Jim sat in the waiting room of Isacks' office. No amount of strong-arming had gotten him any closer to the man. He simply had to wait for Isacks' meeting to be over. Finally, three people filed silently from the inner office and headed into the hall. After speaking briefly to Isacks over the telephone, the receptionist signaled that Jim could enter the office.

"Mr. Isacks?"

"Yes, how may I help you?"

Jim brought out his badge and flashed it. "I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade PD. I have a few questions to ask you."

"Should I get my lawyer?" he asked, smirking, and signaling Jim to have a seat. Isacks sat down smoothly in the tall-backed leather chair behind the desk, running one lean hand over his thinning hair.

Jim sat down and replied seriously, "You might want to." Nick Isacks' smile faltered, and Jim continued. "Have you been working on a project at Rainier Biomedical Lab?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"In the last four days, there have been three deaths, all people associated with the project. I'd like to prevent any others. We were told you also work on the project. That means you could be the next target."

As Jim relayed this information, Nick's face drained of all color. "Who? Who died?" he whispered.

"The victims were Sean Caine, Marcia Baxter, and Ron McGrath."

Nick fell back in his chair, gasping. "Oh, my God, he killed them." His hand again smoothed his hair down, in what appeared to be a nervous habit.

"Who killed them?" Jim watched the man carefully, monitoring his vital signs to see if Isacks was telling the truth.

"Matt Lincoln. It had to have been him." Isacks' eyes seemed haunted.

"What were you and the others working on?"

"A computer virus protection program. We informally called it a virus seeker," Isacks said guardedly.

"A virus protection program? We had heard it was a virus program." Jim watched the man as he fidgeted.

"No, it was designed to actively protect systems against viruses...sort of like an 'intelligent' computer immune system." His voice was very quiet. "But, I swear, I was helping to guard against viruses, not cause problems!"

Jim sighed. "I suppose a program like that would be worth a tidy sum. Would it be enough to kill for? Is that why you think Lincoln would want your coworkers dead? "

Isacks looked at Jim for a moment, as if measuring his trustworthiness. The hand slid over his hair again, once, twice. Then he sighed. He leaned forward again, resting his hands on his desk. Unable to remain still, he began fiddling with a paper clip he picked up from his desk. Finally, he spoke softly, his eyes lowered. "Ron found out Lincoln was in debt -- in serious debt -- and had embezzled some of his grant money to pay it off. Ron decided that he wanted a piece of the pie, so he started to blackmail him." Isacks hesitated before continuing, then met Jim's eyes levelly. "I didn't have anything to do with it, I swear. And as far as I know Marcia and Sean didn't either. I'm not even sure they knew anything about the embezzling or blackmail. Lincoln must have assumed we all knew...." The man's eyes suddenly grew wide and he looked at Jim with a panicked expression. "Oh, my God, you really think he'll try to kill me, too?"

"It's possible, Mr. Isacks. We can provide protection for you until this is settled. So you think the blackmail was the reason Lincoln would have killed the others?"

Isacks again smoothed his thinning hair back, his gaze falling to the desk again. "Maybe. But the four of us also suspected that Lincoln might be trying to sell the virus seeker on the open market. But he wouldn't be able to do that if we're -- if I'm still alive. He couldn't risk us turning him in, I suppose. Lincoln's always been highly paranoid and rather ruthless." He raised his eyes, and Jim could see the fear in them. "He's got to kill me."

"Don't worry. You'll be placed in protective custody immediately. Excuse me a moment. I'll call my captain, get the arrangements started." Jim pulled out his cell phone and called Simon. He briefly explained what Isacks had told him, and they made arrangements for the scientist to be picked up by two plainclothes officers, who would then whisk him to a secure location. After concluding the short phone conversation, Jim looked back at the nervous man. "Why didn't you know something had happened to your fellow workers until now?"

"We have, uh, had--" the man swallowed, remembering for a moment the fate of his colleagues. He cleared his throat, and continued. "We often didnít see each other for days. We each were involved in different aspects of the project, and Lincoln had us working different schedules. It wasn't unusual for us to go a week or more without seeing each other. It was an unusual situation." 

"Riiight." Jim shook his head slightly. "I suggest you take care of anything that needs your attention, sir. You will most likely be out of touch for a few days."

"Yes, of course." Isacks signaled his secretary, who quickly entered the office. He started giving her a long list of things to take care of.

ooOOoo

Blair rushed into the bullpen looking for his partner and nearly crashed into Brown. "What's up, Hairboy?" H grabbed Blair's shoulders and helped him regain his balance, then looked down at the younger man with a hint of amusement.

"Sorry, H. I didn't hurt you, did I?" Blair smiled a little when Henri shook his head. "I'm looking for Jim."

"He's down getting a couple warrants; he's cracked that case you were working on," Henri reported, gesturing in the direction of the elevator. "Not yet," Blair replied heading to Jim's desk. "Don't tell me you have information the great Jim Ellison doesn't have?" H said, grinning.

"Not for long, he doesn't, H," came Ellison's amused voice. They turned as he approached. Jim's mouth tipped up on one side. "Don't you have some work to do, Brown, or are you waiting for Sandburg's help again?"

"Again? What are you talking about, man?" H put a surprised look on his face, spreading his hands in a gesture of innocence. Then he laughed and patted Jim's shoulder. "Don't worry about me, Ellison. I have Rafe to solve all my hard cases." Shaking his head and still grinning, he grabbed his jacket. "Speaking of Rafe, he's waiting downstairs for me. Later, guys!" He waved and headed to the elevator.

"So, what you got, Chief?" the detective asked, plucking his jacket from the coat tree and starting to put it on.

"The murder weapon."

That statement stopped Jim with one arm in his jacket; he looked at his now-smirking partner in astonishment. "What...? How...? Where did you find it?"

"Jack Kelso figured it all out."

"You have it now?" Jim started to move toward his partner.

"No, man, I don't have it." Blair rolled his eyes, holding out his empty hands. "But I do know what kind of weapon is being used. Jack thought my description of the 'disappearing bullets' sounded familiar and so he checked some of his old files. In them was a reference to a project called 'Arctic Blast.'"

"And that is..."

"A gun that fires bullets made of ice," Blair said. "Real-life Dick Tracy!" he added smugly.

"Ice bullets." Jim looked at him disbelievingly. He finished sliding on his jacket.

"Yup. Ice bullets. See? I was right! You gotta start listening to me more, man!" Blair was bouncing on his toes.

"Ice bullets." Jim said again, nodding slowly. "And you're never going to let me forget this, are you?" He turned and started toward the elevator.

"Nope." Blair couldn't stop grinning. He practically danced next to Jim as they walked to the elevator.

Jim pushed the DOWN button and looked at his excited friend. "Ice, huh? Hence the cold around the wound."

 "Yup. And the lack of a bullet in the body. Jack had thought the project had been canned, but apparently someone finished it up. Someone at Rainier's Biomedical Lab, coincidentally enough," Blair said sardonically.

"Hm. I wonder if our Dr. Lincoln might know this person," Jim said thoughtfully.

"That would be my guess." Blair gazed at his friend.

"Does Jack know how this 'ice gun' works?"

Blair became animated again, his hands flying as he described the prototype weapon. "The original plans had bullets kept on dry ice until they're needed. The ice bullets had a special chemical added to slow the melting process until introduced into a warm body. Then--"

"Chemical? Do you know what it was?"

The elevator arrived, its doors sliding silently open. Two people got off the elevator and walked past Jim and Blair toward Major Crime. The partners stepped inside the car and Jim pressed the button for the garage level, and resumed their conversation.

"Uh, no, Jack didn't know or else didn't tell me, why?"

"Remember the chemical residue in the tissues around the victims' wounds, Chief?"

The door slid shut, and the car started moving smoothly down.

"Yeah! I'll bet that's what it's from. Anyway, the bullets were loaded into a specially designed, high-speed ceramic rifle--"

"Ceramic so it could be carried past metal detectors, I presume," Jim said.

"Yeah, I'd guess that would be why. " Blair paused for a moment, watching the floor indicators switch on and off as they descended. "Anyway, the ice bullets were propelled from the gun using compressed carbon dioxide. Once a bullet enters the body, where it is exposed to the necessary temperature, it starts melting almost immediately. So by the time an autopsy is performed, there's no sign of it."

Jim nodded slowly. "Other than the minute traces of chemicals in surrounding tissues."

"Yeah."

"But, Chief?"

Blair looked at him expectantly.

"I'm still finding this hard to believe, Chief. How could an ice bullet withstand the explosive force of discharge? And how could it penetrate a body? Wouldn't it shatter on impact?"

"Well, apparently the chemical helps prevent that. And Jack mentioned that the bullets had a special shape that greatly improves penetration."

Jim shook his head slightly, a small smile on his lips. "Well, okay, if you say so, Darwin. Hey, thank Jack for me."

"I will....Jim?"

"Mmm?"

"Why did he use the ice gun? I mean, why not just a regular gun?"

"Hard to know, Chief. Maybe he hoped to keep us running in circles. Or maybe he didn't have easy access to a traditional weapon. The guy must be quite a shot, given his accuracy."

The elevator slowed, stopped, then opened. They walked out, heading into the garage.

"Hey, Jim, what did H mean about you cracking the case, anyway?"

Jim quickly updated Blair about the virus-seeker program, Lincoln's apparent embezzlements, and his possible attempts to sell the virus. "Also, we checked up on the phone numbers for the faxes. There were initial faxes sent to people in top positions at several high-tech companies. The last dozen were exchanged with a Douglas Finch, vice-president of marketing, at Evergreen Techware, in Seattle."

"He's the one who was going to buy it?"

Jim nodded. "Apparently. Unfortunately, we don't have enough proof yet to arrest Finch. But we're working on it."

"Damn. All this is over a computer anti-virus program."

"And a few hundred thousand in embezzled grant money. I know, the world's a crazy place."

He pulled out his keys, searching for the truck key. "Let's get over to Lincoln's house. I've got the warrant for his arrest, and Simon is sending some uniforms to the Biomedical Lab with the warrant to search it for the program. Forensics will be going with them to look for the gun and virus seeker, among other things."

Blair started to agree when he was suddenly shoved down hard; stunned, he found himself lying on the floor of the garage. Jim was squatting next to him, peering out toward the street and adjacent alley across from the entrance to the garage. He swiftly pulled his weapon from its holster.

Blair's startled, "What's going on?" was explained when he heard what had to be an ice bullet shattering on a nearby car. Moments later, another hit the pavement, then a third smashed against the wall behind them. Shards of ice sprayed the ground.

Noticing a few other people coming into the garage, probably drawn by the unusual sounds, Jim shouted, "Get down! Shooter! Down!" The men and women quickly ducked behind the nearest shelter. Those who were armed pulled out their weapons, searching carefully for the person who was firing at them.

Blair watched his partner carefully seek his target. "How'd you know?" Blair asked, amazed.

"I heard the release of CO2. That's the noise I couldn't identify when McGrath was killed."

Blair shook himself out of his stunned state and decided lying in the open wasn't the smartest idea. Dropping his backpack, he pulled his legs under his body until he was squatting and scooted behind the nearest vehicle, seeking better shelter from the icy death splattering nearby. "Can you spot him?"

Jim concentrated on the noises around him, filtering out all but the hiss of the weapon, and quickly zeroed in on the sniper. "He's behind the dumpster in the alley outside." Jim listened a bit more. "He's muttering about being out of bullets. He's going to make a break for it." Jim was already on the move as he barked the last words.

Blair sprinted after Jim and saw him disappear around the corner. Blair followed, almost slipping in a puddle near the entrance of the alley. He saw Jim tear down the alley, chasing the suspect. The fleeing man flung the weapon toward Jim, trying to slow him down. Jim smoothly deflected the weapon, which crashed off the brick wall and landed with a muted thud on a pile of twine-tied corrugated cardboard. The detective doggedly continued after the man.

Blair slowed as he neared the street where Jim and the perp had gone. Two uniformed officers who had been in the garage with them ran by, guns drawn, to provide backup for the detective. He heard Jim yelling at the perp and peeked around the corner. Jim had the situation under control.

With the two armed officers there to help Jim, Blair turned back to keep an eye on the weapon. He moved slowly toward the weapon that lay cracked  on the pile of mushy cardboard. He knew better than to touch it, figuring there would be plenty of fingerprints on it. He examined it as best he could without touching it as he waited for forensics to arrive.

ooOOoo

Jim caught up to the shooter just around the corner. Lincoln might be a gifted researcher, but he was in lousy physical shape. Ellison grabbed him around the throat and threw his chunky body against the brick wall. "I really don't appreciate someone using my partner and me for target practice," he growled, his face only inches from Lincoln's. "I'm going to read you your rights, and then you're going to tell me everything I want to know." Jim slammed him against the unforgiving surface again for emphasis before twisting him around so he was leaning against the wall, hands splayed out on the bricks. After quickly frisking Lincoln, Jim yanked out his handcuffs and restrained him, explaining his rights with the ease of long practice.

By the time the detective was finished and asked him if he understood his rights, Lincoln was sputtering and blustering, demanding his lawyer in a whiny voice.

"Very well, Lincoln. We'll talk in a little while." Glancing at the two uniforms, he said, "Take him in and book him, guys."

They moved closer. Each took one of Lincoln's arms and led him toward the station. The cuffed man continued whining as he waddled awkwardly between them.

Ellison watched them until they had turned into the alley. Then he went to find his partner.

ooOOoo

Forensics personnel, along with what seemed like half of the officers from the station, were swarming around the alley, taking pictures and carefully collecting the now-defunct ice gun. Blair looked up as Jim entered the alley. He had just seen the two officers haul Lincoln toward the station and knew Jim would not be far behind.

Blair moved toward his friend. "You okay, man?"

"Now I am, Chief. You all right?"

Blair nodded, falling into step alongside Jim as they headed toward the station. Blair grabbed his backpack as they went through the garage and walked toward the elevator.

Before going to Major Crime to write up their statements, they stopped by the booking area to be sure everything was being taken care of. Lincoln was booked on three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. Additional charges, including embezzling and fraud, would be added once all the details had been sorted out.

Jim arranged to have the man brought upstairs for questioning once he was processed. Then Blair and Jim went upstairs to fill Simon in on the situation.

ooOOoo

Jim and Blair were telling Simon about Lincoln's interrogation. Jim had spent an hour and forty-five minutes with the perp in the interrogation room, using Ellison Intimidation Techniques Number 3 and Number 5, according to a grinning Blair. And Lincoln had, understandably, cracked under the pressure. Despite his lawyer's repeated whispered urgings to be quiet, the man had finally spilled everything. Not too surprisingly, given the unusual weapon he had used, he admitted that he had received assistance from "someone high up in the government."

"But he agreed to give up his sources, is that right?" Simon stared at the two men in front of him. Sandburg had taken up residence on the table in his office, while Jim was leaning against the frame of one of the windows, arms crossed over his broad chest.

"Well, I think Lincoln figured it'd be easier than getting shoved through a wall." Blair grinned at his glowering partner.

"I wasn't going to push him all the way through, Chief," Jim said sulkily; the twinkle in his eye belied his tone. "I was just going to...dent it a little."

"So who was his contact?" Simon asked.

"He hasn't told us yet. I think he's hoping to use it to force the D.A. to work him a deal of some sort."

"Damn." Simon rubbed his forehead as the week's stress finally caught up to him. "But you think it was Brackett?"

"Hard to know, sir, without any way of tying them together."

"Did you get the statement from the Isacks about his involvement?"

"Yes, sir. Unfortunately, he never had any contact with anyone higher than Lincoln; he won't be able to help us any further along those lines. But he had some paper documentation about McGrath blackmailing Lincoln that will corroborate the motive. And he has been released from protective custody now that Lincoln's been captured."

Simon was about to answer when his phone rang. "Banks," he barked into the receiver. Jim and Blair unabashedly eavesdropped on their side of the call. "What do you mean? No chance?" The two listening men perked up at hearing this. "He refuses? What about Isacks?"

At this, Blair dropped his head onto his chest and mumbled something under his breath.

Simon finished his phone call with a terse, "Fine. Yes, I understand. No, I don't like it. Yes, fine. Good-bye."

"Lincoln's getting off, isn't he?" Blair asked bleakly.

"No, Sandburg, on the contrary; he's going to prison for a long, long time." Simon took off his glasses and pinched the top of his nose, trying to stave off an impending headache. "Lincoln's not the problem."

"What do you mean, sir?" Jim spoke up.

"Nick Isacks has been taken into federal custody and is unavailable for a trial or further questioning."

"Why?" Blair asked.

"I don't know. It's 'classified'." Simon shook his head, disgusted with the often-confusing machinations of the federal government.

"And?" Jim prompted.

"And by the time our forensics crew arrived at Rainier Lab, the place was spotless. There was nothing out of place. Nothing on any of the computers -- not just no files, the entire system had been wiped clean. The topper is that Dr. Lincoln's house 'mysteriously' burned down this afternoon shortly after he was arrested. Luckily, no one was hurt in the fire, but it's a total loss."

"So they won?" Blair asked, confused.

"No, Sandburg, we caught a dangerous criminal who will be locked away for a long time and we have taken the prototype for that weapon off the streets. But we can't win at everything."

"I'd like it better."

"Wouldn't we all, Sandburg. Go on, you two. Get out of here. I have work to do," he said gruffly. His slight smile as he waved them out betrayed his affection for the two men.

"C'mon, Chief, I'll spring for some of that tofu crap you like so much." He put his arm around Blair, pushing him out of Simon' office.

"It's not 'crap,' Jim. Just because something doesn't have 500 grams of fat in it does not make it crap."

"Sure, sure," Jim smiled at his partner's prattle and almost crashed into him when Blair abruptly came to a stop.

"What's he doing here?" Blair asked angrily, nodding his head in the direction of Jim's desk. There, sitting in Jim's chair like he owned the place, was Lee Brackett.

"What are you up to now, Brackett?" bellowed Jim, stalking toward his tormentor. Others in the room stopped to stare.

Brackett smiled genially before answering Jim's question. "Why, I just stopped by to congratulate you two on a job well done." Standing, he offered his hand for them to shake. Both men ignored it. Shaking his head sadly, Brackett pulled his hand back and stepped around the desk. "I was worried for a little while there but you finally came through. Good job. I was starting to think that I would have to send you another e-mail."

"That was you?" Blair asked incredulously.

"Of course." Brackett's voice held the same cocky indifference Blair remembered so well from the last time they'd dealt with him. "I knew what was going on and figured I'd die of boredom before you two morons got a clue...so I gave you one. It sped up the process quite nicely." Brackett raised his eyebrows and started to back away when Jim advanced on him, eyes full of menace.

"You knew what was going on?" Jim asked, cold anger tingeing his voice. "You knew Lincoln was the killer and you didn't notify us immediately? You risked how many people's lives, including our own, to play your little game?"

"What fun is a game without the risks?" he answered. Brackett straightened up, smoothing his clothing, and smiled again. "I just came by to say 'so long,' I've gotten all I need from you guys."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"My dear Blair, I can't spoil the game. That would be rude. Anyway, I have places to go, people to avoid seeing. You can understand, I'm sure?"

Jim stepped forward. "You're not going anywhere except to a holding cell."

"Now, now, Detective." Brackett grinned, raising his hands. "I've been released free and clear by some very powerful people. You can't touch me, and you know it."

Jim clenched his jaw, taking another menacing step forward, but Brackett held his ground. "You've said your piece, Brackett, now get the hell out of here." Jim gestured toward the elevator.

"As you wish, Detective." Brackett's grin widened, and he raised his hand in a mocking salute. "See you soon."

The others in the room, who had been watching the interchange with lively curiosity, resumed their activities as Brackett left the bullpen.

Jim and Blair looked at each other and groaned in anticipation of future Brackett games.

"Couldn't you just shoot him?" Blair asked hopefully.


The End

E-mail the authors:
Brate: brate01@hotmail.com
Gemini: gemini_ts@hotmail.com

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