Melanie and Shallan
Carlos Suarez stood beside the large horse trailer observing the loading of his prize stallion, High Pacer. His fourteen-year old daughter, Elena, had named him soon after his birth. When walking, the colt had a tendency to lift his front feet higher than the average thoroughbred, resembling a Saddlebred or Morgan. As a dressage rider, she had bonded to the horse and resented the fact that her father had ear-marked the horse for the racing circuit. She had dreams of three-day eventing, and Pacer would have been ideal. To make up for the disappointment, he promised to buy her a Peruvian Paso, a breed of horse she had been requesting, but was hard to obtain.
"Walk him a bit," Carlos told the groom. High Pacer was not interested in loading. The hay net, filled with savory alfalfa, was not a significant inducement to make him step on the unsteady ramp and into the close confines of the trailer. Pacer pranced around the handler, half-rearing a couple of times, nostrils flaring as his wide eyes looked left and then right in agitation.
"Daddy! Daddy!" Elena ran out of the barn. "You've got to look at Codi. I--"
"Not now," Carlos called back. The stallion had gone immobile at the sound of Elena's voice. He nickered to her with eyes staring at her steadily. "Mi hija, come talk to him. See if you can get him to load."
Elena walked sedately over to the colt, crooning softly in Spanish. He nickered again and poked her with his nose, looking for the apple treats she kept in her jeans pocket. Laughing, she caressed his neck and scratched his ears. Tilting his head to one side, he leaned into her scratch, his lower lip quivering in ecstasy.
The groom casually handed her the lead rope and, still talking, she led him onto the trailer. Smelling the hay, he forgot the human and began tugging out stalks of alfalfa and chewing quietly.
"Damn, baby," Carlos groused, as he buckled the rear strap behind the horse. Another handler was ready to lead on the colt's buddy horse into the neighboring slot. With both horses loaded, Carlos pulled up the ramp and secured it. Tails swished as the equines enjoyed their breakfast.
"Can you look at Codi, Daddy? I think he's sick."
"Not now, Mijita. I need to see the other horses off. Then I'll come and take a look at your horse." Carlos gave his daughter a guilty look then strode over to the other two trailers. Along with his own Thoroughbred breeding program, he also wintered several horses for owners that lived up north in Washington and Oregon. It brought in extra money that enabled him to concentrate solely on horses and support his family in the way to which they were accustomed.
The boarded horses were just as high-strung as his own were. It took skill and patience to get them packed, loaded, and sent to their home tracks. On just this day, he was seeing off four to the State of Washington to race at the track in Seattle. Tomorrow, it would be the two mares to Tacoma.
It was lunchtime before Carlos made it over to the barn that housed Zippricodi, the promised Peruvian Paso that he had just bought for his daughter's birthday. The horse was in his stall, looking out at the handlers walking by. His ears were up and his eyes clear. Codi didn't appear to be in distress. One of the grooms entered the barn and went into the tack room.
"Raoul," Carlos shouted after the groom.
"Do you have any idea why Elena thinks Codi is sick?"
"His breathing. It sounds raspy and there is a slight discharge from his nose. I cleaned it up but he--"
"Let me check." Carlos went into the stall and placed his head on the horse's chest. He sounded fine. "Hand me his halter and lead rope."
After snapping the rope onto the halter, Carlos led the horse out of the stall and walked him over to the inside ring. When they entered the large enclosure, he lunged the horse a bit and then listened again to his chest. This time he could hear the rasping, wheezing noise. Could it be asthma or something on the infectious side?
"You can go, Raoul." Carlos needed to think and he didn't want the groom hovering.
Patting the horse, he led Codi back to his stall. Without the exercise, the horse was back to breathing normally. Carlos leaned against the stall door and stared at the equine. What was he going to do? He was afraid to call the vet. Zippricodi had only been at the barn for three months. How could he explain that the horse had not gone through the proper quarantine? He had bought the horse from a businessman down in Colombia, who raised Peruvian Pasos along with crops of drugs. His daughter's birthday had crept up so fast that he had only remembered at the last minute. If the horse had sat for the mandated time, he would have been late. The Colombian assured Carlos that the horse was in perfect health as was the rest of the stable. Taking the man's word, he had the horse transported on his own boat and papers forged as to the date of importation.
Bringing his forehead down to his arm, he sighed deeply. If Codi was sick with something contagious, his whole stable could be at risk. But, it might be something benign. He had to think positive. Maybe he'd wait a few days, have the grooms monitor the horse's temperature and keep him quiet. No workouts for a week or at least until something was resolved.
Still feeling a bit scared, Carlos went into the house and showered for lunch. He'd have to be careful and keep the handlers between Codi's barn and the thoroughbreds' separate. He would, in effect, set up his own quarantine. If any of the other horses had showed these same symptoms, he wouldn't have been as worried. But, Zippricodi was illegally imported. This was heading toward a potential catastrophe.
Captain Simon Banks hung up the phone and sat back in his chair. He and Daryl were going to the track to see Little Stogie work out the next morning. It had been a month since his thoroughbred had arrived from southern California. Carlos Suarez's stables had trailered four horses to Cascade Downs, and this was the first time Simon had time to see Little Stogie run.
The department had been bombarded with cases lately, not even mentioning William Ellison's kidnapping, and things were just beginning to ease up a bit. Self-consciously, he made a knuckle and rapped on his desk. Simon really wasn't superstitious, but it always paid to cover all the bases. Meanwhile, he had a job to do. He picked up his pen and began working. Tomorrow might be a day off, but today wasn't.
The phone rang, causing Simon to jump and streak a line of blue down the page. "Damn," he swore under his breath as he picked up the phone.
"Major Crime. Captain Banks speaking." He tried to keep the irritation out of his voice.
"Ellison here. We're on our way to the docks. Got a call about a body."
Simon could detect something a little off in his detective's voice. "Shouldn't Homicide be handling it?"
"I'm sure they were notified, sir. We'll be in as soon as we take a look around."
There really wasn't much he could say but agree. "I expect a full report when you get in," he barked, making sure Ellison remembered who was boss.
"At least verbal."
Simon knew that was Blair who had spoken. There was a snigger in the comment that he didn't fail to catch. What was going on?
Jim Ellison turned off his cell phone. "Chief, he heard that."
"Well, you've got to admit this isn't our regular kind of case."
"I promised Steven I'd look into it. Michele was very upset."
"But a dead horse? The body isn't even human."
"I guess that means Homicide won't be making an appearance. But it might be something for Major Crime. Professional horses are big bucks. Look how much Simon and his Cigar Club put into Little Stogie," Jim stubbornly asserted.
Blair Sandburg closed his lips. Despite the lack of voice, his thoughts came out loud and clear -- chasing a dead horse was silly. Jim refused to answer anymore. He had promised his brother.
Earlier that morning, he had been in the bathroom, when Blair had called out to him that Steven was on the phone. Dripping water and shaving cream, he hurried out to get the phone. The only time one received a call at that hour was when something bad had happened. He envisioned another kidnapping or Sally being held at gunpoint in the local supermarket. A dead horse had never crossed his mind.
Michele's boss, Dr. Bannerman, had been called down to the docks that morning because a horse's body had washed up onto the narrow stretch of beach. The doctor's best friend from vet school, specializing in equine medicine, had wanted a second opinion on what she had found. After arriving, the two vets quarantined the area. After finding out, Michele had told Steven, who had then immediately called big brother Jim.
The only concrete data Jim had was that the horse in question had been dead before he hit the water. Now he had to investigate. Steven wanted him to use his sentinel skills to find a culprit or at least a reason why the horse was thrown in the water. Neither were easy tasks and Jim was not looking forward to barging in on someone else's investigation. Although, whom would normally be called in such a case? The ASPCA?
Jim pulled the truck into a parking slot and surveyed the pandemonium. The coroner was standing next to Amy Bannerman and another woman who Jim surmised to be the other vet. The body of the horse was lying on the beach, a front loader was standing nearby, ready to move it. Uniformed cops were present, but there wasn't any evidence of detectives investigating the site. Dr. Bannerman was the logical place to start.
"James Ellison!" she called out as he walked closer. "I'm glad to see you."
The detective smiled at her, grimacing slightly at the sight of the decaying equine. "My pleasure," he responded.
"This is my friend and colleague, Dr Theresa Lenhard. She's an equine vet. When the body was discovered, the local cops called her office."
Jim shook hands with the other woman. Then Blair did likewise, but his eyes lingered on the horse's body.
"Why don't we walk over there." Amy Bannerman led them away from the cordoned-off area. Dr. Lenhard went down to the beach and knelt by the body. Jim didn't need to see any more.
"Steven said that you wanted my opinion on something," Jim started, bringing his attention back to Dr. Bannerman.
"Yes. We've discovered so far that this horse is a Thoroughbred, dead for a little more than two weeks. We're both positive he died of something else before he ended up in the water."
"Steven mentioned that."
She smiled hesitantly. "We've taken a few samples and done a preliminary necropsy on the premises, but it looks like he died of a disease. I don't know which one, yet."
"You think he was put in the water to hide the death?"
"He's a Thoroughbred, detective. Judging by his muscle tone, probably a racer and worth some money. I have friends looking into any missing horses, but that could take some time since we don't know where he came from."
Jim nodded. "Could this disease be contagious?"
"I don't know. Not now, but possibly when he first died."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I'm not sure. Michele tells me that you're very good at picking up clues that others miss. Any help you can give us is much appreciated."
"Do you have divers in?"
"What for? The horse has all his parts."
"More horses?" Jim suggested.
Dr. Bannerman looked aghast. "You really think there might be more?"
"How did a dead horse get into the water in the first place? He obviously didn't walk in. It would take several men to drag it, but that would take too much time and it wouldn't be private enough."
"A boat?" Blair suggested. "Could the horse have died on a boat and then they pushed him in?"
Jim nodded. "Possibly. I could call the Coast Guard."
"That also would be appreciated."
"For now, Sandburg and I will search the area. I'll leave the horse to you."
The vet nodded and then walked back over to the other woman.
"Shouldn't you, you know, feel around the horse for bruises or cuts, or something?" Blair asked.
"No. I don't know enough about horse anatomy. If a bone were out of place, I'd never realize it. Better to leave it to the professionals."
Jim started combing the beach for anything out of place. There was no real sand, just rocks that had been washing onto shore for centuries. Many of the boulders had sharp edges, but he didn't see blood or hair on any of them. Carefully, he climbed onto the rocks and focused closely at the shoreline.
Several beer cans had washed up along with drift wood, seaweed, and an assortment of seashells. Jim took a few more steps, wanting to peer closer into the water. As he turned to tell Blair that nothing was visible, he happened to notice writing on one of the pieces of wood. It was white and rounded like the rest of the driftwood, but there was something definitely painted on it. Backtracking, he reached down and picked up the clue.
"What is it?" Blair shouted over the surf, beginning to make his way over to Jim.
Deciding not to chance Blair's luck, Jim came back onto solid ground before his partner tripped and fell into the ocean.
"I think it came from a boat. It's got three letters on it, 'T', 'O', 'R'." Jim ran his fingers over the wood. "I think it had some kind of preservative on it, but it's washed away."
"Not much to go on."
Jim had to agree. They needed the divers. Pulling out his cell phone, he placed a call to the Coast Guard and informed them of what was happening. They promised to have a diving team out ASAP. Leaving his name and number, the Coast Guard promised to let him know as soon as they found something.
The two detectives meandered back up the bank near to where the dead horse was getting loaded onto a trailer. Dr. Lenhard stood near, shouting instructions.
"Did you find anything?" she asked, as they came abreast of her.
Jim showed her the board and explained his theory.
"Here's my card, Detective. Give me a call if you find out anything else."
Jim pocketed her card and handed her one of his own. She nodded her thanks and went over to the loader's operator.
Jim kept his eyes on her as she walked away, but his mind was busy sifting through what he had learned. "We can't do anymore here, Chief," he remarked, frustrated at the limited amount of clues. "Let's head back to the station."
The two Cascade detectives waved goodbye to Dr. Bannerman and took their piece of wood to forensics, hoping the lab could find something. Jim's intuition was telling him that there were more clues underwater. A dead horse did not just appear from thin air.
Jim was just about ready to turn the TV on for a bit of baseball, when the phone rang. He set the remote control down, resisting the temptation to turn the television on and watch while listening.
"Hey Jim, it's Rucker."
"Hi, Cuz. Been awhile."
"Yeah, it has. I meant to call after hearing through Mom that Uncle William had been kidnapped. Is he doing okay?"
"He's fine. None the worse for wear."
"Well, good. This is an official call, Jim." Rucker's voice turned serious. "Turns out your hunch was right. They found a boat with four stalls and three dead horses inside, sunk about a mile south. They're bringing in machinery to drag the thing to shore. You want to come down?"
"We'll be right there." Forgetting all about the game, he shouted to Blair as he half-jogged to his roommate's door. "Hey, Chief." His partner was in his room reading a new book his mother had sent him.
"What?" Blair asked, his glasses slipping down his face as he looked up at Jim. The book was against his legs and he was jotting down notes on some paper beside him.
"Rucker just called. They found a boat with three dead horses. I'm going down to take a look. You coming?"
"It'll just take me a sec." He hurriedly gathered his things into a pile. "I need to--"
"Just make sure you add a sweatshirt. The breeze will be cold blowing off the ocean. I'm gonna go up and change. Try not to take too long."
"Sure, man." Blair jumped out of his bed, the papers containing his notes flying in all directions. He ignored them.
Jim could hear muffled profanities as drawers were opened and contents rifled through. Shaking his head, he ascended the stairs to his room and quickly located a large Cascade PD sweatshirt sitting on top of the clothes trunk. He donned it over his Dockers shirt, then put on a pair of work boots. Taking the stairs two at a time, he called out, "You ready, yet?"
"Almost." Blair came out of his room, still bucking his belt over a fresh pair of jeans. Throwing an old sweatshirt over his head, he then quickly bent down to tie his hiking boots. "There. Let's go."
Jim took in the disheveled appearance and shrugged. "After you, Chief." He held the door open for Blair and then locked it after he had gone through. Curls bounced in total disarray as the younger man walked to the elevator and threw his coat on over the sweatshirt.
"So what else did Rucker tell you?" Blair asked, as the elevator doors slid shut.
"Not much. I really didn't give him a chance. I wanted to be there when the boat surfaced."
"What about the horse vet? You gonna call her?"
"That might not be a bad idea." As they walked from the elevator to Jim's truck, he took out his wallet and looked for Dr. Lenhard's card. He found it stuck between a twenty and a five- dollar bill. As they slid into the truck, Jim handed the card to his partner. "You call her while I drive."
"No problem." Jim could detect a gleam in the other man's eye as he dialed the vet's home phone number.
"Remember why you're calling, and it's not to ask her out."
"I know. I'll wait until we're actually face-to-face before doing that. She was pretty cute," Blair mumbled in admiration.
"I think I noticed a wedding ring." Jim smiled at the chagrinned expression that clouded Blair's face.
The drive back to the docks was faster without the usual daytime congestion. It was still light enough to see, and Jim hoped the sun would stay out long enough for him to get a good look at the boat. He could see the Coast Guard boats along the shore and two tugboats sitting idle with something tied between them. He pulled into a parking slot and jumped out of the truck without waiting for his partner, who was still on the phone.
Rucker must have been keeping watch because he came right over before Jim even made it halfway down the grassy slope. The rocky beach was alive with ocean machinery and emergency vehicles.
"Jimmy, it looks and smells really bad."
"Has anyone been inside?" Jim gazed at the soggy remnants of what was once a luxury yacht. With little thought to the dangers, he knew he had to board the vessel and search it as thoroughly as he could.
"Just the divers. They saw the horses and surfaced again to acknowledge the find. I called you right after that."
"I need to get on that boat before anyone else. Can you arrange it?"
Rucker looked worried. "You looking for something in particular or are you just impatient?"
Jim tried to relax his own expression, giving lie to his own misgivings. "Both, I guess."
"Let me see what I can do."
Jim followed his cousin down onto the rocky sand where several other members of the Coast Guard were congregated. Rucker approached the captain and began speaking. Another man in a diving suit walked up to the pair, and Jim saw Rucker point at him. The diver came over.
"I understand you were here when they brought up the first horse?"
Jim responded, noting the weariness on the other man's face. "Yes. I found a piece of board and was hoping to match it to the boat you guys found."
"Would the letters be 'TOR'? One of the stalls had a name painted on the door. The letters, 'VIC' and then part of the board was missing. I think it might have been kicked out, but I can't tell. The rest of the word had a 'Y'. The next word was 'BELLE.'"
"That makes, Victory Belle. Great, I'll have my partner run that through the Thoroughbred Registry and see if that name is there. What else did you see?"
"One of the boat's sides was splintered and it happened to be where a stall was located. I think the horse just floated out. I don't know how the wall was broken."
"You mean if it was deliberate or not?"
"Possibly the side was ruptured on purpose to sink the boat and the weight of the horse falling on it as it went down broke it more completely. There just wasn't time for it to rot. I calculate the boat's been in there for about two weeks, maybe a bit more."
Jim pondered this new information. "Is there any identification on the boat? A name, number?"
"Don't know. Didn't look that thoroughly, yet."
Rucker came over with the Captain. "Jim, I've gotten permission for you to board. They're going to beach the boat and then we can take a look around."
The two cousins and the diver stood by and watched as the Coast Guard lifted the boat from the water and placed it on a large flatbed trailer. Jim climbed up a ladder with another man, however, Blair was not allowed to follow them. Only two people were deemed safe to go in, and the Coast Guard was determined to have one of their own also looking around.
As Jim climbed onto the boat's deck, he could hear Blair muttering under his breath. "Take it easy, Jim. Be careful. The wood is fragile. Listen for any creaking that might mean the boards are about to give way..." the gentle murmuring continued, but Jim stopped listening to the words, instead he used his Guide's voice to anchor his senses.
Jim spent the next hour scouring the boat for clues. He never noticed that the sun disappeared. There were so many lights on the beach and docks that the windows of the boat let in enough of the artificial light for him to search the various areas on the yacht. He found the bridge and looked for any compartments that might still contain waterproof boxes, but everything was empty. There was no radio, but he could detect where it had been and how it had been ripped out. The life preservers still hung on the wall.
"Hey, Ellison. I've hit pay dirt," the other officer called up to him.
Jim descended the stairs and found himself in what were once luxurious living quarters. A bolted down bed dominated the center of the room.
"Look here, maps."
Inside an oak dresser was a drawer filled with maps of the California coast. It showed the Intercoastal Way, and several islands. One map was of Baja, and the rest were in a sequential order all the way up to Canada. They were all wet with salt water and many fell apart when touched, but they were good quality maps and had the San Diego supplier stamped on the bottom right corner.
Jim exchanged looks with the other officer. "Good find. Anything else here?"
"Nope, the trunks are empty. Even the linen has been cleaned out. This was a well-thought- out, well-executed dumping of a boat. Even the name on the side had been painted over."
That was news to Jim. These people had done everything possible to prevent the boat from being tracked to the owner. "I'm gonna take a look at where the horses were kept." Jim paused a second at the door. "Why do you think they had stalls if the horses were already dead?"
"The stalls aren't make-shift. They're part of the boat. Whoever owned it probably regularly transported horses," suggested the other man.
Jim nodded and continued on his quest for answers. He went to the stalls. The first one still had a horse in it. The legs were at odd angles compared to the body. The enclosure looked more like a box, something like where they kept the horses at the track. It was made of wood, definitely worse for wear after being submerged for a few weeks. Nothing was missing, and there were no markings or holes where a sign might have hung. The one across was in the same condition.
The third stall had a gaping hole in the back wall. Jim could see minute tufts of hair caught on the jagged wood tears in the side of the boat. He placed several in an evidence bag. Going back to the stall door, he noticed that it was whole, no pieces missing. It was the fourth stall door that had a chunk missing and that one had letters painted on it similar, if not identical, to the "TOR" board he had found.
"Victory Belle," Jim muttered under his breath. The name of the horse? He hoped so. At least it would give them a place to start checking tomorrow morning. Giving another quick glance, he decided he had seen enough.
After getting off the boat, he rejoined his partner, who was talking to the Coast Guard Captain and the equine vet, Dr. Lenhard.
"Detective Ellison," she acknowledged as he came up on them. "I've got a team on its way to take the horses back to the Rainier Pathology Department. I've been working on the other horse, but I don't have anything conclusive. There just hasn't been time."
"Thank you, Doctor." Rucker came up quietly and joined them. Jim ignored his presence for the moment, focusing on the vet. "I gave you my card this afternoon, and it's got my cell number. If you find out anything important, don't hesitate to call me, even if it's in the middle of the night." Jim paused a second, considering. "I understand you treat many of the Thoroughbreds here in Cascade. Do you know of any with the name Victory Belle?"
She looked deep in thought, then countered, "Not that I can recollect. But I'll check the client list on the computer and let you know if I find a match."
"Thanks again." Jim reached out and shook her hand in a formal goodbye. She nodded and walked off. He glanced down at Blair, who remained quiet.
"Jim," Rucker asked for his attention. "What if Victory Belle was the name of the boat? It might have been taken down from everywhere else, but because it was painted on the stall door, it was forgotten or something."
"Good idea. Can you check into that and let me know if the name pops up?" Jim asked his cousin.
Blair gave an involuntary yawn. He covered his mouth quickly, but Jim still pounced. "Are we keeping you from your beauty sleep?"
"Hey, that's not fair. I was up at five -- you slept in until seven. Plus, I went to bed late."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Not my problem, Chief." He turned back to his cousin. "Give me a call if you find out anything."
"Take it easy Jim, Blair."
The two detectives wandered back to the truck. "So, did you get a date?" Jim inquired.
"I didn't ask. Judging from the way she was standing, I got the impression she would say no. I guess this just wasn't the time or place. Maybe when the case is over, I'll try."
"Good thinking," Jim remarked as he slammed the door to his truck shut.
The next morning, Simon and Daryl were up early and at the track by six. Daryl complained some, hiding his grin behind the many exaggerated yawns. The two arrived at the track just as the first set was finishing. Herman was standing by the rail at the seventh-eighths pole, observing the horses leaving.
"Hey, Simon. Great to see you," Herman Franklin called over his shoulder, his large glasses slumping on his nose. "You should have seen Circumspect run. He's a dynamo, definitely not living up to his name." The older man laughed as he pushed his glasses toward his eyes.
"You're supposed to be saying things like that about Little Stogie, not his competition." Simon joined the trainer at the fence. Daryl quietly stood on his father's other side.
"Yeah, well. That stallion is good. Probably going to get claimed before he has to race against us. I don't plan to run Little Stogie for at least another couple of weeks."
"Why are you waiting?"
"He's blowing too hard during workouts. Not that he's getting slower, but it takes him longer to catch his breath after he's done."
"Does this mean there's a problem?" Simon asked, concerned about his horse's health.
"Don't know. He was okay after getting here from the Suarez farm, but he just hasn't shaped up as quickly as I would have liked."
Simon tried not to let what Herman said bother him, but he was a natural worrier. The trainer had had a lot of complaints about Little Stogie from the beginning. The horse broke too fast, refused to save anything for the end of the race, and was too headstrong when it came to the jockey's commands. But all of it had been mental, not physical.
The first set disappeared around the corner and into the shed row. The next set soon appeared in their place.
"Is Little Stogie in that group?" Daryl asked, leaning against the fence, resting his chin on his forearms.
"He's the dark chestnut, walking behind the paint."
Simon laughed to himself. Daryl didn't know very much about horses and racing. Since they were now proud owners, Simon had decided to teach him. Joan was not pleased. "He's the pony. Every stallion has a companion horse that rides next to him at the races and is his security in strange places. That black and white horse belongs to Little Stogie. In fact, he has an interesting background."
Herman chuckled. "His name is Just Kidding."
"Is he a Thoroughbred like Little Stogie?"
"Sort of," Herman answered. "There are specific rules for which colors the Thoroughbred Association will accept in order to register a colt for racing. Bay, black, chestnuts, roans and grays are okay, but patches of white on the torso are illegal. With his excellent bloodlines, he could have been used for jumping or three-day eventing, but he doesn't like to work hard."
Simon added, "He uses up his energy looking around and enjoying the sights."
"So he sold rather cheaply," Herman interjected. "I was able to pick him up for only six thousand."
"That's cheap?" Daryl's eyes were wide in astonishment.
"For a horse of his quality. I used my winnings two years ago just before your great uncle died. Kidd and Stogie were together during their winter months and bonded pretty tight. So, when we, your uncle and I, brought Stogie up, we took Kidd, too. Both horses seemed happy with the arrangement."
The brown mass whirled past. The horses were cantering the track. Simon could make out Little Stogie and his friend, Just Kidding, gliding along the homestretch; passing the grandstand on the opposite side of the track.
"I've decided not to give him the rein today, just a long easy canter. I want to see how winded he gets after only three miles of a slow speed."
The three men watched their investment closely, admiring his form, grace, and easy compliance. The horse wasn't fighting the rider at all. Simon glanced at Herman, noticing the scowl on his face.
"You see something wrong with his workout?"
"He should want to run faster. Justin should be checking him, maybe not constantly, but at least a few times, but Stogie seems very content to run slow."
When the second set's workout was over, Simon and Daryl followed Herman back to the barn where the horses were housed. Grooms were already unsaddling the horses and beginning their rubdown. Even from three stalls down, he could hear Stogie breathing hard. In fact, both horses were making a lot of noise.
Herman bent down and rested his ear against the chest of Just Kidding. "You know, Simon. I think we need to call the vet. Kidd doesn't sound right, either."
Simon walked over to the big dark chestnut and stroked his neck. The horse turned to look at him, ears forward and eyes bright. "He doesn't look sick. I could always tell when Daryl was sick by his eyes. They kind of drooped when he had a fever."
"We took his temp this morning and it was on the higher side of normal, but not alarming."
"Call the vet. I'd rather pay the doctor's bills now and catch whatever it is early than wait until he's really sick."
Herman nodded and left the barn area to place the call.
Simon gazed at Little Stogie, hoping that it was nothing, but dreading the worst. A minor cold could put him out of the races for a few weeks, but how long did it take to recondition a horse? Did they even get colds? What if it was something worse -- like pneumonia?
Daryl and the groom were talking quietly between themselves. "How much hay does he get a day?"
The man spread three flakes of hay onto the stall's floor. "A lot. This is just one meal. Usually he gets a quarter of a bale three times a day and grain twice."
"Yep. We give him about two pounds of grain twice a day, plus we top-dress it with extra vitamins and glucosamine. When he's really racing and not just training, he'll get a bit of extra grain, depending upon if he drops any weight."
Daryl followed the groom and horse as Kidd was led into his stall. Simon could see there was already some hay fluffed out in there for the head went down immediately and then lifted with alfalfa hanging from his mouth while he happily munched away.
Herman came back. "Dr. Lenhard said she could be here tomorrow morning as there is no immediate threat. If that changes, we're supposed to call her immediately."
"Why couldn't she come today?" Daryl asked, becoming involved in the conversation.
"She mentioned that she was doing a necropsy, which is like an autopsy, on a horse. That would take up most of today."
Simon stiffened, remembering that Jim Ellison had gone to investigate a dead horse -- a Thoroughbred, he had said. His team had come back from the docks full of gruesome descriptions of a soggy horse, dead by something other than drowning. Simon hadn't paid much attention, but now it hit closer to home as he gazed at his own Thoroughbred eating breakfast.
"We're gonna head out, Herman. Give me a call after the vet comes."
Simon and Daryl walked slowly to the car, both occupied with troubling thoughts.
Even though it was close to quitting time, Jim Ellison found himself walking sedately down the stairwell to Pathology. They had just received a FAX from the Rainier University lab that had completed the necropsy on the first dead horse, but were still working on the rest. He'd gone over the Coast Guard's report on the sunken boat and other horses, but there was nothing in them that Rucker hadn't told him. Dinner would just have to wait.
"Hello, Detective Ellison."
Jim entered the room where Dan Wolf and the department pathologist, Sam, were hunched over a desk reading some papers.
"Does it say what the horse died of?" Jim asked as he closed the door behind him.
"Something respiratory. The report says that the lungs were filled with little nodules. Even though there were no germs left in them, it was definitely some kind of bacteria. They stated that it might be Strangles or some form of pneumonia."
"So they don't know either." Jim was disappointed. He was hoping for something concrete and all he got was maybes.
"We also verified that the hairs you pulled from the hole in the boat belong to the first dead horse."
Jim perked up at the information. That neatly tied the horse to the boat. The wood with the painted letters was one thing, but the hairs verified it. They gave him a copy of the report, and he headed back up to Major Crime. There was a lot of medical mumbo-jumbo, but even he could see that assaying a water-laden horse for a cause of disease was damned near impossible. He was lucky they found the nodules in the lung. At least it gave him a place to start.
Plopping himself at his desk, he picked up the phone to call Dr. Bannerman. Just as he punched in her numbers, Simon called him into his office. He didn't open his door and shout as was customary. Jim could tell he was sitting at his desk and had just received some unsettling news over the phone. "Jim, you'd better get in here," the voice croaked. It wasn't even at a normal range, but rather soft, especially for his captain.
Jim replaced the phone's receiver and meandered over to the office. He hesitantly knocked. Simon's, "Come in," was equally strange.
"I thought you had the day off. Going to the track, spending time with Daryl. " Jim stopped talking, noticing Simon's worried eyes and trembling hand.
"I just hung up after talking to Dr. Lenhard. She's--"
"That's the vet who was--"
"I know. She's also Little Stogie's vet. Herman Franklin called her this morning to come check on Little Stogie. He's been off, and Herman was worried."
"He's alright, isn't he?"
"She hasn't looked at him yet. The reason behind her call is that she received ten other calls from the track for her to look at their horses. All have the same symptoms as Little Stogie and Kidd. One has just died. She was at the university doing the necropsy on those drowned horses that had just been pulled out of the boat, when all the calls came in."
"Did she say how the horse at the track died?"
"It's respiratory. He acted like he was very stiff, refused to run and had pus draining from his nose. They're taking cultures to identify the cause of the infection."
"You want to go down to the track?" Jim asked, ready to drive Simon.
"No. She told me to stay home and she'd call with any new information." Simon shook his head in apparent disbelief. "What if this is big, Jim? Don't you think it's a huge coincidence that there's a boat with four dead horses -- all Thoroughbreds -- and now there might be an epidemic at the track?"
"The pathology report stated that the first horse they pulled out of the water had nodules in its lungs," Jim informed his captain. "Sounds like a respiratory sickness. I also remember Dr. Bannerman saying that it's bacterial. That means antibiotics. This could all go away with a bunch of penicillin."
Simon looked up, his eyes glittering with a ray of hope. "Yeah, and it won't turn into a city-wide epidemic with us all quarantined."
Jim hadn't thought of that. "We don't even know if the disease can be transferred to humans."
The two detectives each silently considered the ramifications of a hot zone in Cascade. Simon stood, shuffling some papers on his desk. "I guess that's all we can do for now. I'm gonna head home. Daryl says he's making dinner."
Jim chuckled. "So, that's why you came in. Daryl kicked you out because you were getting in his way."
"That's not true," Simon blustered. Then smiled a bit sheepishly. "Well, maybe a little. I was just trying to help."
Jim smirked. Simon didn't know the meaning of subtle. Even gentle suggestions would come out as overbearing dictates. Daryl was smart to make his father leave.
The Next Day
Jim walked into the bullpen to find it almost empty. A few detectives were busy at their desks, either on the computer or the phone. Blair waltzed over to his own desk and dialed into his phone mail. Jim could hear it dimly in the background. As he glanced at his own desk, he found a handwritten message from Serena in Forensics. The lab report was in on the chunk of wood he had found.
Picking up the report, he skimmed it quickly, looking for any concrete answers. There were none. It stated the approximate time of submersion. The lumber was the type most often used on boats. The paint was oil-based, commonly used on wood signs. No stray hairs, fingerprints, or rogue chemicals were on or saturated within the wood.
Feeling his partner's eyes on him, Jim glanced up. Blair was on the phone, talking seriously with the person on the other end. The younger detective tapped the receiver with his index finger. Jim instantly focused his hearing onto the conversation.
"...three additional calls this morning. I've been run off my feet looking at the horses. I know they all have something bacterial. But, what it is, I can't guess yet."
"Not even an inkling?" Jim heard his partner ask.
"I'm pretty sure it's some kind of pneumonia, but it's not classic. If I don't know what bug is causing it, I can't correctly prescribe the most effective antibiotic."
"But, you're sure of the nodules?" Jim started at Blair's words. Nodules were what the vet found looking at the first horse they dragged out of the ocean.
"Yes. A pathology report was done on the horse that died last night by a vet I asked to assist from Seattle. He said that the nodules are the same. I've given Dr. Phelps the job of analyzing the rest of the dead horses, while I see to the live ones."
"Are you at the track now?"
"Yes. I never left."
"Jim and I will be right there," Blair turned to look at Jim. The older detective nodded in affirmation. "Maybe we can talk to all the owners and trainers and find some kind of connection."
"There's a Captain Banks already here with two of his detectives, talking with the owners. Do you know him?"
Blair looked up and Jim met his eyes with a smile. "Yes, he's our captain, too. We'll be right over."
Jim ceased listening. He drew out his cell phone and dialed Simon's number. Without even asking, he knew that the two detectives already there had to be Rafe and Henri, two prominent members of the Cigar Club. They must have been very concerned about Little Stogie, almost as much as Simon.
"Banks!" the voice growled.
"Captain? It's Ellison. Sandburg and I are on our way to the track. Did you see the Forensics' report on the board of wood?"
"Yeah, dead end. We'll meet you by Little Stogie's stall. Doc gave us some antibiotics last night, and both horses seem none the worse for wear. Perfect Pick died and another horse is fighting for his life right now. Neither of them got the medicine in time. Dr. Lenhard has prescribed antibiotics for every horse in barns two, six, and twelve."
"Have Rafe or Henri found any connections?"
"We're heading out now. See you in thirty."
Jim closed his phone and grabbed his jacket.
"Have they found a connection?" Blair asked, walking beside Jim as they left the bullpen.
"Not yet. It has to be something simple. With that boat being sunk in the ocean and Cascade also on the Pacific Coast, I think we're looking for horses wintered somewhere down in California. My guess is that one horse came up here sick and infected the others."
"Sounds reasonable," Blair responded. "Maybe Dr. Lenhard will even be able to say which horse was the carrier so we can backtrack it to the farm."
Simon shut off his cell phone and turned back to Little Stogie, absently rubbing a stiff shoulder. The vet was due any minute. She had set up an IV drip to both the chestnut and the paint. Simon was in charge of watching the racehorse, who wasn't giving him any problems. Herman stood by Kidd, resting his head on the horse's back. Rafe and Henri had been gone for over an hour, interviewing owners and trainers. Simon hoped they'd be back before Jim and Blair showed up.
Little Stogie stood, almost unresponsive, as the intravenous fluid flowed into his neck. His eyes were mostly closed and his head hung pretty low. Snot and thick mucus oozed out of his nose. Occasionally he would shift his weight, but acted stiff as if his muscles hurt as well. Simon awkwardly stroked Stogie's neck, trying to give comfort to his horse. What made it worse was that the vet had no idea what she was treating. An unknown disease was a pretty scary thing.
It seemed no time had passed before he heard a gentle voice calling out to him.
Simon looked out over the stall door to see his best team standing there, looking very uneasy. "Hey. As you can see, we're just barely holding our own."
"I thought he was on penicillin or something?" Jim asked, frowning.
"He is, but it's either not working or working slow because the infection is so intense."
Jim nodded. "Has Rafe or Henri gotten in touch with you recently?"
"I haven't heard a word."
"We heard on the news as we drove over that the track is closed. Racing and workouts have been cancelled. All horses are supposed to stay in their stalls, and the owners and trainers are restricted to their own barns."
Simon pondered the new information. "Maybe this is the first step in a quarantine." Suddenly he heard his cell phone chirp. "Excuse me." The captain activated the phone. "Banks!"
"Captain. It's Rafe. We're outside barn sixteen where a trainer has just been taken away in an ambulance. They think he might have the same disease as the horses. Anyone who's had direct contact with the horses are required to stay where they are. We heard that the National Guard's been called in."
Simon looked guiltily at Jim and Blair. Now they were stuck here, too. "What about you? Are you quaratined?"
"No. We never entered any of the barns and only talked to a few trainers outside."
Simon found it hard to take in that this disease could jump to humans. "Rafe. Jim is standing right beside me. Why don't you tell him what you've discovered?" Simon handed the phone to the older detective and went back to stroking his horse's neck, feeling slightly cold. Worry for his son began eating away at him. Daryl had been at the track with him yesterday. Could he have been exposed? Were they all going to get sick?
Jim handed the phone back to his captain. Blair was looking at him with wide eyes; trusting eyes that spoke louder than any words that he knew Jim would find a way out of this mess. Unfortunately, it was up to the medical professionals. No bullying, no enhanced senses, no special forces tactics could defeat a bacteria bent on destruction.
"Well, what did Rafe say? All we heard were a bunch of grunts and an 'oh, hell'."
"The trainer for the horse, Spice Incentive, got sick this morning. He had been complaining of muscle aches and chest pain, but thought it was related to anxiety. Then he registered a high fever and started hacking up chunks. Dr. Lenhard recognized it right away."
"What else? What made you say, 'oh hell?'"
"We can't leave the barn. Everyone has to be checked. The only break at this point is that the vet thinks she knows what it is. Now that a human has come down with it, it has dramatically narrowed the possibilities. Dr. Lenhard's waiting for a particular test she's ordered to come in. It has to be rushed here from the pharmaceutical company. Until everyone gets tested, no one is allowed to leave or enter the track facilities. The gates are now closed."
Jim watched the ramifications settle on his partner.
"We're stuck here?" Blair asked, incredulously.
"Yep. We can't even go question anyone."
Herman brought over two buckets and turned them upside down. "Have a seat, gents. This may take awhile. I don't suppose you brought any food? I never went home last night, so I haven't had supper or breakfast."
"Sorry, Herman. I--"
"I've got a couple of breakfast bars in my pack," Blair piped up. He pulled his backpack off his shoulders and rummaged around until he found what he was looking for. "Ta da," he announced in triumph.
Jim watched Herman nibble on the bar. For someone who had skipped two meals, he didn't eat the bars very fast. Meanwhile, Simon had been dialing a number on his phone. It rang and rang, but no one answered.
Simon turned to Jim. "Daryl must be at the library or something. He's not picking up."
"Try again in half an hour," Blair suggested.
They waited a good hour longer before Dr. Lenhard walked down their shed row. Jim had been reduced to pacing while Blair talked quietly to Simon, who still had not gotten an answer in Daryl's room. Jim strained his ears to listen in on any conversations in the neighboring barns, but they were all in the same boat.
When the doctor turned the corner, Jim was waiting to pounce. His body stilled suddenly as he took in her biosafety mask and gloved hands. She carried a medical box and a cell phone was clipped to her waste.
"Is this disease as dangerous as your protective clothing says it is?" Jim demanded to know, before Dr. Lenhard had a chance to speak.
She smiled calmly, at least it looked a smile, although it was hidden within the confines of the mask. "I have a test I would like to perform on the horses." Her voice was muffled, but came across clear enough to understand.
"What kind of test?" Blair asked, his interest alerted by the magic word.
Jim groaned in dismay. He hoped the good doctor wouldn't spend the next hour mired in irrelevant dialogue.
"It's called a Mallein test. I want to check their bodies for the mallein protein."
She first went over to Little Stogie. In a ritualistic pantomime, she opened her case, slipped on a new pair of gloves, withdrew a needle filled with a brown colored liquid, and injected it into the horse's neck. After swabbing the neck with alcohol, she took off the exterior pair of gloves, leaving on the original set, slipped on a new pair and went over to Just Kidding and repeated the procedure. Again she took off the exterior gloves and left the horse's stall to come stand next to the men. "I have just injected a small amount of the mallein antigen into the horses. Now, we should watch the neck and see if a hive develops. A fever is another response to the antigen, but they already have one so that won't tell us anything."
"And if a hive does develop?" Simon asked, peering closely at Little Stogie's neck.
"Then the horses are positive for a bacterial infection caused by Burkholderia mallei, better known as Glanders."
Jim actually saw the blood drain from the shorter men's faces. "This is bad?" Jim asked, glancing over at Simon, who held the same puzzled expression.
"Yes and no," the vet answered. "Untreated, the disease is almost always fatal. In ancient times--"
Jim groaned audibly. Now the horse doctor was sounding like Sandburg.
"Excuse me, Detective Ellison. I was under the impression you wanted to know what was going on," she chastised him.
Blair sniggered. Slightly abashed, Jim countered, "I do. It's just that phrase, 'in ancient times' that sends shivers of dread up my back."
She looked confused. "Dread of what?"
"A coming lecture."
"I promise not to go into too much depth," she replied with sarcasm.
Blair interjected. "Glanders used to be a disease of the cavalry. It would kill the horses and then infect the soldiers. It's terribly contagious. Whole armies were lost within a few weeks."
Dr. Lenhard nodded. "That's correct. The bacteria is passed by the way of nasal droplets and it doesn't require many individual cells to infect the host."
"How come we've never heard of it before?" Simon asked, leaving Little Stogie's stall.
"Because it's pretty much eradicated. Only in some third world countries, where there aren't any antibiotics, can you find it. In fact, the last known human case in the United States was back in 1945, except for a microbiologist in May of 2000."
"So, why is it showing up here -- and now?" Jim asked, trying to get the discussion back to their situation.
"I don't know," the vet answered. She walked into the stall that Simon had vacated and took a look at the dark chestnut. "Look. It's reacting. He definitely has Glanders. I'm taking him off the beta-lactams and adding sulfadiazine to his IV drip. We'll let this dose enter his blood stream, stop the IV, and then give him shots for the next few days." She turned to Herman. "Can you give injections?"
The older man responded, "I sure can. Come look at Kidd. I think he's got a bump there, too."
Dr. Lenhard took a look at Just Kidding and added some of the new antibiotic to his IV, also. "I have to leave and go check the other horses. The Centers for Disease Control has been called in."
"Because of Spice Incentive's trainer coming down with something?"
She nodded. "They'll be sending representatives around to administer this same test to everyone who has had contact with the horses. The track is now under quarantine. No one is allowed to leave or enter. If you know of others that may have come in contact with an infected animal, call them on the phone and have them get checked. Do you have any questions?"
Jim had a million running through his mind. "Do you think the horses we found also had this Glanders?"
"Yes, they did."
"So this outbreak may not be isolated to just this one track?"
"My guess is no. Before tomorrow is over, I'm sure there will be other cities with infected horses and maybe people. The CDC will deal with this from here on out." She smiled, "It's been taken out of your hands, Detective Ellison. You must be relieved."
Jim smiled back, but it was perfunctory.
The vet rummaged in her bag and took out the needed medicine and explained to Herman what needed to be done. "I'm heading off to the next barn. I'll be back to check on the horses tomorrow morning. Call if they get worse, but from their condition I don't think it's likely."
"What about us? Are we allowed to leave?" Blair inquired, as Dr. Lenhard began walking away.
She turned back. "Not until you've tested negative. CDC doctors will come by the barn, but they also have a tent set up by the front gate. In order to leave, you need to register with them, have your blood drawn, and obtain a negative Mallein test. I think they'll give you a card or something to verify your negative test. You show the card at the track's front gate before you can exit."
"How are we ever going to question people if we're stuck here waiting for the CDC to give us that test?" Jim complained.
"Amy tells me you're a great detective. I'm sure you'll figure something out." She gave him a derisive glance, then walked away.
Blair started to grin, but Jim wiped it away with a dark look. Neither Herman nor Simon felt any such qualms and both started laughing. Jim felt the situation slipping away from him and didn't know how to get it back.
Rafe leaned against the fence surrounding the track. His gaze swept the grounds as the CDC personnel manned their main tent near the front gate and sent individual medical groups from barn to barn. He really didn't want to be stuck with the horses like Jim and Blair because someone needed to be able to investigate. His notebook, a present from Blair, contained a summary of each of the interviews they had conducted so far.
"I don't think any of the owners have a clue where this epidemic came from," Henri commented, standing next to Rafe along the fence.
"Most have never heard of the disease."
"But how could something like this just pop up? I mean if it hasn't been in the U.S. for like fifty years, how did it get here now? And why now?"
Rafe turned his head and watched the vet leave Little Stogie's barn. He understood that this was a dangerous disease, but he was picking up some strange vibes from the doctors. They were nervous. "I think there's something we're missing."
Henri looked puzzled. "Like what?"
"The CDC workers all look like they're swallowed a lemon. None of them are joking around or acting like regular people on a job. They act -- well -- worried."
"Maybe we should go to the tent and ask them. We are detectives working on this case. If they know something we don't, we better find out what it is." Henri left the fence and strode over to the CDC's main base.
Rafe followed, biting back a grin. He loved watching Henri get riled.
"Excuse me. We're detectives with the Cascade PD working on this Glanders case."
"You must be Detective Ellison. We were told you'd come looking for us."
Henri paused and cast a swift glance at Rafe. "No. Detectives Ellison and Sandburg are in the barn with Little Stogie. Our Captain's racehorse is one of those sick. We've been interviewing numerous owners and trainers, trying to find out how this all started. Do you have any information?"
The man stood from his makeshift desk and came over to shake their hands. "It's always a pleasure to work with the local law enforcement."
Rafe tried, but he couldn't detect any facetiousness in the man's words. He appeared totally genuine. Maybe it was a good thing that they were the ones talking to the CDC and not Jim, who undoubtedly would alienate the doctors within a minute of conversation.
"Have a seat, detectives," the CDC official invited. "My name is John Weider. I'm the administrator for this particular outbreak."
"This outbreak?" Rafe interjected.
"Yes, there has been a total of three confirmed outbreaks of Glanders on the Pacific Coast. One is at the Santa Anita track, the other is at a barn in Portland, Oregon, and the last one is here."
Rafe and Henri exchanged glances. Both knew that this news was bad. "We didn't hear it in the news," Rafe questioned. "Even our vet didn't know what was going on."
"It was kept quiet. We didn't want to panic the general population."
"But, why has the CDC been brought in?" Henri asked. "I thought this disease could be treated by antibiotics with no big deal."
"Normally that is the case. But, Burkholderia mallei is on our hot list as a possible terrorist agent and is normally categorized as a reportable disease."
"Hot list?" Rafe felt like a parrot repeating the doctor's words.
"There are certain infectious agents that can cause disease remarkably fast and with very few organisms. When humans get Glanders, it strikes quickly and deadly in a matter of a few days. After infection with just 35 colony-forming units, it takes one to five days for a localized infection to form, as in lung nodes. If it goes into the bloodstream, you're dead in another two days."
Rafe felt a shiver run down his back.
John Weider continued, "We are working in conjunction with the FBI to determine whether this could be a terrorist act. Because it requires so few organisms to cause infection, this bacteria can be used in germ warfare. We need to culture it and then do tests to discover its origin."
"Is this what you did with the other outbreaks?"
"We are still doing the tests."
Rafe knew the man wouldn't tell them anymore. He pulled out his notebook and wrote down the administrator's name and the info he had just given them. Jim was not going to be happy with this news. It was downright scary. What kind of terrorist would use horses as a weapon to kill humans?
"Does this mean you have no leads what-so-ever as to where this started?"
"Santa Anita had the first outbreak with ten horses and three people dying so far. We believe it's now under control. In Portland, it's a lot messier. The authorities weren't notified until the horses died, so the Glanders had more time to spread. I don't know how many now are deceased."
Rafe jotted the information down, noticing how neatly Weider sidestepped the question. He had a feeling they knew the origin, but were unwilling to share.
"Would you two detectives be so kind as to step into the other tent and have the Mallein test administered to you? We need to check every human and equine on the track grounds."
"Sure," Henri answered. "Are you going around to all the barns or are the people supposed to come to you?"
"Both." John Weider led the way into the neighboring tent. "We have a contingent now entering barn one, but no one is allowed to leave the grounds without a negative Mallein test."
"If it's positive?"
"Antibiotics. If you've handled an infected horse, then we'll put you on sulfadiazine prophylaxis. Have you been in contact with any of the animals?"
"No. We only talked to the owners and trainers, but outside the barn," Rafe acknowledged.
"Yeah, we had no interest in getting close to those sick horses," Henri admitted.
"Fine. Dr. Raymond will give you an intradermal injection of mallein antigen. We wait a few minutes and then see if it reacts."
After both detectives received their shot, they went over to sit on a couple of folding chairs to wait. Rafe pulled out his cell phone and called Simon to fill him in on what had been happening.
Simon's cell phone rang, making Jim jump up from the upside down feed bucket. Unashamedly, he listened in to the conversation between his captain and Rafe. Even with his concentration focused on what Rafe was saying, he still monitored the horses' conditions, Blair's agitated fidgeting, and Herman Franklin's elevated temperature.
"Possible terrorist attack?" Simon bellowed into the phone. "I don't believe it. We just have a bunch of sick horses, not thousands of people."
"Germ warfare?" Blair questioned, softly.
Jim went over to his partner, who had also risen and was beginning to pace. "It's just a possibility because the bacteria is on their hot list. If it was a terrorist attack, it wasn't very efficient or effective."
Jim stiffened as he heard someone walking in their direction. He could hear two people talking quietly between themselves, although their voices sounded fuzzy, reminiscent of the way Dr. Lenhard sounded in her safety mask. Leaving Blair's side, he started down the shed row and intercepted two doctors, carrying what looked to be plastic tackle boxes filled with medical supplies. They were wearing lab coats with their name and the words, Centers For Disease Control on the left breast pockets.
"Good afternoon," the two doctors said as they came into view. Their voices were muffled because of the masks they wore.
"Both of these horses were positive on that test the vet did, does this mean you're going to give us antibiotics right away?" Simon asked, leaving the stall and standing in front of the newcomers.
"Yes, we'll give you the antibiotics, but we want to do the test anyway. We also want a blood sample to run some ELIZA's. Do any of you feel sick?"
No one spoke. "Test Herman Franklin first," Jim suggested. "He's having trouble breathing and he's got a slight temp."
The CDC doctors went over to the trainer, who gave Jim a strange look as he left Just Kidding's side. The professionals went to work, drawing blood, and administering the Mallein test. When the trainer was done, they went to Simon and then to Jim and Blair. Each took his turn getting poked and tested.
As Jim felt his blood leave his arm, he happened to glance over to Herman who had gone chalky white. "Simon!" Jim called out. "Catch Herman. He's gonna--" The trainer collapsed onto the hard floor. His pant legs slid up and raw sores became visible on his ankles and calves.
The CDC doctor made a call, and a gurney pulled by two rescue workers in full biohazard gear quickly came and took Franklin away.
Simon looked almost dazed as his friend was wheeled away. He casually went to rub his arm, but the doctor was there first. "You're infected, sir. Please sit down."
Jim looked at the arm and saw a huge welt, almost the size of the arm itself, rising, red and radiating heat. Jim instantly looked down at his own arm, and gave a sigh of relief when he found it unchanged. His next thought went to his partner. Blair was nonchalantly rubbing his arm, preventing Jim's eyes from seeing anything. Forcefully, Jim grabbed his partner's arm, exposing the area where the Mallein test had been administered. It was normal -- no reaction. After a second, with closed eyes and a soft "thank God," he redirected his focus toward his captain. Simon was blustering, but Jim could detect a rasp in his breaths.
"You're going to have to come with us, too, sir," the doctor was patiently informing him.
"But, I'm not sick."
"Not, yet." Firmly the doctor took control of the police captain.
"Daryl!" Simon screamed in fear. "He was with me yesterday next to the horses. He's not answering his phone." Simon was beside himself with worry -- struggling against the paramedics and trying to keep talking. With subtle determination, the CDC officials backed Simon up to the gurney where he tripped slightly and fell into a sitting position. As they pushed him down, Simon twisted and locked eyes with Jim, the silent plea evident in his gaze.
"I'll get in touch with Daryl. I promise," Jim reassured his friend.
"We'll have a center downtown where people who believe they've been exposed can get a free Mallein test. The pharmaceutical company that manufactures the test is FedExing shipments every six hours. Have this Daryl go there." The CDC doctor began writing on a clipboard.
"Where is the center going to be located?" Jim asked, watching Simon get strapped to the gurney.
"You'll have to ask at the track's front gate, but I assume it will be at one of the local hospitals," he responded still writing. "Now, what is your name, sir?"
"James Ellison. Why--"
"Here is your card, Mr. Ellison. And yours?" he directed to Blair, who replied promptly.
"You two need to show these cards at the gate in order to leave. This proves that we've administered the Mallein test and that you were both negative." With that piece of business completed, the doctor tucked away the clipboard and picked up the remaining medical supplies. He flashed Jim a commiserating smile, then began pushing the gurney away with a reluctant Simon aboard.
Blair immediately pulled out his cell phone and dialed. Jim peeked over his shoulder noticing the input of the emergency numbers, 9-1-1.
"This is Detective Sandburg with the Cascade Police Department. I need to know where the CDC is giving the Mallein test for those who have been exposed to Glanders from the race track."
"Cascade General Hospital. Everyone who is tested positive will then be immediately admitted." Jim had no trouble hearing the operator's response.
"Thank you." Blair disconnected and immediately began punching in Daryl's number. This time a dorm-mate answered.
"I need to talk to Daryl Banks immediately. Is he around?"
"I'll go get him."
A couple of minutes went by before the familiar voice spoke. "This is Daryl."
"Hi, it's Blair. Now, don't panic, but I'm calling to let you know that your father's been taken to the hospital."
"There's a disease that's making the horses sick and it seems to be able to move to humans. You could be infected, too. I want--"
"But how is he?" Daryl frantically asked.
"I'm sure he'll be fine, but he's very worried about you," the younger detective continued. "The disease is called Glanders and you need to go down to Cascade General Hospital and get yourself tested as soon as you can."
"Yeah, sure." He sounded in shock to Jim, as he listened in. "Was he unconscious or delirious?"
"No. He seemed normal, but he reacted positive to the test, so they took him in as a precaution."
Blair looked over at Jim and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, 'I don't know what to tell him.'
Jim took the phone away from his partner. "Daryl, this is Jim. We can't leave the track because it's quarantined. Go get the Mallein test. We'll be in touch as soon as we can get out of here."
Daryl was quiet for a bit and then said, "Thanks for calling. I'll go now." Then he hung up.
"He doesn't sound good." Jim remarked as he handed the phone back to his partner. "But there's not much we can do now, except wait for the green light."
As the quiet surrounded them, it dawned on Jim that they were now alone with the sick horses. Everyone else had been taken away.
Blair realized it at the same time. "What do we do now?" he asked.
Jim looked in at the two horses. Each was standing quietly, the IV dripping soundlessly into their veins. The bags were only half-empty. "I don't know. I assume Dr. Lenhard is coming back. She did say the IV's were to be disconnected."
"Can we just leave them?" the younger detective asked. "We have our exit cards."
Jim shrugged. "I don't know if we can leave them alone." He glanced once more at the needle sticking into their necks and decided they had better not chance it.
Clueless, both detectives watched the horses as they occasionally shifted their feet and swished their tails at the flies that landed on their bodies. The minutes ticked by slowly, and Jim felt a mounting impatience that he couldn't control. His jaw tensed, and he soon found himself pacing.
"Jim, why don't you call Rafe. Surely--"
"Listen!" Jim commanded as he held up his hand.
Blair tilted his head and gave Jim a frustrated look. "I don't hear--"
Jim smiled when it became apparent that Blair did hear. Dr. Bannerman, followed by Rafe and Henri, came striding around the corner. Tagging along behind was a young man, one of Little Stogie's grooms. Jim felt the weight of responsibility fall off his shoulders.
"Well, detectives," she spoke through a broad grin. "I just heard that you had volunteered to take care of the horses."
Jim did not find this funny.
"We've got some clues, but if you'd rather take care of--"
"I would not," Jim interrupted Henri before the man could continue. "What have you found out?"
Dr. Bannerman went directly into the stall to take a look at Little Stogie. Jim focused on Rafe and Henri as they related what they had learned.
"So, we know that there have been three outbreaks, all located along the Pacific coast," Blair started to summarize what they had learned so far. "This jives with the boat with the dead horses. The disease must have started on a farm also along the coast. Did you talk to the other trainers here? Where did their horses winter?"
"There are six main places," Rafe answered, reading from his notes. "Of the fifty barns at this track, all have horses that have come down with Glanders. There is not one barn clean."
"Each barn has horses that have come from at least one of the six. However, there is one barn that has only two horses and both became sick."
Jim looked puzzled, then it hit him. "Little Stogie and Just Kidding."
"Right. We know that they came from the Suarez farm in Southern California."
"Is that place one of the six main places?" Blair asked.
"Yes. The problem with that theory is that this disease is very contagious. The horses could have picked it up from one another during exercising or even trading buckets."
"Gross, Blair." Henri wrinkled his nose in disgust.
"What are the authorities doing about this? Have they begun any kind of investigation?" Jim looked at Henri and saw him exchange a look with Rafe. "Well?" Jim asked impatiently.
"They're going on the idea that this may be a terrorist attack," Rafe responded. "The Feds are swarming, and we've been ordered off the case. There are cases of Glanders in Oregon and California."
"Are they even checking out other possibilities?" Blair asked.
"We don't know." Rafe closed his notebook. "We got cleared to escort you guys to the CDC tent. They want to check both of you out, give you a pass, and then we are to," Rafe cleared his throat, "'vacate the premises. We don't need any non-essential personnel around.' And that's a direct quote from Mr. John Weider."
"I agree we need to get out of here, but, I'll be damned if I believe this whole terrorist scenario. It just doesn't make sense."
"I agree." Dr. Bannerman came out of Just Kidding's stall. "I told Theresa the same thing. This is a real horse epidemic, not caused by some idiots trying to take down the racing industry. I think a horse somehow skipped a quarantine from a foreign country and was stabled somewhere with these Thoroughbreds. You need to find that barn and get them shut down."
"Why won't the Feds take that hypothesis and check it out?" Blair asked.
"They may have, I don't know. All animal vets with equine experience were called in to help in this emergency, so that's why I'm here." She paused for a moment then spoke. "I don't know if this is relevant, but--"
"Just say it." Jim was impatient for some kind of break-through.
"The Mallein test the horses and people are taking -- well, it hasn't been made in decades. I find it hard to believe they got production up and running so quickly. As soon as I called the company, they shipped 'em. I expected at least a twenty-four to forty-eight hour delay. I was scrambling, trying to decide what to do when the CDC just swarmed in."
"That further verifies that they had some inkling of what was happening," Blair commented.
"I think so, yes," the vet qualified. "And not just an epidemic, but Glanders in particular. I've tried to ask for particulars, but they won't talk to me."
Jim could believe that. The Feds never talked to anyone unless they absolutely had to. With nothing more to discuss, the four detectives left the shed row and headed to the main CDC tent. It seemed to take forever to get processed, and then all four were escorted off the grounds with instructions not to come back. The National Guard was posted along the perimeter to enforce this ruling.
"You know, Jim. We haven't eaten in ages. Let's stop and pick up some subs or something."
"I think we should avoid populated areas. We've got some hamburger and sauce. I'll whip up spaghetti and meatballs. It shouldn't take too long."
"All right. I can live with that."
With their passes in hand, they exited the track and walked to the truck.
"Excuse me," a woman maneuvered her way around several cars. "Can you tell us what's going on inside?" A camera with the light on was shoved into Jim's face.
Feeling rising anger, he clamped down on an explosive remark and replied, "There are horses in stalls and grooms carrying hay and oats." He glared at the reporter who appeared undaunted by his rudeness.
"But we've seen ambulances roaring out with police escorts. The National Guard has set up a quarantine, with no one allowed in and no one coming out." Then her eyes grew huge. "Except you. What can you tell us?"
"That you'll have to wait for a formal press conference." Jim pushed his way clear of the determined reporter and slid into his truck. He was glad to see that Blair had done likewise.
As soon as they got home, Jim went directly into the kitchen, while Blair went to the telephone.
"What are you doing?" Jim asked as he rolled out the hamburger balls.
"Trying to locate Simon. I want to make sure they took him to Cascade General." There was a pause. "Hey, here's a message from Daryl."
Jim eavesdropped as Blair listened to the phone mail.
"He's cool. The Mallein test was negative. Daryl says that his Dad is at Cascade General, and that they have a whole wing devoted to Glanders' patients. No one can see Simon tonight, but maybe tomorrow we'll be allowed in."
"We'll stop by on the way to work. I want to do some more digging into the other outbreaks."
"I'm gonna shower." Blair sauntered past the counter. "I smell like horse."
Jim went about the business of preparing food. His hunger right now was more important than cleanliness. The smell of the frying meat was making his stomach rumble. Casting a guilty glance in the bathroom's direction, he grabbed a jar of spaghetti sauce along with a bag of pretzels from the cabinet. As he heated the sauce, he munched on the pretzels. When his mouth became dry from the snack food, he went and removed a beer from the fridge.
"You won't have any room for the spaghetti if you keep this up." Blair walked in and caught sight of a handful halfway up to Jim's mouth. His hair was still wet from the shower.
Jim stuffed the pretzels in his mouth. "Have some," he said while chewing.
The younger man eyed the bag, then Jim, then reached in and took a few. "Okay. I'll admit I'm famished."
Jim dumped a bunch of pasta into a pot of boiling water. "Not as hungry as me." Jim stirred the noodles, planning his next day's agenda. "After we stop by the hospital, I want to do some more digging into the other outbreaks."
"I want to check into this Suarez place where Little Stogie is wintered. There has to be a connection." Blair grabbed one more pretzel then went to set the table.
The Next Day
Simon woke up to soft lights and tubes that felt like they were coming out of his every vein. He reached up and touched his nose; that at least seemed free of medical devices. On one side of the bed, instruments of varied colors and displays sat beeping at him. He blinked his eyes a couple of times and then tried to move his legs.
"Damn," the expletive came involuntarily from his mouth. Every muscle ached like he had been put through the ringer. His head pounded, his eyes were constantly filled with tears, and it seemed that even the dim light was glaring. Was this how Jim felt?
A movement off to the right caught his attention, and he noticed a body in full biohazard gear walking between beds and writing numbers down on a chart. When the person came to him, he noticed a young man under the helmet's shield.
"Hello, Mr. Banks. I'm Doctor Wendt. I'm overseeing the Glanders cases that come in from the track. How are you feeling this morning?"
"It's Captain, and I feel like shit."
"Oh, you're in the military. Let me jot that down. I thought for sure they said you were a trainer for one of the horses."
"I'm an owner and a Cascade Police Depar--" he couldn't continue. The water in his eyes threatened to pour onto his face and the saliva in his throat stuck half way down. He felt like he was choking.
"Don't worry about it, Captain Banks. All I need from you is a yes or a no." The doctor pulled off the sheet and looked at his legs. A few, pox-like things were on his legs and they were covered in some kind of cream so that Simon couldn't tell just how bad they were. Even covered, they looked disgusting.
"I see that your eyes are still showing a light sensitivity."
"My legs?" Simon croaked. "When did I get those?"
"They were just starting when you were brought in. By starting you immediately on the correct antibiotics, you did not come down with the full-blown disease." The doctor scribbled on the chart. "How does your body feel? When you have the flu, you get body aches. Do your muscles feel like that now?"
"It's going to take several days for the antibiotics to get rid of those pains. You were not as badly infected as the other man that came in with you."
"Herman. Is he okay?" Simon had forgotten all about his trainer.
"Mr. Franklin is still unconscious. It was touch-and-go last night, but as he is still alive, I have high hopes for a full recovery. Now, I want you to rest. We've heard from your family, and your son is planning on visiting you later today."
"Daryl," he asked frantically. "How's my son? Is he sick?"
"No, he's fine. He called here last night to say that he had the Mallein test and it was negative. Sleep now, so you can talk to him later."
Simon felt the relief wash over him, rendering his body even weaker. Yet, his mind felt stronger. His boy was safe. The doctor looked at the monitors and jotted down some more notes, gave him a smile, and moved on to the next bed. Simon felt his eyelids close, then he knew nothing.
Jim woke to the sound of the shower running. Throwing on a pair of sweat pants, he went downstairs and started a pot of coffee. While it brewed, he went into the living room and turned on the TV.
"...Has any terrorist organization claimed responsibility for the attack?" greeted his ears.
The broadcast continued with the mayor responding. "No. All we're saying is that it's one of the possibilities being investigated. We have an outbreak of a disease that, before this time, had been totally eradicated from the United States. It is still found in parts of South America and other third-world countries."
"What about the Middle East?" A reporter asked.
"Yes, it is found there also."
There was some conversation between the journalists at the admission then the mayor continued. "The federal government and the CDC are doing their best to track down the origin of this disease. We ask that the general population stay away from the track and for anyone who, in the past two weeks, has come in contact with either the horses or personnel who take care of them, to go to Cascade General Hospital. The CDC has an area cordoned off and is administering a Mallein test, free of charge."
The phone rang, interrupting Jim's concentration. "Yeah?"
"Jimmy? It's Rucker. I tried calling you yesterday, but you must not have gotten the message."
"We were stuck at the track. Sorry."
"I've located a registered ship by the name of Victory Belle, supposedly moored at the Sweetwater Reservoir, south of San Diego. It took some doing, but I found a connection between the boat and the racing industry."
Jim felt his pulse quicken. "What is it?"
"The Victory Belle is registered to a woman by the name of Rosa Romero. After digging a bit deeper, we found that she's married to a man named Carlos Suarez, who owns a Thoroughbred horse farm near Bonita, Southern California."
"Is it listed as missing?"
"Not a word."
"Thanks, Rucker. You've been a big help."
Everything they had learned so far seemed to point in Carlos Suarez's direction. He had stabled Little Stogie. Victory Belle belonged to his wife, which possibly made him responsible for the four dead horses. Jim felt the need to go down and investigate this man. He walked over to the coffee maker and poured himself a cup.
Blair came bounding into the kitchen. "Who was on the phone?" he asked, pulling a pitcher out of the fridge and pouring himself a glass of a reddish concoction.
Jim quickly filled him in on what Rucker had to say, along with the headline news on the TV.
"I think we should take a trip down to the Suarez farm on Simon's behalf," Blair suggested.
Jim smiled. What an interesting way of putting it. They had no official jurisdiction in California, but as representatives of Little Stogie's owner, they had the right to interview the owner of the horse farm. "I agree. We'll have to clear it with Simon, first." That was just rhetorical. Jim knew Simon would have no problems with them going. It wasn't like they were going to be allowed to do anything here. The CDC and the other Feds believed they had it all figured out. Terrorist attack? He couldn't believe how those twits could rationally believe that.
Simon was asleep on the bed, oblivious to the pandemonium occurring around him in the negative pressure critical care room. Doctors and nurses in their biosafety clothing scurried around, reading monitors and writing down notes. Blair stood next to Jim, both of them gazing through a glass window at their sick Captain.
"I don't think he'll be able to give us the go ahead," Jim remarked, rhetorically.
A doctor came hurriedly over to where they were standing. "I'm sorry, but this is a restricted area. You need to leave."
"We're interested in the condition of Captain Simon Banks," Blair piped in.
"He's stable and responding well to the antibiotics. He'll need to be here for a few more days then he'll be switched to another room."
"Is he able to talk to us?" Jim asked, although he knew the answer.
"Absolutely not. He needs his rest."
Admitting defeat, the two detectives left the hospital and headed to work. They wanted to check in with Dr. Lenhard and see if there were any new developments. Now that they had a name and location, Jim was determined to go down there.
As soon as they entered the bullpen, Jim noticed that Joel was sitting in Simon's office. Rhonda rushed over to them. Blair headed to his phone and started listening to his voicemail.
"I'm so glad you're alright. We heard about Simon and Herman, but no one thought to mention your condition."
"Haven't Rafe or Henri come in?"
"Not yet. Were they at the track?"
"Yes. We were all there questioning the trainers and owners. Their test showed that we weren't infected."
She gave him a light pat on the arm and went back to work. Jim's thoughts were interrupted by his partner's messages.
"This is Amy Bannerman. Sorry, Blair. I couldn't find any listing of a registered Thoroughbred by the name of Victory Belle. I checked through the Jockey's Club both in the States and Europe. I then checked for the horses used in eventing and other English style competitions. Nothing. Let me know if you find out anything."
"Detective Sandburg? This is Dr. Lenhard. I've left a message for you and Detective Ellison. Little Stogie and Just Kidding are well onto the road to recovery. Their fevers have broken and they are eating again. I can't seem to get a hold of Simon Banks or Herman Franklin, so I assume that they are still in the hospital. I'm sure you'll see them before I will, so you can pass the message on. Thanks."
"Hey Blair? It's Dale Holm calling. I've tried you at home a couple of times and even sent you an e-mail. I really need to talk to you. My friend is in over his head, investigating this smuggling case that uses South American artifacts. I remember that Peru and the other countries down there are your specialty. We could really use your help. Give me a call as soon as you can. Bye."
Jim scowled for a moment. He didn't know that Blair had friends in other police forces. Shaking it off, he strode to his desk to listen to his own messages when Joel opened the office door and called out to him.
"Jim. Blair. Can I please talk to you?"
It was quite a change from Simon's usual bellowing. In fact, Jim wasn't sure that Captain Banks knew the word, "please". His friend Simon did, but not the Captain of Major Crime.
Blair put down the receiver and followed Jim into the office.
"Have a seat." Joel motioned them to the chairs. "I've been assigned as acting Captain until Simon is back with us."
"Better than Finkleman, huh?" Blair joked.
Jim gave him a wry smile.
"I know you guys have been investigating the Glanders' epidemic. I just talked to Rafe. Do you have anything new?"
Jim filled him in on the call from Rucker and the connection of the boat, Victory Belle, to the Suarez farm.
"I met Carlos Suarez the year before last. Seemed to be a nice enough man. Can't believe he'd have sick horses on his property and not do something about it. He's got a wife and daughter, and the girl spends every last minute with the horses."
"We want to go down and talk to him," Jim stated.
Joel gave a huge sigh. "I hate the thought of losing you two when the city seems to be in a high-alert status."
"But this is important to the investigation," Blair inserted. "Everyone seems to have taken it for granted that this epidemic is a terrorist attack. Did you hear the news this morning?"
Joel nodded wearily.
"If we can prove it was an accident and not by design, this would be a good thing, right?"
"Do I need to remind you that you have no jurisdiction?"
"Joel--" Blair interrupted, "if we're representing the Cigar Club and Little Stogie's owner, maybe we can get in to see this Carlos Suarez. We can nose around and--"
This time Joel interrupted. "No. I don't think that's a good idea. You'll need more clout than that. If you really feel the need to go down, let me call the police department down in Bonita and square it away with them. I know Captain Esteban Rivara. He's a good man. See him first."
"Wait!" Blair exclaimed, excitement lighting up his face. "I've got this really good friend who lives in Bonita. In fact, he just called. Talk about divine providence." The younger detective shook his head in wonder.
"If we have time, we'll make a point of looking him up." Jim nodded to his partner, then turned back to Joel. "Thanks for making that call."
The substitute captain nodded as the two detectives left the office.
"You better bring back something useful," Joel jokingly called out, just before they closed the door.
Blair sniggered. "Now he sounds like a real Captain."
Jim went back to his desk and saw that he had only one message.
"Jim, it's Steven. It's all over the news that there's been a terrorist attack at the track. I feel terrible that I got you involved in the drowned Thoroughbreds and knowing you, you were probably at the track when they hit. Please call and let me know that you're okay."
Jim groaned audibly as he dialed his brother's number.
"Mr. Ellison's office."
"Lily? This is Jim. Can I talk to Steven?"
"You're not in the hospital, are you? Your brother will be kicking himself for years if you are."
"No, I'm at work."
"Great. Let me get him."
Jim spent the next ten minutes reassuring his brother that the horse disease was not a terrorist attack, despite what the news reported and that he wasn't sick. Blair looked up at him periodically, smiling and then going back to his computer screen. He printed out a large stack of documents and shoved them into a folder. Jim was finally able to say goodbye.
"Phew. He's really upset."
"I got us plane tickets for Bonita and a rental when we land at the airport."
"Good work, Chief. We're outta here."
Even though Joel had told Jim to head directly to the police station, he decided to take a trip to the marina first. Documentation on file showed the Victory Belle to still be docked there and Jim wanted to see it first hand. When they arrived, the two detectives took a walk around.
"Do you know what slip it's supposed to be in?" Blair asked, his head bobbing back and forth, checking out the signs.
"According to the computer, he's at number seventy-eight." Jim could see the dock for sixty to seventy-four.
"There!" Blair pointed off to the left.
Jim focused his eyes and read the numbers that weren't hidden by the boats moored there. "Let's go."
Jim took off and Blair jogged alongside. Purposefully, Jim slowed his strides. "Sorry."
"That's okay, man. You know there are two slots that don't have boats in them. I bet one is seventy-eight."
"I think you're going to be right."
They came to the dock and started down it. Numbers seventy-six and seventy-eight were indeed empty.
Someone from the boat moored at slip seventy-four jumped from his deck onto the dock. "Can I help you?"
"I'm Blair Sandburg and this is my friend, Jim. We were wondering what happened to the Victory Belle. Wasn't she here last month?"
Jim smiled at his partner's way of putting others at ease.
"Yeah. Carlos took the boat down to Baja for his brother to use. He said he didn't expect it back any time soon." The man laughed. "That's the problem with brothers. They never think they need to return anything."
Jim nodded with understanding. "Is the man around?" he asked.
A guarded look came over the once helpful stranger. "No. I haven't seen him lately."
Jim pondered the situation for a minute then realized that there was not going to be any more help from this quarter. "Thanks so much for your time," Jim told him, and began slowly walking back the way he had come. Blair followed a few steps behind.
"Well, that was a bust."
"Not really," Jim replied. "We knew the boat wouldn't be here. And just because Carlos Suarez told people that he was giving his boat to his brother doesn't mean he did. It's a pretty clever way to explain the disappearance of the boat. Some time goes by, and he'd just tell everyone that he'd given up hope for ever getting the boat back and either buy a new one or let the slip go to someone else." Jim liked his hypothesis. "On to the station?"
"Yep," agreed Blair.
Jim parked the rented car in the visitor's lot of the Bonita Police Department. Blair bounded out of the car, anxious to go inside. He just couldn't believe things had worked out this way. It had to be divine providence. Dale needed to talk to him and now here he was, in the same little town. Maybe he'd even run into Dale's roommate, Andrew, here at the station.
The two Cascade detectives were stopped first at the reception desk. They stated their purpose and were immediately escorted up to Bonita's own version of Major Crime.
"Detective Ellison. Detective Sandburg. Welcome to Bonita." A rotund man of Latin American descent, in his fifties, came over to greet them. "I'm Captain Rivara. Come in. Joel Taggart told me all about your problems and let me tell you, we've had our share of the same."
"The same?" Jim questioned. Blair momentarily forgot all about his friend.
"We've got a teenage girl in the hospital dying of Glanders and they're not sure she'll make it. It's Suarez's daughter."
Blair and Jim exchanged looks then Jim spoke up. "We knew that there was an outbreak at the Santa Anita track, but we hadn't heard about down here."
"The Army has had the Suarez farm surrounded, no one goes in and no one goes out."
Blair saw Jim start at the word Army. Why would they have been deployed instead of the Guard, he wondered.
The captain continued, "All the horses have been put down. Carlos had it, but the antibiotics have cleared it. The girl is a different story. Her horse was sick, and she was afraid that if she told her parents she wasn't feeling well, they'd make her leave the barn. By the time anyone knew how bad off she was, it was too late."
"So the government must know about this. Why is it that they're letting the story about a terrorist attack leak through?" Jim asked.
"Haven't heard that one. Down here, everyone knows it was Carlos Suarez's fault. We haven't arrested him, yet, because of his daughter, you know."
"In Cascade, they haven't announced where the epidemic originated, so the reporters are having a field day, speculating on terrorism."
Captain Rivara nodded with commiseration. "Reporters are the same everywhere."
"What exactly did Suarez do that caused this epidemic?" Blair asked.
"Imported a horse illegally -- a birthday present for his kid. It didn't go through proper quarantine before being brought into the country. He has a boat that he uses occasionally to transport horses to races."
"Why weren't other tracks notified?" Jim asked, interrupting Blair's train of thought.
"We didn't think the daughter's horse had contaminated the Thoroughbreds. They were kept separate. It wasn't until the horses up at Santa Anita became sick that we began looking around."
Blair could feel Jim getting tense. He was furious himself, but understood that bureaucrats seldom talked to one another, even in the same agency. "We haven't had any lunch. Why don't you take us down to your cafeteria and we'll eat," he suggested, trying to ease the tension.
Jim grunted, but the Captain agreed. As the three men walked through the bullpen, Blair happened to notice an Aztec death mask sitting on a desk. He looked up at the detective sitting there, and their eyes met. The officer got up and walked over, glancing back and forth between Blair and Jim. After an internal decision, he spoke directly to Blair.
"By any chance are you Blair Sandburg?"
"Yes, I am."
"I'm Andrew Wood. Captain Rivara mentioned this morning that Detectives Ellison and Sandburg were coming down from Cascade."
Blair let a wide smile fill his face. "And you're Dale's roommate. He's told me all about you. In fact, I was going to try and get a hold of him while my partner and I were down here."
"Listen, why don't you both come over for dinner tonight. I'm sure you and Dale have a lot of catching up to do."
"Thanks, man. We'd love to." Blair cast a quick look at Jim, who seemed to be eyeing Andrew with curiosity. "Dale and I met on a dig several years ago down in Chichen Itza. It's an ancient Mayan city--"
"I get the picture, Chief," Jim interrupted. "What time?"
Andrew laughed. "I get out of here by six. Why don't you show up at seven?"
"We'll be there." A teasing glint came from Jim's eyes, "But only if Dale promises to tell us some interesting stories about this one," Jim teased, as he jerked a thumb towards his partner.
Blair laughed self-consciously. "I'm sure he'll only be too glad to oblige."
"Now," Jim pointed out, "the Captain is waiting."
Blair looked over to see an indulgent look on the Captain's face.
"Sorry," Andrew looked contrite. "See you tonight."
Blair quickly followed the pair of retreating backs.
Captain Rivara led them to the cafeteria. Jim wrinkled his nose as the different scents of bad Mexican food assaulted him. Blair had to use all his self-control to keep from laughing, even though he agreed with the assessment. The smell of frying steak and onions wafted through the air and seemed to stick to their clothes and hair. The captain didn't seem to notice as he stood in line selecting a burrito from the counter. Blair and Jim picked out their own lunch and joined the captain at a table near a window.
"So, you know Dale," Rivara commented between bites.
"We met on that dig, and he even came up to Rainier for a semester or two. Both of us were, and still are, interested in ancient American cultures," Blair explained.
"Dale's expertise has been a big help to our department. Living so close to Mexico, a good number of our cases revolve around illegally imported artifacts. But, that's not the reason for your visit."
"Right," Jim agreed. "I want to hear more about your investigation into the Suarez farm."
Blair felt a monetary twinge of regret. It felt good to hear that another police department respected the contribution of an anthropologist, and he wanted to hear more of Dale's exploits.
"Not much to tell. Carlos Suarez called a vet in to treat that Peruvian Paso he had bought his daughter. The girl was nursing her horse for several days before the other horses became sick. After the track at Santa Anita reported a sickness spreading, we began investigating with the vet." The captain paused to take a drink and wipe his face. "When the girl collapsed with the same symptoms, the Army came and enforced a quarantine. The same thing happen with you up north?"
Blair watched Jim carefully put down his hamburger. The stiff control in the motion made Blair swallow thickly. He could understand his friend's disgust at the lack of communication. It was appalling.
"Something like that. Do you have any idea," Jim asked, "why there wasn't a better exchange of information between the officials down here and places where horses from the farm had been transported?"
Captain Rivara looked affronted then relaxed. "We had no idea that more outbreaks had occurred until Joel Taggart called me."
"There's actually another outbreak -- in Portland, Oregon."
The captain paled. "No, I didn't know."
"Have you confiscated any records that show all the places where Suarez has transported horses? As a professional stable where Thoroughbreds are wintered and then shipped back to home tracks, one would think this would have been looked into."
"I thought that Carlos owned all those horses. Santa Anita and Hollywood Park are the only places where he runs his own. But why didn't the Feds check into those other places?"
"Maybe Suarez didn't let anyone know that he boarded horses at his place," Blair suggested. "You know, trying to save his own butt. We know he tried to get rid of four diseased horses by sinking them in the Victory Belle."
"His boat? I thought that was down in Baja with his brother."
"Nope," Jim told him. "It was pulled out of the ocean with three dead horses in it. A fourth had previously washed ashore."
Rivara pushed his plate aside. "I am so sorry. We stopped most of our investigation after the Feds moved in. I guess I thought they had it all under control."
Blair saw Jim visibly relax.
"We know how that goes," Blair put in, saving Jim from having to comment. "They don't even know we're down here."
"And probably wouldn't be happy if they did know." Rivara sighed.
A man came up to their table and cast an apologetic glance in their direction. "Sorry, Captain. You're needed in the bullpen. Federal Agent Sandras is waiting for you."
"Thank you, Miguel." Rivara turned back to the two Cascade detectives. "I hope you understand if I don't show you out."
"We can find our own way," Jim acknowledged. "Thank you so much for your time."
The Captain left, while Jim and Blair stayed, sipping their coffee. "So, what do we do now?" Blair asked.
"I'd like to see Carlos Suarez. Maybe we can find him at the hospital. How's your ability to impersonate a doctor these days?"
Blair burst out laughing. "Man, I had you fooled." The little joke helped to relieve the tension. "But, what do you hope to accomplish by seeing him?"
"I don't know. It doesn't seem right that he can disobey the laws, cause so much misery, and not understand the scope of what he's done."
"His daughter is dying. I think he understands." Blair patted his friend's shoulder. "I'm sure he's repenting. He'll be shadowed with this for the rest of his life."
"Maybe you're right." Jim took another sip of his coffee, his brows furrowed in deep thought.
Blair was practically jumping up and down in his seat by the time Jim turned into the driveway of Dale and Andrew's house.
"Would you calm down? Andrew is going to think I'm partnered with a two-year-old."
"Don't worry. Once I'm out of the confines of this car, I'll be fine."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Right. So, how did you get to be friends?"
"We met on a dig in Southern Mexico when I was only eighteen," Blair answered as he closed the passenger door. "We were in the same year in college, but he was several years older. Instead of belittling me like the other students, he took me under his wing and treated me like a brother. He was great."
The front door of the house was flung open and a man, who had to be Dale, came flying out. "Blair! It's great to see you," he shouted, and enveloped Blair in a giant bear-hug
Jim saw the detective he had met at the station sedately exit the house with an indulgent grin on his face.
"Hi, man. So, you need my help, huh?" Blair asked, when given time to breathe.
"I've got artifacts out the wazoo and can't identify all of them. You're the South American expert. I prefer the Mexican ones. There's one I swear looks Egyptian."
Blair put his arm around Dale's shoulder. "Tell me all about it." The two anthropologists walked into the house leaving their cop friends standing there.
"I'm Andrew Wood, and the flighty one is Dale Holm. Dale's not big on introductions -- just kind of plunges in and hopes everyone can follow."
"Sounds familiar," Jim remarked, dryly. "Maybe it's a trait of all anthropologists."
"Or the kind of person it takes to survive in the field. Granted, most of the people they're studying have been dead for centuries."
"Yeah, but it's the cut-throat profiteers that they have to worry about."
"Worry? Dale never worries, except about me when I'm on a case."
"Ditto for Sandburg."
The two detectives went into the house and found Dale in a room describing all the artifacts in a language that, although English, sounded Greek to Jim. Both men were talking at once; it almost seemed like two conversations going on simultaneously.
"Their collective energy is exhausting," Andrew remarked. "I've got some steaks marinating. We'll go grill them and maybe let them know when dinner's ready."
"Sounds good." Jim cast a look at Blair as he left the den and followed Andrew. Neither of the chatting men noticed either their arrival or departure.
"This is a nice house," Jim remarked casually, trying to think of something to talk about. "Lived here long?"
"I've had the house about ten years. Dale moved in maybe six years ago."
"What does Dale do? Is he a detective?"
"No!" Andrew laughed. "He'd be worthless in the field. His mind is so centered on his research and what happened a millennia ago that he doesn't see what goes on around him. But he's been invaluable to us as a consultant on a number of cases."
"So your captain said. He sounded almost as protective as my captain is of Sandburg."
Andrew doused the briquettes with lighter fluid and lit it. The large flames licked into the air as it burned the organic solvent. Jim watched mesmerized. Dancing oranges and reds waved back and forth. Tiny blues filtered in as the fire became hotter. Heat radiated, warming his face as the flickering lights darted back and forth, higher and lower.
"Jim?" A hand squeezed his arm, with nails biting into his muscle. "Remember, I like my steak well done."
The pain brought him back to the present. Marshalling his wandering thoughts, he glanced at his Guide, whose worried look belied the casual words.
"I know. Nothing that might still be mooing." Jim congratulated himself on a response that actually fit the question. Sometimes he was not so lucky. "I will personally see to it that it is a step away from shoe leather."
Blair laughed as he let go of Jim's arm. "Dale and I are going to make a salad. There are even homemade rolls."
Jim chanced a look at Andrew, who was looking at him quizzically. "He rushed out here awfully fast just to tell you how to cook his steak."
"Impetuous. That's Sandburg." Jim answered noncommittally, hoping that Andrew would drop the subject. "Were you involved at all in the Suarez investigation?"
"God, yes! It was hell from beginning to end. The vet came to us because he couldn't figure out what was going on. Horses were getting sick. Trainers and grooms were getting sick. Suarez would say and do nothing. He actively prevented us from our investigation. At least in the beginning."
"Then the daughter got sick?"
"After that, the road-blocks stopped, but he still refused to help. Another detective, Ken Christian, was sent down to Columbia to investigate where that Paso horse came from and found the whole barn sick and dying."
"None of the others volunteered to go down." Andrew flipped the steak, adding some marinade. "The Colombian army swooped down and quarantined the place. All the horses had to be put down and the workers were either hospitalized or put on antibiotics. It was a nasty scene."
"Is that when the Army was called in?"
"The vet had been in communication with the CDC. It took some time before a test could be manufactured that would prove his theory. During that waiting period, the Army swooped, destroyed the animals, and shut everyone off the place."
"I just don't understand why this was kept so hush-hush. It would have saved us a great deal of time if the federal authorities had let us know so that when the first horses became sick or even when we found the boat, we could have started something to prevent an outbreak."
"I don't know. They didn't want to cause a panic and the Thoroughbred Association probably did their best not to have the news spread."
Jim didn't buy that explanation either. "When I left, the media was suggesting that the outbreak was part of a terrorist attack. People are jumpy enough without that kind of incentive."
Andrew nodded. "I think the Feds here are thinking that, too. I heard them mumbling to themselves, but it hasn't gone further than that."
Placing the now cooked steaks on a fresh plate, the men returned to the house where the table had been set and a large fresh salad and a basket of warm rolls were waiting for them. There was no sign of the other two men,
"Hey, Dale!" Andrew yelled. "Soup's on."
Jim could hear Blair and Dale whispering quietly, but couldn't distinguish what they were saying. The tone he did catch. "They're plotting."
"Does Blair do this often?"
"Yep, especially if he knows I'm not going to like his plan."
Andrew handed Jim a beer and then sat down. "When hunger overrides whatever they're discussing, maybe there'll be food left."
Jim grinned. "Or maybe not."
Dale burst into the kitchen. "You wouldn't eat all those rolls. Payback would be hell."
Blair was right behind him. Jim purposefully met his eyes. There was banked excitement, but no guilt. "Spill, Chief."
"Let's eat first. We wouldn't want this feast to go to waste."
Jim grumbled, but scooped out a portion of salad and drowned it in Italian dressing. Dinner progressed with a lot of joking, but no serious conversation. They carefully avoided anything related to police work. Andrew admitted that the San Antonio Spurs was his favorite basketball team, while both Jim and Blair went on and on about the Jaguars' superiority. Dale was suspiciously quiet.
"Fess up, what's your favorite team?" Blair prodded.
"I've always liked the Boston Celtics, but I'm not a hardcore fan. I'd prefer to read than watch TV."
"Celtics are cool." Blair stood up. "Let me help clear the table," he darted a look toward Jim, "then we can really talk."
Jim felt his heart drop into his stomach. Just by that look, he knew that he was not going to like what was going to be suggested. With fresh beers, they went back outside and took a seat on the deck. It afforded a beautiful view of the reservoir and the setting sun.
Blair cleared his throat a couple of times. "Has Andrew mentioned the case they're currently working on?"
Jim stared back at Blair. "No, we were talking about the Suarez farm. What case?"
Andrew took over, but looked like he had no idea where the conversation was going. "There have been some expensive pieces of ancient artifacts and contemporary tribal art stolen from both private and public collections. However, sources tell us that these items are not the main objective."
Dale burst in. "Can you believe this? They use them as cover for smuggling drugs and weapons. Some of them get ruined. Others are fake and are made to look like the real thing."
Blair added, "Dale wants me to stay and help catalogue and authenticate the recovered artifacts."
"Stay?" he asked dumbly, stalling for time in order to comprehend what had just been said.
"Dale has been doing it all on his own, and it's overwhelming. Plus, I have an expertise in the South American cultures that he doesn't have. His concentration has been mostly in Mexican social and religious customs."
"We would have to check it out with Captain Rivara first," Dale inserted. "We'd need his okay."
Finally Andrew spoke. "I don't think it would work. It's one thing to ask the captain to accept you," he directed at Dale, "when you're not a trained police officer. Now, you're going to ask the captain to take on the responsibility of a colleague of yours?"
Jim hated what he was about to say, but it had to be done. "Sandburg is a trained detective. He went through the academy two and a half years ago."
Dale stared speechless at Blair. "The academy? The last time we talked, you told me you were just observing at the police department. I thought you were still at Rainier working on your Ph.D.?"
Jim exchanged a look with his partner. He'd let Sandburg explain.
"Well things, I guess, have changed. At first I didn't want to talk about it, then it never really came up in our conversations."
"So, what happened?" Dale asked, still looking shocked.
"It all started when my mother sent a copy of my almost finished dissertation to a publisher. The university got real mad. One thing led to another. I had a hissy fit, the chancellor had a hissy fit, and both of us said some nasty things."
"I can't believe your mother would interfere like that." Dale sounded truly shocked. "So you left and immediately became a cop?"
"She didn't do it intentionally," Blair defended his mother's actions. "She thought she was helping. But it did cause a big mess. The only workable option was to leave Rainier. I didn't immediately become a cop," he admitted. "The academy was not a walk in the park."
"Chief, you breezed right through it. The instructors there didn't know what hit them. Not only didn't they have a raw recruit, but they soon learned this 'rookie' was a professional student." Jim turned to Andrew. "Sandburg danced rings around them."
Dale still looked suspicious. "I know there's something you're not telling me. You wouldn't have burned your bridges like that unless there was a very good reason."
Again Jim's eyes met those of his partner. Jim wasn't sure if Dale knew of Sandburg's obsession for Sentinels. Blair did get his Master's using that topic.
"The paper my mother gave to the reporters wasn't exactly finished. I had put some parts in it that I later announced to be false. The Chancellor called it fraud and I withdrew from the program."
"Did you turn the thing in? How could it be fraud if your mother jumped the gun and sent it to a publisher?"
"I just wanted the whole thing out of the headlines. Can we drop it for now? Please?" Blair asked his friend. "It's over and done with. In the past."
Jim could see Dale's mind going through what Sandburg had said and what hadn't been said. Dale's eyes widened slightly, he glanced at Jim, and then nodded slowly. "Okay Blair, for now. But one day, you're going to owe me a long explanation."
Andrew interrupted, "Well, I am sorry you left the anthro department, but any help you can give us will be greatly appreciated. The fact that you're a cop should help convince the captain to let you stay. It's your own captain you'll have to worry about. I bet he won't be easy to convince."
Jim gritted his teeth, dismayed that his partner and Guide wanted to stay in Bonita. He could just imagine the comments and arguments from the other detectives in Major Crime. Even Rhonda would have something to say about it. In addition, he could tell by the look on Dale's face that the young man wasn't 100% happy with Blair's explanation and request, and he hoped that it didn't put a strain on their friendship. Since the dissertation mess, Blair didn't have as many friends in the anthro field as he used to. Jim hated to add tension to one of the few remaining relationships.
To Jim's surprise, the subject wasn't mentioned again. The conversation centered around the smuggling ring and soon even Jim forgot his feelings of discomfort. When it was time to leave, Jim sincerely thanked the two men for a nice evening.
"We'll see you at the station tomorrow, right?" Andrew asked at the front door. "What time is your flight out?"
"Eleven-thirty," Blair answered.
Jim inserted, "Yeah, we'll stop by around nine."
"If the two captains say yes, Blair's welcome to stay here," Dale offered.
"Thanks, man. I'll take you up on that."
Jim got into the front seat and started the car.
Blair was still hanging out his window, talking to Dale. Slowly, Jim began backing the car up, and Blair took the hint and pulled his head back into the vehicle.
As soon as they got onto the road, Jim began complaining. "Do you really want to stay?"
"Yeah. They really need my help. Dale's been spinning his wheels over just this one death mask for two days. There's just something about it that's not quite--"
"I know he wants you to stay. But do you want to stay?"
"Yes. It'll be challenging and fun. I've missed not getting involved in ancient cultures. This will be like a mini-vacation. No stress. No danger. Just undiluted research."
Jim began to feel guilty. It was his fault, his very existence, that kept Blair out of the anthropology community. It was only for a week, two at most, that he'd be gone. He could live with that, couldn't he?
Jim sighed. Even if Captain Rivara okayed it, he'd still have to get it past the Cascade PD and Simon wasn't there to give his permission. Jim would bet his last twenty that Joel didn't have the authority. He'd just have to wait and see what the next day would bring.
At nine o'clock sharp, Blair and Jim arrived at the Bonita Police Station. The younger man was so excited about possibly working on this case that he had barely slept. Jim had tried for several hours to talk him out of staying, but Blair remained firm. The project intrigued him.
Dale had given him a puzzle and his mind went over it all night. The death mask had been obtained in a bust, but so far they couldn't figure out its importance. No drugs had been found associated with it. So, why did they have it? Dale said he had authenticated it, and Blair did agree that it wasn't a fake. So, what was wrong with it? What was he missing? It tickled at the edge of his consciousness, but the answer eluded him. For now, he put it aside and concentrated on getting to stay in sunny California. He knew Jim wasn't happy about it, but it would only be for a week, two at most.
The receptionist let them through with their assurances that they remembered the way. Jim's long strides took him halfway down the hall before Blair could catch up. The older detective didn't even notice. Usually when that happened, Jim would slow down with an apologetic grin. Not this time. His mind was focused on the upcoming interview, or so Blair believed.
Jim opened the door to the bullpen. Blair could see Andrew talking quietly to the captain, both hunched over the mask sitting on the desk. Dale was seated, looking up at the two. He smiled and jumped to his feet when he saw the Cascade detectives come in the door.
"Detectives Ellison, Sandburg," the Captain greeted them. "Andrew's been telling me about..."
Blair stopped listening. His eyes were focused on the mask. The dark eyes from the mask were staring at him. In fact, they were screaming at him. What was it that they were trying to say? He wandered over to the desk, paying no attention to the others in the room. The eyes. Black obsidian eyes. Bingo! "Dale," he called huskily. "I've figured it out. Look at the eyes. When this mask was used six hundred years ago, the eyes were cut out, like empty holes. The soul had to see their way to the after-life. But this one has huge dark eyes in their place, not open holes. They shouldn't be there."
Andrew went over to the mask and fingered the black stones. He pushed and one popped out, fell onto the ground then shattered. A small, dense, white cube was visible among the shards of black glass. Dale and Blair gave each other a high-five. "Yeah!" They both grunted in satisfaction.
"I knew there wasn't something right with that mask," Dale commented. "But I couldn't come up with what it was."
Andrew slipped on a pair of Latex gloves and picked up the white cube.
"Me neither. All night I kept going through funeral rites and artistic ingenuity. Then this morning, those eyes kept talking to me. They were wrong, but looked right."
Jim crossed in front of the two anthropologists to get a closer look.
"It was very cleverly hidden. Only someone knowledgeable on these types of artifacts could have discovered the secret." Dale grinned at Blair.
~Bang!~ Andrew broke the other eye. A second white cube fell out.
"You find something?" asked a man with short dark hair and a cultured accent, as he walked up to the desk.
"This is Detective Christian. Ken, this is Detective Jim Ellison and Detective Blair Sandburg." Andrew introduced them to the other detective.
"Drugs," Andrew announced to everyone.
"Something new and very deadly," Jim added.
"All inside the hollow glass eyes?" Blair asked incredulously.
"Good work, Blair," Captain Rivara complimented. He then turned his attention to Ken Christian. "Take this to forensics and have them run tests on it."
Andrew carefully placed the cubes inside an evidence bag and handed it to the other detective who then left the bullpen.
Rivara spoke once more to Blair. "I see you're an asset to the department already."
All eyes turned to him. "What do you mean?" Blair asked.
"Andrew explained the situation to me this morning," the captain explained. "So I took it upon myself to call Joel Taggart and see if we could work this out. He then talked to your commissioner, who agreed on two conditions. One, that Blair Sandburg not stay too long, and the other, that we exchange detectives." Rivara looked at Jim and Blair. "I understand this is something you have done before? Taggart told me of an Australian officer you have in your department."
"Yeah. Inspector Megan Connor," Blair offered. "She's a great detective."
"Then it's settled," Rivara concluded.
"Who are you going to send up in exchange?" Jim asked.
"I haven't decided, yet." The captain glanced around. "Probably Christian. He doesn't mind traveling."
"I'm going to need clothes." Blair announced, interrupting. "I only brought down enough for two days."
"Good excuse," Jim commented, trying to put a lighter note into his voice, even though he was unhappy. "You've needed new things for a couple of months now."
"But between William getting kidnapped and the other ulcer-causing cases, there just hasn't been time."
"I'll take you to the new mall," Dale offered.
"Take the day off, Detective Sandburg," the Captain instructed. "Do your shopping, get settled, and come in tomorrow morning."
Blair was psyched. The three men left the station, with Dale following behind in his Subaru Forester.
"Remember, Chief. Nothing dangerous. Research is fine. Gun fights are not."
"Don't worry, man. I have no intention of doing anything but cataloging and authenticating artifacts. There's nothing dangerous in that."
"Ha!" Jim responded, thus ending the conversation.
Jim debarked from the airplane and went directly to the station. He had no interest in returning to an empty loft. He'd only been gone overnight, but he felt like he had lost touch with everything going on at home. The radio in the truck was suspiciously absent of news. He flipped channels, but always hit on the weather and traffic reports.
The bullpen was quiet. The only detective sitting at his desk was Fielding. He offered Jim a fleeting smile and then returned to his work. The captain's office door was closed, but Jim could see movement inside, so he went and knocked. Joel's "come in" sounded forced.
"Captain Taggart, sir. Ellison reporting in for duty," Jim announced, tongue-in-cheek, as he entered.
"Glad to see you're back." He gave a tired sigh. "Things are beginning to quiet down, but the disease lingers on."
Jim took a seat and began to fill Joel in on what he had discovered. "I don't know why the Feds are keeping the origin of this disease a secret, but secrecy is their middle name. Why would they want the hysteria of a possible terrorist action to circulate?"
"They'll never admit it, but I think they believe it will rally the populous -- you know, bring about solidarity," Joel suggested.
"That's too pat. I bet they just don't know what's going on. One area isn't communicating with the others. The police down there didn't even know about the outbreaks in Portland and Cascade."
"And this whole mess is caused by an illegally imported horse that was a birthday present? How sad." Joel shook his head wearily.
"How's Simon doing?"
"He's improving steadily. We all went in to see him this morning. He's still in critical care, but out of that negative pressure room. The doctors tell us that by tomorrow he'll be in a regular room and that may only be for a few days before he's sent home to fully convalesce."
Jim nodded. "I hate to say this, but I need to question one of the Feds."
Joel laughed. "Be careful you don't get too angry."
"I'm past getting angry -- I'm furious that this whole mess happened. It could have been avoided with proper communication. The people in Bonita knew that Glanders had swept through the Suarez farm and yet did nothing to warn others. That is inexcusable." Jim felt his teeth grind and he fought to suppress the fury.
"I agree, but don't vent all over the Fed," Joel warned.
Jim grunted. "Anything else I should know about?"
"They ended up putting down ten horses, and four people have died."
"Franklin?" Jim felt terrible that he had forgotten the trainer.
"He's not dead, but he's not doing well. Herman was around the sick horses longer than Simon. His age is also counting against him."
Jim commiserated silently for a minute then abruptly stood up. "I need to make some phone calls, then go to the track. That ought to wake someone up."
Joel laughed and shook his head. "Good luck."
Jim went back to his desk. The first person he called was Steven. He let his little brother know that he was safe and sound back in Cascade.
Next, he called Dr. Lenhard and told her what he discovered in Bonita.
She was suitably outraged. "You mean they knew all along?"
"Yep." Jim was still outraged. "While we were spinning our wheels over that boat and the drowned horses, they were putting down all the horses at the Suarez farm. Do you think killing them was necessary?"
"The old school of thought is that if the horse is diagnosed positive with Glanders, they have to be shot. But that was written before the advent of antibiotics. The Thoroughbred Association agreed with me to try treating them first. At the Suarez farm, they were dealing with federal bureaucracy. They wanted it contained and dealt with immediately, and that meant the death of the contaminated horses. At that point, they might not have even known it was Glanders."
Having been in the Army, he understood that mentality. "Could you tell me the name of the Fed in charge of the investigation?"
"I only know John Weider. He's from the CDC, but I haven't met anyone higher in the chain of command."
"Thank you, Dr. Lenhard. I'll check in with him first and see if he refers me to someone else."
Jim hung up the phone and then sorted around on his desk for any paperwork he had to complete before he left for the track. It was past three before he was able to leave. He went directly to the main gate and was stopped by the security detail stationed there. Jim showed the Guardsman his ID and the Mallein test card that he was given two days earlier.
"I only want to talk to John Weider. I have no interest in going back to the horses. If you could find me an escort, it would be appreciated." Years of command had taught Jim how to effectively demand compliance.
The guard picked up his phone and made a call. Jim waited patiently, instinctively standing at parade rest.
"I'll have a private take you to the temporary headquarters."
Jim grunted in acknowledgement as he waited. When the young man appeared, they walked through the gate and into the track. It was like a ghost town. No one was walking around, no horses were exercising on the track, just uniformed National Guardsmen patrolling the grounds. John Weider was waiting for them at the entrance to the tent.
"Detective Ellison. Please come in and have a seat."
Jim thanked him and entered the tent. "I want to have a few words with you about the Glanders investigation."
"Certainly. What is it you'd like to know?"
"I understand that when an emergency situation arises, the National Guard is normally called in, but only if they have had a day or so to mobilize. If, however, it is a true emergency, then the Army can be deployed immediately -- no delay time. Is this correct?" Jim was careful with his words, hoping to trap Weider.
"As you were Army yourself once, I'm pretty confident you know the procedures."
"Now, this outbreak in Cascade was a real emergency situation. There was no notification of other outbreaks, so how were you able to deploy the National Guard so fast? We didn't even know it was Glanders until a few hours before the soldiers arrived. There was no time. The Army should have been the ones called in." The detective sat back, waiting for Weider to understand the hole Jim had dug for him.
"I understand your loyalty to your branch--"
"That is not what I'm getting at," Jim interrupted, irritated that the man was acting deliberately dense. He'd have to spell it out for him. "I want to know why, if you had the few days to organize the National Guard, we were not notified of an impending outbreak then?"
Weider scowled as he stared at Jim. "I don't understand what you're getting at."
"The first outbreak of Glanders occurred more than two weeks ago in Bonita, California. The Army was called in, quarantined the farm, and put down all the horses. Not once did any official word come through to the law enforcement agencies that there might be an epidemic brewing."
"We didn't want a wide-spread panic on our hands."
"Bullshit. If you didn't want a panic, why was the word terrorist ever mentioned? You knew before you got here that the Glanders came from an infected South American horse that had been illegally imported into the country. All you had to do was explain this fact."
Weider's face turned purple in indignation. "It is not up to local police to dictate federal policy. We did--"
"Absolutely nothing. You let each outbreak happen independently without resources gained from the previous ones. Tell me, how many horses from Suarez's farm left and went elsewhere? You must have a record somewhere? You obviously know that they went to Santa Anita, the track in Portland, and the one here in Cascade. Where were the other horses going? What about the ones we found that had been sunk in the ocean? Did you even know about them? Where were their destinations?" Jim carefully reeled out his anger.
"I didn't know about the ones you found in the ocean."
"Why not? Not important enough? Or was it because the local cops found them? You need better communication lines, between yourselves and the local enforcement agencies. Can't you people understand this?"
"Our policy is that no one is informed unless they need to know."
"People are dead because they didn't need to know? My own captain is in the hospital recovering from your miscommunication." Jim took a deep breath, trying to regain his temper. "This outbreak may be contained now, but what about next week? What if one horse went to a breeding farm in Kentucky and from there, spreads this disease throughout the East Coast?"
"I assure you, we'll check into it. I'll get the list of horses that have left the Suarez farm and discover where every one of them was sent."
"Maybe then you can find out the owners of the four horses we've found. No one has claimed ownership and they're still sitting in the pathology department at Rainier. Something has to be done."
"Thank you, detective, for bringing all of this to my attention." He stood up as if to dismiss Jim.
"And the media?" Jim asked, keeping his seat in defiance. "You have to go on record stating that it wasn't a terrorist attack. That it was--"
"How in the hell do you know?" Weider interrupted, his face flushed in anger. "We have one old man's word that he brought the horse in under special circumstances. The Colombian who sold him the horse may have had a different agenda. We do not know!" He enunciated each word clearly. "This government will not tolerate being attacked. It's our responsibility to investigate each attack or outbreak as a separate incident and then find the link between them. Our job is to see the citizens of this country safe and if that means--"
"Safe?" Jim exploded off the chair, getting right into Weider's face. "You call letting people die in your attempt at secrecy, safe?"
"Calm yourself, Detective Ellison," he retorted, taking a step back. "We're doing everything possible--"
"Calm myself?" Jim repeated, incredulously. "How do you expect me to be calm with trainers and horses dying because of your bureaucratic bullshit. There was no terrorist attack."
"How do you know that?" Weider leaned forward on his toes, meeting Jim's gaze fully. "It's likely that Suarez was some kind of dupe. The man ordered the horse in November, but didn't contact the seller until the middle of February. The daughter's birthday was March first. Can you tell me with total assurity that the horse wasn't purposely infected to cause panic in the States?"
Jim's clenched his jaw in frustrated anger. "The horses at the track could have been put in quarantine more than a week ago. Glanders could have been diagnosed before it had spread to the human handlers. You deliberately withheld important information -- information we as police officers needed to know in order to have prevented this whole outbreak!" His fists shook at his sides while his eyes bulged with fury.
"I'm telling you that it is our policy not to explain--"
Jim blew. His hands came up of their own volition and shoved the government official, sending him backwards. After a few stumbling steps, Weider ended up on the ground, looking up with shock. "I needed to know!" Jim told him forcefully, his body tight, ready to explode again.
The private, who had waited outside, came barreling in ready to do battle. "Please escort the detective out," Weider ordered in clipped tones, as he awkwardly pushed himself up.
The private pulled open the flap. Jim began to follow him out, but was stopped by Weider's last words.
"Detective Ellison. We are on the same side, here."
"I really wonder about that." Jim didn't want to even look at the man again. What would really feel good would be to beat the man to a bloody pulp.
He followed the private back to the main gate and went to his truck. His body pulsed with rage. For several seconds -- minutes -- he braced himself against the truck, taking deep breaths, trying to calm the almost, out-of-control fury, surging through his system. Exhaling deeply, he got into the truck to go home. With that last thought came the realization that he would be going to an empty loft. As his anger began to dissipate, he was left feeling hollow -- spent.
After arriving at the loft, Jim slowly unlocked the door and entered. The heels from his shoes echoed through the room. He hung up his coat and dropped the keys into the basket. After taking a beer from the fridge, he went over to the phone to listen to his messages.
"Hey Jim. It's me. Would you believe I spent over three hundred dollars on new clothes? It's got to be a record. Dale and I spent the afternoon scouring clothes stores, and then. Hell, that's not true... We went to one, I bought everything I needed, then we went to this cool museum. It had a rare collection of animal skins that had been used for writing about a thousand years ago. It's owned by this eccentric Venezuelan who has nothing better to do than collect artifacts and hassle students. It was great.
"Hope you're doing okay. Call me when you find out how Simon and Herman are doing. Gotta run. Andrew is taking us to the room where they're storing the artifacts. Call me."
"Jim? It's Amanda Chambers. I'm landing in Cascade tomorrow afternoon, and I'll be there a week. Maybe we can get together. I'll be staying at the Marriott Courtyard. Give me a call the day after tomorrow. I'll need to catch up on my sleep first. Bye."
Jim hung up the phone. Maybe things wouldn't be so bad after all. He had the loft to himself with a beautiful woman. Yeah, he could handle a week of this. But no more!
Romero Memorial Hospital
Carlos Suarez, in a full biohazard protective suit, sat by his daughter's bed holding her hand. Her breathing was more labored now. Her hand was limp, and she hadn't been conscious in over forty-eight hours. These were going to be his last few minutes.
"I am so sorry, Mijita. Your soul will be on my conscience till the end of time. My foolhardiness brought about your death. May God forgive me." Tears cascaded down his face in sorrow and self-recriminations.
The girl took a shuddering breath and then there was stillness. Alarms and whistles sounded, but the man did nothing but sob as he held the dead girl's hand.
Author's notes: Burkholderia mallei is the causative agent for Glanders. The facts mentioned in this story are all true except for the time frame for reading Mallein test. It can take up to 24 hours for the hive to develop. For sake of the story, I shortened it.