DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.
Vegas in Cascade
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."
Major Crime Bullpen
Since reading the effects of the toxic paint Jim had been exposed to, Blair had been keeping a surreptitious watch on his partner. By ten o'clock, Jim had begun avoiding the keyboard of his computer, finding a need to go to records and forensics and then, juvenile. By eleven, his breathing had gotten just a little rougher, but he still hadn't said anything. Blair watched and waited, keeping occupied with a new grant proposal Simon had asked him to work on. At eleven-thirty, the mountain moved.
"Blair?" The soft inquiry from where Jim sat at his desk barely carried over the routine noise of the bullpen, but it was all that was necessary to get Blair's attention.
Blair shut down the program he was working on and gathered up his jacket and backpack and went to Jim's desk. "It's time to go home, Jim. I'll go tell Simon what's going on and meet you down at the truck." Not giving Jim time to change his mind, he reached over and logged off the computer. "Go on, I'll see you down there in a few minutes, okay?"
Jim reluctantly nodded, gathered his jacket, and slowly made his way out of the bullpen.
Blair knocked once at Simon's door and went in. Barely waiting to be acknowledged, he began, "Simon, I need to take Jim home. He's not feeling too well because of that paint this morning. One of the components was toxic, but I didn't know if it was going to affect him or not and there isn't anything I can do for him here and..."
Simon interrupted the flow of words with a single word: "Go."
"I said go. Go do whatever it is you do to make him better."
"You mean just like that?"
"Yes, Sandburg, just like that. Go feed him chicken soup, or a secret potion, or chant over him. Just go and do it."
Blair grinned. "Simon, I'm his shaman, not a witch doctor."
"Whatever, but you are what he needs right now. Let me know if you need anything."
"Hey, do you think you can pick up some eye of newt? I know this old tribal remedy..." Blair didn't even wait to finish his own sentence, beating a hasty retreat out the door before Simon could sputter out a response.
Center for the Performing Arts
The service entrance of the Center for the Performing Arts was a beehive of activity. Trucks appeared and unloaded, only to be replaced with other trucks. A veritable army of workers swarmed over the area, setting the stage for the big event. The large, center ballroom area housed the gambling tables, while the attached Stage One facility provided the setting for the famed Tropicana chorus line production number and provided the tables for the catered dinner. The light from the crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling reflected in a dozen different directions from beveled mirrored panels placed against the walls, turning the room into a display of refracted light. Seating was scattered throughout the room to give the players a chance to rest and recharge. A mid-size bar was being set up against one wall, complete with cut crystal decanters and elegant glassware.
Senator Stewart surveyed the scene from the wide double doorway. "This is looking good, Michael."
"Thank you, Senator. As you can see, we've assigned the majority of the tables to the most popular casino games, blackjack and poker. They are positioned here, just inside the main entrance. We put the crap tables and roulette wheels along the back wall, so that they form a horseshoe. The baccarat tables are in the center of the horseshoe."
"Make sure the cash bar is well stocked. I don't want someone complaining we don't run a first-class show."
"Of course, Senator. Would you like to see the arrangements I've made for the stage show?"
"Yes, and I want to know how the security is going to be taken care of. Did you find the necessary manpower?" The Senator didn't wait for a reply, but began walking toward the stage area, secure in the knowledge that Michael would follow along behind.
"There will be private security set up in the lobby of the Center. All guests will have to have their invitations. Plus, there will be metal detector set up to make sure no weapons are brought in."
The Senator turned and frowned at him. "A metal detector? Don't you think that's a bit extreme Michael? I didn't exactly invite gun toting terrorists."
"No, sir, I'm sure you didn't. But Mr. Butler did inform me that your life has been threatened because of your stand against those timber lobbyists. I thought it only prudent since this will be such a large gathering to take precautions. I'm sorry if I overstepped my bounds, sir, but I was only thinking of your safety." Michael dropped his eyes and crossed his fingers behind his back. Now if things just went as he planned.
The Senator appeared to consider his words. "That's very considerate of you. You're right. It's not a bad idea. Besides, it will be another way to insure the safety of all the guests. Good thinking, Michael. Keep this up and you'll go far." He headed again toward the Stage One area.
"Oh, I hope so, sir. I really hope so." The smug smile on Michael's face hinted at another meaning to his words.
An Old Hotel in Cascade
The tiny hotel room was nearly filled by the bulk of the four men now occupying it. Beer cans and takeout pizza boxes, courtesy of Mr. Kerry's stolen credit cards, littered the floor. A pile of suit bags lay on the bed along with laden shopping bags.
This was the biggest thing Harry had ever thought about pulling off. It was now 'The Plan' and he was enjoying the feeling of power commanding his little group. He surveyed his troops like a commanding general before an attack. Artie and Carl, the two additions Jocko had brought in, were just what would be needed to terrorize the ritzy guests at that fancy party. They were big men, scarred and tough, a little short in the brains department, but good at following orders. Jocko was a little crazy, always playing around with explosives, but he had the connections to get the layout of the Center. "Is everybody straight about how we're going to do this?"
Artie grabbed another piece of pizza from the box on the floor. "It's not like this is a bank or somethin'. It's just a bunch of rich dudes at a party. When we flash our guns, those old fogies will probably pee in their pants."
Carl laughed at the picture Artie's words had created. "Yeah, guess we need to tell them to empty their pockets first, so nothing important gets wet."
Harry slammed his hand down on the table. "Get serious. This can turn out to be a really big score, but it's not going to work if you don't stick with The Plan." He pulled a .45 from his belt, where it had been since he'd bought it that afternoon from his friend at the pawnshop, and arrogantly jacked the slide. "You want in or not?"
Artie sat up straighter. "We were just kiddin' around. We didn't mean anything by it. We're in."
"And who's the boss of this little operation?" The gun gave him a feeling of power he'd never felt before.
"You are, man." Carl nodded his agreement with Artie's words.
"Jocko, you got everything you're going to need on your end?" Harry turned to the remaining member of his gang sitting quietly in a corner of the room, meticulously assembling wires in a small box.
"I will by tomorrow. There are a few specialty items I want to pick up."
"Okay, everyone stay cool till tomorrow. The party starts at eight, I figure we'll make our move just before the dancers come out. Then we'll make our collection for the underprivileged." He gave his group a toothy grin, which they all returned.
Jim rolled over and drowsily regarded the small clock by his bed. The glowing numbers changed from 7:31 to 7:32. He felt like he was wrapped up in gauze, like everything had a slightly fuzzy feeling to it. A quick glance up at the windows confirmed that it was evening. He didn't know why he would be lying in bed at this time of the night, but he couldn't seem to gather enough energy to care. Pushing himself up with his left hand, he swung his legs out of bed and sat there.
Within seconds, Blair appeared at the top of the stairs. "It's about time you woke up. How do you feel?"
"Umm, fuzzy?" He found he didn't have the energy to elaborate any more than that.
"Yeah, I'll bet. Do you remember what happened, Jim?" Blair studied him closely from the top of the stairs.
The brain cells slowly came back on line. "The paint made me feel funny. My hand really started to hurt. It felt like it was dipped in acid or something." Jim looked at the offending member with a distrusting expression.
"That was a side effect of exposure to the toxic components in the paint. It makes the skin become extremely sensitive, and with you, that was like jazzing your sense of touch up 1000%. It also caused you to feel very tired and was messing with your breathing, but we got that under control. From what I read, it should all wear off in 24-48 hours and you'll be back to your normal sensitive self."
"You mean I'm going to feel this disconnected for another day and a half?" Jim tried glaring, but it came out as more of a demented frown.
Stifling a grin, Blair tried to explain to his lethargic Sentinel. "Jim, remember, we turned your sense of touch all the way off. That's why you feel so disconnected. It was the only way I could get you to go to sleep."
Jim stood up and started to take a step, only to fall back on the bed. "What the hell?" His confusion at this further betrayal of his body echoed in his voice.
Blair came over and sat beside him on the bed. "With your sense of touch turned all the way down, you don't have a concept of where anything is unless you look at it. It's like trying to walk when your foot's asleep. If you feel up to it, we can try just keeping your sense of touch off just in your hand and bringing it online everywhere else."
"Off and on, huh? Sounds like a kind of test." Jim looked at Blair suspiciously.
Blair held up his hands. "Hey, you don't want to try it, it's okay by me. You can go around feeling like the mummy, or we can try to get you some feeling so that you can at least walk without tripping over your own two feet. Your choice." Blair got up and headed for the stairs.
Reluctantly, Jim gave in. "Okay, okay. What do I do?"
Blair turned, then joined Jim back on the bed. Lapsing into Guide voice, he began, "first I want you to close your eyes and relax, Jim. You know the drill, breathe and relax. When you're ready open your eyes."
After a minute, Jim opened his eyes and looked at his Guide.
"Okay, now I want you to look at where my hand is resting on your leg. I want you to feel the weight of my hand. Concentrate on it. Can you feel it, Jim?"
Dreamily, Jim responded. "Yes." He followed his Guide's instructions, letting the voice he trusted guide him in restoring his abused sense of touch. When they had finished, only his right hand remained numb.
"Is everything holding steady?" Blair asked softly.
"Yeah, Chief, it really worked. That was great." Jim caught Blair's eyes with his own. "Sorry."
Blair got up and headed for the stairs. "You're such a pain sometimes. Good thing you have a keeper. You ready to eat?"
Jim sniffed the air. "Spaghetti sauce and toasted garlic bread?"
Blair practically flew down the stairs. "Damn, the bread!"
Chuckling, Jim pulled on his robe, tucked his right hand safely away in the pocket, and started downstairs after his hyper Guide.
Jim thought the meal went well, considering he had to use a spoon to eat his bow-tie pasta and sauce. Eating left-handed wasn't a skill easily acquired. He had been able to convince Blair he could manage the dishes, as long as he concentrated on what his hands were doing.
Blair sat curled up on the couch, finishing his glass of iced tea and reading the latest article on the biggest society event of the new millennium. Well, of course it's the biggest, the year only began just a few weeks ago. Though, if they wanted to be precise, 2001 would actually be the millennium, but no one seems interested in that. This was the first article he had read that was actually going into detail on the door prizes that would be given away at the event. He scanned the descriptions... a handgun owned by Wyatt Earp... a small etching by Picasso... a statute of Isis, protectoress of the living and dead... the original manuscript of Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The Stewart family certainly had a wide variety of interests. He turned to the inside page for the rest of the article. A cruise to the Bahamas... a collection of travel diaries from Theodore Roosevelt, Merriweather Lewis, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, Robert Peary and -- Blair's eyes couldn't believe the words on the page -- Sir Richard Burton. Simultaneously, his heart rate shot up, his tea went down the wrong way and he started choking, and the phone rang.
From the kitchen came the crash of a glass breaking as all of the events registered on Jim's senses. Focusing on the most important, he went to Blair. "What's wrong?"
A vaguely waved hand and the shake of a head answered him, indicating no immediate danger. He ran his senses quickly over Blair and reassured that nothing seemed drastically wrong, he dealt with the distraction of the phone.
"Ellison... Is something wrong?... No, it's just that you don't normally call... What is it?"
Blair had an idea he knew who was on the other end of the phone from Jim's responses.
After a lengthy pause, Jim spoke again. "No, I'm not really interested in making those kind of contacts, Dad... Yeah, I know it's for charity, but..."
Jim looked to where Blair, who was bouncing up and down, held up a section of the newspaper. Focusing in on the small print, he read the paragraph Blair was energetically pointing at.
Blair spoke softly. "Jim, if your Dad is offering what I think he is, you have got to go. This Stewart guy is giving away a lost Burton travel diary. If there's even a chance you could get your hands on that, you have got to go. Even if you just get to look at it and maybe take some notes for me. Please?"
Jim didn't hesitate. He hadn't seen his Guide this excited about anything in a long time and this was such a simple request. "Dad, listen... We'll take you up on your offer... Yeah, just send them to the loft... Enjoy the Bahamas. Bye."
"Bahamas? I thought your Dad was asking you to go to that charity thing with him?" Blair's confusion showed on his face.
"Better get a new Ouija board, Chief. My Dad is sending over the invitations so that we can go to that charity thing. The corporation has already covered the donation. You're not sending me into that den of iniquity by myself just to look at some dusty diary for you. You want to see it, you have to come."
Blair gave him a huge grin. "Well, if you insist. The things I do for science."
Center for the Performing Arts
It was still two hours until the official opening of the Vegas charity event when Michael Swim came through the glass doors of the Center into the lobby and surveyed the final setting. The area in front of the grand staircase had been partially blocked off, to direct all the guests through the freestanding metal detector that was manned by his private security personnel. Invitations would be checked here. Directly to the right of the detector was the marble concierge's desk, which wouldn't be manned by any Center staff tonight. Down the hall to the right, was the cashier's cage where guests' donations would be tallied through the night. The Senator wanted to be able to make an announcement at the end of the evening of just how much money was collected. Greeters, at the top of the staircase, would accept the charitable donations that got the guests into the ballroom. Dealers at each table would exchange cash for chips just like in Vegas, with the money being collected from the tables periodically. Everything was like the Senator wanted, with a few special additions.
Michael approached the metal detector and the three men sitting there drinking coffee from china cups. "I see the Center's staff has been seeing to your comfort, gentlemen. Is everything set for tonight?"
Mr. Cheatham, the accepted spokesman for the group, spoke up. "Everything is right in place, Mr. Swim. There won't be any problems tonight."
"How will you handle pickups from the tables?" Swim checked off items from his clipboard while listening.
"I will remain here at all times. Either Mr. Dewey or Mr. Howe will make the pickups of the cash at the tables and take it directly to the cashiers."
"Very good. You have all the necessary equipment ready?"
"Yes, we are quite well prepared."
"Very well, then. I will see you this evening. May fortune favor us all."
A Rented Limousine en Route to the Center for the Performing Arts
Simon leaned back in the thickly padded seat and puffed on his cigar. Yes, this was definitely the way to go. The four of them had decided on a "Boys Night Out" and had agreed that they would all go stag to the big event. The fact that they wouldn't have to pay an additional donation for a date or spouse had absolutely nothing to do with their decision. "You know, Joel, it's a shame we can't do things like this more often."
Joel, ever practical, responded. "I think I'd prefer a fine meal more than riding around in a limo, Simon. I'm just not cut out for the high life."
"I can't afford the high life. Being married is turning out to be more expensive than being single. This is going to be my entertainment for the next three months." Henri resumed checking out the amenities in the back of the car.
"Think of it as an investment in your future." Simon blew a perfect smoke ring. "You might make a contact here tonight that could affect the rest of your life."
Henri snickered. "Oh, you mean like Rafe's investment in his tuxedo that's going to affect the future of his credit card?"
"Hey, I got a good deal on it. Besides, I'm not the only one who owns a tux. Both Ellison and Sandburg own them." Rafe brushed invisible specks of lint from his jacket.
Even Simon was surprised by that fact. "Ellison I can understand, he's been married. But Sandburg?"
"Maybe he needed it for university functions or something," Joel defended.
Henri joked, "Maybe it's the only way he could find one that fit."
Rafe cautioned his partner, "Better not let Ellison hear you picking on him about his size, Henri. He may not bother to protect you from Sandburg."
"Jim does it all the time."
Simon shook his head. "It's bad enough when they pick on each other. But let someone else get involved and you really don't want to go there, Henri. Trust me on this, I'm your Captain."
The limousine stopped in front of the brightly-lit entrance of the Center for the Performing Arts where a valet opened the door for them. The four stepped out of the vehicle and took a moment to stretch their legs. Simon looked at the queue of vehicles dropping off passengers and was startled to see a familiar '69 blue and white pickup in the line. "I don't believe it."
Joel turned to look where Simon was staring. "Is that Jim's truck?"
"It has to be. How many of those do you think are still around?"
The blue and white pickup had now made it to the front of the line. The valet approached the vehicle hesitantly, as if certain the driver must be lost. Any hopes were dashed when the driver got out wearing a tuxedo. "Be careful with her. She's a classic," Simon overheard Jim say.
Handing the claim check over, the valet dutifully repeated, "Yes, sir, a classic."
Simon almost choked when he heard the valet mutter as he got in the truck, "These eccentric millionaires are getting weirder all the time." Knowing Jim had to have heard the comment, he looked toward the newly anointed "millionaire".
"Don't say anything, Simon," Jim cautioned. "Just don't say anything."
Simon gave him his best "Who, me?" expression in return savoring the prospect of using the information at an opportune time.
Blair had jumped out of the passenger side, and seeing the representatives from Major Crime, immediately came over. "Hey guys, good to see you. Isn't this going to be great?"
"Sandburg, I thought the two of you were passing up this event." All of Simon's thoughts of a peaceful, enjoyable evening were fading away, replaced with disaster scenarios, hostage situations, and general mayhem.
"We were Simon, but Fate stepped in. We just seemed destined to be here tonight. You know how it is, you can't fight Fate." Blair shrugged his shoulders to emphasize his point.
Jim joined Blair on the sidewalk. "Don't try to figure it out, Simon. Just go with the flow, it's easier."
Simon shook his head and proceeded to lead the group into the lobby.
Blair let the others get a little ahead before quietly checking with Jim. "How's the hand doing, man? Still okay?"
Jim sighed. Apparently even the distraction of a Burton diary wouldn't keep Blair from checking on him. "It's still sensitive, but I've got it turned down. I can handle it."
"Just let me know if something changes. Don't try to ignore it, tough guy."
Resigned, Jim nodded. "Yes, Florence. I'll keep you informed." He placed his hand on Blair's back to get him started inside.
Jim was surprised to see the guests being directed through a dressed-up metal detector. It looked like a glorified golden gate now, but its real purpose would soon be obvious when one of Cascade's finest stepped through. He didn't have long to wait. As one of the security men checked Simon's invitation and motioned him through the arch, the distinct beep of the detector was heard immediately.
"I'm sorry sir, could you step back through." The man gestured back at the portal.
Simon turned and stepped back, opening his jacket to show his gun in its holster.
"Gun!" The nearest security man yelled and drew his gun, pointing it at Simon.
The Cascade contingent reacted instantly. Three guns came out to cover the other two security men, while the gun wielding member of their group suddenly found himself weaponless on the floor with his arm at an uncomfortable angle behind his head.
"Don't break it, Jim, he might have need of that arm at a later time," Simon calmly instructed his detective. He picked up the abandoned gun from the floor and pulled his I.D. from his pocket. "I'm Captain Simon Banks with the Cascade P.D. These other men are police officers also. Maybe there's someone you need to check with?" He directed his comment to the two security men frozen in place. A nod answered him.
Jim let go of his victim and stepped back.
Slowly getting up off the floor and stepping back out of Jim's reach, the man massaged his abused shoulder, while giving Jim an evil glare.
Jim listened to the increased heart rate of the security men. It could be simple nervousness at a bad judgment call, but instead of settling down, they appeared to be getting even more nervous.
The senior member of the group spoke up, "My name is Cheatham. If you could just step to the side for a minute, sir, I need to contact Mr. Swim." He turned to the side and pulled out a handheld radio.
Jim didn't hesitate to listen in on the conversation.
"You need to get down here. We've got a whole group of cops waiting to get in."
Jim casually walked over to where Simon and the rest of the group were standing. "Seems like cops aren't exactly welcome here."
"You're kidding. They won't let you guys in because you're cops?" Blair was amazed.
"Don't forget, Sandburg. That applies to case consultants, too." Simon pointed out.
In less than five minutes, they were joined by a young-executive type who introduced himself as Michael Swim. "I'm so sorry for the misunderstanding, gentlemen, but all weapons are being prohibited at the event. It's nothing personal. This is at the request of Senator Stewart, and it is his party after all."
"Surely you can make an exception for police officers?" Simon queried.
"I'm sorry, sir, but since this is a private event, I have to insist." The apology in his voice didn't match the expression on his face.
"Are there no other arrangements you can make?" Simon's voice was firm.
Swim hesitated before finally speaking. "I can make the lock boxes at the concierge desk available for you. Your weapons can be secured there until you leave." He gave them an insincere smile.
"I'll let you know." Simon turned and walked over to the waiting officers. "It's up to you guys, you want to go or stay?"
Henri and Rafe answered quickly. "Stay."
"I don't see any harm in giving the guns up. It's not like they're going to have any low-lifes among the guests."
Simon led his group over to the concierge's desk to secure their weapons.
Blair looked at Jim who was still giving the security men a general all-purpose glare. "Come on, man. Play nice and go lock up your gun so we can go in."
"I've got a bad feeling about this, Chief."
"It'll be okay. Trust me." Blair put on his best wide-eyed, earnest expression.
Jim rolled his eyes. "I know I'm going to regret this in the morning," but he followed the rest of the Major Crime detectives over to the concierge's desk.
Entrance Hall in the Center for the Performing Arts
While the rest of the group climbed the grand staircase to the second level, Jim lingered behind, eavesdropping on the conversation between Swim and the security men after they had left. But the overheard conversation only left him more curious. Instructions to stick to the program and to be low-key, he could understand, but esoteric quotes from the Art of War didn't make sense. What did Swim mean by, "He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious?" He had a funny feeling he was going to find out.
"Jim, come on. Don't you know you'll never hear anything good when you eavesdrop?" Blair impatiently waited halfway up the stairs.
Jim assumed an affronted air. "And what makes you think I'm eavesdropping, anyway?"
"Well, gee, Jim, I guess it could be because I've only seen you do it like a thousand times or more. You know, like it always proceeded your question of 'Do you hear that?' I am a trained observer." Even though he knew it was coming, Blair didn't move fast enough to duck the soft whap on the back of his head that Jim administered.
Turning Blair around, Jim directed him back up the stairs. "Come on, then. Let's go find this diary of yours so you can go observe it."
Simon, Joel, and Rafe had already made their donations, and they watched Henri reluctantly count out his donation to the sweet young thing with the clipboard.
Joining the group, Blair gave H a friendly punch in the arm. "Just remember, man, its all for a good cause. You'll feel good about doing this tomorrow."
"Yeah, I'll feel better in the morning if I win that cruise." H groused.
The young lady turned to Blair and gave him a brilliant smile. "Your name, sir?"
"Blair, and what's yours?" He smiled in return.
Batting her eyes, she responded, "Danu."
"Did you know she was the mother of all the Gaelic gods..." The simultaneous clearing of several throats drowned out the rest of his sentence.
Having been through this before, Jim took control of the situation. "He's with me and the name is Ellison."
Danu flipped several sheets of paper on her clipboard, all without breaking eye contact with Blair, and glanced briefly down at the sheet. "The contribution for you and your guest has been noted, Mr. Ellison. Have a good time. Bye, Blair." She handed Jim and Blair five $50 chips each and slowly moved off to greet the next guest.
Simon gestured toward the grand entry to the ballroom. "Shall we go in, gentlemen?" He led his men inside.
"How does he do that?" Rafe whispered to Henri as they trailed in after the others.
"Blair's like a magnet where a pretty girl is concerned."
"No, not Blair. That I can understand." Henri gave him an amused look. "You know what I mean, you dork." He shook his head. "How does Ellison go from not wanting to have anything to do with this, to having his name on the guest list and his donation already paid within the space of twenty-four hours?"
Picturing the image of Jim sitting at the center of a web of sensory nets in his mind, he grinned and wriggled his fingers at his partner. "Maybe his Sentinel sense was tingling and he knew there was going to be trouble so he decided to attend."
Rafe stared at his demented partner. "Next you'll be humming the theme for Spiderman. Forget I asked."
Joining the others inside the doorway, they looked around at the opulent display.
"Man, do you believe this?" Henri's voice had a note of awe.
Sparkling lights reflected in mirrored walls; bright green felt was surrounded by gleaming wood, and among it all, elegantly attired guests moved to and fro like participants in an intricately choreographed dance.
Simon looked around at the various games of chance available. "Gentlemen, I see a poker table over there with my name on it. If you'll excuse me."
"I always wanted to try roulette. Now seems like a good opportunity." Joel headed for the back of the room.
Rafe turned to Blair. "What are you going to try, Blair?"
"Try?" Distracted, Blair continued looking around the room for the object of his search. Finally locating the glass display case that was the temporary home of some of the door prizes, he zeroed in on his target. "That." He was off like an arrow for his target leaving the others behind him.
"Where's he going?" Mystified by Blair's behavior, Rafe looked to Jim for an explanation.
"To the Sandburg zone. Do you really want to go there?" Enjoying the baffled expressions on both faces, Jim smiled and excused himself to follow his disappearing Guide.
Undaunted by an inability to find anyone that could grant him access to the sequestered diary, Blair abruptly changed gears. "Gambling is a really fascinating application of percentages and the laws of probability."
Jim cringed. "Don't tell me you've got a system, Sandburg."
"Yeah, how'd you know?" A puzzled look briefly appeared, only to be replaced with a smile as Blair continued excitedly. "You bet a $5 come bet along with a $5 line bet, plus full odds on both bets. Then when you've won $50 or so, you add additional come bets. Then you bet on every throw except the shooter's own come-out, and raise your unit bet accordingly. The whole point is quitting immediately after a good win."
"And did you win when you've used this system of yours?" Jim eyed his exuberant partner.
"Well... yeah... at least I would have." Blair suddenly found the chips in his hand of great interest.
"I just missed it by one roll of the dice." Blair shook his head, remembering the long weekend he and two fellow TAs had caught a ride to Vegas. "One more roll and I'd have had enough to get this great classic Carmen Ghia. It was a beauty. Instead, I ended up having to catch the bus back to Cascade."
Jim put his hand on Blair's shoulder. "At least you won't have to take a bus home this time, Chief. I've got your classic transportation right outside."
"Classic usually refers to an outstanding representation of its kind, Jim. Pickups are kind of, well... rustic."
"Classic also means something with lasting significance. And you've got to admit, the truck has lasted through some very significant circumstances." Jim tapped Blair on the forehead.
Blair started to object, but the truck had managed to be the only vehicle that could survive the hazardous duty of being driven by Jim. "You win, man, it's a classic. No doubt about it." Laughing at the shared memories, they joined the milling crowd.
A few familiar faces greeted them. Mel Wilkinson actually broke away from the group he was with to come over and speak to both of them. Reiterating his thanks for everything they had done when Galileo had taken over his building, he shook both their hands and rejoined his friends. Antonio Andre of the Jags spent a few minutes discussing the latest rumors about trade deals, before leaving Jim with a warning that Clyde Sloman was also there and still had the same attitude problem he had before. While Blair kept Jim clear of Sloman, Jim kept Blair away from Henry Nadine and Norman Ventris. Fortunately, neither man had brought their obnoxious offspring to the event. The best chance meeting came when Fred and Trisha Angeloni came over to thank them again for rescuing their daughter Gwen. The kidnapping had forced the two parents to reevaluate their priorities and everything had worked out for the best.
After forty-five minutes of wandering among the rich and famous, they had seen Simon take a $2200 poker pot on a bluff, and watched Rafe win $500 on a hand of blackjack.
They had each placed a few random bets and were currently on the plus side of the ledger. But Jim was bored. He had been watching Michael Swim since they arrived, but other than being obsequiously polite, the man had done nothing objectionable.
Blair cracked his knuckles and announced: "Come on, it's time to get serious. Let's hit the craps tables. That's the best game for profit and money management. And I am like so into money management right now." In an instant, he had threaded his way through the crowd to the nearest opening at a table.
Following at a more leisurely pace, Jim kept an eye on Michael Swim mingling with the guests. The man was everything you might expect a coordinator for a charity event to be: well mannered, charming organized. Yet something about the man rubbed him the wrong way. Shaking his head to dismiss the irritating feeling, he caught up with his partner at the craps table.
Blair began talking immediately. "The only bets worth serious consideration are the line bets, the come bets, and the place bets. Anything else is a high risk bet, the odds just aren't with you. The thing you want to do is..."
Jim interrupted. "Sandburg, I know how to play." Seeing Swim disappear out the entrance, Jim shoved his chips into Blair's hand. "Here, enjoy. I'm going to go check something out." He turned and headed for the entrance.
"Jim?" Receiving no answer, Blair turned his attention to the table where the dice lay unclaimed.
Blair had drawn quite an audience at the table he was at. The impressive pile of chips in front of him had grown considerably since he started. He glanced around to find Joel standing behind him. "Hey, man, how are you doing?"
"Not as well as you, that's for sure. How'd you manage to do that?" Joel pointed to the impressive stack of chips.
Blair threw the dice again, taking double odds on all the bets he had out on the table. He threw the dice and double four came up. This was met with approval by those riding along on his bets. The croupier shoved another stack of chips his way.
Simon joined Joel at the fringe of Blair's table. "The show is about to start, Sandburg. Are you going to join us or continue with your assault on the house?"
"Go on in and get a table, Simon. I'll be in shortly." Blair picked up the dice and gave them another toss, rolling yet another eight, much to the appreciation of his new-found audience.
Blair jumped when a hand gripped his shoulder. Turning to see the face of his partner, he relaxed. "Don't do that. That's a good way to mess up my winning streak." He proudly indicated the stacks of $100 chips in front of him.
Jim fingered a stack of chips on the table. "Sorry to cut the game short, Bugsy, but we've got work to do." He motioned with his head towards the entrance of the room.
Blair paused, studying Jim's face. Leaving only one small bet on the table, Blair tossed the dice. They bounced off the back rail, then rolled to show a three and a four. "Crapped out anyway." He pushed the chips over to the croupier to be credited, then followed his partner towards the entrance. "What's up, man? And shouldn't we get the others?" He looked back at the crowd clustered at the rapidly filling Stage One.
Jim detoured around another group of people heading to the performance. "No time, this is going down right now. I overheard Swim talking with those three who were at the metal detector. They're going to rip off the cashier's booth." He deftly avoided a hefty matron and her escort. "You up for a little police work?" He turned to look at his partner.
"I'm your official, designated backup, aren't I?" Blair looked out the ballroom entrance to the deserted lobby below. "What's the plan?"
Keeping his face devoid of any expression, Jim whispered, "I haven't thought of one yet. I'd thought we'd make it up as we go."
Blair counted to five silently before commenting. He then tried the rational approach. "Man, normally your idea of a plan is to go straight up the middle like gangbusters. That is so not cool, Jim. Those guys have guns, and yours is locked up down there in a little box. Don't you think subtle would be a better approach? The odds aren't exactly in our favor here. It's four against two, in case you hadn't noticed." He indicated the two of them with his fingers.
"Well, that should make it even then." Jim kept his expression stone, giving nothing away.
"Huh?" Blair couldn't grasp Jim's form of math at all.
Jim explained. "Four bad guys against two cops, one Sentinel, and one Shaman." He gave Blair a slight grin.
An answering smile met his. "Yeah."
"Come on. I have a sudden desire to do some cleaning up." Jim pointed to a concealed doorway down the hall that had a slight odor of ammonia coming from it.
Lobby in the Center for the Performing Arts
Michael Swim joined his accomplices down in the lobby just before the announcement that started the guests moving toward Stage One. "Is everything ready to go?"
Cheatham nodded, pulled out a briefcase and handed it to Swim.
Swim didn't waste any time. "Then let's get going, we have a schedule to keep."
The four men moved around the corner from the concierge desk, out of sight of the ballroom, and opened their briefcases. They withdrew trench coats and rubber masks, quickly donning the disguises. Swim pulled a small spray canister out of his briefcase and concealed it in his right hand. It was a left over from his last job and insured temporary unconsciousness within seconds of inhalation. Leading the way, he knocked at the cashier's door. The door opened to reveal the smiling face of the head cashier. The smile changed to a look of surprise, before she slumped unconscious to the floor. A second spray in the face of the other cashier and she too, was instantly unconscious. The operation had taken less than two minutes.
Michael removed his mask and coat and placed them back in one of the briefcases. "Finish up here. I'm going to make sure everything is quiet outside." Cheatham acknowledged him with a nod, while the others went to work quickly stuffing money into the briefcases. Shutting the door quietly behind him, he strolled over to the check-in area. Idly he picked up one of the clipboards with the guest list attached and mentally began adding figures in his head. Leaning against the side of the concierge desk he never felt the stealthy presence concealed on the other side, weapon in hand. His mathematical computations were rudely interrupted by a sharp poke in his side.
"Freeze. Cascade PD. Don't say a word." The command was emphasized with another sharp poke.
Michael may have been a first class thief, but he wasn't stupid. Being dead offered a singularly limited choice of alternatives, being alive meant there were always possibilities. He raised his hands in surrender.
Blair kept Michael covered while Jim did a quick pat down search. "Why do we even say freeze? They never freeze. It's like an ingrained response. We say freeze, they move. We have got to come up with a new command," he griped in a loud whisper.
Jim withdrew his cuffs and secured Michael's arms behind his back around a stair railing. "You work on that, Chief. Let me know what you come up with." Taking Michael's silk handkerchief out of his pocket, he fashioned it into an effective gag. "Ready for phase two?" Jim grabbed the large industrial sized container of floor wax they had scrounged from the janitor's closet.
"Ready as I'll ever be." He twirled his "weapon" with his fingers.
"Better switch to the long range version. They may be moving fast." Jim unscrewed the top of the container and quietly poured the contents in front of the cashier door.
Blair switched weapons, placing his plumber's helper down and taking up a push broom handle. Giving it a few practice swings to get the feel, he took up his position on the other side of the door.
Jim counted down the approach of footsteps to the door, flashing Blair a one, two, and three with his fingers. The door opened and Cheatham stepped out. He took one step before his foot slipped out from under him, sending him plummeting to the floor. His head cracked against the marble tile floor with a thud and he lay there, dazed.
Dewey paused at the doorway, surveying his fallen comrade. "What the hell..." was all he managed to say before his arm was savagely grabbed and a fist connected with his stomach. Gasping for air, he doubled up. His feet were swept out from under him and he found himself sliding on his backside toward the wall to land with a thump.
In a desperate bid for freedom, Howe tried running past the altercation at the door. A large hand gave him an ungentle shove in the back at the same time he was struck from behind on the back of the knees. The twin impacts brought him to the ground to join his associates sprawled across the floor.
Stepping carefully, Jim quickly relieved all three of their guns and assembled them in a neat, but slippery line. "Now we've got to find a way to secure these guys. Chief, you have any cuffs on you?"
Blair sputtered. "Cuffs? Why am I supposed to have cuffs? I'm a consultant, remember?"
Jim patiently answered. "You're also my partner and you're supposed to be prepared."
"Hey, it was a police academy, not boy scout training. Will this do?" Grinning, Blair held up a large roll of duct tape and tossed it to Jim.
"When did you pick that up?" He neatly began wrapping the wrists of Howe together.
"While you were searching for a way to grease the wheels of justice, I was looking for a way to wrap things up."
Jim groaned at the pun. "Watch it, or they're going to complain about cruel and unusual punishment. That was bad." Jim finished with Cheatham and started on Dewey.
Blair bent down to examine Jim's handiwork on Cheatham. "You really should be glad we're using tape. It doesn't chafe like rope and it's more comfortable than cuffs. Of course, it is kind of hard to get off your skin. And it does pull hair like you wouldn't believe. Take it from me, I know."
Cheatham turned towards Jim with a pained expression on his face. "Is he for real?"
Jim finished up with Dewey and stood up. "That's my partner."
Blair surveyed the scene. "What do we do with them now that you've got them trussed up for market?"
Jim looked around the deserted lobby and then at the cashier's booth. "Let's move the cashiers out here and put our friends where they wanted to be, next to all that money. Then we can lock them up good and tight."
Blair immediately volunteered. "I'll make sure the girls are okay and move them outside."
"Yeah, I thought you would. They should wake up in about fifteen minutes. I've seen that stuff used before in covert ops." Jim grinned and began the process of sliding the would-be thieves into storage.
Blair impatiently waited for his partner to finish his task. "Come on, man. I need to get back to the tables. I was on a winning streak and the night's still young." He rattled the chips in his pocket. "There's still time to see some action."
A loud crash and shattering glass echoed overhead.
Jim and Blair exchanged startled looks. "Now what?"
The last of the guests were filtering into the room for the dinner show when Simon joined Rafe, Henri, and Joel at a table near the center of the room. "Not bad. How did we manage to rate such good seats?"
Henri gestured toward an embarrassed Rafe. "You can thank my partner for our excellent table. I think he's been taking lessons from the Sandburg School of Charm."
Rafe countered, "I was just being friendly. That's all it was."
Henri nudged him with an elbow. "Then what was that bit about her looking like she should be on the stage with the rest of the beautiful, graceful performers instead of down here with those who can only watch grace in action?"
Simon grimaced. "Did you really use that line on her?"
Rafe shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "It worked, didn't it?"
Attendants had started closing the big double doors at the entrance of the room when Simon noticed that two of their number had yet to join them. Looking around at the remaining guests who had not yet taken their seats, he was unable to find the faces he sought. "Have any of you seen Sandburg or Ellison recently?"
Rafe was the first to respond. "They came by while I playing blackjack."
"I saw Blair making a couple of bets at the roulette wheel," Henri offered.
Joel nodded in response. "Blair and Jim came by while I was playing roulette and I saw Blair at the craps table just before I came in. He had a stack of chips in front of him you wouldn't believe."
"Was Ellison with him?" Simon continued scanning the room.
"Not when I saw him. Why? You think something's up, Simon?" Joel joined Simon in looking around the room for the missing two.
Simon frowned. "All I know is they're not where they're supposed to be and at an event like this, that makes me nervous. If anybody could possibly find trouble here, it would be those two." He stood up. "I'm going to take a quick look around."
Before Simon could take a step toward the door, a disturbance at the front of the stage attracted his attention. The waiters were being pushed into the room from the side door, while the chorus line dancers were running off the stage like sheep trying to escape a hungry wolf. The cause of all the commotion became apparent when three large rough-looking men, dressed in tuxedos and carrying automatic weapons followed the waiters out. A waiter made a break for the main entrance to the room, only to be clubbed down from behind by one of the gun-wielding men. One of the men shoved a wheeled serving cart loaded with champagne flutes into a mirrored wall panel. The tinkling, broken glass falling to the floor and the screams of the terrified people merged into a madhouse of sound effects.
The bald headed thug who appeared to be the leader surveyed the chaos before him and shouted. "Everybody shut up and sit down!" Silence descended where before there was pandemonium.
Simon instinctively reached for his gun, only to come up empty as he remembered that his gun lay safely locked away downstairs at the concierge desk. He looked quickly around the room to find two more men with automatic rifles covering the exits. He slowly sank back down in his seat. "It's going to be one of those nights."
A fourth tuxedoed man carrying an automatic rifle, joined the leader and walked to where the bald headed man stood. "Everything's secured Harry. I locked the dealers in a storage room and the surprises are ready to put in place." He patted a small duffel bag.
Nodding at his accomplice, the one called Harry swept the room with his weapon. "Then it's time for the fun to begin, Jocko. It's time for the fun to begin."
Jocko grinned and headed back to the doorway where he started to attach a deadly looking package to the door.
Going to the podium, Harry switched on the microphone. "Listen up. I'm not going to say this twice. You all came here to donate to charity, and we're the charity."
Senator Stewart stood up and faced the man. "There's no need for violence. Just take what you want and don't hurt anyone. We'll cooperate with you."
Harry strolled to the Senator's table, appreciating the media coverage of the event anew. "Oh, I know you'll do what I say Mr. Senator, because if any would-be heroes out there try anything, you're going to be the first one with a hole in him." He grabbed the Senator by the lapel of his jacket and dragged him forward. Shoving him down among the dancers huddled on the floor at the foot of the stage, he turned back to his stunned audience while his other two men covered the room with their guns. "The rest of you, put your jewelry and wallets on the table, then put your hands on your heads." He pointed to the two large men standing at the front of the room with him. "This is Mr. Give and this is Mr. Take. If you don't give up your stuff to Mr. Give, then Mr. Take here is going to have to take it." Artie and Carl grinned like baboons at the zoo. "If everybody does what I say, we'll be out of here in no time. And no funny business, or the Senator and these dancin' dames will pay the price." Nodding to his men to begin the collection, he pointed his automatic rifle at the terrified dancers and smiled a truly evil smile.
Ballroom in the Center for the Performing Arts
Jim and Blair had moved up the stairs from the lobby to just outside the now deserted ballroom.
"What's going on, Jim?" Blair asked softly, glancing across the empty room towards the closed door of Stage One.
Jim had cocked his head in the familiar listening pose. "You're not going to believe this, but somebody is holding up the guests. They're holding the Senator and the dancers hostage." He cradled his right hand against his body. "I can't tell exactly how many, but there are at least two." He paused and sniffed at the air. "That's not our only problem, Chief." He indicated the door with a nod. "They've wired an explosive to the door."
Blair's voice rose in frustration. "What is this? Robbery Central?"
Jim leaned against the wall beside the entry doors and shook his head. "They're multiplying faster than we can catch them."
"How bad is it?" Blair looked at the arm Jim was protecting. "And don't even try to tell me it's not a problem, because you're a lousy liar."
Jim hesitated, but the no-nonsense look Blair was giving him indicated that any denials wouldn't be believed. He sighed in defeat. "It was fine till I laid that guy out downstairs. Now I can't get the dial turned down." He slammed his good hand down on a nearby table. "I can't do my job like this." Frustration colored his voice.
Blair laid his hand on Jim's arm. "We can turn it down like we did before. And then we can... can... call for back up?"
Wincing at the contact, Jim pulled away. "Great idea, Sandburg. You do that."
Blair held out his hand. "Let me have your phone, man."
"My phone? What's wrong with your phone?"
"My cell phone? Blair asked defensively. "It's at home. I never carry a phone to society gatherings, it's gauche." He looked at his partner, an evil suspicion growing in his mind. "Where's your phone, Jim?"
Sarcastically, Jim answered, "In the charger at home, Alexander. Remember someone unplugging the charger to plug in an extension cord for a grow light?"
"Oh." Blair glanced around the room. "They must have a phone around here somewhere."
"Have you seen a phone since we've been here? There wasn't one down in the cashier's office, I looked. The phones probably clashed with the decor or something, so they concealed them somewhere out of sight." His voice came out strained and clipped.
"Then we'll just have to improvise." Blair smiled. "It's what we do best anyway." He managed to get a small smile in answer from Jim. "But first, we need to get you some control over your sense of touch." Lightly touching Jim's arm, he slipped into Guide mode. "Just grab hold of the dial, Jim. Turn it down until you control what you feel. You can do it. Just relax and don't force it."
Closing his eyes Jim surrendered control to his Guide. After a few moments, the lines of pain smoothed out on Jim's forehead. "Thanks, Chief. Now let's see if we can find another way in there."
Sitting at the table with his hands clasped over his head made Simon feel like a fool. He glanced at the faces of his men. Both Rafe and Henri looked ready to chew nails. Joel was focused on the doorway at the back of the room. Simon watched the two thugs collecting the "donations" from their frightened victims and dropping them onto a metal serving cart. They weren't above a little physical intimidation and took great pleasure in manhandling the victims and waving their guns around.
Henri stared at the four wallets and watches on the table. "What do you think will happen if they find out we're cops?"
"If they keep up the way they've been going, they'll never open them." At least that's what Simon hoped would happen. The best chance to stop this without anyone getting hurt was in the element of surprise. Discovery at this point in the game would stack the deck against them.
Joel's voice broke into his concentration. "Simon, that guy is wiring what looks like a radio-controlled bomb to the door."
Simon quickly turned to look at the man busily attaching wires to the doorway. He turned his eyes heavenward. "What else can go wrong?"
After a convoluted dash around the back stage areas of the Center for the Performing Arts, Jim and Blair finally arrived at the rear exit doors for Stage One. Jim looked around the dimly lighted area. All of the storage areas for the performance stages met in this cavernous room. Catwalks crisscrossing overhead led to maintenance access for the cooling and heating systems. But there was absolutely nothing around that could conceivably be of any use.
"Okay, Chief, start improvising. If we can't think of something, the only option left is trying to bluff them with the guns we pulled off the guys downstairs and I wouldn't want to take that risk."
"Come on, man, give me a break. Even genius needs a spark of inspiration." Blair quickly scanned the empty room again. His eyes centered on a pair of padlocked double doors. He smiled. "And I just found my inspiration." He proudly pointed to the small sign over the doors: Prop Room.
Blair led the way over to the doors. "All you have to do is open the lock. There's probably plenty of things we can use in there."
"That's a padlock, Sandburg," Jim pointed out.
"So? You've done combination locks. You even picked that jail cell lock. How hard can it be?" Blair was full of enthusiasm.
"Touch isn't exactly my strong suit right now." He sighed. "I'll need a thin piece of wire, something not too stiff, to use as a pick."
"Wire, yeah, wire." Blair looked around the room desperately, but no loose wires of any kind could be seen. "Where am I supposed to find wire, man? I'm a case consultant, not a hardware store."
Jim gave him an exasperated look. Then an idea sparked. "Let me have your keys."
"My keys?" Not understanding, but willing to comply, Blair pulled out his keys and placed them in Jim's hand.
"Yeah. You never seem to get around to taking off the little tag rings the mechanic's shop puts on your key ring when that classic of yours is in the shop. One of those should work just right." Jim quickly slid one of the little metal loops off the key ring and straightened it out.
Blair watched as Jim manipulated the lock. He could tell by the lines of pain on Jim's forehead that he had turned up his sense of touch so he could feel the movement of the tumblers. He laid a hand on Jim's shoulder and spoke softly. "Slow and easy, Jim. Then turn it back down like we've practiced." A small nod acknowledged his statement.
Within two minutes, Jim gave a pull on the lock and it snapped open. "We're in. Now let's hope it was worth the effort." He stood and turned the knob on the door.
"Heads up guys, Frick and Frack are headed our way," Rafe announced softly.
"Remember to stay cool, now is not the time to try anything." Simon cautioned. While the odds were even, the positioning just wasn't right, better to wait for an opportunity to present itself. Besides, he still had two wildcards out there that hadn't been played yet. This hand was far from over.
"Well, well, well. Looky what we have here." The thug labeled Mr. Give stepped up next to the table and jabbed at Rafe's back with the barrel of the automatic rifle.
"Four guys all alone. What's the matter, couldn't you guys find dates?" His partner, Mr. Take, sneered at the four men.
"Maybe they're dating each other." Mr. Give prodded Rafe again with the rifle, rubbing the barrel alongside his cheek. He bent over to whisper loudly in Rafe's ear. "Is that right, sweetcheeks?"
"You might want to consider investing your share of the proceeds of this illegal appropriation of benevolent resources in an oral hygienic aqueous solution and then make studious application of the aforesaid spontaneously forming homogeneous mixture prior to verbalizing interrogatories of a personal ilk." Rafe finished with an innocent expression.
"Huh?" Mr. Give's face reflected his puzzlement.
Mr. Take grabbed the wallets and tossed them on the cart. He gave a dismissive glance at Rafe. "He's too rich for your blood. Stick to the TV-dinner type." He moved on to the next table.
Mr. Give kept a wary eye on the now silent Rafe. "You just watch it," he cautioned, before following his partner.
Simon waited until the two had moved out of earshot. "What the hell was that about?" The voice may have been soft, but the irritation in it was easy to hear.
"Yeah, man, what were you trying to do?" Henri gave him a questioning look.
Rafe hastened to explain. "Well, I figured it's like Sandburg says, if you can't beat 'em..."
"... baffle 'em with bullshit." Joel smiled as he finished the sentence.
Rafe shrugged his shoulders. "What good is a college education if you don't put it to use?"
Simon shook his head. "Even when he's not here, he is."
"Oh, boy, look at this stuff." Blair gazed at the racks of costumes, set pieces, and 12th century weapons. "Looks like they're doing Robin Hood."
Jim had gone directly to the medieval crossbows. Taking one down, he tested the pull. "These are pretty realistic for props." He put it back and picked up a quiver of bolts.
"Only first-rate production companies are ever invited to perform here." He affected a snooty air. "They have an image to maintain, you know."
"An image that's attracting thieves like sewers attract roaches."
Blair scrunched up his face at the mental picture. "Yech, can't you think up better illustrations?"
"If the description fits..." Jim left the thought unfinished, continuing to survey the selection of archaic weaponry.
"I just had a great idea." Blair turned to Jim, a mischievous expression on his face.
Jim looked at his partner, then at the surrounding props and then back at this partner. He shook his head. "You can't be serious."
"Why not? It's the last thing they'd expect." Blair became serious. "If they decide to use hostages, a Mexican standoff between us and them won't help the situation any. I know we can make this work."
Jim stared at him for an endless moment, exchanging more than just a look. Blair had given up so much for him, couldn't he give in enough to try things his way for once? He let the trust in his heart reflect in his eyes. "I probably couldn't shoot straight with this hand anyway." He pulled the collected guns out of his pocket and placed them on a shelf. "If this doesn't work, they'll will never let us forget it. You know that, don't you?"
Blair's smile grew to epic proportions. "It'll work, trust me."
"Where have I heard that before?" Jim joined his partner in gathering the necessary materials.
Artie and Carl finished their collections and rejoined Harry and Jocko at the foot of the stage. Jocko had used the time to wire the exit doors with explosives equipped with remote control triggers. He handed a black remote control to Harry. "Everything is set. Push the green button and they're armed. Anybody fools with them, or opens the door, and they'll explode. Push the red button and they're triggered. Boom." He grinned, pleased with himself and his toys.
"Good work. Go bring the van up." Harry tossed a wadded up gym bag at the Senator. "Now, if you wouldn't mind putting everything in the bag, we'll get out of here and you can get back to your party."
Senator Stewart slowly stood up from his position on the floor and started putting the loot in the bag. "You won't get away with this."
"Oh, pu-leeze. Can't come up with any good lines unless someone writes them for you, Senator?" Harry laughed in his face.
The Senator pressed his lips together and angrily continued stuffing the bag. In his anger, he accidentally dropped one of the wallets. Picking it up, he saw the gold of the badge and opened it. Instantly recognizing the badge, he automatically looked across the room for the face to match the photo I.D.
Harry had observed the change of expression on the Senator's face. "Hey, what's so interesting?"
The Senator was too slow to react and Harry snatched the wallet out of his hand. "Cascade P.D., Captain Simon Banks. Well, well, well. Looks like we have a cop in our midst, boys." He went to the podium and turned on the microphone. "Captain Simon Banks, you have one minute to get your butt up here, before I do something... painful to the Senator." He switched off the mike.
"What are you doing, Harry? We don't need a cop. Let's just get the stuff and go." Artie nervously challenged.
"This is just a little extra insurance." He watched the imposing form of Captain Simon Banks approach. "The good Captain will be able to tell us what the police are doing, in case there's trouble." He faced Banks. "Won't you Captain? After all, you don't want anything happening to the Senator here, do you?" He swung his weapon to point at the chagrined Senator.
Jocko made his exit from Stage One the same way they had entered, out the rear stage doors. He admired his little creation wired to the push bar of the door. He turned to head towards the exit only to come face to face with a character out of a storybook. From the feathered green cap on the top of his head to the hem of the flowing black velvet cape trailing on the floor, the figure before him was a radical contrast to the tuxedoed finery on display in the room he'd just left. Dumbfounded, he stood there and gaped.
"Excuse me, my good man, are you one of the brigands accosting yon gentry?"
Jocko was unable to formulate a reply before a tap on the shoulder directed his attention to his right, where Jim and an iron-decorated shield promptly made a lasting impression on his nose and sent him unconscious to the ground.
"One down, three to go." Jim quickly trussed up the unlucky Jocko and secured him in a handy trunk in the Prop Room. Rejoining Blair, he studied the bomb attached to the door. "It's radio controlled, which means they probably have a triggering device inside."
Blair pointed at the red and green indicator lights on the top. "What do those mean?"
Jim crouched in front of the device. "I'm not sure, but I think those are status lights. I don't think it's been activated yet. It should be safe to just disconnect the trigger from the explosive." The green light on top suddenly lit up. "Uh-oh."
"Uh oh? What do you mean uh oh? What happened?" Blair studied the now brightly glowing green light. "Green is good, right. Red is bad?"
Jim studied the complex wiring. "Not in this case. I think it just went on line."
"Then take it off line, man. Standing next to things that could go boom makes me nervous." Blair apprehensively stared at the now active bomb as if it were personally trying to mess up his day.
"Joel's the bomb expert, I'm a pinch hitter." Jim cautiously examined the various wires. "Anything I do will be a guess."
"Don't guess. Use your senses."
Jim's reply was short and quick. "To do what?"
"Use your sense of touch to figure out which wire has the current going through it. As charged up as your fingers are right now, you should be able to actually feel the electricity."
Jim disbelievingly stared at his Guide. Feel electric current flowing through wires? Well, if Blair said it's possible, then it is. Jim closed his eyes and carefully opened up his sense of touch, finally able to use the extreme sensitivity for his benefit, instead of suffering its effects. He began touching the individual wires with his fingertips, the grasp of Blair's hand on his shoulder keeping him grounded. The third wire he touched sang under his fingers, alive with the flowing current. "This is the one." He opened his eyes and looked at the innocuous white wire.
Blair placed his Swiss army knife in Jim's hand. "You do the honors, man."
Holding his breath and praying that his senses hadn't played him false, Jim cut the white wire and watched the green light go out. Removing the detonator from the explosive, he tucked it away in a pocket and stood up. "Time to get in place, Chief." He cocked his head and listened. "The final act is about to start."
Harry Price was thoroughly pleased with how things had turned out so far. He had a Senator and a Police Captain for hostages to insure his safe departure. In just a few hours he would be famous for having pulled off the most daring robbery in Cascade. Quite a change from being a penny-ante thief and pick pocket. Now people would treat him with the respect he richly deserved. He even looked the part of somebody important. He swaggered to the podium to deliver his final words to his captive audience. "It's time for us to be going now. I want to say how much we appreciate your generous donations." He paused to motion his two men to start for the rear doors with the hostages. "Just in case we have any heroes in here, you should know that the doors are wired with remote control detonators." He held up the small black box. "When I press this green button," his finger pressed the button down firmly and released it. "the explosives are armed. Any attempt by any of you to disconnect the bombs from the door or mess with them will cause them to explode. Or, if I am interfered with in any way, I can detonate them with this little red button. So, I advise all of you to be on your best behavior." He jauntily saluted them and headed off stage left.
Joel didn't waste any time. "H, Rafe, find out if anyone has a cell phone and collect them. They could trigger the bomb. Get everybody away from the main entrance and protected as much as you can, I'm going to see if I can get us a way out of here." With that said, he headed for the entrance doors and the glowing green light on the bomb.
Exiting through the left side stage doors, Harry turned to secure them with the chain and padlock they had left there for that purpose. Knowing Jocko had finished wiring the other set of doors, he didn't even look that direction. Joining his men and prisoners in the hallway, he took the lead with the Senator and Banks being prodded to follow. They crossed to the rear doors of Stage Two, where they'd managed to sneak in before.
Harry stared at the ancient looking chain that was now wrapped around the two door handles, held closed with a huge, rusty padlock. He rattled the doors. "Come on, open up." He muttered at the door, but it remained stubbornly closed.
Artie shoved Simon forward with his gun so he could get a closer look. "What's wrong?"
Simon paid little attention to the ancient lock. He was entranced by a childish drawing penciled above the doorway. Two stick figures, one taller than the other stood side by side. He smiled a tiny smile and glanced upward into the dark. Looked like it was time to play the wild cards.
Up above on the catwalk, Jim and Blair crouched in the darkness, concealed even further by the black cloaks Blair had insisted they wear. Blair whispered almost silently in Jim's ear, "Did he get the message?"
Jim nodded. Simon's heartbeat had changed the minute he saw Blair's artwork over the doorway.
"Nothing's wrong," Harry growled. "Somebody must have found the door unlocked and locked it. That's all."
Artie poked at the chain with his gun. "You'd think they could afford newer equipment than this old stuff."
"Never mind the quality rating." He pointed toward the hallway that led to the loading dock where the large props were brought in. "We'll just go out that way. Come on."
The group had barely taken a dozen steps when a crossbow bolt struck Carl's automatic rifle, knocking it from his hands. Understanding a signal when he saw one, Simon dove to the side, taking the Senator down to the floor and away from the armed men. Another bolt impacted solidly with Artie's weapon and startled, he dropped it. Swinging down on ropes from the catwalk overhead, two caped crusaders flew through the aid to attack their confused prey. Cape trailing dramatically in his wake, Jim tossed a staff in Simon's direction as he swung feet first at the still armed, but bewildered Harry. The impact took Harry full in the chest. The robber sailed through the air and crashed against a wall, where he slid slowly to the ground, his mouth opening and closing like a beached fish, his rifle lost. Since Blair had less momentum to work with, Carl faired somewhat better. The impact only made him stumble a few steps, he didn't go down. Before Carl could grab Blair and pull him in, Jim turned and, with a flourish worthy of a matador, dropped his cape over Carl's head. Blair switched to phase two of his attack. He withdrew a cudgel from under his cape, and used it like a baton. Three quick blows to the pressure points just like he had been taught and Carl was on the ground, trying to hold his injured knee and elbow at the same time. Simon had made quick work of Artie, taking his feet out from under him with the staff and then using it against the side of this head when he tried to regain his feet. The three victors stood over their vanquished foes.
The Senator stood up slowly. Just minutes ago he had been surrounded by kidnappers and robbers, his fate uncertain. He looked dazedly around at his rescuers. "I don't know who you gentlemen are, but you have my undying gratitude. How did you know?" The Senator looked at Jim. Jim looked at Blair.
Blair sighed, then took up the challenge to rationalize the evening's events. "Well, Mr. Senator, it all started because I wanted to have an opportunity to examine one of the diaries you are offering as a prize tonight..."
Simon rounded up the damaged robbers, searching them for any weapons less deadly than the automatic rifles they had been waving around all evening, while Jim went to collect Jocko from the Prop Room. He looked again at the automatic rifles he had collected from the floor. "Jim, you aren't going to believe this, but these guns aren't real." He held one out for Jim to examine.
Jim took the offered weapon and examined it. "You're right. The slide doesn't work. They're nothing but replicas. They probably picked them up at some pawn shop."
"Hey, I need some medical help here," Harry whined from the floor. "I think you broke my ribs." He moaned and tried to shift to a more comfortable position. "Do you have any idea how much real weapons like that cost on the street? Where would I get that kind of money?" He shook his head at their obvious stupidity. "That's why I'm a thief, I don't have any money."
Simon pulled him to his feet and pushed him towards the stage entrance. "You aren't going to have to worry about money where you're going. Everything you need is going to be supplied by the state, free of charge, for a very long time."
Together, they herded the little group back into Stage One to be met by a grinning Henri and Rafe, who promptly took charge of the battered bad guys.
The Senator came forward and shook Simon's hand warmly. "Captain Banks, I can't tell you how much I appreciate what you and your men have done here tonight." He gestured toward the main entrance to the room where Joel was packing away the block of C-4 and the detonator. "If it hadn't been for the calm, professional demeanor of these officers" -- he indicated Henri and Rafe -- "panic might have resulted and lives have been lost."
"Thank you, Senator." Simon looked pointedly at Jim and Blair, who were standing together at the foot of the stage. "We were just doing our jobs."
"No, what you have done is to restore my faith in the Cascade Police Department, Captain, and that is not an easy job." The Senator went to the podium and clicked on the microphone. "Friends, friends, may I have your attention for a minute?" The room quieted down as everyone stopped what they were doing and conversations ceased. "I would like everyone to join me in thanking these brave officers of the Cascade Police Department for their courageous actions this evening." The Senator led a rousing round of applause while the embarrassed detectives stood by. "And my own personal thanks to the two officers who risked their lives in a daring rescue attempt that I haven't seen the like of since... well, I don't think I've ever seen anything like it." The Senator walked over and shook Blair and Jim's hands. "If I can ever do anything for you, anything at all, all you have to do is ask." The Senator glanced around the room of milling people, "I wish I could find Swim, he could get things going again."
Blair exchanged glances with Jim, indicating he had left out that part of the evening's excitement.
Jim reluctantly spoke up. "Senator, Swim was involved in a scheme to rip off the donations along with the men manning the entrance. We apprehended them before they could escape with the money. At last count, they were secured downstairs."
The Senator stared. "I don't know what to say. Again, gentlemen, I am in your debt. And I am a man who always pays his debts." He shook their hands once again and then vanished into the crowd, calling for Jason Butler. Jim and Blair sat down at one of the still decorated tables.
"What was that? There are more prisoners downstairs?" Simon asked as Henri and Rafe began escorting the four bruised prisoners from the room.
Jim tossed Simon the key to the cashier's room. "Four more ready for transport. They were going to make an early deposit at the Bank of No Return."
Wearily, Simon rubbed at his forehead. "Do I even want to know how you found out about that?"
Jim shrugged. "In the right place at the right time, I guess."
Simon headed for the back of the room, muttering to himself. "I should have known something like this would happen with them here. It was in the cards." Thinking of all the explaining he would be doing when Chief Williams found out about this, he shook his head. "Where the devil is a phone in this place?"
Jim turned to his partner who was trying to look nonchalant and failing miserably at it. "Okay, what's with the cat that ate the canary look?"
Blair slowly opened his jacket like a peddler with hot merchandise, to reveal a small brown book peeking out of the inside pocket. He wiggled his eyebrows and whispered, "He gave it to me Jim, he just gave it to me without a second thought. It's mine. It's all mine." The grin on Blair's face now grew from ear to ear. "And it mentions tests!"
Jim groaned. "I knew I should have stayed at home."
~ Finis ~
E-mail the author of this story, Brenda Bailey, at email@example.com Read Brenda's other fan fiction for The Sentinel at The Cascade Library The artwork in Act IV, Buddies, was created by DannyD... Enjoy more of Danny's art at her website, Dexter's World Please visit our Virtual Season 5 Staff Page to learn more about the hard-working behind-the-scenes crew responsible for bringing you this episode E-mail Faux Paws Productions at firstname.lastname@example.org NEXT WEEK on THE SENTINEL: Seems Like Old Times (1/26/00, FPP-517) by D.L. Witherspoon
Ellison discovers some of his old Army buddies are using their skills for personal gain. Jim Ellison, cop by day... and thief by night? Who'd have figured?
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