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Vegas in Cascade
Brenda Bailey


Act I

Cascade Airport

The door to the Lear jet opened to the accompaniment of flashes from the eager photographers clustered on the rain-slick tarmac. The interior lights of the plane silhouetted the elegant form of Elliot Morehouse Stewart, Senator for the State of Washington - and heir to the Stewart fortune. It was a fortune that had begun with his great grandfather in the timber industry, and been wisely invested by successive generations. Now, the Stewart interests ranged from computer chips to pharmaceuticals. The Senator was a slim, trim man. His wavy black hair and soft brown eyes made him one of the nation's most eligible bachelors. He exhibited all the easy, physical confidence men of power enjoy. Pausing dramatically at the top of the plane's ramp, the good-looking young Senator smiled at the waiting members of the Press before proceeding down the steps.

Smiling and shaking every hand that came his way, he traded one liners with the press that were guaranteed to earn him sound bites on the evening news.

"Senator, is it true that you're dating Amy Poulan?"

"Amy and I are very good friends. After all, without the saws her company sells us, we wouldn't be able to cut many trees. Unionized beavers are so hard to find."

"Senator, word has it that you're bringing in the chorus line from the Tropicana to perform? How did you manage that?"

"Deedee Sterling, the owner of the Tropicana and I have known each other for years. He figured the girls in the chorus line have better legs than I do and wouldn't scare away the guests."

"Senator, your Vegas in Cascade night is being heralded as the place to be seen in society circles. Is it true that the guest list reads like a Who's Who of Washington State?"

"It's a charity event guys. I'm trying to collect money, and for that I need deep pockets. I intend to make good on that old phrase of 'having a politician in your pocket.' I plan to make this the biggest charity event the northwest has ever seen. Excuse me folks, I really have to go now. It's been good talking with you."

The Senator made his way to the waiting limo where Jason Butler, his campaign manager, met him at the rear door. "That went well, Senator. Should be good for the evening news and something for the papers, too." He opened the door and then followed the Senator into the spacious back seat. The soundproofing in the rear of the vehicle made it almost impossible to tell when the vehicle started and headed toward town.

"It could have been better, Jason." All joking was gone from the Senator's voice now; it was hard and cold. "There were ten freelance photographers, the camera crew from Channel 6, the guy from the local paper and that idiot from Spokane, and the chick from Cascade Insider. But not one national news rep, Jason. This is supposed to be my big return to my hometown after announcing my reelection campaign. Where's the national coverage?"

Jason, long used to the flare-ups of temper the Senator had when he didn't get what he wanted, busied himself fixing drinks while explaining his actions. "I added them to the guest list, Elliot. It was a choice of trying to get them down to the airport on a typical cold and wet Washington day, or letting them dress up and play with the beautiful people. Now which do you think they would be more grateful for?" He handed the Senator his drink.

The Senator smiled and sipped his drink. "Honey instead of vinegar. I like it."

"Besides, it will give us an opportunity to watch them for any... 'inclinations' they might exhibit at the gaming tables."

"Not bad, Jason. You're always thinking ahead. That's why I like you."

They toasted each other and settled back into the luxurious seat.

Senator Stewart's Office in Cascade

The corner suite of offices in the Heights Office Park housed the home base of Elliot Stewart. Not too ritzy, yet far from a storefront operation, they set just the right tone for the millionaire Senator from Cascade. The Senator was greeted with affection by his office staff when he breezed into the office at nine a.m.

"Senator, it's so nice to have you back with us. We've missed you so."

"Good to see you back, sir."

"Welcome home, Senator."

"It's good to see all of you, too." He smiled at everyone and caught Jason's eye, directing him to the inner office. "Maggie, be a dear and bring us some coffee will you?"

Maggie, the ever-faithful secretary, cheerfully responded, "I've already got it made. And don't forget your nine-thirty, Senator, with Mr. Swim."

"How could I, Maggie, with you always here to keep me on schedule."

The coffee arrived barely a minute after the two men were seated and the door shut silently behind the efficient Maggie.

The Senator turned off his politician's smile and leaned back in his desk chair, putting his feet up on his desk. "Did you see the interview on TV this morning?"

"Yes, what did the interviewer offer you if she got invited to the party?"

"An evening at her home, if you believe it. She must think I'm another Bill Clinton." He made vague pushing gesture with his hand.

"Not too bright, is she?"

"About a 15 watt. Great body, but definitely looking for a star to hitch her wagon to. You know, it's a shame that Vegas thing is tomorrow night, no telling how many offers I might get because of it."

"Elliot, you have a date for the event. The charming and beautiful Ms. Poulan."

"I know, I know. Image is everything right now, but I can still look." Bringing his feet down and sitting up in the chair, he switched back to business. "What's on the agenda for today, anyway? Please tell me it's something interesting."

"You've got a meeting in ten minutes with Michael Swim to finalize arrangements for the Vegas event. At 10:15 you're doing a dedication of a new library. At 11:00 there's an interview on the campus radio station. Then you're the guest speaker at the Noon Lion's Club."

"All right already. God, I hate campaigning." He swung back and forth in his chair like a spoiled child being reprimanded. "I hate playing these games."

Jason quickly countered. "But you're good at it and you have to play the game to get to Washington. To make the kind of changes in the system you want to make, you have to have the power to do so." He sipped at this coffee. "Get used to it Elliot, this is nothing compared to what it will be like when you go national. Remember, practice makes perfect. Are you still firm in your decision not to invite any of the timber lobbyists to the event? They carry a lot of weight here and this will be a deliberate slap in their faces. After all, they do have money and can make substantial contributions for the charity."

The Senator stared out the window of his office. "I don't want to see any of those political parasites. All they're interested in is getting their hands on the national forests. Even my grandfather knew you have to replace what you take from the land. I may have to look at them in D.C., but not here. I can afford not to deal with them."

"Elliot, you need to be careful just who you piss off. Not all of those people play by the rules. The environmental issue is heating up again. One day they're not going to just talk."

The intercom's buzzing cut off any reply the Senator might have made. "Mr. Swim is here to see you sir."

"Fine, Maggie, send him in."

Jason rose from his chair and headed for the door as Michael Swim entered. "I'll pick you up outside at ten sharp, Elliot." Barely giving Michael Swim a glance, he pulled the door closed.

Michael Swim, a.k.a. Sean Duggan, a.k.a. Richard West, a.k.a. Jonathan Kelley was used to being overlooked; in fact, it was a talent he cultivated. In a contest for most ordinary person, Michael would win hands down. His average looks, average height, and mild-mannered personality made it easy for people to ignore him. But in his line of work, that wasn't just an asset; it was practically a requirement. People often saw exactly what they expected to see and he was a consummate actor, conforming his performance to meet their expectations.

"Sit down, Michael." The Senator gestured toward a chair. "Let's get these last minute details finished. Do you have the guest list with you?"

"Right here Senator. I've included the names that Mr. Butler instructed me to add, and had those invitations personally delivered yesterday." He withdrew several sheets of paper from his portfolio and handed them across the desk. "I researched the board of directors for every major corporation and bank in the state. For local color I invited the owners of the Seahawks, Supersonics, and Jags, along with any of the players who live in the immediate area. I also included any Washington owners of any of the horses that have raced out at the track. The Governor and local elected officials were also invited, from both parties, as you requested, along with any high ranking appointed offices."

"Wait a minute, you didn't invite that ass, Williams, did you?"

Michael looked up from where he was drawing more and more elaborate dollar signs on his pad. "Do you mean Police Chief Williams?"

"Yeah, I mean him. That pompous ass was not to be invited." The Senator stared directly at Michael, waiting for the answer to his question.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Butler made that clear to me when he gave me the list of names from Washington to be included. Something about a disagreement between the two of you in the past..." He fished for an explanation for the deliberate exclusion.

"Disagreement doesn't even begin to describe what happened with that sanctimonious, egotistical imbecile. I don't want to see him or any of his half-witted sycophants. You got that?" The Senator emphasized each word with a jab of his finger.

A line of happy faces now joined the dollar signs on the pad. "No police. That won't be any trouble at all Senator. We can have private security at the event, no problem. I know just the people to contact."

The Senator continued to review the guest list, seemingly double checking to make sure the name of the Police Commissioner had not sneaked on somehow.

"Here is the list of possible charitable organizations, their current assets, stated goals and public perception score." Michael placed the list on the Senator's blotter and sat back, adding a row of moneybags to the page of doodles.

"Just pick one that is deserving and needs the publicity. Write up a summary for me on it and have it on my desk this afternoon." The Senator handed the various lists back across the desk and rose from his chair. "I'm counting on you to make all this work Michael, don't let me down. Do a good job, and it can have a big impact on your future."

Michael smiled as he followed the Senator out the office door. "Trust me, Senator. This will be an event they'll be talking about for a long time. A very long time."

Major Crime Bullpen

Captain Simon Banks entered the bullpen in an exceptionally good mood. The mail had brought him an unexpected invitation to the social event all Cascade was talking about. It was the place to be to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. It was actually too bad they had wasted an invitation on him, since Major Crime was probably going to get tagged for providing the security for the thing anyway. Making his way to his office, he figured the first order of business should be checking in with the Chief about the security detail. No point in waiting until the last minute to start realigning the roster. Hanging his overcoat on the coat rack, he got the coffeemaker started, then picked up the phone and dialed Police Chief Williams' office.

"This is Captain Banks. I need to talk to Chief Williams." Simon balanced the phone on his shoulder as he looked over the invitation again. A very classy job, no doubt about it. "Chief, has there been any word on how many men they'll be wanting for that Vegas in Cascade night?"

The explosion on the other end of the line didn't exactly answer his question, but it left little doubt about the Chief's opinion on the event in question and the people who would be attending. Some phrases came through, "self-serving social climbers," "arrogant bastard," "fools." He wasn't sure about the rest, as it tended to ramble on and repeat itself before coming to an abrupt stop with a click. What was perfectly clear, however, was that the Police Chief had not received an invitation and he was not a happy camper. There was no reason Simon couldn't attend though. The invitation had come addressed to Mr. Simon Banks, not Captain Simon Banks. No reason he couldn't crow about it a little in front of the rest of the guys. He looked through the blinds to see Taggart, Brown, and Rafe all in a huddle over at Brown's desk. The perfect opportunity to do a little crowing in front of the troops.

Henri Brown hadn't been able to keep from showing the invitation to Ray Van Rafe the minute he'd arrived in the bullpen. That revelation had led to Rafe showing him his invitation. The two of them were so engrossed in checking out each other's invitations; that they completely ignored the arrival of Joel Taggart, also with invitation in hand.

Simon approached silently, deliberately keeping his voice soft. "Anything going on your Captain should know about, gentlemen?"

All three men started. Henri found enough voice to respond. "Captain, it's bad enough Jim does that all the time, don't you start."

"Yeah, that should be a rule or something: no sneaking allowed in the bullpen," Rafe chimed in.

"Unless terrorists have taken over the building, then it's perfectly acceptable." The other two nodded in agreement. Joel held up his invitation as explanation for the huddled discussion. "It's these invitations to that Vegas in Cascade night, Simon. We all got one and we were trying to figure out why. These are the hottest things in town and the Senator has never been a big supporter of the police before."

"That's putting it mildly, Joel. I just got off the phone to Chief Williams and I think it's safe to say that he did not receive an invitation to the big event." Simon took his own invitation out of his pocket and added it to the collection on the desk. "Now what do the holders of these four invitations all have in common other than the police force?"

They exchanged looks as realization hit them. Three voices spoke in unison: "Little Stogie."

"That's right. After hearing the Chief's opinion of Elliot Stewart, it stands to reason that these invitation were not due to his appreciation of the fine work we do."

Henri had an awed expression on his face as he asked, "So, like we're going to be the only members of the Cascade P.D. that are going to be at this shindig?"

"Apparently so. From what I've heard, the guest list is very exclusive: team owners, movie stars, the movers and shakers in the State of Washington. The cream of the crop." He focused in on Brown and Rafe. "Think you two can behave and stay out of trouble?"

Rafe took up the challenge. "Us? Stay out of trouble?" An innocent expression graced his face. "You must be thinking of Ellison and Sandburg, not us."

Henri joined in with his own defense. "Yeah, we're not the ones who can't even go on vacation without finding trouble, or go on a donut run without getting kidnapped... or..."

"Go on a nice relaxing flight without something happening," Rafe added quickly while rubbing his shoulder.

Joel and Simon exchanged glances; it did seem that wherever the dynamic duo went, trouble was sure to follow.

"Speaking of our trouble-prone twosome, where are they?" Simon looked at Ellison's desk, but none of the little signs of occupancy revealed themselves.

At that moment, Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg walked into the bullpen looking like escapees from a slasher movie. Blair looked around at the sudden silence that greeted their arrival and focused in on the group at Henri's desk. "What's going on guys?"

Simon looked at the red stains that soaked Sandburg's jeans and the right side of Jim's jacket. Ellison's right hand was also covered in red... paint? He looked closer to ascertain if there was any real damage under that sinister appearing coloring, and finding none, recovered his voice and asked a question he knew he was going to regret. "What the hell happened to you two?"

"We interrupted a little juvenile vandalism in the parking garage on the way up." Jim glumly took off his jacket and eyed the still-dripping paint balefully as another drop fell to the floor.

Blair, ignoring his own paint-splattered jeans, sat down at the computer and pulled a can of paint from a battered brown bag. Pausing only a moment to read the label, he began typing on the keyboard. While waiting for the connection to the Internet, he reached down into the bottom desk drawer and pulled out a small duffel. Withdrawing a bar of glycerin soap and a white wash rag, he shoved both items into Jim's hand and said a single word, "Go." At Jim's hesitation, he added, "I'll explain."

"Is this really necessary?" Jim protested.

"Jim, you promised. And I'm pretty sure one of these is on the toxic list." Not saying anymore, and hoping he wouldn't have to, Blair started typing.

Giving a resigned sigh, Jim looked at the group watching him. He couldn't help but wonder what they were thinking, but their faces only showed concern. "I'll be back in a few minutes, Simon. I've got to go get cleaned up."

"Go." Simon echoed Blair's earlier instruction. "I'm sure Sandburg can tell the tale."

"Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of." Jim turned and headed to the breakroom.

"Okay, Blair, what did you two manage to get into now?" Simon and Joel moved to stand behind him. Henri drew up a chair and made himself comfortable at the corner of Jim's desk while Rafe contented himself with perching on the edge.

Blair's eyes remained on the screen as he linked to several different sites, but that had little effect on his ability to talk. "We were just getting out of the truck when Jim smelled fresh paint. Now that's not so unusual, I mean they do paint things down there and all, but we couldn't see anything that looked like it had just been painted. And he said the paint smell was like, really strong."

Henri and Rafe looked at each other, before Henri urged Blair on. "Really strong paint, huh?"

Blair looked up from the screen momentarily, but missed their reaction. "Yeah, really strong." He returned his attention to his research as he continued. "So we start looking around, trying to see where the paint smell was coming from. Then Jim heard this guy sliding out from under a car."

Joel prompted him this time. "Jim heard him sliding."

Finishing up reading the information on screen, Blair turned his full attention to the closely assembled group. "The story's not that fascinating guys." He gave them a puzzled look before continuing. "Turns out he had been painting the universal symbol for no, you know the circle with the diagonal line across it?" He sketched the symbol in the air with a hand. Four nods answered him. "And he had been painting it over the word police on the patrol cars. We came at him from two different sides and when he spotted me, I got sprayed." He looked ruefully at his ruined jeans. "Several times. Damn, and these were my favorite pair, too."

Distracting Sandburg from the state of his ruined apparel, Simon refocused Blair's attention. "So how did you two manage to catch this puerile painter?"

Blair looked up long enough to finish his story. "He didn't hear Jim sneaking up on his other side and when he turned to run he ran into Jim and bounced off. It was actually kind of funny. You should have seen the kid's face. When Jim reached down to grab him, the sprayer control got stuck and it just kept spraying Jim's hand and arm until the paint ran out."

Joel shook his head in amazement. "Why was the kid doing it?"

"Some kind of a gang initiation was all he would say. We dropped him off at juvenile on our way up. I better go check and see how Jim's coming on getting that paint off." Blair reached into the duffel again, grabbing a small tube of something before heading to the breakroom.

With Blair out of sight, Rafe reached over and turned the monitor so he could read it. "Chemical Fact and Information Sheet for Methyl Methacrylate." He scrolled downward on the page. "A toxic substance found in paints... a potent skin synthesizer... results in pain in the fingers and toes, fatigue, and allergic reactions. Guess there's a lot you have to know as a..."

Henri, Joel and Simon finished the sentence in unison. "... consultant."

In the breakroom, Jim was still industriously scrubbing at the paint. He had made progress and his hand was now a dark shade of pink compared to the deep red of when he'd started. "If I do this much more, I'm not going to have any skin to get paint off of, Sandburg. Enough is enough." He reached for the paper towels.

Blair moved the towels out of reach. "Jim, that stuff is toxic, in particular to skin. Keep scrubbing. You can always grow more skin." He leaned against the counter to better observe the proceedings.

Jim grumbled as he resumed his scrubbing. "Scrub much longer, and I'm going to need to grow new fingers."

Taking pity on his grumpy Sentinel, Blair let the scrubbing continue for another minute before ending the ordeal. Giving Jim's hand a hard look, he held out the tube of aloe vera creme as a peace offering. "That looks okay."

Jim quickly turned off the water and grabbed a paper towel to dry with. "You know you pretty much told the guys just what happened out there, don't you?"

"Huh? What do you mean?" Blair gave him a confused look.

"I mean you didn't obfuscate like you normally do when you talk about me using my senses." Jim began rubbing a small amount of the gel into his still slightly pink hand.

Shrugging, Blair leaned against the counter. "You really think I need to, man? Whether they say anything or not, you know they know, and they know you know they know. So you know, why bother?"

"You know, I actually understood that." Jim smiled and tossed the tube back to Blair. "Let's go get started on the paperwork for our juvenile. You need to do your witness statement, Chief." Jim held the door open for his partner.

"Whatever happened to case consultants just getting consulted? Isn't it enough I help with your paperwork, I have to do paperwork of my own?"

"The joys of police work are never ending." Seeing the grouping still surrounding his desk Jim jokingly asked, "Am I the only one with work to do?"

Simon cleared his throat before announcing in an imperious voice, "Show a little respect there, my good man. What you see before you are the representatives from the Sport of Kings who will be attending Senator Elliot Stewart's famed Vegas in Cascade night."

Jim grinned in response. "And are all of you going to ride Little Stogie to the Center for the Performing Arts?"

"Of course not, we shall arrive as befits our station," Joel countered aristocratically.

Henri couldn't keep a straight face and broke out laughing. "Yeah, in a rented limo..."

"... and rented tuxes, too." Rafe finished the line with a smile.

Blair's natural enthusiasm went into high. "Hey, that's cool. You guys should have a great time. There are supposed to be some really famous people there, and I heard MacBeth's is catering it. Their food is terrific. There are even going to be door prizes for whoever wins the most at the different tables. And the door prizes are something else. He's giving away some artifacts and antiques from his family's own collection, and a couple of cruises were even donated..." He stopped at the sign of Simon's upraised hand.

"I know, Sandburg. Everybody knows. It's been all over the news for the past week. You know..." he paused as he considered what he was about to say, "the invitation does allow for a guest, if you and Jim would like to go..." He left the thought unfinished.

Blair just smiled. "Nah, too rich for my blood. The donation at the door is $250.00."

Henri and Rafe paled. "It is?"

"That's what the news said," Blair cheerfully continued. "You high rollers better be careful and not 'donate' more than you can afford. But I hear he takes checks."

Simon turned to Jim, ''What about you?"

"No way, Simon. I hate those society charity things. We'll hold the fort and keep the city safe from marauding bad guys."

An Old Hotel in Cascade

Smalltime thief, Harry Price, dropped the white takeout bag on the table and carefully opened a large coffee. A beefy frame and bald head made him look tough, but a glass jaw and small, nimble hands offset his looks. This may have made him unsuitable for work as muscle on the wrong side of the tracks, but it didn't hinder him at all in his chosen profession as a thief. His room at the Brownstone Residence Hotel looked as if it were furnished with the discards of a thrift shop. A mismatched couch and chair, a double bed in a corner, and a small dinette table with three chairs filled the tiny space. He had a lovely view of the fire escape and the brick building beyond it. But it wasn't the view that interested him this morning. The breakfast run to the McDonald's around the corner had netted him a free edition of the Cascade paper and a wallet containing $68.00. Tossing the now empty wallet in the trash, he spread the paper out on the table to look for new opportunities and started in on his breakfast. Beginning with the easiest targets, the obits, he scanned for any of the recently departed with no local family. Stymied in that regard, he turned over to the local section to check out any big gatherings. They were always good for a pocket or two.

The front page of the local section featured a write up of Senator Stewart's arrival at the Cascade airport the previous evening. His comment about "needing deep pockets" had indeed made the news. Harry sat back and finished the remains of his breakfast. "Deep pockets, huh, Mr. Senator?" A calculating look came over his face, and he read the entire article about the Senator's planned Vegas in Cascade night at the Center for the Performing Arts. Wadding up the greasy wrappings, he threw them toward the trash and reached for the phone that sat by the bed.

"Hey, Jocko, how you doing man... You still dating that chick that works at the fancy Center downtown... Didn't you tell me you've been there to pick her up... Yeah, that's what I thought... You up for some action tomorrow night?... I'm feeling real civic minded and thought I'd help collect some donations... You in?... Why don't you pick up a couple of friends and meet me at Vinnie's around five... Yeah... And then we can do some shopping."

Hanging up the phone, he went back to the trashcan and dug out the discarded wallet. "I don't think," he pulled out a credit card in the name of Roger Kerry, "Mr. Kerry will mind helping out with my shopping. No, I don't think he'll mind at all."

Continue on to Act II...

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