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Pennies From Heaven
Pennies From Heaven
by EJ Katz

Beta Read by Nikki and Helen
Written for PetFly by: David L. Newman
Rated PG
internal thought in * *

~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~
Day 1 – Mid Afternoon

The streets of Southtown were never bare or deserted. The neglected township was over run by homeless and derelicts. It was a central calling place for drug dealers and other lowlifes. Not that Southtown was generally bad. No, in fact as a community the people of Southtown were decent, hardworking though slightly more disadvantaged than the rest of Cascade. The seemingly hopeless situation could be seen on some faces and yet not on others. Those who refused to let life get them down. They were the lucky few who pushed past the circumstances and fought to make something of themselves. Like the men and woman of Hanson Place.

Hanson Place was a run down dilapidated building where residents were trying to make things better. A group stood outside the building talking quietly together, setting plans and making vows. Promises to hold out, withhold rent until certain conditions were met. They had already chosen their leader, the man who would be spokesperson between the other residents and the landlord's bully Burt Ungar. An evil, slimy man who was not above breaking a few legs to get what he wanted. All the tenants knew the dangers but only one was willing to stand up to him, had no real fear of him merely a fear of being unable to provide for his son, just like the other parents of Hanson Place.

Times were changing and Ungar had better watch out or it wouldn't be pretty. Soon the group broke up heading for their various apartments and duties. One man, Tyler Watson, the newly elected leader stood for a long moment on the sidewalk, watching, waiting, enjoying the sun.

It was a rare sunny day without rain at this time of the year.

The street was empty except for a few individuals in no hurry to get where they were going. Three boys, obviously in high school from their clothes and school bags walked down the sidewalk.

One boy, an Asian was speaking. "Straight, yo, straight. She was fly, Marcus."

The other, a tall, lanky, black boy, carried a basketball under one arm and wore a heavy Jags sweatshirt under his jacket. "Fly, J? Like, who?"

The third boy another tall, black boy grinned at his friends and cut in. "Latina, man. Her name was Lorena. You missed out."

Marcus and J had been best friends since second grade. Their mutual love of basketball and the Jags combined with their social living situation had bonded them tightly together. However, when they had met the third boy, D-Man, in fifth grade it was non stop. The Three Musketeers, they were known as, since they were always together and always getting into mischief together. They always walked home from school together, as they were now. J lived only a couple of blocks from Marcus' apartment where Marcus lived with his father. D-Man would continue on to the bus stop and then on to his home with his mother in Hastings, a newer suburb and a more affluent one. Not that that fact had dampened the boys friendship any.

The three had finished a game of b-ball and had stopped for a Coke at the local store. D-Man started as he saw the bus approaching. "Later, dudes, I gotta fly or Mom's gonna kill me. J, call me later with the note, 'k?"

"Sure, D-Man. Later."

"Yeah. That thing ain't going to happen for me Friday night," Marcus groaned at the thought of missing yet another amazing party, but his father would insist on homework first, especially with a test on Monday and the lack of sufficient funds to give the young boy.

"What? Yo, man, can't you borrow the loot off your old man?" J questioned as they stopped near the front door of his apartment building.

"Man, all I get is a 20-year lecture about paying my own way," Marcus complained.

"Weak." J nodded in understanding as he handed the basketball back to Marcus.

Marcus took the ball automatically but he wasn't watching. "Hey, yo, man, peep that." He nodded in the direction of a man sitting in a black Cadillac across the street who was watching the overpass through a pair of binoculars.

"Nah, that ain't no thing, man," J told him, instantly recognizing the knee-breaker that collected the rent in half the buildings in Southtown. "Some grandma's probably two days late on her rent and that dude's looking to bust her legs. Hey, so, you going to come over and play Fists of Death, or what?" J dismissed the sight of the man as normal and returned to other, more pleasant topics.

"Ah, man, I got to go home and study for this history test," Marcus told him.

"All right, kid. I'm out. All right." J headed off inside while Marcus waited a moment longer, still staring at the car. "Easy. Later."

The man turned his head and met Marcus' eyes with a cold hard stare. Marcus shrugged in feigned nonchalance and headed for home.

Across the street, the man in the black caddie watched the young black man as he walked down the street towards the underpass. Reaching over to the other seat, he picked up a device while he continued watching the boy.

~~~~~~~~

Alberta Lone was half dozing as his co-worker, Dwight Marshall drove towards the city incinerator. This was part of their job, if he stopped to think about it, would have left him in awe if not for the fact that they were preparing to burn millions of dollars of cold hard currency. Of course, it was old and now replaced but even so… The uncompleted thought brought him more fully awake. It would be a perfect heist. He glanced out the window just as a sudden explosion rocked the armoured car.

The movement flung him hard against the window. Pain exploded through his head as he fought to keep from blacking out. His co-worker was struggling to keep the vehicle on the road and prevent it from overturning. Lone watched helplessly as the truck swerved dangerously through the afternoon traffic, narrowly avoiding several other cars.

A savage twist on the wheel sent the armoured car spinning; its rear smashing into a bus stop. The rear doors flew open and the cash, which had been packed into neat bundles, shifted forward on impact and fell from the van, drifting down to the street below.

Lone glanced at Marshall as the driver groaned then slowly both men made their way out of the truck towards the back.

"What the hell happened?" Lone asked as they met at the back door.

Marshall shook his head to clear it. "A tire blew."

They helped the third guard, Don Trout out of the back. He was holding his head as if he'd struck it against the inside of the vehicle. Glancing down over the concrete overpass, they witnessed the beginning of chaos.

"Oh, man...we got to get down there and recover whatever we can," Lone moaned.

"You kidding? Look at them. We'd get eaten alive," Marshall told him in mild horror at the idea. Already the streets were filling with people who were gathering up as much of the cash as they could, including a young black man wearing a Jags cap and carrying a basketball.

~~~~~~~~

"All I know is that when I open the bathroom door, I'm hit with this noxious wave, this odour, and all my nose hairs start to curl, my eyes water." Jim was deadly serious.

Blair struggled to hold back his laughter. "Obviously, we're going to have to do some work on your senses."

Jim stared at him for a brief moment. "Just use the air freshener, okay, Chief?"

The radio chose that moment to call out. "All available units, respond to truck accident with spilled cargo, Grand Avenue at Holten Street overpass. Reports of major disturbances in the area."

Jim flipped on the siren and signalled to turn the truck around. "That's a few blocks from here."

It took only moments to arrive at the scene of the disturbance. It took a moment for them to realize what was happening, even as everyone scattered at the sound of the sirens.

Blair stared in amazement at the sight before them. "Oh, my god, Jim, that's money."

"Look at this -- it's a free-for-all," Jim replied as they exited the truck.

"Yeah. Pennies from heaven."

Jim nodded up towards the aforementioned heavens. "Check out the armoured car up on the bridge."

As they walked toward the overpass, Jim called up to the three men he could see looking down.

"Anybody hurt up there?"

"No. We're all okay," one of the guards called back.

As Jim and Blair continued under the overpass, another police car pulled up. Jim motioned to Blair to wait while he spoke to the two officers who approached him. While Blair waited for Jim, he noticed two men standing just on the other side of the overpass. He made a mental note to pass the info on to Jim. Who knew, maybe they had seen something.

A minute later Jim was back at his side and Blair pointed to the two men.

"Did you see them, Jim? They might have noticed what happened."

"Hard to imagine how anyone could miss it," Jim replied. He placed his hand in the centre of Blair's back and urged him forward toward the two men.

Jim called out to the men as they approached. "Hey, can you guys tell me what went on here?" He pulled out his badge, informing them of who he was. "I'm Detective Ellison."

"Kametlian." The larger man gave his name. "I was in my store and I saw this money rain down -- people going crazy."

"Neither of you took any, I guess," Jim asked casually, his tone non-accusing.

The store owner shook his head. "Not us, Officer. No."

"It's detective actually. So, nobody actually witnessed the accident?"

The other man spoke for the first time. "Uh, one of the neighbourhood kids. He was right over there, by the bridge."

"Can you describe him?" Jim asked, pulling his notebook out and jotting down a few notes.

"He was a black kid. 16, 17. Had on one of them Jags sweatshirts -- carrying a basketball. Around five-eight."

"Sounds like that, uh, Watson kid. His first name's Mark, Marcus -- something like that," The store owner ventured.

"Thank you for your help, gentlemen. If you hear of anything else, please call me." Jim handed each man a card before he and Blair headed back to the truck and from there to the precinct.

~~~~~~~~~

Same Day – A Few Hours Later

Simon rose from his desk. He approached the table where Jim and Blair sat watching him, waiting for him to speak. "Looks like they're going to report two million stolen."

"I wouldn't exactly say it was stolen," Blair said quietly.

"What would you call it?" Simon asked, frustration showing in his voice. He knew where this conversation was heading.

"Look, I'm not condoning what happened out there. All I'm saying is some people might look at this situation and say 'finders keepers' you know." Simon groaned silently at Sandburg's liberal approach to this difficult concept.

Jim shrugged lightly. "I agree in theory, and it's an interesting moral dilemma but bottom line, you take what isn't yours, it's stealing."

"I don't even know why we're involved. This was all old money being taken out of circulation -- hundred-dollar bills destined for the Federal Reserve to be destroyed," Simon complained.

"Maybe we should start with the possibility that it wasn't an accident," Jim offered, bringing the topic back to the case.

"If it was done deliberately, who benefits?" Trust Blair to get right to the heart of the matter. Simon regarded the two men. So different, like night and day yet they worked so well together.

Jim, as expected, returned with a suggestion, "Quite a few people in Southtown, for one."

Blair cast him a look of admonishment. "So what're you gonna do? You going to arrest the whole community?"

Simon growled. "Nobody's being arrested here, Sandburg. The chief set up a neighbourhood command post. We're working with the media, the local churches, offering a week-long amnesty period. Anyone can turn in money, no questions asked."

Blair took this thought and began to run with it. "Guys, this is a fascinating experiment in social behavioural science."

Simon interrupted before the thought became a week long philosophical debate. "Jim, I want you to find out what's going on. If this wasn't a freak accident, I want to know who did it and why."

Jim nodded and grabbed for his partner who was still going on about the moral issue this incident had brought up. Simon grinned as he could still catch snatches of the conversation right up until the elevator door closed on the two men.

~~~~~~~~

Same Day – Half an hour later

"Give it a rest already, Sandburg," Jim groaned. For the first five minutes the topic of the morality issues this case presented was of some interest, that is only some, but now, it was too much. He could see the twinkle in his partner's eyes and knew that Blair was waiting for him to blow.

Ignoring the younger man, he pulled into the parking lot of the security company.

"Chief, wait here. I'll just be a minute. I want to check with those security guys again."

"No problem. I want to finish this for my lecture tomorrow anyway." Blair waved Jim away with a grin. He turned back to the papers in his lap as Jim climbed out of the truck.

Jim was still grinning as he requested to see the three men involved in the accident the day before. Ten minutes later, he was shown into a conference room where the three men were waiting. It didn't take long to get information, but it was finding the answers to his questions, that was more difficult. All the information the three men shared only seemed to lead to more questions.

Lone, the passenger in the front of the truck was explaining, "Well, Westerberg was supposed to be on the job, but I guess he called in sick. Food poisoning, wasn't it?"

Marshall nodded. "Yeah. He ate something bad last night."

"Yeah. So, uh, I got the late call and I met the truck here after the guys picked up the load of money," Lone continued.

Jim turned to the final man. "And you were in the back?"

Don Trout nodded in agreement. "Yeah. We took a hell of a ride. Smashed in the guardrail. Impact popped the door right open."

"Hmm, and you couldn't stop the money from flying out? I thought it was packed in plastic."

"Normally it is, Detective. But it was all I could do to keep myself from flying out, the impact knocked the bags against the wall of the truck. I guess a sharp joint must have ripped the bag open enough for the impact to open it the rest of the way. I really don't know how it happened, it all happened so fast," Trout told him.

"Yeah. It must have been pretty hairy. Well, if any of you guys come up with anything relevant, please don't hesitate to give me a call, okay?" Jim gave the men his card.

"Will do, Detective," Trout replied. He offered his hand to shake, as did the others.

Jim noticed the ring on Marshall's hand. "Marines, huh?"

Marshall nodded. "Six years. Discharged as a sergeant."

"I was army ranger, myself. Thanks, gentlemen." He opened the door to leave when he remembered another question. He turned back. "Oh. You know, if...if I may ask one more question, why didn't anybody make a move to recover the money?"

Marshall shrugged. "We were stuck up there on that bridge."

"Yeah. We couldn't exactly take on the whole neighbourhood," Trout added.

"Right. Thanks," Jim said as he left.

~~~~~~~~

Later that afternoon, Jim and Blair stood outside the local police station. It was a tiny office that was only open to the public from 9 am until 3 pm. This was the building that caused so much controversy in the neighbourhood since it was the extent of police presence in the area or rather the lack of adequate police presence.

"Hey, man, what's up with the uniform?" Blair called out to Brian Rafe as the detective exited the store in full blues. He was just locking up.

Rafe smiled with an expression of such distaste that Blair laughed again. "The mayor's office wanted a greater police presence in the area until this case is solved. So here we are all personnel assigned to work this office must wear their uniform until further notice."

"Why don't you, Jim?" Sandburg teased his partner.

"We are the detectives in charge of the investigation," Jim stated as if that explained everything.

"Yeah, well we passed out flyers all over the neighbourhood. We've urged people to come forward. You're pretty much looking at the response," Rafe told them, changing the subject.

"Has any money been turned in?" Jim asked.

Rafe shook his head. "Very little. I'd say we're about as popular as the ice concession on the Titanic. We've extended the hours here until five but I don't think it is helping any."

Jim nodded. He'd expected no less really. All of his arguments with Blair earlier about the moral issues of the lost money really meant nothing. These were normal, human, people down here, most just hard workers who were down on their luck, but even to them the sudden gain of money raining down on them like manna from heaven would be a hard temptation to resist. Once they had the money, it would be even harder to return it. "Thanks. Let's go, Chief."

~~~~~~~~

"I have got to get Dr. Hapsburg down here," Blair spoke quietly after several moments of silence. They were walking down the street towards where they had parked the truck. Jim stared at him in surprise for a moment before words came to him.

"Who's that?" He unlocked the truck and climbed in leaning across the seat to unlock Blair's door. He started the truck as Blair settled into his seat and clicked the seatbelt into place.

Jim caught Blair glance just before he replied. Suddenly Jim began to wonder if he was opening another portal into the Sandburg Zone. "He's the head of the sociology department. Someone has got to study what's going on down here."

"What's to study?" Jim asked, confused by the concept slightly. *Oops, big mistake,* he berated himself a moment too late as he recognized the signs of Blair entering lecture mode. With that question, Blair was off and running yet again.

"With all that money literally falling out of the sky, these people have rationalized that it's rightfully theirs and a good social scientist can peel back the layers of the onion and find its truth at the core."

Jim groaned knowing he'd set himself up for more of Blair's Anthropology-slash-sociology lessons. Not really overly upset by it, he grinned before offering a retort. "Look, I'll give you the truth. You peel back the onion any way you want. People are rationalizing that they're not breaking the law."

Blair sighed in exasperation. "Jim, take a look around you, man. Do you blame them?"

They were stopped at a stop sign when Jim paused as he heard a few kids talking, then a basketball bouncing. His sight zoomed down the street to see a Jags sweatshirt, then up to see the kid he suspected was his witness. The dark skinned young man was laughing with a friend, a light-hearted laugh. The other youth with the Watson boy had his back to Jim but something about him set Jim's internal alarms ringing.

Blair stopped speaking mid sentence when he realized that Jim's attention was suddenly diverted. "What's up? You hear something?"

Jim nodded in the direction of the group of kids. "Yeah. My witness." He exited the truck with Blair close behind. It was beginning to rain. Jim placed his Jags cap over his head.

"What a shock, huh? A rainy day here in Cascade. How you doing?" He pulled out his ID and showed it to the boy. "I'm Detective Ellison."

The second boy turned with a surprised look on his face and Jim realized he did indeed know the young man.

"Daryl?" Blair asked in surprise before Jim could say anything more. "What are you doing in this neighbourhood?"

"Hanging with my friends." The youth smiled towards Jim's witness who stood watching them with a look of concern.

"Would you be Mark Watson?" Jim asked.

"Marcus," The youth corrected with a slight nod.

"Oh. Marcus. I'm sorry. Some of the merchants in the area said you might have been the one to see the spill of that armoured car?" Jim asked, his voice calm but questioning. He kept his eyes on Marcus but was well aware Daryl was watching the proceedings closely.

Marcus shook his head just a little too adamantly. "I didn't see anything."

"Yeah. Well, we have a witness that said you were right by the overpass there."

"Well, actually, I was under it, and, um, I heard the crash. Next thing I know money start falling out the sky." Marcus told them. It was obvious he was eager to get away from the interrogation.

"You grab any of it?" Jim asked again.

Marcus gave the detective a brief glare before once more lowering his eyes to the ground. "Give me a break, man."

"Detective Ellison, if Marcus says he didn't see anything he didn't." Daryl broke in with a sharp tone.

Jim ignored the youth, concentrating instead on his witness. "Nice kicks you're wearing. What they run you, about 100 bucks?"

Jim heard Blair attempt to stifle a chuckle but it was kinda funny. The poor boy looked so guilty, but he was trying so hard to hide it. To any observer it was obvious that this was just a good kid taking advantage of the situation without really thinking about the ramifications of what he'd done, and was now trying to cover his error. Of course, Daryl Banks being there was not helping in the least. Jim was more than grateful when Blair pulled him to one side to question him and also allow Jim to talk to Marcus without Daryl's interference.

"It was a birthday present. I wouldn't know." Marcus shifted under the penetrating gaze.

Jim smiled knowingly. "Marcus, you got an ID on you?"

Marcus reached for his wallet and handed Jim his ID.

Jim read through the information on the high school ID card. "You live here, huh?"

"Yeah."

"It says your birthday was eight months ago."

"It took me that long to grow into them."

Jim chuckled under the cover of his hand. "Some of the people that picked up that money might think of it as a gift from God, but in reality, it belongs to the U.S. government."

Marcus glared at the detective who was laughing at him. "Um, these aren't bad people around here, Detective." He strove for righteous anger but he knew he failed when the tall man merely raised an eyebrow.

"I'm not saying they are."

Marcus continued onward. "If you lived around here and all that money coming into your lap, what would you do?"

"I'd like to think, I'd do the right thing. Anything comes to mind, give me a call, okay?" Jim handed the young man his card.

Marcus took it sullenly and turned away. Daryl left Blair's side and when he reached Marcus, the two took off. They didn't stick around to watch the detective get into his truck and drive off.

~~~~~~~~

It was a short walk to Marcus' home. Daryl left his friend at the bus stop and Marcus continued to his building. He wasn't surprised to find his father arguing once more with Ungar. The slimy man gave Marcus the creeps and he avoided him as much as possible. Unfortunately, this wasn't going to be one of those times. The man caught sight of him and openly leered.

"I tried to be a nice guy about this, Watson. My patience is gone. The damn boycott -- over, kaput, finished. You and your people are going to start paying your rent."

Marcus obeyed the unspoken order by his father to get inside the apartment. He stayed just inside the door, but out of sight where he was still able to overhear everything said.

"When you do something about the roaches and the rats! Fix the plumbing, the exposed electrical wires, the peeling paint, and the falling plaster -- that's when this boycott will be over," His father told Ungar, angrily.

"Look, you know if it was up to me, then I'd do anything I could..." The slimy man's tone said he was sorry but the look in his eye was calculating. Marcus shivered as he watched through the crack in the door.

"Who the hell is it up to? Who even owns this damn building?" His father was angry, his own voice dropping in tone.

"All you need to know is I'm here the first of every month. Here it is the tenth and I've got nothing to show for the whole building. I'll be back tomorrow and I won't be alone. You make sure the rest of the tenants make good on their rent and I will make sure no harm comes to your son, or any of the young people in this lovely building. You hear me? It won't be nice for you and your fellow freeloaders, you pay up or you'll be sleeping on the sidewalk. I'll tell you that, Watson."

Marcus shivered at the implied threat as his father stood there, staring at the thug with barely disguised shock. He seemed to shake himself and tuned to enter the apartment, muttering under his breath, "At least the sidewalk isn't crawling with vermin." Marcus scrambled to be at the table before his father saw him watching.

"So you don't think there's going to be some kind of miracle down here tomorrow to throw us out if we don't pay the rent?" Marcus asked his father as the older man began the preparations for making dinner.

"Legally, they can't touch us."

"They don't give a damn about the law, man!" Marcus stood, angrily and grabbed the silverware from the drawer.

"If you don't stand up for your rights, people are going to walk all over you!"

"There's only one way to keep people from walking all over you and that's money!" Marcus threw the handful silverware onto the table and stormed off towards his bedroom completely missing his father shaking his head sadly.

~~~~~~~~

Day 2 – Early Afternoon

Blair entered the bullpen, spied Jim at his desk and sauntered over. The detective was counting a wad of hundred dollar bills. "Hey! Wow. What's up? You hit the quick pick?"

Jim, slapped the grad student's hands away. "No. It's evidence from the spill -- what we recovered, $7,200. You have a hundred dollar bill in your wallet?"

Blair chucked nervously. "What do I look like?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "You look like the type of guy that would carry around a C-note just to impress women. Come on."

"For your information, it's for emergencies." He reached for his wallet and reluctantly pulled out the folded bill.

"Emergencies, huh? Earthquakes, floods...stranded co-eds?" Jim teased as he accepted the bill and began to examine it closely.

"Why you got to hurt me like that for?" Blair grumbled.

"You bring it upon yourself."

"Make sure I get that back."

He watched for a long moment as Jim compared the two bills. He knew the sentinel was using his sight so he kept a close eye out for trouble, like a zone out.

"This money is counterfeit. The watermark is missing from the money that was turned in."

"What?" Blair stared in shock as Jim rose and headed for Simon's office.


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


Jim leafed through the report he'd been handed on his way into Simon's office. He kept one ear on the conversation between Simon and Blair as he scanned the notes in front of him.

"They've been finding this stuff all over the northwest for the past six months. It's very high-quality work," Simon said.

Blair paced and took a thoughtful sip from his coffee mug. "So, are we assuming all the money that fell off the truck was counterfeit?"

Jim pushed back from the table and nodded at the observer. "Yep. The evidence report indicates bills were recovered over a widely scattered area in Southtown. I'd say it's a good bet it's all phony."

"So, somebody steals the real two million, substitutes it with the fake, stages an accident, spreads the bogus money all over Southtown. There's a good chance the switch will never be discovered," Banks theorized.

Blair sank into the chair next to Jim and placed his coffee mug on the table. "If the money's going to be destroyed anyway, why go through all this trouble staging this accident?"

Jim thought he already knew the answer to that one. "Because odds are the Treasury inspectors would realise they were getting a load of counterfeit dough for shredding.

Simon leaned forward. "What do you think? Inside job, Jim?"

Jim's cell phone rang before he had a chance to reply. Pulling it out, he thumbed it open and identified himself curtly. "Ellison." The detective shook his head as Blair mimed an offer of coffee. There was a moment's hesitation on the phone before the caller replied.

<Detective, this is Albert Lone. I didn't want to say anything yesterday because I wasn't sure.>

"About what?" Jim asked, sitting up straighter in his chair.

Lone hesitated again. <Well, after you left here, I called Harry Westerberg, that guard with the food poisoning. You know, I took his place yesterday morning. Well, it turns out that… uh, that Westerberg had dinner the night before last with Dwight Marshall, the driver.>

Jim spotted the inference instantly. "What are you saying? You think Marshall did something to his food?"

<Yeah, I think so,> Lone replied. <There are some other things, too.>

"Uh, Mr. Lone. You think we could speak in person somewhere?"

<Yeah, sure, uh...I'm still at work,> Lone agreed.

Jim nodded and motioned to Blair. "Be there in 20 minutes," he told Lone. He hung up and looked at the other two men. "It's definitely an inside job."

~~~~~~~~

Marcus Watson pushed open the door of the little grocery store and stepped inside. He looked around quickly and licked dry lips before stepping up to the counter. He nodded at the storeowner. "How you doing?"

Kametlian fixed him with a glare. "You buying something?"

Marcus shook his head. "Look, um, I need to talk to someone."

"The pay phone's outside," Kametlian said.

Marcus pressed on. "Burt Ungar."

Kametlian busied himself with stock. "You see his name on my mailbox?"

"Look, Mr. Kametlian...everybody knows he hangs out down here."

Kametlian would not persuaded. "Sorry, kid. You're not buying, head on out."

Marcus turned toward the door, then spun back to face the other man. "Yo, um... isn't this where my friend Serge purchases all his liquor at? Huh? Yeah, my 17-year-old friend?"

Kametlian shot the boy another glare, then sighed and walked around the counter. He stayed Marcus' motion to follow him with an upraised hand. "Wait here." Satisfied he would be obeyed, Kametlian walked to the far end of the store.

Marcus waited impatiently, careful to keep his hands in his pockets. He didn't need any hassles with shoplifting accusations.

"Hey!" Marcus started at Kametlian's summons, then hurried forward as the older man waved him to the back of the store. Kametlian opened a door and Marcus stepped onto a landing at the top of a steep set of stairs.

The room below was in semi-darkness and Marcus could hear the muted sounds of a television and what sounded like the voices of several men as he made his way carefully down the stairs. As he stepped on the last step, Marcus saw Burt Ungar stand and hold out his hand to another man.

"Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah, baby! Yeah! Point spread made! Let's go. Everybody pay up. Come on, pay up."

The man grimaced but held out the money. "There you go."

Ungar grinned, then turned to the rest of the scowling group. "Come on. You, too, my friend. Thank you. Gee, I hope there's no street hundreds in here."

"Hey, Burt, here's your visitor." Marcus stumbled slightly as Kametlian pushed him forward. Regaining his composure, he stepped up to Ungar and held out the bills.

"I came to pay you the rent money we owe," Marcus said. "Now leave us alone." He trembled a little under Ungar's appraising look.

"What do you want?" Ungar asked. He grinned nastily and thrust the money back in Marcus' face. "Hang on to it. You can burn it to keep warm when you're sleeping on the sidewalk."

Marcus bristled. "What's the problem? I pay the rent, my dad pays the rent. What difference do it make?"

"You find the money on the street this morning?" Ungar asked. He snorted. "Hey, dumb schmuck. Ain't you heard? It's all over the news. The money from that truck is fake."

"This stuff ain't real?"

"Yeah, it ain't real." Ungar crooked a finger. "Come here, kid."

Marcus froze then struggled as he felt hands grip him and shove him forward. "Hey! Hey!" the boy protested, beginning to get scared. It dawned on him just how stupid this idea really was.

"Anybody asks you if you saw me at the bridge this morning, what are you going to say?" Ungar asked, his nose just inches from Marcus' face.

Marcus shook his head vehemently. "I didn't see anything," he stuttered. He pressed back against the hands holding him, desperately wanting to leave.

Ungar nodded slowly, seeming satisfied. "Smart boy." Suddenly, he reached behind him and pulled out a gun. He shoved it under the trembling boy's chin and Marcus winced as it pressed painfully against his jaw. "Now, you stick to that story or things are going to be a whole lot worse for you and your old man than getting thrown out of that rat hole." Ungar dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "Get him out of here."

Marcus turned and hurried toward the stairs. He stopped as Kametlian snagged his arm. "Remember, you didn't see nothing here," Kametlian said.

Marcus nodded mutely, his heart hammering in his chest. After a final frightened glance back, he stumbled up the stairs.

~~~~~~~~

Don Trout hovered over his partner's shoulder as Marshall switched on the laptop. "How the hell do you think the cops figured out the scam so quick?" Trout asked, frowning. For the first time since this whole counterfeit scam had been cooked up, he was afraid. He'd overheard Lone on the phone only a few minutes earlier talking to someone. Trout could only assume from what he'd heard that Lone was talking to Ellison. He muttered another curse as he watch his partner typing.

Marshall shrugged at Trout's question and continued to type. "Beats me. We had our bases covered."

"All I got to say is Jones better come up with our share," Trout grumbled. He watched as Marshall logged into 'Chatter.net' and sent out a message to Mr. Jones. "You tell him we're not waiting six weeks. We want our share now."

Marshall nodded but didn't speak. He typed the information and request.

"You don't got to be so damn polite," Trout said, reading the sentence Marshall had sent.

"As long as he's holding the money, I do," Marshall replied.

"What does he mean 'get rid of loose ends'? Does he mean Lone? Or Westerberg?" Trout demanded to know as he read the reply on the computer screen.

"Westerberg knows nothing. Remember, he got sick. Lone is the loose end. He's the only one who was there who can point the cops in the right direction. Maybe he put it together and told them?" Marshall typed his reply:

/Where do we meet to get our money when this is done? We gotta get out of town, fast./

They waited for Jones' reply.

/Meet me at Hester and Villas, apt 301./

Trout leaned forward and scanned the reply on the screen. "Hester Street. Isn't that Southtown?"

Marshall shrugged as he shut down the computer. "Dude's calling the shots. Come on, we got work to do!"

~~~~~~~~

Jim smiled amiably at the man who led them into the armoured car building. "Thanks for coming out on a Friday night, Mr. Drysdale. Albert Lone said he'd meet me here. I see his car parked outside, but no sign of him. I checked on the door. It was locked."

Drysdale nodded. "It's no problem. I just hope everything's okay."

"You mind if I take a look around?"

Drysdale shook his head and stepped away. "Go right ahead. I'll get the lights."

"Thank you," Jim said. He gestured for Blair to follow, then led the way through the large warehouse. He scented something, faint but familiar and paused a moment to dial up his sense of smell. He felt Blair's hand go automatically to his back and rest there.

"What's up?" the anthropologist asked. "You onto something?"

Jim nodded. "There's cordite...and blood." He pointed to the far side of the room. "It's coming from someplace over here." The detective led the way into a locker room. Notching up his sight, he found and switched on the light. He took a cautious sniff and nodded again. "It's in here," Jim said decisively.

Stepping quickly over to the lockers, the detective was able to pinpoint the source of the smell quickly. He moved quickly around the first row of lockers to the second row. Sprawled on the floor, surrounded by a slowly expanding circle of blood lay Albert Lone, a .38 still clutched in his right hand, bullet wound in his right temple. It was very obvious that the security guard was dead.

Blair stepped up beside Jim. "Oh, man. Oh, this is bad," he said.

Jim couldn't have put it better himself.


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


Same Day – An hour and a half later

Jim watched Serena closely as she examined Lone's body. He heard Blair swallow convulsively, forcing the bile back as he turned to look away.

"Cause of death was a bullet to the head," Serena told them.

"Anything on the body point to who did it?" Jim asked.

Serena looked up at his question with a confused look on her face. " It was self-inflicted, Jim. No doubt about it."

Blair swallowed hard again. "Oh, man. Just let me go nice and peacefully in my sleep."

"Hmm." Jim continued to stare at the body. If it hadn't been for the phone call earlier he'd have agreed with Serena's judgement, but something about this just rang false.

The coroner began to zip up the body bag.

Jim stopped him. "Ho-hold on a second. Sorry." His sight zoomed in on a faint mark on Lone's check, almost hidden by his hair. He reached out and fingered it gently, feeling the shape there easily.

"Did you find something?" Serena asked, knowing Jim as well as she did she would expect nothing less.

Jim shook his head. "Uh, no, no, sorry. It was nothing. Chief, could I see you outside for a second? Thanks very much, Serena. I appreciate it."

Jim and Blair stepped outside the locker room, Jim's hand tight on Blair's forearm.

"What was it?"

Jim let go of his hold on Blair and turned to face him. "An impression in the skin where he was hit, like from a ring."

"Well, could you make out what it was?" There was no question of suicide, regardless of what it looked like. Of that Jim had not doubts and it was obvious to him from Blair's question that the observer didn't have doubts either.

"It's a Marine Corps insignia like the one Marshall was wearing." Jim turned on his heel and headed for the front door and his truck.

"Jim, where are we going?" Blair called as he jogged to keep up.

"The station."

~~~~~~~~

Twenty minutes later a forensics technician brought in one of the blown tires from the van into the observation room for Jim and Blair to examine.

"All right, set it right down here. That's nice." Jim pointed to the table near him. The lab tech eased the tire down and stepped back.

"We collected some residual material off the armoured truck tire, but it will be another 24 hours before the test results are final," the tech told them.

"Thanks. I just wanted to take a look at it."

"Knock yourself out, Detective." The man grinned before leaving them alone.

"Oh, hey, Jim, you know what I just realized? You never gave me back my hundred bucks."

Jim didn't even glance at him as he examined the remains of the tire. "Got logged in with the evidence probably."

"Wait a minute. It probably what?"

Jim looked up briefly, just now catching the signs of tension Blair had been trying to hide. Blair stared at him with a stunned expression. "It's all on its way to Washington to the Secret Service."

Blair shook his head in disbelief. "Ah, Jim. What...?"

"Don't worry about it. The department will make good on it."

"They won't make good on it. My hundred bucks is lost in some bureaucratic abyss and that's okay. What are you looking for?"

Jim decided to over look whatever had Sandburg in a snit about his precious hundred bucks. They would have time to clear it up after the case. Right now they had a job to do. "I'm looking for whatever blew out this tire."

A vague scent drifted up and he caught it, filtered the others out and focused on a familiar odour. "It's petroleum jelly."

"Well, that's weird."

Jim zoomed in on the tire trying to see what the jelly would be used with. He saw a piece of copper wire. Retrieving a pair of tweezers, he pulled it out and placed it into a plastic evidence bag.

"I didn't realize copper wire was a common component in the average truck tire."

"You think there was some kind of charge?" Blair asked, staring at the wire.

"Triggered remotely," Jim supplied.

"Why wouldn't they just set it off from inside the truck?"

"Well, they could have, but then they would have to dispose of a triggering device."

"Jim! We came up empty. We had stake-outs at their houses all night. APB's out on both of them. Marshall and Trout have vanished," Simon told them as he entered.

"You think they'd kill their co-worker and stick around?" Disappointment struck Jim deep but he pushed it aside, settling into the familiar use of sarcasm as a weapon to hide his emotions. *Of course it wouldn't be that easy.*

Simon ignored the sarcasm and continued speaking, "Any chance these guys pulled the armoured truck job on their own?"

"I doubt it. Those clowns aren't sharp enough," Jim informed him.

Blair glanced at Jim. "Who else are we looking for?"

"Whoever came up with counterfeit dough and the plan to get rid of it. I don't know, Chief." Jim turned to Simon. "What do you have?"

"Do we have any witnesses on the crash?" Simon asked.

"Well, we got a potential, but he's not talking."

"Use some of that Ellison charm. Get him to talk."

"Right."

~~~~~~~~

Same Day – Same Time

"126 Hester Street. This Jones guy better show up," Marshall complained as he and Don Trout made their way inside the rundown tenement. They headed up the stairs until they found the apartment they were looking for.

"Here it is." Marshall knocked on the door but there was no answer.

Trout shook his head at the door. "See if you can open it."

Marshall tried door. The knob was unlocked and turned easily under his hand. "This guy likes to keep his identity secret. Maybe he just left the money for us to pick up."

He pushed the door open and started forward into the darkened interior. Both men stepped partially inside. Seconds later the room exploded in a huge ball of flame. All the windows of the top floor of the building blew out while the street was filled with frightened screams. As the fire crackled loudly above a crowd of stunned watchers in the streets, some clear headed individual raced off to call the fire department.

~~~~~~~~

"We got a positive ID on the victims. The guy's name was a Dwight Marshall and the other one was a Donald Trout," Joel Taggart said as Jim approached with Blair hot on his heels. The fire had finally been put out and the fire crew had declared it safe.

"There go your murder suspects," Blair grumbled as he turned to watch the firemen clean up their hoses. The entire block had been cordoned off with yellow tape, which seemed to contain the ensuing chaos. Police and firefighters scurried about like ants at a picnic as they picked up their equipment, spoke to witnesses and generally dealt with the aftermath of a fire.

The building seemed to be intact with only the upper floors blackened and charred from the fire. He'd seen enough explosions in the past couple of years to recognize the signs. It was obvious even without having been told. He tuned back into the conversation his partner was having with Joel.

Jim asked, "What's left of the bodies?"

Joel snorted. "Not much at all. The blast pretty much destroyed everything."

"We'll double check with dental about that just to be sure."

Blair shuddered at the thought but he followed as the two men made their way inside the now cleared building. Winding their way past straggling fire fighters carrying equipment downstairs while the three headed up to the floor where the explosion had occurred.

Joel brought up the subject of the blown tires. "You said there were traces of petroleum jelly?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah, and evidence of copper wire."

"You know, it sounds like a potassium chloride device. All you have to do is add the chemical with the jelly, set it off with an electrical charge. That's more than enough to blow out a tire," Joel told Jim thoughtfully.

"You're saying this charge could be detonated with a remote triggering device?"

"Absolutely."

"What caused this, a bomb?" Blair asked, indicating the door they were approaching.

"No, simpler than that. A valve was left open, the apartment filled with gas, something set it off, and bang. Two dead bodies and one a hell of a mess," Joel told him.

"Any idea what set it off?" Jim asked, stopping in the hallway.

Joel paused and looked at him. "No, not at all."

Jim glanced at his feet and snickered. "Hey, Chief."

"Yeah." He looked down to check what Jim was looking at and saw the outline of the body. It took a second to realize where he was standing. He jumped back bringing a bark of laughter from his best friend. "Whoa! That's a fresh one, too."

An officer approached the three men and spoke, "Captain Taggert. The owner of the building is here."

"Okay, I'll see you guys downstairs," Joel said before heading back downstairs.

Blair watched as Jim nodded agreement then proceeded into the burnt out apartment. Blair followed.

"Man! Smells like a big burnt match in here," Jim complained.

Blair threw out his arm wide with a grin. "That's because it's toast in here."

"No, no, no -- something distinct. Phosphorus… sulphur. Yeah, it's coming from over here by the door. It's covered with the stuff. Chief, let me have your Swiss Army knife. And something waxy here, too, like, uh… like paraffin."

Blair handed him the knife, trying to comprehend what Jim was saying exactly. He watched as Jim used the knife to spear a piece of wood. "You just described the head of a match, man."

"This is the bottom of the door here. This is the hinge side. So, when the door opened up, maybe there was a sulphur preparation of some sort on the bottom of the door that would correspond to a striking surface on the floor." He dropped the one piece and used the knife to pick up another. "Sandpaper. Whew, man! Marshall and Trout were probably told to come here. The gas was left on. They opened the door. Say good night. There's your match."

Blair took the knife back from Jim and slid it back into his pocket. The two men made their way back downstairs and outside.

"My guess is that we find out who killed Trout and Marshall, we're going to find the real two million."

~~~~~~~~

Joel was speaking with another man, but looked up as they exited the front door. "Hey, Jim."

"See you at the car." Jim heard Blair's words just before he walked away. Jim's attention was already on Joel so he merely grunted a response before heading over to join Joel and the other man who were conversing near one of those new luxury sedans. The stranger leaned against it, arms crossed against his chest but they loosened as Jim reached them. He held out a hand to Jim in greeting.

"This is Adam Latham. He owns the building. Detective Ellison," Joel introduced the two men.

"Captain Taggert didn't have information on the victims," Latham volunteered. He was a well dressed man in his early to mid fifties with a receding hair line. His voice was lightly accented when he spoke and he seemed friendly enough.

Jim nodded agreement. "Positive identification could take a couple of days. Besides yourself, Mr. Latham, who else had access to the building?"

"Well, technically, no one, but I'm afraid I've seen this kind of thing before. Transients, junkies...they become squatters. Open up the gas lines for cooking and heat, and, well...you see what can happen."

"What's the status of the building?" Jim asked.

"It's scheduled for demolition. We're going to build some liveable, affordable housing for these people down here. Slowly, but surely, we're trying to renew the neighbourhood." Jim catalogued Latham with his senses. Respiration was a little fast but not unduly so considering he'd just lost a building in an explosion. His heartbeat was the same but again understandable.

"Mr. Latham, if I have any other questions…"

"Captain Taggert has my number."

A car honking it’s horn caused Jim to turn around. As he turned to look a black car parked across the street caught his attention . Zooming his vision in he recognized Burt Ungar watching them through a pair of binoculars. When his gaze met Ungar's, the slime threw the binoculars onto the passenger seat, slammed the car into gear and took off.

~~~~~~~~

Blair grinned as he caught sight of Daryl Banks once more waiting for the bus next to the convenience store about a block and a half from the burnt out building. He muttered something to Jim about meeting him at the truck and jogged over, not waiting for a reply. "Hey Daryl? What's up?"

"Hey Blair. Still investigating that armoured car thing?"

"Yeah. You didn't see it did you?"

"Nah, I caught the bus before it happened. Guess nobody's talkin', huh?"

"Nope." Blair shook his head as his eyes came to rest on Simon's son's face. "So what are you doing down this way. I thought you and your mom lived in Hastings?"

"Yeah but I play ball with a couple of guys from school who live down here. You were with Jim when he talked to Marcus before."

"Right. Nice guy. Do you know if he saw anything."

"Blair, man. He ain't sayin', you know?" Daryl rolled his eyes. "These are good people here."

"I know, Daryl. I never said they weren't and you're not the first to point that out. I'm just asking. Two men were just killed up the street and we think this is connected since they were Jim's suspects. Anything you know might help." Eyes widened in a pleading gesture as Blair waited patiently for Daryl to come to some kind of conclusion.

"I don't really know much. I know Marcus' old man is in the middle of some sorta rent strike with his landlord. The guy is scum and won't fix nothin', you know? Everyone in this neighbourhood knows he's bad news and everybody avoids him. If anything dirty goes down here he's in it, somehow. That's all I know."

"That's a big help Daryl. Thanks man. I gotta get back but you hang tight. Later."

"Later, dude." Daryl watched as Blair ran back towards the end of the street. Two minutes later the bus rounded the corner and Daryl was gone.

Blair climbed into the truck to wait for Jim to finish up with Joel and join him. "Hey, I got news, man."

"What's up, Chief?"

"I just saw Daryl again and I think maybe we need to have another talk with our witness, like Simon said. Daryl said that Marcus Watson's father is in the middle of some sort of rent strike with a guy who has his hands in everything down in Southtown. Maybe Marcus or his father knows something more about this."

"Maybe Chief. Let's go talk to the man." Jim put the truck into drive and pulled away. "Good work, Chief."

The heat from the rare praise warmed Blair from the inside and he didn't try to hide the grin which lit his face.


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


Same Day – Fifteen minutes later

"I'm through talking. I'm through messing around. You tell everyone in the building that the rent is past due. If I don't get it today, they're out of here." Ungar was pressing Watson against the wall, his larger body holding him there. He didn't mind playing the heavy, was thrilled by it actually. It was just too bad his boss didn't want any damage done… yet!

He was just getting ready to show some of his 'control' when he heard footsteps coming. Not wanting witnesses to this little altercation with the leader of the newly formed 'Tenant's Committee,' he stepped back.

Watson regained his equilibrium and told him, "I've told you our conditions."

"Your condition is going to be critical unless you pay up." He started to move away but paused. "Just don't forget what I said yesterday. This is your last chance." The footsteps had stopped and he knew that whoever the footsteps had belonged to were now directly behind him. He turned to face the interlopers.

"Is there a problem here?" The taller of the two men asked. Ungar knew without a doubt that this was a cop but it couldn't hurt to be sure. "Who the hell are you?"

"I'm Detective Ellison. Are you the landlord?"

Ungar cringed, inwardly at the man's tone. It wouldn't do well to piss his boss off by letting everyone know who the man was. Especially a cop. "More or less," he answered.

"Well, 'more or less,' I think you better watch what you say to these people. I don't want to hear of any trouble."

Ungar sneered, "Thanks for the advice."

"By the way, I'll be calling in an extra patrol around the building for the next few days." The cop called after his retreating back. Ungar fought back a half-assed laugh. *Right,* he thought but instead replied, "Good for you."

Then he was gone.

~~~~~~~~

"Thank you, Detective."

"Someone should get him a muzzle. Are you Marcus Watson's father?" Jim asked.

"Yes, I'm Tyler Watson, but Marcus is not here," the older man replied.

"I just wanted to ask him a few questions. We think he might be a witness in the armoured car crash," Jim told him.

"All right. Come in." Watson stood back and let the two men enter. "A lot of people down here think the cops are scamming them. Saying the money's counterfeit to get them to turn it in."

Jim smiled politely. "I'm sure the rumours are lying. Do you know if Marcus by any chance brought any money home?"

Watson immediately defended his son, "No, he's a good kid, Detective."

Jim hurried to placate the man. "I'm not doubting that, Mr. Watson, but in the excitement of it all, I would imagine a lot of good people might have picked up money without thinking about it."

"I suppose if he was right there, Marcus could have grabbed some, but he never even told me he was there."

Blair pitched in with a wry grin of self-deprecation. "Well, I don't envy your position here, Mr. Watson, having to raise a teenager all by yourself. I know my mom didn't have an easy time either."

Watson nodded. "Sometimes, it seems everything is working against you."

"You must have a lot on your plate, sir." Jim rose, unhappy at not having the opportunity to speak to the young high school student again. "I'd really like to speak to your son. Please give him my card when you see him. I'd appreciate it."

Watson took the card, reading it briefly before looking back up at the detective. "You bet I'll be talking to him. I want to know what the hell that boy's been up to."

"Thank you. Oh, one other thing. What can you tell me about Burt Ungar?" Jim asked as he and Blair rose to their feet.

"The man is scum but, other than that, don't know much about him. He and his cronies collect rent, evict tenants and make serious nuisances of themselves. Don't know more than that."

"Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Watson. Good bye." They were politely shown out.

~~~~~~~~

"I guess the goon squad ain't got here yet, huh?" Marcus scoffed as he entered the apartment to find his father alone and sitting at the kitchen table. He was kinda surprised not to find all their belongings on the sidewalk, after all that was what Ungar promised every time he came and one day it would happen, and soon if his father didn't stop pushing the man's buttons.

"Marcus…"

"Dad, why don't you just pay the man? I mean, face it, they got us." Marcus continued, ignoring the tone in his father’s voice. The thought that they could lose their home made Marcus even more upset and it came out as belligerence.

"A Detective Ellison was here earlier. He wants to talk to you about that armoured truck crash." Marcus stared at his father. Fear, confusion and anger all mixed together until he wasn't sure which was worse. Finally, fear won out.

Marcus blanched as much as his dark skin allowed. "I already talked to him and I told him just what I'm going to tell you -- I didn't see a thing."

Tyler Watson pulled out a wad of money and slapped it on the table. "I was dusting your room. I found this in your dictionary."

"I know you're not going to be buggin' me over that, are you?" Marcus retaliated defensively. He loved his father as much as he hated keeping things from him, but fear for the man and himself forced him to keep silent on this one topic.

"You bet your narrow behind I am." Tyler growled. Marcus winced at the anger in his father voice. Things were getting worse and time wasn't on their side. He struggled to determine how best to handle this situation, wishing once more that he was still too young to carry this kind of burden. He continued with his angry tirade, it seemed to mask most of the fear he felt.

"Well, then, you’re trippin' over a whole bunch of nothing! Or haven't you heard?" he began but his father cut in before he could finish his thoughts.

"I don't care. I don't care if this is as fake as the 'B' you tried to forge on your report card. You took something that isn't yours. The police are asking for it back."

"You think I'll be fool enough to turn that in? Dad, Serge said if I turn the money back in, the police will just think I stole it and arrest me."

"Serge is an idiot. And even if it were true, you are going to have to deal with it 'cause I'm not raising you to be a lowlife and a good-for-nothing like the people on the streets around here. Do you understand me?" Tyler stood, towering over his son who ducked his head in shame.

"Yes, sir."

"And while we're at it… these are going back." He placed the new and very expensive running shoes on the table. Marcus groaned but nodded.

~~~~~~~~

After leaving the Watson's and searching futilely for Ungar, Jim and Blair returned to the Southtown Community Command Post. The small office was almost completely empty and of those who remained, all were uniformed officers, including Rafe.

"What's happening, Rafe? Anything new?" Jim asked.

"Nothing's been turned in. Rumours are flying out on the street: They bring it in, we'll bust them; or we're lying and the money is real; or the whole thing is some sort of government plot to make the community look bad." Rafe told them. His frustration was beginning to show in his tone. He gave them a wry grin even as he shook his head.

"And the conspiracy theories have begun," Blair stated in a sarcastic wise-cracking voice. Jim cuffed his head lightly but had to agree.

"Yeah…" Rafe began. He cut off as Jim turned toward the door to see Tyler and Marcus Watson enter the building.

"Mr. Watson. Marcus," Jim greeted the two in a friendly tone. He held out his hand in greeting to the older man who shook it firmly.

"Detective. You were right. Marcus does have something that doesn't belong to him," Tyler began. His hand tightened slightly on the young man's shoulder, giving him silent encouragement to speak.

Marcus handed over a wad of cash. "Here."

Jim accepted the money from the reluctant youth before handing it over to Rafe. "Rafe, thank you. I appreciate that, Marcus. I really do."

Marcus stared stunned. "Oh, so that's it? You're not going to bust me?"

Jim almost laughed, he knew what the kid was thinking, waiting for the cuffs to come out and for Jim to arrest him. "No. I would like to ask you some questions."

Marcus backed up hastily, his hands rising in a defensive gesture. He was obviously not liking where this was going. "I told you already, man. I don't know anything."

"Marcus, this isn't about the money anymore. The three guys in the armoured truck -- they're dead," Blair cut in in a soft tone.

"No, they're not just dead -- they were murdered. So help me out here," Jim interrupted Blair. His words and voice were harsh with his need for information. Frustration had hit them from every side with this case as the people of Southtown refused to cooperate, fearing something and someone too much to be willing to talk to the cops. Not to mention their understandable dislike for the police.

Marcus shook his head frantically. "I can't…"

"Marcus…" Tyler started to say but was cut off.

"He'll kill me, Dad! And you, too." The fear in the words was real and Jim sympathized with the young high school student.

"Nobody's going to get hurt here," he told the youth. He pushed back his annoyance, instead letting his natural protectiveness surface. He needed the information this boy had, but anger and accusations were not going to do it here. Honey was needed to catch this particular fly.

"Can you guarantee that?" Marcus asked, unsure.

"I can guarantee you that we're gonna do the best that we can to protect you," Jim replied.

"Look, son -- if you can help put a murderer behind bars…"

"Believe me, Dad… it ain't worth it." Marcus shook his head as if he'd made up his mind about what he was going to do. Jim knew it wasn't to give up the info. He sighed silently then reminded the boy of something the youth had said to him the other day.

"Marcus… you said there's some good people around here, yesterday. Remember that?"

"Yeah, I remember." Marcus nodded cautiously, as if not sure where the detective was going with this new approach.

"Well, I got a feeling I'm looking at one of them. So you got my card." He nodded a farewell and placing his hand on the small of Blair's back guiding him towards the door, leaving Marcus and his father staring after them.

Marcus called out, "Detective Ellison...well, about a block or so up the street, I… I saw a guy looking over the overpass with binoculars."

Jim turned back. "A black Chrysler?"

Marcus nodded. "Burt Ungar. I can show you where he hangs out."

~~~~~~~~

Same day – Early Evening

A chime rang out as the man exited the store and sauntered over to a black Chrysler. He leaned into the window.

"You go find Brill and McCoy. You tell him we got a building to evict and make sure they're packing," Ungar, seated in the car told the man, who nodded and stood, just as a blue truck pulled up across the street.

~~~~~~~~

"There's the car." Jim nodded towards the Chrysler. "And he's in it."

Jim flipped on his siren, and zipped across the street to park the truck next to the Chrysler. He got out of the truck, pulled out his gun, and pointed it at Ungar who had remained in the car as the other man had taken flight as soon as the siren sounded.

"All right, put your hands on the wheel where I can see them," Jim ordered. Ungar ignored him and took off, slipping the car between the truck and the sidewalk, clipping Jim's leg in the process and knocking him to the ground. The pain was severe and took Jim several moments to get to his feet. The dials slipped in and out of focus with the pain until Blair reached out to help him up. As soon as his friend touched him everything came into focus.

"Are you all right?" The concern in Blair's voice helped Jim focus and push the pain away. By the time he was able to see straight, the black car was gone, taking Ungar with it.

Jim cursed his own stupidity. "Yeah, fine."

Blair helped Jim to the passenger side of truck. "I'll get you to the hospital."

"No. Let's just go. Come on." Jim pushed Blair away indicating he should drive. With one last concerned glance, Blair climbed in and put the truck in gear, then waited for Jim who still stood outside the vehicle.

Jim picked up the radio and spoke to dispatch. "This is David 152 to all patrol units. I need an APB on a black Chrysler with gold trim, last seen headed eastbound on 22nd Street."

He climbed into the truck, obviously in great pain. "Let's go, let's go!"

Blair took off after a car neither could see any more.

~~~~~~~~

Day 3 – Mid Morning

Jim, limping slightly, entered the bullpen with Blair on his heels.

Jim saw Simon catch sight of them and rise. He stopped, hoping to turn around and leave before he had to admit his failure to find Burt Ungar. He forgot how close Blair was to him as the younger man bumped into him, jarring his injured leg.

"Ow!"

Blair reached out to steady the detective. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

"Man, I don't know what's worse -- walking around with you or getting whacked with that car. Will you watch where you're going?" The words came out harsher than he intended. It wasn’t Blair's fault that they lost the suspect. Nor was it his fault that it was too late to avoid Simon as he exited his office.

"Hey, Jim," Simon said, masking the trepidation in his voice.

Jim mentally shrugged and prepared himself for the upcoming confrontation. "Yeah?"

"You feeling all right?"

"I feel like I spent the night in an industrial dryer, sir." Jim grimaced, at the sarcasm in his voice, but pulled himself upright.

"Well, while you were being x-rayed, scanned and catching up on sleep, we managed to make some progress on the case." Simon indicated they should follow him back into his office.

"Did you manage to find Ungar?" Jim asked as they entered. Blair closed the door behind him.

"No, but we were able to access his bank accounts. This, uh, pay check was just deposited."

"Wait a minute. Ungar works for Elmwood Property Corporation?" Blair exclaimed, reading the piece of paper Simon handed him. He passed it over to Jim, who moved to sit on the edge of Simon's desk.

Simon jumped up and, placed a folder on the desk for Jim to keep the dirt from Jim’s slacks off his desk. "Oh, oh, easy, Jim. Come on."

Jim didn't even notice as he sat down and looked at the pay check.

"There's no company address, just a P.O. Box." Jim noticed.

"We managed to trace that P.O. Box to a Kathryn Marris. Chestnut Hills address."

"Is that name supposed to mean something?" Jim queried, handing back the slip of paper.

Simon shook his head. "Not until you realize that it is the maiden name of Adam Latham's wife."

"The guy who runs the tenements in Southtown?" Jim looked up, surprise written all over his face.

"Yeah, including the building where Trout and Marshall were killed."

"So you think Latham is behind the theft of the two million?" Blair asked.

"Not until a routine check of court proceedings that he may be involved in turned up this," Simon told them, pulling out another report. "The IRS just nailed Latham for a million and a half in back taxes."

Jim grinned. "Wow."

"No wonder Latham's in bad financial straits," Blair remarked.

"Yeah, and I got this for you to use. Some time today, gentlemen." With a grin, Simon handed a third piece of paper to Jim who glanced at it and shoved it into his jacket pocket.

"Well, you heard the man, Chief. Let's go."

~~~~~~~~

Four hours later, Blair was exhausted and he could easily see that Jim was in pain, though he'd refused to say a word or take a break.

"This is the sixth property of his we've checked on. Three look like they haven't had a tenant in years," Jim said as he limped towards the side door.

"And the ones that did weren't fit for human occupancy." Blair was disgusted by the state of the buildings he had seen. This was part of what weighed him down so much, not all of it was fatigue. "All right, come on Jim, you should be at home in bed, man."

"I may walk like Walter Brennan here Chief, but duty calls." The door before them was padlocked. "Smells like printer's ink."

"What?"

Jim pulled out a device to open the lock. "I've never used one of these things before."

"What is that? Oh, come on. That only works in the movies, man."

He fiddled with it for a few seconds before the click could be heard and the lock slipped open.

"Whoa."

"You had to be a smart ass, huh?" Jim teased as he pushed the door inwards.

"I'm no legal expert, but I don't think we can just walk right in here, can we?"

"Captain gave us a warrant. Gives us permission to get on any of Latham's properties." Jim patted his chest.

Blair enthusiasm returned. "Well, let's go."

"That smell is coming from over here somewhere. You don't smell that?" Jim asked as he flicked the flashlight on and moved further into the building.

Blair rolled his eyes as Jim's comment. Sometimes it was funny how the recalcitrant sentinel could forget he could see, hear and smell things no one else could. "No, Jim I don't smell anything."

On the wall nearby Blair located a light switch. "Dial it down, Jim I'll turn on the lights."

"If they work," Jim groused but followed the order. The overhead lights flared to life and revealed the grungy basement. In the middle of the room stood an old printing machine.

"Would you take a look at this? Looks like Latham wasn't only a moneygrubber. He's a money-maker," Jim said, picking up a piece of paper that was lying on the machine.

Blair leaned closer and saw what Jim meant. Perfectly printed $100 bills. "Wow."


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


Marcus entered the corner store he'd come to earlier, where he knew Ungar hung out. He hadn't seen the man, and didn't know if he was here, but he was determined to help now that he'd spilled his guts already. As a woman paid Kametlian, Marcus waited looking at the shelves of wares.

"Thanks," The woman said as she grabbed her groceries and left.

Kametlian watched the young black student. "You buying?"

"Oh, uh, my old man sent me down here to get some food," Marcus stammered. Kametlian handed him a basket, which Marcus started putting stuff in, not really noticing what he was adding. Half a minute later, the object of his query entered and walked to the back of the store.

"Watch the door, Leon," Ungar called out.

Marcus waited until Ungar had gone downstairs and Kametlian was not longer watching, then he put the basket down and left the store.

~~~~~~~~

"Oh, before I forget… Simon requisitioned that hundred dollar reimbursement for you," Jim said, pulling a flat envelope from his inside jacket pocket and handing it to Blair. They were heading back to the station after calling to let Simon know what they'd found. The captain had ordered them back while he got the arrest warrant. There was enough to bring Latham in for questioning in the counterfeiting ring plus ties to Ungar. The only thing left was to link the armoured car guards to Latham and this thing would be wrapped.

"All right! That was quick, man." He opened the envelope. "Wait. Man, would you look at this?"

"What?"

"Well, it's five twenties."

Jim looked at his friend in disbelief. "Take it to a bank and change it for a hundred dollar bill."

Blair shook his head. "The point is, Jim, I gave you guys a hundred dollar bill. I want to be reimbursed with a hundred dollar bill."

"You're kidding. Man, you're like a little kid with a security blanket with this thing." Jim's cell phone rang cutting off any further comment from Blair. He answered it. "Ellison."

<Yo, yo. This is Marcus Watson. I just saw Burt Ungar at Kametlian's store. If you hurry, you can catch him,>the youth said, speaking rapidly in hushed tones.

"Marcus, where are you calling from?"

<Look, I'm just outside…>Suddenly the words were cut off and the dial tone could be heard.

"Damn! Somebody's got him. Hold on." Jim tossed the phone to Blair who barely caught it as Jim did his famous 'middle of the street, tire screeching' turn, sending the observer into the door with a muffled 'oomph.' Seconds later they were headed back to Southtown.

~~~~~~~~

"Look, I'm just outside…" Marcus stopped suddenly as a hand appeared over his shoulder, pressing down the lever, hanging up the phone.

"In the car. Come on. Move!" The man pulled the boy out of the phone booth and pushed him in the direction of a black Chrysler.

Marcus winced as the hard muzzle of the gun pressed deeply into his side. He fought to keep the tears at bay but he was certain without a shadow of a doubt that he was about to die even as he climbed into the backseat with Latham right behind him.

~~~~~~~~

Ungar grabbed the suitcase from under the stairs and moved to the large white freezer half hidden in the corner of the musty basement. Opening the case and the freezer, he began unloading the bundles of bills from the freezer to the suitcase. Each bundle bringing him that much closer to the two million in stolen currency and freedom from this drab little town. He grinned in pleasure as his mind worked to figure out a way to get rid of his boss and keep the money all for himself.

When the case was full, he slammed the lid of the freezer shut, closed the briefcase and headed back up the stairs towards his car.

~~~~~~~~

"Give me your wallet. Hurry up!" Latham told the frightened youth as they waited for Ungar. Cringing, Marcus pulled it out.

"Don't…" Marcus began but he didn't know what he was asking for so he stopped. Fear coiled tightly in his belly as he dragged in harsh gulping breaths.

"Don't what?" Latham asked. The tone in his voice increased the fear levels in Marcus. He tried to draw himself into the seat further. "So who you talking to out there, hmm? Huh?"

Latham grabbed the wallet and smacked the gun down on the unprotected head of his prisoner. A sharp cry was forced from Marcus as pain flared through his head, breaking the first of his barriers, tears filled his eyes.

"You talking to the cops -- Marcus Jerome Watson? You live in the building I own on 23rd," Latham was still speaking, apparently not unaware of Marcus' fear.

"So you the slumlord, huh?" Marcus said, hiding his fear behind bravado.

"If you don't like it, move. Watson… Your father's the one causing all the trouble over there," Latham snarled, bringing the gun up once more.

Marcus froze, pulling further into himself as the muzzle of the gun rose.

~~~~~~~~

Ungar approached the black sedan. He could see to figures in the back seat. 'What the…?'

"What the hell's the kid doing here?" he asked in annoyance as Latham lowered the gun.

"If we run into resistance, a hostage could give us some leverage," Latham snapped at his employee.

"Come on, kill him. Let's go. The kid could ruin everything."

"I pay you to do that kind of work. Now, keep him covered." Latham got out of the back seat, gave the gun to Ungar, then grabbed the briefcase to put in the trunk.

Screeching tires caught the attention of both men freezing them in place momentarily as a now familiar blue truck turned the corner.

With a curse, Latham raced off, still holding the silver briefcase. Ungar was too distracted trying to avoid the truck that came to a halt not a foot from him when the kid in the car jumped out of the car and attacked him. Without thought, he raised the gun and brought it down sharply on the kid's head.

"All right, freeze! Put your hands up, turn and face the car," Ellison commanded him as he stepped out of the truck, his gun already in his hands. Ungar didn't watch as the unconscious youth crumpled to the ground at his feet. Instead, he complied, realizing he was good and caught and Latham had vanished with the money. He raised his hands and turned as ordered. Hands pushed him forward until he was pressed against the side of the Chrysler. One cold metal bracelet wrapped around his wrist and snapped shut with an ominous click.

~~~~~~~~

"Jim, Latham's getting away!" Blair exclaimed.

"I know, I got 'im," Jim told his partner as he pulled Ungar's hands behind the criminal's back. He nodded towards the car door. "Chief, close that door."

Sandburg closed the car door as he finished cuffing Ungar. Jim handed Ungar's weapon to Blair along with his cell phone. "All right. Call for backup. Keep him against the car."

Blair nodded as Jim took off after Latham. Jim had kept part of his hearing on the escaping businessman. Now however, he pushed his hearing out until he caught the sounds of his target, he chased after the slumlord. It took several minutes to finally catch sight of the man in the train yards. Jim followed him through the yards and onto another street. Relentlessly he pursued the man forcibly ignoring the fiery pain shooting through his injured leg.

"Hold it right there, Latham," Jim called but was ignored. The man ahead of him merely picked up the pace forcing Jim to follow painfully.

Jim was so focussed on ignoring the pain and keeping Latham in sight that he didn't see the familiar figure getting off the downtown bus. Nor did he hear the voice calling out his name. He concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

Ahead, Latham rounded a corner and vanished from sight. It took him forever to turn the same corner. Latham had disappeared.

Jim cursed as he looked around. He pushed out his hearing again, listening for the strained breathing of a man who'd been running hard. The agony of his leg made it hard to concentrate. He limped in the direction he'd been going, still listening hard for any sound of his quarry.

Focusing his hearing ahead of him, Jim never heard Latham as he exited the alley directly behind him.

"Detective, Look out!" a voice called out. Jim turned, drawing his gun as a body barrelled into Latham, knocking him down. The man moved faster than Jim would have given him credit for. Before he had a chance to do anything more than bring his gun to bear, Latham had grabbed the youth around the throat, drawing them both back to their feet, his gun pressed into the temple of… Daryl Banks.

Fear-filled eyes gazed trustingly back at Ellison. He shook his head mentally as he aimed at Latham who used the innocent boy as a shield.

"Drop your gun, Detective," Latham demanded, pushing the muzzle of the weapon in harder, drawing a wince from the scared youth.

"I don't think so. You can't go anywhere, Latham. Cops already know you're involved. No matter where you run, there will be cops after you. You really want to add another murder to your charges?"

"Hell, I already got two what's one more?" Latham scoffed. "But see, I am leaving here. And I will take this kid if you don't drop your gun. NOW!"

Jim shook his head slowly. Out of the corner of his eye he saw another reckless young man approaching from behind the slumlord. He held a piece of pipe in one hand and a grimace of distaste on his face.

"You don't stand a chance, Latham. One last chance to put down your weapon and let the kid go," Jim told the man, keeping his attention away from Blair.

"I don't…"

"Do as the man says," Blair told the man, pressing the end of his pipe into Latham's back. Latham stiffened but seemed to realize the hopelessness of his situation. He lowered his weapon and released Daryl who immediately moved out of the way. Blair moved his hand to take the gun from Latham, but before he was able to Latham pulled it up and aimed at Jim. Why they would never figure out. Jim had to defend himself and instinct took over. When it was over, Latham lay dead at Blair's feet and Jim was on one knee, weapon aimed forward.

He rose uneasily and moved to check the body.

"He's gone," Jim said as back up finally arrived.

~~~~~~~~

Jim pulled the truck to a halt in front of Hanson Place. It was a busy place this time of day with people moving about painting, cleaning, moving things around. It looked a little like an ant hill with ladders everywhere and bodies in constant movement. He grinned at the sly comments Blair made under his breath about anal retentive roommates. It was a conversation they would be getting back to, he knew.

"Looks good," Jim commented as he approached Tyler Watson and his son.

"Would you like to grab a brush?" Tyler half-joked.

"You want paint every other place than where it should go?" Jim teased.

They all chuckled and any left over tension was drained away.

"What's going on here?" Jim asked, nodding at the workers.

"With the owner's death the building fell into receivership. The mayor needed to score some inner city points so he sold the building to the tenants for a dollar."

"Nice," Jim said in approval.

"The money you're saving in rent you get to put towards making yourselves a decent place to live. It's great, look at it. The community coming together," Blair cut in with a little bounce. "It's so cool."

Jim acknowledged the younger Watson. "Marcus."

"Hey, what's up, man?"

"I have some good news. That chump Burt Ungar -- he decided to cop a guilty plea and you're not going to have to testify," Jim told the youth.

"Whew," Marcus breathed a heavy sigh of relief then had the grace to look chagrined. "Now, y'all know I would have did it if I had to, right?"

Jim smiled, clapping his hands together. "I never had my doubts."

"So… now that you believe me, think there's a couple of righteous people in Southtown?"

"I can see there's quite a few," Jim agreed.

"Thanks, man." Marcus smiled happily.

"You know, I was thinking. Since you're going to get your diploma, you might want to consider the Police Academy."

"Uh-uh. I mean, uh...y'all have too many punk ass rules for me."

Jim and Blair chuckled along with Tyler. Blair nodded heartily in agreement, catching Jim's eye with a twinkle in his own.

"Yeah, you got a point. I'll see you around."

"All right." Marcus nodded and went back to his painting.

"Later," Blair called. The two walked the short distance back to the truck.

"You know…" Jim started.

"Are you still hurting from the accident?" Blair asked, commenting on Jim's limp just as the older man suspected he would. He hid the grin as he answered Blair.

"No, no, no, I got a splinter in my foot from that wood you scattered all over the bathroom floor."

Blair snickered. "Jim, that's red cedar. It's a natural deodorizer." Jim watched the younger man as he tried to keep a neutral look on his face.

As they climbed into the truck, Jim made one final comment.

"I got three words for you, Chief -- use the spray."

Bubbles of laughter grew more and more as the two friends drove away, heading for home.


~ The End ~

 

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