Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

Rating: R


by Susan Monica

Ritchie put his last shirt into his suitcase, closed and locked it. On the bed next to it was a small black leather carryall. He threw his shaving kit in and pulled a soft little leather pouch from his pants pocket. He pulled it opened and checked the jewelry inside, then pulled the strings to close it. He turned his head and became still at the sound of the front doorbell chiming. He glanced at his watch, 6:30. Who the hell was calling this early? Ritchie closed his eyes and let out a breath. Relax, relax its probably just Sonja coming to pick up her money. He tossed the bag of jewelry into the carryall and walked out of his bedroom. Peering over the upstairs banister he could just make out the shape of a woman through the etched glass in the large oak front doors. He patted his pants pocket to make sure he had put the extra money she needed there and started down the lushly carpeted staircase.

Sonja turned her head just as she was about to ring the bell. A sleek black car pulled into the courtyard and a large man with a ponytail got out of the front passenger side. He closed his door and leaned over to open the back door of the car. Sully slid out of the car followed by an older thickset man dressed in a dark blue business suit. They were up the front steps and crowding against her just as Ritchie opened the front door. His smiling greeting died on his lips and instead he let out a soft grunt of surprise as Sully pushed opened the door and shoved him back not too gently. Ponytail pushed Sonja through the doorway. Ritchie turned white when he saw the man in the suit.

"Uncle Denton."

"You have a room where we can talk quietly Richard?"

"Yeah, of course, here in my office." Ritchie led them all through a door off the foyer and into a large mahogany paneled room. Soft morning sunlight filtered in through the paisley drapes.

His uncle walked past him and stopped by the large ebony desk. He turned and looked at Ritchie, and glanced briefly at Sonja standing close to him. The man with the pony tail came and stood slightly behind his uncle. Sully gently closed the office door and came to stand behind Sonja. She glanced over her shoulder at him nervously, and then back to the two dangerous looking men in front of them.

"Uncle Denton, you remember Sonja, my …."

"Your little friend who forgot to check out the little professor?" Denton James turned to look at her.

Sonja was staring back at Ritchie's uncle, unable to take her eyes from him. He was a sleek muscular looking man whose body looked like it was just starting to lose some of its definition. A full head of silver gray hair cut a little too long to hide the full neck. Large thick dark eyebrows shaded a pair of deep, almost black, eyes staring back at her. She tried to swallow, but her mouth felt too dry. She felt a cold fission of fear race down her back.

"No Uncle Denny, really it wasn't her fault and I took care of everything."

"Shut up!" Denton James took a deep breath and spoke again. "Ritchie, I promised your mother I would always take care of you, but you really screwed up this time. I've avoided this kind of shit all my life."

"Uncle Denny…"Murderous black eyes staring at him silenced his attempt to defend himself.

"I've always stressed an important point to my people. Take the time to check out their uh...new prospects. I've always said, never lose your head. - You can never be too careful in our business. Right Ritchie?" Denton slammed his hand down on the desk to shout his last words.

"Well it seems your little Sonja girlfriend lost her head. She didn't follow the rules Ritchie!"

"Please, please, I didn't mean…" Sonja was sick with fear as she turned her face to Ritchie. "Ritchie, baby tell him…"Denton James' eyes met those of the man behind Sonja briefly, and then he turned toward the window and whispered softly. "She just lost her head Ritchie."

The loud report of a gunshot spun Ritchie towards Sonja in time to see a hole blossoming in the middle of her forehead. Her startled expression was the last thing he saw as she crumpled to the floor next to him.

"No! God no, what did you do?" Ritchie stared in horror at his uncle.

Sully was casually sliding his gun back into its holster, looking down at the dead body dispassionately.

The pony-tailed man grabbed him by his upper arms and pulled him to his feet to face his Uncle. His head snapped back as Denton backhanded him across his face sending him back into the man holding him.

"You stupid little shit! I've worked years to build this business and you and that idiot are ruining me. First you kidnap an undercover cop and hold him, instead of just getting rid of him. Now, you have another cop and a kid. What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Please Uncle Denton, holding this cop was sending a message to the cops investigating us."

"Yeah, and the message was come and get me. And if they get you they get me! Where are these people?"

Ritchie put his hand up to touch his cheek. "I've got them hidden at my club."

Denton James turned to Sully dismissing Ritchie comtempously and pointed to Sonja's body. "Get this into the trunk and get this room cleaned up. We'll wait in the car. Lets go, take me to your other little friends. Move!"

Denton shoved Ritchie past the body and through the door. Ritchie glanced down at Sonja's still body and marred face, tears rolling down his face.
Jim woke with a start, his heart racing. He lay still for a second listening intently, cataloguing the sounds in the apartment. The ticking clock, (maddeningly loud), the water flowing through the pipes in the walls, the scratch of a fly walking up a wall in the living room where he had fallen asleep on the couch. All irritating, no calming heartbeat coming from Blair's room, …something had woken him up. He glanced at his watch; 5:20 a.m. He had been asleep for an hour. What had woken him, had he heard someone talking? No…hesitantly he opened his hearing, reaching out. He heard an argument between two junkies down the street, the soft mutterings of a wino clutching his bottle and trying to pull his tattered blanket around himself. Frustrated, Jim shook his head and got to his feet sighing. Blair was missing now for over 12 hours. They had gone over to the University and checked out Blair's car and Jim had picked up the odor of Sully's cologne on the car. They had gone to Ritchie's home to question him, but he hadn't been there. Jim and Simon had gone back to the station hoping Henri and Rafe had found something to help locate Blair. Jim's anger and frustration had mounted with all the dead ends and only Simon's strict order for him to go home and get some rest had gotten him out of the precinct.

Jim glanced at his watch again, kicked off his shoes and socks and padded into the kitchen barefooted. He rinsed out the coffee pot and set up a fresh one, then headed to the bathroom pulling off his shirt. He slid open the shower door and leaned in to turn on the water and adjust the temperature. Unbuckling his belt, he slid off his slacks and hung them neatly over the towel bar. He pulled off his boxers and tossed them into the hamper, pulled a thick towel from the shelf and tossed it over the shower stall door. Stepping into the shower he let out a soft moan of pleasure as the hot water cascaded over his short brown hair and down over his shoulders.

He used Blair's herbal shampoo on his hair, and then lathered soap onto his washrag rubbing it down over his neck and shoulders. He scrubbed the bar of soap over his broad chest and down over his belly and slim hips. He finished soaping the rest of his body and leaned his head under the shower to get the shampoo out of his hair. Stretching his body to place his hands on the opposite wall, he closed his eyes to mere slits. Bending his head, he watched the water mix with the soap washing over his shoulders and chest then down past his flat belly. He watched the droplets bouncing and dancing off his body and could feel the tension easing.

He turned off the water and grabbed the towel and dried his face and hair. Suddenly, he stopped in mid stroke. Blair! That's what woke me. I heard him…I heard him call my name, that's what woke me. It wasn't' a nightmare, he was sure of it. He didn't know how it happened, but he knew he had heard Blair's voice. Okay, Branis had to have them hidden somewhere. There has to be something in those files we missed. Jim looked at his reflection in the mirror and growled, " Okay, okay back to work. Hang in there Chief, I will find you!" He finished drying the rest of his body briskly and wrapped the towel around his waist. Jim became aware of the scent of the coffee and his stomach rumbled in response. He went out into the kitchen and poured himself a cup and turned to lift the phone and punched in Simon's home phone number.

"Banks," Simon's deep rumble came over the line.

"It's Ellison sir. Look I know we couldn't find Branis last night, but I'm willing to bet he's home now. How about we go pay him a nice early visit?"

"Ellison, do you know what time it is?"

"6:05 sir. Come on Captain, you know what they say about the early bird catching the worm, and Branis is one worm I am gonna catch."

"Alright, alright I'll see you at the station in 30 minutes. I'll have Rhonda call Judge Rawlins for a search warrant just in case, but he's not going to be happy with us waking him this early. I'd better have her call in Marcus, Henri and Rafe for backup too.

"Yes!" Jim raced up to his bedroom shedding the towel on the way. He pulled out a clean pair of boxers and put them on, then sat on his bed to pull on socks. He pulled open his end table drawer and took out a small ankle gun and holster, leaning over to strap it to his leg. He stood and pulled his favorite jeans off a hanger and slid into them, then sat to pull on low black army boots and tied them. He pulled a black t-shirt over his head, grabbed his soft flannel button down shirt and was buttoning it up as he sped down the stairs to finish gulping down his coffee.

He picked up his gun and slipped it into the holster at his waistband, snug against his back. Jim grabbed up his jacket and pushed two extra clips into one of the pockets. He grabbed the car keys from the basket on the table, snapped off the light and left the loft.
Blair woke up stiff and cold leaning against the wall closest to the bed. Josh was curled up against him snoring softly. He shrugged out of his jacket carefully and pushed it under Josh's head and slid him down to the floor. He stiffened, suddenly feeling someone watching him. He looked up and saw the young man on the bed was awake and staring at him.

"Hey." Keeping his voice soft, Blair inched closer to the bed. "My name is Blair Sandburg, I'm a consultant with the Cascade PD, who are you?"

Blair saw a brief flare of hope in otherwise dull blue eyes. The man had to try to speak twice before he was able to answer.

"James, Buddy James. I'm a cop. Look, please you gotta help me; you gotta get me out of here. I don't know how long I've been here but my boss must be looking for me, I mean somebody has to looking for me right?"

Blair got to his feet and was reached out to grab the man's arms as he tried to sit up. His voice had gotten louder and had woken Josh, and Blair could see he was losing control.

"Whoa, take it easy. Yeah, they are looking for you. You're the undercover cop who worked for Marcus Steele?" Josh had gotten to his feet and moved closer to the bed. "Look, this if Josh Steele, Marcus' son. We were kidnapped yesterday afternoon by a guy name Sully. Do you know him? He works for Ritchie Branis."

"That's the bastard that got me. Big, mean guy, yeah he works for Branis." Buddy James started to slide back down onto the bed, exhaustion coloring his next words. "I don't know how long I've been here. It feels like forever."

Blair pushed back some of the mans matted hair and rubbed his hand. "What did they want from you, god what have they done to you?"

"They've been giving me drugs to keep me quiet, they wanted to know how much the cops knew. I didn't tell them anything, so they did this to me."

Blair saw all the cuts and bruises Buddy had on his face and body and glanced over to Josh. Before Josh could say a word, the door to the room was flung open and four men walked into the room.
Josh moved a little closer to Blair as he recognized Sully and Chet, the pony tailed thug. Blair got to his feet and stepped in front of Josh. "What the hell is going on? Why are you keeping us here?"

Chet stepped close and grabbed Blair roughly by the arm pulling him closer to the group of men. "Shut up punk."

"Hey, that's no way to talk to our little friend, is it Blair?" Sully stepped close to Blair and smiled. Blair looked into those pale blue unsmiling eyes and tried not to show his fear.

"What do you want Sully, or should I be talking to your boss? Blair asked, turning to Branis. "Should I be asking you Ritchie? I mean Sully here is just your little errand boy isn't he?" Blair could see Sully's fist clenching with anger.

"I don't work for Ritchie you little punk…" Sully snarled."Enough!" All eyes turned to the man who now stepped forward and yelled at Sully. Blair took in the expensive suit the man was wearing and the styled hair and glanced over at Ritchie and saw he looked as scared as the rest of them.

"The one on the bed is the cop, and the pretty boy with the curls is from the University. He's a teacher?" Denton James asked Ritchie.

"Yes, Uncle Denton, his name is Blair Sandburg. Sonja found out he is a consultant to the Cascade PD and his partner is a detective."

"Uncle Denton - not the Denton James?" Blair stared at the man waiting for an answer. Josh turned his head toward the bed as Buddy James tried to pull himself into a sitting position. His breathy whisper just reached Blair. "Blair, be careful…"Denton James stepped closer to Blair.

"Oh, you know about me, Teach? What do you know? What do you know about me? You're supposed to be soo smart, you fooled Sonja didn't you? Poor little Sonja, too bad she had to learn the hard way."

"What do you mean the hard way? Where's Sonja, Ritchie?" Ritchie kept his eyes on the floor and wouldn't meet Blair's gaze. Blair turned back to Denton James and started towards him. "What did you do to Sonja you.."

He got no further, as Sully grabbed him by his shirtfront and pulled him bodily away from James. His fist cracked against Blair's cheek whipping his head sideways. Sully held onto Blair's shirt front and back-handed him across the mouth.

Josh yelled and tried to launch himself at Sully, but Chet grabbed him and pulled him back holding him tightly against his chest. Buddy James struggled to raise himself off the bed again, but Chet's kick to the bed frame made him drop back onto the pillow in defeat. Sully punched Blair in the stomach, doubling him over. He grabbed Blair by his long curls and pulled him back up to face James. Denton James was studying his nails. He glanced up at Blair gasping for breaths and smiled.

"You know Teach, you're not too bright. Sully here has a terrible temper and you just seem to be goading him. Not too bright, eh Ritchie?"

"Uncle Denton… " Ritchie's voice trailed off. Blair looked from one man to the other, blood dripping from his split lip down onto his shirt. He was more mad than scared now. "Oh my god, Sully doesn't work for you; he works for your Uncle. What was he doing Ritchie, checking up on you? Making sure you weren't skimming? I don't know Ritchie, doesn't sound like "trust" is a word your Uncle is familiar with."

"Shut up, shut up! It's all your fault!" Ritchie had moved away from his Uncle and was screaming at Blair now. "It's your fault Sonja is dead. You tricked her, you and your detective buddy."

Blair slumped against Sully's hold. He looked at Ritchie and whispered, "Sonja's dead? Why, how?"

"They did it." Spittle was spraying from his mouth as Ritchie pointed to his uncle and Sully. "He said she broke his dammed rules. She was so beautiful. You didn't have to kill her!" he screamed at them.

Denton James moved so fast, Ritchie didn't have a chance to escape. He grabbed Ritchie and slammed him against the wall, sliding one beefy hand up to grab him around the throat and squeeze hard. Ritchie clawed at the fingers choking him, but couldn't pry them away. Banging his head against the wall with each word Denton snarled, "You - just - shut - your - fuckin - mouth or you're next!"

He let go of him abruptly and Ritchie slipped to the floor half conscious. He swung around to face Blair. "Okay, now you. How much do the cops know?

"Go to hell James," Blair said angrily. Denton looked at Sully and before Blair could pull away, Sully's fist caught him across the right temple sending him to his knees.

Josh had been standing quiet, too scared to make a move. Now he saw Sully attacking Blair and he tried to help him. He slammed his hundred dollar Doc Martens down with all his force on Chet's ankle and pulled away as the man screamed and let him go. He flung himself on to Sully's back and tried to get his arm around Sully's throat to choke him and pull him away from Blair.

Sully reached up over his shoulder and bent forward, pulling Josh over his head and on to the floor in front of him knocking Blair sideways. He grabbed the boy by the shirt and open-handed, slapped his face back and forth. Blair pulled himself up and grabbed the one chair near the table and smashed it across Sully's shoulders. Denton James had pulled a gun from under his jacket and was watching Sully batter both Blair and Josh with a smile on his face. Chet limped over and grabbed Josh snarling, "You stinking brat, you'll pay for that," pulling him away from Sully.

Sully staggered with the force of the blow, then turned and grabbed Blair and lifting him over his head, threw him. He landed with a crash on the table smashing it and ended up sliding against the wall, cracking his forehead and leaving him dazed.

Denton fired one shot into the wall near Blair to get their attention. "Enough, Sully enough!" We're not getting anywhere like this. Drag Sandburg over to the bed, Ritchie who the hell is the kid?"

"I d-don't know. Sully said he was with Sandburg at the University parking lot. He saw them, so they took him too."

"He's too damn young to be a student. So, who are you kid?

Chet shook Josh hard, "Answer him brat."


"Joshua. Joshua what?"

"Joshua Steele you bastard, and my father's gonna find you and this gorilla." Josh started crying, trying to scream his anger out at them, "He'll find you and and…" he was struggling and trying to pull out of Chet's grip.
Denton James was staring at him and finally he laughed. "Joshua Steele - not any relation to Detective Marcus Steele. Of course. The resemblance is there. The same damn bulldog tenacity. Well, well. I thought I was rid of Detective Steele, fancy that Sully. The man was a royal pain in the ass in California and now I find his brat. Well, we are just going to have to take a little time to sort this out aren't we? I mean getting rid of Mr. Sandburg is easy. Ritchie, where do you keep the drugs?"

"Upstairs in the back of the Club."

"Tell your man to make up a nice speedball for our Mr. Sandburg, and get me a couple of dime bags of coke. It's not going to be too big of a surprise to find another teacher succumbing to a drug overdose. Especially since he's been selling to the student body. You better make it two Ritchie, our little undercover cop will be joining Mr. Sandburg."

James put his gun away and turned taking Ritchie by the arm. "Lets go gentlemen. We have to figure out how we are going to use young Joshua, he is our ace in the hole. Marcus Steele will be jumping through hoops once he finds out his baby boy is with me."

Sully followed them out and Chet let go of Josh. He roughly wiped off the blood from Josh's lips with one calloused hand wiping his fingers on Josh's shirtfront. "Yeah, brat you be real careful now. We wouldn't want anything to happen to you." With that Chet pushed him backwards hard, and Josh lost his balance and hit the floor landing on his butt.

"Stop screwing around, and let's go." Sully stood near the door and waited for Chet to go past him. "Sweet dreams boys." With that parting, he walked out laughing and locked the door.

Josh crawled over to a groggy Blair and taking him by his arms, lifted him and pulled Blair up against him. He ripped part of his undershirt to wipe some of the blood from Blair's face and forehead. Blair groaned at the contact.

"Ohhhh man, what hit me?" He put his hand up to his head and then looked at his bloody fingers. "Oh, not good. Man, I so don't like seeing my own blood."

Josh looked over at Buddy laying on the bed staring back at him, tears sliding silently down his face. "Blair?" Josh's quivering voice brought Blair's eyes up to search his face.

"Oh shit Josh, I'm so sorry." He reached up his hand and gently touched Josh's bruised and swollen cheeks.

"Look what they did to you. Josh, you trying to help was great but kid, one of us has to stay healthy to get out of here."

"Blair, there is no way we are gonna get out of here. That James guy said they were coming back Blair, with drugs. They're gonna kill you and Buddy!"

Blair struggled to sit up, and pulled Josh into his arms. "Hey man, take it easy." He looked over at Buddy wiping his face to get rid of all traces of his tears.

"Blair you said Jim would find us, you promised. You said he always finds you. Oh man where is he, and where is my dad?"

"Listen, both of you. Jim will find us. It's just taking a little longer, but he's never failed me man. I mean the guy is just incredible."

Blair held Josh closer and tried to settle them more comfortably.

"Jim will find me, he always finds me," he said softly.
Jim rang Ritchie Branis's doorbell one more time. "Nothing. Simon, there's no one home."

Marcus came up the steps holding a small heavy metal cylinder. "You're right Jim, the red Jetta over there is registered to Sonja. She must have come to see Branis this morning."

Simon moved out of the way to let Marcus get closer to the door. He spoke softly into his radio. "Henri, we're going in." He turned to Marcus and motioned towards the front door. "Okay Marcus, break it down and be careful."

Marcus lifted the small heavy cylinder of steel and glanced at Jim. Jim and Simon pulled their guns and Jim held up three fingers motioning one, two, three. Marcus smashed just under the doorknob and the oak door splintered and flew open. Jim went through first, quickly scanning the foyer and hallway. Staying close to the wall, he went to the foot of the long staircase and waited for Simon.

In the back of the house, Henri Brown lifted the ram and glanced at Rafe. "Okay, here we go babe. Grab the end, we do it on three."

"Oh man, I can't believe this. I thought we were just going to be ringing door bells." He slid his gun from the shoulder holster and looked up to see Henri laughing at him.

"What's so damned funny man?"

"You, babe. Only you would be worried about what you wore for a bust. Maybe you should get behind me Rafe, so we don't ruin that pretty suit of yours."

Rafe stood across from Henri and grabbed the handle of the ram with one hand. "Very funny H, just make sure you hit the damn lock. Lets go, on three!" The back door banged open and almost hit them as it bounced back. They dropped the ram and quickly sped through the kitchen toward the front hall foyer.

Simon saw them and silently motioned them to go with Marcus to check the bottom floor rooms. He followed Jim to the upstairs bedrooms. They quickly went through all three bedrooms looking in closets and behind doors. All was quiet. Jim slowly pushed open the master bedroom door and glanced in.

"Nothing, it's empty sir." Simon walked past Jim holstering his gun. He pulled a cigar from his inner jacket pocket and put it in his mouth. "Well something or someone interrupted Mr. Branis packing this morning. It looks like our boy was getting ready to fly."

Jim checked the suitcase and the carryall. "He was traveling light, just enough for a few days. So where the hell is he and who interrupted him?"

"You got me Jim, and where is Sonja? This is getting too weird. Lets go see what the boys found."

They left the room and met Henri on the way up.

"Nothing Captain. We found some papers in the office, but everything else is clean."

Simon and Jim walked into the office. Simon walked over to the desk and sat in the chair looking over some of the papers.

"There has got to be something!" Marcus Steele's voice was harsh. "We're missing something. I mean where did he work. If he's not here, where the hell could he be? He couldn't just disappear."

Simon was looking at him and saw how close he was to coming apart. The man's complexion had a gray cast to it and his eyes were red rimmed. He probably hadn't slept either, worrying about his son's whereabouts. Simon got up and went over to put a hand on his shoulder. "Easy Marcus. I know how hard it is, but these papers look like some kind of inventories. We'll go back to the station and find out what they are for. Why don't you wait in the car?"

"It's too clean."

Simon looked up at Jim. "What? What's too clean?"

"The room, can't you smell that Captain?"

"Rafe, Henri! Take those files and Marcus. Meet us back at the precinct." Marcus turned and walked out past Jim. Henri and Rafe grabbed the files on the desk and hurried after him.

"Now, what are you talking about? What do you smell?"

"Cleaner, sulfur - and….blood. Somebody was shot Captain." Jim tilted his head. Ugh...that sweet coppery smell was distinct. Jims head turned and he went past the desk to where the rug ended. He went down on one knee and ran his hand over the polished oak floor. "Here." He focused his eyes and saw the dark stain between the planks of wood. He pressed his fingers down against the groove of the planks and rubbed. "It's still wet. Somebody scrubbed it down."

Simon had come over to peer over Jim's shoulder at the floor. "I don't see a damned thing except clean floor, but if you say so…."

Jim got to his feet and rubbed his hand through his short hair. He looked up at his Captain. "Someone tried to clean it up, but it's there Captain. God! I should never have allowed Blair to get involved in this."

"Listen Jim, take it easy. It could be anyone's blood. Hell it could be Branis' blood. They wouldn't bring Blair here, it's the first place we'd look and they know that."

Simon pulled out his cell phone and hit some buttons. "Rhonda? I want a forensic team sent over to Branis's house. I'll leave a handkerchief over the area I want them to concentrate on. There are bloodstains and I want a DNA workup ASAP. There's also a 1999 Jetta in the driveway, its registered to Sonja Everclere. I want it dusted for prints."

He flipped the phone closed and turned to Jim. "Let's go, maybe there is something in those folders that will help us." Simon put his hand on Jim's arm and pulled him out of the room. "We'll find him, I promise."

"Yeah, but in time Simon?"
Ritchie stood near a table and watched two men weigh and measure out the powdered heroin, while another man used a little scoop to pour it into small squares of cellophane packets. Gabe was counting out red pills and placing them into plastic baggies. Denton James was sitting at a small desk talking on a phone. Sully and Chet were following his uncle's orders to get rid of the body. Poor Sonja, she didn't deserve to die like that. His uncle was treating her like a piece of meat to be gotten rid of. She had been his girlfriend for three years and he as missing her already. They had been good together.

Ritchie could feel the sweat running down his forehead. He wiped it quickly, trying to get control. He was scared to death. He knew his uncle was planning to kill him too. There was no other way. His uncle was going to make him the fall guy. When he killed Sandburg and Buddy James, Ritchie was afraid they were going to kill him as well. Denton James would find a way to point a finger at him and make the cops believe it. He and Sully would disappear and the trail would end with Ritchie's death.

He had to get away. He saw how coldly his uncle had ordered Sonja's death, never showing a drop of remorse. Ritchi had no illusions about Sully either. Sully loved to hurt people, he was the type who pulled wings off flies. He would kill without a second thought.

Time was running out, he had to get a message to that Detective Ellison, Blair's partner. Let them know where they could find the kid. He slipped his hand into his jacket and felt the comforting bulge of his cell phone. He was sure he could work out a deal with the police. He still had the jewelry in his pocket; he could pawn it and use it to make his escape. Now, all he had to do was figure a way to get out of the room and make the call.

His prayers were answered with a knock on the office door. Two of the men at the table pulled guns and stepped over to stand on either side of the door. Ritchie walked over to answer the tap. He opened it and his club manager walked in. "What is it?"

"The band we booked for tomorrow night is here. You were supposed to check them out? Can you do it now?"

Ritchie looked over at his Uncle. Denton James stared at him and smiled, "Sure, business as usual right Ritchie. Oh and Ritch, you're coming straight back right?"

"Sure, Uncle Denton, sure. I just need to check them out. I'll be back in a few minutes." With that, he turned and left the room with his manager.

Denton James looked at Gabe and said, "Follow him. Make sure he doesn't go for a walk. Understand?"

"Yeah, yeah sure Mr. James. He glanced at the men at the table packaging the drugs and wiped his mouth.

"What the hell are you waiting for, get going!" Denton stood up from behind the desk and yelled. Gabe grabbed his jacket from the sofa and left.
It was after nine and everyone in Simon's office was running on pure adrenalin at this point. They had waited for the forensic team to show up at Ritchie's house and then spent time canvassing the neighborhood talking to neighbors, trying to get a lead on Ritchie's whereabouts. They had come up empty again.

Simon had one of his precious Monte Cristo cigars clenched between his teeth, watching Jim pacing the office like a caged panther.

Marcus was reading the papers from Branis's office with Henri. "It looks like the inventories are for bars. I mean most of this stuff is alcohol. Do we know if he owns any? Some of the expenses are for tables and chairs."

Henri looked at him, "Does Branis own restaurants?"

Marcus shook his head. "No, I don't think so. There is nothing here for food or groceries, or anything like that."

Jim stopped his pacing for a moment to glare at Simon. "Where the hell is that forensic report? How long is it going to take them to check out the DNA?"

Simon sighed. "Jim, it takes time."

"We don't have time, Captain. The longer Blair and Josh are gone…" Jim stopped talking when he saw Simon glance over at Marcus. His hands were shaking and Jim could see the effort he was making to keep in control. Jim knew he was probably feeling frantic with each passing hour.

Simon lifted the receiver on his phone and pressed a buzzer. "Rhonda, could you do us a favor and go down to Forensics and get that report we're waiting for?"

"Sure Captain." She looked over at Rafe and smiled. "Rafe, I've got to run an errand for the Captain. Can you cover the phone please?"

"Sure doll, be happy to help." He turned and grabbed his phone as it rang.

"Major Crimes, Detective Division."

"I've got a report for a Detective Brown. He needed the names of some businesses and their owners. I have the names here, there are nine of them."

"Great." Rafe reached for a pen, balancing the phone between shoulder and neck. "Okay, shoot."

"The first is Club Abyss. Owner is listed as The Branis Corporation."

Barbara Anderson was new to the Cascade Police Department. Fresh out of Business School, this was her first real job. She was delivering a file to Captain Banks secretary Rhonda, except Rhonda wasn't at her desk. She glanced around just as the phone on Rhonda's desk rang.

There was a big meeting going on in the Captains office. She looked over at the handsome detective across from her and saw he was busy on another phone. Okay, I can answer a phone. I mean it's my first day, but I know how to take a message. She lifted the receiver and said, "Major Crimes, Miss Anderson speaking."

"I need to speak with Detective Ellison, now!"

Barbara glanced around the otherwise empty room. "I'm sorry sir, he's not available. May I take a message?"

Ritchie Branis wiped his mouth and tried to think. He'd never get another chance to make a call. His uncle was watching his every move. He was watching the band play and was holding the phone tightly against his ear.

Gabe was busy snorting some coke he had filched in the office and was oblivious to him.

"Yeah, it's important. Tell Ellison Ritchie says to go to the Club Abyss on Fourth and Main. It's on the waterfront. He'll find what he's looking for there. And tell him he owes me." Click. The line went dead. Barbara finished writing the message. She looked at the men in the office. One large man was yelling at an even larger man. Hmm, they looked pretty upset, and there was no way she was going to interrupt that group. Knowing the message was important, she placed it in the middle of Rhonda's desk, so she could spot it right away. Satisfied, she glanced once more at the handsome detective on the phone and left.

Ronnie the mail boy smiled as he passed the new girl on her way out of Major Crimes. Wow, she is a pretty little thing. He took the bundle of mail for Captain Banks and went to put it on Rhonda's desk. Detective Rafe whistled. Ronnie looked over at Rafe and grinned.

"Oh man Ronnie, where did you get that tie?"

He was looking at Rafe as he put the bundle of mail down over Barbara's message. He rolled the mail cart towards Rafe.

"Hey dude, I'm just trying to em u late my favorite Detective. Now Detective Rafe, that suit is phat! Man, it's the bomb."

Rafe grabbed his mail laughing. "Ronnie, that's high praise coming from you." They high-fived each other as Rafe got to his feet with his files and started walking towards Simon's office.

Rhonda had just returned with a folder in her hands, when Simon Banks came out of his office with some papers.

"You got the report from Forensic?"

"Yes sir, it's all here. Dr. Peters said to tell you it's good news. The blood is from a female, not male." She glanced down at the bundle of mail on her desk. Simon took the folder from her hand and smiled. "Rhonda, another big one. I need you to check these inventories on the computer for me. I need to know if they are bars, and their locations. And Rhonda, I need it right now."

She gave the mail one more glance and took the file from Simon's hand. "Sure Captain. I'll get right on it." She turned her back and rolled her chair over to her computer terminal, the mail forgotten.

"Rafe, what do you have for me?"

Rafe followed Simon back into his office. He looked at Marcus and Jim's strained features and smiled. "Hey guys, I think we just may have caught a break. I've got the names of some of Branis' businesses."

Comments, criticism, suggestions? E-mail Susan Monica.

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