By: Lyn Townsend
Beta Read by Carla and Mary Shukes Browne
Written for PetFly by David Thoreau

Rated PG

Act I

Melanie pushed open the door leading into the foyer of the Nelson Apartment Building and walked over to the reception desk. She smiled as she saw the security guard's disinterested gaze turn to one of lustful appreciation. He stood and walked around the desk, fixing a wide smile on his face and the young woman rolled her eyes as he unconsciously sucked in his gut.

"Hi." Melanie pitched her voice to that breathy, little girl quality that seemed to turn all the guys on.

The guard nodded at her and tried to look professional. "What can I do for you?" he asked.

She smiled again and motioned toward the elevators behind the desk. "I'm here to see my aunt. She's staying with friends. I wrote the number down here somewhere." Looking down, she fumbled with her purse, attempting to open the clasp. Her keys dropped from her hand and fell to the floor with a clatter.

"Oops," she whispered coyly, looking up at him from beneath long eyelashes.

The guard rested a hand on her shoulder briefly before bending down to pick up the keys. "I'll get those," he offered.

"Thank you," Melanie replied as she pulled the taser from her bag and touched it to the guard's shoulder.

She tensed as his body spasmed and then he began to stagger upright. Lifting her leg, she kneed him hard in the stomach and his breath whooshed out of him as he collapsed. His head hit the floor with a loud crack and he went limp.

Melanie looked down at the guard's prone body and shook her head in dismay. "Chivalry's dead. Haven't you heard?" she said. Turning away, she pulled a small radio handset from her purse and spoke into it briefly, "Clear."

She watched as the doors to the van parked directly out front of the building opened and three men made their way inside. All were dressed in identical overalls and wore nylon masks obscuring their faces. Melanie reached into the bag that one of the men handed her and pulled a guard's uniform from within. She pulled the clothes over her own sheer dress and patted her hair into place.

Walking around behind the reception desk, she sat down and watched as one man cut the wires to the security monitors and the other two dragged the unconscious guard out of sight. With a final silent nod in her direction, the three men disappeared into the stairwell.

Hilda Merritt paused in her dusting at the insistent tapping at the front door of the apartment building. Walking over, she called out, "Yes? Yes, who is it?"

When there was no reply to her query, she placed her eye over the peephole in the door and looked outside. She could see nothing and after a brief hesitation, placed the security chain into its lock and opened the door. "Hello?"

The maid stumbled backwards with a frightened cry as the door exploded inward, and three masked men rushed into the apartment. Before she could react, one of the men grabbed her and pushed her hard up against the wall. She stifled a scream as he lifted a gun and pressed the barrel against her throat.

"Where's the safe? Where's the safe?" her attacker ground out.

Hilda managed to shake her head minutely. "I don't know."

The man pressed the gun harder into Hilda's pale neck. "Lady, you tell me where the safe is or I'll blow you away right now," he threatened. "Tell me where the safe is."

Hilda lifted a shaky hand and pointed to the painting on the wall. "It's over there." She erupted into noisy sobs, but her attacker was not sympathetic. Grasping her arm, he pushed her over to the opposite wall.

"Show me!"

Hilda touched the painting with a trembling finger. "It's here." She stumbled as the man pushed her away.

"Go!" he ordered.

Hilda however was frozen to the spot, still sobbing noisily. She screamed when the man backhanded her as he admonished her to be quiet. Turning away from her, he watched as a second man leaned in and began to turn the dial on the safe.

Jim Ellison pounded his way down the sidewalk, his steely glare causing several pedestrians to step out of his path. His partner, Blair Sandburg, hurried to keep up with him, the detective's long angry stride rapidly outpacing the shorter man.

In part to try and placate the other man and partly a desperate attempt to slow the punishing pace, Blair called out to his partner, "Hey, Jim…"

Anything else he wanted to say was abruptly cut short as Jim raised his hands and shook his head vehemently. "Chief, I'm not in the mood for one of your touchy-feely lectures."

Blair quickened his pace, finally catching up with the detective as Jim slowed upon reaching his truck. "I'm not going to give you a lecture," Blair said evenly, his jaw clenched almost as tightly as his partner's was. "Look, just because the DA is not going to press charges, do not take it out on me."

"Look, I saw the perp, he snatched the purse, he knocked the old lady down, broke her hip. What do you want from me?" Jim asked. He unlocked the truck and climbed inside, waiting until Blair had shut the passenger door before beginning his diatribe once more. "I say I saw the whole incident from three blocks away, they're going to toss the whole thing out of court and the scumbag walks free. Now that old lady on the other hand is crippled for life. Sometimes I wonder if these senses of mine are worth the trouble. I can see the crimes happening and take down the bad guys but I can't put them away."

Blair nodded his understanding as Jim started the truck and pulled out of the parking space. The anthropologist shot forward, almost crashing into the dashboard as Jim suddenly slammed on the brakes.

Blair paled as he realized that Jim had been so caught up in his anger that he hadn't seen the small red car that was just behind him. A screeching sound caused both men to look to the rear and they watched in astonishment as a black BMW came careening around the corner. Its tires screamed as they struggled to find purchase on the road. The vehicle almost rear-ended the red car that Jim had just missed and narrowly avoided side swiping the detective's truck.

"Whoa! Man!" Jim exclaimed, glaring at the driver of the other car as the BMW screeched to a halt. "Somebody ought to tell that clown to slow down. He's going to kill somebody around here."

Blair rolled his eyes at the statement but was relieved to see Jim double-check his mirrors before pulling onto the road again. Behind them, blaring car horns sounded in a clamor of protest. Settling back into his seat, Blair saw the BMW pull up alongside. He watched as the driver wound down his window, his eyes blazing fury.

"Hey!" the man yelled. "Did you see me?"

Jim: shook his head and ignored the man. "Idiot." He stared straight ahead through the front windshield. "Why didn't I hear him?" he muttered.

"Maybe it's because you're so angry, you had a minor, temporary zone-out -- the opposite effect of what you're used to," Blair ventured, his heart still pounding slightly from the encounter.

"That's fascinating, Chief," Jim replied.

Blair chose to ignore the sarcasm edging Jim's words. "Actually, that is something we might want to take a look at," he replied casually.

Jim rolled his eyes. "I'll file it away for future reference," he said, slowing down for the traffic lights just ahead.

Blair glanced over at the black BMW that had come to a halt beside him. He jumped back against Jim, startled when the driver climbed out of his car and stormed toward them, his heavy features twisted in anger.

"Whoa, Jim! Hey!" Blair slammed his hand down on the door lock as the man began to pound on the passenger side window and scream at them.

"Did you notice that you almost totaled me and my car?" the man yelled as he scowled angrily at Jim.

Blair's heart was hammering in his chest as he saw Jim shake his head and climb out of the truck. "Jim…"

He reached out a hand to stay the other man, well aware of the horror stories of road rage but the detective was already striding toward the other driver, his entire body rigid with anger.

"Back off, jackass!" Blair heard Jim say and the angry man's head snapped up at the comment.

"Didn't you see me?" the driver shouted as Jim walked around the truck and stood in front of him.

Jim ignored the question. "Hey, buddy, back off!" he said again.

As frightened as he was, Blair's hand stole toward the door handle as he saw the other driver's fist come up toward Jim's head in a roundhouse swing. Jim ducked it easily and with a simple twist borne of years of experience in apprehending criminals, the detective quickly had the BMW driver pressed against the hood of the truck with his hands pinned behind his back.

"Cascade Police." Jim identified himself and pulled his badge from his pocket, waving it in front of the angry man's face. "Keep your hands on the hood," he ordered him. "I could take you in right now for assaulting a cop, buddy."

"Oh boy," Blair muttered. "Nothing better than two alpha males facing off." Now that he could see that Jim had the situation under control, he climbed out of the truck. He looked at him in concern as the detective suddenly doubled up and began to cough. "Are you all right, Jim?"

Jim nodded and wiped at his watery eyes. "Yeah. It's this tough guy's cologne." He jerked a finger at the man and then leaned into his face. "You get more than one application per bottle, sport."

The other man lifted his head and glared at the detective. "It's imported. Let me see your badge again."

Jim stepped back a pace and pulled out his badge. "Stay where you are," he cautioned the man. He slapped the badge down on the hood and pointed at it, then proceeded to search the man for weapons and drugs. "Take a good look."

"James Ellison," the man read off the license. "Good," he nodded and smirked, the nasty grin causing Blair's skin to crawl. "I want to know where to send the harassment charges."

Blair was stunned at the comment. "What?"

The man glared at him, his eyes hard. "Who's your wannabe hippie friend?" he asked Jim.

Blair spoke out before he thought about it. A second look at the man's glittering eyes should have warned him. This was someone angry at the world. "Hey, man!"

Jim held up a hand and pushed Blair back toward the truck as he stepped forward. "I can handle this."

He turned back to the man and glared back at him. Blair was pleased to see some of the belligerence in the man's face fade at Jim's look. "You're lucky you're not packing," Jim told him. "I could haul your ass in." He turned away as his cell phone rang and pulled it from his pocket.

"I was defending myself," the driver argued.

Jim turned back to him and placed a hand over his phone. "You were looking to start a fight and creating a public nuisance. Now stay where you are." Taking his hand away from his phone, he answered the call. "Ellison."

He listened for a moment then nodded and motioned for Blair to get back into the truck. "All right, I'm on my way."

Blair paused as Jim turned back to the BMW driver. "I'm going to let this one go," he said reasonably. "In the future, try practicing a little self-restraint."

The angry man bristled at Jim's words. "Wait a minute," he said, the scowl returning to his face. "You're the one who almost ran me off the road."

Jim shook his head. "'Almost' doesn't count, Ace." He dismissed him with a curt wave of his hand. "Now get out of here." He climbed into the truck beside Blair and wrinkled his nose. "The guy smells like he bathed in insecticide."

Blair grinned. "What was the call?" he asked.

"It was Simon," Jim replied as he pulled away from the traffic lights. "There's been another high-rise invasion job about a half hour ago at the apartments at the end of Nelson."

Blair looked up into the rear-view mirror as more car-horns honked and brakes squealed. The BMW still sat in the middle of the road, a growing line of cars behind it. He saw the driver of the BMW hang his arm out of his window and indicate for the other drivers to go around him. Blair shivered. He didn't think he'd ever seen someone so consumed by self-righteous rage before. He hoped never to see the man again.

"Thank you, sir." Jim nodded to the guard who held open the lobby door and followed Blair over to where Captain Simon Banks stood at the front desk. "What have you got, Simon?"

"Well, it looks just like the other ones," Simon began. "A woman comes in looking for a relative. Next thing this guy knows he's got a taser in his neck and a kick to his face for his trouble." He indicated the miserable looking guard who sat on a chair at the desk holding an icepack to his face.

Jim winced in sympathy at the bruising marring the man's cheek. "Anything you can tell us?"

The guard nodded grimly. "Yeah, a lot."

"Blonde?" Jim asked.

The guard shook his head, then winced. "Uh-uh. Brunette."

"You think it's the same one?" Blair put in.

"Who knows?" Jim shrugged and turned to survey the rest of the lobby. "Next time, it could be a redhead."

"The cameras are disconnected, the phone lines cut," Simon supplied. "It had to be the same people."

Jim nodded in agreement. "Real pros."

Dan Freeman leaned in close to read the 'Notice to vacate' sign stuck to his door. With a muttered curse, he tore the square of cardboard free. Unlocking his door, he entered the messy apartment and went immediately to his computer. Waiting while the computer booted up, Freeman read the eviction notice once more, then tore it into small pieces and tossed them on the floor. Seating himself in front of his computer, he opened his voice mail and waited for it to begin scrolling through. He snarled through anger-thinned lips as he recognized the voice of the building manager.

"Mr. Freeman, this is Bob, the building manager. I've had it with you, okay? Get me a check for the rent, or you're locked out."

"Wrong!" Freeman shouted, slamming his fist onto the desk. "I know my rights."

"Dan, this is Dr. Black. You haven't shown up for your last three sessions and, well, frankly, I'm concerned. You need a refill of your prescription and you need a blood test to ensure you on the correct therapeutic dose. Please call me as soon as you can."

The doctor's message had Freeman shaking his head in disgust. "I don't need that poison you want to put into me. Don't even pretend to care, you... You're trying to kill me. That's what it is. You're just like the others." He picked up a framed photo that sat on one side of the desk. "They're just like you. You're all the same," he muttered at the image of his parents posed in stiff formality.

Lifting it over his head, Freeman brought the photo slamming down onto the edge of the desk. He frowned as the glass shattered and tore into the picture beneath. "All of you, in my face, telling me what to do." Tossing the broken frame back onto the desk, Dan broke off his tirade as his gaze took in the notebook that he'd written the cop's name and license number in. Sitting beside it was his revolver. He looked back at the now silent computer. "It's my life. Nobody tells Dan Freeman what to do."

He picked up the weapon and examined it for a moment before opening it and tipping the bullets into his hand. Then he smiled nastily and put a single bullet back in. Standing, he backed away slightly from the desk, then aimed the gun down at the notebook and the hated name he'd scrawled there. "'Almost doesn't count,' huh?" he asked simultaneously pulling the trigger.

He flinched at the loud report in the close confines of the apartment and smiled in satisfaction at the ragged hole in the center of the page. Sitting down, he scooted his chair closer to the computer screen and punched in the address of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Entering the information he needed, he watched impatiently as a series of numbers and letters scrolled rapidly down the page. "Come on," he urged, chewing nervously on the edge of one well-bitten fingernail. "Let's go. Give me the password. Come on." As Jim Ellison's face came up on the screen, Dan Freeman sat back and smiled happily.

Simon led Jim and Blair into the penthouse apartment that had been robbed. An elderly man stood with his arm around a weeping woman who was dressed in a maid's uniform. The man looked up at Simon and shook his head. "The coins they took are worth over a quarter of a million dollars."

The comment caused Hilda's sobbing to rise in volume and he patted her shoulder as he consoled her. "That's okay. It wasn't your fault." He looked again at the three men. "I'm Robert Thomas. My father started the collection when he was a boy. It's a big loss."

"Is there anything else missing?" Jim asked as he looked around the lavish apartment.

"My late wife's jewelry," Thomas said sadly.

"And how much was that worth?" Jim asked. When the man did not answer immediately, Jim pressed gently. "I'm sorry. I have to ask these questions, sir."

Thomas nodded his head in understanding. "A couple hundred thousand dollars, but it's not the money, Detective. It's worth much more than that in sentimental value." He shook his head again and then steered the still weeping maid away toward the door.

Simon watched with interest as Jim walked over to the opened safe and began what appeared to be a microscopic search of it and its interior. Though he had often seen Jim's sentinel abilities at work, the sight, the very idea of them still fascinated and awed him. He listened with half an ear as Blair spoke.

"That poor guy," Blair said, watching Robert Thomas speaking softly to Hilda at the door. "How do these thieves…" He shook his head. "How do they live with themselves?"

Simon raised his eyes heavenward and shook his head. "Sandburg, for someone with as much education as you have, you have a lot to learn."

Blair bristled at the impatient comment. "Well, as an anthropologist, I have to wonder what it is about our culture that breeds these types of criminals."

Simon sighed. The kid was too idealistic for police work. "I think it's money," he replied, trying to keep the sarcasm from his tone. He dismissed Blair's glare as he saw Jim pause in his examination, his face a mask of concentration. "You got something, Jim?"

Jim straightened and waved a hand at the safe. "Well, the safe has been wiped clean like the others, but they missed one. I think we got a partial right here, Captain."

Simon nodded, letting his approval show on his dark face. "I'll have Forensics check it out again."

Having gleaned as much information as they could from the crime scene, Jim and Blair headed back to the loft. Jim followed Blair into the elevator and pushed the button for the third floor, only half-listening to his partner's tirade.

"All I'm saying is, these kinds of crimes, they factor into a bigger problem," Blair said.

Jim rolled his eyes at the lecture and wished for the elevator to rise faster. "There have always been criminals," he said in answer to Blair's comment.

"Yeah. No kidding, Jim," Blair replied with a small note of impatient sarcasm. "But today more and more people are getting pissed off at their lack of control."

Jim nodded absently, his nostrils twitching as a faint but foul-smelling odor assaulted them. He lifted one foot and checked the sole wondering if he'd stepped in something unpleasant on his way into his apartment building. Finding nothing on his right shoe, he checked the left one. Blair talked on, oblivious to the sentinel's antics.

"And the fact they don't have a healthy place to vent their frustration." Blair shook his head, his dark curls whipping from side to side with the motion. "I mean, take this freak show on the road today."

Jim let Blair's words drift past him, as the smell grew stronger. "Let me see your shoes, Chief."

Blair lifted one foot at a time for his partner's inspection, never breaking his rambling dialogue, "Do you know how many people have been hurt or killed because of road rage?" he asked, finally taking a breath as he waited for Jim to answer.

Jim stepped out into the hallway as the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. He waited for Blair to join him then walked toward his apartment. "All right," he conceded to the anthropologist. "I'll drive safer in the future. What do you want?"

"Oh, come on. Don't be a wise-ass," Blair complained as Jim's lips twitched into a smile. "I'm just making an observation about where today's society is going."

The acrid smell grew stronger the closer the two men got to their apartment. Jim began to cough and gag as the smell seeped into his nasal passages. Blair looked at him with concern.

"What's the matter, Jim?"

Jim pulled his shirt up to cover his nose and mouth and spoke through the makeshift filter. "God, don't you smell that?"

Blair's nose wrinkled in distaste. "Yeah, actually I do."

"The sewers must be out or something," Jim said as they reached the front door.

Blair shook his head. "Oh no. The guy who keeps pigeons on the roof next door. It must be that."

Jim watched curiously as Blair stretched up and ran his hand along the top of the door. "Oh, where is it?" he muttered as though to himself.

"Where's what?" Jim asked.

"I hide a key on the door, so I don't get locked out," Blair explained.

Jim shook his head in exasperation. "Like now, huh?"

Blair patted his pockets then nodded. "Yeah." He looked hopefully at his partner. "You got yours?"

"Yeah." Jim pulled his keys from his pocket, keeping the shirt over the lower part of his face. "Good God," he exclaimed. He could feel his eyes beginning to water from the stench.

Blair turned away and fitted the key into the lock. "Look at that," the anthropologist said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "It's open."

Jim pulled his gun from its holster and aimed it at the partly opened door. Stepping forward, he pushed Blair firmly behind him and walked into the apartment…and stopped in disgusted shock, nausea surging up his throat.

"Oh, man." Blair peeked out from behind Jim, pulling his own shirt up to cover his nose. "What is that?"

Jim fought valiantly not to gag at the sight of the huge pile of waste adorning his living room floor. "That's horse manure, Chief." Grabbing Sandburg's arm, he turned and pulled the other man from the apartment.

Simon tried not to smile as Jim recounted the story of the horse manure that had been dumped in his apartment the previous day, though at the same time, concern warred with humor at the possibility that someone had been able to get into the detective's apartment. Jim had organized a cleaning crew and then Blair had insisted that they spend the night at a motel after seeing Jim struggle to keep his sense of smell dialed down.

"Do you have any ideas who did it, Jim?" Simon asked as they walked into the bullpen.

Jim shook his head. "Not so far. Mrs. Mason, the old lady who lives on the ground floor told me she saw a man getting into the elevator with a shopping cart full of bags of the stuff." He sighed. "The trouble is she's almost blind, so we couldn't get a decent description out of her. Medium build, medium height."

Simon looked at the uncharacteristically silent police observer. "You piss off any sorority girls lately, Sandburg."

Jim snorted. "That's pretty malicious, even for the ones he goes out with."

Blair grimaced at the comment as Simon chuckled. The captain ushered the two men into his office. "Did he really have a key over the door?" he asked, indicating Blair with his thumb as he sat down at his desk.

Jim glared in Blair's direction and the young man looked suitably chagrined. "Not any more."

Simon picked up a folder from his desk. "This just came in from Research. Evidently a number of the robbery victims had work done at the same jeweler over on Fifth. Crown Jewelers. The guy's name is Robert Crown."

Jim took the report from his captain. "All right. I'll check it out. Let's go, Chief."

Simon sat down at his desk as the two men left and finally gave into the laughter that he'd been holding back. "Horse manure."

Crown Jewelers was a small, elegant jewelry store on Fifth Avenue. Jim held the door open while Blair ducked under his arm and entered the shop.

"Good afternoon." A middle-aged man dressed in a well-cut suit approached them, his craggy features offering them a welcoming smile.

"Hi." Jim pulled his ID from his pocket and showed it to the man. "I'm Detective Ellison. This is Blair Sandburg."

"Robert Crown. What can I do for you?" the man asked in a broad Australian accent.

Jim got down to the business at hand as Blair prowled the store. "We're investigating a string of robberies," the detective explained. "Several of the victims are customers of yours." He handed Crown the list he'd received from Simon.

"Hmm. What a shame." Crown studied the list briefly, one watchful eye on Sandburg who stood in front of a display case, a look of rapt attention on his face.

Jim hadn't missed the sweat beading Crown's upper lip or the increase in his heart rate. Something was making the jeweler nervous. "So, this is all news to you?" Jim asked.

Crown flashed him a challenging glare. "Are you suggesting it should be something else?"

"I'm just here to gather information."

"Wow! This is really beautiful stuff, man," Blair suddenly interjected, as he examined the dark, earthy colors of the necklaces and bracelets in one of the display cases.

Crown dragged his attention away from Jim's assessing gaze. "Oh, yes. Thank you. I do a small business in Aboriginal jewelry," he said. "Well, you know. More of a hobby, really."

"Do you mind if I take a closer look?" Blair asked.

"Sure." Crown smiled.

"This is not a shopping trip, Chief. Okay?" Jim reminded his partner.

"Right." Blair looked chastened. "I'll come back later."

"That'd be a good idea," Jim replied. He turned to Crown. "Any other employees beside yourself?"

"Oh, no." Crown shook his head. "It's a one man operation. I like it that way. It keeps things simple."

"Well, why don't you take my number?" Jim handed the man his business card. "If anything occurs to you that might be of any help, please don't hesitate to call."

Crown accepted the card. "Of course."

"Thanks." Jim headed for the exit and waited for Blair to catch up.

"Really nice," Blair told Crown, stealing a last lingering look at the ethnic jewelry.

Crown smiled again. "Thank you."

Heading back to the truck, Jim mulled over the little information that they'd gleaned from Robert Crown. There was no doubt that the man had seemed nervous and Jim decided to do some digging into the jeweler's background when they got back to the station.

Nearing the truck, he stopped so suddenly Blair ran into his back. Just ahead, Jim could see two men hooking his truck up to a tow truck. Rushing toward them, he pulled his badge from his pocket and waved it in the air as he shouted to get their attention. "Hey! Hey, buddy! You'd better have a pretty good reason for towing a police vehicle."

One of the men looked up at Jim's frantic shouts and squinted carefully at the detective's ID before speaking up. "Yeah. It was reported stolen, Detective."

Jim's mouth dropped open in surprise and he was aware of a similar stunned look on Blair's face. "What do you mean, reported stolen?"

A car revving its engine in the distance encroached on Jim's heightened hearing and, distracted for a moment, he let his sight follow the sound. Dialing up, he saw a black BMW just pulling away from the curb. "I'll be damned," he muttered. The driver was clearly visible to his enhanced sight.

He felt Blair's hand on his arm and shook himself from a near zone-out as he focused on the license plate number of the BMW.

"What is it, Jim?" Blair asked.

"It's that jerk with the bad cologne. You got a pen?" At Blair's affirmative nod, Jim recited the number. "0-8-2-F-R-I. Write it down. I'll run it when we get back to the station." He pulled impatiently at the levers securing his truck to the tow hook. "What, do I have to call Monty Hall for this? Come on!"

Act II