Redhawke.org
Dead Drop
Dead Drop
by Kira


Beta Read by Gina Jones and Dotty
Written for PetFly by: Peter Lance
Rated PG - 13
internal thought in * *
~~~~~Act I ~~~~~

I sigh and take the statue back from Mrs. Wong. The department was expecting an estimate of well over a thousand dollars. To hear it was only worth two hundred at the most was not going to go over well. And they always took out their anger on the messenger, namely lowly grad students who were asked to do all the legwork when it comes to getting evaluations on artifacts outside of the department's expertise. In other words, me.

"I'm sorry that it wasn't worth as much as your department would like." Mrs. Wong is completely amazing. She came to Cascade with her husband as immigrants and now they own a chain of antique stores. Plus, she gives me green tea, the real stuff; like I said, amazing.

"Yeah, well, guess it can't be bringing me that much luck, huh?" I joke. Even if it isn't worth as much as the department wanted, it's a still a beautiful piece. "I'll pay for it here and get the department to reimburse me. If you wait for them to send you the bill it could take forever. Me, I can bug them."

Receipt and figurine in hand, I make my way towards the elevator, my stomach not so gently reminding me that lunch would be a good idea. The elevator pings and its doors open, just as a huge crush of people decide to make a run for lunch. I barely manage to keep my feet while trying to stash the figurine in my book bag. As it is, there's only room for one more person in the elevator by the time I get to it. God, I hate lunch hour in these buildings. Survival of the fittest in business suits.

Out of the blue, a sturdy steel cane almost destroys any chance of me ever having children. Man, that was close. Pulling back, I force a smile as the elderly woman *humphs* and glares at me like I'm going to grab her purse or something. Geez lady, its not like there won't be another elevator. It must be the hair. Sometimes it makes it really hard to bridge that inter-generational gap.

Looks like I'm taking the next elevator. I go over to stand with the other poor souls who missed the first elevator, pulling out my watch.

"Oh, no. I'm late for lunch." Shit, did I say that out loud?

"Yeah, you and half the floor." Apparently so. I look up at the businessman, who looks like he has all the time in the world. He probably does. Probably gets paid well for it too. I sigh inwardly. He doesn't have a partner who will bitch and complain all week about errant observers who can't keep a lunch date.

"With my luck, this car's already on its way down," the workman next to him gripes.

"Story of my life," the lady standing beside me sighs as she adjusts the lapels on her power suit.

I pat my book bag where the figurine is tucked safely away. Come on, baby, bring us some luck, looks like we could all use some.

With a soft ping, our prayers are answered. From habit, I let the others get on first and am about to enter when a shout pulls me up short.

"Hold the elevator, please!"

A young woman rushes up the hallway. Wow. Man, is she pretty; beautiful dark skin, shoulder length hair that begs to be touched. I hold out my hand to stop the door from shutting, just as the file folders she's carrying fall to the floor and disgorge their contents over the carpet.

"Can you hold that?" I ask the janitor, nodding to the door. He rolls his eyes, but gives in. Apparently I'm not the only one with a soft spot for long legs and gorgeous eyes.

"Here, let me help you," I say as I pile the papers somewhat haphazardly back into the folders.

"Thank you," she replies, clearly flustered at dropping them. We manage to get them together and she stands, bracing them against her hip.

"You getting on or what?" the suit calls out. Geez, take a chill pill, man.

"Yeah. Thanks," I say to the workman who releases the door after we get inside. The lobby button is already pressed, so I sit back to enjoy the ride. It never ceases to amaze me how we've managed to create these unbelievable buildings. This elevator goes up one hundred floors! Imagine all the people in this building, like a miniature society. But all of them are completely isolated from those around them. I mean, take elevator etiquette. Never face the back, don't look sideways at the people beside you, don't pick your nose...Okay, that's just general etiquette, but on an elevator, its even worse. Stare at the numbers as they light up, waiting until it gets to the floor you want, then rush on with your life.

"Acceleration disease."

"What?" the guy in the overalls asks. Shit, I'm doing it again. Where the heck is my internal censor when I need it.

"It's an affliction common to the '90s. Everybody's wired, over-committed." Okay, stop rambling. Any time now. Luckily the elevator stops at the thirty-seventh floor, and the business man steps out.

Then he stops and turns, looking me straight in the eye, violating all elevator etiquette interestingly enough.

"You know what you said about being wired?" He pauses, like he's expecting something.

"Uh...Yeah?" I glance over at my fellow passengers, but they look just as confused.

"You must be a mind reader." His smile doesn't reach his eyes. The doors close before I can come back with an appropriately witty remark.

Whoa. Major tingled down the back of the spine there. Very, very creepy. Talk about one weird guy.

I rock back on my heels and try to not to stare at the people beside me. But what can I say, I'm an anthropologist; studying people is my life.

I'm shooting furtive glances at the girl I helped when suddenly the lights flicker and we stop. I mean, really stop. Not a 'This is your floor please disembark stop,' but a 'Press the panic button you are officially stuck in an elevator stop.' The digital numbers fluctuate between thirty and thirty-one.

"Oh, no..." The businesswoman moans. Great, just my luck, trapped in an elevator with someone who's going to panic at the drop of a hat...or an elevator. Don't go there, Sandburg.

"It'll be okay. You wouldn't believe how many calls the police get for these sorts of situations down at the station."

"You're a cop?" I wince at her tone. Guess hanging around Jim so long has made me more sensitive to the number of people who really don't like cops.

"Uh, not exactly. I'm a research fellow at the university. My name is Blair Sandburg." My mouth is on overdrive, and I'm not at the wheel.

"Ralf Simms, nice ta meet you. Look, as charming as this all is, one of you hit the red button?" the workman interjects.

Shit, that was a bad idea. What's the point of having an alarm *inside* the elevator, anyway? Its not like *we* don't know that we're trapped.

Finally, the alarm is silenced. Whether by computer or by person, I don't know.

"Car four, this is building security. Is everybody all right?" the disembodied male voice comes from somewhere above us. Looking up, I spot the camera and speaker.

"Yeah, we're fine. What's wrong?" I call. It's not like we're in any danger. I mean, people get stuck in elevators all the time. The key is not to panic.

The pause before the security guy responds. "We're not sure. But just hang in there, folks. We're going to get you out safe and sound."

I pat my book bag again, feeling the lump of the figuring through the leather. Safe and sound sounds good.

So we stand, waiting for the blinking numbers to start their proper descent again.

"So, how 'bout those Jags, huh?" I say cheerfully. My lame attempt at humour gets a small smile from the woman I helped.

Then silence descends again, interrupted by the rather loud growl of my stomach reminding me I hadn't eaten since my algae shake that morning. I can feel the tips of my ears turning red with embarrassment as they all look at me, eyebrows raised.

"Long time since breakfast."

Then, my stomach stops growling because its suddenly up in my throat. I don't have time to think, to breathe, to *anything.* The elevator car drops away from beneath our feet and we're falling. Oh god, we're falling!

My fingers are wrapped around the railing, trying to hold on. But I know it means nothing. When we hit bottom, holding onto the rail won't mean much when we're pancakes.

With a jarring screech, the car stops, throwing us all onto the floor. My palms burn as they scrape against the carpet, and my stomach falls back into my belly, roiling about. I suck air through my nose, trying not to puke.

Whatever happened to safe and sound?

"Oh, god. Why did it do that?" the frantic voice of the business lady filters through the raw terror coursing around in my brain.

That, lady, is something I desperately want to know myself.

"Everyone okay?" I manage to ask without my voice wavering. Everyone nods and I breathe a small sigh of relief. Okay, good job. Don't panic, Sandburg. Scooting back against the wall, I pull my backpack onto my lap and pull out my cell phone. My fingers tremble as I punch Jim's work number.

"Jim Ellison." The reception is horrible, but Jim's voice sounds like a heavenly chorus and I feel my heart starting to calm down.

"Hey, Jim, doesn't look like I'm going to make it to lunch." Witty banter, that's it. Don't let on how freaked you are. Deep breaths.

"Don't tell me you're on that elevator."

How the hell does he do that? I mean, is it too much to expect that he not automatically assume I'm in the thick of things? Despite the annoying fact that I am?

"Yes, I am, actually. You know how I was here getting a figurine appraised for the university. It's Chinese, 3rd century. It's supposed to be a good luck charm." Which I think is totally bogus, right about now.

"Good luck? Sure, Chief." His voice is strained. Something is really wrong here. "Remember that breathing exercise you taught me, the one to relieve stress?"

Oh god, something is *really* wrong here. I keep a poker face. No need to panic the others. "Yeah?"

"Start doing it." Oh, now that is helpful, Jim. So helpful. "Some schmuck calling himself Galileo is threatening to drop that elevator car you're on unless he gets five million bucks."

I pull my knees up and turn slightly towards the wall. "That's, that's interesting. I..uh...I assume that you're on top of this." This is so absolutely bad. "You're on top of this, right, Jim?"

"Yeah, just sit tight, we'll be right there." The click of the receiver at the other end makes me blink.

"Jim?" I ask into the dead air. He hung up. He hung up on me!

I sit back against the wall, and smile reassuringly at the three people staring at me. I still can't believe he hung up on me. Bastard.

~~~~~ Act II ~~~~~

God, leave it to Sandburg to be stuck in the latest Cascade crime crisis. When he didn't answer his phone, I wasn't worried. I mean the kid leaves the thing off, or forgets to charge the batteries, or leaves it in his office, so it wasn't worrying. But when that call came, I knew. I just knew that he was in the trapped elevator. No problem.

Leave it to Sandburg to get stuck in the one elevator being controlled by some psycho.

I'm on the way to Wilkinson Tower now and Simon's right behind me. The siren is killing my head, but there's no way I'd get through lunch hour traffic without it. Damn, where'd that car come from? Get the hell out of the way, you moron.

I take a hard left and leave some rubber behind me on the asphalt.

I resist the urge to pick up the cell phone and call Sandburg. Two hands on the wheel is probably best, and what the hell do I say anyway? Besides, he's a grown man. He doesn't need me to hold his hand through every little crisis.

I press the accelerator down and the speedometer creeps up.

Hold on, Sandburg. Hold on.

You can't miss Wilkinson Tower. It' this big huge glass monstrosity. Now don't get me wrong, I love Cascade. I grew up here. But after being in the jungle, all this glass and concrete gets to me sometimes. I pull up along the curb and Simon follows suit.

"Let's get suited up and wired," he says, pointing to the van where Kevlar vests and earpieces are being handed out.

We're just moving into the building when Joel makes an appearance.

"Taggart!" Simon sounds surprised. "Aren't you off duty?"

"I was picking up some files I had left at the department. I heard the news. Blair helped me with that church bombing thing. I'm here."

Gotta hand it to the kid, he collects friends like most people collect stamps. They just kinda stick to him.

"All right. Glad you're here. If this wacko calls back, have Ray patch him through to the security office. That's where we're setting up."

"Got it."

The damn earpiece isn't fitting well, and I twist it angrily between my fingers to get it to sit properly.

"I can't believe Sandburg's in the middle of this." Finally, it gets seated right. I continue, needing to unburden my concern on someone. "Before he started tagging around with me, the worst that could happen to him at the university was a paper cut."

He's been shot at, kidnapped, drugged, hit; all because he's with me. And now he's stuck in an elevator.

"Jim, how exactly is it that his getting stuck in an elevator is your fault?" Simon asks with a raised eyebrow. "It's not like he was here on police business. He probably would have been here if you two had never met. What's different is that he'll have his police experience to get him through this."

I blink, still fiddling with the earpiece. He has a point. I move towards the security office. Time to get to work.

"Hey, Simon, is it me or is Cascade the most dangerous city in America?" I call over my shoulder. He just shakes his head.

"Clear and seal the building," Simon orders the nearby officers. "And make sure you check the basement levels and parking garage."

Simon and I head to the security office while the officers move out.

The security chief of the building greets us as we enter the main security office. "Tom Watson, head of security."

Simon holds out his hand in greeting. "Captain Simon Banks. This is Detective Jim Ellison."

We shake, his grip firm, palm slightly moist. His respiration is up and his heart is pounding. But I have to hand it to him, he's calmer than most men would be with an elevator full of civilians ready to fall.

"What have we got?" I ask, ready to get down to the business of saving my partner.

"That's elevator four on the big monitor," he points to the screen. I can see Sandburg with three other passengers. He looks okay; he's shaken, but I can see him reassuring the others in typical Sandburg style. *Hold on, partner.* I hear the buzz of a phone line and one of the security guards -- Reilly according to his nametag -- holds a hand over his microphone.

"It's our boy -- PD patched him through."

Watson jerks his head in a nod. "Patch him into speaker."

We gather about the console and the tension is practically tangible. The last time we talked, Galileo was touting an ego larger than Sandburg's intelligence, which is considerable. He was a loose canon, and this was going to be tricky.

"Jim, check the trace."

"Already on it, sir." I nod to Reilly and he hits the button as I instigate the trace over my cell phone at the PD. Simon takes a deep breath and lets it out.

"This is Captain Banks, go ahead."

"Bank of Commerce. St. John's, the Cayman Islands. The account number is 6-7-0-5-6-4-9. It's 12:16. You have until 1:00 p.m. to wire the five million. Once I receive confirmation, the car will be lowered to the lobby. If not, it drops five floors every ten minutes. After that, it drops the last fifteen stories. Do I make myself clear?"

He knows he has us where he wants us and when the voice on the other end of my phone tells me the trace is no good, my heart sinks. I can't help but look up at the screen where Blair's image is fuzzily displayed. Damn.

"Trace is no good, he's forwarding the call through at least a dozen cell phones." I relay the bad news and Simon's face gets even more serious.

"How the hell do you expect us to come up with $5 million in under an hour?" Simon barks at the microphone.

"Actually, there's a source that's very liquid -- and very close." The smugness in that voice makes me want to throttle him. I lean forward over the console.

"And what would that be?" I ask.

"The man who owns the building."

Simon and I both look at Watson, who responds with a shake of his head. "Mel Wilkinson does not respond to threats."

Apparently Galileo heard because I can hear him laugh. " Oh, he will this time. Take a good look at your monitor."

Our eyes swivel upwards to the elevator car feed.

Watson inhales sharply. "Caitlin?"

I have a feeling the stakes just got raised. "Who's she?"

Watson looks at me with concern deep in his eyes. "Wilkinson's daughter."

"So get hold of him already!" I gesture impatiently. If we need a safety net in the form of five million dollars, then I want to have it ready and waiting to go.

Watson shakes his head. "It'd be pointless, Detective. He won't negotiate. Back in '89 he was kidnapped in Mexico. He stonewalled until they let him go. He doesn't back down."

Simon nods, lost in thought. "Oh yeah, I remember that. The guy made the cover of Newsweek."

My teeth are grinding together as I point to the phone. "Yeah, well it's not his neck on the line. We got an elevator car full of innocent people. And one of them is my partner. Make the call."

I think Watson figures it out that I'm not taking no for an answer and he dutifully punches in the number. I look up at the monitor where Sandburg is talking animatedly with the young woman, his hands painting eloquent pictures in the air.

Hold on, Sandburg. We're gonna get you down.

~~~~~ Act III ~~~~~

Is it my imagination or is it getting stuffy in here? Probably my imagination. Elevators aren't airtight. At least I don't think they are. I've been talking my mouth off for the last ten minutes, trying to keep from thinking about what's going on.

I'm still pissed at Jim for hanging up on me. But I'm letting it go. Letting it go. That's right.

Nope. Still pissed.

Whatever happened to 'It'll be okay, Blair, we'll get you down.' Or 'I'm on my way, buddy. No worries. Have you out of there in no time.'? A little reassurance would be nice. But I guess with a psycho ready to drop us at anytime, that would probably sound a little thin.

Think good thoughts. Lots of good thoughts.

"Caitlin?" The disembodied voice from the speaker jolts us all a little. Wait a minute, how the heck do they know our names?

"Yeah?"

I look over at her. She looks like a Caitlin. But who the hell is she?

"Are you okay in there?"

What are the rest of us, chopped liver? Not that there's anything wrong with chopped liver. I happen to love chopped liver. On rye, with a touch of honey mustard. My stomach growls. Man, am I ever hungry.

"Yeah. I'm...I'm all right," she replies as she looks up at the camera.

"Good. We've called your father. We'll be in touch."

Silence fills the elevator. The feeling of emptiness beneath us is making my chest hurt. Suddenly the bottom of the elevator feels awfully thin. I wish someone would talk to us, tell us what the hell is going on out there. I want to call Jim, but the last thing he needs is me bugging him.

Then the conversation with Mr. Disembodied Voice runs through me head. Her father? I look at Caitlin, eyebrow raised, but she's ignoring me. I think she's hoping we'll just all disappear.

"How the hell does he know you?" the lady beside me asks, bewilderment in her voice.

Caitlin looks nervous and her fingers twist in her skirt. "My father owns this building."

"What? Wilkinson? We contract out to do all of his repairs. Guy controls half of downtown. He's your dad?" Ralf doesn't sound too impressed. The tension is growing. Time to defuse things. Wait a minute, if her dad owns the building...

"But this is a good thing. If your father owns the note on this building, he'll have us out of here in no time, right?" I point out. Hope rises. Maybe we have a chance of getting out of here.

"Don't count on it." She laughs bitterly and her lower lip quivers. Shit. Why do I think Daddy will *so* not be coming to the rescue. My stomach feels like it's already at the bottom of the elevator shaft.

Please, Jim. Hurry.

~~~~~~~~

Wilkinson still isn't here, damn it. His daughter is in that elevator and he's probably dawdling over lunch. Shit. I pinch the bridge of my nose. I'll hand it to Watson, he's at least efficient. He's gotten us the schematics for the elevator system and the technicians have been called in to help.

"So basically, you can't control the car from here?" Simon asks as I rejoin them at the console.

"No. Somehow he's overridden the onboard braking system. None of our controls are responding."

God my head is hurting. I keep trying to hear them in the elevator, reassuring myself they're okay. But it's so damn hard to keep focused. Think, damn it. He's controlling the car, which means....he's here. He's here and he's probably watching us.

"If he's got control of that car, he's got to be close." I point out, looking up at Simon.

He nods. "Where's the system that controls the elevators?" he asks Watson.

"Utility room, top floor." Watson points out the layout on the computer monitor. "Right there."

Simon plants his hands on his hips and I know he's going to start delegating. "All right, Brown, get a couple of men up there on the double. Check it out. I want this entire building evacuated. Taggart, contact dispatch. Let's get every available unit over here for an office-by-office search. And where the hell is Wilkinson?"

"I would be here, gentlemen."

We all turn to face the man who at this moment is potentially the only way out of this mess for our hostages.

Dressed in a suit I know would take my whole months salary, Wilkinson is power personified. His glasses don't make him look weak, they simply hide his eyes, making it impossible to tell what's going on behind them. Funny, I never get that feeling when Sandburg wears his glasses.

"Fill me in," he demands, taking command of the room before we even get introduced. Oh yeah, this is going to be fun.

"Situation's still static, sir," Watson replies.

"This wouldn't have happened if you were doing your job."

Watson doesn't say anything, not that I can blame him. Thankfully Simon takes the opportunity to regain some control.

"Mr. Wilkinson." He holds out a hand. "I'm Captain Simon Banks, Cascade PD This is Detective Jim Ellison. I understand you have some sort of position about negotiating with extortionists."

"It's simple -- I don't."

What the hell? How can he say that with his daughter up there? There's no way a father could be that...Watson is looking guilty of something. Oh shit.

"You haven't told him yet." I don't even have to ask. But it sure does get Wilkinson's attention.

"What?" He looks between me and Watson. Taking a deep breath and hoping he doesn't kill the messenger, although from Watson's reluctance to tell him, it's no sure bet, I let him in on the situation.

"Sir, your daughter is onboard that elevator."

For the first time he takes an interest in the monitor that displays the interior of the elevator. He walks over, staring intently at the screen.

"Caitlin?" he says it almost under his breath, like he's trying to convince himself it's not real.

"Apparently, she was visiting your office," Simon supplies helpfully. Wilkinson turns to glare at Watson who just holds his hands out in defeat.

"Why wasn't I told?"

No one answers. The silence is thick until Simon begins to brief him on the situation; the demands, the time frame and our options. In the background I can hear Sandburg's voice comforting the passengers. I can hear him saying his partner is out there, working to get them out. I blink as I realize he's talking about me.

Such faith.

I tune back to the discussion at hand.

"What's it going to be? Five million or he drops that car." Simon puts it bluntly, never one to pull his punches.

"We haven't even begun to weigh our options," Wilkinson says calmly as if he's discussing a fucking business merger. I restrain the urge to pick him up by his thousand dollar lapels and shake him. I breathe in through my nose and let it out slowly.

"Perhaps you want to reconsider. We've got thirty-three minutes, sir, before he drops that elevator," I point out.

When he turns to me, the disdain is pouring off of him. I can practically smell it rolling in waves from his skin. "Do you think I built this tower by folding every time somebody called my hand? Men like this, this Galileo person, count on weakness -- somebody who will cut and run. Well, I'm not made like that. I'll be in my office if anything develops."

I'm not sure who's more shocked, me or Simon. Neither of us moves, though, as Wilkinson beckons to one of his employees and leaves the room without even looking back.

I've seen some pretty cold things in my life. My father was never an emotional man, but even when he did things I didn't like, I think I always knew he at least was thinking of my best interests. This, this was unbelievable.

And where the hell were we going to get five million dollars in thirty-three minutes?

The microphone in my ear crackles as Brown calls in the all clear; they haven't been able to find him upstairs. Things are just going from bad to worse and my head feels like its going to explode. I can hear them in the elevator. Blair's heart is going so damn fast but he's talking calmly to one of the passengers.

My cell phone burns in my pocket and the urge to hear his voice in my ear is so strong there's no way I could stop.

"Yeah? Jim, that you?"

"It's me. How you doing?"

"Oh, you know. Bad hair day, could use some lunch. How 'bout you?" He sounds so damn calm.

"Okay, considering."

"Yeah. Where the hell are you?"

"In the building security office. We can see you on the monitor."

He waves up at the camera, a smile turning up one side of his mouth. His eyebrows raise expectantly.

"So...what's going on out there, Jim?"

"Not much has changed. He still wants five million dollars and says he's going to drop it."

"Tell me something I don't know, Jim."

"We're working on it." Even to my ears that sounds lame. "We contacted Wilkinson. He's in the building."

"And? Did he come up with the money yet?"

"Not quite."

"Don't kid with me, Jim. You're kidding right?"

"Sorry, Chief. The old man doesn't negotiate."

I watch on the screen as Blair blinks rapidly, trying to process what I just said.

"You got to be kidding me."

It's the first time the panic makes it way into his voice, and damn if the passengers don't pick up on it. I can hear the guy asking what's going on. Time to connect with more than just Blair, here.

"Look, Chief. I'm going to say something over the speaker. We're going to get you out. Trust me." I hang up and push the talk button for the microphone. "This is Detective Ellison from the Cascade PD. The department is doing everything in its power to ensure your safety and to get you out as soon and safely as we can. Just stay calm and hold on."

I depress the button and run a hand over my eyes. I glance at my watch and wince. We've only got a few scant minutes at most before Galileo makes the second drop.

"Get Wilkinson in here. We're running out of time."

Watson jerks his head in acknowledgement and picks up the phone. This officially, to use Sandburg's terminology, sucks. I barely keep my thoughts in order, trying to think of too many things at once. Stopping the elevator from dropping has to be the priority. If we can do that, then we take away his bargaining chip.

When Watson's finished on the phone, I lean forward over the console. "There's got to be something that we can do, someway to keep the elevator from --"

"Galileo's on the line again," Watson interrupts me.

Simon gives the nod and Watson puts on the speakerphone. "This is Banks."

Galileo doesn't sound stressed. He's cool as a cucumber. "The first ten-minute deadline is about to pass. I've been in touch with my bank. There doesn't seem to be any money showing up there. Who do you think you're dealing with, a rank amateur?"

Simon takes a nervous breath, his hands resting on his hips. "We're having a little trouble locating Mr. Wilkinson," he stalls.

"Oh, really? That's kind of funny seeing he's standing next to you in a $3,000 Saville Row tailor-made suit, $500 Briano loafers, and I do believe that if you check that Rolex Presidential on his wrist, you'd see that his daughter has 31 minutes to live. Don't say I didn't warn you."

Shit, I was right. He's watching us. I beckon Watson and Simon closer to me, away from phone. "He's plugged into the security system and it's hardwired, right? That means he's *got* to be in the building. We need to do another sweep. Now."

Simon nods, pointing at Henri, who gathers the troops and leaves again. "There's got to be a way to keep him from hearing and seeing us. How can we disable the cameras?"

"We can cover the camera lenses." His security men move to do just that. "And I'd bet he's tapped into audio. I'll cut that too."

Galileo's voice sounds over the speaker, impatient and losing its cool. "Hey! Are you listening to me?"

I step back to the phone. Out of the corner of my eye I see Wilkinson return, but I force myself to focus. "Yeah, we're listening."

"You've got sixty seconds to decide. I had better see that money show up in my account, or you get a demonstration in the physics of gravity, or should I say the gravity of physics." He chuckles and I have to bite my inner lip to keep from erupting. "I'll be in touch."

"He can't hear us, I've cut all audio except to the elevator itself. We can still talk to the hostages," Watson informs us. I turn to the man holding the fate of my partner in his hands. He stares back at me, eyes cold behind his glasses. He doesn't look like he's going to cave in to any demands.

"Look, Mr. Wilkinson, with all due respect, you need to take action here. We have less than a minute before he drops that elevator." I hold out my hands, prepared to plea with him. Blair's voice, trying to cover his fear, echoes in my head. "Tell him you'll transfer the money."

Wilkinson shakes his head. "He's not going to murder four people. He's bluffing."

Simon shakes his head in disbelief. "How the hell do you know that?"

"If he was serious, he would have dropped it. He wouldn't have given us a series of ten-minute deadlines. The man's not a closer. I deal with his kind all the time."

I've had enough. This has got to end, and Wilkinson has the power to do it. I step into his personal space, using my height to loom. "Look, you might play this game all the time, but not with your daughter's life, and not with my partner's. He sure as hell doesn't sound like he's bluffing and we can't take that chance!"

Watson begins the count down behind me and my throat closes off as I turn to watch the monitor.

The phone rings as Watson reaches 'five' and he punches the speaker button. Simon takes charge.

"Banks," he snaps.

"Time's up."

My heart plunges and the world narrows to the small screen. My god. The screams echo. I'm getting it in stereo, from the actual elevator shaft and the speaker from the microphone. I want to close my eyes, block the sight of Blair clutching the railing, but I can't. Time slows as the car plummets five stories in an eternity.

Then it stops, throwing all of the passengers to the floor in a tangle. There are cries of pain, and Blair's grunt as his head smacks the floor cuts me to the quick. No one is moving. My hand reaches out, almost like it's moving on its own, grabbing the microphone.

"Blair, you all right? Damn it. Sandburg, can you hear me? Blair?"

Silence.

~~~~~ Act IV ~~~~~

"Blair, talk to me, Chief." Simon is standing behind me, breath held as we both watch the heap of bodies gradually move. "Blair, are you okay?"

I can see him now, moving stiffly back to his seat against the wall. His hand moves up to press gingerly against the back of head and he winces. The woman in the suit is crying, grabbing her ankle.

"I'm...I'm okay, Jim."

I hold my hand over my mouth as I watch Blair check on the other hostages. It looks like the lady's ankle might be broken, and I don't think she's going to be keeping calm for much longer. The situation is getting more explosive. Damn it, I have to *do* something. There has to be something we can do to--

Blair's voice rings clear over the intercom. "Hey, if Mr. Wilkinson is there, if you got one ounce of human compassion, you better start paying attention to what's going on here. Whoever is controlling this elevator is freaking insane! Quit messing around! This isn't funny anymore! She broke her ankle! We're running out of time here."

I look over at the man whose daughter is sitting in the elevator with Blair. His face is smooth, only a small wrinkle between his eyebrows showing anything about the thought going on behind his cold exterior. He's not going to deal.

That's not an option, and if I have to convince him of it, so be it. I fold my arms over my chest and take the plunge. "We're going to do everything possible to get those people, and your daughter, out of there. But I would really suggest locating that money and transferring it to the account. We need to buy some time to find him, and letting them fall a bit at a time isn't going to help." I step closer, dropping my voice. "And I'll add on a personal note, that if anything happens to the hostages because you wanted to stick to some *principles,* let's just say it won't be very pleasant."

He narrows his eyes, clearly sensing the threat, which I didn't even try to hide. It's time to take off the kid gloves.

"Or else what?" he asks, outwardly unperturbed, but I can hear his heart start to hammer. I'll hand it to him, he's as good a bluffer as he purports to be. But I'm not bluffing, and I'm laying my cards on the table.

"I drop a dime to the media and the world finds out that Mr. Newsweek hero is just an empty suit who'd let his own daughter die. I'm sure the press will eat it up." I don't look away until he sees that I'm prepared to follow through. I've got nothing to lose. If that elevator falls I'll have already lost anything that would matter.

I go stand by Watson, looking over his shoulder at the schematics of the building and elevator shafts. I can't look up at the monitor. I think my heart almost stopped watching them fall. I've seen some pretty horrible things, but damn, I've never felt so damn helpless. I almost wish I could be in there with Sandburg. Being on the outside feels like I'm trying to swim through Jell-O. I'm not making any headway, and things seem to bog down even more.

I'm not seeing something. I can feel it niggle in the back of my brain, teasing me. I shamelessly listen to Simon and Wilkinson murmuring behind me.

"What's the hell is his problem?" Wilkinson sure isn't happy about my attitude. Well, too bad. You might be willing to sacrifice you're daughter, just don't expect me to lose my partner in the deal.

"Well, Mr. Wilkinson, I'll tell you what his problem is. That's his friend in there and if you cared half as much for your daughter, maybe this whole thing would be over."

Simon, if you ever need help burying a body, I'll be there. Hell, I'll bring the shovels. I'll freaking weld the barrels shut and dump them in the harbour.

Oh my god, that's it! We can weld the elevator to the walls of the shaft.

"Watson, can he see or hear us at all through the feeds?"

He shakes his head. "No, he can't see anything through any of the security cameras except for the feed coming through the elevator. I've kept that one open so we can communicate with them and keep an eye on them. But the hallways, this office, everything else is clear."

"So there isn't any way he could see what's going on inside the elevator shaft. Not the car, but the shaft."

He looks thoughtful. "No, there shouldn't be. I can't guarantee he hasn't set up cameras in the shaft himself, but if he's just tapped into us, then he should be blind."

"Captain! Brown!" They look up at my call. "I've got an idea. H., Would you mind getting Joel? We're going to need him." Brown doesn't even ask what's up, but leaves at a jog. "We're going to take a look at the inside of the shaft, and if I'm right, I think we can weld the elevator to the sides of the shaft."

They look at me, look at each other, and damn if it doesn't look like it might work. We just have to find out what the hell Galileo's done with the brake system. There's no margin for error, here.

Before leaving the office, I shoot one last look at the monitor. Blair's talking softly with the other passengers, comforting them in that way he's got.

This has got to work.

~~~~~~~~

Damn, things have just turned crazy. My head is killing me, and everyone else is pretty shaken up from our last drop. With nothing better do while waiting for the deadline, we had done a quick round of introductions. There's nothing like adversity to bring so disparate people together.

"Oh god, it hurts," Marion -- she's the business lady -- moans. Her ankle is broken or at least badly sprained and there's nothing I can do about it, except get her to talk about stuff, anything, to keep her mind occupied. Turn out she owns a consulting firm in the building, and really doesn't like small spaces. She almost hyperventilated while we were waiting. I helped her relax a bit with a few deep breathing exercises, but the pain in her ankle really isn't helping and now she's crying. She's trying hard not to be obvious about it.

Turns out Ralf has a wife and two kids. One in pre-school, the other in fourth grade. He has a wallet full of their pictures and they are incredibly cute. He's supposed to pick them up after school. He's staring at the their pictures, a frown on his face. When he looks up, his eyes meet mine.

"So, what the hell is really going on? I heard you talking to the camera, something about someone controlling the elevator. Is that why the cops are involved?"

Oh man, the conversation I *so* don't want to have right now. How the hell do I tell them that we're being held hostage by a psycho?

"Uh, well, yeah. Seems like someone wants some money or they're going to drop the elevator."

"Oh my god!" Marion's sobs begin to verge on hysterical.

"Jesus! How much time have we got?" Ralf asks.

I shrug uncomfortably. "An hour, tops."

He shakes his head and lets his fingers trace his daughters' faces on the pictures, lost in private thoughts and prayers. *Jim, if you're out there, we could really use some help now. Please.*

It's all a matter of time. We don't have time. I look over at Caitlin who is huddling in the corner, her legs drawn up and arms wrapped around her knees. Maybe there's a way to speed things up a bit. Scooting over, I mimic her posture, sitting kitty corner on the other wall. She's watching me like I've got two heads.

"Hey. How are you doing? You okay?" Casual, cool, not panicking here, not me.

She shakes her head. "I can't believe this is happening."

"Um....Look, I know your father's some kind of hard-ass. He's refusing to negotiate and get the money to the guy holding us hostage. Maybe if you talk to him, you could convince him to buy us some time."

She laughs bitterly. "He won't speak to me."

Great, family tiffs and hostage crises just don't mix.

"Why not?" Not that I want to play family counselor or anything, but hey, if it'll get us the hell out of here.

"You wouldn't understand."

"Well, try me. I minored in psych."

She's not looking at me anymore. "I got married when I was eighteen and I made the mistake of picking my husband without asking Daddy's approval."

"Will that stop your father from helping us?" Marion interrupts, her voice heavy with worry. Can't say I blame her, nothing like finding out that a potential saviour ends up being more of a cog in the wheel than the grease.

"I'm sure Caitlin's father's doing everything he can to get his daughter and the rest of us out of here. Let's just relax. This will all be over soon." I try to sound reassuring, but neither Marion nor Ralf look convinced

But Caitlin just laughs despairingly again. "You don't know him. To my father, it's never about the deal. It's the principal of the thing. He isn't going to back down. Not even if I'm stuck here too."

"Yeah, so how come we got to pay the price? What about my family?" Ralf's face becomes belligerent, clearly not happy at being at the whim of some rich guy who could afford to pay our ransom but won't because of some abstract principle.

"Yeah, and I got a 12-year-old daughter. Look, honey, why don't you just reason with him?" Marion asks.

"You don't get it. He won't listen to me. The man that I married worked for my father. He got fired. Now we're broke." I can see tears welling in her eyes. She tries hard to keep them back but is forced to wipe them away as they escape, leaving mascara smudged around her eyes. "I tried to see my father four times in the past two weeks. I couldn't even get past reception. I tried again today after I submitted my resume to every firm in the building. But no one is hiring, not even for temp work. We don't know how we're going to live."

I'm no expert, but it sounds like there's more to her desperation than just facing financial hardship. "What do you mean?"

"I'm pregnant."

Holy shit.

"Pregnant?" Marion, Ralf and I, all say it at the same time. Caitlin nods miserably.

That's it. The anger has been building in me since Jim told Wilkinson won't deal. Well fuck that. I jump up and stare at the camera.

"Mr. Wilkinson!" I raise my voice to make sure that he'll hear me, that he can't ignore us. "Did you hear that? Did you hear that your grandson or granddaughter is depending on you? Even if you don't want to support your daughter, don't blame her child for her actions! Come on, man, don't let us die because you don't want to compromise!"

I stop shouting, but there is no response. The silence in the elevator hangs like a shroud. I sink back down to the floor and rub my hand over my face. This is just getting worse and worse. What's next?

My cell phone rings, driving my heart beat through the roof. Geez, calm down, Sandburg. Get a grip. My fingers fumble with the phone and it takes me a few extra minutes to get it up to my ear.

"Yeah?"

"Hey, buddy. How you holding up? You okay?"

"To be honest, I've been better. I think we've all been better. I...I'm kind of scared here."

"I know. Just try to keep calm, okay? Here's the situation. He can hear everything you say and see everything you do. He's tapped into the elevator feed."

My stomach churns at the thought of being on display for this sicko, the thought of him watching us scream.

"Okay. Got it." Message received, don't say anything to take away tactical advantage. Good grief, I've been hanging around Jim too long, I'm starting to sound like him.

"We've taken a look down the elevator shaft and he's got control of the brakes and we can't regain the control. I have an idea though. We're going to try to weld the brakes on to the shaft so there's no way he can let you fall. Got it?"

"Right. Sure. Gotcha."

"Hey, Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"Good luck."

"Right back atcha, partner." Jim drawls a la Bonanza. He's such a moron. Gotta love him.

I fold the phone back up and tuck it into my book bag. Knowing that Jim is out there in the shaft almost makes this more bearable. If anyone can get us out of this, it's Jim.

Ralf is eyeing me suspiciously. I try to smile reassuringly, but he doesn't like being out of the loop.

"So what's going on, man?" he asks. "What are the cops doing?"

I simply shrug. "Typical cop stuff. Trying to get Wilkinson to deal," I bluff. Maybe if the crazy guy thinks they're actually trying to get the money, he'll put off dropping us again.

"Did you hear that?" Marion asks, looking around at the rest of us.

Shit. She must have heard them welding. I can feel a slight vibration on the floor and pray no one notices. Time to lay on the ol' BS charm...

"I didn't hear anything." I'm sure butter would melt in my mouth at the innocent smile I send Marion's way. My stomach is churning, praying that no one

"Is there someone outside?" Ralf asks.

No! Damn it, no! There is no one outside.

"You know elevator shafts, always making strange noises."

"No, I'm serious. Someone's outside."

We strain to hear, but the vibration and the sounds have stopped. My cell-phone rings and we all startle. I pull it from my book bag and flip it open.

"Yeah?"

"The guy's listening in, so make some noise. We need a distraction, just for a few minutes," Jim orders. He hangs up before I can get a word in edgewise.

I close the phone, staring at the three people sitting on the floor. A distraction. They need a distraction. Noise. We need to cover the noise.

"Sooo...anyone here know the Macarena?"

~~~~~~~~

Sandburg will never cease to amaze me. He's trapped in an elevator with three other people, one of whom has a broken ankle, another who is pregnant. There's a psycho threatening to kill them unless he gets five million dollars. And what is the kid doing?

Dancing the fucking Macarena. I can hear him through the walls. Hell, you don't need sentinel hearing to hear his off key tenor.

<....Hey, Macarena! Stuck in an elevator, this really sucks. Hey, Macarena! Come on, rescuers, and make it quick...>

The welding is going too slow. I have a bad feeling about this. I have to admit to not feeling too secure, even if I know that the elevator I'm standing on is completely in our control. The thought of a twenty some story drop is making my insides clench.

<...Hey, Macarena! I don't know what we gonna do, but I hope it all comes true! Hey, Macarena...>

My earpiece crackles and Simon's voice sounds loudly in my ear.

"Jim, he's onto us. He just phoned and said to take a look on top of the elevator."

Damn it.

"Take us up to the top of the car," I instruct the officer holding the elevator control. I brace myself as we move up, and as we clear the top of the car I swear. The smell of C4 is acrid in my nose and I can't believe I didn't smell this before. The doughy putty is packed densely on the roof of the car, strategically placed on the escape hatch. "Shit. Simon, he's got the escape hatch rigged with C-4. We won't be getting them out through there."

"Jim, he just said to tell Sandburg to open a briefcase he left in the elevator. Hold on, I've got to talk to Blair."

I can hear him relay the instructions to Sandburg through the earpiece. Blair's reluctant response I can hear through the roof.

<I don't think that's such a good idea, Simon.>

I can hear the soft clicks of the catches being released.

<Oh my god. Oh my god.>

"Simon? What the hell is going on in there?"

"Shit, Jim, he's got a bomb on board the elevator. He says that if we do anything more to try a rescue he'll drop the car or blow it up, he doesn't care. There's no point in welding it, Jim. It's..." He breaks off and I can hear Galileo's voice in the background. I can't sift through the static on the earpiece though to be able to hear exactly what he's saying.

"Jim! Hold on!" Simon shouts, driving pain through my eardrums.

The world drops away and I'm falling.

~~~~~~~~

I'd like to say that this is getting old, but the awful feeling of having your stomach lodge in your throat while your body hurtles downward is not something you get accustomed to. I think I'm going to puke when this is all over. If I'm alive to puke. What the hell happened to the deadlines anyway? We weren't supposed to fall for at least another ten minutes.

We come to a jarring stop, a thump shaking the roof of the elevator. I nervously check the briefcase beside me. Nothing's changed.

We all look up as more thumps sound above us. I think I can hear someone moving around up there! It must be Jim! Maybe we can get out through the small hatch up there.

The cell phone rings again and I grab it.

"Jim, that you up there?"

"Yeah. You okay?"

"Shaken, not stirred," I quip, my voice steadier than I feel. "How 'bout you?"

There's a moment of silence before Jim replies. "I can't say it's the sort of ride I'd want at the Cascade Carnival next year."

"So, how's the view up there?" I want out of here. I've had enough. No more falling. Just no more.

Jim's words don't help. "Sorry, Chief. He's got the hatch rigged up here. We try to open it and it blows. We're going to have to try something else."

I swallow hard. Suddenly my life is filled with more explosives. "Jim, you gotta do something." I look over to Marion who has given up any ghost of control and is sobbing on Ralf's shoulder. "We're...we're barely holding on."

"I know. I'm thinking maybe we can get an I.D. on our perp and figure out where the hell he is. Maybe he's left some fingerprints somewhere."

I frown, staring at the briefcase in front of me. "Hey, Jim. There's a vid feed from the elevator right? Which means they probably keep the tape, right?"

"Yeah, so?"

"The guy left the briefcase, Jim."

"Well, shit. Good work, Sandburg."

I can hear him relaying the information to Simon, telling him to go through the video footage and see if Wilkinson recognizes the guy. "Go get the bastard."

"I'll be in touch."

"Count on it."

As I close the phone once again, I close my eyes and hold it against my forehead. I'm so tired. And hungry. This really sucks.

"Blair?"

I open my eyes to see Ralf looking at me.

"Mmm?"

"You okay?"

I smile, but by now it's lost any feeling, and I think it shows. But I shrug it off anyway. "I'm fine."

"So, how long have you been working with the police?"

I suppose passing the next couple of minutes before the drop would be nice. "Well, I was doing some research on closed societies..."

~~~~~ Act V ~~~~~

I tap my fingers against my thigh as I wait for the elevator to slowly rise up the shaft. When the doors finally open, Simon, Joel and Watson are waiting for me. But someone is missing.

"Where's Wilkinson?"

"He's taking a look at the video footage we pulled from the tapes. That was pretty sharp of Sandburg, by the way. I can't believe we didn't think of it."

"We've had a lot on our minds, Captain."

Watson holds up a schematic that looks like a diagram of the electric wiring. "I had the technicians take look at the devices he has on the brakes. I've been told that they're wired into the building's AC. Same as the remote for the bomb on the roof. He isn't using an independent power source."

"Can we cut power to the entire building?" Simon's looking relieved that we can actually *do* something rather than sit on our asses waiting for Wilkinson to find the perp, or decide to wire the damn money to the bank.

"Yeah, but we lose the cameras inside. We wouldn't be able to see or talk to the hostages."

I don't like that. But, I still have my cell phone, so we wouldn't be totally cut off.

"But he won't be able to drop the car, right?" Simon insists.

I shake my head. They aren't out of danger yet. "He won't be able to drop it, but he can still blow it up. Don't forget about the briefcase bomb. It's not hooked up to the main power, right? It can't be."

Joel nods. "I talked to Sandburg and he says there's an onboard battery. Cutting the power in the building won't affect it."

Simon glances at his watch and we all involuntary look at our own. Damn. We've got to act fast or they're going down for another fall. I can't let them go through that again. Once is too often. Simon's the one who breaks the silence.

"Look, we got to come up with something quick, guys. That drop is coming up fast." My head is starting to throb and I rub at my forehead. But it isn't helping the faint ringing in my ears. "What about the money?"

"Wilkinson's agreed to wire the money, I think he might have a heart after all. But even if he wires it right now, it'll take more time than we have.

"We can still cut the power," Watson interjects.

"Do it." I order, wincing at the sudden high-pitched whine that echoes in my ears. Simon frowns and pulls me down the hallway as Watson puts in the call to the techs.

"Jim, what's up?"

"I don't know. Hold on." I try to focus on the sound, straining to use some of the techniques Sandburg insisted I learn. Sure enough, the sound coalesces into clarity. It's upstairs, far upstairs and it sound like...

"A drill. Captain, there's someone on one of the upper floors, and it sounds like they're using a power drill."

"We had those floors checked. There's no way there could be someone there."

I strain to hear some more, trying to move past the screech of the drill. Voices.

"There's two people up there. I'll start up. You get back to Wilkinson and try to find out who the hell Galileo is and who his partner might be. Keep my line open." I toss over my shoulder as I head for the stairs, checking the clip in my gun and the straps on my vest.

I push open the door and enter the staircase. Damn, that's going to be a hell of a hike.

The lights go off, plunging the staircase into temporary darkness before the battery run emergency lights flicker on. Time to go.

~~~~~~~~

Oh god, what the hell just happened? Fuck, it's dark in here! I can't even see my hand. My stomach rolls over.

"What happened," Caitlin's voice quavers. That's what I'd like to know, sweetheart.

"They must have cut the power. Hey Ralf, you got a flashlight in your toolbox?" I squint in the darkness, trying to pick out my fellow passengers who have become black shadows against an even blacker background.

"Yeah, hold on."

I can hear the click of the latch and the scrape of tools against one another before a beam of light illuminates the interior of the car. By the faint light I can see the face of my watch, and I don't like what I see. Man, I so don't want to go through this again. And Marion is looking worse. I'm not sure she could take another drop.

"Okay, um... we're coming up on another deadline here, so, uh, let's get ready." I suggest, shifting so my back is flush against the wall, raising my hands to grip the railing above me.

"When is this going to stop?" Marion sniffles. I wish I could say.

"Oh, boy. Hold on, everyone," Ralf mutters.

I bring my hand down to pull out my watch, counting down the seconds, my throat clenching, stomach plummeting already. The second hand slowly ticks clockwise.

"Okay. Three...Oh...Hang on. Two... One."

We hold our breath, wait for the inevitable plunge, the darkness masking my fear while heightening it to almost unbearable proportions.

Nothing happened.

"Nothing happened," Marion gasps, relief profound in her voice. Is there an echo in here?

"Then, they must have stopped it," Ralf says. "Whatever he did to the brakes must have got cut when they pulled the power." He grins. "Yes! We're going to get out of here."

I hear a slight beep in the darkness, and suddenly I see a light. And not one from the flashlight.

"Looks like you called it, man. Way to go." Ralf punches me lightly on the shoulder.

I blink, hoping that what I'm seeing isn't really what I'm seeing.

"Come on, man. What's wrong? We're safe!"

I rub a hand over my mouth. I point to the briefcase, where the digital numbers have started to count down and they're already at eight minutes and fifty seconds.

"That's what's the matter," I say hoarsely.

~~~~~~~~

I can feel the burn starting in my thighs. So far so good. Can't say I like the view, and the acoustics aren't giving me a good indication of where the drill is coming from. I have to stop and each floor and check.

Something about this just doesn't smell right.

"Hey, Simon," I murmur into the microphone.

"What is it, Jim?

"There's something wrong about all this. It's too pat. Galileo's planned this whole thing meticulously. He's been one step ahead of us the whole time. I think he wanted us to cut the power. Has he called again?" Something tells me this was never about the hostages in the elevator. This guy is too smart to resort to ransom demands. He's after something bigger.

"No, he hasn't. But look, Jim, if it's not the five mill, then what the hell does he want?

Damned if I know. "When I find him, you'll be the first to know. Ellison out."

I manage another four flights before my lungs start to burn along with my legs.

Okay, time for a breather. I can't afford to be completely exhausted by the time I get up to confront the bastard. My cell phone rings and I grab it so the echo doesn't go all the way up the staircase.

"What?" I snap.

"Jim?" Blair's voice is rocky and even over the phone I can hear his heart hammering in his chest.

"Blair, what's wrong?"

"The bomb, it's counting down. We've got eight minutes. What's the plan, man?"

"Talk to Simon, Sandburg, I'm kinda busy." I hate cutting him off, but I can hear the drill has stopped and that can't be good.

"Well, I'd do that Jim, if the camera and microphone where still working. We're kinda sitting in the dark here, man." Blair's upset, and I can't blame him. We didn't exactly warn them about the power cut.

"We had to cut the power so he couldn't drop you all again."

There's a slight pause. "We figured that was why. Just hurry, huh?"

"Will do." I begin my ascent again, needing to move but reluctant to break contact.

"And Jim?"

"Yeah."

"It's been--"

"Don't say it, Sandburg."

"Well it has."

"I know."

He hangs up and I tuck the phone back into my pocket. I'm getting closer, I can feel it. I once again reach out with my hearing to catch any slight noise, only to almost fall down the flight of stairs when a gunshot spikes through my brain like red-hot pokers. Shit, that hurt! Reeling against the wall, I try to regain some control.

"Simon, I just heard shots fired above me. He's somewhere between you and the top floor."

"Listen, Jim, we have a suspect. His name is Frank Rachins, Wilkinson's son-in-law. Wilkinson saw him on the video footage. His brother, Ronnie, is also involved. Rachins is some kind of wire-head. He knows computers. According to his personnel record, he also has a working use of munitions. Do you want me to send in backup?"

This is going to call for some finesse, and having five or more guys storm the room he's in isn't going to cut it. "Negative. If he's got some kind of detonator, I'm better off taking him alone."

"Roger that. I'm going to see if we can't find out more about where they are from the daughter. We think she must be in on it."

"Call Sandburg."

"Already on it, Jim. Good luck."

Thanks, boss. I'll need it.

~~~~~~~~

We are going to die. I think I'd been pretty optimistic until now. But faced with those damn numbers slowly counting down, I think I've got to come to grips with my mortality. Not that it's something I haven't done already since partnering with Jim, but man, it never seemed quite so real as now.

My cell phone ring and I grab it, praying that it's Jim with the good news that they caught the guy and we can all go home now. I want to go home.

It's Joel.

"Hey Joel. How's it going?"

"We're all here pulling for you, Blair." He sounds pretty calm, but I guess the bomb guys are used to this sort of thing.

"Blair, I want you to describe the bomb to me. Maybe there's a chance I can talk you through a disarm."

I stare at the briefcase. "There's a timer with a lot of wires and a whole bunch of C-4."

He waits, but I have nothing else to give him.

"I don't know what to do, Joel."

"Don't do anything, Blair. There's probably a hidden detonator anyway that'll go if you try anything."

Beside me Ralf and Marion are slowly losing their control. Can't say I'll blame them.

"What the hell does it matter if the car doesn't drop? We'll wind up in the next time zone anyhow." Ralf's looking at the pictures of his daughters and I can see the shine of tear track by the light of the flashlight. Marion's banging on the wall with her fists.

"Please, let us out," she whimpers. I don't think I've ever felt so damn helpless.

"Hey, Blair," Joel says in my ear, "Simon wants to talk to you. Here he is."

"Blair, it's Simon."

"Hey, Simon. What's up?"

"The guy we're looking for is Caitlin's husband."

Holy shit. I involuntarily look over at her, not wanting to believe that she could actually be involved in this. That she could be so stupid as to be involved in this. She looks back at me, eyes wide and innocent. Damn, she should be an actress.

"What do you want me to do?" I ask, restraining the urge to just freak out and start yelling.

"Find out if she knows something. She said they were strapped for cash. Maybe this is some plan to get back at Daddy."

No way. No one could be that desperate. "Oh, come on, you really think so?"

"I don't know," Simon replies. "Find out what they were planning. What's he going to do? Blow her up, too? Check her out. There's less than six minutes left."

I glance down at the briefcase. Thanks for the reminder, Simon. "Okay."

I hang up and scoot over by Caitlin, simply staring into her eyes as I talk.

"They, uh, think it's best if I just leave it alone." I narrow my eyes and tighten my voice, making no mistake that I'm talking to her alone now. "When's he going to let you off?"

She blinks nervously and glances at the others. "What?"

"Your husband. When is he going to let you off?" I'm trying to keep calm. I am relaxed. I am relaxed.

"I don't know where you're going with this but my husband doesn't..." she tries to protest.

"Caitlin, think about it. He hasn't called here in over 20 minutes and this bomb is going to go off in six minutes. I don't know what you two got going on, but he is going to let you off, right?"

"He's going to shut that thing off. He promised me." She starts to cry.

"How could you do this?" Marion cries in disbelief.

"I told you. He's going to stop it," she pleas, wanting forgiveness, to be excused, anything to assuage the guilt she's obviously feeling. I don't care anymore. I don't think she gets what the situation is.

"When? When is he going to shut this off, Caitlin? 'Cause we don't even know if he can hear us anymore." I gesture expansively around at the darkness. "They cut the power, remember?"

"Look, I didn't want any of this. Frank said it was all for the baby. There was no other way with my father..." She breaks off as my phone rings again.

"Hello?"

"Blair, its Simon, I've got Caitlin's father here and he wants to speak with her."

They say timing is everything.

"Speak of the devil." I hand the phone to Caitlin who takes it in shaking fingers. "Talk to him, Caitlin."

"Daddy?" she asks, her voice trembling. As she listens, the tears she's been holding back begin to fall, her shoulders shaking with sobs.

"I'm... I'm so sorry, Daddy. You were right about Frank. Ronnie is the one that cares about me. And now Frank's got him involved in this, too."

This is taking too long. The clock is ticking here, people!

"This is all great, Caitlin, but we don't the time for this. Where is he?" I press. I can't even find the energy to be angry anymore. This whole thing has been so damn pointless, based on some baseless family feud. Makes me glad Naomi never made me get to know my relatives.

She looks at me as she talks into the phone. "They're breaking into the exchange on the thirty seventh floor."

I close my eyes. God speed, Jim. And for god sake, keep those senses under control.

'We're going to die, aren't we," Marion whispers in the dark.

The inevitability of our doom in her voice snaps me out of my depression.

Fuck that. There's no way I'm going to be blown up in some elevator. Time to get proactive. Okay, so what do we have? My book bag, with some text books, my laptop, and the figurine. My cell phone. My pocket knife. Ralf's toolbox. Hmmm. Now that gives me an idea.

"Caitlin, do me a favour and hold the flashlight at the floor, will ya?" She complies, brow furrowed with confusion. "Thanks."

I pull out the largest blade and dig the tip into the carpet, pulling the knife towards me. It's hard getting through the fibers, but I'm desperate.

"What are you doing?" Caitlin asks, making the light dance a bit as her hands shake with nerves.

I rap on the floor, hope surging through me. "The floor, it's metal." I turn to Ralf. "Do you have anything in the toolbox that will cut through metal? A blow torch would be perfect."

"Sure." He starts rummaging through the box. "Why? What are you going to do?"

I smile, and I'm sure I look pretty demented, but I don't care. I'm the man with the plan "I'm gonna cut a hole in the bottom of the elevator. That's what I'm gonna do. I'm going to drop the bomb out. Fifteen stories. Boom! It's gonna be too far away to hurt any of us."

Calm down, Sandburg. Hell, I can almost hear Jim saying it. Just calm down.

"It still might kill us. It all depends on the size of the bomb," Ralf says ever so helpfully. Don't rain on my parade, Ralf!

"The size of the bomb, the velocity of the explosion. The rate of the fall, whether or not mercury is in retrograde, for crying out loud," I grunt as I pull up the carpet with both hands to expose more of the floor. "But to tell you the truth, none of that really matters." Finally the carpet comes free. "Because we are only minutes away from redecorating the inside of this elevator. Come on, get that thing going." I wait impatiently as he lights the torch and it flares, making us all squint a little.

"Can you hand me those glasses, please?" I ask Caitlin. "Thank you. Let me have the torch." Ralf gives it up without a complaint and I grin again. "Two summers at a sheet metal plant. I was the fastest torch in my crew."

Tiny sparks fly as the intense flame slowly melts the metal. Ever so slowly.

~~~~~~~~~

Thanks to Simon I know where they are, but damn it if they didn't block the doorway to the floor. Looks like the only way in is to go up and then down. Forcing my legs to move when they are protesting every minute, I continue up the stairs to the final landing, bursting through the door and onto the roof.

"Simon, what side of the building is the exchange on?"

"Hold on." I hear him shouting for the plans and Watson barking at his subordinates. Things are counting down and everyone's on edge. "It's on the west side, Jim. I repeat the west side."

"Got it." I move to the edge of the roof and look down. Shit, that's far. Okay, let's see. Great, there's some cable. Maybe I can jury rig some sort of harness.

Trying to forget that I'm working under the clock, I manage to rope together a makeshift harness which would never pass any safety inspections but should probably be able to support me long enough to get down to the thirty seventh floor.

Tying it off on what looks like a fairly secure railing, I scramble over the side and begin to rappel down.

The wind sheer is nasty, blowing me to the side every time I push off, but I manage to get down without letting go, sweaty palms aside. Bracing against the building, I pull out my gun and take a deep breath, blowing it out.

Let's do it.

I push off, aim and fire. The glass shatters and as I swing back through the gaping hole, I can feel the tiny shards sprinkling into my hair and down my neck. I close my eyes to keep from getting any glass in them, and feel my feet contact with the floor. I let go of the rope, open my eyes and scramble out of the harness. The first thing I see is the explosives on the bars of what appears to the exchange's vault. The world collapses until the digital numbers are all I can see and I struggle not to get lost in the small pixels of red lights.

~~~~~~~~

Oh man, this is going so slow. Don't look over at the bomb. Don't look over. Just don't.

Shit, three minutes. Oh man. Why don't I listen to myself?

Come on. Cut already.

~~~~~~~~

I shake my head and raise my gun, blinking to block the sight of the numbers which had become the center of the universe. Now where the hell is Galileo?

"Ease it down. Do it." The cold barrel of a gun at the juncture of my jaw makes complying with the order a bit easier. Damn it.

I watch as my gun skitters across the floor. Blair isn't going to let me live this down.

"So," I begin, trying to buy some time. "It was never about the elevator."

"Brilliant observation, Detective," he replies with a cocky grin. "Just a diversion."

I can see another man lying on the floor. Must be the brother. Shit, he looks like he's been shot. If he's got no compunction about wasting his brother, one cop isn't going to be hard. Let alone an elevator full of strangers.

"Why Galileo?" I ask. Just distract him, try for the fun. I shift my balance, ready to move.

"'Cause he was a man like me -- gifted. A visionary among smaller men. Censored for challenging the established order." He waves the gun imperiously, caught up in his delusions of grandeur.

I smile, knowing it won't reach my eyes. This guy is going down. "My history's a little rusty, but, um, wasn't Galileo known for dropping the ball?"

Pivot, kick, and follow through. His gun flies from his hand and we're locked together in hand-to-hand. Still feeling the effects of the mini-zone, he's getting in more punches than I'd like and it's not as easy as I thought to subdue him. I duck a punch and return with one of my own, only to find myself pushed back against the window, the edge digging into my back. My shirt and vest are protecting me from the shards of glass, but I can feel my balance slipping.

~~~~~~~~

Okay, two sides done, two more to go.

I hope Jim's okay.

My hands are hot and sweaty, struggling to keep a steady grip. Please be okay, Jim.

~~~~~~~~

I frantically heave Galileo off me and push him back, sending him staggering. Get the weapon! I make a dive, rolling and coming up with the gun in my hands, pointed unerringly at Galileo's head.

"Get up and place your hands on your head!" I shout. Got you, you bastard.

He stands slowly and when he raises his hands, smiles grimly. "Get back or I blow them to kingdom come."

Resting the palm of his hand, finger on the button, is a small black device. That better not be what I think it is.

"He's got a remote detonator," a voice gasps. Looks like the brother isn't dead after all.

"Put it down," I order.

"No. You drop it. You don't want to be responsible for the death of your friend do you?"

How the hell did he...of course, the tapes. He was watching the whole time.

"Drop it, Detective."

"He'll blow it," the guy on the floor gasps painfully.

I don't see any other option and for the second time, I let go of my gun. Blair is never going to let me forget this.

"You'd blow it up even with your wife on board?" How the hell can he be so callous towards his own wife?

"You mean the woman who's been having an affair with my brother?" Galileo's control is slipping as he shouts with rage. "There's more than one way to get a divorce." He spits at his brother.

I'm not sure who is more shocked when the gunshot explodes nearby. My ears are ringing and I can barely hear Galileo's shout of pain, but when he starts to fall, I know he's been hit.

I lunge forward, hoping to grab the detonator and take away his bargaining chip. Blair doesn't have any more time.

~~~~~~~~

Christ, I'm never going to get this completely done. I've still got half of the last side to do and we're almost out of time.

Wonder if it'll snap off if I put enough weight on it?

I turn of the torch, tossing it carelessly to Ralf. Standing, I brace myself awkwardly and stamp down. Hard.

Holy shit! I almost go through the hole. Marion and Ralf manage to grab my arms, hauling me back.

~~~~~~~~

"Get back!" Galileo shouts, trying to regain his balance.

Not this time, buddy. I grapple with his arm, frantic to pull his fingers away from the small box. Despite his wound, he's still struggling, managing to catch me with his fist right by my ear. My earpiece goes flying, skittering across the floor.

Damn that hurt.

Come on, damn it! There's no time! Give me the damn detonator!

~~~~~~~~

Snapping the briefcase shut, and trying to ignore the double digits that are much lower than I would have liked, I haul the case to the opening and drop it through.

Please, let it fall far enough. Please.

I stand, hopping over the hole. We move to the sides of the elevator, bracing ourselves against the impending explosion and huddling together.

I close my eyes.

This is it.

~~~~~~~~

I almost have it. Almost. Just a little...

No. No. Oh god, no.

I didn't just hear that. No. It can't be.

I pull back my fist and punch him full in the face, rage pouring through my arm.

Sandburg. Oh, god. Sandburg.

Galileo is limp, and I let him fall, thudding to the ground heavily. I scramble for the earpiece, only to find it smashed in the struggle. I pull out my cell-phone, but it's a write-off, the display cracked, antenna snapped. My ears are still ringing and I can't hear past the floor I'm on to check and see what happened.

I haul out my cuffs and pin the bastard's arms behind his back. He groggily looks up at me and I pull him up, yanking on the front of his shirt until his face is inches from mine.

"Why don't we drop you off the building and see how fast you hit the ground?" I snarl.

He pales, and I'm not sure if it's from blood loss or from the realization that those hostages had better be in one piece when we get to the ground floor or he'll have to deal with me.

Blair, you better be there. I know you could figure a way out.

Please.

~~~~~~~~

My god. We're not dead. *We're not dead!*

"Blair, you're a genius!" Marion cries, throwing her arms around me. She's standing kind of awkwardly on her ankle, so I end up supporting her weight. But who cares? We're alive!

"It worked!" I shout to the roof, venting the hours of fear in the victory cry.

"I love you!" Marion replies, planting a kiss on my cheek. I squeeze her gently back, mindful of her injury.

'We're all right. We're okay."

Marion's crying against my neck, Ralf's got this goofy grin on his face, and Caitlin...Caitlin is standing in the corner, hugging herself. I wouldn't want to be in her shoes when we finally get out of here.

God, that sounds good. Out of here.

In the midst of our jubilation, my cell phone rings.

"Yeah?" I shout above the cheers.

"Thank god, Sandburg. You don't know how good it is to hear your voice."

"Right back at you, Simon. I mean...Captain."

"You all okay in there."

I look at the other three people with whom I spent the last hour or so.

"Yeah, Simon. We're fine. We're all fine."

"We're restoring power in the building in a few minutes. Just sit tight and we'll have you out of there in no time."

I close the phone and stare at it for a moment. I can't believe it. We did it.

We're alive

~~~~~~~~

I knew I'd never get them down the stairs, so I waited until the lights flickered to life and roughly hauled them both to their feet. They'd need medical attention, but I'm not waiting for the paramedics to arrive. So I drag them out of the exchange and down the hall to the foyer. Galileo looks at me like I'm crazy as I push the down button on the elevator call panel.

"You can't be serious," he says.

I just smile grimly. With a soft *ping* the doors slide open and I push them in, pressing the 'lobby' button. The ride seems to take forever, the numbers slowly counting down. All I can think of is the bomb and how Blair probably had to watch the same numbers slowly descend, hopeless.

The doors slide open again, to the astonishment of the officers gathered about the doorway, guns drawn. They heave a collective sigh, grinning from ear to ear as I push out our perps.

"Take 'em away, boys." I smile triumphantly, for I can hear what I've been waiting for; the sound of Blair's voice.

"You know that parachute ride down at the Cascade Pier, Joel?" His voice is calm, only slightly hoarse. I turn and there he is, his back to me, standing by Joel as the other passengers get pulled from the elevator.

"Yeah," Joel answers.

"Try it blindfolded, with a bomb in your lap and three hysterical people hanging onto you." His face twists with a grin. "I'm fine, though. Thanks."

He turns and our eyes meet. I nod, he nods and his grin breaks into a large smile. I can't help but return it. He pumps his fist in the air and my shoulders shake with repressed laughter.

He's alive.

He moves toward me and we sort of just stand there, looking. He scans my face, lingers on what must be some rather spectacular bruises. Me, I can't help but smell the reek of the explosive residue on his clothes. Too damn close.

"Ready to go home?" I ask, casual and cool.

"Yeah," he says, suddenly looking tired.

I sling an arm over his shoulders, drawing him close and guiding him towards the lobby. "Then home it is."

I steer him towards the door, but he resists as we near the Wilkinson's. The daughter steps away from her father's embrace, clearly wanting to say something.

"Blair... You take care of yourself."

"Yeah, you, too. You take care of that baby." He nods towards her stomach. There's really nothing left to say, and we both watch as the officer gently leads her away, Wilkinson already on the phone to his lawyer.

What a day.

"Hey, Chief, this figurine you brought here to have appraised?" I begin, trailing off to bait my trap.

"Oh, yeah. Wang-Cho dynasty, third century BC." He's almost about to go off on a lecture again, I can see it in his eyes and hands. Time to head him off.

"Some kind of good luck charm?"

"Yeah..."

"If I were you I'd bring it back up to have it re-appraised. Only this time..."

He cuts me off, eyes dancing with humour. "Take the stairs."

I smile and hold open the door, letting him precede me. We pass by some uniforms packing up our equipment. They wave and I wave back. "Good job, gents."

Good job, indeed.

~~~~~ Epilogue ~~~~~

I must have fallen asleep in the truck on the way home. Jim's gently jostling my shoulder and I rub at my eyes.

"Sorry about that, Jim." My stomach gurgles noisily. "Wow, I think it's alive!"

Jim laughs. "How about we get some lunch."

I slam the door shut. "Sounds like a plan, Jim. Sounds like a plan."

I take one look at the elevator and turn towards the stairs. Jim doesn't say anything, just follows me up the stairs. I take them two at a time, eager to be back in the loft. When I reach the landing on the third floor, Jim's still on his way up from the second floor. He looks exhausted, and I realize that he must have gone all the way up to the exchange using the stairs. Man, who needs a Stair Climber when you've got a job at the PD, huh?

"You okay?" I ask as I unlock the door.

"Yeah. Can't say I have a new appreciation for skyscrapers though. My legs feel like noodles." He grimaces and he bends down to untie his shoes.

I flop down on the couch, thinking I'll be out for the count in a few minutes. God, I'm tired. Every muscle in my body feels like it's been stretched and then released. Maybe lunch can wait.

But despite my exhaustion, my knee begins to jitter. The urge to walk, to run, to pace is overwhelming.

"Chief?" Jim calls from the kitchen. "You want soup or sandwiches?"

"How 'bout both?" My fingers start to tap nervously on my thighs. Man, my skin feels like insects are crawling over my arms and legs. And I've really got to pee.

By the time I've finished, splashed some water on my face to regain some feeling of humanity, Jim's got soup warming in a pot and two fat roast beef sandwiches sitting on plates. My stomach gurgles again and I arrow toward the food.

The bread is sticky and thick in my mouth and I can barely swallow it. My throat feels tight and I have to set the sandwich down, breathing deeply through my nose.

"You okay?" Jim asks, biting into his own sandwich.

"Yes...no...I..." I have to stand, move. Anything to keep the strange feeling in my stomach that isn't hunger from consuming me from the inside out. I jump up and begin to pace.

What's wrong with me? I stare at my hands as my fingers quiver.

"Chief, slow down." Suddenly two strong arms are around me and Jim's cologne fills my nose. Subtle, not strong, not for a sentinel. "It's just adrenaline. It'll pass."

"The hole was too big," I blurt. And damn if it wasn't. I could have fit two suitcases through it.

Jim pushes me back, his hands still on my shoulders. "What?"

"The hole I cut to drop the briefcase through. It was too big. I could have been done a lot earlier, not cut it so fine. We almost didn't make it!" I babble.

Jim shakes his head and chuckles. I glare at him. He thinks this is funny?

"Blair, did you have time to measure the hole?" He pats at my shoulder. "You were under pressure, you probably didn't want the hole to be too small, so you overcompensated. It's natural."

I can feel the tremors lessen, slightly. "Overcompensated, huh?"

"Yeah."

Cool. I can live with that. Beats being terminally stupid in a literal way.

"Besides, it should be familiar to you," he says as he clasps the back of my neck, shaking me slightly before letting go and moving back to his sandwich.

I stare after him, dumbfounded. *I* overcompensate? Talk about pot calling kettle black!

"Hey!" I sit down next to him, glaring as I bite back into my sandwich. My knee is still twitching, but the saltiness of the beef, the tang of the mustard and the nuttiness of the cracked wheat bread burst on my taste buds. I wash it down with a glass of milk, which mysteriously appeared. Oh, man, that was good. I belch and sigh contentedly. My eyes meet Jim's across the table, and we both grin.

It's good to be alive.

~ The End ~

Please remember to send feedback to our authors. Feedback can be sent to:

In two weeks: Red Dust by Melinda Holley




< Prev   Next >