Happy Holidays, Aly!
The Case of the Mysterious Mugger
Jim walked in the loft door, giving his home a quick scan. A delicious smell coming from the oven and books and papers scattered over the living room table told him Blair had been here, but the absence of the heartbeat of his lover said he was not anywhere in the apartment. Jim furled out his hearing, expecting Blair to be visiting a neighbor. Instead, he located him in the building's basement. Curious, he turned around and headed back downstairs.
Jim leaned against the door jamb of their storage room, enjoying the view as Blair bent forward to pull out several boxes. When he half turned to set a box on top of another, Blair's sweaty brow and smudged face indicated that he'd been at his task for a while. Jim watched as he wiped dust off a box to read a label, then grunted a sound of success.
"Find what you're looking for?" Jim asked, causing Blair to jump and turn.
"You about gave me a heart attack," Blair exclaimed, chiding, "Don't sneak up on me!" But he belied his annoyance by walking over, reaching up to pull Jim's head down for a kiss. "How was your day?" he asked.
"Better now I'm home. What's going on here?" Jim looked around. "This place could use a good cleaning."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that's what I want to do with the little spare time I've got--haul cleaning supplies down here so this space we barely visit passes sentinel muster. Believe me, I can think of many more pleasant things to do." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, and Jim chuckled.
"I bet you can, and I have to admit I like how you think. But that doesn't answer my question." He waved his hand at the pile of displaced boxes.
Blair started restacking boxes into a semblance of order, then dragged one box towards him, pulling out his Swiss Army knife. "Naomi sent me this a few months ago. It has stuff from when she cleaned out Bubbe's house." He slit open the box and rummaged around. "I'm hoping to find some things I can use-- bingo!" he exclaimed, pulling out something wrapped in a velvet bag. He put it on the floor, undid the drawstring and the velvet dropped, revealing an ornate candelabra.
Jim squatted down and reached out gently to touch it. His fingers felt the elegant grooves of the decorations, then the fainter marks and scratches that told of much travel and long use. "This was your grandmother's? I thought she was still alive."
"She is," Blair answered as he gazed at the heirloom. “This is her mom's--Naomi's maternal grandmother. I remember being fascinated when my great-grandfather would light the candles and say the prayers. Bubbe's moving to a smaller house and needs to divest. I guess she thought I'd like to have it." He sighed. "It's been through a lot. They travelled throughout Europe, never truly settling until they came to America. Naomi told me stories about how they hid their treasures as they crossed from one country to the next. It's the only thing of value they didn't sell to get the money to emigrate here." He stood and brushed off his jeans, putting the heirloom back in its bag. Hoisting the box, he headed out. Jim locked the door and they waited together for the elevator.
Blair put the box on the living room table while Jim got a rag to wipe the dust off the box.
"So," Jim said, "are we celebrating Hanukkah this year? I'm always in the mood for fried food," he added with a grin.
Blair rolled his eyes. "As if you're telling me something new. No, Janey Richards over at the Community Center asked me to explain Hanukkah to the kids there." He rummaged around the box, pulling out a small, colorful dreidel. "Hey, this was mine! Now all I need is to get a few more so the kids can play." He pulled out a pad and pencil, making a list. "I need more dreidels and something to use for game pieces. Hmm… maybe nuts or pennies."
"I've got that jar of pennies you can use. Happy to get rid of it."
"Great! Then some decorations, something to eat, candles--oh and I need to make PowerPoint slides to show how to play the game and explain about the origin of Hanukkah…" he continued to add to his list.
"So, why were you pegged, and why Hanukkah?"
"Well, my job includes interfacing with the public and public services, and the after-school programs at the Center definitely fall in my purview. Janey knows that and figured I could work her into my schedule. She's been having guests come in all year to explain lesser-known religious or cultural celebrations. This year already she's had Chinese and Islamic New Years, Mardi Gras, Earth Day and, last month, the Day of the Dead. Hanukkah isn't the most important Jewish holiday, but it's a lot of fun and she's been sticking to fun celebrations. A spoonful of sugar and all that."
"Well, let me know how I can help. In the meantime, I'm starved. What'd you make for dinner?"
"So, what's the case you got today?" Blair asked as he pulled the meatloaf out of the oven.
Jim made a face. "A mugging. A woman got knocked down as she was walking to her car. She got some scrapes and bruises and a good scare but was otherwise unhurt. The mugger got her purse and used her debit card to get money from an ATM."
"That sucks. I don't want to sound elitist, but how is that a Major Crime?" As Jim opened his mouth to answer, Blair held up his hand. "Wait, don't tell me, she's the Commissioner's niece?"
Jim shrugged. "Close. She's the wife of a friend of Senator Walken."
"Well, she deserves the same protection we give all the other members of the tribe, so…" He noticed something on Jim's face. "Is there more?"
"Maybe," Jim answered. "Shelly Masters from Robbery thinks it might be related to other unsolved cases." He pulled out a bowl of salad from the fridge and poured a vinaigrette over it, tossing it thoroughly.
"She's a good detective. I'll bet she was pissed to have the case taken away from her. What'd she find?"
Jim shook his head. "I don't know. The case got tossed in my lap at the end of the day. She let me know her suspicions and gave me the files she'd collected. I locked everything up and left."
Blair brought the food to the table, then went back for a couple of beers, handing one to Jim. "Well, I have nothing scheduled for tomorrow. You want me in on this?"
Jim grinned and saluted with his bottle. "I thought you'd never ask." With that, they sat down to dinner.
Blair was lying across Jim, both breathing hard from a bout of love-making. As Jim rubbed his hand up and down Blair's back, he asked softly, "That package from Naomi came a while ago. Any reason why you took so long to open it?"
Blair gave a one-shoulder shrug, his face averted. "Things have been hectic. Straightening out all the legal stuff with Rainier and Berkshire. Going through the abbreviated course at the Academy. Negotiating the new job parameters."
"And, of course, both of you are too busy to talk to each other. Babe, maybe this was her way of offering an olive branch."
"You know she didn't screw things up on purpose."
"But it still hurt. And you always make the first move when you two disagree, even when she's in the wrong." Blair shrugged again. "Didn't you tell me that a person is only as evolved as they can be at any point in time? Naomi is Naomi. Can you get over your anger enough to forgive her and mend fences?" Blair lay still and Jim gave him a little nudge. "You made me do it with Dad."
Blair lifted his head, frowning as his gaze met Jim’s. "You know, it's damned annoying when you use my words against me." He rested his head back on Jim's chest. "I'll call her tomorrow."
Jim squeezed. "You can tell her how much you appreciate getting the menorah."
"Hanukiah," Blair said.
"Technically, it's a hanukiah," Blair said, rubbing his hand over Jim's chest.
"What's the difference?"
"A menorah is-- never mind, I'll tell you tomorrow. Right now, I want another round."
"Happy to oblige," Jim said, reaching over for a kiss.
Blair entered the PD, carrying two cups of coffee and breakfast burritos from Leann's Diner across the street. He'd needed to touch base with Janey first thing and had promised Jim he’d stop for sustenance on the way in. He looked at Jim's empty desk.
"He's in conference room one," Rafe said by way of greeting, and Blair smiled his thanks as he left the bullpen.
Blair found Jim going through several case folders and making notes on a yellow pad. Blair put down the burritos and handed Jim a coffee. "So, what are these cases that Shelly said could be related?" he asked.
Jim looked at his list. "Another purse snatching, but without the victim getting hurt, the contents of a locker stolen at the 24 Hour Fitness Gym, a baby snatching where--"
"Wait, a baby snatching?"
Jim nodded. "The mother was pulling her car keys out when the perp pushed the baby's stroller down the block and around the corner. The baby was found unharmed right away. The only thing missing was the mother's diaper bag, which contained her wallet."
"And why does Shelly think they're related?"
"A stolen wallet was always involved, and each victim's debit card was used to withdraw money. None of the credit cards were used and other ID, such as driver's licenses or membership cards haven't shown up anywhere. There are a few more here, but the possible connections are more tenuous. I think we need to commandeer this room so we can spread things out and look for patterns."
Blair nodded as he picked up the room's phone. "I'll call to make sure it's available. Otherwise, we'll reserve a different room.”
"Okay," Jim said, looking at the pin board where they'd started posting case summaries, "it looks like we have seven cases which might have the same perp."
"There could be more," Blair answered, moving to pick through the pile they'd discarded.
Jim gently put his hand on Blair's. "There could be more," he agreed, "but these are the strongest. Once we catch the thief, we can see if they're responsible for more." Blair nodded and left the pile. "So, what do you see?"
"Well, obviously all the victims are female. All were pretty well off, so they were probably targeted because robbing them would net a good haul."
Jim nodded. "What else?"
"No credit cards were used. No ID was used for anything--nothing got sold on the black market to use for identity theft, so probably a garden variety thief who doesn't have connections with Cascade's seedy underbelly."
Jim smiled. "You're getting that cop lingo down, Chief. What else?"
"Well, all of the debit cards were used to pull money out of ATMs."
Blair looked at his notes. "Different amounts. Anywhere from $100 to $500. I'm guessing the amounts were whatever the maximum daily withdrawal limit was. Each card was never used more than once." He looked up, then over at the board once more. "I can't see anything else they have in common."
"Me either," Jim answered. "I think focusing on the banks might be a good way to start."
"Well, last year, after that rash of hold-ups of people right after they withdrew money, the larger banks started installing cameras in their ATM kiosks."
"So, we should visit the banks that have the cameras. Let me get a list. We can call them and then head out." Blair opened the seven folders and jotted down the banks. "There's one other thing," he said, as he was writing down names and numbers. "How did the thief rob the ATMs? You need PIN numbers to access the bank accounts."
"I'm not a tech whiz, but don't they have some gizmo that can figure out the PIN?"
Blair nodded. "Which means this isn't a garden-variety thief. It's someone who got their hands on that technology and knows how to use it." Blair closed his notebook. "Let me call the banks and then we can head out."
Jim nodded. "If we're lucky, we can knock them out before lunch."
Jim brewed a fresh pot of coffee in the break room, using the organic grounds Blair brought from home. He brought two cups back to the bull pen and set a cup in front of Blair just as he was hanging up the phone. "So, what're we looking at?"
"One was the Federal Credit Union -- no camera. Two were Washington Mutual--again, no cameras. The other four were Cascade National and all of them have cameras. The bad news is that each was at the different location, so we're going all over town." He took a sip of coffee, making "mmh" noises, then took a larger slurp. "The managers have all been informed that we're coming. They'll find the tapes for us."
"Great. Drink up; let's start with the closest one." Jim grabbed their jackets as Blair finished his coffee.
"I'm so sorry," Jennifer Martin said, looking flustered and apologetic at the same time. "We've gone through all the VCR tapes and can't find the one you're looking for. Apparently, they re-use the tapes and the security group didn't get the message to save that day's recordings."
"How long do you usually save them," Jim asked, trying not to show his frustration.
"Usually a few weeks. As you can imagine, recording twenty-four hours a day requires a lot of tapes. Normally, we contact Security as soon as we're aware that a day's tapes need to be saved for the police, but, as I said…"
"Don't worry about it, Ms. Martin," Blair said soothingly. "There's nothing you can do about it now. Perhaps we'll have better luck with the other branches." He handed her his card. "Please don't hesitate to call me if you find anything else about the case. Have a good day."
They walked out onto the sidewalk and Blair blew out a breath of frustration. "I'll call the other managers to see if they found the tapes."
"Forget it, Chief. The next branch is only ten minutes away. Let's just go over and see if our luck improves."
Charles Schuman, bank manager at Cascade National's Tenth Avenue Branch, greeted them and led them to a small room. A VCR machine was set up on the table and a stack of VCR tapes was beside it. "When we learned a stolen debit card was used, we contacted Security and had them pull out the tapes of the two days surrounding the incident," he explained, indicating the pile. He referred to a piece of paper. "According to our records, the unauthorized use happened at 9:37 pm. I pulled out the tape that should correspond with that time. It's already loaded in the VCR. The video has a time stamp on it."
"Thank you, Mr. Schuman, this should be very helpful," Jim said, giving him his most charming smile.
Schuman returned his smile. "We're happy to do anything for the police, Detective Ellison. Would you like some coffee?"
"I think we're fine for now," Blair answered, moving toward the door. "We'll let you know if we need anything, thanks." Schuman glanced once more at Jim, then left. Blair closed the door and looked pointedly at Jim.
"What?" Jim asked.
"I know you're not always this dense. You turned that cheesy smile on Schuman and he practically started flirting with you."
"That's ridiculous," Jim scoffed.
Blair rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. I'm not sure he noticed I was in the room. 'Anything for the police, Detective Ellison. Would you like some coffee?'" Blair mimicked Schuman.
"Well, I can't help it if I'm handsome and charming," Jim shrugged with a grin. "Now, can we get back to business?"
With a grunt, Blair sat next to Jim and turned on the monitor. Jim popped in the tape and they fast-forwarded to the indicated time. They watched as a figure dressed in a heavy jacket, wearing a watch cap, gloves and large sunglasses, approached the ATM. He looked to his left and right, then behind him, apparently checking to see no one was in the vicinity. He reached out, inserting the card, then reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small box. After approximately 30 seconds, the man pressed a series of buttons, then removed cash and the card, pocketed everything and walked away. Jim stopped the tape and rewound, going through the transaction once more.
"Well, he's certainly doing his best to remain anonymous," Blair commented. "Hair covered by the cap, baggy clothes, dark glasses…"
"Not he--she." Jim rewound and used the slow-motion feature to get to one scene, then paused it and pointed. "No Adam's apple."
Blair sat back and blew out a breath. "Wow, that changes things. Isn't it unusual for muggers to be women?"
Jim nodded. "Usually they don't have the physical strength to pull it off without a weapon. Also, mugging is more personal--most women don't have the temperament to commit a theft that's so in your face." He popped the tape out of the machine. "Let's see if we can get anything from the other tapes. I'm sure Schuman won't mind if we take this tape for evidence."
Blair rolled his eyes. "I'm sure he'd be more than happy to do it for you, Detective Ellison. Why don't you write him a receipt and say your goodbyes."
"Let's knock out the other two banks and then grab some lunch. Maybe raising your blood sugar level will help you get over this unbecoming jealous snit," Jim smirked. Blair stuck out his tongue in reply.
The tape from the next branch didn't reveal anything new. It was clear enough for even Blair to see her throat, but she was wearing a balaclava, so no new features were revealed.
The third tape proved more useful. She was still wearing the heavy jacket, hat and sunglasses, but it was earlier in the day, so there was more sunlight illuminating her face. Jim stopped the tape and pointed. "Look there," he indicated her jawline. "Her complexion is uneven. Unless she's got a weird skin condition, she's put on some makeup to change her skin color."
Blair used the zoom feature to enlarge the picture and got up close to the screen. "Yeah, I see it now." He sat back, thinking. "So, she was trying to fool the victims into thinking she was what -- Hispanic? She doesn't have the cheekbones to pass for indigenous."
"You're overthinking this, Chief. The theft happens in seconds. Victims are too upset to notice details like cheekbones, but they usually remember what color skin they saw." He popped out the tape and handed it to Blair, who put it with the others in his messenger bag. "We probably need to talk to some of the victims to see what they remember."
Blair nodded. "Let's see the bank manager. What about Langer's for lunch?"
Jim was thoroughly enjoying his pastrami on rye. The pastrami was sliced thinly and piled high, covered with Swiss cheese and topped with a scoop of tangy coleslaw. But the best thing, in his opinion, was the Russian dressing smeared generously on both slices of the toasted bread. "You're sure you don't want some of this?" he asked, pushing his dish toward Blair.
"Nah, I'm good. This mushroom-barley soup hit the spot. I'll take your pickle, though," he said as he reached over to grab the huge Kosher dill. He cut it in two and bit into his half, crunching it and making "mm-hmm" noises. Jim picked his half up and ate it, figuring they might as well both have garlicky breath. He signaled the server for the check.
"So, where do we go next?" Blair asked.
"Let's talk to the latest victim. She'll have the freshest memory."
"And we can tell Simon we interviewed her personally, just in case the Senator asks the Chief."
Jim rolled his eyes. "You know, it's scary how well you understand how our little closed society works."
Blair grinned, "Well, brownie points and hierarchical orders work pretty much the same everywhere. And a happy Simon is always a good thing." He picked up the check. "I'll pay and you call the vic."
As they drove through the electronic gates and approached the Collins home, Blair whistled. "Wow, this place must have cost them a pretty penny." When Jim didn't respond, he looked over. "Is something wrong?"
Jim was staring at the house as they traveled up the long drive. Blair put his hand on Jim's arm, pulling him out of his reverie. "Hm? No, nothing's wrong… exactly. I just realized I know the victim's husband--Dan Collins. He belongs to the same country club as Dad."
"Is that going to be a problem?"
Jim shook his head. "He's a typical businessman. Not sure whether he'll try to throw his weight around or not. We'll just play it by ear." He parked the truck in the circular driveway, and they approached the front door.
It was opened by a pleasant-looking woman. She appeared to be in her late 50s or early 60s. Her ash-blonde hair was stylishly cut, and she was immaculately dressed. The only things out of place were the cast on her right arm and a fading bruise on her left cheek. They showed her their badges and she said, "Detectives, please come in." She led them to a sunroom. The house was as well-appointed as she was.
"Would you like some tea?" she asked, pointing to a Wedgewood tea set which contained a single cup and a small dish with several cookies on it.
"No, thank you, Mrs. Collins," Blair answered, "but please don't let us interfere with your tea.” He looked at the cast. "Did you want me to pour?" he offered.
"Why, yes, that would be lovely. Why don't you have a seat? And please call me Mandy."
Blair poured, and the distinctive smell of Earl Grey wafted up. He put the cup in front of her and they sat on the sofa opposite her armchair. As she added cream to the tea, Blair pulled a notebook out of his jacket pocket.
Jim began the interview. "We know you've already told your story to Robbery, but we've taken over the case and just want to clarify things in our own minds so we can find the person who did this. Can you go over the events right before you were robbed?"
"I was doing some Christmas shopping at Nordstrom and I guess I must have gotten distracted because I exited into the parking lot and realized my car was on the opposite side. Instead of going back inside the store, I decided to walk around the building. I remember thinking what a lovely day it was--it wasn't snowing and very mild for December, so I thought a nice little walk would do me good." Blair nodded encouragingly.
"So, I started walking and I got to the South end of the store. I was looking at the new set of shops they'd built at the far end of the parking lot, wondering if I should stop by and see if there was anything I could find for gifts. That's when it happened. I felt a shove, and then he was pulling on my purse."
"Where was your purse?" Jim asked. "Were you wearing a shoulder bag, or was it on your arm or in your hand?"
"It was hanging on my arm. He couldn't get it off right away, because of the Nordstrom bags I was carrying. I wanted to scream, but I guess I was so scared I didn't make a sound. I dropped the bags and was struggling to hold onto my purse. That's when he hit me and knocked me to the ground. He took my purse and ran off. I went into Nordstrom and they helped me call the police."
"Did he take anything else? Any of the bags? Anything personal, like a watch or jewelry?"
Jim pointed to the cast. "And your arm was broken when you fell?" he asked, even though he could see it was a splint cast.
"No, it was my elbow. I put out my arm to break my fall and jammed it. It's just badly sprained. I have to wear this for another week or so."
"And your face?"
"It's still a little tender. Nothing was broken."
"Okay, good. Now, can you describe him?"
She took a sip of tea and closed her eyes as if she were visualizing the incident. She opened them and looked at Jim. "I got the impression it was a teen or young man."
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, he was wearing a hooded jacket and jeans and some old ratty sneakers, like young people wear these days. He had on a mask that covered his face. He wasn't much taller than I was, and he was skinny. When we were struggling, we were almost the same strength. If he hadn't hit me, I probably would have won the fight." She took another sip of tea. "I play tennis, so I'm pretty athletic."
"Were you able to tell anything else about him? His race, for instance?"
She shook her head. "He was wearing gloves and the mask, so he was totally covered."
"Okay, one last question. Why did you struggle? Why not just let him have your purse? Surely, you only had a few credit cards, maybe some cash."
She looked at him incredulously. "That was a genuine Louis Vuitton handbag, Detective. It was worth over two thousand dollars. I was hoping you were coming here to tell me that you'd recovered it."
Blair made a small noise only Jim would have been able to hear. "I'm sorry to hear that, Mrs. Collins--Mandy. Nevertheless, please remember that nothing material is worth your life. If you're ever again in a similar situation, I suggest you let the thief have anything he wants. If he'd had a gun or a knife, we might not be having this conversation."
She looked down at her teacup. "I suppose you're right. I just couldn't believe that this could happen in such a nice neighborhood. And in the middle of the day at that! What is Cascade coming to?"
"Well, we'll do our best to get your assailant off the streets so our city will be safer. Unless you can think of anything else, I think we've got everything."
"Just… I know it's a common name, but are you related to William Ellison? He's a friend of my husband's, you see, so I was curious."
Jim smiled cordially. "Yes, as a matter of fact, he's my father."
"Oh, I suppose that's why you've taken my case."
Jim didn't bother to correct her. They stood and he put out his hand, which she took. "Give my regards to Dan," Jim said. "It's been a lot of years since we last played golf."
With that, they left.
"So, this would have been a simple purse snatching, except that she struggled, which turned it into a mugging," Blair said as they drove back.
Jim shrugged. "Still considered grand theft, even before you add in the two-thousand-dollar purse."
"Yeah, that was kind of crazy to learn. I've never understood why people buy such over-the-top expensive things. Surely there's a limit to how good a quality something can be. The rest is just…"
"Showmanship. Yeah," Jim answered. "Believe me, I've been able to see it from all sides."
"Where to next?" Blair asked. "Do you want to interview another victim?"
"No," Jim said as he turned toward Downtown. "This thing is like a jigsaw puzzle. We've got pieces, but I think we're missing something. Let's go back to HQ and see if we can get the pieces to fit."
"So," Blair said, bringing fresh cups of coffee into the room. "Whatcha got?"
Jim shook his head, looking at the files and what they'd posted on the wall. "There're just some things that are bugging me. Mandy said that the mugger was covered from head to toe, so she couldn't identify the race. But we saw her at the ATM with dark makeup on. Why change the color of her skin if she's covering herself up?"
Blair nodded. "And that thing about the purse reminded me of something." He started searching through the files. "Here," he pointed. "The woman with the baby had a Louis Vuitton wallet in the diaper bag." He looked at Jim. "What are the chances that was a coincidence?'
"No such thing as coincidence," Jim answered, "but it doesn't make a lot of sense either. Let's go back through each file and look for any patterns."
Blair took a long drink from his coffee, then picked up a Dry Erase pen.
An hour later, the board was filled with new columns of data. First were the victims' names, arranged in order of the date of the crime. Next were the places the crimes were committed. Third were the bank branches where the ATMs were used, along with the access dates and times. The last column had what was stolen. They left room for another column for any additional data.
On another wall, they'd put up a Cascade map on which they placed pairs of colored pins: one pin for each crime and the other for the ATM location used after it.
"Okay," Jim said as he looked at the walls and started on his third cup of coffee. "What do you see, Chief?"
"Not much," Blair admitted. "Although… maybe. Look at the this," he tapped on one ATM entry. "This is the one where she had the makeup on. We know that she hits the ATM almost immediately after each robbery--before the bank is contacted to cancel the debit card; maybe even before the police are called. It corresponds with the locker that was robbed at the fitness center. She wouldn't have walked into the gym dressed in mugger clothes--"
"So, she disguised herself in a different way." Jim thought about it. "Maybe she was even casing the place--"
"Or working there?" Blair suggested excitedly. "Getting the lay of the land, figuring out who might be worth robbing?"
"Maybe. It's worth checking 24 Hour Fitness out."
Just then, the door opened and their boss, Simon Banks, stepped in. He gave a look around the room, then said, "Gentlemen, what've you got?"
Jim and Blair exchanged a quick glance. Neither wanted to share the tenuous clues they'd gathered. "Nothing yet, sir," Jim answered. "You know, the chances of finding a mugger are slim."
"This doesn't look like you're working on a mugging," Simon said, waving a hand toward the walls they'd filled with data. He leaned down to look at several open case files on the table.
"Well," Blair spoke up, "Shelly Masters thought the mugging might be related to some other unsolved cases."
"And, is it?"
Blair shook his head. "We're not sure yet, but it might be. We're trying to find some common threads."
"We did go out to visit Mrs. Collins," Jim said, hoping it would buy them some goodwill.
"Well," Simon said, straightening up, "good news travels fast. The Chief called to tell me Daniel Collins said his wife was very happy with the 'two young officers' who interviewed her this afternoon. She said she was impressed with how well William Ellison's son had turned out."
Blair snickered and Jim winced. "Honestly, sir, I didn't realize she was Dan's wife--"
Simon held out his hand. "Let's just accept it for the gift it is. I'll expect a report by the end of the week, unless something breaks sooner." He put on his overcoat. "Now, I'm going to see the Jags kick some butt with my son." With that, he left.
Blair and Jim grinned at each other. "I guess it really is who you know, not what you know," Blair kidded.
"Yeah, yeah," Jim responded without heat. “What say we go visit 24 Hour Fitness?"
Blair looked at his watch and shook his head. "I've got to get some work done on that project for Janey. Besides," he continued, "we might have a better chance getting answers with the day shift at the gym. Margaret Hanson's locker was broken into between 8 and 10 a.m. Let's knock off now and head out there first thing?"
Jim nodded. "Okay. I'll make dinner tonight so you can work. Spaghetti okay?"
Blair grinned. "Sounds like a plan. You know I always go for your sauce," he said with a fair amount of innuendo.
Jim picked up their jackets and pushed him toward the door. "Work and dinner first. Sauce for dessert."
The pot of hot water for the pasta was just under the boil, waiting. The garlic bread was prepared and ready to go in the oven. The salad was in the fridge and the spaghetti sauce was simmering. "About half an hour until dinner, babe," Jim announced. "Did you want to grab a shower?"
"Nah," Blair answered, "I'm on a roll here. You go ahead."
Jim saw Blair buried in his laptop and notes and figured he had time for a nice, long shower. He ran upstairs to pick up clothes, then came down and turned on the tap, smiling when the water quickly turned hot. Buying a water heater with a larger tank was the best investment he'd ever made. Washing the day away, especially when dealing with the less savory aspects of his job, always made him feel renewed.
Banking on Blair's remark at the office, he took time to shave before putting on some soft sweats. He exited the bathroom, rubbing his hair dry with a small towel. As he expected, Blair was exactly as he left him. "So," Jim said, "what've you got so far?" Blair looked up and then took a moment to look Jim up and down, making Jim glad he'd decided to shave. Blair looked hungry. Jim grinned. "Earth to Blair, what are you working on?"
"Oh!" Blair startled. "Oh, yeah. You gotta see this. I'm working on a Power Point presentation. A friend sent me some beautiful illustrations that help explain Hanukkah. Here," he said, picking up some pages. "How the Temple would have looked at that time, how the fighters on both sides would have been outfitted, how they used olive oil rather than the candles we use today. I'm going to take pictures of these to insert in the presentation. They'll help me explain the chronology. Then I'm going to explain how people celebrate it today."
"Latkes?" Jim asked hopefully.
Blair laughed. "Yes, and any number of other fried foods. But I think for the party I'm picking sufganiyot, although I'd like something besides sweets. Since this is happening on the first night, I'm going to perform the blessing at sundown. That will be dinner time for most of these kids, so I want something nutritious as well as typical for the holiday."
"There's not a lot of time left and we've both been pretty busy. Why don't we go over to Langer's for suggestions? Maybe order the food from them?"
Blair smiled tenderly. "That's a wonderful idea. We could do that tomorrow after work. We'll have the meal, then I'll teach them how to play dreidel. They'll take a dreidel and some chocolate gelt home with them, as well as little booklets explaining the holiday. So, any parents who can't attend will know what they learned."
"It sounds great, babe. They're gonna love it." He put a kiss on top of Blair's head, then walked into the kitchen to pop the garlic bread in the oven and the pasta in the water. "Dinner's ready in ten." With that announcement, Blair shut down his laptop and got up to set the table.
24 Hour Fitness on Cherry Street was busy at eight o'clock in the morning, filled with a wide variety of ages and body types. "Wow, this has a lot of equipment," Blair observed, "and the hours can't be beat. We could show up here any time our schedules allowed.”
Jim shrugged. "I like our gym. It gives me what I need."
Blair patted him on the back. "Of course, it does. Just saying."
They approached the front desk where a young woman with the name tag "Dianne" greeted them.
"How can I help you gentlemen today," she greeted them brightly. "Are you looking for a membership?"
They showed their badges, which only slightly lessened her smile. "We need to speak to the manager," Jim stated.
She walked into an office and returned with another woman. "Hello, gentlemen. I'm Karine Hennessy," she said, shaking their hands. "Won't you come into my office?" They followed her and sat in the chairs she indicated. "What can I do for you?" she asked.
"I'm Detective Ellison and this is my partner, Special Consultant Sandburg. We're investigating a theft from the locker used by Margaret Hanson."
Hennessy's eyes widened in surprise. "Really? That was close to a month ago. I assumed nothing was found."
"Nothing so far, Ms. Hennessy," Blair replied. "We're hoping to get some new information to try to solve the case."
She turned to him. "Oh, well that's good to hear, Mr. Sandburg, and please call me Karine."
"Thank you, Karine. First, were you here on the day in question?"
"Yes, I normally work from six a.m. to noon, seven days a week, and I fill in random shifts for other managers."
"Great. Now, as I understand it, Ms. Hanson was here between approximately eight and ten a.m.?"
Karine turned to her computer and pressed a few keys. "Yes, that's correct. She was one of our regulars and usually came in three times a week for two hours."
Karine nodded. "After this incident, she cancelled her membership." She sighed.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Blair said sympathetically. "So, do you provide the locks for the lockers?"
She shook her head. "No, we provide the lockers and the clients bring their own. That way, they can be sure no one else has used that lock and might know the combination or have a key."
"And Ms. Morgan had her own lock on the locker, and it was locked?"
"Yes. But whoever broke into it used some type of bolt cutter or something."
"And no one was in the locker room at the time?" She shook her head. "And you didn't see anyone or anything that looked out of place? Someone who might have been acting unusual, as if they weren't here to use the gym?"
"No, nothing like that." She hesitated. "Only one thing was a little strange."
"Well, one of our clients accidentally dropped a bottle of Gatorade and it spilled all over the floor. The custodian wasn't around--no one could find her for about a half an hour." Jim and Blair exchanged a glance at the word ‘her’. "When she finally arrived, she cleaned up the mess without incident."
"Is she here today?"
"No, she quit a few days later and we replaced her."
"Do you have her name and address? And perhaps an employee picture?"
"Yes, her name is Marie Rodriguez. I still have her picture on file. Here's her address." She wrote it down on a piece of paper, then hit a few more keys and her printer spit out a page. She handed both to Blair. "Anything else?"
"No, other than we'd like to see the locker in question. Can you help us get into the ladies' locker room for a few minutes?"
She showed them the locker, which was unremarkable. Jim couldn’t detect anything worth mentioning, so they handed their cards to Karine and left.
"So, is it her?" Blair asked as soon as they got back to the truck.
Jim looked at the copy of Marie Rodriguez's employee picture and nodded. "We can look again at the ATM videos, but you can see the shape of her nose, the placement of her ears." He concentrated on the picture and Blair automatically put his hand on Jim's arm. "That's not her natural hair color. It looks like a temporary dye job." He squinted, going further in. "I'm pretty sure she's wearing colored contacts, too." He blinked, backing off.
"And we already know she's using something on her skin--maybe one of those tanning sprays. So, shall we check out this address?"
The boarded-up house in a run-down part of town looked as if it was being used by homeless people or drug users. Jim grimaced at the smell of urine and unwashed bodies that permeated the building, and he pointed out used syringes to avoid. "It's probably not her real name, either," Jim said.
"Let's head in. I want to make a few phone calls," Blair said.
"I'm stopping at Leann's for some good coffee," Jim replied as he turned the ignition. Blair nodded in agreement.
Blair went to what they called the "war room" to make some calls. Jim picked up the ATM videos to double-check the images against the employee picture. He re-entered the room just as Blair hung up the phone and looked up.
Jim put the tapes back on the table and tacked the picture up on the pinboard. "There's no doubt, Chief. They're all the same person. What'd you find?"
"A lot, I think. I called all the other victims. You're not going to believe this. Every one of them had a Louis Vuitton accessory of some kind stolen."
"Didn't Mandy say they were expensive?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, even the wallets are close to a thousand dollars and the purses are a hell of a lot more."
"Then why didn't they report them as part of the stolen items?"
"Because all but two of them were knock-offs."
"Yeah, still pricey, but only about half what the genuine article would cost. They didn't report them as stolen because they're contraband. I assured them that we wouldn't be prosecuting them," Blair said with a grin.
"So, what's your theory? You think these women were targeted for their fashion accessories?"
"Why not? Didn't you say there's no such thing as coincidences? Well, it's a hell of a coincidence that all of them have Louis Vuitton stuff. The thief wouldn't have been able to tell the fake ones were fake until she'd had a chance to examine them. And I found something else, too."
Jim sat down. "Knock my socks off, Chief."
"Helen Curtis bought a latte at a Starbucks just before her baby was snatched. She described a Hispanic woman who waited on her and stared at her wallet while she was paying. She said she remembered it because it creeped her out. I called the store and the manager there told me they'd had an employee named--ta da!--Marie Rodriguez. She'd worked there for about two weeks before the incident, then quit a few days later. They didn't think anything of it, because employees are often students, so they have a high turnover rate. And because Mrs. Curtis had left the store before the incident, they didn't connect the two." He grinned and took a large slug of coffee.
"And do they have an employee ID still on file?"
"They're faxing it over right now. Let's take a walk."
Although the pictures weren't identical, it was obviously the same woman. "You know," Jim said, "this is the first time she's gotten sloppy. Up 'til now she's never repeated her M.O. Different ways of committing the theft, only using each debit card once…."
"I suppose it's harder to get a decent fake ID to use each time," Blair guessed. "This still doesn't help us find her. We can't stake out every shop in Cascade that's visited by the well-to-do. Where do we go now?"
Jim thought a moment. "Let's go see Serena. She was telling me about a new program that is so good at identifying people it might put the sketch artists out of business."
"And she didn't share that tidbit with me? I thought we were friends!" Blair said in mock outrage.
"Well, lately she sees me more often than she sees you," Jim answered. "And I also brought her a bunch of sunflowers after she helped close the Donner case." He pulled on an earlobe. "I hear she loves them."
"I wonder how that happened," Blair said. "Let's grab the tapes and see if she can work her magic."
Serena listened as Jim summed up their progress. "I'm running some tests for Homicide, guys, but I'll work on it as soon as I get a chance. It probably won't be until late today or tomorrow. Sorry."
"Thanks, Serena, whatever you can do," Blair said. "I hear you've got a super new facial reconstruction program that's got Mark worried," he said, referring to the PD's sketch artist.
She smiled and nodded. "I attended a forensics conference run by the FBI, and they shared it. This will be the first time I've had a chance to use it, though."
"This is important, but not urgent," Jim said. "Whenever you're done with Homicide. Thanks."
"So, what do we do now?" Blair asked as they left Forensics.
"Let's see if Simon's in. We can give him an update, then clean up some of our paperwork. Martha at the D.A.'s office has been pushing for our reports so she can move forward with the Hellman and Barstow prosecutions."
Blair made a face, but said, "Yeah, we wouldn't want to interfere with their right to a speedy trial."
"Then we can grab a late lunch at Langer's, and you can talk to them about Hanukkah food."
Blair immediately brightened. "Great! I'll get started on the paperwork and you talk to Simon."
"Blair! Bubbeleh!" Saul Abrams called from behind the counter at Langer's Deli. "Where's your shadow?"
"Putting money in the meter," Blair answered just as Jim walked in.
"Good to see you. Are you here for a late lunch? The pastrami is excellent today."
"The pastrami is always excellent," Jim answered. "We're definitely here for lunch, but also…" He trailed off, looking at Blair.
"We need some ideas for a party," Blair said. He explained what he was planning at the community center.
"So, how many people?" Saul asked, guiding them over to a table and sitting with paper and pencil.
"Well," Blair started counting, "there'll be about fifteen kids, around eight years old. Two teachers and there's usually anywhere from five to eight parents who show up."
"And us," Jim added. Blair nodded.
"So, enough for 30?" Saul confirmed.
"Yes, but I don't want to run short. Maybe make it enough for 40? That way if a few more parents show up or we have unexpected guests or--"
"Someone is particularly hungry," Jim inserted.
"Yeah, I'd feel better. Especially because it won't be a full spread, just some of the typical dishes that would be served at Hanukkah."
Saul nodded and wrote something. "So, what do you want these little ones to eat?"
"What would you suggest?" Blair asked.
"Brisket's always a good choice. Maybe a side dish of kugel?"
"Oh, yeah, maybe one sweet and one savory? We love your spinach kugel."
Saul thought a moment. "Not everyone loves spinach. Maybe the pumpkin, with a touch of maple syrup and cinnamon? We could add cranberries to make it festive. Then the traditional noodle kugel with cheese, sour cream and almonds?"
"That sounds wonderful," Blair said happily. "How about a large tossed salad with your Russian dressing? And challah?"
Saul continued to write. "Were you planning to serve latkes?"
"I wanted to make them fresh right there, as a demonstration, but they don't have the facilities to do it…"
"And cold latkes aren't as good. Maybe some knishes instead, with Binah's applesauce on the side?"
Blair groaned. "You're making me hungry, Saul. I can't wait."
"What kind of sweets do you want to end this little feast?" Saul asked.
"I was thinking sufganiyot, filled with jelly? Then we would have at least one fried food."
"I'll have Linnie from Soronsohn's Bakery bring them here, so we can deliver everything at the same time. She sent over some apricot and walnut rugelach yesterday that were very tasty. Some of those, too?"
"Perfect." Blair sat back in his seat, a huge smile on his face. Jim also smiled and reached over to caress his arm.
"This is a good thing you're doing, boychiks, teaching these young ones about our traditions." Saul folded up the paper and put it in his shirt pocket. "Now, what about a nice pastrami sandwich?"
"You know, that's a lot of food," Jim said as they entered the truck.
Blair shrugged. "Hanukkah celebrates abundance. I'd rather have too much than not enough."
"And leftovers are good," Jim added. "Some of those kids could probably use a few extra calories."
Blair gave him a tender smile. "When did you turn into a mind reader?" He squeezed Jim's hand where it lay on the seat. "We need to buy some takeaway boxes when we get the other stuff.”
Jim had just started the car when his cell phone rang. "Detective Ellison's phone," Blair answered. "Oh, hey, Serena. … You can? … When can-- … That's great! … Thank you so much. See you then." He turned to Jim.
"She was able to pull out some frames from the videos and is loading everything this afternoon. She thinks it will be done tomorrow morning," Jim recited, having heard both sides of the conversation with no difficulty. "I guess we'd better get another bunch of sunflowers," he grinned.
Blair nodded enthusiastically. "Let's get the other shopping done this afternoon. We'll stop by the Jewish Cultural Center to pick up the dreidels and see if they have Hanukkah coloring books or something like that as giveaways for the kids. Oh, and little bags of chocolate gelt! And the candles! And--"
"--decorations and anything else you see that makes your eyes light up like that." Jim finished with a smile. He put the truck in gear and headed out.
When they finally arrived at the loft, they realized there wasn't anything to make for dinner, so decided on Chinese delivery. Jim turned on the news while they ate in the living room.
After wolfing down his food, Blair opened his laptop, pulled up his presentation and was immediately oblivious to his surroundings. It wasn't until he felt Jim's strong hands kneading his shoulders that he emerged with a groan of pleasure and looked around. The TV was off, the dinner debris was cleared, and Jim had locked up. Jim finished the mini-massage and whispered, "Let's go to bed, babe."
"But I haven't showered," Blair protested.
"You smell fine," Jim answered. "In fact, you smell delicious."
"Hmm, is that a hint that you want dessert?"
"Who was hinting?" Jim replied with a lascivious smile.
Blair shut down his laptop and, giving Jim a matching smile, headed up the stairs.
Both men lay on the bed, Blair's lungs heaving, his body covered in sweat. "You know," he huffed out, "every time I think you can't get any better at that, you prove me wrong."
Jim crawled up the bed and gave Blair a kiss, letting Blair taste himself. "Practice makes perfect, babe."
"Well, I think you've reached perfection, but feel free to practice any time. Now," he said, "it's my turn to practice."
Jim stretched out and waved his arm magnanimously. "Be my guest."
"Well, you can't get much whiter than that," Blair said, looking at Serena's composite.
She nodded. "Once you eliminate the clothing and sunglasses, the bone structure, shape of the nose and placement of the eyes shows she's Caucasian. Most likely Northern European extraction. You can also see that, as you suspected, it's the same person at all three kiosks and in the employee pictures. Obviously, the skin, hair and eye colors are not natural, but I'd only be guessing about the color of the eyes or hair."
Jim stepped up to the screen. "Do you have the stills you took from the employee IDs?" She nodded. "How large can you blow them up and keep integrity?"
"Let's find out." She clicked the mouse on a file and the Starbucks photo came up. "This was the clearer picture." She slowly started enlarging, until Jim called out "stop".
He looked at the picture for long seconds, and Blair surreptitiously put his hand on Jim's back. "A little larger," he said, although it was for the others' benefit--he'd spotted what he was looking for. Serena enlarged it further and Jim pointed. "See the roots of her hair? Light brown. And she's wearing colored contacts. They're a little too opaque." He squinted, again for show. "Do you see the edge around that one eye? The contact must not have been quite in place when the shot was taken."
Serena looked closely. "Blue. Light blue, like yours." With that, she pulled up the composite, using the program to fill in the eye and hair color. Then, she printed out hard copies. "Look familiar?" she asked as she handed them the copies.
Both men shook their heads. "No, but thanks to you someone's going to know who she is. Good work," Jim said, giving her shoulder a pat.
"Happy hunting," she called after them as they left, smiling at the sunflowers sitting in the vase on her desk.
You know, you're doing that a lot better," Blair said as they walked back to Major Crime.
"Being more discreet about using your senses. A year ago, you would have just told Serena the eyes were blue, and I would have been left scrambling to come up with a plausible explanation." Blair patted Jim on the back. "Good going."
"Well, I don't have you around to cover my tracks as much," Jim answered.
Blair stopped. "Oh, shit, am I gone too much? I'm your partner--"
Jim turned and gave Blair a "calm down" signal with his hands. "Blair. Relax. You're doing great. This new job has you doing things that separate us, sure, but you weren't with me all the time when you were at Rainier, either. You're with me whenever I need you to be." Jim put his hands on Blair's shoulders. "Okay?"
Blair nodded. "Okay. So, what are we going to do about this?" he asked, pointing to the composite as they started walking again.
"Dunno. It doesn't look as if she's committed any more robberies. That last tussle might have scared her a little. But she also isn't getting a lot of money, so I think she'll probably start up again. Let's put together a BOLO and make sure it's posted in all the squad cars."
"Great idea. Let's start on that right away. If we're lucky, we can get it to Patrol before the next shift starts."
"What's this?" Tom Feeney asked his partner as they got into their cruiser at the start of their shift.
"BOLO about a serial robber," Stephanie Miller answered. "Sandburg brought a stack of them down about half an hour ago and passed them out."
"Sandburg? Is he working for Robbery now?"
"No. Apparently one of the vics knows a bigwig, so it got kicked up to Major Crime. Look," she pointed out. "This broad has robbed at least four or five people, usually purse-snatching. She's white but has been masquerading as Hispanic."
Feeney studied the side-by-side pictures--the composite and the Starbucks ID--and read the entire BOLO carefully. "Wow, I don't envy them solving this one. It looks like she's been pretty cagey so far." He got in behind the wheel. "Well, let's see what we can do to help the Dynamic Duo, eh?" She nodded and they started their shift.
Blair returned from bringing the BOLO down to the garage and walked up to Jim's desk. Jim handed him a cup of coffee, which was still hot; a sure sign Jim had been tracking him as he returned to Major Crime.
Blair took a sip and sighed with pleasure, "I'm glad to see your using your powers for good. What do we do now?"
Jim handed him a few folders. "Catch up on paperwork. Wait for Simon to give him an update. Not much else I can think of to do."
Blair sat down and opened the top folder, then booted up his desktop. "Hope we get lucky with the BOLOs, I guess. Closing this case would sure be a nice Hanukkah present," he said with a grin as he started typing.
"Speaking of which, are you ready for tomorrow?"
"Yep," Blair answered, his eyes lighting up. "My presentation's done, we picked up the candles and takeaways for the kids and Saul called to say all the food will be ready and delivered by 4. They'll set it up on the table and light the chafing dishes right before sunset so everything will be warm for after the blessing. And the hanukiah is gleaming. Thanks, babe, for polishing it," he added softly.
Jim smiled and was about to respond when Simon walked in. "Here we go," he said softly, and they got up and entered their boss's office. Blair carried in one of the BOLOs.
"Well, gentlemen," Simon began as he turned on his coffee maker. "What've you got?"
Blair filled Simon in on their progress, including the breakthrough Serena had provided and the BOLO that was being circulated. "I'm not sure what else we can do on this, at least until someone recognizes her or she commits another crime," Blair concluded. He and Simon both turned to Jim, who nodded agreement.
"Until something breaks, I don't think there's anything more we can do. You might as well assign us another case."
"Your paperwork's all caught up? I'm not going to hear the D.A. is waiting for a file, am I?" Simon asked as he brought his cup to the machine and poured. He lifted the carafe to offer them coffee, but both men shook their heads.
"The last of our reports are waiting for your signature, Simon. No calls asking for anything else," Blair answered.
"Okay," Simon said, sitting down at his desk and pulling out some files.
Just then, there was a quick knock on the door and Simon's assistant, Rhonda, poked her head in. "Excuse me, Simon. Jim, Tom Feeney is on Line One, and he says it's important," she said, then closed the door.
Simon turned his phone toward Jim, who picked up the receiver and pressed the button. "Tom? What's up. … Yeah… Yeah… You're joking!... Where… Okay, we'll meet you there. … Thanks." He hung up the phone and looked at the other two men. "Tom said he picked up a street walker--"
"At this time of day?" Blair asked, frowning.
"Apparently, with the convention in town, there's been a lot of daytime activity. She was coming out of the Ambassador and they saw her go up to some guy and solicit him. Seems she didn't see their cruiser until too late. Anyway, they put her in the back of the car and she saw our BOLO. Says she's got information for sale." Jim shrugged. "It might be nothing or--"
"It might be a break in our case," Blair said excitedly. "Where is she?"
"They'll meet us in Booking." They both got up and headed for the door.
"Dismissed," Simon said sarcastically.
"Thanks, Simon," Blair said, oblivious. "Hey, Jim, what say we call Beverly? If she's not busy, she might want to sit in on this."
"Good thinking, Chief," Jim replied as they walked out of Simon's office.
Candy Apple, aka Julie Bowen, sat in the interrogation room across the hall from Booking. Usually, she was booked, fingerprinted and jailed long enough for someone to post bail for her. She wondered whether what she knew would change things. She hoped so--she really couldn't afford another payout to the bail bondsman.
The door opened and in walked three people. The man with curly hair and the woman were unfamiliar to her, but she recognized the larger man. "Detective Ellison," she called out cheerfully. "I see you got my message." Thank god that cop was telling the truth. Jim’s warm, ‘I’m safe, you can trust me,’ smile relaxed her, and she settled into her chair.
"Hello Julie. Officer Feeney says you might have some information. What's it about?"
"I saw that flyer tacked up in the cop's car," Julie answered. "It's about that chick." No one else said anything and, after a few seconds, she continued. "Maybe it's worth something to you?"
"Well, now, don't you think, as a Cascade citizen, it's your civic duty to report anything you know about a possible crime?" Jim asked smoothly.
She shrugged. "I don't feel much like a regular citizen sitting here. Maybe, if things changed, I'd be a little more… dutiful. Is there a reward for her capture?"
"No," Jim admitted. "But I've been known to give compensation to my informants--if the information leads to something."
"What do you think your information is worth, Ms. Bowen?" the woman spoke up. "My name is Beverly Sanchez and I'm the District Attorney."
"Drop the charges," Julie answered immediately. "I haven't been booked yet. Maybe disappear the paperwork?"
"We don't 'disappear' anything. However, if your information is good enough we can release you without bail and negotiate the charges to… say... loitering?"
"If it's good enough info, I'll kick in for the fine," Jim added.
Julie smiled. "Deal. Okay, here's what I know. I was workin--uh, in the garment district. Three times this last month I saw her going into Hemmington's."
"What's Hemmington's?" Jim asked.
Blair spoke up. "It's a place where you can sell clothing and accessories you no longer want, and they re-sell them to people looking for a bargain." He turned to Julie. "But people must be going in and out of that place all the time. Why would you remember her particularly?"
"Because each time, she was bringing in something pricey. She would go in with a designer purse and come out with cash." She looked directly at Blair. "How many Chicanas do you know that have three Louis Vuitton purses?"
"We get lots of people in here. Rich women who have buyer's remorse and can't take their stuff back to the store. People who lost their jobs and need to sell their shit. Others just want to sell last season's merch so they have cash to buy the latest trend." The man shrugged. "We don't keep track."
Blair had a conference call scheduled with the head of the Police Academy, so Jim decided to check out Hemmington's on his own. He was less than impressed with the manager. "Unless you want us to start a racketeering investigation of your little establishment here, I expect a little cooperation. So," he said, shoving the BOLO under the man's nose, "what do you know about this woman? She was seen coming in here a few times in the last month, selling designer bags." The man said nothing, and Jim pulled out his cell phone and dialed. "Simon? Let's get a warrant. I have reason to believe they're dealing in stolen merchandise. Might even be laundering money--"
"Wait, wait," Harvey Sanders said, starting to visibly sweat. "Let me look at that picture again."
"I'll call you back," Jim said into the phone, closing it with a satisfied snap.
"Yeah, I remember her," Sanders said, pointing to the employee ID picture on the BOLO. “She wanted to sell some purses. The only problem is, she had knock-offs."
"Which, of course, you didn't buy, since that would be trucking in counterfeit property."
"Of course not, Detective."
"Did she bring in anything else?"
"No," Sanders began, then stopped when Jim pulled out his phone. "Well, some costume jewelry. Pretty good stuff."
"Name and address?"
Sanders went to his files and pulled out a page. He wrote something down and handed it to Jim. "This is what she gave me. Marie Rodriguez over on State Street. I told her that if she had the genuine article, I'd be interested."
I'll be very interested if she comes back." Jim pulled out his card. "Call me immediately. And when she comes back, you might want to check her ID. That address is as fake as her name."
"Yeah, of course he was lying," Jim said in the phone. "Julie saw her go in with purses and she didn't have them when she came out. But I don't think he was lying about her not bringing in the genuine stuff."
"But why would she only bring in the fakes?"
"Don't know, Chief. Maybe she thought she could sell the real ones elsewhere for more money."
"Do you think it's worth having someone stake out Hemmington's in case she decides to sell the good stuff?"
"Hmm," Jim said, "Maybe. She was last there--"
"Jim! Hold on! I think something's happening." Jim could hear a commotion on Blair's end. He was just about to crank up his hearing when Blair came back on the line.
"Shit, Jim, you're not gonna believe it! There's just been another mugging, only this time the vic hit Rodriguez with pepper spray! She staggered away and uniforms are searching the area. We've got to get out there." Blair lowered his voice. "Maybe you could track her."
"Where?" Jim said as he turned the key in the ignition.
“The Old Oak Mall, near Nordstrom. The victim said she ducked in the side entrance to the mall proper. Uniforms have all the entrances covered and they're doing a search of people as they leave."
"Okay, I'm only about ten minutes away."
"I'll meet you there."
The Old Oak Mall, although not the newest mall in Cascade, was a favorite of its more well-to-do citizens. Besides Nordstrom, there were many specialty shops that sported equally specialty prices. When Jim arrived and was let inside by a uniform, his first impression was of controlled chaos. There were long queues of well-heeled people at the various exits and he could hear a cacophony of voices, mostly complaining.
"Hey," Blair said as he approached. "So far, Sergeant Keating thinks she's still in the mall. The victim said she was covered head to toe, including a hood."
"So, she would be noticeable, unless she dumped the outer clothing," Jim answered and looked around, then up. "If we can get into the rafters, I can get a better look at each person, maybe pick her out."
"What about the pepper spray?" Blair asked. "Even if she dumped the outer clothing, could enough still be clinging to her for you to smell?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah. Once I zero in on the smell, we should be able to pick out a woman with bloodshot eyes pretty easily. Let's go for a walk."
As they walked, Blair murmured suggestions, such as recognizing and eliminating other smells. He did it more out of habit than because Jim needed it. Their years of practice kicked in and Jim's nose led them to a lululemon athletica store, where a woman was in the back searching through yoga leotards. Jim gave Blair a meaningful glance, and they approached her from opposites sides.
"Excuse me, Miss," Jim said, causing her to startle and look at him with wide, frightened, bloodshot eyes. Blue eyes. "Would you come with us, please? We'd like to question you--"
She pivoted and ran from him--straight into Blair. "No, no! Let me go!" she shouted, struggling.
"I'm sorry, but we have to insist," Blair replied, grabbing her arms and holding on tight. "Since you just resisted arrest, we're going to take you Downtown for questioning. Please turn around." With Jim looming next to her, she had little choice but to allow Blair to cuff her.
Jim beckoned one of the uniforms over and asked him to take her into HQ. "I'm going to see if I can find her outfit."
"Wait for me," Blair said. "I don't watch you touching it with all that crap on it. You find it, I'll bag it." He ran over to the nearest exit and asked the uniform for some large evidence bags and a camera. He also told him that they could let the rest of the customers leave. There was a large cheer at the announcement.
Blair and Jim entered the interrogation room, where "Marie Rodriguez" sat, looking pissed. They sat across the table from her and Blair opened a file, reading from a paper. "You are Marion Rogers, aka Marie Rodriguez, current residence at 1579 Webb Colony Road?"
"No," she said sullenly.
"Which part of that is incorrect, Mrs. Rogers?"
"My rat bastard husband lives at that address. Thanks to him, I'm living in some flea trap off Las Vergenes. This is all his fault."
"How's that?" Jim asked.
"Perhaps you missed the society pages, which carried details about our very public divorce proceedings. That asshole froze all our assets, changed the locks and sat in our house--our house--like a squatter until your brothers in blue finally stopped responding to my complaints and let him have it. A judge friend of his gave him a restraining order against me, for god's sake. I guess justice can be bought." She finished, seeming to run out of steam.
Jim and Blair looked at each other. Jim said, "Mrs. Rogers--"
"I'm going by my maiden name now. Marion Wallace."
"Well, Ms. Wallace, this is a partial list of what we're arresting you for today. There may be more later. You'll be going through the formal booking process and then be arraigned, possibly today or perhaps tomorrow."
She sniffed. "I expect my jail cell will be more comfortable than where I've been staying. Cleaner, too."
"If you understand everything, then we have nothing further at this time." She nodded.
"Ms. Wallace," Blair spoke up. "You might want to think about using your right to remain silent until you've consulted with a lawyer. Many of these charges are serious. If you don't have an attorney, one will be appointed for you."
"Yes, yes, the officer read me my rights." She sighed. "I guess I'll have to grovel to Aunt Elizabeth to get a lawyer." She stood up and looked at them. "Can I have my one phone call now?"
"So, who do you think Aunt Elizabeth is?" Blair asked as they climbed the stairs to seventh floor.
"If I had to guess, I'd say Elizabeth Wallace. They are one of the oldest families in Cascade."
"Oh, wow, like in the Wallace Center for the Performing Arts?" Jim nodded. "So, if they're rich, why didn't Mrs. Rogers just go to her for help?"
Jim shrugged. "Maybe she's on the outs with her family. I don't know whether you noticed, but she's not running on all cylinders. Her choices and methods were at the very least bizarre."
"Oh, yeah," Blair agreed. "I was dying to ask why she targeted Louis Vuitton bags. They're nicely made and all, but I think they're pretty ugly."
"Well, I guess I know what not to get you for Christmas," Jim replied with a smirk.
They walked into the bullpen to cheers. It was always cause for celebration when a case was solved. Jim grimaced, but Blair held up his arms as if he'd just won a prize fight. Word had already spread, and their co-workers wanted details. They spent several minutes going over the more interesting aspects of their investigation. Simon opened his office and ushered them in.
"Congratulations, gentlemen," he said. "I heard things were quite lively at Old Oak Mall for a while. Good job."
"We were lucky," Jim said.
"And we had a lot of help," Blair added.
"Yes, well, there'll be plenty of accolades to go around. Shelly Masters for doing the groundwork and putting the cases together, Feeney and Miller for connecting you with Julie Bowen, Serena for her quick work that got you the BOLO -- they're all getting letters of commendation in their files and public recognition.”
"And what will happen with Julie?" Blair asked.
"Beverly Sanchez called. As promised, charges have been reduced."
"Great," Jim said with a grimace. "I wonder what the fine is for loitering?" Blair chuckled.
Simon frowned in confusion but continued. "While you were entertaining your co-workers with your exploits, Judge Milton expedited a warrant. Shelly went down to that motel and searched Marion Rogers' room. She found quite a cache of stolen property, including some of those pricey handbags and the device she used to get the victims' PIN numbers. I expect the DA will be adding a lot more charges."
"Maybe some of those other cases Shelly thought were related will end up getting solved after they sort through all that loot," Blair said. Jim nodded.
"Speaking of that, since you were officially only assigned Amanda Collins' mugging, Shelly wanted to move forward on the other cases, but didn't want to step on your toes considering that the leg work you did has probably solved some of them."
"Oh my god," Blair exclaimed. "Going through those other cases, I forgot they weren't ours."
"I didn't," Jim said. "And what I see is a lot of paperwork to get them squared away. They're hers on the books--let it stay that way. Tell her she's welcome to use anything we've got."
Simon opened his humidor and extracted a cigar, rolling it between his fingers with a satisfied air. "With the Collins case and at least a few of those others solved, I'd call this a job well done. Since things are light and all the higher-ups are off my backside, why don't you take the next couple of days off? Just get your preliminary reports done and you can leave."
Both men grinned. "Thanks, Simon," Jim said. Blair nodded.
"Oh, and Sandburg," Simon said as they were walking out his door, "Happy Hanukkah."
For once, Blair was speechless.
The next day was leisurely. They spent the morning shopping for groceries, something they'd neglected because of the case. They both went to the gym, something they'd also neglected lately. After a late lunch, they went to the Community Center to bring in everything and set up the decorations. Janey was awestruck, both by the beauty of the hanukiah and the stories Blair told her of its history and his memories of past Hanukkahs. Then the children started arriving, about half of them coming with their parents, who chose to stay for the entertainment.
While Blair was explaining the story of Hanukkah to the audience, Jim helped Saul bring in the food, setting it up in a separate conference room. The smells were delicious, and he smiled, knowing that everyone would enjoy the feast. He heard the reactions of the kids as Blair explained with his usual gusto, using hand waving and changes in voice and face, captivating them the same way he used to do when he taught at Rainier.
When Jim went out for one last load, he saw what he'd been waiting for: a lithe redhead getting out of a taxi. "Naomi," he greeted her warmly, pulling her into a hug.
"Oh, Jim, it's so good to see you." She looked in his eyes and he could see the moisture. "Thank you for letting me know." She paid the driver and Jim carried her bags into the room with the food. He put his finger to his lips, listening until he heard Blair start explaining the candle lighting ceremony. He beckoned her and they slipped into the darkened room.
Blair was talking to the children "So, who remembers the difference between a menorah and a hanukiah?" he asked, pointing to his great-grandmother's heirloom and a simple wooden menorah sitting next to it. "Melissa," he called on a girl who had her hand raised.
"One holds eight candles and one holds nine," she replied.
Blair nodded. "Very good. The one with eight we call a menorah. That is the candle holder that we use every day in the temple. The one with nine is called a hanukiah, and we only use that one during Hanukkah. The eight candles that are all the same height are for the eight nights of Hanukkah. The ninth candle holder, the one in the middle that's higher than the rest, is called a shamash."
Blair inserted one candle all the way to the right and one candle in the shamash holder. "The shamash is the helper candle. We light that first, then use it to light the other candles. Because this is the first night, we'll only be lighting one candle. After I light it, I'll say a prayer in Hebrew. You don't need to understand what I'm saying. Just know that it's a prayer to God. At the end, you can say 'amen'. Okay, it's sundown, so here we go."
With that, he lit the candle with the shamash and started to sing the ancient prayer.
"Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-asah nisim laavoteinu v’imoteinu bayamim hahaeim baz’man hazeh.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v'kiy'manu v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.”
During his recitation, Naomi approached behind him. As he finished, she said, "Amen" and reached out to touch him.
"Mom! Oh my god, I can't believe you're here." He hugged her hard and held on.
"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Happy Hanukkah, sweetie." She pulled back and looked at him. "Oh, Blair, I'm so sorry."
"I know, Mom, I'm sorry too." He pointed to the hanukiah. "Elter-bobe's," he said gently.
"She'd be so proud of you, sweetie, and so happy to hear you say the prayers."
Blair looked around at their audience. "Everyone, this is my mom, who's visiting for Hanukkah. Pretty cool, eh?" They started clapping. "Now, who's hungry?"
As everyone ate, Blair and Naomi talked about the traditional foods, which were all well-received, especially the jelly doughnuts.
They returned to the main room, where Blair and Naomi demonstrated how to play dreidel. The children broke into groups and took turns spinning the tops. Naomi moved from group to group, reminding them of the rules and distributing the chocolate gelt.
Blair walked up to Jim, who'd been leaning on a table in the back of the room, taking everything in. He led Jim back into the food room, which was currently empty, and pulled him down for a long kiss. "Thank you, Jim," he said as they broke the kiss and he leaned his head on Jim's chest. "Thank you."
Jim smiled tenderly. There were no words and nothing more needed between them.
Naomi came out of the shower, wearing pajamas and a robe, toweling her hair. "Oh, my, that felt good. It's lovely to get all that traveling dust off me."
"Are you hungry, Mom? I can fix you something."
"Oh, no, that kugel was wonderful, and the knishes reminded me of Bubbe's--the dough was so tender. Do they make their own applesauce?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, Saul has a small orchard in their backyard. Binah makes huge batches every year. How about some tea, then?"
"Oh, that would be lovely."
Jim walked in, carrying the last of the decorations, including the hanukiah. "How long will you be with us, Naomi?"
"Trying to get rid of me already?" she teased.
"Not one bit," Jim said, kissing the top of her head as he passed her. He put down the hanukiah on a small table they'd placed in front of the balcony windows.
"Well, my mother has a saying.” Blair came over to join Naomi and they recited in unison: "Fish and visitors smell after three days!" They started laughing.
"But I think we could make an exception," she said, looking over at the antique candelabra. "Maybe… eight days?"
Jim came up and put his arm around Blair's shoulders. She reached out and they each took a hand. "That sounds just about perfect," Blair said.