edited by: Karen, Melanie, and Christina
Detective Jim Ellison stood very still. One by one, he went through his sensory catalogue, looking for clues--anything that might be out of place in the sprawling brownstone. His nose was unable to find any scent that didn't belong. His eyes, dilated to full, skimmed every nook and cranny of the den, searching for a stray fiber or fingerprint. Cherrywood bookcases, filled to overflowing, lined the walls. A matching cherry desk dominated the center of the room by its sheer size. In the background, Jim could hear his partner soothing Charlotte Patterson as she described what had happened. Jim half-listened as he continued his search.
The heavy front door whooshed open as Captain Simon Banks entered. The smell of his cigar wafted past Jim's nose, bringing with it an elusive scent that seemed vaguely familiar. He heard Simon walk past the door leading into the den, as his captain joined Blair and the distraught resident. Their conversation registered, but Jim's concentration was fixed on identifying the foreign scent. It wasn't exactly unfamiliar, but he couldn't place it.
"This is Captain Banks," Blair stood as he performed the introductions. "Captain, this is Charlotte Patterson."
She gave Simon a brief smile then her eyes regained their haunted expression.
"What happened?" the captain asked.
Blair could see that Mrs. Patterson was in no condition to repeat her story so he spoke for her. "Her husband, Edward Patterson, is out of town," he began.
Simon's eyebrows rose in suspicion.
"He's with Billy, skiing at Aspen," Charlotte contributed.
"Billy is--" the captain directed at her.
"He's my stepson, Ed's son by his first wife. They always go skiing the last week in January. With the college break over, the slopes are usually less crowded."
"How old is Billy?" Blair asked gently.
"Twenty. They've been doing this for several years now."
Whoever hit the house knew the routine, Blair thought, as he jotted the fact down in his notebook. "Mrs. Patterson was upstairs watching TV in bed," he added, "when they broke in."
"That's right. I heard this noise and went down to see what it was. Three men were breaking into my husband's desk. One turned and saw me. I was so scared. I turned and ran back into my bedroom, but I tripped over the stool Ed had been using to reach the top shelf in the closet. I must have hit my head," her hand rubbed the big black and blue mark on her forehead. "When I woke up, my bedroom door was open but it was quiet in the house. I called 911 right away and waited for you to get here."
"What's missing?" Captain Banks asked.
Blair answered. "The desk is in a shambles and the safe's been opened, but Mrs. Patterson says that it only contained documents from her husband's work. We won't know exactly what's missing until he returns."
"Since you got a clear look at one of the men, can you ID him?" Jim asked as he came over to them.
She gave him a peculiar look then answered hesitantly. "Yes."
Blair smiled inwardly at Mrs. Patterson's confusion. He knew that even if Jim was centered on something else, his sentinel hearing would have kept track of their conversation. She didn't possess that knowledge. "You have an idea?" Blair asked his partner.
"I think so." Jim's jaw was clenched. "Come look at this."
The sentinel hovered over an area of the carpet, his fingertips lightly tracing an invisible indentation. Blair strained his eyes as he peered downward. "What do you see?"
"Ink. Red ink."
With the aid of Jim's finger, Blair could just make out a splotch on the rug that looked like blood. The two men looked at each other and simultaneously said, "Jack Teale."
Blair felt a rush of memories as the full implication of Jim's discovery registered. Jack Teale had been involved in a warehouse robbery back in November. Technically, it hadn't been their case, but Simpson, the warehouse owner, had requested their assistance. Burglary had closed the case after the truck carrying the stolen ink had crashed, destroying the cargo. Jim had been positive that all the missing ink had not been in that particular truck, but his opinion had been ignored. Blair gazed at the red rug fiber thinking that this new lead would enable them to reopen the case.
Driving home -Cascade mountains.
Jim and Blair were on their way home from an interview. They had recently discovered that their only known suspect in the Patterson robbery had a brother living in Northwood, a small town on the edge of the Cascade Mountains. Rick Teale lived in a log cabin, complete with running water, electricity, gas and a panoramic view of the mountains. Jim had been drooling during the entire conversation. His eyes had drifted towards the window, where he could see the trees, birds and other wildlife through the glass. He had tried to hide his envy, but it must have been visible to all, judging by the commiserating pats on the back from his partner, and the snide comments from the owner. The two detectives left the cabin feeling morose. The interview had yielded nothing useful.
"Hey Jim, it must be time for supper. I vote we stop at that diner in Hamlin. They make the greatest lamb stew. Their corned beef and cabbage is also pretty good."
Jim glanced at the clock. "Alright. It'll be six by the time we get there."
"And it's already dark." There was a long pause, then Blair added quietly but with emphasis and a melodramatic shiver, "I hate winter."
"What's that?" Jim could see flashing red lights up ahead. He focused his eyes and distinguished three cars, each stopped in different angles in the middle of the road.
"What do you see?" Blair asked.
"Looks like a traffic accident. There're four sheriff patrol cars and an ambulance."
"Can you tell what happened?"
Jim slowed his truck down as they came closer. "Looks like a couple of mangled deer in the road."
"Oh, gross." Blair wrinkled his nose in distaste.
Jim pulled over and got out of the truck. Blair followed closely behind, but then turned and headed for the car wreck. Jim pulled out his badge and flashed it at the deputy standing closest to him. "Detective Ellison with the Cascade PD and that's my partner, Blair Sandburg," he said pointing to Blair's retreating back. "Can we be of any assistance?"
"Sure," the officer answered. "I'm Deputy Kurlan." His voice was heavy. "This is the fourth deer accident tonight. Last winter was so mild that the deer population has gone through the roof. I don't know what we're gonna do."
"I know what you mean. My captain's secretary hit a deer a week ago." Jim mentioned, as he helped move cones and flares for the roadblock the sheriff was trying to set up. "Luckily, she came away with only a smashed front end. Are there any fatalities?" he asked apprehensively, as he looked around at the ambulances and numerous squad cars.
"Two, in this one alone. A six-year-old kid is banged up pretty bad. I wish the county would hurry up and okay the Bait and Shoot program. But you know how those animal activists are. They don't want us killing Bambi. Guess they don't mind Bambi killing children."
"I think I saw on the news that even the town of Northwood is against the program."
"Yep. They're all stupid if you ask me."
Jim straightened his back and glanced over at Blair. He was standing by a car, talking to whoever was inside. Someone from the rescue squad was using the Jaws-of-Life to cut open the door, which was dripping with deer guts. Jim could smell the carnage from where he was standing; he could just imagine how Blair was dealing with it. Then he smiled. His partner's attention was probably so fixed on the trapped person, that he hadn't even noticed it.
Another set of headlights flashed in front of them. "Excuse me, Detective," the deputy said as he turned to redirect the incoming car.
Jim left the officer to his job and walked over to Blair. They had just gotten the car door open and the paramedic was leaning inside assessing the damage.
"Oh, man." Blair looked at him with his voice full of pity. "That lady was on her way to pick up her son at basketball practice. Now both of her legs are probably broken and all she says is thank God her son wasn't in the car. She doesn't even care about the pain she's in."
Jim nodded. "It's the damned deer. They're a real problem."
Blair's attention had drifted again. The lady had been pulled out and was being pushed on a gurney to the ambulance. Blair ran over to her and she grabbed his hand.
Jim followed sedately behind.
"Thank you, Officer. I think I might have gone crazy in there without you to talk to."
"No problem," Blair responded. "I'm glad that I was here." He squeezed her hand, then released it as the paramedics lifted her into the back of the ambulance.
"I don't think there's anything else we can do here," Jim commented as he gave the area a final look.
"Guess not," was Blair's distracted reply.
The two men watched the ambulance drive away. Then they slowly walked back to the truck. The trip back to Cascade was quiet. Each man was lost in his own thoughts. Jim pulled into the Hamlin Diner and they went in to have some dinner. There was a TV mounted on one of the walls, which was broadcasting the news.
"Look, Jim. They're showing some deer."
Jim looked behind him at the television. The announcer was describing the accidents that had happened that evening. He gave detailed accounts of the damaged cars and hurt people, while the camera showed placid deer munching grass by the side of the road.
"Can you believe that?" Jim spouted as he turned back to his dinner. "The reporter explains about the car wrecks, yet the camera shows the pretty deer."
"People don't want to see blood and guts," Blair pointed to his plate with his fork, "especially when they're eating."
"It's got nothing to do with the gory details. I haven't seen a reporter yet who would hesitate because it might shock someone. Reporters live for shock. They're just doing it to influence people's opinion," argued Jim.
"Aren't they always?" Blair responded.
"How can the general public make informed decisions when they see conflicting things on the news? One second they talk about the terrible accidents and the next they show innocent deer grazing. No wonder so many people are against the Bait and Shoot program."
"What's that?" Blair asked.
"It's the sheriff's attempt to cull the herds. They place food down and then when the deer come to eat, they shoot them."
"What! They just slaughter the poor deer as they're eating? That's horrible."
"But Chief, these are the same deer that are causing all the car accidents. Their population is too damned high and there isn't enough food up in the mountains to support the herds. That's what makes them wander down onto the roads, and into the path of oncoming cars. Like Rhonda's," Jim added, hoping to make Blair understand the severity of the situation.
"I don't care. It's slaughter. Hunting is one thing. At least the animals have a fighting chance."
"Hunting season isn't enough. The deer population has escalated in the last few years. Last year many of the deer that were seen alongside the road were starving. Let's say the mountains can support ten thousand deer, yet there are twenty thousand up there. All twenty thousand suffer. They wander out of the mountains into populated areas where they cause problems--such as the car accidents we've heard so much about."
"That's why they have hunting season," Blair was quick to respond.
"The season is too short. It's not as easy as you think. Not every hunter can bag a deer during the few short weeks they have."
"But, come on, Jim. Killing them while they're eating? It's like--cheating."
"They don't have any natural predators. Man took care of that decades ago. Now the only thing that reduces the herds is man killing them either with their vehicles or by hunting. Then there's starvation. Which is better?"
Blair didn't answer but continued to pick through his dinner.
"Another side affect," Jim continued, "is that the numerous deer endanger the environment making it harder for other species to survive."
Blair shoved his plate away from him. "I can see your point, but I can't agree with tricking the deer in close with food and then murdering them. I think I'm ready to leave." Blair withdrew his wallet and counted out what he owed for his dinner.
"Fine." Jim threw some bills alongside Blair's. What was wrong with his partner? Why couldn't he see that the Bait and Shoot program was a good alternative? Something had to be done to end the deer-car accidents.
Jim sat at his desk writing out the report concerning the questioning of Rick Teale. Blair had volunteered to go down to Records and try to find some background information on the man. Both believed that learning more about Rick might yield a clue to Jack's whereabouts. Jim's instincts were screaming that Jack was involved in the Patterson theft.
Ed Patterson had finally arrived home and informed them that the only things missing from his safe was a set of blueprints to a printing press his company had recently developed. He had been one of the designers, although his part in the project had been completed for some time. That particular machine was commercially available, although it hadn't sold very well. His open candor convinced Jim that he wasn't involved personally in the theft. Patterson remarked repeatedly that he couldn't understand the need for the blueprints. This puzzled Jim, too, but somehow it all was connected to Teale, and the missing ink--printers ink.
The sound of arguing voices caught Jim's attention. A short squat man barreled into the bullpen, waving his arms, talking boisterously, and making a general fool of himself. Two officers from Vice were trying to hold him back, but he resembled a freight train, and couldn't be stopped.
"If you can't help me, then maybe they can. I still think this is under Vice's jurisdiction, but maybe you can't handle it. Maybe I need Major Crime." The man cast his eyes around, then fixed them on Jim. Using his forward momentum, the man pushed his way towards Jim.
"Can I help you?" Jim asked politely.
The other officers rolled their eyes.
"I'll take it from here," Jim told the Vice detectives. With grateful, yet commiserating, smiles they left the bullpen.
The other man didn't give the retreating officers a moment's thought, but immediately pulled some trading cards out of his coat pocket and placed them on Jim's desk. "They're fake," he stated belligerently. "What are you going to do about it?"
Jim picked up one of the cards. "Blastoise," he read out loud.
"That card is a star and worth about fifty bucks, normally. But, if you look closely, you'll see that it's a fake."
Jim looked at it. It showed a funny looking turtle. He didn't understand.
"I can't see anything."
"That card is from the Pokemon trading game. Kids all over the world are collecting them and--"
"You deal in these cards?"
"I have a hobby shop over on Fetzner Drive. I sell the Base, Booster, Jungle, Fossil, Rocket, Gym Leader and Second Edition packs. I also have, or rather had a thriving business selling individual cards. There was a great demand for the more powerful of the Pokemon cards. Kids bring them in, sell them to me and I turn around and sell them to others. Some of them are worth pennies, but some can be worth as much as a couple hundred bucks each. A first edition foil Charizard is worth over a thousand."
"Where did you get this one?" Jim redirected, not interested in a long discussion on the value of each individual card.
"Some kid brought it in. He said he had traded for it from another kid at school. You have to stop this." The man's voice became shrill in his agitation.
"I will look into it, Mr.-" Jim tried to end the discussion, hoping to throw the card into his desk and forget about it.
"Meridith. Carl Meridith. But, I'm not done." He pulled four more cards from his breast pocket. "Look at these cards. Only one is real, the others are fake."
Jim dutifully picked them up. With only a glance they all looked the same. But, with his eyes looking for defects, they became obvious. "The paper on these three are thinner. The ink used on these cards look mostly the same, but this particular shade of green is different, somewhat lighter. The copyright printing down here on the bottom looks different." The funny monster on the card was some kind of a dragon. "Charizard?" Jim read off the top. "The thousand dollar card?" Jim asked dubiously.
"It's not a first edition, it's Unlimited. That card I normally sell for a hundred bucks or so. But now, all the kids have them. I have two genuine ones and ten fakes, and kids are coming in, sometimes ten a day trying to get me to buy their Charizards. You have to stop this nonsense or I'm gonna go out of business."
"I'll have to keep these as evidence," Jim informed him. "What's Vice done so far?"
"Nothing. They came into my shop. Interviewed a few of the kids. Then left. I called back twice and got the run-around. I'm sick and tired of no one taking this seriously. Someone is breaking the law and it's your job to stop them."
"All right," Jim gave a resigned sigh as he pulled out a pad and a pen. "Give me your name, number and the address of your store. After I check out some stuff, I'll stop by."
Satisfied, Mr. Meridith gave him the information and then peacefully walked out.
Blair walked in minutes later carrying several files. "Hey, Jim. Did you know that Rick Teale and his thieving brother, Jack, were both busted ten years ago for assault? I didn't think Rick seemed the type."
Jim shoved the trading cards out of his mind. "Let me see."
Blair set the files on his desk and Jim came over and looked over his shoulder. Blair opened to the second page, which was the rap sheet.
"It didn't stick," Jim sounded disgusted. "It says that the injured man failed to correctly identify his attacker, so both brothers were off the hook."
"Yeah, the older brother, Rick, left town, and Jack continued on a life of crime." Blair flipped a few more pages.
"Or Rick's never been implicated in another crime," Jim reminded his partner.
"Let's summarize what we know, so far." Blair pulled out his notebook and flipped a few pages. "When we investigated him last November, we found out that he had been part of a convenience store holdup, and a car jacking. His only time in jail was a result of trying to sell stolen reset jewels to an undercover fed."
"That's right and he sang like a bird and got his sentence reduced."
"Then in November," Blair continued after acknowledging Jim's comment. "We connected him to that warehouse on Holt Street with the stolen cases of ink."
"Burglary thinks all the ink was recovered, but I'm pretty sure there's more of it out there," Jim added.
Blair nodded. "Just after Christmas another warehouse was hit. Right next door," Blair told him with emphasis. "We were never notified, but the owner is the same, uh, Simpson's his name. No one was able to identify the thieves and so far nothing's been recovered."
"Now, we've got the Patterson case," Jim said thoughtfully. "What's the connection between petty holdups, stolen ink, two warehouses--both owned by the same man--and Patterson's missing blueprints?" Jim's mind was whirling with different possibilities. He headed back to his desk, thinking aloud. "I think we should question the warehouse manager again. What's his name?"
"Sean Makowsky. If I remember right, he wasn't exactly cooperative the first time. He hovered, trying to make us hurry--"
"Yeah," Jim remarked, as he absently picked up the trading cards and slid them into an evidence bag. "You had to pointedly tell him that we'd handle it."
"Did I just see you with Pokemon cards?" Blair shot over to Jim's desk and gazed incredulously at the bag. "My god, Jim! You've got four Charizard cards! You have any idea how much they're worth?"
"One's about a hundred dollars and the others are forgeries."
"They're fake?" Blair took the bag and held it up to the light, peering at it closely. "You got ripped off? How'd that happen?"
"I did not get ripped off!" Jim couldn't believe that Sandburg would think that he bought those stupid cards. Then he saw the twinkle in Blair's eyes and knew he was being teased. "It's a new case that got dumped onto our laps."
"This Pokemon thing is huge," Blair explained. "Kids of all ages spend their allowance money on cards, books about the cards, videotapes of the shows, and the two movies. It seems that every year something new catches their attention. A few years ago it was Beanie Babies, before that it was the Power Ranger Zords. Kids in today's society--"
"In my day, we had GI Joe's, Comic Books and baseball cards. Now those are worth a lot of money today. I bet in a few decades those Pokemon cards won't be worth a thing."
"But, they don't just collect the cards, they use them in a game. Each character has different strengths and weaknesses. Kids collect a whole bunch of cards, not just the most powerful ones. They need energy cards..."
Jim couldn't care less about the dynamics of the Pokemon game.
"...in fact," Blair continued, "down at the Civic Center, they have Pokemon Battle Nights. Kids bring their cards and they have tournaments and prizes and everything."
That caught his interest. "Really? Maybe we ought to check one out."
"You want to experience the Pokemon craze?"
"No, I want to see just how many counterfeits are out there."
"You know it really is kind of educational," Blair continued his lecture. "In the individual battles, kids have to do math, deductive reasoning..."
Jim saw Henri come in and plop down at his desk. The man gave a heart-felt sigh and dropped his head onto his arms, which were resting on his desk. "What's up, H?"
Blair stopped talking and looked over at Henri.
"A deputy was shot today," he told them, his voice weary. "There was a town meeting in Pineview. You know--where my sister lives? Anyway the Sheriff's Department was presenting their Bait and Shoot program and how it's going to be implemented. An animal rights group was picketing outside. After the meeting adjourned, some of the protestors started harassing the deputies. As they were walking toward their patrol car, someone from the mob fired a small caliber handgun which hit a deputy."
"Is he gonna be okay?" Blair asked.
"Luckily the bullet missed all of his vital organs," Henri told them, "but the whole thing has the town pretty shaken. The kid from one of the accidents last night died, which prompted the meeting. The Sheriff's Department wants to get the program started immediately."
"This is getting ugly," Jim remarked.
Everyone nodded in agreement. The detectives from Major Crime drifted back to their own work. Blair swung his chair over to his desk and brought the files he had obtained from Central Records. It was back to work on something they had some control over. Jim put the trading cards in his top drawer and then settled down to find some sort of lead on Teale.
Warehouse on Holt Street
Jim parked the truck and the partners walked to the front of the warehouse.
A worker, driving a forklift, stopped them. "Can I help you?" he asked.
Jim pulled out his badge. "We're with the Cascade Police Department. I'd like to talk to the manager. Could you tell me where I can find Mr. Makowsky?"
The man's eyes narrowed. "Sean Makowsky? He doesn't work here anymore."
That was interesting, Jim thought to himself. He wondered when the manager quit.
"The manager's office is through those doors and towards the left. Go up the stairs, follow the ramp and it takes you right there." The employee paused. "Is there trouble?"
"No. We just want to ask him a couple of questions." Jim nodded his thanks.
The door to the manager's office was open. The plaque on the door read, David Brinkman. The secretary's desk was empty, so Jim and Blair bypassed it, heading straight to a man sitting at another desk, talking on the phone. The two detectives waited patiently until he was finished.
"Can I help you?" the manager asked as he set the phone down.
"Mr. Brinkman, I'm Detective Ellison and this is my partner, Blair Sandburg. We'd like to ask you a few questions about the theft this fall of several cases of ink."
Jim listened carefully, but couldn't detect any increase in the man's heartbeat.
"What about it? I wasn't working here at that time, but I understood that the ink was found and the thieves were caught."
"They were never caught," Jim told him bluntly. "I do have a few more questions about the ink. Could you tell me who stores the ink here?"
"Game Freak. They're partners with the Nintendo company. It's not ink that we store here, but pigment powders that's used to mix up the ink. We still do a lot of business with them."
"What is it used for?"
"Specifically those Pokemon trading cards, but it also gets used when making up the boxes that the Nintendo games are packaged in. We get a truckload of raw materials, as in the ink and the fiberboard, per day and ship it out by rail once a week."
"Where does it all go?" Blair asked curiously.
"To a manufacturing plant down in California. They make up the printer's ink that is used in special presses that print the cards. Only they have the formulas for the correct amounts of each color or whatever. It's probably a trade secret. You know the other warehouse stores the cardboard flats that they print the cards on. Just yesterday they thought a shipment had gone missing, but it had been delivered to our warehouse by accident."
"How many warehouses does Simpson own?" Jim questioned.
"Four. Two here in Cascade and another two in Portland."
"What happened to Makowsky, the previous manager?" Blair asked.
"He was transferred to one of the warehouses in Portland."
Jim's mind was churning with ideas. If the ink was actually mixed in California, maybe they've had similar thefts or unexplained missing material. It was worth checking into.
Blair took over the questioning. "Could you give me Makowsky's new address and phone number?"
"Let me see if I still have it. I called him pretty frequently in the beginning, but haven't needed to talk to him recently." He shuffled through a rolodex. "Here it is." He copied it down on a scrap piece of paper and handed it to Blair.
"Thank you," Blair said as he stuffed the paper in his pocket.
"Here's my card," Jim said pulling a card out of his pocket. "Call me if you can think of anything about this theft that's out of the ordinary."
The two detectives left the warehouse.
Blair was busy scribbling in his notebook as he walked. "So the ink is used for Pokemon cards. Isn't that ironic?"
"I had a feeling the ink was being used for a particular purpose. But, I admit that I had no idea it was used for something so juvenile," Jim remarked with disgust.
"But profitable." Blair opened the door to the truck. "I bet millions of dollars are spent on those cards. Just think what a slice of that is to the riff raff of Cascade. Although it's hard to believe that the Teale brothers are involved in the counterfeiting scheme."
"No, Jake's too small to have any real connections to it," Jim answered. "But, Rick? Or even the other warehouse employee we questioned this fall. What was his name?"
Blair rummaged around in his notebook. "Bill Kaiser."
"That's right." Jim pulled out of the parking lot and drove back to the bullpen. "Rick Teale, we know has been involved in criminal activities in his past. He disappeared, then turned up with that beautiful cabin up in Northwood. How did he afford that kind of real estate?"
"Because he's still involved in something illegal," Blair mused as he scribbled in his notebook. "Jim, what do you think about the fact that those bottles contained pigments, not wet ink? I remember you saying that it had a strange consistency, kind of like toner."
"Makes sense. But, if these jokers are counterfeiting Pokemon cards, and they're using the stolen pigment powders, how are they making up the ink?" Jim pondered aloud.
The question hung in silence as Jim drove the rest of the way to the station.
As soon as the elevator stopped on their floor, the noise from the bullpen assaulted the sentinel and guide. Jim covered his ears up, half in jest, as they walked in. No one paid them any attention--they were fixed on their arguments and pressing their opinions.
"What happened?" Blair asked as he made his way to his desk.
Simon was standing in his office doorway. "You two have anything to report?" he shouted over the din.
Rafe waylaid Jim. "They passed the Bait and Shoot program. A couple of farms have donated corn, and the sheriffs are going to start tomorrow morning."
Jim cast a quick look at Blair, but his partner was already half-way to Simon's office. With a sigh, Jim followed. Blair was already giving Simon the details of their visit to the warehouse as Jim walked in. Blair pulled out the slip of paper with the previous manager's new address and phone number. Simon grunted as he glanced at it, then handed it back to Blair.
Simon rubbed his forehead as he plopped down in his chair behind his desk. "We've got a serious problem brewing because of the Bait and Shoot program."
Blair's eyes widened. "It's been passed?"
Simon nodded. "There's an outcry everywhere. People who have never voiced an opinion about anything before are now up-in-arms about the slaughter of innocent deer. Protests are being waged not only in the suburbs, but here in Cascade, too. Things are deteriorating fast."
"How long is this program supposed to go on for?" Blair asked quietly.
"It's just a trial run. They hope a week or two and take down twenty or thirty head."
"Will the meat go to a food bank to feed the poor?"
"Can't distribute meat that hasn't been government approved," Simon responded.
"So, not only are these animals being exterminated, they're not even being used for anything beneficial? They're being wasted?" Blair's voice rose an octave in his agitation.
Simon stood up, glaring at Blair. "I hope I don't need to remind you to keep your personal feelings personal, do I?"
"No, sir." Blair looked at the floor, but Jim could still detect the simmering anger.
Simon focused on Blair for a few more seconds then shifted his attention to Jim. "There is a planned demonstration in front of the County Building tomorrow afternoon. The Cascade Police Department has been requested to assist in keeping the peace. I want the two of you there. Until then, keep your eyes and ears open for trouble."
"Yes, sir," Jim replied. "Tonight Sandburg and I are going to check out a Pokemon card trading thing--"
Blair chimed in. "The Civic Center hosts a weekly trading card session. Kids and hobby shop owners bring cards to sell, trade, and to battle each other."
"That sounds like fun," Simon said sarcastically. "I heard about the disruption with a certain Carl Meridith this morning. Is your load too heavy to take on this case? I can assign it to someone else."
"No, we'll take care of it. Somehow this counterfeit card situation is connected to the Patterson case we've been working on," Jim began to relate. "We know that Teale is up to his eyeballs in stolen ink, which by the way, belongs to the Nintendo Corporation who manufactures the Pokemon cards. That same ink was found in the Patterson house."
"Connect the dots and bring me back something substantial," Simon instructed.
Jim nodded and ushered his partner out. As he closed the door behind him, Simon spoke for sentinel ears. "Keep Sandburg's emotional outbursts to a minimum." Jim didn't need the reminder. The sheriff's deputies would eat Blair alive if he pronounced his anti-killing Bambi opinions in front of them. They had enough troubles without introducing dissension within the police ranks.
Cascade Civic Center
Jim and Blair walked into the large arena. The doors had opened an hour before their arrival and already the place was packed. Jim grumbled about the two-dollar cover charge.
"It pays for the cleanup after the kids are gone," Blair told him good-naturedly.
Jim had already forgotten about the money as he gazed around him. "I didn't realize how big this would be." Jim perused the large area, slightly disoriented between the harsh lights and the loud din of children negotiating their trades and battles.
The perimeter of the arena had long tables set up where traders had set up their cards to show and subsequently sell. In the middle, there were numerous small tables for kids to conduct their battles. Scattered between, parents were talking amongst themselves.
"Hey Chief. The concession stands are open. Why don't we get a drink and some popcorn?"
"Sounds good. I could really go for a hot pretzel. See that kid over there? He's got one smothered in mustard." Blair licked his lips in appreciation.
Armed with their food, both men began wandering around the different tables. Snippets of the different conversations reached his ears.
"...aha! Forty damage points!"
"Oh yeah? Get this, fire attack," was screamed back.
Everything was loud. The kids were so involved in their battles that they never noticed Jim looking over their shoulders. However, the parents noticed, and kept their eyes on him. Jim smiled inwardly. He was glad, this wasn't the safest environment for young children--they needed their parents' watchful gaze. All kinds of creeps could gain admittance. Maybe he ought to see about getting some security stationed at the front doors?
Blair motioned toward a large table off to the side. Jim cast his eyes in that direction and watched a man, at least forty years old, haggling with three children over the price of a card. Jim nodded and both men meandered over in that direction.
"...that Alakazam is only worth five bucks. I won't give you a penny over that."
"But, mister. I bought it for twelve last week. Then I got a first edition one yesterday."
"And I've got about ten of 'em. Sorry, kid. I only buy the rare ones."
The three kids looked disgusted but moved on. "He sure is stingy," one child commented to the others.
Jim came up to the table and looked at the array of cards. They seemed to be divided in groups, although he couldn't discern what made each group different from the others. Looking closely, he tried to see if any of those cards were forgeries, and much to his surprise he found three.
"Excuse me," Jim beckoned the person on the other side of the table. "I'm detective James Ellison. Do you realize that three of your cards that you have for sale here are counterfeit?"
"Damn," the man said. "Which ones? I've been having a hard time with these cropping up lately."
Jim pointed them out for the man.
The hobby shop owner picked them up and studied them closely. "I can see it now. Thank you for pointing them out for me. I run a clean store and I'd hate to get the reputation of not knowing the real cards for the fake ones."
"I have to confiscate them as evidence." Jim told him, expecting some kind of negative reaction.
"Sure. You're investigation this counterfeiting business?"
"That's good. I want it to stop. I've had several customers come in complaining of buying fake cards from my shop. I've had to take them back and I'm losing money. Get those crooks fast."
"We're doing our best. Can I have a card with the name of your shop and its address?"
"Sure." He reached below the table and pulled out a card and handed it to Jim.
"Thank you," Jim replied as he handed the card to Blair to stuff in his notebook with the rest of the notes. The two detectives walked away from the display and headed back into the crowd.
"He seemed willing to help," Blair commented as he stuffed the notebook back into his backpack.
"Yeah, I agree. He wasn't hiding anything. His voice and his heartbeat were both steady."
"Hey, Jim," Blair said with astonishment. "Look over there." He pointed toward a table where two little boys, who looked no more than seven years old, were deep within their Pokemon conflict.
"Beedril," said the dark curly-haired boy, dressed in a Lakers Shaquille jersey.
"Muk! Aha, level 34! I go first. Sludge attack!" screamed the second boy. This boy also had dark hair, what little hadn't been shaved off.
The first boy grasped his chest melodramatically. "Down to 50 hit points. Where's the coin?" He grabbed something off the table and threw it. "Heads, yeah! Poison sting, 30 damage points."
"Another sludge attack."
"Poison! Give me a card from the gift box."
The boys shuffled some cards around the table. Then the first boy threw out a card. "Raichu!"
Jim shook his head in confusion, then turned to Blair. "You understand any of that?"
"They are amazing. Both look like they're just past Kindergarten, yet they can do double digit subtraction in their minds, plan the defeat of another--"
"I've seen everything I want to see," Jim interrupted, rubbing his eyes with his hand. "Ready to leave?"
"Is the noise getting to you?"
"My ears are ringing," Jim agreed. "I don't know how much more of this I can take. The only reason I came was to see how wide spread the counterfeit cards are, and I've seen quite a few." Jim started to pull open the front door, then stopped in his tracks. "Wait!" He stepped back into the area, his eyes searching for the origin of a conversation that had inadvertently caught his attention. Two children, a boy and a girl, were arguing.
"Ash was awesome when he saved Misty and her sisters from Team Rocket."
"Misty could have done it on her own," the little girl pointed out.
"Ash Ketchum can beat Misty..."
Jim lost the thread after he heard that name again. Ash Ketchum. Where had he heard that name before? "Chief. You ever heard of the name Ash Ketchum?"
Blair turned incredulous eyes to him. "He's the main character in the Pokemon series, except for well, Pikachu," Blair responded with a laugh.
Jim wasn't laughing. He had just remembered why that name sounded familiar. "Remember that U-Haul, from last fall? The one that had been carrying the ink?"
"You told me about it, but I wasn't with you. Simon accompanied you when you checked out what had happened."
"The truck had been rented to one--Ash Ketchum."
"You never told me that. I would have recognized the name immediately."
Jim thought back. It was understandable that he had forgotten. The next time he had seen Blair had been at the loft in the company of his mother. They had been in the possession of a clue and hadn't even realized it.
The drive back to the loft was done in relative peace. Jim was pondering the different facts, trying to make them fit together. The Pokemon counterfeiting scam was small potatoes. They really couldn't net much profit, after all their marks were only children. There had to be another outlet for their scheme. The paper and ink were stolen from the Nintendo Corporation. Did they manufacture or broker the materials for someone else? Did basketball card or football card companies use the same supplies? That might be something to check out.
Blair leaned over and turned on the radio. He selected a soft jazz station and relaxed in his seat. Jim glanced at the clock and noted that the time was just before nine. They would be home in less than ten minutes. He couldn't wait to take his shoes off and lay on the couch with a beer. It had been a long day, and he needed to unwind. His head still pounded, but it was getting better now that they weren't with a thousand screaming kids.
The news came on the radio.
"And now for today's headlines. The Sheriff's Department has announced that the Bait and Shoot program was approved. They are planning on reducing the herds by twenty-head per day in an effort to reduce human casualties. Deer-induced accidents have taken eight lives and put more than thirty people in local hospitals since the new year. The Sheriff's Department has refused to state when the program is to be implemented, but assures us that it will be shortly.
"Demonstrations in Pineview today resulted in the shooting of a deputy, and a local outcry against the program. One resident was quoted as saying, 'There has to be another solution. Taking an innocent animal's life is morally wrong.' The Animal Defense League denies the charges that they are responsible for the shooting. They are against the taking of lives, and they consider humans equal to any animal. One witness has stated that the shot was fired by mistake, emotions were high and it was all an accident. The Sheriff's Department has told this reporter that it will not treat it as such, and will prosecute to the full extent of the law."
"I should hope so," Jim muttered to himself, then looked over at his partner. Blair's heartbeat had increased during the news, but he retained a stony silence.
"...a total of six have been taken to Cascade General for poisoning. The police haven't found a connection to the different cases or where the victims might have come in contact with the caustic chemicals. We'll keep you informed of the facts as we obtain them."
Jim pulled into the parking space and turned off the ignition. He turned to Blair and started to speak. "Why--"
Blair held up his hand. "I don't want to hear it now, Jim."
Jim snapped his mouth shut. He hadn't even intended to mention the deer thing or anything relevant to it.
Blair jumped out of the truck and headed up to the loft without waiting for Jim to catch up. Why was Blair so mad at him? It wasn't up to Jim to condemn or condone the program. He had just wanted to discuss tomorrow's schedule.
Blair retreated to his room and fell onto his bed. His emotions were out of control and he didn't want to say anything he'd regret later. He firmly believed that the Bait and Shoot program was morally wrong, but felt inept in his efforts to explain his views to Jim. Why couldn't they just open up an expanded season on deer? Let qualified hunters come in, shoot the deer, and have it over with. At least that way the natural order of things would be maintained. Although, that wasn't necessarily true. Some killed the deer for only sport and had no intention of eating the meat. Blair grimaced into his pillow. Why couldn't there be an easy solution? Killing something only because it was unwanted was so wrong. Blair was beginning to dread the upcoming weeks. They were going to be difficult on everyone. Slipping on a pair of sweats, he joined his roommate in front of the TV to watch a Jags game. Jim gave him a smile as he sat down.
As soon as Jim and Blair entered the bullpen the next morning, Simon ordered them into his office.
"We have a problem, men," Simon told them as he seated himself behind his desk. "Have you heard about the poisonings?"
"A little, sir," Jim answered.
"We heard it on the news last night," Blair contributed.
"What hasn't been released is that all the victims are associated in some way with the Sheriff's Department."
Jim gritted his teeth.
Simon continued, "Two were wives of deputies, who are still fighting for their lives. One was a secretary, who is now conscious and can be questioned. The other three were deputies, who are still unconscious."
"What were they poisoned with?" Blair asked.
Jim remembered that the news on the radio stated that it had been caustic chemicals.
Simon recited from memory, "They seemed to have ingested ammonium, anionic surfactants, silicates, sodium lauryl sulfate--"
Jim interrupted, "Cleaning fluids?"
"Looks that way," Simon agreed. He took a deep breath, "We can't rule out that this could be related to the Bait and Shoot Program."
Blair looked stunned. "When did the first case occur?" he asked.
"Four days ago. First, two deputies and the secretary were rushed to the hospital in the late afternoon. Next came the third deputy and the wives were admitted yesterday."
"Do they share anything in common--besides the affiliation with the Sheriff's Department?" Jim asked. He had to agree with Simon. Since it targeted only the Sheriff's department, it most likely was in retaliation to the killing of the deer.
"Only the time they were admitted. Early evening," Simon told them gravely.
The three men exchanged meaningful glances, but Blair was the first to speak. "If they were all hospitalized at around the same time of day, it stands to reason that they must have ingested the chemicals at the same time of day, too."
"Lunch," Jim inserted.
"There're tons of restaurants near the County Building," Blair suggested.
"Check it out," Simon commanded. "If they were poisoned here in Cascade, I want to know who did it. The Mayor has convinced the County Executive that you two should head the investigation. The deputies have their hands full with the Bait and Shoot program and keeping the peace with that."
Jim knocked on the partially open door. The occupant was the secretary to the sheriff, Jenny Powel. A soft, "Come in," gave him permission to enter. Blair was at the nurses' station getting more detailed information on the other poisoned victims.
"Mrs. Powel? I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade Police Department." He watched her wariness disappear, replaced with a friendly smile.
"Hello, Detective. My boss said you'd be stopping by. I understand the mayor wanted you in particular on the case."
"I believe you're right," Jim responded with a wry grin.
"Have you heard how the others are doing?" she asked, her bottom lip trembling slightly.
"My partner is checking on them now."
"I suppose you want me to tell you everything that happened."
"Please," Jim entreated.
"I was home making dinner when my stomach starting cramping up. At first I thought it was just gas pains, you know? I had eaten at one of those fast food restaurants and sometimes grease will give me the runs. I went to the bathroom and it just went downhill from there."
"Tell me about lunch. I understand two other deputies became sick the same day as you. Were you all having lunch together?"
"Yes. Deputies Rand and Burlington took me out. I had written up a..."
Jim's mind froze at the names of the two officers. He was almost positive that they were the ones who had tried to apprehend the truck last fall that had crashed and spilled the ink, giving the highway the look of a Skittles commercial. Why did so many things seem to be connected to that damned truck?
She continued, "...I ordered a cheese burger and fries and I don't remember exactly what they had."
"Did it taste funny?"
"Not that I remember. But with all that grease and condiments, I don't know if you could taste anything foreign."
Jim was sure he'd have no problem, but he didn't have the run of the mill tastebuds. "Do you remember who served you?"
"Kids, I guess."
The door slid open and Blair peeked around. "Okay for me to come in?"
Jim stood. "Mrs. Powel, this is my partner, Blair Sandburg."
Blair went over to the bed and shook her hand. "I am so glad that you seem to be recovering. The doctor told me that you seemed to have ingested less of the caustic chemicals than your companions."
"How are they doing?" she asked, her concern blatant.
"The two deputies have been upgraded to guarded, but neither can talk yet."
"You really think we got sick when we ate lunch?"
Jim gave Blair a pointed look.
"I asked the doctors approximately what time the poison would have to be ingested for it to have caused your admittance to the hospital at around six. He said that depending upon the dose, it could take anywhere from two to six hours for the symptoms to begin."
"That fits," Jim remarked, satisfied with at least having narrowed down where the poisoning took place.
"What's the name of the restaurant?" Blair asked, taking out his notebook.
"It's the Wonderburger on Main and South Avenue."
Jim blanched slightly as she said the name of his favorite burger joint. Then he froze, waiting for Blair to start his teasing. Much to Jim's surprise, all he received was a quick glance.
"We'll check this out right away," Blair told her as he put the notebook away.
"Sorry, Chief. We have to go to the demonstration first." Jim didn't like reminding his partner about it, but it was an assignment that they couldn't get out of.
"As soon as we can get out," Blair assured Mrs. Powel, "we'll go to that Wonderburger and find the responsible parties." Blair patted the woman's hand as he said goodbye and the two men left.
They got out into the hall and were halfway to the elevators before Jim turned to Blair and asked, "So, what else did you learn?"
Blair wore a thin smile. "You knew I found something disturbing."
"Yeah. There was an opportunity to give me grief and you passed it up."
"Not much in the mood for kidding around." Blair paused and then continued. "I talked to the two deputies, Kurlan and Thomas, whose wives are in intensive care."
Jim stiffened. "Kurlan was the deputy I helped on our way back from Teale's cabin."
Blair nodded sadly. "They were the real targets. The women were poisoned by mistake. Turns out that the two men are on diets. Something they were joking morbidly about. Their wives usually meet them for lunch and bring a chef salad. This particular day the deputies decided to get the women Wonderburgers and then they'd switch at lunch."
"So the fast-food workers thought that the officers were going to eat the food so they put the poison in the burgers," Jim paraphrased, extracting the facts from his partner's story.
"A lot of it," Blair added. "The doctors don't think the women are going to make it. The deputies are on one massive guilt trip. It's almost like they're grieving already and can't function."
"The only way we can help is to arrest the culprits."
Blair nodded emphatically.
Outside the County Building
The two detectives leaned against a street lamp pole as they observed the demonstration on the opposite side of the city street. Jim's eyebrows were furrowed as he inspected every square inch of the area. Blair could tell that the sentinel was ill at ease with the high emotions of everyone around him. It was only a matter of time before things would escalate and the people would become a mob. Mob scenes were so not fun.
Blair felt himself relax into "researcher mode", which was as natural to him as breathing. This was a subset of a population that was trying to change something officials were imposing on society. Could they succeed? Despite his own desires to see the protest initiate the change, he tried to keep his wishes from influencing his observations. Blair could tell by Jim's alert stance that he was ready to intercede if the need arose. Keeping the peace was always his main objective in these situations.
At first glance, the picketers all looked the same. Yet, if you narrowed in on one person and then the next, differences could be detected. One person was wearing a coat with a large decal of a deer with a rack of antlers. The protestor behind him was pushing a stroller with one hand and holding a sign with another, which read--"innocent slaughter of animals does not bring our children back." The sign was typical, the person was typical, but the two combined with the baby in the stroller made a powerful image.
A conversion van pulled up to the curb and several men jumped out carrying thermoses of steaming drinks. With some kind of order, the men began handing out styrofoam cups of the warm liquid. Memories shot through Blair of similar situations where he was a young boy amidst a forest of adults. He remembered his own hot chocolate cup and how yummy it had tasted on a cold day. What they had been protesting against eluded him, but he did remember the camaraderie, the feeling of acceptance within their small group. A nostalgic smile flitted across his face then he let the memory go and concentrated on the job at hand.
The crowd of protestors walked back and forth in front of the County Building. They mostly kept to themselves, holding their signs and trying to stay warm. A shiver went up Blair's back. His inactivity was slowing his metabolism.
Jim's hand patted him on the shoulder. "Cold?"
"A little," Blair answered.
"Let's walk a bit, then," Jim suggested.
Blair nodded and they left the comfort of anonymity and strolled more closely to the protestors. Individual voices could be discerned.
"Stop the slaughter."
"Animals have the right to life."
"Deer aren't killers, people are."
As they walked, a group of Native Americans came within sight. Some had on items of clothing genuine to their culture. Blair knew that many of the tribes indigenous to the state of Washington were active in the conservation of wildlife and their habitats. They were walking alongside their white-man neighbors in their pursuit of "justice for deer." Blair could feel himself being pulled into joining their cause, but one look from his partner, reminded him of his duty.
"They're starting to get to you, huh?" Jim asked, concerned. "You're not going to lose it, are you?"
"No, I'm fine," Blair tried to reassure his partner.
However, Jim knew different. Blair gazed on the group with a look of nostalgic longing that made Jim distinctly nervous. Naomi was big on demonstrations; this scene was probably right out of Blair's childhood. What kind of life was this for a kid? The adults were angling to be noticed, and if it didn't occur through peaceful means, then violence was a viable option. He saw a mother pushing a stroller and balancing a sign. There was also a man holding onto a young toddler, both shouting to stop the slaughter. Jim followed the crowd's actions with his eyes, but his ears were strained to catch the slightest sound that didn't belong.
Suddenly a disturbance by the front of the County Building caught his attention. The front door of the building opened and two deputies in uniform stepped out. Jim felt every single muscle in his body tighten in anger. "What in the hell are they doing?" he whispered to himself.
"What? What?" Blair strained to see what was going on.
"I think those stupid deputies are actually trying to start a riot," Jim answered, stunned by their insolence. The deputies stood looking out at the protestors. They didn't move, but stationed themselves as if guarding the front door.
The demonstrators coalesced into one unit and drifted toward the front stairs. In small groups, people slowly ascended the stairs. The marble columns made the crowd separate, but they quickly reassumed a cohesive mass. The deputies stayed at the top, surveying the scene, which made the crowd become more incensed. Jim noted the officer's names, meaning to lodge a formal complaint when this was all over.
"Sometimes protestors believe that a successful demonstration can only occur if violence erupts and they get arrested. It's a sense of pride with them," Blair admitted, with regret.
Jim acknowledged the truth in his friend's words, realizing that it was starting to happen right in front of him. Protestors were shouting and moving like a communal ameba. As the crush intensified, people were pushed further up to make room. Jim stood tensely. He took out the radio and called in, warning of the possible eruption of hostilities. Jim ended the communication then jumped on top of a parked car, perusing the throng, looking for firearms or an altercation that he could stop. Out of the corner of his eye, he happened to catch Blair as he gave him an apologetic glance and then entered the multitude. Jim shouted, but Blair probably couldn't hear him over the mob's roar.
Blair knew that the Sentinel would be having a hissy fit by now, but he couldn't help it. He was worried about the woman and the baby in the stroller. With the space between the people shrinking, Blair was worried that someone would lose their balance and fall on top of the child. He absently acknowledged Jim's shout of warning as he entered the throng--intent only on locating the stroller. The people allowed him through, either not sensing that he was a cop, or instinctively knowing that he belonged with them.
Blair ducked under a couple of signs. A waving arm almost clipped him in the face, but he maneuvered around that. The roar of the crowd surged and they all milled closer together. Blair had to push one man out of his way, but he didn't seem to notice. The noise level increased the further he progressed, and there was frenzied shouting all around him. The mob seemed to be talking with one voice and it was directed at the two deputies standing by the front door, as if they alone could make the changes the crowd demanded.
Blair paused, taking stock of how far he had progressed. He grunted as an elbow jammed his ribcage. The man had only been shifting his sign from his left to his right hand, but with little space, Blair bore the brunt of the move. He doubled up briefly, taking quick breaths, then resumed his search. It was unlikely that the woman would attempt the stairs, so he concentrated his efforts within the congested portion of the gathering. Moving was difficult, but suddenly a glimpse of a set of wheels flashed before another body obstructed the view.
With a target ahead, Blair pushed past three and then a fourth person. The mother's face peeked out at him from behind a large man--then disappeared. Blair maneuvered behind the man and was rewarded by another momentary view of his target. He squeezed behind yet another person and found himself in front of her. The woman's face was clouded with worry as she struggled to turn the stroller away from the stairs. The mass of people was slowly pushing her and she was powerless to stop the flow.
"Let me help you!" Blair screamed over the roar, with the people becoming more frantic as the deputies remained unmoved at the top of the stairs.
She gave him a grateful nod.
Blair felt the need to hurry--things were coming to a boiling point, as he picked up the front of the stroller. She held on to the back and they began forcing their way through toward the street. An arm came flying, but because he had the stroller, he was unable to avoid the impact. Unfortunately it wasn't the arm that connected, but the pole of a sign. The man seemed oblivious of the damage he had inadvertently caused. Blair felt a moment of dizziness. He didn't have time to think about his injury--they needed to get out. Tears gathered in his eyes as he pushed his way through the mass. Suddenly he broke free into the open air. Jim was the first person he saw as he looked up. He nodded to him then set the stroller down.
"There you go. Are you okay?" Blair asked, ignoring his partner for the moment.
"Thank you so much. I don't know what happened. All of a sudden everyone got closer and I couldn't walk anymore."
"You were in the wrong place at the wrong time," he told her consolingly, then started to tell her what happened. "A couple of sheriffs came out and--"
"Well, that was pretty stupid of them," she interrupted.
Blair braved a quick glance at his partner. Jim wore a stony expression, which told Blair that things were indeed becoming more violent. Stony with Jim usually meant apprehension. The older detective's face made a grimace as he reached for his gun. Blair's attention shifted from his partner to the top of the County Building. Several additional uniformed deputies came out and tried to push the crowds back down the stairs. Angry at the show of force, the people pushed harder.
"Ma'am, I think you'd better take your child home, now," Jim instructed in an authoritative tone.
"Thank you for your help," the woman was able to get in before Jim pushed a pile of snow onto Blair's face.
"It's swelling," Jim replied to Blair's sputtering.
The woman laughed as she pushed the stroller away from the mob. As Blair waved goodbye, with melted water dripping down his face, he happened to remember the fact that she had been carrying a sign--no doubt lost within the melee.
Jim opened his mouth to say something, but suddenly a body--tripping backwards and totally out of control--crashed to the ground between them. The man pulled himself to his feet and flung his fists, trying to connect with anyone in his way. The peaceful protest had turned into a riot. Blair ignored the bump on the side of his head and joined his partner in trying to restore order.
Several patrol cars pulled up to the curb and the front of the County Building became a jungle of police, nightsticks, handcuffs and reluctant prisoners. With mixed emotions, Blair helped Jim reestablish the peace. When people came at him with signs at the end of makeshift clubs, he was able to subdue them and cuff them right alongside the other officers. When it was over, with most of the protestors either arrested or on their way home, Blair felt disgust settle in his soul. He was furious at the deputies, who in his mind instigated the violence and he felt betrayed by the protestors who shouldn't have risen to the bait. Back at the station it was hard to concentrate on anything. His stomach was churning and his head was pounding. Everything just felt wrong.
"Why don't you go home and take a few hours off," Jim suggested. He could see how strung out Blair was, and didn't want him to break down at the station. "If anything comes up, I'll call." At Blair's disbelieving look, he added, "I promise."
"Okay. I think I'll meditate and try and clear my head of all that violence. You know when we subdue criminals it doesn't hurt that much. But today, they were the good guys--the ones we're usually trying to protect." Blair shook his head with remorse.
Jim's phone rang as he watched his partner walk out of the bullpen. Absently he picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"You Detective Ellison?" the caller asked.
"Yes. I'm Detective James Ellison."
"This is Carl Meredith. You promised that you'd check into the counterfeiting of the Pokemon cards. I haven't heard anything in awhile. Have you made any progress?"
Jim gave a mental groan. He had promised to go to the man's shop. "Yes," he answered truthfully. "We're working on it. Why don't--"
"Aren't you going to come over to my store?" Meredith interrupted. "I want to show you how wide-spread the problem is."
"Okay. I need to finish up some paper work and then I'll run over." This might be a good way to use the time while Sandburg got his bearings back.
"Great!" Meredith responded, enthusiastically. "I'll be waiting."
Carl Meridith's hobby shop
Jim opened the door to the small shop. A bell tinkled, heralding his entrance. The walls were lined with shelves sporting do-it-yourself kits for everything from Star Trek's Enterprise--five different models--to Star Wars' Millenium Falcon and the Death Star. Dungeon and Dragon games were placed on the lower shelves. The dreaded Beanie Babies had their own glass case, as did a few Cabbage Patch Dolls and Barbies in fancy dresses.
"Detective Ellison. You've finally made it."
Jim gave Meredith his patented stare, which did little to quench the man's overbearing manner. "Is there something in particular you want to show me?"
"Over here." Meredith led him over to a case against the far wall. Many of the glass cases Jim passed were filled sports-related cards--football, basketball, hockey and rows and rows of baseball cards. "This is where I keep the Pokemon cards."
Jim peered inside and was astonished by the number of different kinds of cards. One card in particular caught his attention--Muk. One of the boys from the Civic Center had used that card. The picture showed a puddle of mud. Right next to Muk was a character called Lickitung. There was a Geodude, then Zapdos, and a pink ball called Jigglypuff. Ignoring the odd names, he focused on the cards themselves and tried to detect the percentage of counterfeits.
Meredith opened the case, which caused an excess of sunlight to reflect off the glass and into his vulnerable eyes. Squeezing his lids closed, he felt tears ease the pain.
"You okay, Detective?"
Reining in his temper, he nodded and reached in to remove a few of the cards from the opened case. This one had Japanese writing on it. From all angles, it appeared that the card was genuine. One after another Jim picked them up to examine them closer.
"Is that all you're going to do? I can tell you which ones are fake."
"Have you noticed anything peculiar about which cards are counterfeit and which ones are genuine?"
"Yeah, they don't bother reproducing the cheap cards, only the more rare ones," Meredith responded with derision.
"What about the fact that only the American cards are fake, not the Japanese ones?"
"Really?" Meredith pulled out a stack of Japanese cards from behind the counter. "Hey, none of these are fake." His face was lit with amazement. "You may be on to something."
"I think the counterfeiters are working from a limited amount of plates or what ever they're using to copy the cards and they've selected only the American versions. Have you been in contact with dealers in other cities or states? Are they having the same problems?"
Meredith shrugged his shoulders. "I know Cascade is flooded, but I know nothing about Seattle or other cities."
"You could really help if you'd call some representative stores in other cities and find out," Jim suggested.
The man preened with self-importance. "I can do that."
Jim gave the store another quick glance. "There's not much else I can do here. Let me assure you," Jim broke in before Meredith had a chance to interrupt, "that I'm working hard on this case and I'm following up on some promising leads."
Jim gave a sigh. "I can't tell you much because it might compromise the investigation. The only thing I will say is that I have a suspect but he's a little fish. I'm after his bosses."
Meredith's eyes lit up. "So, this might be stopped soon?"
"I certainly hope so," Jim responded, heartily.
Blair blew out the candles, then glanced at his watch. Dinnertime. His stomach was growling because of his missed lunch. His bare feet made little sound as he padded over to the stereo and turned off his favorite meditation tunes. Blair rolled his shoulders, trying to loosen the kinks caused by two hours of absolute stillness. Despite his physical discomfort--aching back, stiff legs, not to mention empty stomach--his mind felt more at ease.
It was inevitable that his personal beliefs would conflict with his new lifestyle, he reasoned, as he poured himself a glass of milk. After all, he'd been raised to question authority, yet now he was the authority. There'd be times when he'd need to overcome personal teachings for the greater good--it was all part of being a cop and he accepted that when he chose this path for his life. Trying to prevent injuries caused by a group of people who were out of control was a small part of that choice. What they were protesting against--was irrelevant. It was all perspective, Blair reasoned to himself. Wasn't this what Jim had been telling him all along? Blair was flatly against the Bait and Shoot program. Jim thought it was a good idea. Yet neither of them was responsible for initiating or canceling it, only minimizing the destruction caused by the public's response.
Draining the last drop of milk from his glass, he resolved to get back to work and to stop loafing off at home. Maybe Wonderburger would be a good choice for dinner. He was interested in one particular Wonderburger--the one that had intentionally poisoned the deputies. As he grabbed his coat, he started thinking that maybe he should have a dinner companion. One of the lessons Jim had always drilled into him was the need for backup--usually because Jim never followed his own rule, which sometimes got them into trouble.
Still carrying his coat, he went over to the phone and called the bullpen. Jim's desk phone rang repeatedly, until the phone mail system picked it up. He tried another number, which contrary to the first, was picked up on the second ring.
"Hello. Cascade Police Department."
"Is that you Rafe? It's Blair."
"Yes, Sandburg. It's me."
"Is Jim around? I just called his desk, but he didn't pick it up."
"He's off at some hobby shop."
Blair gave a silent laugh at the news. Poor Jim. "I was wondering what you were doing for dinner? Would you be willing to go to Wonderburger with me to eat, and check out the possibility of the deputies having gotten poisoned there?"
"Wait out front for me and I'll swing by and pick you up."
"I'll leave a note on Jim's desk and tell him where we're going. Maybe he'll meet us there."
"Yeah, Jim'll want proof that I actually went to the grease pit without his pushing me into it." Blair chuckled as he hung up the phone.
Blair pulled his Cobra into a parking slot right in the front of the restaurant. Rafe unfolded his large frame from the car. Many of the tables were full with laughing kids, playing with small toys between bites of their hamburger. Their parents looked on with patient expressions--no doubt used to the atmosphere.
"When we go up to the counter," Rafe instructed, "you order first. I'm gonna start a conversation about the demonstration as I'm ordering. Play along, okay?"
Blair nodded. "You want to see what kind of food they serve you. I see." Not really wanting a greasy excuse for meat, he asked for the chef salad. Deciding suddenly that he should try and fit in better, he added a small order of fries. Sliding his tray to the side, he waited for Rafe to begin.
"I'll have a double cheeseburger and a large fry," Rafe ordered. Turning to Blair, "I can't believe how fast the protest got out of hand this afternoon." Rafe's eyes darted back and forth between the kitchen help and Blair.
"I'm glad the Cascade PD helped us out. We were pretty short of deputies." Might as well go for broke, Blair thought as he got into the spirit of the undercover assignment.
Rafe smiled at his backhanded compliment. "I just don't understand why the people are having so many problems with us helping them out."
"I know what you mean. Something has to be done about the huge deer herds; I don't hear anyone else making suggestions." And this was true. Blair wished he could think of another alternative.
Rafe's head was facing in his direction, but his eyes were pointed in the kitchen's direction. Blair decided that he needed to keep up the conversation and give Rafe time to see what they were doing. Then he stiffened at his own thought. He was with Rafe, not Jim. Rafe didn't have any keener senses than he did. His eyes should be working just as hard. Luckily, he was adept at both talking and observing.
"As county deputies, it's our job to make sure that the whole county is safe. If those deer are wandering into the path of oncoming cars..." Blair found himself espousing something he didn't believe in. Yet, because he was undercover, it didn't feel like he was betraying his own ideals. In fact, Blair wasn't even sure that Rafe knew his real feelings on the matter. "...and this bruise is from some demonstrator who didn't like my interference in his expression of free speech."
During his dialogue, he followed one of the boys in the back as he assembled a burger. Nothing he did seemed unnatural or out-of-place. Salt was sprinkled on the fries and several people were given plates from the same batch.
Rafe paid the cashier and they selected a table near the back so that they were partially hidden from the workers. The soda fountain was off to the side with the condiments, so both men were fairly certain that the drinks would be safe. Rafe carefully unwrapped his cheeseburger and smelled it. "It doesn't have a soapy smell."
Blair opened his salad relatively sure his was fine since they didn't start their act until he had gotten his food. Rafe must have been of the same mind because he took Blair's fries and started to eat them.
"What are you doing," Blair asked, watching his fries disappear into Rafe's mouth.
"I thought you got them for me," he answered, the words garbled because he was chewing.
Blair said a silent goodbye to his fries, and did his own inspection of Rafe's food. He was holding the burger up to his nose when a body slid in next to him.
"Don't eat that, Chief."
Blair turned to look at his missing partner. "I was just sniffing it. Can you tell if there's-"
"There is," Jim returned emphatically. His nostrils flared as he took another whiff. "Smells like the stuff we clean the oven with."
"Easy Off?" Blair pulled off the bun and looked closely at the meat. "What did they do, spray it on?"
Jim nodded. "I suppose so--probably before they cooked it. How'd you get it?"
Rafe explained the plan to Jim. "Let's bust 'em," Jim said as he stood. Rafe pulled out his cellphone and requested backup, a forensics team and the Health Department.
Armed with the contaminated cheeseburger, Jim strode purposefully to the front counter. An angry Jim was not someone to get in the way of, Blair thought, following in Jim's wake.
"Can I speak to the manager?" Jim politely demanded.
The girl working the register paled, took a few backward steps, then turned and walked quickly behind the microwave ovens. Jim stood at attention, no doubt listening to her words. Blair wished he could hear them, too.
The heavy-set manager came strolling nonchalantly out from the dark recesses of the kitchen. "Can I help you?"
He acted unconcerned, as if this was just a regular person complaining about the adequacy of the food.
"I'm Detective Ellison. Can we have a private word?"
"Sure." He looked more alert, now. "My office is back here."
As Rafe rejoined them, Jim instructed, "Escort the patrons out and secure the doors." Then he followed the manager into his back office.
Rafe immediately went behind the counter and stood guard by the back door leading to the loading dock--gun in hand. Blair stayed in the front and went from table to table quietly asking the customers to leave, taking their names and addresses and noting the table in which they were sitting. Their food had to stay, he told them consolingly, to be checked over by the forensics team. If anything was found they would be notified.
"What's going on?" one of the girls asked Blair as he locked the door behind the last exiting group. None of the staff made any kind of move to escape. They all looked as bewildered as the first girl.
Blair and Rafe exchanged looks. Rafe gave him a nod.
"Your restaurant has been implicated in the poisoning of some people--six men and women in the last week or so."
"Us? You mean like E. coli poisoning? I can't think how. We really cook our meat to death."
"No. Not bacterial contamination, but deliberate chemical poisoning." Blair saw Rafe stiffen-- ready to act. Nobody moved.
Blair noticed one young man shift from foot to foot. Was he acting guilty? Nervous? Casually, he drifted over toward the young man. "Do you know something about it?" Blair couldn't decide whether to act comforting or confronting. What came out was something in the middle.
"Uh. Ah, maybe a little," he responded tentatively.
Blair went over and stood nose to nose. He wanted to try intimidation, but it generally never worked with him. That was Jim's role.
"It was a lark. Some guy came in here and asked us if we'd like to have a little fun. He had a bone to pick with the Sheriff's Department and mentioned how much fun it'd be to give them the runs. That's what soap does, isn't it?"
Blair wanted to strangle him. "The runs?" His disbelief at the young man's idiocy came through loud and clear. "There are three people fighting for their lives. Bars of soap may give you the runs, but industrial cleaners destroy your insides. If they die, it's murder. I suppose right now it's just the attempt to commit murder." Blair let that sink in a minute. "You gonna take the rap by yourselves?"
The girl, who had summoned the manager, squeezed her eyes shut. She was still ashen. "Tell him, Dennis. We didn't think we were doing anything that bad. Like he said, it was just for some laughs." Her voice cracked as she spoke.
"Didn't you hear about it on the news?" Blair heard the office door open and Jim appeared. He didn't interfere, but stood against the wall listening. "I mean," Blair continued, "the media carried the news of the poisonings on all the broadcasts."
"I had no idea it had anything to do with us," Dennis remarked.
Blair believed him. Both kids looked shocked enough to be sincere in not comprehending the severity of what they had done.
"Yeah," the girl agreed. "The guy just said to put a little of this on the hamburgers as they were frying. Most of it would get burned off anyway on the griddle, so no one would get really sick."
"And it made it easier to clean with the soap already there," Dennis added.
"What was the guy's name?" Blair asked insistently, mad at how easily these kids had been led.
"I think it was Jake, or something like that," Dennis said, looking like he was thinking hard. "He only came in the one time."
"Yeah, I never saw him again," the girl agreed.
"Did he say anything about why he didn't like the Sheriff's Department?" Blair continued, knowing that Jim was getting restless.
"No. I don't remember anything." Dennis looked at the girl. "Did he say anything to you, Lucy?"
"We were just laughing about the cops having to stop giving speeding tickets cause they were constantly in the bathroom. He thought it was hilarious."
Blair took a deep breath. "What about--"
Jim came over and cut in. "Was he wearing any kind of 'save the deer' paraphernalia?"
"No. He had on a pair of jeans and a Dave Matthews T-shirt."
"Dave Matthews? Is he an environmentalist?" Jim asked, seriously.
Dennis, Lucy and Blair looked at Jim like he was from another planet. "Man, he's like a rock star," Dennis was the only one to speak.
Blair could see Jim clench his jaw.
Squad cars pulled up outside and Blair had to open the doors to let them in. Forensics was close behind and immediately began cataloging everything in the room. Patrolmen cuffed the two teens, read them their rights and escorted them outside.
"Well, that's one mystery solved, Shaggy," Blair remarked, tongue-in-cheek.
Jim didn't even crack a smile. "I just can't believe they did it for fun. What is the world coming to when regular kids get their kicks from poisoning cops?"
Blair didn't have an answer for him.
Jim walked into the bullpen to see Blair scarfing down a package of pretzels and finishing up a can of Coke. The younger detective looked up as he came in.
"Are those kids in jail?" Blair asked, as Jim sat down at his desk.
"Yes," Jim replied.
"I've been going over the facts." Blair moved his chair over to Jim's desk, holding a piece of paper in his hands. "We can't rule out the fact that the poisonings are related to the Bait and Shoot program, but that might not be the only explanation."
Jim was surprised. "I agree. You're not as uptight. Did your meditation or whatever help?"
"Yeah, it did. Things just got jumbled up for awhile. I didn't like arresting the people who were protesting for something they believe in. Guess I was running on instinct and emotion--not rational thought."
"Sounds like what you usually accuse me of," Jim remarked with a laugh. "I'm glad things are back to normal. You and Rafe did good at Wonderburger."
"Thanks. I did call the bullpen looking for you, but you'd already left to see your Pokemon friend."
Jim cuffed Blair beside the head. "He's not my friend. But I did learn something interesting. Only the American cards are being counterfeited. I couldn't find any fake Japanese ones."
"Hmmm. So, these crooks have a limited number of originals that they're copying."
"Looks that way," Jim agreed, "but, let's get back to the poisonings. Wonderburger is in our jurisdiction, so it falls on us to find this Jake person."
"You know, the sheriffs are gonna want to know about Dennis and Lucy," Blair reminded.
"And the unknown Jake. Tomorrow we'll head over to the County Building and talk to Sheriff Micale. I'd like to find out what Rand and Burlington have been investigating in case it's the reason behind the poisonings. The Bait and Shoot program may be just a convenient smoke screen."
County corn shed
The moonlight flickered off the white trim of a dark colored parka as a human form darted around a small shed. Kernels of corn filled large barrels, visible through the small rectangular window. The person had just finished squishing a clay-like substance between a pair of loose boards on the north side of the shed. After fumbling around for few more seconds, he backed up laying down some wire as his feet made fresh prints in the snow. His eyes darted from the gray glob to other points, where wire protruded from the structure. Hands, shaking with nervousness, had a hard time getting the wires in just the right alignment. Finally satisfied at the job, he turned and loped back into the woods. As he melted into the tree line, he stopped, pulled out a small transmitter and pushed a button. A loud explosion filled the air as fire erupted and corn flew out in all directions. He allowed himself a moment to observe his handiwork, disappointed that the entire structure hadn't collapsed, then disappeared into the dense woods. The sound of a snowmobile's engine was swept along with the crisp winter wind.
Glowing embers littered the ground around the remnants of the storage shed. Sheriff deputies and the Cascade Police Department's bomb squad milled around, gathering clues and talking quietly among themselves. Captain Nugyen stood next to Sheriff Micale deep in discussion. Large flood lamps had been installed in order to illuminate the scene. Firemen were rolling up their giant hoses as a few scattered firefighters were walking around making sure there was nothing else that could catch and start the blaze roaring once more.
Jim and Blair parked behind one of the deputies' cruisers. Joel and Simon greeted them as they entered the cordoned-off area.
"What happened, Captain?" Jim asked, staring around at the remains. Joel gave them a wave and rejoined the team analyzing the evidence resting on the hood of a patrol car.
"The protestors bombed the food supply that they were using for the bait," Simon answered.
"How can you know that?" Blair was quick to question. "Anyone could have--"
"They called and claimed responsibility," Simon interrupted, "even before the first emergency vehicle responded. You still having problems in separating the job from your personal beliefs?"
"No, sir," Blair refuted. "I have everything under control."
With a dubious look, Simon continued. "Forensics have found parts of a receiver and two blasting caps."
"Any prints?" Jim asked, nostrils flaring, as he catalogued the scents flying in the wind.
"They're checking." Simon paused, his eyes on Jim. "Notice anything?" he asked with his customary uneasiness when it came to Jim's senses.
"C4," Jim responded.
"Forensics already figured that out. Anything else?"
"Go ahead and wander around," Simon suggested. "Maybe you can come up with something else."
Jim nodded as he sauntered off, followed closely by his guide. The sun was just peeking out over the eastern horizon, the rays filtering through the trees. Sliding on a pair of latex gloves, he began sifting though half burned kernels of corn, finding pieces of the detonator. A smile spread slowly over his face as he recognized one white particle as a popped kernel.
"Deer popcorn," Blair said with amazement. "How cool."
The structure itself was still standing. Jim walked around it, eyes dilated, looking for scraps of clothing, prints, anything that might lead to the identity of the bomber. He squatted, running his finger along the edge of an exposed wall. Joel Taggart came up behind him. Raising his eyes, Jim stated, "Work of an amateur."
"I agree," Joel said in a deep, troubled voice. "They didn't place the C4 next to any of the supports. Basically they only took out two walls."
"And the corn. Maybe they weren't trying to decimate the shed, only the deer food," Blair piped in.
Jim looked at his partner. "They were making a statement," he agreed.
"We got a partial on one of the blasting caps," Joel informed them
"Bet it doesn't match anything. This person probably has never blown up anything before." Jim stood, stretching his back. This was a dead end. "Does this fall under our jurisdiction or are the sheriffs handling it?"
"They asked for our help. They're strung pretty thin right now."
Jim could understand. Two deputies lay in intensive care, two others were at the hospital with their wives and the secretary was still recovering. Jim started walking back to the crowd of officers. Simon was still talking with Nugyen. Both captains looked up as they approached.
"No, Captain. We didn't find anything new," Jim told him with regret. "But we intend to go visit the Sheriff's Department offices later this morning."
Simon turned to Jim. "Something waving a red flag?"
"Yeah, but not directly with this case. Blair told me that Rand and Burlington were the two deputies who were poisoned. It just seems a big coincidence when you consider the total number of deputies."
"I don't see the connection."
"They're the ones who tried to apprehend the ink shipment last November and then the truck crashed. Now we find out that they were targets for the poisoning."
"I thought the kids said that it was random?" Blair asked, looking puzzled.
"That's what they said. It may even be true. But what if the man, Jake, or whatever his name is, knew that these two deputies frequent this particular Wonderburger and was just playing the odds."
"Check it out," Simon instructed.
"What can I do for you?" a pretty young receptionist asked, as Jim and Blair entered the County Building. She sat at a desk in the center of the lobby, directing newcomers to the proper floor. The government building housed a variety of departments, including the court system, the district attorney's office and the Sheriff's Department.
"We would like to see the sheriff. I'm Detective James Ellison with the Cascade Police Department and this is my partner--"
She had already picked up the phone and had apparently ceased listening to him. After announcing their presence, the person at the other end must have given her permission to allow them up.
"Sheriff Micale will see you now. Take the elevator to the third floor, go through the doors on your left, and continue down the hall to the end. That's his office."
"Thank you," Jim told her and proceeded to the elevator. He pushed the button for the third floor and then noticed that Blair was still talking to the receptionist. With a deep sigh of patient exasperation, he waited. Finally Blair strode over to him.
"Mrs. Powel is coming home today, isn't that great?" Blair mentioned as he passed through the elevator doors just as they were opening. "There's no change in either Rand, Burlington or the two wives. At least they haven't gotten worse."
"That's good," Jim replied, grateful that his partner thought to ask.
"So, have you thought about what exactly you're gonna tell Micale?"
"We need to update him on what we found at the Wonderburger. Even though the kids said that the poisonings were random, there must be a reason Jake picked that particular restaurant. I think he was targeting certain deputies."
"Like Rand and Burlington."
"Exactly," Jim agreed.
"You think it might be a case of revenge? Like some previous arrest or something?"
"No, I don't think so. But, what if they're using the fact that the Sheriff's Department is under fire because of the Bait and Shoot program and using it to hide the real reason--like maybe something the deputies are investigating now?" Jim reasoned aloud.
"So, you don't think the poisonings have anything to do with the Bait and Shoot program?"
"My gut says no."
Blair seemed to ponder this for a moment. "I didn't think so either, but I'm glad you agree." The younger detective paused and then continued. "But why Rand and Burlington? Unless there's a connection between the ink shipment they stopped, which ties into our counterfeiting case and the poisonings."
"Maybe we'll find the connection here." Jim gave his partner a quick smile and then knocked on the door. A barked, "Come in," was all he needed to open the door.
The sheriff was seated at a desk piled high with reports. His eyes were puffy and his skin was rather pale. Worry lines were pronounced on his face, making his over-all appearance haggard.
"Hello, Detective Ellison. Please come in. You too, Detective Sandburg. Have a seat." The sheriff waited until they were settled. "What can I do for you?" he asked.
"I need some information," Jim explained. "There's a case I worked a bit on last November. It was never really solved, but at the end, two of your deputies almost caught two of the suspects. There was a chase through the mountains and they ended up crashing--"
"Is this the U-haul truck with the bottles of ink?" Micale interrupted.
Jim nodded in assent.
"I remember it." Micale wore a patient expression, waiting for whatever Jim was going to say next.
Jim told him bluntly, "I think it's connected with another case I'm working on and the poisonings."
The sheriff's eyes widened. "You do? We assumed it had to do with the Bait and Shoot program."
"I think that's what you were supposed to think. Could you tell me what Rand and Burlington were working on before they were poisoned?"
"We were in the middle of an ongoing investigation of a man named William Kaiser."
Both Cascade PD detectives stiffened with recognition. "We've had dealings with him in the past," Jim informed the sheriff.
"You have?" His eyes sparkled with interest. "In what respects?"
"The same ink case we mentioned previously. He was employed at the warehouse from where the ink was stolen."
The sheriff nodded. "We've had him under surveillance for over a year. He's been remotely implicated in a broad range of thefts, but the merchandise has never been recovered."
"What thefts?" Blair asked, withdrawing his notebook ready to jot down anything important.
"About a year ago a printing press was stolen from Vanguard," the sheriff told them
"Isn't that the gossip magazine that covers the actors and actresses up in Vancouver?" Blair asked, pen poised above the paper.
"That's correct. They had been closed for Christmas and when they returned after the holidays the press was gone."
"Aren't those things huge?" Blair asked, continuing to write in his trusty notebook. "How did the thieves get it out without being seen?" He glanced up, waiting for the answer.
"I was told that Vanguard is located in a commercial area and it was pretty much deserted that weekend."
"How did you guys become involved?" Jim asked, knowing that the magazine was centered just south of the Canadian border, but not anywhere near their county line.
"Fingerprints belonging to William Kaiser were found on the Vanguard premises. We had a red flag on his name because of another theft concerning printer's ink recipes. A memo was sent to us from La Joya California. The Game Freak company had some top secret papers stolen in route to a plant where they produce the packaging boxes for the Nintendo games. They caught one man, but the others escaped."
"Who was he?" Jim asked.
"A native of Cascade, Patrick Eaton. His current residence is listed as Bayridge."
Jim nodded to himself. Bayridge was a small town on the coast, just south of Cascade. He had never heard of Eaton.
"Were the ink recipes recovered?" Blair inquired.
"No." The sheriff wore a disgruntled expression.
"So, what's the connection to Kaiser?" Jim was trying to figure his way through the information.
"Eaton is Kaiser's nephew. The young man refused to talk, but Kaiser was the one who hired an expensive attorney and got the charges reduced. Kaiser has an air-tight alibi, so we know he wasn't involved in the theft itself, but there are records that state that he had traveled to La Joya a month previous to the theft."
"Okay," Jim mulled that info over. "What about the printing press theft at Vanguard; what happened there?"
"Kaiser was cleared."
"I thought you said his prints were found there?"
"He had a reason for that. You see his wife's sister works there. Wait a minute. I think the sister's last name is Patterson." The sheriff rifled through some more files. "Here it is. Diane Patterson. Divorced from Edward Patterson. One son--"
"Billy," Blair interrupted.
"William," Micale said a second later, with a smile directed at Blair. "We questioned them first at their house, and then up at their hunting lodge, but didn't find anything suspicious. He covers his tracks well.
"What's the model number of the press stolen from Vanguard?" Blair asked. "Remember, Jim. The Patterson case. The blueprints that were stolen were to a printing press."
The sheriff dug though some files and brought out a spec sheet. Blair compared it to the press's model number that had been given to them by Ed Patterson. "It matches, Jim." The three men exchanged pleased looks.
"So, we suspect that Kaiser was somehow involved in three thefts; he worked at the warehouse where the ink was stolen, his prints were at Vanguard where a printing press was stolen and his nephew was one of the culprits in the recipe theft. How can we get an air-tight case against him?"
Blair continued with the other facts. "Edward Patterson works for a company that sells a printing press to his wife or rather ex-wife's place of employment--Vanguard. Diane Patterson tells her sister Donna who mentions it to her husband--Bill Kaiser."
"If they had the press, why do they need the blueprints?" Jim asked.
"Good question," the sheriff agreed. "More importantly, what are they printing on the stolen press?"
"Counterfeit Pokemon cards," Blair responded as he wrote furiously in his notebook.
"Come again?" the sheriff asked incredulously.
Jim gave an internal groan.
Blair went on to explain about Carl Meredith and his problem with counterfeit cards and then how they tied it in with the ink theft.
"This sounds like a lot of hard work for something with little monetary return," the sheriff commented.
Blair gave a deep sigh. "You two don't understand how big this is. They could be sending these fake cards all over the country. Think about how many kids under twelve there are. Say only fifty percent are into Pokemon. At fifty bucks a card that could get up into the millions very fast."
"What we have so far is guess work. We need Kaiser and--"
"We need to find the printing press," the sheriff interjected.
"What if Rand and Burlington had a lead?" Blair suggested.
The other two gave Blair an appreciative smile and they trudged over to an empty desk. Several files were scattered, which Micale went through. Jim picked up a post-it note pad. The top page was blank, but Jim carefully ran his pointer finger over it.
"Northwood," Jim muttered, concentrating on the note. "Hell, it's referring to Rick Teale's place."
"I don't know this Rick Teale, but Kaiser's place is in Northwood, too," Micale added without looking up, still perusing one of the files. "We need a map."
The three men returned to the sheriff's office where he brought out a large topographical map of Northwood. He spread it out on his desk.
"This is Kaiser's place," he said pointing to an area.
Jim ran his finger just a bit south, "And here is Teale's."
"They border each other." Blair fidgeted as he looked over Jim's shoulder. "What if there's another building deeper into the mountains that can be accessed by either place?"
"I think we need a two pronged attack. You bring the deputies in through Kaiser's cabin and Cascade PD'll go up to Teale's." Jim had the beginning of a plan.
The sheriff continued. "We'll surround them."
"And they'll lead us to the other building where the press is located," Blair added, sounding sure.
The three men huddled together, going over the details.
Jim pulled his truck over on the country road. It was a mile hike up to Teale's cabin.
"We have to walk the whole way?" Blair didn't sound pleased at the prospect.
"It won't be so bad." Jim laughed at the face his partner was making.
"Right. Just a day in the park." He adjusted his scarf and zipped up his coat. His hat was already securely fitted to his head.
The two men left the truck and entered the brush. Their path ran parallel, approximately ten feet from the driveway, but Jim wanted them to stay hidden for as long as possible. They were the first wave to descend upon Teale's cabin. Megan and Fielding were a few miles down the road waiting for the signal and then would drive up to the cabin. Rafe and Henri were on snowmobiles, hiding in the woods a little south of Teale's, waiting. The SWAT team was on standby. Simon was hovering in a Sheriff's Department helicopter ready to land and disgorge men, when the need arose. The rest of the sheriff's men were descending upon Kaiser's hunting lodge. Between the two fronts they would capture their prey and put an end to the counterfeiting ring--if everything went according to plan.
Keeping as quiet as possible, Jim and Blair walked through the dried leaves that the few inches of snow had failed to hide. Jim's senses catalogued the surrounding area. He was grateful for Blair's silence as his hearing was turned up to its fullest. If Teale was doing the counterfeiting up here, it stood to reason that sentries would be posted. Jim wanted to find them first yet still keep their own presence secret from the rest of the suspects.
Jim pulled up his hand and stopped Blair's forward motion. Using the radio he called his two teams.
"We're about a hundred yards from the front of the cabin. I don't hear or see anything happening, so far."
"Roger," came Megan's Aussie lilt.
"Right," echoed Henri.
Going slower, the two detectives circled around the large cabin. Jim was closer to the structure while Blair wandered off more toward the perimeter of the cleared grounds. Tall trees surrounded an area of mowed grass. A small shed had been erected in a corner and a pile of firewood was stacked along one of the walls. Blair gazed into one of the windows and then meandered around the woodpile.
"Over here," Blair whispered.
"You found something?" Jim had kept half an eye on his partner's progress. He had run through the gauntlet of his hyper-senses and still couldn't detect any movements within the cabin.
"There's a path leading into the woods. It looks well kept and wide enough for an ATV or a snowmobile."
"Let me just take a check in the cabin, although I'm pretty sure it's empty."
The two men went back to the front door. Jim turned the front knob and found it unlocked. Pushing the door open, they entered. There was a fire going in the fireplace, which made the room very warm. Jim pulled out his radio and called in to the other two teams.
"Connor. Fielding. The cabin is secure." Jim wanted the two detectives to stay at the cabin and make sure that any suspects that they flushed out wouldn't get away at this end. "Rafe. Henri. Sandburg found a path that leads into the woods heading north to northwest. We're going to head in that direction. Bring the snowmobiles in and we'll meet you behind the cabin and we'll go in together."
Jim broke contact and they left the cabin. The path was well used. All the branches were cut and the grass beneath their feet was kept short.
"What did you see inside the shed?" Jim asked.
"Usual stuff. Lawnmower, clippers, chainsaw. You know, gardening stuff."
"Was there any empty space? You know, that might fit a snowmobile or ATV?"
"I didn't see an ATV, but the light wasn't that good. I couldn't tell if there was any space where something had been stored which is now missing."
Jim grunted, then caught the sound of the snowmobiles coming up on them. They had only walked a couple hundred feet. Rafe grinned at them as he pulled up alongside. Henri was right behind.
"You want to bring the machines or leave them here?" Rafe asked, keeping the motor running.
"Put them over there. The brush is pretty thick. We may need them later."
The four detectives continued on the well-worn path with Jim giving them strict instructions not to talk. He had his hearing dials turned as high as he could comfortably stand them, searching for the inevitable sentries. Professionals wouldn't take the chance of someone sneaking up on them.
They continued down the path for some time. A soft whine fought for recognition within the sentinel's mind. At last it became loud enough that Jim realized that it was important.
"I can hear a generator," he informed the rest of the party.
"Can you see some kind of building ahead?" Blair asked, squinting as he gazed ahead.
"Nope, but now I can smell the gasoline fumes."
"You think the deputies have reached Kaiser's place by now?" Blair's words came in gasps as he walked fast to keep up with Jim's long strides.
"I'm sure they have. The question is how long will it take the perps to try and escape--"
"And run into us," Rafe finished for him.
"Shhh!" Jim commanded.
With the cessation of talking, Jim opened up his hearing just in time to catch the sound of thundering in the underbrush. "Someone's coming," he whispered.
"Where?" Rafe asked, aiming his gun one way, then another, waiting for the figure to emerge.
Jim pointed ahead. "He'll be here any--"
The sound became audible to the others. Simultaneously, Blair, Rafe and Henri all had their guns pointed at the approaching sound. Jim circled into the brush, hoping to flank the newcomer and verify that only one person was traveling toward them.
"Halt! Cascade Police!" Rafe declared with authority. The words stopped the fleeing man in his tracks.
Jim grinned with pleasure. The man looking in vain for a way to escape was Jack Teale. The slime-ball had skipped out on his cohorts hoping to avoid capture.
The sentinel stayed hidden within the brush and yellowed foliage, tuning out the arrest in progress and focused instead on the sound of the generator. Slowly, other sounds, close to the gas-powered machine, became distinguishable. Loud shouts, clicking of cuffs and the occasional gunshots assured him that the deputies had arrived and had things well in hand. Disentangling himself from the bushes, he rejoined his companions. "It's all over," he told them.
Henri gave Blair a high-five. Not one of them asked how he obtained his information.
"We'll keep going and hand this joker off--" Jim stopped mid-sentence as his radio crackled to life.
Megan's voice came over punctuated by gunfire. "We're having a problem over here. Two men sneaked up on us outside and shot Fielding. We're inside the cabin, under continuous fire."
"I'll be right there," Jim told her. The words drifted on the wind as he had already turned and was sprinting down the path. Without checking behind, he knew Rafe was behind him. The man's long stride identified it as him. Blair and Henri would escort the prisoner to the sheriff and round up help for them at Teale's cabin. Their job was to keep the two men from getting past the cabin before they could be arrested.
They stopped just behind the woodpile and took stock of the situation. "What's in the cabin that those two want bad enough to stay and fight for?" Jim mused aloud.
"Money?" Rafe answered in a whisper.
In the distance, Jim could hear the sound of at least two approaching helicopters. With help on its way, it was time to get involved in things. Piggy-backing sight to sound, he focused on where the gunshots were coming from. One of the men firing at the cabin was none other than Rick Teale. The other was unknown to Jim. As soon as the helicopter landed, Teale and his crony would disappear into the woods. There was no way Jim would allow that to happen. Motioning them forward, Jim crept silently away from the woods and closer to where the men were hovering, cutting off their access to the deep forest, with Rafe close behind
A branch snapped, and the stranger turned and started firing in their direction. Jim shot back and hit the man in his right arm causing him to drop the gun. Teale started to run, but Rafe was ready. With a solid tackle he brought him down and wrestled the gun away. Pulling the cuffs from his belt-buckle, he clasped them onto Teale and stood erect. The two detectives exchanged a satisfied look as they watched helicopters land in the front yard. Several deputies poured out, and Jim made himself visible.
"They're right here," he told them. As soon as the prisoners were secured, he went into the cabin. Megan was kneeling next to Fielding, using pressure to stop the bleeding, which was now a slow trickle, but looking at the array of blood-soaked towels, it had been flowing pretty heavy.
"Need some help?" Jim asked as he bent down and took over for her.
With a moan of relief, she sat back and stretched her legs out in front of her. "Thanks. My back was about to give out." She gave several deep sighs, trying to calm herself after the ordeal.
"Simon's already called for an ambulance."
"I think he should be airlifted in that 'copter out there. He's gone into shock--"
Jim stood and strode over to the door. "Captain, Fielding needs attention now. Have the sheriff's chopper airlift him to Cascade General."
Simon mumbled a few words and soon a bunch of deputies came in to help. Finding a cot nestled in the corner, they gently raised him from the floor onto the cot and carried him out the door to the idle aircraft.
Jim watched the helicopter take off, then went over to Simon. "Where's Sandburg?"
"I made him stay at that huge storage shed. He's helping forensics categorize what they've found. He knows that you'd handle this without a problem and we'd be there--" Simon's radio crackled.
"Have you found Jim yet?" Blair's unmistakable voice sounded over the speaker.
Jim grabbed the radio out of Simon's hands. "Yeah, I'm here," Jim answered.
Simon's radio was on a different frequency than the one's the CPD officers used. They had decided that to keep the secret of the two pronged attack, both sides would be incommunicado with the other. Only Simon had a link to both sides and Jim had just appropriated one of those links.
"You gotta see this place, Jim. There are boxes everywhere of empty toner cartridges, ink bottles, fiberboard used for the cards and even completed Charizard cards."
"I'll be right there. I know that there's something in this place that Teale wanted. Both brothers were trying to retrieve it before we interrupted them. I need to find it."
"Okay, man. See ya."
Jim handed the radio back to his disgruntled captain, then returned inside the cabin. Rafe was already busy going through closets and drawers in the back rooms. Henri was in the main living room doing the same. Megan was sitting on the couch just looking around. With a shake of his head, Jim joined the search. He went into the kitchen and pulled open cupboards, rummaged through the pantry and even checked in the freezer.
Megan was still sitting on the sofa. "Are you okay?" Jim asked, beginning to be concerned.
She stood up and walked over to an entertainment center. There was a TV and a stereo and some speakers--all looking quite ordinary. "Don't you find it odd that there isn't a DVD player?" she asked.
"No," Jim replied slowly, then paused. Along one shelf was a row of movies in DVD format, but Megan was right--no player. He reached up and opened one of the boxes. Inside, on top of an unmarked CD, sat a Thurman Munson baseball card and a copy. He opened another and found a Jim Brown football card. "My God. They were just warming up." He opened several more as did Megan and found a single rare card in each box.
"You think these CD's are the programs to make the card?" Megan asked, fingering a Bobby Hull card.
Before Jim could respond, Rafe shouted from the back room. "I found it!" He came out of the back room carrying several shoeboxes. "Money. All fifty dollar bills, neatly stacked, bound, unmarked and with random serial numbers." Rafe took a stack out and flipped through it.
Jim took one and gazed at it closely. "They're real. For a minute I thought they might be going into counterfeit money, too." He showed Rafe what they had found.
Handing the responsibility over to the Sheriff's Department, Jim went back outside. "I'm heading over to that barn. You guys staying or coming over with me?" he asked Rafe and Henri. They wanted a look at the structure so the three of them went back out to the snowmobiles parked a little ways down the path and sped toward the building that housed the press.
They had to go quite a ways further than Jim had supposed. The generator noise was drowned out because of the snowmobiles, but finally they reached it. It was mammoth. It had to be three stories tall and four thousand square feet in area. There wasn't just one generator present, but only one was being used. Locating the front door, the three detectives entered. Ceiling lights hung every few feet, giving off enough light to illuminate the entire structure.
The huge press sat in the middle with several tables surrounding it. Blinking, Jim happened to notice that the printing press's front compartment was open and several parts were lying on the table. Walking closer, he saw a single blueprint on each table.
"I'll be damned. The machine is broken. That's why they stole the blueprints from Patterson," Jim spoke his thoughts aloud.
"Hey Jim," Blair called out as he rushed over. "Can you believe this place?"
"Patterson's blueprints," Jim commented as he picked up one of the sheets.
"Yeah. The amount of cards they're processing is staggering--cases and cases of each card. Come here," Blair motioned for Jim to follow him. "They're mixing their own printing oils and everything. In that corner," Jim's eyes followed where his partner was pointing, "there are cases of the powdered pigments and on this table is some of the colors they're already mixed."
Several cans of oil-based ink sat in cans: magenta, cyan, yellow and black. Jim skipped around the table that was stained with the multicolors and wandered over to another area. "Look here, Chief." Jim slit open a large oblong box and found stacked fiberboard. He pulled one sheet out. "The paper they're using to make the forgeries."
Jim replaced the sheet and continued wandering though the large Morton shed. Deputies and forensic technicians were scouring the entire area. Jim glanced at them, confident that they'd do an adequate job. He could also hear helicopters coming in and taking out the newly arrested counterfeiters. "Ready to leave? I don't think we're needed here anymore."
"I know. You're anxious to get back to that Pokemon dealer and tell him that you've solved the case."
"Ha, ha," Jim returned sardonically.
Blair stiffened. "Do we have to walk all the way back to the truck?"
Jim gave an evil laugh.
Blair flung the door wide and entered the Major Crime bullpen with a spring to his steps. Jim was just setting the phone down as Blair came up to him.
"That was Carl Meredith on the phone," Jim explained. "He called to tell me that he had contacted at least a hundred hobby shops throughout the western part of the US. All reported that they had counterfeit cards, but not all had the same characteristics as our cards."
"Jeez, that means that more than one group is making them. Imagine that." Blair laughed with his voice dripping with amused sarcasm.
"Right." Jim paused, contemplating a sheet of paper in his hands. "I heard you went down to lock-up."
"Yeah, I wanted to check something out." Blair shifted on his toes, twitching in excess energy.
"And that was?" Jim asked patiently.
"Dennis and Lucy said a guy named Jake was the one that gave them their inspiration, so to speak. I was wondering if Jake could be Jack Teale. The artist rendition was pretty poor; they just weren't able to give an accurate description."
"When did all this occur to you?"
"During that ride back to the truck. Did you have to go quite that fast through the trees? I thought for sure that I was gonna get pitched off the back of the snowmobile."
"It was fun, wasn't it." Jim laughed, his eyes twinkling devilishly.
"Anyway," Blair continued, "I didn't want to say anything until Teale was booked and I got a copy of his mug shot."
"You wanted to show it to the kids?"
Blair smiled triumphantly. "They said that it was Jake. Then I went and confronted Jack with it and he just smirked and said how could he help it if great minds thought alike--not really confirming or denying."
Jim and Blair looked up as Simon Banks burst out of his office. "The mayor and county executive are giving a press conference," he told everyone as he crossed the bullpen. He went over to the TV in the break room, turned it on, then stepped back as the detectives crowded around him. It hadn't started yet, but the media was full of speculations.
"You think they're going to tell everyone about us working with the Sheriff and stopping the counterfeiting ring?" Blair asked.
"Shush!!!" Simon commanded.
"Welcome, everyone," the Mayor began. "Thank you all for being here. After much deliberation, we have decided to suspend the Bait and Shoot program--"
There was so much noise from the onlookers, that the mayor stopped speaking, until it calmed down.
"In the spirit of community solidarity," he began again, "and with the upcoming sesquicentennial celebrations, we have cancelled Bait and Shoot for the rest of this year. The program will be reevaluated for the next winter. Now, we're ready to take your questions."
"I had forgotten about the sesquicentennial," Jim remarked as he turned off the TV.
"How could you forget it? There are banners all over town and in this morning's paper is a list of activities. Hell, even Santana is supposed to come."
Jim began humming the melody to Smooth. At one point he put his face inches from Blair's nose and sang, "Just forget about it," then turned abruptly and walked leisurely back to his desk.
"Maaaan," Blair whined, because he couldn't think of a suitable reply.
Author's notes: The story about counterfeiting has come strictly from my imagination. I don't have any technical expertise with printing presses. However, the part about the deputies being poisoned by fast-food workers is true. Last year, New York State Troopers were poisoned by ingesting Easy Off and other caustic chemicals at a Thruway burger joint. The kids said they did it only for fun. We also have the Bait and Shoot program implemented in an outlying town. The sheriff department's sharp shooters are responsible for taking down the deer. The first year was filled with protests and editorials in the city paper. Now, it doesn't even get a write-up in the paper.
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