THE GOOD OF THE MANY





The events of 9/11 changed everything. Not only did the political and military aspects of the United States change, but how the United States citizens viewed themselves and others also changed. How much individual freedom was a citizen prepared to lose for the sake of collective security? How do you look at a friend, family member, neighbor or someone across the country who holds an opposing opinion? At what point do your suspicions become allegations? At what point do you believe allegations are proof?

At what point do you agree the personal sacrifice of a few is acceptable for the security of many?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 11, 2004 – 11:10am

“Jim, could you step into my office?”

Detective Jim Ellison looked up and nodded with a smile. It had taken a while for him to get used to Capt. Joel Taggart’s softly spoken requests rather than Simon Banks’ bellow. However, there were those who swore they could still hear Banks’ bellow all the way from the Commissioner’s office on the 9th floor…usually when the Feds were in the building.

Joel nodded. “Fair enough.” He slid a case file across the desk where Jim picked it up. “Here’s a new one for you.”

Jim opened the file, aware that Joel’s dark eyes were staring at him. Inside the case file was a smaller folder with a blue post-it note attached to the front.

ACT NORMALLY. GET BLAIR. MEET RHONDA 11:30AM AT GRANT’S. TELL NO ONE ELSE!!! DESTROY NOTE. THIS CASE NOT REAL.

As they left the bullpen, Jim was aware of Julie’s scrutiny.

When the elevator door opened, Jim automatically stepped back when he saw Simon.

“Hey, Si---uh, Commissioner, sir!”

“Sandburg,” Simon growled, although his dark eyes twinkled. “You two going somewhere?”

“A new case, sir,” Jim explained. “We’re going out to interview some witnesses.”

Simon nodded. “I’m on my way to see Joel. I’ll be borrowing his admin for a while until I get a replacement. Rhonda’s leaving this evening to take care of her mother down in Florida. I know it’s Friday, but I’d like to see both of you later this afternoon. Stop by at the end of your shift. I’ll still be in my office.”

“Yes, sir. C’mon, Chief.”

Blair ducked into the waiting elevator. “Bye, Si—uh, Commissioner, sir!”

Simon harrumphed under his breath and walked to the door leading to Major Crimes. Jim entered the elevator then turned to watch as the elevator door closed.

“You were kinda formal back there. What’s going on?” Blair quietly asked.

Jim grinned despite himself. Busted again. Then he sighed. “When we’re in the truck.”

Blair studied him for a moment, then nodded. He turned to look at the closed door. “I didn’t know that Rhonda’s mother was in Florida.”

“Neither did I.”

Jim marched out of the elevator and towards the truck. Blair, trotting to keep up, waved to the passing uniforms who grinned back at him. It looked like Ellison and Sandburg as usual to them.

Once in the truck, Blair belted himself in then reached for the case file. He started to open the file then paused when Jim closed his eyes, obviously trying to sense something. When Jim opened his eyes, he smiled at Blair. “No problems here.” He turned on the engine, put the truck into ‘drive’ and left the garage.

They were on the street when Blair hissed, “There’s nothing here about a case. All that’s in the folder is a bunch of blank forms to make it look like a case file. What’s going on?” He crumpled up the post-it note and shoved it in his pocket.

“You know what I know. Joel passed it to me in his office.” He stopped at a red light and studied the traffic behind him in the rear view mirror.

Blair looked out the window then took a deep breath.

Jim could see his partner begin to relax and inwardly sighed in relief. He needed the analytical part of his partner’s brain if they were going to figure this out.

Jim found a parking space at the other end of the block from Grant’s, a deli sandwich shop that was a favorite with the Major Crimes detectives. Once inside, they spotted Rhonda standing at the end of one of the lines to place orders.

Jim nodded once to Blair then walked to where Rhonda stood and tapped her on the shoulder.

Rhonda quickly spun around. She broke into a smile but not before Jim had seen the fear in her eyes.

“Hello, strangers!” she greeted. She gave both men a quick hug.

“We just heard about your mom, Rhonda. Is she okay?”

Rhonda smiled at Blair’s concern. “She’s doing better. She had a couple of mini-strokes.” She sighed. “She and Aunt Patty moved to Florida a few months ago, but Aunt Patty broke her ankle so she can’t really take care of Mom right now.” She shrugged. “To be honest, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to come back. A lot depends on what the experts say.”

“Why don’t the two of you grab a table?” Jim suggested. “Give me your order, Rhonda. I already know what Sandburg wants.”

Rhonda hesitated then nodded. “Thanks. I’ve always loved the food here.”

Jim watched the two younger people find a table towards the back of the dining area. He placed their orders, then casually leaned against the counter to wait though his sharp blue eyes scanned the people around them as well as the constantly moving traffic outside the deli. When their food was ready, he carefully balanced the tray and walked to join his friends.

“…awful that it happened, but think about it! To have the enthusiasm at her age to try windsurfing!” Blair looked up as Jim set the tray down on the table. “Rhonda was telling me her Aunt Patty broke her ankle learning to windsurf! She’s in her late 60’s!” He opened the sandwich wrapper and nodded in approval. “I hope I’m that adventurous when I’m her age.”

Jim snorted as he sat at the table. “You’d have to get over your fear of heights first, Chief.”

Blair hesitated then nodded. “I’ve got time,” he agreed. He saw Rhonda staring at her wrapped sandwich. “Eat, Rhonda,” he quietly urged. He smiled again. “So when’s your flight?”

“I leave at 5:10.” Rhonda unwrapped her sandwich. “I’m all packed, and I’m heading home after eating here. I’ll call a cab from home to get me to the airport.”

“We’ll take you to the airport,” Jim offered.

“Are you sure?” Rhonda hesitantly asked.

“Sure!” Blair grinned. “Let me have your keys, and I’ll drive your car home for you and park it in the garage at your apartment building.”

“Thanks.” She glanced at Jim. “You got the note?” she whispered.

Jim nodded, chewing carefully and swallowing.

Rhonda dug into her oversized purse and passed her keys to Blair. “Thanks, I appreciate it.” Under cover of the table, she passed a file to Blair who managed to slide it into his backpack along with her keys.

“You have to understand, it may all be nothing,” Rhonda quietly explained. She raised her eyes to meet Jim’s. “You and Simon are friends…close friends. I don’t want to do or say anything that will damage that. And Simon…he’s a good man. You know that.”

Jim patted Rhonda’s hand. “Whatever you do or say won’t be the reason if there’s a problem between me and Simon, understand?” When she nodded, he smiled. “Now, what is it?”

Rhonda took a sip of her ice tea then a deep breath. “It was exactly a week ago…I was working late to get the files set up…”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

ONE WEEK EARLIER

Rhonda looked up from the mess around her desk to see Simon escorting two men she immediately labeled as ‘Federal Agents’ through the door of their suite of offices and boardroom. Mentally reviewing Simon’s calendar, she realized this was an unscheduled visit.

The two men, neatly dressed in dark blue suits, passed her with barely a nod of acknowledgment and walked into Simon’s office. Simon stopped by Rhonda’s desk and studied the mess.

“It’s worse that it looks,” Rhonda assured him with a smile. “I just unpacked everything at once so I can put it all together at one time rather than shift things as I unpack.”

“If you say so,” Simon nodded. She’d certainly organized his new office in record time. “Go home, Rhonda. I don’t know how long I’ll be in there.” He nodded towards his office.

“Yes, sir. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Rhonda returned her attention to the small filing cabinet sitting next to her desk. After another ten minutes, she decided to take Simon’s advice. The rest could wait until tomorrow…or the next day.

Standing, she walked to the storage cabinet that was being used as a closet for coats and other outerwear. As she opened it, she heard voices through the partially open door to Simon’s office.

“Please don’t insult our intelligence by denying it.” There was the sound of a file folder landing on Simon’s desk. “We knew about Ellison’s abilities while he was an Army Ranger. We just didn’t know what they were called.”

“So?” Simon’s chair creaked as he leaned back.

“So, Ellison’s talent is being wasted here.” The second agent earnestly spoke. “You know as well as I do what he could do in the interests of National Security. Interrogations. Operations. Rescues.”

“Forgive me for mentioning it, but his work here isn’t ‘wasted’.” Simon’s voice was heavily sarcastic.

“That’s not what we mean.” The first agent smoothly denied. “But think for a second. Had we been able to insert Ellison into some of our operations, we might have had a better handle on what was going to happen on 9/11.”

Silence.

“There’s so much misinformation out there. Wouldn’t it be better to have someone like Ellison with the abilities to tell what’s the truth and what isn’t? If his hearing is half as good as Sandburg claimed, he could overhear terrorists plotting in time to give us a chance to stop them before they execute their plans.”

Silence.

“Balance what he’s doing here against the loss of life in a bio-hazard attack on a school that could be prevented. Balance what he’s doing here against what could have been prevented on 9/11.”

“Why now?” Simon quietly asked.

“Because it took time to convince people that Sandburg was telling the truth. And your predecessor wasn’t in the loop about Ellison’s abilities. He wanted to believe that what got released was Sandburg’s ‘novel’. Commissioner Warren preferred not to look beyond the surface.”

Simon grunted in agreement.

The second agent’s voice became stressed again. “And in that time, we’ve lost people who were trying to get us the necessary intelligence to protect this country…protect ourselves.”

“One more attack, and this country tears itself apart,” the first agent continued. “You know that as well as I do, Commissioner Banks. Someone like Ellison could stop that by being able to prove who the innocent people are…as well as who the guilty people are.”

“And it’s possible there are others like Ellison out there,” the second agent spoke. “He could find them and give us more of an edge against those who want to take this country down.” There was a pause. “And we all know the next attack will be worse than 9/11, don’t we?”

Silence.

“What do you want me to do?” Simon finally asked.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 11, 2004 – 11:52pm

“They’ve come back every evening so far this week.” Rhonda miserably shook her head. “We’ve been so busy that it would have been suspicious for Simon to send me home every time.” She half-grinned. “Commissioner Warren dictated a whole lot of instructions that Simon asked me to transcribe and sort into what he could and couldn’t ignore.”

Despite himself, Jim grinned back at her while Blair snorted into his ice tea.

“So you had earphones on while they were in Simon’s office?” Jim asked.

Rhonda nodded, nibbling on her sandwich. “Actually I was plugged into the phone and had patched into Simon’s phone via the intercom.”

Jim’s blue eyes flashed. “That was dangerous, Rhonda!”

“I know.” Rhonda took a deep breath. “But I did it anyway. The transcriptions of their conversations are…” Her eyes flickered downwards to Blair’s backpack. “But I was getting scared so I told Captain Taggart about it last night. I’d gotten a call early yesterday morning about mom and had arranged to leave today. He came up with this idea so I could pass you the information.” She played with her salad fork. “I gave him a copy as well.”

“Do you think Simon knew what you were doing?” Blair gently asked.

Rhonda hesitated. “I’d like to say that he did. I want to say that he did. Maybe he was afraid he was under surveillance so he couldn’t say anything to me…” She slowly shook her head. “If he knew, he would have kept me out of it, wouldn’t he? He would’ve gotten a warning to you through Capt. Taggart or one of the others in the bullpen.” She looked at Jim. “Wouldn’t he?”

Jim sadly nodded.

“Are we under surveillance?” Blair looked at Jim.

Rhonda shook her head. “They told Simon there was no surveillance on either of you. They’re afraid Jim would detect it, get suspicious, and get others involved.”

Jim grunted. “The logical thought would be that surveillance was because of a working case, and that would bring in Major Crimes.”

“Asking questions they didn’t need asked,” Blair concluded.

Rhonda took a deep breath. “My opinion? They’re scared of what you can do so they didn’t want to do anything like surveillance that might tip you off.”

Jim nodded. “Best to take me by surprise.”

“Take both of you by surprise,” Rhonda quietly corrected. “They want Blair, too.”

Jim’s eyes iced over as his jaw clenched once.

“Oh my God,” Blair softly spoke. “Simon wants to see us later this afternoon.” He stared into Jim’s eyes. “He said to see him after our shift.”

Rhonda gasped then covered her mouth with her napkin.

“Okay, change of plan,” Jim crisply spoke. “Chief, give Rhonda back her keys. Rhonda, we’ll drop you off at the PD garage. You do exactly as you’ve planned. Change nothing.” He squeezed her hand. “You’ve covered your tracks, and people know your plans. Don’t change anything that can’t be connected with events in Florida.”

“I really don’t know if I want to come back,” Rhonda whispered. “But I could come back and at least try to find out…”

“Rhonda, that’s not what you do,” Jim sternly ordered. He took a deep breath. “If someone finds out we met here today, we had lunch…old friends catching up. You told us about your mother and aunt. Simon already mentioned your mother to us when we saw him at the station. Then you went your way, and we went ours.”

Rhonda nodded. “Both of you please be careful.”

Blair patted her hand. “We will.” He grinned at Rhonda. “So, you going to learn to windsurf while you’re in Florida?” He was pleased when she laughed.

Before they left the deli, Blair excused himself to the men’s room and flushed the post-it note. “Oh, man,” he muttered shaking his head as he washed his hands. Then he took a deep breath, dried his hands, and returned to the others.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

June 11, 2004 - 12:15pm

They paused only long enough to make sure Rhonda reached her car, then Jim drove out of the PD garage and onto the street.

“If Rhonda’s right, and we’re not under surveillance, we’ve got time to look at this file of hers, right?” Blair commented.

“Yeah, first we read the file. Then we make decisions.” Jim kept his eyes on the traffic behind him. “Fortunately, Simon doesn’t know what case we’ve been assigned so let’s head to the courthouse and have them pull some records. Then we’ll commandeer one of the conference rooms and go over that file.” He briefly smiled. “So start thinking of some records that we need.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

June 11, 2004 - 1:00pm

“Jesus, Sandburg, couldn’t you have come up with a few less records?” Jim grunted as he set a stack of record books onto the conference room table.

“You wanted realism, you got realism,” Blair replied as he placed his own set of record books on the table. “These are files related to other disappearances, like that cold case I’ve been looking at.” He shrugged diffidently. “Maybe they’ll create a false lead? Maybe even solve some cold cases if anyone ever looks into them.”

As Jim closed the conference room door, Jim felt pride that, even now, Blair was doing what he could to help solve crime, to help innocent victims. Turning, he saw Blair opening his backpack to withdraw the file Rhonda had passed him at the deli and tossed it on the table.

Jim casually walked over to the third story window and glanced down at the moving traffic. When he turned back to the table, he saw that Blair had put a notepad on the table and had opened several of the record books. Jim approvingly watched silently as Blair made notes on the notepad from several of the records, no doubt doing what he could to point future investigators in the right direction. In case anyone walked in or traced their movements, Blair’s notes would confirm they were working on researching the old cases linked to the one he’d mentioned to Joel that morning. Within a few minutes, the conference table was covered with open records and files, and the notepad held a jumble of Blair’s scribbled notes.

Jim sat down, then cocked his head to listen outside the room.

Blair nodded. “Establish a baseline so anything out of the ordinary in this area will catch your attention.” He waited until Jim nodded. Then, with a sigh, he opened Rhonda’s folder and they began to read her handwritten notes.

It appeared the Federal agents had initiated a series of question-and-answer sessions where Simon confirmed Jim’s use of his senses. Jim complaining about his senses during the Switchman case, Jim’s hearing members of the Sunrise Patriots through doors or even floors of the PD when the terrorists had taken over the building, Jim’s sensing of evidence when Lash had kidnapped Blair…over and over, Simon detailed exactly what Jim had done and how Blair had helped him.

At no point in Rhonda’s transcribed notes did Simon ever argue with the plan to take Jim and Blair away from their lives in Cascade…always in agreement with the idea…always understanding the necessity of eliminating the freedom of two men in order to protect the safety of thousands of others.

Shaken, Blair glanced at Jim and almost flinched at the anger he saw on his partner’s face. He reached out a hand and gripped Jim’s wrist. “We can’t afford for you to let that anger go, man. Not now.”

Jim took a deep breath, then another. He finally nodded in agreement. “Thanks, Chief.” He looked at the younger man. “You okay?”

“No, I’m so not okay.” Blair shoved the papers back into the folder and stuffed it into his backpack. “But I can’t deal with that now.” He sighed. “What can we do?”

Jim automatically checked their surroundings. Then, satisfied they were safe, he leaned back in his chair. “What we don’t do is keep that meeting with Simon. Today’s Friday, and no one would miss us until Monday when we didn’t show up for our shift.” Gazing at the clutter of files and notes on the table, he mused, “Rhonda’s sure we aren’t under surveillance, and they’re not likely to tip their hand this close to closing the trap. We’ll return this stuff but mention we’ll be back Monday morning to finish the research.”

“Good misdirection if anyone checks,” Blair agreed as he quickly stuffed Rhonda’s file into his backpack. “Do you think our bank accounts are flagged? We’re gonna need cash in order to run.”

Jim frowned in thought. “Payday’s not until next week. So it wouldn’t be unusual to draw out money now for next week. We’ll pull an extra forty dollars, and it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“We’re gonna need more money than that,” Blair pointed out as he slung his backpack over his shoulder.

Jim guided Blair out of the room toward Records, to begin building a misleading back trail. “We’ll call Dad from the truck.”

“Your dad?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 11, 2004 – 1:40pm

William Ellison was sitting at his desk in his home study when he heard the sound of his cell phone ringing. After a few moments, he identified it as a cell phone that he only used for any charitable or volunteer work. He opened the lap drawer and stared at the buzzing phone in bemusement. About the only time it was used was in the months prior to the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season. He picked up the phone and crisply answered, “Ellison”.

“Dad, just listen.”

William frowned at the urgency in his son’s voice.

“Your home and regular cell phone may be tapped and you could be under surveillance. I figured since you don’t use this phone much it was safe.” There was a pause. “I’ve found out that people in the government are aiming to make me and Sandburg disappear…probably today. We’re going to disappear first. But we need…money.”

William silently acknowledged how much it must have hurt his eldest son to admit that. Then he grinned. Jim wasn’t the only Ellison who could run a bluff. “Yes, Mr. Dressler. I’ve been waiting for your call. I have the presentation completed as we discussed. All I need is your signature on the paperwork.”

Silence.

“Good one, Dad,” Jim chuckled. “Whatever cash you’ve got on hand, can you bring it to the Wilkinson Towers in an hour? Look for me in the lobby.”

“That will be fine,” William replied with a small smile. “I already have all the paperwork in my briefcase.”

“Got it, Dad.” There was a longer silence. “Be careful.”

William sat silently for a few moments after Jim ended the conversation. For the first time in his life, he felt old and vulnerable. Then he shook his head. He had no time for this nonsense. He glanced over his shoulder at the landscape picture that covered the hidden safe. Jim had known or guessed that he would keep a large amount of cash on hand for emergencies. Grimly smiling, he wondered if Jim knew or guessed there was more than one hidden safe in his childhood home…or how many contingencies William had planned for since Sandburg’s dissertation had been made public.

Using the same cell phone that Jim had called him on, William dialed a number.

“Hello.”

“Clarence, Ellison here. I have a job for you.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“ATM and then the loft, Chief.”

Blair silently waited as Jim tossed his cell phone on the seat between them. “What did your Dad say?” he finally asked.

“He’ll meet us.”

Blair sighed. “He’s your dad. Of course he’s going to meet us.”

“Look, Sandburg, there wasn’t time to have a long emotional meaningful conversation, got it? We’re running out of time.” Jim snapped.

After a few moments of silence, Blair quietly replied, “I think you’re forgetting who you’re talking to, Ellison.”

Jim felt the air leave his lungs and his shoulders slumped as he slowed for a red light. “I can’t, Chief…not right now.”

“Ok, I’ll accept that,” Blair calmly replied. “But I don’t…and won’t accept you using me as a verbal whipping post. Remember?”

Jim nodded. “Yeah, I remember,” he quietly acknowledged. He glanced at the other man. “I’m sorry, Blair.”

Blair’s face broke into a wide smile. “Apology accepted.” He turned and faced forward as the traffic began to move forward. “Hey, where’s Stephen?”

“He’s in Australia believe it or not,” Jim recalled. “Dad’ll contact him.” He paused for a moment. “Hey, where’s Naomi?” he mimicked.

Blair snickered. “Tibet, the last I heard. Which was two months ago. She mentioned she was thinking of heading to India or Bali or Tokyo or…”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it.” Jim exchanged a knowing look with Blair who then sighed and looked forward again. He didn’t argue when the younger man whispered, “This sucks.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 11, 2004 – 1:50pm

“I’ve got $140. How much did you get?” Blair asked when they returned to the truck from the ATM.

“I usually take about $150 so I’ve got an even $200,” Jim replied as he started the truck.

“Okay, $340.” Blair’s head moved from side to side as he quickly thought. “We can work with that, plus whatever your dad brings.”

“It’ll be more than $340, I’m sure of that,” Jim wryly. “He used to keep nothing less than ten grand in the home safe when Stephen and I were kids.”

“Ten grand! TEN GRAND!” Blair looked shocked. “He kept ten grand in his HOUSE?”

Jim nodded with a grin.

“Huh! I never had ten grand at one time in my entire life,” Blair muttered. Then he shrugged. “Well, unless I was playing Monopoly.”

Jim had to laugh.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Just in case anyone was watching, when Blair got out of the truck in front of their condo on Prospect, he held his arms out to either side and glared with disgust at the front of his shirt. “Oh, stuff it, Ellison! This stuff stinks to high heaven, and I’ll never get it out of this shir….oh hell!...it’s on my jeans and shoes, too!” He stomped towards the building.

Smirking, Jim grabbed Blair’s backpack and followed the loudly grumbling man. Once inside the building’s elevator, they grinned at each other.

“You think somebody might have been watching?” Blair asked.

Jim hesitated. “I think they’d be concerned about getting me suspicious at this point but…they might also figure this close to grabbing us, it wouldn’t really matter.”

Blair sighed. “Better to be safe than sorry.” He followed Jim down the hallway, patiently waiting as Jim used his senses to scan the loft’s interior.

“Nobody’s inside,” Jim confirmed as he unlocked the door. Once inside, he motioned to his ears. “Hit the shower, Sandburg. I’ll grab you some clothes and bag those for evidence. You’re right. They stink to high heaven.”

As Blair went to the bathroom, Jim carefully scanned the loft for any hidden video or listening devices. He stood at the balcony window for several minutes, listening to the running water in the shower and Blair scurrying around in the bathroom gathering up personal items. As best as he could tell there were no long-range listening devices that he could detect.

“Hey, Jim! My clothes?”

Startled, Jim turned. “Keep your pants on Sandburg. Oh, wait…you don’t have any on.”

“Ha-ha. Don’t quit your day job, man.” Then Blair whispered, “Sorry. That was awful.” Then raising his voice, “Never mind. I’ll get ‘em myself.” He rushed into his bedroom, carrying a towel-full of personal items from the bathroom.

“Doesn’t appear to be any surveillance,” Jim said as he followed Blair.

“Good. I’ll pack these and a couple of changes of clothing in my backpack.” He looked up at Jim. “What about your clothes?”

Jim grinned. “Don’t forget to change your clothes. Just in case I missed somebody, it would look suspicious if you came out wearing the same clothes. I’ll get a garbage bag for the ‘evidence’ and we’ll pack what we can in there rather than your backpack. I want that to be empty.” He watched Blair for a few seconds. “Let’s make this fast. I want to grab the camping gear from the basement and load it into the truck.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 11, 2004 – 2:45pm

William Ellison looked like any other businessman as he walked into the lobby of the Wilkinson Towers. Dressed in an expensive grey suit and carrying a high-quality leather briefcase, there was nothing to single him out as any different from the dozens of other businessmen entering and departing the lobby.

Except that William’s blue eyes constantly darted around the lobby, looking for Jim. He stared for a few moments at the building’s business listings then caught a glimpse of his older son’s face reflected in the highly polished glass.

Turning, he momentarily caught Jim’s eyes then walked down the corridor away from the elevators towards a sign indicating the men’s restroom. In front of the room, a custodian casually mopped the floor.

William ignored the custodian and walked past him. Turning just inside, he nodded in Jim’s direction then disappeared around the corner and into the men’s room.

Jim, followed by Blair, narrowed his eyes at the custodian who was placing a “Closed for Inspection” sign in front of the doorway. Extending his senses, he carefully led Blair forward. He relaxed when he realized his father was the only other person in the restroom.

“Jimmy.” William hesitated, then wrapped his arms around his older son.

“Dad.” Jim also hesitated then squeezed his father in return. “Thank you.”

William stepped back and cleared his throat. “Nonsense. I’m happy to do it.” He looked past Jim and held out his hand to Blair. “Blair, it’s good to see you again, although…”

Blair quickly shook the older man’s hand. “Yeah…better circumstances and all.” His eyes widened when William continued to hold his hand.

“I’m sorry you’re dragged into this so please don’t take this wrong,” William quietly spoke. “But I’m glad Jimmy has someone standing with him in whatever this mess is.”

Blair swallowed, then nodded once. “Always.”

“What about him?” Jim jerked a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the custodian outside the restroom.

William released Blair’s hand and turned back to his son. “He’s been with me for years. This isn’t the first unusual situation he’s handled for me.” He balanced his briefcase on the edge of the sink. “I think this will help.”

Blair walked over and opened his backpack then stood in stunned silence when he saw the stacks of money in William’s briefcase.

“Dad, you didn’t go to the bank, did you?” Jim protested.

William shot his son a look that silenced Jim. “I’m not a fool, Jimmy. This isn’t the first under-the-table monetary transfer I’ve ever done.”

“What?” Jim gave his father a confused look.

“Blair, can you get all this in your backpack?” William set the briefcase on the floor to make it easier to be packed.

“Uh, yeah, I think.” Blair gave his partner a confused look of his own and knelt to begin transferring the money.

“There’s seventy-five grand in there.” When Blair gasped and even dropped one bundle in surprise, William gave him a bemused look. Blair mumbled an apology and went back to packing the money.

“I never thought I’d say this but thank God for the shape of the economy. It’s not unusual to be passing one hundred dollar bills anymore,” William snorted.

“Dad, you were keeping seventy-five thousand in that safe behind your desk?” Jim demanded. “That’s not a smart thing to do.”

William threw his son an exasperated look. “No, I only keep ten grand in that safe. But there are other safes in that house. Can we get on with this?”

Both Ellisons looked at Blair who snorted, “Like father like son…or vice versa.” Blair glanced up, “Don’t let me stop you two.”

William briefly smiled. “You won’t be able to use your own passports so the cash may come in handy for alternative means of leaving the country.” He reached into his jacket’s inner pocket and pulled out a small manila envelope. “Drive to the Cascade Central Mall parking garage. Leave your truck parked somewhere away from the Level four Section D Space 22. There’s an SUV there for you in that space, fully gassed. Registration and insurance is in the same of Eric Grayson. Drivers’ licenses for you and Blair under new names. You’re Eric Grayson, and Blair is Christopher Scott. Keys to the SUV are in this envelope as well. The SUV has some camping equipment in the back as well as some…other items. There’s also a key to a safe-deposit box at the Bank of America in Denver with more cash, keys to another vehicle that’s in storage, and other identification for you both.”

Stunned, Jim took the envelope. “When…” He shook his head. “You didn’t do all this in just an hour.”

“No, I didn’t.” William closed the empty briefcase as Blair struggled to zip the backpack. “After Blair’s dissertation became public, Stephen and I had a long talk. We thought of what would be needed if you two had to run in a situation like this so I contacted some people I know. You’d need cars…money…identification…” William grimaced. “I hope we thought of enough,” he muttered.

“You did,” Jim assured him, putting the envelope in his pocket. “None of this can be traced to either you or Stephen, can it?”

William’s eyes twinkled. “No, it can’t.” He straightened his shoulders and looked at both of them. “What can I expect on my end?”

Jim and Blair exchanged a brief look then Blair swung the backpack onto this shoulders.

“Probably a visit from someone at the PD.” Jim helped Blair settle the backpack across his shoulders. “Either my captain, Joel Taggart, or the Commissioner, Simon Banks.” He looked into his father’s eyes. “Taggart can be trusted but be careful for both your sakes. Whatever you do, don’t trust Banks! We were supposed to meet Simon after our shift today, and we think that’s when we were going to disappear.”

“I thought Banks was…” William’s voice trailed off. Then he abruptly nodded. “Understood.” He took his now empty briefcase in his hand and glanced at the door. “You both better get going.”

Blair impulsively hugged Jim’s father. “Thank you,” he whispered. Stepping back, he cleared his throat. “My…uh…mother, Naomi may contact you when she can’t find me. You might want to…uh…be judicious in what you tell her.” He grinned at Jim. “She can be…impetuous.”

William solemnly nodded. “I understand. Don’t worry.” He looked at Jim then embraced his son. “I love you, Jimmy. I always have,” he murmured.

“I know, Dad. Deep down, I knew. You know I feel the same.” Jim tightly hugged his father, then stepped back. “Be careful, Dad. Tell Stephen I love him and to be careful as well.”

“I will. You both be careful.” William watched as they walked out of the restroom. He began to shake then forced himself to calm down. He turned and stared into the mirror until he was sure he was under control. Then, briefcase in hand, he also left the restroom, not even glancing at the custodian who placed the sign, his mop and the bucket in his cart and pushed it in the opposite direction.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 11, 2004 – 3:15pm

Jim parked the truck in the first parking spot he could find at the Cascade Central Mall parking garage which was Level 2 Section B Space 17. He reached behind the seat for the garbage bag containing their clothes and personal items then slid out, carefully looking around. He heard Blair grunt as he settled the backpack on his shoulders once again. “Got everything?” Jim quietly asked.

Blair looked around the truck one final time and nodded. He locked his door and closed it, hearing Jim do the same on his side. “Why leave the keys?” he asked, seeing the keys still in the ignition.

“We’re leaving everything here,” Jim briskly explained. “There was a rash of auto thefts from the Bayside Mall parking garage last month. Not all of that crew was caught. If the truck gets stolen, maybe they’ll be the ones looked at.”

“Laying a false trail.” Blair slowly nodded.

“Want me to take that?” Jim indicated the backpack as they walked towards stairs.

Blair shook his head. “I’ve carried heavier packs when we’ve been camping. It’s just…awkward.” He adjusted the pack once again and fell into step with Jim. He glanced once back at the truck. “You know, the Bayside Mall auto thieves were taking high-end expensive cars.”

“What’s your point, Sandburg?” Jim growled.

“Nothing. No point at all.” Blair grinned as he followed Jim up the stairs. “You think our friends will figure our disappearance is work related?”

“Would be the most logical place to start,” Jim agreed. He paced up the stairs at Blair’s speed of climbing with the awkward backpack. “Joel will make that the focus. Banks is the only one who would suspect anything different.”

Blair sighed as he followed Jim to the fourth level, that betrayal hurting both of them. “I wish I could be a fly on that wall when we don’t show up later,” he muttered.

“You and me both, partner,” Jim grimly nodded.

They easily found the car, and Blair heaved a sigh of relief when the key opened the back of the Suburban. Blair put both his backpack and the garbage bag into the back, carefully moving the camping equipment to make room for them.

In the meantime, Jim carefully examined the Suburban with all his senses just to make sure it hadn’t been tampered with or bugged. “It’s clean,” Jim finally pronounced.

“Jim, come here.”

Jim’s eyes narrowed at the tone in Blair’s voice. “What is it?” he asked, coming to the back of the SUV.

Blair indicated an open box that was marked “canned food”. Inside were several weapons and boxes of ammunition. He looked up at Jim to see surprise on the older man’s face. “Jim, just what sort of contacts does your father have?”

“Good ones, I hope, Chief.” Jim closed the box and set some of the camping equipment on top of it. “Let’s go.”

The two men changed jackets and donned Jags’ caps before getting into the SUV. Jim pulled the brim of his cap down low over his forehead, and Blair raised a roadmap to obscure his face as Jim carefully drove out of the parking garage and towards the Interstate.

“Simon won’t be expecting us until after five,” Jim finally spoke. “He’ll contact Joel who’ll confirm we’ve been out all afternoon interviewing witnesses. Simon knows that we usually don’t check back in until around six when we do that. So he won’t be alarmed until around six-thirty.”

Blair glanced at the digital clock. “So we’ve got over three hours’ head start.”

“I did mention fishing to Joel,” Jim smirked.

Blair grinned. “We’re not going fishing, are we?”

Jim grinned at his partner as he spotted the nearby interstate. “We never did take that trip to Vegas, did we, Chief?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 11, 2004 – 6:27pm

Joel looked up at the knock on his open door. “Simon,” he smiled. “Come on in. Or should I say ‘Commissioner’?”

Simon closed the door behind him and sat down in one of the chairs. “It’s Simon. You know that.” He nodded towards the bullpen. “How are things settling?”

Joel leaned back in his chair. “A few adjustments,” he admitted. “I have to admit, I miss Rhonda not being down here. Shame about her mother.”

Simon nodded. “I’ll get Julie back to you as soon as I can,” he promised.

Joel waved his hand. “Don’t worry about it. We’ve had temps in the bullpen before. We survived them. We’ll survive this.”

“Have you seen Jim and Sandburg? They were supposed to meet me upstairs after their shift.”

“They’ve been out all afternoon interviewing witnesses. But Jim did mention fishing this weekend.” Joel frowned. “But I’m sure they wouldn’t have left without catching up with you.” He leaned forward and reached for his phone. “I’ll see if I can get either of them on their phones.”

“No, don’t worry about it. It can wait until Monday.” Simon stood and flashed a smile. “They probably already had their camping gear in the truck and just forgot.”

“I’ll mention it to them first thing Monday morning, Simon,” Joel promised.

Simon nodded as he walked toward the office door. “Don’t work too late, Joel.”

“Should be done within the hour,” Joel sighed. “Less if I didn’t have so much paperwork, Commissioner.” He grinned when Simon laughed. He waited until Simon disappeared out of the bullpen before dropping his head to his chest and prayed. '“God, watch over both Jim and Blair.'

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Taggart says Ellison mentioned fishing this weekend,” Simon announced to the two men in his office.

Agent Paul Greene turned from the window. “Do you believe him?”

Simon snorted. “Joel can’t bluff to even win a friendly poker game. Whether it’s true or not, he believes it.”

“Could they have been tipped off?” Agent Allen Crane asked from where he was sitting at the conference table.

“How?” Simon grunted as he sat behind his desk. “The only people who know you were going to take Ellison and Sandburg today are sitting in this room. Well, with the exception of whoever you have waiting to help you,” he sarcastically added.

“There are no leaks in this team,” Crane assured him. He looked uncertainly at Greene. “Maybe they did go fishing.”

Greene studied Simon. “What do you think, Banks?”

Simon shook his head. “Both of them knew I wanted to see them after their shift today. Even if Sandburg would blow it off to get a jump on a weekend out of Cascade, Ellison wouldn’t.”

“I agree,” Greene nodded. “Our team will begin searching for Ellison’s truck. We’ll cover their loft and Ellison’s family dwellings.” He smiled at Simon’s frown. “We’ll be circumspect. No one will know we’re there.”

“If they have gone fishing, they’ll need to check in with the Rangers at the state and national parks,” Simon reasoned. “I’ll call them from home and see if they’ve shown up at any of them. I know the ones they prefer.” He stood and reached for his overcoat. “We can meet at my house later to compare notes.”

“We’ll be there by eleven,” Crane promised.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 11, 2004 – 10:45pm

“Whose car is in the driveway?” Greene asked when he and Crane entered Simon’s home.

“My son. He’s upstairs asleep,” Simon assured them. “We can talk down here.” Simon led them through the house and down a half-flight of stairs to a small comfortable den. He motioned his guests to the couch and sat in the recliner. “They haven’t checked into any of their normal camping spots. Anywhere more distant, and they’d be doing more driving than fishing.”

“We’ve determined that William Ellison and his housekeeper are at home with no guests. Stephen Ellison is on a business trip to the Gold Coast of Australia. He’s been gone for a week and isn’t expected back until the middle of next week.”

“What about Naomi Sandburg?” Simon asked.

“Her passport trail shows her entering India three days ago.” Crane looked frustrated. “We’ve been unable to track her since that.”

“Not surprised,” Simon grimaced. “Sandburg admitted more than once he never knew exactly where she was or when she’d show up.”

“What’s Ellison’s relationship been with his father and brother lately?” Greene asked.

Simon shrugged. “Less than formal but not all that close. Occasional dinner out. Holiday dinners at William Ellison’s. Sometimes a Jags game with his brother.”

“We’ve flagged their passports. If they running to either Ellison’s brother or Sandburg’s mother, they’ll be spotted,” Crane assured him.

“Ellison won’t go that route,” Simon argued. “He won’t want to put them in the middle of this. Assuming they are running and not just off fishing at some newly discovered spot.”

“They’re running,” Greene nodded. “We got a report just as we drove up. Ellison’s truck was found at the Cascade Central Mall parking garage. It was locked and undisturbed although the keys were in the ignition. Camping gear was in the back. They’d have no reason to be at the Mall, would they?”

“Only if he was meeting a snitch.” He got to his feet and paced. “Dammit!” Simon snarled. How did he find out? I haven’t even talked to the man more than three times since I became Commissioner and not once in the past week! He and Sandburg should’ve been in my office this evening and turned over to you by now for testing.”

Greene calmly spoke, “By tomorrow, we’ll have taps on William Ellison’s home phone and tracers on his cell phone. His house will be under surveillance, and we’ll hear anything that’s said. Stephen Ellison’s home will also be under surveillance, and his home phone bugged. We’ll get a tracer on his cell phone when he returns to the country. Ellison’s loft has already been taken care of.” He looked at Simon. “We have two assumptions. One is that he doesn’t trust you, and the second is that he does. If he calls you, you can bring him in so we can get both him and Sandburg. If he doesn’t, who would he contact?”

“Jack Kelso at Rainier would be my first guess if he’s trying to figure out who you are,” Simon paused. “Joel Taggart at the station. Possibly Beverly Sanchez in the DA’s office. Wendy Hawthorne, if they want to go the media route.”

“We’ll see what we can do about tapping them and putting them under surveillance,” Crane nodded.

“Both Ellison and Sandburg have a lot of contacts that I don’t know anything about,” Simon warned.

Greene and Crane exchanged glances. “Once they don’t show up on Monday, you can step in and officially tear their personal lives apart. Do you have a key to Ellison’s place?”

Simon slowly smiled. “I do, indeed. Let’s see what we can find.” He turned and led the two agents back up the stairs. He quickly wrote a note for Daryl, amused that Crane read it as he wrote.

DARYL, BEEN CALLED OUT. SEE YOU TOMORROW. WE’LL DO LUNCH IF I CAN. DAD

None of the three men were aware of eyes from a second-floor window watching them as they drove away.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 11, 2004 – 11:30pm

Joel Taggart was startled by the loud thumping on his front door. He walked out from his dining room into the front hall, silently grateful his wife was at a choir retreat in Oregon. She would have been ready to tear the strip off whoever was banging on her door like that.

He peeked out the side window, then hurriedly opened the door, quickly pulling the young man inside. “Daryl! What are you doing here at this time of night?” For a moment, he was reminded of the youngster of years ago, all wide-eyed and frenetically in motion.

“Uncle Joel…I…my dad…”

“What about your dad, son?”

“I think he’s done something awful…it’s about Blair and Detective Ellison…”

“What do you mean?” Joel put his hands on Daryl’s shoulders.

Daryl took a deep breath, trying to put himself together and stop acting like a small child rather than a twenty-year old man. “I’m spending the weekend with Dad. I was coming downstairs for something to drink when I heard someone at the door. Dad let these two guys in and they went into the den. I figured it was work so I just went on to the kitchen. Then I heard dad’s voice get loud…like he was mad. Then he started saying stuff about how Blair and Detective Ellison should’ve been in his office and then turned over to those two guys for testing…testing, Uncle Joel!” Daryl rubbed his face with both hands. “What’s going on? Are Blair and Detective Ellison in trouble?”

Joel hesitated but was interrupted.

“Tell him. Tell him everything so he’ll know to stay out of this.”

Joel turned to see Jack Kelso sitting in his wheelchair in the hallway. “Daryl, maybe you should…”

“You’re Jack Kelso.” Daryl ignored Joel. “Blair’s given me every book you’ve ever written.” He stepped back and studied both men.

Joel’s soul trembled when he saw the look that finally appeared on Daryl’s face. It was the look of a man who had finally left his childhood behind and realized that childhood certainties could become empty illusions.

“Uncle Joel, what has my dad done?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 11, 2004 – 11:45pm

“We need to look for anything personal that’s missing,” Greene growled as they entered the loft. He headed up the stairs to Jim’s bedroom while Simon headed for Blair’s room. Crane took the bathroom.

All three men carefully searched, putting items back where they found them, leaving few if any clues the rooms had been searched. They finally met back in the living room where they searched it and the kitchen.

“Looks like all the food’s been left here,” Simon sighed, closing the refrigerator door. “As far as Sandburg’s room goes, it would be hard to tell if anything’s missing in that rat’s nest. But I didn’t see a lot of anything gone.” He waved his arm to indicate the living room. “Same here. Nothing’s out of place or missing.”

“All of Ellison’s possessions are upstairs,” Greene reported. “Photos, keepsakes…” He looked at Crane.

“Nothing’s missing from the bathroom.” Crane shrugged. “But nothing extra in there either. No extra toothbrush or tube of toothpaste…”

“Jim usually keeps extra toothbrushes in case someone stays over,” Simon flatly interrupted. Frowning, he thought, then shook his head. “I’m sure he always keeps an extra of everything in the bathroom. ‘Be prepared’ is his personal life motto.”

“They took those and left the used stuff to try and fool us,” Greene snarled.

“Guess that proves they are on the run,” Simon grunted. “And I can’t officially do anything until Monday morning.”

“We can,” Crane assured him. “Ellison had to have help if he left his truck here, and Sandburg’s car is parked outside. They had to have help in getting another vehicle. They’d be too vulnerable on a bus or train. And we know they didn’t leave on a plane.”

“I’ll go see his father tomorrow,” Simon said.

“No, we will,” Green ordered. “We need you to stay out of it for now. When you move in on Monday, it needs to be as Commissioner.” He coldly smiled. “We’ll talk to Ellison’s father as agents of the FBI.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 12, 2004 – 12:47am

Simon quietly closed his front door behind him. “Stupid bastard…Ellison, you are a damn stupid bastard! Running out when you could be helping thousands of people! Probably listened to some of Sandburg’s hippie rants inst…”

“If so, more power to him.”

Startled, Simon watched his son walk down the steps, his overnight bag slung over one shoulder. “Daryl! What are you doing up?”

“Leaving.” Daryl paused on the second step from the bottom so he could stare directly into his father’s eyes. “And I won’t be back. Ever.”

“What? What are you talking about?” Simon blocked his son’s movement. “Look. Let’s just go to bed and talk about it in the morning.”

“Gonna tuck me in with some warm milk, Daddy?” Daryl sarcastically asked. “No, thanks. And do you really want to talk about why I’m leaving?”

The two men studied each other for several seconds. One man with narrow-eyed suspicion and the other with righteous indignation.

“Whatever you think you know, Daryl, is all mixed up in your head,” Simon slowly spoke. “Best not to talk about things you only think you know.”

“Yeah. Message received. Threat received.”

“Dammit, Daryl! Nobody’s threatening you!” Simon shouted.

“And if I keep my mouth shut, nobody will, right?” Daryl stepped around his father and walked to the front door. “Don’t worry, dad. I want nothing to do with whatever it is I think I know…or with you.”

“Daryl, you come back here! You’re my son!”

Daryl hesitated then opened the front door. “What I am is a grown adult. And as an adult, I’m telling you to leave me alone,” he quietly spoke. Then he looked over his shoulder. “After all, it wouldn’t look good for the Police Commissioner to have his son file stalking and harassment charges against him, now would it?”

Stunned, Simon watched in silence as Daryl closed the door behind him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 12, 2004 – 9:00am

William and his housekeeper Sally Wong exchanged startled looks when the doorbell rang. William nodded encouragingly at her. “Just as we discussed, Sally.”

Sally nodded and went to answer the front door. She returned a few minutes later with two men. “Mr. Ellison, they are FBI agents. I tried to take them to your office but…”

“Mr. Ellison, this is a matter of urgency,” Agent Green interrupted. “I’m Agent Green and this is Agent Crane of the FBI.” They quickly produced their identifications.

William irritably folded his newspaper and tossed it on the dining room table. “Quite alright, Sally.” He glared at the two agents. “Since you’ve interrupted my breakfast, do you want any coffee?”

“No, sir,” Crane pulled out a chair and sat down. “We do need to speak with you and Ms. Wong.”

“About what?”

“Your son, Jim and his partner Blair Sandburg.” Green looked at Sally. “We need to question you both separately.”

William snorted. “You have five minutes to ask your questions and you’ll do it here and now.” He raised a hand to stop their protests. “Even though this is Saturday, I am a busy man. But not too busy to call my attorney.”

The two agents exchanged glances, then Green also sat at the table. “Very well, Mr. Ellison. When was the last time you saw your son, Jim?”

“Two weeks ago. We had dinner at some little Italian place. Mama Rosa’s.” His tone of voice indicated he’d felt the establishment had been beneath him. “I understand it’s a favorite of Mr. Sandburg’s.”

“Sounds like you don’t like Mr. Sandburg,” Green commented.

William’s blue eyes snapped in annoyance. “My personal opinion of Mr. Sandburg is irrelevant. And you’re wasting your five minutes.”

“Ms. Wong, when was the last time you saw Jim Ellison?” Crane asked.

“Memorial Day weekend,” Sally quietly answered. “Mr. Jimmy lost his men in Peru so that day is not good for him. So I bake him his favorite cake. Carrot cake. And take it to him at the loft.”

“And Mr. Sandburg?”

“He was there,” Sally nodded. “I have not seen him since.”

“You don’t seem concerned about our questions regarding your son,” Green observed.

“Agent Green, please don’t take me for a fool. I’m certain the FBI doesn’t send agents out to question people without a reason. If something had happened to Jim, his Captain would be here and not you.” William glared at both agents. “Is there anything else?”

“When was the last time you spoke to your son?” Crane quickly asked.

“As I said, dinner two weeks ago,” William coldly answered. “Let me cut to the chase. My son, Jim and I are virtually estranged, and have been since he left home at the age of eighteen. He makes his own decisions and doesn’t report to me. I don’t approve of his career choices. I don’t approve of his friends. He’s made it very clear, however, that my approval doesn’t mean a damn thing to him. We have dinner on rare occasions most likely to appease his conscience that I’m an old man.” He glanced at his watch. “And you have thirty seconds left.”

Crane slid a card across the table to William and one to Sally. “If either of you see or talk to Jim Ellison or Blair Sandburg, please call us. It’s vitally important.”

William didn’t even glance at the card. “Sally will show you out.”

Sally silently rose and escorted the two men into the hallway toward the front door.

“Ms. Wong, please take what we say seriously,” Green quietly urged. “It’s for Ellison’s own good that we reach him.”

“I understand,” Sally answered. “Good day, gentlemen.” She opened the front door, softly closing it when they walked out of the house.

Turning around, she saw William watching from the hallway. Walking back to the dining room, she paused when William leaned down to whisper to her. “Say nothing. They probably have a way to hear us.”

Sally nodded in understanding. “I am sorry, Mr. Ellison. I could not stop them from following me.”

William grunted although his blue eyes were twinkling. “Understood, Sally. Men like that have no concept of decent manners.”

And because he felt it was better to err on the side of caution, he went to his office and found work to do.

Outside the house, Crane grunted. “Guess we know which side of the family has the asshole gene.”

Green frowned. “Let’s do some checking to make sure William Ellison was telling the truth about their estrangement. I know Banks mentioned it, but I’d rather have a better source than him about this.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 12, 2004 – 11:30am

“Damn it, Daryl!” Simon was tempted to throw the phone across the room but instead slammed it down on the kitchen table. He rubbed one hand across his forehead and took a couple of deep breaths. This was getting ridiculous. He’d been phoning Daryl for hours in an attempt to talk to his son…to explain…

Explain what? Simon’s dark eyes narrowed. Explain that sometimes a man had to make decisions he didn’t like but did it because it was for the best? Explain how the greater good overrode individual needs?

Snarling under his breath, Simon reached for the phone and dialed Daryl’s number again.

“I’m sorry. The number you are calling from has been blocked. If you feel you’ve reached this number in error…”

Simon stared at the phone in astonishment. Finally, he closed it and carefully put it on the table in front of him. “I’ll try from work,” he muttered. Then he shook his head. Daryl would block that number as well. On impulse, he picked up his phone and dialed his ex-wife.

“Hello.”

“Joan, it’s Simon. Have you talked with Daryl?”

“Yes. He said you’d done something he couldn’t forgive.” Joan’s voice was colder than ice.

Simon sighed and rubbed his forehead again. “Daryl doesn’t know the entire story, and he’s putting the worst possible spin on what he does know. Now he’s not taking my calls so we can work it out.”

“As you’ve told me more than once, Simon, Daryl’s an adult,” Joan replied. “If he doesn’t want to take your calls, then he won’t. I guess you’ll just have to wait until he decides to work it out.” She paused, then continued, “If I were you, though, I really wouldn’t try to confront him right now. He sounds angry enough to make your estrangement public. Good-bye, Simon.”

This time, Simon did throw the phone across the room.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 14, 2004 – 8:15am

Simon stood at the entrance to Major Crimes then straightened his shoulders. He saw Joel and walked towards him as Henri Brown and Brian Rafe hurried past him. “Joel, any word from either Jim or Blair?”

Joel worriedly shook his head. “I dispatched a patrol car to the loft. They just reported that Blair’s car is parked out front but Jim’s isn’t.” He nodded towards the closing elevator doors. “I just sent Brown and Rafe to check out the loft.”

Simon sighed. “I took it on myself yesterday to check the nearby camping sites. They didn’t check into any of them.”

Connor hung up her phone and looked at Joel. “An APB just went out on Jim’s truck. I’ll start looking through their open case files.”

Joel nodded, then turned to Simon. “Don’t worry. We’ll find them.”

“Keep me informed,” Simon requested. He turned around and walked towards the elevator.

Joel quickly went into his office and shut the door behind him. ‘I’ll keep you informed. But not completely.’

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JUNE 14, 2004 11:55pm

Blair shivered as Jim carefully went over the vehicle brought to them by a man Jim had identified only as ‘Jack’. The cold desert air made it necessary for him to move around which only earned him a sympathetic half-grin from Jack. The lights of Las Vegas were a bright glow against the Western sky.

“You realize I’ll have to come back if this Dodge isn’t as clean as you claim,” Jim mildly commented.

“C’mon, Captain, you know me better than that,” Jack protested. “This is as clean as a baby’s butt.” He glanced at the SUV Blair was leaning against. “Just as clean as the one you brought to me.”

Jim grunted and straightened up. “Deal.” He held out his hand, and Jack shook it. “Let’s get it loaded.”

The three men worked quickly to transfer all the items from the back of the SUV driven from Cascade over to the new SUV. Blair shut the hatch door as Jim once more shook hands with Jack.

“You’ll take care of that?” Jim nodded towards the other vehicle.

“In an hour, it’ll be nothing more than scrap,” Jack promised. “Good luck, Captain”

Jim nodded and got into the Dodge. Blair was already in the passenger seat, studying a roadmap by the light of a small flashlight.

Starting the SUV, Jim put it into gear and drove east…away from Las Vegas and into the desert.

After a few minutes of silence, Blair folded the roadmap and turned off the flashlight. The illumination of the dashboard threw his features into sharp relief. “Failure is not an option, Jim. No matter what.”

Jim soberly nodded. “We’re going to play the long game, Chief. I don’t intend to lose.”

‘Well I found myself out on the open road Headin' out into the desert Lookin’ for another world that’s waitin’ on me That none of us can see.’ ("The Way" performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd written by Ricky Medlocke, Hughie Thomasson, Johnny Van Zant & Gary Rossington)



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