Shirin and Christina
Cascade Police Department, Major Crimes
"Ellison! My office!" The voice of Simon Banks carried clearly across the noisy bullpen.
The man being paged, Detective Jim Ellison, suppressed a sigh as he carefully saved the report that he had just spent an hour typing. He clicked on the print icon as he stood up and stretched.
Not good morning, or are you busy? Just the trademark bellow, Ellison thought to himself. As he stood, he realized that he was thinking just like his absent partner and struggled to hide a smile. Thinking of his partner, Blair Sandburg, Jim grew serious. Maybe Simon finally had some news about Sandburg and the case that he had been loaned out to work on. Then he realized with dismay that his boss may just be finding out that his partner was on loan to another department, in another state.
Picking the file that he had been working on, he glanced over the pages and decided to take it with him, in case the Captain wanted an update on the finishing up of the Glanders case. With Blair gone, Jim had been forced to type the reports and paperwork associated with closing a case. He retrieved the report from the printer and walked towards his Captain's office.
"Come in!" Came the response to Jim's knock on the door.
"Good morning, Captain. Good to have you back in the office," Jim greeted the tall man.
Simon Banks motioned towards the small conference table and Jim took the indicated seat. As the detective was sitting down, Banks held up a coffee pot from the credenza behind him. "Coffee?"
"Thanks." Jim pushed his cup towards Simon, who filled it and set it back in front of Jim. He then filled his own cup and sat down at the end of the table, near Jim.
"Looks like you've had an interesting week, Jim. What's the status on your current files? Since you seem to have left your partner in California, you're having to do your own paperwork." Simon grinned at his senior detective, who wasn't shy about his dislike for paperwork.
Jim scowled at his captain before answering. "I just finished the last of the paperwork on the Glanders case. No new outbreaks have been reported from any of the stables or tracks involved, including the one in Santa Anita, California where the whole thing seems to have started. Another case that Sandburg and I worked on may be coming up for trial soon, unless the lawyers get another extension. Do you have something in mind?"
Simon shook his head. "Possibly, there's a case that has come up from burglary that may get shifted to Major Crimes. I'm guessing you haven't heard from Sandburg, have you?"
"No," Jim sighed. "He called several days ago, all excited about the progress they were making with the artifacts and that the lead detective, Andrew Wood, had traced some of them to a possible source. Like I said though, that was the first of the week and I haven't heard a thing since then."
"Which means you are the lucky person who gets to explain to me why one half of Cascade's best detective team is in California." Simon looked at Jim, his expression clearly expecting an answer from the man sitting in front of him. "Before you ask, yes, I've read Joel's reports and I realize that he and Captain Rivera from the Bonita PD worked it out. But I still want to hear it from you on how the Bonita Police Department lured Sandburg into staying."
"Sandburg and I had gone to Bonita to look into a reported case of Glanders at the Santa Anita track. As it turned out, the owner Carlos Suarez had imported a horse and skipped the quarantine procedures. Ended up that not only did his horse have it, but also it put his daughter in the hospital. While we were at the police station, Blair ran into the roommate of a friend from his early days at Rainier. The roommate is a detective investigating a case of suspected drug smuggling using South American and North American artifacts. Next thing I knew, we were at their house having dinner and Sandburg was offering to stay and help them track down the origins of the artifacts." Jim fell silent, his gaze dropping to the typed report under his hands.
"Is there a problem, Jim?" Simon asked. "Are you all right without Sandburg here? A problem with your senses?"
"No, so far the senses are doing okay. I haven't had to use them a lot since coming back from California. Just that my partner was awfully happy to stay in warm, sunny Bonita." Jim looked up and sighed. "I know he's happy here and he's coming back, but it still felt wrong to be leaving without him." He shook his head, as though clearing it. "I'll never get used to the quiet." He chuckled at the thought. "Anyway, as for the Glanders case, the Feds knew and no one bothered to let us know..."
Simon's phone buzzed softly, interrupting Jim. "Hold on," Simon said as he got up to answer the phone. He listened for a moment before saying, "Sure, send him on in."
He replaced the handset on the phone and looked at Jim. "Detective," he started in a deceptively calm voice. "Maybe you can tell me why there's a Detective from the Bonita Police Department outside to see me."
Jim shook his head in answer, then stopped. "Actually, I do know why he's here. Part of the agreement was that they would send a detective here while Sandburg is there."
Before Simon could answer there was a knock at the door to Simon's office. "Come in!" the captain called out. The door opened and a dark haired young man walked hesitantly into the office.
"Captain Banks?" His voice had a soft Scottish accent to it and he looked at the two men. Recognizing Jim, he looked at Simon, assuming he was the Major Crime's Captain.
"I'm Simon Banks." Simon, who was still standing, stepped over to the young man, holding his hand out. They shook hands, and then Simon motioned him over to the table.
"This is Detective Jim Ellison." The newcomer shook hands with Jim, nodding. "Yes Sir, we met briefly in Bonita during his visit. My name is Ken Christian, a detective with the Bonita Police Department."
Simon waited until the young Detective had sat down across from Jim before taking his own seat at the head of the table. "Detective, please excuse my bluntness, but I've been out on medical leave and have just returned to my office to start catching up. Why are you here?"
Christian laughed quickly, sobering when he saw that neither of the men in front of him was laughing. "Sorry, Sir. But it's not exactly the question I was expecting." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wallet and an envelope. He handed both to Simon, opening the wallet for the two Cascade detectives to inspect.
"Just so you know that I am who I claim to be," he said as they looked up from the ID to look at their guest. "The envelope has papers from my Captain making my temporary transfer here official. The Captain felt that since we were borrowing one of your detectives that it was only right to send someone up here to replace him. He talked it over with a Captain Taggart and Commissioner Mathews here." He smiled. "I was just coming off of a case and was free for an assignment, so here I am."
Silence fell over the room as Simon opened the envelope and read the various papers from the Bonita PD. Getting up and walking to his desk, he searched through a file folder of paper, pulling out several sheets. Quickly he skimmed the text, and then laid the papers on his desk with a nod. "Joel Taggart, the Captain in charge while I was out, left me a report of what was going on, but I honestly hadn't gotten that far yet. It seems like my department has been rather busy in the past week."
He glared at Jim, who had the grace to look somewhat embarrassed. Mentally, he promised himself that Sandburg would be made to face their Captain when he finally got back to Cascade.
"We are glad to have you with us, Detective," Simon continued as he rejoined them at the table. "Having Sandburg out leaves us short and, as anyone here can tell you, there's almost always something going on in Cascade."
Ken nodded, "I seem to remember Detective Sandburg saying that Cascade should be known as the most dangerous city in the United States. It certainly looks quiet enough."
"Looks can be deceiving," Jim murmured. "Don't get me wrong, it's a great place to live, but I swear the place must have a trouble magnet somewhere." Ignoring the coughing from his captain, Jim continued, "Speaking of my wayward partner, can you tell us anything about how the case is going?"
The young man shook his head. "Not really. I had been sent down to Columbia as a part of the investigation into the sick horses, the cases of Glanders. After about a week there, I came back to help get things wrapped up and then was assigned to come up here. So I didn't really spend a lot of time around Detective Wood's smuggling investigation. When I left they were still trying to identify who's in charge of the operation. Woods was talking about sending a man undercover. At least he was hoping for the chance to maybe send someone undercover. Before that could happen, they wanted more information and the right opening into the operation."
"Did he have any idea of who he was going to send?" Jim asked, thinking of Blair's ability to land right in the middle of a situation. He hoped that for once his partner would stay on the sidelines and stick to being an advisor.
Ken shook his head. "Sorry, Detective. I don't know if they are definitely sending someone undercover or whom they were going to pick. In addition to himself, there's Detective Sandburg, and two other detectives assigned to the team," Christian said, his voice steady despite the growing look of concern on Jim's face. "I seriously doubt that the Captain would send your man in. After all, he is only on loan," he tried to assure the Cascade detectives.
"I hope so," Jim sighed. "But Sandburg can be quite convincing when he thinks he's right. I've ended up on the wrong side of arguments with him before. If he decides he should go in, more than likely, he will."
"Jim, if it will make you feel better, call down there and talk to him." Simon added, "You don't have to wait for him to call. He'll know you're checking up on him anyway."
"You must like to travel," Jim said, changing the subject. "Getting home from one trip and turning around to leave on another."
"As a matter of fact, I do. It also helps that I'm single with no family in the area to prevent me from picking up and going as needed," Ken told him. "I like going to new places." He shrugged lightly. "Anyway, so here I am. I've been with the Bonita PD for going on five years in June, so it's not like I'm the new kid."
"Don't worry about that," Simon told him. "The letter your captain sent is very complimentary and he says you do good work. More than likely I'll partner you with Detective Ellison and/or Inspector Connor. It depends on what they are each working on."
"Inspector?" Ken asked.
"Inspector Megan Connor of the New South Wales Police Department. She's part of an officer exchange program that joined us a couple of years ago. The program worked out so well that she's stayed on with us for an extended time," Simon explained. "Connor and Ellison have worked on several cases together and, although they don't admit it, they do make a good team."
"Provided we don't kill each other first," Jim muttered under his breath.
Simon stood up. "Now if you gentlemen will excuse me, I have a stack of reports to plow through and figure out what other damage you people managed to do in my absence. I'll get back with you this afternoon on assignments. Ken, welcome to Cascade, where we have four kinds of rain and thirty-two kinds of coffee."
"Thank you, Sir. I'm looking forward to the next week or so."
With a nod at his captain, Jim stood and made his way to the door. "Christian, why don't I show you around and introduce you."
"Sounds good. Lead the way, Detective."
"Jim. Please," Jim told him. "We don't stand on a lot of formality around here."
"Cool. Then lead the way, Jim."
Bonita Police Department Headquarters
The tired but happy cheer from Detective Andrew Wood could be heard across the detectives' bullpen. His exclamation drew the attention of several coworkers who looked up to see the source of the cheer. When they saw the detective was still on the phone, talking excitedly, most went back to their own work.
Two young men looked up to see what had prompted the cheer from the tired man. One of the men was a detective on loan from the Cascade Police Department. The other was a consultant, helping the detectives identify recovered items.
"What's up, Andrew?" the consultant, Dale Holm, asked as he got up from the desk he was sharing with the Cascade detective, Blair Sandburg. Blair stood as well, both men walking over to Andrew's desk where the older man was quickly writing notes. They waited until he had hung the phone up before repeating Dale's question. "Either you've gotten some good news, or you just like seeing who's awake around here," Dale quipped.
Andrew threw a mock glare at his friend, the grin on his face breaking through. "Oh, nothing but possibly the break we've been waiting for." He paused to enjoy the looks of shock, joy and disbelief on the faces of his friends. "That was Alan, calling in from the stakeout team at the warehouse. They were just about ready to pack up for the night when they spotted a truck pulling in."
"Our guys waited to move in until the driver had gotten out and had the back of the truck opened to unload boxes. The guy couldn't run with his arms full of boxes. When Alan got the first box open, he immediately recognized an urn from the robbery two weeks ago. At the very least we've got him on possession of stolen goods and, if we're very lucky, he'll have information on who's in charge and where the drugs are coming from."
"It's about time!" Blair exclaimed, bouncing lightly on his toes.
"Getting tired of us already?" Dale laughed at his friend.
"No way, although I do miss Cascade. It's just that you've worked on this case longer than I have and it's got to be frustrating when you have pieces that don't all fit together."
"Believe me, I understand." Andrew stood up and stretched, wincing as joints cracked with his movements. "Ouch." Ignoring the smiles on the faces of Blair and Dale, Andrew continued, "It's going to take a while for Alan to get the crew back here and get the truck driver processed through. We can't talk to him until he's been booked. So let's go find something to eat and come back here when we can sit down with the driver."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Dale said. "Hey Blair, there's this great vegetarian place I want to take you to. They have some great dishes there." The two men walked out together, talking food. Andrew followed, sighing quietly.
"Great. Another vegetarian. Don't anthropologists like steak and fries?"
Cascade Police Department, Major Crimes
Captain Simon Banks put down the file he had been reading and looked through the glass window of his office into the bullpen area.
For once, the Major Crimes bullpen was quiet. Or quiet compared to the controlled chaos that normally reigned. Henri Brown and his partner, LT Rafe, were out on a case. Joel Taggart had taken the day off. Jim Ellison sat at his desk going over files for a case that was likely to go to court soon. That left Megan Connor sitting at her desk with the detective from Bonita who was helping her write up a report of a witness interview they had done earlier in the day. Ken Christian had quickly settled into the department working as Jim's temporary partner but also helping out the other detectives as needed. He was particularly good at doing interviews, able to put a person at ease so they could remember more details. When it was mentioned, Christian had laughed and said that his coworkers in Bonita claimed it was his Scottish accent that put people at ease. Whatever it was, Simon was glad for it.
"Ellison! Sandburg! Oh sorry." Simon looked embarrassed. "I mean Christian."
The two detectives grinned at each other as they got up from their desks and walked towards Simon's office.
"Honestly, it's nothing personal," the Captain apologized as the two men entered and took seats in front of his desk. It's just habit."
"That's quite all right, Captain," Ken told him. "I can see where established habits are hard to break. Don't worry, I'm not offended."
"Good." Simon nodded. He picked up a file and handed it to Jim. Ken leaned so that he could look at the file over Jim's shoulder.
"Those are the police reports and follow-ups for a break-in that occurred in the Cascade Circle area. A house was broken into and several pieces of art and antiques were stolen. Officers and a team from forensics have taken statements and been over and around the house."
Jim read the comments in the file then looked up at Simon. "This all looks routine, why is it in Major Crimes?"
Simon handed them two more files. "Because it's happened twice since then. Different houses but all located in the same neighborhood. According to one of the victims, there's a fourth house that's had stuff stolen, but we've been unable to contact the owner and there's been no reports of a problem from that house."
"And?" Jim stared at Simon.
"And what are you not telling me?"
The police captain sighed. "Okay, one of the home owners who lives near the break-ins is worried and called his friend the mayor. The mayor, in turn, called his friend, the Commissioner."
"Who called us."
"Right. Besides, with three break-ins and a suspected fourth, it would have come to us anyway," Simon told him. "What I want the two of you to do is see if you can talk to the fourth home owner. See if her house has been broken into and find out why she didn't call."
"Is she required to call?" Ken asked, looking through the other two folders.
"No, she isn't. But it's strange that with three reported break-ins and thefts that she wouldn't call it in. There may be evidence there that could help find who is behind the robberies," Simon answered.
"Now if the two of you will excuse me, you have work to do and I have a department to run." Simon dismissed the two detectives. Jim and Ken nodded to the Captain and made their way back to Jim's desk.
"Well, Ken. Up for a tour of Cascade?" Jim asked, reaching for his jacket.
"Sounds good to me," Ken replied. "As long as you can point out some good places to eat along the way."
"Not a problem," Jim grinned as they left. "Ever been to a Wonderburger?"
Bonita Police Department, Headquarters
"No way, Blair. No. I can't let you do that." Andrew shook his head.
"Andrew, I'm the best person you have for this and you know it." Blair shot back, pacing in front of the detective's desk. "No one knows me here, I can handle the driving and I damn sure know the cargo."
Dale picked that moment to walk into the bullpen area. "What's up guys? What is all the arguing about?"
"We're not arguing," Andrew muttered.
"Yes we are," Blair answered.
"Okay," Dale sighed. "What are you not arguing about?"
Blair waved his hand towards Andrew, "You tell him. I need some coffee," he said, leaving the room and the two friends staring after him.
"Andrew? What the hell is going on?" Dale asked. "It's not often that Blair gets this worked up. What happened with the questioning of the truck driver?"
The detective sighed before taking a sip of the luke-warm coffee sitting on his desk. "Ick," he grumbled. "The questioning went great. His name is Hayes and while he can't tell us a lot, he did give us the name of at least one of the guys involved, Lee Carver. Carver is his contact for the shipments. He would meet Carver, they'd load up a truck and take off. All he knew was that the boxes contained pieces of art or artifacts that were for private collections."
"He didn't know he was hauling drugs?" Dale asked.
"No, or at least he says he didn't know. There were no drugs in the truck he was driving when we picked him up." Andrew stood up, stretched and then sat back down. "What he did tell us was that the warehouse is where he and Carver sometimes pick up items. The boxes are then taken to another location, always different and he comes back 24 hours later to pick up the truck."
"So what now? Stake out the warehouse to wait for Carver?"
"I seriously doubt that will do much good. Carver and his people will know by now that we picked up Hayes and will have the warehouse staked out. We ran Carver's name through the system and he's got a record of small time stuff." The detective took another drink of coffee, making a face at the now cold liquid. "What we want to do is try to send someone in to find out names and places. Hayes is willing to give us some places where our guy can hook up with Carver."
"Okaaayyy," Dale said slowly, drawing the word out. "Let me guess, the non-argument is over who is going undercover."
"You got it in one," Andrew told him. "The Captain vetoed the idea of me going in a while back because, as the lead investigator, I know more about the case than pretty much anyone and he wants me here to run the investigation. Of the rest of the guys, they either don't know how to handle a truck or they wouldn't be able to handle the lifting and hauling of possibly heavy merchandise," he sighed heavily.
"Which is why you need me to take the assignment," Blair spoke from the doorway.
"Blair," Andrew started.
"I can handle any truck. I spent a summer driving cross-country for my uncle and I've done undercover work with the Cascade PD. If I get a chance to see any of the items, I'll know where they may be from. I'm not exactly brand new at this detective thing, you know," Blair spoke in a rush, pleading his case with the older detective.
"Blair, I can't let you do this. You're on loan and not a member of this department. Your partner and your captain will have my head on a platter if anything happens to you," Andrew said.
Blair threw his hands up. "Oh man. I thought once I took the badge I wouldn't get anything resembling 'you're not a cop' thrown at me. Now you're doing it."
"What?" Dale and Andrew said together.
"Oh nothing, just venting." Blair shook his head slowly. "Andrew, this may be our one chance to nail this and shut down the flow of drugs as well as stopping the thefts and misuse of valuable works of art and culture. I stayed and the Commissioner agreed to my staying to help you solve this case. I can handle the undercover part. Plus I can take care of myself. Let me do this, please?"
Andrew shook his head in defeat. Dale laughed and asked Blair, "So do you do that to your partner in Cascade?"
Blair smiled at his friend. "Yep, and he hates it."
"I bet he does," Andrew said. "Okay Blair, I'm guessing you were an exceptional college student and a teacher because you can lay out a convincing argument. Let me get things set up with Captain Rivera and see if we can get any more information from Hayes. Is there anything you need before we send you in? It may take a while to lay down the contacts and get a background worked up for you."
"I'm good," Blair told him. "Although I think I'll go by a store and see if I can get some clothes that don't scream college student or, even worse, cop."
"Why don't you two get out of here then and I'll give you a call to come back when we're set up."
Nodding in agreement, Dale pulled at Blair's arm and the two men left the office. "Come on, Sandburg. I know just the store and, if we're lucky, there's an old used bookstore that's still open. Oh, you want to stop and call Jim while we're out?"
Blair shook his head. "I don't think so." At Dale's surprised look he grinned. "You so don't want mother-hen Ellison down here standing over Andrew demanding every scrap of information. Besides, I don't want to stay away too long. I want to get back to have my 2-cents worth of say in the planning."
Laughing, the two men headed for the garage.
Jim navigated through the streets of Cascade, pointing out various places to his new temporary partner, Ken Christian. Even though he liked the young detective, it was still odd to see someone other than Blair sitting with him in the truck.
"The Lunch-Time deli over there is pretty good. Sandburg says they have the best vegan sandwich in town. Personally I go for the philly cheesesteak sandwich," Jim said, pointing to a busy cafe a block down from the police station.
"Great, I'll have to try it while I'm here." Ken turned to look at Jim. "I guess no one knows how long I'll be here. Captain Rivera didn't say and neither did Captain Banks." He watched Jim drive and the Cascade detective had the feeling that the younger man was inspecting him visually. After a moment of comfortable silence, Ken spoke.
"If you don't mind my asking, Andrew's friend mentioned that Detective Sandburg used to be a college student in Anthropology and that he taught classes. Is that right?" he asked.
Jim nodded, suppressing a groan. He had an idea of where the line of questioning would lead and really wasn't too surprised by it.
"So how does a college student end up as a detective in one of the most famous departments in the state of Washington? Better still, how does he end up partnered with the detective who has won 'Cop of the Year'?"
Jim glanced at his companion, quickly turning his attention back to the road. Christian's face didn't give anything away, but there was an edge to his voice. For a fleeting moment he wondered if the man had once had a bad experience with a professor to produce a bad attitude towards teachers.
"Actually, it's simple," Jim answered easily. "When we first met, he was doing his dissertation on closed societies and was paired with me as an observer. Several years and a lot of experience later, we decided to offer him a job and he took it."
"That's quite a leap from professor to detective."
"I agree, it is quite a jump. Though Blair wasn't actually a professor. He was a teaching fellow at Rainier," Jim told him, pausing to glare at the traffic when a small car cut him off at an intersection. "But Sandburg once said that to go back to the academic world after his stint with Major Crimes would be like jumping off a roller coaster and onto a merry-go-round. Academia is not all it's cracked up to be."
Ken nodded. "I can't argue with that logic," he said quietly, watching out the window of the truck as they headed towards the suburbs of Cascade. A comfortable silence settled between them.
Nadia Harford's house, Cascade, Washington
"4218 Constance Circle," Christian read from his notes. "Gads, that sounds expensive," he added, looking around at the houses in the area.
"It is." Jim managed not to grimace. "Expensive and powerful. Nearly everyone who lives in the Cascade Club area has both money and power and aren't afraid to use it. Which means it's next to impossible to handle an investigation around here without them calling the mayor and complaining about the police handling of the matter."
"Sounds like fun. Not," Ken sympathized. "Every city must have areas like that. In Bonita, it's a country club subdivision with lots of actors and athletes living there. Nothing ever happens in the neighborhood that someone doesn't call and complain about. One day someone even called that a police car was sitting on the street for too long."
As the two men talked, Jim pulled his truck up in front of a large two-story house. The house was of Victorian design, with intricate work around the door and windows. The lawn was immaculately kept, with several stone statues sitting to the side alongside a pristine white gazebo.
Ken touched Jim's arm lightly, drawing the detective's attention to a spot on the side of the lawn where the once bright flowers had been destroyed. The remains of a bench lay next to a bare spot, where something may have once stood.
Jim nodded, getting out of the truck, and once Ken had joined him, led the way up a cobblestone walkway to the front door of the house. The heavy looking wooden door was decorated with delicate carvings. Beside him, he heard a soft, impressed "wow" at the work.
He located the doorbell and pressed it firmly. From deep inside the house, he could hear the sound of musical chimes ringing. A few moments later a young woman in a uniform of black pants and white shirt opened the door.
"Yes? May I help you?"
Jim held his badge and identification up for her to see, his partner doing the same. "I'm Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade Police Department. My partner is Detective Ken Christian. We're here to speak with Mrs. Harford about a report the department received that her house was broken into during a recent rash of robberies in the area."
The woman carefully inspected the ID's and badges. "Detective Christian is not from Cascade, he's from California," she stated.
"Yes ma'am," Ken spoke up. "I'm part of an exchange program between the Cascade and Bonita police departments. It's a fairly new program to acquaint officers with police work and laws in other states."
"I'm sorry, but Ms. Harford is busy. There really isn't anything she can tell you. Besides, the report is false. Nothing is missing from the house."
"Do you mind if she tells us that?" Jim asked, barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "Is Ms. Harford in or not?"
"Martha, who was at the door?" a soft voice called out from another room.
Jim raised an eyebrow at Martha. "May I?" He stepped past her into the hallway. Ken followed him into the house.
"Two detectives from the Cascade Police Department, ma'am," Martha replied, her displeasure evident in her voice. "They wanted to speak with you about the recent robberies in the neighborhood."
"Horrible business. There have been police officers and insurance people all over the place for days." The owner of the slightly accented voice appeared in the doorway to another room.
"Good afternoon, gentleman, I'm Nadia Harford." A tall, light skinned woman with shoulder length red hair stood before the two detectives. "Martha, would you please get them something to drink?"
"That's quite alright, Ms. Harford. We don't want to take up too much of your time," Jim said, stepping towards her. "I'm Detective Ellison and this is Detective Christian." Nadia moved forward to shake their hands.
"Please, let's go into my office and sit down." Nadia motioned them towards the door she had just come through. Ken looked at Jim, who nodded and followed the tall redhead into the room.
"Please excuse Martha, she's quite protective of me," Nadia said after the three were seated in comfortable chairs in front of a polished oak desk. "Dreadful business, having one's possessions stolen in the middle of the night." She shook her head. "Do you have any leads?"
"Not at this time," Jim told her, pulling a notebook out of his pocket. "But we're not here to talk about the other robberies."
"We've had a report that your home was broken into and several pieces taken. One of the neighbors that they officers talked to said she heard it from one of your staff."
"Ridiculous!" Nadia snapped. "Nosey neighbors. They have no right to be spreading rumors about me. I assure you, my house has not been robbed."
At his words, a look of pure anger had flashed over the delicate features before a patient look replaced it. But Jim still caught the look. While Nadia was speaking, he focused his hearing and clearly heard the woman's pounding heart. She was lying and he knew it. He just couldn't prove it.
"Why would a neighbor say you had been robbed?" Ken asked. "The witness said she had been talking to a staff member and that items had been taken just over a week ago."
"How should I know?" Nadia answered, annoyance in her voice. "Obviously someone is very much mistaken. If one of my employees is spreading gossip, believe me, they will be terminated immediately. I don't have time for such things and I would hope that the Cascade police department has better things to do than to follow up false tips."
"Would you mind if we looked around? Maybe talked to your staff to see if they've seen anything pertaining to the robberies?"
"Do you have a search warrant?"
"No, we don't," Jim admitted. "We just want to ask some questions."
"Then I'm sorry, Detective Ellison. If you don't have a warrant, you can leave. I have an important art show and social event at the end of the week, and I can't have my staff interrupted." Nadia stood, the interview clearly over. "Martha will show you out.
"Thank you for your time," Jim said evenly, furious that he couldn't accomplish more.
"Good day, Detectives," Nadia said quickly as she turned her back to them and left the room.
"Gee, guess that's our signal to leave," Jim heard Ken mutter under his breath so quietly that only a Sentinel would hear it.
Suddenly Martha appeared in the doorway. "Ms. Harford asked me to show you out."
Without saying another word, the woman briskly led them to the door. "Good day, Detectives," she said simply as she opened the door, closing it quickly as they exited.
"Gee. Nice," Ken commented.
Jim sighed in frustration. "Let's head back to the station. I want to call down to Bonita and talk to Sandburg and Wood about their case. Just a feeling I have." He turned to walk back towards the truck when suddenly he stopped.
"What is it, Jim?" Ken asked. Jim shushed him with a wave of his hand. Focusing his eyes on the house, he listened, carefully filtering out the sounds around him.
"Hello? Erik Gray? It's Nadia Harford. Are we still on schedule for an end of week delivery? Good. The police were just here. No, it's not a problem. Stupid neighbors told them about the robbery. No, that problem as been taken care of. She should never have said anything." There was a pause in the conversation. "No! You don't need to come up. I've got it under control. We'll be ready when your guys get here. Good bye."
"Jim?" A hand grasped his arm, shaking him urgently. He shook his head, hoping he hadn't zoned. He didn't think he had just listening to the phone conversation in the house. If he zoned and Blair found out, his Guide would ream him out for being careless.
"Are you alright?" Ken asked, his eyes full of concern. "You got quiet and then very still. Something wrong?"
"No, I'm fine. I thought I heard something, but evidently not. Come on, let's go."
"Why did you mention calling Andrew?" Ken asked, keeping pace with the detective while getting back to the earlier conversation.
"Because their case involves Mexican and South American art and antiques. According to the reports, several of the stolen pieces are from South American tribes. Plus, a couple of the statues that were in Nadia Harford's study look like they are of South American origin. It may be nothing, or there could be a link." Just talking about the art and pieces magnified Blair's absence and Jim wished again that his partner was with him, not in California.
"It's worth checking out," Ken agreed, as the two men climbed into Jim's Ford truck.
"So tell me, Detective," Ken asked as they drove away from the big house. "How did you end up driving an old truck like this? It's almost older than I am."
"It's a classic, Christian. A classic," Jim protested.
(A day or two after Hayes' arrest)
"Good evening, Lee." A lightly accented voice called out.
The young man being spoken too jumped at the sound of the voice. He spun, looking for the speaker, relaxing only when an older man in a black suit stepped out of the shadows.
"Sheesh, Mr. Gray. You nearly scared a year's life out of me," the young man complained. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing a dark strand off of his forehead.
"That is what you get for showing up unannounced," the older man admonished. "You know you're supposed to call first. What if I hadn't been here?"
Lee Carver shrugged his shoulders, his eyes focused on his dust-covered sneakers. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again. It's just that I have some news. Hopefully good news."
The older man, tall and impeccably dressed in a dark suit with a black shirt, motioned Carver over to an office area. He indicated the young man sit even as he sat down in a comfortable looking chair behind a desk. "Tea?" he asked, pointing to a teapot resting on a warming plate.
"No thank you, Sir," Carver declined.
"So, Mr. Carver. What is this news of yours."
"I met a man two days ago and, if he checks out, he may be a good candidate to replace Hayes."
"Oh really?" The man raised his eyebrows, disbelief in his voice.
"Yes, sir." Carver nodded. "His name is Blair Sands. He's a transplant from up north, came down here to get away from never ending days of rain and snow."
"And how did you happen to meet Mr. Sands?"
"I was in Mike's Coffee shop the other day and heard this guy talking to a friend about being out of money and looking for work. He said he was desperate because he's about to be kicked out of his apartment," Carver told him. "So I sat where I could listen for a bit. Among other things, he said he wouldn't mind going back to driving a rig, that it could be good money and he wouldn't have to worry about keeping the apartment." He paused, looking at his employer.
"Go on," the man urged.
"After twenty minutes or so, the friend left and the guy stayed there, drinking coffee. When he finally got up to leave I followed him and caught up with him outside. We talked and I told him I might know of a job driving a truck. As long as he could follow orders and ask no questions."
"What did he say to that?"
"He thought about it. I think the no questions part made him nervous. But then he sort of brightened and said he'd be interested. I got his name and address to run through the system. So far he's clean," Carver finished, watching his employer nervously.
"Sounds interesting. Hayes was an idiot for getting arrested the other night. Didn't you tell him not to go back to that warehouse?"
"Yes, Sir, I did. I have no clue as to what he thought he was doing." Carver shook his head.
"Go find your Blair Sands and arrange for him to meet us here tonight. I'd like to talk to him before we make him an offer."
"We may have need of him soon. I heard from Nadia today. She's ready for us to send a shipment up to her. The party is scheduled for the end of the week."
"The end of the week? That's going to push it some, isn't it?"
"Perhaps. But we're both anxious to get the operation moving so we have a backup plan in case things go awry here. Who knows what, if anything, that idiot Hayes will tell the police."
"He doesn't know much, there isn't much he can tell," Carver tried to assure the older man.
"Perhaps. Go now, I'll see you and Mr. Sands back here tonight at 9pm."
"Yes, Mr. Gray. Thank you." Carver got up and quickly made his way out.
Erik Gray leaned back in his chair and watched the young man leave. Lee was good, he was very good and would some day be able to take over the day-to-day operations, leaving Gray free for other interests. But that wouldn't be for a while yet. Gray picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory.
"Hello? I have need of your services. The name is Sands. Blair Sands. Lee met him today and believes he'll be a suitable replacement for Hayes. Yes, Hayes is an idiot. No, I don't want you to handle him. That would arouse too much suspicion. Just check on Mr. Sands. Thank you. No, that's it. Good bye."
Gray pushed the off button on the handset and set the phone down on the desk. Pushing the just finished conversation to the back of his mind, he began reading through the mail on his desk and working through the day's tasks.
Cascade Police Department, Major Crimes
With a sigh, Jim sat down at his desk and dug through several sheets of paper until he found the one he wanted. He had been trying to get a moment to call Blair but, since he and Christian had talked to Nadia Harford, he hadn't had a free moment. Rafe and Brown had tracked their suspect in a murder investigation to an apartment building in downtown Cascade and it took the help of several detectives to bring him in. It just seemed as though something else prevented him from getting to the phone until now. Finally, he found the phone number he was looking for and dialed.
"Hello? May I speak with Blair Sandburg please? Yes, he's in Captain Rivera's department. He's not actually employed by the Bonita PD. He's on loan from Cascade. He's working with Detective Andrew Woods," Jim spoke into the phone, his irritation growing. "Look, just get Woods on the phone, I'll talk to him."
After several moments of silence broken by soft clicks, a familiar voice came on the line. "Hello, Detective Woods here."
"Woods, it's Jim Ellison from Cascade. Look, I'm trying to find Blair."
"Hi Jim, it's good to hear from you," came the voice of the detective he'd met in Bonita.
"Where is Blair?" Jim asked, his irritation turning to worry. Something was wrong and his Guide was involved, he was sure of it.
"Jim, you're not going to like this." Jim could almost hear Woods' heartbeat over the phone. He kept silent while the Bonita detective explained the recent events.
"HE WHAT??" Everyone in the Major Crimes bullpen looked up sharply at the outburst from Jim Ellison.
"He went undercover," Woods repeated, his voice calm. "It was his choice. For the record, I tried to talk him out of it, but he puts up a good argument."
"Did you even argue with him? Or just let him go at the first suggestion." Jim ignored the looks of surprise from his coworkers.
"Hold on a minute, Ellison. Blair strikes me as a grown man. He made a case that he was the best candidate for the job and I eventually had to agree with him. He told us he had experience in undercover work. That is true, isn't it?"
Jim took a deep breath and knew that he shouldn't be angry with the detective in Bonita. He knew better than anyone that Sandburg had a way of talking until he got his way. Plus the former student could talk his way into and out of most anything.
"I'm sorry Woods, I tend to be a bit protective of Sandburg. He's right, he does have experience at undercover work and don't tell him I said this, but he's good at it." Jim forced himself to relax. "Have you heard from him lately?
"Not since he went to meet Carver and Gray. Those are the two men he had to meet with last night. Assuming that goes well, he'll be in as their truck driver. We have a method of communication set up, but it's up to Blair to contact us."
"Gray?" Jim recognized the name, although he couldn't remember where. "Hold on a moment?" he asked Andrew. Not waiting for the man's answer, he started paging through notes from the past several days. Just as he thought he was mistaken, he saw a small note he'd written after talking to Nadia Harford. He had overheard her make a phone conversation and a name. "As in Erik Gray?" he asked Andrew.
"That's the name. Why? Do you know him? He's known as an art dealer here and he doesn't have a record of anything illegal, but Blair said that's the name he was given."
Jim quickly shuffled through notes looking for any more references. "His name was mentioned during a witness interview, but I don't have anymore information on them. Christian and I were looking into a reported robbery. Several houses in a very upscale neighborhood were broken into and several items stolen and we had a report of another. Gray's name was mentioned, but not in connection with the robberies. I think it was the maid telling Harford that Gray was on the phone. Jim finished, not wanting to tell a stranger that he had overheard a conversation.
"Right now, I don't know. But let's stay in touch. If you hear from Blair, let me know. If you get any more info on Gray let us know and I'll do the same."
"Sounds good. We do know that Gray deals with museums and private collectors up and down the coast, so it may be nothing."
"Maybe, but we'll keep an eye on it. Thanks for your help."
"You're welcome. Wish I'd had better news for you. That partner of yours is something else though. He's good."
Jim laughed. "I shouldn't be surprised. Nothing is surprising where Sandburg is concerned. Just don't be thinking you can entice him to stay."
"The thought hadn't crossed my mind. Speaking of partner's, how is Ken working out up there? "
"He's making himself at home up here. He's been working with several of the detectives in the office and going on calls with me and an Australian Inspector we have."
"Australian Inspector? That's one you'll have to tell me about. Sounds like an interesting department you've got." Andrew paused and Jim could hear a voice talking in the background. "Sorry, Ellison, I've got to run. Talk to you later."
Jim said goodbye and replaced the handset on the phone base.
"Do I even want to know what that was all about?" Simon Banks stood next to Jim's desk.
"Probably not, Sir," Jim answered. "It seems as though my partner has gone undercover as a part of the case in Bonita."
With a snort, Jim proceeded to bring his Captain up to date on the conversation with Andrew Woods. Several times Simon sighed or shook his head, but he let the detective finish before asking questions.
"So Nadia Harford mentioned this Gray during the interview?" Simon asked.
"She didn't exactly mention him, Captain," Jim answered uneasily.
Simon frowned. "What, exactly, did she say?"
"She called him. I heard her call him on the phone." At Simon's look that clearly begged for patience from any source, Jim continued, "Captain, she was in a hurry to get us out of the house. So I was curious why and listened to find out. As soon as we were out of the house, she made a phone call and asked for Erik Gray. She told him that we'd been there."
"You're just telling me about it now?"
Jim breathed a silent prayer of thanks that Blair wasn't there to witness the conversation. "Yes, Sir. With nothing to go on and with assisting with Brown and Rafe's murder case, I'm just now telling you." He grinned, "Besides, it's not like I could tell you in front of Christian. He doesn't know I heard the phone call."
"But you used your senses in front of him. What if you had zoned, Jim?" Simon asked, concern in his voice. "Sandburg will have both of our butts in a sling if you pull a stunt like that and zone out in the field."
The Sentinel felt his face go ever so slightly pink.
"Just for a second and not deep. Ken touched my shoulder to draw my attention to something in the yard and I snapped out of it."
Simon shook his head, muttering under his breath about juvenile detectives, sentinels and their guides.
"Nothing, Jim. Nothing," Simon told him. "So what is your next step?"
"I'm going to run Gray's name through our records and see if he has any connections here in Cascade. Maybe Nadia Harford's house was not robbed, but I have the feeling she's connected to Gray somehow."
"Sounds good, Jim. Keep me updated."
"Thank you, Captain." Jim left the police Captain and returned to his desk in the bullpen.
Warehouse district of Bonita, California
Blair stood outside the one floor office building wondering, not for the first time, what he was doing there. He was also wondering how badly Jim was going to kill him when the detective found out about the undercover operation. With any luck, he'd be home long before Jim ever found out. Right, he snorted softly.
Feeling as ready as he would ever be, Blair pushed on the door, which opened easily for him. Following the directions given to him by Lee Carver, he maneuvered through the dark corridors.
As he walked, he mentally reviewed the events of the past 48 hours or so that lead up to him walking towards a meeting with suspected drug smugglers. Making the initial contact with Carver had been easier than he and Andrew had hoped for. Thanks to information from the truck driver, the detectives had a list of coffee shops, delis and nighttime bars where Carver was said to hang out, often looking for employees willing to work and not ask questions. Surprising to everyone involved, it only took three days until one afternoon Blair and Dale were having lunch at a coffee shop and Lee Carver walked in the door. Blair assumed his role of an out of work man willing to do most anything and, as soon as he left the shop, Carver had approached him.
He must have been convincing. Forty-eight hours later he now stood at the plain door with an engraved plate on it that read 'E. Gray Acquisitions'. Pausing to clear his head of thoughts related to 'Blair Sandburg', he raised his hand and knocked on the door.
"She's still insisting on Friday?" Carver asked, frowning at a sheet of paper in his hand. "That is really going to be pushing it. If we leave tonight, we might make it."
"So then, leave tonight," Gray stated. "Is that a problem?"
"No, Sir. Not for me. Don't know about Sands though. Especially since we haven't actually made the guy an offer yet."
Gray smiled, picking up a cup and drinking from it. "I had the young man checked out by my sources as well, and he seems to be what we're looking for. If he is reluctant to start immediately, I'll offer him a bonus."
A sharp knock at the door interrupted their conversation. Gray looked at his watch. "Very good. Punctual. I like that." He called out, "Come in!"
The door opened and 'Blair Sands' walked into the room. Blair had pulled his hair back with an elastic band. Silver hoops shone in his ear. He wore a t-shirt with an unbuttoned flannel shirt and worn black jeans. He looked around nervously until he spotted Lee Carver sitting in front of a desk. Sitting behind the desk was an older man with silver-white hair dressed in a grey suit. Even though the man looked relaxed, he almost oozed with authority. Blair knew insistently that the man behind the desk had to be Erik Gray.
"Hey Blair! Glad you could make it." Carver rose from his chair and met Blair partway across the room. They shook hands and Carver led him back to the desk. "Blair, I want to introduce you to Erik Gray. He's the man in charge."
Blair reached out and shook the hand that was held out to him. "Pleasure to meet you Mr. Gray. As I told Lee the other day, I find myself in the position of needing employment. With the economy the way it is, job hunting has been discouraging."
"I can imagine it has," Gray spoke. "I do not envy those who find themselves on the job market. Even my own business has not been doing as well. But, I do find myself with a truck load of goods and no driver."
"If you don't mind my asking," Blair hesitated, "what happened to your driver? I mean, I'm guessing that someone used to have the job."
"Very good question, Mr. Sands. Yes, we did have another driver, but he had to leave and is no longer employed by my company." Gray stood up. "Come with me please."
He led the two men out of his office and through more corridors to a loading dock where a truck stood parked and loaded. The truck wasn't the big 18-wheeler type, but a smaller model. Blair knew he could drive it with no problems. "Mr. Sands, this is one of several trucks I own and the one that needs to get on the road as soon as possible. Are you interested?"
"What kind of cargo?" Blair asked, curious to find out if Gray would actually tell him and was only a little disappointed when he got the expected answer.
"One of my first rules, Mr. Sands, is no questions asked. You take your orders from me or from Lee. In fact, on this first run, he will be going with you. Because of the sensitive nature of some of the items, you will not know your final destination until necessary. Which is why Lee is going along as navigator."
Blair glanced at Lee and then quickly turned his attention back to Gray as the older man continued speaking. "As for payment. Your first paycheck will be $5,000, plus a bonus for starting immediately. And I do mean immediately. If you deliver the shipment by the deadline date of Friday, there's another bonus for you."
"Wow." Blair breathed. "I've done work for schools and museums before that didn't pay anything close to that. I'd be crazy for saying no."
"So you know how to handle delicate cargo?" Lee asked. "There are sometimes occasions where you have to lift boxes."
"Sure, not a problem. Whatever you want done, I'm your guy," Blair said.
Gray smiled, but Blair noted there was very little warmth in his face. "That's what I like to see, enthusiasm. Most people don't have that kind of enthusiasm for their work."
Blair didn't know what to say to that without sounding too eager. He hoped he hadn't pushed it too much as it was. Evidently not, he decided when Gray held a hand out to him.
"Welcome to the business. I think you'll find I'm an amiable employer. As long as you do your job as instructed." The two men shook hands. "Blair, if you'll make sure everything is loaded where it won't shift, I'll go over the schedule with Lee. Oh, if you have any kind of cell phone or device with you, you must leave it here."
"Umm... my cell phone?" Blair asked, very much confused at the odd request.
"Yes, your cell phone or any other kind of messaging device," Gray said, patiently. "You see Blair, you and Lee will be in charge of some very expensive items and it's not that I don't trust you, but we have just met. I'd rather you not have contact with anyone or risk someone listening in on the signal and finding out your location."
"Isn't that a bit extreme?" Blair asked and immediately regretted the question as Gray loomed over him.
"If you have a problem, there's the door and the deal is off. Remember I require that you do as you are instructed with no arguments or questions."
Nervously, Blair pulled his cell phone from his belt holder and handed it over to his new employer. "No problem, Mr. Gray. I just wasn't expecting that."
Immediately Gray was all smiles again. He gripped Blair's phone in his hand and quickly slipped the device into a jacket pocket. "That's quite alright. Most understandable. Now please see to the loading. Lee and I will be back in a moment."
As Gray and Carver left, Blair tried to ignore the knot in his stomach. The cell phone was his contact with Andrew and his team. Without it, he had no way contacting Andrew unless he managed to get to a phone, and he'd be willing to bet that Carver wouldn't let that happen. Just great, Sandburg. Jim is going to certainly kill you now, he thought to himself. First you ask to stay to help on a case, then you go undercover without calling him, and now you're undercover with no way to contact the police. Good going.
With a sigh, he began loading a few remaining boxes and getting the truck ready to leave. As he did, he wondered, again, what he'd gotten himself into.
"All ready, gentlemen?" Gray asked, just as Lee and Blair got the last of the boxes loaded onto the truck.
"Just about, Mr. Gray," Lee said, jumping down from the back of the truck. Together the two men walked across the room to a table where several sheets of paper lay folded. "That should be the last one. There are five boxes for the first stop and the rest to Nadia in--"
Gray interrupted him. "Careful, Lee. We don't want to say too much."
Lee dropped his voice. "I'm not arguing, sir. But why? Blair seems like a good guy. Just needs a job. As long as we don't tell him what we're carrying, knowing the destinations shouldn't harm us, should it?"
"I'd rather not take the chance," Gray said quietly. "I don't trust new people. There's too much of a risk that he could contact someone and let them know where he is and where the shipment is. I didn't get to my position by tipping my hand too soon. Are we clear?"
"Yes, Sir," Lee answered.
Blair carefully watched the two men converse quietly, wishing that he had Jim's sentinel hearing to learn what was being said. Making sure the last box was secure, he jumped to the floor and pushed the metal doors closed with a loud clang. Once they were away from the warehouse and on the road, hopefully he'd have a chance to check out the boxes and see just what was in them. Hayes had told them Gray was putting together a shipment of artifacts, but didn't know what was being sent with them.
Seeing Gray and Lee turn back towards the truck, Blair busied himself with securing the lock on the doors to the back of the trailer.
"All set, Blair?" Gray asked, a smile on his face.
"Sure. Everything is loaded and ready to go. Lee?" Blair asked the man standing next to him.
"I'm good for go. Let's hit the road and make the boss happy," Lee quipped, bowing slightly with a wave of his hand, an inviting gesture for Blair to take the driver's seat.
"Good luck, gentlemen," Gray said, solemnly.
Blair climbed up and settled into the driver's seat. He started the engine, put the truck in gear and slowly pulled out of the warehouse. He glanced towards the side mirror to see Erik Gray, smile gone from the wrinkled face, staring intently after the truck.
(after a day on the road)
Blair stretched as his feet touched the ground after climbing down from the cab of the truck. It felt good to be standing still after more than 48 hours of driving with only a couple of short stops. Once they had crossed the California/Oregon line, Lee had instructed him to pull off at an exit to a small warehouse set close to the interstate.
"Stay out here with the truck, Blair." Lee had walked around the front of the truck to the driver's side. "Walk around and stretch your legs. You've done great and we've made fantastic time. We'll have a bit of a break here."
"Sure, Lee and thanks!" Blair didn't have to fake the relief he felt at not having to immediately climb back into the truck. As he listened to Lee talking to someone on the other side of the truck, he leaned casually against the truck and quickly pulled a small notepad and pen from his jeans pocket. In quick strokes, he wrote down the highways and exits they'd taken. Since he didn't have his cell phone and since leaving Bonita, he never had a chance to get near a pay phone, he had managed to purchase a pad and pen. At least he could take notes on where they had been. Hearing footsteps, he shoved the pad and pen in his pockets, hiding the movement by stepping forward and leaning backwards in a spinning, popping stretch.
"Whew, that felt good." He sighed happily as Carver and a stranger came around the end of the truck.
"Hey Blair, you feel up to helping move some boxes? There's a couple to unload and one to load then we can get back on the road." If Carver had seen anything other than Blair stretching, he didn't show it.
"Sure. As much as I enjoy the break, I'd like to make our destination by Mr. Gray's deadline." Blair answered honestly because he had no clue as to where that destination lay. It had been two days since they left Southern California heading north. He knew Andrew would be frantic, which would be nothing compared to Jim's reaction. But, he told himself he was determined to see the operation through and had the feeling that it would be big when it all went down. Until then, he kept compiling his notes until he could figure out how to contact Andrew.
The men worked together and soon had the boxes loaded onto the truck. As they climbed into the cab, Blair exhaled and rolled his head a bit before starting the engine. Lee smiled as he watched. "So how do you like it so far?"
Blair shrugged. "It's cool. For the amount of money Mr. Gray offered, I'm surprised there haven't been more stops and more manual labor." He grinned at Lee's chuckle. "Not that I'm complaining. Nope, I'm not complaining at all." He glanced at his companion quickly before turning out onto the road. "I will admit, though, I'm still curious about what we're carrying. Since the sign on his door said something about antiques, I'm assuming that's what is in the truck."
"Don't worry. I was the same way when I started. For that matter, I still don't know all of what he handles, just that it's valuable and his customers are often very discreet," Lee assured Blair. "Plus, he wants you to be concerned with the driving. I'm here to be concerned with the cargo."
"Cool by me." Blair turned his attention back to driving, mentally filing the conversation away for later. A comfortable silence settled between the two men.
The quiet ruled for nearly an hour. Blair almost jumped when Lee spoke up unexpected.
"Say Blair, have you ever been to a city called Cascade?"
"Cascade? As in Washington?" Blair worked to keep his voice level. "Sure. I did a year or so at a local college up there."
"Really?" Lee turned to look at Blair.
"Yeah. I was at Rainier for a while, until the traveling bug bit me. Plus, I got tired of being cold and wet all the time.
Lee laughed easily. "I can so relate to that. I guess that's how you ended up in Southern California."
Blair joined in the laughter. "I went down to visit my mom and her latest boyfriend and fell in love with being warm and dry. The nice scenery at the beaches certainly didn't hurt." He turned his full attention back to the road as he maneuvered the truck through the interstate traffic. "It's been a couple of years since I've been back."
"Well, Blair," Lee said. "I hope you don't mind going back to the cold and wet world of Cascade for a while. That's our destination. We stay on the interstate all the way to Cascade, Washington."
"Cool!" Blair didn't have to fake his enthusiasm. "Lee? Do you think that before we get there, I could call a friend of mine? I haven't see her in a long time and would love to see if she's available."
Lee frowned. "I hate to say no, but until we're there and have completed the run I have to. Mr. Gray does not like for his orders to be disobeyed. Believe me, Blair, you do not want to make him angry with you. Let's get there, deliver the cargo to the buyer and then we'll be free to have some fun. Maybe your friend will have a friend?"
Blair forced himself to laugh. "Sounds good. This is too sweet a job to risk losing. As for a friend, I'll ask Jamie when I can call her." Silently he calculated the hours until they were in Cascade and he could contact both Jim and Andrew.
Major Crimes Bullpen
Jim stared at the computer screen, wishing he could simply make the information he needed appear by thinking about it. His gaze moved from the less-than-helpful screen to the files stacked on his desk. One set of files was the reports from several robberies that had taken place in several houses where expensive pieces of art were stolen. On the top of those files was the one containing the report from Nadia Harford's house. The woman maintained that her home had not been robbed, although two neighbors had mentioned hearing of pieces going missing. The detective was convinced that something connected the robberies, he just didn't know what.
Erik Gray. Harford had mentioned the name during a phone call. Andrew Woods in California had said the name was connected to the case Blair was helping with. Jim's instinct told him that Gray had something to do with both cases. He couldn't explain how, he just knew.
Quickly, he started typing on the computer keyboard, entering a wide search for Erik Gray. Jim wanted to know if anything in the city records had any kind of information on Gray. As he typed, he thought about his missing partner. The moment Ken said Woods was sending someone undercover, he should have known that Blair would find a way to take the assignment. Breathing a small sigh, Jim decided that he'd be quite happy when Blair was back in Cascade, where he belonged.
The soft chime of the computer interrupted Jim's thoughts, alerting him that the first part of the search was done.
Skimming through the output, he sucked in a sharp breath and muttered "damn."
"What is it, Jim?" Simon asked. The detective looked up sharply, surprised that he hadn't heard his captain approach. The bullpen was quiet and empty except for Rafe sitting at his desk across the room.
"I was just running a search through records on Erik Gray. When I talked to Woods in Bonita, he mentioned the name as being connected to the case there. Plus there's the conversation I overheard."
"The system came back with a hit. Erik Gray of 'E. Gray Acquisitions' based in California recently bought a storage warehouse complex in Cascade."
"You don't think it's a coincidence, do you?" Simon asked him.
"No sir, I don't." Jim shook his head.
"Where do you want to go from here?"
"I believe that Gray is the link between Cascade and Bonita. According to the records, E. Gray Acquisitions specializes in obtaining rare tribal art and antiques. Just the kind of items that have been reported stolen here in Cascade."
"He'd have to be highly overconfident or completely foolish to actually store the stolen items here," Simon pointed out.
"Who knows." Jim sighed. "He's an unknown factor. But I think it's worth checking out. We could set up a stakeout at the warehouse." Jim looked at the screen again. "Get this, it's called 'Two Towers Storage'."
"You get it set up, I'll get the paperwork for you. It's not much, but it's the first semi-solid lead we've gotten." Simon walked to his office. "Good work, Detective. Let's hope this pans out into something useful."
Outside Two Towers Storage Warehouse
Jim stretched as much as the cramped space in the truck would allow. With a yawn, he settled back into the seat.
"Want some more coffee?" Ken asked with a grin. He held up the thermos, shaking it lightly. "There's still some left."
Jim eyed the thermos, calculating how long they had been sitting there and how cold the coffee probably was after several hours. Finally he shook his head. "No thanks. While it may not be stone cold, there's no way it's steaming hot anymore."
Ken grimaced, setting the thermos on the seat between them. "Good point." The young man went back to watching out the window. A block away stood the well-kept storage facility the two detectives were watching.
"So how long are we going to sit out here?" Ken asked, breaking the silence. "Brown and Rafe didn't come up with anything during the day and the place seems pretty dead tonight. After all, we're not even sure this is where the drop off is."
"I know," Jim said wearily. He looked at his watch and saw that it was nearly 1 a.m. "To be honest, we might as well call it a night. We can spend tomorrow double checking and seeing if there's another Two Towers warehouse or storage facility in Cascade."
Just then headlights appeared out of the darkness. "What's that?" Ken asked, pointed to the lights coming towards them.
Jim sat up, peering at the source of the lights. "It's a truck. I think," he said. "Looks like a large truck."
"You can tell that from here?" Ken asked, astonished.
"What can I say, good eyesight." Jim waved off the comment, his attention focused on the truck. "No markings that I can tell. It may not even be what we're looking for."
As they watched, the truck slowed and pulled into the parking lot of the storage facility the detectives were watching."
"Then again, maybe it is," Ken said softly, watching the truck's progress using a pair of binoculars.
"Shall we go see what they're delivering at this hour of the night?" Jim asked, his hand on the door handle.
"Shouldn't we call for backup?"
Jim paused before he answered. "Call it in. Plus, call Simon and tell him what's going on. If this is the shipment we've been waiting for, he'll want to be here. I'm heading that way." He pointed towards the back of the building.
Ken followed Jim's instructions then got out of the truck. He quietly moved to where Jim was crouched behind several dumpsters. "See anything?" he whispered.
"Nothing yet. All I can hear are boxes being moved and some kind of machinery."
"You can hear what's going on?" Ken stared at the dark shape of the Cascade detective.
"You mean you can't?" Jim tried to sound surprised when he was actually annoyed at himself for using his Sentinel abilities in front of the other man. "Maybe you need to get your hearing checked." He grinned, motioning that they were going to move to a closer position.
As the two detectives crouched behind a second dumpster, Ken gripped Jim's arm to pull the older man's attention back to the driveway. A black car was pulling in and parking at the door to the storage facility building they were watching. "We've got more company," he breathed quietly.
A tall middle-aged looking man got out of the driver's seat and moved around the car to the back door on the passenger side. Jim easily recognized Nadia Harford as the tall redhead gracefully got out of the car. She smoothed her coat and motioned for the driver to follow her. Together they walked into the building.
"Jim," Ken whispered. "That looked like it might have been Ms. Harford. But we're going to have to get closer for an ID." Before Jim could stop him, the young man started to move forward towards the warehouse.
Jim reached out to grabbed at the moving target, stopping when he thought he heard his Guide's voice.
"Whoa! Watch it man! We don't need to explain a dented box."
Jim heard the sound of laughter and then a man's voice said, "You've got that right. Help me move it over here to avoid being in the way."
Jim's mind spun trying to figure out what was going on. Blair's voice? But how could Blair be in Cascade when he was supposed to be in Southern California. He focused his hearing to the voices inside, not hearing Ken double back and hiss at him to move. He didn't hear Ken telling him to move and he didn't hear the two men that came up behind them. It wasn't until hands grabbed him roughly, shoving him towards the metal building that he realized he had zoned. Blair was going to kill him.
Inside Cascade Storage Warehouse, Cascade Washington
Blair made sure the strap holding the box to the lift was secure, then motioned to Lee, who maneuvered the lift away from the truck. As he watched the young man move the box, he wondered again that it was odd for them to be unloading the truck when they still had not heard from the buyer. But Lee swore that Gray's instructions were to go ahead and unload the truck as soon as they arrived, so they did.
When Lee had set the box down next to the others, Blair turned back to the truck to pull the next box forward. With a shout, he jumped as he almost walked into a tall redheaded woman who had walked up behind him. "Can I help you?" he asked shakily, wondering how she had managed to sneak up on them.
The woman laid a well-manicured hand on Blair's arm. "I didn't mean to startle you." She almost purred the words, stepping close to Blair. "With the noise of the machinery, I guess you didn't hear me come in. She slid her hand down Blair's arm to grasp his hand. "I'm Nadia Harford."
"Blair Sands," Blair said, noticing the soft smoothness of the hand that held on to his. "I'm the new driver working with Lee."
"Sands," the woman repeated thoughtfully. "Have we met before? You look vaguely familiar."
"No ma'am," Blair answered, working to hide his growing nervousness. "I doubt it. Several years ago I was at Rainier, but I've been living in Southern California the past 2 years or so."
"Ms. Harford!" Lee called out, walking up and interrupting the conversation. "I see you've met Blair. We just hired him to drive the route out of Southern California, and he's working out to be the best driver we've had in a long time."
Nadia smiled, although it seemed very cold to Blair, not reaching the beautiful woman's bright blue eyes. "Very good then. Hello Lee. When you gentlemen are finished, you must come out to the house. There are some pieces I need delivered before tomorrow night. Plus, I'd like to give you a special bonus." She smiled, this time reminding Blair of a Cheshire cat. "That is, if you don't think Erik would mind."
Lee shook his head. "I don't think he'd mind. Our instructions were to bring the merchandise here and to assist you in any final preparations."
Any further discussion was halted as two men dressed in dark outfits burst into the warehouse, pushing two disheveled looking men in front of them.
Blair bit back a gasp as he watched Jim and a detective he thought he recognized from Bonita being herded into the warehouse.
"What is this?" Nadia nearly shouted at the interruption, gesturing towards the two men. "What the hell are they doing here?"
The two guards shoved the detectives to their knees. Lee stepped up and, after a quick search, handed their weapons to the guards, holding two billfolds in his hand. He glanced at them, before handing them to Nadia. "Local cops." He sighed. "Any guesses on why they were lurking outside?"
Nadia grabbed the billfolds, scowling at the ID's inside. "Oh, I can tell you why they were outside. They are the detectives who are investigating the robberies that have been occurring near my house."
"What?" Lee shouted.
"I thought it was part of Erik's operation. Several homes have been broken into and pieces of art were stolen. It happened at the same time that I had several pieces removed in preparation of the arrival of new pieces. A former member of my staff told a neighbor my house had been robbed. The neighbor told the police. These gentlemen came to investigate and I thought I had them convinced." Nadia stared at the two men on the floor.
"Obviously not," the young man muttered.
Blair worked to bury his concern as to how his partner had been taken and why he hadn't heard them coming. His main thought now was to keep Jim and the other detective safe until backup arrived.
"So now what do we do?" he asked quietly. He caught the look that Jim shot in his direction, before the detective's eyes moved back to Harford and Carver.
"We make sure they don't go anywhere. Tie them up, keep them quiet and lock them in the office," Nadia said. "After we're gone, someone will find them. Eventually."
Carver frowned. "That won't do. The problem is they can now ID us, especially you. We can't take the chance that they'll talk later. The only way to do that is to permanently silence them now."
Nadia paled. Seeing a chance, Jim spoke up for the first time since being shoved into the warehouse. "What's the matter, Ms. Harford? Can't handle the idea of killing an innocent person in cold blood? Or is it that you hadn't realized you were now in a business that often ends in murder? The only difference when someone OD's on your drug you don't see their glassy eyes staring at you."
Without warning, Carver lashed out, punching Jim on the side of his head. The stunned detective fell limply to the floor. From his spot beside the truck, Blair fought an internal battle to stay still rather than to run to his partner's side. If he moved against Harford and Carver now, he would be out numbered five armed people to one unarmed cop.
Applause rang out, causing Nadia to jump at the unexpected intrusion. Erik Gray walked in, a broad smile on his face. "Bravo! Bravo! Well-put Mr. Carver."
Gray moved to stand beside Nadia and laid a hand on her shoulder. She jumped at the touch, causing the man to chuckle. "Nadia, dear, calm down. Everything is under control." He chuckled again at her look of disbelief.
"Mr. Sands and Mr. Carver." The tall man looked from where Blair stood, across to Lee. "You've both done an admirable job of getting my merchandise delivered on time. If this fool woman hadn't made too much of a mess, I'm thinking of relocating to Cascade. Quaint little town."
He walked over to Blair and handed the nervous young man a leather wallet. "Here is the agreed upon amount plus a bonus for a job well done. I realize that this may all look very intimidating but, I assure you, everything will be handled and we can get back to business as usual."
"Thank you, Sir," Blair said quietly, mentally hoping that Simon showed up soon or that he would get an opening to get Jim away. He longed to ask Gray just what was going on, but between his reluctance and Gray speaking, he kept his silence.
"Before I explain and offer you long term employment, there is one small task that I want you to perform."
"Task?" Blair asked. "But I thought that getting the truck here was the test. I'm a truck driver..." his voice trailed as Gray turned to glare dangerously at him.
"Things change!" Gray interrupted. "This is an ever changing world and we must be able to adjust to its changes." The man motioned to his bodyguard who took Jim's gun from Carver and handed it to Gray. "Since we talked in Bonita, the situation has become more complex."
He handed the gun to Blair, who stared in shock at the weapon, a knot forming in his throat. Blair had a very bad feeling of what was coming, but now he was at least armed.
"It's quite simple though, you do this and we have no problems. As I said earlier, I like loyalty from my employees and this is one way of ensuring it. Kill them." Gray waved his hand towards Jim and Ken.
"What?" Blair blurted out. "I can't kill cops. Hell, I can't kill anyone. I'm not a murderer." He looked at Jim, the detective's eyes full of worry. Blair handed the gun back to Gray. "I can't kill for you."
"I'm sorry, it's not that easy," Gray told him. "If you don't shoot them, then you will die along with them. It's about trust and loyalty, and if I can't trust you, then I can't use you."
Blair stammered, his eyes going wide with fear. "I won't tell anyone, okay? Just let me walk out of here and you'll never see me again."
Gray laughed loudly. "Right, my boy. I'm going to let you walk out of the middle of one of the biggest drug deals of my career. You see, the truck you drove here is loaded with antiques and art from other countries. Packed with each is a new drug, very strong, virtually undetectable by the current methods."
He walked over to Nadia, draping an arm around her shoulders. "Dear Nadia is going to be the first of my Pacific Northwest contacts. Her party tonight will serve as the introduction of the drug to Cascade." He beamed, trailing his fingers through her hair before walking back over to stand in front of Blair.
"So you see, Mr. Sands. I can't let you leave. I can not let anyone leave that is not 100% loyal to me." He held the gun out to Blair. "You have one more chance to redeem yourself." As Blair took the gun from him, Gray motioned to the guard that came in with him. "Watch him. If he fails, kill him first. Then those two."
Blair was very much aware of the gun pointed at him as he stood with a clear shot at both his partner and the other detective. His eyes met Jim's as a desperate plan entered his mind. All he had to do was try to convey it to the two detectives.
Holding Jim's gaze with his own, Blair brought the gun up to point it at his partner. His mouth went dry as he fought to keep his hands steady. He heard the shocked gasp from the officer kneeling on the floor next to Jim, but he refused to shift his eyes from those of his partner. Unblinking, he aimed the gun at Jim's head.
"Very good. Very good," he heard the business man/drug dealer murmur from behind him. "Now get on with it, Mr. Sands. I haven't got all night."
Taking a deep breath, Blair glanced quickly from Jim to the gun and back to Jim. Please understand, Jim. Okay? His eyes locked with Jim's, he shifted the gun minutely, praying that it was not enough to catch the notice of those watching him. But that it was enough for a Sentinel to see. He saw a glint in Jim's eyes, an indication that he was ready for whatever Blair had in mind.
Another deep breath and, this time, Blair held it and squeezed the trigger. The bullet passed close to Jim but didn't hit. The detective never noticed as he lunged towards the guard closest to him who had a gun held on Blair.
Chaos erupted as, at the same moment, the door to the warehouse burst in and the commanding voice of Simon Banks was heard.
"FREEZE! CASCADE PD!"
"Damn you!" Gray screamed as he reached for Blair, one hand burying itself in Blair's dark hair, pulling his head back. With his other hand, Gray drove a punch into Blair's side, causing the startled young man to gasp for breath.
Struggling against Gray's hold, Blair twisted and tried to elbow the man, but Gray was too fast and grabbed Blair's arm, pulling it high behind him.
"Let him go," Simon ordered, his gun trained on the two men. Behind the police captain, Blair could see uniformed officers take Lee and Nadia into custody. Jim delivered a final punch to the gunman he'd jumped and turned with a murderous look on his face.
"I don't think so, Captain," Gray said. "I get the feeling that the detective and this young man know each other. I don't know why, but Blair here refused to shoot."
"Gray," Jim spoke low and dangerous. "You won't make it out of here, I'll see to that. Let Sandburg go."
Gray laughed. "Sandburg? So that's his real name." He jerked back on Blair's hair, causing his hostage to hiss at the pain. "How did you manage to get past our checks to get in?"
"Let him go, Gray. Slow and easy now," a Scottish accented voice spoke from behind Gray and Blair. Blair heard the sound of a gun being cocked. "I said let go of him."
Erik Gray savagely shoved Blair forward into Jim and Simon, nearly knocking all three men down. He gave a very ungentlemanly yelp as Ken Christian grabbed an arm and pulled it behind Gray's back.
"That's an odd definition of slow and easy, Mr. Gray," Ken observed as he handcuffed Gray. He handed the drug dealer to two uniformed officers who read him his rights as they led him outside.
"Are you okay?" Simon asked the detective, stepping up and laying a hand on the young man's shoulder. Ken closed his eyes and took several deep breaths before answering.
"Yes, Sir. I'm fine. Just knocked around a bit. Nice entrance there, by the way, Captain."
"Thank you, Christian. I've had lots of practice," Simon said, turning to look at his best detective team, reunited for the first time in over a week.
"How about the two of you? Anyone seriously injured?"
"Still here," came the two tired responses.
Jim and Blair stood grinning at each other. "Good shot, Chief," Jim said, breaking the silence.
"Thanks, man. I just kept praying that you would figure out that I wasn't actually aiming at you. And that you wouldn't jump in the wrong direction."
"You did good." Jim draped an arm over Blair's shoulders, leading his partner outside, following Ken and Simon.
" You did pretty good yourself. Except for the getting jumped part." Blair eyed his Sentinel. "You are going to tell me how that happened, right?"
"It'll be in the report." Jim smiled evilly. "Which you get to help write since you've been considerate enough to show up in Cascade."
"Gee thanks, Jim." Blair groaned good-naturedly.
In front of them, Ken laughed. "Are they always like that?" he asked Simon.
"No, they're not," Simon answered. "Sometimes they're worse."
With much help from Lori Wright, many special thanks for working with me on the plot and allowing me some time in her episode. Also, thanks to the editors and staff of Black Panther Productions for allowing me to play and for making this a better story with their input.