starfishyeti: River (pic#3061676)
Chapter nine

As far as he could tell he was in hell. His hands were ripped to shreds where they’d been scrabbling about amongst roots and rocks. His back ached from where he was hunched up and his shoulders ached from pulling on an almost dead weight. He was worried about Blair and Felicia’s injuries and scared that the men chasing them would find them. He could hear them getting closer. All in all, Jim Ellison, Detective First Class Major Crimes Unit, Cascade PD, former Ranger and Sentinel of the Great City was having a shitty day. And to top it all, his sensitive hearing couldn’t fail to miss the quick breaths and pained huffs coming from the man he was trying to haul up what felt like Mount Rainier. He looked up behind him and was grateful to see the cave only a few metres away.

“We’re almost there, buddy,” he whispered and was answered with a short grunt. He finally felt his head fall back on to the lip of the cave. “Okay, one last big push.”

“Sounds like – I’m – giving birth,” came the weary answer.

“Believe me,” Felicia above them said wryly, “if you were giving birth you’d be making much more noise than this.”

“Fel! You all right?”

“Later, Chief. Let’s get you up here first. Come on push. Fel, don’t stand too close. I don’t want you to get hurt again. No, don’t try and help. We’ve got it.”

Together and with a lot of huffing and puffing and pulling and pushing they managed to haul their tired bodies into the cave. For a few minutes they simply lay there getting their breath back and letting their racing hearts calm down. In the silence they all heard the Spanish voices calling to each other above their heads.

“In the back,” Jim whispered. Quietly he helped Blair move back on his bum to where Felicia had retreated. He put his finger up to his mouth and she nodded to show she understood.

“What about the marks in the soil? Surely they’ll see that something disturbed the undergrowth?” Felicia questioned keeping her voice low.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do about it. Fortunately though, the pine needles don’t leave a lot of marks. Hopefully, they’ll think it was an animal that left those traces – the bank is fairly steep and no sensible person would take it. And anyway, I get the impression they’re more used to chasing their prey in the city. Shhh.” He put a hand up to his lips, as the voices got closer.

“Can you hear what they’re saying?” Blair whispered Sentinel soft.

For a moment silence reigned in the little cave as the three of them stretched their hearing beyond their little sanctuary. Eventually, Jim relaxed and moved closer to his injured friend. “They can’t make up their mind whether the traces were made by us or an animal. Some want to follow them down while others want to go on further,” he said quietly. “One of them was very graphic about what he thought saying something about not being a goat.”

“How can you hear that? And in the car, you said, you…” Felicia said equally softly while staring at the man with puzzlement on her face.

Blair patted her uninjured hand then grabbed it and gently pulled her closer to him. “I’ll explain later,” he murmured. “We’ve got more important things to worry about for the moment.”

They sat in silence for ten minutes. Jim had pulled Blair’s bag towards him and was going through the contents. The almost full bottle of water was welcome, but certainly not enough, likewise the bag of trail mix. He’d expected the notebook and three pens, but the small book titled ‘Minoan Erotic Jewellery’ made him raise his eyebrows. Although, Blair tried to shrug nonchalantly, Jim was certain that the man was blushing under the dirt and blood that covered his face. Continuing with the search he came up with a number of squashed napkins filched from various diners, a packet of unused earplugs, unscented aloe cream, a packet of condoms (which he didn’t take out completely not wanting to make Blair blush anymore) and a battered address book.

“They’ve gone,” Jim’s voice cut through the silence and shoulders relaxed and muscles loosened.

“Man, what are we going to do now?” Blair slumped against the back wall so he and Felicia were almost propping each other up. The young woman shifted trying to find a position to ease the ache in her arm. She felt sore, exhausted, thirsty and hungry, her arm was killing her and she was very frightened. She knew she was in this situation because of what was happening to these two men, but she was also certain that they would do everything they could to protect her.

“First, I need to clean that cut and see to your leg.”

“I think I should look at your hands before you try and clean anything,” came the dry reply.

Jim looked down at the appendages and grimaced when he saw the ripped and scraped fingers and palms. In all the chaos and urgency of getting them into hiding he’d paid no attention to the battering his hands had taken. Unfortunately, now he’d noticed them they were starting to ache and sting. “Ow?” He said plaintively.

“C’mere,” Blair half laughed. “Don’t make me have to move. Bring the water and the napkins. And dial down your touch a bit.”

“Yes, master.” The taller man awkwardly scooted over in the low space until he was sitting at right angles to his friend.

“At last, he acknowledges his true place in life.”

Wetting one of the napkins, and ignoring the sarcastic snort that came his way, Blair started to gently clean the battered hands. Not lifting his eyes from his task he spoke under his breath so only the Sentinel could hear, “Can I tell her?”

Jim sighed, another person who was going to know his secret. However, the woman had proved she could keep her cool and if he read the situation right he suspected that she was going to be around quite a lot in the future. “Give it your best.”

The other man flashed him a smile that lit up the tiny space. “Fel, I met Jim when a friend at Cascade General…”

Felicia sat mesmerised her pains and the situation momentarily forgotten as the man she suspected she was falling in love with spun a tale of tribal protectors, heightened senses and something called a Sentinel. Her eyes swung towards the man who apparently embodied all these things. He was seemingly engrossed in what was being done to his hands, but she could tell with his hunched shoulders that he was nervous of her reaction. Blair smiled at her encouragingly and then turned back to Jim.

“Well, that’s the best I can do. Nothing’s too bad, but I suspect you’re going to lose a couple of nails.”

“Least of my worries.” Ellison eventually looked up and his eyes darted over to the young woman. “Let’s see to you now,” he said turning back to the other man.

“Thank you,” Felicia whispered.

He turned to look at her fully. “What?”

“Thank you for sharing that with me. And using your talents to help us. I’ll honour the need to keep it quiet. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

He nodded and gave her a small smile. Blair squeezed her hand and gave her another grin with a grateful look on his face. The look changed to a grimace as Jim wiped a wet napkin over the cut on his forehead.

“Ow, Jim! Take it easy,” he grumbled.

“Stop whining. I’ve got to rub it a bit to get it clean.”

“Cruel, man. Totally cruel.”

“I aim to serve.”

Everyone was grateful for the lightening of the atmosphere even though worry at their situation was foremost in their thoughts.

“Okay, pants off. I hope you’re not going commando today, Chief.”

“Nope. Clean boxers on this morning.”

Both Felicia and Jim winced when the red and swollen knee came into view.

“Oh, God, I’m sorry.”

“What for?” Blair looked at the woman in bewilderment.

“I tripped and brought you down with me,” she explained and both men could hear the tears in her voice. She’d held up admirably until now, but finally the situation was taking its toll on her. She was quickly reaching the end of her endurance.

“No, sweetie. Don’t.” Blair took her hand and with the thumb on his other hand he wiped away the tears that were starting to spill out of her eyes. “You’ve done wonderfully well under the circumstances. Hasn’t she, Jim?”

The other man nodded and smiled at her distractedly as his concentration was on the painful-looking knee.

“See? A lot of people would have lost the plot by now, but you’ve held it together. I’m incredibly proud of you.” Blair kissed her cheek and she blushed. “You must be really hurting. Jim, where are those aspirin?”

Jim offered her two aspirin from the blister pack she’d had in her bag and the water bottle. She hesitated. “Take them. They’re not going to do much, but something’s better than nothing.” He took her hand and put the pills onto the palm and watched as she swallowed them down with a sip of water. “Okay, Chief,” he turned back towards Blair, “we’ve got to decide what to do about your leg.”

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Simon and Patton stared at each other in frustrated silence across the expanse of Simon’s file-covered desk. They’d been working all afternoon and early evening trying to find out where Ellison and Sandburg had gone with no luck. With both Taggart and Brown in hospital Banks had had to call on other PD departments for back up. Patton had also made a call to the Seattle FBI and asked for another agent to be assigned to the case. They’d sent everyone apart from a skeleton crew out on jobs and now, exhausted and at their wits’ end they were trying to get up enough energy to think about what they should do next.

“What’s your first name?”

“Pardon?” Patton blinked at the seemingly random question.

“I think that we can call each other by our first names after all this, don’t you?”

The other man nodded. “Jeremy. But mostly I get called JP.” He smiled ruefully. “I must admit I’m not too fond of Jeremy. Makes me think of British schoolboys.”

“Okay, JP it is. Whatever you do though, don’t call me SB.”

“Your middle name’s not Oliver is it?”

“No!” Simon glared at the smile on Patton’s face.

“Right, Simon. I think we’ve done all we can for the moment. We need to get some…”

“Captain!”

Both men turned towards the office door at the sound of Serena’s voice out in the bullpen. Within seconds she’d burst into the small space and came to a halt in front of the now standing men.

“What’s up?”

“Your cell phone’s off and your office phone’s busy, so no one can get through to you.”

“Damn!” Simon looked guiltily down at his office phone. He’d taken the receiver off over an hour ago to give he and Patton some thinking time. He’d forgotten to put his cell phone on the charger and it was now sitting dead in his jacket pocket. He’d sent an exhausted Rhonda home 40 minutes ago so no one was answering her phone.

“State troopers’ve found what looks like two badly burnt out vehicles near Kohultas Ridge. It appears one of them’s a CPD vehicle. They couldn’t get near them to confirm until the fire was put out and they were cool enough for their forensics to get to them.”

”Bodies?”

“Some.”

“Okay, let’s go.” Ushering Serena and Patton out of his office Simon had a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

By the time they reached the accident site dusk was falling. The WST had set up arc lights so that their tech people and the Fire Department could see what they were doing as they crawled over the foam-covered, burnt mess in the middle of the road. Tendrils of steam rose from the twisted metal and in the unforgiving light the wreck looked like something from out of space. Simon felt a tendril of panic rise up in him, as he knew that the chances of anyone surviving the crash were nil.

On one side of the crash long skid marks indicated that another vehicle had stopped before hitting the wrecks. The fact that no one had reported the accident probably meant that its occupants were more than likely involved in nefarious activities. Unfortunately, it was getting too dark to see if anyone had made it to the woods on either side of the narrow road. Well, Simon acknowledged he didn’t have Sentinel senses, so they were going to have to resort to mundane methods.

“Captain Zabrinski,” he called out to the Fire Department officer, “do you have any tracker dogs?”

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Jim examined his handiwork with a critical eye; not bad, considering all he’d had to work with was a torn up t-shirt, two broken branches and his damaged hands. Dialling down his sense of touch hadn’t been an option, as he’d wanted to do a good job. Moving his eyes up from the bandaged and splinted knee his jaw clenched as he saw Blair’s flushed and sweaty face. He’d not made a sound, but Jim knew that moving his leg must have been painful. The younger man and Felicia were leaning shoulder to shoulder against the back wall and to Jim it was obvious they were giving each other moral as well as physical support.

“How you doing?” He asked as he tiredly rested his head on the wall where roots from the pine tree had pushed through making a natural pillow.

“Head ache, thigh ache, knee ache, face ache, feet ache, brain ache, I’m hungry, thirsty, pissed… but apart from that, great,” came Blair’s tight voice.

“You forgot ass ache,” Felicia said sleepily.

“How’re your arm and feet?” Jim asked her trying to keep his eyes open. The adrenaline from the chase was beginning to dissipate and everyone was crashing – hard.

“Painful, but there’s not a lot we can do about it at the moment, is there?”

Jim had offered to splint her arm as well, but as he’d done such a good job (despite the difficult circumstances!) of strapping it to her body they decided to not touch it again. She’d been extremely grateful for the decision. He nodded and shifted trying to find a comfortable position. His eyes drifted shut against his will.

“Jim, what’re we going to do?”

The detective reluctantly opened his eyes and looked at his friend. Pulling himself up so he was more upright he mentally shook the tiredness out of his body. “I’m going to go for help.”

As much as Blair wanted to protest he knew that it was their best hope of getting out of there. Neither he nor Fel were going to be able to go running around the forest and with Jim’s hearing and vision… “Wait ‘til dark. You’ll have all the advantages and be able to avoid them easily.” Jim nodded thoughtfully; he couldn’t refute the logic. “And you’re tired, man. Rest a couple of hours.”

“Okay. But only two hours. It’ll be totally dark by then and the moon still won’t be up.”

Silence fell in the little shelter as everyone tried to find a comfortable position. As Blair’s eyes started closing he felt Felicia snuggle closer to him and she dropped her head on his shoulder. He was pleased when her breathing evened out and her body went limp with sleep. Just as he felt himself going under his leg cramped painfully and his eyes flew open. Hissing slightly, he tried to rub it without disturbing the sleeping woman. His hands were gently batted away and Jim started to softly massage the abused muscle.

“You should be sleeping,” whispered the younger man.

“Can’t,” came the reply, “too much on my mind.”

“Me, too.” Blair could feel the cramp easing up under the Sentinel’s sensitive touch. “Careful of your hands,” he murmured as he relaxed. “I’m okay now, thanks. You’ve taken the pain away.”

Jim leant back against the wall and started softly humming.

“That’s not Santana is it?”

“No. Your words reminded me of a song.” He started singing softly, ”’Don't forget I'm always near.’ Something, something. ‘In this cold world. Take your pain away. Take your pain away...’ Um, um, ‘So give up your worries. They'll only do you harm.’ Or something like that,” he lightly sang.

“Oh, the Eurythmics, I think.”

Silence fell over them again.

“Chief?”

“Umm?”

“I have to ask you.”

“What?”

“In Simon’s office. When he offered you the consultant’s position, you seemed – afraid or worried. I thought you wanted it. I mean, you said…” Silence met his words, but Blair’s heart started racing again. “Blair?” He asked worriedly.

“I do, but…”

“But what? We can work together and you don’t have to be a cop. And once Rainier’s done their bit you’ll have your good reputation back, so you shouldn’t have any problems with that side of things.”

“Oh, God! Rainier. The meeting!” Blair jerked and jostled Felicia making her moan. “Sh, sh.” He stroked her head until she quieted again. “I’ve missed the meeting. Edwards will have a field day with this. Damn, damn, damn!” He continued in a whisper. “My life sucks.”

“Don’t worry. Heath’ll sort things out. I think she’s more than a match for Edwards. The bitch will probably take it as some sort of mind game to wear her down.”

“I suppose,” came the glum reply.

“So, Simon’s offer?” Jim pressed.

Blair closed his eyes.

“Blair?”

“You’re not going to let it go, are you?” He opened his eyes again, but turned his head so he was looking out of the cave to the darkening forest. “What happens if I mess up again?”

“You won’t…”

“Jim, I’m only human. I’m bound to make a mistake at some stage and then you’ll get angry and freeze me out. You’ll say you don’t trust me and want to work alone again.” His voice faltered. “I can’t go through that again. I’m sorry, but I just can’t. It would just… I’m not strong enough.”

“But what about the dream, vision, whatever?”

“What dream? What’re you talking about?” Blair was looking at him with wide, questioning eyes.

Jim looked at his friend in dismay. He’d thought that they were back on track due to the vision they’d shared in the mine in Wyoming. Now, he realised that they hadn’t spoken about it at all and it appeared that the understanding they’d reached had been only wishful thinking on his part.



Chapter ten

Simon crouched down examining some of the vehicle remains that had been laid out on the road. A smouldering cigar was clamped in his mouth in an effort to mask the smell of melted rubber and burnt flesh. It had been confirmed that one of the vehicles was from the Cascade PD and had been signed out to a Detective Ellison. The good news was that the wreckage of that car contained no bodies. That meant that Ellison, Sandburg and Felicia had either been taken somewhere against their will, killed elsewhere or they had fled into the forest. He was hoping that the third option was reality, but if that was the case, why hadn’t they contacted anyone? And the second set of skid marks on the road was worrying. The other crashed vehicle had contained four horribly, burnt bodies. The three they’d managed to extract so far had all been carrying guns. Fire fighters were still trying to cut the last body out.

“Captain Banks?” Zabrinski, still looking fresh in his uniform despite the summer heat and the grim situation, gestured for him to come over and join him where he was standing with Patton.

The FBI agent handed him a bottle of water that a trooper had obtained from somewhere. He took it gratefully nodding his thanks. “Zabrinski,” he said talking a large gulp, “any joy on the dogs?”

The Fire Officer grimaced. “We have a problem. An elementary school party lost two of its kids over at Carter National Park this afternoon. The dogs are being deployed there. We’re trying to source some more, but no telling how long that’ll take.”

Simon cursed and ran a hand across his hair. He looked at Patton helplessly and the FBI agent looked back at him equally disgusted with the situation. “So, what do we do now?”

It was now fairly dark and with the bright arc lights it was impossible to see amongst the trees bordering the road. Without dogs they had little chance of being able to pick up anyone’s trail. Blundering around with torches was just inviting an accident to happen and was likely to alert any pursuers to their presence. Mind you a person needed to be both blind and deaf not to have noticed all this commotion. They needed Ellison and his Sentinel talents. He snorted to himself; if Jim had been here they wouldn’t have needed him. God, he was tired.

“Do we have information on the skid marks?” Patton broke into the silence.

“Preliminary analysis indicates that there’s a good chance that the vehicle’s the same as the SUV in the wreck. We’ve got some state troopers driving down the road and stopping at any residences they see asking questions. I don’t hold out much hope though, it’s pretty remote here,” answered Zabrinski.

Shouting pulled their attention back to the wrecks and they saw a large blackened lump being placed into a body bag.

“At last,” Zabrinski growled, “now we can get the road opened again. You have no idea the sort of phone calls I’m getting from the whinging residents of ‘richville’,” he added over his shoulder as he walked over to examine the body. “Thank God cell phones only work intermittently here.” He winked at them.

“Believe me,” snorted Banks, “I know exactly where you’re coming from.”

“Any idea yet, who Ellison and Sandburg were meeting out here?” Asked Patton taking a drink from his own bottle. The strong lights accentuated the dark shadows under his eyes. He looked as tired as Simon felt.

“Yeah, Bryant Vitta, the jeweller. Troopers went to speak to him earlier and he said that Felicia had left late morning after meeting together for just over an hour. He didn’t see anyone hanging around, but she’d told him that friends had driven her there and were waiting for her in a car outside. He said they could have come in, but she said they preferred to wait where they were.”

“The way I see it – they’re out there being chased by an indeterminate number of people. Their phones probably aren’t working if how the signal here’s any indication. If they were dead I’m sure Escobar would want us to know. We’d have found their bodies by now. Likewise if they’d been picked up, he’d have told us. We need to find them and fast, but with night falling…”

“I know, but don’t give up on them yet. Both Ellison and Sandburg have gone through some pretty tough stuff and come out, perhaps not smiling, but come out the other end all the same.”

Patton lowered his voice so no one could overhear, “Ellison’s talents can only be a great help, no?”

“As long as he’s not hurt. He’s more prone to zone outs then.”

“Zone outs?”

“That’s what Sandburg calls them.” Simon stopped and thought for a moment. Then coming to a decision, he continued, “Okay, listen. I’m going to give you a quick lesson. Think of it as Sentinel Studies 101. There’ll be a multiple choice test at the end.”

They moved over towards Simon’s sedan and leant against the doors as the captain tiredly launched into his ‘lesson’. They were exhausted, frustrated and worried and temporarily at a dead end. Banks’ phone rang cutting through the background noise of the on going clean up and interrupting his explanation. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the piece of technology with trepidation. He’d managed to charge it in the car on their drive over and was silently cursing its invention. Squaring his shoulders he flipped it open. “Banks. …. Uh huh. … Speak up. … What? You have who? ... Say again. … Where are you taking him? ... We’ll be there.” He closed the phone with a snap and pulled open the driver’s door. “State troopers saw a black SUV parked up behind some bushes two miles down the road towards Cascade. They managed to get the drop on the single male crouched down in the passenger foot well.”

The two men jumped into the saloon, strapped themselves in and Simon turned the car around with difficulty in the narrow lane. “And surprisingly enough, this person seems unable to understand English.”

“Don’t tell me, he only speaks Spanish.”

“Difficult to say, he’s not talking at all.”

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Jim was momentarily speechless. Carefully, he tamped down the anger and worry that burned in his gut. He had to unlearn his instinctive reaction to attack whenever he felt out of control. Control; it was all about control.

“Jim?”

“Didn’t you… in Wyoming. Didn’t you have a vision about us?”

Blair scrunched up his face and opened his mouth to reply. He hesitated. Something tickled in the back of his mind. “You were naked,” he eventually said, slowly.

Of all the things to remember, he just had to remember that!

“So were you,” the detective answered defensively. “And anyway that’s not the point.”

“I told you to get undressed?”

If the situation hadn’t been so dire Jim would have laughed at the expression on the younger man’s face. “Do you remember why I was naked and what I said?” He watched as his friend remained silent, but he was obviously thinking hard. It was growing dark in their little cave, but the Sentinel easily compensated for the lack of light. He could read every emotion on Blair’s face as he turned his thoughts inward. Holding his breath he watched as his expression passed from puzzled, through thoughtful to enlightened.

“Control,” he finally whispered, “you gave me control.” His face broke into a big grin albeit lopsided from the swelling on his face. “It wasn’t an hallucination, it was a vision. We shared a vision.”

“So, do you believe me now when I tell you that I trust you, that despite appearances I have always trusted you and will always trust you?” He waited until he got a nod in reply. “And remember, if I accuse you again of betraying me you have the right to kick my butt.” He waited until he got a second nod. “But please, buddy, don’t ever ask me to undress again.”

“I hear you, man. And believe me, I’ve seen enough of your lilywhite body to last me a lifetime.”

“Uh, what about if I ask?” Felicia’s drowsy voice made both men jump.

“Sorry,” Blair smiled at her, “we didn’t mean to wake you.”

“It’s okay. I was just wondering if you’re going to have any more visions like that, can I join in?”

The two men snorted in amusement. “Don’t worry,” Blair said, “it doesn’t happen too often.”

“Thank, God,” murmured Jim.

“Shame. Mind you it doesn’t have to be a vision.” She lifted her head and Jim could see the lines of pain on her face underneath the grime. “Is there any water left?”

Jim winced. “Not much. Here.”

“We should save it.”

“No, it’s okay. You should drink when you have it.” He handed the bottle over and she took it reluctantly.

“Jim, can you hear if there’s any running water near here? And those guys while you’re at it.” Blair tried to not watch the tiny bit of water tip into Fel’s mouth, but found himself licking his lips anyway. However, his eyes lit up as the Sentinel tipped his head in his classic listening pose. It still fascinated and awed him when Jim employed his senses so effortlessly. At long last he seemed to be becoming comfortable with what he was.

“Um, about a mile in that direction for the water.” He pointed towards the back of the cave. He sent out his hearing further to see if he could find any trace of their pursuers. Sounds started to jumble together and then snapped into clarity as he felt Blair’s hand on his arm.

“Stay with us, Jim.”

He shook his head and dialled his hearing down. “Nothing. Okay, I’ll get some water for you two and then I’ll head off.”

“Are you sure you’ve rested enough? You’re going to have your senses wide open for quite a moment.”

“It’ll have to do.”

“Jim…”

“Chief, don’t worry. Sooner I’m gone, sooner help gets here. I’ll borrow this.” He picked up Blair’s bag and put the empty bottle of water in it. Slipping the strap over his head he started moving towards the open end of the cave. Just before easing his body over the lip he turned back. “Got your gun?” He waited till the other man nodded. “Keep it handy. I don’t think anyone’s near, but…” he didn’t need to say more.

“But, it’s dark out,” Fel objected. “You’ll injure yourself.”

“It’s okay, Fel,” Blair calmed her while unclipping Jim’s spare from the holster on his belt. “Jim can see in the dark like it’s day and he’ll be able to hear if anything’s coming. And he’s an ex-ranger and has loads of experience in the jungle, so this is like so easy for him.”

Jim shifted uncomfortably under the praise. “Enough, Sandburg. I’m out of here.” And with that lowered himself down and was swallowed up by the dark.

Thirty-five minutes later he was back at the cave. Listening hard he heard two hearts beating fast; one he recognised better than his own. “It’s me,” he called softly before hoisting himself into the shelter. He smiled to himself as he saw the young woman holding onto a rock and was half hidden behind his friend who was just lowering the gun he held in his hand. “Here.” He pulled out a wet t-shirt from the bag and put it into Blair’s hand. “Wipe your faces and hands with this. And here’s the bottle.” He placed it against Blair’s right leg so he could feel it knowing that in the dark he’d have a hard time finding it. “The water looked clean. It’s from a fast flowing stream.”

He felt a hand on his arm and looked up at his friend’s question. “Any sign of them?”

“I thought I heard something a couple of miles from here, but I wasn’t too sure. And I wasn’t going to hang around to find out.” He laid the bag down and glanced over at Felicia. “How you doing, sweetheart?”

“I’ll be glad when this is all over.”

“You and me both, kiddo. I’ve got to go. Chief…?”

“We’ll be okay. Scoot.”

Jim squeezed his arm, laid a hand on Felicia’s shoulder and was gone.

“Be careful, man,” Blair’s whispered words followed him.

The detective debated for a moment whether to go up or down. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath letting his senses range out not settling on anything in particular. After a few seconds he felt something pulling him towards the top. With a sigh he carefully sought out foot and handholds while stretching his hearing out around him. He’d dialled his sense of touch down to ease the pain in his hands. However, remembering one of Blair’s lectures about pain being the body’s way of telling you something was wrong he’d not dialled down completely and he could feel the rough branches cut into his tender flesh. Ignoring the discomfort he concentrated on climbing up.

Even though he couldn’t hear their pursuers he pulled himself as quietly as possible on to the top. Breathing deeply he sent his hearing back into the cave. Blair was murmuring softly to Felicia, but he didn’t concentrate on the words wanting to give them some privacy. Now sending his hearing around him he sought out any sound of their pursuers. He heard only the normal night sounds found in a forest. Rolling his shoulders and shaking out his legs he started jogging. With his vision dialled up he could easily skirt obstacles or jump over exposed roots. Gradually he found his rhythm. He knew that normally he could keep this pace up for hours, but injured and tired as he was he also knew his stamina was severely depleted. However, he understood that it was up to him to get help for Blair and Felicia. He gritted his teeth and dug his heels in.

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“What’s your name?” Patton watched the Hispanic man seated on the other side of the table as the interpreter repeated his question in Spanish.

Nothing. No reaction, not even a disdainful look. Simon wanted nothing more than to grab the man by the throat and shake him. The SUV he’d been found in had been searched and a number of weapons including a sawn-off shotgun had been found. Running the plates had revealed that a company called ‘District International’ owned the vehicle. It was a mid-size HR firm specialising in finding temporary workers for the building and garden maintenance trades. Finding the owner of the company was proving to be difficult, as ownership seemed to be buried under a trail of committees, trusts and dummy corporations.

On arrival at the offices they’d wasted time with the usual power games that law enforcement agencies seemed to play whenever there was a doubt over jurisdiction. Simon was amused to see the FBI agent soothe ruffled feathers when needed and use an iron fist when stubborn heads refused to cede. Eventually though, and he admitted, quicker than he’d thought possible, everyone was smoothly working together as if born to it. He wondered whether he could get the man transferred to the Seattle FBI office!

Patton had called his colleagues in Seattle to get some help on the paper and financial trail leaving Major Crimes free to search for Escobar. They had far more resources than the Cascade PD for such a search and the fact that most commercial offices had now closed for the evening wouldn’t be too much of a hindrance for them. Somehow, people seemed to react with more alacrity when faced with the FBI. However, they also had a direct source of information sitting here in a Washington State ISB interrogation room – who unfortunately though, wasn’t talking. They’d been at this for over two hours with nothing to show for it. They needed a break.

Patton opened his mouth to ask another question when he was interrupted by a knock on the door. He and Banks turned round to see a State Trooper poke his head round through the gap. “Captain Banks, a word please?”

The man in question rose from the desk grateful for the opportunity to move. He needed to do act before worry for his men caused him to do something stupid.

“Apologies for interrupting, but I have a Captain Mason on the telephone. He says it’s important.”

Simon’s heart sank. What now? With Taggart in hospital and Simon out in the field Mason had been acting as captain for both Vice and Major Crimes. He followed the trooper into an office and picked up the indicated phone. “Mark? It’s Simon.” He barely registered the trooper leaving the room.

“Evening. How are things?”

“Slow and frustrating. Our perp’s not talking, neither Spanish nor English or even ‘I want a lawyer’. What’ve you got?”

“We showed the photo of your ‘non-English-speaking man’ to our helpful pusher. He recognised him. He was seen with his supplier and as far as he can remember he was referred to as Max.”

“Was he now?”

“And he speaks English.”

“Does he now?”

“Apparently he’s a distant relation to someone in Colombia who has dealings with a certain Escobar. Or so, someone informed him”

“Is he now? That’s great. Keep digging.”

“Will do. Any word on Ellison and Sandburg?”

“Nothing yet.”

“Well, as they say, no news is good news.”

“Yeah. Thanks, Mark. What about the assassin Ellison killed? Got anything on him?”

“Interestingly, his clothes were manufactured in Chile and his stomach contents show he’d eaten an airline meal about four hours before his death.”

“Really? But still no idea of who he is?”

“I’ve got a few men out at the airports, but you know we’re spread pretty thin at the moment.”

“I know,” he sighed, “I know. Look, Patton’s drafting in some more agents. They’ll help.”

“Good, we need them. God, did I just say we need some more Feds? I must be tired – or desperate. We’ve also got major problems here as the city’s being flooded with cheap Colombian pure.”

“Damn. I imagine you have an idea of where it’s coming from?”

“Got it one. Proving it is going to take time, though. Oh, by the way, Brown should be out tomorrow and cleared for work the following day.”

Simon heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank, God.” For once, good news.

“I gotta go. Keep hanging man and…”

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep you in the loop.”

“Likewise.”

“And thanks again.”

“No probs. Bye.”

Simon replaced the receiver mulling over the information he’d received and wondering how best to use it. He was going to have to speak to Patton. The FBI had more resources than they did and he was sure they’d have the information on whom Escobar had dealings with. He slipped out of the room. Before going back to the interrogation room though, he was going to treat himself to a decent cup of coffee.



Chapter eleven

Jim hunkered down behind some bushes and watched the figure sitting on a log about 50 metres in front of him. He’d been jogging for 45 minutes when he’d heard shouting that sounded, as far as he could tell, from about a mile away. Stopping for a moment he’d considered his options: see what was going on or keep going the way he’d chosen. He’d made up his mind deciding that it more important to know where their chasers were and what they were doing. Carefully, he’d made his way over to the sound while keeping to the shadows and crouching down low amongst the undergrowth. Eventually, his Sentinel sight had revealed a sight that had made him smile in grim satisfaction.

A young man dressed in a dark suit was sitting on a fallen log cursing in Spanish while clutching at his lower leg. Dialling up his sight a bit, Jim focused on the man’s foot and could see the badly swollen ankle. He debated whether tying the man up would be of any use, but decided that with his damaged ankle he wasn’t going anywhere. It would be far better if their hunters didn’t know that he was around so he could move about freely. Quietly, he pulled away from the scene and sent out his hearing through the trees. The injured man’s colleagues were somewhere to the west and far enough away not to be a problem to him.

Tiredly, he jogged until he was out of hearing and sight of the man and leaning up against a tree he pulled his phone out of his pocket. Yes! There was one bar on the screen showing a very weak signal. He quickly punched the speed dial to Simon’s phone and waited.

“Ellison! Where… you?”

“Simon, am I glad to hear you. I’m in the woods near Kohultas Ridge, but I’m not too sure where.”

“Say again.”

“I’m in the woods near Kohultas Ridge. We’re being chased by at least four men who I assume are Escobar’s and Blair and Felicia are hurt.”

“…found wrecks… too dark… State Troopers… interviewing…”

“Simon. Simon, hold on. I can’t hear you properly.”

“Are you… danger? …badly hurt?”

“No, we’ve found a place to hide. The other two’ll be okay, but they’re not very mobile.”

“…put. We’ll… in the morning. …hold on?”

“Okay. We can’t get a signal at all in our hiding place. I’ll come here again at dawn and call you.”

“What? …dawn?”

“I’ll call at dawn.” Jim was beginning to get frustrated despite the relief of being able to speak to his captain. Although he knew Escobar’s men were a fair distance away he wasn’t sure how well sound travelled in this place. Shouting down the phone certainly wasn’t conducive to keeping a low profile.

“Okay. …luck.”

“Thanks,” the Sentinel almost sighed into the phone. He closed it and thrust it back into his pocket. Although he really wanted to get out of this forest and get treatment for his injured friends it made sense to stay put until help could be organised for them.

Carefully, he sent his senses out again, but couldn’t hear anything except normal night noises. Pushing off from the tree he doggedly made his way back the way he’d come. Making sure that he skirted the cursing Spanish-speaking man he thanked all the deities for his senses and the stubborn man who’d insisted that he constantly kept them honed. Exhaustion pulled at him, as keeping his senses on high alert for such a length of time was both physically and mentally demanding. The fact that he’d made contact with Simon had eased his tension somewhat, but he knew that he’d have to get back to the cave before he crashed.

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Simon put his two hands flat on the table and leant over dipping his head down in relief. Although exhausted, speaking to Ellison had boosted his spirits enormously. Just the knowledge that they were alive – a bit battered perhaps – but nevertheless, alive, was better than any cup of coffee. He looked with blurry eyes at his watch: nearly one in the morning. May be he should go and wake Patton?

After getting nowhere with their prisoner they’d decided to wait for the South American specialist the FBI were sending to interrogate him. They debated whether they should go back to Cascade to get some sleep, but decided that by the time they got there it would be almost time to come back for the dawn depart into the forest. The WST had offered them a couple of cots in the Troopers’ rest area. Banks’ phone had rung just 45 minutes after his head had hit the pillow. Patton had merely mumbled something incomprehensible and turned so that his back was to Simon.

Waking him would serve no purpose other than to make sure that he also lost sleep. No, it would make more sense to go and inform the Troopers so they would be ready for the morning. Walking out of the kitchen where he’d taken Ellison’s call he went off in search of someone he could tell his news to.

The rescue turned out to be amazingly anticlimactic. As soon as it was light enough to see, a large number of men and women were gathered at the crash site. Fortified with a large, cholesterol-laden breakfast and numerous cups of coffee, Simon and Patton stood silently on the fringes and watched Zabrinski organise everyone. Banks’ phone had rung and despite the bad reception Jim had managed to guide them first to him and then onto the small cave where the three battered friends had spent the night.

“Simon!” Blair’s happy cry at seeing his former boss had cut through the noise of the rescue.

“Stay still!” Jim had admonished as the younger man had tried to sit up on the cradle he’d been placed in for the difficult extraction up the bluff.

“Sandburg, good to see you.” Simon had ambled over and squatted down next to the supine man. “How you doing?”

“Been better, but I’m glad to get out of there.”

“I hear you. They’re just bringing out your friend now and they’ll we’ll be hotfooting it out of here. Well, I’ll be hotfooting it, at least.”

“Ha, ha,” Blair had stopped as he saw Fel being laid down next to him. “Fel, you okay?” He’d tried to twist round to see her, but the straps holding him to the cradle were too tight.

“It’s all right, Blair. I’m okay.”

Blair had sighed in relief and then squinted up at Jim who had been smiling down at him. “What?”

“That’s a good look for you,” he’d replied indicating the straps. “I may get one of these things for the loft. What d’you think, Simon?”

“I’m sure I’ve got the budget for one at the PD, too.” He’d moved out of the way as paramedics had pounced on Sandburg and Felicia.

“Very funny, guys. Remember, I have a very long memory.”

After a quick examination, the medics had declared that there was nothing urgent to be done and that the injured couple could be transported. Jim had insisted that he was capable of walking out on his own and after looking at his face they hastily agreed. Treatment for all of them could wait until they got to hospital. Four burly State Troopers had lifted the cradles up and they’d started back to the vehicles.

The two cops had grinned at each other relieved that they could now let their guards down for a moment. They turned to follow the cavalcade amused by the constant commentary coming from the former police observer.

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Guzman slammed open the door and strode into the room swearing under his breath in Spanish. Escobar looked up in annoyance at the interruption. He’d sequestered himself away in this penthouse flat for a meeting with his accountant. The banging door made his glass of iced tea tremble and drowned out the sounds of Colombian folk music coming out of the hidden speakers. The accountant sitting opposite him jumped and half rose out of his chair. Escobar stood up quickly and held up a hand imperiously to stop his lieutenant’s tirade.

“Stop!” He hissed when Guzman continued ranting as he paced up and down the room. “I said ‘stop’!” He finally shouted.

The other man halted in surprise; in all the time he’d worked for Escobar he’d rarely heard him raise his voice. Taking in a deep breath he tried to calm himself and for a few seconds all that could be heard were the plaintive sounds of a Colombian kuisi. The music was cut off when Escobar stabbed at the off button on the stereo. He then lowered himself back down into his chair and glared questioningly at the agitated man.

“I’m sorry,” Guzman stammered. “I’ve just got news from Mateo. One of the cars was destroyed in an accident and four of our men were killed. The others followed Ellison and Sandburg into the woods, but lost them and they’ve now been rescued. But worse than that, one was picked up in the car by the police. This is the second time those two have managed to wriggle out of our traps. How is this possible? We’ve got to show them…”

“Raul.”

“I mean they killed our assassin.”

“Raul!”

“We should…”

“Enough! If you can’t control yourself I will have to replace you.” The crime lord glanced at the accountant who was murmuring something about leaving them to it. “I apologise. Could you give us a few minutes?”

“Of course. I’ll go and get myself some coffee.” With that he smoothly extricated himself from the room.

“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing? You barge in here without thought as to what I’m doing or who is with me spouting out information that is best spoken in secret.” His correct Spanish slid further and further into the Spanish of his ghetto days as he became angrier and angrier.

“Uh, sorry.” Guzman visibly pulled himself together.

“Is that all you can say?”

“It won’t happen again.”

For a moment Escobar said nothing as he brought his mind back to the situation. “Can we get to the one with the police?”

“At the moment all I can tell is that he’s being held by the Washington State Troopers, but not in Cascade.”

Escobar slowly nodded his head thinking hard. “Okay, contact our Cascade PD person and see what they can find out. If you don’t think he’ll talk, okay, but if we can get him out it’ll be better. Where are the men?”

“At the Parker Street property getting some sleep. They’re very angry, especially Carlos. His brother was in the vehicle that burnt.”

“I thought you said they were good. How did they lose three people one of them a woman?”

“They are good, but they’d lost half of their numbers and they simply could find no trace of the others.”

Escobar sighed. “Ellison I can understand, he was a Ranger. Even Sandburg as he used to be a cop. But they had that woman with them. Three people leave a lot of traces in the forest, especially if they’re running.”

Guzman looked down at his feet.

“Raul, where did they come from?”

“Bogotá.”

“Did I not tell you to get some local men? Men who know the area?”

“Yes, but Jimenez needed to get some of his men out of Colombia so they came with the pure.”

“God, Raul, don’t you think sometimes!” Escobar once again keenly felt the loss of his previous right hand man. “What do men from Bogotá know about chasing men in Cascade? Have they even ever set foot in the countryside? Now because of you we have a man in police custody and I have to tell Jimenez that four of his men will not be returning to Colombia. Why, oh why, didn’t you tell me of this?”

“Why bother recruiting people we don’t know when someone we know well offers us men that have already proved their loyalty?”

Escobar’s voice dropped in volume a sure sign that he was angry. “Because I now owe Jimenez. And believe me he will collect. And because we didn’t use the right people for the job we again lost our target.”

“But we need to revenge their deaths!”

“I don’t want to hear it!” Escobar turned back to his papers. “It’s not the moment to go off half cocked. Do what I told you. We’ll discuss your failings at a later date. Tell the accountant he can come back.”

“I…” Guzman’s voice dried up when his boss turned cold, angry eyes on him. The only time he’d ever seen the man so angry was when he’d heard about Mendez’ death. He swallowed and felt a cold hand grab his heart.

“Are you questioning my orders?”

The other man simply shook his head and made his way to the door. Just before he passed through it his boss’ voice made him stop.

“You’ve displeased me greatly. I’m debating whether my decision to make you my lieutenant was the right one.”

Guzman didn’t know whether he should reply or not.

“I’ll be watching you. Be careful. Be very careful.”

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Simon arrived at Cascade General just before the ambulances and watched as two gurneys and a walking Ellison were rushed into the Emergency Department. They were closely followed by a number of uniforms who’d been told not to let their charges out of their sight. Simon had spoken to the hospital director and explained that the three had to be under police protection at all times. Having already treated two of MC’s members, the hospital understood the importance and had set up a separate treatment area that had restricted access.

A young woman with an unfortunate case of dandruff approached the man. “Eh, excuse me. Are you Captain Banks?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Constance Holly, Mr Earl’s assistant. He apologises that he can’t be here in person as he’s got an important meeting. He’s arranged a room where you can wait for news and relax. There’s also a coffee machine and a couple of telephones.”

“Goodness. Thank the director for me. He’s gone beyond the call of duty. Lead the way.” He nodded to one of the uniforms waiting in the lobby to go with them and they all moved to one of the lifts. “The Emergency staff will know where I am so I can be updated regarding the injured?”

They stepped into the car.

“Oh yes, of course,” came the perky reply and Simon wondered how old the woman was. “We’ve told the doctors where you’ll be and they’ve assured me you’ll get regular updates.”

The room was small, but well equipped and Simon was grateful to see a coffee machine and a tray of pastries. Pouring himself a large cup he unwrapped one of the danishes; breakfast had been very early that morning. Having fortified himself he pulled forward one of the phones and called the bullpen. Patton should be there by now instructing the extra FBI agents who’d been assigned to the case.

“Rhonda, it’s Banks. … No, no news yet, but we’ve really only just arrived. What about your end? Any news there? ... Uh huh. … Okay, tell everyone that I can be reached at this number. … Where’s Patton? ... No, problem, but keep an eye on them. If any of my figurines get broken I’m holding him responsible. Oh, yes, hide my coffee. He can have some, but his colleagues aren’t getting any. How many agents did he get? ... Three. Good. Get him to call me when he has a moment. … No, don’t worry I’ll go and see Joel and Brown, if he’s still here. … Thanks. … Oh, and tell Mason where I’m at as well.”

He then called the Chief of Police and brought him up to date. Pouring himself another cup of what was excellent coffee, he again picked up the phone and called Miss Holly to let her know where he was going. Walking out of the door he indicated to the uniform standing there, to follow him. Taking the stairs rather than the lift, they descended two floors. Banks knocked on the door to room 334 and on hearing the ‘enter’, went in.

“Captain.” Brown was sitting in the padded chair next to the bed reading a newspaper while sipping at a cup of coffee. Simon was pleased to see that he apparently was not experiencing any ill effects after his brush with the poisoned chocolate.

“H, how’re you feeling?”

“Good, thanks. I’m going home later this morning and I’ll be back at work tomorrow.”

“Excellent. We’re running short of able-bodied people. We’ve even had to resort to bringing in more Feds.”

“Yeah, I heard Ellison and Sandburg had been hurt. Any news?”

Simon marvelled at how quickly news spread amongst the PD’s employees. Jungle telegraph had nothing on them. “Nothing yet.” He told the other man what had happened to the three friends and where they were with the case. They then spoke for a few minutes batting forth ideas on how to get to Escobar.

“You know, Jim was saying something about going to see Berger senior in prison,” Brown mused. “I could go and see him this afternoon.”

“Good idea. But not today. You need to rest. Take Rafe with you tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“All right, I’m pleased to see you doing so well. I must admit we were seriously worried about you for a minute. Don’t you do think it’s time you cut back on the chocolate?”

“Don’t worry, chocolate’s been crossed off my list of edibles. Sandburg’s been trying for years to get me to eat more fruit. At least he’ll be pleased.”

Simon stood up. “I’ll let him know. It’ll make his day.” He stretched out his back as the early start to the day and the trek through the woods were beginning to catch up with him. “I’m off to see Joel. Enjoy your rest and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Just as he closed the door a nurse bustled up to him.

“Captain Banks?”

“Yes?”

“You’re needed down in Emergency.”



Chapter twelve

Raul Guzman was a furious and slightly drunk man. His ‘conversation’ with Escobar had only poured oil on the anger that burned within him at the death of Jimenez’ men. He wanted, no needed, to make those responsible pay. He gulped down his whisky chaser before taking a mouthful of his third bottle of beer. The bar was one that he used frequently as it catered to ex-pat Colombians and the owner was a good source of information and, sometimes, other things. He looked down at the table as a hand appeared before him and placed another full whisky glass on its scarred top.

“I didn’t order that,” he growled wanting nothing more than to be left alone and drink through his anger.

“I know,” the reply was in Spanish.

Guzman followed the arm up until he was staring into the angry face of Carlos one of Jimenez’ men.

The Colombian slid into the booth so he was facing the inebriated man. He clutched a bottle of Club Colombia beer in his right hand so tightly his knuckles were white. Taking a swig he fixed Guzman with a steely eye.

“I’m sorry,” Guzman whispered again for at least the twentieth time.

Carlos waved his bottle around in a dismissive gesture. “I don’t want apologies. I want revenge.” He spoke with the same slum Spanish Raul spoke.

“You’ll get it.”

“What have you decided that we’re going to do?”

Guzman swallowed and picked at the label on his beer. “Nothing for now.”

“What?”

The drug lord’s lieutenant flinched at the fury contained in that single word. “I… Escobar… Escobar doesn’t want anything done at the moment.”

Carlos’ beer bottle landed on the table with a bang making the other patrons turn at the noise. Looking into the man’s cold eyes they prudently turned back to whatever they’d been doing before.

“It isn’t his brother who’s lying carbonised on a cold slab in a morgue. They aren’t his men who were burnt alive through the actions of a fucking American cop. It isn’t his cousin sitting in a stinking jail being interrogated. Honour dictates that I avenge their deaths now before people think that we have no balls. You brought us here, not Escobar. You are responsible.”

Guzman’s heart plummeted into his stomach as he realised the position he’d put himself into through his un-thought out actions. Escobar would kill him if he went against his orders. Unfortunately, Carlos would also be within his rights in killing him if he didn’t honour his call for blood revenge. Suddenly sober he could only stare in silent consternation at the other man.

“Well? Do you still use your balls or should I remove them from your body so they don’t get in your way?”

“No, I…” he swallowed and took a calming breath. He WAS responsible for bringing the men to Cascade and thus ultimately responsible for their deaths. If this had happened in Bogotá, Ellison and Sandburg would already be lying in a ditch somewhere with their throats cuts and he next to them with a bullet in the back of his head. Perhaps Escobar had been too long out of Colombia and had forgotten the strict rules that governed the gangs there. If he refused to live up to his obligations, then Guzman would have to step up to the plate. He picked up the whisky and drank it back in one throw. “Okay. You’re right. I’ll do whatever’s necessary.”

“And your boss?”

“If he’s forgotten his honour, then perhaps this will remind him that there is no life without it.”

“So, what do you suggest?

“Pier 23. Storm Imports warehouse at 10 tonight. Bring the others and I’ll bring some of my men. I’ll leave the door at the top of the fire escape open. Try not to make it too obvious that you’re up to something.”

“I’ve done this sort of thing before,” Carlos bristled.

In the sombre light of the bar Guzman couldn’t tell whether the other man was really angry or not. “I know. But this is Cascade, not Bogotá.”

Carlos was still for a moment and then nodded once. He stood and walked out of the bar without a word leaving his almost untouched beer on the table. Guzman fingered the empty whisky glass and contemplated what he’d agreed to do. Escobar would be furious. He shrugged; there was nothing without honour.

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Simon, closely followed by his uniformed shadow, blasted through the doors of the Emergency Department his heart in his throat. Startled, a middle-aged nurse looked up from the desk where she was examining a file.

“Simon Banks. I was told to come. Ellison, Sandburg and…” he stopped as he realised that he didn’t know Felicia’s last name.

“Ah, yes, Captain Banks. Dr. Groves’s in with Detective Ellison. Come this way.” She darted out from behind the desk and led the way to one of the cubicles that had a police officer standing in front of it. She pulled back the curtain and Simon let out the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. Jim, obviously still alive, was lying on the narrow bed with his bandaged hands resting above the sheet that covered him. He was hooked up to a heart monitor that was beeping reassuringly and had a drip fixed to the back of his left hand just above the bandages. However, he was also most decidedly completely out of it. His eyes were open, but they were glassy and unblinking and he was very, very still.

“Doctor, Captain Banks is here,” the nurse announced.

The dark skinned man bending over the bed straightened and turned his spectacled face towards the newcomers with a look of relief on his face.

“Good, good. We seem to have a bit of a problem with your man here. He…”

“He’s not responding to any stimulus and you have no idea why?”

“Eh, yes, yes. That’s it. This has happened before? I’ve got his file, but it simply says he has a lot of allergies. There’s nothing about…”

“Have you asked Blair Sandburg?”

“Who? Oh, you mean the man who was brought in with him. No. Why? Is he a doctor?”

“No. But it should be marked in Ellison’s file that if he gets brought to hospital Sandburg should be informed.”

“No. You’re the only name mentioned in it.”

Simon sighed suddenly remembering that Jim had, in a fit of temper, changed the emergency contact marked in his file when Blair had left Cascade. “Okay, but the best thing for Ellison is to get Sandburg in here.”

“Why? What’s the matter with him? What will Sandburg do?”

“I… it’s… he… “ Simon ground to a halt as he tried to get his tired brain to function properly. “Ellison suffers from, well, a sort of fit and Sandburg knows how to break him out of it.”

“And he’s still an active police officer?” The doctor was aghast that the man with such a dangerous condition would be allowed on the streets.

“Look, it’s complicated. And shouldn’t we be dealing with the present problem now instead of talking?”

Groves didn’t say anything, but looked intently at the captain as if trying to read what he should do in his eyes. He then turned to the nurse who had been waiting quietly while the animated discussion had been taking place. “Is Mr Sandburg back from x-ray?”

“He came back a few minutes ago and is waiting for the orthopaedist to look at his knee.”

“And his head injury?”

“Dr. Schreiber said he had a mild concussion and he shouldn’t have any problems apart from a mild headache. The cut just needs a few butterfly strips.”

“Okay. If he agrees, put him in a wheel chair and bring him here.”

“Yes, doctor.” She moved away and the doctor turned back to his patient.

“I’ll expect you to explain to me what’s going on later, Captain,” he didn’t look at his protagonist, but his voice was firm and decisive.

“It’s not my place to. You’ll have to ask Ellison if you want any information.”

The man bristled as he turned and glared at the taller man. “How can we treat people properly if we don’t have all the facts?”

Banks put an apologetic look on his face and shrugged his shoulders. It had been so long since a situation like this had arisen that he’d forgotten how difficult Jim’s secret made things. This doctor was obviously fairly new to the hospital and hadn’t had to deal with the Sentinel before.

The uncomfortable silence that followed was interrupted by Blair’s voice as he was wheeled into view. “Simon. Is Jim all right?”

The captain took a moment to examine his ex-detective. He was seated in a wheel chair with his left leg cradled in an extension that kept it straight. A bandage was wound round his head holding a large gauze pad to his temple. It pushed his hair up so that his skull was crowned with a riot of dirty curls. A drip on a pole fixed to the chair backrest pierced the back of the left hand that was gripping the armrest with white knuckles.

“Mr Sandburg. I’m Dr Groves and I’ve been treating your friend…”

“Jim! Shit, Simon, he’s…!” Blair interrupted the other man and tried to wheel himself closer to the bed. “How long’s he been like this?”

“Mr Sandburg…”

“Out of my way!”

“Sandburg!” Simon placed himself in front of the agitated man and squatted down so they were at eye level. “Blair. Just hold on a moment. Can you do that?” He watched closely as the younger man visibly pulled himself together.

“Sorry.” He looked up at the doctor. “Excuse me, doctor, we’ve had a difficult couple of days. Can you tell me all you know, please?”

When Groves had first seen the wheelchair-bound man he hadn’t been terribly impressed. However, now looking into the tired eyes he could see in their depths a keen intelligence tempered by deep concern. “When Detective Ellison arrived he was responsive and, apart from exhaustion, slight dehydration and his scraped hands, was in good health. We put him on a saline drip and cleaned up his hands. We left him to get some rest and when the nurse checked up on him approximately 45 minutes later we found him like this.” He paused a moment. “Captain Banks said you can help.”

Was that a trace of doubt in his voice? Blair didn’t care; he’d heard much worse and had even battled against outright hostility before. “Get me closer so I can touch him.”

The cubicle wasn’t exactly large and manoeuvring the chair without jostling of hitting his leg meant for a tense few minutes. Eventually, though, Blair was close enough to Jim he could put his hand on his arm and speak quietly into his ear. “Jim, come on. It’s time to come back…” He ignored everyone else as he concentrated totally on the man before him

The doctor hovered not knowing whether to offer his help or to simply watch. He jumped as he felt a hand on his arm.

“Doctor, it’s best we leave him to it,” Banks whispered.

“What?” Groves lowered his voice as the captain lifted his finger to his lips in the universal gesture for silence. “I can’t leave. Ellison’s my patient.” The doctor tried to resist the pull on his sleeve, but without making a scene the force became too much and he was bundled out of the little space.

“Believe me, we’re not needed here. In fact, we’ll only be a distraction.”

All the while Blair continued his soft litany and gently stroked the silent man’s forearm.

“How long will this take?”

Simon could hear the doubt in the doctor’s voice and wanted to lay it to rest, but knew he couldn’t give him an exact answer. “It depends.”

“On what?” The man was virtually vibrating with frustration.

“I can’t tell you.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

A shrug was his only reply, which served to notch up Groves’ frustration even more. He opened his mouth to protest anew, but he was prevented by a voice coming out of the closed cubicle.

“Uh, doctor? Simon?”

The two men almost ran into each other in their haste to see whether Blair had been successful or not. Pulling back the curtain their relief was palpable as two light blue eyes from the bed lifted up to greet them. Dr Groves grabbed his penlight from out of his pocket and lurched up to the bed.

“How are you feeling? Do you know where you are?” He shone the light into Jim’s eyes making the man rear back.

“Doc, it’s okay. I’m okay.” The Sentinel pushed the light away and tried to ignore the stream of questions coming from Groves. “Please, I need to speak to my captain and my friend here’s in pain.”

“I’m fine,” Blair tried to protest, but was talked over by both Jim and the doctor.

Ten minutes later and the younger man’s knee was being looked over by the orthopaedist back in his own cubicle. Jim had been disconnected from the heart monitor and drip and was dressing while Simon brought him up to date. The detective cursed as he tried to do up his shirt buttons with his bandaged hands.

“Here. Let me.” Simon gently batted the fumbling hands away. “However, you can leave it hanging out ‘cos I’m not tucking it in.”

Jim snorted in reply.

“What about your laces? Presumably you can’t manage those either.” With a long-suffering sigh he knelt on the floor. “You tell anyone about this and you’re on paperwork duty for the whole of Major Crimes for a month.”

“Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.”

With a grunt, Simon got up from the floor. “How you feeling?”

“Tired and angry.” They went to walk out of the cubicle, but the captain stopped the other man with a hand on his arm.

“What did you zone on?”

Jim grimaced and suddenly found his shoes fascinating. “TryingtofindBlair,” he mumbled.

“Sorry, I didn’t get that.”

“I was trying to find Blair.”

“Oh. You haven’t zoned for a while,” Simon commented mildly.

“Yeah, well, I’m tired,” he replied defensively. “And… and I haven’t used my senses to that extent for a long while.”

There was silence for a few seconds then the detective left followed a moment later by his boss.

“Go home and get some rest, then.”

“I want to find out what’s happening with Blair first. Oh, and where’s Felicia?” Jim looked around trying to see if he could spot the young woman.

“Apparently getting a cast on her arm.”

Just then a tall, greying man with probably the biggest ears they’d ever seen on a human walked out of Blair’s cubicle. He nodded to the two men, headed over to the desk and started talking to the nurse working there.

Simon and Jim walked over to the cubicle and pushed back the curtain. Blair was lying on the bed with his arm over his eyes.

“Chief,” Jim approached the younger man and gently touched his thigh just above the injured knee, “what did he say?”

Blair lowered his arm and looked at them glumly. The expression on his face was accentuated by the scrapes and bruises that adorned it. “I’ve cracked my patella. Which means a knee brace for a good few weeks, anti-inflammatories and then possibly months of physical therapy. Coupled with my existing injury it’s one fucked up leg.”

“Damn,” Simon’s comment was brief, but heartfelt.

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The dark and gloom in the warehouse wasn’t helped by the pall of cigarette smoke that hung over the six men standing in the centre of the cavernous area. Guzman coughed discreetly trying to avoid breathing in the polluted air. He’d forgotten how everyone in Colombia smoked; he’d given it up when he’d arrived in America nine years ago, as cigarettes at the time were something he couldn’t afford. A door clanged and he turned to see Carlos, the last person they were waiting for, enter.

“Evening,” he said as soon as he was close to them. He didn’t explain, however, the reason for his tardiness and it seemed no one was willing to question him on it. “Well, Raul, what do you suggest we can do to get these two bastards and make them suffer.”

“I discovered that after being treated in the hospital they’re back at home with the woman. Ellison has bandaged hands and the woman’s arm is in a plaster cast. Sandburg was seen with crutches and a bandage on his head. There’s a police car sitting outside their building in the front and another watching the fire escape at the back.”

“But they’re on the third floor, no?”

“It’ll be difficult to get in undetected. My contact at the PD told me that Ellison’s a former Army Ranger so he’ll be a formidable opponent. I’m sure they avoided you in the forest because of his skills.” He forbore to mention that it was also due to the Colombians’ incompetency in forest tracking. He was on very thin ice with them as it was; there was no point in taking risks.

“What about if we shoot a gas cylinder into their apartment from across the street?” Asked Pedro a short, stocky man with a pock marked face.

“It’s a possibility, but we still need to get in there and get them out in a short amount of time.”

“We need to lure them out of there and get rid of their escort,” mused Guzman.

“Why not simply waste them there?” Another man questioned.

“Because they need to suffer and simply shooting them is too easy,” snapped Carlos.

“Cut off their electricity? Tell them there’s a gas leak?” Pedro suggested.

“My contact again also told me that Ellison has a father and brother living in Cascade. Maybe we can use them as bait?”

“Could your man get us into the PD?” Carlos pointed his cigarette at Guzman making his eyes water.

“All of us?”

“All of us and armed.”

“What are you thinking of?”

“Just answer the question.”

“I don’t know. Their security measures are pretty complete. Tell me what you’re planning.”

“Find out and I’ll let you know. No, not yet.” He held up a hand as Guzman opened his mouth to question further. “It’s just the beginning of an idea, but I think that I have a way of getting our revenge and giving Escobar what he wants, too.”



Chapter thirteen

Jim and Blair looked at Felicia, perplexed. The younger woman was sitting in the love seat in the loft laughing and had been for a number of minutes. And if it sounded a little manic neither man was commenting on it.

“Umm,” Jim turned to his friend, “Chief, any idea what she’s laughing at?”

Blair shifted on the settee trying not to move the leg that was propped up on a cushion that had been placed on the coffee table. Not taking his eyes away from the giggling woman, he shrugged. “Fel?” He asked gently. “You okay?

She visibly tried to calm down and took a deep breath, but still little hitches escaped. She wiped her eyes with a paper handkerchief she’d found in a pocket.

“I don’t know, Jim. Maybe it’s the strain. Should we call a doctor? Fel, please.”

“No, no,” she gasped out. “I’m sorry. Just hold on a moment.” She giggled again and then relaxed back into the chair. “It’s just that… Well, look at us.” She gestured with her uninjured arm at her face and then at the two of them.

“Umm, what, Fel?” Blair took a close look at her. Her plastered arm was in a sling and her face was liberally covered with scratches. Although she’d done her best to tidy herself up, her clothes were torn and dirty and her hair messy. He turned to Jim who, although had far fewer scratches and bruises and his clothes were in better condition, had his two bandaged hands resting on a cushion on his lap. The younger man knew that he probably looked the worst out of the three of them: his left leg was heavily braced, his face was scratched and he also had a large dressing on his forehead. He was also certain that his curly hair was sticking up in all directions despite a kind nurse at the hospital taking pity on him and attacking it with a comb. All in all they looked a totally sorry sight and the worst for wear.

He snorted, which unfortunately set Felicia off again and giving up, he joined in. Jim finally capitulated and several minutes later Simon walked in to the loft using his key to find the three of them laughing uproariously and wiping their eyes. Their situation wasn’t all that funny, but it was a good a way as any of releasing the worry and stress they’d been under. And the fact they were so exhausted they were punch drunk only added to their almost hysteria.

“Well, I’m glad you all have something to laugh about,” the tall man stated drily putting the Chinese take out he’d bought on the way over on the kitchen counter.

“Want to share the joke?” Patton followed carrying a number of files and closed the door behind him. He made sure it was locked securely and joined Banks in the kitchen.

“Sorry.” Jim stood up from the settee. “I think you really had to be here to appreciate it.”

“And where do you think you’re going?” The captain impaled him with a glare.

“To get plates.”

“With those hands? Sit. I know where everything is. Anyway, I believe the doctor only let you out because you promised to rest. So, go. Rest.”

Jim hovered for a moment and then sat down again. Blair placed the cushion back on to his lap grinning and waggled a finger at him. “Naughty, naughty.”

“Listen, Hoppy, you’re lucky I can’t smack you up the head.”

“I know,” he said grinning all the more. “And how’re you going to eat, anyway? Want me to feed you?”

“Children, children,” Banks called out, “be nice. The doctor gave me some rubber gloves to protect his bandages. As long as he sticks to spring and crispy rolls he’ll be all right.”

“I can …”

“Ah, ah. Listen to your captain or I’ll let Sandburg use chopsticks on you.”

Jim subsided mumbling something about controlling, overbearing partners and bosses on power trips. He was totally ignored by everyone.

Ten minutes later they were all tucking into their meal from Ellison and Sandburg’s favourite Chinese restaurant. Despite his bandages, Jim managed the soup, the rolls and the sweet and sour ribs. Everyone was tired and hungry, as they hadn’t left the hospital until late afternoon and they’d all had an early start that day.

The doctors had wanted to keep them in a while longer, especially Blair, but the MC captain had argued that it would be much easier to keep them safe in the loft. He had wanted them in a safe house, but knew that Jim would balk at the idea. The medical staff had given in reluctantly and in revenge, it seemed, had issued Banks with detailed instructions on how the three injured people should be cared for and dire warnings if they weren’t adhered to. The tall man was looking forward to having complete control.

Two patrol cars were stationed outside in front and behind the building and Jim had been issued with a two-way radio. No one was taking any chances. The blinds were down on the balcony windows so no one could look in and an extra lock had been put on to the back door.

Eventually, everyone had eaten his or her fill. By common consent, they’d kept the conversation away from the case and had chatted about inconsequential things. Patton cleared everything away while Simon placed a large paper bag on the coffee table. He pulled out a piece of paper and obviously consulting it started pulling out various bottles of pills and lotions and lining them up on the table in three piles.

“Okay, Ellison: one antibiotic, one painkiller if needed. Paris.” He looked over at Felicia. “I take it that’s you?” She nodded. “One painkiller if needed. And Sandburg: one anti-inflammatory, one antibiotic, one muscle relaxant and a large painkiller to be taken after eating. And antiseptic cream for everyone.”

“No way, Simon,” Blair protested. “I’m not taking all those chemicals. They’ll simply poison my body. I’ve got some stuff in my…”

“Shut it, Sandburg.” The older man narrowed his eyes at him. “I got you out of the hospital because I promised your doctor that I, personally, would oversee your treatment and that I would follow his instructions to the letter. Either you accept this condition or you’re going back to the hospital under an armed guard. Got it?”

“Sheesh, Simon, all you had to do was explain. And anyway, how come the others can take their painkiller if needed, but I have to take mine?”

“Are you a medical doctor, Sandburg?”

“Um, no.”

“Am I a medical doctor?”

Blair shook his head.

“Are any of these people here medical doctors?”

Another shake of the head.

“Well, until that situation changes you may not change your prescription.”

“And anyway, you’re hurting.” Blair turned his head and glared at Jim who had just swallowed his antibiotic with a smug look on his face. He nodded in thanks to Patton who’d given him a glass of water with the medication. “Don’t bother arguing, I can tell. Your temp’s slightly up and so’s your heart beat. You’ve also got those little lines round your eyes that’re just screaming out ‘pain’.”

“But if I take it along with the muscle relaxant I’ll be totally out of it.”

“Listen, Chief. We’re all tired. I think it’ll be a good idea if we all crash out for a bit. I know I could do with some shut eye.” He watched as Blair hesitated. He knew that his objections weren’t wholly based on not wanting to take the tablets, but partly from the fear that he was being side lined. Despite the progress they’d made in restoring their friendship, Blair was still somewhat uncertain of his place in Jim and Simon’s world. No longer a police officer or even an observer and having no official capacity in the investigation, his position was somewhat ambiguous.

“I wouldn’t say no to forty winks, either.”

Ellison smiled gratefully at the young woman. “Well, how about you take Blair’s room. He’s already on the settee, so he might as well stay there and I’ll hop up stairs.”

“Very funny,” Blair’s voice was dry not having missed his use of ‘hop’. “Okay, Simon. Hit me with them.”

“Wise choice, Sandburg. Patton and I have a meeting with the Mayor in an hour. We’ll be back later and then we’ll go through everything we’ve got so far.”

Within minutes the loft was full of the sound of three people’s quiet breathing and the hum of an old style refrigerator.

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Jorge Hernandez casually looked around the office making sure that no one was close enough to see his computer screen. Waiting for Vera to turn away he quickly pulled up a web site and entered in a password. He was just about to click on a file when a shadow fell onto his keyboard. Before he could move the mouse to quit the site a large black hand grabbed his wrist pinning it to the desk.

“Hernandez, move carefully away from the computer keeping your hands up above your shoulders.”

“What? What’s going on? Captain Banks?” The personnel officer at Cascade PD looked up in apparent innocent surprise. He gulped when he saw two uniformed police officers aiming their guns at him while another man who just screamed ‘Fed’ looked on. “I… I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

Banks pulled on his arm to urge him to rise up from his chair. “Jorge Hernandez, I’m arresting you on suspicion of accessory to murder, accessory to drug and arms smuggling, accessory to endangering the lives of police officers and members of the public, unlawful access to restricted files, money laundering, consuming illegal substances, stealing pens and paperclips from Cascade PD… Heck, anything I can make stick. You have the right to…”

“No, no. You’ve got it wrong!”

Simon ignored him continuing to read him his rights with anger in his voice. He signalled to one of the uniforms to cuff the protesting man.

“Do you understand your rights?”

“But…”

“I said: Do. You. Understand?”

Hernandez looked around him fearfully at the grim faces surrounding him and the shocked looks of his colleagues. His shoulders slumped. “Yeah, I understand,” he mumbled.

It was a strange procession that made its way towards the interview rooms on the seventh floor. Police and administrative staff alike gaped at the support officer with bowed head and hands cuffed behind his back. Once settled in the room Simon indicated that the cuffs could be removed and then he and Patton set themselves down opposite Hernandez. For a moment there was silence as the two officers opened the thick files they’d placed on the desk before them.

The captain switched on the tape player that was sitting on the desk. After giving date, time and listing the people present he turned towards their suspect. “So, just to make it clear, you’re waiving your right to have counsel present. Is that right?”

“I don’t need one. I ain’t done nothing.”

“Well, then perhaps you could tell us why you were consulting Cascade General Hospital’s web site?” Questioned Patton.

“I… I don’t know. Someone must have been at my post before I came in.”

“But according to the computer log only one person entered their password today on that computer,” Banks fired at him.

“Yes, but I wasn’t there all the time. Anyone could have…”

“Your post was under surveillance from six o’ clock this morning. You were the only person to use it,” cut in the FBI agent.

“I must have hit the wrong key, or…”

“Did you also hit the wrong key when you put in the password to access their secure pages?” The captain barked.

The beleaguered support officer’s head swung from left to right as his interrogators fired questions at him. “I don’t know. It…”

“Is there a reason why you were consulting Detective Ellison and Mr Sandburg’s medical files?”

“I…”

“Can you explain how over the last three weeks $15 000 and $20 000 were deposited in an account you opened four weeks ago in the Cascade branch of NorthWest Mutual?”

“Your computer log also indicates that you accessed the files relating to the pay of numerous members of Major Crimes just before their bank accounts were blocked.”

“What can you tell us about a meeting you had with a Raul Guzman at Kenrick’s Gym on Magnolia Ave on the 8th of July of this year?”

“Wait, wait. No, stop!”

Banks was vicariously pleased to see Hernandez obviously panicked and sweating.

“I wanna lawyer,” their prisoner panted out. “I’m not saying anything more until I have a lawyer.”

“Not that you’ve said much anyway,” murmured Patton.

“Okay,” Simon growled careful not to show any emotion on his face. “Do you have a lawyer in mind or should we get a duty lawyer for you?”

“Just get me to a phone,” came the surly reply.

“Fine. End of interview at 10:26 AM.” Simon turned the tape machine off. Leaning over the machine to take the cassettes out he put his mouth close to Hernandez’ ear. “And don’t think that Escobar will be in a position to help you.” He grinned in grim satisfaction as the other man jerked his head up and stared at him with wide eyes.

The captain followed the agent out of the room. “What d’you think?”

“With what we’ve managed to find out about his drug habits even with a lawyer we’ll probably get him to give us what we want.”

They entered the MC bullpen together and Simon stopped for a moment to cast an eye over the room. He was pleased to see Brown looking well after his recent brush with poisoning. He’d returned the day before and had jumped straight back into the Escobar case. Rafe was sticking to him like glue and, up to now, had managed to steer him clear of all chocolate. Two of the empty desks brought home the fact that two members wouldn’t be coming back for a while. Ellison wouldn’t be back until he was able to at least use a computer keyboard. And Taggart, although he was leaving the hospital today, wouldn’t be back at work for quite a few weeks. Connor was helping his wife with the transfer to his home and would be at work later in the afternoon.

“How did it go?” Brown’s voice shook him out of his musings.

“He lawyered up pretty quick, unfortunately.”

“Sic Ellison on him,” Rafe drawled. “That’ll get him talking.”

“With what Mathews found on him, it won’t be necessary.” He smiled at the detective who’d been put to discovering who’d been responsible for the bank hacking and Brown’s poisoning.

Mathews grinned and ducked his head. He was new to the department and although he was revelling in the praise he also felt uncomfortable knowing that he was being asked to do such important work only because the MCU was so short staffed.

Two hours later Patton and Banks were back in the interrogation room with Hernandez and his lawyer. Counsellor George was a middle aged, dumpy man who had been a public defender all his working life. He was well experienced and a wily lawyer. Fortunately, he was also extremely lazy and Simon knew that if they played this right they’d get a lot of useful information. Unfortunately, there was a strong chance that it was going to take all day.

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“Hold on. No, don’t move. God, you’re worse than a kid.” Blair sighed in exasperation as he finished taping the plastic bags over Jim’s bandaged hands. The detective had managed to undress and put his bathrobe on by himself and was now preparing to have a shower. Once his hands were protected he held them out and Blair placed the opened bottles of shower gel and shampoo into them. By the time Banks and Patton had finished bringing them up to date with the case two days ago, the three of them had been too tired to do anything more than a superficial wash before going back to bed.

Breakfast yesterday and today had been long messy affairs as only Blair had two hands in working order, but he was relegated to the couch. (And wasn’t it fun for him using crutches every time he needed to go for a pee?) Fortunately, Simon had foreseen this and had left out easy things to eat like Poptarts. Blair had moaned about the amount of refined sugar and the non-existence of anything even resembling nutrition, but he’d only really done it out of habit and it lacked a certain authority. Lunches had been pizza and burgers brought to them by one of the uniforms guarding them. Now two nights after their return from hospital the need for a real wash was becoming urgent.

“You sure you can turn on the water okay?”

“No problem.”

“Do you need someone to scrub your back?”

“I’ll be fine!”

“Oh, please, let me help,” Fel’s voice sounding like an excited little girl came from Blair’s bedroom. She’d showered first and now walked towards the two men towelling her hair dry with one hand. “I promise not to look – too much.”

“What is it with you two?” Jim growled. “Especially you, woman. You’re always trying to get me naked!”

She and Blair burst out laughing.

“I’m so sorry, Jim,” she sobered down. “It’s just that, well… You…”

“… turn a lovely shade of red every time we bring it up!” Blurted out Blair.

“Hmpf,” Jim’s riposte was less than elegant and he stalked towards the bathroom. “Laugh away, Darwin. Just how d’you think you’re going to be able to wash?”

The younger man stopped grinning suddenly and looked down ruefully at his leg.

“And believe me, I think even Fel’s noticing the smell.” With that, the Sentinel shut the door behind him and the sound of the shower came on.

Blair looked up as the young woman sat next to him on the settee without getting too close. The gap between them did not go unnoticed.

“That bad?” He asked glumly.

“Ummm…” Felicia screwed up her nose and nodded once.

“Oh, man. How we going to do this? If it’s that bad I’m surprised Jim hasn’t said anything before now.”

“Hey, don’t worry. It’s not as if it’s your fault,” the woman soothed calmly.

“God, I can’t stand without support and it’s not as if Jim can help me.”

“Shh,” Fel seeing his distress scooted closer to him. Despite their teasing, Blair only smelt a little ripe and the odour was overlaid with the smell of antiseptic. ”If it’s really a problem I’ll give you a bed bath.” She gave him a wink and leaned towards him.

“Really?” Blair’s voice broke as he turned his head and found her face only inches from his.

“Uh huh. I know I’ve only got one hand, but I can be really – inventive.”

“Oh, good…” The rest of what he was going to say was swallowed up when Felicia covered his mouth with hers. “Mmmm,” he almost purred.

The kiss went on for a while until Blair suddenly pulled himself away. “Did you hear that?”

“What?” She tried to capture his mouth again, but he held her away with a hand on her shoulder.

“No, I’m serious. Listen.”

She stopped and turned her head to look around the loft. “What did you hear?” She whispered her heart suddenly pounding.

“I don’t know.” Blair darted his eyes around examining the room trying to pinpoint the sound that he’d heard in his subconscious.

“If it was anything suspicious wouldn’t Jim have heard?” She continued.

“Not necessarily. The running water from the shower acts like a white noise generator and unless he’s deliberately listening he wouldn’t be able to hear more than us.”

“What should…”

He put a finger up to her lips straining his ears. For not the first time he wished that he had Jim’s abilities. He heard something scrape above their heads and… then all hell broke loose. Three dark figures clinging onto ropes crashed through the skylights above the kitchen. Felicia screamed.

Chapter fourteen

“Captain, reports of a disturbance at 852 Prospect!” Brown burst into Banks’ office without knocking. “On the third floor! A resident phoned it in.” The captain and Patton were discussing the small amount of information that they’d managed to get out of Hernandez so far. As the captain had predicted the going was slow and they’d called a pause for a late and sorely needed lunch. Slow it may have been, but they were beginning to see signs that Hernandez was cracking. They needed to up the pressure and were certain that the man would break later if, unfortunately, not sooner.

“Any reports of injuries?” Banks barked as he and Patton rose out of their seats alarm on their faces.

“Don’t know. Someone in the building called it in, but we’ve got nothing more. Rafe’s contacting the officers watching the building.”

“Don’t bother. I’ll do that.” Simon picked up his office phone and started punching in some numbers. “You and Rafe get down there. Patton and I’ll be along immediately after. And don’t forget your vests!”

H nodded and quickly left the office calling for his partner to hang up and go with him. They disappeared through the bullpen doors shrugging on their Kevlar vests. Patton had pulled out his mobile phone and was speaking rapidly into it to one of his agents telling them what had happened and instructing them to meet him at the loft.

“Despatch, this is Captain Banks. Put me through to the officers assigned to 852 Prospect... Officer Li, someone’s reported suspicious action on the third floor. You’ve noticed nothing?... Uh huh... Go check it out and let me know as soon as you have anything or not.” He slammed down the receiver and after putting on his own Kevlar vest, blew through the door closely followed by the FBI agent. Pulling out his own mobile phone he dialled the loft. “Pick up. Pick up,” he mumbled into it as he ran down the stairs Patton on his heels. He shoved it back into his pocket, as all he was getting was the dial tone. He pulled it out again and tried Ellison’s mobile. He cursed as it went to the messaging service after three rings.

Within minutes Simon’s saloon was speeding across the city with its lights and siren blaring. A ringing sound filled the car and, after one-handedly digging into his jacket, Banks tossed his phone to Patton. He didn’t need the distraction of talking on the phone while trying to avoid ploughing into other vehicles or an unfortunate pedestrian.

“Captain Banks’ phone. Special Agent Patton speaking... Uh, huh... Okay, go ahead, but approach with caution. Our ETA is under three minutes.” He closed the phone and turned to Banks. “The apartment’s empty apart from Pairs who’d been tied and gagged – unhurt, fortunately. There’s a lot of broken glass, as it appears that someone, or several someones, came through the skylights in the kitchen. The officers then heard a helicopter above the building so three of the uniforms have gone to investigate.”

Pulling up in front of Ellison’s building in a screech of brakes they both climbed out of the car guns in hand. Eschewing the lift they ran up the stairs until they reached the third floor where they found the door to flat 307 wide open. Patton nodded at Banks and working together as if they’d been doing so for years, they identified themselves and burst into the loft - one high, one low - taking in as much as possible with their eyes.

Brown and Rafe, holding guns out in front of them, stood either side of the settee where the back of a blonde head could be seen. Rafe was in the process of pushing the head down with a gentle, but firm hand. He let go as his brain caught up with his reactions. A far too young looking patrol officer was standing next to the doors of Blair’s room pulling on plastic gloves. He had frozen in place at the intrusion. They all breathed a sigh of relief as everyone was recognised and guns were re-holstered.

Felicity sat up and turned to look over the back of the settee, gasped out a strangled cry and flung herself towards Banks. Before he could say anything she’d thrown her arms around him and was sobbing into his vest. His first instinct was to push her towards the uniform; he was a captain and no longer had to deal with crying women (except for his ex-wife, of course!). It had never really been his strong point when he’d been out on the streets and he really hadn’t improved with age. But then he remembered what the young jewellery maker had gone through in the last few days and decided that she had the right to be emotionally overwrought. And Blair obviously thought very highly of her so the least he could do was make an effort. Awkwardly, he put his arm around her shoulders and gently led her back to the settee. Glancing over her head he caught Patton’s knowing grin before the agent turned away to question the detectives.

However, before anyone could say anything three uniforms burst through the open door. All of them were panting hard. Fortunately, the two detectives and Patton had excellent control and hadn’t simply blasted away at the noisy intruders. For a second time in a matter of minutes guns were lowered and heartbeats slowed back to normal.

“Captain Banks! We got up to the roof just as the helicopter was taking off. We could see Ellison and Sandburg on board, but we had to take evasive action as we were shot at!”

“Call the air division and tell them to scramble on my authority. Give them as much information regarding the machine as possible. Tell them to follow, but DO NOT engage.” He looked at Brown and Rafe and raised his eyebrows before momentarily dropping his eyes to the young woman clinging on to his shirt.

“Uh,” Rafe started, “we just got here and haven’t had a chance to do anything yet. I was just going to call forensics.”

“Okay, go on. Officer...?” The captain looked over at the young officer who hadn’t moved from where he’d been standing.

“Uh, Fraser, sir.”

“Fraser, what can you tell me?”

“Yes, sir, of course.”

Simon hid his smile. Had he ever been this green? Highly likely.

“Officer Li told me to stay here and look after the lady. I, um, approached the victim and identified myself and untied her. I placed the ropes and gag over there in evidence bags for forensics. I ascertained that the victim was unhurt, but understandably shaken. I was just going to provide her with a glass of water.” He held up his gloved hands. “Um, I haven’t touched anything apart from the ropes without gloves on.”

“That’s good. Well done. Carry on.” He sent his eyes over the room taking in the shattered glass on the kitchen floor and counters from the skylights, a damp bath towel draped across a chair, Blair’s crutches lying half under the dining table and a table lamp lying broken next to the television. Patton’s pair of agents entering the flat interrupted his inspection. It was getting very crowded in the loft and this was before the forensics team had arrived. “H.”

“Captain?”

“Go and see if someone’s willing to let us camp out in another apartment so we can free it up for CSI.”

“I’m on it. Come on, Reynolds,” H called out to one of the uniforms and left the flat.

“Felicia.” Simon sat down next to the distraught woman and gently lifted her chin. “I need you to tell me what happened.”

For a moment she said nothing obviously trying to regain her composure.

“Please. To have any chance of getting them back we need to know what happened as soon as possible.” His opinion of the young woman rose as she visibly pulled herself together. He handed her a tissue and watched her wipe her eyes. A hand came into view holding a glass of water and he looked up to see Patton standing in front of them. Her hand shook as she took it gratefully with a small smile.

“Blair and I were on the settee and Jim was having a shower. And Blair said he could hear something and then... God, and then they came through the skylights. There was glass everywhere!” Her voice rose and her breathing shortened to tight gasps.

“It’s all right,” Simon murmured wishing Sandburg were there with his uncanny ability to soothe. But then again if was here they wouldn’t be in this situation. “Have a drink." he watched her take a sip. "How many were there?”

“But it’s not all right! I didn’t really want to see him naked. I was only joking.”

“Um?” Banks looked up at Patton completely nonplussed by the non sequitur. The other man shrugged his shoulders as obviously in the dark as he was. “Felicia, how many...?”

“There were three. Dressed all in black. They came down on ropes. Before we had time to do a thing they had guns on us. Blair tried to use his gun, but they just pointed their guns at us. God, there were so many and they looked really scary!”

“What about Ellison?”

“They were so fast. One of them pulled the bathroom door open and forced him out. All he had on was a towel. They made us sit together on the settee.”

“Did you see their faces? Did they say anything?”

“They didn’t say anything except I think one of them said something in Spanish. But I couldn't hear properly. And they had masks on. You know... Oh, what're they called? Woollen hats that covered their faces.”

“Balaclavas?”

“Yes, that’s it!”

“Spanish, huh?” Simon glanced at the door as the forensics team entered closely followed by Brown and Reynolds. “So what happened next?”

“One of them went up to Jim’s bedroom and came down with some sweats. They made him change in front of us.”

“Did they tell him in English?”

“No, they just threw the clothes at him and indicated with their guns.”

“And then what?” He asked gently.

“One of them pulled out the telephone cord from the wall and another searched us. They took the guns and then one of them opened the door. One of them...” she took in a breath. “One of them pulled me upright. Both Blair and Jim started to protest, but they just pointed their guns at them. They put me in the yellow chair and... and... tied my hands and feet and gagged me.” The idea was obviously still upsetting her as she wiped her mouth with the hand still holding the glass of water.

“Did they hurt you or... touch you...?”

“Oh, no. Nothing like that.”

Simon sighed in relief.

“They then pointed to the door and Blair was shouting asking them what did they want and one of them held a gun to his head and said something in Spanish. Something like assisinos or asesinos. Oh, God I was so scared!”

“I imagine that shut him up,” Simon smiled showing that he was joking. However, internally he was fuming as he recognised the Spanish word for 'murderers'.

The woman laughed shakily and took a long swallow of her water. The coolness soothed her tight throat and she took another mouthful. “Yeah, then when they indicated they wanted them to leave it was Jim’s turn to shout. Blair couldn’t walk, but they put a g-gun to my h-head.”

“Shh, it’s okay. You’re all right, now.” Simon put a hand on her shoulder in an effort to calm her down.

“But Blair and Jim aren’t!” Came the indignant riposte.

Simon smiled internally. This woman had a core of steel underneath her soft, slightly plump exterior. “We’ll get them back. I promise you, we will get them back.”

She looked into his eyes for a moment and then nodded once. Taking another deep breath she continued, “Jim virtually carried Blair out. He was in so much pain. He couldn’t walk properly. They left the door open. It was all so quick. It felt like ages, but it was only a few minutes. Then the police officers came in and released me. And that’s all.”

“You did good, real good. You kept your head.” He stood up. “H?”

“Mrs Black in 204 says we can use her place. She’s just made a batch of double chocolate chip cookies.”

“Good, are they?” Rafe brushed a few crumbs from the front of Brown’s brightly coloured shirt where it billowed out from under his vest.

“Felicia, Detectives Brown and Rafe here are going to take you to a neighbour. Forensics needs to be able to work and we’ll just be in the way. Don’t worry. They’ll be with you at all times and they’ll keep you safe.” He turned to Patton and indicated the balcony. They moved out together and carefully closed the doors behind them.

“Spanish speaking, huh?” Patton leant on the wall and looked at the taller man. “As far as I’m concerned it can only mean...”

“Escobar,” Simon almost growled the name.

“I must admit though, I’m surprised. It’s not his usual M.O.”

“I agree. But whatever happens, Hernandez is going to talk. I promised that woman I’d get them back and he’s not going to make a liar out of me.”

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Jim dialled down his sense of touch another notch to dull the pain in his hands. He’d had to take most of Blair’s weight as they’d been hustled up to the roof by the gunmen. However, he hadn’t been able to block out the pained gasps the younger man had tried to suppress as they’d lurched up the stairs. The three heavily armed men had obviously been in a hurry and hadn’t given them any leeway. At least they’d given him the time to get dressed and Fel had finally got her wish of seeing him naked he thought ruefully. He glanced over at his friend and noticed the pale face and the lines of pain around his eyes.

Blair felt the look and tiredly lifted his eyelids to half-mast, the best he could manage. As the helicopter had accelerated away from the building closing his eyes had seemed to be the only way for him to hold on to the pizza he'd eaten. Although he’d completed his police training with no major problems it hadn’t done anything to help him overcome his fear of heights. He gave Jim a wan smile and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. His left leg throbbed with an intense ache while his right bobbed up and down in a swift staccato, a sure sign that he was nervous. The helicopter was small and with the brace on he couldn’t bend his injured leg sufficiently to tuck it under his seat. Terrified that the gunmen would make him take it off Jim had lifted it up so it rested across his knees. The movement had been painful due to the cramped quarters and the fact that Jim's hands had been fastened together with plastic ties.

The detective grinned back and gently rubbed his leg in comfort. They unfortunately, had no illusions about the outcome of this kidnapping. They knew that they were now in Escobar’s hands. What they couldn’t understand was why they hadn’t simply been executed in the loft. Blair was grateful for that for a number of reasons. It meant that Fel had escaped being killed along with them, that the MC gang would have more time to be able to pull together more resources to rescue them and it also gave Jim time to come up with an escape plan. Because despite all they’d gone through, the doubts, the betrayals, the arguments, the time spent apart, he had absolute faith that the Sentinel would prevail.

He closed his eyes again. He wasn’t looking forward to having to climb out of the helicopter wherever they landed. Or maybe they weren’t going to arrive. Maybe he and Jim were going to be thrown out over the sea or the mountains! He opened his eyes and tried to peer out of the windows. Were they heading for the ocean? Where were they? He felt a hand on his arm and he looked over to see Jim’s concerned face looking at him. The noise of the helicopter was too much for normal conversation, but he knew that the Sentinel would be able to hear him.

“Are they going to throw us out?” He mouthed.

Jim shrugged and gave the other man a smile that unfortunately didn’t reach his eyes. He watched as Sandburg sighed, slowly loosened his tense muscles and visibly calmed himself. His right leg stilled.

“I’ll be ready. Just let me know,” the younger man’s quiet voice still managed to reach his ears. It was amazing how he could always hear Blair’s voice if not, to his shame, what he was saying.

The words were spoken with utmost confidence and he gave Blair’s arm a tight squeeze despite his injured hands. Turning away he inspected the two masked men who were sitting facing them with their backs to the pilot and the third gunman. The one on the right snarled at him and lifted his gun menacingly. Jim grinned back, but turned his head to look out of the window not wanting to antagonise the man further. Unfortunately, from where he was sitting all he could see was blue sky.

Blair’s leg with its cumbersome brace lay across his knees and his friend’s arm deliberately brushed against his own. He was acutely aware of the man’s presence and the distinct possibility that they’d finally reached the end of the road. Thank God that they’d found each other again and had resolved their differences. His jaw clenched as his mind went back over what had happened in the loft. He cursed himself for the fact that he’d turned his hearing down. He’d wanted to give Blair and Fel a bit of privacy and the shower had acted as a white noise generator.

Nevertheless, he should have known! No! Enough. It was true that his senses gave him a terrific advantage over the average person, but it didn’t make him omnipotent. He was only human and he could only do his best. A curly head slowly lowered down onto his shoulder and he almost laughed out loud. Here they were flying to a certain painful death and Blair had found it in himself to fall asleep. Perhaps he had the right idea; they needed to be on top form if they had any hope of getting away. He closed his eyes and laid his head atop the curls. He breathed in deeply. Filtering out the odours of dirt, sweat and fear he took in the smells that were quintessentially Blair. A few minutes later he followed his friend into sleep.



Chapter fifteen

Jim woke up when he heard the sound of the helicopter's engine change as it started to descend. However, he gave no indication that he was now awake and stretching his senses to the maximum he tried to work out where they were. Filtering out the sounds of the engine, the whirring blades and the wind rushing past them he heard - nothing. Well, not really nothing. He could hear trees rustling in the breeze, the calls of birds and animals and the rushing waters of a river somewhere below them. Again he mentally thanked Blair for all his tests as his innate Sentinel abilities gave him a good idea of where they were and how long they'd been flying. True, not an exact location, but he knew that they were somewhere in the Cascade National Forest west of the city and had been flying for about 40 minutes.

Using the helicopter’s movements as it was buffeted by a gust of wind he nudged Blair hoping that his friend wouldn’t start too much when he awoke. His hopes were in vain as the curly head jerked up and Blair's leg, which had been propped up on his knee, slipped to the floor with a bang.

“Ow, ow, ow!” The injured man tried to bend forward to grab his thigh with his bound hands, but one of the gunmen opposite thrust his pistol in his face and pushed him back. “Whoa, okay. Cool, cool.” Blair lifted his hands in a placating gesture and leant back in his seat. The gunman snarled and pulled his gun away sitting back next to his colleague.

Blair looked over at Jim who was making a grand show of waking up. “You okay, man?”

“Fine." The detective slowly lifted his arms above his head and stretched. His body ached and his hands throbbed. "And you?”

Blair thought that was what he said, but with the noise around them normal conversation was impossible, at least for him. Jim had to smother a laugh as he looked at the younger man. Blair’s hair, from where he’d been leaning against Jim’s shoulder, was sticking up in a magnificent case of bed head. They hadn’t been sleeping long, but the dirt and grease coating the curls was acting like hair gel. And with that thought he sobered. He at least had managed to have a proper shower. Blair had only managed to wash himself a couple of times with a flannel over the last few days. He mentally shook himself; they had more serious problems than personal hygiene to worry about.

As the helicopter lowered, tree covered hills came into view. One particular shape caught his attention and Jim recognised it. He and Blair had camped here a few times when the younger man had still been a grad student. It was a three-hour drive from Cascade and was pretty remote. A few small towns and villages dotted the area, but it was mostly unspoilt countryside inhabited by wildlife and the odd trapper. He couldn’t understand where they could be going. The helicopter then gently settled on the ground and the two prisoners could see a large, black van parked next to a row of trees bordering a dirt track. The clearing in which they'd landed was just large enough to take the aircraft and Jim had to admire the pilot's skill in getting it down in such a small space.

Even before the blades had come to a halt four men dressed in black and looking decidedly Hispanic had approached from the trees. Surrounding the aircraft they kept their hands on their guns and watched as their colleagues climbed down. Blair realised that they hadn't even bothered to keep the two of them covered with their weapons. They had been rightly judged as powerless. They then indicated that Blair and Jim should exit, but no one helped the injured men out of the aircraft. Jim struggled to help his friend down without dropping him and was amazed that they managed it with a minimum of suffering on each of their parts. As they staggered towards the van being herded by the gunmen, the detective realised that nothing had been said by their kidnappers since the loft had been broken into except for one word: ‘asesinos’.

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The door to interrogation room two burst open as Banks strode through it making both Hernandez and his lawyer jump. The two men stared in trepidation at the furious look on his face.

“Captain Banks...” the lawyer stuttered before being drowned out by Banks’ growl.

“Hernandez, I have to inform you that if you thought that you were in deep shit before it doesn’t compare with the situation that you’re in now.”

“Captain Banks! I must protest...” the lawyer tried again.

“Two hours ago Detective Ellison and Blair Sandburg were taken by force from Ellison’s residence by a group of heavily armed, masked men. They were taken away in a helicopter and haven’t been seen since.”

“You can’t say my client had anything...” The captain’s glare shut him up once more.

“Now it appears that these men spoke in Spanish." The Captain knew he was stretching the truth a bit here, but he was angry and desperate. He slammed his palms down on the table and loomed over the nervous men. "A big coincidence, don’t you think? Now, we’ve got you for a number of crimes that could put you away for a VERY long time, but I’m willing to negotiate an easier sentence in exchange for information that will lead us to where my men have been taken.” Simon new he was risking a lot as his bosses had told him that they wanted Hernandez to spill his guts on Escobar and that any deals had to be slanted in favour of that goal. But quite frankly, the captain didn’t care. The two kidnapped men were his friends and he would do anything to prevent their deaths.

For a moment there was silence as the admin support officer stared up the big man leaning over him. He then turned towards his lawyer with a questioning look on his face.

“I don’t have all day. My offer’s going to be on the table for only the next five minutes,” the captain continued

“Okay. What about no prison?” Counsellor George asked.

“That’s not an option even if he gives me Escobar on a plate. I can’t negotiate on whether he goes to prison or not, but I can get him a lesser sentence.”

“No more than five years.”

“No way. He’s up for attempted murder of several police officers. No more than ten and only if his information’s good.”

George nodded at his client who shrugged his shoulders and turned to the captain. “What do you want to know?”

Banks let nothing show on his face, but internally he heaved a great sigh of relief. He sat down opposite them and pulled out a notebook and pen from his pocket. “Where’s Escobar?”

“I don’t know," Hernandez started. "But I know the name of his accountant,” he blurted out as the dark-skinned man glared at him.

“And?” Although Banks didn’t show it he was immensely pleased. They’d been trying to find out who did the drug lord’s books for ages.

“Escobar brought in some men from Colombia to act as foot soldiers. Guzman was using them to hunt for Ellison and Sandburg. I’m not too sure they can speak English. They work for someone called Jimenez. He’s in Bogotá.”

“Anything else?”

Hernandez hesitated. “Guzman is a distant cousin of mine. He’s got a really nasty temper. I... I couldn’t really refuse him. He broke a cousin’s legs with a baseball bat because he didn’t like the man’s girlfriend. He said if I didn’t help he’d pay a visit to my family in Bogotá.”

“I’m sure the money and drugs helped to ease your worries, though,” Banks remarked drily. He placed the notebook and pen before the other man. “Write the name of the accountant here and the man in Colombia.”

“What about my family?”

“Unfortunately, Cascade PD’s jurisdiction doesn’t stretch as far as South America.” He paused and then sighed. “Can you warn them to disappear for a while?”

“It’s just my mother and my younger sister. Maybe they could go to my uncle’s in the country?”

“I’ll make sure you get the use of an international line as soon as you’ve made your statement.”

“Okay,” Hernandez agreed dejectedly and picked up the pen.

Simon watched as, with a trembling hand, he wrote two names. He picked up the pad and glanced at the page. “Someone will be in to take your VERY thorough statement.” With that he left the room leaving a shaken prisoner behind him.

He met Patton and Mason outside the doors to Major Crimes.

“Anything?” The Vice captain asked.

“The name of Escobar’s accountant. A certain Paul Podlowski.”

“Excellent.”

“And apparently Escobar brought in some help from Bogotá. Provided by someone called Jimenez.”

“Jimenez? You certain?” Mason jumped on the name.

“That’s what he said. Why?”

“Oh boy. If we can link Escobar to him we’ll be able to take out one of the major drug pipelines into the north west.”

“Well, I was going to send Mathews to interrogate him further and take his statement. He was the one who worked out that Hernandez was Escobar's. Want to join him?”

“You bet!” With that the captain headed of down the corridor pulling his phone out of his jacket pocket.

Patton and Banks entered the bullpen. It was empty except for Megan and Mathews who were both working with their heads bent over their desks.

“Mathews, I want you to finish the Hernandez interrogation. He’s given us some really good stuff, but I’m sure you can get more out of him. Captain Mason will be joining you.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Connor, my office.”

The Australian inspector followed the two men into the captain’s office. She closed the door and took a seat next to the FBI agent. Simon poured coffee for the three of them then sank into his chair behind his desk. He tore out a page from his notebook and handed it to Megan.

“Apparently, the first name is Escobar’s accountant. I want you to find him as soon as possible. Hopefully, he'll be able to tell us where his client is. No, not hopefully. He WILL tell us.”

“Any news about Jim and Sandy,” Megan asked as she took the paper and looked at the name.

“They couldn’t scramble the police ‘copter fast enough. The FBI is trying to trace the other aircraft’s flight path.” He looked at Patton. “Anything?”

“Not yet,” Patton said reluctantly. “We’ve had to contact traffic control and that always takes time.”

“Okay,” Megan stood and finished her coffee “I’ll get on to this straight away. The sooner we’ve got the info, the sooner we can get our friends back. Thanks for the coffee, Captain.” She left the office.

“Well, I’m going to fill in my colleagues. I’ll see what Seattle found out about the man the State Troopers have. Maybe we'll have more luck if we get some info on this Jimenez.” Patton tiredly heaved himself out of his chair and nodding at Simon followed Megan out of the office.

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Although the sun was shining brightly, the air was definitely colder here in the Cascade Forest compared to the city. With Jim trying to support Blair as much as he could, the two men lurched their way across the grass towards the van. Jim snorted as he saw they were surrounded by heavily armed men.

“Word of our prowess has certainly been exaggerated. What do they think we’re going to do? Perhaps I’ll sling you over my shoulder then make a mad dash to the forest dodging bullets while you yell swear words to them in Spanish. Or as we're getting into the van I'll overcome the driver while you hold off the others with your knee brace.”

Blair chuffed a laugh that turned into a small groan as once again his leg hit a rock on the ground. “No, I’ll just give them a lecture on the socio-cultural significance of the colour blue as worn by the non-married men of the Awà tribe in Brazil,” he ground out trying to ignore the burning in his knee.

“Yeah, that’ll send them running.”

Jim looked up to see they’d reached the van. They were herded to the doors at the back and with a sigh he bent to help Blair climb in. Much huffing, puffing and cursing could be heard as they lowered themselves to the hard, metal floor. The gunmen jumped in after them and closed the doors. After one of them had banged on the wall separating the cargo area from the cab, the van started off. With seven people in the back it was crowded. The two friends huddled against each other in one corner and tried to stop sliding about as the van lurched, at what seemed to be a totally inappropriate speed, down the track.

Not being able to see also made for an uncomfortable ride, as did the total silence. About twenty uncomfortable minutes later the vehicle came to a stop and the two men breathed deeply in relief. The doors opened and as they pulled themselves out they were amazed to see a large, 1930s-style mansion hidden amongst some majestic trees.

The building was obviously well cared for, but also seemed to be unoccupied as wooden shutters covered the many windows. It was rather incongruous sitting on the side of this tall, tree-covered hill, miles from anywhere. The Sentinel sent out his hearing hoping to hear sounds of human life, another house, a road, anything, but all he could hear was the sounds of the forest, the pinging of the cooling van engine and Blair’s harsh breathing. He growled in frustration as the large trees surrounding the house also blocked his sight.

One of the gunmen signalled for them to move to the left and as they turned round the corner of the building they saw the sloping entrance to a cellar standing open. They hesitated before starting down the steps into the darkness and Jim stretched his senses in an effort to make out what was down there. He could hear nothing and see only the damp, earth-covered floor. However, one didn’t need to be a Sentinel to smell the dank, musky air that rose out of the darkness. A gun pushed into Jim’s ribs got them moving again.

“Okay, okay,” growled the detective, “we’re going. How about some light, though? Un poco de luz?” Although he didn’t need the light he knew that Blair would be grateful and anything they could get from these bastards was a step, or hobble, in the right direction.

The gunman on the right darted down and suddenly the black hole was filled with a weak, yellow light. The gun in Jim’s ribs poked again and the two men slowly and carefully made their way down the steps. As they descended more of the space came into view: dusty, wooden crates sat piled in one corner and some sort of lawn mower covered with a dirty tarpaulin stood propped up near what looked to be a water butt. It certainly didn’t fill them with warm feelings of home. In fact, being quite cold and damp, it didn’t fill them with any warmth at all.

They were herded towards a corner where a large pipe ran up from the floor to disappear through the low roof. Made to sit on the packed earth their arms were lifted and more plastic ties were wound around the ties circling their wrists and then around the pipe. The position they were in was awkward as there wasn’t a lot of room in the corner and they had to half turn to relieve the pressure on their wrists and shoulders. The gunmen backed away and headed back up the steps. The last man flicked off the light switch and the only light came from the opening. That though, was also taken away from them, as the doors were pulled shut. The sound of a heavy padlock being snapped shut resounded dully in the small space.

“How you doing, Chief?” Jim tested his bonds knowing it was futile, but doing so anyway.

“Glad to be off my leg. And you?”

“I must admit I’ve stayed in better accommodation than this.”

“Know what you mean. At least in Wyoming my cave was dry and had natural light." They sat in silence for a few seconds as they both tried to peer through the darkness. Blair gave it up as hopeless. The silence continued. "Well?"

"Well, what?"

Blair sighed, "What can you see and how are we getting out of here?"

"Not asking for much, are you?"

"Okay, let's stick with the easy stuff. What can you see?"

"Crates, dirt, boxes, dirt, some sort of machinery, dust, dirt..."

"Okay, okay. I get the picture. Seriously, though, any windows, trap doors, transport rings?"

"Yeah, hold on. I'll just get my intergalactic communicator out of my pocket and get them to beam us up, Yoda."

"Ha, ha. Mix up your sci-fi, why don't you?"

Pathetic the jokes may have been, but the bantering bought a certain amount of comfort to the two men. No matter how bad the situation it showed that their friendship was still going strong.

"Seriously though, I can feel a slight draft coming from our left. And if I squint there's what looks like a hatch of some kind. It's difficult to see 'cos there's a lot of dirt over it."

"We need to get out of these ties."

"Can you reach them with your mouth?"

"What? You think I can chew through them?"

"Got any better ideas?"

"You're taller and closer."

"I can't twist round enough. The angle's all wrong."

Blair sighed. "Okay. But not from here. I need to turn round a bit."

"Can you make it on to my lap?"

"Jim, I can't even see your lap."

"Sorry."

"No, I'm sorry. Don't move." With difficulty he shifted round so he was sitting on Jim's left thigh, which brought his face in closer contact to their attached hands. "Okay, don't move." Leaning forward he felt around with his nose until he felt the hard strands of plastic. He started chewing.

It was disgusting; hard bits stuck in his teeth and the sharp edges cut into the soft skin of his lips. Every so often he turned his head and spat the bits out. He was determined though, despite the angle he'd forced his body into. After a few minutes, he stopped for a break, rolling his shoulders and licking his sore lips.

"Talk to me."

"Hmm?" Jim sounded as if he wasn't all there.

"Jim, you okay?"

"What? Yeah, okay. I was just listening. The van's left with, I think, at least three men."

"So how many are left?"

"About six." He shifted a bit. His thigh was beginning to ache where Sandburg was sitting on it. "How can anyone as small as you weigh so much?" He grumbled.

"Brain matter," came the indignant reply.

The silence that followed was eventually broken. "I'm not going to even bother with a reply. Keep chewing."



Chapter sixteen

"Cascade PD! Open the door!" Detective Rafe's voice reverberated down the plush corridor of the block of flats in one of the nicer parts of Cascade. He banged on the door eschewing the discreet doorbell on his right. H stood to his left against the wall holding his gun in both hands pointing to the floor. Captain Banks and Agent Patton stood further down the hall making sure no one could enter the corridor from either the stairs or the lift. Everyone was anxious even if they weren't showing it. It had taken longer than anticipated to get the warrant and it was now early evening. They still had no news regarding the whereabouts of Ellison or Sandburg. The only positive slant they could put on the situation was that at least, no bodies had turned up.

A door on the opposite wall opened and a head covered with grey hair poked out.

"Wha...?"

Brown darted across lowering his gun and gently pushed the elderly woman back through her door. "Cascade Police, ma'am," he said quietly and indicated his badge that was hanging round his neck on a chain in full view. The woman looked up at the tall detective alarm in her rheumy eyes. "Don't worry, I'm a police officer. Please go back in and keep away from the door. We'll let you know when it's safe to come out."

"But, but..."

"Please, ma'am." He pulled the door to and moved back into position. He nodded at the other man raising his gun to again protect his partner's back.

Rafe was about to knock again when the door opened a crack and a dark eye framed by salt and pepper hair peered out. "What do you want?"

"Ma'am, I'm Detective Rafe with the Cascade Police Department." He held his badge up to the gap. "Are you Mrs Podlowski?"

"Yes, I am. Why are you here?"

"We need to speak to your husband. Is he in?"

"Yes, but we're eating our dinner. Can you come back later?"

"I'm afraid not, ma'am. We must speak to him at once and need access to your abode."

"Barbara, what's going on?" A man's voice came from somewhere deeper in the flat.

"Mr Podlowski," Rafe called out, "Cascade PD. We need to speak to you urgently."

"No, no. Not now. Come back later." Was that a touch of panic in the voice?

"Mr Podlowski!" Rafe raised his voice. "We have a warrant to seize any documents relating to a certain client of yours. Now, you can either let us in or we will enter by force, but whatever happens we WILL have access."

The door closed slightly and the detective put his hand forward to prevent it closing completely then stopped when he heard the sound of a chain being pulled back. It then opened wider and Brown angled round so that his gun was pointing through the opening. Rafe also stepped back and eased his hand on to his gun. Neither relaxed even though the figure that faced them in the re-opened door was a short, rotund gentleman in his fifties with a cloth napkin tucked into his shirt collar and half moon glasses perched on his nose.

"Mr Podlowski?" Rafe asked again for what seemed around the 100th time. He once again held up his badge in one hand and showed the warrant in his other. "I'm Detective Rafe, would you please let us in?"

"Give me the warrant." Pudgy fingers unfolded the document and the accountant perused it carefully. "May I call my lawyer?" He eventually asked looking up over his glasses.

"You're perfectly within your rights to do so, sir, but we don't have to wait for him to arrive before conducting our search. So, unless you and your wife wish to be arrested for obstruction of justice, I suggest you let us in," Rafe said firmly his patience beginning to wear thin.

Podlowski pursed his lips and with a sigh he stepped back from the door. His eyes narrowed further as Banks and Patton also entered his flat. "And you are?"

"Captain Simon Banks also of Cascade PD and this is Special Agent Patton FBI." Neither man failed to notice the man flinch at Patton's title. "Please close the door, Mr Podlowski."

The man did as asked and went to put the chain back on then stopped realising how ridiculous it would look locking in his present company. He suddenly noticed he still had his napkin under his chin and with a flush covering his face he ripped it off.

"Your office, please?" Banks continued. "I take it you do have an office? This is listed as your professional address."

The accountant nodded and pushed past the four large men standing in his entrance hall. Although the foyer was of a generous size, their bulk, increased by the Kevlar vests they were wearing seemed to dwarf the space. His wife was waiting anxiously in the doorway of what looked like the kitchen.

"Call Morrison," Podlowski put his hand on her arm. "Tell him to get here immediately."

"Paul, what's going on?" Mrs Podlowski went to touch her husband with a trembling hand and then pulled it back.

"Not now. I'll explain later." He handed her his crumpled napkin and pushed her through the door with a gentle hand then pulled it shut after her. Continuing down the corridor he opened the last door on the right. Following him in, the four men found themselves in a large room kitted out as an office. An old fashioned wood desk with a computer and telephone on its surface stood in front of the large windows while the walls were covered in book shelves containing rows of cardboard box files and two metal filing cabinets stood next to the door.

"Could you point out any files or documents you have pertaining to an Alejandro Escobar?" Banks towered over the smaller man.

"Who?"

"Brown you take the shelves, Rafe the computer."

"You can't. They're private."

"Oh, but we can. You could have hidden documents anywhere. And our warrant allows us to search both your office and your home."

Podlowski licked his lips as he watched the detectives start pulling files off the shelves. He then jumped when the FBI agent cleared his throat.

"Now, Mr Podlowski what can you tell us about Mr Escobar?"

The accountant's heart sank.

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"What can you hear?" Blair's soft voice hung in the silence like dust motes caught in a beam of sunlight. Unfortunately, the dark space they were in held no sunlight, indeed no light at all.

"Nothing," Jim's voice was dreamlike, almost as if he was a cat drowsing under a hot sun. However, Blair knew that it was because he was concentrating on listening out for their kidnappers. He leant forward so that his shoulder brushed against the older man's. Sitting in the dark and silence senses straining, heart pounding Blair felt disconnected from the world. In a bizarre twist of circumstances, Jim's warm body appeared to be the only thing keeping him grounded. Jim then seemed to ripple almost as if the cat was waking up and Blair could somehow physically feel his attention retract back into the cellar.

"You okay?"
"Uh huh." The detective rubbed his face with his now unbound hands and then placed one of them on Blair's right knee that was nervously bouncing up and down. "We need to get out of here. I really don't think it's going to be too healthy for us in the near future if we hang around. Wait here, I'm going to check out the door."

"Yeah, I'll just hang around down here. Check out the entertainment, take in the sights, order myself a massage..."

Jim half listened to the muted commentary and made his way over to the bolted doors and gave them a push. Surprisingly, they didn't budge. He peered through the gap where the doors met, but even his dialled-up eyesight couldn't see anything. He forced his fingers into the tight space. Unfortunately, the bandages on his hands prevented him feeling anything. With a frustrated grunt he started pulling at the coverings with his teeth. He dialled down his taste as his mouth came into contact with the dirty and gritty material.

"What you doing?"

"Taying - my - bammges - uh."

"What?"

"Taking my bandages off. Can't feel anything with them on."

"Oh."

"No go here I'm afraid, Chief," Jim sighed several minutes later. "They're too tightly locked. I'm going to check that thing on the wall I saw."

He walked over to where he'd seen what looked to be some sort of hatch about half way up the low wall. Covered in greasy dirt it was about a metre square and was held in place by four large bolts. He could feel a draft of cool air drifting out from around the edges of the hatch and sniffing deeply he could smell damp earth, pines and grass. It obviously led to the outside, but would it be large enough for them to get through? Carefully, not wanting to disturb the encrusted dirt, he felt round the bolts testing how tightly they were screwed in.

Damn! They were tight. There was no way he was going to be able to undo them with just his fingers even at the best of times and with his damaged hands it was going to be simply impossible.

"Jim? What's going on?"

Ellison dropped down next to his friend and put a hand on his shoulder. "There are four heavy duty bolts holding the cover on to the wall. I need something to try and undo them. Stay here while I look around." With a tired grunt he stood up again. He pulled apart the pile of crates, but found nothing so turned towards to the covered lawn mower. It turned out to be an old sit down machine with rotting saddlebags on either side of the seat. "Yes!" He exulted as he slipped a grubby hand into one of them and pulled out some rusting tools. Two of them were spanners and he wasted no time in trying them out on the bolts. One was too small and the other slightly too big, but with a judicious use of force he managed to get the first bolt undone.

The second bolt was a different matter, though. He cursed and swore and winced when the spanner slipped and his sore hands banged against the wall. "Damn this!"

"Keep the noise down, man."

"When you've got something useful to say, I'll listen! It's all right for you just sitting there doing nothing."

For a heart-rending moment the dark space was filled with a resounding silence. Jim felt the blood rush to his head in a roar and the sweat break out on his forehead. "Chief... Blair... I'm sor..."

"It's okay."

"No, it's not. I shouldn...."

"Seriously. Don't apologise. The situation's not brilliant and I know you're worried and doing your best." Jim saw him turn and grin somewhere in his direction. "And I definitely know your growl's worse than your bite."

The playful tone and the not-so-subtle allusion to Jim's spirit animal didn't go unnoticed.

"At least I can't get rabies." The riposte was lame, but a gesture made in the right direction.

"Yeah, but I don't get fur balls."

"Ha, ha."

The following silence was far more comfortable than the previous one.

"So, what's the problem?"

"I can't get one of the bolts off."

"Is there any petrol or oil left in the mower?"

"Brilliant idea, Chief." The detective laid his hand for a brief moment on his friend's shoulder and was pleased when fingers brushed against his. He gave a quiet 'yes' when he found a small and dirty flagon of two-stroke. Within five minutes he had the last three bolts off. "Okay, I still can't hear anyone near. So, I'm going to take off the panel."

Blair peered through the gloom trying to make out what Jim was doing. Was it his imagination or was there a slight area of light appearing to, his left? And could he see the shadowy silhouette of Jim's shoulders? He gave it up as he really couldn't make anything of use out and concentrated on what he was hearing.

"We're in luck. It appears to be a coal chute. I'm going to see if we can get out the other end."

"Okay, man. Good luck." Blair lay back against the wall listening to Jim scrabbling, thumping and cursing. He tried shifting to find a more comfortable position and sighed. He was tired, dirty and angry and worried: worried for himself and Jim and his friends back in Cascade. He had no illusions as to what would happen to them if they couldn't find a way out of this cellar. He very carefully kept his thoughts away from Felicia. Was she alive? Had she been hurt? God, no! Think of something else! Jim slithering out of the hole like a baby being born broke him out of his thoughts.

"Well?"

"Wait a - " Jim's reply was cut off by a hacking cough.

"Jim, Jim." Blair flailed out his hands trying to find the coughing detective and managed to latch on to one of his arms. "Come on, smooth breaths." Leaning over he patted the older man firmly on the back until the coughs tapered off.

"God, Blair," Jim took in a deep, shaky breath, "it's so dusty in there."

"Wish we had some water."

"Yeah." He sat back so his shoulder was leaning against Blair's. "It leads up to a grill that looks out onto the outside. I really tried, but it's on too tight - rusted up."

"So, that's it."

"Not necessarily. There's enough room for both of us. We tie ourselves somehow to the grill, get the panel back up and wait. Hopefully, they won't notice what we've done."

"And that they don't have a Sentinel or dogs."

"Well, I haven't heard any dogs and I don't feel like I did when... when... Anyway, once they start looking for us we let ourselves out and head off into the trees."

"Okay. Help me take off my shirt."

"Why?"

"We need to make it into ropes and also face masks to filter out the dust."

"Good thinking, Darwin."

"Hunh," Blair chuffed, "haven't heard that in a while."

'Well, it sounded like a simple plan,' Jim thought to himself ruefully as he contorted his body in an effort to pull the panel back up to the wall and fix it so it wouldn't fall. He'd carefully patted greasy dirt back around the bolts he'd undone hiding the fact they'd been touched. It wouldn't stand up to a strict inspection, but it would pass a cursory glance. The panel slotted into place and he held his breath. It held! His feet were wedged into the angles where the panel met the walls of the chute. It was a precarious perch and he could only hope that they wouldn't have to be there long.

"Okay, you can lean on me now." He heard Blair's grateful sigh and felt his feet come over his shoulders. With care, he guided them so they were resting against his hips. He could imagine the smaller man twisted against the dirty, chute wall and thick grill. One of the sleeves of his shirt had been tied to his belt and then through the sturdy grill leading to the outside. Fortunately, the opening was hidden behind a bush, so no casual eyes could see the light coloured material or the face pressed up against it. He slowly leant his head back until his head was lying against the younger man's stomach. Another rope had been made out of the shirt and was looped under Jim's right shoulder and also tied to the grill. Despite the desperate situation they were in he couldn't help a small smile when he felt gentle hands stroking his shoulders.

For a moment there was silence apart from their harsh breathing. Jim again sent out his hearing and was relieved to find no one near by. However, they also needed someone to notice that they were missing and order a search party to look for them in the woods. Most importantly though, was that in their haste, their kidnappers wouldn't bother re-locking the cellar doors. He suddenly winced as a large rumbling erupted under his left ear.

"God, Chief! You've been drinking too much coffee."

"What?"

"Your stomach sounds like Mount Rainier's just erupted."

"Well, I'm SO sorry," came the indignant reply. "In case you haven't noticed we haven't exactly been eating regularly or healthily recently."

"I know, I know. It's just that it's so loud."

"And anyway I'm surprised that I don't have an ulcer after hanging out with you."

"Uh... um..."

"Wait, that didn't come out right. I just meant..."

"It's okay. I know what you mean."

They fell into silence once more. Jim was relieved to feel the hands on his shoulders start their soothing movements again. Moments later he could almost feel rather than hear Blair singing,

"...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..."

He trailed off and Jim was almost drifting off to sleep under the stroking hands. They eventually stopped, but stayed in place. Then the detective was jerked out of his stupor.

"Jim?"

"Uh huh."

"Why didn't you tell me you were undercover?"



Chapter seventeen

Paul Podlowski stared glumly at the documents being closely examined by the tall, black captain and the slightly shorter FBI agent. He'd been hoping that the men searching through his office would miss the files hidden behind a false back on one of the shelves, but they'd been extremely thorough and noticed the difference in thickness once the box files had been removed. Their smirks of satisfaction had turned into full-blown grins when they'd noted the names on the files they'd pulled out.

"Thomas Bishop, Roberto Capitini and Alejandro Escobar," Banks' deep voice seemed to grate on the accountant's ears. He turned to Patton. "You obviously know Escobar, but have you heard of the other two?"

The agent shook his head. "Please, do tell."

"Well, good old Roberto is part of a large Italian crime family and has a stable of women, including young girls, he runs near Coltrap Street. And he organises high-stake poker nights where if you can't honour your losses you end up in the bay feeding the fish. And Thomas Bishop's a gunrunner we've been trying to get for years. All that hard work and apparently all that we should have been doing was speak to Mr Podlowski."

Podlowski gulped, as four sets of eyes seemed to bore into his head. Seconds later his knees almost buckled in relief as he heard the nasal voice of his lawyer in the hall outside. Seconds later a tall man in his 50s swept into the room crowding everyone. "Mr Morrison, thank you for coming," the accountant's voice sounded rough.

"Mr Podlowski, don't worry, I'm sure I'll have this sorted out rapidly." The lawyer turned towards the officers holding out a hand. "I'm Counsellor Morrison, Mr Podlowski's lawyer. I presume you served a warrant?"

"Oh, I have it here." The accountant pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his trouser pocket and handed it to the lawyer who quickly glanced through it.

"Okay, this seems to be in order. Who are you?"

Banks once more went through the introductions.

"Why is the FBI here?"

"This is a joint operation," Patton's reply was short and to the point.

Simon's patience was running out. The search had taken longer than he'd wanted, but now they had something they could use to get information on where his two friends were.

"Mr Podlowski, these files will be examined by our financial experts. But even if I'm no accountant I can tell you've been doing some, how should I call it? Inventive accounting for some very wanted people."

The rotund man opened his mouth, but his lawyer jumped in first, "Don't say anything," he admonished his client. He turned back to the captain. "Have you cautioned him?"

"He's not under arrest."

"However, what we've found means he's in extremely deep water," Patton used his most authoritative voice. He wanted both the lawyer and his client to know that the FBI was very much involved in the case.

"I'm sure..."

Banks interrupted Morrison having reached his limit.

"Look, I'm going to be totally frank here. We need information and we need it urgently."

"Well I'm sure if you'd asked nicely Mr Podlowski would have been more than willing to help you. You didn't need to go to all the trouble of getting a warrant."

"Somehow I doubt that very much." Simon held up the three files, names prominently displayed. "Were YOU aware that these three use Mr Podlowski's services?"

Morrison became still as he read the names. "But Capitini and Bishop - aren't they criminals or something like that? And Escobar?" He turned to his client. "I'm sure that there must be some sort of explanation, Mr Podlowski? You didn't know they were criminals, did you?"

"Then why were these files hidden behind a false back on the shelves here?" Patton asked brusquely. He too could feel a rising unease that they were wasting time. "And just glancing inside them I'd say your client has a fine grasp of his clients' activities."

"Hidden behind...? Activities? Mr Podlowski, as you well know I'm not a criminal lawyer and I don't think it's in your best interests for me to continue here. I'll have one of my colleagues come. Meanwhile, I advise you say nothing until they arrive."

The accountant raised panicked eyes and was about to speak when Simon once more interrupted. "Listen, gentlemen, I really don't think you understand the gravity of the situation. This morning two of my men were kidnapped directly out of their home by people who we believe work for Escobar."

"Escobar?" The lawyer pointed to the file in the captain's hands.

"He's a drug baron with ties to the Colombian cartels. Do you remember the bloodbath on our streets a few weeks back?" He continued as Morrison nodded. "He was directly involved in that. And the fact that he has my two men does not fill me with confidence for their continued wellbeing. We need to find out where they are, and quickly."

Morrison was quick. "And you're willing to make a deal?"

"Podlowski has information on three of the biggest crime names in Cascade. If the information he gives us leads to successful prosecutions the DA would probably offer to bear his first born child."

"No, no!" The accountant almost screamed making everyone jump. "No, they'll kill me. Bishop... Bishop, he said if I said anything, he'll kill me or my wife. He knows where my children live. I can't say anything. God, no, you can't." He turned imploring eyes to his lawyer while wringing his hands. "Help me."

"Listen," Banks' voice showed the strain they were all under, "if my men die you'll be charged with as an accessory to murder of an officer of the law and you know what that means. But more importantly, you'll have me to deal with."

"Captain! Is that a threat?" Morrison was horrified. He'd obviously had not had many dealings with this sort of situation before.

"Not only are they police," he didn't bother mentioning Sandburg's somewhat ambiguous situation, "but they're also friends of every officer in this room." He lowered his tone a touch, "Both the Cascade PD and the FBI have witness protection programmes. Help us take these three down and you'll probably get a medal. As it stands, with the evidence we've got without even examining the files in depth, you'll be going a way for a very long time. And even if you don't talk, none of these three men will be certain of that. Getting rid of you will be the only certain way of guaranteeing your silence. Turn State's evidence and we can protect you."

Podlowski turned fearful eyes towards his lawyer who merely shrugged. The accountant had no illusions as to the situation he was in. Caught between a rock and a hard place didn't even cover it. However, he was also a pragmatic man.

He picked up Escobar's file from the desk where Banks had dropped it. "Unfortunately, I don't think Escobar has them," he started, a slight tremble in his voice betraying his fear. "A few days back I was in his office when his lieutenant, Guzman came bursting in. Escobar sent me out, but I heard a lot." He explained how he'd listened at the door. It had been a risky move, but information was power and protection. He repeated the conversation he'd overheard and how when Guzman had called him back in he'd been furious and was cursing Escobar under his breath. "If anyone's got them, it's him," he finished.

Simon ran his hand over his head and looked despairingly at his detectives. They looked back at him with the same look on their faces.

"But, wait," Podlowski had opened the file, "Guzman had only a few days to set this up and he would have needed a place to take them. I think he'd've used one of Escobar's properties. He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, if you know what I mean? He’s cruel and violent and planning’s not really high on his list of talents." His voice had become stronger as he looked through the file. He held out a piece of paper to the captain. "Now, I'm pretty sure even Guzman understands the need for secrecy when kidnapping police officers. This is a list of properties that weren't seized by you lot after the trouble with Berger. One or two of them are particularly remote. Especially the one out in the Cascade forest."

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Jim held his breath while a million things flashed through his mind. His first instinct was to lie, but he discarded that idea almost immediately. He couldn't and wouldn't do that to his friend, especially not now, as they were re-forging their friendship. He let air seep out slowly between his lips and then took a deep breath. He felt Blair shift.

"It's okay. You don't..."

"No, wait." He gently squeezed one of the calves resting on his chest.

"I understand if you don't want..."

"Chief, will you just be quiet a moment? You know I don't have your way with words. I just need to get my thoughts in order." For a moment there was silence and without realising it he started rubbing a thumb up and down the other man's leg. "You know," he started slowly, "I was so pleased when you finally became my partner for real. I meant it when I said you were the best cop I'd known and when we started working together with you as a detective nothing happened to prove me wrong. Everything just clicked. I thought everything was just great.

"But I was wrong."

Blair's leg jerked and then he stilled.

God, he was doing it all wrong. His words tumbled out of his mouth in an effort to get them out, "I was blind. I couldn't see how you were hurting. We were closing down cases like on a conveyor belt, things were calm at the loft, my secret was safe. Life was just great. But you were still dealing with all that shit from the diss mess and I couldn't see how depressed you were. Or the hassles you were having to deal with at the PD.

"So, when I was approached for the undercover job, I thought, 'why not?'. I though we were okay. Then they said I couldn't let you know. I couldn't let anyone know. I argued that you SHOULD know, but it came direct from the commissioner. Simon and I discussed it later and we were convinced that you'd work it out if we left a few clues. I mean, you're the most intelligent person I know. God, you're intuitive, you see things the rest of us are blind to..."

"Jim..."

"No, please. Let me finish. This is hard enough to say as it is."

"Okay," Blair's reply was soft, but Jim could feel fine tremors running through his body. His face burnt as he realised that he was grateful that he couldn't see the expression in the younger man's eyes.

Taking another deep breath, he continued, "But I didn't take into account the pressure you were under... Chief, I blew it. I admit it. We said no more lies and six months later I lie to you. I'm sorry. I'll do anything to make it up to you."

He waited for Blair to say something. And waited. He didn't know what to do. And then gradually he felt the tremors subside and the muscles relax under his hand.

"It's okay. Thanks for telling me. I understand now."

"Blair, I'm..."

"No, really. I DO understand. I just, just wasn't in a good place at the time... and..."

"Do you forgive me?" Jim blurted out.

"Man, there's nothing to forgive."

"We're good then?"

"More than good. We're..."

"Quiet."

"Quiet? Umm, that's not what I..."

"No, be quiet. Someone's coming."

"Oh."

A few minutes later they could hear the bolts on the doors being drawn back and the hinges squeaking. Holding their breaths they almost jumped when a number of voices started shouting in Spanish. Running footsteps came closer and it seemed as if the cellar was full of shouting men and the sound of crates being smashed. Blair winced as an especially loud voice reverberated in their little space. Would someone notice that the panel in the wall was only loosely attached and that anyone touching it would more than certainly make it fall? He also prayed that they wouldn't find his leg brace.

He and Jim had realised that there was no way that both of them could cram themselves into the chute if Blair was unable to bend his leg. So, they'd removed it and had hidden it behind the lawn mower mixed in with the tools. Hopefully, in their rush to find the prisoners, the gunmen wouldn't notice it. It then seemed that their prayers were answered when, after a minute more of searching and shouting, the men rushed out leaving blessed silence behind them. Jim stretched out his hearing to follow them as they called out to their compatriots. Subconsciously, his hand rubbed up and down Blair's calf grounding himself.

"You okay?"

Although barely a whisper, Blair's voice crashed into his ears like an explosion. However, all those years of tests (albeit many of them taken under duress) kicked in and he automatically dialled down.

"Yeah," and although he didn't exactly whisper, he nevertheless spoke softly. "They didn't sound too happy, did they? They seem to be heading out to the forest. We'll give them some time to get really going and then get out of here. You doing all right?"

"I've been in more comfortable places and I think my belt is cutting me in two, but I'm holding up."

"Very funny, Butthead."

The silence that followed was companionable rather than strained despite the circumstances. Jim finally patted Blair's leg and gently pushed the panel out so that it thudded to the floor. Both men held their breath waiting to see if the sound had been noticed. The detective slipped his arm out of his shirt support and eased himself to the cellar's dirty floor pulling off his homemade facemask. Golden light was streaming in through the open doors indicating that it was late afternoon. Leaning back into the chute he put his hands on Blair's hips and helped him out. Leaving him sitting against the wall he quickly retrieved the brace and strapped it round the younger man's leg.

Dialling up his vision he quickly inspected the other man. Sweat ran down his face leaving tracks through the sooty dirt and it was difficult to tell the colour of his remaining clothes.

Blair rolled his eyes at the inspection. "I'm fine, Jim. Mind you, if I look anything like you I can see why you're concerned." He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead rubbing the dirt around.

"At least I got a shower earlier."

"Not that anyone would notice now," Blair murmured.

Jim merely snorted and then hauled his friend upright. Supporting him as best he could he pulled him over to the doors and stopped to listen.

"We're good to go, Chief. I can't hear anyone closer than the woods. The house is empty and more importantly, there're no dogs."

They'd discussed what they were going to do once out of the cellar. At first trying to get hands on some sort of transport seemed their best option. However, it was likely there was only one vehicle access to and from the property. Any vehicle driving up the road would be able to block them easily. Also the gunmen had access to a helicopter. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Neither did they want to be caught in the house looking for a telephone. And anyway, they'd seen no telephone wire leading to the building when they'd flown in.

So, they'd decided to head off into the woods. Hopefully, with Jim's senses and a lot of luck they'd be able to evade their kidnappers. What they'd do after that hadn't been so easy to solve. Carefully, they lurched out of the cellar. Jim ignored the sub-vocal gasps of pain from his partner and headed towards the bushes growing against the side of the house. For once luck was on their side and they made it to the forest without being spotted by the gunmen. They didn't stop, though. Trying to be as quiet as possible they slipped through the trunks and round the shrubbery. After several minutes Blair's gasps were no longer quite so sub-vocal and Jim's thighs ached from his time in the coal chute.

'God, I've only been in Cascade two weeks and I've been shot at, kidnapped, cut by flying glass and this is my second chase through the woods!' Blair thought ironically. If he hadn't been in so much pain he'd be laughing. He could feel the burn in his knee creeping up his thigh. He knew that he wasn't going to be able to keep moving for much longer.

It was Jim that stopped first. Leaning Blair against a tree he slowly turned round 360° his head cocked in his classic listening pose. After a few minutes he leant back against the tree so their shoulders were touching.

"They're a distance away, but a couple of them are moving in this direction. Fortunately, they didn't learn any woods craft during their last sojourn in the forest. They sound like a herd of elephants."

"Jim, I don't think..."

"I know, I know." He turned so that he was facing the other man. "You've done really good." He pulled his sleeve over his right hand and gently wiped down Blair's face. "We need to find somewhere to hide."

"Haven't we done this once already?" Blair's voice was whiney and high pitched like a sulky adolescent.

"I must admit this running through the woods whilst being chased by gun-toting brigands is getting rather tedious. Remind me not to suggest camping for our next vacation." He stiffened and then pushed his body off the tree. "Sorry, Chief, but we've got to keep moving." He held his arm out and grabbed the other man’s shoulder.

"Oh, God." Blair ducked under the Sentinel's arm and slipped his arm around his waist holding onto his trouser waistband.

With a slight groan Jim got them moving and they staggered off together as if in some bizarre three-legged race.



Chapter eighteen

“It’s okay, Chief. Sit here.” Jim lowered Blair to the forest floor behind a thick clump of blackberry bushes and leant him against a convenient rock.

“Jim, leave me here. Go get help.” Under the dirt Blair’s face was flushed and sweat was running in rivulets down his cheeks. His breath was coming in short, painful gasps and his mouth was open in an attempt to pull more oxygen into his heaving lungs. All in all he was a sorry sight for sore eyes. And to be truthful, Jim didn’t feel all that much better.

They’d only managed to continue lurching along for another fifteen minutes before they’d ended up on the edge of a large depression. Blackened, branch-less trees stretching across the wide expanse showed that the area had been devastated by a violent fire. Burnt stumps were gradually being overtaken by fresh new growth showing that it had happened a few years earlier. However, the young vegetation wasn’t high enough to provide adequate cover for them. They’d be sitting ducks if they attempted to cross it.

“No point, they’re only a few minutes away.” The Sentinel bent forward and resting his hands on his thighs, breathed hard.

“You can get past them. Evade them. Use your senses…”

“We’re surrounded.”

“Find a place to hide me and go get…”

“No, I’m not going,” Jim’s voice as quiet and resolute. “I’m not leaving you.” He slid down onto his knees so that he was facing his partner. “Listen, I’m sorry I got you into this…”

“You? What d’you mean? How can this be your fault?”

“I dragged you into my world. You’d have been better staying at Rainier…”

“Oh, man, don’t start that again!” Blair ran his fingers through his hair a sure sign of his agitation. He gripped the other man’s forearm with a strong hand and looked into his eyes. “I CHOSE to be part of your life. You didn’t drag me kicking and screaming into the PD. Sure, being on the rollercoaster has had its bad moments, but that’s life, man. Living through the good and the bad is what makes us the people we are. And I don’t regret being a part of your life for a moment.”

“But…”

“No buts, Jim. I’m so very grateful that we found each other again and if we have to make like Butch and Sundance, so be it.”

Jim took in a shaky breath. Life wasn’t fair, but then he’d always known that. He’d learnt it as a child and later confirmed it in the army. And being a police officer certainly hadn’t convinced him otherwise. It was unfair that he’d only just found Blair again and they’d renewed their friendship. And now they were going to die. Things were looking good for Blair both professionally and romantically if he’d read the younger man’s reaction to the young jewellery maker right. And it was all going to be blown away by bullets shot from some Colombian thugs’ guns. Because there was no doubt as to what was going to happen once the gunmen caught up with them.

“Chief…” his voice failed him and he swallowed. “Thanks. For everything.” He was forced to smile as Blair lit up with one of his ‘light the universe’ grins.

“Likewise, man, likewise.”

The Sentinel could hear the men getting nearer and knew they only had a few moments left. He concentrated all his senses on the man in front of him. His sight minutely examined the face looking into his. If he was going to die here and now, he was going to die swallowed up in everything that made up his friend. He catalogued the cuts on his face from glass and branches and the twigs and leaves stuck into the abundant curls. Sniffing brought him the smell of sweat, dirt and fear, but also the underlying, natural odour of his companion. Sending out his hearing meant he was wrapped in the sounds of Blair’s breathing and rapid heartbeats. He could hear the blood rushing through his veins, the muscles contracting and expanding…

A soft squeeze on his arm steadied him and he smiled again at Blair. He lifted a hand to rub a curl with his fingers. Under the dirt he could still feel its silkiness and wondered at it. His hand drifted down to the familiar face and cupped a cheek. Blue eyes looked up at him; eyes filled with love and understanding and brimming with tears. His thumb captured a drop of moisture that he found in one corner. Bringing it up to his mouth he licked it with his tongue… The essence of Blair exploded in his mouth.

How appropriate. He was drowning, drowning in Blair and never heard the blast of multiple gunshots.

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Simon Banks chewed savagely on the end of a cigar and glared out over the golden-lit countryside. However, he ignored the magnificent sunset and the voices coming out of the 1930s manor house behind him. He was tired – no – he was exhausted and angry. His eyes slid to the right and ghosted over the body bags lying on the grass in front of the line of trees. Such waste, such bloodshed.

He sighed. ‘I’m getting too old for this shit. I don’t think my heart can take it anymore.’ The thoughts rattled around his head. ‘Hah! I say that ten times a day and then totally ignore it ten times a day.’

Simon’s self-amused snort cut through the silence. He pulled out his lighter and lit his cigar puffing out great clouds of smoke. He held it in his hand and regarded the glowing tip. ‘Sandburg said I should give up and I know I should, but there are moments…’

He watched the sun slide behind the trees casting the grassy clearing into darkness. Suddenly, the shadows were banished when floodlights fixed to the house flared on. He blinked and turned towards the building. Squinting against the light he could make out the figure of Megan Connor standing in the open door.

“Captain, dinner is served. And don’t think you’re bringing those stinking things into this house.”

“But I’m your captain,” Simon huffed half-heartedly.

“Well, apart from it being a filthy habit there are injured men in here.”

“Point taken.”

Taking a couple of deep puffs, he dropped the half-smoked cigar onto the grass and ground it out with a boot. He walked up the steps and into the large dining room on the right of the entrance. Sparkling chandeliers sent fractured light dancing across the walls and the long, ornate dining table. Six people sat around it noisily discussing the day as two of the SWAT officers came through another door carrying a large saucepan filled with soup between them and placed it on the table amongst plates of crackers and cheese.

H filled two bowls with the soup and put them on a tray already holding crackers, a jug of water, glasses and spoons. “I’ll take these to the guards,” he said as he picked it up and walked out of the room.

Captain Virgil of the SWAT team picked up the ladle and in a high falsetto voice asked, “Shall I be mother?”

“God, put on a dress and a pair of heels and you’ll be better looking than mine,” growled one of his officers.

Everyone laughed as the tall, buff, moustachioed captain pursed his lips and put a hand on his hips. “Ooooh, you say the nicest things.” Picking up the bowl in front of Rafe who was sitting on his left he started ladling tomato soup into it. “Okay,” he continued in his normal, rough voice, “if you want soup pass your bowls over.”

“What about…?” Banks started to ask when he was interrupted.

“It’s okay, I can manage.”

Everyone turned towards the double doors leading to the corridor.

“Chief, you know you’re not supposed to be putting any weight on that leg.”

“I know, I know. But I can still use the other one. And I feel like a puppet dangling between you two behemoths. Put me down.”

“Are you calling me a behemoth, Hairboy?” Growled Brown.

“Sure you know what it means?” Jim shot out.

“Hey, even Connor’s taller than Sandburg,” Rafe said his light laughter reflecting everyone’s relief at having managed to save their friends’ lives.

“I can make it to the table, thanks.”

“Everyone’s taller than Sandburg,” Ellison continued.

“No, the table, I said,” Sandburg protested as his two escorts pulled him towards an armchair stuffed with cushions that had been strategically placed at one of the table’s corners.

“Daryl’s half his age and he’s already a head taller than him,” boasted Banks.

“Aaaargh!” Everyone stopped talking and laughing and stared at Blair as he gripped his hair and screamed.

“What’s the matter, Chief?”

“I want to sit at the table,” the younger man replied mulishly. He knew he sounded juvenile, but it had been a difficult day and quite frankly he was fed up of people deciding things for him. He just wanted ‘normal’ back in his life.

“But Jimbo said you had to sit with your leg raised, so I prepared this for you,” Megan’s soft voice and puppy dog expression almost rivalled that of the injured man. She stood next to the armchair and indicated another chair also sporting a cushion that was strategically placed waiting for a leg encased in a brace.

“And I’ve prepared a tray for you,” Rafe had also stood up and was holding the mentioned item in his hands an encouraging smile on his face.

“Oh, um. Well, all right then.” Bowing his head, Blair allowed Jim and H to lead him over.

Within minutes he was ensconced in the armchair and tucking into the rich soup along with the others seated at the table. Amazingly his bad humour seemed to dissipate as his stomach filled. For a few moments all that could be heard was the scraping of spoons in bowls and the crunching of crackers.

“You know, this is pretty good soup,” Rafe said eventually laying his spoon in his empty bowl.

“Yeah, these Colombian hoods really know how to eat well,” agreed Virgil.

Simon finished his second bowl of soup and stretched his arms above his head hearing his vertebrae crack. “Sandburg, you’re looking a darn sight better than earlier.”

“Yep, it’s amazing what a daring, last minute rescue and a hot shower can do.” Even though the smaller man grinned Banks could see the strain the two men had been under still in his eyes.

The tall captain’s memory flashed back to how he and the SWAT team had found the two friends earlier that day. As soon they’d got the information from Podlowski he had scrambled two helicopters and a SWAT team. The flight up the mountain was spent in nervous tension wondering whether they were going to be in time. The clearing next to the house had been too small for both aircraft to land. So one had let down the SWAT team down on ropes while the other had landed with the Cascade PD officers on board. Men had come running out of the trees guns blazing and a short gun battle had ensued even before the six-man SWAT team had been on the ground.

Seeing a gap in the gunfire, Banks had taken his team towards the forest where they’d spotted Ellison and Sandburg from the helicopter as they’d flown in. Running through the forest they’d been horrified when they’d spotted them half hidden behind some scrub with two gunmen training their guns on them. Announcing themselves as police and telling the two men to lay their guns down, both in English and Spanish, they hadn’t been surprised when the gunmen had turned and pointed their guns at the new menace. Simon, although deploring the loss of life, had no compunction in shooting them down.

Rafe and Brown had then checked the bodies to make sure they were dead and had then joined the others. At first Simon hadn’t known what to make of the scene in front of him. Was it really his two friends underneath all that dirt? And what was Jim doing? Was he in a zone out?

“Um, Jim? Sandburg?”

The image in front of them had certainly been – bizarre. Ellison had been kneeling next to the younger man his left hand cupping Blair’s cheek while sucking the thumb of his right hand.

“Hi, Simon, guys. Glad you could make it. Jim, Simon’s here.”

“Sandburg, is he all right?”

“Yeah, I think he hasn’t realised yet, that we’re still alive.” He’d put his hand over the hand on his cheek and squeezed it gently. “Come back, Jim.”

The detective had blinked and glanced up at the group surrounding them. He’d then blushed as he’d pulled his thumb out of his mouth realising the picture he was presenting.

“Hey, Sandy, nice hairstyle,” Connor said trying hard not to laugh.

Having noticed his friend’s embarrassment, Blair had jumped on the opportunity to change the subject. “Thanks, I hear that twigs and leaves are in this year.”

By the time they’d got back to the house the SWAT team had bagged the dead gunmen and were treating the two who’d been injured. It being late and no one having life-threatening injuries they’d decided to make the difficult journey down the mountain the following morning. They’d taken advantage of the large house and the food supplies that had been brought in by the gunmen. Banks and Virgil knew that it was against protocol, but everyone was tired and hungry and quite frankly they simply didn’t care if they were breaking the rules. They decided to use only a few of the rooms and closed off the rest of the house to be searched later. A quick examination of the rooms they’d decided to occupy had revealed nothing of importance. A large generator provided electricity and hot water, so Jim and Blair’s first actions had been to take long, hot showers.

Now fed, clean and treated medically by the SWAT team medic, Blair was finally realising how close to death he and Jim had been. He looked up at the other man. “Simon, thanks. We really thought our number was up.”

“Was that why Jim was zoning out on you?”

Blair glanced over to where the Sentinel was trading jokes with H and Rafe. He too, looked clean and relaxed dressed in yet another pair of sweats, albeit these ones carrying a designer label, liberated from a wardrobe in one of the bedrooms. Blair wondered whether they were Escobar’s. Jim looked over at him and smiled.

“How did you find us?”

Simon silently acknowledged the change in subject and launched into the tale of how they’d questioned Podlowski who’d given them the location of the house. A quick call to the local sheriff had confirmed the presence of numerous strangers coming and going up the single track leading to the property. Leaving Patton to coordinate the work on Escobar’s file recovered from Podlowski’s office, Banks had hotfooted it up the mountain.

“So, we’ve got three criminals for the price of one?”

The captain jumped as Ellison’s voice sounded over his left shoulder. He’d not heard him come up behind as he’d recounted his story.

“The FBI and the powers that be are breaking out the champagne.”

“I want to thank you, too.” Jim turned to face the table. “All of you. As last minute rescues go, this one was a doozy.”

Banks answered for all of them as he clapped a large hand on his detective’s shoulder, “Don’t mention it.”

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Escobar was just sitting down to dinner with Guzman in one of his safe houses when they were interrupted by one of his ‘employees’ rushing into the room a large gun in his hand.

“What’s up, Santiago?” He asked in Spanish.

“The FBI are at the gates.”

“What?” The drug lord rose up from the table throwing his napkin onto his plate.

“They have warrants and are demanding to be let in. They say if we don’t open the gates they’ll blast them open.”

Escobar swung round and stared at his lieutenant who’d made a small sound.

“Raul, what do you know about this?”

“N… nothing,” the man denied, but his voice quavered and he couldn’t look his boss in the eyes.

The soft sound of a small explosion came through the open doors leading to the garden. A cacophony of sirens became louder and louder as vehicles approached the house. Escobar pulled the gun out of Santiago’s hands and shot Guzman right between his eyes. The dead man was ejected out of his chair while blood and other ‘substances’ were projected against the dining room wall in a crimson spray.

The drug lord had exited the room before the body had stopped twitching. Followed by his henchman, he ran towards the kitchen where he’d created a secret escape route from the house. Shouts and running feet could be heard entering the house and he could even hear a few gunshots coming from the garden. His hand was on the disguised keypad that would open the hatch and lead him to freedom when a voice stopped him.

“Halt. FBI.”



Chapter nineteen

“I’m going to read a short statement. Once I’ve finished you’ll have the opportunity of asking your questions,” Jasper Bentine, the Cascade PD’s public relations officer’s voice rang out through the room. The group of journalists and reporters shifted in their deliberately uncomfortable seats. The vast majority of them had heard the statement hundreds of times and were impatient to get to the reason for the press conference. “Over the last six weeks three of Cascade’s alleged major criminals, Roberto Capitini, Thomas Bishop and Alejandro Escobar have been arrested, arraigned and are awaiting trial on suspicion of gunrunning, distribution of banned substances, organised prostitution, money lending, gang warfare and other sundry crimes. Full details of the charges are available from our press office.

“In a joint operation with the FBI, the Cascade PD also seized large quantities of drugs, arms, pornography and stolen goods. Mayor Smithson has expressed his appreciation of all the hard work put in by all concerned and wants to particularly thank Detective James Ellison and Mr Blair Sandburg for their contributions to the case.

“For obvious reasons, I’m unable to comment on any of the details pertaining to either the arrests or the upcoming trials, but if you have any questions…”

Simon clicked on the remote stopping the tape and then turned off the television. He turned to the people sitting around the conference table in his office. “So, after that,” he said, “it degenerated into the usual waltzing around between the press trying to get more information and Bentine determined to give nothing more away.”

“Well, you must admit he didn’t really give them an awful lot,” commented Taggart taking a large gulp from his coffee mug.

Banks in a fit of madness, as he called it, had offered part of his coffee stash to his detectives while they watched a recording of the press conference that had been given earlier that morning.

“That’s why he’s so good for the job,” laughed Matthews.

“Rather him than me,” Rafe gave a mock shiver.

“It certainly wasn’t as entertaining as the one given by Chancellor Edwards though, was it?” Joel chuckled.

“I must admit, watching her eat crow is an image I’m going to enjoy for a long, long time,” Simon added with deep satisfaction in his voice.

“I still think Blair could have got more out of his settlement, though.”

“He got what he wanted. His student loans paid off, a public apology and a chance to get his PhD.”

There was a moment’s silence as everyone contemplated Simon’s words.

“Okay,” the Australian exchange officer broke it, “let’s talk about important things.”

“Yeah, Hairboy’s party next week,” H’s voice mirrored the large grin on his face.

“Are you sure he knows nothing about this?” Taggart asked Simon.

“Ellison says he’s been far too busy to really notice anything.”

“With a certain young lady, perhaps?” H mused.

“Uh unh,” Megan shook her head, “she left weeks ago and won’t be back until the end of the week. Dissertation madness.”

A knock came on the door.

“Come.”

Banks’ secretary, Rhonda, poked her head round the door.

“The cake maker’s here and I have the items you ordered.”

Simon stood up. “ Great. Show him in and bring the stuff in. Put the calls on hold for a few minutes. We’ll need your organisational skills for this one.”

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“Where’s my tie?” Blair’s voice drifted out of his room.

“On your bed,” Jim replied from the settee where he was watching a basketball game on the television.

“Thanks, man.”

For a moment silence reigned in the small space.

“Have you seen my black shoes?”

“Next to your bed,” Fel answered from the kitchen where she was pouring coffee into three mugs. She was dressed in a beautiful green dress, her hair was caught up into a chignon and her arm was free of its cast.

“Okay, thanks.”

Fel put the empty carafe in the sink and picked up one of the mugs. Just as she turned to take it to Jim, Blair burst out of his room holding a dark shoe in each hand and waving them around. He was wearing dark trousers, but was barefooted and bare-chested.

“Oh, God! My shoes. They’re filthy. I can’t wear them like this. Jim, where’s the shoe polish?” He darted towards the kitchen and the under-sink cupboard where the shoe paraphernalia was kept. Suddenly, a shoe was plucked out of his hand.

“Calm down, Chief.” Jim took the other shoe and nudged the smaller man’s shoulder with his. “I’ll do this. We don’t want you getting polish on you now, do we? Go finish dressing.”

“Oh, that’s great. Thanks, man.” Blair turned back towards his room.

“And, Blair?”

“What?”

“Stop panicking!” Jim and Felicia called out together.

They were rewarded with a bright, but rueful grin and a wave of a hand before he disappeared into his room again.

“I think I’ll go and help him,” the young woman said and taking two mugs of coffee with her, she followed Blair through the French doors.

Jim bent to his task of polishing shoes. He was determined to make them shine; everything had to be perfect. Today Blair became Dr Blair Sandburg. He took in a shaky breath and for a moment stilled his hand. ‘God,’ he said to himself, ‘I never thought this day would come.’ And if his eyes misted a bit he didn’t acknowledge it.

A few minutes later he felt a touch on his arm.

“Uh, Jim, I think the shoes have surrendered.”

He looked down and with a start realised that he’d been brushing the shoe in his hand for rather a long time whilst lost in his thoughts.

“Oh, yeah. Okay.” He put the shoe down with a slight blush staining his cheeks. He turned to look at his friend. “Looking good, Professor.”

“Doesn’t he just,” Fel agreed from where she was leaning against the bedroom doorframe. Her smile was large and her eyes glinted with a promise of what was to come later.

Blair thrust out his arms and did a twirl on his sock-covered feet. He was wearing a new dark suit made out of organic, fair trade wool and cotton, a snowy white shirt and a multi-coloured waistcoat that Jim had bought him to replace the one he’d lost when he’d been run out of Cascade. His face was clear of scars apart from the odd red mark that would fade with time. His hair was in that in between stage, neither long nor short, that meant it was all over the place. So, he’d had a professional cut promising his Sentinel that he would grow it out again. Perhaps not as long as before, but certainly enough to show that he still wasn’t totally part of the ‘establishment’.

“Uh, could you?” Sandburg held up the dark blue tie that complemented the waistcoat perfectly.

“Of course.” He took the tie and quickly knotted it around the shorter man’s neck. He smoothed down the collar of his shirt and then moved his hands so they were gripping Blair’s shoulders. “I’m proud of you,” he whispered and found himself in a tight bear hug.

“Thanks. For everything,” came the whispered reply. Blair pulled back and smiled brilliantly at his friend. “We made it, man.” His smile faded. “I only wish I could’ve got hold of Naomi, though.”

“I hear you.”

“Stop it,” Blair grumbled and tapped Jim on his arm. “Right, where are my shoes?”

Felicia handed him the requested items and he moved to the settee to slip them on. Just as he was finishing tying the laces there was a knock on the front door. He looked up to see Jim and his girlfriend seemingly engrossed in washing and drying three mugs and a coffee pitcher and totally ignoring the door. Narrowing his eyes slightly he got up and pulled it open.

“Naomi!”

“Hello, Sweetie.” She engulfed him in a hug and, still surprised, he reciprocated automatically.

“Mom. How? What?”

“You going to let her in?” Jim walked over drying his hands on a tea towel.

“Uh, yes, of course.” Taking her arm he pulled her gently into the loft while Jim closed the door. “How did you get here? I tried for ages to contact you, but no one knew where you were.”

“Jim tracked me down. I must admit my friends were a bit put out when the local sheriff turned up at the commune. But once he’d explained why he was there everyone calmed down.”

Blair turned towards the detective. “What did you do, man?”

Ellison didn’t even have the grace to look ashamed. “Me and Major Crimes, we just used our contacts. We just felt it right that your mother be here for your graduation ceremony.”

The younger man didn’t need to say anything as the smile on his face and the gratitude in his eyes spoke volumes.

“Hello. I’m Naomi Sandburg, Blair’s mother.”

The two men turned to see Naomi holding out her hand to Felicia who was standing by the dining table watching what was going on with interest.

“Naomi,” Blair darted over to stand next to the younger woman, “may I present to you, Felicia, my girlfriend.”

“Girlfriend? So lovely to meet you. I look forward to getting to know you. Tell me, what do you think of third eye meditation? And do you like tongue?”

Blair groaned, “Mom, please.”

“Hey, Chief. You better get going or you’re going to be late,” Jim interrupted.

“Damn. Mom, listen I gotta run. I’ll see you all in the auditorium. Remember, Jim, tell the others to behave. No cheering and no baiting Edwards.” He gave both his mother and Felicia a kiss on the cheek and then grabbing his coat he was out of the loft.

“I’m sure I can control the cheering, but the baiting’s another matter,” Jim muttered. “I might even join in.”

“Not worth the bad karma,” Blair’s voice floated in from the corridor.

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“C’mon, Hairboy, you can do better than that. Drink up.” H slapped Blair on the back almost sending him into the table and pushed the glass of champagne towards him.

“H, are you trying to get me drunk?”

“No, because you’re already drunk,” Rafe interjected.

“I’m not drunk,” Blair protested. “I admit I may be feeling the effects of imbibing a certain amount of alcohol, but my higher cognitive faculties are still functioning at an optimum level.”

The two detectives burst out laughing.

“Yeah, babe. Functioning perfectly, eh Rafe?”

“Optimum level, H.”

“Listen up, everyone,” Banks’ voice cut through the noisy chatter of the many people gathered together in the hotel reception room. He glanced at them still amazed at how well the disparate groups mingled. Students and professors from Rainier chatted with officers from the Cascade PD, Counsellor Heath was listening avidly to the Parisi’s recounting their lives as travelling fair workers and Naomi and Felicia were laughing at something that Rhonda had said while sending glances his way. He’d have to check what that was all about later. The voices died down and everyone looked at him expectantly. “As you know we’re all here to celebrate Blair Sandburg getting his doctorate.”

“Finally,” Dr Stoddard called out with perhaps a bit more sarcasm than he’d intended.

Everyone laughed good-naturedly even though most of them understood the sentiment. Even in his tipsy state Blair felt Jim, who was standing next to him, stiffen.

“It’s okay, Jim,” he whispered and felt the man relax.

“Yes, well, I just want to say that along with getting his PhD, Blair’s been employed as a consultant to the Cascade PD. He’ll be available to all departments, but he’ll be based in Major Crimes and partnered with Detective Ellison here. Apparently however, he can’t get enough of studying, as he’s signed up for the next FBI’s profiling course starting in January. He’ll be the PD’s first resident profiler. Anyway, I have a few things here to welcome him back into our ranks.”

Rhonda came forward carrying a box that she placed on the table next to the captain. Simon beckoned Sandburg forward who at first just stared at him. It took a gentle push from Ellison to get him moving until he was standing next to Simon.

“Sandburg, first of all, we got you a new name plate for your desk.” No one had told him what had happened to the old one bearing the title ‘Detective Blair Sandburg’, but everyone had seen Ellison, in a fit of temper, throw it into a waste paper bin not long after the younger man had left. Simon held up the brass plate where black letters proclaimed, ‘Blair Sandburg PhD, Consultant.’

“Simon, I don’t know what to say,” Blair stammered.

“Now, that’s a first,” called out a woman’s voice. Jim couldn’t see who it was, but the Australian accent was a big clue.

“We also think that due to your lofty station you needed a new bag, so we got you this.” He pulled out a backpack in soft, black leather on which had been stamped, ‘Dr B Sandburg.’

“Wow, this is just great.” The new consultant eagerly started opening the many pockets. It would be ideal for carrying his ‘Sentinel First Aid Kit’; calming lotions, mini white noise generator, antiseptic wipes…. He stopped as his hand encountered something and went bright red as a packet of condoms fell to the floor.

“I’m glad to see that your police training hasn’t gone to waste,” Simon continued to great laughter, “and that you’re always prepared.”

“Yes, um, thanks. I think.” He bent down to quickly snatch up the fallen packet and stuffed it back into the backpack carefully avoiding looking at Fel.

“And finally, this.” He held up a large leather-bound book. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Blair’s dissertation: ‘A Study of a Modern Day Police Force. Its Internal Structure and Its Interactions with the General Public.’ The Commissioner was so impressed by its contents he has mandated that it become part of the curriculum at the State Police Academy. He has also requested that once you’ve finished at Quantico, you give some classes at the Academy. You don’t have to give your reply now, but he asks you to think about it seriously.”

Blair simply stood gaping up at the taller man tears threatening to spill out of his eyes.

“I know I said you don’t have to give your answer now, kid, but saying something would be appropriate.”

“That’s Dr Kid to you, Simon,” the younger man stammered out. He couldn’t believe it; all his dreams were coming true. It had been a long and hard road, but the rewards were worth it all. “Thank you. Thank you all and thank the Commissioner. And tell him, yes. I accept with pleasure.”

Jim stared at his partner (and how happy he was to be able to use that word again when talking about Blair) a large smile on his face. All was right in his world. Blair was getting what he so truly deserved and they would be working together again. One of the flats in their building was going to become vacant and Blair had expressed an interest in buying it. And even though the other man’s relationship with Felicia seemed to be going from strength to strength, he knew that Blair considered their friendship was of paramount importance. More than that though, what had happened earlier that afternoon gave him a real sense of righteous satisfaction.

“What are you smiling about?” Blair looked up blearily and happily into his Sentinel’s face.

Jim slung his arm around Sandburg’s shoulder. “Oh, just remembering something that happened this afternoon.”

“What? During the ceremony?”

“Yep.” And his smile morphed into an evil grin.

“What? Tell me.”

“Okay, listen. It was as you were getting your diploma…”

… Jim could physically feel the excitement running through the people around him as Blair’s name was called by the Master of Ceremonies. With a burst of pride he watched the younger man mount the steps to the stage. Although his leg was much stronger Blair still had a slight limp especially when going up or down stairs. A hand sought his and squeezed hard. He turned to look at Naomi who was staring at the stage a look of pride on her face and tears running down her cheeks. He swallowed and blinked back the tears that were threatening to rise in his own eyes. He blinked again when the detectives from Major Crimes, their Captain and his son raised their cameras to immortalise the moment with a flurry of flashes. In his head he heard a voice, ‘Dial it down, man.’

Watching the stage again he followed the slight figure march up to where Chancellor Edwards was standing stiffly holding up a rolled up parchment. He dialled up his hearing and his sight in order not to miss a detail of this precious moment. As Edwards handed over the certificates to the graduates she’d say a few words. Jim wondered what she was going to say to Blair and concentrated on her mouth.

He almost rose out of his seat and it was only Naomi’s grip on his hand that kept him seated.

“I find it abhorrent that someone with your morals and ethics is being awarded another degree from this establishment.”

He watched as Blair’s smile became fixed on his face. “That’s rich coming from you. Just give me the paper and keep out of my life.” Clutching the certificate in his hand he stepped round the woman and walked to the other side of the stage. Just before descending the steps he turned and looked out to the audience searching for his friends and family. Spotting them he raised his certificate above his head and grinned.

“Way to go, Hairboy,” H murmured.

“Congratulations, Blair,” whispered Joel.

Simon leaned towards Naomi, and knowing that Jim could hear him, said under his breath, “The kid’s done good.”

However, Jim wasn’t listening. His blood was pounding in his ears and his jaw was clenched tight. As the last graduates regained their seats he made to move out. A large hand clamped on his arm.

“Where’re you going?” Simon hissed.

“Something important to do.” He shook off the hand and made his way to the front of the hall by the side aisle.

With a grateful sigh Chancellor Edwards pushed her way through the swing doors leading to the area behind the stage. She often used this back way, as it was a way of avoiding everyone, even her colleagues who she found long-winded and boring. Although it was a necessary duty, she hated the graduation ceremony: all those pathetic kids and their pitiful degrees leading them into dead end jobs. She started to pull her dark blue robes off and then jumped when a figure came up behind her. She turned round and backed up against the wall as the figure loomed closer.

“Detective Ellison, what are…” she started as she recognised the man.

“Listen lady, I don’t think you even know the meaning of morals and ethics. Sandburg’s ethics are all about protecting people, yours are all about money and self-aggrandisement.”

“What? How dare you… Wait, wait. How did you hear…?”

“You work it out.” With that Ellison turned and walked towards the doors. Just before going through them he looked back at the woman. “And to repeat Blair, keep out of our lives.”…

“Oh, wow. I wish I could have seen her face.”

They fell into a comfortable silence as they stood with shoulders touching and watched the party. All was right in their world.

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In a blue jungle, Incacha watched in satisfaction as a majestic black panther and a regal sliver wolf loped off through the trees.



The End

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