While Joel puttered around the aquarium he talked to the fish. He couldn't help tapping on the glass to draw their attention. He thought they were cute little things. It wouldn't be much trouble to set one of these up at home. After he fed them just enough to keep them happy and healthy, he checked the air regulator and the lights. All seemed well on the fish front.
He went to pull the watering can out of the cabinet, then filled it to the brim. He whistled absently while he made the rounds of the greenery, stopping to pluck a dead leaf here and there. Couldn't have that now, could he? He wanted everything to be shipshape when he went to pick Simon up at the airport tomorrow. The plan was that on the way back they'd stop and pick up Daryl at his mother's house so he could spend Christmas night with Simon.
He heard the phone ring but left it for the machine to answer so Simon could answer or not if he wished when he returned home.
“Banks, you'd better answer, damn you. You want to see your kid for Christmas, Banks? PICK UP THE PHONE!”
Joel nearly dropped the watering can in his haste to answer, “Hello. This is ...”
“Banks you listen to me. Listen good. This brat of yours isn't going to see Christmas if you don't follow my instructions. You hear me? Do what I say or else.”
“You ... let me talk to Daryl. I don't make any deals until I hear him!!”
“You talk to your Dad, brat. Make it quick!”
“Daryl, are you all right?”
“Uh, 'Dad'? Yeah, yeah. I'm okay ...”
“That's enough, Banks. He's alive. He ain't hurt ... yet! You do what I say.”
“You'll release him unharmed?”
“Hey, as long as the brat behaves, and you do your part, then he'll get out of this alive. Now for the deal. Listen up, Banks, the kid's life is riding on it. I want Pat Jameson released from lockup. Tonight, before midnight. You got it?”
“Release Jameson? I can't just release him ... “
“It's your decision, Banks. And it's your kid. Make your choice.”
“Wait, wait. I'll arrange it. Where do you want him delivered?”
“I want him on the corner of Fifth and Main. There's gonna be a bunch of last minute shoppers, so don't try anything fancy. Got that? There'll be someone waiting for him. Don't you worry about that. I want you to just drop him off yourself, then drive away.”
“WAIT. What about Daryl? I want him released when Jameson is!”
“Heh. Yeah, okay, he'll be there, too. You release Jameson and I let the kid go. Just remember, if there's no Jameson then the brat gets it.”
Joel finally took a whole breath after the kidnappers hung up.
Joel tried to call Simon. He was going to leave a message, but he couldn't do that to his friend. He just asked him to call his cell phone, saying that it was urgent. He pulled one of Simon's hats and coats out of the closet, putting them on as the best disguise he could come up with at the moment.
He turned out most of the lights and watched the neighborhood carefully for anyone that might be watching the house. He finally decided he had to make a move, midnight wouldn't wait. He pulled the hat low over his face and tried to walk like Simon. He fingered the answering machine tape in his pocket as he walked to Simon's car.
He'd never bargained for this when he'd asked to borrow Simon's car while repairs were being done on his. He and Simon had been friends for a long time. They'd often done favors for each other, so he'd gladly offered to take care of Simon's house while he was away. Now he was in the position of pretending to be Simon to save Daryl's life. He grimly put his sketchy plan into play and drove away, watching for a tail.
He knocked on their door at 8:35. Less than three and a half hours till midnight. He knocked harder. He was getting worried because he usually didn't have to knock at all. They had to be home, their cars were out front and the plans they'd shared with him included a quiet Christmas Eve at home.
Blair opened the door with a wide grin. “Joel, what a surprise. Come on in, man.”
Joel was all grim business, “Where's Ellison?”
Blair's eyebrows rose, “Hello to you, too! What's up, Joel? Is that Simon's coat? You better not let him see you ...”
“We don't have time, Blair. Where's Jim? Please tell me he's here.”
Jim came quickly down the stairs while tugging his sweatshirt down, “What's wrong, Joel?”
Joel's relief was obvious but he launched into his story without delay, “Daryl's been kidnapped. The guy wants Pat Jameson released at midnight, and in exchange, he'll release Daryl.”
“Why are we just hearing about this? Wait a minute, what about Simon? He's not even in town.”
Joel reined in his impatience, and his fear. “You know I've been taking care of Simon's house. I just left there. I picked up the call when I heard this guy on the machine. He assumed I was Simon, and I haven't been able to get in touch with him yet. I have the tape with me. Jim, I wanted you to listen to it first. Your abilities might find something it would take forensics too long to discover!”
Joel watched as Jim retreated behind a stony facade, and Joel would have none of it, not tonight. He strode up to him, glaring into Jim's face and declared, “Don't you even think about denying it, Ellison. You can pretend all you want to tomorrow. You let Blair throw away his career to protect you. Well, I can't argue because that's between you two. But tonight you're the sentinel. You be the sentinel, so Simon has a son to come home to for Christmas. Do you hear me?”
Jim paled at the words, but pulled himself together quickly, “Alright, Joel, when you put it like that. But I'll hold you to it. Tomorrow we forget all about this. Now, where's that tape.”
Jim was uncomfortable with Joel watching, but his attention seemed to be mostly on Blair. He watched closely as Blair guided Jim through the sorting process.
Jim listened intently, with Blair coaching when Jim seemed stymied. Jim smiled grimly, “Daryl's a smart kid, Simon should be proud. He's whispering in the background. He said, That's Joel! It sounds like Dad's answer machine came on. I hope he takes this to Jim and Blair. Oh, hey, Jim! I think I saw the van that this guy pulled me into! It had a name on the side, 'Flora's Bloomers'. Funny name, huh? Oh man, Jim. Please hurry. I ....”
Blair swallowed hard, “Daryl, too. He's a good kid. Let's hope we can all just pretend ... tomorrow. Let's get back to work, Jim. We need to concentrate on background noises. Can you filter out this guy now, and Daryl's little monologue? What else do you hear?”
“Sandburg, it's raining! And I hear rain in the background and it's drowning out anything else!”
Joel thought for a moment, “Jim, it wasn't raining when he called. It wasn't raining when I left the house either, only when I got here.”
“If it isn't rain ...”
Blair looked frustrated, “It could be anything, a water sprinkler, a ... a fountain ...”
“A water sprinkler.”
Blair bounced up on his toes, “Yeah?”
Jim was quick with instructions, “Joel, you go to the station. Set up Jameson's release.”
Blair interrupted, “But Jim, Jameson is wanted for suspicion of murder!”
“And this other guy has Daryl.”
“I know. But what if this guy has other plans?”
Jim nodded, “Yeah, I thought that might be the case too. Joel, this guy may just be setting up a hit on Jameson. He might be planning for Daryl and Simon to get caught in the crossfire. With people still out shopping we could easily lose him. We need people on the street waiting. We need crowd control. We need Jameson in Kevlar. We need Simon ... well we need someone in Simon's place, wearing Kevlar. We need SWAT and their best sniper. Then, just in case he intends to somehow get away with him, find some discreet way to put a locator on Jameson. Get blockades ready to move into place. We can't afford to lose him if we can't find this Flora's Bloomers place. It might not even be the right place at all. And what are the chances he's working alone? We need someone to check on Jameson's buddies and his enemies.”
“It's a lot to organize in a couple of hours, especially on Christmas Eve, but consider it done,” Joel nodded grimly, “And you'll need backup. I'll call Henri and Brian.”
Joel pulled away at 9:15. He had left while still giving orders over his cell phone.
Jim and Blair had left earlier. It had only taken a look in the phone book to find an address, but a very short stakeout had proven to the sentinel that there wasn't a sprinkler running, and worst of all, no Daryl. There weren't even any flowers since this was just a managerial office. It seemed that Flora's Bloomers was a distribution center for other, smaller shops. That was why a name like that hadn't sounded familiar to any of them. Their flowers, sprinklers, and hopefully Daryl, were at another location. They set off for the distribution center.
They pulled in two blocks away at 9:45. Brown and Rafe pulled in behind them. Jim looked in his rearview and saw the other two partners conversing. He tuned in soon enough to hear Henri, “Hey, Jimbo. Just give us the sign if you hear anything!”
Jim looked fiercely at Blair, “I suppose they'll pretend tomorrow, too?” at which Blair just shrugged his shoulders in confusion. “This sounds like the military's don't ask, don't tell. Damn it!”
“You're kidding, right?” Blair swiveled to see H and Brian. Turning back to his partner, “You're going to hold on to your temper till tomorrow, right Jim? Until after we get Daryl back?”
Jim loosened his grip on the steering wheel. “Tomorrow. Let's go. I can hear Daryl, he's whispering to me again. It's probably time for us to get him out of there, right partner? And when things are settled down, we'll have a talk with him, too. Maybe he heard us talking to Simon.”
Blair sighed in relief, “Let's do it, man.”
“And then tomorrow ....” Jim left it hanging as he exited the truck.
Blair winced inwardly. He could hardly wait ... tomorrow!
The four men gathered in an alley nearly two blocks away from Flora's Bloomers to make their plans. It was 9:55. Two hours to go till midnight. This guy had to move soon to be in position by then. Unless he had accomplices.
Jim clenched his jaw in frustration. All three of the other detectives watched him expectantly. Time to do his magic act. “Sandburg, get over here,” he said in aggravation. He reached out and grabbed Blair's hand and placed it on his forearm. When Blair looked surprised Jim whispered, “What? Do you think they don't know you're in on it, too? Come on Einstein, I've got an audience and I really don't want to zone in front of them. Besides, Daryl's pretty scared.”
Blair nodded once and whispered so softly that he knew Henri and Brian couldn't hear him. “Come on, Oh, Great Sentinel. Got a little performance anxiety?”
Jim glared and Blair dared a soft grin. “Sorry. Now relax, will you? You already heard Daryl. Can you locate the other guy?”
“A damn sprinkler, AND rain,” and then he sneezed, three times.
Blair took a deep calming breath, and proceeded encouragingly, “I take it you found the flowers. Jim, dial your sense of smell down. You probably won't need it to locate them. And remember, Cascade has a nearly nonstop rainy season. You can, and have, done this before. Come on, Big Guy. Concentrate. Feel my touch. Hear my voice. I'm right here. Open up your hearing. Direct it to the site. Two human heartbeats ... where are they?”
Finally Jim took a deep breath and nodded to Blair. Speaking for all three detectives he said, “The perp is in the room at the left of the front door.” He glanced quickly toward Blair, “I did smell gun oil, Chief. Daryl is in another room on the same side of the building, toward the back. There are a lot of refrigerator units running in the warehouse part, but I only heard those two heartbeats. If there's an accomplice he isn't here right now, but watch your backs. Brown and Rafe, take the back and get Daryl out of there. We take the perp. Sandburg, while they're moving into place, call for more backup, and tell them we're not waiting. This guy isn't going to sit around. He needs to move soon if he plans to be in place at midnight. Guys, I'll give you fifteen minutes to move into place and look the situation over, then move in. Let's go.”
Rafe just nodded and dragged Henri away a couple of steps. Even Blair could hear H ask, “Heartbeats?”
Their surprise didn't prevent them from deploying quickly. Jim relayed as Henri spoke quietly, “Jim, there's a Flora's Bloomers van out here. It's locked and empty. The fifteen minutes are up. We're set. We're moving in.”
Jim and Blair had moved to the front. Both front and back were locked tight, but didn't withstand a couple of good kicks.
Jim lead this one. With a gesture he directed Blair to an open doorway. It was a good place for Sandburg to provide cover for him. Jim moved to the opposite doorway, and just in time. When the perp rushed out of the room he occupied, Jim shouted, “Cascade PD! Put your gun DOWN. Don't give me a reason to shoot you!”
The perp was furious, but not entirely stupid. He wasn't in a position to fire in time to stop the cop who he could plainly see had his gun trained right between his eyes. Sweat ran down from his forehead as he slowly tossed the gun away, then just as slowly, he tucked his hands up behind his head and turned around.
It went down that quickly, without a shot fired. The man was read his rights and backup arrived to take him away. The team at Fifth and Main, with a SWAT team scattered over the rooftops, waited for an accomplice to show up but no one was ever spotted. When the van was opened they discovered that the man they had in custody had a lot of firepower available.
Their incomplete investigation so far had revealed that Jameson had a history of double dealing some very bad people. Still, it didn't seem logical for someone like that to take such a chance, involving a cop and his family. They still had more to investigate, and they needed to interrogate him, but their perp was probably working alone. They just didn't know if this had been a hit for hire or if it was personal.
Henri and Brian had taken Daryl out the back door and met up with the others when the crime scene had quieted down. Daryl may have been a teenager but he wasn't shy about wrapping his arms around Jim that night. When he actually got a comforting hug in return, Blair grinned ear-to-ear.
When Daryl glanced over at him, Blair said, “You did everything right, man.”
“Oh, yeah,” Blair affirmed, remembering what his own Blessed Protector had done, and said, for him.
Daryl was taken to the station and fell asleep on Simon's couch after he gave his statement. Joan had been visiting her great-aunt but was on her way to the precinct by the time Simon finally returned Joel's urgent call. Father and son were reunited by cell phone, and neither seemed eager to say good night.
It was late when sentinel and guide left the precinct. They drove along the nearly deserted, early morning streets lined with Christmas lights and decorations. The rain had turned into a light snow.
When they were almost home, “Hey, Jim?”
“I'm glad Simon and Joan didn't have to find out about Daryl's kidnapping until it was all over.”
Jim let out a long sigh, “Yeah, me too, Chief, although they probably wouldn't agree.”
“What? Is it past your bedtime? It's sure past mine.”
“No, Jim. It's ... tomorrow.”
Jim released a tiny sigh, then, “Yeah. I know. What are we going to do, Chief?”
“Well ... I was thinking we could count our blessings, Jim.”
“That's all you've got to say on the subject?” Jim asked tiredly, but he seemed resigned.
“Well, it sounds good to me. Nothing's going to change the situation.”
Another tiny sigh escaped. “I know. They're all good people. I guess I need a reminder every once in a while that I have a whole lot of blessings to count.”
Soon, Sweetheart was parked in it's allotted space and the two partners slammed their doors then made their slippery way to the sidewalk.
When Blair reached the sidewalk he stopped and stuck his tongue out to catch some snow before asking once again, “Hey, Jim?”
“Didn't Naomi ever tell you not to eat snow, Sandburg? Never mind. What was I thinking? What now?”
“Umm, it's tomorrow, Jim. Merry Christmas,” Blair said brightly.
Jim turned to his partner and grinned as he brushed some snow off Blair's nose. Then he turned him toward their door and draped an arm over his shoulder, “You know all those blessings ... well, there's one I count every day. Merry Christmas, Blair.”