edited by: JAC, Saga, and Lady Shelley
Early Saturday Morning
Outside 852 Prospect
The sun was just starting to peak over the horizon, the sky alive with the bright colors of pink, white and blue. Two men made their way out of the building, loaded with equipment, over to a blue and white pick-up truck. Recognizing the early hour of the day and not willing to antagonize the neighbors, they kept their conversation as quiet as possible.
"I'm so looking forward to this trip," Blair said, as he loaded his fishing tackle into the back of the truck. They had finally managed to get a weekend off. Having consumed a lot of vacation time earlier in the year, they had gotten stuck with a lot of weekend duty as payback.
"Me too, Chief. I really need to get out of the city for a while," Jim replied as he loaded their tent. "I'm sorry Simon doesn't want to come with us this time. This is no catch and release trip, and I've never come away from this spot without catching the limit."
Blair was equally disappointed with Simon's absence, but understood his reasons for declining their invitation. "Jim, I don't think Simon will ever go into the woods with us again considering our track record. Didn't you hear him when he found out where we were going?"
Blair slid down his glasses and wrinkled up his nose, pretending to smoke on a cigar and in a very Simon-sounding voice with appropriate gestures, he continued, "Go into the woods? With the two of you? Never! No way! I don't know which one of you is worse. You, Sandburg, with your wonderful sense of direction and superb map reading skills; or you, Ellison, with your magnetic abilities to finding train robberies in progress and poachers."
Jim laughed at Blair's dead on impression of their captain. He added, "You forgot the part where he said that he didn't want to hear us come crying to him when we wind up in Alaska, killed by grizzly bears."
Blair's only response was a salute with his imaginary cigar.
Looking over all the equipment in the bed of the truck, Jim said, "I think we got everything. Ready to roll, Chief?" He double-checked one final time to make sure everything was fastened down tightly before heading to the cab of the truck.
Buttoning up his jacket before answering, Blair replied, "Let's get a move on. The sooner we get out of town the happier I'll be. I don't want Simon calling us with a last minute case."
"Not to worry, the cell phone is turned off. As of this moment, we are officially out of reach of the department."
"But you still have it?" Blair asked. Joking aside, they did have a long history of finding trouble when heading into the wilds of Washington State.
"Yeah, no sense in tempting fate," Jim replied slightly uncomfortable, as he started the engine and pulled away from the curb. Simon's comments had hit close to home.
Thankfully, there was no other traffic on the road as they headed out of Cascade. The clock was running on their time off and Jim really was looking forward to getting out of the city.
After a small detour though the McDonald's drive-thru for breakfast, the only establishment open at this hour, Blair enjoyed watching the scenery fly by out the passenger window as they left the city limits. The familiar entrance to the national park was approaching... and passing. Blair turned around as far as his seat belt would allow, trying to double check the exit number out the cab rear window on the opposite side of the road. "Hey, man, wasn't that our exit you just flew past?"
Jim shook his head. "Not this trip, my little guppy. I'm taking you to my all-time favorite fishing hole. It's a very well kept secret, known only to a select few. A place so secret, its location is handed down from generation to generation." He welcomed the opportunity to tease his friend a little. The last few weeks had been tough for both of them. Simon's apparent disappearance the week before had been rough.
"Really? And just how do you know about it?" Blair asked, skeptically. Somehow, William Ellison didn't strike him as the type for passing down family secrets.
"You dare to doubt me," Jim said, playfully waggling his eyebrows before returning his attention to the road. "I told you, my father. Okay, it wasn't really our family's secret, but my Dad is the reason I know about this place. He took Steven and me on a long weekend camping and fishing trip in the area when we were kids."
Disbelief colored Blair's voice as he said, "Your father? 'Mr. Businessman' himself out in the woods, fishing? I don't believe it."
"There was another father and son team along with us, Ralph and Tommy Wilson. Ralph was a potential business partner my father was trying to impress which admittedly was the only reason for the trip. Still, it was a memorable weekend. I was around eight at the time and Dad actually spent some quality time teaching me how to fly fish."
Blair returned to looking out the window. A few moments later he looked over at Jim, whose expression was similar to that of the proverbial cat who swallowed the canary. He was pretty sure he had just been had, but he sought confirmation anyway. "I still can't picture your father out in the wilderness. Are you messing with my head?"
Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, Jim thought about prolonging the agony for a while, but decided it was time to let his partner off the hook. "At the time, it wasn't really wilderness. The area was being harvested for timber and the logging company belonging to Ralph had moved several trailers onto the property as temporary offices. We kids camped in tents while our parents slept in the relative comfort in the trailers."
This story Blair could believe. "So the area was clear cut. I'm surprised the fishing in the area is any good. Once all the trees have been cut down, soil erosion generally ruins the watersheds."
Traffic was a little heavier now. Residents of the city were traveling to the great outdoors for the weekend, several of whom were paying more attention to the scenery than the road. Jim was forced to quickly change lanes to avoid one such rubbernecker.
After passing the slow moving vehicle, Jim corrected his partner's erroneous conclusion. "When did you become such a cynic? The area wasn't clear-cut. Ralph Wilson's company was ahead of most other companies when it came to their work practices. They never touched the old growth areas and they always replanted more than they cut."
Jim grinned as he added, "Which is probably why my father didn't finalize the partnership. He would have considered being environmentally friendly an irresponsible business management policy."
"So, where exactly is this great fishing hole?" Blair turned slightly in the front seat so he was facing Jim.
"The name of the place is Bear Creek. Back in 1999, when the legislature passed those two bills dealing with salmon restoration, Bear Creek was classified as a salmon-bearing stream and became protected. Ralph didn't really mind. The area wasn't even scheduled for thinning for at least eight years, so he volunteered to remove the area from active timber management. He received a check for the business loss and it became a great fishing spot. He still owns the land, but it's managed as a wildlife habitat. I have permission to come here anytime I want to camp or fish. For some reason, the old guy liked me, even after things fell through with the deal. He and my father still ran in the same social circles and I saw him and Tommy several times a year at various country club functions."
Blair snickered at the thought of Jim being part of a country club as he looked out the side window. "From the stories I've heard about your early days, I can't imagine anyone actually liking you. Fearing you, yeah."
"Most of the stories you've heard were after my Ranger days. Ralph knew me for years before I joined the Army. After I came back from Peru and resigned my commission, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. He let me hide out here for a while, kinda get my head together." Jim accelerated again as he swerved to pull around a slow moving truck that was in their lane. He hated following trucks. Even with sentinel sight, he couldn't see what was on the road in front of the truck.
Blair startled by the spontaneous lane change, braced himself with one hand on the dashboard. "So why haven't I heard about him before now?"
"He retired down to someplace in Arizona shortly after I started working at the department. His arthritis got bad enough that he needed the warm, dry weather."
Blair winced. He dreaded the day when Naomi's age would start to catch up with her. He couldn't imagine his mother settling down in one place. It would kill her. "Bear Creek sounds like a beautiful place. I can't wait to see it."
"Another twenty-five minutes and we'll be in fisherman's paradise. This is the wrong time of year to be fishing for salmon, but this area is also great for trout."
Blair rubbed his hands together in anticipation of the coming events. "Trout cooked over an open flame sounds really good to me. I'm so sick of take-out."
Jim nodded in agreement. "Not too much longer, we're almost there."
About fifteen minutes later, Jim turned off the highway onto a side road. Actually, Blair wasn't really sure he could call it that. The road wasn't paved or even graded. Most people driving by on the highway wouldn't have recognized it as a passable road.
It was only wide enough for one vehicle, though every 100 yards or so, there were turnarounds in case two vehicles were to meet. Blair quickly realized that there had been some traffic on this road recently judging from the deep ruts carved into it. Whatever had traveled this road had come through after the rainstorm they had three days ago. The mud ruts had the time to dry and create a powerfully rough washboard effect. It was worse than driving on a cobblestone street.
"I thought you said this area isn't harvested any more," Blair commented, his voice harsh with vibration as he was bounced up and down as he tried to speak.
Jim frowned. He too had noted the passage of a very heavy vehicle over the road. "It's not supposed to be, but something big has come through here recently."
He studied the road in front of them. The branches hanging down over the road all showed signs of being battered. Broken branches and leaves cluttered the road ahead. "Not only was it heavy, but it was also tall," he added gesturing at the overhanging branches in their path.
Blair winced as the truck bottomed out, and his head hit the ceiling of the truck. "How much further?" he asked as he rubbed the sore spot.
Jim tried to recall the mental map he had of this place. It had been too many years since he had been out here, since before Blair had come into his life. "If memory serves, not too far. Two more bends and the trees will thin out into an open area. The land's high enough from the creek to be a good camping ground, but with easy access to the water."
Jim pulled around the final bend and brought the truck to a halt, horrified by the scene in front of him. Instead of green grass and wildflowers, everything was brown, wilted and dying. He opened the door and slid out of the truck. The stench hit him like a tidal wave. His eyes began to water uncontrollably and he began to choke. Unable to get any air, his knees buckled.
The sight before Blair was not what he had expected from his partner's description. He recalled seeing pictures of places like this, during the days his mother had traveled around with several members of Greenpeace in the mid 1970's.
Blair remained frozen in place, until the sound of the door opening drew his attention from the ruined meadow. The immediate following sound of choking had him sliding across the seat to get to Jim as fast as he could. He exited the truck in time to watch Jim hit the ground.
One whiff of the air, and Blair immediately recognized the cause of Jim's difficulty breathing. Though he was having an equally hard time with the overwhelming smell, that didn't stop him from kneeling down next to his fallen friend.
For Jim, upon exiting the truck his world grayed out before his eyes. He doubled over onto the ground. Hoping against hope that his breakfast would remain in his stomach rather than making it's expected re-appearance. Nothing existed for a long moment, not until he felt a strong hand on his shoulder and a commanding but familiar voice in his ear. A voice he trusted completely.
"Dial it down, Jim." Choking slightly, Blair added, "Way down. I know the air around here is pretty nasty, but you need to dial it down, buddy."
Blair was happy to see the muscles in Jim's back and shoulders slowly relax as he spoke. "That's it. Just keep on turning it down."
Swallowing hard several times, he tried to retain the calm and relaxing tone of voice, as he also tried to maintain control over his stomach, nauseated by the stench.
Thankfully, a soft breeze started to rise blowing the worst of the odor away from them.
It was several minutes before Jim was capable of straightening up. Even then, Blair had to assist him to a standing position.
"I got it now," Jim said as he leaned back against the side of the truck.
Blair eyed his partner carefully, checking to make sure he was really okay. Once some color had returned to Jim's face, Blair moved in the direction of the water. He was careful to avoid the tire tracks that headed in the same direction. This area was now a crime scene and had to be handled appropriately. The devastation increased closer to the water, along with the smell of raw sewage.
It appeared that the truck had backed up to the water and dumped its load. Blair studied the water, carefully. The surface of the creek barely moved. Most of the spring runoff had already passed through this area. The water level in the creek was dropping as summer approached so there was very little current.
Desperately, he searched for some sign of life. Sadly, he couldn't see anything moving on or beneath the surface of the water. Dead fish were plentiful though. For as far as he could see, both up and down the banks of the creek was nothing but death and devastation. The woodlands surrounding the area were ominously silent. Not a bird could be heard, nor the passage of any wildlife.
He turned away from the ugly sight, heading back to the truck. His vision blurred from the watering of his eyes. He tripped over a branch in his path. A firm hand on his shoulder kept him from falling. He looked up into Jim's drawn face.
"We need to call this in, Chief."
Blair shrugged, looking around at the destruction before saying, "Who are we going to call? I don't think this is a Cascade PD case."
"I have an idea." Jim took out his cell phone and dialed a familiar number. "Sir, we have a problem."
Blair winced as he could hear their captain's voice from where he was standing a few feet away. Jim pulled the phone away from his ear with a wide grin, waiting for Simon's diatribe to conclude.
Jim's voice remained calm and professional even in the face of his captain's wrath. "No, sir. We're still in the state of Washington. Yes, I'm sure. No, it wasn't grizzlies. No, we're not lost... or hurt... or dead. But, we do have a crime scene. "
Again, Jim was forced to move the phone away from his ear, as Simon clearly expressed himself concerning their ability to find trouble. If the situation were not so dire, Blair would have found Simon's response amusing.
When Simon paused for breath, Jim asked, "Can you have Rhonda pull an old case file for me? I'm looking for the one that happened two years ago, the Chemco spill. I need the phone number for those two inspectors we worked with on the case. They should be in the file."
Blair wiped away a smile as he heard Simon calling instructions to Rhonda, before returning to the conversation at hand.
Jim evenly answered their captain's continuing list of questions, "No, we're not at the park. We're at Bear Creek, by the old logging camp. I know it's private property, but we have permission to be here."
Jim rolled his eyes as Simon continued to rant, though he wasn't as loud as he had been at the beginning of the call.
"You don't have to do that. Really, we can wait here for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice representatives to appear. Real..." Jim sighed and his shoulders slumped as he stared at the phone in his hand, before pressing the disconnect button.
"He hung up on you, right?" Blair said with a knowing smirk.
"Yep, and even worse than that..." Jim paused for dramatic effect. "He's on his way out here to discuss this in person."
Blair wasn't surprised. Simon's fussing at them aside; there was still a great deal of respect and concern in their relationship. "Okay, I'm afraid now."
Jim dialed another number on his cell phone. "Hello, I need to speak to Ralph Wilson. This is Detective Jim Ellison, from Cascade, Washington. I really need to speak with him... Yes, I'd call this an emergency... Hello, Ralph? I'm fine. I know. It has been a while. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but you've got a problem out here at Bear Creek."
Jim and Blair waited inside the vehicle for the others to arrive. Thankfully, the wind shift remained and the overwhelming stench by the truck lessened. Both men remained silent, lost in their thoughts. There wasn't much to say. Blair was deeply saddened by the destruction he had seen. He mourned the loss of wildlife and knew it would be very difficult for the area to recover naturally.
On the other hand, Jim was one step away from a destructive rage. Blair could see the battle for control waging in Jim's expression and body language. Silence was the better part of valor for Blair in this case until his partner calmed down.
Besides, it wasn't as if Jim didn't have cause. His time with the Chopec had obviously taught him a deep reverence for the land. He was the one who felt the deep ties to the land here, in this personally special location. And God knew the number of happy childhood memories Jim possessed were few and far between. There was no doubt the obliteration of this area put a taint on those happy memories.
Actually, the more Blair thought about it, the angrier he got. Someone had gone out of his or her way to destroy this area. Okay, that wasn't completely correct. They probably didn't care about the damage they had done to the land. They had just wanted to make some money, but that didn't change the end result.
Blair's introspection was interrupted as a white station wagon with the logo of the Department of Justice pulled up behind them. Inspector David Cole stepped out from behind the steering wheel. Inspector Robert Williams from the Environmental Protection Agency got out of the passenger side.
Jim glanced in the direction of the rear view mirror, noting the appearance of the others, but he didn't make any indication he was ready to deal with them. Blair stepped out of the truck and moved to the rear of the vehicle, allowing his partner a few more minutes of mourning.
"Detective Sandburg," Inspector Cole greeted. "I remember you. You and your partner were part of that Chemco incident two years back."
"That's correct," Jim answered as he joined the group.
"Would you mind telling us what you know about this situation?" Inspector Williams requested as he pulled out a video camera. When it came to prosecuting those who were guilty of illegal dumping, video of the area spoke louder than words.
"Not much," Blair replied. "We were heading out here on a fishing trip and ran into this mess." He waved one hand in the direction of both the meadow and the creek, unwilling to speak aloud the extent of the damage.
"I know the owner of this property. His name is Ralph Wilson. He wouldn't be a party to this kind of thing. In fact, he was deeply upset when I just called to let him know what had happened," Jim continued.
David nodded in agreement with the detective's assessment. "We've worked in the past with Mr. Wilson. He's been of great assistance in lobbying for the Salmon Restoration Act and we're well aware that he had signed use of this property over for a wildlife habitat."
Robert Williams was recording the extent of the damage to the property as the others were speaking. He summarized the situation for their benefit as well as the recording, "This is an ideal site for dumping. First, the old logging road gives them easy access to the area. These guys love dumping in forest preserves or heavily wooded sites because there is little, if any, possibility of them being seen. This area is close enough to Cascade to be convenient for dumping, yet on the border of city and county limits where the police presence is spread pretty thin. It makes it really easy for them to slip in and dump their loads."
"Judging from the aroma, I'd say we had a load of raw sewage dumped here sometime in the last two days. Most of it has already washed downstream," Cole commented. "I'm not really surprised. The treatment plants have recently raised their rates for accepting sewage from non-city contracted haulers. It's making it more difficult for the small time private haulers to make a profit."
"That doesn't excuse dumping that waste out here," Jim said angrily. "Don't they have any idea what they've done?" Jim's rage was potent, partially due to his sensitivity to the issue because something similar had resulted in Incacha's death.
"This really ticks you off, doesn't it?" Inspector Cole asked. He was slightly surprised by the intense reaction to the situation expressed by these two city cops. Surprised, but definitely impressed, which generated an interesting germ of an idea in his mind.
"Ticked off is an understatement," Blair answered for both of them. "I'd like to see these guys drawn and quartered. They just have no idea how important a clean environment is for future generations, and if they don't care about that, maybe they should keep in mind how important it is for the economy around here."
"Most of the cases of illegal dumping these days are from the small hauler, those who are contracted or subcontracted to haul waste from homes or small businesses. They are much harder to catch," Inspector Williams described.
"And even once we catch them, usually it's just a slap on the wrist. They form another company and get right back into business again. Unfortunately, for those of us in enforcement, it's not that difficult to get a license for hauling hazardous waste, much less general waste. It's almost impossible for us to track repeat offenders."
"That's disgusting," Blair said with a sneer on his face.
"We're working on changing it. But that takes time and a lot of legislation. In the meanwhile, we arrest them when we catch them. Speaking of which, would you and your partner like to be the police department's representatives to the task force we'll be forming?" Inspector Cole suggested.
"The what?" Jim asked. "Isn't this kind of incident strictly in your jurisdiction?"
"Not any more. A few years ago, the EPA came out with a revised manual and a sample tool kit. It was a type of 'how to' guide for dealing with this type of incident. When one of these sites turns up, a taskforce is formed. In addition to ourselves, we include police, health officials, sanitation department and community activist organizations," Inspector Williams explained.
Jim looked to Blair to see what his answer was. Blair nodded firmly. "We'll have to get approval from our captain before we can commit," Jim answered hesitantly. Though he wanted to participate, Simon wasn't exactly in a good mood when it came to the two of them right now.
"Commit to what?" a deep voice from behind them asked. Simon had arrived on the scene while they had been talking and overheard the last comment.
"Would you be willing to release these two detectives for taskforce duty concerning the investigation of this incident," Inspection Williams repeated. "It appears they have a vested interest in tracking these guys down, and their work is well-respected in the law enforcement community."
"Silver tongued isn't he," Blair muttered softly to Jim. Jim smiled, but didn't answer verbally.
Banks stood there with his arms crossed over his chest, one eyebrow raised and stared at Inspector Williams. To his amazement, the man didn't appear to be at all flustered by the intense scrutiny. Usually, this well-rehearsed body language intimidated even the most experienced officers. He knew he was being schmoozed.
He looked over at Jim and Blair, trying to read their expressions. Judging their reaction to the request, he was forced to acknowledge that they wanted this assignment. He relented, nodding as he said, "I have no objections. If I recall, they already have a pretty clean slate," he said.
Bouncing slightly on his heels, Blair immediately replied, "Count us in."
"We just have the deposition on that Franklin homicide and the paperwork on those car hijackers," Jim added, his tone solemn as he recognized how difficult a task lay in front of them and the slim possibility that they would actually catch the perpetrator.
It was several hours of hard work before the site had been thoroughly examined and documented. Several field agents from the EPA had completed much of the initial site investigation. A grid was laid out covering both the water and surrounding landscape. Numerous water and soil samples had been collected. Jim's senses were extremely handy, as he and Blair had worked with those collecting insects and searching out signs of fauna in the nearby woods.
The sound of a loud angry voice from nearby turned everyone's attention to the latest arrival to the scene. There was a BMW parked at the site, clearly not a vehicle that should have been taken off road. A dark-haired man in a three-piece dark gray suit was standing in front of Inspector Cole, screaming at the top of his lungs.
"What do you mean my family's company could be responsible for the costs! Our business has nothing to do with hauling waste!"
Inspector Cole remained unruffled in spite of the man getting right in his face. "The land owner is responsible for the clean up, if the perpetrator cannot be located. While your father signed over the use of the land, he did not sign over the ownership. I'm sorry. It's still the holding company's responsibility to restore this area, removing all signs of contamination."
Jim stared at the man feeling that he should know who it was. As the man was shaking a finger in the face of Inspector Cole, a flash of light was reflected off the man's wrist. The Rolex had been Ralph Wilson's graduation gift to his son. A fact that had been thrown in Jim's face on several past occasions. "Well, it seems Tommy Wilson didn't learn any of his father's manners."
Blair scrutinized the confrontation occurring in front of him. "Another spoiled brat like Brad Ventriss?"
Jim shrugged. "I haven't seen him lately, but he didn't behave like Ventriss when I knew him. And trust me on this, Ralph would never tolerate that kind of behavior from his son. He was very disappointed with Tom. Even though Tom has great instincts when it comes to operating a business; he's got a distinct lack of ethics when it comes to his employees or land management. I can recall several heated discussions when Ralph wanted to remove this property from the company's books. It got bad enough that a disturbance call was logged at the station." He listened as the argument continued.
"We'll see about that. I'll fight you in court on this. I'm not authorizing a dime be paid out of our accounts to clean up anything."
"If I were you, I'd save the lawyers fees and read up on the law. Besides, you may be jumping to the wrong conclusion. It's entirely possible that we will catch whoever did this. The incident is fresh. They left behind plenty of physical evidence."
"Like you're really motivated to find them. You've already got a deep pocket on the hook," Tom Wilson replied bitterly.
"If we don't find them, this will keep happening and nobody wants that to happen. It's our job to stop it. Now, I strongly recommend that you contact your company's legal advisors. I'm sure they'd be happy to educate you as to the legalities of this situation." Inspector Cole, assuming the conversation was over, turned away from Mr. Wilson.
His face bright red with rage, Tom made a tight fist with his right hand and started after the inspector.
Jim, reading that the situation was about to get out of control, called, "Tom Wilson! I haven't seen you in ages. How are you doing?"
Blair trailed after Jim, moving into position between young Mr. Wilson and the inspector, who was not aware of the trouble behind him.
Tom Wilson stopped his pursuit and turned to face Jim. "Ellison, what are you doing here?" Hostility dripped from every word he spoke.
"I'm part of the taskforce investigating this mess."
"I should have known. Still sucking up to my father aren't you? It's too late now, Ellison. I'm the president of the company now and you... You're nothing but a civil servant. Sorry you turned him down are you?" Tom asked snidely.
"The key word is civil," Blair remarked only loud enough for Jim to hear.
"That's ancient history. All I want to do is track down the son of a bitch that did this," Jim replied, maintaining his cool. He was trying to avoid a fight. He had too much respect for Ralph Wilson to flatten his only son, no matter what the provocation.
Tom was speechless. He stood there, fuming, his hands unclenching and clenching into fists. There was no way he wanted to take on Ellison, and to get at the inspector he would have to do just that. However, it didn't appear Ellison would give him the satisfaction of swinging first.
"Just stay out of my way," he ordered as he walked away and climbed into his BMW.
The two detectives watched as the tires spun out on the stones as Wilson pulled away from the site. Blair walked over and tapped Jim on the shoulder, commenting, "Why do I think you haven't mentioned everything about your relationship with the Wilson family."
Jim chuckled. "I guess I did leave out the part where Ralph offered me a VP position when I came back from Peru, a position I might add that was equal to Tom's. I tried it for about a month. It just wasn't what I wanted to do."
"I assume that Tom figured you were being groomed for the top slot and acted accordingly."
Jim watched the cloud of dust generated by the BMW's exit slowly settle before confirming Blair's suspicions. "It was a nasty power struggle. He was so determined to prove he was the best choice to run the company that he focused his attention on the short term, rather than the long. If it had been left up to him, Tom would have clear-cut the company's properties, not to mention taking out the old growth without a second thought."
"Two points for the legislation that keeps that from happening," Blair replied.
"Ralph still keeps a tight rein on Tom," Jim replied. "Still, it looks like Tom has a pretty big chip on his shoulder from the old days. When Tom refused to work with the EPA on setting up the habitat, Ralph offered the job to me. I regretted turning him down, but we had problems of our own at that time and I couldn't devote the time required. Besides, as soon as Tom heard my name, he agreed to handle it himself."
Blair didn't say anything. He too recalled that 1999 had been a difficult time for both of them. He was slightly startled when he felt a slap on the back drawing his attention back to the present.
"Let's go find Inspector Cole and see what our next assignment is, Chief."
David Cole hadn't gone very far. Jim heard him issuing instructions to several of the field technicians who were collecting water samples. He weaved his way around the bustle of activity at the site to where the man was standing.
"What do you want from us now?" Blair asked, slightly breathless from keeping up with Jim's longer stride.
"Do what you do best. Concentrate on tracking down which business is doing the disposal out here. There are a limited number of haulers of raw sewage in the city of Cascade."
"Any suggestions on where we should start?" Jim asked
The inspector looked thoughtful for a moment before answering, "In cases like these, we rely pretty heavily on information collected by concerned citizens and activist groups. There are several good ones in Washington." Inspector Cole took out his notepad and ripped out a sheet of paper.
"I have a few contacts that can get you started." He quickly jotted down several names and addresses. Jim accepted the information with a quick glance over the list.
Blair looked at his watch. The afternoon sun was fading to dusk, and they still had a long drive back to the city. "First thing in the morning, we'll get started."
"Actually, first thing Monday morning would be better for getting a hold of these people," Inspector Cole corrected before adding, "Make sure you keep us informed of your progress."
Having kept busy all afternoon, neither man had the time to truly process the event, until they were confined to the truck during the tedious drive back to Cascade. Blair sensed Jim's ever-deepening dive into a state of depression.
The silence and the somber mood soon became unbearable. Blair's nature, not to mention his role as shaman, demanded he not allow it to continue. "Say something, Jim, anything. What's going through that head of yours?"
"Strange and selfish as it may be, but I can't believe my favorite fishing spot is gone," Jim said sadly. "There's absolutely nothing I can do about it. What good is having sentinel senses when trying to track down eco-terrorists, who are long gone before the damage they've done is even discovered? What's the point?"
"It's not selfish, Jim. You associated this place with some very happy childhood memories. And, you're wrong, there's a lot we can do about finding them, if we just get our minds focused."
Jim's response was a rude noise.
Blair thought for a long moment before answering. A long forgotten memory from his days at Rainier quickly resurfaced. With an evil glint in his eye, he replied, "You know, Jim. You're not the only sentinel on duty in this type of situation?"
Jim's head spun around to look at his partner briefly before realizing that he really should be watching the road. When Blair didn't continue, he was forced to ask, "What are you talking about, Sandburg?"
"I just remembered this article that I read a while ago. I was doing a web search on sentinels and there were several hits that were really interesting," Blair replied, his tone very nonchalant, awaiting Jim's next question.
Jim's gaze darted back and forth between Blair's face and the road. Judging from the smug grin on his partner's face he was gonna be sorry, but he asked the obvious anyway. "What articles, Chief?"
"The first one was called, 'Rivers as Sentinels: Using the biology of rivers to guide landscape management.' I don't remember all of the report, but it was something like rivers are sentinels. They give us early warnings about the risks to the environment our activities engender."
Jim clenched his jaw, hiding his bemusement. "Rivers? As sentinels?" he said after a long pause.
Blair nodded vigorously, choking down his laughter at the expression on his friend's face.
Jim shifted in his seat, trying to relax the tension in his muscles. "You know, Chief, over the years, you've compared me to a lot of different things."
"Who me?" Blair asked innocently.
"Yes, you. If I recall, the second time I ever spoke to you, you called me a caveman..."
Blair interrupted, shaking one finger at Jim. "I did not. I called you a throwback to primitive man."
"Close enough, Chief. Looking back, I understand what you meant, but at the time..." Jim paused, trying to find the right words. "At the time, I just wanted it to stop and I wasn't in the mood to hear your academic spiel, much less be described as a 'throwback.' And then there was that 'walking crime lab' comment."
"Was I wrong?" Blair asked shamelessly, happy that Jim was starting to sound amused rather than annoyed.
Rubbing his forehead, Jim took several seconds before answering. "No, but that's not the point."
"I'm sorry. What was the point?" Blair asked, with a patently false look of purity plastered across his face.
"Your tendency to make comparisons. Then there was that test you wanted me to do with the K-9 unit just before Christmas. Remember, who could find the package of drugs first, me or Sarge, the German Shepherd."
"What are you complaining about? You won."
Jim glared across the truck before returning his attention to the road. "Yeah and I had to put up with all those comments from the K-9 officers offering me a job when their dog was retired. And I'm not even going to mention that little package that Santa left under the tree for me. You know the one I mean."
Just to be as annoying as possible, Blair looked thoughtful for a moment. "Let me think. You don't mean that flea and heart worm medicine do you?"
Blair used one finger to rub the side of his forehead, as if he was recalling something else. "And, at this point should I mention that you did mention it after you just said you wouldn't mention it."
Ignoring his soon to be dead partner's smart-ass second comment, Jim replied, "Yes, that package of SENTINEL heart worm and flea medicine. I don't know what you were thinking. You're the one with a wolf for a spirit guide. You have more use for that particular item than I do."
"How dare you accuse me?" Blair retorted, playfully slapping one hand across Jim's arm. "SANTA was one doing the thinking and he must have had his reasons."
Jim eased his foot onto the brakes as they approached the upcoming intersection. Halting the truck at the red light, Jim pounded his forehead against the steering wheel wondering just when he had lost complete control over the conversation.
"You're gonna flatten that sloping forehead of yours if you keep that up," Blair offered.
Resisting the sudden urge to make a rude gesture, Jim raised his head and stared at Blair. "So what's next, Chief? How many more of these comparisons have you got up your sleeve?"
Blair just smiled as he gestured at the traffic light. "Uh, Jim? The light's green."
Jim checked both ways carefully before pulling out into the intersection, waiting for Blair to continue. He didn't have long to wait. There was a mischievous twinkle in those dark blue eyes that was not about to be denied.
"Well, there were two more interesting references that came up in that web search, Jim. Both of them have to do with protecting the environment too."
"I'm gonna be sorry I asked this," Jim muttered. "I just know it."
Blair ignored the comment and continued. "The first one talked about fresh water invertebrates being sentinels of water quality. The second one talked about the same thing only with unicellular organisms instead of invertebrates."
A pin could be heard dropping within the cab of the truck at that moment. Blair bit his tongue, waiting for Jim's reaction. On the other side of the truck, Jim was now restraining his own laughter at the idiocy of Blair's statements.
"So, let me get this straight. According to these articles, sentinels are like single-celled, spineless, throwbacks who can sniff out drugs better than dogs and solve crimes in their spare time?" Jim summarized.
Blair heard the humor beneath the sarcastic statement and was pleased at Jim's immediate mood improvement. "That sums it up nicely, Jim."
A loud car horn sounded from behind them as a little sports car passed them doing at least ninety. Jim smiled tolerantly as he waved at the driver, then picked up the radio and called for the nearest state trooper.
"Sometimes it's nice being a cop," he muttered a few minutes later as they watched a patrol car pass them with lights flashing. One look across the seat at his partner's own smug expression and Jim couldn't contain his laughter at the situation any longer. "You are truly nuts, Sandburg."
Blair nodded vigorously, his original goal achieved, he replied, "Maybe, but look at it this way. With so many sentinels on duty, these guys are not gonna get away with this."
Jim nodded in head as he thought that conclusion over. Finally, grinning broadly, he answered. "I like the idea of that."
"Me too," Blair replied as he settled back for the remaining ride home.
Monday -- Early Morning
After having spent the previous day getting up to speed on some general background information on septic system contractors, Jim from the phone book and Blair from the internet, they were looking forward to speaking with Cole's contacts.
"What's the first name on that list," Blair asked curiously.
Jim pulled the list out of his shirt pocket. "A place called WOW, Watch Over Washington."
Blair was startled to hear the name out of his past. "I've heard of them. It's a volunteer group that collects environmental information about their local watersheds. Actually, it's a collection of small groups from all over the state. The Fish and Wildlife Department along with the University of Washington jointly trains the volunteers and studies the information they collect."
"How do you know so much about them? I've never heard of it."
"The group studying Puget Sound borrows the lab at Rainier from time to time. Janet introduced them to me," Blair added with a mournful timbre.
Jim clenched his jaw. He remembered Janet Myers. If it hadn't been for her, they would never have gathered the evidence that helped stop Cyclops Oil from destroying Chopec lands. It had been a terrible time for both him and Blair. Incacha and Janet had lost their lives during that case, murdered by those who were attempting to drill an oil field in protected Chopec land. Jim crossed his fingers hoping that there would not be a similar loss of life during this case.
Watch Over Washington Cascade Headquarters
The office for the WOW headquarters was small and very crowded. Jim figured his mere presence probably doubled the average age of the people in the room. They identified themselves to the secretary and asked to speak to whoever was in charge.
As they waited, Jim scanned the room, automatically assessing the crowd. His attention was quickly pulled to a man who was obviously glaring at his partner. He glanced over at Blair who, to Jim's eyes, was clearly well aware of the hostility, but was doing his best to ignore it.
Jim kept a close eye on both of them. Blair's pacing kept him away from the man's work space. If looks could kill, Blair would have been bagged and tagged by the looks leveled at him from across the room.
Less than five minutes later a man in a dark blue suit exited one of the rear offices and greeted them. "Hello, I'm Roger Burns. I'm the director of this facility. How many I help you?"
"We're part of the taskforce that is investigating the activities out at Bear Creek. We're hoping you could provide us some background information on the problems and issues in general and some specific information on the Bear Creek area."
"I'm happy to help." Roger gestured for the two men to follow him down the hallway to his office, which was at the end of the hall. There was a small conference table arranged in the corner of the office. The two detectives sat down on one side of the table, while Roger Burns sat down across from them.
"So what do you do here exactly?" Jim asked. "I understand that your group is actually made up of a lot of smaller groups. It must be difficult to manage."
"Actually not. The tasks assigned to a particular group of people depend on the level of expertise in the monitoring groups. Some groups just watch for changes in the land use. Is there construction, any logging activities, farming? You know what I mean. Others monitor the wildlife in a particular area. But most groups measure water quality in their areas. They count and identify the benthic macroinvertebrates in the waterway."
"The what?" Jim asked, discreetly kicking a snickering Blair in the shin.
Roger smiled, "Benthic macroinvertebrates, also known as stoneflies, caddiflies or mayflies as a few examples. We refer to them as sentinels of water quality."
Jim choked as Mr. Burns uttered his last four words, turning bright red as he coughed.
"You okay there, Jim?" Blair questioned, slapping him on the back. "Would you mind getting him something to drink?" Blair was really hoping the guy would agree. He wasn't sure he could maintain his own composure and didn't want to have to explain to Burns a spontaneous outburst of laughter while his partner was in distress.
Burns agreed, concerned about the larger man and puzzled by the expression of what only could be described as glee on the smaller detective's face. He walked across the room and poured a cup of water from the cooler.
Gratefully, Jim downed the cup of water and managed to regain some semblance of control. He wasn't really thrilled with the smug expression on Blair's face. After a moment, he said he was fine and asked Roger to continue.
"The presence of these invertebrates in the aquatic stage of their life indicates the water is clean. Trout and juvenile salmon depend on them as their main food source."
"The cycle of life," Blair interjected. "Too much pollution, no invertebrates. No invertebrates and the trout and salmon will die off."
"Yes, you understand. This office collects and compiles the field reports that the volunteer groups collect for this area. We send our reports on to the Washington Department of Ecology."
"Do you have any information on the Bear Creek area for the last few years?" Jim inquired.
Burns frowned and sighed deeply. "I was quite distressed to learn about that incident. It was one of the bright spots in the area for water purity and a thriving habitat. Let me check our records. I believe the Lincoln High School senior honors class is monitoring the area. I'll be right back."
Roger rose from his table and left the room. As soon as the door closed behind him, Jim reached over and smacked Blair in the back of the head.
"Hey! What was that for?" Blair exclaimed as he rubbed the spot.
"You set that up, Chief."
"What! You were the one that knew where we were going, not me. Beside, what could I have possibly said to the guy to get him to use the word sentinel without a lot of explanation."
"I don't know how you did it, but you had to have set this up. Sentinel bugs? Come on." Jim was sure that the conversation in the truck on the way home from their aborted fishing trip had been a Sandburg practical joke. Now, he wasn't so sure.
The look of shock and surprise on Jim's face was the last straw for Blair. The laughter that he had previously been able to restrain burst forth uncontrollably.
"Sure, laugh it up, Chief. Just remember paybacks are a bitch." Jim could only gawk at his friend who was now laughing so hard he was crying. When Blair didn't stop, a few chuckles slipped from Jim's throat, which only made the situation worse.
Finally, Blair wiped his eyes, his laughter dying down to the occasional chuckle. Pointing a finger at Jim, he said, "I told you. I told you about those articles and you didn't believe me."
"I thought it was just another Sandburg obfuscation."
"Not this time, little buddy," Blair replied with a wink, slapping Jim on the back.
The sound of footsteps coming down the hallway gave Jim a little advance warning that Burns was returning. He gestured towards the door just as it started to open. Burns walked in, his attention focused on the thick file folder he was carrying. By the time he sat down at the desk and looked up at the detectives, both men had regained their poise.
After pulling out several summary reports and quickly flipping through them, Burns explained, "Well, it appears that the stream quality has been gradually slipping over the last two years, but still within a normal range for a thriving habitat. This is not even close to the extent I would normally associate with a practice of long term dumping in the immediate area. In fact, there's no indication of the radical drop in fauna that should appear after raw sewage is dumped into a water stream."
The man was clearly puzzled by the data in front of him. He continued to flip back and forth through the papers in front of him, forgetting the presence of the two detectives.
"When was the last time the information was collected?" Blair asked, hoping the man would offer a little more information.
"Almost three months ago. The students did another round of sampling and wildlife observations a few weeks ago, but they're still completing their reports. The teacher has to grade them before turning them over to us."
"Could you give us the teacher's name? We'd like to contact both the teacher and the students involved in the work. It's possible they may have seen something that could help us."
"The teacher's name is Ms. Anita Palmer. The best time to catch her and her students would be after school. They have free use of both the biology and chemistry labs after hours."
"Thank you for your time Mr. Burns. You've been a big help," Jim said.
Blair smiled and added with a slight laugh, "I know you've made my day. Thanks!"
After the two detectives left his office, Burns closed the file folder, muttering to himself, "What strange men."
On their way out of the building, the man who had been staring with such hostility at Blair was waiting for them in the hallway.
"Sandburg, what are you doing here?" he asked snidely, as he moved to block Blair's path to the exit.
"Hello, John. We're here getting some background information on a case," Blair answered politely, but Jim could hear the coldness in his voice. Something about this man clearly upset his partner.
"How could you? What happened to you?"
"Why don't you introduce me to your friend, Chief," Jim suggested, though his tone made it more of an order.
"Jim Ellison, this is John Gain." As Blair expected, the two men glared at each other. Hoping to prevent the explosion that was developing, he said, "Jim, the deli next door has some great sandwiches. Why don't you go and order us some lunch. I'll be down in a few minutes."
Jim hesitated. He really didn't feel like leaving Blair to face this guy alone, but he was also aware Blair was entirely capable of handling this himself. "Corn beef for you?"
"Fine, I'll be right there." Blair waited for Jim to leave the building before facing down John Gain. "Would you like to have this discussion here or move it to someplace a little more private?"
John gestured for Blair to follow him. He led them to a small storage room and shut the door behind them. He didn't wait long before continuing his former accusations.
"I heard you became a cop. What were you thinking? You were the one who always talked about standing up to the establishment. Fighting to save the environment! Hell, it was your idea for the three of us to chain ourselves to those redwoods. What made you sell-out everything we fought for? How could you do this to Janet's memory?"
Blair was shocked to hear the poison pouring out of his old friend's mouth. "I'm still fighting for what I believe in. I'm just fighting differently from the old days."
"Your way was what got Janet killed. If you hadn't involved her in that mess, she'd still be alive."
Keeping his voice calm and even, Blair responded. "Janet was murdered because she uncovered the illegal activities at Cyclops, not because I was an observer with the PD."
He couldn't deny that he felt some responsibility for what had happened to Janet, but he no longer felt guilty for it. After that case had been wrapped up, he and Jim had several discussions about what had happened to Janet. At the time, he had felt a great deal of guilt for asking Janet to keep her eyes out. What had surprised him was the amount of guilt Jim had felt concerning her death. Jim believed that if they had gone straight to the meeting point, instead of searching for Incacha, they might have been there in time to save her.
Only by attempting to relieve the guilt Jim was feeling, was Blair able to deal with his own feelings of blame. Now, he was able to explain to John what he believed in his own heart.
"Janet chose to work at Cyclops Oil because she believed she could stop pollution from damaging the environment by stopping it at the source. As soon as she uncovered what Cyclops had done to those protected lands, there was no stopping her. She died fighting for what she believed in. Can't you see that?"
"All that I can see is that she's dead and you abandoned the cause."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Look, by the time organizations like WOW discover problems, it's too late. The damage has already been done. Janet realized this. It's why she took that job at Cyclops, to try to stop it from ever happening. And me, I've seen what happens when these guys get away with it. Someone has to track these guys down and make sure they get what they deserve. Hopefully, stop them from ever being able to do it again. That's how I've decided to fight for the cause. Who are you to say we're wrong?"
John didn't know how to react. He just stood there and stared at Blair.
"Look John, I know Janet's death really hurt. But, you've got to let go of that anger man. Think about what I said. I've got to go before my partner comes searching for me."
He turned and left the storeroom, leaving his old friend still standing there speechless.
"So, where are we going next, Jim?"
"The PSA, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, their office is two blocks over on Washington Street," Jim replied after checking his list. "So are you going to tell me what that guy's problem was?"
"He was a close friend of Janet and mine back in the old days. He blames me for what happened to her and for being a sell-out."
"His words, Jim. Not mine. I'm cool with this. I told him where I stood. Now it's up to him to deal with it."
Jim studied his partner carefully. Using his senses to assess Blair's words and emotional state, he quickly realized that Sandburg was telling the truth. He was really okay with the situation. Ellison returned his attention to the road.
The two men entered the office of the PSA. The people in this office were slightly older than at WOW. Again they identified themselves to the receptionist and were instructed to wait until someone was available to speak to them.
While Blair sat down in one of the chairs in the small waiting room, Jim paced. Hanging on the wall was the PSA's mission statement.
"The mission of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance is to protect and preserve Puget Sound by tracking down and stopping the discharge of toxic pollutants into its waters," Jim read aloud.
"And we mean that," said the tall man who approached them. Judging from his build, this man was in the military at some point. "I'm Robert Reid. I understand that you are investigating that mess out at Bear Creek."
Jim and Blair exchanged startled glances. They hadn't informed the receptionist about the reason for their visit."
"Don't look so concerned. We work very closely with the enforcement agencies here, not to mention David Cole and I are old friends. He mentioned that you might be stopping by. "
"So what do you do here?" Blair asked.
"We patrol the Sound on our boat, the Soundkeeper. We look for any suspicious looking activities. There are a lot of industries that discharge into the Sound. Periodically, we sample their discharge, looking for problems. We also keep a list of industries or businesses that cause environmental problems, a kind of hit list for whom to keep a closer eye on."
"Could you give us a copy of that list? In particular, we are interested in those businesses responsible for discharging raw sewage."
Reid nodded. "I can do you one better. After I got the call Saturday night about the incident, I called a few of our regular volunteers to help out. Yesterday, we spent several hours calling all the local septic system contractors."
"Why?" Jim asked, the last thing he needed was a bunch of amateurs tipping off the perpetrator that something was going on.
"Don't worry. We've done this before. We call with a specific job, asking for a quote. Most of the time, we'll get estimates back within a certain price range. If a bid comes in unusually low, we'll keep an eye on that contractor."
"How do you know what the estimate should be?" Blair asked curiously.
"Most of the people in this business are good honest people. They take pride in their work and don't like those that ruin the reputation of the industry."
"Not to mention if they get under bid, their own business suffers," Jim interjected.
"Well, I won't deny there's a whole lot of self-interest in their participation," Reid replied dryly. "We're still putting together the last of the numbers. As soon as the report is finished, I'll send a copy to you. Would you prefer email or fax?"
Jim handed him a card with the appropriate numbers on it. "Fax."
"Join the twenty-first century, Ellison. You've got an email," Blair muttered.
After an evil look from Jim, Blair focused his attention on Mr. Reid. "If you don't mind my asking, how did you get started with the PSA?" he continued.
"Coast guard actually, retired. I've been patrolling these waters one way or another since I was twenty years old. I've watched the deterioration occur and couldn't do anything about it as a member of the Coast Guard. I can do a lot more good as a private citizen than as an officer, and the PSA has quite a reputation. The environmental agencies love us, most industries tolerate us and the few illegal operators fear us."
Having several hours to kill before the school day was over, Blair and Jim had decided to return to the precinct. The bullpen was conspicuously empty when they got back to the PD. Though the light shining out from under the closed door to Simon's office along with the blinds being drawn may have been the cause of the mass exodus.
Jim sat down at his desk, checking his voicemail. Blair hung up his jacket before reaching for the stack of paper sitting in the inbox on his desk. He saw Jim hang up the receiver, a dejected look on his face.
"Nothing new, huh?"
"Nothing useful concerning this case anyway. How the hell are we supposed to track down the source of raw sewage waste?"
Unable to provide an answer, Blair shrugged and shook his head. "Don't ask me. Maybe, they'll be dumping another load soon and someone might spot it."
Jim smirked, then chuckled. "We should be that lucky. Why don't you try one of your infamous web searches and see if you can't cross reference any active cases in the DA's office against that list of active sewage waste haulers we came up with Sunday," Jim suggested, rising from his chair. "I'll get us some coffee."
Blair turned away from Jim to face his monitor, mumbling to himself, "Call a guy a single celled organism and wind up doing all the grunt work."
"I heard that!" Jim called over his shoulder as he left the bullpen.
"Surprise, surprise," Blair mumbled as he brought up the search engine.
A few minutes later, Jim returned carrying two cups of coffee and a buttermilk doughnut sticking out of his mouth. He set Blair's cup down in front of him and removed the doughnut from his mouth.
"Here ya go, Chief. Have you got anything?"
Blair eyed the pastry his partner was wolfing down with slight disapproval. "That's not a healthy snack and no, I haven't found anything. The search engine is still running."
"I was hungry," Jim mumbled around a mouthful of doughnut.
Blair shook his head, "All these years of effort wasted. You don't have to worry about the criminals getting you. Your eating habits will get you killed."
At that moment, Rhonda walked into the bullpen with several pieces of paper in her hand. "This just came through for you. It looked urgent, so I brought it right over."
Jim leaned back in his chair and quickly skimmed the pages, flipping them over one at a time as he was done. Periodically, he would eye his partner discreetly over the top of the page.
Thrumming his fingers on the desk, Blair waited for Jim to fill him in. He had only caught a quick glimpse of the cover page of the fax. Nervously, he started tapping his foot when no information was forthcoming.
He made a strangled noise when Jim flipped back to the beginning and started to read the document again, without a word of explanation.
"Would you mind letting me in on what's so urgent Rhonda hand delivered this to you?" Blair demanded just as his computer beeped, letting him know his search was complete.
"Oh, it's nothing," Jim said with a smirk.
Knowing full well that he was being baited, Blair took the hook, "Come on, Jim. Quit being a pain. I saw the fax came from the PSA. What do they have for us?" As Blair was talking, he scrolled through the pages of information that the search engine provided.
"Just the listing of the low bidders," Jim replied nonchalantly, with a wave of his hand. "What did your search come up with?"
"I got a twenty page listing of active cases and it would be nice to narrow it down a little," Blair admitted.
"They've got a half dozen names on this list. Two of which they indicated that the low bid was the result of their being a high volume disposal firm. It seems the higher the volume being processed, the lower the cost. The other four names are, Superior Sanitation, A and G Septic, Comstock Septic and Advanced Drainage."
Blair quickly added those names to the search engine to narrow down the list. He was disappointed to find that there were no active dumping cases against any of them. "Nothing open on any of them," he reported.
"We'll check them out the old fashioned way then, a little surveillance work." Jim noted the time on the wall clock. "Let's head out to Lincoln High. We should get there just about when the school day is over."
Blair agreed, shut off his computer and headed for the elevator.
Lincoln High School
After signing in at the front office, Jim and Blair headed for Room 218, the biology lab. Chaos reigned as the two men walked into the room. A half dozen students were yelling back and forth. An older gray haired woman moved among them issuing instructions and offering assistance with equal measure. Her energy and affection for her students were clearly evident in her tone and body language.
She quickly noticed the two new arrivals to her domain. "Can I help you gentlemen?" she asked, moving in front of them, staying between them and her young charges.
Both men withdrew their badges and offered them for her inspection.
"Ms. Palmer, we're here because we're investigating the illegal dumping that's occurring out at Bear Creek. We were hoping that you or one of your students might have seen or heard something that might help us," Blair volunteered.
"I heard about that. We're trying to put together a team to do some intensive study and assist with the clean up activities this summer."
She turned to her students and clapped her hands to get their attention. "Would everyone please take a seat for moment? These two men are from the police department and they would like to ask you some questions."
To Jim's amazement, the students moved quickly and quietly to take seats at the desks in the middle of the room. While the students were settling down, Jim gestured for Blair to take the lead. His partner had a knack for establishing a good rapport with kids.
As Blair began his explanation of why they were visiting, Jim's attention was immediately drawn to two of the students who were sitting in the back of the room. The girl was whispering to the boy sitting next to her.
Jim piggybacked his hearing with his vision and eavesdropped.
"We should tell them," the girl whispered.
"We didn't really see anything. Besides, we'll get into trouble for being at the site that late."
"It wasn't our fault we got lost. The stupid batteries in the flashlight died."
"And how many times has Ms. Palmer told us about being prepared when we are out on a site? She might not let us participate on the team this summer if she knew what happened."
Blair was wrapping up his statement to the students as Jim moved around to the back of the room. The two students were still whispering back and forth, paying no attention to him as he continued to listen.
"I still think we should tell them. What happened out there sucked!"
"Yeah, but we can do something about cleaning up the mess. We didn't see who did it and if we tell she might drop us from the group."
"But, we saw the truck..." The girl stopped talking when she realized that the rest of the room was silent. She blushed slightly at the glare she got from Ms. Palmer.
Jim wasn't surprised when none of the students were willing to volunteer any information. He pulled out several of his cards and handed one to each student, speaking as he moved back to the front of the room. "If any of you should remember anything, please don't hesitate to call us. Also, I can assure you that if necessary what you DO say will be kept in the strictness of confidence. Thanks for your time."
Jim headed for the door without saying another word. Puzzled, Blair followed his partner's lead and left the room.
"What's going on, Jim. We could've stuck around and tried to talk to them."
"Not in there, Chief. I think we'll have better luck if we wait outside and let them come to us."
Jim paused for a moment, listening to Ms. Palmer release her students for the day. He quickened his pace to the front door, leaving Blair in his wake.
Doubling his stride, Blair caught up with him just outside the door. "Okay, just what did you hear?"
"A possible lead," Jim replied smugly. "It may not be anything, but those kids were not going to talk in front of their teacher."
"So, now we wait and see if they'll come to us. Sounds like a plan."
They didn't have to wait long. Jim wasn't surprised to see the two students he had overheard coming towards them.
"Here they come." Jim and Blair leaned back against the front of the pickup, waiting for the kids to speak first.
Not surprisingly, the girl was the first to start the conversation. "Did you mean what you said? About keeping this confidential?"
"Depending on what you can tell us, we may need an official statement at some point. Why don't you tell us what you saw? We can keep it off the record for now."
The boy sighed, resigned to the situation that they were going to talk. "My name is David Kettel. This is Becky Paris. We were out at Bear Creek on Thursday night. We were doing a count of the nocturnal wildlife in the area. It was around two in the morning when we saw the truck."
"You know the exact time?" Jim asked.
Becky nodded. "We were two hours past our curfew and still not really close to getting home. So we were kinda watching the clock."
"What can you tell us about the truck?"
"Not much. It was dark out. It was a pretty big truck, barely fit on that road. It was one of those septic tank trucks. There was writing on the door, but it was too dark to read the words. The background was reflective white, that's the only reason I noticed it."
"Did you notice the name of the hauler anywhere else on the truck?"
Both kids shook their heads. "Just the word septic on the side of the tank," David added.
Jim noted a thoughtful expression on the kid's face. He waited patiently for the young man to gather his thoughts. "There was something else that might help you. The truck had a double set of taillights. The top light on the driver's side was burned out."
Becky agreed before adding, "I'm sorry we can't tell you anything more to go on. It was just too dark to see much."
"You've given us more than we had before," Jim said. "If you think of anything else, please give us a call."
With a final wave, the two students headed for the bus stop.
Blair moved around to the passenger side of the truck and reached for the door. "Not much to go on."
Jim climbed in behind the wheel and turned on the engine. "We know that we're dealing with a septic system hauler, white reflective sign on the door, and a missing taillight. Look, it's late. We aren't going to get anything more today. Why don't we pick up some dinner and head home?"
"Chinese, I'm in the mood for a little Chinese."
Major Crime Bullpen
After a relatively sleepless night, the two men headed to the office. It was too early to talk to the last name left on the list of contacts provided by Inspector Cole or to start investigating the four contractors whose names were on the list of potential suspects.
There was always paperwork cluttering their desks and a few hours in the bullpen would be well spent.
Shortly after their arrival, Blair's attention was quickly drawn to an elderly man with a cane entering the bullpen, followed by Tom Wilson. "Jim, I think you've got a visitor."
Turning to face the door, Jim grinned broadly at seeing Ralph Wilson entering the bullpen. He pulled out a chair and gestured for the man to take a seat saying, "It's great to see you, Ralph. I just wish it was under better circumstances."
Ralph Wilson reached for Jim's hand. "It's nice to see you too, son. It's been too long."
After Ralph had settled himself into the chair, Jim introduced him to Blair. Ralph studied Blair carefully, before offering his hand. "I've heard a lot about you, Blair. It's nice to finally meet you."
"I wish I could say the same. Jim's been relatively quiet about you. I'm hoping you have some good stories to tell me."
"Sandburg!" Jim warned.
Ralph just laughed. "I'd be happy to tell you whatever you want to know."
Gleefully, Blair rubbed his hands together. "Great! For now, how about some coffee for everyone?"
"Tommy, why don't you go help him," Ralph said, his words indicated it to be a suggestion, but his tone definitely made it an order. With a glare at Jim, Tom followed Blair into the break room.
"I see you and Tommy are getting along about as well as you did before."
Jim laughed. "Don't blame me, I don't have a problem with Tom."
Frowning, Ralph nodded. "I know where the problem lies and I'm sorry."
Leaning back in his chair, Jim ignored the apology. "So, how's retirement been treating you?"
"I've been enjoying it, though I still keep my hand in the business. The warmer weather has been good for my health. My arthritis is much better. I can manage a few rounds of golf a week."
"So are you here just visiting or are you looking for an update on the case?"
"Just for a visit. Tommy told me that you were working the case, and I know you well enough to know that you'll keep me informed when you have something. I was already coming to town for the board meeting which was scheduled for later this afternoon, even before this mess at Bear Creek."
Something in Ralph's tone hinted that there was a problem, something other than Bear Creek. "Board meeting? I hope everything is okay with the business."
"The business is doing great. Almost, too good. Like I said, I still keep my hand in the business." Ralph started to say something more, but was interrupted by the return of Blair and Tom with the coffee.
Much to Blair's amusement, Ralph and Jim talked about the old days while Tom remained silent during their entire visit.
Tuesday Late Morning
Ms. Margaret Singer had been waiting for them at the Adopt a Stream offices, as they had called ahead to arrange an appointment.
"Our organization was created in 1981; it is one of the oldest volunteer organizations in the state that has been very active in protecting water quality in Washington," she said as she led them to her office.
The sound of a cell phone ringing halted the conversation. Both men checked their phones, but it was Blair who flipped open his phone and answered.
"Sandburg." Blair stepped out into the hallway for the rest of the conversation while Jim followed the woman into the room.
"We're working on lobbying the state legislature to increase the protection in the remaining pure waterways. In the meantime, we do what we can with volunteers and try to restore the waterways that have already been damaged."
"So will you be working out at the Bear Creek site?"
"As soon as they are ready to begin the restoration activities. Right now, they are still investigation how extensive the damage is. That particular waterway hadn't been officially adopted. The Wilson Logging Company still maintains ownership and we worked with them when the land was first designated as a salmon restoration area. Mr. Wilson has already indicated that he'll help us repair the damage as soon as possible."
Jim nodded. "That's sounds like something Ralph would say."
Poking his head back into the office, Blair called, "We've got to go. They need us back at Bear Creek. They've got something for us to see."
Standing up, Jim nodded to the woman with an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, it seems we'll have to stop back another time."
Upon arriving at the site, both men were shocked at all the changes in the area. Several trailers had been moved onto the site. Most of them belonged to either cleanup companies or laboratories. The largest was serving as the headquarters for the environmental agencies.
More surprising to see was all the human activity centered around the meadow rather than the creek. Inspector Williams was waiting for them to arrive. Inspector Cole was kneeling down in the grass behind a taped off area of the field. Only a few feet away, a front end loader was busy carefully excavating the area.
"What have you got for us?" Jim asked.
"It appears this area has been used for dumping more than raw sewage. During the last round of bio-monitoring, WOW discovered some unexpected toxic results with the macroinvertebrates. You do know what they are right?" Inspector Williams asked.
Jim choked out a brief, "Uh, ah."
Blair could only nod before ducking his head to hide his laughter, biting his tongue.
"Well, then you know they bioaccumuate several different toxic substances. Since they have limited mobility, the toxins that we found in them had to be localized to this area so we started looking for the source."
"I take it these toxins WOW discovered aren't normally found in sewage," Jim commented.
"No, not usually. The results combined with the general decline in the water quality indicated something else was affecting this area. We traced the problem to soil contamination and excavated where we found the strongest concentrations. That's how we found this." The inspector gestured to the taped area that was currently being uncovered by the front-end loader.
Jim ducked under the tape with Blair right on his heels. Several garbage bags had been uncovered and were now broken open and lying in the dirt. Ellison picked up a stick and poked through the contents of one bag.
Looking over his partner's shoulder, Sandburg exclaimed, "What is this, Grand Central Station for the midnight dumping gang?"
"Not necessarily," Inspector Cole replied. "The date on this newspaper is from 1999, which is long before the sewage was disposed of here."
"So what's the next move?" Blair asked.
"We start looking through all these bags. If we can identify the neighborhood or general location where this trash originated, we can narrow down the company that's been dumping out here."
Blair looked around at the dozens of trash bags that had already been uncovered.
"Oh joy," he muttered softly. "Where are all those volunteer groups when you need them?"
"Time to get dirty, Chief."
The four men, along with another couple of agents, began the monumental task of digging through the garbage. Overalls and gloves were quickly provided along with a large sheet of plastic upon which to do the sorting. Anything that could potentially be used as evidence was placed into evidence bags and stored in the main trailer in boxes, where Jim and Blair were working with Inspector Cole and Inspector Williams.
Garbage that could not be used as evidence was efficiently discarded into a dumpster that had been provided by the cleanup contractor. A large street map of the city was used along with a set of pushpins to mark each address that was discernible from the volumes of trash. It wasn't long before a clear pattern was established. All the addresses were on the east side of Cascade. Most of them belonged to various small businesses. There were only a few pins stuck in the residential areas of Cascade.
"It looks like this is a small business hauler rather than a residential. My guess is that if we were to track down these residential addresses, we'll find those people had discarded some of their personal mail at work," Inspector Cole stated as he finished up with the box in front of him.
Jim studied the pin locations in the map. "It appears that these pins follow a general route. If we can track down who the hauler was at these locations, we'd have a jump on who the guy is."
"I have an easier method," Blair announced.
"Which is?" Inspector Williams asked.
"We check out Comstock's Waste Management Co." Blair explained as he held up a copy of a billing statement that he had just discovered in the box he was sorting through.
"Wait a minute, I remember that name. Comstock. It was one of the names on the short list we got from the PSA only it wasn't Waste Management it was a septic system contractor," Jim interjected.
"Yes! It looks like we got him," Blair shouted excitedly.
One phone call later, Inspector Cole had been able to verify Richard Comstock, former owner of Comstock's Waste Management Co. was the same person who now owned and operated Comstock's Septic System, Inc. The same call also netted the work and home addresses of Mr. Comstock himself.
The group immediately decided to split up. Inspectors Cole and Williams headed for the home address of Richard Comstock. They already had cause to arrest him because of the garbage disposed of at the site. Jim and Blair headed to the work address. Their job was to see if they could confirm if one of the vehicles on site matched the description provided by David and Becky and matched the casts made of the tire tracks leading up to the water at Bear Creek.
Outside Comstock's Septic Systems, Inc.
Due to a traffic jam on the highway back into the city, it was well after dark before they reached Comstock's work location. The office was dark and no cars were visible in the parking lot.
"Let's see if we can get a look at the trucks from the fence, Chief."
Just as Jim was about to open his door, a truck pulled up to the gate from inside the compound. The driver opened the gate using a remote and turned out onto the highway. It was a large truck, big enough to have caused both the ruts and the damage to the overhanging branches at the site. On the door of the vehicle was a white reflective sign and the word septic was printed on the tank.
"And where is he going at this time of night? The water treatment plant doesn't take deliveries this late," Blair said softly.
"Let's see what happens when he comes to that stop sign, Sandburg."
Both men held their breath, waiting for the brake lights to appear. "YES!" Blair shouted when the driver's side top light failed to appear as the truck stopped at the corner.
Jim pulled away from the curb and started to follow the truck.
"It looks like you were right, Sandburg. We are lucky and we're the ones that get to catch him in the act. You'd better call it in. Let them know to stay back until we're closer to the final destination."
Blair picked up the radio and started to speak until he realized just what his partner had said. "Uh, Jim. You do mean before the act, right?"
"Compromise, we'll get them with their pants down before they start to drop their..."
"You really don't need to finish that sentence, Jim. Dispatch this is..."
Jim focused his hearing on the truck in front of them. Filtering out all other noises, he was careful to keep his attention on the truck. This was one suspect he didn't want to lose.
The tank truck headed directly for the city limits. Since the engine had a distinctive ping to it, Jim was able to track it from a long distance away. The fact that it was a cloudy evening and the roads were not lit helped tremendously in preventing the driver from knowing he was being followed.
It wasn't long before they had moved off the main highway into a wooded area just on the fringes of the national park. Jim turned off his lights as soon as they left the highway. They needed to catch this guy in the act. The area was permitted for timber management, but there were no other vehicles on the site.
Jim shifted the truck into neutral, allowing it to come to a rolling stop. He didn't want to alert the driver to their presence. He called in to Dispatch for backup, giving them their location. He gestured for Blair to circle around to the driver's side of the vehicle as he approached from the front.
They had arrived just in time. The driver was in the process of opening up the valves to release his load, when they converged on the scene.
"Freeze! Cascade PD!" Blair shouted.
"Put your hands over your head!" Jim added.
The driver immediately obeyed. As Blair kept the man covered, Jim cuffed him and mirandized him. Patting him down for weapons, he discovered the man's identity.
"Well, look here, Sandburg. We've caught the boss man himself red handed, Richard Comstock."
"I want to call my attorney. I ain't the boss man and I ain't taking the fall alone. I want a deal," the man exclaimed.
"You can have your call when you reach the station. Deals are up to the DA," Jim answered, with the wailing sound of sirens quickly approaching the scene.
Blair looked across his desk at his partner who was avoiding eye contact with him. He knew that something was up. An hour ago, Jim had received a phone call from the District Attorney that had upset him greatly, though he was unwilling to talk about it. Now, he was on the phone again, this time with Ralph Wilson. Shamelessly, Blair listened to Jim's side of the conversation.
"Hello, Ralph... I just heard... I'm sorry it worked out this way. Sure, I can meet you out at the creek... I'll see you soon."
Blair watched in anticipation as Jim hung up the phone, only to be thwarted when Jim headed for Simon's office without saying a word. Blair watched through the slats on the blinds as Jim was talking. He saw Simon glaring, but nodding back in response.
Jim walked out of Simon's office and grabbed his jacket. Before he could say anything, Jim turned back to face him and asked, "So are you coming?"
Jumping to his feet, Blair answered, "You weren't getting out of here without me."
The drive to the site was uncomfortable. Blair had been unsuccessful in finding out what was bothering his partner, though he could tell that Jim was on the verge of opening up. When they got to the site, Blair was shocked to see how pale Ralph Wilson looked, almost defeated.
He allowed the two men to have a private parting as he looked around at all the activity still going on at the dumpsite. The cleanup contractor along with volunteers from Adopt-A-Stream and the Puget SoundKeepers were making some progress but it would be weeks before the site would be cleaned up and replanted. Restoring wildlife to the area would take even longer.
Blair sighed deeply at the thought of just how long it would take for this area to recover.
"Ralph's on his way to the airport now. He said to tell you good-bye, and that he was sorry he had to rush off," Jim said, startling Blair from his thoughts.
"I wish he could have stayed longer. The two of you could have spent some time together."
"He needed to leave. This whole thing has been really hard on him."
"Are you going to tell me what's going on?" Blair asked, unwilling to wait for Jim to talk.
Jim winced, but nodded. "Did you read the report on Comstock's statement?"
"No, I was still finishing up our report when that one came through. I saw you reading it and figured you'd fill me in. What did the slug have to say for himself?" Blair started to walk in the direction of the water.
"It turns out that Comstock was the trash hauler for Wilson's logging company among several others. He knew exactly when the camp was closed down and the area abandoned. For a while, after the logging activities stopped, there was still quite a bit of activity. They took out most of the logging roads throughout the forest back in 1999 when the rights to land were signed over. The entire area was back filled and replanted."
"I bet it took a lot of top soil to fill in all those road beds," Blair said thoughtfully. He looked at the creek bed. There was little activity in this area. Most of the work here had already been completed. Once they were sure all the soil contamination was under control, the Fish and Wildlife Department would begin to restock the creek.
"Tons of topsoil, and Comstock took advantage of all that dirt to bury multiple loads of garbage he was getting paid to collect. He was basically double dipping. He'd get paid for collecting the garbage and he'd received a portion of the land fill fees. He just never delivered anything to the landfill."
"Nobody noticed anything wrong because they were accustomed to seeing Comstock's trucks all the time," Blair said with a sigh.
"And Comstock's front end loaders doing the burying. The fact that he got away with it at this site made him cocky though. A few months later, he got bold enough to try dumping several loads of rubble waste on an empty lot in the city. He was caught that time. He wasn't stupid though. He concocted a story about how he thought it was going to be used to back fill the lot in preparation for a park. He was let off with only a small fine and cleanup costs."
"The guy really is slime."
"Yeah, but he was overconfident slime. Six months later he was caught burying some barrels of waste oil in another empty lot. That time he was fined five thousand dollars plus cleanup costs and he lost his license."
"And less than a year later he had resurrected himself in the septic system business."
"Yeah, and since no one had discovered his illegal dumping grounds out in the sticks..."
"Wait a minute! Grounds? As in plural, multiple dumping grounds?" Blair exclaimed.
"I'm afraid so. The EPA uncovered several other dumps in the other timber camps. Mostly just ground contamination. This is the only site where the watershed was affected. Anyway, Comstock figured the only reason he got caught before was because he was disposing of the stuff within city limits. He figured he could just keep right on going if he resumed his disposal activities out here and his new partner had a few ideas of his own."
"Yeah, I meant to find out. Who was the boss?"
"Tom Wilson," Jim admitted sadly.
Blair was shocked. He understood now why Ralph had looked so beaten and why Jim had been so angry after the phone call from the DA. "You're kidding."
"No, it turns out Tom Wilson was an equal partner in this little enterprise, taking half the profits. Tom provided Comstock with the authentic looking paperwork for the landfills. Not that it happened, but if Comstock had been audited, he probably would have passed. It was a good scam, if Comstock hadn't been keeping his own set of files on his meetings with Tom, he might have gotten away with it."
"Man, I feel sorry for your friend. I wish I had known."
"Ralph had his own suspicions about Tom. That's why he had his own people periodically auditing the company. The problem was the paperwork fooled his people and they hadn't really considered Tom would stoop this low."
"So what's the DA asking for in terms of penalties?" he asked.
"He's asking for the maximum allowed under the current laws for both of them, six months in jail and 200 hours of community service, which has already been decided to be picking up the garbage around some of the vacant lots back in the city. They figured that was appropriate given his first cover story. Once the lots are cleaned up they'll be turned into playgrounds or community gardens."
Blair kicked at the ground beneath his feet, disgusted by the sight of the damage to this once beautiful wildlife area. "That seems to be a pretty lenient punishment. Comstock was busted twice before for destroying the environment and walked away with only minor punishment. Wilson's just as bad."
Jim sighed. He wished the laws around this type of crime were more stringent, but that just wasn't the case. "There's more. They've had all their trucks impounded and they'll be charged twice the cost of the clean up charges here at the site. Not to mention, the EPA found two of the other dumping sites, which will also have to be cleaned up. Comstock's assets will cover most of the cost and Wilson's personal assets have already been confiscated. It's looks like Wilson's Logging Company assets won't be involved. The extra money will be used to restock the stream once the water is capable of supporting fish again."
"And how many years before that's a reality?"
"Too many, Chief. Too many, but the good news is there's talk about creating a permanent taskforce. That way there will be a better chance of catching these guys before they dump illegally and destroy in an instant what it takes years to rebuild."
"Too little, too late..." Blair was interrupted by the sound of someone behind them clearing his throat. Both men turned around to see John Gains standing behind them.
"Can I talk to you for a minute, Blair?" With a nervous glance at Ellison, he added hesitantly, "Alone?"
Blair nodded and walked with John a few feet away, leaving Jim standing at the water's edge.
John kicked at the ground a few times before speaking. "Look Blair, I just wanted to say I was sorry. I was wrong about you. I heard you and your partner were the ones who tracked down and arrested Comstock and Wilson," he said finally, his face tinged pink with embarrassment.
Blair nodded, glad John had come around. The two of them, along with Janet, had been good friends. He didn't want any hard feelings between them. "Thanks, I'm glad you feel that way."
"Yeah, I thought about what you had said, about how there was more than one way to fight the war to save the environment, and you're right. It's got be a joint effort to stop things like this from happening again."
"Like I said, I haven't changed sides, just attacking the society's problems from a different angle now. Are you working on the cleanup?" Blair asked.
John nodded enthusiastically and began to explain his role in the cleanup.
Jim had listened to the conversation long enough to hear the start of an apology before turning his attention back to the scene around him. Blair was partially right. They had been too late to stop this from happening. But was it really 'too little'? Jim didn't agree with that assessment. Looking around at the bustling activity at the site, most of it coming from volunteers, gave him hope for the future.
The water was running clear and blue again, showing signs of returning life. He thought back over all the information he had learned over the past few days. He looked around cautiously, noting that no one was paying attention to him. Carefully, he knelt down on the ground next to the water.
Softly he said, "One sentinel to another, you little guys do your job and I'll do mine. I wanna be back here fishing again soon."
"Jim?" a voice called from behind him.
Slightly embarrassed, Jim got back to his feet and turned away from the water. "Yeah, Chief?"
"Are you ready to go?"
Jim dropped one arm around Blair's shoulders and pulled him in the direction of the students. "Sure, seems as if our job is finished here."
Both men were so engrossed in their conversation that they failed to notice the series of ripples that spread across the surface of the water after Jim had spoken, before calming again.
For those of you who are curious, the environmental activist groups named in this episode are real. Feel free to email me if you want to know more. Honestly, I was so caught up in the research that I almost forgot to write an episode. Thanks go to Cindy and Rona for keeping me on track with making this an episode rather than the research paper it was becoming.
PS - I was the one who entered the word Sentinel in Lycos search engine and discovered multiple articles about Sentinels in the environment, which is how the idea for this episode was born.