Act II

The storm had arrived in full force. Jim stood at the window, looking through the gloom at the rotating beacon of light from the tower perched high on the rocky hill nearby. To normal eyes, the light would scarcely have penetrated the heavy rain. Jim could see the beacon clearly, and he opened his sight even further to check on the boats moored below. As he was studying the boats bobbing on the waves, a sudden flash of lightning stabbed through his head as sharply as a knife. Jim’s hands flew to his eyes in a gesture of protection that was already too late. He bit back the small moan forming at the back of his throat.

A reassuring presence materialized at his side, bringing with it a warm hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right. Ride through the pain, man. Use the dial to bring it down a little. One notch at a time…easy, now…not too fast.” The comforting murmur continued as little by little, Jim brought the sudden pain under his control.

When the blinding light and pain had subsided, Jim opened his eyes.

“You okay, man?” Blair asked quietly.

“Yeah. Stupid thing to do, reaching out with my sight during a storm like this. I thought I could pick up on the electricity in the air and know when a bolt was coming.” Jim added ruefully, “Guess my technique needs more work.”

“I’d say so.” Blair cocked his head. “You mean you can sense the electrical charges in the air when there’s lightning? Oh, man, that is so cool! We’re going to have to…”

Jim silenced him with a shake of his head and a hand on Blair’s shoulder. “Now’s not the time or place, Chief.” He jerked his head toward Monique and Rucker, both waiting in the main living area. “Besides, I want to find out more information about that heroin.”

Blair protested, “You can’t really think she…”

“I don’t know what to think yet, Chief.” Jim maneuvered Blair so they were both facing the window with their backs to the living area and continued in a whisper. “I just know that something about this whole situation hasn’t added up from the get-go. Whatever she is, she had a stash of heroin with her, and that alone is enough for me to doubt anything she says. So don’t go trying to convince me that Monique is just another lost soul, okay, Chief? ‘Cause I ain‘t buying it.” At the hurt look in Blair’s eyes, Jim softened a bit, his voice warm with concern. “Just watch yourself, okay? We don’t know what kind of situation we have on our hands, and I want you to be careful.”

“I’ll be careful, but I still think you’re wrong, man. There’s gotta be an explanation.”

“Maybe.” Jim watched another flash of lightning, this time with no pain. “I intend to find out.” He walked across the darkened room to the couch where Monique waited.

Watching her intently, he asked, “Tell me about the heroin.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” Monique said flatly. “I don’t know…maybe Enrique…”

“Enrique what? He just had it lying around for some of his investment clients?”

Monique closed her eyes for a moment and breathed deeply. “Look…I’m tired, and I’m scared. Enrique threatened to kill me! I ran to save my life! God…!”

Shaking his head, Jim turned away from Monique, followed by Rucker and Blair. Before he could speak, Sandburg jumped in. “Look, Jim, I know this looks pretty bad, but maybe we should cut her some slack.”

“And why is that?”

“I know you have great cop instincts, but I think I know people. If we give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe we’ll get to the truth, you know? So why don’t you let me talk to her?”

Jim’s first instinct was to say no, quickly and firmly. Sandburg was getting way too involved with this young woman, and the last thing he needed was a partner bucking him on every call, thanks to a case of lust or love or whatever the hell Sandburg was feeling right now. On the other hand, Blair had proven many times that he could indeed coax information from a suspect when Jim’s tougher tactics failed to produce results. Reluctantly, Jim nodded. “See what you can get.”

Blair knelt beside Monique. “Hey. I know you’re scared, but I mean, come on, you’ve got to admit all this looks pretty weird, right?” When there was no response, he added, “Like I said before, Jim’s not a bad guy, but he is a cop.”

Monique’s reply was unmistakably bitter. “Oh, and you’re not?”

“No, actually, I’m an anthropologist. I’m serious. I’m strictly a consultant. No badge, no gun, nothing.”

A tiny smile turned up the corners of Monique’s lips. “Joe Friday from Alaska, huh?”

Remembering when he’d used the ‘Joe Friday’ line, Blair smiled. It seemed so long ago now. “Yeah, I guess. Monique, we’re not going to get anywhere on this unless you start with the truth.”

“Okay, but don’t ask me about the heroin. Enrique would kill me if he thought I’d talked.” She hesitated, then added softly, “His real name’s not Mendez. It’s Guzman.”

At those words, Jim strode over to the couch. “Guzman? Enrique Guzman?” He nudged Blair away from Monique.

Blair stared first at Jim, then at Monique. What the hell was going on here? “Hey, Jim? What are you doing?” He didn’t really expect a direct answer, and he didn’t get one. Jim was zeroing in on his prey like a shark drawn to bloody waters.

“Your boyfriend is the Mexican heroin czar?”

Monique’s eyes were wide, her voice filled with fear. “Yes! Yes! Enrique Guzman! I’m his mistress, and he threatened to kill me! But I swear to God, I don’t know anything about any dope! Why can’t you believe me?”

“Because you lied to us once before,” Jim pointed out.

“To protect myself!” Monique protested. “I haven’t exactly had the best luck with men lately. I like the money and the boats, yeah. I’ll admit that, okay? By the time I found out the truth, it was too late. I couldn’t get away.” She stood up and faced Jim, defiance blazing in her eyes. “Would you like to see what a belt buckle does to a woman’s back? Maybe that would convince you!” She began unbuttoning her shirt.

“No,” Jim interrupted her. “That won’t be necessary. Enrique Guzman works out of Guadalajara. What’s he doing in Washington?”

Blair watched Monique’s face as she explained. If she wasn’t afraid, she was a damned good actress.

“He had paid off some Mexican judges, and they wanted a bigger cut, so…he had them killed. The federales he’d bought off couldn’t protect him any more, so he had to move his operation to the states. About a week ago, he heard that the DEA was closing in, so…he freaked. When he beat me, I just knew I had to get out…somehow.” She wrapped her arms around herself in a protective gesture as the hint of tears glistened in her eyes.

Jim glanced at his cousin. “What do you think?”

Rucker shrugged. “Well…that case was the only thing I found on board the Sea Ray. The tank was almost empty.”

Blair quickly confirmed Rucker‘s comment. “Doesn’t sound like a well-planned trip, Jim.” He held Jim’s gaze for a long moment, hoping his friend could somehow sense his own confidence in the young woman’s character. Blair could actually pinpoint the instant when Jim caved in, and he grinned broadly.

Turning, Jim walked back to Monique. “I hope you understand why we had to do this. We’ll see that you’re well taken care of.” He removed the cuffs.

“I’ve heard that before.”

The entire station shook on its foundation as a bolt of lightning and a tremendous clap of thunder erupted simultaneously. Blair caught Jim’s eyes as the sentinel passed by to light another Coleman lantern. “I hope you’re right about this one, Chief,” he said softly.

By the next morning, the storm had blown through, and the sky had partially cleared. Jim peered out the window and commented, “Well, it looks like it wants to clear off.”

“Don’t count on it,” Rucker cautioned. “Weather around here can be pretty unpredictable.”

Jim motioned restlessly toward the water. “I’m going to take a look at that Sea Ray.”

“I don’t think I missed anything, Jim.” Rucker wondered if Jim was second-guessing his judgment, then he thought better of it. Jim was a naturally cautious man, and Rucker figured following up was just part of being a detective.

“Probably not,” Jim agreed. “But just the same, I’d feel better if I check it out myself.”

Rucker nodded. “All right. I’ll see what I can dig up in the mess.”

After Jim had departed, Rucker walked across the room to join Blair as Monique emerged from the curtained-off bedroom.

“Good morning,” Blair greeted her.

“Is it?” Monique inquired.

Rucker smiled broadly. Might as well try to get the day off to a good start, but it might be difficult, given the scowl on the young woman’s face. “Sure it is. We’ve got dry Froot Loops for breakfast.”

Blair and Monique wandered into the main room, leaving Rucker digging out cereal bowls from the kitchen cabinet. Blair looked out the window and smiled. “Looks like the storm’s almost over. Then we’ll get in touch with Cascade PD and get you out of here.”

Monique shook her head. “You don’t know Enrique. You know, one time one of his men stole a single balloon of dope. Cost maybe $5,000. Enrique hunted him down. That cost him about $100,000 to do --- about a dozen men. But he found him.” A visible shiver shook her frame. “I won’t tell you what Enrique did to that man.”

Blair took a deep breath, releasing it slowly as the images formed unbidden in his mind. “That’s good. I definitely don’t need to know all the details.“ Pushing his over-active imagination aside, he tried to reassure her. “Don’t worry, okay? Jim knows what he’s doing. We’ll make it back to Cascade just fine.”

Jim approached the Sea Ray and scanned it carefully. Nothing seemed amiss. He boarded the vessel and looked around, first on the deck, then inside the tiny cabin below. Seagulls screeched hungrily outside, and waves lapped gently against the hull. Jim inspected the cabinets and storage areas, then he turned to leave. He stopped at the stairs as a noise caught his attention.

Remembering Blair’s lessons, he purposefully ignored his other senses, focusing on his sense of hearing. There…he heard it again. Muffled and very high-pitched. Jim doubted that anyone with normal hearing would have heard it at all. He followed the sound to a hidden hatch and pulled out a black, rectangular device with a short antenna.

An instant later, he realized the significance of the device in his hands. “Damn it!” Jim scaled the ladder and took off at a full run toward the Coast Guard station.

“Look,” Rucker pointed out, “I don’t see how Guzman can track you down. You’re on an island at a Coast Guard station.”

Blair nodded in agreement. “And if you testify, you can enter the witness protection program and start a whole new life.” He smiled at Monique reassuringly, then he looked toward the door as Jim entered. “Hey, man. Did you find…?” The rest of the sentence was cut off as Jim tossed a black box down on the desk beside them. Blair picked it up and examined it. “What’s this?”

“I found it on the Sea Ray. Some kind of transmitter.”

Rucker took the device from Blair’s hand. “This is an electronic beacon.” Looking over at Monique, Rucker asked, “Did you activate this thing?”

Monique shook her head emphatically. “I didn’t even know it was there.”

Rucker swore softly as he exchanged worried looks with Jim. “Damn. A remote command then.”

Monique shook her head. “Wait! I don’t get it. What’s wrong?”

Jim answered flatly, “It gives an exact fix of the Sea Ray.”

“Which means Guzman knows she’s here,” Blair added, thinking of the implications for them all.

“Oh, God,” Monique whispered. She appeared to be in shock, her eyes wide and staring at Jim’s face.

Jim looked at his watch. “All right. It’s 6:30. Why don’t we get the launch and head for the mainland. We’ll make contact with the Coast Guard and headquarters en route. All right?”

Rucker nodded agreement. “We can leave right now.” He stood up.

Jim turned toward the door, then paused, his head slightly tilted. Blair moved quickly to stand beside him. This is definitely not good, he thought with a sudden feeling of dread.

Jim’s next words affirmed his sense of foreboding. “It’s too late.”

Rucker was pulling on his coat. “What do you mean?”

At that moment, all eyes looked toward the ceiling as the unmistakable sound of a helicopter roared overhead. Monique’s quick intake of breath was followed by her desperate cry. “Oh, no! Enrique’s here!”

The boat was already tied up at the pier, and several men were climbing toward the lighthouse and nearby station. One was in the process of setting a blasting charge on the tall metal framework of the communications tower. Above, the helicopter gently sat down on a cleared area of grass. Two men emerged from the chopper.

“Revisa la lancha,” Guzman commanded with an air of one accustomed to being quickly obeyed without question. “Cubre la estacion. La quiero viva.”

His companion, Raoul, asked, “What about the Coast Guard?”

Guzman sneered at the station. “What about the Coast Guard?” He turned to shout to the pilot, “Get out of here!”

Lifting gracefully, the helicopter rose from the earth and soared out over the water, leaving its passengers behind.

Jim brought his cousin over to a private corner of the station. “How much firepower you got around here?” he asked quietly.

Rucker replied, “Well, we got two M-16s and a few mags. Plus, we got a flare gun in the kit.”

Jim nodded as he considered the situation. “I’ve got a mag and a half. How many ways in or out of here?”

“There’s a front door and back door. There’s a trap door down to the…crawl space, really.”

Rucker glanced over at Blair and Monique on the far side of the room. “Jimmy?” he asked in a hesitant voice. “This may be none of my business, but under our present circumstances, maybe it is.”

Jim looked at his cousin carefully. “What is it, Ruck?”

Turning so his face wasn’t visible to the room’s other occupants, Rucker asked quietly, “This Sandburg…how the hell did you get teamed up with him anyway? I mean, face it, he’s not exactly the type I’d pick for your partner, if you know what I mean.”

Jim smiled softly. “No, I guess you would see it that way. You met Jack, didn’t you? They’re nothing alike.”

Rucker took a drink of water from a bottle resting on the countertop. “He’s not even a cop, is he? So why’s he your partner?”

“He’s a grad student and departmental observer working on his dissertation. At least, that’s how this whole thing started. By now…” Jim paused, trying to find the right words to explain his relationship with Blair to his favorite cousin. He failed miserably. Without revealing information about his senses, he knew their unorthodox partnership must look completely illogical to an outsider. Even to an outsider who was family. “By now, he’s a lot more, Ruck. The partnership works. For both of us, I hope.”

Both men were silent for a long minute. Soft laughter from the two young people assured Jim that at least Sandburg had calmed Monique down for the moment. He was caught off-guard when Rucker asked, “Does it have something to do with your being…different?”

Jim didn’t have to ask his cousin to clarify. Rucker had always been an observant man, and Jim knew without a doubt that he’d picked up on some of the early incidents involving his enhanced senses. The incident earlier in the launch had only confirmed what he’d already witnessed.

When Jim didn’t answer right away, Rucker said, “Come on, Jimmy. We both know you’re not exactly like the rest of us. I don’t care about all that, and you know I’d never mention it to a soul. You’re about the only family I got left.”

At last, Jim answered softly, “Yeah. Sandburg…helps me.” He turned to look at his cousin. “You want the truth, Ruck?” When Rucker nodded, Jim explained, “Blair’s about all that’s stood between me and the loony bin for the past couple of years. He’s family, too, y’know?”

Rucker looked over at Blair for a moment, then he nodded. “Got it. I don’t know all the details here, and I don’t need to know them. If the kid rates that highly in your opinion, Jimmy, then he’s square with me.” He paused for a moment, then locked eyes with Jim. “One more thing. Can we count on Blair when the shooting starts?”

Jim considered that question, remembering all the close calls he and Sandburg had faced. Lash…that vat of oil out on the rig…Brackett. “Yeah, we can count on him, Ruck. Sandburg’s not a cop, but he’s got great instincts, you know? I trust him.”

“Good enough for me, Jimmy.”

Jim nodded and turned back to the situation at hand. “Start locking down those entrances. Put whatever you can in front of the doors.” Calling to his partner, Jim said, “Sandburg, give Ruck a hand.” He moved over to the com-link system. “I’m going to send out a distress call. Get some backup out here.”

He never got the chance. Outside, a tremendous explosion shook the windows of the station. Monique screamed, covering her head. “What was that?”

Moving carefully to the window, Rucker looked outside. “Jim! They blew the com-link! We’re cut off.”

Act I