full rank and status.

The group exchanged furtive glances, then turned blank faces toward their boss.  

Megan Conner was the first to speak up.  "Couldn't say, Captain.  I was gobsmacked myself when Warren chucked you out." She sipped her Shiraz and smiled.  "Glad you're back, truth be told."

Joel Taggert nodded.  "Megan's right.  Everyone was shocked.  No one was saying why you were gone.  All we could do was say long and loud what kind of person and boss you'd been." He shrugged. "Maybe somebody heard us."

Henri and Rafe both nodded, but said nothing, taking refuge in their glasses.  Simon looked at Jim and Blair.  "Gentlemen?  I'm sure you have a story to tell."

Jim looked at Simon and shook his head.  "Sorry, Captain, much as I hate to admit it, I think you're going to have to thank IA.  Irwin and her team were like dogs with a bone.  They never let up."

Simon pressed, "But why? What got a bee in her bonnet?"  He looked at Blair.  "Sandburg, I've never seen you so quiet.  No theory as to what happened here?" Simon narrowed his eyes.  "Maybe more than a theory?"

Blair looked at his boss, who was also a friend.  Someone to whom he hated to lie, but was forced to.  They'd all sworn an oath to keep their parts a secret, in order not to compromise the IA investigation.  Their participation, like Warren's empire-building, wouldn't bear much inspection.  "Simon, I think it's a variation on the thin blue line," he began, which elicited moans all around.  

"No, really," he spoke up a little louder, warming to the subject.  "IA always has an us-vs-them position--the cops they investigate are always 'them'. When Warren started doing all those little things, his people got resentful and any loyalty they had to their chief eroded.  Warren became an outsider.  The grumbling got louder and IA noticed the rift and investigated." He shrugged.  "I guess it helped that we were part of the grumblers.

"Irwin might have gotten off to a late start, but once she got going she dusted Warren," Blair continued with a smile.

"'Dusted', Sandy?" Megan asked in confusion.

"Yeah, you know, like in a race." He smacked one palm against another, sliding it forward quickly.  "She left him in her dust."  He then switched hand directions, smacking them open-faced against each other in the classic wrapping-up gesture. "Dusted and busted." Blair reached for his beer and raised it in salute. "He got off a lot better than he deserved."  Everyone smiled and raised their glasses in agreement.

Simon looked as if he was going to press, but just then the food arrived.  It might have been his imagination, but he thought everyone looked relieved at the interruption.  Not wanting to seem ungrateful, he said, "This all looks great.  Let's dig in, folks.  Shop talk is done for the night."  The mood immediately lightened as they re-established their old camaraderie.

*****

Later, after the food and drink and catching up on personal lives was long done, Jim and Blair lay in bed, arms around each other.  "How do you think it went?" Blair asked softly.

"Well enough," Jim answered.  "Simon knows there's more going on.  We'll have to see how much he'll press to find the whole truth."

"I hate lying to him," Blair said, feeling Jim nod in agreement as his arms tightened.  "I don't think we have a choice on that.  What if it affects our relationship with him? What are we going to do?"

"Babe, we'll do what we've always done.  Assess the situation and make decisions."  Jim turned Blair toward him so he could look in the eyes of his beloved.  "We always knew that leaving might be a necessary option.  That's still a possibility.  For right now, let's see how things play out."

"Damage control," Blair agreed, with a sigh.  Jim nodded.

"For right here, right now, I'm glad it turned out as well as it did.  Simon's back, the department is starting to put itself together.  And we made it through without having to go outside and without risking life and limb."

"Yeah, not getting shot was a big plus."  Blair smiled up at Jim.  "Yeah, all in all a good job of it.  We can worry about the fallout tomorrow.  Now, let's get to more pleasant things."  He reached up to kiss Jim hard, promising a long night of love-making.



~the end~