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Rhonda greeted Shaundra Brown warmly when she came through the doors of Major Crime. "You look fabulous!" Simon's assistant said, coming around her desk to give the newcomer a hug. "Pregnancy definitely agrees with you."

"Oh, please." Shaundra blushed. "I just look nine months and seven long days pregnant."

"Nonsense. You're glowing, so bright I should put my sunglasses on."

Henri's wife continued to smile, obviously pleased by the praise. She looked around the bullpen. "I don't see Henri; is he around?"

Rhonda wrinkled her forehead in thought. "I believe he went someplace with Blair," she answered. "Let me check with Simon." She walked into the inner office, knocking perfunctorily. "Simon?"

"Mm?" The captain glanced up from his stack of paperwork.

"Shaundra Brown is here--"

Simon straightened warily. "She's not in labor, is she?"

"No, sir," Rhonda laughed lightly. Simon was so cute sometimes. He always pretended to be so tough, but she knew he was really a big softie. He cared a hell of a lot about the men and women under his command, and their families, considering them all to be part of his family.

Simon relaxed, blowing out a sigh. "Thank God. That's all I'd need to deal with right now," he grumbled. "What do you need? I have work to do."

Hiding her smile, Rhonda asked, "Shaundra was wondering where Henri was."

"He and Blair went to Seattle to get some cookies or some such thing."

"Do you know when they'll be back?"

"Do I look like a babysitter?" Simon scowled at her.

"No, sir. Thanks." Rhonda smiled at him and went back out into the bullpen. She had learned many years before to ignore the captain's scowls and growls.

She found Shaundra leaning against the wall behind her desk, a startled expression on her face.

"You okay, sweetie?" Rhonda asked, going up to the young woman and putting one hand gently on Shaundra's shoulder. She looked questioningly into Shaundra's dark eyes.

"I--I don't know." There was a shakiness to her voice. "I've been feeling twinges all day, but I've had three false labors already, and I haven't thought much of it." Shaundra suddenly gasped and looked down at the floor with a look of utter surprise.

Rhonda followed her gaze. The floor at Shaundra's feet was wet.

"Oh, my God! My water broke!" Shaundra said, wonder, awe, and shock in her voice. She looked at Rhonda as if aliens had just landed in the middle of the bullpen.

Rhonda grinned and laughed softly. "Yeah! Congratulations! You're going to be a mom."

The young woman laughed a small laugh, then a larger one. "Wow, I can't believe it. It's really happening."

"Yup, it's really happening." Smiling broadly, Rhonda became all business. "Okay, look, let's get you seated for a few minutes, until I can get some towels or something down on the floor. We don't want you slipping." She pulled a chair over and helped Shaundra get settled.

"We'll need a bit of help here." She looked around the bullpen. Normally there would be several detectives around, but at the moment it was deserted. Well, fine. Simon can help. She turned toward his office. "Captain Banks!"

Simon came out to see what could have his normally unflappable assistant hollering. In an instant, he saw the situation. Rhonda could almost read his thoughts by the expressions on his face: as a police captain he knew that he should know exactly what to do. Yet all the common sense had flown out of his head. She tried not to laugh as he started to babble to Shaundra about Henri being in Seattle with Blair.

"What?" asked Shaundra. "What is he there for?"


"Oh… okay." She grabbed her belly and moaned as a contraction began.

Simon stood and stared at her. Rhonda figured he was probably trying to remember what he had done when Joan had gone into labor. If he grabs his keys and says he'll bring the station wagon around front, I'll never let him hear the end of it, she thought with a wicked grin.

Rhonda shook her head, took Shaundra's hand, and encouraged her to breathe through the contraction. When it was over, she said, "Take a deep, cleansing breath. That's it. Let it out. Good. Now relax." Rhonda glanced at her watch. "Simon, it's kind of early, since she just started labor, but her water broke and we probably don't want a woman in labor in the Major Crime bullpen…."

"No, no. No one in labor here," Simon said, shaking his head rapidly back and forth, his eyes wide.

"Okay, so why don't you call and request an ambulance?" She smiled and nodded at the phone on her desk.

"Call. Sure, I can do that." Simon nodded firmly and strode to the desk.

"Careful where you walk, sir. The floor's a bit wet."

"Wet?" Simon looked at the floor and paled a bit.

Rhonda smiled at Shaundra. "Men are all the same," she whispered conspiratorially. "Cool as cucumbers until the contractions start. Then they lose it."

Shaundra smiled. There was a hint of nervousness in her eyes. Rhonda knew she wished Henri was there.

"Can you hang on a minute, sweetie? I want to grab something to put down on the floor here so no one slips. It should be several minutes until you have another contraction. I should be back by then or the EMTs will be here. Okay?" She looked into Shaundra's eyes.

"Sure. Thanks." The young woman nodded, her long curls dancing around her shoulders. She hugged her bulging belly as if protecting both herself and her soon-to-be-born baby, rocking slightly forward and back.

Inspector Megan Connor sauntered into the bullpen. "What did I miss?" she asked.

"Shaundra's water broke," Rhonda replied. "She's started labor."

Simon looked up from the phone; he still held the receiver to his ear. "They're not gonna be able to get an ambulance here for sometime. There's a huge pileup on the other side of the city with lots of casualties." He swallowed, looking at Rhonda beseechingly. "They, uh, want us to check to make sure the baby's not crowning."

Rhonda noted that Simon still looked pale. She knew that, as first responders, all police officers received training in basic first aid, including baby delivery. However, that didn’t mean they were necessarily eager to perform such tasks.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," said Megan, rolling her eyes. "I'll check." She lowered her voice to a soft, comforting tone. "If that's all right with you, Shaundra?" She smiled at the young woman, whose expression mirrored her curiosity and mortification from the earlier conversation.

"Uh, um…"

"We can go into Simon's office and close the blinds," Rhonda suggested. She bustled around efficiently to cover any embarrassment Shaundra might feel. She rustled up some blankets from the emergency supplies, one of which she spread on the floor so Shaundra wouldn't slip. Rhonda carefully hustled the young woman into the office, closing the door and the blinds. She laid a blanket on Simon’s couch and spoke in a soothing voice, to reassure and settle Shaundra.

Megan returned from washing her hands in the rest room. She used the antiseptic wipes Rhonda retrieved from the first aid kit and carefully cleansed her hands with them.

"Don't worry, Shaundra. I took some extra medical training back in Sydney. I worked for 16 weeks in the emergency ward and rode with an ambulance for four weeks during my training. I've actually delivered three babies: a little joey there at the hospital, a little joey out on call with the ambulance and a little sheila a couple years later, on a call. I'm just going to check you here, nothing to it." Megan talked cheerfully and softly as she quickly checked the young woman's progress. "Nope, nothing to worry about. No baby's head showing yet. You've got awhile yet before anything's going to happen." She stood up, washing her hands with another pair of wipes, and smiled at Shaundra, who smiled back weakly, until another contraction hit and the smile disappeared.

"Ohhh, God." Shaundra clenched her eyes and teeth.

"Relax, Shaundra. It's okay. Breathe, like you learned in class. That's good," Rhonda said.

Both Rhonda and Megan helped her through the very long minute.

"Cleansing breath. Great." Megan gently rubbed Shaundra's arm. "Good job."

They finished and cleaned everything up. When Shaundra was comfortably ensconced on the couch with a blanket wrapped around her, they opened the door and Simon hesitantly came back into his office. "How's everything?" he asked nervously, looking at Henri's wife as if she might deliver quintuplets any minute.

"Fine. No baby for a while yet," Megan said.

Simon visibly sagged with relief. He went to the phone and punched a button to connect him to the Dispatcher. He spoke quickly for a minute, reassuring them that, no, the baby was not crowning; yes, they could transport Shaundra to the hospital; and yes, they had someone available who was qualified to deliver babies, just in case.

When he hung up, Megan asked, "Where's Henri?"

"In Seattle with Sandburg."

"What's he doing there?"

"Long story, involving cookies," Simon said, scowling.

Megan gave him a strange look, but decided not to ask. "Have you tried his cell phone yet?"

Simon slapped himself on the head and picked up his phone. He punched in some numbers and, after listening for a few moments, hung up. "He's out of area." He glared at the phone as if it had personally caused his problems.

Another contraction began and everyone flinched as Shaundra growled in pain.

The rain came down heavily now, pouring in sheets. Henri could hardly see through the windshield with the wipers on full. The car lacked control on the slick and muddy road. Henri cursed his choice. He didn't remember the road being this unmanageable the last time he'd taken it. Of course, it had been a bright and sunny day that time.

Blair looked over with an anxious expression. "Think we're gonna make it?" he asked.

"Just make sure those cookies are safe, Hairboy. At this point they're worth more to me than you are." Henri grinned to show he was teasing.

"I think at this moment Shaundra might agree that they're worth more than you are, too," Blair replied with a short laugh.

"Unfortunately true," Henri agreed. "Such is the nature of pregnancy's cravings." He squinted, trying to see down the road. He missed one tree that had landed in his lane, but didn't see the next.

Rafe continued to drive Jim's truck around a large circuit, paying close attention to the sentinel at his side. If Jim seemed strained, Rafe turned and moved in closer to their prey. The light rain made it harder for Jim to listen in.

"Get back to the corner. He's on the move," Jim suddenly announced.

Rafe swung the car around and headed back to where they'd left Benny Z. He wasn't at the corner, but before Rafe could ask, Jim said, "Take a right on Mackinaw."

He did and continued to follow Jim's directions for the next few miles. Rafe quickly realized where they were going. "We're heading straight to Castor's office," he remarked.

"Yep." Jim nodded and continued giving directions.

Rafe glanced in the rearview mirror and saw McCoy following closely. "Damn!"

"What?" Jim glanced over.

"It's that reporter. He's behind us." As Jim looked back, Rafe asked, "Didn't you sense him or something?"

Jim glared at him. "I'm not omniscient."

"Relax, Jim, I was just kidding." He continued driving and glancing in his mirror. "What do you want to do?"

Jim scowled for a long moment before his sour expression gave way to a decidedly evil smile. "Let's get the info for Homicide, then we can decide what to do about McCoy."

"You're the man," Rafe said cheerfully, curious to see what Jim had cooked up for the pesky reporter.

"Relax, breathe. That's good." Rhonda spoke calmly to Shaundra Brown, who was in the middle of another contraction.

"Why do people say that?" she snapped back through the pain. "It's not as though I'll forget to breathe or something." She cried out as the wave of pain crested.

"I know, I know." Rhonda refused to be intimidated. She'd worked with Simon for years and he was the king of intimidation. "It's to help you focus, honey, that's all. Now in… and out…"

Shaundra followed the directions and settled down as the contraction faded.

"Six minutes," stated Megan.

"Until what?" asked Simon.

"Since her last contraction."

"Oh, God." Simon was beginning to look green instead of pale around the edges. Rhonda was fascinated. In all the years she had known Simon, she had never seen him look this shade of green before. How interesting.

"No news from Henri yet?" Connor asked.

"No." Simon paced back and forth before making a decision. "That's it. I'm putting an APB out on him." He dialed up Communications and relayed the necessary information to place an All Points Bulletin out on both Henri and his car.

"I don't think we should wait for the ambulance any longer, sir," Megan said, nodding at the woman in labor.

"I agree, Simon. She seems to be progressing quickly, and with her water broken…." Rhonda didn't add that she wasn't sure how much longer Simon would be able to take it either. Of course, she knew he really would be fine; she was privately having some fun at his expense.

Apparently that was enough to make up Simon's mind. "Okay, okay… after the next contraction, we'll take her down to my car and get a police escort to the hospital. That all right with you, Shaundra?"

"As long as they can give me drugs, that's perfect!" She grimaced, looking less than happy about the whole situation.

Joel arrived just as the group was ushering her downstairs. They quickly filled him in. Beaming happily, he went ahead, clearing the way.

"Why don't you pull in here?" Jim suggested. He pointed to a parking garage across from Castor's office building. "If you can stall McCoy, I'll see what Benny and Delta are up to."

"Not a problem," Rafe assured him. Knowing Castor's office was located on the fifth floor, the younger detective parked the truck on the sixth level of the garage to throw off McCoy. Jim quickly got out and ducked down the stairwell, while Rafe stood outside next to the vehicle.

Within a minute, Robert McCoy pulled up the ramp and parked across from Rafe. The reporter got out of his car and swaggered over, looking around. He frowned. "Where's Ellison?"

Rafe pointed up.

McCoy glanced at the concrete ceiling. "What? Why?"

"Wanted to get a bird's eye view. You know, see if there's anything going on that we should check out."

"You're joking!" The reporter crossed his arms and glared darkly at Rafe.

"About what?" the detective asked, innocence shining from his features. "He likes to go up to the top floor and use his hyper-sight to scout for trouble."

"What, like Batman or something?" McCoy's voice was thick with disbelief. "In the rain." He crossed his arms over his chest. After glancing thoughtfully toward the ceiling again, McCoy stared calculatingly at Rafe for a moment. "Why didn't you park up there then?" the reporter asked, clearly suspicious.

Rafe looked around quickly then leaned forward conspiratorially. "He doesn't like anyone to watch him do it. He's kinda shy about it, you know?"

As soon as McCoy heard that, he grabbed his camera and ran to the stairwell.

"Wait!" Rafe called, obligatorily, as he remained leaning casually against the truck. "Wait, come back!" Then he chuckled to himself. I sure hope you're getting something good, Jim, he thought. No wonder Blair likes working with Jim. This is fun.

The two men stared at the car stuck deep in the mud at the side of the road. The rain had stopped but so had they.

"Man, we are never gonna get the car out of that." Blair shook his head as he surveyed the damage. He slapped the slippery bark of the fallen tree that extended across part of the road. Henri, in trying to avoid hitting the tree, had driven onto the muddy shoulder of the road, leaving them in their current predicament.

"We have to try. My wife really wants those cookies." Henri walked behind the car and placed his hands on the trunk. "You get inside and rev it, while I push."

"Okay," Blair said dubiously.

"Just remember to put it in 'Drive' not 'Reverse,' " Henri called. "The last thing I need is for you to run over me," he muttered.

"Thanks for the tip," Blair answered drolly. The anthropologist got into the car and started it. "Ready?" he called through the partially open driver's window. At Henri's acknowledgement, he gently gunned the engine.

Henri pushed against the car with all his strength. Nothing.

"Okay," Blair called back, "let's try again." He touched the gas lightly and the tires spun, splattering Henri with mud.

"Ack!" spluttered the man behind the car. "Stop!" He coughed as he made his way to the driver's door. He stood, hands on hips, glaring at his temporary partner. "You just covered me in mud, man!"

Blair glanced down at himself, then looked Henri up and down. They were both covered in mud and wet. "How can you tell?"

"Very funny. Why don't you try putting it in 'First Gear' instead of 'Drive'?" First gear would physically prevent the wheels from spinning faster than a certain speed and might give them an advantage.

"Oh, okay, sure." Blair obligingly shifted into first gear, keeping his foot firmly on the brake. "Let me know when you're ready to try again."

"Yeah, yeah," Henri muttered as he plodded back toward the rear of the vehicle. Once he had braced himself again, he shouted, "Okay, go!"

Blair again gunned the engine. The speed of the tires was more controlled this time, but the result was the same: no movement.

Henri closed his eyes and cursed under his breath.

"Henri? I'm gonna try rocking it," Blair yelled. "It sometimes works in snow. I'll put it in reverse, then switch to first gear, then to reverse, and back to first gear, etcetera. You know, kind of get a momentum going. Then, when I'm in first gear and yell 'Now!' you can jump in push and maybe it'll pop right out."

Looking dubiously at the well-stuck car, Henri agreed. "Okay, sure. I'll try anything at this point."

Following his plan, Blair switched gears, back and forward, back and forward, several times. There was a minute amount of movement, enough for the tires to "schlurp" a bit in the mud, spitting the gooey substance around and, if anything, digging the car even deeper into the mire.

"Stop! Stop, stop, stop." Henri trudged through the sludge and leaned wearily against the driver's door. "Forget it. It's hopeless. Oh, man, what're we going to do? The car's embedded too deeply. Nothing but a tow truck's gonna get this baby out."

He started moving around toward the passenger side of the car. As he climbed up onto the road, his mud-slick shoes slipped. He fell facedown, but slapped the road hard with his hands and forearms to help break his fall, as he had been taught in self-defense classes. He managed to protect his face, but his left leg and chest hit the road hard enough to stun him momentarily. He heard the sound of plastic cracking as he hit.

Carefully climbing to his feet and holding securely onto the car for support, Henri reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the remains of his cell phone. "Damn it!"

Blair had turned off the car and removed the keys when he heard the curse. "What is it?" he asked as he climbed out of the passenger door. He shook his head when Henri held up the broken phone.

"It's totaled," Henri said. "Did you bring yours?"

"Man, I'm sorry. I didn't even think to grab mine. The battery's been on the fritz anyway. Hey, you okay? You took quite a header there."

Shoving the keys Blair handed him into a mud-slathered pocket, Henri said, "Yeah, I'm all right. At least I wasn't carrying the cookies."

Chuckling, Blair said, "There's that." He shook his head, and looked up and down the deserted roadway. "Well, we'd better hike up a ways, so we can hitch."

"Sandburg, that's illegal," Henri scolded.

"Nah, man, it's cool. I did it all the time growing up."

"How did you survive your childhood, Hairboy?" The detective chuckled at his less-than-conventional friend.

"With style, baby!" Blair wrapped his jacket around him and went a few yards down the road, away from the tree and the stuck car. Standing near the edge of the road, he struck the classic hitchhiker's pose, with his thumb stuck out. He grinned at his friend.

Henri sighed. His police radio was not in the vehicle--it was in the PD's electronics shop being repaired, of course. This was Sandburg luck, right? He hadn't given it a thought. It was just a food run. Who would need a police radio for a food run? He shook his head ruefully. Sandburg, that's who.

With no choice, but to walk or hitch a ride on the quiet back road, Henri decided to load and holster his Glock and backup .38 and pocket his shield and ID. If they were going to be wandering around who-knew-where, at least he would be armed.

Blair watched him solemnly from his position a few yards away.

Henri took a moment longer to scribble a note about who had been in the car and where they were headed; he left it on the dashboard. After grabbing the plastic-wrapped cookies, Henri rolled up the windows and locked the doors of the car.

"All right," he said to his companion as he walked toward him, "let's get this show on the road."

The two started trudging down the muddy road.

Rafe saw Jim poke his head out of the stairwell door.

"Is it clear?" the senior detective asked.

Like you don't know it is. You had to have heard McCoy arrive and then go up the stairs. Rafe rolled his eyes. "Yeah, hurry up." He motioned him over. "He won't be gone for too much longer."

Ellison jogged to the truck and climbed in on the driver's side.

"What is this? No more driving for me?" Rafe asked.

"I found out when and where the meet will be and who will be there, so I don't have to listen anymore."

"Fine, whatever. No biggie. I mean if you don't want me to drive your truck, I won't drive your truck." Rafe said in a mock-hurt tone. He stood next to the truck, gesturing thoughtfully. "It's not as though you ever let anyone, anyway, and I'm sure this was just a special circumstance that will never repeat itself anyway, even if--"

"Rafe. Shut up and get in."

"Yes, sir, Detective, sir." Rafe smirked as he got in the front seat. He told Jim the details of how he'd sent the reporter to the roof.

Jim laughed. "He bought that?"

"You'd be surprised what people are willing to believe, in order to get a story."

Jim snorted. "Well, we can't just leave him high and dry." He paused, listening to the rain beating down on the open top level of the parking ramp. "Or high and wet, as the case may be. Where's the sport in that?" He grinned.

Rafe hadn't seen much of this playful side of Ellison before today, and he was intrigued. "What are you thinking?"

"Let's have some fun." Was that a twinkle in the normally cool blue eyes?

"Now you're talking." Rafe settled back on the seat, a grin on his face.

The siren of the squad car escorting them to Cascade General Hospital drifted back through the rain, its eerie wail wafting around them. Simon gripped the steering wheel of his sedan tightly, grabbing quick glances in the rearview mirror as he carefully followed their escort. Joel and Megan were behind them in his car.

Thank God for Rhonda. She had done so many things to help them out over the years. And now she was helping them out yet again. Of course, Simon could handle this if he had to. He was just really glad he didn't have to.

Another contraction began, apparently stronger than the previous ones. Rhonda held Shaundra's hand, encouraging her to do her Lamaze breathing. But the laboring woman ignored her, instead yelling, "I want Henri!"

So do I, thought Simon miserably.

Three men, dressed entirely in black, sat in a Hummer cruising down the back roads, headed for Cascade. They had left Seattle after a successful bank robbery and hoped to continue evading the police.

"We should have taken a hostage," the redhead said. His light blue eyes peered out of a pasty white face sprinkled liberally with blotchy brown freckles.

"Why?" The blond turned to look at the man, who was sitting in the back.

"As leverage." He shrugged. "Just in case. A hostage to use if things go wrong so we can get away."

"What's gonna go wrong?" growled the blond. His dark eyebrows were drawn together over eyes the color of thunderheads. He was usually able to intimidate the other two men with just a look.

"Nothing, nothing. Probably." The redhead shrank down into the seat, fumbling with the gun and magazine he held. He nervously slammed the magazine back into the gun with a loud click.

"I think he's right," said the driver, a dark-haired man. He glanced at the blond then back at the rain-covered road. "A hostage could be our insurance policy."

The dark gray eyes swung toward the driver. "Well, why didn't you two brainiacs think of that before? We had plenty of people to choose from at the bank. Where are we going to find a hostage in the middle of nowhere?"

Continue on to Act 3

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