by Kristine Williams
"Hey, Jim." Simon approached the desk just as Jim sat down. "Agent Mills is downstairs. He's taking those two to the Federal Building in Olympia."
"Yeah, I'd heard."
"How's Sandburg doing?"
"Better. I just thought I'd come in for a few hours, get some paperwork out of the way."
Simon nodded. "Did you change your mind about him coming back?"
"No." Jim shook his head, preparing for yet another argument.
"Listen, Jim," Simon sat on the edge of Jim's desk. "It's your decision, and you know I'll back you on it. But I still think you need to re-think this one. Give it some time. This whole thing is still too fresh."
Jim sighed, resigning himself to having to agree with his superior, for the time being. "Okay, Captain, I'll give it some thought." There, that should satisfy him for a few days. Maybe when he'd managed to get Blair to calm down and see the light, Simon would also. Jim's line rang then and Simon nodded, then got up and returned to his office.
"Jim, I need you to stop by the U on your way back."
"Sure, Chief. What do you need?" His tone had improved from earlier that morning, maybe he was calming down?
"Professor Kinyon took my class the other day. There's some papers I need. She's got them."
"She's got them?" It had to be her.
"In her office, yeah."
Great. "Okay, Chief. I'll stop by there around noon."
"No problem." Jim hung up the phone then rubbed his eyes. Great, no problem. Maybe she'd be out to lunch, and he could get Blair's papers from her assistant or something. This was probably his way of punishing Jim for that morning.
He set his mental clock for 3 hours, then settled in to tackle the reports that had begun to pile up. An hour later, Simon came out of his office, looking upset.
"Jim, Agent Mills just phoned in. He's been attacked."
"Come on, I'll tell you what I know on the way."
Jim grabbed his coat and followed the Captain to the elevator. "Edwards and Patterson?"
"They're dead." They reached the garage floor and Simon headed straight for his car, Jim right behind. "Mills radioed in to Olympia that he had a flat tire. A few minutes later, he was attacked while changing it."
"He didn't wait for backup?"
Simon started the car and shook his head. "He said he was hit from behind. When he came around, Patterson and Edwards were dead."
They arrived at the scene, along with a few other FBI cars and a forensic team. Jim saw Agent Mills talking with two other agents and breathed a sigh of relief at seeing him apparently unharmed. The two bodies were still in the backseat of his sedan, and the car still jacked up, right rear tire flat and hanging on the rim. Jim glanced inside at the bodies first, noting the bullet holes in each man's head. They were still both handcuffed and locked in the back seat. The front passenger door was open, and judging by the angle of the wounds and the position of the bodies, that was where the shooter had entered. Jim's jaw muscles flexed at seeing the two men who had been responsible for Blair's injuries sitting there, dead.
"Hey, what happened here?" Jim looked up as Agent Mills approached.
"I made a rookie mistake, that's what happened." Mills looked disgusted as he rubbed the back of his head. "Got a flat, called it in, then figured right here, out in the open like this, with them both secured in the back, why not fix it myself?" He nodded towards the offending tire. "Well, if there was ever a question about a third man, I think we have our answer."
"Did you get a look at him?" Jim walked closer to the tire and bent down, examining the rubber.
"No. I was jacking up the car, didn't even hear anyone come up." He glanced behind them. "Must have come from over there. No car pulled up on the shoulder, I'm sure of that."
Jim turned and glanced behind them. There was a small stretch of grass, then the back of an industrial park. "If he came from there, he must have known when you'd have a flat and where." He returned his gaze to the tire. There was a large hole in the rubber, with its edges sticking out. Jim reached out and felt them, noting the multiple fragments. He felt around inside the deflated rubber, and was just pulling his hand back out when he heard a soft, deep growling behind him. He spun his head around and found only Agent Mills, watching him.
"What's wrong? Did you find something?"
Jim shook his head, trying to recover his composure. "Just fragments," he replied. He pulled his hand out and stood, glancing once again across the grass towards the buildings on the other side. Something large and black moved through the tall grass, then disappeared. Jim's heart skipped a beat, and he searched the waving strip of overgrowth.
"Forensics thinks there might have been a small charge inside the tire, set off remotely."
Jim turned back to Mills, then a movement once again caught his eye and he looked out across the strip of grass, in time to see a crow jump up and fly away. He sighed. "I take it they haven't found anything inside?"
"Not yet. The killer probably removed it before he left."
Jim turned away from the grass and looked once again at the car. "So, he comes up behind you, knocks you out, kills them, then leaves?"
"I know, why leave me alive?" Mills shrugged. "Dumb luck, maybe? When I was coming around, a highway patrol car was pulling up, maybe he scared the killer off before he could finish the job?"
"Maybe." Jim moved back to the passenger door and peered inside. There was something about this he didn't like. More than something, but what exactly it was, he couldn't quite finger just yet. He leaned inside and took a closer look at the dead men. Just as he was backing out, he heard it again. Low and deep, and right beside him. Trying not to move quickly, Jim turned his head and scanned the area, opening his senses as he did so. Again, nothing. Before he could begin to question his sanity, Simon approached.
"They'll be taking these two and the car back to Cascade for forensics to go over, seeing as how you're only twenty minutes out," the Captain was saying to Agent Mills. "Your people are on the way over, to use our labs."
"Sorry about the imposition, Captain. Seems this case just didn't want to be over quite yet."
"Yeah." Jim followed Simon back to the car, then got into the backseat as Agent Mills got in front. "Is anyone canvassing the business park?"
"Two of our agents are," Mills replied. "Plus we've got two others trying to find any witnesses that might have been driving by at the time."
"What about the DOT cameras?"
"Whoever did this, his timing was perfect. Not only did he stop me at one of the few sections of road that can be reached by foot, but he timed it so I would stop just out of range of the last camera passed, and too far away for the next one to pick up."
"A pro." Simon shook his head. "He must have been the brains behind the whole kidnapping operation. I never did believe those other two capable of anything more complicated than tying their shoes."
Jim's eyebrows knitted together as he contemplated the evidence. "But then why kill them? Why not break them out, so they could continue on? After netting 8 million, they had something profitable going. Why end it?"
"Maybe it was too close a call, and the 8 million sounded like a good deal when there were no partners to split with?" Mills turned slightly to project his voice to Jim in the backseat.
"If we don't get some leads soon, this guy's gonna be in Cancun or somewhere with his 8 million all to himself." Simon pulled into the parking garage and shut off the car. "Jim, why don't you give that car a good look when they bring it in, see if you can pick up anything. I'll check with records, see if anything's come up yet on Edwards or Patterson."
"So far, we've found nothing on either of them." Mills got out of the car and glanced at Jim. "If I can use your computer, I'll bring up what little we have."
"Of course." Jim turned to Simon. "So far, it looks like a small charge, remotely set off, was in the right rear tire. I'll go see if I can get any more from the forensics team."
Jim turned to leave and Mills followed the Captain to the elevators. He crossed the garage, then walked around the back of the building to the forensics garage. Agent Mills' car was just being towed inside when he arrived. While he waited for the car to be set down, he pulled out the cell phone and called Blair.
"Hey, Chief. I'm gonna be a little later getting back."
"Agent Mills had some trouble transporting Edwards and Patterson back to Olympia."
"Is he all right?"
"Yeah, he's fine. The kidnappers are dead."
"What?! Jim, what happened?"
"Mills' car got a flat. When he got out to change it, he was blindsided. By the time he came to, Edwards and Patterson where dead."
"I knew there had been another one."
"Looks like it. Listen, I need to go over the car, do some checking. Are you going to be okay for a few more hours?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"I can stop by the U on the way home, but I don't know what time that will be."
"That's okay, Jim. I can have someone drop the papers by. Is Agent Mills okay?"
"Yeah, just a bump on the head. If you need anything, call me."
Jim hung up, then walked to the car that was now being examined by several members of the forensic team. He stood behind the officer who was examining the blown tire and concentrated his sight on the fragments of rubber that were obviously facing outward, as if from an internal explosion. Jim let his vision focus on the inside of the tire, trying to get a closer look at the edges of the torn rubber. As his sight narrowed in, Jim felt the blackness reach out, taking hold of his sight. Before he could blink, his eyes were drawn inside, pulled in by some outside force that drew his focus completely into the hole. Jim suddenly lost sight of everything else around him, even his peripheral vision was filled with the blackness. His ears began to ring, and he heard again the deep growling from somewhere nearby. He tried to blink, to bring his focus back out of the black pit it had fallen into, but he couldn't. Sweat was beginning to build on his upper lip, and the growl grew in volume and intensity. Just when he thought he could feel himself physically falling, there was a hand on his shoulder, and his eyes snapped back into focus, making him shake his head with the dizziness that followed.
"...if there was to begin with." The officer who had been talking to him finished his sentence, then walked over to the workbench. He realized the hand on his shoulder was still there, and Simon was standing beside him.
"Whoever it was, he must have taken the device out before leaving the scene. Leaves us damn little to go on."
Jim realized they had found nothing inside the tire. "I don't like this, Captain. Why leave Mills alive? If they were willing to kill me, as well as one other man along with Raymond, then why not kill one more?"
"I don't know, Jim."
"And right there in the open? It's a sure bet, given some time, we'll find someone who saw something." Jim shook his head, then followed his Captain back out of the garage.
"Maybe he's already on a plane out of the country, with the money. Figured by the time we found a witness, or enough evidence, he'd be lounging on a beach somewhere."
"Yeah." They went back into the Station, and Jim found Mills still at his desk. "Any luck?"
Agent Mills shook his head, then leaned back and stretched, popping his knuckles. "Nope. Dead end here. Neither Edwards or Patterson had any kind of record. No family ties. Both residents of California, both unemployed for the past five years. Basically, these men are unremarkable in every way."
"Except they kidnapped three people, and beat them all to death. Including a 16 year old girl." Jim glanced from Mills to Simon. "I want this one, Simon. He's got to have been the brains behind the whole operation. Edwards and Patterson were the muscle. That would explain how those two idiots could mistake Blair for Raymond. And, it would explain why the directions for the deliveries were so convoluted."
"How do you figure that?" Mills asked.
"He must have been following, keeping an eye on your agents as they kept an eye on the delivery. Maintaining contact with the other two, so that they could change directions often enough to lose all the tails."
"Jim, that sounds an awful lot like you're suggesting someone on the inside." Simon shook his head. "The profilers would have taken that into consideration." He looked at Agent Mills.
"Yes, they would have," Mills agreed. "But, that doesn't rule out the possibility of someone trailing. He'd just have to know who we were." He turned back to Jim. "You're sure you saw nothing in that club?"
Jim shook his head. "No, nothing."
"And I never caught a glimpse out there on the highway."
"But then, that doesn't explain why he'd take me and Sandburg in the club, but leave you behind."
"There's a lot about this case that isn't making sense." Mills shook his head slowly. "I'm afraid we may never know the facts. He's most likely already out of the country."
"Probably," Simon agreed.
"We might get more when forensics is finished with the car, but I'm not holding out much hope." Mills reached around to the back of Jim's desk where he'd set his coat. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got more paperwork to fill out." He pulled on his coat. "I was looking forward to heading home today. I guess that's not going to happen."
"Yeah." Jim nodded, then glanced at the clock. "Simon, I'd better to check up on Sandburg. Let me know when the forensic report is in on the car?"
"Ellison, I'd like to stop by in the morning, maybe go over this whole thing once more with your partner. He might just recall something."
"It's worth a shot," Jim replied. He left then, pulling his cell phone out of his jacket pocket as he crossed the hall. It took three rings before he heard an answer this time.
"Hey, Chief. I'm on my way home. Do you still need those papers from Professor Kinyon?"
"Oh, no, man, thanks. I had someone bring them over."
Thank God. "Okay. I'll be there in a few minutes."
"What did you find out?"
"Not much. I'll fill you in when I get there." Jim ended the call and put the phone back in his pocket as he reached the truck. Blair sounded like he was in a better mood. Maybe he was realizing the new arrangement would work out. No, he never would realize that. Of that, Jim was certain.
When he pulled in to his usual spot across the street, he noticed a young, attractive woman leaving the building's apartment entrance. He thought she looked somewhat familiar, and she smiled at him as he caught her eye. Must be the person Blair had deliver his papers. He'd been to Sandburg's office often enough to begin to recognize several people by sight, but her name was escaping him.
The front door was unlocked, so Jim came inside, finding Blair still sitting at the kitchen table, glasses on, with papers strewn about the table.
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