Act IV

Simon glared at the phone in his hand, then slammed it down onto the receiver, unwilling to listen another time to the 'all lines are busy' message. He looked up as a voice came over the radio Rhonda had dug up from somewhere and plugged in. He recognized the voice - it was the power station supervisor he'd been trying to contact.

"...explosions, Captain," the man said, coughing. "Each one damaged the generators."

Simon depressed the broadcast switch. "Do you have any idea when power might be restored?"

"That depends on how soon we can reroute and switch over. Maybe an hour, maybe 12."

Simon sighed unhappily. "All right. I have an investigation team on their way to you now. They're all I can spare. Our lines here are jammed. I've got detectives directing traffic."

The supervisor acknowledged, then signed off to go help with the repairs. Simon picked up the phone again, scowling at the too familiar message, then walked into the dark bullpen. His people were doing their best, he knew, but... He'd be a lot happier if the power had gone out from natural causes. Something in him just knew that this had to do with the case Ellison and Connor were on.

"All right, everyone, can I have your attention, please? Come on. Let's listen up." His detectives quieted and looked at him. "Now, apparently, City Power Substation number two has been sabotaged. They don't know how long it's going to take to get it back up. Could be an hour, could be much longer. So here's the drill. Any of you who are not manning phones, I need you out on the street now. Let's try to keep some order around here."

Glad for the direction, people moved. Simon watched for a minute, then headed back into his office, stopping in the door to look over his shoulder. "Damn it, somebody get me Ellison or Inspector Connor on the phone!" He walked into his office, pulling the door closed behind him. He needed some coffee. God, I hate power outages, he thought, looking longingly at the quiet, empty coffee-maker. And without the air filter, he couldn't have a cigar, either. If this is Bruenell, Ellison better nail him!

Finally! Jim pushed the door to the parking garage open, Blair and Megan following him through it and toward the truck. He noticed idly that Megan wasn't breathing hard from the long climb down. Blair wasn't either, but he'd expected that. The grad student took stairs more often than not these days anyway.

"With all the traffic lights out, how are we going to do this?" Blair walked around to the other side of the vehicle, his eyes serious. "It's going to be gridlocked out there."

Jim shrugged. "We'll get as far as we can in the truck."

"We may do better on foot."

The sentinel shook his head at Megan's comment as he unlocked the truck. "No, no. Bad idea. Look, I'll drive on the sidewalk if I have to."

As they got in the truck, Jim caught a glimpse of Blair's face. It clearly read 'So, what else is new?' Fortunately, the anthropologist kept the comment to himself.

The nervous security guards jumped as a knock came on the Mint door. Exchanging glances by flashlight, they walked over to the door. A voice came through.

"Cascade Power field crew. Your back-up generator's down."

The older guard snorted. "Yeah. No kidding." He reached out and unlocked the door, peering through it, then relaxing as he spotted familiar uniforms.

"You're our top priority grid. We'll have you up and running quick as we can."

The guard nodded, then opened the door wider. "Bring it in," he said, nodding toward the repair case one of the men was carrying. The three repairmen walked in, their chief smiling at the guards.

"Okay, boys," he said pleasantly. "Auxiliary generator's in the basement, right?"

"Right through there," the guard confirmed, leading the way down the corridor. "We heard there was an explosion at the substation. How'd that happen?"

The chief repairman laughed, his pleasant tone suddenly turning ugly. "We blew it up."

A stabbing pain went through the guard's skull and he fell to the ground, his last sight before blacking out the prone body of his companion.

Bruenell waited impatiently as the two guards were secured, then turned and headed down the hall as his two associates followed, carrying the case. After a moment, they reached the vault room. The case set down, the man opening it looked up at the safe and whistled. "'s a big one."

"How long?" Bruenell asked sharply.

The safecracker shrugged. "Oh...half hour, 45 max."

The third man hooked up a generator and they all blinked in the sudden brightness. Hooking up his computer to the safe's lock, the safecracker cocked his head at the third man. "Ready with the torch?"

"Right," he was answered. "You let me know when."

He shrugged again, watching as his computer booted up. "Shouldn't be long."

He was right. Only about half an hour had passed when he hissed in triumph. "That's it. The computer will override the alarm sensors. You could nuke the baby and the alarm would still be sending out an all's well."

Bruenell watched his lips curved in a smile, as the third man began cutting through the safe wall. Soon they had the lock circled and pulled the door open. Bruenell walked in, followed by the other two, who immediately started shoveling huge stacks of bills into bags they pulled out of the case. He looked at them in disdain, careful to hide the emotion, then walked further in. What he was looking for should be... Ah-ha! There it was.

Pocketing his goal, he turned and entered the main vault. The other two looked up at him in surprise. The safecracker shook his head.

"The only thing back there are federal bonds. Too easy to trace."

"Who cares about them?" the other snorted. "We got a good $20 million here."

Bruenell smiled thinly. "There's a second guard shift due soon. I'm going to check the hallway. Meet me in front." They nodded, their attention fixed on the money in their hands as he exited the vault. Neither of them noticed which way he went. He hadn't thought they would, after all. But it was always nice to be right.

Jim groaned as they inched forward another tiny bit, the angry or worried voices of the drivers around them beating at him. Horns blared, and he wondered, not for the first time, what good the people blaring them thought it would do. Abruptly he made a decision.

"We're not going to move any faster. This is the end of the line, folks. It's about four blocks away. You got your wish, Connor. We're going the rest of the way on foot."

He pulled the keys from the ignition and they got out, abandoning the truck in the middle of the traffic. Jim fully expected that he'd find it still there when they were done. Cascade in a gridlock just didn't move.

Arriving outside the mint, Jim stopped and signaled that there was a man waiting in the van ahead. They retreated a few steps, then quickly made a plan. It worked beautifully. Megan distracted the lookout just long enough for Jim to knock the gun out of his hand and drag him out of the van before he could send an alarm. Pushing him against the side of the van, he growled in his face. "Where are they?"

The perp sneered at him. "You want to arrest me? You go ahead."

Jim just smiled, stepping back slightly. "You want to talk to him, Connor?"

He watched in amazed amusement as Megan kneed the man in the groin, holding him upright as he tried to curl around the pain. "Where's Bruenell?" she demanded. "Where is he?"

"All right," Jim said, moving in again. "Easy, easy, easy." Looking at the groaning man, he said pleasantly, "And that's her nice side. You want to deal with her or you want to deal with me?"

The man gasped for breath, then choked out a few words. "They're inside, in the vault."

"Very nice," Jim crooned. "We have a nice parting gift for you to show you there's no hard feelings. Open the door." As the man complied, he pulled out his cuffs, securing the man around the door. He turned and signaled for Blair to join them, then they headed for the building. Behind them, the injured man sank to the ground, moaning. Jim thought he should probably feel sympathy, but somehow, he just didn't.

As they neared the front of the Mint, he looked at Megan and Blair. "They can still be here, so be careful. Stay behind me." Blair nodded, but Megan growled at him.

"No. You stay behind me."

She stared at him in challenge, her eyes bright. He looked back for a moment, then nodded and stepped aside slightly. This was her hunt. She grinned like the wolf she was, then went through the door cautiously. He followed, his senses alert.

Shortly inside, Megan almost stumbled over the first guard, then spotted the second. Jim bent down, checking for a pulse. He already knew they were alive, but how could he tell Megan that? "This guy's been cold cocked," he announced. "He's out, but he'll be all right. See what you can do here, Chief."

As Blair nodded, then pulled out his pocketknife and began sawing at the guards' bonds, Megan looked around. "So, where's the vault?" she asked.

Jim listened for a moment, then smiled ferally. "It's that way. I hear a portable generator." He walked in the direction he'd indicated, ignoring Megan's muttered question. She wanted to know how he did things, huh? They'd have to think of something to tell her, he knew. Just not now. "Come on," he said impatiently, waiting at a corner. She trailed after him, shaking her head for a moment, then became focused on the job at hand as they climbed a flight of stairs.

As they rounded a second corner, Jim stilled, holding up a finger to warn Megan. They could hear the men ahead talking. From the sounds of things they seemed pretty happy. Jim frowned. He only heard two voices, two heartbeats. There should be three.

"Wait for my signal," he breathed to Megan. She nodded and he moved closer, ghosting past the door to the vault room, then gestured for her to join him on the other side. She moved closer, then froze as her cell phone rang. He grimaced as she shut it off quickly, but it was too late. The damage had been done.

"Damn," he heard. "We got company."

"Cascade police!" Jim yelled. "Drop your weapons!" He aimed and fired, ducking behind the door as the two men fired back. The generator shut off, plunging the area into darkness. "Stay back," he muttered to Megan.

"Give me the goggles," one of the perps said to the other, and Jim groaned. He'd have to end this fast.

"They got night vision goggles," he hissed to Megan, then stepped into the doorway, counting on his vision to give him the advantage even over the goggles. He could clearly see the two men, one fumbling with the equipment. He fired, taking that one out first, then downed the other. Calling to Megan, he moved into the room, his gun ready. As they neared the wounded men, the lights flickered, then steadied, and the hum of air conditioning kicked in.

"They've restored the power," Megan said, then moved closer to the men Jim had shot. "Where's Bruenell?" She narrowed her eyes as they just stared at her. "He left you to take the rap and you want to save his ass? Where'd he go?"

Jim's phone rang and he pulled it out, answering it as the first man sighed. "He said he'd meet us out front. You should've seen him."

<Where the hell are you, Ellison?>

Simon's annoyed voice came over the line and Jim grimaced. "We're at the Mint, sir. We're going to need an ambulance. We've got three of them, but we can't find Bruenell. Got it. All right." He hung up, then looked at Megan. "They got two cruisers on the way." He shrugged. "No telling how long they'll be, though."

She nodded acknowledgement, frowning. "I don't get it. These guys were taking the money to the van. Why would he go the opposite way?"

An unfamiliar voice answered weakly and Jim looked up to see Blair standing in the hall next to one of the Mint's guards. The man staggered, then steadied himself. "He might not have been after the money," he said hoarsely. "There were three sets of engraving plates in that vault -- there was a 20, a 50 and a hundred. They're worth more than all the money that's in this place."

Jim took in a deep breath. With those plates, Bruenell could... He growled, hearing a similar sound from Megan. The man could do just about anything.


Act V