"What *are* you two doing? How *dare* you!" Both men looked up to see an extremely well-dressed man with red-rimmed eyes glaring at them. "A very special person *died* there."
"It's okay. This is a police investigation." Blair stood up, his hands spread.
"*Finally.* *No one's* been here since *it* happened. Not that I expected *anything*, sweetie, not from *our* precious PD."
The man sighed dramatically.
Jim stood up. "Things can't be *that* bad, hon."
The man blinked. "Oh, darling, you *don't* know. We might as well not *exist*. That's why poor, dear Freddie..."
"We're here now, and we *will* find the lout who did this. And *then*..." Jim's smile was not pretty. Blair nodded emphatically.
The man looked at them. "Since when does the CPD employ *family*?"
"I've been with them for *years*. I'm Jim Ellison, this is my *partner*, Dr. Blair Sandburg." Blair rolled his eyes at that last. Jim was prouder and louder about his doctorate than anyone else.
The man's eyes widened. "I've *heard* of *you*. Thank *God*. I'll tell all the girls."
With that, the man blew them a kiss, placed the flowers he'd been holding on the rest of the pile and walked quickly away.
Jim and Blair exchanged grins and went back to work.
"Okay, this is about where they found her. Poor girl." Blair nodded and put his arm around his partner. "Simon's right, darling. We *are* too close."
"No one else will do it, James. No one else *can*."
Jim nodded. Then he began to scan the area. It didn't take long for him to stop short at something. Reaching into his pocket, he took out a pair of surgical tweezers and a plastic bag.
"What is it?"
Jim didn't answer at first. He leaned closer to a masonry nail that was sticking out of the brick wall. He removed a tiny scrap of something from it with the tweezers and held it up to his nose.
"Bright green and I can smell hair mousse...that expensive stuff. I think we might have gang colors here."
Blair frowned. "Gang colors? Jim, we know most of the gang territories, and this isn't one of them. It isn't even neutral turf."
"Yeah, I know. They avoid this part of town for the silliest of reasons, but the people here are *so* grateful for that reason. Something has changed - and somehow that news hasn't reached us. We'll take this in to be analyzed later." Jim was decidedly unhappy-looking, but he continued to search the ground near the wall. He bent to pick up something round with his tweezers.
"Chief...beads. Same shade of green as the scrap plus black ones. Definitely a gang. Miss Freddie must have broken them. Good for her!"
Blair nodded. They carefully replaced the mound of flowers and walked back to the truck to drive to Melly's apartment - perhaps two blocks away from the alley. They found a parking place and walked to the front door, Blair carrying a casserole dish.
The doorman, who was wearing a black arm band, nodded them in. "You make sure you catch that bastard, Detective. Freddie was a sweet old girl." Their apartment was just down the hall from the elevator bank. After all these months, they knew their way as well as they knew their own building. Blair wondered how they could've spent so much time around Stonewall Street and not have heard what was going on.
Jim rang the ornate doorbell.
"Who is it?"
"It's Jim and Blair, Miss Melly. Are you decent, darling?"
"Oh, yes!" The door opened. Melly stood there in a gold brocade dressing gown, his hair impeccably combed. "Oh, my darlings, I've been hoping to see you. Please, come in."
As they entered, Blair handed him the casserole. "It's a recipe Freddie gave me."
"She always knew her way around a kitchen. Me, I barely know the difference between a whisk and a spatula." Melly bit his lip. "You know the way. You used to...used to..." Melly collapsed in tears on Jim's chest.
"I'll take care of her, Blair. Then we'll have some girl talk."
Blair nodded. He took the casserole into the kitchen and put in the fridge with the other offerings. Then, so long as he was there, he put up a pot of the special coffee blend Freddie had created, and to which they were now all addicted.
He'd spent a lot of time in that kitchen over the past few months, since "the girls" were let out of prison. Freddie had had every cooking gadget known to mankind and knew how to use them.
But what he cooked the most were casseroles just like Blair had made, to be placed in disposable pans and taken to the far too many people in the area who were housebound, either due to illness or to age. Freddie said it gave him a chance to talk all day long.
Blair choked back a sob as he walked into the living room with a tray of coffee.
"Blair, you are an absolute *angel*. Melly jumped to his feet to take the tray from him, but Blair would not let him. Instead, he prepared a cup for Melly according to his tastes, while Melly sat back down in his antique chair.
Jim was on the sofa, which was equally antique but from a different land. Blair put the tray down on the modern coffee table and sat next to his lover, who had his pad out, ready to take notes.
"He is, isn't he?" Jim smiled at him. "Back to business, Miss Melly, darling. I know you don't want to answer all these questions, but..."
"Oh, Jimmy, *please*. Anything to get who *ever* killed my poor Freddie."
"All right, darling. Now when did Freddie leave the gallery?"
Melly took a sip of his coffee. "Poor thing was working late. We have...had a show in two weeks. I don't know *what* we're going to do now...Anyway, she called me at about eleven, and said she was going home. I told her to be careful, I did. I said call a cab, I said call someone to walk her, I said I'd take the car, but she wouldn't hear of any of it. Stupid, stupid, stupid girl had to *walk.*" Melly broke down.
"Take your time, sweetie." Jim patted him on the hand.
"That's *it*. She should have been home in *fifteen* minutes. An *hour* went by, and I knew those *horrendous* gangs were around. They've been just *infesting* the neighborhood."
"Gangs, Melly?" Blair looked at him.
"There has been *nothing* to stop them, Blair. Not even one single boy in blue."
Jim's knuckles were white. Blair watched as he carefully put his coffee cup on the tray. "Not one? Why didn't *anyone* tell me? It's not like I'm *never* here."
"Oh, Jimmy...we weren't sure if you knew or not, or *what* you could do. We know you *can't* have the same influence now that you're out."
"This has gone *beyond* influence. I'll do *something*, Melly. But first...an hour passed?"
Melly nodded, collecting himself. "Yes, and I was *frantic*. I finally called the police, I was *so* desperate. Of course, they took their sweet *time* getting here..."
"How long?"
"Over an hour. Cascade is *not* that big and it was a Monday night."
"Why didn't you call *me*?"
"I *tried*, but you were on stakeout."
"Too true. I'm sorry. So, the cops *finally* show up?"
"Blair, angel, could I have some more coffee, please?"
"Of course." Blair refilled his cup.
"Freddie's blend?"
Blair nodded.
"Two boys showed up, all pretty in their little uniforms, and ask the most *impertinent* questions. As *if* Freddie were going to step out on me."
"They didn't know him. They had to ask that."
Jim picked up his own cup.
"I know, but *still*...it just *wasted* time. *Finally*, they started looking for her. And...and...and when they found her...she'd *just* died...oh, my poor Freddie!"
Blair didn't know where to turn - Melly was sobbing openly into his handkerchief, while Jim looked like he was ready to explode out of sheer anger.
"I am going to find out exactly *who* responded. Who the dispatcher was, and just *where* they were. I am going to see them hung out to *dry*. Darling, they won't forget this *or* Freddie." Jim's jaw was twitching and his eyes were flashing.
Melly looked up over his handkerchief. "Jimmy, are you sure? This can't be good for your career, darling."
"This will be *worse* for *his* career, Miss Melly. I'm getting that cop up on charges of negligence." For a moment, Blair saw and heard the old Jim. "I left this area for my damn career, and I'm not going to let you girls pay for it any more." He got up and knelt by Mel's chair, taking his hand. "I promise you, I will find Freddie's killers. All of them. And I will make sure this will not happen again, no matter what price I have to pay."
Mel grasped Jim's hand so hard that Blair could see his knuckles whiten. His eyes, which were normally as sweet and mild as any Southern belle's, flashed with anger. "Make them pay, Jimmy. I'll help you anyway I can, but make them pay. For my poor Freddie and for all the others."
"Others? What others? What has been going on here, darling? What have you been keeping from us?"
"We thought you knew. We thought you couldn't do anything about it." Mel bit his lip and looked from Blair to Jim. "Some of us even thought you didn't care."
"Tell me, Miss Melly. Tell me everything you know." Jim sat on the edge of the sofa and stared right into Mel's eyes.
Melly told. He told a story of neglect and abuse, and another of gangs and protectionism, of streets that no one walked alone, of crimes unreported or unnoticed.
Blair could feel his own anger grow at this willful negligence. He controlled it with an effort. Instead, he sat next to Jim and kept his hand on him somewhere. Jim was seemed calm, but his eyes were white and his hands were clenched hard.
"And no one told me this? I've been back for almost a year now, and no one told me?"
"What could you have done, sweetie? We knew that just being *out* would damage your career. And, some of us thought you did know. I'm sorry."
"Damn my career. Damn my blindness, too. I *knew* something was up...I knew it when you took TJ. I...I was so *selfish*. Oh, Melly, I'm sorry! I could have done *something*. I killed her, too."
Jim threw off Blair's hand, stood up and began pacing the living room, dodging antiques every step of the way.
"Jim? Jim, it's not your fault. If you could have been there..." Blair stopped. There was nothing he could say now. He was feeling the same way Jim did.
"I *was* there. I was just too happy, baby. I had everything. I have to do something. Miss Melly, will you be all right if we leave you alone?"
"Just knowing you're...I'll be *fine*, darling. And let me know what's going on."
Jim nodded and bent to kiss Mel before turning towards the door. Blair went to shake Mel's hand and to give him instructions on reheating the gourmet tuna casserole he'd brought. Then he followed Jim out the door.
*************
"Uh-uh, Jim. No way am I letting you drive." Blair reached out his hand as soon as they came to the truck.
"Oh, *please*. *As if*." Jim put his hands on his hips. "You're as mad as I am, sweetcheeks, *and* it's *still* my truck."
"Keys, James. Now." He stared at Jim, his arm still out-stretched. Jim stared back, then rolled his eyes.
"Will I *ever* win?" He tossed the keys to Blair, who caught them neatly, and climbed into the passenger side.
Blair paid for his victory, though. He got to listen to Jim fume all the way to the police station. Jim was incredibly gorgeous when he was angry, and Blair shared his feelings, but he could have managed without the snaps and glares.
Finally, though, he pulled into the garage. He ostentatiously pocketed the truck keys as he left.
Jim snapped his fingers and stalked off, not deigning to look at Blair.
Blair just shook his head and followed him to the elevator. It was better that Jim's anger had a focus. The ride up was completely silent, with Jim refusing to even look at him. Blair let him act out.
He was so busy letting Jim enjoy his own dramatics that he didn't notice until they passed the floor that they were not heading for Major Crimes.
He brought this to Jim's attention just as the elevator came to a stop.
"We'll get there, Chief. I just have a little...errand to run." Jim's smile was downright nasty. "I'm paying a visit on some...old friends." He turned right out of the elevator, walking so quickly that Blair had to run to catch up - the long legs that he appreciated so much when they wrapped themselves around his waist ate up a lot of ground when Jim let them.
Jim paused briefly at the door to Vice, and took a deep breath. Blair had seen this before, but it never failed to amaze him - Jim's entire bearing changed. His shoulders straightened just slightly, his spine grew even stiffer and his face hardened. Even his eyes changed - they flashed with cold rather than with heat. Blair could feel his own heart beat faster.
Thus transformed, Jim strode into Vice, through their bullpen and straight to their captain's door, which he opened without a knock. Blair walked right next to him, unable to ignore the gaping mouths and shouts that followed them, but not caring, either.
"What the hell do you want, Ellison?" Captain Ron Hart looked up from his paperwork. "Someone break one of your nails?"
"What the hell's been going down on Stonewall, Hart?" Jim leaned on his hands as he bent over the desk.
"Besides your little friends? The usual. Sorry you're not there to protect them anymore?"
"I had the best record in Vice before I left - better than *yours*."
"How come I'm captain, then, and you and your boytoy are still working for Banks?"
Jim's jaw clenched. Blair wanted to put a hand on his arm, but knew this was not the place - anyway, he wanted to punch this guy, too.
"Maybe he just wanted to work someplace they gave a damn."
"You have nothing to say, Sandburg. You aren't even a cop."
Blair smiled. "*Doctor* Sandburg. And I'll bet my record's better than yours. My partner asked you a question...Captain. Have your people done *anything* but harass citizens?"
"What the hell business is it of yours? Did someone's makeup get smudged by one of my boys?"
"I have had enough of *you*, Hart. Do you know what your people are doing or not doing? Or are you *that* incompetent?" Blair knew he should have been quiet but this man was infuriating.
"Get the hell out of my office, both of you! You have no business being here! You have no business being on the force at all, Ellison. I thought so when you worked Vice and I think so now. As for *Doctor* Sandburg - if I were Banks, you wouldn't be allowed to step foot in my division. Damn fags."
Jim dropped the act. "You're just jealous, sweetcheeks. *My* boyfriend has more...cojones than you'll ever have. I want the records of the past year, Hart, and I *will* get them by any means necessary. And when we do, you can kiss your division good-bye."
"I'd tell you what to kiss, Ellison, but you'd probably *enjoy* it."
"You're projecting, man, just projecting." Blair winked at Hart.
The two left, but not before seeing Hart pick up the phone and shout for Major Crimes.
They didn't bother waiting for the elevator. They ran down the two flights to Major Crimes, and walked in just in time to hear Simon's bellow.
Jim looked at Blair and nodded. They walked to the captain's office as the rest of the bullpen saluted them.
Blair knocked on the door. "Enter!"
They walked in. Simon glared at them as they did. Blair wanted to back right out again. There were too many emotions for such a small place, and a good part of them were his own. But, this was his place and no emotions were going to drive him away.
"What the hell is going on here? Are you determined to get *every* other division on my case, Ellison? No sooner do I placate Homicide then Vice calls me. And I do not enjoy placating people."
"Simon..."
"I don't want to hear it. Look, I said you could investigate Freddie's murder, and I'm already catching major pain with *that*. You took a standard case away from Homicide, which means you are not doing your real job."
"We're not giving it up, Simon. We promised Melly. Anyway, it *is* our real job." Jim looked straight at him.
Go to Part Three.