by Melinda Holley
Written for PetFly by Tony Westman
internal thought in * *
~~~~~ ACT I ~~~~~Cascade National Park
Several rivers cut through the Cascade National Park. One of the least visited was the Beaver River. Starting out as a small stream deep in the mountains, it eventually flowed over rocks both large and small until finally joining the Kodiak River that ran close to the city of Cascade.
Only the truly dedicated fishermen willingly hiked through the forest to reach the Beaver River. Carefully walking along rocks close to the banks of the Beaver River were three such dedicated fishermen.
"Watch your step, Sandburg," Jim Ellison warned as he carefully balanced on one river-soaked rock. He waited until Simon Banks, ahead of him, adjusted his balance and confidently jumped to another rock. "These rocks are tricky."
Blair Sandburg spared a glanced towards the cloudless blue sky. Not seeing any indication of either divine retribution or divine guidance, he settled for shaking his head. "Don’t worry. I won’t slip."
Jim’s lips briefly curved as he caught the tone of long-suffering patience in his partner’s voice. "Slip all you want. I just don’t want anybody to kick the fish."
"Glad to see you have your priorities straight," Blair muttered.
Jim saw a plastic bag attached to Simon’s belt come loose and slide into the cold water. As he stepped onto the rock just vacated by the Major Crimes captain, he reached down and grabbed the bag before it floated away. Grinning, he turned sideways and showed the bag to Blair before putting it in his pocket.
"Oh, man," Blair snickered.
They followed in silence for several minutes before Simon finally looked around and nodded. "This is it," he said with an almost reverent tone of voice.
Blair slowly looked around then closed his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he relaxed as the silence around him began to settle nerves conditioned to urban stresses. Sunlight gently warmed his face even as a slight breeze caused nearby treetops to gently sway. Soft sounds of the nearby animal life barely intruded. The cold water swirling around his protected legs became just one more instrument in the natural symphony around him. "Awesome," he murmured, finally opening his eyes.
Simon nodded, even as he began baiting his hook. "Yeah, it’s good to get away from the city for a while and breathe some good fresh air. Leave it all behind."
"Well, Captain, it’s good you brought your survival kit." Jim held up the wet plastic bag he’d rescued. "Of course, my survival kit doesn’t include a cell phone and pager."
"Give me that, Ellison," Simon hissed as he snatched the bag from Jim’s fingers.
"Not to mention cigars and clippers," Jim finished.
"There goes the fresh air," Blair sighed as Simon opened the bag.
"You know what, Sandburg? I’m gonna do you a favor." Simon widely smiled.
"No smoking?" Blair hopefully asked.
Simon smirked then barked, "No!" He enjoyed seeing Blair automatically take a step backwards, then openly chuckled when Jim automatically reached out a hand to steady the younger man. "I’ll turn off the cell phone."
"Might as well." Blair shrugged. "You wouldn’t get a signal here anyway."
"Oh, ye of little faith," Simon teased. "For your information, Sandburg, there’s a tower at the top of that ridge."
Blair shaded his eyes and looked towards the east.
"For all those who can’t leave civilization behind," Jim grunted in what might have been disgust.
"I’m going to move up-river a little bit," Simon decided as he cheerfully closed his plastic bag and secured it to his belt. "See if I can’t tell what might be biting."
Blair frowned as he stepped onto the next rock. "What does he…whoa!" He almost dropped his fishing rod as he swung his arms to recover his balance. He was helped by Jim’s hand grabbing his arm to provide some stability.
"Easy…you okay now?" Jim asked. When Blair nodded, he grinned. "Okay, my little guppy. Time to initiate you into the sacred rites of fly casting."
"Uh-huh." Blair squinted as he saw Simon pick his spot. "You know, I do know how to fish."
"Good for you." Jim grinned. "But this is a true test of man versus fish."
"Uh-huh." Blair agreeably nodded. "Ahab! Hemingway! Sandburg!" he shouted to the sky.
"Quiet, Sandburg!" Simon snapped. "You’ll scare the fish!"
Hidden in the trees above the river, two men watched the three men standing in the middle of the river.
"Nothing to worry about," Jake Marshall decided as he lowered the binoculars. "Just some fishermen."
"I hope so." Sid Polk frowned. "We don’t need any interference. From anybody."
The cell phone to Jake’s belt crackled. Moving deeper into the trees, Jake answered it. Sid quickly followed, both men missing that one of the fishermen looked in their direction.
"Jim?" Blair questioned.
After a second, Jim shrugged. "By the way, Sandburg, did I mention that whoever catches the least number of fish has to not only cook dinner but clear up afterwards?"
"No. You did not mention that," Blair snorted. Becoming more comfortable standing in the rushing water, he grinned. "Hope you and Simon don’t mind if I nap while you guys take care of that."
"You’re a difficult man to reach, Jake." Tommy Woo studied the beautiful panorama of the San Francisco skyline through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the plush penthouse apartment. "Matters are not progressing so well," he continued. "You promised I’d have my full supply by last week."
"There’s not much game out here this time of year."
"I understand the problem," Tommy assured him. "But my buyer is getting impatient. I can’t wait much longer. Another 24 hours, and I’ll have to find another supplier." The young Oriental man absently fingered the cuff of his dark blue silk shirt.
"Hey, c’mon, Tommy! We go way back, remember?"
"Don’t confuse loyalty with pragmatic economics," Tommy advised. "Happy hunting. You’ve got 24 hours." Disconnecting the call, he turned to the older man, who sat studying a chessboard. "He’ll deliver."
The older man barely glanced up. "For your sake, Tommy, I hope he does." He carefully moved a rook. "Check."
"Sure, Tommy, I’ll just toss out some bread crumbs and just watch all the big bad game eat their way to my doorstep!" Jack angrily opened the bed of his truck.
Both he and Sid reached in for their weapons and ammunition.
"That’s the trouble with Woo and his rich buyers," Sid snorted. "They’ve got no understanding of what we do." He grinned. "Maybe we should bring ole Tommy out here sometime, huh?"
"I saw signs of a bear in River Canyon yesterday," Jake recalled. He unfolded a worn map and pointed. "I’ll follow the ravine. You take the ridge. If I flush anything, it’ll head in your direction." He folded the map and closed the truck’s door. "I’ll check in every 15 minutes or so on channel 12."
"That’s awful close to where those guys are fishing," Sid warned.
"Can’t be helped," Jake argued. "We’ll just have to make sure they don’t see or hear anything."
Two Hours Later – Cascade National Forest
Conversation had ceased among the three men standing in the middle of Beaver River. Even Simon was impressed by Blair’s ability to be patient and remain silent. As he lazily cast, he wondered how he could adapt this situation to the bullpen.
Blair’s blue eyes suddenly widened as he felt something tug on his rod. "Uh…Jim? Jim!" He caught sight of a fish wiggling on his line. "Jim! Look at that!"
"Way to go, Chief! Play it…play it…" He stood next to Blair, ready to help. "Good…good…you’re a natural with this."
Simon grinned as he carefully began walking towards them.
"Whoa!" Blair felt the line being to stretch.
"Ease up!" Jim urged. "Easy does it. Take up the slack with your left hand."
"What?!" Blair shouted. Then he nodded when Jim reached out to adjust the rod. "Okay…yeah…YEAH!"
"Now, just reel him in," Jim softly urged.
"Look! Simon! Look!" Blair laughed. He grinned as he reeled the fish up from the water. "Oh, man…look at that baby! Jim!"
"I see it." Jim grinned in response. "Simon, hold this." As Simon reached out for Jim’s rod, the sentinel unhooked his net from his belt and slid it under the fish.
"Beginner’s luck," Simon good-naturedly grumbled.
Blair fairly danced in the water as Jim unhooked the fish from the end of Blair’s line. "Yes yes yes," he happily chanted.
"Hold him up," Simon ordered, reaching for a disposable camera in another plastic bag. "Let me get a picture of this."
"Did you forget to bring anything?" Blair joyfully laughed.
"You’ll be glad to have this as proof, Sandburg," Simon growled.
"Must weigh five pounds," Jim gauged. He started to hand the fish to Blair, but the younger man simply helped hold the fish with one hand and leaned against Jim. The older man chuckled and wrapped an arm around Blair’s shoulders. Both men grinned as Simon aimed the camera.
"Got it," Simon chuckled as he snapped the picture.
"Oh, man, I’ve got this great recipe for fish," Blair chattered. "You wrap them in maple leaves, put in some fresh herbs, garlic, and put it underneath some hot rocks." He kissed the tip of his fingers. "Primo!"
Simon nodded, unable to keep from grinning as he watched Jim carefully lower the fish back into the cold water.
"It’ll be the best fish you ever….JIM! What are you doing with my fish?" Blair shrieked.
"Strictly catch and release, Sandburg." Jim fought to keep from laughing.
"Catch and release?!" Blair stuttered. He put his hands on his hips. "What are you talking about?" he suspiciously demanded.
"It’s a conservation measure," Simon explained. "A few years ago, this place was nearly fished out. Now they’re making a good comeback." He sympathetically nodded. "But it was a nice fish."
"Nice?" Blair mournfully shook his head. "It was beautiful. My beautiful fish."
"Cheer up, Sandburg." Jim grinned. "You’re one fish ahead…"
Blair tensed as he saw Jim tilt his head to one side, a clear indication his sentinel hearing was engaged. He held up a hand to Simon who had started to touch Jim’s shoulder.
"Oh, my God," Jim murmured. "It sounds like…somebody’s being mauled." Without another word, he sloshed through the water towards the riverbank.
"Mauled? Ellison!" Simon shouted.
"Jim? Jim? C’mon, man! Wait a minute!" Blair awkwardly tried to run towards the riverbank.
Simon was torn between following Jim and trying to keep Blair from falling into the cold river water. He settled for grabbing Blair’s right arm and practically dragging him towards the riverbank. By the time they made it to shore, Jim had removed his high-waders and was running up the gentle slope towards the trees.
"Ellison! Come back here!" Simon demanded even as he sat down to remove his own waders.
Blair was hopping on one foot, trying to shimmy out of his wet waders. He was startled into falling backwards when he heard several gunshots.
"Automatic gunfire," Simon grimly identified. "Get a move on, Sandburg! We’ve got to catch up to Jim!"
Jim ran through the woods, easily hearing both the gunfire and the desperate screams. The loud roar of an angry bear silenced both. Minutes later, Jim found himself at the edge of a clearing. One of the largest bears he’d ever seen slowly ambled away from a bloody body barely recognizable as a man.
Realizing the body was lifeless, Jim waited until the bear had wandered away before entering the clearing. Kneeling next to the body, he grimaced as he gently rolled the man over.
"Over here, Simon!" Jim called in return. He slowly stood, eyes narrowing as he spotted the nearby automatic weapon.
"Dear God." Simon briefly closed his eyes at the carnage.
"Uuullllpppp," Blair groaned as he turned away.
Jim picked up the weapon, then glanced at Blair with concern. "Here’s the weapon we heard firing." He ran his fingers along the barrel. "Still hot from firing."
"What about…fingerprints?" Blair gulped. He glanced at Jim then quickly back at the ground.
"He wore gloves, Chief," Jim gently answered.
Blair grimaced. "Sorry. Didn’t notice."
"Jim, that sort of weaponry out here…" Simon shook his head. "Gotta be poachers."
"Yeah," Jim grimly nodded.
All three men were startled to hear the crackle of a live radio. "Jake! Jake! Answer me!"
"Sounds like he’s got a partner," Simon grunted.
Jim caught the glimpse of sunlight reflecting off glass. Narrowing his vision, he saw a man, dressed in hunter’s clothing, watching them through binoculars from across the river. Even as he took in the sight, he saw the other man lower the binoculars, turn, and run away.
"Damn it, he’s getting away," Jim groaned as he pointed.
Simon and Blair looked in that direction just in time to see someone disappearing into the trees.
Next Day – Simon’s Office
"Looks like our dead man’s a local guide by the name of Jake Marshall." Simon passed over a file folder. He turned around and poured himself a cup of coffee. "He organized trophy hunts for rich clients." He silently held out the coffeepot in invitation. Both Jim and Blair shook their heads in denial.
"With a little poaching on the side," Jim mused as he studied the contents of the folder.
"Man, I cannot believe people like that," Blair grumbled. "Hunting animals for trophies." He looked over Jim’s shoulder. "Any idea who the guy on the radio was?"
"He usually works with another guide by the name of Sid Polk," Jim read. "He’s got a hunting lodge near Mt. Gideon." He looked up at Simon. "I say we pay him a visit, sir. Do some shakin’ and see what falls out of the tree."
"We’ll have to call Fish and Wildlife," Simon pointed out. "Poaching is their jurisdiction." Simon leaned back in his chair and sipped his coffee. "That automatic weapon means we should include the ATF as well."
"Department of Wildlife?" Blair half-grinned.
"Not to mention the FBI, sir," Jim solemnly added. "You know they hate to be left out."
Simon snorted. "Get this guy. We’ll worry about calling the Feds later."~~~~~ ACT II ~~~~~Later that Day – Mt. Gideon
Blair had been shaking his head for the last thirty minutes. Each time Sid carried a box loaded with animal pelts to his truck, Blair shook his head and muttered, "Can you imagine how many of those pelts came from endangered animals? Jeez, what are these people thinking?" He glanced at Jim. "What are we waiting for, man?"
"For him to load the truck for us," Jim grunted. "Which he’s just about completed." He gently spoke into the radio receiver clipped to his jacket lapel, "All units. Be prepared to move on my signal." He narrowed his vision to stare though the cabin’s front windows. "Be advised this idiot’s got an arsenal in that cabin. Go on my signal only." Looking at Blair, he gently pushed the younger man further behind the boulder concealing them. "We’ll take him on his next trip out. I want him away from those weapons." He winced when his receiver crackled.
"Ellison, we’ve got a vehicle coming in. Chevy 4×4. Dark blue. Washington plates."
"Got it, H," Jim answered. "All units. Stand by." He tapped Blair’s shoulder. "Company, Chief."
"Not the Sheriff’s people moving in early?" Blair frowned.
Jim shook his head. "New player."
Hearing the vehicle, Sid picked up a loaded rifle and stood by the door. As the Chevy drove into the driveway, he aimed the rifle at the vehicle.
"Hey, easy, Sid. It’s just us. We’re supposed to be here, remember?" A young man with dirty blonde hair slowly exited the vehicle, hands raised to his shoulders.
"Deal’s off," Sid snapped, slowly lowering the rifle.
"What do you mean?" A dark-haired woman got out from the passenger side of the Chevy. "We had a deal!"
"My partner got killed by a bear," Sid quickly explained as he shut the side door of his truck. "Some fishermen found him. I’m getting outta here before the cops show." He glared at his visitors. "If you’ve got any sense, you’ll do the same."
"Sorry about your partner," the woman shrugged. "But a deal’s a deal." She reached back into the Chevy, ignoring Sid when he raised the rifle in her direction. "We brought the cash." Bringing out a small duffel bag, she unzipped it. "All $10,000." She briefly smiled at Sid’s expression. "You’re gonna need some traveling money. So show us what you’ve got."
Sid lowered the weapon. "Fine. But we do it fast."
"All units. We’ve got a deal going down," Jim softly radioed. "Be prepared to move in." He pointed his finger at Blair. "Stay here."
Blair mouthed, "stay here", and rolled his eyes.
Sid opened the back of his truck and pulled out a box. Opening it, he motioned for his visitors to look inside. "Everything’s in there. Elk horns. Bear paws. Gall bladders. Everything your little hearts could desire."
The man carefully took one of the items in the box and closely examined it. He briefly nodded to the woman at his side. She silently handed the duffel bag of money to Sid.
"Nobody move! Cascade PD!"
Heads swiveled as Jim and other officers appeared from the nearby trees.
The woman slammed her hand against the side of the truck. "You must be kidding!"
"You’re under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak with an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as I’ve explained them to you?" Jim’s eyes barely flickered as officers handcuffed Sid and the unknown man.
"You moron!" the woman yelled. She looked around. "Who’s in charge here?"
"That would be me," Jim half-smiled as he saw Henri Brown handcuff her. He lowered his weapon as Blair trotted to join them.
"I want your name and badge number!" the woman demanded as officers pulled her away.
"James Ellison. Badge number 733," Jim answered as he holstered his gun. "If you’re going to send gifts, I prefer roses and Godiva chocolates." He glanced at the smirking Henri Brown. "H, would you please escort Her Majesty?"
"My pleasure." Henri tugged on the woman’s arm. "Henri Brown. Badge number 904. I prefer wildflowers and strawberries."
Major Crimes Bullpen
Jim eyed the bags of animal parts that lay on his desk. Even as he approached, he began sneezing.
Blair looked up from where he was busily labeling the bags. "Bless you." He frowned. "You must be allergic to something they used in these bags."
Jim grunted blew his nose.
"You know, we haven’t done anything about testing you for allergies." Blair absently tapped the point of his pen on the desk. "Did you have any allergic reactions when you were a kid?"
"Constantly," Jim snapped.
"Really? To what?" Blair moved bags around, looking for a clean sheet of paper.
"Life in general," Jim answered. "You going to be much longer with those bags, Sandburg? I’d like to get my desk back sometime this year."
"Jim! I’m serious!" Blair tossed his pen onto the desk.
"So am I, Sandburg," Jim assured him. "So am I."
"Ellison!" Simon stood in the doorway of his office. "I wonder if you would join me? It seems there’s a problem with your bust."
"No way!" Blair exclaimed. He slammed both hands onto the desk and stood up. "That jerk was caught red-handed! He was selling…they were buying…it…" He took a deep breath. "It was a great bust, Simon."
Simon’s eyebrows rose in surprise.
Jim’s blue eyes twinkled as he looked at his captain. "What he said, sir."
"Get in here!" Simon barked. He waited until Jim and Blair had entered his office before closing the door behind them.
Jim’s eyes narrowed as he recognized the man and woman arrested with Polk. The woman angrily glared at him as she folded her arms over her chest. The man casually leaned against the window.
"Gentlemen, I’d like you to meet Elaine Walters and Frank Rafferty," Simon quietly spoke. "They’re game wardens with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. They were working undercover on a poaching investigation. And your bust just blew their case."
"Do you have any idea how long we spent setting up Polk and Marshall?!" Elaine angrily demanded. "Months! And in ten seconds, you blew the whole deal."
"Now wait a minute…" Jim began.
"Save it, Detective!" Elaine sneered the title. "I don’t want to hear your excuses!"
Blair’s eyes widened in surprise. He looked at Simon, waiting for him to interfere. Simon, however, went to sit behind his desk.
"For your information, Agent Walters," Jim angrily replied. "Those guys had enough automatic weapons to provision a small army. I didn’t feel like playing inter-departmental tag."
Frank gently nudged Elaine’s arm. "Take it easy, okay? They were doing their job. They had no way of knowing we’re the good guys." He shrugged when she glared at him. "You’d ‘ve done the same."
Elaine took a deep breath to calm down. "Does the name ‘Ho Ng’ mean anything to you?"
"Ng is involved?" Simon snapped.
"We think he’s the man who’s actually buying from Marshall and Polk," Frank explained.
"Now maybe you can appreciate how important this case is to us," Elaine irritably added.
"Who’s Ho Ng?" Blair asked in confusion.
"He’s a high level operator from Asia," Simon explained as he chewed on the end of his cigar. "Drugs, arms smuggling, illegal aliens." He leaned back in his chair. "No one’s ever been able to touch him."
"Isn’t poaching a little beneath Ng?" Jim asked.
Frank slowly smiled. "He’s not in it for the profits. He turns the animal parts into powders and medicines. Ng uses them…religiously."
"And we were close to having him," Elaine interrupted. "Poaching is number 3 on the most profitable crime list after drugs and arms smuggling. Each year $20 billion dollars changes hands. Every day another species is one step closer to extinction."
Simon leaned forward. "If Ng is involved, that’s all the more reason for us to work together." He almost smiled at the identical glares from both Jim and Elaine. He held up a warning hand. "I don’t want to hear it. The poaching angle is the best chance we’ve got, and you need us to get back inside." He reached for his phone. "I’ll clear it with the chief and talk with your superiors over at Fish and Wildlife. We’ll get the details worked out." He pointedly looked at Jim and Elaine. "I suggest you two do the same." He waited as the two investigators exchanged wary looks. "Some place other than my office, if you don’t mind."
Jim abruptly nodded. "Let’s go, Chief." He nudged Blair to go ahead of him and didn’t look back to see if anyone followed. "Forensics has checked out Polk’s cabin. I’d like to give it another look."
"I doubt if he left anything lying around," Elaine shook her head. "Our best bet is to contact some of my informants."
Blair lightly touched Jim on the arm.
Jim counted to ten. "Tell you what. You follow your instincts, and I’ll follow mine."
Elaine nodded. "Sounds good. If any of us find anything…"
"We’ll share the information," Jim smoothly ended the sentence.
Frank smirked at Blair, then smoothed out his expression when Elaine glanced at him. "We’ll be in contact," Frank added.
Jim watched as they left. When the elevator door closed behind him, he looked over his shoulder to see Blair starting to label bags again. "How long, Chief?" he demanded.
"Not long. I’m almost done." Blair grinned. "So what do you think of our two Feds?"
Jim shrugged. "Rafferty’s not so bad, but Walters is going to be a pain in the…" He turned away as he sneezed.
"I think there’s an attraction between you two." Blair smirked as he quickly labeled another bag.
"Nah." Jim shook his head. "Rafferty’s not my type."
"I meant Walters. Elaine Walters." Blair snorted. "Yep, I think there’s a definite attraction between you two."
"And I think you’ve been hitting the peyote again." Jim grimaced.
"It’s inevitable." Blair shook his head. "You guys are too much alike."
"You’re forgetting your physics, Chief." Jim rubbed his nose. "Opposites attract. Likes repel." He shrugged. "Trust me on this one. I’m repelled."
Blair labeled the last bag and tossed the pen onto the desk. "Whatever." He grinned.
Jim pulled to a stop at the end of the road.
"Why are we stopping here?" Blair asked, looking around.
"There’s a black car parked in front of the cabin," Jim grimly answered. "I caught a glimpse of it through the trees." He checked his weapon. "Don’t slam the door," he warned.
As they cut through the trees towards the cabin, Jim motioned for Blair to stay behind him. He kept his eyes on the cabin, narrowing his vision to the window. Suddenly, he shoved Blair towards the thicker part of the trees. As Blair stumbled, he heard the sound of a bullet hitting the ground behind him.
Making sure Blair was unhurt Jim faced the cabin. Knowing there was no back door, he shouted, "Cascade PD! Come out with your hands up!"
The man in the cabin threw the front door open and began firing.
Blair winced as the automatic weapon sent bullets flying in their direction. Jim hit the ground next to him, then sighted his weapon. As the man ran towards his car, Jim fired. When the man fell to the ground, Jim got to his feet and ran forward.
Jim kicked the man’s gun away, then knelt next to him. "Damn," he muttered. He looked up as Blair joined him. "He’s dead."
Major Crimes – Simon’s Office
"Anything on your dead body?" Simon asked as he looked up from the mass of open files on his desk.
"Not a thing," Jim admitted. "The only thing we found on his body was a phone number for a Chinese herbal shop."
"Tong Fong Low," Blair added. "In Chinatown."
"We checked out Polk’s phone records, and he called that number on a regular basis," Jim continued.
"A Chinese herbal store would be a great cover for smuggling poached contraband," Simon speculated. He sighed. "Be sure to share this information with our friends over at Fish and Wildlife."
"Of course, sir." Jim nodded.
Simon shook his head. "Is that a promise?"
"Cross my heart." Jim solemnly nodded a second time.
Simon chuckled when Blair snickered just before the door closed behind them.
"You know anything about Chinese herbs, Chief?" Jim asked as they headed towards the elevator.
They were surprised when the elevator door opened to reveal Elaine and Frank.
"Just who we’re to see." Elaine smirked. "We’ve found the pipeline for the contraband."
"A Chinese herbal stop," Jim calmly interrupted. "Tong Fong Low."
Elaine’s eyes narrowed. "How did you know that?"
"It’s what detectives do. We detect," Jim answered as he crossed his arms across his chest. "What we need to do is figure out to make contact." His eyes narrowed. "If I was dealing in contraband, what’s the rarest and most expensive item I could sell?"
Frank shrugged. "A narwhal tusk."
Blair softly whistled. "Those tusks can grow up to about 8 feet long." He widely grinned. "Yeah, that would be worth its weight in gold."
Jim smiled at his partner, then pulled out his cell phone.
"It has other special properties," Blair continued in his ‘lecture’ voice. "They’re also called unicorns of the sea."
Jim held up his hand for silence. "Tell your boss if he wants a steady supply of narwhal tusks to dial 555-4563." Then he quickly disconnected the call.
"What makes you think we can get you a narwhal tusk?" Elaine demanded, hands on her hips.
Jim raised his eyebrows in silent challenge. "You mean you can’t?"
Blair and Frank looked at each other and simultaneously rolled their eyes.
"Come on in," Blair invited as he opened the door. "We’re making dinner."
Elaine carefully laid a wrapped bundle on the couch. Frank looked around the loft and nodded in silent appreciation.
Jim, wearing a green apron with flowers, walked over to the couch and watched as Elaine unwrapped the bundle. Blair, having locked the door, joined them.
"Here’s your narwhal tusk," Elaine pronounced. "I got it from our confiscation warehouse."
"Wow," Blair murmured his eyes wide.
"Worth about six grand," Frank added.
"You’ve got to be kidding me," Jim snorted. "For a piece of bone."
"Well, it’s reputed to be an aphrodisiac." Blair grinned.
"Is that a fact?" Jim shook his head. "Do me a favor, Rafferty. Keep it away from the kid. He’s liable to want to do a field test."
"Ha-ha, Jim," Blair grunted. "Don’t quit your day job, man."
Elaine followed Jim back into the kitchen. She watched as he checked one pot, then began to stir spaghetti sauce in another pot.
"This is a waste of time," Elaine decided. "It takes months to set up a sting like this."
"Maybe." Jim shrugged. "If so, we enjoy the evening and have a nice meal." He carefully ignored the woman’s glare. "But it’s been my experience that if you offer something the other guy wants, it doesn’t take that long to get a bite."
Blair watched as Rafferty carefully rewrapped the tusk. "How did you become a Fed? No offense, but you don’t look the type."
"I started out as a poacher," Frank explained.
Blair laughed. "Good one, man."
Frank slowly smiled. "I’m serious. It was the family business. I was 17 when my Dad and I bought some contraband from this biker gang. All of a sudden, they pull out more weapons than a commando unit. I figured we were dead, but the Feds showed up and busted every last one of us. That’s when I realized I was working the wrong side of the fence."
Elaine waved a hand at the simmering pots. "You didn’t have to go to all this trouble. We could have gotten something to eat at the station."
"Obviously, you haven’t tasted our station cuisine," Jim chuckled. "And if they do call, the last thing we need is some perp yelling in the background for his lawyer."
Elaine silently nodded in agreement. She watched as Jim took a spoon, dipped it in the sauce, and held it out to her.
"Go ahead…taste," he invited.
Elaine slowly tasted. Then she slowly nodded and handed back the spoon. "Not bad. Needs oregano."
"It’s got oregano," Jim defended.
"I like oregano." Elaine found the jar of oregano on the counter and handed it to Jim. "See? Inter-Agency cooperation."
Jim watched as she walked away. "Figures. She would be a woman to always want more." He firmly set the jar of oregano aside. Then he looked up to see Blair leaning against the island with a grin.
"You know, if you didn’t like her, you would’ve just sent out for something," Blair quietly pointed out.
"Why don’t you make yourself useful and get me a bay leaf," Jim growled.
"Maybe you should put the tusk in the pot," Blair chuckled.
"Maybe I should put you in the pot," Jim retorted.
Blair snickered as he walked over to the spice rack. Just then, Jim’s cell phone rang. Jim grabbed it just as Elaine reached for it. Jim turned to face Blair who had taken the sauce off the stove.
"Yeah," Jim curtly answered. "Yeah, I’m the man you want. I can get you anything you need." He listened, ignoring Elaine’s attempts to get closer to the phone. "We’ll be there." He heard the click as the call was disconnected.
"They took the bait?" Blair asked. When Jim nodded, he laughed. "Yes! They took the bait!" He put the pot back on the stove and began stirring. "Awesome, man!"
Jim smugly glanced at Elaine and set the phone to one side. "Move it, Sandburg, and get me that bay leaf."~~~~~ ACT III ~~~~~Warehouse District
"Somebody’s coming," Blair quietly spoke. He and Frank sat in the Volvo watching as Jim and Elaine waited at the end of the row of empty warehouses by the undercover car Simon had assigned Jim. He saw Rafferty nod in agreement as he watched through binoculars but knew Blair was talking to warn Jim.
Jim glanced to his left as the limousine turned the corner and approached them. The rear door opened.
Elaine confidently stepped forward, then got into the limo. Jim handed the wrapped tusk to her and got into the car as well.
Blair jiggled the keys in the ignition. "How far do we let them go before following?"
"We don’t," Frank answered. He opened a laptop and activated it. The monitor immediately read ‘FBI Global Tracking System.’
"What?!" Blair angrily shouted. "What are you doing? Jim said no transmitters. What if the detectors are found?"
"Calm down," Frank soothed. "We borrowed this from the FBI. It’s state-of-the-art and undetectable. Just give them a little head start."
"This had better work," Blair grumbled. He watched as a red blip slowly moved across the monitor screen.
Elaine glanced into the front of the limo where two men sat. "Here we go," she murmured.
"Looks like we’re taking the scenic route." Jim frowned. "They’re being really careful." He narrowed his vision but was only able to see the passenger in the front of the limo moving his hands across the keys of a laptop.
Blair glanced from the empty street to Frank. "What do you mean ‘uh-oh’?" He slammed on the brakes. "I don’t want to hear an ‘uh-oh!’ I want to hear you know where my partner is!"
Frank shook the laptop. "They must have jammed the signal," he grunted.
"I thought you said that thing was undetectable?!" Blair yelled.
"Can we find them?" Frank worriedly asked.
"Do you see them?!" Blair slammed his hand against the steering wheel. "Wonderful piece of software you’ve got there!"
Jim glanced out the floor-to-ceiling windows. For a few moments, he remembered the last time he’d been in the skyscraper. Blair still wasn’t comfortable riding in elevators in buildings over 10 stories. To be truthful, he hadn’t been all that comfortable himself during the elevator ride to the office on the 45th floor.
Reminding himself to stay focused, he narrowed his vision but didn’t see Blair’s car on the street. *Okay. We’re on our own here.* He turned around to see Elaine sitting on a couch, the wrapped tusk lying beside her.
The two men who had driven them to office building were quietly speaking with an Asian man who looked to be in his mid-thirties. Jim carefully watched the man approach and decided the man had most likely been seriously trained in the martial arts.
"We have a problem," the Asian man began. "One of you is wearing a transmitter."
"Now why would we be so stupid?" Jim carefully asked.
"The signal’s been jammed," the Asian man continued. "No one’s coming your rescue. So give me the transmitter, or I’ll have my men find it."
Jim held out his hands to either side. "Be my guest."
"Her first," the Asian man pointed at Elaine.
Elaine sighed and pulled a transmitter from her collar. "Here."
The Asian man took it. After studying it for a moment, he handed it to the limousine driver. He took it into the next room. Seconds later he heard something heavy being slammed onto the transmitter.
"I think you’d better leave," the Asian man decided. "I don’t deal with the police."
"We’re…" Elaine began.
"That tusk is worth six grand easy," Jim interrupted. "That’s an awful lot of trust for somebody we don’t know. That transmitter was an insurance policy. I’m sure you can understand our concern."
The Asian man stared at Jim for several moments. "All warfare is based on deception."
"The valiant fight. The cautious defend. The wise counsel," Jim replied.
The Asian man smiled. "You know Sun Tzu." He slowly nodded. "But that still doesn’t mean I can trust you."
"Have you done business in Tacoma with Keith Rourke?" Elaine asked.
The Asian man barely looked at her and shrugged.
"Call him," Elaine proposed. "He’ll vouch for us."
The Asian man walked over to the couch and unwrapped the tusk. "This is very good," he admitted. "If I decide to do business, I’ll be in touch, Mr…."
"Tanner," Jim answered. "Jim Tanner. Mr…"
"Woo. Tommy Woo."
Elaine’s eyes narrowed. "And I’m Elaine."
Again Woo ignored Elaine. "Should we make an arrangement, I’ll deal with you." He stared at Jim.
"That won’t work," Elaine countered. "We’re not just partners. We’re married. So either you deal with both of us or not at all." She smiled at Jim as she took his arm. "Isn’t that right, darling?"
Jim looked at Woo and half-smiled. "Right."
"My men will take you back to your car." Woo nodded at his men.
As they started to leave, Jim saw someone through the crack in the door to the other room. The figure stepped back out of sight.
Silently, Woo’s men led them towards the elevator. Waiting for the elevator car, Jim turned slightly away and extended his hearing back into the office.
"You should have killed them." the man Jim had glimpsed stepped into the room.
"I’ll have them checked out, Mr. Ng," Woo decided. "If they’re real, I can use the narwhal supply."
"You take too many chances." Ng shook his head. "I don’t like that."
"There is no profit without risk," Woo commented. "My car is downstairs. Would you like to join me for an early lunch?"
Ng walked closer to Woo. "One of my men was killed."
"What happened?" Woo asked in surprise.
"I sent him to pay Marshall a visit…to see what the problem was with his supplies," Ng explained. "He phoned to say he found an empty cabin sealed by the police. The next thing I know, he’s dead in a shootout with two cops." He stared into Woo’s eyes. "What makes you think this man and woman aren’t setting you up?"
"I’m going to check them out," Woo repeated. "Rourke’s reliable. We can trust his word." He looked over his shoulder as two of Ng’s men came closer. They suddenly grabbed him. "What’s going on?" he demanded.
Ng took out a switchblade and cut Woo’s right ear. "You’re swimming with sharks, Tommy. Be careful you don’t become their lunch." He smiled as he put the switchblade away. "Swim carefully, my friend."
Jim felt Elaine jerking on his arm. Startled, he turned around to see the elevator door open.
"Let’s go," Elaine brusquely ordered. "We have things to do."
"And conversations to have," Jim promised. "Darling."
They both sighed with relief when Woo’s limousine dropped them off at the warehouse district. Jim quickly unlocked the car and found a small piece of paper lying on the driver’s seat.
"What is it?" Elaine asked.
Jim smiled as he looked at the paper with it’s one initial, ‘L.’ He crumpled the paper and tossed it to the floorboard. "Message from Sandburg. We’re to meet them at the loft."
Elaine got into the car and picked up the paper. Reading it, she scowled. "How can you…"
"We’ll talk at the loft," Jim interrupted. He gunned the engine and put the car into gear.
"Jim! Oh man, you okay?" Blair demanded as soon as Jim walked into the loft.
"We’re fine." Jim glared at Elaine as he slammed the door shut. "No thanks to our partners."
"Okay, sorry about the transmitter. I didn’t think it would be a problem," Elaine explained.
"Really? That seems to be a major problem," Jim snapped. "You don’t think! We had backup! We didn’t need a transmitter." He took a deep breath. "And what were you thinking telling Woo we’re married?"
"Married?" Both Blair and Frank looked at their partners in surprise. Frank shook his head and sat down on the couch.
"I didn’t want Woo pushing me out of the game," Elaine defended her actions.
"This isn’t a game!" Jim yelled. "And the only person pushing was you!"
"And what was that little display of Eastern wisdom?" Elaine angrily demanded. "Some sort of boys’ club code?!"
"Hey-hey-hey." Blair physically got between Jim and Elaine. "All that’s water under the bridge, right? As long as Woo bought the act. That’s the important thing, right?"
"What’s known about Woo?" Jim asked after a moment.
Rafferty looked up from where he sat on the couch. The glow of the laptop monitor reflected in his pale eyes. "The FBI said he runs a legitimate export business, but they suspect he has ties with Ng."
"He’s connected with Woo," Jim agreed. He walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. "Ng was there."
"I didn’t see him," Elaine flatly denied.
"He was in the other room," Jim explained. "I caught a glimpse of him." He leaned against the counter as Blair opened the refrigerator door. "Ng wanted us dead. Woo decided to check us out," Jim murmured to his partner. When Blair nodded, he looked back at Elaine. "Who’s Keith Rourke?"
"He’s the biggest poacher in the Tacoma area," Elaine explained. "We busted him then turned him. He works for us as an informant."
"If Woo calls him, Rourke will back you," Frank assured them.
"We’ll need a major haul of contraband," Blair pointed out.
"We can supply that." Frank smiled.
Elaine crossed her arms across her chest. "So far, we’ve supplied the informants and the bait. What exactly has been your contribution?"
"First, we didn’t need your informants," Jim quickly replied. "Second…Woo prefers to deal with me. Not you."
Blair looked from Jim to Elaine then back to Jim. Then he grinned at Frank. "So…you got any games on that laptop?"
Next Day – Simon’s Office
"Woo wants to meet us at the Navy Street Marina at 4pm with the merchandise," Jim reported. Elaine stood with him in front of Simon’s desk. Blair lounged against the desk despite Simon’s glare.
"This time I want full-scale surveillance," Simon grunted.
"Negative, sir." Jim shook his head. "We don’t want to spook him." He glanced at Elaine. "We’ve already had one problem in that area."
Elaine ignored Jim. "We need Woo to lead us to Ng."
Simon leaned back in his chair. "Ng’s involvement elevates this to another level. If things go wrong, I want the option to take Woo down."
"Captain, if we bust Woo, Ng will just find another supplier," Jim stressed. "We have a chance to catch one of the big fish."
Simon frowned. "Where’s your partner, Walters?"
"Rafferty’s getting the merchandise together," she answered. "We’ll be ready."
"I don’t like it," Simon grunted. "But…it’s your call, Jim."
Navy Street Marina
"Welcome to the ‘Island Commander,’" Woo greeted.
"This is yours?" Elaine asked as she and Jim walked up the gangplank. She looked around in appreciation.
"More or less," Woo admitted. "I use it for business." He glanced down to where Blair and Frank were showing the contraband in the back of the truck to two of his men. "Rourke tells me your merchandise is first-rate. More importantly, he tells me you can be trusted." He saw one of his men nod in his direction. Woo turned and shouted something in Cantonese to his crew.
One of the men with Blair and Frank shoved a file folder against Blair’s chest.
As Blair automatically grabbed it, both men ran up the gangplank. Members of Woo’s crew began to cast off.
"Hey! Hey!" Blair shouted.
"What’s going on?" Jim demanded.
"It’s better to do our business in a more secure location," Woo calmly answered.
"What about the merchandise?" Elaine demanded. She looked back to the docks.
"Your people were given instructions," Woo answered. "They will proceed to a boat and join us."
"That’s not part of the plan," Jim protested.
"You object?" Woo quietly asked.
Jim took a deep breath and met Woo’s gaze. "An eventful journey crosses many paths."
Woo smiled. "I’ve been assured the voyage will be a calm one. Allow me to show you around."~~~~~ ACT IV ~~~~~Navy Street Marina
"We’ve been told where to get the boat and been given instructions to head north then wait for further instructions," Blair quickly spoke into the cell phone.
"No way, Sandburg," Simon snapped. "I’m not sending you two out there without proper backup."
"Jim and Elaine are already out there without backup, Simon," Blair argued. "We don’t have any choice. If we don’t deliver, Jim and Elaine are dead."
"I’m going," Frank growled.
"You listen to me, Sandburg," Simon ordered. "The Coast Guard has a cutter and helicopter standing by. They’ll stay within 15 minutes of your location. Any sign of trouble, you let us know. Use frequency 137.6. That’s a special Coast Guard frequency, so you stay in touch!"
"Gotcha," Blair answered.
"Here we go," Frank said as he brought the truck to a stop. Just like their instructions had promised, they found keys to a small boat and instructions for their journey.
Aboard the ‘Island Commander’
"I hope you enjoy your dinner." Woo smiled at the look of surprise on Elaine and Jim’s faces as they saw the formal dining room. "I have had a very special dinner prepared for you. Bear paw soup. Baked rock cod. Sea cucumber. All local delicacies."
"It looks delicious," Elaine quickly assured him.
Jim silently thanked his time in the Peruvian jungle that taught him to eat whatever was put in front of him.
"I feel underdressed," Elaine admitted as Woo helped her sit.
"Nonsense," Woo assured her. "Please. Try the heron eggs. They’re very good." He sat at the head of the table and smiled at Jim. "I’m surprised a poacher would know Sun Tzu."
"You’re a smuggler and you know him," Jim easily replied. He bit into one of the eggs. "Very good."
"Have you ever read Miyamoto Musashi?" Woo curiously asked.
"The Five Ways of Strategy." Jim nodded, interested despite himself. "I’ve found the teachings very informative. Ground. Water. Wind. Fire. Void."
"Have you mastered them?" Woo asked.
"Any man who claims to have mastered them has mastered nothing." Jim saw Woo’s smile as he turned to Elaine. "Sun Tzu and Musashi wrote about the philosophy of war."
"To Sun Tzu, life was war," Woo added. "One was either in battle or training for battle. Miyamoto believed the way of the warrior is acceptance of death in the cause of duty."
"The true warrior does not die killing," Jim remarked as he sipped his wine.
"Gandhi." Woo identified. "You don’t seem like a man who practices nonviolence."
"Life has taught me to be a pragmatist," Jim admitted. "In my heart, I’m an idealist."
"Patton." Woo smiled with enjoyment.
"I’ve got a favorite quote, too," Elaine spoke up. "As Coco Chanel once said, ‘As long as you know that most men are like children, you know everything.’"
Jim and Woo exchanged smiles.
"Of course," Woo nodded.
"Have some eggs, darling," Jim offered.
Somewhere At Sea
"It’s getting dark, and they haven’t called," Blair complained. He felt open and exposed in the small boat as it cut through the cold waters of the Pacific. "How long until we’re in Canadian waters?"
"About an hour," Frank answered after checking the chart. He kept a firm grip on the steering wheel. "That’s if we head straight north. I’ve been looking at the coordinates. We’ll be out of Coast Guard jurisdiction."Blair was worried. "Maybe I should call them."
"No way!" Frank yelled. "They’ll just want to pull us in!"
Blair sighed. "Yeah. You’re right."
Aboard the ‘Island Commander’
"Here’s your room." Woo tapped the door of a stateroom. "It’s modest but comfortable. I’ll see you in the morning."
"Thank you." Jim smiled.
Elaine waited until Woo was out of sight. "Morning? Why are we going out so far?" she murmured.
Jim shrugged. "Probably being cautious."
Elaine opened the door and stopped in surprise.
Glancing past her, Jim saw the one bed.
Elaine sighed and stepped into the room. "Well, he believes we’re married," she admitted.
"Help yourself," Jim offered as he shut the door behind them.
"Don’t get chivalric on me," Elaine shook her head. "Got a coin? I’ll flip you for it."
Jim sighed and pulled out a quarter. "Call it," he said as he flipped it in the air.
They watched as the coin fell to the deck, bounced twice, then rolled to a stop.
Elaine looked at the coin then at Jim. "Two out of three?"
Somewhere At Sea
Both Blair and Frank jumped in surprise when a cell phone began ringing. Frank immediately cut the engines while Blair searched. He found the cell phone in a compartment next to the emergency flares.
"Hello?" Blair answered, looking at Frank.
"Enjoying your cruise?" Woo asked.
"We’re just about to start the shuffleboard tournament," Blair answered.
"There’s a small island 60 kilometers north of your position…assuming you’ve followed my directions," Woo advised. "You should see it on the chart. Sackett’s Island."
"Sackett’s Island," Blair repeated.
Frank reached for the chart and turned on his flashlight. After a few moments, he nodded to Blair.
"Yeah, we got it," Blair said.
"It should take you most of the night to get there. You’ll find fuel there to continue the journey," Woo judged. "You’ll also find further directions." He disconnected the call.
Blair irritably put the cell phone back in the compartment. "I’m going to call the Coast Guard and Simon."
Frank pulled a gun. "No, you’re not."
"What are you doing?" Blair demanded.
"Don’t look so surprised." Frank half-smiled. "There’s over a half-million in goods under this tarp. You know how long it would take to get that on a government salary?"
"You had this planned all along?" Blair guessed.
Frank nodded. "Just waiting like a wolf on a rabbit hole."
"Look, we’ve gotta deliver this to Woo," Blair argued. "Jim and Elaine are dead if we don’t."
"That’s what I’m counting on," Frank admitted. "With the three of you gone and me on some tropical island, everyone will figure Woo wasted all of us."
Blair backed up against the side of the boat. Hand behind him, he fumbled with the compartment door. As his fingers touched the flair gun, he saw Frank aim the gun at this head.
"Sorry about this, man," Frank apologized.
Blair flung the flair gun at Frank, who automatically ducked. The young anthropologist threw himself at Frank, knocking them both to the deck, Blair on top of Frank. Both guns slid in opposite directions. .
Blair planted his knee in Frank’s stomach, then the anthropologist stumbled to his feet. Throwing himself across the deck, he grabbed Frank’s gun. Falling on his back, he aimed the gun at Frank, who was reaching for the flair gun. "Freeze!" he yelled.
Frank looked over his shoulder, then slowly reached for the gun.
"Don’t do it, man!" Blair yelled. He took a deep breath when Frank hesitated. "I mean it. If it’s a choice between you and my partner…he wins." When Frank glanced again at the flair gun, Blair added. "Don’t be stupid. I can’t miss at this range. And shooting you would put me one ahead of John Wesley Hardin."
Aboard the ‘Island Commander’
"Comfortable down there?"
Elaine grimaced as she glared up at the man lying in the bed. "Oh, yeah. I’m in one of my favorite positions. Good thing, too, because I can’t move into any other position."
"You want to switch?" Jim raised himself up on one elbow and looked down at her. "I don’t mind."
"Forget it," Elaine flatly refused. "You won the toss."
"You are stubborn," Jim mused. Lying down, he stared up at the ceiling. "Sandburg was right."
"About what?" Elaine asked. She twisted her head and stared out the porthole, glimpsing the full moon above them.
"We’re both used to being in control," Jim reflected. "That’s why we’re constantly at each other."
Elaine snorted. "You can call it wanting to be in control. I call it breaking into the ‘old boys’ network.’ Do you think I’d be where I am if I acted like Melanie Hamilton?" Not waiting for a reply, she added, "And I don’t think it’s necessary to get friendly and chummy with the guy I’m planning on arresting."
"See, that’s just the problem. You…" Jim suddenly sat up. "I smell smoke."
"I don’t smell anything," Elaine denied.
Jim got up from the bed and opened the door. "We’ve got smoke out here," he said over his shoulder.
Running down the hallway, he extended his hearing. Behind the closed door of the engine room, he heard someone struggling to breathe. He turned as Woo and another man ran down the hallway carrying fire extinguishers. "Is there any other way in there? Somebody’s trapped."
Woo shook his head, handing his fire extinguisher to a third man who had joined them. Elaine stood in the doorway, anxiously watching.
Jim and Woo glanced at each other, took deep breaths, then Woo opened the door and the two men entered the room.
"I can’t see anything!" Woo shouted as he coughed. "Too much smoke."
Forcing his vision to cut through the smoke, Jim spotted a man lying across the room on the floor. "Over there! He’s unconscious!"
Woo followed Jim as the sentinel led them through the smoke. As they each grabbed the unconscious man’s arms, Jim shouted, "He’s alive!"
Together they dragged the man into the narrow hallway. As soon as they were clear of the room, Woo’s men ran inside to fight the fire. An older Asian man with a medical bag met them in the hallway. He immediately put an oxygen mask over the unconscious man’s face. After a few moments, he nodded at Woo. "He is breathing without much difficulty. He will recover."
"You risked your life to save my engineer," Woo mused as the unconscious man was taken to the infirmary.
Jim shrugged. "He needed help."
Woo fixed his dark eyes on Jim’s face for several moments. Then he briefly inclined his head and turned back towards the engine room.
Elaine moved back into their quarters when Jim approached. "Fire out?" When Jim silently nodded, she grinned. "Never a dull moment, hmm?" She turned back to her pallet on the floor. "You sure know how to show a girl a good time."
Early Next Morning – Sackett’s Island
Blair held the gun on Frank as the man finished refueling the small boat. He glanced at the written directions he’d found with the fuel, then folded the paper and shoved it into the back pocket of his jeans.
"Okay, get over there." Blair motioned with the gun to a point about 20 yards away. "You’ll be fine until the Coast Guard gets here." He squinted in the faint light of the early morning’s false dawn.
"You think you can carry this off by yourself?" Frank asked. "They’re going to wonder where I am."
"Don’t worry about that," Blair assured him. He quickly got into the boat. "I’m real good at making up stories." He started the engine and quickly put it in reverse. Once he was clear of the island, he activated the radio and searched for the Coast Guard frequency.~~~~~~~~
Frank kicked the wet sand in disgust. "Son of a bitch!" he yelled. He watched until Blair’s boat disappeared into the pre-dawn darkness. Wrapping his jacket closer around himself, he began walking along the beach hoping to find some dry driftwood for a fire. About fifteen minutes later, he heard the engines of a larger boat approaching the island.
Aboard the ‘Island Commander’
Woo turned as Jim and Elaine joined him on the starboard deck. "Your partners are early," he noted. "I’m impressed with their navigating skills."
"I’m shocked," Jim muttered under his breath as he stared at the approaching boat. Unlike the others, at this point he could see Blair was the lone occupant.
As Blair maneuvered the small boat next to the ‘Island Commander,’ Elaine frowned. "Where’s Rafferty?" she yelled.
Blair cut the engines and allowed Woo’s men to secure the two boats together. "He got sick," he explained. "Remember that problem he had as a kid. Well, it flared up again. Hit him really bad."
Jim carefully watched as Blair climbed up the rope ladder to the deck of the ‘Island Commander.’ He silently checked his partner as the younger man boarded.
Blair smiled to reassure the older man. "So…you guys doing okay?"
Jim started to answer then looked to his left. "We’ve got company."
Jim and Elaine were both surprised to hear the bitterness in Woo’s voice. They exchanged quick looks.
"Let’s conclude our business with him quickly and get him off my ship," Woo decided.
It didn’t take long for Ng to personally inspect the contraband. Blair found himself fighting what he called a ‘creepy crawly’ feeling every time he looked at Ng. *Talk about carrying around bad karma.*
The older Asian man finally nodded in approval. "A good shipment. Excellent quality in fact. But then I would expect no less from undercover officers." He smiled as his men pulled their weapons and pointed them at Woo’s men.
"I believe you’ve made a mistake," Jim politely said.
"I know these people, Ho Ng," Woo calmly spoke. "I told you. I had them checked out. Keith Rourke…"
"Is a police informant," Ng curtly interrupted.
"That’s impossible," Woo shook his head.
"Not according to the man I found on Sackett’s Island." Ng smiled.
"He’s a liar who wanted to rip you off," Blair quickly interjected.
"He thought that piece of information would buy him his life. My intention was to take the merchandise at Sackett’s Island." He glared at Woo. "You take too many chances…trust too many people…the wrong people. Our association is at an end, Tommy." Then he coldly smiled. "Tommy Woo, meet Elaine Walters of the US Department of Fish and Wildlife, Detective James Ellison of the Cascade Police Department, and his partner, Blair Sandburg."
"What about my men?" Woo woodenly asked.
"They will be given the opportunity to join me…or stay with you. I don’t believe it will be much of a choice. Do you?" Ng coldly smiled.
Ng’s men herded them into the hold of the ship. Once there, Ng’s second-in-command ordered their hands and feet tied. Soon, members of Woo’s crew were brought down into the hold. Finally, Ng’s men left them, shutting the hatch on the roof.
Elaine sighed. "You know…this is going to rank right up there as one of the worst days of my life."
"Not that I’m in any rush, but why didn’t they kill us already?" Blair asked.
"Ng’s going to sink my ship," Tommy grimly guessed. "It’s too well known for him to keep it. As it is, we’ll have disappeared and no can prove we’ve even died."
"Elaine, I’ve got a knife in my boot." Jim tried to stretch out his legs in her direction. "Can you reach it?"
Elaine twisted around to reach for his foot.
Blair looked at Woo who was angrily staring at the closed hatch above his head. "I understand the money’s pretty good in poaching, but you’re killing endangered animals."
"Who cares?" Elaine grunted under her breath. She grinned as she pulled the knife from Jim’s boot. Gripping it firmly, she scooted closer to Jim and began sawing at the ropes.
"The medicines made from what I buy and sell are not just folk superstition," Woo explained. "In Asia, people really believe in them."
"But you can get the same ingredients or their equivalents from a lab," Blair protested.
"Those are not natural ingredients," Woo persisted. "They would not be a part of our tradition and beliefs. Westerners do not understand or respect our cultural beliefs."
"Oh, please," Elaine sarcastically muttered.
Jim pulled at the weakened ropes, freeing himself. He grabbed the knife and cut the ropes binding his feet. Then he began on Elaine’s bindings. "You shouldn’t mock the beliefs of others," he muttered.
"I’m not," Elaine angrily hissed in return. "I don’t think Woo believes in them. He’s in it for the money."
"I understand and respect those beliefs," Blair argued. "But when cultural beliefs start to threaten the ecosystem, don’t you think it’s time to change?"
"That is easy to say when it’s not your beliefs," Woo pointed out.
Elaine cursed under her breath when her hands were freed. "Just about cut off the circulation," she muttered. As Jim cut the ropes binding her feet, he glanced at Blair and Woo. "How about we continue this argument later?" He handed the knife to Elaine. "Get them loose." He grabbed her wrist. "All of them," he muttered. "If we start going down, they deserve a chance to survive." He ignored Elaine’s hissed protest as he began climbing the ladder.
Jim tried to open the hatch, but it failed to move. He glanced down at Woo. "If you have any suggestions, now’s the time to make them."
"There’s another way out," Woo admitted with a slight smile. He nodded in silent gratitude to Blair who had released him.
"And you didn’t think it was worth mentioning until now?" Elaine demanded.
Woo shrugged. "We were not free until now."
"Get the rest of the crew out of those ropes," Jim ordered as he climbed back down the ladder. Then he followed Tommy to the back of the room.
"There’s a passageway concealed in the bulkhead," Woo explained as he and Jim began moving barrels. "I had it put in to hide contraband." Together they removed two panels to reveal a small passageway.
"Where does it go?" Jim asked.
"To a hatch cover in the foredeck," Woo answered.
"Our only chance is to take them by surprise," Jim mused. He looked over his shoulder. "How many of your men here can you trust to do that quickly and silently?"
"Three," Woo answered after a moment’s consideration. He turned and hissed three names. The men stepped forward.
"Sandburg, give us five minutes then bang on that hatch," Jim ordered. "I’ll take out whoever comes over to check on you. Then we’ll put them down here for safe-keeping."
"Be careful." Blair nodded.
"I don’t think…" Elaine began.
"Either obey orders or stay here, Walters," Jim curtly interrupted. "Let’s go," he nodded at Woo.
Carefully, they made their way towards the deck. They watched as Ng’s men and some of Woo’s loaded the contraband on Ng’s boat.
Woo murmured to one of his men who nodded. He and the other two of Woo’s trusted men quietly walked down one passageway. "They will secure the engine room and control room," he muttered to Jim.
Jim nodded, then focused his hearing on Ng who was talking with his second-in-command.
"Set the timers for 30 minutes," Ng ordered. "Make sure there are enough explosives to completely destroy this ship. I want no traces." When the man nodded and turned away, Ng returned his attention to the transfer of contraband.
Jim jerked as he heard the shrill sound of metal hitting metal.
One of Ng’s men went to the hatch cover where Blair was banging. "Quiet!" he yelled at the hatchway.
Jim stealthily crept up behind the man. One quick blow to the man’s temple dropped him. As Jim caught the unconscious man, Elaine grabbed his gun. Woo unlocked the hatch cover and raised it.
Blair grinned up at Jim, then moved down the ladder so Jim could lower the unconscious man. Then Blair scrambled up the ladder.
"They’re going to blow the ship, Chief," Jim confided. "They’re setting timers. Find them."
"And then what?" Blair hissed.
"Dump ’em overboard if nothing else," Jim answered. "Disarm them if you can." *Explosives on an oilrig. Explosives in an elevator. Is it me or Sandburg that keeps us running into those damn things?*
"Hey, just because I got lucky on that rig…Jeez, where’s Joel when I need him?" Blair grumbled. He followed some of Woo’s men as they quietly spread out throughout the ship.
Jim knew their luck wouldn’t last…and it didn’t. Minutes later, one of Ng’s men saw Elaine and Woo taking down two of Ng’s men. Shouting an alarm, he fired his weapon at them.
"Damn it!" Elaine swore as she fired back.
Woo graceful ducked, spun, and kicked Ng’s man in the gut. Elaine spotted a man aiming at Jim and took him down with one shot.
Jim simply heaved one of Ng’s men overboard, wincing at the man’s shrill scream. He turned when two more of Ng’s men ran towards him. One of the men dropped to the deck when Elaine fired at him. He grabbed his left leg and screamed. Jim traded punches with the second man.
Elaine stiffened as she felt cold metal against her neck.
"That will be enough, Detective Ellison!"
Jim hesitated at Ng’s command. Glancing to his left, he saw Ng with a gun in his left hand to Elaine’s neck and a grenade in his right. Slowly he stood back from his opponent. "You can’t get away with this, Ng." He noted Elaine’s weapon lying several feet to the right from where she and Ng stood. ‘Woo! Where the hell is Woo?’
"I think so," Ng disagreed. He held up the grenade. "If I trigger this, we will all die. Are you prepared for that, Detective?"
"A warrior is always prepared for death."
Elaine shivered at Woo’s cold words. Barely a second later, she was thrown forward when Woo slammed the butt of a rifle against Ng’s head. She saw the grenade bounce twice on the deck. "NO!" she screamed. She quickly crawled over to where the grenade rested. Rising to her feet, she threw it towards the ocean. The grenade exploded, sending a wave of water onto the ship.
Ng’s men, seeing their leader lying unconscious, hesitated.
Woo pointed his weapon at them and ordered them to surrender.
Jim relaxed when the men slowly obeyed. Then he ran towards the bow of the boat when the engines on Ng’s boat came alive. He helplessly watched as the larger ship quickly moved away.
"We couldn’t find any more of the explosives," Blair breathlessly said as he joined him. He gently touched Jim’s arm. "I radioed the Coast Guard before I found you guys. Those guys won’t get away."
Jim grunted in disgust.
"Ellison!" Elaine yelled. "Think you can help me get Ng down in the hold?"
Blair snickered. "Think before you answer, Jim."
Sighing, Jim turned and walked back to where Elaine was standing over Ng who was regaining consciousness. Woo was exchanging comments with one of his men. He glanced at Jim when he reached down to help pull Ng to his feet. "I’m sure your associate has told you, but my men say they have found all the explosives."
"I guess we’ll find out in about 15 minutes," Elaine grunted.
"Come on," Jim grunted as he pulled Ng to his feet. "I suggest you tell us about the explosives, Ng. Since you stuck here with us."
Ng made a jerking movement with his right arm.
Jim heard a ‘clicking’ sound he immediately identified as a switchblade. He shoved Ng away to get room to maneuver. He saw the switchblade swing in his direction and braced himself even as he heard Blair’s yell of warning.
Woo calmly raised the rifle and shot Ng high in the left shoulder.
Ng stumbled backwards, losing his grip on the switchblade. He tried to stay on his feet, but he fell sideways, knocking Elaine to the deck.
Jim looked at Woo in surprise.
"A man of honor pays his debts," Woo serenely explained.
"Oh, man," Blair muttered, trying to catch his breath.
"However, as you said, Detective, I must be a pragmatist," Woo smiled. "Therefore…if you will raise your hands."
Elaine tried to scoot out from beneath Ng, who was loudly moaning.
"You can’t get away," Blair pointed out even as he raised his hands into the air. "I radioed the Coast Guard before I got here."
"Then you should have a short wait," Woo cheerfully admitted. "But you can have Ng. With my compliments."
Jim looked around as Woo’s men surrounded them, all holding weapons.
"My men will help you get Ng into the small boat your associate used," Woo explained. "Perhaps we can continue our philosophical discussion another time, Detective. I would enjoy it."
Ten minutes later, Jim, Blair, Elaine and a bleeding Ng sat in the small boat, watching as the ‘Island Commander’ rapidly moved through the ocean water towards the open sea.
Blair looked from Jim to Elaine. "At least we have Ng," he hesitantly pointed out. When they didn’t reply, he added, "And we didn’t get blown up."
Elaine glared at him then slammed her hand against the side of the boat. "I wanted Woo, as well."
Jim didn’t move, watching the ‘Island Commander’ until he could no longer see the ship.~~~~~ EPILOGUE ~~~~Major Crimes – Simon’s Office
Simon accepted the file of reports from Jim. "I heard from the Hong Kong police. They figure Woo’s on his way to Southeast Asia."
"Even a pirate’s got to pull into port every now and then. At least the Coast Guard intercepted Ng’s men," Jim casually remarked. "The best part is we can now say goodbye to Agent Walters." He smiled at Simon’s grunt and turned to leave the captain’s office.
The door opened and Blair entered. He nodded at Jim, then approached Simon. "I need a favor, Simon…uh, Captain."
"Is that a fact, Sandburg? And just what is the nature of this favor?" Simon leaned back in his chair.
"Before you have to return that narwhal tusk back to Fish and Wildlife, I was wondering if you’d let me take it to the lab and do some chemical analysis on it?" Blair bounced on his toes.
"What?! Get out of here, Sandburg!" Simon yelled. "I’ve got work to do!"
"But, Simon…. I mean, Captain…" Blair protested.
"Come on, Romeo." Jim grabbed his partner’s arm and pulled him from Simon’s office. Gently closing the door behind him, he shook his head. "Chemical analysis."
"Jim, most myths are based upon some sort of fact," Blair pointed out. "Can you imagine…"
"No. I don’t want to imagine." Jim held up his hands as he walked back to his desk. He stopped when he saw Elaine waiting for him.
Blair looked from one to the other, then walked away. "I knew there was something between them," he muttered under his breath.
"You know, we never did get a chance to finish that conversation we were having," she mentioned with a half-smile.
After a moment, Jim nodded. "No, we never did."
"Well, if you could get some time off, I know a place where the salmon runs so heavy, they’ll knock you off your feet," she offered.
"And here I thought I knew all the good fishing spots," Jim replied. "Where is it?"
"That’s privileged information," Elaine confided. "You’ll need a warden to guide you."
"Actually, the department owes me this Friday through Monday off," Jim admitted. "Problem is I don’t have a tent."
"Mine sleeps two." Elaine smiled. "I’ll pick you up at dawn."
"See you then." Jim grinned.
Blair sauntered over, sipping coffee from his cup. "I don’t have a tent," he grinned. "Ellison, you are so full of it."
Jim shrugged although his eyes were twinkling. "I just hope it’s not catch and release."The EndPlease remember to send feedback to our authors. Feedback can be sent to: [email protected]Next week’s episode: Inside Man by EJ Katz