Blair is quite pleased when Jim agrees to a trip to a small visiting Russian circus. Simon, Daryl, and Megan join in the fun, only to arrive at the fairgrounds to a grizzly murder and a missing trained bear.


Cascade Virtual Tales
Production No. BPP-603

written by:

edited by:
JAC and Eagle Eye

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"Come on, Jim. It'll be fun," Blair Sandburg wheedled.

"Yeah, Jim, be a sport," Megan Connor added her voice to the plea.

"No. Thanks anyway. You two go and have fun."

"Jiiiiiimmmm," Blair was starting to whine... not a pretty sight.

"Look, I told you, I don't want to go, so leave me alone, all right?" His jaws began to flex in his annoyance.

"When was the last time you went, Jim?" Connor asked, her curiosity warring with her good sense. She knew better than to tease him, but she really wanted to know.

"Ivnvrbn," Jim's mumble was indecipherable.

"I'm sorry?" Megan replied, her brows arching up in surprise.

"I said, 'I've never been to a circus', okay?"

Blair and Megan looked at each other in horrified amazement.

"Then you've got to go!" Megan exclaimed.

"You owe it to yourself, man," Blair added.

Jim turned on his partner, "Why? So I can be overwhelmed by the stench of the animals, oh, and let's not forget the crappy food, or all the people with their perfume, and cologne. Or, how about the noise? Crowds of people all talking at once, crummy amplifier system that cracks with static? Or, or, how about..."

"Whoa! Hold it for a second, man. We can work through those things. You know you can. You can go to a Jags game, but you won't go to a circus? C'mon, man. Give me a break, here."

"Jim, you're not afraid of the clowns, are you?"

Both men turned confused faces toward her, effectively breaking the momentum of the argument. Seeing their expressions, she tried to explain.

"My kid sister was afraid of the clowns. Absolutely phobic, even a picture was enough to send her into hysterics. I just thought, maybe..." Seeing Jim's expression, she stopped talking.

"Or, maybe not," she finished.

Jim shook his head to try and regain some semblance of normality. Turning back to his partner, he said, "Look, Chief. Thanks for the invite, but I just don't feel like it, okay?"

Just then, Captain Simon Banks returned from another fruitless budget meeting with the city council. With his topcoat hung over one arm, he eyed the trio before him. Trying to stifle a sigh, he tentatively said, "I don't think I want to know what this little tete-a-tete is all about, but it's Friday, and it's long past time to go home."

"Sounds like a great idea, Simon," Jim quietly concurred.

"Hey, Simon, what are your plans for the weekend?" Blair asked.

Turning his formidable glare on the much smaller man (on whom it, unfortunately, had no effect) he growled his answer. "Daryl and I have plans for the weekend... why?" The last added suspiciously.

"Hey, cool. I just wondered what you were doing, nothing special."

Simon sighed, "My nineteen-year-old son wants me to take him to the circus," his voice indicated a particularly gruesome form of martyrdom was in store for him.

"Hey, Megan and I were just trying to talk Jim into going with us. Maybe we could all go together?"

"You're kidding, right?" Simon looked at Jim, who now wore the expression of martyrdom.

"No, he's not. I'm trying to pass on it, though," Jim explained.

Simon looked thoughtful for a moment. "You know, Jim, that might not be such a bad idea."

"What! Simon..." Jim's voice rose with outrage.

"No, no. Hear me out. It only makes sense to have a couple of adults along when the kids go to the circus, don't you think?"

"Hey! Who you callin' a kid, man?" Blair interjected, looking and sounding insulted.

"I hardly think..." Megan began, only to be cut off by Jim.

"Well, maybe..."

Blair and Megan exchanged open-mouthed expressions of shock. They'd been nagging and sniping for more than an hour, trying to convince the recalcitrant Sentinel to join them, and their captain just waltzed in and gotten him to give in, in less than a minute.

"If we hurry, we can probably still make the eight o'clock performance," Blair said, looking at the clock on the wall.

"I have a better idea," Jim countered. "Why don't we go to the early matinee tomorrow at ten?"

"That sounds good to me," Simon agreed. "Since I have the biggest car, why don't I pick everyone up? We can start with breakfast, then do the circus?"

"That's... that's great, man," Blair started to bounce with excitement. The details were quickly sorted out and settled, and the four were soon on their way to their respective homes.

Comfortably ensconced in Jim's truck, Blair waxed eloquent on the wonders his friend would be seeing at the circus. Jim just smiled indulgently as he kept most of his attention on the other cars on the road.

"I can't believe you've never been to a circus, man. That's just... well, awful. This one is from Russia, where some of the best acts ever done came from. This is just a little one, of course, old fashioned, but very traditional. Not all the hype of a big circus, like modern ones." He chattered on, giving much of the history of circuses and details of the lifestyle.

"Sounds like you were in the circus yourself, Chief." Jim finally managed to interject into one of the few pauses when Blair actually took a breath.

"Nah, not me, but I had this friend? Every summer, she'd join up with her family and travel all over North America with their little circus. She was a bareback rider..." and off he went on another tangent.

Finally, they pulled up into their usual parking space in front of the building that housed the loft they shared. Jim had unbuckled his seatbelt, when he noticed the sudden and ominous silence from his passenger.

Turning back, he asked, "Something wrong, Chief?"

Blair turned smoldering eyes on his roommate, "Jim, how'd you know that the first performance tomorrow was at ten?"

Jim shrugged, "Ever heard of television, Chief?"

"But they didn't have any ads on ESPN, Jim."

"There's also the news, Chief."

"I watched the news with you. And you missed the noon news today, when they announced it." His annoyed confusion morphed into a moment of anger before settling on chagrined surprise. "You and Simon set us up! I can't believe it! That is so... so..."

"Sneaky and underhanded? I suppose. But Daryl got discount tickets last week at school, so Simon and I decided to invite you along. Megan's a bonus, I guess."

"I can't believe I actually bought your act. You knew all along that you were going to the circus with us, and you just played us for fools!"

"Nah, not fools, Chief. Like a salmon..." He accompanied his amused words with the imaginary casting and reeling in of a fish.

Blair glared for a moment, then grinned, "Yeah, I guess you did. And the line about never having been? That was just a part of the act, too, wasn't it?"

"No," Jim said, turning away and exiting the truck, "Actually, I haven't ever been to a circus."

Blair gaped a moment in horror, then scrambled out of his own seatbelt and hurriedly got out of the truck to follow his friend. "Never?"


From the set of Jim's back and shoulders, Blair decided not to push it.

Right on time, at eight-thirty the next morning, Daryl Banks lifted his hand to knock on the door of apartment 307. Just as he brought his knuckles down to tap on the door, it opened before him, causing him to lose his balance and stumble into the loft, bumping heavily into the large, muscular form of Jim Ellison.

"Whoa, easy there, Daryl," Jim said, catching the young man and helping him regain his balance.

"Man, how'd you do that?" the teen asked, embarrassed.

"Heard your Nike's on the stairs. You move pretty loudly, you know?"

"Yeah, I guess," Daryl was still in a bit of shock, but looked around the scrupulously clean loft for the other resident. "You guys ready to go? Megan's downstairs with Dad, and he wanted me to tell you to hurry up." He looked up at the stern and forbidding face of the older man, "He, uh, wants to stop for breakfast, he said."

"Cool!" Blair came out of his room, buttoning his flannel overshirt as he came. Passing the two on his way through the door, he glanced back, "C'mon, guys, let's not keep the captain waiting."

Sighing, Jim smiled ruefully at the teenager and motioned him out, pausing to pick up his keys, and Blair's, from the basket on the table by the door. "Go on ahead, I'll catch up," he encouraged Daryl as he paused to lock the door behind them.

With his long legs, Jim was granted the front seat, while the three smaller members of their little group squeezed into the rear seat, quite comfortably, actually. Murmuring quiet greetings to Megan and Simon, Jim climbed in. Simon, casting a concerned glance at the Sentinel, frowned worriedly and caught Blair's eyes in the rear view mirror. Blair, not having been able to pry any information out of his friend, just shrugged. Starting the engine, Simon checked the non-existent traffic and pulled out into the street, heading towards the fairgrounds.

"Where are we stopping for breakfast, Simon?" Blair asked.

"Well, it's not really the circus unless you pig out on all the carnival food, so we're just going a bit early and snagging breakfast there," the big captain replied.

"Oh, cool! Did you know..." and Blair was off on another one of his impromptu lectures.

Arriving at the fairgrounds, they were surprised to discover the parking lot filled with police cruisers and the circus grounds crawling with cops. Getting out of the car, Simon warned, "Daryl, stay here."

"But Dad!"

"I mean it, son. You stay right here in this car until I come back for you, or send someone to get you, understand?"

"But Daaaaad," Daryl whined.

Jim stood like a statue by the car, his gaze focused into the circus back lot, his head tilted in his usual listening pose. Blair, noticing, reached a hand out to rest on his partner's arm. Looking into the distance, he, of course, could see nothing to attract his friend's attention. Softly, he asked, "What is it, Jim?"

"Your dad's right, Daryl. Stay here until we find out what happened." Without another word, he headed straight for the source of all the activity, the other three cops following him.

"Jim? What is it?"

"Someone got killed by the bear," Jim replied absently as he headed for the scene.

Blair turned pale, closed his eyes for a moment to regroup, took a deep breath and followed his partner and their captain; wishing for once that he was still an observer, and had to stay in the car with Daryl.

At first glance, it seemed pretty obvious that the victim had been mauled by a large animal. There were claw marks, ripping through the clothing and flesh beneath. The savage bite marks on the man's hands and face... Even Captain Banks had to swallow hard at that sight. Blair simply closed his eyes and looked away, anywhere but at the corpse.

"What happened?" Simon asked the nearest patrolman, who looked startled to see the Captain of Major Crime himself, on the scene.

"Uh, Sir? Well, we got a call about an hour ago, about the bear getting loose, when we got here, we found the victim behind the animal's cage. Most of these people don't speak English, Sir, and we're having a pretty hard time communicating. We've got a call in for an interpreter, but it's gonna be a while. I mean, it is Saturday, Sir."

Simon glanced at the patrolman's name tag and nodded "That's fine, Thomas, carry on." Simon turned to his crew. Sighing, he asked, "I don't suppose any of you speaks Russian?" Turning away before getting an answer, he sighed again.

"Actually, I speak a bit," Megan volunteered, albeit a bit hesitantly.

Turning in surprise, Simon asked, "You do? Great, talk to these people and find out what happened."

"Doug?" Jim called out to one of the other patrolmen he knew. The blond looked up from his notepad and excused himself from the agitated man he'd been talking to.

"Hey, detectives. You guys got here fast, I only called it in about twenty minutes ago, when we found the stiff."

"Yeah, Thomas said you were called out because the bear got loose? Where is it, now?"

Doug Roberts shrugged. "I got no idea. Except for the stiff, we got nothin'. No tracks, nothin'." He glanced around a bit and leaned closer, lowering his voice. "Personally, I think it was murder. There's just somethin' real hinky about it, you know?"

"What, specifically, Doug?" Blair asked.

"Well, nothin's torn up. The ground's smooth, except where the stiff is, behind the cage. I just can't figure a trained bear doin' this. Somethin' just ain't right, ya know?"

Jim looked around and found himself agreeing with him. Something was definitely wrong. Just then, the man Officer Roberts had been talking to approached them. He offered a nervous, jerky bow to the newcomers, and then began speaking, hesitantly, to Doug. Only the man didn't speak in English... and Doug Roberts answered him, also very hesitantly, in the same language.

"I didn't know you spoke Russian, Doug," Blair said, surprised.

"I don't. He speaks Polish, and I understand it a little. My grandmother was from Poland."

"What's he saying?" Jim asked, noting the insistent attitude of the man. At the tone in his voice, the man turned to Jim and began to gesture and chatter, rapidly, trying to explain whatever it was that had him so upset.

"He's the bear's trainer. He keeps saying that Gregori, that's the bear's name, wouldn't have done this... sorry, couldn't have done this." Roberts explained.

Blair looked at the bear's trainer. The man was even shorter than Sandburg and half again as wide. In fact, he looked a bit like a bear, himself. A very well fed bear. "Why couldn't the bear have done it?" he asked, puzzled. Even his cursory glance had told him that the victim had been mauled by a large, vicious animal.

"He says that Gregori is muzzled. That he couldn't have bitten the man, and his claws are filed down blunt. He says the only way the bear could have killed anyone is by sitting on them and crushing them." Doug listened a bit more to the agitated bear trainer and nodded, "He says that Gregori is very docile and afraid to even go for walks in the woods after the show, and that he has to almost force the animal to leave his cage, except for when they have a performance."

"How old is Gregori?" Blair asked, as Jim wandered over to the cage to look at the open door.

Doug translated, a bit uncertainly, but was obviously understood when the trainer replied, holding up his fingers to count. "He says Gregori is almost twelve, pretty old for a bear, but he can't afford a new one. He's really worried about him. With the muzzle on, he has to be hand fed everything, although he can drink."

Jim returned in time to hear the last statement. "Doesn't he get the muzzle off when he's in his cage?"

Doug asked, received the answer, and looked a bit annoyed, "He says once the bear is full grown, they're fitted with one last muzzle that doesn't come off until the bear is retired or dies."

"Aren't there laws against things like that?" Jim asked, equally annoyed.

"He says it's for the safety of the bear as much as the people who work with him. By making them so dependent, they feel it makes the bear easier to train, since every trick is rewarded with food. Don't do the trick, don't get fed." There was a sickly pallor on both Roberts' and Sandburg's faces. Jim didn't blame them, he was feeling a bit ill, himself.

"Well, he just may be right. Come take a look." Jim led them back over to the cage. Pointing to the latch, he pointed out a greasy fingerprint, "I'm thinking that whoever turned the bear loose is probably our murderer, but what did the damage? Those are definitely bite marks on the victim."

Blair didn't look over at the body, but Jim stepped over for a closer look. He gauged the depth and dimensions of the bite marks, and scowled. Looking up, he gestured for Doug and the bear's trainer to come over. When they approached, he asked, "How big is the missing bear?"

Roberts turned to the trainer and fumbled with the language, but still managed to make himself understood. When the man replied, he nodded his understanding. Turning back to the detectives, he translated, "He says he was a medium-sized bear, about six hundred pounds."

"How tall?"

The little man looked at them after Doug asked the question, then pointed at Doug, indicating that the bear was about his height. Jim nodded his understanding.

"In that case, he's absolutely right. His bear couldn't have done this." Rising, he motioned Blair, Roberts, and the bear trainer to follow him as he led them over to Captain Banks, who was pinching the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses as he tried to make some sense out of what Connor was 'interpreting'.

"Captain?" Jim asked softly.

Simon looked up, a hopeful look in his eyes. "Please, tell me you have something?"

"Yeah, we need forensics to go over the latch to the bear's cage, there's a greasy fingerprint on it."

"Well, that's something, anyway," Simon sighed, already tired.

"There's more, Sir."

"Oh? Someone else who speaks Russian?" the captain asked sarcastically.

"No, Sir, Doug Roberts speaks Polish, and so does the bear's trainer. It's not the first language for either of them, but they're managing pretty well."

Simon looked over Jim's shoulder at the rest of his entourage and sighed again. "So, what have you got?"

"Murder. According to the trainer, here, his bear is too big to have done the damage on our victim, plus, the bear was muzzled."

Simon groaned and lowered his head, one hand coming up to squeeze the bridge of his nose. Shaking his head miserably as the burgeoning headache abruptly turned into a full-blown migraine. "I don't need this. I really don't need this." He lifted his head, his hand dropping to his side. "All right, see what else you can find. An ID on the victim would be nice. With his face ripped up like that, and the way his hands have been... shit."

"Yeah, I noticed. Good method of hiding the identity, at least for a while," Jim softly agreed. "Actually, Doug Roberts caught it. Said that something didn't feel right about the whole setup."

Simon looked over at the uniformed officer who was quietly talking to the short man whom he assumed was the bear's trainer. "Jim, we need to find the bear."

"Yeah, I'm on it. I'll take Roberts and the trainer, too. You coming, Chief?"

"Yeah, sure, Jim," Blair replied, giving their captain a weak smile as he turned to follow his partner.

Jim went back over the bear's cage, sorting the various odors, filtering them out until he managed to isolate the bear's individual scent. Blair, murmuring softly and resting his hand on Jim's arm, kept him focused, without tipping off the other two men. Finally, Jim spotted something gleaming in the straw. Reaching into his pocket for a pair of latex gloves, he slid them on and reached to pick up the object that had caught his eye. It was a silver coat button, with a distinctive crest. He showed it to the bear's trainer, whose eyes widened when he saw it. He started speaking rapidly, making broad, agitated gestures, until Officer Roberts put his hands on the smaller man's shoulders and apparently told him to slow down. Listening to the man's explanation, Doug turned to the two detectives and translated.

"I'm not real sure, but I think he said that the button came off the coat of a man who's been trying to buy the circus, most particularly, the animals..." He listened to more of the trainer's explanation, nodding his understanding. "They told him no, pretty emphatically, I'd guess. He seems to think the guy was a dealer in rare animal parts."

"Great, just what we needed," Blair groused. "An international dealer in endangered species and/or their parts."

"Makes sense, though," Jim murmured, looking closely at the button. "I didn't see any silver buttons on our victim, though," he added, thoughtfully as he placed the button in a small evidence bag and made the proper notations on the label before pocketing it.

Having singled out the smell of the bear, Jim started tracking, using his eyes in conjunction with his sense of smell, pointing out the minute scuff marks made by the bear, and that it had run, as though chased. The trainer, who finally identified himself as Nikolai Stephanovitch, eagerly explained how his Gregori would most likely try to find a safe place to hide.

Jim spotted some other tracks and pointed them out. "Doug, ask him if there were any dogs running loose last night, barking or anything?"

Repeating the question, he got the answer from Nikolai that the animals had gotten a bit agitated early that morning, but that no dogs had been heard. "Why?" Doug asked, his curiosity aroused.

"Looks like they used dogs to chase the bear, big dogs. Rottweilers, maybe." He pointed to the distinctive track in a small patch of damp ground, definitely a dog's paw print, and from the size and shape, it was easy to come to the conclusion that it came from a Rottweiler.

"Do they hunt without barking?" Blair asked.

"Don't know. I suppose they can, since the military uses them," Jim replied, continuing his quest of following the bear. Soon, they were well out of earshot of the circus, following the scant sign of the animal where he had run into the nearby woods. If they didn't find him, and soon, Animal Control would be called in, and they were most likely to kill the animal outright as soon as try and capture it. Although the woods here were quite extensive, it was still too inhabited to allow even a trained bear to remain loose, muzzle or no muzzle.

Nearly an hour later, Jim called a halt. Eyeing the rocky terrain they'd reached, he sent his hearing out, searching... "Ask him if the bear will come if he calls," he told the patrolman.

Doug translated, and Nikolai shrugged, but pulled a whistle from his pocket, along with a bit of food he'd been wise enough to bring along. Jim, seeing the whistle immediately adjusted his hearing. Blowing the whistle, Nikolai called out a command.

They waited. Jim's head was cocked to one side, listening. He heard a snuffling grunt, and a whine followed by a whimper. "I think he might be hurt. Come on," he cautiously led the way around a large outcropping of granite boulders, tracing the sounds. Finding a small cave, he led the way in, where they found the bear, cowering as far back as he could get from them. The animal's front paws were nearly shredded, although the bleeding had stopped. Jim motioned Nikolai to try and get his bear. He didn't bother pointing out that whatever had mauled the bear had also been the ones to kill the man back at the circus. Looking around, he was surprised to see the dead dog... there had to have been more than one, but the bear had been able to defend himself, albeit ineffectively. Looking closer at the dead Rottweiler, Jim realized that Roberts' explanation earlier that the only way the bear could hurt something was to sit on it, was exactly what had happened. The bear had apparently been trying to cower back into the cave and had fallen, crushing the smaller dog beneath his weight.

"Doug, see if Nikolai thinks he can coax Gregori back to the circus. He's going to need a vet, and soon. It looks like the bleeding has stopped, for now, but there's no telling how long it's been. Sandburg, call it in and tell them to have a vet standing by, my guess is our best bet will be the zoo. They have to have someone who can handle a case like this."

"Right, Jim," Blair said, grateful to be able to climb out of the cave and up high enough that his cell phone would work.

The injured bear was barely able to walk on his front paws, and as soon as he did, they started bleeding again. Once they were out of the cave, Jim looked around, listening, "There's a road just over there, let's head that way. Then, while you keep him moving back towards the circus, I'll run back and get the truck. We can try and get him in the back and then take him to the vet's." He looked thoughtfully at the two policemen with him, he knew that he needed Roberts to translate, so that left his partner.

"Blair, I need you to stay and secure the scene. I'll send someone to relieve you as soon as I can, all right?"

Blair swallowed hard and nodded. Turning back towards the cave, he hesitated a moment, "Uh, Jim? Do I have to stay in the cave?"

Jim grimaced, knowing that this was difficult for his partner, "No, Chief. It's better if you don't go too close to the cave, forensics may still be able to get something. Just keep anyone from tracking it up any more than we already have."

Sighing in relief, Blair nodded, "Gotcha. Take your time, but hurry back."

"As quick as we can, Chief."

As soon as the three men and the bear made it up to the road, Jim left them to coax Gregori, who had decided, once on level ground, that it was less painful to walk upright like the humans, but was still shuffling slowly, too much in pain to be hurried. Breaking into a fast jog, Jim ran back to get his truck and let his captain know what they'd found.

Breathing easily as he ran, the trip made easier by being mostly downhill, Jim contemplated the possibilities. Someone wanted to buy the animals. For the black market, most likely. They had a bear that had been turned loose and a dead man who had been mauled, trying to make it look like the bear did it. He had to remember to have forensics check the claw marks to see if the bear could have done it, but he seriously doubted it. He agreed with Nikolai on that score. Then the bear had been chased and mauled by the same dogs that had most likely killed the victim. It kept coming back to who and why. Who was the dead man, and why did the murderer, or murderers, set up such an elaborate scenario? Did they think the police either stupid or uncaring enough to just automatically think the bear had killed the man? And what purpose did it serve?

He had a lot of questions and no answers by the time he got back to the scene. Trotting up to his captain, he tugged him aside. "Simon, we found the bear. He's been badly mauled and there's a dead rottweiler. I'm going to take the truck..." he trailed off as he abruptly realized that they had come in Simon's car, not his truck. At a momentary loss, he looked around, searching for... "Simon, can I use the four-wheel drive unit to go get the bear and get him to a vet?"

Simon looked around, the vehicle in question was the canine unit's. Taking a puff on his cigar, he nodded. "Good idea. How bad is the bear hurt?"

"His front paws are pretty mangled. The muzzle kept him from defending himself and his claws are blunt and filed down. The only reason he managed to kill one of the dogs is that he fell on it and crushed him. He's pretty big, but in spite of how badly he's hurt and how much pain he's in, he's still really docile. Almost like a big dog." He didn't mention the fact that the animal's crying was eerily reminiscent of a small child's.

"Go tell Jackson that you're going to be using his unit, then get going. We don't need that animal to die on us, especially if he's innocent."

"I'm pretty sure he is, Sir. You might have Dan check the victim, see if those claw marks are the result of an animal or a man swinging a special club designed to mimic a bear's swipe. If this bear did it, the wounds on the body will be obviously made by blunt claws. Gregori's nails are trimmed and filed almost flat, and nearly down to the quick."

"I'll let Dan know. Anything else, besides the Rottweilers?" Simon asked.

"Yeah, Blair's holding down the scene. It's about a mile and a half up the road, take the first left onto a dirt road, then follow it to where you can see a big rock outcropping on the left side, there's a small cave there. That's where they cornered Gregori, and Sandburg is standing guard, to keep anyone else from messing up the scene."

"You left Sandburg?" Simon asked in surprise.

"Well, I had to, Roberts is the only one who can talk to Nikolai," Jim replied.

"Okay. Go on and take off, I'll get forensics headed up to relieve Sandburg, just as soon as they're finished here." Seeing the concerned expression on Jim's face, he added, "Maybe I can pull one or two of them off this scene and send them up with a couple more officers to relieve him."

"Well, if you do that right now, while I get the SUV from Jackson, I can give them a ride up there."

"Good idea. Get on it." While Jim went over to explain their dilemma to Jackson with the canine unit, Simon went over to snag a couple of the forensics technicians. Following protocols, he went to the head of forensics, Cassie Wells.

"We've got a second scene and I need a couple of people up there. Jim's going back up, so if you want to send anyone along, now would be a good time to get them."

Cassie turned away from monitoring one of her technicians, "What kind of scene?"

"They found the bear, he's been attacked by dogs. Jim's going to take the bear to the vet, and is going back up to get the bear. There's a dead Rottweiler at the scene. We're going to need pictures, drawings, the whole thing. See if you can tell how many dogs were involved, and whether or not there were any people around, besides ours."

"I'll get right on it, Captain," Cassie promised and called out to a couple of her techs to come along.

Jim looked at Cassie and her two technicians, recognizing both Sam and Charlie, as they joined him at the SUV. He motioned them to get in, got behind the wheel and started the vehicle, put it into gear and headed out towards the second scene.

"From the tracks, it looks like there were three or four dogs, they cornered the bear in a small cave in a good-sized rock outcropping. He sat on one dog, crushing it. The other dogs left him, although I'm not quite sure why. At any rate, there are some human footprints there, as well, near the mouth of the cave, off to one side. I kept us from trampling the evidence, but I'll have to show you where they are. Sandburg's up above the cave, keeping any stray hikers away."

"You sound like you don't think that the bear killed the man back at the circus," Cassie challenged.

Jim didn't bother to spare her a glance as he answered. "The bear is muzzled and his claws are filed down blunt. If he killed that man, what bit him? The muzzle was still in place. Of course, the poor animal's front paws have been badly mauled, so there's no telling if he could have clawed the victim. I still think we'll find that the dogs that attacked the bear are the same ones that bit our DB." Jim spotted the three figures moving slowly down the hill and pulled up beside them.

Jim got quickly out of the car and headed around to open the back of the SUV. "Doug, you and Nikolai get Gregori in the truck while I take Cassie and her crew up to the scene."

"Got you, Jim," Doug agreed, turning to speak to the animal trainer.

Cassie and the technicians got reluctantly out, realizing that their ride was over. "How far do we have to go, now?" Cassie whined in annoyance, knowing better than to try and change the detective's mind.

"Only a couple hundred yards. Gregori wasn't able to get very far," He turned back for a moment, "Doug? There's a first aid kit under the back seat."

Roberts waved his understanding and continued to try and help Nikolai coax the injured bear into the back of the SUV. Gregori was crying and whining, snuffling at the truck and looking around.

"Shit. Doug! That's the canine unit! He smells the dog!" Jim shouted back as he continued leading the forensics people up the hill toward the scene. Reluctantly, he left them to their task and turned away to lead the way back to where his partner was holding down the fort.

"OK, he doesn't like the smell of the canine unit," Doug mused as he dug under the seat for the first aid kit. "What have we here?" He pulled out a large sealed bag of jerky treats. Grinning at Nikolai, he offered the bag, explaining his idea of luring the hungry and injured bear into the back with the treats. Nikolai smiled back his understanding, opened the bag and teased his bear with the treats.

Gregori still moaned and searched for the dog that had left the scent in the truck, finally, however, his hunger and pain grew greater than his fear, and he hesitantly climbed in the back of the SUV, gratefully taking his treats as they were slipped into his mouth. He seemed relieved when Doug closed the tailgate behind him, sealing him in with his trainer.

There was also a bowl and several bottles of water under the seat. He passed them to Nikolai as well as the first aid kit. While Gregori thirstily drank two bottles of water, his trainer roughly bandaged his injured paws.

Jim led the forensics team in silence to the place they had found the bear. As soon as they were close enough, he called out to his partner. "Sandburg!"

Blair immediately appeared, standing atop the rock outcropping, waving his arm in acknowledgment. Jim waved back and hurried his steps, unconcerned whether or not the others kept up.

Blair climbed down to meet them, arriving at the cave's mouth at the same time as they did. "No one's been by, but I noticed a few things from up there," Blair began speaking as soon as they were close enough. "I found some footprints that we didn't make, over there, by the cave. Looks like one person, leather soles on his shoes, rounded toe..." He led the way to the same tracks that Jim had noticed earlier, eliciting a pride-filled smile from the more experienced detective. "From up there," Blair continued as Charlie started with taking pictures of the tracks, "You can see a sort of path through the underbrush, where the dogs chased Gregori. You can see by the way the grass is bent that there were probably at least four dogs chasing him. There's also another sort of path leading off that way," he pointed in the appropriate direction, "looks like maybe one man, with the dogs, took off that way."

"That's fine, Sandburg," Cassie said shortly. "Let us handle it from here." She cast a caustic glance at Jim before adding, "I wouldn't want to make you keep the bear waiting," she added, sarcastically.

"Oh, yeah, right. How is Gregori, Jim?"

"They were trying to get him into the canine unit's SUV when we left. I forgot that we rode in with Simon, so I had to borrow the SUV, and Gregori didn't much like the smell of the dog, although I can certainly understand why." He looked around the scene once more before turning away. "We'll leave you to your work, Cassie. Simon will be sending someone back up to get you when you're ready. You do have a radio?"

Glaring, balefully, Cassie replied, "Yes, Jim, I have a radio. If I need anything, I'll call the captain, okay?"

"Just making sure, Cassie," Jim said with a smirk as he turned away, clapping his partner on the shoulder and nudging him in the proper direction. "Come on, Chief, let's go get the bear to the vet's."

"Right, Jim. See you later, Cassie, Sam, Charlie." He politely smiled and waved at the trio before turning away and allowing his partner to push him toward the road.

They moved quickly, arriving back at the SUV in just a few minutes. There, they found the two men and the bear, safely ensconced in the vehicle. Blair got in the front seat next to his partner, since Doug had taken the back seat and Nikolai was in the rear with his bear.

"I called the zoo," Blair informed them. "They're expecting us and will have a team waiting to take care of Gregori."

"Thanks, Blair," Doug said, then translated the information to Nikolai.

"How'd you finally get him in the truck?" Jim asked curiously, remembering how the animal had cowered from the vehicle earlier.

"They had some dog treats next to the first aid kit. Gregori likes the bacon flavored ones." Doug explained. Jim chuckled and started the vehicle.

"Hey, I'm just glad it worked," Doug grinned back at them. Gregori grumbled contentedly, the cream that his trainer had put on his mangled paws had painkillers in it and obviously they were feeling much better. Nikolai took it for begging for more treats and slipped him another piece of the bacon flavored jerky.


Once they got the bear delivered to the zoo veterinarians, the four men waited for word on the animal's injuries. Both Nikolai and Doug ended up in the treatment room, Nikolai to handle his bear, who didn't take kindly to the strangers working on his injured paws, and Doug, to translate. Once they were informed that the bear would be all right, but that it would take several hours to repair the damage to his front paws, Jim pulled out his phone and called their captain.


"Yeah, Captain, we got the bear to the zoo, it's gonna be several hours until they're through fixing up his paws. They said it was definitely a dog attack. We only noticed how badly his front paws were, but he has some nasty gashes on his butt and hind legs, too. I'm leaving Roberts here with Nikolai to help with Gregori, and Sandburg and I are on our way back. After we stop to replenish Jackson' supply of dog treats. We had to use them to get Gregori into the truck."

"Good. Dan came out and took a look at the body. He agreed with you. The claw marks were made with some sort of club. He says he'll have more to tell us after the post mortem. Did Cassie have anything to say about the scene?"

"Not really, only that she had a radio and would call when they were through. Haven't you heard from them, yet? It's been a couple of hours, I'd have thought that they were finished by now. There wasn't that much at the scene."

"Haven't heard a word. I'll send someone up to check on them. We're almost through here, although we still need a decent translator," he lowered his voice. "Remind me, next time, to tell Conner 'no' when she volunteers her 'abilities' as a 'translator', would you?"

"That bad, eh, Sir?" Jim chuckled.

"Worse. She said something that so offended these people that they've all gone into their trailers and locked themselves in. And we're still waiting on a 'real' translator." His sigh was easily audible through the phone, "Anyway, I'll wait for you and after you give Jackson back his car; we can wait around for the translator and maybe get some answers from these people."

"Do you want me to bring Doug and Nikolai back with us? They can at least communicate, and Gregori is going to be out for hours, while they work on him. It might help, in the long run, keep him focused on something else besides his bear."

There were several seconds of silence while his captain considered... finally, "Well, you can ask them. If he's willing to help; it could really save us all some time. Besides, he might be able to get the others to talk to us, since you helped him find and rescue his bear, and we could really use the help."

"I'll ask them. At any rate, we should be there within half an hour."

"Good deal, Jim. I'll see you when you get here. Now, to find out what's taking Wells so long..."

Jim chuckled dryly and disconnected his cell phone, slipping it into his pocket. Looking across the waiting room at the worried Russian and the patient patrolman, he sauntered over and made his request. Doug, understanding that it would serve both as help for the police and a distraction for the distraught bear trainer, translated, doing his best to convince the worried Nikolai to help them.

The little man nodded, understanding. He thought to himself about the request. Certainly the only thing that he could do here was worry about his Gregori. At least helping these men would serve to distract him and would go a long way towards repaying the debt he felt he owed them for their help with his pet; for despite Gregori's great size and strength, Nikolai knew in his heart what a gentle creature the bear was. Besides, he still felt that his bear was accused of murder, and he knew that the animal was innocent. He nodded and agreed to help them.

Jim passed the information of how to contact them to the receptionist and then led the way out to the vehicle to return to the fairgrounds.

Simon Banks was annoyed. He'd sent Cassie Wells with two of her technicians up to the area where his detectives had tracked the missing bear. She wasn't answering the radio and he was beginning to get concerned. Pulling out his cell phone, he tried again. No answer. Savagely punching the end button, he shoved the cell in his jacket pocket. Looking around, he spotted one of the other forensics technicians and headed over toward him.

"Have you heard from Wells?" he snapped. The man looked up at him in surprise. "No, not since she, Sam, and Charlie left with your people for that other site. She should be back by now, shouldn't she?"

"Yeah, she should," Simon muttered. Looking around, he caught the eye of the patrol sergeant and motioned her over. Taking her aside, he explained his dilemma. The sergeant nodded in understanding and used her radio to send one of the units up to check on the overdue forensics people.

As he listened to the various preliminary reports from the different groups, he started to put the events together. Even without talking to the circus people, it looked as though whoever it was who wanted to buy the circus was most likely behind the murder. The main question of 'why?' was one he was looking forward to discovering the answer to. He looked up, relieved to see Ellison and company returning. He couldn't stop the grin that blossomed into a full blown smile when he saw Jackson's dog's reaction to the smell of the bear in his truck. The dog was going nuts, practically vacuuming the four men before jumping in the back and searching for the bear. He waited patiently for them to join him.

"No one's heard from Cassie. One of the units is headed up to check on them. It's possible that they're out of radio or cell range..."

"I managed to call out, Simon," Blair reminded him. They exchanged worried glances, then refocused on their need to question the circus people about what they knew about their victim. While his detectives did their job, Simon returned to his car and retrieved Daryl, who was fuming. Simon was unrepentant, however. He wasn't at all sorry to have protected his son from the vision of the dead man. Now that the body had been removed, there was no more reason to keep his son from the scene. Of course, he was now saddled with his sullen, pouting child. He chose to ignore him, determining that that was his safest course.

Both Doug Roberts' and Nikolai's communications skills were tested to the max. With the bear trainer translating from Russian to Polish, and Doug translating from Polish to English, both men were struggling, uncertain of their abilities. The fact that Nikolai told his colleagues of the great help the policemen had given him in locating and getting help for his Gregori went a long way towards friendly relations. Even to the point where those who spoke English were willing to talk to the officers.

Jim, Blair, Doug, and Nikolai started their questioning with the circus owner, Alexia Korsekova. Her family had been in the circus business for ten generations. When asked about the man who wanted to buy her circus, she became agitated. According to the translators, and since it had to pass through an extra translation, there was no telling what was getting lost.

From what they were able to gather, the man attempting to buy them out was well known in the smaller circus circles as someone who would buy a circus, disband it, then sell the animals, either to collectors or, far more often, to hunting clubs, where the members would pay large sums to be able to hunt down and kill the semi-tame creatures. Most popular were the big cats, elephants, and bears. The Korsekova circus had three Siberian Tigers, four lions, two leopards, two elephants, and the bear, as well as a dozen horses, a dog act, and even a parrot act.

"Are the animals healthy?" Jim asked. Doug repeated the question and Nikolai didn't even bother to translate for Alexia. He simply insisted that they come with him and see the animals for themselves. Realizing that he had probably insulted them, Jim shrugged at his companions and followed. Along the way, they picked up half a dozen other members of the troup. Arriving at the animal compound, the first thing Jim noticed was the smell. Despite the large number of animals, the odors associated with them were minimal. Obviously, the handlers kept things clean.

The animal cages were twenty foot long cargo containers. The sides were canvas, so they could be lowered for protection from the weather. The sides were heavy plexiglass, with numerous four-inch holes cut in them for ventilation. There was even air conditioning and heating that would hook up to the power from the semi-truck that would haul them, and would run off of generators if needed. The weather was mild enough that the equipment wasn't even set up.

Blair approached the leopard cage. The comparitively small leopards stared back at him, indolently flicking their tails as they lounged in the deep layer of cedar shavings that lined their container. There was a large child's wading pool at one end, filled with sand, obviously intended as a giant cat-box, and a large bushel bucket filled with water.

"What do they eat?" Blair asked, as the black leopard shifted slightly to sniff them through one of the air holes.

Doug repeated the question, and Nikolai took them to a refrigerated truck nearby. Opening the doors, they could see several racks, some filled with wrapped packages of meat, and on the floor were more than a dozen bags of commercial cat food. Nikolai explained how the big cats were given dry cat food free choice during the night, and after the final performance of the day, were given a treat of fresh meat. Sometimes beef, sometimes horse, all depending on what they had on hand at the time.

Ms. Korsekova explained that their animals were the mainstay of their show, and that if they weren't well cared for, then the people would not make any money. The better their animals looked, the better they all did. Any animal act that didn't care for their animals properly would quickly find themselves out of a job. Of course, every animal act in the Korsekova Circus was led by one of Alexia's relatives; her uncle had the big cats, her daughter had the horses, her cousin, Nikolai, had the bear. Her sister had the dogs, and her brother the elephants. The other acts, the acrobats, trapeze and high wire artists, and some of the clowns, were hired. But they were still 'family' in the tradition of circus and carnivals for generations.

Alexia closed the container door and latched it, then turned to lead them back to the animals. She explained how each member of her troup helped care for the animals, whether they were involved with them during performances or not. This was a tightly knit community and they didn't like outsiders. They didn't trust the authorities, especially the police. However, they also knew that they were automatically considered untrustworthy and dishonest. She was certain that none of her people were involved with the murder of the stranger, but she didn't expect them to take her word for it, so she would tell everyone to answer their questions.

The double translation took a great deal of time, but everyone was being very patient. Returning to the animals' area, they were taken on a complete tour. The lions consisted of one obviously elderly male and his harem. When they looked, two of the females were grooming the male, while the third one slept. Her swollen belly giving every indication that she was close to giving birth.

"When is she due?" Blair asked, watching the big cats closely.

Doug eventually answered the question with "Soon. That's the best I can make out. They're sayin' stuff about gestation periods, I think, but 'soon' is close enough."

"Yeah, it is," Blair replied, grinning. "What about the tigers?"

They were led to the next cage, where the three tigers were kept. Again, there was only one male, with two very obviously pregnant females.

"What happens to the babies?" Jim asked. It seemed that there was another part of the circus that didn't travel. They were set up on a farm in Idaho, where there were few restrictions on the keeping of wild animals, although they had all the proper permits. There, the rest of the family cared for, raised, and trained the young beasts for their future lives in the circus.

Leading the questions back to the dead man and the man who wanted to buy them out, Jim pressed for more information. Eventually, he got a name of the erstwhile buyer, a phone number, and, finally, a business card. By the time the 'real' translator showed up, they had gotten pretty much everything available from the circus troupe.

They still ended up with more questions than answers. No one knew who the dead man was. Or at least if they did, they weren't talking. Everyone knew about the man who had been pestering them to sell, but he hadn't been around in several weeks, now. The crumpled business card identified the buyer, but it didn't really look promising.

The circus had been forced to cancel the first, but the two o'clock performance would go on as planned, although without Gregori's act. Since they were still there, Simon, Daryl, Jim, Blair, and Megan decided to stay and watch. Doug Roberts, who had worked the graveyard shift and taken the call just before end of shift, had finally gotten off, only to return to see the show, himself. Jim spotted him, sitting with Nikolai, across from them. He grinned and pointed him out to his companions.

Daryl was still sullen and fuming. Simon had given up on trying to explain his actions and was sitting angrily next to his son, arms crossed and obviously upset. Megan had tried a couple of times to intervene, only to be rebuffed by both Banks'. After the second try, she gave up, moving to the opposite end of the row to escape the frosty atmosphere. Jim nudged his partner and gestured for him to do something, anything, to ease the impasse. Sighing, Blair tapped Daryl on the shoulder.



"If I tell you something, will you believe me?"

Daryl, taken by surprise, turned to the smaller man and blinked, his brow furrowing down in a frown. "Sure. You know I believe you, don't you?"

"Just checking. What I wanted to tell you was, this was one of those times I wished I was still an observer. I'd have loved to have been told to 'stay in the car, Sandburg,' but that's not going to happen any more. Even though there are times Jim wants to say it, and that I don't want to do things, it's my job, now, and I can't avoid certain things."

"What things?" Daryl asked, disarmed and intrigued by his friend's words and tone.

"Well, I really could have done without seeing the dead guy. He was really messed up, man. I'll admit that I'm getting better, but I still had to fight the urge to hurl when I saw him." He glanced past the young man to Simon, whose body language had relaxed just a bit as he listened to them. "In fact, even your dad had a hard time with it. I could tell. He gets this weird shade of purple, and his face gets all pinched, and he took off his glasses so he couldn't see as well. Trust me, man, this was really messy. You were much better off staying in the car and getting bored."

"Yeah, but man you guys left me there forever," the whine crept back into his voice.

"Daryl, you were there for less than two hours. Just until the body was removed. I'm not going to say that it was for your own good. In fact, if you'd gone with us, you'd most likely have contaminated the scene, making everyone's job harder."

"What do you mean? I know how to stay out of the way, man! And I wouldn't have contaminated anything..."

"Daryl," his father interrupted the burgeoning tirade, "I almost threw up. And that would have contaminated the scene," he said softly. "It was bad, son. You really didn't need to see that. I wish you'd just believe me, but I can't force you to." Simon looked across the tent at the opening where the circus people were preparing to enter and start the show. He really hoped this was worth it, but he had his doubts.

"He's right, Daryl," Jim added from the other side of Sandburg. "To be perfectly honest, I'm wishing we'd never heard of this circus. I could have slept in and not even heard anything about it until Monday morning when I got to work, someone else would have caught it instead of me and I wouldn't be wondering what kind of person would commit a crime like this. It's messy and unreasonable and I don't like it. It doesn't make any sense to me. Eventually, with any luck, it will and we'll solve this thing, but until we do, I'm going to wonder and wish someone else had to deal with it."

Such an admission from 'Supercop' Ellison left Daryl speechless. He stared at the stoic mask of the detective and, much to his surprise, saw the cracks in the facade and had to wonder.

"But if we hadn't been here, we wouldn't have found Gregori and he'd have been blamed for killing that man, and if he'd died, no one would have thought to look any farther for the correct answer. If we'd had to use the canine unit to track the bear, someone could have gotten hurt, and Gregori would most likely have been killed. This way, we already know that he's innocent, and he's alive and will most likely be all right, eventually. He'll probably always be terrified of dogs, but that's nothing compared with being dead."

"Blair? Do you ever take a breath?" Daryl asked in amazement at the man's ability to talk so long on what seemed to be a single breath.

"He breathes through his ears, Daryl," Jim quipped with a smile as one hand patted his partner's arm to indicate no animosity.

"Hey, I was a teacher, remember?" Blair grinned, swatting Daryl's shoulder in mock annoyance.

"Oh, yeah, that's right. I forgot," Daryl deadpanned back and failed to duck the quick swat to the back of his head from Jim. "OW! Hey, what was that for?"

"Don't dis my partner," Jim growled menacingly... only to have his credibility blown away by Blair's laughter.

"Come on, guys, the show's starting..."

Despite the missing bear act, it was, surprisingly, an excellent show. The big cats were appropriately menacing when the leopards, true to their reputations for being sneaky and untrustworthy, tried to sneak up on their trainer, only to have him turn back just before the spotted one leaped for him. The audience was duly impressed, as the leopards took turns leaping through a burning hoop, followed by the tigers. The lions seemed overly laid-back, yawning their boredom. The act ended with all nine big cats laying side-by-side, with their trainer sprawled across their backs. Even though it was obvious that the different species didn't really like each other, they still accepted one another because of their trainer's insistence.

The acrobats were just as exciting, as were the high-wire and trapeze artists. The elephants were amusing and the dog act was hilarious. Particularly when the smallest 'dog' turned out to be a cat in a costume.

The clown act was the best any of them had ever seen. There were two men dressed up in a horse costume, pretending to be a trained pony act. The men were wearing baggy brown pants, with a blanket-like covering, and the fake 'horsehead'. The 'horse' would count (incorrectly) to ten. Would 'rear' up and wave to the audience, and 'gallop' around the ring, pretending to run away. The highlight was when one of the clowns got tired of the 'horse's' antics and brought out a huge blunderbus and shot the 'animal'. The audience was hysterical with laughter. When the 'horse' got up, all the clowns lined up to take their bows. One of the clowns grabbed the 'horse head' and pulled the costume off. To reveal a real pony under the costume, which made the act all the more remarkable, as the entire audience had been fooled into thinking that the 'pony' was really two men in a horse suit.

Filing out after the show, Blair, Daryl, and Megan were in front, chattering about the different acts, leaving the 'grown-ups' to bring up the rear. Simon pulled out a cigar as soon as they got outside, pausing for a moment to light up. Jim was careful to stay upwind of his friend, but waited patiently for him.

"So, Jim. What did you think of it?"

"I'm probably not the right person to ask, Simon. This is the first circus I've ever been to," Jim replied quietly, gazing after their companions.

"You're kidding, right?"

"No, sir. This is the first circus I've ever been to."

Simon stared but, seeing the tightness around his friend's eyes, refrained from saying anything, simply patting the shorter man on the shoulder, sympathetically. "Well, I'm happy to say that was one of the best circuses I've ever seen. That pony act -- that was great."

Jim grinned. "Yeah, I liked that part, especially the way everyone gasped when it was revealed to be a real pony."

"It was good when I thought it was a couple of guys in a horse suit, but to have it turn out to be a real pony, that was definitely the highlight, for me."

"I liked the cat in the dog suit, myself," Jim murmured.

Simon laughed, "Yeah, that was good, too. Frankly, I liked the whole show. I'd have liked to see what the bear does, but obviously, that's out of the question."

"Yeah. Do we have the itinerary for them? Where are they supposed to go, next?"

"It's in the car. Why? Looking for something in particular?"

"No, just curious. I think I'd like to take a look at the other places they've visited, see if there are any trends. Just covering all the bases."

"Jim, despite what you may think, this is supposed to be your day off, relax. It will all be waiting for you on Monday."

"Yeah, but what if there are other connected crimes? I don't know. I just have a feeling..."

Simon stared hard at his companion, then started walking after the rest of their group, nodding. "I'm not going to tell you not to do anything, you do what you need to. Just keep me informed, all right?"

"Yes, sir. Oh, what was wrong with Cassie?"

Simon's expression turned grim. "I don't know. We sent a patrol car up to check on them, but there was no one at the site," he shook his head, annoyed, "Her van is gone from the parking lot, though, so I rather suspect she's off doing her usual 'investigation'."

"I hope so. I'm a bit concerned about those dogs. Was the dog still there?"

"No, I figured that she came back, got her van, drove up there, picked up her people and the dog and went back to the lab, or wherever she felt she needed to go."

"She should have called in, left a message, or something."

"Yeah, she should have. And she's going to hear from me about it, formally."

"I'll leave that in your more than capable hands, Sir." Jim grinned.

"Come on. Let's catch up to the children. And go get something to eat! We missed both breakfast and lunch, and I'm starving!"

With all the excitement, they had all forgotten about eating. Now that it was late afternoon, the five starving people headed back to town, stopping at a Denny's along the way. They limited their conversation to the circus performance, leaving the case alone for the time-being. The pony/clown act was the basis for most of their discussion, as they tried to decide how the animal could have been trained so well that everyone was fooled. Naturally, they were unable to come to any conclusions, but it was an innocuous topic and one they could all equally participate in.

Finally, their hunger assuaged and lingering over dessert and coffee, the conversation turned to the case. Jim expressed his misgivings that the man trying to buy the circus was involved. Even though he had found a silver button matching description given by the circus people, he didn't feel that the man was involved with their victim. There was something else at work here, all his instincts were screaming that he was missing something, but he had no idea what it might be.

Megan cocked her head, thinking. "You don't suppose that the buyer and the murder are a coincidence, do you?"

"Well, unless one of his other 'clients' wanted the bear for a hunt, and for added excitement decided to just steal him and hunt him from the circus... no. I can't buy that. There's something else at work, here. I just don't know what it is."

"Stop trying to force it, Jim," Blair soothed. "Try and relax, that's when it will come to you."

Sighing, Jim pushed his empty pie plate away, "Yeah, you're probably right. There's just something..." he grimaced and shook his head. "So, are we ready to go?"

Simon snagged the check before Jim could reach for it, and slid from the booth. "Yeah, I've got it, Jim. I'll meet you at the car." Before he could get his wallet out, Blair had pulled his and left money for the tip, then nudged his partner to get out so the rest of them could get up.

The trip home was quiet. Daryl was dozing, and the others were busy mulling over the case. Stopping in front of the loft, Simon softly said, "Unless you think of anything important, I don't want you going in tomorrow, understand?"

"Yes, sir," Jim replied, Blair mumbling his own assent. Simon watched until he was sure the two men were inside their building before taking off to drop Megan at her apartment before going home, himself.

They were quiet, neither one having much to say. Both men were withdrawn into themselves, sorting through the information, trying to come up with some sort of basis for an hypothesis. Blair turned on the evening news. The murder was mentioned, but there wasn't much real information. Not even the idea that the man had been killed by an animal. That was good, actually. It wouldn't hurt the circus and the missing bear act wouldn't be noticed, hopefully. There was a later story, however, that drew Jim's attention. It was a story about a nearby county, where ranchers were having problems with animal mutilations. As he listened, something clicked in his mind and he was quickly reaching for the phone and dialing. Blair watched him with interest.

"Yeah, I need the number for the Sheriff's office, uh, Whatcom County, the city of Diablo. Thanks." He fumbled for something to write on, only to have Blair shove a pen in his hand and lay a pad of paper in front of him. Smiling his thanks, Jim wrote down the number.

"What's in Diablo?" Blair asked.

Jim jerked his head toward the television. "Those livestock mutilations. That's what this case reminds me of. I just want to ask them a couple of questions... Yeah, who is this? Deputy Wickham? Yeah, my name's Jim Ellison, I'm a detective with the Cascade PD... yeah. You have? Really? Oh, well the reason I called was that I just saw the news report on your problem and was wondering a couple of things. Maybe you can answer my questions?" he grimaced at Blair as he listened. "Uh huh. You do, huh? OK, well, if you could have someone call me Monday morning? I'm sure you'd prefer looking up the number for yourself... yeah, thanks." He set the receiver in the charger with just a bit more force than absolutely necessary.

"He didn't believe you?" Blair asked blandly.

"She said she has to check with the chief deputy and the sheriff himself before giving out any information."

"She knew who you were, though." Blair asked, tilting his head to the side, grinning.

"Well, sort of. She'd heard of me, but I doubt if she believed me. Probably thought I was some kind of reporter, looking for an angle." He grinned, "She's going to have her boss call me at the station Monday morning..."

"Don't be too hard on her, man. You can't ever tell when you might need a friend someplace."

Jim's grin widened, "Well, right now I need information, not friends. Although, she had a nice enough voice."

"And you call me a table leg?" Blair laughed, tossing a pillow at his friend. Jim laughed too, returning the pillow, right in Blair's face. Blair snatched up all the pillows on the couch and started throwing them at his roommate, who threw them right back, until both men ran out of breath from laughter.

"OK, OK, man. Enough. You're still the biggest, baddest man in the loft," Blair finally gasped out.

Jim bounced one last pillow off Blair's head and growled, "And don't you forget it."

Monday morning found them stopping off down in the basement at the morgue to see if Dan Wolf had managed to get anything yet. They knew that the odds were against them. After all, Dan had weekends off, too, but Jim was anxious and wanted some specific questions answered.

Stepping into the outer office, they caught Dan just as he sat down with a fresh cup of coffee. He looked up at them and grinned. "Right on time. Help yourselves," he gestured towards the coffee maker. "I suppose you want the results on your John Doe?"

"If you have anything, yet. Have you even started?" Jim replied with a chagrined smile of his own.

"Got started about an hour ago. Got a little information, but not much, yet. I'm soaking the fingers so I can try and get some prints," seeing Blair turn green, he quickly added, "They're still attached. I do have some things to show you that might be of interest, if you like?"

"I'd like," Jim replied. Blair took a heavy swallow of his coffee and nodded his assent. Dan raised his eyebrows in surprise, but opened a drawer in his desk and removed an object, tossing it to the surprised Sandburg.

"What's this?" Blair asked in confusion as he stared at the small cobalt blue jar. "Vick's Vapo Rub?" He raised his puzzled face to look at the coroner.

"Yeah, something I learned at that seminar I went to last month in Hawaii. You dab a little on your upper lip, then, all you can smell is the Vick's, not anything in there," he waved a hand toward the exam room. "Give it a try. I tried it last week with that floater, worked like a charm."

Blair glanced at the two men, wondering if they were pulling his leg, but seeing only sincerity on their countenances, he shrugged and opened the jar, scooped out a bit and dabbed it on his lip, immediately grimacing at the overpowering odor of menthol. "Oh, man. I guess so. Whew! This stuff is strong!"

"Yeah, but if it works, that's all I care about," Dan said as he rose and led the way into the exam room.

The John Doe was laid out on the table, most of the body covered by a sheet. The arms were extended out to the sides, propped up on small, rolling tray-tables, the hands wrapped in special wrappings and soaking in some sort of liquid solution. Seeing the curiosity on their faces, Dan explained.

"I'm soaking the hands to soften the skin so I can pull the fingertips back together and try and get some prints. Some of the fingers are pretty badly chewed, but I'm hoping to salvage at least the thumbs and index fingers, so that maybe we can get an ID on him. I already checked with missing persons, and he doesn't fit any of their descriptions."

"Thanks, Dan. You said you had something interesting to show us?" Jim asked.

"Yeah. Here, let me show you." He pulled the sheet from the corpse and started to fold it. Blair took a sharp breath and held it for a moment, then let it go, softly. His jaw was clenched, but so far, there was nothing to alarm him, except the naked dead man covered with savage bite and claw marks.

"I don't know if you noticed, but there wasn't much blood at the scene?" Dan began. Both detectives nodded in agreement, even though neither had particularly noticed it at the scene. "Well, that was my first intimation that the man wasn't killed there. He was found laying on his left side, right?" again, the nods of agreement. "Well, according to the lividity, he was killed and placed on his right side for some time. Notice the slight discoloration on the right side? That's the lividity. As a body lies after death, the remaining blood pools to the lowest portion of the anatomy. Once it does, it stays there. I suspect that he was placed in the trunk of a car and transported to the scene."

"That's why it was so clean. What disturbance was on the ground wasn't from a struggle, but simply from getting the body properly placed," Jim agreed. "What else do you have for us?"

"Well, the claw marks. I took a good look at them, and while at first glance they look very much like a normal bear swipe, if you look closely, you'll see that not only are the angles wrong, see here? Where the blow came up from below? Like someone swinging a bat, or a tennis racket? That angle couldn't have come from a bear. Bears generally strike down and across, like this." He stepped back from the body and demonstrated, raising his hands to shoulder level and reaching out to strike, perfectly mimicking the normal way a bear will strike when standing. "And if the bear were on all fours, he'd only take out the legs, not the torso. A bear in attack mode will almost always stand on its hind legs. This was some sort of club, specifically designed to make us think that a bear did this. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the claws are actually from a bear, but this was done by one or more people, and from the angles... I can't tell you whether it's a woman or a man. Sorry."

"But it could be either?" Blair asked. "Do you have any guess on size of the assailant?"

Dan looked at the younger detective, a bit sadly, as he noticed how the cop vernacular was taking firmer hold in his vocabulary. "Five foot six to six foot tall. Don't forget, there could be more than one of them."

"What about the bites?"

"Well, I was hoping that Cassie had gotten back with the dead dog I heard you found, but she hasn't, yet. I'm wondering where she put the animal. It's gotta be starting to smell, by now. However, the marks are definitely in line with a large dog, like a Rottweiler. Definitely a short- muzzled dog, Rottweiler, Mastiff, St. Bernard, something like that. I'll get started on the rest of the autopsy in a while. Would one of you be willing to give me a hand with trying to get the fingerprints? The rest of my crew don't come in until eight-thirty, and I'm sure you'd like to get an ID as soon as possible?"

"Sure, I'll help, Dan," Jim agreed. "Chief, why don't you go and see if anyone's heard from Cassie, Sam, or Charlie, would you? It's not like any of them to just disappear, and all three? Not a chance."

"I'm on it," Blair immediately replied, grateful for the excuse to leave before they started to do anything more serious with the corpse. He turned and headed out to seek information on the missing forensics people.

When they got back together, up in the Major Crime Bullpen, Blair was looking worried, and Jim was on the phone. Sitting down at his desk, beside his partner, Blair checked out his notes. Hearing the tone of annoyance in Jim's voice, he turned his attention to his partner and the phone conversation.

"Yes, Deputy. I do understand why you don't want certain things to come out about your case. I have no intention of telling anyone the specifics. How about I ask you questions, and you let me know if it sounds anything like your case?" Seeing Blair's concerned gaze on him, he rolled his eyes, indicating his disgust with trying to deal with the small town Sheriff's Deputy. "Oh, that's okay? Good. Did the animals look like, at first, that a bear might have attacked them? They did? Okay. Now, were the animals also savaged by dogs? They were? Rottweilers, maybe? Yes? Good. No, I haven't been anywhere near your town in the past year. I just happen to have a dead man who fits the same M.O. That's right. A person. No, no organs were taken, but then, they were there to try and take the bear, not perform some kind of ritual sacrifice... oh, some of them were? Why aren't I surprised? Look, talk to the Sheriff and see if he's willing to send me a copy of the reports, will you? Why? Because the M.O. matches, and your animal mutilations have taken on a new aspect. What? Oh, murder. Our dead body was human... Right. You do that. Thank you for your time, Deputy Wickham." He slammed the phone down into the cradle. "Stupid..." He shifted back in his chair and raised his arms over his head in a stress relieving stretch. "So, What'd you find, Chief?"

"No one's seen Cassie or the others since you dropped them off at the scene."


"What do you mean, no one's seen them?" Simon Banks shouted at his two detectives, "Who was the last one to see or talk to them?"

"That would be us, Sir. I took them up to where we found the bear, picked up Sandburg and left to take the bear to the vet's. No one has seen or heard from them since. The patrol that was sent up to look for them didn't see anything. And, since Cassie's van was missing, we all assumed that she had gone back for it to transport the dog. We're going to go back up there, Sir and do a search of our own." Jim was standing at 'parade rest'; he was feeling guilty over their missing the boat on this one, just as much, if not more, than Simon was.

"Good idea. You make sure you keep in touch, you hear me?"

"Yes, Sir. We'll call in when we arrive at the scene, and let you know what we find."

"Good. Dismissed." Jim and Blair turned on their heels and left.

"This is where we picked up Gregori, right?" Blair asked as they drove slowly up the road they'd been on just two days earlier.

"Yeah. And the rock outcropping is just up ahead, there," Jim replied as he pulled over and parked. Both men got cautiously out of the truck.

"Do you see any sign of the patrol car having come this far?"

"No. They turned around about a hundred yards back. You can see where they crushed the brush beside the road."

"Ouch. I'm sure glad I'm not one of them, when Simon gets through with them."

"Yeah, and that will be after their sergeant, lieutenant, and captain get through with them."

"Triple ouch."

"Yeah. Let's go."

"Any sign of Cassie's van?"

"No. But there are some tire tracks, from something small, a compact, see there?" Jim pointed to some tire tracks faintly visible on the shoulder.

"How about footprints?"

Jim looked around, "No. Nothing. C'mon, let's go." He led the way down the slope to the rock outcropping where they had found the injured bear.

Silence. Not one, single, sound. No breeze, no insects, no birds. Something was very wrong, here, and both men felt it. Jim led them in a wide circle, hoping for some kind of sign, but fearing what they might find. Finally, they approached the cave. Looking in first, Jim grunted "Call for an ambulance!" and rushed inside. There, tied up in the rear of the cave, were their missing forensics people. Two of them with wide, staring, terrified eyes focused on him, the third... eyes closed, pale... and not breathing. All three showed the obvious signs of having been attacked by dogs. Pausing only a moment to determine that the one victim was dead and not just unconscious, Jim realized that they had been trapped there for nearly two days, with no food, no water, and, in the case of the late Cassie Wells, no medication...

Turning from the body, Jim hastily worked at the ropes, trying to untie them. He was interrupted when Blair tapped his shoulder and offered his open pocket knife. Jim nodded and started sawing at the ropes holding the two remaining victims. Blair gently removed the duct tape gags from their mouths.

"Oh, Blair!" Sam cried, flinging herself past Jim and into the younger man's arms, sobbing. "It was terrible! They...they..." she was at a loss for words and simply dissolved into tears, clinging tightly to Blair's jacket.

"Get her out of here, Chief. I'll take care of Charlie," Jim said as he continued working on the other survivor's bonds.

"Right, Jim. Come on, Sam. Let's get you out of here, okay?" Blair gently guided the hysterical woman out of the cave and into the fresh air.

Jim had to help Charlie to stand. "Can you tell me what happened?" Charlie tried to speak, but his throat was too dry to get any words out. "Take it easy. I've got some water up in the truck." Jim guided the tech out of the cave and got him fairly comfortably seated on a nearby rock. "I'll be right back, Chief. I'm going up to the truck to get the first aid kit, some water, and blankets."

"You need any help?" Blair called hopefully, still trying to calm the hysterical Sam.

"I've got it. Did you make the call?"

"Yep, I called Simon, he's sending paramedics, an ambulance, and Dan... She's really dead, isn't she?"

"Yeah. My guess is she had one of those asthma attacks and, since she couldn't get her medicine, she, well..."

"Yeah. That sucks, man."

Even though he hadn't particularly cared for Cassie, he hadn't wanted her dead, "Yeah, it does," Jim agreed, turning to continue his trip to the truck for the supplies.

Once Jim had returned with the first aid kit, water, and blankets, Charlie was able to tell them what had happened. Sam remained hysterical, clinging tightly to Blair, which made tending her wounds much more difficult.

"We were looking at the dead dog, when, from out of nowhere, there were these three huge Rottweilers. I guess Cassie was armed, because she suddenly had this gun in her hand, but before she could shoot, one of the dogs grabbed her wrist and she dropped it. Then they just started biting, no noise, no barking, no growling, nothing. Just biting. I ended up in the back corner, pressed against the rocks, when the dogs suddenly stopped. I saw them. There were two of them, a man and a woman. They never said a word, just tied us up, went through our pockets, checked our ID, took something from Cassie's purse, picked up the dead dog and left. It was so weird, they never said a single word. Not one." Having gotten that much out, Charlie fell silent, shivering and in shock.

"Can you identify them if you see them again?" Jim asked softly.

"I'll never forget them. I've never seen anything so... so evil in my life. I got the feeling that they were going to come back for us. And that when they did, it was going to be even worse, what they did to us."

"Thanks, Charlie. I'll have a sketch artist come to the hospital so you can give him a description, okay?"

"Sure, detective. That'll be fine. Poor Cassie. After they left us, she had an asthma attack. There was nothing any of us could do. She-she died about an hour after they left us. Poor Sam, with Cassie leaning up against her all this time, I'm not at all surprised she's hysterical. I'm feeling a bit hysterical, myself."

"It's all right, Charlie. There was nothing you could do." The look Jim gave Blair told volumes of what he had in mind for the two patrolmen who had shirked their duty. Cassie might still be alive and their suspects in custody already, if they had done their job properly. Jim stood up, hearing the approaching sirens, and went up to direct the rescue efforts.

"Boy, he wasn't kidding about evil looking," Blair muttered as he looked over Jim's elbow at the two drawings the artist had just given them. Simon looked over Jim's other shoulder.

"Why do they look familiar?" he asked, his brow furrowed down in a scowl.

"Because they were on the news last week. Inviting people to come join them for Halloween. They're self-proclaimed Satanists and planning some big to-do for Halloween. But that's not for a couple more weeks, isn't it?"

"Yeah, first we get Friday the thirteenth... Jim?" There was something in Blair's voice that immediately brought both older men's attention to him.

"What is it, Blair?" Jim asked.

"Friday the thirteenth, there's a full moon on Friday the thirteenth. It's not a particularly important thing, but with all the media hype and movies about it, well... if I were some sort of self-styled satanist, well, I'd sure be tempted to do something."

"It's only Monday, Sandburg. If we hadn't found them, they'd have all died by then, from thirst, if nothing else," Simon said, dismissively.

"What if they plan on coming back, say, tonight or tomorrow? The police presence would be gone by then, and the circus is leaving this afternoon." Jim mused.

"You want to stake out the rocks?" Simon's voice rose in amazement.

"Yeah, I think I do, Sir. What do we have to lose?"

Simon stared at the partners, seeing nearly identical expressions of determination on their faces. He sighed and nodded.

"All right. Who do you want to join you on this little jaunt?"

"Well, Brown and Rafe are in court all week, and Joel and Megan are catching the rest of the cases from over the weekend. Maybe we can draw some help from patrol?" Jim replied.

"I think Doug Roberts would like to help. After all, he was there at the beginning. I know that I'd want to know," Blair suggested.

"All right. I'll see about pulling a couple of folks from patrol. What about the dogs? You won't hear them coming... well, most people won't be able to tell they're coming. How about getting a canine unit up there, as well?"

"Sounds good, Sir," Jim agreed. "If someone can make the calls to get it together, I'd like to gather some supplies that may help us with the dogs."

"I can make the calls, unless you need me, Jim?"

"That'll be fine, Chief. Providing our illustrious captain, here, will pave the way through the higher-ups?"

"Yeah, I'll make the calls. C'mon, Sandburg, let's get this over with. You really think they'll be coming back?"

"Sure, Simon. I mean, why not? They wouldn't have had any way of knowing about Cassie's asthma, and it was fairly warm last night, and the cave is good shelter. In fact..." Jim tuned out their voices as they headed for Simon's office and he headed for the door, needing to hit a grocery store before they headed back up to set up their stakeout.

There were six of them, counting the dog. Jim, Blair, Doug Roberts, John Jackson and his dog, Astro, and Don Kimbrough, another patrolman Roberts had suggested. The two patrolmen who had shirked their duty on Saturday were on suspension, pending a full investigation and possible charges of involuntary manslaughter. The DA's office was very interested in pursuing this particular case, particularly when they heard who the two patrolmen were, both had numerous complaints of excessive force and even other members of patrol didn't much care for them. The case against them was bolstered by the fact that Charlie had heard their car, but had been too far away, even if he hadn't been gagged.

Jim and Blair were hiding in the cave, waiting for their suspects. They were in radio contact with the others, Jackson was set up on the road with Astro, Roberts was atop the outcropping, and Kimbrough was with their vehicles, hidden down the road. All were in radio contact, via headphones and voice activated microphones.

"So, what was it that you needed to get that will protect us from the dogs?" Blair asked.

Jim grinned and pulled a brown bag from his coat pocket. Reaching inside, he pulled out two eight ounce tins of finely ground black pepper. Opening one, he started sprinkling it around the outside of the cave, starting about six feet from the opening. He was quite liberal with his use, even though it made both men sneeze.

"This is why Jackson and Astro are up on the road. I don't want Astro to get any of this in his nose. I'm hoping it will mask our scents, screw up the Rottweiler's senses, and give us the opportunity to get the drop on our suspects."

Jackson' voice came over their headsets, "Astro and I thank you."

"Hey, you're on our side, man," Blair replied and grinned. "Yeah, that might work, providing neither of us give it away by sneezing our heads off."

"That's why we're here so early. Get the stuff on the ground, so it can settle." He finished emptying the first can and started on the second one from just inside the cave mouth to the line where he'd run out with the first can.

Finished, they settled down inside the cave to wait. The early evening passed quietly, the sunset invisible to them through the trees. They kept their communications to a minimum, checking with one another once an hour. It was a very boring stakeout.

Along about one a.m., their patience was finally rewarded. "Heads up," Kimbrough announced from his spot with their vehicles. "A big van just passed me."

"Roger that." Jim replied, rising to his feet and pulling his partner up beside him.

Five minutes later, Jackson announced, "It's Cassie's van. They've parked and are getting out. There's two of them. They've got the dogs in the back, but are leaving them there. A man and a woman, on their way towards you."

"Got it. Doug? You ready?"

"I was born ready, man. Bring 'em on," came the soft reply.

With the dogs locked in the van, they didn't expect much trouble apprehending their suspects. Unfortunately, the pair were each carrying a large battery powered spotlight. Seeing the reflection of the bright lights headed their way, Blair hissed a warning to Jim just before the lights were focused through the mouth of the cave. Seeing two strange men, rather than the two women and one man they'd left tied up there, there was a moment of colorful cursing before the pair turned to run.

"CASCADE PD!" Roberts shouted from above. The pair looked up, startled, giving Jim and Blair time to recover and exit the cave, grabbing the pair and spinning them around and against the rocks.

"Feet back and spread 'em," Jim growled to the man, trusting his partner to take care of the smaller woman. He had the man's right wrist in a come-along hold and pinned him to the rocks, forcing him to maintain his balance with only one hand on the stones. Kicking the man's feet back and apart, he finally let go, allowing the man both hands to lean on.

Blair didn't have an easy time of it. The woman started fighting, trying to escape. Blair, still suffering from an upbringing that didn't include hitting girls, finally had enough and caught one of her wrists as she attempted to claw his eyes out. Squeezing and applying pressure, he forced her to her knees, her snarls of rage turning to cries of pain. Using his hold, he forced her face down on the ground and pulled both of her hands behind her back and cuffed her. Now that she was restrained, he took his time to look over at Jim, who was cuffing the other suspect.

Now that the suspects were under control, Roberts climbed down from his perch atop the boulders. Seeing the marks on Sandburg, he grinned, "Nice work, man." Blair looked up at him and grinned back.

"Hey, whatever it takes." He pulled the woman up and frisked her quickly and efficiently, relieving her of a petite little pistol. "It's... pink?" Blair said, shocked. "Jim? She has a pink gun.

Jim glanced over and grunted, holding out his prisoner's weapon, a nice, large, Glock. Handing the weapon to Roberts to tag, he smiled. "Pink, huh?" He saw the scratches on Blair's face, "Too bad she doesn't have the manners of a lady to go with the gun. You okay?"

"Yeah, just a couple scratches."

Jim nodded and spoke into his microphone, "Kimbrough? We could use transport. Jackson? Can you secure the van and the dogs? If not, give Animal Control a call. We're coming up, now."

With Roberts assistance, they escorted their prisoners up to the road. Once there, with all of them together, he recited the Miranda to the pair. When he asked them if they understood, the man finally spoke.

"You have nothing on us. You've made a very serious mistake, you know."

"Do you understand your rights as I've explained them to you?"

"Yes, yes. Of course," the man said, the woman only nodded.

"Do you give up your right to remain silent?" Jim asked.

"I've done nothing wrong," the man insisted.

"The three people you left tied up in that cave?" Blair asked, the man turned his piercing black eyes on him and inclined his head for him to continue. "One of them was an asthmatic. She died. Since it was in the course of a felony, kidnapping, the charges have been bumped up to murder." The man showed no reaction, but the woman stiffened. "Of course, we're also going to charge you with the murder of the man found at the circus."

"The bear killed him," the woman hissed.

Jim turned his attention to her, his glare causing her to flinch back. "The bear didn't do anything but run from your dogs. The 'claw' marks on the victim were made with a club, and the bites were made by your dogs. Now that we have the dogs, I'm sure our coroner can match the bite-marks." His grin was grim, "Now, I hate repeating myself, but do you give up your right to remain silent?" Looking at each other, the pair clamped their mouths shut and shook their heads.

Roberts and Kimbrough placed the prisoners in the back of their patrol car and began the drive back to the station and booking. Jackson had been unable to do anything with the dogs, and would remain with the van until animal control arrived. Jim and Blair hiked back to the vehicles and Jim followed as Blair took Jackson's SUV up to him.

As they drove back to the station, Blair was fuming. "We still don't have any idea why they did this. Do you really think they had anything to do with those mutilations in Diablo?"

"Did you notice their ID?" Jim replied.

"Uh, no. I didn't look beyond their names, why?"

"They live in Diablo. They have a little cult compound there. A couple dozen followers. I guess they just decided to go from animals to humans. I'm curious as to who our John Doe is, though."

"Yeah. You don't suppose they brought him all the way from Diablo to here, do you?"

"The circus was in Diablo three weeks ago. Come to think of it, that's the last time that 'buyer' contacted the circus," Jim mused.

When they arrived at the station, they immediately went down to booking to see how it was progressing. The woman had screamed about not wanting her picture taken, but to no avail. Of the two, she certainly seemed the one most likely to break. The pair were separated and placed in different interrogation rooms and left there with no contact. They could have just as well left them down in different jail cells, but didn't really want them in with the general population. Instead, they were being closely watched. The man, according to his ID, and the news report that had been aired the previous week, was Sam Haidi, a name that caused Blair to snort, trying to refrain from laughing.

"What?" Jim asked.

"Sam Haidi? I wonder what his original name was?"

"Why?" Jim's brows furrowed down in confusion.

"In Vodun, or Voodoo, Baron Samadi is like the guy who makes the zombies."

"What's a bartender have to do with this?"

"No, jerk." Blair slapped his grinning partner's arm, "He's like Death, or something. And it's the undead kind of zombies, not the drink."

Jim chuckled, "I actually knew that, I was just trying to place it. What about her name?"

"Mary Levau? Ripoff on Marie LaBeau, a so-called witch from the late 1800s. Fakes, if you ask me. Not very clever ones, either. Do we have anything else on them, yet?"

"Nah. We've faxed their prints to NCIC and Interpol, but it's too soon to tell. So, should we question them now, or wait until after we've gotten some sleep? Simon should be in in a couple of hours. We can probably sack out in his office until then."

"Good idea, man. I'm really wiped."

"How're the scratches? Did you get someone to look at them?"

"Yeah, they're okay. Should we leave them there? I mean, is it okay?"

"Yeah, it'll be fine. We aren't interrogating them. We're just waiting for their lawyer, anyway. He's got to come all the way from Diablo, so it's going to be a while, yet." With one last look in on their two prisoners, they headed upstairs to try and catch an hour or so of sleep before they had to start again.


When Captain Banks arrived, he was handed the report on the results of the stakeout. With a pleased smile, he headed for his office, only to be stopped by a line of detectives, barring his way. Raising an eyebrow in question, he drew himself up to his full, most imposing height. Joel just grinned at him.

"They're in your office, sacked out. Jim's got the couch, and Blair's in your chair. Knowing that they've only been there for about two hours, after a full day yesterday and followed by that stakeout, we figured you can forgo your office for a while longer."

Simon looked at his people and sighed. "You mean I don't even get a decent cup of coffee?"

"Of course, you do, Captain," Megan grinned, producing a Starbucks container. "We wouldn't want you to suffer withdrawal, now, would we?"

Simon smirked, taking the offering. "Not if you're smart." He looked around. "So, anything on our suspects?"

"Oh, yeah," Brown muttered. "NCIC had them, and the FBI has called, asking if we think we can actually convict them. Seems they've been doing the cult thing for quite a while. This is the first time, however, that anyone's actually managed to connect them to anything concrete. They've offered all their facilities to us to make sure we can win the case. I told them that we'd be in touch."

"I had a call from the town of Diablo," Rafe reported. "A Deputy Wickham called. Seems she had our suspects' lawyer pay a visit late last night. She is not very happy, and would like Jim to give her a call. I then got a call from the sheriff of Whatcom county, he's not real happy, either, as he was never informed by Deputy Wickham that Jim had connected our John Doe to the livestock mutilations in and around Diablo. He would also like Jim to give him a call."

"Sounds like everything's under control. Any word on the John Doe, yet?"

"Yeah, seems he was the money man behind Mr. Haidi's cult, also, the owner of the compound where the cult resides," Joel explained. "His name is Paul Duschane and he apparently changed his will last week, with the same lawyer who's on his way, representing our suspects. Mr. Duschane's will now leaves everything to Mr. Haidi. His family is already filing the appropriate papers to contest the will. And if we manage to convict Mr. Haidi, the new will will be null and void, anyway."

"Good job, people." Simon smiled and took another sip of coffee. Hearing the door to his office open behind him, he turned to see a rumpled and grumpy Jim Ellison glaring at them all.

"We're trying to get a little sleep, here, do you mind?" Jim seemed unaware of his surroundings.

Simon lifted an amused eyebrow, "Oh? And why would I mind? I mean, I only have a ton of paperwork to get through, not to mention files I need to read before the meeting with the Chief of Police at nine. It's eight-fifteen, and I can't even access my coffee pot. Why on earth would I mind?"

Jim looked confused, then turned around and looked back into Simon's office, seeing Blair snuggled down in Simon's chair, sound asleep. Turning back to face his boss and his colleagues, he frowned, trying to make sense of it.

"Oh. Sorry. We didn't get in until after five. It was too late to bother with going home, so I thought..."

"Don't worry about it, Jim," Simon sighed, ignoring the smothered laughter from the rest of his team, "Just wake Sandburg up and get out of my office. If you're too tired, I'll have someone take you home."

"But we need to interrogate our suspects," Jim almost whined in protest.

"Joel and Megan can do that. Unless you have a need to do it?"

Scrubbing his unshaven face with one hand, Jim shook his head, still trying to finish waking up. "No, just that the woman is gonna be the easier one to crack. She's already on the edge. We're just waiting for their lawyer to get here."

"Well, from what's been found from your earlier inquiries, it looks like their lawyer might just need one of his own. Our John Doe turns out to be a Paul Duschane, owner of the place where Haidi's cult lives. His will was just changed, leaving everything to Haidi, about a week or so before his death."

Jim looked up in surprise, "How'd you find that out?" he asked.

Brown answered. "He sent a copy of the new will to his kids, with some kind of cryptic note in it. His daughter lives here in Cascade, and we got lucky. She was in yesterday to file a missing person's on him, since she hadn't been able to get hold of him for more than a week. She was afraid something might have happened to him, and was hoping we could do something. Missing Persons remembered Jim's asking about anyone matching our John Doe's description, put it together and, voila! Case closed."

"Hardly that," Simon disagreed. "But it certainly looks like we have enough to send to the DA. Good work, people. Now, Jim," Simon turned towards his office, "If you would be so kind as to vacate? I have work to do."

"Yeah, sure, Simon. Let me get Blair." He turned back and made his way through the office, not noticing that everyone had followed him. Moving around behind the desk, he crouched beside the chair containing his soundly sleeping partner.

"Hey, Chief? Time to go home, buddy."

"Mmmmppphhh," Blair mumbled, trying to wiggle into a more comfortable position.

Jim smiled, tiredly. "Yeah, I know. But Simon wants his office back, and I'm pretty sure that even the front seat of the truck is gonna be more comfortable than that chair of his."

"S'mn?" Blair's eyelids opened minutely. "S'mn's hr?"

"Yeah, Blair, Simon's here. He wants his office back. He also wants his desk chair. That means you have to get out of it."

"Ct th bd gys?"

"Yeah, Chief. We caught the bad guys. Now, it's time to get you up so we can go home and get some sleep. Simon says we don't have to be back until tomorrow morning."

Surprised, Simon blurted out, "I most certainly did not say any such thing. I need your reports first thing..." he stopped when two weary pair of blue eyes turned and focused on him. He visibly deflated. "Fine. First thing tomorrow. But I want your reports completed by noon! You got me?"

"Yes, Sir," Jim and Blair chorused, suddenly looking much more alert and awake. Jim rose to his feet and Blair bounced out of the Captain's chair, and the pair grinned at their colleagues and captain as they quietly pushed their way through the group, gathered their coats from the rack, and headed out the door, leaving five shocked police officers behind them.

Joel cast a sidelong glance at his long-time friend and started to snicker. Simon tried to glare him down, but that only caused Joel's laughter to increase.

"That's one of the best 'gotchas' I've ever had the privilege of witnessing," Joel finally managed to gasp out through his laughter. The looks of surprise on the faces of the other detectives quickly shifted into amusement, and soon they, too, were trying to stifle their laughter.

Simon glared at them, one by one, his obvious ire quickly cooling their amusement, all except Joel's. With a pointed glare at his friend, who finally managed to control his own hilarity, he growled, "As for the rest of you, I'm sure that all your reports are finished and ready for my inspection?" Immediately, the four detectives spun and headed for their own desks to work busily at their own appointed tasks. Smiling smugly, Simon turned and entered his office, closing the door behind him. Looking around, he noticed that there was a fresh pot of coffee waiting for him. Shaking his head, he began to chuckle. Yeah, that had been one of the best 'gotchas' he'd ever been party to, as well. He didn't really begrudge the pair the day off to recover. After all, they'd pulled more than a double shift, and this way, they wouldn't be getting as much overtime... Something Chief Warren and the Mayor both liked. Chuckling, he set his cup of Starbucks' coffee on the coaster on his desk and sat down, pulling the first of the files toward him. Taking a sip of the excellent Latte, he began what was promising to be a pretty nice day.

The pony act described herein is real. We saw it at the Folsom Rodeo on the Fourth of July a few years ago. When the 'pony' was 'shot', he threw all four legs in the air and landed hard on his side. Everyone was laughing hysterically at the two men... Me, horse-oriented as I am, said, "There's a real pony in that pony suit." My family disagreed. I told them to watch his flanks, his heavy breathing was quite visible. The looks I got from my sibs and their spouses and children when the 'pony' was revealed were priceless... It still ranks up there as the best act I've ever seen... even better than Gunther Gebel-Williams and the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus... If you ever see 'Tony the Pony' at a fair or rodeo, you really don't want to miss it. It's worth the price of admission, all by itself.




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