The usual disclaimers apply to both The Sentinel and the song Take Your Pain Away that belongs to the Eurythmics.

This is a sequel to “Make it all OK” and that needs to be read if you want to understand what’s going on.



Chapter one

Jim dropped the bags to the polished wood floor and closed his front door. Turning he almost ran into Blair who’d stopped and was looking around him with a faint frown on his face his backpack clutched in his hands.

“Chief?” Despite the repairs that they’d made to their friendship, Jim was still slightly anxious that he’d not done enough. He made to put a hand on the other man’s back, but aborted the gesture at the last second.

“Umm?” Blair slowly moved forward and did a 360° turn.

“You all right?” Jim took the pack out of his hands and put it with the other bags.

Limping toward the settee, Sandburg lowered himself down and grinned up at his taller friend. “It’s so good to be back.” He looked down at his knees. “I… I thought I’d never see it again.”

Jim let out his breath and perched himself on the arm next to him. Putting a hand around the back of his friend’s neck under the short curls he could feel his pulse tripping along under his fingers. “I’m glad you’re back, too.” He swallowed when Blair leant back into his hand revelling in the feeling of contentment that emanated from the other man. A comfortable silence reigned and the two men relaxed. After a few minutes though, Jim felt fine tremors start up under his hand.

He stood up carefully and taking Blair’s shoulders he eased him back against the cushions. The journey from Sheridan had been tiring on the still recovering man particularly as they’d been forced to take a commercial, overnight flight. “Why don’t you relax and I’ll make some tea? I think we’ve both had too much bad coffee this morning.” He walked to the kitchen and started filling the kettle.

“You have tea?”

“Simon came and stocked us up on a few things to tide us over until we can get to the market.”

“That was good of him.” Blair’s voice sounded thin. After a six-day stay, the hospital had released him with a long list of medications and treatments. After resting for another day in the hotel while Jim had spent most of the time on the telephone, they’d headed back to Cascade. The trip had exhausted the recuperating man both physically and emotionally. He was nervous about returning to the city where his life had seen such joy and such despair; joy at finding his Sentinel and sharing his life for four years and despair at losing him and all his academic dreams.

Jim handed him a mug of fragrant tea and placed a plate of crackers and cheese on the coffee table. Sitting next to him he pulled out three bottles of medicine and started opening them. “Stop grimacing,” he growled as Blair made a face. The stitches on his forehead turned it into a lopsided grimace. “You finish the decongestants today. You’ve only got two more days of anti-inflammation tablets and four more days of antibiotics.”

“Thank God. I’m sure if I jumped up and down, I’d rattle.” He gulped down the pills with the tea and as Jim handed him the plate attacked the cheese and crackers. “When are we meeting with the lawyer?” He mumbled around the food.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

“Yes, Naomi.”

“Simon’s coming round after work to discuss things. So, once you’ve finished here why don’t you sack out for a while? Megan made up your bed for you in your room so you can crash in there. I’ll go shopping and get some food.” He frowned when Blair didn’t reply. “Chief?”

“My bed? My room?”

Ah, he understood now. He’d thrown Blair out of the loft (again) as part of his cover when he’d infiltrated a crime ring. Unfortunately, Blair hadn’t known it had been an act and with his depression and feelings of inadequacy it had reinforced his low self-esteem. It had also played a large part in severely wounding their friendship. Jim knelt in front of the settee so that they were face to face and put his hands on the other man’s knees. “I’m sorry. Ah, ah,” he interjected when Blair opened his mouth to speak. “Please believe me when I say that this will always be your home as long as you want it. If I ever try to throw you out again you have permission to whap me up the head.”

“Can I have that in writing?”

“I’ll have it tattooed across my forehead if it’ll help.”

“Umm,” Blair put his hand on his chin in an exaggerated thinking gesture and stared at the other man’s face.

Jim chuckled softly. “C’mon, Darwin, up you get.” He clambered up himself and putting a hand under Blair’s elbow he helped the tired man stand. They shuffled over to the French doors separating the smaller room from the rest of the flat. Once inside they couldn’t fail to notice the differences as to how it had been when Blair had still been living there. All it held now was the narrow futon and a chest of drawers. Gone were the artefacts, the colourful throws and cushions and the hundreds of books that had been stacked everywhere.

He seated Blair on the bed and bent down to take off the man’s shoes while Blair pulled his sweatshirt over his head.

“Jim?” He asked as his head emerged.

“Yeah.”

“Do you know what happened to the rest of my stuff after I left Cascade?”

Jim stiffened and was grateful that his head was down so that Blair couldn’t see the flush that infused his face. Pulling the shoes and socks off gave him the chance to regain his composure and when he eventually raised his head he could look his friend directly in the eyes. “I’m really sorry, Blair, but when the building owner contacted the PD asking us what he should do with your affairs, I told him to burn them. You’d been gone weeks by then.”

“Oh.” The soft exclamation dropped into the silence that followed like a stone dropped into a pond.

“I’m sorry. I was angry. I thought you’d run off. Sorry – “

“It’s okay. I understand.” He dropped his sweatshirt on to the floor and put his hands on the waistband of his trousers. “I should’ve - ”

Jim helped him ease the sweatpants down his legs. “I’ll make it up – “

They spoke together and after smiling ruefully each other Jim indicated that Blair could speak first.

“Forget it!” Blair almost growled out the words. “Naomi always said we shouldn’t be dragged down by possessions. I suppose I’m going to live up to her ideals, now.” He lay back down and pulled his legs up onto the bed with a relieved groan. The journey had been more tiring than he’d anticipated.

Jim opened the tube of cream that the hospital in Sheridan had given Blair and after warming the liniment up in his hands he started massaging it into the damaged thigh. Sentinel sensitive fingers found each knot and quivering muscle and applied just the right amount of pressure to give relief. After a minute Blair started grunting in pleasure.

“Careful, Romeo. The neighbours’ll think we’re up to something in here.”

Blair snorted. “Sorry, you’re just sooo not my type.”

“You have no idea how I’m relieved to hear that.” He continued rubbing in silence for a couple of minutes. “How much stuff do you have left? Is all you have in those two bags or is anything in storage?”

“Mmmm?” Blair was almost asleep under his ministrations.

Deciding that Blair needed the rest more than he needed to be reminded of what else he’d lost, Jim wiped his hands on the towel he’d brought with him and pulled up the quilt to cover the half-asleep man. For a moment he just stood and looked down at the figure in the bed. He’d thought for a long while that he’d never see Blair again let alone have him back in his room under the stairs. He ghosted a hand over the curls and smiled when the younger man twisted his head towards the contact.

“Welcome back, Chief,” he whispered before leaving the room and pulling the French doors almost all the way closed. “I promise I’ll make it up to you.” He sent out his hearing to monitor his breathing. As he carried his bag up to his room he heard the strains of a song drifting up from the flat below. As he listened to the music he promised that he would do everything in his power to keep true to the lyrics.

“If I could find a way
To soothe your troubled mind
Then I would erase your fears
And help you to unwind.
I would ease the burden
That you carry everyday.

Oh - don't you know I'd find a cure
And take your pain away.
Take your pain away
Take your pain away... ”


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Soft voices intruded into his consciousness and he opened his eyes blinking them in an effort to bring his world into focus. For a few seconds the blue jungle of his dreams superimposed itself over the white ceiling above him. Gradually, the jungle faded and his former bedroom came into view. He examined its starkness ruefully. All traces of his presence had been erased thoroughly and probably scrubbed into oblivion under a Sentinel’s laser vision.

“Chief?” The voice made him jump and he swung his head round to see Jim standing in the open doors. “Simon’s here. Do you need any help getting up?”

“No, I’m good, thanks. The nap really helped. What time is it?”

“After six. Good news.” The detective entered the room carrying a large cardboard box that he placed on the floor.

Blair sat up and leant against the wall. “What’s that?”

“There’s another one out there.” Jim indicated the main part of the loft with a shoulder as he tore off the tape sealing the box. He pulled out an African mask and looked up as Blair let out a gasp.

“Wha… I thought you said…?” Blair reached out to take it with shaking hands.

“Joel.” He looked up again to see Simon struggling in with an even larger box. “Ellison! If you don’t want me dropping this on your head, I suggest you move.” He half dropped/half placed the box onto Blair’s bed making the younger man pull his legs up to avoid getting his feet crushed.

“Joel?” Blair hinted gently tracing his fingers over the contours of the mask.

“Yeah, well. When Joel heard Ellison here tell your landlord to burn your stuff he went over and boxed up all he could find. He’s been storing it in his basement.” He made a point of not looking at Jim knowing the man was probably red with embarrassment.

“Oh, man. Oh…” Blair was on his knees on the bed pulling out clothes and books from the box Simon had opened. “My favourite blue shirt!” He looked up at Simon clutching a rich, blue shirt in his hands. The tall captain could see tears in his eyes and had to swallow his own back. “Please tell Joel ‘thank you’. No, I’ll call him and say it myself. I can’t believe he did this. Man.” The bed was rapidly disappearing under clothes, artefacts, books and even some cooking utensils. He greeted each item as if it was a long lost friend. Knowing how Blair had acquired some of the objects on his travels, Jim could see why he thought that way.

“Hold on a minute.” Jim grabbed his hand before it could delve once more into the box. “Let’s do this properly. First, you need to eat something and then you need to wash.”

Blair looked at up at him a rueful grin on his face. “That bad, huh?”

“Even I can tell you need a shower.”

“Thanks, Simon. Not!” He lifted his left arm and sniffed his armpit. “Phew! Shower first, food after.”

“Sandburg, sometimes you are such a kid,” growled Simon with humour as he exited the bedroom.

“But I’m cute with it!” Blair called after him.

“In your dreams.” Floated back through the doors.

“Okay, cutie,” cut in Jim before the bantering could degenerate any further. “I’m pretty sure these clothes are clean – crumpled, but clean. They don’t smell musty either. Joel’s basement must be pretty dry. I’ve put a toothbrush out for you and you can use my shampoo etc. for now. We’ll get your ‘natural’ stuff tomorrow. Towels are in the same place as always.” He left Blair to himself and joined Simon in the kitchen.

Pulling two beers out of the fridge he handed one to Simon and opened his own taking a long pull. “What do you feel like eating? I’m not in the mood for cooking.”

“Something healthy,” Blair quipped as he walked out of his room and into the bathroom wearing only his boxers.

Simon was pleased to see that his former detective had put on some weight since the kidnapping. The dark smudges under his eyes had all but disappeared even though the stitches on his forehead and fading bruises were a reminder of what had happened to him. He smiled when he heard singing start as Blair turned the shower on – he’d forgotten that Sandburg had a half decent singing voice. However, his pleasure faded as he spotted Ellison standing out on the balcony take away menus forgotten in his hand. Although the two men had gone a long way to restoring their friendship there were still sore points that they had to resolve before they could move forward. The business with Blair’s belongings was obviously another hiccup along the route.

He stepped out and leant his hip against the balustrade so that he was facing Jim’s profile. For a moment he said nothing sipping his beer and appreciating the summer evening. “Don’t beat yourself up over this.”

“Why not? Thanks to me he’s lost almost everything he owned. It was Joel that saved the rest. Joel – not me. Not his friend and partner. And it’s not just material things he’s lost thanks to me. His career, no, two careers. His reputation, his…”

“Just hold on a moment. You made some mistakes, I’ll grant you. We ALL made mistakes, Sandburg included. But I’m sure that he’ll be the first to say we should forgive them, learn from them and move on. He deserves more than us wallowing in our guilt. He deserves our best efforts in making things right.” He watched as the other man blew out a long breath and rubbed a hand through his hair.

“What made you so wise all of a sudden?” Ellison asked with a sideways glance.

“Something a hyperactive, longhaired, too clever observer told me a good whiles back after a particularly acrimonious argument I’d had with Daryl. Guilt is understandable and valid. Too much guilt is selfish and doesn’t help anyone. And I’M the captain.” He glared at Jim daring him to contradict. “What are we having to eat?”

“I’ve ordered some sandwiches and salads from Costa’s Deli.”

“Sounds good,” Simon agreed not bothering to add that he knew it was Sandburg’s favourite sandwich place. He turned to enter back into the loft then swung around again. “What do you mean ‘all of a sudden’? I’ve always been wise. Ask anyone in the PD.”

Jim snorted and made shooing motions with his hands indicating that he wanted to go back in.

“Don’t you snort at me. Don’t forget I’m the one that signs off on your yearly review, which I hasten to add is coming up in a few weeks. And you don’t make captain unless you’re wise. Sandburg, tell Ellison how wise I am.”

Blair looked up from the settee where he was towelling his hair dry. “Umm. Can I claim the fifth?”

Simon shook his head mumbling something about ungrateful philistines and sneaky traitors. He sat in the armchair opposite the younger man and took the opportunity of examining him fully.

“What?” Blair noticing the scrutiny stopped what he was doing.

“Glad to see you’re looking better and that you’re back where you belong.”

The younger man ducked his head, but not before Simon saw the pleased smile that graced his features. “Thanks, Simon. You don’t know how much I appreciate you telling me that.”

Jim plonked himself on the settee next to Blair and handed him a glass of orange juice. He sat still for a few minutes letting his eyes rove over the younger man.

“Not you as well,” Blair moaned dropping his head into his left palm.

“What? What did I do?” Jim looked questioningly at Simon as his captain chuckled.

“We’ve both been checking Sandburg out.”

“Well? How am I doing?” Blair tilted his head back, opened his mouth wide and stuck his tongue out.

Jim slapped him lightly on the back of his head. “You’re doing good. The congestion in your lungs has almost disappeared. You have no fever. Your heart’s good, stomach’s okay, bowels are loose and your head’s still empty.”

“Hardy ha ha. Do NOT quit your day job.”

A knock on the door prevented Jim from replying. Opening the door he paid the delivery girl and set the bags from the deli onto the kitchen counter. “Dinner’s up. Come and get it.”

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Sandwiches and salads finished, plates and glasses washed and put away, coffee poured into mugs found the three men sitting on the balcony watching the sun sink into the sea. Simon didn’t comment on the fact that Jim and Blair had their chairs so close to each other that their thighs and shoulders were almost touching. As the giant, red orb painted the sea in crimson light he sighed. It was moments like this, a single perfect moment in time, that made all the hardships, the pain, the shit that life doled out, bearable.

Night fell and reluctantly Simon cleared his throat. “Much as I’d like to sit here all night, I do have to be up early tomorrow.” He stood up and the two others followed him back into the loft. “I was going to go through where we’re at with the university and Berkshire, but I’m bushed and Sandburg looks like he’s on his last legs. So, if it’s okay with you I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon with the lawyer?”

“Of course, Simon,” Jim answered. “And if you’re good, I’ll make lasagne for dinner.”

“Yearly review, Jim, yearly review.” The captain picked up his briefcase and made his way to the door pulling it open.

“One lasagne coming up.”

With one foot in the corridor Simon turned round. “When are you coming to the PD? There’re a number of people who’d love to see you,” he said pointing to Blair.

The younger man shrugged and looked at Ellison.

“Probably the end of the week. We have to get Blair checked out by our local practitioner,” Blair rolled his eyes, “get his schedule for his physical therapy,“ he rolled his eyes again,“ and get his stitches out. And if you roll your eyes one more time I’ll strangle you.”

“Bye.” Simon closed the door and Jim could hear him mumbling to himself as he walked down the stairs.

Blair stretched his arms over his head. “Okay, Jim, I’m beat. I’m off to bed. I’ll grab the bathroom first if that’s okay?”

“Go for it. Have you taken your last tablets for today?”

“Yep.”

“Night, then. See you in the morning.”

“Jim?” Blair stopped in front of the bathroom door.

“Yeah? Do you need help?”

“No, I’m okay. It’s just… I just wanted…” He took a deep breath and looked up from the floor he’d been closely examining. He stared at his friend putting all that he felt into his eyes. “Thanks. I’m really glad to be back.” He disappeared into the bathroom closing the door behind him.

“Me, too, Blair Jacob Sandburg. Me, too,” Jim murmured and locked the door to the loft.



Chapter two

“Chief, someone’s at the door,” Jim called from the kitchen where he was putting the lasagne he’d made into the oven. A large fresh salad that Blair had thrown together was sitting in the fridge and a strawberry cheesecake from Colette’s was waiting in a box on the shelf below.

“Who is it?” Blair asked coming out of his bedroom where he’d been resting after his first physiotherapy session that morning. Despite everything that had happened he was somewhat surprised to realise that he still thought of the small room under the stairs in Jim’s loft as HIS.

“Don’t know. Check before you open.”

“I hear you.” Blair waved a calming hand at his friend.

Due to the number of times the loft had been broken into Jim had installed a Judas hole in the front door. Blair peered through it, paled dramatically and stepped back with an alarmed look on his face.

“Who is it?” Jim noticing his reaction hurriedly closed the oven and rushed over to the door picking up his gun from the drawer where he stored it. Blair said nothing, but simply looked at him with anguished eyes as he backed away further. Holding his gun in two hands pointed down to the floor the detective looked through the peephole himself and stared at the salt-and-pepper-haired man with a healthy tan standing on the other side of the door. He turned to Blair. “Who is it?” he repeated turning back to look into the lens.

“It’s Eli. Professor Eli Stoddard,” Blair whispered in reply alternately wringing his hands and running them through his hair.

Jim understood. Stoddard was a renowned anthropologist and had been Blair’s mentor at the university. He knew that they’d been fairly close, but that closeness had unravelled somewhat after Blair had turned down the chance of going to Borneo with him. His rejection of Blair after the diss mess had been the death knell of their friendship and had profoundly hurt the younger man even as he’d tied to shrug it off as inevitable.

“What do I do?” Ellison asked as the professor knocked again. “Shall I get rid of him?”

Blair took in a deep breath, squared his shoulders and shook his head. “No, it’s all right. Better get this over and done with once and for all.”

Jim put his gun on the kitchen counter and pulled open the door. “Can I help you?” He crossed his arms and stared stonily at the man who had so hurt his friend.

“Oh, hello. I’m Eli Stoddard from Rainier University. You must be Jim Ellison?” The man returned Jim’s stony look.

“What do you want?” Impolite, yes, but heck, this was his home and if he wanted to be rude he could.

Stoddard bristled under the tone. “Umm, is Blair in?” He asked shortly.

At first Jim was going to reply in the negative, but Blair’s soft ‘Let him in’ stopped him. Opening the door wider he stood to one side and indicated the inside of the flat. Stoddard walked in looking around at his surroundings in interest and then stopped as he spotted Blair standing near the dining table.

“Hello, Professor Stoddard.”

“Blair.” He moved towards him and before his former student could move he’d grabbed his upper arms. “I’m so sorry.”

“What? I don’t understand.” Blair pulled away and ran his fingers through his short curls. He backed up against the table.

“I let you down. When I talked to you in your office, I was listening to my heart and not my head. I should have remembered you’re not the type of person to falsify anything.”

Blair looked uncomfortable and cut a sideways glance at Jim who was beginning to look angry. “Yeah, well, it wasn’t as if you didn’t have good reason to think like that, but as I told you and Jack, it was MY decision. And anyway, I let you and my colleagues down with my lies.”

Jim looked at Blair in surprise. He’d said nothing about speaking to his mentor or Jack Kelso after debunking his dissertation. A few members of staff and fellow TAs had stood by the former grad student and had kept in touch, but the vast majority of his colleagues and friends from Rainier had shunned him. Since then he’d not heard him talk about the university at all. And as far as he knew he’d ignored every one of Jack’s calls and messages.

“We’ll talk about your so-called lies in a minute. I admit, I’m still angry at your decision – you did let us down, but not for…” Stoddard spoke vehemently.

“Hold on a minute,” Jim interjected. He’d enough of this man’s finger pointing. “If you’re just here to tell Blair how angry you are and what a fuck up you think he is then you can leave.”

The professor whipped his head round and glared at the man. “I’ve forgiven Blair. I’m pretty sure I know why he did it. But you, detective, I’m afraid that…” He took in a sharp breath. “Why? How could you let him do it? Do you have no honour?”

“Eli, no! You don’t understand!” Blair grabbed the man’s arm as he advanced on Jim his eyes flashing. Although Stoddard was in his 50s and an academic, numerous expeditions in harsh and sometimes war-torn places had kept him fit and well able to defend himself. However, Blair knew he was no competition for an enraged ex-ranger who regularly went to the gym and carried a gun.

“I think you’d better leave.” Jim was holding onto his temper by the skin of his teeth not wanting to upset Blair any further. How dare the man waltz into his home and talk to him in this way!

“Do you realise what you’ve done?” Eli poked Jim’s chest.

“Please, stop,” Blair’s voice came in short gasps and his head was starting to swim. “Eli…” He doubled over as his lungs seized sending him into a paroxysm of coughing. Stoddard froze then turned taking a step towards him.

Jim, however, was quicker and brushing past the professor he took his friend’s arm in a firm grip. He gently pushed him onto one of the dining chairs and patted his back. “Okay, Chief, calm down. Breathe slowly. Professor, could you get him a glass of water, please? The kitchen’s over there. Glasses are in the cabinet on the right.” He changed to rubbing Blair’s back with strong, circular strokes his anger with the academic momentarily put aside.

Coming out of the kitchen Stoddard knelt in front of the gasping man and held out the glass to him. “Blair, here. Have some water.” Blair’s hand came up to take the glass, but it was shaking so much the water almost ended up on the floor. The kneeling man clasped his hands around the glass and brought it up to Blair’s lips.

As the coughing subsided so did the shaking. Blair eventually sat up and took in a deep breath. “I’m okay. Thanks.” He took another sip of water and placed the glass on the table.

“You okay, buddy?” Jim moved round to be able to look at his face. “Come and sit on the settee.” Blair didn’t protest as he was gently hauled out of the chair and pushed down onto the cushions. His slippers were eased off his feet and his legs were lifted up and covered with a throw. Jim turned towards the professor who had also stood up and was hovering nearby. “I think you should go now.”

Blair put a shaky hand on his hip. “No, Jim. Please. Let him stay,” he said hoarsely.

For a moment the grim-faced detective stared at Stoddard. His face softened as he looked down at his friend on the settee. “Are you sure? You need to rest.”

Sandburg nodded and lay back against the cushions with a sigh.

“Okay. You get to stay. You can sit there.” Jim glared at the hovering man and pointed at the armchair facing his friend.

Stoddard was about to respond with anger when he caught sight of Blair’s pleading face looking at him. He nodded and sat of the edge of the seat watching in amazement as the big detective fussed around the obviously sick man.

“Coffee?” He at first didn’t realise that he was being spoken to and looked up into the stern face.

“Um, oh yes, thank you.”

“Milk and sugar?” Jim asked as he moved to the kitchen.

“As it comes, please.” While Ellison prepared the drinks he took the time to really look at Blair. He now noticed a line of stitches on his forehead and the fading colours of a nasty bruise. With a shock he also realised that the long hair was gone and from the pallor of his face and thinness of his body he’d obviously been ill. “Blair, how are you? How did you get hurt?”

“I’m better now, thanks.”

“How did you get that cut? And you’re coughing again. Is it your lungs?” He knew that Blair’s lungs had been compromised when he’d drowned at the university and were now a constant worry for the younger man.

“It’s a long story,” Sandburg paused staring at his hands in his lap. “Why are you here? I thought you’d made it clear what you thought when I became a cop.”

Stoddard sighed and rubbed his fingers of his right hand over his lips, a habit of his when he was thinking or feeling uncomfortable. “As I said before, I owe you an apology. I wasn’t being the mentor you needed or deserved. I was so angry with you - you’re wasted as a cop -”

“He’s a damn good detective.”

Stoddard jumped when Jim’s annoyed voice announced the man’s arrival behind him. He was amazed at how quietly the detective could move. He took the coffee offered to him and watched as the tall man handed Blair what was obviously some sort of tea. He took a calming breath. “That doesn’t surprise me. Blair can do just about anything when he puts his mind to it.”

The former grad student ducked his head, but Jim didn’t fail to notice the pleased blush that spread across his cheeks. He lifted Blair’s legs and sat on the settee arranging the throw-covered feet on his lap. The younger man raised his eyebrows at him, but didn’t say anything. He knew that the anthropology professor wouldn’t have missed this as a not-so-subtle drawing of battle lines.

“And what’s wrong with being a cop?” Jim asked sharply placing a hand on Blair’s ankles and unconsciously rubbing one with a thumb.

“Nothing.” Stoddard took a sip of his coffee giving himself time to gather his thoughts. “You and your colleagues do fine and necessary work and I’m sure you and Blair are a good team. But Blair’s a brilliant anthropologist and there are few of his calibre in the field.”

“But Blair’s helping people, saving lives, getting criminals off the streets. How can that compare with studying the mating rituals of the Voodoo Moodoo tribe in deepest Africa?”

“Voodoo Moodoo?” Murmured Blair a small smile on his lips.

Jim turned and grinned at him. “You know what I mean.”

Stoddard took another sip of his drink watching the two men. Seeing the obvious affection between them he realised that he was going to have to revise his opinion of the situation. He’d thought that the detective had somehow threatened or ‘guilted’ the grad student into giving the press conference and than forced him into becoming a cop. He’d taken Blair’s silence while Jim spoke as embarrassment or shame when in fact he’d simply been letting his friend argue his case for him. He’d forgotten that Blair could be forthright, arrogant and somewhat brash if he felt the situation warranted it. He certainly was no push over. However, he’d also seen the anguish in his former protégé’s eyes as he’d tried to talk to the younger man while he was clearing out his university office.

“Mr Ellison as a detective you protect the people of Cascade by catching criminals so they can be put behind bars. A laudable profession. By studying humankind, both now and in the past, anthropologists can help in understanding people and why they do what they do.” He edged forward on his seat unconsciously slipping into lecture mode. “This includes studying criminal behaviour. I’m sure you’ve heard of profiling – even take advantage of it. Hopefully, these studies can contribute to preventing crimes before they happen not just as a means to catching perpetrators. As an anthropologist, Blair can help the whole of humanity, not just Cascade.”

“Eli,” protested Blair, “that’s taking things a bit far, don’t you think? I’m not Deutschmann.”

“She’s not an anthropologist, as you well know. But you, you were – are - an excellent anthropologist. And, no, you’re not going to save the world single handed, but your research and your teaching could touch hundreds, maybe thousands of researchers. And who’s to say that one of your students doesn’t turn out to be the person that discovers the essential key to understanding criminal behaviour? Can you now see what you’ve done?” He directed his last question to Jim. “He helped you so much largely because of his studies. Are you going to deny other people that help?”

“Eli! People change. Circumstances change. I changed. You, of all people, know that life is evolution.”

“Enough to make you want to carry a gun?”

An uncomfortable silence followed Stoddard’s impassioned words. Blair’s eyes dropped to his hands again. He’d done what he felt he’d had to do to protect his friend and his Sentinel; no matter that he felt that he’d been forced into doing it by circumstances and his own short sightedness. Even now he couldn’t reveal the real reason for his actions to his mentor. It wasn’t his secret to tell, but he was tired of having to lie all the time.

Jim clenched his jaw and avoided looking at Sandburg. Stoddard’s words only churned up the feelings of guilt that had just begun to settle. It was because of him that Blair had lost his career and reputation. He’d been shot, beaten up, poisoned, fired and died all because of him! “Stop!” He jumped at Blair’s voice, looked down at the hand on his arm and followed the arm up to a pair of angry blue eyes. “We’re past this. No more guilt. What’s done is done and we need to move on.” Unknowingly repeating Simon’s words from the day before. “I don’t regret what I did, but regret that it had to be done. Okay?” When Jim didn’t say anything Blair shook his arm slightly. “OKAY?”

Jim nodded and unclenched his jaw only to clench it again at Stoddard’s next statement.

“If you’re really a Sentinel why did you let Blair lie? How could you let him ruin his life like that?”

“Eli!” Blair’s shout rang out through the loft. “Jim’s not a Sentinel. I told you then and I’m telling you now, my thesis was fraudulent.”

“Blair, I’d be grateful if you’d stop treating me as if I were stupid! I didn’t believe you then and I don’t believe you now. I knew as soon as you turned down Borneo. Don’t forget, I read your preparation and research. I KNOW you didn’t lie. Your empirical evidence was too tight. And to my endless shame I didn’t fight for you when I should have. And have you thought of all the other people with heightened senses that your research could help?”

Blair sat up and opened his mouth to again deny the truth. But Jim remembered the words from the song he’d listened to yesterday evening and knew he had to do something.

“I would ease the burden
That you carry everyday.
Oh - don't you know I'd find a cure
And take your pain away.
Take your pain away
Take your pain away... “

Jim surged up from the settee. “All right! All right, enough!” He stalked to the balcony doors and then swung round to face the two men his eyes flashing. “Yes, I’m a Sentinel. Blair committed professional suicide to protect me. The situation was difficult. His friends and colleagues were being shot. But think about it. If the criminal element really thought I was a Sentinel I’d be dead within a week as every punk would be hell bent on taking me out. And we’ve already had one brush with a rogue CIA agent - and believe me, one’s enough.

“I admit, I was being selfish when we offered him a detective’s badge. I wanted him working with me, all right? I wanted his intelligence and compassion and insights and I wanted him as my partner.” He glared at the professor. “Do you blame me?”

“Jim, no! Stop! Oh God, Eli,” Blair had twisted round to put his feet on the floor and was staring beseechingly at his former mentor, “please, you can’t tell anyone. It’s just too dangerous for him. And anyway, it doesn’t change anything. I blew it so I was duty bound to make it right. I also wanted to work with Jim. I NEEDED to work with him. It was my decision, no one forced me. Being a cop isn’t the way I wanted to do it, but after I lost all hope of getting my PhD it was the only way left open to me.”

“Why didn’t you come and see me?” Stoddard had also risen from his chair. “We could have tried to come to find sort of solution that didn’t involve you betraying your principles.”

“That’s it, you’re really beginning to piss me off!” Jim’s temper was beginning to come to the boil. “He doesn’t need this!”

“What the hell’s going on in here?” All three men turned in surprise as Simon’s loud voice cut through their argument. The tall captain was standing in the loft’s open door with an angry look on his face. “You can be heard all the way down the corridor.”



Chapter three

Simon strode in to the loft followed by a dumpy, grey-haired woman clutching a briefcase to her ample chest. He stood there glaring at them an unlit cigar clenched between his teeth and his thumbs hooked into the pockets of his brightly coloured waistcoat. Blair’s short breaths were all that could be heard in the ensuing silence.

“Counsellor Heath?”

“Dr Stoddard.” The woman, ignoring the uncomfortable silence, walked forward holding her right hand out with a smile on her face. “I didn’t know you were going to be here as well. Captain Banks failed to inform me. But no matter, that’s great. Really great. It’ll make things far easier if we have someone of your standing at Rainier on our side.”

“Um, yes,” Stoddard took her hand automatically obviously at a loss. “Good. I…”

However, the woman had already dropped his hand and had advanced on Jim. “Detective Ellison. Your father has said a lot about you. Only good, I assure you. He’s extremely proud of you and your achievements. Cop of the Year. Wonderful. Mind you, I can’t really see a family resemblance, though. Stephen takes after him more. You must take after your mother.” She shook his hand enthusiastically staring up into his face.

Jim looked down at the small woman and then over at his captain. Simon merely took the cigar out of his mouth and grinned evilly at him. Before Ellison could get his brain in gear and think up a reply the small tornado had moved again and was standing in front of the seated former grad student.

“And you must be Blair Sandburg. No, don’t get up. The captain’s told me a bit about what happened to you.”

Blair simply gazed up, his mouth open. Getting up hadn’t even entered his mind as he’d bemusedly followed the woman’s blitzkrieg around the loft. “Huh?” Was his extremely intelligent contribution as his brain tried to catch up with his eyes.

The plump woman patted his shoulder and gracefully set herself down on the settee next to him. “Is that coffee I smell?” She looked up at Jim. “I’d love a cup if one’s going free. Cream and sugar if you have any. If not, just sugar will do. Now Blair – I can call you Blair, can’t I?”

“Um, okay.” He glanced up at Jim and then dragged his eyes back to the short, but extremely forceful, woman.

“Good, good. You can call me Babs. It’s short for Barbara-Jane, which is entirely too much of a mouthful for someone as short as I. Now, let’s see…” She delved into the briefcase she’d placed on the coffee table. “Captain Banks has told me a bit about the situation with the university and the publishing company, but I’d like you to tell me in your own words.” She pulled out a legal pad and a pen and turned towards him with an encouraging smile on her face. “I know you were a scientist and then a detective, so I’m expecting you to be able to keep things clear and precise.”

Blair gazed at her with eyes round in amazement then closed his open mouth with an audible snap when she laid a gentle hand on his arm. Looking into her grey eyes he read intelligence and determination tempered with compassion in them. Taking a deep breath, he started.

Jim tore his eyes away from the two people on the settee and looked first at Stoddard and then at Simon. He jerked his head to his friend to follow him into the kitchen. Simon closed the loft door and ambled over to where the Sentinel was fiddling with the coffee machine.

“What happened to Goldstein?”

“Apparently when Counsellor Heath heard what the case was about she asked to take it on.” Simon put his cigar in his cigar case and pulled some mugs out of a cabinet. He exuded a sense of satisfaction. “She’s a senior partner. Your father speaks very highly of her.”

“Why didn’t you warn me?” The detective hissed.

“I only found out this morning.”

“No, not that.”

“Then what?” The captain replied far too innocently. He held out a mug to be filled with coffee.

“That she talks more than Sandburg!” Jim pointedly looked down at the mug and indicated the coffee maker with a thumb.

“What? And ruin the surprise?” With a glare and a huff, Simon poured himself a healthy dose of dark gold and sniffed it appreciatively.

“What’s Heath doing here? Is Blair going to sue Rainier and the publishers?”

They both turned round to face Stoddard who’d come to join them in the kitchen looking rather shell shocked.

“You’re obviously Professor Stoddard. I’m Captain Simon Banks, Major Crimes, Cascade PD, Jim’s boss and Blair’s friend.” Simon held out his hand.

“Pleased to meet you.” The professor shook the hand distractedly.

“How do you know her?” Asked Jim placing a sugar bowl and a carton of milk on a tray.

“She’s a colleague’s sister. I’ve met her at a couple of university events. She’s, um, a lively person. But a good lawyer, so I’ve heard,” he added hastily.

A giggle echoed through the room and they turned in unison towards the sound. Jim and Simon looked at each other in pleasure as Blair giggled again - actually giggled! - at something the lawyer said. It had been such a long time since they’d heard such joy coming from the younger man. Jim had to turn away before the others noticed the grateful tears in his eyes. Heath could talk until the cows came home if it meant that Blair laughed again.

“If we sue Rainier, how would you feel about that?” Jim leant against the kitchen counter and stared into the professor’s eyes.

“Anything to get rid of that bitch, Edwards. How she managed to get the position of Chancellor, I’ll never know. Probably slept with someone or, more likely, someones. Mind you, she’d had to have acknowledged that she’s actually a woman to have done that.”

Banks snorted and nearly sent coffee spraying across the kitchen.

“I see we do agree on something then,” Jim said with a slight smile on his face. His eyes hardened though as he looked speculatively at the older man. “I still think you’re a bastard for abandoning Blair when he needed you, but I think we should call a truce and work together. What do you say?” He held out his right hand.

Stoddard gazed back at him for a moment then took his hand and shook it. “And I still think you’re a bastard for allowing Blair to destroy his academic future, but I accept the truce.”

“Well, now that we’re all bosom buddies, why don’t we join the others?” Simon asked as he brushed past them coffee mug in hand.

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“I had to do it.”

Blair and Stoddard were sitting on the settee as Simon helped Jim with the dishes from their lasagne dinner. Jim had popped out to get the ingredients for garlic bread to stretch the food and some extra ice cream for dessert. ‘Just call me Babs’ Heath had gone leaving a pile of papers for Blair and Jim to go through and everyone with aching ears, but lighter hearts.

“To protect Jim?”

“Not only.” Blair shifted around on the seat and pulled his glasses from his face so he could rub his eyes. His body was aching from the physiotherapy and beginning to stiffen up. Suddenly, Jim appeared before him and taking a cushion from one of the armchairs, he placed it on the coffee table. Without a word he lifted Blair’s leg and carefully placed the foot on the cushion then returned to kitchen duty. “Thanks,” the younger man whispered and Jim winked at him. He turned back to his former mentor. “I now realise that there was no way that I could have actually presented my diss. Apart from the fact that I could see no way of protecting Jim’s privacy, I’d committed the cardinal sin for an anthropologist…”

“You’d become involved,” interrupted Eli sombrely.

“More than that. I’d become subsumed personally and culturally; I was no longer a person in my own right. How much, I only came to recognise after I’d left the PD.” Stoddard heard the hitch in his voice.

“Is that why you left?” He asked gently.

Blair shifted again and cut a glance at Jim whom he knew was listening with half an ear despite the fact he seemed engrossed in what he was doing. “No. It was something else.” He turned and smiled at his former mentor. “You were right. I shouldn’t have been a cop, even if I enjoy the detecting part of being a detective. Too many rules and I was never really comfortable carrying a gun. But my place is by Jim’s side. Just perhaps not so literally.”

“So, if ‘Babs’ manages to get Rainier and Berkshire where she wants them you are going to finish your studies, aren’t you?”

Heath had been as efficient as she was talkative. With a pointed look out of the window she’d explained that she didn’t need to know if the contents of Blair’s dissertation had been true or not. That wasn’t the point of her argumentation. She’d ignored the uncomfortable silence that followed and launched into the procedure she wanted to pursue in searching for restitution from both Rainier University and Berkshire Publishing.

Basically the two establishments had ignored Sandburg’s continued refusals to allow them to diffuse his dissertation in any form. Bemoaning the fact that he’d used the word ‘fraudulent’ in his statement, she felt that both would come to a settlement rather than be dragged into a long, legal battle that they’d probably lose. Blair, however, was dragging his feet despite Jim, Simon and Eli urging him to ‘take all he could get’. Unfortunately, he couldn’t say why the idea made him so uncomfortable.

“I won’t do the Sentinel thesis.”

“I can understand that. But you did a couple of really good articles on police culture. Couldn’t you expand them if you got enough data? You’ve seen it from both sides – outsider and then as part of it – you have a unique input.”

“Don’t worry,” Blair laughed dryly, “I think I have more than enough material.” He went quiet for a moment. “Well, that’s if my notes still exist amongst the papers a friend managed to save for me. It’s a possibility, I suppose. But don’t you think I was too involved?”

“Not if you base your paper on your own involvement. Do a comparison between how both the cops’ and the public’s perception of you differed according to your situation.” Stoddard was pleased to see the look of thoughtful interest on his former student’s face. “Any help you need, you know where I am.” He stood up. “And Blair,” he waited until the younger man turned his face up to him, “don’t make me come and find you this time. All right?”

Blair grimaced, but his eyes twinkled. “I hear you. And thanks. For everything.”

Eli smiled at his reaction. “I’m off now. No, don’t get up. I’ll say goodbye to the others on my way out.”

“And Eli? I’m glad you and Jim have reached an entente cordial.”

Stoddard’s answering grunt was noncommittal as he made his way to the kitchen.

Not long after Simon was also saying his goodbyes at the loft’s door, “So, I’ll see you nice and early tomorrow?”

“Getting it in your ear from up high?” Jim looked at his boss sardonically as he opened the door.

“It would be nice to get them off my back. Well, until the next thing that bites their sensitive asses. Bye, Sandburg. I’ll be in touch.”

“Bye,” Blair called from the settee. “And again, thanks for everything you’ve done.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll be getting my extremely inflated bill once you’ve been awarded millions.”

After locking up Jim joined Blair on the seat where he was leafing through the documents left by the lawyer. With his glasses perched on the end of his nose he reminded Jim of the irrepressible grad student that had so loved studying. Picking up the remote control he started shifting through channels on the television looking for some sport. They both jumped when the phone rang and looked at each other sheepishly.

“Ellison and Sandburg’s residence,” Jim spoke into the receiver. It felt so good being able to say that again. He answered Blair’s pleased grin with one of his own knowing he understood. “Oh, hello. How are you? – Good. – I’m good, too. – No, he’s here.” He winked at the other man with a sly grin on his face. Blair lifted a questioning eyebrow, but automatically took the handset when Jim held it out to him.

“Hello?” His eyes lit up and he blushed as he listened to the person on the other end. “Fel! How lovely to hear from you.” He glared at Jim when the other man snickered and awkwardly hauled himself off the settee. “Where are you?” His voice faded as he moved out to the balcony and pulled the doors closed behind him.

Jim turned his attention back to the television, but the small smile stayed on his face for a long while.

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Alejandro Escobar sipped his iced coffee while listening to his new lieutenant, Raul Guzman. The hum of the air conditioning unit played counterpoint to Guzman’s guttural street Spanish. It was hot here in New Mexico and his many years in Washington State meant he’d become more accustomed to cooler climes. He’d chosen Raul to replace his former second in command, who’d been gunned down along with three others in a shoot out with members of Michael Berger’s gang. The burn in his gut intensified as he thought about what he’d lost in the gun battle that had raged through Cascade for four days.

Berger had come to him with a plan to use his experience and contacts to rebuild his father’s criminal empire, which had been dismantled when the patriarch had been sent to prison for a long stretch. They’d hashed out a mutually beneficial agreement and then turned their talents to getting rid of the Cascade Major Crimes team that had put Berger senior behind bars.

Unfortunately, while Escobar was concentrating on Captain Banks and his team, Berger had turned on Escobar and his gang. After the initial shock they, of course, had retaliated and when the police got involved Cascade suffered a bloodbath never seen before. It left Berger and most of his gang dead and Escobar having to leave the city his tail between his legs and a lot of his holdings confiscated. Berger was beyond his vengeance, but Major Crimes would pay.

He brought his attention back to the pacing Guzman and latched on to what he was saying.

“We’re having problems getting someone competent enough to get into the PD’s computer base. I’ve checked with Colgate and March, but they’re giving me the run around. They say they don’t have anyone with the proper know how. We need to show them we’re serious! That we can’t be pushed around and retribution…”

“Raul, calm down. Rome wasn’t built in a day and we need to take things slowly. Look what happened to Berger. He wasn’t prepared to wait, to build up his power base slowly. He wanted to be president without waiting for an election.” Escobar’s correctly spoken Spanish was in stark contrast to Guzman’s. As he’d moved up in the criminal world he’d learnt how to be at ease in many different situations. He’d studied hard to lose his ghetto ways. However, he’d never forgotten his poverty-ridden roots.

Guzman stopped pacing and with arms crossed and chest heaving stood staring at his boss. He was still fairly young and he’d been a third lieutenant, but had kept his head during the battle when more experienced gang members were getting killed. Using his wits, he’d helped Escobar escape and his reward was to become his new right hand man. However, his inexperience showed in that he wanted to rush into everything and believed far too often, that violence solved everything. “But, I think…”

“Enough!” When Escobar used that voice it was best that you listen. “We need to get back to Cascade and re-establish our pipelines. It’s important that no one tries to take our place. I want you to go to Colombia and contact Jimenez. Assure him that we’ll have our routes up and running again soon. To show good faith buy a 100 kilos of pure and don’t argue about the price.”

“What?” Guzman protested. “Don’t argue? But…”

“I’ve spoken. Should I get someone else to do this?” He sighed. Mendez had been with him when they’d crawled out of the ghetto. He’d been an incomparable lieutenant and often knew how Escobar would decide before Escobar himself knew. He clenched his hands into two hard fists when he thought again of how Mendez had been slaughtered like a dog in the park in front of his wife and daughter. He’d vowed that the first thing he’d do once he got back to Cascade would be to find the gunman and if he wasn’t dead, make sure his death was long and painful. He didn’t see the irony in condemning something that he himself had done many times and was planning to do again.

“No,” Guzman replied quietly.

“Good.” Escobar stood up from the table, unclenched his fists and stretched his arms above his head until his spine popped. In his mid-40s, he kept himself fit, was a teetotaller and didn’t smoke. His straight, dark hair, which he had cut short every four weeks, had only a few white hairs and was carefully gelled. All in all he was a fine specimen of Hispanic manhood as long as you didn’t look into his eyes; framed by long eyelashes they were cold and lifeless. “I’ve been away from my business for too long. I’m going back to Cascade.”



Chapter four

Brown looked up from the file he was studying when the doors to the bullpen opened. “Hairboy!”

Around him heads bounced up or turned towards the entrance to spot the former detective standing hesitantly just inside the room. He disappeared behind a crowd of detectives and one secretary, as it seemed as if the whole of Major Crimes rushed over to engulf him in hugs or give him slaps on the back. In fact, having been told by Jim that Blair was hopefully visiting that afternoon, his friends had organised their day to be there. Blair even recognised some faces from other departments and suspected that the internal jungle telegraph had been working overtime.

Since his return back to work last week, Jim had been bombarded by questions on how Blair was doing and requests to go and visit him. Unfortunately, his gruelling schedule of physiotherapy in the morning, meetings with Heath and his bank, visits from Stoddard and Kelso coupled with trying to get his life back in order left him little time to do anything else except be exhausted. Each night he fell asleep in front of the television and Jim would have to wake him up to get him into bed.

Heath’s office wasn’t far from the PD and he’d had a lunchtime meeting with the lawyer. This time, Jim had persuaded him to come into the building once the meeting was over. However, he’d felt a certain amount of reluctance in going back to the place where he felt he’d been accepted only on sufferance. He knew that the cops who’d hurt him all those months ago were being dealt with and no longer there, but he was also sure that there were others who’d objected to the ‘fraud’ being in their midst.

“Damn it! Looking good, babe.”

“Sandy, God you look so much better than when I last saw you.”

“Blair, good to see you.”

“How are you?”

“Your hair,” the dismay in Rhonda’s voice was evident as it cut through the noise bringing everything to a halt.

Blair stilled and unconsciously ran a hand through his curls.

“Yeah, but doesn’t it make his eyes look even sexier?” Megan called out tweaking a curl.

“Damn right!” Agreed the secretary with fervour.

The man blushed furiously and ducked his head only to have a hand reach over and give him a noogie.

“Not the hair, man!” He pushed away Jim’s hand, but had a small smile on his face as he did so.

Another booming voice cut through the laughter and catcalls, “Is this a vaudeville theatre? No? Is it a school playground? No, it’s a police department and you need to get back to work before I have you all walking the beat.”

With more back slaps and ‘see you laters’ and ‘catch up with yous’ the group obeyed their captain and dispersed back to their duties.

“Ellison, Sandburg, my office.”

Jim grinned at his flustered friend and putting a hand in the small of his back he gently pushed the smaller man towards Captain Banks’ office. Closing the door behind them they slipped into the chairs placed in front of the desk behind which Simon lounged an unlit cigar in his mouth. Taking the cigar out he pointed it at Blair.

“Sandburg, looking better. Not limping so much.”

“Thanks, Simon. After ten days of physiotherapy I’m getting more flexibility in my leg, but unfortunately, there’ll always be a weakness that’ll be worse when I’m tired. Mind you, all the walking I did when I was on the road really built up the muscles.”

“All traces of the lung infection have gone as well,” added Jim, satisfaction in his voice.

Simon examined his ex-detective closely. Indeed, his colour was better and he’d obviously put back on some of the weight he’d lost. The stitches in his forehead had been removed and all that was left was a red line that would fade with time. His hair had grown and was now brushing the collar of his light jacket. However, the greatest change was in his eyes; gone was the bewildered look he’d had the last few days before he’d been forced out of Cascade. In its place was contentment, but as he looked deeper, he could also see a certain degree of wariness. He snorted mentally. After what the other man had been through, it was hardly surprising.

“Good, good.” He gestured towards his coffee maker. “Coffee?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” replied Blair. “I’ve just had lunch.”

“Yes, please.”

“Did I ask you?” Simon glared at Jim.

“Well, no. But I…”

Blair snickered and grinned at Simon.

“Oh, go on,” the captain said irritably. However, the younger man didn’t fail to notice that although the tone was gruff the eyes were twinkling.

“Thanks, Captain.”

“So, Sandburg, how did it go?”

For a moment Blair didn’t say anything, but bent his head and looked at his hands resting on his knees. They could see his shoulders shaking slightly. Was he crying? Ellison couldn’t smell any tears.

“Blair?” Jim looked at Simon worriedly and got back a bewildered shrug.

“1.2 million.”

“Sorry?” Jim leant forward and put a hand on Blair’s shoulder.

“1.2 million dollars.” Suddenly, Jim found his arms full of a cavorting, curly haired dervish.

“Chief, Blair, calm down.”

“I can’t. I can’t. Oh, God, man. I just can’t believe it!”

“Sandburg!” Simon’s voice brought Blair to a halt.

Chest heaving, his eyes flashing, Blair had an enormous grin on his face. “Berkshire Publishing are willing to pay me one million two hundred thousand dollars and my legal costs in an out of court settlement for prejudice I suffered when they released parts of a document they believed was my dissertation despite my express wishes that they desist,” he rattled off the sentence without once taking a breath. “They’ll also be issuing a formal apology printed in the Cascade Times on page God knows what, but probably just after the obituaries.”

“God damn!” Simon leapt up from his chair.

Jim pulled Blair into a rib-breaking hug. “Yes! Well done. Oh, very well done!” He yelled into his ear making the younger man whoop with laughter.

Suddenly, Simon’s door was flung open and, having overheard the loud noises, the opening filled with the worried faces of Major Crimes.

“Everything okay?” Enquired Taggart.

Simon waved everyone in with a big grin on his face. “Sandburg,” he called trying to get the younger man to calm down. “Sandburg, stop it.”

“Yeah, sorry, Simon,” Blair gasped as he leant against Jim trying to get his breath back.

“Care to explain to the others how you’re now a millionaire?”

“What? Did you win the lottery?”

“Millionaire?”

“Hey, Blair I need a new car!”

“Okay, quiet!” Blair shouted out above the noise. “D’you want to know or not?” The voices stopped and everyone turned expectant eyes towards him. “As you know, I’ve been meeting with a lawyer to get redress from Rainier and Berkshire Publishing. Well, to cut a long story short, this morning Berkshire acknowledged they were in the wrong – without actually admitting anything, of course - and have offered me 1.2 million dollars in an out of court settlement.”

The room erupted as the detectives celebrated making Ellison wince at the noise. Blair, feeling the flinch in the arm thrown over his shoulders, murmured, “Dial it down, man.”

Jim grinned to himself. Blair was back!

“What are you going to do?” Joel’s question cut through the hubbub.

“And what about Rainier? Added Brown. “Have they offered anything, yet?

Everyone quietened to listen to his answer.

Blair pulled away from Jim and the older man mourned the feeling of loss the movement engendered in his heart. His friend perched on the edge of the conference table as he used to do when he was an observer and his hands started moving. “Rainier’s still on going. It’s – complicated, so, I won’t go into it now. First thing first, I’m refunding Jim. He’s been paying my medical bills and basically funding me…”

“Chief, I don’t mind…”

“No, Jim.” Blair turned towards him. “I only agreed to let you do that if I could pay you back. I probably owe you back rent anyway.” He smiled, but to Jim’s eyes it seemed somewhat forced. “And I’ve got student loans to pay off. As for the rest, there are a few donations I want to make and depending on what happens with Rainier, I’ll either complete my PhD or head off and do some research.”

Jim stiffened. He wasn’t hearing what he wanted to hear. Research where? Away from Cascade?

“Would you come back and work here?” Rafe asked the question Jim was afraid to. Everyone knew that he couldn’t be a cop anymore, but they were all hoping there was some way he could work with them as a consultant or something.

“Ummm. I… It depends.”

What was going on? Jim was flabbergasted. Hadn’t they sorted this all out? What about their shared dream/vision? In an effort to understand he used his senses on Blair. He was surprised to hear the man’s heart beating faster than normal. His temperature was slightly elevated and there was a slight sheen of sweat on his face. Was he lying? Tentatively, he sniffed and smelt the acrid small of adrenaline. He was afraid! But of what, he couldn’t tell. He also noticed that Blair was looking everywhere except at him. Now was not the time to ask, but once back at the loft some hard questions were going to be asked.

Blair was talking again, all flashing eyes, disarming grin and sincere expression, the Great Obfuscator at work. “Anyway, when I’ve actually got the money you’re all invited to a slap up meal at Art’s Turf and Surf Grill House. My treat.”

Cheering broke out and Blair suffered some more back slaps and hair ruffling.

“Okay, everyone,” Simon used his ‘I’m the captain’ voice, “Sandburg isn’t a millionaire just yet, so it’s back to work.”

Blair went to follow the others, but Simon called him back, “Hold on a moment, Sandburg. Yes, Ellison you can stay.” He waited until the two men had seated themselves in front of his desk again. “I’ve spoken to the Commissioner and the Chief of Police and they’re not adverse to you coming back on board as a consultant even if you don’t go for your PhD. They feel that your police experience coupled with your anthropological insights could benefit the PD as a whole. They’re prepared to offer you a three-month trial starting next week. So, what d’you think?”

“Simon, gosh. I don’t know what to say,” Blair’s voice was husky.

“Say, yes.”

Jim frowned. Blair’s heart had started racing again.

“Can you give me a few days to think about it?”

“Well, yes,” Simon glanced over at Jim, “I know the salary can’t compete with what you’ve been offered, but it’s just, I thought it’s what you wanted?”

Um, no, I mean, yes. It’s great. But… “ He sat twisting his hands and then wiped off the sweat beading on his upper lip with shaking fingers.

“Blair, what’s up?” Jim was totally lost. He and Simon had discussed this at great length with the powers that be. They’d been reluctant at first. The mess with Blair’s dissertation was still in their minds and how they felt they’d already made concessions allowing him to become a detective. However, Simon had pointed out that Blair had been an asset to the PD in his own right and had contributed greatly to the success of the MCU as a whole. And he not so subtly pointed out that the PD owed the young man after his aggression by three of cascade’s ‘finest’.

The penny dropped. He’d been attacked and run out of town by Cascade PD cops, colleagues of his, and although the malefactors had been dealt with Blair must be wondering if there were others who felt the same way. Understandably, he had to be nervous wondering that if he came back was he going to be treated the same way he’d been treated before?

“You know Gibson and his cohorts were members of a very small minority, don’t you?”

Simon looked at Jim with dawning comprehension. “Sandburg, Blair,” he turned towards the younger man and tried to infuse his voice with all the sincerity he could muster. “I’m sorry…”

“What?” Blair looked at him a frown on his face.

“As your captain and your friend I failed you…”

“Simon, please. You’ve already apologised. I’ve accepted yours and Jim’s and now Berkshire Publishing’s. However, if you feel 1.2 million dollars would ease your feelings of guilt, I’m not going to refuse you.” He grinned cheekily at the captain.

Simon cleared his throat. “Well, all right. I don’t have that sort of money, but,” he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out some coins, “I’ve got 75 cents. Will that do?”

The younger man laughed grateful for Simon’s adept lightening of the atmosphere. “You can keep it, man. You need it far more than me. After all, I’m going to be a millionaire.”

‘Oh, Chief,’ sighed Jim to himself, ‘you may have distracted Simon, but I won’t forget and we will talk.’

“Anyway,” Simon continued, “you’d be surprised at how many people were disgusted by what happened to you. A number of uniforms and detectives have come to me and have asked me to pass on their feelings.”

Jim was nodding. “Some have even approached me.”

“Even you? Gosh, I don’t know what to say.”

“That’ll be a first,” murmured Banks not loudly, but enough to be heard and with a smile then continued out loud, “So, what d’you think?”

“I need a few days. Let me get my head round it.”

“Okay, I’m not going to push you. But just let me say that it would be a real pleasure to have my best team back in action.” He deliberately changed the subject. “How’s it going with Rainier?”

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“I promise to let you know within the next few days.” Blair turned as he walked through Simon’s office door. “And I really do appreciate it.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll help him decide,” Jim said and wound an arm round the smaller man’s neck.

Blair rolled his eyes and nudged him in the ribs with an elbow. “Be nice to the millionaire.”

“Well, where the hell is it then?”

All three men turned in surprise at Rafe’s angry voice as he bellowed down the phone.

“It can’t just disappear. My pay was deposited in my account two days ago.” He stood up and ran his fingers through his hair messing his normally impeccable coiffure. “I’m on my way and I expect to speak to the manager!” He slammed the receiver down and swore violently.

“Rafe!” Banks strode over to him. “Calm down. What’s going on?”

The young detective plumped down on the edge of his desk and looked around at his colleagues. “That was my bank. Apparently my bank account’s empty and my mortgage bounced. And not only that – my saving’s account’s strangely empty, too. No one can or will tell me how it happened. Sir, I have to go and sort it out.”

Before Simon could reply, Taggart spoke up, “That’s funny. I went to buy a kettle at lunchtime and my card didn’t work. I tried it in a hole in the wall and it was refused. I called my bank and they’ve asked me to come in.”

“Oh, oh,” Jim intoned. “I went to get gas this morning and my card was refused. The guy only accepted my cheque when I showed him my badge.”

“’Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action'.”

Everyone stared open mouthed at Blair.

“Sandburg,” growled Simon.

“It’s in Goldfinger. You know, James Bond?”

“He has a point, sir,” Rafe said.

“Okay,” Banks barked out, “everyone phone their banks and see what they say. I’ll see you all in the conference room in fifteen minutes. Rafe get hold of anyone who’s not here and ask them to do the same.”

Twenty minutes later they were in the conference room and had been joined by Brown, Connor, Mathews and Rhonda.

“Right,” Simon sat at the head of the table a note pad in front of him. “I might as well start. Everything’s gone. My accounts, mortgage, savings and current, are emptier than a pimp’s heart. And no one can tell me how or tell me where the money’s gone.”

“Same for me.”

“And me.”

“Me, too.”

“Add me to the list.”

“Not me.”

“Nor me.”

Everyone turned and looked at the two who had last spoken. Mathews and Rhonda shrugged and looked in bafflement at the others.

There was only one person who’d remained silent. “What about you, Sandburg?” Asked Simon.

Blair blushed faintly and looked uncomfortable. “I, um. Actually, I don’t have a bank account anymore.”

A painful silence followed, which was quickly broken by Jim, “So, I think we can assume that this counts as enemy action.”

“Yeah,” growled Brown, “but by who and why not everyone?”

“And what are we going to do about it?”

“We need to get the PD’s computer techs and legal department on this,” said Simon. “We need to see if they can trace how this happened and who. We also need our lawyers to get onto the banks so that we can get our money back asap.”

“I don’t understand,” mused Blair. “Banks are highly protected. Not just anyone with a computer can hack in.”

“Yeah,” added Jim, “they also had to know where we bank. I mean we’re not all at the same bank and we’ve got several accounts each. And they’ve all been wiped.”

“Actually, not all,” Connor spoke up. “Before I came here my guv back in Oz opened an account for me in a bank here in Cascade. But it was the other side of town, so I opened another account nearer the PD. I never closed the other, don’t know why. There’s only a few dollars in it. Anyway, that account hasn’t been touched.”

“My savings account at Northwest First hasn’t been touched either,” added Joel. “And that’s got a few thousand in it. However, I opened that when I first got married.”

“What have we got in common except for working here?” Asked Brown.

“No, what have YOU got in common that we don’t?” Put in Mathews.

“You’re right,” Simon said decisively, “we need to know if anyone else has been targeted. Rhonda, can you call all section heads and ask them to join us here as soon as possible? Oh, and get the Chief on the phone and patch him through to here.”

“Yes, sir.” Rhonda got up and made her way out of the room.

“Brown, Rafe, check to see if there’ve been any similar cases. Joel and Connor, I want you two to go round the banks. See if anyone’s been hanging round. You know, the usual.”

“We’re on it,” Taggart agreed and the four detectives walked out chatting amongst themselves.

“Mathews, you’ve got that court case starting Thursday, so I want you to concentrate on that, but try and make yourself available if you can.”

Mathews nodded and followed the others out.

Simon sighed and rubbed his eyes under his glasses. He opened them when he heard Jim speak to Sandburg.

“What’ve you got?”

Blair had that look on his face that meant his brain was working overtime. He looked at Jim. “Didn’t you tell me that Escobar found me through my student loan repayments?”

Banks and Ellison looked at each other eyes open wide. “Shit!” They said in unison.

Simon pulled the phone in the centre of the table towards him. “Rhonda, get the FBI and patch them through to here.”







Chapter five

“No, Agents Smith and Patel,” Simon’s voice held all the patience he could muster, but his eyes showed he was holding on to his temper by the skin of his teeth. “Yes, that’s right, Alejandro Escobar.” He rolled his eyes at Jim and Blair and took a sip from his coffee. “Agent Patel, at last. I’ve been trying to get hold of someone all afternoon… Yes, I understand you’re busy, but I need to know if you have any information on Escobar…. Uh huh… You don’t say… Well, maybe I can give you some…”

Twenty minutes later Simon hung up and faced his detectives once again. They’d trickled back in, in ones and twos towards the end of the afternoon. Simon pulled off his glasses, pinched the bridge of his nose and put his glasses back on again. He REALLY wanted to smoke one of his cigars, but couldn’t afford the time it would take to descend to the street or the roof to indulge his vice. The afternoon had been long and arduous and he was now close to exhaustion. Looking at the faces in front of him he could see his tiredness reflected in the way they were all sitting slumped at the table.

“Okay, as you probably heard, Patel agrees that this sounds like Escobar’s back in town. He’s going to check the FBI databases to see what he can give us. This info has been confirmed by the noise on the street.”

Ellison snorted, “What little noise there is.”

“Yeah,” agreed Blair, “everyone’s terrified and getting someone to talk was hard work.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Jim felt a warm glow infuse his body. He and Blair had hit the streets trying to glean any information they could on Escobar and his men. It had been like old times and Jim was fervently hoping that it was also a sign of the future. However, he failed to miss how Blair, after his initial enthusiasm, ducked his head and stared at his hands in his lap.

“Anyway,” continued the captain, “there’s not a lot we can do now. Our legal department’s working with the banks, but we know it’s not going to be sorted out this evening. I suggest we all go home and we’ll attack this freshly tomorrow morning.”

“Simon-” Joel started.

“I know, money. If any of you need money for the next 24 hours the Chief has authorised an advance on your salaries. Go to finance and they’ll give you cash to tide you over. I’m afraid, there’s a maximum limit of $150 each, but at least you’ll be able to get gas and/or food if you need to. Hopefully, tomorrow should see at least our current accounts restored.”

As everyone was gathering up their things prior to leaving Blair spoke up, “Any idea how much space 1.2 million dollars takes up?”

“No idea. Why?” Jim replied.

“Just wondering whether it would fit under my mattress.”

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Morning in the bullpen was a subdued, but quietly busy affair. There’d been a momentary lightening of spirits when Rhonda had arrived with a big box of doughnuts and muffins, but the atmosphere slowly slid back into gloom, as ‘no progress’ became the norm. Jim spent the morning on the phone trying to get more information on Escobar and his gang members. To his joy, Blair was beside him wearing his glasses and looking studious using his quick mind to analyse and offer a different perspective. Spotting the pleased looks from his colleagues each time they looked their way only made him feel better.

Simon, using the emergency and the need for extra manpower, had pushed the Commissioner into issuing a 90-day pass for Sandburg. “This one IS only for 90 days,” he’d blustered as he’d handed the piece of plastic to his former detective. Personnel had used his photo from Blair’s police ID when he’d been a detective. No one commented on the differences: the short hair, the loss of weight and the indefinable something that now lurked in his eyes. Blair had merely smiled, thanked him and had shakily clipped it onto his shirt replacing the visitors’ pass he’d been issued that morning.

“Detective Ellison.”

Jim lifted his eyes away from his notes at the voice to find himself looking at FBI SAC Patton from Wyoming.

“Patton! What are you doing here?” He stood up and held out his hand.

The agent took it and shook it heartily. “I’ll explain everything in a minute.” He looked at Blair. “Mr Sandburg, you’re looking much better than when I last saw you.”

“Oh, um, thank you,” Blair screwed up his face as he tried to place the face with the name.

“I’m not surprised you don’t remember me. I came to see you at the hospital in Sheridan, but I’m afraid you were pretty out of it at the time.”

“But wasn’t it you who took my statement?”

“No, that was Agent Goodson.”

“Oh, sorry. I thought for a moment I was having a funny moment.”

“It must have been the suits and haircuts that confused you. Well, I’d better go and see Banks. I believe he’s waiting for me.” He nodded to the other detectives, called out a few greetings and made his way to Simon’s office. He knocked on the door and entered after hearing the deep ‘come’.

“He seems okay for a Fed,” Blair mused as he watched the agent walk away.

“Actually, he’s a pretty decent man.” A thought came suddenly to Jim’s mind as he sat back down in his chair and turned to face the other man. “I forgot to tell you,” he paused.

“Tell me what?” Sandburg brought his head round to look at him questioningly and Jim was struck again at how different he looked with short hair.

“He knows I’m a Sentinel.”

“What?!”

“Keep your voice down. Not everyone here knows about me.”

“But, why? I mean, he might be okay, but he’s still FBI. What if he…”

“Chief, Blair…” he grabbed hold of his friend’s shoulder and gently shook it, “he’d worked it out. He’d read up about us, your diss and everything. And I needed to find you as quickly as possible. I needed to use my senses and it was necessary to get him on our side. He promised he wouldn’t say anything.”

“And you believed him?” Blair looked at him in amazement.

“It was more important that I find you. And also, he doesn’t really behave like a Fed.”

Blair could feel something uncurl deep in his stomach as he looked at his friend: the man who’d been so terrified of anybody knowing about his senses that he’d let his best friend destroy his life’s work and his reputation. This, the same man who’d been so desperate to find him he’d let a stranger know about his fiercely guarded secret, a stranger who worked for the government, no less. Maybe, he’d changed… enough…? He sheered away from those thoughts. He needed to do some serious thinking, but now was not the time.

“Thank you,” he whispered his eyes shining.

Jim said nothing, but he squeezed his shoulder again before letting go and turning back to his notes.

Banks’ door opened again and the captain and Patton strode out. “Okay, everyone, pay attention. Agent Patton is our FBI liaison for anything to do with Escobar.”

“Where are Smith and Patel?” Called out Megan.

“They’re the lead on a nasty case of gang-organised child pornography operating out of Seattle,” explained the agent. He noticed the grimaces on everyone’s faces at the mention of the nature of the case. “So, I’ve been drafted in as I was with you in Wyoming and since then I’ve been amassing a lot of information on Escobar.”

“And we’re pleased to have you,” Simon added. He’d been pleasantly surprised in Wyoming at the agent’s professionalism and lack of desire to turn his interactions with the local law enforcement agencies into pissing contests.

“And it helps that now I’m on your turf, doesn’t it?” Patton drawled out sardonically with a slight smile on his face.

“See what you mean,” whispered Blair.

“He’s all right,” reiterated Jim.

“Right,” Simon clapped his hands, “let’s continue this in the conference room.” He looked around the bullpen. “Where’s Joel?”

“Meeting his bank manager with the PD’s lawyer,” explained Megan.

“Oh, yes. I thought he’d be back by now. Anyway, let’s go. Chop, chop. You, too, Sandburg,” he added when he saw Blair hesitate.

Asking Rhonda to bring in some coffee, Simon ushered Patton to the conference room followed by his detectives. Banks indicated that the agent should sit at the head of the table and he sat next to him. Once everyone was settled with their drinks Patton handed out some documents.

“Oklahoma FBI picked up the trail of Escobar’s men at a car rental in the airport,” he started without introduction assuming they all knew of whom he was talking about.

“Who?” Blair asked Jim in an undertone.

“The two men from Cascade who hired the Wyoming muscle that took you,” Jim whispered back. “They gave us the slip by arranging an incident at the airport as they were flying out.”

Blair smiled sweetly at the glare Simon sent him and then turned his attention back to the agent.

“Unfortunately, they lost them after their rental car was discovered abandoned 50 miles from Cascade. We can only assume that they’re here, but we have no news on them and we’re still no closer to getting their real names.”

“We’ll send out some feelers. See what we can come up with through our contacts on the street,” contributed Simon.

Patton nodded. “Good. Now, we do have some news on Escobar. He apparently flew down to a cousin’s estate in New Mexico immediately after the battle with Berger. Our sources have him back in Cascade and busy recruiting soldiers amongst his drug partners in Colombia and here in Washington. Although a lot of his holdings were seized, he has enough money to get himself back in the running.

“Captain Banks has explained to me what’s happened with your banks. And while I don’t have any concrete information whether Escobar’s behind it, it’s exactly the sort of thing he’d do. He’s more cerebral than a lot of the drug lords out there, but that’s not to say he isn’t as ruthless and violent as the others.”

“Any idea how he got the information?” Asked Brown.

“Not yet. But we’re working on it.”

“Pay,” blurted out Jim suddenly.

“I beg your pardon,” Patton’s eyebrows were in his hairline as he stared perplexed at the detective.

“Our pay is deposited directly into our banks.”

“Oh, God,” groaned Simon, “he’s right.” He picked up the phone and dialled an internal number. “It’s Captain Banks. I need to speak to the Chief urgently… A meeting with the Commissioner and the Mayor? Even better, I’ll only need to explain myself once then… No, believe me they WILL want to speak with me. Thank you… Chief Parks, I have some important news…” Briefly, he explained the suppositions on where they thought there was a leak in the PD.

“Okay, it’s a good idea,” Megan said quietly making sure she didn’t disturb Banks, “but couldn’t the leak have been at the Tax Office or some other organisation?”

“I don’t think so,” Jim replied equally quietly, “because we have to list ALL our bank accounts on our tax returns. Don’t forget both you and Taggart had accounts in banks different to where your salaries are paid that weren’t touched.”

“True,” she agreed.

The Chief obviously wanted to act on it as soon as possible because Simon was only on the phone for a few minutes. “He’s dealing with it and will let us know what he discovers.” He turned to Patton. “Now, this is what I…”

What ever he was going to say next was drowned out by the ringing of the phone. Irritated by the interruption, Simon snatched up the receiver. “I said no interr… What? How?” Everyone looked alarmed as the captain stood up shock on his face. “How is he?... Cascade General?... Okay, I’m on my way.” He slammed the receiver down and rubbed his hands over his head.

“Sir?” Jim asked while his boss took in a deep breath.

“Taggart was a victim of a hit and run.” He clenched his jaw. “According to witnesses the car deliberately aimed for him.”

“How bad is he?” Megan jumped out of her chair alarm clearly written on her face.

“He’s in surgery. That’s all I know.” He headed for the door. “I’m off to the hospital. Patton…”

“I’m coming, too,” Megan interrupted him.

“All right. We’ll take my car. Jim, take over for me. Full cooperation with Patton, okay?”

“Wait! Wait!” Patton had stood up as well.

“What?” Banks was obviously impatient to be gone.

“There’s every chance that Escobar engineered this. Taggart was out on the streets without back up. Please, make sure you don’t find yourselves in the same position.”

“You’re right.” Simon agreed. He turned to his detectives – and one former detective, and barked out, “Same arrangements as with Berger. You go nowhere alone and I want you wearing your flak jackets at all times. Jim, get Sandburg one. Watch each other’s backs. Sandburg, are you carrying?”

“Uh, no. I don’t… I…” Blair paled and looked up at his former boss.

“Don’t worry, Simon,” Jim said, “Sandburg doesn’t need a gun to watch my back. Just go and let us know how he is as soon as possible.”

With that Simon left the room closely followed by Connor.

“Okay. What else can you tell us?” Asked Jim.

Patton found himself the centre of attention as the remaining people in the room turned their eyes towards him.

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The cab of the truck was silent as Jim and Blair headed back to the loft. Glancing at his silent friend, Jim turned on the radio and found himself humming to the song being played.

‘If I could find a way
To soothe your troubled mind
Then I would erase your fears
And help you to unwind.
I would ease the burden
That you carry everyday.
Oh - don't you know I'd find a cure
And take your pain away.
Take your pain away
Take your pain away... ‘

However, he kept an alert eye on his rear view mirror making sure that they weren’t being followed. Megan had called late afternoon to let them know that Joel had come through surgery fine. He had a mild concussion, a broken collarbone and an array of pins had been inserted into his broken right ankle. All in all, he’d been lucky as according to witnesses, the car had been travelling fast and accelerating when it had hit him. Fortunately, Taggart had heard the revving engine and had started to move away at the moment of impact.

The car, stolen of course, had been found burnt out on a piece of unkempt land near a low-income housing estate. Ellison and Sandburg had gone to inspect it. However, even though Jim used his senses to the maximum, it had been too badly damaged to find anything useful. One thing it had done though, was to put everyone even more on edge, make them very angry and very determined to catch the crime lord.

As the song came to an end Blair spoke as he stared out of the side window, “Patton seems an all right guy.”

“Yeah, he was good when we were looking for you. He was in charge without being overbearing. I think we can trust him.”

“Hmm,” Blair didn’t sound too convinced.

“Well, he knows, so there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Jim sounded sharper than he’d intended.

“What?”

“Sorry,” Ellison sighed. As much as he felt it right that Blair was working with him again he was also feeling that all was not right in his friend’s world, beyond the obvious, and he had no idea what the problem was. Unfortunately, this probably wasn’t the time to broach the subject, especially with the need to be doubly vigilant. He changed the subject. “I was thinking of going to speak to Berger senior tomorrow,” he continued as he pulled into a parking space in front of the loft.

Blair opened his mouth to speak when his window imploded in a blast of glass and less than a second later Jim’s exploded outward. He felt hands pull him forward and a warm body covered him. At first he struggled as he felt blood snake through his hair and down his face then calmed when he heard Jim’s voice.

“444 in progress, 852 Prospect. Officer down! One known shooter. Request back up and ambulance.” Jim threw the radio to the floor, took his gun in his hand and strained his hearing. He blocked out Blair’s quick breathing and quicker heartbeat, the sound of the traffic and the screams of people running away. He ignored the chatter coming from his radio and the sounds of televisions in the buildings – there! Almost in slow motion he heard a bullet being chambered into a barrel. He lifted up his head and piggybacked his sight on to his hearing and saw a shadowy figure in the door of a closed shop in the row of buildings on the right. He fired.

He didn’t wait to see the body slam into the shop door and the rifle fall to the ground. He could hear sirens approaching, but all his attention was on the body he was protecting and the smell of blood that permeated the cab of his truck.

Chapter six

Henri Brown looked down at the body and then up to where the blue and white pick up was surrounded by emergency personnel.

“Lucky bastard,” Rafe murmured.

He looked at his partner in surprise and then back down at the corpse. “How come, babe?”

“No, not him. Jim. I mean he was what? 120 metres away, in waning light, under fire, lying on the seat, protecting his partner and he nails the guy between the eyes. Being a Sentinel sure has its advantages.”

“Yeah, but smell that?” Brown pointed to where the body had voided itself. “Imagine smelling that with a highly sensitive nose.”

“Phew,” agreed Rafe.

“What’ve you got?”

They both turned to see their captain, bulky in his flak jacket and a lit cigar clamped securely in his mouth, come up behind them.

“Nothing in his pockets; no ID, no phone, no wallet, no nothing,” H answered.

“And no idea where he’s from,” continued Rafe, “except he does appear to be of South American descent.”

“Now, that’s a surprise,” said Banks not sounding surprised at all.

“How are they?” Rafe looked towards where Ellison and Sandburg were talking with Serena the forensics officer. Blair was sitting on the pick up’s bumper and Jim was casually standing so that his hip was lightly pressed against the smaller man’s shoulder.

“Jim’s understandably pissed and he’s got a shallow cut on one cheek. I don’t know how many times he’s had to buy new windows in the last few years. Sandburg’s a bit shaken, but fortunately, his face was turned away from the window. He’s got a few cuts to his scalp, but thankfully they’re shallow. So, no stitches.”

“Hey,” laughed H, “those curls are almost as good as a helmet!”

Jim looked up at the laughter wondering what could be so funny about a dead, failed assassin. However, feeling Blair’s shoulder warming his hip made him want to laugh himself - in relief, though. The sound of the bullet and smashing glass had been loud in the confines of the cab. Smelling Blair’s blood had sent his heart racing and his breath had caught in his throat. Fortunately, instinct and training had taken over. He’d shoved the man down on to the seat and pulled his gun out at the same time.

Once he’d made sure there was no one else out there trying to kill them he’d sat up. “Are you all right? How badly are you hurt?” His hand had hovered over the blood-soaked curls.

“Ow, damn!” Blair had slowly sat up sending glass shards tumbling off his shoulders and out of his hair.

Hearing him talk and seeing that the small cuts in his scalp were annoying rather than life threatening had calmed both of them immensely. They were now coming down from their adrenaline high and the detective could feel small tremors course through Blair’s body.

“Okay, Serena. Thanks for arriving so quickly,” Jim said.

“No problem. But I didn’t find anything more than you, unfortunately. I’ll get back now to the precinct and hope his prints are in the system.” Before walking away she put her hand on Blair’s shoulder. “Good to see you, Blair. Don’t be a stranger.”

“Come on,” Jim leant down, grabbed Blair’s upper arm and pulled on him until he was standing. “We need to get the glass out of your hair or you you’ll have to sleep sitting up.” He started walking towards their building, Blair following behind.

“Oh, man, I can’t believe I can’t wash my hair tonight.” He went to brush a hand through his curls in an unconscious gesture, but aborted the movement when he touched the dry blood. The paramedics called to the scene had put antiseptic lotion on the cuts. Blair’s hair now looked as if he’d been sleeping on the streets for months. Coupled with the streaks of blood across his face, he looked a very sorry sight.

“No, but we can rub it gently with a damp cloth to get the worst of it out. As long we don’t touch the cuts it should be okay.” Jim held open the lift door for his friend and then pressed the number three when they were both in. The lift started up and, giving in to his relief for a moment, he put an arm around the younger man’s shoulders. “I’m glad you’re okay, Chief. You know, for a moment…” he couldn’t finish.

“I know. I know,” Blair shifted a bit closer to the other man then blew out a shaky breath. “Thanks, man. For protecting me. Silly, isn’t it? All those months of training at the academy, years being your partner and at the first sign of trouble what do I do? Nothing!”

“Wait a minute!” Jim turned to face him. “You were shocked and in pain and you had someone lying on you. You had no idea how badly hurt you were. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just be grateful it’s the assassin lying out there and not us.”

The lift doors opened and they walked out.

“Oh, believe me, I am.” Blair gave a little shudder. “Blessed protector rides again. Just like old times, hey?”

“Smartass,” Jim snorted and aborted his almost instinctive swipe of the other man’s head. They stopped outside the door to number 307. Before putting his key in the lock Jim tilted his head showing Blair that he was listening hard and his nostrils flared in an attempt to see if there was any surprise waiting for them. Even after all these years it gave the former grad student a thrill to watch the Sentinel in action. “Nothing. As far as I can tell the loft’s empty and I can’t smell any explosives or evidence of guns.” He turned the key and opened the door.

Blair followed him in. “While you’re phoning the garage I’ll get lots of coffee on. I bet it won’t be long before the others arrive.”

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“This sounds familiar,” Jim quirked an eyebrow at Simon, H and Rafe who all shook their heads in disgust.

“Look, Patton,” the captain’s voice was firm, “we’ve tried this before. Remember why we were in Wyoming in the first place? We’re not going into protective custody. The best way we have of protecting ourselves is to bring the bastard down and the only way of doing that is to work the case.”

Patton gritted his teeth and looked around at the others who nodded their agreement. “You’re not a cop,” he said jerking his chin at Sandburg who was looking better even with his hair still damp from its very careful cleaning. Jim had used his sight to pick out every piece of glass while Blair had kept up a monologue to prevent him from zoning.

“God, that brings back memories,” Blair laughed. “Can you say ‘stay in the truck, Sandburg’?” He became more serious. “No, I’m not a cop, but I was one and I’ll work with my friends.”

“Will you at least carry?” Patton insisted.

Blair sighed and looked at Jim who merely looked at him encouragingly letting the other man decide for himself. “Okay,” he finally agreed.

“I don’t understand. You carried while you were a detective, so why the reluctance now?” The agent questioned him obviously perplexed.

“Oh, I’m not just reluctant now, I was ALWAYS reluctant. It was just something I had to do to be able to do my job.” And everyone else apart from the FBI agent knew he wasn’t talking about being a cop.

“You can have my back up piece,” suggested Jim. “You’ve fired it before.”

Blair nodded, a rueful look on his face. Not even two weeks back in Cascade and he’d been shot at, injured and was being forced to carry a gun! But the cut on Jim’s face reminded him why he’d agreed to become a cop in the first place.

“So, we’re agreed,” continued Simon changing the subject, “until we know more on our assassin or our leak at the station we’re at a bit of a loose end.”

Before anyone could say anything there was a knock on the door. Everyone froze.

“Oh, shit!” Blair lurched to his feet and stared at Jim.

“Ohhh, shit!” Agreed the Sentinel jumping up to stand next to the alarmed man head cocked in his listening stance. “It’s okay, but check anyway.”

“What’s up?” Simon looked at the others in consternation.

Rafe and Brown had also leapt up pulling out their guns and holding them pointing down to the floor.

“No,” Blair spread his arms out in a calming gesture and headed towards the front door, “it’s all right, don’t worry.”

“It’s okay guys,” Jim added gathering up the empty pizza boxes that had contained their delivered dinner, “it’s nothing dangerous. Unfortunately, in all the chaos of these last two days we completely forgot that Felicia was coming for a visit.”

Patton was about to point out that it could be anyone at the door when Jim looked at him and tapped a finger to his ear and then his nose. He knew who it was.

The men gave each other knowing grins and looked over to where the curly-haired man was enthusiastically greeting the woman who, in Wyoming, had alerted them to the fact that Blair had gone missing. He ushered her into the loft, but she stopped when she saw the group of large men grouped around the dining room table.

“Don’t mind them,” said Jim as he came forward to greet her with a big smile on his face. Anyone who could make Blair beam like he was so unselfconsciously doing now was more than welcome in his home. He bent down to place a kiss on her cheek. “We’ve just finished and they’re on their way out. You recognise them all, don’t you?”

Hesitantly, and then at Blair’s gentle push in the small of her back, she moved towards the group. “Um, yes. You’re all Blair’s ex-colleagues, aren’t you?”

“All except me,” Patton moved forward his right hand extended “I’m Agent Patton from the FBI. We met very briefly in Wyoming and it’s a pleasure to meet you again, but as Detective Ellison said, I must be going.” He shook her hand and tucking his briefcase under his arm he turned towards Banks. “I’ll be waiting for you downstairs.” And within seconds he was out the door.

The others followed his lead and after greeting the young woman they headed out of the loft flak jackets in hand. Simon jerked his head at Jim indicating that he wanted to speak to him outside the main door. Following him, Jim pulled the door to and they moved down the corridor a few metres.

“How could you forget she was coming?” Hissed Simon. “Do you realise how dangerous this could be? You’ll have to get rid of her.”

“God, I know.” Jim scrubbed his face with his hands. “It’s just what with one thing and another it simply slipped our minds. She’ll be out of here first thing in the morning, I’ll make certain of that. I’m sure she’ll understand.”

“Okay, then. Until then it’s your job to keep her safe.”

“Does that mean keeping her away from Sandburg?”

Simon merely snorted. “I’m out of here.”

“You’re not going back on your own, are you?”

“No, Patton’s staying with me until this is over. Night.”

“Night, Simon.” Jim kicked the door going back into the loft then locked it securely behind him. Felicia was standing in the kitchen sipping a glass of orange juice listening to Blair as he loaded the dishwasher. His friend over at him with a sardonic grin on his face knowing exactly why the ex-covert operator had made so much noise coming in.

Jim shrugged, unrepentant.

“Um, I’m sorry to put you out,” Felicia looked at Jim then ducked her head.

“Hey, Fel,” Blair swung round and put an arm around her, “you’ve got nothing to apologise for. We’re the ones who should apologise. We should have told you not to come when it started going crazy here. Not that I’m not happy to see you. I just wish the circumstances were different. I mean you made all this effort to come from – what?” He looked up as he heard a snigger first from Jim then echoed by Felicia. “What?” He repeated looking from one to the other a frown on his face.

“You’re babbling, Chief.”

“But he’s so cute when he does it,” giggled the jewellery maker.

Blair blushed, but grinned and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. He looked at Jim. “I told her about the situation we’re in and she’s agreed that she’ll leave tomorrow after her appointments. You’ll come back once this is over, though, won’t you?” He turned earnest eyes towards her.

“Of course. I can always come again and find new clients.” She dimpled at him.

“Hold on a minute,” Jim interrupted what was in danger of becoming a mushy moment, “you could go back with her.”

“No way, man,” Blair’s tone was indignant and he glared at him, “you need my help. And anyway, if I accept the PD’s offer it’ll be my job to stay with you. I won’t be able to run away then.”

Jim clenched his jaw and was going to argue, but stopped when he saw the younger man narrow his eyes in anger at him. This wasn’t the moment to argue. Time to regroup and fight when there were no witnesses. Smoothing his face he smiled at their visitor. “Have you eaten? Are you tired?”

Blair looked at him suspicious that he’d seemingly given in so easily.

“As I told Blair, I had something to eat on the train. Could I freshen up though?”

“Of course.”

“Certainly.”

The two men spoke together then mock glared at each other. Felicia smiled at their antics. She was extremely pleased to see Blair looking so much better even if his hair looked the worst for wear and his face was dotted with small cuts. He’d filled out and had lost most of that closed, haunted look he’d worn when he’d worked at the fair. His hair had grown and was now brushing his collar. She decided that it made him look all the sexier and found herself blushing.

“Please,” Jim pushed past Blair nudging his shoulder gently with his own so that the younger man stumbled slightly into the kitchen counter, “the bathroom’s this way.” He turned and mock glared at his roommate letting him know that the argument wasn’t over. Blair sighed, nothing had changed. He could see lots of meditation in his future.

While Jim was finding clean towels for their guest, Blair scuttled into his bedroom. Although he’d been back for nearly two weeks the room hadn’t changed much from how it had been at his arrival. A few things had found their way onto the chest of drawers, but he was still mostly living out of his boxes and backpack. Subconsciously, he knew there was a reason why he hadn’t truly moved back in to the loft, but preferred not to examine his feelings too much for the moment. He stripped the futon of its bedding and as he turned towards the door with the sheets in his arms he came face to face with Jim carrying clean replacements.

“Oh, thanks,” Blair said as he started edging past him.

“Hold on a moment.” Jim dropped his load on to the bed. “We need to talk.”

“I’m not going back with her,” Blair said, exasperation in his voice.

“No, it’s not that.” He sat on the bed. “I’ve been thinking. I wouldn’t put it past Escobar to have people watching us. If that’s the case then he’ll know that Felicia’s here.”

Blair froze and his eyes widened in alarm. “Oh, God. I bet he’d use anyone and anything to get back at us. She needs protection. What can we do?”

“She should leave first thing in the morning. We can arrange a police escort.”

“But she’s got a couple of really important meetings tomorrow. One of them’s with Woods Jewellers. It’s taken her ages to get them to meet her. If she doesn’t go it’ll really be a blow.”

“What’s more important? Her work or her life?”

“Her life, of course!”

“So?”

Blair sat down on the futon biting his lip. He looked up at the Sentinel who was leaning one hip against the chest of drawers arms crossed. “I’ll go with her.”

“Chief…”

Blair jumped up. “No, listen. I’ll be carrying and I’ll be careful.”

“Blair…” Jim stopped and watched the man in front of him: the slight flush on his face, the glow in his eyes. “She that important to you?” He asked quietly.

For a moment there was silence then Blair pulled his shoulders back and looked him directly in the eyes. “Yes.”

The silence continued as each man contemplated what that simple admission meant to them and their future.

“Well, we’ll just have to try and work something out then. Now, let’s get this bed changed.”

“Thanks,” was the whispered reply.

“Blair?” Felicity’s voice floated into the room.

“Go on,” said Jim throwing a sheet across the mattress, “I’ll do this.”

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Jim clumped down the stairs in his bathrobe making enough noise to wake the whole building. He’d deliberately slept with his hearing turned down, so had no idea whether Blair had stayed in the lounge the whole night or not. He preferred not to witness any embarrassing moments. To his relief he saw the curly head – alone – rear above the back of the settee. The younger man had slept there in boxers and a tank top and in the heat of the night he’d kicked off the sheet until it was mostly on the floor.

“Okay, okay,” came the disgruntled voice, “I get the message. I’m awake.”

“Then get your bony ass moving. I’ll grab a shower while you wake your girlfriend up.”

“I’m up, thanks.” Felicia opened the French doors and stepped out wearing lime green pyjamas and fluorescent orange espadrilles as slippers. Her short blonde hair stood up in spikes, but her eyes were clear and she looked well rested. “If you show me where everything is I can get breakfast started.”

“I’ll help.”

Jim turned away so that the others didn’t see his smirk as Blair leapt over the back of the settee suddenly seemingly wide-awake. However, he turned back abruptly as he heard a thump and a dining chair crash onto the floor followed by an “Oomph!”

“Blair!” He saw Felicia dart forward and crouch next to a supine Sandburg. Her hand hovered over the man evidently wondering whether she could touch him. Jim rushed over to her side.

“Ow, ow, ow!” Blair rolled over onto his back clutching his left thigh.

“Blair, are you all right?” Jim eased the younger man’s hands away.

“Damn, I keep forgetting.” He lay back and looked up at his two concerned friends.

“Are you all right?” The young woman echoed Jim and put a hand on his shoulder.

“It’s okay, Fel. Really. Help me up, Jim.” The detective grabbed hold of his outstretched hand and tugged. “It’s just that my leg’s a bit stiff in the mornings,” Blair explained as he became vertical, “and I keep forgetting. But really, no harm done. Except to my pride.” He looked down at himself and blushed as he realised his boxers were twisted. Behind his back Felicia grinned at Jim when the taller man noticed the admiring look she was giving the scantily dressed man.

“Okay, Chief?” Jim helped him to the chair that Felicia had righted.

“Yeah, man. Just feeling a bit stupid, you know?”

All three jumped when the phone shrilled.

Jim grabbed the hand piece in the kitchen. “Ellison and Sandburg. Yes, he’s here. Who’s calling? Oh. Hold on and I’ll pass you over to him.” He put his hand over the end and held it towards Blair. “It’s Heath.”

The younger man raised his eyebrows and took the phone. It was rather early for a phone call from even his lawyer. “Hello. Oh, really? What time? Hold on a minute.” He looked at Jim. “Could we be at Rainier at three this afternoon? Edwards wants to talk. She’s the one who suggested the meeting.”

“Did she now?” The Sentinel said sarcastically. “Um, we could drop off Fel at her afternoon appointment at bit early at 2:30 if she doesn’t mind?“ The woman nodded enthusiastically. “We’ll get a uniform to stay with her. So, three would be possible, but say 3:15 to be certain.”

Blair grinned knowing that they could make it easily for three, but Jim wanted to yank Edwards’ chain. “Did you get that?” He spoke back into the phone, “Great. Do I need to bring anything? Oh, Eli’s going to be there? Even better. No, I’ll speak to him myself. Thanks, Babs. I’ll see you there.” He hung up. “Waaay!” He chortled, “She’s running scared!”

“Right!” Jim rubbed his hands together. “Let’s get this show on the road.” The night before they’d organised their day coordinating with Simon and Patton by phone. A couple of uniforms were going to drop off a flak jacket for Felicia and a PD car. Ellison and Sandburg would accompany her to her first appointment and then they’d drop her off at the station while they went to see Berger senior in prison. Lunch would probably be ordered into the station and then it would be time for her next appointment. Jim headed off for his delayed shower ignoring the noises coming from the two people behind him. He suddenly felt it was going to be a long day! He had no idea how right he was, but not for the same reason.



Chapter seven

“Come in,” Simon barked out not wanting the interruption, but desperate for it. He’d been in his office since seven that morning after having driven in with Patton. The agent and the FBI Assistant Director were meeting with the Chief upstairs and the bullpen was almost empty. Conner was at the hospital both visiting and guarding Taggart. Ellison and Sandburg were out with that Felicia woman somewhere and would be in later. Rafe was on the phone and Brown had just come up from records.

He’d managed to get through a lot of paperwork, but now at nearly 11:30 and after his umpteenth cup of coffee he felt he deserved a break. He looked up to see Captain Mark Mason from Vice enter. A fairly new appointee to the position, Simon found him to be an intelligent officer who was good at leading his men and equally good at going to bat for them. He was turning out to be a good choice.

“Morning, Simon,” the tall, good-looking, but also very bald man held a file in one hand and a mug in the other. “How’s Joel?”

“Much better thanks. Already complaining about daytime TV.”

“Good, good. What you got today?” He gestured with his mug.

Simon leant back in his chair and threw his pen onto his desk with a grimace. “Red berry mocha with a vanilla and caramel twist.”

Mason stilled and Simon could see the hesitation in his eyes. “Umm, perhaps…”

“No, just yanking your chain, Mark. It’s hazelnut. Help yourself.”

“God, Simon, it wouldn’t have surprised me considering some of the stuff your cousin sends you.” Pouring himself a mug he settled down in front of the desk and placed the file in front of his fellow captain. “As much as I’d like to chat about coffee, I’m here for something more serious. Take a look.”

The MC captain opened the file and started reading. After less than a minute he looked up a grim look on his face. “How certain are you that it’s Escobar?”

“Pretty certain. We’ve had noise for a few days that an old player was back in town, but indications were that it was someone from Canada. Last night we raided a flophouse near the docks and netted a mid-size pusher. He had some Colombian pure on him and after ‘talking’,” he made quote marks with his fingers, “with the ADA he agreed to tell us all he knows. It isn’t much, but his supplier was definitely Colombian. He’d never seen him before. However, during one of their meetings this supplier had a long cell conversation in Spanish. Our pusher doesn’t speak the language much, but he heard the name Guzman.”

Simon’s eyes dropped again to the file looking at a list of names. “So Guzman was one of Escobar’s lesser lieutenants and there’s a possibility he’s taken Mendez’ place?”

“We’ve had an influx of Colombian pure in the last week or so along with a number of South American, possibly Colombian, players. Escobar was the main distributer before and he always used Colombian nationals or American citizens of Colombian descent to distribute. So, it’s a guess, an educated one, but we are pretty sure he’s behind this.”

“I agree. It certainly looks that way. Do you know how much has been brought in?”

Mason took a large sip of his coffee. “It’s difficult to say.”

“Any idea where Escobar is?”

“We’ve got our source working with a sketch artist. We’ll send it to the Colombian authorities, but we both know not to hold our breaths. However, he’s always stayed close to the action, so he’s more than likely back in Cascade.”

“I know a lot of his property was confiscated, but he probably has stuff all over the place we don’t know about. He’s probably in one of them.”

“Yeah, it’s gonna take time finding them though.”

“If you need…” Simon was interrupted when he heard loud noises coming from the bullpen. “What the hell’s going on?” He stood up and pulled open his office door, Mason on his heels. They both looked on to a scene of chaos. Henri Brown was convulsing on the floor clutching at his throat making horrible grunting noises. Rafe and a uniform were trying to calm him down, but not making much headway. A group of detectives and uniforms were looking on in horror. Rhonda was on the phone telling whoever was on the other end ‘to hurry’.

Both captains strode over to where the stricken man lay.

“Rafe, what happened?”

The normally calm man looked up at his captain with anguished eyes. “I don’t know. He was eating a candy bar when he started gasping and then collapsed.” He turned back to his partner and grabbed his shoulders when the larger man arched up in pain. “It’s all right, man. Just keep breathing. Please, just keep breathing.”

“Try lifting his chest a bit,” said Mason. “It might ease his breathing.”

Mathews dropped to the floor and Rafe lifted the gasping man until his back was lying against his chest. He caught the flailing arms in a firm, but tight hold. It was with relief that the gathered people heard Brown’s rattling breaths quieten slightly. Tightly squeezed eyes opened a slit and looked gratefully at the Vice captain.

“Does he have any allergies?” Mason asked wondering if it was anaphylactic shock.

“None that we know of. Rafe?” Banks asked his detective.

“None, sir. And anyway, he eats that bar all the time. He’s got a stash of them in his drawer.”

He didn’t get any further as two paramedics pushing a gurney and led by a uniform, burst into the room. Within minutes they had assessed the situation and had Brown on the gurney, on oxygen and on his way to the hospital.

His partner went to follow, but Simon called him back. “Wait a moment. Mathews go with Brown, we’ll be following.”

“But, sir…” started Rafe.

“Rafe.” He put a hand on his arm to hold him back when it was obvious the distraught man wasn’t listening. “Rafe, listen!” Fortunately, the detective calmed and looked at his captain with obvious impatience. “I’ll take you to the hospital. But first, you put on your flak jacket and you get gloves and an evidence bag and put Brown’s chocolate stash in it.” Rafe’s eyes opened wide in understanding and he nodded. “Anybody see the bar H was eating?”

Someone handed him a half-eaten, trampled, chocolate bar already in a plastic evidence bag. Simon said his thanks and donning his own flak jacket and summer vest he turned to Rhonda. “Call Patton and the Chief and let them know. Interrupt what ever they’re doing. It’s important.” He looked at Mason. “Thanks for the info. Let me know as soon as you’ve got something. I have a funny feeling about this.” He started across the room. “Oh, and Rhonda. Connor’s at the hospital. Tell her to meet the ambulance and be careful. The uniform stays with Taggart.”

With that, he and Rafe exited the bullpen leaving shocked men and women in their wake.

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Blair helped Felicity into the back of the car while Jim kept his ears and eyes open for possible shooters or speeding cars. Two minutes later they were racing down the narrow, country road. Fel’s first appointment of the day had been at the home of Bryant Vitta, owner of one of Cascade’s biggest chain of jewellery shops. It was a luxurious villa in one of the wealthy satellite communities the rich of Cascade had created an hour north of the city. Almost a town in itself, it was remote and the only roads leading to it were mostly single track and curved through pristine pine forests.

“How did it go?” Sandburg twisted round from where he was riding shotgun and smiled at the woman. The meeting had been longer than they’d anticipated and he could feel Jim chafing at the bit.

“Oh, Blair,” she replied enthusiastically, her eyes shining. “He loved some of my stuff. His head buyer’s going to contact me next week and discuss terms. He wants me to supply his shops with about 50 pieces to start with.”

“Hey, that’s great, isn’t it, Jim?”

Jim looked briefly into his rear view mirror and smiled tightly. “Wonderful. Well done.” The young couple started talking about the opportunities that it represented for the jewellery maker, but he tuned them out. He rolled his neck; something was making between his shoulders itch. He stretched his sight along the road, but cursed under his breath when he couldn’t see past the bend ahead. He felt a hand land on his arm.

“What’s up?” Blair asked quietly. Even though he’d been talking to Fel he’d become aware that something had been troubling the older man.

“I don’t know. It’s just a feeling.” He began to slow the vehicle not wanting to speed into a possible ambush.

“What’s going on?” Felicia’s nervous voice came from behind.

“Wait a moment, Fel. I’ll explain in a minute,” Blair continued softly, “Okay, try your hearing.” He didn’t remove his hand.

Cautiously, Jim blocked out the sounds he could identify: his passengers’ breathing, the sound of the engine, the wind rushing past, the river tumbling over rocks to their right…

“Shit, shit, shit!” He suddenly yelled startling the others. He slammed on the brakes and shifted into reverse in one smooth move. Twisting round in his seat he started reversing back the way they’d come. He scanned the sides of the road looking for somewhere they could turn or even hide before the people in the vehicles he’d heard waiting for them round the corner knew they’d been rumbled.

“What, Jim? What did you hear?” Blair yelled as he grabbed the dashboard.

“Ambush. Round the corner,” the detective didn’t waste any words concentrating on keeping the car in a straight line. “Two vehicles, Spanish being spoken and guns being readied.”

“Oh, God,” shouted the younger man. “I can see them!”

Jim spared a quick look out of the front windscreen and saw a black SUV barrelling towards them about 500 metres away. There was no way they were going to out run them like this. Looking further back behind them he saw that the road dipped slightly, which meant that for a fraction of time they’d be hidden from their pursuers. “Okay. Undo your seat belts. When I say ‘go’, get out of the car and run into the trees as fast as you can. Stay low, but run fast. All right?”

“But what…?” Both men could hear the fear in Felicia’s voice.

“Don’t worry,” said Blair in a voice that was far calmer than he felt. “Just do as he says. I’ll be with you and Jim’ll be right behind. Won’t you?” He asked his friend sharply.

“Of course.” Jim noticed with approval that Blair had already released his seat belt and was holding the gun he’d given him that morning in his left hand. He’d slipped his ever faithful bag over his shoulder and across his chest and his right hand was on the door latch waiting for his go ahead. Engine screaming, the car crested the small rise and started down the other side. Ellison pulled on the handbrake sending the car into a controlled skid until it straddled the road. Putting the gearbox into park he didn’t even bother killing the engine as he opened his door and leapt out. “Go, go, go,” he shouted and ran round the car where Blair was helping the obviously frightened woman.

Sandburg grabbed hold of her right hand and ran towards the trees pulling her behind him. Jim wasted no time in following them. Belatedly, he realised that Felicia was dressed for a business meeting (the flak jacket spoilt the effect somewhat) and although her shoes weren’t stilettos, they were definitely unsuitable for running through a forest. To prove the point, she stumbled as one of her shoes came off, almost pulling Blair down with her. The handbag she’d been holding in her hand went flying.

Jim grabbed her round the waist and bending down he swiftly pulled off the other shoe, threw it and the other as far as he could and then put her on her feet again. He picked up her bag and stuffed down the front of his shirt grateful that she didn’t seem to be the woman who needed to carry her whole life around with her. With his hand in the small of her back he started them running again.

“Just run,” he urged as she went to protest. With Blair pulling and Jim pushing she had no choice but to run with them. Fortunately, the ground was covered with soft pine needles and it was only the odd twig or stone that bruised her feet. Mind you, with panic coursing through her veins she felt very little of the damage being done.

For a few seconds, just the sounds of them crashing through the undergrowth and their panting breaths disturbed the quiet. Then suddenly, behind them, came a mighty crash and the noise of metal grinding on metal. They threw themselves onto the ground as something exploded sending smoke, flames and pieces of metal into the sky. Jim, who’d been expecting it recovered first despite the fact that his ears were buzzing painfully. He’d had his hearing wide open listening out for pursuit. Climbing to his feet he grabbed the woman’s arm and they were running again.

He knew that they couldn’t last for long at this pace. Blair’s leg was still weak and Felicia was running in bare feet. They needed to find somewhere to hide or, even better, some form of help. Although neither man really knew the area that well, they did know that dwellings here were few and far between. Tentatively, he sent his hearing out again. Filtering out the known sounds he strained to hear voices and was rewarded. Unfortunately, they were speaking in Spanish. His Spanish was more than adequate, but on the run like this he was finding it difficult to concentrate on the words. He could tell, however, that they were very angry – he didn’t need to know the language to work that one out. Fortunately though, and he was sure it wouldn’t last, they weren’t moving away from the accident site.

Suddenly, he was contorting his body as he tried to avoid trampling Felicia who’d fallen and was lying spread-eagled on the ground. He crashed into Blair and the two of them tumbled down in a tangle of arms and legs. The thought briefly crossed his mind that thankfully they’d put their guns back in their holsters while running. He could just imagine the ribbing he would have likely got from the younger man if he’d dropped his gun again. Everyone just lay there for a few moments getting his or her breath back.

“Can you – hear – them?” Gasped out Blair.

Jim held his breath for a moment and listened. “I can’t hear them moving into the forest, but I don’t think it’s going to be long before they pick up our trail.” He sat up and looked at the others. Felicia’s face was red and sweaty and had dirt smudged across her forehead. Blair looked slightly better, but he could see faint lines of pain around his mouth. “We need to find somewhere to hole up.”

“How about back up?” Blair asked while looking at Felicia worriedly. She was being very quiet and hadn’t moved apart from sitting up and was now staring behind them with a frown on her face. “Have you got your cell?”

“Damn,” Jim swore and stood up. He pulled his phone from his pocket. “Double damn.”

“No signal, huh?”

Jim didn’t bother answering, but they way he thrust the phone back into his pocket spoke volumes.

“I’ve got one,” Felicia gestured to the bulge in Jim’s shirt.

He suddenly cocked his head in the classic stance that told Blair he was listening. “No time. Come on. They’re on their way.” He put out his hand and pulled the younger man up.

“How many?”

“At least six.”

“Fel. You need to get up.” Blair leant over the woman and grasped her upper arm. “We need to go.”

“Blair?” Her voice trembled as she looked up at him.

“I know,” he said gently, “but please, get up.”

She visibly shook herself and let herself be pulled upright. The men didn’t miss the wince she made as her feet took her weight. Blair sat down again and started undoing the laces on his trainers. He quickly pulled them off and handed them to her.

“No,” she shook her head, “I’ll be all right.”

“We don’t have time to argue. I’ve got socks on. You’ve got nothing.”

Seeing the logic of his argument she slipped the footwear on and did the laces up tightly. They were slightly too big, but fortunately, Blair wasn’t a big man. They would do – they had to.

Jim was getting more and more anxious as the group of men chasing them picked up their trail. “Come on. We need to find somewhere to hide.” They started jogging gently knowing they couldn’t maintain their previous speed. “Our best bet is to head uphill. Cascade’s in that direction and the higher we are the more we can see. And I know it’s difficult, but please try and be as quiet as possible.”

Blair didn’t bother asking him how he knew which direction the city lay putting it down to a Sentinel’s awareness of where he was in time and space. He grabbed Felicia’s hand feeling guilty that she’d been dragged into this situation.

The next two hours were pure hell for the young woman as she tried gamely to jog uphill in her ‘power suit’ and Blair’s shoes. Her breath was coming in gasps and her already bruised feet were getting blisters. Running was not high on her list of favourite activities and, she had to be brutally honest with herself, the extra weight she’d put on since her miscarriage wasn’t helping. Perhaps this was the moment she should start that diet she’d been vowing to go on.

The owner of the shoes was doing a little better, but not by much. His recent illness had sapped his natural stamina and his scarred leg was beginning to seize up. His feet, in just his socks, were also suffering and kept slipping in the pine needles covering the ground. Jim was in stoic Ranger mode as he tried to split his concentration between listening for their pursuers, deciding which direction to take and looking for a place they could hide in. He later blamed himself saying that if he’d been paying more attention he could have prevented the accident.

Felicia was blindly following the two men her left hand firmly gripped in Blair’s right. Sweat was dripping into her eyes and as she wiped her forehead with her suit sleeve her right foot twisted on a protruding root and she was falling. And she kept on falling as she crashed through some ferns and over the edge of a hidden bluff dragging Blair behind her. She let out a surprised grunt. Jim lurched to a halt and turned in time to see the pair of them disappear from view.

Blair, felt the tug on his hand and heard Felicia’s terrified whimper. Coming to a halt he tried to dig his heels in, but his weak leg gave way and he felt himself being pulled down. He let go of Felicia’s hand not wanting to drag her down with him, but it was too late. He had a fleeting glimpse of greenery, Jim’s startled face then he bumped into a soft body and had a momentary feeling of weightlessness. It was soon followed by a series of breath-taking knocks and then finally a blinding flash of pain when his body stopped tumbling and everything went black.



Chapter Eight

Rafe watched Megan as she slipped into the waiting room with three coffees on a cardboard tray. He knew he really should get up and help her, but worry for his partner kept him glued to his chair. What he really wanted to do was run into the treatment room where a medical team was working on H. A hand holding a Starbucks cup appeared in front of his face and his eyes flicked up to see her sympathetic look.

“I got one of the uniforms to get this. He was more than willing to go as he’s been drinking vending machine coffee all morning,” she grinned at him.

He gave a slight shudder. “I can only sympathise. One cup was enough for me.” He took the cup on offer and tasted the contents. “Ahh, heaven. Thanks.”

“Where’s the captain? I got him a coffee, too.”

“Talking with Patton somewhere. He arrived about fifteen minutes ago.”

“Oh,” she shrugged and sat on the seat next to him. “If he doesn’t come back in a few minutes we’ll just have to drink his.” She sat on the chair next to him.

“If you want to risk life and limb separating him from a good cup of coffee, be my guest.”

“Any news?”

“Nothing,” he replied, his voice tight. “How’s Joel?”

“Much better. As soon as we have news, he wants to know.”

They fell into a contemplative silence each wrapped up in their worries. Although they didn’t say anything just having someone else waiting with them was comforting.

“God, it’s been hours!” Rafe couldn’t sit still any more and jumped up from his seat. “I’m going to find out what’s going on.” He threw his empty cup into the bin and stormed out of the room. Megan also ditched her cup and followed him out the door. Looking left she saw him disappearing round a corner.

“Wait there, detective,” a voice said firmly from behind a partially closed door. Rafe skidded to a halt and Megan had to do some fancy footwork to avoid slamming into his back. The door opened wider and a 50-something woman in green scrubs and a stethoscope round her neck came out carrying a file in her hand. “I was going to come and get you in a few minutes, but as you’re here you might as well come along now.”

“How is he?” Rafe came into step beside her as she headed down the corridor. Megan resumed her position behind him.

“He’s out of danger.”

“Thank, God,” was the fervent answer and you didn’t need to be a Sentinel to hear the quaver in the voice.

“In here.” The doctor entered a curtained off cubicle and walked over to the bed containing Henri.

The stricken man was awake and looked at them with bleary eyes above an oxygen mask. His chest was bare apart from some electrodes leading to a heart monitor and two plastic bags dripped fluids into a port in the back of his left hand. Simon was sitting on a stool next to the bed, but got up to make way for Rafe as he rushed over to his partner’s side.

“Hey, how you doing?” the young detective asked gently. He got a weak smile in reply.

The doctor went to stand on the other side of the bed and put a hand on her patient’s shoulder. She looked up at the three expectant people. “Okay, as you can see Detective Brown is going to be all right, which is the most important thing. We tested the chocolate bars that you brought in and discovered that they’d all been doctored with Sulfotep. It’s a chemical found in pesticides.”

“Son of…” Banks ground his teeth.

“How could this stuff…? Was it an accident? I mean…” Megan tried to get her tired head round what the doctor was saying.

“We found small needle marks in all of the wrappings, so can only deduce that it was a deliberate poisoning. Sulfotep can be lethal in small doses, but the amount Detective Brown ingested was low enough that he shouldn’t have any long-term problems. We performed a gastric lavage, which isn’t very pleasant, I’m afraid, but very necessary.” She smiled down at the supine man who nodded tiredly with a grimace on his face. “We’ve given him charcoal to absorb any remnants that might be left and he’s now on an intravenous treatment against nausea and something to rehydrate him. All in all, he was a lucky man.”

Rafe said nothing, but simply gently squeezed the hand he was holding relief on his face.

“You said ‘shouldn’t have any long-term effects’?” Simon questioned.

“There’s a slight, and I stress the word ‘slight’ possibility that his central nervous system could be affected, but I really don’t think that it’s a possibility here.”

“What happens now?”

“We’ll keep him overnight to make sure everything’s okay and then he can go home tomorrow. He’ll be a bit tired for a few days, so I’ll sign him off work until Friday.”

“Did you keep the chocolate?

“As soon as we discovered the Sulfotep in the chocolate he’d been eating we saw the others had been tampered with so simply sealed them in a plastic bag and they’re in one of the lockable cupboards in our testing lab.”

“Thank you. I’ll get one of our forensics people to pick them up. Perhaps you or a technician could fill them in a bit more on this substance?”

“Of course. Well, I must leave you here. I’ve other patients to see.” She bent over H and looked him in the eye. “You’re going to be moved to a room soon. Your colleague here can go up with you and help you settle in. Then I’ll be restricting visits for the night, as you really need to rest. All right?” She patted him on the arm before moving away.

“Doctor?” Simon stopped her just before she left and lowered his voice. “I believe that this was a deliberate attack, so I’ll be posting a guard on his door. Mind you, I suspect Detective Rafe will be the first to volunteer.”

“No problem. I’ll inform security.”

“Thank you. For everything.” As she left the captain called to Megan to follow him outside. “Okay, this is too much of a coincidence for it to be a random poisoning. What worries me is that the poisoning had to be done by someone in the PD.”

“How do we know if H’s was the only chocolate tampered with?”

“God, you’re right!” He ran his hand over his head while pulling his phone out of his pocket. Moving away from the treatment areas he dialled the bullpen. “Rhonda, it’s Banks…. No, he’s going to be fine. He was poisoned…. I’ll tell you everything when I get back there, but for now it’s very important that you get someone from forensics to gather any packets of chocolate, candy, cookies etc. lying around the bullpen and the break room…. Yes, that includes my office. Tell them to check for needle marks in the packaging. If they find any, dust for prints and test the contents for Sulfotep…. That’s S-U-L-F-O-T-E-P. Is Patton there? ... Tell him what I’ve just told you and that I should be back within the next hour… Thanks.”

He looked at Connor and was sure the anger she saw on her face was reflected on his own. “Escobar?” She growled.

“I’m pretty sure.”

“Me, too.”

“Okay, I know that you’d like to stay here, but with both Joel and Brown down I need all hands on deck. I’ll allow Rafe to stay for a couple of hours and then he’ll have to come in as well. We really …” he stopped as his phone rang. Ignoring the glare from a nurse he answered it. “Banks… Counsellor Heath? ... No, as far as I know they should be with you at Rainier. … Have you tried his cell? ... Sorry, stupid question. … Leave it with me and I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Captain? Captain, what is it?” Megan looked on alarmed as the tall man closed his eyes and sagged against the wall.

“I’m really beginning to hate this phone. All I seem to be getting at the moment is bad news from it.” He stood up straight and squared his shoulders.

“Captain?”

“That was Sandburg’s lawyer,” he sighed. “He and Jim are 30 minutes late for an important appointment with Chancellor Edwards at Rainier.”

She looked at him her eyes open wide. “There’s no way Sandy would willingly miss that meeting.”

“I know,” he said bleakly. “I know.”

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Jim crashed through the ferns trying to make as little noise as possible scoping out the terrain before him. Seeing the edge of the bluff only centimetres away from his feet he came to a sudden stop. Peering over the edge what he saw made his heart jump into his throat. The drop wasn’t particularly deep, but that didn’t matter when a body had fallen down it. Felicia was about three metres down draped across the roots of a pine that was growing at an angle out of the slope. Although, she wasn’t unconscious she certainly wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

About five metres further down Blair lay in a huddle at the bottom amongst some crushed ferns. Looking at the sandy sides it appeared that he’d rolled down rather than fallen straight to the bottom. He only hoped that in doing so it had slowed his fall and lessened his injuries – because he could already smell the blood. Stretching out his hearing he could hear the man’s heart beating steadily and slowly indicating that he wasn’t conscious.

As much as he wanted to rush down to Blair, he knew that he first had to deal with the hurt woman. Using exposed roots and small bushes he made his way down to where she was beginning to stir. He reached her just as she was trying to sit up the activity making her issue small, pain-filled grunts.

He put a hand on her back and she gave a little scream. “Shh, it’s me, Jim. Don’t move. Let me see how I can help.”

“Oh, God, Jim,” her voice was shaky and thin. “My arm. I think I’ve broken my arm.”

“Wait a second.” Wedging his feet in the roots and leaning his bum into the trunk of the tree he bent over her. “Which one?”

“My right.”

Unfortunately, the arm was on the side away from him and he couldn’t reach it from where he was. “Can you twist a little to your left? I’ll help you. Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall.”

She gritted her teeth and with Jim’s hands under her shoulder she pushed up with her feet. Her breath came out in small, shaky gasps, but eventually she was sitting half upright leaning against his legs. Carefully, he manipulated the limb so that it was resting on her stomach.

“Ah, ah. Shit!”

“I’m sorry,” he soothed. “It’s difficult like this to tell whether it’s broken. I’m going to tie it to your torso with my shirt, so it won’t move as we get you out of here. I warn you it’s going to hurt, but we need to do this and quickly.”

“Oh, okay.”

He could feel the tremors in her body where her back touched his legs. He quickly and carefully eased his flak jacket off and then his shirt trying not to jostle her. He lodged her bag into a space among the roots. Suddenly, she stiffened. “What?” He hissed.

“Where’s Blair?”

“Don’t worry about him for the moment.”

“Why? What’s happened to him? Blair!” She raised her voice.

“Shhh!” Jim put his hand over her mouth. “Don’t forget we’re still being chased.” He took his hand away when she nodded. Working quickly he eased the zip on her flak jacket down, carefully placed her hand in the opening and then tightly wrapped his shirt around her arm and torso ignoring the gasps of pain. Once finished he lifted her chin and looked into her scratched and filthy, tear-streaked face. With gentle fingers he wiped away the blood that trickled down her chin from where she’d bitten her lip. “You did really great. Now listen. Blair’s at the bottom and he’s unconscious, but I can’t tell how badly he’s hurt. So, we have to get down there as quickly and as quietly as possible. All right?”

He could only admire her strength of character when she took in a deep, shaky breath and nodded.

“It’s not going to be easy, but we can do it. First of all, I need you to stand up. Hold on to my arm and I’ll help. I promise I won’t let you go.” He slipped his flak jacket back on, stuffed Felicia’s bag back in against his chest, pulled up the zip and stood up.

It was painful for her and awkward for him, but eventually they managed to manoeuvre themselves into position and started down the slope. Facing inwards, Jim was slightly below her and he carefully guided her feet to footholds. As they dropped down below the level of the tree Jim was surprised to realise that the reason the tree was at an angle was because it was perched over the entrance to a cave. He couldn’t believe their luck.

“Fel, listen. Good news. To our right and a little below is a cave. I don’t know how far back it goes. Can you just stay here a second while I go and check it out?”

“Make it quick. I don’t know how long I can hold on, on my own.”

“I’ll be back before you know it.” Worry for Blair was pushing him to hurry and he forced himself to slow down. He’d be no help at all to either of them if he also hurt himself. Swinging along the roots he managed to step onto the lip of the cave and ducking his head he peered inside. He was pleased at how big the space was; long and low, it was dry and high enough for them to be able to sit comfortably. Dialling up his sight and hearing he inspected it for any unwanted residents. He was unsurprised, and pleased to find it unoccupied, probably because it was awkward to get to, but it would be fine for them.

Swinging back out he eased his way over to the young woman. “How you doing?”

“Thank God you’re back,” came the shaky reply.

“Good news. We can use the cave. I’m going to guide you over as before, okay? Just take it slowly.”

After ten minutes of careful manoeuvring he finally helped Felicia lower herself to the floor at the back of the cave. He knelt down in front of her pulling her bag out of his jacket. “You did really good. Let me see your arm.”

“No!” She jerked her head up.

“I promise I’ll be…”

“No. You need to get to Blair. My arm can wait.”

“But I need to check your circulation or you could lose it. It’ll only take a second.”

“And what will you do if my circulation is compromised?”

“Try and set it. We’re wasting time. Just let me look at your fingers.”

She let out a breath and nodded. Gently he pulled back the shirt he’d tied round her torso and inspected her fingers. They looked pink, which was a good sign. He squeezed the tip of the middle one and was pleased to see the blood rush back when he let go. “You’re all right.”

She smiled faintly at him and he resettled the arm. “Anything that could help us in that?” He gestured to her bag.

“My phone. Some money, tissues, make up, my sample photos, a few of my pieces and a few aspirin. Sorry.”

“Can’t be helped. Try your phone while I’m getting Blair, but try to keep it quiet. You’ll be okay here alone?”

“Just go, please.” It was obvious that she was worried and to be truthful he needed no further encouragement.

Slowly and carefully, he made his way down the slope. He wouldn’t be doing anyone any favours if he lost his footing. Although concentrating on what he was doing, he was also monitoring the injured man at the bottom. He heard his heartbeat speed up and his breathing beginning to become shallower and faster. Blair was waking up and he wanted to get there before he became fully aware of where he was.

Finally he was down. Taking a few precious seconds he sent his hearing out towards his pursuers. They were spread out about half a mile away looking for their tracks. From their lack of speed it was obvious that they were taking things carefully. He guessed they were city boys and not used to tracking their prey in the forest. However, they were probably no more than ten minutes away. Dismissing them to the back of his consciousness he hurried over to Sandburg.

The younger man was on his right side, his right leg drawn up to his chest and his left trailing behind him. His arms were pulled into his body, but his head was pulled back as if he’d been trying to look at the sky. His bag was still miraculously attached to him even if the strap was twisted rather tightly around a shoulder. Kneeling down next to him he gently ran his hands over his body looking for injuries. The cut on the forehead (strangely enough almost exactly where the red scar from Wyoming lay) and the scraped left hand were evident. He didn’t think any bones were broken; the flak jacket fortunately protected the wearer from more than bullets. The left knee however, was swollen and hot; he wouldn’t be putting any weight on it soon.

The man under his hands moaned and shifted slightly. He laid a hand on his forehead. “Hey, Blair,” he called softly rubbing circles on his shoulder with his other hand, “can you open your eyes?”

The injured man moaned again and Jim could see the eyes darting behind the eyelids. He started to thrash and the detective put both of his hands on his shoulders to try and keep him still. “Chief, keep still. Shh, come on and open those baby blues.”

“Jim?” Blair calmed, opened his eyes and squinted up at his friend.

“Yeah, it’s me. How d’you feel?”

“Shaken and definitely stirred.”

Jim let out a shaky breath. If Sandburg could joke, he couldn’t be that badly hurt. Mind you, he’d been joking the time he’d been knocked out twice and shot in the leg all in the space of a couple of hours.

“We need to move. Where are you hurt?”

The younger man blinked and Jim could see him turn his thoughts inward as he examined his body. “Well, my head hurts. I’ve got a few bruises and scrapes, nothing serious as far as I can tell.” He tried to bend his left leg and couldn’t halt the groan that escaped his control.

“Can you walk if I help? I’ve found somewhere to hide, but we’ve got to go now: they’re only minutes away.”

“Help me up, then.” Jim slipped his arms under Blair’s shoulders and helped him to his feet. “Whoa. Major head spin.” Neither moved until the injured man looked up and nodded. It didn’t need Sentinel eyes to see the lines of pain, the sweat on his face nor how he bit his lip to prevent another groan.

He picked up Blair’s bag and settled it across his back. Knowing the young man as he did there could be a myriad of things in it that could be useful. Slipping one of his friend’s arms over his shoulders and grabbing the waistband of his trousers the detective helped him lurch towards the bluff.

“Oh God, Fel,” Blair growled out between pain-filled breaths. “Where is she? Is she all right?”

“She’s okay and in a safe place. As far as I can tell all she’s got is a broken arm and a few bruises.” They reached the start of the steep slope and Jim lowered his burden to the ground. He crouched before him. “I’m warning you, it’s going to be difficult and painful, but we need to climb back up there. I’ve found a cave just about where that pine is.” Blair looked up to where he was pointing and his eyes opened in alarm.

“Jim, I don’t think…”

“Yes, you can!” Came the vehement reply. “Fel’s already there and I’m NOT leaving you behind. We put our backs to it. I’ll go first and as you push with your hands and good leg I’ll pull from above. Okay?”

Sandburg saw the determination in the Sentinel’s eyes and knew he was going to have to go with the flow. Gritting his teeth he took in a deep breath. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
starfishyeti: Frost on fallen leaves (pic#3061706)
Prequel to Make It All Okay and contains major spoilers for it.

As usual I have no claim to the Sentinel or its characters nor to the Murray Head song Don’t Forget Him Now. This was written for pleasure and not for monetary gain.



Jim Ellison swept in to the Major Crimes’ bull pen like a conquering general followed by Chief Warren, Mayor Smithson, the captain of Vice, two who were obviously Feds and numerous hanger ons. Everyone stopped what they were doing to stare and Banks came out of his office a big smile on his face. He strode towards his detective and grabbed his upper arms.
“Well done,” he almost gushed.
Warren and Smithson both clapped Jim on the shoulders with satisfied grins on their faces.
“Banks, your man did really good,” the Chief said. He turned to the the large crowd that had filled the room. “Listen, everyone. We’re here to congratulate Detective Ellison here, for almost single handedly bringing down a child pornography ring that stretched across six states and involved hundreds of children.”
“We’d been working on this case for more than two years and had only managed to net small players,” explained one of the FBI agents. “We’d heard that the main man was somewhere here in Cascade and approached Chief Warren to see what plan we could come up to winkle him out.”
“And our plan was Detective Ellison,” beamed Warren. “He managed to infiltrate the ring and this morning we arrested Anthony Cortizzi and his gang at their head quarters.”
“So, obviously the way that Ellison’s been behaving these last two months has all been part of an undercover operation,” Banks said, “and his suspension was a ruse to get him noticed by the right people.”
“Oh, good,” called out H, “that means we can take down the storm warning system?”
Everyone laughed and moved towards Jim to congratulate him and the room was filled with happy noise. Blair came through the doors with a pile of files in his arms and had to stop due to the press of people.
“What’s going on?” He asked Detective Peters who was standing next to him just in front of the doors.
“Like you don’t know,” grumbled the man good-naturedly.
“No, I don’t know.”
Peters looked at him frowning. “You didn’t know that Ellison was undercover and had infiltrated a kiddie porn ring?”
“No,” Blair’s answer was quiet and he looked thoughtfully at his former partner whom he could see surrounded by an adoring public. Carefully, he edged round the boisterous crowd and dumped the files on his desk.
“Okay, okay,” the Mayor’s voice rang above the noise and everyone quieted. “A celebratory buffet has been laid on in the conference room and everyone from Vice and Major Crimes, including support staff, are invited.”
A small cheer went up and people started pouring out of the doors. Warren put his arm round Jim’s shoulders to lead him out of the room, but the detective turned and looked around himself. He found what he was searching for when he spotted the curly head bent over some files. He stared for a moment noting how the curls now brushed the shoulders having grown quickly from the mandatory academy haircut. He’d not seen his partner since his pseudo suspension nearly a month previously. Feeling someone staring at him, Blair looked up and for a moment blue locked onto blue. The senior detective was shocked to see the blank expression and the dark circles under the eyes.
He took a step forward, but was halted by the Mayor’s hand on his arm. For a moment he resisted. However, the other man said something to him and reluctantly he moved towards the exit. Just before passing through the doors he turned once again to call out to Blair. Unfortunately though, Sandburg had again bent his head to his files. He’d speak to him later once this circus had left. He needed to know that their friendship was still strong.
The younger man didn’t move and tried to bring his tumultuous thoughts under control. Jim had been undercover! So, all that time he’d been cold and distant with him it had all been part of a plan. When he’d calmly told him it was time for him to move out of the loft he’d been acting. When he’d made fun of him in front of the other detectives he’d been playing a part. Hadn’t he? Blair ran a trembling hand through his hair.
He’d been undercover and hadn’t told him. Obviously, Jim still didn’t trust him.
After the mess with the dissertation he’d accepted the offer of a detective’s badge and had worked hard at the academy. It hadn’t been easy. Many of the cadets and some of the instructors had resented his presence there. But Blair had endured thinking that Jim really wanted him as a partner and Major Crimes wanted him as one of their own. All his life he’d wanted to belong somewhere. He and his mother had moved around so much he’d never really been accepted in the communities where they’d stayed. He’d started at Rainier as a brash sixteen year old and therefore had been out of step with his peers. And anyway, he knew that the university had merely been a stepping stone to his future. He’d made some good friends there, some of whom had stuck by him after his press conference, but people like Chancellor Edwards had made sure that he’d never be part of ‘the in crowd’.
So, he’d thrown himself into being a detective and Jim’s partner. He ignored the subtle and not so subtle actions by police officers who couldn’t understand how a fraud could be one of them. He dealt with the constraints placed upon him by IA and the DA’s office. He tried to be resourceful with his money while paying back his student loans and some of the grants the university insisted he reimburse. He’d done all that because he believed that finally he belonged somewhere.
And then six months into his stint as a detective Jim had started snapping at him and criticising him for small errors, the way he dressed, his ideas, his beliefs, his lack of money... This opened the door to more open insults from personnel who’d taken his press conference at face value. Files would go missing, his lunch would disappear from the break room and his car tyres would mysteriously go flat on a regular basis. Then in the space of one week Jim had been suspended, Blair had been assigned a new partner and Jim had asked his room-mate to move out. Reeling from the shock, depressed, broke and realising that perhaps he’d made a terrible mistake in becoming a detective, Blair had moved his few possessions to a small one-roomed hole in a tenement in a less than salubrious part of town.
“Hey, Burger.”
He jerked as the hated nickname broke into his thoughts. Daniels was a fresh faced detective who’d come from homicide when Ellison had been suspended. He’d latched onto Blair despite being partnered with another detective saying newbies should stick together. He watched as the other man rummaged for something in his desk.
“Good party isn’t it? You must be really proud of Ellison, no?”
Blair mumbled something and looked down at his files not wanting to look into Daniels’ smiling face. A shadow fell over him.
“You can give these to him now.”
He looked up to see the other detective holding out a file to him.
“Um, What is it?”
Daniels dropped the file on his desk and started towards the doors. “Copies of the notes Ellison left for the DA in my locker at the gym. I was told to hold on to them until the op was over. Anyway, I’ve got to go. See you Monday.” With that he swung out of the doors leaving Sandburg contemplating the ruin of his life.
With shaking fingers he opened the file and with blurring eyes examined the papers within. Lists of banks and account numbers, names and addresses written out in Jim’s meticulous handwriting filled his sight. For a moment he simply sat there his mind a blank. In a daze he stood up and took his jacket from the back of his chair. Slipping it on, he turned off his computer and gazed around the bullpen. He felt a terrible weight pressing on his chest making it hard for him to breathe. He had to get out of there. Feeling too agitated to wait for the lift he jogged down the stairs to the underground garage. Before he had time to realise what he was doing he was in his car parked outside his building.
For a moment he laid his head on the steering wheel taking in great gasps of air. Daniels had known Jim was undercover. Not him. Not his so-called partner and friend. Slowly, he got his breathing under control and eased himself out of the vehicle. He shivered in the cold April wind and, like an old man, shuffled towards the building. Suddenly, something was thrown over his head and hands roughly grabbed him holding his arms to his sides. The smell of grease and cigarette smoke pervaded the entrance hall as he was hustled along the corridor to his ground floor flat. As they entered an arm snaked round his neck pulling his head back and a voice hissed into his ear.
“Shout and I’ll blow your brains out.” The material covering his head was pulled off and Blair blinked. The cold feel of a gun barrel pressing against the base of his skull kept him quiet and still.
A figure with a woollen cap pulled low, wearing a pair of dark glasses and a scarf tied over his lower face came from the right and punched him hard in the stomach. Blair whooped trying to catch his breath. He just wanted to curl up into his stomach, but the arm across his throat held him upright. Suddenly, his head snapped to the left as a fist smashed into his right cheek and immediately after his stomach was pummelled again. The arm released him and he crumpled to to the floor. Desperately, he tried to get air into his struggling lungs. Unfortunately, he was given no respite as a boot kicked him in the lower back and his agonised scream came out as a weak croak.
He then felt a hand in his hair and his head was tilted up. Squinting through the involuntary tears leaking from his eyes he could see three hazy, masked figures looming over him.
“You really are unlucky, aren’t you?” One of them hissed at him. “You weren’t supposed to be here. All we were going to do was trash your apartment. Leave you a message that even you couldn’t ignore. Well, now our message’s going to be VERY personal.”
“Wha...?” Blair tried to make sense of what was happening. His head was shaken violently as another punch landed on his already bruised cheek. He felt the skin split open and a trail of blood ran down his face to drip off his chin.
“Shut up! All you need to do is listen. Cascade PD doesn’t need self-confessed frauds dragging its name into the mud. However you got to be detective, I’ll never know. You took the place of someone far more deserving than you. We’ve tried to show you that you’re not wanted and not needed. MC doesn’t need or want you and Ellison has finally showed you that he doesn’t need or want you. So, don’t you think you should take the hint and leave?”
“No!” Blair tried to speak, but fell silent as a fist was raised to his face. He wanted to tell them that Jim had been undercover. That it had all been an act and even if his former partner didn’t trust him, surely he didn’t hate him?
“This is your final warning.” The man nodded to the person standing behind Sandburg’s left shoulder.
Before Blair could protest his trousers were unbuttoned and pulled down his legs so they pooled around his knees. He bucked and twisted as his imagination went into overdrive. “No, no,” he pled, “you don’t have to do this. I’ll leave. I’ll go.”
“Shut it!” The man who seemed to be the only one to speak grabbed his face in two hands and looked him straight in the eye. “Don’t worry. We’re not going to rape you. We wouldn’t dirty ourselves with a Jew boy.” He dropped his hands to his captive’s shoulders and squeezed them tightly. He moved to Blair’s left and pressed his gun once more against a curly head.
Blair quieted and stared up at his adversary with wide open, tear-filled eyes. He then screamed as he felt red hot agony in his left thigh. He tried to move, tried to crawl away, but hands were holding him down and stopping him from moving; stopped him from escaping from the pain that just went on and on. His arms flailed about trying to defend himself. And all the while the voice went on spewing out its vitriolic hate. Finally it stopped and he looked down at the bloody mess that was his leg. He squinted and through the blood he could make out the word ‘liar’ carved into his flesh. His face was again twisted so he was looking into cold eyes.
Blair then felt a tug in his hair and something light fell over his face. Looking down he saw his curls float to the floor. Almost in slow motion he heard a buzzing and even more hair fell as his electric shaver skimmed over his skull. It seemed to take for ever and it seemed to take just an instant and then there was silence.
“Now, we don’t want you to die. We want this as a permanent reminder of how you fucked up Ellison’s life. Of how you’re nothing more than a kike fraud and don’t deserve to be a cop let alone a detective.” Slowly, the speaker tipped over the bottle he was holding in his hand and Blair smelt the distinctive tang of vodka. The contents splashed onto his bloody thigh and he screamed. And then thankfully everything went black.

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Consciousness slowly crept up on Blair until he could feel the agony in his thigh and his aching body. He moaned and lifted his eyelids to half mast. He was sitting upright with his head back resting on something. Blearily, he tried to bring what he was seeing into focus, but failed. Confused, he rolled his head down and the steering wheel of his car came into view. His stomach suddenly spasmed and his memory came rushing back. Groaning, he wrapped his arms round his aching body and laid his forehead against the wheel. Bile rose up into his throat and pushing the car door open he fell to his knees on the road and vomited. Muscles protested and his leg burnt as he heaved again and again.
He eventually fell on to his side his chest aching and tears coursing down his cheeks. “Oh, God. Oh, God,” he sobbed. He didn’t know how long he lay there, but gradually the sobbing stopped and his trembling quieted until he could sit up and take stock of his surroundings. His old Volvo was parked on the grass verge of a deserted country road. Trees just starting to come into leaf stretched as far as the eye could see and the road disappeared into the horizon both in front and behind him. He had no idea where he was. A cold wind sprang up and blew over his head making him shiver. He lifted a shaking hand to rub over his bald skull and another sob escaped.
“Come on, Sandburg, it’s only hair,” he chided himself speaking out loud to break the brooding silence. “It’ll grow back. You’ve got more important things to worry about.” He looked down at his left leg and could see the outline of a bandage through his trousers. His stomach and face ached and he could feel where he’d been kicked in his back. Painful, yes, but unfortunately he’d had lots of experience with these sorts of injuries and he could feel there was nothing life threatening. He debated whether he should inspect his leg, but decided this wasn’t the place to do it.
The cold road was making itself felt through his clothes, so he grabbed the door and pulled himself upright. His mouth fell open as he saw the boxes and plastic bags haphazardly piled up in the back of the car. Leaning forward he pulled a bag open and saw some of his artefacts looking rather the worse for wear. A box held books and a broken mask. Another revealed bandages and antiseptic and he snorted at the thoughts behind such ‘kindness’. His attackers had really meant it when they’d said he should leave. He carefully eased himself back into the driver’s seat and spotted the keys in the ignition. At least they’d left him the means to leave quickly.
A thought bubbled up into his mind and his hand slipped under his jacket. His fingers encountered his empty holster and then dropped down to his waist and realised that his badge was also missing. Searching his pockets failed to produce his phone. He blew out a shaky breath; he had a difficult decision in front of him. If he went back to Cascade what would he be going back to? A place where he had the reputation of an academic fraud. Where he’d ruined the life of his best friend and then due to this friend’s kindness had ridden on his coat tails into the position of a detective in Major Crimes. The town where this best friend so obviously didn’t trust him and had tired of his presence.
There was no choice really. He would drive down this road and see where it took him. And if he couldn’t do it with love, he could at least detach. He turned the key in the ignition praying that the engine would start. He sighed in relief when it purred into life. The radio also came to life and he left it on in an effort to fill up the silence in his soul. Unfortunately, the words only accentuated the despair that he felt. Without taking his eyes off the road he drove towards the horizon.
“Now is the time when he needs your every support Now is the time when he needs your love Now is the time when he needs your every thought He needs help from you and heaven above Don' t forget him now

Try carrying the load that he bears It's bringing him down Carrying the burden that's on his back Try wearing the shackles That tie his feet to the ground Seeing the light when the future looks black Don' t forget him now

Help him bear the conscience That taunts his weathered mind Freedom from the snare that haunts mankind Be the light to guide him Be the shield to hide him
Show to him the self he has to find
Now is the time when he needs your every support Now is the time when he needs your love Now is the time when he needs your every thought He needs help from you and heaven above Don' t forget him now”

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starfishyeti

May 2014

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