Beta Read by Gemini
Written for PetFly by Gail Morgan Hickman
internal thought in italics
Jim stared at the stack of files on his desk, silently wishing that they
would magically disappear. Blair had been gone most of the morning, leaving him with a
huge stack of paperwork to complete by the end of the day. Jim's eyes drifted to Simon's
closed office door, his mind wandering from his arduous task to the conversation that he
and Simon had exchanged last week. He remembered every detail of their meeting, almost as
if it had happened just a few moments ago. He could still see the captain's smiling face
as Simon told him about the trip to Peru that he and Daryl were planning.
Jim shifted in his seat as a sudden shiver worked its way along his spine. Of all places on earth, why did the anti-narcotics conference have to be in Peru? Clearing his throat, Jim turned his attention back to the files on his desk. Snatching one off the top of the pile, Jim began perusing the first page of the file. He knew that his reactions to Simon's trip were way off base, but something deep inside him seemed to scream a warning in his mind.
"Jim, can I see you in my office, please?"
Please? This was definitely something big. Jim couldn't ever remember Simon using that word when summoning anyone into his office. "Be right there, sir."
Jim closed the file, neatly stacking it on top of the pile. He could feel a number of eyes watching him as he made his way across the bullpen to Simon's office. Obviously he was not the only one who had noticed Simon's strange behavior. Lightly tapping on the door, Jim waited for an invitation before entering the room. Simon sat behind his desk, an unreadable expression on his face. Jim seated himself in the chair closest to the door, just in case he felt the urge to leave.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Jim, I have something important to tell you."
The tension in the air grew thicker as Jim waited for his captain to continue.
"The mayor was here early this morning. It seems he has some business he'd like to discuss with you."
Shrugging his shoulders, Jim tried to think of a logical explanation as to why Mayor Daniels would want to speak to him. "What kind of business?"
"You can relax, Jim, there's nothing wrong, quite the contrary actually. Mayor Daniels is quite impressed with your work."
"Really? He could have fooled me."
Simon barely broke a smile as he shifted a file folder across the desk towards Jim. “I think you should read this.”
Jim took a few moments to read the contents of the file, shaking his head as he scanned the words on the page. “What’s this got to do with me?”
“You’ve been offered a job with the mayor’s office.”
“Excuse me? You’re kidding, right? I mean, Daniels and I aren’t exactly friends, if you know what I mean.”
“He’s specifically asked for you. He wants to meet with you later this week. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Jim.”
“Sounds like you’re trying to get rid of me,” Jim joked, tossing the folder on the desk.
Leaning forward in his chair, Simon tapped the edge of the folder with his index finger. “You’re the best detective in this precinct, but you’re also my friend. Just think about it, okay?”
“I don’t think…”
“Just meet with the man, hear him out.” Simon pushed the folder back across the desk towards Jim.
“Whatever you say, Simon,” Jim muttered, snatching the folder from the desktop and shoving it under his arm. “You can come in now, Sandburg,” Jim raised the volume of his voice so as to be heard through the closed door.
Joining the two men in the room, Blair closed the door behind him. “I hate when you do that.”
“Do what?” Jim asked, suppressing a grin.
“Know what I’m doing before I do it.”
“If you two gentlemen are finished, I have a few last-minute things that I need to do before my son shows up.”
Brushing past Blair, Simon exited the room, closely followed by Jim and Blair.
“When you’re in Peru you’ve got to go to Cusco and see the remains of the Temple of the Sun. It’s 400 miles from Lima - absolutely beautiful. And of course, you’ve got to go to Machu Picchu, the lost ancient city. And if you go north from there…”
Stopping in mid-step, Simon held up a hand to ward off any further suggestions from the overzealous anthropologist. “Sandburg, I’m only going to be in Lima for three days. Most of my time will be spent at the anti-narcotics conference.”
“I’m surprised you’re still thinking of taking Daryl,” Jim added, avoiding Simon’s eyes.
“I thought we had this discussion, Jim? The government has virtually won the war against the guerrillas. I thought you of all people would know that.”
Shifting his feet nervously, Jim nodded weakly. “Right. I’m just concerned, that’s all.”
“You okay?” Blair asked, noting Jim’s nervous movements.
“Fine. So I take it you’ve booked the 'copter for that little fishing trip?”
Blair couldn’t believe his ears. Simon was taking his son to one of the most culturally stimulating places on earth, and he was planning to go fishing.
“Ever since the divorce, Daryl’s been having a real rough time. The fishing trip will give us a chance to get to know one another better.”
As if on cue, Daryl strode into the bullpen, a somber expression on his face.
“Hey, there’s the man now,” Blair exclaimed in his usual energetic manner.
Eyeing the three men, Daryl made his way towards them.
“Hey, Daryl, pumped about going to Peru?” Jim questioned, hoping to lighten the boy’s mood.
“Keeps me out of school, anyway.”
Throwing an arm around his son’s shoulders, Simon smiled. “Not quite. I’ve talked to all your teachers and gotten your homework assignments. You’ll have plenty to do.”
Shrugging off his father’s arm, Daryl rolled his eyes dramatically. “Oh, man.”
Taking a slip of paper from his pocket, Simon handed it to Jim. The name and address of where Simon and Daryl were staying were neatly written on the small sheet.
After they said their good-byes, Jim watched as father and son made their way towards the elevator. Folding the piece of paper that Simon had given him, Jim carefully tucked it into the breast pocket of his jacket. The file folder still firmly tucked under his armpit, Jim made his way towards his desk. Quickly shoving the folder in his desk drawer, Jim’s head snapped up at the sound of his name.
“Hey, Jim, phone. It’s Mayor Daniels' office.”
Jim hadn’t even noticed that Blair had approached his desk, or that the phone right beside him had begun to ring. Blair held out the receiver, scrutinizing Jim with his gaze. Taking it from his hand, Jim proceeded to cover the mouthpiece with his hand. “Do you mind?” Jim asked, giving Blair one of his patented glares.
“Sure, man, I’ll just go borrow some of Simon’s coffee.”
“Just don’t leave any fingerprints,” Jim joked, waiting for Sandburg to be out of earshot before answering the phone. “Ellison.”
“Detective Ellison, this is Kathy Dwyer, Mayor Daniels' secretary. Mayor Daniels would like to meet with you sometime this week.”
Jim smiled to himself at the professional manner in which Kathy handled herself in public. They had met a number of years ago at a political function, and had dated a few times. Jim could hear the slight edge of teasing in her voice as she tried to keep the call as professional as possible.
“Well, Ms. Dwyer, I think that can be arranged. Of course, I’d much rather see you than your boss.”
Clearing her voice, Kathy continued, “How’s Wednesday for you?"
“Wednesday morning is fine.”
“We’ll see you around ten.”
Jim hung up the phone just as Blair returned with two cups of steaming liquid.
“I leveled out the bag so Simon wouldn’t notice.”
“You’re crazy, Sandburg. We’re talking about Simon here; he’s gonna notice.”
Taking a sip of the coffee, Blair closed his eyes in appreciation of the rich, strong brew. Leaning his hip on the edge of Jim’s desk, Blair waited patiently for Jim to look up from where he had seated himself in front of the computer. Jim hit a few keys, trying to ignore the two piercing blue eyes that threatened to bore a hole in his head.
“What is it, Chief?”
Blair sighed in exasperation, shifting his body to lean in closer to Jim. “What did Mayor Daniels want?”
“Oh, that. Nothing, it was his secretary, Kathy Dwyer.”
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” Raising his eyebrows playfully, Blair blew a kiss in Jim’s direction.
“Cut it out.” Jim laughed, leaning back in his chair. “She’s a friend.”
“Sure, man, whatever you say. Look, I’m gonna head back to the loft. You gonna drop by later on?”
“Yeah, I’ll see you later.”
Blair downed the rest of his coffee quickly, waved a hand in Jim’s direction, and hurried towards the elevator.
Simon turned his gaze skyward, thanking the heavens for sparing him and
his son from the same fate that had befallen his friend, Jim Ellison, several years
before. His thoughts drifted to similar situation that Jim had been faced with so many
years ago. He remembered news stories of how Jim's team had plunged to their death in this
very jungle, and how Ellison had been the lone survivor of his unit. He watched as Daryl
absently studied the pilot of the downed helicopter, the young boy shaking his head in
disgust at his present situation.
“Man, this really sucks. Three days in Lima, and all I do is go to museums and do homework. Now, look. Now I'm stuck in the middle of a jungle a zillion miles from nowhere. I'd rather be in school."
Simon was still reeling from the brush with death that he and Daryl had just averted, and was in no mood for his son’s sarcastic comments. “I didn’t plan for the helicopter to break down. As soon as he gets it fixed, we’ll be on our way.”
Simon turned his attention back to the pilot, hoping to inquire about the status of the 'copter. He was relieved to find out that the damage was minimal, and that they would be on their way in a matter of a few minutes. Daryl had been pacing impatiently behind him, muttering words about fathers and fishing trips under his breath. Simon turned, expecting to see Daryl’s sullen face right behind him. Instead, he found only the lush greenery of the jungle. Wandering away from the pilot, Simon began to search the area for his son.
“Daryl.” Simon moved through the dense undergrowth calling the boy’s name as he made his way to a small river.
Daryl called to his father, motioning with his hand for him to join him.
“Boy, how many times do I have to tell you not to go wandering off?” Simon bellowed, moving to stand by his side.
“I just wanted to have a look around.”
“Yeah? You should have brought your pole.” Simon stared into the eyes of his son, suddenly regretting his earlier outburst. So much of the world was still so new to Daryl, and in some ways, Simon wished that he could look at humanity in the same trusting manner that his son did. “Look. I’m sorry about all this, Daryl.”
“Nah, that’s okay, Dad.”
“No, it’s not okay. I want to spend time with you, and I planned this whole trip and never once asked you what you wanted to do. I guess I haven’t been listening very well, have I?”
The distant sound of a helicopter starting caused both men to look skyward. As the helicopter flew overhead, the two men watched in horror as a missile was fired into the air, catching the 'copter in mid-flight. The helicopter exploded, a fiery cloud of metal raining down on the jungle floor.
Grabbing his son’s arm, Simon ran for cover.
“Let’s get out of here. Go!”
Jim paused outside the office door, taking a moment to straighten his tie
and steady his nerves. He hated meetings like this, especially meetings that involved him
personally. He wished that Simon had been around in the last three days to provide some
sort of support system for his doubts and questions. He had thought about telling Sandburg
about his meeting with Mayor Daniels, but soon thought better of it. There was no reason
to involve Sandburg unless it was absolutely necessary.
Jim had spent most of last night reading and re-reading the fine points of the job offer that Mayor Daniels had dropped in his lap. He had to admit, the job itself was what every police officer dreamed of: a six-figure salary, a nine-to-five job, benefit package, and retirement benefits. It was an incredibly impressive package that left little to be desired. Although the job perks did seem rather tempting, it was the actual focus of the job that appealed to him even more.
Gripping the doorknob, Jim forced his feet into action. He smiled as he entered the room, catching the attention of the woman behind the big oak desk.
“Detective Ellison, how nice to see you again.”
Standing, the woman extended her hand, a bright smile adorning her features.
“Ms. Dwyer, it’s good to see you, too.”
Looking around the room to be sure that no one was watching, Jim kissed her hand lightly, grinning at her sharp intake of breath.
“Mayor Daniels is waiting for you. I’ll let him know you’re here.”
Quickly pulling her hand from his grasp, Kathy pressed the intercom button on her desk. “Detective Ellison is here to see you, sir.”
“Send him in,” a muffled voice sounded from the intercom speaker.
Clearing her throat, Kathy looked nervously into Jim’s eyes. “You can go in.”
Leaning over the desk towards her, Jim whispered, “Remind me again why we broke up?”
Keeping her voice at a stage whisper, Kathy added, “Conflict of interest. You and my cousin don’t exactly see eye-to-eye.”
“Maybe I can change that,” Jim added with a wink.
Jim strolled away, pausing to give her a warm smile before entering the large double-door office.
It was true; Mayor Paul Daniels and Detective Jim Ellison had never quite seen things in the same light. And yet they seemed to have found common ground in the makings of an elite anti-drug operation that would hopefully clean up the streets of Cascade.
After shaking hands with the mayor, Jim seated himself in one of the high-back chairs, wondering for a brief moment what it would be like to sit on the other side of the desk for a change. He had always been on the receiving end of orders, never the one truly responsible for the workings of an intricate, life-changing organization. In the minutes that followed, Jim found himself engrossed in the mayor’s words, quickly forgetting any negative feelings that he harbored about this man.
The job was quite simple. Jim would lead a team of hand-picked undercover officers in the fight against drugs. A dummy corporation going by the code name “Euphoria” would be set in place in order to trap potential drug dealers and smugglers. A fake lab would be set up, and police officers impersonating pushers and users would be strategically placed within the community. Jim couldn’t help but be impressed by the offer, and for the first time in his career, he was beginning to have second thoughts about his current employment. Only one nagging thought seemed to cast a shadow on this silver-lined cloud. This job, the job of a lifetime, did not include Sandburg….
“I’ll need your answer as soon as possible. I’m anxious to get this operation under way.”
Nodding, Jim stood, gripping the mayor’s hand in a firm handshake. “I understand, sir.”
“I know we’ve had our differences, Detective, but quite honestly, I need a man like you heading this team. Given your background in Vice, your military training, and your exemplary record with the PD, I know I’m making the right choice.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’ll be waiting to hear from you.”
Twenty minutes later, Jim entered the loft, tossing his keys in the
basket, and heading for the kitchen. Reaching for the still-warm coffee pot, Jim listened
to Blair’s side of a phone conversation.
“That’s terrific. Thanks a lot. Absolutely. No, no --thank you. Thank you so much. I’ll get back to you, okay? Bye bye.”
Jim smiled at his friend’s obvious enthusiasm, watching with amusement as Blair bounced around the kitchen area, his arms waving wildly.
“Do you know who that was? Dr. Eli Stoddard’s secretary.”
“And who’s that?” Jim asked, taking a sip of his coffee.
“Eli Stoddard -- one of the greatest living anthropologists, and just happens to be my mentor -- got funding for an expedition to Borneo to study the effects of modern civilization and what it’s done to the indigenous people that live there. And he asked me to go with him.”
Jim felt genuinely happy for Blair, knowing that recognition for his studies was few and far between. “Congratulations. You going to do it?”
“I told him I needed to think about it.”
“What’s to think about? Go.”
Blair hesitated, surprised at Jim’s willingness to let him go. “You really think I should?”
“You kidding me? A couple of weeks in Borneo sounds like a blast.”
It’ll give me time to decide if I really want this job that Mayor Daniels is offering. Might be a good test to see how I can manage alone.
“Jim, we’re not talking about a couple of weeks here. I mean, this kind of study involves a major commitment of time. At least… a year.”
The coffee mug in Jim’s hand shook as he fought to gain control. The thought of losing Blair suddenly became very real. He could see the eagerness and confusion in the young man’s eyes, and felt the need to look away. “A year? What about, you know, our project -- this, uh, sentinel thing?”
“Jim, I know, but … but this kind of opportunity.”
No longer able to stay in the same room as Blair, Jim brushed past him, intending to head upstairs to change. “Then you should do it,” Jim stammered, pulling at his tie to hopefully alleviate the sudden feeling of lightheadedness that washed over him.
“Are you upset?”
Any further discussion was drowned out by the sound of the phone ringing. Blair moved to answer it, only to have Jim snatch the receiver away from him. Blair watched the play of emotions that crossed Jim’s face as he spoke to the individual on the other end of the phone. Seconds later, Jim hung up the phone, turning to face Sandburg.
“Simon’s helicopter went down somewhere in eastern Peru.”
“Do they… do they know if there’s any survivors?” Blair stammered, almost afraid to hear Jim’s answer.
“They don’t even know where it went down. The pilot must have been off course.”
The men exchanged worried glances, not sure of quite what to say. Jim broke the awkward silence, announcing that he was going upstairs to pack. Blair watched him leave, noting the hesitation in his movements. All thoughts of Borneo forgotten, Blair hurried to his own room to toss a few items into a bag.
Dropping to sit on the edge of his bed, Jim took a moment to gather his thoughts. His body tingled with some kind of bizarre sensation that he had never experienced before. A feeling of weakness pulled at his muscles, a fog-tinged mist settling in his mind. A low growl sounded in his ears, causing him to jerk his body towards the head of the bed. Shaking his head, he tried to clear the image of a black, animal-like form that flashed before his eyes.
Simon needs you!
The words were spoken to him, forcing him to block out any other thoughts or fears that plagued his mind. Gathering up his supplies, Jim shoved the necessary items into a duffle bag and hurried down the stairs. He was surprised to meet Sandburg, bag in hand, waiting for him by the front door. Part of Jim was angry at the young man for wanting to follow him, but the other part begged to have him at his side.
Simon searched the remains of the helicopter, instructing Daryl to look
for any objects that might be of use to them in their fight for survival. He watched his
son carefully, trying to reassure him with his presence that things would be all right.
Noting the shocked expression on the boy’s face when he saw the dead pilot, Simon
moved to block the horrific image from his son’s eyes.
The sound of rifles being cocked forced the two men to abandon the helicopter. They ran, hoping to lose the men in the dense undergrowth of the jungle. Simon faltered, catching his foot on an exposed root. He went down hard, calling to Daryl to run and not to stop. Refusing to leave his father’s side, Daryl helped Simon to stand, and the two men hobbled another few feet before being totally surrounded by the soldiers.