Production No. CVT525

written by:
C.L. Combs

edited by:
Toni Rae, Shelley, and Sealie


Thursday afternoon, Cascade Police Headquarters

With a growl, Police Commissioner Craig Mathews pushed away from his desk and his thirtieth reading of the valley resort development proposal sitting there. Deep in his gut, he knew there was something wrong within the innocuous packet of papers. He just couldn't figure out what. Pacing a couple of times in front of his large desk, Mathews reflected that his feeling wasn't due to the typical 'anti-progress/pro environmental' protests or the 'pro-progress/anything for growth' enthusiastic support. Those two groups seemed to pop up on opposite sides of almost any issue. It also wasn't due to the heated debates in the council. Mathews enjoyed a good debate.

Admittedly, the attempted kidnapping on his niece Krystal at the Sci Fi con was a factor. It infuriated him that someone thought they could force his vote by terrorizing his innocent niece. In addition, it made him wonder who had the money to hire the kidnappers. Big money could also be the source of the pressure on and within the council to push the troublesome proposal through. Mathews had learned a long time ago that many politicians had a price. He slowed his pace and took a deep breath. He was very suspicious of the group fronting the proposal. The inquiries he had sent out were coming back almost TOO clean. He just knew there was something dirty going on. He could almost taste it.

For a brief moment, Mathews considered asking his premier detective pair to look into it. But no, there was no indication other than his gut feeling that something was wrong. Besides, they had barely survived the publicity due to an unscrupulous publisher last spring. As politically charged as this issue was, some enterprising reporter was bound to dig up the old reports. He would not toss Ellison and Sandburg into a maelstrom of spotlights if he could help it.

A sharp ring pierced the tense atmosphere. Waiting another ring as he forced his frustration into the background, Mathews picked up his phone. "Donna? Yes, put her through." A smile unconsciously slipped across his face as he automatically relaxed, his voice softening as it grew deeper. "Hello, M'lady... Yes, I'll pick you up around 5:30 tomorrow... That sounds lovely, I can't wait to see you wear it... yes, the mayor knows I'm bringing someone. Just be prepared for his wife, she's bound to give you the third degree... Really? That should work... I'll see you tomorrow, M'lady." The slightly goofy smile on his face lingered as he hung up the phone. Only the sight of the packet on the desk banished it away.

three hours later, across town

A man sat in the shadows, a small desk lamp directing light onto his work. A cell phone by his elbow rang. Opening it up, the hoarse, accented voice of the watcher answered, "Yes? Then I have the final go-ahead?" He laid down the tiny screwdriver he held as he listened to the message. Piles of colorful wires, plastic squares, and electronic bits surrounded the laptop on the table. "Yes, by tomorrow night... Is the list of targets accurate?" He turned over the small object he held. It was a decorative tag with the name, 'Police Commissioner Craig Mathews', printed in fancy letters. "It will be done." Clicking off the phone, the man leaned forward into the circle cast by the lamp. "Just as soon as I neutralize my adversary."

Next afternoon, Major Crimes

Detective Blair Sandburg closed the folder containing the crime scene photos and rubbed his eyes. This was the one part of his job he really hated. The aftermath of one person's violence against another could be gruesome, especially when committed with a semi-automatic. He was so glad they had arrested the three perps yesterday. He just wished he didn't have to look at the forensics photos again to write up the report. There was no way he could ever be able to view a bloody scene as dispassionately as his friend. He glanced at his partner sitting at the next desk over. The tight grip on the pencil and the clenched jaw reminded the younger man that Detective James Ellison wasn't as unfeeling as he could appear. Jim simply had learned how to deal with it in a controlled manner.

Feeling the glance, Jim raised his head to meet his partner's eyes. "How you doing, Chief?"

"Okay," Blair shrugged. "Just glad to have this one done. I still can't believe those jerks would open fire on a scared kid who accidentally dumped his drawer on the floor instead of their sack." The younger man looked away, shaking his head at the inhumanity of it all.

His own temper flaring briefly, Jim clenched his jaw and exhaled out his nose. Once back in control, he pulled out another file. "We did solve it, thanks to your idea of tracking the burning oil from their getaway car at the last robbery scene." Jim secretly hoped reminding Blair of his senses would ease the horror from the young detective's eyes.

It worked. Blair managed to give Jim a smile as he commented, "Yeah, but it was you who did the tracking. It was so great to see the expressions on their faces when we all yelled, 'Freeze, Cascade PD'."

Jim chuckled, though he noted the tired expression on his partner's face. It had been less than a week since the shaman from Botswana had disappeared. While Jim's gut told him that Nya was dead, it was hard to confirm without a body. Blair especially had taken it hard, feeling there should have been something they could have done to protect the elderly guide. The Quick Liquor case with a shot-up young man hadn't helped. Studying his friend, Jim quietly suggested, "Hey Chief, we've been at this a while. Why don't you take a break?"

"Okay." Blair scooped up his mug by the handle. Walking around their desks, he then glanced into Jim's cup. "You want some coffee?"

"Sure." Jim handed his mug over, head bowing back down over the file.

When Blair returned, he paused a foot from his partner's desk, hands holding the mugs of steaming coffee. The dark scowl on Jim's face as he listened to a caller didn't bode well. Wondering if something had gone wrong with their case, Blair quietly placed one of the mugs to the right of his friend and sat down in a nearby chair.

"Can't you give me anything more, Ted?... The potential list of targets is huge... Yeah, I appreciate the heads up... Yeah, thanks." Jim hung up the phone and ran his hands over his face.

"What's up, Jim?" Blair inquired. "Something wrong?"

After a heavy exhale, Jim softly suggested, "Let's go into Simon's office, so I don't have to repeat this."

"That was so NOT reassuring," Blair muttered as he followed the taller man to their captain's office. Knocking on the door, Jim walked in on Simon Bank's gruff, 'enter', Blair on his heels.

"What's up? Nothing wrong with the Quick Liquor murder case, I hope?" Simon asked worriedly.

"No sir," Jim replied. "I just received a phone call from an old associate."

"Old, as in 'covert ops' old?" Blair asked, remembering the last time one of Jim's covert ops friends came into town. Jim had disappeared, Blair had been shot at and chased, and a close friend had nearly died. In short, an experience the young man did not want to repeat.

"Yes. Apparently, he's heard there's a hired assassin in Cascade."

Simon nearly spilled his coffee. "What? Who's the target? What's the motive?"

Jim shrugged. "No one knows, except it's someone who was once one of the elite and trying to get back into the game. Ted said it's barely more than rumor, but he wanted to pass it on in case there's something to it."

"So all we have is that there's an unknown assassin after an unknown target in Cascade?" Simon stared at Jim incredulously.

"A once very GOOD unknown assassin after an unknown target," Jim clarified.

"That doesn't give us much to work with," Blair commented thoughtfully. "What do we do?"

"About all we can do is come up with a list of potential targets and warn them," Simon replied with a shake of his head. "But I'll get Taggart to do it. I want you two to concentrating on finishing up your current case. Committed murders are a higher priority than maybe murders."

"Yes, sir," Jim replied, shepherding his partner out the door.

As they walked back to their desks, they passed Simon's office manager, Rhonda. She gave both detectives a sunny smile, practically humming as she tapped on her keyboard. "Man, she sure is in a good mood," Blair commented.

"Probably another date with 'C.M.'," Jim replied.

Before Blair could begin another round of guessing whom Rhonda's mystery man was, his phone rang. "Detective Sandburg. Yes, patch him through." He quickly mouthed 'possible connection to Nya' to Jim before focusing his attention back to the phone. "Yes sir, I've met Nyajiru. You have a message from him for me?" He flashed a puzzled look to his partner. "When did you get this letter?... What's the date on it?... Okay, could you bring it to the station this afternoon?... No, I understand. My partner and I will come to you..." Blair swiftly scribbled down an address. "How about in an hour?... Thank you, Mr. Khawaja."

While resisting the urge to eavesdrop, Jim was still anxious to hear what it was about. "Something about Nya?"

"Yep. A Mr. Khawaja said he had received a letter from Nya, and wants to pass some of it on to me."

Jim frowned. "How does he know Nya? I didn't think he knew anyone in the area."

Blair shrugged. "Apparently, it is postmarked a couple of weeks ago. Mr. Khawaja said he had met Nya on a trip through Botswanna years ago. However, Nya had an old, Canadian address for him, so this letter was late getting to him."

"I don't like the sound of this, Chief. We still don't know what happened to Nya."

"I know, but maybe this letter could give us a clue. We've got to check up on it."

Jim sighed. "Okay, but why can't this Mr. Khawaja bring it to us?"

Blair sighed. "Because the guy said he doesn't drive, and his health is too poor to stand around for a bus in this damp weather. Sounds like he's pushing a hundred, so figured the least we could do was to go to him."

Jim still didn't like the sound of it, but knew Blair would go alone if Jim refused to join him. "Let's go, Chief."

South side

The address Mr. Khawaja had provided was near an abandoned factory. The once tidy row of homes now displayed broken shutters, peeling paint, and yards filled with more dried weeds than grass. The gloom of the overcast day only added to the atmosphere of despair that hung over the neighborhood like an unhealthy fog.

"Man, I can't believe how fast everyone pulled out of here once the factory closed," Blair commented as he drove. "This was once a nice neighborhood full of families. But when all the old employees moved away, the property values plummeted. Now, it's mostly the elderly and working poor living here." Blair parked in front of a two-story house that had definitely seen better days.

"In amongst the crack houses and thieves," Jim commented as he cautiously scanned the area. He unfolded his long frame out of Blair's Volvo, alert for any sign of trouble that may be lurking behind the untended homes. Blair looked about in dismay, then studied his car a moment. "Do you think it's safe here?"

His partner barely spared him a glance as he continued his surveillance. "We're police officers. We're supposed to be able to take care of ourselves."

Blair rolled his eyes. "No, not for us. For my car."

Now Jim rolled his eyes. "I doubt any self-respecting thief would look twice at this bucket of bolts."

"Hey!" Blair interrupted, not liking the insult to his classic.

"And even if they did, it's so slow we could catch them on foot."

"It's not that bad!" Blair protested. Jim simply raised an eyebrow. "Okay, so it breaks down a lot, but it's not that slow."

Jim shook his head as he walked towards the house, hunching his shoulders as the mist thickened into a light rain. "Whatever you say, Chief. As soon as my truck's out of the shop, you won't have to worry about it."

"That would certainly solve the problem," Blair retorted as he followed his partner, "If we'd brought your truck, we would have had to bribe the thieves into stealing it."

Jim was about to defend his beloved 'sweetheart' when a twinge on his sentinel radar made him pause on the bottom porch step.

Blair trotted to catch up, noticing the frown on the sentinel's face. "What's up, Jim?"

"I'm not sure. Something's bothering me, but I don't know what."

"Do you smell something? Hear something?"

Nostrils flaring, Jim tried to latch on to a faint lingering odor with little success. "A scent. But it's gone now. I can't identify it."

"With the rain, that's not too surprising." Blair ran a hand over his hair, trying to brush off the water droplets before they could soak in.

"Yeah, it's probably nothing." Jim knocked on the front door as Blair dodged a spot where rain leaked through a hole in the porch roof.

A hoarse voice with a slight accent called out, "Come in."

Jim opened the door with a mental frown, concerned about an unlocked door in this neighborhood. The two detectives stepped inside, glancing around the plain entryway. A threadbare rug lay in the center of a wooden floor; the light green pattern had once been a match for the dingy walls. On the right was a small hallway. Jim glanced down the narrow corridor as his partner walked further into the entryway. The older detective spotted a set of stairs at the end, presumably leading to the basement. The voice carried from a room on the left. "Please come to the parlor."

Without explanation, the hair on the back of Jim's neck rose as his muscles tightened. Senses going into full alert, Jim reached out towards his partner. "Wait a min..."

Blair, standing on the rug a couple of steps ahead, was starting to turn back when the floor beneath him disappeared. "JIM!" he shouted as he fell. Barely hearing his partner's returning shout, Blair was suddenly shooting down a slide to the floor below. He tumbled off the end onto several blankets, triggering a dart. Dazed from the hard landing, Blair was pulling at the object biting into his shoulder before he fully realized something was there. He groggily stared at the needle in his hand for a moment before his eyes rolled back into his head and he fell face first to the thin mat beneath him.

"BLAIR!" Jim shouted as his partner disappeared from view. He dropped to the floor where his friend had been moments earlier, only to discover the concealed trap door was back in place. He pounded on it for a moment, but couldn't get it to dislodge. Remembering the stairs, the sentinel jumped to his feet and raced to the hallway. Halfway to his goal, he was suddenly bombarded with flashing strobe lights. A thought tried to break through the sensory curtain, but it was too late. Jim was trapped in a zone.

In another room of the house, a lean figured stared at a bank of monitors. One screen showed Ellison, standing in the hallway, his face slack and unresponsive. Another showed Sandburg, face down and not moving. "My research has paid off, Ellison. Now I can complete my assassinations without your interference." The man stood up, collected his jacket from the back of the chair, then limped out the door.

Major Crimes

Inspector Megan Connor handed a thick folder to Rhonda. "Here's that report for the Captain." She glanced at the other woman, noting the good mood and the smile threatening to burst across her face. "Ah, another night out with Sir Galahad?"

Rhonda blushed, glancing around to check that they were alone. "Yes, we're going to The Skylight for the Alzheimer's Support fundraiser."

"Isn't that the new fancy restaurant downtown?" Megan asked as she perched on the chair near Rhonda's desk. "It's supposed to be magnificent."

"Yes," Rhonda nodded. "Though I'm a bit nervous about going."

"Whatever for?"

"It's the first time I've gone to a public function with him, with a much higher class of people than I'm use to."

Megan took in the atmosphere of Major Crimes, noting Henri Brown in his torn T-shirt and a uniform officer wrestling a suspect dressed in leather and jeans into a chair. "Considering this bunch, a higher class would be easy to find."

"But Megan," Rhonda glanced around again and leaned forward, "This is a high priced charity function with THE MAYOR! And his WIFE! What on earth do I say to them?"

Megan hid her smile with a shrug. "Lovely party. Lovely dress. When will the rain stop? All the usual subjects ought to work."

"But what are they going to think of me? I'm just a secretary."

"Rhonda, anyone who can handle Captain Banks and keep up with THIS department is not 'just a secretary'. I was told when I came here that Major Crimes is the elite. That makes you elite, too."

Rhonda only looked more concerned. "I'm not sure that's how the mayor's wife will look at it. And what if it hits the papers? What are the guys going to think? What's the Captain going to think?"

Chuckling, Megan pointed out, "You'll make Ellison richer." At Rhonda's blank stare, Megan explained, "He'll win the 'Who is Rhonda's C.M.?' pool."

Rhonda simply shook her head. "I'll never live this down, you know."

Megan leaned forward and stared into her eyes. "It doesn't matter what they think. It doesn't matter what the mayor's wife thinks. What matters is if you think your knight is worth it."

Rhonda nodded. "He's worth it."

"Then go enjoy your evening. Besides, what are the chances that any of these lads would even hear or care about a high society charity function?" Just then, Rafe walked by, dressed neatly in a nice suit and tie. Megan and Rhonda followed him with their eyes, then looked at each other. "Okay, I withdraw the question."

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