DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.

Back to School
Brenda Bailey


Act I

Simon sat back in his chair, waiting for the coffee maker to finish so he could enjoy his first cup of the day, a new blend called New Orleans Choice. As he relaxed, his eyes touched on the photos on his wall. One in particular drew his attention this morning, the one of his academy graduation. God, had it been that long ago? He'd looked so impossibly young. And soon he would be attending Blair's graduation....

The thought of Blair's graduation brought a smile to his face. He admitted to himself that he'd been worried about Blair attending the academy -- that the other cadets, or even the instructors, might make the experience unbearable for the young man. At first he hadn't known how he was going to keep an eye on Blair's progress without being obvious, but the answer had been presented to him in the form of Blair's erstwhile protector, Jim Ellison. He merely had to read the Ellison barometer to tell how Blair was doing. It swung between fair and sunny to stormy based on how many problems Blair was encountering.

Readings were best taken first thing in the morning when Ellison had been at home with Sandburg. He tended to become unreadable later in the day. There had been rough patches, Blair's doubts about himself, that Vincent kid's suicide, but Sandburg was still hanging in there.

As the coffee finished, Simon poured the fragrant beverage into his cup, but before he could even get the cup to his lips, an authoritative knock sounded on his door, followed immediately by the door swinging inward. He was prepared to growl out a warning at the hapless person who dared to disturb him this early in the day, but the impending snarl became a smile when he recognized his old academy buddy, Ben Walker, standing in the doorway.

Simon jumped up to greet his friend and dragged him into the office. "Ben, you old dog, how long has it been?"

Walker exchanged a hearty handshake and answered with a smile, "Close to five years, Simon. You been staying out of trouble?"

Simon put on his best innocent expression. "Me? I was never the one in trouble if I remember correctly. That honor went to you. You always were the source of more bullshit than anyone I know. I think they let you graduate just to get rid of you."

Ben struck a sophisticated pose. "It's so hard to stand out in the crowd. One must achieve where one can."

"Come on in and sit down. Tell me what you're up to now."

Walker, who at 6'6" and 280 pounds still looked like a pro defensive lineman, settled himself in one of the visitor's chairs. Simon poured a second cup of coffee and gave it to him before settling behind his desk. "Who are you working for now, Ben?"

Walker feigned a hurt expression. "What makes you think I'm not still with the FBI?"

"I know you for one thing, and you never could stay in one place for too long. Shall I recap for you: Cascade PD, the state police, the U.S. Marshal's Office, the FBI...."

Walker laughed as he admitted, "Okay, okay, you know me, and yes, I have moved on from the FBI. I decided to branch out on my own, and now I have the honor of being the police chief of Walden."

Simon thought back to what he had heard about the community. Built by Richard Morehouse Walden, it was his answer to Thoreau's Walden Pond. Except where Thoreau had gone searching for his retreat, Walden had built his own. A private development that was actually a self contained city about sixty miles southeast of the Cascade city limits. Walden had its own state-of-the-art hospital, school system, shopping centers, and professional buildings. The homes began somewhere in the $500,000 range and only went up from there. They had a championship golf course that hosted an annual PGA event and an entertainment complex that drew in big name stars on a regular basis. Walker's annual budget probably matched that for the Cascade PD with only a fraction of the officers and staff, he thought enviously.

"That's quite a change for you, isn't it? I always thought you never cared much for the administrative side of things -- always looking for a new and different experience. 'Been there, done that', was your motto. Why the change?"

"You know I was never really comfortable taking orders, so I decided to try giving them for a change. The position came open, I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and everything else just fell into line."

"You like it?"

There was a brief hesitation before Walker answered. "Sure, what's not to like? Great location, big house, generous income, low crime rate." He frowned, "That is, at least until recently."

Simon had an idea the real reason for the unexpected visit would now be revealed. "Don't tell me you've come across a problem you don't know how to handle?" The man had always been quick to see unexpected avenues of approach. Simon was beginning to get a bad feeling about this.

"Nooooo, I have a way to solve the problem. It's just that it is going to require your cooperation." Walker finished the statement with a huge grin that immediately caused Simon think of a bear about to dig into a freshly caught salmon.

Jim Ellison, Sentinel of the Great City, walked into the bullpen and headed for his desk. He was in a fairly good mood this morning. Blair was settling back into the routine of the academy, no major problems had presented themselves over the last twenty-four hours, and his desk was relatively free from paperwork. Henri and Rafe followed him over to his desk.

"How's Sandburg doing at the academy now?" Henri settled on the corner of Jim's desk.

"This week they start the obstacle course. He wanted to get a head start on it so we went out to the academy and did a trial run."

"How did it go?"

The attempt on the obstacle course flashed briefly before him.

They had arrived at the academy at 7 a.m., wanting to have privacy for the practice run. None of the obstacles on the course, by themselves, were that difficult; it was the combination of all at once that tended to cause apprehension. He glanced over at Blair and hoped this went smoothly. His roommate shouldn't have any problems -- he was in pretty good physical shape -- but he was nervous. Too many stories from the other cadets and instructors were making inroads on Blair's confidence.

"Okay now, remember to just pace yourself through each obstacle. If you can't complete one, just go around and finish the rest of the course. The idea is to see which ones, if any, are going to give you problems. We can work on those later. You ready?"

"Do I have a choice, man?" Blair looked up as he continued stretching. "No, don't answer that, I already know the answer. I can do this, it's all a matter of mind over matter."

"No, it's actually a matter of getting your 'matter' over the obstacles." Jim smiled in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere. "We've practiced most of these in one form or another at the gym. You can do it."

"Yeah, you're right. I can do it. I am going to do it. I will do it. God, now I sound like a cheerleader. Let's get this over with before I start trying to do splits." Blair took a deep breath and came up to the start line.

"Ready?" Jim looked at Blair for confirmation and received a nod in reply. Bringing out the stopwatch he had brought, he tried to convey his confidence in Blair with a smile and a pat on the back. "GO!"

Blair took off like a rabbit toward the first obstacle. He made the diving entry through the open window and rolled, coming back up into a crouch. The low crawl under the criss-crossed wires was next and Blair didn't even pause as he zipped through it. Coming up from the ground, he headed directly toward the chain link fence and grasped the top, and vaulted over.

The balance beam section was next, and Jim moved closer to keep an eye on him. The obstacle resembled a set of very long and narrow steps. Blair would have to jump up to the first beam, two feet off the ground. From there, he faced four interconnected 6" wide beams, each 12' long, with each successive beam another foot higher off the ground, to finish five feet off the ground. Blair paused for a moment, then jumped up on the first beam and carefully walked up each connecting section. So long as he made good time on the other parts of the course, he could take his time here and not rush. Jumping down from the last beam, he headed for the rope climb and swarmed up like a monkey.

Hanging around with Larry must have rubbed off, Jim though irrelevantly. Nice to know the ape was good for something besides watching television and messing up the loft.

Jim got more excited with each obstacle overcome. He couldn't restrain a little supportive cheerleading. "Yes! You're halfway there. You can do it!"

Dropping from the rope, Blair ran the short distance to the next obstacle, the 8' wall. He hit the wall and then stopped. Hit it, yeah, that's exactly what he did. Just like a bug on a windshield, he went 'splat!' against the unforgiving wood.

"Blair, Blair, are you all right?" Jim started to run over.

"Yeah, I'm just fine." From flat on his back, Blair looked back up at the wall, then stood up, and circled around it to move on to the next obstacle.

The reply didn't do much to convince Jim, but Blair seemed to be determined to finish and he was on his feet, so he held off calling it quits. Following much closer now, he tried a little verbal encouragement. "That's right, just keep going. It's no big deal."

Blair nodded and managed a weak smile before tackling the monkey bars. Despite his failure at the wall, he crossed the monkey bars without a problem, remembering to touch the first and last bar firmly. He was beginning to pant a little as he headed toward the stair tower and the four-story climb.

Jim listened to the sound of Blair's footsteps as he raced up the stairs. Good thing he gets all that practice climbing stairs at the loft, he thought with sympathy. He heard the bell ring as Blair signaled his arrival at the fourth floor and started back down. Exiting the tower, he headed directly for Jim to complete the next obstacle. Not having the rescue dummy to practice with, they had been forced to improvise. Jim took up his position on the ground, simulating an unconscious person in need of rescue. His role had been the source of several barbed quips from his partner.

"Try not to get me too dirty, Sandburg. We still have to go get some breakfast."

Blair panted as he grabbed Jim's arms and started to drag him. "Shut up. Unconscious people don't talk. They just lay there and make their poor roommates drag them around."

"Hey," Jim complained, "what happened to the fireman's carry? Dragging is so undignified."

"You know you could stiffen up just a bit. You're flopping all over the place," Blair retorted as he continued to haul Jim's body the required 50 feet.

"If I was stiff, I'd be a dead body, and you would be altering a crime scene. Besides, this is so relaxing." Jim closed his eyes as if asleep.

"I'll give you relaxing," Blair whispered, angling his course so that Jim bumped over an exposed tree root. "There, all rescued and safe."

"Hey!" Jim objected as Blair dropped his arms unceremoniously and headed straight for the track. The final obstacle of the course was a mile run. He smiled as he sat up and looked at the stopwatch to check Blair's time.

Not too bad at all, he thought. Except for the wall, Blair would probably finish within the time limits. As Blair completed his first circuit, he was slowing appreciably. He jogged over to join him on the track. "Only three more circuits to go and you're finished. Hang in there. You've got the time."

"Easy for you to say," Blair huffed between steps, but he picked up his pace to match Jim's as he ran alongside. Together they finished the final lap as Blair came to a stop and put his head down, concentrating on giving his oxygen-starved body all the air it craved.

"Come on," Jim urged, "walk it out. Don't stop moving or everything is going to tighten up on you. Keep walking as you cool down."

Blair managed to shoot him an evil look, but started walking as he gulped in air. "Okay, how did I do?"

"You didn't come close to the class record and you missed one obstacle --" Jim couldn't keep a smile from his face at Blair's hangdog expression, " -- but you're within the time limits for completing the course. You can do it!"

Blair couldn't stop the smile that matched Jim's. "Yeah, I can."

"Come on, Chief, let's go get breakfast. I'm hungry after watching you run all over the place. My treat."

"Your treat? It better be your treat. I'm not getting paid much here, I'm just doing this for my health."

Jim placed his arm around Blair's shoulder as they walked toward the truck, "No, you're doing it for my health, and I want you to know I appreciate it."

As they exchanged looks, Blair couldn't resist, "Race you back to the truck, man." He took off running with Jim in hot pursuit...

Jim shook his head fondly at the memories. "Well, that depends on whether you were betting on the course or on Sandburg. The wall is not his event. The rest of it he'll be able to handle with no problem."

In anticipation of getting information to tease Sandburg with when he returned, Henri pressed for more details. "Come on man, don't hold back. What did he do? Run into it or something?"

Rafe couldn't resist the opportunity to tease his partner. "No man, that was your specialty, remember? When I was there, they were still telling stories about how you tried to run right through it."

"Yeah, well who was it who did a Tarzan impersonation on the rope climb while the captain of the academy was visiting the class?" Henri poked Rafe with his finger.

"Hey, that doesn't count. I didn't know he was there." Rafe made a not-to-subtle effort to change the focus of the conversation. "Jim, has anyone broken your record for the obstacle course yet?"

"I don't know, I never bothered to keep track."

"You should. I heard the closest was when an ex-marine tried, but the rescue dummy got tangled up in his shorts and..."

Jim intervened before the two could get started on their version of 'Police Academy: The Series' by saying, "Guys, guys, I have work to do, so could you please take your walk down memory lane back to your desks? The academy was a nice place to visit, but I don't want to relive it, thank you very much."

Just as he started to sit down, Simon opened the door of his office and gestured to him. "Jim, come into my office and have a cup of coffee."

Jim looked at Simon, trying to discern the motivation behind the simple request. It wasn't that Jim had a suspicious nature, which he did, but the captain's normal way of calling him to the office consisted of him yelling 'Ellison! My office! Now!' This "kind and gentle" approach wasn't like Simon at all. He idly wondered if he had been going to one of those 'Developing Communications for Supervisors' seminars, but his captain's face revealed nothing, so Jim nodded and went obediently into the office. Simon motioned him through with an "after you" gesture, then followed him inside. As Jim entered, he noticed a guest already seated in one of the chairs.

The visitor stood, holding out his hand as he introduced himself. "My name is Ben Walker, but you can just call me Ben, everybody else does. I'm the Police Chief of Walden. You must be Jim Ellison. Simon has told me a lot about you. Nice to meet you."

As Jim felt his hand grasped and heartily shook by the big man, he observed that Walker certainly didn't lack enthusiasm in his greetings. He felt as if he had just shaken hands with a grizzly bear. A friendly grizzly bear, he hoped. Everybody was being so friendly, yet he couldn't help but feel like the main course at a buffet.

Walker finally finished with his handshake and returned Jim's hand to him, only a little the worse for wear. "It's going to be a real pleasure working with you Jim. You don't mind if I call you Jim, do you? It's just that I like to be on a first name basis with people, put them at ease, if you know what I mean. When I came in here this morning, just about ready to throw in the towel with this Dallas problem I had, Simon said you were the best man for this job and I could count on you to help me clean things up."

Jim turned to Simon, who just sat innocently sipping his coffee.

"I really appreciate the help Jim, this is real important to me. There's no way I can do this myself or you know I would be doing it. Never ask a man to do something you won't do yourself, that's my motto. Ray isn't going to do anything close to home. He isn't stupid. Of course, I could be wrong, this could be just a big coincidence. An awful funny coincidence, but it is possible, I suppose. There's just no way that I can do it though, if Ray were to see me, he would know something is up. If he doesn't move, we've got nothing. I can count on you, can't I?" Walker finally stopped talking to look sincerely at Jim.

Jim glanced from Walker to Simon, who sat in his chair with a grin on his face, looking like the Cheshire Cat. Well that certainly fit. At the moment, he felt like Alice, who had just fallen down the rabbit hole. Okay, Simon isn't going to be any help, time to take charge of this conversation and find out what's going on. "Could you start from the beginning of this 'problem' you say you have and why you think I'm the best man for the job?"

Walker apparently took Jim's question as an affirmative answer, and his face was wreathed in a big smile. "Why sure, Jim, no problem. I already told you I'm the Police Chief for Walden. Well, it's a pretty exclusive community, six-figure incomes and all the trappings that go with that kind of money. In the past three months, we've had eight burglaries. All very slick, no evidence left behind, no suspects, no property recovered. The items taken were always jewelry, cash, gold coins, things easy to dispose of and almost impossible to trace. After each theft, the victims put in new security systems. Well, there's no harm in that. If you get burglarized, you're going to want a better system than the one you had. It wasn't until I happened to notice that all the new systems were being put in by the same company, Questor Security, that I began to get that funny feeling you get on the back of your neck. The detective of record on all the burglaries was Raymond Dallas. He's been there three years and is our lead detective. He hadn't bothered to mention this little fact in his investigative summaries, so I did a little checking with my sources and found out that he's a silent partner in Questor Security. Again, nothing wrong with that. It's just the coincidences keep adding up." Walker held up his hand as he counted his next statements off on his fingers. "One, he was on duty the date of each burglary. Two, he was the first officer on the scene at each burglary. Three, I found out from the victims that he's familiar with the security system at each burglary because he's done security evaluations at each location as a crime prevention officer."

Jim found himself wondering how Walker managed to talk so long without taking a breath. It reminded him of Sandburg in full-explanation mode. Shaking his head to refocus on what Walker had said, Jim asked, "All you've really got, though, are suspicions. I understand the problem, but what does that have to do with me? What do you want me to do, follow him around and see if he does anything suspicious?"

Walker again gave Jim that big grin. "You won't have to follow him too much, son. You'll already be right close to him. You see Ray all of a sudden signed up for a class at the Cascade Police Academy. I figure he's going to try and make contact with some fence here in town to get rid of the stolen merchandise and needed a legitimate reason to be down here. He probably thinks it's funny for the department to be paying his expenses while he's on business of his own."

Simon finally took pity on his baffled detective. "I'm going to okay your attendance in the same class that Dallas is signed up for, Jim. That way you can keep an eye on him at the school, see if he does anything suspicious."

Great, just great. I didn't enjoy the place all that much the first time around. And the last time Simon sent me to a training class there I wanted to strangle the instructor. Why couldn't this guy hang around exploding buildings or something? No, he has to go to a class at the academy.

"Yes, sir." Resigned to his fate, Jim turned toward Walker. "Did you bring your files on all the burglaries?"

Walker handed him a thick file with the Walden PD emblem on the front. "This should be everything you need. I hope you realize just how much I appreciate this, Jim. If Dallas is dirty, I want him caught. If he's not, I want to know he's clean. I don't like thinking there may be a weasel slinking around the department." Walker's voice hardened with that last statement and the friendly grin he seemed to habitually wear was no longer so friendly.

As Jim got up to leave he paused and asked Simon, "What class is it this Dallas signed up for?"

Simon's smile returned. "Just one of the advanced certification courses. Not that you need it, of course, but you can always count it toward your mandatory training hours. Wouldn't want you to not stay current in your training hours, would we?"

Jim was beginning to smell a rat.

Walker added, "From what Simon tells me, you could probably teach the class, Jim. You being the resident expert."

Jim glanced down at the authorization form as Simon handed it to him. High Speed Pursuit Driving. Instructor: Sergeant H. Hoffman. Looking back at Simon, Jim began, "But Simon...."

"That's all, Detective. Don't be late. I hear the sergeant can be a real bear."

His protest dying, Jim decided that discretion was the better part of valor. He left the office, only to be greeted by the twin smiles of Henri and Rafe.

Jim directed 'Ellison Glare #4' at the two detectives. Guaranteed to stop smartass remarks and unwanted kidding, it apparently hadn't lost its effectiveness as both Henri and Rafe directed their attention elsewhere. Too bad it didn't seem to work as well on Sandburg. He was never going to hear the end of this.

Blair squirmed in his seat once again as he glanced at the watch that Jim had given him and smiled at his memory of the occasion. Jim had 'remembered' he wanted to look at some new camping equipment at their favorite outdoor store. After they arrived, Jim had casually reminded him he would need a watch at the academy. He must have spent forty-five minutes trying on every single one in the display case while Jim patiently stood by. Stretch bands, nylon webbing, PVC, digital, analog, luminous, multi-function, the options seemed endless. There was even one equipped with GPS technology Jim had pointed out to him. Considering his rather limited budget, he'd about decided to just get a band for the watch face he carried, when Jim had stepped in. Jim must have been monitoring his responses to the different watches as he tried them on, because he told the salesman they'd take the one Blair had secretly wanted, the Swiss Army watch. Jim had just told him to consider it an early graduation gift.

It was now 3:45 p.m. In another fifteen minutes the class would convene out at the obstacle course. It was funny, he'd been dreading the obstacle course after hearing all the stories about the spectacular failures on it, but now he was eager to get out there. The trial attempt this past weekend had dispelled the fear and given him confidence he wouldn't make a fool of himself on the course.

The speaker droned on, reading another section of the Revised Code of Washington to the class. Blair glanced around at the other members of this class, resisting the urge to doodle on the side of his notes. Neatly printed notes at that, since the cadets were urged to practice making their handwriting legible. The instructors didn't waste time trying to decipher handwriting when they spot-checked the student's notebooks. If they couldn't read it, it wasn't there and had to be done over.

Late afternoon sleepiness was taking its toll. Almost half the cadets were listening with their heads propped up by their hands. God, this was boring. This whole method grated on Blair's natural aptitude for teaching. Repetition was the most basic form of instruction, but this was ridiculous. See it, hear it, write it. He felt like he was back in grammar school. It seemed as if the instructor was deliberately making his voice as monotonous as possible as he read. Of course, he would be bored, too, having to read to the class. Blair dutifully copied the text of the next section into his official class notes as the second hand of his watch made another slow sweep. Five more minutes and they could get outside. He uncharitably thought this was just like waiting for recess.

Finally, the last section for the day was finished. They had fifteen minutes to get changed and be out on the course.

Outside, Blair watched Sergeant Loker do pull-ups on the monkey bars as he waited for the class to assemble. The man was something else. Rumor had him retired from the marines after twenty-five years. He had been at the academy for the last ten and taught all the physical training. He ran with them on their 'field runs'. No, not with them, he ran all around them. Running in front, running on the side, running behind, even running backwards. It was unknown if the man had a sense of humor, since no one had seen him smile. Even the most athletic cadet had a hard time keeping up with him, and he loved it when one had the guts to challenge him. After a few introductory remarks, Loker had gone through the course. He made it look so easy, practically strolling through the obstacles.

The plan was to start someone on the course every two minutes. That would space people out enough so that they wouldn't be running into each other - supposedly. If you got hung up on one obstacle, you were to go around it and keep going. It only took six people before the first snag.

Cadet Amanda Anderson couldn't get over the wall. She made the leap and hung on to the top by her fingers, but just didn't have the arm strength to pull herself over. Loker ran over and started to harangue the unfortunate cadet. Spurred on by Loker's words or just out of desperation to escape his voice, she finally managed to get over the wall and continue.

While Loker had been busy with Anderson, his assistants had been busy at the balance beam and the chain link fence. Rick Blake had been going a bit too fast and ended up straddling the beam. That's got to hurt, Blair thought, his confidence eroding slightly.

Next, Tony Delgado had got his feet stuck in the chain link fence and somersaulted over, landing flat on his back, temporarily winded.

Blair bided his time and kept stretching. There were benefits to being towards the end of the alphabet, although seeing cadet after cadet fail at one obstacle or another wore at his confidence. Unaffected by the wait, Cadet Terrance Jackson, III, was holding court over at the edge of the course. Six feet tall with dark brown hair and eyes, Jackson looked like Joe College. At 22, he had come straight from the world of academia with a major in Police Science to join the Cascade Police Department. The self-appointed leader of the class, he frequently found opportunities to give the other students the "benefit" of his wisdom when he wasn't assigning disparaging nicknames to everyone.

Blair had been unimpressed when Jackson had called him 'Sandbag'. The man wasn't even very inventive. Now Jim, he was a man who was good at nicknames. But then he didn't try to belittle anyone with them either. Nor had he been pleased when Blair had let Jackson's slur slip one night at dinner.

Currently Jackson was instructing his followers in the "correct" method of tackling each obstacle. What a jerk. He thinks he knows more than anyone out here, including the instructors. The problem was that Jackson was good. He was the only one of the class who could keep up with Loker on the field runs and called him 'Old Timer' behind his back. He was smart, knew police procedure, martial arts and was a crack shot.

Blair smiled a little smugly to himself, on the shooting range, at least, Jackson was not top of his class. That honor went to Blair, who was still trying to work out his mixed emotions on the subject of carrying a weapon. Weird that the part of police work that bothered him the most was also something he was exceedingly good at.

Now he was talking about how he was going to break the long-standing record set for completing the course. I hope he breaks his stupid... No, not going to go there. Concentrate on what you're doing, quit thinking about Mr. Terrance Aren't-I-Perfect Jackson.

"Jackson! Front and center. Leave your knitting group and get on the course." Loker yelled in a voice loud enough to be heard in the parking lot.

Jackson didn't miss the smiles some of the cadets wore as Loker called him into position. Maybe it was embarrassment, maybe it was frustration, but Terrance was definitely off his game as he stumbled at the window entry obstacle and went sprawling face first on the ground.

Loker was ready with advice. "Never going to beat the record that way, son. Even this 'Old Timer' knows you've got to stay on your feet to finish the course. If you need some extra instruction, you just let me know." The overly solicitous tone of his voice was guaranteed to irk the young cadet.

Jackson gave him a dirty look and hauled himself up. He continued the course with a lot less swagger in his steps.

Inwardly, Blair was laughing. It was about time. Loker must have ears like a bat to have heard Jackson from over there. Hmmm, maybe enhanced hearing? He brought himself up sharply. That was another time, another life. Concentrate on what you have, who you are. He refocused his attention on the obstacle course and the progress of the other cadets. Okay, they're in the R's now, time to move up and get ready.

When Loker called out Blair's name, he was already at the starting line. On the command to go, Blair smoothly began the course. The first half went as well as it did before. The wall, though was waiting to get him again. Even after two attempts, Blair continued to freeze on the wall. Frustrated, angry with himself, he kicked at the wall as he clung to it.

"Do something Sandburg. Don't just hang there trying to kick it into submission," Loker commented from the ground beside him.

Blair managed to pull his shoulders up to the top of the wall and then couldn't go any farther. This just wasn't working. The sergeant was already busy with another cadet. Taking a deep breath, he dropped back down to the ground and went around the obstacle to continue the course. Finishing everything else was a breeze, even the mile run didn't phase him, much. The early morning runs that Jim had dragged him out on were finally paying off.

Loker waited until the last cadet came panting over to the finish where everyone was gathered. "Not too bad a beginning, folks. Everyone managed to avoid breaking any bones. We'll have the qualification runs on Friday. See you tomorrow. Oh, and Mr. Jackson, I'll be looking forward to seeing you beat the course record." The sarcastic tone in Loker's voice made Blair doubt the sincerity of that last statement.

After showering and changing, Blair walked toward the parking lot behind another group of cadets. He couldn't help but hear what they were talking about.

"What's the big thing about the course record anyway? Who cares?"

"I can guarantee you that Jackson cares after Loker's last remark."

"Is Loker the one who holds the record or something? He sure is making a big deal of it."

"No. He doesn't hold it. I found out it belongs to somebody named J. Ellison. He did the course in ten minutes, five seconds, when he went through the academy."

Blair smiled at the information as he headed off to his own vehicle. So his partner had been holding out on him. No, Jim probably didn't even know or care. It was something he'd needed to accomplish, so he'd done it to the best of his ability. And I'll do it too. He unlocked the Volvo and headed home.

One of the few advantages of going to the academy was the fact that class was over at nearly the same time every day. That meant Blair could count on being home before Jim on most days. It also meant that since he got home first, he usually ended up making dinner for both of them. Planning out the menu in his head, he was surprised to find the truck already there as he pulled in.

He climbed a little stiffly out of his car and headed up the stairs to the loft. The rigors of the obstacle course were catching up to him. Opening the door and dropping his gym bag by the couch, he saw Jim doing something in the kitchen. "Hey man, don't tell me you're actually cooking." He walked over, noticing that Jim had already set the table. Leaning over the counter, he sneaked a bite of carrot.

"I thought it was about time I fixed a meal. You've been catching most of them and I'm getting tired of dishpan hands." Jim continued to cut up vegetables to add to the stir-fry. "How did it go today?"

"We had the obstacle course 'explained' to us." Blair drew himself up and deepened his voice to a growl. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the obstacle course. Out here we will test your physical fitness to perform the job. Completing this course within the specified time is a requirement you must pass in order to graduate. This course can make you or break you." Blair presented the little speech with all the military bluster he could manage, drawing a smile from Jim. Switching back to his normal voice he continued. "We did a couple of practice attempts to get a feel for it." He tried to sneak another piece of carrot from the cutting board, but Jim was too fast for him this time and snatched the cutting board out of reach.

"Did you make it over the wall this time?" Jim finished his chopping and dumped everything in the hot wok where it sizzled and released mouth-watering aromas as he stirred it.

"No, and I had plenty of company."

"Told you. That wall has stopped many a cadet."

"I know. I know. Of course, there are also those who did it perfect the first time out." His voice lost a little of its enthusiasm as he went to flop down on the couch.

"Everything else go okay?" Jim's voice floated out from the kitchen as he continued the dinner preparations.

"Yeah, no problems with any of the rest of it. I just got stuck on that stupid wall. I know I have the ability to get over it, I'm just a little short of ...motivation. Maybe I need a crazed serial killer chasing me, that should work real well." The frustration Blair was feeling was evident in his tone of voice.

"Chief, you'll do it. If you want, we can practice it tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? Are you going to skip going into work or something?"

"No. It just so happens I'll be at the academy anyway and, if you want, we can get some extra work in on that wall." Jim spoke casually, as the little comment he'd just dropped was insignificant. "Come and get it." He set the stir-fry out on the counter and uncovered a bowl of rice.

The next few minutes were filled with fixing plates and drinks and settling down at the table. Blair let the moment drag out, lulling Jim into a belief his remark about the academy had gone unnoticed. He let a tone of innocent curiosity infuse his voice. "Why are you going to be out at the academy, Jim?"

Jim winced, knowing he'd been caught. "I have to attend a class to keep an eye on an out-of-town detective who might be involved in some pretty big burglaries." Time for the next distraction. "Want to help?"

"How can I help? They don't exactly give us a lot of free time to ourselves you know and I don't think they'll let me keep missing class."

Jim smiled. "By doing what you always do best, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. With your ability to find trouble, I figure you just have to be in the vicinity and something will happen." He managed to keep a straight face as he delivered the line. The look of bewilderment on Blair's face was worth it. He couldn't help a chuckle that escaped.

"Funny. That's real funny. Did you need help or were you planning on standing around and just watching while I create chaos and upheaval by my very presence?" He couldn't help that things always seemed to happen when he was around, it was a gift...kind of.

Turning serious, Jim continued. "I can keep an eye on our guy easy enough, but if he sees me paying too much attention to him, it could easily spook him. From the way his chief describes him, he's no dummy. He won't pay too much attention to a cadet. They're wandering all over the place out there. All you have to do is the same thing I'm doing, watch him and see what he does. I've even got the perfect way for us to stay in contact with each other." He pushed his plate away and reached for an object clipped onto his belt.

"This is one of those new digital pagers. I can call on my cell phone and send a voice message to you on the pager. It's a new kind of voice recognition software. I talk like I'm making a normal call, and you get the printed version scrolling across the screen. If you miss the beginning, just push repeat and it will scroll across again. No one will think anything of it. There's no regulation against having pagers in class so long as they're silent. What do you think? Want to work with me on this?" He handed the pager over to his partner.

Blair looked at the pager then back at Jim. "That works for you talking to me, but how about when I need to talk to you? You can't use your senses to listen for my voice all day long. You'll have a migraine you'll never forget."

"I won't have to. When you want to talk to me, press the test signal. Trust me, I'll hear it. The guys at the pager place about drove me nuts playing with it when I was in there. It's a high frequency tone. You signal and I'll tune in to you. So be careful what you'll say Chief, Big Brother will be listening." Jim tapped his ear and smiled.

Blair warmed to the plan. "Riiight. This'll be cool. So, what's the whole story?"

While Blair was clearing the dishes and washing up, Jim told him all the information he had on Raymond Dallas and the burglaries. The problem was that suspicion was all they had. There was no solid connection between him and the thefts. While keeping an eye on him at the academy, they had to hope he did something to give himself away. Jim settled down on the couch to watch TV, and Blair was sitting at the kitchen table catching up on his e-mail. Figuring he'd prolonged Jim's anticipation long enough, he said, "You never did tell me, Jim. What kind of class is it you and Dallas are going to?"

Jim shut his eyes, knowing the ribbing would soon begin. Blair had been on him about his driving skills ever since that pursuit of Bentley and Shannon, when Vince Deal had been getting in the middle of things. He had even gone so far as to point out that there were pursuit-driving classes offered at the academy on a regular basis. Jim couldn't put it off any longer, time to face it like a man. "High Speed Pursuit Driving, Chief." Refusing to look at his partner, Jim kept his eyes glued to the screen showing WWF wrestlers fighting over trading cards. What the hell was he watching anyway? Although his eyes may have been directed elsewhere, he swore he could hear the smile begin on Blair's face and grow to epic proportions.

"Driving class, Jim? You're going to take a class on how to handle high speed pursuit driving?" The question was oh, so casual, yet laced with undisguised humor. "That wouldn't by chance be the driving class I 'suggested' you take after the Vince Deal case, is it? Or the one Simon suggested after that pursuit in the airport parking garage?"

"Yes, Einstein, it is. And I'm taking it. Or at least until something happens with the case." Jim couldn't resist adding that last bit hopefully. Taking a class with Sergeant Hoffman was not something he was looking forward to. The man was a fanatic about the care and maintenance of police vehicles and believed wholeheartedly in the idea of defensive driving. Needless to say, he hated Jim Ellison.

"Maybe you'll at least have time to go over 'How to avoid bouncing your partner off the roof' while you're there." Blair spoke in an undertone, knowing Jim was listening.

"I heard that."

"Well, duh, Jim." Blair went back to his e-mail, smiling and thinking of the mileage that he was going to get out of this one.

Act II

Jim and Blair arrived at the academy in separate vehicles. The less that Dallas saw them together, the better.

Blair checked his pager to make sure it was still secured by the ring attached to his belt loop as he headed into his classroom. At least he could be entertained while they plowed through the rest of the penal code.

Jim went down another hall to the in-service classrooms. At the doorway stood Sergeant Hoffman, checking off the attendees. "Ellison. It's about time you showed up."

Jim knew he wasn't late for the class, which meant that Hoffman must have been keeping track of the pursuit he had been in. The day had now officially started to go downhill. "Sergeant. Nice to see you again." He entered the classroom and took a seat near the back of the room where he could watch the other members of the class.

It only took a few more minutes for the rest of the class to arrive and get seated. Raymond Dallas came in a few minutes after Jim and took a seat in the middle of the classroom. As the class settled down, Sergeant Hoffman stood at the lectern and made his opening remarks. "This is High Speed Pursuit Driving for any of you who are lost. The purpose of the class is to acquaint you with some techniques for handling vehicles during high speeds and dangerous conditions. Some of you are driving patrol cars, cars that are regularly abused by their drivers. Some of you are driving your own personal vehicles while on duty, expecting them to perform like armored personnel carriers." Here he shot a look at Jim.

Wait a minute, he can't know about that one. We didn't even put all that happened in the report when those guys were shooting at us. Besides, the truck started up before we could be pushed over the cliff by the 18-wheeler. Or maybe he's thinking of when Quinn's gang shot up the Expedition. Jim gave up trying to speculate on Hoffman's knowledge of his vehicular mishaps. He was here to watch a possible suspect and that was what he was going to concentrate on.

Hoffman hadn't lost a beat, explaining how the course was set up, what they would do each day, and what he expected from them. As the sergeant set up the VCR for the first demonstration they would watch, Jim heard the test tone of the pager followed by Blair sub-vocalizing from his classroom.

"I checked the outline for the class you're in Jim. The first thing they go over is knowing when to yield right-of-way. You know, like for trains, 18-wheelers, things that are bigger than you are. Be sure to note what happens when impact occurs with things like that. Hope you're enjoying your class, we're going over secret VIN numbers and the number of stolen cars in Cascade last year."

Jim smiled at the update. He remembered just how dull some of the classes at the academy could be. To someone as highly educated and intelligent as Blair, it must have seemed like slow torture. He was sticking with it though, no matter what.

At the first break, Dallas went out to the front steps of the building to make a cell call. Jim monitored the conversation from inside, while keeping an eye on him. The conversation didn't make much sense.

Dallas:Go ahead.
Voice:Robert, John G., William C., and Elizabeth.
Voice:203, 110, 411, 130.
Dallas:Clear. TBA. Options?
Voice:Anything else?
Dallas:Not now. Check 1400.

He looked again at what he had written in his notepad. Dallas certainly didn't want anybody knowing his business. Jim may not have thought much of the case before, but the coded message convinced him. Nothing to do now but wait for the next break and see if anything else came to light.

After a presentation on braking and handling techniques, Dallas took advantage of the break to go outside again. Hoping that this time the conversation would make more sense, Jim watched and listened as Dallas prepared to make another call.

As the phone on the other end was ringing, Jim was jolted from his concentration as Sergeant Hoffman came up behind him and bellowed his name.

"Ellison! You are taking notes aren't you? I wouldn't want you to have to repeat the class because you weren't paying attention. Pursuit driving doesn't seem to be a skill you've achieved any success at."

Damn. Whatever had been said was lost now, and Jim's head throbbed from Hoffman's assault on his hearing. Dallas put his phone back in his pocket and headed back into the building. Jim turned to give the sergeant his full attention.

"Yes, I have. I've gone from crashing my vehicle to getting the suspects to crash theirs. Excuse me."

Ignoring the confused look on Hoffman's face, Jim turned and walked away. Deciding to give his partner a shot at deciphering Dallas' message, he phoned in an update to Blair's pager.

Blair jumped when the pager began vibrating at his waist. Clicking the receive button quickly, he read the message that Jim had sent.

Coded messages? Why the cloak and dagger routine? Why couldn't the person calling just leave an ordinary message that would only mean something to Dallas?

Blair timed his soft vocalization to coincide with the speaker's closing remarks. "What kind of code, Jim?"

The reply came quickly over the pager.

"This is cool. Can you send it?"

Blair looked at the pager screen as the series of numbers, numbers and letters displayed.

"Got it." But now that I have it, what do I do with it?

He belatedly realized the speaker was finished and that the class had been given a ten-minute break. Choosing to remain in his seat and study the information on the pager screen, he mentally reviewed what he knew about codes. This one had to be simple by its very nature. There were substitution codes, one letter substituted for another, but they were hard to do in your head. Besides, the names were given out clearly. Then there were reference codes, referring you to a specific word on a specific page in a book, but those always had two numbers. All he had was a single list of numbers. Could the numbers be times something was supposed to happen? No, that didn't make sense either.

Okay, what was left? Nonsense letters. Even if it was a substitution code, there wasn't enough of it to decipher. What else was simple and easy to use? Blair had a sudden flash of memory, the code Napoleon had used to send messages. Nah. It couldn't be that simple? Could it? He hastily applied his theory to the letters, skipping to the next letter in the alphabet for each letter. That didn't work. Or did it? Altering his theory to fit his new idea, he skipped backward a letter. The first group of letters suddenly became a name, Krueger. The second group revealed another name, Packard. Within minutes Blair had successfully deciphered the scrambled letters. Grinning to himself and wishing he could see Jim's face, he pushed the test signal, then spoke softly.

"The letters were actually two names, Krueger and Packard. I'm still working on the other. Anything else I can do for you?" He couldn't resist adding that last in a helpful whisper. Holding the pager, he watched the answer scroll across the small screen.

Blair turned half his attention to learning all about traffic stops as he continued to study the enigmatic names and numbers.

Jim smiled to himself as he sat through another safety film. Not bad, indeed. True, it wasn't much to go on, but it was more than they'd had ten minutes ago. If only Hoffman hadn't come by just as Dallas was making his second call. Whatever the message was, it had been short. Dallas couldn't have been on the line more than a few seconds. Maybe Blair could help him recall whatever it was that Dallas had said in those few seconds. Maybe they could even get lucky and figure out what was going on before he had to spend another day in this infernal class. Why couldn't Dallas have signed up for Crime Scene Investigation or even Unarmed Defensive Tactics? Anything but Pursuit Driving with Sergeant H. Hoffman.

Jim had been ordered several years ago by Simon to take the course. A high speed car chase, though the middle of downtown, at the height of rush hour, causing three traffic accidents and totaling four cars -- including the suspect's car -- had convinced the new captain of Major Crimes that his detective needed remedial driving training. Unfortunately Sergeant H. Hoffman taught the training then just as now.

Sergeant Hoffman hadn't improved over the first time Jim had met him. He seemed to be more concerned with not damaging the vehicle than catching a suspect. Jim's approach of just doing whatever was necessary to make the collar grated on the sergeant's sensibilities. Hoffman had made Jim run through the course time after time after time. If he went over the sergeant's speed restrictions of 45 M.P.H. the run was disqualified. If he went too slow, he didn't finish on time. It had taken nine and a half-hours before Hoffman had been satisfied. Hoffman hadn't liked his attitude in class any better. Jim had barely managed to pass the class, and had avoided any contact with Hoffman since. He only hoped Dallas did something -- hell, did anything -- which could justify him getting out of this class.

After calling Simon to pass on the two names Blair had deciphered, time moved very slowly. Dallas made a few more innocuous calls -- to his mechanic, a credit card company, and a restaurant to make a dinner reservation.

Blair followed the Walden detective to lunch at a nearby cafÈ. Eating his sandwich out in the Volvo, Blair went over the files of the Walden burglaries Jim had left for him before returning to class.

Four hours later, it seemed the Fates had decided to give him a break. Dallas finally made a call that could be the break they needed. He made an appointment to meet someone at the Galleria mall at 7 p.m. that evening. As Jim contemplated an early end to his sentence with Hoffman, his hearing picked up the high pitched test tone and the unmistakable sound of Blair humming Black Magic Woman under his breath.

"Do I have your attention yet?" Jim could almost see the smile that had to be decorating Blair's face.

"I really hope I do, because I have just cracked your little puzzle for you. Not that it was all that hard mind you. More like it just required a certain touch. You might even say it required a literary touch. Oh, don't worry about me sitting in class talking to myself. We're fixing to do self-defense and everyone is getting changed. Let's see, if I remember the schedule for your class, you should be on the new innovations in police pursuit vehicles. Hey, we had that lecture last week. I never really thought of the Chevrolet Tahoe as a pursuit vehicle, but who knows? I like the Jeep Cherokee the department has now, but it can't match the Tahoe in acceleration."

Jim's jaw twitched. He knew Sandburg was doing this on purpose, knowing he couldn't interrupt because using the voice recognition software required slow, clear enunciation. It wasn't conducive to impatient epithets.

"Jim, quit grinding your teeth man. It's not good for you. I guess you're not too interested in this line of thought just now, are you? Okay, I won't keep you in suspense any longer. Besides, I have to go join the class. Remember I wanted to look at those reports of the burglaries? I noticed the street names were literary figures. One of the burglaries occurred on Longfellow, another on Thoreau, and another one on Holmes. Well the names are the first names of poets. Robert is Robert Burns. John G. is John Greenleaf Whittier. William C. is William Cullen Bryant. Elizabeth is Elizabeth Barrett Browning. All the numbers for the addresses are low numbers, apparently they don't have long streets there. If you check I'll bet you find that those are addresses for possible burglaries. Gotta go, man. Time to get physical."

Blair had done it. He had to be right. Yes! If tonight revealed the fence Dallas was using, Jim would be out of the class by tomorrow. Cheered by this possibility of an early reprieve, he actually paid attention to the last lecture of the day.

Joining forces after class, Jim and Blair now followed Dallas as he headed toward the mall. Simon had checked with Chief Walker, who had verified that the street names and house numbers had checked out as legitimate residences. They still needed more to tie Dallas in with the actual burglaries. If they were lucky, the meeting tonight would do that for them.

Jim looked over at his twitching partner. "You ready for this?"

"Yeah. I mean how hard can it be? Just follow him and see where he goes and who he meets. I'll do the Tonto - goes - to - town -- and - gets -- the -- information routine. You're the one who will scare him off if he sees you. You stay out of sight and in the truck, and I do the following. Simple, right? Besides, you'll have your ears on."

"On you, maybe. There's no way I'll be able to listen for Dallas with the lousy acoustics and background noise around here. Just don't get carried away, Tonto. Don't blow your cover. This guy is a cop, and he's going to be real suspicious if something looks funny to him."

"Are you saying I look funny?"

Jim reviewed Blair's attire for the surveillance. He had donned a pair of faded jeans, a T-shirt with the name of some band Jim had never heard of, and an Army surplus jacket at least a size too large. His hair, out of the tight braid he wore it in for class, was even curlier than normal. He had even managed to snag Jim's Jags cap to top off his ensemble.

"I'm not quite sure what you look like, but it isn't a cop, and that's what we want. Heads up, we're here."

Dallas looked for a parking spot close in, while Jim headed toward the back of the lot. The variety of items available in the small, eclectic mall was amazing. A custom tobacconist rubbed doorways with an art gallery. A couturier was next to a handmade quilt shop.

"Remember to keep me informed on where..." Jim would have continued with his sentence, but he had lost his audience. He waited as his partner dug through his backpack.

Blair finally emerged triumphant with his sought after prize, his CD player and headphones. "Got it."

"Sandburg, I don't think you're going to have time to get bored in there."

Blair gave Jim his 'Man, you're just not getting it' look. "I need to stay in contact with you right? To do that, I have to talk to you. Now what are people going to think if they see me talking to myself while walking through the mall?"

Jim finally saw where this was going. "They'd think you need professional help." At Blair's glare, he continued. "Okay, okay, it makes sense. If you've got the headphones on, anyone who sees you will think you're singing along with the music."

Blair put the headphones on and tucked the connection into his backpack. Dallas had found a slot near the main entrance while Jim parked the truck beside a conveniently placed van, out of sight.

"Be careful."

"Yes, Kimo Sabe." Blair gave Jim a quick smile, jumped out of the truck, and followed Dallas into the mall.

As Jim watched Blair vanish from sight, he thought about all those times he had told Blair to wait in the truck while he went off alone, never thinking about how it felt to be the one left behind. One of Sandburg's vindictive gods was probably chuckling about turning the tables on him now. As Sandburg would say, it really sucked not being in on the action.

Jim groused as he tuned his hearing into his Guide's heartbeat, a sound so familiar to him, he could pick it out of the crowd and reverberating noise inside the mall. "I really hate waiting in the truck."

Blair maintained a respectful distance behind Dallas as he followed his quarry. Knowing Jim was probably ticked at being left out of the action, he began a monologue.

"Dallas must know where he's going to meet this guy. He's not wasting any time looking around."

Thinking that the bar and restaurant were two good possibilities for a meeting, he angled over to that side. Dallas walked right by without even a pause.

"Scratch the bar and restaurant for locations. He's headed toward the east end." Suddenly unsure of which way was east, he corrected himself. "I mean the end of the mall towards Heritage Street." There he couldn't get that wrong. "And don't smile man. I can hear you smiling."

Looking at the shops that were clustered at that end of the mall, he suddenly realized where Dallas had to be heading. "You're not going to believe this, Jim. He's headed right for Arthur Fitzroy, Estate Jeweler."

Blair watched as Dallas went past the security guard at the door to the young woman behind the counter. Dallas waited impatiently until she left the elderly ladies she was helping and approached him. He spoke with her for a moment before she disappeared around the corner into a private room. A few minutes later, he was greeted by a distinguished looking older man and escorted back to the private room. The young lady returned to the counter.

"He's inside. I'm going in to see if I can pick up anything." Knowing the response this was sure to get out of Jim, Blair checked the pager he was still wearing to make sure it was still in silent mode. Then he opened the door to the shop and went inside.

He gave the young saleswoman a smile as he entered and went to the first display case. She returned the smile, but the security guard surreptitiously edged closer. He felt the pager begin vibrating. Trying to appear nonchalant about it, he glanced down at the pager's screen.

Blair was a little surprised it wasn't a flat prohibition from Jim, so he softly hummed a few bars of the William Tell overture as he edged toward the private room. He could just make out the voices.

"Some of these are very nice. Would you like me to give you individual prices or a price for the lot?" The man that Blair had taken for Fitzroy was saying.

"Both ways. I like to keep my options open. You understand."

"Of course, of course. Well, let's see what you have here."

So intent on eavesdropping he was startled by a presence directly in front of him. "Is there anything in particular I can show you, sir?"

"I was interested in..." Frantically he looked for something in the display case in front of him. His eyes lit on a small selection of carved jade animals. "Yes, those miniature jade carvings."

"Those are very nice. Let me get them out for you." She unlocked the case and withdrew a jade pig, frog and bear.

This was not easy, trying to monitor what was happening in the private room and carrying on an intelligent conversation with the young lady so she wouldn't get suspicious.

Years of study came to his rescue. "You know the ancient Mayan culture revered jade as the sovereign stone of harmony. They used it to bring balance between the spiritual and physical self and to transform negativity into positive energy. It was also known to improve one's memory of dreams and assist in dream healing by releasing suppressed emotions via the dream process."

The saleswoman looked impressed. "You're quite knowledgeable about them. Most people only see a carved stone and want to know how valuable it is. These were part of a private collection of a retired archaeologist. The family sold everything. We only ended up with these carvings because they were included with some uncut precious stones he had. There are several more carvings, but frankly we just haven't had enough interest in them to display the whole lot."

Fitzroy was still examining the stones Dallas had brought, so Blair stalled for time.

"Would it be possible to see the other carvings. Fetishes are a pet interest of mine." That hadn't come out well. He could practically hear Jim's chortle all the way from the truck. Blushing, he turned on the charm. "Carved animals, I mean." He gazed earnestly at her.

"Well... I would have to get them out of the vault."


"All right, it will take a few minutes." She turned and went toward the back of the shop.

Blair glanced over at the security guard, which had apparently accepted his presence as legitimate and returned to his position at the door. Staring at the little jade animals, he focused in on the disembodied voices.

"Altogether, I would say that these stones should bring about $150,000."

"Cutting yourself a big profit there, aren't you, Fitzroy?"

"I'm the buyer. I can afford to. You don't like my offer, you don't have to deal with me."

"I may have some additional merchandise soon. A very special stone. An emerald."

"Emeralds are nice, but not that special."

"This one is. About 15 carats, surrounded by diamonds, in a platinum setting."

"That does make things interesting. Are you still looking for a package deal?"

"I don't like to do things piecemeal."

"Provided the stone is as you say, I will increase my offer for the whole lot to $500,000."

"That's more like it. Why don't we get together...."

The voices dropped too low for him to hear, and Blair glanced toward the room to see the young saleswoman returning with the carvings.

"Here we go. This one is my favorite." She held up a dolphin for him to see.

Blair glanced at the dolphin, but his attention was drawn to two animals by themselves in a corner of the velvet lined tray. There was no mistaking the shapes. A three-inch long wolf stood alongside a four-inch long panther. Forgetting for the moment all about Dallas and burglaries, Blair focused on the two animals.

"What about those two?" His hand was drawn toward the two carved figures. Carefully he picked them up. They felt warm in his hand, not like cold, lifeless stone.

"The wolf is angelite. You don't see much of that. I had to have Mr. Fitzroy identify it for me. I'd never heard of it. It's a beautiful color, isn't it?"

White streaks zigzagged across the deep storm cloud blue color of the carving. It reminded Blair of the night sky during a thunderstorm. "It's a symbol of the communication of light to the world. It is said to polarize and align the physical body with the ethereal or dream body and to enhance the thought process. Psychics have used it as a way of accessing the mind's intuitive abilities."

"Are you a gemologist?" She had a confused look on her face, as if afraid she might have been condescending towards him.

"Not at all, I have an interest in shamanistic studies and the tools they use in their practices."

Picking up the carved panther, she handed it to Blair. "What can you tell me about this one?"

The panther was a glossy black enhanced by flecks of gold within that caught and reflected the lights shining down on the display case. "It looks like what's commonly called 'Apache Gold', a combination of steatite and pyrite. The native Indians in Mexico have used it in shamanistic journeys and ceremonial magic. They believe it can ease and release pain, loss, sadness, anger and help the individual heal. It's used to look within and for protection during a vision quest. It's also supposed to increase the bio-magnetic forces in the body. How am I doing?"

"Much better than I did. I had never heard of 'Apache Gold', just fool's gold. Is there anything else you'd like to see?"

"Could you tell me how much the wolf and panther are? I'm interested in those two."

"I'll have to ask Mr. Fitzroy. Give me just a minute, he's with a client."

Blair cringed inside. He was supposed to be listening to the conversation between Fitzroy and Dallas, not shopping. Jim was going to be so mad. His first solo tailing assignment, and he'd already screwed up. He'd been so distracted by the carvings, he'd lost track of the conversation. Now he had no idea when they were supposed to be meeting again. As she picked up the two carvings, Fitzroy and Dallas came around the corner.

"Monday at 7, then?" Fitzroy was asking.

"All right." Dallas hardly even glanced at Blair as he exited the shop and headed back down the mall.

Blair released the breath he'd been holding. Sometimes, good police work was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Fitzroy spoke to him. "I said $125.00 for the two. Do you want them?"

Blair swallowed as he mentally considered the contents of his wallet. There was always his emergency reserve $100.00 bill, but did he have enough to cover the rest? Payday wasn't until Friday. Quickly reviewing his expenditures since he'd last been to the bank, he came to the conclusion that he had enough. Of course, he wouldn't be eating out any more this week, but this was more important.

"Yes, I'll take them. I have a feeling they're going to be a help to me."

Completing his transaction and placing his wrapped purchases carefully in his pocket, Blair left the store and headed for the nearest exit.

"Jim you aren't going to believe this. We got what we need and I'm heading for the truck. Pick me up at the exit on this end."

Blair came out the exit to find the truck practically idling in his face. Apparently, Jim had moved in to be as close as possible in case something went wrong. Guess I should have expected that. Jumping in, he immediately launched into his explanation before Jim could open his mouth.

"Oh man, it was so cool. Everything worked like a charm. I was able to hear everything, well, practically everything, they said, and they never even noticed I was there. I mean they noticed me all right, but they didn't, you know?"

Before Blair could launch his next sentence, Jim interrupted, "Breathe. You're easier to understand when your mouth is running at less than Mach 1."

Taking a breath and letting it out, he tried again. "The next meeting is Monday at 7 p.m. Dallas brought a variety of gemstones here today to get a preliminary appraisal. Fitzroy's first offer was on the low side as far as Dallas was concerned, only 150k. Dallas then got his attention by talking about an emerald he would be acquiring soon. He described the emerald as 15 carats, surrounded by diamonds, in a platinum setting. That got Fitzroy's attention big time. All of a sudden the offer jumps up to half a million. Dallas liked that number better, and they agreed to another meet. How did I do?"

Jim listened to Blair's summary with growing pride. On his own he'd managed to find out everything they'd hoped to learn. "Pretty damn good, Chief. Pretty damn good. We'll check with Chief Walker and see if he knows about this emerald. If it's as flashy as you've described, the odds are he'll remember who's been wearing it. Combine that with the addresses you figured out, and we should know where the next burglary will be. Looks like this one's a slam dunk."

"You wouldn't be saying that because you want to get out of the Pursuit Driving class would you, Jim?" Blair kept a very neutral expression on his face as he looked over at his partner.

"No. I'm not having a problem with the class." Jim knew his jaw was tightening, but there was very little he could do about it. Just the thought of having to put up with Hoffman for another two days was about to send him up a wall. He concentrated on his driving while running though possible answers in his head.

"Since this case was the only reason I was in the class to begin with, with the case over, there's not much reason to stay. It's not like I have to take it or anything." There, that sounded reasonable and calm, if maybe a bit defensive.

Blair wasn't buying any of it. "Don't even try, man. You have absolutely no talent for obfuscation. Haven't you learned anything from me? Admit it, you hate the class and can't wait to get out of it. And you can let up on choking the life out of the steering wheel. What's the big deal anyway?"

Jim consciously released his grip and quit picturing Hoffman as being the wheel as he tried to come up with an answer that didn't sound as stupid as he felt about the whole thing. "Hoffman and I have never seen eye to eye. We didn't like each other when I went through the academy, and we really learned to dislike each other the last time I had to take this same class with him."

"What happened?"

"When I went through the academy, Hoffman wasn't in charge of the driving program. He was simply another one of the instructors. He had designed a driving test that required precise speed changes in order to complete the maneuvers without losing points. The restrictions he had laid out had no purpose except to make it harder to drive the course. I blew off his restrictions and drove the course without a fault. Hoffman was livid. The sergeant in charge at the time ignored him and went ahead and passed me. That was the beginning."

"Doesn't sound like things improved from there."

"No, things went straight downhill. Simon sent me to the specialized Pursuit Driving class after a rather high profile chase I was involved in. Hoffman was the sergeant in charge then, and he never let me forget it. He had designed another one of his ridiculous time and speed courses. He had me go last, and he kept me on that silly road rally course for nine and a half-hours. And now I'm back again." He parked the truck at the loft and headed upstairs without another word.

Blair was quiet as he digested the information. He felt guilty for teasing Jim about the course. From his years in academia, he remembered what it could be like having to take a class from an arrogant jerk. For someone like Jim, who had very little patience with officious idiots, it must have seemed like a form of purgatory. Taking pity on his roommate, Blair hastened to catch up.

"Tell you what, since you did so well at staying in the truck today, I'll make dinner. What ever you want. You take some aspirin for that headache I know you have from monitoring me and lie down."

"Whatever I want?" Jim was definitely perking up a little.

"Within reason. I'm limited by what's in the kitchen."

"Hamburger and French fries."

Blair scowled. "Oh Jim, that isn't good for you. How about some lasagna?"

"You said whatever I want." Jim was not above taking advantage of Blair's offer. Besides, he did have a headache from focusing so tightly this evening.

"You're right. I'll make you a hamburger and French fries." Blair headed directly for the kitchen as Jim headed upstairs. That's right, one garden burger on a whole-wheat bun. Wonder what I can do with French fries.

Twenty minutes later the 'hamburgers and French fries' were ready. Or at least Blair's version was ready.

"It's on the table." He wasted no time sitting down and digging in. Undercover work was good for his appetite.

"This doesn't smell like hamburgers and French fries to me, Sandburg." Jim sniffed the air like a hunting dog looking for a promised bone as he sat down.

"It looks like it though, doesn't it?"

"I want to eat it, not look at it. What is this?" He poked at the food with his finger.

"This is garden burger, 98% fat free, and totally meatless. This is --"

"A hamburger cannot be totally meatless. That's un-American."

"No, it's healthy for you. A delicious whole-wheat bun surrounds your 'hamburger'. High in fiber and no cholesterol. I've also made you garlic baked fries. Garlic is a natural supplement, which aids -- "

"Okay, I don't need a complete history. I'll eat it." Jim reached for one of the fries and chanced a small bite.

Blair concentrated on his own meal while watching Jim out of the corner of his eye. The food seemed to be disappearing in spite of Jim's initial misgivings. He couldn't resist the grin that appeared on his face as he ducked down to peek under the table.

Jim's radar about his moods was working just fine. "Don't even say it."

"I wasn't going to say anything." He tried to sound innocent, but it was impossible. "I was just checking to see if there was a dog under the table you were feeding."

"Ha ha. By the way, are there any of those burgers left?"

"Sure, Jim. I made an extra in case company dropped by."

"No reason to waste food. I guess I'll have to eat it. They probably don't reheat well, not being real meat." Jim got up from the table and headed into the kitchen to glom onto the second burger and the rest of the garlic fries.

"Good thing this is a low-fat, low calorie meal." Blair finished off the beer he had with his meal.

Jim gave him Ellison look #12, the 'I'm-ignoring-what-you-said-and-you-should-be-happy-that-I-am' glare as he continued to eliminate the possibility of any leftovers.

Blair listened to Jim doing the dishes in the kitchen. While channel surfing for something interesting to watch, he pulled the package from his pocket, unwrapped it, and set the two carved figures on the coffee table. He was startled out of his contemplation when Jim sat down on the couch beside him.

"Are those the two carvings I heard you talking about in the shop?"

"Yeah. It felt as if they were there for me to find. I mean, they probably wouldn't have seen the light of day if I hadn't asked to see the rest of the collection. And they were together, separate from the rest. It was kinda spooky." He looked over at Jim to see how he was taking this.

Jim continued to stare at the figures. Wondering why he was making no effort to pick one of the carved stone figures up, Blair nudged the panther closer to him.

The panther appeared to draw Jim's hand closer. The long fingers closed around the glossy surface and lifted it.

"How does it feel, Jim?" Blair kept his voice quiet, not wanting to break the spell.

"It's warm, not cool like you'd think stone should be. It feels like it has an...energy to it." Jim's expression was one of wonder.

Finding out anything else Jim might have felt about the carving would have to wait. He handed the small statute to Blair as he headed for the door, "Simon's coming."

Blair cursed silently. Sometimes, Simon's timing really sucked. He picked up the two figures and headed for his room. I'm not leaving these out here. He'd see them and then I'd probably get a lecture on improper undercover behavior. Wouldn't you know it, just as we were getting somewhere... Placing the carvings carefully on his desk, he gave each a caress before going back into the living room.

Simon was already waiting at the door when Jim opened it. "Early warning system on the fritz?" He walked in and proceeded to make himself comfortable on the couch.

"No. Preoccupied. Did you find out anything from Walker about the emerald?" Jim shut the door and headed for the kitchen. "Want some coffee?

"Sure. Ben said to tell you he's never seen or heard of anything like that."

Blair settled himself on the couch and picked up the file Simon had brought in. "What about the checks he was running on the people who live at the addresses we figured out. Anything there?"

"All of them had security surveys done on their homes. But then again, almost everybody in Walden has had them. There's no paper trail there. The PD doesn't have a copy of the survey. Supposedly all the paperwork is given to the homeowner. We don't even know who from the PD might have gone into the homes."

"Supposedly?" Jim chimed in from the kitchen where the coffee was finishing.

"Yeah, supposedly. You'd think there would be some kind of records kept, but if they existed, they're gone now."

Blair accepted the cup that Jim offered. "Wouldn't the security survey be like a blueprint for a thief to follow?"

Handing a cup to Simon, Jim sat down. "It would be perfect, Chief. You'd know what kind of alarms and where they were, what kind of safe the place had. There isn't anywhere that can be made secure with inside information like that."

"Which is another reason Ben doesn't want to come right out and ask these folks about emeralds and which officer checked the security of their homes. If a rumor got out that those evaluations are being used by a group of thieves to set up burglaries, there would be a riot."

"A tasteful and socially acceptable riot, no doubt," Blair added.

"Jim, I want you to stay on Dallas. See if you can find out where this burglary is going to take place. Did you turn up anything at the mall meet?"

"I didn't, but Blair did."

"Blair? What's he doing on this, I thought he was in class?"

"I brought him in. Everyone wanted this to be low key and kept saying how smart Dallas was. I needed the help and Blair obliged."

Jim's expression was neutral, but Blair caught the glint in his partner's eye. Oh-ho, so my assistance was a Jim-thing and he didn't approve it with Simon first.

Simon sat forward on the couch and looked at Blair as if the concept of Blair being low key was unimaginable.

Blair tried to sound nonchalant, as if going undercover was no big deal. "It wasn't much. I followed Dallas to an estate jeweler in Galleria Mall. He showed the owner some loose gemstones and received an estimate for them. They are supposed to meet again on Monday at 7 p.m."

After he was finished he resisted the urge to wipe his palms on his jeans as he waited for Simon's reaction.

Simon looked at Blair and then back to Jim, who gave him no reaction.

"Sandburg followed him all on his own?"

Jim nodded and continued to drink his coffee.

"And you weren't right behind him?"

Jim shook his head and took another sip of coffee.

Seeing he wasn't getting anywhere with Jim, he switched to Blair.

"You thought this up all on your own?"

"No, Jim thought it up. I did it."

"Where was Jim all this time?" Thinking he had finally asked the right question, Simon leaned back against the cushions.

Blair managed to keep a straight face. "I told him to stay in the truck."

Simon's reaction was entertaining. He had just taken a sip of his coffee when Blair's words registered. He choked, spewing the coffee all over the place. Blair jumped up to pat him on the back, while Jim went to the kitchen for a dishtowel.

"You (cough) told him (cough) to stay in the truck?" Simon finally managed to get out after accepting the dishtowel from Jim and dabbing at the coffee stains on his shirt.

"Sure. I mean, if Dallas recognized him, it could blow the whole thing. Right?" Blair curled back onto the couch.

Simon didn't even bother with trying to answer. He had a burning question of his own. "Yeah, but did he stay in the truck?"

Blair's expression was guileless. "Of course he did. I told him to."

Simon looked at Jim who had a virtuous expression one might expect to see on an altar boy, not on an ex-covert ops Army Ranger. Throwing in the towel - literally -- he tossed the dishrag down and got up to leave.

"I'm going to leave the Sandburg Zone now. Obviously too much exposure can have a deleterious affect on the mind. I need to go deal with something easily comprehensible, like nuclear physics. Jim, you...and Blair...stay on Dallas. See what else you can turn up about the next burglary." Muttering about Sentinels and Guides that were trying to drive him crazy, Simon let himself out.

As soon as the door closed, they looked at each other and broke into laughter.

"Did you see his face when I told him you stayed in the truck? Now I know what they mean when they say someone's jaw dropped. I think he left out of self-defense. Poor Simon, he's going to need long term therapy if we keep this up."

"We wouldn't want life to get too boring for him now, would we."

"Boring? Around us? Some how I don't think that's going to happen."


Bright and early the next morning, they returned to the academy. Blair's schedule offered relief from the tedium of being read aloud to, today they were going to be working outside at the 'back lot' on various stop, search, and arrest scenarios. The 'back lot' offered a variety of simulated locations: a city street, a residence, a warehouse, and an open field. The cadets weren't told what to expect when they made the stop. It could be anything from dealing with a pissed off member of the public to a suspect with felony warrants outstanding. All of the stops were videotaped so they could be studied later in the classroom. Weapons were paint guns that doused the recipient with bright blue paint when you were hit. The 'suspects' were staff at the academy or members of their families. It was a relatively safe way for the cadets to gain some valuable experience in what to expect when out on the streets. The cadets not participating in the actual stop were able to watch and hear everything going on by way of monitors. Blair enjoyed participating in the scenarios. They were real eye-openers for some of the cadets. The blue paint washed off, as he'd already learned from rueful first hand experience.

Blair watched Jim's class relocate to the test track, a quarter-mile south of the 'back lot.' According to the outline for the driving class, today they would be doing simulated mechanical failures. Since the 'failures' were remote activated, no cell phones were allowed near the test track. For Dallas to make a call, he would have to go back inside the building, which Blair could observe from where he was. What he'd do if Dallas started making a call, with Jim out on the track, he didn't know, but he'd always been good at improvisation.

Terrance Jackson, III, was going through his first scenario of the day. Blair hoped he didn't get an easy one, like stopping a Chinese driver who only spoke Mandarin. He smiled as he remembered the befuddled cadet who hadn't had a clue what to do in order to communicate. Sergeant Hewlett had let that one run for ten minutes before giving the cadet a break. When comments were solicited, Blair had suggested the Language Department at Rainier, where several professors were fluent in various dialects of the language. The sergeant had appreciated the idea, but he'd also heard Jackson's comment that if they couldn't speak the language, they shouldn't be allowed to drive.

Jackson made the actual stop flawlessly, positioning his patrol car where it needed to be to offer him the most protection. There were two young males in the car, and Jackson was notified on his radio that the vehicle had been reported stolen an hour before. Without getting any further information from dispatch, Jackson had ordered both the occupants out of the vehicle and face down onto the ground. The 'suspects' had objected saying the car was not stolen, but Jackson had refused to listen and ordered them to shut up. After handcuffing one of the young men, he had turned to secure the other. The unsecured 'suspect' had started to rise from the ground without being told to and Jackson had tackled him down, placing a knee on his neck to hold him as he roughly handcuffed him. Jackson had finished and then drew his gun aiming it at the two secured suspects, waiting for backup to arrive.

Most of the other cadets found no fault with Jackson's actions, but the sergeant wasn't so approving. The information Jackson hadn't bothered to get was that the car had been reported stolen by the first suspect's mother. She had not realized her son had taken the car. A real life example not that uncommon on the streets. While everything Jackson had done was strictly within acceptable techniques, the sergeant reserved any praise for his handling of the stop.

Jackson duly noted the lack of appreciation and he returned to his little group of followers to bemoan the 'kinder-gentler'treatment of suspects in the modern police force. Blair couldn't help but wonder what Jackson was going to be like on the street if he was like this in the academy. Instead of taking advantage of the years of experience shared by the instructors, Jackson always thought he knew best how to handle a situation.

"This place is run by a bunch of old men. Everyone is more concerned with play-it-safe rules and regulations rather then getting the job done. Getting the perps off the streets is what's important, not babying a bunch of criminals. Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. How long do you think it's been since any of these guys have been on the streets? Well, I can tell you, they haven't been there in a long time. I checked. Most of these guys have been here for years. Teaching. They don't have any idea of what it's really like. And they don't like it when someone can run rings around them and their silly rules."

Blair moved away so he wouldn't have to listen to any more of Jackson's rhetoric when he noticed Sergeant Loker standing a short distance away. Why would Loker be watching the scenarios? He didn't remember Loker ever watching any of them before. He always maintained a polite, but definite distance between himself and the cadets. Loker stood there a few minutes more before heading off.

"Sandburg. Anderson. You're a two-officer unit. Get ready."

Blair buckled himself into the driver's seat of the patrol car as his partner buckled in next to him. It was hard to think of Amanda Anderson as his 'partner,' that word just didn't seem to fit anyone but Jim.

The handheld crackled to life. "Unit 1. Code 2. 609 there now. 1212 Mockingbird Lane. Reporting party at location."

Anderson acknowledged the call on her radio. "Unit 1, responding. ETA 1 minute."

Blair drove the 60 feet to the 'residence' as Anderson advised dispatch. "Unit 1 at scene. The front door is ajar. We are going in. Roll backup."

As they approached the house, Blair flashed back to the first time he had gone through a similar scene. It had been Susan Fraser's apartment then, and they had found her lifeless body in the bathtub. Shaking off the bad memory to concentrate on the here and now, he drew his gun and cautiously approached the door. He realized was sweating and took a minute to get himself in hand. I am not going to freak. This is just make believe. There is not a dead body in there in a bathtub.

His partner was looking at him curiously as she waited for him to signal he was ready to go in. Taking a deep breath and nodding at her, he pushed the door open with his foot, holding his gun in the ready position. She followed, covering his back. Entering the living room he called out, "Police. Anybody here?"

No answer. That meant a search of the two-room house. Great, and I'm going to be the one opening doors. There better not be someone hiding in the closet.

Blair cautiously checked the small closet next to the door. His partner moved quickly to keep him covered. It was nice to know if the bogeyman did jump out of the closet and get him, his partner was ready. I just hope she hits the bad guy and not me.

Throwing the door open, Blair stood aside to give his partner a clear field of view. Nothing. Okay, nowhere else to hide in here. Time to go to the bedroom.

Leading the way, Blair eased into the small bedroom. Feeling almost foolish, he carefully lifted up the bedspread to look under the bed. Clear. Anderson smiled at him, only one more door to open. If the "suspect" was still here, he had to be behind the bathroom door. Why did it have to be the bathroom door? Why couldn't he be under the bed or something?

Trying to listen as hard as he could, Blair approached the last door. Anderson got into position again. Throwing the door open so hard it almost slammed back shut, Blair held it open as he checked the room. Nothing. All that energy spent and no criminal to find, what a gyp. As Anderson holstered her weapon and walked towards the front door, Blair glanced at the tiny kitchen area. No, they wouldn't do that, would they? That would be so sneaky.

Blair motioned for Anderson to join him. She had a puzzled look on her face as she looked where he was pointing. One of the cabinet doors was not quite shut.

Nodding at Blair, she announced, "Let's go. No one is here."

"All that effort for nothing."

Both of them took positions on either side of the tiny kitchen and waited. After a few moments, the cabinet door opened a crack and a person began crawling out.

"Freeze. Cascade PD," both called out in unison.

The "suspect" was caught half in and half out of the cabinet and peacefully surrendered to the two cadets. Walking out to the patrol car with their "suspect" handcuffed, the sergeant met them at the door of the patrol car.

"Great job. How did you know?"

Anderson shrugged and looked at Blair. "It was Blair. He knew the guy was there."

"Charles Manson once tried to hide from the cops during a raid on the Family's hangout by hiding in a kitchen cabinet. I noticed one of the doors was ajar and thought it worth a look."

"That's real good observation, son. Keep it up and you'll keep yourself and your partner alive out there."

Blair smiled. That's the whole point, man. That's the whole point.

Jim's day was going swimmingly. The morning was almost over and he still hadn't been behind the wheel of the test car. Hoffman was being his normal, infuriating self and he was taking everyone in the class before him. At the rate this was going, Jim would still be waiting to drive at 8 o'clock tonight.

Still, Jim had to admit the track set-up was professional. The test car was rigged to simulate a blowout, a brake failure, or all four wheels locking up - all controlled by radio command. A skid pad was also available and could be flooded with water by way of a sprinkler system so that both wet and dry roadway conditions could be imitated. Numerous warning signs prohibited cell phone use in the area because of the danger of interference with the radio controlled test car.

In wasn't only the course though that drew Jim's attention. It was one of Cascade PD's Chevrolet Camaro pursuit vehicles. Officers had to go through a special training class like this one before being approved to drive the vehicle. It had a 350 cubic-inch V-8 with a fuel injection system that could go from 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds, pass 100 in 13.5 seconds, and 140 in less than a mile. With the classic Caprice gone and Ford no longer offering the restyled Mustang for police work, there was no other police vehicle in the same league with the Camaro. Jim could admire it, but he wouldn't want to own one. Crawling into and out of the low slung Camaro all day long would be a real nuisance and the back seat was a joke. He would take his loyal truck, and its corresponding lower insurance rates, any day.


Jim looked around to see Sergeant Loker standing nearby. "Loker. Don't you have any cadets to run ragged right now?"

"Never fear. I have an unending supply of them. But this is something different. Let's have a talk."


"I have a proposition for you..."

Hoffman was busily grading the latest effort to control the test car in a skid on wet pavement when Loker approached him.

"I need to borrow one of your students for a scenario. I'll send him back to you after lunch. Any problem with that?"

Hoffman huffed, "The students are supposed to be here for all of the training. Not just when they're in the vehicle."

"And you can excuse one to participate in another training session if you want to."

"Why is this student so important? Go get somebody out of the break room for the silly scenario. The rookies won't know any difference."

Loker's patience frayed when he heard Hoffman's casual dismissal. "It's important because I say it's important. And I want this student. Now can I have Ellison or do I go get the captain?"

The driving instructor bristled. "Ellison, Ellison. What is he, some kind of Golden Boy? He managed to get in this class after registration had closed, and now you want to have him to run a scenario. Well, he'll have to make up the time he misses, I'm not giving him credit for being in class when he's over playing with the nursery school. Sure, take him. He doesn't pay any attention when he's here anyway."

Loker returned to the 'back lot' and gave Hewlett a brief nod before taking a position out of the way. Hewlett acknowledged the gesture with a nod and a grin of anticipation as he called out the next name.

"Okay we've got time for one more scenario before lunch. Jackson. You're up."

Jackson insolently went over to the patrol car. Sergeant Hewlett outlined the mock situation.

"Dispatch has advised you of an APB out on a suspect. He's wanted in connection with a murder. His description is a white male, 6 foot, 180 pounds, brown hair, and blue eyes. Got it?"

Jackson didn't make much of an effort to hide his disdain. "Yeah, I got it. Am I supposed to take care not to hurt him?"

"This is a felony suspect. Do whatever you think you need to do, within the law."

"No problem." Jackson got into the car and proceeded to the city street location.

"No problem, huh? We'll see about that." Hewlett smiled as he started the video cameras.

Blair was only partly listening as Jackson began his second scenario of the day. When the title, Suspect Identification and Apprehension had flashed across the bottom of the screen, his only thought was to hope they used a bigger "suspect" for Jackson to apprehend. He had been a little rough with the two teenage sons of one of the academy secretaries during his first mock arrest. He heard Hewlett giving the description of the wanted "suspect", and the moment blue eyes were mentioned, his attention snapped to the monitors.

It couldn't be, could it? Oh, this could be good, really good.

Jackson cruised down the mock city street looking for his perp. There were several people walking along the sidewalks, but most he dismissed immediately as being either too short or too fat. There, that had to be the one. The older guy with the brush cut leaning against the inside of the doorway. Jackson had a move to wake him up. He gunned the car, aiming the car to cut off the suspect's best escape route.

Jim couldn't believe the stupid move Jackson was making. Is he trying to catch me or run me down? Waiting till the last moment, he stepped back into the doorway as the patrol car slid past him and into a nearby dumpster. Shaking his head at the cadet's actions, he walked quickly across the street and entered the first building.

Jackson came fuming out of the patrol car. That was a great way to start off. Okay, so he missed a little on the sliding stop. It was still a good move. He looked over to where his 'suspect' had ducked out of sight. The market. Drawing his weapon, he went in search of his target.

Blair was really starting to enjoy himself. He wondered how long Jim would lead the rookie down the road on his introduction to humility. Please, let it last for a while. More of the cadets were coming over to the monitors to watch.

Jackson entered the market, gun held out in front of him, expecting to find his target hiding behind one of the shelves. Jim hadn't wasted any time hiding in the market. He had gone straight out the back door and was now sitting in the patrol car while Jackson busily searched the aisles. Getting tired of waiting for the rookie to clue in on the fact he wasn't inside, Jim flipped on the siren and then climbed out of the car on the passenger side. He ducked into the nearest building, a warehouse.

Jackson ran back outside to see the warehouse door swing shut. Running after his escaping "suspect", he forgot to notify his dispatcher of his change of location or to request backup.

The images on the monitors now grew darker from the reduced light inside the dusty warehouse, but there was still enough to follow the action of the two participants as the cameras recorded the scene.

Blair pressed the test button on the pager to get Jim's attention. Sotto voice, Blair cautioned his Sentinel. "Watch out for echoes in there, Jim. If you zone and let him capture you I will never let you forget it. Detective of the Year captured by presumptuous rookie. And I would tell everyone, man. You need to play with him a little more, okay."

A virtual cacophony of banging sounds echoed from the speakers as hundreds of ball bearings rolled from the second floor landing and landed on some stacked pipe below. Jackson jumped and fired three rounds from his 'weapon' before realizing he didn't have a target.

The cadet dashed up the stairs to the second floor, almost slipping on the remaining ball bearings as he renewed his search for his quarry. Following clear footprints in the dust, he paused when he noticed they ended in the middle of a walkway. He was so intent on studying the disappearing footprints that he never heard the sandbag arcing toward him. It struck him squarely in the back, knocking him flat as the bag broke and covered him with a fine, gritty layer.

Jim swung down from the rafter where he had been perched and picked up the fallen weapon. Shooting his helpless pursuer in the back of the head with the paint pellet he ended the pursuit.

"You've got to watch out for 'sandbags', they're a lot more dangerous than they appear on the outside. You're dead."

Jackson got up, bright blue paint dripping around his ears, and glared at his "suspect." Marching outside without even speaking to him, he was met beside his patrol car by Sergeant Hewlett.

"Guess you still need to work on those suspect apprehension skills, Jackson. And he was an 'older' suspect at that. Maybe a little experience is more than a match for those quick, young reflexes of yours. You wanted to be taught by people with street experience, so that's exactly what you got. Let me introduce you to Detective Jim Ellison of the Major Crime Division."

Jackson's insolent demeanor crashed harmlessly against the frosty expression of Jim Ellison.

"Detective. I suppose you enjoyed making a fool of me in there?"

Jim's eyes were like ice as he stared at the recalcitrant cadet. "I didn't make you a fool. You did that all on your own. You can benefit from these training exercises or you can blow them off. It doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is when you get out on the street and me or my partner get hurt because of some stupid mistake that you've made. Out there you don't get the opportunity to do it over again." He turned and headed back to his own class.

Jackson stared at Jim's back, resentment showing clearly on his face.

The walk back cooled some of Jim's own anger at the arrogant rookie. It was officers like Jackson who get other cops hurt. That had never bothered him that much before. He was used to taking care of himself, but now, with Sandburg hitting the streets soon as a cop, the issue was a lot more personal. Still, when Sergeant Loker had asked him to help out with trying to teach a lesson to Jackson, his knee jerk reaction had been to refuse. After all, the academy staff was experienced at getting young hotheads in line, and he was supposed to be monitoring Dallas. But Dallas was safely in the middle of the simulated driving failures and besides this wasn't just any class of rookies. This was Sandburg's class, and if what he did helped prevent the creation of another 'Dirty Harry wannabe', it was worth it.

Halfway back, Sergeant Loker caught up to him.

"Join me for lunch. Your class has already gone on break."

Jim used his sight to focus in on several officers from his class who were making use of the picnic tables spread out under the trees. Dallas was with a group of three other cops eating sandwiches. "You furnishing the lunch, too?"

"I did the inviting, didn't I? Come on."

Loker led the way over to a table set apart from the others and pulled a cooler from underneath.

"How did the scenario go?"

Opening the cooler, he gestured for Jim to take first pick.

Jim pulled out a roast beef sandwich and a couple of bottles of water before sitting down. "Do you see any blue paint on me? Seriously, I'm not sure I made a crack in that ego of his, if that's what you were expecting." He twisted the seal off a bottle of water and took a healthy drink.

"A crack would have been asking a lot. A good dent is all I expected, I can work from there up to a crack. That kid is going to get someone killed with his attitude, and more than likely it won't be him. It never is with his kind."

"You've seen enough of them to know."

He concentrated on eating his sandwich while simultaneously keeping track of Dallas.

"So, tell me, how did you manage to latch on to one of my best cadets?"

For a moment Jim had no idea what Loker was talking about, then it hit him. He was talking about his partner. And calling Sandburg one of his best cadets. A small smile sneaked onto his face.

"Experienced detectives require the best partners, didn't you know that? Besides, I've already gone to all the trouble to breaking him in just right."

"Well, if I remember what that meant in the 'old days', he can do the paperwork twice as fast as you."

"Closer to three times as fast, but who's counting." Jim paused before asking the question he had avoided since Sandburg had started the academy. "How is he really doing?"

Loker studied Jim's face a second before answering. The smile had been replaced by a sincere, concerned expression: the expression of a friend, who wanted to know how things actually stood, but was afraid of interfering.

"Some days it's been rough for him, I won't lie to you. There are others in his class who know what he did and are determined to challenge his fitness to be a cop on any level. The curriculum is way below his educational level, and the way it's taught probably makes him feel like he's in first grade. I would love to have someone like him teaching out here, his enthusiasm would make him an excellent instructor. Self-defense wise, he's not too shabby. He may not be big, but he's quick and inventive. Though that quickness won't do him any good against a bigger opponent who gets him in a full body hold. He's always going to opt for the least violent approach when handling a situation. Athletically, he's a bit below mid range, but he doesn't quit. He does seem to have some strange fascination for banging his head into walls. Does that come from working with you for three years?"

"Probably." And it's a good thing he has the determination to keep banging until he knocks those walls down.

"He'll make a good cop. You make sure you watch out for my cadet."

"It's been a priority since day one."

Sergeant Hoffman was making bets with himself on how long he could manage to keep Ellison at the track this evening making up for the time he had spent playing with the rookies. He'll have to run all the simulations, too, and he loses his temper when things don't go his way. He looked up from his clipboard to find Captain Woods filling his office door.

"I was informed that the academy staff borrowed one of your students to use in a scenario training session today. Make sure he receives credit for the time he took to help us out, will you?"

"Yes, sir. I'll take care of it." When the captain didn't leave right away, his resentment grew. "Is there anything else, Captain?"

"Yes, Sergeant, is there some reason your class is always running after hours? I've noticed that yours is the only one that seems to have this problem."

Hoffman couldn't keep a touch of sarcasm out of his voice as he responded to the question. "I don't have a problem, Captain. It's the officers in the class. Some are a little slow to master the techniques I'm trying to teach. You wouldn't want me to certify that an officer has the skills if he hasn't passed the training, would you?"

Woods wasn't the least bit intimidated. "I'll keep an eye on your class to see if I can spot any ways to make improvements. Isn't it time for your afternoon class to be starting, Sergeant?"

The captain turned and left the office.

Hoffman grabbed his clipboard and angrily slammed his door on his way out.

Jim stood with the rest of his group waiting for Sergeant Hoffman to begin the afternoon session. He figured that Hoffman would make him drive last, which would give him plenty of time to listen to any calls Dallas might make. If Dallas stayed on his own schedule, he should be checking in with his accomplice around 2 o'clock. Maybe he would overhear the location of the planned burglary this time and could wrap the case up.

For some reason, the test runs this afternoon went much quicker than the morning session. Hoffman wasn't requiring repeat performances unless someone totally screwed up. Weird. What happened to turn him into a different person? Jim wasn't going to complain about it though. At this rate, maybe he wouldn't get stuck out here until midnight.

"Hey Sarge, this one is almost empty. You want to go fill it up?" Micklin called out as he finished his test run.

The sergeant didn't even look up from his clipboard. "Yeah, but only put five gallons in. Ellison, you're up. Take car 2."

Jim had been watching Dallas head toward the main building, probably preparing to make his call, and was surprised to hear his name. Talk about lousy timing, why did Hoffman pick today to soften his attitude? He walked slowly toward the test car, piggybacking his hearing onto his sight to monitor Dallas every step of the way. Getting in and putting on the crash helmet and three-point harness, he drove towards the start line. Come on, come on, make the call, make the call. He followed the sound of Dallas' footsteps up the front steps and then down the hall. There was the squeak of a door opening and then a weird echo effect as Dallas went into the room. Where the hell was he? Sudden understanding came to him with the sound of running water. Pulling his hearing back a bit, he concentrated on getting through with his test run as quickly as possible while Dallas was...occupied.

The simulated failure was supposed to happen sometime after he reached 45 M.P.H. Not wasting any time now, Jim accelerated off the line and headed down the straightaway. The speedometer was climbing toward the magic number when without warning the brakes locked up, the front end dipped down, and the wheel jerked radically to the right.

There was no time to react as control of the vehicle was ripped from his hands in a second of terrifying reality. Unable to get control of the vehicle, Jim hung onto the wheel with a steel grip as the Chevy lost the battle with momentum and began to rollover.

"Sandburg. You're up. Let's see how you do on a traffic stop." The sergeant smiled as he motioned toward the idling patrol car.

Blair smiled back as he buckled himself in. Hewlett, at least, seemed to like him. The sound of screeching tires and then a hollow flat thud drew his attention over to the test track. As he watched, the test car rolled three more times before coming to rest on all four wheels again. He knew who was in that car. Without even realizing what he was doing, he slammed the patrol car into drive. Flooring the accelerator, he bumped across the field separating the back lot from the test track and the battered vehicle.

Sliding to a stop inside the still settling dust cloud, he jumped out and dashed over to the driver's door.

"Jim, man, are you all right? Talk to me. Are you okay?" Blair pulled frantically at the warped door, but the frame was bent and it refused to open.

Jim's hands were still gripping the steering wheel and he was staring straight ahead. There didn't appear to be any obvious damage, but he wasn't here either. What the hell could he have zoned on?

Seeing the other members of Jim's class racing closer, he took a deep breath to calm himself and dropped his voice down to Guide mode.

"Jim, time to wake up. We're fixing to have company real quick and this is not a good time for you to be doing your impression of a mannequin." He reached in and grabbed Jim's shoulder in a firm grip.

A quiver ran though the shoulder under his hand, and then Jim turned to look at him. "It's 411."

Nonplused by Jim's statement, he didn't really know how to reply. Looking at his watch, he gently corrected him. "No, man, it's only 2:07."

Growling, Jim explained. "The address, the address. Let Simon know. Now get out of here and keep track of Dallas if you can."

Blair backed off as several other officers finally arrived on the scene. He returned to his patrol car slowly, wanting to make sure Jim was okay before actually leaving. Jim had managed to climb out the window of the banged-up test car and was able to move around under his own power. As Blair got back into the patrol car, he noticed Terrance Jackson watching from the edge of the picnic area. The cadet held something in his hand.

As he drove slowly back to his own area, using the actual roads this time, he puzzled over Jackson's presence near the crash. He didn't strike Blair as being too overly concerned with his fellow officer. And what had he been holding? He tried to picture the object in his mind...palm-sized, dark... He slammed the brakes on as realization hit him. It was a cell phone. He turned and looked behind him toward the test track area. The hazard lights on the warning signs against cell phone use were still flashing. The picnic area was well within the prohibited zone. Angry, Blair searched for his nemesis, but Jackson had disappeared. Okay, maybe he didn't really know what had happened. He would wait until he had a chance to talk to Jim, but if it hadn't been a mechanical failure...payback can be a bitch. Jackson had finally gone too far. It was one thing for him to harass him in class, but it was a totally different situation when he messed with his Sentinel.

Act IV

Jim made his way slowly up the stairs to the loft. The whole left side of his body ached. Despite his objections, Captain Woods has insisted upon an examination at the local clinic. He didn't need an examination to know he would be sporting some very colorful bruises for the next several days. He had managed to leave a message on Blair's pager to let him know he was all right. All he wanted right now was a hot shower and a long nap. As he put his key in the lock he thought about the parting words of the overly cheerful intern who had examined him.

"We've checked your x-rays, Mr. Ellison, and there are no broken bones. That's the kind of news we like to deliver. In an accident like that, we would normally expect at least one broken bone. You were very lucky."

Jim idly wondered if the intern had a mouse in his pocket or if everything was being done by committee now.

"You're probably going to be pretty uncomfortable later, though. Of course, if you hadn't had your crash helmet and seat belt on, our news would be far less positive." The young man chuckled as he scribbled something on a prescription pad.

Jim glared at the smiling doctor wishing he could show him just how uncomfortable he was, in precise detail, but that wouldn't get him out of here any sooner.

"Can I get dressed now and go home?" Not that he really cared what the answer was, because he was going home, no matter what.

"Sure, go ahead. You'll probably start to stiffen up soon. Try a hot shower or a heating pad. Otherwise, try not to run into anything with your left side, it'll probably hurt. Here's a prescription for a mild painkiller if it gets too bad, but the only real cure is time. Drive careful now." He gave Jim a pat on the knee, making him feel like a child, and another big smile as he left the room.

Jim carefully pushed the door of the loft open with his right hand, avoiding making contact with anything on his left. He had found out on the drive home that his body did not appreciate any pressure on his left side. Shrugging off his jacket and hanging it up, he headed straight for the bathroom and the sought after hot shower.

After standing under the soothing hot water until it was all used up, he headed upstairs. Deciding not to worry about clothing other than his boxers, he carefully lay down on his right side, then mentally set his internal alarm clock to wake him in an hour and dozed off.

When he awoke, almost right on schedule, he immediately knew Blair was home. Delicious smells wafted from the kitchen. Rolling over turned out to be a very bad idea. His body had not just stiffened up, it had developed what felt like rigor mortis while he slept. Groaning, he rolled back to his right side to rethink his options.

Blair had obviously heard his aborted effort to rise and hurried up the stairs. "You need some help there?"

"No, I don't need any help. I'm just rethinking my approach to the problem of getting on my feet."

"You know, I once saw a modern impressionist painting that kinda looked like you. It was called Eve of Destruction."

Jim edged down to the foot of the bed so he could sit up without rolling onto his left side. He sat up slowly, not wanting to move any more than he had to. "You're a laugh riot, Sandburg."

"Seriously, Jim, does it feel as bad as it looks?" Blair eyed the patches of black and blue that stretched from Jim's shoulder down to his knee. He moved to sit next to Jim on the end of the bed.

"Only when I move."

"What happened out there, man?"

"I honestly don't know. I was concentrating on listening to Dallas after he went back to the main building. Then I got called for my test run. I kept monitoring Dallas until I figured out he was headed for the bathroom instead of a quiet place to make his call. I figured I had time to finish the run before he'd use the phone. But then I heard him talking, and he said the numbers I told you. Then the car decided to do its impression of the spin cycle on a washing machine with me as the wash. Hoffman said all the simulations triggered at once. He didn't have any explanation for it other that some freak electrical interference." He shifted position and winced. "What did Simon say about tonight?"

"He said Chief Walker would take care of that end of it and not to worry about it." Or at least he did after I told him about your stunt driving out on the track this afternoon. "They should wrap everything up tonight. If you can make it downstairs I've got some supper fixed and I think I've got something that can help with all those bruises."

Blair waited to see if Jim would refuse his help again.

Jim sighed in frustration. "Well, give me a hand here or it'll take forever for me to get up."

Blair's face broke into a huge grin as he hastened to comply. Coming around to Jim's right side he held out his hand so Jim could lever himself up slowly.

As they headed down the stairs, Jim asked hopefully, "Do you really have something that will help with the bruises?"

"Sure, Jim, I'll get it as soon as I get you settled."

"It doesn't smell like a dead skunk or anything does it?'

"No dead skunk smell. In fact I got the formula for it from the Hiyatha tribe. Completely natural, no artificial ingredients. They used it on their arrows to paralyze small game, and it works really well as an analgesic. I made some up just in case of a situation like this."

Jim looked askance at Blair as he helped him get settled on the couch and then headed into his room to dig up his "treatment".

"My very own Medicine Man," Jim said softly to himself and smiled.

The ringing of the phone brought Jim awake. Glancing at the clock as he reached for the phone, he had a premonition about who would be calling him at 5:30 a.m.


"Jim, how are you feeling?" Simon sounded as if he had been awake for hours.

"You called me at 5:30 in the morning to ask me how I'm feeling?" Jim carefully shifted his weight, amazed to find the pain from his many bruises almost gone. Damn, Blair is getting good at this.

"No. I just thought I'd start off polite before I give you the news."

Jim sat up on the edge of the bed. He knew where this was going. "What news?"

"Well I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that Walden PD caught the guy doing the burglaries. The bad news is he had a partner. The partner managed to get away with the emerald and a few other choice little baubles. Walker hasn't even been able to get a name out of the guy. He's going to be a hard nut to crack." Simon paused as he waited for Jim to assimilate the information he had been given.

"The one that got away is probably going to head straight for Dallas. What do you want me to do, sir?"

"Jim, if you feel up to it, I'd like you to go back to the class and see if Dallas has any unexpected visitors come by. If his accomplices don't rollover on him, we may not have enough to get Dallas. None of the other stones was distinct enough to be identified."

"I'll be there."

"Oh, and Jim, take it easy on the cars. The academy only has so many."

Jim would have responded to Simon's jibe, but the captain had already hung up.

Jim hung up the phone and started downstairs to get the coffee going. And Hoffman probably won't let me near one after yesterday. This oughta be fun.

As Jim parked the truck and headed out to the track, he studied the placement of the obstacles. The high-speed course was marked out with orange cones to simulate sharp corners, curving roads and straight-aways. The objective was to finish the course within a specified time without deductions for knocking down the cones or leaving the course. Jim scanned the assembled group for Dallas. There he was, laughing and joking with the others in his group. Walker had been right, the man was cool. Jim wondered if he knew about the bust at the burglary location last night. No time like the present to put a little pressure on Mr. Cool.

Hoffman interrupted Jim's advance on Dallas by the simple expedient of standing in front of him.

"Ellison. I didn't expect to see you back today." The sergeant's voice was flat and unemotional as he stared hard at Jim.

"I'm here to finish the class. Is there a problem?" Two could play at this stare game. Jim returned Hoffman's stare with one of his own.

"No. I love being raked over the coals about my training procedures because you had to play stunt driver in my test car. I had nothing better to do last night than spend five hours going over that car and not finding one mechanical problem. Not one, Ellison. I've been running this program for over four years and there has never been a problem with the equipment." Hoffman's voice had changed and taken on an angry cadence during his tirade. "Then you show up and turn my class into a thrill show and something has to be defective. Well, there isn't anything defective here detective, except you." His closing gesture was to push at Jim with his finger.

For Jim, that was the final straw. Hoffman's voice had grown louder during his speech, but Jim's voice started out cold and only got colder and softer. He got directly in Hoffman's face as he delivered his answer. "I didn't say there was a problem with the car, so don't lay your bad attitude on me, Hoffman. I got tired of your attitude four years ago, and I'm still tired of it. But I got signed up for this class and I'm going to finish it. You don't like that, go talk to Captain Woods. Otherwise, get out of my face."

Jim didn't care whether he finished the class or not, but he was not going to put up with getting dumped on by Hoffman. As long as Dallas was here, he would be, too. He stared at the sergeant, waiting for him to take a swing at him or back down.

"Fine." Hoffman almost hissed the word. "You want to finish the class so bad, who am I to stop you. But you'll do the high-speed course in your own vehicle. You're not getting behind the wheel of another academy car so long as I have anything to say about it."

Hoffman turned and stomped back to the main group, all of whom had watched the exchange between the two. Several of them gave Jim 'thumbs up' as Hoffman yelled for the first officer to get ready to drive the course.

Nothing like almost getting into a fight with your training officer to convince a suspect he's not under observation. Simon will buy that...maybe. This is not going to be my day.

Blair and his class were on the obstacle course today, just to the east of the test track. It gave him the perfect vantage point to keep an eye on what was going on at both locations. He had watched the exchange take place between Hoffman and Jim and, even though he couldn't hear the words, he had no doubt about the content. Doubting that Jim had tuned him in, since Dallas was right in front of him, he still spoke out loud.

"Today's the last day, man, and then it'll be over. Just chill."

He was surprised as Jim looked directly at him and touched the side of his nose to indicate he got the message.

No one noticed the figure that appeared by the picnic tables. He looked nervously around at the group of officers waiting to take a shot at the high-speed pursuit course and waited until the group had broken up before approaching Dallas.

Jim was watching the current car on the track wipe out a ten-foot section of cones when he abruptly realized that Dallas was no longer in front of him. Looking around, he saw him in deep conversation with another man at the edge of the tree line. As he prepared to listen in on the conversation between the two, Blair was getting ready to make his first attempt of the day at the obstacle course when all hell broke loose.

Chief Walker screeched to a halt outside the academy's main doors. Jim couldn't believe it. What had gotten into the Walden police chief? But there wasn't time to contemplate the Chief's folly - Dallas and his cohort made a run for the Walden PD's Tahoe that was there for the pursuit course.

Blair heard the arrival of the Walden PD chief's car. He watched Dallas and another man take off running towards a vehicle. Jim ran after them, angling to intercept them. This running thing must be catching because he found himself also running to try and cut them off. They had the advantage though and Dallas had started the vehicle and thrown it into drive while Jim was still a good ten feet away. With a squeal of acceleration, the Chevy Tahoe took off, and Jim dove to the side, narrowly missing becoming a hood ornament.

Jim came out of the rolling dive and, limping a bit after the painful roll on his left side, took off for the closest vehicle, the Cascade PD Chevrolet Camaro pursuit vehicle. Blair was right behind him and jumped into the passenger side as Jim started the vehicle and floored the accelerator. Sergeant Hoffman ran after them shouting dire threats at the vanishing pair. Walker stared dumbfounded as the two vehicles tore out of the academy grounds.

As they raced after their fleeing suspects, Blair glanced toward the speedometer, then quickly checked his seat belt when he saw the digital readout climbing steadily past seventy-five. Remembering his training, he attempted to follow correct procedure. This wasn't quite like the patrol car he had been training in. Since this was the academy's demonstration vehicle for high pursuit, it lacked certain amenities of a regular patrol unit, like a radio. Well that certainly eliminates the 'notify dispatch of our location' duty. What else does a partner do in a high-speed chase except hang on?

"What spooked him?" Blair tried to ask in a calm voice.

Jim concentrated on the Tahoe weaving in and out of traffic, but managed to find time to answer. "Walker's grand entrance at the academy."

"Why did he do that?"

"I don't know. Maybe he was frustrated because he couldn't get anything out of the suspect they caught. Maybe he thought he could spook Dallas into a reaction." The Camaro slid into a hard turn, but he effortlessly regained control. "I just wish he had told me what he was going to do."

Blair gripped the dashboard when Jim opted for the wrong side of the road in an attempt to get around a slow moving truck. They completed the illegal pass in time to avoid getting up close and personal with the front end of a bus. "He got his reaction."

When Jim made no move to overtake the other vehicle, Blair decided to push his luck and asked, "Can't you outrun them? I thought you said this thing was fast."

It was a good thing traffic on the bridge was light because Jim did a fast double take at the question. "We're fast all right, but they're bigger. Their 5,000 pounds can make a real mess of our 3,000 pounds. We have to be smarter and pick the right moment."

"This isn't going to be like when the truck almost got pushed over a cliff is it? I didn't like that one too much."

"Neither did I."

Jim focused all his attention back on the Tahoe as it dodged in and out of the increasing traffic as it came off the bridge. The Tahoe abruptly made a sharp right onto a side street and headed into the warehouse district. It bounced roughly over a set of railroad tracks that ran parallel to the warehouses. The Camaro followed more gracefully, its lower center of gravity and nicely damped suspension making it hold the turn tighter.

Impressed with Jim's handling of the car as he gained on the turn, Blair was slung to his left, where he bounced off Jim's shoulder before ricocheting back to thump into the passenger side window. "Ow!"

He barely processed Jim's warning to, "Hang on!" when they hit the tracks and he found out the down side to the police-package suspension. The car went airborne for a second, then landed hard, jarring his teeth. Thankful he hadn't bitten his tongue, he concentrated on bracing himself more securely between the dashboard and the passenger door.

The Tahoe continued to race between the tracks and a row of dilapidated warehouses, hitting mud puddles left from yesterday's evening rain. The wipers on the Camaro were hard pressed to keep up with the deluge being thrown from the wheels of the bigger vehicle. Jim was forced to back off in order to see. Not even Sentinel sight could penetrate the coating of mud now adorning the front of the low-slung Camaro. As the windshield slowly cleared, the Tahoe had vanished from sight. He slammed on the brakes, bringing the Camaro to a sudden stop.

Blair looked around anxiously. "Where did they go? They were right in front of us."

"I don't think they've gone anywhere Chief." Jim's head cocked in his characteristic listening pose. "I think they're coming right back."

Blair looked out the windshield to see the Tahoe coming around the end of the row of warehouses. Dallas stopped and revved the engine on the big vehicle, making it jump in anticipation.

"He can't be serious." The disbelief he felt was impossible to keep from his voice as numerous film versions of this scene flashed though his mind.

"He's serious, all right. If you want to get out, now's the time." Jim didn't even glance to the side. He stayed focused on Dallas and the revving Tahoe.

Pulling even tighter on his seatbelt, Blair sent a silent prayer toward any guardian spirits in the immediate area. "Oh man, this is so not how I hoped the day would go. I didn't even get to finish the obstacle course." Blair braced himself against the dash.

"Tell you what, after we bust this guy I'll make sure you get back in time to finish it."

"Just get me back alive and I'll be happy." He cringed as the Tahoe suddenly accelerated toward them. Jim responded by sending the Camaro leaping forward. Seconds seem to stretch endlessly, as the two vehicles seemed destined to meet head on. With less than a car length between them, Dallas jerked the wheel hard to the right. The big vehicle couldn't compensate for the sudden change in direction. It tilted onto two wheels, and yielding to gravity, rolled on its side.

Jim did a sliding 180-degree turn and drove back to the Tahoe. Dallas scrambled out of the driver's side window and took off toward a nearby warehouse. Tossing Blair his cuffs, he jumped out of the car. "Get him and see if you can get us some backup." He then took out after the fast disappearing Dallas.

After taking a minute to check for any weapons and to secure the babbling accomplice to the door of the Tahoe, Blair looked around for any way to make a call. "I don't have a phone, the car doesn't have a phone, I can't even see a phone." Screw the phone, man, my job is being your backup. Running in the direction they had vanished, he saw a propped open window on a warehouse. A split second later he heard the sound of two gun shots. Picking up his speed, he made a perfect diving entry and roll through the same window. Staying low, he crept forward, trying to determine where Dallas and Jim were. They weren't helping any, both had apparently gone into stealth mode.

What now? Jim can figure out where I am, but I can't find him, and I'm sure I don't want to find Dallas by mistake. Think! How can I figure out where everybody is?

A creaking sound drew his attention upwards, where he saw a chain hanging down from a girder. Suddenly he had an idea. Wiping his palms on his sweats before beginning, he felt the object he had put in his pocket before going out to the obstacle course. Taking it out, he gazed at the stone figure. The wolf felt warm in his palm and gave him a feeling of strength. He placed it securely back in his pocket and began quietly climbing the chain. It was much harder that climbing the rope at the academy, but he made the ascent quickly. At the top, he cautiously climbed out on the metal girder.

A wave of acrophobia made him wonder at the foolishness of his plan, but he clung to the girder and forced himself to scan the vast, cluttered floor. Finally, he spotted Jim crouched behind an old stack of wooden pallets. Following his partner's line of sight, he located Dallas about fifty feet away. Dallas had found a great defensive position, no one could approach without being directly in his line of fire and the remains of old equipment made for a bulletproof barricade. Every so often, he would pop off a round towards Jim's location, but mostly he was occupied doing something behind the equipment.

Blair spoke softly. "Jim."

His partner glanced up at him immediately. "No luck on calling for backup. It's a little hard to do without a phone. And besides, my job is backing you up." Blair peered harder at the shadowy place Dallas was hiding, ignoring Jim's waving motions for him to get off the open exposure of the girder. "He's up to something back there but I can't figure out what he's doing." Suddenly everything became clear as Dallas flicked a lighter and put the flame to the dirty piece of cloth sticking out of an old bottle. "Jim! He's made a Molotov cocktail!"

Dallas threw the bottle at Jim's location, where it burst, igniting the old wood of the pallets. Jim avoided the fire and headed directly for his quarry. But Dallas had more tricks in his bag. He overturned a large barrel of liquid that flowed across the floor in a widening fan. When it reached the burning wood from the first explosion, it ignited with a burst of flame accompanied by thick, black smoke. The warehouse quickly filled with the impenetrable cloud.

Safe from the fire, but unable to tell what was happening and desperate to get down to the ground, Blair stood up on his girder and began walking towards a catwalk on the side of the wall while the choking smoke billowed up around him. This is just like the balance beam. I can do this. Keeping his eyes on his destination, he walked carefully, but surely, towards his goal. Reaching the catwalk and safety, he tried again to determine where Jim and Dallas were. The sound of gunshots outside made him run for the fire escape. Pushing at the rusty emergency exit door, he finally made it to clean air and the ladder platform that hung on the side of the building.


He halted his headlong rush downward to stare down at the figure that was halfway up the fire escape. Jim looked a little toasted around the edges, but relatively unharmed. "Jim!"

In unison, they both spoke. "Are you all right?"

He laughed, "I'm fine. Where's Dallas?"

Jim gestured toward the side of the warehouse. "He took off around back."

"Go on. Go get that idiot before he thinks up something else to do."

Jim looked to see that Blair was indeed safe, then turned and took off after Dallas again.

Blair made it to the ground as Jim disappeared around the corner of the warehouse. There is entirely too much running going on here. I'm supposed to be a police officer, not a track star. He ran to the corner to see Jim going over a wall, a wall that had to be at least eight-foot high, and then he heard three quick shots.

Alarmed, he didn't pause, he didn't consider. Without thinking, he sprang for the top, allowing his momentum to aid him. His partner was on the other side and nothing was going to stop him. The soles of his shoes gripped the wall, and with a single push kept him moving up and over. He rolled over the top as if he'd been doing the maneuver for years.

His landing however, was less than graceful. Already off balance, he sank into an unstable mound of trash bags that shifted and split beneath his feet. He went down amid a virtual symphony of sound.

Jim and Dallas were exchanging blows, but Blair's unexpected arrival startled the rogue detective. With one well-placed punch, Jim took him out.

"That's some distraction." Jim smiled as he used Dallas' own cuffs on the man and then used Dallas' own cell phone to call for back up and the fire department.

Blair took stock of just where he was. He'd landed in the middle of a large pile of garbage bags filled with aluminum cans. Hundreds of loose cans surrounded him as he scrambled free of the smelly mess. "Hey, we made it to the recycling center. Think they recycle dirty cops?"

"He'll probably wish they did after Chief Walker gets through with him." Jim held out a hand to Blair, "Come on partner, we've still got to get you back to the academy for the obstacle course."

Blair grabbed hold of Jim's hand and was hauled to his feet. "Oh, man. I've already been through an obstacle course. I don't want to do another."

Jim laughed as he led the way toward a chain link fence with a gate. "The second time will be much easier. At least you know you won't have any problem going over the wall now."


"The wall, Bruce Jenner, you cleared that wall like a champion. Don't you remember?" Jim kept walking his prisoner toward the entrance of the recycling center as Blair followed dazedly behind.

"I did?"

"Yeah, you did. You ready to tackle the course now?"

Blair practically beamed, "Yeah. I am." Picking up the pace, he called back to Jim. "Come on, man. I want to get there sometime today. I've got things to do, walls to climb, stuff like that."

"Coming partner." Jim hustled Dallas along to keep up with his suddenly energetic Guide.

Jim could hear the approaching sirens as they returned to the side of the disabled Tahoe, complete with still attached suspect. He sat Dallas on the ground to curb any thought of running and looked for a clean place on the Camaro to lean his aching body against. It was definitely going to be time for some more of Blair's medicine-man painkiller tonight.

Blair checked on his prisoner, then scrambled up onto the side of the overturned Tahoe and peered into the interior. "Hey Jim, guess what I see?"

"No telling, Sherlock. What do you see?"

"Well, it's big and green and in plain view. Looks like it fell out of the driver's side door pocket when the truck rolled over."

Jim nodded in satisfaction. Finding the stolen emerald would go a long way toward convicting Dallas. "Well, Chief, you can either retrieve the evidence and spend the next four hours filling out paperwork, or you can leave it for the evidence team."

Blair settled back onto his perch and crossed his legs. "I've got an obstacle course to get to, paperwork can wait."

Today hadn't turned out to be so bad after all, Jim reflected. Dallas' passenger had been almost impossible to shut up after the shock of the pursuit had worn off. Both he and the suspect in custody turned out to be Dallas' partners in Questor Security, the company that installed the new alarm systems for victims of the Walden burglaries. The group had been cleaning up on both ends. Even Raymond Dallas, the cool customer, had seen the writing on the wall and wanted to make a deal to roll over on his fence, Arthur Fitzroy.

Jim had taken Blair, as promised, back to the academy to make his attempt at the obstacle course qualification before going to the station. Blair had finished his run well within the time limits and had received a rousing round of applause from most of the other cadets when he conquered the wall with only slight less assurance than he'd shown earlier in the day at the recycling center.

Blair managed to find out that while all the cadets had qualified on the course, no course records had been broken. Loker delivered that information personally to him with a twinkle in his eye and what suspiciously looked almost like a smile.

After tending to the removal of his department's damaged vehicle, Chief Walker had shown up at the station while Dallas was being booked. He had even cheerfully taken over doing most of the paperwork on the arrest for the "satisfaction of knowing a dirty cop was out of his department now".

Jim, amazed at the Chief for voluntarily assuming the tedious job, cheerfully turned it over to him. All in all, it had been a pretty good day. He finished typing his account of the bust when Blair came over with two cups of coffee.

Reading over Jim's shoulder, he scanned the computer screen. "It just doesn't read the same on paper somehow."

"What do you mean, Chief?"

"You're missing the spine-tingling turns, the teeth-rattling bumps, the head-pounding excitement." Blair gave the side of his head that had impacted with the window a rub as he continued. "This reads like saw suspect, chased suspect, arrested same. Now I know why you always wanted me to write the reports."

Blair ducked at the swipe Jim aimed for his head and danced back and forth on his feet in his best impersonation of a boxer. "I'm hot man, you don't want to mess with me today."

Jim grinned at him as Simon came out of his office and effectively stilled Blair with the simple expedient of gripping the top of his head with one large hand. "I thought you said the academy was making him more serious?" Simon's gruff voice coming from over the top of Blair's head, combined with Blair rolling his eyes upward, only made Jim smile more.

"I never said that sir. You must be mistaken."

"Uh-huh." Simon deadpanned. Releasing his grip on Blair, he shifted his coat to his other hand as he prepared to leave. "Oh, and Jim, thanks for not wrecking the Camaro. We really don't have that many of them and a replacement would probably have come out of my budget." He started walking toward the door, but continued talking. "Captain Woods even said if you manage to have the car cleaned up and sparkling by 6:30 so it can go to the Neighborhood Watch program tonight, he won't make you take a special remedial course in Pursuit Driving."

Jim's protest died as Simon fixed him with a no nonsense look. "Would you prefer the remedial course, detective?"

"No, sir. I think I've had all I care to of the academy right now." Grabbing Blair by the arm, he headed toward the door. "Come on, partner, we have a car to wash."

Blair tried to slow his progression towards the door. "We? Hey, I'm not part of this deal. I have to go to the academy anyway."

Jim fixed him with a predatory smile. "We were together when the car got dirty, weren't we?"

"Yeahhhh. But I still don't see why I have to help wash it."

"We're partners, aren't we?"


"Then we wash the car. Together. It's a partner thing."

"And if I don't?"

"Then I wash the car, and then I wash you."

"Okay, okay. I get it. It's about partnership. I just didn't get it before."

~ Finis ~

E-mail the author of this story, Brenda Bailey, at dragon@tca.net
The artwork in Act III, Field Work, was created by Lupe... Enjoy more of Lupe's art at her website, Lupe's Sentinel Art
Please visit our Virtual Season 5 Staff Page to learn more about the hard-working behind-the-scenes crew responsible for bringing you this episode
E-mail Faux Paws Productions at fauxpawsproductions@yahoo.com
NEXT WEEK on THE SENTINEL: The Hazy Blue Line (10/20/99, FPP-523) by DawnC
    Blair is the victim of a malicious hazing at the Academy.

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This page last updated 2/2/01.