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Night Shift
Night Shift
By: Lyn Townsend

Beta Read by Cheri Allen and Carole Cappe
Written for PetFly by Richard Maxwell
Rated PG


~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~

The night was cold and still, the back streets of Cascade silent for the most part and deserted. Gabe huddled inside his makeshift shelter and reached forward to pull a candle from his meager belongings then lit it. The small glow dimly lit up the interior of the large box he currently called home and warmed his face.

Gabe didn't like the city, it was altogether too dark and unfriendly, soulless and he wondered briefly if he'd made a mistake in coming here. Footsteps sounded from the street, approaching Gabe's hideaway and he smiled gently. No mistake then. Everything was as it should be.

The footsteps passed by him then stopped a little further on. Gabe parted the plastic curtain of his shelter and looked out just as a dark-haired teenager expertly broke into a Cadillac parked at the curb. The older man watched silently as a door opened in a building further up the alleyway and three men walked out.

A swarthy heavy-set man dressed in a light brown trench coat spoke to the thin jittery man walking along beside him. A third man, large and angry-looking brought up the rear.

"Well, Walter, I want you to think. That's all you said?" the trench-coated man asked. "He didn't ask you anything else?"

The nervous one shook his head vigorously. "No, and I wouldn't have said anything, but that subpoena spooked me."

The first man nodded, looking sympathetic. "Understandable. Juries can be very intimidating."

"What do I do now?" Walter asked.

Gabe continued to watch as the man in the coat stepped in front of Walter and pulled an envelope from his pocket. "You know, your first instinct was exactly right. Disappear." He handed the envelope to the other man. "It's all there," he added. "Count it."

"I trust you, Mr. Kaplan," the second man said, riffling through the bank notes regardless.

Kaplan touched Walter's shoulder and smiled. "Walter. We're friends, am I right, huh?" He waited until Walter nodded. "I want us to stay friends. Go ahead. Count it."

"Okay." He looked around nervously before pulling the money from the envelope.

Kaplan patted his shoulder. "Relax, Walter. By this time tomorrow you'll be far away from here."

Walter's eyes went wide as the big man standing behind him suddenly dropped a wire garrote around his neck and pulled it tight. The envelope dropped to the ground as his flailing hands went up to his throat trying desperately to pull the choking wire away. Kaplan stepped back a little, and watched with distaste on his broad face as Walter began to gasp for breath.

Gabe frowned sadly and shifted back inside his box-home, blowing out his candle. Sitting in the dark, he heard the sound of a car engine starting up and saw the illumination of headlights through the plastic at his doorway. He poked his head out just as Kaplan turned toward the Cadillac, a look of surprise on his face.

The bigger man pulled Walter to face him and fired a gun twice into his chest. Dropping the lifeless body to the ground, he fired several shots at the car but the teenage thief managed to back the car up and steer it away as bullets ricocheted off of the bodywork. The fishtailing back end of the vehicle slammed into Gabe's shelter, ripping off the plastic curtain and collapsing the box but Gabe was already out.

Standing on the roof of a lobby, he watched undetected as Kaplan ran to the side of the alleyway and pressed himself back against the brick wall, sheltering from the gunfire. The gunman ran to a second car, started it and pursued the fleeing teenager out of the alley. Gabe looked on in silence as Kaplan hurried back to the dead man's side. Reaching down, he fumbled through Walter's pockets and retrieved a wallet then scurried off into the night.

~~~~~~~~

Jim Ellison sighed in exasperation as he pulled up outside the police station. He looked over at the hyperactive criminal currently occupying the passenger seat of his truck. "Just sit tight," he instructed Frank. "Keep your hands away from the glove compartment."

Frank nodded exuberantly. "You got it, man."

"I'll come around," Jim added. "Stay where you are."

Frank grinned happily. "All right."

Jim shook his head and climbed out of the truck, making his way quickly around the rear in case Frank forgot his order and got out anyway. Detective Rafe walked over from the large van they'd confiscated from Jim's prisoner and grinned a little at Frank's antics.

"Rafe, I'm going to escort our guest to booking," Jim told him. "Why don't you take the van to evidence and we'll go through the treasure trove, all right?"

Rafe's smile grew a little wider. "Want a leash?"

Jim grimaced. "More like a muzzle," he quipped. He made his way around to the passenger side and opened the door. Reaching in, he pulled the handcuffed man from the interior. Frank continued to bounce energetically and Jim was starting to feel queasy just watching him.

"Bang! Bang! Bang! The big boys. The big boys tipped you off -- Wal-Mart, Kmart, Martmart," Frank exploded. "They can't handle the competition. I got the lowest prices, the lowest prices. You know what I mean? Mano a mano is what I mean. They can't go mano a mano with me."

Jim led the babbling man toward the police station entrance. "How much speed did you take?"

Frank blinked dazedly at him. "What?"

"Speed?" Jim repeated. "How much?"

Frank shook his head. "I'm just thinking, is all."

"Okay," Jim agreed dubiously.

"I can't stop the train once it's got a full load of coal," Frank rambled. "Whoo! It takes off. You know, it's gone."

Jim was only half-registering Frank's words by now as his enhanced hearing picked up the sound of speeding cars heading in their direction.

Frank was still muttering unawares. "Damn. It's colder than a penguin's ass up here," he said, raising his manacled hands in an attempt to hug his chest. "You ever see a penguin?" but the detective's attention was already on the red car that was careening around the corner, headed straight toward them.

Chaos ensued as the car mounted the curb and terrified people ran for their lives. Jim managed to snag Frank's arms and drag him to safety. The car smashed into the doors of the police station sending shards of glittering glass raining down.

Jim ran toward the car, dragging Frank along with him. He could see the driver slumped over the steering wheel.

Frank shook his head mournfully. "That cat...that cat just lost his deductible. I'm not even an insurance salesman or nothing..." His discourse broke off as Jim shoved him at a uniformed officer.

"Take this guy!" With his hands now free, Jim pulled his weapon and opened the driver's side door quickly.

The driver was a young man, who looked up dazedly at him then scooted over toward the passenger side of the car, both hands raised. "Don't shoot. I'm not carrying! Don't shoot!" he stammered.

Jim holstered his gun then reached in and seized the young man's arm. "Get out of the car! Come on, let's go," he ordered. He pulled the boy around until he faced the car then slapped the roof of the vehicle with a fist. "Hands on the roof."

"Easy, easy, man. Come on. Easy," the teenager muttered.

Jim patted him down for weapons and drugs. He could feel the young man trembling beneath his hands. Turning the teen back to face him, Jim checked him visually for injuries but could see none. The young man's heart was pounding a mile a minute though and sweat beaded his pale face.

~~~~~~~~

Jim grimaced as he exited the elevator with the teenager on one side of him and the still-talking Frank on the other. The night seemed to be going from bad to worse. A routine call to check out stolen property had unearthed a seriously stoned Frank and his van full of plunder. Any thoughts Jim had of collecting Sandburg from where he'd settled himself at Jim's desk and getting in an early night had then been dashed by the silent teenager with a racing bent who'd just destroyed the foyer of the PD.

The detective was tired, hungry and pissed off. He'd woken that morning in a somber mood that had only darkened as his long shift went on. Something worried at his thoughts, an intangible, nebulous premonition that he could neither name nor identify. Jim sighed as he tightened his grip on the wriggling Frank. The psychobabble was Blair's territory. Maybe it was just the unsettling effect of the public service strikes that were sending everything in Cascade into chaos.

Frank leaned past him as they walked into the Major Crimes bullpen and smiled at the young boy. "You with me, bro? You with me, huh? Man, you just reached the pinnacle of the expression of your individuality by driving your car through the front of the cop shop, man. This man is a hero!"

The boy scowled at Frank's exuberance then shot Detective Brown a nasty look as he came over to meet them.

"Jim, the captain wants me to take over on Frank," the detective said.

"Good," Jim replied with a sigh of relief. He handed Frank over to Henri's care.

Brown regarded the thief and shook his head. The man was well known to the cops at Major Crimes. "Frank, you still conducting business over on Long Street?"

"No, Frank's gone mobile," Jim supplied. "His chariot awaits you down in evidence. Copy me on everything, won't you?"

Henri shrugged. "I would if the copiers were working."

"Don't tell me. Office services walked, too?"

Henri nodded. "Sanitation, road repairs. The mayor needs to fix this… soon."

"No!" Frank interrupted. "No, no, no, no. Strikes are good, man. Strikes are good. You got to... bam!" He slammed a fist into his palm. "You got to crush authority, that's what you gotta do, you know what I'm talking about?"

Brown shook his head and led the other man away toward his desk. "You still crankin', my brother?"

Frank adopted a shocked expression at the question though his glazed eyes suggested an affirmative answer. "Crankin'? Speed? No, man. Hey, hey, no. It's caffeine, baby. It's caffeine. It's legal, affordable and you got a mocha java pusher on every street."

"Frank, shut up."

Jim grinned at Henri's sharp reprimand then turned his attention to the sullen young man still in his care. He led him over to his desk where Blair was bent over a folder, working diligently.

"Is this the young man that's responsible for our remodeling?" Simon Banks asked as he approached them.

Jim nodded. "Yes. Says his name is Johnny Macado. So far, that's all he'll say."

Simon regarded the silent teen sternly. "You know, I hadn't pictured our lobby as a patio. Where were you last summer when the air conditioning went down?"

Johnny glared at the tall police captain. "I get a phone call, right?"

Simon met Johnny's stare with an icy one of his own. "You get one when we give you one, son." He looked at Jim. "I'll have someone else book him in. Right now, I need you to roll on a call. Shots fired on Lincoln Avenue. Megan took the call. It's her first homicide."

Jim straightened and nodded. Connor was not his favorite pick for case partner but he knew he had no choice. "I'll guide her through it, Captain."

Simon grimaced. "Jim, that's guide, not drag."

Jim ignored the pointed comment and tapped Blair on the shoulder. "All right, let's go, Chief. We got a homicide. Get your coat."

Blair pulled his attention away from his work and closed the fabric-covered folder, before stuffing it into his backpack. He stood and retrieved his jacket and bag and followed Jim out the door.

Simon pulled Johnny out of the chair and led him toward his office. "Come on. You're with me."

~~~~~~~~

Jim looked over quickly as Blair chuckled once more then shook his head and made a notation in his book. "Chief, uh...I got a bit of an alternator problem here. If you use the light, the battery's going to drain."

Blair took no notice of Jim's comments and continued to scrawl in his notebook. Jim tried again, letting impatience creep into his tone. "Come on. Can we put a pin in it?"

He reached out to switch off the overhead light but Blair grabbed his hand and pushed it away. "No, no, come on, Jim, I'm on a heavy deadline here." He patted the cloth-bound folder on his lap. "If I don't get this introductory chapter into my dissertation to my committee tomorrow, I could lose all my grants."

Jim's curiosity was piqued. "That's your dissertation?"

"Yeah."

"I thought we'd agreed I'd read your magnum opus before you sent it in for publication."

"Jim, this is just for peer review," Blair answered, his attention back on his notes. "It's not for publication, and it's only an introductory chapter."

Jim angled his head to try and make out the words on the page. "So I can read the introduction, huh?"

Blair sighed and moved the folder toward his chest, blocking the detective's view. "Jim, look, you're the subject of an ongoing study. If you were to read this before we finished, it would invalidate all our research," he explained. Placing the notes flat on his lap once more, he gave his partner a smile and went back to reading. "Now stop worrying. There's nothing to be afraid of. Actually, some of it's kind of funny." He laughed outright and circled something on the page. "Especially that. I'd love to tell you what it is, but I can't."

Jim glared at him as Blair broke out into delighted laughter. Stymied, the detective turned his attention back to the road. Ahead he could see the flashing lights sitting atop Connor's car. Jim turned into the alleyway and parked the truck. Getting out, the two men walked over to where the Australian detective was crouched next to the blood-spattered body of a man. Jim lifted the tape and let Blair duck beneath it before stepping under it himself.

Connor looked up at their approach and frowned. "Ellison, what are you doing here?" She turned on a smile for Blair. "Hi, Sandy."

Jim grimaced at her. "It's nice to see you, too, Connor. The captain thought we should work together on this. Is there a problem?"

Megan stood up and shook her head. "No problem. I can use the help," she said. She motioned to the body. "I took the anonymous 911 call. Found him like this. No suspect, no witnesses, no wallet."

Jim crouched down beside the dead man. "There's a missing ring," he said, lifting one limp hand toward the light.

Megan nodded. "I noticed. Suggests a mugging. Marks on the throat imply strangulation, probably a wire. And there are two gunshot wounds as well."

Jim called over the forensic photographer. "Hey, Barry, can we get a portrait here?"

Jim noticed that Blair had remained as close to the edge of the tape as possible. Even after three years, the anthropologist was not used to dealing with violent death. If the sentinel had ever thought that riding with the police would harden the younger man to the nastier side of life, he was relieved to know he was wrong.

"I thought when you garrote somebody, it's to kill them quietly," Blair said now, looking at a point over Jim's shoulder. "Why risk the two gunshots?"

"Well, since the mark on the neck is shallow and the victim was shot from the front, it would appear the hit was interrupted. The killer probably figured strangulation was taking too much time and decided to end it with a bullet."

Megan stared at Jim. "You call this a hit?"

"Yeah. It's your basic mob hit, I'd say, yeah."

"Interesting theory."

Jim shrugged, not caring one way or the other what Connor thought. "Glad you like it."

He turned around slowly toward the mouth of the alley. Dialing up his sight, he felt Blair's hand touch the small of his back, grounding him as he extended his senses. The scrape of red paint on the edge of the Dumpster would have been invisible to normal sight. Jim jogged back toward the entrance to the alleyway and knew that Blair was right behind him. The detective pulled his keys from his pocket and took a scraping of the paint.

"Judging by the height I'd say it was a car," he said. He lifted the sample to his nose and sniffed carefully. "It's fresh, lacquer-based."

Blair held out a plastic bag and waited for Jim to drop the paint scraping inside. "You've got to be going pretty quick to hit that thing."

"Yeah." Jim held the bag out to a passing uniformed officer. "Joe? Would you mind running this over to the lab for a complete analysis, please?"

Joe nodded and took the small plastic bag as Jim stood and accompanied Blair back to the truck.

"What do you think this is all about?" Blair asked as he climbed into the passenger seat.

"What it's always about, Chief -- cash money, maybe territory, payback." He turned the key in the ignition then frowned at Blair when the truck refused to start. "That's great, Chief. I hope you're happy now. The battery is DOA."

Blair shot him a weak smile. "I'll check it out," he offered, climbing back out of the truck.

"What are you going to do?" Jim asked in exasperation. The fact that Sandburg's car was always breaking down didn't bolster Jim's confidence in Blair's abilities as a mechanic.

He waited, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel impatiently as Blair lifted the hood. He tensed as he heard Blair's voice, the tone a little high-pitched.

"Hey... whoa! You scared me."

Jim was already climbing out of the truck as an unfamiliar voice answered. "My name is Gabe. I've come to bear witness."

"Bear witness?" Blair was asking. "What are you talking about, man?"

Jim strode to the front of the truck and eyed the man standing there. He was tall but rather thin, his blonde hair unkempt, a light dusting of whiskers on his cheeks. He wore an old overcoat over a stained sweater and threadbare jeans. Blue-tinged fingers peeked out from finger-less gloves.

"What's going on?" Jim asked.

Gabe turned to him and smiled beatifically. "They talked with him with smiling words and yet had met in secret, saying 'when his eyes turn upon our silver, then shall we fall on him.' But the Lord had sent a witness whose feet might yet be brought to righteous paths. His words would be believed."

Jim nodded slowly. "You know, I was just thinking the same thing."

Blair held up a hand silencing a further sarcastic comment from Ellison. "Shh, shh!" He turned to Gabe. "Did you see what happened here tonight?"

"I'm an angel sent to witness him," Gabe replied.

Jim smiled widely. "Oh, you're an angel? Oh, I see. Well, your wings are looking a little raggedy."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Uh, hey. Jim, come here." He pulled the still grinning detective to one side before he spoke again. "You put this angel stuff aside, I think he saw the murder, man."

"Oh, and you think this tower of babble's testimony will hold up in court?" He glanced over at Gabe and stepped forward quickly as the stranger closed the hood of the truck. "Hey, hey, Preacher. Please get away from the car, would you?"

The detective stopped in surprise as the truck's engine growled to life and the headlights flared, illuminating Gabe in an eerie glow. Jim looked at Blair. "What'd you do to the battery?"

Blair shook his head, his mouth hanging open. "I didn't do a thing."

"All right," Jim shook himself and pulled his attention back to the matter at hand. "Why don't you see if you can convince our angel there to accompany us to the station for a chat."

~~~~~~~~

Major Crimes, and indeed it appeared all of Cascade PD, was in chaos by the time Jim and Blair arrived back with Gabe in tow. Crowds of people, many looking as derelict and dirty as their angel, milled about the corridors.

Jim looked around in surprise and then spotted Simon heading toward them. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. What is going on here?" he asked the captain.

Simon shook his head, a nerve in his jaw twitching madly as he ushered them into the bullpen. "Social services joined the strike and with all the beds filled up, the mayor has graciously volunteered the police and fire departments to take up the overflow."

Blair patted Simon's shoulder sympathetically. "That is some good karma there, Simon."

Simon frowned at him, unconvinced. "I'm living in this life right now, Sandburg, and, let me tell you, it's a pain in the butt."

All of them looked up as a blues harmonica erupted from the PA system. Jim tried to hide a grin as Blair instantly began to bop to the catchy beat and Simon's patience was exhausted.

"Would someone please get this man off of my PA system?" the captain yelled.

Blair held up his hands in an effort to calm Simon down. "I got it, I got it." He gave Jim a smile before walking off to find the phantom blues performer.

Simon turned his assessing gaze on Gabe. "Is this the witness?"

"Yeah. Sandburg says he is, but the gentleman claims he's an angel." Jim rolled his eyes to indicate what he thought of that.

Gabe smiled at Simon, his eyes lighting up in pleasure. "Hello, brother."

Simon chuckled and patted Gabe's shoulder. "Hello to you. You'll fit right in." He waved an arm about at the people crowding the bullpen. "We have the heir to the throne of Romania and an interplanetary walk-on."

Leading the way through to his office, he paused to admonish an old man who was searching through a waste paper bin. "Sir? No foraging."

~~~~~~~~

Jim stood beside Megan as they ran through the information they had on the murder.

Simon steepled his hands on the desk in front of him. "All right," he began. "What do we have here?"

"A possible mugging."

"Your basic mob hit." Jim grimaced as Connor's reply drowned out his own.

Simon frowned and held up a hand. "One at a time," he ordered.

Jim gestured grandly to Megan who smiled coolly at him then spoke up. "Homicide," she began. "One victim, possible mugging. I'm waiting for forensics and we still don't have the victim ID'd."
.
Jim stared at her. "Is that it?" he asked.

"After you," Megan sniffed.

Jim turned back to Simon. "The victim was strangled, sir -- possibly wire. Shot through the chest -- something like a nine mil. There was evidence of vehicles at the scene plus Sandburg's, uh, witness."

"What witness?" Connor interjected but Simon was speaking now.

"Sounds like we're dealing with a professional hit. Jim, I want you to run point on this one. My spider senses are tingling. I'll get his photo search started through DMV."

Jim nodded and was about to leave but Megan spoke up again. "Excuse me, sir. But I'm the primary on this homicide. I took the call."

"Look, Connor, you still need to be run through this department's homicide procedures," Simon replied. "Your past few cases have been, shall we say, a little too improvised."

Jim chuckled softly but sobered when Connor shot him an icy glare. She pasted a smile on her face and looked back at Simon. "Oh, I see," she answered, nodding. "We're playing by Rafferty's rules."

Simon shook his head and reached for his cigar case. "No, by my rules."

Connor shrugged. "Same diff," she said haughtily before spinning on her heel and stalking from the room.

Jim gave the captain a puzzled look. The Australian was harder to understand than Sandburg. "Who's Rafferty, sir?"

~~~~~~~~

Megan Connor made her way down to the evidence lock-up, still fuming over Ellison's one-upmanship. Brown and Rafe were there going through the booty in Frank's van. Rafe greeted her as she walked in.

"Connor. What's up?"

Megan followed the detective around to the back of the van. "I'm investigating a homicide on East Lincoln. Detective Ellison mentioned a witness. Either of you see him bring anyone in?"

Rafe shook his head as Brown passed him a large painting from the van. "No. We've been down here."

Megan eyed the artwork thoughtfully. "Didn't a couple of Jackson Pollack's go missing last week?"

"That's a forgery -- a lame one," Rafe replied, placing the print to one side.

Brown nodded his agreement. "I got a better-looking drop cloth than that."

Brown continued to root through the items still in the back of the van. An ominous growl from the shadowed recesses of the van made him freeze. Rafe and Connor stepped back as Brown let out a startled yelp and jumped from the van followed closely by a large reptile. The animal snaked its way between Henri's legs and took off rapidly down the hallway. The three cops took off in pursuit but the alligator disappeared into a nearby ventilation shaft.

Brown skidded to a halt and stared at the others. "Hey! What was that?"

"What was Frank doing with an alligator?" Rafe asked, his features rather pale in the harsh glare of the overhead lights.

Brown shrugged and kept a watchful eye on the entrance to the shaft. "Must be his idea of a watch dog," he quipped.

Megan crouched down by the opening and listened for a moment. "I don't hear him." She looked up as a uniformed officer approached. "Can I borrow your flashlight, please? Thanks."

Switching the flashlight on, Megan aimed its beam into the mouth of the shaft. Outlined in the glow, the alligator turned its beady eyes toward them and growled.

"Megan, be careful!" Rafe grabbed her arm and pulled her back with a shout as the alligator lunged toward them. Megan squealed and threw herself backward, landing hard on her butt and sending Rafe to the ground beside her. She watched nervously as Henri leaned in and took another look.

"It's gone further in," Henri said, sitting back on his haunches. He shook his head. "I don't believe this. That thing's got to be at least nine feet long."

"Its teeth are nine feet long," Megan amended as she stood and dusted herself off. She shuddered as she heard the alligator moving around in the shaft. "I'll notify Captain Banks," she said, eager to beat a hasty retreat. "You two stay here and keep an eye on it."

Henri nodded. "Okay, sure but I'm doing it from way over there, man."

~~~~~~~~

"Here you go."

Kaplan shook his head angrily as the waitress placed his drink in front of him. "Damn it," he swore. "I asked for a single-malt scotch. You know, the oldest thing in this bar shouldn't be you, honey."

The waitress barely blinked an eye at the insult. "Oh, drop dead, you jerk."

Kaplan looked up as Smallwood slid onto the barstool next to him. "Hey, are you ever on time? Did you take care of it?" he asked the big man.

Smallwood shook his head. "No, but I know where he is. Police headquarters."

"He's probably given a statement already."

"Relax," Smallwood replied. "He's up to his eyeballs in his own stew right now. That dumb-ass drove your Cadillac right through the precinct's front window."

Kaplan sighed dramatically. "That's just perfect. And you're telling me I should relax?"

"Yeah." Smallwood toyed with a coaster on the bar. He picked up a chip out of the bowl in front of him and studied it for a moment before tossing it back. "I made a couple of calls and checked it out. The kid's up for grand theft auto, reckless driving, destruction of public property. He's in their lockup. A jail's the easiest place there is to lay on a hit. You just make sure our alibis are airtight. Leave the kid to me."

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


Jim and Simon walked down the hall, ducking around aimlessly wandering crowds of people. Simon indicated the file on Johnny Macado that Jim carried.

"As you can see he's not a hardened criminal. Those are all minor offenses. But the kid wasn't just out joyriding. See that slip of paper? We found that on him."

Jim studied the slip of paper attached to the folder. "So he's got a chop shop. These are all spare parts."

He nodded brusquely at Megan Connor as she and Henri Brown met them and accompanied them into the bullpen. Connor gave Jim a terse nod before turning to Simon.

"Captain."

"Yeah. How's it going?"

Megan sighed. "So far, not so good, but we think the alligator is still in the ventilation system."

Simon looked up at the ceiling nervously and Jim found it difficult to stifle a grin. "How big did you say that thing was?"

"Captain, can't we just get the mayor to give us a couple of animal control boys, break the walkout so they can come and help us out?" Brown asked hopefully.

"Banks, if your people can find a felon in a city of two million people, you can find a lizard in your damn building." Simon did a reasonable imitation of the mayor's voice. "That's a direct quote."

"That's a good mayor." Jim let the grin show on his face. "I don't know why you're all worrying. This gator's probably just catching some z's. You know, keeping warm."

"Actually, if he was warm, he'd be more active. And you don't have to worry, Captain, although he's in the shaft, the alligator can't climb up any further. His legs are too short. He's still in the basement, just too far in for anyone to reach him." As the three men stared quizzically at her, Connor shrugged. "My brother and I used to go croc spotting with my uncle a few times."

"Croc spotting," Brown repeated, affecting an up-market English accent.

"Croc spotting," Simon repeated, joining in. All three men chuckled as Megan glared at each of them in turn.

"You know, Connor, offhand, I'd say that you were the perfect person for this job," Simon said when he'd recovered some of his composure. He patted the Australian's shoulder. "Congratulations."

Megan's mouth opened and closed a few times before she managed to get her protest out. "But, Captain... "

Putting as much authority into his voice as he could, considering the bizarre happenings of the evening, Simon continued. "You're in charge, Connor. Find me the alligator."

Leaving a flabbergasted Connor and a chuckling Henri in their wake, Jim and Simon continued up the hallway toward the interrogation rooms. Simon tapped on the Macado file in Jim's hands.

"Oh, hey, open that up. Open that up. You should see whose car the kid lifted."

Jim did so and quickly perused the first page. "Charles Kaplan. The defense attorney?"

"Yeah." Simon snorted. "Almost makes him a hero."

Jim could only agree. Charles Kaplan was known as a dirty player in the world of law. Rumors were that he had mob connections and he was suspected of accepting bribes from the people he defended. Handing Simon the file, Jim entered the first interrogation room and prepared to question the young man seated sullenly at the table.

~~~~~~~~

Jim studied the silent Macado. Dialing up his senses, he could hear the young man's heart racing, see the sweat that beaded his upper lip and the fine tremor in his fidgeting hands. He tried to reach Johnny again.

"It's not you we're after. We're after the people that you work for. So you give us names, you walk with probation. That's how it works."

Johnny glared back. "You think I'm going to sell my friends out for a deal like that?"

"Your friends? Let me ask you something. What kind of friend would get you into this?"

Johnny snorted, the derision evident on his face. "You must live on the rich side of town."

"Yeah, that's me."

"Do I get my phone call? I've got to call my mom."

Jim stood and walked to the door. "We tried. She wasn't there."

"She's at the hospital. She works there."

Jim regarded the teenager soberly. "You sure? If she's sick, we'll call social services."

Bristling at the words, Johnny straightened in his chair and glared at Ellison. "Hey, you leave those pendejos out of this. All they do is make trouble. The only thing that helps is a little cash to tide mom over." He sighed and stared down at the table. "You got to send me away, you do it. Just don't try to con me that you care."

Stepping back to the table, Jim pushed the phone over to Johnny. "You want to make a phone call, go ahead. Call your mom. Ask her what she thinks."

~~~~~~~~

Simon had sent Blair off to phone around the town's various shelters and charitable organizations for assistance while waiting for Gabe to write up his witness report. The captain waved the young man in when he knocked on the office door.

"Hey, Simon, I called every shelter in town. No luck. But the Sisters of Hope said they'd send over some hot meals."

Simon nodded, pleased to have some progress made. "Oh, great. Why not have them set up in the break room?"

"Okay." Blair hovered for a moment, crinkling the paper in his hands.

Simon looked up from his paperwork. "Something else?"

"Uh... yeah. Actually, there is. I want you take a look at this." Blair held out the slightly crumpled sheet of paper. "This is Gabe's witness report."

Simon squinted at the page then turned it upside down before scowling at Sandburg. "What the hell is this? Is this a real language?"

Blair smiled. "Yeah. I actually had to look it up in a couple different books. It's Aramaic. Now no one's spoken this form of Aramaic for over 1,500 years. It's an ancient Biblical language. A lot of the Old Testament was written in it."

Simon gaped at him. "Biblical?" He handed the report back to the anthropologist. "Come on, Blair, you don't think Gabe is some sort of..."

"Angel?" Blair finished for him. "Uh, no. No. Of course not. But supposed states of possession, angelic or otherwise are common in some cultures. The Yoruba, the Siberian Yakut. Or as a coping mechanism for modern street people."

Simon could see the excitement bubbling up in the anthropologist as he warmed to his subject. This was Blair's field, and the younger man's vast knowledge impressed him as it often did but right now he needed facts, not romantic theories.

He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose then picked up a pen and scrawled his signature on an official looking form before handing it to Blair. "All right, look, here's an authorization form. Why don't you go down to missing persons and see what you can find out? We're gonna need to know the guy's name to go to court."

"Okay, sure."

Simon's phone rang and he answered it brusquely, dismissing Blair with a wave of his hand as he did so. "Banks. Brown, this is not the time for a news crew to be running around the station. Now we've got the..."

He groaned as the PA system started up again, the soulful warbling of a blues singer echoing through the office. He tried to concentrate on Brown's voice over the noise. "They already know about it? Oh, damn. No. I'll handle it."

Simon found himself suddenly caught up in the tune as he hung up the phone. The singer was mournfully bemoaning a stogie and memories dying. He shook his head. "I couldn't have said it better myself. Wait a minute!"

The captain strode to the office door and wrenched it open. "Will somebody please get Howlin' Wolf off of my PA system!" he roared to anyone in the vicinity. Feeling decidedly put-upon, he slammed his door, gaining some satisfaction as the glass rattled in the frame.

~~~~~~~~

It wouldn't hurt to just take a quick look, would it? The dissertation was essentially about him, after all. Jim eyed Sandburg's thesis speculatively then stood abruptly and walked quickly over to where the fabric-covered binder sat on the opposite desk. He opened the cover and took out the small notebook from inside. A simple, typewritten label announced the contents - 'The Sentinel: Genetics, Mythology and Ontology of our Tribal Protectors by Blair Sandburg.' Feeling somewhat uncomfortable and not entirely sure why, Jim put the book inside his jacket and headed to the men's room.

~~~~~~~~

He was certain he'd left it right here on the desk when he'd been called away to take Gabe's statement. Blair riffled frantically through the items on the desk, his concern mounting when he could only find the binder for his introductory chapter and no notebook inside. Pulling out the desk drawers, he shuffled through the pens and notepaper inside. Shoving the drawer shut, he stood for a moment, mentally retracing his steps. Maybe he'd dropped it on the way upstairs. Maybe he'd left it in the truck after all.

A commotion from the hallway caught his attention and he looked up in time to see several people loaded with cameras and microphones hurry past. The press was here to film the alligator in the ventilation shaft. With his stomach churning at the thought of someone finding his research and putting two and two together, Blair headed back out to the elevator.

~~~~~~~~

"Captain Banks? Carrie Kingston, Channel 2 News. You know, I thought this was going to be just another warm and fuzzy piece on sheltering street people. But who can resist? An alligator trapped in the building's vent system?"

Simon chuckled and hoped he didn't sound too stressed. "Ms. Kingston, we've already had to survive our lobby being demolished. I was hoping to save face with this situation."

Carrie framed her sound bite with her hands in the air. "'Fearless cops courageously rescue the city's homeless from a four-legged fugitive. Film at 11:00.' Kind enough?"

Simon pasted a patient smile on his face and rubbed his forehead hoping to dispel the headache blooming there. Placing a hand on the reporter's back, he ushered her through the bullpen and into the elevator.

~~~~~~~~

Jim kept Sandburg's notebook concealed under his jacket as he exited the men's room and headed back to his desk. With his jaw clenched tightly, his face grim, he sat down and thought a moment before taking the book out and tossing it carelessly into the open desk drawer then slammed the drawer shut. Sitting forward, Jim massaged his temples and tried to rein in his mounting anger. First, he had a murderer to find; then he'd deal with Sandburg and his thesis.

~~~~~~~~

Megan tested the controls of the small robotic camera and watched as a technician connected a monitor cable to the camera. Behind her Carrie Kingston and her crew were setting up their own equipment. Megan smiled confidently as Simon approached.

"You sure you're squared away on this thing?"

"No worries." The Australian patted the robot affectionately. "The controls are like the one I checked out on in Sydney." She looked back at the news crew and lowered her voice. "I wish they weren't doing this. How's my hair?"

"Got a little something right there." The captain pointed at her teeth and laughed with her when she got the joke and smacked his shoulder. Megan watched him leave then tried to concentrate on setting up the robot and not think about her audience.

"3-2-1. This is Carrie Kingston from Cascade police headquarters. And this is Nitro, the bomb squad robot."

Gabe watched the activity inside the control room, nodding knowingly as the reporter began her introduction and Henri picked up the robot, carrying it over to be lowered into the shaft leading to the basement. "Who can snare leviathan, rope him about the nose and pierce his tong?" Gabe recited softly in a slightly sing-song tone. "Iron is but straw to him, and brass as rotten wood."

Carrie continued her report after a brief annoyed glance in Gabe's direction. "We've seen Nitro locate explosives. But tonight he'll be tracking wild game. Somewhere in the air ducts that honeycomb this building lurks a predator. A dangerous and probably ravenous alligator." Smiling, the reporter stepped up to Megan's side. "Now this is Police Inspector Megan Connor on loan to us from the New South Wales police in Australia. Cascade's answer to Crocodile Dundee." Connor rolled her eyes a little at the mundane joke. "She'll be guiding Nitro as he searches for the gator. We'll be able to see it on this monitor. Where are we now, Megan?"

"We're about 30 feet in. The shaft coming up runs back down to the basement. We think that's where the alligator is."

Everyone watched in tense silence as Nitro rounded a corner and the unmistakable sight of the alligator appeared on the monitor screen.

Carrie pointed excitedly. "There! There it is! We spotted him around the corner. Any second now..."

There was a sudden rush of movement from the alligator then a bright blinding light before the monitor faded to black.

"Oh, dear," Carrie said glumly.

Brown and Rafe started forward and pulled the mangled cable from the shaft after calling for the power to be cut. Brown held the frayed end of the cord in the air and Simon stifled a groan, then stepped forward, one hand upraised to halt the proceedings. "All right, all right, that's it." He placed his hand over the lens of the camera as the news crew filmed on regardless. "Cut!"


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


Blair had been called back to the bullpen before he could check downstairs for his thesis. He'd asked Charlie, the sergeant on the Front Desk but it appeared it hadn't been handed in and the anthropologist was becoming frantic with worry.

Jim sat at his desk going over reports and did not look up when Blair approached. "Jim, have you seen my dissertation?"

The detective took a moment to finish reading the sheet of paper in front of him before scooting back in his chair and opening his desk drawer. Blair gave an audible sigh of relief as Jim put the precious notebook in his hands. "Yes!" He managed to restrain himself from kissing Jim. "Oh, where was it? Was it down in the truck?"

Jim's attention however was fixed on the entrance to the bullpen and Blair looked over to see a portly well-dressed man enter. He recognized him as the lawyer, Charles Kaplan. Blair grinned as a horde of homeless people descended on the hapless attorney who waved them away derisively.

"What do I look like? A bank? Go away! Shoo!" Kaplan pushed his way through the crowd and walked over to meet Simon. Blair seated himself on a corner of the desk to watch the show as Jim stood and went to join them.

Simon nodded at the attorney. "Good evening, counselor. Oh, if you're here about your car, I'm afraid you came to the wrong place. It's down in the garage."

"Was it damaged badly?"

Jim grinned and Blair could see he was enjoying breaking the news to Kaplan. "Can you say 'flatbed'? Hmm? You'll probably have to get some heinous criminals off on technicalities to pay for the paint job."

Kaplan glared at Ellison. "What? You still pissed about the Mantini case? Jeez, Detective, get over it. You can't win 'em all."

"You sure seem to be able to," Simon put in.

Shaking the comment off with a wave of his hand, Kaplan held out a sheet of paper. "So I'm king of the world. Sue me. This is for you. A writ to produce. I want to see my client. His name's Johnny Macado."

Simon perused the writ quickly then stared at Kaplan in astonishment. "Is this some sort of joke? The kid steals your car, and now you're defending him?"

"I couldn't possibly buy this publicity and believe you me, this is beautiful publicity and it has Night Line written all over it."

Taking the paper from his captain, Jim looked at it and snorted. "Who wrote this? Geraldo?"

Kaplan pulled himself up to his full 5-feet 8-inch stature. "Look, Mr. Macado made his phone call. Now, I would like to see my client. Pretty please?"

Jim looked at Simon who shrugged. "Take him down to the interrogation rooms, Jim."

Kaplan grinned widely and adjusted the collar of his obviously expensive shirt. He looked Blair up and down as he followed Jim out the door then pulled a ten-dollar bill from his pocket and tossed it at the young man. Taken by surprise, Blair caught it instinctively, then smiled as he pocketed it. It would buy some extra soup and sandwiches for the people now bunking down in the hallway outside.

Standing, Blair watched a group of people walk out of the elevator, their arms loaded with soup pots and trays of sandwiches. Deciding Jim did not need him at the moment, Blair stuffed his precious dissertation into his backpack and hurried over to help.

~~~~~~~~

"Johnny, Johnny, Johnny."

Johnny looked up as Charles Kaplan entered the interrogation room. Fixing him with a glare, he pointedly ignored the older man's outstretched hand.

Kaplan shrugged and slid into a chair on the opposite side of the table. He smiled widely. "Can I call you Johnny? As your attorney everything we say is privileged. Now that means nobody can be secretly listening in so you've got nothing to worry about."

"I'm not worried. You should be worried."

"And why should I be worried, Johnny?"

Johnny shifted forward slightly and lowered his voice. "Because of what you did and what I saw. You capped that dude. You and the big guy, the one who shot at me."

"Are you sure it was me?" Kaplan frowned at Johnny's nod.

"Absolutely positive?"

"I recognize you from the times you've been on TV. There's a cop right outside the door. Do you want me to tell him how positive I am?"

"What do you want?" Kaplan finally said, the jocularity gone from his voice.

Shifting back in his chair, Johnny linked his hands behind his head, feigning nonchalance though his heart was pounding. "I want out of here...and money. I want 50.... No, I want $75,000. I can't keep boosting cars anymore, you know?"

To his surprise, Kaplan chuckled. "You're a smart guy, Johnny." He nodded slowly. "Okay. I guess we have a deal. See how easy that was, huh? Now you just let me work a little legal voodoo and this whole thing will disappear, okay? Huh? Huh? Come on." This time when he held out his hand, Johnny shook it. Kaplan beamed and patted the young man's shoulder. "All right."

Johnny watched as Kaplan stood and walked to the door, giving him a jaunty wave over his shoulder before the door was shut and locked behind him.

~~~~~~~~

Jim grimaced as Kaplan settled himself into a chair at Simon's desk and began to list off his intentions regarding Johnny Macado.

"Intention to represent, warrant for full disclosure, writ of habeas, yada, yada, yada. Ground rules, gentleman. No one talks to Johnny unless I'm present."

"What else do you want, Kaplan?" Simon asked.

"You can't put a 15-year-old kid in with general lockup."

"All right, he'll stay in the interrogation room until morning. How's that sound?"

"That's lovely. We're done."

Stepping closer to the attorney, Jim held up a hand. "Not quite. Counselor, where exactly did you say your car was stolen from?"

"My office lot. I was working late."

"And you can prove that?" Jim crossed his arms over his chest and regarded Kaplan doubtfully.

"I don't need to." Kaplan heaved himself to his feet and walked to the door. "Now, if you have any further questions for me, I highly advise you put them in writing." He gave Jim a disdainful glance. "You can write, I assume."

Jim stared after the repugnant man until he disappeared into the corridor. "He's lying."

Simon sighed. "If he's breathing, he's lying. I'm going to make some phone calls, see if I can find out what this weasel's up to." He reached for the phone, pausing when Jim headed out the door. "Where are you going?"

"Down to evidence. Whatever's going on, it starts with the car."

~~~~~~~~

Smallwood looked up from his beer as Kaplan perched himself on the stool beside him. "Is it all set?"

"All set. Yeah. He's being kept in the interrogation room, center hallway, sixth floor."

"I knew it." Smallwood nodded in satisfaction. "He's going to be there all night, alone?"

"Yeah. I mean, that's what you wanted, right?" Kaplan looked nervous as he lowered his voice and leaned toward Smallwood. "All I...all I want to know is how the hell do you intend on whacking this kid in the middle of a cop shop."

"Hey, do I quiz you about your professional secrets, huh? Your hand is shaking. You don't want me to start having doubts about you."

Kaplan stood, shaking his head and left but Smallwood didn't heed him. His eyes were fixed on the action on the television set behind the bar. He waved to the barmaid. "Hey, sweetheart, turn up the box, will you?"

//This is Carrie Kingston coming to you live from Cascade police headquarters where only a few moments ago, we witnessed one of the modern world's most persistent conflicts.//

In the operations room of the Cascade PD, Megan turned excitedly to Rafe and waved her hands about. "This is it! Turn it up."

//The battle between nature and machine. Nitro, the bomb squad robot, is a quarter of a million dollars of mechanical menace. His target tonight? One of nature's true survivors -- an alligator -- lost, hungry, afraid...//

Megan's mouth dropped open in surprise. "That's not what she said. Can she do that?"

Rafe's attention was still on Carrie Kingston as she continued her spiel.

//...as to how the rare, endangered alligator ended up in the building's ventilation system but the creature was smart enough to stay far away from its human pursuers. Unfortunately, we didn't return the favor. The terrified reptile responded instinctively and fought back.//

Smallwood drained his glass and rose from his stool, smiling. Pausing a moment, he listened to the final words from Carrie Kingston.

//But a happy ending may still await our scaly fugitive. The city worker's walkout has been settled at the negotiating table and having viewed our footage, Mayor Prescott informs us that he'll leave the reptile in the more gentle hands of animal control. Sorry, Captain Banks. Guess you'll have to do without that pair of alligator shoes.//

Smallwood chuckled and threw a bank note onto the bar. He winked at the barmaid. "Sweetheart, keep the change."

~~~~~~~~

Running his hands admiringly over the bodywork of Kaplan's car, Blair watched idly as Jim took a paint scraping from the far side of the vehicle. "You ever see yourself driving something like this, Jim? You know, a big ol' Caddy?"

Blair nodded at the silence. "Yeah, me neither. Something bugging you, huh?"

"Should something be bugging me, Chief?" Jim didn't look up from his close examination of the car.

"I don't know. That's why I asked. It's just you haven't said a word while we've been down here."

"I think this matches the paint from the Dumpster," Jim muttered as though to himself.

"This car was at the crime scene? Whoa. What are the odds on that?"

Jim straightened finally and waved over the Forensics officer who had accompanied them to the Evidence lock-up. "Vince? Do me a favor, Run this up to ballistics for a test on that slug and also have the lab give me a breakdown of this paint sample, would you, please." He handed the small plastic bag over to the other man. "Appreciate it."

Turning abruptly, Jim bumped straight into Blair who'd stepped up behind him as he spoke to Vince. The contact was hard enough for Blair to stagger back before regaining his balance. Before Sandburg could apologize, Jim exploded.

"Come on, Chief! Can I get a little space here?"

Blair gaped at the detective. "Jim, what's the matter with you?"

Jim shrugged then stepped around Blair. "I don't know. Maybe I'm feeling a little, uh, how did you say it -- 'territorially threatened to the point of paranoia'? I mean, what the hell is that?"

Anger and disappointment warred in Blair's brain. "You read my dissertation. Jim, I don't believe you. I asked you not to do that!" But Jim was still ranting, pacing up and down beside the car, turning occasionally to punctuate a point with a finger aimed at Blair.

"After I let you stay at my place. I get you a job at the department. I mean you don't have enough data, you've got to go digging into my ex-wife's life?"

Shaking his head vehemently, Blair struggled to get a word in past Jim's angry tirade. "That's not how it happened," he protested. "The only reason that I talked to Carolyn is because she's the only one who knows you better that I do."

Jim's eyes narrowed. "What has my sex life got to do with your project?"

Blair was sure his jaw hit the floor. "Sex life? What are you...? She said you had a fear of intimacy, Jim. Intimacy and sex are two different issues."

"Maybe to you they are, Chief, but my personal life and those involved in it are intimate to me."

Blair squared his jaw. "Look, we have three years of our lives invested in this thing and I'm not going to start shading any of it because you're starting to feel a little threatened."

"Threatened by you? I don't think so, Chief," Jim scoffed.

"What else do you call it?"

Jim took a deep breath. "I call it a violation of friendship and trust." He pushed past the stunned Sandburg and strode rapidly to the elevator.

By the time, Blair regained his composure and trotted after the detective, desperate to sort through the problem, Jim was pushing the button and the door clanged shut in Blair's face. Gritting his teeth and practicing his deep breathing, Blair turned toward the fire exit and began the long climb to the seventh floor.

~~~~~~~~

Smallwood made it into the underground parking garage of the precinct and walked quickly over to the van with Animal Control printed on the side. He held his hand out to the man standing by the open back doors of the van. "Detective Keller, Major Crimes. So you're the guy they brought in to wrestle the gator?"

The man nodded as he began to gather up his gear. "Yeah, Ben Stout. Saw you guys on TV. Let's make this quick and easy. Grab that bag and I'll get the gas mask."

Smallwood grasped Stout by the neck the minute he turned away and smashed his head forcefully into the side of the van. Stout collapsed without a sound and, after looking around quickly to ensure they had not been noticed, Smallwood lifted the unconscious man and bundled him into the back of the van. He stripped Stout's company jacket off him then collected several items that would lend credence to his cover.

~~~~~~~~

Blair made it to the seventh floor just as the elevator doors opened. Trying not to pant heavily, he fell into step beside Ellison as he emerged from the car. When he spoke, his tone was casual enough but he was barely holding onto his anger. "Hey, you also got a fear of courtesy."

Jim didn't reply and Blair finally stopped and watched him stride down the corridor without a backward glance. He felt his chest tighten as he realized that perhaps this time their friendship really was gone. He looked up as Simon stepped up to him, brandishing a sheet of paper.

"Hey, Sandburg, got a positive ID on your 'angel.'" Handing the file to Blair, Simon filled him in while Blair perused the information. "According to records, his name is Harold Blake. He taught semester of ancient history at Fordham."

Blair nodded in understanding. "Ah, guess that would explain him knowing Aramaic."

"Unmarried, no family. His employers reported him missing two years ago. Never heard from again."

The two made their way into the bullpen. "That is, of course, until now," Blair said. "Are you sure this thing's right?"

Simon nodded. "Fingerprints don't lie. I do wonder how he ended up in an alley living out of a cardboard box." Shaking his head sadly, Simon disappeared into his office. Blair sat down at Jim's desk and read through Blake's file. If nothing else, it took his mind off his argument with Jim.

~~~~~~~~

Jim observed Johnny Macado through the window of the interrogation room. The teenager was dozing, his head resting on the table. The detective felt a pang of pity at the sight. The kid seemed too young to be wrapped up in something as bad as murder.

Jim was pretty sure that Johnny was holding back information and he hardened his heart. Time to play some hardball with the kid. Opening the door, he crossed to the table in a couple of long strides and dragged a chair out, its legs screeching loudly against the floor. Johnny jumped, his head shooting up quickly at the sound as Jim dropped into the seat.

Johnny glared at him then rubbed at his eyes. "Hey, what's up with that?"

Jim shrugged. "You might as well get used to it. State pen's a noisy place." He leaned forward, clasping his hands together on the table. "You know, I can place you in a car and I can place the car at the scene which is all the DA's going to need to place a gun in your hand."

"I didn't shoot nobody."

"All right, so you were the driver. It doesn't matter to me. You're an accessory. I'll put you away either way. It doesn't matter."

Johnny lifted his chin defiantly. "I don't have to listen to you, man. You don't scare me."

"I hope I don't scare you. Do I look like I could scare you?" Standing, Jim rounded the table and leaned in close to Johnny, talking into his ear. "I tell you what I would think would scare a very nice-looking kid like you. Being the new, fresh meat on the cell block."

"Hey, man, I don't have..."

Jim grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and shoved him facedown onto the table. As Johnny struggled against the hold, Jim tightened his grip. "Now listen to me. You're in over your head, kid. Why don't you call your mom..."

Johnny managed to lift his head slightly. "You leave my mom out of this, all right?" he spat. "You just leave her alone."

Jim shook his head. "Your mother's going to miss you. You know that? She's going to be on her own for a while. There's not going to be any kissing Mommy good-bye."

Giving the kid a final shake, Jim released his hold and strode quickly from the room. His stomach rumbled reminding him he'd missed dinner and he made his way back up to Major Crimes. He'd have something to eat and let Johnny stew for a little before talking to him again. In the meantime, he wanted to find Sandburg and make sure he understood that Jim's private life was off-limits. If he couldn't write his dissertation without broadcasting personal details, then he could find himself another subject.


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


Blair glanced up, distracted from his thoughts as a large, beefy man dressed in overalls that proclaimed he was from Animal Control stepped from the elevator and caught his arm.

"Excuse me. You work here?" the man asked.

"Uh... sort of."

The man nodded. "Well, I'm Ben Stout. I'm with animal control. I'm here about a little pest problem."

~~~~~~~~

Standing in Simon's office with Megan, Jim handed over a bagged bullet to the captain. "It's a nine millimeter bullet. We found it embedded in Kaplan's headlight."

"Same as those recovered from the body," Megan added. "The victim's name was Walter Miller. Your DMV came up with a match. He worked on a loading dock -- when he worked."

"Why would Kaplan go after a part-time teamster like Miller?" Simon mused.

"There's a major investigation going on for jury tampering but no one will confirm or deny Kaplan's a target," Jim answered.

Megan looked thoughtful. "Can we search through the DA's database for any connection between Kaplan and Miller?"

"Yeah...yeah, we can," Simon agreed. "All right, let's do it. Bring Kaplan in."

~~~~~~~~

Blair had finally found Gabe seated in the hallway outside the break room. Balancing his bowl of food carefully, he sat down beside the homeless man. "Hey."

Gabe smiled widely at him and indicated his own food. "The Lord said, 'Look and I will send down food from heaven for you. Gather what you need.'"

"You ever heard the name Harold Blake?"

Gabe continued on as though he hadn't heard him though the words were familiar to the anthropologist. "Those who gathered much had none left over but those who gathered little did not want for more."

Blair nodded slowly. "'Did not want for more.' It's from Exodus, right? Harold Blake would know that quote. He taught Biblical studies."

"He was gathered up," Gabe replied, looking earnestly at Blair. "I use his body to walk amongst men. 'For he made his angels spirits and his ministers were as flaming fire.'" He leaned in closer to Blair and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. "I'm here to work a miracle."

Blair nodded and rubbed at his forehead, trying to will away the headache building there. It was turning out to be a long, unproductive night.

~~~~~~~~

Simon nodded his thanks to the officer who led a cuffed Kaplan into his office. "Wait outside, Ricardo."

As Ricardo walked out closing the door behind him, Simon leaned back in his chair and gave Kaplan a feral grin. "Good evening, Counselor." He crooked a finger. "Why don't you approach the bench?"

Kaplan threw himself angrily into a chair and glared at Simon. "Laugh it up, Chuckles. You're going to need that sense of humor when I slap you with a $10 million harassment suit." Leaning back, he plopped his feet onto Simon's desk, tensing when Jim stepped quickly up and pushed his feet aside.

"Get your feet off of my desk!" Simon ordered.

Jim dangled the bagged bullet in front of Kaplan's nose before he could reply. "This was recovered from your car which places you at the scene of the murder of Walter Miller."

Kaplan held up his cuffed hands. "Cool your jets there, Colombo. It places my car there, not me. My car was stolen."

Simon nodded. "By your client, Johnny Macado."

"Now was your car stolen before or after the murder?" Jim put in.

Simon smiled as Kaplan began to backpedal rapidly. "This doesn't have to be adversarial. Look, I'd never advise a client to admit it, but...I might make certain discussions I've had with Johnny available to the DA. Confidentially, he doesn't stand a chance anyway."

Jim turned to Simon and shook his head. "Whew. You hit the jackpot, Captain." Turning back to Kaplan, he gave him a disgusted look. "You've sunk to a new low."

Kaplan smirked. "You're taking this personally, Detective. Just what exactly is your relationship with my client?" He looked at Simon. "I hope you haven't been letting them spend too much time alone together."

Simon grimaced at the smutty innuendo. "Ricardo!"

Jim pulled Kaplan roughly to his feet as the uniformed officer entered the office. "Come on."

"Hey! Watch the suit."

Jim pushed Kaplan into Ricardo's grip and watched as the attorney was hustled out the door, still protesting.

"Man, that guy is a real piece of work," Simon said. He sat forward in his seat and tapped on the folder in front of him. "Look, I had Social Services send over Johnny Macado's file. Maybe there's something here you can use. If we don't get the kid to roll over on Kaplan, we don't have a case."

Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah. Maybe the kid's hungry."

Exiting the bullpen, Jim stood aside as the man from Animal Control passed him. "Hey, did you take care of that little problem of ours?"

The man nodded. "I'm on it. Won't be long now."

Jim nodded and then let his gaze wander over to the break room where he could see Blair handing out food. He hesitated a moment, then when the room was empty, walked in. Picking up a tray, he grabbed some sandwiches to take down to Johnny. He kept his eyes down, not wanting to get back into the discussion with Blair over his dissertation right now, despite the guilt he felt at chewing his partner out. He looked up when Blair touched his hand.

"Uh, I'd probably stick to the tuna if I were you."

Jim nodded and swapped the sandwich on his tray for another one. Finally deciding there was no time like the present, he took a breath and spoke again. "All right. Look, Chief, uh...you know, uh, I...maybe I...maybe I overreacted."

Blair quirked an eyebrow but his lips tipped up into a faint smile. "Maybe?"

Jim shrugged an acknowledgement of the exaggeration and pushed on. "I know I shouldn't have read your dissertation, and I'm sorry for any transgressions but I'm...you know, I thought we were friends."

Blair nodded, looking confused. "Right."

"It doesn't read that way to me."

"Jim, I said that most of your life choices are fear-based. It's not as bad as it sounds."

Jim felt his anger rising once more. "Are you kidding me? It makes me sound like a coward."

"Well, that's the way you read it. Come here." Reaching out, Blair grasped his arm and pulled him over to a corner of the break room. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet. "You chose to be a sentinel. And the way that you deal with your fears, all of them, is based on that choice. Fear can be one of your greatest allies. Now, you can choose to bottle it up inside or we can work on it."

Jim wasn't ready to capitulate just yet. Couldn't Sandburg see that he had breached a private place? "After this?"

Blair looked dumb-founded. "So, what do you want to do? Just want to call it quits?"

They were not the words that Jim wanted to say but right now he wasn't entirely sure what he wanted to do. He looked away and heard Blair sigh.

"Ah, maybe you're right. Maybe I've lost my objectivity. I'll tell you what. I'd rather just be friends. So why don't I go destroy my notes? How about that?"

Jim watched him silently as he spun on his heel and strode from the room. A presence behind made Jim jump and he looked over his shoulder to see Gabe standing there. He hadn't even heard him come in and he wondered how much the man had heard.

"You didn't answer him," Gabe said. "What good does it do for a man to have ears that will hear a thousand miles if he cannot listen to the whispers of his own heart?"

Jim felt his gut tighten at Gabe's words. "What?"

Gabe smiled gently at him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You should begin by listening to the hearts of others."

Before Jim could think of a suitable reply, Gabe was caught up in something else, chanting softly in Aramaic. Jim watched him for a moment, then picked up the tray of food and headed to the interrogation rooms. A further conversation with Sandburg would have to wait.

~~~~~~~~

Making his way back into the bullpen, which was by some miracle, mercifully deserted, Blair lowered his weary body into Jim's chair. Picking up his introductory chapter, he leafed desultorily through it, mulling over his words to Jim.

Tossing the notebook onto the desk, Blair leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes, his mind drifting back to his unplanned meeting with Jim's ex-wife and her comments regarding Jim.

Blair had actually been more relieved that Carolyn had focused on Jim's fear of intimacy instead of her obvious doubts over the veracity of his dissertation subject and her comment had seemed innocuous enough at the time.

It had proved though, to be an eerie prescience of Jim's traits as a sentinel over the following three years. Blair was still trying to fit together all the jigsaw puzzle that was Jim Ellison, Sentinel and this was one of the most challenging pieces.

Did Jim push away people who got too close as a self-protection mechanism? If indeed it was that, did he do it to avoid anyone discovering his heightened senses or to protect himself against the sensory onslaught, especially in the early days, before Blair, when he had so little control?

On a more personal note, perhaps Jim's issues with intimacy were nothing at all to do with being a sentinel and everything to do with just being a guy who needed a large personal space. There was the time he'd asked Simon for a week off, saying he needed space because people were always in his face but they'd sorted through that and gotten back on track.

Blair sighed and scrubbed his hands tiredly over his face. Maybe he really did need to think about making a choice between his dissertation and his friendship with Jim. Was he losing the plot here? Losing sight of the big picture and what was really important? Incacha had thought his commitment to Jim was secure enough or he surely wouldn't have handed the role of Shaman onto him on his deathbed.

The problem was it was all inter-linked --his thesis, Jim's police work, the Sentinel stuff, their partnership and friendship. It seemed to Blair it was a case of destroy the dissertation, destroy everything the past three years had meant to them both and would mean to them in the future.

Strengthened somewhat by this understanding and with new resolve, Blair got to his feet and made his way back out to find Jim.

~~~~~~~~

Jim collected the tray of food and drink from the break room and carried it down to the interrogation room. Johnny was seated with his head down, resting on his crossed arms and didn't look up as he entered and set the tray on the table.

Jim sat and pushed the food over to the teenager. "I thought maybe you could use a snack." When Johnny didn't acknowledge him, he continued. "I know you were lying about your mother, Johnny. She doesn't work at the hospital. She's a patient in the AIDS wing."

Johnny's head snapped up at the comment and he suddenly looked very vulnerable. "Look. She's not what you think, all right? All kinds of people get it now."

"I know. Is she on medication?"

"When I can afford it." Johnny shook his head, his face becoming sad. "You won't understand, though. If I make one score, she's covered."

Jim leaned forward and rested his hands on the table. "If you think money is all your mother needs, you're selling her short. You're selling yourself short. She needs you, and not in the joint doing time for something that you didn't do. Just tell me. Right here, right now, between you and me. Did you kill Walter Miller?" He dialed up his sight and hearing as he waited for Johnny to answer.

"I'm not a killer. I don't even hang with killers, man." The boy's tone was mournful, pleading.

Jim nodded, satisfied with what his senses told him. Johnny was telling the truth at last and with the truth he'd shaken off his mantle of bravado. Jim gave him a small smile. "All right, I'll see what I can do, then." He indicated the tray. "Eat your sandwich."

~~~~~~~~

Charles Kaplan shifted uncomfortably in his chair but still managed to give Simon an icy glare. "What's this all about, Captain?" He looked up and his stoic features gave way to shock as Jim walked through the door, accompanied by Johnny Macado. They stopped a few feet away and Johnny stared at the attorney unwaveringly.

"That's...that's him," Johnny said, indicating Kaplan with his cuffed hands. "He's one of the men I saw do the killing."

Kaplan's mouth dropped open. "This will never fly without a proper lineup," he huffed indignantly.

Johnny turned to Simon. "He was going to pay me to keep quiet. We talked about it."

Simon gave Kaplan a predatory grin. "Looks like we've been cleared for takeoff, Counselor."

Kaplan apparently knew when to quit and he wasn't planning to go down alone. "Okay, look...I wasn't the shooter. But I can give him to you. Name, whereabouts, testimony, shoe size, you name it. Whatever you want. Okay? Come on. Do we have a deal?"

Simon waved his words away, a disgusted look on his face. "Motion denied."

Jim smiled as he stepped up to Kaplan and hauled him from the chair. "You do that well, sir. Come on, let's go, Counselor. We have a room all prepared for you. Complete with hot and cold running felons."

Simon nodded at Johnny and waved him into the seat vacated by Kaplan. "You did good, kid."

~~~~~~~~

Martin Smallwood carefully scanned the basement of the Cascade PD. Satisfied that the immediate area was deserted, he pocketed his weapon and picked up the explosive device he'd just carried in. Arming the bomb, he placed it in the bottom of the elevator shaft then got laboriously to his feet and headed for the stairs.


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


Jim grinned at Simon, feeling some of his tension dissipate. "Kaplan in the slammer. Who'd a thunk?"

Simon snorted. "Sort of gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart, doesn't it?"

Both men turned to the door as Megan entered. "Captain, I just got word. Miller, our murder victim, was jury foreman at the trial of Martin Smallwood. Kaplan was Smallwood's lawyer." Handing Simon a folder, she smiled. "The clerk at Records faxed the file."

"Looks like the final nail in his coffin." Laying the file on his desk, Simon opened it to the first page.

Jim gave Smallwood's mugshot a cursory glance, then took a closer look. "Wait a second. I know this guy. He said he was from Animal Control."

Simon was already on the phone. Slamming the phone back onto its cradle, he led the way to the elevator. "Ben Stout, Animal Control, checked in at the front desk a couple of hours ago."

Approaching the apparently vacant Animal Control van parked in the basement garage cautiously, Jim pulled open the back door. A man lay slumped unconscious on the floor of the van. Megan leaned forward and pressed her fingers to his neck.

"He's alive," she confirmed.

As Jim and Megan checked the groggy man over and helped him to sit up, Simon pulled out his cell phone and began barking orders. "Yeah, this is Banks. The animal control guy's a phony. Find and detain him ASAP."

~~~~~~~~

Blair found Gabe crouched in the hallway outside the bullpen. The lanky man was seated on the floor, his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms wrapped around his legs. He rocked slowly in time to a whispered, rhythmic chant.

Pulling Kaplan's mugshot from his pocket, Blair kneeled next to Gabe and placed a hand on his shoulder, momentarily halting his movements. "Hey... hey, Gabe. Have you ever seen this man before? His name is Kaplan. Was he in the alley tonight, Gabe?"

Gabe glanced briefly at the photo and frowned. "Fire and darkness fell upon the land and the people were afraid."

Blair groaned softly to himself, recognizing the biblical quote but knowing it was far from the eyewitness verification they needed. He patted Gabe's shoulder as the homeless man resumed his chanting and rocking.

~~~~~~~~

Down in the basement garage, Megan looked up from tending the injured man as a thunderous explosion rocked the entire building. "What the hell was that?"

"That was an explosive, incendiary, from the smell of it," Jim answered, grimacing at the acrid odor that assaulted his nose. "It's got to be Smallwood."

Simon nodded. "Makes sense…and seeing as Kaplan was his lawyer and was here earlier trying to bribe Johnny to keep his mouth shut, I figure two and two makes four. He's after Macado. Jim, you go make sure the kid is safe. Connor and I will keep Smallwood from leaving the building."

Jim and Connor helped Stout out of the van and, as Jim ran for the stairwell, Megan handed the still dazed man over to a uniformed officer. "Look after him."

~~~~~~~~

At the first rumble of the explosion, Blair felt a tight knot of fear form in his chest. Hurrying to Simon's office, he poked his head in but saw the room was empty. He had no idea where Jim was.

Taking a slow, deep breath, Blair fought back his blossoming panic and tried to convince himself that Jim was perfectly capable of looking after himself. Feeling somewhat calmer, he headed out into the hallway where he could hear panicked shouts and a stampede of footsteps.

He made his way through the crowded corridors, trying to avoid being knocked over in the rush for the stairs. Ahead of him, he could hear Rafe trying to calm the frightened people and direct them to safety.

"All right, everybody, stay calm. Do not use the elevator. Use the stairs. There's plenty of time for everyone to get out."

Finally, Blair made it to the detective's side. "Hey, Rafe?"

As the young officer turned to him, Blair was pushed aside by an old lady who grasped hold of Rafe's arm.

"I want Bailey," she whimpered, her wizened face screwed up in fear.

Rafe patted her shoulder and tried to steer her to the stairs. "Yes, ma'am. Everything's gonna be fine."

Blair snagged Rafe's sleeve. He was aware the detective had a lot to contend with right now but his concern was mounting as he looked around and saw no sign of Gabe in the milling crowds. "That guy, Gabe… the guy that thinks he's an angel. Have you seen him?"

Rafe fixed him with an impatient glare. "Sandburg, I don't know." He turned back to the old woman, who still clung tenaciously to his sleeve. "Yes, ma'am, it's all right, we'll find your dog. Go this way."

Blair gave the corridor another visual sweep then headed toward the break room. Perhaps Gabe had gone for more food.

~~~~~~~~

Johnny Macado was terrified. He'd felt and heard the explosion, could hear the muffled shouts in the corridor beyond the interrogation room but it seemed that in the panic, he'd been forgotten. He pounded on the mesh window, oblivious to the pain as the metal bruised his knuckles. "Hey, let me out! Let me out!"

Pressing his face to the wire as he heard hurried footsteps, Johnny could see a large black man approaching, sorting through a handful of keys as he ran. "Come on!" Johnny exhorted. "Let me out!"

The police officer nodded as he got to the door and inserted the key into the lock. Johnny backed away in fright as the man he remembered seeing in the alley with Kaplan, appeared from around the corner and smashed the cop's head into the doorframe. The black man collapsed soundlessly.

Johnny's gaze darted to the table in search of a weapon as the man stepped over the unconscious man's body and approached him, his face twisted into a murderous sneer. As his foot hit the leg of a chair, Johnny twisted and picked it up, flinging it at his would-be attacker then making a mad scramble for the door as the other man ducked.

The teenager ricocheted from one side of the hallway to the other as he ran; the unmistakable sound of shots being fired drowning out the pounding of his heart.

"Watch out! Excuse me! Everybody, get down!"

Looking behind him, Johnny saw the big cop who'd questioned him earlier ducking around the melee of people scrambling to get away and shouting at them to take cover. Taking advantage of the gunman's pause as Ellison's weapon came up to bear on him, Johnny pushed past the crowd of people and kept running.

~~~~~~~~

It all happened so fast, though later Blair could see it replaying over and over in slow motion in his mind's eye. As he came up behind the big man with the gun, Blair saw Johnny run past Gabe. Seeing the man's weapon come to bear on the fleeing boy's back, Blair pushed himself under his arm, forcing the gun toward the ceiling. The sound of the gun firing exploded shatteringly against his eardrums and he felt the heat of the bullet as it flashed past his cheek.

His body slammed against Smallwood's and the two men went down in a tangle of legs, Smallwood's gun skittering away along the floor. As he struggled to stand, Blair felt a hand fist tightly in his hair, pulling him back against a massive chest. A muscled forearm snaked out and pressed against his throat, momentarily cutting off his air and he gasped for breath.

In front of him, through eyes suddenly swimming with tears, he saw Gabe lying on the floor, blood staining the front of his old coat and he bit back a cry of despair. Smallwood tugged hard, clasping one hand onto Blair's forehead and the other on his chin, wrenching his head sideways. Blair winced at the sharp pain that gripped his head and neck and fought not to struggle.

His gaze slid to Jim as the detective stood slowly and aimed his weapon at Smallwood. Another wrench on Blair's neck had him biting back a groan and he stumbled as Smallwood dragged him backward.

"Back off! Don't shoot or I'll snap!" Smallwood warned. "Don't shoot!"

Blair saw Jim waver, tried desperately to send him a silent message to let the detective know he trusted him, whatever he chose to do. Jim lifted his gun and pointed it at the ceiling. Suddenly the pressure on Blair's throat was gone and he was shoved forward, hitting the floor hard with his knees. Staggering back to his feet as he sucked in hungry breaths, Blair scrabbled toward Gabe's motionless figure.

He looked up as he felt a hand on his back, the touch firm and reassuring, saw Jim looking down at him, his own concern and relief mirrored in Jim's eyes.

"He's still got a pulse but he needs medical attention. Fast!"

Blair nodded and looked down at Gabe as Jim took off after Smallwood. The injured man's face was pale, his breathing shallow. "Oh, no." Taking a shuddering breath, Blair pressed his hands against the ragged hole in Gabe's chest and tried vainly to stem the flow of blood.

Gabe shifted beneath him, then opened pale blue eyes. "Do you know the hard part of a miracle?"

Blair placed a bloodstained hand beneath Gabe's neck and lifted his head a little as the injured man fought for breath. "No. What's that, Gabe?"

Gabe smiled, his teeth stained red with blood. "Making it look like an accident."

"Right." Looking around in panic as Gabe's eyes slid shut and he went limp, Blair shouted for help. "Oh, no. No. Hey, who's getting that ambulance? Hey, Rafe, come on, man, get that ambulance over here, okay? Come on!"

~~~~~~~~

Jim didn't have time to give voice to the relief he felt that Sandburg was unharmed. Extending his hearing, he ran to the stairwell in pursuit of Smallwood. Ahead, he could hear the gunman's rasping breath and racing heart, then his footsteps clattering down the stairs. He was heading back to the basement, probably hoping to use Stout's van as a getaway vehicle.

Slowing his pace as he approached the door to the basement garage, Jim positioned himself against it and listened for a moment. He could hear several heartbeats but was unable to single out Smallwood's from the rest. Realizing he'd have to take a chance, Jim gripped his weapon more tightly and pushed open the door.

A careful scan with heightened eyesight showed no movement in the shadows. Jim stepped out slowly and walked toward where he knew the Animal Control van was parked. As he rounded the corner, something hard contacted his arm and he grunted as his sidearm fell from suddenly numb fingers, skittering across the floor. Before he could dive to pick it up, Smallwood was on top of him, slamming a punch into the side of his head that had him seeing stars.

Shaking his head to dispel the dizziness, Jim spun and sunk his fist into Smallwood's gut, doubling the man over. Using his advantage, Jim threw his shoulder into the other man's body, pushing him away but the man was like an ox.

Straightening up with a gasp of effort, Smallwood threw himself back toward Jim. Jim smashed his foot into Smallwood's chest as he charged, throwing the gunman off-balance. Smallwood hit the ground and kept rolling, coming up onto one knee with Jim's gun clenched in one hand, aimed straight at Jim's chest.

Suddenly there was a growl and explosion of movement from the vent and Smallwood's face went white, the gun dropping from his nerveless fingers as he screamed and wrenched the back of his overalls from the jaws of the forgotten alligator.

"Help me! Help me! Help me! Help me!" Smallwood launched himself in Jim's direction as the alligator made a second lunge for him.

"All right," Jim agreed, more than happy to oblige the felon. He grabbed a handful of the man's overalls and pulled him up from the ground then punched him hard on the jaw. Smallwood collapsed without another sound.

Allowing Smallwood's unconscious body to drop to the ground, Jim eyed the alligator apprehensively. Beady eyes summed up his prospective meal, then it swished its tail and closed its massive jaws with a resounding snap before disappearing back into the vent.

After quickly checking that the alligator wasn't about to make a second surprise attack, Jim handcuffed Smallwood, then slapped him back to some semblance of consciousness before dragging him up the stairs.

~~~~~~~~

Cold alligator eyes watched dispassionately from between the bars of a cage as the news reporter gave her spiel to the waiting cameras.

"This is Carrie Kingston, live from Cascade police headquarters where our reptilian hero was instrumental in the capture of reputed murderer, Martin Smallwood. The alligator's been safely collared by Animal Control but for now, she'll enjoy her very own 15 minutes of fame. Carrie Kingston, Channel 2 News."

The reporter squealed and jumped backward, dropping her microphone as the alligator lunged at her as it was carried away, its jaws snapping angrily on the metal containing it.

"I wouldn't get too excited, Captain. I'll be out on bail in a week," Charles Kaplan said smugly as he was pushed toward the waiting police van.

Simon smiled and opened the van doors, angling Kaplan so that he had a clear view of the interior and the seated, cuffed figure of Martin Smallwood. "Week's a long time," he said amiably.

Pushing Kaplan into the van, Simon stepped away as his cell phone rang. Jim and Blair watched Kaplan's discomfort as he was pushed down onto the bench opposite Smallwood then they headed back toward the PD entrance.

"Phew. Man, that was one hell of a night, huh?" Blair moved his neck from side to side experimentally a few times, grimacing as he did.

Jim winced a little at the almost inaudible crunch of vertebrae. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine."

Jim reached out a hand and felt carefully along the back of Blair's neck, relieved to detect nothing more than the heat of bruising and the tension of muscle spasm. "Feels like you could do with a good massage to iron the kinks out of your neck."

Blair grinned. "You offering?"

"Maybe. Hey, Chief, you think you can still get the intro to your dissertation in on time? I mean, you know, aside from the stuff about me, I...I thought, I thought it was pretty good. Really good," he finished lamely, feeling his face heat a little.

"Jim, it's all about you."

"Yeah, but nobody needs to know that, right?" He shifted a little closer to his partner, looping a casual arm about Blair's shoulders. "Let me ask you something. Between you and me, do you think I'm paranoid?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "Jim, if you got to ask... You know what I mean?" He laughed and Jim tried to join in but he still felt somewhat wound up. He shivered and saw Blair watching him carefully.

"Are you all right, man?"

"Yeah. I'm fine."

Jim scanned the immediate area quickly. No threats he could discern. He felt like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Had to be all this tension with Sandburg and his dissertation and everything else thrown in, he decided. It had, after all, been a pretty weird night.

He smiled now as he remembered the relief he felt as Smallwood had released Blair. For a moment he'd thought he wouldn't have a chance to put things right between them. He turned as Simon called them and strode up just as Megan exited the PD.

"Johnny Macado's going to be okay," Simon said. "DA granted him immunity."

"That's real good, Simon," Jim replied. "His mother needs him."

"Hey, Megan, any word on Gabe?"

"I just spoke with the hospital. Gabe made it there okay. It was touch and go, but he was breathing. He was all prepped for OR, the orderly turned his back and Gabe...vanished into thin air."

"Yeah, but he's done it before from the university," Simon added.

Megan held up a finger. "There's more. I got a follow-up fax on his fingerprints. Professor Harold Blake officially died of exposure in Chicago last winter."

Simon shook his head. "So, Johnny Macado was saved by a dead man. That's good. How the hell do I put that in the report?"

"You know," Jim said as he followed Blair back into the PD. "It's like the, uh...the Jimmy Stewart movie...It's a Wonderful Life."

Blair smiled and slapped his partner on the back, nodding enthusiastically. "Ah, whenever a bell rings, an angel gets his wings."

Both men stopped dead as a church bell rang out and from an unseen place Gabe laughed with them.


FIN

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Next week's episode: Sentinel Too Part One by CarolROI




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