Once they got the bear delivered to the zoo veterinarians, the four men waited for word on the animal's injuries. Both Nikolai and Doug ended up in the treatment room, Nikolai to handle his bear, who didn't take kindly to the strangers working on his injured paws, and Doug, to translate. Once they were informed that the bear would be all right, but that it would take several hours to repair the damage to his front paws, Jim pulled out his phone and called their captain.


"Yeah, Captain, we got the bear to the zoo, it's gonna be several hours until they're through fixing up his paws. They said it was definitely a dog attack. We only noticed how badly his front paws were, but he has some nasty gashes on his butt and hind legs, too. I'm leaving Roberts here with Nikolai to help with Gregori, and Sandburg and I are on our way back. After we stop to replenish Jackson' supply of dog treats. We had to use them to get Gregori into the truck."

"Good. Dan came out and took a look at the body. He agreed with you. The claw marks were made with some sort of club. He says he'll have more to tell us after the post mortem. Did Cassie have anything to say about the scene?"

"Not really, only that she had a radio and would call when they were through. Haven't you heard from them, yet? It's been a couple of hours, I'd have thought that they were finished by now. There wasn't that much at the scene."

"Haven't heard a word. I'll send someone up to check on them. We're almost through here, although we still need a decent translator," he lowered his voice. "Remind me, next time, to tell Conner 'no' when she volunteers her 'abilities' as a 'translator', would you?"

"That bad, eh, Sir?" Jim chuckled.

"Worse. She said something that so offended these people that they've all gone into their trailers and locked themselves in. And we're still waiting on a 'real' translator." His sigh was easily audible through the phone, "Anyway, I'll wait for you and after you give Jackson back his car; we can wait around for the translator and maybe get some answers from these people."

"Do you want me to bring Doug and Nikolai back with us? They can at least communicate, and Gregori is going to be out for hours, while they work on him. It might help, in the long run, keep him focused on something else besides his bear."

There were several seconds of silence while his captain considered... finally, "Well, you can ask them. If he's willing to help; it could really save us all some time. Besides, he might be able to get the others to talk to us, since you helped him find and rescue his bear, and we could really use the help."

"I'll ask them. At any rate, we should be there within half an hour."

"Good deal, Jim. I'll see you when you get here. Now, to find out what's taking Wells so long..."

Jim chuckled dryly and disconnected his cell phone, slipping it into his pocket. Looking across the waiting room at the worried Russian and the patient patrolman, he sauntered over and made his request. Doug, understanding that it would serve both as help for the police and a distraction for the distraught bear trainer, translated, doing his best to convince the worried Nikolai to help them.

The little man nodded, understanding. He thought to himself about the request. Certainly the only thing that he could do here was worry about his Gregori. At least helping these men would serve to distract him and would go a long way towards repaying the debt he felt he owed them for their help with his pet; for despite Gregori's great size and strength, Nikolai knew in his heart what a gentle creature the bear was. Besides, he still felt that his bear was accused of murder, and he knew that the animal was innocent. He nodded and agreed to help them.

Jim passed the information of how to contact them to the receptionist and then led the way out to the vehicle to return to the fairgrounds.

Simon Banks was annoyed. He'd sent Cassie Wells with two of her technicians up to the area where his detectives had tracked the missing bear. She wasn't answering the radio and he was beginning to get concerned. Pulling out his cell phone, he tried again. No answer. Savagely punching the end button, he shoved the cell in his jacket pocket. Looking around, he spotted one of the other forensics technicians and headed over toward him.

"Have you heard from Wells?" he snapped. The man looked up at him in surprise. "No, not since she, Sam, and Charlie left with your people for that other site. She should be back by now, shouldn't she?"

"Yeah, she should," Simon muttered. Looking around, he caught the eye of the patrol sergeant and motioned her over. Taking her aside, he explained his dilemma. The sergeant nodded in understanding and used her radio to send one of the units up to check on the overdue forensics people.

As he listened to the various preliminary reports from the different groups, he started to put the events together. Even without talking to the circus people, it looked as though whoever it was who wanted to buy the circus was most likely behind the murder. The main question of 'why?' was one he was looking forward to discovering the answer to. He looked up, relieved to see Ellison and company returning. He couldn't stop the grin that blossomed into a full blown smile when he saw Jackson's dog's reaction to the smell of the bear in his truck. The dog was going nuts, practically vacuuming the four men before jumping in the back and searching for the bear. He waited patiently for them to join him.

"No one's heard from Cassie. One of the units is headed up to check on them. It's possible that they're out of radio or cell range..."

"I managed to call out, Simon," Blair reminded him. They exchanged worried glances, then refocused on their need to question the circus people about what they knew about their victim. While his detectives did their job, Simon returned to his car and retrieved Daryl, who was fuming. Simon was unrepentant, however. He wasn't at all sorry to have protected his son from the vision of the dead man. Now that the body had been removed, there was no more reason to keep his son from the scene. Of course, he was now saddled with his sullen, pouting child. He chose to ignore him, determining that that was his safest course.

Both Doug Roberts' and Nikolai's communications skills were tested to the max. With the bear trainer translating from Russian to Polish, and Doug translating from Polish to English, both men were struggling, uncertain of their abilities. The fact that Nikolai told his colleagues of the great help the policemen had given him in locating and getting help for his Gregori went a long way towards friendly relations. Even to the point where those who spoke English were willing to talk to the officers.

Jim, Blair, Doug, and Nikolai started their questioning with the circus owner, Alexia Korsekova. Her family had been in the circus business for ten generations. When asked about the man who wanted to buy her circus, she became agitated. According to the translators, and since it had to pass through an extra translation, there was no telling what was getting lost.

From what they were able to gather, the man attempting to buy them out was well known in the smaller circus circles as someone who would buy a circus, disband it, then sell the animals, either to collectors or, far more often, to hunting clubs, where the members would pay large sums to be able to hunt down and kill the semi-tame creatures. Most popular were the big cats, elephants, and bears. The Korsekova circus had three Siberian Tigers, four lions, two leopards, two elephants, and the bear, as well as a dozen horses, a dog act, and even a parrot act.

"Are the animals healthy?" Jim asked. Doug repeated the question and Nikolai didn't even bother to translate for Alexia. He simply insisted that they come with him and see the animals for themselves. Realizing that he had probably insulted them, Jim shrugged at his companions and followed. Along the way, they picked up half a dozen other members of the troup. Arriving at the animal compound, the first thing Jim noticed was the smell. Despite the large number of animals, the odors associated with them were minimal. Obviously, the handlers kept things clean.

The animal cages were twenty foot long cargo containers. The sides were canvas, so they could be lowered for protection from the weather. The sides were heavy plexiglass, with numerous four-inch holes cut in them for ventilation. There was even air conditioning and heating that would hook up to the power from the semi-truck that would haul them, and would run off of generators if needed. The weather was mild enough that the equipment wasn't even set up.

Blair approached the leopard cage. The comparitively small leopards stared back at him, indolently flicking their tails as they lounged in the deep layer of cedar shavings that lined their container. There was a large child's wading pool at one end, filled with sand, obviously intended as a giant cat-box, and a large bushel bucket filled with water.

"What do they eat?" Blair asked, as the black leopard shifted slightly to sniff them through one of the air holes.

Doug repeated the question, and Nikolai took them to a refrigerated truck nearby. Opening the doors, they could see several racks, some filled with wrapped packages of meat, and on the floor were more than a dozen bags of commercial cat food. Nikolai explained how the big cats were given dry cat food free choice during the night, and after the final performance of the day, were given a treat of fresh meat. Sometimes beef, sometimes horse, all depending on what they had on hand at the time.

Ms. Korsekova explained that their animals were the mainstay of their show, and that if they weren't well cared for, then the people would not make any money. The better their animals looked, the better they all did. Any animal act that didn't care for their animals properly would quickly find themselves out of a job. Of course, every animal act in the Korsekova Circus was led by one of Alexia's relatives; her uncle had the big cats, her daughter had the horses, her cousin, Nikolai, had the bear. Her sister had the dogs, and her brother the elephants. The other acts, the acrobats, trapeze and high wire artists, and some of the clowns, were hired. But they were still 'family' in the tradition of circus and carnivals for generations.

Alexia closed the container door and latched it, then turned to lead them back to the animals. She explained how each member of her troup helped care for the animals, whether they were involved with them during performances or not. This was a tightly knit community and they didn't like outsiders. They didn't trust the authorities, especially the police. However, they also knew that they were automatically considered untrustworthy and dishonest. She was certain that none of her people were involved with the murder of the stranger, but she didn't expect them to take her word for it, so she would tell everyone to answer their questions.

The double translation took a great deal of time, but everyone was being very patient. Returning to the animals' area, they were taken on a complete tour. The lions consisted of one obviously elderly male and his harem. When they looked, two of the females were grooming the male, while the third one slept. Her swollen belly giving every indication that she was close to giving birth.

"When is she due?" Blair asked, watching the big cats closely.

Doug eventually answered the question with "Soon. That's the best I can make out. They're sayin' stuff about gestation periods, I think, but 'soon' is close enough."

"Yeah, it is," Blair replied, grinning. "What about the tigers?"

They were led to the next cage, where the three tigers were kept. Again, there was only one male, with two very obviously pregnant females.

"What happens to the babies?" Jim asked. It seemed that there was another part of the circus that didn't travel. They were set up on a farm in Idaho, where there were few restrictions on the keeping of wild animals, although they had all the proper permits. There, the rest of the family cared for, raised, and trained the young beasts for their future lives in the circus.

Leading the questions back to the dead man and the man who wanted to buy them out, Jim pressed for more information. Eventually, he got a name of the erstwhile buyer, a phone number, and, finally, a business card. By the time the 'real' translator showed up, they had gotten pretty much everything available from the circus troupe.

They still ended up with more questions than answers. No one knew who the dead man was. Or at least if they did, they weren't talking. Everyone knew about the man who had been pestering them to sell, but he hadn't been around in several weeks, now. The crumpled business card identified the buyer, but it didn't really look promising.

The circus had been forced to cancel the first, but the two o'clock performance would go on as planned, although without Gregori's act. Since they were still there, Simon, Daryl, Jim, Blair, and Megan decided to stay and watch. Doug Roberts, who had worked the graveyard shift and taken the call just before end of shift, had finally gotten off, only to return to see the show, himself. Jim spotted him, sitting with Nikolai, across from them. He grinned and pointed him out to his companions.

Daryl was still sullen and fuming. Simon had given up on trying to explain his actions and was sitting angrily next to his son, arms crossed and obviously upset. Megan had tried a couple of times to intervene, only to be rebuffed by both Banks'. After the second try, she gave up, moving to the opposite end of the row to escape the frosty atmosphere. Jim nudged his partner and gestured for him to do something, anything, to ease the impasse. Sighing, Blair tapped Daryl on the shoulder.



"If I tell you something, will you believe me?"

Daryl, taken by surprise, turned to the smaller man and blinked, his brow furrowing down in a frown. "Sure. You know I believe you, don't you?"

"Just checking. What I wanted to tell you was, this was one of those times I wished I was still an observer. I'd have loved to have been told to 'stay in the car, Sandburg,' but that's not going to happen any more. Even though there are times Jim wants to say it, and that I don't want to do things, it's my job, now, and I can't avoid certain things."

"What things?" Daryl asked, disarmed and intrigued by his friend's words and tone.

"Well, I really could have done without seeing the dead guy. He was really messed up, man. I'll admit that I'm getting better, but I still had to fight the urge to hurl when I saw him." He glanced past the young man to Simon, whose body language had relaxed just a bit as he listened to them. "In fact, even your dad had a hard time with it. I could tell. He gets this weird shade of purple, and his face gets all pinched, and he took off his glasses so he couldn't see as well. Trust me, man, this was really messy. You were much better off staying in the car and getting bored."

"Yeah, but man you guys left me there forever," the whine crept back into his voice.

"Daryl, you were there for less than two hours. Just until the body was removed. I'm not going to say that it was for your own good. In fact, if you'd gone with us, you'd most likely have contaminated the scene, making everyone's job harder."

"What do you mean? I know how to stay out of the way, man! And I wouldn't have contaminated anything..."

"Daryl," his father interrupted the burgeoning tirade, "I almost threw up. And that would have contaminated the scene," he said softly. "It was bad, son. You really didn't need to see that. I wish you'd just believe me, but I can't force you to." Simon looked across the tent at the opening where the circus people were preparing to enter and start the show. He really hoped this was worth it, but he had his doubts.

"He's right, Daryl," Jim added from the other side of Sandburg. "To be perfectly honest, I'm wishing we'd never heard of this circus. I could have slept in and not even heard anything about it until Monday morning when I got to work, someone else would have caught it instead of me and I wouldn't be wondering what kind of person would commit a crime like this. It's messy and unreasonable and I don't like it. It doesn't make any sense to me. Eventually, with any luck, it will and we'll solve this thing, but until we do, I'm going to wonder and wish someone else had to deal with it."

Such an admission from 'Supercop' Ellison left Daryl speechless. He stared at the stoic mask of the detective and, much to his surprise, saw the cracks in the facade and had to wonder.

"But if we hadn't been here, we wouldn't have found Gregori and he'd have been blamed for killing that man, and if he'd died, no one would have thought to look any farther for the correct answer. If we'd had to use the canine unit to track the bear, someone could have gotten hurt, and Gregori would most likely have been killed. This way, we already know that he's innocent, and he's alive and will most likely be all right, eventually. He'll probably always be terrified of dogs, but that's nothing compared with being dead."

"Blair? Do you ever take a breath?" Daryl asked in amazement at the man's ability to talk so long on what seemed to be a single breath.

"He breathes through his ears, Daryl," Jim quipped with a smile as one hand patted his partner's arm to indicate no animosity.

"Hey, I was a teacher, remember?" Blair grinned, swatting Daryl's shoulder in mock annoyance.

"Oh, yeah, that's right. I forgot," Daryl deadpanned back and failed to duck the quick swat to the back of his head from Jim. "OW! Hey, what was that for?"

"Don't dis my partner," Jim growled menacingly... only to have his credibility blown away by Blair's laughter.

"Come on, guys, the show's starting..."

Despite the missing bear act, it was, surprisingly, an excellent show. The big cats were appropriately menacing when the leopards, true to their reputations for being sneaky and untrustworthy, tried to sneak up on their trainer, only to have him turn back just before the spotted one leaped for him. The audience was duly impressed, as the leopards took turns leaping through a burning hoop, followed by the tigers. The lions seemed overly laid-back, yawning their boredom. The act ended with all nine big cats laying side-by-side, with their trainer sprawled across their backs. Even though it was obvious that the different species didn't really like each other, they still accepted one another because of their trainer's insistence.

The acrobats were just as exciting, as were the high-wire and trapeze artists. The elephants were amusing and the dog act was hilarious. Particularly when the smallest 'dog' turned out to be a cat in a costume.

The clown act was the best any of them had ever seen. There were two men dressed up in a horse costume, pretending to be a trained pony act. The men were wearing baggy brown pants, with a blanket-like covering, and the fake 'horsehead'. The 'horse' would count (incorrectly) to ten. Would 'rear' up and wave to the audience, and 'gallop' around the ring, pretending to run away. The highlight was when one of the clowns got tired of the 'horse's' antics and brought out a huge blunderbus and shot the 'animal'. The audience was hysterical with laughter. When the 'horse' got up, all the clowns lined up to take their bows. One of the clowns grabbed the 'horse head' and pulled the costume off. To reveal a real pony under the costume, which made the act all the more remarkable, as the entire audience had been fooled into thinking that the 'pony' was really two men in a horse suit.

Filing out after the show, Blair, Daryl, and Megan were in front, chattering about the different acts, leaving the 'grown-ups' to bring up the rear. Simon pulled out a cigar as soon as they got outside, pausing for a moment to light up. Jim was careful to stay upwind of his friend, but waited patiently for him.

"So, Jim. What did you think of it?"

"I'm probably not the right person to ask, Simon. This is the first circus I've ever been to," Jim replied quietly, gazing after their companions.

"You're kidding, right?"

"No, sir. This is the first circus I've ever been to."

Simon stared but, seeing the tightness around his friend's eyes, refrained from saying anything, simply patting the shorter man on the shoulder, sympathetically. "Well, I'm happy to say that was one of the best circuses I've ever seen. That pony act -- that was great."

Jim grinned. "Yeah, I liked that part, especially the way everyone gasped when it was revealed to be a real pony."

"It was good when I thought it was a couple of guys in a horse suit, but to have it turn out to be a real pony, that was definitely the highlight, for me."

"I liked the cat in the dog suit, myself," Jim murmured.

Simon laughed, "Yeah, that was good, too. Frankly, I liked the whole show. I'd have liked to see what the bear does, but obviously, that's out of the question."

"Yeah. Do we have the itinerary for them? Where are they supposed to go, next?"

"It's in the car. Why? Looking for something in particular?"

"No, just curious. I think I'd like to take a look at the other places they've visited, see if there are any trends. Just covering all the bases."

"Jim, despite what you may think, this is supposed to be your day off, relax. It will all be waiting for you on Monday."

"Yeah, but what if there are other connected crimes? I don't know. I just have a feeling..."

Simon stared hard at his companion, then started walking after the rest of their group, nodding. "I'm not going to tell you not to do anything, you do what you need to. Just keep me informed, all right?"

"Yes, sir. Oh, what was wrong with Cassie?"

Simon's expression turned grim. "I don't know. We sent a patrol car up to check on them, but there was no one at the site," he shook his head, annoyed, "Her van is gone from the parking lot, though, so I rather suspect she's off doing her usual 'investigation'."

"I hope so. I'm a bit concerned about those dogs. Was the dog still there?"

"No, I figured that she came back, got her van, drove up there, picked up her people and the dog and went back to the lab, or wherever she felt she needed to go."

"She should have called in, left a message, or something."

"Yeah, she should have. And she's going to hear from me about it, formally."

"I'll leave that in your more than capable hands, Sir." Jim grinned.

"Come on. Let's catch up to the children. And go get something to eat! We missed both breakfast and lunch, and I'm starving!"

With all the excitement, they had all forgotten about eating. Now that it was late afternoon, the five starving people headed back to town, stopping at a Denny's along the way. They limited their conversation to the circus performance, leaving the case alone for the time-being. The pony/clown act was the basis for most of their discussion, as they tried to decide how the animal could have been trained so well that everyone was fooled. Naturally, they were unable to come to any conclusions, but it was an innocuous topic and one they could all equally participate in.

Finally, their hunger assuaged and lingering over dessert and coffee, the conversation turned to the case. Jim expressed his misgivings that the man trying to buy the circus was involved. Even though he had found a silver button matching description given by the circus people, he didn't feel that the man was involved with their victim. There was something else at work here, all his instincts were screaming that he was missing something, but he had no idea what it might be.

Megan cocked her head, thinking. "You don't suppose that the buyer and the murder are a coincidence, do you?"

"Well, unless one of his other 'clients' wanted the bear for a hunt, and for added excitement decided to just steal him and hunt him from the circus... no. I can't buy that. There's something else at work, here. I just don't know what it is."

"Stop trying to force it, Jim," Blair soothed. "Try and relax, that's when it will come to you."

Sighing, Jim pushed his empty pie plate away, "Yeah, you're probably right. There's just something..." he grimaced and shook his head. "So, are we ready to go?"

Simon snagged the check before Jim could reach for it, and slid from the booth. "Yeah, I've got it, Jim. I'll meet you at the car." Before he could get his wallet out, Blair had pulled his and left money for the tip, then nudged his partner to get out so the rest of them could get up.

The trip home was quiet. Daryl was dozing, and the others were busy mulling over the case. Stopping in front of the loft, Simon softly said, "Unless you think of anything important, I don't want you going in tomorrow, understand?"

"Yes, sir," Jim replied, Blair mumbling his own assent. Simon watched until he was sure the two men were inside their building before taking off to drop Megan at her apartment before going home, himself.

They were quiet, neither one having much to say. Both men were withdrawn into themselves, sorting through the information, trying to come up with some sort of basis for an hypothesis. Blair turned on the evening news. The murder was mentioned, but there wasn't much real information. Not even the idea that the man had been killed by an animal. That was good, actually. It wouldn't hurt the circus and the missing bear act wouldn't be noticed, hopefully. There was a later story, however, that drew Jim's attention. It was a story about a nearby county, where ranchers were having problems with animal mutilations. As he listened, something clicked in his mind and he was quickly reaching for the phone and dialing. Blair watched him with interest.

"Yeah, I need the number for the Sheriff's office, uh, Whatcom County, the city of Diablo. Thanks." He fumbled for something to write on, only to have Blair shove a pen in his hand and lay a pad of paper in front of him. Smiling his thanks, Jim wrote down the number.

"What's in Diablo?" Blair asked.

Jim jerked his head toward the television. "Those livestock mutilations. That's what this case reminds me of. I just want to ask them a couple of questions... Yeah, who is this? Deputy Wickham? Yeah, my name's Jim Ellison, I'm a detective with the Cascade PD... yeah. You have? Really? Oh, well the reason I called was that I just saw the news report on your problem and was wondering a couple of things. Maybe you can answer my questions?" he grimaced at Blair as he listened. "Uh huh. You do, huh? OK, well, if you could have someone call me Monday morning? I'm sure you'd prefer looking up the number for yourself... yeah, thanks." He set the receiver in the charger with just a bit more force than absolutely necessary.

"He didn't believe you?" Blair asked blandly.

"She said she has to check with the chief deputy and the sheriff himself before giving out any information."

"She knew who you were, though." Blair asked, tilting his head to the side, grinning.

"Well, sort of. She'd heard of me, but I doubt if she believed me. Probably thought I was some kind of reporter, looking for an angle." He grinned, "She's going to have her boss call me at the station Monday morning..."

"Don't be too hard on her, man. You can't ever tell when you might need a friend someplace."

Jim's grin widened, "Well, right now I need information, not friends. Although, she had a nice enough voice."

"And you call me a table leg?" Blair laughed, tossing a pillow at his friend. Jim laughed too, returning the pillow, right in Blair's face. Blair snatched up all the pillows on the couch and started throwing them at his roommate, who threw them right back, until both men ran out of breath from laughter.

"OK, OK, man. Enough. You're still the biggest, baddest man in the loft," Blair finally gasped out.

Jim bounced one last pillow off Blair's head and growled, "And don't you forget it."

Monday morning found them stopping off down in the basement at the morgue to see if Dan Wolf had managed to get anything yet. They knew that the odds were against them. After all, Dan had weekends off, too, but Jim was anxious and wanted some specific questions answered.

Stepping into the outer office, they caught Dan just as he sat down with a fresh cup of coffee. He looked up at them and grinned. "Right on time. Help yourselves," he gestured towards the coffee maker. "I suppose you want the results on your John Doe?"

"If you have anything, yet. Have you even started?" Jim replied with a chagrined smile of his own.

"Got started about an hour ago. Got a little information, but not much, yet. I'm soaking the fingers so I can try and get some prints," seeing Blair turn green, he quickly added, "They're still attached. I do have some things to show you that might be of interest, if you like?"

"I'd like," Jim replied. Blair took a heavy swallow of his coffee and nodded his assent. Dan raised his eyebrows in surprise, but opened a drawer in his desk and removed an object, tossing it to the surprised Sandburg.

"What's this?" Blair asked in confusion as he stared at the small cobalt blue jar. "Vick's Vapo Rub?" He raised his puzzled face to look at the coroner.

"Yeah, something I learned at that seminar I went to last month in Hawaii. You dab a little on your upper lip, then, all you can smell is the Vick's, not anything in there," he waved a hand toward the exam room. "Give it a try. I tried it last week with that floater, worked like a charm."

Blair glanced at the two men, wondering if they were pulling his leg, but seeing only sincerity on their countenances, he shrugged and opened the jar, scooped out a bit and dabbed it on his lip, immediately grimacing at the overpowering odor of menthol. "Oh, man. I guess so. Whew! This stuff is strong!"

"Yeah, but if it works, that's all I care about," Dan said as he rose and led the way into the exam room.

The John Doe was laid out on the table, most of the body covered by a sheet. The arms were extended out to the sides, propped up on small, rolling tray-tables, the hands wrapped in special wrappings and soaking in some sort of liquid solution. Seeing the curiosity on their faces, Dan explained.

"I'm soaking the hands to soften the skin so I can pull the fingertips back together and try and get some prints. Some of the fingers are pretty badly chewed, but I'm hoping to salvage at least the thumbs and index fingers, so that maybe we can get an ID on him. I already checked with missing persons, and he doesn't fit any of their descriptions."

"Thanks, Dan. You said you had something interesting to show us?" Jim asked.

"Yeah. Here, let me show you." He pulled the sheet from the corpse and started to fold it. Blair took a sharp breath and held it for a moment, then let it go, softly. His jaw was clenched, but so far, there was nothing to alarm him, except the naked dead man covered with savage bite and claw marks.

"I don't know if you noticed, but there wasn't much blood at the scene?" Dan began. Both detectives nodded in agreement, even though neither had particularly noticed it at the scene. "Well, that was my first intimation that the man wasn't killed there. He was found laying on his left side, right?" again, the nods of agreement. "Well, according to the lividity, he was killed and placed on his right side for some time. Notice the slight discoloration on the right side? That's the lividity. As a body lies after death, the remaining blood pools to the lowest portion of the anatomy. Once it does, it stays there. I suspect that he was placed in the trunk of a car and transported to the scene."

"That's why it was so clean. What disturbance was on the ground wasn't from a struggle, but simply from getting the body properly placed," Jim agreed. "What else do you have for us?"

"Well, the claw marks. I took a good look at them, and while at first glance they look very much like a normal bear swipe, if you look closely, you'll see that not only are the angles wrong, see here? Where the blow came up from below? Like someone swinging a bat, or a tennis racket? That angle couldn't have come from a bear. Bears generally strike down and across, like this." He stepped back from the body and demonstrated, raising his hands to shoulder level and reaching out to strike, perfectly mimicking the normal way a bear will strike when standing. "And if the bear were on all fours, he'd only take out the legs, not the torso. A bear in attack mode will almost always stand on its hind legs. This was some sort of club, specifically designed to make us think that a bear did this. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the claws are actually from a bear, but this was done by one or more people, and from the angles... I can't tell you whether it's a woman or a man. Sorry."

"But it could be either?" Blair asked. "Do you have any guess on size of the assailant?"

Dan looked at the younger detective, a bit sadly, as he noticed how the cop vernacular was taking firmer hold in his vocabulary. "Five foot six to six foot tall. Don't forget, there could be more than one of them."

"What about the bites?"

"Well, I was hoping that Cassie had gotten back with the dead dog I heard you found, but she hasn't, yet. I'm wondering where she put the animal. It's gotta be starting to smell, by now. However, the marks are definitely in line with a large dog, like a Rottweiler. Definitely a short- muzzled dog, Rottweiler, Mastiff, St. Bernard, something like that. I'll get started on the rest of the autopsy in a while. Would one of you be willing to give me a hand with trying to get the fingerprints? The rest of my crew don't come in until eight-thirty, and I'm sure you'd like to get an ID as soon as possible?"

"Sure, I'll help, Dan," Jim agreed. "Chief, why don't you go and see if anyone's heard from Cassie, Sam, or Charlie, would you? It's not like any of them to just disappear, and all three? Not a chance."

"I'm on it," Blair immediately replied, grateful for the excuse to leave before they started to do anything more serious with the corpse. He turned and headed out to seek information on the missing forensics people.

When they got back together, up in the Major Crime Bullpen, Blair was looking worried, and Jim was on the phone. Sitting down at his desk, beside his partner, Blair checked out his notes. Hearing the tone of annoyance in Jim's voice, he turned his attention to his partner and the phone conversation.

"Yes, Deputy. I do understand why you don't want certain things to come out about your case. I have no intention of telling anyone the specifics. How about I ask you questions, and you let me know if it sounds anything like your case?" Seeing Blair's concerned gaze on him, he rolled his eyes, indicating his disgust with trying to deal with the small town Sheriff's Deputy. "Oh, that's okay? Good. Did the animals look like, at first, that a bear might have attacked them? They did? Okay. Now, were the animals also savaged by dogs? They were? Rottweilers, maybe? Yes? Good. No, I haven't been anywhere near your town in the past year. I just happen to have a dead man who fits the same M.O. That's right. A person. No, no organs were taken, but then, they were there to try and take the bear, not perform some kind of ritual sacrifice... oh, some of them were? Why aren't I surprised? Look, talk to the Sheriff and see if he's willing to send me a copy of the reports, will you? Why? Because the M.O. matches, and your animal mutilations have taken on a new aspect. What? Oh, murder. Our dead body was human... Right. You do that. Thank you for your time, Deputy Wickham." He slammed the phone down into the cradle. "Stupid..." He shifted back in his chair and raised his arms over his head in a stress relieving stretch. "So, What'd you find, Chief?"

"No one's seen Cassie or the others since you dropped them off at the scene."

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