Megan started as they pulled to a halt across the street from the
restaurant that she'd visited the previous night, then shook her head minutely. It had to
be a coincidence.
Sandwiched between the two Americans in the front seat of Ellison's truck, she dug into her bag and pulled out a small set of binoculars. The observer had a big camera in his hands and was fitting the telephoto lens on to it. Jim was just looking across the street. She wondered how he expected to see anything, then shrugged. He'd ID'd the one man from a far distance. Maybe his vision was just really good.
Hmmm. She'd heard about aborigines that could see really far, beyond any real possibility, but no one really believed the stories. Maybe...? Probably not. Tabling the idea, she focused on the meeting in front of her.
"Popular place," Ellison commented, nodding toward the full parking lot. Sandburg, on her other side, looked up from his camera.
"Yeah," he said. "I know this place. It specializes in curries. It's actually pretty authentic."
Perfect for Bruenell, then, Megan thought, starting to scan the restaurant. Ellison stiffened beside her.
"Looks like we've got another player," the American detective announced. Megan moved the binoculars further until she found the men they were tailing. They were sitting at a table with a fourth, and she suppressed a gasp as she recognized him. Her leads had been right. Bruenell had come to Cascade.
"Smile," Sandy crooned beside her as he began to take pictures of the four men. Ellison was just sitting there, and finally she couldn't take it any longer. "Jim," she said, repeating herself when she got no response. Finally he turned and looked at her.
"Don't you think one of us should go in and suss it out?"
The American shook his head. "No, it's too risky."
He cut her off. "No. Just sit tight."
She suppressed a growl, then looked around, her mind working quickly. Ah-ha! "Well, I don't suppose you'd object if I used the ladies' at the petrol station across the road."
Jim sighed. "All right. Well, make it quick. If these guys break it up, we're going to have to roll. Let her out, Chief."
The observer did, tossing a cheery 'Have fun' after her as he slid back into the truck. She did growl at that, and he laughed, then closed the truck door. She headed for the petrol station, then turned to look at the truck. Both men's attention was firmly on the restaurant and she smiled to herself, then cut across the street. If the Yanks wouldn't find out what was being said in there, she would.
She slipped into the restaurant, planning to duck down the hall leading to the bar and come up behind Bruenell so he wouldn't have a chance to recognize her. Unfortunately, he turned to signal the waiter just as she came through the door, catching sight of her and freezing for a moment. Then he went for his gun.
In immediate reaction, she pulled hers, ducking out of the way as bullets flew at her, then returning fire. She was handicapped by the civilians - he wasn't. This wasn't going at all to plan.
But then, nothing involving Bruenell ever had.
Blair's soft whistle of amazement pulled Jim's attention from the
discussion of C-4 occurring in the restaurant. He followed Blair's gaze and swore as he
opened the truck door. "I'm going to crate her up and ship her to the outback,
Blair muttered agreement as they crossed the street. Both men ducked as gunfire erupted within the building and Jim growled an order for Blair to stay down as he pushed the door open. "Wait out here," he said to Blair, who nodded, wide-eyed.
Slipping through the door, Jim scanned the interior of the restaurant, noting the overturned tables and people kneeling on the floor, their faces white with shock. Suddenly he spotted the fourth man at the meeting, who was leveling a gun at Megan as she was reloading her own weapon. "Drop it!" he said sharply, his own gun aimed at the man.
He snarled, whirling and ducking out the open door behind him and exiting the restaurant. Jim charged after him, the Australian right behind him, but they were too late. A car pulled away, its tires squealing as it rounded a corner just as Jim fired at the vehicle. He stood for a moment, staring after the car, then turned to go inside. "Let's go," he ordered, not looking at the woman who stood beside him.
She followed him without arguing, which was a good thing. He was already angry enough with her.
Blair stood on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, lights flashing from
the squad cars parked on the street. He looked over his shoulder as a particularly loud
bellow came from the building, then moved a little farther away. Rafe grinned at him.
"A little loud for you, Sandburg?"
Blair grimaced at the detective. "Let's just say I'm glad it's not me he's yelling at," he replied with feeling.
Rafe laughed. "Yeah, me too." He whistled as a bright pink car came around the corner. "Would you look at that?"
Blair shook his head in amazement, then frowned as the car pulled to a stop. "Wait a minute," he said slowly. "That's the captain."
The door opened and Blair couldn't resist. "Hey," he called. "If it isn't Huggy Bear!"
Rafe chuckled beside him. "Nice, Captain."
Simon glared at them as he got out of the car. Blair grinned back unrepentantly.
"This is a great car!"
The captain growled. "Save it, Sandburg! It was the only car left in the motor pool, all right? Where's Ellison?"
Blair pointed at the restaurant. "He's inside. You can't hear him?"
Another bellow emerged and Simon sighed, then headed into the building. Blair trailed after him, not really wanting to be in range of an angry sentinel, but needing to know what was happening. Jim's face was almost purple with rage.
"I'm the officer in charge and I'll tell you when to move, all right? What the hell were you thinking?!"
Megan glared back at him defiantly. "You gave me no choice. Someone had to come in here and find out what was going on!"
Jim snorted. "So, why did they break out the artillery?"
"I don't know."
Blair fought the urge to duck and run for cover at Jim's outraged yell. Beside him, Simon took a deep breath, then let it out in a bellow of his own.
"Detectives! Not here, not now! My office, one hour!" He turned on his heel and walked out of the restaurant, both cops staring after him in surprise.
Megan recovered first. "I'll get my own ride back," she spat, then turned and walked toward the other door. Jim watched her go for a moment, then shook his head.
"Great," he muttered. "Why don't you, uh, just keep going right across the Pacific, sweetheart?" Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his cell phone and flipped it open, punching the zero. "Hi, operator, I need the international area code for Sydney, Australia."
Blair rolled his eyes. "What are you doing, Jim -- calling her mom?"
Jim looked at him, then blinked. "That's not a bad idea," he said, waving a finger at Blair. The grad student groaned. Jim might just do it, in the mood he was in.
Jim knocked on Simon's office door, waiting until he heard the captain say
enter before opening the door and walking into the office, Blair on his heels.
"Captain," he said quietly, his eyes flickering over the Australian woman seated
in one of the straight backed chairs.
Simon looked up from his desk, his eyes tired. "Gentlemen," he acknowledged. "Inspector Connor informs me that Cassidy and his pals drew down on her because Cassidy made the three of you during your surveillance."
Jim stiffened. "Is that so?"
Simon nodded. "Now I've reminded the inspector she's to follow your instructions to the letter. She's assured me that she will do that, so as far as I'm concerned, the air is clear."
"Not for me, sir." Jim placed the paper he'd been carrying on Simon's desk. "This just came in from the New South Wales Police."
Simon looked down at it, then frowned. "Who's Scott Bruenell?"
Jim ignored the sudden increase in Megan Connor's heart rate. "He is the one who was meeting Cassidy and the others at the curry house."
The police captain frowned at Jim's words. "How'd you ID this guy so fast?"
"Well, we didn't, sir. It was Megan's boss in Sydney," Blair chimed in and Jim nodded agreement.
"It seems as though Bruenell and Connor have quite a history."
Simon turned to look at Megan. "Is that so? Inspector, would you care to explain this?"
She looked up, her expression subdued, and Jim bit back a surge of sympathy. From what the woman's lieutenant had said, this guy had done a number on Connor. If it had been him, he'd have wanted to nail him to the wall, too.
Megan took a deep breath before speaking. "Last year in Sydney," she said slowly, "Scott Bruenell blew up a bridge while a payroll transport was crossing. The truck fell into the river where Bruenell and his crew were waiting in diving suits, and he escaped with two million Australian dollars."
Blair nodded. "Right, right. I remember reading about that. Yeah. A bunch of people died."
Megan looked at him sadly. "The truck's guards and four motorists who were on the bridge when it went down." She switched her gaze back to Simon. "I was lead investigator, and Bruenell made it personal: threatening phone calls, shots fired through my window. He even tampered with the brakes on my car. Despite all our efforts we failed to build sufficient evidence against Bruenell. When he disappeared, I was instructed to let it go." She sighed. "I couldn't."
Simon let out his breath slowly. "How did you know Bruenell would be in Cascade?"
"I traced him," she admitted. "On my own time. When I heard about the officer exchange program, I volunteered."
"You lied to us."
She nodded in response to the captain's blunt words. "Yes, I did. But you've got to understand. Bruenell is a clever, meticulous psychopath and he's not afraid of the cops. Whatever he's planning, he still intends to go through with it."
"I'll tell you what I understand," Simon replied, standing up. "As of this moment, your visiting officer status with this department is terminated until I have a chance to speak with your superiors."
Her eyes flickered briefly, then steadied. "Yes, sir."
"That'll be all."
There was absolute silence in the office as Megan rose and left, closing the door behind her, then Blair shook his head. "Guys, come on," he said, his voice troubled. "I mean, so what? So she made it personal. Jim, how many times have you done that?"
"Save it, Chief. I didn't lie about it."
Blair stared at him in disbelief. "Oh, come on, you haven't twisted the truth when it suited you? Guys, she followed this guy halfway across the world on her own time. I mean, you at least have to admire her determination and think about it, if she's right, Bruenell's up to something big. She knows how he works, how he thinks... I mean, I'm not a cop, or anything, but if you ask me she's our best bet to catch him."
If he were even half honest... Jim sighed. "Sir, the kid's got a point."
Simon grumbled, but nodded reluctantly. "All right, here's what I want you to do. I want you to escort her majesty back to her hotel, remove her car rental keys from her possession and you tell her to stay there until she hears from me personally."
"Very good, Captain."
Jim turned and left the office, pulling Blair with him to keep the grad student from saying anything further. Simon hated being lied to, even if it was for a good cause. It would take him a while to calm down. Meanwhile, he wanted to catch Megan before she made it out of the building. There was no telling what trouble she'd get into on her own.
He smiled to himself. She was almost as bad a trouble magnet as Sandburg, apparently. He almost shared that thought with Blair, then thought better of it. It was his guide's turn to cook dinner, after all.
Jim turned the wheel, casually glancing over at the woman in between
himself and Blair as he did so. He had to admit, she was taking her suspension with grace.
His eyes narrowed as he pulled into a parking spot in front of Megan's hotel. Maybe too
Turning off the ignition, he swung his legs out of the truck, standing up and closing the door as Megan and Blair rounded the front of the vehicle and joined him on the sidewalk. The Aussie shook her head, red hair glinting in the sunlight as she frowned.
"We're wasting time, boys. Bruenell is out there somewhere."
Definitely too much grace, Jim thought as Blair asked where she thought they should look for him. She shrugged.
"The one lead I had was his weakness for Indian food."
"I doubt that he'll be shoveling curry again anytime soon," Jim commented, catching Megan's rueful look of agreement as she placed a hand on Blair's shoulder.
"By the way, Sandy," she said, "I appreciate you sticking up for me with Banks."
Blair smiled, the expression a bit strained. "Ah, that's no problem, but... could you do me a favor and not call me Sandy? Nobody calls me that."
"As you like it, Chief," Megan said casually and Jim felt his smile of amusement at Blair's new nickname disappear. It was strange, hearing someone else call Blair 'Chief". He didn't think he liked it.
"No need to walk me in," Megan continued. "I'll wait to hear from you, right?"
"Right," Jim said absently, still mulling over the nickname thing. She walked over to the hotel, tossing a wave over her shoulder as she pulled the door open and went inside. Blair was already in the truck and Jim turned to get in, pushing the thoughts out of his head. It was just a word, after all.
Starting the truck, he pulled away, idly listening to Blair ramble on about his latest bunch of students. He drove about three blocks, then turned into a convenience store and headed back to the hotel. Pulling the truck to a stop across the street, he waited. If he was right...
"What are we doing?" Blair asked.
"Just playing the odds," Jim replied, scanning the area, nodding to himself as he saw Megan Connor in the side door of the hotel. "And it just paid-off."
Blair let out an exasperated sigh as he spotted the woman as she hailed a taxi. Jim just smiled - he had been right. It was what he would have done, actually. He was developing a grudging respect for the Aussie cop, despite his anger with her.
Looking a bit past Megan, he stiffened as he saw Bruenell sitting in a car. A second man in the car was handing him a gun. Throwing the door open, he jumped out of the truck. "Connor! Look out!" he yelled.
She jumped and looked behind her, ducking behind the taxi as Bruenell's car drove past, the criminal firing at her repeatedly. The cab's window shattered and Jim could hear the cabby yelling in shock and anger. The car passed the cab, then sped away, Megan firing after it. She swore as she hit only the back window before it was too far away. Jim blinked as he crossed the street. The woman had quite a mouth. Some of those he was going to have to look up.
"You all right?" he asked as they reached Megan's side. She nodded, holstering her weapon.
Blair looked around, his heart racing. "Oh, man, that was close!" he exclaimed. "I don't see anybody hurt."
Jim pulled out his phone, handing it to Blair. "Call it in, Chief. You know the drill: car description, location..."
"Got it, got it."
Blair moved away to make the call and Jim turned to Megan. "You're a piece of work, Connor. The airport, curry house, now your hotel?"
Her eyes narrowed, then she shrugged. "Thank you, Detective."
"I'm not really ready for sarcasm right now," he replied. "Is it some Aussie anti-American plot to overthrow Cascade or something?"
She sighed. "I mean thank you. If you hadn't mistrusted me, I'd have been killed. This is like the restaurant. Bruenell wouldn't have blinked if half a dozen bystanders had died here. I'm sure you understand why I've got to get this guy, even if it means bending rules."
He laughed. "Bending. That's relative, Connor."
She smiled as Blair handed him back the phone.
"The crime scene unit's on its way and I talked to dispatch and they're setting out a lookout for that car, but nobody's seen it yet."
Jim frowned as he pocketed the device. "He's got a good game. Just wish we knew what game he was playing. Come on." He gestured toward the truck, including Megan. He just knew Simon would want to see her.
Across town, Bruenell and two of his associates were making their way into Substation Two of the Cascade Power and Electric Company. The guard they had to shoot didn't matter in the slightest, as long as they did what they planned to do.