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.


Murder in General
by
Sue Pokorny

.

Act I

The blue and white Ford pickup screeched to a halt near the patrol car. Both occupants of the vehicle crawled from the passenger side door, gunshots ringing out across the empty parking lot from the abandoned storefront. Hunched down, they made their way to the brown Plymouth on the far side.

"What've you got?" Detective Jim Ellison called, ducking instinctively as two more shots rang out from the small building across the lot. Both shots bounced harmlessly off the pavement, neither coming near any of the uniformed officers or detectives on the scene.

"Ellison," Detective Mark Colby grinned in greeting. "Just happened to be in the neighborhood?" Colby was a bit older than Jim, with a healthy paunch and a friendly smile. His hairline had started receding years ago, but you couldn't tell since he started cropping his graying hair very close to his head. He was crouched down behind the rear fender of his car, keeping his attention on the building.

"Something like that." Jim returned the grin. "We heard the call for backup and decided to drop by and show you how the real cops work." Jim readied his weapon as he bantered with his old friend.

"Real cops, huh?" Colby laughed. "Sandburg, I thought you were teaching this hotshot some humility."

"I tried, Mark, but it didn't take." Blair shrugged his shoulders. "You know the saying about old dogs and new tricks."

"No reason to mess with perfection, Chief." He turned back to Colby. "So who's in the building?'

"Small time drug pusher by the name of Luca. Tony Luca. We've had our eye on him for a while now. We had an APB out on him and a couple of his boys in connection with a crack house we took down a couple days ago. Word on the street is he's been pushing a new form of PCP."

"Angel Dust?" Blair asked. "I didn't think they used that stuff anymore."

Colby nodded. "It's certainly not the most popular of your illegal recreational drugs these days. Most of these pushers are supplying things like crack and Golden. This new PCP compound is pretty new. My sources tell me there's a new player supplying these kids, but I haven't been able to get a name." He turned his head and nodded back toward the storefront. "I was told Luca was pretty high up on the food chain, but he must've seen us coming, because he bolted before we could stop him."

"How many in there with him?"

Colby shrugged. "Two. They went in through the front door and decided to play Butch and Sundance with us."

A few more shots rang out, one hitting the front headlight of the patrol car, shattering the glass.

"Their aim is getting better." Blair instinctively ducked down further.

Jim focused his hearing on the building, picking up three distinct heartbeats. He held up three fingers to Blair to indicate the number of suspects he could hear inside. "They're all staying near the front of the building," Jim observed. "Any chance we could get around back?"

Jim eyed the building skeptically. The old brick front seemed solid, with cardboard covering the partially glassed display windows. One side of the building was framed by a tall chain link fence that butted up against the building next door. The other side was blocked by a rusting dumpster.

"I was just about to check that out when you came along. I can't see any way around from here, but I was thinking if we could get to that neighboring building, we may be able to find another way in." Colby motioned toward the adjoining building, which looked as old and rundown as its neighbor.

"Sounds like a plan."

"Jim..." Blair grabbed his arm and squeezed tightly, forcing him to look into the angry blue eyes. Ellison was expecting his partner's protest and held up a hand to stop him.

"I'll be okay, Chief. You stay here and keep them busy."

"Keep them busy?" Blair repeated, shaking his head angrily. "No way, Jim. I'm coming with you."

"Sandburg, we don't have time to argue about this."

Blair's expression didn't change but he released Jim's arm. "Then don't argue. Let's go."

Colby had watched the exchange, one corner of his mouth lifted in a grin as Ellison backed down. "Tough little guy, isn't he? You two take the building, I'll stay here with the uniforms and keep them busy."

Jim nodded and looked pointedly at Blair. "Keep your head down, Chief."

"Hey! Don't shoot! We're coming out!"

Jim exchanged a look of surprise with Colby. "Your lucky day?"

Colby shrugged. "Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket."

The door to the storefront opened and two young men walked through, their arms extended above their heads, their guns dangling from their fingers.

"Drop the weapons!" Jim ordered, leveling his own across the hood of the Plymouth.

Both men complied, slowly lowering their weapons to the ground.

"Place your hands on your heads and lie face down on the ground."

As both suspects began to move, Blair moved a little closer to his partner. "Where's the other guy?"

"Good question, Chief."

"We probably hit him." Blair looked up as the younger of the two uniformed officers -- Joe or John or something Stevenson -- answered eagerly. The officer rose and began to move out from the protection of the vehicle when another shot rang out, and everybody ducked for cover. Blair watched in horror as Stevenson was struck. The rookie patrolman was spun around and fell forward, right into the line of fire.

Blair, realizing the officer was now exposed, gathered himself and pushed off from the Plymouth. "Jim!" he screamed as he rushed to the fallen man and grabbed him by the arms.

Jim's head spun around at the sound of his partner's frantic voice. "Sandburg!" He fired at the two men in the lot, who had retrieved their weapons and were shooting as they scuttled to the edge of the lot. One suspect went down as he turned to make a break for the dumpster, the other catching a bullet as he changed direction and tried to make it back to the door. Gunfire was still coming from the other man inside, and Jim aimed his weapon at the muzzle flash to the left of the door.

Blair was about five feet away, dragging Stevenson toward the safety of the Plymouth. The officer was about Jim's size and Blair struggled to move the unresponsive man to safety. He was almost to the Plymouth when Blair suddenly spun around and fell to the ground. It took a moment for Jim to understand what had happened.

"Sandburg!" Jim fired again through the glass, rewarded with a scream of pain and a body falling through what was left of the window onto the pavement in front of the store. As Colby and the other uniform carefully made their way to the downed suspects, Jim rushed the few feet to his fallen partner.

Jim checked for a heartbeat, relieved to find it strong and steady.

He breathed a sigh of relief and turned Blair's head. Bright red blood stained the left side of his head, standing out in sharp contrast to the pale skin. The blood flowed down, matting the dark curls against his head.

"Oh, God. Blair." He quickly pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it to the wound, relieved to hear a low moan from his partner.

"That's it, Chief. Stay with me here."

"Jim?" Blair's voice was a whisper. "Wha--"

"Whoa." Jim pressed a hand against Blair's chest, forcing the younger man to stay down. "Just stay put, Chief. You're bleeding."

Blair's eyes opened and he looked around in confusion. He squinted up at Jim, obviously struggling to focus. "Wha... what happened?"

"You decided to play hero."

Blair's look of confusion changed to one of concern. "Stevenson?" He tried to lift his head to look around, but Jim's pressure on his forehead and his chest kept him from moving.

"Lie still. Stevenson's okay." Jim glanced behind him at Stevenson who was struggling to sit up, his left arm holding his other close to his side. "Stevenson's fine. You did good, Chief."

Blair relaxed and closed his eyes. "Good."

Jim smiled. "Yeah. Good." He looked up as Mark Colby kneeled down beside him.

"How's he doing?"

"He'll live. Luckily the bullet hit the hardest part of his body." From the look of Blair's pupils it was apparent the younger man had sustained a concussion, but he seemed coherent and alert which meant it probably wasn't too serious. "The bullet just grazed him. He'll have a hell of a headache, but I think he'll be okay."

Colby smiled. "Hit where it could do the least damage, huh?"

Jim laughed. He looked back toward the storefront noting their backup had arrived and was now taking charge of the prisoners. "What's the situation?"

Colby stood and ran a hand over his balding head. "Two dead. The third took a bullet but he's alive. I just hope he stays that way long enough to give us a name."


"You're lucky, Detective Sandburg. Another inch and we probably wouldn't be having this conversation right now." The ER doctor had finished his exam and was motioning for the nurse to bandage the angry red streak across Blair's head.

"Lucky, huh?" Blair winced as the nurse applied the bandage. His head was pounding and the slight pressure the nurse exerted on the wound as she secured the tape was not helping. He squeezed his eyes shut. He didn't feel lucky. He felt like shit. His head hurt, his stomach was queasy and he wanted to take a nice long nap. As the nurse finished, Blair heard a familiar voice.

"What's the verdict, Doc?"

Blair opened one eye and squinted up into the too-bright room. Jim was staring down at him with an amused look on his face. Good. If the Sentinel was smiling he wasn't in too much trouble.

"He has a concussion. Speeding bullets to the head tend to do that." The doctor closed the chart and held it against his chest. "I'd like to keep him here for observation for a day or two, but he's being a bit stubborn."

Jim shook his head. "Not surprising." He looked back at his friend with an expression of fond exasperation. "You know the drill, Chief. You got shot in the head. Let them keep an eye on you for a while, huh?"

Blair was about to argue, but the throbbing in his head increased minutely and he decided against it. Jim took his partner's silence as agreement and nodded to the doctor.

"Good. I'll have the duty nurse get him a room."

Jim watched the doctor leave, then turned his attention back to his partner. "How are you feeling?"

Blair shrugged. "Head hurts."

Jim nodded in understanding. Silence reigned in the room for a few moments, each man silently rehearsing what they wanted to say.

"Jim, I'm --"

"Chief, I --"

They both spoke simultaneously, both coming to an abrupt halt as the other's voice registered. Blair took a deep breath and waited.

"Chief," Jim began, his voice low and soft. "I just wanted you to know I'm proud of you. What you did today -- you saved the life of another officer. Of course it was at the risk of your own which, believe me, we will talk about -- at length." He gave his partner a warning glare before softening his expression again. "But I want you to know you did a good job. You earned a lot of respect from those other officers."

"Thanks, Jim." Blair's felt a sudden rush of warmth run through him. Ever since he had joined the force, there had been a nagging doubt about the decision. Not about becoming Jim's partner. He knew that was where he belonged. He knew he was destined to be the Sentinel's guide. And to do that job, to be in a position to fulfill that destiny, he had had no choice other than to join the force. That was not a problem.

What had caused his doubt was the position he had been thrust into within the department. As an observer, he was content to be an outsider to the men and women in blue. The members of Major Crimes had accepted him as one of their own, but the rest of the force saw him as a civilian curiosity who helped out once in a while. And that was all right -- then. Not anymore. Now he was officially one of them -- and the perception of some of those men and women hadn't changed. He was still an outsider. A civilian. A curiosity.

He knew there was some animosity toward him because of his quick promotion to the rank of detective and his enviable position in Major Crimes as Jim's partner. But he had hoped that, in time, he could win over his critics by his dedication to the job. He had never realized how important it had become to him to be accepted in Jim's world. He always knew he had Jim's respect, but to hear the words from his partner reaffirmed that he had indeed made the right decision.

"I'm just sorry I forgot."

Jim furrowed his brow. "Forgot what?"

Blair smiled up at his partner and closed his eyes. "To duck."

He heard Jim's soft voice as he drifted off to sleep. "Don't worry, partner. We'll work on that."


Jim stepped out of the cubicle just as Mark Colby backed out of the adjoining one.

"Hey, Jim. How's Sandburg?"

"They're going to keep him for observation. He'll be okay."

"Glad to hear it." Colby looked genuinely relieved. There had been a few cops who had not been very receptive to Sandburg's official posting to Major Crimes, but Colby had been one of his staunchest supporters. Jim had worked with him on a few cases a while back when they had both done a stint in Vice. They had gotten along -- as well as Jim had gotten along with anyone back in those days. And he had been the first to approach Jim after his involvement in the bust of the special narcotics task force that had gone bad. He had assured Jim that he had a lot of support from the rest of the narcotics squad who were glad to have their department cleaned up. And Colby had taken to Blair right off. When Blair had joined the force, Colby had been one of the first to welcome him aboard. That alone had earned him Jim's gratitude.

"How's your prisoner?" Jim nodded toward the adjoining cubicle, keenly aware of the din of activity going on behind the drawn curtain.

"He took one in the chest. Doc says he has a pretty good chance. They got him stabilized, but we won't be able to talk to him for an hour or so." Colby sighed and ran a hand over his head. "In the meantime, I guess I can start all the paperwork. IA's going to have to be brought in on this one."

Jim nodded his understanding, knowing any officer-involved shooting had to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb.

"They've already got a public defender on the way over. We'll have to wait for his OK to question Luca."

"Mind if I sit in?" Normally, Jim wouldn't try to cut in on another detective's case, but he wanted to keep tabs on Blair for a while longer, and helping Colby question the suspect would be a good reason to stick around.

Colby seemed to understand and shrugged his shoulders, a small grin playing on his lips. "I could always use the help."


It was closer to two hours before Mark Colby poked his head inside Blair's room. He looked at the sleeping figure in the bed. Sandburg was curled onto his side, one arm tucked beneath the pillow, the other curved up to his chin. Jim sat in the chair next to the bed, thumbing through a magazine. He looked up the moment Colby opened the door.

"How's he doing?" Colby kept his voice soft and Jim smiled at the gesture.

"He's not too happy about being woken up every hour. He about took the nurse's' head off the last time."

"A little grumpy when he's sick, huh?"

Jim chuckled "Well, in all fairness, getting shot in the head would be considered -- as Sandburg would say -- a major bummer." He took another look at his friend and, assured he was sleeping soundly, waved Colby back to the door.

"What about Stevenson?" Jim asked once they were outside the room.

"He's going to be okay. They're keeping him overnight, but will probably release him in the morning. He's going to get quite a butt-chewing for pulling that stupid stunt."

"Get in line."

"You said you wanted to be around when I talked to the prisoner, right?"

Jim nodded. "Is he conscious?"

"More or less. Doctor Morrison is keeping him pretty doped up. Don't know if we'll get anything out of him or not, but his public defender says he's interested in making a deal." He noticed Jim's glance back at the partially closed door to Sandburg's room. "That is if I can tear you away from your baby-sitting job here, Papa Bear." He tried to contain the smile that was threatening to envelop his face but was not having much luck.

"I think I can spare a few minutes," Jim responded. He glared at Colby, but the detective didn't flinch in the slightest.

"Well then, let's get going before Baby Blair's next wake-up call."


The soft beep of the monitors filled the room, reminding Jim exactly why he hated hospitals. Not only were the smells and sounds unsettling to the sentinel, forcing him to keep firm control on the imaginary dials he used to control his senses, but they also served to remind him of exactly how much time he and Sandburg spent inside these walls because of his -- correction, their -- jobs. It wasn't a comforting thought.

Doctor Morrison was just finishing up an exam on the patient. Jim studied the man lying in the bed. He couldn't have been much older than Sandburg. Tony Luca had a rap sheet a mile long, starting with petty crimes as a juvenile and working his way up to possession and distribution charges. Jim had little sympathy for these people who made drugs available to kids. In his mind, the middlemen were just as bad as the people at the top of the food chain -- maybe even worse since they knew the effects their product had on their customers. They lived in the same streets as these people, saw how the drugs ruined their lives, yet continued to push the dope in their own neighborhoods. All for the almighty dollar.

Dr. Morrison approached the two detectives who had remained near the back of the room.

"Can he talk to us?" Colby asked.

Dr. Morrison coiled his stethoscope and dropped it into the large pocket of his lab coat. "He's conscious." He shook his head. "But we've given him a sedative and something for the pain. I wouldn't say he was coherent. I doubt if you'll be able to get anything out of him."

"Anything is better than what we've got now, Doc." Colby turned toward Jim and motioned for Jim to accompany him. Jim followed Colby to the bed, but hung back behind the narcotics detective. This wasn't his case and he was only here as a courtesy from Colby. He felt no pity as he took in Luca's pale form, the memory of Sandburg's bloody face still fresh in his mind.

Colby stepped up next to the bed and cleared his throat. "Mr. Luca, I'm Detective Marcus Colby and this is Detective Jim Ellison of the Cascade Police Department. Do you understand me?"

Luca's head turned slightly. It took him a few moments to find the source of the voice and he made an attempt to focus his slitted eyes on Colby.

"Mr. Luca. Do you realize you are under arrest?"

Luca blinked slowly and managed an almost imperceptible nod.

"I'm going to take that as a yes," Colby muttered. He raised the volume of his voice as he continued to speak to the prisoner. "Mr. Luca, you've been read your rights and your attorney has informed us you wanted to talk to us. You want to make a deal?"

Luca nodded again. He was obviously fighting to stay conscious, but the drugs in his system seemed to be taking hold. Luca closed his eyes and Jim was almost convinced the man had lost his feeble grasp on consciousness when he heard a soft whisper.

"More..."

Colby furrowed his brow and leaned closer. "What? Mr. Luca, can you repeat that?"

Luca made an attempt but slipped into a drug-induced sleep.

"I'm afraid that is going to have to be enough." Dr. Morrison approached the bed and checked the patient's pulse. "He's unconscious, gentlemen. I'm afraid you aren't going to get anything more out of him."

Colby sighed in frustration and looked at Jim. "Did you catch that?"

Jim shrugged and shook his head. "Not really. It sounded like he said 'More', but I can't be sure." Although he had turned the dial on his hearing up a notch to monitor Luca's heartbeat, the quiet whisper was muffled by the man's weakness and the word had been almost imperceptible.

"More?" Colby repeated, a look of frustration on his face. "More what? More drugs? More time? More what?"

Jim shrugged again and offered a look of apology. "That's what I heard, too. Whatever that means."

"Gentlemen." Dr. Morrison was motioning toward the door and the two detectives preceded the man into the hallway.

"We'll need to be informed the moment he regains consciousness, Doctor."

Morrison nodded hastily. "I'll let you know the moment he's able to talk, Detective. But right now he needs to rest." He turned and walked back through the door, closing it firmly behind them.

"Well, I guess we're back to square one." Colby's voice barely masked his disappointment.

Jim managed a grim smile. "At least we know Luca won't be selling any more crap to kids out there."

Colby nodded. "I guess that's something." He took a deep breath and raised his head. "You need a lift back to your truck?"

"Yeah. I just want to check in on Sandburg before I go."

Colby chuckled. "Of course you do. Come on, Jim. Let's go tuck him in."

Continue on to Act II...


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