Paint it Red, Black & Blue

Disclaimer: I own 2 dogs, 2 cats, a horse, a husband, 3 kids, 3 cars, and a big house full of books, but I don't own the Mentalist. Thanks to CBS for sharing…

Chapter 1

It was 2:00am and the Calistoga Canyon Resort and Spa pool-side bar was closing for the night. The bartender had cleaned every table, every glass, every nacho bowl, had even taken over the custodial duty of washing the floor directly behind the bar itself, not a customary part of his job description, but the lone remaining patron just wouldn't seem to take the hint. He was a good-looking fellow, blond hair, big smile, had a smart wardrobe and tipped well. He had been at the same stool from early evening on, talked to all of 2 people, and nursed a lone Scotch for at least 4 hours. Well, with the exception of the one he'd tossed in someone's face early on, it had only been one, a nice Glenfiddich, neat and at room temperature. The man obviously had taste. It was the "lone" part that was the odd thing, for while the bartenders of the Calistoga Canyon Resort and Spa were well-versed in the art of discretion, some things just got noticed.

"I'm sorry, sir," said the bartender. "We're closing up for the night."

"Oh, I'm sorry," answered the man, looking as if he had just surfaced from diving in an ocean of thought. "I guess I lost track of time…"

The bartender smiled. The guy was likeable, if a little odd. "It's alright. I can arrange to have something sent to your room if you'd like –"

Big smile now. "Ah, I'm not staying here. Just um…finishing up. Thanks, though. Much appreciated." He slapped down another twenty and rose to his feet. "Good night."

"Good night, sir." The bartender watched him go, then switched off the lights and headed home for the night.

Patrick Jane didn't own a watch. Time was a concept that had little or no importance for him. Late appointments were only inconvenient for the other person. He always had plenty of things to occupy his time.

He debated going for a walk. He loved walking at night. Rather, he had come to love walking at night. He had come to love the quiet, the dim lights, the night people and their quirky ways. The big expanse of dark sky overhead. And the desert sky was particularly beautiful, so clear and heavy and inky black, with stars that looked like jewels on velvet, going on and on forever. It was only at night under a big open sky where he thought nothing, felt nothing, absolutely nothing at all, except perhaps for the admiration of the beauty and power of nothingness.

A lonely, unloved young woman was dead.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and ambled across the dark Calistoga Canyon parking lot toward the SUV. They had left it for him when he had decided to stay. They were good that way, discreet actually. They took care of him in ways he had never experienced before his time with the CBI, allowed him the freedom to be as self-directed, or as self-absorbed as he needed. He knew they had his back. It was a very good feeling.

He paused at the sight of a multitude of dark SUVs and shook his head. The sports cars, he could understand, but SUVs in California never failed to irk him. As if any of them went off-road. They were invented for sports equipment. They rarely carried golf clubs, let alone a mountain bike. He pulled out the keys, pressed the locate button, and the familiar blip of lights led him onward. He put the key in the lock and paused, grinning.

She had warned him not to come home with any tickets. As if he was a speeder. As if she was so very careful. It was charming.

All sorts of signs tell you when someone is approaching. The crunch of shoes on gravel, the darkening of the reflection in the window, the hairs on the nape of your neck standing up. Two men, big ones, directly behind, no stealth, just purpose.

He swung around, finger on the alert button, but a massive palm caught his wrist, bent it backwards, causing the keys to drop to the ground and Jane to yelp out in pain.

"Not the hands, not the hands," he muttered, as they pushed him roughly backwards into the side of the SUV. They were big, that was for sure, but there was something more. He studied their faces as one fished in his jacket pockets for his cell-phone. "I…I recognize you…"

The man grinned as he dramatically held up the phone with two fingers, dropped it also to the ground and crushed it under his massive shoe. He then reached into his own pocket and pulled out something dark and metallic. The other smelled of vodka and garlic and leaned in close to Jane's ear.

"Mr. Arlov wants his painting back."

"Oh dear."

And the beautiful heavy inky black sky descended on him like a hammer.

________________________________________________________________________

Jane was right.

She tried to shake it off, the twist in her gut that always occurred when she came to that conclusion. He was always right, and while part of that was comforting, it sometimes made her feel inadequate, unprofessional, small. Of course, as he had rebuked her before, she could always harness that frustration to make herself better, sharper, smarter. She cursed him again, and began to harness.

You just knew when things were wrong. That was a fundamental principle of his. You couldn't always pinpoint it, at least not as quickly as he, no one could, but deep down, you always knew. As she strode into the CBI HQ that bright sunny morning, she had cast her eyes around, allowing herself to take all the "usual things', Rolph at the front desk checking people in, the hum of agents moving to and fro, the ring of phones and cell phones. The smell of freshly brewing coffee and the sharp tang of ink. The constant sound of paper and conversation.

She was usually early, and today was no exception. A lone agent at his desk, not one of hers but then again, the office housed many units, many specialties, under it's high piped ceiling. Open concept work flow, engineered to stimulate creative thinking. Neither Cho nor Rigsby nor Van Pelt were in yet, but they would be soon. Never late. Her team was good.

The couch was empty.

She hmphed under her breath. The one thing wrong in the entire scenario. He was usually there. He couldn't sleep in the vast barren piece of architecture he called a house, so when he did elect to sleep, it was usually here. The couch was leather, and you could almost see the impression of his body, worn into its mahogany skin. No one else sat there. It was his place.

She entered her office and dialed the garage beneath the building.

"Hey Vicente," she began. "It's Lisbon. Did the second SUV get in last night? No? Yeah, the bum probably checked himself in at the resort…" She laughed softly. "Yes, that's possible too. He could have 'made a wrong toin at Albuqurque…' Let me know when he checks it in, 'kay? Thanks." She hung up and sat for a moment.

She dialed his cell. No answer. She hmphed again.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw them stroll in as a trio, relaxed and confident, and she couldn't help but smile. She was sure they coordinated it, arriving at the same place, at exactly the same time, looking for all the world like a modern-day Mod Squad. If they could move in slow motion, she knew they would.

"Hey," she said, rising from her desk and greeting them at the door of her office. "Anyone talk to Jane lately?"

Cho glanced at the other two, who promptly fished inside their pockets for money and handed it over. Lisbon rolled her eyes, Rigsby shrugged. "Cho said leaving the car with Jane was a bad idea…"

Her face turned to stone. "You-" she looked at Rigsby – "And you –" she looked at Cho – "Go back and find him, please."

And as promptly as they had entered, they left, leaving Van Pelt nervously wringing her hands. "…Cho says you should have him micro-chipped…like a dog…"

She hmphed one last time and turned back to her office, once again hating the sensation of Patrick Jane being right.

End of Chapter 1