edited by: DebbieLD and Christina
"C'mon, Stan, don't give me that! You've got to have something for me!" Jim Ellison's dissatisfaction resonated throughout the Major Crime bullpen as he pushed himself to his feet and paced in front of his desk, his cell phone crushed against his ear. He listened for a moment, then rubbed his forehead in frustration before replying more calmly, "Look, Stan, I'm counting on you to help me out here, you know? It's there, I can feel it!"
The current occupants of Major Crime glanced at each other, sharing a thought. Whatever "it" was, no one doubted for a moment that Jim could, indeed, feel it. However, the question was, exactly how did he "feel" it? As intuition or as physical sensation? Since finding out that Jim was a sentinel, they had learned to look at statements like that in a whole new light.
Blair Sandburg wandered into the room, his nose buried in a thick manila folder. Hearing his partner's pleading tone, he leaned toward Henri Brown and whispered, "What's up with Jim?"
Brown shrugged and smiled slightly. "Giving one of his snitches a hard time, I think."
"Hmm. Which one?" Blair unconsciously checked the shoelaces on the hiking boots he'd worn that day. Since officially joining the Cascade Police Department, he'd decided to forego wearing his sneakers to work. His decision was partially in favor of a slightly more professional appearance, but was mostly to stave off using them as payment to Sneaks, Jim's favorite, and most productive, snitch.
"Some guy named Stan. Must be a new snitch, though. Never heard Jim mention him before." Henri's brow creased in confusion as Blair began to chuckle, hiding behind the safety of the folder he held. "I say something funny?"
Blair swallowed his remaining chuckles and took a couple of deep, steadying breaths. "Sorry, Brown, you couldn't know. Stan's not a snitch, he's Jim's mechanic!"
"Mechanic? Why is Jim yelling at his mechanic?"
Blair grinned. "For the last week, Jim's been convinced that he hears a.... a plink... under the hood of his truck. Nobody else can hear it, which really isn't all that unusual when you get right down to it."
"A plink," Henri repeated, casting a dubious glance in the senior detective's direction.
"What's a plink?"
"Haven't got a clue, Henri," Blair retorted cheerfully. "Jim's the only one who's heard it. And if Jim's giving Stan a hard time, then I'm guessing Stan hasn't heard it either." Blair couldn't stifle his grin. "What's even more fun is hearing Jim trying to describe it."
Ellison, hearing the sotto voce conversation, turned to glare at his partner. He pointed a finger at Blair as if in warning and turned back to his conversation. "Look, Stan, just keep looking, okay? Thanks." He ended the call and slid the cell phone back into his pocket with exaggerated patience.
"So let me guess, Jim. Stan can't hear the... uh.... plink, right?" Blair grinned, seemingly oblivious to his partner's frustration.
"No, Sandburg, he can't hear the plink. Just like you can't hear it and Simon can't hear it. But it's there, damn it, and he just needs to keep at it until he finds it!"
"Hey, I believe you, Jim! If you say it's there, it's there. And what about the kachunk, Jim?" Blair asked gravely, "Can he hear the kachunk?"
Ellison decided Sandburg was enjoying teasing his partner about his inability to describe noises, that apparently only he could hear, entirely too much. "Keep it up, Sandburg, and I'll be looking for a place to dump your body," he threatened, a slight lifting of a corner of his mouth belying the ominous tone.
Sandburg gave an exaggerated shiver. "Ooooh, this is me, quaking in my boots," he chuckled as he settled behind his desk, lifted the telephone receiver and dialed. "Hey, Stacy, this is Blair Sandburg in Major Crime. How're ya' doing?"
Ellison allowed his attention to drift away from his irreverent partner and onto the report Stan's call had interrupted. A buddy in Auto Theft had asked Jim to take a look at the evidence gathered in a string of stolen vehicles. "We need another pair of eyes, Jimbo. We've all looked at it until we're blue and we can't make any sense out of it." Ellison had agreed to give the file a quick look on one condition -- "Stop calling me Jimbo." Rolling with the long-standing, friendly argument, Peterson had clapped Ellison on the shoulder and agreed to "Anything you say, Jimbo."
It was a strange case, Ellison had to admit. The newest car theft ring in Cascade wasn't stealing Mercedes, Audi or Lexus vehicles. They were boosting older cars, with little to no intrinsic value. While some older model cars did have some street value for parts, the listed vehicles didn't really fall into that category. Parts for those vehicles were commonly found in the pick and pull car parts junkyards. None of the stolen vehicles had been recovered, so few clues were available. Jim shook his head in consternation. Peterson was right, it just didn't make any sense.
The aroma of Simon Banks' favorite stogies heralded the Major Crime captain's arrival from yet another "tap dancing" session with the Mayor. He paused at the corner of Ellison's desk and balefully regarded the open file. "Thinking of transferring to Auto Theft, detective?" he growled. "Major Crime not exciting enough for you anymore?"
"No, sir," Jim replied quickly, then hastily revised himself, "I mean, yes, sir. I mean..."
Banks chuckled at his detective's discomfiture. "Gotcha. God, I needed a lift. Thanks for walking right into that one."
"You're welcome, sir. Always glad to be of service." Ellison responded sourly.
"So, what have you got there?"
"Peterson in Auto Theft asked me to take a look at their latest case. It's got them stumped because there doesn't appear to be a rhyme or reason to their choice of vehicles."
"Any recoveries yet to give them a clue?"
"No, sir. 'Fraid I'm going to have to lob this one back to Peterson with no ideas attached." Ellison tossed the file to the corner of his desk and rose smoothly to his feet, snagging his coffee cup on the way.
"If you're headed for the break room, how about an update on the Henderson case instead," Banks requested. "I'll guarantee you a better cup of coffee." He was already moving into his office, shedding his coat and loosening his tie as he went.
"Sounds like an offer I can't refuse," Ellison grinned, reversing his earlier direction and motioning with his cup for his partner to join him. Blair quickly ended his call, grabbed his own mug and strode into Banks' office a step behind Ellison.
After mugs were filled and seats taken, Banks requested an update on the detectives' highest priority case -- a series of daring daytime hits on prominent businessmen, presumably as part of a protection racket.
"Good news there, sir," Jim began, only to have his cell phone shrilly break into his sentence. Banks motioned his permission for the detective to answer the call. "Excuse me," Ellison said as he pulled the phone from his pocket. "Ellison." He grimaced slightly when the caller identified himself, and shrugged apologetically to his captain. "What have you got, Stan?"
"Stan?" Simon queried quietly, glancing at Sandburg.
"Mechanic," Sandburg replied succinctly, eyes twinkling.
Figuring it had something to do with Peterson's stolen vehicle case, Banks refrained from commenting. Until his senior detective sighed heavily, protested briefly, then turned away and softly began making an odd choking/whistling/grunting noise into the phone. Simon's eyebrows flew up in surprise. He didn't know whether to laugh or be concerned, so he gauged Sandburg's reaction to his partner's antics. Poorly concealed amusement. Okay, so it obviously wasn't anything to worry about. Rolling his eyes, he waited for his detective to end the call.
"Can I get you anything for that cough, Jim?" he asked in mock concern, while Blair dissolved into peals of laughter. "A glass of water or something?"
"Uh, no, thank you, sir," Ellison said, coloring in embarrassment and glowering at his partner.
"Was that the kerplunk, the kachunk or the plink, Jim?" Blair chortled. "It kind of sounded like all of them rolled into one, but what do I know. I'm sure Stan's not going to have any problem at all locating the problem with that high quality demonstration." Ellison's only response was a heartfelt glare.
Simon muttered something colorful about his office being used as a clearing house for personal calls from mothers and mechanics and then flicked a wave at the pair. "Shall we continue, gentlemen? That is, if the sound effects demonstration is over?"
Blair attempted to school his features while his partner cleared his throat and resumed the interrupted update. "We've got a witness willing to roll over on Bernetti in exchange for immunity and a slot in the witness protection program. We've been leaning on him pretty hard and he's getting nervous about jail time. He's got names, dates, and places all neatly documented. Rafe and Henri are picking him up now." Ellison frowned slightly, "Guy said he'd feel safer if I wasn't around when he got nabbed." He paused briefly to ponder the statement, shrugged and continued, "Anyway, no way Bernetti can get out of this one."
"Excellent!" Banks nodded approvingly. "I was beginning to think we were never going to catch a break on this one. Good work." He opened his mouth to start another sentence when Ellison's cell phone chirped again. Sighing in resignation, he motioned for the detective to answer his phone.
Ellison glanced at the caller ID display on the phone, then opened the call with a terse, "Stan, I'm gonna have to call you back." Before he could disconnect the call, however, everyone in the room clearly heard the mechanic's shout, causing Ellison to pause and listen. After a moment of silence, Jim's jaw dropped open. He paled considerably, and turned disbelieving eyes toward his partner, who had unconsciously scooted closer to his sentinel. "We'll be right there," he barked, after recovering. He ended the call with a vicious jab at the End button and turned to regard his partner, still clearly distressed.
"Jim?" Blair questioned in concern, "What's wrong, man?
"That was Stan," Ellison explained unnecessarily. "Someone just stole my truck!"
Fifteen minutes after a brief "discussion" regarding driving rights, Detectives Ellison and Sandburg pulled up in front of Stan's Garage ("We love your car like it was our own!") with Sandburg at the wheel of the Mustang. He had argued that Jim was in no condition to drive, and since they were apparently down to a single vehicle, every effort had to be made to keep it in a drivable condition. In a hurry to reach Stan's, Jim had ungraciously slouched in the passenger seat and stared resolutely ahead as Blair quickly navigated to the frequent source of "Sweetheart's" past salvations.
Exiting the vehicle before Blair brought it to a complete stop, Jim strode to the rear of Stan McCormick's garage. Stan was talking to a uniformed officer who had arrived as a result of the official stolen vehicle report filed by Simon Banks following Stan's call to Ellison. McCormick was waving his arms expansively and was obviously quite agitated.
"Stan!" Ellison barked as he approached the pair. McCormick, a comically short, stumpy man who had magic hands under the hood of a vehicle, turned nervous eyes toward the imposing detective.
"D-Detective Ell-llison," he stammered, "I don't know what to say!"
Regaining his composure, Ellison mustered up what he hoped was an encouraging smile. Blair had once told him that his stress-induced "encouraging" smiles would frighten small children, but he hoped Stan would accept the gesture in the spirit in which it was made. "Just tell me what happened, Stan."
McCormick took a deep breath, causing the shirt stretched across his portly middle to gape. Jim wondered inanely what damage could be done if one of the straining buttons suddenly let loose. A mother's standard admonition leapt to mind: You could put someone's eye out with that! Ellison almost laughed aloud at the ridiculousness of the thought.
"Okay, after I talked to you, I took the truck out for another road test." Despite his distress, Stan shot Ellison a look that clearly communicated his opinion of what he considered to be an act of futility. "Well, I'd driven it so much trying to hear whatever you were hearing, that I had to stop and get some gas."
Ellison, knowing how much gas was in the truck when he dropped it off at the garage the previous day, reflected that Stan had indeed done quite a bit of diagnostic driving. He turned his attention back to the rest of the story.
"I stopped at the Lucky Leaf station a couple doors down from here and put a few dollars worth in -- so I could test it some more. I had just capped the tank and was getting ready to go inside to pay when this dude appears out of nowhere, knocks me down, grabs the keys and takes off with the truck!"
"Did you get a look at him?" Jim asked, knowing the uniform would have already asked but wanting to hear the answer first hand.
"Not a very good one," Stan admitted. "He came up from behind me and put a knee in my back after he knocked me down. I put my hands out to try and break my fall and I guess I dropped the keys. He just grabbed them up and was gone before I knew it! All I can tell you is I think he had dark hair, was kind of skinny, and reeked of cheap cologne. Guy stunk to high heaven!" The mechanic shook his head and dropped his eyes. "I'm really sorry, detective. I should have been paying more attention."
Ellison took a mental step back from the situation and tried to assess it objectively. He gripped the smaller man's shoulder and gave him a small shake. "Don't worry about it, Stan. I'm just glad you weren't hurt. You're not hurt, are you?"
Stan shook his head miserably. "No, I'm okay, aside from a bony knee-sized bruise in the middle of my back."
"Officer Conway will finish taking your statement, Stan, then I think you should close up early and get some rest."
"Thanks, Detective Ellison, I guess I'll do that. I appreciate your concern."
Ellison turned to rejoin his partner, who was interviewing potential witnesses, but half turned back to the mechanic. "Stan?"
"Did you hear it?" he asked hopefully.
Stan shook his head and responded regretfully, "Nope."
Jim sighed and turned away.
"C'mon, Blair, I'm going nuts here!" Jim cast a mournful glance at his roommate and partner as they headed out the loft door to work two days later. Long hours pouring over police reports and witness statements had produced no new clues. As with the other stolen vehicles, there was no sign of Jim's truck and he was mourning both the loss of his beloved 'Sweetheart' and his driving independence. His insurance provided for a rental car, but the per diem only allowed a compact car, which Jim argued to no avail was not large enough to accommodate his long legs. Despite sympathizing with Jim's position, Blair had steadfastly failed to yield to his partner's repeated requests to let him drive the Mustang. Jim had cajoled and begged and been told in no uncertain terms that he had control issues when it came to driving. But Jim wasn't giving up. "What are you worried about? I haven't wrecked a vehicle in months!"
"That's what I'm worried about, Jim," Blair explained patiently. "It's the law of averages, man." At Jim's inquiring look, he continued, "You haven't had a wreck in months, so you're due, man. It could happen any day now and I'd rather not provide the opportunity!"
Jim sighed heavily and actually managed to drag his toes as they walked down the hallway to the elevator. Blair bit his lip in amusement and shook his head. "Aw, don't do this to me, man. Please, don't lay a guilt trip on me."
"It's okay, Chief," Jim said, shaking his head sadly and heaving another sigh. "I was really hoping you'd support me during my time of grief, but I understand..." He trailed off, casting an assessing, sidelong glance at his partner.
Blair threw his hands up in the air and surrendered the keys with a theatrical sigh. "Man, you are so going to pay for this little melodrama! You put one scratch on my car and I swear I'll have your ass, man!"
Brightening noticeably, Jim snared the keys and quickened his step. It was no replacement for his beloved truck, but he'd been itching to drive Blair's Mustang. "Thanks, Chief!"
As they tooled down the road at a semi-sedate pace, Jim's short hair was doing its best to blow in the wind and the man sported the first contented smile Blair had seen in two days. He reflected that it really was a small price to pay to make his friend feel better. But he'd better not get used to it!
Later that afternoon, Jim and Blair sat in the almost-empty bullpen, putting the finishing touches on their Harrison case reports. Waiting for a break on Jim's stolen truck was making both men antsy and any diversion was welcome, even working on a report. Blair's phone rang and he absently reached for the receiver. "Major Crime, Detective Sandburg speaking."
"Mom, hi!" He looked across his desk at Jim and mouthed, "It's my mom." Jim smiled indulgently and waved. "Jim says hi, Mom," Blair grinned at his partner.
"Hi back at him," Naomi said brightly. "How is everything, sweetie?"
"Pretty good, Mom..." Blair took a breath to start a new sentence when Naomi broke in.
"I can't believe Jim is selling his truck," Naomi chattered. "I thought he was virtually married to that old truck! I mean, it was almost a part of his karma..."
"Wait. Mom, what did you say?"
"I said it was a part of his karma, Sweetie. You really shouldn't try to do too many things at once, honey, it's very distracting."
"No, I mean before the karma part."
"I said I was surprised Jim was selling his truck. Goodness, Blair, haven't you heard anything I've said?"
Blair snapped his fingers and waved madly to attract his partner's attention. When Jim looked up curiously, Blair motioned for him to pick up his extension on Jim's phone. Complying with his partner's frantic request, Jim was in time to hear Blair ask, "Mom, what makes you think Jim is selling his truck?" Jim raised his eyes in astonishment, meeting Blair's similarly dumbfounded gaze.
"Well, I saw it on the car lot, of course, silly. I mean, I thought it was kind of odd that he'd pick such an out-of-the-way lot, but I'm not one to judge, you know. Anyway, I was on my way to visit you when I was simply struck with the notion to buy a new car. Well, not new, really, but new for me..."
"Are you sure it was Jim's truck?" Blair interrupted, his voice betraying the excitement he felt. His mother might well be providing their first solid lead in the case!
Naomi hesitated, then said slowly, "Oh yes, I'm sure."
"I mean, how do you know for sure it's Jim's truck, Mom? It's really important!"
"Well, remember the last time I was there, it was so lovely and warm and we all went on that splendid picnic by the shore? Oh we had such a nice time that day didn't we? I remember there was a slight breeze and Jim made the most wonderful sandwiches--"
"Yes, Mom, I remember." Blair was trying to be patient with his slightly ditzy parent, understanding that the story would only be told in her way and in her time. He could see that Jim was virtually strangling himself to keep from shouting at Naomi to get to the point.
"Well, when I saw that truck on the car lot, it reminded me of that day at the shore. I guess I wanted to see how that truck compared to Jim's truck. Reminiscing, you know..."
Jim's jaw was clenched.
"Anyway, the day of our picnic was so warm and I didn't realize that I'd dropped my coral lipstick between the seat and the door on the passenger side. Later, I was horrified when I realized what had happened and I tried and tried to get the lipstick out of the carpet, but no matter how hard I tried, there was still kind of a coral halo left. I'm really sorry about not telling Jim about it, Sweetie. I mean it was an unscented brand because of... well, you know... so I was sure he couldn't smell it, but I really should have told him what I'd done..."
Jim's eyes were squeezed shut and the pencil in his hand snapped. "It's okay, Naomi, really. Water under the bridge." Jim didn't know whether to hug or throttle Sandburg's mother.
"Oh! Hello, Jim! You're such a dear. Well, imagine my surprise when I opened the passenger door of that truck to find that same lipstick stain on the carpet! So I knew right away it was your truck! So, why are you selling your truck, Jim?" Her question was punctuated with a shrill beep.
"Mom, Jim isn't selling his truck -- it was stolen two days ago!"
"Oh my!" ~Beep~ " But, Jim, while I was looking at your truck, some rude man came out of the office, told me he'd bought the truck and, oh!, he's driving it off the lot right now! "
"Naomi, where are you?" Jim asked urgently. "What's that beeping?"
"I'm at PDQ Cars, Jim. And I'm calling on my new cell phone. I never wanted one of these things, but all my friends insisted that I simply had to have one what with all my traveling, so here I am! I'm not really sure what the beeping" ~beep~ "is -- something to do with the battery, I think. I'm going to follow your truck, Jim, then you guys can arrest that man when you catch up with..." ~beep~
The line was dead.
Jim Ellison didn't know whether to hug Sandburg's mother or throttle her.
When they found her.
Naomi Sandburg focused all her attention on the blue and white truck several car lengths ahead of her. She knew the principles of successfully following vehicles -- her son was a police officer, after all, and she now found herself much more interested in detective programs, when she wasn't meditating or visiting friends around the world. Blair had tried to tell her that the programs weren't accurate but, accurate or not, she found the information she had gleaned to be extremely helpful as she wound through the city streets behind the classic truck. It was a shame the battery in her cell phone had failed. She would have so enjoyed giving Jim and Blair a turn-by-turn report.
"Where are you going, Mr. Rude?" she muttered as she cranked the steering wheel to the right to follow a sudden turn from the vehicle ahead of her. "That truck belongs to my son's best friend and I'll be darned if I'm going to let you get away from me!" Naomi vowed, making a sharp left in the truck's wake.
The pair rambled through the streets of Cascade for nearly twenty minutes, the truck's driver taking an apparently deliberately circuitous route and Naomi doggedly following, alternating biting her lip in concentration and singing along with oldies songs on the radio. Finally, the blue and white Ford drew to a halt outside a warehouse in a particularly seedy area of the waterfront. Realizing that they had reached their destination, Naomi quickly maneuvered her compact car behind a stack of wooden pallets, parked, got out of the car and ran around to peer through the spaces between the slats. She had a clear view of Jim's truck and the warehouse, and once again rued the demise of her cell phone battery.
'Mr. Rude' slid unconcernedly from the truck and strode confidently to a metal door at the end of the nearest wall. Pausing, he reached into his jacket and drew a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a bright green lighter from an inside pocket. He placed the cigarette between his lips, flicked the lighter's flint wheel and touched the resulting flame to the tip of the cigarette. Drawing a deep breath, he smiled in obvious contentment as the smoke filled his lungs.
Naomi wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Doesn't he know what he's doing to his body?" she muttered, shaking her head.
Rude turned and rapped sharply on the door, looking around disinterestedly as he waited for a response to his knock. Although she knew she was well hidden, Naomi withdrew farther into the shadows behind the pallets.
After a moment, the warehouse door opened and Mr. Rude spoke briefly, gesturing at the truck behind him. The door closed and, as Rude strode back to the truck, a large overhead door began to slide smoothly up the wall. The thief slid into the cab of Jim's truck and cranked the engine once more.
"Jim will be furious when he smells that smoke in his truck!" Naomi declared angrily.
Rude pulled the old Ford into the warehouse through the now-open door, which immediately rolled down to close behind the bumper.
Blair was frantic, pacing from one end of the bullpen to the other, oblivious to the sympathetic looks from his co-workers. They had returned from their various tasks to find Jim and Blair animatedly 'discussing' the merits of dashing off in search of Naomi Sandburg, Jim apparently trying to be the voice of reason. A quick update from the senior detective had brought them all up to speed and they were pitching in to help in the search for Blair's mother.
Ellison was on the phone with the department's tech services department. They were trying to backtrack through the telephone switch's massive incoming calls log in an effort to ferret out Naomi's cell phone number. With that number, Ellison hoped to contact the cell phone company and determine which repeater tower had routed the call. It would only give them a general area to search, but at least it was a start.
Rafe had been delegated the task of compiling a list of all the PDQ Cars locations in Cascade. PDQ Cars operated a chain of successful used car dealerships across Washington and Jim knew of at least three locations within the Cascade city limits alone. Naomi had said she was on the outskirts of Cascade, so the addresses of the outer locations, combined with the cell phone repeater tower location, might help to narrow the search criteria.
Watching his partner pace, Ellison was startled when the telecom tech came back on the line with the last number routed to Sandburg's extension. He jotted it down and hung up with a quick thanks and an "I owe you big time, Rick." to the tech.
"Jim, man, we're wasting time!" Blair exclaimed, raking his fingers through his unbound hair. The leather strap Blair usually wore during work hours hadn't survived the junior detective's first nervous swipe and now lay discarded on his desk. Blair's pacing took him past his partner's desk and he paused to regard him fearfully.
Jim fully understood his partner's anxiety and once again patiently explained, "Blair, running around town looking for her without a clue where to start is wasting time. We've got to have a starting point. I know you're worried, buddy. So am I. But the best way to help your mom right now is to keep our heads and gather as much information as we can."
Blair seemed to deflate, sinking into a chair next to his partner's desk and dropping his head into his hands. "My head knows all that, Jim," he admitted miserably. "It's just that my heart keeps telling me to do something!"
"Well, here's something for your brain to do, Chief. Rick in Tech Services accessed the phone switch and came up with the last number routed to your extension. He says it's a Sprint cell number. Get on the horn with Sprint and see if they can tell you what repeater tower her last call routed through." He handed his partner the paper and reached out to accept the list of PDQ Cars locations Rafe had finished compiling. "Chief," he said, grasping his partner's arm as he rose to make his way back to his own desk to call the cell phone company, "don't worry. She's a smart lady." Most of the time. "She won't do anything stupid."
This is stupid, Naomi chastised herself as she crept slowly toward the warehouse. It had been fifteen minutes since Mr. Rude and Jim's truck had disappeared behind the warehouse door and Naomi's curiosity was getting the better of her. She knew the wise thing to do would be to find a telephone and call Blair and Jim. However, no matter how well things had turned out after the unintentional release of Blair's dissertation and how many times Blair and Jim had assured her that all was forgiven, Naomi still felt responsible for wreaking havoc on the two most important men in her life. So, the guilt-ridden part of her was pushing her forward to learn more about the theft of Jim's truck.
A casual passerby, if any could have been found in the seedy waterfront district, would have been struck by the incongruity of an attractive, middle-aged redhead in a bright blue blouse and a wildly colorful ankle-length print skirt skulking between the colorless stacks of empty wooden pallets. Focused intently on her task, Naomi had no time to worry about her lack of camouflage.
Reaching the edge of her tin-walled fortification, Naomi had to make a decision -- risk crossing the open space between the two buildings, or do the prudent thing and find a telephone. Gathering the folds of her voluminous skirt into both hands, Naomi took a deep breath, searched unsuccessfully for a calming mantra, and darted across the driveway between the warehouses. Crouching once again behind a collection of barrels emblazoned unreassuringly with a series of hazardous materials warnings, Naomi sought to calm her pounding heart. Okay, so the private investigators on TV make this look a lot easier than it really is!
She scanned the building beside her and was disappointed to find no windows through which to peer. A quick check behind her revealed a maintenance ladder leading to the roof of the building. Decision time again. Silently berating herself for not taking the prudent path, Naomi slithered along the wall to the base of the maintenance ladder, swearing softly when she snagged her skirt on a sharp piece of tin. First you steal Jim's truck, and now you make me tear my favorite skirt chasing after you! You are seriously destroying your karma, Mr. Rude! At the bottom of the ladder, Naomi sighed, reached between her ankles, grasped the back hem of her skirt and pulled it up to tuck it into her waistband in front. If the heroines in old westerns could ride a horse like this, then I can climb a ladder. She placed her foot on the first rung, grasped the handrails, and began her ascent.
Sandburg impatiently tapped his pencil on his desk pad as he waited for the Sprint customer service representative to enter his badge information and request into their computer. He had to literally bite his tongue not to shout at the man, who he realized was only trying to do his job -- at a snail's pace. After all, it wasn't his mother who was missing somewhere in the wilds of Cascade, hot on the heels of a truck thief! Just as he was getting ready to toss caution to the wind and begin shouting at the rep, the man came back on the line. "Our records show that number registered to a Naomi Sandburg."
"Yes! That's right!" Blair confirmed excitedly. "Can you tell me where she was when she made her last call?"
"I can't tell you precisely, Detective, but I can at least tell you which repeater tower the call was routed through. However, I gotta tell you that calls sometimes get routed through towers pretty far away from their actual location."
"I understand." Blair tried to quell his rising excitement. "But it gives us something to go on, at least. I'll need the exact location of the tower, please." He gave his partner the high sign and Jim pushed to his feet, scooping up the map he'd been using to plot the PDQ Cars locations Rafe had acquired.
Mentally adding a pair of ruined sandals to Mr. Rude's growing inventory of negative karma, Naomi quietly splashed through accumulated rain water on the warehouse roof, intent on reaching the access door on the far side. No skylight, she noted in disappointment. They always get to observe the bad guys through a skylight on TV!
She reached the door and, praying to whatever gods might be listening that the door was unlocked and the hinges well oiled, Naomi turned the knob. She almost fainted in relief when the knob turned easily and the door swung open soundlessly. Taking a quick peek inside to make sure the coast was clear, she stepped swiftly onto the landing inside the door. She closed it silently behind her, praying that no light had filtered down to be observed by anyone below. She heard no indications that her entry had been noticed, so she inched forward to assess her location. As far as Naomi could tell, the warehouse had three levels. The topmost level, on which she stood, was about twenty feet wide and ran the width of the building. All but the first floor were abbreviated, with metal stairways leading up to each level. The second level appeared to be a small, glassed-in office area -- thankfully devoid of life, as far as she could tell from her awkward position. Even hiding almost in the rafters, she felt horribly exposed. The lower floor was nothing more than a wide open, concrete floor dotted with cars and trucks, presumably stolen. Besides the door on which Mr. Rude had knocked and the large rolling garage door though which he'd driven Jim's truck, the only other doors were marked Men and Women. Restrooms. No rear exit was immediately visible.
Naomi dropped to her knees and crawled carefully to the edge of the third-level platform, grasping the safety railing for security, and peered over at the activity below her.
The hoods of two of the cars were raised, as was the hood of Jim's truck, which sat well toward the back of the building. Three men, including Mr. Rude, were working beneath the hood and Naomi feared they were already stripping Jim's beloved truck. But she could see no tools in their hands and no truck parts littered the floor yet. Then, almost as one, the men drew back from the truck and one reached up to close the hood with a startling bang that reverberated through the large metal building. Risking detection, Naomi scooted closer to the platform's edge to get a better angle. After a few moments of brief discussion, the men moved as a group toward the exit. Naomi held her breath and flattened herself to the floor as one of the men hesitated at the door and intently scanned the warehouse. She didn't look up again until several seconds after she heard the door close and the lock engage.
The warehouse was now silent, apparently empty. Pushing herself carefully and quietly to her feet, Naomi moved toward the stairway leading to the lower level. She took a tentative step then froze, expecting an angry shout of exposure. Silence. She stepped down once more and waited. Gaining more confidence, but cognizant of the thieves' possible return, Naomi increased her speed down the stairs. At least on the ground floor she might find somewhere to hide if need be.
She made it to the ground floor without incident and ducked behind the bumper of a green Chevy Nova that pleasantly reminded her of Chuck Wallace, an intense but short-lived romance from her youth. Although convinced the warehouse was indeed empty, Naomi crawled along the wall, from vehicle to vehicle, using the bumpers as camouflage until she reached the front of the building. As she crouched beside the door, she strained to hear signs that the thieves were nearby. Her heart pounded as she caught snippets of conversation -- were they coming back? She released the breath she didn't realize she'd been holding when she heard three car doors slam, an engine turn over and then the noise fade as the car moved away from the building. Although she was frightened, Naomi was also experiencing an unexpected adrenaline rush. I guess now I can understand why Blair would be drawn to the excitement of police work, she reflected with a smile.
Then, knowing she had to act quickly, Naomi dashed across the warehouse to Jim's truck.
"There!" Jim stabbed at the map in front of them to emphasize his point. "The repeater tower is here, and the nearest PDQ Cars is here. She's got to be somewhere in this area." He turned to his partner, who was returning his telephone receiver to its cradle with a shake of his head. "Any luck, Chief?"
"No," he sighed. "But I knew it was a long shot. I just keep getting a recording telling me she's either out of the calling area or has her phone turned off. I swear, when we find her, I'm going to buy her ten of those damn batteries!"
"Well, let's get rolling, partner." Jim smiled encouragingly as he folded up the map, "I think we've nailed the area of town she was calling from -- Morton Hills. Let's pay a visit to their local PDQ Cars and see if we can pick up her trail from there."
Blair leapt to his feet and snatched the map from his partner's grasp, striding through the doors toward the elevator. Ellison quickly followed, certain Blair would leave without him if he failed to keep up.
When they reached the parking garage, Jim grabbed the keys from Blair's hand. "I'll drive, Chief." He forestalled Blair's protest by explaining, "You're more familiar with Naomi's car than I am. You'll spot her long before I do -- enhanced sight or not. I may be the sentinel here, buddy, but this time I need my guide's eyes."
Reassured by his partner's logic, Blair nodded and moved toward the passenger side of the Mustang while Ellison opened the driver's door. The classic car's engine roared to life at the turn of the key and Ellison quickly but carefully backed out of the space. He expertly navigated the tight turns as they spiraled their way from the lower levels of the parking garage, tires squealing the message of the detective's haste.
Blair's fingers tapped a nervous rhythm on his knee, and the sentinel could detect his partner's elevated heart rate in anticipation of their search.
At the entrance to the parking garage, Jim braked slightly and quickly craned his neck to check traffic. Then he froze. "What the hell...?"
"Jim, what's wrong?" Blair asked, returning from wherever his thoughts had taken him.
"It's my truck!" Jim exclaimed as he cranked the wheel to the left, accelerated out of the parking garage and then skidded to a stop behind his blue and white Ford truck. Throwing open their doors, both men leapt from the Mustang, guns drawn. It briefly occurred to Blair that if the thief was stupid enough to bring the stolen truck to the police station, they probably didn't really need their weapons to apprehend him.
"Cascade Police! Outta the truck!" Jim bellowed, advancing slowly from the rear of the truck, his service revolver aimed unwaiveringly toward the driver's side door, his senses attuned to possible attack. Blair hung back slightly, weapon at the ready to defend his partner if necessary. He tensed as the driver's door opened and the occupant popped into view, waving merrily and pointing happily at Jim's truck.
"Jim! Look what I found!" Naomi Sandburg shouted happily, beaming proudly.
"Naomi?" Detective Jim Ellison couldn't have been more stunned had Bozo the Clown leapt from the cab of his truck than he was to see Naomi Sandburg, the subject of their frantic hour-long search.
"Mom!" Blair darted around the front of the Mustang, gently pushing his astounded partner's gun hand down as he went by. "Jim, man, that's my mom! Put the gun down. Put your guns down, guys, it's my mother!" he yelled at the numerous officers who had reacted to Detective Ellison's shout.
Jim automatically lowered the gun and flicked the safety on as he watched his partner run by and wrap his mother in a relieved hug. Coming to his senses, he turned to the confused collection of Cascade's finest and waved his hand in dismissal. "False alarm, guys. Sorry. Thanks for the backup, though." Obviously interested in witnessing the proceedings, but having been dismissed by a senior officer, the uniforms holstered their weapons and wandered away, shaking their heads in bemusement.
Returning his own weapon to the belt holster at the small of his back, Jim approached the reunited Sandburgs. Blair was trying to ascertain whether Naomi was hurt, which she adamantly denied while stroking his hair comfortingly. "Blair, Sweetie, I'm fine," she reassured him repeatedly, "Not a mark on me."
"Naomi," Jim began, only to have Naomi happily interrupt him.
"Jim! Look what I found! I found your truck! Isn't it wonderful?"
"Naomi, what happened? Are you alright?" Jim demanded when Naomi took a breath.
"Oh Jim, you're as bad as Blair! I'm fine! And I got your truck back!" Naomi was practically dancing with happiness, which presented an odd picture with her skirt still stuck tightly into her waistband.
"Mom, what happened? Why didn't you call us back?" Blair scolded, his relief at finding his mother safe overridden by the risks she had taken.
"Sweetie, the battery in my cell phone went dead. I would have thought it would have lasted longer, but anyway, it went dead and I simply couldn't quit following the thief to call you! Oh, boys, you would have been so proud of the way I followed him, staying close but not too close and not losing him in traffic, although he seemed determined to lose me..."
"Lose you?" Blair squeaked. "He knew you were following him?"
"Oh, I don't think so, honey. I think he was just being cautious. Anyway, I followed him... Jim are you okay? You look a little pale."
"I'm fine, Naomi," Jim assured his friend's mother weakly, "I'm just a little overwhelmed by it all, that's all. Can you hang onto that story for a minute, please?" He pulled his chirping cell phone from his pocket. "Ellison. Hey, Captain. Word gets around fast, huh? Yeah, it's true. Sandburg's mother just recovered my truck and brought it to the station. In fact, you can probably see us if you look out your office window." A moment later, the blinds at a seventh floor window went up and a large shape filled the space. Recognizing her son's captain, Naomi waved gaily and pointed at Jim's truck. Ellison listened for a moment then replied, "Yes, sir, we'll be right up. I've still got to call Forensics and have them go over the truck." He made the quick call to Forensics and arranged to have the truck towed to the garage for testing.
"Simon wants us in his office, pronto," he informed his partner and his mother as he pocketed his cell phone. Pulling on a latex glove to minimize evidence contamination any more than Naomi's good intentions already had, Jim opened the driver's side door and leaned into the cab. Naomi's sandalwood fragrance permeated the passenger compartment, strong but not unpleasant. However, a discordant odor hovered beneath the spicy perfume -- Ecstasy and cigarette smoke. He growled softly in irritation. Someone had smoked and done drugs in his truck! His quick perusal of the cab complete, he backed out of the truck and asked Naomi for his keys.
"Oh, I don't have them," she replied with a wide smile. "Shouldn't we go see your captain now?" She was half way to the Cascade PD visitor entrance doors before either man reacted and caught up with her.
"Um, Naomi, if you don't have the keys, how did you start my truck?"
Naomi Sandburg dished out a quick kiss on the cheek for each of her 'boys' and tossed her reply over her retreating shoulder. "I hotwired it, of course!"
Jim Ellison didn't know whether to hug Sandburg's mother or throttle her.
Neither man had recovered from the shock by the time the trio arrived in Simon Banks' office. Upon hearing that Naomi had hotwired Jim's truck, the Major Crimes captain joined the ranks of the dumbfounded.
"You boys simply have to stop staring at me like I've grown another head!" the source of their disbelief stated firmly, arranging her rumpled skirt and smoothing her mussed hair.
"You hotwired Jim's truck!"
"Yes, dear, I've already told you that."
"Ms. Sandburg, I've just got to ask. Where did you learn to hotwire a vehicle?"
Naomi blushed slightly and smiled softly. "Let's just call him Adam, the object of a misspent summer a couple of years before you were born, Blair, and leave it at that, shall we? I guess it's like riding a bicycle. You never forget!"
Blair shook his head in wonder as Simon brought the conversation back to the pertinent topic. "Ms. Sandburg, you need to tell us everything that happened after you called Blair from the car dealership, please."
"Of course. Well, as I told Blair, I was going to surprise him by showing up for my visit in a new car. He's so cute when he's surprised, you know."
My mother hotwired Jim's truck!
"Can't say I've noticed," Banks muttered, chomping harder on his unlit cigar.
Unfazed, Naomi continued her tale. "So I stopped at the PDQ Car dealership in Morton Hills to see what was available." Jim nodded, pleased at the confirmation that their sleuthing had at least pointed them in the right starting direction. He patted his partner's shoulder in commiseration as Blair quietly muttered in disbelief, "My mother hotwired my partner's truck!"
"Anyway, like I told Jim, I saw a truck that looked just like his on the lot and wanted to take a look at it. I was so surprised when I found a stain from one of my lipsticks that accidentally melted last summer. It had to be Jim's truck. So, when Blair told me the truck had been stolen and a man who told me he'd just bought it drove it off the lot, I simply had to follow him. My cell phone battery went dead, so I couldn't tell them where I was. I had to make a choice between following the truck or finding a phone to call Jim. So I decided I'd find out where the guy was going and then I'd call Jim." Naomi shrugged. "One thing seemed to lead to another. I followed Mr. Rude -- that's what I called him because he was so rude to me at the car lot -- to some vile warehouses by the waterfront. He hid the truck in one of the warehouses. I don't know what came over me, really. One minute I'm telling myself that I should just find a phone and the next I'm climbing up a maintenance ladder to the roof."
"Runs in the family," Ellison muttered, so low only his partner heard him. His comment was rewarded with an elbow to the ribs. Well, at least he's moved past Naomi hotwiring my truck.
"I found an unlocked door on the roof and snuck into the warehouse. There were some cars stored there, in addition to Jim's truck. The hoods were up on a few of the cars and three men were messing around under the hood of Jim's truck. I couldn't see what they were doing. I was afraid they might be stripping it, but they just closed the hood and then they all left. I snuck down the stairs, made sure they were gone, hotwired Jim's truck, unlocked and opened the door and drove out. Then I went back and closed and locked the door and left the way I'd originally gotten in, through the door in the roof. I thought if it wasn't immediately obvious that someone had been there, they might not notice the missing truck for a while and I could get farther away."
Blair was both horrified at the risks his mother had taken and tremendously proud of her ingenuity. "But what about your car, mom?"
"Well, I couldn't drive two vehicles at a time, silly." Naomi smiled tolerantly at her son. "So I had to leave it there."
Jim and Blair exchanged a concerned look. If the thieves returned to the warehouse, discovered the missing truck and searched the area, they were sure to find Naomi's car. A quick check of the registration would lead them directly to Naomi Sandburg.
"We've got to get back to that warehouse," Jim declared, pushing himself to his feet. "Naomi, can you remember where the warehouse was?"
"Of course I can Jim. I found my way here, didn't I?"
After a brief discussion regarding the merits of Naomi returning to the scene of the crime -- which she lost -- Jim and Blair were racing to the warehouse district, the blue strobe light on the Mustang's dash flashing and the siren wailing. A call to dispatch had uniformed units responding, but no one believed there would be anything to find. More than likely the thieves had returned to their base of operations, discovered the missing truck and deduced that they had been found out. If they had made note of Ellison's license plate number and did any research, they would quickly find out the truck belonged to a police officer. That, combined with the loss of the vehicle, would surely trigger panic and they would begin clearing out immediately. But Ellison and Sandburg's prime objective at the moment was locating and removing Naomi's car before the thieves had a chance to look around and find it.
Bracing himself against the dash with one hand as Blair careened around a corner, Ellison snagged his ringing cell phone with the other. "Ellison." He listened for a moment and then swore, "Son of bitch! Yeah, thanks, Serena." Ending the call, he turned to his curious partner. "They found 25 packets of Ecstasy stuffed into my windshield washer reservoir and another 25 in the gas tank. I knew I smelled Ecstasy after Naomi brought the truck back, but I just assumed her Mr. Rude had been enjoying himself while he drove."
"So we've got stolen vehicles and drugs, all wrapped up into the same case now?" Blair shook his head. "Strange bedfellows."
"Yeah, and how does PDQ Cars fit into all this?"
"We're almost there," Blair announced, reaching up to kill the strobe and siren. He slowed to a normal speed and the pair cruised through the warehouse district. A few streets away from where Naomi said she left her car, Jim reached out to touch Blair's shoulder. "We'd better take it from here on foot, partner. This is hardly a low-profile vehicle, you know. We're likely to attract more than a little attention in these wheels."
"Yeah," Blair agreed reluctantly. "But it better be here when I get back!"
"Well, as much as I'd like to look around that warehouse, this is going to have to be a quick in and out. We have to get to Naomi's car before they find it."
Making sure the top and doors of the Mustang were securely locked, the pair quickly made their way through the warehouse maze until they located Naomi's small car. A pair of uniformed officers had arrived first and one stood guard over the vehicle while the other observed the warehouse. They quietly greeted the two detectives.
"Any sign of activity?" Ellison asked as he peered through the same pallets Naomi had used earlier that day. He extended his hearing in an effort to locate signs of life. Everything seemed quiet.
"Not as far as we can tell," Officer Brockhurst confirmed.
A fragment of an idea began to take shape in Jim's mind. It was a long shot, and not entirely legal, he was sure, but it might just work. "You got a crowbar in your unit?" he asked Brockhurst.
"Yeah," Brockhurst replied, a puzzled look on his face. "But the car doors are unlocked and the keys are in the ignition."
"I'm not planning on using it on the car," Jim said, a corner of his mouth lifting slightly. "I'm going to use it to break into that warehouse."
Brockhurst and Sandburg's jaws dropped simultaneously. "What?"
"We're going to make them think that someone broke in and stole my truck. Well, technically someone did steal my truck, but we need to make them believe it was a random hit. Maybe they won't bail on the warehouse and we can catch the bunch of them."
"Couldn't you just wait till these guys came back and nab them?" Brockhurst asked practically. He'd heard that Ellison's tactics could often be unconventional, but he'd never experienced the man firsthand.
"We could," Ellison admitted, "but that won't lead us to the ring leaders. I want to know what they're doing with those cars after they stuff them full of drugs. And I want to know how PDQ Cars fits into all this. I don't think just nabbing these guys is going to answer all our questions."
"I dunno, Jim." Blair chewed his lip nervously. "With no warrant it might not stand up in court. And Simon won't be happy."
"Yeah, I know it's marginal, Sandburg. But all I'm really doing is setting up a sting of sorts. I want every last one of them, Chief, and I think this will do it."
Sandburg sighed in defeat. Stealing Jim's truck had made it personal. Not to mention my mom, the private eye wannabe. "Okay."
Shaking his head, Brockhurst left to retrieve the crowbar from a toolkit in the trunk of their squad car.
Waiting until the uniformed officer was out of earshot, Blair turned to his partner. "Are you sure there's no one in there, Jim?"
"I'm sure, Sandburg. No heartbeats, nothing. If anyone's in there, they're dead."
"Well, that's reassuring," Blair grimaced.
"Relax, Sandburg. We're finally catching a break here. Obviously our guys haven't come back from their excursion yet. If I can jimmie the door and make it look like someone randomly stole my truck, we might be able to break this thing wide open."
"Only if they don't know they stole a cop's truck." Sandburg voiced Ellison's earlier thoughts.
Brockhurst trotted back, crowbar in hand. "We just got a call," he panted. "I'll catch up with you at the station to get it back."
"Thanks," Ellison grunted, already moving towards the warehouse. "Keep an eye out, Sandburg," he instructed, then jogged across the driveway to stand in front of the heavy roll-up door.
"Thanks, man," Blair smiled. Brockhurst tossed a wave over his shoulder as he returned to his squad car.
Blair joined his partner at the warehouse door and turned his attention to watching Jim's back. Jim had wedged the crowbar between the jamb and the edge of the door and was tugging on it experimentally, gauging the force needed to pry the door open. He determined that although the warehouse was fairly dilapidated looking, it was actually quite well constructed. Obviously an effort to stave off exactly the situation he was attempting to simulate, Ellison mused. Throwing himself into the task, he exerted as much force as he could. The distressed metal creaked and groaned under the assault and Blair was sure everyone in the warehouse district would appear to investigate the unusual noises. After a couple of minutes, the door lost its battle to remain intact and swung open with one last loud shout of protest.
Short of his time spent with Lash, Blair decided it was the longest two minutes he could recall in quite some time.
Ellison smiled in triumph and pushed his way through the damaged door. "Stay here," he tossed over his shoulder.
"Yet another version of 'stay in the truck, Sandburg'?" Blair smirked.
"Yet another version of watch out for bad guys, Chief."
A minute later the large door began to roll up, revealing the interior of the warehouse, and Ellison emerged. "The temptation to search this place is almost overwhelming," he admitted. "But I think that would be pushing our luck. Definitely warrant territory there." He paused to scan the area. "Let's take off, Chief. I hear somebody coming and we've got to get Naomi's car out of here." He swiftly crossed the driveway to the warehouse concealing Naomi's small car.
"And my car," Blair reminded him, only a step behind his partner. He coughed as his partner continued to walk past his mother's car. "Uh, Jim? Aren't you forgetting something here?"
"Oh, I figured you'd want to take care of it for her, Chief, her being your mother and all."
"Well, I figured you'd want to take care of it, Jim, it being your truck and all. Besides, I've got the keys!" He darted around his partner and made a dash for his car, shouting, "See you at the station, Jim!"
Growling about impertinent guides and shifty partners, Ellison opened the door to the subcompact car and balefully examined the interior. Noting that the approaching vehicle was getting closer, he set about shoehorning himself into the driver's seat, bashing a knee on the steering wheel adjustment lever. Even with the seat pushed all the way back, he felt like a sardine in the tiny car. He cranked the engine and was slightly surprised when it purred to life. Shifting into gear, he extended his hearing in an effort to gauge the incoming vehicle's direction. He made sure he left the area by the opposite direction. He really wanted to hang around and watch the thieves' reactions, but knew they had to clear the area. Once evidence of Naomi's activities was removed, they'd stake out the warehouse to see what they were doing with the stolen cars. He did pause a block or so away, however, and eavesdrop on the conversations back at the warehouse. After a couple of minutes listening, he smiled in satisfaction. His plan was going to work, he could feel it.
Turning onto Harwood Street, Jim was pleased to see Peterson and his partner from Auto Theft enjoying burgers and fries at a patio table. Pulling up to the curb, Ellison rolled down the window, repeatedly jabbing himself in the ribs in the confines of the car. "Peterson!" he shouted, following it with a shrill whistle to get the officers' attention. It took a moment for the other cop to realize who was calling him, then he rose from the table with a grin and approached the car.
"Hey, Jimbo, where'd you get the car? Looks like one of those circus cars they stuff all those clowns into."
"It's not that small," Ellison growled. "It belongs to my partner's mother..." He quickly spelled out the situation and finished with, "How about you and your partner keeping an eye on that warehouse until I can get someone back here? Hate to take your case away from you, Bob, but those drugs just dumped it into my sandbox."
"No problem, Jimbo. We were getting kind of tired of looking at that one, anyway. Take it, it's yours. But we'll be glad to run over and see what we can see."
Ellison drove away in his "clown car," hoping that everyone he owed favors wouldn't decide to collect at the same time.
After returning Naomi's car, it had taken quite a bit of persuasion to see her safely on her way to the loft with Blair's key in hand. Naomi, still riding the adrenaline rush from her afternoon's escapades had insisted that she could still help. "I can identify Mr. Rude!" Jim had explained that they would stake out the warehouse and, although she hadn't been able to find Rude's photo in the mug book, they still had her sketch artist's rendition, so therefore wouldn't need her personal identification until later. His expression openly pleaded with his partner for assistance. Blair, however, was content to let his partner handle the situation. The argument had persisted for several minutes until Captain Banks had stepped in and summarily ended it. Naomi had grudgingly acquiesced. Ellison didn't know whether to throttle Sandburg's mother or hug her.
Informing Banks of his arrangement with Peterson and his partner, Ellison asked to have Rafe and Henri assigned to relieve the Auto Theft detectives on the warehouse stakeout. They were to sing out if they saw any activity beyond the natural skittishness the thieves would certainly be feeling following the 'theft' of Jim's already stolen truck.
The warehouse taken care of, he and Blair turned their attention to PDQ Cars. They were running checks on the franchise owner and his salesman and, while they hadn't exactly hit pay dirt, it quickly became clear that both men had shady pasts.
"Hey, Jim, check this out. The owner's name is Harold Walsh. His jacket shows an arrest in '95 for suspicion of receiving stolen goods. The case was dropped due to lack of evidence. There's also a report of alleged spousal abuse in 2000. Uniforms got called to Walsh's house by neighbors claiming there was a shouting match going on next door. Walsh's wife, Vickie, said her husband hit her during an argument. She was apparently sporting a pretty decent mouse on her cheek, so the blues decided to take them in. But after they got to the precinct, I guess the reality of the situation hit her and she got cold feet. She refused to file charges. Nothing on his record after that."
Ellison shook his head. "Salesman's name is Eric Hathaway. He bonded with the California penal system for a while on multiple counts of possession of marijuana. He's been out on parole for six months and moved to Cascade with all the required permissions. He checks in regularly with his parole officer here. There's not enough here to prove anything on either one of them, but it's grounds for suspicion. Let's go check out that car lot, Chief," he said, draining the last of his cold coffee and making a face.
Blair propped his chin on his hand and stared morosely out the passenger window of the car Ellison had finally requisitioned, having deemed the blue Mustang too visible for staking out a used car lot. "We've been here for hours, man, and there's no sign of anything. This could take days! Why don't we just shake down the warehouse guys and go for the sure thing?"
"Cause the sure thing won't get us to the root of the matter, Chief. And as much as I love your mother, I'm pretty sure the testimony of a woman who hotwired an already stolen vehicle will be deemed less than credible. We've got to get more. Besides, I'd like to spare her from having to testify at all." Ellison opened his door and stepped out of the car. "I'm going to go get a closer look -- maybe talk with the owner." At Blair's confused look, he grinned and said, "I'm carless, remember?"
Leaving his partner to keep watch in the car, Jim made his way across the busy thoroughfare and meandered onto the used car lot. Almost immediately he was approached by Eric Hathaway. "Can I help you, sir?"
Ellison flashed his brightest smile and said heartily, "Just seeing what you've got. I'm without wheels at the moment, compliments of a sixteen-year-old mobile make-up artist."
Hathaway chuckled in commiseration. "I hear ya. My ex used to put her makeup on while she was driving. Insisted it didn't affect her driving at all -- right up until she rear-ended a cop car." Jim laughed in easy companionship. "So, you looking for anything in particular, Mr..."
"Ellsworth," Jim supplied smoothly. "Nah, nothing in particular, just seeing what's around, you know?" As they talked, Jim moved from vehicle to vehicle, scanning the interiors and raising the hoods. "How often do you get new stock?"
"Almost daily. There's always someone who wants to trade for something different."
"You ever get any trucks? Always kind of wanted a truck."
"Not many trucks. Get the occasional station wagon."
"Not a station wagon kind of guy," Jim declined with a melodramatic shudder. "Well, I don't see anything that turns me on right now. I'm making the rounds of most of the lots around here, so I'll check back in a few days to see if you've gotten anything new -- so to speak." Jim 'Ellsworth' grinned at his own joke and stuck out his hand to shake hands with the suspect salesman.
He wandered off the lot and up the sidewalk until he was sure he was out of Hathaway's line of sight. Crossing the street and sliding once again behind the wheel of the nondescript departmental vehicle, he updated his partner on his activities. "I checked every car on the lot. No sign of drugs in any of them, other than the occasional whiff of marijuana left over from the previous owner's last toke."
"So that means they don't come back to the lot after they've picked up their extra cargo."
"Right," Ellison agreed. "So PDQ is definitely the starting point. Looks like Hathaway and Walsh are the procurers and Naomi's Mr. Rude supplies the drugs."
"But where do they go after that? And what's with the used car angle?"
"That's what we're going to find out, Chief. We're going to watch every car that comes into this place until Mr. Rude shows up for his next 'purchase.' Then we're going to follow him back to the warehouse and wait for him to stuff it full of drugs. After that, we're going to see where he goes with it. I've got a theory, though. Their warehouse is down by the waterfront. That's probably not a coincidence. I'm betting they're working with a less-than-scrupulous ship's captain who's loading the cars and drugs on a ship and taking them out of the country."
Blair frowned doubtfully, "I dunno, Jim. I mean, this country imports drugs. Why would these guys want to export them?"
"I dunno, Junior. Like I said, it's just a theory. Anyway, they're probably lifting used cars to keep a low profile on the streets. We're tuned to keeping an eye out for stolen Beemers and Audis, but we're less likely to notice the average Joe's car."
"Man, these guys are getting harder and harder to keep ahead of," Blair complained, shaking his head. "Sometimes it seems like we're fighting a losing battle."
"We just gotta keep plugging, Chief. Otherwise they win the war."
"Yeah, I know. I just like to complain about it."
Their conversation was cut short as Jim's cell phone chirped. "Ellison. Hey Henri, what's up?"
"Not much. Just took over from Peterson." Henri chuckled and Jim could envision the jovial black officer's wide grin. "He said the activity was pretty frantic for a while when the guys discovered your truck was missing. Lots of shouting and arm waving. Two of the dudes looked like they really wanted to clear out, but the third guy apparently decided it was a random hit."
Jim smiled in satisfaction. "So they didn't clear out?"
"Nope, looks like business as usual," Brown confirmed. "Everything's nice and calm. They've been working on fixing that door you jimmied."
"Good. Keep up the good work, H."
"What work? We're just sitting here watching a bunch of guys doin' nothin' at a warehouse, man."
"And a fine job you're doing, too, my man," Ellison quipped, ending the call. He turned to his partner and grinned proudly. "The guys bought my ruse. H says they were real upset for a while, then apparently decided it was a random hit and calmed down. Says they're fixing my door."
"How do you always come out of theses things smelling like a rose, Ellison?" Blair griped good-naturedly.
"It's a gift, Sandburg. A gift."
PDQ Cars was closed for the night and so was Sandburg. He snored softly, his head lolled against the seats headrest while his partner kept watch over the used car dealership. Ellison had volunteered to continue the stakeout while his partner napped. If nothing happened before midnight, Blair would take the watch until they were relieved by Conner and Taggart.
Keeping his eyes trained on the car lot, Ellison amused himself by mentally timing the duration of and lapses between Sandburg's snores. Quickly tiring of that activity, he switched to attempting to identify oncoming vehicles by the shape of their headlight/parking light configurations.
As he was congratulating himself on correctly spotting a rare '57 Chevy sedan, Ellison noted activity at the darkened dealership. He zoomed in on the baby blue 1980 Mustang that had just pulled onto the lot and spied Hathaway behind the wheel. "Bingo." He slapped his partner on the leg. "Wake up, Sandburg, the show's starting."
Sandburg sat up, sleep's fog quickly dissipating. "What's happening?"
"Hathaway just drove up in a late model Mustang." Jim called out the license plate number, which Blair hastily jotted down. "I'll bet you a dozen donuts there's a stolen out on it."
Blair shook his head. "Sucker bet." He declined to play, unsuccessfully stifling a huge yawn before reaching for the dash mic. Two minutes later Ellison's suspicions were confirmed as the dispatcher verified Blair's request for wants and warrants on the Mustang's tag number. During the wait, the two men had watched as Hathaway parked the car on the row closest to the street, crouched at either end of the vehicle and removed the license plates. He then locked the car and then disappeared into the office. "Now what?" Blair queried as he replaced the radio's hand mic.
Ellison scanned the office in the hopes that Hathaway would make an incriminating phone call or something, even though it would be inadmissible in court, but was met with only silence. "More waiting."
"More sleeping." Blair decided, shifting to a more comfortable position and closing his eyes. "I'm betting they won't do anything more until morning," he commented without opening his eyes. "I mean, they moved your truck in the middle of the day."
"Another sucker bet, Sandburg." Ellison checked his watch. "Don't get too comfortable, Chief, your shift is coming up in thirteen minutes."
Opening his eyes and sitting upright once again, Blair griped, "I don't see why we can't just put a uniform on this and come back in the morning. Nothing's going to happen tonight." He rummaged through his "stakeout" bag and extracted the binoculars he customarily carried to compensate for not being a sentinel.
"I want to see if any more stolens show up, partner. I want to witness Hathaway driving them onto the lot so he can't weasel out of a car theft rap. He's not going to be able to say they didn't know the cars were stolen when they were brought in because we're going to watch him bring them in himself. We need all the evidence we can get." The senior detective shifted in his seat, head propped against the window and settled in for a nap of his own. "Wake me up if anything happens."
"Count on it."
An hour later, Ellison awoke to his partner running a license plate through the DMV. "Hathaway's leaving," Sandburg quickly explained when he realized his partner had awakened. "That Camaro just picked him up at the curb." Ellison quickly started the truck, prepared to follow the sports car when it pulled away. Focusing his senses on the vehicle, he barely registered the dispatcher's response when she advised them that there were no wants or warrants on the 1999 Camaro which was registered to one Walter Thurman of 5861 Elm Street, Cascade. Blair acknowledged the response and turned to Ellison. "Maybe he's off to steal another car."
"Let's hope so, Chief." Ellison eased the requisitioned Crown Victoria into the light, late-night flow of traffic, never losing sight of his green Camaro target.
Half an hour later, both men admitted defeat in trailing Hathaway. The Camaro's driver had deposited the used car salesman in front of his own apartment building and driven sedately away. As the detectives watched, Hathaway stretched mightily, then turned and disappeared into the red brick, six-story building, which had seen far better days. A light appeared in a window on the fourth floor a couple of minutes later.
Once again attempting to glean some hint of Hathaway's intent, Ellison cast his sensory net around the building, cataloging its occupants' activities and mentally casting them aside. Blair recognized his partner's pose and watched in expectant silence.
"Hey, you slinky little pussy cat, how was your day? Did you behave yourself or were you a naughty girl? You got a kiss for daddy?"
"Getting anything?" Blair whispered, mindful of his partner's hyper-extended hearing.
"Well, either Hathaway has a cat or I'm getting in on some kinky action with a girlfriend."
Blair snorted in amusement and shifted positions, his butt having gone numb from their several hours on stakeout.
As Ellison continued listening to the one-sided conversation (aside from the occasional meow), he heard Hathaway dial a telephone number. Although he and Blair frequently worked on distinguishing the tones produced by touchtone phones, the number was dialed so quickly that he couldn't pick them up. Maybe Blair'll walk me through that relaxation recall thing to bring the tones back to the forefront of my mind. He concentrated harder when he heard the shady car salesman speak again -- this time obviously not to his cat.
"Yeah, it's me. Picked up a good one tonight. '80 Mustang. A little newer than what we've been grabbing, but it's so common nobody's gonna notice it on the streets. Yeah, tomorrow, one o'clock. Yeah."
Jim heard a tone he deduced was Hathaway pressing the Off button to end the call, followed by the man cooing to his cat once again. "Come on, pussy cat, time for bed." The apartment lights were extinguished and Jim drew back once he identified the sounds of Hathaway undressing for bed.
"What'd you get, Jim?" Blair turned to face his partner after realizing his hearing had returned to normal.
"He sleeps with his cat and he's moving the car at one o'clock tomorrow. Nothing we can use officially, but we're going to be there when the deal goes down. Guess we can go home and get some sleep after all."
"I am so down with that!"
After ensuring that Conner and Taggart would still be going to cover the car lot to watch for further activity, Ellison and Sandburg headed back to the loft.
Quietly entering the apartment, both men smiled when they saw Naomi curled up on the couch, sound asleep. She had made Blair a cozy-looking bed on the couch, complete with pillows, sheets and a blanket, and had clearly been trying to wait up for them.
"She's hooked," Blair said, shaking his head. "She's caught up in the roller coaster ride, just like I am. She wasn't about to go to bed if there was a chance something was going to happen while we were on stakeout. She might miss it." He walked quietly over to his mother and gently shook her shoulder. "Wake up, Mom, we're home."
Naomi's eyelids fluttered and she gazed blearily up at her son for a moment. Then, achieving full wakefulness, she sat up and asked excitedly, "Did you get him?"
Chuckling, Blair kissed Naomi's forehead and assured her, "Not yet, but we will tomorrow. We've got a lead."
"Oh, that's good, honey! What can I do to help?"
"Go to bed."
Naomi frowned in confusion and Blair explained, "You can help by going to bed, Mom, so I can go to bed. I'm bushed! It's been a long day and Jim and I have to be at the station early tomorrow for a witness interview in another case we've been working on. Then we're going back to stake out PDQ Cars again."
"Okay, Sweetie." Naomi kissed Blair's cheek and rose smoothly to her feet. She gave Jim's cheek a quick peck on the way by and turned around before entering Blair's room. "Wake me when you get up so I can at least fix you a good breakfast."
Although he frequently didn't know whether to strangle or hug Naomi, Jim decided that hugging was holding the upper hand at the moment.
"Shit! Sandburg, up now!" Jim threw back the covers and leapt from the bed, casting yet another disbelieving glance at the alarm clock. Eight o'clock!! He never overslept! "Sandburg!" He rummaged in his dresser for a clean pair of underwear and socks and grabbed the first pair of slacks his hand touched in the closet. He pounded down the stairs, clothes in hand, and paused only long enough to yank the covers off his still-slumbering roommate. "Sandburg!"
"We're supposed to be at the station in an hour! Get your ass up and get going or we're going to be late."
"How'd that happen? You never oversleep."
"Well, obviously I did today. Now, get moving!" Jim disappeared into the bathroom and almost immediately the shower came on.
Blair stretched luxuriously and fought the urge to roll over and go back to sleep. Instead, he pushed himself to a sitting position and scrubbed his hands across his face and through his hair. "Coffee," he decided and, having come up with a plan, moved into action. While the coffee was brewing and filling the loft with the tantalizing aroma of fresh roasted Columbian, Blair set about unmaking his bed. Naomi drifted out of Blair's room, still drowsy and yawning, awakened by the commotion Jim had made, and helped her son set the living room to rights.
A few minutes later, the bathroom door opened and disgorged his clean-shaven partner in a cloud of steam. He veered into the kitchen to pour himself a mug of the freshly-brewed coffee, which he carried upstairs to drink while he finished dressing.
Snagging his own cup of coffee, Blair took his turn in the bathroom. Less than forty-five minutes later, both men were dressed and ready to face their day.
"But what about breakfast?" Naomi asked in distress as the men were donning their weapons and jackets.
"No time, Mom," Blair tossed over his shoulder as they opened the door to leave. But he promised, "We'll grab something from the pastry cart."
Naomi was hardly mollified but accepted her defeat with grace.
"Okay, this day officially sucks," Blair declared as he and his partner were once again positioned down the street from PDQ Cars. Although they had parked much closer than before to ensure a good view of the impending proceedings, Blair was using his binoculars to scan the nearby car lot while Jim used his enhanced sight. "We were only a few minutes late for the interview this morning, but to hear the D.A. tell it, we missed the whole thing!" He didn't bother to wait for his partner to agree or disagree, but plunged on with his tirade, his eyes never leaving the dealership's lot. "And Simon just sat there and glared in his Captain sort of way and didn't even try to help us out at all! And then that prick Palatino doesn't give us jack on Bernetti like he said he could!"
"Are you done?" Jim asked mildly.
"Yes! No! We missed breakfast and the pastry cart!" Blair eyed his partner suspiciously. "So why aren't you pissed?"
Jim shrugged. "You're doing a good enough job for both of us. Besides, all Lucy had left on the cart today was pineapple Danish."
"How do you know that?" Blair said, glancing away from the car lot.
The sentinel tapped his nose, "Smelled it."
Blair eyed his friend for a moment and then laughed. Ellison silently congratulated himself on diverting his friend's tirade.
"I'm still hungry," Blair complained, returning to his vigil.
"Well, with any luck you'll be able to enjoy a hearty lunch sometime after one o'clock, Chief."
Blair checked his watch. "It's after one now, Jim. Are you sure you heard Hathaway right?"
Ellison stared hard at his partner, who held up a placating hand. "Forget I asked that."
"Looks like our boy's a little nervous, too," Ellison commented, directing Sandburg's gaze toward the Mustang's location on the lot. Hathaway was standing on the sidewalk in front of the stolen car, scanning the street in obvious frustration.
"I guess Rude's a little late..." Jim broke off as a tap on the car's window startled him. Irritated at having been caught off guard, Jim reached for his weapon and spun to face the intruder. His jaw dropped as he came face-to-face with Naomi Sandburg, who smiled happily and raised a picnic basket in greeting. Regaining his composure, Jim rolled down the window and demanded, "Naomi, what are you doing here?"
"Bringing you lunch!" Naomi chortled, opening the passenger door and setting the picnic basket on the back seat. "I was worried that neither of you had had breakfast and I just knew that you were going to miss lunch too, so I decided to bring lunch to you!"
Throttle was quickly overtaking hug in Jim's book, although he had to admit that he was hungry. He settled for directing a frostbite-producing glare in his partner's direction. Blair, who was just as surprised as Jim to see his mother, only shrugged weakly as if to ask, "What do you think I can do about it?"
"Oh, my god, Jim!!" Naomi's shriek effectively ended the silent battle between the partners. "That's him!" Naomi was pointing toward the PDQ Cars lot, where a dark-haired man in his early forties had approached Hathaway. "That's the man who stole your truck!"
The Cascade police detectives were not the only ones to have their conversation interrupted by Naomi's outburst. Hathaway and Rude turned to stare at the Crown Victoria in which Jim and Blair sat and beside which Naomi literally danced while she pointed directly at them. Although they had no reason to remember Naomi from their previous brief encounter when she was examining Jim's stolen truck, their slightly paranoid criminal minds engaged the fight or flight response. They chose flight. Hathaway tossed the keys to the Mustang to Rude, then jumped into the passenger seat. Rude slid quickly behind the wheel and fired up the Mustang's engine.
"Damn!" Jim swore as he brought their car to life, "Naomi, stay..."
Naomi fell into the back seat, shoving the picnic basket out of the way and slamming the passenger door closed.
"...in the back." Jim finished lamely. Muttering something about civilians involved in a police chase and Simon Banks killing him, Jim swung the car into traffic. Blair squeezed his eyes shut, praying to any god that would listen as a dump truck bore down on them, its air horn blasting menacingly. But the daredevil police driver coaxed some hidden speed out of the vehicle and avoided the accident with room to spare. Opening his eyes when he didn't hear a crash, Blair checked his mother in the back seat. She must be terrified. Naomi's cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkled with excitement. So much for terror. I think my mom is turning into an adrenaline junkie! "Fasten your seatbelt, Mom!"
The Mustang had backed out of the parking space and pulled quickly off the lot, heading north on Bryant Street. Jim kept the powerful unmarked police car close on its bumper. While the Crown Victoria actually had the more powerful engine, the Mustang one-upped them on maneuverability. It executed sliding turns that frequently left the larger car lagging behind. But each time, Jim pressed the engine for more power and the car responded.
Naomi reached out to grab the headrests attached to the front seat and pulled herself forward, as if to get closer to the chase.
Sandburg grabbed the radio mic and called in their position and a description of the car they were chasing. The mic flew out of his hand as Jim executed a sudden, screeching turn that would have sent the occupants flying had they not been wearing their seat belts, and Blair began concentrating on hanging on for dear life.
"He's headed for the freeway," Jim guessed as the Mustang made a sharp turn onto a side street that ultimately dead ended at the freeway on-ramp.
"Well, unless he's got something under that hood that he hasn't shown us yet, that's not a good move. We can outrun him."
"That's right, Chief. We've just got to keep him from killing someone until we do!"
True to Jim's guess, Hathaway and Rude reached the end of the road and veered over to access the on-ramp. The Crown Victoria followed, its grill lights flashing and siren blaring.
"Don't lose him, Jim!" Naomi warned from the backseat, earning a raised eyebrow from Ellison, who didn't dare take his eyes off the road.
"Doing my best here, Naomi." Jim cranked the wheel to the left to avoid a slow-moving Volkswagen Cabrio and immediately back to the right, barely missing a big rig's bumper. Blair clenched his jaw to avoid shouting as he watched the bumper glide past his window. He spared a glance at his mother and was horrified to see that she appeared to be thoroughly enjoying the experience.
Ahead of them, the Mustang continued to weave in and out of traffic, using its superior maneuverability to its advantage. Traffic was fairly light, for which the two detectives were grateful. The less civilians involved in the chase (unfortunately excluding the one in the back seat), the better.
Rude suddenly whipped the Mustang across three lanes of freeway traffic, leaving a trail of spinning vehicles in his wake. Their efforts to avoid hitting the speeding Mustang had caused several drivers to lose control of their own transportation. However, everyone not only managed to avoid hitting the Mustang, they managed not to hit each other either. But the resulting melee forced Jim to reduce the Crown Victoria's speed to weave through the vehicular kaleidoscope. Shifting his focus between the labyrinth in front of him and following the jack rabbit Mustang was giving Jim a headache he was certain only a good, solid punch to Mr. Rude's jaw was likely to alleviate. He clenched his own jaw in anticipation.
Wrenching the steering wheel at the last moment to send the large car hurtling down the same off-ramp Rude had taken several seconds earlier, Jim ignored his partner's startled gasp. You'd think Sandburg would be used to this by now.
Once again the sedan's speed outweighed the sports car's maneuverability. It and Ellison's enhanced sight combined to quickly locate the fleeing vehicle. In a matter of seconds, Ellison again rode the Mustang's bumper. He wished he could extend his hearing to follow the conversation in the car in front of him. Overhearing their plans might give him an advantage. But the concentration necessary to drive and extend his vision simply wouldn't support piggybacking his hearing. He'd just have to wear them down the old fashioned way.
Blair grabbed the mic again to update the backup vehicles of their new location. The dispatcher responded that several units were going to form road blocks on the main road and feeder roads a short distance ahead of the car's current direction to try to end the chase.
"Good," Jim muttered. "I'm getting tired of this!"
Latching onto the seat belt crossing his shoulder, Blair silently tossed in a "Me, too!" Naomi simply once again exhorted Jim to not lose his quarry.
Unexpectedly, the Mustang veered sharply to the left, across traffic once again and into the driveway of a vehicle junkyard.
"Junkyard," Jim growled as he spun the wheel and sent the car into a sliding turn to follow the green car. "Why do they always head for the damn junkyards?"
Blair quickly updated dispatch on the turn of events.
The Mustang skidded to a stop and both car doors flew open to expel its occupants.
Jim abruptly applied his own brakes and began chanting an improvised mantra: "Don't run-don'trun-don'trun.... don't-damn!" He threw the car into Park and he and Blair unholstered their weapons as they hurriedly exited the car, shouting over their shoulders, "Stay in the car, Naomi!" They spared a moment to share an amused glance and, with the unspoken communication born of long partnership, Blair took off after Hathaway while Jim pursued Rude.
Blair spied Hathaway racing toward stacks of separated car and truck parts and pushed harder to catch up. Hathaway wove between the piles of hoods and trunk lids in an attempt to lose the detective, but Blair's smaller frame provided extra agility in the tight confines that allowed him to close the gap between them. He darted between rows of engines and nimbly hurtled heaps of bumpers. He lost a bit of ground, though, when he hung the toe of his shoe in an upturned bumper and had to flail his arms wildly to keep from falling. But he quickly picked up the pace again, scrambling through the cannibalized chassis of the beyond-repair cars. His lungs were on fire with the pace the men were maintaining and his legs burned as they pumped to keep up.
Had he been able to suck in enough oxygen, he would have cheered at the break he caught when Hathaway suddenly stumbled and ended up sprawled on his stomach in a mud puddle left over from recent rains.
"Cascade Police! Don't move!" Blair commanded, certain it would have carried more weight had he not wheezed between syllables. Hathaway, realizing the game was up, laced his fingers behind his head and lay still.
Wary of potential escape, Blair cautiously moved in and efficiently cuffed Hathaway before pulling him to his feet. Holstering his weapon, the detective grasped his prisoner by the elbow and led him back toward the car, both men struggling to regain their breath.
Ellison's prey had opted to seek refuge between the enormous stacks of crushed cars that littered the junkyard. Although obviously frantic to elude capture, Rude was prowling quietly between the mountains of compacted metal and Jim was having trouble following him amid the cacophony of junkyard sounds. Forklifts, tow trucks, pneumatic tools and groaning metal all conspired to distract the Sentinel, and he was finding it difficult to distinguish and discard the myriad unwanted sounds in his search for meaningful ones.
He moved stealthily among the stacks, alternating his senses in an effort to find the most useful one for the situation. While working with hearing, he was pleased to come across his partner reading Hathaway his Miranda rights. Good, he didn't have to worry about Blair then. He swept past Blair's location and continued his search. He'd been right behind Rude, so he couldn't be that far away from him. Cursed junkyard!
Sight was essentially useless in his position between the tall stacks, so he resignedly cranked up his sense of smell. Thank God we're not in the city dump! Filtering out the rank odors of old engine oil, transmission and brake fluids, and stagnant water that had collected in the thousands of automotive receptacles, Ellison picked up an incongruous scent. Aftershave. Cheap aftershave at that. Stan had said the guy who stole his truck was wearing cheap cologne. Homing in on the offensive aroma, Ellison stalked his prey through the vehicular jungle. As the scent grew stronger, he piggybacked hearing on smell. Rude's heart was hammering, but his movements were still amazingly stealthy. But the sentinel had him. He was just ahead.
Just as Jim prepared to make his move, a horrendous screech of compacting metal assaulted his over-sensitive ears, slicing into his brain. Crying out in agony, he clapped his hands ineffectually over his ears and dropped to his knees, stunned -- felled by the car crusher.
His disorientation lasted only a few moments, however, and he stumbled to his feet, determined not to lose his quarry. But an attempt to extend his hearing produced only a high pitched ringing, combined with a pressurized hollowness that felt as if he were underwater. Automatically compensating with smell, Ellison realized that Rude was doubling back toward the cars -- he was going to make another run for it!
Ellison began to run, sprinting in the direction of the cars. "Blair!" he managed to shout, his voice sounding strangely hollow to his temporarily damaged ears. "He's headed for the cars!" He hoped that alerting his partner would allow them to prevent Rude from reaching his goal.
Breaking into the open land comprising the driveway, the Cascade detective skidded to a stop in shock. Blair, firmly grasping Hathaway's upper arm, stood staring in horror at the Crown Victoria as Rude tightened his choke hold on Naomi Sandburg.
"Keep away from me or she dies!" the cornered criminal shouted desperately, backing toward the open driver's door.
"Let her go!" Blair commanded, his hand moving toward the weapon at the small of his back.
"Don't move!" Rude cried, shaking Naomi roughly to make his point. "I swear I'll kill her!" Blair froze and Rude turned his attention to Ellison. "Get over there with your partner!"
Jim complied, helpless to do anything else.
"Tell him to let me go, Nick!" Hathaway called out, giving Rude a real name.
Nick ignored his cohort's request, his attention focused on the two police detectives. He shifted closer to the car door and Blair's heart pounded as he realized his mother was about to become a hostage. If she was forced into the car, her chances of survival would fall dramatically.
"Nick!" Hathaway cried out, struggling within Blair's grasp. "Don't leave me here, man!"
Nick pretended not to hear.
"If you don't take me with you, I'll roll over on you so fast you won't know what hit you!" Eric Hathaway promised angrily.
Jim and Blair were helpless. Neither was in a position to overpower the car thief and any efforts to move closer would surely result in injury to Naomi.
"Now me and the pretty lady here are gonna get in this car and drive away and there's nothing you can do to stop us!" As he shifted to push Naomi into the car, Nick suddenly doubled over and howled in pain. He released Naomi, who quickly spun and lashed out with a right cross that would have done any professional boxer proud.
"I will not be used as a hostage!" Naomi declared, "Especially against my son!"
Nick, aka Mr. Rude, dropped bonelessly and silently to the ground. Quickly gathering their wits, Ellison and Sandburg moved in to subdue the prisoner, although Naomi had quite effectively handled that herself.
A phalanx of police cars, lights flashing and sirens wailing, descended on the junkyard and officers poured out of the vehicles, ready to join the fray. They seemed a bit disappointed when Ellison assured them that everything was under control.
Jim still didn't know whether to throttle Sandburg's mother or hug her.
As so often happened when Naomi Sandburg entered the picture, things hadn't turned out quite the way Jim Ellison had planned. His goal of snaring the car theft/drug ring kingpin had taken a detour south when Naomi had appeared on the scene.
"But," he summarized later that day in Simon Banks' office, "Hathaway made good on his threat to turn stool pigeon if he was left behind. He's identified Mr. Rude as Nick Mason and fingered him as the head man in their little Ecstasy side business. Hathaway would steal the cars, then Mason would pick them up and take them to the warehouse to stash the drugs. I was all wrong on the ship angle, though. It didn't occur to me that the rail yards were right there, too. They bribed a night watchman and engineer into letting them load the stolen vehicles into boxcars destined for mid-Western states. It was a double-edged money-making sword -- sell the used cars and distribute the drugs."
"What about PDQ's owner, Harold Walsh?" Banks asked, glancing through the reports Sandburg and Ellison had just finished preparing.
"In on it from the start, sir." Jim confirmed. Then he chuckled. "I wanted Hathaway to lead me to the ringleader and he was there all the time. Apparently Walsh got tired of selling used cars and came up with the plan as a quick way to get lots of cash to retire on. According to Hathaway, Walsh was planning on taking the money and running to Ecuador or something. He was also planning to leave his wife behind. Pretty lousy reward for not pressing abuse charges," Jim mused, shaking his head. "Anyway, Hathaway's willing to take them all down in exchange for a lighter sentence. Between breaking parole and boosting cars, he was looking at some pretty serious time. Their one big mistake was taking the cars back to PDQ instead of directly to the warehouse. But Hathaway thought if he didn't deliver the cars to the warehouse he couldn't be linked to the drugs. Walsh needed him to make his plan work, so he went along with it. It was just pure luck on our part that Naomi happened by and saw my truck."
"Sounds like we've got a pretty good case here, with Ms. Sandburg's testimony included." Simon nodded, rearing back in his chair and propping his feet on the corner of his desk. "Speaking of whom, where is your mother, Sandburg?"
Blair had been uncharacteristically quiet during their update, and he blinked quickly and shifted his attention to the captain as if his thoughts had been elsewhere. "Huh? Oh, Connor drove her back to the loft after taking her statement a while ago. Taggart's bringing her car back from PDQ, where she left it. She's fine, though."
"Are you okay, son?" Captain Banks asked in concern. "I know it must have been rough on you, seeing your mother held hostage that way."
"Yeah, it was," Blair said, closing his eyes and nodding slowly. "I just felt so helpless and frustrated! I was afraid if he got her into that car, he'd kill her." Blair paused before continuing, "But that's not really what's bothering me," he admitted, opening his eyes and regarding Jim seriously.
"What is it, Blair?" Ellison touched his partner's arm in support, concerned that Blair might be having lingering issues with the day's events.
"Man, I'm freaking out here! I mean, I'm having this whole crisis of motherly identity thing happening!" Blair declared as he leapt to his feet and began pacing the width of the police captain's office, waving his arms expressively. "My mom -- my pacifist mom -- followed a car thief all over town, hotwired and re-stole my partner's truck, a skill she apparently picked up years ago, absolutely ate up a car chase that scared the pants off of me, grabbed a guy's balls and then punched his lights out!" He took a deep breath and turned beseeching eyes to his best friends. "How weird is that? What? Why are you laughing?"
Jim's shoulders were shaking as he fought to contain his laughter. Simon didn't bother trying. Soon both men were shouting with laughter, which only served to further confuse the junior detective. "What are you guys laughing at? I'm having a crisis here, thank you!"
Jim stood up and grasped his partner's shoulder. "Relax, Sandburg. It just proves what we've all known for a long time now," he said with an evil glint in his eye.
"What's that, Jim?" Sandburg questioned, looking up at Ellison warily.
"Naomi's one hell of a woman."
"Jim! That's my mom, man!"
"Yeah, yeah. So you keep reminding me, Chief. C'mon, let's go home and make sure she hasn't turned Connor into some kind of new age, meditating, mantra-chanting, tofu-eating hippy."
Blair shuddered. "Gross, man."
As they passed Rafe's desk, the dapper detective held out a pink While You Were Out telephone message. "Hey, Ellison. Serena stopped by while you were out chasing the bad guys through the junkyard."
"Yeah? What'd she want?"
"She's done going over your truck. She drove it out of the impound yard for you and parked it in the garage." Rafe could barely contain his glee as he continued. "She wants to know if you've noticed anything odd with it because she thought she heard a funny noise. Said it sounded kind of like a plink!"
Jim waved his fist in the air and let out a triumphant "Yes!" and Blair howled with laughter as they made their way to the elevators.
Pushing the loft door open, the men were greeted by the tantalizing aroma of Italian sausage and ricotta cheese. After thanking Connor for staying with his mother, Blair went downstairs with her to fetch the keys to his mother's car from Taggart. Jim sniffed appreciatively as he hung up his coat, cataloged the various herbs and spices, and guessed, "Lasagna?"
"That's right, Jim," Naomi smiled happily. "With real Italian sausage and artery-clogging cheese." She sobered and continued, "It's just my little way of apologizing for causing you and Blair so much trouble again. It was all so exciting, it was hard not to get caught up in it all! I was only trying to help, but I almost messed things up terribly. I'm sorry."
Jim smiled and did the only thing he could think of -- he hugged Sandburg's mother.