by EJ Katz
Beta Read by Nikki and Helen
Written for PetFly by: David L. Newman
internal thought in italics
Day 1 Mid Afternoon
The streets of Southtown were never bare or deserted. The neglected township was over run by homeless and derelicts. It was a central calling place for drug dealers and other lowlifes. Not that Southtown was generally bad. No, in fact as a community the people of Southtown were decent, hardworking though slightly more disadvantaged than the rest of Cascade. The seemingly hopeless situation could be seen on some faces and yet not on others. Those who refused to let life get them down. They were the lucky few who pushed past the circumstances and fought to make something of themselves. Like the men and woman of Hanson Place.
Hanson Place was a run down dilapidated building where residents were trying to make things better. A group stood outside the building talking quietly together, setting plans and making vows. Promises to hold out, withhold rent until certain conditions were met. They had already chosen their leader, the man who would be spokesperson between the other residents and the landlord's bully Burt Ungar. An evil, slimy man who was not above breaking a few legs to get what he wanted. All the tenants knew the dangers but only one was willing to stand up to him, had no real fear of him merely a fear of being unable to provide for his son, just like the other parents of Hanson Place.
Times were changing and Ungar had better watch out or it wouldn't be pretty. Soon the group broke up heading for their various apartments and duties. One man, Tyler Watson, the newly elected leader stood for a long moment on the sidewalk, watching, waiting, enjoying the sun.
It was a rare sunny day without rain at this time of the year.
The street was empty except for a few individuals in no hurry to get where they were going. Three boys, obviously in high school from their clothes and school bags walked down the sidewalk.
One boy, an Asian was speaking. "Straight, yo, straight. She was fly, Marcus."
The other, a tall, lanky, black boy, carried a basketball under one arm and wore a heavy Jags sweatshirt under his jacket. "Fly, J? Like, who?"
The third boy another tall, black boy grinned at his friends and cut in. "Latina, man. Her name was Lorena. You missed out."
Marcus and J had been best friends since second grade. Their mutual love of basketball and the Jags combined with their social living situation had bonded them tightly together. However, when they had met the third boy, D-Man, in fifth grade it was non stop. The Three Musketeers, they were known as, since they were always together and always getting into mischief together. They always walked home from school together, as they were now. J lived only a couple of blocks from Marcus' apartment where Marcus lived with his father. D-Man would continue on to the bus stop and then on to his home with his mother in Hastings, a newer suburb and a more affluent one. Not that that fact had dampened the boys friendship any.
The three had finished a game of b-ball and had stopped for a Coke at the local store. D-Man started as he saw the bus approaching. "Later, dudes, I gotta fly or Mom's gonna kill me. J, call me later with the note, 'k?"
"Sure, D-Man. Later."
"Yeah. That thing ain't going to happen for me Friday night," Marcus groaned at the thought of missing yet another amazing party, but his father would insist on homework first, especially with a test on Monday and the lack of sufficient funds to give the young boy.
"What? Yo, man, can't you borrow the loot off your old man?" J questioned as they stopped near the front door of his apartment building.
"Man, all I get is a 20-year lecture about paying my own way," Marcus complained.
"Weak." J nodded in understanding as he handed the basketball back to Marcus.
Marcus took the ball automatically but he wasn't watching. "Hey, yo, man, peep that." He nodded in the direction of a man sitting in a black Cadillac across the street who was watching the overpass through a pair of binoculars.
"Nah, that ain't no thing, man," J told him, instantly recognizing the knee-breaker that collected the rent in half the buildings in Southtown. "Some grandma's probably two days late on her rent and that dude's looking to bust her legs. Hey, so, you going to come over and play Fists of Death, or what?" J dismissed the sight of the man as normal and returned to other, more pleasant topics.
"Ah, man, I got to go home and study for this history test," Marcus told him.
"All right, kid. I'm out. All right." J headed off inside while Marcus waited a moment longer, still staring at the car. "Easy. Later."
The man turned his head and met Marcus' eyes with a cold hard stare. Marcus shrugged in feigned nonchalance and headed for home.
Across the street, the man in the black caddie watched the young black man as he walked down the street towards the underpass. Reaching over to the other seat, he picked up a device while he continued watching the boy.
Alberta Lone was half dozing as his co-worker, Dwight Marshall drove
towards the city incinerator. This was part of their job, if he stopped to think about it,
would have left him in awe if not for the fact that they were preparing to burn millions
of dollars of cold hard currency. Of course, it was old and now replaced but even so
The uncompleted thought brought him more fully awake. It would be a perfect heist. He
glanced out the window just as a sudden explosion rocked the armoured car.
The movement flung him hard against the window. Pain exploded through his head as he fought to keep from blacking out. His co-worker was struggling to keep the vehicle on the road and prevent it from overturning. Lone watched helplessly as the truck swerved dangerously through the afternoon traffic, narrowly avoiding several other cars.
A savage twist on the wheel sent the armoured car spinning; its rear smashing into a bus stop. The rear doors flew open and the cash, which had been packed into neat bundles, shifted forward on impact and fell from the van, drifting down to the street below.
Lone glanced at Marshall as the driver groaned then slowly both men made their way out of the truck towards the back.
"What the hell happened?" Lone asked as they met at the back door.
Marshall shook his head to clear it. "A tire blew."
They helped the third guard, Don Trout out of the back. He was holding his head as if he'd struck it against the inside of the vehicle. Glancing down over the concrete overpass, they witnessed the beginning of chaos.
"Oh, man...we got to get down there and recover whatever we can," Lone moaned.
"You kidding? Look at them. We'd get eaten alive," Marshall told him in mild horror at the idea. Already the streets were filling with people who were gathering up as much of the cash as they could, including a young black man wearing a Jags cap and carrying a basketball.
"All I know is that when I open the bathroom door, I'm hit with this
noxious wave, this odour, and all my nose hairs start to curl, my eyes water." Jim
was deadly serious.
Blair struggled to hold back his laughter. "Obviously, we're going to have to do some work on your senses."
Jim stared at him for a brief moment. "Just use the air freshener, okay, Chief?"
The radio chose that moment to call out. "All available units, respond to truck accident with spilled cargo, Grand Avenue at Holten Street overpass. Reports of major disturbances in the area."
Jim flipped on the siren and signalled to turn the truck around. "That's a few blocks from here."
It took only moments to arrive at the scene of the disturbance. It took a moment for them to realize what was happening, even as everyone scattered at the sound of the sirens.
Blair stared in amazement at the sight before them. "Oh, my god, Jim, that's money."
"Look at this -- it's a free-for-all," Jim replied as they exited the truck.
"Yeah. Pennies from heaven."
Jim nodded up towards the aforementioned heavens. "Check out the armoured car up on the bridge."
As they walked toward the overpass, Jim called up to the three men he could see looking down.
"Anybody hurt up there?"
"No. We're all okay," one of the guards called back.
As Jim and Blair continued under the overpass, another police car pulled up. Jim motioned to Blair to wait while he spoke to the two officers who approached him. While Blair waited for Jim, he noticed two men standing just on the other side of the overpass. He made a mental note to pass the info on to Jim. Who knew, maybe they had seen something.
A minute later Jim was back at his side and Blair pointed to the two men.
"Did you see them, Jim? They might have noticed what happened."
"Hard to imagine how anyone could miss it," Jim replied. He placed his hand in the centre of Blair's back and urged him forward toward the two men.
Jim called out to the men as they approached. "Hey, can you guys tell me what went on here?" He pulled out his badge, informing them of who he was. "I'm Detective Ellison."
"Kametlian." The larger man gave his name. "I was in my store and I saw this money rain down -- people going crazy."
"Neither of you took any, I guess," Jim asked casually, his tone non-accusing.
The store owner shook his head. "Not us, Officer. No."
"It's detective actually. So, nobody actually witnessed the accident?"
The other man spoke for the first time. "Uh, one of the neighbourhood kids. He was right over there, by the bridge."
"Can you describe him?" Jim asked, pulling his notebook out and jotting down a few notes.
"He was a black kid. 16, 17. Had on one of them Jags sweatshirts -- carrying a basketball. Around five-eight."
"Sounds like that, uh, Watson kid. His first name's Mark, Marcus -- something like that," The store owner ventured.
"Thank you for your help, gentlemen. If you hear of anything else, please call me." Jim handed each man a card before he and Blair headed back to the truck and from there to the precinct.
Same Day A Few Hours Later
Simon rose from his desk. He approached the table where Jim and Blair sat watching him, waiting for him to speak. "Looks like they're going to report two million stolen."
"I wouldn't exactly say it was stolen," Blair said quietly.
"What would you call it?" Simon asked, frustration showing in his voice. He knew where this conversation was heading.
"Look, I'm not condoning what happened out there. All I'm saying is some people might look at this situation and say 'finders keepers' you know." Simon groaned silently at Sandburg's liberal approach to this difficult concept.
Jim shrugged lightly. "I agree in theory, and it's an interesting moral dilemma but bottom line, you take what isn't yours, it's stealing."
"I don't even know why we're involved. This was all old money being taken out of circulation -- hundred-dollar bills destined for the Federal Reserve to be destroyed," Simon complained.
"Maybe we should start with the possibility that it wasn't an accident," Jim offered, bringing the topic back to the case.
"If it was done deliberately, who benefits?" Trust Blair to get right to the heart of the matter. Simon regarded the two men. So different, like night and day yet they worked so well together.
Jim, as expected, returned with a suggestion, "Quite a few people in Southtown, for one."
Blair cast him a look of admonishment. "So what're you gonna do? You going to arrest the whole community?"
Simon growled. "Nobody's being arrested here, Sandburg. The chief set up a neighbourhood command post. We're working with the media, the local churches, offering a week-long amnesty period. Anyone can turn in money, no questions asked."
Blair took this thought and began to run with it. "Guys, this is a fascinating experiment in social behavioural science."
Simon interrupted before the thought became a week long philosophical debate. "Jim, I want you to find out what's going on. If this wasn't a freak accident, I want to know who did it and why."
Jim nodded and grabbed for his partner who was still going on about the moral issue this incident had brought up. Simon grinned as he could still catch snatches of the conversation right up until the elevator door closed on the two men.
Same Day Half an hour later
"Give it a rest already, Sandburg," Jim groaned. For the first five minutes the topic of the morality issues this case presented was of some interest, that is only some, but now, it was too much. He could see the twinkle in his partner's eyes and knew that Blair was waiting for him to blow.
Ignoring the younger man, he pulled into the parking lot of the security company.
"Chief, wait here. I'll just be a minute. I want to check with those security guys again."
"No problem. I want to finish this for my lecture tomorrow anyway." Blair waved Jim away with a grin. He turned back to the papers in his lap as Jim climbed out of the truck.
Jim was still grinning as he requested to see the three men involved in the accident the day before. Ten minutes later, he was shown into a conference room where the three men were waiting. It didn't take long to get information, but it was finding the answers to his questions, that was more difficult. All the information the three men shared only seemed to lead to more questions.
Lone, the passenger in the front of the truck was explaining, "Well, Westerberg was supposed to be on the job, but I guess he called in sick. Food poisoning, wasn't it?"
Marshall nodded. "Yeah. He ate something bad last night."
"Yeah. So, uh, I got the late call and I met the truck here after the guys picked up the load of money," Lone continued.
Jim turned to the final man. "And you were in the back?"
Don Trout nodded in agreement. "Yeah. We took a hell of a ride. Smashed in the guardrail. Impact popped the door right open."
"Hmm, and you couldn't stop the money from flying out? I thought it was packed in plastic."
"Normally it is, Detective. But it was all I could do to keep myself from flying out, the impact knocked the bags against the wall of the truck. I guess a sharp joint must have ripped the bag open enough for the impact to open it the rest of the way. I really don't know how it happened, it all happened so fast," Trout told him.
"Yeah. It must have been pretty hairy. Well, if any of you guys come up with anything relevant, please don't hesitate to give me a call, okay?" Jim gave the men his card.
"Will do, Detective," Trout replied. He offered his hand to shake, as did the others.
Jim noticed the ring on Marshall's hand. "Marines, huh?"
Marshall nodded. "Six years. Discharged as a sergeant."
"I was army ranger, myself. Thanks, gentlemen." He opened the door to leave when he remembered another question. He turned back. "Oh. You know, if...if I may ask one more question, why didn't anybody make a move to recover the money?"
Marshall shrugged. "We were stuck up there on that bridge."
"Yeah. We couldn't exactly take on the whole neighbourhood," Trout added.
"Right. Thanks," Jim said as he left.
Later that afternoon, Jim and Blair stood outside the local police
station. It was a tiny office that was only open to the public from 9 am until 3 pm. This
was the building that caused so much controversy in the neighbourhood since it was the
extent of police presence in the area or rather the lack of adequate police presence.
"Hey, man, what's up with the uniform?" Blair called out to Brian Rafe as the detective exited the store in full blues. He was just locking up.
Rafe smiled with an expression of such distaste that Blair laughed again. "The mayor's office wanted a greater police presence in the area until this case is solved. So here we are all personnel assigned to work this office must wear their uniform until further notice."
"Why don't you, Jim?" Sandburg teased his partner.
"We are the detectives in charge of the investigation," Jim stated as if that explained everything.
"Yeah, well we passed out flyers all over the neighbourhood. We've urged people to come forward. You're pretty much looking at the response," Rafe told them, changing the subject.
"Has any money been turned in?" Jim asked.
Rafe shook his head. "Very little. I'd say we're about as popular as the ice concession on the Titanic. We've extended the hours here until five but I don't think it is helping any."
Jim nodded. He'd expected no less really. All of his arguments with Blair earlier about the moral issues of the lost money really meant nothing. These were normal, human, people down here, most just hard workers who were down on their luck, but even to them the sudden gain of money raining down on them like manna from heaven would be a hard temptation to resist. Once they had the money, it would be even harder to return it. "Thanks. Let's go, Chief."
"I have got to get Dr. Hapsburg down here," Blair spoke quietly
after several moments of silence. They were walking down the street towards where they had
parked the truck. Jim stared at him in surprise for a moment before words came to him.
"Who's that?" He unlocked the truck and climbed in leaning across the seat to unlock Blair's door. He started the truck as Blair settled into his seat and clicked the seatbelt into place.
Jim caught Blair glance just before he replied. Suddenly Jim began to wonder if he was opening another portal into the Sandburg Zone. "He's the head of the sociology department. Someone has got to study what's going on down here."
"What's to study?" Jim asked, confused by the concept slightly. Oops, big mistake, he berated himself a moment too late as he recognized the signs of Blair entering lecture mode. With that question, Blair was off and running yet again.
"With all that money literally falling out of the sky, these people have rationalized that it's rightfully theirs and a good social scientist can peel back the layers of the onion and find its truth at the core."
Jim groaned knowing he'd set himself up for more of Blair's Anthropology-slash-sociology lessons. Not really overly upset by it, he grinned before offering a retort. "Look, I'll give you the truth. You peel back the onion any way you want. People are rationalizing that they're not breaking the law."
Blair sighed in exasperation. "Jim, take a look around you, man. Do you blame them?"
They were stopped at a stop sign when Jim paused as he heard a few kids talking, then a basketball bouncing. His sight zoomed down the street to see a Jags sweatshirt, then up to see the kid he suspected was his witness. The dark skinned young man was laughing with a friend, a light-hearted laugh. The other youth with the Watson boy had his back to Jim but something about him set Jim's internal alarms ringing.
Blair stopped speaking mid sentence when he realized that Jim's attention was suddenly diverted. "What's up? You hear something?"
Jim nodded in the direction of the group of kids. "Yeah. My witness." He exited the truck with Blair close behind. It was beginning to rain. Jim placed his Jags cap over his head.
"What a shock, huh? A rainy day here in Cascade. How you doing?" He pulled out his ID and showed it to the boy. "I'm Detective Ellison."
The second boy turned with a surprised look on his face and Jim realized he did indeed know the young man.
"Daryl?" Blair asked in surprise before Jim could say anything more. "What are you doing in this neighbourhood?"
"Hanging with my friends." The youth smiled towards Jim's witness who stood watching them with a look of concern.
"Would you be Mark Watson?" Jim asked.
"Marcus," The youth corrected with a slight nod.
"Oh. Marcus. I'm sorry. Some of the merchants in the area said you might have been the one to see the spill of that armoured car?" Jim asked, his voice calm but questioning. He kept his eyes on Marcus but was well aware Daryl was watching the proceedings closely.
Marcus shook his head just a little too adamantly. "I didn't see anything."
"Yeah. Well, we have a witness that said you were right by the overpass there."
"Well, actually, I was under it, and, um, I heard the crash. Next thing I know money start falling out the sky." Marcus told them. It was obvious he was eager to get away from the interrogation.
"You grab any of it?" Jim asked again.
Marcus gave the detective a brief glare before once more lowering his eyes to the ground. "Give me a break, man."
"Detective Ellison, if Marcus says he didn't see anything he didn't." Daryl broke in with a sharp tone.
Jim ignored the youth, concentrating instead on his witness. "Nice kicks you're wearing. What they run you, about 100 bucks?"
Jim heard Blair attempt to stifle a chuckle but it was kinda funny. The poor boy looked so guilty, but he was trying so hard to hide it. To any observer it was obvious that this was just a good kid taking advantage of the situation without really thinking about the ramifications of what he'd done, and was now trying to cover his error. Of course, Daryl Banks being there was not helping in the least. Jim was more than grateful when Blair pulled him to one side to question him and also allow Jim to talk to Marcus without Daryl's interference.
"It was a birthday present. I wouldn't know." Marcus shifted under the penetrating gaze.
Jim smiled knowingly. "Marcus, you got an ID on you?"
Marcus reached for his wallet and handed Jim his ID.
Jim read through the information on the high school ID card. "You live here, huh?"
"It says your birthday was eight months ago."
"It took me that long to grow into them."
Jim chuckled under the cover of his hand. "Some of the people that picked up that money might think of it as a gift from God, but in reality, it belongs to the U.S. government."
Marcus glared at the detective who was laughing at him. "Um, these aren't bad people around here, Detective." He strove for righteous anger but he knew he failed when the tall man merely raised an eyebrow.
"I'm not saying they are."
Marcus continued onward. "If you lived around here and all that money coming into your lap, what would you do?"
"I'd like to think, I'd do the right thing. Anything comes to mind, give me a call, okay?" Jim handed the young man his card.
Marcus took it sullenly and turned away. Daryl left Blair's side and when he reached Marcus, the two took off. They didn't stick around to watch the detective get into his truck and drive off.
It was a short walk to Marcus' home. Daryl left his friend at the bus stop
and Marcus continued to his building. He wasn't surprised to find his father arguing once
more with Ungar. The slimy man gave Marcus the creeps and he avoided him as much as
possible. Unfortunately, this wasn't going to be one of those times. The man caught sight
of him and openly leered.
"I tried to be a nice guy about this, Watson. My patience is gone. The damn boycott -- over, kaput, finished. You and your people are going to start paying your rent."
Marcus obeyed the unspoken order by his father to get inside the apartment. He stayed just inside the door, but out of sight where he was still able to overhear everything said.
"When you do something about the roaches and the rats! Fix the plumbing, the exposed electrical wires, the peeling paint, and the falling plaster -- that's when this boycott will be over," His father told Ungar, angrily.
"Look, you know if it was up to me, then I'd do anything I could..." The slimy man's tone said he was sorry but the look in his eye was calculating. Marcus shivered as he watched through the crack in the door.
"Who the hell is it up to? Who even owns this damn building?" His father was angry, his own voice dropping in tone.
"All you need to know is I'm here the first of every month. Here it is the tenth and I've got nothing to show for the whole building. I'll be back tomorrow and I won't be alone. You make sure the rest of the tenants make good on their rent and I will make sure no harm comes to your son, or any of the young people in this lovely building. You hear me? It won't be nice for you and your fellow freeloaders, you pay up or you'll be sleeping on the sidewalk. I'll tell you that, Watson."
Marcus shivered at the implied threat as his father stood there, staring at the thug with barely disguised shock. He seemed to shake himself and tuned to enter the apartment, muttering under his breath, "At least the sidewalk isn't crawling with vermin." Marcus scrambled to be at the table before his father saw him watching.
"So you don't think there's going to be some kind of miracle down here tomorrow to throw us out if we don't pay the rent?" Marcus asked his father as the older man began the preparations for making dinner.
"Legally, they can't touch us."
"They don't give a damn about the law, man!" Marcus stood, angrily and grabbed the silverware from the drawer.
"If you don't stand up for your rights, people are going to walk all over you!"
"There's only one way to keep people from walking all over you and that's money!" Marcus threw the handful silverware onto the table and stormed off towards his bedroom completely missing his father shaking his head sadly.
Day 2 Early Afternoon
Blair entered the bullpen, spied Jim at his desk and sauntered over. The detective was counting a wad of hundred dollar bills. "Hey! Wow. What's up? You hit the quick pick?"
Jim, slapped the grad student's hands away. "No. It's evidence from the spill -- what we recovered, $7,200. You have a hundred dollar bill in your wallet?"
Blair chucked nervously. "What do I look like?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "You look like the type of guy that would carry around a C-note just to impress women. Come on."
"For your information, it's for emergencies." He reached for his wallet and reluctantly pulled out the folded bill.
"Emergencies, huh? Earthquakes, floods...stranded co-eds?" Jim teased as he accepted the bill and began to examine it closely.
"Why you got to hurt me like that for?" Blair grumbled.
"You bring it upon yourself."
"Make sure I get that back."
He watched for a long moment as Jim compared the two bills. He knew the sentinel was using his sight so he kept a close eye out for trouble, like a zone out.
"This money is counterfeit. The watermark is missing from the money that was turned in."
"What?" Blair stared in shock as Jim rose and headed for Simon's office.