The Sawmill Sabotage Job

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Ross Bailey and his foreman sat across from Nate and Eliot at the table in the corner of the pub. "I'm telling you, those accidents were not accidents. I may run a small outfit but I follow every safety precaution. Equipment inspected and maintained to the letter."

"So do you have any idea who would want to sabotage your sawmill, Mr. Bailey?" asked the mastermind.

The man waved his hand. "Please, call me Ross." He motioned to the man at his side. "This is my foreman, Clay. I know who it is. I just can't prove it. There's a new company moved in. Big outfit. Run by a guy named Miles Sampson. He's already pushed the other smaller businesses like mine out of business. He wants to be the only one in the lumber business in this area. Look at these." He produced photos from an envelope and slid them across the table.

Nate spread the pictures out so he and Eliot could both see them. "What are we looking at, Ross?"

"Well, Mr. Ford," he pointed at a photo of the logs scattered across the ground. "This is the most recent accident. These logs were secured. One of my guys was out on the yard and all at once there's this god awful crack and the logs start rolling toward him. He got out of the way, but his leg was crushed. The doctors managed to save his leg, but he has a long road to recovery. Things like these are going to put me out of business."

Eliot reached across the table to grab the picture of the logs. "This chain was holding these?" He asked while pointing at it.

Clay leaned forward a little. "Yeah. Nearly a brand new chain."

Eliot leaned toward Nate. "That is way too clean for just a break. It's been cut with something."

The mastermind nodded. "You said the most recent accident. What else has happened?"

The sawmill worker shrugged. "It started out pretty innocent. Just little things. Equipment malfunctioning. Trucks breaking down. Thought it was just a run of bad luck. Things just got worse. It turned into safety equipment failing. Forklifts not working right. Two weeks ago the brakes failed on one of our forklifts. Driver had to jump off before it careened down a hill. He ended up with a dislocated shoulder. Can your team help us? For most of us, this is our life. This mill has been in my family for generations. It's had ups and downs like any other business. We haven't seen growth like we did in the 40s with the war effort but, things are just beginning to look up for us again. Now this."

Nate looked at Eliot, and a look passed between them that counted as communication. "I believe we can help you, Ross."

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Eliot was not thrilled about being out there in the cold. He looked up at the main building of the lumber yard through the fog that was his breath. It was an imposing structure, looming over the main yard. Why couldn't this sawmill be somewhere warm? Why did it have to be in Oregon?

Nate walked up beside him with his hands in his pockets. "Ready to do this, Eliot?"

Adjusting his beanie and fingerless gloves, he nodded. "Sooner we get this over the sooner we can get to a heater." He knew he was growling but couldn't be bothered to care.

"I know it's cold. These guys have to be doing most of this stuff at night. There have been no new people around during the day. Well… except for us. If an Occupational Safety and Health administration inspector catches them in the act it'll carry more weight in court," Nate said.

Eliot cast a sideways glance at Nate and smirked. "And if that OSHA inspector catches them in the act… that's why I'm here."

The older man smiled. "Yeah. Exactly." He adjusted the com in his ear. "Parker, Hardison? You guys in position?"

"Set up in Lucille about half a mile east. Hidden in the woods. All the equipment inside is up and running. Nothing so far," Hardison replied.

"Why is it I couldn't come with you guys?" Parker whined.

"Because we have a key and don't need locks picked," Eliot growled. "It'll be easier for me if you three stay in the van. Nate and I have this under control."

"Have this under control? Why does that not fill me with confidence?" Sophie's British accent floated across the coms.

"It'll be fine, Sophie. You guys just look out for any company," Nate instructed.

Eliot had stopped outside the large hangar-like doors. "We have a problem," he whispered. "Doors are already unlocked."

"Alright everybody. Let's be on alert. Eliot and I are going in."

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They had only been inside for a few minutes and there were already cases of tampering. Nate took pictures with his phone that automatically went to Hardison in Lucille somehow. The hacker had explained it to him but he had only caught bits and pieces.

"Be on the lookout, guys." Speaking of the hacker. "The cameras in the control room aren't operational. Could just be a glitch but…"

"Since when has anything ever been that simple for us?" Eliot asked. "I'll check on it."

"Be careful, Sparky."

"Yes, Parker. I'll be careful."

Nate watched as Eliot climbed the stairs to the catwalk access to the control room. A metallic clang reverberated throughout the building and Nate looked up to the catwalk behind Eliot. "Dammit. We have company, Nate. Stay where you are."

Nate took cover behind a large saw and peeked out as four men walked toward Eliot. "Four on one, Eliot."

"I see 'em. Just four. Not even gonna break a sweat."

Nate rolled his eyes. His team sure was modest.

Nate watched as Eliot made quick work of two of the men coming at him. A kick to the third man's knee sent him howling to the floor of the catwalk. That was enough to send him crawling back toward the door they came out of. The fourth guy took some swings at Eliot and may have landed one or two. Nate couldn't tell from this angle.

Number four was distracting Eliot just enough to keep him from seeing one of the first two climbs to his feet with a plank in his hands. All the mastermind had time to whisper was Eliot's name before the sound of wood meeting skull rang in his own ear as the man hit Eliot. The next thing Nate knew; Eliot was falling off the catwalk. Plummeting ten feet to the floor.

Nate watched from his hiding spot as Eliot hit the floor, his fall cushioned only slightly by a pile of sawdust. The thud turned Nate's stomach as the hitter landed and rolled onto his back. He appeared to be unconscious before he hit the floor since he didn't even try to break his fall.

Two of the men from the catwalk came down to the floor to make sure Eliot was out of commission. Nate scrambled to look for anything he could use as a weapon to defend his fallen family member.

As the men stooped to inspect their target, Nate found a 2x4 and sneaked up behind them. "Hey, you," he said.

As they turned to look at him, he hit first one, then the other with the board and knocked them both unconscious.

"Nate? What was that sound?" Sophie's voice squeaked in his ear.

He had already knelt beside the fallen hitter. He cursed his shaking hands but sent up a silent thanks as he found a pulse. "It's Eliot. He's down. He got knocked off the catwalk. I need you guys in here now. I've got four bad guys and an unconscious hitter here."

"On our way," Hardison said.

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A splitting headache was the first thing he noticed when he cracked open his eyes. He slammed his eyes shut against the little men with hammers inside his skull. Someone was yammering at him. Why the hell won't they shut up and let a man's head explode in relative peace?

"-iot? Eliot? Can you hear me?" He almost jumped out of his skin when the light touch landed on his shoulder. That's a new pain. Probably dislocated. He forced his eyes open against his better judgment.

"Oh thank God!" Nate's face swam into view just above him. His eyes were wide and Eliot would have laughed at his expression if he weren't trying to figure out where Nate got the fedora. Wait. Fedora?

"Nate, wha' you doing wearing a fedora?"

Nate looked suspicious. "I always wear this hat. It's my lucky hat. Are you okay?"

Eliot tried to sit up and groaned. "Ugh. What happened?" He experimented with shoulder movement and decided that was a bad idea.

"You fell." Nate pointed above their heads toward the catwalk.

His surroundings swam as Eliot looked up to the ceiling. Wood? Wasn't that metal?

The older man helped him to his feet and steadied him when he swayed a little. "You didn't answer me. Are you feeling okay? That was a long fall."

Eliot waved him off with a growl. "Fine. Did you find what we need?"

Nate shook his head. "No real evidence so far supporting the owner's claims that the accidents were anything but just that. The owner, Sophie Devereaux, though… beautiful woman. Dark hair, British accent. Swell dame." The man looked wistful when he called her a dame. And since when was Sophie a dame anyway? "Are you sure you're okay? You hit hard."

Eliot looked down to brush the sawdust off his clothes. He wore an old 1940s style suit. Suspenders, tie, the whole nine yards. That has to be it. Has to be a concussion. Why else would I wake up in the 40s? He started to limp toward the door when Nate stopped him. "Here. Don't forget your hat."

The hat that Nate shoved in Eliot's good hand was a black fedora. Of freaking course. He grumbled again and jammed the hat on his head. At an angle, like it's supposed to be worn.

"Since when do you call Sophie a dame?" Eliot asked.

"You mean Ms. Devereaux?" His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Since when are you on a first name basis with her? Anything I should know?"

He sounded jealous. It was no secret that he thought the woman was special. Eliot knew that. May as well play along until this clears up.

Eliot held up his good hand. "Back off, Nate. I'm not moving in on Soph-Ms. Devereaux, alright? She's all yours." He looked around at the mill. Nothing was the same. Wood replaced the metal walkways and handrails from before. The room swam as he looked back at Nate. "Uh, Nate, what day is it?"

Nate's eyes narrowed as he gave Eliot an assessing look. "December 4, 1946. Eliot, are you sure-"

"Are you sure? 1946?" Eliot scanned the room again. He felt close to panic and that just pissed him off. "Seriously? It's 1946? Cause if this is a joke, it ain't funny."

Nate held his hands up, palms toward Eliot in a non-threatening gesture. "Come on. You know better than that. I wouldn't play a joke this cruel on you."

"But…the equipment. It's all so old. The walkways are all wood."

"They've always been wood." Nate frowned. "And the equipment is state of the art."

"State of the art? But it was 2012," Eliot whispered.

He limped toward the stairs to the wooden scaffolding. Once he got to the bottom he stopped and swayed, reaching for the handrail. A wave of nausea almost floored him and he closed his eyes tightly.

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Her panic only increased as Sophie burst into the building. Nate hadn't told them if Eliot was okay. Only said he had been knocked off the catwalk and was down. That catwalk has to be at least ten feet up. "Eliot? Oh my god. Are you okay? We heard the hit and the fall." She took his hat off and pushed his hair back a little. "You're bleeding. Sit down," she said as she pushed him down on the stairs. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"

"'M fine, Soph-"he looked at her with a puzzled look then amended, "Ms. Devereaux."

She looked down at her dress. It was modest but respectable. A simple button up dress; it fell just above her knee. Why is he looking at my clothes so funny? "Are you sure you're okay?"

Parker and Hardison joined them and both were out of breath. "Mr. Spencer, are you alright?" Hardison asked.

"I'm fine, Hardison. Why are you calling me Mr.?" He held his head. "Y'all are acting so weird. Trying to tell me it's 1946 when it was 2012 a few minutes ago. Is this the head injury or have I been-" He looked up at the woman in front of him. "Have I been drugged?"

Parker stepped forward and placed a hand on Eliot's shoulder. "Mr. Spencer… Eliot, we're just worried about you. That was a long fall."

"Just calm down, Eliot," she said. "We need to focus and work on the case okay?"

Sophie watched as Parker seemed to have the ability to calm him down. She smiled and nodded approval at Parker's patience.

He nodded. "Right. We need to… to go over the accidents one at a time."

Parker patted his shoulder. "That's it. Just stay calm. Focus on the case."

Sophie smiled. "Thank you. I can't keep the mill open if we can't find out what's happening."

"Don't worry, Ms. Devereaux. We'll find out who's behind this," Nate said with a smile.

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"Let's go look at the forklift. You said it was tampered with?" Nate asked.

Sophie nodded. "Yes. The brake line had been cut. It's over this way."

She led them back outside. Nate observed his partner shiver and pull his coat tighter around himself. That's odd. Eliot was still unsteady on his feet but he plodded on.

Sophie pointed over a small embankment. "We left it down there. We just got our injured worker back up the hill and left that."

Horror flashed across her face as she seemed to relive the accident. "Everything was going fine that day. Thought maybe it was all over. He got too close to the edge. Hit the brake… he dove off as the lift started over the bank toward that tree at the bottom. His shoulder just popped out. It looked terrible." She blotted at her eyes with her lacy handkerchief.

"We'll figure this out, Ms. Devereaux."

Eliot stumbled and slid down the hillside toward the forklift. Nate debated on offering to help him but knew the man wouldn't take it. He was proud. Sometimes too proud.

Nate knelt beside the man as he inspected the brake line. "Definitely been cut. That's not normal wear and tear. What about the chain that broke?"

"It's up this way. Follow me." Sophie turned to head back up the embankment and Hardison hurried to take her elbow to steady her.

Eliot watched him as they disappeared over the crest. "What is it, Eliot?" Nate asked.

Blue eyes narrowed to slits as if Eliot were wrestling with a nagging thought. "Nothing. Just kinda odd that no one is seeing any of this sabotage happening. Makes you wonder how it's being done." He stood and weaved as he limped back up the hill.

"How indeed," Nate muttered.

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Eliot grunted as he made his way back up the hill. His left hip and arm was killing him. Maybe not kill but it hurt pretty damn bad. He must have hit a lot harder than he thought. That pounding of "The Anvil Chorus" in his skull didn't help matters any.

If he could figure out why the hell everybody looked and acted like they were in the 40s, he'd feel a lot better. He knew concussions could do strange things but, really? It was better not to fight hallucinations of any sort. A struggle made them stronger. Playing along with observation, that was his best course of action for now.

They just needed to wrap this one up so he could go home and get some much needed rest. He was positive everything would be sorted out when he woke up.

Nate caught up to him and matched his stride. "What's wrong, Eliot? You're acting funny. Even for you."

"I'm always like this when I'm working a case," he said.

"You're acting like you don't exactly know us. Don't remember what's going on. Do you need to go to a doctor?"

Eliot shook his head and regretted it at once. "I fell at least ten feet off that scaffolding. Surely I'm entitled to acting a little strange." He felt a little guilty for being so gruff. "I don't need a doctor. Just need rest once we get this one wrapped up."

Finally, they reached the area of the yard where numerous stacks of logs were tied down with lengths of chain. Remnants of a stack were strewn across the ground with a length of chain stretched across the dirt.

"The stack was here," Parker explained. "That chain broke with so much force it cut into the ground. Thank goodness no one got hit by the chain. It would have killed them."

Stooping by the site, Nate dug the end of the chain out of the ground. "What do you think?" he asked as he inspected the damaged link.

"Looks like it's been cut. Don't you think?"

"How can you tell, Mr. Spencer?" Hardison asked.

Eliot shoved the end of the chain into Hardison's face. "Because this is clean. Signifying a cut. Not a break. Now how would anyone have time to cut a chain of this size and not be seen by anyone?"

The younger man stared in astonishment at Eliot. "H-how would I know? What are you saying?"

The question hung in the air as Eliot shuffled back toward the main building.

"What are you saying, Mr. Spencer?" Sophie asked, hurrying to catch up with him.

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Once back inside, Nate addressed the small group. "He's saying the more we see, the more this seems to be an inside job."

"You mean an employee is doing this to us?" Parker looked heartbroken. "I thought we were a family."

"We are, dear." Sophie's soft accent calmed Nate, and it wasn't even his company.

"Anyone you know of who would have a reason to work against you? Anyone gaining anything from your troubles?" Nate was seeing the logic in Eliot's theory.

"No." Dark curls danced around her face as she shook her head. "No one I can think of. We're a close knit group here, Mr. Ford. The thought of one of us doing this is just-"

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Eliot headed for the stairs again. "Do you have records on your employees in your office?"

"Yes. Help yourself to anything you need."

Climbing the stairs was hard with his hip and leg hurting like they were. Every step jostled his ailing joints. Never mind his throbbing head. A wave of dizziness had him stumbling toward the wooden railing. An ominous crack sealed his fate as the railing gave way. It was strange that he had time to realize that the railing had been sawed halfway through.

As he plummeted to the floor for the second time today, he heard everyone screaming his name.

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"Eliot! Eliot, are you okay?" Sophie looked down at the hitter lying on the floor.

Nate was on his knees on Eliot's other side. "Eliot? Come on. No. Sophie don't touch him. Not until he's awake."

The grifter's hands hovered over her injured friend, waiting for him to come around.

Slowly, blue eyes blinked open and she let out a sigh of relief. "Eliot, do you hear me? It's Sophie, darling." She hesitantly pushed his beanie up enough to peer at the cut on his head. "You scared us to death. Do you remember getting knocked off the catwalk?" Sophie asked. He answered with a tiny nod. She noticed his furrowed brow and read the confusion on his face. "What's wrong?"

"When y'all change?" he asked. When no one answered he continued. "You were dressed in 194- never mind," he muttered. He struggled to a sitting position. "Hardison, can you check Clay's bank information? See if there have been any large deposits since the accidents started?"

Hardison typed on his ever present tablet. "Now you mention it… there have been sizable deposits made that coincide with large withdrawals from Miles Sampson's account." He looked up at Eliot with questions in his eyes. "How did you-"

Nate was helping Sophie get Eliot back to his feet. "Makes sense. All this stuff happening right under everyone's noses. Had to be an inside job. Only thing that makes sense. Clay took care of the equipment and the thugs that jumped me were coming in to take care of Hardison's security hardware."

"Good job, Eliot." Parker grinned and slapped him on the back.

"Parker, don't," Sophie scolded when he grunted in pain. "Nate has called the police and Mr. Bailey. They'll take care of everything else. Let's get you to Lucille."

"Let's go, Eliot," Nate said. "Just take it nice and slow." He and Sophie guided Eliot's stumbling steps toward Lucille.

After getting the hitter settled in the back of the van, Hardison headed down the road away from the mill. "Sorry. I can't dodge all these potholes, Eliot."

He was watching Sophie through squinted eyes. "'S okay, Hardison."

Sophie smiled at him and tried to keep her concern concealed. She must have failed because Eliot growled.

"Fine," he grumbled. "I know you're dying to coo." He crossed his arms. "Go ahead. But, I'm gonna sleep so I don't have to endure it."

Sophie sat next to him and eased the beanie off his head and cleaned the blood from his face. "You rest, darling. We'll take care of everything."