Homer gripped the squirming dog in his grasp even tighter.
"Come on, Medea," he crooned. "Just hold still and I'll get you back to your home."
Arlo snapped. "Get that – bitch – under your coat. We're trying to sneak her back in there, you know."
"I'm trying, Arlo," Homer told his older brother in a hurt tone. "She's just excited to be getting back home, that's all."
"Well, get her unexcited," Arlo growled as he watched the suppliers come and go from the back area of the arena. "Otherwise we're going to get caught."
Homer sounded worried. "If we get caught, we won't be able to get the present to Mama on time. C'mon, Medea, settle down, pretty please?"
"If we get caught, we'll go to jail," Arlo reminded his younger brother.
"So I guess we better not get caught." Homer changed his grip on the dog and whispered in her ear. "Be a good girl, Medea, okay?"
"Get ready," Arlo warned as a group of suppliers came to the entrance. "Now."
As the suppliers stopped to show their identification and have their articles searched, the brothers managed to sneak by the two guards. Once they were in the back area, Homer brought the Papillon out from under his coat and tried to act as though he belonged there.
Arlo wiggled a finger under Homer's nose. "This way to the Papillon section. Keep moving."
"So when we get there, what then, Arlo?" Homer asked, scratching the small dog under her chin.
"We're going to put her into Midas' cage, and take Midas out of here, introduce him to Mimi, get her bred, then get him back here and get the hell out of town," Arlo informed his brother tersely.
"You don't have to snap," Homer pouted.
"Just find Midas' cage and let's get on with it," Arlo snarled.
"Here," Homer pointed, eagerly, "see?"
"Okay, fine," Arlo nodded his head sharply. "Now, get her in the cage and get him out so we can get out of here."
"I'm going, I'm going," Homer put the dog on top of the cage while he fumbled with the catch on the cage. "Okay, sweetie, stay there while I get your friend out of the cage and then, you'll get to go in the cage." The door swung open, and Homer reached in, then straightened up and stared at Arlo, blinking furiously. "He's not here, Arlo."
"He what!?" Arlo managed to stop from screaming at his brother.
"He's not here, Arlo," Homer whimpered. "Now what are we gonna do?"
"Put her in the cage, damnit!" Arlo swore.
"Okay," Homer sniffled. "Mama's gonna be so disappointed."
"Forget about Mama's disappointment, right now," Arlo ground out. "We need to get us out of here, and fast."
"You be good, and quiet, here, Medea," Homer crooned to the dog as he placed her into the cage. "You're back home now."
"You finished yet?" Arlo demanded.
"Yes," Homer sighed sadly.
"Good." Arlo began walking around to the other Papillons' cages. "Come on. We'll find Mimi a daddy for her pups around here."
"I hope this time the dog likes Mimi," Homer stated simply.
"As long as it's a male, he will," Arlo snorted.
Blair led Rafe and Brown to the small meeting room where he'd left the three grad students with Josh and Sharon. As they approached, they could hear two people shouting at each other.
Blair opened the door to see Josh and Harry nose to nose, both red-faced. Sharon was sitting to one side, looking frazzled and defeated. Mike and Jack were sitting across from her; Mike was grinning as he watched the two verbal combatants land telling oral blows.
"You're missing all the fun Sandburg," Mike smiled at the police consultant.
Rafe and Brown surveyed the scene, then glanced at each other. "Remind me never to get into a fight with a brainiac," Rafe commented as he moved into the room.
"Amen, brother," Brown agreed.
Blair looked at the detectives with something between exasperation and disgust. Then he put two fingers in his mouth and let loose with a sharp, piercing whistle. It quieted the combatants almost immediately.
"Thank you." Blair shook his head. "Can't I leave you two alone for even a few minutes?"
"You bringing reinforcements now, Sandburg?" Harry asked hotly as he glared at Rafe and Brown.
Blair shook his head. "No, they're here on a different case."
"So why are they here?" Mike demanded.
"I think you know why." Blair stared at Harry pointedly.
"Can you explain it to the rest of us?" Sharon asked.
"Yes, do," Harry agreed, returning the glare on the consultant. "This ought to be good, coming from someone who needed lawyers to declare him not to be a fraud."
"That was totally uncalled for!" Sharon shot back at him.
"But true," Mike pointed out.
Sharon turned to Mike. "Only because the university and publishing company rushed things, as I recall." Her tone was cold. "The university didn't investigate when that editor made a claim. Sort of like what you want the university to do with this investigation."
"But with this investigation, they won't be making a mistake," Harry argued. "They'd be righting a wrong done to the Quileute. Can't you see that?" His eyes pleaded with the police mediator.
"No," Blair shook his head sadly. "Rushing never rights anything. It only causes more problems further down the line. Josh and I have tried to tell you that time and time again."
Mike snorted. "We've been patient for a long damn time, Teach."
"Still," Jack agreed, "we don't want to make one claim only to have it disproved by the authorities."
"The authorities are the ones who are going to prove our claim," Harry vowed.
"Not if there's nothing to prove," Blair countered.
"You think there's nothing to prove?" Jack raised a surprised eyebrow at Blair.
Blair nodded his head sadly. "Well, yeah, I think there's nothing to prove."
"Well those bodies and the masks which were unearthed will prove you wrong!" Harry promised. "And instead of a new contract, we'll be discussing reparations due the Quileute people."
"There won't be any talks about reparations, Harry," Blair told the activist.
"And why not?"
"Because the bones aren't Native American. They're Caucasian."
Jim Ellison moved through the staging area as fast as he could without knocking down anyone, forcing Megan to jog to keep up with him.
He moved back to the area of the Toy Dogs in time to see two men, still dressed in garish and hideous clothes, trying to open a cage belonging to another Papillon owner. He heard a whiny voice cajoling the dog inside with "C'mon Rufus, we're gonna take you to meet a really nice girl doggie."
"Stop!" Jim commanded. "Stay right where you are."
The men hesitated for a moment, turned, stared at Jim and Megan approaching them, then slammed the cage door shut and ran for an exit. Jim broke into a run following them, Megan hot on his heels.
The scene in the back staging area became chaotic as owners and exhibitors scampered out of the way of the four racing people. Soon security was right on their heels and converging from other areas of the arena.
Suddenly Jim took a dive and tackled the lead blond while Megan grabbed the chartreuse jacket of the dark-haired man. The blond squirmed and wriggled, trying to break the iron grip Jim applied to his arm in spite of the sneezes that continued to plague him.
Finally Jim managed to roll on top of the smaller man and place a knee in the center of his back.
"Hold still, damnit!" Jim snapped after another forceful sneeze.
He slipped the cuffs on the man's wrists, then got awkwardly to his feet, still sneezing, pulling the blond up with him. He looked over toward Megan. Her hair and pantsuit were slightly disheveled but her prisoner was also in cuffs. Jim let the security guards hold his prisoner while he moved a short distance away from the blond. His eyes were starting to water from all the sneezing.
He heard Megan read the dognappers the Miranda and conclude with, "Do you both understand these rights?"
The blond was disgusted. "Only you, Homer. I knew this would happen; I just knew it. But you couldn't be persuaded."
"I only wanted Mama to have a litter sired by a champion, Arlo," Homer whined.
Arlo rolled his eyes. "So you keep telling me."
"Fellas," Megan tried to interrupt the bickering men. "Did you understand the rights?"
"Well, it's better than that stupid idea of yours for her birthday!" Homer countered.
"What is so stupid about a night on the town?" Arlo demanded.
"'Cause it ain't what Mama wanted, that's why!"
Megan tried again. "Gentlemen –"
The two shook out of the hold that the officers had on their arms and raced toward each other. Only the cuffs that kept their arms and hands behind their backs prevented them from hitting each other with fists. They settled for slamming into each other with their shoulders and using their feet to kick each other.
Jim shook his head and moved with Megan to get between the irate brothers to stop them from hurting each other. He saw a foot whipping around in the air and avoided colliding with it, only to see it smash into Megan's thigh. Megan's eyes closed briefly with the pain, and her lips press together to keep from either screaming in pain or swearing. Jim watched as she opened her eyes, pulled back a fist and let it connect with Homer's jaw. He dropped to the sawdust-covered deck. She then turned to Arlo, fury darkening her eyes, and he wisely returned his foot to the floor.
"Good move, mate," she growled. "Now, do you two understand the rights that were read to you or not?"
Arlo frowned at his brother as Jim pulled the smaller man to his feet. "Well at least if we'd done things my way, we'd be at her birthday party. Wanna guess where we'll be instead? And what she's gonna get for her birthday? Can you?"
"I don't wanna go to jail, Arlo," Homer whimpered. "I heard what goes on in jails. I don't wanna have to do that."
"You should have thought of that a hell of a lot sooner, Homer," Arlo snapped.
"Gentlemen," Megan began again, glaring at both brothers, "and I am using that term loosely, did you understand the rights that I read to you?"
"Of course we did," Arlo snorted, treating Homer to a glare of his own. "Just some of us aren't smart enough to use them."
"Got it under control here now?" Jim asked.
"Of course!" Megan snorted. "These two blokes know better than to try anything else stupid, right?"
"Good," Jim nodded, sneezing again.
He moved away from the small crowd back to the cages and opened the one that should have held Midas. Megan followed, moving the bound culprits in front of her. The security guards stayed nearby to help in case the idiots decided to try and escape, or fight, again.
"Hello Medea," Jim said softly as he took her from the cage and held her close to his chest. "Bet there's one hell of a story you could tell if you could talk to us, right girl?" He was rewarded with a small pink tongue scratching across his jaw. "Looks like they took good care of you." Another swipe with the tongue on his jaw.
"You found her!" Andrew MacDee's voice sounded from behind him. Jim turned as MacDee and Duncan Smith trotted over to the cages. "You found Medea! Oh thank you! Thank you!"
He swept the small black and white dog out of Jim's arms into his own and buried his face into her ruff.
"Well, actually –" Jim began.
"Can it Jimbo," Megan said softly from his shoulder. "The man thinks you're a bloody hero."
"But –" Jim began again.
"Don't break his little bubble of happiness, Jimbo," Megan advised. "Just enjoy the accolades. We get few enough as it is."
"My sweet baby," MacDee continued to croon into her ruff. "Are you all right?" He moved away from the crowd toward another man, a stranger to Jim but obviously not to MacDee. "We'll just have Dr. Bell check you out. Then you'll get a treat. And then we'll go and win the Obedience show. Right girl?"
She licked his jaw and settled against his chest.
"Good work, Jimmy." Smith congratulated the detective. "I don't know how you did it, and I don't care. Just, thank you. You don't know how important this is to the local chapter."
"Oh, I can imagine," Jim said dryly. "Been a bit of a dry spell for the local chapter and shows. Everyone had to go to Tacoma, Seattle, Spokane or even Olympia to get national points for their dogs."
"Yes, unfortunately," Smith agreed. "And expensive."
"And if the national chapter is happy here, they'll come back more often, right?"
"Exactly," Smith grinned at Jim. "I knew you'd understand."
"Glad to be of service," Jim nodded. He turned to Megan. "Let's get theses guys taken care of."
Smith put a hand on Jim's arm. " Jimmy, about what happened with Champ…. I didn't…. I mean, your father didn't tell me until…. And by then…."
"It's water under the bridge, Mr. Smith," Jim replied, his tone frosty. "And it worked out for the best, for Champ. Right?"
Jimmy was sitting on the grass in the back yard near the fence, as far from the house as he could get and still be on his property, his arms around the neck of his pet, his face buried in dog's fur. There were no tears, not anymore. They'd been wrung out of him the day before. Champ continued to nuzzle the young teen, aware that there were changes coming.
"You did your best, Champ," Jimmy told the dog. "I was the one who let you down. But your best just wasn't good enough. Not for Pops anyway."
The wet tongue made its way across the teen's face.
"You just need to be a good dog, Champ; I know you'll be treated right."
William Ellison walked into the back yard followed by Denton Smith. "I'm surprised you're letting him go, Bill," Denton was saying. "He's a fine specimen and has many good years left in the ring, not to mention how good he'll be in the field with a little more training. He'll be worth a fortune as a stud."
"Unfortunately," William shook his head, "I don't have the time to work with the dog, and Jimmy will need to concentrate on his studies in the fall. And Stevie isn't interested in dogs at all, so…."
"I see your point, Bill," Denton nodded, "but still, Jimmy must be feeling –"
"He knows that this is the best thing for the dog," William answered brusquely. "Jimmy! Bring the dog here! Mr. Smith is a busy man."
Slowly Jimmy got to his feet and slipped the lead on the dog. Together, they walked slowly toward the men. Jimmy handed the lead to Denton Smith, then dropped to his knee by the dog.
"You go with Mr. Smith, Champ," Jimmy instructed with a catch in his voice, ignoring the glare his father was giving him. "You be good. I'll miss you."
Smith looked at the sorrowful boy. "I'll take good care of Champ. You can be sure of that."
He turned and walked out of the yard. Obediently, the dog followed at heel. Still he turned and looked back at his young master. Then he hopped into the station wagon and lay down in the back.
"Yes." Denton cleared his throat guiltily. "Right." He dropped his eyes momentarily, then looked back up. "He was a godsend for Kristen. She fell in love with him."
"Kristen?" Jim frowned at the man.
"My niece," Denton explained. "Her parents, my brother and sister-in-law, were killed in a car accident the month before – before your father sold Champ back to me. It crippled her as well, and killed her dog. She had just been released from the hospital and came to live with us. As you can imagine, she was really broken up about her family and her dog. She didn't want anything to do with any of the dogs at my place. Of course, they wanted to play, and she just couldn't in her wheelchair." Denton took a deep breath. "Then Champ came home. He was drawn to her almost immediately. He seemed to understand her limitations, and find a way to work and play with them. And she seemed to understand his loss as well. They were inseparable for years. For the rest of his life, actually."
"They were?" Jim canted his head.
"Yes, they were," Denton nodded. "He did things for her that no therapist could. Let her do things she didn't think she would ever be able to do again. I'm not saying he wouldn't have wanted to stay with you forever, Jimmy," Denton added, "but –"
"But I had my studies, prepping for college and there wouldn't have been much time to spend with Champ," Jim said. "That wouldn't have been fair to him. As I said, it worked out for the best for Champ."
Denton nodded. "And for Kristen."
A pair uniformed police officers arrived and consulted Jim and Megan, then took control of the prisoners. Jim and Megan started to follow them out of the staging area.
"Wait!" Andy MacDee shouted. He ran up to the two officers. "Wait! You have to stay and see the show. As my guests, of course."
"I'm sorry," Jim said politely. "We really have to go. Paperwork. You understand, I'm sure."
"Yes I do, unfortunately." MacDee shook his head. "Still, if you want to come and see the show when you're finished, just tell the people at the gate that you're my guests. I mean that."
"Thank you." Megan smiled as she elbowed Jim. "We'll remember that."
The two detectives managed to get to Jim's truck finally. Megan continued to watch him.
"You're not sneezing anymore," she commented.
"It was something that the blond, Arlo, was wearing," Jim responded. "And it sure smelled."
"So what really happened?" Megan asked as she tightened her lap belt. "With Denton Smith, I mean."
Jim shrugged. "As I said before, life happened."
"So why do I get the feeling there's more to it than that?"
"Don't have a clue, Connor." Jim started the engine.
"Well, at least we got the case solved," Megan grinned at Jim. "And without killing each other."
"That's just because the opportunity never presented itself, Connor," Jim grinned evilly at the other detective.
Megan settled back in the seat as Jim merged with traffic, "In other words, wait till next time."
"There will not be a next time," Jim growled. "Ever."
"We'll see, Jimbo," Megan grinned back, her smile as evil as his had been. "We'll see."
Continue on to Act 4
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