Jim awoke to shouting. Yelling, in fact, between Mulroney and Sandburg. Actually, Mulroney was doing all the yelling.
"You aren't even a cop!" Mulroney said.
"Like I've never heard that before," Blair shot back. "Look, Mulroney, I think we should keep him."
Jim blinked and sat up. What did Sandburg do? Find a damned puppy?
Moments later, Jim followed the conversation into the kitchen where Rafe, Dills, and Humiston were eating lunch. Blair and Mulroney were nowhere to be found and Humiston was looking decidedly uncomfortable.
At his questioning glance, Dills pointed with his coffee cup to Jim's left. "Your partner's down there, duking it out with Mulroney. Seems he found a 'pet'."
Rafe grinned. "My money's on Sandburg."
Jim turned in response to Dills' gesture. A door to his left was wide open and led down into the dark, dismal, extremely rank cellar. Sure enough, he heard voices floating up from below -- the annoyed, frustrated voice of a worried fed, and the annoyingly reasonable voice of his partner. And there...a third, rapid heartbeat. That raccoon? What the hell was Blair thinking?
Controlling his sense of smell, Jim trotted down the stairs with the uneasy feeling that he would be siding with Mulroney on this one. "Sandburg," he started as soon as he sighted his partner, but that was as far as he got.
The raccoon was actually a man. A small, filthy man, dressed in tatters, who looked like he hadn't eaten in a month. He was also terrified.
"Jim!" Blair looked relieved.
"Ellison!" Mulroney said through clenched teeth. Jim had never seen him so angry. "Tell your partner that he shouldn't be wandering about checking noises! This is a witness protection situation, and he should stay put and let the trained officers take care of everything."
"Like I keep telling this guy," Blair said, hands on hips, "I didn't come down here to check out a noise. I came down here to get rid of the garbage which had some bad meat in it. I figured with your heightened sense of smell it would be a deterrent to your job."
Mulroney opened his mouth to interrupt, but Jim held up a hand and motioned for Blair to continue.
"Then I heard a sound, and I thought your... I mean, I thought a raccoon might have gotten trapped down here. I was going to set it loose. That's how I found Jack."
"Jack?" Jim looked again at Sandburg's find. The little man swallowed hard and stared right back at him, like a deer caught in headlights. Figures Sandburg already knows his name.
"This is great. Just great!" Mulroney threw up his arms in frustration. "Now what do we do?"
"He's not hurting anything. And it looks like he's been here a while." Blair pointed to a stack of old blankets in the corner of the basement and a water bottle that looked like it had been filled many, many times. Blair's expression turned from angry to earnest and sincere. "Besides, the poor guy could use a good meal."
Thankfully, Jim found he could side with Blair after all. "Kid's got a point, Mulroney. Kicking the guy out won't make us any safer. And weighing trusting this guy against moving our location after all these... cautionary tactics; well, let's just say I'll take my chances on Jack." His biological lie-detection equipment wasn't wrong.
Mulroney stared at Jack for a long moment. "Okay. We'll bring him some food, but he stays down here, alone, with no further contact. And we lock the cellar door."
"You're all heart man," Blair said sarcastically. "I'm going to go get Jack some food and a few bottles of water."
"A bleeding heart like that is going to get you killed, Jim," Mulroney said, watching Blair disappear up the stairs.
"That bleeding heart has saved my life more times than I can count," Jim answered. He grabbed Mulroney by his sleeve and dragged him toward the stairs. "Now you and I are going to have our little talk."
"Two thousand ninety one point three," Brown tapped the numbers into the calculator, "plus three thousand four hundred and two...." He continued punching in the numbers until, finally, he reached the last one and, with a triumphant grin, hit the button for the equal sign. "Yeah! All done." It hadn't been so bad. In fact, he'd kind of enjoyed it. It was sort of relaxing just sitting in a nice, peaceful office adding up numbers with the soft sound of blues in the air.
He was going to kiss Sandburg.
Glancing at the clock, his eyebrows shot up when he saw that the day was almost over. Three O'clock. Wow. His stomach growled with the realization that he'd been sitting punching in numbers for hours and hadn't even remembered to stop for lunch. Well, at least the report was finished. Now he could go fill his stomach. Leaning back in the chair, he stretched his arms over his head and gave into a deep yawn.
He rose from his chair and opened his office door. The bullpen was pretty quiet, with only the soft sounds of computers whirring in the background. Joel sat at Sandburg's desk, tapping at the computer, no doubt because Sandburg had the fastest computer in the bullpen. He'd insisted on spending his own money to donate a 900 Megahertz processor to the department as long as he got the computer at his desk. Simon, of course, had readily agreed.
Brown smiled and shook his head. With two paychecks, Sandburg sure was raking in the dough. "Hey, Joel, wanna go grab a bite to eat?"
Joel looked up from the monitor. "Uhhh, actually I had lunch at one."
"Oh." Brown's smile faded, then returned quickly. "Well, how 'bout taking a coffee break? My treat!"
Joel tapped a few buttons on the keyboard then rose to his feet. "How can I resist an offer like that, Captain Brown?"
Brown grinned. "I love the sound of that. Captain Brown." He closed the office door and moved to Joel's side. "And you know what? I just spent hours number crunching and I actually liked it."
"You're a sick man, H."
They headed for the hallway and nearly bumped into a large figure that stormed into the bullpen. A figure that was dusted with sand and smelled like rotten fish.
"Uh, sir!" Brown straightened automatically, noting the furious look in the Captain's eyes. Then he remembered that he couldn't get his ass chewed out until the rotation was up, and he relaxed, giving into another grin. "How'd it go in the field, sir?"
"Man, Simon, what happened to you?" Joel asked, his eyes twinkling even as he maintained an otherwise stoic facade.
Banks glared at Brown. Megan wandered into the bullpen and headed straight for her desk, flashing the men a quick smile, "G'day, mates."
"Brown," Simon stepped up to him, "I'm going into my office and getting myself a cup of coffee. Is that okay with you?" Sarcasm dripped from his voice.
"Uh, yeah, sure. Just don't uh, sit on the chair."
Simon's eyes narrowed, and Brown took a couple of steps back. "Hey, uh, something go wrong, Capt... uh... Det... err... Captain, sir?"
Simon shifted his glare to Megan. "You could say that."
"We had a meeting with an informant near the docks," Megan informed them, sinking into the chair at her desk. "Turns out our man Borrelli also had an interest in our informant. We all bumped into one another." She grinned. "Simon went after Borrelli while I took off after the informant."
"And?" Joel prodded.
"And Connor caught the informant, handcuffed him to a pole, then got in the car and came after us. She drives like a damn maniac. Nearly ran me down!"
"Oh please, Captain. I had full control. Besides, I did stop Borrelli."
"By plowing into a crab stand with me right behind him!
Joel broke into laughter.
"At least I got the tip about the jewelry store owner out of our informant, Captain."
"They were live crabs!" Simon growled, storming past Brown, one hand going to rub at his right butt cheek. "I'm too damn old for this crap," he muttered, disappearing into his office.
"Uh, don't you mean you're too damn old for this crab, sir?" Joel chuckled loudly.
Simon reappeared in the doorway, threw one final glare that encompassed everyone, and then slammed the door, rattling the glass.
"Wow." Brown grinned, shaking his head. "He really needs a shower."
"No, he needs his coffee more," Megan sighed. Both men looked at her. "Trust me, boys. He's been a bear all day."
"And that's unusual how?" Joel asked.
Megan smiled. "Good point."
The office door opened suddenly and Simon stormed back into the bullpen, a file clutched in his arms. "What the hell is this, Brown?"
Brown swallowed. "Uh... the budget report, sir."
"I know what it is... but... but..." He opened the file and flipped through the pages. "It's done, and it looks right."
Brown smiled proudly. "Yes, sir. I got a call from the Commish's office asking for that by tomorrow. It was kind of relaxing, actually."
"Relaxing!" Simon's head looked ready to explode. "This wasn't supposed to be relaxing! It was supposed to be torture." He jabbed the file at Brown. "While I was out getting attacked by crabs and covered with sand, you were in my office relaxing to blues!"
"Uh, it was actually hours of work, sir... but, yeah, I liked it."
Simon rolled his eyes. "Figures. I just can't win." He turned around and stormed back to the office, slamming his door once again.
"H, you should've said it was hard, horrible work." Joel chuckled, shaking his head, while Brown looked at him in confusion. "I heard Rhonda on the phone with Simon this morning. The whole budget report isn't due for another two weeks."
"It was a set-up?" Brown's mouth dropped open. "You mean, I spent hours...."
Brown pursed his lips, then shrugged. "Oh well, at least it's done. And, it was relaxing." He slapped the older man on the arm. "Now, how 'bout that coffee break? Megan? You coming?"
"Yeah, sure." She scribbled something on a sheet of paper on her desk, then shot to her feet. "I'm starving. Missed lunch."
"What? You didn't go for the crab?" Joel asked merrily, eliciting a grimace from Megan. He chuckled, then glanced at the office. "Brown, go ask Simon if he wants to join us."
"Uh-uh." Brown shook his head. "You ask him."
"Oh, I'll ask him!" Megan sighed, hurrying to the closed office door and tapping on the glass. A muffled "come in!" issued from inside. Slowly, she opened the door and peeked her head in. "Sir, we're all going for a bite to eat. Care to join us?"
"Thanks, but no thanks," came the tired, much more subdued reply. "I'm gonna finish the coffee, then hit the showers and see about getting a change of clothes."
"Okay, sir. See ya later." She closed the door and headed back to Joel and Brown. "Let's go, boys, but no seafood."
"Someone in my department is dirty," Mulroney admitted quietly, his expression one of bitter disappointment and defeat.
They sat in the kitchen, sizing each other up over a cup of coffee. Rafe, Dills, and Harry had beat a hasty retreat when they'd returned up the stairs, and Blair knew enough to give them some space. He'd retreated to the bedroom to find a change of clothes for Jack.
Jim nodded. "How do you know?"
"We've been trying to get Branca for years, and recently he's gotten sloppy. We finally managed to get his accountant to testify against him, only to have him killed while under our protection. A few months later, one of Branca's ex-girlfriends agreed to testify. Now she's dead." Mulroney closed his eyes. "I had to really bully that girl. She was terrified, because of what happened with the accountant. I told her she could trust us."
"I'm sorry," Jim said gently. That would be rough, knowing one of your own had gone bad and feeling responsible for an innocent person's death. "Are you sure it isn't just a coincidence?"
Mulroney shook his head. "No, it's no coincidence. With the second witness, we used the same kind of over-the-top evasive measures I had you and the other detectives use. Still, they found us. A surprise attack, in and out, the witness was dead. That's why I wanted to do this solo, using someone I could trust. No one in my department knows about Harry, or where I am this week. And Harry's still alive."
"So far so good," Jim said. The week wasn't up yet.
Mulroney put down his coffee cup and crossed his arms on the table, leaning slightly forward. "What happened to us, Jim? We used to be on a first name basis. We used to be...well, if not friends, then at least co-workers on good terms."
Jim's expression darkened as he remembered watching Yuri, trapped and all but in his custody, shot without discretion, the force of the bullet pulling Yuri from his grip and causing him to plummet into the torrential currents below.
"I'm sorry about Yuri, Jim. I am truly sorry." Mulroney reached over and touched Jim lightly on the hand. "I helped you get Lazar. That should count for something."
Jim looked up at the federal agent and saw a man not too different from himself. "Yes. Yes it did."
"Joel!" Brown bellowed from the door of the office, spotting the older man just walking into the bullpen, a mug of coffee in his right hand.
Joel sighed. "What is it now, H?"
"C'mon, you've done this stuff. And Simon talks to you right?"
"What do you need?" Joel set the mug on his desk and walked over to Brown.
"The D.A.'s on the phone and wants to know about the Ferdinand case."
"So, tell her what we have."
"I don't know what we have. It wasn't my case. That was Ellison's case, and it's over, right? They wrapped that up months ago."
"What does she want to know?"
"Something about a search and seizure issue."
"Well, she should probably talk directly to Ellison."
"I tried to tell her that, but...."
"She chewed you out?"
"Yeah!" Brown whined.
Joel chuckled softly. "Brown, you're going to have to learn to deal with these people. Tell her she'll have to talk to Ellison and that you'll forward her message to him, but he's on assignment right now, or she can call back tomorrow when Banks is back on duty."
"Be strong man." Joel slapped him on the shoulder. "You can do it."
"But this is the D.A. She can make my life a living hell if I piss her off. You know, making sure I dot every "i" and cross every "t" on every report from now until I retire, Joel!"
"No, no." Joel sounded as though he were talking to a young child. "She's not going to do that. When are you going to learn that the paper pushers are all full of hot air? She's with the D.A's office. They rely on us just as much as we rely on them. So, don't worry about it. Get a backbone."
Brown stiffened. "I got a backbone, man."
"Then use it." Joel grabbed the receiver, jabbed the hold button to reconnect the caller, and handed the receiver to Brown. "Be strong, man," he whispered, then turned and chuckled his way out of the office.
Simon glanced at his watch. These were his last few hours in the field, then he could return to his blessed office with the rich aroma of Guatemalan coffee beans permeating the air. He steered leisurely down Fifth Street, ignoring the random, frustrated huffs from Megan, who remained a hostile passenger. The woman obviously had control problems, but at least she was securely fastened in her seat, away from the wheel and the accelerator.
"Sir, at this rate..."
"Uh-uh!" He raised a silencing finger at her, his eyes remaining firmly on the road. "I can go even slower, you know."
"You drive like my Aunt Emma."
"Oh? You mean safe? Abiding by the law, especially since we are law enforcement officers?"
"That's what my ex-wife used to say." Simon pulled over to the curb and performed a perfect, quick parallel parking maneuver that made him grin with pride and shoot a glance at Megan. "That's driving."
"If you say, so, sir." Megan sighed, unbuckling her seat belt. "At least we made it to the jewelry store before closing time." She opened her door and hurried from the car.
"And she says I'm impossible," Simon muttered, getting out of his own seat and locking the door. "Try not to damage anything, this time, Connor! We just want to talk to the owner, not redecorate his displays."
"Actually, sir," she pulled a folded paper out of her suit jacket pocket, "we want to search the place."
"When did you get that?"
"Yesterday afternoon from the magistrate based on probable cause supplied by our informant's tip."
Simon shook his head, stifling a smile. "Nice work," he grumbled, walking past her and trying to ignore the victorious grin on her face.
Simon pulled open the store's front door, eliciting a light jingle from the bell hung above the entrance. An older man standing behind the counter near the cash register looked up. He had a round face, dark eyes, and graying hair that that showed a few dull strands of brown.
"Hello. Can I help you find something?"
Megan stepped in front of Simon and pulled out her badge. "We're with the Cascade P.D. I'm Detective Connor and this is my partner, Detective Simon Banks."
Simon stomped past her, stopping at the counter in front of the man. "We'd like to ask you some questions about a man named Joseph Branca, and we have a warrant to search the--"
The man bolted, fleeing through the small doorway behind the register.
"Bugger!" Megan scrambled around the counter, disappearing through the rear door after the man.
Simon took off after her. The doorway led to a small storage room that led to a back exit. Simon raced through the exit, emerging into a narrow alley, and spotted Megan ahead just before she rounded the corner.
"Freeze! Police!" He heard her yell.
His heart pounded. Drawing his gun, he stopped just before rounding the corner and carefully peeked his head around. Megan had the suspect pressed against a car right in front of the shop entrance as she slapped the cuffs around his wrist. He relaxed, holstering his firearm. Taking a deep breath as he came down off the adrenaline rush. Although he'd drawn his weapon a couple of times as captain, usually because of something involving Ellison or Sandburg, it certainly wasn't a routine occurrence. For that, he was very, very grateful.
"I didn't do anything!" the owner protested as Megan pulled him away from the car and led him back through the front of the jewelry store.
"Nice work again, Connor." This time he let his grin show.
"Thank you, sir." Megan steered her prisoner against the counter.
He stepped up to the store owner. "Care to tell us about Mr. Branca?"
"I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Then why'd you run, mate?" Megan asked.
The owner glared at her. "Who the hell are you? Crocodile Dundee?"
"No, he was my uncle" She grabbed his shirt. "Now, answer the man."
"I'm not saying anything 'til I talk to my lawyer."
"Fine." Simon moved behind the counter. "You can talk to him after we search the place."
"So, we good here, Jim?" Mulroney held out his right hand and waited expectantly.
Jim nodded, and, after a moment's hesitation, responded to his offer and the two shook hands.
"What the..." Jim felt an odd vibration. He twisted their clasped hands so that Mulroney's was on top and looked at an expensive gold ring with a large red inset stone. A high school ring, by the looks of it.
"How long have you been wearing this?" he asked.
"The ring? I don't know. Nine months, anyway. I had my 25th reunion last year, so I dug this out, had the setting checked and got it cleaned. Why?"
"Take it off."
Mulroney looked more and more confused, but the urgency in Jim's voice had him following orders. After twisting the ring a few times, he worked it off over his knuckles and placed it on the table.
Jim looked around and grabbed the heavy cast-iron skillet. Before Mulroney could protest, he'd smashed the head of the ring into a thousand pieces.
"Oh my God." Mulroney stared at the little electronic object squashed among the bits of red glass. "I've been wearing a tracking device."
Two hours later, Simon and Megan had uncovered a small trial's worth of potential evidence, all of which rested on the countertop next to the register in the form of bank records, phone bills, and receipts.
Simon held one of the receipts in his hand, his gut twisting as he read the name.
Mulroney. The federal agent currently guarding the witness who was scheduled to testify against Branca just happened to have had his ring cleaned at this store.
"Connor, stay here! Call for backup!" He handed her the receipt. "I think the location of the safehouse where Ellison and Sandburg are has been compromised. Tell dispatch to send units there ASAP!" He pulled her aside, away from the store owner, and quickly told her the location of the safehouse, then, without another word, bolted for the door.
He stormed out of the building and broke into a run for his car, yanking out his phone and punching in the number Mulroney had given him for his cellphone. God, please don't let it be too late.
Continue to Act IV