DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.
Five Point Shot
"Come on, Jim. Give me a break here." Blair Sandburg followed his partner out of the elevator and down the hall toward the doors of Major Crime. "You're saying that just because Lungren is bigger than Van Damme he would be able to kick his butt?"
Jim Ellison shrugged his shoulders casually and waved a hand at his much smaller friend. "Hey, it's pretty obvious, Chief. Lungren is what -- 6'5"? 6'6"? He has to weigh close to 240. I don't think he'd have any problem taking down a shrimp like Van Damme if the script writer hadn't interfered." He grinned as he caught a glimpse of Sandburg's face, knowing the younger man was gearing up to bombard him with historical facts and anthropological findings dating back to God-knows-when showing that size doesn't always prevail. He had been teasing Blair mercilessly ever since they'd watched the much smaller Jean Claude Van Damme annihilate Dolph Lungren in Universal Soldier last night. Jim had picked up the video on his way home from the precinct as a way for them to both unwind. It had been an enjoyable evening spent at home watching a good action flick. Blair had picked up Chinese from Pei's, and they had managed to find a few hours of peace in their hectic schedules.
"Come on, Jim, think about it." Blair's eyes sparkled with a familiar challenge. "History is filled with instances where the perceived underdog has overcome his opponent's greater power and managed to become the victor. What about David versus Goliath's incredible size advantage? Or Perseus versus the power of the Titans? Or yours truly against the seemingly daunting power of Brad Ventris' money --"
"Whoa, Hercules." Jim stopped abruptly, causing Blair to nearly run him over. "Ventris' hired goons could've really hurt you. If I hadn't come along when I did there's no telling what they could have done with that baseball bat."
"Okay, okay." Blair waved a hand in front of him to stop Ellison's comments. "Bad example. My point, Jim, is that even though a battle can be perceived as completely one sided, there is still opportunity for victory if the weaker opponent is able to calmly and rationally outthink his stronger, wealthier, or more aggressive opponent. Sometimes physical or mental quickness is better than brute strength. I mean, how many times have you told me that my being able to think my way out of a fight I couldn't physically win is an attribute, huh? Sometimes it's better to be quicker mentally." He held a finger to his temple and tapped it a few times for emphasis. "Especially when the physical odds are not in your favor."
"Okay, Chief. I see your point. But it doesn't really matter, you know."
Blair's expression changed to one of confusion. "Why?"
Jim turned to his friend and smiled mischievously. "When it comes right down to it, Segal would have kicked both their butts."
Blair gave his partner an incredulous look before bursting into laughter. "Segal? Are you kidding?" He leaned forward, his arms outstretched in a gesture of utter shock and disbelief as Jim just shook his head and continued into the bullpen. "We really have to do something about these delusions, Jim. I'm starting to worry about you, man!" He followed his partner through the maze of desks, lowering his voice as he continued his thoughts. "Of course, it makes sense that you would relate to Segal. You both have the emotional range of a sparrow."
"I heard that, Sandburg."
"No kidding, Jim." Blair gave the older man a cheeky grin and plopped himself down in the chair behind his desk. Ellison feigned annoyance, but only managed to make Blair's smile double in size.
"Jim," Simon Banks called from the doorway of his office. "My office, please. You, too, Sandburg."
Jim raised his eyebrows at his partner, who shrugged innocently and led the way across the bullpen to the captain's office. Blair knocked twice on the open door before entering and quietly moving to stand behind one of the chairs situated in front of Simon's large mahogany desk.
"You wanted to see us, Sir?" Jim's tone was guarded as he joined his partner in the office. Something about the sound of Banks' voice had set his nerves on edge, and he lingered just inside the door, waiting for his captain to speak.
Simon waved a hand at the detective. "Shut the door, Jim."
Ellison shot his partner another look of confusion before complying and taking a seat in front of the captain.
Jim didn't miss the apprehensive glance that Simon threw at Sandburg, which only managed to further his trepidation.
"We've got a body at the bottom of Palisades Cliff." Simon handed a manila folder to the detective. He glanced again at Blair before continuing. "The victim's name is Tyrone Webb. Preliminary reports confirm the presence of alcohol in the car. There were no skid marks and from the looks of it, the kid drove the vehicle straight off the cliff from Palisades Highway."
Jim glanced at the folder, about to inquire as to why a suicide would garner the attention of Major Crimes, but something began tugging at his mind. "Tyrone Webb? Why do I know that name?"
"'Cause he's the star forward for Rainier's basketball team."
Both Jim and Simon turned to look at Blair, more surprised at the low, flat tone of his voice than the actual meaning of his words.
"Did you know him?"
Blair looked at the captain and gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head. "He was in one of my Intro classes as a freshman. He was a good kid, good student." He ducked his head, pulled his arms around his torso, and took a deep breath. "I can't believe he would kill himself. The kid was a sure bet for the NBA, man. He had everything going for him."
Simon leaned back in his chair and looked from one to the other. "Coach Wallace feels the same way. That's why he's requested the two of you handle the investigation"
Jim watched his partner closely. Blair had always looked up to Orvelle Wallace as one of his childhood heroes. When Orvelle had been a suspect in the death of his arch rival a few years back, Blair had not wavered in his belief that the man was innocent. He'd even put himself at risk to get the proof that would turn the case around.
Since then, Orvelle Wallace had become the Head Basketball Coach at Rainier, much to Blair's delight. The anthropologist had begun to build a relationship that most kids only dreamed of with his hero when the fallout from his dissertation had forced him to leave his position at Rainier and everything connected to it behind. As far as Jim knew, Blair had not had any contact with Orvelle since then, and Jim wasn't sure how the young man would take the possibility of facing his hero now.
"Chief?" Jim stood and closed the short distance between himself and his partner. "You don't have to do this. I can --
"No, Jim." Blair glanced up at him, a look of determination quickly settling on the expressive face. "It's okay. I know what you're trying to do." He shifted his gaze to the captain. "Both of you. But I can't hide forever." He took another deep breath and stood up straight. "I told Orvelle if he ever needed anything, he only had to call. I can't be going back on my word now, can I?"
Jim placed a hand on his partner's shoulder and squeezed lightly. "No way, partner."
The clouds had rolled in quickly, and Blair shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his jacket as the winds picked up, tousling the hair around his face. He wished he would have pulled it back this morning, but Jim had ushered him out of the loft so quickly he hadn't had time to mess with it. Right now, though, having his hair slap him continuously in the face was the least of his problems.
He stood on a cliff just off the Palisades Highway and watched as Jim made his way back up the steep hillside after surveying the wreckage below. The coroner had already taken the body, the lanky frame of the 6'6" basketball star barely squeezing into the familiar black bag. Jim had ordered him to stay up top and, somewhat uncharacteristically, Blair had obeyed. He had no desire to navigate the steep slope and was getting a bit queasy just standing at the edge looking down. He had gotten a report from one of the uniformed officers who had first responded to the call. A truck driver from Detroit, who had stopped to relieve himself on the little traveled highway, had seen the wreckage and called it in. From what the forensics team could determine, the crash was at least six hours old, the heat from the car's engine having faded away -- much like the life of its occupant.
Blair held a hand out and helped his partner the last few feet of the climb, then stepped back quickly from the edge. "Anything?" He purposely kept his eyes averted from the scene below.
"The car reeked of alcohol." Jim wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Some kind of cheap vodka. There were some pieces of a bottle, but it's a common brand." He held out a plastic bag, which held the charred remains of a 4" x 4" gold colored piece of paper. "And then there's this."
"Suicide note?" Blair still did not want to believe that a kid like Tyrone would throw his entire future away, and his disappointment showed in his voice.
"No." Jim shook his head. "It's what's left of a check. The name of the bank and the amount are charred but readable, and the check was obviously made out to Tyrone."
Blair took the bag from Jim's outstretched hand and turned it around, careful not to disturb the fragile contents. He could barely make out the check number in the upper right hand corner and the letters E-B-B written on the check. But what surprised him was the clearly legible $10,000 written in the amount box.
He frowned as he stared at the charred paper. "Who'd be writing Tyrone a check for that kind of money?"
"Maybe Tyrone was accepting more than just a scholarship."
Blair shook his head, flashing a look of anger at his partner. "No. I told you, Tyrone was a good kid. He studied hard and he played hard. I can't believe he'd jeopardize his future by taking money."
Jim took the bag and handed it to the forensics technician as he walked by. "Look, Chief, I know you want to believe this kid had his head on straight, but you haven't seen him for what, nearly a year? Things change, Sandburg. People change."
"I don't believe that, Jim." Blair's anger dissolved as quickly as it had appeared. "Circumstances change, situations change, but people like Tyrone don't change."
Jim patted his friend on the arm and nodded toward the truck. "Let's go talk to Orvelle. Maybe he can tell us what did change for Tyrone Webb."
Jim was aware of his partner's increased heartbeat as they pulled onto the Rainier campus. He really couldn't blame Blair for being nervous about stepping foot on university grounds again. After all, the kid had effectively cut his own academic throat by declaring his dissertation a fraud in front of the Chancellor, his department head, and the reporters who had gathered at the University for the anthropologist's hastily called press conference.
Naomi had told Jim what the Chancellor had said to Blair after he had given his speech and publicly dismissed his own painstaking work as a fake. She had ordered him to clear out his office, citing that he had embarrassed the university for the last time. According to Naomi, Blair had just walked away, dazed and not even responding to the woman's angry words.
Naomi had used the term "shell-shocked" to describe her son's expression as he hastily exited the scene. Jim had been stunned at the anthropologist's statement, although it had taken days before the ramifications of what Blair had done had been able to sink in. Jim knew that while Blair's head and heart were at peace with his decision, his emotions were still in turmoil. Not all of the students and faculty that Blair had worked so closely with in his extensive time at Rainier had abandoned him. He still had some support from the ones who really knew him and recognized the kind of man he really was. But these people were of the minority, and Blair had to deal with the label that had been erroneously attached to him.
Jim could only imagine what it was like to have to live with that label, undeserved as it was, for the rest of one's life. He believed Blair would be able to overcome whatever doubts and accusations had been thrust upon him in time, and he had vowed to be there for his partner, no matter what went down -- he owed the kid that at the least. But he would never forget that, although Blair had made his own decision, it was for Jim he had made a choice few people would ever have the strength of character to make.
It was a debt Jim could never repay -- and one that Blair would never want to collect. But Jim would do everything in his power to protect the young man sitting next to him and keep him from having to endure any more pain because of it.
Jim pulled the truck into a parking space outside the Rainier sports complex. "Are you sure you're okay with this, Chief?"
Blair nodded slowly. He was gazing out the side window, but Jim could see his face reflected in the glass. The sadness in Blair's eyes took his breath away, and he let his eyes drift past the window, following his partner's line of sight. Just past the parking lot, he could make out the shape of the large fountain that stood directly outside Hargrove Hall, and he shuddered at the memory the sight of it resurrected.
But the memories of Rainier were not all bad. Blair had a lot of history here. They both did. He placed a hand softly on his friend's shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze. "Blair?"
"I'm okay, Jim." Blair didn't turn, but opened the passenger door and hopped out of the truck. "Orvelle's office is on the second floor."
Okay. We'll play this however you need to, partner.
He opened his own door and followed Blair into the sports complex.
Jim took the lead as they neared the office of Coach Wallace, noting that Blair had not uttered a word since entering the building and kept his eyes down, not looking at anyone who passed them in the halls. Jim noticed at least two students do a double take when they saw the former Teaching Assistant, watching him as he walked past, but Blair didn't seem to notice. The whispers from the students pricked at Jim's nerves and he purposely kept his hearing in check. He didn't want to hear what was being said about his partner. Whether that was for Blair or himself he didn't know. He stepped up to the open doorway marked "Head Coach - Orvelle Wallace" and knocked lightly on the heavy oak panel before sticking his head through the opening.
"Detective Ellison!" Orvelle smiled as he maneuvered his 6'6" frame out from behind his desk. "Thank you for coming. I was pleased when Captain Banks phoned and told me you'd agreed to look into Tyrone's death. Come on in." He shook the detective's hand and motioned him into the room. Jim didn't miss the brief flash of relief in his eyes when he looked and spotted Sandburg's quiet form. "It's good to see you, Blair." Orvelle held out his hand in greeting. "I'm glad you came. It hasn't been the same around here without you."
Blair looked up momentarily, but could not meet Orvelle's eyes. He took the offered hand and shook it briefly, a tentative smile on his expressive face. "It's good to see you, too, Orvelle."
Wallace held the smaller man's hand for a moment, smiling sympathetically at the bowed head. He looked at Jim, raising his eyebrows in a silent question.
Jim glanced at his solemn partner and shrugged in response. He wasn't sure how to help Blair with this, and he had no idea how to explain it to the coach. It was obvious Orvelle still considered Sandburg a friend, despite his damaged reputation at the university, but Blair was not ready to believe anyone connected with his alma mater was willing to look past his academic transgression. Hopefully, Orvelle would be the one person who could convince him otherwise.
Orvelle patted Blair's arm and moved back around the desk, gesturing for the two police officers to be seated in the dark leather chairs in front of it.
"Captain Banks told me you went out to the crash site?" Orvelle sat down in the high-backed chair.
"Yes, sir, we did." Jim glanced again at his partner, but Blair made no move to join in the conversation. "There were pieces of a broken liquor bottle found in the car and no skid marks on the road."
"What does that mean?"
"It's not conclusive, but it does seem to indicate Tyrone had been drinking. At this time, we don't know exactly how much alcohol was ingested or how much of an effect it would have had on his ability to drive. Of course, any amount of alcohol could slow a person's judgment enough to cause such an accident."
"An accident?" Orvelle shook his head slowly. "That's better than the thought that Tyrone committed suicide, but it still doesn't fit."
"Tyrone came from a very poor family. His father died when he was 14 years old. The old man was an alcoholic who literally drank himself to death. Tyrone found him in the street outside their apartment building after he'd been gone on a weeklong binge. It was something he never forgot." He leaned forward on the desk, his lanky arms folding across the blotter on the mahogany surface. "Finding his father like that had a real impact on Tyrone. He never touched alcohol. He hated it -- hated what it could do. As far as I know, he didn't even drink socially. His future was too important to him. He wanted to make it, Detective. He wanted to give his the life his old man could never provide. He was a very special young man."
Jim nodded silently. The bottle itself was hardly conclusive, but he'd smelled the alcohol on the body. They would have to wait until they got the coroner's report to find out if Tyrone had actually ingested enough to impair his judgment.
"We won't know anything conclusive until after the autopsy," he said. "We also found part of a check for a $10,000 made out to Tyrone. How would he come into that kind of cash?"
Orvelle's eyes widened at the question and he shook his head. "I'm not sure. Tyrone was on a full scholarship. All of his expenses were taken care of, but I can't see the scholarship committee cutting him a check for that amount." He shifted in his seat and looked intently at his visitors. "There is one thing, though. Tyrone called me last night. He said he had something he needed to talk to me about. It sounded pretty important, so I told him I'd wait in my office."
"Did he say what it was?"
Orvelle shrugged. "No, and he never showed up. I just figured that he got sidetracked and would catch me in the morning before practice. You know how kids are -- they can sometimes be pretty irresponsible. When he didn't come to practice this morning, I called his house. When his mother told me about the crash, I got this weird feeling. When she told me they assumed it was alcohol related, I called Captain Banks and requested that you guys take the case."
"Is there anyone we can talk to who might have an idea what Tyrone has been up to off the court? Anyone he might confide in?"
"He had a girlfriend," Orvelle offered. "Her name is Shirese Parks. They've been going together for almost a year. If he confided in anyone, it would have been her."
"Is she a student here?"
"Yeah." Blair's voice surprised the other two men. "She's a Psych major. We should be able to get her address from the student directory."
Jim stifled a smile, glad his partner was starting to feel comfortable enough to join in the conversation. He certainly didn't want to work this investigation alone, and he was grateful his partner's loyalty and sense of duty had begun to win out over his anxiety.
"We'd also like to speak with Tyrone's mother if possible. Is she here in town?"
"Uh, yeah, she is. I'll get you the address." It had taken Orvelle a moment to answer; the former NBA star's attention had been focused on Blair. Jim could see the affection in Orvelle's eyes as he gazed at his young friend, and he reminded himself to thank the man for looking past the surface and seeing the real man inside. It would mean a lot to Blair to know that his hero still respected him. If only they could find a way to make him believe it.
Jim accepted the piece of paper with Mrs. Webb's address and stood, moving toward the door.
"We'll keep you informed."
"Thank you, Detective." Orvelle stood but didn't move from around the desk. "Blair?"
This time, the younger man managed to meet Orvelle's eyes.
"It was really good to see you." The coach's voice was soft, and Jim could sense the sincerity in it.
Luckily, Blair did, too.
"You, too, man." His smile only lasted a second, but it was real.
It was a start.
Mrs. Webb dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and patted the hand of the young woman sitting on the ottoman beside her. "I'm all right, Shirese," she said with a shaky smile. She turned her attention to the two officers who sat on the couch opposite her chair. "I'm sorry, gentlemen. I didn't mean to make a scene."
The night-shift detective who had caught the original call had informed Mrs. Webb of her son's death, so Jim and Blair were spared that painful responsibility. Her grief was still too fresh, however, and she had broken down again when they'd informed her they were taking over the case at Coach Wallace's request.
Tyrone's girlfriend, Shirese, sat beside her, her own face tracked with tears. The two women still clung to each other, their hands entwined in a show of mutual grief and support. Blair, wanting to show the women some kind of comfort in their sorrow, could only manage a weak smile before the sadness in their eyes caused him to look away.
"I'm very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Webb," Jim said sympathetically. "I know this may not be the best time, but there are a few questions we'd like to ask if you're up to it."
Mrs. Webb nodded, her inner strength coming to the surface and forcing her head to remain high.
"What kind of questions, Detective?"
Jim glanced at Blair and cleared his throat. "Did your son ever drink, Mrs. Webb?"
The old woman looked irritated at the question. "Tyrone never touched alcohol, Detective. After watching his daddy day after day, dying a little bit at a time, Tyrone made me a promise that he would never drink. And he always kept his promises to me."
"It's true." Shirese's eyes were still bright with tears, but her voice was steady with conviction. "Ty never drank. He hated liquor. Everyone was always trying to get him to drink a beer or something, but he never did. He said he was too smart for that."
Jim nodded and jotted something down on his notepad. "We also found the remains of a check in the car. Do you have any idea who would be writing Tyrone checks for large amounts of money?"
The two women exchanged a look that Jim could describe only as guilt, before Mrs. Webb nodded her head slightly. "Tyrone seemed to have a lot of money lately. He bought this house and the car and...." Her voice drifted off as tears once again filled her eyes. "I asked him where the money was coming from and he told me it was from the school. That they were taking care of him like they promised. I guess I just didn't want to believe he was lying to me, so I never asked again. Maybe if I had...."
Blair swallowed hard, trying not to let his emotions show in his voice. "Tyrone was only trying to do what he thought was best for you."
Mrs. Webb nodded, and Shirese favored him with a small smile before returning her attention to Jim. "I remember Ty having an argument with someone over the phone a couple of days ago. He was pretty angry."
"Do you know who it was?" Jim asked.
Shirese pursed her lips in thought and shook her head. "No, I don't -- wait! He mentioned a name. Bell or Beck...Becker. That was it. Monte Becker." She looked up to the detectives, her eyes wide with hope. "Does that help?"
"It might. We'll run the name and see if we can come up with anything." Jim stood and placed the notepad in his pocket, withdrawing a business card and handing it to Shirese.
"If you think of anything else, please call."
"My son would never have taken his own life." Mrs. Webb grabbed Blair's hand as he stood to follow his partner. "He would never have done that to us."
Blair squeezed her hand. "I promise you we will find out what happened."
Jim took another bite of his hot dog, noticing that his partner had yet to even taste his own. Blair had been unusually silent ever since leaving Mrs. Webb's home, and the quiet was actually starting to grate on Jim's nerves.
"Your hot dog's getting cold, Chief."
Blair glanced down at the item in question and shrugged his shoulders. "I guess I'm not really that hungry."
Jim just nodded and turned his attention to the view from the driver's side window. They had called in to have Brown run Monte Becker's name through the computers. It wasn't much, but hopefully they would be able to come up with someplace to start. The more Jim had talked to Coach Wallace and Mrs. Webb, the more he found himself agreeing with his partner's opinion of Tyrone Webb. This just didn't seem like the kind of kid who would take his own life.
According to Coach Wallace, the kid had a bright future ahead of him. He was a sure bet for the NBA and would have been a hot commodity when he graduated. Would the pressure to make good have been enough to send him over the edge? Or could he have been just a little too impatient and found an easier way to make some cash? The $10,000 check was a mystery. Who would be giving that kind of cash to a college sophomore?
"How good was Tyrone Webb?"
Blair looked a little surprised at the question, but turned a bit in the seat as he pondered his answer. "He was one of the best pure shooters I ever saw, man. I went to a few of the games last year when he was just a freshman, but he ran that court like he was the only one out there. He was amazing to watch." The younger man's hands started to move as he became more involved in his description. Little bits of relish and onion flew from the hotdog bun, but Jim determinedly ignored them; this was the most animated he'd seen his partner since they'd gotten the case. "He had this amazing fade away jump shot. Almost as good as Jordan's. And he drove the lane like he had absolutely no fear. He could've been one of the best."
The chirp of his cell phone interrupted, and Jim picked it up from where it lay on the seat beside him. "Ellison."
"Yeah, Jim." Henri Brown's was easily recognizable over the line. "I've got something on that name you wanted me to run."
"That was fast." Jim's eyebrows rose and he shot Blair a look of surprise.
"It might be nothing, but the name rang a bell. There was a Monte Becker that used to be some big time sports agent for a couple of the Jags' players a few years back. I don't remember all the details, but there was some kind of big scandal involving point shaving or something. I ran the name and low and behold, it turns out that Monte Becker is still in Cascade. He's even been a guest of our criminal justice system a time or two for bookmaking."
Jim swallowed the last of the hot dog and furrowed his brow. "I remember something about that. Didn't a couple of the players get suspended?"
"Yeah, and Becker was charged with attempting to influence the outcome of a sporting event, but the case never actually made it to court."
"Keep digging, H. We need all the information we can get on this one. Has Dan completed the autopsy on Tyrone Webb?"
"He sent up a preliminary report." Jim could hear papers shifting across the detective's desk as he searched for the proper file. "Ah, here we go. There was alcohol found in the stomach, but very little in the bloodstream. According to Dan the bulk of the alcohol was probably administered post mortem."
Jim's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Does he have a cause of death?"
"Nothing conclusive yet, but the prelim suggests the cause of death was blunt trauma to the head. He'll have a more detailed report for you by tomorrow morning."
"Thanks, H. Anything on that check?"
"Forensics managed to come up with a check number and a partial account number at City Federal." Brown's voice held a touch of admiration. "Some of the stuff those forensics guys can do is pretty cool, man. Anyway, I called the main office, and asked them to search their databases. Since the check wasn't cashed, there's no way to trace it, but they did give me a list of all possible matches on the account number. Guess who's name came up?"
"Don't tell me, Monte Becker?"
"Uh huh. Maybe you are psychic after all, man." The detective chuckled, using Megan's former misinterpretation of Jim's abilities. It had become sort of a joke around the bullpen. Although none of the other members of Major Crime had said anything since Blair's press conference, Jim knew none of them actually believed the anthropologist's claim that he had lied about Jim's abilities in order to impress his academic peers. They knew the young man too well to lend much credence to the thought that Blair's research had been a fraud -- they had all seen too much in the past four years to be swayed quite so easily. But they had also seen how the media had descended on Jim and the lengths Blair had gone to insure his partner's privacy. They knew about his senses, Jim was sure, but none of them was about to dishonor Sandburg's sacrifice by admitting it out loud. They were good friends, and Jim was grateful to each and every one of them.
Jim rolled his eyes and extended his hearing to identify the crinkling of a paper sack being tossed onto Brown's desk. "I'm psychic enough to know that Rafe just delivered your lunch."
There was a moment of stunned silence, before the subdued voice returned. "Man, I will never get used to that. How's Hairboy holding up?"
Jim threw a sideways glance at his partner, who had finally taken a bite of his hot dog and sat chewing thoughtfully. "Hanging in there, H."
"Good. It's gotta be tough."
Brown's speech became slurred as he attempted to speak around a bite of the lunch he'd obviously not been able to resist. "Oh, and you got a message here to call Orvelle Wallace."
"Thanks, H. Enjoy your lunch."
Jim disconnected the call. As he dialed the number for Orvelle's office, he explained to Blair what Brown and Dan Wolf had found.
"Orvelle, this is Jim Ellison."
"Thanks for getting back to me, Detective. I hate to ask you this, but the Chancellor has requested an official update on the investigation. I know it's rather awkward, but...."
"It's okay." Jim turned and watched Blair's face carefully. "I'll talk to the Chancellor." He saw Blair's eyebrows rise and his face pale. "I've wanted the opportunity to say a few words to her for a while now." He smiled at his partner and gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder before turning his attention back to his phone call. "Have you ever heard of a man named Monte Becker?"
"He used to be a pretty slick sports agent. He approached me once but I didn't want anything to do with the man. He was a little too slick, if you know what I mean. Got himself in some trouble a few years back and lost most of his clients. Why?"
"It seems he's still in Cascade. We think he may have written that check to Tyrone. We just don't know exactly how they're connected yet."
Orvelle sighed heavily. "I hate to think Tyrone got involved with a rat like Becker. I thought he was smarter than that."
Jim could hear the disappointment in the coach's voice. "I'll let you know what we come up with." He ended the call and glanced across at his partner, who had been paying close attention.
"I take it Orvelle has heard of Becker?"
"Yeah." Jim started the truck and glanced behind him as he pulled away from his parking space. "Becker was an agent of some sort before he got in trouble. From the way Orvelle talked, he isn't exactly trustworthy."
"Do you think Tyrone got involved with Becker?"
"Maybe. If I remember right, Becker was accused of paying some NBA players to insure the point spreads. The players were suspended, but Becker got off. Lost his clients, and the league refused to deal with him anymore. Maybe Becker decided he needed a little edge in the betting and set up shop again, and he got Tyrone caught up in the scheme."
"He had a few bad games, man, but point shaving? Tyrone wouldn't do that."
"Look, Chief. I know you want to believe this kid was straight, but the fact is that he was throwing a lot of money around, and he ended up involved in something that got him killed. Whatever that something was, it seems to be connected to Monte Becker. " He looked at his friend, carefully gauging the younger man's emotions. "I'm sorry, Chief. Sometimes things just don't turn out like we want them to."
"I know that, Jim." Blair's voice was no more than a whisper. "Believe me, I know."
Jim shifted in the uncomfortable leather chair and smiled insincerely at the young woman behind the reception desk. Knowing what he wanted to say to the Chancellor was better said in private, he'd dropped Blair off at the athletic complex. Sandburg had halfheartedly argued that he should accompany Jim, but had accepted his partner's assurance that he could handle the briefing alone. Jim smiled as he remembered the look of relief in Sandburg's eyes.
Naomi had told him how cold the Chancellor had been in her fury toward the ex-grad student immediately following the press conference, and Jim hadn't forgotten how Edwards had jumped through hoops for that sleazeball Brad Ventris at Sandburg's expense.
He'd been waiting out in the reception area of Chancellor Edwards' office now for nearly fifteen minutes and was about to give in to his impatience when the intercom buzzed. A voice instructed the receptionist to send him in.
He stood and took a deep breath, then followed the petite young woman through a large ornate doorway into the elaborately decorated office.
"Detective Ellison." Chancellor Edwards rounded her oversized desk and approached him, her hand held out in greeting. "It's such a pleasure to finally meet you. Please come in." She gestured to one of the large leather visitor's chairs and moved lithely back around her desk, taking a seat in the large chair behind it. Jim couldn't help but liken her to some kind of queen on a throne. She smiled at him, but he sensed no warmth in the gesture.
"I was very pleased when Coach Wallace informed me you were looking into the tragic death of Tyrone Webb. You have a reputation as one of the best our fair city has to offer. I've wanted the opportunity to talk with you since the unfortunate incident involving Mr. Sandburg's dissertation."
Jim clenched his jaw, fighting the impulse to be sick. Her voice had a sing-song cadence that irritated him for some reason, and he found himself wanting to reach across the desk and wipe the smug little smile off her face. He forced himself to return the smile, letting the ice in his gut reflect in his eyes. "Thank you ma'am, but from what I understand, Mr. Sandburg never officially submitted his dissertation, did he? It was the publisher and the university who publicized the manuscript without his permission." He was pleased to see her blanche at the statement, the smug smile fading from her lips. "Mr. Sandburg hasn't decided yet on his legal recourse concerning the situation, so you can understand why I'm not at liberty to discuss it."
Edwards smiled tentatively, trying unsuccessfully to cover her nervousness. She had obviously not considered any repercussions coming from her dismissal of Sandburg. Blair had no intention of causing any trouble for the university as far as Jim knew, but Jim was not above a little vindictiveness of his own. He enjoyed the opportunity to see her sweat
"I understand you are personally looking into the death of Tyrone Webb at Coach Wallace's request?" Edwards changed the subject abruptly. "I hope this investigation will be conducted discreetly. The University does not need any more adverse publicity."
"This is an official investigation," Jim replied, smoothly. "At this time, the death has been labeled suspicious. Whatever we find will eventually become a matter of public record. Until then, of course, our investigation will remain confidential."
"I appreciate that, Detective." Edwards' smile was victorious, and Jim found himself loathing the woman for her condescending attitude. "I would appreciate being kept informed of anything that may arise concerning the University."
"Like I said, the information will remain confidential until the investigation is concluded."
The carefully crafted smile slipped once again, and the Chancellor's eyes flashed at the detective's tone. She stood in a gesture of obvious dismissal and held out her hand, the icy smile back in place. "Thank you for coming, Detective. I understand recent events may have caused some speculation on your part as to the integrity of this university, but it is my sincere hope that the incident involving Mr. Sandburg and his actions will not adversely effect your opinion of this institution."
Jim voice was as cold as his smile. "I assure you, Chancellor, Mr. Sandburg's actions have very little to do with my opinion of you or the University."
Blair dribbled the ball a few times, pivoted and let go the shot, watching the orange sphere as it arced through the air and swished through the net without touching the rim.
"Nothing but net," he said quietly, a satisfied grin on his face. He retrieved the ball and dribbled back to the 3-point line, where he repeated the exercise with the same result. He had decided to wait for Jim in the gym, grateful that his partner had insisted on talking to the Chancellor alone. He'd faced the woman's judgmental stare far too many times in the last few months of his fellowship, and he didn't want to hinder the investigation by causing any friction with his presence.
You have embarrassed this university for the last time. The Chancellor's spiteful words still rang in his ears. He couldn't really blame her for her outrage -- after all, she had been expecting the university to bask in the publicity garnered by a Pulitzer Prize nominee, not protecting itself against the humiliation of academic fraud. He wished there had been another solution to the problem - but he hadn't had the time to come up with anything other than to publicly declare his work a fake in order to get the media off Jim's back.
He could never explain his reasons to the Chancellor, and he doubted very much she would believe him if he could. She had been quick to side with Brad Ventris when Blair had brought him up on charges of academic violations, and she had been just as quick to wash her hands of Blair after the press conference. There was no way he could face her now. He had taken great strides in gluing the pieces of his life back together -- but until he was positive the glue would hold, he didn't want to have to confront her again.
He tossed another shot toward the basket, this one skimming the rim before dropping through the net.
"Think you could teach my incoming freshmen that trick?"
Blair jumped, looking up quickly to see Orvelle Wallace leaning against the door frame of the gym. The tall man pushed away from the wall, sauntered casually up to the smaller man, and held out his hands for the ball.
"Orvelle." Blair tossed the ex-NBA star the ball. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." He looked around as if trying to find an escape route. "I didn't think anyone would notice if I was here ..."
"It's okay, Blair." Wallace laughed at his young friend's obvious nervousness. "You're welcome here, anytime you want."
Blair's expression quickly darkened, and he turned away from the older man. "I wouldn't say that too loud, Orvelle. It's not exactly a popular opinion around here."
Orvelle shook his head and bounced the ball a few times. "Blair, I've never been one to follow popular opinion." He glanced sideways at the younger man. "Especially when that opinion is dead wrong."
It took a minute for the statement to register in Blair's mind, and then he stared at Orvelle, his eyes wide with surprise.
"Oh, come on, kid." Orvelle laughed. "Don't look so surprised. You've got to know you've still got some friends here. You just have to give us a chance." He slung the basketball under his arm and turned to face the smaller man. "I don't understand why you did what you did, but I pride myself on being a rather good judge of people. I know that whatever your reasons, you would never have betrayed your friends -- your real friends, not the academic snobs who only saw you as a means of publicity for the university. I hope someday you'll be able to explain it all to me, kid, but until then, I'm cool. You had your reasons, right?"
Blair swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry as he realized the man he looked up to was telling him he hadn't lost his respect. "Yeah." His voice cracked. "Yeah, I did."
"That's good enough for me." Orvelle nodded. He stepped closer and placed a large hand on Blair's shoulder. "You stuck your neck out for me once, Blair. You believed in me when everyone else thought I was guilty of murder. Now it's my turn to return the favor."
There was a moment of silence as Blair wrapped his mind around the big man's words. He had never let himself hope anyone connected to Rainier would ever say those words to him after all that had happened. He had resigned himself to closing that chapter of his life and couldn't help but feel a slight twinge of relief knowing someone like Orvelle could look past the surface and see the real man inside. Orvelle's words were like a small light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. The light was still small and far away, but it was there. And that was more than he had dared hope for.
"Thanks, man," Blair said in a low voice. "That means a lot."
Orvelle clapped him on the shoulder, then tossed him the basketball. "What do you say you show me that 3-point shot of yours again?"
Blair smiled. "You got it."
Jim watched from the shadow of the bleachers as Blair ran a pattern around Orvelle, ducking under the big man's arms and driving toward the basket. The younger man whooped loudly, a smile lighting up his flushed face as the ball skimmed around the rim and dropped through the net.
"Yes!" Blair enthusiastically retrieved the ball while Orvelle leaned over to catch his breath.
"Man, I am too old for this," Wallace smiled at the expression of delight on his young friend's face. "Just where do you get all this energy, kid?"
"Now you know how I feel," Jim chimed in. He crossed the gym and caught the ball as Blair tossed it to him.
"Hey, Jim." Blair was breathing hard from the exertion, but there was a familiar twinkle in his eyes, and Jim found his own mood suddenly much brighter. "How'd it go, man?"
"I managed to make it through the meeting without bloodshed." Jim tossed the ball back and spread his hands in front of him.
Blair's eyebrows rose and his smile widened. "That's more than I expected."
"She's a little nervous about you taking legal action against the university for its role in leaking your dissertation to the public without your permission."
"Oh man, Jim, you didn't." Blair's eyes were wide in disbelief.
Jim shrugged, his blue eyes reflecting his partner's mirth. "I couldn't help myself, She wanted me to keep the investigation quiet so that the University didn't have to undergo any more adverse publicity."
"Man," Blair said, the smile falling from his face. "That's cold."
"Tell me about it." Jim shivered in response. "The temperature dropped about ten degrees as soon as she opened her mouth. I think she was more concerned how this would effect the University's reputation than why Tyrone was actually killed."
"Killed?" Orvelle pulled up to his full height. "You don't think it was an accident anymore?"
"You were right about the alcohol. According to the coroner, the alcohol was administered post mortem. Somebody wanted it to look like an accident, but we're pretty sure that Tyrone was already dead when his car went over that cliff."
Both Blair and Orvelle were quiet, neither of them surprised by the detective's statement.
"So Tyrone was murdered."
Jim placed a hand on his partner's shoulder and gave it a light squeeze.
"Looks like it, Chief. Now we have to figure out why."
"Jim!" Simon's voice rang from the doorway of his office as soon as they stepped into the bullpen. Jim made his way to the captain, his partner following closely behind.
The captain handed over a report. "Dan sent this up an hour ago. Tyrone Webb was definitely killed by a blow to the back of the head, and, judging from the alcohol content of his stomach and the lack of it in his liver, Dan concludes he was dead well before he went over the cliff. This case is now officially a homicide."
Both partners nodded grimly at the official confirmation of their earlier conclusions. "We've got a lead on a man named Monte Becker," Jim informed the captain. "He's some kind of a shady sports agent Tyrone may have been involved with. Brown managed to trace the check I found in Tyrone's car to Becker's account, so Sandburg and I are going to shake him up and see what falls out."
"I may be able to help you with that."
All three men turned to see a pleasant looking man of about 35 who was dressed in a dark tailored suit. The man was about 6' with light brown hair and round, wire-rimmed glasses. "I'm sorry. I should probably introduce myself. My name is Henry Capwell. I'm a representative from the NCAA."
Blair threw Jim a confused look before returning his gaze to the newcomer. "What would the NCAA have to do with a small-time sleaze like Becker?"
"Monte Becker's name is a red flag with most of the sports leagues in the country, professional or collegiate. Let's just say he has a less than stellar reputation." He looked at each of the three men. "Which one of you is Detective Ellison?"
"I am." Jim held out his hand, which was shaken firmly.
"I spoke with Coach Wallace this morning, Detective. He informed me that you were in charge of the investigation into the death of Tyrone Webb?"
"Yes, I am." Jim turned and nodded toward the others. "This is Captain Simon Banks and my partner Blair Sandburg."
As soon as the introductions were over, Simon invited them to step into his office.
"I received a call from Mr. Webb a couple days ago," Capwell took a seat at the conference table. "He said he had some information for me about some illegal activities going on at Rainier University. He told me he would contact me when he had proof of the allegations. I'd seen the TV report about Tyrone's accident, so I contacted Coach Wallace, who told me to get in touch with you."
"We appreciate you coming in, Mr. Capwell," Simon assured him.
"Coach Wallace didn't seem to think that Tyrone Webb's death was an accident," Capwell said carefully. "Is there any truth to that?"
"According to the coroner, Tyrone was dead before the car accident." Jim crossed his arms and leaned back against Simon's desk. "You said you could help us with Monte Becker. How?"
A look of disgust fell across Capwell's face when Jim mentioned the sports agent's name. "Monte Becker is scum. He was barred from most of the professional ranks after he was caught up in a point shaving scam. The pro leagues refuse to deal with him, and he subsequently lost all of his clients before turning his attention to the college level. Since college players are prohibited from having agents until they turn pro, the NCAA can't touch him unless we can prove that money has exchanged hands. And even then, the player is more than likely to be the one penalized. If you ask me, it's these agents that are the real piranhas. They dangle the carrot in front of hungry players and then challenge the league to stop these kids from taking a bite."
"Becker did some time for bookmaking, right?" Blair's mind kicked into high gear as he contemplated the information. "If he could influence the outcome of a game -- say he could guarantee the final point spread -- wouldn't he stand to clean up? He'd be able to make a lot of money."
Jim nodded, picking up the thread of his partner's logic. "And, once these players made it to the pros, he'd have them in so deep they'd have no choice but to continue to go along with him. " He raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "It would be worth it if he could hook the right players."
"Ones who were a sure bet for the NBA," Simon agreed with the scenario. "Ones like Tyrone Webb."
Capwell nodded. "It would also force the league to deal with Becker. If he was representing one of the top draft picks, it would be one hell of a way to get his foot back through the league door."
Simon straightened and crossed his arms across his chest. "Sounds like that gives us motive, Jim, Maybe it's time you paid Mr. Becker a visit."
Monte Becker looked up as the two detectives entered his office. He was a short man with a bulging middle that was not hidden by his gray suit coat. His hair was greasy and combed back away from his face, which held a plastic smile below calculating green eyes. Jim produced his badge and introduced himself and Blair.
"What can I do for Cascade's finest this morning?" The artificial smile remained on Becker's chubby face as he motioned for them to be seated in the green upholstered chairs on either side of his desk.
"We're investigating the death of Tyrone Webb," Jim kept his hearing tuned to the man's heartbeat, not surprised to hear it jump at the mention of the name. "We'd like to ask you a few questions concerning your relationship with him."
Becker's smile faltered for a split second before he managed to regain his composure. "Tyrone Webb? The kid who died in that car accident off Palisades Highway? I thought that he committed suicide."
Jim glanced at his partner, confirming neither had missed the nervous hitch in Becker's voice. "Actually, you've been misinformed. The death has been officially labeled a homicide."
Becker swallowed, still maintaining his air of detached curiosity. "A homicide?"
Blair nodded. "As in murder. Did you know Tyrone, Mr. Becker?"
"Uh, no, not really." Becker had begun to sweat and pulled out a handkerchief to mop his brow. "Sorry about the temperature. The air conditioner is on the fritz. It's been going in and out."
Jim looked at Blair and raised his eyebrows. "I think it feels fine. How about you, Chief?"
"No complaints here, man."
Jim turned his attention back to Becker and gave him what Blair had dubbed a predatory smile. "We seem to be quite comfortable, Mr. Becker. Are you sure you're feeling all right?"
"I'm fine," Becker snapped. "Must be something I ate. You said you had some questions."
Jim pulled out a copy of the partial check he had found in Tyrone's car and unfolded it carefully, handing it to Becker. "We found the remains of a check issued to Tyrone Webb in the wreckage. We managed to trace the check to your account, Mr. Becker, which made us wonder why a sports agent such as yourself, would be writing a check for $10,000 to a college athlete." He gazed at Becker, his eyes wide with mock innocence.
Becker glanced nervously from Jim to Blair, then laughed nervously. "Okay, you caught me. I paid the kid to sign some autographs for a charity event. I didn't figure it would do any harm."
Blair choked back a laugh. "Autographs? For a charity event?" He shook his head and furrowed his brow as he looked pointedly at Becker. "You paid that kind of money for autographs from a college athlete?"
Yeah," Becker's phony smile returned as he pushed the lie. "He's destined to be a star, I figured that I would strike while the iron was hot, so to speak. You know, get the goods while he was on the way up. I'm sure the NCAA will have a few words to say about it, but, hey, it was for charity."
"Charity." Jim smiled and nodded his head, trying not to laugh at the obvious ploy.
"Yes, so you can see, Detective, that check was only a payment for services rendered. Nothing more." He looked at the two men expectantly. "Is there anything else?"
Jim glanced around the small office. "What exactly do you do here, Mr. Becker?"
"Consulting, mostly." Becker 's answer was quick, and his voice was cautious.
"What kind of consulting?"
"Mostly scouting for college athletics. I've got a pretty good eye for talent."
"Are you working with Rainier University?"
Becker's eyes narrowed at the Blair's question, and Jim could detect his heartbeat increase. "I've helped them out a time or two." His eyes continued to jump from one detective to the other, forcing his head to move back and forth like a spectator at Wimbledon. "Why? What does this have to do with Tyrone Webb?"
"We're just trying to cover all bases, Mr Becker," Jim said pleasantly. He knew Becker was lying about his involvement with Tyrone, but they had no way of proving it. Motive was useless without opportunity, and they had nothing that tied Becker in with Tyrone's murder.
He took a deep breath and frowned as something played just on the edge of his awareness. Focusing in, he found himself inhaling the same scent of cheap vodka he'd smelled in Tyrone's car. He let his sight follow the scent and recognized the label of an open bottle on top of the file cabinet. It was the same brand.
He returned his attention to Becker, smiling with exaggerated friendliness. "Mr. Becker, could you tell us where you were Tuesday night, around 9:00?"
Becker sat back, obviously trying to put more space between himself and the detective. "I was at home. I watched a movie and then turned in early."
"Was there anyone with you? Anyone who could corroborate your whereabouts?"
"No." Perspiration dripped from the pudgy man's forehead, sliding down his cheek in a slow but steady pattern. "Why? Am I a suspect? I hardly knew the kid."
"I assure you, Mr. Becker, it's just routine." Jim stood up and motioned for his partner to do the same. "We appreciate your time, Mr. Becker."
"He did it." Blair had waited until they returned to the truck before voicing his opinion. "That scum is dirty as hell, Jim. He was lying to us the whole time --"
Jim held up a hand to silence him. Blair watched his partner, about to continue until he noticed the Sentinel's head cocked and his unfocused eyes.
"What's going on?"
Jim held up his hand again and froze in place, focusing his hearing on the office. "He's making a call."
"It's Becker. We've got trouble"
"Damnit, Becker, I told you never to call me here."
"Just shut up and listen. The cops were just here asking questions about that Webb kid."
"What? I told you this was going to blow up in our faces, Becker."
"Don't worry, the cops were just fishing. They don't have anything to connect us to the kid's murder."
"Murder? They know he was murdered? Damnit, Becker. this is your mess. You sure as hell better clean it up." There was a pause and a muffled voice as if someone was speaking over an intercom. "I can't talk right now. Meet me tonight."
Jim winced as the connection was cut and Becker slammed the receiver back onto its cradle.
"Well?" Blair had noticed his friend jump and begin to rub absently at his ear.
"Sounds like Becker has a partner."
Blair pursed his lips and nodded slowly. "Who?"
Jim shrugged.. "I didn't recognize the voice, but Becker is meeting him tonight." He opened the door of the old Ford and climbed behind the wheel, waiting a moment for his partner to follow suit. "What do you say we crash Becker's party?"
Blair smiled and wiggled his eyebrows, a mischievous grin playing on his lips. "I'd say party on, dude."
Jim pulled the truck into a space near the marina. They had staked out Becker's office, and followed him, hoping to learn who his accomplice was. The pudgy man slowly worked his way out of his car and looked around before turning and closing the door. Apparently satisfied that he wasn't being followed, Becker stepped away from his car, moving toward a maroon Continental that sat idling across the lot. The plates were covered with dirt, making them unreadable, and creating a striking contrast to the pristine condition of the well detailed vehicle.
"I know that car."
Blair's quiet revelation caused Jim to look at his partner in surprise. Before he could voice his question, he heard Becker open the passenger door of the sedan and turned in time to see him climb in. As soon as the door closed, Jim turned up his hearing, focusing on the two men inside.
"I never wanted anything to do with murder, Becker."
Jim recognized the voice as the same one he had heard from Becker's phone conversation.
"This is your fault. I told you not to trust that kid, but you wouldn't listen to me. Then you had to go and kill him. What the hell were you thinking? What if he told someone?"
"He didn't!" Becker's voice clearly showed his annoyance. "He didn't have time. Coach Wallace was the only one he talked to and all he did was set up a meeting -- one he never made it to."
"What about the cops? They've already been to talk to you. They obviously know something."
"Like I told you, they're just fishing. They've got nothing to connect me to the kid's murder. We just have to stay cool and they won't be able to pin anything on us."
You'd better be right, Becker. I'm not going down for this."
"You'll do whatever I tell you! You owe me. Don't forget who pulled your butt out of the fire when your little gambling problem got out of hand. Just keep your mouth shut and we'll be fine!"
Something caught Blair's eye in the mirror and he turned to see the black and white police cruiser slowly making it's way across the parking lot.
"Ah, Jim. I think we have a few more party crashers."
Jim shook his head, pulling his hearing back from the Continental and followed his partner's gaze to the patrol unit creeping up behind them.
"Damn!" Jim grabbed the radio. The cruiser was probably just on routine patrol, but Jim didn't want the sight of the black and white to ruin their chance at identifying Becker's accomplice.
Blair's voice brought his attention back to the Continental which was now tearing out of the parking lot in the opposite direction.
"Shit!" Jim started the engine and slammed the Ford into gear, trying to catch up to the Continental. The sedan pulled out into traffic and Jim was forced to brake in order to avoid colliding with a van that had swerved to avoid the speeding sedan. "Hold on!" He cranked the wheel, chancing a glance at his partner to make sure the younger man was still wearing his seat belt. He maneuvered around the van and gunned the truck in the direction the sedan had fled.
"Where the hell are they?" Blair was leaning forward, straining against the seat harness, his head swiveling as he searched for any sign of the vehicle. "Can you see them, man? Where'd they go?"
Jim searched, allowing his Sentinel sight to sweep the area, but could detect no sign of the Continental. "Damn!" He slammed the palms of his hands against the steering wheel. Becker was gone -- probably for good -- and they were no closer to identifying his mysterious accomplice.
Jim pulled the truck into the lot at Rainier and shut off the engine. He turned his head to watch his partner who had remained uncharacteristically quiet on the ride over. They had stopped at the station and informed the captain of the botched surveillance. Banks had issued an APB on Becker and the Continental, but they were currently at a dead end. They knew Becker was guilty, but they had no proof that would hold up in court. The man was either very good, or very lucky -- and Jim didn't think his criminal mind was his strong point.
He returned his attention to Blair, who sat staring out the windshield, his eyes unfocused.
"You okay, Chief?"
Blair took a deep breath and turned toward his partner, nodding his head slowly. "I was just trying to remember where I've seen that car. It's familiar, man, but I just can't place it."
"Don't beat yourself up over it, Sandburg. We'll get him." Jim patted the young man's shoulder and motioned toward the athletic complex. "Let's go check in with Orvelle."
Blair led the way into the building, working his way up the stairwell to the second floor without really paying attention to his surroundings. He had walked this path hundreds of times since Orvelle had become the head coach at Rainier and knew the route by heart. The picture of the maroon sedan was locked in his brain and his frustration had been growing since they had left the marina and driven to the university. He knew he had seen that car before, but exactly where was floating around just beyond his grasp.
A few yards from Orvelle's office he stopped abruptly, the answer suddenly popping into his mind. Before he could turn to inform his partner, a distinguished looking man exited the office and ran directly into the stunned young man, knocking him onto his butt.
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry --" The man's words stopped suddenly as recognition dawned on his face. "Mr. Sandburg, isn't it?" His voice held a touch contempt and he made no move to help the young man from the ground.
Blair accepted Jim's outstretched hand and quickly rose to his feet, absently rubbing a sore spot on his upper thigh. "Yes, sir." He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry and lowered his eyes. He knew Jim could hear his heart racing and chanced a quick glance at his partner. Jim was watching the older gentleman, his stoic expression marred only by the twitching of his jaw muscle.
Blair stepped back, allowing the man to pass without another word. He waited until the man was down the hallway and out of sight before he released the breath he had been holding.
"Chief?" Jim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder and squeezed lightly. "You okay?
Blair nodded, his eyes still on the empty hallway the man had disappeared from.
"Who was that guy?"
"William Banes. He's the Athletic Director for the University." Blair turned his eyes to his partner and Jim didn't miss the fact that they were wide with surprise. "Jim, I just remembered where I've seen that car, man."
Jim already knew the answer. "Don't tell me. It's Banes' car?"
Blair nodded, his eyes narrowing in confusion. "How'd you know?"
Jim glanced down the hallway. "I recognized his voice."
"Damn!" Blair let his anger show by letting his fist connect with the corridor wall. "Ow, ow, ow!" He shook his hand, and squeezed his eyes shut against the sudden pain. How could the university be involved? If Banes was working with Becker, there was no telling how deep this little scheme ran. A scandal like this would destroy Rainier's athletic program and -- very probably -- anyone connected with it.
He hated the fact that Orvelle could be dragged down with the rest. Blair was sure the coach had no knowledge of anything Banes had been involved in, but the NCAA would not see it that way. If Banes was guilty, the University was guilty, and, consequentially, Orvelle was guilty, too. And, on top of everything else, a young man had died. Correction -- had been murdered. Blair couldn't fathom anyone who had dedicated their lives to the molding of young minds and bodies being capable of such an act of violence.
He opened his eyes as Jim took his hand carefully into his own and ran sensitive fingers over the already bruising knuckles.
"No." Blair winced as his partner moved the fingers on his hand, testing to see if there was any damage.
"I don't think anything's broken." Jim released his hand which he promptly pulled into his chest. "We'd better get some ice on it. Come on, Chief." He turned the smaller man and steered him through the door of Orvelle's office.
"I can't believe it. Director Banes?" Orvelle sat down heavily in the chair, leaning his elbows on the desk and placing his head in his hands. "I should've noticed something. I can't believe I didn't see or hear anything!"
Jim sat on the edge of the desk and gave Wallace a sympathetic look. "You had no reason to suspect anything, Coach. Was there ever any sign of Banes being a high roller?"
Orvelle shook his head. "No. There were a few rumors, but nobody ever paid any attention to them." He shook his head, still unable to wrap his mind around the information. "Man, this just ..."
"Sucks." Blair was sitting in one of the leather chairs, his head against the back cushion, his right hand wrapped securely in a cold gel pack. "It just really sucks."
Jim allowed himself a smile at the sight of his partner. Blair still hated the thought of anything hurting the reputation of the University, even after the way the Chancellor had treated him. Someday the University would realized what they lost. Someday.
"If we know Banes and Becker killed Tyrone, why can't you arrest them?"
Jim sighed. ""Because we can't prove it. We have the check, but Becker can lie his way out of that. I did noticed the same type of liquor bottle in Becker's office as we found in Tyrone's car, but it's too common a brand to connect Becker to the murder. It's all circumstantial. We have no concrete evidence to hold him on."
"What about Banes' car? We can identify that." Blair had opened his eyes and lifted his head, his brows rising in hope.
Jim shook his head. "We can i.d. the make and model, Chief, but without the license number, we can't prove it was the same car."
Blair let his head fall back against the chair. "Then how do we prove it? We can't just let them get away with this, Jim."
Jim crossed his arms and smiled. "We're going to apply the Sandburg Rules of Engagement. When the physical odds are in your opponent's favor..."
"You have to be quicker mentally," Blair finished for him. He narrowed his eyes and regarded his partner, recognizing the gleam in the Sentinel's eyes. "I take it you have a plan?"
Jim answered with a mischievous smile.
Banes jumped at the sound of the phone, his heart beating loudly in his ears as he crossed the office. He had been waiting for Becker to call for the last two hours. Ever since he had seen Sandburg and that cop friend of his -- Ellison, that was his name -- Banes had been frantically trying to reach Becker.
He was certain Sandburg knew. The kid had always stuck his nose in where it didn't belong. Take the whole episode with the Ventris kid. If Sandburg could have just kept his mouth shut and gone with the program, the university would be well on the way to building it's new addition and Chancellor Edwards wouldn't be quite so worried about the University's reputation. Then there was the academic fraud Sandburg had admitted to publicly. That had driven a nail into the coffin. The Board of Directors was still fuming about that one.
Now, if his part in Monte Becker's plan was exposed, he would lose everything. His position, his reputation and his freedom. There was no way he could allow that to happen. He would have to find out what Sandburg and his partner knew. He would have to take care of it himself.
He grabbed the phone and spoke in a hushed voice. "Becker?"
"Sorry, Director Banes. It's Orvelle Wallace."
Banes took a deep breath and tried to hide his impatience. "What is it, Coach? I'm a very busy man."
"So I've been told. I know Becker killed Tyrone Webb."
Banes mouth opened, but in his shock he could not form any words.
"Meet me in my office in two hours."
Banes stared at the phone as the connection was severed. He slowly replaced the receiver, only to jump again as the phone sprang to life.
"It's Becker. We need to talk."
Banes swallowed hard and nodded his head. "We certainly do."
"How was I?" Orvelle hung up the phone and looked at Jim.
"Worked for me. How about you, Chief?"
Blair nodded his head and smiled appreciatively. "I'd say it was a performance worthy of Oscar consideration. Do you think they'll bite?"
"I'd say they don't have much choice. Becker's already killed once. He's going to do whatever is necessary to keep himself out of prison."
"What makes you think he'll come after Orvelle here?" Blair waved his good hand around to indicate the Coach's office.
"We only gave him two hours. He's going to have to check the most likely places first. Besides, he's already told Banes he'd be here."
"So we make it as easy as possible," Blair agreed. "We wouldn't want him to have to search too hard for Orvelle before he tries to kill him."
Orvelle looked from Blair to Jim, not completely sold on the plan. "That's not part of the plan, right?" He didn't really believe his friends would put him in any kind of danger. Not really.
Jim chuckled and patted the tall man's arm. "Don't worry, Coach, they won't get near you. We just need to get Becker and Banes together and let them hang themselves."
Monte Becker waited in the darkened hallway, outside Orvelle Wallace's office. The university had been nearly deserted when he'd pulled into the parking lot, leaving his car in an adjacent lot to avoid attracting any undo attention. He had no doubt he was going to have to kill Orvelle Wallace. He had already decided to make it look like a break-in. Orvelle would be killed by an unknown assailant who was caught ransacking some of the offices in the athletic department. Banes would file a report and the cops would have no reason to suspect the act was anything more than Wallace being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Becker was almost giddy with anticipation. Tyrone's death had been an accident. When Becker had overheard the kid setting up an appointment with someone over the phone, Becker had confronted him about their arrangement. Tyrone had already fixed a couple games for him, and Becker had thought that would be enough to keep the kid in line. After all, if the NCAA ever got word of what he'd done, Tyrone would be suspended indefinitely or prohibited from ever competing at the collegiate level again. Of course, what he hadn't expected was for Tyrone to set him up.
The kid had planned to spill everything, and when Becker had confronted him, he'd merely laughed and told him that his little plan was finished. Webb had told him that he planned to go to the NCAA as well as the cops, and Becker had simply reacted. He had picked up the heavy statue off the desk and hit Tyrone as hard as he could. When the tall youth collapsed to the ground and lay still, the pool of blood growing around his head, Becker knew that he had killed him.
He hadn't panicked. He had cleaned the blood and dragged the body out to the kid's car. He knew he had to make it look like an accident, so he'd forced almost half of a bottle of cheap booze down his throat, spreading the rest around the car's interior for effect. He had then driven the car out to Palisades Highway and driven it to the edge if the steep embankment. One push and the car tilted over the edge, finally giving in to the natural law of gravity and plummeting to the bottom.
He had thought that was the end of it. But what if the kid had managed to talk to Wallace? Then Orvelle would soon be joining his star player -- Becker would have no choice.
He stiffened as he heard the soft squeaking of shoes on the linoleum floor, and breathed a sigh of relief as William Banes appeared from the shadows.
"What the hell took you so long?" he asked in annoyance. He hated working with Banes, but the athletic director had been instrumental the last few years in delivering willing accomplices. The man was a whimpering fool, but he did have connections. As long as he owned Banes' gambling markers, the director would do whatever he was told. He wasn't sure how Banes would handle having to kill Orvelle Wallace, but as an accessory, Becker was sure he could trust him to keep his mouth shut.
"I'm not so sure about this." Banes voice was a low whisper and he looked around nervously. "What if we're seen?"
Becker rolled his eyes. "You're the athletic director, you idiot. You're supposed to be here. Besides, there's nobody around."
Banes eyes flickered nervously between Becker and the closed door. "Is he in there?"
"Yeah." Becker nodded in confirmation. "I could hear him moving around a few minutes ago." He pulled a pistol from his jacket and checked the clip, pulling the slide to put a round in the chamber.
"You're not going to shoot him!?" Banes eyes grew wide with shock and he took a step backward, putting a little more distance between himself and the gun.
"No, I'm not going to shoot him." Becker rolled his eyes. "This has to look like a botched robbery. We'll just knock him on the head with something. I just have this for insurance." He smiled coldly. "We wouldn't want any trouble, would we?"
"Why do we have to kill him? Why can't we just pay him off?"
"Because we can't take that kind of a chance, Banes. Look, you're in this up to your eyeballs. When your bookie was looking to break your kneecaps, who saved your sorry ass? "
"But this is murder!"
"So was what we did to Tyrone Webb," Becker reminded him hotly.
"I had nothing to do with that!" Banes' voice rose in volume.
"Shh!" Becker ordered, looking around quickly. They were alone in the hallway, but he didn't want to tip Wallace off before they were ready. "If your wife ever found out just how much money you lost gambling, she'd take her family fortune and leave you in the dust, right? Not to mention what the university would do if they caught wind of your extracurricular activities. So you just keep your mouth shut and do what I tell you, and we can go on, business as usual. You got it?"
Banes sighed in defeat and nodded. "Okay, let's get this over with."
Becker reached for the door leading to Orvelle Wallace's office and pushed it open. They quietly entered the dimly lit room and approached the desk. The high backed chair was turned toward the credenza so that all they could see was the back of the seat.
"Orvelle," Becker greeted in a sickeningly sweet voice. "It's good to see you, old friend."
The chair spun around, revealing a smiling Detective James Ellison.
"It's good of you to drop by, Mr. Becker," Jim leaned forward and rested his arms on the desk. He nodded his head at the man standing to Becker's left. "Mr. Banes. Glad you could join us. I didn't get a chance to introduce myself earlier in the hallway. I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade P.D."
"What the hell..." Banes turned to leave but stopped when he nearly bumped into Blair, who was closing the door behind them.
"I believe you already know my partner? Blair Sandburg?"
The former grad student smiled at the athletic director and wiggled the fingers of his left hand in greeting. "How are you, Bill?"
Banes said nothing, but turned to stare at Becker in anger. "This is all your fault, you... you... weasel!"
Blair's eyebrows shot up and he pursed his lips in a silent expression of surprise.
Jim stood and spread his hands in front of him. "Now, now, gentlemen. Let's try to keep this friendly."
"What's this all about, Ellison?" Becker was breaking out into a sweat. "You don't have anything on us."
"That's not exactly true. Everything we did have was rather circumstantial, until you so kindly gave us all the proof we need." Jim nodded toward Blair who held up a small tape recorder and played back part of the conversation that had just taken place in the hallway.
"I had nothing to do with this, Detective," Banes said quickly. He took a step closer to the desk. "Becker is the one who killed Tyrone Webb. I didn't want anyone to get hurt."
"Shut up, you idiot!" Becker advanced a few steps, trying to intimidate the man.
"You shut up!" Banes turned on his accomplice. "This is all your fault! I should have never listened to you!"
Becker raised the pistol and aimed it at Banes. Before he could take further action, Blair picked up the metal trash can from the corner and slammed it over the larger man's head. He quickly knocked the gun from Becker's hand and forced him to his knees. Jim jumped around the desk and secured the gun, then joined his partner who had stepped back, pushing his long hair behind his ears.
"Slam dunk." Jim nodded approvingly. "Nice shot, Chief." He opened the door to the adjoining office and motioned to the uniformed officers who were there as back-up. They entered quickly and cuffed both prisoners before escorting them from the room.
"I want to make a deal, Detective," Banes called as the officer led him down the hallway, "I'll tell you anything you want to know."
Blair joined Jim at the door as the shouts between the two men echoed down the hallway.
"Maybe we should've just let them shoot each other." Blair's eyes were wide as he turned to look at his partner.
"Nah, too much paperwork."
"I did not cheat, man!" Blair stepped off the elevator and headed toward the door to Major Crimes. He craned his neck to look innocently up at the face of Orvelle Wallace as the big man ducked out of the lift behind him. "I can't believe you'd even accuse me of something like that!"
Orvelle laughed at his young friend's look of feigned indignation. "Hey, you fouled me, man. What more can I say?" The two had enjoyed a quick pickup game earlier and Orvelle had been impressed with the tenacity of the smaller man's game. The kid had a hell of a jump shot, but he was no match for the taller man in the lane.
"I fouled you?" Blair eyes were wide. "Man, there is no way! You've obviously been playing with Jim. Neither one of you would know a foul if it hit you in the face!" He tried to hold onto his expression of outrage, but the smile that had been threatening to break through finally managed to push itself onto his face. His eyes glowed from the workout with Orvelle, and his heart felt lighter than it had for a long time.
Jim watched as the two approached his desk, his face breaking into a knowing smile. "Don't tell me. Sandburg tried to pull his special spin move on you and you called him on it."
Orvelle laughed as Blair threw his partner a look of irritation. Ellison merely smiled back. He had been on the receiving end of the younger man's competitiveness more than he cared to remember. He caught the sparkle in his friend's eyes and his smile increased. It was good to see Blair happy. God knows his partner had been through enough pain over the last year to last a lifetime.
Voices from Simon's office broke the good mood as all three looked up to see the captain enter the bullpen, followed by Henry Capwell and Chancellor Edwards.
"I appreciate your cooperation, Captain." Capwell shook the captain's hand and nodded his head to Edwards. "Chancellor." Edwards merely glared at him in return, her mouth set in a thin line and her eyes hard and cold.
Capwell noticed the three and made his way across the bullpen. "Detectives. I wanted to thank you for the information you provided. It will be of great help when I file my report."
"Our pleasure," Jim responded. They had made their official case reports available for the NCAA for use in their investigation into Rainier's athletic program. The police were confident that William Banes was the only one connected with the University to have a hand in Becker's scam, but the league would probably need to launch an investigation of its own to clear the university of any lingering suspicions.
Capwell turned to Orvelle and held out a hand. "I was going to stop by your office and talk to you, Coach. I'm afraid I'm going to have to recommend that the league begin a full investigation into Rainier's programs. I hope I can count on your cooperation."
"Of course." Orvelle took the proffered hand and shook it firmly. "Just let me know what you need and I'll see to it. Rainier has nothing to hide."
"Thank you, Coach." Capwell nodded once again to the two policemen and made his way to the elevators.
"I'm sorry, Orvelle," Blair said as soon as Capwell was out of hearing range. "I know this isn't how you wanted to start your career as a coach."
"I think it'll be okay." Orvelle gave his young friend a sad smile. "Banes was the bad apple, but I don't think the NCAA will find anything to warrant a suspension. We'll come out of this okay."
"I hope so, man." Blair smiled. "Rainier could really use a winning season."
"And you two have center court seats anytime you want them."
Blair exchanged a look of delight with his partner. "Cool!"
"Thanks, Coach." Jim shook his head, laughing at Blair's enthusiasm. "We just might take you up on that."
Chancellor Edwards' path through the bullpen brought her within a few feet of Blair. At first Jim was sure that the woman would just walk right by, but she stopped suddenly and turned to face the startled young man.
"I'm sure you're enjoying this, Mr. Sandburg,"
Blair furrowed his brow and frowned. "Why would I be enjoying this?"
"I suppose it's a sort of victory for you to see the university's good name tarnished once again."
Jim started to move from his chair, but a quick glance from his partner convinced him to remain seated. Blair raised his head and returned the Chancellor's stare. "I can assure you, Chancellor, that I find no pleasure in anything that could harm the integrity of Rainier. I spent almost half my life at that University. It's important to me."
"You certainly have an unusual way of showing it, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair took a deep breath and forced himself to remain calm. He was not going to let this woman get to him. Not here. Not now. Not ever again. "Chancellor Edwards, what I did, I did for reasons that, believe me, are well beyond your ability to perceive. I was put in a position by the publisher and the university of protecting myself and people who are important to me. I never submitted that paper, and I certainly didn't harbor any desire for its content to be made public. The blame for that rests squarely on the shoulders of an overeager publisher and your office."
Edwards gasped, her eyes going wide in shock. "Are you implying that the situation was the fault of the university?"
Blair took a deep breath and his shoulders slumped. "I'm not trying to lay blame anywhere, Chancellor. I did what I had to do, and I have to live with that. But the university has a responsibility here, too. It had a responsibility to me, just like it does to all its faculty and students, to strive to maintain its academic standards."
He watched the Chancellor's face, unsure of whether anything he was saying was getting through. "Tyrone Webb was a part of Rainier. He was a student and his life should be worth more than the pristine reputation of the institution. A young man died, Chancellor. A kid who had the potential to make his life something special. He's gone. Rainier will survive, but that one life was something unique and irreplaceable. Tyrone was trying to do what was right. I think the least the University can do is make sure his death wasn't in vain."
"Don't you dare presume to stand there and dictate to me what is and is not important. This University's academic reputation is vitally important, Mr. Sandburg." Edwards stared at him, the distaste on her face apparent.
Blair kept his voice steady and low. "I realize that. But sometimes what people think about you isn't as important as what you think of yourself. Is saving a reputation reason enough to sacrifice integrity? I can look myself in the mirror every morning and respect the person I see. Can you say that, Chancellor?"
Edwards opened her mouth to comment, but closed it quickly and pushed past her former T.A. without another word.
"I've always wanted to do that."
Blair smiled and looked up at Orvelle. "Me, too." He allowed his eyes to travel back to the elevator, watching as the chancellor stiffly entered the lift and disappeared. "But I doubt if she heard a word I said."
"She heard you," Jim assured him. "She just didn't want to listen."
He stood and moved around the desk, putting a warm hand on his partner's shoulder. "One thing is for sure, Chief. If you can render Chancellor Edwards speechless, I'd say neither Lungren nor Van Damme would stand a chance against you."
"Yeah?" Blair turned to his partner, a twinkle in his eye. "What about Segal?"
Jim laughed and threw an arm across his partner's shoulders as he steered him across the Bullpen. "Come on, Sandburg. We're talking about Segal!"
"Jim, Jim, Jim." Blair shook his head sadly. "I'm really starting to worry about you, buddy." He craned his neck and looked back at Wallace, who was grinning as he followed them toward Simon's office. " Can you believe that Orvelle? Segal!?"
~ Finis ~
E-mail the author of this story, Sue Pokorny, at SPok507@aol.com Read Sue's other fan fiction for The Sentinel at Shycat's Sentinel Domain The artwork in Act I, Collage, was created by DannyD... Enjoy more of Danny's art at her website, Dexter's World Please visit our Virtual Season 5 Staff Page to learn more about the hard-working behind-the-scenes crew responsible for bringing you this episode E-mail Faux Paws Productions at email@example.com NEXT WEEK on THE SENTINEL: Pacific Spirit (12/1/99, FPP-525) by Lois Balzer and a Special Surprise Guest Writer
A special episode involving planes, a heavy dose of action, a plethora of shamans, and (of course) some bad guys. This will be presented in authentic script format.
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