This one is for the fans.
"What time did you say you were supposed to meet Jim, dear?" Her thick German accent pulled at her syllables.
"At 10:00," Blair looked at his watch. "Oh my gosh!" He jumped up out of the red plastic chair and began hunting for his pack. "Mrs. Justice, I would love to stay and listen!"
"It's over here, dear." She pointed a gnarled finger over the arm of the faded brown couch.
"You know I could listen to your stories all day long." His eyebrows raised over the rim of his glasses. His shoulder length curls were tied back.
She chuckled and her cheeks became soft masses of pink wrinkles. "Give Jim my best." And almost as an afterthought, "And greeting from Mr. Justice too."
"Of course, always happy to!" Blair leaned and kissed the old woman's forehead before hurrying out of the senior citizen's recreation room.
Happy Valley's apartments were all ground level. No stairs eliminated the possibility of someone falling down them. Even though these apartments were for active seniors only, many safety issues such as this had been addressed during planning and construction.
Blair always thought of things like this on his way through the expansive complex. He smiled as he passed over various designs that had been drawn into the cement when it was still wet: a bird, a flower, then a fish, and a squirrel. He felt better knowing his newly adopted grandparents were living in a place that takes safety seriously but doesn't forget that the residents are still human. The recreation room was near the center of the complex and he passed the Justices' apartment, B21, on his way to visitor parking. Blair had to hurry to get to Cascade's police station on time.
"Just in time, Chief." Detective Jim Ellison greeted Blair from the elevator before he even reached it. Jim stepped out, "We just got a new case," he slipped on his jacket. "I'll tell you about it on the way." Jim's military build gave him a solid presence; people moved out of their path as they headed outside.
Once inside Jim's Ford half-ton he began filling in some details.
"You remember last week when Rob Dick was let loose on a technicality?"
"The serial rapist?" Blair's eyes widened.
"Suspected," Jim corrected, "nothing's been proven yet."
"We'll get that guy. It may take some more time, but that jerk will be put away for a long time."
"He just ran out of time."
"What do you mean?"
"They're trying to keep this out of the papers. But his body was found the next day when a patrolman stopped by to check up on him. He had received threats but they were more along the lines of punishment, not death threats. "
"His body? You mean he's dead?"
Jim nodded and continued, "They did some tests to find out how. The results came back this morning."
"Good riddens, if you ask me." Blair's ponytail swept across the back of the seat.
"Normally I'd agree with you." Jim turned left and continued towards the crime scene.
"Why? What did the report say?"
"It said that he had taken a prescription blood thinner, got drunk, fell and split his head open. He bled to death."
"I didn't know he had a blood clotting problem."
"He didn't. And no prescription bottles were found in his home."
Blair's face began to loose it's color. "So he was . . ."
"Murdered." Jim pulled up to a small, red-brick, house with yellow tape across the door. "This is it."
They went inside and began looking for clues.
Blair stayed away from the massive blood stain by the fireplace. He tried to keep his attention from going back to the place where Rob Dick died.
"Quite eclectic." Blair pointed around at the floor. "All these throw rugs scattered around with no apparent pattern or design in mind."
"Apparent being the key word." Jim crouched down and carefully lifted a rug with a bright floral pattern. There was a charred patch of carpet beneath it.
"I smell wax. I'd say an unattended candle here." He moved to one with ivy around the edges and lifted it. "And a red wine spill here."
Blair knelt by a glider rocking chair and lifted a semi-circle rug with roses all over it. "Nothing here. You want to take a closer look?"
Jim crouched on the other side of the rocker and focused both his heightened sense of smell and vision. "Nothing unusual. But this is a place that I would expect to find one of these rugs. Especially if this was his favorite chair." Jim looked around the room then around both sides of the chair. "And with the trash can on one side and this end table on the other, I'd say that is exactly what this is."
Blair examined the end table. "Yep, there are rings where drinks have been set with out coasters, and there are crumbs, too."
Jim carefully inspected the contents of the waste basket, pulling out one crumpled piece of paper after another. "Looks like junk mail and a few flyers."
"Is that all?" Blair asked.
Jim opened up one crumpled mass, "Look at this." He handed it over to Blair.
"The community watch?"
"Look where the meetings are held."
Blair scanned the page. "6:30 to 8:00 p.m. in Happy Valley's recreation room." Blair paused, then looked up from the page. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm not sure, yet, but this guy didn't seem like the type to concern himself with community safety. In the wrong hands that information can let a thief know when people will be away at the meeting. If he wasn't active with the community watch then how did he get this flyer? And if he was active, and went to this last meeting, maybe someone there has some information that can help."
"The manager's office is that way." Blair pointed with one hand and closed the truck's door with the other.
"Do you know if Mr. Justice is home?"
"I'm not sure. Why, do you think he might know something?"
"Well maybe. But I was thinking more about that chess game I lost when we had dinner here last week. He said we could play again if I cooked dinner this time."
"Rematch!" Blair hopped up and down while throwing phantom punches in Jim's direction. "It is your night to cook Big Guy."
"You don't think it's short notice?"
"Yes. But it never hurts to ask. If they say yes we can stop by the store at lunch time."
Jim opened the office door and ushered Blair inside.
"Mr. Sandburg! How are those new grandparents of yours working out?" Mr. Sebastian was a little person, but his warm smile dwarfed the oak desk which dwarfed him. Grey touched the black hair at his temples, accentuating his clear grey eyes.
"Working out great!" Blair gestured to his partner. "I'm even sharing them, like I promised."
"You must be Mr. Ellison, it's good to meet you." He reached up and shook Jim's hand then motioned for them to have a seat.
Jim began to explain, "Thank you, but I'm afraid we're here on police business. I understand you host the local neighborhood watch meetings. Do you mind if we ask you a few questions about that?"
"Feel free, detective, anything to help."
"This was found in a house not far from here." Jim handed Mr. Sebastian the flyer. "Do you pass those out at the monthly meetings?"
"Yes, we do, to everyone that shows up. But this is for last month's meeting. At that meeting everyone was sent home with this new flyer." He opened a drawer and pulled out a copy. Handing it to Jim he continued, "We also visit each month with some of the neighbors who either could not attend the meeting or prefer an inactive role in the community watch. They also get flyers."
Jim asked, "Who goes and gives the new flyers out?"
Mr. Sebastian looked from one man to the other, then back again. "Mr. and Mrs. Justice do. But before you panic," he held his hands up, "we always have the safety of our residents in mind. The rules are very clear on this matter. They only go to the homes of people who have signed on with our program, only if accompanied by another person, and only in hospitable homes. Shady characters need not apply." He smiled and folded his hands on his desk.
"Do you have a list of neighbors who would be receiving these flyers?" Jim asked.
"Yes, of course." Mr. Sebastian swivelled his chair, hopped down and opened the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet. He pulled out a binder and leafed through the pages while it rested on the open drawer. "Here it is." He walked around the desk and handed it to Jim. "I hope that helps, detective."
"Any information helps, even if it just rules out a possibility." Jim smiled back, and quickly confirmed his suspicions. Neither Rob Dick nor his address were listed. He then looked through some of the other community watch information.
Blair asked, "Do you know if the Justices are home? We were hoping to say hello while we're here."
"No, I haven't seen either of them since this morning." Mr. Sebastian accepted the binder back from Jim, and asked, "Is there anything going on that I should worry about?" His concern was punctuated when he began looking through the binder again rather than returning it to the cabinet. "No suspicious or unusual activity has been reported."
"No, I don't think so. We can't really talk about an ongoing investigation, but we will let you know if anything develops." Jim stood up to leave. "Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Sebastian."
"Anytime," he returned the binder to the drawer.
They left the manager's office and headed for apartment B21.
"You think they gave Rob Dick that flyer, don't you Jim?" Blair asked without looking away from the parade of woodland creatures passing beneath his feet.
"Yes I do. Mr. Justice and I had quite a conversation that day we had dinner here. Being in Germany when the war began, finally getting out only to face hatred and ignorance here, he's not the type that is intimidated easily. And if nothing else, he is the type to go to great lengths to keep his community safe."
Blair stopped and looked into Jim's eyes. "What are you saying?"
Jim glanced around and lowered his voice. "I think they went over there and gave Dick this flyer. I'm thinking he went over to convince the guy to join their safety efforts; and, if that failed, then threaten him with: We know who you are and we'll be watching you.' That's what I think." Jim began walking more quickly than before.
Blair had to hurry to catch up.
They turned the corner and found the Justices at their door. She had the keys and was unlocking the door. He stood behind her with a brown paper bag in each arm. He was in his late 60's, she her early 70's, but both were in good health. Both had more silver in their hair than brown. Both faces were filled with laugh lines. She got the door open just in time to turn and see Jim and Blair approaching.
"Boys! It's so good to see you again. Come on in." She took one of the bags and disappeared inside before they could object.
Mr. Justice Laughed, "You don't have much choice now, do you?"
They all went inside.
"So what brings you boys by?" Mr. Justice asked while setting his bag on the kitchen counter.
"Rematch!" Blair started bouncing around Jim, phantom punches flying -- along with his ponytail.
Jim stepped easily around him and met Mr. Justice's smile. "If it's not too short of notice, I was hoping to cook dinner for you two tonight."
The elderly couple seemed to hesitate as they gave each other a conferring glance.
"Also," he confessed, "I wanted to talk with you about a community safety situation."
Mrs. Justice asked, "Is this about that Dick character down the street?" Her smile never seemed to completely leave her features.
"Yes it is, but I'd rather wait until later to talk." His eyes shifted back to Mr. Justice. "We're not really supposed to discuss a case that's being investigated, but I do have a few questions I'd like to ask you."
"I'll tell you what." Mr. Justice pulled a chair out from the table. "You ask you're questions now. Then later, business will be out of the way so we can enjoy the food. Please sit down."
The men sat at the table while Mrs. Justice finished unloading the bags.
Jim began, "Mr. Sebastian showed us the community watch logs. Rob Dick isn't on the list of members, but we found one of your flyers in his house. Can you explain that?"
Mrs. Justice came over and sat by her husband. "Oh that," she said, "we gave it to him."
"What?" Blair was surprised by her candor.
Mr. Justice continued, "We saw he was let out of jail. We saw it on the news."
Mrs. Justice interjected, "And we started thinking, maybe he really is innocent. He keeps claiming to be innocent," she shrugged her shoulders.
Mr. Justice said, "So we decided to stop by and see him for ourselves."
"Please don't mention this to Mr. Sebastian unless you absolutely have to. He's so concerned about our safety." Mrs. Justice said, lowering her eyes.
"He has every right to be," Jim said.
"Well we just had to judge for ourselves." Mr. Justice said, adamantly.
"If he really was innocent then he has every right to join the watch, just like anybody." Mrs. Justice added.
Then, picking up where she left off, Mr. Justice said, "Or turn it down if he didn't want to join. Every neighbor has that right."
Jim and Blair exchanged concerned glances.
Jim asked, "So what happened?"
Mr. Justice confided, "Well he didn't invite us in. He didn't seem to be feeling well."
"It was in the morning you see," Mrs. Justice explained. Then she whispered, "I think he had a hangover." She shook her head showing her disapproval.
Her husband continued, "We gave him some aspirin and talked to him for a minute, then invited him to our next meeting. He took the flyer, but said that he would be unable to attend."
The elderly woman looked sad. "It seemed to us that he had no interest in joining the watch."
Jim leaned forward with his arms on the table, "So you just left it at that?"
"What more is there to say? We offered, he declined." Mr. Justice stated flatly.
Mrs. Justice took over. "Our watch is active and efficient. Our people work with the police. If he really is guilty..."
Her husband looked into the detective's cool blue eyes. "Well then it's your move to make Jim, not ours." His smile never really left his face either. Both Mr. and Mrs. Justice seemed calm and content.
Mrs. Justice lightened the mood, "Besides, we're just a couple of old people. I'm afraid we're not as influential as we used to be." She stood up and asked, "How about you boys make the dinner and we'll bring desert? I'm just about to make my famous chocolate chip, pecan cookies!" She picked up a bag of chocolate chips and shook them.
"That sounds great." Jim smiled and stood up too.
Blair, taking the cue that Jim was satisfied with their answers, literally jumped up. "The rematch is on!" He exchanged swipes with Jim before he headed for the door.
"We'll see you around 8:00?" The old man asked.
Blair began to ask, "Isn't that a little late--"
But Jim cut him off, "That will be fine. We'll see you then."
"All right then, goodbye boys," he said.
From inside, Mrs. Justice called out "Goodbye boys!"
Blair and Jim said goodbye and walked back to the truck.
"What's the deal, cutting me off back there?" Blair asked once they were inside the truck.
"The later time gives me extra time to simmer my spaghetti sauce. Besides, if it were too late for them to be having dinner, then he wouldn't have suggested it."
"Besides, I've got some questions that need to be answered before we talk with them again. I can't put my finger on it but something doesn't seem right, here."
"What do you mean? You think there's something they're not telling us? Did your senses pick something up?"
"No, not really. That's just it. Their heart rates stayed steady the whole time we were at the table. There were no real signs of concern."
"Doesn't that mean they're telling the truth?"
"Maybe, but wouldn't you be concerned if you were in their place? Not just the confrontation by their newly adopted grandson, but also going to the home of a suspected rapist which was clearly against their community watch policies?"
"Maybe they've just seen so much that it takes more to get them rattled. They've lived through quite a bit of turmoil."
"If that were the case then things wouldn't have changed when we were saying goodbye. Once we reached the door, things changed. Both of their heart rates increased as did their breathing. Not a whole lot but enough for me to notice. It just doesn't make sense."
"So what do you want to do?"
"It's simple," Jim started the truck and looked over his shoulder to back out, "we'll check. The blood thinner that helped to kill Rob Dick can only be proscribed by a doctor. If neither of them have the condition requiring that kind of treatment, then I'll quit worrying about it."
"Okay, so where do we start?"
"The grocery store."
After they reported to Captain Simon Banks about what they had found at Dick's house, they discussed with him Jim's suspicions and intentions to check on the Justices. Simon was more than just Jim's boss, he is also a friend. It was in that function that he called ahead and talked with the pharmacist about their quiet inquiry. While he called, Jim and Blair went to the grocery store closest to Happy Valley. Jim carried a blue basket while they gathered tomatoes, pasta, and other items for tonight's dinner. He handed the basket to Blair as they approached the pharmacy counter.
"May I help you?" the man in a white lab coat asked.
"Yes," Jim flashed his badge, "I'm detective Ellison, this is my partner Mr. Sandburg."
"Oh, yes. I just got off the phone with Captain Banks. How can I help?"
"We just need to know something about the Justices. I understand they fill all their prescription here?"
The pharmacist tapped at his keyboard. "The Justices? I thought this was going to be about that animal they found dead last week?" He stopped typing, and stopped talking too.
"Yes," Jim explained, "circumstances have cast some suspicions and we'd just like to rule out the Justices as suspects." He smiled pleasantly, "We don't want things to go any farther than they need to."
"Oh, okay. You had me worried there for a minuet!" His face brightened. He smiled at the computer, and adjusted his glasses. "They are a sweet couple. They remind me of my grandparents. Yeah here it is." He pointed at the screen. "Tell Captain Banks that he was right. Mr. Justice has been taking that blood thinner regularly for as long as he's been living in Cascade." He smiled at them over the counter. "Anything else?"
Blair glanced at Jim then sat in a chair with his back to the pharmacist.
Jim didn't miss a beat, "These are just routine questions, but I do have to ask them."
The pharmacist nodded, "Of course."
"Is there any unusual activity in their records? Anything at all having to do with any of their prescriptions?"
A few more taps at his keys, "Well I don't know if this counts or not, but there is an extra refill here for Digoxin. That's not too unusual though, accidents do happen. I'm sure you know that."
"What accident was this?" Jim asked, glancing at his increasingly pale partner.
"She had the bottle open on the bathroom sink and accidently knocked it off," he shrugged. "It landed in the toilet. The whole bottle literally down the toilet," he chuckled. "She called her doctor, he called it in to me, I filled it myself. She picked it up earlier today."
"And what is Digoxin for?" Jim asked.
"It's a form of Digitalis, for her heart. Do you need the specifics?" He handed Jim a printout.
"Thank you for your cooperation." Jim nodded, and accepted the page.
"Anything to help out the Justices, they're such a nice couple."
Jim waited for Blair to ease out of the chair. Then they walked slowly toward the checkout lines. They spoke softly.
"This doesn't look like it's as simple as we had hoped." Blair sifted aimlessly through the basket he still carried.
"If they did have something to do with this, we need to know exactly what and how."
"Do you think there's a chance we can still help them somehow?" Blair looked up with hope gleaming in his eyes.
"Even if they did give Rob Dick those blood thinners there is still a chance. Maybe we can get a sentencing recommendation. My biggest concern right now is that bottle of Digoxin. Say they did do this, say they gave him those pills, what's stopping them from doing it again?"
"Vigilante Grandparents?" Blair stopped in mid-stride.
"We need to find out everything we can about Mr. and Mrs. Justice. If they've been planning a community clean-up by killing, there could be another victim out there or at least a potential victim. We have to find out who is next on the list, and how far they have gone with their plans."
"And what kind of ending those plans have." Blair's face lost all the color it had regained and went from pale to green while he spoke. "If they have planed out all of this, there has to be a way to get away with it in there somewhere."
"I don't think they'd run just yet. Not before they use those Digoxin pills."
"So we just let them come to dinner, and then what? Arrest them before they leave?"
"We can't just let them go, they're suspects in a homicide. We'll help them anyway we can, but we can't let them get away with murder."
Shaking his head Blair said, "This is going to be quite a dinner conversation."
Blair went home to start the tomato sauce. Jim went to work uncovering as much information as he could by dinner time. At around 7:00 Jim finally came home.
"Jim, man I was getting worried!"
"You're not going to believe this." Jim threw a handful of papers down on the coffee table. "Mr. and Mrs. Justice don't exist. No social security account, no driving records, no credit cards, nothing!"
"What about health insurance? They had to get their medications."
"So far, it looks like it was all set up with phony information. No one took the time to check into any of it! The bills were paid. How and by whom, they don't seem to care. They've been in Cascade for almost six months and no one has suspected a thing." Jim stood with a look of shock plastered over his solid features.
"What about their other bills? How did they pay their rent and for groceries and all of that? There had to be money coming in from somewhere."
"Simon has Brown and Rafe checking with the Justice's bank, but it's looking like an offshore account. They paid for everything with cash." Jim thumped down onto the couch as if his knees could no longer hold him up. "They'll call as soon as they get any more information." He pulled a folded paper out of a jacket pocket. "In the meantime, I'm supposed to arrest them as soon as I can find them."
Blair had the spaghetti sauce covered, and the pot in the fridge before Jim could extricate his gluteus from the cushions.
The ride to Happy Valley was silent until they rounded the last corner. There were police cruisers in the roadway with their lights flashing and a uniformed officer was redirecting traffic. Jim pulled up to talk with the officer.
"What's going on here?"
"Detective Ellison!" he said, and waved for another officer to take his place in traffic. "We weren't expecting you."
"I'm heading over to Happy Valley." He pointed toward the police cruisers. "Has something happened there?"
"No sir, it's one of their neighbors. They shared a fence line."
"Wait a minute." Blair spoke up from the passenger seat. "Who were you expecting?"
"The coroner," the officer spoke calmly. "You can head on over to Happy Valley, just try to assure the residents that everything is under control." He waived their truck through.
Blair looked all around as they made their way through the activity. "This doesn't bode well for us."
"No it does not," Jim replied.
They parked and hurried to the Justice's apartment.
Blair peeked into a window, "It's dark, doesn't look like anyone's home."
Jim tried the doorknob, "It's open, come on, Chief." He drew his gun and entered cautiously.
They turned on the lights and checked each room.
"They're not here," Blair said as he came back into the kitchen.
"You mean, they're gone." Jim corrected as he scanned the kitchen with his enhanced senses.
"No!" Blair protested. "Their clothes are still here, and their toiletries."
Jim picked up a sheet of paper lying beside a plate of cookies. It was folded in half. The front side read: To Jim and Blair. The back side had the cookie recipe.
He opened it, and read aloud. "Dear boys, by now you've figured us out. For the record, we didn't intend to leave this soon, but we could tell that you were closer to the truth than you realized. We simply couldn't afford to wait any longer. We expect you'll try to find us. You won't be able to. We've planned too far ahead for that to happen.
"The dead man next door was a drug dealer. You probably have a thick file on him at your station. Tests will confirm that he ingested a lethal dose of Digoxin. We put it in some cookies and just handed it to him over the fence."
Jim handed the note to Blair, "I can't believe this." He stood, unaware of his jaw muscles flexing.
Blair finished reading the note aloud. "These cookies are for you. They are safe."
"Our only regret is missing dinner with you. Our only sorrow is having deceived you. We take comfort in having known you. Goodbye," Blair paused, then looked up at his partner. "It's signed 'In the Name of Justice'."
Testing did confirm the cause of death. The man was a known drug dealer. Further investigation discovered a storage unit that the Justices had rented. Jim's heightened senses confirmed that a car had been kept there. No one saw them leave. No one could describe the car. Every statement taken in this case expressed a similar sentiment, "There's nothing suspicious about an elderly couple."
STANDARD DISCLAIMERS APPLY.
Special Thanks To:
Agnes Mage for helping me polish this story until it shined. (But if you do find a glaring error, please know, it's mine.) And Wolfpup for giving The Justices a home.
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