Beta Read by CarolROI
Written for PetFly by
Teleplay by: David H. Balkan and David L. Newman
Story by: Daniel Levine
Rating: PG-13 for minor language
Lush green foliage and a rainbow of bright blooms shone in the chilly
afternoon sun glaring off the florist's shop window. Cascadians took advantage of the
rare, bright day and filled the sidewalks, hurrying to and from shops and restaurants,
sidestepping the man who seemed in no hurry to go anywhere.
He stood transfixed outside the florist's, his dark eyes filled with indecision as he gazed through the green-fringed window. The woman whose face caught and held his attention was both like and unlike he remembered. The changes were largely superficial. A different hairstyle, a little less weight, contact lenses instead of the wire-framed glasses she'd worn since college. But even from a distance he could see the subtle signs that the last three years had taken their toll. Her smile as she tended her customer reflected an underlying sadness. Her wide, expressive eyes drooped a little at the corners, as if she viewed the world through a veil of shattered dreams.
He knew all about those. His own dreams had died three years ago when they told him she was dead – blown to bloody bits along with their young son. Chance alone had revealed the lie, and hope suddenly blossomed from the barren ground of his three-year solitude.
But what about Elise? Would she want to return to the past? Had she moved on, found someone else to love? He frowned when his mind's eye conjured the first image he'd seen of her since being told she was dead. She'd been laughing, cheering, sitting with her son – their son -- and a man he'd thought was his friend. Perhaps that man had become more than a friend to Elise.
He wandered a short distance away from the shop, glancing back, knowing that she hadn't seen him. He stopped at the corner and leaned a shoulder against the brick façade, raising one hand to rub across his face as if he could wipe away his indecision. He should wait, he thought. Call her first, perhaps. She would be surprised, shocked even, to see him again after so long. But in her surprise he would read whether or not the future he wanted was real or just a tortured dream.
The man squared his shoulders and stepped away from the corner, his gaze flicking automatically across his surroundings. Before he could reach the door of the florist's, another figure caught his eye and he froze.
Anger and fear swelled, overriding his resolve to confront Elise. The tall, commanding presence he'd spotted from across the street brought back all the anguish that he thought he'd finally put behind him. Ellison. The name rose in his memory like bile. Treacherous, lying bastard.
Almost as if drawn by the intensity of his gaze, the other man's head swiveled in his direction. Their eyes locked for a split second of startled recognition
The man abandoned his earlier decision and ran.
"Hey, it's our lucky day," Jim Ellison remarked as he rounded
the front of the parked Expedition and stepped up onto the sidewalk. "Money in the
Blair Sandburg grinned as Jim patted the top of the parking meter. "Yeah." He fell into step beside his friend, and they sauntered casually along the wide walkway. His eyes roamed over the collection of small shops while he considered and rejected a dozen possible gift choices.
"You know, I don't get it, Chief," Jim mused. "I thought you and Samantha were history."
Blair shrugged and wagged a hand in an indeterminate gesture to depict his on-again-off-again relationship with the beautiful but exasperating forensic technician. "Yeah, well, you know what they say. History repeats itself. And if I don't find a gift today, that's what we'll be again – history!"
Jim tilted a questioning look at him. "I thought you said her birthday was Monday."
"It was," Blair confirmed.
"So what's the big deal about getting a present today?" Jim asked. "If you're already late, what does another day matter?"
Blair landed a light swat on Jim's arm. "It's the forty-eight hour window, man."
"It's a well-known cultural precept," Blair explained enthusiastically. "If you're dating someone, and you miss some important event, like a birthday or Valentine's Day, you have forty-eight hours to make it up. After that…it's too late, man."
Jim looked off into the distance and gnawed the inside of his cheek, but he made no comment on Blair's latest display of cultural trivia. He pointed across the street and suggested, "Hey, how about flowers?"
Blair shook his head and made a face. "No, no, no, no, no. Flowers would have been all right on Monday, when it was her actual birthday, but now that we're in the post-48-hour window, it has to be something really big…really special…" he spread his hands "…and most of all, really expensive."
Jim just rolled his eyes and assumed the long-suffering look of someone who would never understand the subtleties of human interactions. "Is there some sort of handbook where all this stuff is written down?" he asked. His tone conveyed the impression that he suspected Blair was making it all up.
"Oh, no," Blair replied with a laugh. "That's the interesting thing about this type of cultural rule. It's not written down anywhere. Everybody just knows."
Blair assumed from his friend's dubious tone that he'd somehow been left out of the information loop. As he watched, the frown shifted, becoming something less benign. He tried to follow Jim's line of sight, but saw nothing but shops and pedestrians. Jim's attention seemed to be riveted to the florist's shop across the street, and he stepped off the curb without a word to Blair.
"Hey, Jim, I said no flowers…"
Jim broke into a run a split second after a man on the opposite sidewalk turned and bolted as if the hounds of Hell were chasing him. Blair winced when Jim narrowly avoided a collision with an oncoming car. He shook off his surprise and followed, dodging traffic and apologizing to the irate drivers who honked and shouted.
He saw Jim disappear around the corner and lengthened his stride to catch up. He nearly crashed into the detective, who had stopped in the middle of the service alley, head turning as he scanned the immediate area. There was no sign of the man he'd been pursuing.
"Jim, what's up?" Blair demanded.
Before Jim could answer, a car sped into the alley not far away. It bore down on them, and Jim grabbed Blair in a controlled tackle that took them both to the ground and out of harm's way. The car didn't even slow as it hurtled past them.
Jim was on his feet in an instant. Beside him Blair stood more slowly, hauling himself upright with an effort. His entire body ached from being squashed between Jim's 200-pound bulk and the unyielding pavement.
Blair rubbed the shoulder that had taken the brunt of the impact and stared down the street at the rapidly disappearing car. "What the hell is going on?" he asked sharply. "Who was that guy?"
Jim answered without looking at him, his gaze still locked on the corner where the car had turned off out of sight. His voice was taut with something Blair couldn't quite identify as he said simply, "Gordon Abbott." He turned and headed back to where his car was parked.
Blair almost had to run to keep up with Jim, who seemed to have forgotten
his presence. The quick glances he shot at his suddenly grim and silent partner showed the
prominent jaw muscles working overtime as Jim clenched and unclenched his teeth. He knew
that look; it wasn't the time to press for details. He would just have to wait until Jim
was ready to explain.
At the police station, Jim headed straight upstairs and into the bullpen. He cornered Simon Banks as the captain was wrapping up a conversation with Officer Johnson.
"I just saw Gordon Abbott," he announced.
A step behind Jim, Blair saw Simon's head come up and his brows dip into a frown behind his glasses. His expression reflected disbelief. "What?"
"I said, I just saw Gordon Abbott," Jim repeated.
"Gordon Abbott is dead," Simon said flatly as he turned and headed back into his office. "It can't have been him."
Jim was adamant. "Simon, I know what I saw."
"How far away was he?"
Jim shrugged. "Fifty yards, maybe. He saw me, too. He recognized me, and he ran."
Simon grimaced and shook his head. "Jim, even with your senses, you had to have made a mistake."
Blair held up his hands in a "T" formation. "Time out, time out," he interrupted. "Will somebody please tell me who this guy is -- or who he was?"
Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he answered. "Gordon Abbott was a low level accountant who worked for a company controlled by the Prosky crime family."
"Good career choice," Blair said dryly.
Simon rounded his desk and sat down. "He thought it was a legitimate business," he explained. "By the time he figured out the business was laundering dirty money, we were already closing in."
"All Abbott wanted to do was bail." Jim took up the narrative. "He was scared to testify, because he had a wife and son."
Blair felt like he was watching a ping-pong match, with Jim and Simon taking turns telling the story.
"Enter Dan Singleton," Simon put in, "a prosecutor with a political agenda. He threw Abbott in jail on a racketeering charge. While Abbott was in lockup, a car bomb took out his family."
"After that, Abbott changed his mind and agreed to testify against John Prosky. Put him away for life. The day after his testimony, Abbott was…ah…stabbed to death by another inmate. At least, that's what we were told."
"Two years later, Prosky hung himself in his jail cell."
Blair didn't bother to hide his confusion. "Sounds like everybody lost," he commented.
"Everybody except Nick Prosky -- John's son -- and Dan Singleton," Jim amended. "Nick took over the family business, and Dan Singleton hit the jackpot and now runs the federal prosecutor's office here in Cascade."
Simon was looking thoughtful as he idly fingered one of the angel figurines that graced his desk. "Jim, maybe you better have a talk with Singleton," he suggested. "Tell him what you saw."
"I'd like that, sir," Jim agreed, but his tone suggested that the meeting would be anything but pleasant.
"Try to be nice to him," Simon admonished as Jim turned and left.
The federal prosecutor's office was in the old wing of the refurbished
courthouse, in a series of interconnecting hallways lit by round overhead fixtures.
Singleton was not in when Jim and Blair arrived, so they waited outside, leaning against
the wall where the stairs opened onto the second floor.
They heard him before they saw him. His rich, baritone voice carried clearly up the narrow stairway as he berated someone for their lackluster legal efforts. At the top of the stairs he started to turn in the opposite direction, but Jim drew his attention.
Singleton faced them, his two hapless underlings forgotten. He smiled, revealing more teeth than a great white shark, and acknowledged the man standing with his arms crossed over his chest. "Detective Ellison. It's been a long time."
Jim just nodded, but didn't return the smile.
Blair stepped forward and extended his hand as he introduced himself. Singleton accepted the handshake, his grip firm and businesslike. When the pleasantries were concluded, he continued down the hall. Jim kept pace, leaving Blair once again to trail behind.
"So, what brings you uptown?" Singleton asked.
"I saw an old friend of yours today," Jim replied with deceptive casualness. "Gordon Abbott. He was walking down Prospect Street."
Singleton maintained his steady, unhurried stride. He chuckled lightly. "Gordon Abbott's dead," he countered. "I saw the corpse."
"Why am I having a hard time believing that?" Jim asked rhetorically.
Singleton's voice took on a harder edge. "Frankly, I don't care what you believe. Listen, I think you saw him because you wanted to see him."
"Gordon Abbott trusted me," Jim shot back. "He trusted us, for God's sake!"
Blair's eyes widened a little at the sudden heat in Jim's voice, but he began to understand a little better why this matter seemed so important to Jim. He listened carefully as the exchange continued.
"I did my job," Singleton said. "I put a major crime figure in jail. I've got nothing to apologize for."
Jim halted as Singleton turned toward his private office entrance. "You made a career move, Dan," he said derisively, "and Gordon Abbott paid the price."
Singleton turned back, his smile now gone. "Ellison, all this happened a long time ago. It's over now. If you want to walk around carrying a guilt complex, you go right ahead. But leave me the hell out of it." He spared Blair a brief glance. "Nice to meet you."
"Yeah, you too," Blair said hollowly as Singleton disappeared into his office.
Blair waited until they were back in the car and heading for the station
before he asked, "So, are you going to tell me about it?"
"Tell you what?" Jim kept his eyes on the road.
"Tell me what you guys were talking about back there. Why Singleton thinks you're feeling guilty about this Gordon Abbott supposedly getting killed."
Jim's jaw was hard at work again, this time on a piece of chewing gum instead of his own molars. When he answered, his voice was carefully controlled, almost flat. "I was the one who brought Gordon Abbott in. I was trying to convince him to come over. I promised him that if he agreed to testify, we'd protect him and his family." The jaw muscle twitched again. "Singleton knew the Prosky case could get him a lot of press, so he moved in and took Abbott into federal custody."
"So it's Singleton's screw-up," Blair said. "Not yours."
Jim glanced across at Blair, his expression shuttered. "I made that promise to Abbott," he reiterated. "I knew there was a possibility the feds would step in. But I didn't bother to tell him that." He paused and let out a weary sigh. "I just wanted to make my case."
Blair could hear the self-derision in his friend's voice. Everything made a great deal more sense now. In Jim's mind, he had failed to keep his promise to Abbott by letting Singleton assume control of the case. Whatever happened as a result was his responsibility.
"The truth is," Jim confessed, "there wasn't much difference between me and Singleton."
Jim looked almost relieved when his cell phone rang, putting an end to the discussion. He answered it on the first ring, listened for a few moments, then said, "All right. We're on our way."
"What's up?" Blair asked.
"They got an ID off the partial plate from the car Abbott was driving this morning. It's a rental. Guy named Stewart Norman from Ft. Lauderdale. We're going to check out the motel he's staying at."
Dan Singleton leaned back in his padded leather chair and gazed at the
ceiling. His thoughts spun around the conversation with Jim Ellison, and kept coming back
to one crucial fact: Gordon Abbott was back in Cascade. Why?
They'd had an agreement. Abbott had a new identity and a new life in the Florida sunshine. He hadn't even blinked when told that he could never come back to his hometown. Why would he want to? As far as he knew, he had nothing to come back to. Dan had seen to that. But now he was back, and Dan had to wonder what had enticed him to violate their agreement.
Whatever the reason, Dan wanted the man out of the way. He had too much at stake to let a loose cannon possibly shoot down his future ambitions. And Gordon Abbott was a loose cannon who had sworn that he'd never forgive Dan for failing to keep his family safe. Somehow Dan didn't think that finding out otherwise would mollify the man. He would most likely be furious at having been manipulated so completely. If he talked to Dan's superiors, made a formal complaint about the handling of the Prosky case three years ago, Dan's political aspirations would go down in flames.
Singleton straightened in his chair and reached for the phone. He might not be able to take direct action to get Abbott out of the way, but he knew someone who would be more than willing to see that his problem disappeared.