By: Lyn Townsend
Written For PetFly by: Harold Apter
Internal thought in * *
~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~Jim Ellison thought this was going to be an easy-going basketball practice for a public service game to be played later that afternoon. Captain Simon Banks had told him the match would bring some much-needed positive publicity to the Cascade PD and at the same time, raise funds for charity. Jim hadn’t needed much convincing. He loved playing basketball, and playing against the Jags was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Now as he looked up into the glowering dark face of Archie Sloman, he was beginning to have second thoughts. The big Jags player had just knocked him roughly to the floor, in a fit of rage.
Jim pushed himself up and dusted off his hands. "I should run you in for assaulting an officer," he snarled. "Give you a ticket."
Sloman snorted derisively. "Man, you could cuff me and I’ll still outscore you."
Jim shot him an angry glare and strode across the court to Simon Banks’ side. The captain was also dressed in a dark blue jersey with the insignia of the Cascade PD on the front. Simon’s teenage son, Daryl, who’d been watching the game from the sidelines, approached both men and offered Jim a cup of water.
Jim took it and thanked the young man, then turned to his captain. "I thought this was supposed to be a friendly, public service game," the detective grouched, flashing another icy stare at the smirking Sloman.
Simon patted Daryl’s shoulder. "Why don’t you organize some drinks for the rest of the team, son? I’m sure they’d appreciate it." He waited until Daryl trotted off before turning back to Jim. "Don’t come to me for sympathy. You’re the one that turned it into a blood sport by betting them we’d stay within 20 points of the final score."
"Yeah, well," Jim disputed, "so far it’s only been my blood and this is just the practice."
"What’s up with you and Sloman anyway?" Simon asked, as he watched the silent, angry by-play between the two men.
"I don’t know." Jim shrugged. "Maybe he holds me responsible for Roshman’s death."
"Jim, Roshman was gunned down in cold blood. We did everything we could. Sometimes that’s just not enough. All the more reason for this game today, shows the public we’re human."
"Yeah." A flurry of activity and hurrying footsteps at the top of the stairs caught Jim’s attention. Sandburg had arrived, late as usual. The anthropologist bolted down the steep steps, almost losing his balance and tumbling the rest of the way in his haste. "Well, look who’s coming," the detective said, watching Blair’s hair fly out in all directions as he scurried onto the court. "The starting guard for the Woodstock All-Stars."
"Something going on with you two?" Simon frowned at the sarcastic comment.
Jim considered the question, finding it difficult to put into words the vague, uneasy tension that still existed between his partner and himself since Alex Barnes had come to Cascade and thrown their lives into turmoil. "No, not really. Just all that stuff with Alex and then we had some words over what should be included in his dissertation."
"I thought you got all that straightened out?"
"We did," Jim replied, watching Blair work his way through the Jags players, exchanging pleasantries and challenges, a wide grin creasing the anthropologist’s face. "I guess I still feel we’re dancing around each other a little. It’s still a little uncomfortable, that’s all. Every time he starts writing in that damn journal of his, I wonder how personal it’s going to get. Sometimes I feel like I’m under a microscope."
"He handled himself pretty well on the Ventriss case," Simon put in, "despite his personal involvement. He’s pulled you out of a couple of tight spots over the years and backed you up when I was ready to pull your badge, and his ride-along. Hell, he’s the most hands-on observer I’ve ever seen. Cut him some slack, Jim. It’s not that long ago, he was lying on the grass beside that damn fountain and we thought…."
"I know," Jim cut the police captain off brusquely with a wave of his hand, not wanting to revisit those memories. "We’ll work it out, sir." Preferring to change the subject and lighten the atmosphere, Jim hooked a thumb at Blair. "Check it out. Sandburg working the crowd." The two older men looked on with amusement as Blair greeted the other players.
"Hey, guys. How you been?" Blair asked, slapping the chest of one of the tallest team members. "What’s up, Tiny?"
Clyde Kenderson grinned and gave the anthropologist a high five. "Big guy! How you doing?"
Blair raised his arms above his head and waved them around. "I’m growing a couple inches," he replied.
Jim shook his head, but couldn’t stop the grin that split his face. "I feel like I’m watching an old Pauly Shore movie."
Blair moved on to Gus Ivers and eyed him critically. "You gaining weight?"
The player patted his stomach. "A little bit."
Blair’s eyes fixed next on a team member who was almost his own height. "Oh, yeah. I got you." He nodded appraisingly.
Wendell Petty glared at him. "Yeah, and I’ll post you up, too."
Blair smiled widely. "I’m looking forward to it." He turned then to the coach of the Jags team, dressed like his players in a white jersey and basketball shorts. "Coach, what’s up? Are you suiting up?"
The coach glowered at Sandburg with a look of annoyance that Jim wasn’t sure was genuine or not. Not everyone took to Blair’s particular brand of bouncy humor. Simon Banks was a good example. Simon had not accepted Sandburg easily at first. The captain had been impatient and sometimes downright unfriendly to the hyperactive young man. Watching him now, as Simon graced the civilian observer with a rare and tolerant smile, Jim knew the captain had come to like and respect Blair.
"Yeah, you got a problem with that?" Coach Brianski asked.
Blair held his hands up defensively. "No, I just hope you brought your game." He chuckled when the bigger man reached out and lightly cuffed the back of his head. Jim relaxed. Sandburg and his light-hearted attitude were well known here. Like he should be surprised. Ever since Blair had helped Jim out on a previous case where one of the Jags players had been implicated in a murder, the anthropologist had been an unofficial mascot for the team.
"Get out of here, you knucklehead," the coach growled.
Blair was still laughing when he joined Jim and Simon. "Hey, guys. Sorry I’m late. Had to finish a lecture. Changed in my car." He looked at Simon with a hopeful expression on his face. "So, uh, when am I going in, Coach?"
"Legally, Sandburg, you’re not even here."
"Yeah, it’s an insurance thing, Chief," Jim added.
Blair’s eyes widened. "What are you guys talking about? They’re going to be filming me. You both know that."
Jim shook his head. "They can’t, Chief."
Blair unashamedly pulled out his best plea-bargaining line. "Come on, guys, I’m out there every day getting shot at. I get kidnapped." It seemed to be working. Both Jim and Simon were staring intently at him. "I deserve to be in this charity game." He leaned closer, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Besides, I already told everybody."
"What’s her name?" Jim and Simon asked in unison.
"Jim, stop yanking the kid’s chain." Simon put Blair out of his misery. "Don’t worry, Sandburg, you’ll be playing. Just try not to get hurt, all right? I don’t need the insurance headache." He walked off to help Daryl with the drinks, still grinning at Sandburg’s act.
Blair tried for an innocent look, then gave up and smiled. He was going to play against the Jags; that would be something to impress the ladies.
"Excuse me, guys. I’m Richie Berman. I’m with the Jags. I’m just doing a little roll call for the film people." A young man dressed in sweat pants and a tee shirt and holding a clipboard strode up to them, holding out his hand.
Jim shook the young man’s hand. "Hi, Richie. I’m Jim Ellison."
Richie nodded enthusiastically. "We know you, Detective, after what you did for Orvelle last year."
Blair looked up at Richie, a frown replacing his smile. "Well, he did have a little help getting Orvelle out of that murder rap."
Jim nodded. "Yes, I did," he said agreeably. "I couldn’t have done it without you. This is my partner," Jim explained to Richie.
Richie looked at Blair. "And you are?"
Blair’s expression was grim. "Anonymous." He shot Jim an icy glare and strode toward the bench where Daryl was seated, muttering despondently. "Jeez, sometimes it’d be nice to get some recognition for what I do."
"Chief." Jim followed him, wanting to explain, irritation warring with compassion for Blair’s feelings.
That was the crux of the whole matter, Jim thought as Blair stomped off the court. Blair was only too willing to throw himself wholeheartedly into whatever crime Jim was investigating, often providing the clue they needed to solve the case, or guiding Jim to pick up things ordinary investigators had missed. His enthusiasm had almost…no, *had* gotten him killed, but when it came to writing the reports, he had to remain an unknown, simply an observer, because one out of place word in a case file could lead the commissioner or Internal Affairs to dig a little too deeply.
If questions were asked, Blair’s observer status would be at an end. Simon had managed to renew the anthropologist’s ride-along permit every ninety days for three years without raising any suspicion, but it would be crazy to wave Sandburg right under their noses.
Added to his worry Sandburg could be pulled at any time from Jim’s side was Jim’s own concern over just how public his personal life could become, despite Sandburg’s assurances that the subject of his study would remain anonymous.
Every case report had to be carefully thought out and written. Too many times, criminals had walked free from court because Jim was not able to divulge how he could see and hear what he had. The wrong phrase read by the wrong person would have the Commissioner breathing down both Jim and Simon’s necks. Jim had a very real fear that if his sentinel abilities became known, his police career would be at an end. Being a walking human crime lab had its advantages only if the enemy didn’t know about the ace up your sleeve.
Daryl Banks rolled his eyes and bit back an expletive. His announcement had not gone down as well as he’d thought it would. "Look, I can get into the Academy in six months when I turn 18," he explained to his father, trying for a placating tone even as he tapped a foot impatiently.
Simon shook his head. "And give up a full scholarship? Boy, have you lost your mind?"
Daryl sighed and cast around for inspiration. Blair was approaching. He appealed to the anthropologist. "Hey, Blair, help me out, man. My dad and I are arguing about what I should do with my life, and I want to know what you think."
Blair took in Simon’s stiff posture, then turned to Daryl. "Well, legally, I’m not here, but go ahead."
"All right, look," the teenager began. "Why should I go to college and study about some crap I don’t even care about, when I just want to be a cop like my dad?"
"There are better things for you to do with your life besides being a cop," Simon interjected quickly.
"Yeah, but it was good enough for you," Daryl replied. "Or are you trying to say that I’m not good enough?"
Simon looked down at his son. "Of course I’m not saying that. All I’m saying…." Simon stopped and rubbed at his forehead. "It’s dangerous work for not enough pay. Now, you get into a good school, you can write your own ticket."
Two uniformed police entered the arena and beckoned to Simon. The captain shook an admonishing finger at his son before going to speak to the officers. "I’m not finished here, all right?"
Blair touched Daryl’s shoulder. "If you feel passionate enough, I think you should do it, no matter who objects," he said, lowering his voice when Simon glared over his shoulder at him. "Just keep working on him. That’s what I’d do."
Blair turned away and studiously ignored Simon’s disapproval. The captain had obviously overheard his last piece of advice. He tried to concentrate on the game. Jim appeared to be having his own personality clash on court, if the shouting match and alpha-male bullying between Sloman and him was any indication.
Intending an attempt at peacemaking, Blair joined Simon at the top of the stairs just as the captain finished giving instructions to the officers.
"I want a task force unit formed right away to monitor this situation and I want updates every 15 minutes." Simon glanced quickly at Blair and turned back to his men. "With Kincaid on the loose, there will be something to report. I want to know about it before it happens."
He watched the men leave then turned back to Blair. "What do you want, Sandburg?" he asked peevishly.
Blair’s voice was soft. "Kincaid?"
Simon nodded, his eyes scanning the action on the basketball court, searching for Jim. "Yeah, he escaped from a prison work detail near the Oregon border. The guards were jumped by a group of his Sunrise Patriots. Come on let’s hurry up. We’ve got to cut this practice short." Simon ran back on court, waving his hand to gain Jim’s attention.
"One more play, Captain," Jim said as he ran back up the court with Sloman in hot pursuit. Simon slowed his pace and nodded.
Blair felt shivers go through him and his eyes searched the darkened upper stands of the arena apprehensively. He knew he was being foolish. There was no reason for Kincaid to come there. The terrorist would be seeking a way out of the country as fast as he could. Still, everything about the man and his band of terrorists epitomized terror and evil, and Blair still remembered the threats Kincaid had shouted at him the last time they’d crossed paths.
Garett Kincaid had taken over the Cascade PD a couple of years before. It had been Blair’s first day as an official police observer, and he’d managed to elude Kincaid’s men for quite some time, taking out two of the Sunrise Patriots before being captured. Kincaid had taken an instant dislike to him, vowing revenge after Blair had pushed him out of an escaping helicopter and literally into Jim Ellison’s arms.
"Shit!" Blair cursed, remembering Daryl had been at the station that day as well, and had experienced Kincaid’s brutality first-hand.
The terrorist had dangled the then-fourteen-year-old out of an upstairs window, in order to taunt Simon and get him to agree to his demands to free his men from prison. Blair hurried over to Daryl, his stomach feeling suddenly queasy. Daryl was three years older now, and had certainly matured, if his resolve over his career choice was any indication. Blair was still not sure the young man would handle the news of Kincaid’s escape any better than *he* was.
"Hey, what’s going on?" Daryl had busied himself getting drinks ready for the team, lining up plastic cups on the bench.
Blair studied the teenager, unsure if he was the one who should be breaking the news, not wanting to frighten him. "I don’t want you to worry, but Garett Kincaid escaped from prison."
Blair held out a supporting hand as Daryl, stricken with shock, wavered for a moment. "Oh shit, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. Are you all right?"
Daryl nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I’m all right. I’m all right."
Blair took in the perspiration beading Daryl’s upper lip and the trembling hands, not fooled for a minute. He looked up distractedly; Jim was calling his name and waving him onto the court. "Are you sure?"
Daryl sat down heavily on the bench but nodded again. "Yeah."
"Look, they’ll catch him. He won’t get away." With a final concerned look, Blair ran out onto the court. He watched as Jim tangled with Sloman again, both men exchanging heated words. Above the voices of the players and the thump of the ball, he could hear Daryl calling out to his father as he paced the sidelines in agitation. His attention was dragged back suddenly to the game as Jim sunk a perfect three pointer, then grinned triumphantly at Sloman.
"Yeah. You can open your eyes now. You’ll see it on the 7:00 news, baby," Jim crowed.
Sloman scowled angrily at the cop and shoved him hard in the chest with both massive hands. Jim slammed backwards onto the floor with a thud. Blair ran up when Jim clutched at his ears, guessing the resounding whack Jim’s head had taken on the floor had momentarily spiked his senses. Coach Brianski reached Jim first and helped him to his feet.
"You all right?" the coach asked.
Jim nodded and rubbed at the back of his head. "Yeah, thank you." Sloman stood watching now with his hands on his hips. "What’s the deal, Sloman?"
Sloman shrugged. "I don’t like you."
Jim stared at the big man, exasperation tensing his sweat-damp face. "You don’t even know me."
Sloman’s features hardened. "Yeah, well, lucky for me. Otherwise, I might have ended up like Roshman."
Blair moved toward Jim, seeing his partner stiffen at the unfair comment. A glare from the detective stopped the observer in his tracks. Jim wasn’t in the mood for being placated.
Simon firmly took control of the situation, grabbing Jim’s arm and pulling him away from Sloman. "Hey, come on. Shake it off," he advised Jim. "You’re better than that. He just lost a friend."
Blair noticed Daryl on the sidelines, watching the confrontation, still pacing back and forth. He could see the play of emotions on the teenager’s face turn from distracted interest in the argument between Sloman and Jim, to resolve just before he ran out on the court toward them.
Jim shook his arm free from Simon’s grasp. "Losing a friend I can understand, but taking a grudge out on me? You said yourself there was nothing we could have done. Come on!"
"Hey, Dad, how come you didn’t tell me that bastard was loose?" Daryl’s voice was tight with fear.
Simon and Blair went to meet the still pale teen. Simon reached out and laid a hand on his son’s shoulder. "Don’t worry about it, Daryl. We’ll catch him." The captain looked at Blair. "He still has nightmares."
Daryl shook off his father’s hand but the pallor of the teenager’s face betrayed his bravado. Blair shivered. The air in the arena felt suddenly cold on his damp skin. "You kidding me?" He gave Daryl a weak smile. "Join the club."
Daryl snorted derisively. "Give me a break, man. I was just a kid."
"It’s nothing to be ashamed of, son," Simon assured him. "I still have nightmares about that, too." He looked up as Jim came striding toward them, anger pouring off him in waves.
"Captain, I’ve about had it up to here with the sportsmanship thing. I’m going out for a little payback…." He stopped short and stared at Blair. Blair knew he had never been good at hiding his emotions from Jim. The detective must have guessed something was terribly wrong. Blair glanced again at Daryl and saw he was grasping his father’s arm tightly. "What’s up?" Jim asked.
"Kincaid was sprung from prison." Simon broke the news.
Jim looked quickly at Daryl and Blair. "You guys okay?"
Blair laid a comradely arm around Daryl’s thin shoulders and smiled wanly. "Yeah, man." He nodded. "We’re cool."
"Why don’t you three pack up our stuff?" Simon suggested. "I’ll go explain to the team that something’s come up. I don’t want Kincaid’s name mentioned to anyone outside the PD yet. No need to incite panic."
Jim and Blair headed back to the benches with Daryl in tow and sorted through their gear. Knowing time was of the essence, Blair hastily pulled his street clothes back on over his basketball jersey and shorts, and picked up his backpack. He waved to the players as he followed the others to the exit. So much for his star turn against the Jags.
"You guys gonna make it back for the game this afternoon?" Gus Ivers called out.
"Don’t worry, we’ll be back," Simon replied. "If we need to reschedule, I’ll let you know. Duty first, gents."
Sloman’s voice echoed across the stadium. "Make sure Ellison comes back. He’s mine."
When Jim lifted a hand to flip Sloman the bird, Simon second-guessed his intention and pushed his arm down, flashing the detective a chiding glare. "Let’s play nice, children."
By late morning, Simon was back in his office, speaking on the phone to the State Patrol. He watched Daryl pace the floor agitatedly. He had wanted to send Daryl home to his mother, but his son had insisted on accompanying them to the station. Jim and Blair were down in Records, trying to track down leads on the whereabouts of known Sunrise Patriots supporters.
Simon concentrated on the voice on the other end of the line. He pressed home his point when the speaker paused for breath. "Look, we’ve had experience with this guy before. He and his militia took over our precinct. He doesn’t do anything in a small way. It’s all politically motivated. Yes, I understand, but… All right. All right, thanks. You let me know."
"What’d he say?" Daryl asked as he lowered his lanky body into the chair on the other side of the desk.
Simon pushed back in his seat and shook his head. "State Patrol has jurisdiction. They’ve notified departments in neighboring states. They want our cooperation, but they don’t want us to get in the way."
"I don’t get it."
"Politics, son, pure and simple."
"I still don’t get it."
"One day you will."
Daryl sat forward in his seat and glared at his father. "Hey, Dad, why do you treat me like this? I mean, I’m going to the academy next year, but you treat me like I’m a little kid."
Simon scowled at the mention of the police academy, but let it slide for the moment. "If I thought that, Daryl, you wouldn’t even be here discussing the case with me."
Daryl bristled. "No, see, you think I’m still scared of the dark. You think I’m scared of Mr. Big, Bad Garett Kincaid." He shook his head and squared his shoulders. "Dad, I’m not," he said hotly. He stood and headed for the door. "I’m going back to the stadium. The charity game’s still going ahead, isn’t it?"
Simon nodded. "I’ve organized a few of the off-duty men to fill in."
"Beats sitting around here waiting for nothing to happen."
"How will you get there? I can’t leave right now."
Daryl thought for a moment. "I’ll call Mom."
"Son, I’d prefer it if you didn’t…."
"Mention Kincaid to Mom, I know," Daryl finished for him. "I’m not stupid, Dad." Sparing his father another sulky look before storming from the room, he ignored Simon’s call for him to wait. He sidled past Jim and Blair as they entered the bullpen, not giving either a glance.
Jim gave the angry teenager a puzzled look. "Hey, Daryl, what’s up?"
Daryl nodded briefly before trotting toward the elevator. "Hey." He walked into the car and slumped against the back wall.
"He still freaked out about Kincaid? Because I don’t blame him in the slightest," Blair asked as he and Jim entered Simon’s office.
"Yeah, but he won’t admit it. You realize he wants to give up a full scholarship to Duke to go to the Police Academy?"
"Wow!" Jim grinned. "You must be proud as hell."
"Not," Blair muttered as he dropped into the chair vacated by Daryl.
Simon shot him an impatient look. "Hey, you stay out of this."
"It’s his life, Simon," Blair spoke over the ringing of the phone.
The captain sent him another glare. "Spoken like a man who has no children." He reached for the receiver. "That he knows of, anyway. Banks." He ignored Sandburg’s sour look, knowing his last comment had earned it. Focusing on the call, he nodded. "All right, I’ll have someone check it out." He hung up the phone and turned to the other men. "That was a report of a possible homicide over on Mountain. Parking garage, 1300 block. Want to check it out?"
"On our way, sir."
On the drive over to the parking garage, Jim broached the subject of the basketball game. "Look, Sandburg, you understand why you can’t be included on the players’ list, don’t you?"
Blair turned in his seat and nodded. "Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. It was childish of me to get all bent out of shape about it."
"No. You have every right to be pissed. I mean, you’re there beside me when all the tough stuff goes down, then when something good happens, you’re told you don’t exist."
Blair stared out the front window for a long moment. "Jim, I know why we need to keep my observer status as low-key as possible. I guess it wasn’t until we talked about my first dissertation chapter and the dangers of any information leaking out that might identify you that I really thought it through properly. I appreciate the strings Simon’s pulled to keep me with you, despite his personal feelings about me."
Jim looked at him sharply. "Don’t sell yourself short, Chief. Simon has a lot of respect for how you’ve handled things lately."
"Yeah, well, he obviously likes to keep that information to himself. Anyway, if the game goes ahead, I’m on the team…unofficially. That’s good enough for me."
Jim nodded, smiling to himself. He felt as though a small chunk of the wall erected between them since he’d thrown Blair out of the loft had finally been chiseled away. "Okay."
He pulled the truck to a stop inside the parking garage and approached the uniformed officer standing guard over the crime scene. Noticing the patrolman’s eyes focus intently on Blair at his side, he waved the scrutiny away and held up his ID. "I’m Detective Ellison. He’s with me. What have we got?"
The patrolman waved a hand at the body sprawled on the ground. "Guy passing through found him about a half-hour ago. No I.D." He shook his head sadly. "Looks like a mugging that went bad."
Jim nodded as he crouched next to the dead man. He waited until Blair knelt beside him, one hand going unerringly to rest against Jim’s back. "I’ll take over from here. Thank you." The officer nodded and walked away to his car.
Reaching out, Jim stroked his fingers over the dead man’s temple, feeling the sticky residue of tape. "He was blindfolded, Chief. It must have been removed after he was killed." He gazed around the immediate area, dialing up his sight to search for any visual clues. Something glinted in the drain, catching his eye. "There’s a fake dog tag down there." He sharpened his vision more to take in the etching on the medal. "Has ‘Duty, Honor, Freedom’ written on it."
He heard the almost inaudible gasp from Blair, felt the observer rock back slightly and the hand that rested on Jim’s back clutched spasmodically at his shirt.
"Kincaid," Blair whispered.~~~~~ Act II ~~~~~"It’s good to have you back, General."
Garett Kincaid acknowledged his second-in-command’s smart salute and greeting with a terse nod. "Everything ready, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir." Dennis McBride stood aside to allow the Sunrise Patriots’ Commander-in-chief to lead the way out of the safe house to the van.
"What about the security leak?"
Kincaid nodded approvingly, then climbed into the rear of the van. "Good. I won’t tolerate any mistakes this time. Let’s get this operation moving."
A final check of the murder scene turned up no further clues. It was early afternoon by the time Jim and Blair arrived back at the station. The dog tags they had discovered and the victim’s prints were being run through the department computers.
Returning from Forensics, they met up with Simon in the corridor and filled the captain in on the latest information they’d gleaned. "There’s a print on the dog tags that doesn’t match our John Doe. We’re running an I.D. check now."
"If one of Kincaid’s wackos executed this guy, why would he leave the medallion behind to incriminate himself?"
"He wouldn’t." Jim thought about it for a minute.
"Maybe it’s his idea of a calling card…wants us to know he’s coming back," Blair suggested.
Simon frowned at the observer’s musing. "If that’s the case, that means he has a plan and we’re nowhere."
"State Patrol’s got the highways, railroads, and airports covered," Jim said. "No sign of him yet."
The elevator pinged. The three men waited as Joel exited the car and joined them.
"Oh, Jim, Simon. I identified the dog tag victim. His name is Blake Cassidine. He worked in the City Hall of Records," Joel told them.
"Weren’t you and Brown working on the warehouse robbery?" Simon asked.
"We wrapped that yesterday. The file is on your desk. I asked Jim if I could do anything to help and he asked me to chase up the victim’s I.D." The look on Taggart’s face was one of earnest resolve. "If Kincaid is on the loose, Simon, I want in."
They all knew Joel’s feelings ran deep on Kincaid. He still limped slightly from the bullet Kincaid had fired into his leg at the PD that day.
Simon nodded, giving Joel his agreement. "All right, Joel, you’re in. Jim, bring him up to speed on what we have so far. I’m heading back to the sports arena. Seems Preston Crawford, one of the Jags biggest financial supporters, took offense when the captain of Major Crimes declined to play in the fundraiser."
"Wow! I’m impressed." Blair grinned as he slapped Simon on the back. "I didn’t know you knew people in high places, Simon."
"I don’t." Simon shot Blair an icy glare that had the anthropologist quickly dropping his hand to his side. "I should be here, working the Kincaid case. There’s something big going to go down, I can feel it in my bones. Unfortunately, the commissioner doesn’t see it that way. Crawford is a good friend of his. He phoned and said it wouldn’t be a worthwhile game if there were just a few nameless beat cops playing."
"I’m assuming you explained to the commissioner about Kincaid, reminded him what happened the last time the Sunrise Patriots came to Cascade?" Jim put in.
"Of course. According to the commissioner, Kincaid has no reason to return to Cascade and is probably trying to get out of the country as we speak. As far as he’s concerned, the State Patrol is handling the Kincaid situation adequately. I want you to stay on this, though, Jim. You too, Joel. I want to know the minute you get anything."
"All right, sir. Joel, I’m going to go talk to Cassidine’s former co-workers at the Hall of Records. I want you and Henri to go check out Cassidine’s place. See what you can turn up. Oh, and let me know the minute the print on the dog tag is identified."
Joel nodded. "Okay, I’ll keep you posted."
"Later, Joel." Jim punched the elevator button.
"I guess this means no game," Blair ventured, following Jim into the car. He folded his arms across his chest, his slumped stance and puppy dog eyes telegraphing resignation and disappointment.
"There’s no sense in both of us missing the game," Jim offered, knowing how much Blair had been looking forward to playing. "I can follow this up on my own, I guess." He could see Blair already shaking his head in the reflection of the metal panel.
"Oh, I don’t know. I think I’d feel too guilty. I couldn’t do that." Blair was silent for just a second then he dashed between the slowly closing elevator doors. "But if you insist." Grinning madly now, Blair waved as the doors shut on Jim’s astonished face.
"I’m gonna get you back for this one, Sandburg," Jim vowed, and resigned himself to hearing a ball by ball description of the game from his ebullient partner. He heard Blair call out to Simon as the elevator descended.
"Simon. Wait up. Am I still on the team?"
The clerk at the Hall of Records glanced at Jim briefly. She scurried over to the filing cabinets and began to rifle through the top drawer. "Be right with you, Detective."
Jim pushed down his impatience and smiled over at the woman. "Ma’am, I just need to ask you about Blake Cassidine."
That appeared to capture her attention. Pushing the drawer closed, she walked briskly over to the counter. "Blake didn’t show up for work today," she sniffed.
"No kidding," Jim muttered. "Is there any way…." He groaned as the shrill ringing of the phone interrupted him. The clerk picked it up.
"Hello? Yes, Mr. White. I’ll bring the file down." Hanging up the phone, she gave Jim an apologetic smile. "Sorry. It’s my supervisor. Be right back."
Slapping his forehead, Jim watched her leave the office. He began to pace, muttering angrily under his breath.
Simon joined Blair and Daryl courtside once he’d gone to the locker rooms to get changed into his basketball clothes. Blair still wore his jeans and jacket, knowing it would take him only a moment to change once everyone was ready to warm up.
Blair smiled and bounced a little on his toes, trying to control his excitement. The stadium echoed with the sound of voices and the squeaking of shoes on the hardwood floor as the Jags played a couple of practice runs. The stadium seats were mostly deserted, with only a scattering of team members’ friends and family here to watch the public service game. On the sidelines, several cameras were set up to broadcast the action to the local access studio, while two well-known sportscasters interviewed Clyde Kenderson from the Jags.
Simon checked his wristwatch, frowning. "The sooner this is over, the quicker we can get back to the station."
"Jim will call the minute he gets anything. If something turns up, maybe we can excuse ourselves," Blair suggested. "They’ll just have to play on without you."
"Exactly. If Jim gets a lead on Kincaid, Sandburg, I’m going with or without the commissioner’s approval. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I did otherwise."
Coach Brianski was out on court with his team, giving last-minute instructions for the game. Clapping Sloman on the back, he headed toward Blair and his friends. Blair nudged Daryl in the arm. "Is this cool, or what? Coach Brianski breaking out of practice just to come over and say hello to us."
Daryl grinned in return, looking every bit as excited as Blair. They both smiled at the tall Jags coach as he approached them.
"Hey, Coach," Blair began, then blushed as Brianski brushed by him, continuing past them to shake the hand of an older, portly man, dressed in an expensive-looking suit, the patterned silk handkerchief in his breast pocket matching his tie. Taking the older man’s arm, Brianski led him back to Simon, Blair and Daryl.
"Mr. Crawford, I’d like you to meet Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade PD."
Crawford scrutinized Simon closely as the two men shook hands. "It’s good to see you found time to make the game, Captain."
Simon tried not to scowl, though he seethed inwardly at the thought that he should be forced into neglecting his job on the whims of this man. "I really do have more important things to do, Mr. Crawford, not that this charity game isn’t a great thing, but when the commissioner phoned, I just knew I had to be here." He let Crawford interpret that whatever way he wanted.
Crawford sent a probing glance at both Blair and Daryl, then dismissed them. “Detective Ellison’s not here?”
“He had an important case to handle,” Simon replied. “He sends his apologies.”
“A pity. I hear he’s a fine player.”
Simon slitted his eyes and cocked his head. So the financier wasn’t satisfied with just the captain of Cascade’s Major Crimes’ department. Did he expect everyone to drop their duties and come running at his command? He tilted one side of his lips up in a near-smile. "Daryl, this is Preston Crawford and Coach Brianski of the Jags. Gentlemen, my son. Blair, you already know Coach Brianski. This is Preston Crawford. Mr. Crawford, Blair Sandburg." He deftly turned the conversation away from the PD and toward basketball. The group made small talk for a few minutes until Brianski was called over to the Jags bench.
Crawford had a parting shot for the coach. "So, are the Jags up for a win against the might of the Cascade PD, Coach?"
"You’ll get one, sir. Our team’s ready to play," Brianski assured him.
Crawford didn’t look convinced, and Blair wasn’t surprised, remembering the less than stellar performance of the Jags in their last game.
"This is your promise?" Crawford snorted. He turned and made his way to the front row of the stadium, seating himself next to another well-dressed man.
"Who is that guy?" Daryl asked his father.
"He owns half the steel mills along the Pacific Rim," Simon informed him.
"And 30 percent of the Jags," Blair added sardonically. "Never misses a game."
"Looks like he just came out of the old folks’ home to me," Daryl said disdainfully. He blew the man off without a second glance.
"Except his home is a mansion with 32 rooms," Blair said. "They say it’s the only reason he ever leaves his house — to go to games."
Daryl looked around distractedly. "Looks like this game is going to take a little while to get organized. Dad, can I have some money? I want to get a hot dog."
Blair held out a hand, waylaying Simon’s search for his wallet. "My treat. I’m kind of hungry myself. I didn’t get time to eat breakfast."
"Sandburg, you’re just about to play a game," Simon chided.
"Well, I’ll play better with something in my stomach," Blair insisted. "You go ahead, get suited up and get the team organized. I’m starting on the bench anyway."
"You’ll be on court by the second half," Simon promised, correctly guessing the sentiment behind Sandburg’s comment.
Blair nodded. "Cool." He walked off with Daryl, then stopped, grinning back at Simon and tapping his right cheek. "Tell the camera man this is my best side."
Simon made a shooing motion with his hands. "Get out of here, Sandburg." He watched the two young men walk up the stairs to the concession stands, shaking his head at the juvenile antics of both as they pushed each other around, laughing. "Thirty years old, and you’d swear he was fifteen."
The receptionist came bustling into the office. Jim discarded the tattered day-old newspaper he had been perusing in boredom. "Listen, uh…"
She tapped her nametag with a finger. "Nancy."
Jim inclined his head graciously. "Nancy, um…I have some bad news. Blake was killed."
Nancy raised a hand to her mouth. "Oh, my God. That’s awful," she breathed. She shook her head sadly. "But, honestly, I can’t say I’m surprised."
"Why is that?"
"Well, I didn’t know him very well, but he seemed kind of mad at the world, I guess. Always talking about guns — he and his buddies would go to the woods and shoot them off."
"Did he ever mention Garett Kincaid or the Sunrise Patriots?"
Her eyes widened. "Yeah, a few times. I remember he watched every minute of Kincaid’s trial on TV."
"When was the last time you saw him?"
"Yesterday. Blake and one of his brush-cut buddies came in, with another boy, very sweet looking, rather nervous. Blake introduced him to me, Richie Berman."
Jim was startled at the mention of Berman’s name. "Are you sure it was Richie Berman?"
Nancy nodded. "I remember Blake telling me he and Richie lived in the same apartment building."
"Did you get the name of the third man?"
"No. He was very rude, just pushed past me and told Blake to hurry up with the blueprints. Blake requisitioned a few, and took them into the viewing rooms. I heard them arguing through the door. Blake kept saying that it was crazy and there had to be a better way."
Jim straightened in interest. "What blueprints did he want?"
"I’ll check the log."
Jim pulled out his cell phone and dialed Joel’s number. Taggart told Jim they had just finished searching Cassidine’s apartment and found a cache of weapons and ammunition, as well as some leaflets publicizing the Sunrise Patriots and their mission statement. It all fit so far. "Look, Joel, there’s a guy by the name of Richie Berman, who lives in the same apartment building. I want you and Henri to check him out as well."
<Berman, yeah. I remember seeing the name on the apartment directory. You want us to bring him in for questioning?>
"If he’s there. He works for the Jags, I met him this morning. If he’s not at his apartment, get over to the stadium and find him. I want his apartment searched too. I don’t like the path this is taking, Joel. Look, get back to me as soon as you can with the information on Berman, all right?"
<You got it. We’ll be in touch.>
Jim hung up and continued his tedious wait for the blueprint logs.
Simon hunched forward on the bench, watching with interest as a couple of the Jags team members played the ball up the court in a practice run. He looked at his watch, hoping he’d hear from Jim or Joel soon. Gazing around, he caught Preston Crawford watching him and frowned. Damn Crawford using his political clout and wealth to get what he wanted. If anything went wrong, Simon vowed the man wouldn’t have anything to be smug about. Damn! Here he was playing a basketball match while one of America’s worst terrorists was on the loose, God only knew where.
At least Daryl seemed more relaxed than he had since they’d heard about Kincaid’s escape that morning. If nothing else, the game might keep his son’s thoughts free from worry for a while. The referee called for a game start in five minutes and Simon scanned the arena behind him for Daryl and Blair, but they were nowhere in sight. Typical. Sandburg would be late for his own funeral.
Blair pulled out his wallet and held out a couple of bills to the hot dog seller. He startled as a large hand descended to cover his own and push it closed.
Blair looked up at the familiar deep voice that came from above his shoulder, pleased to see his old friend. A second man, short and thin stood beside the Jags player. "Orvelle, how are you?"
Wallace smiled in pleasure. "Blair, how you doing? Simon said I’d find you here. I ran into him courtside. Glad to see at least a couple of you made it back for the game. I’m doing some coaching for the team these days."
Blair stuck out a hand and shook Orvelle’s. "That’s great, man. Congratulations."
Wallace turned his greeting to Daryl, grinning when the teenager’s mouth dropped open. "Daryl, right?"
"Oh, oh, yeah. Wow, Orvelle Wallace. Man, I grew up watching you play basketball. I’m your biggest fan."
Orvelle indicated the man standing beside him. "Dave Lyons, the assistant coach. Daryl is Simon’s son. And this guy," he indicated Blair with his thumb, "helped get me out of that murder rap."
"Well, I tell you what. Instead of buying us these hot dogs, you can pay me back by bringing Cascade a winning season. How about that?"
Orvelle’s smile faded a little. "Blair, I think I’d still better buy you those dogs."
Blair groaned and shot Daryl a mournful look. "Uh, that’s not a good sign."
"You’d better eat fast, Blair. The ref’s just called for the game to start."
"Oh, right." Balancing money, wallet and hot dog, Blair bid goodbye to the two men and started for the steps leading down to the stadium.
The sound of footsteps froze Dennis McBride in his tracks. Someone was headed for the small, basement utility room. He cautiously picked his way over to hide behind the door. A few seconds later, the door slowly opened. A security guard stuck his head through and his mouth dropped open. Four men were seated on the floor, bound and gagged. Kincaid’s lieutenant struck him from behind. The guard collapsed soundlessly. McBride bent swiftly, dragging the unconscious man into the room to join the others.
The cell phone rang; Jim pulled it from his pocket. "Ellison."
Behind the counter, Nancy was still searching for the blueprints that had been appropriated by Cassidine the day before.
<Hey, Jim, it’s Joel. I’m at Richie Berman’s apartment and, man, let me put it this way, the Jags were just a pit stop on the great road of fandom for our boy, Richie. Man, this place is like a shrine to Kincaid.>
"Everything keeps twisting back to Kincaid," Jim mused. "Was Berman there?"
<The neighbor says he went out first thing this morning and hasn’t come back.>
"All right. He’s probably still at the stadium then. Get over there and take him in for questioning."
<Look, I’m still working on this Cassidine angle. Why don’t I get back to you later on?>
Jim hung up his phone and put it back in his pocket, then turned back to the business at hand. "Nancy?" Jim didn’t try to keep the urgency from his voice. "This is really important. I just need the blueprints. I don’t need you to build it for me."
McBride hustled a small battalion of armed Sunrise Patriots through the passages beneath the stadium. Above them, players’ voices echoed as the charity game began.
"Let’s go!" McBride ordered. He pushed a couple of stragglers ahead of him toward the stadium steps. Timing was everything, Kincaid said, and so far they were right on target.
Clyde Kenderson gave Archie Sloman a conciliatory pat on the shoulder in sympathy for his missed shot. "Don’t worry about it, Sloman."
Sloman shook his head angrily. "Man. Even Ellison could have got that one." He shot Simon a look as though daring him to respond but the captain thought better of it and took a long drink from his water bottle.
Richie Berman bustled forward, handing out towels to the team. "Bad luck, Archie. It was a close one."
"Yeah, right." Sloman didn’t look appeased as he wiped the sweat from his face.
"Hey, Richie," Gus Ivers remarked. "Where you been?"
"Yeah," Kenderson put in. "We were worried about you, man. You were supposed to be here an hour ago." He frowned at the young assistant. "Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost."
Richie nodded, but shifted nervously. "Probably something I ate."
"You took off yesterday too without telling anyone," Sloman put in. "You want to keep your job, Richie, you have to start pulling your weight, and that includes letting the coach know if you can’t get here on time."
Richie looked properly apologetic. "I just got busy, lost track of the time." He threw the stack of towels onto the bench beside Sloman, picked up his clipboard and wandered over to Coach Brianski.
"He all right?" Simon was puzzled by the furtive glances Richie kept shooting their way.
"He’s a little loose," Gus Iverson replied. "He doesn’t really have a family or many friends. The Jags kind of adopted him as our mascot. He does odd jobs around the place, scoring and water runs mostly, keeps the locker rooms tidy."
Simon nodded, but was still concerned by Richie’s behavior. Something about the young man made him uneasy. Simon had always been a firm believer in going with gut instincts. He resolved to keep a close eye on Richie Berman.
Cursing when he fumbled and almost dropped everything, Blair stopped and deposited the lot on the ground, then packed away his money and pocketed his wallet.
"You need at least two more hands, man," Daryl snorted.
Laughing along with his friend, Blair took a large bite of his bun, grimacing as it stuck in his throat and caused him to choke. Daryl thumped Blair’s back soundly several times until he stopped coughing. Blair swiped at his watering eyes. "You want to go grab me a drink before I choke to death here?" he wheezed.
"Sure." Daryl headed to the men’s room and returned quickly with a cup of water.
Blair sipped gratefully. He eyed the dry, tasteless hot dog in disgust. "I keep telling Jim fast food will kill you."
Simon looked up to the top of the stairs and spotted Sandburg kneeling on the ground, while Daryl stood beside him. He was about to call out to them when he saw Daryl turn and walk away. Before he had a chance to make his way upstairs to find out what the delay was, he was called back onto the court.
In the Hall of Records, Nancy angled a computer screen around so Jim could see it. "These are the drawings Blake and his friends checked out yesterday, Detective."
Jim frowned as he read the entry, which confirmed his worried thoughts. "Cascade Sports Arena." Dread settled in the pit of his stomach. Simon had taken Sandburg and Daryl to the basketball game, where there were God knew how many more innocent bystanders. Kincaid was back in business.
Inside the sports arena, Kincaid’s men slipped on their Sunrise Patriots armbands and readied themselves for battle as the first half of the game continued. Several armed men stood guard at the entrance doors to prevent anyone attempting to enter or leave.
Simon intercepted a pass from Sloman to Kenderson and threw the ball to Dan Jackson, the beat cop standing in for Jim, only to see Jackson fumble and have the ball taken again by Kenderson. The captain spared a glance at the scoreboard. The Jags had a three-point lead and were taking the ball back up court. Simon blew out a huff of disappointment as the ball slid through the hoop. What he wouldn’t have given to have Ellison and his sentinel sight there.
Jim pulled out his cell phone and turned back to the worried clerk. "Nancy, I need the direct line for arena security, please." He dialed the PD dispatch while he waited for her to find the number. "This is Detective Ellison. I have reason to believe that Garett Kincaid is planning an armed action at the sports arena. I need all available units there, pronto. And notify the State Patrol."
"Here’s the number," Nancy said finally.
"Thank you." Jim gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile and tried not to grind down his teeth. "You’ve been a big help."
"You know, Blair’s a pretty off-the-wall character," Orvelle Wallace said as he and Dave Lyons made their way back up to the Audio-Visual booth. He’d promised to give a sportscaster a brief interview during the half-time break. "But if it hadn’t been for his belief in my innocence, I’d be sitting in a prison cell right now, instead of coaching the Jags."
"He sure is different," Lyons agreed. He paused when he realized that Wallace’s attention had shifted to an adjoining corridor where a couple of men were examining cables they’d pulled from the cabinet on the wall. "What’s the problem, Orvelle?"
"You know anything about any maintenance going on today?"
"Not with the charity game being filmed, no."
"Me neither." Wallace walked toward the men. "Better go check it out."
From the stadium below, McBride could hear the excited shouts of the supporters watching the charity game. Smacking his shoulder firmly into the door of the Audio-Visual booth, he broke it down. Bringing his weapon up, he aimed it at the surprised technicians, then took a step inside, allowing his men to enter behind him and fan out.
"Everybody relax. Follow instructions, nobody will be hurt," McBride ordered. "Deviate from the instructions, you will be shot." He turned to his second-in-command. "Get these guys in the back and cuff them. Let’s do it now. Let’s go." Thumbing on his radio link, he affirmed their status with Kincaid. "General, we’re in, 30 seconds to takeover." He could hear excited cheers spilling from the speakers on the console. It sounded like the Jags were giving the Cascade PD and their teammates a beating.
When he noticed Orvelle Wallace and another man approach the two Patriots sent to cut the communication wires, McBride crossed quickly to the doorway. Two more of Kincaid’s men crept up behind Wallace and placed a gun at his back. Wallace jumped, spinning around to face his attackers. His companion’s eyes boggled at the semi-automatics hefted by the Patriots. Slowly, Wallace and his friend raised their hands. McBride relaxed.
"Put them both downstairs in the locker room," he ordered. "The rest of the team will be joining them shortly." He smiled nastily at Orvelle. "Looks like you finally get to be a valuable player, Wallace."
Orvelle’s eyes locked on McBride’s. He swallowed nervously, but shifted sideways to shield the smaller man with his body. "I don’t know what you want, man, just don’t shoot. We’ll do whatever you want."
On the way back to the basketball court with Daryl, Blair made a detour to toss his uneaten hot dog and Dixie cup into a trash barrel. Raised voices caught his attention and he looked around the corner, only to duck back quickly when he saw two armed men marching Orvelle Wallace and Dave Lyons down the stairs. A second nervous peek had Blair’s heart racing. Both armed men wore armbands with the symbol of the Sunrise Patriots. He pressed back against the wall, feeling cold sweat break out on his brow.
"Blair? What’s wrong?"
Snaking out an arm, Blair drew Daryl close to his side and raised a finger to his lips. "Sunrise Patriots," he whispered.
Daryl’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak. Blair shook his head vehemently, relieved when Daryl obeyed without further question. Grasping the teenager firmly by one hand, Blair pulled them both back around the corner and looked around frantically for a place to hide.
Steering Daryl ahead of him, Blair hurried toward a supply closet and opened the door. He pushed Daryl inside and squeezed in behind him, closing the door as quietly as he could. The cupboard was tiny, leaving him pressed uncomfortably against Daryl’s side and he could feel the boy trembling. A dank odor of cleaner hung heavily in the air and Blair prayed he wouldn’t sneeze. "Damn, talk about deja vu. I’m not up for this, Daryl."
The receiver in the security office at the arena was finally picked up; Jim breathed a sigh of relief. "This is Detective Ellison with Cascade P.D. I need to speak to your chief of security…." There was a click and suddenly the connection appeared to go dead. "Hello? Hello?" Muttering curses, Jim hung up the phone and turned back to the clerk. "Where are those hard copies of the stadium plans? I need them now!"
The files smacked down on the desk in front of him. Jim gathered them up and ran for his truck.
Simon’s uneasiness was mounting. Daryl and Blair had been gone for too long now. As soon as he could get a break, he’d go looking for them himself.
Standing on the court’s centerline, he rested his hands on his hips and pulled in couple of deep breaths while he watched the action at the goal circle, shaking his head in dismay when Kenderson sunk another easy basket. The Jags’ lead had risen to seven points.
The game wasn’t enough to engross Simon, with Daryl and Sandburg still missing. While he waited for the ball to be brought back into play, he searched the stadium again. His eyes settled briefly on a security guard positioned in front of the Jags bench. There was something about the man that was familiar. Racking his brains for a clue to the guard’s identity, he was startled when Kenderson charged in front of him and took a quick pass from Ivers. Simon cursed his inattention, and took off in pursuit of his opponent.
Without a flicker or warning, the stadium was suddenly plunged into darkness. There was a moment of complete silence, then all hell broke loose. Simon stared as the suspended scoreboard flickered on again, casting an eerie glow on the court below. In place of the revered Jaguars logo, the Sunrise Patriots symbol decorated each panel. Several armed men ran out onto the court, their weapons raised and trained on the melee of confused players and officials.~~~~~ Act III ~~~~~Spotlights flared, creating a blinding glare in the arena after the previous darkness. Simon stayed at the back of the crowd, hoping for a chance at a surprise attack. Jags players milled around Coach Brianski in confusion, each of them unsure exactly who was in charge.
Petty’s mouth dropped open in surprise as Richie reappeared. Berman’s face was rather pale, and he clutched a handgun tightly in one slightly shaky fist. "What the hell’s going on, guys?" Wendell Petty stared at Richie, then back at his teammates in confusion.
"Be cool, all right? It’s all for a good cause," Richie insisted. He waved the weapon toward the rear of the stadium, herding the players in front of him. "Let’s go, guys."
Petty stood flat-footed. "Where are you taking us?" He stumbled as Richie gave him a shove toward the other men.
"Move it, Petty." He leaned in menacingly toward the other man. "I’ve already killed one man, a second won’t make any difference."
Petty’s face showed his shock at Richie’s admission. "You killed someone? Where’s this coming from, man? I thought we were your friends."
"You are, but this is more important than friendship. This is a war against oppression." He straightened and motioned toward the stairs with his gun. "Now let’s go, Petty."
Petty stuck out a belligerent jaw, taking a step closer to Berman. "Screw you."
Simon made a move toward Petty. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to be hurt needlessly. He stilled as a man rushed upon the group from behind. There was nothing about him at first glance that distinguished him from the other terrorists, until Simon saw his eyes. They were cold, lifeless, devoid of any emotion. Simon remembered those eyes. Kincaid.
The gunshot echoed loudly in the stadium. Petty collapsed to the ground. Kincaid stood at the side of the court, his finger tight on the trigger, ready to fire again. Another man stood beside the Patriots’ leader, a Tech 9 sub-machine gun cradled comfortably in his hands. Simon recognized him as Dennis McBride, one of the men who had held Daryl out of the PD window, laughing as the boy cried in terror. The captain’s hands curled into tight fists as he struggled to control the fury that surged. A foolhardy, emotional reaction now could result in more bloodshed.
Danny Peters stared in horror at the writhing Petty. "Man! You shot him!" Petty’s leg was gushing blood at an alarming rate. Dropping to his knees, he pressed a large hand against Petty’s leg in an attempt to staunch the flow.
Kincaid pushed his way through the team and sneered, his face lacking any sympathy for the luckless Petty. "Just taking my foul shot."
Coach Brianski took a step forward, forcing the terrorist to fall back, the barrel of his semiautomatic rising to cover the approaching man. "Hey, what’s going.…"
"Back up," Kincaid interrupted. "The next one’s through the hoop."
Petty moaned and grabbed at his leg.
"For God’s sake, let us help him, please." Brianski swallowed audibly and moved closer to his wounded player, his eyes still fixed on Kincaid’s gun.
Kincaid considered the request. Finally, he nodded and motioned with his weapon to the man on the ground. "Be quick about it."
Coach Brianski attempted to take charge of the situation. "All right, let’s go. Don’t worry, Petty, you’ll be okay. We’ll take care of you."
Leaning down, Brianski and Peters pulled Petty to his feet. He sagged, and they draped his arms around their shoulders.
Simon positioned himself in the middle of the tightly bunched group. Kincaid hadn’t recognized him yet. The court was lit up now with spotlights, but the edges were still draped in shadows. Once they reached the darkened area, he had a chance to take control.
Tapping Sloman’s elbow, Simon caught the tall man’s eyes and motioned toward the players’ bench. Sloman nodded imperceptibly. They followed the rest of the players until they were courtside, then Sloman stumbled into the man in front of him. Petty cried out when his leg was jostled. The terrorists surged forward to restore order, and Simon took advantage of the confusion. Crouching, he reached for the sports bag he’d stowed under the seat before the game.
On his arrival, Jim looked in dismay at the multitude of media cars and vans outside Cascade Sports Arena. Taggart, Brown and Rafe were attempting to push back the press, who threatened to spill over into the taped-off area. The excitement was building as the throng of reporters pushed and shoved each other for a better view.
"Folks, would you get the camera out of here?" Jim ordered as he ducked under the tape and joined the other officers. "Please back up a safe distance behind the tape. Taggart, how the hell did the media get here so fast?"
Taggart brushed off his suit jacket. "They arrived just after we did. Someone made a cell phone call from inside the stadium to the media. Christ, knowing Kincaid, he probably did it himself."
Brown lowered his radio. "Air Support reports snipers on the roof. Now, we’re trying to put our snipers in position, but the choppers will have to stay back."
"The whole place is locked up real tight, and they’ve jammed the cell phones," Rafe added.
Joel stared at the stadium worriedly. "What the hell do they want?"
There was a smattering of murmurs from the crowd then a voice spoke up above the rest. "They’re on the air."
Simon hunched lower and reached inside his bag. Impatiently pushing aside the clothes on top, he wrapped his hand around the familiar butt of his weapon.
"Hold it!" Something hard pressed into the base of his neck and he froze. A hand gripped his arm and pulled him up. He went with the motion, the weapon still clenched in his hand. Pivoting on one foot, he lashed out. The barrel of his gun smashed into his adversary’s face. McBride spun away with a grunt. Kincaid turned quickly and Simon aimed the weapon at him.
Kincaid smiled widely as though greeting an old friend. "Well, well. If it isn’t Banks senior. I was wondering where you’d gone. Police career not going so well for you, Captain? Thought you’d try your hand at some pro basketball?"
Simon ignored the comment. "Drop your weapon, Kincaid, and tell your men to do the same. Game’s over."
Kincaid shook his head. "Still haven’t got the result I wanted, Banks. Take a look around."
Simon’s eyes slid toward the Jags. Petty had been dragged from the support of Brianski and Peters. He sat on the ground, a gun pressed against his head. Defeated, Simon lowered his own weapon and allowed one of Kincaid’s men to wrench it from his hand. A fist slammed into his face and he staggered, stumbling back against the bench.
"Enough, McBride!" Kincaid ordered.
McBride came to attention immediately, a bruise already darkening his cheek where Simon had struck him.
"Don’t rough him up too much yet, McBride, Banks might still be of some value to us," Kincaid continued. "Where’s Ellison?”
“Not here.” Simon hoped his remark wasn’t correct.
“What a shame.” Kincaid shrugged. “Still, it’s good to know I have a worthy adversary on the outside. Johnson? That camera set up for broadcast?"
"Ready when you are, General."
"Put them all in the locker room until we’re ready. Banks as well." He strode away without a backward glance as the team was herded down the stairs.
Sloman cast Simon a quick glance. "Nice try, man."
Simon kept his eyes locked on their guards, alert to any lapse that might give them a second chance of escape. His thoughts fixed on Daryl. He hoped that Sandburg had been able to get them both out of the arena.
"You all right, Captain?"
Simon nodded at Sloman’s inquiry. "Just stay cool and I’ll get you all out of here."
Strolling onto the court, preening himself for his outside audience, Kincaid cleared his throat and began to speak. "Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Garett Kincaid and my cause is freedom. It is my duty and my honor to champion that cause for every one of you. Because when the millennium comes and the corrupt American government turns against you, the people of this country, we will do battle on your behalf to restore this country to the vision of its original patriots." He smiled benevolently. "Hell, I’m just a humble servant in this new revolution." Kincaid’s eyes narrowed. "But I’m also the most hard-headed son of a bitch you’ll ever meet on God’s green earth…."
"And the most insane," Joel muttered as he watched his hated adversary on the outside monitor.
Jim extended his sight and hearing, tuning the droning words out and concentrating on scanning the arena behind Kincaid in the hope of catching sight of Blair or Simon. Spotlights lit the center of the court, but the area behind was in darkness. The images were too dark and grainy, and he finally pulled himself back with a gasp when he began to slide into a zone.
A touch on his arm dragged him back the rest of the way, and he blinked a couple of times, wiping sweat from his face.
Joel looked at him in concern. "You okay, Jim?"
Jim nodded, but winced as his head pounded in protest at the movement. "Yeah, just worried about the hostages. Keep listening. See if we can get a clue about how many there are in there."
Joel watched him a moment longer, before nodding and turning his attention back to the monitor.
Inside the tiny supply closet, Blair could no longer hold back the sneeze that had been threatening. He buried his face in Daryl’s shoulder as the eruption burst out from his tightly clenched lips. At Daryl’s faint "Eew" of protest, he murmured a soft apology.
"Sorry." He sniffed and swiped at his running nose with his sleeve. "Chemicals."
A gunshot rang out, and Blair and Daryl both gasped. Blair could hear Daryl’s panicked breathing merging with his own. He fumbled in the gloom for Daryl’s hand and gave it what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze. Simon had to know by now that Kincaid was there. He forced his thoughts away from what the gunshot might mean.
Blair startled as Daryl pulled his hand away, reaching for the doorknob. "What are you doing?" he hissed, grabbing one sweat-slick hand and dragging the boy back toward him.
"We have to do something. My Dad’s out there."
"Like what? You want them to find us?"
Daryl tensed again as though ready to extricate himself from Blair’s hold, then slumped against him. "What are we going to do then?"
Blair closed his eyes. His mind spun with possibilities and their dire outcomes. He wished Jim were here. His partner would know what to do.
Blair opened his eyes and focused on Daryl’s dim features. "We wait."
Inside the arena, Kincaid continued his tirade to the camera. "Now, you can join in the cause and fall in behind us," Kincaid went on, "or you can fall like wheat in the coming storm." He leaned closer to the microphone, but pulled away as it emitted a high-pitched squeal of feedback. "Are we clear on that?"
He relished the thought of the fear he was inciting in those watching. Motioning to two of his men who were standing at attention next to a lone well-dressed man, Kincaid played his first trump card. "Soldiers. Get the enemy of the people to his feet."
Preston Crawford was hauled from the shadows and pushed into the spotlight. "I give you Preston Crawford, whose wealth was bled from the common laborer." Kincaid beckoned the frightened man to stand beside him, and wrapped an arm around Crawford’s shoulders as he neared. "Come here. Isn’t that right, Preston? Can I call you Preston?"
Crawford seemed to be having a hard time getting words out of his mouth. Finally, he said timidly, "I don’t mind."
Kincaid patted his shoulder. "So here’s what you’re going to do, Preston. You’re going to go upstairs with my people, call your bank, and transfer $150 million to the account of my choice. You understand that?"
"Yeah." The word was husked out.
Kincaid turned back to look at the camera. "Once you make that donation, I’ll let all your franchise players go. You can appreciate their value, right? If not, if anything goes wrong, I’ll slaughter every one of them. And then I’ll execute the esteemed member of Cascade’s finest who’s here today. When I’m done, it’ll look like ground zero of Armageddon. You catch my drift, Hoss?"
Crawford shuddered, and it appeared the only thing holding him up was Kincaid’s arm. "Yes."
"Good!" He gave the man a hard shove toward his soldiers. "Get your ass on up there!" He returned his attention to the camera. "Yes, you guessed right. Seems I have more insurance than I bargained on. Captain Banks from Cascade PD has decided to join the party." He grinned as a thought struck him. "Time for a station break. Don’t go away now; we’ll be right back with your scheduled program." Giving a hoot of laughter at his joke, he motioned for the camera to be turned off, and hurried toward the Audio-Visual booth upstairs.
"Damn," Joel muttered. "Kincaid’s got Simon. We’ve got to get in there!"
"Yeah. He didn’t mention Sandburg or Daryl though."
Joel’s broad face showed a glimmer of hope. "You think they got away?"
"Let’s hope so." Jim unfolded the blueprints he’d brought from the Hall of Records, laying them on the hood of the broadcast van. "Let’s take a look at what we’ve got."
He studied the plans carefully. "They’ve got the side entrances all covered," Jim said. "Unless we take out their snipers, the roof access is out of the question as well." He was trying not to let his concern for Blair, Simon and Daryl blind him to an opportunity to get inside, but he was beginning to think they were in a no-win situation. The last time Kincaid had caught Sandburg, he’d tried to take the anthropologist as a hostage in his escape chopper. There was no telling what the man might do if he thought he was cornered.
Joel echoed his thoughts. "If we take out the snipers, they’ll retaliate against the people inside. Kincaid’s crazy, but he’s done his homework."
"Yeah, and then some." Jim reconsidered the stadium plans and thought for a moment. "Look at this. About ten years ago the air-conditioning system was completely overhauled. The old contractor tried to cut corners. The system had to be completely removed and a new one put in its place." He tapped the paper with a finger. "Check this out. These are the old compressors, right? The new compressors are in a completely different position."
Joel was thoughtful as he scanned the spot Jim was indicating. "Jim, where are you going with this?"
"Maybe I can get through the old duct system."
"What about the snipers?"
Jim had already had that disquieting thought. "Yeah, I just got to find an opening." He turned back to the plans. His thoughts returned to his friends inside. Blair was still recovering from Alex’s attack a month before; the drowning had left him drained, both emotionally and physically, but he also knew that his partner would do everything he could in order to protect others. *Just hang in there, Chief, and don’t try anything crazy. I’m coming.*~~~~~ Act IV ~~~~~Simon and the team were escorted into the locker room. The captain forced himself not to react when McBride gave him a hard shove that sent him slamming against the metal doors. He remained still, with his hands raised, as one of Kincaid’s men searched him for concealed weapons.
"Not the half-time show you had in mind, huh?" McBride asked gloatingly.
"Don’t be so sure of yourself, McBride. The whole arena’s surrounded. You won’t get away."
McBride’s face was grim. "Yeah? Well, it seems we have the upper hand. Why do you suppose Crawford was so eager to have you here, Captain? It wasn’t because of your superior basketball skills."
Simon was stunned. "Are you trying to tell me Preston Crawford is in on this?"
"I’m not trying to tell you anything, Banks." McBride’s eyes swept over the assembled group. "Now, you boys just stay here quietly and behave, and you’ll be back losing games before you know it."
Simon stumbled as McBride pushed him toward a bench. "Sit. Move, and I’ll shoot you right now." He reached for the radio receiver attached to his jacket and thumbed it on.
"McBride here, General. The hostages are secured."
Kincaid sounded euphoric. <Audacity, McBride. That’s what made this country great and will again. What’s the arrangements?>
"They want five million, sir, and they guarantee safe passage."
<What’d our Russian friends do? Reevaluate their cargo?>
Simon frowned. What cargo? And the Russians? Kincaid’s plans seemed to get more and more sinister. The captain had no doubt Jim Ellison would already be working on a way to get everyone out of the arena safely. He hoped Daryl and Sandburg had had the chance to escape before the place had been locked up.
"Obviously the cargo’s more valuable than they first realized, sir," McBride replied. "Do you want me to contact them again. Barter a little?"
<No. Leave it. I like the idea of a valuable commodity. If you’re done there, join me in the Audio/Visual booth, Lieutenant.>
"On my way, sir." McBride gave Simon another glare before ordering Richie Berman and two other men to stand guard outside the locker room door. "You’re a weak little piss-ant, Berman. I don’t want your former friends here saying anything to try and win you over. If anyone even makes a sound in here, shoot to kill."
Jim and Joel were still examining the blueprints, seeking a way to get Jim inside without being noticed when Joel’s radio link crackled.
"We have movement on the north perimeter."
Joel threw Jim a worried look before speaking into his radio. "This is Taggart. That is an unauthorized operation. Investigate with caution."
Jim’s attention was pulled back to the monitor when he saw somebody run across the screen. "What is that?"
"It’s a live news crew feed," one of the media staff replied.
Jim shook his head angrily. "I thought we had a blackout on this until further notice. We don’t need this going public. You’ve got to pull them back."
The media man tapped his finger on the screen. "It’s not our crew. It’s channel 3."
McBride alerted Kincaid to the presence of the news crew on his way upstairs. "General, we have media inside the perimeter."
"Local or national?"
McBride didn’t hesitate. "Yes, sir."
Jim watched tensely as one of the Sunrise Patriots’ rooftop snipers opened fire on the reporter, sending the man to the ground
"We’ve got a man down on north perimeter," Joel shouted into his comm link. "Get a paramedic unit in there."
Jim grasped the captain’s arm. "Joel, don’t. They could shoot them, too." He gazed around the area, finally finding what he was after. "I’ve got an idea and it will give me a shot at getting inside."
Joel thumbed his radio back on. "Disregard that last order. Repeat, disregard that last."
Blair grimaced as he pressed against the wall of the supply cupboard; his muscles were beginning to complain in earnest at their enforced stiff posture. Beside him Daryl shifted restlessly, his hand grasped Blair’s arm almost painfully. Blair endured the discomfort silently. He knew the teenager was terrified for his father’s safety and their own, and Blair had to confess he was feeling pretty shaky himself. He consoled himself with the knowledge that Jim was on the outside and would do everything he could to get them out safely.
"How long have we been in here?" Daryl whispered.
Blair shrugged as best he could in the cramped confines. "I don’t know… half hour maybe."
"Damn. It seems longer." Daryl squeezed Blair’s arm. "Your hand’s shaking, man. I thought you’d be used to this kind of stuff by now."
"Yeah? All the cops I know…. I don’t think any of them get used to it."
Daryl was silent for a moment. "You think the cops are always scared when they go out into action?"
"The smart ones are." Blair decided to use the conversation to take Daryl’s mind off their frightening situation. "Are you sure this is what you really want, Daryl?"
Daryl’s breath tickled Blair’s neck as he blew out a sigh. "It works for my Dad. I mean, it’s not just his job. It’s his way of making the world a better place. And he cares a lot for people. I think that’s tight."
"I think you should tell him that," Blair answered.
Daryl’s voice sounded wistful. "I think he should listen."
Blair opened his mouth to rebut the boy’s words but Daryl shifted suddenly, jiggling something on a hook behind him. It dropped to the ground with a loud clatter, banging Blair soundly on the head as it fell. Before Blair had a chance to react, the door was flung open and a flare of light shone in his face, burning his eyes and blinding him. Something hard poked into his chest and a voice sounded from behind the flashlight glare.
"Well, look at what we’ve got here? You boys playing hide and go seek?"
Blair groaned and raised his hands.
"General? Found these two hiding in a supply closet up the hallway."
Blair and Daryl were pushed roughly into the Audio/Visual booth and Blair grabbed Daryl as the teenager stumbled against him. Blair looked around the booth, aware of McBride standing closely behind him. He could feel the pressure of the man’s sub-machine gun in the small of his back. The room was spacious, with large windows looking out onto the deserted basketball court below. Beyond the court, in the stands, he could see a few people still seated, assorted handguns trained on them. Beneath the windows, inside the booth, was a long console housing several pieces of monitoring equipment, and microphones snaked from several places along the surface.
Kincaid turned, his eyes narrowing, then his face creased into a slow, evil smile. Blair forced himself to remain still as Kincaid ambled over to them. The terrorist reached out, grasping Blair’s shirt and pulled him closer, their faces only inches apart. "Mr. Natural." His eyes traveled to Daryl. "And boy Banks. What a wondrous surprise. Well done, Mr. McBride. Two more for the cause."
Kincaid pushed Blair away and turned immediately, seating himself next to his man at the radio. "Soldier? C.F.D. Operations channel, quick. Like now. You know how to do that?"
The young man nodded, awe showing on his face. He pressed a couple of buttons on the console, then handed Kincaid the mike.
Blair did a mental count of their adversaries: Kincaid and McBride, the young man seated at the radio, and two other grim-faced Patriots watching from the opposite side of the room.
Preston Crawford stood by the phone on the console, wiping his hands on his silk handkerchief. His gaze flitted uncertainly to Blair, then back to his hands.
Kincaid cleared his throat and spoke. "This is Garett Kincaid. I need to speak with somebody on the ground team out there. Anybody who’s got any brains." He waited, impatiently tapping the table, then smiled when a familiar voice came through the speaker.
"This is Detective Taggart."
"Well, by God. How you doing, Taggart? How’s that leg of yours? I’ll bet it hurts when it rains, doesn’t it, huh?" Kincaid’s voice dripped sarcasm. "Let me tell you something. You’re running an awfully weak perimeter out there. Next person that crosses over that line, we shoot to kill, and you, Taggart, of all people, should know that."
"You wounded a civilian," Joel put in. "Let us send in a paramedic unit."
"No! Negative. Taggart, we established a line. He crossed it. That’s the news. Good night, God bless."
Blair took a step forward as Kincaid clicked off the microphone, desperate to stop further carnage. "Kincaid?"
Kincaid spun the chair around and glared at him. "What? What?"
Blair took a slow breath and tried to contain his fear and desperation. "You want the world to know what you’re doing, right? I mean, what’s the good of all this if nobody knows about it?"
"What’s your point, Mr. Natural?" Kincaid gave him a considering look, as though intrigued by what Blair had to offer.
Blair prayed his nerve wouldn’t desert him. Jim once said Blair could sell ice to Eskimos; Blair hoped he was right. "Why let that man bleed to death simply because he was trying to get you better coverage? Half the nation is watching." He appealed to Kincaid’s vanity. "It might improve your image. Win you some admirers."
Kincaid’s considering gaze slid to McBride. "What do you think, McBride?"
McBride nodded. "Sounds good to me, sir."
"I guess my ratings could use a little spike, huh?" Kincaid said thoughtfully. "Surprised I didn’t think of that." He returned to the radio and picked up the microphone again. "Captain Taggart, you still out there?"
"This is Taggart."
"You got… " Kincaid thought for a moment. "… One team, three minutes. Just try not to screw it up, okay?"
Blair let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and uncurled his fists. Feeling a surge of confidence after this small success, he caught Daryl’s eyes and smiled reassuringly. *We’re going to get out of this, Daryl, you’ll see.*
Kincaid stood and grinned at Blair. "Feel like a hero now, Mr. Natural? I sure as hell do."
Joel focused his binoculars on the ambulance that pulled up beside the wounded reporter at the far end of the stadium. Jim was hunched below the dash of the cab, squeezed in between the driver and his partner. The driver had steered the vehicle under the overhang of the roof to provide cover for themselves and their patient from the snipers above. Joel hoped Jim would go unnoticed as well.
As the two paramedics scrambled out of the cab and hurriedly loaded the injured man onto a stretcher, Jim climbed out from the passenger side door. Keeping to the edge of the arena building, Jim made his way toward one of the vents and disappeared inside.
"McBride, take my radio whiz, Sully here," Kincaid ruffled the young radio operator’s hair affectionately, "and go deal with the rest of the hostages." The terrorist addressed the remaining men. "Mr. Anderson, ensure Mr. Crawford gets to his car safely. Mr. Southern, you’ll accompany me."
Blair felt panic grip him. "No! Wait!" Pain exploded in his cheek as Kincaid’s fist connected with his face, flooring him.
"Blair!" Daryl rushed toward him, ignoring the threat of McBride’s gun shifting to him.
Blair staggered back to his feet, halting Daryl’s movement with an upraised hand. "I’m all right. Stay there." He dragged his palm across his stinging mouth and wiped the trace of blood on his pants. He worked his jaw gingerly, feeling it already beginning to swell.
Kincaid watched him closely, a feral grin replacing the anger on his face. "I don’t recall giving you permission to speak. You’ve done your hero thing for today." He straightened and waved his men out of the room, then turned to the remaining terrorist. "Mr. Southern, secure the hostages and gag them. You and I are going to the rendezvous point as soon as I finish my dealings with Mr. Crawford here. Mr. Natural and Boy Banks will be joining us."
Blair watched helplessly as Southern approached Daryl and tied the squirming teenager’s hands behind him, then stuffed a cloth into his mouth and tied it tightly. Daryl was pushed to sit on the floor, and Southern moved to restrain Blair.
Kincaid picked up the phone and punched in a number. "This is Kincaid. What’s the status of our funds transfer? It has? Oh, I thank you kindly. Oh, and I look forward to your country’s hospitality. Good day."
The terrorist gave Preston Crawford a satisfied nod and shook the man’s outstretched hand. "Well," Kincaid said. "Looks like your 150 mil is locked safely in our overseas account. That would be the end of our business day, Mr. Crawford."
Blair couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Crawford was in on the takeover? What reason would someone as rich as Crawford have for putting innocent people at risk?
Crawford replied to Kincaid, answering Blair’s unspoken questions. "There may be an easier way to make a contribution to your favorite cause, but you just can’t beat a world-class hostage crisis for the entertainment value, now, can you? Well done, General."
"Thank you, sir. You are a true patriot."
"No, I am a pragmatist, Kincaid. Never confuse the two."
"Well, I thank you for your sportsmanship, anyway. The country appreciates their basketball players a lot more than they do their politicians. That’s a fact."
"Your man is going down to release the players, isn’t he?" Crawford added.
"Do I look like a man who would go back on his word?"
Crawford gave Blair a nervous glance. "Why don’t you let these two go as well?" His eyes shifted to Daryl. "He’s just a boy. I have a grandson about his age."
Blair felt his hopes plummet when Kincaid shook his head. "I’ll be keeping these two with me." He held up a finger as Crawford opened his mouth to protest. "Just until I get out of here safely because you never know when the road to freedom might get rocky. See you later."
"That was not in the plan," Crawford sputtered.
"Sir, you have nothing more to do than walk out that arena door and return to your splendid house and your splendid life, have cocktails and wait for the storm to cleanse the land," Kincaid insisted. "I, on the other hand, am a wanted fugitive. Now, I need to get my men to that Asian training location A.S.A.P. It’s not going to hurt for me to have a shield, and who better to serve as that shield than Captain Banks’ son."
"What about the other one?"
"Mr. Natural and I go way back," Kincaid responded as he crossed the floor and pulled Blair to his feet. "We’ve got some unfinished business to attend to."
Blair closed his eyes against the despairing look he saw on Daryl’s face as Southern pulled the boy up.
Crawford wasn’t finished. "You seem to think that this is a partnership," Crawford argued. "I bought the army, Kincaid. I am the one who puts the little green men on the game board now and moves them around. You may be a general, but I am the commander in chief. We straight on this?"
"Oh, yeah, Mr. Crawford, we’re straight," Kincaid replied, and Blair could detect barely controlled anger in the voice. "Arrow-straight."
Crawford nodded, then strode to the door and pulled it open, slamming it loudly behind him.
"Mr. Anderson, make sure Mr. Crawford gets to his car, and ensure there are no security breaches. I think you understand what that means."
Kincaid spun Blair around and bunched a hand in the back of his shirt, pushing him out of the door. Behind them, Southern urged Daryl forward. The four men made their way silently down a set of back stairs to the basement. Blair and Daryl were halted at an exit door, while Kincaid sent final orders to his men. "McBride, release the spectators now as we planned, then deal with Banks and the players. Divert as much attention as you can to the exit doors. I’ll expect you at the rendezvous in two hours."
<Come in, Berman>
Richie Berman fumbled nervously with his radio as McBride’s voice issued from it. "Yes, sir. Berman here."
<I’m on my way down>
"Yes, sir. I’ll await your arrival."
There was a grid in the vent above Jim’s head. Standing carefully, feeling muscles complain after spending so long bent double on his trek through the air conditioning ducts, he craned his head to see where he was. He’d made it as far as courtside. Above him, the Sunrise Patriots logo glowed from the suspended scoreboard.
Jim dialed up his hearing, listening for heartbeats in an attempt to discover how many people were in the stadium. He paused and tightened his focus as he heard Kincaid’s voice.
"Captain Taggart, my demands have been met and I’m a man who keeps his promise. In a few minutes, my men will begin to release the hostages, two at a time. Anyone attempting to enter the building before all the hostages are released will be responsible for the remaining prisoners being shot by my cleanup crew. Have a good day."
Jim attempted to get a fix on Kincaid’s location but the voice echoed in the vast, almost empty arena and he knew that without Blair’s guidance, it was useless. There were sounds of people moving above him, a muffled chatter of frightened voices, and he heard the Patriots ushering people toward the exit doors.
Taking advantage of the noisy exodus from the court area, Jim removed the grid cover and hooked his fingers on the lip of the fan housing. Laboriously, he began to pull himself out of the vent. He stopped, startled when a buzzer sounded and the fan started up. Yelping as the fan blades banged his fingers painfully, wrenching away his grip, Jim swung for a moment one-handed before his other arm could no longer hold his weight. Jim dropped rapidly down the shaft, his grasping fingers failing to find any purchase to stop his fall.
He landed hard but managed to roll, taking the brunt of the impact on his shoulder, and lay for a moment, dazed, his hearing and sense of touch both spiking violently. Finally, he managed to wrench the dials down and sat up, rubbing at his bruised shoulder and the scraped patches of skin on his arms.
Looking around, he cautiously increased his sight and hearing. There was another vent grating to his right. Judging by how far he’d fallen, Jim figured he was somewhere in the lower level ducts. Dropping to his stomach, he crawled toward the grate. He waited, listening for a moment for anyone in the hallway beyond, but it appeared to be deserted. Pushing the vent grating to the floor, Jim pulled his aching body from the shaft.
He looked up and down the corridor, absently wiping at the blood that trickled down his face from a gash on his temple. Thinking back to previous visits to the arena, Jim realized the teams’ locker rooms were further up the corridor, around the corner. Quickly, his senses on alert, he ran in that direction.
The stadium doors burst open suddenly, and two dazed people stumbled out. Joel held his breath as SWAT team members hurried forward and rushed the hostages to safety. He waited anxiously, hoping that more people would exit the building, but the doors swung shut again. Unsure what was happening, Joel thumbed on his radio, speaking rapidly. "All units, hold your fire. Repeat. Hold your fire. We have hostages coming out of the building."~~~~~ Act V ~~~~~"So, what are we going to do? Just sit here and let them take over?" Archie Sloman paced restlessly in front of the lockers.
"Until we know what we’re dealing with, there’s not much else we can do," Simon replied. "We’ve got men on the outside. I’m sure they’re just waiting for the right time…."
"Right time?" Sloman whirled and gave him an angry glare. "There’s a right time? When? After we’re all dead?"
Simon stood, appealing to the man’s common sense. "We can’t risk getting innocent people killed. I’ve dealt with Kincaid before. He won’t let anything get in the way of his plans."
"Maybe we could even the odds a little." Clyde Kenderson opened his locker and pulled a small barbell from within. He hefted it in one hand and eyed Simon. "What do you say, Captain?"
Simon considered the proposal. Petty moaned again from the corner of the room and Coach Brianski patted his shoulder soothingly. "Look, Captain, if we don’t get Petty to medical help soon, he risks losing his leg or worse. We’ve got to give it a shot."
"All right, but we do this as a team."
"You kidding me, Captain?" Kenderson grinned and draped an arm over Sloman’s shoulder. "We are a team."
"Okay." Simon threw a quick glance at the door, then gathered the players into a huddle. "Here’s what we do."
At Simon’s nod, Kenderson hammered on the locker room door. "Hey, Richie. You out there, man?" He stepped back quickly as the door opened.
Berman poked his head in the doorway. "You guys were told to keep quiet." Coach Brianski and Dave Marshall supported an almost unconscious Petty between them. Berman swallowed and a flash of guilt passed over the young man’s face. "What’s wrong with him?"
"What do you mean, what’s wrong with him?" Kenderson moved back to rest a hand on Petty’s leg. "He’s losing too much blood. He’s going to die if we don’t get him out of here soon."
"McBride’s on his way down here now," Berman said. "Won’t be long and you’ll be released."
"Hey, Richie. What’s your story, man? We’ve been good to you." Coach Brianski gave Berman a disappointed look.
Richie shook his head but the weapon in his hand began to shake a little. "This cause is bigger than all of us, Coach. It’s about putting our country back on the right track. You’ve got to see that."
"Man, I don’t see nothin’ but your punk ass," Kenderson said in disgust.
Brianski indicated the blood-soaked towel on Petty’s leg. "See for yourself, Richie. We need to get Wendell to a hospital now."
Berman glanced over his shoulder and stepped into the room. "Look, guys…." He broke off with a cry as Simon moved swiftly from behind the door and brought the barbell crashing down on his arm.
Richie’s gun dropped from numbed fingers and Kenderson bent swiftly to pick it up. Giving the weapon a nervous look, he tossed it quickly to Simon who nodded to Sloman. The Jags player took up a position beside the door, gripping a barbell. The two remaining guards rushed into the room. Sloman went in low, smashing the weight into the nearest man’s leg. Screaming, the terrorist collapsed, his hands reaching to clutch at his injured knee.
"Hold it right there," Simon ordered the second guard. "Drop your weapon and put your hands up."
The Patriot didn’t argue. In a few minutes, the Jags had all three Patriots bound, gagged, and sitting in the shower alcove. Allowing the triumphant team a moment to regroup, Simon crept to the door. Placing a finger to his lips, he motioned for silence and cracked open the door.
Jim slowed as he heard rapid footsteps echoing up the corridor behind him. Ducking around a corner, he pressed himself against the wall and waited. A brightly colored hot dog vending cart sat in the middle of the corridor, apparently abandoned, Jim pulled it toward him, then positioned himself behind it. He focused his hearing intently on the approaching footsteps, and sent the cart flying forward just as two armed men appeared in his sight.
Taken by surprise, both men were knocked flying. One slammed heavily into the opposite wall and collapsed without a sound. The second recovered quickly, his Mack 10 coming up to spit fire as he struggled back to his feet.
Jim followed the cart through, then ducked behind it as bullets impacted the wall above his head. He felt something punch his flak jacket, knocking the air from his lungs and he collapsed in a heap, gasping for breath and blinking back the darkness that threatened. Rolling to his back, he looked up into the grinning face of McBride.
"Ellison," McBride spat. "The general’s going to be real pleased to know you’re out of circulation."
From the corner of his eye, Jim caught sight of a glint of silver. Something large and metallic crashed down on McBride’s head. The Sunrise Patriot’s eyes widened briefly then rolled up as he sank bonelessly to lie over Jim’s legs.
Jim struggled out from under the limp body. Accepting the helping hand held out to him, he staggered to his feet and rubbed at his aching chest. "Thanks," he wheezed.
"Anytime." Archie Sloman grinned and tossed the metal tray he’d wielded as a weapon to one side. "That felt really good."
"Nice to see you using your anger in a positive way," Jim quipped back.
"Jim!" Simon herded a collection of Jags players around the corner toward them. He hurried up and gave the detective a critical look. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah. Thanks to Sloman."
Kenderson and another player were already tying up the unconscious Patriots. Jim’s gaze raked over the small group, a knot of dread settling in his stomach when he realized neither Daryl nor Blair was with them. "Where’s Sandburg and Daryl?"
Simon’s face mirrored his concern. "I don’t know. I was hoping they were already out."
Jim squeezed the captain’s shoulder, trying to reassure him. "They’ve been letting the hostages out two at a time. Let’s get to the exit and see what’s going on. They’re probably outside with Joel."
Gathering the men together again, Jim headed for the exit. "This way. Everybody, keep it quiet. Keep it quiet. Keep moving. Keep moving."
"This is Captain Simon Banks, Cascade PD. Situation is contained. Repeat, situation is contained. There are unarmed civilians exiting the arena now."
Recognizing Simon’s voice coming from the partly opened door of the stadium entrance, Joel breathed a sigh of relief. He set off at a trot to meet Simon and Jim as they led a dazed group of people through the doors. Thumbing on his radio, he ran, issuing more orders. "SWAT team, secure the building. Take everyone exiting into custody for questioning. Look for Kincaid’s men. Spread out and track them down. Let’s go! They may try to pass themselves off as hostages."
"Joel!" Simon and Jim handed their captives off to other officers, and waited for Joel to reach them. "Daryl and Blair out here?" Simon asked anxiously.
Joel’s face fell. "They haven’t come out. I thought they were with you."
"We’ll find them," Jim said firmly.
"How did you manage this?" Joel waved a hand at the scowling Sunrise Patriots being manhandled through the doors.
"The guards on the exits gave it up pretty quickly when they saw a bunch of pissed-off Jags players descending on them." Jim broke off as Henri Brown led a vociferously protesting Preston Crawford toward them.
"Captain, Mr. Crawford says he has information for you."
Crawford was sweating profusely, his face ruddy and his hands shaking. "Kincaid’s a madman. I didn’t know he would take it this far."
Simon’s eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about, Crawford?"
"He promised me he’d let the team go. I had no idea he planned on killing anyone," Crawford spluttered. "I’m not a murderer."
"Where is he, Crawford?"
Crawford shook his head wildly. "I don’t know. He took two hostages. Said he was using them as insurance until he got out of the country. I begged him to release them. One was just a boy." He swallowed convulsively and looked away from Simon’s gimlet glare. "Your boy," he whispered, "and the other man who was with you earlier."
Simon raised horrified eyes to Jim. "Oh, God." His features hardened and he pushed Crawford back to Henri. "Get him out of here. Joel, we need to interrogate Kincaid’s men." He looked around. "We’ll use the manager’s office. Bring McBride in first. And get an APB out on Daryl and Sandburg."
Blinded by hoods concealing their faces, Blair and Daryl were pushed into the back of a van. Blair stumbled and fell, hearing Daryl grunt beneath him. The vehicle started up, trundling slowly over rough ground, then picking up speed as the surface smoothed out. Blair tried to emulate Jim, listening carefully to the rhythm of the road beneath the wheels and memorizing the turns they took, in the hope of keeping track of where they were headed. He quickly became disoriented without sight to guide him, and gave up the idea to concentrate on keeping Daryl calm.
He pulled himself up and leaned his back against the wall of the van, struggling to keep his balance when the vehicle turned sharply, tilting him sideways. "Daryl? You okay?"
"Yeah." Daryl sounded shaky. "Where do you suppose they’re taking us, Blair?"
"I don’t know. Listen, Jim will figure this out. I bet he’s already on our trail. We’ll be home before you know it." There was a long moment of silence.
"What do you think happened to my dad?" Daryl asked.
"I know your dad would do everything he could to get everyone out of that stadium alive, including himself. Let’s not borrow trouble, all right? We just have to hang on until Jim and your dad get us out."
The van stopped and they were hauled roughly from the van and dragged along for several minutes. Blair was pulled to a stop and heard a screech of rusty metal, then a hand in the small of his back pushed him forward.
Light flared brilliantly as the hood covering his head was pulled away. The anthropologist blinked rapidly to dispel the black dots crowding his vision and took in their surroundings. They were inside a small shed, the windows on one side sheathed in black cloth. Daryl was pushed toward him and pressed close. He could feel the boy’s trembling through his own quaking. Kincaid and Southern stood in front of the only door. Southern held a compact sub-machine gun while Kincaid clutched a semiautomatic. Fear overwhelmed Blair, and he tamped it down as best he could. Panicking now would not help them. Blair knew if he could stay calm, he had a chance of figuring out how to keep Daryl and himself alive.
"Mr. Southern, go make sure our Russian friends are ready to leave. I’m going to ask our prisoners a few questions," Kincaid flung the order over his shoulder, not taking his eyes off Blair and Daryl.
Blair watched Southern leave with trepidation. He backed away when Kincaid took a menacing step toward them.
"Look, Kincaid, this is crazy. Let Daryl go, man. You don’t need him."
"Blair, don’t!" Daryl’s voice quavered through the protest.
Blair spared him a quick glance. He gasped when Kincaid’s fist sank into his belly. He collapsed to his knees, fighting for breath. The terrorist fisted a hand in his shirt and pulled him upright. Blair’s stomach muscles cramped as they protested the strain.
"You’re going to have to learn to curb that runaway tongue of yours, Mr. Natural." Kincaid gave Daryl a glare. "Get in the corner, Boy Banks and stay there."
Daryl straightened and took a step back toward them. "I won’t let you hurt him. You don’t scare me."
Kincaid grinned evilly. "I’m the scariest son of a bitch you’re ever going to meet, kid." His fist connected again with Blair’s midriff, forcing a yelp of pain from him. Blair fell to his knees once more. Kincaid pulled his handgun from the waistband of his pants and pressed it to Blair’s head. "Now, unless you want me to splatter Mr. Natural’s brains all over this shed, do as I tell you."
"Do it," Blair choked the words out, his lungs screaming for air he couldn’t seem to pull in.
Daryl moved back and dropped to the ground, his face dissolving into a twisted mask of grief when Kincaid let Blair’s body go. The anthropologist curled around the pain in his gut. Kincaid’s boot swept in and connected with his face, sending a bolt of agony through his head. Blair grunted in anguish.
"General." Southern’s voice interrupted as Kincaid’s foot drew back for another kick.
Blair drew in a shuddering breath, grateful for the reprieve.
"What is it, Mister?" Kincaid sounded impatient to get on with the torture.
"The captain wants to see you personally, sir."
"Tell him I’m busy."
"He says we don’t leave until he’s spoken with you."
Blair felt a boot press against his shoulder, tipping him onto his back. Blood dribbled down his cheek and he could feel his eye already swelling. Behind him, Daryl sobbed softly.
"Lock them up and guard the door from the outside," Kincaid said from above him. "Notify me as soon as the others arrive."
Blair squinted as the door was opened and light flooded in. He heard the click of a switch and the room was plunged into darkness.
Jim pounded his fist angrily on the desk as a smirking McBride was led from the room. "We’re running out of time, Simon. These guys are loyal to Kincaid. They’re not going to tell us anything."
Simon moved to the window and looked out into the gathering dusk. "Kincaid’s got some escape planned with a Russian group."
"That’s not enough to go on," Jim fumed. "By the time we track down his bank accounts, he’ll be long gone."
Simon turned to face him. "Berman’s the weak link. If you can break any of them, it’ll be Berman."
Jim strode to the door and flung it open. "Bring Richie Berman in."
Richie Berman squirmed uncomfortably under Jim Ellison’s fiery gaze. The detective towered over him, menace radiating from every pore. His voice was low, almost a rumble.
"You’re in a lot of trouble, Richie. We know you murdered Blake Cassidine, and now you can add kidnapping and attempted murder to that. If anything happens to Blair Sandburg or Daryl Banks, you’ll be facing two more murder charges."
Richie shook his head. "I had to kill Blake. If I hadn’t, Kincaid would have killed me. He said I had to prove my loyalty to the cause."
Jim nodded. "You give us the information we need, I’ll talk to the DA. See if we can cut a deal for your cooperation." He waited, his hands fisted at his sides. He wanted to pull the little punk up and shake the information out of him. "What’s it going to be, Richie?"
Richie emitted a strangled sob. "The pier. Kincaid’s got a Russian sub waiting to take us to Asia. He’s got a training ground set up in Thailand."
Jim leaned in closer. "What number is the pier?"
Richie’s voice was barely a whisper. "Twelve. Pier Twelve."
"This is Banks. We’re approaching the docks now. No lights, no sirens. Everyone hold your places and be ready to move in on my order." Simon issued the orders crisply into the radio, then hung it up and sat, staring silently through the windshield.
"He’ll be okay, sir." Jim knew it was a lame platitude and could only pray his words were right.
"Damn it! This is Kincaid we’re talking about, Jim!"
"Yes, sir, I know." Jim steered the car through the dock gates and parked. "But I know Sandburg too. He’d die before he’d let anything happen to Daryl." Jim’s gut burned as he realized the truth in those words.
Simon opened his door. "I hope they’re both all right. Let’s go."
A dark shadow loomed over him and he flinched away from it with a gasp. His eyes opened blearily and he realized he’d been drifting; not quite unconscious but not totally with it either. His stomach ached, the muscles still recovering from his beating by Brad Ventriss’s goons a few weeks before. He turned onto his belly, biting back a groan as he levered himself to his knees. "Daryl? You okay?"
In the gloom, Blair saw Daryl nod, but tear tracks glistened on his face. Blair ran his tongue over his split lip. "Good. Can you get around behind me? My Swiss Army knife’s in my back pocket."
Daryl’s eyes widened and hope erased some of the fear from his face. "You’ve still got it?"
"Kincaid was so sure of himself, he didn’t bother to pat me down."
He leaned forward as Daryl scooted around and dropped to the ground, their backs touching. Daryl’s bound hands dug into his pocket, searching.
Blair pulled his hands away from his back as far as the restraints would allow. "Can you get the blade out and cut the rope on my hands? Don’t cut yourself, man," he cautioned. "Your dad would never forgive me."
There was a moment’s pause, then Daryl began to saw at Blair’s bonds. "He’d thank you for keeping me alive," he said, panting a little.
Blair felt the strands of rope give and pulled his hands apart. "After he pulled my observer’s pass." He shifted around and took the knife from Daryl’s hands, using the blade quickly to free the teen.
Daryl suddenly turned and wrapped his arms around Blair, squeezing tightly. His voice was muffled against Blair’s chest. "I’m glad you’re all right," he whispered.
Blair hugged him back, then stood shakily. Dizziness assailed him for a moment. He took a slow breath in and released it. When he felt a little steadier, he offered Daryl a hand up. "I’ll be better when we’re out of here."
He crept to the door and pressed his ear to it, straining to hear. Daryl was prowling the shed, searching through the boxes stacked around the edges.
Daryl’s whisper sounded like a shout in the small room. Blair lifted his head, pressing a finger to his lips.
Daryl nodded, then held up a cylindrical object. "What’s this?" He carried it over and showed it to Blair.
"Wow, that’s a gas grenade," Blair replied, taking it from him. "This shed must be their ammunitions dump, and it got left behind by mistake. Lucky for us." He paused as he heard voices outside, and silently ushered Daryl to stand behind the door. Looking around frantically, he saw a boat hook resting up against the wall. Shoving the grenade into his jacket pocket, he grabbed the hook in two hands. He placed himself on the other side of the doorway and waited, his heart pounding furiously.
The door swung open and Blair attacked, slamming the boat hook down on Southern, not bothering to aim for any body part in particular. Southern was driven to his knees, his machine gun skittering across the floor. Blair took advantage of the man’s surprise and launched himself onto Southern’s back, his arms wrapping tightly around the man’s throat.
"Run, Daryl, run!" An elbow in his ribs stole his breath but he hung on stubbornly as Southern staggered back up to his feet and shook him wildly, desperately trying to dislodge his chokehold.
"No!" Daryl’s voice was high-pitched, bordering on hysteria. The teenager launched his own attack on Southern, pummeling him with his fists.
"Enough!" Kincaid’s voice cracked like a whip. "Or the kid’s dead."
Blair froze and Southern flung him to the ground. Landing heavily, Blair rolled to his side, then sat up, rubbing at his shoulder. Kincaid stood in the doorway, Daryl gathered to him with one hand around his throat, a gun pressed firmly to the teenager’s temple.
"Get up, Mr. Natural. Our ride’s here."
Jim and Simon made their way silently along Pier Twelve. At the end, they could see an old Russian Alpha class submarine floating on the water, its hatch open. It appeared to be deserted. Something creaked to their right and Jim pushed Simon behind the concealment of a stack of crates and peered out carefully. Several yards away, the door to a small boat shed opened and several figures stepped out.
Jim dialed up his sight to compensate for the approaching darkness and his throat closed up. Kincaid led the way with a terrified Daryl at his side. Behind them, one of Kincaid’s men pushed a bedraggled Sandburg in front of him.
Jim stood, grasping his weapon in both hands and shouted a warning. "Cascade PD, Kincaid. Freeze!"
The four men halted. Blair stumbled into Daryl. Kincaid fisted a hand in Blair’s hair and drew him to his side, aiming a gun at the anthropologist’s head. "Sorry, Ellison. My ride’s waiting, and as you can see, I brought my passport."
Kincaid’s words were cut off as Blair moved, his hands pushing Kincaid’s gun hand up into the air. The gun discharged with a deafening roar. Kincaid recovered quickly, pushing Blair into Daryl, who in turn fell against Southern, sending all three to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs. Kincaid wasted no time. He spun and sprinted for the submarine.
"Daryl!" Simon ran full speed toward the figures struggling on the pier, with Jim hot on his heels. They reached the melee with Daryl managing to crawl from beneath the other two men. He launched himself into Simon’s waiting arms. Sandburg rolled on top of Southern and pulled back his fist, then slammed it into the Patriot’s jaw with a yell. Southern collapsed without a sound and Blair rolled off the inert form, curling on his side and cradling his hand to his chest.
"I’m going after Kincaid." Jim spared his partner a swift, careful inspection before wheeling to the left and pounding up the pier in pursuit of the fleeing terrorist.
Simon hugged Daryl, feeling the boy shuddering convulsively against him. "It’s all right. I’m here. You’re safe," he crooned. He leaned down to help Blair to his feet, hampered by Daryl clinging tightly to him. "Blair? Are you all right, son?"
Blair looked a mess, even in the dimness of the evening. His face was bruised and bloodied and he wrapped one arm around his stomach as he struggled to catch his breath. "Where’s Jim?" he ground out.
"Gone after Kincaid." The words were barely out of Simon’s mouth before Blair took off at a shambling run. "Sandburg, get back here!"
Blair seemed oblivious to Simon’s call. Simon swore and pushed Daryl gently away from him.
"Daryl, stay here."
The boy’s eyes bulged in fear and he clung tenaciously to his father’s arm. "No! I want to come with you."
There was no time to reason with his frightened son. Keeping one arm wrapped securely around Daryl, Simon followed Blair as fast as he could. He pulled out his radio, ordering the backup teams to close in and secure the area.
Kincaid had already thrown himself into the open hatch, and wrenched it shut, by the time Jim reached the end of the pier. Jim could see the gap between the pier and the sub was too wide for him to jump. A pulley rope was loosely secured to a hook in the dock. Jim untied it, checking the length. Calculating the arc of the rope, he decided it would hold and carry him the distance. Launching his body up and out, Jim swung over the expanse of water. He landed with a heavy thump on the sub’s deck and tossed the rope aside. Footsteps echoed behind him and he turned quickly, relief surging through him as Blair came into view, with Simon and Daryl trailing behind.
"Jim!" Blair held something aloft in one hand as he neared the edge of the pier. "Can you get the hatch open?"
Jim wrapped his hands around the handle of the hatch and pulled it back, ducking as Blair tossed whatever he held in his hand in a graceful arc toward the opening.
"Shut the hatch!" Blair yelled hoarsely.
Jim didn’t waste time with questions, and slammed the lid closed again. He choked briefly as the noxious odor of gas tickled his nostrils and he heard violent coughing erupt from within the sub.
"Hope you’ve got your nose dialed down, man," Blair whispered just loud enough for Jim to hear. He grinned, but the detective could discern the tension and fatigue in his partner’s voice.
"Got it, Chief." Jim turned, releasing the hatch. He was immediately greeted with an armful of choking, teary-eyed Kincaid. The terrorist attempted to scuttle back down the ladder, but Jim grasped him by the scruff of his neck, and hauled the man out bodily. He dropped him to the deck of the sub. Placing a foot in Kincaid’s back, he bent and handcuffed the dazed man, then hauled him to his feet. "End of the road, Kincaid."
As police swarmed onto the pier, Blair collapsed onto his butt with an ‘oomph.’ Jim handed Kincaid off to Brown and Taggart before jumping back onto the pier, going immediately to his partner’s side. "You okay, Chief?"
Blair tried to smile but finally leaned forward and dropped his head on Jim’s chest with a sigh. "Not really, but I think I will be."
Jim and Simon walked into the trauma room just as the doctor finished wrapping a thick bandage around Blair’s aching hand.
"Hey there, Rocky. What’s the verdict?" Jim reached out and ruffled Blair’s unruly curls.
Blair tried a tentative smile, grimacing at the pull on his cut lip. "I’m going to live. Bruised ribs, couple of stitches." He touched his gashed cheek with a finger, then held up his bandaged hand. "Split knuckles. I’ve been hanging around cops too long. When am I going to learn not to punch people?" He slid carefully off the bed, closing his eyes briefly as dizziness threatened, grateful for Jim’s steadying hand on his arm.
"Simon, how’s Daryl?" he asked.
"He’s pretty shaken up but he’ll be okay. I phoned his mother, she picked him up a few minutes ago."
"That’s good." Blair couldn’t bring himself to look at Simon, afraid of the anger he’d find there. "I’m sorry."
"Getting Daryl caught up in this. I should have gotten him to safety. I just didn’t know how."
"Sandburg." Simon’s hand came down to rest on his shoulder. "Daryl asked me to thank you for keeping him safe, and I want to add my gratitude to his. If you hadn’t stayed with him, kept him calm, protected him the way you did, things could have turned out a lot worse."
Blair nodded, feeling a lump in his throat threatening to choke him. "I’m glad. I’m glad he’s okay."
Simon’s hand squeezed gently. "I’m glad you’re both okay. I’ll see you two tomorrow. Get some rest, Sandburg."
Blair pulled his jacket off the end of the bed and clumsily wrapped it about his shoulders, cursing as it slipped to the floor. He stared at it, too tired and too sore to bother picking it up.
"Let me do that." Jim retrieved it and maneuvered Blair’s arms through the sleeves, then buttoned it up. He stood back and surveyed his partner. "Ready to get out of here?"
Blair could already feel the effects of the painkiller the doctor had administered creeping up on him. "More than ready," he said around a yawn.
Jim opened the door and ushered him through. They stopped at the desk so Blair could pick up a prescription, then headed for the exit. Coach Brianski and Archie Sloman were just coming through the door.
"Blair. How you doing, man?" Sloman peered down at Blair’s bruised face and clucked sympathetically. "You look like you went ten rounds with Tyson."
"It was Kincaid, actually, and he came off second best." Blair grinned. "Hey, guys. What are you doing here?"
"We’re here to visit Wendell," Brianski replied. "The player who got shot."
"How’s he doing?" Jim asked.
"Doctor said he’s going to be fine. He’ll be sitting out the rest of the season but he’ll be back next year." The coach looked at Blair. "So, we’re going to be a player down for a while. From what I hear of your net shot with that gas grenade into the submarine hatch, maybe you should try out for the Jags, Blair."
Blair felt his face heat with embarrassed pleasure. "Lucky shot. Besides, my time’s pretty much taken up these days chasing bad guys."
Brianski extended his hand and Blair shook it. "Well, any time you get tired of hanging out with these guys," he indicated Jim with a tilt of his chin, "you give me a call. I’d be happy to have you on the team."
Blair beamed. "Thanks, Coach. That’s great."
"We met up with Captain Banks out in the parking lot," the coach continued. "I gave him a couple of season passes for himself and Daryl. A token of the Jag’s appreciation for getting us out of there alive."
"That reminds me," Sloman reached into his pocket and held out two tickets to Jim. "Season passes for you and Blair, Detective. Thanks."
"You guys helped a whole lot yourselves," Jim said, "but thank you." He accepted the tickets and tucked them into his pocket. "We’d better go. Rocky here’s about out on his feet."
He pushed open the door and shepherded Blair out, but paused when Sloman stuck out a hand. Jim clasped it in his own.
"You’re welcome, and it’s Jim."
Sloman nodded. "Jim. Next time you come down to the stadium, I’m still going to wipe the floor with you." His face split into a wide grin.FIN
Please remember to send feedback to our authors. Feedback can be sent to: [email protected]Next week’s episode: Dead End on Blank Street by Melinda