Dead Certain

Dead Certain
By CarolROI

Beta Read by BethB
Written for PetFly by Gail Morgan Hickman
Rated PG
internal thoughts in * *

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

<"Dispatch, this is unit 257, requesting CSI team to parking lot underneath Cascade Narrows Bridge. We’ve got a DB here, looks like a jumper.">

A tingle of excitement races down my spine at the call coming over the radio. After a long day of endless meetings, wading through my predecessor’s paperwork, and getting to know my new staff, a dead body sounds wonderful. Picking up the radio mike, I key it on and let Dispatch know I’m responding. I’m not sure how happy my team will be to see me, but I know from experience it’s the quickest way to find out how my people work together. Every group has their own style and pecking order, and I figure I’ll stay in the background, observing and blending in.

A smile crosses my face. Carolyn Plummer would be laughing out loud at my intention to simply oversee the scene. I’m a hands-on kind of person; a bulldozer is what she used to call me. I have to have my fingers in everything. Staying in the background will be a big adjustment, but I’m determined to get off on the right foot with the Cascade PD, and maybe even make some friends for a change.

Parking behind the police barricade, I gather my stuff together, making sure my Sig Sauer is clipped to my belt. Used to be crime scene techs didn’t carry weapons, but too often now we’re left behind at a crack house or the scene of a gang shooting, to gather evidence with little or no protection. A person high on crack equates badge with police, no matter what our actual job is. I’ve never had to fire it in the line of duty, but I’ve had to pull it more than once. I flash my ID at the uniform keeping the sparse crowd back and head in, forensic kit in hand. I’m not the first to arrive. Sharon and Howard are already on the scene, photographing the DB. It’s sprawled across the roof of an SUV, and from what I can see, is a real mess.

"Sharon, Howie," I greet them. "What do you think, a jumper?"

Howie shrugs. "Could be, but it doesn’t feel right."

I nod, turning to stare up at the bridge. The angle of descent is off. I’ll go up and have a look from above in a bit, but right now the DB is my priority. "Okay, get a body bag over here and let’s transfer him straight to it from the truck. We don’t want to contaminate any evidence."

Once that’s done, I take a look at the corpse in more detail. It’s a male Caucasian; my rough guess at age is between 30 and 40. Hard to tell when his face is hamburger. After taking scrapings of some mud on the bottom of the man’s expensive Italian shoes, I go through his pants pockets looking for ID. They’re empty, and he’s missing the jacket to his tailor-made suit on a chilly night. Things are not adding up.

Getting to my feet, I pull out my cell phone, call Dispatch and, following procedure for a suspicious death, ask them to send a detective over. That done, I turn to Sharon and Howie. "Keep working here, guys, I’m going to check out the bridge."

Things are even stranger up there. The bridge is closed for repairs and the crew working the night shift hasn’t seen anyone on it all night. I walk down to the place he would have had to be standing in order to jump and land in the parking lot. There’s a high railing, and John Doe would have had to climb over it to take his nose-dive. The angle still looks wrong from up here.

Shrugging, I head back down to the scene. Maybe the autopsy will provide more answers.


Returning from the bridge, I find a small crowd gathered around my DB. One’s a large black man in an expensive jogging suit, a detective’s ID swinging from a cord around his neck. The second is also a detective, judging by the badge on his belt; he’s tall, well-built, close-cropped dark hair. The third man is standing off a little way from the other two, obviously trying to listen to the conversation, but also attempting not to look at the body. He’s short, with long, curly brown hair that brushes his shoulders. If Carolyn’s description was accurate, I’m looking at her ex-husband and his ride-along, Blair Sandburg. *Smile, Welles. Be polite, be helpful. After all, you don’t know how much of what Carolyn told you is true, and how much is sour grapes.*

I walk up just as Ellison asks if anyone saw John Doe jump. "No one saw anything. The bridge has been closed for roadwork for the past few weeks. I just spoke with the crew supervisor. He says they were working the south end of the span." The two detectives look at me, then each other, then back to me. Whoops. I stick out my hand. No one takes it. Okaaaay. "Cassie Welles, new Chief of Forensics."

Recognition dawns on Ellison’s face. "Oh, I got a memo."

I smile politely. "Yeah, today’s my first day." Shit, that sounds bad. "With the Cascade PD, not my first day in forensics. I used to work with the San Francisco police." That wasn’t much better. *Take a deep breath and relax, girl. They’ll think you’re hopped up on speed the way you’re going.*

The tall cop finally introduces himself. "I’m Detective Ellison. This is Detective Brown. Nice to meet you." He doesn’t mention the other man standing a few feet away. Turning his back on me, he asks Brown, "We got an ID on the victim?"

I answer before Detective Brown can. "None that I could find. His pockets were empty."

Ellison gives me a look. "You went through the victim’s pockets before the detective on the scene?"

Hindsight is always 20-20. I should have ignored that call and headed home. I don’t need this shit at the end of my very long first day on the job. "Arriving officers on the scene asked for a CSI team, gentlemen. After examining the body and determining that the cause of death was suspicious, I called for detectives. Is there a problem?"

He crouches by the corpse as he says, "Well, in the future, I’d appreciate it if you waited for one of us to get here before you touch anything."

I catch myself grinding my teeth. I can see I’ll be writing some memos tomorrow reminding the departments about the regulations regarding proper procedure at a crime scene. Forensics *always* examines the scene and collects evidence first, then walks the detective through it from a scientific standpoint.

Pointing at the DB’s shoes, Ellison starts to say, "This looks like some–"

Determined to do my job and give the detective the forensic assessment of the scene, I bend down and jump in. "–mud, mixed in with some kind of fiber. Carpet, maybe. I already took some scrapings. Evidence at this point seems to indicate death was caused by a fall from a great height, most likely the bridge, however, there are some anomalies–"

"Why don’t you tell us your theory? I’m assuming you have one," Ellison growls, getting to his feet.

I follow suit, thinking Carolyn seriously underestimated how abrasive her ex could be. *Hold on to your temper, girl. Try to remember you’re on the same team* "No theories as of yet, Detective, just some facts that don’t add up. The fence on the bridge is too high to accidentally fall over. As for suicide, we haven’t found a car parked nearby, so our DB didn’t drive here. The carpet fibers on his shoes indicate he didn’t walk here on his own. Besides, it’s pretty chilly out and all he’s got on is a T-shirt. We can’t ignore the possibility that he might have had some help falling from the bridge." If he fell from the bridge…the position of the body still bugs me, but I’m not going to admit that to Ellison, not until I’ve come back in the daytime and taken some measurements.

"You’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle right in line, don’t you?" he sneers. "There’s just one thing…"

"What’s that?" I’m wondering if he’s seen the same peculiarities in the scene that I have.

"The bridge was closed, so there’s nowhere to park in the north end. What you seem to be suggesting is that the killer parked on the south end and carried the body past the work crew without anybody noticing."

Hey, the muscle has a brain. Will wonders never cease?

The young man with the long hair approaches. "Well, maybe the crew was on a break or something."

"Good point." Up close, I can see that he’s several years younger than I am, maybe in his late twenties. His hands are stuffed in his jacket pockets, and he shivers, though I’m not sure it’s so much from the cold as from having to stand next to the DB. Bending down, I zip our boy John closed, and Ellison’s partner relaxes, giving me a smile of thanks. "You are?" I ask him.

The smile turns into a grin. "Blair Sandburg. How you doing?" He extends his hand. Straightening, I shake it, finding his grip chilly, but firm.

Ellison sarcastically interrupts whatever Blair was about to say. "Okay, let’s go with the ‘work crew on a break’ theory, shall we?"

My back to the detectives, I roll my eyes, but don’t say a word. Blair winks at me, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. I think I’m going to like him.

The detective keeps on talking. "So the killer carries the victim, who’s got to weigh 200 pounds, give or take, up to the bridge to throw him over to meet his death. Why?"

It’s an effort, but I turn my attention back to Ellison. "Why what?"

"Why go through that trouble? I mean, if you’re going to kill somebody, there’s got to be an easier way, wouldn’t you think? Your theory has all the pieces, but it doesn’t make sense. Let’s take a look at the bridge." He begins to walk away, Brown following.

"First of all, it hasn’t been determined officially that Mr. Doe here died from the fall–" I begin, but he’s not listening. Sandburg shrugs sympathetically and trails after his partner. I have the distinct feeling I’ve been given the brush-off. Sighing, I signal to the techs from the ME’s office they can take John away.


I break into a trot to catch up to Jim and H. Jim shoots me a look of disgust and says, "The workmen were on a break, huh, Chief? How could she resist that?"

"Well, they could have been," I reply indignantly. Jim shakes his head, laughing as he and Henri climb the hill up to the top of the bridge. I remain at the bottom.

"You coming?" Jim finally yells down at me.

I shake my head, knowing that he can see it in the dark, then say for Henri’s benefit, "I’m cold. I’m going to wait in the truck." Turning around, I stomp off, fully aware I’m being childish, but I don’t care. My stomach’s still doing the mambo from getting a glimpse of that body. God, what a way to go.

*Stop thinking about it, Sandburg.* But it’s hard not to. The image of pulpy, bloody flesh torn from the inside out by bits and pieces of broken bone won’t fade. I’ll probably have nightmares for a week.

Reaching the crime scene, I notice the body bag is gone, and the ME’s van is pulling away. I glance around for the new forensic chief, and spy her examining an SUV with its roof crushed. I shiver. That must be where the poor guy landed.

Changing my mind about waiting in the truck, I lean against one of the cruisers and watch her work. Cassie Welles…hmm. Good-looking, curly red hair, blue eyes, and about my height. Smart, aggressive, older, but that’s never been a hang-up for me…god, listen to you, Sandburg, already sizing her up, trying to figure out what lines will work the best.

I run a hand over my face, pushing away the memory of Iris Johnson that pops immediately to my mind. I’ve got to quit doing the Casanova thing; it only leads to trouble. Friends…friends is good. I can do friends. Geez, I just can’t stop. I can *be* friends. I will *be* a friend to Cassie, because from what I saw before, Jim certainly won’t. And I know from my own experience with the police department that newcomers are regarded with wariness, no matter who they are, forensic scientist or anthropologist.

Now, what can I do, as a friend, to help out? Glancing across the street, I see an all-night convenience store. I feel a smile cross my face. Coffee, yeah, I can do that.

Five minutes later, I’m back with enough coffee for everyone still at the scene. After handing all but two cups out, I approach her. Cassie’s packing her collection case by the SUV. She looks up as I walk over. "Hi, I thought you could do with some coffee. I didn’t know how you liked it, so I brought one black and one with cream and sugar."

She gives me a genuine, if surprised, smile. "Thanks. I take it black."

Handing her the appropriate cup, I say, "Thanks for what you did earlier, closing the body bag. I’ve been riding with Jim for almost three years, and I still have trouble with dead bodies."

"No problem. Some people never get used to it," she replies. I expect the same condescension I get from the guys at MC over my squeamishness, but there’s no hint of it in her voice. She takes a sip of her coffee, then adds, "I’ve gotten used to it. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, it makes my job easier; on the other, I sometimes wonder if it’s made me lose my empathy."

I give her a reassuring smile. "I think if you can worry about losing it, you still have it."

Cassie’s about to reply, when Jim shows back up. Glaring at us both, he says, "I thought you were going to wait in the truck, Sandburg."

I thrust the cup of coffee I’m still holding into his hand. "Went for a coffee run."

He makes a noise, then says, "I’m ready to go, Chief."

"Okay, be right there." I turn to Cassie. "It was nice meeting you. See you around the station tomorrow?"

Nodding, she answers, "I’ll be there. And I’ll make sure you get a copy of the forensics report first thing, *Detective* Ellison." Oooh, she’s still ticked at him. Picking up her kit, she walks away.

Jim stares after her, then takes a sip of his coffee and grimaces. "Sandburg! You know I don’t like cream and sugar."

I shrug, feeling mischievous. "Sorry, I gave Cassie the last black one." Dodging the swat aimed at my head, I trot toward the truck, chuckling to myself.


Climbing into my van, I watch Sandburg and Ellison get into an ancient blue-and-white Ford pickup and drive away. I sit there for a moment, comparing what I’ve witnessed with what Carolyn told me about the two men. Blair she’d called a cute and sometimes annoying bundle of energy, who had somehow attached himself to her ex-husband. They even live together, she’d said with an eye roll and a shake of her head, though she was pretty certain they weren’t gay. Not that that really matters to me, or her, but I think it still bugs Carolyn that she can’t figure them out.

Jim Ellison she had plenty of stories about, most of them appreciative of him as a police officer, and some not-so-flattering of him as a person. Of course, she’s biased; we all are when it comes to someone we care about deeply who disappoints us. Underneath it all, though, I think she still has feelings for him.

Shaking myself out of my trance, I start the van just as my cell phone rings. Digging it out of my purse, I answer, "Hello."

<"Hey, Cassie! So how was your first day with the Cascade PD?"> Speak of the devil, it’s Carolyn.

I laugh, then say, "I was just thinking about you. My day was pretty boring, until I went to a scene tonight and met your ex."

<"Oh, really? How did that go?"? I can hear the amusement in her voice. <"He’s just a big pussycat, remember?">

"Uh-huh, right. With nice big claws."

<"I take it you clashed?">

"Big time. How in the hell did you ever put up with him, Carolyn? It’s his way or get outta the way," I answer.

<"Gee, I wonder who that reminds me of…’Bulldozer.’">

"Would you stop? I was never as bad as he is. His ego is *huge*. Mine’s just big." She laughs, and I can feel a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth.

<"So, besides big, bad Jimmy, how’s everything?">

Sighing, I run my fingers through my hair and look out the window at the now deserted crime scene. "It’s…it’s okay. Well, terrifying actually. New city, new job, new apartment, no friends…." I swallow past the sudden lump in my throat. Where in the hell did this come from? I’m blindsided by a wave of homesickness. "I miss you," I blurt out.

<"Aw, Cassie, I miss you, too. It’s too quiet in the lab now, and there aren’t pieces of equipment scattered all over from your ‘improvements’. But it’ll be okay. The people at the Cascade PD are great, honest. You’ll make friends before you know it. And the coffee there can’t be beat. I think that’s what I miss most of all.">

Her mention of coffee makes me reach for the cup Blair gave me, and the memory of his kindness makes me feel better. "I take back what I said. I think I might have made a friend tonight."

<"Oh, really? Who? Is it a guy? Is he single? Come on, spill it. Is it someone I know?">

Laughing, I put my van in gear and point it toward my new home. "So, Carolyn, tell me again everything you know about Blair Sandburg."


I get to the station early the next morning. I want to be present for John Doe’s autopsy, and it’s a good chance to get to know the M.E., Dan Wolfe, a bit better. I’ve been watching him work for the better part of an hour when I hear someone calling his name from outside the autopsy bay.

"In here!" Dan calls back, and Jim Ellison barges through the double doors, Blair Sandburg on his heels.

Wanting to start off on the right foot today, I give them a smile. "Morning, guys. Thought I’d sit in on the autopsy."

Dan greets them as well. "Hey, Jim. Blair, haven’t seen you down here since that autopsy last year–the one where you passed out."

Sandburg’s expression is slightly embarrassed, and he’s looking everywhere but at the body on the table. "Well, uh…I was new back then. I’m thinking that maybe I can handle it now." His gaze meets mine, and I wonder, given his confession to me last night, what he feels he has to prove.

Jim, however, walks over and takes a good look at the corpse. "What are we looking at, Dan?"

"What we’ve got is one seriously traumatized corpse. Your report says he fell from the Cascade Narrows Bridge onto a parked car?"

"That’s right."

Dan shakes his head. "In my estimation that wouldn’t account for the massive physical damage he suffered."

I’ve been wondering about that as well. The guy’s insides look like they’ve been through a blender. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. "Could he have been beaten before he fell? Hit by a vehicle, maybe?"

The pathologist shrugs. "It’s possible, but it’d have to be one hell of a beating. We’re talking every major bone broken, every major organ shattered, arteries and blood vessels burst. Take a look." Using forceps, he plucks a bloody bone fragment from the mess and holds it up.

Blair’s face pales, and his hand goes to his mouth. "Oh, that’s…that’s beautiful." He ducks back out the door, and I cringe in sympathy. Poor kid. Ellison seems unconcerned at his partner’s reaction.

"See what I mean?" Dan says. "Good thing we were able to get fingerprints. Even his own mother wouldn’t be able to ID him." The detective nods, and Dan continues with his examination.

Forty-five minutes later, the autopsy’s finished, and Detective Ellison and I leave the morgue together. When he speaks, it startles me; he hadn’t said a word the whole time we watched Dan work.

"Do you always come to the autopsies?"

I shrug. "It depends on the case. Something that’s cut and dried like a simple shooting, no. In a case like this, where the evidence doesn’t add up, yes."

He seems to think about that for a second, then says, "You know, Welles–"

"Cassie. Welles is too formal for people who work closely together."

"Okay. Cassie–"

"Do you mind if I call you Jim?" I ask.

"No, not at all." He seems a bit rattled. Maybe I’m talking too fast for him.

"Do I make you nervous, Jim? Because I’m definitely getting the feeling I’m making you nervous." Might as well get this out in the open now. After my talk with Carolyn last night, I’m determined to nip this friction with Jim in the bud.

His gaze slides away from mine as he pushes the button for the elevator. "Look, Cassie, I’m sure you’re good at your job–"

I hear a "but" coming, and squash it flat. "Yes, I am, and I’ve heard some really good things about you. I’m looking forward to working with you." My praise is met with silence. The ignore-her-and-she’ll-go-away treatment is not going to work on me. He’s going to end up having to deal with me sooner or later, and I prefer it to be sooner. I bring the topic back to the case. "About our John Doe–you might want to check out the tourist information because this guy’s shoes were made in Milan, and his belt had one of those little Paris labels on it. I already have my people looking into where the items were sold."

He lets out a long-suffering sigh and says, "You know, I really enjoy your enthusiasm. I want you to know that."

There’s that "but" again. I fold my arms across my chest. "Uh-huh. But?"

Jim’s jaw muscle twitches. "But you’re not a detective."

"And you’re not a forensic specialist-criminologist. It’s my job to look at a crime scene and the victim, and figure out what happened using science, physics, physiology and some psychology. I, in turn, report those findings to you, which you use to make an arrest, and the DA uses to get a conviction. I’d be happy to dump all my raw data on your desk and let you try to figure out how to do a DNA test, or spectrographic analysis, or remember off the top of your head the life cycle of the black fly and how to tell how many days a victim’s been dead by the state of its larvae."

Whatever it was he was expecting me to say, it certainly wasn’t that. His mouth opens and closes, then opens again as he says, "You’re taking it the wrong way. I just meant that you should stick to what you know and leave the detecting to the detectives–"

"What? You have a problem with the way I do my job? You haven’t known me long enough to *know* how I do my job. Or maybe that’s not the problem. Maybe the problem is I’m a *woman* doing this job. I’ve heard a lot about you, Ellison, from someone who knows you very well. I know all about your run-ins with female authority figures, about your problem with authority in general."

He interrupts me. "All I’m trying to say is–"

"I know what you’re trying to say. And it’s the same thing every woman doing a so-called *man’s* job hears. I was hoping things might be different here in Cascade, but I see I was wrong." I’m so angry now I’m shaking, and as the elevator doors open, I spit, "I’ll take the stairs."

It takes me almost four flights and a lot of name-calling before I calm down. Stopping to catch my breath, I remember my conversation with Carolyn from last night, and the advice she gave me. *"Don’t let him get to you, Cassie. Just do what you have to do, and ignore him if you can, go around him if you can’t. Don’t let Jim Ellison or anyone else make you think you’re not qualified to do the job. The only reason I’m Forensics Chief here in San Francisco is because I had more field experience at the time the job came up than you did. So don’t sell yourself short."*

At least someone believes in me, even if she is hundreds of miles away. My confidence renewed, I tackle the rest of the stairs to my office.


From my perch on top of the conference table in the captain’s office, I’m watching Jim pace in front of Simon’s desk. He’s well into the fifth minute of a rant about our new forensics chief.

Simon removes his cigar from his mouth and cuts him off. "All right, all right, so she’s a little eager."

Jim snorts. "Try pushy. She had the gall to suggest I have a problem with females in positions of authority."

I can’t hold back my chuckle.

Glaring at me, Jim asks, "What’s so funny?"

"Well, you do, Jim. Sheila Irwin, Deborah Reeves, your ex-wife…I can go on." A memory hits me and I snap my fingers. "Didn’t Cassie say she’s from San Francisco?"

"Yeah, so?"

"So isn’t that where Carolyn transferred to?" I almost fall off the table laughing. "No wonder Cassie has your number, man! Carolyn’s told her all about you."

Jim looks stunned. "All about me?"

"Of course, man. That’s what women do. She probably even knows you like to sing "Black Magic Woman" in the shower–"

Simon interrupts before I can continue torturing Jim. "Look, why don’t you just give her a break? She’s been here less than forty-eight hours. From what I understand, she’s very good at her job."

Jim makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a raspberry. "I wish she would do her job instead of trying to do mine."

Sighing, I shake my head. "You don’t get it, do you, Jim? At this point in the twentieth century, you have the same job: gathering enough evidence to convict the bad guys. Her method of doing it is just a bit less dangerous than yours." I give him a grin. "She’s all right. She’s smart, she’s aggressive, she knows what she wants. Sound familiar? Personally, I like her."

Jim gives me a pained look. "Okay, D’Artagnan, back off on this one. You’ve already dated half the eligible women in the department. Leave her alone."

"Are you kidding? Dating her would be like dating you, and I’m not gonna go there. I know my limits."

Simon waves his hand to silence us. "Why don’t you just give her a break, Jim? You know how it is first week."

There’s a knock on the door and then Cassie enters, carrying a laptop computer. "Captain Banks, excuse me for interrupting. I think there’s something you and Detective Ellison should see."

I hop off the table as she approaches and sets the computer down. She punches a couple keys as I look over her shoulder at the screen.

"Dr. Wolfe said that the damage to our John Doe was so intense that a physical identification would be difficult. I’ve got this new computer program I’ve been beta testing. It’s designed exactly for this kind of situation. Here’s what it does: it builds a three-dimensional re-creation of the victim’s face based on data extrapolated from measurements of the skull. So you add in known hair color, skin type, et cetera."

A face is forming on the screen. I’m fascinated. "You know, I’ve seen computer modeling used to reconstruct early hominids based on skull fragments, but man, never with this level of sophistication. That’s incredible."

She gives me a smile. "Yeah, it’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Obviously there’s room for error here, but I think this is a pretty good facsimile of what our John Doe looked like before he died."

Simon’s come out from behind his desk and is taking a closer look at the image. "Well, I’d say that was a pretty impressive piece of police work, wouldn’t you, Jim? I’d also think that you’d want to get a copy of that picture over to the medical examiner as soon as possible."

Taking the hint, Jim, Cassie and I leave his office in search of a printer.


Fifteen minutes later, Jim and I are back in the morgue looking for the pathologist. "Dan? Hello? Anybody here?" Jim calls.

The outer office is empty. "Maybe they’re out to lunch. Why don’t we just leave the reconstruction on the table?" I suggest, mention of lunch making my stomach rumble.

Nodding, Jim sets the folder containing the printout down on the desk and starts to leave. He pauses, his head cocked in what I’ve come to think of as his listening pose.

"I hear breathing," he says, and strides through the door into the morgue. "Dan?"

Inside the autopsy bay, even I can hear the muffled yells for help. Jim strides over to the individual refrigerated drawers and yanks one open, pulling the slab out. Dan’s lying on it, duct tape over his mouth and binding his hands.

Jim rips the tape of his mouth as I ask, "Man, what happened?"

Inhaling deeply, Dan replies, "Two guys…they took the body."

Jim frowns. "What body?"

"John Doe. And they grabbed all the files, including the fingerprints. They just ran out."

Ran out with a body and no one noticed? Great security here at the PD.

Jim nods as he’s heading for the exit. "All right. We’ll send some one back for you."

We leave poor Dan still in the drawer and rush out the side exit of the morgue into the alley. Two men are loading a body bag into the back of a station wagon.

"Police! Freeze!" Jim yells.

But instead of freezing, they turn toward us. One of them has something in his hand. Then Jim’s shoving me around the corner of the building as the station wagon explodes. When Jim finally lets me up, I see the men are gone, and there’s not much left of John Doe but charcoal.

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

Forty-five minutes later, Jim and I are back in the bullpen, filling Simon in on the theft and destruction of John Doe’s body.

"So all the fingerprints are gone," he remarks when Jim finishes his story.

I nod. "Yeah, Wolfe didn’t even have a chance to send them off to the FBI."

"What about the vehicle?"

"It was stolen from an impound yard early this morning," Jim answers.

Simon looks thoughtful. "Somebody’s going to an awful lot of trouble to keep us from finding out who our John Doe really is."

We enter the captain’s office, and I cross to lean against the table as a thought crosses my mind. "Well, maybe they’re scared if we find out who he is, we’ll find out who they are."

Simon raises an eyebrow, then says to Jim, "You know, there are times when the kid actually sounds like a cop. Look, we’re at a dead end here, Jim. You know what that means."

Nodding, his gaze determined, Jim answers, "Back to the beginning, sir, yes."

I’m already heading for the door as Simon calls out a warning. "Watch yourselves out there. Whoever these guys are, they’ve already killed one person. I don’t think they’d mind killing a cop. Or an anthropologist."


Jim wants to take a look at the crime scene again, so we take a drive out to the bridge. The sky is gray and overcast, threatening rain, when I get out of the Ford and shut the door. I notice Cassie’s van parked across the street, but there’s no sign of her.

Jim either hasn’t noticed it, or he’s ignoring the fact that his new nemesis is somewhere on the scene. He’s explaining the difference between the crime scene last night, and the normal, ordinary street of today. "See, the problem with the crime scene is you got cops, bystanders, reporters, what-have-you. Come back during the day when there’s nobody around. Looks a whole lot different, wouldn’t you say?"

I shrug. "Looks the same to me, man."

"Oh, no, things are definitely different in the daylight," Cassie’s voice comes from behind us.

Jim scowls, but pastes a smile on his face as he turns around. "Fancy meeting you here."

She smiles back at us, shifting the unwieldy case she’s carrying from her right hand to her left. "Hi again, guys. I came out to take some measurements." She taps the case. "State of the art laser rangefinder. Put it where you found the body, input the data, and it’ll tell you where it fell from."

"So what did it tell you?" I ask.

She looks pleased. "I knew there was something wrong last night, but couldn’t put my finger on it. He didn’t fall from the bridge."

"I could have told you that without the fancy instruments." Jim actually smirks at her.

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah, Jim, how could you know?" I ask.

"Both of you are looking, but you’re not seeing. Let’s suppose our killer takes John Doe onto the bridge. He knocks him out and tosses him over the side. He hurtles a hundred feet through the air and lands right here on top of the car and you don’t have a problem with that?"

I look up at the bridge and smack myself in the forehead. It’s obvious, but one of those things we see so often we take them for granted. "Wow, that guy’d have to be pretty strong or have a catapult to get him over those wires, huh?"

"Exactly," Jim says, then focuses his attention down the road, ignoring Cassie’s next words.

"We came to the same conclusion, Detective, just by different methods." She looks like she’s got more to say on the subject, but her pager goes off. "Damn, that’s the lab. I’ve got to run. We’ll have to compare notes later." Climbing into her van, she drives off.

"Good," Jim says once she’s gone.


"Yeah, feel like climbing a tree?"

Five minutes later I’m ten feet up in the air grabbing the thing that caught Jim’s eye. "It’s a man’s suit coat. Looks like it matches our John Doe’s pants." I throw it down to Jim, then descend the tree. By the time I’m on the ground, he’s already going through the pockets.

He holds up a money clip as I approach. "Swiss Francs. You all right?"

I nod. "Yeah, yeah. Anything else?"

From an inside pocket he produces a passport booklet. Flipping it open, he says, "A European passport. Jean Duval from Marseilles, France. I’d say this is our John Doe."

I’m puzzled. "So Cassie was right. He was from Europe." Jim grimaces at her name, and I change the subject. "What’s his jacket doing a quarter mile away from where he fell?"

Jim glances up at the cloudy sky and looks thoughtful.


Back at the station, Jim’s explaining his theory to Captain Banks, but Simon’s having a hard time believing him. "Fell out of an airplane?"

Jim nods seriously. "When I was in the military, Captain, we were doing parachute training and this poor kid’s chute didn’t open one time. His body was so badly mangled they wouldn’t let us look at him. Broke every bone in his body."

Eager to add what I’ve learned today, I say, "Which would explain why the body missed the telephone wires and why the jacket was so far away–I mean, the wind speed could account for that, just torn it right off–and also why the body was so physically traumatized."

"We checked with the airport. There were no scheduled flights at the time of the incident over the crime scene."

"Which means it was an illegal flight and probably below radar," I finish.

Simon looks thoughtful. "What do we know about Jean Duval?"

"Well, US Immigration has no record of issuing him a visa. I have a phone call in to the police at Marseilles," Jim answers.

The captain glances down at a folder lying open on his desk. "Here’s another interesting piece to our puzzle. Just before you came in, I had a visit from your new favorite forensics chief."

Jim frowns. He’s not happy; she left him a voice mail with the same airplane theory he’d come up with. "Ms. Welles," he growls.

"She ran an analysis on that soil sample found on the bottom of Duval’s shoe. Appears it had high traces of iron and copper, as well as pesticides–definitely not from around Cascade." He hands the folder to Jim.

"Where would it be from, sir?"

"According to her report, the only place in Washington that fits the profile is an area east of Lake Quincy–the Watumsa Basin."

"Wa-toom-sa," I correct Simon, excited I probably know more about the place than either of them. Not often that happens. "Watumsa Basin, sir. I did research on the Watumsa Indians a couple years back. There’s not much out there. I mean, there’s some farmland and a couple of abandoned copper mines, but that’s about it."

Simon shakes his head. "The breadth of your knowledge never ceases to amaze me."

I grin, laughing, "Yeah, well…oh, wait a minute, you know what? I’m wrong. There is a town out there. A really small one. Out there in the middle of nowhere. Uh, pine something. Pine tree, pine sol…I don’t know. Something…"

"Pinecrest," Simon supplies helpfully.

"Yeah, that’s it."

Jim’s looking thoughtful again. "Pinecrest. So, a Frenchman falls out of a plane over Cascade with dirt on his shoes from a place 200 miles away. Time for a road trip, Chief. Thank you, sir."

He heads out the door, with me right behind him.


Four hours later, I’m riding in the passenger seat of Jim’s truck through Pinecrest. The town appears eerily similar to the last time I was here. It’s still a one stoplight town, with small mom-and-pop stores lining the main street, and people doing yard work, or sitting on their porches in front of Victorian-era houses.

"Place hasn’t changed much," I remark as Jim parks the Ford in front of the sheriff’s office.

Getting out of the truck, he replies, "Yeah, places like this usually don’t."

I can’t help but lecture as we walk toward the door. "Small towns like this are really just modern-day variations of tribal organizations–like the mayor’s the chief, the doctor’s the medicine man, the police are the lawgivers and the warriors."

The only response I get is a non-committal grunt.

"I remember the last time I was here, there was this sheriff with his gut hanging out over his belt–an old geezer, looked like an extra from Deliverance." I give a mock shudder, but Jim doesn’t see the humor in my performance, he simply opens the door and walks inside. Sighing, I follow him.


"So, Sheriff, the reason I drove all the way up here is because I found some forensic evidence in a murder case in Cascade that seems to point to the victim having been in Pinecrest shortly before he was killed."

Sheriff Kelli McNeil, a tall, muscular blonde in her mid-thirties, hands me the cup of coffee she’s just poured, and settles back behind her desk. "Well, I’m willing to help anyway I can, Ms. Welles. What kind of evidence?"

Taking a sip of the steaming java, I explain, "This is great, thanks. I found some mud on the victim’s shoes that contains a unique mix of copper and iron only found here in the Watumsa Basin. What’s really unusual is that there were also traces of pesticides. I’m trying to narrow down as closely as I can his possible whereabouts before he was killed. You don’t have any pesticide manufacturers or storage warehouses here in Pinecrest do you? I also have a photo of the victim I’d like you to take a look at."

She taps a pencil on the desk, clearly thinking. "I don’t believe so, but this is farming country. Just about every farmer keeps some pesticides around. Now maybe if you knew the specific brands of pesticide–" A noise from the outer office draws her attention. "Excuse me a minute." Rising, she leaves the room.

I continue to enjoy my coffee until I hear a familiar voice. Ellison’s here? Putting the mug down, I exit the sheriff’s office to find Jim and Blair engaged in conversation with Kelli. "Hi there. I was just telling Sheriff McNeil about our John Doe case." I hand her the print of the victim, as Blair gives me a smile and a little wave.

She looks it over, then shrugs. "Got to say he doesn’t look familiar."

Jim gets a self-satisfied smile on his face. He hands McNeil a piece of paper. "Well, what Ms. Welles isn’t aware of is that we’ve already made a tentative identification."

Well, this is news. "You have?"

His smile grows wider, if that’s possible. I can tell he’s enjoying knowing something I don’t. "Yes. His name is Duval. He’s a French national. I don’t suppose you have any idea why or if he’d been in the area recently?" The question is directed to the sheriff.

She shakes her head. "No, I sure don’t. But if I could keep this, I’d be glad to ask around." Walking over to a bulletin board, she pins the photo to it.

"I hope you don’t mind if we do some checking around ourselves," Jim says.

McNeil looks at the three of us, then answers, "Not at all, though, frankly I think you’re wasting your time. Truth is nothing much ever happens here in Pinecrest."

Ellison starts to leave; Blair right behind him. "Thanks so much for your help, Sheriff, and the coffee." I shake her hand again, then hurry after the two men.

We’re no sooner out the door than Jim rounds on me, his expression furious. "What in the hell are you doing here, Welles?"

I feel myself do a double take. "What? I’m working the forensic end of this case. What’s wrong with that?"

"Since when does a forensics chief drive 200 miles to confer with local law enforcement?"

*Breathe, Cassie, breathe. He’s not worth losing your temper over.* "I’m here following the evidence, Detective. If I can find the exact location the mix of mud and pesticides on Duval’s shoes came from, then we’ll know the last place he was before he went skydiving without a parachute. As a law enforcement agent from another jurisdiction, it was only courteous to inform the sheriff that I was here. Besides, I figured she’d know better than I would who would have pesticides around."

"And did she?"

"Apparently many more people than I had considered. The farmers here keep them on hand. If we find out Duval knew any of them, then I can test their mud. Doing it the other way around would most likely be futile."

"Futile is right. I thought you were going to keep me informed on everything you uncovered," Ellison accuses.

"I have. You obviously talked to Captain Banks and got my message about the mud being from here, because you’re here." I’m growing more and more frustrated and if I don’t take myself out of the situation, I’ll say something I’ll regret. "Excuse me."

Blair gives me a sympathetic look as I walk away. I can tell he feels like his partner’s giving me a hard time, but I understand why he keeps his mouth shut. He’s not a cop, and his paper or whatever it is he’s writing, depends on him keeping his observer’s pass. So no one’s more surprised than I am when I hear him say, "Wow, come on, Jim. She’s just trying to help us out, man. She doesn’t need your permission to follow up on the evidence."

"All right. I’ll talk to her," he replies. I keep walking. Ellison catches up to me as I’m unlocking my van. "You know, this isn’t some competition to see who can solve the case first. You’re not a detective."

Turning to face him, I shoot back, "And I don’t want to be one. I like what I do, Ellison, hard as that may be for you to believe. I’m good at it, and despite what you think, my science does solve cases."

To my surprise, he actually looks contrite. "Look, I’m sorry. You know, I just…" His voice trails off as something over my right shoulder catches his attention. Looking around, I see a dark-haired man in a tan jacket staring at Ellison. Without warning, the guy takes off at a run, and Jim bolts after him, yelling, "Hold it! Hey, stop! Police!"

"Ellison! What the hell?"

"Jim! Where are you going?" Blair calls.

I don’t know who the guy Ellison’s chasing is, but he’s so scared of the detective he trips over a bin full of gardening tools outside a store and falls flat on his face. Jim whips out his weapon and aims it at the man, saying, "All right, get up! On your feet!"

He gets up all right–clutching a shovel. Swinging it at Jim, he knocks Ellison’s gun out of his hands. Lunging at the man like a linebacker, Jim knocks him into the side of a car and gets a foot in the stomach in return. He punches the guy in the face, sending him to his knees on the pavement. The man comes up clutching Ellison’s gun.

"Jim! Look out!" Blair yells.

The detective rushes straight at the suspect, forcing the gun upwards as they crash through the window of the hardware store. They’re still fighting over the weapon as Blair and I run up to them. All of a sudden, the dark-haired man goes limp in Jim’s grasp. Taking the gun from him, Jim rolls him over. A scythe is protruding from his back.

Ellison feels for a pulse, but it’s obvious to me as well as Blair that the man’s dead. Blair utters an "Oh, god," and walks a few paces away, his face paling.

I go with him, placing a supportive hand on his back as he leans against a car, resting his head in his hands, as I tell him, "Breathe, Blair, keep breathing. Don’t think about anything but moving air in and out."

My attention turns back to the grisly scene as Sheriff McNeil and a deputy force their way through the crowd that’s gathered. Ellison looks up at her, his expression grim. "Nothing ever happens in Pinecrest, huh?"

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

Twenty minutes later, we’re back in the sheriff’s office, the town’s two deputies having removed the body from the hardware store window display. I’m hanging up the phone from checking my messages as Kelli pulls out a first aid kit, and pushes Jim into a chair. Much to my surprise, he doesn’t protest. I’d have figured him for one of those ‘I don’t need no stinking Band-Aid’ kind of guys.

She swabs his forehead with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball as she says, "…Baldacci. Only been in town a few weeks. I’ve seen him around; never talked to him, though. Where did you say you saw him before? Okay, let me take a look at this…" She bends closer to examine the now-clean cut.

"He was one of the men who tied up our M.E. and stole and destroyed Duval’s corpse. What did you do with his body?" Jim asks.

"Hmm? Oh, the county coroner’s way over in Lake Quincy, so I had the boys take it over to our local clinic." She applies a small bandage to his injury.

"Thanks. I appreciate that, but I’d like to examine the body if I may."

She shrugs and closes the first aid kit. "Well, I’m sure Doc Morrow wouldn’t mind if we dropped by."

Blair, who still looks a bit queasy, and has been pretty quiet up to this point, states, "Uh…I’m going to wait right here."

Jim gets to his feet. "Suit yourself. Let’s go, Welles."

After a short walk down the street, Ellison, Kelli and I enter one of the Victorian houses that’s been turned into a small clinic. The nurse behind the desk walks us back to meet the physician. Opening the door to an exam room, she announces us. "Steven, these are the detectives from Cascade."

The doctor is in his mid-forties, medium height, with a round face and dark hair. "Steven Morrow. Good to meet you both." Turning to his nurse, he asks, "Sandra, would you mind telling Mr. Eccles I’ll be with him in about ten minutes?"

Answering in the affirmative, she leaves, and Dr. Morrow’s attention returns to us. "So, you’re the big city detectives."

"I’m Detective Ellison," Jim says extending his hand.

"Cassie Welles, Chief of Forensics," I state before Ellison can introduce me.

Morrow looks impressed. "Whole town’s talking about you. Hasn’t been this much excitement around here since Bob Haskell said that aliens abducted his cow."

Kelli snorts. "Everybody knows Bob Haskell drinks too much of his own home brew."

Shrugging, Morrow heads toward a second door in the room. "Oh, maybe, but they never did find that cow, did they? Body’s in the back where I keep my medical supplies."

We follow the doctor down a short hallway through a door appropriately labeled ‘Supplies.’ "I turned the air conditioning on full blast to keep the body from decomposing," he states.

Shivering, I walk over to the body, which is laid out on a table. "Sure is plenty cold in here."

"Anything I can get you?" he asks.

Jim shakes his head as he puts on latex gloves. "No, I think we have everything we need. Thank you."

Reaching into my bag, I pull out my camera, then peel back the sheet covering the corpse. "I’ll take some pictures first."

As I’m photographing any identifying marks on the body, the sheriff asks, "What kind of camera is that?"

"It’s a digital camera," I tell her. "Doesn’t use any film."

She looks a bit bewildered, and I’m reminded that not everyone is computer savvy even in this day and age. "What will they think of next?" she comments. "Guns without bullets?"

Jim’s got hold of the perp’s arm and is looking intently at his hand. "We can forget about fingerprints. They’ve been surgically removed."

This case is getting weirder and weirder. First the killer throws Duval out of an airplane, making identification all but impossible, then finishes the job by snatching and torching the remains. Then this Baldacci seems to have the same phobia about being identified. I take a look at his hands. "Hmm, yep, you’re right."

"That’s not the only surgery he’s had." Jim points to Baldacci’s face. "You see these scars around his eyes and his ears here? There’s some up by the hairline, too."

I photograph the areas he’s pointing to, hoping the faint marks will show up in the photos. "Facelift, right?"

"I’d say more like complete reconstructive surgery. This chin–this is an implant. His jaw line’s been reconstructed. My guess is that’s not the original nose." Ellison looks up at Morrow, who’s still in the room. "What do you say, Doctor?"

Morrow seems a little thrown by the question, and stammers, "Well, I’m no plastic surgeon, but, uh…in my professional opinion, I’d have to agree. This man’s had a lot of facial work done."

"If he went to all the trouble to change his looks, it’s a pretty good bet that the ID is fake, too. I’d be very surprised if his name actually is Baldacci," I say.

Ellison’s moved on to the guy’s arm, running his fingers over the skin on the inside of the wrist. "He’s had some kind of surgical procedure on his forearm as well."

Raising an eyebrow, I ask, "What is it?"

"Uh, feels like a tattoo that’s been removed. Of an upside-down cross and a star."

Okay, now that’s really stretching it. I rub the area he was concentrating on with my bare fingers. I can feel a raised spot, like a very old burn scar, but…"I can feel something but how can you possibly make out what that is?" Especially through surgical gloves….

Ignoring my question, Ellison says, "Well, whoever it is, we know he’s done a little time. That’s a prison gang tattoo."

Letting out a low whistle, Morrow looks away.


A short time later Jim, Blair and I are gathered in the parking lot outside the sheriff’s office. I head toward my van, wanting to upload the photos I took of the dead suspect into my laptop.

"Is this yours?" Blair asks, as I open the sliding side door of my vehicle.

"Yep. I took out the engine, put in one from an old Porsche that I rebuilt myself."

He looks intrigued. "Oh, very impressive."

Climbing inside the van, I start showing off my home away from home. "Look what I’ve got in here. Spectrographic analyzer, full lab capabilities. I’ve even got one of those little portable x-ray machines. I’ve got more stuff in here than the department’s forensic van has. Some of it I built myself, some of it I’m testing for some manufacturers." God, Cassie, can you sound any more geeky?

Jim’s cell phone picks that moment to ring, and he walks a few steps away to answer it. Blair, however, is salivating at all my technology. "So what’s next?"

Flipping on my laptop, I hook up the digital camera and transfer the photos over. Pulling them up in a photo composite program, I make some changes based on what he might have looked like before surgery. "Since our dead man had his face altered, I’m going to try and reconstruct his original face."

"Cool." Blair calls to Ellison to get his attention, "Hey, Jim, you should come here and take a look at this."

The detective sticks his head inside the van, and I explain what I’m doing. "I took the photo of Baldacci and programmed in the adjustments for the surgery to his nose and his jaw line. What do you think?" I click the "make changes" button, and Baldacci’s old face appears on the screen.

It’s a big hit with Blair. "Wow," is all he can utter.

I swivel in my chair to face Ellison. "You know what? If you’re right about that tattoo, I can modem his picture up to some of the prisons in the Northwest. Somebody might recognize him."

Jim nods his head slowly. "That’s a good idea. That’s nice work."

I’m irritated by the little frisson of pleasure that shoots through me at his praise. I don’t need his approval to validate my work. I sigh internally. But it is nice to be appreciated instead of yelled at. Maybe he’s getting over whatever the hell his problem with me is. "Great, I’ll get right on it. Give me about twenty or thirty minutes, and I should have something."

"All right. I’m going to ask around about our suspect. Sandburg and I will check back with you. Come on, Chief."

"See you later, Cassie," Blair says, then he shuts the door of the van as they leave.

Wiggling my fingers, I stare at the computer screen for a moment, then open up my law enforcement database. Someone in the system has to know our guy.


Closing the door to Cassie’s van, I look at Jim. "So now what?" Once again I catch him studying the skies. This time an airplane is passing overhead.

Jim stops a woman walking by. "Excuse me. The only airport around here is way over in Lake Quincy, right?"

She nods. "Except for Bob Leland’s."

"Bob Leland’s?"

"He runs a crop dusting service," she explains. "He’s got this little airfield north of town. Well, it’s just a dirt strip, really."

"Thank you, thank you very much," Jim says as she walks off.

I can see his brain working, and for once I’m not two steps behind. "Crop dusters use pesticides, and that’s what Cassie found on Duval’s shoes. Wanna bet he was there?"

"I know he was," Jim says determinedly then heads toward the Ford at a trot.

"Hey! Hey, Jim, wait! Aren’t you going to tell Cassie? She’s going to want to get soil samples from there!" Amazing how someone with such great ears can have such selective hearing.

He’s already inside the truck and starting the engine before I even take a step. Leaning out the window, he calls, "You coming, Chief?"

I look at Cassie’s van, then back toward Jim. Shaking my head with a sigh, I run over to the truck and get in, wondering why I always get stuck in the middle whenever Jim has a problem with someone. I remind myself to pick up some dirt while we’re there.


On the ride out to Leland’s, Jim fills me in on the phone call he received earlier. It had been Simon with the news that Jean Duval had been an Interpol agent on the trail of a terrorist name Luc Resnais. Duval had been on his trail for months and had followed a lead to Geneva two weeks ago. From there he had disappeared, only to end up dead under the Cascade Narrows Bridge. What the connection is between an international terrorist and Pinecrest, Washington, though, eludes me. But whatever it is, two people are dead because of it.

I can’t help the involuntary shudder that goes through me. Whoever we’re hunting isn’t afraid of killing cops. I don’t mention my thought to Jim, though, and soon he’s turning at a sign reading Leland’s Crop Dusting Service. A short distance down a gravel road, Jim pulls up by a corrugated steel building in the middle of a large field.

A gorgeous yellow biplane with an open cockpit sits in front of the hangar. I can’t help but comment on it as I get out of the truck. "Wow, look at that. Planes like this, man–beautiful. That’s when flying was flying, you know? Wind in your hair, heart in your throat…"

"Bugs in your teeth," Jim quips, ever the romantic.

I chuckle. "Yeah, I suppose."

Walking up to the building, Jim calls out a greeting, but no one answers. I try to peer through one of the windows, but it’s been painted over.

"The windows are blacked out. That’s weird." I head toward the other side of the building, looking for a door, when I almost run into a huge man coming around the corner.

He’s taller than Jim is and twice as broad, with a grizzled beard and a ball cap on his head. "Looking for something?" he growls.

I take a step back instinctively, speaking only when I know Jim’s come up behind me. "Uh, yeah, afternoon. Are you the owner?"

He eyes us suspiciously, and I get the feeling he doesn’t like our looks. "Maybe."

I bullshit him. "Well, we were just wondering how much you charge for your services."

Again I feel his gaze boring into me. "You don’t look like farmers."

Jim finally speaks up. "Actually, we were looking for someone to fly us into Cascade."



Leland doesn’t even consider it. "I can’t help you. You fellas have a nice day."

"We’ll pay cash," Jim offers.

That doesn’t tempt the pilot. "I don’t need the business." Turning his back on us, Leland enters the building and closes the door firmly behind him.

I laugh nervously. "Well, he was real friendly." Jim starts toward the truck, and I follow, gazing at the biplane again, and the grassy runway beyond. "Hmm. Now that’s funny."

Coming to a stop, Jim looks at me. "What is?"

I point toward the plane. "Well, the beautiful thing about these biplanes is they can land and take off on a dime, but check it out. Look how big his runway is."

Jim must consider my comment of some merit, because he walks past the truck and out onto the runway, his eyes on the ground. "Check out these tracks. Something’s landed here, all right. You see these double lines? Something a lot bigger than that crop duster." He glances back at the building, then says, "Let’s go, come on."

Shrugging, I get back in the truck, feeling more in the dark than I was before. It’s not until we’re halfway back to town that I remember I forgot the dirt.


After making some calls, and sending quite a few faxes, I finally get a hit on our dead boy, Baldacci. I’m working on finding a connection to Duval when my email pings. I open it, finding a note from Serena. Word just came down that Duval was one of ours–Interpol. Shit. As if we don’t have enough to deal with…A knock on the van door interrupts my train of thought. "Yeah?"

I look over my shoulder as Blair opens the door, giving me a big smile. "Weeeeee’re baaaaack!"

I’m about to answer him when Jim sticks his head inside. "Hey, Cassie, can you see what you can pull up for a guy named Bob Leland? And find out whatever you can on his crop dusting business."

"Crop dusting? That could be the source of the pesticides I found!" I make a dive for the driver’s seat.

Ellison’s outstretched arm stops me. "We’ve already taken a trip out there and didn’t see any chemicals. I want some more information before I go back."

*Before he goes back? Before *he* goes back?* I’m about to let him have it when Blair says, "I was planning on bringing a soil sample back for you, but we ran into this big guy who chased us off, and I forgot."

Blair looks so disappointed with himself that my anger at his partner immediately dissipates. "At least someone was thinking about teamwork," I say, glaring at Ellison. Well, maybe I’m still a little ticked. "Both of you take off your shoes."

Jim gives me a strange look and starts to protest, but Blair gets what I’m after right away. Sitting down on the floor of the van, Blair pulls off his shoe and hands it to me. Opening a drawer, I remove some swabs, and take samples of the small amount of dirt clinging between the treads of his Sketchers. There’s not much, but assuming it’s from Leland’s and not something he picked up off the street, we might be in business. Placing the samples in separate plastic bags, I label them, then perform the same procedure on Ellison’s shoes.

As he’s putting them back on and lacing them up, Jim says, "Now could you please look up Leland?"

"Okay, but first, let me show you what I found on our dead man. You were right about him being an ex-con. His real name’s Ray Loomis. He was paroled in January from Duellmont Penitentiary." I click open the fax the warden sent me, and a pre-surgery mug shot pops up on the screen.

"What was he in for?" Jim asks.

Leaning back in my chair, I answer him. "Get this–seven years ago Loomis went to jail for his involvement in an organ transplant scheme. They were smuggling foreigners into the states, drugging them, taking out their kidneys and selling them on the black market."

Blair lets out a low whistle as Jim asks, "Who else was involved?"

I click through the file. "Um..the ringleader was a doctor named Vern Delanian. Released from prison last year."

"Bring up his record."

Geez, a please might be nice. But I do it without complaint.

While I’m waiting for the modem to link to the WSCIC computer, and my search to go through, Blair says, "You know, I remember reading about that. They’d bring in these foreigners, and they’d promise them jobs and a new life. And the next they’d know, they’d end up in some alley with one of their kidneys gone. I mean, could you believe that?"

I nod. "Yeah. Here it comes." A record begins to appear on the computer screen, along with a mug shot of a familiar face.

"Vernon Charles Delanian, hmm," Jim says sarcastically.

Blair leans over my shoulder for a closer look. "Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t that–?"

Jim’s expression is grim. "Pinecrest’s finest physician himself–Dr. Steven Morrow."

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

Ellison, Sandburg and I troop back into the sheriff’s office, and Jim drops our little bombshell on McNeil. She looks shocked. "People around here love Doc Morrow. I just can’t believe he’s a criminal."

Jim shows her the printout of the prison record. "Well, what about this?"

Kelli gives the photo a cursory glance. "So there’s a resemblance."

What in the hell? What happened to the professional law enforcement officer who was willing to do anything she could to help another department? "A resemblance," I state forcefully.

She actually takes a step back. "Look, I am not going to put a man in jail based on a…on a photograph."

Jim rolls his eyes in frustration. "Well, then why don’t you just bring him in for fingerprints?"

Giving him a defiant stare, she answers, "I don’t have to. Got them right here. Took them last spring when the doc applied for his hunting license." She enters her office and returns a few seconds later with a fingerprint card.

I pull out a magnifier as she hands the card to me. Taking my time, I compare the prints from the arrest record to the card, but it takes me only a few seconds to reach my conclusion.

"Well?" Jim asks.

I shake my head. "They don’t match."

With something akin to a growl, Jim storms out of the office. Shrugging, Blair goes after him, and I’m left alone with Sheriff McNeil. I give the card back to her as I say, "Kelli, I’m not completely clear yet on what’s going on around here, but I do know one thing. Whoever these guys are, they’re playing for keeps. They’ve already killed to keep their secret. If Dr. Morrow is innocent, then surely he wouldn’t object to us asking him a few questions."

She shakes her head vehemently. "No. You’ve disrupted my town enough. Go back to Cascade and harass somebody there. Leave Doc Morrow alone." With that, she folds her arms across her chest and stares at me until I head for the door.

I leave, pondering her reaction to our accusation of Morrow. I don’t think she’s working with him; her reaction was more outrage than guilt. Shame maybe? Ashamed that she didn’t pick up on a criminal operating in her small town? Interesting that she supported him in the face of damning evidence, almost like a wife defending her husband. Shit! She’s sleeping with him!

By the time I reach that conclusion, I’ve joined Jim and Blair at my van. Jim’s saying, "I don’t know. Something about this whole thing just doesn’t sit right with me."

"So, what are we going to do now?" Blair asks.

Jim reaches inside his jacket for his cell phone. "First, I’ve got to put in a call to Interpol about Jean Duval, then you and I need to have another talk with Dr. Morrow."

"How did you know about Duval’s connection to Interpol?" I ask. "I only found out right before you showed up earlier, and didn’t get a chance to tell you."

Ellison actually looks guilty. "Ah, um…Captain Banks called and told me."

Uh-huh. So that was the phone call he took earlier. "I thought we had an agreement, Jim," I say, using his first name to stress my disappointment at his unwillingness to share.

He shrugs. "Sorry, it didn’t seem that important at the time."

I find myself bickering with him again. "Oh, so it’s only important to share when I have information you don’t, and not the other way around?"

Blair steps in between us before I can really get started. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Time out." He holds up his hands in the shape of a "T". "Do we really need to do this now? Because the way I see it, we’re all we’ve got here. Sheriff McNeil isn’t going to give us any help, and the rest of our support is back in Cascade."

He has a point. Sighing, I say, "I’m all in favor of cooperating and sharing everything. How about you, Detective?"

Jim doesn’t look happy, but he mumbles, "Fine."

Blair looks relieved. "Good, good. Now, what’s the plan? Cassie, you wanna test those soil samples? If you get a hit on those pesticides, then you can call us on the cell phone. And Jim, you wanted to talk to Morrow again."

He nods. "That plan okay with you, Welles?"

"Fine, just as long as you call me if anything breaks on your end."

Blair fairly beams. "Great! See, we can all get along if we work at it."

I start to climb back into the van when I remember my conversation with McNeil. I call after the two men. "Oh, boys! Watch your backs. I think there’s something going on between the sheriff and the doctor. I don’t think she’s working with him, but she may tip him off to our suspicions."

Jim looks surprised for a moment, then nods. "Thanks for the heads up, Cassie." Getting into his truck, they drive off.

Entering my van, I go to work on the soil samples, but I don’t hold out much hope. I don’t have much to work with, and I have a feeling I’ll need a bigger specimen to make a positive ID of Leland’s as the last place Jean Duval’s feet touched the ground.


We drive the short distance to the clinic in silence. I start to ask a question, but Jim shushes me with a wave of his hand; he’s thinking. As he pulls into the empty parking lot, I see a police cruiser in front of the building. "McNeil’s already here," Jim says.

Getting out of the truck, we walk past the sheriff’s car toward the clinic. Jim stops as we round the trunk. "I smell blood…and gunpowder. You smell that?"

I give him a look. Sometimes he forgets I’m not the one with the heightened senses.

He points toward the front of the car. "Pop the trunk on this."

Opening the driver’s side door, I pull the release and return to Jim’s side, taking a look in the trunk. It’s all I can do to keep from vomiting. Sheriff McNeil is lying there, her eyes wide and staring at nothing, blood staining her tan uniform a dark reddish-brown. "Oh…my god…" I turn away unsteadily. We were just talking to her fifteen minutes ago….

I hear Jim say tersely, "This makes three."

A siren wails sharply, then cuts off as a second cruiser screeches to a stop behind us. The town’s two deputies, Toliver and Nichols, jump out and take defensive positions behind their doors, guns pointed at us. "Get your hands up now!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. We found her like this," Jim says.

"Get your hands up!"

I don’t have to be told twice. Mine shoot up into the air and Jim slowly follows suit, still protesting. "There’s a mistake here."

The deputy gestures with his gun. "Hands against the car. Let’s go."

They come toward us, and Nichols thinks he has to help me assume the position. "Hey, don’t point that thing at me. Come on." Ignoring my protest, he slams me against the hood, pressing my face into the metal.

"Take it easy!" Jim snaps as he’s shoved against the side of the car and patted down.

Cuffs are snapped shut around my wrists, and I’m hauled up again. "We didn’t shoot her, guys," I protest, but they’re not listening. I give Jim a look that asks, "What are we going to do?"

His only answer is a shrug.

*Great. Just great.*


The spectrographic analyzer beeps and a graph pops up on my computer screen. Leaning forward in my seat, I scrutinize the peaks and valleys on the chart. "Damn it." There wasn’t enough pesticide in the dirt on Jim and Blair’s shoes for the machine to pick up.

Picking up my phone, I dial Jim’s cell. It rings ten times, no answer. Punching it off, I swear again. I need a better sample. I drum my fingers on the countertop for a few seconds, considering my options. Decision made, I dial another number. "Yeah, Dispatch, this is Forensics Chief Welles. I’m with Detective Ellison and Blair Sandburg in Pinecrest. They’ve gone to interview a physician here, a Dr. Morrow, alias Vern Delanian. I’m on my way to get a soil sample from a small landing strip near here. Please let Captain Banks know our status."

Ending the call, I climb into the driver’s seat of my van and start the engine. It should only take me about half an hour to drive to the airfield, get some dirt, and get back here. Jim and Blair will never miss me.

Fifteen minutes later I come to a stop at a sign reading "Leland’s Crop Dusting." Driving down the road a bit, I pull off on a side road and park. Grabbing a sample jar and a small hand trowel, I head out. A few minutes later the driveway ends at a blue garage type building. There are no vehicles in sight, save for a biplane parked at the end of a grass runway. I skirt the building, looking for an entrance and evidence that the ground was used as a walkway. I find them on the far side of the building. Quickly, I loosen some earth with the trowel and dump it in the jar. Sticking both the jar and tool in my pocket, I start back toward the van, then pause.

Curiosity gets the better of me, and walking over to the door, I try the handle. To my amazement, it’s unlocked, and swings open toward me. Reaching under my coat, I unfasten the security strap holding my Sig Sauer in its holster. Digging out a flashlight, I enter the darkened room. There’s not much here save a workbench, barrels of pesticides and pieces of equipment.

Spying another doorway on the other side of the room, I cross and pass through it. The contents of this room are much more interesting. A surgical chair sits in the center of the room. Along one wall are tanks of anesthesia and oxygen. I move to a small table next to the chair and flip back a cloth covering it. A row of sharp, shiny scalpels and other surgical instruments are laid out. Things are beginning to make sense. This is probably where Baldacci, or Loomis, had his plastic surgery. And my guess is the surgeon was good old Doc Morrow.

The rumble of an engine reaches my ears. Shit! I head for the exit, and manage to slip outside before anyone sees me. I take cover behind some large oil drums, not wanting to make a run for my van until whoever it is, is inside the building. A car comes into view on the dirt track leading to the airfield. It stops, and a big man in a plaid shirt and overalls gets out of the driver’s seat. There’s a second man with him. I don’t recognize either of them.

Instead of going inside, however, the large man stands at the end of the runway, alternately glancing at the sky, and then his watch.

Sighing, I settle in for a long wait.


"This is crazy," I protest as Toliver shoves Jim and me into the single jail cell at the Sheriff’s office. "What are you doing wasting time with us when the real killers are getting away?"

He just grins and slams the cell door shut, then walks over to his desk.

Jim looks out the barred window in the wall. "Save your breath, Chief. They know we didn’t kill her."

I sit down on the small bed, running a hand through my hair. "What are you talking about?"

He walks to the front of the cell and addresses the deputies. "Morrow must be paying you a hell of a lot to throw away your careers, huh?" They both ignore him.

I feel sick. "Is that why he killed McNeil? Because she wouldn’t go along?"

Toliver heads toward the door. "I’ve got to go find the girl." He leaves as Nichols takes out a CD player and puts on headphones, effectively blocking us out.

Getting to my feet, I come up behind Jim. "He’s going after Cassie, man. We’ve got to do something."

Jim’s hands clench into fists and he nods tightly. I know he agrees with me, but right now the situation looks hopeless.


The faraway whine of an airplane engine becomes a roar as it circles the runway, flying lower and lower, then landing at the end of the grassy strip. I watch as it taxis toward the building and comes to a stop. A second car races up the access road and parks next to the first one. Good old Doc Morrow and his nurse get out. The big guy, who I’m assuming is Leland, goes over to them, and they wait for the plane’s engines to shut off, and the door to open.

A slim dark-haired man carrying a large briefcase gets off the plane and approaches Morrow. "Welcome to America," the doctor greets him. "How was your flight?"

When the newcomer speaks, it’s with an accent. French? Italian? "Oh, long and tiring." European, I know that much.

"Everything’s ready as we agreed. All we need is the money."

I peer through a crack between the barrels as the foreigner opens the case. "One million dollars…American."

Holy shit! No wonder Morrow and his buddies killed Duval.

Morrow hands the man an envelope and relieves him of the case. "These are your documents. As of tomorrow, you’ll be Edgar Kleist, a naturalized American citizen born in Vienna, and wanted terrorist Luc Resnais will cease to exist."

My mind is reeling. Resnais is wanted in just about every country in the world. My heart pounding, I duck lower in my hiding place, waiting until I hear the door to the building close before cautiously peeking out. I don’t see anyone.

Getting to my feet, I turn around to leave–and find myself staring down the barrel of a gun. My hands slowly go up as I say, "Hi there. I’m with O.S.H.A. I guess this means those MSDS forms aren’t up to date?"

He doesn’t see the humor, and gives me a shove toward the building entrance.

~~~~~ACT V ~~~~~

Jim’s up to something. He’s standing at the bars of the cell, watching Nichols intently. When he raps on the metal, Nichols turns around and glares at Jim, then goes back to his CD and his magazine. Jim waits a bit, then coughs. The deputy doesn’t even flinch. Jim’s testing him I know, but why?

He walks over to where I’m sitting on the cot and holds out his hand. "Give me your glasses, quick."

I’m still confused, but I dig them out of my pocket and hand them over. I follow him over to the cell door, and watch in horror as he twists the arm off one side. "What are you doing?" I yelp.

"Shh, shh!’

I lower my voice to an angry hiss. "They cost 150 bucks!"

"Quiet!" Jim hands my 150 dollar piece of junk back to me and slips his arm through the bars of the door. Easing the broken arm of my glasses into the keyhole in the lock, he manipulates it until the door opens. Handing me the makeshift lock pick, he crosses the room and punches Nichols in the face just as he turns around.

I’m impressed. Then I get my ass in gear, trotting out of the cell and heading for the door. "What are you waiting for, man? We gotta find Cassie before they do!"


I’m ushered into the building at gun point. A quick search reveals my weapon, and I’m swiftly relieved of it. The big guy, Leland, gets a roll of duct tape from a workbench and gives it to his partner, who binds my wrists together.

Morrow enters the work area from the surgery room and walks over to Leland. "Once we’re gone, I don’t want anything left for the police to find."

Leland nods. "Don’t worry. That fuel burns at 3,000 degrees. There won’t be anything left but slag."

Wonderful. I’m so looking forward to becoming slag. I hope they shoot me first.

"Good." Morrow turns toward me as Leland leaves the building.

I figure if I’m gonna die, I’m taking some answers with me. "You’re quite the entrepreneur there, Doc. A witness protection program for wanted criminals–plastic surgery, new identities. Very nice."

He smiles evilly. "Smart girl."

"You know, the only part I don’t understand is the Interpol agent." Morrow starts to walk away. "Oh, come on," I wheedle, "I mean, you said you’re going to turn me into slag. Don’t let me die confused."

The doctor shrugs. "Actually, we took him on as a client. You can imagine our surprise when we discovered he wasn’t who he appeared to be. I mean, after all, that’s our franchise."

"Clever. So you threw him out of the plane?"

"I had planned to have him disappear over the ocean. Near Cascade, he tried to grab Dietz’s gun and there was an accident."

"So what happens now?" In other words, how long do I have to figure a way out of this?

He heads toward the surgery room. "First, I finish up with Monsieur Resnais here, and then, thanks to you and your friend, we pack up and move to a new location, and you disappear." He looks at the man who tied me up. "Call Toliver and Nichols. Tell them we’ve got the girl."


While Jim drags Nichols into the jail cell, I’m on the cell phone with Simon. "Yeah, sure, Simon. We’ll be standing by." I address Jim, "Simon said he was going to call the state police for backup. He said Cassie called in and left a message that she was going to the airfield to get a sample. He hasn’t heard from her since."

The phone on Nichols desk rings. I look from it to Jim. He shuts the cell door on Nichols, walks over to the desk and picks it up. "Hold on, Simon," I say.

"Sheriff’s office." Jim does a passable imitation of Nichols. "Yeah…all right." He hangs up the phone and takes the cell from my hand. "Simon, they’ve got Cassie. They took her to Bob Leland’s airfield, which is two miles north of Pinecrest. It would help to get us some back up from the state police. A chopper would be nice. We’ll check in with you in a while." Ending the call, he looks at me. "Let’s go."

Exiting the sheriff’s station, we run down the street to the clinic, where Jim’s truck is still parked. Jumping inside, Jim guns the engine, and we take off toward the airport with a squeal of tires. Five minutes later Jim’s parking the truck behind Cassie’s van on a side road. Walking over to it, Jim looks in the window, then shakes his head. He takes off through the brush for Leland’s, with me practically running to keep up with his long strides.

He crouches behind a fence at the edge of the airstrip, and I join him a few seconds later. There’s now a second plane on the ground, a multi-passenger, four-engine prop plane. "Can you hear what’s going on?" I ask.

Jim nods, his head turned slightly toward the building, his eyes closed. "Yeah, I think there’s five or six of them, all inside at the moment. Sounds like Morrow’s performing some kind of surgery."

"What about Cassie? Can you hear her?"

He shakes his head. "If she’s there, she’s not talking." Half rising from his crouch, Jim studies the area intently. "We need a diversion, Chief, something to draw them out of the building one by one."

Looking around, my gaze lands on the biplane. "I’ve got an idea…"

Two minutes later, I’m crawling into the cockpit, and studying the multitude of switches and dials. Finding the one I want, I flip it. The engine turns over slowly at first, then roars to life. Peering over the side of the plane, I see two men I don’t recognize running toward the biplane from the direction of the other airplane. Jim is racing up behind them, gun drawn. Ducking down again, I spot a button marked "Spray". Turning it on sends pesticide shooting out of the hoses in a fine mist.

I can hear the two men coughing and choking, then Jim’s yelling, "All right. Drop your weapons!" Once I see he has the situation under control, I turn off the chemical spray. I don’t need Jim having a reaction to it. Jim moves the men to the side of the plane, and handcuffs them to one of the struts. Just as I climb out of the cockpit, I hear the sharp crack of a gunshot.

Looking toward the building, I can see Leland rounding the corner, firing as he goes. Jim dives under the biplane, and I follow suit. "Shit! Where did he come from?"

"Must have been on the other side of the building," Jim says as he begins to return fire.


I’m trying to sever my bonds by rubbing the chair I’m tied to against the edge of the workbench, when I hear shots from outside. What the hell? A few seconds later I can hear the rotors of a helicopter coming in fast, and then faintly, a mechanical voice announcing "This is the State Police. Throw down your weapons."

Hurray! The cavalry’s here! My relief is short-lived, though, as Leland comes barreling through the door, a gun in one hand and a knife in the other. He’s headed straight for me! I try to stand, to get away, but only succeed in knocking the chair over. In that position, I can’t see him any longer. I lie on the floor, shaking, thinking the cold cement is the last thing I’m ever going to feel, other than the knife going into my ribs, when the rope holding me to the chair falls away. Grabbing me by the arm, Leland drags me into the surgery room.

Morrow and his nurse are packing up their things, while Luc Resnais lies unconscious in the surgery chair. "The cops are here," Leland states.

Not even looking up, Morrow orders, "Start the plane."

"What about the patient?" his nurse asks.

"Forget about him. Grab the money. Let’s go!"

She picks up the case containing the cash and follows Morrow out of the room. Leland drags me along with him. We exit the door closest to the plane. A helicopter buzzes us, a state trooper leaning out the side, yelling, "Throw down your weapons now!"

Morrow produces a gun from somewhere and fires at the chopper.


The doctor grabs me and pulls me in front of him as he whirls around to face Jim Ellison. He’s at the corner of the building, his gun aimed at Morrow–at us. Morrow presses his weapon against my cheek. "Back off, or I’ll kill her!" He fires at Jim and drags me toward the plane. The others are already inside. Shoving me through the door, Morrow shuts it as Leland begins to taxi down the runway.


I watch helplessly as Morrow yanks Cassie with him, and onto the plane. "Great! What are we going to do now?"

Jim’s expression is determined. "Stay put."

"Jim, what are you….?" But he’s gone before I can finish my question, sprinting toward the police helicopter, which is slowly descending. He leans in and says something to the pilot, then stands on the runner holding onto the door frame as it takes off.

Oh, God. What in the hell is he thinking? What is it about Jim and hanging off of helicopters? The pilot heads toward the taxiing plane, coming at him head on in a deadly game of chicken. I clench my fists, my nails biting into my palms as the chopper hovers over the moving plane. Jim crouches on the runner, then leaps.

He lands on top of the plane, falling to his stomach then sliding toward the wing and the whirling propellers. He manages to catch himself, then gets slowly to his feet and walks toward the tail of the plane. He leans against it, hanging on with one hand as he reaches out with the other to grab the rudder. Pulling it toward him, Jim shoves his gun in the hinge, keeping it from moving. The plane lurches, and begins to turn in a large circle.

Great, Jim, just great. They can’t take off, and now you’re stuck.


Through the cockpit window of the plane I can see the helicopter coming straight at us, and then it’s gone. No sooner do I register that, then there’s a loud thump on the roof that shakes the whole plane.

"What in the hell is going on?" Morrow yells at Leland.

"He’s on the roof." Leland is trying to pick up enough speed to take off, but suddenly the plane lurches to the right. Morrow and Leland continue to yell at each other as he struggles to regain control of the plane.

Morrow’s gun slips from where he’d been holding it against my side. Seeing my chance, I work the jar of sample dirt out of my pocket. Unscrewing the cap, I fling the contents into Morrow’s eyes.

"Aaaahhh!" As his hands automatically go to his face, I grab for his gun and wrestle it away from him. Jamming it into Leland’s neck, I scream, "Shut this thing down!"

He cuts the engine and the plane slowly comes to a halt. Before the propellers have even stopped turning, Ellison’s opening the door, pointing his gun inside.

Climbing over Morrow, I get out first, still holding the gun on him. "Get out here, Doc. Come on! Hands up! Hands up!" I look over at Jim. "So, do we get frequent flier miles for this?"

He just grins at me, shaking his head in disbelief. "All right, let’s get them out of here!"

Blair comes up to me as Morrow and his gang are led away. "Need some help?" he asks, gesturing at my still-bound hands.

"Yeah, thanks."

Producing a Swiss Army knife from his pocket, Blair carefully slices through the tape. Once it’s gone, I rub my wrists, giving him a smile. "So, are all your cases this exciting?"

Blair laughs. "Funny you should say that. Let me tell you about the second case Jim and I worked. Ever hear of the Sunrise Patriots?"

Relief settles over me as we walk toward our vehicles. I think I’m going to fit right in here.


I’m stirring chili on the stovetop when the phone rings. I pick up the receiver and tuck it between my ear and my shoulder as I add more hot sauce to the pot. "Hello."

<"Hey, Bulldozer. Just calling to get the scoop on the big arrest you made. It’s all over the news here." >

I feel a smile cross my face. "Hey, Carolyn, how are you doing?"

<"I’m fine, now spill it. Have you killed him yet?">

Laughing, I answer, "No, not yet. We were even sort of kinda getting along there at the end of it. Of course, tomorrow’s another day."

<"So what happened with the case? They aren’t saying much on the news, just that the guy had a sweet little identity swap service going.">

"Oh, he did, right under the nose of the local sheriff." I sigh. Poor Kelli. I hadn’t known her very long, but I know she didn’t deserve to die because she stuck to her principles. "We managed to close down their entire operation, and found computer files that listed the names and locations of all of their former clients–fourteen wanted criminals, including a mafia don and some junk bond king who embezzled millions. A nice, neat wrap up to what started out as a very muddled and confusing case."

<"Ah, yes, I know how you like to have all your ducks in a row when a case is over, unlike your personal life. Have you even unpacked all those boxes, or are they still sitting in the middle of the living room, like they did for six months after you moved before?">

"Well…they’re not in the living room," I answer, thinking of the second bedroom I can barely walk through. There’s a knock on the door. "Hey, Carolyn, I hate to cut this short, but there’s someone at the door. Call you this weekend?"

<"Sure. Bye.">

Hanging up the phone, I open the door. Jim and Blair are standing there, both bearing wrapped boxes. "Guys, I told you you didn’t need to bring anything."

Grinning, Blair shrugs. "It wouldn’t be a house-warming party without gifts."

"Sandburg’s right," Captain Banks’ voice booms from the hallway. "You invited us to dinner, it’s only appropriate we bring gifts." He waves a six pack of beer at me, and I smile.

"Come on in. Just stick that in the fridge, Captain." No soon have I closed the door than I’m opening it again to the people from my staff–Serena, Sam, Howard and Sharon.

As my apartment fills up with people from the station, food and drink are consumed, and it looks like everyone’s having a good time. I find myself standing in the corner of my kitchen, a beer in hand, thinking that maybe things will be okay here. Maybe I’ve finally found my place. Blair catches my eye, and he gives me a thumbs-up and a wink. And I know if it’s not where I belong, it’s damn close, and tonight, that’s good enough.

~~~~~The End ~~~~~

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Next week’s episode: Breaking Ground by CarolROI