By Gina Jones
Beta Read by Melinda and Carol Cappe
Written for PetFly by Bruce Kalish
internal thoughts in italics
Enjoying being chauffeured around Cascade by his partner, James Ellison sat back and felt the warm spring breeze float across his skin. The slight tickling sensation, coupled with the sun on his face relaxed him and he smiled. Their morning had gone smoothly, with little activity at the department. He and his friend were enjoying the lull by taking time off for a nice lunch out. Jim rubbed his hands together in anticipation and asked, “Hey, Sandburg? Why don’t we grab some pizza?”
Blair, dressed in his all-season flannel, glanced sideways as he maneuvered a turn in heavy traffic. The younger man shook his head. “The pie of death? No way, man.”
So, no pepperoni. Got it. Frowning, Jim shifted so that he was facing his partner and considered another option. “All right. How about Mexican?”
Blair grimaced in response. With a touch of annoyance, he retorted, “Why don't you just shoot the lard straight into your veins? Come on, man.”
What is with this kid? Susan Powter? Stop the insanity!!! Jim returned the scowl and asked, “Sandburg? Have you noticed a sudden drop-off in the amount of people that will eat with you?” His stomach growled and his frustration grew.
Blair just smiled and brought his attention back to the road ahead of them. Glaring at the road construction blocking traffic, he complained, “I can't believe this! Why do they always pick the busiest time of day to work on the streets?” Coming to a stop and glaring at the construction crews before him, he continued, “I'm going to e-mail the Public Works Commissioner this afternoon. Just tell him to use night work only, run by insomniac road crews. That's the only solution, right?” He looked over at Jim but did not await an answer. Looking forward again, he slammed on his brakes to avoid striking a car that had stopped mere inches from his car’s front bumper. Thumping his palm against the steering wheel, he yelled, “I can't believe this! It’s the middle of the day!”
Jim was getting used to his partner’s tirades and simply ignored him, choosing instead to observe the activity surrounding them. He knew that before long his companion’s attention would turn back to food and they could finally decide on a restaurant. Noticing that the so-called construction workers were pulling out items obviously not road crew ‘standard-issue’, his sight further focused on the automatic weapons being placed upon workers shoulders and aimed in their direction.
“Oh, shit!” Jim yelled as he grabbed Blair and forced him down in his seat. He leaned over the younger man and attempted to protect him with his own body. Seconds later, a small missile screamed over their heads and impacted with an armored truck at the side of the road.
Ducking further inside the car as the explosion rocked them, the men waited for the shaking to stop and then peered carefully out the window. Jim quickly checked his partner for injuries and was relieved not to find any. He’s okay, Jim thought, his pulse returning to normal. He then forcefully shoved Blair from the Corvair, and behind the vehicle.
Jim reached into his jacket and retrieved his cell-phone. Tossing it at the shaken anthropologist, he shouted, “Get some backup here, and then get your ass off the street!”
Blair caught the cell-phone and held it to his chest as he continued to kneel behind the vehicle. His eyes never wavering from Jim’s he muttered, “It may not be in that order, man,” and then took off, crouched low, for a nearby building.
Jim spared a second to make sure that his partner had reached safety before rising from behind the shield of the car and aiming his gun at the thugs. “Police! Drop your weapon!” he yelled as he tried to find his mark.
Watching as the pseudo-construction worker raised his machine gun and aimed toward him, Jim failed to get a shot off before having to run for cover himself. Bullets flew at him as he hastily retreated from behind Blair’s car and ran behind a blue Cadillac. He waited until there was a pause in the gunfire and peered slowly over the hood. The asshole’s reloading, he thought as he took the opportunity to reload his own weapon.
Just then a patrol vehicle, sirens blaring, approached from behind the gunman and two uniformed officers exited the vehicle. Shielding themselves with their open car doors, they aimed at the man as he concluded reloading. He fired at them, the bullets striking the front of the vehicle and then the driver’s side door. The officer huddled behind it was struck and fell to the ground, writhing as he held his bloody shoulder.
Jim watched as the officer’s partner jumped back into the cruiser and called for an ambulance. He turned then and moved around the car, his weapon ready. He grimaced as other gunmen advanced upon the downed man, firing rapidly. Ducking behind a road crew vehicle, Jim searched for the man who had shot the officer.
The day had been so nice just minutes before. Jim could hardly believe the turn of events as he peeked around the corner of the truck. Using his heightened sense of sight to spy the man’s reflection in a hubcap, he smiled as he finally had the upper hand. Ducking back behind the vehicle, he waited for the man to advance toward him and then fired. The single shot struck the gunman in the shoulder, and he went down.
One down, he thought as he advanced toward the other gunmen. Now for the others. He stealthily moved around the front of the truck but was surprised when the passenger door flew open, striking him in the chest. A man, hidden until then, jumped out of the vehicle and caught Jim across the jaw. Then, grabbing Jim’s right arm, he forced the detective to drop his weapon. The thug wrapped his left arm around Jim’s neck and began to choke him.
Blair watched from the corner of a nearby building as his friend began to lose the battle, then glanced at the uniformed officers being fired upon by the other thieves. “Come on, Sandburg. Think!” he whispered as he watched the scene unfold before him. Coming up with a plan, Blair moved, his body tight against the building’s wall. He approached his goal and used his elbow to break the glass of an enclosed fire hose, mounted onto the outer wall. Pulling the hose from its bracket, Blair took a deep breath before advancing toward the armed gunmen.
He braced himself for the force of the expelling water and opened the nozzle, aiming at the men who were firing upon the other officers. Drawing a bead on first one, then the other, Blair grinned as he watched the two men fall to the ground, losing their weapons as the water struck them. He kept the flow of water on the two men until reinforcements had arrived and subdued the criminals.
Blair closed the nozzle and dropped the fire hose, turning quickly to run to Jim’s aid. What he saw made him relax as he watched Jim place the second silver cuff onto the unconscious man’s wrist. He jogged over to where Jim was walking and then spied his war-ravaged car. He ran his hands over the multitude of bullet-holes in his beloved Corvair and then looked up at Jim, who was also inspecting the damage.
“My car! My car!” he cried, looking back at the Corvair.
Jim looked up from the car and felt relief course through his body as he realized that his friend had not been injured. Then, looking over at the soaking wet gunmen, he grinned. “Nice hose job, Chief,” he commented, shaking his head in disbelief.
Blair mimicked Jim’s actions and then sighed. “You think my insurance agent's going to call this an act of God?” he asked, looking back toward his car.
When Simon arrived at the grizzly scene, he found Blair seated atop the hood of a police cruiser, his head in his hands. Shaking his head grimly, he walked toward Jim, who was looking over the weaponry that had been confiscated from the thieves. “This was all for a bank robbery? Come on. Look at all this stuff. They've got machine guns assault rifles, rocket launchers…”
Jim interrupted, “Yeah, MP-5, assault pistol, right here.” He pointed to another weapon; “This is Army Special Forces issue. And check this out.” He picked up an unfired round and showed it to Simon.
Simon whistled as he fingered the cartridge, studying it. “Armor-piercing bullets.” He placed the bullet back with the others and worriedly gazed at the whole collection.
Rubbing his jaw, Jim contemplated. “You know, Simon, you put this kind of weaponry in the hands of a paramilitary or terrorist group, and they could take down an airliner.”
Simon tensed as he followed his detective’s train of thought. “Or level a city block. Keep me informed, Detective,” he said before slapping Jim’s shoulder and retreating toward his own vehicle. He turned back around, a few steps from Jim and nodded toward Blair, “Check on Sandburg, over there. I think he may have had too much excitement for the day or something.”
Jim glanced over to where Blair sat and sighed. The anthropologist had gotten more than he bargained for in this partnership, and today was no exception. Sticking his hands into his pockets, he walked toward the slouched figure, intent on giving the young man a pep talk. He prepared his soliloquy and then spoke. “Hey, Chief. There's no reason to be ashamed if you're feeling a little queasy, all right? Shock is your body's way of protecting itself…”
Blair looked indignant. “Shock? Shock! Hey, Jim, I am way beyond shock, man. I am like, energized!” He stood to reinforce his point.
He’s not scared, he’s not running. He’s energized? Jim was lost. “Say what, Chief?”
“It was the wildest thing, Jim. There I was, all alone. Me against those bank robbers. And the next thing I knew, I just got into action. It was so wild.” Blair knew he was babbling, but the adrenaline rush was so exciting, and he was just going with the flow.
Jim watched the darting eyes of his partner and focused his hearing until he could hear the rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing coming from within Blair. Realizing that the rush of energy that Blair was experiencing would be waning soon, he put his arm around the younger man and guided him back toward the Corvair. “Maybe we should get you home,” he soothingly said.
Blair, caught in the haze of the adrenaline rush, didn’t seem to hear Jim. He simply rambled onward as they walked. “Now I know what it's like to be you. I mean, not the enhanced senses part, but that reptilian brain, that primal man, survival of the fittest!” In his excitement, his hands flew forward and struck Jim solidly in the chest.
Shaking his head, Jim grasped the wayward arms and then added, “I'll drive, Conan. Give me your keys. Come on.” He shuddered inwardly as Blair continued his litany, reinforcing his points with child-like gun noises and finger pistols. Good Lord, I’ve created a monster, Jim thought to himself as he started the car’s engine and pulled away from the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.
Jim managed to get almost home before the energizer Blair ran out of juice. Pulling into an empty parking space, he turned off the engine and faced his roommate. Blair, who had been bouncing along merrily for most of the ride, sat silently, staring out the passenger window. “Chief? You okay?” Jim asked, not able to hide his smile. He opened his door and exited the car, coming around to the passenger side and opening it for his partner.
Blair slid out of the Corvair and looked at Jim. He smiled nervously. “I, uh, got a bit crazy back there, didn’t I?”
“For you, Darwin? No.” Jim couldn’t help but grin in amusement.
Blair returned the smile as they walked toward the apartment building. “I meant what I said, though, Jim. I really liked being able to help out.”
Jim held the door open for both of them and patted the younger man on the back as they went inside the building. “Just don’t get too used to it, okay? You’re just an observer, remember?”
“Yeah, Jim, I’ve got it,” Blair responded as he pressed the elevator button. His eyes slightly dimmer than before, he thought, But a bit more action might be nice…
The following morning was spent in a rush of gathering what information Major Crimes could about the assailants and their motives. File in hand, Jim knocked on Captain Banks’ office door before entering, a possible lead on his mind. He stood before his superior’s desk and delivered the news. “Simon, the getaway driver we collared made a deal. He claims they bought the guns from a guy named Armando.”
Intrigued, Simon asked, “Where did the deal go down?”
“An old meat packing plant on Mackenzie,” Jim answered, leafing through the file’s contents.
Grateful to have a lead at last, Simon rolled back in his chair and regarded his detective, carefully. “Great. I'll notify SWAT. We can roll in 15 minutes.” He began to stand to accompany Jim to the plant but froze as the detective interrupted, coming around to sit atop Simon’s desk.
“Well, uh...” Jim stammered slightly. A simple case would be nice every now and then.
Simon glared. He knew it was too good to be true. “What?” he asked, his voice low and wary.
Jim pulled out a Forensics photograph and handed it to Simon. Wearily rubbing his neck, he answered, “A couple of transients already found our suspect for us.” He pointed at the picture. “Shot twice in the head.”
Simon studied the photograph but couldn’t ID the corpse. “Who is he?”
Glancing back at the papers in his hand Jim said, “Armando Escalosa. Forensics went through the place. No weapons -- just this.” He handed Simon an evidence bag.
Leaning forward, Simon studied the bullet that was inside the plastic. “It’s a nine-millimeter. Military issue?”
“Right, sir,” Jim agreed.
Returning the bullet to Jim, Simon leaned back in his chair and asked, “What about the late Armando? Any leads?”
Jim scowled, shaking his head. “Well, he works for a guy named Hector Carasco. He's a Chilean expatriate who lives on an estate outside of town. Carasco checks out clean,” Jim sighed, “but he's got a federal file.” He stared at the captain for a moment before adding, “And it's sealed.”
Simon contemplated the information he had been given and then nodded, realizing that they would need to pay a visit to Mr. Carasco, and soon. “Let’s go,” he said, standing and retrieving his jacket. “Let’s see what he has to say for himself.”
Simon and Jim gazed at the sprawling landscape and veritable mansion before them. The estate looked as if it would be better placed in southern California instead of Washington State; with fountains and statuary adorning the grounds. Whistling in appreciation, Simon commented, “Looks like the import business is doing pretty good.”
Jim watched as the scenery passed by and chewed on his lower lip. Stone-faced and still staring out the passenger window, the sentinel only grunted softly for a moment and then muttered, “Depends on what you’re importing.”
The two men pulled into the circle drive and exited Simon’s vehicle. Glancing around the area, they moved to the main house and were greeted by the housekeeper. Simon showed his badge and identified himself and Jim to the older woman. Hesitantly, the matron led the two men toward the large greenhouse. She opened the door and waved them inside.
“Close the door. You're letting in the cold air,” a voice from an unseen person growled.
Jim and Simon glanced at each other. Accompanied by the housekeeper, they came upon a man, seemingly in his fifties, tending to his flowers.
The man looked up from his ministrations and explained, “The slightest chill can ruin my orchids. Can I help you?”
Again Simon pulled out his identification and showed it to the older man. “I'm Captain Banks. This is Detective Ellison. Cascade PD “ He replaced the badge into his coat pocket and waited for Carasco to respond.
Carasco visibly stiffened. “The police? Is something wrong?” he asked, looking at first Simon and then Jim.
Jim pulled a notebook from his shirt pocket and spoke, “We're here to talk to you about your caretaker. A Mr. Armando Escalosa.”
Relaxing somewhat, Carasco’s face took on a slightly disappointed expression. “I fired Armando last month for stealing. Some of my daughter's jewelry was missing,” he explained. “If you find him, I'd like them back.”
Jim didn’t believe the man’s concern was for his daughter’s jewelry. He seemed like a person only worried about his own agenda. Shaking his head, Jim responded, “That's gonna be a little difficult, sir, as Mr. Escalosa is dead.” He turned away from Carasco and began to look around the greenhouse.
Carasco’s voice dropped lower. “I see. How unfortunate.” He watched interested as Jim began to smell his prized orchids, and was about to comment when Simon interrupted. He turned his attention to the black man and responded when asked about Escalosa’s relatives. “None I'm aware of. Sorry,” Carasco responded, shaking his head again. He looked up at the sound of Jim’s voice.
Jim had moved from smelling the orchids and was now rolling a small bit of soil between his fingertips. “Did you file a report? For the missing jewelry?” he asked Carasco, then sniffed the warmed soil. He had already checked and knew there was no report on file.
Smiling apologetically, Carasco answered, “Oh, no. It wasn't worth much. The value was mostly sentimental.” He watched intrigued as Jim continued to test the soil with his sense of smell.
“How about your daughter, sir?” Simon asked, “Is she here? Can we speak with her?”
“Maya's in classes at the university. But I'm certain she couldn't tell you anything else.”
Simon nodded and began to return his own notebook to his coat pocket.
Jim continued to roll the small amount of potting soil between his fingers and even tasted a small bit to satisfy his suspicions. The bitter tang of metal and oil was difficult for his sense of taste to miss and he smiled, knowing he had just unearthed a clue. Having heard the end of the conversation between Simon and Mr. Carasco, Jim advanced toward the two men and then offered, “Nice orchids. Must be difficult to find soil with proper amounts of potassium nitrates and sulfates, huh?” He ignored the raised eyebrows of his captain and stared at Carasco, waiting for an answer.
Confused at the drastic change of topic, and surprised at the detective’s knowledge of exotic plant cultivation, Carasco stumbled slightly before responding. “Not really. There was a lot of volcanic activity in this area.”
Jim nodded, going in for the kill. The corners of his mouth moving upward in almost a predatory smirk. “I guess you could always mix in a little gunpowder.” He waited for Carasco’s response and inwardly smiled when he heard the man’s heart rate increase.
Carasco laughed loudly at that idea. “I've never heard of that before.”
Simon watched the exchange and the condescending shake of the head that was Jim’s response. Deciding he needed to act quickly before Jim overstepped his bounds, he laughed as well. “If there's anything else you can think of that might be of any help to us, please give me a call.” He handed Carasco his business card and shook the man’s hand.
Carasco, still slightly unnerved by the strange comments from the detective, smiled and nodded. “Of course. Blanca will show you out.” He nodded to the housekeeper who had kept her distance, and her tongue, throughout the whole exchange.
“Thank you very much, sir,” he said while retreating to where Jim and Blanca were standing. Once beside his detective, they quickly left the greenhouse and headed toward the car. As soon as the two were far enough from the house, Simon pulled on Jim’s arm, and forced his friend to face him. “Mind telling me what that was all about, Detective?”
Jim sighed and placed his hands inside his pants pockets. Shoulders slumping, he admitted to Simon what he had been doing. “There’s something there, Simon. I could smell the gunpowder. Hell, I could taste it, it was so strong.” He glanced at Simon and added, “Carasco’s doing more than just cultivating orchids in that greenhouse. We just have to find out what.”
“And how do you propose that, Detective?” Simon asked, settling inside the car and starting the engine.
Jim thought for a moment before muttering, “Did he say his daughter is a student at Rainier?”
Simon turned toward Jim and pulled out a cigar. Placing it in his mouth, he prepared to light it when he saw the glare from the man beside him. Sighing, he placed his lighter back in his pocket and contented himself with the taste and feel of the unlit cigar. “Maya,” he said, his lips curling around the rolled tobacco. “Her name is Maya. What’s your idea?”
Jim mulled over his thoughts before proceeding. Blair had said he liked the bits of police work he had already done since becoming an observer. Surely he wouldn’t mind helping out some more. After all, he was already at Rainier, with easy access to the students. “Sandburg,” Jim said, conveying his idea to Simon with the single word.
Simon doubted Jim’s idea. “You sure he’d go for it?”
Jim nodded. “It’s worth a shot. I’ll talk to him this afternoon.”
Jim paced before a bench in the quad area of Rainier University. He had been waiting for Blair to arrive, and the student was late. Jim ran over the idea again and again in his mind. He was hopeful that Blair would go for it but concerned that he might get hurt as well. He frowned slightly but relaxed when he saw his roommate jogging toward him, a smile on his face.
“Hey, Jim, what's up? We've got to make this quick. My research group meets in 15 minutes.” He stood beside his partner, backpack slung over one shoulder.
Jim sat on the arm of the bench and leaned toward Blair. He scrubbed at his face with his hands for a moment before beginning. “I need your help on a case.” He then waited for Blair’s reaction.
Blair’s eyes lit up and his smiled got wider. “Oh, cool! Ever since that armored car thing I have been so pumped, so flying on adrenaline...” His hands gestured wildly in excitement.
“Hold up there, Darwin,” Jim interrupted. “There's a guy named Hector Carasco, who we suspect supplied the weapons for that heist. If I'm right, Carasco's the biggest illegal arms dealer in the northwest.”
Blair considered this and then asked, “So you need some major-league backup, right?”
Jim rubbed his neck, grimacing. He knew that Blair would be let down with his ‘assignment’. “Well, actually, his daughter is a student here. We need you to check her out.”
As expected Blair’s excitement dimmed as he almost whined, “His daughter?”
Jim noted the disappointment, but was uneasy getting Blair any more involved than this. “Yeah, I figured maybe you could get to know her a little bit, chat her up, find out things about her old man... discreetly. She's got a class in the library in a few minutes. You could start now.” He couldn’t help but feel somewhat sorry for his now subdued partner.
Blair almost begged. “Jim, you've got to get me into action here. You can't waste my amps interviewing some clueless little exchange student.”
Jim looked away for a moment and then smiled slightly. “I wouldn't say 'clueless' applies here, Chief,” he said, nodding at the passing female. She had dark features, a chiseled nose, and full lips. Her hair, long and dark, bounced as she walked toward the library.
Blair’s eyes gleamed as he drank in the sight before him. “Is that her?” he asked Jim.
Jim noted his partner’s change of heart and laughed, softly. He decided to mess with Blair just a bit more. “Yeah. Anyway, I can get somebody else on it.”
Blair looked dumbstruck. He knew he had fallen right into Jim’s trap, but conceded freely, in hopes to meet the beautiful lady who had just passed by him. “No, no, no, Jim, Jim. It's okay. I got this one. Got your back. Can't let my partner down, can I?” He smiled, almost leering, at the prospect ahead of him. He turned and began to jog toward the library.
Jim shook his head and wondered if he had done the right thing. He suddenly feared that Blair would get too involved and end up hurt. Quickly, he called toward Blair and asked him to return to the bench.
“What?” Blair asked, sitting down beside the detective. “I thought you wanted me to watch Maya.”
“Sandburg…Chief,” Jim stumbled through the many thoughts that were running through his head. He didn’t want to treat Blair like a child, but he felt that he should prepare him, none the less. Even Jim had to admit that Maya Carasco was a beautiful young woman. Beautiful enough that many men would tumble head-over-heels for her. “Just, be careful. Remember this is a job, okay? Don’t get in too deep.”
Blair considered his partner’s advice solemnly. Gazing at Jim, he smiled, “I’ve got it, Jim. You can count on me.” With those words, he stood and walked, a bit more slowly, toward the large building.