Beta Read by CarolROI
Written for PetFly by Harold Apter
Rated PG-13 for minor bad language
internal thought in italics
The rain had stopped an hour ago, leaving the city streets glistening with
an oily sheen. Fine spray hissed beneath the wheels of the sleek, black Ferrari being
dangled as bait to catch a band of carjackers. Detective Mike Howard couldn't help but
smile at the flashy car's smooth handling and the throaty purr of the perfectly tuned
engine. He thought himself the luckiest cop on the force, being chosen for this
assignment. The investigative team from Major Crimes had reviewed the files of at least a
dozen officers, looking for just the right person to drive the Ferrari. But the thrill
he'd felt when Captain Banks gave him the nod was nothing compared to the excitement of
actually being behind the wheel of this quarter-million-dollar powerhouse.
Mike glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that his shadow was still in place. His smile turned faintly predatory.
"Got a nibble here," he said, knowing that the small microphone clipped to the underside of his jacket lapel would pick up his words. "A silver BMW has been pacing me for the last seven blocks. The driver's a woman -- blonde, mid to late twenties."
Mike's earphone crackled just slightly before Jim Ellison's voice replied, "Let her know you've noticed her. See if she stays with you."
Mike took the next corner faster than he would have dared in any other vehicle, glancing back when the BMW kept pace. He pressed the accelerator harder and momentarily widened the gap between himself and his shadow. But the woman driving the Beemer was no slouch behind the wheel. She matched his every move.
"I think we've caught ourselves a fish," Mike said with satisfaction. "Looks like she's trying to push me into the north end of Bradford Alley."
"Got it," Jim confirmed. "I'll head 'em off from the other side."
Mike's hands tightened on the wheel as he turned a corner and saw his way blocked by a road construction crew. He turned abruptly, thankful for the Ferrari's low ground profile and wide wheel base. He'd have spun out in anything else.
Ahead of him, a parked semi blocked the alley, and Mike braked to a halt. He threw the Ferrari into reverse, but before he could move, the BMW pulled in behind, cutting off that avenue of escape.
"Here we go."
The blonde woman who'd been driving the Beemer got out of her car, a gun held steadily in her hands. Mike glanced from her to the man who trotted down the ramp from the trailer in front of him. The man was armed as well, and his voice was hard as he ordered Mike out of the car
Trying to look suitably intimidated, Mike raised his hands. "Take it easy," he admonished, letting a slight quaver touch his voice. "Take it easy."
The dark-haired man who'd been waiting in the semi raised his gun as he yanked open the Ferrari's door. "Get out of the car!" he yelled again. "What are you, stupid?" With his free hand, he reached in and grabbed Mike by the front of his jacket and hauled him out of the seat. "C'mon, man, let's move! Move!"
Mike stumbled a little as the car thief shoved him back against the side of the car. "Okay," he said, the unsteadiness in his voice genuine this time. The glitter in the thief's eyes said this guy wouldn't think twice about shooting him just for the hell of it. Three people had already been injured in the course of having their expensive imported cars stolen by this same gang. Mike didn't plan to be Number Four. He wondered what was taking Ellison and the rest of his backup so long to make their appearance. "Take it easy," he said again, doing nothing to further incite the agitated carjacker.
In the space of a heartbeat, Mike went from being the luckiest cop on the force to being the unluckiest. The rough handling he was receiving at the car thief's hands managed to flip open his jacket enough to reveal the wire. The thief latched onto it, snatching it loose and holding it up for his partner to see.
The glint in the dark eyes turned to absolute fury. "He's wired! This guy's a cop!"
Mike surged forward, intending to disarm the thief and maybe get himself out of this mess in one piece. But the thief was quick and vicious. The butt of the gun slammed against the side of Mike's head. A thousand stars exploded inside his brain, then everything went black.
Blair Sandburg braced himself against the dashboard as Jim Ellison's Ford
F-150 skidded around a corner at a speed faster than was wise on the wet pavement. Jim's
expression changed from mere concentration to tense worry as he called for backup at the
location Mike Howard reported as the apparent destination. Up ahead, their most direct
route to their rendezvous with Mike was blocked, and Blair clenched his teeth and grimaced
as Jim skirted the edge of the construction blockade with scant inches to spare.
"Damn!" Jim swore under his breath and accelerated down the long block that led to the next available cross street.
Blair had sat in on the planning sessions where Jim and Mike had mapped out possible routes for Mike to travel in the Ferrari, hoping to catch the attention of the car thieves. They'd chosen this one because of the wide streets and relatively light traffic, thus minimizing the risk to the citizens of Cascade. For four days, Mike had driven without incident from a luxury high-rise apartment building to one of the new office towers on the edge of downtown. It was sheer rotten luck that an overnight water main break had necessitated emergency repairs that included tearing up sections of at least three streets to locate the problem. The unexpected obstacles were not making the job of keeping tabs on Mike any easier.
The taut lines of Jim's face bespoke his unhappiness with the way his plan was unfolding. He took another corner almost on two wheels, ignoring the blare of horns nearby and the pedestrians scurrying to get out of his way. Blair knew Jim had intended to drive the Ferrari himself; the carjackers had proven themselves ruthless in acquiring their chosen vehicles. Like the good team leader he'd been in the Army, Jim would never ask someone else to take a risk he wasn't willing to assume. But Simon Banks had vetoed that plan. Blair could see the wisdom in that decision. Jim Ellison might be a hell of a cop, but his driving was enough to scare Evel Knievel.
The detour cost them precious minutes getting to the scene. The radio resting on the seat between them crackled again, and Blair heard the carjacker's harsh voice ordering Mike out of the car. Mike's response was calmer, but the carjacker seemed intent on bullying his victim. Blair shuddered at the undiluted venom in the unfamiliar voice and cast a quick look at Jim. The detective's jaw muscles jumped erratically and his eyes narrowed when that angry voice spat, "He's wired! This guy's a cop!"
Blair flinched at the unmistakable sound of something hitting flesh just before the wire went dead. He flinched again when Jim careened into Bradford Alley, almost taking the handle off the passenger side door on the brick walls.
Jim braked to a sudden halt; a semi blocked the alley at his end. With a curse, he threw open the door and got out, running toward the weasely looking man who bolted from the semi.
Blair got out of the truck with slightly more caution, catching a glimpse of the silver BMW pulling away from the other end of the alley. He turned in time to see Jim take the truck driver down with an arm thrown out in a "clothesline" maneuver. The man immediately howled in pain and clutched one arm.
"Ow! My arm! You broke my arm!" the truck driver moaned. "I'm gonna sue."
Blair sprinted past the parked semi and went to check on Mike Howard, who he could see sprawled on the pavement next to the Ferrari. As soon as he touched the man's shoulder, Mike began to regain awareness.
"Take it easy," Blair said soothingly. The swelling knot on the side of Mike's head looked painful, but the skin wasn't even broken. By the time the backup units began arriving, the detective was sitting up and muttering disgustedly.
Jim still radiated frustration as they reviewed the morning's events with
Simon. Seated in one of the chairs at the conference table, Blair watched as Jim paced a
short path in front of Simon's desk. He wasn't surprised by Jim's agitation. The case had
been frustrating for him, and the plan to lure the thieves into a trap had been Jim's.
"Thirteen carjackings within the last 6 months," Jim summarized. "Each car worth no less than a hundred grand. Three people in the hospital. And our guy blows the set-up."
Simon frowned at his detective. "He didn't exactly blow it, Jim," he protested.
Blair nodded his agreement with Simon's words. He knew that Jim was just blowing off steam, but it didn't hurt to remind him every once in a while that sometimes things just didn't go the way you wanted them to. "Yeah, it's not like Mike was careless. You heard what he said, Jim. When that guy yanked him out of the car, his jacket came open and exposed the wire. And anyway, we got the driver."
Jim's heavy sigh seemed to release some of his tension. "Yeah, his name is Tony DeLuca. He's out on parole for bank robbery. We nail him on this; he goes away for 25 years under the three strikes law."
Simon nodded curtly. "Good. Let's use that. Maybe we can get some information out of him." The captain rounded his desk and dropped into his high-backed chair just as his phone began to ring. With a brief gesture to his two men, he snatched it up and answered, "Banks. ... Who? ... Look, can't this wait? Just tell her to call him...Wait. "
Blair was fighting an uphill battle trying to convince Jim that he was not to blame every time something went wrong on the job. Both men kept their voices low in deference to Simon, and both looked up in surprise when the captain suddenly barked, "Sandburg!"
"Yeah?" Blair responded with a slight frown. To the best of his knowledge, he hadn't done anything recently to aggravate Simon.
Simon dangled the phone from one hand. "Do you know someone named Naomi?"
Blair glanced from Simon to Jim then back to the scowling captain. "Uh…yeah." He wondered why in the world she would be calling him here, of all places. Granted, he hadn't seen her since just before he had met Jim, and he knew from her infrequent letters and phone calls that she was consumed with curiosity about the strange turn his life had taken. But the last thing he had expected was for her to call him at the station.
Simon's stern voice interrupted his thoughts. "In the future I would appreciate it if you wouldn't use this phone number for your personal calls!"
"Simon, I didn't give out..." Blair's protest went unfinished when Simon cut across his words, telling him to have his "lady friends" call him at home.
Blair stood up from his chair, ignoring the faint smirk on Jim's face, and moved toward Simon's desk. He shook his head slightly. "Simon, she's not one of my…"
Simon just waved him off and raised the phone to ear again, long enough to tell Rhonda to put the call through, then he handed the receiver to Blair. Blair accepted it with a helpless shrug.
"Thanks, Simon," he murmured, then he smiled and said brightly into the phone, "Mom!"
He chose to ignore the almost audible snap of Jim's neck as he looked up in surprise and the looks of sheer astonishment on both Jim's and Simon's faces. He needed all his concentration to deal with his mother.
The argument had been going on for a good ten minutes. Blair had expected
some resistance from his partner and roommate. After all, the loft wasn't really designed
for guests. Blair already occupied the only spare bedroom. And sometimes the single bath
could be a bit of an inconvenience even for two. But Jim was being downright pig-headed.
Blair leaned over Jim's desk and forced the detective to look up at him. "Come on, Jim," he cajoled. "It will only be for a couple of days. She's coming in from L.A. on her way to a spiritual retreat."
Jim's expression didn't change. "Don't you think she'd be happier at a hotel?" he asked as he closed the file containing everything they knew about Tony DeLuca and stood up.
"No." Blair fell into step with him as Jim started across the bullpen toward the hallway outside.
Jim continued to try to paint an unappealing picture of what Blair's mother would have to contend with if she stayed with them. "I mean, a couple of guys going around belching and throwing their underwear on the floor... I just don't feel like monitoring my behavior in my own home."
Blair almost laughed at the idea of Jim throwing his underwear anywhere besides the laundry hamper. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd come home to find his own stray shirts and books piled neatly on his bed after Jim had done another round of clutter patrol. But he refrained from pointing out the absurdity of Jim's argument. "You don't have to!" he assured him. "She's very open, totally new age. One of the original hippies. She even used to date Timothy Leary. Well, not date ... actually more like live with. In fact, I always thought he might have been..."
"Your father?" Jim said into the brief pause as they stepped out in the hall. For a moment, his mouth twitched in something that was almost a smile. "Well, knowing you, that doesn't surprise me, Chief."
Blair just shrugged. In years past, not knowing who his father was had bothered him. The man wasn't even named on his birth certificate, and since Naomi had always refused to speak of the matter, he'd finally let it go. Or so he told himself.
His voice was matter-of-fact as he said, "Well, I did have a lot of candidates to consider. It seemed like every man Naomi met would fall in love with her. She never stayed with any of them for very long though." He could have kicked himself for letting the regret color his words with that last statement.
Jim never broke stride as he turned to glance at him. "That's too bad."
Blair resurrected his usual cocky grin and gestured with one hand. "What? Are you kidding me? It was great! I went to three World Series, five NBA playoff games. Beautiful."
"I meant for her," Jim corrected with a quick, sidelong glance.
Blair couldn't tell if Jim was teasing him for thinking the regret was on his behalf, or if he really did sympathize with a woman who sought but never found her Mr. Right. Somehow, the idea of his mother cozily ensconced in domestic bliss struck Blair as absurd. He voiced a soft snort. "You don't know my mom."
Jim left the matter of Blair's mother and her impending visit at the door
of the interrogation room. He had a suspect to question, and he couldn't afford to have
his attention divided. Their case against DeLuca wasn't terribly strong, he knew. Any
defense attorney worth his salt could easily argue that there was nothing solid to tie the
man to the attempted car theft. The truck from which he'd fled wasn't even stolen; they
had found the rental papers in the glove box. The fact that the credit card used for the
rental was stolen was no help. No one at the rental company remembered the face of the man
who'd picked up the truck.
DeLuca had to know that he was over a barrel, but still he tried to convince Jim that he had no idea that the people who had hired him were stealing cars. Jim was prepared to wait while the man stewed in his own juice. After the driver's most recent protestation that he "didn't know nothing about nothing," Jim merely paced the featureless room, casting the occasional glance at the man slumped in a chair.
The ploy worked. Fidgeting, tugging at the edge of the sling supporting his fractured arm, DeLuca watched as Jim made another circuit of the room. His swarthy skin gleamed with a fine sheen of nervous perspiration. "C'mon, man," he whined. "I'm already down for the count here, huh? And I ain't looking to be unfriendly."
Jim wheeled around, coming to a stop on the opposite side of the table. He slapped a hand down sharply and stared at DeLuca. "I need names."
"Yeah? And I need a break. And I ain't talking about my other arm, neither." DeLuca's dark eyes were accusing, but Jim was unmoved. The stupid bastard wouldn't have gotten hurt if he hadn't tried to run.
After several tense seconds, DeLuca released a heavy sigh and said, "Francine Barry, all right?" When Jim didn't react to the name, he added, "The babe in the Beemer?"
Jim pushed himself away from the table and resumed his pacing, though he kept DeLuca constantly in his peripheral vision. He kept any hint of satisfaction off his face as the man continued to talk.
"I'm telling you, man, she is really something. She was recruited by some big Wall Street company right out of college. She was making six figures right off the bat. But she gets bored, so she hooks up with this race car driver. Joins his pit crew. But that wasn't interesting enough. Somewhere along the line, she meets this guy, Petrie."
Jim came to an abrupt halt. That name definitely got his attention. "Petrie?" he repeated. "Bill Petrie?"
DeLuca nodded. "Yeah. I hear he's got crews working seven major cities. You heard of him?"
"What did I just say?" Jim asked grimly.
"What the hell. I say, oh, it's none of my business." DeLuca shrugged, and Jim went back to pacing. "Anyway, Petrie phones Francine. Tells her what he needs. She locates the merchandise, plans how we're gonna take possession. Once we bag it, I drive way out to the boonies, drop off the whole rig with the car inside. Then she uses a stolen credit card and rents another rig."
Jim didn't respond. His mind was already at work, concocting a new plan to put this particular ring of car thieves out of business. He turned toward the interrogation room door, ignoring DeLuca's plaintive voice as it followed him back into the hall.
Jim opened the door to Simon's office without bothering to knock. He knew
his captain wouldn't stay mad once he heard what Jim had to say.
"DeLuca just dropped a dime on Bill Petrie as head of that car theft ring," he announced.
Simon looked up from the papers on his desk and laid down his pen. "The Bill Petrie?" he asked incredulously. "That mob guy that was accused of engineering all those race track robberies a couple years ago?"
Jim nodded, a slight, smug smile forming on his face. "The Bill Petrie," he confirmed. "It all fits. The perfect planning and execution of the heists. The cars -- nothing less than a hundred grand. The strong arming."
Simon seemed less than pleased to know that Petrie was behind the Cascade carjackings. "Even the FBI couldn't pin him down. They send in people undercover, but he always managed to slip away. Now the jerk's got himself a new business, huh?"
"I got an idea, Simon. This time we can nail him."
Simon gestured for him to continue. "All right, what is it?"
Jim outlined the idea that had begun forming even before he left the interrogation room. "DeLuca tells Francine that he got away from us and he can't drive because of his arm. He introduces me to her as his cousin."
"Oh, yeah, right. I can see the family resemblance there," Simon retorted with a chuckle. He stood up and came around in front of the desk.
Jim conceded the point with a shrug. It was probably ridiculous to assume that anyone would accept even a distant blood relationship between them. "Okay. A buddy from prison, then. Whatever. The idea is for me to go inside and smoke out Petrie. This time we're gonna be able to nail him."
Simon didn't seem to share Jim's enthusiasm. His brows dipped into a frown behind his glasses, and he crossed his arms over his broad chest. "You sure you can drive one of those big rigs?" he asked dubiously.
Jim smiled, hoping that his own uncertainty wasn't too obvious. It had been years since he'd been behind the wheel of anything that large, and even then he hadn't had much experience. But he had an advantage now -- his senses. Learning new skills on the fly was something he'd done a lot recently. In this case, he wouldn't be learning a new skill; he'd only be polishing an old one.
Finally, he answered, "Yeah, sure. Sure. It's a piece of cake."
Simon's snort was openly derisive. "Yeah, that's what I thought."
Jim turned the smile on wider. "No, no, you see, sir, I drove a rig a little bit after high school. It's like riding a bicycle. I mean, once you learn, you never forget."
"You go down to the impound yard and borrow one of the trucks there," Simon said after a long, thoughtful pause. "If you can handle it without wiping out half a city block, I'll consider it."
Blair struggled to keep his face impassive as the truck lurched and bumped
its way to a stop. His ears rang with the sounds of tortured gears and overworked brakes.
He wondered how Jim could stand the racket.
He stared out the open window, unable to look at Jim, who had spent the last fifteen minutes wrestling with the semi. Jim's certainty that he could handle the truck had diminished with each groan of badly meshing gears. Blair suspected that it was only his stubborn determination to catch the thieves that had gotten away from him once that kept him from throwing in the towel. The rueful chagrin on the detective's face was almost comical, but Blair knew better than to laugh.
At least he hadn't hit anything -- yet.
From outside the semi's cab, the impound officer yelled, "Hey, Ellison, grind me a pound while you're at it!"
Blair looked over in time to see Jim shake his head and close his eyes in weary acceptance of the fact that he couldn't drive the semi worth shit. He could no longer resist teasing his friend just a little. "Jim, you lied?" he asked with mock reproach.
Jim made a face. "No, I didn't lie," he countered, but the fact that he wouldn't meet Blair's eyes squarely suggested that he hadn't told the whole truth either. "I...I had a friend who drove a rig for his dad's trucking company. He used to let me tool around with it a bit, but..."
"But what?" Blair prompted.
Jim jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Well, it didn't have a trailer attached to it," he admitted. "This is..."
Blair finally gave way to a chuckle. "Different."
"Yeah, great," Blair said wryly, shaking his head at the seeming impossibility of turning Jim into a credible driver in the short time they had. He leaned toward Jim, reaching down to the gear shift lever. "All right, pop the clutch," he instructed, rolling his eyes when Jim gave him a look that spoke volumes of doubt. "Just do it." He flipped a switch located on the stem of the gear shift. "See that right there? That's the splitter. It gets you into the next gear level." He settled back into his seat, hoping that their next lap around the yard would be less likely to produce whiplash.
Jim eyed the splitter, then looked up at Blair. His expression was openly interested. "Oh, yeah?"
Blair nodded. "Yep."
"How do you know so much about this?" Jim asked curiously.
Blair gave him an impish grin. "I spent a summer driving across country in my uncle's rig. I did half the driving. Want me to take you through the basics again?"
Jim didn't seem to be in the mood for even mild teasing. He grimaced and replied in a mocking parody of Blair's words, "No, I don't want you to run me through the basics again." He looked down at the truck's controls as if he could somehow bully them into cooperating. With a barely audible sigh, he confessed, "I figured maybe I could tune into it with my hearing. You know, kind of like tune into the gears a little bit and listen to them mesh." His hands sketched circles in the air, miming the turn of the gears in a motion much smoother than he had managed to produce.
Blair considered that a moment. It sounded good in theory, but practice and theory often bore little resemblance to each other. He shook his head. "Uh, no, it doesn't work that way."
Jim looked almost relieved when his cell phone rang. He retrieved it from his jacket pocket and flipped it open. "Yeah, Ellison ...Yeah, he's here."
Blair looked up in surprise, and was met by a faint scowl on his friend's face. He started to reach for the phone, but Jim held it back, one hand covering the mouthpiece. "How did she get this number?" he asked, finally handing the phone to Blair when the younger man just shrugged and mouthed 'I don't know.'
"Mom? ... Hi, Mom, how are you doing? ..." Blair turned slightly away from Jim as he greeted his mother, though he continued to watch his reactions from the corner of one eye. "Yeah, great, just put your stuff in my room for now." Blair turned back when Jim waved sharply, shaking his head and whispering an emphatic "no." He used his free hand to bat Jim's hands down. He was having a hard time following what his mother was saying. "No, no, I don't think that's such a good idea, Mom. I mean, it's Jim's place. He's got the furniture arranged the way he likes it, you know." Jim again tried to gesture his displeasure with what he was hearing, but Blair countered with another swipe at his hands before he all but turned his back on his partner to finish the conversation. He was beginning to feel the first hint of alarm at his mother's insistence that she simply could not exist in a place so badly aligned with the natural harmonies of the universe. Maybe insisting that she stay at the loft hadn't been such a good idea after all. He tried again to calm her dismay. "Yeah, okay. Yeah, Mom, I know, I know. It's a little out of line with the next harmonic convergence, but I don't think we're gonna be falling into a crack in the earth next Tuesday, okay?"
Blair knew that Jim had probably been following the entire conversation -- both ends of it. He chanced a look back and saw the pained expression on his friends' face. He offered a reassuring smile and covered the mouthpiece long enough to say, "It's just for a couple of nights."
Jim's eyes closed briefly before he said with near desperation, "I'll pay for the hotel, okay?"
"C'mon, Jim, you'll love her." He intercepted Jim's attempt to reclaim the phone. "Stop."
Blair turned away again and addressed his mother, who was becoming impatient with the long wait. "Yeah, it's fine. All right. I'll talk to you later." He carefully folded the phone shut and handed it back to Jim, who was quietly massaging his forehead and looking like a man about to face a firing squad. Blair gave him a weak smile and said simply, "Thanks."