Jim grinned at Simon, feeling some of his tension dissipate. "Kaplan
in the slammer. Who'd a thunk?"
Simon snorted. "Sort of gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart, doesn't it?"
Both men turned to the door as Megan entered. "Captain, I just got word. Miller, our murder victim, was jury foreman at the trial of Martin Smallwood. Kaplan was Smallwood's lawyer." Handing Simon a folder, she smiled. "The clerk at Records faxed the file."
"Looks like the final nail in his coffin." Laying the file on his desk, Simon opened it to the first page.
Jim gave Smallwood's mugshot a cursory glance, then took a closer look. "Wait a second. I know this guy. He said he was from Animal Control."
Simon was already on the phone. Slamming the phone back onto its cradle, he led the way to the elevator. "Ben Stout, Animal Control, checked in at the front desk a couple of hours ago."
Approaching the apparently vacant Animal Control van parked in the basement garage cautiously, Jim pulled open the back door. A man lay slumped unconscious on the floor of the van. Megan leaned forward and pressed her fingers to his neck.
"He's alive," she confirmed.
As Jim and Megan checked the groggy man over and helped him to sit up, Simon pulled out his cell phone and began barking orders. "Yeah, this is Banks. The animal control guy's a phony. Find and detain him ASAP."
Blair found Gabe crouched in the hallway outside the bullpen. The lanky
man was seated on the floor, his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms wrapped around
his legs. He rocked slowly in time to a whispered, rhythmic chant.
Pulling Kaplan's mugshot from his pocket, Blair kneeled next to Gabe and placed a hand on his shoulder, momentarily halting his movements. "Hey... hey, Gabe. Have you ever seen this man before? His name is Kaplan. Was he in the alley tonight, Gabe?"
Gabe glanced briefly at the photo and frowned. "Fire and darkness fell upon the land and the people were afraid."
Blair groaned softly to himself, recognizing the biblical quote but knowing it was far from the eyewitness verification they needed. He patted Gabe's shoulder as the homeless man resumed his chanting and rocking.
Down in the basement garage, Megan looked up from tending the injured man
as a thunderous explosion rocked the entire building. "What the hell was that?"
"That was an explosive, incendiary, from the smell of it," Jim answered, grimacing at the acrid odor that assaulted his nose. "It's got to be Smallwood."
Simon nodded. "Makes sense and seeing as Kaplan was his lawyer and was here earlier trying to bribe Johnny to keep his mouth shut, I figure two and two makes four. He's after Macado. Jim, you go make sure the kid is safe. Connor and I will keep Smallwood from leaving the building."
Jim and Connor helped Stout out of the van and, as Jim ran for the stairwell, Megan handed the still dazed man over to a uniformed officer. "Look after him."
At the first rumble of the explosion, Blair felt a tight knot of fear form
in his chest. Hurrying to Simon's office, he poked his head in but saw the room was empty.
He had no idea where Jim was.
Taking a slow, deep breath, Blair fought back his blossoming panic and tried to convince himself that Jim was perfectly capable of looking after himself. Feeling somewhat calmer, he headed out into the hallway where he could hear panicked shouts and a stampede of footsteps.
He made his way through the crowded corridors, trying to avoid being knocked over in the rush for the stairs. Ahead of him, he could hear Rafe trying to calm the frightened people and direct them to safety.
"All right, everybody, stay calm. Do not use the elevator. Use the stairs. There's plenty of time for everyone to get out."
Finally, Blair made it to the detective's side. "Hey, Rafe?"
As the young officer turned to him, Blair was pushed aside by an old lady who grasped hold of Rafe's arm.
"I want Bailey," she whimpered, her wizened face screwed up in fear.
Rafe patted her shoulder and tried to steer her to the stairs. "Yes, ma'am. Everything's gonna be fine."
Blair snagged Rafe's sleeve. He was aware the detective had a lot to contend with right now but his concern was mounting as he looked around and saw no sign of Gabe in the milling crowds. "That guy, Gabe the guy that thinks he's an angel. Have you seen him?"
Rafe fixed him with an impatient glare. "Sandburg, I don't know." He turned back to the old woman, who still clung tenaciously to his sleeve. "Yes, ma'am, it's all right, we'll find your dog. Go this way."
Blair gave the corridor another visual sweep then headed toward the break room. Perhaps Gabe had gone for more food.
Johnny Macado was terrified. He'd felt and heard the explosion, could hear
the muffled shouts in the corridor beyond the interrogation room but it seemed that in the
panic, he'd been forgotten. He pounded on the mesh window, oblivious to the pain as the
metal bruised his knuckles. "Hey, let me out! Let me out!"
Pressing his face to the wire as he heard hurried footsteps, Johnny could see a large black man approaching, sorting through a handful of keys as he ran. "Come on!" Johnny exhorted. "Let me out!"
The police officer nodded as he got to the door and inserted the key into the lock. Johnny backed away in fright as the man he remembered seeing in the alley with Kaplan, appeared from around the corner and smashed the cop's head into the doorframe. The black man collapsed soundlessly.
Johnny's gaze darted to the table in search of a weapon as the man stepped over the unconscious man's body and approached him, his face twisted into a murderous sneer. As his foot hit the leg of a chair, Johnny twisted and picked it up, flinging it at his would-be attacker then making a mad scramble for the door as the other man ducked.
The teenager ricocheted from one side of the hallway to the other as he ran; the unmistakable sound of shots being fired drowning out the pounding of his heart.
"Watch out! Excuse me! Everybody, get down!"
Looking behind him, Johnny saw the big cop who'd questioned him earlier ducking around the melee of people scrambling to get away and shouting at them to take cover. Taking advantage of the gunman's pause as Ellison's weapon came up to bear on him, Johnny pushed past the crowd of people and kept running.
It all happened so fast, though later Blair could see it replaying over
and over in slow motion in his mind's eye. As he came up behind the big man with the gun,
Blair saw Johnny run past Gabe. Seeing the man's weapon come to bear on the fleeing boy's
back, Blair pushed himself under his arm, forcing the gun toward the ceiling. The sound of
the gun firing exploded shatteringly against his eardrums and he felt the heat of the
bullet as it flashed past his cheek.
His body slammed against Smallwood's and the two men went down in a tangle of legs, Smallwood's gun skittering away along the floor. As he struggled to stand, Blair felt a hand fist tightly in his hair, pulling him back against a massive chest. A muscled forearm snaked out and pressed against his throat, momentarily cutting off his air and he gasped for breath.
In front of him, through eyes suddenly swimming with tears, he saw Gabe lying on the floor, blood staining the front of his old coat and he bit back a cry of despair. Smallwood tugged hard, clasping one hand onto Blair's forehead and the other on his chin, wrenching his head sideways. Blair winced at the sharp pain that gripped his head and neck and fought not to struggle.
His gaze slid to Jim as the detective stood slowly and aimed his weapon at Smallwood. Another wrench on Blair's neck had him biting back a groan and he stumbled as Smallwood dragged him backward.
"Back off! Don't shoot or I'll snap!" Smallwood warned. "Don't shoot!"
Blair saw Jim waver, tried desperately to send him a silent message to let the detective know he trusted him, whatever he chose to do. Jim lifted his gun and pointed it at the ceiling. Suddenly the pressure on Blair's throat was gone and he was shoved forward, hitting the floor hard with his knees. Staggering back to his feet as he sucked in hungry breaths, Blair scrabbled toward Gabe's motionless figure.
He looked up as he felt a hand on his back, the touch firm and reassuring, saw Jim looking down at him, his own concern and relief mirrored in Jim's eyes.
"He's still got a pulse but he needs medical attention. Fast!"
Blair nodded and looked down at Gabe as Jim took off after Smallwood. The injured man's face was pale, his breathing shallow. "Oh, no." Taking a shuddering breath, Blair pressed his hands against the ragged hole in Gabe's chest and tried vainly to stem the flow of blood.
Gabe shifted beneath him, then opened pale blue eyes. "Do you know the hard part of a miracle?"
Blair placed a bloodstained hand beneath Gabe's neck and lifted his head a little as the injured man fought for breath. "No. What's that, Gabe?"
Gabe smiled, his teeth stained red with blood. "Making it look like an accident."
"Right." Looking around in panic as Gabe's eyes slid shut and he went limp, Blair shouted for help. "Oh, no. No. Hey, who's getting that ambulance? Hey, Rafe, come on, man, get that ambulance over here, okay? Come on!"
Jim didn't have time to give voice to the relief he felt that Sandburg was
unharmed. Extending his hearing, he ran to the stairwell in pursuit of Smallwood. Ahead,
he could hear the gunman's rasping breath and racing heart, then his footsteps clattering
down the stairs. He was heading back to the basement, probably hoping to use Stout's van
as a getaway vehicle.
Slowing his pace as he approached the door to the basement garage, Jim positioned himself against it and listened for a moment. He could hear several heartbeats but was unable to single out Smallwood's from the rest. Realizing he'd have to take a chance, Jim gripped his weapon more tightly and pushed open the door.
A careful scan with heightened eyesight showed no movement in the shadows. Jim stepped out slowly and walked toward where he knew the Animal Control van was parked. As he rounded the corner, something hard contacted his arm and he grunted as his sidearm fell from suddenly numb fingers, skittering across the floor. Before he could dive to pick it up, Smallwood was on top of him, slamming a punch into the side of his head that had him seeing stars.
Shaking his head to dispel the dizziness, Jim spun and sunk his fist into Smallwood's gut, doubling the man over. Using his advantage, Jim threw his shoulder into the other man's body, pushing him away but the man was like an ox.
Straightening up with a gasp of effort, Smallwood threw himself back toward Jim. Jim smashed his foot into Smallwood's chest as he charged, throwing the gunman off-balance. Smallwood hit the ground and kept rolling, coming up onto one knee with Jim's gun clenched in one hand, aimed straight at Jim's chest.
Suddenly there was a growl and explosion of movement from the vent and Smallwood's face went white, the gun dropping from his nerveless fingers as he screamed and wrenched the back of his overalls from the jaws of the forgotten alligator.
"Help me! Help me! Help me! Help me!" Smallwood launched himself in Jim's direction as the alligator made a second lunge for him.
"All right," Jim agreed, more than happy to oblige the felon. He grabbed a handful of the man's overalls and pulled him up from the ground then punched him hard on the jaw. Smallwood collapsed without another sound.
Allowing Smallwood's unconscious body to drop to the ground, Jim eyed the alligator apprehensively. Beady eyes summed up his prospective meal, then it swished its tail and closed its massive jaws with a resounding snap before disappearing back into the vent.
After quickly checking that the alligator wasn't about to make a second surprise attack, Jim handcuffed Smallwood, then slapped him back to some semblance of consciousness before dragging him up the stairs.
Cold alligator eyes watched dispassionately from between the bars of a
cage as the news reporter gave her spiel to the waiting cameras.
"This is Carrie Kingston, live from Cascade police headquarters where our reptilian hero was instrumental in the capture of reputed murderer, Martin Smallwood. The alligator's been safely collared by Animal Control but for now, she'll enjoy her very own 15 minutes of fame. Carrie Kingston, Channel 2 News."
The reporter squealed and jumped backward, dropping her microphone as the alligator lunged at her as it was carried away, its jaws snapping angrily on the metal containing it.
"I wouldn't get too excited, Captain. I'll be out on bail in a week," Charles Kaplan said smugly as he was pushed toward the waiting police van.
Simon smiled and opened the van doors, angling Kaplan so that he had a clear view of the interior and the seated, cuffed figure of Martin Smallwood. "Week's a long time," he said amiably.
Pushing Kaplan into the van, Simon stepped away as his cell phone rang. Jim and Blair watched Kaplan's discomfort as he was pushed down onto the bench opposite Smallwood then they headed back toward the PD entrance.
"Phew. Man, that was one hell of a night, huh?" Blair moved his neck from side to side experimentally a few times, grimacing as he did.
Jim winced a little at the almost inaudible crunch of vertebrae. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine."
Jim reached out a hand and felt carefully along the back of Blair's neck, relieved to detect nothing more than the heat of bruising and the tension of muscle spasm. "Feels like you could do with a good massage to iron the kinks out of your neck."
Blair grinned. "You offering?"
"Maybe. Hey, Chief, you think you can still get the intro to your dissertation in on time? I mean, you know, aside from the stuff about me, I...I thought, I thought it was pretty good. Really good," he finished lamely, feeling his face heat a little.
"Jim, it's all about you."
"Yeah, but nobody needs to know that, right?" He shifted a little closer to his partner, looping a casual arm about Blair's shoulders. "Let me ask you something. Between you and me, do you think I'm paranoid?"
Blair rolled his eyes. "Jim, if you got to ask... You know what I mean?" He laughed and Jim tried to join in but he still felt somewhat wound up. He shivered and saw Blair watching him carefully.
"Are you all right, man?"
"Yeah. I'm fine."
Jim scanned the immediate area quickly. No threats he could discern. He felt like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Had to be all this tension with Sandburg and his dissertation and everything else thrown in, he decided. It had, after all, been a pretty weird night.
He smiled now as he remembered the relief he felt as Smallwood had released Blair. For a moment he'd thought he wouldn't have a chance to put things right between them. He turned as Simon called them and strode up just as Megan exited the PD.
"Johnny Macado's going to be okay," Simon said. "DA granted him immunity."
"That's real good, Simon," Jim replied. "His mother needs him."
"Hey, Megan, any word on Gabe?"
"I just spoke with the hospital. Gabe made it there okay. It was touch and go, but he was breathing. He was all prepped for OR, the orderly turned his back and Gabe...vanished into thin air."
"Yeah, but he's done it before from the university," Simon added.
Megan held up a finger. "There's more. I got a follow-up fax on his fingerprints. Professor Harold Blake officially died of exposure in Chicago last winter."
Simon shook his head. "So, Johnny Macado was saved by a dead man. That's good. How the hell do I put that in the report?"
"You know," Jim said as he followed Blair back into the PD. "It's like the, uh...the Jimmy Stewart movie...It's a Wonderful Life."
Blair smiled and slapped his partner on the back, nodding enthusiastically. "Ah, whenever a bell rings, an angel gets his wings."
Both men stopped dead as a church bell rang out and from an unseen place Gabe laughed with them.