Famous Last Words
By Gemini and Brate with Heidi DJ
Authors’ Note: Special thanks to Alf for the technical advice on police procedures.
Rating: PG (language)
Detective Henri Brown walked into the Major Crime bullpen. He passed right by Officer Kelley, who looked up from the files he was stacking on Rhonda's desk.
Kelley asked, "Hey, Brown. Did she pop yet?"
Everyone knew the detective was on pins and needles waiting for his wife to deliver their first child. The baby was already a week overdue, and everyone teased Brown about his child's predilection toward procrastination -- just like its father.
"Heck, if the baby doesn't come out soon I think she's going to go in after it," Henri said, shaking his head.
Kelley laughed in response. "I'm telling you, man, whatever she asks you to do, do it."
"I learned that a long time ago," Henri agreed with a wide smile. "Makes my life so much easier."
"I hear you, buddy." Kelley turned to finish giving Rhonda the files.
Henri walked the rest of the way to his desk. He greeted his partner, Brian Rafe, and then sat down, making sure his paperwork for their latest case was in order. No reason to get "The Man," Captain Simon Banks, irritated at him. It was enough to be dealing with a nine-months-plus-pregnant wife, he thought with a shudder.
The phone on his desk rang and he tried not to jump. He snatched it up with a terse, "Major Crime, Brown." When he heard his wife's voice on the line, Henri's heart started to race. "Is it time?" He could hear the nervousness in his voice. From the corner of his eye, he saw Brian and several others look up at him curiously. He shifted around, seeking a little privacy.
Shaundra Brown laughed on the other end of the line. "No, honey, you're safe so far. Actually I was calling for a favor."
"Anything." Henri hoped she couldn't hear his deep sigh of relief. Off the hook for now. He must have broadcasted the "Just a false alarm" message, for the others around him turned away and went on with their various tasks.
Shaundra spoke again. "I was wondering, Henri, if you would mind…"
"What can I do for you? Anything to make you happy, babe." Henri felt a surge of warmth well up in him. He would never admit it to the guys, but sometimes Shaundra just made him so happy. And the idea of the baby! He was going to be a daddy.
"Thank you, honey." Henri could hear the smile in her voice. "Could you please get me some of those fruit and spice cookies that you brought home last week? I've been thinking about them all morning and I really want some."
"Sure thing. I think Hairboy is coming in today. I'll find out where he bought them."
There was silence on the line for a moment. Then, "Hairboy?"
"It's, uh, it's just a nickname I call Blair."
"I see. Jealous?" she teased, referring to his baldpate.
"Not when I have you," Henri replied seriously.
"Good answer." She laughed lightly. "I love you."
Rafe, who was listening to the phone conversation from his desk next to Henri’s, started to make kissing noises. Henri quickly flipped him the bird and said, "I love you, too, babe," to his wife before hanging up.
Just after the phone was set down, Major Crime Detective Jim Ellison and Consultant Blair Sandburg came through the bullpen doors. They chatted quietly as they moved toward Jim's desk and hung up their jackets.
Henri grinned at them and boomed out, "Hairboy! Just the man I need to see."
"What'd I do now?" asked Blair with mock exasperation as he strolled over to Henri's desk.
"I need some of those special cookies you gave me for my wife last week. She's seriously jonesing for them… Craving Central."
Blair looked dismayed. "I gave you the last of 'em, man. Sorry."
"Please tell me you're joking. She's got a craving and I can't go home without them."
"Man, Naomi brought them with her the last time she passed through. The closest place they carry them is at this specialty shop in Seattle. It's in this quaint area, with lots of little shops. The street's pretty narrow, and the people are totally friendly. Anyway, you have to go… well, the easiest way to get there…. Hmm." Blair scrunched his forehead for a moment as he thought. "It's not too far from the herb shop; you could stop there and ask them to take you to Dell's place. Here, let me draw you a map." The consultant started to write out directions.
Knowing Blair's reputation for directions, Henri looked nervously at Jim, who shrugged and grinned. The message was clear: You're on your own, buddy.
Blair set down the pen and stood up. "Y'know, H, I think it would be so much easier for me to just show you. Why don't I ride along? I'm free for today. I was just going to hang out with Jim."
Frowning, Jim protested, "Hey, Sandburg!"
"You can do your own paperwork for once," Blair told his partner with a smirk.
Jim pretended to grumble as he settled himself behind his desk and turned on his computer.
"Great!" Henri said. "Let me clear it with the captain first." He hurried to Simon's office and knocked on the door.
Henri stuck his head in the door. "Captain?"
"I'd like to take a personal day, if I may."
"Shaundra's not in labor, is she?" asked Simon, suddenly sitting at attention, an eager expression on his face. Despite his protestations, everyone knew he was as excited about the newest soon-to-be addition to the bullpen as they were.
"No, sir," Brown said with a smile. "If she were I wouldn't be as coherent as I am."
Simon chuckled. "True enough." He relaxed back into his chair. "I don't see why not. Just out of curiosity, can I ask what it is you need the day for?"
Henri squirmed for a moment. Suddenly this seemed a rather… preposterous… request. Would Simon blow up at him for this? Too late now, H. Go for it. "Um, well, she's craving these cookies Sandburg brought in last week and it seems the only place to get them is in Seattle."
"Say no more." Simon held up a hand, an expression of understanding on his face.
The detective breathed a silent sigh of relief.
"I remember when Joan was pregnant with Daryl and sent me to get macadamia nut ice cream," Simon continued, a fond look of remembrance on his face. "Took me all night, but there was no way I was saying no to her." He leaned forward and picked up a folder from the stack on his desk. "It's slow today, so you go ahead. I'll give this assignment," the captain waved the folder, "to Ellison and Sandburg."
"Actually I was going to take Blair along. He's the only one who knows how to get there."
"Taking directions from Sandburg?" Simon snorted. "Good luck. Maybe you should leave a trail of breadcrumbs so you can find your way back. You sure you're gonna make it back before the baby comes?" He frowned. "I'm not so sure this is a good idea after all. Sandburg as navigator?" He cocked one eyebrow at Henri, a calculating look in his eye. "Maybe you better get out of here before I change my mind, Brown." Simon leveled his "captain" glare at the grinning detective.
"Yes, sir!" He chuckled as he left the office. After telling Blair they were good to go, he said, "Let me just grab my cell phone and we're outta here."
Ellison watched the pair leave from behind his pile of folders. "You two be careful."
"It's a food run, big guy," Blair replied. "What could happen?"
Jim hit "Save" and wiggled his fingers, relieved at an excuse to stop working on the reports. Damn paperwork. He stood and sauntered into Simon's office, carrying his coffee cup. May as well get a cup of the good stuff, along with whatever else I'm going to get dumped on me. He tapped on the door and walked in. "Hey, sir."
"Come on in, Jim. Have a seat." Simon got up and poured coffee into Jim's mug. "I hear you lost your shadow for today." Setting the carafe back on the heating element, he returned to his chair.
"Food run," Jim said with a smile. "What do you need?"
Simon handed Jim a file. "Benny Zatrobowski."
"The bookie?" The detective started to leaf through the folder.
"Yep. He's supposed to be setting up a meet between a hit man and Delta Castor sometime this week." Castor was one of the biggest numbers runners in Cascade. "We need to know where and when it is and who will be there." The captain leaned back in his chair. "We're doing this as a favor to Homicide. They want to keep it low profile. I thought your 'special talents' could be of use."
Simon explained further, summarizing the high points of the file and giving Jim some of the details the Homicide officers had passed on to him. Once he finished with the briefing, Simon suggested, "Why don't you take Rafe with you?"
"Try not to get lost without Sandburg to navigate," Simon said, trying to keep a straight face.
Jim looked up at his boss, then caught the hint of a twinkle in his eye. "Yes, sir. It'll be difficult, but I'll try to manage. Sir." He stood and threw a quick salute before leaving the office.
Simon laughed and returned to his paperwork.
Jim strolled over to Rafe's desk. The younger detective was perched with one hip on the edge of his desk, his back to Jim, talking on the telephone.
"That would be nice…. Uh huh. Sure." Rafe's voice was soft, gentle, and smooth.
Sounds like he's talking to a ladylove, Jim thought with an evil grin. He listened some more, but only with normal-range hearing, so he couldn't be accused of eavesdropping with sentinel hearing. No, he would only eavesdrop the way any other red-blooded detective worth his or her salt would do.
"Well, yeah, sugar, that sounds like fun. Maybe next Saturday night? Okay…. What?" Rafe suddenly seemed to realize that someone was nearby. He whipped his head around and almost fell off the desk at the sharp movement. He glared at Jim and turned away, shielding the mouthpiece from the other man. "Look, honey, I have to go now. I'll talk to you soon to set up details, all right? Bye."
"Honey? Sounds serious, Rafe." Jim looked at his fellow detective coolly, one eyebrow raised.
Rafe continued to glare at him. "Were you listening in on my call?"
"Absolutely not. I do not eavesdrop on phone calls my friends make to anyone called 'honey,' 'babe,' 'sugar cake,' or 'sweet buns.'" Jim was ticking the names off on his fingers, eyes raised to the ceiling as he concentrated.
"All right, all right." Rafe sighed, looking at Jim with mock exasperation. "You make me crazy sometimes, Ellison."
"Good," Jim said with a touch of cheerfulness. "I try to stay in practice."
Eyeing Jim warily, the younger detective asked, "So what's up?"
"Simon has a job for us."
Rafe raised his eyebrows. "Us? As in you and me?" He pointed back and forth between Jim and himself.
"Since your partner and my partner are currently searching the shops of Seattle for cookies, that leaves us both partner-less. I believe our captain is hoping to conserve resources."
"Ah, I see your point." Rafe checked his weapon, slipped into his immaculate suit jacket, and followed Jim, who grabbed his jacket on the way out of the bullpen.
Jim handed Rafe the folder as they waited at the elevator; the younger detective skimmed through it on the ride down.
"This is different," Rafe commented once they were seated in Jim's truck.
"What do you mean?" Jim pulled the truck out of the garage and headed down the street.
"I mean, usually it's H and me, and you and Blair."
"Today it's not."
"So… it's different."
"You're a stunning conversationalist, Ellison."
"Usually I don't have to talk. Sandburg takes care of that aspect of our partnership."
"Uh-huh. So," Rafe said, more than eager to change the subject, "where are we headed?" He opened the folder and looked at it more carefully.
"I know Benny Z likes to hang around the Fourth Street Station. I'm hoping to pick him up there."
"Good idea." Rafe nodded, then started reading the material to avoid having to watch Jim's driving.
Henri and Blair were about half an hour outside Cascade when Henri reached over and turned the radio down, muting the classic rock song that was playing. He could feel Blair looking at him quizzically, but it took a couple minutes before he got up the courage to ask the question that had been on his mind for the last twenty miles. "Blair, what do you think of me?"
The other man was silent for a long moment. Then, "It's very flattering, H, but you're a married man."
Okay, humor. I should have expected it. Though I was hoping, with Sandburg, that he'd understand. Well, maybe he will. Just have to let him know I mean it. "I'm serious, man. I mean, as a father."
"Ah, I see. The moment is coming and the closer it gets the more worried you become," guessed Blair.
"It's really gonna happen." Henri kept his eyes focused on the road.
"I hope so. I think Shaundra would be upset if it were a prank." Blair huffed a small laugh.
Henri couldn't help but laugh at that thought, too, remembering all Shaundra's comments lately, about this "giving new meaning to being heavy with child," and "not caring how it comes out as long as it comes out." Thinking of his own frustrations at not being able to relieve her discomfort in her last few weeks of pregnancy, he agreed that it had better damn well not be a prank.
"Okay, seriously, Henri. It's a perfectly natural reaction to be nervous about the transition to fatherhood. It's a big responsibility. I mean, all of a sudden, whammo, you're responsible for this life and everything that goes with it. Then you start questioning yourself, and there's a whole lot of uncertainty. But, man, you have nothing to worry about. You'll do fine. You and Shaundra have a terrific relationship. And I've seen you with kids; you'll be great. Anyone can see how much you love your wife and how excited you are about your child coming."
Henri took a long, deep breath and let it out slowly. "Thanks, Hairboy. I mean, that was one of the reasons we didn't want to find out the sex of the baby. We wanted to be surprised, and not have expectations either way. We are only hoping for a healthy child."
"That's the way to go." Blair was silent for a moment. Then he said, "Hey, did you know that in some traditional societies, men go through a 'sympathetic' labor and delivery? It's called couvade."
Damn, Henri thought, stifling a grin, he really does have a story for everything.
Blair went on, his hands gesturing in support of his words. "They dress in women's clothes, and they make an imitation 'baby' that they carry under their clothes. When their wife or mate goes into labor, the man goes through a simulated labor in another location, screaming through 'contractions' and 'delivering' the imitation baby at the same time the woman does."
"You're kidding me," Henri said, an incredulous look on his face. "Why would anyone do that?"
"The truth, man? There are two reasons: one is to confuse evil spirits who want to possess the infant, and make them enter the imitation baby instead of the real one; the other is to claim paternity publicly among the tribe or clan."
"Whoa. I think I'll just go with Lamaze."
Blair laughed. "I don't know, all that breathing and stuff."
"True, true." Henri grinned.
"Some men in all societies, including Western societies, have sympathetic symptoms of pregnancy along with their wives: morning sickness, headaches, fatigue, depression, insomnia, irritability," Blair continued. He looked curiously at Henri. "Hey, H, you ever have any of those?"
Henri thought back to those early months when he often felt queasy in the morning right along with Shaundra. But that wasn't the kind of thing a guy admitted to the other guys, even if the other guy was Sandburg. "Uh, maybe a headache now and then, but I always figured it was from taking care of Shaundra. You ever try to keep a pregnant wife happy?"
The two men laughed.
Then Henri snorted softly. "Actually, it's been great. She's been great."
"I hear you, man." Blair dropped a hand on Henri's shoulder for a moment then let his hand fall back to the seat. "Don't worry. You're gonna be great."
Henri swallowed, feeling gratitude, anticipation, love, and a touch of fear swelling up inside. Damn, I'm gonna cry in about two seconds here. He swallowed again, trying to keep the emotions from spilling over.
Blair must have sensed that the "emotionally honest moment" had lasted about as long as Henri could stand, because he switched conversational gears. "Hey, did I tell you about the cool post-doc class I'm taking this fall? It's a discussion course where we'll be reading about different myths and legends and trying to either prove or disprove them."
"What kind of myths and legends?" Henri asked curiously, glad to have something else to think about.
"Oh, Bigfoot, crop circles, Piltdown man, the Loch Ness monster--"
Henri broke into laughter.
"What's so funny?" Blair asked, frowning.
"Y-you're s-seriously taking a c-college class on that s-stuff?" Henri choked out between howls of laughter. He forced himself to keep the car steady on the road.
"Yes," Blair said defensively. "Just because they're legends doesn't necessarily mean they're not true. Take Bigfoot, for instance. Although the majority of sightings are hoaxes, twenty to thirty percent are still unexplained."
"B-bigf-foot," Henri chortled.
"Yes," Blair said, while glaring good-naturedly at the laughing man. "The first sightings of Bigfoot were actually way back in the 1830's, but there wasn't widespread interest until the second half of the twentieth century. One of the biggest things to really heat up interest was an article in the December, 1959, True magazine. It talked about the discovery of large, mysterious footprints the year before in Bluff Creek, California…."
Henri tried not to laugh -- too hard -- as Blair launched into his lecture, hands starting to fly once again as he warmed to his subject.
Benny Zatrobowski was right where Jim thought he would be. The bookie had to be available for business, since this was game night and there would be numerous bets laid down. He also carried a cell phone to take call-in wagers.
A short man with dark eyes, Benny was dressed in khakis and a brown leather jacket.
Benny shifted nervously in his chair, occasionally standing and pacing. Rafe didn't know whether his nervousness was from too many years in the bookie business, too much caffeine, or some other cause.
He knew the bookie had been arrested many times, but no heavy charges ever stuck. The police considered Benny to be more useful as an unknowing informant.
Benny often led the police to trouble spots, since he was involved with many of the underworld characters of Cascade, sometimes causing "misunderstandings" between himself and the Cascade police.
In order to keep their unknowing informant on the streets, the police would throw a few minor charges his way, then let him go.
A number of informants kept tabs on Benny and would then let the PD's detectives know what Benny was up to. That way, they kept a finger on one pulse of Cascade's underbelly.
Rafe sat in the truck next to Jim and watched the detective watch the bookie. It still impressed him to see what Jim could do and he loved seeing the hyper-senses in action -- although he always tried to remain nonchalant, like it was no big deal. Only the men and women of Major Crime knew Jim had all five senses heightened. The public only knew of two: sight and smell.
After a while, the younger detective went back to reading through the file to familiarize himself with the case. Both he and Ellison knew they were under orders to maintain observation only but, as Sandburg could attest, they were often amazed at how quickly a simple stakeout could turn into action.
"How does Benny Z know a hit man, and why would Castor want him to make the intro?" asked Rafe looking up from the file.
"Benny's well-connected and keeps quiet. He does business all over the city," Jim said absently.
"With Delta Castor?"
Jim brought his attention into the truck and looked at Rafe for a moment. As always, Rafe was amazed at how focused that gaze was. He felt as if Jim could read the messages snapping between the neurons in his brain. He didn't understand how any criminal could withstand the Ellison glare. He tried not to sigh in relief when Jim looked back at Benny.
"That's why this is so important. If we can catch Castor making a deal for a hired gun, it could break the door wide open for Homicide and give them leverage for arrests. Hopefully, once Castor's in custody, he can be rolled for bigger fish."
"So we'd better not screw up." Rafe sat quietly for a few more minutes. He tried to see what Benny was doing, but Jim had parked a block away to maintain their cover, and the normally-sighted detective couldn't see much. "Anything?" he asked Jim.
"Yeah, apparently the point spread on the game is Jags by 20."
"Wonderful, I'll call my bookie."
Jim chuckled. Then he groaned. "Oh, damn it."
Rafe perked up, coming to attention. "What?" He looked where Benny Z was standing, cell phone pressed to his right ear, still unable to see much.
"We have company," Jim answered, as a knock sounded on his window. He sighed at the interruption but rolled the window down.
"Well, if it isn't Super Ellison!" A bald-but-refusing-to-admit-it-so-he-wore-a-very-obvious-toupee man stuck his head into the window.
"What do you want, McCoy?" Jim asked.
Robert McCoy was an annoying reporter who had taken over for Wendy Hawthorne when she left "True Crime" for a more prestigious job. His segment was called "The Real McCoy." Real original, Rafe thought, recalling the title, as the man's face filled the window.
"Just wondering what the world's most sensitive detective was up to. Sniffing out some crime you've got your eye on, Ellison?" McCoy waggled his shaggy eyebrows as his overly suave voice boomed into the truck's cab.
Rafe could tell that Jim just barely refrained from groaning at the terrible puns. He knew that ever since Jim had "come out" publicly with two hyper-senses, McCoy had made it his mission to catch Jim in action. "Detective Rafe and I were just out getting some donuts," Jim said.
"And you've been sitting here for twenty minutes because…?"
"The view is spectacular."
McCoy pulled his head out of the cab, looked at the buildings all around, and snorted. "Pull the other one, Ellison. Come on; let me in on it. I can make you a star."
"Go away, McCoy."
"Not likely. As you well know, this is a free country. I can go or stay anywhere I please."
"Suit yourself." Jim started the truck and slammed it into gear, nearly running over the reporter's foot in the process.
"Now what?" Rafe asked, holding onto the dash for support.
Jim drove a couple blocks and stopped. After pulling over to the side of the road, he said, "You drive and I'll try to keep contact with Benny."
Blair directed Henri straight to the shop. Wisely, Henri refrained from making any comments about that being a pleasant surprise or anything else referring to Blair's well-known lousy sense of direction. The detective parked right in front of the store and they got out.
"Clouds are coming in. Could mean rain," Henri commented as he got out of the car.
Blair chuckled. "It always rains in the Pacific Northwest."
The two went in and Henri purchased three dozen of the fruit and spice cookies. As he paid for them, Henri explained the serious nature of their mission. Seeing that it was starting to sprinkle, the shop owner double-wrapped the treats in plastic to ensure their safe and dry arrival back to Henri's wife. Henri thanked the man, who wished them the best of luck, and followed Blair back to the car.
They were outside Seattle when it started actually raining. The rain was not heavy at first, but it was steady. As they reached a fork in the road, Henri turned left.
"Shouldn't we stay on the main road, H?" asked Blair, eyeing the new road warily.
"Trust me, Sandburg, this way's quicker."
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.
"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 hadlanded 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?"
"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.
Simon came back into the hospital waiting room. "Jim and Rafe are going to look for them," he announced to Joel and Megan, who were sitting in the chairs.
"Good," said Joel, nodding.
Megan told her boss, "Rhonda just poked her head out and said that everything's going well. It'll be a while yet."
"Do they think she's going to wait for Henri to get here?"
"I really don't think she gets a choice in the matter, Captain," Megan said dryly.
Henri needed to make Blair aware of the possibly dangerous situation they might be facing, without letting the bad guys know he was on to them. This would take finesse and skill… damn. "Say, Blair. Do you remember the time we went to the Cascade Fairgrounds on the Midway?" He strove to keep his voice casual, while plastering a grin on his face.
Blair glanced over at Henri with a look of uncertainty. "Um, yeah?" Henri could see in the younger man's eyes that Blair was picking up on his tension and would follow along.
"We've had such bad luck today, with the car and all. I was just thinking of our bad luck on other occasions," Henri remarked. He saw the three men listening closely to their conversation, and strove to keep things light. Laughing, he started regaling them with a tall tale that had never happened about a nearly endless ride on a runaway roller coaster. As the detective continued, he noticed their would-be captors had partially relaxed and were laughing at their stories. They did not seem to be paying attention to anything else he was doing.
Reaching down as he talked, Henri gently pulled his backup weapon from his ankle holster. He slid it under the package of cookies on his lap.
Blair must have caught the movement. He shifted forward enough to block Henri's actions from the redhead and took over the narration, gesturing wildly with his hands to distract the others. As the consummate bullshit artist, he continued the fictional story, adding a flourish about the two of them getting stuck in the funhouse, trapped in a maze of mirrors.
Carefully, using slow motions, Henri slid his backup gun over to Blair's side and nudged him with it. Blair didn't stop his story, or even pause, as he moved his hand down and took hold of it. Satisfied now that the younger man was armed, Henri went about removing his primary weapon from its holster, hidden under his jacket.
Rumbling along the back road, the Hummer was making short work of the trip. Henri recognized the region and knew they would be back to the main road shortly. Fortunately, they were back -- barely -- in Cascade PD's jurisdiction. He had to do something before they were in an area with traffic and innocent bystanders.
Rafe watched the scenery going by at high speed. "How are we going to find them? What route are you taking to Seattle?"
"Anytime I've driven with Sandburg we've used the main highway. I see no reason that should change." Jim's expression remained grim as he steered the truck down the highway.
"But then they would be back by now." The younger detective tilted his head thoughtfully as he looked at Jim. "Maybe something happened: flat tire, out of gas, alien abduction, killer bees."
"Killer bees?" Jim arched an eyebrow as he glanced at Rafe.
"With Sandburg, anything is possible." He shrugged, trying to look casual.
"True," Jim admitted, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
They rode in silence for a few minutes, scanning the cars passing in the other direction.
"If H misses the birth he'll never forgive himself," Rafe said, anxiety and a touch of sadness in his voice.
"What do you want me to do, Rafe?" Jim asked softly.
The young detective sighed. "We've just got to find him."
"We will, Brian." Jim turned his attention to the highway, his expression again grim.
"… and then, after all that, they decided to junk the car anyway," Blair said, ending another fabricated story of bad luck.
The men laughed at the punch line.
Henri suspected that Blair still didn't know what exactly was going on, other than there was trouble and they were going to need to defend themselves from their "rescuers," but that was enough for now. Explanations could come later. Blair was sharp and would follow his lead.
Okay, it's now or never, Henri decided. "Hey, guys, I hate to have to ask this, but can we pull over for a sec?" he called out.
"What's the problem?" the driver, Steve, asked. He didn't slow down.
"I need to take a leak."
Bob, the blond, whipped his head around. "You're kidding."
"Sorry, man, but when the bladder knocks I have to answer. Wouldn't want to make a mess in your vehicle."
"I don't think so." The back seat passenger drew his gun. "Sit back and shut up."
Almost immediately, Blair bent completely forward, letting Henri dive across the seat and punch the bad guy. Not satisfied with the hit, Henri bounced the man's head off the glass, rendering him senseless.
In the front passenger seat, the leader reached for his gun. "Oh, no, you don't," said Blair as he sat in the middle, holding Henri's backup .38 aimed directly at the man's head. "Put your hands where I can see them, slowly and carefully, or I'll drop you."
The driver whipped out his weapon, bringing it to bear on Blair.
Henri immediately reached over the seat and pressed the cold barrel of his police-issue weapon snugly against the neck of the driver. "Give me a reason, man. I'm having a bad day."
The driver turned his gun so Blair could take possession of the weapon, and then kept both hands on the wheel.
"Pull it over, nice and easy," Henri instructed.
"I'm not going down like this," the leader said, making a leap over the seat divider onto Blair.
The pair went tumbling back, but Henri saw Blair immediately throw a hard punch into the man's side, followed by pointing the .38 right between the man's eyes. "Man, give it up."
Henri reached over with one hand, chopping the man hard in the back of the neck.
Unconscious, the man slumped on Blair.
"I am so not having fun." Blair tossed the man on top of his compatriot.
The Hummer stopped, and Henri got the driver out first. He said to Blair, "Take over here, and I'll get the sleeping beauties out the back."
Blair nodded. "Put your hands behind your head, slowly… good… now take three steps to your left. Slowly." Once the man had moved the way the police consultant wanted, Blair kept careful aim on the prisoner.
Henri watched in pleased surprise as Blair handled the man like a professional cop. Wow. I'll have to tell Jim about this. But then, he's been hanging with cops for five years now, I guess it would rub off. It took him a few minutes to struggle the two men out and, as they started to regain consciousness, one look at the guns pointing at them kept them subdued.
The detective grinned. "Hey, Hairboy, let's search these scum bags and get them under control, whaddaya say?"
"Sure thing, H." Blair flashed him a quick smile.
They checked the three men for weapons -- they each carried several. The partners-for-the-day disarmed them and got them safely from where they had been captured to a controlled position, lying facedown on the tarmac in front of the Hummer, hands behind their heads, with ankles crossed, and knees bent. They were safe from oncoming traffic -- if there were any -- in the lee of the vehicle, until he and Blair could get them restrained and back in the Hummer. Meanwhile, he could easily guard the three of them while they were lying in this position.
"Okay, Blair, go see what's in the bags in the back of the truck."
"Isn't that against the law?"
"Probable cause." Henri kept his focus and his weapon on the three men while Blair went around to the back of the vehicle.
Henri heard the sounds of a zipper and a quick inhaled breath. "Hairboy?" he asked glancing back at the other man.
Blair finally croaked out, "Lots and lots of money… lots."
"Okay." Henri gave a triumphant smile. "That's what I thought. How about that, boys? Not only do I get to arrest you for assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and a slew of weapons violations, but also for bank robbery. Gee, and here I am with only one set of handcuffs. Blair, you want to see if there's something in the Hummer we can use to tie the other two up with?"
"Sure." Blair came out, holding up a coil of rope. "They had it in the back," he said with a smile. Between the two of them, and with the help of Blair's Swiss army knife, they quickly tied up the protesting men.
"So, what will we do with them?" Blair asked, standing back and looking at their hostile captives.
"Let's stick 'em in the back. We'll take them with us."
"Last time I'll ever do anything nice for anyone," spat Bob.
"Nice?" asked Henri. "You picked us up to use as hostages. Not my idea of a Good Samaritan act."
Bob answered with a colorful string of profanity.
Laughing, Henri turned to Blair. "Let's get going. I have cookies to deliver."
Blair lifted the duffel bags over onto the back seat. Then they shoved the men in the back, using more rope to secure them to the supports of the rear seat so they couldn't cause trouble during the drive back to Cascade. Blair dug around and found an empty plastic grocery bag. They stashed the weapons they had taken from the men into the bag and placed it under the dashboard on the passenger side, as far from their captives as possible. Finally, the cookies were carefully placed between the two front seats where they wouldn't be lost or crushed.
"Okay, I think we're ready to go." Henri automatically moved to take the driver's side.
Blair stopped him. "I don't think so." The younger man looked at him determinedly.
"What are you doing, Sandburg?" Henri scowled at him.
Henri started to argue, but then he remembered why they were here in the first place. "After you, sir." He bowed and opened the door for Sandburg, who climbed in.
"Thank you, my good man." Blair smirked at him from his perch.
Henri snorted, shut the door, and jogged around to the passenger side. He got in and fastened his seat belt, then checked the cookies. Miraculously, they were still in good shape.
Blair turned the key that Steve had graciously left in the ignition and the Hummer roared to life. They heard cursing and yelling from the rear of the vehicle, so Henri turned on the radio and cranked up the volume.
As they were headed back down the road toward Cascade, the radio broadcasted a news alert about the armed robbery of a bank. It announced a daring daylight bank robbery two hours earlier in Seattle. Three men in black gear and masks had gotten away with $800,000. The robbers had been driving a black Hummer and were to be considered armed and dangerous.
"Oh, no need to worry, my friends," Henri said cheerfully. "Detective Henri Brown and Police Consultant Blair Sandburg of the Cascade Police Department have saved the day once again."
Curses were again hurled at them from the rear of the vehicle.
Blair laughed. A few miles later, he turned on the direction signal as they approached the entrance ramp that would take them onto the main road leading to Cascade.
Simon downed the remains of his third cup of bad hospital coffee. What was it about a baby coming that was so exciting anyway? He looked over at Joel and Megan. They were talking quietly.
Rhonda rushed into the waiting room, causing all three of them to stand and hurry over to her. "This is it," she eagerly announced. "She's ready to start pushing. They're taking her into the delivery room."
"Already?" Simon asked, eyebrows raised.
Megan swatted at his arm. "I'm sure Shaundra is more than ready," she said dryly.
"It's just that we haven't located Henri yet." Simon looked worriedly toward the door.
"Well, you'd better hurry," Rhonda said. She glanced toward the door. "I have to go back in."
"Okay, wish her luck," Simon said as she raced off.
The trio watched her disappear and sighed.
"I pray he makes it," Joel said.
Simon went over to the courtesy phone. He dialed Jim's cell number.
"Ellison," came the quick response.
"Jim, it's Simon. Any sign of Henri yet?"
"No. How's Shaundra?"
"They just took her into the delivery room."
"Damn it. Well, we'll keep looking, but I doubt we're going to find him in time."
"Okay, just… do your best."
"We will, Simon."
The phone went dead. Simon glimpsed up and saw Joel and Megan looking at him, hope showing in their eyes. "Sorry, no luck so far."
They sighed, their shoulders sagging.
Megan started to pace.
Henri kept an eye on the men in the rear of the Hummer, while Blair drove.
As they crossed into the city limits of Cascade, Blair exclaimed, "We finally made it!"
"With the cookies intact," Henri added. "Shaundra won't have to kill me."
From behind them came a siren and red and blue flashing lights.
"What now?" Blair groaned. He pulled to the side of the road and waited.
Henri looked in Blair's side mirror and saw a police officer cautiously approaching with his hand on his sidearm. "Just stay cool," Henri told his friend.
The officer called, "Driver of the Hummer, raise your hands a foot apart, with your fingers spread!"
Henri saw Blair roll his eyes, but the younger man cooperatively raised his hands above his head, fingers spread to show he was not holding anything.
"Good, Hairboy, just do as he says." The bald detective nodded, his own hands slowly going up in the same position. Henri knew he could talk himself out of this, but he felt responsible for Blair, and figured Jim would kill him if something happened to his partner.
"Yeah, I know." Blair’s head suddenly whipped around and he looked back at Henri his eyes wide. "Oh my God, I still have your .38!"
"Driver, remain still, eyes forward!"
Henri looked over his shoulder and saw another officer standing behind him outside the Hummer, her gun aimed at his head. "Just sit tight," he whispered to Blair. "It'll be okay."
"This sucks," Blair moaned softly as he turned again to look out at the officer, who was now holding his weapon on him.
"Yeah. Goes right with the rest of today, too." Henri grinned.
"Oh, man, don't make me laugh."
"You always this much fun?"
The officer instructing Blair continued, "Driver, roll down the window with your left hand and open the door slowly, using the outside latch. Passenger, remain still."
Blair did so.
Henri stayed where he was and did not twitch.
"Now step out of the vehicle with your hands above your head."
Again, Blair obeyed the command, acutely aware of the weapon aimed at him.
"Driver, on your knees, hands above your head."
Blair fell to his knees.
"Driver, put your hands behind your head and lay flat on your stomach."
Sandburg groaned as he complied, feeling the wet of the road beneath him.
"Driver, remain in that position."
"I ain't moving, man."
"Passenger, roll down the window with your right hand and open the door slowly, using the outside latch."
Henri complied, saying nothing. He knew what would be next.
"Passenger, step out of the vehicle with your hands raised above your head."
Henri did as he was told.
"Passenger, walk around the front of the Hummer, and lie down in the same position as the driver, three feet to the driver's right. You do have weapons trained on you, and we will not hesitate to shoot."
Slowly, carefully, Henri made his way around with the other officer a few steps behind him, and but out of hitting or kicking range. He dropped to his knees beside Blair, and then went down on his face. He figured a little more mud wouldn't matter, and this was procedure. He knew the officers would get the two prisoners where they could be easily watched; that also left one officer free, if needed, to move around.
Blair said, "Look, I need to--"
"Quiet!" The officer frisked Blair for weapons while his female partner kept her gun trained on them both. He found Henri's .38, and started to handcuff him.
When he finished, he searched Henri, coming up with his weapon, but not looking too closely at it. The officer ignored the wallet, because weapons were his main concern at that point.
"Wait, Officer! You don't understand. I'm Blair Sandburg; I work with the Major Crime Unit. That's Detective Henri Brown. We captured the bank robbers from Seattle -- they're tied up in the back." Blair said all this in one rushed breath.
The officer stared down at him for a long moment, eyes narrowed, then called out to his partner. "Officer? Check the rear of the vehicle. See if there's some guys tied up back there. Be careful." He drew his weapon and covered Henri and Blair as the officer moved off.
From his facedown position, Henri twisted his neck to see the female officer approach the rear of the vehicle warily, weapon at the ready. She edged up to the rear window at an angle, scanning around her carefully, and keeping an eye on the front passenger door. She glanced quickly into the back, then backed off. "There are three men back here, looks like they're tied up. Unknown situation, possible kidnapping." She moved back until she was at a safe distance, and kept her gun aimed at Henri.
Henri decided he really didn't like being on this end of a police officer's weapon.
"Advise Dispatch." The other officer told her.
"Right." She lifted her radio and talked to Dispatch while keeping her gun aimed dead-steady at Henri. After giving her call sign and receiving an acknowledgement, she said, "We're okay, two on the ground at gunpoint, three subjects tied in the rear of the Hummer. Standing by for backup."
Dispatch answered, and the backup officers acknowledged receipt of the message and confirmed that they were responding.
Officer Ralph Martin immediately read the Miranda warning to Henri and Blair, not allowing them to speak until they said they understood their rights.
Henri knew the two officers were treating this as a felony stop, and that the backup units would respond with full lights and sirens to assist this pair. It almost made him laugh to be the suspect of a felony stop, but then he figured it was just Sandburg luck rubbing off on him.
"No, man, they kidnapped us." Henri heard Blair's voice trying to defend them. "They were gonna use us as hostages. There are bags full of money on the seat there, and their weapons are on the floor in the front. Look, why don't you check his badge?" Blair nodded toward Henri. He couldn't use his hands to gesture with, as they were firmly handcuffed behind his back.
Martin stood back from the Hummer, his weapon now aimed at Henri.
Henri said, "Hey, guys, I'm Detective Henri Brown of Major Crime. I work under Captain Simon Banks. My shield is in my pocket."
"Take it out, two fingers, slowly." Martin directed him to carefully remove his ID. His partner, Karla Sheldon, took it from Henri, studying it and the picture and then Henri's face. She passed the ID to Martin.
After carefully inspecting it, Martin relaxed. "You can stand up, Detective." As Henri slowly rose, the officer handed him his ID and weapon. "Sorry about that, Detective. I'm sure you understand."
"Hey, no problem, man. I'm glad you're being careful. The .38 you took off Sandburg is my backup." Henri nodded toward Blair, who was still lying on the ground, hands bound behind him.
"Sure." The officer returned the second weapon to the detective. "Henri Brown. Why does that ring a bell?" Martin asked, looking quizzically at his partner.
Sheldon scrunched her eyes for a moment, then widened them, grinning. "He's having a baby! There was an APB put out on him a couple hours ago."
"Oh, yeah," Martin said, smiling. He reached for his lapel mike, giving his call sign over the radio. "Be advised that the two on the ground are from our Major Crime unit, and the three in the back are the Seattle bank suspects. We're okay, and cancel the lookout for Detective Henri Brown."
Detective Brown's mind grasped onto one vital piece of information and ignored the rest. "I what?" Henri asked, confused. Then, as realization set in, he shouted, "I what?! Oh, no! Blair, Shaundra's having the baby! Omigod! We have to go to the hospital! Come on!" He ran around to the driver's side of the Hummer and tried to get in, but Blair was still lying on the ground almost under the open door, and Henri couldn't get in past him.
"H! H! Henri, calm down. Ow, man. Take it easy."
Henri finally stopped trying to climb over Blair and stood looking down at him, a stunned look in his eyes. "I gotta get to the hospital, Blair."
"I know. We'll get you there. It's okay." Blair looked at Martin, who was grinning at them. "Um, can you get me out of these cuffs and let me stand up, please?" He gave the man his best puppy dog eyes. "We have an expectant father, who needs to get to his wife and baby as soon as possible."
"Sure." Martin stepped forward with the key and released Blair. "But you're gonna have to wait for another squad car for a ride. We can't let you take the prisoners with you, and the Hummer's now evidence." He nodded toward the vehicle.
Henri moaned. Blair put his arm around his friend. "It's okay, I can hear them coming." The sirens grew louder as he spoke, and two squad cars came into view as if on cue, lights flashing.
"Do you know which hospital they took her to?" Blair asked.
"I'll check," Sheldon said. She jogged back to their squad car.
The squad cars pulled up and the officers poured out onto the road. Martin went over to them and explained quickly what was going on.
Sheldon returned. "She's at Cascade General," the officer said, smiling at Henri. "Good luck to you, Detective." She rested her hand on Henri's arm briefly.
"Thanks, Officer." Henri spared her a quick, nervous smile.
"Thank you," Blair said. "Good luck with the happy trio." He gestured toward the back end of the Hummer, and gave her his most charming smile. "I'm sure we'll be seeing you soon to give our statements."
"I'm sure you will. Let me get your names and contact info, guys, before you take off." They quickly gave her the necessary information. Then Blair led Henri toward one of the other squad cars. Sheldon headed toward the Hummer to take custody of the three bank robbers. One of the newly arrived officers went to help her.
Blair helped Henri climb into the squad car and shut the door. The officer switched on the lights as Blair got in on the other side.
"I'm having a baby," Henri said, sounding dazed.
Blair patted his shoulder.
"You look well for nine months, Detective," the officer joked.
"Now." He had a lopsided grin on his face.
Blair couldn’t help but laugh.
"Don't mess up my car," the officer continued, "and I want some of the royalties for the first male pregnancy."
Just as they started moving, Henri yelled, "Stop!"
The officer slammed on his brakes and looked at the men in his rearview mirror.
"What is it?" Blair asked. He looked at Henri, eyes wide with concern.
"The cookies! We can't forget the cookies!"
Blair rolled his eyes. "I really don't think she's gonna care at this point, man."
Henri shook his head. "Oh, no. There is no way I'm going to face that woman without those cookies. Especially after everything we've been through to get them."
The officer grinned and maneuvered the squad car next to the Hummer.
Karla looked up. "Forget something, fellas?"
"There should be a package of cookies between the front seats," Blair explained. "They're for his wife." He nodded at a jittery Henri.
She laughed lightly. "Sure, just a sec." She reached into the Hummer and a moment later handed the package in through the partially open rear window of the squad car.
"Thanks a lot," Henri said. "Shaundra will appreciate them."
"You bet. You'd better get going." She waved as they pulled away.
"Hang on, Shaundra. I'm coming, babe," Henri murmured. He held the cookies carefully in his lap.
Blair put a hand on his shoulder. "It's gonna be fine, man."
Rafe and Jim were winging along the highway when they heard the APB on Henri Brown being cancelled. The father-to-be was en route to the hospital. They could almost hear the grin in the dispatcher's voice when the announcement was made.
The two looked at each other in shock, then smiled widely. Without warning, Jim swung into a U-turn, right in the middle of the highway. Rafe grabbed for handholds and wondered again how Sandburg withstood Ellison's driving.
They ignored the honking horns and screeching brakes.
"We have to get there. Punch it, Jim!" Rafe shouted gleefully.
"I know, I know," Jim replied, a look of concentration on his features. He pushed the gas pedal to the floor, determined to make it to the hospital in time.
The squad car slid to a stop in front of the hospital. As soon as the officer opened the rear door, Henri and Blair jumped out and ran in, shouting their thanks, but not stopping to see if the officer followed them. Henri knew the way to the obstetrics department from his earlier tour and led his companion there as quickly as the elevator would allow.
When they burst into the waiting room, Henri’s friends and coworkers instantly surrounded him. Blair took the cookies from him to protect them from the crush of people.
"Keep them safe, man," Henri said, warningly.
"No problem. Wish Shaundra my best," Blair said with a grin.
They shoved him toward the nurses' station, all trying to explain at once who the mud-encrusted man was and that his wife was currently in the delivery room. The nurse, used to dealing with slightly hysterical people, calmly led him away from the blathering group, helped him wash up and don the appropriate garments, and took him to the delivery room.
Finally he was with his wife. She was covered in sweat, coping with massive amounts of pain, and looked more beautiful than he could ever remember seeing her.
"I'm here, I'm here," he almost shouted, feeling overwhelmed with love for her.
"It's about time," she shot back, frowning. "Ooooh!" she cried.
Henri hurried to her side, taking her hand and trying to remember what kind of breathing she was supposed to be doing. One of the nurses helped him coach Shaundra through the rest of the contraction.
"And now a cleansing breath," the nurse said softly.
"Okay, baby, a deep cleansing breath," he murmured.
She complied, then turned and looked lovingly into his eyes.
Henri felt his heart swell with affection. "I love you, babe."
"Did you bring the cookies?" she asked.
Henri laughed. "Yeah, I've got them. I think you're a little busy with other things right now, though."
She looked at him with a look of determination. "Yes, but after this baby is out I'm going to be starving."
Henri looked at the nurse. "How much medication have you given her?"
An hour later, Henri Brown floated into the waiting room, a look of bliss on his face. He smiled beatifically at Jim, Blair, Simon, Rhonda, Joel, Megan, and his partner, Rafe. When they all looked up in anticipation, he straightened and proudly announced, "My wife, Shaundra, and I have a daughter, Camille Gloria Brown!"
The detective was almost swept away with the well wishes and congratulations. He made sure to give Rhonda a thank-you kiss for taking such good care of Shaundra while he was gone. There was more than one eye with a hint of wetness in it that evening.
Forty-five minutes later, all of Major Crime's personnel were lined up at the nursery window, noses pressed to the glass.
"Which one is she?" Simon asked
Henri, full of pride, pointed out his daughter. One nurse picked up the tiny bundle and brought her forward. Camille's round little face peeped out of the pink blanket. Wisps of her dark hair poked out from under the cap she was wearing to help keep her warm. Her eyelids opened a little and dark eyes peeked out. Bow-shaped lips puckered and tiny fists waved.
"Oh! She's looking at us!" Joel said, beaming.
"She's so cute!" Blair exclaimed.
"Henri, she looks just like… Shaundra!" Jim said, smirking.
"Awww!" Rafe said, awestruck.
"Hi, oo ittul baybee. Ooer so cyuuute!" Simon said. He suddenly realized he was babbling baby talk and stood up, straightened his shirt, and put a stern expression on his face.
"Oh, my! She's so sweet." Rhonda put her arms around Henri and gave him a hug.
"Isn't she just the cutest little baby you ever saw?" Henri hugged her back. There were tears in his eyes.
Connor joked, "Mr. Brown, you've got a lovely daughter."
"Good twist on the lyrics," Blair said with a smile.
There were a few snickers.
"She's gorgeous, H," said Blair, slapping Henri on the back.
"You just stay away from her, Romeo," Henri scowled playfully.
"Oh, come on. You know me better than that!"
"Exactly my point, Sandburg. Exactly my point."
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