Captain Simon Banks was not having a good day. Admittedly, he’d gotten spoiled, and this particular case had caught them all looking completely unprepared, unable to catch a simple thief. Said thief, however, was slick, and now the case had crossed state lines. The thief — nicknamed the Betty Burglar for the Betty Boop hoodie she’d worn the one time she’d been caught on surveillance camera — had so far eluded capture, igniting the public’s fascination for a criminal who brazenly stole from private residences in broad daylight. Initially, the burglaries had been small, not much more than what someone might need to survive in the backwoods of Cascade, but then the thief had graduated to personal watercraft, speedboats, motorcycles, and now light aircraft. Adding insult to injury, the thief had donated some of her ill-gotten proceeds to a local animal shelter. That action alone made the public want to celebrate her as a modern-day criminal heroine.
Simon didn’t care if she’d had a bad childhood and a soft spot for cats. He knew better than to assume any of those things were causes for leniency. Cascade’s worst criminals had been female, psychotic, intelligent, and skilled, or some combination thereof — and while Simon appreciated having an FBI profiler show up, he much preferred to trust the instincts of his best team: Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Between them, they’d not only kept the solve rate high, they’d helped Cascade stand apart from several other police departments for their efforts to prevent crime through several innovative programs.
Jim and Blair had almost gotten the Betty Burglar, but she’d evaded that trap. It made for a cranky pair, and when they were cranky, Simon got crankier. He’d come to rely on Jim’s Sentinel abilities to give him the edge needed to close the difficult cases, but as he’d learned over the years, Jim had his limits. Getting maced counted as one of those limits.
Now, Simon had an FBI agent showing up at his door. Simon knew — because he’d made it his business to know every FBI agent working his city — that the new agents on the block were always rotated through Cascade, in part because Cascade got all the weird cases. Simon knew, too, that the local FBI office thought that Cascade’s Major Crimes unit was plain weird, and it drove the local director crazy. Simon preferred it that way; it meant that Jim’s Sentinel abilities were put down to the “Cascade weirdness”, among other things. Still, Simon wished they would stop using Cascade as their agent proving ground. He much preferred the regulars, the ones who knew better than to ask stupid questions.
Though Simon’s door was open, the agent who walked in paused to rap once on the door. “Good morning. I’m Agent Matthew McCormick of the FBI. I was told you were expecting me?”
Simon put on a smile and rose to shake the man’s hand, noting that he’d gone through security and had his visitor badge pinned to his blazer. “Captain Simon Banks. Have a seat. Sorry to sound paranoid, but can I check your ID?”
Matthew looked startled, then appreciative as he pulled out his wallet. Simon took it and made the verification call, not caring that he was making the man wait. Simon trusted the lobby security to do their jobs, but memories of how a psychopath had fooled them didn’t fade easily. “Morning, Beth. Sorry to bother you, but can you verify a badge number for me?” Simon rattled it off. “Uh huh, Southern accent, right, right. Really? That guy? Good to know. Thanks, Beth.”
Matthew eyed him as he hung up. “You don’t trust the automated verification system?”
“An automated system can be spoofed. I want someone who can not only tell me your badge’s legit, but what you’re supposed to look like. If you’re really the serial killer guy, then you’ve undoubtedly heard of David Lash.”
“Wasn’t he the guy who used a yellow scarf to mark his victims, preferred to drown them?”
Simon nodded. “He pretended to be the FBI profiler on the case. He was the first to get through our security that way. Hopefully, we’ve seen the last.” He smiled thinly and handed Matthew back his wallet. “Now that we’ve established you are who you say, Agent McCormick, how can you help me catch little Miss Irene Cloud McGuire?”
“You already know her name?”
“Contrary to what you may have heard about Cascade, we aren’t sitting on our asses over here.”
Matthew studied him a moment before replying, “I didn’t mean to imply that you were. I have a full profile on the suspect and where we think she’ll strike next. I’m prepared to assist in whatever capacity you require, but I must stress that when the arrest is made, the suspect will be turned over to the FBI.”
By the end of his fourth day working with Major Crimes, Matthew was certain of several things. One, Irene McGuire was not working without help. Two, Jim Ellison was not a ‘simple’ cop, and his partner, Blair Sandburg, was not ‘just’ the department’s resident profiler. Three, Matthew was discovering, again, just how much he liked competence in a man. Simon Banks led a department that was half SWAT, half top-level detectives, no easy task given the abundance of type-A personalities in such a combination, yet Matthew hadn’t met anyone who didn’t respect Simon as a leader.
It made the occasional moments where Simon reminded him strongly of one of his students disconcerting, because Matthew knew that when the case was over — and he didn’t doubt for a second that it would be over soon — he’d ask Simon out on a date. Patching up his relationship with Carl Robinson was still a work in progress, but at least they were talking more frequently than they had been. Matthew knew that was all he could ask of the man, given that Matthew had been willing to take his head over an old, in-hindsight-petty grudge.
It wasn’t just competence that attracted Matthew’s interest, though. Simon could go from growling at one of his detectives to inquiring about the man’s battle with getting insurance to pay out on a car claim. Simon was also a hands-on leader, willing to offer suggestions that reflected his years of experience and equally willing to push his team to come up with solutions themselves. Add that in to the combination of a man who was willing to wear ties that subtly reflected a wicked sense of humor — aliens one day, Snoopy the next — and who wore a suit that was clearly tailored for his tall, athletic form — and Matthew was intrigued.
Apparently, Matthew hadn’t been subtle. Simon pulled him aside just as Matthew was getting ready to leave for the day and asked, “Is there some reason you keep eying me like I’m something you don’t like? In case you’ve forgotten, Agent McCormick, you’re not in the South.” Simon’s tone indicated clearly what he thought of that region of the country.
Matthew stared at him incredulously. “Of course it’s not because you’re black.” Reluctantly, Matthew added, “It’s that I knew Carl Robinson. You remind me of him at times.”
It was Simon’s turn to stare. “Carl Robinson? The baseball player Carl Robinson?”
“Yes.” Matthew stuck his hands in his pockets, oddly nervous.
Simon barked a laugh. “My son said the same thing a few years ago. Didn’t believe him until he showed me pictures. I’m more of a basketball fan.” He smiled genially, and Matthew swallowed, hard, and tried to remind himself that lust was fine but not appropriate just now.
Whatever Matthew might have said at that moment was lost as one of the detectives knocked on the door.
“Sorry to interrupt, Simon, but Jim and Blair think they know where McGuire’s hiding out.”
“Where?” Simon asked.
“The old airfield by Anne Lake. A portion of the runway is still there, and if you don’t mind crashing your plane…” The nattily dressed detective shrugged easily.
“Why hasn’t anyone reported activity there?” Matthew wanted to know.
“The city seized the airfield back in the 1970s,” Simon explained. “But they can’t develop it because it used to be a military airfield before it was private, and it’s been tied up in limbo ever since between the fact that the city fucked up and didn’t check the property records. Technically, the land is owned by a local Native American tribe who had a lease agreement with the military. Nobody’s been allowed on the property because of the carcinogen hazard, and someone’s been claiming that the place is haunted for the last thirty years.”
“Blair says it is,” the detective said, sounding as though he believed it.
“Rafe, was there anything else you’d like to add? Or were you just sent to stall us so Ellison and Sandburg can slip out?” Simon asked, sounding annoyed.
Rafe grinned. “Just that,” he said, not looking apologetic for covering. “Blair said he’d call when they were close.”
“Damn it, they are not going in there without hazmat suits. I don’t care if they are Superman together.”
Matthew rose. “Let me help,” he offered. “How far is Anne Lake?”
“North side of Cascade, just barely within the city limits. Technically speaking, we have no jurisdiction there, and neither does the FBI. This time of day, it’ll take us half an hour to get there, even with lights and sirens.” Simon sighed exasperatedly. “Those two are going to be the death of me,” he swore, then began directing the backup operation.
Matthew wasn’t entirely sure, afterward, how Ellison and Sandburg managed to convince the suspect to surrender. They stood in front of an old Ford pickup truck at the edge of the property, talking to her as if she stood right in front of them. Matthew had seen magic — true magic — performed at various times in his life, but this was something else entirely. He thought he caught sight of a panther and a wolf leading the young woman to the cops. Matthew went to talk to Sandburg a few minutes after McGuire had been handcuffed and Mirandized. Matthew was hit by a wave of shamanic force so strong he nearly reeled; it had been years since he’d met someone with such power.
Sandburg eyed him warily. “You’re one of the Old Ones,” he said, not sounding entirely happy at the news.
Matthew drew in a deep breath, trying to shove the most ancient part of him back under the guise of a modern, late-middle aged man. It wasn’t easy; Matthew was nearly eight centuries old, and he’d forgotten just how a true shaman could see through the mask he wore to the immortal he was. The shaman’s power demanded that he answer honestly. “Do you have a problem with that, sir?”
Sandburg bounced slightly on his heels and grinned. Matthew almost swore he looked pleased to have met someone like him. “Just make sure you leave your fights out of our city and we’ll be fine.”
Ellison stepped up at that moment and met Matthew’s eyes. “Anything else you need, Agent?” Warning and understanding coated the other man’s voice, and Matthew knew instantly that Ellison was not a man to annoy.
“No, I think we’re good here,” Matthew said.
“Oh, one thing before you go,” Sandburg said. “Simon likes it simple — steak and potatoes, nothing fancy. Good luck. He’s been lonely too long.”
Matthew’s eyes widened.
“Now you’ve done it and freaked out the feeb. Turn it off, will you?” Ellison complained. “You know I hate it when you crank yourself to eleven.”
“All these years and you’re still creeped out by what we do,” Sandburg said, rolling his eyes as his hands underscored his words.
“Just get in the truck so we can do the paperwork and go home,” Ellison said, none-too-gently shoving his partner in that direction. Sandburg rolled with it, turning the shove into a bounce that said he knew he’d annoyed his partner for the umpteenth time and was amused at the result.
Turning to Matthew, Ellison said, “I’d apologize except for the part where he’s usually right. Be careful; Simon will give you a hard time, but he’s a good man and a good friend.”
Without anything further, Ellison stepped away and into his truck. Matthew resisted the urge to shake off the power he could feel radiating from the other man. A Guardian and his Shaman in Cascade would explain why the city felt different, as if he’d stepped onto the edge of some sacred space, and why the criminals were so unique in their methods.
He was still standing there, lost in thought, when Simon approached him. “Ready to get out of here?” Simon asked. “The forensics team will have their preliminary report to us within the hour.”
With a small shake, Matthew pulled himself together. “Ready when you are.”
“Ellison and Sandburg talk to you?” Simon asked carefully.
Matthew studied Simon a moment. “You know what they are.”
Simon returned the assessment, clearly coming to a judgment. “You sound like you’ve seen men like them before.”
“I’ll admit seeing them as police officers is new,” Matthew countered. “Don’t worry; I won’t put that particular piece of information in my report. I’m beginning to see that you’re part of the reason they’re flourishing so well.”
“Some days they make it hard to be their captain.”
Matthew laughed. “You’re too good a leader to let them think otherwise.”
Simon grinned. “Man’s gotta keep them in line somehow.”
Simon figured Agent McCormick would disappear back into the FBI fold as soon as the case was closed. He was therefore surprised and a little relieved when, a week later, said agent stopped by his office on a Friday night near the end of the business day.
“Something I can help you with, Agent?”
“The name is Matthew,” came the calm reply. “I’m off duty, and as of fifteen minutes ago, so were you. If you’re waiting for an invitation to leave, I’d like you to have dinner with me.”
Caught off guard at that, Simon blinked. He’d gotten the impression that Matthew was flirting with him, but had passed it off as the man’s natural friendliness, not believing that he’d been serious. As flattering as the notion had been, Simon was used to being passed over as a prospect once someone realized how married he was to his work. Matthew was openly admiring him now, forcing Simon to hastily reconsider his assumptions. “Dinner?”
Matthew smiled. “Surely you eat it sometime? I hear there’s a good steakhouse a mile from here. Unless there’s some reason you need to stay? I’d be happy to get takeout and bring it back.”
Simon studied him. Going off instinct, he went for blunt. “Why me and why now?”
“We can call it furthering inter-agency relations if you like,” Matthew replied. “I understand you like to get to know everyone at my office, in case we happen to work together again. But I’d like something a little more personal than that, if you’re willing.”
Simon looked at his workload, realizing he’d stayed out of habit to beat the traffic home, and not out of any real reason to increase his productivity. “You don’t strike me as a man the FBI keeps in one place for long,” he said as he picked up his briefcase and shrugged on his jacket.
Matthew lifted his shoulders carelessly. “I’m used to traveling, but I thought I’d see if I could stay in one place for a while. Living out of a suitcase gets old.” He stepped out of the office as Simon shut off the lights and secured the door.
“So what made you decide to come out here?” Simon wondered.
“I have some friends in the area,” Matthew said easily as they traversed the department, empty save for the overnight crew. “It’s a welcome change from Boston.”
Simon chuckled. “Never been there, but I can imagine.” It didn’t take them long to get to the elevator, but Simon looked at Matthew. “Do you mind if we take the stairs? I’m stiff from sitting so long.”
Major Crimes was on the sixth floor of the Cascade PD’s headquarters. It took several minutes to get downstairs, but Simon noticed that Matthew kept pace with him, even though Simon was taller and had a longer stride. The man kept a running conversation to boot — inquiring over Simon’s choices in ties, chuckling when Simon said it was a running Father’s Day gag gift, and sounding genuinely interested in Simon’s pride in his son. Matthew didn’t seem winded by the time they got down to the parking garage, and Simon’s interest in the match ratcheted up a notch. He appreciated a man who understood what it took to be fit, though Simon ruefully admitted he was in better shape since he'd quit smoking cigars.
It had been a long time since Simon had allowed himself the luxury of being with someone else. He’d let the excuses pile up even after he’d been divorced, afraid of coming out of the closet for fear that his ex-wife would hold it against him even more than she had when they’d separated. It had only been after his son had graduated college that Simon had dared to try. Getting past that breakup had been rough, but the relationship had taught Simon that he liked being with a man more than he liked being with a woman.
Once Simon had clarified that it wasn’t the color of his skin that had Matthew acting oddly, Simon had liked what he’d seen. Matthew dressed well but he wasn’t stuffy, and he had demonstrated a keen intelligence. The fact that he understood that Ellison and Sandburg were special went a long way towards Simon’s appreciation as well.
“Are you parked in visitor parking?” Simon asked. “If you are, you’ll want to drive to the restaurant. They lock the garage down after six to non-police personnel.”
“I didn’t know that,” Matthew said. “Have there been that many problems with security here?”
Simon laughed humorlessly. “I can tell you haven’t read through all the case files yet, but the short answer is yes, not helped by budget cuts, until one of the city’s most influential CEOs started making noise about protecting the protectors.”
“Sounds like an interesting story. I’d love to hear more. Shall I meet you at Fork?”
Simon’s eyebrows rose at mention of that particular restaurant. As it was a five-star steakhouse, he usually reserved it for special occasions, not just a Friday night. “Do you have reservations?”
Matthew smiled. “Would I sound too hopeful if I said yes?”
Something fluttered within Simon as he realized Matthew hadn’t just decided to come by. “No,” Simon said decisively. “I’ll meet you at the restaurant.”
When Matthew smiled, Simon knew that dessert wasn’t the only option on the evening’s menu. Breathing carefully, Simon reminded himself that he didn’t have to worry about the impact to his son — now grown and with a life of his own — or what his ex-wife might think. As a fellow officer of the law, Matthew understood just how far out of a closet they could be. Even if by the end of dinner, Simon had figured out that Matthew was going to be just a good friend — that was more than Simon had planned. Friday night TV and housework paled in comparison to the possibilities ahead. He was looking forward to it.