Production No. BPP-618
edited by: Gabrielle, Alyson E, and Shelley
MEET THE CAST
Major Crime, Tuesday, Early Afternoon
The phone on Ellison's desk rang. Picking up the receiver, he brought it to his ear. Before he could bark out a greeting, the caller began to speak.
"Detective Ellison?" She rushed on before receiving confirmation she was speaking to the correct person, not wanting to lose her momentum. "It's Wendy Hawthorne. We met a couple years ago when I was doing the "day in the life" series for True Crime?" The voice traveling over the phone lines carried with it a trace of urgency and fear.
He smiled as he remembered the eager reporter trying to get back into the game. The smile turned into a grimace as he remembered her eager young cameraman who nearly got himself, Wendy, and Sandburg killed. "Ellison." He finally managed to answer her first question. "Yes, I remember." His voice held a note of coldness, their last meeting too volatile to engender an enthusiastic response.
She rushed on, still eager to get to the point of the call. She, too, remembered their last meeting and feared a continuance of their earlier animosity, especially considering the nature of her call. "I need your help. I've been working on a documentary about the cleanup of the Hanford Engineer Works in eastern Washington."
"I know the place. Isn't that where they produced plutonium during World War II?"
At Jim's response, Blair Sandburg looked up quizzically from the stack of files piled on his desk. Somehow he'd earned the privilege of looking over and refiling a bunch of Jim's old case reports. It was a job he did not relish. His eyebrows raised, he attempted to catch the attention of his partner to see if he could determine who the older man was talking to. Jim however, remained focused on the phone and either missed or ignored all of the subtle, pantomimed questions coming from his partner.
"Yeah. More specifically, it's where they produced the plutonium used in the first nuclear tests and in the second bomb dropped on Japan."
"Nice place. So what are you doing there?"
"Like I said, I've been working on a documentary about the cleanup. Now that they've closed the plant, something has to be done with all of the radioactive materials, not to mention the reactors themselves." She took a deep breath before continuing on. "Well, some strange things have been happening since I've been here."
"Strange how?" Jim picked up his pen and began to make notes on the standard size pad of notepaper positioned squarely on his desk. "And how long have you been out there?"
"Two weeks. Initially I sort of ignored them, thinking that it was just a bunch of coincidences, but now that Jake's been killed..."
Ellison interrupted her before she could finish her sentence. "Killed. What do you mean killed? And how come it took you so long to mention it?" A slight note of anger appeared in his voice, and he took a deep breath to control it before he further terrified the already scared woman on the phone.
In the background, he heard Wendy trying to control her own breathing. Focusing his hearing across the phone line, he took note of her rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. He also heard voices -- workers most likely by the language they used, the sound of metal clanging against metal, and even the slight rustle of the wind across the desert. She must still be out at the site, he thought to himself, bringing a renewed sense of urgency to the phone call.
"Tell me about the murder. Start with who was murdered," Ellison continued, after successfully reigning in his anger.
"Jake Groves. He is, or was, a retired engineer from the Engineer Works. He lived in Richland. Even after he retired, he spent most of his time at the facility. He'd become kind of an unofficial historian of the area. After his wife died and his kids moved away, the only thing left in his life was Hanford."
Jim's face paled noticeably at the mention of the dead man's name.
Giving up on his hand signals, Blair stood up and moved to stand beside Jim in hopes of figuring out what was going on. Reading over the seated man's shoulder he saw the word HANFORD in large letters situated precisely on the legal pad. Becoming even more confused, he sat in the chair permanently situated next to Jim's desk to wait for an explanation.
Jim could hear the fondness for the older man in Wendy's voice and wondered at the change in her demeanor. Two years ago a murder would have been just part of the story to her; a nice intro to a hot story. Obviously a lot had changed since their last meeting.
Finally registering his partner's curiosity, Jim added another few words to the legal pad in front of him: Wendy Hawthorne. Reading them, Blair's eyebrows shot up into his hairline. Noticing his surprise, Jim merely shrugged his shoulders and returned his full attention to the phone call.
"So exactly what happened?" Jim questioned, the life of the victim not as interesting to him at this point as the facts of the case.
"I found him dead two days ago. I went to his house because he hadn't shown up for our meeting. He was always so prompt." Wendy hiccupped, tears threatening to fall.
"He was old, could he have just died in his sleep?"
"No. His death was not a peaceful one. His face was frozen in this awful mask. It was horrible. I called plant security to report it, and they sent someone out. I kept waiting for the authorities to show up and question me about it, but no one's been here. In fact, no one will even talk about it. Something very strange is going on out here, Jim. I really need your help."
"Okay. I'll come out and see what I can do. But you realize it is a bit out of my jurisdiction, right?"
"I know, but I'd hate for anything else to happen. And obviously the people out here aren't concerned."
"Be careful. Make sure you stay with someone until Sandburg and I get there. I don't want you running off trying to solve the case on your own."
"I learned my lesson the last time. Honestly. Sandburg, isn't he the consultant that was working with the department?"
"Yep. He's moved up to full detective. We'll be there sometime tomorrow. Where are you staying?"
"At a little hotel outside of town. The Starlight. Room 107. This really isn't a tourist area. It's the only thing I could find. And Jim? Thanks." Wendy added the last softly, before hanging up the phone.
Before he could remind her once again to be careful, she was gone. Jim hung up the phone with a puzzled look on his face, still wondering what exactly was going on. Before Blair could begin asking questions, Jim raised a hand. "Let's go into Simon's office. This one's a little strange, and I'd like to only have to explain it once."
Next Morning, Ellison's Truck, En Route to Hanford, Southeastern Washington State
Sandburg rubbed his eyes sleepily, as he returned to consciousness. His eyes still only half open he gazed out the window, observing his surroundings. "This looks like Kansas."
"You can't see the mountains from Kansas."
Blair contemplated arguing about it for a moment before answering. Deciding not to push the issue, he responded, "That's true. Can't see those in Kansas either." He pointed to the concrete cooling towers rising majestically and distinctively from the flat barren earth around them, stark reminders of the area's legacy, strikingly visible in the distance. A slight shudder shook his frame.
Noticing the shudder, Jim questioned its origins, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Just seeing those cooling towers out there by themselves. It's kinda creepy. Nothing for miles and miles, and then those."
"Better out here than in a populated area."
"Yeah, but can you imaging the desolation of living out here? No one to talk to. Nothing to do for miles around. Not even something pretty to look at to take your mind off what you are doing. Ugh."
"The dry, uninhabited locale provided the perfect setting for the top secret military installation. The nearby Columbia River provided an unlimited supply of the needed cooling water for the reactors, as well as a convenient spot in which to release waste. There's also a highly successful reclamation project out here."
Blair stared at his partner in wide-eyed wonder.
"What?" Ellison asked defensively. "I've been out here before."
"Yes, but you sound like a travel brochure. VISIT HANFORD, THERE'S LOTS OF FUN STUFF TO DO HERE. Or, VISIT HANFORD, IT'S HERE FOR A REASON. Or, HANFORD: FARMLAND OF THE FUTURE." In the small confines of the truck's cab, he couldn't escape the swat aimed at his head. "And what do you mean you've been out here before?"
"I'm not sure. I just remember driving this road. And there isn't anything out this way but a lot of farmland and Hanford. I can't imagine I would have been going to the farm...."
"I can." Blair grinned cheekily and attempted to duck even as he uttered the next words, "The funny farm."
"Cute. Figure that one out all by yourself?" Jim watched Blair duck and opted to thwack him on the arm instead.
"Ow!" He rubbed his arm in feigned hurt.
Later That Day, Starlight Motel, Room 107, Outside Hanford Engineer Works, Richland, Washington
Jim raised a hand to knock on the door to Room 107 even though he could tell by the silence the room was empty. No heartbeat, no sound of movement, not even an electric hum from the room's air-conditioner. The formalities taken care of, he proceeded to test the door handle in hopes someone left it unlocked. All the while, he thought to himself that he never should have answered the phone yesterday afternoon. This thought was quickly followed by another, berating Wendy for not knowing when to follow instructions and stay put.
The door yielded easily to his touch. Pushing it all the way open he cautiously stepped inside wary for anything unexpected, Blair behind him.
Seemingly aware of Jim's tension, Blair remained uncharacteristically silent, following Jim's lead into the room.
Still thinking Wendy had gone off to investigate on her own, Jim was unprepared for the sight that greeted him after opening the door. Stunned by the condition of the room, Ellison stopped just over the threshold.
Peering around his larger partner to determine what caused the sudden stop, Blair let out a low whistle at the sight. Startled by the whistle, Ellison jerked. Moving to the side, he allowed his partner to enter the room.
"Man. This place is trashed." Sandburg broke the silence by understating the obvious. "I take back all the mean things I thought about Wendy when you made me get up at 4:30 this morning to drive out here."
"How about all the awful things you thought about me?" Jim queried as he scanned the room for any signs of Wendy or the reason for the mess.
"Nah, I'm keeping those. Never know when they might come in handy." Blair ducked before Jim's hand reached the back of his head.
The mood lightened as they slipped into their familiar roles of Sentinel and Guide, Jim ferreting clues from the room under Blair's guidance.
"Let's start with smell. Anything unusual in the room? Think back, what does Wendy's perfume smell like?" At the answering nod, Blair continued, "Now, filter it out. Anything else stand out?"
"She's been here. I smell her perfume. Outside of that, there's a faint odor of something, but I can't place it." Jim shook his head in frustration.
"File it away for later. Try eyesight. Do you see anything out of place?"
"Sandburg, the whole room's out of place! Beds are not supposed to be sitting on their heads. Desks generally work better sitting on their legs and not their tops. Clothes belong in the closet. Come to think of it, this reminds me a bit of your room." Ellison voice was a mixture of fondness and exasperation.
"Hey! I'll have you know I can find everything in my room. Now, let's look at it a bit more specifically. Do you see any stray pieces of paper? Anything like that?" The Guide mostly ignored the teasing in favor of coaching the Sentinel's focus.
Without warning, Ellison moved across the room and crouched down next to the overturned bed. Almost blindly he reached towards his partner. Blair, used to this display by now, quickly produced a pair of tweezers and a plastic bag from his coat pocket.
"You know Jim, this would be much more effective if you'd carry your own tweezers and bags."
"Nah, that's what junior partners are for. Ask Rafe." Jim held the small piece of paper now encased in plastic up to the light. "I can see part of a fingerprint, but it's rather faint."
"What does it say?"
"Well, half the words are missing. It says, 'ox 152, fil'." Jim deciphered the small handwriting, for his partner's benefit.
"That's helpful. What's ox 152? Can you get anything else? Any impressions on the paper maybe?" Blair continued to mull over the strange piece of paper. Pulling out his notebook, he wrote down the two letters on the right side of the page. As Jim felt for any residual impressions on the small piece of paper, he began going through the alphabet in an attempt to form words.
"Box, cox, dox, fox, gox."
"I don't think that one's a word, Chief." Jim interrupted the monologue of words. "And you are making the big assumption that there aren't any other missing letters."
"Very funny. But I had to start somewhere."
"Have at it, Dr. Seuss." Rising to his feet, Jim took one last look around the room. "I think we found everything."
No sooner than the words left his mouth he spied a small piece of electrical equipment in the far corner of the room, half hidden by an overturned dresser. Stooping down to pick it up, he noticed a small piece of plastic next to the phone jack not far from where he stood. Shifting slightly he added it to the growing collection in his hand, both carefully placed in their own respective plastic bags.
"You know, I never used to be this meticulous with my evidence." He mused quietly aloud in the general direction of his partner, a slight smile on his face as he watched Blair carefully smooth the plastic bags in his hands.
"Never mind. I think this might be the end of a phone cord. Do you see the rest of it laying around?"
"He's the Sentinel and he wants to know if I've seen the phone cord." Blair grumbled, as he focused his attention on the room and not his notepad. "Nope. Come to think about it I don't even see a phone. That's kind of strange."
"Well, it means we can't retrace Wendy's last calls."
"Not necessarily. All we need is her credit card number. I'm sure there's a record of her calls. No one in their right mind ever charges phone calls to a hotel room."
"Good idea. Let's go call Simon. Maybe we can convince him to get Rafe and Brown to do some research on their end." Jim herded Blair out the door; confident they'd discovered all of the room's secrets.
Simon's Office, Major Crime, Late Afternoon
"What do you mean you want Rafe and Brown to do some research for you?" Simon yelled into the phone. "I thought we decided you were out there in an unofficial capacity? Officially ON VACATION. Though why anyone would want to vacation out there is beyond me. The minute we start doing research, this becomes official. I'm not sure I'm ready to explain to the Commissioner and the Mayor why my detectives are officially investigating crimes that occurred outside, far outside, their jurisdiction." Simon reached for the bottle of aspirin in his top desk drawer. How his two best detectives could manage to induce headaches from hundreds of miles away was beyond him.
"Can't we do this on the side? Not open an official file? It wouldn't be the first time." Ellison argued hopefully.
"No, we can't do this on the side. The brass is bound to find out. Matthews' grapevine is almost better than your snitch network."
"Have them bury it with one of their other cases. Simon, I really need your help on this one. Wendy's missing, and right now that's the only lead we've got."
"Okay. I'll see what I can do. But I'm not making any promises." Simon pulled his glasses off and rubbed his temples in frustration.
"Yeah, yeah. Go rescue the damsel in distress. Solve the murder. Make yourself into a hero. Just keep me informed. And be careful. I'm going to have a hard enough time explaining why Major Crime is involved in a crime on federal land, I don't need to explain why my best detective team got lost, or into trouble, while they were on vacation."
"Come on, Simon, you should be used to that by now."
Simon hung up the phone. Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, he put his glasses back on before standing up and walking towards the door. Bellowing out into the bullpen, "Rafe, Brown. My office. Now," he gratefully noticed that Rhonda's desk stood empty, as did most of the bullpen, thanks largely to the lateness of the afternoon. What she didn't know, she didn't have to lie about. As Brown entered with Rafe in tow, he opted to lean against the front of his desk instead of returning to his chair.
"I'd like the two of you to do a little research."
"Research?" Rafe asked in confusion, leaning against the large conference room table. "Isn't that the research department's job?"
"Yes, that's the research department's job. But if I wanted them to do it, the two of you wouldn't be standing in my office, now would you?"
"Um. I guess not, sir." Rafe replied, suitably chagrined.
"So what are we looking for, Captain?" Brown attempted to deflect the attention from his partner.
"Phone records, for starters. Seems when Ellison and Sandburg arrived at the motel, Wendy Hawthorne was gone." Simon held up a hand, forestalling the questions he could see forming in the detective's eyes. "No, she's not just out gallivanting around. Her room was tossed and not very professionally. Ellison thinks if we pull some phone records, starting with Wendy's cell phone, we might find out who was talking to whom in the last few weeks."
"Do the records for the Starlight hotel while you're at it. And Jake Grover's home phone. Gentlemen, I don't have to remind you that this is far out of our jurisdiction. Completely off the record. Bury it. If anyone asks, you have no idea what's going on."
"Mum's the word." Brown joked.
"Got it, sir. They're good at this, aren't they?" A slightly more subdued Rafe asked.
Simon didn't even pretend not to understand the question. "Yeah, they are. And unfortunately, they could end up right in the middle of a hornets' nest out there. If they haven't already."
"Whatever we can do to help."
"I know. Now, get back to work." Simon acknowledged the younger man's words, and the meaning behind them, before shooing them out of his office. The entire team would do anything to make sure that the Sentinel and his Guide stayed safe.