The sound of an angry fist hitting the bathroom door echoed throughout the loft.
“Open that door and get out here!” Blair Sandburg angrily shouted.
Blair’s fist hit the door a second time.
“Don’t give me that, Ellison! I know you’re laughing your ass off in there!”
“I’ll be a while!”
Blair didn’t have to be a Sentinel to head the amusement in Jim Ellison’s voice. He spun around and looked at the older man standing next to the balcony door. “He’s your son! Can’t you do something with him?”
William Ellison sighed.
Six Years Earlier
William Ellison carefully took a sip of water from the elegant long-stemmed glass in his hand and gently replaced it on the table in front of him. A quick glance at his watch confirmed that his companion still had five minutes before being considered late.
The Rebels and Redcoats Room at the FitzPatrick Hotel had the reputation for not only serving the best steak in town but also for its varied cuisine. A dinner party could order dishes from French, Asian, Italian, Mexican, or Russian cuisine, and it would be served by the silent yet impeccable staff with no more of a bat of an eyelash than you would receive if you ordered a hot dog and fries. However, William was certain anyone who ordered a hot dog and fries would wait a long time before being shown to a table on their next visit.
William shifted in his chair and wondered one more time what had possessed him to…
“Excuse me? Bill?”
William looked up to see a well-dressed young man with sparkling blue eyes. “Yes? Jake?”
“That’s me.” The young man beamed and held out his hand.
William stood and smiled. Shaking the young man’s hand, he added, “It’s nice to meet you, Jake.”
“He’s acting like a child.” Blair ran a hand through his hair as he sat on the couch.
“He does seem to be taking this rather lightly,” William admitted with a frown. “I had hoped…” He turned his head, hearing the bathroom door open.
Jim stood in the doorway for only a few seconds then slammed the door shut as he choked back a snort of laughter.
“Jim!” Blair yelled in frustration.
William took a deep breath and turned to the man standing behind the couch. “Steven, perhaps you could talk to your brother?”
Steven Ellison’s eyes widened in uneasiness. “Me?”
Six Years Earlier
“Jake, I can’t believe all the places you’ve lived,” William smiled. “Especially for one so young.”
“Sometimes I think my Mom’s motto is ‘so many places, so little time’,” Jake chuckled. He happily sighed as he chewed his food. “Thanks for suggesting the potato soup. It’s the best I think I’ve ever had.”
“You’re welcome.” William leaned back in his chair. “It’s been ages since I’ve enjoyed a meal so much.”
“Why is that?” Jake curiously asked. “Excuse me for saying it but you obviously have enough money to eat well.”
William shrugged and absently tapped his right forefinger on the table. “Probably because there is no one to share a meal,” he reluctantly admitted.
“Now that I find hard to believe.” Jake shook his head. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
William waved his left hand in dismissal. “My wife and I divorced many years ago, and I don’t have much contact with my sons.” He waved his hand again to stop Jake’s words. “As for friends, well, I have acquaintances. Business acquaintances. I could go to one of my clubs, which I joined for business reasons, you understand, and find someone to join me for a meal. But we’d discuss business, and I’m just not in the mood for that right now.”
William forced a smile and leaned forward. “Enough of that. Let’s order some dessert. I highly recommend the strawberry sherbet. And you can tell me more about your mother. She sounds…fascinating.” His smile became less forced as Jake began to eagerly talk.
Steven cleared his throat and gently knocked on the bathroom door. “Jim…uh…you really need to come out.”
‘Oh my God! Dad and Sandburg have Stevie doing their dirty work!’ Despite himself, Jim snickered.
“Jim, c’mon…this is serious.” With a sigh, Steven walked away from the bathroom door. Shaking his head, he looked at the other two men. “He’ll be out when he’s ready to come out. Unless one of you wants to go in after him.”
All three men turned their heads when the bathroom door opened. They watched as Jim stepped into the room. Although his face was expressionless, they all saw the merriment in his blue eyes.
“Are you done with the giggling and smirking?” Blair demanded as he got to his feet, hands on his hips.
“Sorry, Sandburg,” Jim apologized. “For some reason, I just…got tickled.”
Steven closed his eyes. “You’re an idiot, Jim,” he muttered.
“Tickled?” Blair quietly asked. “The idea that your father is being blackmailed tickles you?”
“No, of course not.” Jim quickly looked from Blair to his father then back at Blair.
“Then what does?” Blair folded his arms across his chest and stared up at his partner.
“Perhaps Jimmy got…tickled because of the reason I’m being blackmailed,” William spoke.
“So…Jim…did you get tickled at the thought of someone identifying me as a…how was it put, Mr. Ellison?...oh yeah…a money-grubbing gigolo?” Blair stepped closer to his partner. “Hmmm...? Was that what got you so tickled that you hid in the bathroom so you could laugh your ass off?!”
Jim winched and rubbed his ears. “You don’t have to shatter my eardrums, Sandburg.”
Blair finally stood toe-to-toe with Jim and stared up at him. “Oh, yes, I do,” he hissed.
In near desperation, Jim glanced at his brother who shrugged.
“Look, I didn’t mean to laugh,” Jim apologized. “Okay, Dad? Sandburg, you know I’m taking this seriously. It’s just that the idea…” Jim quickly stopped as he felt a laugh trying to work its way free of his throat.
“The idea that Blair would be a gigolo or that Dad would purchase the services of a gigolo is just so ludicrous to anyone who knows either of you. Jim just couldn’t help himself.”
Everyone turned to stare at Steven who had decided to take pity on his brother.
Detecting the scent of Simon Banks’ cigars in the hallway, Jim quickly walked towards the front door.
“You owe me big time,” Steven muttered as his brother walked past him.
Jim sighed and mentally agreed. He opened the door and motioned for Simon to join them. “Whatever you do,” he muttered. “Don’t laugh.”
Simon curiously glanced at Jim then turned his attention to the other men in the room. “Sandburg,” he greeted with a nod.
“Simon, you remember my father, William Ellison, and my brother Steven Ellison.” Jim performed the introductions as he closed the door. “Capt. Simon Banks.”
Simon shook hands with Steven and William. As Blair waved him towards the chair, he noticed that Steven kept his position behind the couch as though removing himself from the topic of the upcoming conversation.
“Thank you for coming, Capt. Banks.” William took a deep breath then continued. “I’m being blackmailed.”
Simon glanced at Jim who simply returned his stare. Then he looked at William. “What is the nature of the blackmail?”
Blair leaned forward and picked up a large baggie with a piece of paper inside. He handed it to Simon without a comment.
“It’s pretty self-explanatory,” William admitted.
Simon adjusted his glasses then began to read.
‘Mr. Ellison. The attached photograph was taken during one of your dinners with a money-grubbing gigolo. He got his money then, and I want mine now. I’m sure a man of your reputation and stature wouldn’t want this to be made public. A donation of $50,000 will entitle you to the negative of this picture and the others. I’m sure you recognize the restaurant in this picture. I’ll be in touch. Don’t contact the police or discuss this with your son, Detective Ellison.’
“Letters cut from a magazine,” Simon mused. He turned the baggie over to look at the photograph. His jaw dropped as he stared at the two men in the picture. Then he slowly looked up. “Sandburg? Gigolo?”
Despite himself, Jim snickered.
“Jim, I swear to God…” Blair angrily warned.
“The picture was taken several years ago,” William calmly interrupted. He sat down on the couch next to Blair and leaned back. “I was estranged from both of my sons and close to the end of my professional career. Then, as a result of a yearly physical, I received some potentially fatal news.”
“Dad! You didn’t mention that!” Steven protested. He walked around the couch to stand next to his brother.
Jim’s jaw clenched as he watched his father.
William smiled at both his sons. “I underwent tests, and the results were negative. There was nothing to be said about it until now.”
“Now I know where you get it from,” Blair softly whispered as he glanced up at Jim.
“However, while waiting for the test results, I became…depressed.” William looked into Simon’s eyes. “I believe you have a son?” When Simon nodded, William continued, “Fathers want to leave a proud legacy to their children. I wasn’t going to leave anything behind for my sons except bitterness and possibly regret.”
William looked at his sons. “Is that a lie?”
Jim saw Steven uneasily squirm and managed to repress the urge to copy him. “No,” he finally replied. “Not on my part.”
“That was then, Dad!” Steven irritably pointed out.
“Exactly.” William nodded in agreement. “Our relationship at that time was such that I couldn’t call either of you about what was going on.” He took a deep breath. “I had heard…stories about an organization called ‘Companions’.” He managed to glare at Simon, Jim, and Steven at the same time. “And it was not a prostitution ring! I want that clearly understood!”
“That you know about, Dad,” Jim gently spoke.
“I’m not a fool, Jimmy! And I wasn’t one then!” William angrily denied. “I took precautions and had them checked out!”
Not liking the anger that was building, Blair cleared his throat. “I think I can explain. ‘Companions’ was the brainchild of David Stockwell. He was a psychology grad student when I knew him at Rainier. David…was also HIV positive. He became horribly depressed but managed not to commit suicide. But when a friend of his did commit suicide a couple of months later, he realized something needed to be done. So he got some friends together as a support system.”
Blair got to his feet and began pacing. “You guys know that holidays are bad times for people who are sick or depressed. Well, you may not know that a lot of college students, young kids away from home for the first time and under a lot of pressure, also get seriously depressed.” He briefly smiled. “It’s sorta like cops who get depressed. You know there’s a place to go if you need it, but somebody’s gonna find out. And that could hurt your career.”
Slowly Simon nodded. “I know, Sandburg.”
“So ‘Companions’ became an underground support group,” Blair continued. “If someone seriously needed psychiatric help, David and a couple of others encouraged them to get help and worked with the system for them. But sometimes, people just needed to be around other people but were too shy…or whatever…to take that step.” He squared his shoulders. “Rule #1. David’s ‘companions’ were all over the age of 21. Rule #2. Absolutely positively no way in hell was there to be any sexual activity. Hugs were about all you could do and even then you’d better be able to explain it ‘cause Rule #3 was that David just might have someone you didn’t know monitoring your actions. Rule #4. Always meet in a public place. You never went anywhere out of public sight with someone. That included getting into a car with someone. Rule #5. You periodically called in. You called in just before meeting someone, and you called in immediately after leaving. But never more than 2 hours between calls. Rule #6. You never gave out your name or contact information. David preferred you only use a first name that wasn’t your own. I went by Jake.” Blair folded his arms across his chest. “It was a clean operation, Simon. David was sure that Vice had tried to catch them in something more than once. They never did.”
Simon made a mental note to check with Vice about any investigations. “How did you get involved, Sandburg?”
Blair grinned. “I started Rainier at sixteen, Simon. Believe me. I didn’t fit in at first.” Then he shrugged. “I went through my own type of depression. Fortunately, I was able to make myself reach out. David was someone who reached back.”
“Is this group still active?” Simon casually asked.
Blair answered equally as casual. “I don’t know. I lost touch with them. David died four years ago. I was on an expedition to Bolivia then. By the time I’d returned, the people I’d known had graduated and moved on.”
Simon stared at the baggie in his hands. “So someone, years after the fact, is trying to blackmail you, Mr. Ellison.”
William nodded, leaning back against the sofa cushion. “At this point in my life, Capt. Banks, I could care less. My reputation is…what it is. For myself, I don’t care what people think. As for my sons, well…their reputations are able to stand on their own now.” He glanced at Blair. “However, Blair’s reputation could be endangered if that picture is published. Also, there are others who used ‘Companions’ who might not be able to withstand public scrutiny…or wish to.”
Gravely, Simon nodded. “So, I’m safe in saying that under different circumstances, you would have told the blackmailer to go to hell?”
William coldly smiled. “With pleasure…and in great detail.”
‘Now I know where Jim gets it from.’ Simon sighed. “You must figure this little get-together won’t spook the blackmailer.” He looked up at Jim.
“If someone’s been watching, they would have seen that Dad, Steven, and I get together for dinner once a week if possible. Then, after dinner, we come back here or to Dad’s or Steven’s for a while.” Jim shrugged. “And you’re here often, sir.”
“Just the same, I think I’ll take Sandburg with me when I leave,” Simon suggested as he got to his feet. “If anyone is watching, hopefully they’ll assume I came for him.” He smiled as Blair grinned. “We’ll go to my house, and you can fix my computer. Daryl loaded some program on it, and now it’s not worth a damn.”
“And you use that computer a lot, right, Simon?” Blair grinned over his shoulder as he went to get his jacket.
Simon decided to ignore him. Instead, he turned to William. “As soon as you’re contacted, let Jim know. We’ll take it from there.”
William hesitated, then nodded. “Thank you for your discretion, Captain.”
Jim followed Simon to the door. “Call me when you’re done, Chief. I’ll come and get you.”
“Okay. See ya, Steven…William.” Blair opened the door and walked towards the elevator.
“Gigolo?” Simon murmured to Jim, humor in his dark eyes.
“At least you didn’t laugh, sir.”
Simon quietly watched as Blair’s talented fingers danced across the keyboard. After a few minutes of listening to Blair mutter to himself, he went into the kitchen and made coffee. Occupying himself by going through the stack of accumulated mail, he pushed aside the matter of blackmail. Less than an hour later, Blair bounded into the kitchen with a grin.
“Okay, Simon! You’re up and running again!” Sniffing appreciatively, Blair detoured towards the coffee pot.
“Good,” Simon grunted, laying aside his cable bill. “That’s the last time Daryl puts anything on it.”
“Now, Simon,” Blair chuckled. He poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. “So, what’s the plan to nail this blackmailer?”
Simon’s eyebrows rose. “When the blackmailer contacts Mr. Ellison, we’ll be at the drop site and arrest him.”
Blair sat the coffee cup on the table. “Jim laughed.”
Simon blinked. ‘So that’s what he was talking about.’ He sipped his coffee and leaned back in his chair. “That doesn’t sound like Jim.”
“Not only did he laugh, but he hid out in the bathroom!”
“Strategic withdrawal,” Simon guessed with a somber nod.
Blair glared at him then grinned at the humor in Simon’s eyes. “Yeah, he’ll pay for that.” He finished his coffee, then stood. “You’re going to talk with Vice about Companions, aren’t you?”
Simon watched as Blair walked to the sink and rinsed out his cup. “I have to, Sandburg.”
Blair calmly nodded. “You won’t find anything,” he assured the older man.
“I hope not.” Simon hesitated then continued. “Daryl’s talking about going to UCLA. His mother and I would prefer Rainier, but I think he wants UCLA in order to be more on his own.”
Blair turned and leaned against the sink. “And you’re wondering if he’ll get depressed and be far away from anybody he knows?”
Simon sighed. “It’s a valid concern,” he lightly protested.
“Sure it is,” Blair agreed. He folded his arms across his chest. “Simon, I was sixteen when I started Rainier. Too young to socialize much with other students. Hell, I looked fourteen! There was no way I could tag along. So I got left behind in the dorms. As far as the administration was concerned, half of them wanted to see how much I could take so I could prove them right in accepting me early to Rainier while the other half wanted to see how much I could take so I could prove the others wrong by failing.” He shrugged. “It just started to get to be too much.”
“Am I wrong to want Daryl to take a couple of years at Rainier?” Simon asked. “Live on campus but be close to home?”
“No,” Blair answered with a smile. “But Daryl’s different than me. He’ll always know where his parents are and how to call them. Hey, give him my number, too!”
‘And you didn’t know where your mother was.’ Simon stood. “Well, that’s almost two years away. Come on, Sandburg, there’s no need to disturb Jim. I’ll take you home.”
‘So this is what déjà vu is like.’ William smiled to himself as he sipped water from an elegant long-stemmed glass. He had never returned to the Rebels and Redcoats Room at the FitzPatrick hotel since his dinners with the young man he’d called Jake. But it hadn’t changed.
The feeling of déjà vu continued when a young man confidently walked to his table and sat down. “Good evening, Mr. Ellison.”
William barely nodded as the waiter approached.
The young man looked up. “I’ll have the potato soup. I remember it as being exceptional. And a glass of chardonnay.”
The waiter nodded and looked at William.
“Nothing for me. My plans have changed. Put his meal on my charge.” William reached into his wallet and handed the waiter a credit card.
The waited nodded again, then left.
“You’re not staying to eat?”
“I’m here to conduct business, young man,” William coldly replied. “I don’t mix business with pleasure.”
The young man smirked. “Whatever.”
William reached down and lifted a small padded case onto the chair between them. “One laptop carrying case.”
The young man briefly eyed the nearby diners. An elderly couple in the corner were drinking coffee, their half-finished plates in front of them. A young couple in their twenties where staring into each others’ eyes, their glasses of champagne set to one side. A family of five were busily eating and talking at the same time.
Reassured, he took the case and briefly looked inside. Then he closed it and put the case at his feet. “All in hundreds and non-sequential numbers?”
“I’m not a fool,” William brusquely replied. “Now, I want the pictures and negatives.”
The young man reached into his inner suit jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope. He casually reached it across the table to William who put it in his pocket.
The two men sat in silence until the waiter returned with the soup and chardonnay. He deftly served the young man then presented William with his card and receipt. William quickly signed the bill then stood.
“Have a good evening,” the younger man smiled.
William ignored him and walked away.
The young man smirked and quickly ate his soup. When he finished his drink, he broadly smiled and picked up the case at his feet. “Las Vegas, here I come.”
He had barely left the dining room when the young couple rose to their feet to follow. “Thank God! I thought he was never going to leave!” Megan Connor snorted into the small microphone hidden in her broach.
Brian Rafe stopped at the table where William and the young man had set. He quickly removed the small microphone from the centerpiece and followed his partner out the door.
The young man was unlocking the door of his car when he was surrounded by several people. Turning around, he protested, “Hey! What…”
“You’re under arrest for blackmail,” Joel Taggart interrupted.
Simon grabbed the laptop case before it could hit the ground.
Henri Brown turned the young man to face the car. “Spread ‘em,” he gruffly ordered. Searching the young man, he found no weapons. Taking the young man’s wallet, he passed it to Joel who opened it.
“Rodney Sylvester. 728 Packard Street.” Joel closed the wallet. “You have the right to remain silent…”
“For the record, you have refused the services of an attorney. Is that correct?” Simon asked. He sat with Sylvester in an interrogation room at the Cascade PD while Simon questioned the blackmailer.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Sylvester calmly answered. “I don’t need a lawyer.”
“We have the note you sent to William Ellison engaging in blackmail,” Simon patiently explained. “And you have the money he paid you. It’s in your best interest to plead guilty. You don’t have a criminal record so you’re likely to get a lot of leniency.”
“Bull. This is a game Ellison and I play. He’s just added a twist to it,” Sylvester argued. “Ellison likes playing games with young men.”
Simon hoped that Jim wasn’t watching the interrogation. “Not according to Ellison,” Simon shook his head.
“Then it’s my word against his,” Sylvester grinned.
Simon opened a manila folder in front of him. “Your father was the former head waiter at the Rebels and Redcoats Room.”
“So, he was in an excellent position to take pictures on the sly of people eating there. I’m sure he left plenty of photos for us to find,” Simon continued. “He retired…let’s see…four years ago and died six months ago.” He closed the folder. “We obtained search warrants for your home. A very nice home that you inherited from your father, by the way. Your father, who seemed to have a very nice lifestyle for a head waiter. By this time tomorrow, we’ll have copies of not only your financial records but that of your father. We identify the people in the photographs and start asking them questions.” He leaned forward across the table. “Believe me. Someone will talk. We’ll match their financial records with yours and your father’s to find the evidence of a payoff.” He coldly smiled. “Did you know that blackmail is a federal offense? That puts you in Marion or Pelican Bay. You’ll be in with the big boys, Sylvester. The nasty boys.”
Simon leaned back in the chair inwardly pleased at the look of horror on Sylvester’s face. “Your word against Ellison’s. Let’s see. He’s an upstanding respected member of the business community. He’s never had so much as a hint of scandal around him. Both of his sons are upstanding respected members of the community.” He briefly closed his eyes. “How did Ellison put it? Oh yeah…” He stared into Sylvester’s dark eyes. “He said, my reputation can withstand the comments.” Simon leaned forward again. “But you? You’ll be in a communal shower playing hide the soap.”
Sylvester fearfully shook his head in denial.
“Now, you make a statement detailing everything…and I do mean everything,” Simon firmly spoke. “Do that, and I’ll do my best with the DA to keep this from being a federal matter.” He pointed to the closed door. “I walk out, and I call the Feds. There won’t be any deals. Do you understand?”
Sylvester whimpered and nodded.
Simon stood and walked to the door. Opening it, he called, “Rafe! Connor!” Moments later the two detectives entered the interrogation room. “Mr. Sylvester wants to make a statement.”
Sylvester looked up and recognized the young couple who had been sitting at a nearby table in the Rebels and Redcoats Room. Slowly he put his head on the table and whimpered again.
“So it’s a done deal? Complete? Finis?”
“Yeah, Chief. Sylvester made a complete confession. Joel and Henri found pictures and notes detailing the blackmail scheme.” Jim sat at the kitchen table, sorting the day’s mail. “Turns out, Sylvester’s old man had been blackmailing people for years. But his scam was getting enough money to pay the mortgage on that nice house of his plus a little extra spending money. Sylvester says he called it ‘my early retirement package’. But he was diagnosed with cancer and died pretty quickly.” He glanced up when Blair walked into the kitchen from his bedroom. “Sylvester decided he wanted a lot of money fast. Seems he felt he had a system for beating the games in Vegas.”
“Oh, dear God,” Blair chuckled.
“Nice threads, Chief,” Jim smirked, then grinned when Blair slowly turned in a circle, showing off the dark blue suit. “Who is she?”
“Her name is Marie,” Blair grinned back at his partner. “And since she’s a redhead, I don’t plan on introducing her to you.”
Jim put a hand over his heart. “I’m hurt, Sandburg. Truly hurt.”
“You’ll live,” Blair grunted. He grabbed his keys from the basket by the door. “Don’t wait up!”
The dining room at the Four Seasons Hotel was a hold-over from more elegant days. Its clientele were usually older patrons who appreciated the quality of service as much as the quality of the food. Dinner took a minimum of three hours since the head chef believed food should be delicately savored and not hurriedly gulped down so the table could be made available to the next patron.
Marie Worthing nervously waiting at her table, wondering for the sixth time if she’d made a tremendous mistake. But her granddaughter wasn’t a fool and had assured Marie everything was above board. She anxiously patted her graying red hair then told herself she was worried for nothing.
Marie looked up at the young man standing next to her table. She looked into his clear blue eyes and saw the genuine smile on his face. Relaxing, she nodded. “Jake? How good to meet you.”
“It’s my pleasure.” Jake sat down and looked around. “It’s been a while since I’ve been here. It’s nice to see nothing’s changed.”
Marie nodded, then glanced down at her folded hands. “Yes, especially when other things change.” She looked up to see understanding in Jake’s eyes. “My husband, Asa, died a few months ago. This is the first time I’ve been out to eat since he died. I’ve tried, you know, but…well, it’s hard enough eating alone at home.”
Jake studied the older woman’s thin frame and nodded. “I’m glad you were able to reach out.”
Marie chuckled. “Well, that’s my granddaughter’s doing.” She saw the waiting approaching. “I recommend the crab cakes.”
Jake nodded in agreement. After the waiter had taken their order, he encouragingly smiled. “Tell me about Asa.”
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