Beta Read by Cheri Allen and Carole Cappe
Written for PetFly by Richard Maxwell
The night was cold and still, the back streets of Cascade silent for the
most part and deserted. Gabe huddled inside his makeshift shelter and reached forward to
pull a candle from his meager belongings then lit it. The small glow dimly lit up the
interior of the large box he currently called home and warmed his face.
Gabe didn't like the city, it was altogether too dark and unfriendly, soulless and he wondered briefly if he'd made a mistake in coming here. Footsteps sounded from the street, approaching Gabe's hideaway and he smiled gently. No mistake then. Everything was as it should be.
The footsteps passed by him then stopped a little further on. Gabe parted the plastic curtain of his shelter and looked out just as a dark-haired teenager expertly broke into a Cadillac parked at the curb. The older man watched silently as a door opened in a building further up the alleyway and three men walked out.
A swarthy heavy-set man dressed in a light brown trench coat spoke to the thin jittery man walking along beside him. A third man, large and angry-looking brought up the rear.
"Well, Walter, I want you to think. That's all you said?" the trench-coated man asked. "He didn't ask you anything else?"
The nervous one shook his head vigorously. "No, and I wouldn't have said anything, but that subpoena spooked me."
The first man nodded, looking sympathetic. "Understandable. Juries can be very intimidating."
"What do I do now?" Walter asked.
Gabe continued to watch as the man in the coat stepped in front of Walter and pulled an envelope from his pocket. "You know, your first instinct was exactly right. Disappear." He handed the envelope to the other man. "It's all there," he added. "Count it."
"I trust you, Mr. Kaplan," the second man said, riffling through the bank notes regardless.
Kaplan touched Walter's shoulder and smiled. "Walter. We're friends, am I right, huh?" He waited until Walter nodded. "I want us to stay friends. Go ahead. Count it."
"Okay." He looked around nervously before pulling the money from the envelope.
Kaplan patted his shoulder. "Relax, Walter. By this time tomorrow you'll be far away from here."
Walter's eyes went wide as the big man standing behind him suddenly dropped a wire garrote around his neck and pulled it tight. The envelope dropped to the ground as his flailing hands went up to his throat trying desperately to pull the choking wire away. Kaplan stepped back a little, and watched with distaste on his broad face as Walter began to gasp for breath.
Gabe frowned sadly and shifted back inside his box-home, blowing out his candle. Sitting in the dark, he heard the sound of a car engine starting up and saw the illumination of headlights through the plastic at his doorway. He poked his head out just as Kaplan turned toward the Cadillac, a look of surprise on his face.
The bigger man pulled Walter to face him and fired a gun twice into his chest. Dropping the lifeless body to the ground, he fired several shots at the car but the teenage thief managed to back the car up and steer it away as bullets ricocheted off of the bodywork. The fishtailing back end of the vehicle slammed into Gabe's shelter, ripping off the plastic curtain and collapsing the box but Gabe was already out.
Standing on the roof of a lobby, he watched undetected as Kaplan ran to the side of the alleyway and pressed himself back against the brick wall, sheltering from the gunfire. The gunman ran to a second car, started it and pursued the fleeing teenager out of the alley. Gabe looked on in silence as Kaplan hurried back to the dead man's side. Reaching down, he fumbled through Walter's pockets and retrieved a wallet then scurried off into the night.
Jim Ellison sighed in exasperation as he pulled up outside the police
station. He looked over at the hyperactive criminal currently occupying the passenger seat
of his truck. "Just sit tight," he instructed Frank. "Keep your hands away
from the glove compartment."
Frank nodded exuberantly. "You got it, man."
"I'll come around," Jim added. "Stay where you are."
Frank grinned happily. "All right."
Jim shook his head and climbed out of the truck, making his way quickly around the rear in case Frank forgot his order and got out anyway. Detective Rafe walked over from the large van they'd confiscated from Jim's prisoner and grinned a little at Frank's antics.
"Rafe, I'm going to escort our guest to booking," Jim told him. "Why don't you take the van to evidence and we'll go through the treasure trove, all right?"
Rafe's smile grew a little wider. "Want a leash?"
Jim grimaced. "More like a muzzle," he quipped. He made his way around to the passenger side and opened the door. Reaching in, he pulled the handcuffed man from the interior. Frank continued to bounce energetically and Jim was starting to feel queasy just watching him.
"Bang! Bang! Bang! The big boys. The big boys tipped you off -- Wal-Mart, Kmart, Martmart," Frank exploded. "They can't handle the competition. I got the lowest prices, the lowest prices. You know what I mean? Mano a mano is what I mean. They can't go mano a mano with me."
Jim led the babbling man toward the police station entrance. "How much speed did you take?"
Frank blinked dazedly at him. "What?"
"Speed?" Jim repeated. "How much?"
Frank shook his head. "I'm just thinking, is all."
"Okay," Jim agreed dubiously.
"I can't stop the train once it's got a full load of coal," Frank rambled. "Whoo! It takes off. You know, it's gone."
Jim was only half-registering Frank's words by now as his enhanced hearing picked up the sound of speeding cars heading in their direction.
Frank was still muttering unawares. "Damn. It's colder than a penguin's ass up here," he said, raising his manacled hands in an attempt to hug his chest. "You ever see a penguin?" but the detective's attention was already on the red car that was careening around the corner, headed straight toward them.
Chaos ensued as the car mounted the curb and terrified people ran for their lives. Jim managed to snag Frank's arms and drag him to safety. The car smashed into the doors of the police station sending shards of glittering glass raining down.
Jim ran toward the car, dragging Frank along with him. He could see the driver slumped over the steering wheel.
Frank shook his head mournfully. "That cat...that cat just lost his deductible. I'm not even an insurance salesman or nothing..." His discourse broke off as Jim shoved him at a uniformed officer.
"Take this guy!" With his hands now free, Jim pulled his weapon and opened the driver's side door quickly.
The driver was a young man, who looked up dazedly at him then scooted over toward the passenger side of the car, both hands raised. "Don't shoot. I'm not carrying! Don't shoot!" he stammered.
Jim holstered his gun then reached in and seized the young man's arm. "Get out of the car! Come on, let's go," he ordered. He pulled the boy around until he faced the car then slapped the roof of the vehicle with a fist. "Hands on the roof."
"Easy, easy, man. Come on. Easy," the teenager muttered.
Jim patted him down for weapons and drugs. He could feel the young man trembling beneath his hands. Turning the teen back to face him, Jim checked him visually for injuries but could see none. The young man's heart was pounding a mile a minute though and sweat beaded his pale face.
Jim grimaced as he exited the elevator with the teenager on one side of
him and the still-talking Frank on the other. The night seemed to be going from bad to
worse. A routine call to check out stolen property had unearthed a seriously stoned Frank
and his van full of plunder. Any thoughts Jim had of collecting Sandburg from where he'd
settled himself at Jim's desk and getting in an early night had then been dashed by the
silent teenager with a racing bent who'd just destroyed the foyer of the PD.
The detective was tired, hungry and pissed off. He'd woken that morning in a somber mood that had only darkened as his long shift went on. Something worried at his thoughts, an intangible, nebulous premonition that he could neither name nor identify. Jim sighed as he tightened his grip on the wriggling Frank. The psychobabble was Blair's territory. Maybe it was just the unsettling effect of the public service strikes that were sending everything in Cascade into chaos.
Frank leaned past him as they walked into the Major Crimes bullpen and smiled at the young boy. "You with me, bro? You with me, huh? Man, you just reached the pinnacle of the expression of your individuality by driving your car through the front of the cop shop, man. This man is a hero!"
The boy scowled at Frank's exuberance then shot Detective Brown a nasty look as he came over to meet them.
"Jim, the captain wants me to take over on Frank," the detective said.
"Good," Jim replied with a sigh of relief. He handed Frank over to Henri's care.
Brown regarded the thief and shook his head. The man was well known to the cops at Major Crimes. "Frank, you still conducting business over on Long Street?"
"No, Frank's gone mobile," Jim supplied. "His chariot awaits you down in evidence. Copy me on everything, won't you?"
Henri shrugged. "I would if the copiers were working."
"Don't tell me. Office services walked, too?"
Henri nodded. "Sanitation, road repairs. The mayor needs to fix this soon."
"No!" Frank interrupted. "No, no, no, no. Strikes are good, man. Strikes are good. You got to... bam!" He slammed a fist into his palm. "You got to crush authority, that's what you gotta do, you know what I'm talking about?"
Brown shook his head and led the other man away toward his desk. "You still crankin', my brother?"
Frank adopted a shocked expression at the question though his glazed eyes suggested an affirmative answer. "Crankin'? Speed? No, man. Hey, hey, no. It's caffeine, baby. It's caffeine. It's legal, affordable and you got a mocha java pusher on every street."
"Frank, shut up."
Jim grinned at Henri's sharp reprimand then turned his attention to the sullen young man still in his care. He led him over to his desk where Blair was bent over a folder, working diligently.
"Is this the young man that's responsible for our remodeling?" Simon Banks asked as he approached them.
Jim nodded. "Yes. Says his name is Johnny Macado. So far, that's all he'll say."
Simon regarded the silent teen sternly. "You know, I hadn't pictured our lobby as a patio. Where were you last summer when the air conditioning went down?"
Johnny glared at the tall police captain. "I get a phone call, right?"
Simon met Johnny's stare with an icy one of his own. "You get one when we give you one, son." He looked at Jim. "I'll have someone else book him in. Right now, I need you to roll on a call. Shots fired on Lincoln Avenue. Megan took the call. It's her first homicide."
Jim straightened and nodded. Connor was not his favorite pick for case partner but he knew he had no choice. "I'll guide her through it, Captain."
Simon grimaced. "Jim, that's guide, not drag."
Jim ignored the pointed comment and tapped Blair on the shoulder. "All right, let's go, Chief. We got a homicide. Get your coat."
Blair pulled his attention away from his work and closed the fabric-covered folder, before stuffing it into his backpack. He stood and retrieved his jacket and bag and followed Jim out the door.
Simon pulled Johnny out of the chair and led him toward his office. "Come on. You're with me."
Jim looked over quickly as Blair chuckled once more then shook his head
and made a notation in his book. "Chief, uh...I got a bit of an alternator problem
here. If you use the light, the battery's going to drain."
Blair took no notice of Jim's comments and continued to scrawl in his notebook. Jim tried again, letting impatience creep into his tone. "Come on. Can we put a pin in it?"
He reached out to switch off the overhead light but Blair grabbed his hand and pushed it away. "No, no, come on, Jim, I'm on a heavy deadline here." He patted the cloth-bound folder on his lap. "If I don't get this introductory chapter into my dissertation to my committee tomorrow, I could lose all my grants."
Jim's curiosity was piqued. "That's your dissertation?"
"I thought we'd agreed I'd read your magnum opus before you sent it in for publication."
"Jim, this is just for peer review," Blair answered, his attention back on his notes. "It's not for publication, and it's only an introductory chapter."
Jim angled his head to try and make out the words on the page. "So I can read the introduction, huh?"
Blair sighed and moved the folder toward his chest, blocking the detective's view. "Jim, look, you're the subject of an ongoing study. If you were to read this before we finished, it would invalidate all our research," he explained. Placing the notes flat on his lap once more, he gave his partner a smile and went back to reading. "Now stop worrying. There's nothing to be afraid of. Actually, some of it's kind of funny." He laughed outright and circled something on the page. "Especially that. I'd love to tell you what it is, but I can't."
Jim glared at him as Blair broke out into delighted laughter. Stymied, the detective turned his attention back to the road. Ahead he could see the flashing lights sitting atop Connor's car. Jim turned into the alleyway and parked the truck. Getting out, the two men walked over to where the Australian detective was crouched next to the blood-spattered body of a man. Jim lifted the tape and let Blair duck beneath it before stepping under it himself.
Connor looked up at their approach and frowned. "Ellison, what are you doing here?" She turned on a smile for Blair. "Hi, Sandy."
Jim grimaced at her. "It's nice to see you, too, Connor. The captain thought we should work together on this. Is there a problem?"
Megan stood up and shook her head. "No problem. I can use the help," she said. She motioned to the body. "I took the anonymous 911 call. Found him like this. No suspect, no witnesses, no wallet."
Jim crouched down beside the dead man. "There's a missing ring," he said, lifting one limp hand toward the light.
Megan nodded. "I noticed. Suggests a mugging. Marks on the throat imply strangulation, probably a wire. And there are two gunshot wounds as well."
Jim called over the forensic photographer. "Hey, Barry, can we get a portrait here?"
Jim noticed that Blair had remained as close to the edge of the tape as possible. Even after three years, the anthropologist was not used to dealing with violent death. If the sentinel had ever thought that riding with the police would harden the younger man to the nastier side of life, he was relieved to know he was wrong.
"I thought when you garrote somebody, it's to kill them quietly," Blair said now, looking at a point over Jim's shoulder. "Why risk the two gunshots?"
"Well, since the mark on the neck is shallow and the victim was shot from the front, it would appear the hit was interrupted. The killer probably figured strangulation was taking too much time and decided to end it with a bullet."
Megan stared at Jim. "You call this a hit?"
"Yeah. It's your basic mob hit, I'd say, yeah."
Jim shrugged, not caring one way or the other what Connor thought. "Glad you like it."
He turned around slowly toward the mouth of the alley. Dialing up his sight, he felt Blair's hand touch the small of his back, grounding him as he extended his senses. The scrape of red paint on the edge of the Dumpster would have been invisible to normal sight. Jim jogged back toward the entrance to the alleyway and knew that Blair was right behind him. The detective pulled his keys from his pocket and took a scraping of the paint.
"Judging by the height I'd say it was a car," he said. He lifted the sample to his nose and sniffed carefully. "It's fresh, lacquer-based."
Blair held out a plastic bag and waited for Jim to drop the paint scraping inside. "You've got to be going pretty quick to hit that thing."
"Yeah." Jim held the bag out to a passing uniformed officer. "Joe? Would you mind running this over to the lab for a complete analysis, please?"
Joe nodded and took the small plastic bag as Jim stood and accompanied Blair back to the truck.
"What do you think this is all about?" Blair asked as he climbed into the passenger seat.
"What it's always about, Chief -- cash money, maybe territory, payback." He turned the key in the ignition then frowned at Blair when the truck refused to start. "That's great, Chief. I hope you're happy now. The battery is DOA."
Blair shot him a weak smile. "I'll check it out," he offered, climbing back out of the truck.
"What are you going to do?" Jim asked in exasperation. The fact that Sandburg's car was always breaking down didn't bolster Jim's confidence in Blair's abilities as a mechanic.
He waited, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel impatiently as Blair lifted the hood. He tensed as he heard Blair's voice, the tone a little high-pitched.
"Hey... whoa! You scared me."
Jim was already climbing out of the truck as an unfamiliar voice answered. "My name is Gabe. I've come to bear witness."
"Bear witness?" Blair was asking. "What are you talking about, man?"
Jim strode to the front of the truck and eyed the man standing there. He was tall but rather thin, his blonde hair unkempt, a light dusting of whiskers on his cheeks. He wore an old overcoat over a stained sweater and threadbare jeans. Blue-tinged fingers peeked out from finger-less gloves.
"What's going on?" Jim asked.
Gabe turned to him and smiled beatifically. "They talked with him with smiling words and yet had met in secret, saying 'when his eyes turn upon our silver, then shall we fall on him.' But the Lord had sent a witness whose feet might yet be brought to righteous paths. His words would be believed."
Jim nodded slowly. "You know, I was just thinking the same thing."
Blair held up a hand silencing a further sarcastic comment from Ellison. "Shh, shh!" He turned to Gabe. "Did you see what happened here tonight?"
"I'm an angel sent to witness him," Gabe replied.
Jim smiled widely. "Oh, you're an angel? Oh, I see. Well, your wings are looking a little raggedy."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Uh, hey. Jim, come here." He pulled the still grinning detective to one side before he spoke again. "You put this angel stuff aside, I think he saw the murder, man."
"Oh, and you think this tower of babble's testimony will hold up in court?" He glanced over at Gabe and stepped forward quickly as the stranger closed the hood of the truck. "Hey, hey, Preacher. Please get away from the car, would you?"
The detective stopped in surprise as the truck's engine growled to life and the headlights flared, illuminating Gabe in an eerie glow. Jim looked at Blair. "What'd you do to the battery?"
Blair shook his head, his mouth hanging open. "I didn't do a thing."
"All right," Jim shook himself and pulled his attention back to the matter at hand. "Why don't you see if you can convince our angel there to accompany us to the station for a chat."
Major Crimes, and indeed it appeared all of Cascade PD, was in chaos by
the time Jim and Blair arrived back with Gabe in tow. Crowds of people, many looking as
derelict and dirty as their angel, milled about the corridors.
Jim looked around in surprise and then spotted Simon heading toward them. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. What is going on here?" he asked the captain.
Simon shook his head, a nerve in his jaw twitching madly as he ushered them into the bullpen. "Social services joined the strike and with all the beds filled up, the mayor has graciously volunteered the police and fire departments to take up the overflow."
Blair patted Simon's shoulder sympathetically. "That is some good karma there, Simon."
Simon frowned at him, unconvinced. "I'm living in this life right now, Sandburg, and, let me tell you, it's a pain in the butt."
All of them looked up as a blues harmonica erupted from the PA system. Jim tried to hide a grin as Blair instantly began to bop to the catchy beat and Simon's patience was exhausted.
"Would someone please get this man off of my PA system?" the captain yelled.
Blair held up his hands in an effort to calm Simon down. "I got it, I got it." He gave Jim a smile before walking off to find the phantom blues performer.
Simon turned his assessing gaze on Gabe. "Is this the witness?"
"Yeah. Sandburg says he is, but the gentleman claims he's an angel." Jim rolled his eyes to indicate what he thought of that.
Gabe smiled at Simon, his eyes lighting up in pleasure. "Hello, brother."
Simon chuckled and patted Gabe's shoulder. "Hello to you. You'll fit right in." He waved an arm about at the people crowding the bullpen. "We have the heir to the throne of Romania and an interplanetary walk-on."
Leading the way through to his office, he paused to admonish an old man who was searching through a waste paper bin. "Sir? No foraging."
Jim stood beside Megan as they ran through the information they had on the
Simon steepled his hands on the desk in front of him. "All right," he began. "What do we have here?"
"A possible mugging."
"Your basic mob hit." Jim grimaced as Connor's reply drowned out his own.
Simon frowned and held up a hand. "One at a time," he ordered.
Jim gestured grandly to Megan who smiled coolly at him then spoke up. "Homicide," she began. "One victim, possible mugging. I'm waiting for forensics and we still don't have the victim ID'd."
Jim stared at her. "Is that it?" he asked.
"After you," Megan sniffed.
Jim turned back to Simon. "The victim was strangled, sir -- possibly wire. Shot through the chest -- something like a nine mil. There was evidence of vehicles at the scene plus Sandburg's, uh, witness."
"What witness?" Connor interjected but Simon was speaking now.
"Sounds like we're dealing with a professional hit. Jim, I want you to run point on this one. My spider senses are tingling. I'll get his photo search started through DMV."
Jim nodded and was about to leave but Megan spoke up again. "Excuse me, sir. But I'm the primary on this homicide. I took the call."
"Look, Connor, you still need to be run through this department's homicide procedures," Simon replied. "Your past few cases have been, shall we say, a little too improvised."
Jim chuckled softly but sobered when Connor shot him an icy glare. She pasted a smile on her face and looked back at Simon. "Oh, I see," she answered, nodding. "We're playing by Rafferty's rules."
Simon shook his head and reached for his cigar case. "No, by my rules."
Connor shrugged. "Same diff," she said haughtily before spinning on her heel and stalking from the room.
Jim gave the captain a puzzled look. The Australian was harder to understand than Sandburg. "Who's Rafferty, sir?"
Megan Connor made her way down to the evidence lock-up, still fuming over
Ellison's one-upmanship. Brown and Rafe were there going through the booty in Frank's van.
Rafe greeted her as she walked in.
"Connor. What's up?"
Megan followed the detective around to the back of the van. "I'm investigating a homicide on East Lincoln. Detective Ellison mentioned a witness. Either of you see him bring anyone in?"
Rafe shook his head as Brown passed him a large painting from the van. "No. We've been down here."
Megan eyed the artwork thoughtfully. "Didn't a couple of Jackson Pollack's go missing last week?"
"That's a forgery -- a lame one," Rafe replied, placing the print to one side.
Brown nodded his agreement. "I got a better-looking drop cloth than that."
Brown continued to root through the items still in the back of the van. An ominous growl from the shadowed recesses of the van made him freeze. Rafe and Connor stepped back as Brown let out a startled yelp and jumped from the van followed closely by a large reptile. The animal snaked its way between Henri's legs and took off rapidly down the hallway. The three cops took off in pursuit but the alligator disappeared into a nearby ventilation shaft.
Brown skidded to a halt and stared at the others. "Hey! What was that?"
"What was Frank doing with an alligator?" Rafe asked, his features rather pale in the harsh glare of the overhead lights.
Brown shrugged and kept a watchful eye on the entrance to the shaft. "Must be his idea of a watch dog," he quipped.
Megan crouched down by the opening and listened for a moment. "I don't hear him." She looked up as a uniformed officer approached. "Can I borrow your flashlight, please? Thanks."
Switching the flashlight on, Megan aimed its beam into the mouth of the shaft. Outlined in the glow, the alligator turned its beady eyes toward them and growled.
"Megan, be careful!" Rafe grabbed her arm and pulled her back with a shout as the alligator lunged toward them. Megan squealed and threw herself backward, landing hard on her butt and sending Rafe to the ground beside her. She watched nervously as Henri leaned in and took another look.
"It's gone further in," Henri said, sitting back on his haunches. He shook his head. "I don't believe this. That thing's got to be at least nine feet long."
"Its teeth are nine feet long," Megan amended as she stood and dusted herself off. She shuddered as she heard the alligator moving around in the shaft. "I'll notify Captain Banks," she said, eager to beat a hasty retreat. "You two stay here and keep an eye on it."
Henri nodded. "Okay, sure but I'm doing it from way over there, man."
"Here you go."
Kaplan shook his head angrily as the waitress placed his drink in front of him. "Damn it," he swore. "I asked for a single-malt scotch. You know, the oldest thing in this bar shouldn't be you, honey."
The waitress barely blinked an eye at the insult. "Oh, drop dead, you jerk."
Kaplan looked up as Smallwood slid onto the barstool next to him. "Hey, are you ever on time? Did you take care of it?" he asked the big man.
Smallwood shook his head. "No, but I know where he is. Police headquarters."
"He's probably given a statement already."
"Relax," Smallwood replied. "He's up to his eyeballs in his own stew right now. That dumb-ass drove your Cadillac right through the precinct's front window."
Kaplan sighed dramatically. "That's just perfect. And you're telling me I should relax?"
"Yeah." Smallwood toyed with a coaster on the bar. He picked up a chip out of the bowl in front of him and studied it for a moment before tossing it back. "I made a couple of calls and checked it out. The kid's up for grand theft auto, reckless driving, destruction of public property. He's in their lockup. A jail's the easiest place there is to lay on a hit. You just make sure our alibis are airtight. Leave the kid to me."