Beta Read by Cougar Pryde, Susanne and Helen
Written for PetFly by: Daniel Levine
internal thought in italics
The exterior video recorded Mick as he entered Datta Credit Union with the
ease of a young man on the move, nodding to the security officer as he passed. Anyone
observing the handsome young man pegged him to be up and coming in the art world perhaps
or an executive in one of the new dot-coms. His elegant suit jacket hung open, showing a
casual white shirt, unbuttoned at the collar. An impressively thick mane of curly hair was
pulled back from his face and left to flow past his shoulders. Heavy, large-framed glasses
gave the thin face an intelligent, almost scholarly air. Smoothly, Mick bent and set the
dark silver briefcase he carried on the floor next to the central counter.
Nonchalantly taking a brochure, he pretended to read it while scouting the perimeter of the busy workplace. After noting the manager and each teller and secretary, he checked his new watch. Glancing up, he saw the dark blue truck pull up outside the main doors, and then walked purposefully past the security guard and outside.
Two men in Bomb Squad jumpsuits exited the back of the Tactical Response Unit while a third waited behind the wheel. The two passed the longhaired man without a glance, and strode into the building.
The security guard pointed out the manager to them, saying, "He's right over there," and the leader stalked toward him.
The Bomb Squad officer had sharp, acne-scarred features and a thick moustache. "Excuse me, sir. We had a bomb threat called into the station. We have to evacuate this area immediately. Disposal team's on the way."
"Oh, my God!" The manager paled and looked at the people around him. "But..."
"Now, sir," the officer ordered.
The manager nodded.
Outside, Mick pushed the button remote and the dark silver briefcase exploded with a loud bang, emitting a cloud of acrid smoke. Immediately, the bank became bedlam, and the second Bomb Squad officer, aided by the security guard, herded the hysterical customers and employees toward the door.
The first officer used the commotion to pull a shiny automatic pistol and pressed the tip under the terrified manager's chin. "Show us the vault."
The manager nodded and led the bogus police officer away from the lobby toward the vault.
"The combination won't do you any good." The manager was looking around frantically. "The vault's on time lock."
The older officer grinned sardonically. "Indulge me."
The manager held out for only a moment before counting out the numbers. "3…37…19…46…6." The uniformed man typed each one in.
Meanwhile, a young man in a police uniform climbed out of the back of the
blue van. His hair was close-cropped, and his features austere. Few would have recognized
the well-dressed, curly-haired man from moments before. Mick gave the driver the high sign
and strode into the bank past the fleeing customers and staff. Once there, he stopped and
watched the senior member of the group intimidate the bank officer.
"The override code," Jack asked, leaning closer to the frightened manager. The man remained stubbornly silent.
"We're cool outside," Mick informed Jack with a grin, glancing at their victim.
"Good." Jack's angular face showed no sign of emotion. "Our friend here's got temporary tongue lock."
Mick didn't stop grinning. "Oh…I can fix that." He punched the manager hard in the belly, causing the man to double over.
"Two minutes," the man at the door reminded them. Time was at a premium.
"What is it?" Mick dragged the hapless manager upright and punched him viciously. "What is it?"
"12…21..." Sliding toward the floor, the manager gasped out the words. "4…1…" As the older man typed the numbers in, the grinning young man slammed their prey to the floor. Sweat gleaming on his wildly grinning face, Mick kicked him hard in the ribs and drew back his foot again.
"That's enough!" the older man bit out the words as the vault swung open.
"Two minutes-thirty." The younger man by the door came forward and scowled angrily at the wild-eyed Mick, slamming him against the wall. "Damn it, Mick," he whispered fiercely. "Cool it."
"Let's do it." Jack grabbed them both and urged them toward the neatly stacked cash. Working as a team, the three men began to methodically empty the vault. "Mick!" the leader ordered. "Get the video tapes, and don’t miss any of them!"
Blair tried not to run as he followed Simon and Jim into the bank. The
uniforms inside parted, and the two tall men walked toward the counter. Jim stopped and
winced at the burnt, chemical smell wafting from the open briefcase. He knelt and sifted
through the scorched paper and metal.
"The device was basically a smoker with a lot of bang." Simon crouched beside his detective and shook his head. "It was designed to cause a panic, not do any serious damage."
Blair looked around, noting the evidence of a hasty evacuation. "Looks like it worked." Both men ignored him.
"How much did they get?" Jim asked as he walked away.
"Two million plus," Simon answered grimly, following Jim into the vault.
"Two million?" Blair thought about the hoops that he had to jump through at Rainier just to get a space to work in or a study funded. By the time you wrote all grant applications and did all the paper work, you were so weary you forgot the reason you wanted the money in the first place. Jim and Simon were discussing the fact that the gang only took unmarked money and left no evidence behind. This time they got two million dollars. "Do you guys know what I could DO with two million dollars? The studies I could fund…"
"The mind boggles, Chief," Jim said absently, before returning to his discussion with Simon.
With visions of lavishly funded, yearlong treks into uncharted jungles still dancing in his head, Blair - who had long ago perfected the ability to think about several things at once - listened to the two police officers. It turned out that the same crew had hit Orion Savings and Loan last week. For that one they stole a HAZMAT truck and faked a gas leak. For this hold-up a Tactical Response van was heisted off the department's repair lot.
They also knew a lot of stuff about the routine at the bank. Like the fact that the override code only worked for five minutes out of every hour and that they changed that five-minute period every day. Jim was looking intently at the rather complicated keypad on the vault before he spoke, "Somehow these guys figured all that out and showed up at precisely the right moment."
"Either that or they got incredibly lucky," Blair offered.
"Nobody's that lucky." Icy blue eyes cold, Jim turned to Simon. "How's the bank manager?"
"Concussion. Broken ribs."
"At Orion they shot a teller in the leg when she went for the silent alarm." Jim frowned, scanning the interior of the bank.
Simon sighed. "If we don't solve this soon, somebody's gonna end up dead."
Jim started to leave the building, but the wall of noise outside made him
step back. There were reporters and cameras. He truly hated cameras. He clenched
his jaw when he felt Blair step closer and touch his arm. Now he felt like a fool, on top
of everything else. He opened the door again and marched into the midst of the milling
members of the press. A microphone bearing the call letters of a local station was pushed
at his face, and it took an effort not flinch.
"Can we get a statement?" The edge in the woman's voice held no entreaty, but was almost a command.
A man pushed past her and held out his own microphone. "Why is the department coming up empty?" the reporter shouted the question, then waited a moment, until it became clear that Jim wasn't going to answer. "Is it open season on Cascade banks now, Detective?"
"You know damn well Cascade PD is doing everything it can to catch these guys - which we will do - if you stop tripping over your tongues and creating a panic." The harangue escaped even though his mind tried to rein in his temper. "Thank you," he ended with an angry flourish.
Blair was chuckling, but he stayed under the radar. "Very diplomatic." He ducked and let a video camera trying to get a shot of Jim swing over his head. The determined newswoman with the cameraman pursued the two men, and called out more questions. "Were there any suspects?" she shouted insistently. "Was anyone hurt?" Jim sighed and stopped to answer their questions.
Wendy stood at the edge of the group of media, watching Ellison. He
fielded the shouted questions with sarcasm and a touch of arrogance.
"Want me to get this?" Her cameraman, Connor, gestured toward the other reporters with his lens.
"No. It's a snooze." Wendy couldn't take her eyes off the handsome police officer.
"Hell, Wendy, we keep coming up empty," Connor whined.
"Don't worry. We'll find an edge." Wendy took the heavy camera from him. "Let me see."
"Who is he?" Connor asked quizzically, spying the subject of her attention.
Wendy looked through the camera at the tall detective. The man was gorgeous. "Detective James Ellison. Major Crimes. Best case record in the city. He's one of the cops in the file." Ellison walked toward his car, trailed by a few dogged reporters. He turned and seemed to look right at her, his gaze cool, his features wary. "Research picked him out for us." Wendy's lips quirked in an almost feline grin. "The camera loves him."
"Sounds like he doesn't love it."
Biting her lip thoughtfully, she watched James Ellison climb into his truck. "Maybe I can change his mind."
"Hey, Jim." Almost swaggering, Blair entered Major Crimes'
Seated at his desk, the detective had used his hearing to track his partner as he came in from the street. Sandburg had been greeting all and sundry while wending his way through the building. Without looking up from the report he was reading, Jim asked, "Okay, what's her name?"
"Well, can't a guy be happy for some reason other than, you know...?" The grad student made random gestures, searching in vain for the right descriptive term for sexual intercourse.
"Not you," Jim interrupted, before Blair could come up with something.
"All right." The kid was practically beaming and wanted to share his bliss with his friend. "It was Emily."
"You kids, today." Jim's tone was vaguely paternal.
"Jim." Simon strolled in and gave them both one of his 'I am not happy' looks. "The Chief caught your little speech on television last night. Congratulations. As of this morning, you'll be heading up the bank robberies case."
"All right!" Blair's good mood was not to be shaken. "Blew his socks off, huh?"
"I believe his exact words were…" Simon paused for effect. "'Tell Ellison to put up, or shut up.'"
"Bring it on." Jim's tone was casual, almost bored.
"There's also a part two." Simon seemed reluctant to continue. "You'll be babysitting a team from 'True Crime' during your investigation."
Jim, who hadn't been listening closely, asked suddenly, "What Crime?"
"'True Crime.'" Blair, as usual, had the answer. "It's a reality-based syndicated television show that goes to different cities, follows cops, and films them at work."
"Time out." Jim stopped him mid-babble, forming a T with his hands. "I'll pass on this one."
Simon shook his head. "The decision's already been made. You'll be working with the show's producer, a woman named Wendy Hawthorne, and her cameraman."
"Wait a minute, Simon." Jim realized this seemed to be a done deal. Behind this realization, came exasperation. "You've got to be kidding me?"
"This will hamper the investigation." Faced with a threat to his partner, Blair's cheerful aura of sexual satisfaction faded at last. "How can he use his senses? What if he zones out?"
"Look," Simon barked, pinning them both with a scowling look, refusing to show how helpless he felt. "This comes straight from the Chief." He turned and walked away, his words drifting back to them. "Let's just deal with this, all right?"
Wendy told Connor to start filming the moment she saw Ellison and his
partner leave the elevator. This was going to be good. The older man moved like a cat and
had a face that actors and news anchors would kill for. The guys in research assured her
that he and Sandburg weren't an item. And the more she saw of the detective, the more she
appreciated that fact.
Sandburg ambled along behind him, his step jaunty… almost bouncy. The young man was the perfect sidekick, attractive, but in a less conventional way. He'd draw in a whole different demographic.
"These are to be worn at all times." The tall detective's tone was blandly professional while he handed Connor and her their ID badges. "Please wear them where they can be seen." He looked at the whirring camera and his expression became severe. "I don't know how you sold the Chief on all of this..."
"I told him I wanted to show a hard-working, highly-skilled police team in action, not create a panic." Wendy stressed the word team. Her sources had told her of Ellison's loyalty to the unorthodox observer.
"I see you heard Jim's speech." The grad student gave her an ironic grin.
Sandburg must have recognized her attempt to flatter Jim by throwing his own words back at him. For the first time she really looked at the mild looking man and noted the calm scrutiny in the intelligent dark, blue eyes.
"And agreed with every word," Wendy answered sincerely. "What I'm proposing is not your typical piece. I want to present your message to the public." She gave Jim the full tilt smile. The one she made her career on. "Think documentary - 'A day in the life.' Your life, Detective Ellison."
"One step over the line, you can think, 'bye-bye,'" Jim promised.
"Whatever you say." Wendy knew this man, this case, could be her ticket to a comeback. She needed this break desperately, and she would do almost anything to make it happen. Four years ago, she had let ambition blind her, and it destroyed her career.
Sandburg held up a videotape. "I got a copy of the video from the bank."
When Jim suggested they go to communications to watch it, it was her chance to impress them. "Why don't you use the playback in my van? We've got advanced imaging capabilities you wouldn't believe."
"State-of-the-art, mate," Connor agreed eagerly.
As Jim reluctantly followed Connor to the van, Wendy kept up her questioning. "Maybe we could discuss your military career? That whole Peru thing?"
"No." Jim paused before he climbed into the van. "We can't."
She was taken aback, but only for a moment. They sat down and Connor started to run the tape. As Jim watched intently Wendy returned to her pitch. "So, tell me about the real James Ellison: what your hobbies are, what you dream about, all the things you think..."
"Stop!" Ellison barked abruptly.
"Jim, calm down," Blair said hurriedly while Wendy and Connor froze. He tried to smooth things over, and Wendy speculated that he did this fairly often. "Come on now. Being on TV might be fun. Just relax."
"The tape!" Exasperated, Jim bit the words off. "Stop the tape. Back it up. Bring it back." He watched Connor rewind the tape. "Right there. Stop." He tried to focus on the longhaired man's wristwatch. "Uh, can you go in closer on the watch?" He pointed and leaned closer. "And clean it up?"
Connor adjusted the picture until the focus narrowed to just the watch.
They all turned to look at Blair as he blurted, "That's a limited edition Mickey Mantle watch."
"Oh! Upper deck, baby," Mick crooned, connecting with the
baseball. Standing inside the batting cage, he waited for the next pitch from the
automated pitching machine.
Jack walked away from the table where the others sat counting and sorting the money from the latest haul. As usual Mick was playing around, while the others worked. Jack had to admit that recruiting the high-strung young thug had been a mistake. He had a criminal background - mostly juvenile arrests - while Jack and the others had credentials in the military, law enforcement and security. Mick's vicious temper and careless attitude had sabotaged his chances for even the lowest rung job in a bank.
On their first job, the bank guard drew down on them and Mick shot him. He had taken the guard's bullet and almost died. After that, they cut him more slack than they should have. Jack shook off the memory and barked, "Mick, would you cut the crap and get over here? We've got work to do."
Mick strolled over and looked down at the piles of cash. "I'm going to need some of my end if this jersey I ordered comes in. Number seven - the "Mick" himself, baby."
Jack shot him an angry glance. "Now is not the time to be spreading around a lot of cash."
"But it's my cash."
"Correction. It's our cash." A cold expression hardened Quinn's boyish face as he looked up from the PC. He and the others had confided to Jack that they no longer trusted Mick.
"I'm not talking about your share, Quinn." Mick sullenly returned to his batting cage.
Jack had to keep them together for just a little while longer. One more job, then six months for things to cool down. Then they could take their money and go their separate ways.
"Nobody throws money around. Nobody attracts attention. Everybody does their job," Jack lectured the group, but he was looking at Mick. "You can't wait? You want early retirement? That can be arranged."
"You're the boss." Mick grinned and waited for the next pitch.
"We called every sports memorabilia store and we finally found what
we're looking for." Simon poured a cup of coffee while he listened to Jim Ellison
explain their latest lead. "A guy fitting the description of the bank robber wearing
the watch ordered an original Mantle jersey three weeks ago. Told the store owner he'd be
in to pick it up."
Simon eyed the partners, sighed and handed Jim a steaming café mocha in the detective's favorite mug with the green mallard on it. "Tell me more about this watch."
"It was a collector's edition of a thousand." Blair 'The World's Foremost Authority on Everything' Sandburg had the information. "Even if you can find one, the thing costs like a ton."
"Yeah," Ellison added his own brilliant deductions to the mix. "And the bank manager also heard one of the gang call the guy 'Mick.'"
"And you're sure only a collector would want this watch?" Simon could see that something was up. He handed the younger man a mug of coffee, even though he doubted he needed it. Sandburg was almost vibrating with excitement already.
"Yeah. Absolutely," taking the cup, the grad student assured him. "Thanks."
Simon knew better, but he had to ask anyway. "How you know this stuff?"
"Well, you see, I do some collecting myself, Simon." Blair warmed to the subject. "Cards, mostly. I own a bat though that once belonged to Nolan Ryan."
Both Jim and Simon turned and looked quizzically at the guileless young man. "Ryan was a pitcher." Simon was still trying to figure where this was heading.
"Yeah, I know," Blair agreed good-naturedly. "That's the only reason I could afford it."
Simon frowned. "This whole thing sounds a little thin to me." Thin? Hell, it was almost anorexic.
"Well, you see, with some enthusiasts, it's a specific team or year," Blair continued as if Simon hadn't spoken, his hands sketching pictures in the air. "With me, it's 1961 and with still others, it's a city or region, and often they'll zero in on a specific player to the exception of all others, like, um..." He searched for a word, his mouth out-pacing even his mind's ability to keep up.
"An obsession?" Jim offered helpfully, sipping his coffee.
"Right. Thank you." The young man grinned up at his friend, and continued, "An obsession, that's it exactly. Like Mantle-mania. Now, we know that rare items like this can be purchased exclusively, only at specialty outlets."
Here it comes, Simon thought grimly.
"The plan is to put Blair in the store and wait for the guy to show," Jim said the words very fast, while Sandburg swallowed his coffee with a gulp and nodded.
"Undercover?" Simon's mind flashed on all the possible disastrous outcomes.
Jim met his eyes. "Yes, sir."
"I don't like it."
"Come on, Captain." Ellison often used Simon's formal title when he wanted to do something dangerous, as if to remind him that it was his job to send cops into perilous situations.
"No." Sandburg wasn't a cop and Simon shuddered at the thought of him getting hurt. It was one thing to send trained, armed officers into jeopardy. Sandburg had more courage than common sense when it came to strolling into the lion's den. "We'll send in an undercover officer. You can fill him in."
"But I already know this stuff. It'll be a snap." Blair looked at him beseechingly. "We even talked to the store owner. Besides, there isn't much time. One more robbery and these guys are gone."
"All he'll have to do is signal us, sir," Jim said with an eloquent look at his partner. "He'll be secure. I've thought this through."
"I want to help." Now Sandburg was giving him that 'starving hound dog' look.
"All right, all right." The captain shooed them toward the door. "It's your case, Jim." And, he added silently, your best friend's life.
"Thank you, sir," Jim said respectfully before he grinned and sat the empty coffee cup on his boss's desk. "Good coffee."
Simon caught his detective's arm and looked at him seriously. "I don't want to be hearing about this on the evening news."
"Not a chance, sir," Jim promised, grin vanishing.