by Lyn Townsend
Written for PetFly by:
Teleplay by: Harold Apter and Steven Baum
Story by: Stephen A. Miller
~~~~~~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~~~~~~Blair’s eyes bugged out and his mouth twitched up in a wide smile of delight as he studied the photo in the yearbook. "Oooh, check out the bow-tie. ‘If not us, who? If not now, when?’" He threw his head back and chortled. "And I thought I was a geek in high school."
Simon and Jim exchanged amused looks. "Was?" they said in unison.
"Give me that!" Simon pulled the yearbook from Blair’s hands in mock exasperation. He laid it carefully on his lap and pulled a cigar from his breast pocket.
Blair settled himself back on the seat as he watched Jim’s eyes slide over to look at the captain.
"What are you doing?" Jim asked casually.
"Three hours in the car with him." Simon hooked a finger over his shoulder at Blair who shrugged good-naturedly. "I need something to help me relax," he continued as he tore the wrapper from the fragrant cylinder. "I’ve been dying for a smoke ever since we left Cascade."
"Not in my car."
"You know," Simon retorted, not ready to capitulate just yet. "I could order you to let me."
"We’re off-duty, sir," Jim reminded him.
"Well, if we’re off-duty, quit calling me sir," Simon grumbled. "Did I ever tell you how much I hate that?"
Jim grinned. "Yes, sir."
In the backseat, Blair snorted. It was going to be a long trip. It was one he was looking forward to, though. Jim had been promising, since he’d moved into the loft, that he’d take him kayaking on the river someday, after discovering that Blair had never seen this part of the state. Their lives had become so busy, with police work and Blair helping Jim to learn about his senses and how to control them, plus working on his dissertation and teaching at the university, that the time had never seemed right. Until now.
Jim was still dealing with his guilt over the death of his previous partner, Jack Pendergrast. Now, finally, it seemed the ghost of his past had been laid to rest and it was only up to Jim to forgive himself. Simon had received an invitation to his high school reunion and when Blair had realized that it was in the same area as the kayaking trip, he took Simon aside and explained his plan. Simon had played his part with gusto, ordering Jim to take time off, insisting it was a legal requirement, and Blair had casually dropped in his request to go kayaking. Now, here they were, on the way. They would drop Simon off at his hotel and then pick him up in two days time on the way home. And Jim was none the wiser. Blair watched as Simon lovingly scented his cigar, then reluctantly put it back into his pocket.
"I tell you, man," Simon said, tapping the book on his lap. "This sure brings back memories. Twenty years!" He shook his head. "Everybody’s going to be so old. You know, Jim, if it wasn’t for Peggy, I don’t think I’d go."
Blair hunched forward and leaned over the back of Simon’s seat, his interest piqued. "Peggy? Who’s Peggy?"
"Nobody," Simon answered grumpily.
Blair turned his attention to his partner. "Who’s Peggy, Jim?"
"Simon’s first love," Jim answered, casting a quick look at the captain. "But he never told her."
Blair nodded sagely. "Uh-huh. Now I see why you’re nervous." He turned back to his partner. "What about you, Jim?"
Jim Ellison regarded the anthropologist in the rear view mirror. "What about me?"
"Did you have an unrequited love in high school?" At the detective’s quizzical look, he pressed on. "You know, a major crush, man? Some pretty little thing who didn’t even know you were alive."
"Oh yeah," Jim said, his voice taking on a dream-like quality as he slid into a memory. "Susie Jenkins, cheerleader…and girlfriend of the high school football champ. She was built like you wouldn’t believe, and she could do this trick. She’d do the splits and …"
"How about you, Sandburg?" Simon broke in, looking uncomfortable.
"Me?" Blair squeaked. "I was a geek, man. Who would have wanted to go out with me? Besides we never stayed around one place long enough for any girl to get to know the real me." He sighed, lost in thought for a moment then shook himself. "Anyway, back to Peggy." He turned his attention to Simon and nudged the older man, wiggling his eyebrows theatrically.
"Give it a rest, will you?" Simon grumped. "We were friends, okay? Geez! Very good friends." He smiled. "We were considered the college radicals. Led demonstrations, championed causes, even got suspended for it a couple of times. We were going to make the world a better place. Oh yeah, she was really something."
"She in there?" Blair asked, indicating the yearbook on Simon’s lap.
The captain nodded and opened the book, holding it up for the two men to see. "Right there."
"Wow, Simon. She’s a babe, man."
Simon closed the book and looked thoughtful. "Yeah, well, people change. I mean, look at me, campus radical to cop. I probably won’t even recognize her."
The subject of the three men’s conversation climbed into her car and drove out of the gates of the Canyon Lake Paper Corporation. Her attention firmly fixed on the road ahead, she stole occasional glances at the memo in her hand.
Peggy looked in the rear view mirror and breathed a sigh of relief as the car that she feared had been following her turned off onto a side road. She steered carefully around the dump truck lumbering along the road, not noticing the same car do a U-turn and begin to trail her again as she fumbled for the cell phone in her handbag. She muttered in frustration as she saw that reception in the area was poor. She drove a few miles further on until she got onto the bridge before trying again.
Pulling up on the side of the bridge, Peggy got out of the car, taking her cell phone with her. "Hello? Hello? Hi. Um…Kerry Lance, please. Well…when will she be back?" Her brow furrowed at the reply, and she gazed around absently as the woman at the other end of the phone checked on Kerry Lance’s whereabouts. At first, she thought she was imagining it, as she saw the car bearing rapidly down on her.
"Oh my God!" Peggy dropped the phone from a suddenly nerveless hand as the vehicle hurtled toward her. Looking around frantically, she threw herself over the hood of her car, screaming in terror as her car door was torn from its hinges with a screeching of metal.
Peggy staggered to her feet and backed away from her car, her eyes wide with fear, fighting to catch her breath. In the periphery of her vision, she saw the other car turn around and start back toward her. Panting rapidly, her heart pounding in her chest, she screamed again as the truck she’d passed before rolled into view directly in front of her. Shutting her eyes tightly, Peggy dove beneath the chassis, wrapping her trembling hands over her head as the truck rumbled directly overhead. She shuddered at the loud explosion of sound that followed as the other car smashed into the truck in a headlong collision.
Staggering to her feet, Peggy stumbled back up the road, tears streaking her grimy cheeks. She headed toward town, her breath coming in strangled sobs of fear.
Simon Banks looked over at Jim as the detective pulled into a park in front of the hotel. "You know, guys," he said slowly. "I haven’t been kayaking in a long time. I mean, we could still…"
Jim shook his head, and tried to banish the smile from his face. "I’m sorry, sir, but we only have two kayaks."
"We could trade off, you know?" He groaned. "All right, how about this? How about you guys come in for a drink with me?" At the doubtful expressions on his companions’ faces, he sweetened the deal. "One drink. I’m buying."
Blair grinned and patted his partner on the shoulder. "You know what, Jim? I believe that our otherwise fearless captain…I think he’s afraid to go in there alone, man." Jim laughed, then shrugged and opened his door.
Simon looked around the lobby of the hotel and smiled at his friends. "You know, I got my first job at this place as a bellhop when I was 16." He shook his head. "It was the worst summer of my life." Another frown creased his forehead. "You know, guys, the reunion’s not until tomorrow night, I think we could…"
Jim held up a hand. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, we only have two tents, otherwise we’d love to have you."
"I could sleep out under the stars."
"Well, maybe you could do that on your balcony," Jim suggested, but Simon’s attention had turned elsewhere.
"I’ll be damned," he muttered. He walked quickly toward the booking desk where a small black man was trying to placate a young couple. "Still like to overbook them, huh, Billy?"
Billy looked up and smiled. "Simon Banks. Always figured you’d turn out bad. Well, I guess I was right." He laughed heartily and shook the captain’s hand.
"You still managing this place?" Simon asked.
"What do you suppose?" Billy groused. "That I’m going to retire? They’ll have to drag me out of here with both feet in the air, just like a racehorse."
Simon waved a hand at his companions. "Billy, I’d like you to meet my friends." He grimaced a little at Sandburg’s wide grin at the comment. "This is Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg."
Both men shook hands with the manager and exchanged pleasantries. "Are you checking in?"
Jim shook his head. "Actually, no, we’re going kayaking."
"And I’m still deciding," Simon mumbled.
"That’s not like you, Simon. You were the most decisive man I ever met."
All four men turned at the comment and saw a tall, well-built sheriff standing behind them.
Simon smiled widely and extended his hand. "Dave Becker. Hey, how are you doing?"
"I can’t complain much."
"I’ve got some business to take care of, Simon. I’ll see you later." Billy waved good-bye to Simon and hurried back to the desk.
Simon nodded, then turned back to Becker, sizing his old acquaintance up. "Yeah, I heard you were the law around here."
Becker shrugged. "When Jenkins retired, he passed the baton to me. So, I heard you made captain. Way to go."
"Well, that was four years ago, but thanks."
Dave Becker indicated Jim and Blair. "Part of your troops?"
"Oh sorry, Dave. This is Detective Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg."
Becker studied Blair for a moment. "You guys must do a lot of undercover work, huh?"
"Blair’s actually a special consultant to the department," Jim said. Becker nodded but kept his eyes on Blair.
"Oh, well, here in Rossburg, we got two kinds of cops – deputies and me. It’s a much simpler way of doing business." He finally looked back at Simon. "Of course, we don’t have all the murders, robberies, carjackings and gangs like you guys do."
Simon grinned easily. "I guess that’s why people move to small towns."
Becker nodded, then acknowledged the deputy waving at him from the other side of the room. "Yeah. We’re pretty good at handling what we do have. Well, listen, I’ve got to go. It was good to see you guys."
"Nice meeting you," Jim responded.
Blair eyed the sheriff with undisguised unease. "What’s his story?"
"We were in high school together," Simon replied. "He was captain of the football team, I was captain of the debating team. We were both very popular, but coming from very different directions. Had kind of a friendly rivalry going on. Guess you could say we still do." His eyes tracked to a dark-haired woman entering the hotel and he walked slowly toward her.
"That must be her," Blair whispered. "Peggy."
"The one that got away," Jim and Blair said in unison, then grinned goofily at each other.
Simon turned back to them. "Say, Jim, about that drink? You think we could save it until you guys pick me up on Sunday?"
"Yeah, I’m sure."
"Maybe we should stick around in case you decide to leave or you need some…"
"Backup," Blair put in helpfully when Jim faltered.
"Backup," Jim agreed.
"Get out of here," Simon hissed.
Jim rubbed his hands and looked at his partner. "Very good. If we hurry, we might be able to catch some supper."
"Sounds like a plan."
Jim nodded his head. "Beautiful." Blair wasn’t entirely sure he was talking about dinner.
Simon hurried after Peggy and saw her talking to the barman. "Her name is Kerry Lance and I’ll be right over there. Thanks." She walked quickly over to a corner booth, and Simon called to her.
Startled, the woman spun on her heel and stared at him for a moment. "Simon? What are you doing here?" She wrapped her arms about him and hugged him tightly. "I forgot. It’s the reunion…this weekend."
"Well, isn’t that why you’re here?"
"Me? No. I live here, remember? I hardly want to be hanging out with people I see every day," Peggy answered. Her words were directed at Simon but her attention was fixed on a spot over his shoulder. "It’s great to see you," she continued. "I hope you have fun at the reunion." Still looking past him, she sat down at the table.
Simon frowned at the obviously distressed look on his old friend’s face. "Peggy, is something wrong?"
"I mean, I was hoping we’d have a chance to talk. You know, catch up?" Simon indicated a chair at the table and Peggy nodded.
"I’m meeting someone." Peggy’s face was pale and she again looked past the captain.
Spooked, Simon looked as well and saw Sheriff Dave Becker at the entrance to the bar. "You and Dave Becker still friendly?" he asked.
Peggy shrugged and toyed with a napkin. "He stopped me for speeding a few months ago. I haven’t seen him for years. He let me off with a warning. He said it was on account of old times."
"Yeah, that’d be Dave," Simon chuckled. He didn’t miss Peggy’s soft gasp. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw that another man in a suit had joined Becker, though a large plant just inside the entrance to the bar mostly hid his face. "Who’s that?"
"Art Sturges. He owns Canyon Lake Paper. I work there."
Simon turned his attention back to Peggy. He could see now that she was frightened of something. "Peg, is something wrong?" he asked again.
"I’m sorry Simon, I have to go." Peggy gathered her handbag to her and rose.
"Peggy, look, if there’s a problem, please, let me help you." Simon stood as well and reached out for Peggy’s hand, hoping to stay her departure. She was shaking, and her skin was as cold as ice.
"Can we go someplace else?" she asked.
Simon nodded and led her out to the desk. He checked in and collected his key, then hurried over to where Peggy waited for him at the elevators. "This is us," he said, ushering her in as the door opened. He didn’t see the deputy who stood on the other side of the lobby and watched them carefully.
Simon unlocked the door to his room and deposited his bag on the floor, then turned back to Peggy who still stood in the hall. "Come on."
She hesitated a moment. "Look, maybe this isn’t such a good idea. I-I-I should go."
Simon reached out and grasped the woman’s trembling hand, pulling her gently into the room. "Peggy, come on. Relax. Look, is this because I’m a cop?" At the negative shake of her head, Simon went on. "I mean, are you doing something illegal?"
Peggy looked horrified. "No!" Then her face fell. "Yes. I don’t know." A sob caught in her throat. "I’m doing something important, okay?"
"Well, if…" Before he could continue, the phone rang and he looked over at it in exasperation. "Excuse me a second." He walked over to the phone and answered it. "Hello?"
"Mr. Banks, please."
"This is Mr. Banks."
"We have a fax for you."
"Can’t you have somebody send it up?"
"Not right now, sir."
"I can’t do it right now."
"Let me talk to Billy Cates."
"He’s gone home for the day. I’m sorry about the inconvenience. It’s marked urgent, sir."
"All right. No, I understand. I’ll be right down."
"Thank you, sir."
Simon hung up the phone and turned back to Peggy. "Sorry. That was the front desk. A fax just came in for me. They say it’s urgent. They can’t spare anybody right now to send it up. I’ve got to run down and get it. Shouldn’t be more than a minute." He looked at Peggy, willing her to stay.
Simon walked toward her and rested his hands on her shoulders. "I expect you to be here when I get back."
"I will be."
"Good." Satisfied, Simon headed back to the elevator. Downstairs, he walked to the reception desk, surprised to see his old friend standing there. "Billy? You still here?"
Billy turned to him and smiled. "Oh, Simon," he admonished. "Leaving that pretty lady up there all alone."
"You still think that you know everything that goes on in this hotel, don’t you?"
Billy tapped his skull. "Eyes in the back of my head," he agreed.
Simon laughed. "Hey, look. Somebody called upstairs, said there was a fax down here for me." His brow furrowed. "They also said that you’d gone home for the day."
"Well, you’re talking to me, so I guess I must still be here," Billy said reasonably. "And there’s nothing come in for you."
"Peggy…" Simon felt his heart jump. He turned without a further word and hurried back toward the elevators. He ran from the elevator to his room and opened the door. He didn’t need to call out her name. It was obvious she wasn’t inside. A shiver of apprehension snaked down his spine, and he reached for the weapon secured in his ankle holster as he spied the partially opened bathroom door. Suddenly, something hard slammed into the back of his head. He felt his knees buckle beneath him, and then the darkness claimed him.~~~~~~~~
He woke to a persistent thumping that reverberated in his head and he shifted on the floor and moaned. Levering himself up onto his hands and knees, he looked blearily around the hotel room. It had been turned over thoroughly. Seat cushions were scattered over the floor, and cupboards and drawers had been upended onto the bed. His suitcases had been ransacked as well and lay open, his belongings strewn about the room.
The rapping sounded again and Simon realized that someone was hammering at the door. "Yeah, just a minute." Carefully, he pulled himself up to his feet, leaning over and breathing deeply for a moment when dizziness threatened to toss him back to the floor. Finally, feeling somewhat steadier, he walked over to the door and opened it. Sheriff Dave Becker and two deputies stood out in the hallway.
"Simon, we had a report of shots fired," Becker said.
"Gunshots? Well, as you can see someone broke into my room." He ushered the men in and watched as the two deputies began to look around. His head throbbed badly, and he reached up to massage it, feeling the large lump on the back of his head that oozed blood.
"Sir?" Deputy Matheson stood at the open bathroom door and beckoned to the sheriff. Simon watched as Becker took a look into the bathroom and recoiled.
"Sweet Lord! Simon?" Becker turned to stare at the police captain. "Is this yours?" He held up a gun.
"I don’t know," Simon answered, still rubbing his head. "I’d have to check the serial number. It looks like it, though."
Becker took a step toward Simon, his face twisted in anger. "You son of a bitch." Before Simon could react to the epithet, Becker grabbed the captain by the arm and hauled him over to the bathroom.
Simon attempted to pull away, but his arm was held fast. "Dave! What…" He directed his gaze into the bathroom and gasped in shock, feeling tears immediately sting the backs of his eyes. Peggy lay dead in the bathtub, a large red bloodstain marring the front of her suit.
~~~~~~~~~~ Act II ~~~~~~~~~~"Dave…" Simon began frantically. He knew the sooner an investigation was started, the more chance they had of finding Peggy’s killer. Becker wasn’t listening. He held up Simon’s weapon.
"Three bullets were fired from your gun," he said. The inference was obvious. "Sit down, Simon," Becker directed.
"Man, this whole thing is crazy." He started as Becker reached for his arm and handcuffed it to the chair. Pulling at the restraint, he glared at Becker. "Is this really necessary?"
Becker ignored him and turned to one of his deputies, asking for his handcuffs before securing Simon’s other arm to the chair.
"Come on, Dave. You know me, man."
Deputy Matheson eyed the proceedings nervously and finally spoke. "Sir, he’s a cop. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt." Becker grasped his arm and pulled him over to the door.
"This man was discovered at a murder scene," Becker hissed. "Apparently, the victim has been shot with his gun." Matheson slowly nodded. "See if Lanier’s gotten hold of the coroner."
"Yes, sir." Matheson took a final nervous look at Simon and left.
Simon watched as Becker walked back to him and stood in front of him. "Dave, listen."
"Shut up." Simon’s words were cut short by a back-hander across his face that rocked him back in the seat. He panted through the pain, then glared at the sheriff.
"What the hell was that for?"
"Just you and me having our differences, Simon. Just like old times."
"Oh, come on, Dave. We were kids."
"Yeah, that’s right," Becker answered. Then he smiled. "Now we’re all grown up and you’re a prisoner attempting to escape. Oh, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this."
Simon stared at the other man in shock, then seeing it all come together, he kicked out as hard as he could, catching Becker in the groin. As Becker clutched at himself and doubled up, Simon pulled himself upright. Becker lashed out with one hand and yanked on a leg of the chair, causing it to collapse backward, taking the police captain with it. It slammed into the floor with a crash that splintered the timber. Quickly, Simon pulled his arms from the broken chair and delivering a powerful punch to Becker’s jaw that stunned him, the captain staggered to his feet.
Simon made it out the door before he heard the gunshot and felt the searing pain in the back of his leg that threw him into the opposite wall. He gritted his teeth against the agony threatening to send him into oblivion and staggered down the hallway, searching desperately for help and sanctuary.
Spotting the open elevator just ahead of him, Simon dragged himself forward. Noise from behind alerted him and he turned in time to see Becker stagger from the hotel room, gun in hand. With strength borne of desperation, Simon grabbed hold of the service trolley that had been left in front of the elevator and tipped it over, using it as an obstacle between himself and the sheriff. Simon’s eyes widened as he saw Becker bring the gun up to bear on him once more, and he threw himself into the elevator, punching frantically at the door close button. Sparks flew as bullets ricocheted off the metal edge of the doors as they slowly closed.
Jim Ellison looked at the road map spread out on the hood of the Explorer and then at his partner. "You’re telling me we’re lost."
Blair shook his head vehemently. "No, no, no. We’re not lost." He studied the map some more, then looked up glumly. "We’re just forty miles in the wrong direction, that’s all."
"Oh, just forty miles. You were supposed to be navigating," Jim groused. His cell phone rang before Sandburg had a chance to defend himself. "Ellison."
The cell phone answered with static, a faint voice coming through that he recognized but could not decipher. "Simon, is that you?" Jim shook the phone and then held it back to his ear. "We must have a bad connection."
"Something wrong?" Blair asked.
"I don’t know," Jim said in answer to Blair’s concerned look. "Maybe we’re out of cell phone range." He shrugged and concentrated on the phone, extending his hearing, trying to get past the crackles and hisses. "Simon?"
Finally, he heard the captain’s voice, sounding weak and out of breath. "Jim, yeah. Peggy’s been murdered, and I’ve been shot. Becker’s got my gun. He thinks I did it."
Jim felt like he’d been punched in the gut. "Oh, come on, Simon, this is crazy."
"Somebody’s trying to set me up," Simon panted. "I have no idea why. I can’t make it out of the hotel. They’re watching all the exits. Meet me in Room 736. I heard Billy say it was being remodeled."
Jim nodded. "Sit tight. We’re on our way." He closed the connection and pulled the map from the front of the truck before climbing in and starting the engine.
A bewildered and worried Sandburg climbed in beside him and hung onto the dash tightly as Jim slammed the vehicle into reverse and accelerated down the dirt road. "What’s going on?"
From his hiding place in the ceiling, Simon heard the deputies enter the storage room and call for him to surrender. Then the room exploded in noise as the men emptied their weapons into the corner where Simon had lain just a few minutes before. He heard Lanier issue instructions to the other deputies to continue searching. Hearing footsteps approaching, Simon carefully risked a look over the edge. A deputy stood just below him, and Simon ducked back quickly out of sight.
As the deputy spotted blood on the floor and bent his head to examine it more closely, Simon grasped his opportunity and launched himself from the ledge, swinging both feet hard into the other man’s chest. The deputy whooped and doubled over but recovered quickly, swinging a fist at Simon’s face. The police captain blocked it and grabbed two handfuls of the man’s shirt, slamming him hard into a shelf. As the deputy staggered back and tried to attack once more, Simon smacked his head hard into the other man’s forehead and watched in satisfaction as his eyes rolled back and the deputy collapsed in a heap.
Leaning forward and fighting to stay conscious, Simon picked up the deputy’s weapon and limped out of the room. He’d made it to the end of the corridor before he heard Lanier’s voice behind him, demanding that he stop. Just as he was about to throw his gun down and put up his hands, he heard the unmistakable sound of the gun being cocked. Simon threw himself around the corner quickly and staggered into a service elevator. Pulling down the doors, he punched in what he hoped was the correct floor and sank back against the wall.
Jim eyed the bustling activity and the profusion of police with concern as he parked the Explorer and climbed out. He waited for Blair to join him, and the two men headed for the hotel entrance. Dave Becker stepped into their path and held up a hand.
"Hold on, guys. What brings you two back here?"
"It’s the funniest thing," Blair piped up. "We were going in the wrong direction. I mean, totally off the mark and so we thought we’d come back here…"
Jim glared at his partner impatiently, then turned the look on Becker. "What’s going on here, Sheriff?"
"Your friend, Banks, is wanted for questioning in the murder of a woman named Peggy Anderson. You heard from him?"
"No," Blair said quickly.
Becker’s eyes narrowed. "If you’re withholding information, gentlemen, I’ll consider both of you accessories after the fact."
"Listen, Sheriff," Jim said. "As police officers, don’t you think our primary concern here should be finding out who’s responsible for this murder?"
"Your boss shot that poor woman three times," Becker answered, squaring his jaw. "I can prove it. I’ve got his gun." He glared at Jim. "Where is he?"
Jim shrugged. "I don’t know. We just got here."
Becker leaned in closer. "I’m going to keep my eye on you, my friend."
Jim gave him an answering stare. "You do that, my friend." He nodded to Blair, and the two men resumed their walk into the hotel.
"Where are we going?" Blair asked his partner as they entered a wide hallway. When Jim didn’t answer immediately, he tried again. "Where are we going? I thought Simon said…"
Jim broke his concentration, clearly hearing the man following behind them. "Shh," he instructed, holding a finger to his lips. "Follow me."
Grabbing Blair’s arm, he pulled him into the nearest room. Looking around, he saw the interconnecting door and opened it quickly, relieved to find it unlocked. He pushed Blair up against the wall and held his finger up again for silence. Blair nodded, and Jim couldn’t resist a small smile, as the anthropologist seemed to cease to breathe. It was a major effort at any time for Sandburg to be silent and still.
They heard the door to the room next door open, then shut. As soon as the door closed, Jim opened the interconnecting door and drew Blair back inside. The sentinel could hear the sound of footsteps as someone walked into the other room and toward the interconnecting door.
"Come on," Jim hissed. He pulled Blair out of the room and pushed him toward the far end of the corridor. Chancing a quick look behind at the closed doors, Jim sped off after his partner.
Dave Becker paused as Deputy Tom Matheson grabbed his arm.
"We have to talk," Matheson said.
Becker regarded the young deputy closely for a moment. Matheson was a good kid and shaping up to be a great cop. The problem was, at the moment, that was the last thing Becker needed him to be. "Why don’t you pack it up for the night?" he suggested to the young man.
"No, sir," Matheson answered, shaking his head. He paused for a moment, then leaned in closer to his superior and lowered his voice. "No disrespect intended, sir. There’s something going on here that just isn’t right."
"By whose definition?"
Becker cast a quick glance around, then nodded at the deputy. "Come with me." He led the way into the adjacent stairwell and waited until the door swung shut behind them. "Okay, speak."
"Banks used to be a friend of yours, right?"
Becker shrugged. "Acquaintance. So?"
"The way you’re treating him. It seems…personal."
Becker bristled at the words. "What if it is?"
"The way you hit him could jeopardize a successful prosecution."
"Are you kidding me? He shot Peggy Anderson with his service revolver. We can prove it."
"When we found him, he hardly knew where he was," Matheson reasoned. "You saw the welt on the back of his head."
"So, what are you saying, Matheson?"
Matheson began to pace as he spoke, his steps measuring out his thoughts as he gave them voice. "Maybe somebody knocked him out and used his gun. Banks is a police captain. If he was going to kill someone, he wouldn’t be so obvious with it."
"So you should give him the benefit of the doubt?"
"You should be treating him like any other suspect who’s innocent until they’re proven guilty."
"And wait for him to kill again?" Becker shook his head. "I don’t think so."
"I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t do this." Matheson turned toward the door, then turned back as the sheriff caught his shoulder. The young man collapsed back against the wall as Becker’s fist smashed into his jaw, then slid to the ground, unconscious. Becker regarded the young man sadly for a moment, then pulled the deputy’s gun from its holster and fired a shot point-blank into Matheson’s head.
Exiting the stairwell, Becker triggered his radio. "Lanier? Get up here right away."
Becker sighed. "Banks just took out Matheson with his own gun."
~~~~~~~~~~ Act III ~~~~~~~~~~Blair watched with undisguised concern as Jim knelt in front of Simon and tightly wrapped a towel around the captain’s bleeding thigh.
"Simon, what the hell is going on here?" Jim asked, not looking up from his task.
Simon wiped a shaky hand across his eyes, then shook his head. "I wish I knew, man. Peggy was involved in something, probably illegal."
Blair couldn’t control his worry any longer. Leaning down, he frowned at the makeshift bandage, a crimson stain growing wider on the white towel. "Jim, the bullet went right through," he said, knowing he sounded agitated, but unable to stop. "We’ve got to get him stitched up. He’s losing a lot of blood. If we don’t stop it, he could bleed to death."
"Sandburg, will you quit talking about me like I’m not even here?" Simon groused. "I’m not hysterical."
Blair nodded apologetically and straightening up, moved away slightly from the two men. "We just got to get you out of here. Isn’t there some way we could call some kind of outside authority here?"
"It won’t matter unless we’ve got some kind of hard evidence to counter what Becker’s already got. Simon’s busted as soon as he steps out in the hall." Jim finished securing the bandage and looked at the captain. "Anything else you got, Simon, that you can tell us?"
"I don’t know." Blair could see the strain and exhaustion in Simon’s face as the captain struggled to make sense of the situation.
"Think. Did Peggy say anything that would indicate…"
Simon glared at the detective. "Look, Jim, I know the drill." He slumped a little in his chair. "Just give me a second to clear my head."
Simon nodded his understanding. "All right. Peggy and I were in the lounge. She was real nervous about talking at first. Said she was waiting to meet someone. I overheard her tell the bartender she was waiting on a woman. Connie? No. Kerry, Kerry Lance."
"Kerry Lance," Jim repeated. "Are you sure?"
Jim looked up to where Blair hovered, hugging his arms across his chest. "Write that down. You got a pencil? A piece of paper?" He waited as Blair scrabbled through his pockets and pulled out a small notebook and a pen. The detective looked back at his captain. "Names. What else?"
Simon appeared to be deep in thought. "We saw Dave Becker in the lobby. He was talking to this guy, Art Sturges."
"Art Sturges." Jim turned his attention back to Blair. "You got that?"
"He owns Canyon Lake Paper," Simon continued. "Anyway, when she saw those two together, she really freaked. She couldn’t get out of there fast enough. When we got to my room, she was going to tell me what was going on, but then I got the call to go downstairs."
"You think the call was a set-up to get you out?"
"No doubt about it."
"All right. I’m going to check out the crime scene." Jim got to his feet and turned to Blair. "See if you can get yourself a medical kit, all right?"
"Right. I can do that."
"Oh, Jim, I left my keys in my room." Simon held out a set of master keys. "I managed to sneak these off a cleaner’s trolley. They should be able to get you in wherever you need to go."
Jim took the keys and opened the door, looking out carefully before proceeding into the corridor. "Guys?" Both men turned back to the captain. "I’m sorry about messing up your weekend."
"It’s fine, Simon."
The captain shook his head. "Sandburg?"
"I’m sorry…about yelling at you before. I know you were only trying to help…and I appreciate it."
Blair smiled as Jim hauled him out of the room. "Thanks, Simon."
Deputy Rogers watched Ellison and Sandburg enter the stairwell and then split up. Looking around the area, he wiped his fingers along the red stain marring one wall. Rubbing his fingertips together, he pressed the mic on his radio. "Lanier? Rogers. I’m on the seventh floor. I just saw some blood on the wall."
"And two of his friends just left in a hurry. I don’t know which room they came out of."
"All right. Stay there. I’ll be right up."
Jim unlocked the door to Simon’s hotel room and quickly slipped inside. The room was a shambles. It was obvious that someone had been searching for something. Standing in the center of the room, Jim dialed up his sight and scanned the room carefully. A small object lying on the floor near the bathroom door caught his eye, and he walked over and picked it up. It was a small button, ordinary to look at, but Jim could smell a faint acrid odor emanating from it. He lifted it to his nose and sniffed it.
Simon cracked open the door and risked a look outside. He watched as several deputies rounded the corner and strode up the corridor toward him.
"All right, Rogers. What have we got here?" Lanier asked.
Rogers ran his finger along the smear of blood on the wall. "Looks like he’s bleeding pretty bad. All right, let’s start hitting the doors."
Simon shut the door as quietly as he could and leaned back against it. He felt weak and shaky and despite his earlier protestations to Sandburg, he knew he needed medical help soon. Raking his gaze around the room, he tried to think of a way out. His eyes took in the air vent set high on the wall, and with an effort that drained much of his remaining strength, he hauled himself inside. Stretching himself out on his belly, Simon bit back a groan of agony as the movement jarred his injured leg. Slowly he began to drag himself through the vent.
Jim found Blair hiding behind an ambulance that was parked in front of the hotel. He dialed up his hearing and listened in on the activity inside the hotel. "They found Simon," he told his partner quietly.
Blair looked up at him, his face solemn. "They’re bringing out another body."
Jim heard Becker speaking and listened with growing unease to what was being said.
"Matheson was a good man," Becker said, "If Banks is armed, don’t think twice. You shoot to kill. If he’s not…I’ll leave that up to you."
"What are they saying?" Blair asked, seeing the frown forming on Jim’s face.
"Now Simon’s a cop killer."
Jim held out the button. "I found this in his room. It’s got gunpowder residue all over it. Might have come from the shooter’s clothing." He tuned his hearing back into the men in the hotel.
"Banks got away. He’s in the air duct."
"All right," Jim heard Becker say. "He used to work here when he was a kid. He knows this place inside and out, so we’ve got to move fast."
The ringing of his cell phone broke Jim’s concentration. Quickly, he answered it. "Simon?"
A stranger’s voice spoke. "Detective Ellison?"
"This is Billy Cates."
"How did you get my number?"
"Well, Simon left it when he checked in, in case of emergency. And I guess this qualifies. Listen, son, you can trust me. Okay? Now, there’s someone here that I think you should speak to. She was looking for Peggy Anderson."
"Is her name Kerry Lance?"
"Yes. Yes, it is."
"Thanks. We’re on our way." Jim closed the phone and clapped his partner on the shoulder. "Let’s go, Chief."
They found Kerry Lance waiting in the reception room that had been set up for the reunion. Kerry Lance was tall, blonde and business-like. She eyed both men suspiciously. Jim pulled out his badge and showed it to her.
"I’m Detective Ellison."
"Kind of far from home, aren’t you, Detective?"
Jim decided not to waste time with niceties. "Our captain is somewhere here in the hotel. The local cops think he killed your friend, Peggy."
"He didn’t," Blair put in.
"How do I know that?" Kerry asked.
"Look, Miss Lance," Jim replied. "There is something very wrong going on here and I think that you know it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be talking to us."
Kerry studied Jim carefully for a moment, then nodded and sat down. "I’m a feature reporter for KRMN. It’s a local TV station. I do mostly human-interest stuff, but occasionally, I get into bigger issues. Peggy called me a few weeks ago. She said she could only trust me with the story she had to tell." She smiled wryly. "And, of course, I have a big enough ego that I agreed to meet with her."
Kerry nodded. "She said that there was a problem at Canyon Lake Paper. Over the past couple of years, there’s been an abnormally high incidence of birth defects and immune disorders reported among the local community. A runoff from the plant into the water supply was suspected, but the government’s been slow to investigate. In the meantime, Sturges ordered his own study, which, of course, gave his company a clean bill of health, and bought him time to clean up without having to completely shut down. Peggy knew the study had been faked. She told me that she had documents that would prove it and she was going to give them to me tonight. There was an accident on the interstate and by the time I got here…God, this is horrible."
"What do you know about Art Sturges?" Jim asked.
"He inherited the plant from his father," Kerry answered. She wrinkled her nose in distaste. "He runs it like his own little fiefdom. Over half the people in town work for him and they’re all afraid of him."
"What about Becker?"
"Now he’s an even scarier character. I did a check on him at the office before I left this afternoon. I came up with three social security numbers and seven bank accounts. He’s also employed part-time at Canyon Lake as a security consultant."
"Security consultant?" Blair put in. "Isn’t that a conflict of interest?"
Kerry shrugged. "Obviously he doesn’t think so."
They turned to watch as several deputies entered the room and began to hustle people outside. "They’re evacuating the hotel," Billy said.
"This is not good, man," Blair whispered.
Jim nodded grimly. "Becker’s turning up the heat."
Blair stared at him. "You talking figuratively here?"
Jim shook his head and pushed Blair toward the exit. "Literally. Come on, let’s go find out what’s going on."
~~~~~~~~~~ Act IV ~~~~~~~~~~"Just a little further, just a little further." Simon whispered the mantra over and over as he dragged his weakening body through the air vent. He stopped to catch his breath and lowered his forehead onto his arms. A memory of his son, Darryl, came to mind, and he resolutely pushed himself onward. He wasn’t going to die up here, with Darryl thinking he was a murderer.
The confines of the vent seemed to be closing in on him, and his eyes stung from the perspiration that poured freely from his brow. "Just a little further," he whispered, but he knew that his strength was spent. Arms shaking with the effort, he pulled himself up once more, then darkness encroached and he collapsed silently in a heap.
Jim and Blair looked over at Becker who was instructing his deputies over the radio outside the hotel. They watched as an unfamiliar man approached the sheriff. Blair saw the familiar set of the sentinel’s head and placed his hand on Jim’s back to ground him as Jim extended his hearing once more.
"Yes, Mr. Sturges?"
Blair tugged on Jim’s shirt. "Who’s that guy?" he hissed.
"I need those papers, Dave," Sturges said, his round face tight with tension.
Becker rounded on him, fists clenched tightly at his side. "Look, I’ll find them, all right? Just stay out of my face on this."
"I’m worried," Sturges replied, looking around furtively. "Two people have already died because of this."
"Yeah, but I’ll tell you something, pretty soon it’ll be three."
Jim zoomed his sight in on Becker’s shirt cuff and confirmed his suspicions.
"Becker killed Peggy Anderson," the detective said quietly to Blair. "My guess is that he killed that deputy as well."
"What?" Blair looked aghast. "How do you know?"
"He has a button missing from his cuff. The others on his shirt match the one I found in the hotel room." Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket and passed it to Blair. "Call the FBI." He stopped as Blair stayed him with a hand on his arm.
"We don’t have enough evidence to clear Simon."
"My first priority is getting Simon out of that building alive," Jim answered. "I’m going back inside. I’m going to get to him before Becker does." He indicated the cell phone with a finger. "Punch in zero-four."
He left Blair dialing the phone number and walked past the hotel to an adjacent pay phone booth. Dialing the hotel’s number, he waited for someone to answer. "Front desk."
"Billy. It’s Ellison. I need your help."
"Just tell me what to do, Detective."
Jim watched from around the corner as Billy exited the hotel and walked up to the deputy standing guard outside. "Excuse me, son. What size uniform do you wear?" he heard Billy ask. Slipping from around the corner, Jim knocked the guard unconscious and then acknowledged with a nod the look of satisfaction on Billy’s face. He dragged the deputy around the side of the hotel and quickly stripped off his uniform before dressing in it himself. "Thanks, Billy."
The sentinel entered the hotel through the kitchen. He extended his hearing as he walked, pausing when he heard breathing from above him. Walking out of the kitchen, he hurried along the hallway until he came to the vacant room next door. Pulling the master keys from his pocket, Jim quickly unlocked the door and stepped inside. Reaching up to the air vent, Jim pulled the cover off and pushed himself into it. He could see Simon’s crumpled body just a few feet away, his breathing harsh in the confines of the duct. Jim stretched out his hand, trying to reach the captain. "Simon. Give me your hand," he instructed. He saw Simon stir, then reach out with one hand, his fingers not quite close enough to touch. Suddenly there was an ominous cracking and the vent beneath Simon collapsed sending the injured man crashing to the floor below. Jim hurried back into the kitchen area. Kneeling next to the unmoving form of his friend, he tried desperately to rouse him.~~~~~~~~~~ Act V ~~~~~~~~~~Dave Becker opened the door to Simon Banks’ hotel room and ushered Sturges and Lanier inside. "She didn’t make any stops on the way back to the hotel. We checked her car, we checked the table where she sat with Banks, and we checked her purse. She had to have had the papers on her when she came into this room."
He walked into the bathroom followed by Sturges. "She was in here when I grabbed her, putting her makeup on. My forensics guy went all over the place. All they found was her makeup and a couple of used Kleenex in the trash can." He stopped suddenly and strode to the hand basin. Picking up the tissue box, he emptied the box, and then triumphantly pulled an envelope from within.
Blair watched as an old man hurried up to the paramedics waiting by the ambulance and led them off to his sick wife. Deciding this was the only chance he may have to do something to help Simon, Blair slipped quickly into the rear of the ambulance and began searching for bandages and other useful first aid equipment. When they’d left Simon alone in the hotel room, his leg had still been bleeding badly, despite Jim’s best efforts. Blair shuddered to think what the police captain’s condition might be now, hours later.
He stilled as he heard muted voices from outside the ambulance and scooting the wheeled stool closer to the doors, he listened as he recognized Becker’s voice.
"I tell you, Becker, if this information had gotten out, we’d be finished." Blair wasn’t sure who was speaking, maybe Sturges? Becker’s next words confirmed the anthropologist’s thoughts and sent a shiver of revulsion through him.
"Peggy always said she wanted to die for a good cause." Becker spoke for a moment, apparently into a phone or radio, then turned again to Sturges. "Somebody called the FBI. They’re on their way."
"How long before they get here?"
"Their field office is in Spokane. About 45 minutes."
"Damn it, Becker," Sturges hissed. "Banks is a loose end we don’t need. What if they believe his story?"
"Calm down, Sturges. They won’t."
"How can you be so sure?"
"We still have those flashbangs in the trunk? What would happen if we set them off in a contained area, such as a hotel basement?"
Another voice answered as Blair clenched his hands into fists, oblivious to the gouges he made in the palms of his hands. "Probably burn the whole place down."
Becker’s voice came again, calm and laced with a tinge of humor. "Think about it. No crime scene and our only suspect fried to a crisp."
"Shit!" Blair fumbled as he pulled Jim’s cell phone from his pocket. He caught it just inches from the floor and with shaking fingers dialed Simon’s number. "Come on. Come on."
"Finally," Blair whispered, praying that the ambulance was soundproofed. "Jim! Thank God, you found him."
"Yeah. He’s in bad shape, though. You get some medical supplies?"
"Yeah, I got them."
"Listen. We’re in the banquet hall. You find Billy, and he’ll help you get those supplies to us."
Blair shook his head in frustration, feeling cold sweat dribble down his face. "No. It’s too late They’re going to burn down the hotel."
"I overheard Becker. Jim, you’ve got to get Simon out of there now."
"Oh, for God’s sake. All right. Hang in there. I’ll get back to you."
"But, Jim…" Blair cursed softly as he realized the connection had been closed.
Moving back to the ambulance door, Blair opened it a crack and peered out. Sure that the coast was clear, Blair gathered the first aid supplies to his chest and climbed out. At the front of the hotel, Blair could see smoke already beginning to billow from the lower windows and doors and people starting to stream from the exits, some holding their hands over their faces, others coughing harshly. Paramedics surged forward to meet them, and Blair went with them, halting only when a strong arm snaked out and grasped his arm.
"You’ll have to move back."
Blair shook free of the deputy’s hold. "No. You don’t understand, my friends are in there."
"Sorry, but this whole place is about to go up." Apparently satisfied that Blair would obey his order, the deputy turned his attention to an elderly couple who staggered toward him. Blair took advantage of the lapse and slipped past the crowd, racing for the front door and ignoring the summons of the officer behind him.
The smoke was already pouring into the lobby of the hotel from the basement, and Blair coughed a little as it irritated his throat. His eyes stung and watered from the acrid chemicals but he wiped them with his shirtsleeve and pressed on. Jim had said they were in the banquet hall, so he stopped for a moment to get his bearings. He pushed another group of people toward the exit, then made his way along the hall.
Jim managed to get his arm around Simon’s shoulder and pull the groaning man up with him. Simon was almost unconscious, the effects of blood loss and shock setting in rapidly. Jim cupped the captain’s chin in his hand and tried to urge him back into awareness. "Simon? Come on buddy. Put your arm around me. You’ll be all right." He nodded encouragingly as he felt Simon’s arm weakly lift and wrap around his waist. "That’s it. Hang in there, Simon. I’m going to get you out of here."
Slowly, torturously, the two men made their way down the hall. Jim was coughing as well now, and tried desperately to turn down his sense of smell while extending his hearing to find the quickest way out. He wished Sandburg were there to guide him. The last thing he needed now was to zone. Gritting his teeth, he focused his touch on the feel of Simon’s hand clinging tenaciously to the back of his shirt and staggered on.
"All right, buddy. Here we go. We’re almost there." Suddenly Simon was halting their progress, pulling on Jim’s arm and pushing him the opposite way.
"No," Simon wheezed. "Other way."
"Are you sure?"
Simon nodded. "Other way."
Jim gained a firmer grip on his friend and turned them around, heading back the way they had come. He could feel Simon failing now, the effort to even lift his feet becoming more and more difficult. The captain’s head drooped onto his chest, and he slumped against Jim’s side. "Come on," Jim urged. "You can do it."
"Sorry. I can’t."
Jim staggered under Simon’s dead weight and lowered the almost unconscious man to the ground. As he stood to get his bearings, he heard the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked. Someone was just around the corner. Jim looked up again as he heard the echo of running feet and saw Blair come around the corner just as Lanier stepped out and took aim.
"Sandburg! Get down!" Jim had his gun up and was firing without waiting to see if Blair had reacted in time or not. He heard the deputy cry out and saw the man clutch at his chest, then collapse to the floor and lie still.
Jim knelt down at Simon’s side and began to pull the captain back to his feet as Blair ran up to help them. "You okay?"
Blair nodded and laid a hand on Simon’s shoulder. "How’s he doing?"
"We’ve got to get him out of here." Together the two men supported Simon between them and made their way toward the hotel exit.
Jim saw Becker’s rifle come up to bear on them as they cleared the doorway. He dropped to the ground, taking Simon and Blair with him as bullets whizzed over their heads. He watched from the ground as the reporter hurried up, beckoning to the cameraman behind her.
"Those men are surrendering," she called out to Becker.
Becker turned to her and grasped her arm. "Get that camera out of here. This is a police emergency."
Kerry Lance tore herself from the sheriff’s grasp and glared back at him. "Not a chance."
Jim got to his feet and left Blair tending Simon. The detective took a step forward, his eyes on the deputies who stood behind Becker, their guns still drawn. "I’m a Cascade police officer," Jim said. "Your boss is a murderer. He was paid to kill Peggy Anderson to keep her from telling anyone why people in this town were getting sick."
Blair looked up from his place at Simon’s side. "Just ask Art Sturges," he added. "He’s got the proof in his pocket."
Jim watched as a police officer approached Sturges’ car and asked him to get out. Simon pushed himself shakily to his feet and limped toward Becker, leaning heavily on Blair. Jim smiled grimly as Becker took a step back.
"This is my town," the sheriff asserted.
Simon shook his head sadly. "Not anymore."
Deputy Rogers stepped up then and pulled the rifle from Becker’s hand. "Sorry, sir." He turned to the other deputies. "Let’s get him out of here."
Jim reached out an arm just as Simon’s eyes rolled back and he collapsed into Blair’s arms. Lowering him to the ground, Jim called for a medic. He and Blair stepped back to allow the medics room to work on the captain, waiting while he was readied for transport and loaded onto a gurney. They looked on with satisfaction as Sheriff Becker was handcuffed and led to a waiting patrol car.
Simon smiled weakly as Billy Cates walked up to the gurney. "You’re finally going to get a chance to retire."
Billy shook his head. "Oh, work’s just beginning for me," he said, grinning back at his old friend. "We’ll rebuild this place better than ever when they get things straightened out at the plant."
"Forgive me if I don’t show up for the opening."
Billy waggled an admonishing finger. "Don’t make me have to look for you."
"I’m sorry about all of this." Simon waved a hand at the chaos behind them, but Billy stayed his apology. "Look, Simon, you did a great job. I’m proud of you. Peggy would be proud of you, too."
Simon’s eyes misted as he nodded. "Yeah. I’m going to miss her. I just wish I could have gotten here sooner."
"You did your best. You take care." Billy gave a wave to Jim and Blair before heading back to the hotel.
Jim put away his phone and stepped up beside his captain. "I’ve arranged for a medical chopper to meet you at the hospital and take you back to Cascade."
"I knew I should have gone with you guys," Simon said wryly.
Jim grinned and shook his head. "The way Sandburg navigates, we’d probably be lost and mauled by a Sasquatch or two." He ducked the expected swat to his head. Simon’s laughter was ambushed by a coughing fit and Jim squeezed his arm gently. "Take it easy."
"You said you were dying for a smoke," Blair commented when the captain regained his breath.
"Oh yeah. Yeah." Smiling now, Simon reached into his breast pocket and pulled a crumpled, bent cigar from within. He frowned as Jim snatched it from his fingers. "Oh, come on, Jim…"
Jim shook his head and turned away, laughing as the begged request from Simon reached his ears.
"Jim? Do you think you could get my suitcase for me? Come on, guys. I just need one. Please?"
The captain’s muttered grumbles could still be heard as the paramedic slammed shut the ambulance door. Blair held the cigar up to his partner. "It’s broke."
Jim took it from him and tossed it in the trash. "Oh, that’s attractive. Let’s go home."
"You want me to navigate?" Blair asked hopefully. "I think I’ve got it figured out now."
"No way, Darwin. I think I can get us home just fine without your help."
The EndPlease remember to send feedback to our authors. Feedback can be sent to: [email protected]Next week’s episode: Payback by Carla and Jewelle Sprite