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Earlier | Later

Title: It Really Is About Friendship
Author: debbiet
Genre: Gen
Word Count: 40,364
Characters: Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg, Major Crime division of the Cascade Police Department
Warnings: Some violence, injury to major characters, some language
Summary: Blair Sandburg is living on the streets of Cascade, a victim of circumstances, when he witnesses a murder. As a result, he’s a target of a major crime family, receiving protection from Detective Jim Ellison of the Cascade Police Department. A shaky, cautious friendship develops.

Link to Artwork

>>>>>>>>>

FOUR YEARS EARLIER

It happened when he was walking home from the university one evening after spending hours at the library. He never liked living in on-campus housing and was able to get a good deal on warehouse space. He was always cautious when he walked home; well aware of the criminal element that was part of Cascade, Washington. He was walking in a particular dark area of the city, about six blocks from the warehouse he inhabited. All of a sudden, five figures appeared out of the shadows and surrounded him. He looked at each of them, holding up his hands in a surrender motion.

"Look. I'm just a student at the university. I don't have anything of value. I don't have more than ten dollars in my wallet. Can't you just let me pass and we'll forget this encounter ever happened?"

None of the young men surrounding him said a word. They advanced closer to him and prevented him from passing or getting away. He knew he was in trouble. The beating started, fast and furious, without provocation. He tried to fight back, but he was no match against five men, all bigger and stronger than he was. He lost consciousness, not knowing if he was going to survive.

When he came to, he didn't remember what had happened or where he was. He looked around the small room where he was. He suspected it was a hospital. He found the call button and pressed it. Within minutes, two nurses arrived in his room. He looked at them, wanting to ask them what had happened. But they spoke first.

"It's good to see you awake, young man. Can you tell us your name?"

He thought about it for a few minutes. He discovered there was a gaping hole where his memories should have been. He shook his head no, looking up at the two nurses.

"I'm n-not sure…" He was really worried and scared, not knowing what had happened or where he really belonged when he wasn't in the hospital.

One of the nurses patted him on the arm. "It's okay, son. Just relax. I'm sure it will come back to you eventually."

"But what if it doesn't?" He let the worry color his voice and show on his face.

>>>>>>>>>>

He eventually remembered his name -- Blair Sandburg. In addition, he remembered that five young men -- had attacked him all about his age, but he couldn't remember descriptions, as it was dark. He had made a police report with the insistence of the nurses and his doctor. With so little to go on, the officers had told him they would probably never find his attackers. Blair accepted the report from the officers and told them if he remembered more, he'd let them know.

They released Blair from the hospital a few days later. He tried going back to the university, but he no longer had the concentration skills he had before the attack. He was prone to headaches and it zapped him of his energy. He started back to Rainier in the fall, but quickly fell behind in all of his classes and finally had to drop out, unable to function, as he once was able to do. With the loss of his studies, it began a downward spiral. He lost his part-time job and along with that, his warehouse space. He was now homeless, unemployable and forced to forage for himself. He tried not to sink too deep into the seamier side of Cascade, not wanting to become one of *them*.

>>>>>>>>>>

CURRENT DAY

He still suffered from headaches and now, without a job and his studies, he could no longer afford the warehouse space he rented. He had already sold his car, not willing to take the risk that he would suffer blinding pain while driving, causing a wreck, either hurting himself or someone innocent.

Blair had taken to the streets, not knowing what else to do in the meantime. He would spend time at the various homeless shelters throughout the city, although never spending too much time, not wanting to become a familiar face in the crowd. He had thought about trying to find someone to help him, to refer him to a doctor or a hospital or a treatment plan. But he had no health insurance since his break with the university. Blair sold all his possessions, except for a duffel bag full of clothes and his backpack, which no longer held his schoolbooks. Most of the rest of his stuff was lost when he lost the warehouse space, because he had nowhere else to go. He had no real close friends in Cascade and no family. His nearest family was his mother, Naomi. But he wasn't sure how to get hold of his mother. She was a free spirit and had only seen Blair a handful times since he had started at Rainier. He was sure she would let him live with her, if only he could track her down. However, Blair didn't have the resources to track down his globetrotting mother.

>>>>>>>>>>

This morning, Blair had left his things behind in the abandoned shop building he had found last night. It was warm, for a change, and dry, out of the constant rain that had been falling for days on end. It wasn't raining that morning, so he had left the meager coat he had behind with his duffel bag and backpack.

Ever since Blair had taken to the streets, the passage of time had ceased to be a real thing. He was aware of it, but he didn't dwell on it. Every once in a while, when he ventured towards one of the homeless shelters, to get a hot meal and possibly a real bed and a shower, he was able to look over a newspaper that had been left behind by some volunteer.

Blair had no use for the volunteers in the shelters. All most of them wanted to do, was to change a person's life, pointing out the mistakes made in the past. In addition, they were quick to list what needed to do in order for the homeless person to become a productive member of the city and society in general. Blair remembered he had studied such idealistic people when he had been at the university. In fact, for a while, he had been one of those idealistic people, volunteering, like all the other students, in bettering the city of Cascade and doing public service to show they were upstanding members of the community. To brownnose both the professors and the authorities at the university. To show that Rainier University not only gave their students a top-notch education, but also developed their sense of obligation and goodwill.

Blair shied away from the volunteers for the most part, except for some whom he instinctively knew had been in his position. Several men did janitorial work at several of the shelters throughout the city. Through getting to know them, Blair was able to get part-time work cleaning and helping occasionally. However, it wasn't the steady work he wanted to engage in. He couldn't quite take the steps ahead to ask if there were any free clinics or doctors willing to take his case. He didn't want to get involved in a situation and not be able to provide the means needed to pay for it. He knew it might involve several tests, costing an exorbitant amount of money he'd never be able to pay.

>>>>>>>>>>

Blair walked the streets, looking for something he could pawn off or trade for a meal at one the diners in the area. Despite not wanting contact with many people, the local shop owners in the area knew Blair. He always chatted with them when he'd walk into their businesses. And they would let him stay for as long as he wanted. He would stay if he didn't have much pain, but most of the time; he wanted to be by himself.

Blair reached the alley behind the bakery he often frequented. The owner, Mrs. Patterson, always took pity on him and allowed him inside the bakery, even when it wasn't open. She was one of the few people Blair allowed to get close. He knew he wasn't worthy of the attention, considering he was just a shell of the person he used to be. But it felt good to be the center of attention at times.

Blair looked in the first dumpster he came across. As he was looking inside, he heard the noise behind him. He shot up clear of the side of the dumpster and looked around. He saw the two men several feet away, arguing. Blair couldn't hear what they were saying, but he crouched down so as not to draw attention to himself. He instinctively knew he was in trouble if they discovered him there in the alley. Every few minutes, Blair would venture a glance around the edge of the dumpster to look at the two men. They were still arguing and then Blair saw one of the men pull out a gun and shoot the other man directly in the stomach. The other man fell to the ground and the shooter replaced his gun and ran from the alley. Blair couldn't believe what he had seen. He waited several minutes before he ventured out to check on the other man. He wanted to make sure the shooter didn't come back. Blair reached the downed man, noticing he lay still. Blair bent down, checking for a pulse and finding none. Then Blair heard a scream behind him. He whipped his head around, seeing Mrs. Patterson standing there at the back entrance of her bakery.

"Blair? Is that you?"

"Yes, Mrs. Patterson. Can you call the police? This man is dead."

She stood there for a minute, still looking at Blair. "You didn't do it, did you?"

Blair could hear the note of concern in her voice. He shook his head no. "No, Mrs. Patterson. There was another man and he shot this man. I suppose I'll have to give my story to the police, even though I don't welcome the intrusion into my life."

"You're welcome to come inside and wait for the police, Blair. I'll give you some hot chocolate."

The mention of hot chocolate brought a smile to Blair's face. "Thank you, Mrs. Patterson. You're too kind." Blair got to his feet, looking once more down at the unfortunate victim, the blood still oozing from the wound in his gut. Blair quickly turned away and followed Mrs. Patterson into the back entrance to the bakery. He sat down at the table there and waited while she called the police, telling them there had been a shooting in the alleyway behind her bakery at 1135 Rochelle, and that there had been a witness, who was willing to give a statement. She looked over at Blair, who smiled at her and felt the pain starting to blossom in his head.

>>>>>>>>>>

The police arrived about fifteen minutes later, along with crime scene technicians and the coroner. Blair had stayed inside the bakery, but looked out the window at all the activity that was going on. After a few minutes, he stepped outside to observe things closer. He heard the report from one of the officers into his radio.

"Yeah, I tell you it's Manny Torelli. I've seen his mug on the flyers for weeks now. Of course, Detective Ellison. We'll make sure the witness hangs around until you get to the scene. Yeah, the alleyway behind Adele's Bakery on Rochelle. Okay, detective."

The officer put down the radio and turned to see the young man standing there. "Are you the witness to this crime?"

"Yes. My name is Blair Sandburg."

The officer had gotten out his notebook and was writing down the information. "Where do you live, Mr. Sandburg?"

"Um…well…I don't actually live in any one spot. I'm homeless."

"You don't have a bed at one of the homeless shelters in town?"

"No. I'm not real comfortable around other people."

"Okay. How did you come across the crime?"

"I was here in the alleyway, looking through the dumpsters." Blair noticed the look the officer gave him. "You'd be amazed at the things other people throw away. Anyway, all of a sudden I heard a noise and heard two men arguing. Then one man pulled out a gun and shot that poor unfortunate man."

"Did you get a look at the other guy?"

"Yeah. He was about six three or four, maybe two hundred pounds, powerfully built. I couldn't help but overhear when you were talking on the radio -- you said the dead man is Manny Torelli. Is he the one involved with the Malone crime syndicate?"

"And what, pray tell, do you know about the Malone crime syndicate?"

"Hey, a guy hears things. Especially when you've been in Cascade for as long as I have. I've heard of Donovan Malone. I used to know one of his grandsons -- Christopher. We went to Rainier together."

"You go to the university?"

"Um…not anymore. Things happened." Blair turned from the officer, not wanting to talk anymore.

>>>>>>>>>>

Detective Jim Ellison replaced the receiver of the phone and got to his feet. Maybe this was the break they needed. He strode purposely towards Captain Simon Banks' office, knocking on the closed door before opening it and entering.

Simon Banks looked up as his senior detective walked into his office. The man actually had an almost half-smile on his face. The Jim Ellison he had come to know in the past two years since his transfer to Major Crime, hardly ever smiled. Jim had come from Vice, his only explanation for the transfer being that he had seen and done things he hadn't signed up for when he became a police officer. Vice Captain Mark Foster immediately approved the request for transfer. Simon knew about Jim's cockiness in Vice and so paired him with Jack Pendergrast. The partnership worked like a charm and Jim had quickly lost most of his cockiness and had become a great detective under Jack’s tutelage. Three months ago, someone shot and killed Jack. Although there was no forensic evidence to prove it, everyone suspected a member of the Malone crime syndicate.

Jack and Jim had been investigating the syndicate in regards to illegal drugs, gunrunning and prostitution. And they had been getting close. Thus, the attack and death of Jack as he stopped in at his favorite watering hole after work one Friday evening. It had been a warning to the police, although no one had evidence to believe it was the Malone crime syndicate. Jim Ellison knew it with every fiber of his being. And he was determined to bring down the whole syndicate, especially the patriarch, Donovan. Donovan's sons, Christopher, Sr., Matthew, Andrew and Nicholas, were all involved in a part of the family's interests. Christopher, Sr., was the only son married, but it didn't appear as if his sons, Christopher, Jr. and Anthony, were involved. There were reams and reams of surveillance reports and circumstantial evidence that if there was some type of crime going on in Cascade, it was a good bet that the Malone family was involved in some aspect of it.

"What can I do for you, Ellison?"

"I just got a call from a uniform about a dead body in the alleyway behind Adele's Bakery. The body is Manny Torelli. Apparently, he crossed someone one too many times and he paid for it with his life. The added bonus is we have a witness this time. I'm going to interview him and see if he saw anything that can help us identify the shooter."

"Go, Jim. However, be careful and make sure you do this by the book. We don't want anything to slip loose in case we can pin this murder on someone in the Malone family."

"I know, Simon. I'll make sure we cross all the T's and dot all the I's."

Jim left Simon's office, the smile still on his face. This would be the first brick to fall in the downfall of the Malone crime syndicate. Along the way, he hoped to find out who had murdered his partner.

>>>>>>>>>>

Blair finished up with the uniform officer, who told him that a detective with the Major Crime squad was coming to talk to him also. Blair understood what a big deal this was, but his headache was getting worse. He asked the officer if he could sit down inside the bakery while he waited for the detective. The officer said yes and followed Blair inside the bakery.

Blair realized the officer didn't trust him to stick around. No doubt, part of the reason was because he had admitted to him that he was homeless. Blair was lumped together with the perceptions of all homeless people. Oh well, he'd prove the officer wrong.

Jim Ellison arrived at the location. He parked his truck just north of the entrance to the alleyway and got out, taking long strides to reach the forensic technicians. The body was still lying there, covered with a sheet. Jim walked over, bent down, raised the sheet and looked at the body. Yep, it was Manny. Jim had many run-ins with the foot soldier since arriving in Major Crime. Nothing had ever stuck in order to get a conviction on anything. Jim let the sheet fall back down to cover the dead man and then straightened back up, looking around the area for the witness. He didn't spot him, so went over to one of the officers to ask about it.

"Officer Parrish went with the witness inside the bakery. There's a back entrance over there." The officer pointed at the door. "The witness was complaining of a headache."

"Thanks." Jim walked over to the rear entrance to the bakery. He opened the door and walked inside. He saw Officer Parrish sitting at a table with a young man, who looked like he was in obvious pain. "Officer Parrish?"

The officer turned his head to look at Jim. "Ah, Detective Ellison. There you are. I told…"

Jim interrupted the officer. "Can I talk to you over here a minute?"

Officer Parrish shrugged his shoulders and got to his feet. "Sure." He got out his notebook as he approached Jim. He stood beside the detective.

"Is that the witness?" Jim nodded his head in Blair's direction.

"Yes, sir." Officer Parrish looked down at his notebook. "His name is Blair Sandburg. He's twenty-four years old. He is homeless and he told me he's been on the streets for about four years. He was foraging in the dumpsters when he heard the argument and saw the two men."

"Okay, Officer Parrish. Thank you. Make sure you get a copy of your report to me ASAP. I'll handle things from here."

"Okay, detective. He's all yours. Oh, by the way, he says he suffers from headaches and he appears to have a real doozy of one right now."

"I'll take that into consideration during the interrogation."

Officer Parrish looked back over at Blair, who was now looking in their direction. He smiled at the young man and then turned to leave. Jim started towards Blair.

Blair watched as the detective approached him. He had heard Officer Parrish call this man Detective Ellison. The detective reached the table and sat down in the chair Officer Parrish recently vacated. Blair could feel himself under intense scrutiny as Detective Ellison gave him the once over. Finally tiring of the close observation, he spoke.

"Are you just going to look at me?"

"If I want to look at you, I'll look at you. I'm Detective Jim Ellison, Major Crime. Tell me what you saw."

"Didn't you get the story from Officer Parrish? I told him what happened…"

"And you'll tell me your story also, Sandburg. Look, the person killed was a foot soldier in the Malone crime syndicate. They seem to have a stronghold on most of the crime here in Cascade. The police department has been trying to get something on them for a long time. I don't have time to waste with coddling you."

"Okay, detective. I understand. I…ah, forage in dumpsters most mornings, looking for things I can use, or else pawn or sell for money. I was doing this when all of a sudden, I heard a noise. I looked around, spotting two men arguing. I couldn't hear what they were arguing about, but I knew it was serious. I decided to get myself out of their line of sight and I hid behind the dumpster, occasionally looking around it to see if the men had moved on. Once when I looked out at them, the one man pulled out a gun, pressed it against the dead man's stomach and pulled the trigger. There was just one shot and the dead man fell. The other man put his gun away and left the alley. When I knew it was safe to do so, I left my hiding place and went to check on the man. He was already dead. Then I heard Mrs. Patterson's scream and she called the police and you know the rest."

"Do you think you could identify the other man, the shooter?"

"Well, I got a good look at his face. I'm sure I'll never forget it."

"Would you be willing to come to the police department and look through some photos? We'd really appreciate all the help you could give us."

"Sure. I don't have much planned for today anyway."

"Officer Parrish mentioned you are homeless?" It was more of a question than anything else was.

Blair nodded his head. "Yeah. I fell on hard times several years ago and I haven't been able to pick myself back up yet."

"You seem awfully young to be living on the streets."

"Well, I've basically been on my own since I was sixteen. That's when I went to the university. I even got my undergraduate degree."

"Well, if you want to come with me, I can drive you to the station to look at those mug shots."

"Sounds good to me, man. I mean, detective."

Blair slowly got to his feet and Jim got his first look at Blair Sandburg standing up. He noticed the clothes didn't quite seem to fit the young man. He was curious about what Blair Sandburg's real, unedited story was. Jim left the bakery and noticed Blair followed him, the pain clearly etched upon his face. Maybe once at the PD, Jim would offer Sandburg some aspirin and maybe some food and drink. Might as well make him comfortable and maybe he'd be able to help in the quest to topple the Malone crime family.

Blair followed Detective Ellison from the bakery, sort of wishing he didn't have to look through mug books to try to identify the mysterious shooter. His headache had returned vigorously and he knew he would feel better if he could curl up somewhere and try to get some sleep. That wasn't exactly an option now. As they walked towards the entrance to the alley, Blair noticed that the body of the dead man, Torelli, was loaded into the back of the coroner's van.

Blair stopped when Jim stopped in front of a blue and white Ford truck, circa the late 1960's if Blair was any judge of vehicles. Not exactly what he pictured a Major Crime detective driving. Maybe Ellison was some type of eccentric or had a thing for old vehicles. Blair got into the passenger's side after Ellison had unlocked the door. He fastened his seat belt. He debated about mentioning something to the detective when he got inside the truck. However, Blair chickened out. Ellison was no-nonsense and Blair figured the guy wouldn't appreciate any diss about his choice of ride. Therefore, Blair didn't say a word.

Jim looked over at the young man. He looked like an average college student and he wondered why the young man was no longer at Rainier. Maybe there had been a run-in of some type. It really wasn't Jim's concern, although if it proved Sandburg could identify the shooter and the shooter was a member of the Malone crime syndicate, then as a witness to the crime, Sandburg could be the key. It could turn out that Ellison would be seeing a lot more of the young man.

>>>>>>>>>>

Ellison set Blair up in an interrogation room. Then the detective had brought in a pile of thick books, all containing pictures of criminals.

"Do you want something to eat or drink? Or maybe something for the headache you have?"

Blair looked up from the first book he had opened. "How did you know about my headache?"

"Officer Parrish mentioned it to me shortly after I arrived. I can get you some aspirin if you think it would help?"

"That would be nice. I usually just suffer with the pain. I can't afford much, especially medicines. And a cup of tea would be nice, if you would."

"My pleasure, Sandburg. You keep looking through the books. I'll go get the tea and the aspirin."

"Thanks, detective." Blair watched as Ellison left the room and he sat back in his chair. Well, the man was decent after all. He continued to look through the first book. At least here at the police station, he was dry, warm and soon, would get relief from his headache.

>>>>>>>>>>

Jim Ellison walked into the bullpen of Major Crime and spotted Henri Brown sitting at his desk. Jim detoured over to the desk and waited until Henri looked up.

"Something you need, Jim?"

"Yeah, I was wondering if you could do a favor for me. Run a name through the computer for me. The name is Blair Sandburg. He's twenty-four years old. He's homeless and has been on the streets, according to him, for four years. I just want to know his background."

"Sure 'nuf, Jim. I'll get right on it. Where are you going to be?"

"Well, Sandburg is in an interrogation room right now, going through mug books. He was the witness to the shooting of Manny Torelli this morning. He thinks he can pick out the shooter. I'm going to get him some tea and aspirin for a headache he suffering from. And I want to get together the pictures of known Malone syndicate members to have him go through those also."

"I'll start on it, Jim. You think the guy has a record of some type?"

"I'm not sure, Henri. I just want to know whom I'm dealing with. He wasn't so forthcoming with the reasons why he was living on the streets."

"Well, you're not the easiest guy to be forthcoming with, Jim. You can be a little intimidating."

Jim frowned. "Funny, Brown. I'm going to get that tea and aspirin for Sandburg."

Jim left the bullpen, going into the break room, which was across the hall from the Major Crime department. He opened up the cabinet over the sink there and grabbed one of the cups there. He reached into a drawer below the counter there and grabbed a tea bag. He filled the cup with water and placed it into the microwave. He put it on a couple of minutes, enough to get the water hot. He decided to get himself a cup of coffee while he was there. He also grabbed several napkins. He placed the tea bag and napkins into the pocket of his shirt so he'd be able to carry both cups back to the interrogation room. He went over to another cabinet and got down the bottle of aspirin that was there. He shook out a couple of tablets and put the bottle back up in the cabinet. He put the tablets in his shirt pocket also, just as the bell from the microwave rang. Jim got the cup out of the microwave, grabbed his cup of coffee and left the break room, returning to the interrogation room, which was down the hall from Major Crime. He was able to juggle the cups and open the door at the same time.

Blair turned around at the sound of the door opening. He saw that it was Detective Ellison, carrying two cups. Ellison sat down opposite him at the table, pushed one of the cups towards Blair and produced a tea bag, several napkins and two aspirin tablets from the pocket of his shirt. Blair smiled at Ellison as the detective took a drink from his cup.

Blair took the tea bag, dunking it into the cup. "Thanks, detective. This should hit the spot."

"I could have brought you a donut, or a candy bar out of the vending machine?"

"Nah, that's fine. I've gone through two of the books already and I haven't seen the guy yet."

"Well, I also wanted to get together some pictures of the Malone crime syndicate members that we are aware of. We've had surveillance on them for some time and we know most of the major players. I have a theory that the shooter was another member."

"Makes sense. The dead guy must have pissed off someone." Blair took an experimental taste of his tea and then swallowed the two aspirin. Blair removed the tea bag and put it on one of the napkins Jim had placed on the table. He went back to looking through the mug books.

"I'm going to the bullpen and get those pictures I was talking about. If you see anyone familiar, the Major Crime department is down the hall, on the right side, the same side as this room. That's where I'll be."

"Okay, detective. And thanks again for the tea and the aspirin." Blair was soon absorbed in the books.

Jim sat there a few minutes, still looking at the young man. Wondering what his story was. Jim finished his coffee, got to his feet and left the interrogation room. He walked towards the bullpen, surprised to see Captain Banks standing by his desk when he entered.

"Something I can do for you, Captain?"

"Anything with your witness?" Simon's tone was hopeful.

"Not yet, sir. He's just on the third book. I'm going to go through the file, pull out known Malone crime syndicate pictures, and show those to the kid. Maybe he'll recognize someone that way."

"Good. Let me know if he comes up with an ID. We can even offer him protection if the DA thinks it's enough evidence."

"Oh." Jim didn't hide the surprise in his voice. "I didn't even think about that. Yeah, they find out there is a witness to the killing, Sandburg will be a target. I won't mention that to him just yet. He seems a little overwhelmed by everything so far."

"You'll have to spell it out to him if it comes to pass, Jim. We can't leave him on his own, especially if he is homeless and just roaming the streets. He could be found at anytime, anywhere."

"Okay, okay, Simon. I understand. IF he makes an ID, I will explain what's going to happen. He might even relish having a warm bed for a period. From what he's told me, it would be more than he's had for some time."

Simon went back to his office and Jim got out the box with the files on the Malone syndicate. He opened one of the manila envelopes and pulled out the pictures. Not only were there pictures of the known members of the crime syndicate, but also other Malone family members. Jim only pulled the ones known to do the illegal deeds.

However, as he finished going through the pictures, he came across a picture of Christopher, Sr., with his family. It was a picnic in one of Cascade's parks. As Jim looked at the picture, he noticed the young man in the picture. He looked again and immediately got to his feet, carrying the picture with him to the interrogation room. He burst in, making Sandburg jump somewhat.

Blair heard the forceful entry into the room, wondering what was going on. Soon, Detective Ellison pulled him to his feet and pushed him against the wall. The picture thrust in front of his face.

"Explain this!" It was obvious Ellison was pissed off.

Blair adjusted his eyes to look at the picture. The pain in his head, which had started to dissipate because of the aspirin, had returned almost double with the rough treatment by the detective.

"That's me, with Christopher and Anthony Malone. That must have been six, maybe seven years ago. It wasn't too long after I started at Rainier. I knew Christopher; he was going to Rainier at the same time I was. Of course, I knew who his father was, is, but Christopher has never been involved in any of that. He told me his dad didn't want him to be. Christopher and I were tight at Rainier and he used to invite me to his house all of the time. I knew about the Malone crime family, but when I was there, it was no big deal. Christopher's dad didn't discuss his business at his home."

Jim listened to the young man as he talked. He didn't seem to be making it up. Jim could hear the underlying fear in Sandburg's voice, probably from his actions than any conscious effort on Sandburg's part to lie. Jim released the young man and Blair sagged slightly against the wall. He didn't move, not even after Jim moved away towards the table and sat down.

Jim didn't look at Sandburg when he spoke. "Look, I'm sorry. I really want to put these people away. It is quite possible, actually probable, that they were responsible for the death of my partner. This case is personal for me. When I saw you in this picture, I overreacted. It is true that neither Christopher, Jr. nor Anthony is involved in their father, uncle's and grandfather's illegal ventures. We've never been able to connect them to anything." Jim looked over at Blair, who barely held himself up against the wall. He made no action to move away from the wall.

"Look, I'll leave. I'm sorry. Really I am. If you want to sue me, go ahead, but I would like you to finish going through the books. And I have those pictures for you to look at."

Blair cleared his throat and tried to straighten up, without much success. "Uh…can someone else bring in those pictures? Instead of you?"

"Sure. I'll have one of my colleagues bring them in." Jim got to his feet and left the interrogation room. He went to look through the one-way mirror. It was still several minutes after Jim left the room before Blair felt like it was safe to go back to the chair to sit down. Jim noticed the young man was shaking and he admonished himself for causing such distrust in the young man. After all, Sandburg had come in without bullying to help try to pick out the shooter. With one ill-advised move, Jim had washed away all the goodwill he had built up.

Jim returned to the bullpen and to his desk, placing the family picnic picture back in the manila envelope. He picked up the other pictures and walked over to Henri's desk. Henri looked up as he approached.

"Hey, I've got quite a bit about Blair Sandburg already. It's rather fascinating reading. I've already printed out several pages. It seems a group of muggers attacked him about four years ago. They really did a number on him. I've printed out the police report filed at the time. You want to look at this stuff now?"

"Yeah, I do, Henri. Can you do me another favor? Take these pictures into Sandburg and let him have a look at them, see if he recognizes anyone."

"Why don't you do it, Jim? You're the one he has the rapport with."

"Can you just do it, Henri? I have to talk to the captain for a minute. I want Sandburg to look at these pictures."

"Okay, Jim. What if he asks where you are?"

"I don't think he will, Brown." Jim turned and made his way to Simon Banks' office. He knocked and walked in again. He knew he had to tell Simon, just to give him a heads' up in case Sandburg decided to bring charges against Jim.

Simon looked up, noticing Jim standing in front of his desk, again. This was getting to be a habit.

"Good news, Jim?" Simon didn't miss the wince from Jim when he mentioned good news. "Okay, Ellison. What's going on now?"

"I was getting together the pictures of the Malone crime family so Sandburg could look them over. I came across a picture of Christopher Malone, Sr. and his family at a picnic in one of Cascade's parks, and in the picture, with Christopher, Jr. and Anthony, was one Blair Sandburg. I got a little over zealous."

Simon snorted. He had heard about Ellison getting over zealous before. It usually meant the person on the receiving end needed medical attention. "Is the young man still alive?"

Jim mumbled his answer. "Yeah, but he may sue. Me. The department. The city. If he finds the right lawyer to handle his case, he could own Cascade by the time they are finished."

"Did he say he was going to sue?"

"No, but he was still pretty much in shock. I grabbed him, pulled him from the chair and pushed him up against the wall. And demanded to know what he was doing in that picture."

"Did he tell you?"

"Yeah. I think he was afraid not to. Brown is right…I can be a little intimidating."

Simon snorted again. Jim frowned at his captain.

"What about the pictures?"

"I'm having Brown take them into the kid. Sandburg asked for someone else to do it."

"Well, it sounds like he still has control of most of his faculties and a sense of self-preservation. What are you going to do while Brown's in with the guy?"

"Well, I had Brown do a background check on Sandburg. He has an underlying story that he's not willing to share. Brown's found out lots of stuff already that he's printed out, including the fact that Sandburg was attacked by muggers about four years ago, the time he took to the streets and became homeless. There was a police report and I want to read it to try to get a better understanding on this guy. Of course, now he probably won't let me near him anytime soon."

"You really know how to screw things up, Ellison!" Simon had barely raised his voice, but Jim could detect that Simon was not a happy camper. "We'll be lucky if the young man doesn't walk out and disappear forever." Simon pinned Jim with a direct look. "I want you to go to your desk and write out a report of the whole incident. I want a copy of it before you go home tonight."

Jim looked down at the floor and then back up at Simon, noticing the same piercing gaze. "Right, sir. I'll get started on it right away."

"And you better hope Brown can keep Sandburg here long enough to make an ID on the shooter or else I'm going to take you off any more investigations into the Malone crime syndicate dealings."

Jim was thinking about making a protest about that, until he saw the look Simon was still giving him. "Get out of here, Ellison. You have a report to write up."

"Yes, sir." Jim turned and left Simon's office, not looking up as he made his way back to his own desk. He sat down, looking over the reports Brown had printed out about one Blair Sandburg. A quick scan of the pages revealed that Sandburg hadn't received so much as a speeding ticket from the police. His only prior police exposure was after his mugging.

Jim placed the printouts aside to concentrate on the report Simon had assigned him to do. He didn't want any more of Banks' wrath for failing to do what Banks asked him to do. He'd recount all and hand it in, hoping it did not warrant him a visit by IA as a result. So many times, while he was with Vice, he would rough up both witnesses and perps and it seemed like he was going before the IA board daily. In fact, the running joke around the station was that IA kept a block of time allotted every day to hear the latest in Ellison's infractions. It wasn't that bad, although it was close.

Once Jim had transferred to Major Crime and became partners with Jack Pendergrast, things had changed. There had been no more trips to IA and Jack and he did things by the book. The letter of the law. Things had gone smoothly in Major Crime until today. Seeing Sandburg in that picture just made Jim see red and he wanted answers, not caring how he got them. He had stepped over the line and he knew it. Now his captain knew it. In addition, there was still the threat that Sandburg would sue or make the incident known somehow and then everyone would know. If that happened, it would probably be the end of Jim Ellison's career as a cop. However, as Jim looked at it, it was probably the right conclusion.

>>>>>>>>>>

Blair barely jumped when the door to the interrogation room opened. He quickly turned around, letting out the breath he had been holding, when he noticed it wasn't Detective Ellison who came.

"I'm Detective Brown. Detective Ellison said he wanted me to come in here to show you these photos. You know about them?"

"Um…yeah. Members of the Malone crime syndicate." Blair turned back to the mug books in front of him on the table.

Henri walked forward and sat down opposite Blair. Blair's gaze was intent on the mug books.

"Can you take a look at these pictures?"

"Sure." Blair did not raise his eyes to look at Henri.

Henri placed the pictures on top of the mug book and noticed Blair starting to look them over. He wondered just what Ellison had done to the guy. He acted afraid of him. Even though Henri hadn't even met the man.

"Did Ellison do something to you?"

"No. He just wanted an answer to a question. I gave him the answer."

Henri shook his head. Somehow, he suspected it was a little more than that. He didn't want to alienate the guy himself.

"This one. This is the guy who had the gun and shot the other man." Blair pushed the picture towards Henri.

Henri picked it up and looked at the man. "Yeah, Joey Richards. He is a well-known hit man for the family. I'll need to get a formal statement from you."

"Uh…wait. I didn't say I'd make any formal statement. Look, they find out I've fingered one of their group I'm dust. I picked the guy out from the photos; you have to make the case."

"We'll need you for your testimony."

Blair suddenly got to his feet. "No! I can't do that! No testimony! I'll be killed and I prefer to live."

"We can give you protection." Henri was trying to appeal to Blair.

"From the entire crime family? They are into everything here in Cascade. And they probably also have cops on their payroll."

Blair walked over to the door and opened it. Henri was there, trying still to appeal to him, to make him reconsider. Nevertheless, Blair continued to walk out the door and down the hallway. All of a sudden, Jim Ellison was standing there.

"Going somewhere, Sandburg?"

"Yeah, out of here. I've made the ID, that's all I agreed to."

"The DA will want you to testify at the trial. The ID won't be enough for them."

"Too bad. Come up with another way to nail this guy. Get the gun he used; find another witness who'll be willing to testify."

"We can arrest you as a material witness, especially since the DA will probably approve it after we tell them about you. Look, it will be three meals a day, a bed at night and all the comforts of home."

"And who's to say they won't find me and put an end to my life before the trial?"

"You'll have police protection."

"Look, let me talk to the DA and explain the circumstances. No one is going to believe a homeless man anyway. I won't have anything to worry about if you just let me leave now." Blair was practically pleading with Ellison.

"It's not going to happen, Sandburg." Jim turned his attention to Henri. "Who did he finger?"

"Joey Richards. Definite hit man."

"Look, detectives. I'll recant my ID and deny that I know the guy."

"Were the cameras on?"

"Yep, got every word and gesture."

Blair should have never become involved. He looked from Jim to Henri to the possible escape route down the hall. He'd never make it. He resigned himself to the fact that he was going to be a guest of the DA and possibly the police department for the near future.

"Okay, what do you do now?"

"We call the DA and have them file the charges against Joey Richards and then we arrest him."

"What about the part about keeping me safe?"

"We'll see how the DA wants to handle it. Probably a safe house somewhere remote, possibly outside the city, at least initially. Uniforms will be assigned from the DA's office."

"No, no uniforms assigned from the DA's office. I want Major Crime to handle the detail. You guys can safeguard me."

"We have too many open assignments that we can't ignore. We can't babysit a potential witness."

"Look, I'm not some kid who needs babysitting. I'm a grown man who can take care of me on the streets. I could probably outrun this crime family on my own, but obviously, you're not going to let me do it my way. Therefore, if you want my cooperation, you will tell the DA's office I want you people to handle the safeguarding detail. That is, all except Detective Ellison here."

"Boy, Jim, what did you do to the guy? He's extremely pissed off at you over something. Maybe I should rewind the video and see what it was."

"Maybe you should just drop it, Brown!" Jim realized he had flipped on the camera when he went into the interrogation room with Sandburg. 'Shit! Now there's a video account of what happened. Sandburg can really screw me over.'

"Let's go into the bullpen and talk this over with the captain and then we can notify the DA's office at the same time."

Blair allowed himself taken into the bullpen between the two bigger detectives. He had no way to leave now. His fate was sealed. They walked over towards an office with the door closed. Jim knocked on the door and opened it, escorting Sandburg through first. Blair walked inside and stood there in the middle of the room, looking around.

"Now what, Ellison?"

Blair looked over at the man who had bellowed the question. He was as big, or bigger, than Ellison and Brown. Blair just wanted to be anywhere else but here right now.

"Ah…Captain Banks, this is our witness, Blair Sandburg. Mr. Sandburg has made a positive ID of one Joey Richards, as the shooter of Manny Torelli. I explained that the DA's office would probably want him in protective custody until he can testify at the trial. I also explained to him that uniformed officers usually handle babysitting assignments. At that point, Mr. Sandburg demanded protection from Major Crime, excluding me. I tried to explain to him that we have open cases and we have better things to do than babysit witnesses, but he was rather adamant. I thought maybe you could explain things to him, sir."

"Have a seat, Mr. Sandburg." Simon indicated the chairs in front of his desk.

Blair looked at the captain and smiled. At least the guy seemed halfway civil towards him. Blair slipped into the farthest chair away from both Ellison and Brown. The two detectives remained standing, with Brown covering the only exit out and Ellison moving over to stand closer to Blair's chair. Blair noticed the look Banks had given both of his detectives.

"Technically, Detective Ellison is correct. We handle the most difficult cases that come into the police department. We have the most dedicated and well-trained police officers on the force. However, I have to disagree with Detective Ellison on one point. I think our department would be the best ones to offer you protection should the DA require it. Moreover, I think Detective Ellison should be the one, the sole detective, on your case. He's wanted to take down the Malone crime family ever since his partner was supposedly gunned down by them."

"No. I don't think I want Detective Ellison anywhere in my general vicinity. He has no regard for the well-being of witnesses."

Simon just smiled at Blair, while there was a distinct growl from Jim's general area and a suppressed chuckle from Henri. Simon looked directly at Blair.

"I'm sorry, son, but it's not your decision. Ultimately, if the DA says to keep you in protective custody at a safe location, it will be my choice as to whom I send to be with you. You don't have to like it. Heck, you don't even have to interact with the guy. But it will be Detective Ellison."

"With all due respect, Captain, you are not my father, thus I am not your son. I'd appreciate a little respect."

There was a snort from Jim behind Blair. "Respect for a homeless person? Yeah, that will be the day!" Blair heard it just fine, even though it softly said. He turned to face Jim, giving him an irritated look. "I'm a citizen also, detective. And I don't need to be talked down to or ignored."

Jim opened his mouth to say something, but Simon spoke first. "Why don't you and Brown get out of here and contact the DA's office and tell them what we have. Mr. Sandburg can stay here until they arrive."

Henri grabbed Jim's arm and pulled him from Simon's office before he could say anything else. Once they were outside the office, Henri turned to Jim.

"Look. I will call the DA, you can look over the info I got about this guy Sandburg. It's interesting and I think you need to read it over. Especially since it looks like you'll be spending time with him until the trial and his testimony."

"Don't bring it up, Henri. I'll get out of it. The DA's office won't want to waste the resources of Major Crime just to babysit a witness, no matter how important he could be."

"Maybe Richards was responsible for Jack's shooting."

"Believe me; the thought has crossed my mind. I intend to question Richards about his activities over the last several months."

Henri went on to his desk to call the DA's office. Jim went to his desk and pulled out the printouts Henri had made on the background check of Blair Sandburg. He did want to know the guy's story, even if he never saw him ever again.

In Simon's office, Blair was staring at the floor, trying to follow the pattern of the carpet there. Simon cleared his throat and Blair looked up.

"Look, I'm sorry about that crack of calling you son, but you don't look much older than my son, Daryl. He's a teenager and to be honest, you don't look much older than that."

"I'm actually twenty-four, captain. I think with four years on the streets, that I look a lot older than twenty-four. I didn't mean to bristle at you for what you said. It's just that no one takes homeless people seriously."

"If I could ask, why are you homeless?"

"Just the wrong set of circumstances, sir. Five men attacked me four years ago and I think there is something wrong with me. However, I never had the insurance or the money to find out what it was. I woke up in the hospital and didn't remember my name for a time. By the time I recovered enough, I was suffering from the headaches and the problems with concentration. I had to forego my education and I lost the place I was living at because I couldn't hold down a job. I had to sell most of my possessions and I just ended up on the streets. I can take care of myself, captain."

"I don't doubt that, Mr. Sandburg. However, it is still better if we look out for you until they need your testimony at the trial. Moreover, whether you like it or not, Detective Ellison is my best officer. He told me what he did to you. You have to understand he's been after a way to put a chink in the Malone crime family ever since his partner died. There was no positive proof that they were responsible for his death, but we assumed that because Jim and Jack were pursuing them vigorously in the months before the shooting. I know Jim Ellison will make sure you are protected and that you make it to testify at the trial."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Captain. As you said, I don't even have to interact with Detective Ellison. I think I can handle that."

"Well, it may be several days before you're needed to give your testimony."

"Great! Well, we can talk about the weather. Nothing too deep or soul-searching."

>>>>>>>>>>


Part 2

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These are my stories chronicling the continuing adventures of Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg, Sentinel and Guide, partners and friends.

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