Beta Read by CarolROI
Written for PetFly by:
Teleplay by: Harold Apter and David Balkan
Story by: Gail Morgan Hickman
internal thought in italics
Jim Ellison debated for a moment, then stuffed an extra thick sweater and
several pairs of socks in his nylon duffle bag and zipped it shut. He and Blair would only
be spending two nights camping beside his favorite trout stream, but it never hurt to
prepare for the unexpected. The way his luck had been running lately, they'd end up
stranded for a week in sub-zero weather. He hoisted the bulging bag off his bed and
trotted downstairs where the rest of their gear was piled in the middle of the living
As he crossed the room to deposit his bag near the door, his attention was caught by the CNN news broadcast, and he nearly tripped over the inflatable raft that folded down to a compressed block the size of a large suitcase.
"The mystery continues regarding the disappearance of drug enforcement agent Ben Chavez," the newscaster was saying. "Last week, the D.E.A. revealed that Chavez vanished after his identity as a deep cover agent inside the Cali drug cartel was discovered. The cartel ordered Chavez's death. Although a rumor persists that the agent may have fled to San Jose, Costa Rica, most sources believe the D.E.A.'s move to crack this vicious cartel has met a tragic end."
Jim shook his head and picked up the remote to turn off the TV. Despite the often strained relationships between federal law enforcement agencies and local police, Jim still respected the work they did. And the courage required to infiltrate one of the most notorious South American drug cartels was nothing short of admirable. Jim couldn't help hoping that Chavez had managed to evade the cartel's assassins.
As the picture dissolved into a blank, black screen, Jim looked up to see his partner and roommate coming out of the downstairs bedroom. He frowned at the long pole topped by an oddly shaped metal contraption. "And, uh, what, pray tell, is that thing?" he asked.
Blair grinned and flipped the pole around for Jim to get a better look. "This is a Cree Indian fishing spear," he replied proudly. "I thought I'd give it a shot."
Jim raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Oh, really? Well, you'll be doing it downstream from me, Hiawatha," he said dryly. "Because I hate the sound of trout laughing."
"That's funny," Blair said equably. He waved a hand over the long cylinder containing Jim's more conventional fly rods and reels. "You know, Jim, all this modern gear -- it's great. But sometimes traditional methods are just as effective and," he hefted the fishing spear like a warrior preparing to do battle, "a little more satisfying."
"Well, you won't mind if I take the raft while you chip yourself out a log for a dugout, huh?" Jim asked with suppressed amusement. He leaned down to grab the raft and move it out of the way, then hissed between his teeth and released his grip on the weighty object. "Oh, man!" he murmured as he cautiously flexed his right arm.
Blair moved toward him, a frown creasing his forehead. "You all right?" he asked.
Jim nodded, but he felt his features still twisting into a grimace. "Hey, give me a hand with this thing, would you?" As Blair positioned himself on the other side of the raft and grabbed one of the built-in handles, Jim explained, "I hurt my shoulder working out a couple of days ago."
"What'd you do to it?" Blair asked. "Did you have it checked out?"
"It's nothing serious. I probably just pulled a muscle. But it won't quit hurting no matter what I do. I've tried liniment, pain killers, even that dial trick you taught me when I got shot."
Blair's frown deepened. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Jim shrugged, continuing to rotate his arm in an effort to ease the ache in his shoulder. "I didn't think it was any big thing," he said dismissively. "It's not the first time I've pushed a little too hard. But it usually only lasts a day or two. This…I don't know. Maybe it's because of my senses. It's just not letting up."
"This is exactly the kind of stuff that I need to know," Blair said, his voice rising slightly in agitation. "I mean, if pain relievers don't work, what about Novocain at the dentist? Or what if you're having surgery, what if anesthetics don't work on you any more?"
Jim met the tirade with a bland look. "Don't you think you're overreacting a little? It's just a muscle pull."
Blair was adamant. "No, I don't think I'm overreacting. Look, we already know that some medications, like stuff for colds, weirds your senses out. We've got to do some research and find out more about how you react to other kinds of meds, like painkillers. Does the fact that your senses are hyper-acute mean that you need larger doses to do any good? Are standard pharmaceuticals going to be worthless for you now? We to need to prepare for stuff like this."
"If you want to do pain research, you experiment on yourself, all right?" Jim said with finality, turning away to signal that the discussion was over.
He heard Blair's intake of breath, preparatory for more arguments, no doubt. But before his overly enthusiastic partner could say anything, the phone rang, cutting off the conversation. Jim went to answer it, deliberately turning his back to Blair's watchful gaze.
"Ellison," he said curtly. A phone call at this hour couldn't be good, and he was prepared to fight for his long weekend. One of these days, he promised himself, he was going to take a vacation that didn't result in getting caught up in some sort of criminal investigation.
A voice he hadn't heard in years greeted him through the static hollow of a mobile phone. "Jim, it's Sam. Sam Holland."
"Sam?" he queried uncertainly, wondering why his old Army buddy would be calling him now.
Holland's voice was taut and not entirely steady as he said, "I'm probably the last guy in the world you want to hear from in the middle of the night, but we need to talk."
"Where are you calling from, Sam? Florida?"
"No. I'm here, in Cascade," Sam replied, much to Jim's surprise. "Listen, there's a parking garage on 8th and Waterman. Meet me there in 20 minutes on the fifth level."
Jim frowned, and his fingers tightened on the phone. "Sam, what's this about?"
There was a moment's pause, then Sam said heavily, "It's about the colonel."
The colonel. Jim's teeth clenched at the mention of the man he hated most in the world, and he forced his jaw muscles to relax. Maybe Sam had finally wised up and realized that Norman Oliver, retired U.S. Army colonel, was a treacherous snake. If Sam wanted to sever any remaining ties he had to Oliver, and if he needed Jim's help to do it, Jim couldn't refuse his friend's request. Oliver had caused enough damage.
"All right," Jim agreed. "I'll be there. But, Sam, why did you come all the way out...?
Sam cut across his words urgently. "We need to do this in person."
"I'm on my way."
Jim hung up the phone and reached for his coat and his gun, only then realizing that Blair was watching him with mingled curiosity and concern shaping his features.
"Where are you going?" Blair asked.
Jim gave him a brief explanation and assured him that he'd be back soon.
"Just remember," Blair reminded him. "Three a.m., you and I, we're on the road, man."
Jim nodded. "This won't take long."
It was just after midnight when Jim pulled into the virtually deserted
parking garage and drove up to the fifth level where he was to meet Sam Holland. As a
matter of routine that he refused to label paranoia, he'd checked for any vehicles that
had taken an interest in his travels. Sam's obvious nervousness had rubbed off, and Jim
wanted to make sure that someone -- like the colonel -- hadn't linked Sam's visit to
Cascade with Jim's presence there. There were remarkably few cars out so late on a
weeknight, and he'd seen no sign of a tail.
Jim spotted an unoccupied, nondescript sedan with a rental agency sticker on its rear bumper and braked his Expedition beside it. He got out of his own vehicle and looked around, wondering where Sam was hiding. He extended his hearing just enough to catch the uneven rush of anxious breathing nearby.
"Sam!" he called.
Sam's sandy-haired head slowly emerged from behind the sedan's front quarter, his eyes darting in all directions before fixing on Jim as he stood up to his full height.
"Hey, buddy," Jim said evenly. "What sort of trouble are you in?"
Sam responded with a smile that more closely resembled a grimace. "The kind with no bottom," he said grimly.
"And the colonel is involved," Jim mused.
Sam nodded. "I never meant to get in so deep with him," he said mournfully. "You told me a long time ago, he was trouble. I wish to God I'd listened to you."
Jim waited, giving his old friend a chance to vent some of the nervous tension that had him vibrating like a bowstring.
"Look, I know you're with the police now," Sam went on. "I thought maybe you could help."
"Yeah, I can help," Jim agreed. "But you have to tell me what's going on."
Sam nodded slowly, his eyes once again scanning the garage. He shifted from one foot to the other, suddenly displaying indecision, as if he were having second thoughts. "If it goes any farther than us, I'm a dead man," he warned.
"I can't promise that," Jim said, knowing that it was foolish to take on a man like Colonel Oliver one-on-one. Oliver didn't believe in even odds, and the one-on-one would end up being one-on-many.
Jim's eyes narrowed abruptly and he cocked his head, listening to the sound that pricked the edges of his awareness. Two cars -- big ones, judging by the engine pitch -- had just entered the garage and were steadily climbing up the levels. "Are you expecting company?" he asked. "I hear someone coming."
"I don't hear anything," Sam said. He whipped around in surprise when a pair of black vans suddenly appeared at the top of the ramp and turned straight toward them. He uttered a strangled curse and yanked open the driver's door of the sedan.
Jim reached for his gun and crouched behind the hood of the Expedition. "Sam!" he called, knowing that it would best for them to stick together. His friend ignored him, and the air filled with the acrid tang of burning rubber as Sam sped off toward the exit at the far end of the garage. One van shot past Jim's position in pursuit of the sedan. The other screeched to a halt, and two men spilled out, using the open doors as cover.
With his attention split between Sam and their unwanted visitors, Jim failed to see one of the men raise a gun and fire. Instead of an echoing blast, he heard only a breathy spit. He turned back toward the stopped van just as a sharp sting blossomed in the side of his neck. He reached up and pulled out a long dart, its tip reddened with his blood. The fingers that gripped the dart were already starting to go numb. Damn good thing they were out to capture and not kill, he thought hazily. A bullet in the same spot would have taken his head off.
He turned awkwardly, trying to see if Sam had managed to elude his pursuers, but his eyes were no longer focusing, and he saw only moving blurs of tan and black. The screech of tires ululated as his hearing cut in and out. The tan blur seemed to be going too fast and in the wrong direction, but Jim had no time to sort out just why it was wrong. Grey haze swallowed all perception as he slid to the concrete floor, his eyes closing on the sight of two man-shaped black shadows moving in like twin angels of death.
Two more of the black-coated men peered over the shattered side rails and
torn chain-link fencing of the garage. Far below the tan sedan rested upside down on the
street, steam rising from its shattered remains. There was no chance that the man inside
"Nice shooting," the older of the two men said acidly. "The colonel wanted him alive."
The other man shrugged. He'd shot out one of the front tires, intending only to stop the vehicle and its driver from getting away. How was he supposed to know that Holland would lose control and crash through the railing?
"Should we get what's left of him and get out of here?" he asked.
His partner shot him a dark look. "How do you plan to do that, Harley?" he retorted. "You got a jaws of life on you?" He shook his head and turned back to where another pair of black-coats were examining their prisoner.
"He's a cop," one of them reported, holding up Jim's police ID and gun as evidence.
Harley frowned. "Do you think Holland had a chance to tell him anything?"
"I don't know," the man who seemed content to give orders said. He gestured to the third man who'd been with him and Harley in the first van and the man who'd taken out the cop with a tranquilizer dart. "You two, take him back to base." He looked again at Jim's ID. "Ellison," he said pensively. "He and Holland were in the same unit." He crouched down and dug in Jim's pockets for his wallet, flipping it open and finding his driver's license. He read off the address aloud, then stood abruptly, forcing his companions to back up a step. "Crisp, you and Harley sweep the place. See if our friend Sam sent his old Army buddy any souvenirs. Anything, anybody you find, I want gone."
Blair had finished packing the bag containing extra clothes and toiletries
for the trip. He did a quick inventory of the growing pile near the door and satisfied
himself that they would meet their 3:00 a.m. departure time. He was humming lightly under
his breath as he moved to the kitchen to pack the box of non-perishables. Fresh fish was
great, but they would need other provisions as well, and their campsite was fifteen miles
from the nearest town.
Bottled water, canned soup and fruit and bags of trail mix went into a medium-sized cardboard box. Blair shuddered a bit as he reached for the foil packets of dehydrated macaroni and cheese that Jim had picked up at the outfitter's store. He'd never learned to like the stuff, though he ate it when the only other choice was going hungry. With a sigh he dropped the unappetizing fare into the box. A jar of instant coffee and a packet of his favorite teas went in next, along with two new boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes to satisfy Jim's sweet tooth.
When he heard keys rattling in the lock, Blair looked up in mild surprise. Jim had been gone less than an hour, a pitifully short time for a reunion with someone he hadn't seen since his Army days. The door swung open slowly, and Blair, preoccupied with his packing, began, "Hey, Jim, that was…"
The man standing framed in the open doorway was definitely not Jim, and he didn't look like anyone Jim would claim as a friend. His expression was Arctic cold, like the gleaming steel barrel of the gun he raised to point at Blair. Eyes wide with shock, Blair dropped the cans he was about to add to the box and ducked behind the kitchen island to make an awkward scrambling bolt toward the opening opposite his room. He'd seen a second man behind the first; there was no way he could rush both of them to escape out the front. The fire escape from the small downstairs room was the only option.
The door frame to his left splintered a split second after the gun coughed in the peculiar manner of a silenced weapon. Blair winced as the fragments peppered his arm, some of them lodging in the thick flannel like porcupine quills. He ducked even lower and raised an arm to shield his head. He could hear heavy footsteps crossing the wood floor in pursuit.
The door at the end of his room opened easily, and Blair didn't stop to close it behind him. He slithered down the fire escape stairs, his feet sliding on damp risers, his hands gripping the handrails to keep from ending his flight head first in a heap at the bottom. More shots struck sparks from the metal rails, but miraculously none hit flesh. Blair vaulted down the last half-flight of steps and landed in the alley below.
He chanced a quick glance back at the building and saw a dark shape coming down the fire escape. The second stood silhouetted in the doorway, light from inside the loft robbing him of any semblance of human features.
Without really thinking about a destination, except AWAY, Blair turned and fled into the dead of night darkness.
Simon Banks stuffed the last of the papers into a thick file and slid it
into a functional leather briefcase. He stretched to relieve the stiffness that had
settled in his back and neck after a long night spent hunched over the conference table.
His stomach churned with too much coffee and indifferent take-out. He was more than ready
to go home.
He reached down and tapped on Joel Taggart's shoulder. He called Joel's name, and the older detective emitted a sound that was half snore, half snort, and raised his head.
"Come on," Simon said. "Wake up, man. We are done, and we are out of here."
Joel ran a hand over his face. "What's the rush?" he asked groggily. "We've been here all night."
Simon shrugged into his topcoat. "If I don't get home soon, I'll never be able to fool my body into my usual eight hours."
"Fool yourself?" Joel queried.
"Oh, yeah." Simon's voice rumbled out in a faint chuckle. "As long as I'm home before the sun's up, I'm fine. If not, the body says, 'oh, no.'"
Joel also reached for his coat, taking a few moments to get his arms into the correct sleeves. He echoed Simon's dry laugh. "You remember Houser in Vice? He had the same problem. He used to catch z's in a morgue drawer." He shuddered theatrically.
Simon's laugh was more definite this time. He agreed with Joel's reaction. He didn't know how anyone could willingly crawl onto the cold metal slabs on which countless dead bodies had rested. He slapped his colleague's shoulder companionably and turned him toward the door.
The phone's strident tone halted him mid-step, and he glared over his shoulder at the offending instrument. "No," he groaned, but went back to the desk to answer it. Instead of lifting the receiver, he merely tapped the button to activate the speaker.
"Captain, this is Blair."
Simon leaned wearily on the edge of the desk. "Ho! Hold it right there, Sandburg," he answered impatiently. "Taggart and I have just spent all night working on a court brief for tomorrow's hearing. Now, after eighteen hours, we are going home. Whatever it is, it can wait."
"It can't wait!" Blair protested. His heavy breathing emerged from the speakers as loudly as a shout. "Two guys broke into the loft. They tried to kill me, Simon! I've been dodging one of 'em -- I swear the guy's first cousin to a bloodhound -- for I don't know how long. I could really use some help here."
Simon's forehead creased in a grim frown. "Where was Jim during all this?"
"I don't know." Blair sighed heavily. "About an hour before these goons-in-black showed up, he got a call from an old Army buddy and he went out to meet him. I don't know where." There was a pause, then Blair added, "I'm worried, Simon. He's not answering his cell phone. Now, call me paranoid, but first the phone call from someone he hasn't seen in years, and then these guys showing up at the loft…"
"Sandburg, calm down," Simon broke in, using his most authoritative tone. "Tell me where you are. Joel and I will pick you up."
"I'm in an all-night diner somewhere on Cavett Street, near Dunmore, I think. The name is…." Blair broke off abruptly, then cursed. "Damn! I gotta go, Simon. He's here!"
"Sandburg!" Blair didn't respond, and Simon heard only the receiver banging lazily against a hard surface and the sound of hurried footsteps.
Simon pressed another button, this time calling Dispatch, and ordered all available units to the area where Blair was, presumably, running for his life. He turned away from the desk and saw Joel standing in the doorway, concern imprinted on his round face. "Let's roll," he said.
Blair was certain that he'd toured every back alley within five square
miles of the loft, most of it at a dead run. His leg muscles burned with fatigue, his
chest heaved with his panicked breathing, and he wasn't sure his heart would ever resume a
normal rhythm. For the moment, though, he'd managed to elude his pursuer, and he took
advantage of the momentary respite to catch his breath.
The shelter in which he'd chosen to hide and rest offered little comfort. Its only redeeming quality was an adequate view of both ends of the alley and a chance to spot the black-coated thugs, he hoped, before they spotted him. The solid wall at his back insured that no one could sneak up on him from behind. Stacks of empty packing crates provided a modicum of concealment, and a single sturdy wooden box served as a place to sit.
He harbored little hope that Simon would be able to find him now. He'd run for uncounted blocks after his pursuer came into the diner and spotted him on the phone at the back of the empty establishment. Had there been other customers in the place, he might have been willing to chance that Black-Coat wouldn't make a scene and shoot him on sight or drag him out by sheer brute force. But the single, dull-witted waitress and stubble-chinned cook probably wouldn't have batted an eye no matter what happened. Blair had thought it best to run.
A sudden commotion at the end of the alley had him on his feet and ready to run again. He relaxed fractionally when a pair of scruffy cats tumbled from behind an overflowing trash dumpster, their angry yowls splitting the alley's quiet. The cats' sparring continued for several moments, then both animals froze in place and looked toward the mouth of the alley, their eyes glowing yellow-green in the wan moonlight. Whatever had attracted their attention impelled them to break off their own private war and bolt for safety elsewhere.
Blair followed their example and left his hiding place to skulk down the length of the alley in the opposite direction until he came to yet another unfamiliar street. Behind him he heard a shout and running footsteps, and he broke into a desperate run down the all but deserted sidewalk.
Half a block up and on the other side of the street, a city bus was just pulling up beside a three-sided shelter bearing the Cascade Transit System logo on its Plexiglas side. Blair ignored the traffic light and a car that barely missed running him down, to race across the street. A quick glance back showed him the familiar black-garbed man talking rapidly into a cell phone. Blair skidded to a stop beside the bus just as the long bi-fold doors were closing.
"There's no sign of him, sir," the uniformed officer told Simon
as soon as he arrived at the run-down diner on Cavett Street.
Simon clamped his lips over an unlit cigar and scowled at the shabby establishment. "You're sure this is where he called from?"
The uniformed officer nodded. "Yes, sir. The waitress remembers seeing a young guy with long curly hair come in and ask for the phone. A few minutes later, another man with a crew cut came in, started toward the back where the phone is, and they both took off out the back. The second man was wearing a suit and a black overcoat."
"All right, Hal. Thanks." Simon rubbed his forehead, feeling the pull of a tension headache across his brow. "Keep patrolling the area and see if you spot Sandburg or this guy in the black coat. Call me if you see anything." He went back out to the car where Joel was waiting for him.
"Where to now?" Joel asked.
Simon opened the door and leaned an elbow on the roof of his unmarked department car. "Back to Jim and Blair's place," he said. "If I were Blair, I'd try to head back to familiar territory."
They pulled up in front of 852 Prospect twenty minutes later. Blair's car was still in its usual place, but Jim's Expedition was not. Simon and Joel hurried inside and up to the third floor apartment.
They found the door shut and locked, and Simon used the emergency key Jim had given him to gain entry. He and Joel went in cautiously, weapons drawn, but lowered them when the loft proved to be empty.
"What a mess," Joel commented softly.
Simon's dark gaze traveled over the unoccupied room, and he nodded agreement. "Someone sure was eager to find something," he agreed. "Joel, call Forensics and get a team over here. It's probably too much to hope that whoever trashed this place left anything identifiable, but we'll give it a shot."
While Joel made the call, Simon moved farther into the room, stepping carefully over piles of papers and pictures strewn over the floor, camping equipment and duffle bags that had been yanked open and searched. He checked the bathroom and found toiletries and towels pulled out and dumped haphazardly on the floor. At the door of Blair's room, he paused, leaning closer to study the splintered woodwork. He recognized the deep gouges in the surface as bullet holes, and immediately began checking for signs of spilled blood. He allowed himself a small sigh of relief when he found none.
"Lab crew's on the way," Joel reported as he joined Simon in the narrow hallway.
Simon answered him with a distracted nod that turned into a weary negative motion. "I was really hoping that Blair had made it back here," he said.
"Maybe the APB will turn up something," Joel offered. "He's on foot. How far could he have gotten?"
"He's already made it a little over two miles from here on foot," Simon pointed out. "I guess we'll just have to wait for him to get in touch again -- that is, unless the unfriendly in the black coat caught up to him."
They checked the upstairs loft bedroom and found it in no better condition than the rest of the place. Whoever had searched the loft had either been in a hurry, or else they didn't care how much havoc they left behind. Some of the disorder seemed almost deliberate, and Simon wondered which old grudge had come back to haunt his detective and Blair.
Frank Benson yawned as he made his scheduled stop, even though no one
waited to board and none of his present passengers made any move to get off. Just three
more months and he would turn 65. His retirement paperwork was already filled out and
signed. All he had to do was turn in it.
Frank glanced down to see a long-haired, wild-eyed man bracing his hands against the accordion fold doors, keeping them from closing. Great, he thought sourly. Last route of the night, and I have to get a hopped-up crazy!
He thought about simply pulling away, but then he remembered another driver who had driven away from a suspicious looking would-be passenger. The guy hadn't released the closing doors and had lost a couple of fingers. The resulting lawsuit had cost the driver his job and the transit system a tidy sum in an out-of-court settlement with the injured man and his family. Frank shot the latecomer a sour look and rotated the lever that would allow the doors to open again. The long-haired man tumbled into the bus and halfway up the steps to collapse in the shelter of the narrow access way. One long-fingered hand, dirt crusted on the knuckles, threaded through sweat-dampened hair to push it back from his eyes.
"No loitering in the vestibule, Ace," Frank said in a disapproving growl. He extended one hand and flexed his fingers in an easily recognizable gesture. "Come on. You want a ride? Stand and deliver." He pointed sharply at the change receptacle.
"Curly" didn't move. "You guys got communications gear on board, right?" he asked breathlessly.
Frank's grizzled brows lowered. Why in the world did the guy care how the bus was equipped? Was he planning to hijack it to Canada, or what? "Meaning what?" he demanded gruffly.
"Meaning this is a police emergency," Curly replied. "I need to get in touch with the Central Precinct."
"You're a cop?" Doubt dripped from his words like sour milk. If this guy was a cop, he was the Queen of England.
Curly shrugged. "Not exactly. I work with the Major Crimes division." His dirty hands patted at his pockets, and his eyes closed briefly. "Look, I don't have any identification on me right now," he said slowly, "but there's two guys out there that are trying to kill me."
Frank nodded slowly, but his smile was as sarcastic as his next words. "Oh, of course," he drawled. This loony-bird must think he'd been born yesterday, trying to sell a crazy story like that. His expression hardened and he pointed again to the change box. "Look, feed the kitty, or hit the bricks."
With a long sigh, the man stood, although he remained hunched over and his wide eyes darted nervously over the street outside the wide windshield. He dug in the pockets of his jeans and finally pulled out a crumpled ten-dollar bill.
"Exact change only," Frank told him, hoping that he could discourage the little hippie and get him voluntarily off his bus.
Curly rolled his eyes and extended the bill again. "This is all I got!" he protested, his blue eyes pleading. "Come on!"
Frank considered a moment, then snatched the bill from the dirty-streaked hand and jerked a thumb over his shoulder in tacit permission to sit down. He pocketed the ten, deciding that even a small bonus was worth letting the schmuck have his ride. And if he started causing too much trouble, Frank would simply call the transit police and have him forcibly removed. He watched in the rear-view mirror as Curly hurried down the center aisle to a seat halfway along the length of the bus. He dropped into the seat, slumping down and resting his head against the edge of the window. Maybe he'd fall asleep under the influence of whatever he was on.
Frank released the brake and the bus lurched into motion. He continued to monitor his passengers, especially his newest arrival. His frown deepened when the man suddenly stood and addressed the other passengers.
"Hey, does anyone have a cell phone?" he asked anxiously.
Yeah, right, Frank thought. The motley collection of drunks and lowlifes wouldn't be riding his bus to the boondocks in the middle of the night if they were the kind of people who carried cell phones.
Curly raised his arm and pointed to something on his left wrist. "I will trade this handmade Bantu bracelet for two minutes on somebody's cell phone," he offered, looking from one flat-eyed traveler to the next.
Frank pulled over to the curb, between stops, and turned in his seat. "Excuse me," he said sharply. "Did I miss the sign that says Trading Post?" He was met with a desperate blue stare. "Sit down," he commanded, "or get off." He really hoped that Curly would opt for the latter, but he just slid back into his seat and slumped against the window again. Frank reached for the radio-phone mounted above his seat and called the transit dispatch office. "This is Northbound 51," he said in a low voice. "I'm at Oakwood and Hill. I have a disruptive passenger. Possible substance abuse."
The dispatcher advised him to maintain his route and promised to have someone meet the bus to deal with the problem. Frank replaced the handset and flicked another backward glance at Curly. The man didn't seem to have noticed the brief conversation.
Frank resumed his nightly route, hoping that the transit police would show up soon.
Blair slumped into the seat, keeping his head below the level of the
window as much as possible. He had no idea where the bus was headed, but as long as it
took him beyond the reach of his pursuer, he didn't care. By now Simon would have reached
the diner and found him gone. The captain would be looking for him, Blair knew. All he had
to do was stay out of the black-suit's reach long enough for Simon to catch up.
Despite his momentary relative safety, Blair continued to watch his surroundings carefully. His heart lurched into a faster rhythm when he saw a black van pull into the lane beside the bus. He got a brief glimpse of two men inside before a searchlight blinded him to anything beyond the bright, white glare. He ducked down again, praying that they hadn't spotted him. He waited for a count of five then peeked above the edge of the window again. The black van had driven on, and Blair released a heavy sigh.
The bus made its next stop without any changes in passengers. Two blocks farther along, a casually dressed man and woman boarded, and Blair slid out of his seat, intending to disembark and find another phone to call Simon. He froze when the tenacious black-suit appeared at the top of the steps and dropped a few coins into the change box.
The impassive face lifted, and cold eyes locked briefly on Blair. Wiping suddenly clammy palms on his jeans, Blair turned toward the rear exit, only to find it blocked by yet another stone-faced man in black. He pivoted to the front again, just in time to see a pair of uniformed transit officers board and speak to the ill-tempered driver.
"That's him. Long hair," the driver said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder toward Blair.
The lead officer looked down the aisle, and Blair moved quickly forward, hoping that the two black suits wouldn't try anything now. The transit cop intercepted him as he tried to move past them and get off the bus.
"Hold it!" he said sharply, grabbing a handful of flannel shirt.
The driver shot him a sour look. "Probably on drugs or something," he pronounced with cynical certainty.
"This your problem rider?" the officer asked, tightening his grip on Blair's shirt.
Blair tried to dislodge the man's hand and stared up at him with the fiercest scowl he could muster. "Yeah," he said contemptuously. "I'm the problem." He straightened, leaning forward in a defiant, combative manner, and all but shouted, "Screw the pigs!" He spat at the officer, landing a small wad of spittle on the man's uniform jacket.
The officer shook him once and forced him back against the metal support pole running from floor to ceiling. "Okay, smart-ass," he growled, "that's it. You're under arrest."
Blair turned in the officer's grip and raised a hand to point down the aisle. "Yeah? Well, arrest those guys in the black suits, too!" he insisted, his voice dropping off suddenly.
"What black suits?" the officer asked.
The two men had apparently chosen not to force a confrontation now. Blair saw only an empty aisle and, outside the bus, two dark shadows moving rapidly down the sidewalk.
Simon chewed his unlit cigar with vigor born of frustration and worry. The
loft swarmed with forensic technicians who had lifted fingerprints from the doorknob,
several shelves, and other areas where it was clear someone had searched. Another
technician carefully extracted the slugs imbedded in the doorframe outside Blair's room.
The purposeful activity seemed like so much busy-work. It might prove useful if they ever found someone to arrest for breaking-and-entering and assault with a deadly weapon. But it brought him no closer to knowing where either Jim or Blair was now.
His cell phone chirped abruptly, and Simon yanked it from his coat pocket. He listened for several moments, then snapped it shut and turned to survey the work going on around him.
"Taggart!" he called urgently. "Let's go. I know where Sandburg is."
Joel trotted over. "Where is he? Is he all right?"
"For now," Simon answered with a wry smile. "He's at the Northside substation where a couple of transit cops took him after he got rowdy on a city bus."
Joel's face scrunched into a disbelieving frown. "What's that?"
"Never mind," Simon said, planting a hand on Joel's shoulder and giving him a steady push toward the door. "Let's go collect our lost lamb. At least we know nobody's shooting at him there."
Simon arrived to find Blair sitting alone in a bleak interrogation room.
His face reflected the strain of his night's misadventures. The wide blue eyes were even
larger than usual and ringed by shadows of fatigue. Despite his sleepless night, though,
Blair's body quivered with barely contained nervous tension. His foot beat a rhythmic
tattoo as it bounced rapidly on the stained linoleum floor.
Blair looked up sharply when the door opened, and breathed a long sigh when Simon stepped inside. "Simon! Hey, it is so good to see you."
Simon frowned and motioned to the younger man to follow him. "Sandburg, what the hell is going on here?" he asked, his voice roughened by his own fatigue. "First you call for help, but disappear before anyone can get to you. Then I get a call about you being hauled in for causing a disturbance on a city bus."
Blair bounced out of his chair and moved toward the door. "I will tell you all about it," he promised. "But first, has anyone heard from Jim?"
"Not a word," Simon said grimly. "Joel's checking with central dispatch to see if the APB has turned up anything." He followed Blair out into the empty hall, listening to Blair's hurried recitation of the unknown man showing up at the loft, fleeing through the streets, hopping the bus in a desperate attempt to put some distance between himself and his pursuer, and then being hauled off the bus by the transit officers and brought here.
"They didn't believe me when I said I was a police observer. When they first brought me in, they threw me in the tank with a bunch of low-lifes," Blair concluded indignantly. "But when I started talking about you and the rest of the guys in Major Crimes, the sergeant decided I might just be telling the truth. After he called you, he brought me up to the interrogation room to wait."
They rounded a corner and saw Joel Taggart coming toward them, his expression set in grim lines. "Simon," he said urgently. "They found Jim's truck in an empty parking garage over on 8th. There's what's left of a sedan on the street below, with a body inside. Looks like the driver lost control and smashed through the fence on the fifth level not far from where they found the truck."
Simon's scowl deepened, and a quick glance at Blair told him that they were both thinking the same bleak thoughts. "Is it Jim?" he asked, almost choking on the words.
"No. There's no ID yet, but it's not Jim."
"Thank God!" Simon began breathing again, and heard a similar out rush of breath from the man beside him.
"That's a relief," Blair put in. "But that leaves us with one important question: where the hell is Jim?"