By Terri D. Thomas
Beta Read by Izzy and Dotty
Written for PetFly by:
Teleplay by: Randy Brown
Story by: Laurence Frank

Rated PG


Prologue


The sound of the television kept him company on the lonely nights. He rarely paid attention to it. It was just a voice in the night to keep the shadows at bay. He took a long draw from the beer bottle and leaned back in the old Lazy Boy chair, appreciating the soft comfort it provided. Familiar theme music began to play and he glanced at the screen.

<We now return to Braddock's Way,> the voice-over said in the overly-dramatic seventies crime drama style. The man shook his head. It was unbelievable how corny the old shows were.

He couldn't help but smile when the younger and much more suave version of Vince Deal appeared on the screen. <I'm tired of you half-baked amateurs,> the character of Braddock said to the man aiming the gun at the detective.

<Amateurs?> the criminal responded.

<That's right.>

<You said amateurs?> the crook confirmed.

<That's right,> Braddock repeated.

The viewer chuckled, unable to believe that the dialog was so bad. He really didn’t remember it being that boring when the show aired twenty-five years before. He directed his attention back to the screen.

Braddock was speaking again. <A pro, a real pro, would've dropped me when he saw me. But not you, you ramble on, you shoot off your big mouth!>

The man turned to the end table and reached for the remote control, more than ready to find another channel, when the set was suddenly switched off for him, causing him to jump. A lone figure now stood in front of the darkened television.

"Sorry, Max. Show's over," the intruder said.

Max wanted to scream, wanted to run for help, but before he could move, the world turned to black.
 


Act I


"I don't know. Just put him off. Tell him I'm at lunch or something," Detective Jim Ellison said, rubbing his forehead in frustration. He wanted to hang up the phone, but when the person on the other end of the line was a captain, a lowly detective could do no such thing. He sighed. "Fine, I'll handle him. Send him up. Thanks, Captain." Jim hung up the phone and looked at his partner, who was just finishing up a rather friendly conversation with Jenny, the donut cart girl. Pushing himself from his chair, he approached the two younger people. "Captain Simmons in Robbery just called. Said that Vince Deal's down there. He's sending him up."

"Vince? Oh, you're kidding me!" Blair's excitement was bubbling over. "I love that guy. He's such a character."

"More like a caricature," Jim said with mock disgust. "He doesn't realize 'this' is real life here." Jim turned to Jenny. "No prune danish?" She shook her head. He frowned. It definitely wasn't his day.

The two men returned to the bullpen. Jim could swear Blair was bouncing. "Oh, come on," Blair turned, eyes wide with glee, "didn't you ever watch 'Braddock's Way' when you were a kid?"

"One, I was never a kid, and two, I watched Banacek."

Blair grimaced. "Banacek? With George Peppard? Come on. What, did you watch the 'A-Team' too?"

Jim poked a finger into Blair's chest. "Banacek was a smooth; he was intelligent."

"He was an insurance investigator!" Blair responded with indignation. "That hardly qualifies as a detective show."

"Then I'd take Mannix. Good with his fists, dry sense of humor."

Blair shook his head. "How old are you any way? You drawing social security or something?"

"Hey, squirt, Mannix had his act together, which is more than I can say for you," Jim countered triumphantly.

"Okay, fine, he was responsible and had it together, however, he was no Starsky and Hutch. I mean they had it all, the car, the girls. What did Mannix have? I couldn't even tell you what he drove. Oh wait, I remember, a grandma car."

"Starsky and Hutch were cops, not P.I.'s," Jim corrected.

Blair frowned in confusion. "So?"

Jim grinned. "Although I can see how Huggy Bear inspired your 'kit' here," the detective fingered the multi-colored patchwork vest his partner was wearing.

Blair brushed the man's hands away. "Hey, hey, back off. Keep the fingers off the threads!" The young man then glanced up, something catching his attention.

Jim turned to find Simon standing behind him, thumbing through a file cabinet drawer.

"Simon," Blair called out. "Come on, what was your favorite '70's detective show?"

Simon shook his head with shock. "You're kidding me, right?"

At the same time, the answer struck the detective team. "Shaft," they said in unison.

"That cat Shaft is a bad mother... ."

"Watch your mouth... ," Jim responded, cutting off Simon's replay of the television theme song.

"Talkin' 'bout Shaft," Simon sang in his baritone voice.

Blair and Jim chuckled at the captain's rare antics. Blair then turned to Jim. "You know who we're forgetting here is Baretta."

Before either Jim or Simon could respond, a voice interrupted them from behind. "Keep forgetting about him, kid. He dressed like a bum, and what was with that stupid rooster?" The old man who was entering the bullpen barely resembled the actor who had created the character of Bill Braddock three decades before. His eyes had lost their vibrancy. His skin was ruddy and marked with age spots, his face was full of wrinkles. The years had not been kind. Vince didn't seem to care, though. He strutted into the bullpen like he owned the place.

Blair shook his head with a smile on his face. "I think it was a cockatoo, Vince."

"I don't care if it was a friggin' pterodactyl. I used to kick his ass every Wednesday night."

Jim sighed. "Vince, how did you get up here?"

"I promised your duty sergeant a couple of bleacher passes to the Cascade Days Parade. I'm the grand marshal again." He approached Jim and spoke more quietly. "I need your help. There's a folder in your closed case file I want you to re-examine."

Blair stepped in closer. "Which file?"

Before Vince could answer, Jim interrupted. "Another tip, Vince? You know, the last tip nearly cost me my badge." Jim leaned against the corner of the nearest desk with a frown on his face.

Simon approached the three men. "You remember that, don't you, Vince? Airport? Drug deal? Turned out to be baby powder?"

"This is different," Vince protested. "The victim's a personal acquaintance of mine, and your investigation is way off the mark."

Jim tried to appease the actor. "Vince, it's not that we don't appreciate... ."

"Oh, my God!" an Australian-accented, female voice said from behind. "You're Bill Braddock!"

Vince turned around to face the attractive woman. "That's the name. Don't wear it out." He stepped forward and extended a hand. "I'm actually Vince Deal."

Megan let him take her hand and blushed slightly when he brought it to his lips for a soft kiss. "I'm Megan Conner. I just can't believe it's you." She turned to Jim, Blair and Simon. "His show has been running forever in Sydney."

Vince shot a charming smile at the young woman, still holding on to her hand. "Love the Aussies. They don't dub the episodes. I lose something in Japanese."

Jim frowned at Deal. "Give her back her hand, Vince." Jim smiled triumphantly when Deal complied. The smile disappeared when the inspector gave him a disapproving glare.

Simon stepped forward in Jim's defense. "Vince, before you get started, Megan is an Inspector, not your skirt of the week."

Vince winked at the woman. "An inspector, huh? Well, I guess if Jim is too busy to meet with a concerned citizen, I'll just have to file my report with you."

Megan raised an eyebrow. "Report?"

Jim shook his head. "Mr. Deal thinks he's one of our better informants."

"I'm familiar with the dark underbelly of the city," Vince clarified.

"That's what you say at the start of every show," Megan cooed.

"Careful, Conner, he's going to start whistling the theme song." Jim pushed away from the desk he'd been leaning against. "Captain, Sandburg and I are going to eat. It's past noon. My underbelly's starting to growl."

Megan ignored Jim's sarcasm. "Mr. Deal, if you'll follow me, I'll take down that information."

Vince grinned mischievously. "I'd be delighted to follow you. Go right ahead."

Jim shook his head at Deal's suggestive comment. "We're outta here, Chief."


"So, what'll it be?" Jim asked as he glanced briefly at his partner and then returned his attention to his driving. "How about that German place? Um... ."

Blair turned up his nose and interrupted the sentinel. "I can't eat there. You know that. They've got animal heads all over the wall." His jaw was set in determination. "I can't eat with an audience." He thought for a moment. "Okay, Charlie's. How about Charlie's? They've got a Vince Deal sandwich on the menu."

"Oh yeah, I remember, pickled liver on rye, right?"

Blair couldn't help but let the laugh escape, even as he shook his head in disapproval. "Oh, come on. That's cold. That's so cold. I mean, go easy on the guy. Put yourself in his shoes. He was a big star, and now, well, now he'd be grateful to open up a supermarket."

"You know what I don't get, Chief? 'Braddock's Way' was a top-ten show when the network bagged it. And Vince Deal hasn't worked since. What do you think the guy did?" Before Jim could continue, his cell phone rang. He answered it on the second ring. "Yeah? What's up, Connor?" He listened for a moment then said, "What? Did Deal hand you a hot case? All right. We'll be there in five minutes."

He hung up the phone and turned to his friend. "We've got a body on Mason. Looks like a homicide."

Blair closed his eyes and leaned back against the seat. Jim sighed. His stomach growled in protest. Apparently there was going to be no lunch today.


Blair trailed Jim over a small bridge. As soon as he crossed to the other side he saw Megan standing next to a cloth covered corpse.

"What's up, Connor?" Jim asked as the two approached the inspector.

"Cause of death appears to be a gunshot wound through her heart, fired at close range." She lifted up the plastic tarp to show the body. Jim squatted down next to the decedent. Blair turned away, nausea rising into his throat. Megan continued. "The purse was found nearby, wallet missing."

Jim stared at the deceased. Blair saw the detective's eyes narrow and knew the sentinel was using his enhanced vision to examine the woman more closely. "Has the M.E. established the time of death?" Jim finally asked.

Megan nodded. "Approximately 4:00 this morning."

Jim shook his head and stood. Blair watched as Jim scanned the environment surrounding them. "What's a beautiful, well-dressed young woman doing walking around here at that hour?" Jim then pointed to the hole in the woman's chest. "This is a massive wound."

Blair glanced quickly at the body, turning away again when he felt his stomach roll in protest. Jim continued, "That's odd. There's blood all over her blouse and her coat here, but there's nothing on the ground."

Blair tilted his head. "Well, then she was probably shot someplace else and brought here, right?" Jim nodded in agreement.

Megan shook her head, contradicting the theory. "It's possible, but the empty purse suggests otherwise."

"Unless the killer wanted to make it look like a botched mugging," Blair guessed.

"Good point, Chief." Jim looked at the ground around him. He stopped and stared at one spot. "Excuse me."

He walked a few yards away. Megan and Blair followed. Megan leaned over and whispered to Sandburg, "Is he doing his sentinel bit now?"

Panicked, Blair responded quickly, "Shhhh! Quiet! I can't believe I told you about that."

Megan smiled at the anthropologist. "You really didn't have a choice, Sandy. But, no worries. It's our secret. Promise." She made an 'x' over her heart with her index finger.

"Make sure you keep it that way," Blair warned. He glanced around to make sure no one else heard the exchange. Relieved, Blair found that the nearest officer was not within hearing distance, unless he, too, was a sentinel.

Jim slipped on latex gloves. Leaning over, he picked up the leather wallet and looked inside. "They took the money, but left an ID. Mary Volker, age 28."

Megan held out her glove-covered hand. "May I see that?" She looked at the ID. "That's a bit of a coincidence."

"What's that?" Blair asked.

"That tip we got from Vince Deal."

"Oh, this ought to be good," Jim scoffed.

Megan ignored the sarcasm. "Vince knew this reporter at the Herald, Max Rogers. Friday night, they ran into each other at the Cascade Hotel Bar."

Jim nodded. "Yep, that's Deal's hangout. I think they have a drink named after him. A fifth of Johnny Walker, straight-up."

Megan frowned. "That's cruel, Jim. Vince was sober as a judge when I talked to him."

Blair stepped forward, smiling warmly at his colleague. "Just ignore him. I'm interested, go ahead."

Megan smiled in return. "Max Rogers intimated his life was in danger over some exposť he'd written. The next day he was found dead; an apparent suicide. Vince thinks his friend was murdered."

Jim sighed. "Connor, I know you're a big fan of Mr. Deal, but what does this have to do with the dead body?"

Blair frowned at his partner's bluntness. Ellison wasn't known for his diplomacy skills or patience, and he was certainly living up to his reputation now.

Megan ignored Jim's behavior, holding up the ID confidently. "Mary Volker also worked at the Herald."


"I autographed an 8 x 10 black and white for Max to a Mary; some chick he had a thing for at the office," Vince said as he leaned forward to look at the ID.

Simon opened the folder sitting on the conference table in front of him. "The victim worked in the research department at the Herald. According to the editor, she assisted Max with a lot of his articles."

Vince pointed his finger at Jim. "Now there's your connection. Listen, Max tumbles on a big, dirty story, and they wanted to push it under the rug. So, what do they do?" He opened Max's file. "They shove Max's head into an O'Keefe and Merritt, snuff out the pilot light. Poof!" he exclaimed. "Sayonara, Max. But, who do they still want? Who still knows, huh? Mary Volker." He leaned back in his chair. "So, they have her shot and make it look like a phony mugging."

Blair shook his head. "Max's death was ruled a suicide, and there was no sign of struggle. His blood alcohol level was way up there. And there was a note, Vince."

Vince gave the group a hard look, ignoring their disapproving stares. "You put a gun to a guy's head, pour a bunch of booze down his throat, have him write a kiss-off letter... ." He paused for a moment and then snapped his fingers. "That's it. Twelfth episode, uh, 'Rhapsody in Red.'"

Before his audience could respond, the door opened. Megan entered Simon's office. "Here are the crime photos," she said as she handed the file in her hand to Vince.

"I beg your pardon?" Simon asked, raising an eyebrow.

"He asked to examine them, Captain. I couldn't see the harm," the Australian explained.

Vince gestured to the picture of Max's dead body lying on the floor of the kitchen. "That's exactly the way they found him?"

"Before Forensics took over, yes," Megan answered.

Vince nodded and then squinted more closely at the picture. "Mmm-hmm. If Max died of a snootful of gas, who the hell turned the oven off?" Vince leaned back in the chair again, an air of satisfaction surrounding him.

Jim took the picture and examined the details. "Didn't see that," Jim responded quietly. He then looked at Simon. "Captain, maybe we should take a look at this one." He turned to Deal. "That's good work, Vince." The words were said with sincerity.

The smugness disappeared from Vince's face and instead was replaced with a warm smile. "Thank you," he replied simply.

Blair leaned forward. "Who was Max trying to nail in his article?"

Vince shook his head, his smile replaced with a look of guilt. "I don't know. I was a little smashed when I talked to him." He paused for a moment. "He said something about, uhm, fire engines...fire hydrants...uhm...."

Simon spoke up. "Could he have said 'Hydra'?"

Vince nodded. "Hydra, yeah, that could've been it."

Jim stood up and grabbed the files on the desk. Vince stood as well. "Listen, if I can be of any help here...."

Simon hurriedly shook his head and stood up. "No, no, Vince. We've got it from here." He held his office door open for the old actor. "Thank you very much for your help. We really appreciate it."

Megan followed Vince out of the office. "I'll escort you to the lift," she volunteered.

"I guess it's better than being tossed down the backstairs." Vince turned to Jim once again. "Listen, I'm not busy. If I can be of any help...," the man pleaded.

Jim led the man out of Major Crime. "Vince, you've been a great help already. Thank you."

Jim watched as the inspector led Vince to the elevator. He chuckled and shook his head. He didn't need sentinel hearing to detect the man's apparent attempts to hit on Megan.

"You got to love the guy," Blair commented from behind.

Simon turned away with mock disgust. "No, no I don't. Look, I'm going to have Connor go through Rogers' effects and talk to his editor at the Herald. See if maybe he knows more than what he initially told me." He held out his hand and Jim gave him Max's file. "In the meantime, I'm going to get you a warrant. I want you to search Mary Volker's home."


Megan walked Vince to the elevator and pushed the 'down' button for the older man. "I'll keep you informed, Vince," she offered.

Vince nodded. "Personally, I hope." He leaned closer to the tall brunette. "Any chance for dinner?"

The detective raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Tonight? Uh, sorry, but...."

"It's the age thing, right? Well, I'm still a child inside. I'm reasonably well-preserved on the outside."

Megan gave him her most charming smile, not wanting to offend the actor. "No question, but I'm on the night watch. Another time perhaps?"

Vince appeared pleased with her response. She was relieved. While not wanting to date the aged man, she had no desire to hurt his feelings. "Another time. Thanks, Megan."

"Thank you for your help, Vince."

The Australian watched as the elevator doors closed on the departing man. She gave him a quick wave as he disappeared from view.

"So, was he hitting on you?" Blair said, startling Megan.

"Uh, no, more like a light tap." Her lips curled in humor as she watched Blair frown. "Actually, I find him rather charming," she baited.

"You know, he's old enough to be your father."

Megan chuckled as Blair took the bait. "Are you jealous, Sandy?"

Blair's eyes widened with a mixed look of shock, indignation and guilt. "Jealous? Me? No!" he exclaimed. "Come on. No. I'm just, uh, I'm concerned, all right? I don't want you falling for an image."

Megan crossed her arms and cocked her head. "Oh, really? Well at least he has one." Megan walked back into the bullpen, not waiting for a response.


Blair watched the Australian detective enter Major Crimes. He struggled to come up with a comeback, but nothing came to mind.

Jim gave Blair a cocky grin as he approached his partner. "Ouch, Chief, that was a shot across the bow."

"Jealous, me? I can't believe she'd even think that."

Jim chuckled. "Let's go, Romeo. We've got to pick up a warrant downtown." He leaned over and pushed the elevator button.

Blair turned to his partner. "Hey, what do you think of my image?"

"Your image?" Jim repeated.

"Be gentle," Blair warned.

"I don't know. Cut your hair. Run for president. I'll vote for you."

"Yeah?" Blair responded. He suddenly felt a surge of satisfaction run through his body. Even though the words were done in jest, there was a hint of warmth in them.


Blair squinted at the print on the paper, trying to read it in the dark. "What's that address again?"

Jim grabbed the paper. With his sentinel vision, the poor light was no problem. "1340 Bridgewater."

Blair looked at the street sign. "Turn, uh, east on Western."

"You sure that's not west on Eastern?"

Blair mimicked Jim's words sarcastically. "You're so funny. Not." He leaned back in the truck seat. "So what's this 'Hydra' thing that Simon's all worked up about?"

"Hydra's a security firm. It's new to the area been here a couple of months. There are already allegations of them being involved in more than just protecting clients."

Blair frowned. "Like what?"

"Possible misuse of client info, maybe even extortion. Simon's been trying to get a man on the inside. If Vince's late pal was onto something, this investigation could catch fire."

Blair started to answer, when the police radio sounded. <211 in progress at 1340 Bridgewater,> the dispatcher said.

Jim clicked on the receiver. "Unit Echo Seven responding. On our way to 1340 Bridgewater."

<Ten-four, Echo Seven,> answered the dispatcher. <All available units, provide backup.>

"That's a coincidence," Blair muttered.

"No kidding, Chief." Within minutes Jim had pulled his truck in front of the house. "This is it," he said, turning off the engine and opening his door. Blair started to open his as well. "Stay close to the radio, okay. Keep your eyes open."

"But...," Blair protested.

"Stay put," Jim repeated emphatically.

Blair was going to continue debating, wanting to point out that Jim hadn't made him stay in the truck for years, but the detective had already left the vehicle, making any argument futile.

Jim left the truck and crossed the front yard. The light from a corner pole lit the lawn. Blair could see Jim cock his head. The guide knew from the action that his partner was listening to the activities inside the house.

Blair watched as Jim neared the front door and pulled his gun, preparing to enter the home.

Jim moved with the stealth of a cat. Suddenly, the curtains hanging in front of a large picture window overlooking the porch caught the guide's attention. They had been pushed aside and then quickly closed. He couldn't see much in the darkness, but it was obvious that someone was watching Jim's approach.

"Jim!" Blair whispered as loudly as he could. His partner didn't respond. Worried that the detective didn't know that someone was lying in wait for him, Blair slipped quietly from the vehicle and ran to the house. As he neared the front porch, he whispered again. "Jim!"

The detective had positioned himself in front of the door, preparing to kick it in. The sound of Blair's whisper seemed to have caught his attention because Jim started to turn towards him. Blair prepared himself to explain why he had ignored Jim's instructions to stay in the vehicle when suddenly his head exploded in pain and his world plunged into total darkness.

Act II