By Melinda Holley,
Megan O'Shaughnessy and Vision
Beta Read by: Alibi and Yvonne Zicke
Written for PetFly by: Harold Apter
internal thought in italics
Present Day – Banks of the Kodiak River
Jim Ellison narrowed his eyes as the bright sunlight glinted off the river. His partner, Blair Sandburg, stood next to him, one hand shading his eyes. A few steps to one side, Capt. Simon Banks aggressively chewed on the end of his cigar.
"A stolen car went off the road a couple of hours ago," the tall captain explained. "It was a freak accident. The driver got out okay; but when the divers went down for the car, they found something else." He lowered his voice. "I'm telling you, Jim. That's Jack's car."
Jim silently watched as the water-logged car was lowered to the grass.
"Jim?" Blair quietly asked, noticing the clenching of his partner's jaw.
The sentinel ignored him as he walked towards the car.
"What's up with him?" Blair asked, shooting Simon a questioning look.
"Cop named Jack Pendergrast used to drive a car like that," Simon briefly explained. "He disappeared four years ago." He looked over his shoulder at the sound of a slamming car door. "Great," he hissed. "Just what we need."
Blair followed Simon's gaze to see an attractive red-haired woman striding towards the recovered car. "Who's she?" he asked with admiration.
"Sheila Irwin," Simon sighed. "Internal Affairs. She used to be with my unit." He saw Blair's appreciative stare. "Cool it with the eyes, will you?" He saw Sheila stop to confer with the officers at the scene. "C'mon. Let's get this over with."
They found Jim crouched at the back of the car. He was running his fingers over the letters on the license plate. Easily visible were the words 'Jacks Toy.' Jim glanced up as they approached. "I smell something in the trunk, Simon."
Simon motioned to one of the nearby officers. "Give me that bar." He firmly grasped it and motioned Jim to one side. He expertly popped the trunk, and all three men leaned forward.
"Oh, God," Blair groaned. He clapped one hand over his mouth and walked away.
"Jack?" Simon whispered.
"Jack never wore glasses," Jim firmly denied.
"They belong to Philip Brackley."
Both men turned as Sheila stepped between them. She dispassionately eyed the body in the trunk of the car then glanced at Jim. "What's the body of the kidnap victim doing in the trunk of your ex-partner's car?"
"Considering the body hasn't been officially identified, it sounds like you've already made up your mind about that," Jim coldly replied.
Sheila stared at him for a moment then walked away.
"Ex-partner? What kidnap victim?" Blair asked from several steps away.
Simon ignored the questions. "Jim…maybe it's time you stopped protecting him."
"Protecting who?" Despite himself, Blair moved closer.
"If that's Philip Brackley's body, you know IA is going to be all over this," Simon snapped. "And you'd better be damned sure you know where you stand."
"That's not a problem, sir," Jim formally replied. "I've always been sure about this." Without a glance at Blair, he turned and walked away.
"Simon, will you please tell me what's going on here?" Blair irritably asked.
"Jack Pendergrast was Jim's former partner, and Philip Brackley was the kidnap victim," Simon sighed. He slowly walked towards the road, followed by Blair. "Philip Brackley's father was a lumber tycoon. Kidnappers asked for a million bucks in ransom. Pendergrast was supposed to deliver the money, but he never came back. Neither did Philip Brackley. IA concluded that Jack probably not only stole the money, but killed the kidnappers and victim. That didn't sit too well with Jim. I always tried to keep an open mind about it but…" He glanced over his shoulder at the water-soaked car. "That just got a whole lot harder to do." Simon recalled a day five years ago…
Five Years Earlier – Major Crimes
"ELLISON! MY OFFICE! NOW!" Simon spun around without waiting to see if his newest detective obeyed.
Jim Ellison absently stroked his moustache then settled his Jags ball cap onto his head before walking into Simon's office. Closing the door behind him, he stood in front of Simon's desk.
Simon glared at the earring adorning Ellison's ear, the faded worn shirt, the ball cap, and ragged jeans. That outfit might have worked in Vice, but the man was in Major Crimes now. And, by God, he was going to act like it. "What the hell happened this morning?!"
Jim's eyes focused on a spot on the wall behind Simon's desk. "I'm not sure what you're referring to, sir."
"You don't?" Simon snarled. "Let me enlighten you. A high-speed car chase through the middle of downtown at the height of rush-hour causing three…count 'em…three traffic accidents. Four cars totaled, including the suspect's car." He slammed the file down onto his desk and glared at the calm man in front of him. "Does that ring any bells, Detective?"
"The perp was identified. He tried to escape. He was apprehended and taken off the streets," Jim reported. "Sir."
"So it says in your marvelously brief report," Simon snapped. "Do you ever think about what you're doing? What was the cost of this little game of chase?"
"Actually, sir, I just do my job," Jim replied.
"Do your job," Simon huffed. "You might have been a hotshot loose cannon in Vice. But this is Major Crimes! I don't care how Vice runs their operations, but things are different here! He stalked to his door and flung it open. "Pendergrast! My office! Now!" Then he spun around to face Jim. "Bottom line, Ellison. I may be new to this department; but if you think I'm a pushover, you can rethink that idea right here and now! You may have been a hotshot in Vice, but you're not in Vice now. Around here, you're just part of my dog team! Is that clear, Detective?"
"Hey, Cap. You called?"
Jim eyed the older man standing behind Simon. He recognized the humorous tone in the other man's voice and inwardly smirked.
"Jack, meet your new partner. Ellison, meet Jack Pendergrast." Simon stalked back to behind his desk.
"Partner, sir? Or baby-sitter?" Jim smoothly asked.
Jack rolled his eyes at Jim's attitude.
"It's whatever I say it is," Simon snarled. "As of now, you're on probation. You screw up one more time, and you'll wish you were back in Vice."
"Is that all, sir?" Jim formally asked.
"Get to work," Simon snarled.
Jack eyed Jim who preceded him out the door. "Oh, thanks, Cap. Thanks a lot." He quietly closed the door behind him then caught up with Jim.
"Lead on, kimosabe." Jim waved Jack into the bullpen.
"Oh, I can see you're going to go far in this department, Slick," Jack chuckled.
"Meaning?" Jim coldly asked.
"Meaning…fix the attitude if you want to stay in Major Crimes," Jack advised as he picked up a file from his desk.
"Oh?" Jim moved around Jack and walked backwards towards his desk. "I have an attitude?" He felt someone move behind him even as he felt the accompanying bump.
Jim turned around to see an angry red-haired woman glaring at him. Warm coffee was staining her pristine blouse.
"Great! I just bought this!" she angrily snapped.
"So send me the cleaning bill, Irwin," Jim airily replied.
"Cleaning bill, my ass. You should buy me a new blouse." Sheila Irwin slapped her coffee mug on a desk as she stomped away.
"Why don't you try some cold water?" Jim smirked. He turned around and added in a lower voice, "On more than your blouse."
Jack sighed. "Look, we're all trying to give you a chance here. You think you've got all the answers, don't you, Slick? But in this job, that will get you killed."
"I can handle myself," Jim firmly answered.
"I bet you can." Jack nodded. "But there's always room for improvement…if you're willing to learn. It’s your choice."
"Thanks for the chat, Dear Abby," Jim snapped.
Jack smiled, although the smile didn’t reach his eyes. "Oh. And by the way…" He eyed Jim closely. "You ride with me, you make some changes. Get yourself some decent clothes. You're not working the bottom rung of Vice now." He turned to head for the elevator then turned back around. "And lose the earring, will you? I wouldn't want the bad guys to get the wrong impression, if you know what I mean." He gently smacked Jim on both cheeks. "You want to make the grade here, Slick? Be here tomorrow morning. Ready to learn without the attitude."
Present Day – Forensics Garage
To no one's surprise, Sheila Irwin met them as they entered Forensics to examine Jack's car.
"Hello, Sheila," Simon calmly greeted.
Sheila nodded at Simon then stared at Jim. "Glad you could make it," she said with a raise of her eyebrows. "The Medical Examiner has confirmed the body in the trunk of Jack's car is Philip Brackley. So I guess he's been officially identified, wouldn't you agree, Detective Ellison?"
"I think we can keep this on a civil level, don't you?" Simon hopefully interjected.
Sheila and Jim stared at each other. "Brackley was shot twice in the head with this." She raised her hand to show them a gun secured in an evidence bag. "It was found wedged under the spare tire."
"Just because Brackley was shot with Jack's gun…" Jim angrily began.
"It's not Jack's gun." Sheila half-smiled.
"Then whose gun is it?" Simon demanded. And how did it get in the trunk of Jack's car? he silently wondered.
"I ran the serial number," Sheila replied. "It's registered to Jim Ellison."
"That's not my gun," Jim firmly denied.
"That's got to be a mistake," Simon said at the same time.
Blair silently watched the byplay, his eyes widening as the level of tension rose. Sheila Irwin's face mirrored her silent delight in the situation.
"No mistake," Sheila crisply answered. "If I were you, Detective Ellison, my next call would be to my attorney." She brushed past them and headed for the elevator.
Simon sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Ellison…"
"I bought that gun for Jack as a birthday present," Jim explained. "He'd had his eye on it for some time. Two days later, Jack disappeared. I never changed the registration. But I did report it missing."
"So you're in the clear." Blair grinned.
"Sandburg, just because he reported it missing doesn't mean a damn thing," Simon growled. "IA's conclusion will be he could have used it to commit the crime then reported the weapon missing."
"That's circumstantial," Blair protested.
"Wake up, Chief. Most murder convictions are based on circumstantial evidence," Jim pointed out.
"We'll have to reopen the case," Simon sighed. "Reinvestigate all the old leads. And maybe this time we can both keep an open mind about what really happened." He saw the frown on Jim's face and hurried to add, "Wherever Jack is, protecting him is only going to hurt you."
"Jack Pendergrast is as innocent as I am," Jim firmly argued.
"From where I'm standing, he's the most likely suspect." Simon shook his head at the stubborn look on Jim's face. "I never should have hooked you two up together. You never wanted to see Jack Pendergrast the way he is."
"And just how was Jack Pendergrast?" Jim angrily demanded, his fists clenching. "I really don't care how other people saw him. Jack taught me a lot. He's a great man."
Blair uneasily edged forward. He wasn't sure what he could do if tempers flared further, but knew he couldn't stand by and watch them come to blows.
"I'm sure he did teach you a lot, Jim," Simon admitted. "But the reason you're a good cop is because of what you've got here." He tapped his chest. "And in here." He tapped the side of his head. "Jack had the same thing. But he also had a gambling problem. And you never wanted to admit to that problem. Jack had a ton of bad debts. He'd look the other way if a hood slipped him money."
"That was never proven!" Jim angrily shouted.
"Nobody has to prove it!" Simon shot back. "Look at the way he dressed. Look how much money he poured into that damned car. And I'll lay you even odds that Jack's sitting somewhere on a beach with a blonde on either arm and a million bucks tucked away." He glared into Jim's eyes. "And here you are…holding the bag."
"You. Are. Wrong." The words left Jim's mouth as cold as ice.
"If you're going to remain on this case, you'll have to maintain your objectivity," Simon ordered.
"Objectivity, sir? Like you have?" Jim snorted. "Seems like everyone has Jack tried and convicted."
The two men glared at each other for a few seconds before Jim turned and walked away.
Blair anxiously glanced at Simon. "Why did Jim call Jack 'a great man'?"
Simon wearily waved for him to follow Jim. "He was very instrumental in turning Jim from a hothead Vice officer into a good detective. Go after him, Sandburg."
Without a word, Blair ran after Jim.
He caught up to Jim in the garage. "Hey! Jim! C'mon, wait a minute!"
"Move it, Chief, if you're riding with me," Jim called over his shoulder. "We're gonna find out what happened to Jack."
Blair quickly slid into the truck and slammed the door behind him. Snapping the seatbelt around him, he uneasily eyed his partner.
"Don't give me that look," Jim growled as he started the truck's engine.
"Look?" Blair licked his lips.
"That concerned puppy-dog look of yours," Jim answered. Despite himself, he slightly smiled. "It all started with the Brackley case. It was twisted from the beginning. Even the kid's old man thought it was a hoax…."