by Melinda Holley
Beta Read by Lady Shelley and Raven Moonwind
Written for PetFly by Tony Westman

Rated PG
internal thought in italics

Act I

Cascade National Park

Several rivers cut through the Cascade National Park. One of the least visited was the Beaver River. Starting out as a small stream deep in the mountains, it eventually flowed over rocks both large and small until finally joining the Kodiak River that ran close to the city of Cascade.

Only the truly dedicated fishermen willingly hiked through the forest to reach the Beaver River. Carefully walking along rocks close to the banks of the Beaver River were three such dedicated fishermen.

"Watch your step, Sandburg," Jim Ellison warned as he carefully balanced on one river-soaked rock. He waited until Simon Banks, ahead of him, adjusted his balance and confidently jumped to another rock. "These rocks are tricky."

Blair Sandburg spared a glanced towards the cloudless blue sky. Not seeing any indication of either divine retribution or divine guidance, he settled for shaking his head. "Don't worry. I won't slip."

Jim's lips briefly curved as he caught the tone of long-suffering patience in his partner's voice. "Slip all you want. I just don't want anybody to kick the fish."

"Glad to see you have your priorities straight," Blair muttered.

Jim saw a plastic bag attached to Simon's belt come loose and slide into the cold water. As he stepped onto the rock just vacated by the Major Crimes captain, he reached down and grabbed the bag before it floated away. Grinning, he turned sideways and showed the bag to Blair before putting it in his pocket.

"Oh, man," Blair snickered.

They followed in silence for several minutes before Simon finally looked around and nodded. "This is it," he said with an almost reverent tone of voice.

Blair slowly looked around then closed his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he relaxed as the silence around him began to settle nerves conditioned to urban stresses. Sunlight gently warmed his face even as a slight breeze caused nearby treetops to gently sway. Soft sounds of the nearby animal life barely intruded. The cold water swirling around his protected legs became just one more instrument in the natural symphony around him. "Awesome," he murmured, finally opening his eyes.

Simon nodded, even as he began baiting his hook. "Yeah, it's good to get away from the city for a while and breathe some good fresh air. Leave it all behind."

"Well, Captain, it's good you brought your survival kit." Jim held up the wet plastic bag he'd rescued. "Of course, my survival kit doesn't include a cell phone and pager."

"Give me that, Ellison," Simon hissed as he snatched the bag from Jim's fingers.

"Not to mention cigars and clippers," Jim finished.

"There goes the fresh air," Blair sighed as Simon opened the bag.

"You know what, Sandburg? I'm gonna do you a favor." Simon widely smiled.

"No smoking?" Blair hopefully asked.

Simon smirked then barked, "No!" He enjoyed seeing Blair automatically take a step backwards, then openly chuckled when Jim automatically reached out a hand to steady the younger man. "I'll turn off the cell phone."

"Might as well." Blair shrugged. "You wouldn't get a signal here anyway."

"Oh, ye of little faith," Simon teased. "For your information, Sandburg, there's a tower at the top of that ridge."

Blair shaded his eyes and looked towards the east.

"For all those who can't leave civilization behind," Jim grunted in what might have been disgust.

"I'm going to move up-river a little bit," Simon decided as he cheerfully closed his plastic bag and secured it to his belt. "See if I can't tell what might be biting."

Blair frowned as he stepped onto the next rock. "What does he…whoa!" He almost dropped his fishing rod as he swung his arms to recover his balance. He was helped by Jim's hand grabbing his arm to provide some stability.

"Easy…you okay now?" Jim asked. When Blair nodded, he grinned. "Okay, my little guppy. Time to initiate you into the sacred rites of fly casting."

"Uh-huh." Blair squinted as he saw Simon pick his spot. "You know, I do know how to fish."

"Good for you." Jim grinned. "But this is a true test of man versus fish."

"Uh-huh." Blair agreeably nodded. "Ahab! Hemingway! Sandburg!" he shouted to the sky.

"Quiet, Sandburg!" Simon snapped. "You'll scare the fish!"

Hidden in the trees above the river, two men watched the three men standing in the middle of the river.

"Nothing to worry about," Jake Marshall decided as he lowered the binoculars. "Just some fishermen."

"I hope so." Sid Polk frowned. "We don't need any interference. From anybody."

The cell phone to Jake's belt crackled. Moving deeper into the trees, Jake answered it. Sid quickly followed, both men missing that one of the fishermen looked in their direction.

"Jim?" Blair questioned.

After a second, Jim shrugged. "By the way, Sandburg, did I mention that whoever catches the least number of fish has to not only cook dinner but clear up afterwards?"

"No. You did not mention that," Blair snorted. Becoming more comfortable standing in the rushing water, he grinned. "Hope you and Simon don't mind if I nap while you guys take care of that."


"You're a difficult man to reach, Jake." Tommy Woo studied the beautiful panorama of the San Francisco skyline through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the plush penthouse apartment. "Matters are not progressing so well," he continued. "You promised I'd have my full supply by last week."

"There's not much game out here this time of year."

"I understand the problem," Tommy assured him. "But my buyer is getting impatient. I can't wait much longer. Another 24 hours, and I'll have to find another supplier." The young Oriental man absently fingered the cuff of his dark blue silk shirt.

"Hey, c'mon, Tommy! We go way back, remember?"

"Don’t confuse loyalty with pragmatic economics," Tommy advised. "Happy hunting. You've got 24 hours." Disconnecting the call, he turned to the older man, who sat studying a chessboard. "He'll deliver."

The older man barely glanced up. "For your sake, Tommy, I hope he does." He carefully moved a rook. "Check."

"Sure, Tommy, I'll just toss out some bread crumbs and just watch all the big bad game eat their way to my doorstep!" Jack angrily opened the bed of his truck.

Both he and Sid reached in for their weapons and ammunition.

"That's the trouble with Woo and his rich buyers," Sid snorted. "They've got no understanding of what we do." He grinned. "Maybe we should bring ole Tommy out here sometime, huh?"

"I saw signs of a bear in River Canyon yesterday," Jake recalled. He unfolded a worn map and pointed. "I'll follow the ravine. You take the ridge. If I flush anything, it'll head in your direction." He folded the map and closed the truck's door. "I'll check in every 15 minutes or so on channel 12."

"That's awful close to where those guys are fishing," Sid warned.

"Can't be helped," Jake argued. "We'll just have to make sure they don't see or hear anything."

Two Hours Later – Cascade National Forest

Conversation had ceased among the three men standing in the middle of Beaver River. Even Simon was impressed by Blair's ability to be patient and remain silent. As he lazily cast, he wondered how he could adapt this situation to the bullpen.

Blair's blue eyes suddenly widened as he felt something tug on his rod. "Uh…Jim? Jim!" He caught sight of a fish wiggling on his line. "Jim! Look at that!"

"Way to go, Chief! Play it…play it…" He stood next to Blair, ready to help. "Good…good…you're a natural with this."

Simon grinned as he carefully began walking towards them.

"Whoa!" Blair felt the line being to stretch.

"Ease up!" Jim urged. "Easy does it. Take up the slack with your left hand."

"What?!" Blair shouted. Then he nodded when Jim reached out to adjust the rod. "Okay…yeah…YEAH!"

"Now, just reel him in," Jim softly urged.

"Look! Simon! Look!" Blair laughed. He grinned as he reeled the fish up from the water. "Oh, man…look at that baby! Jim!"

"I see it." Jim grinned in response. "Simon, hold this." As Simon reached out for Jim's rod, the sentinel unhooked his net from his belt and slid it under the fish.

"Beginner's luck," Simon good-naturedly grumbled.

Blair fairly danced in the water as Jim unhooked the fish from the end of Blair's line. "Yes yes yes," he happily chanted.

"Hold him up," Simon ordered, reaching for a disposable camera in another plastic bag. "Let me get a picture of this."

"Did you forget to bring anything?" Blair joyfully laughed.

"You'll be glad to have this as proof, Sandburg," Simon growled.

"Must weigh five pounds," Jim gauged. He started to hand the fish to Blair, but the younger man simply helped hold the fish with one hand and leaned against Jim. The older man chuckled and wrapped an arm around Blair's shoulders. Both men grinned as Simon aimed the camera.

"Got it," Simon chuckled as he snapped the picture.

"Oh, man, I've got this great recipe for fish," Blair chattered. "You wrap them in maple leaves, put in some fresh herbs, garlic, and put it underneath some hot rocks." He kissed the tip of his fingers. "Primo!"

Simon nodded, unable to keep from grinning as he watched Jim carefully lower the fish back into the cold water.

"It'll be the best fish you ever….JIM! What are you doing with my fish?" Blair shrieked.

"Strictly catch and release, Sandburg." Jim fought to keep from laughing.

"Catch and release?!" Blair stuttered. He put his hands on his hips. "What are you talking about?" he suspiciously demanded.

"It's a conservation measure," Simon explained. "A few years ago, this place was nearly fished out. Now they're making a good comeback." He sympathetically nodded. "But it was a nice fish."

"Nice?" Blair mournfully shook his head. "It was beautiful. My beautiful fish."

"Cheer up, Sandburg." Jim grinned. "You're one fish ahead…"

Blair tensed as he saw Jim tilt his head to one side, a clear indication his sentinel hearing was engaged. He held up a hand to Simon who had started to touch Jim's shoulder.

"Oh, my God," Jim murmured. "It sounds like…somebody's being mauled." Without another word, he sloshed through the water towards the riverbank.

"Mauled? Ellison!" Simon shouted.

"Jim? Jim? C'mon, man! Wait a minute!" Blair awkwardly tried to run towards the riverbank.

Simon was torn between following Jim and trying to keep Blair from falling into the cold river water. He settled for grabbing Blair's right arm and practically dragging him towards the riverbank. By the time they made it to shore, Jim had removed his high-waders and was running up the gentle slope towards the trees.

"Ellison! Come back here!" Simon demanded even as he sat down to remove his own waders.

Blair was hopping on one foot, trying to shimmy out of his wet waders. He was startled into falling backwards when he heard several gunshots.

"Automatic gunfire," Simon grimly identified. "Get a move on, Sandburg! We've got to catch up to Jim!"

Jim ran through the woods, easily hearing both the gunfire and the desperate screams. The loud roar of an angry bear silenced both. Minutes later, Jim found himself at the edge of a clearing. One of the largest bears he'd ever seen slowly ambled away from a bloody body barely recognizable as a man.

Realizing the body was lifeless, Jim waited until the bear had wandered away before entering the clearing. Kneeling next to the body, he grimaced as he gently rolled the man over.

"Jim! Jim!"

"Over here, Simon!" Jim called in return. He slowly stood, eyes narrowing as he spotted the nearby automatic weapon.

"Dear God." Simon briefly closed his eyes at the carnage.

"Uuullllpppp," Blair groaned as he turned away.

Jim picked up the weapon, then glanced at Blair with concern. "Here's the weapon we heard firing." He ran his fingers along the barrel. "Still hot from firing."

"What about…fingerprints?" Blair gulped. He glanced at Jim then quickly back at the ground.

"He wore gloves, Chief," Jim gently answered.

Blair grimaced. "Sorry. Didn't notice."

"Jim, that sort of weaponry out here…" Simon shook his head. "Gotta be poachers."

"Yeah," Jim grimly nodded.

All three men were startled to hear the crackle of a live radio. "Jake! Jake! Answer me!"

"Sounds like he's got a partner," Simon grunted.

Jim caught the glimpse of sunlight reflecting off glass. Narrowing his vision, he saw a man, dressed in hunter's clothing, watching them through binoculars from across the river. Even as he took in the sight, he saw the other man lower the binoculars, turn, and run away.

"Damn it, he's getting away," Jim groaned as he pointed.

Simon and Blair looked in that direction just in time to see someone disappearing into the trees.

Next Day – Simon's Office

"Looks like our dead man's a local guide by the name of Jake Marshall." Simon passed over a file folder. He turned around and poured himself a cup of coffee. "He organized trophy hunts for rich clients." He silently held out the coffeepot in invitation. Both Jim and Blair shook their heads in denial.

"With a little poaching on the side," Jim mused as he studied the contents of the folder.

"Man, I cannot believe people like that," Blair grumbled. "Hunting animals for trophies." He looked over Jim's shoulder. "Any idea who the guy on the radio was?"

"He usually works with another guide by the name of Sid Polk," Jim read. "He's got a hunting lodge near Mt. Gideon." He looked up at Simon. "I say we pay him a visit, sir. Do some shakin' and see what falls out of the tree."

"We'll have to call Fish and Wildlife," Simon pointed out. "Poaching is their jurisdiction." Simon leaned back in his chair and sipped his coffee. "That automatic weapon means we should include the ATF as well."

"Department of Wildlife?" Blair half-grinned.

"Not to mention the FBI, sir," Jim solemnly added. "You know they hate to be left out."

Simon snorted. "Get this guy. We'll worry about calling the Feds later."

Act II