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The Real Deal
The Real Deal
By Terri D. Thomas

Beta Read by Izzy and Dotty
Written for PetFly by:
Teleplay by: Randy Brown
Story by: Laurence Frank
Rated PG

~~~~~ Prologue ~~~~~

The sound of the television kept him company on the lonely nights. He rarely paid attention to it. It was just a voice in the night to keep the shadows at bay. He took a long draw from the beer bottle and leaned back in the old Lazy Boy chair, appreciating the soft comfort it provided. Familiar theme music began to play and he glanced at the screen.

<We now return to Braddock's Way,> the voice-over said in the overly-dramatic seventies crime drama style. The man shook his head. It was unbelievable how corny the old shows were.

He couldn't help but smile when the younger and much more suave version of Vince Deal appeared on the screen. <I'm tired of you half-baked amateurs,> the character of Braddock said to the man aiming the gun at the detective.

<Amateurs?> the criminal responded.

<That's right.>

<You said amateurs?> the crook confirmed.

<That's right,> Braddock repeated.

The viewer chuckled, unable to believe that the dialog was so bad. He really didn’t remember it being that boring when the show aired twenty-five years before. He directed his attention back to the screen.

Braddock was speaking again. <A pro, a real pro, would've dropped me when he saw me. But not you, you ramble on, you shoot off your big mouth!>

The man turned to the end table and reached for the remote control, more than ready to find another channel, when the set was suddenly switched off for him, causing him to jump. A lone figure now stood in front of the darkened television.

"Sorry, Max. Show's over," the intruder said.

Max wanted to scream, wanted to run for help, but before he could move, the world turned to black.


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


"I don't know. Just put him off. Tell him I'm at lunch or something," Detective Jim Ellison said, rubbing his forehead in frustration. He wanted to hang up the phone, but when the person on the other end of the line was a captain, a lowly detective could do no such thing. He sighed. "Fine, I'll handle him. Send him up. Thanks, Captain." Jim hung up the phone and looked at his partner, who was just finishing up a rather friendly conversation with Jenny, the donut cart girl. Pushing himself from his chair, he approached the two younger people. "Captain Simmons in Robbery just called. Said that Vince Deal's down there. He's sending him up."

"Vince? Oh, you're kidding me!" Blair's excitement was bubbling over. "I love that guy. He's such a character."

"More like a caricature," Jim said with mock disgust. "He doesn't realize 'this' is real life here." Jim turned to Jenny. "No prune danish?" She shook her head. He frowned. It definitely wasn't his day.

The two men returned to the bullpen. Jim could swear Blair was bouncing. "Oh, come on," Blair turned, eyes wide with glee, "didn't you ever watch 'Braddock's Way' when you were a kid?"

"One, I was never a kid, and two, I watched Banacek."

Blair grimaced. "Banacek? With George Peppard? Come on. What, did you watch the 'A-Team' too?"

Jim poked a finger into Blair's chest. "Banacek was a smooth; he was intelligent."

"He was an insurance investigator!" Blair responded with indignation. "That hardly qualifies as a detective show."

"Then I'd take Mannix. Good with his fists, dry sense of humor."

Blair shook his head. "How old are you any way? You drawing social security or something?"

"Hey, squirt, Mannix had his act together, which is more than I can say for you," Jim countered triumphantly.

"Okay, fine, he was responsible and had it together, however, he was no Starsky and Hutch. I mean they had it all, the car, the girls. What did Mannix have? I couldn't even tell you what he drove. Oh wait, I remember, a grandma car."

"Starsky and Hutch were cops, not P.I.'s," Jim corrected.

Blair frowned in confusion. "So?"

Jim grinned. "Although I can see how Huggy Bear inspired your 'kit' here," the detective fingered the multi-colored patchwork vest his partner was wearing.

Blair brushed the man's hands away. "Hey, hey, back off. Keep the fingers off the threads!" The young man then glanced up, something catching his attention.

Jim turned to find Simon standing behind him, thumbing through a file cabinet drawer.

"Simon," Blair called out. "Come on, what was your favorite '70's detective show?"

Simon shook his head with shock. "You're kidding me, right?"

At the same time, the answer struck the detective team. "Shaft," they said in unison.

"That cat Shaft is a bad mother... ."

"Watch your mouth... ," Jim responded, cutting off Simon's replay of the television theme song.

"Talkin' 'bout Shaft," Simon sang in his baritone voice.

Blair and Jim chuckled at the captain's rare antics. Blair then turned to Jim. "You know who we're forgetting here is Baretta."

Before either Jim or Simon could respond, a voice interrupted them from behind. "Keep forgetting about him, kid. He dressed like a bum, and what was with that stupid rooster?" The old man who was entering the bullpen barely resembled the actor who had created the character of Bill Braddock three decades before. His eyes had lost their vibrancy. His skin was ruddy and marked with age spots, his face was full of wrinkles. The years had not been kind. Vince didn't seem to care, though. He strutted into the bullpen like he owned the place.

Blair shook his head with a smile on his face. "I think it was a cockatoo, Vince."

"I don't care if it was a friggin' pterodactyl. I used to kick his ass every Wednesday night."

Jim sighed. "Vince, how did you get up here?"

"I promised your duty sergeant a couple of bleacher passes to the Cascade Days Parade. I'm the grand marshal again." He approached Jim and spoke more quietly. "I need your help. There's a folder in your closed case file I want you to re-examine."

Blair stepped in closer. "Which file?"

Before Vince could answer, Jim interrupted. "Another tip, Vince? You know, the last tip nearly cost me my badge." Jim leaned against the corner of the nearest desk with a frown on his face.

Simon approached the three men. "You remember that, don't you, Vince? Airport? Drug deal? Turned out to be baby powder?"

"This is different," Vince protested. "The victim's a personal acquaintance of mine, and your investigation is way off the mark."

Jim tried to appease the actor. "Vince, it's not that we don't appreciate... ."

"Oh, my God!" an Australian-accented, female voice said from behind. "You're Bill Braddock!"

Vince turned around to face the attractive woman. "That's the name. Don't wear it out." He stepped forward and extended a hand. "I'm actually Vince Deal."

Megan let him take her hand and blushed slightly when he brought it to his lips for a soft kiss. "I'm Megan Conner. I just can't believe it's you." She turned to Jim, Blair and Simon. "His show has been running forever in Sydney."

Vince shot a charming smile at the young woman, still holding on to her hand. "Love the Aussies. They don't dub the episodes. I lose something in Japanese."

Jim frowned at Deal. "Give her back her hand, Vince." Jim smiled triumphantly when Deal complied. The smile disappeared when the inspector gave him a disapproving glare.

Simon stepped forward in Jim's defense. "Vince, before you get started, Megan is an Inspector, not your skirt of the week."

Vince winked at the woman. "An inspector, huh? Well, I guess if Jim is too busy to meet with a concerned citizen, I'll just have to file my report with you."

Megan raised an eyebrow. "Report?"

Jim shook his head. "Mr. Deal thinks he's one of our better informants."

"I'm familiar with the dark underbelly of the city," Vince clarified.

"That's what you say at the start of every show," Megan cooed.

"Careful, Conner, he's going to start whistling the theme song." Jim pushed away from the desk he'd been leaning against. "Captain, Sandburg and I are going to eat. It's past noon. My underbelly's starting to growl."

Megan ignored Jim's sarcasm. "Mr. Deal, if you'll follow me, I'll take down that information."

Vince grinned mischievously. "I'd be delighted to follow you. Go right ahead."

Jim shook his head at Deal's suggestive comment. "We're outta here, Chief."

~~~~~~~~

"So, what'll it be?" Jim asked as he glanced briefly at his partner and then returned his attention to his driving. "How about that German place? Um... ."

Blair turned up his nose and interrupted the sentinel. "I can't eat there. You know that. They've got animal heads all over the wall." His jaw was set in determination. "I can't eat with an audience." He thought for a moment. "Okay, Charlie's. How about Charlie's? They've got a Vince Deal sandwich on the menu."

"Oh yeah, I remember, pickled liver on rye, right?"

Blair couldn't help but let the laugh escape, even as he shook his head in disapproval. "Oh, come on. That's cold. That's so cold. I mean, go easy on the guy. Put yourself in his shoes. He was a big star, and now, well, now he'd be grateful to open up a supermarket."

"You know what I don't get, Chief? 'Braddock's Way' was a top-ten show when the network bagged it. And Vince Deal hasn't worked since. What do you think the guy did?" Before Jim could continue, his cell phone rang. He answered it on the second ring. "Yeah? What's up, Connor?" He listened for a moment then said, "What? Did Deal hand you a hot case? All right. We'll be there in five minutes."

He hung up the phone and turned to his friend. "We've got a body on Mason. Looks like a homicide."

Blair closed his eyes and leaned back against the seat. Jim sighed. His stomach growled in protest. Apparently there was going to be no lunch today.

~~~~~~~~

Blair trailed Jim over a small bridge. As soon as he crossed to the other side he saw Megan standing next to a cloth covered corpse.

"What's up, Connor?" Jim asked as the two approached the inspector.

"Cause of death appears to be a gunshot wound through her heart, fired at close range." She lifted up the plastic tarp to show the body. Jim squatted down next to the decedent. Blair turned away, nausea rising into his throat. Megan continued. "The purse was found nearby, wallet missing."

Jim stared at the deceased. Blair saw the detective's eyes narrow and knew the sentinel was using his enhanced vision to examine the woman more closely. "Has the M.E. established the time of death?" Jim finally asked.

Megan nodded. "Approximately 4:00 this morning."

Jim shook his head and stood. Blair watched as Jim scanned the environment surrounding them. "What's a beautiful, well-dressed young woman doing walking around here at that hour?" Jim then pointed to the hole in the woman's chest. "This is a massive wound."

Blair glanced quickly at the body, turning away again when he felt his stomach roll in protest. Jim continued, "That's odd. There's blood all over her blouse and her coat here, but there's nothing on the ground."

Blair tilted his head. "Well, then she was probably shot someplace else and brought here, right?" Jim nodded in agreement.

Megan shook her head, contradicting the theory. "It's possible, but the empty purse suggests otherwise."

"Unless the killer wanted to make it look like a botched mugging," Blair guessed.

"Good point, Chief." Jim looked at the ground around him. He stopped and stared at one spot. "Excuse me."

He walked a few yards away. Megan and Blair followed. Megan leaned over and whispered to Sandburg, "Is he doing his sentinel bit now?"

Panicked, Blair responded quickly, "Shhhh! Quiet! I can't believe I told you about that."

Megan smiled at the anthropologist. "You really didn't have a choice, Sandy. But, no worries. It's our secret. Promise." She made an 'x' over her heart with her index finger.

"Make sure you keep it that way," Blair warned. He glanced around to make sure no one else heard the exchange. Relieved, Blair found that the nearest officer was not within hearing distance, unless he, too, was a sentinel.

Jim slipped on latex gloves. Leaning over, he picked up the leather wallet and looked inside. "They took the money, but left an ID. Mary Volker, age 28."

Megan held out her glove-covered hand. "May I see that?" She looked at the ID. "That's a bit of a coincidence."

"What's that?" Blair asked.

"That tip we got from Vince Deal."

"Oh, this ought to be good," Jim scoffed.

Megan ignored the sarcasm. "Vince knew this reporter at the Herald, Max Rogers. Friday night, they ran into each other at the Cascade Hotel Bar."

Jim nodded. "Yep, that's Deal's hangout. I think they have a drink named after him. A fifth of Johnny Walker, straight-up."

Megan frowned. "That's cruel, Jim. Vince was sober as a judge when I talked to him."

Blair stepped forward, smiling warmly at his colleague. "Just ignore him. I'm interested, go ahead."

Megan smiled in return. "Max Rogers intimated his life was in danger over some exposé he'd written. The next day he was found dead; an apparent suicide. Vince thinks his friend was murdered."

Jim sighed. "Connor, I know you're a big fan of Mr. Deal, but what does this have to do with the dead body?"

Blair frowned at his partner's bluntness. Ellison wasn't known for his diplomacy skills or patience, and he was certainly living up to his reputation now.

Megan ignored Jim's behavior, holding up the ID confidently. "Mary Volker also worked at the Herald."

~~~~~~~~

"I autographed an 8 x 10 black and white for Max to a Mary; some chick he had a thing for at the office," Vince said as he leaned forward to look at the ID.

Simon opened the folder sitting on the conference table in front of him. "The victim worked in the research department at the Herald. According to the editor, she assisted Max with a lot of his articles."

Vince pointed his finger at Jim. "Now there's your connection. Listen, Max tumbles on a big, dirty story, and they wanted to push it under the rug. So, what do they do?" He opened Max's file. "They shove Max's head into an O'Keefe and Merritt, snuff out the pilot light. Poof!" he exclaimed. "Sayonara, Max. But, who do they still want? Who still knows, huh? Mary Volker." He leaned back in his chair. "So, they have her shot and make it look like a phony mugging."

Blair shook his head. "Max's death was ruled a suicide, and there was no sign of struggle. His blood alcohol level was way up there. And there was a note, Vince."

Vince gave the group a hard look, ignoring their disapproving stares. "You put a gun to a guy's head, pour a bunch of booze down his throat, have him write a kiss-off letter... ." He paused for a moment and then snapped his fingers. "That's it. Twelfth episode, uh, 'Rhapsody in Red.'"

Before his audience could respond, the door opened. Megan entered Simon's office. "Here are the crime photos," she said as she handed the file in her hand to Vince.

"I beg your pardon?" Simon asked, raising an eyebrow.

"He asked to examine them, Captain. I couldn't see the harm," the Australian explained.

Vince gestured to the picture of Max's dead body lying on the floor of the kitchen. "That's exactly the way they found him?"

"Before Forensics took over, yes," Megan answered.

Vince nodded and then squinted more closely at the picture. "Mmm-hmm. If Max died of a snootful of gas, who the hell turned the oven off?" Vince leaned back in the chair again, an air of satisfaction surrounding him.

Jim took the picture and examined the details. "Didn't see that," Jim responded quietly. He then looked at Simon. "Captain, maybe we should take a look at this one." He turned to Deal. "That's good work, Vince." The words were said with sincerity.

The smugness disappeared from Vince's face and instead was replaced with a warm smile. "Thank you," he replied simply.

Blair leaned forward. "Who was Max trying to nail in his article?"

Vince shook his head, his smile replaced with a look of guilt. "I don't know. I was a little smashed when I talked to him." He paused for a moment. "He said something about, uhm, fire engines...fire hydrants...uhm...."

Simon spoke up. "Could he have said 'Hydra'?"

Vince nodded. "Hydra, yeah, that could've been it."

Jim stood up and grabbed the files on the desk. Vince stood as well. "Listen, if I can be of any help here...."

Simon hurriedly shook his head and stood up. "No, no, Vince. We've got it from here." He held his office door open for the old actor. "Thank you very much for your help. We really appreciate it."

Megan followed Vince out of the office. "I'll escort you to the lift," she volunteered.

"I guess it's better than being tossed down the backstairs." Vince turned to Jim once again. "Listen, I'm not busy. If I can be of any help...," the man pleaded.

Jim led the man out of Major Crime. "Vince, you've been a great help already. Thank you."

Jim watched as the inspector led Vince to the elevator. He chuckled and shook his head. He didn't need sentinel hearing to detect the man's apparent attempts to hit on Megan.

"You got to love the guy," Blair commented from behind.

Simon turned away with mock disgust. "No, no I don't. Look, I'm going to have Connor go through Rogers' effects and talk to his editor at the Herald. See if maybe he knows more than what he initially told me." He held out his hand and Jim gave him Max's file. "In the meantime, I'm going to get you a warrant. I want you to search Mary Volker's home."

~~~~~~~~

Megan walked Vince to the elevator and pushed the 'down' button for the older man. "I'll keep you informed, Vince," she offered.

Vince nodded. "Personally, I hope." He leaned closer to the tall brunette. "Any chance for dinner?"

The detective raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Tonight? Uh, sorry, but...."

"It's the age thing, right? Well, I'm still a child inside. I'm reasonably well-preserved on the outside."

Megan gave him her most charming smile, not wanting to offend the actor. "No question, but I'm on the night watch. Another time perhaps?"

Vince appeared pleased with her response. She was relieved. While not wanting to date the aged man, she had no desire to hurt his feelings. "Another time. Thanks, Megan."

"Thank you for your help, Vince."

The Australian watched as the elevator doors closed on the departing man. She gave him a quick wave as he disappeared from view.

"So, was he hitting on you?" Blair said, startling Megan.

"Uh, no, more like a light tap." Her lips curled in humor as she watched Blair frown. "Actually, I find him rather charming," she baited.

"You know, he's old enough to be your father."

Megan chuckled as Blair took the bait. "Are you jealous, Sandy?"

Blair's eyes widened with a mixed look of shock, indignation and guilt. "Jealous? Me? No!" he exclaimed. "Come on. No. I'm just, uh, I'm concerned, all right? I don't want you falling for an image."

Megan crossed her arms and cocked her head. "Oh, really? Well at least he has one." Megan walked back into the bullpen, not waiting for a response.

~~~~~~~~

Blair watched the Australian detective enter Major Crimes. He struggled to come up with a comeback, but nothing came to mind.

Jim gave Blair a cocky grin as he approached his partner. "Ouch, Chief, that was a shot across the bow."

"Jealous, me? I can't believe she'd even think that."

Jim chuckled. "Let's go, Romeo. We've got to pick up a warrant downtown." He leaned over and pushed the elevator button.

Blair turned to his partner. "Hey, what do you think of my image?"

"Your image?" Jim repeated.

"Be gentle," Blair warned.

"I don't know. Cut your hair. Run for president. I'll vote for you."

"Yeah?" Blair responded. He suddenly felt a surge of satisfaction run through his body. Even though the words were done in jest, there was a hint of warmth in them.

~~~~~~~~

Blair squinted at the print on the paper, trying to read it in the dark. "What's that address again?"

Jim grabbed the paper. With his sentinel vision, the poor light was no problem. "1340 Bridgewater."

Blair looked at the street sign. "Turn, uh, east on Western."

"You sure that's not west on Eastern?"

Blair mimicked Jim's words sarcastically. "You're so funny. Not." He leaned back in the truck seat. "So what's this 'Hydra' thing that Simon's all worked up about?"

"Hydra's a security firm. It's new to the area been here a couple of months. There are already allegations of them being involved in more than just protecting clients."

Blair frowned. "Like what?"

"Possible misuse of client info, maybe even extortion. Simon's been trying to get a man on the inside. If Vince's late pal was onto something, this investigation could catch fire."

Blair started to answer, when the police radio sounded. <211 in progress at 1340 Bridgewater,> the dispatcher said.

Jim clicked on the receiver. "Unit Echo Seven responding. On our way to 1340 Bridgewater."

<Ten-four, Echo Seven,> answered the dispatcher. <All available units, provide backup.>

"That's a coincidence," Blair muttered.

"No kidding, Chief." Within minutes Jim had pulled his truck in front of the house. "This is it," he said, turning off the engine and opening his door. Blair started to open his as well. "Stay close to the radio, okay. Keep your eyes open."

"But...," Blair protested.

"Stay put," Jim repeated emphatically.

Blair was going to continue debating, wanting to point out that Jim hadn't made him stay in the truck for years, but the detective had already left the vehicle, making any argument futile.

Jim left the truck and crossed the front yard. The light from a corner pole lit the lawn. Blair could see Jim cock his head. The guide knew from the action that his partner was listening to the activities inside the house.

Blair watched as Jim neared the front door and pulled his gun, preparing to enter the home.

Jim moved with the stealth of a cat. Suddenly, the curtains hanging in front of a large picture window overlooking the porch caught the guide's attention. They had been pushed aside and then quickly closed. He couldn't see much in the darkness, but it was obvious that someone was watching Jim's approach.

"Jim!" Blair whispered as loudly as he could. His partner didn't respond. Worried that the detective didn't know that someone was lying in wait for him, Blair slipped quietly from the vehicle and ran to the house. As he neared the front porch, he whispered again. "Jim!"

The detective had positioned himself in front of the door, preparing to kick it in. The sound of Blair's whisper seemed to have caught his attention because Jim started to turn towards him. Blair prepared himself to explain why he had ignored Jim's instructions to stay in the vehicle when suddenly his head exploded in pain and his world plunged into total darkness.


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


The bullet exploding through the door caught Jim by surprise. Instinctively he spun around and ducked. Adrenaline took over. Jim kicked in the door, anxious to confront whoever was shooting at him.

Another bullet sped by. Jim fired at the unknown assailant, hitting his target. The shooter was flung backwards into the wall and then onto the floor.

Another dark form stumbled around the corner. "Freeze!" Jim yelled. The figure stopped. Jim focused his enhanced vision on the person. "Vince?"

Vince Deal was holding a hand to his head, unsteady on his feet. "Is... he... dead?" he mumbled disjointedly.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Jim asked, rushing up to the man.

Before Vince could answer, he fell to his knees, and then collapsed onto the floor, unconscious.

"Damn," Jim muttered. He checked Vince's pulse. It was strong and steady. He moved to the man that he had shot, checking for vitals. There was nothing. He rose to his feet and ran back to the front door. He yelled out, "Chief, call it in. Have them send a...."

His words stuck in his throat when he saw the scene outside. Blair was lying on his back in the grass of the front yard. His body was still and lifeless. Jim's stomach fell to his feet. The scene from a few minutes earlier replayed in his mind. The bullet, which had exploded through the door, just missing him by inches, apparently hadn't missed his friend. A bleeding gash creased the man's head, right above his left ear. "Oh, God, Chief," he whispered as he jumped off the porch and knelt in the grass next to his injured partner. Hesitantly, he reached for Blair's throat, praying that he'd find a pulse. He nearly cried out in relief when he felt the steady thumping of a heartbeat against his fingers.

The sentinel brushed Blair's curly hair away from the cut so that he could inspect the damage. Fortunately, the wound was not deep, even though it was bleeding profusely. He pulled out a handkerchief and pressed it to the injury.

The contact of his hand on Blair's head seemed to jar his partner into awareness. Blair's closed eyelids fluttered. He groaned and moved his head slightly back and forth. The movement seemed to cause him pain, and he grimaced again.

"Chief? You with me?" Jim asked, eagerly awaiting a response.

"Ugh...," it finally came. "Wha...What happened?" Blair murmured.

The blue eyes opened and focused on the detective. Jim gave him a reassuring smile. "You were hit, buddy, but you're going to be okay."

"How? Oh, yeah, the guy...," Blair reasoned. Suddenly his eyes widened. "Someone's inside!" he exclaimed.

"Yeah, I know. I got him. Vince is in there too. You both could use a doctor." Jim moved Blair's hand to the handkerchief that was pressed over the injury. "Can you hold this over the cut? Try to stop the bleeding? I'm going to get some help here."

Blair nodded and Jim patted him on the chest. "Be right back. Don't go anywhere, because we are going to have a talk about this."

Blair closed his eyes and bit his lip. Jim was pretty sure it was partly in an effort to relieve the pain in his head and partly in apprehension from the lecture he knew he'd be receiving in a few short minutes.

~~~~~~~~

Blair and Vince sat shoulder to shoulder in the back of the ambulance, legs dangling over the back end. Each had his head wrapped in matching bandages. Both looked as if they had been in a bar room brawl.

Jim approached the two, his gaze centering on Vince. "Vince, am I gonna have to lock you up? Or chain you up? What were you thinking, huh? I mean how'd you get in the house in the first place?"

"I'm just fine, thanks for asking," Vince responded.

Blair just closed his eyes, trying to ignore the throbbing in his head as Jim and Vince exchanged words.

Vince continued. "I found a spare key under the flower pot. You find out the name of the cold-cock artist?"

"This is not your job, Vince, nor any of your business!" Jim's voice rose with each word. "If I were doing my job correctly, I'd be running you downtown and booking you for interfering in a police investigation."

"Shhh!" Vince responded, raising his hands to his ear. "My head's killing me."

Blair followed suit. "Yeah, dial it back, Jim, you're killing me here."

Jim pointed a finger at his partner. "You, keep quiet. You already are in a hole so deep that you aren't going to see daylight until the next millennium."

"But...," Blair protested.

"Ah!" Jim responded, cutting his partner off with a stern look and an index finger to the chest. "Quiet. I'm lecturing Vince right now."

Blair was dutifully quiet. Maybe, if he was lucky, Jim would expend his fury on the actor and run out of steam by the time he decided to lay into the guide.

Vince spoke up in defense of himself. "I just wanted the truth, just like you."

"You want the truth, Vince?" Jim asked his words sharp with fury. "The truth is, you keep this up and you'll be collecting your acting residuals from the pen."

He then pointed his index finger at Blair. "And you? Since when did 'stay in the truck' mean that you jump from the vehicle and try to follow me inside?"

The injured men cringed in pain again. "SHHHH!" they whispered back.

Megan approached the group. "Jim, let me talk to them," she said gently, a hand resting on Ellison's shoulder.

Jim shot a furious glare at the inspector and then at the two wounded men. "Fine, but we're not through here by a long shot, folks." He stomped off in anger, leaving Blair and Vince with the inspector.

The woman's gaze drifted to Blair. "Well, you certainly have put his knickers in a knot. What did you do?"

"I didn’t 'stay' like my master ordered," Blair answered coolly, his words sounding much more petulant than intended. "He won't listen to me. I saw the shooter in the window. I was afraid Jim would be ambushed."

Megan nodded, understanding the young man's worry for his partner. "He'll get over it, Sandy." She then looked at Vince. "What happened in there?"

"I was pawing through the files, trying to find Max's research about that Hydra thing, and all of the sudden, I heard the window break. Somebody jumps down, I get clocked. Next thing I know, Jim's there and there's a stiff on the carpet. I must've blacked out again after that."

Blair looked over at the man. "Did you find anything useful?"

"No," Vince responded, disappointment in the word.

"Looks like the prowler was looking for incriminating evidence," Blair reasoned.

Megan shook her head. "Not necessarily."

Vince frowned in confusion. "You're losing me."

"It's possible anyone Max might have confided in is at risk. Suppose the suspect was actually tailing you and thought he'd found a quiet spot to do the job."

Blair nodded in agreement and then winced at the motion. "Megan's right, Vince. Look, you need some protection, just for a couple of days."

Vince cringed. "A safe house?"

Blair smiled and the looked at his partner, who was talking to a patrol officer near the front porch of the house. An evil gleam entered the anthropologist's eye. "Not exactly." He slid off the ambulance bumper and onto the ground. Slightly unsteady, he was grateful when Megan reached out to help him regain his balance.

"What are you going to do, Sandy?" Megan asked suspiciously.

Blair pushed himself away from the support. "I have an idea. Don't worry...unless you hear gunfire."

~~~~~~~~

Blair wished the coffee he was drinking would alleviate the pounding in his head, but thus far it had no effect. He also wished he could have slept the day away. He was exhausted. However, Jim had made sure to drag the anthropologist out of bed at sunrise, apparently as a way to get revenge for the fact that Blair disregarded his instructions to stay in the truck the night before.

Now he sat at the kitchen table, head propped up on hands, elbows resting on the table. "You're looking a little pale, Chief," Jim commented as he sipped his coffee, trying to ignore the commotion of Vince cooking in the kitchen.

"Stop, Jim. I was only trying to help you." He fingered his head wound, which was covered with a large gauze pad and tape. "Trust me, next time I see that a gunman is ready to get the drop on you, I'll happily watch from the truck," Blair said flippantly.

Jim gave his partner a small grin. "Good, I'm glad we've got that straight." The detective eyed the guide, noticing the look of defeat on his friend's face. Jim cleared his throat. "Uh, hey, I'm sorry. I was out of line. I realize that you were trying to warn me, but you know I don't want you putting yourself in the line of fire like that. Thanks."

Blair looked up, his eyes meeting Jim's. "You're welcome," he replied softly.

Vince plopped down a stack of something that looked like pancakes onto the plate in front of Jim. The sentinel grimaced at the sight of the burnt disks. "Uh, I appreciate your efforts here, but, umm, I'm really just kind of an eggs and coffee man myself."

Vince went back to the kitchen for a second batch of the griddlecakes. "You'll love these, believe me." He then returned with another stack for Blair.

Blair couldn't help but turn up his nose. Jim cut into his stack. Uncooked batter ran out of the middle of the pancakes. "I'm really trying to love these, Vince. I just wish they weren't raw in the middle."

Blair poked his stack with his fork. "Mine are burnt," he whispered.

Jim shook his head. "What are we? The three little bears, Vince?"

Vince ignored the wisecrack and opened the refrigerator, peering inside. "Got any pork chops?"

Jim shook his head. "Yeah, sure, Vince...."

"Right next to the whale meat," Blair added sarcastically.

Jim silently repeated the words, "Pork chops?"

Blair shrugged. Vince came back to the table. "You've got a great pad. I can fit my whole apartment into your living room."

He sat down carefully on the chair across from his hosts and gingerly touched his head wound. Unlike Blair, his cut was now covered with a small bandage.

Blair tilted his head and frowned. "I figured you'd have a big house on the bay or something with all those residuals from the show."

Vince shook his head. "Not when you have ex-wives and bad investments. I get by all right, though."

Jim pushed the plate in front of him away and leaned forward. "I always wanted to ask you, whatever happened to, uh, to...."

"'Braddock's Way'?" Vince finished. Jim nodded. "I get that question a lot. Remember Linda Rydell?"

"She played your secretary," Blair commented.

"Yeah, she's a nice girl. We were very close. It was May 1976. I was going to be on the Carson Show and I was in the Green Room. The phone rang; it was Linda. She was crying. She'd just gotten fired. Well, I got pissed and then I got loaded. A half-hour later I'm on with Johnny telling why she got fired. Some network VP had knocked her up and his old lady had spiked him with it."

Blair was wide-eyed. "Whoa."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "You know, Vince, not that I doubt the veracity of your story here, but I watched Carson all the time. I don't remember that."

Vince shook his head. "You wouldn't. My segment got cut and the lawyers got on the phone. That was Braddock's last case."

There was a moment's silence amongst the men. Finally Jim stood. "Well, we should probably head for the station. Simon's gonna want the scoop on what went down last night."

Vince shook his head. "I can't. I've got an appointment. Can you drop me off at City Hall? I've got a parade commission meeting and it's going to take all day."

Jim nodded. "Okay. We've got security there. I'll drop you off and pick you up, but I want you to stay in the building. If anything looks strange, you find security, okay?"

Vince nodded. "Right, and thanks, Jim."

~~~~~~~~

"So how exactly did this happen?" Simon asked as he waved a hand towards Blair's head wound.

"Umm, well, Jim told me to...," Blair stuttered out an explanation.

Jim cut him off. "It was a freak accident, Simon. The shooter fired through the door. Took me completely off guard. Blair was standing behind me and was hit. We were lucky it wasn't worse."

"Damn lucky if you ask me," Simon commented as he leaned back in his chair and bit down on his unlit cigar. "You need to be more careful, Sandburg."

Blair nodded, his gaze shifting from Simon to Jim.

Simon opened the file folder on his desk. "Hydra Security is run by R.J. Shannon, a former FBI agent. Her partner is another ex-fed, John Bentley."

Megan slid into the chair next to Blair. "The man you shot was Eddie Carpenter. He graduated from Quantico with Bentley, but there's no indication he ever went into law enforcement."

Jim frowned. "You don't graduate from Quantico and not become a fed."

Blair shrugged his shoulders. "Unless you've got a better future as a hit man."

"Good point," Jim agreed.

"There's another guy on the payroll. Joey Trillo is listed as a consultant, but he was the suspect in a kidnap case a couple of years ago," Simon explained. "San Diego police couldn't find enough evidence on him, so Trillo walked."

"What kind of security company is this?" Blair asked, incredulous.

"It definitely has a colorful staff," Megan added.

"Sounds like Max was onto something nasty then, doesn't it?" Blair rubbed at his still aching head.

"You okay?" Jim asked genuine concern in the tone. "Do you want an aspirin or something?"

"No, man, I'm fine."

Jim sighed, knowing that Blair was stretching the truth. "Okay, but keep an eye on that."

Blair nodded. The detective turned back to Simon. "I need to get inside Hydra."

"I'm way ahead of you. Connor, would you like to show Detective Ellison the background we drew up?"

Megan smiled and handed Jim the file she was holding. "We think you'll make an attractive candidate for Hydra's employment roll."

~~~~~~~~

"So, why exactly did you leave the Portland P.D., Mr. McQueen?" Hydra Security's co-owner, John Bentley asked.

"Well, you're going to find out anyway if you check. A guy died in custody. Got a little out of hand in the interrogation room. You know what I mean?" Jim Ellison shifted uncomfortably in the chair as he made the story of Carl McQueen as shady as it could be. "I didn't lay a hand on him. They dismissed me and ended my back pay and pension, you know." He leaned forward making sure his face and voice carried just the right amount of desperation. "I'm going to do a good job for you, Ms. Shannon. I just want a shot. Please. I haven't been able to find anything steady since I left Portland six months ago."

Shannon looked at Bentley, who nodded. "Okay, Mr. McQueen, we'll give you a chance." The petite woman reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a file. "We'll start you in In-home protection."

"Thank you, Ma'am. I won't let you down."

Bentley opened a door at the back of the office. He spoke to someone on the other side. "Marika?" he said.

Shannon came around the desk. Jim stood and straightened his suit as he watched a dark-haired, Amazonian built woman enter the office. Shannon stepped forward and motioned the woman in. Even the athletically built Bentley looked small next to Marika.

Shannon motioned towards Jim. "Marika, this is Carl McQueen, our new security officer."

Jim nodded to the attractive, but intimidating, woman. "Hello."

Marika gave him a cool smile. "Pleasure, certainly."

~~~~~~~~

Marika led Jim to a bank of elevators. They stepped into an empty car, and she hit the down button. "After you finish your paperwork, Carl, we'll get you fitted for the company suit. We'll also provide you with a firearm, and training at our private shooting range down on Parker Street."

The elevator door opened and the two stepped out. "So, you work in the personnel department?" Jim guessed.

"No, I'm a body guard."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "Oh."

The woman pointed at a row of desks across the room. "Over there is where the bookkeeping is done. Downstairs is the computer room. Unless you have authorized business down there, consider it off-limits, all right?" Jim nodded, making sure that he appeared respectful and obedient.

Marika pointed to a room on the Mezzanine level above them. "Upstairs is our publicity section."

Keeping his McQueen face as innocent as possible, Jim commented, "I've seen your commercials."

Marika smiled. "Well, even security firms have to advertise."

Jim's focused his sentinel hearing on the activities around him. He never expected to hear what he did.

Vince Deal's voice came through loud and clear. "Hi, I'm not a detective, but I played one on TV. I'm Vince Deal. As private eye Bill Braddock, I learned a thing or two about fighting crime. If the question is private protection, my friends at Hydra Security have the answer."

If Marika hadn't been standing next to the detective, Jim was certain that he would have exploded in anger.


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


Jim waited on the street outside of the Hydra offices. Sure enough, he heard Vince Deal's voice as the actor bid adieu to the receptionist in his ever-flirting manner.

The old actor entered the bright sunlight. It took him a moment to notice that someone was standing next to him. He turned eyes wide. "May I have your autograph, Mr. Deal?" Jim said flatly.

Vince backed away. "Detective?"

"You lied to me, Vince."

"I wasn't lying, I was acting," Vince replied indignantly.

Jim scoffed. "Yeah, right, whatever. How'd you get here?"

"Cab."

Jim motioned a waiting cab over to the curb. He opened the door so that Vince could slide into the back. "My truck is parked around the corner." He leaned forward to the cab driver and handed him a twenty. "Take him to the police station. Nowhere else." Ellison then pointed a finger at Vince. "You will meet me at Major Crimes. I'll be following. You don't show and you're gonna wish your stuntman was with you."

Vince raised his eyebrows as he sat back in the seat. "I never used a stuntman."

~~~~~~~~

"Celebrity spokesman?" Simon repeated, looking at Vince Deal accusingly.

Deal shrugged his shoulders. "I pitched it to R.J., and she bought it on the spot. Now, you can't be a star if you can't sell yourself."

Simon shook his head. Jim stepped forward and leaned on the table, glaring at Vince with all the intimidation he could muster. "Vince, did it ever occur to you that Hydra might suspect that Max filled you in and they want to keep you close?"

Vince leaned back with a smile of satisfaction. "Perfect, the hunted becomes the hunter."

Simon interrupted. "Vince, I want you to call Shannon right now and back out of that commercial."

"I already signed the papers. Besides, if I back out now, that would put their radar up."

Simon closed his eyes and rubbed his head, trying to alleviate his growing headache. "He's right, Jim. I'm open to suggestions here."

"Captain, we've got to scrap this whole thing right now. It's ludicrous, if you ask me."

Vince stood up and walked to the window. He slyly commented, "Don't either of you want to know about the nugget I scored?"

"A nugget?" Jim asked, confused.

"Yeah. I ended up getting to know a girl in the computer room. Turned on the old charm. You could take a cue from me on that, Jim. I sent her out to fetch me a danish. Meanwhile, I copied a list of all the access codes. I have the one for the computer in Shannon's office."

Jim and Simon exchanged looks. "Where's the list, Vince?"

Vince tapped on his forehead. "Up here. But I can conveniently forget it if you don't let me play this out to the freeze-frame."

Jim refrained from letting his anger take over. "Hey, Vince, it's time for you to wake up and smell reality here, buddy."

"Look, you know, when I came back to Cascade with my tail between my legs, Max Rogers was the only reporter who'd interview me. He helped me keep it together. I owe him for that. I have to find out who would do this to him."

Jim started to protest again, but Simon interrupted. "Okay, Jim, tomorrow I want you two to get back into Hydra. See if you can put those codes to good use, but keep an eye on him. First sign of trouble, I'm pulling you both out."

Jim groaned with frustration. "Yes sir," he regretfully answered.

~~~~~~~~

Jim used his sentinel hearing to determine that Shannon's office was empty. He led Vince down the hall and then opened the door as quietly as possible.

As expected, no one was inside. Jim turned on the computer and waited for Vince to type in Shannon's access code. "Good job, Vince." Jim praised the actor's acumen, as the password let them into the system.

"Reminds me of Mission Impossible. I was up for the Marty Landau role and my agent yanked me. Said it would be a flop."

The first file Jim opened revealed a detailed listing of Hydra's clients. Another gave more information about the jobs performed. Jim slid a disk into the drive and copied the two files on to it. "Good agent," he commented.

"I fired him the next year."

Jim suddenly rose up and removed the diskette, sliding it into his pocket. "Someone's coming."

Vince looked around. "I don't hear anybody."

"We need to find a place to hide," Jim said as he pulled Vince towards the door at the back of the office. Before they could hide, the front door to the office opened. Shannon entered.

"What are you doing in here?" the woman asked impatiently.

Vince held his hands out from his side and breathed in deeply. "Absorbing."

R.J. frowned. "Absorbing?"

"Yes, I'm a method actor, like Brando and Hoffman. I have to, well, live the part. I have to feel Hydra. This is the brain behind Hydra. I was hoping to get the strongest vibes from here."

Jim stepped forward. "Ma'am, I saw Mr. Deal entering your office and I felt obliged to escort him out."

The woman gave both men a disapproving glare. "I suggest you do so then, Mr. McQueen."

"It won't happen again, R.J.," Vince offered.

Shannon pursed her lips together. "Mr. Deal, publicity wants to shoot your spot tomorrow at noon. Will you be ready?"

Vince grinned. "Absolutely. You know I had a thought on that. I'd like to have a Hydra security guy in a uniform, kind of in the background with a spotlight on him, you know, dress the set. I think Carl here would be perfect, don't you? He's very photogenic."

"I'll discuss it with John," Shannon answered, eyeing Ellison's reaction to Deal's suggestions.

"Uhm, Mr. Deal, I'm sure Ms. Shannon has some work to do. Uh, please, I apologize, ma'am. This won't happen again."

Jim pushed Vince into the hall and shut the office door behind him.

"You're gonna be my co-star, Jim, what do you think of that? Did you get the info?" Vince said as soon as the door was closed.

"Shh!" Jim reacted hastily, trying to keep the man from speaking. "They're probably watching us now."

"Oh, sorry," Vince apologized, looking at the camera mounted on a nearby wall. "Didn't think about them spying on us."

Jim shook his head and guided the man to the elevator.

~~~~~~~~

As soon as the two men were out of the building, Jim turned Vince to face him. "Are you nuts? What's this about making me your co-star?"

"You're supposed to stay close. Well, let them think it's their idea."

Jim shook his head in astonishment. "Vince, were you hit on your head as a child? I can't be in a commercial."

"You'll be great, Jim. You got the face, the angles. Okay, maybe we need to work on the personality, but...."

Jim ignored the actor and pulled him to his truck, never feeling so grateful that he normally had Blair as his backup.

~~~~~~~~

Jim took Vince back to the loft, where Blair and Megan were waiting. He had Blair load the diskette in the computer to see what he had been able to download from Shannon's system. "Well, it looks like you have a list of some of Hydra's biggest clients," Blair said as he leaned forward on the couch and tried to interpret the information showing on his laptop.

Megan sat next to Blair on the couch, leaning over to look at the display as well. She pointed at the screen. "Each of them has two accounts."

"Yeah, one for Hydra's legitimate books and a second, larger payment into a number of offshore banks," Blair analyzed.

"So, the money's being laundered," Jim guessed.

"Looks that way," Blair said, as he typed in a couple of more keys.

"Buy why? All of these clients are wealthy, some quite prominent," Megan said looking at the list.

"Ah, that's the classic formula for blackmail and extortion," Vince said from the love seat.

"Not bad, Vince," Jim said with a smile. "Episode 62?"

"No, no, no," Vince answered, shaking his head. "58, Requiem for a Stool Pigeon. I was supposed to protect this witness. He got in my hair, but eventually he helped me solve the case."

Blair couldn't help the snort of laughter at Deal's innocent description. "Life imitating art, huh?"

Jim glared at his partner, clearly not finding the same humor in the situation. "You know, if we approach anyone on this list, chances are, Hydra will find out," Jim reasoned. "We'll have to nail them ourselves. Catch them in the act. Vince and I are going to stay under." Jim paused and then leaned over examining Blair's temple, which now had a small bandage covering the cut. "Are you feeling better, Chief?"

Blair fingered the wound. "Yeah, it feels a lot better."

Satisfied with the answer, Jim turned to the Australian detective. "Okay, then Megan, I think you and Blair should talk to Simon and see if you can come up with a way to bait the hook."

Blair and Megan exchanged glances and then nodded in agreement.

~~~~~~~~

Megan primly sat in the chair. She wasn't exactly sure how the wife of a multimillionaire would act, but she was going to do her best to sell herself as 'Olivia Somerset,' wife of Charles Somerset. "My husband and I moved to Cascade last year from Melbourne."

R.J. Shannon handed her a drink. Megan smiled demurely. "Thank you. Charles is consulting for a Russian ore company in the Urals. He'll be coming back any day and I need to have my situation handled immediately, before he returns."

"What exactly is your situation?" John Bentley asked as he and R.J. sat in chairs across from their future client.

"Two months ago, I, umm, I had a brief affair. He's an artist, Anthony Drake. We ended it, but he's been following me, sending me letters." She handed Bentley an envelope. "He's threatening to tell my husband. I don't want to destroy my marriage over this."

Shannon leaned forward with interest. "Do you think this man's dangerous?"

"He's young. He has a temper," Megan said, sniffing a fake sob into a handkerchief. "But I really thought I loved him."

Bentley pressed an intercom button on the desk. "Marika, could you come in here a minute, please?"

A female voice answered. "Right away, Mr. Bentley."

Bentley rose and helped Megan stand. "We'll start with 24-hour armed protection."

"What ever you say," Megan responded compliantly.

Marika entered the room. "Marika, this is Mrs. Somerset."

"Marika will be your bodyguard," Shannon offered. "We like to assign her to female clients. It's more discreet."

Megan dipped her head demurely. "A lady with a gun. Imagine that."

"I'll take you to the contract office, Mrs. Somerset."

"Thank you, Ms. Shannon, Mr. Bentley."

"If there's anything more we can do for you, you let us know," Bentley offered, laying on the charm.

The two women left the office. Marika led the client to the elevator bank. The doors opened. A large well-built man stepped out of the car. "Ladies," he said with a charming smile. He held the elevator door open for the women to enter and then stepped out into the hallway.

"Thank you, Carl," Marika responded politely. The doors closed, taking the women to the lower level and leaving Carl McQueen behind.

~~~~~~~~

As soon as Jim was certain that Marika and Megan were gone, he focused his hearing on the conversation taking place behind R.J. Shannon's closed office door. He heard Bentley talking first. "She seems like the perfect client. I'm sure she has access to her own money."

"This letter is not enough. Tell Marika to tape all her conversations with Mrs. Somerset. Then if the boyfriend shows up...."

Vince appeared at Jim's side, breaking his concentration. "Carl, why aren't you in wardrobe? We're due on the set in an hour."

Jim gritted his teeth. "Vince, no," he protested.

"Hey, R.J.'s orders."

Defeated, Jim followed Vince back to the elevators.

~~~~~~~~

A knock on Shannon's door interrupted the partners. "Yeah?" Bentley said.

His assistant entered the room and handed Bentley a tape. The owner nodded. "Thanks, Mike."

"What's that?" Shannon asked.

"Deal and McQueen showing up on the same day was suspect enough, but that business in your office yesterday really got my alarm bells going. I asked internal security to review all the tapes since those two arrived. There's more, but this is the piece that hangs them."

Shannon watched as Deal and McQueen stood together in front of her door and opened it. "Carl said that Deal entered the office on his own and then he came in to get Deal out."

"Exactly. There's definitely something going on between those two."

The woman sighed. "Damn it, John, we should've killed Deal the minute he walked through the door."

"No, it was worth it to play it out. We know that Rogers didn't tell him anything. Deal was just fishing around for scraps."

"Yeah, but McQueen might be a cop. We have to find out if he's...."

"We will. I'll put Joey Trillo on it. Problem solved."

~~~~~~~~

Vince squinted, trying to read the numbers on the buildings. "433, there's the soundstage." The actor then lowered the truck's visor mirror and pulled out a small case. He quickly patted down his face with a sponge.

Jim glanced at the man as he pulled the truck over to the curb. "Um, Vince, I don't mean to get personal here, but are you wearing makeup?"

"Of course. I've got to even out my skin tone for the camera. What'd you think this was an ascot?" He pointed to the towel protecting his collar. "I've got my makeup kit, if you want to try some pancake."

Jim chuckled. "No thanks, I've had your pancakes."

"All right, mock me if you will, but some casting director could be looking at the commercial and hire you for something else."

"Oh, isn't that exciting, spending time with a casting director. Vince, I don't know how to put this right now, but I'm a cop, you see. A real cop. You're an actor. If you got shot in there, you can't just wipe off the stage blood and ask for a second take. You follow?" Vince just stared at his lecturer. "Come on. Stay close."

They entered the soundstage to find they were standing in Bill Braddock's office. Vince pointed at a fake door. "There's my name right on the door, my character's name." He looked around at the empty room. "Maybe we're early." He walked around the stage. "It looks just like the office in my old show."

Jim shook his head. "There's someone else here." He turned just as two men came around the false wall.

"Mr. Deal?" one said as they approached.

"Where's the crew?" Vince asked.

"We're it," the other man said.

"Oh, so you're non-union, huh?" He looked at Jim. "That's why I do my own makeup."

Jim ignored the actor's banter. Instead, he focused his attention on the new arrivals, his senses on high alert.

"Yeah, whatever," the first man said in response to Vince's comment.

"When do you start shooting?"

The other man took a menacing step forward. "When I say 'action.'" Suddenly, the two strangers pulled out guns."

"Drop your weapon," the larger of the two men said.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, easy," Jim said as he raised his hands. "I'm not packing. You can check."

The smaller man moved forward and searched Jim from top to bottom. "We're going to ask you some questions. If we hear the right answers, maybe we won't blow a hole in your throat."

Vince took a timid step away from Jim. "Oh, this is...unexpected."

Jim turned to the actor. "Vince, what's going on here?" he asked with feigned confusion.

The larger man turned to Vince. Jim could feel the smaller one standing just behind him. Suddenly he turned around and grabbed the man, throwing him into the larger. The other's gun went off and hit the sole light that lit the room, submersing the set into darkness.

~~~~~~~~

Vince ran out of the soundstage like the devil was after him. He could hear the sounds of the fight going on inside. His guilt at abandoning Jim warred with his fear. Fear won. He hid behind two mail drop boxes at the nearby corner. Suddenly, all was quiet. Vince said a silent prayer that his friend was okay.

He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Jim exit the building. Jim looked up and down the block, not seeing Vince hiding behind the boxes. "Vince? Vince, I know you're out here. Where are you?"

Vince slowly rose from his protected area. He had trouble meeting the detective's eyes. "I don't know what happened to me, Jim. I'm...I'm sorry."

Jim looked at the man, clearly seeing terror in his eyes. The actor's heart was racing and his breath was short. "It's okay, Vince. You did the right thing. You're alive, that's all that counts."

"What about them?" Vince asked, pointing back to the soundstage.

"I'm calling for backup."


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


Marika held the door open for Megan to enter the large, lavishly decorated apartment. Megan played her role as Olivia Somerset to the hilt. "My husband's given me status and security, but he's a great deal older. There's just no passion anymore. Anthony made me feel alive again." She sat in a large overstuffed chair. "I just don't know what to do."

Marika smiled at the woman. "Well, don't do anything. You know, you can have it both ways."

Megan raised her eyebrows at the security officer's suggestion. "But Charles would never...," she started to respond, appearing to be shocked by the comment. She then rose from the chair and crossed the room to look out the large bay window. Pretending to look out over the near by harbor, instead she directed her gaze to the street below. Spotting the brown sedan halfway down the block, she breathed a silent sigh of relief, knowing that Rafe was backing her up. She turned back to Marika, making sure her face held the right mix of sorrow and apprehension.

Marika approached her. The large woman reached out and brushed Megan's hair behind her ear. "Listen, in my experience, we usually find out that the husband's been unfaithful, too. Just think about what you need."

A knock on the door startled both women. "Expecting someone?" Marika asked.

"No."

Marika approached the door cautiously. She pulled her gun out of its holster. "Who is it?"

"Olivia? It's Anthony," came a male voice from the other side of the door.

Megan gasped in mock fear, hand covering her mouth. "Oh my God. Tell him to go," she ordered the bodyguard. Marika nodded, preparing to open the door. "No, let him in, but stay close," Megan added, demonstrating Olivia's indecision.

The guard opened the door to reveal Blair standing on the other side. The anthropologist's hair was pulled back in a ponytail. He wore a beret. If Megan hadn't been undercover, she would've laughed at her friend's attempt to pose as an eclectic artist.

He pushed past the guard. "Olivia? I just came to...." As if noticing Marika for the first time, Blair's attention centered on the gun that was aimed at his chest. "Who are you? What's with this gun? What's going on?" he asked, his eyes shooting back and forth between the women.

Megan, as Olivia, answered. "She's from a security firm. I warned you not to come here, Anthony."

Anthony appeared shocked. "Come on, Olivia, surely you didn’t think I would hurt you, did you?"

Olivia turned away. "You already have," she murmured.

Anthony took a step closer to the distraught woman. "I was out of my mind when I wrote those letters. Don't you know that I love you?"

Marika stepped between Olivia and Anthony. "The lady doesn't want you here."

Olivia placed a hand on Marika's arm. "It's all right, Marika." The guard moved out of the way and Olivia approached Anthony. Suddenly, the previously demure woman lost all inhibition. She grabbed Anthony by the collar. Pulling his lips to hers, she kissed him with desire. Leaving the artist gasping for breath, Olivia looked back at Marika. "Give us a moment." She dragged Anthony to the bedroom. "I'll call if I need you."

The door shut quickly, leaving Marika alone in the living room.

~~~~~~~~

Blair removed the beret and then looked at Megan. She motioned for him to say something. A little too loudly, Blair said, "Why can't you and I just be alone? Why can't you just leave Charles?"

Megan smiled, the tone of her voice matching Blair's. "None of that matters now. Let's not waste the time we have."

Blair leaned forward and whispered. "How long do we have to keep this up?"

Megan whispered back. "Well, I don't imagine Anthony's the talkative type."

Blair took a step back and straightened his leather jacket. "What do you think of my outfit?"

Megan suddenly moaned very loudly, a sound mimicking sheer ecstasy. Blair's eyes widened in surprise. Before he could recover Megan groaned, "Oh, Anthony, you beast!"

Blair grinned and tossed his hat into the corner. He let out a loud growl that would have made a grizzly bear proud. "Grrrrrrrr!" He jumped on the bed, knowing the sound would echo through the apartment.

Megan let out a giggle and collapsed on the bed next to Blair.

~~~~~~~~

Outside of the bedroom, Marika was listening to the antics of the two lovers. Suddenly, the room was quiet. The woman smiled, sat down in the overstuffed armchair and pulled a magazine out of her pocket.

~~~~~~~~

Jim paced Simon's office from end to end. "So, Trillo's already called a lawyer. We're not going to get anything out of them."

"Yeah, one of Hydra's lawyers, I'm sure. I guess that means your cover's blown to hell," Simon reasoned. "That leaves Connor and Blair with the bait."

"If Shannon puts up her guard, those two are going to be left out on a limb." Jim shook his head.

Simon sighed. "I should have never gone along with this plan. Sandburg's a civilian for god sake."

"Who else could have played a spaced-out over-the-top artist, Simon? It's that part he was born for."

"Yeah, right," Simon replied doubtfully. "Okay, so Connor should be checking in with her backup soon. I'll have Rafe bring her up to speed. In the meantime, if anything looks hinky, we'll just pull them out, cut our losses." Simon paused for a moment. "So, how's Deal taking this?"

"Like an actor who blew his comeback."

~~~~~~~~

Shannon looked at Bentley as he entered her office. She redirected her attention to the caller on the other end of the phone. "So, you're sure Ray and Trillo didn't give us up? Okay. Well, do what you can." She then hung up the phone. Her sigh was deep.

"What's going on?" Bentley asked.

"I sent Mathiason to the station to see if he could get Ray and Trillo out on bail. I figured if any of our attorneys could get them out it would be him. It's a no go." She held out a fax. "Mathiason was able to get access to the file, though. McQueen's real name is Ellison. He's a detective with the Major Crimes unit."

Bentley shook his head. "Well, it gets worse." He handed her a newspaper clipping. "From the society page of the Melbourne Daily. It's mining engineer Charles Somerset and his lovely wife, Olivia. The picture was taken two days ago."

Shannon crumpled up the paper with barely controlled fury. "Damn it, John. What are we going to do?"

Bentley reached over and picked up the phone.

~~~~~~~~

Simon found Vince sitting in the break room. The man looked one hundred years old, worn out and tired; a far cry from the cavalier Bill Braddock. Simon looked down at the cup of coffee he had purchased from the deli cart. Hopefully, it would help Deal feel a little bit better. "Thought you might like a real cup of joe. This break room stuff can taste like sludge sometimes."

Vince shook his head dejectedly. "No, I don't want to be any more awake than I am thank you."

Simon sat down across from the actor. "I don't ever recall Braddock wringing his hands over some case."

Vince shrugged his shoulders. "Braddock would never run off. He would have punched his way out. And Jim is right. If it weren't for reruns, I'd be nothing but a has-been waiting for the man in the black hood to clock me out."

Simon gave the man a sympathetic smile. "Look, come on, things change. I mean we're both getting a little...."

"No, no," Vince said quickly, cutting Simon off. "No, believe me, I've had enough for one day, I think."

Simon nodded. "All right, I'll have Jim take you back to the loft."

~~~~~~~~

Blair leaned back on the bed, supported by his elbows, and looked at Megan who was sitting on the edge. "You know, we've been quiet for quite some time now," he whispered. "Maybe you should scream or something."

Megan gave him a sly grin. "Me? What makes you think Anthony's that talented?" She reclined back next to him. "I think you should scream."

"Me? I definitely think Anthony could make you scream." Blair grinned with the challenge and then grimaced slightly. He touched his lip and then examined his finger.

"What's wrong?"

"You bit my lip when you kissed me out there?"

Megan's grin grew wider. "Well, I always liked it a little rough," she whispered.

Blair closed his eyes and fell back on the bed. "Not fair, Connor."

"Hey, I'm just trying to make it convincing."

Blair nodded. "Well, I'd say you did."

"I think another five minutes ought to do it. Why don't you muss up your clothes, Sandy?"

"Me, why don't you? I'm sure you muss up much better than me."

Before Megan could respond, the door to the bedroom slammed open. The two were confronted with John Bentley and Marika, both aiming weapons at the undercover operatives.

Megan's eyes widened in surprise. "Marika, Mr. Bentley, what are you doing? This is outrageous."

"Shut up," Bentley replied simply.

Marika grabbed Megan's purse from the counter. Megan protested again, "Have you forgotten who I am?"

Bentley chuckled. "No, but I think you have. We know you aren't Olivia Somerset."

Marika held up Megan's gun that she found inside the purse. ".9 millimeter," she said.

Bentley nodded. "Cop issue. Okay, let's get these two out of here. Call Shannon and tell her to meet us at Parker Street."

She placed her gun on the nightstand and picked up the bedroom's phone handset. Before she could complete the movement, Blair sprang from the bed in an effort to grab the weapon. His movements were too slow, and before he could reach the weapon, Marika had slammed an arm down onto the back of Blair's head. He collapsed to the floor, motionless.

"No!" Megan shouted as Marika prepared to follow the action with a kick to Blair's defenseless stomach.

"That's enough, Marika," Bentley ordered. "Let's get out of here and then we can get down to business with them." Bentley motioned for two men who had been standing in the living room to come into the bedroom. They picked up Blair's limp form and dragged him from the room. Bentley followed with Megan in tow.

~~~~~~~~

"I really am sorry that I left you behind. I don't know...." Vince tried to explain.

Jim held his phone to his ear while he listened to the actor and steered the pickup. "Really, it's okay, Vince. I'm the cop here. It's my job to protect you, not the other way around." Jim stopped for a stoplight.

"Do you remember the last episode of 'Braddock's Way'?"

"Yeah, the cliffhanger. It was supposed to be continued next season."

Vince shook his head. "There wasn't any next season. Braddock was framed, stripped of his license, and back on the bottle. That's where my big mouth left him, twisting in the wind.

Jim smiled. "Yeah, my mouth's gotten in the way a couple of times, too, Vince." He closed his phone and set it on the center console. "Sandburg and Connor's backup hasn't answered yet. They should have checked in. Let's take a cruise by the apartment that they're using."

Vince nodded silently, his mood still clearly depressed.

~~~~~~~~

Jim pulled up behind the police issue sedan. He got out of his truck and approached Rafe from behind. He could see that the detective was still in the car. "Hey, Rafe."

As he moved next to the open driver's side window, he realized that Rafe was leaning against the doorframe, unconscious.

"That your backup?" Vince asked.

Jim nodded, and opened the door. Rafe stirred, his hand moving to the bloody gash on his forehead. "Rafe, what happened?" Jim asked as he helped the man sit upright.

"Oh God, I, I never even saw it coming."

Jim inventoried Rafe's condition. "You hurt anywhere else?"

"No, I think I'm okay." Rafe started to list to the side.

Jim caught him and pulled him upright again. "Yeah, right, buddy. Let's get someone to look at you." Jim turned to Vince. "Call 911 and get some squad cars here and an ambulance." He turned back to Rafe. "Just hang in there. I'm going to check on Blair and Megan."

"Be careful, Jim. Who ever got to me is probably onto Megan and Blair."

Jim nodded, worry lines creasing his face.

~~~~~~~~

Jim entered the apartment quietly. He could tell with is enhanced hearing that the apartment was empty. That fact alone had caused his heart to sink. Blair and Megan were gone.

A whirring sound caught his attention. Jim frowned and began a search of the room, trying to find the source. He finally discovered a small tape recorder hidden in the cushions of the living room couch. The recorder was still recording. He turned off the machine, hit the reverse button and let the tape rewind for a moment. He then hit play. What he heard caused him even more consternation.

Bentley's voice played, <Cop issue. Okay, let's get these two out of here. Call Shannon and tell her to meet us at Parker Street.> There was an unidentified commotion and then a thud, followed by Megan shouting, <No!>. His chest tightened with fear. Megan and Blair were definitely in trouble and he might be too late to help them.

~~~~~~~~

"Yeah, Parker Street," Jim said into his cell phone. "Simon, I know they've taken Blair and Megan to the pistol range. Marika told me about it when I signed on with the firm. I think Blair might have been hurt. I've got to get to them. I'll meet you there, okay?" Jim pushed the disconnect button on the phone and climbed into the truck. Vince started to get into the passenger side. "No, Vince. You stay here."

Vince shook his head. "This is a disaster and it's my fault. Everyone's cover was blown because I horned in." He shut the passenger door in anger, watching Jim from the curb.

"Vince, please, it takes more than just you to screw something up, okay? It's not your fault." Jim started the engine, and pulled away.

~~~~~~~~

Vince watched Jim's truck disappear around the corner. He sighed. Despite what Jim had said, he knew this was his fault. He couldn't let something happen to Megan and Blair because of his screw-up.

He looked at the scene around him. Rafe's old sedan was still sitting unattended at the curb. He glanced about; the ambulance attendant was treating Rafe's head wound.

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and got into character. He had been Bill Braddock for a long time. He could do it again.

He walked over to Rafe's car and climbed inside. An officer standing near by came up to him. "Sir? This is a police vehicle."

Vince scowled at the young man. "Do you know who I am?"

The officer frowned. "Well, you do sort of look familiar."

"I'm Lieutenant Vince, Ellison's partner. Now, do you mind if I back his ass up?"

The officer's eyes widened and he edged away from the vehicle as Vince started up the engine. "I'm sorry, sir. Excuse me."

"No problem," Vince muttered, pulling the sedan away from the curb.

~~~~~~~~

Blair groaned as consciousness returned. His head was pounding in two different places and his neck was killing him. It felt like his chin had been resting against his chest for days. He debated whether opening his eyes was going to make the pain worse. It was Megan's voice that finally convinced him it was worth the effort. "Are you awake?" she whispered.

Blair groaned again as he raised his head and forced his eyelids up. "Uh...oh my head." He tried to raise his hands to his head. Instead, he found that he was secured to a chair and that his hands were tied behind his back. Panicked, he fought the restraints.

"Take it easy. You've been out for quite a bit. You could have a concussion." Megan warned. She tossed back her disheveled hair, and Blair could see she was similarly secured.

Blair's eyes drifted around the windowless room. It was stark and cold. The cement walls and floor were painted in gray. "Where are we?"

Megan's head dipped towards the far wall. Blair looked over his shoulder in the direction she was indicating and saw the paper targets. "Firing range," she answered.

Before either could say more, the door opened. Bentley and Shannon entered the room. Megan resumed the role of Olivia Somerset. "You've made a grave mistake, Mr. Bentley. My husband's a very powerful man."

Bentley chuckled and shook his head. "I've already called your 'husband' in Melbourne, so you can drop the act anytime."

Shannon stepped forward. "Look, we know you're cops. Now all we need to know is how much the police have on us."

Blair's eyes widened with bewilderment. "We don't know what you're talking about. This doesn't make sense. I'm an artist. She's an unhappy wife, married to a man that doesn't have time for her. Where's the crime in that, man?"

"Charles put you up to this, didn't he? He's trying to scare Anthony off!" Megan gasped.

Bentley's face twisted in anger. He raised the gun and pointed it at Blair. Blair flinched as the gun went off, again and again, rapid and deadly. The bullets barely missed the observer, but it the confines of the concrete room, the sounds of the explosions were horrendous. Bentley smiled. "Not a bad grouping. Wonder what kind of damage I could do from this range." He pointed the gun directly between Blair's eyes.

Blair slammed himself against the back of the chair in surprise. He strained to move his head out of the line of fire, but his restraints prevented the movement.

Bentley ran the gun barrel from Blair's forehead down to the bandage-covered cut over Blair's left temple. He pressed into the wound, causing Blair to grimace. Bentley evilly snickered at the pain he caused. He moved the gun to Blair's ear. "So, who are your influences, Anthony? Turner? Maybe, uh, Monet?" He pressed the gun deeply into Blair's ear lobe. "If it's Van Gogh, I can help out with the ear thing."

Blair said a silent prayer. He then looked at the man who was threatening him. "Well, actually, I'm into the abstract expressionists." He was surprised to hear his words were more confident than he actually felt.

Bentley apparently didn't find humor in the glib response. He pulled the hammer on the gun. Blair closed his eyes, waiting for the impending blast. Megan's voice cut in. "Stop! I'll talk. Just put down the gun."

Shannon moved behind the inspector and pulled her head back by the hair. "Who are you?" she growled.

"Inspector Connor with the Major Crimes unit, but he's not a cop. He's just a civilian consultant. Let him go and I'll give you the rest."

Blair shook his head. "Nice try, Megan. I'm Detective Jim Ellison. She's just a local actress and not doing a very good job, I might add. I'll let you know what you want to know. You just let her walk."

John frowned in frustration and again aimed his weapon at Blair. "Why don't you guys get your stories straight? We already know that the real Ellison...."

"Is right behind you, pal," Detective Jim Ellison's voice sounded from behind, causing Bentley and Shannon to spin around in surprise. "Don't move! Put your gun at your feet. Real slow."

Bentley bent down and laid his gun on the floor. Blair felt his heartbeat return to normal at the sight of his partner coming to the rescue.

Jim nodded. "That's right. Now, kick it over here." Bentley complied. "Now, move back," Jim ordered.

Bentley was starting to move, when suddenly the door behind Ellison opened. Marika entered the room, her automatic pointing at Jim. "Drop it, blue eyes. Now," she ordered.

Jim bent down to put his pistol on the floor. "All right, easy does it," he muttered to the woman. Abruptly, Jim jerked up and tackled Marika, knocking the woman off her feet. He scrambled to get control of her weapon and within seconds had knocked it away. Both fighters regained their feet.

Despite Jim's size and strength, Marika was skilled at hand-to-hand combat. Just when Blair thought Jim would out fight the bodyguard, she would suddenly get the upper hand.

Movement behind the combatants caught the young man's attention. Bentley and Shannon were escaping out the door. "Jim! They're getting away!" he yelled, even though it was quite apparent that his partner wasn't in a position to do anything about it while he was struggling with Marika.

Jim launched himself at the woman, using his greater weight to knock her to the ground. He landed on top of her. Marika's head snapped backwards and impacted with the floor. She fell into unconsciousness, and the strength flowed out of her body.

Blair smiled. "Serves her right," he mumbled.

Jim gingerly climbed to his feet. "You two all right?"

Blair nodded as Jim unfastened his restraints. "Yeah. Knew you'd come." Once Blair's hands were free, he gingerly touched the bruises on his head. "Gonna have a whopper of a headache tomorrow, though," he muttered.

Jim moved to release Megan. "Chief, you feel up to coming with me?"

Blair nodded without hesitation. Jim smiled and pointed to Megan. "You stay with Mrs. Peel."

~~~~~~~~

Shannon and Bentley exited the dark pistol range building and entered the alley at the back of the building. "The car's in front. We'll never make it!" Shannon yelled.

Before John could respond, a car entered the alley. Bentley waved down the driver. The car stopped. "Hey, our car's broken down," John explained. He approached the driver's side of the car. "I was wondering if you could lend us yours?" he asked as he jerked the car door open and yanked the driver out.

The two criminals climbed into the car and took off.

~~~~~~~~

Jim and Blair raced out of the building and into the alley. Jim looked up and down the byway only to find a car barreling down on his partner and him. He pushed Blair to the side just in time to miss being smashed by the vehicle. The car turned onto the main street and disappeared from sight.

"Chief, get in the truck!" Jim yelled as he led Blair down the alley to his waiting vehicle. He slammed the truck in gear and punched the accelerator, trying to catch the escaping vehicle. "Hang on!" Jim warned, as he took the next corner on two wheels.

A beat-up brown sedan was between Jim's truck and the car that contained Bentley and Shannon. "Watch out for that brown car," Blair warned.

Jim nodded and tried to pass the sedan, but the car kept blocking him. "Who the hell is this idiot?" Jim growled in frustration.

"I don’t know!"

Jim tried to pass again. The sedan thwarted the attempt. "Come on, jackass, get out of the way! Jim yelled again.

"See if you can pull alongside."

Jim finally was successful at getting his truck even with the sedan. He was too busy concentrating on the road, though, to see the driver. Blair yelled. "It's Vince! Get off the road, Vince! Get off the road!"

Vince Deal glanced at the truck and smiled. He gave a carefree wave, and concentrated his efforts on staying in pursuit of Bentley and Shannon.

Jim was getting ready to force his way past Vince when a car heading in the opposite direction blocked the attempt. Jim slammed on the brakes and pulled the truck back behind Vince's sedan. "Damn it! Idiot!" Jim yanked his radio up. "This is unit Echo Seven. We're in pursuit of a vehicle. Dodge Challenger, Oregon plates, heading north on Promontory. Copy?"

The dispatcher responded, <Ten-Four, Echo Seven.>

Jim watched as Bentley's car and Deal's went airborne, clearing the crest of a hill. Before he could shout out a warning, he found his truck was airborne as well. After the fact, he yelled, "Hang on!" The truck hit the ground roughly, the shocks barely absorbing the impact. The occupants bounced in the cab of the truck. Blair was rubbing his head, grimacing with pain. Jim glanced at his partner. "You all right?"

"Yeah, but you're supposed to be Carl McQueen, not Steve McQueen!" As if to punctuate his statement, the truck was airborne again and Blair's head hit the roof a second time. "Ow!" he exclaimed.

It suddenly dawned on Jim that Vince's car was no longer in sight. Thankful that apparently the actor had given up the chase, Jim concentrated on taking Bentley and Shannon down.

When Jim saw the beat up brown sedan heading at Bentley's car from the opposite direction, the detective realized that he had given thanks too soon. Vince Deal had decided to engage the criminals in a game of chicken.

Blair must have figured out what Deal was trying to do as well. "Oh God, they're going to hit!" he yelled.

At almost the same time, both cars swerved. Vince's car came to a stop safely on its wheels. Bentley's car, however, spun out of control and flew through the large plate glass window of a small neighborhood electronics store.

Jim slammed on the truck's brakes. He ran for the smashed car, now lying on its side. Blair followed in his footsteps.

Vince left his car as well. He met Jim at Bentley's vehicle. His grin ran the entire width of his face. "How's that for a comeback?" he asked jubilantly.

Blair shook his head. "Where'd you learn to drive like that?"

Deal started to answer when suddenly a sound from within the store caught his attention. A television set was playing, apparently undamaged by the car's flight into the store. On the set an advertisement ran, <A crime fighter that knows. 'Braddock's Way'--the name for action. Weeknights at 11:00 on Cascade channel three. Braddock's Way, the name for action,> a television announcer said as scenes from the television show flashed by.

Blair smiled at Vince's reaction. The actor was puffed up with pride. It was quite apparent that Bill Braddock had made his comeback.


~~~~~ Epilogue ~~~~~


Vince Deal had certainly made his comeback. He was signing autographs for members of Major Crimes. As word spread through the building, officers from other departments wanted to meet the actor who had brought Bill Braddock to life. The line was continuing to grow. "There you go," he said to Brown as he finished his signature with a flare.

Megan smiled at the actor, pleased with the attention he was now getting.

Blair, Jim and Simon entered the Major Crimes bullpen from the elevator. "Hey, if it isn't Bill Braddock," Jim commented with mock awe.

"That's the name...," Vince responded with a smile.

"Don't wear it out," Megan completed.

Blair grinned. "How's it going, Vince?"

Vince's excitement was easy to read. "It's great, kid. All that publicity got my career back on the blocks." He handed Blair a notebook. "This is a script for a TV movie of "'Braddock's Way.' They're even going to bring back Linda Rydell to play my secretary."

Blair opened the script and flipped through the pages. Simon looked over his shoulder. "'Braddock Returns'?"

"Yep."

Jim approached the actor. "Congratulations, Vince. You deserve it." The words were filled with sincerity.

"I owe it all to you, Jim. Uh, you know, just for fun, I knew a couple of the writers. I had them write in a small role for you. Just a couple of lines." He took the book from Blair and flipped to another page.

"Detective Madison is a stroke of genius," Jim commented, skimming the script page.

"Gruff, belligerent, head hard as a rock." Vince nodded. "What can I say? Typecasting!"

Jim shook his head. "Yeah, right. You're my hero, Vince."

Simon suddenly frowned and then looked at Blair. "Hey, you know, I don't see us in here."

Blair grabbed the script and flipped through it again. "I don't see us either! We need to talk to the writers! I mean, Madison here is clearly the brawn...," he said as he patted Jim on the arm. He then moved a safe distance away from the sentinel. "...but man, they really forgot about the brains."


The End

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