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Navigation: This story is posted in two parts. Part 1 is below, Part 2 is here.

Summary: Someone who knows about sentinels is committing crimes in Cascade. As Ellison works to solve the case, a conspiracy comes to light which threatens to end his partnership with Sandburg forever.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Xasphie, [livejournal.com profile] rhyo and [livejournal.com profile] maaaaa, who commented on early drafts. Thanks also to [livejournal.com profile] fingers, who came up with the title and with whom I bounced ideas back and forth throughout, and to [livejournal.com profile] rhianne, who acted as a sounding board all the way along. Huge thanks to [livejournal.com profile] starwatcher307, for the very thorough beta. My immense gratitude also to my LiveJournal friends list, whose comments and help, when I first posted this story in parts in my journal, were an invaluable resource.

Warnings: Domestic violence and child abuse (off screen and in the past). Rape (off-screen). Apparent partner betrayal.

Rating: R



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Nominee: Original Character







Kith, or Kin?


By Fluterbev

November 2005



Another day, another robbery.

Frustrated, bone-weary and deeply troubled, Jim Ellison drove away from the crime scene, heading home toward Prospect rather than back to the PD. He had been working around the clock since being assigned this case, and Simon had urged him to take a breather. Extending his senses to no avail had left him with a pounding headache, and he hoped that perhaps a shower and a couple of hours sleep would help.

Entering the loft a short while later, Jim jumped in surprise when Blair Sandburg almost walked into him, as his elusive partner and roommate headed out of his bedroom into the kitchen. “Whoa, man,” Sandburg said, his eyes widening in surprise, “I didn’t hear you come in.”

Ellison hadn’t laid eyes on Sandburg much recently, as his anthropological partner was always so god damned busy at Rainier these days. They had barely spoken two words to each other in passing during the past week, with Jim tied up with the case and Blair totally absorbed in his academic activities.

It was a measure of Ellison’s exhaustion that he hadn’t heard Sandburg either. Tired, irritable and not in the mood to chat, he growled a reply. “Just watch where you’re going, Chief. Okay?”

Blair raised both hands in a defensive gesture. “Hey, I’m sorry, all right? I didn’t mean to startle you. And anyway,” his eyes narrowed speculatively, “what’s up with that? You should have heard me coming, even if I didn’t hear you. What’s going on with you, man?”

Ellison ignored his pointed question. Instead, he challenged, “I thought you’d be at Rainier. What are you doing home?”

Sandburg shook his head. “Strange as it may seem, I live here, man. I’ve got the afternoon off. Then I have a night class to teach later.” Without pause, the issue was deflected. “Why are you here?”

“I’m taking a break.” Ellison yawned, aware of Sandburg’s scrutiny. “Simon told me to get some rest then go back later.” A hand alighting on his head made him step back, opening his eyes. “What the...” he started, brushing Sandburg’s arm away.

Undaunted as ever, Sandburg stood his ground. “You have a headache, right?” He paused. “Am I right?” he demanded again.

“Leave it alone, Chief,” Jim snapped resentfully. “I’m gonna get a couple hours sleep, then I’ll be good to go.” Blair was shaking his head, his earnest expression fixed on Jim. Not for the first time, Ellison considered what a pushy little bastard Sandburg was, and he was definitely not in the mood to deal with him right now.

But Jim’s moods never seemed to faze Sandburg in the slightest. “C’mon, man, I can help. You’re far too wound up to sleep. We could do that guided meditation, you know, the one to relieve stress? C’mon, don’t be so goddamn stubborn, Jim! I can help. You know I can!”

Jim grouchily pondered which would be easier - giving in to Sandburg’s incessant demand, or pulling out his gun and shooting him. Deciding it wasn’t worth the paperwork, he opted for the former. “Okay, you win,” he said with weary bad grace. His head was killing him. Maybe Sandburg’s ‘cure’ would help sort it out. “Where do you want me?”

Sandburg grinned, and masterfully restrained himself from turning Jim’s question into a double entendre. “Upstairs. If you lie down while we do the visualization, you can go to sleep right afterwards.”

“Fine.”

Jim led the way up to his bed, and after setting an alarm for a couple of hour’s time, he complied with Blair’s instruction to lie down and breathe deeply. “We’ll start at your shoulders, Jim. Those muscles are all knotted up, and we’re gonna relax them. Tense, hold it, then relax. And again…” As Sandburg’s voice droned on hypnotically, Jim went through the familiar routine, the compelling tone in Sandburg’s voice leading him to the edge of sleep. A strange buzz intruded on the edge of his awareness, and the mesmerizing voice led him towards it. He went without fear, trusting Sandburg implicitly, even though the meditation was different than he expected this time round. And his awareness spiraled down, homing in on the odd sound, and its strangely fascinating cadences…

~oO0Oo~

Changing the timbre of his voice, Blair ventured, “Jim?”

When there was no reply, and he was certain that Ellison was deeply zoned, Sandburg retreated down the stairs, leaving behind the hissing white noise generator which was holding the sentinel’s attention. Praying fervently - to whatever deity might be listening - that the zone would hold, he waited expectantly by the phone. It rang dead on time, and he snatched it up after a single ring. “Hello?”

“It’s me.”

“Hang on a minute.” Blair held the phone away from his ear a moment, and leaning on the kitchen counter, he strained his neck to look up at Jim where he lay in the loft bedroom. The prone detective hadn’t moved. Blair picked up the phone again. “Look, this is a really bad time. Jim’s here. I managed to put him into a zone, and I don’t think he can hear us, but you’d better make this quick.”

There was a pause. Then the man’s voice said coldly, “Don’t give me orders, Tommy. Remember who’s calling the shots here.”

Blair ran a hand nervously through his hair. “I know, all right? But this is too risky. You can’t call me here again. I had no idea that Jim was going to be home. This could have blown everything!”

“I have enormous faith in your abilities, Tommy,” the voice soothed. “So far you haven’t let me down. But I’ll make this brief. I need to meet you. I’ll be waiting. The usual place, in forty minutes. Don’t be late.” The phone went dead.

Blair replaced the phone, and headed hurriedly back up to Jim, who had, thankfully, remained insensible throughout the whole exchange. Blair breathed a sigh of relief, then got down to the task at hand. He had just enough time to get the sentinel out of the zone and into a deep sleep, before keeping his appointment.

~oO0Oo~

Jim woke, feeling rested, two hours later. Reluctantly he had to admit that Sandburg’s relaxation exercise had worked, just as it usually did. The loft was quiet and empty, his partner having no doubt headed off to teach his class. After a quick shower and a bite to eat, Ellison headed back to the station.

Jim might be feeling better, but Simon was showing the strain in his demeanor when the Major Crime team met to review the case. “Five consecutive days, five robberies.” Banks’s tone was grim, as he summarized what had gone on in his own inimitable style. “Five diverse locations - a private house, a country club, a museum, an antique dealer’s and an art gallery. Priceless artwork and antiques stolen from all of them. Whoever is doing these robberies has done their homework. Only the rarest, most valuable pieces in each instance were stolen.”

Banks scanned his detectives expectantly. “You’ve all been working on this for five days, gentlemen. I want answers. Anyone have a theory?”

Henri Brown spoke out. “None of it’s easy to get rid of, Captain. The pieces are all unique enough, identifiable enough, that the perp won’t shift ‘em easily.”

“I’m talking to my snitches about foreign buyers,” Rafe piped up. “Nothing’s turned up yet, Captain. But my guess is the perp could be planning to ship the artifacts out of state before moving them on.”

There was logic in that argument, but not enough substance to satisfy the Captain. “This is all conjecture, gentlemen. I need facts. Ellison? Anything come back from the forensic side?”

Jim knew that Simon wasn’t just talking about regular forensics. “Nothing, sir.”

Banks looked grim. But the meeting had reached its conclusion, if nothing new was forthcoming. “Okay people, get back to work. Get me some results.” Everyone rose and began to leave, the dismissal plain. But Simon halted Ellison. “Jim, not you.”

As the door closed behind the last of the exiting detectives, Banks and Ellison shared a troubled look. “Tell me,” Banks pleaded, “that you were mistaken.”

Ellison shook his head. “I wish I could, sir. But after this one, I’m more sure than ever.”

Banks was regarding him intently. “Jesus, Jim. I have the Mayor on my back, because his country club cronies are pressuring him. If this really is personal, like you say, then we’re too close to the public eye on this one.”

“I know.” Ellison was grim. “But the evidence is overwhelming. Whoever is doing these robberies knows I’m a sentinel. And knows exactly how to keep my senses confused. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Simon pulled a cigar out of his pocket, twirling it in his fingers. “Your call, Detective,” he said, reluctance in his tone. “I know you don’t want anyone else at the PD to know about your… abilities. But keeping the rest of the people working on this in the dark is getting us nowhere fast.”

“I know.”

There was a pause for a moment, then Banks asked, “What about Sandburg? I thought for sure he would want to be in on this. This is his area of expertise, after all. And I don’t just mean the sentinel thing - he seems to know a lot about the kind of artifacts that are being taken.”

Jim shook his head. “He’s always too damn busy these days. He’s taken on extra classes, and never has any free time. I can’t get him involved right now.”

Banks was incredulous. “Are you telling me you haven’t spoken to him about this?”

Ellison shook his head. “Simon, Blair is overloaded right now. I hardly ever see him anymore, let alone get the chance to tell him about my cases.”

“Jim,” the Captain said forcefully, “this isn’t just any old case! This is someone conducting high profile robberies, who knows exactly what your edge is! If ever we needed Sandburg, it’s now. I want you to bring him in on this, stat! And that is not a suggestion, detective. It’s an order!”

Jim nodded reluctantly. “Yes, sir.”

~oO0Oo~

Later, while reviewing video footage from a surveillance camera at the scene of the latest robbery, Jim leaned back in his chair, tendons popping as he stretched. Jesus, he thought, this robbery was just the same as the others. If there had been any doubt in his mind before about the perp knowing about his senses, they were gone for good now.

The forensic report had come in, confirming the same modus operandi as the other robberies. Whoever was committing them was leaving no conventional evidence behind. Not one fingerprint, footprint, piece of thread or stray hair had been discovered. That, in itself, was not alarming, hinting simply at the professionalism of the perpetrator.

But, forcing his mind to a logical perusal of the facts, Jim had to accept that the evidence led to one inescapable conclusion. His sentinel senses were being knowingly, deliberately and maliciously toyed with.

It was public knowledge that Ellison was in charge of the investigation. The unusual nature of the robberies ensured that they had quickly become Major Crime’s territory, and pressure from the powers-that-be had ensured that the top detective in that division had been assigned as the lead investigator. The media were constantly dogging Jim’s footsteps, seeking soundbites; so his face and name were always in the news. That the perp might be baiting him personally, therefore, was not an outlandish assumption. It was certainly not the first time such things had happened in the course of an investigation, and for Ellison in particular, that scenario was more like the same old story.

More crucially, in terms of confirming his darkest suspicions, Ellison had never, since his senses had come on line, gotten so little from a crime scene. The five consecutive robberies that had occurred had provided the sentinel - as opposed to the detective - with nothing at all to go on, except the growing certainty that his unique abilities were being deliberately misled.

One example was that he had identified an odd residual smell at the first two crime scenes as being a mixture of chili and lemon juice - both of which combined to confuse his sentinel senses by masking normally occurring odors, such as body odor. In fact, Blair had found that particular fact out early in their partnership, in one of his tests. Other than that, no additional odors could be detected.

Then, in the third robbery, a weird sensation had assailed him - a not-unpleasant sensation he was all too familiar with. He had concluded that the perp had somehow distributed a substance which mimicked female pheromones at the scene, as his response had been eerily similar to that which he had experienced during the jewel robberies case, when he had become infatuated with Laura McCarthy.

Similar methods of misdirection had been employed in the fourth robbery. And finally, in this latest one, something had apparently been placed over the security camera, obscuring the view. Sound had remained, but nothing had been audible to either normal or enhanced ears. Until, that is, Jim had zeroed in on a barely audible hiss, which he instantly recognized as a white noise generator - a device which wouldn’t have meaning in this context to anyone other than a sentinel.

Unknown to Simon, Jim had gone so far as to make enquiries among some of his shadier contacts about Lee Brackett, a dangerous man who was well aware of Jim’s abilities. In fact, as Jim well remembered, Brackett had himself once used white noise as a technique to confuse his sentinel senses. But the incarcerated rogue CIA agent was apparently still safely locked away. Ellison was beginning to wonder, however, if the ex-agent’s ravings about Jim’s enhanced senses were at last being taken seriously in circles he would just as soon not know anything about him.

Ellison’s fear - that this whole charade was a kind of test of his limitations by some shady government agency - had prompted him to consider putting into operation the escape plan he had secretly cooked up after the Brackett incident. His time in Covert Ops had left him with a number of contacts he would trust with his life, in various parts of the world, and so disappearing was a viable option. The fact that he was even considering it was part of the reason he hadn’t pushed to get Sandburg involved in this case. The less Blair knew, the safer he would be.

But damn, he didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to go on the run, leaving behind his life in Cascade, his friends and his career. It rankled that he was being pushed into a corner like this. So, for now, he had decided to brazen it out, hoping that the fact he was in the public eye so much would protect him.

Now, dragging his attention back to the task at hand, hoping against hope that he could learn something - anything - from the security video, which might give him the break he was looking for, his attention was drawn back again to the unmistakable hiss of the white noise generator. Something about it tickled his memory. He had heard a sound exactly like it recently, but for the life of him couldn’t think where.

Pondering the problem, trying to force himself to remember, he focused in on the noise, and his awareness spiraled down, down, down…

~oO0Oo~

He jerked back to awareness with a start. “Wha…”

The large figure looming over him was, he was instantly aware, Simon. The big police captain was regarding him with concern. “You back with me, Jim?”

Ellison rubbed his eyes. His mouth was dry, as though he had been breathing through it. “What the hell happened?”

“You were zoned. I called your name a few times, then when I touched you, you snapped out of it.”

“How long…” Jim began, then looked at his watch. He blinked, unable to believe his eyes. “It’s nearly nine o’clock.” He did a rapid calculation. “Four hours? I’ve been here four hours?”

Simon looked grim. “Do you want me to call Sandburg?”

Jim shook his head. “No. No, I’m all right. I must be more tired than I thought. I haven’t done that in…” his attention was grabbed again by the video, which was still running, “so long…” the buzz luring him in…

A sharp pain shocked him back to the here-and-now. “Detective!” Simon hissed, “Stop it! What the hell is the matter with you?”

Jim palmed his shoulder, where Simon had struck him. Then in a flash of insight, he reached over and shut off the sound on the TV. He instantly felt more aware. “What the hell?” he snapped, looking at the blank screen for a moment longer. He picked up the tape case, his clearer mind quickly making the necessary deductions. “This is supposed to be a one hour tape. It’s been playing for more than four hours, Simon. It’s been doctored; made into a continuous loop.”

“So,” Simon said, following his logic, “the perp made this, and substituted it for the real tape. It’s been done before. But why is it making you zone?”

Jim looked at Simon. The Captain’s face mirrored the grimness in Ellison’s voice. “It’s a message,” the detective stated flatly. “One that only I would understand.”

~oO0Oo~

Captain and detective remained at the station until close to midnight, trying and failing to uncover more evidence that might lead to an answer. Then, each as exhausted as the other, they headed off to their respective homes.

The loft was quiet and empty when Jim got there, the lights off, Sandburg still out. Jim suspected that, in addition to his hefty duties at the university, his roommate had some woman he was dating, as he’d stayed out all night so often recently.

Jim hardly remembered showering and getting into bed. And it felt as though he had only been asleep for a matter of minutes when the phone startled him awake. “Get dressed, Ellison,” Banks growled in his ear as he fumbled the receiver into position, “and get your ass over here. There’s been another one.”

~oO0Oo~

The private museum was a prime target for their serial robber, and the level of security there was lamentable considering the value of its contents. Leaving the hysterical curator in the hands of some of his uniformed colleagues, Jim donned latex gloves and went to look at the scene.

A familiar odor assailed Ellison as he walked in the door; not, for once, the odd chili-lemon mixture, and emphatically not female pheromones. Spinning in place, he called out to the other detective in the room. “Hey, H? Is Sandburg here?”

Henri Brown shook his head. “Not if he ain’t with you, man.”

Shaking his head, Jim tried to dismiss the distracting olfactory sensation, which he assumed to be a phantom. If he was going around smelling Sandburg, he thought wryly, he was closer to the edge than he had previously thought.

He set his mind to the task at hand, and prowled around the remains of the broken glass case. Only one item had been stolen from this collection - a priceless Incan treasure. Maybe that was why, Jim mused, he was thinking about Sandburg. This really was the anthropologist’s kind of thing.

But no matter how much he tried to put his absent partner out of his mind, the smell wouldn’t leave him. And after a moment, something caught his eye, over where the aroma was strongest. Something trapped in-between the shards of shattered glass.

“Hey, H?” to his surprise, his voice was calm, rational.

“Yeah, Jim?” Brown replied.

“Go get Simon for me, would ya?”

“Sure thing.” Jim listened as Brown left, and as soon as his colleague was out of sight, he produced tweezers and an evidence bag from his pocket. Delicately, he extracted the hair that was caught in the broken case, and put it in the bag.

A long, curly, auburn hair.

By the time Brown had arrived back with the Captain, Ellison was over the other side of the room. Banks looked at him pointedly. “Anything, Jim?” he asked.

“No. Just like the others,” Ellison answered, his voice even. He maintained his calm, professional demeanor as he demonstrated to Banks and Brown exactly how little there was to find.

And he hoarded his secret. But he felt like he was dying inside.

~oO0Oo~

It had been early - barely seven a.m. - when Ellison had arrived at the museum. Immediately afterward, he had spent an obligatory, minimum amount of time at the station, pouring over the same old apparent lack of evidence. And a while later, after telling Simon he had a lead he needed to follow up, he ditched his easily recognizable truck and borrowed an unmarked car from the station fleet.

Now, parked at the back of Hargrove Hall with his Jags cap pulled low over his face, he put into practice the tricks his treacherous partner had taught him, listening intermittently to the comings and goings in Sandburg’s office in the basement.

It was after two o’clock in the afternoon when his surveillance paid off. Sandburg’s phone rang, and Ellison listened, his teeth grinding, as the call was answered.

“Blair Sandburg.”

“Ellison’s on to you, Tommy. You need to disappear.”

A pause. A heart racing. “Shit!” Another pause. “What the hell happened? I was careful, man, I swear-”

“I don’t know. But remember our deal. You keep away from him until this is over, or-”

The caller was cut short by Sandburg’s frantic voice. “Look, I’ll do it okay. I’ll get out of the loft. Just don’t…”

“Remember, Tommy,” the emotionless voice cut in. “Check in at the pre-arranged time. Get moving.”

Click.

“Oh man.” As the dial tone whirred away, Sandburg was apparently now talking to himself. “Oh man. Oh shit.” He sounded near to tears, his breathing ragged, his heart racing as he put the receiver down.

Outside in the car, Jim stared coldly into the distance, ice in his soul and no pity in his heart.

~oO0Oo~

When the detective walked into the loft a short while later, Sandburg was just emerging from his bedroom, jacket on and backpack over his shoulder. He obviously hadn’t wasted any time in getting ready to leave.

He also wasn’t paying attention, apparently not expecting Jim to be here, because Ellison’s voice made him nearly jump out of his skin. “Going somewhere, Sandburg?”

Blair had always been a master of the quick recovery, and didn’t disappoint now. “Oh, hey, man. You startled me.” He smiled, a little too brightly, obviously still hoping that his cover hadn’t entirely been blown despite the warning, his knuckles white where they gripped the strap of his pack. “What are you doing home? I thought you were busy working the case.”

“I am.” Ellison’s humorless gaze was firmly fixed on Sandburg, who shifted a little uncomfortably under his regard. “Where are you going?” he asked, appending sarcastically, “‘Partner’?”

Clutching at straws now, Sandburg didn’t look Jim in the eye. His voice shook a little. “Something came up. I, uh, I have to go out of town for a few days. Okay, man?”

“Riiight,” Ellison drawled; not moving from where he was blocking the exit, his back against the wood of the door.

Sandburg made a move towards him, but halted when Jim didn’t budge. “C’mon, man. Let me past,” he pleaded, his heart beating triple time.

Something about that gave Ellison enormous satisfaction. “I don’t think so,” he said; then added, “Tommy.”

Sandburg didn’t answer, although the color fled from his face; the name reverberating between them like a death knell.

Ellison allowed the tense silence to linger for an uncomfortable moment, before he spoke. When he did, his voice was soft, like gentle rain with the promise of a hurricane to come. “I’ve been wondering, Chief. Are you some kind of double, clone, whatever you want to call it? Is this like some weird science fiction thing? Am I going to find a pod under your bed, and Sandburg’s body dumped in the bay?”

When the other man remained silent, he carried on, “Because if Sandburg was dead, it’d be a relief. It would definitely be better than the alternative. Because if I’m wrong, and you are Sandburg, then I have to believe that my ‘friend’, who I gave a home to for the last two years, who watched my back and taught me everything I know about using my senses, was a fake all along. That Blair Sandburg never really existed. And I really have to wonder exactly who Tommy is. And who he’s working with. And what the hell he’s been doing to me all this time.”

Sandburg was now looking at the floor, his expression unreadable. He remained silent as Jim went on, “How much of it was a lie, Chief? The friendship thing? The research thing, huh? Did you get off on it, getting the better of me? Because let me tell you; you played me good. I trusted you. I trusted you more than I have ever trusted anybody in my entire life. And hey, guess what?” He laughed; a little self deprecatingly. “I actually cared about you. About you being safe. About you being happy. Guess that’s gonna to give you a big old laugh when your ass is thrown in jail, huh?”

“Jim,” Sandburg protested, glancing up. “It’s not what you-”

“Shut up! Just shut the fuck up!” Sandburg winced, his eyes closing, as Ellison’s barely contained bitterness sprang loose. “I don’t wanna hear it. Save it for the judge. Because I’m telling you, ‘Tommy’ or whatever it is you call yourself. You are going down.” As the detective spoke, he reached to his belt, unhooking the cuffs hanging there. “So make it easy on both of us, huh? Don’t fight me on this. Because it’s over. And you can’t possibly win.” He approached Sandburg, the cuffs in his hand.

Sandburg opened his eyes and watched as the other man came closer. Their eyes met, angry blue to anguished blue. “I’m sorry, Jim,” Ellison’s former partner said, a deep, aching misery in his voice. “I’m really, really sorry.”

And he sprayed the mace that was concealed in his hand directly into the sentinel’s face.

~oO0Oo~

Jim came back to sanity some time later, cool relief of a wet cloth wielded by gentle hands over his burning face. Forgetting momentarily what had happened, he growled, “Sandburg?”

“Easy, Jim.” Simon Banks’s bass rumble. “Just lie still. Paramedics are on the way.”

Memory, bitter as bile, returned with a rush. “Call them off.”

“Jim…” Simon protested, but Ellison reached up and stilled his hand.

“Call them off, damn it! I’m okay. I mean it, Simon. Do it!”

It wasn’t the first time that detective had given an order to captain and had it obeyed. But since Jim’s sentinel senses had come on line, Simon knew better than to protest at the about turn. In these matters, he fully acknowledged that he was the novice.

Jim listened as Simon pulled out his cell phone and cancelled the EMTs. And he sniffed at the liquid infusing the cloth which was covering his features. “You’re bathing me with milk and honey?” he pointed out incredulously, as Simon finished the call. “What the hell is this?”

He could almost hear the shrug. “Sandburg called me, told me you needed help and to use the stuff he’d put out for you. I got here, found you on the floor, with this in a bowl beside you. The wet cloth was already covering your face. Where the hell is Blair, Jim? It’s not like him to leave you at a time like this.”

Jim pushed himself up, pulling the cloth from his face. Itchy red eyes glared out of a ruddy, swollen face at the Captain. “He did this to me,” he said bitterly. “He’s the one committing the robberies, and I’m not sure any more if his real name ever was ‘Sandburg’.”

Banks, shocked for once into silence, could only stare back.

~oO0Oo~

In addition to leaving out the bowl of milky solution and tending Jim’s face, Sandburg, it seemed, had also paused long enough to put out a bottle of antihistamine tablets before going on the run. Jim dutifully downed two pills with reluctant bad grace, before getting down to the matter at hand.

Simon’s first instinct was to put out an APB on Sandburg’s car but, looking outside, Jim discovered that the Volvo had been left in its parking space. And in any case, they both agreed that dealing with this situation through normal police channels was a no-brainer.

“I have no idea what his motives are, Simon,” Jim told the captain, “or who he’s working with. Jesus, he’s dangerous. He’s influenced how I use my senses from day one, and he knows far more about my limitations than I do. We arrest him before we know what he’s up to, and he could blow the knowledge of my senses wide open.”

So they had agreed to handle this themselves for now. To try to apprehend Blair outside of normal police channels and procedure, so they could discover the extent of whatever conspiracy he was a part of. Banks didn’t like it - understanding that both their livelihoods and reputations were on the line here – but, reluctantly, he had to agree that they had no choice, at least in the short term, if Jim’s abilities were to continue to be kept out of the public eye.

Using his clout in the PD, Banks set immediate checks in motion on Sandburg’s credit cards and bank account, as well as taking steps to obtain telephone records from both the loft and Blair’s office phone. And as soon as he recovered sufficiently, Ellison put to use less conventional methods of detection - going through Sandburg’s abandoned belongings with the eyes and nose of a sentinel, looking for clues as to where he might have gone.

In the end, it was the Captain’s mundane methods which paid off. A withdrawal of eighty dollars - all that Sandburg had in his meager account - was made from an ATM later that night in the east side of the city. Using Banks’s influence and Ellison’s formidable persuasive powers to gain access to the various tapes - in lieu of actual warrants - A search of surveillance cameras from that bank and the surrounding district showed their quarry’s route as he disappeared off into the industrial district.

So, therefore, just over twenty-four hours later, Ellison found himself concealed in the shadows in the doorway of a warehouse, the spoor of his enemy in his nostrils; the agony of the most poignant betrayal he had ever experienced shoved deep down, subsumed underneath his volcanic, simmering fury.

~oO0Oo~

Not surprisingly, given their suspicions, there was no robbery the night after Sandburg assaulted his partner and disappeared.

Now, one day later, sitting in their impromptu operations room - his own office - Banks waited for Ellison to check in. He had explained away his lead detective’s absence in the middle of the case by telling his superiors that Ellison was undercover, exploring a lead. It was nothing more nor less than the truth, in any case.

Banks was deeply troubled, and not just by the fact that the man they suspected of the robberies was someone he had come to regard as a close personal friend. Something about this whole scenario just didn’t ring true.

Not that he didn’t believe what Ellison had told him. The evidence of Blair’s involvement with the robberies was pretty conclusive, after all, even if it wasn’t necessarily conclusive enough to convince a jury. A single hair found at a crime scene was purely circumstantial - it could have gotten there any number of ways. And a distinctive body odor lingering beside the smashed display case? That would just get laughed out of court, not that it would ever make it there in the first place.

Then there was that strange phone call, during which Ellison had overheard a mysterious male voice calling Blair ‘Tommy’, and urging him to go into hiding because Jim was on to him. More non-admissible evidence, but damning nonetheless in the eyes of the sentinel and the sentinel’s boss.

But the most conclusive evidence of guilt was Sandburg’s callous spraying of pepper spray into the his face when Ellison had confronted him. Sandburg had to have known the devastating effect that act of violence would have on someone with Jim’s sensitivities. Hell, the kid had previously gone out of his way to keep any and all harsh chemicals away from the sentinel’s skin, and here he was spraying mace at him, for Christ’s sake.

But afterwards, instead of getting the hell out of there as fast as he could, Sandburg had stayed to put together a soothing, natural concoction which would alleviate the worst of the agony he had put Ellison through. He had made sure antihistamines were within reach. And he had called Simon, to ensure that Jim would be taken care of. “I can’t explain right now,” he had said, “but Jim really needs you. Please, get over there, man, as fast as you can. I left everything you’ll need to help him.”

Sandburg had sounded devastated, as though his world had just ended. And he had cut off Simon’s inevitable query. “Just… just tell him, man, I never meant for it to end like this. He was…” Here Blair had choked, as though the words hurt him. Then he had forced out, “He was the best friend I ever had. Tell him… tell him it wasn’t a lie, the friendship. It was never a lie. He needs you now, man. Please, help him.” And then he had hung up.

He needs you now. Simon knew that Sandburg hadn’t meant that purely in the sense of rendering first aid, but in the long term. He had, effectively, entrusted the sentinel into Banks’s care and, in the process, indicated his intention to disappear from their lives forever.

Ellison, however, was blind to the possibility of gray areas in this situation. As far as he was concerned, Sandburg had intentionally betrayed his trust in the most devastating way imaginable. And any fond feelings the detective might have previously had about the anthropologist had been incinerated in the funeral pyre of his rage.

Sandburg, Jim had declared, was working with some unknown, shady figure, who could be anything from a perp seeking revenge on Ellison to a member of a covert government agency. Sandburg had cheated and lied his way into Ellison’s confidence, worming his way into the detective’s home and workplace. He had manipulated Jim’s senses, quite likely limiting their effectiveness as much as helping develop them. He had committed crimes with the intent of not only obtaining a fortune in stolen artifacts, but also rubbing his knowledge about Jim’s senses in the sentinel’s face along the way. And when his duplicity had been found out, he had inflicted agonizing violence on the man he had professed friendship for, and gone on the run to avoid facing up to his actions.

Deeply troubled, Banks sat back and waited for Ellison’s call.

~oO0Oo~

The unmistakable odor was closer now. His sense of smell wide open, Ellison acknowledged and discarded the multitude of other irrelevant scents and stenches, focusing in only on the one. Silently, using tricks he had learned long before Sandburg had come on the scene, he approached.

The figure was bent over a brazier, rubbing warmth into hands encased in fingerless gloves; the distinctive fur hat that Ellison had once found so humorous pulled down low over his ears. And, as the smell of the man he sought filled his senses, he was consumed briefly with a killing rage, which he suppressed ruthlessly.

His time for revenge would come. Now it was time for answers.

Moving as silently as a cat, he was behind Sandburg in seconds. And his prey never knew he was there until Ellison’s gun touched the back of his head.

~oO0Oo~

The phone rang. “Banks,” Simon announced, snatching it up.

“It’s not him,” came Jim’s voice, harsh with anger and disappointment.

“What? I thought you’d tracked him-”

“It’s not him. He traded his clothes away to somebody else.”

“Somebody else? Who, damn it? Did you question him?”

“Yes, sir, I did. He’s a bum, hangs out around the warehouse district. Sandburg offered fifty bucks for the guy to swap clothes with him. He did. End of story.”

“Shit.” Fifty bucks? Sandburg must be desperate. Banks rubbed his eyes tiredly. “What the hell next? He hasn’t used his credit card apart from that one time. That was our best shot at finding him without making it official.”

There was a pause. Then Ellison announced, “I’m staying here, sir. Gonna scout around a bit more, see if I can get a lead. Sandburg was here. Somebody might have seen where he headed afterward. I’ve got a description of the clothes he was wearing - it’s a start.”

“Jim,” Simon protested. “I don’t like this. Look, I’ve been thinking. You are far too close to this. I want you to come in.”

“Is that my Captain talking, or my friend?”

“Both, Jim.”

“Then no, sir. I can’t do that. I can’t walk away when I’m this close.”

Banks sighed. “Well, whatever, detective, I’m making this official. No warrant yet - hell, on the evidence we have, we’d be lucky to get Sandburg on suspicion of anything. But I’m listing him as a missing person. His photo will be distributed in patrol, and I’ll start making enquiries among his contacts at the university. I’ll keep the press out of it for now. But this way, if he’s seen, at least we can get a bead on him.”

“Okay, sir.”

“Just be careful, okay? I don’t like this, Jim. Any of it.”

A second or two of silence showed more eloquently than words how much Ellison agreed with that assessment. “Bye, sir,” he said. Heaving an unhappy sigh, Banks hung up the phone.

~oO0Oo~

It was a measure of how secure Blair had begun to feel in his life - the life he had now been forced to leave behind forever - that only last week he had spent the hundred bucks he usually carried in his wallet for emergencies, and hadn’t gotten around to replacing it. It was the first time he had ever been without what Jim had once jokingly referred to as his ‘security blanket’ for such a protracted period, ever since the first time Naomi had slipped a single hundred dollar note into his pocket on his first day at Rainier.

He couldn’t, he thought bitterly, have chosen a worse time to do so. His karma was, quite clearly, seriously fucked.

Earlier, he had cleaned out his bank account, withdrawing the measly eighty dollars that he had left to his name. But in a ploy to - quite literally - put Jim off the scent, he had been forced to surrender a phenomenal fifty dollars of that as part of a trade for the disgusting, stinking clothes he was now wearing. As a result, he only had just over thirty dollars left in cash, and no chance of getting more, unless he resorted to begging or stealing. And he had no idea how long he would need to make those last few bucks last.

And damn, he wished he didn’t keep bumping into people he knew, in the oddest places. Cascade was a sizeable city. But at times it felt like a village, and it was proving harder than Blair had anticipated to stay out of sight. He had been forbidden to leave town or contact anyone he knew for help, and the potential consequences for disobedience were very real.

The homeless shelter was the last place he’d expected to meet an acquaintance. But as he stood in line, waiting to get a plateful of stew, he nearly jumped out of his skin when a hand clapped him on the shoulder. “Blair! I didn’t know you’d joined our little gang.”

It took a second before Blair managed to force his heart out of his mouth and acknowledge the speaker. “Uh, Professor Williams.”

Blair knew Williams from Rainier. They worked in the same building, though in different departments, Williams being a sociologist. “Call me Martin, please Blair,” Williams was saying, oblivious to Sandburg’s inner turmoil. “If we’re going to be working together on this, you need to drop the professor thing.”

Blair blinked. “Uh, sure.”

“So,” Williams went on, guiding Blair over to a table, “I thought the Dean had decided this was going to be a pure Sociology venture. When did Anthro assign a researcher to the project? I wasn’t told.”

Glancing around now at faces he had been studiously avoiding looking at, Blair recognized a number of people that he knew, all of whom were attempting to blend in with the homeless who had come in to eat. Oh shit. Of all the shelters he could have picked, he had chosen the one full of social scientists. “It, uh,” he hedged rapidly in answer to Williams’s question, “was a last minute decision. You must have missed the memo.”

“Must have.” Williams looked unconcerned, as if such bureaucratic nonsense was simply a fact of life. “So, where do you want to start?”

“I, uh, I think I’ll just watch for a while.” Blair warmed to his lie, his usual enthusiasm for such endeavors easy to feign. “Get a feel for the obvious social hierarchies, you know? The pecking order, that kind of thing.”

Williams was nodding. “Fine. Good.” He rose. “Well, I’ve got to go for now, but I’ll be back out here soon, joining in the participant observation stuff with you guys. But I’ve got to do a structured interview first with the supervisor. See you later, Blair.”

“Yeah. Later, Martin.” Blair waited until the professor disappeared into the office door at the other side of the room, Then watching carefully, he waited until all of the other researchers seemed engaged. Once he was sure he was unobserved, he got up and walked out of the building.

Behind him, one pair of eyes, belonging to a young grad student Blair had once taught in Anthropology 101, watched quizzically as he made his hurried exit. Something about the expression of sheer desperation on the anthropologist’s face was ringing warning bells in his mind.


~oO0Oo~

Simon’s enquiries at the University proved that the web of deceit Sandburg had woven was more extensive than they had first thought.

“Blair took a leave of absence from teaching nearly a week ago, Captain Banks,” Professor Stanley Granger, the Head of Anthropology told him. “Yes, he’s been here since then, mostly during the day, working in his office. He is working on his doctoral dissertation, at the writing-up stage, which is pretty labor intensive. Also, he told me he was doing consultancy work with your police department, and was spending most nights working on that. With all of that going on, I agreed to cut him some slack.”

“So,” Banks said, understanding that Blair’s duplicity had extended to his university colleagues as well as to Ellison. “Let me get this straight. He’s done no teaching at all for the past week. No extra classes, no night classes, nothing?”

“None at all, Captain. Why, is something wrong?”

Banks hedged, “He’s uh, missing. His roommate is concerned for his safety.”

“Oh my.” Granger seemed visibly shaken. “He does seem to be under a lot of pressure. Stress is an occupational hazard for young men and women at times like this, when they are nearing the culmination of their studies. But he seems to be doing so well with his research. You don’t,” he faltered, “you don’t think he would harm himself, do you?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t say,” Banks replied.

“Well, I hope very much he’ll be all right.” Granger appeared totally sincere in his concern. “We’re all very fond of Blair. He’s been with us in this department for a long time, and we’re very proud of his achievements. He is a remarkable young man.”

“Yes,” Banks agreed, the misgivings in his gut burning like indigestion. “He is.”

~oO0Oo~

By a combination of intimidation and subtlety, Ellison had managed to get an idea of where Sandburg had headed once he had left the industrial district. The unusual ploy of changing clothes out in the open for cash was not an event that had gone unnoticed among the other denizens of the area, some of whom had apparently trailed Sandburg in the hopes that further handouts would be forthcoming. Ellison’s interrogation techniques - as well as some judiciously employed bribery - had quickly elicited the information he required.

Now, as he entered the homeless shelter, something caught his attention, and he sniffed surreptitiously. Then grinned ferally. Sandburg had been here. The underlying stench of the homeless man’s unwashed body, which had already permeated Blair’s old clothes in the short time that he had worn them, was hovering in the air. Concentrating, he could detect the unmistakable fainter scent of Sandburg underneath it.

Inside, an unexpected additional aroma assailed his senses. The earthy scent of Simon Banks’s favorite cigars. His captain was off to one side, chatting to a small group of people masquerading, to Jim’s immediately sharp perception, as down and outs.

Banks caught sight of Ellison and, excusing himself, came to his side. “Jim,” he said. “We need to talk.”

Jim listened as Simon filled him in on what he had learned from Stanley Granger. “And that’s not all,” Simon went on. “This crowd are from Rainier, doing some kind of sociology study here. The professor in charge contacted Granger while I was in his office earlier, said that Blair had been here. At first, they thought he’d been assigned as a researcher, to join in the study. But something about him was ‘off’, and he got out the minute he was recognized. The coordinator of the study called Granger to find out what was going on.”

Banks paused, and beckoned a young man over from the group. “This is Don Yale,” he introduced. “He used to be a student of Sandburg’s. Mister Yale,” he addressed the sociologist, “can you tell Detective Ellison what you told me?”

Yale looked concerned. “Detective Ellison, you’re Blair’s friend, right? I’ve seen you around the campus.” Yale missed the tightening of Ellison’s jaw at the word ‘friend’, but it registered with Banks, nevertheless. “I’m really worried about him, Detective,” Yale went on obliviously. “He looked, oh, I don’t know, lost, somehow. The prof thought at first he was here to do a study, but I’m telling you, his clothes? They were the real thing - he’s been sleeping rough, unlike us in these threads,” he indicated his own fake scruffy outfit. “And his face, man. He was in a bad way, I’m telling you.”

Ellison’s voice was as expressionless as his features. “Did you see which way he went when he left here?”

Yale nodded. “Sure. Come on, I’ll show you.” Ellison and Banks trailed him to the exit, and Yale carried on talking to them over his shoulder. “I was worried about him, you know? Something just didn’t seem right. So I followed him out, watched where he went. He’s a good guy, Blair. Helped me out a lot when I went through a hard time as an undergrad. If it wasn’t for him, I’d have flunked out. I sure wouldn’t be doing my masters now.”

They reached the exit, and went out onto the sidewalk. “There,” Yale pointed down the street. “He went that way, to the bus stop at the end. Got on a southbound bus; the ninety-three, I think. It goes down to Southtown, you know?”

Ellison said nothing, but his eyes focused off in the direction the bus would have gone. Banks answered for both of them. “Thank you for your help, Mister Yale.”

“It’s no problem,” Yale said. “Hey, I hope he’ll be okay, you know? Like I said, he’s a good guy. A good friend.”

Banks nodded. “We’ll do what we can to find him.”

“Okay. Thanks, Captain. Detective.” Yale headed back inside, leaving the two men on the sidewalk.

Banks turned to Ellison. “One thing is puzzling me, Jim. Why are you here? I didn’t tell anyone where I was going, just came right over from Rainier.”

Ellison’s head remained turned in the direction the bus had gone, sniffing the air. Then he turned to Banks. “I asked around,” he said. “Then I tracked Sandburg here by smell. You see I could smell his-”

Banks grimaced, holding up both hands. “Whoa, stop right there, detective. Sniffing Sandburg? Definitely too much information!”

~oO0Oo~

Following the bus route in his car, Simon tried not to be distracted by Ellison leaning his head out of the window, breathing in Sandburg’s scent from the ether. Whatever the sentinel was doing, however, seemed to be working, because after traveling a mile or so in the direction of Southtown, he ordered, “Stop the car, Simon. Pull over.”

Simon complied, but as Ellison reached for the door handle to let himself out, Simon halted him. “Wait a second, Jim,” he said. “We need to talk about this.”

Jim’s impatience was clear. “What’s to talk about, sir? Sandburg is nearby. I can smell him.”

“I know that, Jim,” Simon answered. “But this doesn’t feel right. You heard what Yale said. Blair was in a bad way. ‘Lost’, he said. I know I’ve had my problems with the kid in the past, but none of this is like him. I just can’t see him as a robber. And why the hell is he still in Cascade, posing as a homeless guy, instead of on the road out of here with the loot? He’s sitting on ten million dollars worth of antiquities, for Christ’s sake!”

Jim didn’t answer for a moment. Then in a controlled voice, he said, “It’s a game, to him. He’s been baiting me since the first robbery, challenging me to use my senses. He wants me to chase him.”

Simon’s brow furrowed. “But why? It doesn’t make sense!”

Jim carried on in the same quiet tone. “It does if he’s working for the government. If this is some kind of field test of my abilities.”

As the possibilities of that statement sank in, Banks’s eyes widened. “Shit,” he breathed. “You think he was a plant all along.”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense.” Jim’s voice was inflectionless, but Simon could detect the turbulent emotions beneath the rigid control. “I suspected the perp we were looking for was linked to some kind of government agency, one that had found out about my senses, even before I knew that Sandburg was involved. And whoever his handler is has me under surveillance, that much I can be sure of. Otherwise how would he have known I was onto Sandburg, when I hadn’t told anybody that I suspected him?” Jim turned to look at Simon, his face ghostlike in the light from the streetlamps. “I was meant to find that hair and Sandburg’s scent at the crime scene. I performed just as they wanted me to.”

Simon shook his head in amazement. Flower-child Sandburg, a covert agent? This whole scenario was so off the wall, it could just be true. “So why the hell are you playing their game, Jim?”

“What the hell else can I do, Simon?” Anger cracked Jim’s façade. “I could disappear. I’ve made the arrangements - I have the means and the contacts, and the people behind this would never find me. But why the hell should I give up my life? He’s taken enough from me, Simon. I’ll beat him at his own game, or go down fighting. He’s not taking everything!”

The anger and hurt rolling off the sentinel in waves spilled across to his friend, and Simon’s gut tightened as he realized to what extent he, too, had been played by their so-called observer, if what Jim was suggesting was true. Simon’s resolve hardened and, sitting up straighter, he pulled his service revolver from his belt, and checked the clip. “Let’s do this,” he said, his voice cold. At the very least, they deserved answers. Simon silently vowed that no government spook – whether it be Sandburg or whoever else - was going to get their hands on Jim, except over his cold, dead body.

Jim nodded, pulling out his own weapon. Without another word, moving in tandem, they got out of the car.

And, as he followed in Ellison’s shadow to the lair of their former friend, Simon ruthlessly squelched the dubious inner voice that attempted to deny the veracity of their suspicions.

~oO0Oo~

It hadn’t taken long, Blair realized as he watched the approaching figures from the alleyway in which he was ensconced, for Jim to catch up with him. Presumably his unplanned unmasking at the homeless shelter had been reported, and somehow the sentinel had managed to track him from there. Evasion, therefore, was not going to work. It was time for Plan ‘B’ - full frontal assault.

Quietly, he began to talk, knowing that the approaching sentinel would hear it. “I know you’re there, man. And you know I’m here. And I know you’re probably as pissed as hell at me right now. But please, man, you’ve gotta believe me. I’m doing this for a good reason. This is about life or death.”

Ellison’s uncompromising shout broke the quiet. “Come out, with your hands up! It’s over, Sandburg.”

Blair didn’t move. Instead he spoke again. “I’m sorry, Jim. I can’t do that.” He didn’t have long now - to make this effective he had to do it soon, before Jim or Simon got too close. Keep talking, he admonished himself, ignoring the conflicting demands of his nervous system that he run away from Ellison or toward him. “This isn’t about you and me, man. And it isn’t what you think it is.” He forced his voice quieter, whispering now. “Give me a few days, just a few, and I promise, I’ll turn myself in to you. But you gotta leave me alone right now.”

“No can do, Sandburg,” Ellison shouted back. The sentinel had heard him, obviously having dialed up his hearing to the maximum - exactly as Blair had hoped he would. “Come out here now, or I’m coming in after you.”

Blair forced his voice even quieter, even as he readied the small machine he held in his hand. “I’m sorry, Jim. I can’t do that.” His voice was hardly audible now, even to himself. “And I’m really sorry about this, man. But I don’t have any choice.” Finger stabbing hard, he pressed the button.
And as the sentinel howled in agony, hands clamped hard over his ears, Blair made good his escape.

~oO0Oo~

“I don’t need to go to the emergency room, damn it!” Ellison had begun to recover his equilibrium as soon as Banks’s car had put some distance between them and the alleyway in which they had cornered Sandburg. “Simon, c’mon! Stop the car.”

Banks glanced at him dubiously. “I’m not so sure about that, Jim. Hell, I’ve never seen you react like that.” Despite his reluctance, Ellison’s boss signaled and pulled into the side of the road. “I mean, what the hell happened? You were almost catatonic. How was I to know it was a sentinel thing?”

Ellison ignored the rhetorical question. Instead he hit himself on the forehead in self disgust. “What was I thinking? How could I let him do that?”

Simon’s patience was at an end. “Do what, Detective? Tell me what the hell is going on!”

Jim took a couple of deep breaths. “He tricked me.” The merest hint of humiliation in his tone damped down Banks’s irritation. “He kept talking quietly; got me to dial up my hearing as far as it would go. Then he hit me with something, a piercing noise; I don’t know what it was. All I know, is that it bought him the time he needed to get away.” He turned to Banks. “Simon, c’mon. Turn the car around. We have to go after him.”

Banks had anticipated, and the engine was already rolling.

They were several blocks from the entrance to the alleyway when Ellison grimaced. “Christ.”

Banks glanced at him worryingly. “What is it?”

“It’s still there. The noise.”

“Can’t you dial it down, or whatever it is you do?”

Ellison didn’t answer, his whole attention seemingly on the noise. Not knowing what else to do, Banks pulled in, and waited until Ellison got himself under control. Pained blue eyes rose to his. “Simon,” he said, “I’ve turned my hearing down low, so if I can’t hear you, you know why.” Jim opened the car door. “Let’s roll.”

Banks felt little more than useless as he watched Ellison scrabbling around in the dark alley where Blair had apparently been hiding. “Aha!” the detective declared. “Got it!”

“Got what?” Banks asked, as the detective came back towards him. Then remembering Ellison couldn’t hear him, shouted, “Got what?”

Ellison winced. “Not so loud, Captain. I’m back to normal.” He held up the object in his hand. “He’s gone. He left this. A dictaphone.”

“And?” Banks demanded.

“And,” Ellison sighed shamefacedly, “it seems to have a continuous recording of a dog whistle on it.”

Banks blinked. “A dog whistle.”

Ellison pressed the offending object into Banks’s hand, then turned to scout their location further. “Don’t even think it,” he warned.

Banks snorted, swallowing a million smart retorts, and followed.

~oO0Oo~

Dropping the coins into the slot, Blair waited impatiently until the phone was answered. “Yes?” said the voice on the other end.

“It’s me.”

“Well done, Tommy. One minute to spare. How are you holding up?”

Blair swallowed. “Jim nearly caught me. I managed to put him off. I got away. It was a nearly an hour ago, and I’m way across town, so I think I lost him now.”

“You’d better.”

Blair let out a shaky breath. “Look, I’ve done everything you told me to, all right? Please, let me talk to her, man. I need to know she’s all right.”

“You’ll have to take my word for that. She’s, um, a little tied up right now.”

“Just don’t hurt her. Okay? We have a deal.”

“You keep your end of the bargain, Tommy, and I’ll keep mine. Same time, tomorrow. Same rules. Don’t be late.”

“I won’t,” Blair confirmed miserably. But he was talking to the air.

***

Once again trying to track their fugitive by smell, Ellison found Sandburg’s abandoned clothes in a dumpster, in another alleyway several blocks away. As Ellison held up the rancid pants, Banks grimaced. “Okay, Jim,” he said, his lip curling in distaste. “So sniff ‘em already. Which way did he go?”

Ellison looked grim. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Banks was incredulous. “What the hell do you mean?”

The sentinel shook his head. “He left everything here. All the clothes he was wearing, even his sneakers and backpack. Whatever he has on now is hiding his scent, and the residual smell has been washed away in the rain.”

“Rain?” Banks queried, only now realizing that it had started to drizzle. He had been so focused on the task at hand the change of weather hadn’t registered with him at all.

Simon was brought back from contemplating the elements with a jolt when Ellison kicked the dumpster. “Fuck!”

Holding both hands up placatingly, Simon tried to get Jim to focus on the job they had to do, instead of his anger. “Hey, take it easy, Detective. Let’s think about this a moment. What would Sandburg tell you to do?”

Ellison looked at him incredulously. “I can’t believe you asked me that, Simon!”

“Humor me.”

“Fuck.”

“Well come on, Jim! He’s the expert in this stuff - you said it yourself! Use what he taught you.” Trying to remember what he’d seen Sandburg do, Simon attempted, “Okay, forget about smell. What about your other senses? What can you find out?”

Jim took a deep breath, then moved back to the dumpster and climbed in. After a moment’s searching, he said, “I know where he got his change of clothes. There’s an open plastic bag in here; looks like it was meant to go to Goodwill but got dumped instead. It’s full of men’s clothes; pants, shirts, even shoes. Not his usual style, but they’re reasonably clean. Guess he got lucky.”

“Or he planned ahead and put it there,” Simon pointed out.

A few moments continued fruitless searching saw a dispirited Ellison rise out of the muck. “There’s nothing, Simon. Nothing left to track him by, as far as my senses are concerned. He could be anywhere in the city by now.”

“Or out of it,” Simon remarked.

Frustrated, dispirited, and now getting very, very wet in the relentless drizzle, the two men trudged back to the warmth of the Captain’s car.

~oO0Oo~

The trail was cold, and there was little else that they could do that night.

Ellison went home to his empty loft, averting his eyes from the closed doors of Sandburg’s former room. Bitterness burned in his throat. Too drained and heartsick to eat, he went straight to bed, where he lay staring sightlessly at the ceiling, sure he wouldn’t be able to sleep despite his bone-deep exhaustion.

Sandburg’s betrayal ate at him, consuming what peace of mind he might have hoped to find in rest, however imperfect it might be. It was as if two different Blairs existed in his memory – his friend, partner and guide, someone to rely on, to trust with his life; and the callous stranger who had committed robbery, and used his superior knowledge of Jim’s senses against him in agonizing and humiliating ways, as if he was a rat in a maze.

Paradoxically, he wished the former were here to tell him how to deal with the latter.

He knew Simon didn’t – couldn’t – comprehend the depth of Jim’s anger and hurt at what Sandburg had done. But this betrayal went far deeper than Simon could ever imagine. Jim had invested far too much of himself in his partnership with Sandburg, which had morphed fairly quickly from a professional arrangement into what he’d experienced as an unusually profound friendship. Jim had trusted Blair with aspects of himself that no one else had ever been permitted to get close to. Knowing that Blair had insight into his each and every weakness, and was apparently prepared to use those weaknesses against him, cut him to the quick with humiliation and dread. So far it had been his sensory weaknesses which had been used as a weapon. But where would it end? Blair was a consummate psychologist. In what other ways could he torment and humiliate Jim, if he so chose?

Jim had been taken in by Blair from the first moment they met, and apparently been played for a complete and utter fool. If Sandburg really was part of some covert conspiracy, as all the evidence suggested, he’d deceived Jim from the beginning. And Jim had practically handed Sandburg his heart and soul on a plate, warming toward the likeable and courageous young anthropologist, treating the younger man almost like a favored younger brother, believing himself, somewhat naïvely, to be some kind of a mentor to Sandburg, like he’d been to Danny Choi.

His thoughts spiraled around and around, finding no respite. He was unaware of the moment he slipped from waking nightmare into slumber but, between one blink and the next, he found jungle surrounding him, and he growled deep in his throat. The one he sought, the betrayer, was nearby, manifested in the pained yelps and scrabbling sounds of the treacherous creature trying to escape.

Seeking, he moved toward the frantic whine and rustling of leaves, gliding with a warrior’s grace through the lush rainforest vegetation. The wolf, when he unerringly came upon it, was pawing the dirt, trying to free itself. One of its hind legs was caught in a vicious trap, the jaws of which were biting deep into its flesh. The gray fur was stained with the wolf’s own heart’s blood. A part of Jim twisted in horror at the cruel damage to the animal, but another, darker aspect to his soul crowed in satisfied glee. This was no more than it deserved.

The wolf lifted its head, detecting its adversary’s approach. It bared its teeth in fury; but the stench of its fear was rank in the air, and Jim was not deceived by the wolf’s posturing. As he got closer, the wolf snapped out at him, its jaws barely brushing his skin, keeping him at bay. No matter how hard Jim tried, he couldn’t get close.

Then the wolf’s assault ceased abruptly, its attention diverted, as a sound from the distance rent the air. Another wolf, howling in anguish, somewhere far away. And, hearing it, the trapped wolf howled in return, its antagonism transmogrified into stark desperation.

Jim’s eyes snapped open, his heart pounding; the jungle obliterated, the dream ended. But in his mind he still heard the fading echo of that pitiful cry.

~oO0Oo~

It was three more days of dead ends and frustrated anger on Ellison’s part before they picked up Sandburg’s trail again. And, to his chagrin, Jim’s sentinel senses had nothing to do with it.

The antiquities case had stalled since the night Sandburg had first disappeared. There had been no further robberies and, with no new leads to go on – other than the secret suspicions Ellison and Banks held about Sandburg’s involvement – there was little to be done apart from damage control. The press had unanimously assumed that the robbers had left State so they - thankfully - backed off a little, and that view was also prevalent among the other Major Crime detectives who had been working the case. Those directly affected by the robberies all seemed likely to benefit from vast insurance payouts and, in the light of that, the direct heat on Simon from the Mayor’s Office receded somewhat in favor of soundbites and politicking about general levels of crime. There was, after all, an election on the horizon.

In the meantime, Ellison and Banks hoarded their secret, hoping against hope that the missing person bulletin would yield some information about where Sandburg had gone to ground, although neither man held out much hope. It was likely he was long gone out of Cascade by now.

But suddenly, miraculously, they got a break. Simon Banks passed by Ellison’s desk, putting on his coat as he went. “Let’s roll, Detective,” he said, his face grim, and Ellison followed without a word, knowing instinctively that this was about his missing partner.

As they sped in the Captain’s car to the scene, Banks updated him. “It was Officer Ratner from Patrol who spotted him, Jim. According to him, Sandburg is on the east end of Regent Street. He’s been there for at least half an hour, asking for handouts. Ratner and his partner are still watching him. He doesn’t seem to have spotted them.”

“Begging?” Jim was incredulous.

“That’s what Ratner said.”

Ellison was shaking his head. “Stop the car.”

“What?”

“Stop the car, damn it!”

As Simon pulled into the curb, he turned to Ellison. “What the hell is going on Jim? I thought you wanted to catch him!”

“I’m through with playing his damned games, Simon. He’s taunting me. Playing with me, like a cat with a mouse. This is just another trick to get me to track him. Another chance for him to mess with my senses.”

“So what do you suggest we do? Because short of making this official and having the patrol officers arrest him, it has to be you and I who go after him. There’s no other way to do this and keep it quiet.”

Jim’s face hid whatever emotion was currently driving him. “Look, Simon. They don’t have to arrest him. There’s no warrant out, just a missing person’s report. Can’t you spin them some tale, say he’s had a breakdown or something? Get them to apprehend him for his own safety, then we’ll go and take over?”

Looking reluctant, Simon did what Ellison asked and, while the officers on the scene went off to do what they had been ordered, Simon started the car and drove closer, parking within a block of where the action was taking place. They waited impatiently until Ratner’s partner, Dante, came on to the radio. “Son of a bitch, sir. We lost him!” He sounded incredulous.

Banks and Ellison exchanged a look. “We’ll be right there, officer,” Banks declared.

A moment later, the two of them launched themselves out of the car the second it had pulled up alongside the patrol car. Ratner was sitting sideways in the front seat, hunched over, his partner standing solicitously over him. “What the hell happened?” Banks demanded as he approached.

Ratner lifted bloodshot eyes to the Captain. “It was the damnedest thing, sir,” he said shakily. I walked over, non-threatening, trying to be reassuring, you know? He looked terrible - dirty, and he stank. I guess he’s been sleeping rough. I got his attention, introduced myself. I always got on okay with Sandburg, thought I could get him to trust me.” He drew a shaky breath. “Anyway, I was almost close enough to touch. He smiled at me, and I thought I was getting through. Then he lifted his hand, and the next thing, I was seeing stars before my eyes.”

His partner took over. “I saw it from here, sir. It was some kind of hand-held strobe light. He flashed it in Ratner’s eyes, real close. It blinded him, and Sandburg was gone before I could get over there.”

“Why the hell didn’t you pursue him?” Ellison growled menacingly.

Dante looked at him nervously. “I’m sorry sir,” he replied. “My partner was down. I had no idea how serious it was. By the time I’d checked on him it was too late and Sandburg had gotten clean away.”

Ratner was looking green. “I suffer from migraine, detective. Flashing light, especially strobe light, brings it on.” he inhaled again, shakily, as though he was trying to keep from throwing up. “I guess he got me real good.”

Ellison was staring off into space, the muscle in his jaw jumping. The strobe light had evidently been meant for him. Banks glanced at him, then looked back at the two officers. “Dante, take your partner home,” he directed. “I’ll clear it with your captain. There’s nothing more you can do here.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Ratner said weakly, as he folded his legs into the car. Dante closed the car door, then as he moved around to get in the driver’s side, Ratner rolled down the window. Pain filled eyes squinted up at the captain, as though he was having trouble focusing. “Sir, Sandburg looked rough,” he said. “Whatever’s going on with him, it ain’t good. I… I know Blair, from around the station. We’ve gone for coffee together - my college degree is in anthropology, so we had something in common. He looked on the edge. Something real strange is going on with him.”

Ellison gave no sign that he had heard, but Banks nodded. “Thanks for your assessment, Officer.”

As the patrol car drove off, Ellison muttered, “He’s on the edge all right.” Cold blue eyes fixed themselves on Banks. “And the next time I see him, I’m gonna push him off!”

~oO0Oo~

It had been close. Far too close. It was sheer luck that the officer who had tried to apprehend him had been Dave Ratner. Blair had known about Dave’s tendency to suffer from light-triggered migraine, as they’d talked about it over coffee, while discussing alternative remedies. The strobe would have temporarily blinded anyone, although most likely only momentarily. On Ratner the effects had been far more devastating, allowing Blair the crucial extra seconds he needed to get away.

He’d hated hurting Dave like that, but he’d had no choice. And he’d loathed having to beg for coins, knowing the risk he was taking by standing out so blatantly in the open. But since he’d been divested of the remains of his meager stash by a street thug with a knife yesterday, he’d had absolutely no choice.

Blair huddled further into the doorway where he had gone to ground, shivering with hunger and cold, and looked at the pitiful handful of coins in his palm. Thirty-five cents - just enough to make the call. Shakily Blair arose, pulling his foul smelling coat further around his aching shoulders, and headed off to find a call box.

~oO0Oo~

They had been driving around the area for about half an hour when Ellison motioned to Banks by means of an upheld hand. Silently, and without question, Banks pulled in and killed the engine.

Extending his hearing, Ellison focused in on the voice he had heard. Sandburg’s voice. It appeared he was talking on the phone. “How much longer, man?” he was saying. “I got robbed yesterday, got the last of my money stolen. I had to beg for more, and I almost got caught by the cops just now. You gotta help me out here, man.” His voice was tinged with naked desperation and, listening intently, Ellison got out of the car and began to edge cautiously towards where it was coming from, Banks a silent shadow at his back.

Ellison didn’t hear what the voice at the other end said, his focus being on approaching Sandburg without being spotted. But evidently the reply did not please the fugitive. “C’mon, man! Please! You’ve had your fun, revenge, whatever it is, okay? You wanted to make this hard - I’m telling you, you’ve done that. Congratulations.” A pause while the other was speaking, and Ellison could see Blair now. He was standing in the phone booth, his back to the approaching detective. Ellison smiled with cold satisfaction as he continued to sneak closer.

“Look,” Sandburg’s voice lowered. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, okay? I’m trying my best here. I’m doing what you told me to do. But how much longer is this gonna go on? Because it’s only a matter of time until I get caught.”

Whatever the reply was, the conversation appeared to be over. Sandburg replaced the receiver and turned his head - straight into Ellison’s fist.

“Yep,” said Ellison, cradling bruised knuckles as he stood over Sandburg’s unmoving body, which was now slumped unconscious at the detective’s feet. “You were right about that. Time’s up, Chief.”

***

“I don’t like this Jim. I don’t like this at all.” Simon’s misgivings were close to forcing him to call this whole thing off. This smacked of the type of criminal behavior he had joined the force to stamp out. “The kid is unconscious. He should not be lying trussed up in the trunk of my car, for Christ’s sakes!”

Ellison remained impassive, his gaze focused out of the windshield as they traveled along the unlit country road. “I’m monitoring his vitals. Any sign of a problem, we can get him out in seconds. But he’s a slippery bastard. I don’t trust him inside here with us, unconscious or not.”

Banks lifted his hand momentarily from the steering wheel, taking a long draw on his cigar. For once Ellison hadn’t protested about him lighting up, for which Simon was profoundly grateful. His stress levels were through the roof - he needed all the help he could get. “Are you sure that’s why?” he asked Ellison belligerently. “Because from where I’m sitting it looks like you trying to get even. Like some kind of twisted revenge.”

Ellison smiled coldly, still not looking at Banks. “I haven’t even started on revenge yet, Simon,” he said coldly, and Banks suppressed a shudder. Christ. What the hell was he getting himself into? This was a side of Ellison he had always been peripherally aware of, but thankfully, up to now, never seen. Frankly, it scared the hell out of him.

As well as all of that, he still wasn’t as convinced as Jim of Sandburg’s guilt, and the sentinel’s conspiracy theory was beginning to seem to him more like paranoia. Sure, the kid had been acting oddly since he had gone on the run, but it could well be that the pressure of his work had gotten to him, like Professor Granger had suggested. God knows, Sandburg had been to hell and back during the time he had worked with Ellison, experiencing things no civilian should have to go through. It was perfectly feasible that he could have cracked under the combined pressure.

A glance at Ellison’s impassive face stalled any further argument. Until Jim discovered what had been motivating Sandburg’s behavior, it was clear that nothing would convince him of any innocent motives. And his own misgivings notwithstanding, Simon could see no rational explanation for any of it. He had to accept, therefore, that there was every chance that Ellison was right, and that Sandburg was far more dangerous an adversary than he looked.

Putting his foot down on the empty road, Banks thrust his deep reservations to one side and concentrated on getting them to their destination as quickly as possible.

~oO0Oo~

The first thing Blair became aware of was the vibration, rattling through his bones. He was cold, his joints numb, and he couldn’t move his arms, which seemed to be restrained behind him. Opening his eyes to blackness, he began to hyperventilate, feeling as though he couldn’t get enough air in his lungs. Disorientation added to his panic, and his aching head pounded suddenly, forcing an answering reaction in his stomach. “Oh god,” he groaned, swallowing bile wretchedly as he registered where he most likely was. The smell of motor oil and a vague aroma of exhaust fumes confirmed his suspicion. He was in the trunk of a moving car.

But whose car? He tried to remember how he wound up here, but all he knew was that he had been speaking on the phone, calling in as he had been instructed. A vague recollection of a faceless fist, appearing out of nowhere and sending him into oblivion, rose in his mind. Oh god. What had gone wrong? Fear rushed through him, at the thought that he, too, could now be back in that sadistic bastard’s hands.

His fear of that, his current helplessness and the blackness in this confined space, wrung a memory of terror out of him. A fifteen year old memory so potent, he shuddered with its intensity. And his rebellious stomach could not withstand its onslaught, as he vomited horribly and messily all over himself and his surroundings.

Almost instantly, the motion stopped, and he felt the vibration as two car doors opened and slammed shut. He cowered as the trunk was flung open, and two pairs of hands reached down and pulled him bodily out of the mess he was lying in.

“Please…” he hardly had the breath to plead for his life, but he tried nevertheless.

“Jesus Christ.” Tears of relief came into Blair’s eyes at the familiarity of that voice. “Easy kid, I’ve got you,” Simon carried on, as Blair relaxed infinitesimally. He felt himself placed on the ground at the roadside, having hardly the strength of a baby to resist. He was laid down, and the same big, gentle hands turned him on his side. Something warm, smelling - in an oddly comforting way - of cigars, covered him - Simon’s coat.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Simon’s voice was angry and, although Blair got the impression that anger wasn’t directed at him, he winced at the tone. “He doesn’t deserve to be treated like this, no matter who he is or what you think he’s done! Hell, if we’d put him under arrest, we would have gotten him medical attention, not locked him in the trunk! I can’t believe I let you talk me into this!”

“I already told you why.” Blair’s blood ran cold at the hardness in that second voice. Jim’s voice. “He got away too many times. I don’t want it happening again.”

“Look at him!” Simon hissed, and Blair flinched as a hand fell on his head. The touch gentled, became reassuring, and he shuddered, holding back tears, knowing he did not deserve Simon’s kindness or pity. “He is in no shape to do anything right now, let alone escape.”

Blair held his breath, waiting for the answer. When it came, Ellison’s voice was dangerously low. “All right,” he said. “What do you suggest we do?”

Simon’s hand fell away, and Blair imagined him striding over to Ellison, and towering over him. Not many people were capable of cowing Jim, but Simon was more than able to do so when he had to. “Here’s how it’s going to go down,” he heard Simon say, his voice low and uncompromising. “We’re only half an hour from the cabin. You drive. I’ll sit in the back seat with Blair, and keep an eye on him. You leave him to me, detective. And that is not a suggestion. It’s an order.”

There was silence and, for a moment, Blair thought Jim would argue. The thought of Jim insisting that he be put back in the trunk again almost wrung a sob from him, but he managed to hold it back. Then, finally, Jim answered. “Okay. But he stays cuffed.”

“For now.” But Simon didn’t sound happy about that. “There’s a blanket, on the back seat. Get it for me, will you? And the bottled water.”

~oO0Oo~

It was a good thing the route was so familiar that Jim was able to drive practically on autopilot towards their destination. Because his mind was emphatically not on the road.

Simon had been unaccountably gentle with Sandburg, cleaning up the vomit that had soiled his clothes and hair as best he could with the bottled water, then wrapping their fugitive up in a blanket before helping him into the back seat of the car. Throughout it all, Sandburg had remained passive and compliant, refusing to meet the eyes of either Simon or Jim, and not uttering a word. Now their prisoner was slumped sideways on the seat, his eyes closed, his breathing even and slow, and his hands still cuffed behind him. Simon, watchful beside him, occasionally adjusted the blanket which covered him, and every time Jim caught that motion in the rear view mirror, he marveled at the incongruous protectiveness of the gesture.

In truth, Jim was disgusted with himself. Sandburg had been a shuddering, stinking wreck when they’d pulled him out of the trunk. That Jim’s anger had blinded him to the unnecessary cruelty of confining Sandburg in that way, when he had been unconscious with a head injury, was something which Jim was thoroughly ashamed of. Simon was right - they would never have treated any regular perp that way.

His turmoil was not helped by the fact that Sandburg could not possibly look any less like a covert agent than he did right now. And Jim’s certainty of that fact, which had buoyed up his determination the past few days, was beginning to falter, leaving even more questions in its wake.

But appearances, he told himself firmly, ruthlessly casting his doubts aside, could be deceiving. Until they got the truth out of Sandburg, he had to remember that fact, or risk being the victim of even more deceit.

He was aware of serious brown eyes regarding him in the mirror and, taking a breath, he met their reflection with his own. “How’s he doing?” he asked quietly.

“He’ll be okay,” Simon answered, his expression uncompromising and his disapproval of Jim’s behavior still clear. No thanks to you were the unspoken words, and Jim had no choice but to agree with that assessment. He nodded in understanding, wordlessly accepting responsibility for his actions, and turned his eyes back to the road.

~oO0Oo~

It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Simon’s cabin was remote enough, secure enough, that they could take Sandburg there, and keep him there while they questioned him about who he was working for and what he hoped to gain from his actions. But Simon was no longer sure he had made the right call from the start. It seemed that Sandburg would have been better off in conventional custody than in the hands of his friends, and for that he was deeply ashamed.

But no, Ellison had insisted that this be kept off the record, because of possible government involvement and the sensitive knowledge of his hyper-senses. And he - high flying police Captain that he was - had allowed himself to be led along by the nose. He’d assumed that the sentinel knew best when it came to matters of his senses and covert investigations, and he’d permitted the kid to wake up ill and terrified out of his wits in the car trunk.

It ended here.

Glancing again at Sandburg, who was slumped beside him on the seat, huddled under a blanket, Simon took in his appearance. Sandburg stank - over and above the vomit which he had been lying in. His clothes were filthy, and his normally well groomed hair was a matted mess, tied back in a loose pony tail. He evidently hadn’t shaved since he’d been on the run, the days-old growth of beard making him look like an unfamiliar, older stranger.

Under those superficial aspects of his appearance, further things were clear. Sandburg was pale and gaunt, and there were bruises under the dirt, as though he’d been in a street fight. Simon suspected he hadn’t been eating much the past few days, or getting much sleep, on the streets as he had apparently been. And he knew now exactly what Ratner had meant when he had described Blair as being ‘on the edge’ - Sandburg had the exhausted look of a man who had reached the end of the line, and had nothing left to live for.

They’d searched Sandburg while he was unconscious, and his pocket contents had been meager. A couple of cents of loose change, his Swiss army penknife, the dog whistle that had so tormented Jim, and a pocket-sized piece of equipment which Jim had informed him was a portable strobe light.

If Sandburg was in on the robberies, as Jim claimed he was, he certainly had not profited from it in any way that Simon could see. And if he was a spook, what kind of government agency let their field operatives run around unarmed, and in such a lousy, penniless state? Absolutely none of Jim’s suspicions made any sense, now they had seen the pitiful mess that Sandburg had become.

Glancing forward at Jim, who was sitting in the driver’s seat, he pondered his other problem. Ellison had for too long been letting his blind anger dominate the way they played this, refusing to consider any other scenario than the one which allowed him his righteous rage against Sandburg’s apparent betrayal. But Simon was determined that, from now on, Ellison would no longer have the upper hand. They might not be dealing with this by the book, but from here on in he would damned well make sure that Sandburg was treated humanely, and given the benefit of the doubt.

~oO0Oo~

Blair was vaguely aware that the car had stopped moving, and he started when a hand fell onto his shoulder, snapping open his eyes. Simon’s face was inches from his own. “Blair,” the Captain said. “Wake up. We’re here.”

Here? Here, where? Blair wanted to ask, but the car door he was leaning on opened and forestalled the question. Glancing that way, he saw Jim standing just outside, his face as forbidding as Blair had ever seen it. “Get out of the car, Sandburg,” Jim ordered, his tone uncompromising. Hating himself for doing so, Blair glanced nervously at Simon, in a mute appeal for reassurance.

“It’s okay, son. Go on,” Simon urged and, ashamed that his turbulent emotions had been so easily read, Blair reluctantly complied, getting out awkwardly with his hands still cuffed behind him. Jim grabbed his arm as he stumbled, and held him upright while Simon exited the car on the other side and came around to join them, a flashlight in his hand. As the beam splayed around, Blair realized where they were - Simon’s weekend cabin in the Cascade National Forest.

By the time they had walked up the front steps and entered the cabin, he was feeling a little more awake. Awake enough to show a bit of his usual contrary spirit. “Look, this good-cop, bad-cop routine isn’t going to work on me, okay? I know you both too well.”

“Funny,” Jim replied, his tone indicating that he didn’t think it was funny at all. “We thought we knew you pretty well. Seems we got that wrong, huh?”

“Jim,” Simon warned, before Blair had a chance to retort. “Save it.”

“Yes, sir,” Jim agreed easily, then, still holding Blair’s arm in a tight grip, pulled him inside as soon as Simon got the door open and the light on, and hauled him towards the single bedroom in the back.

Blair planted his feet. “Look man, I need to go. You know, ‘go’? As in piss? And if you lock me in there man, I’ll just do it in my pants.”

Jim stopped, his demeanor thawing not one iota. Then he changed direction, pushing Blair toward the cabin’s bathroom. When they reached the door, he pushed Blair against it, while he unlocked the handcuffs. Then he opened the door and pushed Blair inside. “Don’t lock it,” he ordered, before closing it between them.

Alone at last, Blair took a deep breath. And another. He quickly used the head, and looked longingly at the shower, grimacing at the stink of the clothes he had pulled from the dumpster days before. Moving to the sink, he turned on the faucet. And as the water ran noisily down the drain, hopefully masking his movements almost as effectively as white noise, he went swiftly to the window and opened it, pulling himself up onto the sill and swinging his legs around and out. Breathing a silent sigh of relief, he dropped to the ground.

Only to come face-to-face with Simon, who was waiting right outside.

~oO0Oo~

Jim watched expressionlessly, as Simon came in through the door pushing the reluctant Sandburg in front of him. Then he reached for his handcuffs. Blair shrank back, Simon bumping into him from behind, the prospect of being confined again obviously bothering him. “Please, man. Don’t. I won’t try to get away again. I swear.”

“No shit, Sandburg,” Jim answered, as he placed the cuff on Blair’s right wrist. “Turn around.”

“Hey, c’mon, Jim. If you have to do this, can’t you at least cuff my hands in front? My shoulders are aching, man. Simon,” Blair appealed to the man behind him, eyes big, “please.”

Jim ignored his plea, snapping on the other cuff, and Simon watched grimly. Then Jim hauled Blair off into the bedroom, where he pushed him down into the straight-backed wooden chair in the corner of the room. A second pair of cuffs were produced, and Jim secured Blair’s right ankle to the chair leg, around the supporting cross bar so that he couldn’t slip it free. “Jim, c’mon.” Blair pleaded. “This is uncomfortable. And my head’s killing me, man.”

Jim just gave him an unreadable look, then walked back out of the room to join Simon, closing the door behind him.

~oO0Oo~

Simon watched worriedly as Jim re-emerged from the bedroom. “Jim,” he said pointedly, “I don’t want you terrorizing him.”

Jim guffawed. “Give me a break, Simon. He’s never been the slightest bit intimidated by me. And that window stunt he pulled? You really think that’ll be his last attempt? I’m telling you, I’m in more danger from him, with what he knows about my senses. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating him, or falling for that innocent routine.”

Simon reluctantly concurred, although he silently vowed to step in and curtail any excessive vindictiveness displayed by Jim. And he made some provisos. “You are not interrogating him alone, detective. And that is final. We are so far out on a limb with this there’s nothing but a hundred foot drop below us, and a fast track to the unemployment line.”

Jim nodded. “Understood, sir.”

Simon wasn’t finished. “And what about the concussion? You hit him so hard, he was out for half an hour. He should be lying down.”

Jim looked at him incredulously. “Who the hell appointed you his ‘blessed protector’?”

“His what?”

“Never mind.” Jim took a big breath, let it out. “Look, Simon. I know I screwed up back there. I let my anger get the better of me, and I regret that. But I’m back in control, and he’s fine now. I checked him over with my senses. His pupils are equal and reactive, he’s coherent, and basically he has a hard skull - he’s proved that in the past. He’s okay. If he wasn’t, I’d do this differently. So, he has a bit of a headache?” He shrugged. “Big deal. I had worse than that when he maced me.”

Simon shook his head, unconvinced. “This is not about getting even, Jim. This is about getting information. I want you to remember that.”

“I will, sir.”

~oO0Oo~

They left Sandburg alone to stew for a while, Jim keeping his senses open to make sure their captive didn’t have a relapse of his earlier sickness or make another bid for escape. Sitting out on the couch, Jim closed his eyes, his breathing slow, while Simon busied himself firing up the wood stove and making coffee from the supplies that he kept stored at the cabin.

Jim couldn’t pinpoint the moment when the sound of Simon pottering around in the kitchen, and Sandburg’s unhappy puffs of breath from the bedroom, transmogrified into waking dream, as he drifted into the same scenario that he’d visualized several nights ago.

Roaming through an ethereal jungle, Jim was drawn straight to the clearing where the gray wolf was trapped.

The wolf gnawed at its own leg where it was stuck in the dreadful metal jaws, trying frantically to bite itself free despite the terrible wounds it was inflicting with its own teeth. In the distance, the anguished howling of a second wolf could be heard, and Jim knew, without understanding how, that it was from the same pack as the one in the trap. The gray wolf lifted its head, hearing the call, and frantically renewed its efforts to get free, to go to that one’s aid.

Moved by pity this time for the animal’s plight, Jim moved forward, meaning to pull apart the confining jaws and free it. But the wolf snapped at him, keeping him at bay, its spittle flecked with blood. He couldn’t get close.
Then he felt the change begin, and the dream took a different turn.

Power coursed through him. His senses sharpened, refined. His limbs tingled, morphing into sleek, black, furred legs supporting a graceful, deadly body.

Fearless now, the panther ignored the fangs and claws of the wolf, which scoured his flesh in terror. Lowering his powerful jaws, he wrenched open the brutal trap with his teeth. Freed, the wolf backed warily out of its prison, watching him distrustfully. Then it turned, and limped painfully towards the sound of the other wolf.

But he, being swifter and stronger, easily halted the wolf. He leapt after it, a single powerful bound. The wolf sank to the ground as he overpowered it, clamping his jaws around the wolf’s throat in threat, the tips of his teeth barely piercing the skin.

After a brief, futile struggle, the wolf lay on its back, and bared its belly in abject submission, having no other choice but to submit to the greater strength of the panther.

Recognizing the wolf’s capitulation, the panther’s jaws slowly opened. The wolf whimpered, as the panther carefully licked clean the wounds left by his fangs on its throat.

CLANG!

Startled back into the real world, Jim leapt to his feet, reaching for his gun. It was a second or two before Simon’s voice penetrated. “Hey, Jim, take it easy! I dropped a pan, that’s all. Relax.”

Letting out a breath in relief, Jim ran a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m more tired than I thought.” The memory of the dream was leaving him, but its disturbing images persisted in a sense of wrongness. In a flash of sudden insight, Jim extended his senses once again to the bedroom in which they had left Sandburg. Their captive’s heartbeat was racing, his breathing labored. And there was a new smell, one that hadn’t been there before - the copper tang of fresh blood. “What the hell?” Jim exclaimed, rushing to open the door.

A heartbeat behind him, Simon bumped into his back as he stopped in the doorway, transfixed with horror.

Sandburg had somehow managed to toe off his right shoe and sock - the foot which was secured to the chair. Blood ran down his ankle, where he had scraped it raw, trying vainly to slip the handcuff off over his foot. Lifting pain-filled eyes to the men in the doorway, he glared angrily at them.

“Jesus, Chief,” Jim breathed. “What the hell are you doing?” Reaching into his pocket for the key, he moved quickly in and knelt down, gingerly unlocking the cuff. Carefully, he took Sandburg’s lower leg in his hands. “Simon,” he ordered over his shoulder, “Get some hot water. Cloths. Antiseptic.”

As Simon quickly left to do Jim’s bidding, Sandburg jerked his leg out of Ellison’s grasp. “Get the hell off of me,” he demanded. “What right have you got to keep me here like this, huh? Police brutality, man. Just like my mo… like I was always told. Get your hands off of me, you jerk!”

It was clear that they were not dealing with a rational man and, still rattled by the dream he had just woken from, Jim was out of patience. Rising, he seized Sandburg by the shirt front and shook him, his face inches from the seated man’s. “Listen, you little shit,” he snarled. “I don’t care if you bleed to death. That was a stupid stunt. If you think it’s going to get you any sympathy, forget it. You are not getting out of here until we get some answers. Starting with who you really are, and who you’re working for. And once we get that, ‘Tommy’, I’m gonna boot your ass straight to jail for robbery and assaulting a police officer.”

A shudder ran through Sandburg, despite his defiance. “Don’t call me that.”

“I’ll call you what the hell I want. Hey, how about ‘Judas’, huh? That suit you better, Tommy-boy?”

Jim was totally unprepared for Sandburg’s reaction. With a roar, the smaller man surged forward, his head butting hard into Jim’s face. For a moment, Ellison saw stars, and that split second of disorientation was enough for Sandburg to win free of his grasp.

But Ellison had been floored by more dangerous adversaries than Sandburg. Blair might have the upper hand when it came to Jim’s senses, but in a physical fight, Jim had the advantage. Especially when Sandburg had both hands cuffed behind his back.

Sandburg had hurled himself towards the window, seemingly unconcerned that it was closed, and Ellison had no doubt that he was desperate enough to throw himself bodily through the glass given half an opportunity. With no time to spare, Ellison launched himself at Sandburg’s back in a flying tackle, bringing them both crashing heavily to the floor. The breath went out of Sandburg with a ‘whoof’ as the bigger man landed heavily on top of him.

They were still there, Jim breathing hard, and Sandburg lying still underneath him trying to recover his breath, when Simon returned a moment later. “What the hell…” the Captain began.

“Let me go.” The voice underneath Jim was quiet, desperate; all bravado fled. “Please, man. You don’t understand.” When Jim didn’t answer, Blair carried on, his voice cracking. “Please Jim. I know I’ve let you down. I know I’ve fucked up. But I’m begging you, if you ever cared about me, even a little bit. If you ever…” his breath hitched, and he swallowed, breathing hard. Then he went on, “I can’t be here. I can’t be with you. If he finds out, he’ll kill her, man.”

As Sandburg’s plea dissolved into helpless, hitching sobs, all resistance having fled his body, Jim met Simon’s eyes across the room, finding a similar expression of mixed horror and bafflement. And, god help them, pity.

~oO0Oo~

After his brief crying jag, the fight seemed to have gone out of Sandburg, although Jim and Simon were taking no chances. The handcuffs around his wrists, tightened enough to prevent him from attempting to slip them off and doing himself more damage, now secured his arms to the head of the bed, around one of the narrow decorative wooden dowels. He lay quiescent while Jim cleaned and dressed the self-inflicted wound on his ankle, with Simon looking on worriedly.

As Jim worked, Sandburg asked suddenly, panic in his eyes, “Simon? What time is it? I don’t know how long I was out of it, man. Is it still Thursday?”

“Yeah, kid. It’s Thursday.” Simon glanced at his watch. “It’s nearly seven-thirty in the evening.”

Sandburg closed his eyes briefly. “Shit.” Then opened them and looked pleadingly at Simon. “Look, I don’t have a lot of time. I have to be back in Cascade before midnight.”

“You’re not going anywhere, Sandburg,” Jim said, securing the last piece of surgical tape. “Except maybe inside a cell once we’ve gotten the truth out of you.”

Blair took a deep breath, focusing on the ceiling. “Look, Jim, I know you’re angry with me…”

“Angry doesn’t cover it,” Jim cut him off. “You lied. You lied from day one about who you were, what you wanted from me. You did those robberies, taunting me with your knowledge about my senses. You sprayed fucking mace in my face. You tried your damnedest to make a fool out of me, with this ‘homeless’ charade, goading me to chase you all over Cascade.”

“It’s not what you think, man,” Blair protested. “I never lied to you before last week - not about who I am or any of it. And I never did those robberies.”

Jim laughed shortly. “Riiiiight,” he drawled. “And we’re supposed to just believe that and let you walk away.”

“I’m telling the truth, man!” Blair fixed wide eyes on Jim. “The only time I wasn’t honest with you was… was this past week, okay? Something… something happened, and I couldn’t tell you what was going on.”

Jim sneered, unmoved by Sandburg’s seemingly false sincerity. “What, your handlers changed your orders? Suddenly they wanted you to field-test your lab rat, huh?”

Confusion passed over Blair’s face. “My… what? My ‘handlers’? What the hell are you talking about?”

The clear and utter lack of comprehension on Blair’s face, and the lack of telltale signs of lying, took Jim totally by surprise. “You trying to tell me you’re not working for the Agency? That you’re not a spook?”

“A what?” Blair lifted his head off the bed and looked at Jim incredulously. “Spook? You mean a secret agent, right? Me? Oh man...” Blair’s voice tailed off, and he began to laugh suddenly, although the sound had very little real humor in it. “Oh, wow, that’s… you’re joking, right?” When Jim didn’t answer, Blair stopped laughing and peered at him in horror. “You’re not joking!”

“This is no joke, Sandburg,” Jim said tersely. “So why don’t you come clean, huh? It’s not like we’re giving you a choice, here.” He leaned over the bed, his face inches from the prone man’s. “Who are you working for?”

Sandburg licked lips that seemed to have suddenly gone dry, but he held Jim’s gaze boldly. “If I tell you,” he said, “will you let me go?”

“Not a chance.”

“C’mon, man,” Blair pleaded, looking once again towards Simon. It seemed their prisoner wasn’t as impervious to the good-cop bad-cop routine as he’d made out, appealing to the kinder of the pair as he was. “I’m in a lot of trouble, just being here with you. I’ll tell you, but you’ve got to let me go! I’ve got to be in Cascade by midnight.” His voice wavered. “Simon, please.”

Simon kept his peace, but Jim answered. “You’re right about one thing, Sandburg. You’re in heaps of trouble.” He straightened up, and crooked a finger at Simon. “We’ll talk some more,” he said, as the two of them moved towards the door, “In the morning.”

“Wait!” Sandburg’s frantic shout halted them on the threshold. “Okay, okay! I’ll talk, I’ll tell you everything, okay? Don’t go!”

Jim and Simon exchanged a glance and, as one, they turned and walked back over. Sandburg was wide-eyed with panic. It seemed this midnight deadline – whatever it was – had huge significance.

Sandburg was babbling in his haste to suddenly talk, but not making a lot of sense. “It’s all true, everything I told you before this about me was true, my name, my research, who I am. All of it. But there are things you don’t know about me, man, things I didn’t know, and it’s all caught up with me like you wouldn’t believe. Though I hope you will. Believe, that is, because if you don’t, Jim, Simon, then I’m in the worst mess of my life, and that’s saying something, but not only me, man-”

“Quiet!” Jim’s imperative yell put a stop to the torrent of words. And into the silence that followed he once again asked the question he needed the answer to, carefully enunciated. “Who are you working for?”

Blair closed his eyes briefly, as if in pain. Then he opened them and looked straight at Jim. “My father,” he said simply.

The answer was so unexpected that both Jim and Simon could only stare at Sandburg in shock.

Finally Jim found his voice. “You told me you didn’t know who your father was,” he accused.

Sandburg looked away, his expression pained. “I forgot, all right? I forgot.”

“Sure you did,” Jim spat out in disgust. “Like you forgot you were my partner.”

“Jim,” Simon said warningly. Then, looking at Blair, he asked, “Who are you really?”

Blair didn’t meet their eyes. “I’m Blair Sandburg. I never lied about that. It’s the name I’ve had for as long as I can - could - remember. But I used to be called something else. Up until I was thirteen, my name was Thomas Buchanan.”

Cautiously, Simon asked, “What happened? Were you adopted?”

“No. My… my mom and me were placed in the Witness Protection Program.”

Simon and Jim exchanged a look. It made a weird kind of sense. Blair’s past had always been shrouded in half-truths and mystery.

“Why?” Jim prompted.

Blair’s answer was almost a whisper. “To keep us safe from him. My father. Joe Buchanan.”

“To keep you safe from him, why?” Simon was watching Blair carefully; watching, like Jim, for signs of deception.

“It… It was because of me, man. I saw him do something when I was a kid. Something really bad. I testified against him, and he was put away. He’s dangerous, man. And he hates me for what I did, for betraying him. He… Apparently, he made threats, and the Feds took them seriously. They moved Naomi and me up here, to start a new life. And I… I forgot about it.”

“How the hell do you ‘forget’ something like that?” Jim accused.

“I just did, all right? I just did. Like you forgot, man,” Blair said pointedly, pleading for Jim’s understanding, “about what you saw when you were a kid. When your mentor was murdered.” Blair’s voice wavered. “But I remember now.”

“What about the robberies?” Simon asked. “We have physical evidence that links you with the last one. At this stage you’re our only suspect.”

Blair shook his head, processing that. “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do any of them. I admit I helped him prepare for them, so that Jim wouldn’t find any evidence of his identity, but that’s as far as it went.”

“Bullshit,” Jim exploded. “You were there, at the final scene. I could smell you. And I found one of your hairs in the broken glass case.”

Blair shook his head. “I wasn’t there. I swear it.” Then, as something occurred to him, he exhaled. “Shit! He set me up. He set me up! The son of a bitch!”

“Okay,” Jim put in, breaking into Blair’s apparent incredulity. “For the sake of argument, let’s say we believe that your ‘father’ did the robberies, and you merely helped him along. That still makes you an accessory to the crimes, and you’re looking at jail time right there, no matter what. What I want to know is, if you were responsible for putting this guy in jail in the past, why the hell would you work with him now? Because I gotta tell you, ‘Sandburg’ or whatever your name is, from where I’m standing it’s looking like the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. You get what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, I get it.” Sandburg swallowed again, seemingly trying to get himself under control, as though the words he was about to say hurt him. “He’s got my mom,” he finally managed. “He’s got Naomi. He’s going to kill her if I don’t do exactly what he says. And he’ll do it, man. He means it.”

Jim was stunned to silence, but Simon was still in control. “Blair?” he asked, “What exactly have you done for him?”

Blair turned his head to look at Simon, his face oddly guileless. “I had to work on his equipment and clothes, and give him stuff to mislead Jim’s senses at each scene, so that Jim wouldn’t be able to detect him. He was gonna let Naomi go and get out of town when he’d finished the robberies, and leave us alone. I swear man,” Blair added, looking earnestly at Simon. “I was gonna give myself up as soon as she was safe.” He closed his eyes. “I just want her to be safe.”

But the significance of what Sandburg was implying was not lost on Ellison. “He knows I’m a sentinel, Sandburg,” Jim accused. “You tell him that, huh?”

“No, I did not ‘tell him that’,” Blair retorted, anger clear in his tone. “He already knew, man. He’d worked it out before he even contacted me. Seems like a ‘proud father’ he’s been keeping tabs on me, on my research, the past few years. He’s intelligent. He put two and two together and worked it out.”

“Intelligent. Huh. And me just a big dumb fuck with no more sense than to trust you all those years. ‘Judas’ is right.” Jim rose, hatred in his expression. “You and me, Sandburg, we’re finished. No matter how this goes down.” He looked at Simon. “Excuse me, sir. I need some air.”

Blair had flinched at Jim’s words, and now lay with his eyes closed, his head turned away. Banks broke into his reverie. “Blair,” he asked, a hand falling on the prone man’s arm. “Tell me what’s been going on. Why have you been living on the streets? Why didn’t you come to us - to me, if not Jim - for help?”

Blair’s voice was quiet, full of tightly contained emotion. “There were… conditions attached to my behavior if Jim found out. I had to go on the run. I can’t leave town, and I’m not allowed to approach anyone I know for help. Especially Jim, man, and especially you. And I have to keep calling him at pre-arranged times, until he decides to call me in.” Blair turned his head, and fixed Simon with his desperate gaze. “If he knows I’m here, out of town with you, and that I’ve told you this, she’s already dead. But I had no choice.” He swallowed. “You left me no choice.”

“Why do you have to be back by midnight?”

“I have to call then. Not a minute before, not a minute after. If I miss the deadline, he’ll kill her.” Blair bit his lip, and turned away again. “Please, Simon. Help me,” he whispered. “I can’t let him kill her. He’s… he’s really dangerous, man. You have no idea what he’s capable of.”

Simon patted him on the arm. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said. Then with a heavy heart, he headed out of the room, leaving Sandburg alone.

God, but he needed a cigar.

~oO0Oo~

Simon found Jim outside, leaning on a tree. “So,” Ellison asked, as Simon strolled over pulling a cigar out of his leather cigar case, “you believe that load of bull? ‘My psycho dad made me do it’?”

“As a matter of fact,” said Simon, “I’m inclined to. Sandburg is capable of coming up with a much more plausible story than that. It’s so out there I think it could be true.”

Jim snorted, and Simon lit up. They stood in silence a moment, listening to the night sounds. Then Simon said, “I have a few contacts I can talk to, to verify his story. If Buchanan is Blair’s real name, and he really was placed in the WPP, we’ll know soon enough.”

Jim nodded. “Good.”

A moment later, Simon pinched out his cigar. Jim looked at him quizzically. “It’s the last one,” Simon said ruefully. “I have a feeling I’m going to need the rest later.” He clapped Jim on the shoulder. “You’re doing okay,” he said. “Keep it together, Ellison. The last thing I need is both of you cracking up on me.”

Jim smiled tightly and shook his head as the Captain walked off, already dialing on his cell phone.

It was a tense few hours. Simon pulled in marker after marker, talking to contacts in the FBI and the San Francisco PD both on and off duty. Jim paced panther-like around the perimeter of the property, keeping one ear tuned to their prisoner; determined that his earlier lapse in surveillance would not be repeated. And Blair lay sleepless and miserable, occasionally calling out to his captors, asking to know the time, and begging to be let go. His pleas became more and more frantic as the night wore on.

Finally, as midnight approached, gold was struck. “Jim, I got it,” Simon declared, snapping shut his phone and approaching Jim where he stood watching the clear night sky, impressive in its glory. Jim turned his attention to Banks, as the captain began to relate what he’d found out. “Joe Buchanan used to be a wealthy businessman,” he said, “down in San Francisco. According to what I’ve been told, the guy is a genius. IQ up the wazoo, and with a top college education. When he was building up his import/export business, he didn’t let anyone get in the way of his ambitions - his rivals either ended up working for him, or they left town – by that, read ‘disappeared’. He wound up running a big corporation, and had a reputation for being ruthless. A big-time hard ass.

“He got married to Norma Sanderson in 1968. She was the daughter of a business rival, and just sixteen years old - fourteen years his junior. There were rumors the marriage was ‘arranged’ after a deal went bad between him and her old man. They had one kid. A boy, born in 1969, name of Thomas.

“Buchanan was a suspect in several murder cases, all of them people who’d crossed him in some way, but the evidence was inconclusive, and the Feds couldn’t get anyone to roll over on him. Then, in 1982, Buchanan’s name was linked to the murder of an accountant, one Samuel Gregory. The guy was found butchered. He’d been tortured to death.

“According to the Fed I talked to, the mother brought Buchanan’s son into the local PD one day. Seems the kid had been having nightmares, and he’d finally given in and told her that he’d seen his father kill somebody. He ended up spilling his guts to the cops. The Feds were called in – his testimony was exactly what they’d been looking for to take Buchanan down.

“The kid was the only witness,” Simon went on. “He was somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be, and he watched while his father butchered and killed Gregory. The Feds finally had what they needed to put Buchanan behind bars. They talked the kid into giving evidence against his father, and seemingly after a lifetime of abuse of both him and his mother from Buchanan senior, the boy decided to go along with it. He managed to hold it together long enough to testify, and his testimony and the evidence recovered from the location the boy led them to put Buchanan away for life. Then, because of specific threats Buchanan made against the boy and the woman, they were placed in Witness Protection.”

“And ended up in Cascade,” Jim added.

“Uh huh. But that’s not all.” Simon sighed. “The guy I spoke to made it his personal concern to see that they were well taken care of. Seems the boy’s story touched him pretty deeply. So he was able to tell me a bit more. Jim, when Blair and Naomi first arrived here, Blair was a mess. He had a breakdown; spent a year as an in-patient in a private psychiatric facility, which the Feds paid for as part of the deal. By the time he was discharged, he had somehow repressed the entire memory of what had happened. He threw himself into his studies - he was academically advanced, even then. Went to Rainier at sixteen, and according to my informant, that was the making of him. He’d banished the past, and jumped headfirst into the present. The Fed stopped watching over him, then. You know the rest.”

“Jesus.” Jim wiped a hand over his face. “Blair said once he’d been in and out of therapy since he was in diapers. I thought he was joking.”

“It’s no joke.”

“No. It isn’t.” Then, frowning, he asked, “So how is it that Buchanan is on the loose?”

“He escaped. It looks like he’d been planning it for months. He’s been on the run for nearly three months, and there have been no leads as to his whereabouts. Until now.”

“How the hell did he know where to find Blair and Naomi after all this time?”

“You got me, Jim. But one thing is clear. This guy is devious and resourceful. And vindictive as hell. If he has Naomi, like Blair says, and he’s gone to all this trouble just to destroy his own son’s life fifteen years after the fact, then we are dealing with one very dangerous son of a bitch.”

A noise tickled Jim’s awareness. He had been so focused on what Simon was saying, his monitoring of Blair had slipped. Now he brought his hearing back into focus. “Oh god,” he said faintly, standing up. “We gotta get back up there. Blair’s freaking out. It’s midnight.” He turned and ran, Banks at his heels.

Nearer to the cabin, Simon could hear it too. Sandburg was yelling; almost screeching, barely coherent demands to let him go, punctuated all the time with heavy bumps and bangs as their captive seemingly threw himself around. The frantic voice was hardly recognizable as Sandburg’s.

Jim reached the door first and threw it open. He was knocked backwards into Simon as the struggling weight of the inmate barreled into him, terror and desperation having lent him the brute strength to somehow wrench himself free of the headboard, splintering free the wooden dowel the cuffs had been locked around. It took the two of them to wrestle him back into the room.

“Simon,” Jim grunted, barely audible over Blair’s threats. “The bed.” Between the both of them, they managed to haul him onto it. Simon held him there, his weight preventing Sandburg from moving, while Jim held Sandburg’s head between his palms and forced eye contact, making him listen. “Chief! Calm down. Just calm down! We believe you, okay? We know all about Buchanan, and what he did. You’re in time, Blair. You can call him!” Blair stopped fighting, breathing hard, his eyes wide and white like a wild horse. Ellison glanced at Simon. “The cuffs. Get the cuffs off of him.”

As soon as Sandburg’s hands were free, they let him up. He sat painfully, bringing his shaking, blood-covered hands onto his lap - he had once again fought his captivity so hard, he had lacerated his wrists with the cuffs. Wincing in sympathy, Simon watched as Jim pulled out his cell phone and put it in Blair’s hand. “Call him,” Jim said.

Blair tried, but his hands were trembling too much, and slippery with blood. Ellison took it off him. “The number, Sandburg,” he demanded firmly. “What’s the number?” In a halting voice, Blair told him, and Jim dialed, then pressed the phone back in Sandburg’s palm and guided it up to his ear. Thank god thought Simon, not for the first time tonight, that they could get a decent signal out here.

~oO0Oo~

Jim shifted, moving to sit next to Sandburg on the bed. Blair didn’t seem to notice; his whole attention was focused on the call. After a few rings, the phone they’d dialed was picked up. “It’s me,” Blair said immediately.

“Thomas, Thomas, you’re five minutes late.”

“Please…” Blair began; and Ellison glanced at Simon, whose face was showing the same pity and horror Jim couldn’t help but feel now they knew the true story. “Please, man, don’t hurt her,” Blair pleaded, his voice cracking a little. “I couldn’t get a signal, all right? I tried to call on time.”

“You’re on a cell phone, Tommy. Whose is it?”

Blair glanced at Jim who shook his head warningly. “I stole it, okay!” Blair improvised. “Does that make you happy, you son of a bitch?”

“Don’t get clever, Tommy. Or I’ll shut that smart mouth of yours for good! After I deal with her, that is.”

Blair swallowed back whatever retort he was no doubt considering. Holding himself together with a visible effort, he asked instead, “Is she all right?”

“For the moment.” The voice was pitiless. “Whether she stays that way depends on you, Tommy-boy. You better not have seen that cop friend of yours. He’s disappeared, according to my sources, no doubt looking for you. You so much as speak one word to him, and remember what I did to Gregory? The same thing will happen to my darling wife.”

Blair’s heart skipped a beat in horror, and Jim resisted the urge to try and pull the sadistic bastard’s intestines out through the phone. Instead he settled for lifting a hand and squeezing Blair’s shoulder, wanting, despite everything that had happened between them, to convey strength to Blair to help him play out this charade.

“How long,” Blair was asking, “Is this gonna go on, man? You have the stuff you took. You can get out of the country now, start a new life. You’ll be rich. Why don’t you just let her go, leave us alone?”

“It will end when I say it’s over, Tommy. And only when I say. Listen carefully. The next call will be in two days, on Saturday, five minutes past five in the afternoon exactly. Don’t be late. If you call one second past that time, I start cutting. I won’t be this lenient again. Same rules apply in the meantime. Stay out of sight. Speak to no-one, especially your cop friend. If he comes near you, you keep on using those special skills of yours to put him off the scent. And son; don’t leave town.”

“Okay.” Blair swallowed nervously, fully aware of just how many of those rules he had broken today, however involuntarily. “But please, man, I need to talk to her. Please, let me just speak to her, for a minute, just so I know she’s okay. I’m begging you, man.”

“Hey, who said I can’t indulge my kid? Hey babe, our little boy wants to talk.” There was the sound of footsteps, then Naomi’s halting voice came on the phone. “Sweetie?” she asked, her voice hoarse. “Is that you?”

“Oh, mom.” Suddenly Blair could hardly speak. “Oh god, mom. Are you okay?”

“I’m okay, baby.” She was crying, but obviously trying to hold it together for Blair’s sake. “Don’t worry about me, sweetheart. I’ll be fine.”

Her voice was abruptly silenced, and Blair flinched as though something had been ripped from him. Buchanan came back on the phone. “That’s enough, Tommy. Don’t want to spoil you now, do we?” He laughed nastily. “Five minutes past five, Saturday afternoon. Don’t be late.” The phone went dead.

Blair didn’t move, the quiescent phone still pressed against his ear. Carefully, Jim pried it from his fingers and snapped it shut. Blair sat for a moment, staring into space, then dropped his head in his hands, shoulders shaking; trying desperately to hold onto his self control.

Jim looked on helplessly, a huge part of him wanting to give comfort. But the ache of betrayal which still weighed heavily in his gut stayed his hand. It was Simon, therefore, who moved in to awkwardly pat Sandburg on the shoulder, as Jim turned and left the room.

~oO0Oo~

Staring up at the clear night sky, unable to block the sound of Sandburg’s misery from his hearing, Jim sighed heavily. Relieved though he was that the worst case scenario of his nightmares had all been a product of his overactive imagination and tendency to suspect the worst, there was still little in this situation he found himself able to take comfort from.

Forgiveness did not come easily to Jim Ellison. His brother Stephen’s childish, spiteful act, years ago, had resulted in Jim sundering himself from the Ellison family. He had not seen or spoken to his brother for years afterwards. Now that he and Stephen had been reunited, Jim was happy to have his brother back in his life. But he still tended to keep him at arm’s length, unwilling to share any deeper part of himself with him.

Stephen had been just the first in a long line of people who had betrayed Jim’s trust. Each time it had happened since, he’d cursed himself for being such a bad judge of character, and for showing his soft underbelly to those who would just as soon stab him in the back.

But he’d truly believed, with no more reason than his own gut instincts, that Blair was different. That here was someone he could trust implicitly, someone he liked and was drawn to, someone who could be his friend. It hadn’t happened all at once, that friendship and trust, but had, instead, grown exponentially, beginning when Blair had saved him from being mown down by a garbage truck the very first day they had met. And every day since, when Blair had saved him from the onslaught of senses gone haywire and watched his back, the other man’s trust had been deservedly earned, often at spectacular cost to Blair himself.

Was it any wonder, he asked himself, given the lessons of his past, that this whole business had come as such a shock? That anger, hurt and the sense of betrayal had consumed him? That his worst suspicions had run away with themselves, exposing his deepest vulnerabilities and fears, and leaving him feeling as though Blair had ripped his innards out?

But other emotions were at war within him too, now he had heard the whole sordid story. Pity at what his partner had been put through, rage on Blair’s behalf, and fear for Naomi’s well-being. And at the moment, hearing Simon murmur quiet words of encouragement to the distraught man in the bedroom, he had to admit he’d been utterly wrong to jump to such inflated conclusions, and refuse to give Sandburg even the benefit of the doubt.

The Blair he had thought he had known, the confident, capable, independent anthropologist, had been a blind - because all the time, this dark specter of the past had been underneath. The young man who had wistfully fantasized that Timothy Leary might be his father, had in fact had a father all along. A father who had – if Simon’s brief précis had been correct – acted with such brutality, that Blair was left with no conscious memory until now of the awful events which had taken place in his childhood. A father who had been so dangerous, that Blair and Naomi had been hiding from him all this time.

To his intense discomfort, Jim found that a perverse part of him still wanted to hate Blair for deceiving and hurting him, and wanted to feel justified in locking Sandburg up and throwing away the key, despite everything he now knew about Sandburg’s motives. No matter how sorry he felt for Blair, his anger at his partner’s ill-considered actions still simmered.

But as he considered that emotion, he found that his anger constantly veered off, reflected off the warped surface of Blair’s pain back to a faceless man in Cascade, who got his kicks out of kidnapping women and forcing his own son to self-destructive acts. And the odd protective urge he had always felt around Blair kicked in, despite himself. Buchanan had hurt his partner. He had hurt him so badly that Blair had sacrificed not only his friendship with Jim, but his life and liberty as well, in a misguided and desperate attempt to save his mother’s life.

Complete forgiveness might be a ways off, he had to admit. He would have a lot of ‘processing’ to do first, and he and Blair would have to sit down and talk things through once this was all over. Added to that, Blair was facing the very real possibility of prosecution for his involvement in the robberies, which would mean the end of their partnership for good, even if they managed to sort out their personal issues.

But despite his inner turmoil, and rapidly see-sawing emotions, Jim was sure about one thing. He was damned if he would allow Buchanan to hurt Blair any more than he already had.

~oO0Oo~

A while later, Jim came back into the cabin, just as Simon exited the bedroom, closing the door softly behind him. “How’s he doing?” Jim asked.

Simon sighed. “He’s sleeping now. Exhausted. I cleaned up his wrists, put on dressings, and he practically passed out on me. He didn’t say anything more. I think he’s pretty much reached his limits.”

Jim looked at Simon. “I want to kill that bastard.”

“Look, Jim,” Simon protested, “I know Sandburg hurt you, but under these circumstances…”

“No, not Blair!” Jim exploded. “The sick son of a bitch who has Naomi!”

“Okay, Jim,” Simon placated. “Calm down. I’m sorry.”

“Jesus, Simon.” Jim ran a hand over his face. “He has Sandburg so twisted round, he can’t see straight. What the hell was Blair thinking, going along with this? He should have spoken to me in the first place. He should have trusted me. None of this was necessary.”

“No argument there.” Simon fished around in his pocket, and pulled out the remains of his cigar with a look of relief. “So, what are you gonna do?” he asked as he twirled it in his fingers. “Correction,” he added. “What are we gonna do?”

Jim took a breath as he considered, then let it out. “We’re gonna keep him,” he proclaimed, nodding back to the bedroom containing his sleeping partner, “here for tonight; let him rest. We have nearly two days until the next call. When Blair wakes, we’ll see if we can’t beat this moron at his own game.” He looked forthrightly at Simon, the words a vow. “We’re going to get Naomi back safe, Simon, and put that sadistic asshole back behind bars where he belongs. And we’re going to do it together. All three of us.”

Simon grinned, then clamped the cigar between his teeth as he headed towards the door. “That’s what I was hoping you’d say,” he muttered, as he passed by Jim on the way out.

***

When Blair woke hours later, at what appeared to be dawn of the next day, it was to the sound of raucous snores from somewhere below. Peering over the edge of the bed, he was treated to the sight of Simon lying on the floor in a sleeping bag, mouth open wide enough to catch cicadas.

If it wasn’t for the bandages on Blair’s wrists, and the pervading stink of the filthy clothes he was still, unfortunately, wearing; he could easily imagine that the three of them were on vacation, taking a long weekend to hike and fish at Simon’s cabin retreat, just as they had many times in the past. Putting his head back down on the pillow, he lost himself for a moment in the fantasy.

Until Naomi’s face, tear streaked and fearful, rose in his mind’s eye.

A quiet voice to his right disturbed the vision. “Hey.” Jim, he could sense, was lying next to him, on top of the covers. How the hell he could stand to be so close to Blair with his heightened sense of smell, Blair had no idea. He could hardly stand it himself. “You awake?” Jim asked.

There was no point trying to feign sleep to a sentinel. It was, in any case, time to face the music. “Uh huh,” he answered, his eyes still closed.

A hand gripped his shoulder, shaking it a little. “Get up,” Jim said quietly, obviously trying to avoid waking Simon. “Get showered while I make breakfast.” The same hand tapped him on the wrist. “I’ll have a look at these and your ankle afterwards.” Blair felt the bed tip and sway as Jim got up.

Swallowing back the peevish retort that automatically came to mind at Jim’s order, Blair waited until he heard the other man leave the room. Then he got up and went to the bathroom, trying hard, as he stripped off and started the water, not to think about how he had totally cracked in front of Jim and Simon last night; the memory a stone in his empty gut. He eyed the window, the avenue of his aborted escape, shamefacedly.

It was good to be able to shower, after days of miserable existence on the streets. He luxuriated in the moment, the delicious warmth pounding on aching muscles and raw skin; and he sighed as some of his residual tension drained away along with the water. Wishing he had the means with which to shave, he settled at soaping up the unfamiliar growth of hair.

Finished finally, he emerged dripping, and eyed his discarded clothes with distaste, lamenting that he had nothing else to put on besides the stinking rags. Wiping an arm across the steamed-up mirror, he peered through the remaining droplets of condensation at the bloodshot, disreputable-looking individual who was looking back at him, as he tried to finger-comb his tangled hair into submission.

Then he stopped, breathing hard, when what he had done hit him suddenly, hard. He had broken the rules. He had let himself be caught, and worse – had told the very people he had been ordered not to tell, everything that had been going on. And he had told them willingly, in a moment of weakness, wanting desperately, like a child, that they make it all better.

Blair had never loathed himself more than he did at that moment.

He was reluctantly reaching out to pick up the grimy pants he’d been wearing when a knock sounded at the door. “Sandburg,” called Jim. “I’m leaving clean clothes just outside the door. Okay?” A familiar sense of annoyance broke into Blair’s self-pity, as he realized that the sentinel had been listening in and waiting for him to finish. Then it dissipated just as quickly, when he reminded himself that he had totally lost the right to privacy when he had aided and abetted a criminal and turned on his friends.

Blair opened the door a crack, retrieving the pile which was outside. Sweats, at least a size too big, and thick socks - the change of clothes Jim kept in his gym bag in the truck for emergencies. But clean, and infinitely more palatable than the clothes he had been wearing.

Now, clean at last and dressed, Blair went out into the main room of the cabin, with its kitchen at one end. Jim was at the stove, cooking bacon, which he had presumably found in the freezer Simon kept stocked for his frequent trips out here. “Have a seat,” Jim said in a reasonable tone, without turning. “It’s almost done.”

The utter strangeness of the situation struck Blair suddenly, forcefully, even as the delicious smell caused his empty belly to rumble. Only last night he had been this man’s prisoner, handcuffed and locked in the trunk of a car. Unable to stop the words, he challenged, “Why are you being so nice to me all of a sudden, man? I mean, what is this? What, are you playing good-cop, bad-cop all by yourself?”

Jim didn’t turn, but glanced his way briefly, an unreadable expression on his face. “Why shouldn’t I be nice to you?” he asked.

“Oh, come on!” This was too weird for words. “You know why. You said you and me were finished, and I accept that. It’s no more than I deserve after what I’ve done, man. So how can you just stand there and cook breakfast, and tell me to sit down, as though nothing happened? Is this some kind of revenge thing? Are you getting me all nice and comfortable so you can get back at me when I don’t expect it?”

Jim turned; looked at him steadily. “Is that what your dad used to do?” he asked.

The words cut Blair to the quick. A vivid memory - every bit as potent as the other memories of humiliation and terror which had recently resurfaced - flashed before his eyes. His mother - little more than a girl herself - and he, being impotently forced to observe her pain, at the mercy of one who professed kinship to him. He found his voice. “Don’t… just… don’t, all right? You have no idea what he used to do! No fucking idea!”

Jim took a step towards him. “Sandburg…” he began.

But Blair cut him off, shaking his head in rebuttal and glaring anger. And, half daring Jim to stop him, he tore open the cabin door and fled down the steps. Breathing hard, overwhelmed almost more by Jim’s baffling and sudden solicitude than his own turbulent emotions, he ended up sitting on a fallen log several yards from the house, shivering in the morning breeze.

He was a mess. He knew it. Jim knew it, and so did Simon. His mom was back there, back with him; and Blair was as impotent now as he had been as a child to stop her pain. And all he could think, watching Jim casually cooking, was how much he wanted to hide in the other man’s shadow until all was right with the world again.

Which, of course, was not an option. Because Jim, he was certain, despised him now.

But not nearly so much as he despised himself.

Jim found him a short while later, after allowing him a little time to compose himself; apparently not worried any more that Blair would try to escape. As Blair heard Jim come to stand beside him, he said miserably, without lifting his head from his hands, “I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry, man.”

“I know.”

“I know you won’t believe me,” Blair carried on, “and I don’t blame you for that. But I never wanted to hurt you, Jim. I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. But I knew you’d survive it. You’d hate me for it, but you’d still be alive. But my mom…” He faltered. “My mom could die if I don’t do what he tells me. And she doesn’t deserve to die.”

There was silence a moment. Then, finally needing to know how much shit he was in, Blair looked up and asked, “Are you going to arrest me?”

“I don’t know,” Jim admitted, not looking at Blair. “Not yet. Maybe later, when we get your mom back.”

Blair nodded, resigned. He had known as soon as he had given in to Buchanan’s demands that it was only a matter of time before it would all be over for him. But saving Naomi was all he could think about. The only thing that mattered.

“Look,” Jim broke into his thoughts. “You made some bad choices, Chief. You did the wrong thing. You broke the law, and you know there has to be repercussions from that.” Blair didn’t look up as Jim came to sit down beside him, close but not touching. “I won’t lie to you,” Jim carried on, “and this shouldn’t come as any surprise. I’m not sure I can ever completely get past this.”

Blair nodded, his throat tight. It was what he expected.

Jim ploughed into Blair’s continued silence. “That you could do what you did… well, Chief, I’m telling you, it hurts a lot. I’m not just talking about the mace thing, or you using my senses against me, although god knows that’s bad enough. It’s not even that you chose to put Naomi first, because I can understand why you did that. I’m talking about trust. You lied to me, Blair, from the first minute he got you involved in the robberies. It makes me wonder what else you lied about.”

“I… I don’t expect you to believe this, man,” Blair stuttered. “But I swear to god. I didn’t lie about anything else.”

Jim exhaled, a sardonic puff of air. “Right. Well, you’ll understand if I reserve judgment on that for now, Chief.” His voice was even, without expression, but Blair knew him well, and could hear the emotion hidden underneath. “What scares me,” Jim went on, “is how good at it you are. I never guessed you were involved, not for a minute, even though I knew someone was fucking with my senses. I knew it was someone who knew I was a sentinel. All the time, I was living with the sentinel expert, and I never got it. I trusted you that much.”

Blair’s vision blurred, as guilt overwhelmed him. He knew how hard won Jim’s trust had been. And Blair had destroyed it, throwing that trust back in Jim’s face, wounding a good man in the process, by hitting him where it hurt the most.

The best friend he had ever had.

A fresh wave of self disgust and shame overwhelmed Blair. “I’m sorry,” he offered again miserably, inadequately, knowing in his heart it wasn’t enough; it would most likely never be enough.

Jim took a deep breath, and let it out. Then, his gaze still fixed into the distance - not on Blair; emphatically not on Blair - he said, “We have to put this to one side, what you did, what happened between you and me. It’s time to get on track. You’re finished playing this by his rules. We have a job to do - we have to find your mom and get her out of there. We’ll deal with everything else once she’s safe.”

“We?” Blair queried without thinking, and he winced at the wretched hope in his own voice.

In answer, Jim clapped him on the shoulder as he rose. “Come inside,” he said, and Blair hoped pathetically that the rough edge of compassion in his voice wasn’t imagined. “We’ll decide what to do after breakfast.”

Blair watched through a mist as Jim strode back to the cabin, allowing himself at long last to wonder if he shouldn’t just have asked for Jim’s help in the beginning. Instead, he’d destroyed the most significant friendship he had ever had, only to end up at the same place.

Finally, he realized just how much he had messed up.

~oO0Oo~

It was a surreal breakfast that Simon entered into a little while later. As the three of them consumed coffee, bacon and waffles, Sandburg spent the entire time avoiding looking at either of his companions.

It was obvious that Blair hadn’t been eating much while on the run, as helping after helping disappeared. At least, Simon mused, watching him surreptitiously, none of this had ruined the kid’s appetite. Reaching for the bottle of antacids he kept in his jacket pocket, he felt mildly resentful that he could not say the same about himself.

It was clear to Simon’s observant eyes that Sandburg’s obsessive drive to get back to Cascade, and do Buchanan’s bidding, had abated this morning. Blair had an air of defeat about him, which was totally unlike the lively individual Simon knew. And it certainly didn’t help ease the tight feeling in his gut.

In classic Ellison style, the utensils were washed and cleared away before they got down to discussing business. “Chief,” Jim began, taking charge, and seeming, much to Simon’s relief, far less antagonistic toward Sandburg than he’d been. “Come over here. Sit down. We need to talk.”

Blair turned from stacking plates in the cupboard – he had waded into the post-breakfast cleanup quite obviously as a means of avoiding interaction with the two of them. Now, looking like he was going to his own execution, he moved to the table, his face tense and unhappy.

The three of them now seated, Jim got the ball rolling. “Okay,” he said, “We have…” he glanced at his watch. “A little over thirty-two hours before showtime. We need to get back to Cascade and get started on finding out where Buchanan is holding Naomi. Sandburg, you stick with me. We’ll find somewhere in town to use as a base until this is all over.”

“Look,” Sandburg protested. “I can’t be seen with you, all right? If he even suspects I’ve spoken to you, he’ll kill her.”

“You’re not thinking very clearly, Chief,” Jim replied, shaking his head. “He obviously has no tail on you or I right now, because he had no idea last night that we’d met up or that you’d left town. As long as we don’t go back to the loft, and keep our heads down, everything should be fine.”

“Jim,” Simon interjected. “The guy indicated he had ‘sources’ of information about your movements, and he knew that you didn’t go home last night, at least up to midnight. We need to find out where he’s getting his information – if he learns that Blair is with us, it could have consequences.”

Ellison was nodding. “Right.” He looked at Blair, who was staring fixedly at the table, his worry for his mother once again brought into stark focus by Simon’s words. “Sandburg,” Jim said, a little sharply. “Stay with the program here, all right? Who is his contact?”

Blair looked up. “I don’t know,” he said miserably.

“You’re the one who’s been in touch with this guy. Make an educated guess. Come on, Chief. What has he said that might give us a clue about where he’s getting his information?”

Blair thought for a minute. Then shook his head. “All he said to me was what you heard last night; that he knew you’d disappeared, and he thought you were out looking for me. Oh,” his eyes widened as he remembered, “and the other day he warned me that you knew about me…” he faltered, but rallied. “About me helping him, when you found the evidence he planted. So he must have found that out before you confronted me.”

Jim was frowning, as something he hadn’t even thought to question, so fixated as he’d been on Blair’s betrayal, finally clicked into place. “That doesn’t make any sense. No one else knew about my suspicions. I didn’t say anything about the evidence I found until after you’d gone missing, and even then, I only told Simon.”

“Could he have used surveillance equipment?” Simon asked Jim. “Bugged your car, or something, and somehow you let something slip while you were doing your stakeout of Blair at Rainier?”

Jim shook his head. “I didn’t use my own vehicle after I left the PD that day. I requisitioned one from the fleet. I wanted to keep tabs on Sandburg without him seeing my truck and getting suspicious. Unless someone saw me drive out of the PD in that car and followed me, they wouldn’t have known I was on my way to put Blair under observation.”

“So,” Simon speculated, “his contact found out that you’d changed cars somehow, and got on your tail?”

“And whoever his contact is,” Jim thought aloud, “he watched my movements that day, because Buchanan hoped I’d found the evidence that Sandburg was involved. His inside man followed me down to the car pool, saw which car I took, and followed me to Rainier, where he saw me waiting round the back of Hargrove Hall. Then when Buchanan heard about it, he put two and two together and called Blair to warn him.”

“Jim,” Simon objected, not liking the obvious conclusion that someone from their own department was in league with Buchanan. “Anybody could have followed you. Someone waiting outside the PD for you to drive off, even, or someone who was keeping tabs on Blair at Rainier. It may not be a cop.”

Jim shook his head. “No. I requisitioned the car, and left right away from the station garage. It has to be someone from the PD, because unless they saw me change vehicle, anyone else would have been thrown off my tail. And as much as we don’t want to believe it, a cop is most likely, given the fact that I wasn’t even aware I was being watched.”

Not at all happy about the likelihood of a viper in their midst, Simon changed the subject, broaching the question which had been bugging him the most. “Sandburg,” he said. “There is something about this whole thing that makes no sense. Your father…” Blair winced, so Simon amended it to, “Buchanan, has pulled off five successful heists. If you weren’t at the last robbery, as you claim, it looks like he tried to frame you for it. Why the hell, then, isn’t he hightailing it out of town with the proceeds, now he’s put the heat on you? What is he hoping to prove, still holding onto Naomi, and making you run about Cascade keeping out of sight, and living on the streets?”

Blair raised bitter eyes to Simon. “He thinks he owns Naomi,” he said bluntly. “As far as he’s concerned, man, she’s his, bought and paid for. He told me he’d let her go eventually if I did what he said, but as time goes on, man, I… I realize how unlikely that is. But the rest of it?” He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Jim leaned forward, his eyes fixed on the younger man. “I think you do know, Chief.”

Blair shook his head again, anguish in his eyes.

Jim carried on, his voice soft. “It’s revenge, isn’t it? Because you dropped the dime on him all those years ago. He’s trying to make you suffer, doing it to punish you. It never was about the robberies at all. You said it yourself – he thinks he owns Naomi. He’s not gonna let her go, no matter how many hoops he makes you jump through, and he’s just making you pay for turning him in.”

Blair bowed his head. His reply was scarcely audible. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess you’re right.”

Jim was watching Blair carefully. “Chief, there’s no way you can win. No way you could ever have gotten Naomi out of there on your own, by playing his game. He’s set you up to lose, and when he’s done, he’ll let you take the heat for the robberies he did. He wants to destroy your life, and when he’s done that, and you’re in jail, he’ll take Naomi and get out of town. You follow me, Chief? Can you see that now, huh?”

Blair nodded miserably, as though he didn’t trust himself to speak.

Simon addressed Blair next. “Sandburg,” he asked, his no-nonsense tone breaking through Blair’s silent grief and self recrimination, “Have you any idea where he’s holding Naomi?”

Blair swallowed a couple of times, then shook his head. “No. I don’t. I, uh, I used to have to meet him, before each robbery, to go over his equipment. He’d rented space in the warehouse district. Close to where I used to live, actually. But I’m pretty sure he isn’t staying there. And wherever he is, Naomi is with him.”

“Why are you sure?” Jim asked.

Blair looked up. “It’s just not his style, man. He has money stashed. He’ll be renting something up-market.”

Jim kept pushing. “Okay, you know the guy; what he’d be likely to do. I accept that. But what makes you think he’s keeping Naomi with him, instead of locked up somewhere else?”

He had obviously hit a sore spot. “Because she’s his wife, man!” Blair exploded. “Because he said he wanted her to resume her spousal duties, okay? Are you satisfied? Are you happy now?”

Jim shook his head. “Chief, if you think anything about what has happened to Naomi makes me even slightly happy, then you don’t know me at all.”

The quiet words cut through Sandburg’s outburst like a hot knife through butter. “I’m sorry,” Blair said, all belligerence dissipated.

But Jim waved the apology off. “Forget it. The important thing is working out where he is, and how to get her out of there. Let’s try and keep on track here, huh?”

“Okay,” said Simon, backtracking. “So he had surveillance on you,” he addressed Jim, “and possibly on me, since Buchanan has forbidden Blair to talk to me too, through whoever is on his payroll at the PD. I’ll do a little digging there, when I get back. I’ll find out who the bastard is that’s working for him.”

Jim nodded his approval. “Good. If we know who Buchanan’s source is, we could feed a little disinformation back. I assume he knows about the missing person’s report. If it gets upgraded to an APB, and Buchanan thinks Sandburg is now officially a suspect in the case, he might change the rules. Chief,” he said, and Sandburg’s head shot up. “You need to call him tomorrow at the rendezvous time. Simon already checked out the number you called last night, but it’s diverted through some kind of router, so we can’t get a location. So the next time you call him, I’ll be listening in, see if I can’t find out something about where he is. Other than that, if he thinks we’re close to arresting you, he may arrange to meet up with you. In fact, I want you to persuade him to do just that. Tell him you’re desperate. Make him think you’ll spill your guts about him if you’re caught.”

Blair looked horrified. “I can’t do that, man. He’ll kill Naomi!”

“Sandburg,” Jim said forcefully, “he’ll kill her anyway, if we don’t do this! This is a game to him, remember? You can’t save her playing by his rules. Come on, you convinced me. You can convince him. You’re the most convincing liar I’ve ever met. Use your powers for good instead of evil!”

Blair had winced in shame at Jim’s words. Then he nodded, looking desperately unhappy, and avoiding Jim’s eyes. “Okay,” he agreed. “I have no choice. I’ll try.”

Jim leaned closer, trying to get Sandburg’s attention. “We’re going to do everything we can to save her, Chief.” Jim softened his voice, his hand reaching out to grasp Blair’s shoulder briefly. “Use your head. You can do this. We can all do this. And it’s gonna work.”

Blair just nodded, looking more vulnerable than Simon had ever seen him. But watching Jim’s small overture of reassurance, something in Simon’s gut eased, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

~oO0Oo~

The motel Jim chose was cheap and clean; which was about all that could be said for it. Ellison booked one room for the two of them to share, the other man being nominally in his custody. Sandburg didn’t bat an eyelid, following Ellison’s lead without question. It was as though all the fight had gone out of him.

The rest of the morning leached by, oozing turgidly into the afternoon. Sandburg lay on one of the room’s twin beds, dressed in Jim’s oversized sweats, staring listlessly and without interest at the room’s tiny television with its meager choice of channels. With his uncombed hair tied back loosely, and the haunted expression on his bearded face, Blair looked every bit the penniless street bum he’d been forced to become.

That Sandburg was afraid for his mother’s safety was a given. His frequent, longing glances toward the door eloquently demonstrated that his thoughts were largely elsewhere. And during the times he glanced Ellison’s way, never looking at him directly or making eye contact, Jim could clearly sense the sour tang of misery rolling off of him, as his features creased in apparent shame.

A large part of Jim wanted to reassure, to give comfort; but that urge was still at war with his shameful inner fantasy of beating Sandburg senseless, and the result was a stalemate. The tension in the air between them was such that neither man spoke to the other beyond a necessary minimum. But finally the charged silence of the dingy room was interrupted by the ringing of Jim’s cell phone. “Ellison,” he said.

“Jim, it’s me,” Simon announced. “I have some information.”

Jim sat up straighter, and Sandburg flicked off the television, sitting up to watch Jim expectantly.

“Go on,” Jim prompted.

“No matter which way I looked at it, I couldn’t see any of our people being Buchanan’s mole. But then it hit me - we have someone new in the department.”

“Who?”

The Captain sounded like the cat who’d got the cream. “I should have thought of it before. The Major Crime annual report is due in soon, so Rhonda applied to Secretarial Services for some help. She has a temporary administrative assistant working with her. Robyn Ratner, on loan from Homicide. I did a bit of checking, and guess who Ms. Ratner is related to? And who she’s dating?”

The name sounded familiar, but Jim couldn’t bring the connection to mind. “Who?” he asked.

“Well put it this way. Who was conveniently on hand when Sandburg was spotted just after the missing person’s report went out?”

Jim blinked. Then remembered the patrol officers who had come so close to apprehending Sandburg. “Ratner and Dante!”

“Got it in one, Detective. Officer Ratner is her brother. Dante is her fiancé.”

Jim glanced at Sandburg, who was watching him avidly, obviously frustrated at being unable to hear the other end of the conversation. Thinking back, Jim remembered now that an unfamiliar young woman, who’d been sitting at Rhonda’s desk, had keyed in his initial request to requisition a car, just before he’d gone down to the car pool to pick it up. Presumably she had alerted her boyfriend and brother to his movements. “So,” Jim asked, certain that Simon’s deductions were correct, “what do you want to do?”

“Well, I trust Rhonda implicitly. I’ve asked her to keep a careful eye on our Ms Ratner, and to let a few bits of confidential information slip - the kind that suggests I am about to issue an APB for Sandburg, followed by a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of robbery.”

“And the others?”

“Their trail is cold since we apprehended Blair. If their brief was to keep tabs on Sandburg, they’ve failed. Seems his little trick with the strobe yesterday had the effect of forcing them off his tail, as well as off ours.”

“Good.”

“That’s not to say I’m not keeping an eye on them. I am. In fact, I’ve got Brown and Rafe tailing them at the moment. We have to do this in-house. Until this thing is finished, I can’t involve I.A.”

Jim could see the logic in that. They had no idea how much the two rogue officers knew, either about Blair’s complicity in the crimes or about his senses. Until they untangled this mess, and decided how to handle the inevitable fallout, it was better to keep it to themselves. “What did you tell them, sir? Rafe and Brown, I mean.”

“I’m the Captain, Jim. I don’t need to give a reason.” Simon chuckled, eliciting an answering smile from Ellison at Simon’s characteristic posturing. “Their brief is to follow, report if the two of them are seen meeting anyone or talking on the phone. Who, where, when. That kind of thing. If they’re challenged, to improvise some plausible reason for being there. The detail is up to them.”

“Right.”

“How you doing, Jim? And how’s Sandburg?”

“Fine, sir. We’re both fine.”

“Good. Keep it that way. I’ll be over in an hour or two, just as soon as I send Ratner and Dante on a wild goose chase to get them off my back. I have a file I want you to take a look at.”

“Very good, sir.”

The Captain rang off, and Jim updated Sandburg on the situation. Predictably, he was not very happy about the identity of his father’s spies. “Shit,” he said. “Dave Ratner. I though he was my friend, man!”

Jim gave him a hard look, anger, for the moment, uppermost in the mix of emotions which churned within him. “A taste of your own medicine, huh?”

But instead of the retort Ellison half expected, Sandburg just winced in shame. And instead of feeling satisfaction at winning a point, Ellison felt something a little like shame himself at having caused a reappearance of the defeated expression on Sandburg’s face.




Concluded in Part 2



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