Production No. CVT707
JAC, Saga, and Lady Shelley
MEET THE CAST
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.