This takes place after ABRTI, back when Brass still had hair, a lot more to do, and didn't always wear a suit and tie. It also follows "Forgiveness" so it's best to read that before you read this. Neither Jim Brass nor Annie Kramer belongs to me. They belong to a bunch of people who didn't appreciate them nearly as much as they should.
Global warming, that's what this was. Monsoon season happened in the summer, not December, so it had to be global warming. Except that it wasn't warm. In fact if it had been a few degrees colder, Jim Brass would be wiping snowflakes off his shoulders. Instead he stood in the blowing rain, barking orders to two uniformed officers when he felt his cell phone vibrate.
"Hey," came the familiar feminine New Jersey twang.
"Hey, yourself. Hope your day is better than mine." Brass moved away from the crime scene as the rain trickled down the back of his collar. Someone had handed him a slicker to cover his wool coat after it started raining. Finding it pointless, he'd tossed it aside. Not one of his best ideas.
"It's getting better every minute. Where are you? You sound like you're outside."
"That's because I am outside."
Cold rain was coming down in sheets now, blowing sideways across the highway. He glanced at the slicker, regretting his decision to discard it. "I hope it's not raining where you are. It's really coming down."
His deep chuckle rumbled into the phone. "Soaked all the way down to my shorts." He pulled the phone away from his ear and wiped away the rain as one of the officers attempted to shelter him with a large umbrella that bucked against the wind.
"You give me visuals like that and I'm going to have to talk my way out of a reckless driving ticket."
Brass cocked his head at what she said. "How did you know that it's raining? Where are you?"
"Just passed the exit for St. Rose Parkway on I-15. You remember what I said to you? I'm not spending another Christmas by myself and neither are you."
Jim vaguely remembered Annie telling him they were spending Christmas together but he'd been working so much, he'd forgotten all about it. Turning his back to the officer, covering his free ear with his hand, he tried to keep his voice low. "Annie, I'm sorry but I really can't take off right now."
"Oh yeah? Tell me truthfully, Jimmy. How many hours have you been working since Thanksgiving?"
He rubbed his hand over his very wet head and took a very deep breath, slowly letting it out as he ran through several different answers. "You know how it is. Working keeps my mind off things. I'm not drinking, if that's what you're worried about."
"I'm not worried. I told you, I didn't want to spend Christmas alone. Hand your cases off to your lieutenant and take some vacation."
He sighed into the phone. "It's not as easy as that."
"You're a captain. You can make it easy."
Realizing he was losing the battle, he caved. "What's your ETA?"
"About thirty to forty-five minutes."
"Okay, I'm finishing up here now but I still have some paperwork to do. Meet me at the station—my office—and I'll give you my keys. You remember how to get there?"
"Off Westfall, right? I have the GPS. I can find it."
"I'll leave word with Judy, the receptionist, in case you get there before me. You can wait in my office."
"See you in a little while."
"Be careful. A little rain falls and people go nuts. This much rain and people will start going apocalyptic."
The rain had stopped, leaving puddles of standing water, mud, and wet pavement in its wake. Thankfully, the temperatures were above freezing otherwise they would have had snow. Snow in Las Vegas was a rare occurrence but not unheard of, especially in the winter months. Jim had heard that back in the mid 70's, Vegas had a record snowfall of nine inches in January. It certainly got cold enough. The problem was the lack of moisture. Luckily, the two were almost never in sync.
Jim peeled off the water-logged wool coat and tossed it into the trunk of his car then climbed into the driver's seat and cranked up the heat before pulling onto the main road. He was cold, wet and tired but the more he thought about Annie waiting for him, the more he looked forward to going home. Not before grabbing a cup of coffee though.
Turning onto the dark two lane road, Brass was surprised that an area of Vegas existed that he wasn't completely familiar to him. If he hadn't been so desperate for coffee, he might have waited until he was on a street he actually recognized. Still, there had to be a McDonald's or a mini mart nearby. Granted, he was closer to Las Vegas Bay than the metro area but he didn't think there was a corner in the Las Vegas metro area that didn't have some sort of drive thru or gas station. Following the curve in the road, he hit a dark patch of road next to the Las Vegas Wash and realized he'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. Pulling onto the gravel shoulder, he punched his location into the GPS, waiting for it to triangulate his location. Movement at the far end of his headlights caused him to look up. What he saw caused him to grab his flashlight and barrel out of his car, barking into his phone for backup as he ran towards the darkened truck parked several yards in front of him.
Thanks to the parking lot that was the I-15, Annie's thirty to forty-five ETA turned into an hour and a half. She was tempted to call Jim again but given that he hadn't called to ask where she was, she assumed he had his hands full and she didn't want to disturb him.
Inching forward, trying to keep a blue Camry from cutting in front of her, Annie wondered if she was doing the right thing by coming to Vegas. She knew she was giving him mixed signals, especially after telling him that she didn't see a long term relationship in their future, but maybe she should have questioned her own feelings before making such a pronouncement. Because truthfully, she missed him in a way she didn't think possible. Then again, was it him she really missed or the sex? He was easy for her, a safe and willing participant who almost always took care of her needs. With Jim there was familiarity. They each knew what the other wanted without any of the awkwardness that came with a new relationship. She liked that. And right now, she wanted some of that familiarity very much.
Craning her neck and seeing only a line of red taillights in the distance, she blew out a frustrated breath and impatiently tapped the steering wheel as her thoughts went back to their conversation. She'd hoped he was as excited to see her as she was to see him but having to convince him to take the time off left her feeling unsettled. Maybe she'd created a relationship when there really wasn't one. Maybe it really was just about sex. Rolling her eyes, she silently cursed her own self-doubts and quickly merged into the slowly moving right lane.
Jim wasn't fast enough to catch up with the driver of the truck. Hearing the driver's side door slam shut, exhaust fumes hit him in the face along with bits of gravel as the tires spun on the loose ground. Turning his attention from the truck's illuminated license plate to the swollen wash below, he could just hear a tiny voice crying over the rush of water. Shining the flashlight over surface, focusing on something pink tangled up in debris, he felt his heart drop as he realized it was a child.
Tearing off his jacket and tie, dropping his cell phone, keys and flashlight onto the pile, Brass knew there wasn't time to wait around for help. The child couldn't hold on for long, not with the fast water and the nearly freezing temps. And if she let go, the current would eventually carry her body into Lake Mead. Of course she would be dead by then.
Feeling his way through the scrub bush and discarded trash, his shoes finding a little purchase on the muddy ground, he half slid, half slipped down the hill, yelling for the child to hang on. He lost his footing as he neared the water, his right arm catching on something sharp as he tried to break his fall, and plunged into the icy water. Trying to keep his head above water as the cold hit him like a punch to the gut, his knee crashed against the rocky bottom of the creek before he could get his feet under him. Driving his body upward, he quickly found his balance in the fast moving thigh high water and forced air into his sluggish lungs.
It took two attempts before he found his voice. "Can you hear me? Hello? I'm a policeman. My name is Jim Brass. If you can hear me, let me know so I can help you."
Cursing himself for leaving the flashlight behind and just as overwhelming feeling of helplessness hit him, he heard the faint cry. Moving toward the sound despite the growing ache in his legs and the heaviness in his feet, working against the fast moving current and staying parallel to the bank, he continued to call out. If he calculated it correctly, she would most likely have fallen into the creek near the bank, probably caught on some of the creosote and other shrubs that grew thick in the usually dry channel. His new concern though was the rising water. In just a few minutes the water had risen to almost a foot and now came up over his waist. And the deeper and faster the water became, the more debris brushed against his legs, each time nearly causing him to lose his balance.
"Can you hear me? Yell or scream, anything. Just let me know where you are." His request was met with a loud, shrill scream that was nearly drowned out by the thundering sound of chopper blades overhead. The cavalry had arrived.
Just as soon as Jim heard the blades, something in the dark water grabbed the back of his right leg, restricting his movement and forcing him down with the current. Lifting his head out of the water, the icy bite of the cold air caused him to cough and gasp and flail as he fought off the surge of panic. For a moment the thought flashed through his mind that this was how he was going to die: drowning in a failed attempt to save a child. Another muffled cry in the darkness and Brass shook off the doubts. This child needed him and he sure as hell wasn't going to fuck this up.
Spitting out a mouthful of brackish water, he reached into the murky depths and tried to untangle the length of wire that gripped his leg. Sharp barbs stung his fingers but he didn't let up. Frantically working the wire back and forth until it finally released its hold on his leg, he pulled a numb foot up and slipped it through the wire, nearly losing his balance in the process.
A bright light appeared from above, illuminating the entire area and allowing Jim to see that he was only a few feet away from the pink shrouded blond head fighting to stay above water. The child, a little girl maybe five years old, was tangled in a mess of branches and what looked like rusted chain link fence. He faltered for a moment, wondering how he was going to get to her from his vantage without causing her further injury. The coat she wore offered a little protection against the branches but it wasn't going to do her much good if he ended up impaling her in the process.
His frustration grew until he spied a small clearing to his right. It was a long shot but gauging the direction of the fast moving water, Jim was almost certain the current would carry her away from the debris. He could wade out to the middle a little further and if luck was with him, he could grab her as she floated by. The problem was going to be convincing her to let go. It was worth a shot and until help showed up, it was the best he had. Besides, he didn't think she could hold on much longer.
He waded around until she could see his face and he could see hers. He needed her to trust him and hopefully, in the darkness, wet, and shivering, he didn't look too threatening. "Ok, sweetheart, I need you to let go. Do you understand?" The thought that perhaps she didn't speak English only just occurred to him. And while he spoke some Spanish, it was mostly limited to telling people to stay inside or put down their weapons. Not very helpful right about now.
The child began to cry again and even over the sound of approaching sirens, chopper blades, and rushing water, Jim thought he could hear her teeth chattering in the cold. It didn't take him long to realize it was his teeth he was hearing, not hers. He couldn't ever remember being as cold as he was at that moment and he was fairly sure he'd lost feeling in everything from the waist down so he knew he had to quickly convince her to let go. Unfortunately, he wasn't sure he would be able to catch her if she did. Still, he wasn't about to give up just yet. If he was going to die from hypothermia, he sure as hell wasn't going down without a fight.
"Please, honey, I promise I won't let anything happen to you. Just let go and I'll catch you and then we'll get you warm and dry, ok?" She turned her face towards him and for a moment, a memory flashed before his eyes. Shaking the image, he held out his hands. "I promise I won't let you go."
The sirens grew louder and all of a sudden so much light fell on the wash that it seemed like the sun had suddenly come up. Jim looked up to see nothing but bright lights shining down and when he turned back, he realized the child had let go and was quickly drifting towards the far bank, away from him. Propelled by a frantic sense of panic, he knifed his way through the water after her, ignoring the stabs and jabs to his legs. Extending his right arm as far as he possibly could, ignoring the strain in his shoulder, the tips of his fingers just managed to grasp the hood of her coat. With the current and debris pounding against him, he tightened his grip and in one motion, yanked her towards him, her small body skimming the top of the water until at last she was secure in his grasp. Cradling her against his chest, feeling her crying and shaking as he clutched her tighter, he willed his legs forward, wading through the icy water to the muddy bank. His left knee nearly buckled as the rushing water pushed him into something hard jutting under the surface but he was so close now nothing was going to stop him.
Two men stood at the bank, hands reaching forward to help him. "Careful, sir. Just a little closer."
Drawing every ounce of strength he had left, Brass put his head down and propelled his legs forward until he could easily hand her off to the waiting paramedic secured by a tie-line.
"I coulda used one of those," he said, spitting out water as he spoke, his teeth chattering uncontrollably.
Officer Mitchell stood next to the paramedic and held out his hand for Jim but Brass noticed the policeman didn't have a tie-line and waved him off. "Won't be good to have us both in here," he said and then managed to half crawl, half drag himself out of the water and on to the muddy ground before collapsing.
Seeing the pained look on the detective's face, Mitch called up the hill. "Need a little help down here! You okay, Cap?"
Brass rolled onto his back, sucking in the cool air, his body in shock from the cold water. He couldn't stop shaking but truthfully, he couldn't say if it was from the cold water or the fear of failing. Probably a lot of the latter, if he was being honest with himself. "Yeah, just give me a minute," he stuttered, bringing his bloodied hands up and flexing them against the cold.
Another officer appeared at Mitch's side with a couple of blankets. "Here you go, captain."
"Think you can make it on your own?"
He sure as hell wasn't going up on a stretcher. "Yeah, help me up." Brass felt every one of his fifty-plus years as he got to his feet, balancing himself on the muddy surface with an arm on Mitch's shoulder, and rethinking the idea of a stretcher when he realized it was a steep hill and he still couldn't feel the lower half of his body. A steadying hand from both officers twice kept him slipping back into the water.
By the time he made it to the top the adrenaline rush had completely worn off, replaced by extreme fatigue and a bone-numbing chill. He took two steps towards the ambulance before his badly shaking knees buckled under him. Thankfully, Mitch caught him before he completely fell and passed him off to two EMTs who guided him into the back of the ambulance.
Brass felt like he was in a fog as he was practically lifted onto the stretcher. Two more blankets were draped over his legs and mid-section as his wet, muddy shoes were slipped off.
Someone stuck something in his ear. "Temperature is at 93 degrees. Mild hypothermia. We need to warm him up."
"Sir, the warming packs will work much better if you lie back."
Complying, Jim was so cold he welcomed the packs they placed on either side of his neck, under his armpits and onto his stomach. The warming effect was immediate but he still couldn't stop shaking.
"We need to check you out," one of the men, his nametag identifying him as Doug, said.
"I'm okay," he managed between chattering teeth, blinking to try to clear the fog. "How's the girl?"
"We can see that you're okay but your temperature has dropped and it looks like you have a couple of deep cuts that are going to require some attention. Do you know when you last had a tetanus shot?"
He slowly processed the question, closing his eyes. It was hard to think, much less shake his head, the shivering becoming almost uncontrollable. Opening his eyes, he managed a weak "no" then followed Doug's gaze to his right arm. With the heat warming his core, the fog began to clear. He vaguely recalled snagging his sleeve on something but the amount of blood surprised him. He wasn't going to argue with the tetanus shot either, especially after all the water he swallowed. He couldn't remember the last time he had one and who knew what kind of filth was in that water. They hadn't had a downpour like this in a long time and when it happened, it always managed to turn up dead animals or a body or two.
A second EMT, this one identified as Asaf, pushed more warming pads under his knees. "The girl's suffering from moderate hypothermia and a broken leg, some pretty bad cuts and bruises..."
Mitch appeared in front of him with a cup of hot coffee, and after the attendant adjusted the stretcher so he could sit upright, Brass accepted it gratefully. "Thanks."
"She wouldn't have had a chance if you hadn't found her."
Brass held up the cup with two shaking hands and shook his head. "Only because I took a wrong turn trying to get a cup of coffee." Between the hot liquid and the warming packs he was starting to get some feeling back in his lower extremities and his teeth had almost stopped chattering.
Doug pulled away a corner of the blanket. "Let's get a better look at that arm."
"Hey, Jim," Nick Stokes said, kit in hand. "You doing okay?"
Brass eased his right arm out of his shirt and shrugged his left shoulder up to keep the blanket from slipping. "Yeah, I'm fine. You might want to search that water for my ass though. I'm pretty sure I froze it off down there." He pointed the cup towards a spot up ahead. "If these idiots didn't walk all over it, you might be able to pull a couple of tire tracks. It was a dark Tacoma truck, blue or black, maybe dark gray." He winced as the EMT poked his shoulder. "I didn't get the whole tag but I remember it had Nevada plates and the numbers: 6-3-1."
"I'll let Archie know so he can run it through DMV. Shouldn't be too hard to narrow it down. You think this guy in the truck is the one who put her down there?"
"I know he did. I thought it was an animal at first but it was her pink coat that caught my attention. Saw him carry her to the edge over there." He pointed with the coffee cup in his left hand. "When he saw me, he dropped her or pushed her and took off for his truck. She must have rolled into the water. I ran up, saw her pink coat in the water and," he brought the cup to his lips, "went in after her."
Nick shook his head in disgust. "I'll see what I can find. We'll get this guy."
Jim nodded, confident that Nick would do everything in his power to make it happen.
Putting his hand on Jim's leg, he gave him a serious look. "You did good, Jim. You saved that little girl's life."
Nick's words went a long way towards warming him up – on the inside at least. On the outside he still felt like a Popsicle.
"Sir, I need you to sit back so I can get a look at your legs."
Nick leaned in and wrinkled his nose at the sight of the deep gashes. "You're going to need a tetanus shot."
"Yeah, I know." Jim looked up through his eyebrows. "Don't you have evidence to collect?" he asked to Nick's retreating back. Hearing the tear of fabric, he looked down to see Asaf cutting his favorite pair of navy trousers from the cuff to the knee.
"Got several deep cuts here," he said, grasping Jim's calf in his hand and turning it towards the light. "And a knee contusion."
Despite being probed and prodded, Brass closed his eyes only to have his eyelids flutter open seconds later. "Ah, hell," he said, bringing his hand up to his head.
Doug looked up from the gauze he was wrapping around Jim's arm. "Head okay? Any pain?"
"Head's fine. I just forgot something." Sifting through the paper bag that contained his discarded items from the side of the road, he found his keys. "Hey, Mitch!"
The uniformed officer strolled over to the back of the ambulance.
"I need you to do me a favor." Handing the cop his house keys, he said, "I need you to head to the station and give these to a friend of mine. You can't miss her. She'll be the pissed off brunette waiting in my office."
Mitch laughed. "Sure thing. I'll have one of the guys drop your car off over at Desert Palm."
"Great, thanks. Oh, and when you see her, don't tell her what happened. Just tell her I was detained."
Mitch laughed again. "Yeah, I understand."
Jim laid his head against the back of the stretcher. Dragging his hands over his eyes, he was exhausted, chilled to the bone, and his body ached but it was all worth it if it meant the child was all right. Replaying the events in his mind over and over, the anger he felt towards the man in the truck continued to fester. He honestly didn't get people, couldn't fathom what would cause someone to toss away a child like she was garbage. He always felt a sense of pleasure when he could bring a child abuser scumbag to justice but he reserved a special kind of hate for this guy. When, not if, they caught him, he wanted to have first crack at him.
"Okay, Captain Brass, we're ready to transport. By the way word on the little girl is that she's stable."
Brass nodded his okay and pulled the blanket tighter. He wasn't too keen on going to the hospital but once he was there, he could check on the girl. He'd feel better if they could get an ID on her, maybe find her family, but knowing she was alive and stable was definitely a relief. Settling back on the gurney, he watched Doug slip a pressure cuff around his arm then closed his eyes and let himself drift off as the ambulance doors slammed shut.