by Chrys
Beta Read by Danae and Raven Moonwind
Written for PetFly by: Peter Lance
Rated PG

internal thought in italics


Prologue


Hector Vasquez sighed heavily as he settled into the driver's seat, glancing at the stack of folders beside him briefly before starting his car. He shook his head sadly as he pulled out onto the quiet, wet road in front of his house.

His suspicions had been confirmed, and his first duty once he got to the office would be to report the matter. Turning smoothly, he grimaced as he began the long ascent. The shortest route took him over the mountain, and he was anxious to get this over with. Damn, he'd liked the man.

Reaching the summit, he steered the car toward the first of the descending curves. Touching the brakes lightly to slow the car, he felt the pedal drop to the floor. His eyes wide, he fought to keep the vehicle on the road, knowing there was no hope. Going over the cliff, he thought bitterly that he shouldn't have told anyone of his suspicions. It was too late now.

The car hurtled over the mountainside; tumbling and rolling before it came to a resting place. He hung limply in the seat belt, dimly feeling the cold rain as it poured through the shattered windshield and mixed with his blood.

By the time the car was found, his body was cold, soaked through, washed clean. And so were the papers he had died for.
 


Act I


Darkness covered his passage as he approached the white clapboard church, the arched windows revealing flickering light from within. As he moved around the building, he didn't bother to walk quietly. No one inside would hear the echoing of his footsteps on the boards. Faintly, he could hear the song the choir inside sung, the rich sound of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" almost lost in the thunder that sounded above. Lost, he thought, and smiled.

Just like they should be.

Moving swiftly, he reached his goal, rapidly attaching the detonator to the wires he'd placed earlier. He'd been interrupted in his task, unable to set the bomb properly, but this would work nicely. The black preacher's voice rose above the storm, and he grinned as he heard the man tell the singers not to worry. They didn't need to, really. He'd wait until they had left. Mostly.

Returning to the front of the building, he moved over to the reverend's car, tossing the message inside, then walked to the front of the vehicle and pulled out a can of spray paint. With almost delicate movements, he placed the letters on the hood, smiling to himself as the "AWC" took shape.

Looking up sharply as light shone through a suddenly opened door, he faded back into the shadows, his departure hidden by the choir members' voices. As they left, he waited, seated in his car, for the right moment. Watching as the reverend left the building, he smiled again, pushing a button. Grinning to himself, he watched as the church exploded, heat and light propelling arched windows across the grassy lawn into the attached cemetery. The reverend lay sprawled on the ground as the bomber drove away quietly, his tracks hidden by the storm.


Moving through the police garage, Jim laughed and shook his head, sending a sly glance over at his partner. "Who am I, Chuck Woolery? I'm not covering for you this time."

Blair grimaced. "Jim, it was a simple mistake. Just this once. I misplaced my date book."

Snorting, Jim shook his head again. "Who in their right mind books two different women at the same bar at the same time?"

"I know, but just help me out here."

Blair stopped walking and Jim turned to face him, wondering what the grad student was going to try now. Blair looked up at him, a faint hint of desperation in his eyes.

"Jessie -- you're going to love her. She's tall; she's got long, red hair. Jim, she's got legs -- they're up to here." Blair held his hand up to his neck. "To top it all off, she's got a 158 IQ. The girl is brilliant."

Jim let a bit of his exasperation with the topic through. "So what?"

Blair's hands gestured wildly. "So what? So you can have a conversation."

"I know your type. She's got a Ph.D. in...Asian studies and-and-and a minor in some-some bizarre Malaysian death ritual."

Blair shrugged. "So, what's wrong with that?"

"What do I look like? Your couples' hot line here, huh? Besides -- when that Jessie finds out what you're up to, she's probably going to want to make you her case study in some weird, ceremonial, body-piercing ritual."

Moving his hand in an imitation of Blair's favorite gesture, he stopped and patted Blair's cheek, then turned and walked away, leaving Blair standing there. Behind him, he could hear the anthropologist's surprised question, half buried under his choked laughter.

"That's a bad thing? Come on."

Ignoring the other man, Jim made a strategic retreat. Maybe there would be something new to get the kid's mind off his dating problems. After reaching the bullpen, Jim would regret that wish.


Picking their way through scattered debris and flapping yellow tape, Jim and Blair headed toward the knot of people closest to the exploded church. Coming up behind an unfamiliar man with a Bomb Squad hat on, Blair whistled and shook his head sadly.

"There's practically nothing left."

The Bomb Squad member looked up at them. "Not when they use plastique. We got frags here the size of puffed wheat. Smells like C-4."

Bending over, Jim picked up a small piece of wood. Rubbing his fingers along it, he frowned. "Oil-based residue. It's some kind of petroleum jelly."

The other man frowned as well, looking at the debris more closely. "Damn, you're right. They use pet gel as a plasticizer in Semtex. Tends to bleed."

Joel and Simon walked up to the group, listening as the man spoke. Jim nodded to them as Blair spoke, his voice confused.

"Semtex? What..?"

Joel nodded in reply to Jim, then answered Blair. "Yeah, the Czech form of C-4. Half the terrorist packages in Europe use that kind of stuff."

Jim's alarm bells went off. "What's an exotic explosive like that doing in Cascade?"

The still unidentified man shrugged. "You tell me, Detective, uh..?"

"Ellison," Jim said, his voice cold.

Simon spoke up. "Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg, this is Dirk Larson. Dirk is up here to run field ops now that Taggart is..." He trailed off, wincing as Joel finished his sentence.

"...riding a desk?"

The big man's voice was bitter, and Jim bit back a surge of sympathy. Joel wouldn't appreciate it.

Simon sighed, almost silently, then went on, his tone obviously forced. "We're lucky to get Dirk. He's on loan from the Marine bomb unit down at Camp Pendleton. Jim, here, was an army ranger."

Jim nodded at the Marine. "Nice to meet you."

Larson shrugged. "I'm just here until the Captain gets his sea legs back."

Joel turned away, the bitterness turning to anger as he muttered to himself. "Yeah. Right."

Jim exchanged a brief glance with Blair, then shrugged minutely. There wasn't anything they could do to help Joel, at least not right now. Turning his mind to the job, he blinked as a possibility occurred to him. "Any chance this is related to that wave of arson?"

Simon gestured to a vehicle on the edge of the debris field. As they walked over to it, the captain shook his head. "Maybe. Most of that was in the south. Over fifty black churches in the past two years."

Blair frowned. "Those were fires, though, right?"

Joel shrugged. "Maybe. But up here, they like explosives."

Reaching the car, Simon gestured to it as he called a tall black man over. Multiple bruises and gashes covered the man's face, and from the way he moved, Jim was sure he was hurt other places as well. He would be, Jim thought, as the name rang a bell. He was nearby when the bomb went off.

"Reverend Diggs! This is your car, right?"

Simon pointed to the hood. The preacher nodded sadly.

"I'm afraid so. A.W.C. What's it mean?"

Simon shook his head. Jim walked around the car, stopping as his attention was caught by a piece of paper lying on the front seat. Looking over at Simon, he lifted his voice, "Simon, you've got to check this out." Switching his glance to Diggs, he asked politely, "Could we get in here, sir?"

Both men came to Jim's side as the Reverend shook his head apologetically.

"I'm sorry, no. I lost the keys last night when the bomb went off."

Nodding, Jim called to the uniformed officers. "Could we get an opener over here?"

Soon they had the car door open. Simon bent down, pulling the paper out carefully. He grimaced as he read it to himself, then aloud.

"'We serve notice to all the mud races. White men built this nation, and we will purge it of its multi-racial taint. One down, eight to go.'" Looking up, he met Jim's eyes. "Signed, 'the Aryan Warriors Command.'"

Blair sighed. "A.W.C."

Jim nodded grimly, pretty sure he knew the answer even as he asked, "What's this 'one down, eight to go'?"

Reverend Diggs looked sick. "Until last night there were nine African-American churches in Cascade. Now, there are eight."


Standing at the window in Simon's office, Blair looked down at the street below. An attractive black woman was in the center of a crowd of protestors, her angry voice amplified by the bullhorn she held to her lips. Listening, Blair watched as the protestors responded to her words with anger of their own.

"The church is the power base of the black community and that's exactly why these racists have targeted them. Now, these so-called Aryan Warriors surfaced two years ago in Mississippi and they're nothing more than bigots and homegrown terrorists. Now Captain Banks of the Cascade Police Department must take immediate action. Other churches need protection..."

Turning his attention away from the protest, he walked toward Simon's desk. Jim was perched on the corner, while Simon sat in his chair, looking tired. Blair shook his head slowly.

"Oh, man, does that woman know how to work the media."

Simon smiled briefly. "Well, with Candace, it's always personal."

Blair frowned. "What do you mean?"

The sentinel shrugged. "She used to work with us."

Staring at Jim for a minute, Blair looked at Simon for confirmation. The captain nodded. Blair let his breath out slowly.

"That woman used to be a cop?"

Jim nodded, his voice slightly sad. "Yeah, Juvenile division. About a year ago she just quit, didn't say why. Went to work for this new African Alliance."

Simon stood up, pacing slightly. "Been crossing the country ever since, shaking her fist."

All three men looked up in surprise as the door opened. Joel stood in the doorway, his face serious.

"Simon...we got a problem."

Exchanging glances, the three men followed the other cop out of Major Crimes and down the hallway. Entering Computer Support, they stopped by the door as a man seated at a computer screen looked up at Joel and handed him a printed email. Joel grimaced.

"Thanks." Taking a quick look at it, he handed the sheet to Simon. "E-mail from the internet. More bull from the Aryan Command."

Simon's lips tightened as he scanned the email and then gave it to Blair. Holding the paper so that Jim could read it over his shoulder, Blair felt vaguely ill as he read the message of hatred and bigotry. Shaking his head, he looked up as Joel spoke again.

"We were using an encryption program to recover some lost files. Found this e-mail had been downloaded."

Jim's calm voice sounded, and Blair wondered if anyone else could hear the disgust the sentinel felt.

"And?"

Joel looked down. "We found it in Larson's box. He denied knowing anything about it. But no question -- he pulled it off the web."

"I don't believe this." Simon's voice gentled as he turned to face his old friend. "Look, Joel, I know the past couple of months have been tough on you. But if these wackos are blowing up churches and Dirk is involved in this, I need a man out in the field I can trust."

Blair could see the muscles in Joel's throat move as the big man swallowed and shook his head. His voice was sad as he answered.

"I'm, uh, sorry, Simon. I just can't."

Simon sighed. "Joel..."

Joel turned and walked out without saying another word. Simon's shoulders slumped visibly as he looked at Jim. "Talk to him," he said quietly.


Blair following after him, Jim left the computer room, wondering just what Simon expected him to say to Joel. His captain knew as well as Jim did that this wasn't going to go away. His steps slowed as he considered the problem, and Blair drew abreast of him in the hallway.

"He's lost his nerve, hasn't he?"

Instant defensiveness of a brother cop leaping to the fore, Jim shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Blair stopped, pulling at Jim's arm. Jim turned reluctantly, meeting his guide's concerned eyes. "Come on, Jim, I'm not blind. It's because of the Brackett bomb, right? I mean, not that I'd blame him. From what you guys tell me, he barely made it out with his life."

Sighing, Jim rubbed his face. "Yeah," he admitted softly, turning to walk down the hall. "Yeah."

After a few steps, Jim spoke again. "Taggart's had a bit of a hard time since that bomb. It really shook him up and he's had a hard time adjusting."

"Did he see the department shrink?"

Jim nodded. "He went to the mandatory three sessions, but he didn't want to admit he needed counseling."

Blair's voice was thoughtful. "Maybe I should talk to him."

Jim looked over at him as they reached the door to Major Crimes. "I don't think so."

"Why not? Come on. I've been in and out of therapy since I got out of my pampers. Anxiety and panic attacks are a normal state of being for me."

Walking into the bullpen, they headed over to Jim's desk. Blair paused for a moment, studying Joel, then walked slowly over to stand in front of the other man. "Joel, I know it's hard, but..."

Joel glared at him. "You don't know anything, Sandburg. Stay out of this."

Rising, he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. Jim swore inwardly and reached for his own coat, tossing Blair his. He had wanted Blair to leave it alone, but as usual, his guide did what he thought best.

Following Joel, they rode down in the elevator, Joel's face tight. As they neared the bottom floor, Blair spoke again.

"I know how you feel, man."

The elevator doors opened as Joel glared at him again. "You do not know how I feel!"

He walked down the hall away from them. Unhappily, Jim opened his own mouth as they followed.

"Joel, will you listen to him for a second, huh? Joel..."

Blair caught up with Joel, touching his arm lightly. "Joel, fear is not about lack of ability."

Looking back at Jim, Blair gestured him to stay put, then he shepherded Joel further down the hallway, his voice low and intense. Jim could hear him with ease, but it was obvious that Joel thought they were speaking privately. Leaning against the wall with a bland expression, Jim listened, curious about Blair's plans. His guide spoke quietly, forcing Joel to listen closely.

"Every shrink I've been to has talked to me about the blind spot."

"And what is that?"

Joel's reply was sarcastic, but there was a hint of curiosity, too. Jim nodded to himself. Maybe Blair could help, after all.

Blair answered quickly. "It's a condition common to creative types such as yourself. It happened to this anthropological student that I knew. He was out doing research in Nepal and an avalanche hit. So he goes out with the rescue team and they come across this rope bridge -- 2,000-foot drop, Joel. He starts making his way across and all of a sudden he locks up. The sherpa guide comes up behind him and grabs him by the arm and says 'This is not about you.' You hear what I'm saying? It's not about you."

"And then what happened?"

Blair shrugged. "Then he made his way across. You see what I'm saying, Joel, is it's mind over matter."

Joel's voice was thoughtful. "You, uh, still know this guy?"

Blair chuckled. "Yeah. It was me."

Joel laughed, and Jim smiled at the lightness of the sound. "Really?"

Blair grinned up at him, starting to walk down the hall again. "Yeah. Come on. Let me tell you about Katmandu."

The two men walked further down the hall from Jim. Pushing himself upright, Jim began to follow them, stopping as he heard Simon behind him. Turning, he watched his captain come off the elevator, his expression grim.

"There you are. I've been looking all over for you." Simon stopped in front of the sentinel, scowling. "Larson didn't show up for roll call. I called down to Pendleton and checked out his marine unit. They were stationed in Lebanon. Defused dozens of bombs made with Semtex."

Jim shrugged. "Simon, a lot of guys on the bomb squad could have worked with Semtex."

"How many of them were born and raised in Mississippi?"

Jim felt his jaw slacken momentarily. He sighed. "Where the resistance started."

Simon's nod was brief. "Now, here's the kicker. I had I.A. pull his bank account. Dirk made a deposit of $10,000 in cash the other day."

"That's a lot of overtime."

"Enough for us to get a search warrant." Simon sighed. "We'll check out his houseboat, Pier 17."


Dirk Larson bit his lip, then typed in the final command. Closing his eyes briefly as the swastika appeared on his computer screen, he opened them again as the private chat room opened. Water lapped gently at the sides of the houseboat, but, intent on the computer, he didn't even register the familiar sound. Picking up the microphone, he spoke.

"This is Blaster, awaiting word."

The words scrolled across the screen, and the reply came almost immediately. The computer generated voice grated on the Marine's ears.

"Number two goes tonight. Counting down to the big one."

Larson smiled grimly. "Good." He hesitated a moment. "When do I get to meet you and the Aryan Brothers?"

"We'll meet in Valhalla, under the iron cross."

"I don't understand." Larson's reply was puzzled, and he frowned at the answer given.

"You're not supposed to. Just download these numbers, and do as you're told."

A rapid string of number and letter combinations scrolled across the screen. Hitting print, Larson waited for the sheet to be done. Pulling it off the printer, he began to study it, then looked up sharply as a knock came on the door. Folding it, he readied his gun, then walked over to the houseboat entrance.


Jim knocked on the door, hoping Larson had a reasonable explanation for what sure looked bad. The Marine had seemed to be a good guy, honestly upset at the devastated church, and Jim hated to think he'd been taken that badly. He frowned as he heard a metallic click. Maybe he'd been wrong to tell Simon to let him try this on his own. He shrugged. The SWAT team was right there, if needed.

Larson's voice was strained. "Who is it?"

"Jim Ellison."

The door cracked open and Larson's face appeared. Jim smiled, trying to seem reassuring, knowing his next words would be anything but. "We need you to come down and talk to I.A."

Larson shook his head. "I can't, Jim. You'll just have to trust me. There's more to this than you know."

"All the more reason for us to deal with this now."

The Marine sighed unhappily. "Okay, but we do it here. All right. Just a sec."

He closed the door, then Jim cursed as he saw the lights go out inside the boat and heard running footsteps. Lifting his leg, he kicked in the door, catching sight of a dim figure as Larson exited the boat. Running after him, Jim stopped abruptly as the board Larson had just used as a bridge was pulled away from his feet. Peering over the water, he saw Larson bend over briefly, tucking a piece of paper inside his boot. The other man looked back, then ran around a corner. Ducking to get to the other side of the houseboat, Jim swore to himself as Larson climbed into a small motorboat and zoomed away. Lifting his gun, he lowered it again as the boat disappeared.

Larson had gotten away.

Act II