Production No. BPP-621
edited by: JAC and EagleEye
MEET THE CAST
Major Crime, Friday Evening
The week was winding to a close and all were grateful for it. An outbreak of arson had kept Major Crime's detectives on their toes, particularly Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Jim had been treated for smoke inhalation twice since Tuesday afternoon. They had it all planned out: go home, order a pizza, crash on the couch, and not set foot out of the loft until Monday morning.
Funny how things never work out.
"Ellison, Sandburg!" Simon Banks bellowed from his office door. "My office."
The pair froze in their tracks, halfway out of the bullpen. Jim shot Sandburg an "I knew we should have left five minutes ago" look as they pivoted and walked towards the captain's office. They passed Rhonda's desk, where the blonde secretary was staring intently at her telephone, eyes wide.
"Important phone call?" Sandburg quipped as they passed.
"I'm waiting for Sean Davis to call me back," Rhonda said.
"From Park Services?" Jim asked.
"Yeah," Rhonda said. "He's double checking my booking of Frasier Park for tomorrow. If the paperwork didn't go through, I don't know what I'll do."
Rhonda sighed and rubbed her temples. "My sister Paula just came down with bronchitis and was supposed to do this big fundraiser for my niece's Girl Scout Troop this weekend. Since she's sick, I agreed to take over for her."
"That's really cool," Blair said.
She nodded. "I've already shanghaied Megan and Rafe to help out tomorrow."
Jim and Sandburg looked at each other for a moment. Blair's eyes danced with interest and Jim could tell his partner wanted to volunteer his time; which would make it impossible for Jim to say no.
"Do you need any more volunteers?" Jim asked.
"Thank you, guys, so much," Rhonda said. "But I have a feeling you're busy this weekend."
Before they could question the cryptic remark, her phone began ringing, a cue for the pair to leave. They strolled into Simon's office and settled into the chairs across from his desk. Simon looked up from his coffee mug, his mouth set in a grim line.
"Nice of you two to join me," Simon said. "I know you two have had a hard week. Be that as it may, I really hate to do this to you."
"That doesn't sound good," Sandburg said.
"I need you both to go to Louisiana tomorrow," Simon said. "To extradite a prisoner we've been after for four years."
Jim groaned inwardly, but was also intrigued. "Who is it?"
Simon slid a folder across his desk. Jim picked it up as Simon said, "Cort MacGeorge."
Jim glanced up sharply. "When do we leave?"
"Leave?" Sandburg echoed. "Wait a second, we just got back. And who is this guy, anyway?"
"A techno-thief," Simon said. "He's wanted in several states, but we get first crack at him.
Your plane leaves SeaTac at seven a.m., gentlemen. Be on it."
"Yes, sir," they chorused.
Simon waved them out. "Good luck."
The Loft, Later
They did order the pizza. Jim called Mario's Pizzaria as they left the precinct and it arrived five minutes after he and Blair did.
As they settled on the couch with the pizza and two beers, Blair decided enough was enough.
"So who is this guy we're going to get tomorrow?" Blair asked. "You sounded like you knew him."
"So to speak," Jim said, popping his beer tab.
"About four and a half years ago, he orchestrated a series of high-tech break-ins all over Cascade. Loved to taunt me and Jack Pendergrast about them. Then MacGeorge went under for a while. Jack disappeared, I married Carolyn, but the case was never closed."
Blair digested all this information. It all happened a long time ago, but he knew how personally Jim could take things.
"Is that the last you heard from him?" Blair ventured to ask.
Jim stared straight ahead, the pizza slice forgotten in his hand. "I saw him one more time," he said then fell silent once more.
"I was working a late stakeout," Jim finally said. "I got home and MacGeorge had broken into the loft while Carolyn was home. He -- she fought him off, but he broke her nose before he left. I missed the son of a bitch by less than five minutes."
"Jesus," Blair muttered.
"He really went under that time," Jim finished. "This is the first I've heard of him since then. When I see him I'll have to say hi."
Jim smiled. "Then I'll break his nose," he said calmly.
Rafe's Apartment, That Same Hour
As he entered his apartment, L.T. Rafe was greeted by the tangy aroma of roast beef. He paused just inside the doorway, inhaling the scent of meat and baking potatoes. Rafe tossed his keys onto the coffee table and walked into the kitchen.
David was hovering over a boiling pot, oblivious to Rafe's presence. Rafe momentarily toyed with the idea of trying to stay in David's blind spot and see how long it took to be noticed; he decided against it, since he was going to ask David for a favor tonight.
In fact, Rafe probably owed his half-brother a great deal. Ever since David had moved in with him in January, he'd become an integral part of Rafe's daily life. As his sight returned slowly over the weeks, David had assigned himself the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning. No matter what Rafe did, David saw his living situation as charity and would not accept it without earning his keep. That pride was something Rafe knew David had inherited from the late Carl Dawson.
But with his sight seventy-percent back (a small miracle by Dr. Robbins's standards), David was looking eagerly toward the fall semester. In his eyes, it was a chance for a return to normalcy.
"Hello?" David said, waving a hand in front of Rafe's face.
Rafe took a step back, realizing that he'd been staring right at David and not seeing him.
"Hi," Rafe said. "Dinner smells great."
"Thanks," David said, turning back to the stove.
Rafe leaned against the counter next to the stove. "Do you have plans tomorrow?" he asked.
He took that as a no. "Listen, I told Rhonda I'd help her out with a fundraiser in Frasier Park tomorrow. She's still looking for volunteers if you're interested."
"Working booths," Rafe said. "Helping with the kids."
"Yeah, kids." Rafe grinned. "Her three nieces are Girl Scouts. It's their annual fundraiser and Rhonda's sister is too sick to do it herself. Interested?"
Again, David shrugged.
Rafe arched an eyebrow. "Should I assume that's an affirmative response?"
Now he was getting a little perturbed with the one-word replies. Rafe took the wooden spoon David was using to skewer the string beans and asked, "In the bean's defense and out of my own curiosity, what's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," David said flatly. "Look, the roast is in the oven. I'm really not hungry."
Without another word, David marched out of the kitchen. Seconds later Rafe heard a bedroom door slam. He should have known better than to push. When David didn't want to talk he didn't talk.
Louisiana Back Road, Saturday Morning
"They do what?" Jim asked.
"Drink chicken blood," Sandburg replied. "It's part of the ritual."
"That's disgusting, Chief. You want to save some of the more graphic stuff for after breakfast?"
Jim wiped several beads of sweat from his forehead and leaned back against the seat of the yellow cab. The plane had arrived in New Orleans two hours ago, but the ride out to Backstone seemed endless in the humid Louisiana spring. The dirt road they were on led a pretzel-path through the bayou; all around was the constant chatter of insects and gentle lapping of water. Blair had been reciting an encyclopedia of information about local voodoo and the ilk. While most of it had been tame, the current subject of exorcising ghosts and drinking chicken blood had Jim hoping to leave before experiencing any local "customs."
Their cab driver, a pleasant looking man named Tooley, watched Sandburg with an expression akin to amusement. Tooley caught Jim's eye once in the rear view mirror and winked, obviously amused by his partner.
"How much farther?" Jim asked.
Tooley cleared his throat and spoke in a thickly-accented voice. "Dunna tink is more den five miles, suh."
"This Sheriff Gabelle is ready to hand MacGeorge over," Jim said to Blair. "Something about this place--" he spared a glance at Tooley, then lowered his voice, "--feels wrong."
Sandburg watched him, puzzled. "Anything specific? A particular feeling, or when you look at something?"
Jim groaned. "No tests, Chief. This is not an experiment in the sixth sense. We're out here to bring a criminal back to Cascade."
"Granted," Sandburg said. "But if something happens--"
"Nothing will happen. We will not be here long enough for anything to happen."
Sheriff Harry Gabelle regarded his northern visitors with more amusement than contempt. He wasn't used to strangers, especially not cops from Washington State. Forty-five and beefy, Gabelle was accustomed to the tranquility of his tiny town.
His entire county numbered at only one hundred and twelve souls, the least populated area in this part of the state. The main reason for that was eighty-percent of the land was swamp, making settlement nearly impossible. But Gabelle liked it -- life was predictable.
That is, until a wanted fugitive made the idiotic mistake of not filling his gas tank and got stranded in Backstone. Identifying Cort MacGeorge had been the easy part. Arresting him practically tore apart Gill's Tavern. Gabelle was more than ready to turn the jackass over to the CPD.
Sheriff Gabelle trundled down the office steps and stopped by the fender of the cab. He watched two mismatched men get out, pay old Tooley, and take in their surroundings. The cab pulled away in a cloud of dust that left the policemen coughing.
"Guess Tooley didn't want to hang around," the shorter man commented.
Gabelle smiled. "Tooley likes to get back to the city as fast as possible," he commented. "Always looking for his next fare."
"I'm Detective Jim Ellison," the taller man said, showing his badge briefly. "My partner, Detective Blair Sandburg."
"Harry Gabelle," he said, shaking the men's hands. "Sheriff in these parts."
"I guess it keeps you pretty busy," Ellison said dryly.
Gabelle chuckled. "Your man, MacGeorge, has been the most excitement we've had since Petey Lance got drunk and starting shooting his stuffed deer."
Sandburg smiled. "You don't sound like you're from around here, Sheriff."
"I was a cop in St. Louis for a while," Gabelle said. "Got tired of it all, so I retired early and moved down here. It's peaceful."
He turned and led the pair up the steps to the Sheriff's Office. The front door was propped open, letting hot air drift into the even hotter office. Miss Turiss, his secretary, was at her desk. She smiled at the strangers and returned to her romance novel. Two other desks filled the main room -- Gabelle's and his deputy's.
"Mike!" Gabelle yelled, his strong voice echoing through the tiny room. He noticed Ellison flinch ever so slightly.
A toilet flushed to the left and a harried, skinny young man hustled out ten seconds later. His face was flushed and covered with acne scars. Mike Donnelly was only twenty-four, but he took his job seriously and was a trusted confidante. Mike came to a skidding stop in front of his boss, his eyes jumping from one detective to the other.
"Sorry, Harry," Mike said.
Gabelle successfully prevented himself from laughing. "Don't worry. These are Detectives Ellison and Sandburg. My deputy, Mike Donnelly."
"Did I hear the name Ellison?" a nasal voice called from the back room.
"Cells are in back," Gabelle said. "That's where you'll find your prisoner. Deputy Donnelly will drive you back in his car whenever you're ready."
Ellison reached into his back pocket and handed over his transfer orders. "We're ready now."
Gabelle nodded and reached for his keys. "Good enough."
Louisiana Back Road, Fifteen Minutes Later
Blair sat with his back angled towards the passenger window so he had a better view of the back seat. Jim was in the back with MacGeorge, who was still in cuffs but brandished a nasty glare. It had been a staring contest between the two men ever since their reunion in the sheriff's jail.
"How long's it been?" MacGeorge had asked when they had walked into the cell block. "Seven, eight years? How's yer perdy wife's nose?"
Jim had shown remarkable restraint in not breaking MacGeorge's nose that very second. Instead, Jim had cuffed the man and bodily shoved him outside to the waiting sheriff's car, aware of Sheriff Gabelle's obvious disapproval.
"It weren't you that caught me," MacGeorge said as he was shoved into the back of the car, obviously pleased over this bit of trivia.
"Maybe not," Jim had said, "but your ass is mine now."
The two had remained silent for the beginning of the trip. Deputy Donnelly kept the chattering going, talking to Blair about life in the swamps and local legends.
"There's supposedly this woman who lives in the swamps," Donnelly said. "She helps wounded animals and brings people back from the dead for the right price."
"Yeah," MacGeorge said, breaking into the conversation. "And if you believe that, there's this bridge I can sell you."
Before Jim could tell him to shut up, Donnelly slammed hard on the brakes. Blair braced his hands instinctively on the dashboard. He felt Jim press against the back of his seat. MacGeorge, apparently unable to balance, waffled his face against the grilled partition with a loud grunt.
"What in hell was that?" Jim asked.
"Something's in the road," Donnelly replied.
A large, rotting tree had fallen across the dirt road, leaving no room to pass. It would have to be moved before they could continue. Blair and Donnelly climbed out of the car. Blair reached around and opened the door for Jim.
"Hang here and watch him," Jim said as he slammed his door shut. "Keep an eye out while we move that thing."
"Something wrong, Jim?" Blair asked.
"I don't know," Jim said vaguely. "That feeling again. Just stay alert."
Blair leaned against his open door and watched Jim and the deputy approach the felled log. It looked impossible to move and the road was too narrow to turn around -- there was swamp on all sides of them. Jim studied the log, then froze. His head twitched to one side.
Inside the sheriff's car, MacGeorge chuckled.
Then the gunfire began. It rained down from the swamp, anonymous shots that bounced off the car and the log. Blair ducked behind the car door, but not before watching Donnelly fly back with crimson blossoming on his chest. Bullets flew around in a scattered hail and Blair could not tell from which direction they came.
Just once, why can't things go as planned, he wondered, fumbling for his own gun.
He heard Jim cry out and Blair's body jerked. MacGeorge's cackling laughter sent a shiver up his spine.
"Jim!" he shouted.
The gunfire stopped suddenly. Blair looked up in time to see something long and dark swinging at his head.
He came to face down in the dirt. His whole head ached. Blair coughed, making his head pound even harder.
He opened his eyes and found himself staring out into the swamp. Nothing moved, nothing made a sound.
"Jim," he croaked.
Blair lifted his face off the ground. The left side of his face was stiff with drying blood.
"Jim," he repeated.
Grabbing onto the car door, Blair pulled himself unsteadily to his feet and looked around. The back door of the car was open -- MacGeorge was gone. The car itself was riddled with bullet holes. Jim was nowhere in sight.
"Jim!" he yelled, hearing his own voice bounce off the trees all around him. Blair winced as the sound increased the throbbing behind his eyes.
He heard a groan. Blair turned and trotted over to the fallen tree. Mike Donnelly was lying on his back, both hands pressed to his chest. He was breathing hard, trying to staunch the flow of blood from his wound. Blair fell to his knees. Ripping off his overshirt, Blair pressed it against Donnelly's wound.
"You're going to be fine," Blair said. "Did you see what happened to Jim?"
Donnelly shook his head. "Radio," he mumbled. "Two Mike two."
"Okay," Blair said.
He stood up and sprinted back to the car, praying the radio was not damaged. He whooped inwardly when he saw it was all in one piece. Blair grabbed the mike.
"To anyone on this frequency," Blair said. "This is two Mike two, deputy sheriff's car two Mike two. This is an emergency, please respond. Over."
His eyes swept over the swampland that seemed to press in on him from all sides.
I know you're out here, Jim. Help me find you.