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Daylight was creeping in as Ralph Watson left his house for the five-hour drive to Portland.

He could, of course, have driven there the previous day and spent the night at a hotel, getting up in time for a leisurely breakfast before his meeting at ten; however, he did that only in the winter when the forecast was for bad weather and possibly icy roads. In the summer, when daylight came early, he preferred to make the journey while most people were still in bed, driving stress-free on virtually empty roads. As always, he gave himself a couple of hours' leeway to allow for any unexpected hold-ups, few though they were likely to be in the early morning hours - it was only during the last hour of the journey that he could expect to run into much traffic - as well as time for breakfast after he reached Portland.

Even at three a.m., the streets in the center of Cascade would, he knew, be surprisingly busy; but he lived in the outskirts on the south side of the city, where the streets were quiet; at this hour, his neighbors were mostly asleep. As he backed out of his driveway, he registered a lit window three houses down the road and guessed that Eve Newcome was probably having a sleepless night with her teething infant; he spared a moment to sympathize, glad that his own two children were well past that stage but had not yet reached rebellious teenage, then dismissed her from his thoughts as he drove off, giving his robe-clad wife, who, as always, had come down to see him off, a quick farewell wave as he left.

He watched in his rearview mirror as she closed the garage door and went back inside, knowing she had never understood why her husband chose to make this several-times-a-year journey at this ungodly hour when anyone law-abiding should be in bed and asleep... apart, he conceded, from those few unfortunates who were forced by their employment to work during the night. She could have understood it if he had to pay for his night in a hotel himself, but his firm gave a generous allowance for expenses. Watson had given up trying to explain how much he enjoyed having a quiet road for the long drive, how the solitude let him charge his batteries in preparation for the always noisy, sometimes acrimonious, meetings - he had never been particularly gregarious and much preferred doing business one-on-one over the phone. Unfortunately, attendance at these meetings was compulsory.

Watson was a law-abiding man; although the streets were quiet, deserted, he was careful to observe the speed limit, driving just inside it, even though there was nobody to notice, let alone care, if he exceeded it.

He was just approaching the city limits when he noticed smoke rising from an upstairs window of one of the houses to his left, and a flicker of light behind it.


He slammed on his brakes, jumped from the car, pulled out his cell phone and called 911. That done, he dropped the phone on the car seat and ran across the road. Just as he reached the sidewalk, the house door opened and a woman stumbled out, clutching an unfastened robe around her.

Watson rushed to support her. "Are you all right, ma'am? Is there anyone else in there?" he asked.

"I... I... My husband," she stammered. "But I think he's dead. They shot him... Oh, God, they shot him... so much blood... and then they tied me to the bed beside him... set fire to the house... . They were laughing... ."

Watson glanced through the open door into the burning house. The smoke was very thick at the top of the stairs, the first few steps already hidden by it, and drifting lower even as he looked. Flames licked up from what had to be a secondary fire halfway up the stairs - it was the smoke from this secondary fire that he had seen, he realized. It would be almost impossible to get up those stairs to see if her husband was still alive, and if the man was indeed already dead, there was no point in risking his own life. So he pulled the door closed to cut the draft that would fan the flames, and urged the woman across the road and into his car.

Noting how she was shivering, he wrapped a blanket he kept in the trunk around her. "How did you get out," he asked, "if you were tied...?"

"One of the knots was loose. I managed to get that hand free, then I untied the other."

The sound of sirens, faint in the distance, was growing louder; unnecessary though the action was, Watson ran out into the road, waving as he saw the first fire engine. It pulled up beside the burning house, its occupants jumping into action.

Moments later, a police car drew up; Watson waved the two men in it over to his car.

One of them gasped when he saw the woman.

"Mrs. Mason!"

As the cop took her over to the police car, his partner turned to Watson, who explained how he came to be there, left his name and address, and drove off, having lost fully half an hour - and if for once he exceeded the speed limit on the open road by just a few miles per hour, in an attempt to make up some of the lost time in case of a subsequent delay, who could blame him?

* * * * * * * *

Norman Inglis and Sam Esplin comforted the shaking Mrs. Mason as best they could while they watched the firemen putting out the fire. Finally she seemed to have pulled herself together; not until then did Esplin say, "Where's Chris?"

"They shot him," she whispered.

"They? Who?"

"Two men... I woke up with a headache, and went downstairs to get some aspirin. They came to the door. Maybe it was silly of me, but... I called through the door, when they knocked, asking what they wanted. One of them said they wouldn't have disturbed me but they saw the light go on; their car had broken down, and could they phone for help. I opened the door to them. But they had a shotgun, and... and... One of them held me while the one with the gun went upstairs and went into the bedroom... I heard a shot. Then he came back out again, grinning. The one holding me said, 'Where's the money?' They... They got annoyed when I said we didn't have any money in the house, just a few dollars - what was in my purse and Chris' wallet. The one who'd shot Chris dragged me back upstairs... Chris was lying there covered with blood. The man made me lie down on the bed... beside Chris... I thought for a moment he was going to rape me, but he just tied me to the bed. Either he meant me to have a chance, though, or he was careless, because he left one of the knots just a little loose and I was able to get that hand free, then use it to untie the other one, but by then the smoke was coming into the bedroom and I knew they'd set the house on fire. I got down the stairs and outside, and that man was there - the one who took me to his car... "

"But he wasn't one of the ones who attacked you?" Esplin asked.

"No. They were both quite young. He was older... "

"Can you describe them?"

"The one with the gun - he'd be about six foot, spiky black hair... but his face - I don't think I'd know him again - he had the sort of face you don't remember. The other one - he was smaller, and he had long, curly hair - shoulder length. He was sort of - well, pretty, for a man. I'm sure I'd know him if I saw him again."

"All right." Esplin glanced over at the house, where smoke had been replaced by steam, then looked at his partner, a question in his eyes.

Inglis nodded - although he had a passing acquaintance with fellow cop Chris Mason, Esplin was the one who had known Chris well enough to have met his wife, and so was the obvious one to stay with her - and crossed to the fire chief. "How soon can we get in to check the house? From what Mrs. Mason says, there's a murdered cop in there."

"We're still damping down, but we can check the place in another... oh, ten minutes. Once we've checked it, you guys can get in."

* * * * * * * *

Jim Ellison woke at the first ring of the phone. He reached for it, and as he flicked it on, he spared a glance at the clock.

Five a.m.


"Banks. Jim, we've got a report of a murdered cop - Chris Mason. He's in Patrol, a man with a good reputation, popular enough with his fellow cops, though not many of them knew him well. The killers left his wife tied up, then set fire to the house, but she managed to get loose and out of the house. I want you to go and have a look at the crime scene. The patrol cops who answered the call are taking Mrs. Mason to the hospital for a check-up. Once she's cleared medically, we can talk to her. You can go back home for breakfast before you come in," he added generously.

"Right, Simon. Thanks." There was a note of sarcasm in Jim's voice. "What's the address?"

Jim registered it mentally, hung up the phone and padded downstairs, carrying his clothes. He knocked on the door of the small downstairs bedroom. "Chief."

"I'm awake." Blair Sandburg could sleep through a lot of noise, but two things that woke him instantly from the deepest sleep were the sounds of the phone ringing and Jim's voice. "What's wrong?"

"Murder and arson." Jim moved back into the living area and began dressing. "Guy shot, then the house set on fire. A patrol cop, name of Mason."

"Chris Mason? Oh, man."

"You knew him?" Jim wasn't sure why he should be surprised by that; Blair had a gift for getting to know people. Though how his partner had become acquainted with someone in Patrol, Jim couldn't begin to imagine - he certainly hadn't known the man, at least not by name.

"Uh-huh." Blair appeared in the doorway, still fastening his belt. Neither man wasted time shaving; it was more important to get to the scene of the crime quickly.

Once in the truck, Jim brought the subject up again. "So how did you meet Mason, Chief?"

"There was a disturbance on campus a couple of months ago, and campus security called for the cops," Blair said. "Nothing major, just a student in the Social Studies department pissed off by getting a fail mark in a pop quiz and screaming that the professor had it in for him, his work was worth at least a B, and he wanted his rights or he'd kill the guy. He didn't have a weapon of any sort and he was stoned out of his mind, but it didn't stop him attacking Professor Archer - or maybe it was why he attacked. He certainly wasn't thinking straight. Anyway, half a dozen of the other students pulled him off - and it took half a dozen of them, too, so it was clear nothing short of a cell was going to stop him, and the cops were called in. Chris Mason and Pete Sargeant answered the call. They spoke to several of us who'd seen what happened, and they could tell right away that I knew police procedure, because of the way I told them what I'd seen; so I told them I ride with you as an observer. They'd heard of me - well, I suppose after nearly three years that's not surprising - though my name didn't ring any bells when they first heard it.

"Anyway, I saw Pete and Chris around a few times after that. I wouldn't call either one a friend, but, yes, I knew him."

"What's your opinion of him?"

"Chris?" Blair frowned. "I'd say he's - he was - a guy with hidden depths. What you saw, what he let you see, was very much all on the surface. You could discuss things with him, but his side of the discussion was always based on something he'd read, not what he thought. I do know he didn't mix much with the other guys off-duty, not even his partner, and the cops in Patrol all thought he was devoted to his wife and found in her all he needed for companionship, but I'm not so sure - a couple of weeks ago, one of the secretaries told me that since I'm not a cop, I was lucky to be a man; that 'If someone isn't a cop, is young and female and stands still for two minutes, Mason'll try his luck. I feel sorry for his wife.'

"Now just because a man has a wandering eye, it doesn't automatically make him bad - or even dishonest. Maybe a tad untrustworthy in personal relationships, though I've found that a guy can be untrustworthy with women, but would never dream of letting another guy down; and from all I could make out, everyone considered him a good cop."

"Hmmm." Jim considered that. "I wonder, then - could we be looking at a revenge killing?"

"You mean some guy annoyed because Chris made a pass at his girl?"

"It's possible."

"A bit extreme, though - killing the guy and burning his house. What about Mrs. Mason? Was she there?"

"She escaped. We can have a word with her later, at the PD. Simon wants me to have a look at the house."

Blair had already guessed that - not only had Jim asked for an address, the route he was taking was not the familiar one that led to the PD.

* * * * * * * *

A fire engine was still there when Jim pulled up at the Masons' house. From the outside, there was little sign of the fire; just one window without glass, the wall above it smoke-blackened. Two police cars were parked beside the fire engine. As he pulled in on the opposite side of the road, Jim was aware of eyes watching; a quick glance around as he started across the road confirmed his suspicions; several neighbors, probably wakened by the noise, were watching, curious, confident that the curtains on their windows were hiding them.

He wondered what they would make of his long-haired partner.

One of the Patrol cops was standing at the front door. Jim flashed his badge as Blair said, "Hi, Rob."

"Hi, Blair - Detective."

"Word we got is that Chris is dead?" Blair went on soberly.

"Yeah. It'll take an autopsy to decide if he was dead before the fire or not, but I think he was."

Jim nodded and went in, Blair at his heels.

The staircase was burned through in two places, but the firemen had left a ladder to give access to the upstairs rooms. Jim went up it quickly, Blair following a little more slowly.

The other three cops were in the bedroom, looking around it, but not touching anything. Ignoring them, Jim crossed to the bed; it was Blair who paused to acknowledge them before joining his partner.

Chris Mason lay there, his head a bloody mess, the pillow under it soaked in his blood and splatters of blood over much of the rest of the bed. Rob Davis was right, Blair thought; with those injuries, Chris had to have been killed instantly. Two ropes were fastened to the head of the bed, one of them showing faint traces of blood. He turned away, wanting to remember Chris as he had known him rather than as a body with his head shattered.

Jim glanced around the room. The fire had clearly been started outside it, either on the landing or the stairs; the worst damage was to the stairs, and a broken window overlooked them. The bedroom itself, although showing signs of smoke damage, was untouched by the fire. He looked back at the dead man.

"Filter out the smoke," Blair reminded him softly. Jim nodded. He registered the acrid smell of burning carpet, and dismissed it; the more pleasant smell of burning wood that recalled memories of days spent camping, and dismissed it;  he ignored the strong smell of blood. He noted the smell of the three cops and dismissed that, and frowned. His nose twitched as he began to make sense out of the residual scents.

A familiar smell, easily processed - Blair. There was a faint smell of perfume - Mrs. Mason's, of course. Gun oil, the smell of gunpowder from the shot. Shots? No; at close range, one shot would have been enough to kill. Underneath that was the scent of the dead man.

Nothing else.

So short a time since the killing, he would have expected there to be some residual scent from the killer still lingering.

It was possible, of course, that the man used unscented soap and shampoo, but it was amazing how quickly the natural scents of a man's body resurfaced after a shower; it hadn't taken Jim long to learn, in sheer self-defense, that he needed to keep his sense of smell muted at all times unless, like here, he was trying to scent something specific.

There was noise downstairs, and he recognized Serena Chang's voice. Moments later, she walked into the room, a photographer close on her heels. She nodded acknowledgement to the uniforms in the room, glanced at the bed, then turned her attention to Jim.

"Well, Jim," she said briskly, "got it all worked out yet?"

He grinned ruefully. "Now, would I deprive you of your job?" he asked, knowing that she was at least half teasing him.

"I'm sure you would, if you thought you could handle the paperwork."

His grin widened, acknowledging her comment. "Well, I think I've seen everything I need to in here. There's nothing obvious here to say who the killer was. I'll leave this room to you and have a look around the rest of the house."

* * * * * * * *

Blair followed Jim as he moved slowly around the downstairs rooms. Finally, Jim turned to his partner.

"This is weird," he said quietly. "I can't smell anything to indicate that there was anyone other than the Masons in the house over the last few hours."

"The killers probably only spent a few minutes in the house," Blair said. "How long would it take them to kill Chris and tie up Mrs. Mason, then set fire to the place? Ten minutes at most? Their scene would be pretty faint."

"I know, but I'd have expected to pick up some residual traces."

"It's possible that a very faint smell could be totally... well, drowned out by the stronger smells - the blood, the smoke. It not as if you can realistically stick your nose hard up against things the way dogs do to establish what they're smelling - you depend on catching a scent in the air. How long ago was Chris shot, anyway?"

"Simon didn't say, but then, he probably didn't know. Let's think. Someone had to raise the alarm, the emergency services had to get here, they had to deal with a possibly hysterical, certainly upset, Mrs. Mason. Then someone had to call Simon. I checked the time when he called us - it was five, maybe a couple of minutes after. By the time we arrived, the fire was out - the place was still hot, but the fire was out, with really only the staircase and upper landing badly damaged. I'd guess at not less than one hour, not more than three. There'll be a record of when the emergency call was made. Chris can't have been shot all that long before that or the house would be more badly damaged."

Blair rubbed his hand over his mouth. "You're right, it was the stairs and upper landing that burned. Jim, don't you think that's weird? If I wanted to burn a house down, say, to try to hide that I'd killed someone, I'd set fire to the room the body was in, and probably a downstairs room as well - not the stairs."

"You're right. The staircase does seem an odd place to start a fire." Jim glanced around. "There certainly doesn't seem to be anything out of place here. I'd say robbery wasn't the motive; some of the stuff here is worth money. That picture, for example - " He pointed to one that had pride of place on a wall of the living room. "I remember seeing that in a picture gallery two, three years ago. It had a $5,000 price tag on it. Thieves would have had a pretty good idea of its value. No, I'd guess the intruders came to kill Mason; that was their sole purpose."

"Can you see how they got in?"

Jim shook his head. "Let's have a look outside. They might have prowled around for a few minutes looking for the best way in."

Instead of heading for the front door, as Blair expected, Jim turned back towards the kitchen. Halfway along the hallway, he paused, sniffing.

"Got something?"

"Mason was shot in his bed," Jim said. "So why am I smelling a recently-discharged gun down here?"  He looked around, concentrating, and pointed to a cupboard under the stairs, directly under where the stairs had been burned. There was a short stretch of wall between the top of the door and the actual steps that was marked with smoke. "In there." He moved to the small door and tried it; it opened instantly.

The inside was badly charred, and the contents of the small cupboard were a mess - the fire - or, rather, one of the two fires - had clearly been started in there and burned through the stairs. The smell of the gun was very faint under the overlying stench of the fire, but it was strong enough to direct him to where a shotgun, its stock badly charred, stood leaning against the wall.

Jim pulled on gloves and picked it up.

Beside him, Blair looked from it to Jim. "Recently discharged?" he asked.

"Yes," Jim murmured. "Now why, having brought the gun here, would the killer leave it behind?"

"Seems odd," Blair agreed.

"Well, it's doubtful, but we might be able to lift some fingerprints off it," Jim went on more briskly. He looked around the cupboard again, checking its contents, and noting that there were several spent cartridge cases lying in a heap on the floor. "I don't think we're going to find anything else here," he decided. He leaned the gun against the wall beside the door and went back to the kitchen, heading for the back door. It was locked, but a key hung on a hook beside it. Jim looked at it for a moment, then reached for it.

Blair frowned. "Hey, Jim, that's hung up on the inside of a locked door. There's no way there are any prints on it except for the Masons'."

"Let's just say I'm making sure of that." He opened the door and went outside, Blair on his heels. He paused, looking at the ground.

Unusually for Cascade, it had been hot and very dry for fully three weeks, and the ground had been baked hard; Jim shook his head. There were footprints going to and from the door, but he didn't think it would be possible to get any useful information from them.

There was a small shed against the wall of the yard, and he went over to it, tried the door. It opened easily. Built into one wall was a long, fairly narrow box, designed to be held closed by a padlock, but the padlock lay open on a shelf beside it. Jim opened the box. "I'd say the gun was normally kept in here," he said. "I can smell the gun oil. Besides, there's a half full box of cartridges here."

"Lucky they were out here and not in the house - the heat would have exploded them, wouldn't it?" Blair asked. "Would have been dangerous for the firemen."

Jim nodded absently. "I'd say Mason was killed with his own gun," he said.

He went back into the house and carefully locked the door, then walked slowly around the kitchen. "It all looks normal," he said at last. "Whoever broke in didn't come in here."

He led the way out of the kitchen back into the hallway and picked up the gun. "Let's get this to Forensics."

"After we've gone home for breakfast, right?" Blair asked.

Jim grinned and led the way out.

* * * * * * * *

Blair hesitated as he walked into Major Crime, wondering if Simon was actually in yet; it was still some minutes before eight. The blinds in the captain's office were still closed, but that meant nothing. To his side, Brown and Rafe were sitting at a desk, talking to a woman wearing a coat too big for her over a robe and nightdress. Obviously having caught movement out of the corner of her eye, she glanced sideways at him.

"That's him!" she exclaimed. "That's one of the men! The one that held me while his friend killed Chris!"

"Huh?" Blair gasped.

Brown shook his head. "No, no, Mrs. Mason, that's not possible," he said.

"He's one of them!" she repeated before he could say anything more.

Rafe glanced at his partner, got up and crossed to Blair. "Okay," he said quietly, "I know, and Brown knows, that Mrs. Mason is wrong, she's mistaking you for someone else, but for the record, where were you at three this morning?"

"In bed and asleep," Blair said, knowing that since the accusation had been made, Rafe had to get a statement from him. "We watched a video 'til just after eleven, then went to bed. Simon woke us at five with news of the shooting and sent us out to check the house."

"And Jim can confirm that?"

Blair nodded.

"Where is Jim, anyway?"

"We found a shotgun in the house. He's taken it down to Forensics."


Blair glanced towards Simon's office. The captain was standing in the doorway, an impatient look on his face.

"When you've finished gossiping, I'd appreciate a report. Where's Ellison?"

"Forensics." Blair spared a moment to glance at Mrs. Mason before he turned to join Simon, and noted the startled, almost frightened, look on her face.

He went into Simon's office and closed the door.

"What did you find?"

Blair gave his report succinctly, and Simon frowned. "Unfortunately, what Jim could smell, or couldn't smell, isn't admissible as evidence," the captain muttered. "I was hoping that he'd be led to something that we could use - "

"He's sure the gun he found was the murder weapon."

"How do we prove that? Shotgun pellets can't be tested the way a bullet from a rifle or a handgun are."

"Fingerprints?" Blair asked.

"After they've been exposed to the heat of a house fire?" Simon demanded. "That would dry up all the skin oils that make fingerprints show up. No, I think we're going to have to depend on Mrs. Mason's evidence - "

"Simon, she accused me of being one of the killers. When she saw me, she said I was one of them."

"Was that why you were speaking to Rafe?"


"You were at home, right?"


"And Jim can corroborate that?"

"Yes. There's no way I could sneak out with him knowing." Blair thought for a moment, then added, "I'll tell you, though, she looked startled when she realized you all know me. The way I look - I think she thought I was just a member of the public who came in for some reason; though why that would make her say I was one of Chris' killers I wouldn't like to guess."

Simon went back to the door. "Rafe!" He jerked his head, 'Come,' when Rafe looked up.

Rafe nodded and crossed to Simon's office. "Yes, Captain?"

"Do you have any idea why Mrs. Mason would say Sandburg was one of the attackers?"

"Well, she'd already described them, and one of them was long-haired. I think she just looked at the hair and jumped to a conclusion. She's shifted now to saying, 'The man who held me looked like that officer'. We've left her thinking that Blair's a cop."

"Just as well," Simon agreed.

There was a perfunctory knock on the office door; it opened, and Jim walked in. Rafe nodded to him as he left it and went back to rejoin Brown.

"So," Simon said. "What about the gun you found?"

"It's the murder weapon," Jim said.

"Left by an intruder in a cupboard of the house he's just targeted?"

"Seems odd, doesn't it?" Jim agreed.

"A good way to get rid of it, though," Blair suggested. "Leave it in the cupboard, set fire to the house - with Chris already dead and Mrs. Mason left to die, it's just a fire-damaged gun that nobody could prove didn't belong to Chris in the first place."

"But why would the killer want to get rid of it?" Simon asked. He thought for a moment. "Has anyone picked up the cartridge case?"

Jim shook his head.

"Now, that could be identified as having been fired by a specific gun, but pellets don't pick up the kind of marks that let a bullet be linked to a specific gun. If I killed someone with a shotgun, I'd find it much easier to take the gun away with me and find somewhere to dispose of the cartridge case."

"You wouldn't even need to dispose of it, Simon," Jim said. "A lot of hunters keep their spent cases and reuse them; getting them re-pelleted is cheaper than always buying them new. Just put it in the box with all the rest, and who's going to say it was fired at a person rather than a game bird?"

He turned his head and looked through the fractionally-open blind towards the desk where Brown and Rafe were still talking to the bereaved woman. After watching for a moment, he turned back to Simon. "Mind if I go join them? There's something I want to check with her."

"Carry on," Simon said.

"I'd better not go," Blair said. "If I remind her of one of the guys who killed Chris... I don't want to upset her."

"Somehow, I don't think you will," Jim said quietly, and walked out of Simon's office. He approached Brown's desk.

Brown looked up. "Jim."

"Mind if I join you?" Without waiting for an answer, Jim glanced down at Brown's notes, then turned to Mrs. Mason. "I've just been to your house," he said. "I understand you were left tied to the bed?"

She nodded. "Yes," she whispered.

"How did you get free?"

"I managed to get one hand loose, then unfastened the rope tying the other arm."

Jim nodded. "Were the stairs burning when you got out of your bedroom?"

"Yes, but it was the only way out."

He regarded her thoughtfully for some moments. "So why isn't your robe marked by the smoke?"

Her heartbeat suddenly rocketed. "What?" She sounded confused.

"Your robe. If you came down a burning staircase, there should be smoke marks on it. Even some singeing."

"I... I wasn't wearing it when I came down the stairs. It was in the bathroom, and I grabbed it and pulled it on before I ran out of the house."

Jim studied her in silence, mentally reviewing the layout of the house. Finally he said, "Which door did you use when you left the house?"

"The front door."

"But the bathroom is at the back of your house. The house was on fire, and you took the time to go from the bottom of the staircase, which is close to the front door, to the back of the house to fetch a robe and put it on before you returned to the front door to leave the house?"

"I... Yes. Downstairs wasn't on fire, there wasn't much smoke... "

"Wasn't there any smoke coming out of the cupboard under the stairs?"

"I... I didn't notice any, but the top of the stairs had a lot of smoke. If there was any, I don't suppose I'd see it."

Jim nodded. It was a reasonable comment, but her heart rate had rocketed again at his mention of the cupboard.

He gave her some moments to calm down, then asked, "Why did you say my partner was one of the men who attacked you?"

"Your... Your partner?" she whispered.

"Because if he was, I was the other one. Was I the other one?"

"No. He... He had black hair. Spiky."

"And I know exactly where Sandburg was all last night. So he wasn't your long-haired attacker."

"No. I saw... I saw the long hair and... and... "

"Didn't it occur to you at all how much trouble you could cause an innocent man?"

"I really thought for a moment it was him!" She sounded nearly hysterical.

Rafe cut in. "Jim, we all know it couldn't have been Blair. But Mrs. Mason doesn't know Blair. Just a chance resemblance - the long hair - is it surprising that for a moment she made a mistake?"

Jim looked at him. "She's a cop's wife," he said. "Don't tell me she really thought that someone who was involved in killing a cop a few hours previously would just calmly walk into the PD - for any reason?"

"He might come in to cover his ass - report his shotgun stolen - " Rafe suggested.

"Okay, I'll agree that's a possibility," Jim said. He looked back at Mrs. Mason. "Tell me - did Chris own a shotgun?"

"He sometimes went out hunting with his brother. I never knew if he had his own gun or if he used one of Rod's."

"Although there was a locked gun case and cartridges for the gun in the shed in your back yard? And some spent cartridge cases in the cupboard under your stairs?"

She stared at him, a trapped expression on her face. Then she buried her face in her hands, sobbing brokenly.

At last, Mrs. Mason raised her head. Silently, Jim handed her a handful of tissues from the box that lived on Megan's desk. She dried her tear-streaked face and blew her nose. "You know, don't you?" she said quietly, her voice strangely calm.

"Yes," Jim said, as quietly. "What I don't know is why."

Brown and Rafe glanced at each other, puzzled, as Mrs. Mason took a deep breath. "Chris wasn't a nice man," she said. "He didn't know what 'fidelity' meant. I don't know how many affairs he's had since we got married - I never counted, never wanted to know. They didn't particularly bother me; if he was getting what he wanted elsewhere, it meant he left me in peace. He never made love to me; it was always more like rape. It was always what he wanted, when he wanted, hard and rough and fast, and a lot of the time it was anal sex he wanted, not... not the usual way. The ropes fastened to the bed - he put them there. He... Sometimes he liked to tie me down before he... before he used me. And he criticized everything I did. He kept telling me I was no use - that I was ugly, clumsy, all I was good for was a quick fuck when he couldn't get anyone better. And I put up with it because I had nowhere else to go.

"He came home last night... he was drunk. He wanted sex, but he was too drunk to get it up. He hit me several times - out of frustration, I think, because he wasn't usually physically abusive except for when he raped me - then went up to bed, telling me I'd better be quick, get everything locked up and join him because I could at least put my mouth to good use and suck him...

"Suddenly, it was too much.

"Usually he kept the key to his gun box safe on his keyring, in his pocket, but he was careless and dropped the keys in the living room, and hadn't picked them up. After he went upstairs, I took the keys to get the gun, loaded it, went upstairs and shot him. He was conscious; he knew, but he was too drunk to react fast enough to stop me.

"Then I realized what I'd done. He kept his old cartridges in a box in the cupboard so I put the one I'd just fired in with them. I left the gun in the cupboard, too, but then I realized I'd better try to hide the evidence, so I started a fire upstairs to burn down into the cupboard. But just in case that wasn't enough, I started another fire in the cupboard itself. Once I was sure they were burning properly, I ran out."

"And made up the story about two men breaking in."


"But how could you bear to burn your own home?" Blair had joined the group while she spoke, and sounded genuinely sympathetic.

She shook her head. "It was never my home. It was his. Everything in it was his. I just lived there because I was his, too; his captive, his slave, there to cook for him and provide sex when he couldn't get it anywhere else.

"I killed him, but basically it was self-defense. I'd finally had enough of his cruelty." She hesitated, then said to Blair, "I'm sorry I said it was you. I thought you were just someone who'd come in to report something, and it would give my story more credibility. I never thought... never remembered that it could cause you problems."

"It's all right," Blair said quietly.

Jim glanced at Brown, who had been interviewing her. Brown nodded, and began, "Elizabeth Mason, you are under arrest - "

* * * * * * * *

Because their day had begun so early, Simon sent Jim - and therefore Blair - home in the early afternoon.

Once in the loft, Jim said, "You've been very quiet, Chief."

"I've just been trying to understand things," Blair said as he sank down on the couch. "I mean, from what Jenny said, I knew Chris was unfaithful - probably unfaithful, at any rate - but he was a good cop. How could he be so different at home?"

"Reaction to some of the things he saw in his work, perhaps. Who knows?"

"But you see some pretty awful things, and you don't react that way."

"I withdraw emotionally, Chief. You know that. It was one of the things Carolyn couldn't cope with. It's what makes us - makes you - so... so special. You can cope with it. Somehow you can cope with it - and you keep me sane."

Blair smiled. "All part of my job, Jim. Just... part of my job."


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