Production No. CVT520

written by:

edited by:
Wendy and Linda Hutcheson


Blair reached for the thermos resting on the floor of the truck and poured himself a fresh cup of coffee. He held the cup in both hands trying to warm up a little.

This was the third night in a row that they had been stuck on this stakeout and they had yet to even spot the suspect. A series of gas station robberies had been occurring for the last month. The case had broken wide open when the attendant at the last station had tried to prevent the robbery. The crook was identified when his mask had been ripped off during the struggle with the clerk. The gas station's security cameras had managed to capture a clear shot of his face. He was a two- strike felon named Harrison. A conviction resulting from this arrest would put him away for good.

The mayor, who was up for re-election this year, was campaigning on the platform that his administration had "made Cascade the safest city in America." The crime spree was headline news, and his opponent was capitalizing on the issue with the media. Therefore, after chewing out Simon for the lack of progress on the case, he demanded that Major Crime's best team be assigned to the case, Detectives James Ellison and Blair Sandburg.

"Cold and wet is my world. Tell me, Jim, why does Simon always stick us with the midnight shift on these stakeouts?" Blair took a sip from his coffee cup. Blair hated stakeouts. Stakeouts were the most boring duty that could be assigned to a cop, but on a cold, rainy night in March, they were the absolute worst. No heat in the truck because a running engine would attract attention and the visibility was poor, unless, of course, you happen to be a Sentinel.

"I don't know, Chief. What have you done to piss him off lately?" Jim looked over at his shivering partner with a wide grin on his face. "Where is that silly Fargo hat of yours? You should have brought it with you. That hat would keep you warm."

"It disappeared the last time I wore it to the station. Brown said that it crawled under his desk and died. He promised that he gave it a nice funeral."

Jim chuckled and focused on the house across the street.

"Actually, I saw him with it in the records department. He was trying to convince Vera that it was a live critter and to pet it. I was gonna get it back from him but we had to rush off to meet Sneaks, so I didn't get a chance."

"Don't worry about it, Chief. He'll return it eventually. Actually, maybe you should worry about HOW he's gonna give it back. Knowing Henri, I predicate that it will be in a very creative manner."

"I'll get it back. I'm not worried about it. Back to your original question, I haven't done anything to tick off Simon. Well, at least nothing lately. Well, nothing that he knows about anyway. Hey, maybe it was your behavior at the Mayor's last..." Blair's quick-witted response was interrupted by Jim's cell phone ringing.

"Ellison... Hey Captain... OK... Great... Gee, thanks a lot, Sir," Jim replied sarcastically before he disconnected the call, returning the cell phone to his coat pocket.

"We lucked out, Chief. The stakeout's over. Harrison was picked up by Rafe and Brown at his girlfriend's place."

"Great." Blair yawned and stretched his stiff back. "It's about time, I've had enough of sitting around in this truck bored out of my mind and freezing to death. What time is it anyway?"

"Almost 6:15 AM. Simon said we didn't have to be in the station before three, so we can catch a few hours of sleep at the loft before we head into the station to finish up the paperwork. Wasn't that nice of him?"

"We've been working double shifts for the last three days. We should have had to work at least two more before Simon cut us a little slack and what do you mean WE finish up the paperwork? When was the last time you did the paperwork after a case? What you really mean is that I'll finish up the paperwork, while you and Megan argue about something."

"Well, Chief, you are the JUNIOR detective in this partnership and you do have the most experience doing paperwork."

"Yeah, well at least I get paid for doing it now. Let's get out of here." Blair gazed out the windshield at the slowly brightening sky. "Look, it's finally stopped raining."

Jim started the truck and headed for the loft. Both men were silent as they headed for home. Each man was caught up in his own thoughts. It had been a long week for both of them. They had three other active cases that they couldn't let slide, in addition to the Harrison case stakeout assignment. They both badly needed a few hours sleep.

Jim glanced over at his partner and recalled the half-spoken statement that had been interrupted by Simon's call. "Chief, do you want to finish what you were saying before Simon's call interrupted you? You were about to say something about MY behavior at the Mayor's reception, I believe."

"Well, Jim, how shall I put this politely, you were a little abrupt when the Mayor was introducing you to those reporters."

"I was supposed to be on duty. I was there to be his head of security, not his Majesty's toy soldier, his own private Cop of the Year doll to be put on display for the press whenever it's convenient for him and his campaign."

"Jim, I note a little hostility here. Didn't the Rangers or Covert Ops require you to take some kind of course in proper protocol when dealing with a superior officer? Brown-nosing a senior officer 101."

"Chief, I wouldn't go there if I were you. One of these days you'll give Simon a heart attack, when you actually remember that he should be called Sir or Captain Banks in the bullpen. The way I see it, we got stuck with this shift because of what you were doing at the reception."

"Who, me? What did I do?" Blair asked with a clearly feigned innocent expression plastered across his face.

"Do you have any idea who it was you were fl..." Jim's voice trailed off as his attention was drawn to a truck that had jumped the curb and was resting on the sidewalk. As Jim focused his senses on the suspicious vehicle, his foot automatically slipped from the accelerator.

"Hey, man, why are you slowing down?" Blair asked curiously. Just then he noticed that Jim's attention was focused on a white cargo truck parked on the side of the road along Chiang Kai Shek Park. Well, Blair thought, actually, most of the truck was parked on the sidewalk, not on the road. Even though he loved the great outdoors, Blair didn't like this particular park. He had enough bad memories from this park to last him a lifetime. Jim had been poisoned with the opium beads here, during the horrible case involving the assassin Lila Hobsen. Jim may have thought that Lila was the 'one', but his senses knew better.

"Come on, Jim, let the meter maids handle this. I really want to get home, you know, nice hot shower, nice soft bed and a few hours sleep before tackling the mountain of paperwork at the bullpen. Jim... JIM... JIM... Earth to Jim, Come in please!" Blair growled, frustrated at his partner, whose attention was now focused on the rear view mirror.

"Sandburg, I can see the driver. He's still in the truck. Something's wrong." Jim quickly pulled his truck over to the side of the street a few hundred feet in front of the cargo truck, and turned off the engine. Jim opened his door and walked to the back of his Ford pickup. Blair, slamming his door, exited the truck right behind him.

Blair turned his attention to the accident site. He noticed the driver was slumped over the steering wheel of the vehicle. "Yeah, I think you're right."

Jim was tuning his hearing to the still figure in the truck. "Damn, I can't hear a heartbeat. Driver must be dead."

Jim, with his long stride, started towards the white vehicle. Suddenly, he came to a dead stop, coughing and choking. Blair rushed to his side, putting his hands opposite Jim's shoulders to provide support. Jim continued to choke, his eyes starting to water.

"Chief, can you smell that?"

"Oh, yeah, man this stuff is awful. Jim, dial down your sense of smell. Put it down as far as it can go. This smells horrible to me. I can't imagine what it smells like to you. What is that stink?"

"I'm not sure. I can't quite place the odor. It's almost like sulfur." Jim slowly started towards the cargo truck again. As Blair started to follow, he noticed liquid dripping from underneath the truck and the morning fog seemed to be heavier around the truck. Slight tendrils of a memory from his undergraduate days at Rainier flashed across Blair's mind too quickly for him to grab hold of it.

"JIM, hold up a second!" Blair yelled, not noticing that Jim had already stopped again. His partner's hands were held out like he was trying to feel the air directly in front of him. Blair, with a puzzled expression, reached his hand out to Jim's back to provide an anchor so his friend could concentrate on his senses. "Jim, what's going on, what are you sensing?"

"Something really strange is going on here." Jim took a couple of steps forward, a few to the side, then two steps backward. He looked over at his partner, a confused look crossing his face. "I swear, the closer we get to that truck, the warmer the air is getting."

Rubbing his forehead with one hand, then brushing a loose piece of hair back behind his ear, Blair tried again to recall that elusive memory. Jim watched Blair's expressive face as myriad thoughts were examined and discarded.

Jim could tell immediately when Blair finally locked on to it though. He could have sworn he had actually seen the light bulb appear over Sandburg's head. Blair looked over at Jim and started to explain, as usual, more with his hands than his voice.

"Oh boy, during my undergrad days at Rainier, I was dating this chemistry major. Her name was Colleen. She was a redhead. You know Jim, you would have liked her. She had the most amazing..."

"One-track mind, Romeo, let's get back to the subject at hand, please," Jim interrupted.

"Anyway, I picked up a few things from her and get your mind out of the gutter. She got burned once during a lab experiment, she added water to acid instead of acid to water or vice versa, I don't remember for sure exactly, but I do remember the burn, really painful, and in a not so convenient place. I also remember her telling me when you mix a strong acid with water, well it generates a serious amount of heat. She called it an exothermic reaction. Look, there, under the truck, it looks like there is a leak, that trickle there is in the wrong place to be condensation. Last night's rain soaked this area really well. We could be in really deep here. If it is an acid, it could be reacting with the concrete in the sidewalk or with the water, in some kind of a neutralization reaction."

Jim rolled his eyes, wondering how long Blair could actually continue without pausing to fill his lungs with air. "Breathe, Blair. Take a nice deep breath." Blair paused and slowly inhaled and then loudly exhaled. "Good, Chief, now, tell me what else can you remember?"

"Some acids, like oleum, commonly known as pure sulfuric acid, well they don't really have a smell, not to a normal nose anyway. You might be able to smell it though. Anyway, pure acid fumes could have overcome the driver before he could realize there was a problem. Particularly, if he was very tired or he had frequently hauled chemicals, after a while you become used to the odors and don't really notice them. The strength of the odor we smelled only happened because there's some type of reaction occurring. I also remember that strong acids can eat through certain types of metal. Colleen showed me one night when we were in the lab alone together, dropped a nickel in a beaker of fuming sulfuric acid. It was really cool..."

Realizing it was impossible for Sandburg to stay on one topic during an explanation, Jim broke into his partner's lecture. "Chief, let's table this discussion and take it elsewhere, preferably, at a much safer distance from that." He pointed with his thumb back at the cargo van.

"Jim, what about the driver? Should we just leave him there?"

"For now, it's pretty dangerous to approach that truck without some protective equipment."

Jim and Blair both turned around and started jogging back to Jim's truck. With a sly grin on his face, Blair grabbed Jim by the arm to get his attention.

"Hey Jim, it could have been worse you know. With our luck, we could have approached from downwind instead of upwind of that mess."

Jim smiled faintly as he playfully whapped Blair on the back of the head. "Sandburg, go call it in! We don't have a lot of time here. In about thirty minutes this street is gonna be active with morning traffic headed for work and the park trails are open at 8:00."

Blair quickly headed for the front seat of Jim's truck. His backpack was in the front seat, a carryover from his academic days when stuck on boring stakeout. He always made sure he had several notebooks or research journals with him. No matter what his job title was, officially or unofficially, he would always be a student of anthropology. Right now, he needed one of the notebooks from his police academy days.

One of the lectures he had attended was a "First Responder Awareness Level" training course. The course was designed for persons likely to witness or discover a hazardous substance release to be able to notify the proper authorities with the information. Since the police department was often the first emergency response group to arrive at an accident scene, it was now standard operation procedure for all rookies to attend the training course. The notebook contained a summary of the information he needed to provide to the dispatcher.

In spite of the mayor's campaign rhetoric. The city of Cascade had a long history of strange and dangerous incidents, which had ranged from the threat of the Ebola virus being released to black market nuclear bomb material. Therefore, Cascade had a fully staffed and well-equipped Hazardous Material Emergency Response Team. He grabbed his cell phone and started to report to the station. "Dispatch, this is Detective Sandburg. We have a hazardous materials incident in progress at Washington and Fourth. It appears that the driver is dead, so consider this and IDLH incident. I repeat, this is an Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health incident. We need the hazmat team dispatched to this location. We also need roadblocks at..."

As his partner was calling in the incident, Jim scanned the area with his senses. The incident's location was both good and bad news. There weren't any houses on this street. This entire neighborhood had been reclaimed by the city and turned into a park. One of the mayor's city beautification projects. That was the good news. No residents to be evacuated. That made Cascade PD's job much easier. Jim remembered a similar incident a few years back that occurred in a residential area. It had been hell trying to convince people to leave their homes and belongings quickly and safely. This was also a fortunate location because there were only two intersections that had to be blocked off to prevent traffic flow into the area. It would be easy to contain the scene.

The bad news was that the truck was parked halfway up a large hill. Directly outside the passenger side door of the truck was a grassy slope that led downward into the park towards a small pond. Also, directly behind the truck, and unfortunately also on a downward slope, Jim could see a manhole cover.

The sky was much brighter now, and the leak under the truck was obviously getting much worse. The trickle was rapidly becoming a small stream of liquid pooling onto the sidewalk. The pool had now grown large enough to overflow onto the grass. Gravity was directing the runoff from the pool straight towards the manhole cover, and the city's sewer system.

Jim yelled back to his partner. "Hey, Chief, tell them to warn the water treatment plant that they have a serious contamination problem heading their way. They also might want to contact the utility departments, let them know what's going on so they can pull their people out of this area."

"Got it, Jim." Blair continued to update dispatch on the situation.

Jim refocused his hearing on the scene of the accident. He could hear sirens in the distance, but there was a much more ominous sound coming from the truck. He knew he had heard that noise some place before, but he couldn't quite place it. As he was trying to decipher what he was hearing, the sound of his partner's voice distracted him.

"Hey Jim, they've connected me with the hazmat team's incident commander. Its Deborah Reeves, remember her? She says that the team is already in route, but since we are already here, she has some questions for us. Hopefully, we can give them some idea of what they are going to be dealing with. I've already let them know that we think we are dealing with an acid spill. I mentioned the sulfur smell as well as the fume cloud."

Jim could hear her voice over the radio, he remembered her as the tough-nosed arson investigator on the warehouse fires a few years ago. Their investigation styles had definitely clashed, but they had found some common ground. She had liked surfing too. He hadn't realized she had come back to the city. He responded to his partner with a smirk, "Fire away, Chief."

"Very funny, tough guy. OK, first she wants to know if there are any DOT placards on the sides of the truck. Those are diamond shaped signs. They would be on all four sides of the truck with a four digit number printed on them."

Jim scanned the two sides of the truck that were visible from his vantage point. "Nothing, no signs, no numbers, just a plain white cargo truck. The trucking company's logo isn't even on the sides. There aren't any visible markings that would identify the truck from the outside."

He heard Blair relay that information over the radio. Jim could hear her next comment over the radio himself. "I assume you guys were smart enough to stay upwind, but keep in mind that you shouldn't be any closer than 600 feet to the spill area. We will be coordinating with your department to establish an isolation perimeter a half mile from the site. Can you see if..."

Just as Blair started to relay the next question, the sound that Jim had been trying to decipher became loud enough for even those without Sentinel level hearing. Jim and Blair both ducked for cover. Jim dived underneath the back of his truck and Blair flattened himself along the length of the seat inside the cab of the truck, as the sounds of several explosions roared over them. A large crash was heard along with the sound of rushing water. After several long moments, Blair finally raised his head and checked out the back window. He realized that he couldn't locate his partner.

Frantically, Blair called out, "Jim, answer me! Are you OK?" Hearing an answering groan from behind the truck, Blair exited the pickup and raced to his fallen friend. Jim was lying on his side on the pavement. One arm was moving weakly in the direction of his head and one leg was slowly being drawn towards his torso. He knelt down beside his friend and with shaking hands cautiously rolled his partner onto his back, being careful to support Jim's head and neck. Blair quickly removed his jacket, placing it gently under his partner's head. Blair was checking his partner's ribcage for injuries when Jim stirred again and made a weak attempt to rise.

"Whoa, take it easy, buddy. Don't try to move yet. Just lie still," Blair instructed with a concerned voice, putting one hand on Jim's chest to keep him from moving and his other hand under Jim's neck for support.

"I'm OK, Chief, I used my head to soften the landing," Jim quipped, wincing a little at the pain in his head. "Help me up."

Blair took a deep breath and slowly let it out, shaking his head at his partner. "Very funny, are you sure you're not hurt anyplace else?" Blair tried to look at Jim's eyes to make sure there was no evidence of a concussion.

"Yeah, I'm sure. I'm fine. My ears are ringing, but I'm OK." Jim, with a little help from Blair's arm across his back, managed to sit half way up this time. He sat on the asphalt, holding both hands up to his head while resting his forearms on his knees.

Blair lowered the tailgate of the truck, and then assisted his partner to his feet so that Jim could sit down a little more comfortably without having to move very far. As he reached down to pick up his jacket, Blair looked back at the accident site. It appeared that the bottom of the cargo truck had completely fallen to the pavement, and the passenger side panel now had a large jagged hole blown outwards from inside the truck.

Several broken open barrels were now lying in the street. A half dozen more were residing on the grass near the sidewalk and down the hillside towards the pond. Several of which also appeared to be leaking. The contents of the barrels were seeping into the wet ground. The bottoms of several other drums could be seen still residing in what was left of the truck. The small stream had become a torrent, cascading down the street, overwhelming the manhole and rushing down the street towards the intersection.

Blair was surveying the damage that was rapidly expanding across the park grounds. As Blair watched, he could see the ground literally start to boil and bubble. The chemicals were reacting with the wet ground. As the temperature increased, pressure was building up and forcing trapped air pockets to the surface. It looked like tiny little volcanoes of dirt erupting in the grassy area.

"Jim, we have a major problem here." The environmentalist in Blair was disgusted by the destruction of ecosystem and the cop in him was concerned by the potential exposure danger to the public.

However, Jim's attention was concentrated on the growing fume cloud that was slowly moving in the direction of the officers at the roadblock that had been established downwind of the accident.

"I know, Chief, and it's increasing by the minute. Let's allow the professionals to take over this situation, huh?" Jim could hear Deborah's voice over the radio, demanding to know what was going on. As Jim looked up the street, he could see that the hazmat team had arrived and had started to establish a command post at the top of the hill.

Jim gathered his strength to stand up and then realized he was going to need a little assistance. "Help me up, buddy, and let's get out of here."

Blair reached out his arm to his partner for some support. "Give me the keys to the truck Jim. You're in no shape to drive right now." Blair held out his hand and waved his finger palm up, pinning his partner with an intense glare.

"I'm fine, Chief," Jim answered, with a negative shake of his head as he stood up, leaning only slightly on his partner for balance.

"Jim, remember I'm armed now. Don't argue with me on this," Blair demanded in a firm tone and a slightly evil smirk.

Realizing he wasn't going to win this argument, Jim reluctantly dug into his pocket for the keys to the truck and held them out to his partner. Blair quickly grabbed them. Both men climbed into the truck. Blair started up the engine and headed for the command post that was being established upwind of the spill site at the top of the hill.

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