"Shouldn't we call in?" Rafe asked Jim as they drove down the parking ramp.
"Then we'd have to tell them that we already found out what they needed." The detective checked the traffic, then pulled out onto the rain-slicked street.
"Yeah, and…?" Rafe looked at him curiously.
"Then we would have to go in and get another assignment. This way, they think we're still on the case." Jim spoke as if this should be obvious.
"I was in special ops." Jim winked. When he spoke next, his tone was all business. "Okay, I figure if we drive around this area, McCoy will latch onto us again like the leech he is."
It only took about three minutes and one pass before McCoy's car appeared in the rearview mirror. Damn he's good, Rafe thought admiringly, looking at Jim from the corner of his eye. Driving slowly, Jim was obviously making sure McCoy did not lose him as he navigated through the streets of Cascade.
Henri was miserable. It had started to rain again, so he tucked the package of cookies underneath his jacket; he would protect them at all costs. He looked at the dripping young man trudging along next to him.
"About what?" Blair asked, clearly confused. He'd placed his jacket up over his head so all that could be seen was his face sticking out.
"About dragging you out in this. I know how much you hate being wet and cold."
"Don't sweat the small stuff, man. It was my choice to leave the car."
"But I wanted to get the cookies for Shaundra."
"And I wanted to help."
"Then I took a shortcut and got us stuck."
Blair looked at his companion. "You're right. Next time Jim wants to go shopping for that 'perfect' pair of shoes, you go with him."
"Come on, it's not that bad," Henri responded in mock horror.
"I'm betting there is a car just around the next curve and we'll get a ride to a phone, call for a tow, and be back in time for dinner."
Henri eyed the darkening sky and shook his head. "We'll be lucky if we can schlep back to Cascade within a week."
"Don't be so negative. It's always darkest before the dawn."
The detective stopped in his tracks. "Did you swallow a book of clichés on the way here? I'm telling you, that was pretty lame."
Blair turned to face Henri, walking backwards with his hands held up in surrender as best he could while still holding his jacket over his head. "Gimme a break, I'm just trying my best to keep from getting washed away here." Still looking back, he saw a set of headlights coming out from the gloom. "Hang onto your cookies, H, this may be your lucky day." Blair stepped up onto the side of the road and waved his hands back and forth, his jacket flapping in the rain.
The man in the passenger seat looked up and saw a shape moving around. "What's that?" he asked, squinting as he looked past the windshield wipers.
The driver looked at the road ahead to see what he was talking about and smiled. "That, my friend, is providence. Ask and ye shall receive."
The man in back smirked. "Pick 'em up."
The front passenger shook his head. "No good."
"Why not?" The question came from the back seat.
"Two guys. Guys are harder to control."
"Do you see anyone else?"
"That's not the point. It's too risky. If the police already issued a lookout for us, just passing these two will give the police an idea which way we went."
The driver said, "Why don't we stop, pick them up, and play nice until we need them as hostages? That way they can't call the police and tell them they saw us when they hear the news, and we can tie them up in the back where no one will see them when we need to?"
"Come on, it's just a short bald guy and a longhaired hippie. We're armed; we can take care of 'em easy," the man in the back seat pleaded his case.
Reluctantly, their leader nodded. "All right. But the first wrong twitch and they get tied up. We'll shoot 'em if we have to."
"Where are we going?" Rafe asked.
"The Maze? I don't go there unless I have my vest and full body armor!"
"We'll be fine." Jim grinned, and then turned toward the old waterfront-shipping district. "Look at that, Rafe. He must know where we're headed."
"How do you know that?"
"He's Velcro'd to my bumper." Ellison continued to smile tightly while operating the truck, taking rights and lefts at a slow pace, leading them further toward one section of Cascade, not yet revitalized, affectionately known as ‘The Maze.’
The Maze used no street signs or designators of any kind. All the buildings were painted the same, dull color. There was nothing unique, different, or unusual in the area. So a driver either knew it well, or got lost--very lost--very fast.
Buildings clustered closer together. Streets narrowed to mere alleyways. The truck danced along. And turns came ever faster.
It only inspired McCoy to get even closer to Ellison's bumper.
Jim sped up, now heading for the heart of The Maze. Once he passed the center, he veered sharply off and gave the truck more gas, while ignoring Rafe's white hands on the dash and the door.
"How does Blair hang on?"
"Practice," Jim said.
"You know the way out, right?"
"You'd better hope so."
Rafe turned his head and peered out the rear window. "I don't see him back there."
"Two streets back, and one block over." Jim whipped the truck through another turn. After following another series of dizzying turns, they found themselves back on the relatively safe streets outside The Maze -- sans McCoy.
Jim drove leisurely back to the Fourth Street Station and parked near where McCoy had first found them.
"What are we doing here?" Rafe asked, puzzled.
"First rule of criminal investigation," Jim said mildly. When Rafe didn't say anything, but simply gave him a questioning look, Jim continued. "The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime."
"That's as clear as Benny Z's conscience," Rafe said sarcastically.
Snorting, Jim said, "McCoy will be back."
"And we want that?"
Jim smiled mysteriously.
Sure enough, five minutes later, McCoy pulled up behind them. He parked and got out of his vehicle, then stormed up to Jim's truck, his fleshy face flushed with rage. Rafe watched with avid curiosity to see what would happen next. Jim sure seemed to understand this turkey.
"What the hell was the meaning of that, Ellison?"
"Of what, McCoy?"
"Of taking me into that godforsaken place and then deserting me? I could have been killed in there, for God's sake."
"Well, hey, McCoy, as you know, it's a free country. You can go or stay anywhere you please. I didn't force you to follow me. I also didn't have any obligation to help you out of there. You weren't in any distress, nor did you request assistance." Jim smiled innocently at him.
McCoy spluttered angrily.
Then Jim stiffened, sitting up straight in his seat, sniffing at the air.
"What? What is it, Ellison?" McCoy's anger was instantly forgotten. His eyes lit up and he stepped back so Jim could climb out of the truck.
Fascinated, Rafe got out of his door and, after locking the vehicle, followed his temporary partner. What the hell is he up to? This oughta be good! Rafe struggled to hide his grin.
"Come on, Ellison, spill it! What do you smell?" McCoy whined, skittering along next to Jim like a terrier.
"This is it, what we've been looking for all day," Jim said, a look of satisfaction spreading over his face.
"It is? Great! Wonderful." McCoy struggled with the video camera hanging around his neck as he hurried to keep up with Jim. Rafe stayed a step behind the other two men.
Jim disappeared around a corner, his nose twitching. McCoy brought the camera up to his eye as he rounded the corner. Rafe followed a moment later, and burst into laughter as he saw Jim happily walking into the Taystee Kreame Bakery.
McCoy stopped abruptly, letting the camera fall on its straps until it bumped against his chest. He proceeded to swear colorfully at the top of his lungs, bringing shocked looks from a number of passersby.
Rafe stepped around him. He stopped laughing long enough to say, "Well, he did tell you we were looking for donuts." Then he joined his grinning partner in the bakery.
"How is she doing?" Megan asked.
It had been about twenty minutes since Simon, Joel, Rhonda, and Megan had gotten Mrs. Shaundra Brown safely to Cascade General Hospital. As only one person could go in with the mother-to-be, they chose Rhonda. That left the other three to wander aimlessly around the waiting room, anxiously awaiting any news.
A few minutes later, Simon disappeared into the back area, searching for news. A harried nurse roughly herded him out. "Still going strong," he reported. "They think it could take a few more hours until she's ready."
"Doesn't give us much time to find Henri," commented Joel.
"I'm not sure what else we can do." Simon shrugged. "I alerted the State Highway Patrol to watch out for his car, but it won't be a top priority."
Megan added, "And neither his phone nor Sandy's is working."
"What did Jim say when you called him?" Joel asked. At the blank stares returned to him he practically yelled, "You mean you haven't told him?! … What about Rafe?"
The black Hummer pulled alongside the two drenched men. The passenger window rolled down. "You boys need a ride?" the blond man asked.
"Yeah, we had car trouble a few miles back," Henri said. "Any way we could get a ride to find a phone?"
"No problem," called the driver. "Hop in."
Henri opened the back door. Blair climbed into the large truck, and sat next to a redheaded man on the back seat. Henri climbed in after him, sitting against the door.
"I'm Henri, and this is Blair," said the soon-to-be-father once they were settled in and on the move.
"Nice to meet you," said the blond. "I'm Bob." He pointed to the driver, "That's Steve," then the back seat passenger, "and Tom."
"Nice to meet you, too," Blair said. "Thanks for the ride; we really appreciate it."
"Like Steve said, it's no problem. We're happy to help stranded motorists anytime."
Henri wondered a bit at the men's identical black outfits, but was determined to be courteous. Beggars can't be choosers, he thought, and I'm definitely begging right now. "Are you guys headed in to Cascade?"
"As a matter of fact we are," Tom confirmed. "Do you work there?"
The detective answered quickly before Blair could say anything. For some reason his instincts were telling him to keep his real vocation a secret. "We sure do. I sell insurance and Blair's a mechanic."
Luckily, Blair was used to obfuscations and went along with it easily. "Cascade's best mechanic," he added.
"And you had car trouble?" Tom laughed. "That's hilarious."
"Well, not even a world-class mechanic like me could drag a car out of the mud by hand." Blair flashed a grin. "Of course, once the guys at work find out about this, I'm going to be hearing about it for the next two months."
"I can believe it," Steve called out from the driver's seat. "That must have been your car we saw a couple miles back. So what were you guys in Seattle for?"
"We went to get a surprise for my wife." Henri lifted his package of cookies up to show, before setting them back on his lap.
"How sweet. Ain't he a sweet guy, Bob?" asked Tom.
"Real sweet," Bob agreed.
Blair rolled his eyes at Henri, acknowledging the weirdness of the men.
Rafe and Jim were headed back to the station, munching on their fresh donuts, when Jim's cell phone rang. He set down his donut in the open box and answered the phone while continuing to drive with his left hand. "Ellison…. What? … What do you mean 'She's having it'?"
Rafe watched as Jim's face drained of all color.
"Yes, sir…. Okay, I'll find him." He hung up the phone and pulled a U-turn in the street.
"What's going on?" Rafe asked, once again hanging on for dear life. "Find who?"
"Shaundra's in labor at CasGen."
"Wow, that's great!" Rafe realized the direction they were now headed. "Um, Jim, the hospital's the other way."
"That's the second part…. Henri's MIA."
"He's not answering his cell," Jim reported. "Blair left his at the station; his battery's been on the blink."
"Where are we going to look for him?"
Jim shrugged. "Seattle."
The radio was playing very softly in the background. The only reason Henri noticed it at all was the fact that it was tuned to the same classic rock station that he and Blair had been listening to on the way to Seattle. During a song break, a news flash came across the airwaves. Immediately, the driver shut off the radio with no explanation.
Henri looked over at Blair to see if he noticed this strange action, and if he seemed to feel that these guys were suspicious too, but Blair was busy chatting with the redhead about whether the Jags would make it to the finals that season. The two men in the front seat exchanged a worried look.
Casually slipping an arm along the back of the seat behind Blair, Henri darted a surreptitious glance into the back of the large vehicle. He saw five large, black duffel bags, and what could have been a weapons case under the bags. He guessed there was a good chance these guys were into something illegal.
Henri refrained from sighing in exasperation, but just barely. Was Sandburg's luck going to follow them everywhere? He had always thought Jim exaggerated about that, but no longer. He still had his weapons, his common sense, and -- today, at least -- this unbelievable string of bad luck.
Now he just needed to get them out of this alive… with the cookies.
Continue on to Act 4
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