Production No. BPP-613

written by:

edited by: Elizabeth Knauel, Shelley Knepley and Deborah


Monday Morning, bullpen


Everyone in the bullpen stared aghast at Blair Sandburg as he slammed down the phone and stalked out of the office. Across the room, Jim had been talking with Joel and hadn't realized Blair was on phone, much less the subject of the conversation that had upset his partner so much. Ignoring the questions directed at him by his fellow officers, he quickly followed Sandburg into the break room. He closed the door behind him, giving them some limited privacy.

Blair was pacing while muttering under his breath so rapidly Jim couldn't understand a word he was saying.

"Chief, what's got you so fired up? Who were you talking to?"

"That was the hospital. Monica Andrew died an hour ago."

Jim closed his eyes and shook his head. He and Blair had been the first officers on the scene. "I thought they'd gotten her to the hospital in time."

"They didn't. You know, I'm getting sick and tired of watching these kids die, Jim."

There was a new pipeline of cocaine flowing in the city of Cascade. This time, those being targeted were high school students. The manufacturing process had very low quality control, or maybe Rothchild just didn't care that his customers were dying. So far there had been over fifteen reported cases of overdoses in the past several months. Monica was the most recent victim. Three days ago, during a party, her friends had found her lying on the bathroom floor.

"I'm sorry, Chief. I know how hard this case has been for you." Blair had begun his own war on drugs after his exposure to Golden. He often volunteered to speak to school kids about the horrors of drugs. He was a very popular speaker with the kids and one of the few officers who enjoyed the duty.

"She was going to graduate in May as Valedictorian. Now, instead of watching her graduate, her parents have to arrange her funeral. Rothchild's the one who we ought to be burying. Doesn't he realize that if he keeps killing his customers, he's gonna be out of business?" Blair asked angrily, slamming his hand against the vending machine. "There're five kids dead and one still in a coma with no hope of recovery. How many more are going to die before we stop this guy?"

"No more, Chief. These deaths stop now. We're going to put an end to this guy's business today." Jim stood silently for a moment, watching his partner pace back and forth in front of the vending machines, obviously still very agitated. "Hang on and keep it together for a few more hours, buddy."

Blair continued to pace and mutter, Jim's words washing over him without comprehension. Jim tried again to calm his friend. "If Simon sees you acting like this, he's not going to let you take part in the bust."

When the first three overdoses occurred two months ago, the Mayor, demanding immediate action, had the case reassigned from Narcotics to Major Crimes. For once he had also provided the necessary support by opening up the city coffers for additional funding for anything Major Crimes needed to arrest the group.

Six weeks ago, the case had broken wide open when several of the victims who had recovered from their experience with the drug had all admitted purchasing it from the same dealer. The man had set up for business under the bleachers of the Cascade High School football field. Over time, he had grown overconfident and sloppy. It was an easy arrest for Major Crimes.

To avoid spending the rest of his life in prison, the dealer had agreed to cooperate with the DA and the police. With a couple of brief phone calls and two rounds of emails, he had introduced Jim and Blair to his source.

The cover story they arranged was that they were dealers who were capable of moving large amounts of the drug all along the West Coast. Over the past several weeks, they made several major buys with additional funds provided by the Mayor. The Mayor and the Chief were in favor of this tactic. Every pound of cocaine that Major Crimes got off the streets of Cascade made it less likely to wind up in the hands of kids.

So far they had identified four members of the group after Rafe and Brown photographed them at the drops. Each time they made another purchase, they increased the volume of the sale. It had been a month's worth of hard work convincing Rothchild, the group's ringleader that they could be trusted, but they had finally succeeded. Now they were ready to move in. Ellison had requested a buy so big that Rothchild was handling it personally.

Blair paused mid-stride in the center of the room as Jim's words of warning sank in. "Simon can't pull me off this now. After that little tour we took, they're gonna be suspicious if both of us don't show for the final buy."

"Simon wouldn't hesitate to pull you off if he thinks your head isn't in the game."

Blair wanted to argue, but he recognized Jim was right. If he couldn't get a grip on his emotions, he was a danger to both himself, and more importantly, to his Sentinel out in the field.

Before turning over the large sum of money demanded by the dealers, Jim had requested the opportunity to view the lab. His argument was that they needed to be sure that they were capable of making the quantity of drugs promised.

Sandburg and Ellison had finally been able to view the manufacturing operation two days ago. The drug lab was located in a warehouse down by the docks. Most of the area was abandoned and Rothchild had moved his operation into a former chemical laboratory facility. During their tour, Jim had concentrated on identifying access points and the general layout while Blair distracted their tour guide.

Blair was right about his presence being necessary at this final buy. Rothchild was an elusive drug lord. This was the closest any agency had gotten to arresting him.

"The final briefing's going to start in five minutes. Put your poker face on. Simon will understand your being upset about Monica's death, but he'll be watching to make sure you've got this in perspective and are focused on the case."

"I've got it under control now, Jim. Don't worry."

Jim lightly cuffed Blair on the back of the head. "Chief, we're partners. It's my job to worry."

"Just promise me I'll be the one that gets to put the cuffs on Rothchild."

"That I can do, if Rothchild actually shows."

This buy was going to be the first face-to-face meeting with the group's leader. All previous contact with Rothchild had been via the Internet or with his men. This particular drug dealer was extremely paranoid about being seen. Neither the FBI nor the DEA had a picture of the man, just the name. Until now they weren't positive the man really existed.

Now that Major Crimes knew the location of the manufacturing site, they had come up with a plan to take the group out of action. The final meet was to occur in two hours. The DEA and the FBI had been notified of their intentions. They had just received an acknowledgement from both groups.

Neither group was interested in pursuing this case. The FBI didn't believe it was in their jurisdiction because the operation appeared to be confined to Cascade. The DEA didn't believe that Major Crimes had correctly identified the group that was distributing the drugs. They had their own files on the operation that they had shared once Major Crimes had identified the people involved. According to their files, this outfit was too small to be capable of producing the amount of drugs flooding the streets. They didn't believe this was Rothchild's operation and had declined to become involved.

"Okay, we should head for the conference room. We don't want to walk in late for this meeting," Jim suggested.

Blair took a deep breath and sighed. He straightened his shoulders and reached for the door. "I'm ready."

Jim and Blair were almost the last to arrive. Everyone from Major Crimes was already present. In addition, they had requested extra personnel from Narcotics and Patrol. The room was crowded and noisy with all the additional officers.

Simon was the last to enter the briefing room. "All right people, settle down. The final clearances were just faxed in, so we are ready to move. Let's get this group off the streets before any more kids die," Simon announced. His gaze moved around the room, studying the officers present and confirming their attention was focused on the briefing.

"Ellison and Sandburg will be going in alone. The rest of us will establish a perimeter one block out. We'll wait ten minutes before moving into place at the warehouse exits, just in case they have lookouts. After a second period of ten minutes, we'll move inside. Jim, what's the layout of the warehouse?"

Jim moved to the board showing the floor plan of the warehouse. "We only saw three entrances that need to be covered. There is this door in the back which enters directly into the office area."

Jim pointed to the various access points as he discussed the plan. "There's a second door over by the loading docks on the west side of the building. The main entrance is here on the north side. That's the entrance they're expecting Sandburg and me to use. They've boarded up all the ground level windows. There's no way into the building other than these three doors."

Captain Banks nodded. "Connor, Taggart, you two take the office entrance. Rafe and Brown, the two of you need to cover the loading docks. I'll be out front with Detectives Burns and Carson from Narcotics."

Simon paused for a moment, reconsidering one aspect of the plan. "Ellison, are you sure about not wearing a wire? I don't like the idea of the two of you going in there alone. You and Sandburg aren't going to have any immediate backup if things go wrong."

"We're sure, Captain. Each time we've met with these guys, they've checked us for wires. Besides being extremely paranoid, these guys are pretty high-tech. I'm sure they're capable of detecting any taps or other tracers."

Blair nodded his agreement with his partner's assessment.

Jim continued, "Give us twenty minutes to get inside and get the deal completed before moving in. That should give us enough time to get the evidence we need to convict these guys."

"I don't like it, but we don't appear to have another option. Street patrol will have the area cordoned off with a one-block perimeter from our position. Sandburg, we borrowed this briefcase from the Feds. Outwardly it will appear that the case is cuffed to your wrist, but actually there is a quick release latch right here."

Simon demonstrated the mechanism, flipping open the case and revealing the contents as he continued to speak. "If things heat up, you'll be able to get your hands freed up without having to fumble around with a key. There's two hundred thousand dollars of the city's money in here. They are expecting it back, all of it. In other words, Sandburg, if you lose this case, we'll be docking your pay for the next several years. Clear?"

"I'll be careful with it, sir. Recently I've learned to appreciate the value of getting a regular paycheck," Blair responded offhandedly as he examined the briefcase. He tested the latch release several times before meeting Simon's stare with a quirky grin. His earlier anger was completely hidden.

"Good. Are there any questions?" Simon looked around the room. When no one said anything, he continued, "All right, let's move out. Ellison, Sandburg, wait a minute."

Simon waited until the room had cleared out before turning a stern glare on his newest detective. "About your earlier outburst in the bullpen..."

"...Monica Andrew died a few hours ago, Captain," Jim interrupted.

Simon's expression softened at Jim's explanation. He knew Sandburg had done most of the interviewing of Ms. Andrew's family and friends. Sandburg had a gift for making the victim's family feel comfortable while at the same time collecting the necessary background information.

Blair explained further, "One week, Captain. If we had moved in last week, she wouldn't have died."

"If we had moved in earlier, we wouldn't have an opportunity to arrest Rothchild. He would have been free to peddle his tainted product in another city. We wouldn't be working the case, but the death toll would continue to rise. Someone needs to put Rothchild away, and this is the best opportunity any enforcement agency has had."

Blair rubbed his temples with one hand. "I realize that. It was just that her death was so pointless. She had such potential."

"We'll make sure Rothchild never hurts another kid, Sandburg. Sometimes that's all a cop can do."

Blair nodded. There was nothing else he could say.

Simon studied his face, looking for any indication that this was affecting Blair's performance. Satisfied, he said, "Watch your backs. This guy's very slippery. No one who's ever met this man has walked away to tell the tale."

Monday Noon, Cascade Warehouse District

Jim turned off the truck engine and pulled his keys out of the ignition. Sandburg was fidgeting nervously in the seat beside him. "Are you ready, Chief?"

"Yeah, as ready as I'll ever be," Blair answered shakily.

Jim nodded at his partner, then opened the truck door and climbed out. "Grab the case and let's go. We've only got twenty minutes until the fireworks start.

Blair fastened the briefcase to his wrist before exiting the truck. He quickly caught up with Jim who was already heading for the warehouse. This entrance to the warehouse was accessible by a slightly vertically inclined ramp. Side by side, they entered the building. They walked forward slowly, allowing both Sentinel and normal vision to adjust from the bright sunshine to the dark and gloom inside the warehouse. As they moved towards the center of the building, Jim felt unseen eyes upon them. Someone was watching them from the shadows.

Jim was the first to see the four men standing by the office portion of the building. As each group moved towards the other, Jim instinctively moved in front of Blair, shielding him from the view of the men. He slowed his pace; his instincts were screaming that something was wrong. He fought the urge to leave the warehouse immediately. They had worked too hard for this bust to back out now. Too many lives were at risk if this group continued to sell the tainted cocaine.

Blair peered around his partner's larger frame and studied the men approaching them. He recognized only two of them from the briefing photos. He noticed that two of the men were wearing long coats too heavy for the unusually warm temperature that Cascade was enjoying this week, not to mention the fact that the building was well-heated. Blair noted several conspicuous bulges beneath the coats. Dropping back to move directly behind his partner, he whispered Sentinel soft, "We're missing two people. Jim, can you tell if they're in the building."

Jim nodded. He too had noticed the missing members and was now pretty sure had been watching them as they had entered.

The two groups moved until they were standing ten feet apart. Both groups were staring suspiciously at the other. Discreetly, Jim turned up both his sight and his hearing, searching for the exact location of the two missing gang members. During the scan he noticed the side door had been padlocked. He could feel his adrenaline start to rush. There was only one reason he could think of to padlock a door on the inside and it wasn't a good thing for him and Blair.

He continued his attempt to locate the missing thugs using his senses. He heard the sound of footsteps moving around to the left and slightly behind them. Damn it, the deal had been a set-up. They were trying to lay down a crossfire. Rothchild was planning on killing them, which would allow him to keep the drugs, take the money, and keep his identity a mystery to everyone outside his little group of henchmen. The only question now was whose ambush was going to be sprung first.

Jim mentally reviewed their options. They needed to stall for time. If he was correct and Rothchild had no intention of following through on the deal, they needed to give their team more time to get into position. The layout of the warehouse left only one viable option.

"Which one of you is Rothchild?" Jim asked gruffly as he nudged Blair to move to their right.

One of the two unknown men nodded and stepped forward. "I am. Let's get down to business. Did you bring the money?"

"The money's here. Where's the stuff?" Blair asked, glancing sideways at his partner who was again directing them to move to the right. Trying to figure out what Jim was doing, Blair saw there were several stacks of crates loaded onto carts and dollies. Then it hit him; Jim was trying to maneuver them towards cover. It wasn't much cover, but it was better than standing in the open. Something was very wrong here. Jim must have located the two missing men and he wasn't happy about where they were.

"Back in the office. Let's see the cash first," Rothchild ordered, gesturing for the briefcase.

Blair held up a briefcase, then showed them the cuffs that were attached to the case and his wrist. "No way. We do this at the same time. We want to check out the merchandise, for purity." He plastered the stoic expression that normally graced his partner's face upon his own. He was determined to show no signs of fear despite his growing apprehension. "I'm sure you understand our position. This is a lot of cash to put up front."

"I don't think so," replied the second unknown man as he pulled out his gun. "Hand over the money and we'll let the two of you walk out of here. You'll be much poorer, but at least you'll be alive."

"A double cross?" Jim laughed confidently. "You really don't know who you're dealing with. You're right about our walking out of here, but we're leaving with the money. There are plenty of others who want to do business with us. You're not the only game in town."

Jim tilted his head towards the closest exit, which was the side door. He knew they couldn't get out that way, but it was the direction they would be expected to take and it was the closest area that would offer some protection when the shooting started.

Rothchild smiled. "There's no way out of this building for you unless we allow you to leave. We have the exits either blocked or covered. Let's not make this difficult, just hand over the money," he demanded as he raised his own weapon.

"No way. If it's a fight you want, you got it," Jim responded as they moved closer to both the side door and cover.

The man they hadn't identified was the first to fire. There were additional shots fired from behind them. Jim and Blair dove for cover as the bullets started bouncing off the machinery all around them. Some of the bullets were ricocheting in the direction of Rothchild and his group, forcing them to take cover behind several large drums.

Jim ducked behind several large stacks of boxes sitting on top of a conveyor line. He could see Blair a few feet away, hiding behind some heavy machinery removing the briefcase from his wrist. Jim pulled out his 9mm and fired a quick couple of shots in the direction of Rothchild, quickly ducking back down before they returned fire.

"Chief, they weren't lying about having the entrances blocked. I saw the padlock on the side door. The other two are covering the way we came in. They're going to catch us in a crossfire," Jim called out.

"I'll take those guys; you keep the goons with Rothchild pinned down," Blair yelled back as he fired several rounds in rapid succession at the men coming up behind them.

"Use your ammo sparingly. We don't need to take them out. We just need to keep them from advancing on us until the Calvary arrives. It's going to take them an extra few minutes to break down those doors."

The two goons who had been circling behind them were now in position. As Blair snapped off a couple of rounds in their direction, they returned fire with automatic weapons. Sparks flew all around Blair as bullets rebounded off the machinery that was shielding him.

"I thought the DEA report said these guys didn't have automatic weapons," Blair yelled angrily as he dropped to the floor.

"Since when do the Feds ever get a story right?" Jim yelled back.

Several more rounds were exchanged. Jim and Blair took turns playing a deadly game of jack- in-the-box, popping up just long enough to squeeze off a few rounds to keep the enemy pinned down, but getting back down fast enough to avoid the returned fire. They alternated in both direction and number of shots fired, trying to remain unpredictable. Blair observed Rothchild trying to circle around and flank them. He raised his weapon to fire, but the gun clicked instead of firing. He pulled the empty magazine from the gun.

"Jim! Watch Rothchild, he's moving to your right. I need to reload." Blair dug into his pocked for his last magazine. "The Calvary better get here soon. I'm NOT in the mood to re-enact the battle of the Alamo," he muttered, flinching from the rounds being fired from behind him as he fumbled for the ammunition.

Jim was distracted by a chemical odor that was growing stronger with each passing minute. It smelled like paint thinner, but there was no reason that would be present in the building. He fired a few more rounds in the direction of Rothchild. Shots were returned from behind him, showering both himself and Blair with sparks. Without warning there was a brilliant flash, immediately followed by a shock wave. Blair, who was still in the process of reloading, was thrown to the floor by the force of the explosion. The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was the stack of crates that had been protecting his partner falling and knocking him to the floor.

Simon was standing by the driver's side window of Joel's car. He had driven to the scene with the two detectives from Narcotics. Burns didn't allow smoking in his car, so Simon was forced outside to smoke his cigars. He hated waiting, standing on the sidelines unable to act while his men were in a dangerous situation. Simon had a bad feeling about this arrest, which was increasing with each passing moment.

Henri and Rafe were parked right behind them. He watched as the Patrol Sergeant on duty established the perimeter to keep curious citizens from wandering into the area. "Time?" Simon asked as he took a long drag on his cigar.

"It's only been seven minutes, sir," Megan answered from the passenger seat, checking her watch.

"I have a really bad feeling about this. We're too far away if something goes wrong," Joel whispered under his breath. Simon flinched upon hearing his own thoughts echoing from a fellow police captain.

Suddenly, the sound of gunfire reverberated all around them. Simon ran back to Burn's car yelling, "Move in now." As they got closer to the warehouse, Simon identified the unique sound of automatic gunfire. Ellison and Sandburg were probably both outnumbered and facing more powerful weapons. This situation can't possibly get any worse, he thought, as they pulled up in front of the building and got out of the car.

Just as he started to head for the entrance, the warehouse exploded, shooting a ball of flames up into the sky. Simon started to run towards the doorway again, but Joel grabbed his arm. Simon hadn't even noticed the arrival of the rest of Major Crimes.

"Simon, you can't go in there unprotected! It's too hot," Joel yelled forcefully over the roaring flames engulfing the building.

"Oh my God!" Megan cried as she took in the devastation from the initial explosion.

Simon stared horrified at the entrance to the warehouse, hoping desperately that Jim and Blair would miraculously appear. "Joel, radio this in to dispatch. Get the fire department out here now."

Everyone in the parking lot heard a series of small explosions as the fire increased in strength and started to spread. They were forced to fall back from the heat and smoke billowing from the building.

Rafe quietly asked Henri, "Do you think Jim and Blair could have survived that explosion?"

"If anyone could, it's the two of them," Henri responded, unable to turn away from the burning building.

Blair opened his eyes. His ears were ringing from the explosion. He moaned as he sat up and looked around. He blinked several times, trying to clear his vision. He realized that he was alone. His mind started to race with several disconcerting thoughts. Jim has to be hurt. If he were all right, he would have been leaning over me asking if I was okay. But where is he and how badly is he hurt?

It was difficult to see through the thick, black smoke from the fire. Blair crawled to the place where he last remembered seeing Jim. The shock wave from the explosion had knocked down the crates that Jim had taken cover behind. He pushed aside several crates before he reached down to feel a warm but still body.

Jim was pinned beneath a large crate that had fallen down on top of his legs. He was lying on his side facing away from Blair. Moving the crate off Jim's legs, Blair frantically called out, "Jim! You awake? We really need to get out of here. It would be nice if you were able to move or if I knew for sure it was okay to move you."

There was no answer. He cleared the rest of the crates from the area around his partner. Blair didn't see blood anywhere, but there was a large bruise and lump forming on the right side of Jim's head.

"Jim? You with me yet? We need to move and it would be really nice to know that you aren't seriously hurt here, buddy."

There was still no response from Jim, not even a moan. Blair continued to quickly check him over for other injuries. The fire was getting closer and the smoke much thicker. At least Jim was breathing on his own. It was very shallow, but the rate was okay and his pulse was steady.

"We gotta go, Jim," Blair said hoarsely, the increasing smoke making it difficult to breathe. He started to pull Jim into a fireman's carry before noticing that the fire had spread to block their only exit.

"We're not going to be able to get out this way. Hold on, Jim. I need to find some other way to get us out of here." The heat and smoke surrounded him making it almost impossible to see. He wished he had Jim's eyesight right now. Actually, Jim using his own eyes would be even better.

Blair looked around for something he could use for protection from the flames long enough for them to reach the door where they had come in. The door was open. He could see daylight. He spotted a flatbed hand truck which looked big enough for an injured Sentinel to rest on. "Got it, Jim. I think I just found us a ride," he said, patting Jim's shoulder and hoping for a response.

Coughing heavily now, his eyes watering from the smoke and the effort required for breathing, Blair crawled over to the dolly. When he put his hands on the handle, he screamed at the intense pain shooting up from his hands through his forearms. The bed of the cart was synthetic, but the metal handle had been close enough to the flames to heat up, causing him to burn both his hands. Using his jacket to protect his hands, Blair slowly rolled the cart into position next to Jim. He carefully lifted Jim's upper body onto the dolly, supporting his neck in the event of spinal injury. "Sheesh, Jim. No more Wonderburger for you." Jim's feet hung over the end, but they weren't touching the floor. Blair arranged the hand truck so that it was a straight downhill path to the parking lot. The smoke was blinding and it was almost impossible to breathe. Blair realized that he was losing the battle to remain conscious.

"It's now or never, so I guess now is better than never. Man, I haven't been tobogganing in years. At least the door's open and the doorway's wide, which is good because there's no way to steer this thing. I don't think we'll run into anything. We should be going fast enough to get through the flames and get out without being burned. Yeah, I know. Quit babbling, Sandburg, and move. Even when you're unconscious, I can hear you yelling at me in my head."

Blair gingerly laid down on top of Jim as he used the last of his strength to push off in the direction of the door. He covered their heads with his jacket to protect them from the fire. He felt the searing heat as they moved through the flames, picking up speed as they traveled down the incline to safety.

Simon was talking to the Fire Chief, who had just arrived, when the cart rolled out of the building and crashed into the retaining wall surrounding the loading dock. Simon and every other officer present immediately pulled their weapons and trained them on the two figures on the cart.

One of the men climbed off the cart and staggered a few steps to the railing. The man's face was covered with soot, making him completely unrecognizable to those in the parking lot. The standoff continued until the silence was broken when Joel, recognizing Sandburg's clothes, yelled, "Hold your fire and someone get the paramedics, it's Ellison and Sandburg!"

Joel reached the two men first, with Simon close behind. He caught Blair just as his knees gave way and he started to fall. Blair tried to speak, but no sound came out.

"Take it easy, Blair. We've got you now," Joel said as he lowered Blair gently to a seated position on the ground.

Joel held on as Blair struggled to move back to Jim. "Simon is looking after Jim, so you just take it easy for a minute." He positioned them so that Blair was propped against him, but so that they could both see Simon and Jim. Joel knew Blair would not relax unless he could see for himself that his partner was being looked after.

Simon was checking on Jim, who was finally starting to stir. Pale blue eyes opened briefly, then closed due to the bright light. "Where's Blair? I can't hear him. My ears are ringing," he asked, moving his hand up to shade his eyes before re-opening them.

"He's right here, Jim. You're both okay now."

Simon looked over at Blair, who still couldn't speak but was clearly trying to soothe his partner. Simon realized Blair was mouthing the words 'dial' and 'down'. "He's okay, Sandburg. Actually, he looks and sounds a lot better than you do."

Blair shook his head weakly, disagreeing with Simon. Then he started to cough. As Simon watched, Blair struggled to breathe. Unable to draw enough air, Blair's eyes rolled back in his head and he lost consciousness.

Jim had pulled away from Simon, rolling over on his side and tried to focus on his injured partner. He waved for Simon to help Joel with his partner even though his senses, mostly sound and touch, were spiking. It was a fight to keep them under control. Everything either sounded muffled or was extremely loud. His hands felt as if they were wrapped in cotton.

Joel removed his jacket and put it under Blair's head. Working together, Simon and Joel made Blair as comfortable as possible on the pavement "God, check out his hands," Simon said sadly.

Blair's hands were black and red from the soot and burns.

Before Simon could yell again, two teams of paramedics and their equipment quickly replaced him and Joel. He watched as both his men were put on oxygen and quickly settled on the gurneys and secured for transport to Cascade General. They were loaded into the waiting ambulance. Sirens and lights going, he could only watch helplessly as the ambulance disappeared out of sight.

He glanced back at the warehouse, which continued to burn out of control. The hospital would have to wait. He had to assume command of the scene. The Chief would require explanations as soon as word of this spread. He needed to have answers ready about what went wrong.

Monday Afternoon, DEA Regional Headquarters

Assistant Director Black filled his coffee cup and sat down at his desk. He started to sort through the large stack of papers in his in-box. He had desperately needed the two-week vacation he had just taken. Being an Assistant Director for the DEA West Coast Operations was a stressed-filled job. He dreaded the pile of work which had accumulated during his absence.

The first piece of paper he picked up was a copy of a notification from the Cascade Police Department detailing plans to raid a warehouse. He choked on the coffee as he read the location of Rothchild's operation. How could this have happened? He had been so confident that before he left the city he'd talked this Captain Banks into not pursing the Rothchild operation. It was the only reason he hadn't cancelled his vacation. Reviewing the operation plan, he discovered that it was too late to do anything to stop it now as the operation had started several hours ago.

He picked up the phone and called the Cascade Police Department. It took a while to find someone who could give him a status report, but his worst fears were quickly confirmed. Reports were sketchy, but it appeared that only one detective had made it out of the warehouse unscathed. The forensics teams were continuing to examine the scene and no further information was available.

After hanging up the phone, Black rested his head on the desk, trying to determine the best course of action. Agent Mallory had been in place for two years within Rothchild's operation without anyone being the wiser. Now everything was about to unravel because of Cascade PD's interference. Mallory's body would eventually be identified from his military records. Director West would begin his own investigation as soon as Mallory's death was reported. Best to be proactive in this situation.

He picked up the phone and dialed a familiar extension.

"Whitney, we have a big problem. Mallory's dead and Cascade PD is investigating."

"I thought you had that situation under control?" Whitney asked.

"It was. Something must have gone wrong. I forwarded all those false reports from the files concerning Rothchild's operation. That Captain shouldn't have bothered with the operation as it was described in those files. Mallory was supposed to deal with those undercover cops at the next buy. He had planned to make it appear they had died during a rip-off."

"So what went wrong?" Whitney asked angrily.

Obviously he screwed it up and left us holding the bag. You and I are the only ones who knew what Mallory was doing. Look, we need to get a jump on damage control. You have thirty minutes."

Whitney started to stammer out an objection, but Black overrode him. "Don't waste time arguing with me. Find out everything you can about the operation and call me back."

Black disconnected the line. He spent the next twenty-nine minutes erasing his computer files and shredding the hard copies of everything Mallory had sent in on Rothchild's operation. If they moved quickly enough on this, the documentation would disappear and the investigation would be bogged down as the Police Department and the DEA fought to assign blame to the other.

The phone rang exactly on the thirty-minute deadline. He picked up the receiver. "What have you got?"

After the first few minutes of listening, he smiled at what Whitney had uncovered. "Perfect, he'll be the perfect Judas goat. While the press is crucifying him, we'll slip quietly away. By the time they sort this mess out, we'll be long gone. I'll meet you in the lobby in five minutes. One quick stop at the hospital, then we'll see what's on file at the police department."

Black grabbed his coat. He had a tidy amount of capital stashed away in an offshore account. He had two more operations in place the he could continue to run while lounging in comfort on a nice little Caribbean island. Actually, the police had taken care of several loose ends. Mallory's share was now in his possession. Whitney was a trusting fool who would be easy to deal with, and this Detective Sandburg would be left holding the bag. Life was good.

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