Act II

Jim and Simon walked down the hall, ducking around aimlessly wandering crowds of people. Simon indicated the file on Johnny Macado that Jim carried.

"As you can see he's not a hardened criminal. Those are all minor offenses. But the kid wasn't just out joyriding. See that slip of paper? We found that on him."

Jim studied the slip of paper attached to the folder. "So he's got a chop shop. These are all spare parts."

He nodded brusquely at Megan Connor as she and Henri Brown met them and accompanied them into the bullpen. Connor gave Jim a terse nod before turning to Simon.


"Yeah. How's it going?"

Megan sighed. "So far, not so good, but we think the alligator is still in the ventilation system."

Simon looked up at the ceiling nervously and Jim found it difficult to stifle a grin. "How big did you say that thing was?"

"Captain, can't we just get the mayor to give us a couple of animal control boys, break the walkout so they can come and help us out?" Brown asked hopefully.

"Banks, if your people can find a felon in a city of two million people, you can find a lizard in your damn building." Simon did a reasonable imitation of the mayor's voice. "That's a direct quote."

"That's a good mayor." Jim let the grin show on his face. "I don't know why you're all worrying. This gator's probably just catching some z's. You know, keeping warm."

"Actually, if he was warm, he'd be more active. And you don't have to worry, Captain, although he's in the shaft, the alligator can't climb up any further. His legs are too short. He's still in the basement, just too far in for anyone to reach him." As the three men stared quizzically at her, Connor shrugged. "My brother and I used to go croc spotting with my uncle a few times."

"Croc spotting," Brown repeated, affecting an up-market English accent.

"Croc spotting," Simon repeated, joining in. All three men chuckled as Megan glared at each of them in turn.

"You know, Connor, offhand, I'd say that you were the perfect person for this job," Simon said when he'd recovered some of his composure. He patted the Australian's shoulder. "Congratulations."

Megan's mouth opened and closed a few times before she managed to get her protest out. "But, Captain... "

Putting as much authority into his voice as he could, considering the bizarre happenings of the evening, Simon continued. "You're in charge, Connor. Find me the alligator."

Leaving a flabbergasted Connor and a chuckling Henri in their wake, Jim and Simon continued up the hallway toward the interrogation rooms. Simon tapped on the Macado file in Jim's hands.

"Oh, hey, open that up. Open that up. You should see whose car the kid lifted."

Jim did so and quickly perused the first page. "Charles Kaplan. The defense attorney?"

"Yeah." Simon snorted. "Almost makes him a hero."

Jim could only agree. Charles Kaplan was known as a dirty player in the world of law. Rumors were that he had mob connections and he was suspected of accepting bribes from the people he defended. Handing Simon the file, Jim entered the first interrogation room and prepared to question the young man seated sullenly at the table.

Jim studied the silent Macado. Dialing up his senses, he could hear the young man's heart racing, see the sweat that beaded his upper lip and the fine tremor in his fidgeting hands. He tried to reach Johnny again.

"It's not you we're after. We're after the people that you work for. So you give us names, you walk with probation. That's how it works."

Johnny glared back. "You think I'm going to sell my friends out for a deal like that?"

"Your friends? Let me ask you something. What kind of friend would get you into this?"

Johnny snorted, the derision evident on his face. "You must live on the rich side of town."

"Yeah, that's me."

"Do I get my phone call? I've got to call my mom."

Jim stood and walked to the door. "We tried. She wasn't there."

"She's at the hospital. She works there."

Jim regarded the teenager soberly. "You sure? If she's sick, we'll call social services."

Bristling at the words, Johnny straightened in his chair and glared at Ellison. "Hey, you leave those pendejos out of this. All they do is make trouble. The only thing that helps is a little cash to tide mom over." He sighed and stared down at the table. "You got to send me away, you do it. Just don't try to con me that you care."

Stepping back to the table, Jim pushed the phone over to Johnny. "You want to make a phone call, go ahead. Call your mom. Ask her what she thinks."

Simon had sent Blair off to phone around the town's various shelters and charitable organizations for assistance while waiting for Gabe to write up his witness report. The captain waved the young man in when he knocked on the office door.

"Hey, Simon, I called every shelter in town. No luck. But the Sisters of Hope said they'd send over some hot meals."

Simon nodded, pleased to have some progress made. "Oh, great. Why not have them set up in the break room?"

"Okay." Blair hovered for a moment, crinkling the paper in his hands.

Simon looked up from his paperwork. "Something else?"

"Uh... yeah. Actually, there is. I want you take a look at this." Blair held out the slightly crumpled sheet of paper. "This is Gabe's witness report."

Simon squinted at the page then turned it upside down before scowling at Sandburg. "What the hell is this? Is this a real language?"

Blair smiled. "Yeah. I actually had to look it up in a couple different books. It's Aramaic. Now no one's spoken this form of Aramaic for over 1,500 years. It's an ancient Biblical language. A lot of the Old Testament was written in it."

Simon gaped at him. "Biblical?" He handed the report back to the anthropologist. "Come on, Blair, you don't think Gabe is some sort of..."

"Angel?" Blair finished for him. "Uh, no. No. Of course not. But supposed states of possession, angelic or otherwise are common in some cultures. The Yoruba, the Siberian Yakut. Or as a coping mechanism for modern street people."

Simon could see the excitement bubbling up in the anthropologist as he warmed to his subject. This was Blair's field, and the younger man's vast knowledge impressed him as it often did but right now he needed facts, not romantic theories.

He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose then picked up a pen and scrawled his signature on an official looking form before handing it to Blair. "All right, look, here's an authorization form. Why don't you go down to missing persons and see what you can find out? We're gonna need to know the guy's name to go to court."

"Okay, sure."

Simon's phone rang and he answered it brusquely, dismissing Blair with a wave of his hand as he did so. "Banks. Brown, this is not the time for a news crew to be running around the station. Now we've got the..."

He groaned as the PA system started up again, the soulful warbling of a blues singer echoing through the office. He tried to concentrate on Brown's voice over the noise. "They already know about it? Oh, damn. No. I'll handle it."

Simon found himself suddenly caught up in the tune as he hung up the phone. The singer was mournfully bemoaning a stogie and memories dying. He shook his head. "I couldn't have said it better myself. Wait a minute!"

The captain strode to the office door and wrenched it open. "Will somebody please get Howlin' Wolf off of my PA system!" he roared to anyone in the vicinity. Feeling decidedly put-upon, he slammed his door, gaining some satisfaction as the glass rattled in the frame.

It wouldn't hurt to just take a quick look, would it? The dissertation was essentially about him, after all. Jim eyed Sandburg's thesis speculatively then stood abruptly and walked quickly over to where the fabric-covered binder sat on the opposite desk. He opened the cover and took out the small notebook from inside. A simple, typewritten label announced the contents - 'The Sentinel: Genetics, Mythology and Ontology of our Tribal Protectors by Blair Sandburg.' Feeling somewhat uncomfortable and not entirely sure why, Jim put the book inside his jacket and headed to the men's room.

He was certain he'd left it right here on the desk when he'd been called away to take Gabe's statement. Blair riffled frantically through the items on the desk, his concern mounting when he could only find the binder for his introductory chapter and no notebook inside. Pulling out the desk drawers, he shuffled through the pens and notepaper inside. Shoving the drawer shut, he stood for a moment, mentally retracing his steps. Maybe he'd dropped it on the way upstairs. Maybe he'd left it in the truck after all.

A commotion from the hallway caught his attention and he looked up in time to see several people loaded with cameras and microphones hurry past. The press was here to film the alligator in the ventilation shaft. With his stomach churning at the thought of someone finding his research and putting two and two together, Blair headed back out to the elevator.

"Captain Banks? Carrie Kingston, Channel 2 News. You know, I thought this was going to be just another warm and fuzzy piece on sheltering street people. But who can resist? An alligator trapped in the building's vent system?"

Simon chuckled and hoped he didn't sound too stressed. "Ms. Kingston, we've already had to survive our lobby being demolished. I was hoping to save face with this situation."

Carrie framed her sound bite with her hands in the air. "'Fearless cops courageously rescue the city's homeless from a four-legged fugitive. Film at 11:00.' Kind enough?"

Simon pasted a patient smile on his face and rubbed his forehead hoping to dispel the headache blooming there. Placing a hand on the reporter's back, he ushered her through the bullpen and into the elevator.

Jim kept Sandburg's notebook concealed under his jacket as he exited the men's room and headed back to his desk. With his jaw clenched tightly, his face grim, he sat down and thought a moment before taking the book out and tossing it carelessly into the open desk drawer then slammed the drawer shut. Sitting forward, Jim massaged his temples and tried to rein in his mounting anger. First, he had a murderer to find; then he'd deal with Sandburg and his thesis.

Megan tested the controls of the small robotic camera and watched as a technician connected a monitor cable to the camera. Behind her Carrie Kingston and her crew were setting up their own equipment. Megan smiled confidently as Simon approached.

"You sure you're squared away on this thing?"

"No worries." The Australian patted the robot affectionately. "The controls are like the one I checked out on in Sydney." She looked back at the news crew and lowered her voice. "I wish they weren't doing this. How's my hair?"

"Got a little something right there." The captain pointed at her teeth and laughed with her when she got the joke and smacked his shoulder. Megan watched him leave then tried to concentrate on setting up the robot and not think about her audience.

"3-2-1. This is Carrie Kingston from Cascade police headquarters. And this is Nitro, the bomb squad robot."

Gabe watched the activity inside the control room, nodding knowingly as the reporter began her introduction and Henri picked up the robot, carrying it over to be lowered into the shaft leading to the basement. "Who can snare leviathan, rope him about the nose and pierce his tong?" Gabe recited softly in a slightly sing-song tone. "Iron is but straw to him, and brass as rotten wood."

Carrie continued her report after a brief annoyed glance in Gabe's direction. "We've seen Nitro locate explosives. But tonight he'll be tracking wild game. Somewhere in the air ducts that honeycomb this building lurks a predator. A dangerous and probably ravenous alligator." Smiling, the reporter stepped up to Megan's side. "Now this is Police Inspector Megan Connor on loan to us from the New South Wales police in Australia. Cascade's answer to Crocodile Dundee." Connor rolled her eyes a little at the mundane joke. "She'll be guiding Nitro as he searches for the gator. We'll be able to see it on this monitor. Where are we now, Megan?"

"We're about 30 feet in. The shaft coming up runs back down to the basement. We think that's where the alligator is."

Everyone watched in tense silence as Nitro rounded a corner and the unmistakable sight of the alligator appeared on the monitor screen.

Carrie pointed excitedly. "There! There it is! We spotted him around the corner. Any second now..."

There was a sudden rush of movement from the alligator then a bright blinding light before the monitor faded to black.

"Oh, dear," Carrie said glumly.

Brown and Rafe started forward and pulled the mangled cable from the shaft after calling for the power to be cut. Brown held the frayed end of the cord in the air and Simon stifled a groan, then stepped forward, one hand upraised to halt the proceedings. "All right, all right, that's it." He placed his hand over the lens of the camera as the news crew filmed on regardless. "Cut!"

Act I