Redhawke.org
Foreign Exchange
Foreign Exchange
By Chrys

Beta Read by: Lady Shelley
Written for PetFly by:
Teleplay by: Gail Morgan Hickman & David H. Balkan
Story by: Harold Apter & Laurence Frank
Rated PG
internal thought in * *

~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~
Blair grinned to himself as he came out of the airport's doors into the pick-up circle. Jim and Simon were engrossed in admiring Simon's new car. The silver vehicle gleamed in the artificial lighting almost as brightly as Simon's face had when he'd taken them into the police garage on their way to the airport. He was proud of it, that was for sure. And Blair would bet anything that Jim was ragging him about it.

He walked closer quietly, his grin widening as he overheard their conversation.

"Nothing like the smell of a new car, huh?" Jim shook his head admiringly. "Check out this paint job." He leaned over, peering intently at the hood. "Nice. Very nice, except for this ding right here."

"What ding?" Simon exclaimed, pushing Jim slightly to the side as he bent over to look at the hood. "Where? Where?"

Jim began to laugh, and Simon growled at him. "You're very funny. Did I tell you you're a funny man?" He aimed a half-hearted blow at Jim's arm, which the detective didn't bother to evade. "Get your hands off the paint job!"

Blair snickered to himself as the two men stood straight. They turned around, obviously hearing him. He smiled at them innocently, catching Jim's amused eyes with his own.

"Her plane's in," he reported, "but she's not at the gate. She's not at the baggage carousel, so I guess she's probably stuck in customs or something."

Simon nodded. "You use the courtesy telephone, page her?"

Blair grinned. "I told them to tell her that there were three handsome guys waiting by a silver car."

"Huh," Simon said. "I see two." He laughed, the sound echoed by Jim.

"Yeah," the detective agreed. "That's my count." He shrugged. "Why doesn't she just take a cab?"

"Well, she's a visiting officer, Jim," Simon explained again. "It's not proper protocol."

Blair sighed at the sentinel's mutinous expression, but kept his mouth shut as Jim spoke again. They'd been through this.

"So when can we expect the marching band?" Jim asked. Simon scowled at him.

"The officer exchange program is vital to the department for upgrading its training."

Blair turned away from the two cops, studying the surrounding area. He caught the doors opening out of the corner of his eye and focused his attention on them. A tall red haired woman came out, carrying a couple of suitcases. He wondered who in the world had told her that the pink lining to her coat was attractive. He could hear Jim talking to Simon, still complaining about the exchange program, and turned his attention back to the other men.

"I got the memo, Captain." Jim shrugged. "The last thing I need are tips from some female Crocodile Dundee out to bust beer-soaked kangaroos."

Blair's eyes widened as he saw the woman walking up behind Jim. Her face was a mixture between amusement and annoyance, and he winced as she opened her mouth.

A polite, accented voice emerged, and Jim started, his face turning slightly red as he turned around.

"The only crocs I've seen are at the Sydney Zoo and the roos I know prefer vodka."

Jim fumbled for words, then just turned away. The woman smiled and looked at Simon. "Inspector Megan Connor, New South Wales Police Services."

Simon smiled widely. "Inspector Connor, I'm Captain Simon Banks, Major Crimes Cascade Police Department."

"Pleasure," she said, then looked at Blair.

"Hi." He offered his hand. "I'm Blair Sandburg."

"You must work Narcotics."

He dropped the hand again. "Uh...no. Actually, I'm a consultant to the department."

Megan's eyebrows rose. "On what?" There was no answer to her question and she shrugged. "I suppose I'll find out." Her voice sharpened. "And the comedian is?"

Jim turned back to the other three. Blair had to admire his composure, actually, as he introduced himself and apologized for the comment he'd made. Megan smiled at him.

"I like a man who says what he feels even if his statements are wrong."

Simon laughed, the sound cutting to chuckles as Jim glared at him. "I'll help you with your bags," he said, still chuckling.

"Thank you," Megan smiled. "I've a couple more over here. I wasn't sure what gear I'd need for your lovely attempt at spring." As she moved toward the trunk, a sky hop followed with a laden cart. Blair laughed, making Simon growl at him.

"Sandburg, give me a hand." He pushed Blair lightly toward the cart. "Get, get."

Blair kept laughing as he complied, helping Simon load the baggage into the car. He looked up briefly as he heard Jim mutter something to himself, then shrugged and returned to what he was doing. The sentinel was in a snit, and he'd be no good company until he worked his way out of it. *He doesn't like the idea that he needs someone else to help him protect his city,* the anthropologist thought. *Even if it's true.*

~~~~~~~~

Jim curled his upper lip as he looked away from the car. Simon and Blair were busily dealing with the Australian's bags, and even if Jim had wanted to help them, there was no room for three at the cart. Not that he wanted to, though. Something about the woman was rubbing him the wrong way, and he didn't think it was embarrassment over his comment, either. He felt his lips curve slightly upward. "She looks like Cruella de Vil," he muttered to himself.

It was an unfair comment, and he knew it even as he made it. But Megan Connor set his teeth on edge the same way the movie character had done when he was a child.

Shaking off the feeling, he ran his eyes idly over the nearby area, stiffening as he spotted the familiar shape of a gun. Almost automatically, he opened up his vision, focusing on two men in a dark van. They were both looking in the same direction, intent on something, and he followed their gaze, stiffening as a security guard emerged from the currency exchange office they were focused on.

One of the gunmen jumped out of the van, pointing a gun at the surprised guard. "Don't move!" he yelled. A third armed man appeared from behind the guard, pushing him against the wall and spraying him in the face. Jim's nostrils twitched and even from this distance, he could smell the pepper in the spray. He cleared his throat, moving toward the back of the car as he watched the robbery continue.

"Kick it over," the man holding the gun said. The guard, gagging from the spray, dropped his gun onto the pavement and kicked it toward the gunman, who stepped over it. "Now, lie on your stomach," he ordered. "Move! Come on. Let's go!"

The robbers piled into the van as Jim rounded the back of Simon's car, grabbing the trunk and slamming it closed. Simon stared at him in surprise. Jim ignored him as he pushed past, sliding into the driver's seat. As he started the car, Simon climbed into the passenger's seat.

"What are you doing? Jim?"

Jim glanced over at him briefly. "Armored car heist in progress, sir."

"So what are you doing, taking my car?" Simon growled. "Let me drive!"

Jim just shook his head as he gunned the engine, sending the car screeching in pursuit of the stolen vehicle. There was no time to waste in switching drivers. Besides, he was better at pursuit than Simon was.

~~~~~~~~

Blair stared open-mouthed at the retreating back end of the silver car his sentinel had just left in. He had heard the low voiced words 'armored car heist'. Shaking his head, he wondered if there would ever be a day when something bizarre *didn't* happen to them.

"We've got to back them up."

The Australian cop's voice rang in his ears and he transferred his stare to her. "What are you talking about? With what? They took the car."

She just shrugged and stepped into the pick-up lane, pulling her badge out and flashing it in front of a surprised taxi driver. Blair winced at the sound of screeching wheels as the cab came to an abrupt stop.

"Halt!" Megan demanded. "Police emergency. I need your vehicle."

She ran to the side of the car, pulling the startled driver out. "Thanks," she said briefly as she settled behind the wheel. "Come on, Sandy!"

Blair blinked, but climbed into the car. "Sandy?" he asked. Megan ignored him, the car squealing as she accelerated. He grabbed for his seatbelt, fumbling it as they went around a corner hard. Behind them, the cab driver's outraged yells faded rapidly.

Still trying to fasten his seatbelt, Blair gasped as they went around another corner. They were heading into the parking garage above the pick-up area. The Australian detective was putting on her own belt almost absently, her eyes scanning the road ahead of them.

"Where the hell are they?" she growled in frustration, rounding another corner. A van was headed right at them, and she honked the horn. "Out of the way! Get off the road!" she yelled.

Proud of himself for keeping his voice at all even, Blair told her to turn, just as they swerved out of the way of the approaching vehicle. He took a deep breath, then spoke again.

"I think I should point out we drive on the right side of the road."

Megan glanced over at him briefly. "I knew that," she said. Her voice was nonchalant, but Blair noticed in relief that she stayed toward the right as they accelerated again.

Catching a glimpse of Simon's car, Blair pointed. Megan nodded, spinning the cab's steering wheel and heading down the ramp he'd gestured to. As they neared the bottom, another car started up. "Move it, jocko!" Megan yelled as she hit the horn again. The confused motorist backed up, and Megan took off again, following Simon's car.

~~~~~~~~

Vaguely aware of the cab following them, Jim careened down the ramps of the parking garage, his attention focused on the van fleeing them. Having called in the situation, Simon clutched at the dash, alternating between searching for the perps and moaning as Jim gunned his new car's engine. Jim had assured him that things would work out just fine, then ignored the captain as he drove in pursuit of the criminals. The car wasn't even scratched, after all. Some near misses, but nothing had happened.

The van turned to go down an aisle in the third level. Jim turned to drive parallel to them, hoping to cut them off before the next down ramp. He winced as they fired at the car, hearing the impacts peel the pristine surface backward. Beside him, Simon moaned in despair.

Shaking off the sound, Jim swerved, heading toward the aisle the van was in. Cutting a corner a bit close, he felt the brief impact as a concrete pillar tore off the passenger side mirror. Knowing it would get him in trouble later, he couldn't resist. "We're fine, sir," he said. "We only needed one mirror."

In the far end of the garage, he spotted the taxi cab, its yellow paint vivid in the dimly lit garage. Curious, he focused on it for a second, smiling as he heard Blair's voice. Apparently the Aussie wanted him to shoot at the van. *Good luck with that, Connor.* The cab headed down the aisle toward the van, apparently aiming for a head on collision. Grimly, Jim kept to his own pursuit, refusing to think about what would happen if the two vehicles collided.

At the last moment, the van's tires squealing, the armored vehicle turned to go down an exit ramp. Jim spun the wheel, sending Simon's car after it, the taxi following them. Simon put his arm out the window, aiming his gun at the van.

"I'll try and get off a shot," the captain said. Jim grunted, then swore under his breath as another car headed up the ramp. There wasn't enough room for two vehicles - what was the idiot thinking? "Pull your arm in," he said. Simon ignored him. Jim reached out and pulled the captain back into the car. He'd rather damage the car than Simon's arm. The passing vehicle scraped off the remaining side mirror as it squeezed by. *I am in such trouble.*

Continuing down the ramp, Jim felt the car shudder under more bullet impacts. Simon swore and shot back at the fleeing criminals.

"I'm sorry, sir," Jim offered, knowing it wasn't enough. Simon glared at him.

"Just get after them while we still have wheels!" the captain ordered.

Jim nodded, glancing in the rear view long enough to see Megan and Blair back up the ramp and take another one down. *Oh, crap. I was going down an up ramp.* He shrugged, then took off after the van. It wasn't like he'd had any choice, after all.

Simon shot repeatedly after the van, his bullets seeming to have no effect. The silver car flew after it, then Jim noticed the cab pulling down a ramp ahead of the van. It slewed around, ending up angled across the aisle way. He could hear Blair's panicked voice, then the impact of metal on metal drowned it out.

*Oh, God. Blair's in that car.*

Pushing down the worry for his guide, Jim pulled Simon's car to a halt behind the crumpled vehicles. Simon jumped out, his gun at full extension as he approached the criminals. Jim followed suit, catching a glimpse of Blair standing to the side of the wreck. Relieved, he put his full attention on the perps.

"Out of the car! Now!" Simon growled.

The robbers obeyed their movements slow and careful.

"Hands where I can see them! Weapons down! Move! Let's go!"

Jim walked to his captain's side. "Put your hands on the hood over here," he added to Simon's commands, pushing the van's driver toward the taxi. "Face down! Face down!"

Megan came up alongside them, grabbing one of the perps and expertly placing cuffs even as Jim did the same with the driver. He looked at her for a moment, meeting eyes full of challenge, then nodded slowly. "All right. Cover them, Connor."

He looked around for Simon, wincing as he spotted the captain, who stood mournfully in front of his battered car. Taking a deep breath, he walked over to join the other man.

"Now, Captain," he said, "I do not want you to worry about this. A little bondo, a paint job, she'll be as good as new. I guarantee it."

He reached out and slapped the silver hood. The car shuddered and the driver's door fell off, the impact sending a ringing sound through the garage. Jim looked at Simon, meeting accusing eyes for a moment, then looked away. He expected the captain to explode. When he didn't, Jim knew it was going to be bad. Really bad. He blew out a long breath, then turned and walked toward the taxi, where Connor still had the perps lying face down over the hood.

It would be safer there.

~~~~~~~~

The other detectives' heads were down, Jim noticed as they entered the bullpen a couple of hours after the car chase at the airport, he and Blair trailing after Simon, and the detectives themselves were studiously working. He didn't blame them. When Simon was in this kind of mood, it wasn't wise to attract his attention. He'd mellowed a bit since the computer database had popped up the names of the captured gunmen - wanted for armed robbery in three states and murder in one - but still wasn't over the car.

Jim really didn't think he'd be over the car any time soon.

As they neared the door to Simon's office, the captain turned and glared at Jim again.

"Do you have any idea how long I've been waiting for the department to authorize a new car?" he demanded. "And how many days of pleasure do I get? Three!"

Jim sighed. "Captain, what was I supposed to do, let the guys go?"

Simon growled under his breath, then shook his head. "No, you weren't supposed to let them go." He turned back toward the door, tossing a comment over his shoulder. "But what is it with you and cars anyway? Somebody whack you with a toy car when you were a baby?"

Jim really didn't think this was the time to share the 'Stevie whacked me with his Christmas present' story, so he kept his mouth shut, following the captain into his office. Blair, wisely staying out of the discussion, came in right behind him. Jim nodded to the Australian detective, who had been sitting as they entered the office, but rose and stood at attention as Simon glared at her.

"Inspector Connor," the captain said. "I believe we need to get a few things straight. While I appreciate your assistance this afternoon..."

Megan's head tilted slightly. "Assistance, sir? I believe Sandy and I actually stopped the suspects."

Jim grinned to himself and looked over at Blair. "Sandy?" he questioned in a low voice. Blair glared at him.

Simon settled behind his desk, his attention still on Megan. "Granted. But you are out of your jurisdiction. You haven't been issued the proper credentials."

"And when might I have those credentials?"

"I'll let you know." Jim winced at the coldness to Simon's voice. "For now, you remain on observer status. You may carry your firearm for protection since you are weapons-trained."

The Aussie bowed her head briefly. "I understand and - I apologize, Captain. My...enthusiasm got the best of me."

Blair laughed quietly. "I seem to have heard that in this office before, huh?" It was Jim's turn to glare.

"Well, luckily, the armored car company will pay for damages to the taxi which are estimated to be $12,346. That's US." Simon grimaced at Megan, then rose, moving to his coffee pot. He pointedly did not offer any one else a cup as he poured his own. "Now, during your stay here you are going to need someone to supervise you. And based on this afternoon's adventure, I've decided that will be you, Detective Ellison."

Jim groaned. "How did I know that was coming? Captain, I think..."

Simon raised a hand, cutting him off. "That will be all, Detectives. Oh, Jim, on your way out, would you make sure that door stays on its hinge?"

Wincing at the cutting remark, Jim nodded, heading out of Simon's office with Blair on his heels. Behind him he could hear Megan start to talk, whatever she was about to say cut off by the still angry captain. The sentinel grinned at the imitation Aussie accent Simon used, then sobered as he approached his desk. There were piles of folders, each one an unsolved case, resting on it. He wanted to deal with them. And now he had to baby-sit?

Behind him sharp clicks on the floor announced Megan's arrival at his desk. She came around in front of them, her eyes flashing.

"Is your captain always so quick to spit the dummy?"

Jim stared at her. "I beg your pardon?"

Blair laughed. "Uh, she means get angry." He turned to Megan. "Captain Banks is a really nice guy once you get to know him."

"I'm not sure I want to."

Jim had had it. "That's a nice attitude, Connor. Considering he gave you a second chance when you could be on your way back down under for that stunt you pulled."

"Stunt?" she growled. "What was I supposed to do? Just stand by and..."

"Time out, guys, all right?" Blair moved in between them, his eyes pleading as he looked at Jim. Jim glared at him, then backed off. Blair flashed him a smile, then turned to Megan. "Um... look, I'm sure that you're really tired from your long flight, Inspector. So why don't Jim and I just drive you over to your hotel and we can start all this over in the morning."

Megan shook her head. "Thanks, but I'll take a cab."

"Great." Jim tried, but he couldn't resist. "Why don't you see if you can stay in the passenger seat this time?"

She stiffened, then turned, sweeping out of the bullpen. Jim glared after her, then turned to look at Blair, expecting censure for that last smart remark. Instead his guide grinned at him. "What do you make of that coat?"

Jim relaxed. "What is that?" he asked. "Pink dingo?"

Blair laughed. "I like that."

Balance restored, the sentinel picked up a file and began working. Maybe the day wasn't a complete write-off after all.

~~~~~~~~

Megan stared at herself in the mirror, then nodded with satisfaction. It was the image she wanted to project tonight. Her eyes darkened as she thought of the man she was searching for, and her lips tightened, the taut expression in sharp contrast to the lush outfit she wore and the carefully applied make-up. She would find him, she vowed to herself. She would.

After all, she might have only this one chance. After the car chase earlier, she had no idea how long she'd be allowed to stay in Cascade. She had to make every day count.

Pulling out the hand written directions to the place recommended as "the best Indian food in the city", she studied them, then shoved them into her purse. Grabbing her keys, she left the hotel room.

Locating the restaurant with ease, she parked and got out of the car, taking a deep breath as she walked to the door. Entering the building, she altered her stride from the long, ground covering pace natural to her to a hip swinging, sultry sashay. She smiled coyly as she noticed the bartender's eyes on her. Pulling out a picture of her goal, she leaned across the bar, almost laughing as he forced his eyes to focus on the picture.

"I'm looking for someone who may have come in here," she purred, altering her accent to a drawl.

The man shrugged. "I might have seen him but not at night. Lunch, maybe."

She smiled flirtatiously. "If he comes again, call me." She reached into a pocket for her phone number, making sure the motion accentuated her outfit, then smiled again. "Oh, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention that I asked about him."

The bartender's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Are you a cop?"

She shook her head. "Uh-uh. Ex-wife. He owes me three years' back alimony."

The man's face warmed again and he looked her over appreciatively. "If he left you, he is an idiot."

Megan shrugged, rolling her shoulders, then turned and strolled away, moving slowly to give the man a good view. Finally out of the restaurant, she shook her head, her mouth twisting at the part she'd played. Still - if he wanted to see her again, he'd be more likely to call if her target showed up. And she wanted him to call - she wanted that very badly indeed.

If this went down right - if she got Bruenell - it would be worth all the reprimands in the world. It would even be worth working with the arrogant detective named Ellison.

~~~~~~~~

Late morning sun slanted across the small park near the PD where they were waiting for the exchange officer. Blair closed his eyes and tilted his face into the warmth, trying to store it up for the future. He just knew at some time he'd be wet and cold again.

"Not only am I stuck playing tour guide, I also got to wait around for her forever? What, did she forget to reset her clock?"

Blair debated ignoring the sentinel's complaints then sighed. "Relax, she'll be here." He cocked his head slightly. "You know, I was thinking if we're working closely with her, we're gonna have to really be conscious of keeping your sentinel abilities quiet."

"I agree." Jim grinned at him, clapping him on the shoulder. "I'll leave that upon you, Sandy."

Blair growled. "All right. That's about enough of the Sandy stuff. I'm serious here."

Jim just grinned wider, then turned his head as a car squealed around the corner on the wrong side of the road. "This must be her, now."

Blair agreed silently as honking rose from the cars swerving to avoid Megan. The Aussie pulled her car and parked in front of Jim's truck. "Look out," he said. "Hope she got extra collision with that rental."

He heard the hotdog vendor behind them snort in agreement as Megan got out of the car and walked over to them.

"G'day," she said cheerily. "Sorry I'm late. The way you Yanks drive, not to mention the bad language. Whew!"

Jim's voice was deadpan. "I can't image why anybody would be upset." Blair bit back a choke of laughter as Jim waved a hand expansively as he continued to speak. "Join us. We wanted to initiate you into one of the northwest's venerable dining institutions."

Megan frowned at the cart, staring at the brightly painted sign. "Tube Steak."

"Ah," Blair corrected, shaking his head, "that's Mr. Tube Steak. It's classic American food."

Jim nodded to the grinning vendor. "Three smokeys, Frank."

"Sure, Jimmy," the man said, setting up three platters.

Jim sniffed appreciatively as Frank opened the vat of steaming dogs, then frowned. "Running a little low on the sauerkraut, huh?"

Blair sighed with relief. "Thank God. I can't eat that stuff."

Jim stared at him in disbelief. "You've gotta be kidding me. I've seen you eat stuff I'd scrape off the bottom of my shoes. One time, I opened up the refrigerator and found a jar of freeze-dried grasshoppers and we weren't going fishing that day."

Blair shrugged. "Those were locusts. I like to experiment in pan-culture cuisine, all right? I draw the line at fermented cabbage." He made a face.

Megan laughed. "Ever tried barbecued witchety grubs? Considered a delicacy."

Blair grinned at her, ignoring Jim's disgusted look. "Yeah. With or without the heads?"

"With, of course."

Blair chimed in with Megan, agreeing with her. The other two men just looked at each other and shook their heads. Jim leaned over toward Frank, lowering his voice conspiratorially. "Maybe some pickled termites for these two, huh?"

The vendor grinned. "Specialty of the house, coming up. Would you like those chocolate-covered? They're on special today."

Blair determinedly ignored the laughing pair, then frowned as Jim scanned the street and stiffened. "What is it?" he asked quietly.

"That guy down there," the sentinel muttered. "He's an alarm systems expert. I busted him a couple of years ago in this jewelry exchange heist. I couldn't make the case though."

"Excuse me," Megan interrupted. "Who are you talking about?"

Blair felt his heart sink as he realized he could barely see the focus of Jim's attention. Jim was answering Megan, oblivious to the fact that he was the only one who could see that far.

"The fellow down there in the tan car. His name is Lane Cassidy. You don't see him?"

Jim's voice was incredulous and Blair sighed, trying to catch the sentinel's attention and failing. Megan looked down the street, then shook her head.

"How can you recognize him from here?"

Jim ignored her question, frowning. "Last time I heard, he had skipped to Arizona."

Giving up on trying to distract Jim, Blair decided to go with the flow. "What's he doing here?"

"I don't know," Jim answered. "Let's go find out." He looked over at Frank. "We'll come back for those."

"They'll be waiting," the hotdog vendor said, setting things back.

Blair smiled at him apologetically as Jim headed to the truck. "Sorry," he said. Frank just waved a hand at him. "Come on," he said to Megan, urging her after him as he ran for the truck. Jim would wait for them, but only for so long.

~~~~~~~~

"What do we have here?" Simon's voice filled his office as he leafed through the file that Jim had just handed him. Jim smiled tightly, waiting for the captain to finish looking through the material. "Lane Cassidy," Simon mused. "Burglary, breaking and entering, burglary, burglary, burglary. This guy certainly found his niche in life, huh?"

Jim nodded, glad he'd spotted the guy, even if it had been difficult trying to evade Megan Connor's question as to how he had. Their impromptu stake-out had been rewarding. "On a hunch, we followed him to a hotel down in Chelsea," he told Simon. "About ten minutes after he arrived he received a couple visitors."

He handed the captain the second file. Simon flipped it open, his eyes going wide as he spotted the photos inside.

"Ooh, who took these?" he asked.

Blair bounced slightly beside Jim. The sentinel could see his grin out of the corner of his eye and suppressed one of his own. "I did," the grad student announced proudly, "- with a disposable camera from the motel shop. They're pretty good, huh?"

Jim let his smile out as Simon rolled his eyes at him, then sobered as the captain looked back at the pictures. He pointed at the top one. "That's Ben Ramos. He's a gang banger from LA. He spent several years running a car theft ring. He's recently been freelancing as a wheelman."

Simon nodded, then slipped the first picture out of the file to look at the other one.

"This is Jerry Kellerman," Jim continued. "He's from Houston. Marine vet. Expert with munitions and explosives. He also did time for extortion and bank robbery."

"Munitions expert... Alarm specialist... Getaway driver... All from out of town." He looked up at Jim, his eyes hard. "Is it just me, or does it sound like a crew getting ready for a job?"

"No," Jim drawled, knowing his captain would appreciate the sarcasm in his voice. He was right, Simon laughed, then snapped the files shut.

"Put these guys under 24-hour surveillance," he ordered. "Find out what these clowns are up to."

Jim smiled. "Very good, sir."

He turned to leave the office, his mind already working on the problem - what were these men after? And what would be the easiest way to find out?


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


Megan started as they pulled to a halt across the street from the restaurant that she'd visited the previous night, then shook her head minutely. It had to be a coincidence.

Sandwiched between the two Americans in the front seat of Ellison's truck, she dug into her bag and pulled out a small set of binoculars. The observer had a big camera in his hands and was fitting the telephoto lens on to it. Jim was just looking across the street. She wondered how he expected to see anything, then shrugged. He'd ID'd the one man from a far distance. Maybe his vision was just really good.

Hmmm. She'd heard about aborigines that could see really far, beyond any real possibility, but no one really believed the stories. Maybe...? Probably not. Tabling the idea, she focused on the meeting in front of her.

"Popular place," Ellison commented, nodding toward the full parking lot. Sandburg, on her other side, looked up from his camera.

"Yeah," he said. "I know this place. It specializes in curries. It's actually pretty authentic."

*Perfect for Bruenell, then,* Megan thought, starting to scan the restaurant. Ellison stiffened beside her.

"Looks like we've got another player," the American detective announced. Megan moved the binoculars further until she found the men they were tailing. They were sitting at a table with a fourth, and she suppressed a gasp as she recognized him. Her leads had been right. Bruenell had come to Cascade.

"Smile," Sandy crooned beside her as he began to take pictures of the four men. Ellison was just sitting there, and finally she couldn't take it any longer. "Jim," she said, repeating herself when she got no response. Finally he turned and looked at her.

"What?"

"Don't you think one of us should go in and suss it out?"

The American shook his head. "No, it's too risky."

"But..."

He cut her off. "No. Just sit tight."

She suppressed a growl, then looked around, her mind working quickly. *Ah-ha!* "Well, I don't suppose you'd object if I used the ladies' at the petrol station across the road."

Jim sighed. "All right. Well, make it quick. If these guys break it up, we're going to have to roll. Let her out, Chief."

The observer did, tossing a cheery 'Have fun' after her as he slid back into the truck. She did growl at that, and he laughed, then closed the truck door. She headed for the petrol station, then turned to look at the truck. Both men's attention was firmly on the restaurant and she smiled to herself, then cut across the street. If the Yanks wouldn't find out what was being said in there, she would.

She slipped into the restaurant, planning to duck down the hall leading to the bar and come up behind Bruenell so he wouldn't have a chance to recognize her. Unfortunately, he turned to signal the waiter just as she came through the door, catching sight of her and freezing for a moment. Then he went for his gun.

In immediate reaction, she pulled hers, ducking out of the way as bullets flew at her, then returning fire. She was handicapped by the civilians - he wasn't. This wasn't going at all to plan.

But then, nothing involving Bruenell ever had.

~~~~~~~~

Blair's soft whistle of amazement pulled Jim's attention from the discussion of C-4 occurring in the restaurant. He followed Blair's gaze and swore as he opened the truck door. "I'm going to crate her up and ship her to the outback, man."

Blair muttered agreement as they crossed the street. Both men ducked as gunfire erupted within the building and Jim growled an order for Blair to stay down as he pushed the door open. "Wait out here," he said to Blair, who nodded, wide-eyed.

Slipping through the door, Jim scanned the interior of the restaurant, noting the overturned tables and people kneeling on the floor, their faces white with shock. Suddenly he spotted the fourth man at the meeting, who was leveling a gun at Megan as she was reloading her own weapon. "Drop it!" he said sharply, his own gun aimed at the man.

He snarled, whirling and ducking out the open door behind him and exiting the restaurant. Jim charged after him, the Australian right behind him, but they were too late. A car pulled away, its tires squealing as it rounded a corner just as Jim fired at the vehicle. He stood for a moment, staring after the car, then turned to go inside. "Let's go," he ordered, not looking at the woman who stood beside him.

She followed him without arguing, which was a good thing. He was already angry enough with her.

~~~~~~~~

Blair stood on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, lights flashing from the squad cars parked on the street. He looked over his shoulder as a particularly loud bellow came from the building, then moved a little farther away. Rafe grinned at him.

"A little loud for you, Sandburg?"

Blair grimaced at the detective. "Let's just say I'm glad it's not me he's yelling at," he replied with feeling.

Rafe laughed. "Yeah, me too." He whistled as a bright pink car came around the corner. "Would you look at that?"

Blair shook his head in amazement, then frowned as the car pulled to a stop. "Wait a minute," he said slowly. "That's the captain."

The door opened and Blair couldn't resist. "Hey," he called. "If it isn't Huggy Bear!"

Rafe chuckled beside him. "Nice, Captain."

Simon glared at them as he got out of the car. Blair grinned back unrepentantly.

"This is a great car!"

The captain growled. "Save it, Sandburg! It was the only car left in the motor pool, all right? Where's Ellison?"

Blair pointed at the restaurant. "He's inside. You can't hear him?"

Another bellow emerged and Simon sighed, then headed into the building. Blair trailed after him, not really wanting to be in range of an angry sentinel, but needing to know what was happening. Jim's face was almost purple with rage.

"I'm the officer in charge and I'll tell you when to move, all right? What the hell were you thinking?!"

Megan glared back at him defiantly. "You gave me no choice. Someone had to come in here and find out what was going on!"

Jim snorted. "So, why did they break out the artillery?"

"I don't know."

"You..!"

Blair fought the urge to duck and run for cover at Jim's outraged yell. Beside him, Simon took a deep breath, then let it out in a bellow of his own.

"Detectives! Not here, not now! My office, one hour!" He turned on his heel and walked out of the restaurant, both cops staring after him in surprise.

Megan recovered first. "I'll get my own ride back," she spat, then turned and walked toward the other door. Jim watched her go for a moment, then shook his head.

"Great," he muttered. "Why don't you, uh, just keep going right across the Pacific, sweetheart?" Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his cell phone and flipped it open, punching the zero. "Hi, operator, I need the international area code for Sydney, Australia."

Blair rolled his eyes. "What are you doing, Jim -- calling her mom?"

Jim looked at him, then blinked. "That's not a bad idea," he said, waving a finger at Blair. The grad student groaned. Jim might just do it, in the mood he was in.

~~~~~~~~

Jim knocked on Simon's office door, waiting until he heard the captain say enter before opening the door and walking into the office, Blair on his heels. "Captain," he said quietly, his eyes flickering over the Australian woman seated in one of the straight backed chairs.

Simon looked up from his desk, his eyes tired. "Gentlemen," he acknowledged. "Inspector Connor informs me that Cassidy and his pals drew down on her because Cassidy made the three of you during your surveillance."

Jim stiffened. "Is that so?"

Simon nodded. "Now I've reminded the inspector she's to follow your instructions to the letter. She's assured me that she will do that, so as far as I'm concerned, the air is clear."

"Not for me, sir." Jim placed the paper he'd been carrying on Simon's desk. "This just came in from the New South Wales Police."

Simon looked down at it, then frowned. "Who's Scott Bruenell?"

Jim ignored the sudden increase in Megan Connor's heart rate. "He is the one who was meeting Cassidy and the others at the curry house."

The police captain frowned at Jim's words. "How'd you ID this guy so fast?"

"Well, we didn't, sir. It was Megan's boss in Sydney," Blair chimed in and Jim nodded agreement.

"It seems as though Bruenell and Connor have quite a history."

Simon turned to look at Megan. "Is that so? Inspector, would you care to explain this?"

She looked up, her expression subdued, and Jim bit back a surge of sympathy. From what the woman's lieutenant had said, this guy had done a number on Connor. If it had been him, he'd have wanted to nail him to the wall, too.

Megan took a deep breath before speaking. "Last year in Sydney," she said slowly, "Scott Bruenell blew up a bridge while a payroll transport was crossing. The truck fell into the river where Bruenell and his crew were waiting in diving suits, and he escaped with two million Australian dollars."

Blair nodded. "Right, right. I remember reading about that. Yeah. A bunch of people died."

Megan looked at him sadly. "The truck's guards and four motorists who were on the bridge when it went down." She switched her gaze back to Simon. "I was lead investigator, and Bruenell made it personal: threatening phone calls, shots fired through my window. He even tampered with the brakes on my car. Despite all our efforts we failed to build sufficient evidence against Bruenell. When he disappeared, I was instructed to let it go." She sighed. "I couldn't."

Simon let out his breath slowly. "How did you know Bruenell would be in Cascade?"

"I traced him," she admitted. "On my own time. When I heard about the officer exchange program, I volunteered."

"You lied to us."

She nodded in response to the captain's blunt words. "Yes, I did. But you've got to understand. Bruenell is a clever, meticulous psychopath and he's not afraid of the cops. Whatever he's planning, he still intends to go through with it."

"I'll tell you what I understand," Simon replied, standing up. "As of this moment, your visiting officer status with this department is terminated until I have a chance to speak with your superiors."

Her eyes flickered briefly, then steadied. "Yes, sir."

"That'll be all."

There was absolute silence in the office as Megan rose and left, closing the door behind her, then Blair shook his head. "Guys, come on," he said, his voice troubled. "I mean, so what? So she made it personal. Jim, how many times have you done that?"

"Save it, Chief. I didn't lie about it."

Blair stared at him in disbelief. "Oh, come on, you haven't twisted the truth when it suited you? Guys, she followed this guy halfway across the world on her own time. I mean, you at least have to admire her determination and think about it, if she's right, Bruenell's up to something big. She knows how he works, how he thinks... I mean, I'm not a cop, or anything, but if you ask me she's our best bet to catch him."

If he were even half honest... Jim sighed. "Sir, the kid's got a point."

Simon grumbled, but nodded reluctantly. "All right, here's what I want you to do. I want you to escort her majesty back to her hotel, remove her car rental keys from her possession and you tell her to stay there until she hears from me personally."

"Very good, Captain."

Jim turned and left the office, pulling Blair with him to keep the grad student from saying anything further. Simon hated being lied to, even if it was for a good cause. It would take him a while to calm down. Meanwhile, he wanted to catch Megan before she made it out of the building. There was no telling what trouble she'd get into on her own.

He smiled to himself. She was almost as bad a trouble magnet as Sandburg, apparently. He almost shared that thought with Blair, then thought better of it. It was his guide's turn to cook dinner, after all.

~~~~~~~~

Jim turned the wheel, casually glancing over at the woman in between himself and Blair as he did so. He had to admit, she was taking her suspension with grace. His eyes narrowed as he pulled into a parking spot in front of Megan's hotel. Maybe too much grace?

Turning off the ignition, he swung his legs out of the truck, standing up and closing the door as Megan and Blair rounded the front of the vehicle and joined him on the sidewalk. The Aussie shook her head, red hair glinting in the sunlight as she frowned.

"We're wasting time, boys. Bruenell is out there somewhere."

*Definitely too much grace,* Jim thought as Blair asked where she thought they should look for him. She shrugged.

"The one lead I had was his weakness for Indian food."

"I doubt that he'll be shoveling curry again anytime soon," Jim commented, catching Megan's rueful look of agreement as she placed a hand on Blair's shoulder.

"By the way, Sandy," she said, "I appreciate you sticking up for me with Banks."

Blair smiled, the expression a bit strained. "Ah, that's no problem, but... could you do me a favor and not call me Sandy? Nobody calls me that."

"As you like it, Chief," Megan said casually and Jim felt his smile of amusement at Blair's new nickname disappear. It was strange, hearing someone else call Blair 'Chief". He didn't think he liked it.

"No need to walk me in," Megan continued. "I'll wait to hear from you, right?"

"Right," Jim said absently, still mulling over the nickname thing. She walked over to the hotel, tossing a wave over her shoulder as she pulled the door open and went inside. Blair was already in the truck and Jim turned to get in, pushing the thoughts out of his head. It was just a word, after all.

Starting the truck, he pulled away, idly listening to Blair ramble on about his latest bunch of students. He drove about three blocks, then turned into a convenience store and headed back to the hotel. Pulling the truck to a stop across the street, he waited. If he was right...

"What are we doing?" Blair asked.

"Just playing the odds," Jim replied, scanning the area, nodding to himself as he saw Megan Connor in the side door of the hotel. "And it just paid-off."

Blair let out an exasperated sigh as he spotted the woman as she hailed a taxi. Jim just smiled - he had been right. It was what he would have done, actually. He was developing a grudging respect for the Aussie cop, despite his anger with her.

Looking a bit past Megan, he stiffened as he saw Bruenell sitting in a car. A second man in the car was handing him a gun. Throwing the door open, he jumped out of the truck. "Connor! Look out!" he yelled.

She jumped and looked behind her, ducking behind the taxi as Bruenell's car drove past, the criminal firing at her repeatedly. The cab's window shattered and Jim could hear the cabby yelling in shock and anger. The car passed the cab, then sped away, Megan firing after it. She swore as she hit only the back window before it was too far away. Jim blinked as he crossed the street. The woman had quite a mouth. Some of those he was going to have to look up.

"You all right?" he asked as they reached Megan's side. She nodded, holstering her weapon.

Blair looked around, his heart racing. "Oh, man, that was close!" he exclaimed. "I don't see anybody hurt."

Jim pulled out his phone, handing it to Blair. "Call it in, Chief. You know the drill: car description, location..."

"Got it, got it."

Blair moved away to make the call and Jim turned to Megan. "You're a piece of work, Connor. The airport, curry house, now your hotel?"

Her eyes narrowed, then she shrugged. "Thank you, Detective."

"I'm not really ready for sarcasm right now," he replied. "Is it some Aussie anti-American plot to overthrow Cascade or something?"

She sighed. "I mean thank you. If you hadn't mistrusted me, I'd have been killed. This is like the restaurant. Bruenell wouldn't have blinked if half a dozen bystanders had died here. I'm sure you understand why I've got to get this guy, even if it means bending rules."

He laughed. "Bending. That's relative, Connor."

She smiled as Blair handed him back the phone.

"The crime scene unit's on its way and I talked to dispatch and they're setting out a lookout for that car, but nobody's seen it yet."

Jim frowned as he pocketed the device. "He's got a good game. Just wish we knew what game he was playing. Come on." He gestured toward the truck, including Megan. He just knew Simon would want to see her.

~~~~~~~~

Across town, Bruenell and two of his associates were making their way into Substation Two of the Cascade Power and Electric Company. The guard they had to shoot didn't matter in the slightest, as long as they did what they planned to do.


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


Megan Connor stood at attention in front of the American captain, aware of Jim and Blair sitting on the table to her side. Simon looked her up and down, shaking his head.

"Connor, I should be chewing you out right now for disobeying my orders. But I have no doubt that given a choice Bruenell would've taken that hit into the hotel and that," he stopped and took a deep breath, "...that would've been ugly. Considering that there were no injuries on the street, you got lucky. You all did."

This wasn't what Megan had expected. Given Banks' attitude earlier, she'd thought she'd be on the next plane out of Cascade. But still... "I have an explanation for my actions, Captain."

Simon held up a hand. "Save it, Connor. My point is that Bruenell thinks you're such a serious threat to his operations, well, that could only be good for our side."

Her eyes widened. He couldn't mean... "Then I may continue to work on the case?"

He nodded. "I've discussed it with the Cascade brass and your boss - who has some very exemplary words for you, by the way. I understand you've received medals and a few citations."

False modesty had never been one of Megan's faults. So her response to this was a calm agreement. Banks might have expected more, but he didn't show it as he settled into his desk chair and looked up at her.

"Well, under the circumstances," he said, "we've decided that your policing skills and knowledge of the Bruenell case will be invaluable. As a result, you've been issued full credentials with the Major Crimes unit of the Cascade Police Department. Here's your badge and your department cell phone."

Taking them, she smiled. "Thank you, sir."

He grunted, then pointed a finger at her. "But you listen to this. You disobey my orders one more time and we're going to have a very sticky wicket."

*Sticky wicket? What has the man been watching on the telly?* She just nodded, then turned her head as a knock sounded from the door.

"Enter!" Simon ordered brusquely. The dark-haired young detective - Rafe, she thought, kind of cute, actually - came in carrying a thick stack of files.

"Captain, this just came for you."

He handed them to Simon, then nodded an acknowledgement of his boss's thanks as he left. Simon handed her the top file, then looked at Jim and Blair. "Gentlemen?"

They got up and came over to the desk, accepting the files he held out. Blair leafed through his, then looked up. "What's all this?"

"This is information from New South Wales, FBI, Interpol, concerning any case ever connected with Bruenell or one of his crew."

Blair whistled. "So, uh, what are we supposed to do with it?"

The captain chuckled. "You're supposed to get used to the bread and butter of police work, Sandburg. You know the drill, people. Look through every scrap of this information. See if you can find any pattern, any clue at all as to what Bruenell might be up to."

"This is quite a wad here, sir," the anthropology student protested. Simon glared at him.

"Yeah? Well, it's not going to get any thinner in here. Take this to the operations room. I have work to do."

The American detective touched his observer's shoulder, then looked at Simon. "Thank you, sir," he said quietly. Megan bit back a snort at Blair's disgruntled look as it faded to a grudging acceptance.

Simon was already engrossed in his own stack of folders. "Yup," he replied without looking up. The three left, Megan pulling the door closed behind her.

~~~~~~~~

Blair absently rubbed the back of his neck, continuing to peer at the paper in front of him as he did. He felt like he was studying for exams again, actually. They'd been at this for hours. Beside him, Jim huffed a sigh.

"The only constant factor here seems to be big, difficult targets, intricate plans, and massive payoffs." The sentinel tossed the page he'd been looking at onto the table.

Blair nodded agreement as he looked up. "Yeah. It's pretty amazing. I mean, you put all these jobs together, it's like the world series of crime. I mean, take Kellerman here. He blew up, what, half a city block just to get at a diamond exchange in Baltimore and Ramos -- he out-drove 14 police officers in New Orleans."

Jim leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms over his head. "Yeah. What I want to know is how Bruenell managed to hold up a planeload full of Arab sheiks in flight and then disappear into thin air."

Megan laughed bitterly. "He has a way of doing that."

There was a brief silence, then Blair felt his stomach gurgle. They needed to get away from this for a while - and he was starving. "What do you say we take a break and get some food, huh?"

"All right, but it's my shout."

Both men stared at the Aussie. Blair suspected that the confused look on Jim's face was matched by his own, because Megan sighed and shook her head.

"It's on me," she clarified.

Jim blinked. "Oh, really? Is there a catch?"

"There's two," she replied. "First: we don't talk about work."

"Ah, good." Blair was fine with that, and from the look on Jim's face, so was the sentinel. "No problem there."

She smiled. "And while I truly found Mr. Tube Steak to be a unique dining experience... I choose the restaurant."

Blair laughed as Jim grumbled. The detective appreciated fine food as much as anyone - he just hid it well.

~~~~~~~~

Jim looked around as they were shown to their table, his eyes going rapidly to the huge floor to ceiling windows. The city was stretched out below them, lights glittering in an array of patterns and colors that, if he weren't careful, could easily suck him in. Blair's hand touched his arm briefly as his guide brushed past him to take a chair, and he smiled at the other man, shaking his head slightly at the questioning look in Blair's eyes. Blair nodded, then turned to Megan as she spoke. Jim sat down, savoring the aromas filling the air.

"I can't get over this view." Megan smiled at them. "But I suppose you two have been up here before."

Blair shook his head. "It's the first time for me."

Jim had been here before - Carolyn had liked the place, actually. But that was long past. He looked at his guide and smiled. "Yeah. Well, that happens. You know, live in a city your whole life and you never get to go where the tourists have been."

"Right," Blair agreed. "It's like New Yorkers have never been to the top of the Empire State Building." He turned to Megan. "But actually on our first case we worked at the Cascade Panorama Tower."

Jim grimaced at the reminder. That case still bothered him. If he'd just been there for Ronny, maybe... He pushed the thought aside. "Didn't do much sightseeing, though."

Blair laughed. "Yeah, right. We were chasing a serial bomber," he explained to Megan.

"I don't think you'd find that in your tour guide," Jim said, referring to the little book Megan had picked the restaurant from. She laughed, shaking her head. He suddenly felt more relaxed than he had all day. "This was a great idea, Megan. Thank you very much. It's very nice."

She stared at him in disbelief. He looked at Blair, who was smiling slyly. "Did I say something wrong?"

Megan closed her mouth, which had been hanging open slightly, then smiled. "Um, no. No. It is very nice."

Blair laughed. "Wow, that was...that was really special. You two are getting along."

Jim glared at him, then smiled sheepishly. They were, after all.

Fortunately, the waiter arrived to take their order before anything more could be said.

~~~~~~~~

Across town, Scott Bruenell surveyed his chosen crew. They were ready. Smiling slightly, he nodded to the driver. "Two minutes. Let's go."

The van pulled smoothly away from its parking spot. Bruenell leaned back against the seat, his smile firmly fixed.

~~~~~~~~

Jim speared another piece of his steak, savoring the tender meat as he chewed. Megan, across the table, was answering a question from Blair.

"Our dad always said we should do what we wanted with our lives. So, when my time came, I took him at his word." She shrugged.

Jim sipped at his iced tea. "He ever try to get you into his line of work?"

She laughed, shaking her head. "He's a professional bookie."

Jim felt an eyebrow go up as he looked at Blair. The grad student's face echoed his own thoughts. Megan frowned at their reactions, then her face cleared.

"Uh, it's legal back home."

Jim relaxed. "Oh."

She smiled wryly. "Lots of colorful characters about the place growing up. Taught me to keep my wits sharp."

"How does he feel about you being a police officer?" Blair asked.

"He smiles when I tell him stories about work, but I know he worries. I just can't imagine not being a cop anymore." She looked across the table at Jim. "Can you?"

He shook his head. He couldn't think of anything else he wanted to do, either. A phone rang and he reached into his pocket as Megan did the same. "It's me," he told her, then spoke into the phone. "Ellison."

Blair and Megan were talking quietly as he listened to Simon. "All right, sir," he said. "We'll be there momentarily." Flipping the phone closed, he signaled to the waiter for the check.

"What's going on?"

His eyes flickered to Blair, then he went back to watching for the waiter. "Homicide. A security guard at the power company substation."

He caught sight of the approaching man just as the lights went out. Gasps of surprise filled the restaurant. Jim turned, then rose and approached the window, Blair and Megan right behind him. A wide swathe of darkness marred the sparkling beauty of earlier.

"It's not just us," he said, half to himself. "Half the city is out."

"It's Bruenell," Megan's soft voice came, and he realized that she was right. "Whatever he was planning, it's happening now."

Staring at the dark spot, Jim estimated it's boundaries. "It's about ten blocks long by 18 wide -- Chelsea to Grand, Waverly to First."

"Bruenell's target's somewhere in that grid." Megan sounded utterly confident, and he agreed with her. He tried to think of what was in that area that might pose a big enough target.

"There's a couple of banks in there, there's one or two jewelry stores," Blair offered.

Megan shook her head, the motion making a rustling noise as her hair moved over her clothing. "Bruenell wouldn't waste his time on a bank. This is too big."

"Maybe he'll hit all of them."

Jim grunted. "I doubt he has the manpower, but it's got to be something big enough to black out half the city." He stopped, appalled realization hitting. Why - why hadn't they thought of it earlier? "The Mint."

Blair's soft 'oh' of agreement hung in the air as they all moved as one toward the door. Bruenell was way ahead of them, and they were stuck at the top of a building without power. The faster they started down those stairs, the better.


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


Simon glared at the phone in his hand, then slammed it down onto the receiver, unwilling to listen another time to the 'all lines are busy' message. He looked up as a voice came over the radio Rhonda had dug up from somewhere and plugged in. He recognized the voice - it was the power station supervisor he'd been trying to contact.

"...explosions, Captain," the man said, coughing. "Each one damaged the generators."

Simon depressed the broadcast switch. "Do you have any idea when power might be restored?"

"That depends on how soon we can reroute and switch over. Maybe an hour, maybe 12."

Simon sighed unhappily. "All right. I have an investigation team on their way to you now. They're all I can spare. Our lines here are jammed. I've got detectives directing traffic."

The supervisor acknowledged, then signed off to go help with the repairs. Simon picked up the phone again, scowling at the too familiar message, then walked into the dark bullpen. His people were doing their best, he knew, but... He'd be a lot happier if the power had gone out from natural causes. Something in him just knew that this had to do with the case Ellison and Connor were on.

"All right, everyone, can I have your attention, please? Come on. Let's listen up." His detectives quieted and looked at him. "Now, apparently, City Power Substation number two has been sabotaged. They don't know how long it's going to take to get it back up. Could be an hour, could be much longer. So here's the drill. Any of you who are not manning phones, I need you out on the street now. Let's try to keep some order around here."

Glad for the direction, people moved. Simon watched for a minute, then headed back into his office, stopping in the door to look over his shoulder. "Damn it, somebody get me Ellison or Inspector Connor on the phone!" He walked into his office, pulling the door closed behind him. He needed some coffee. *God, I hate power outages,* he thought, looking longingly at the quiet, empty coffee-maker. And without the air filter, he couldn't have a cigar, either. *If this is Bruenell, Ellison better nail him!*

~~~~~~~~

*Finally!* Jim pushed the door to the parking garage open, Blair and Megan following him through it and toward the truck. He noticed idly that Megan wasn't breathing hard from the long climb down. Blair wasn't either, but he'd expected that. The grad student took stairs more often than not these days anyway.

"With all the traffic lights out, how are we going to do this?" Blair walked around to the other side of the vehicle, his eyes serious. "It's going to be gridlocked out there."

Jim shrugged. "We'll get as far as we can in the truck."

"We may do better on foot."

The sentinel shook his head at Megan's comment as he unlocked the truck. "No, no. Bad idea. Look, I'll drive on the sidewalk if I have to."

As they got in the truck, Jim caught a glimpse of Blair's face. It clearly read 'So, what else is new?' Fortunately, the anthropologist kept the comment to himself.

~~~~~~~~

The nervous security guards jumped as a knock came on the Mint door. Exchanging glances by flashlight, they walked over to the door. A voice came through.

"Cascade Power field crew. Your back-up generator's down."

The older guard snorted. "Yeah. No kidding." He reached out and unlocked the door, peering through it, then relaxing as he spotted familiar uniforms.

"You're our top priority grid. We'll have you up and running quick as we can."

The guard nodded, then opened the door wider. "Bring it in," he said, nodding toward the repair case one of the men was carrying. The three repairmen walked in, their chief smiling at the guards.

"Okay, boys," he said pleasantly. "Auxiliary generator's in the basement, right?"

"Right through there," the guard confirmed, leading the way down the corridor. "We heard there was an explosion at the substation. How'd that happen?"

The chief repairman laughed, his pleasant tone suddenly turning ugly. "We blew it up."

A stabbing pain went through the guard's skull and he fell to the ground, his last sight before blacking out the prone body of his companion.

~~~~~~~~

Bruenell waited impatiently as the two guards were secured, then turned and headed down the hall as his two associates followed, carrying the case. After a moment, they reached the vault room. The case set down, the man opening it looked up at the safe and whistled. "Damn...it's a big one."

"How long?" Bruenell asked sharply.

The safecracker shrugged. "Oh...half hour, 45 max."

The third man hooked up a generator and they all blinked in the sudden brightness. Hooking up his computer to the safe's lock, the safecracker cocked his head at the third man. "Ready with the torch?"

"Right," he was answered. "You let me know when."

He shrugged again, watching as his computer booted up. "Shouldn't be long."

He was right. Only about half an hour had passed when he hissed in triumph. "That's it. The computer will override the alarm sensors. You could nuke the baby and the alarm would still be sending out an all's well."

Bruenell watched his lips curved in a smile, as the third man began cutting through the safe wall. Soon they had the lock circled and pulled the door open. Bruenell walked in, followed by the other two, who immediately started shoveling huge stacks of bills into bags they pulled out of the case. He looked at them in disdain, careful to hide the emotion, then walked further in. What he was looking for should be... Ah-ha! There it was.

Pocketing his goal, he turned and entered the main vault. The other two looked up at him in surprise. The safecracker shook his head.

"The only thing back there are federal bonds. Too easy to trace."

"Who cares about them?" the other snorted. "We got a good $20 million here."

Bruenell smiled thinly. "There's a second guard shift due soon. I'm going to check the hallway. Meet me in front." They nodded, their attention fixed on the money in their hands as he exited the vault. Neither of them noticed which way he went. He hadn't thought they would, after all. But it was always nice to be right.

~~~~~~~~

Jim groaned as they inched forward another tiny bit, the angry or worried voices of the drivers around them beating at him. Horns blared, and he wondered, not for the first time, what good the people blaring them thought it would do. Abruptly he made a decision.

"We're not going to move any faster. This is the end of the line, folks. It's about four blocks away. You got your wish, Connor. We're going the rest of the way on foot."

He pulled the keys from the ignition and they got out, abandoning the truck in the middle of the traffic. Jim fully expected that he'd find it still there when they were done. Cascade in a gridlock just didn't move.

Arriving outside the mint, Jim stopped and signaled that there was a man waiting in the van ahead. They retreated a few steps, then quickly made a plan. It worked beautifully. Megan distracted the lookout just long enough for Jim to knock the gun out of his hand and drag him out of the van before he could send an alarm. Pushing him against the side of the van, he growled in his face. "Where are they?"

The perp sneered at him. "You want to arrest me? You go ahead."

Jim just smiled, stepping back slightly. "You want to talk to him, Connor?"

He watched in amazed amusement as Megan kneed the man in the groin, holding him upright as he tried to curl around the pain. "Where's Bruenell?" she demanded. "Where is he?"

"All right," Jim said, moving in again. "Easy, easy, easy." Looking at the groaning man, he said pleasantly, "And that's her nice side. You want to deal with her or you want to deal with me?"

The man gasped for breath, then choked out a few words. "They're inside, in the vault."

"Very nice," Jim crooned. "We have a nice parting gift for you to show you there's no hard feelings. Open the door." As the man complied, he pulled out his cuffs, securing the man around the door. He turned and signaled for Blair to join them, then they headed for the building. Behind them, the injured man sank to the ground, moaning. Jim thought he should probably feel sympathy, but somehow, he just didn't.

As they neared the front of the Mint, he looked at Megan and Blair. "They can still be here, so be careful. Stay behind me." Blair nodded, but Megan growled at him.

"No. You stay behind me."

She stared at him in challenge, her eyes bright. He looked back for a moment, then nodded and stepped aside slightly. This was her hunt. She grinned like the wolf she was, then went through the door cautiously. He followed, his senses alert.

Shortly inside, Megan almost stumbled over the first guard, then spotted the second. Jim bent down, checking for a pulse. He already knew they were alive, but how could he tell Megan that? "This guy's been cold cocked," he announced. "He's out, but he'll be all right. See what you can do here, Chief."

As Blair nodded, then pulled out his pocketknife and began sawing at the guards' bonds, Megan looked around. "So, where's the vault?" she asked.

Jim listened for a moment, then smiled ferally. "It's that way. I hear a portable generator." He walked in the direction he'd indicated, ignoring Megan's muttered question. She wanted to know how he did things, huh? They'd have to think of something to tell her, he knew. Just not now. "Come on," he said impatiently, waiting at a corner. She trailed after him, shaking her head for a moment, then became focused on the job at hand as they climbed a flight of stairs.

As they rounded a second corner, Jim stilled, holding up a finger to warn Megan. They could hear the men ahead talking. From the sounds of things they seemed pretty happy. Jim frowned. He only heard two voices, two heartbeats. There should be three.

"Wait for my signal," he breathed to Megan. She nodded and he moved closer, ghosting past the door to the vault room, then gestured for her to join him on the other side. She moved closer, then froze as her cell phone rang. He grimaced as she shut it off quickly, but it was too late. The damage had been done.

"Damn," he heard. "We got company."

"Cascade police!" Jim yelled. "Drop your weapons!" He aimed and fired, ducking behind the door as the two men fired back. The generator shut off, plunging the area into darkness. "Stay back," he muttered to Megan.

"Give me the goggles," one of the perps said to the other, and Jim groaned. He'd have to end this fast.

"They got night vision goggles," he hissed to Megan, then stepped into the doorway, counting on his vision to give him the advantage even over the goggles. He could clearly see the two men, one fumbling with the equipment. He fired, taking that one out first, then downed the other. Calling to Megan, he moved into the room, his gun ready. As they neared the wounded men, the lights flickered, then steadied, and the hum of air conditioning kicked in.

"They've restored the power," Megan said, then moved closer to the men Jim had shot. "Where's Bruenell?" She narrowed her eyes as they just stared at her. "He left you to take the rap and you want to save his ass? Where'd he go?"

Jim's phone rang and he pulled it out, answering it as the first man sighed. "He said he'd meet us out front. You should've seen him."

<Where the hell are you, Ellison?>

Simon's annoyed voice came over the line and Jim grimaced. "We're at the Mint, sir. We're going to need an ambulance. We've got three of them, but we can't find Bruenell. Got it. All right." He hung up, then looked at Megan. "They got two cruisers on the way." He shrugged. "No telling how long they'll be, though."

She nodded acknowledgement, frowning. "I don't get it. These guys were taking the money to the van. Why would he go the opposite way?"

An unfamiliar voice answered weakly and Jim looked up to see Blair standing in the hall next to one of the Mint's guards. The man staggered, then steadied himself. "He might not have been after the money," he said hoarsely. "There were three sets of engraving plates in that vault -- there was a 20, a 50 and a hundred. They're worth more than all the money that's in this place."

Jim took in a deep breath. With those plates, Bruenell could... He growled, hearing a similar sound from Megan. The man could do just about anything.


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


Jim whirled and glared down at the bleeding man. "Where's Bruenell?" His voice echoed in the vault room and he noted the criminal's flinch with satisfaction.

The man shook his head. "I don't know anything about any plates. If Bruenell has them, that means he screwed us, too."

Jim stared at him for a moment, then nodded. He looked at the guard, noting that the man seemed steadier on his feet. "Keep an eye on these jokers," he said. The guard nodded and he led Blair and Megan out into the hall.

"You think he's still here?"

Megan shook her head, her face filled with bitter disappointment. "No."

Jim agreed with her, unfortunately. But that meant... He frowned. "Well, if Bruenell intended to bait and switch his own men, he'd have to have planned a backup contingency escape, right?"

Blair nodded. "And pull off a getaway all by himself in the middle of a city blackout."

They reached the elevator and Jim reached out to push the button. His hearing kicked in suddenly and he heard a scrabbling noise. It took a moment to place it, then he realized what it had to be. Megan said something about avoiding the traffic jams and he looked at her.

"What about flying?"

Megan shrugged. "From where?"

"The roof," Jim replied as the elevator arrived. "He's up on the roof."

Megan stared at him as he waited in the elevator, then looked at Blair. "He says that like he actually knows."

Blair grinned at her as he gestured her to go into the car. "He gets really good hunches."

"Let's go!" Jim stabbed the door close button as the two joined him in the elevator, then sent the car to the roof.

It was pitch black as the doors opened onto a flat roof, even with the power restored to most of the city. From below, Jim heard the blares and shouts that indicated the gridlock was still in place. He stepped out of the car, his gun ready and Megan right behind him. Scanning the roof, he spotted the silhouette of a man with a hang glider. "Bruenell!" he called.

The man jerked, then pulled a weapon and shot at them. Jim pushed Megan back into the car, firing in return. He cried the man's name again, swearing as he just turned and leaped off the side of the building. He vanished from sight, black on black as he disappeared into the night sky. Jim stood on the edge of the roof, Megan beside him. The two cops scanned the area, but even Jim's eyes couldn't pick up the glider or the man it carried.

Blair came up behind them. "Hey, guys, come on. We still got their van."

Frustrated and angry, Jim turned and headed back to the elevator. They'd gotten three of them, but not Bruenell. And it looked like he was getting away with the plates.

He was beginning to understand Megan's need to track this guy down, whatever the cost.

~~~~~~~~

Megan uncuffed the man she'd kneed and dragged him over to the railing. Securing him there to wait for the squad cars, she rejoined Jim and Blair by the van. The American detective was scanning the sky, Blair's hand on his back. Suddenly he pulled out his phone and tossed it to Blair.

"All right, Chief, have those squad cars rerouted to Chandler's Point. That's where Bruenell's headed."

Blair nodded and began dialing the phone. Megan narrowed her eyes. "Another hunch?" she asked.

Jim stood by the van, his hand on the door and stared at her, then shrugged. "I thought you wanted this guy, Connor. Let's go. Come on."

Tabling the issue - for now - she crossed in front of the van, climbing into the passenger seat as Jim revved the engine. As soon as her door was closed he took off. She pulled the belt across and fastened it, then braced herself. The van slewed around corners, Jim taking back roads and alleys in order to avoid the jammed traffic. Blair had remained behind, still talking on the cell phone, a wary eye on the prisoner behind him.

Finally they reached the point, parking the van and getting out. They moved forward cautiously, Jim gesturing to the crumpled hang glider, abandoned about twenty feet ahead of where they had parked.

"We missed him."

She could hear the defeat in her voice, hating it. The American just looked around.

"No, maybe not," he said. "Come on."

They moved closer to the beach, then the hum of an engine came across the water.

Jim cocked his head. "There's a boat coming."

"Then Bruenell's still here."

She grinned over at her companion, catching the glint of the return smile through the darkness. Of one mind, they walked toward the beach, crouching behind a pile of rocks near the sand as the boat drew nearer to the shore. Megan glanced around, stiffening as she spotted Bruenell making his way toward the boat. Standing up, she aimed her gun at him.

"Bruenell! Freeze!"

Never one to do as told, Bruenell began to shoot at her. Jim pulled her down behind the rocks, then both of them returned fire, pinning the criminal down behind his own rock. The boat kept coming, the men inside leaping onto the beach as soon as it came into shallow water, already aiming their weapons at the cops. Megan reloaded as Jim kept them busy, then stuck her head up over the rocks, swearing as she spotted Bruenell leaving the beach.

Nudging Jim, she pointed toward the retreating man. Jim nodded, turning his attention on the men from the boat as she went after Bruenell. She moved carefully. He might be out of ammo, but then again, he might not. In the distance she could hear the wail of sirens. *Backup,* she thought. *But they'll be too late to catch Bruenell. It's up to me.*

He had to be heading for the van - it was the only way left for him to leave the point. Moving rapidly, she circled around behind the vehicle, coming up to it just as Bruenell pulled the door open. She stepped on a stick, the sound loud in the stillness, and he froze.

"Is that you, Inspector?"

His voice was calm, a familiar hated unctuousness filling it and making her teeth ache. She took another step. "By air, by sea -- the only thing left was land. Now, step away from the vehicle. Move." He hesitated and she stepped closer. "I said move!"

He spun, a hand reaching out and knocking her gun out of her hand. She danced away from his punch, sizing up her opponent with glee. Hand to hand was just the way she liked it. He glared at her, then pulled out a knife, its blade glinting in the dark. He knew how to use it, striking with savagery and skill. But she was better.

She took a calming breath, then spun, her legs flying as she kicked him, driving him backward toward the van, then knocking the knife away. The calm lost, she grabbed him, knocking his skull against the metal. He groaned, then slumped down, unconscious. Trained instinct taking over, she grabbed for her gun, then stood over him, her eyes focused on the hated face, her finger twitching on the trigger.

It would be so easy. So final. It still wouldn't make up for all the man had done, but it would make bloody sure he'd never hurt anyone again. She wanted to do it.

Dimly, she was aware of Jim coming nearer, his voice seeming far away. His words took a moment to penetrate, then a hand waved in front of her face.

"He's out, he's out. Are you with us?"

She drew a long breath, the air moving raggedly, then nodded, her hands beginning to shake at what she had almost done. "Yeah."

She holstered her gun slowly, looking up as several squad cars pulled in behind the van. The officers within got out, approaching them slowly, then relaxing as Jim raised a hand to greet them.

He looked back at her. "Nice moves." He chuckled. "-- what I saw before the KO."

His tone was warm, accepting, and Megan let herself begin to relax. "Well, you've never been the only woman in an outback pub."

He laughed again. "Come on," he said, wrapping a hand around her arm. As the uniformed officers drew nearer, he gestured at Bruenell. "Clean this up, would you, guys?"

They nodded and he pulled her away from the van. She looked back once, needing to see that it was real - that Bruenell truly had been caught - then was caught by Jim's bland question.

"You a Jackie Chan fan?"

She looked at him in startled amazement, then let herself laugh, feeling a terrible knot loosen as she did. She'd almost shot Bruenell in cold blood, yes. But the key word there was almost.

And - she had the feeling that Jim Ellison understood. Both the desire to do it, and the relief that she hadn't. She'd have to thank him. Later. Maybe.

~~~~~~~~

Jim grinned as he and Blair approached the exercise bike Megan was on, having no difficulty seeing the powerhouse from the night before in the woman pedaling rapidly. His hand went out to prevent Blair from getting too close. "Stand back, Chief," he warned. "If she loses control, this thing might just plow through that wall and take out a couple innocent bystanders."

She grimaced at him, her eyes dancing, then smiled at Blair. "Why are you here early? My plane doesn't leave till 5:00."

Jim kept his face blank. "We're not taking you to the airport, Connor."

"Oh." Her disappointment was obvious. "Well, I'll take a taxi, then."

He shrugged. "Good luck. I think every cabdriver in town has your picture firmly planted on the dashboard."

Blair elbowed him in the ribs and Jim winced. The grad student's elbows were sharp! So was his glare, actually.

"Come on, Jim," Blair ordered, then smiled at Megan. "Uh, you're not going, either." He handed her the envelope he's been carrying.

Megan slit it open, pulling out a folded piece of paper and looking at it with surprise. "Given the capture of Scott Bruenell," she read aloud, "our two departments have jointly decided there is mutual benefit in extending the officer exchange program and, therefore..." She looked up at them with a wide smile. "I've been invited to stay."

Jim smiled in return. "That's right. If my partner read your letter correctly when he held it up against the light."

"Which I did, I'm sure," Blair said with equanimity. "Banks sent us with the news. He would have come himself but he had a little trouble with his car."

She sent Jim an arch glance, which he returned with a blank expression. "Oh, the one Jim wrecked. I thought that was repaired."

Blair shrugged. "Well, it was. But they got the color wrong. You see, Simon really doesn't look too good in radioactive..."

Jim chimed in with Blair. "...Lime."

Megan made a face and Blair laughed. "Oh, it's horrible," the anthropologist agreed. "Well, we're supposed to take you back to the precinct, get you a desk, get you a locker."

"Some therapy," Jim teased. She glared at him.

"I haven't accepted the invitation. I do have a choice in the matter."

"Not really."

Jim had to agree with Blair. "It's pretty much a lock what you're going to choose, right? What are you going to do?"

She laughed, then threw up her hands. "Give me ten minutes to finish my workout." She handed Jim the letter and stood up from the bike. "Oh, and Jimbo, you should do 20 a day on this... Help head off that middle-age spread."

Jim blinked at her in amazement. *What middle-age spread?* Blair laughed and patted his stomach, the laugh disappearing as Megan spoke again.

"And it wouldn't hurt you to keep him company, Sandbag."

Jim let his own laughter escape and returned Blair's gesture. His guide ignored him, staring after Megan in disgruntlement. She walked away from them, taking a posture in front of a mirrored wall and starting to do kicks and spins.

"Here's what we do, Chief," Jim said conspiratorially, "-- we scour the zoos to find a demented kangaroo..."

The grad student nodded, his eyes fixed on Megan. "Good."

"Teach him to box..."

"Good."

"Toss the two in a ring together."

Blair smiled. "Nice."

"Shazam!" Jim declaimed.

"I dig it," Blair agreed. "A little Aussie grudge match."

"Yeah."

"Isn't that cruelty to animals, though?"

Having seen Megan in action, Jim had to agree. "Mmm... yeah."

Blair chuckled. "Which one?"

The comment drew a surprised laugh out of Jim. The two men laughed together for a minute, then sobered as Megan finished up and came over to them. *One thing's for sure,* Jim thought. *Working around her will never be dull.*


~The End~

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