CANDLE IN THE WIND





Cascade, WA – March 14th

“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming on such short notice. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dr. Jonathan Culler, President of the Board of Regents.” The elderly man glanced at the notes in front of him, then at the group of reporters. “Two months ago, a young man, Blair Sandburg, gave a press conference denouncing his doctoral thesis after it had been partially released to the public. The resulting media frenzy affected more than this young man.”

“Dr. Culler, is…”

“Dr. Culler, are you…”

“Did Blair Sandburg…”

ENOUGH!” Culler, who had taught philosophy for nearly thirty years, had no problem using his voice to regain order. “I certainly cannot give a statement, and will not give a statement if I’m going to be interrupted! If it happens again, this press conference is over and a press release issued with no opportunity for questions!” He glared at the suddenly quiet group of reporters. “You are adults! I expect you to act accordingly!” After a few seconds of silence, he continued.

“Two months ago, a young man, Blair Sandburg, gave a press conference denouncing his doctoral thesis after it had been partially released to the public. The resulting media frenzy affected more than this young man.” Culler sternly eyed the reporters in front of him. “Media interference with Detective James Ellison, who was named in the released document, allowed a known assassin, Klaus Zeller, to escape. Because of that escape, this assassin shot several police officers, wounding two of them gravely.” He took a deep breath.

“Do you realize what you did, ladies and gentlemen? Do you comprehend your responsibility in this matter?” He lowered his voice. “I hope that you think long and hard on those questions.”

Culler glanced at his notes once again. “Rainier University is also not blameless in this matter. Chancellor Katherine Edwards, for reasons that have not been satisfactorily explained to me, chose to ignore standard academic procedures both in not protesting the public release of intellectual property but also in the subsequent dismissal of Mr. Sandburg after his press conference. Through an investigation, it has been discovered that Chancellor Edwards, in collusion with Mr. Sid Graham of Berkshire Publishing, leaked to the press nonsense about Mr. Sandburg’s work being nominated for a Nobel Prize.”

Culler shook his head. “It appears that no member of the media did any research about this! If you had, you would have easily discovered there is no Nobel Prize for anthropology! And, if you had done any investigative research, you would, of course, have asked the question of why you were being told this.” He took a deep breath. “I cannot speak for Mr. Graham or Berkshire Publishing. You will need to ask them about their motives in this matter. Won’t you?”

Several of the reporters automatically nodded their heads.

“As for Chancellor Edwards, she has been the subject of an internal investigation,” Culler continued. “She has been allowed to present a defense against charges resulting from that investigation. The Board of Regents will meet at 2pm today to advise her of our decision. Now, as for Mr. Sandburg…”

Culler glanced at his notes then looked at the reporters. “The material that was released to the public was not Mr. Sandburg’s doctoral thesis. It was part of a novel where a young man gets caught up in an espionage case because of his doctoral thesis. Mr. Sandburg’s mother, thinking it was his thesis and wanting to obtain some editorial assistance for him, e-mailed it to Mr. Sid Graham. Mr. Sandburg’s actual doctoral thesis is on closed societies, specifically law enforcement.”

Again, Culler glared at the reporters. “In the atmosphere of frenzy created by Chancellor Edwards, Sid Graham, and the media, Mr. Sandburg made the decision to call a press conference to denounce his work as a fraud. As a doctoral thesis, it was a fraud since it was not intended to be his actual doctoral thesis. Mr. Sandburg is scheduled to complete and defend his actual thesis within the next three months. Now, I will take questions in an orderly fashion.”

The reporters hesitated, glancing at one another.

“Heather Stehl. Rainier Radio News. What is the decision of the Board of Regents regarding Chancellor Edwards?”

“Any information regarding Chancellor Edwards will not be made public until we have met with her. Next question.”

“Letitia Drummond. Channel 7 News. Dr. Culler, do you honestly feel the media is to blame for Klaus Zeller’s actions?”

“I’ve stated the facts, young lady. My opinion of them is personal and irrelevant to this discussion. Next question.”

“Don Haas. Channel 11 News. As President of the Board of Regents, can you tell us if Rainier University be taking any legal action against Chancellor Edwards, Sid Graham, Berkshire Publishing, or Blair Sandburg?”

“Already answered, unknown, unknown, and no. Next question.”

“Shane McDonald. Cascade Times. Sir, why was Detective Ellison’s name in Blair Sandburg’s work?”

“According to the information provided to us in our investigation by Mr. Sandburg, he used Detective Ellison’s name as a focus technique on one of the characters,” Culler answered. “You must remember that this was a draft, ladies and gentlemen, and not a finished work of fiction. Subsequent rewrites would have eliminated Detective Ellison’s name entirely. Next question.”

“Antoine Darsney. Rainier Student News. Dr. Culler, what did you think of Mr. Sandburg’s work of fiction?”

Culler stared at the young student reporter. “Young man, I don’t read works of fiction.” He glanced around the room. “That will be all. If you have any further questions, please submit them in writing to the Public Relations office. Thank you for your time.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Ouch.” Henri Brown squirmed. “I didn’t do anything, and he made me feel like crap.”

Joel Taggart chuckled. “Reminded me of my grandfather. He would let you know that he was sorely disappointed in you without ever using the word.”

“Do you think it worked with the reporters?” Brian Rafe quietly asked.

The members of Major Crimes looked at the two people sitting on the sofa. After being told the truth about the Sentinel and Guide of Cascade, they had gathered at the loft to watch the press conference and now looked at Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg for an answer.

Blair absently chewed on a thumbnail. After a few moments, Jim gently reached over and pulled Blair’s hand from his mouth. “Chief?”

“It should,” Blair slowly answered. “They may do a little more digging, but the ranks have closed.”

“When did you change your thesis subject?” Simon Banks asked.

“After I read the first chapter,” Jim uneasily answered.

“Fortunately, I’d been working on the closed society thesis as well,” Blair shrugged. “So my Committee accepted a completed draft a lot easier than they would if I was starting from scratch.”

“You worked on two dissertations plus helping Jimbo plus your other schoolwork!” Megan Conner stared at him in disbelief. “How did you find the time to…” She stopped in embarrassment as the men in the room stared at her in silence.

Henri snickered.

“Bloody hell!” Megan glared at Henri. “Like you men weren’t all thinking the same thing!”

“What’s going to happen to Chancellor Edwards?” Joel asked.

“Word is she’s going to be dismissed…effective immediately. Dr. Culler will take over until a new Chancellor is selected,” Blair answered.

“And all you get is a nice apology?” Rafe questioned. “That doesn’t seem right.”

“Actually, that guy didn’t apologize.” Henri sat up in indignation.

“Calm down, guys. I got a private apology,” Blair explained. “So did Jim.”

“Well, that was nice of them,” Megan irritably snorted.

“And they canceled all my student loans and are allowing me to defend my dissertation so I’ll get my degree,” Blair added with a smile.

“And Berkshire Publishing settled out of court with Sandburg,” Jim smugly added.

“Way to go, Hairboy!”

“Thanks to that lawyer Jim’s dad put at my disposal,” Blair chuckled.

“And what about the two of you?” Simon asked. He stared at both men, who briefly glanced at each other.

“I plan on attending the Academy, Simon,” Blair slowly answered. “I’d like to remain with Major Crimes as Jim’s partner.”

“And the two of you personally?” Simon pressed.

“We’re working on it, Simon,” Blair promised. “We do, sir,” Jim nodded. “Trust me. We completely understand.”

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St. Francis’ Church - Detroit, MI – April 28th

“Father Tobias, you wanted to see me?” Chad Malloy tentatively stood in the open doorway of Father Tobias’ office.

“Yes, come in.” The elderly priest smiled and motioned the young man to enter the room. “I would have put this in your room but…well, you have a letter from the FBI, son.”

Chad closed his eyes and lowered his head. “I’d hoped they would leave me alone.”

“If you want to seek sanctuary, Chad, you have only to ask.”

“Thank you, Father.” Chad reached out his hand for the letter. “I guess I better read it.”

“Use my office.” Father Tobias got to his feet. “I need to speak with Brother Simeon about the community dinner this Friday.”

“Thank you, Father.” Chad waited until the priest had left the room before slumping down into a nearby chair. “God, please…” he muttered as he opened the envelope.

‘Malloy. I’ll be in Detroit in a couple of weeks to get you. We have a lot of work to do. Garrison’

Visions of dead bodies flashed through Chad’s mind bring with it the horror of their final moments…the pain and anguish they’d felt as they died…all courtesy of a gift he alternately accepted and despised.

NO!” Chad moaned through clenched teeth. “No more!” Furiously, he tore the letter in half. “I shouldn’t have to run!” Getting to his feet, he began pacing the small room. “He can’t make me do it! I won’t do it! Why should I suffer any more! WHY?!”

Startled by the rising volume of his own voice, Chad quickly clapped a hand over his mouth and sat back down on the chair. “Why?” he whispered. His eyes spotted the crumpled envelope lying at his feet. Reaching down, he saw the return address and frowned. “I have to make him understand that I can’t do this any more. Then I’ll…just disappear.”

Stumbling to his feet, Chad slowly left Father Tobais’ office. He hesitated then turned away from the church where he could hear the monks beginning the afternoon hymns.

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Washington, DC – April 30th

"I tell you, Jim, I think Naomi is channeling both Jeckyll and Hyde."

Jim snorted into the phone.

"I'm telling you the truth, man!" Sitting on a more than comfortable bed in a hotel room in Washington, DC, Blair ran his left hand through his curly hair. "Butter wouldn't have melted in her mouth this morning! I thought that Senator from Alabama was going to offer his hand in marriage!"

Despite his best intentions, Jim slumped sideways on the couch and roared with laughter. When he finally caught his breath, he gasped, "Yes, but did she get his vote?"

"Who knows?" Blair cynically answered, flopping back onto the bed. "But I now understand why my mother doesn't have as extensive an arrest record as some of her friends. I've never seen anyone so charming!"

"Tell me about it, Chief," Jim grinned. "I wouldn't let just anyone rearrange my furniture, you know."

Silence.

"She's still my mom," Blair warned.

"And you're still very lucky," Jim chuckled. "Look, you went to DC to make sure she didn't get into any trouble while she and her friends lobbied the politicians about that environmental bill. And she's not in any trouble, right? She's behaving herself, isn't she?"

"That's what worries me," Blair muttered. "I mean, I've seen her catch more flies with honey, man, but…not with this much honey."

Jim managed to keep from rolling off the couch and onto the floor as he roared again with laughter.

"Senator, I can tell from your athletic physique that you're an outdoorsman. I know you're in favor of protecting the environment that has helped make you into the man I see." Blair mimicked his mother with a grin. "Jeez, Jim, I thought the poor guy was going to break something by pulling in his gut so far."

"The Senator from Alabama?" Jim wiped the tears from his eyes.

"No, the one from Utah," Blair sighed. "Utah, Jim! She was schmoozing a Senator from Utah!"

"So what's up for tomorrow?"

"More schmoozing, I suppose. There's some dinner tonight, but I'm not going. And I’m going to spend a day researching at the Library of Congress while I’m here.” Blair closed his eyes with a sigh.

"You okay?" Jim asked, suddenly concerned.

"Just tired and I've got a headache," Blair admitted. "I'm gonna take a nap then order room service." He opened his eyes and sat up. "So, how are you? Everything okay there?"

"Simon's got me chained to a desk," Jim growled. "I know you're responsible for that."

"Me? What makes you think I have the power to tell Simon what to do?" Blair grinned.

"Pull my other leg, Sandburg," Jim snorted. "Everything's fine." He glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the kitchen. "God knows you left me enough food."

"You'd better be eating it, too," Blair warned. "There's no reason for you to be hitting WonderBurger every day."

Jim smiled and closed his eyes. "Oh, I can think of a couple of reasons."

"Ellison!"

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Suitland, MD – May 1st

Several times Chad Malloy slowly drove past the small house with an immaculately neat front yard. He'd almost stopped but then drove away and tried to eat lunch, but the hamburger stuck in his throat and the chocolate milkshake tasted far too sweet. He'd driven past the house a second time but continued on when he saw how badly his hands were shaking. Finding a nearby park, he slumped onto a bench near a softball diamond and stared up at the sky. It was getting dark when he finally forced himself to his feet and back to his car.

By this time, the residential street was full of parked cars. Chad almost pulled into the house's driveway but then decided to find a parking spot on the street. After driving for a few minutes, he found a spot two blocks away in small strip mall. He locked his car and then began walking back towards the small house.

Chad took a deep breath as he stood at the front door. Then he reached out and knocked on the door. He shoved both hands into his jacket pocket and waited.

"Malloy!" FBI Agent Vincent Garrison looked and sounded surprised. "What are you doing here?"

"I think you know why." Chad was surprised at how calm his voice sounded.

Garrison grunted. "I thought I'd have to go all the way to Detroit to get you," he admitted, opening the door wider. "Come on in."

Chad stepped inside and looked around as the front door was shut behind him.

"Come on up to my office." Garrison turned from the door and started up the steps.

Chad hesitated, then followed. "Why are you hounding me? Planning on coming to Detroit after me?" he asked as he climbed the steps.

Garrison looked over his shoulder. "You're kidding, right? Malloy, you're an invaluable asset. Did you think I was going to let you just disappear?" Shaking his head, he led the younger man to a converted bedroom.

Chad took a deep breath and stood in the doorway of the room. Glancing around, he saw a desk with an impressive desktop computer, monitor, and printer. A small filing cabinet was against the far wall with a TV/VCR combination unit sitting on top. Sitting under a small window was a closed credenza.

"I figured after that mess in Cascade that you'd try to disappear on me so I had both St. Sebastians’ and St. Francis’ watched. I knew exactly when you left Cascade and when you returned to Detroit," Garrison explained as he turned on the computer monitor. “After all, those are the only two places you could run to.”

"You had me watched?!”

"The Bureau’s got me seeing a shrink," Garrison snorted. "I'm playing their game until they clear me for duty. Then I'm going to retire so you and I can get down to business." He chuckled. “Of course, the Bureau doesn’t know what I’m planning. But I need them to clear me for duty so I can retire without any blemishes on my record. It’s make it much easier for me to testify in court that way.”

"What business are you talking about?" Chad anxiously asked.

Garrison glared at the younger man. "Finding killers! Molesters! But we’ll do it as private individuals. Fewer restrictions that way." He shook his head. "You're just confused now. But we'll get your focus back."

"You think the two of us can do all that?" Chad demanded. "We wouldn't have access to the resources that you have with the FBI!"

Garrison sat in his chair and swung around to unlock the credenza behind him. "Oh, I've been planning this for a very long time, Malloy." He reached into the credenza and pulled out a large briefcase and a small duffel bag. Pointing at the briefcase, he continued, "False IDs for both of us plus ATM cards . Each identity has between ten and twenty thousand dollars in their accounts." Opening the duffel bag, he motioned Chad to come closer. "As for weapons, these will do for a start."

Chad walked closer to the desk and saw several handguns with silencers within the briefcase. "Are those things loaded?"

Garrison rolled his eyes. "Of course, they're loaded!" He reached into the briefcase and withdrew one of the guns. "Only an idiot keeps an unloaded gun around. D'ya think an intruder is going to wait while you load the damn thing? Hell, I don't even engage the safety." Chuckling, he put the gun on the desk. "And if that doesn't convince some son-of-a-bitch to confess, well, I have some drugs that should loosen a tongue or two."

"How do you think you can do this?" Chad argued, warily eyeing the gun on the desk.

"Why do you think the cops will let you in on their investigations?"

"We're not going to ask them."

Chad waved his hands in agitation. "Don't you understand? You're planning for two people to just go out after killers? Killers that the FBI and a lot of police departments can't catch?"

"It won't be just the two of us, Malloy," Garrison patiently explained. "Remember Cascade? Remember Sandburg?"

Chad slowly looked at the FBI agent. "What about Blair?"

"I noticed how good he was working with you, although that hypnosis crap could have cost us the conviction," Garrison explained. "So I started investigating him. I think he has a talent. Not like yours, of course. But a talent that would be very helpful in my work."

"Why would Blair work with you?" Chad asked. "Isn't he still working with the Cascade PD?"

Garrison shrugged. "He's had some ups and downs lately. I think he'll be amenable to a change of career. You wouldn’t believe the people who have messed with him over the past year." He sat down at the desk and pulled out a drawer. He put several CDs and a thick file on the desk in front of him. "In fact, I believe that given the proper motivation, he'll be eager to assist me. You see, Malloy, he nearly committed professional suicide to protect his thesis subject." Garrison nodded to himself. "That gives me the leverage I need to persuade him."

"Persuade him…you mean pressure him," Chad muttered to himself. "Like you pressure me…with guilt." He took a deep breath and walked closer to the desk. "Where did you get that money?" he demanded.

"Where I got the money isn't important," Garrison waved a hand in dismissal. "There are so many secret and off-the-books operations that it's not too difficult to take a little of it here and there. As long as you don't get greedy and take too much, nobody notices."

"That's stealing," Chad softly accused. "You stole money…you've ruined my life. And now you're planning to ruin Blair's…torture people…" He looked down at the floor, nauseated with fear. ‘He’s going to do to Blair what he did to me…all that pain…torture…guilt…He doesn’t care about anybody…what it does to me to touch the dead…what it will do to Blair…he’ll drain all the light from him.’

"Those people are killers and molesters of little children!" Garrison sternly replied. "Don't be an idiot, Malloy. You and Sandburg have talents that will help capture them. And you will help me do that once I've gotten clear of the Bureau. Just remember, the end justifies the means." Garrison turned to the computer to insert one of the CDs.

‘The end justifies the means…’ Chad looked up and started at Garrison’s back. ‘…justifies the means…’ Without blinking an eye, Chad reached for the gun on the desk. With barely a thought, he aimed the gun at the back of Garrison's head and pulled the trigger.

Garrison's body jerked as his head slammed against the monitor, breaking the glass. Without a sound, he slowly slumped and fell out of the chair and onto the carpeted floor.

Chad slowly lowered the gun then dropped it onto the desk. "No choice," he muttered. He glanced around the room and took a step backwards. "You gave me no choice!" he screamed. He slowly sat on the floor and covered his face with his hands. Sobbing, he repeated, “No choice…justifies the means…”

Almost an hour later, Chad wiped his face and dazedly looked around. He slowly got to his feet and walked towards the desk. Taking care to avoid Garrison’s body, he picked up the CDs and saw one labeled ‘Sandburg’ and loaded the CD into the computer.

Frowning, he read transcripts of the press conferences held by both Blair and Culler. When he was done, he removed the CD from the computer. Using the hem of his jacket to cover his fingers, he turned the computer off. He then opened the briefcase and put the file marked ‘Sandburg’ inside along with the CD, the false identification, and ATM cards.

As he closed the briefcase, his eyes widened. “Oh, God, the gun!” Frantically, he looked for the gun, finding it lying half under the desk where he’d dropped it. Using his jacket, he tried to wipe his fingerprints from the weapon. “Damn! They’ll find something. They always find something!” He took a deep breath. “Okay, I’ll take it with me and throw it away someplace else. Even better, I’ll take it apart and leave the parts in different places.”

Chad threw the gun into the duffel bag and zipped it shut. He glanced out the window and saw it was now dark. He glanced around for several seconds to make sure he’d left no clue as to his presence. Then he slung the duffel bag over his right shoulder and picked up the briefcase with his left hand.

Jacket in his right hand, he flipped the light switch to the off position and quickly went downstairs to the front door. Using his jacket to protect his hand, he unlocked and opened the front door.

Chad cautiously looked around but saw no one. Taking a deep breath he closed the door behind him and walked away.

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Baltimore, MD – May 2nd

‘Garrison said the end justifies the means. Does that mean that God will forgive me for taking Garrison’s life? I can’t call it murder…won’t call it murder. It was self-defense. But would anyone believe me? Blair would…but not the courts.’

Looking up from the notebook in front of him, Chad looked about Room 217 at the Knights Inn Motel close to I-95. A new laptop computer sat at the edge of the bed and the contents of the file folder labeled ‘Sandburg’ were strewn across the other side of the bed.

“My God, Blair, how could they do that to you?” Chad rubbed his eyes. “Brad Ventriss got you fired then this Graham guy steals your life’s work!” He glanced at a copy of the front page of the Cascade Times. “And this bitch, Edwards, fires you again ‘cause you stood up for what’s right?!”

He grabbed another piece of paper. “And you drowned! Where was your damn partner?! How could he just let all this happen?!”

Agitatedly, Chad got to his feet and began pacing. “You’re too good to take your own part. They took advantage of you!” He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, and stopped. Several seconds later, he slowly nodded. “You need to be protected, or they’ll do it to you again. Just like Garrison was going to do.”

He ran both hands through his hair. “I need a plan.”

-----------------------------------

Brooklyn NY – May 4th

Sid Graham hated his life. It had descended from a cushy, well-paying publishing career and an apartment in Greenwich Village to a low-paying job at a local library and an apartment in Brooklyn.

All because of that damned Blair Sandburg. As he climbed the stairs to his fourth-story apartment, Sid once again consigned both Blair and Naomi Sandburg to the deepest level of hell. All Sandburg had to do was take the money. A good attorney could have handled any lawsuits that came his way. Berkshire Publishing would probably have provided the lawyers. Everything could have been settled out of court. There would have been enough money to take care of everyone. Plus, the accompanying publicity would have generated even more money for the book as well as interest in any future books written by Sandburg.

“Damn leaching landlord,” Graham cursed as he reached the top of the stairs. The light at the end of the hallway was out again. “I’m gonna get a lawyer about this. It’s dangerous to leave everybody at this end of the building in the dark.” He fumbled with his keys then unlocked the door and stepped inside. As he closed the door, he flipped on the overhead light.

The soft ‘click’ of the light switch masked the sound of the silenced handgun being fired behind him.

Sid grunted and flung his hands against the door for balance. As his knees gave away, he heard the sound of a gun being cocked again. His last thought was wondering who would burglarize a dump like this?

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Cascade, WA – June 19th

Detective Henri Brown had always thought of himself as a brave man. He knew he was neither stupid nor suicidal. But it took more than a few minutes for him to gather his courage to walk across the bullpen. He was aware that his partner followed him even as Brian Rafe was muttering 'gonna get us killed' under his breath.

Henri, with Rafe at his shoulder, stood at Jim's desk and waited until the other man raised his head.

"What?"

Henri managed not to shiver at the cold voice or the cold blue eyes staring up at him.

"Anything we can do to help?" he quietly asked.

Sitting next to Jim, Blair forced a tired smile. "Not unless you have a magic wand that'll complete all this paperwork."

"Any that we can help with?"

Jim's eyes flickered to Blair and then back to Henri. "Could you download the autopsy photos and reports then print three copies for the files?"

"No problem," Henri nodded, understanding Jim's reluctance to allow Blair to see them again.

"Want me to take care of the forensic reports?" Rafe quietly asked.

"Thanks, Rafe," Jim nodded.

"Thanks, guys, that'll help a lot," Blair nodded.

"Hey, anything to help you guys get outta here quicker," Henri grinned. "You deserve the downtime."

Abruptly, Jim lowered his head and began working on his report.

Blair apologetically smiled at the other two detectives who smiled in return. He sighed as they walked away. The case had been one of the worst he could imagine. Seven newborn baby girls had been abducted and then found dead in various parts of Cascade. Jim had taken the case personally, working practically non-stop once the second baby had been abducted. Blair had speculated with Simon that it was the helplessness of the babies that 'cranked up Jim's protective nature'. Although he didn't realize it, the young detective had earned respect from older members of the department as he'd accompanied Jim to each and every crime scene and talked with each and every grieving parent. A great deal of that respect occurred when he'd gone toe-to-toe with Jim at a crime scene to force the older man to get some sleep. As one older forensic technician put it, "The last guy who got in Ellison's face and yelled at him like that wound up going to the hospital."

With an inward sigh, Blair glanced at his partner. "Not that I'm ungrateful for the help, but you don't need to protect me. I've already seen the photos and read the autopsy reports," he murmured.

"So what's the reason you need to see them again?" Jim quietly replied. "God knows I don't want to see them again."

Blair silently patted Jim's arm. “Okay,” he quietly agreed.

The Sentinel had tracked down the killer from a perfume scent found at several of the abduction points and crime scenes. In an eerie replay of the Switchman case, Blair had guided Jim through scenting over fifty perfumes before finding the correct one. Good old-fashioned police work had come up with a common denominator with each abducted baby's family. A visit from social services to make sure the baby was thriving.

Combining that fact with the elusive perfume scent had led to a social service worker named Michele King who was on a leave of absence after her premature daughter had died.

Michele had used her identification to gain access to each home by saying she was part of a pilot program to monitor newborns after they were released from the hospital. She targeted not only newborn girls but those from families with lower incomes. Their houses rarely had alarm systems, and her inspection of the homes allowed her to find the easiest way into each house.

Now she sat in a jail cell under twenty-four hour guard and segregated from the rest of the jail population. Threats had already come from that quarter against her life. Her attorney was planning her defense based upon diminished capacity.

Blair reflected he had never been so proud of Jim as when Michele was arrested. Jim, the Sentinel, demanded vengeance for the murder of seven helpless baby girls, and Jim later admitted he was tempted to let nature take its course. Jim, the detective, however, was determined to see justice was done and protected Michele from her neighbors who were at first stunned then enraged and almost howled for Michele's blood. .

Glancing once more at his partner, Blair silently admitted that it was now Jim, the man, who needed time to heal. Signing the last of his reports, he sighed in relief. A few more hours and they would be leaving Cascade for the mountains and a week's worth of peace, quiet, camping, and fishing…assuming they didn't run into any smugglers, terrorists, or crazed animals.

Simon's door opened, and he stepped into the bullpen. "Ellison. Sandburg. My office."

Jim really wanted to put Simon's soft tone of voice down to consideration for the stress the detectives of Major Crimes had been under. But the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach warned him otherwise.

"No…no…no…" Blair muttered under his breath.

"C'mon, Chief. Let's get it over with," Jim sighed.

Both men stood and walked into Simon's office and stood as Simon closed the door behind them.

Simon took a deep breath and motioned for them to sit. As they did, he handed Jim a folder then sat behind his desk. "I got that a few hours ago."

Jim opened the folder and began to read.

"What is it?" Blair leaned closer to read over Jim's shoulder. "The Army wants you?!" Startled, he looked at Simon.

"For a debriefing session," Jim muttered, flipping through the papers. "One of my covert-ops missions." He sighed and closed the folder. "Apparently, there are some questions as to the means used during the operation."

"Are they trying to pin something on you?" Blair demanded.

"Hardly, Chief," Jim ruefully smiled. "It's my original report that they want to discuss.

At the time, nobody wanted to hear about it." He looked at Simon. "They want me for a week at Ft. Lewis."

"Okay, can you postpone our week off until after we finish with the Army?" Blair asked.

Jim automatically shook his head. “No way you can come with me, Sandburg. This mission was classified then and is probably still classified. There’s no way we can explain you coming along just to sit somewhere waiting for me.”

‘I really hate the classified parts of Jim’s life.’ Blair sighed. “Then I want you in contact with either me or Simon during the day," Blair briskly ordered. "We'll set up a schedule."

Simon nodded again. "When I checked on this, I stressed the need for that sort of contact because of the King case just being concluded."

Jim looked from Blair to Simon then back to his Guide. "You know, sometimes I don't know who's the more paranoid," he teased.

"Me."

Once again Jim looked from one man to the other. "Since you both seem to have done a good job of nursemaiding me, I don't suppose there's anything I need to do," he snarkily accused.

“You can check in on schedule,” Simon gruffly ordered.

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Spokane, WA – June 24th

‘People abuse the power they have. Yet no one seems to care when it happens. They shrug it off. And the worst that happens is that the person abuser just moves on to do it somewhere else. Maybe I’m helping people as well as protecting Blair.’

The young man, leaning against the side of a dark red Nissan, closed his notebook with a sigh. He looked upwards and smiled at the brilliant blue sky. ‘It’s turned into a really nice day.’

------------------------------------

“Thank you very much for meeting with us, Ms. Edwards. The Committee was very impressed with your credentials.” Professor Edwin Berry tried not to choke on the words as he escorted the woman with him to the visitor’s parking lot. ‘They’re impressed by your fund-raising abilities. All those potential dollar signs are clouding their vision.’

“I’m certain that any association between us would be very beneficial,” Katherine Edwards coolly replied. She’d easily taken the measure of the search committee members and realized that Professor Berry was going to be a problem. The others, however, saw how her contacts could benefit their school’s funding activities.

Berry briefly smiled. “You’re driving back to Seattle this afternoon?”

“Yes, I have an evening flight out of Seattle for San Francisco.” Edwards smiled to herself. “I’m having lunch with a friend who is at Berkeley.”

“Yes, I remember you mentioned that,” Berry nodded. ‘Maybe Berkeley will make you an offer you can’t refuse. Then you’ll be their problem.’ He stopped walking as they reached her rental car. Holding out his right hand, he forced another smile. “Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us. You should hear something from us within a week.”

Edwards shook his hand and forced a smile of her own. “The pleasure was mine, Professor Berry.”

Berry stood and watched as she got into her car and drove away. “I hope that’s the last I see of you.”

“Now Edwin. She’d be an asset to this university.”

Berry turned around and scowled at the portly man standing behind him. “You must be joking, Jonathan.”

Professor Jonathan McLendle shook his head. “Look what she did for Rainier. New buildings. Expanded facilities. A new athletic complex.”

“And what about academic integrity?” Berry irritably demanded. “If the woman didn’t know there’s no Nobel Prize for anthropology, then she’s an idiot and certainly doesn’t need to be President of Gonzaga! And if she did know it, then she’s completely irresponsible and lacking in the basic ethics!”

McLendle rocked back and forth on his heels. “So you’ll be presenting against her at the Board meeting on Monday?”

“Absolutely!”

“Even if that’s in opposition to the decision of the Search Committee?” McLendle shook his head. “You won’t be doing yourself any favors, Edwin.”

“I’ll make my stand on academic ethics,” Berry replied. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” He nodded to the other man as he walked away. ‘I’ve got some calls to make.’

Neither man noticed the younger man walking away from the parking lot.

-----------------------------------------

“God, I can’t believe I’m even considering that rinky-dink little place!” Edwards grumbled to herself as she pressed her foot down on the car’s accelerator. She suddenly smiled. “Berkeley is much more my style. Granted, I wouldn’t be at the top of the administration but…Gonzaga! My God!”

Speeding even faster, Edwards passed several cars. Unused to driving herself after several years of being chauffeured thanks to one of her perks at Rainier, she restlessly squirmed in her seat. “If I have to come back, I’m flying even if it’s in a small plane,” she decided, ignoring the state of her finances.

Rounding a curve, she pressed down on the brake pedal only to find her foot going all the way to the floor.

“What?!” Frantically, she pumped the brake several times as she swerved the car from side to side.

“No…no…NO!”

The rental car slammed through a guardrail and briefly sailed into the air before falling to the rocky ground below. Several cars squealed to stop by the break in the guardrail. As people began calling for help on their cell phones, Edwards’ car finally rolled to a stop at the bottom of the hill.

Katherine Edwards was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

-------------------------------------------

Cascade, WA – June 24th

“Banks.”

“Simon, I can’t reach Sandburg. Where is he?”

Simon leaned back in his chair and slowly smiled. “Good afternoon, Detective. How has your day been?”

Jim bit back his response and counted to five. “My partner was very specific about checks-ins. Now I can’t reach him.”

“Did it occur to you that he could be working and not able to respond to your call?” Simon asked. “Isn’t that why he set it up so you would call me if you couldn’t get him?”

Jim sighed. “Sorry, sir.”

Simon grunted. “He’s home sick.”

“What’s wrong with him! He sounded okay when I talked to him yesterday morning!”

“Ellison! Calm down! It’s a cold…a simple ordinary everyday run-of-the-mill cold!” Simon explained. “He started with the coughing and sneezing yesterday afternoon so I sent him home. I didn’t want him infecting the entire station. I spoke with him on my way to work this morning. He sounded groggy and congested but okay.”

“Probably dosing himself with some herbal concoctions rather than some decent antibiotic,” Jim grumbled.

“His choice, Jim. You can’t make him take something he doesn’t want to take.”

“With all due respect, sir, yes I can.”

Simon closed his eyes. “Check in with me later today.”

“I’m not sure that will be feasible, sir,” Jim admitted. “Some very high-ranking people are flying in from the Pentagon this afternoon. It looks like we’ll be working through the late hours.”

“Call me as soon as you can,” Simon ordered. “We’ll let Sandburg get some rest. Then you can force-feed him whatever you want when you get back.”

“I’ll be sure to mention that to him, sir.”

--------------------------------------------

Cascade, WA – July 30th

Blair slowly opened his eyes to find the familiar blue-tinted jungle around him. Stretching from his lotus position, he looked around for his spirit animal. Not finding the silver wolf, he got to his feet and began walking the familiar path to the stone temple.

He’d originally felt it was a spiritual Temple of the Sentinels since Jim had gone there first. Now he felt it was a spiritual temple for both Sentinel and Guide. Blair certainly felt comfortable. ‘Not that Jim would ever be completely comfortable in this world.’ His Sentinel was more than firmly grounded in the physical world.

Blair reached the open clearing and saw both his silver wolf and Jim’s black jaguar facing off against an ebony raven. The raven turned its head towards Blair and silently studied him.

The black jaguar immediately positioned himself between Blair and the raven, causing the raven to narrow its eyes in response.

“Hey, guys,” Blair carefully spoke. “Who’s the newcomer?” He stepped forward only to find the jaguar snarling in his direction. “Whoa! C’mon…what’s going on?”

The raven defiantly chirped at Blair even as the jaguar howled an obvious warning.

Suddenly the silver wolf ran between the two animals, yipping at first the jaguar and then the raven. The raven cocked its head to one side and waited.

The jaguar launched himself to land protectively between the wolf and the raven. He turned his head and snarled at the wolf who backed away, causing the raven to angrily flap its wings. The jaguar turned his attention to the raven, and both animals aggressively eyed each other.

“Stop it!” Blair sternly ordered. “Whoever this is, there is no threat to me.”

“Are you so sure, Shaman?”

Blair spun around to see the spiritual representation of Jim’s Sentinel standing on the steps of the Temple, clothed in military camouflage and boots with a bandanna covering his head. His ice blue eyes solemnly stared at the animals.

“We need…I need to know who this is and what it means for him to be here,” Blair protested. “I can’t find that out if they’re all fighting.”

The Sentinel’s eyes flickered to Blair. “Are you not capable of learning from what you observe, Shaman?”

Blair’s eyes narrowed at the slightly mocking tone in the Sentinel’s voice. He started to reply but was startled when the raven angrily fluttered his wings at the jaguar. Spinning back around, he caught his breath when a fourth spirit animal joined the group.

A spotted jaguar.

----------------------------

Shrieking in terror and startled from his sleep, Blair fell off the couch. He heard himself scream a second time and Jim’s voice calling to him.

“Sandburg! What’s wrong?!” Jim dropped to his knees next to Blair and hesitantly reached out to touch his partner. He automatically extended his senses but detected no threat. “Sandburg?” Hearing only Blair’s panicked breathing, he gently squeezed Blair’s arm. “Chief? C’mon…it’s me…Jim. You’re okay now.”

Alarmed when Blair began gasping for breath, he took the younger man by the shoulders and sat him upright. “Breathe, Chief. You’re starting to have a panic attack.” He gently shook Blair. “Sandburg! Look at me!” he snapped.

Startled, Blair looked at Jim and slightly nodded.

Jim slowly rubbed Blair’s arms, using his senses to monitor the younger man who struggled to calm himself. He murmured reassurances to Blair, gently rocking him back and forth. “You be okay for a minute, buddy?”

Blair nodded, taking a deep breath.

Jim patted his arm and got to his feet. He walked into the kitchen and retrieved a bottle of water from the refrigerator. Then he went into the bathroom and moistened a washcloth. Returning to the couch, he handed the washcloth to Blair who nodded in silent thanks.

As Blair wiped his face and pushed his hair back, Jim sat on the floor next to him. When Blair was done, he traded the bottle of water for the washcloth then monitored Blair as he drank the water.

“I’m okay,” Blair said after he’d drank half of the water. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Jim replied. “Sounds like that was one hell of a nightmare. You want to talk about it?”

“No,” Blair firmly answered. “But we need to talk about it.”

Jim nodded in solemn agreement. “How about I put some coffee on while you get things settled in your head?”

“Yeah,” Blair nodded. “We’re gonna need the coffee.”

Fifteen minutes later, both men were sitting at the kitchen table sipping coffee.

“I know I should feel rested, and I normally do after a visit to the jungle,” Blair carefully spoke. “This time, I don’t. I feel almost wrung out.”

“What happened?” Jim calmly asked.

Blair shrugged. “I found myself in the jungle and started walking towards the temple. Usually the wolf joins me, but this time I was on my own. When I got to the temple, your jag was facing off against a raven.”

Jim frowned. “Who’s the raven?”

“Nobody that I know,” Blair admitted. “And it wasn’t a ‘hello how are you’ type of face-off either. The jag definitely didn’t like the raven and got between us. I thought the two of them were going to fight when the wolf got between them.”

“Playing peacemaker, Chief?” Jim grinned.

“That’s what I thought,” Blair agreed with a slight smile. “The wolf kinda yipped at both of them, and the raven moved closer. The jag took this huge leap and got between them! That’s then they started eyeballing each other, and I started talking to get them to calm down by telling them no one was a threat to anybody.” He took a deep breath. “That’s when the Sentinel appeared.”

Jim nearly choked on his coffee. “And?”

“And he asked…no demanded how I knew there was no threat.” Blair shook his head. “Man, he is one scary dude.”

Jim started to smile then caught himself. “He didn’t do anything to you, did he?”

“Nothing more than make me question my statement,” Blair quickly answered. “To be honest, I didn’t know if there was a threat or not. I just didn’t want to see a fight get started.” His eyes fell to the half-empty cup of coffee in front of him. “I told the Sentinel that, and he basically challenged me to learn from what I was seeing.” He shook his head. “I felt like I was a freshman again.” He took a deep breath. “Anyway, I figured the fur was about to fly when…”

“When what?” Jim gently asked.

Blair forced his eyes up to meet Jim’s. “That’s when the spotted jaguar appeared. The next thing I knew I’m falling off the couch and screaming my head off.”

Jim’s jaw muscles clenched. “Alex,” he spat.

“The only spotted jaguar I know.” Blair’s voice shook. “We need to know, man. We need to know where she is right now.”

Jim jerked his head in agreement. “She’s supposed to be in a long-term care hospital in Colorado under Federal supervision. We’ll get Simon to officially request an update tomorrow.”

Blair nodded and shoved his cup to one side. He folded his arms on the table and lowered his head. “Oh, God.” Seconds later, he was pulled to his feet and into Jim’s arms.

“No matter who this raven is or why or how he’s working with Alex, nothing will happen to you, Blair. I swear that.” Even as Jim put his strength into the hug he was giving his partner, his eyes were cold and narrowed.

Blair slid his arms around Jim and returned the hug. “We can’t be at cross-purposes, man. Either of us get a weird feeling or vision or dream, we gotta tell the other. Promise me that!”

“I swear, Chief. I swear.”

-------------------------------------------

Cascade, WA – August 31st

‘Who’s guiltier? The person who commits the crime or the person who makes it happen? I’m surprised that I don’t feel guilty for what I’m doing. I’m protecting Blair so does the end justify the means? When I think about it, I believe Garrison’s the guilty person in all this. If he’d left me alone…if it hadn’t threatened Blair…none of this would be happening.’

----------------------------------

Chad thought it was amazing how people thought about security. Protect your home with a sophisticated alarm system. Protect your car with a sophisticated alarm system. For personal security, carry mace or even a tazer. But there was really no defense against someone who was determined and had time to kill.

He chuckled to himself. ‘Time to kill. Good one.’ He glanced at the file lying on the passenger seat of his car. ‘You managed to evade jail, didn’t you? Your high-priced lawyers kept you from spending even a day behind bars.’ He contemplated adding the defense attorney and judge to his now-short list, then shook his head. ‘Lawyers only did their job. Jury decided on the facts they had so the judge didn’t have any choice.’

He saw his target as the man left the restaurant. “Finally,” he muttered when he saw the man separate from his companions and walk to his car. “Nobody gonna keep you company tonight? Thinking you’ll have to ramble around that big empty house all by yourself?” Snickering, he lowered his voice. “Here I come to save the day!”

Chad carefully pulled into traffic two cars behind his intended victim. “God bless the rich. They want to live in their big houses outside of the city. And what’s the best way to get there? The highway! Especially late on a Tuesday night when traffic is practically non-existent.”

Chad’s Volvo followed the BMW onto the highway and accelerated to keep up with the car in front of him. After a couple of miles, Chad signaled and moved into the left-hand lane. As he accelerated to pass the BMW, he shook his head. “Driving over 70mph and talking on the cell phone. Now that’s an accident just waiting to happen.”

He waited until he was even with the BMW. The driver glanced at him then returned his attention to the highway and his conversation.

Chad pushed the button to lower the passenger-side window. Glancing in his rear-view mirror, he reached over to the passenger seat and grasped his gun. Raising it, he took his eyes off the straight stretch of highway ahead of them and turned to look at the man driving the BMW. “Looks like the sins of the son are visited upon the father.”

Seconds later, he pulled the trigger twice. Lowering the gun, he saw the BMW’s driver jerk then slump sideways, held upright by his seat belt. Chad slowly braked the car, allowing the BMW to speed past him.

The BMW swerved and slid along the guardrail until the guardrail ended. The car then ran off the highway and rolled down an embankment. As Chad slowed the Volvo, he glanced out the passenger-side window but couldn’t see the BMW’s position. Seeing headlights in his rear-view window, he sped up and drove away.

---------------------------------------

Cascade, WA – September 1st

“Good morning, Cascade. I’m Denise Wesley, and it’s going to be another rainy day for the Pacific Northwest. First, our top stories of the morning. Millionaire Norman Ventriss was shot and killed late last night. Mr. Ventriss was returning home from dinner with friends when someone drove up beside him on the highway and shot him. Police aren’t releasing any details other than they are looking for a late model dark Volvo. The driver is wanted for questioning as a possible witness. However, our sources have reported that Mr. Ventriss was shot once in the left-side of his head and once in the left shoulder. Mr. Ventriss is survived by his son, Bradley. You will remember that Brad Ventriss is currently serving a sentence for…”

-----------------------------------------

Cascade, WA – October 1st

"Jim! I can't find my socks!"

"Top left hand drawer of your dresser," Jim replied from his comfortable position on the couch. He slowly counted to ten.

"Jim! I can't find my dress shirt!"

"Neatly folded and already packed in the suitcase," Jim answered. He took a sip of juice and waited.

"Why?"

"Because I ironed it," Jim replied. "And, after having ironed it, I didn't want you to just throw it into the suitcase."

"Oh."

Jim slowly counted to five.

"Why do I need a dress shirt anyway?" Blair appeared in the doorway of his bedroom. "I'm part of a panel for one of the seminar topics. It's not like I need a dress shirt for that. Besides, Colorado Springs is kind of an informal place, you know?"

"No, but you'll need one for the banquet," Jim pointed out. "After your performance at the seminar, you'll need a dress shirt because you'll be bumped from a table in the back of the room to the dais."

Blair narrowed his eyes. "You're kidding, right?"

Jim simply stared back at him. “Too bad I have to stay to testify in the Sutton trial,” he grinned. “Seeing you in a dress shirt might be worth listening to all the lectures.”

"Smart ass," Blair muttered as he returned to his room.

"Better to be safe than sorry, Sandburg," Jim called out. He took another sip of juice and counted to ten.

"Jim! I can't find my notes for the seminar!"

Jim sighed and got to his feet. Picking up several folders from the nearby coffee table that were labeled 'Modern Day Anthropology' in Jim's neat printing, he walked towards Blair's room.

------------------------------------------

Denver, CO – October 3rd

“John, you’ll be on your own tonight. Karl called in sick.”

John Straker peered through the lens of his thick glasses at this supervisor. “Gee, Mrs. Kelley. I hope he’s okay.”

The middle-aged woman shrugged. “Said it was something he ate.” She lowered her voice and muttered, “God knows he’ll eat anything.” She shook her head and spoke in a normal tone of voice. “Do the best you can.”

“Yes, ma’am.” John signed for the keys to various rooms and walked away. ‘I bet Karl is sick after I messed with his food last night.’ Dismissing is co-worker from his mind, Chad unlocked the storage room door and walked inside to load his cleaning cart.

Hours later, he stopped beside the empty nurse’s station. Most of the night staff were beginning their meal break and the nurse on duty had just begun her rounds. Quietly, mop in hand, he slipped into the work area, and then into the small interior cubicle where medications were stored.

Chad quickly looked at the vials then opened an unlocked cabinet. A vial of epinephrine and a syringe quickly went into his pocket. A few seconds later, he cautiously reappeared and, mopping the floor, he returned his cart to the hallway.

Minutes later, he unlocked the door of patient room 172. Closing the door behind him, he stood silently for a few seconds, letting his eyes become adjusted to the even dimmer light inside the room.

He walked closer to the bed, pulling out a capped syringe and bottle from his pocket. ‘Too bad this stuff is supposed to be painless. You need to suffer when you die.’ Swiftly, he stabbed the needle into the top of the bottle and pulled back on the syringe. Then he inserted the needle into the patient’s IV line and pressed the plunger.

Removing the needle when completed, Chad capped it and put it back in his pocket. Then he leaned over and stared into the comatose patient’s blue eyes. “Bitch,” he hissed. “Burn in hell.”

Quickly, Chad walked back to the door. He carefully opened it and peered outside. Assured that no one was watching, he stepped outside and locked the door behind him. He quickly returned the cleaning cart to the storage room then walked to his supervisor’s office. As expected, Mrs. Kelley wasn’t there so he grabbed a pen from her desk and wrote on a notepad.

‘Mrs. Kelley, I guess what messed up Karl is messing me up cause I’m getting really sick. I only got the first and second floors done. I’m real sorry but I got to go home now. John’

Minutes later, John was driving his old Toyota away from the sanitarium.

Ten minutes later, the alarm for the patient in Room 172 sounded at the nurses’ station. “Code Red! Room 172!” the on-duty nurse announced over the intercom. Turning, she grabbed the chart marked Alicia Bannister/Alex Barnes and ran down the hallway.

---------------------------------------

Colorado Springs, CO – October 4th

Occasionally Alex Barnes would see other animals in the jungle. But she never approached them. And after the spotted jaguar at her side roared in warning, they never approached her. Once she had seen a silver wolf in the distance and began running in that direction. But a furious howl from another jaguar had stopped her in her tracks.

But this was different. The jungle was getting darker and her spirit animal was pacing back and forth in agitation. Suddenly, Alex stumbled to her knees when something stabbed her in her left arm. Grabbing her arm, she got to her feet and looked around.

A tall, thin black-haired young man stood a few yards away, a raven perched on his shoulder. The beak of the raven was covered in blood.

Alex glanced at her left arm, not surprised to see blood flowing from a wound. She coldly smiled. “This is my world. You can’t harm me here.”

“I killed you in the real world.” The man blinked several times as though realizing the importance of his words.

“What did you say?!” Alex furiously demanded.

“You’re dead…or at least dying.” The man looked around in confusion. ‘Why am I sorry about this?’

“Who are you? Why did you do this?” Alex heard her spirit animal roar in anger.

“It doesn’t matter who I am,” the young man shook his head and backed away from Alex. “As for why? You killed Blair Sandburg. And for that, you pay with your own life.”

“Sandburg?” Alex muttered. Suddenly she ran towards the young man and grabbed his arm.

Both people shrieked as if being jolted by electricity and backed away from each other.

Alex dazedly shook her head. “You…no…not you….” She glanced at the jaguar at her side then back at the man only to find that he and the raven had disappeared. “Come back here, you bastard!” Not receiving an answer, Alex dropped to her knees. “Dead? Am I really dead? I…I don’t feel dead.” She reached out a hand and stroked the jaguar who was peering into the jungle. “Does that mean you’ll leave me now? That I’ll be alone? Forever?”

She sat on the ground and closed her eyes. “Sandburg….Blair Sandburg. This was done in your name. So this is on your shoulders.” She opened her blue eyes and stared into the sky. “Sandburg! Get yourself here and help me!” she screamed.

------------------------------------------

One Hour from Cascade – October 4th

Blair suddenly awoke screaming a name.

ALLLEXXXXX!!!!

Seconds later, a flight attendant was leaning over his seat. “Sir? Sir!”

Eyes wide, Blair stared up at the young woman. “Sorry,” he finally gasped. “Nightmare.”

“Can I get you anything? Water, perhaps?”

“Yes…yes…please.” Blair wiped his face with shaking hands. “Sorry…very sorry.”

“I’ll be right back.” As the flight attendant turned away, she soothed the nearby passengers.

Blair spotted the nearby phone and grabbed it. Entering his credit card information, he dialed Jim’s cell phone number.

“Ellison.”

“Jim…” Blair caught his breath.

“Sandburg? Are you okay? Where are you? Is the plane in trouble?”

“No..I mean..yes…I…I…”

“Blair, calm down,” Jim lowered his voice to a more soothing tone. “One thing at a time. Are you on the plane home?”

“Yes.”

“Is the plane in trouble?”

“No, but I’m not the most liked guy right now.”

Jim sighed and leaned back against the couch. “Okay, you can live with that.” He glanced at his watch. “I was just getting ready to head to the airport.”

“Jim, find out about Alex. I had a…vision.”

Jim’s blood turned cold. “What kind?” he demanded.

“She…I was in the jungle…headed for the Temple when…I saw the raven flying away and then…Alex screamed my name.”

“I’ll call Simon right now,” Jim promised. “Are you okay now?”

“No.” Blair took a deep breath. “But I will be. Just…be at the airport, okay?”

“On my way, Chief.”

---------------------------------------

Denver, CO – October 5th

Chad groaned as he buried his head in his hands. “Gotta be something I ate or some sort of bug,” he muttered. “I am not seeing animals in my room.” Despite himself, he raised his head and stared over his shoulder.

A black raven sat perched on the dresser staring at him with an almost human expression of horror and disgust.

“She had to die,” Chad whispered. “She almost killed Blair. Blair is good…Blair is the light. She would’ve gone back after him.”

The raven cocked its head to one side.

“God, You know I had to do it! Just like the others!” Chad groaned as his stomach cramped again. “This…this is just some bad food or something I picked up at that hospital.”

Curling up on the bed, he saw that the raven had disappeared. “Yes, that’s it…bad food…bug…something nasty,” he muttered. Squirming around, he reached for the nearby telephone and called the front desk.

“This is Jack Stone is Room 409. I need to extend my stay for…say a week. Thanks. Oh, and is there a nearby clinic or urgent care? Yeah, I either ate something that’s not settling well or I’ve picked up some sort of bug. Thanks, I’ll pick up the directions at the front desk.”

With a sigh, Chad replaced the phone and closed his eyes. “It’s just a bug…or something…”

---------------------------------------

Cascade, WA – October 6th

"Sandburg! Ellison! My office! Now!"

Startled by the vehemence in Simon's voice, Blair automatically looked at Jim.

"Don't look at me, Chief," Jim immediately replied. He got to his feet. "I suggest you get moving."

"I haven't done anything," Blair quietly protested. Then he frowned. "Well, okay, I did write a letter of protest about the poor nutritional choices in the vending machines."

“Maybe he’s heard something about…” Jim sighed and gently pushed Blair into Simon's office then closed the door behind them.

Simon sat on the chair behind his desk and glared at the two men standing in front of him. "Would either of you like to explain why IA will be questioning the two of you this morning?

"IA? For writing a letter about the vending machine?" Blair's blue eyes widened.

"Don't play that nonsense with me, Sandburg!" Simon growled. "What have the two of you done? Jim, have you shot anyone that I don't know about? Wrecked that truck of yours in a high-speed pursuit?"

"No!" Jim quickly answered. "Why do you think it's about me?" He sighed when Simon glared at him.

"I wrote a letter!" Blair waved his hands in protest. "Okay, so it was a seven-page letter detailing the benefits of better nutritional snacks in the vending machines not to mention the health concerns about only stocking sodas and not a combination of---“

"Sandburg! IA doesn't care about what's in the vending machines!" Simon snapped.

"Although you may need your partner's protection from the cops around here if you take away their pretzels, candy bars, and soda in favor of fruit, twigs, and water!"

"You're assuming, sir, that I wouldn't just throw him to the wolves in that case," Jim gently interjected.

Simon grunted. "Gentlemen, I don't like messages from IA." He leaned back in his chair. "Go review your cases. They'll be here in an hour."

"Do we need representation?" Blair gently asked.

"You have that right," Simon admitted. "What concerns me is that they want to speak to you individually but at the same time."

"In order to keep us from getting our stories straight on whatever they're sniffing around about," Jim frowned.

"As your Captain, I have the right to observe the interrogation. But I can't be in two places at the same time," Simon pointed out.

"Observe him."

Simon sighed as both men spoke at the same time. "I'm going to see if I can get Joel to observe one of the interrogations. Even though he took a demotion when coming to this department, he is a former Captain. We'll see how much leeway they'll allow." He glared at both men. "And I'll decide who to observe."

----------------------------------------------------------

"Good morning, Detective Sandburg. I'm Lt. Evan DeMayo from Internal Affairs." DeMayo, a young man in his late twenties, eyed Joel who was quietly sitting in the corner. “Captain Taggart, your purpose here?”

“Simply to monitor and witness the interrogation,” Joel smiled. “Captain Banks is occupied elsewhere.”

Blair smiled, comforted by the knowledge that Simon would be Jim during his interrogation. "What can I do for you, Lieutenant?"

"First, what do you know about Norman Ventriss' murder?" DeMayo leaned back in his chair.

"Only what I've read in the papers and heard on the TV," Blair admitted. "I believe the case is still in Homicide. I wouldn't be involved if it did come to Major Crimes because of a past involvement with the Ventriss family."

"Right. Brad Ventriss." DeMayo's dark eyes narrowed. "You got fired from Rainier over that, didn't you? I mean, fired the first time."

"Illegally released from my contract," Blair corrected.

"Uh-huh." DeMayo scribbled on the notepad in front of him. "You drive a late model Volvo, don't you?"

"No, I drive a classic Volvo," Blair corrected him.

"Like the one witnesses reported at the scene of the Norman Ventriss shooting."

Blair shrugged. "I wouldn't know. The only description I've heard is a dark late model Volvo. I have no idea if my classic Volvo matches the one reported at the scene."

"Where were you between the days of May 1st and May 4th of this year?”

Blair closed his eyes in thought. "Washington, DC. I met my mother and some of her friends there. They were lobbying Capitol Hill regarding an environmental bill."

"And you flew all the way across the country to…lobby Congress?" DeMayo's eyebrows rose.

"I flew all the way across the country to lend my support to an important piece of legislation," Blair gently corrected him. "And to make sure my mother didn't get into any trouble." He suddenly grinned. "She's been a militant protester since I was in diapers."

"And your mother can verify this?"

"If you can track her down," Blair nodded. "I heard from her a couple of weeks ago. She was heading to Brazil for a protest against the destruction of the rainforest."

"How admirable." DeMayo wrote again on his notepad. "But, if I could track her down, she'd verify you were with her the entire time?"

"My mother and I are adults," Blair acknowledged. "Of course, we didn't spend every moment together. Together 24/7? Wouldn't that be rather…odd?"

"So she can't verify your whereabouts during this time period?"

"I can give you a general run-down of when we were together and when we weren't," Blair offered. “What members of Congress we saw and when.”

DeMayo tore several pieces of paper from his notepad and slid them across the table to Blair. "Why don't you do that? Need a pen?"

"Got one, thanks." Blair smiled and began to write.

"Where were you the first week of October?"

"Uh…Colorado Springs," Blair answered after thinking for a moment. "At a Modern Day Anthropology seminar.”

"And there are people who can verify this?" DeMayo asked.

"I was scheduled to be a part of a panel discussion on Multi-Discipline and Interdisciplinary Associations but wound up on another panel discussion as well. The one on Forensic Anthropology: Past, Present, and Future," Blair recalled. "Different days, thank God. It's not easy preparing for one of those things on short notice. I had to do some serious research and prepping."

"Alone in your room, no doubt."

Blair grinned and finished writing. "God bless the Internet, man. You can find a ton of stuff there, you know? Caused me to skip the arranged dinner that night, but the room service made up for it. Oh yeah, and I was on the dais at the official dinner the last night of the seminar."

DeMayo tapped his right forefinger on the table. "Write down your schedule and who can verify your attendance."

"No problem."

"And your whereabouts on June 24th of this year?”

Blair frowned. "I'd have to check but I think I was home sick those days…pretty sure it was during that week, though."

"We'll check your timesheet for that week to get the exact days," DeMayo assured him.

Blair finished writing and slid the papers across the table. "Now, why all the questions?"

DeMayo folded the loose papers and put them into his inner jacket pocket. "You remember Sid Graham, don't you?" He coldly smiled. "Katherine Edwards? And Norman Ventriss? Sid Graham was attacked and murdered inside his own apartment in New York City. Katherine Edwards was killed in an automobile accident just outside Spokane. Somebody tampered with her brake lines. And, of course, we’ve already established that you know about Norman Ventriss."

"You think I had something to do with their deaths? I didn't even know that Graham was dead!" Blair protested.

"They all had you in common, Sandburg. How coincidental can that be?" DeMayo leaned across the table. “Oh, and remember FBI Agent Vincent Garrison? He was murdered at his home in Maryland while you were in DC.” He coldly smiled. “You and he didn’t see eye-to-eye while he was in Cascade, did you?”

Blair leaned back in his seat. "I'm done here."

DeMayo shrugged and got to his feet. He put his pen back into his jacket pocket and picked up his notepad. "I'm sure there will be further questions once we confirm your whereabouts during the time of all these murders." He started for the door, then turned around. "Oh, by the way, there's one other incident. An attempted murder in Colorado Springs of all places. It seems someone tried to kill Alicia Bannister aka Alex Barnes. The attempt failed, and she was transferred to a hospital in Denver where she came out of her coma. Unfortunately, she escaped before anyone realized that."

"Alex is on the loose?!" Blair jumped to his feet.

"She's someone else who has you in common, isn't she?" DeMayo taunted.

Blair tried to speak but sat down, gasping for air.

Joel jumped to his feet, glaring at DeMayo. Then he knelt next to Blair. “Take deep breaths," he gently urged.

"Interesting reaction," DeMayo observed.

Joel angrily turned on the other man. "What sort of reaction did you expect? Barnes threw Blair into the fountain at Rainier! He nearly…he drowned that day!"

DeMayo coldly smiled. "Yes, I know."

--------------------------------------------------------

"Good morning, Detective Ellison. I'm Sgt. Marilyn Ridley. Internal Affairs."

Jim silently nodded and slipped further down into his chair. 'Wish Simon had gone with Blair.' He smiled to himself. ' Wonder why people think I can't hold my temper?'

"First, Detective, I'd like to confirm that you are partnered with Detective Blair Sandburg. Correct?" Ridley absently pushed a strand of graying brown hair behind her ear.

Jim's jaw clenched. "Correct."

"Could you please detail your whereabouts during the first week of May of this year?"

"Working. Pretty much confined to desk duty," Jim crisply answered.

"Why?" Ridley questioned.

"My partner was out of town," Jim replied. "Our caseload was fairly light so I caught up on paperwork and researched some cold cases."

Ridley turned her dark eyes to Simon. "And you can verify this, Captain?"

Simon nodded.

"And your off-duty time, Detective?"

"I spoke to my partner a couple of times," Jim recalled.

"And where was he?" Ridley asked as she wrote on the notepad in front of her.

"Washington, DC."

The IA investigator nodded. "What about June 24th?"

Jim hesitated. "I was at Ft. Lewis assisting in an Army Jag investigation."

Ridley's eyebrows rose.

"I can confirm that," Simon added. "I'll get you a copy of the paperwork the Army sent me. Not that it says much," he admitted. "The circumstances of the investigation are Top Secret but I’m sure Detective Ellison’s presence can be verified."

"Thank you, Captain Banks. That would be most helpful." Ridley looked back at Jim.

"And your partner? On desk duty?"

"Part of the time. Detective Sandburg was out sick for a couple of days," Simon answered for Jim.

Ridley wrote on the notepad then asked, "And the first week of October of this year?"

"My partner was at a seminar in Colorado Springs," Jim recalled. "So I was partnered with Detective Brown. His partner was testifying that week in Federal Court. Captain Banks can verify that."

Ridley looked at Simon who nodded. She wrote on her notepad then stood. "Thank you, Detective. If we have any further questions, you'll be notified." She glanced at Simon.

"Captain."

Both men silently watched as she exited the interrogation room.

"What the hell was that all about?" Jim asked in confusion.

"Maybe an internal audit about time sheets?" Simon mused. "A question about allowable overtime?" He shook his head. "I honestly don't know."

Jim stood and stretched. "Wonder if…" He cocked his head to one side. Two seconds later, he was reaching for the door handle. "Sandburg!"

"Damn," Simon grunted as he quickly got to his feet and followed Jim down the hallway.

He saw Jim halt as the other IA investigator left the interrogation room.

"Detective Ellison." DeMayo smirked. "I think your partner is a little upset."

"What did…" Jim angrily began.

"Ellison!" Simon barked. "See about your partner!"

Flushing, Jim threw open the door to the interrogation room and entered.

"Why exactly is Detective Sandburg upset?" Simon quietly asked.

DeMayo hesitated then shrugged. "Apparently he wasn't aware that Alex Barnes has escaped."

"WHAT?!"

-----------------------------------------

"I'm…okay….Joel."

"Sure you are, Blair," Joel patted the younger man's shoulder. He looked up as the door was flung open.

Jim quickly entered the room and knelt next to Blair's chair. "What happened?" he growled.

"Alex…escaped…" Blair tried to take a deep breath and coughed.

Jim sat back on his heels in stunned silence. They heard Simon bellowing in the hallway, and Joel exchanged a brief smile with Jim.

"I'll go see what I can do out there," Joel proposed. He patted Blair once more on the shoulder and walked to the hallway.

"Jim…she's…" Blair reached out and grabbed Jim's arm. "She's out of her coma. Somebody tried to kill her but failed. She was transferred to a hospital and escaped from there."

"Your nightmare," Jim murmured. "Still doesn't tell us who the raven is."

"Maybe the person who tried to kill her?" Blair frowned.

Jim snorted. "That could be a lot of people, Darwin." He used his senses to check Blair's vital signs. "You okay, now?"

Blair nodded. "It was just…a shock."

"Yeah, and I bet that jerk sprung it on you, right?" When Blair nodded, Jim's jaw clenched. "Come on. We need to find out what's going on."

-------------------------------------------

"I understand that Barnes' escape is a Federal matter." Simon's voice was clipped and precise. "However, members of my department were instrumental in capturing her, I would assume we would be granted the courtesy of a call notifying us of her escape! Not to mention being kept in the loop regarding her movements especially since I forwarded an official request two days ago regarding her situation!" He drummed the fingers of his left hand on his desk. "Yes, I would appreciate being kept up to date, Agent

Caldwell. Thank you." He hung up the phone and glared at it. "Idiot."

"What's going on?" Joel quietly asked.

Simon looked at the people in his office. Joel had passed the word about Barnes' escape. Megan, Rafe, and Henri had followed the others into Simon's office and were waiting for answers.

"It seems someone tried to kill Barnes with an overdose of adrenaline which induced a heart attack." He glanced at Jim then continued, "It also brought her out of her coma. The doctors at the hospital where she was confined were too busy saving her from the heart attack to notice. She was transferred to a hospital in Denver where, again, they were concerned about stabilizing her from the heart attack and didn’t realize she’d been in a coma. So they weren’t concerned that she was coming out of it. Once she was out of the coma, she escaped."

"How?" Megan frowned. "She couldn't have been in very good shape after being in a coma so long."

"She was probably receiving physical therapy," Blair calmly commented. "Plus, she's a Sentinel. If Jim's anything to go by, the recovery time is pretty short."

"Still, being jolted out of a coma by having a heart attack…"

"Security probably wasn't tight," Jim growled. "If she was desperate enough, she could have done it. Then gone to ground to recuperate."

"Does the FBI have any idea where she could be?" Henri asked.

Simon shrugged. "According to Agent Caldwell, a woman who could have been Barnes boarded a plane in Denver for Miami a week ago. A woman with different colored hair and glasses. The Visual Facial Recognition Program gave it a 'possible' match."

"Even if it was her on that plane to Miami, she could be anywhere by now," Rafe gloomily pointed out.

"How does IA figure into all this?" Megan asked.

"They think I'm responsible for three murders and one attempted murder," Blair admitted.

"They are fucking nuts!" Henri yelled.

"Who?" Rafe demanded.

"Sid Graham. Katherine Edwards. Norman Ventriss." Blair ruefully smiled. "Apparently, I don't have suitable alibis."

"That's why they only asked me about my whereabouts on certain days," Jim mused.

"Okay, people. We have full caseloads of crimes to be solved," Simon briskly spoke.

"Officially, we are not involved in any of those murder investigations."

"And unofficially?" Joel quietly asked.

Simon looked at Joel. "You're still on the Bereavement Committee with Capt. Blackmore in Homicide, aren't you?"

Joel smiled and nodded.

"I'm on a friendly enough basis with the Chief of Police in Washington, DC," Simon recalled. "He may be able to find out a little bit about the Garrison case."

"I'm still friendly with a cop in New York," Rafe spoke up. "She's in Special Victims, but I could give her a call."

"Anyone know someone in Spokane?"

“No, but I know someone in the Washington State Police that might be able to help,” Megan spoke up with a smile. “He’s an exchange officer from New Zealand. We attended a couple of orientation classes together. I’ll give him a call.”

Simon nodded and got to his feet. "Let's get to work, people. We’ll meet at my house this evening to compare notes."

--------------------------------------------

Later that night, over pizza and beer, the detectives of Major Crimes sat around Simon’s kitchen table.

“Let’s take these in order,” Simon decided, glancing at his notes. “The earliest date IA mentioned was May 1st through May 4th. Right, Sandburg?”

“Yeah,” Blair nodded, chewing on a slice of pizza.

“Okay, according to Chief Manion of the DCPD, FBI Agent Vincent Garrison was found murdered in his home in Suitland, Maryland,” Simon reported. “Shot once in the back of the head at close range. The gun was never found, no fingerprints found, and forensics didn’t come up with anything useful.” Simon sipped his beer. “Garrison was found on the second floor in a home office. There was an open credenza by his desk but it was empty. It’s possible some files were missing but no one know what files were actually in his desk to begin with.”

“Someone knew exactly what they wanted to take,” Henri mused. “Assuming the house wasn’t tossed.”

“It wasn’t,” Simon shook his head. “Chief Manion, who admirably didn’t ask any questions about my interest, also told me that Garrison was on medical leave. He was attending mandated psychological counseling sessions.”

“The guy was close to the edge when he was here,” Jim snorted.

“Anyway, the case is headed for the cold case files despite pressure from the FBI,” Simon reported. “Rafe?”

“Sid Graham was found shot to death in the living room of his apartment in Brooklyn,” Rafe began. “Apparently he’d lost his job at Berkshire Publishing and had to move to Brooklyn. The bullet was recovered but never matched to anything on file. Interestingly enough, no one heard the shot so the Brooklyn cops are figuring the gun was silenced. Nothing was taken so robbery was ruled out. My friend said that a copy of the file had been sent to Cascade’s IA Dept. last week. It’s flagged now or she would send me a copy.”

“Just how friendly are you with this lady?” Henri teased.

Rafe shrugged, then slowly smiled. “Close enough for a classy dinner the next time I’m in her neck of the woods.” He glanced at Simon and raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll keep it in mind. I’m sure there’s some sort of conference on the east coast that you’ll need to attend,” Simon grunted. “So it appears that IA is tying in both murders to the same time frame.”

“The same days that I was in DC,” Blair gloomily spoke up. “And those days are the ones that I wasn’t with Naomi.”

“Two murders in two different cities in that short amount of time?” Joel snorted. “They’ll go a long way to prove that. Transportation, opportunity…”

“IA can spread a lot of dirt without coming up with anything,” Rafe sourly reminded them. “Still hurts your reputation.” He apologetically glanced at Blair.

“Conner? What did you find out?” Simon asked.

“From what my contact at the State Police could find out, Katherine Chancellor was interviewing for a position at Gonzaga University in Spokane,” Megan reported. “She was driving back to Cascade when her brakes failed. She crashed through the guardrail and down a steep embankment. The paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene. An investigation revealed that her brakes had been tampered with. It’s still an open case.”

“I didn’t want her dead. Or Sid,” Blair whispered.

“We know, Chief.” Jim patted Blair’s arm.

Blair stared at the older man for a moment, then nodded.

“The Ventriss murder is still with Homicide,” Joel continued after a moment. “I had a private word with Capt. Blackmore. Officially, all she would tell me was that the investigation was ongoing. Unofficially, she’s looking at Brad Ventriss as a possible suspect even though he’s in prison.”

“So who put a bug in IA’s as…ear?” Henri questioned. “What made them try to tie all these murders to Sandburg?”

“Not to mention Barnes?” Megan added.

“Evan DeMayo.”

They all turned to look at Rhonda who was sitting at the far end of the table.

“I had a few conversations with the IA unit secretary,” Simon’s assistant explained. “IA hates Jim’s guts, by the way.”

Jim slowly smiled in response.

“They don’t like that he brought Aldo down,” Rhonda explained. “DeMayo’s wife is Aldo’s half-sister, so he has a personal grudge.”

“But they’re pointing their fingers at Sandburg,” Rafe protested.

Rhonda shrugged. “Originally, he was looking at Jim. His theory was that Jim was evening the score either on Blair’s behalf or because he’s Blair’s lover.” She grinned when the others began groaning. “But Jim could account for his time. Blair couldn’t. He takes Blair down, and Jim gets dirty by association.”

“Good grief!” Joel shook his head. “That’s what this is all about? DeMayo’s on a vendetta because of Aldo?”

“The unit secretary just told you this because you asked her?” Simon questioned.

Rhonda met his eyes. “She’s transferring out. IA’s in a mess, and it’s the considered opinion of the support staff that until IA gets straightened out, there’ll be more of this crap. If DeMayo can bring down Blair, and Jim by association, he stands a good chance of being promoted to Captain and taking over IA.” She hesitated, then continued, “In fact, the entire support staff is ready to revolt. I advised them to take their concerns and anything they could document to the Chief of Police and dump it in his lap.”

“Way to go, Rhonda!” Henri smiled in approval.

‘Just one more reason not to mess with the support staff,’ Simon ruefully thought. “I think we can take this information as accurate then.” He glanced at Blair. “You bring in representation for any other questioning. Joel said you did a pretty good tap dance with DeMayo but not again. Understand?”

Blair nodded.

“Ellison, you get representation as well for any other interrogations,” Simon ordered. “They’ll try to get to him through you.”

“They can try,” Jim coldly warned.

Simon grunted. “Everyone keep your lines of communication open. IA will come up empty on these murders, but they may drag Sandburg’s dissertation back into the open. Capt. Blackmore will run a clean investigation on the Ventriss case, and she hates IA interference.”

“And in the meantime?” Blair anxiously asked. “What if IA leaks this to the media? Jim can’t work as a Sentinel with them hounding him like before.”

“If an IA investigation is leaked, I’ll take it to the Chief myself,” Simon promised. “As for the media, you’ll answer ‘no comment’ and walk away.” He glared at Jim. “Is that understood, Jim?”

“Yes, sir,” Jim stiffly answered.

“And when they come back?” Blair glumly asked.

“The department will charge them with interference with a policeman in the performance of his duties. Personally, let your attorneys deal with them,” Simon answered. “I know it’s not much, but it’s the first step.”

Blair glanced at Jim who slowly nodded in agreement.

“No more press conferences, Sandburg,” Simon ordered. “Or you, either, Ellison.”

“Yes, sir,” both men answered.

----------------------------------------------------

Cascade, WA – October 28th

“Careful, Jim,” Blair cautioned as they approached the loft’s front door.

“I can see, Sandburg,” Jim rasped.

“I know!” Blair snapped as he pulled his keys from his pocket even as he supported Jim’s weight. “And while you never actually stopped breathing, you came awfully close. So be quiet and let me help you inside!”

Gritting his teeth, Jim obeyed and allowed the younger man to lead him inside and towards the bathroom.

“Can you get into the shower okay?” Blair asked.

Jim bit back a scathing reply and simply nodded. Despite his weariness, he grinned as he heard Blair’s running commentary as he locked the front door and went into the kitchen.

“Damn stupid rent-a-cop! Wading into a gang fight with a butt-load of attitude and a can of mace! Spraying the stuff into everybody’s face! Were the cops wearing gang colors? No! Freaking moron!”

Jim started the water in the shower and grimaced as a kitchen cabinet was slammed shut. ‘Okay, better turn down the dial for hearing as well.’ Taking a quick shower, he smiled when he exited the shower compartment to find his softest sweatpants and sweatshirt lying on the bathroom counter. After drying off and dressing, Jim walked back into the living room.

“Get settled on the couch, Jim,” Blair advised from the kitchen. “How are you eyes feeling?”

Jim wearily sighed and sank back against the couch cushions. “I can see okay but they’re really burning,” he admitted.

Blair gave him a mug of coffee. “Drink this. It’ll help relax you. We’re out of that sterilized eye wash. Keep your eyes closed as much as possible. I’m out of teabags to reduce the swelling so I’ll pick them up as well while I’m out. You’ll be okay until I get back?”

“Go, Sandburg,” Jim nodded as he sipped the hot liquid.

“I’ll be back soon,” Blair promised as he walked towards the door.

Jim placed the mug on the coffee table and leaned back against the couch. With a deep sigh, he closed his eyes.

------------------------------------------

Blair anxiously tapped his fingers against the steering wheel of his car. He’d been more scared than he wanted to admit when Jim had gone down after being exposed to mace. He’d fought Jim with more strength that he’d known he’d possessed to drag the bigger man as far away as he could from the others while fighting his own choking reaction.

He glanced at the red light in exasperation. “Oh, come on, turn alr…AAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!” Blair screamed as a large silver-grey wolf jumped onto the hood of his car. “Oh, God! Don’t scare me like that!” he gasped.

The wolf bared his teeth and growled. Then he slowly turned his head.

Following the wolf’s gaze, Blair turned and saw a raven flying in the direction of the loft…closely followed by a spotted jaguar.

The wolf growled again and leapt to the ground. He joined the ebony-colored jaguar who was chasing the other spirit animals.

“Dammit!” Blair ignored the red light and gunned the Volvo into the intersection and into a tight u-turn. Ignoring the blaring of car horns, he grabbed his cell phone and pressed number two. When his call was answered, he yelled, “Simon! Get backup to the loft! Alex is on her way there!” He shook his head when Simon began to yell back. “No, I didn’t see her! I saw her spirit animal! Just get backup! Jim’s there by himself!”

Disconnecting the call, he pressed number three. “Answer the phone, Jim! Answer it!”

---------------------------------------

Jim groaned at the soft knock on the front door. "Sandburg, if you forgot your keys, I'm going to kick your ass," he irritably muttered as he rose to his feet. Squinting through narrowed eyes, he opened the door slightly.

"Detective Ellison?"

Jim frowned as he studied the young blonde-haired man nervously standing on the other side of the door. "Malloy? Chad Malloy?"

"Yes, sir." Chad smiled. "I was wondering if Blair was here?"

"You just missed him," Jim answered. He hesitated, then opened the door and stepped back. "He should be back soon. Come on in."

"Thank you." The young man entered the loft, hands buried deep in his jacket pockets.

Jim inwardly sighed. "No problem. Would you like anything to drink?"

"No, sir." Chad slowly walked towards the patio doors and stared at the Cascade skyline. I'm sorry to intrude."

Jim walked towards the couch. "Sit down, Chad. Blair won't be long."

Chad nodded and turned. He saw Jim begin to sit on the couch and took a deep breath. Pulling the silenced gun from his pocket, he aimed and fired a shot at Jim's right leg.

Jim cried out and grabbed at his leg. Glaring at Chad, he instinctively started to get to his feet.

"Don't," Chad ordered, pointing the gun at him.

"What the hell?!"

"You're supposed to protect Blair!" Chad accused. "You let him die!"

"What the hell are you talking about? Sandburg's alive!" Jim gritted his teeth. 'Damn mace…thrown all my senses out of whack! I should've smelled the gun oil.'

Both men were startled when the phone rang. Jim glanced at Chad but made no effort to answer the phone. Just as the answering machine started its recording, the caller hung up.

"You want to explain this, Malloy?" Jim hissed.

"I told you," Chad repeated. "You were supposed to protect Blair. Instead you put him in danger and got him killed."

"I didn't kill Sandburg," Jim pointed out as he put pressure on the wound. "He's alive because I brought him back."

Chad slowly shook his head. "You shouldn't have let anyone hurt him! He's the light, don’t you understand?!"

Jim sympathetically eyed the younger man. "I understand," he softly answered. "I would be dead or insane if not for Blair. I know…in my heart…that's he's my light."

"Then why?" Chad stared at the wounded man in confusion. "Why did you let it happen?"

Jim gritted his teeth again. "I'm not infallible…no matter how much I think I am," he muttered. "I admit I've made mistakes. So has Sandburg."

Chad shook his head. "No, it's not that simple. I won't let you make it that simple!" He took a deep breath. "Blair's still here…with you…with the danger you bring."

"It's his choice," Jim grunted. "I may not like it at times, but…"

"NO!" Chad screamed. "He does it because of you!" He took a deep breath. "So you have to die. Just like the rest."

---------------------------------------------

Desperately, Blair floored the accelerator; and the Volvo flew through the intersection just as the light turned red. Ignoring the blaring of car horns, he swerved from lane to lane, then turned sharply left onto Prospect. Seconds later, he hit the brakes and slid into a parking space in front of the loft. As he exited the Volvo, he turned towards the loft and caught his breath.

"Alex," he choked, seeing the blonde Sentinel step from the fire escape into his bedroom. He automatically reached for the gun nestled in the small of his back and ran across the street.

-----------------------------------------

"The rest?" Jim's eyes narrowed. "What have you done, Malloy? What did you do?"

"He tried to kill me."

Jim's blood froze as he slowly turned his head. Standing in the doorway of Blair's room was his worst nightmare. "Alex," he whispered in horror.

Chad's eyes widened in shock. "No, you're dead. I killed you. I killed you!"

Alex smiled as she pointed the gun at Chad. "You tried. I'll give you credit for that," she admitted. Then she glanced at Jim. "Welcome to the jungle, Ellison…again."

Jim started to answer then closed his mouth.

"Nothing to say?" Alex taunted. Turning her attention to Chad, she took a few steps closer to him. "I don't blame you for not answering Ellison. You really don't know, do you?"

"Know what, Alex?" Jim grunted.

"That he's my Guide. I thought Blair was my Guide but..." Alex slowly smiled at Chad. "You feel it, don't you? The attraction? The pull between us?"

"No," Chad whispered automatically backing away from her.

"We were meant to be together," Alex gently cooed. "You know you made a mistake trying to kill me. You've felt that remorse in your heart…your soul…With you with me all the time, my senses will be what they should be instead of flickering on and off."

"Malloy, she's the one who killed Sandburg!" Jim blurted out. "Don't listen to her!"

---------------------------------------

Hearing the loud voices from inside the loft, Blair cautiously turned the doorknob and eased the door open far enough to peer inside.

------------------------------------

"Shut up, Ellison!" Furious, Alex glared at the wounded man. "Don't you know it's dangerous to come between a Sentinel and her Guide?!"

"I've been so sick," Chad muttered. "Ever since…" Stricken, he raised his eyes to stare in horror at Alex. "But you're…evil. How could…could…"

"And you've committed murder, too, haven't you?" Alex gently pointed out.

"To protect Blair!" Chad argued. "Those who hurt him just…walked away!"

Alex shrugged her shoulders. "Semantics, my Guide. Semantics."

"I'm not like you!" Chad shouted. "I won't be like you!"

Alex cynically smiled. "You already are. Your bloody hands prove it."

Suddenly, the front door was violently thrown back. "Cascade PD! Jim! Down!" Blair screamed.

Jim threw himself to the floor, blindly trusting that Blair would get Alex before she could shoot him.

Startled, Alex spun towards the door, automatically aiming her gun at the intruder.

'Jim or her.' Blair fired his gun before Alex could pull her trigger.

Alex looked stunned as the bullet from Blair's gun lodged deep in her chest. She fell backwards across the coffee table and onto the floor.

"NO!" Chad screamed. He dropped his gun to the floor as he leaped towards Alex.

Frantically, Jim scrambled across the floor to reach Chad's gun. Grunting with pain, he fingers clawed for the weapon and managed to slide it under the couch.

"Jim! You okay?" Blair demanded as he ran towards his friend.

"Yeah," Jim groaned as he rolled onto his back.

"You're not fine! You're shot!" Blair argued.

"No kidding, Sherlock," the older man sighed. "Keep you gun on Malloy, Chief. He's the one who killed Ventriss and the others."

"What?" Blair looked at the young man in confusion.

"You're evil," Chad whispered even as he cradled Alex in his arms. "Why did you have to be so evil?"

"I hear sirens, Sandburg," Jim muttered. "A lot of 'em. Almost here." Wearily, he closed his eyes.

"Good," Blair knelt next to his partner and began putting pressure on the bullet wound.

"You're going to the hospital. No arguing." He kept wary eyes on Alex and Chad.

Desperately dragging air into her lungs, Alex reached up and pulled Chad's face close to hers. "Guide! My Guide!" she desperately hissed. Then her blue eyes rolled back in their sockets as she took one final breath.

Shocked, Chad threw his head back and screamed.

----------------------------------------

Cascade, WA – October 31st

“Lieutenant DeMayo. How nice of you to join us.” Captain Beth Blackmore of the Cascade PD’s Homicide Division barely glanced at the man who entered the conference room.

“It’s rather unusual for someone to request IA’s presence,” Evan DeMayo admitted as he sat across the table from Beth. He nodded to the man sitting next to Beth. “Captain Banks.” Then he looked back at Beth. “I imagine this has to do with the Sandburg shooting.”

“And some other things,” the red-haired Homicide Captain nodded. She patted a sealed evidence bag on the table in front of her. “This is a notebook found in the hotel room of Chad Malloy. In it he describes the murders of Vincent Garrison, Syd Graham, Katherine Edwards, and Norman Ventriss as well as the attempt in Colorado Springs on Alicia Barnes’ life. And he confesses to all of them.”

“Which destroys your theory that Blair Sandburg committed those crimes,” Simon added with a smile.

Beth slid a file across the desk to a stunned DeMayo. “Here are photostat copies. We’ve already sent other copies to the appropriate departments in Maryland, Spokane, Brooklyn, and Colorado Springs.”

“Malloy had a connection with Sandburg,” DeMayo sputtered. “It’s possible that---“

Beth slapped both hands down onto the table in front of her. “It’s possible…no probable that you’re pursuing your own agenda.” She slowly got to her feet. “Get out of my department, and don’t ever try and interfere with one of my investigations again.”

A dull flush covering his cheeks, DeMayo slowly stood. “I’ll expect a full report for our files.”

“I’m sure one can be provided for Captain Geoffrey Marshall.” Simon smiled at DeMayo’s reaction. “Oh, I guess you haven’t heard. The Chief announced at the Captains’ Luncheon today that he’s been appointed Captain of Internal Affairs.”

Beth glanced at Simon with amusement when DeMayo turned on his heel and left the conference room. “You enjoyed that,” she accused with a grin.

“So did you, Beth,” Simon nodded.

---------------------------------------------

DeMayo scowled as he waited for the elevator. ‘Sandburg had something to do with all this. Coincidences just don’t occur like that.’ The elevator door opened and he stepped forward only to suddenly stop.

“Lieutenant DeMayo.” The newly appointed Captain of Internal Affairs politely nodded. “My first order of business is to review open investigations.” Geoffrey Marshall indicated that DeMayo should join him in the elevator. “Why don’t we start with yours?”

-------------------------------------------

Cascade, WA – November 7th

Jim smiled to himself as Blair carefully arranged pillows under his injured leg. As the younger man reached for the throw on the back of the couch, Jim held up his hand. "I'm comfortable, Chief." When the younger man uncertainly hesitated, Jim smiled. "Really. Comfortable. Enough."

Blair sighed and lit a candle in a decorative holder sitting on the coffee table. "You don't like this mystical stuff as it is, Jim, but I have this…feeling that we…I need to go to the jungle. But your leg's still healing…"

"I'm doing this," Jim firmly interrupted. "Either with you or chasing after you. Deal with it."

Blair's lips twitched. "Sir, yes, sir."

Jim grunted. "Get on with it."

Blair settled on the floor next to Jim and crossed his legs. "Concentrate on the candle flame until you'll be able to see it when you close your eyes so it will lead you home," he softly urged. "Feel the beat of the music…the beat that will lead you home…hear my voice…always with you…"

Slowly Jim relaxed and closed his eyes.

"…always hear me…"

"…always hear…"

"…Jim, open your eyes."

Jim's blue eyes flew open, and he found himself in the blue jungle of his visions. Almost in awe, he looked around, relaxing when he saw Sandburg's grin.

"See, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

Jim grunted. "Let's just say I don't necessarily have fond memories of this place."

Blair slowly nodded. "Come on. The Temple's this way."

Jim allowed the younger man to lead the way through the jungle. "So…you come here often?"

Blair snickered. "More than you," he pointed out. "I know this isn't easy for you, but…well, I'm a Shaman. This is part of my world."

"Then it's part of mine."

Startled, Blair suddenly stopped, staggering when Jim walked into him. He looked over his shoulder at the older man, then smiled when he saw the humor in Jim's eyes.

"Are we there yet?"

"Schmuck," Blair chuckled as he turned to lead the way.

Minutes later, they entered the clearing around the Temple. Jim's eyes widened when he saw his black jaguar and Blair's wolf standing on a platform near the top of the Temple. Between them stood the ancient Peruvian warrior of Jim's visions.

"Wow, who's that?" Blair whispered.

"He's the one I see in the visions," Jim quietly answered.

"Hmmm," Blair frowned. "Interesting."

Jim rolled his eyes. "So why are we here?"

"Maybe to see that." Blair pointed to the far end of the clearing.

In a tree, sat a raven staring down at the spotted jaguar who crouched by the base of the tree. The jaguar growled and jumped upwards. Her claws scraped the tree limb but couldn't get enough purchase to hold her weight. Snarling, the cat began climbing only to see the raven fly to another tree.

"I can't believe they got Alex's heart going again," Jim muttered.

"She's in a vegetative coma, Jim," Blair quietly reminded him.

"Yeah, I've heard that one before," the Sentinel snorted.

They watched as the jaguar tried again to climb the tree to the raven. This time when the raven flew away, the jaguar fell heavily to the ground and lay there, panting heavily. Almost in concern, the raven circled the fallen animal, then landed in the nearby grass. Cocking its head to one side, the bird hopped two steps closer to the jaguar. Suddenly the jaguar lunged towards the bird who cawed in agitation and flew upwards. Landing on a limb high in a nearby tree, the bird angrily squawked at the pacing feline below.

"What I can't understand is Chad's coma," Jim mused. "He went catatonic before they started working on Alex."

"I think Chad really was Alex's guide. When she died in his arms, he went into shock. You said he mentioned that he'd been sick ever since attacking Alex."

Jim frowned. "And his…gift made him ill if he touched a dead person," he recalled.

"Having a Sentinel die in your arms would be traumatic for any Guide." Blair glanced at the figures at the top of the Temple. "Chad's gift magnified it. He may never come out of his coma."

"If he does, he'll be facing multiple murder charges," Jim sighed. "He left enough evidence to convict him in all those deaths." He gently patted Blair's shoulder. "And what he did is not your fault."

Blair slowly nodded. "I know. Still, I wish I'd known he was a Guide."

'A flawed Guide…matched with a flawed Sentinel.' Jim watched the jaguar begin to climb the tree once more. "I'm glad that's not us, Chief. Really glad."

"Me, too, man." He shook his head. "It's really sad."

"It's justice." Jim looked at the Peruvian warrior standing at the top of the Temple and saw agreement in the older man's eyes.



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