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.

Partners by Wildeskind


Act II

Jim felt like someone had punched him the gut. Here were the images from Blair's vision. Except for the trickle of blood on his head, Tyler Hirken looked like he was sleeping, his strong arms crossed over a broad chest. Kevin Miller hadn't been so lucky. His chest was caved in and one arm lay crooked, probably broken when he'd tried to ward off his attacker. The blunt features of his face were twisted in a gruesome death mask. Gray eyes stared lifelessly away from his lover.

First Cyndi had been killed, then his old friend Martin Griek and now this. No wonder Sandburg was having nightmares. Something in the back of Jim's mind nagged at him, something about the picture.

A few weeks after Cyndi's death, Jim came home from a date to find Sandburg lying on the couch, totally smashed. His laptop was on the coffee table, surrounded by beer bottles and a pad of drawing paper Jim kept around for his niece. Standing next to the couch, he debated on whether to try and wake Blair up or to leave him on the couch. As he watched his partner sleep with an easiness that had been missing since before he had gone undercover on Jesus Cristo case, his jaw clenched tighter and tighter. He was angry at Blair for getting drunk alone, and felt guilty that he hadn't been there for him. Dammit Blair, what were you thinking of? Deliberately, he relaxed the muscles in his jaw and started to clean up the mess. He picked up the drawing pad, intending to close it, when the picture caught his eye. There were seven people in a circle, from seven different cultures. On the far left was Blair in what Jim privately thought of as his neo-hippie witch doctor outfit. Next to him sat Incacha in his ceremonial garb. Jim's gaze lingered on the two wistfully. He didn't have any images of Incacha outside of his memories of him. Blair had managed to capture the gentle wisdom in his eyes. Seeing the two people who had really connected to him, sitting together... the memory of the last time he had seen them together rose in his mind. Incacha lying on the couch, the coppery tang of blood overpowering the familiar earthy scent. Blair kneeling next to him. Incacha's hand reaching out to Blair, even as his spirit was leaving this plane of existence. It looked like his spirit was still reaching out to Blair.

Below each figure Blair had drawn an object and a word. Under the picture of Young Blair was a star with the word, SELF. A feather curled underneath Incacha with the word GUIDE. Jim frowned at the picture. Why would Blair label himself in the picture and then call Incacha guide?

He looked at the other figures in the drawing. He didn't know who they were, but he recognized what they were. SHAMANS. Sitting next to Incacha was an old gray woman dressed in furs and metal plates and charms with a permanent scowl on her face. A rough figure of wolf was drawn beneath her with the word KNOW. Jim could almost feel the disapproval radiating from her. She reminded him of an English teacher he once had. Mrs. Engle had been quick to point out mistakes in students' grammar and quicker with her ruler.

On the woman's right was a Native American medicine man with an intricately beaded pouch below him. Inscribed beneath the pouch was the word CHOOSE. Choose what? A beautiful scarf clad woman lounged next to the muscular Native American, a flowing scarf lay at her feet. Jim grinned at the word below her. LOVE. Uh-huh, Chief. I can see why you would want to love her.

Jim recognized the next shaman as an Aboriginal man. There was a double pointed crystal sketched beneath him with the word DREAM. Blair certainly had been doing a lot of that recently.

The last figure was a Chinese lady dressed in traditional garb with a stiff outer robe and several layers underneath. A lotus was drawn beneath her with the word SEE. His fingers touched the flower, careful not to smudge the pencil drawing. The flower was familiar to him.

Sitting down on the other couch, he flipped the page over. It was a collage of images from their past. Of himself holding Blair against the wall in his office, his face angry. A gun changing hands. Golden fire people floating in the air, boxes in an empty loft, a telephone smashed. So many incidents that Jim regretted. Incacha was there and Alex. Jim and Alex on the beach, holding each other. Alex holding a gun on Blair. A wolf and jaguar merging in the air. In one section there was an area of darkness Blair had shaded in. Jim wondered what that darkness was.

A snort from Blair startled him. Putting the sketchpad down, he checked on his friend. Blair had rolled onto his back, his arm hanging off the side of the couch. Getting up, he repositioned Blair carefully, making sure he was on his side with his back propped up by the couch. Satisfied that Blair wasn't going to roll off the couch, he turned to close the sketchpad. He picked up the pad and held it in his hands, feeling the weight and the texture of the paper. He knew that the images he had seen were from Blair's vision at Sierra Verde. Blair had described meeting seven mystical shamans and being shown visions of the past and the future. Seeing them here on paper gave them a weight they hadn't had before. There was one more drawing in the pad that he hadn't seen. For some reason, Blair had sketched these pictures tonight, weeks after his vision had occurred. They were important to Blair. Sensitive fingers stroked the rough paper. Flipping over the picture, Jim stared at the last drawing.

There was a wavering image of a handprint in the center. Dark rivulets streamed away from it to the scenes surrounding it. On the upper left hand corner was Cyndi Blake, a bloody cross carved into her chest. Next to her was a picture of two men, one with his arms outstretched, covered in blood, the other with flowers on his chest. The rest of the page was blank, as if the artist had meant to continue, but had forgotten to do so. Or was too drunk. Jim was sure there was more to Blair's vision. He looked back at his friend. Closing the sketchpad, he set it down among the beer bottles. Maybe it was better that he didn't know.

Jim returned to the present. Simon was still staring at Blair and Blair was still staring at the photo, his expression shell-shocked. Jim felt helpless. Looking down at the photo, he compared it to his memory of Blair's drawing. There was something different about the two images.

"Blair, are you sure it's exactly the same?" The younger man didn't move. Jim shook his shoulder. "Blair?"

Haunted blue eyes looked at him. "Yeah?"

Jim repeated the question. He held his breath as Blair studied the photos, frowning.

Blair pulled the top photo out of Jim's hand. He pointed to the older man in the picture. "Where's the blood?"

Simon spoke up. "What blood? What are you talking about?"

Blair looked at Simon, color leaching back into his face with his growing excitement. "There's no blood. No flowers either. It's not them!" He looked at Jim, relief lighting his face. "It's not them!"

"No Chief, it's not them."

A shadow flickered across the younger man's face. Before he could formulate a question, Simon broke in. "Would someone mind telling me what is going on?"

Jim looked at Simon. He had that 'I know I'm not going to like the explanation, but tell it to me anyway' look. Blair shifted in his seat next to him, silent and obviously uncomfortable. Deciding it was up to him to answer the captain, he tried to start off slow. "You remember when Blair went down to Sierra Verde to find himself before going to the Academy? He had that 'weird experience'?"

"Yes." The word was drawn out. Blair wasn't the only one who was uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going.

Jim pushed ahead. "Well, it wasn't just a weird experience. His spirit guide led him on a vision quest where he had a vision. In it, he was shown the future."

Simon's eyebrows rose as the import of what his detective was telling him sank in. "A vision quest? You mean a 'go out into the woods and starve yourself until you start to hallucinate' vision quest?"

Blair protested. "It wasn't like that, Captain. I communicated with some high-powered spirits."

Simon gave him a disbelieving smirk. "Uh-huh. Would that be Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker?"

"Sir!" Blair jumped up angrily. Grabbing his arm, Jim applied firm but gentle pressure until the young Shaman sat down again.

"Sir, what Sandburg means is he had a true vision. His spirit guide was there along with some other shamans, including Incacha. They showed him the future."

Simon heaved a heavy sigh. "And this future included two men murdered by some whacked-out psycho?"


Simon sighed again. Please, God, if you decide to 'gift' another of my detectives, make it something I don't have to tap dance around all the time. My feet are getting sore. "Right. Okay, so you saw the killer, right?"

Blair shook his head. "It doesn't work that way, Simon. I saw them after the fact. There was blood all over the place, but no sign of who did it."

The phone rang, startling them. Simon picked up the handset. "Yes? Another one? Where? Fine. Thanks Rhonda." He hung up the phone. "There's been another double murder. The bodies were laid out in the same manner as the Hirken-Miller case. It looks like we have another serial killer on our hands, gentlemen."

Blair put the file back together quickly and stood up. He still felt a little queasy, but it looked as if Simon actually wanted to talk about the supernatural happenings that plagued his detectives, and Blair really didn't feel like talking right now. "What is it about Cascade, huh? Home to more serial killers per captia than most of the world. I guess we'd better get cracking." He stilled when he noticed Simon staring at him with a strange, almost fearful look. "What?"

Simon paused, before asking carefully. "How are you going to start?"

Blair shrugged. "Well, I'd thought we'd go to the crime scene and have Jim canvass it for clues. Why?"

There was a sheepish look on Simon's face. "Nothing. Get out of here and, uh, get cracking. Jim, could you stay behind for a second?" Blair looked back briefly, but continued out, shutting the door behind him.

Simon came around his desk and sat down on the corner. Reaching behind him, he grabbed his cigar, rolling it between his fingertips as the silence lengthened.

Jim shifted in his chair, waiting. After a bit, he gave up on the notion that Simon would start the conversation. "What's up, Captain?"

"Jim, what's happening with Blair?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, last time I checked, you're the one who has visions and communes with spirit guides. I know that Blair's had a couple of brushes with mysticism. I mean, he died; you brought him back. He thought he had some sort of psychic connection with Cyndi Blake. But this -- being able to see the future? Last time I checked, he couldn't even see that ghost of yours. Psychic powers just don't develop overnight."

"You knew he followed his spirit guide to Sierra Verde."

"Yeah, but after you came back you never mentioned anything about a vision quest. I thought... Well, that he had imagined it or something. Dammit Jim, it's hard enough to explain away your little 'insights', but at least they have some basis in reality."

Jim sat up straight. "What he saw is reality, Simon. He predicted Cyndi Blake's death. He even had flashes of it before she died. That's why he went to her apartment that night."

Simon groaned. "Why didn't he tell me? I've been sending him to the department shrink, thinking he was just suffering from survivor's guilt or something. Dr. Morse said that he thought Blair was holding back something, but this? Blair just mumbled something about a psychic connection and I thought..."

"He was obfuscating? He did have some sort of connection with Cyndi Blake. He experienced her death."

"So what's happening now? What's his connection to these men?"

Jim shook his head. "I don't know." He thought about what was happening to his partner. Psychic flashes aside, Blair seemed different. Harder on the outside, more confused on the inside. Simon picked up on the change of mood. "What else is bothering you Jim?"

"Ever since Blair came back from Sierra Verde, he's changed."

"That's only natural. His whole life changed. He's finding himself."

"Is he? Or is he remaking himself into my image?"

Simon frowned. "Is this some new incarnation of the famous Ellison guilt?"

"It's not guilt, Simon. Look at him. He's having nightmares and visions. You know, sometimes it feels like he's trying to be too much like me."

Simon snorted. "Oh, you mean super cop, super abilities, super tough?"

Jim ignored him. "I'm not sure how much of what he does is because he wanted to or because he felt he had to. Even being a shaman. Would he have chosen that for himself if he hadn't met me? And what does being a shaman do for him? He doesn't even have control over what he sees."

"Did you have control when you first got your senses?"

"No. I had Blair to help me." Jim paused. Simon quirked an eyebrow at him, as if he had just said the answer to the question. "Oh, no. I can't do what Sandburg does. I wouldn't know how."

"You may know more than you think. You know Sandburg better than anyone else and you know how he has helped you. It's your turn to mentor him. And not just in that Sentinel-Shaman stuff. Your partner needs you to guide him down his chosen path. Don't let him down." Simon stood up, indicating the meeting was over.

Jim got up and walked to the door. Opening it, he paused and looked back. Simon had already moved behind his desk and picked up some papers. Jim blinked as the air shimmered around the big man. Looking more closely, he decided it was just body heat coming off of Simon. It was a little chilly in the office. Shrugging he left the room.

Simon dropped the papers he'd been holding and stared at the closed door. For some strange reason he felt drained. Anyone with sense would be after dealing with those two. Visions, spirit guides, premonitions. I thought that business with the baboon's foot was bad. Give me an old-fashion shoot-out any day of the week. How am I going to explain it if Blair does find something using his 'psychic' abilities... He sighed. I guess the same way I explain Jim's.

Blair was shuffling papers on his desk. "Hey, Jim. What was that about?"

Jim picked up his coat. "You know Simon. He feels totally out of his depth with this stuff. You ready to go?"

"Yeah." They walked into the hallway. "So, Simon thinks I've finally flipped out."

Jim hit the button for the elevator. "No. He just thinks you need to talk to someone. Well, someone who you can really talk to since the department shrink doesn't cover metaphysical manifestations. He suggested you talk to me." A soft chime announced the arrival of the elevator. They waited until it emptied out before getting on.

Blair leaned up against the elevator wall. "We did talk. We talked last night." He crossed his arms defensively. He knew he was acting childishly, but it felt as if the wounds which had scabbed over after Cyndi's death had been ripped open again. He didn't know if he could handle another psychic experience of someone's death. That part of being a shaman sucked major time. He scratched at the bullet wound that was healing on his side.

Jim pulled his hand away from his side. "Don't scratch. We talked last night, but last night we didn't know about the murders. That makes it a whole new ball game, Chief."

Blair shrugged, his expression mulish. "Fine, so two people were murdered exactly like my vision. It's been known to happen. At least it wasn't someone I knew."

Jim winced inwardly at the pain in his friend's eyes. "Blair, it was four people, and they weren't all murdered exactly like your vision. The first murder scene didn't have the flowers or the blood."

Blair stared at Jim, amazed he was nit picking details when his life was falling apart. "Well it's not my fault the murderer was inconsistent. This latest one is probably the one from my vision. Why are you getting on my back?" Why did this have to happen now? This was a new year, a new millennium. Well, not a new millennium, technically that's going to be next year. But still, the end of the world had come and gone. Why did it feel like God had hit the snooze button?

Jim sighed. "I'm not getting on your back. I'm trying to be a supportive partner." And you're not making it easy, Chief. Work with me.

Blair looked at him, searching for something. As if someone flipped a switch, his mood changed. His eyes softened and his tone was more conciliatory. "Why are we arguing?"

Jim threw up his hands. "I don't know. Maybe because you're finding out what it's like to have weird abilities. To have people talk about what's good for you without consulting you."

Blair turned away. "I never did that. Besides, you and Simon had plenty of conferences about me when I was an observer. Don't think I didn't I didn't know about those 'what's wrong with the kid' discussions."

"Now who's nitpicking details? Like you never had a conference with Simon to discuss my Sentinel abilities."

Blair hunched his shoulders. "Well..."

Jim slapped his back. "Let's go before that foot gets wedged permanently in your mouth."

The snow crunching underneath the truck's tires sounded unnaturally loud to Jim's ears as they turned between the stone pillars of the gates. Huge oak trees marched up the drive, stretching their massive limbs overhead, their intertwining branches forming a skeletal net. Neatly trimmed evergreens and shrubbery dotted the smooth white lawn. Statuary wore caps of fluffy snow, fresh from last night's snowstorm. Rolling to a stop outside the victim's house, Jim took in the ordered confusion moving in and out through the front doors. Emergency vehicles and cop cars crowded the large driveway, the blue and red lights reflecting off the snow in the watery winter sun. As he turned off the engine, a movement next to him made him turn his head.

Blair was fiddling with the seat belt, his face a mixture of nervousness and awe. "Wow, this place looks like something out of Architecture Today. Bruce Wayne didn't have a house like this."

"Uh-huh." Unfastening his own seat belt, Jim waited as Blair accustomed himself to the atmosphere of the house.

"And those cornices are fantastic. You know it's all in the details." His fingers slid over the nylon webbing.

Jim counted to ten in his head slowly. The fingers slowed their movement. "You ready to go in?"

"Yeah, of course, man. I was just admiring the architecture, you know."

Jim smiled. "Yeah, I know. Come on."

They walked up the stone-covered sidewalk, flashing their badges at the uniformed cop. Blair hesitated at the doorway. Jim waited patiently as Blair ran his fingers over the cast iron knocker on the door. The gargoyle seemed to laugh at him around the ring in his mouth. Blair started at the sound of Jim snapping on his gloves. Smiling nervously, he pulled out his own gloves and walked into the house. Come on Sandburg, you've done this before. Forensics were already busy dusting for prints. The place was a showcase, the oak paneled walls rising gracefully into curving archways. Their footsteps echoed on the flagstone entryway.

"Wow, it's even more incredible on the inside. Look at that vaulted ceiling. This is like something out of a gothic novel. The manor house and all."

Jim let Blair go ahead at his own pace. "Yeah." Walking into the living room, he noticed the table in the center of the room. Two tumblers stood there, still partially filled waiting for people who would never come to finish them off. Black dust indicated that forensics had already been here. Jim stood, taking in the details of the couch and table. "What do we have here?"

Blair nodded to the glasses. "Two glasses, two victims."

Jim shook his head. "Two victims, three glasses. There's a watermark here. The killer must have had scotch on the rocks."

A male sarcastic voice came from behind them. "Incredible piece of detective work, Detective Ellison. Couldn't the water mark come from one of the other glasses?"

Jim carefully picked up the glasses. The wood underneath was unmarked. He set them down again. "No, the victims evidently liked their whiskey straight up. The killer had his on the rocks. Any other questions?"

Blair looked at the owner of the hostile voice. The man was as tall as Jim, with wheat blond hair and hazel eyes. He was wearing the blue uniform of a beat cop and a lieutenant's badge. It said Weisner.

Weisner looked around and then at Jim. "Where's the glass, Detective?"

Jim held his gaze. He didn't know what was with the attitude, but he wasn't going to make Weisner's problem his own. He kept his stance loose and his expression unconcerned. "Probably in the drainboard if it's here. The killer wouldn't have wanted to leave any evidence behind."

"Hmm." He held out his hand. "Lieutenant Gary Weisner. I was first to respond to the call."

Jim shook his hand. "Detective Ellison and my partner, Detective Blair Sandburg. What's the story?"

Weisner gestured upstairs. "The victims were Jason Block and Thomas Garrot. They were, uh, domestic partners. Garrot was an architect and Block was a construction worker. A neighbor called it in. She got nervous when they didn't show up to shovel her driveway this morning and used a key they gave her for emergencies. She found them upstairs."

Jim nodded. "Anything else?"

"No signs of forced entry, no footprints or tire tracks outside. The killer probably left around nine or ten last night, right before the main front of the storm. Forensics is dusting for fingerprints, but it's a mess. Evidently they had a big New Year's party a couple of days ago. There's dozens of finger prints all over the place."

Blair made a small noise of sympathy for forensics. Going through all the crime scene evidence was going to be a nightmare with so many people visiting the house recently.

Jim just nodded again. Sometimes you got the breaks and sometimes the breaks got you. He started towards the stairs. "Forensics hasn't been upstairs, right?"

Weisner looked at Jim confused. "Of course they've been upstairs. That's where they started after realizing the downstairs was going to be a loss."

Jim stopped and turned around. "Lieutenant, I always go through a crime scene before forensics goes through it. Get them down here, now. I don't care if a hundred people came through here, I want everything dusted, photographed and cataloged. The killer may have been sloppy. We can't afford to be as sloppy. You understand." It was not a question.

The lieutenant looked at Jim and Blair, a mixture of resentment and confusion burning in his hazel eyes. "Yes, Detective." Turning his back deliberately to the two detectives, he stomped up the stairs.

"Man, what's his problem?"

Jim took another look around the living room. "I don't know, Chief. This is the first time I've actually met him. He's got a reputation for being a good cop, the attitude not withstanding. He transferred in a couple of months ago."

Blair rolled his eyes. "I know that. You don't need super hearing to find out things around the precinct. Did you know that his brother is gay?"

Jim looked at Blair. "His brother's gay?"

"Yeah. I heard he moved up here to be closer to him. Some sort of family tragedy or something. The details aren't too clear. I think his brother is sick or something."

Above them came the rumbling of voices and stomping of feet as the forensics team made their way down the stairs. Weisner barely acknowledged them as he stomped into the kitchen.

Motioning Blair to go first up the stairs, Jim walked behind him, monitoring his heart rate and breathing. Blair stopped and turned around. "You didn't have to clear everyone out for me."

Jim came up next to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "If these men are the ones from your vision, I didn't think you'd want an audience."

Blair put his hand over Jim's. "Thanks, man." He took a deep breath. "Let's get this over." Straightening his shoulders, he solemnly continued up the stairs. He hesitated at the top. Jim silently pointed to a door. Blair's face was pale as he walked down the hallway.

Walking through the door, his eyes were drawn to the two sheet draped figures on the floor. His hands began to sweat as he took in the details. They lay in the shape of a T with a bloody stain where the top body was covered. Blair stumbled forward.

Jim caught his arm. This was a bad idea. Dead bodies had never been his partner's forte. "You don't have to go through with this, Blair. You can look at the photos later."

Blair shook his head, his expression determined. "No, I need to see the bodies."

Jim let him go. Reaching down, he carefully lifted the first sheet. A young man in his mid-twenties was revealed. His strong face was incredibly peaceful. A bouquet of flowers had been placed on his broad chest. Jim looked up at his partner, who nodded for him to continue. Jim pulled back the other sheet. The dark haired man had his arms outstretched and gashes covered his chest. Blair swallowed hard and continued looking at the bodies, matching the details from his vision. After a long moment, he turned away. Jim covered the bodies again.

Blair walked over to the window, staring out to the pristine white snow-covered lawn. Jim joined him there, putting an arm around his shoulders. Blair took a deep breath. "It's them. It's the men from my vision."

Jim gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze. "I'm sorry, Blair."

"Sorry wasn't good enough for them, Jim. What's the use of having psychic powers if they don't make a difference?"

Jim turned the younger man towards him. "Maybe it does make a difference. There's a madman out there who has killed four times. We're in the position to stop him and we will stop him, but I need you realize you can make a difference. You, Blair Sandburg, are a force to be reckoned with. I need you focused on that and not dwelling on things that you can't change. The past is the past, we can't change it, but we can change the future."

Blair stared into Jim's eyes, absorbing the absolute conviction in them, the conviction that he, Blair Sandburg, could change the future. I can make a difference. He slipped an arm around Jim's waist. "I can do it. I can make a difference."

"Great, now tell me what you see here."

Blair turned around. He stopped comparing what he had seen in his vision and focused on what was there. He paced around the bodies, lifting off the sheets again, taking in the details. "This was a crime of passion. But it was also planned. Both Block and Garrot were drugged." He gestured to the arms of the victims. "See, no defensive wounds on Garrot's arms and Block is just too big to go down without a fight. The killer drugged their drinks. He drank with them to lower their guards."

Jim nodded. "They were killed here, though. He brought them upstairs to the bedroom. The bedroom is a significant place to the killer. Probably because they're gay."

Blair turned to Jim. "Are we sure they were killed because they were gay?"

"There's no sign of robbery. This is the second gay couple in two weeks to be killed and both couples had their bodies arranged in a similar fashion. I'd say it's a strong possibility."

"Okay, so he killed them because they were gay. Why?"

"He's a serial killer, Blair, that's what they do. For some reason, gay men piss him off." He looked over the bodies again. "He killed the younger man first."

Blair looked at the bodies, his expression puzzled. "How do you know that?"

Jim squatted next to the younger man's body. "Look at the blood splatter here on the crease of his shirt. If he were still alive at the time of his friend's murder, the blood would be smudged from him breathing. It isn't."

Blair nodded grimly, his face turning a little green, but determined to get through this. "Okay, so how did he die? Hirken was killed by a blow to the head."

Jim pointed out a small mark on the arm. "He was given a shot of something. He probably never woke up."

"The killer brings them up here, arranges the bodies and then kills Block with a shot of something. Then he turns to Garrot and stabs him to death? That doesn't make any sense. Garrot was unconscious at the time."

"'Sense' doesn't apply here, Blair. Killers have their own kind of logic."

"Fine, the crazy man stabs Garrot to death and then does what? There's blood all over the place. He's got to have it all over himself." Blair's eyes followed the bloody footprints that led away from the bodies to the master bathroom. "He cleaned himself up in bathroom."

Jim stood up and scanned the inside of the bathroom. "Forensics have been in here. There're no fingerprints on the sink. He cleaned up after himself."

Blair nodded. "He's started to think again. He grabbed the murder weapon and ran out the door. So we have four dead people, no fingerprints upstairs, too many fingerprints down stairs, no murder weapon and no suspect." He covered the victims again with the sheets, his movements jerky.


Blair sighed. "Sorry. Objectivity doesn't seem to be my long suit anymore."

"Was it ever? Come on; let's interview that neighbor. Maybe she saw something that could help us."

Blair tossed down the forensics report he was holding and stretched out his legs underneath his desk. After interviewing the neighbor, who hadn't seen anything suspicious, they'd canvassed the area before heading back to the station.

They dug through the original reports on the Miller-Hirken case, sifting through the witness reports, autopsy reports, and forensics. It had been pretty depressing. No one had seen anything, despite the fact that a huge holiday party had taken place only a few hours prior to the murders. Blair had left the autopsy reports to Jim and concentrated on going through the forensics evidence.

Over a hundred prints had been lifted at the house, mostly from downstairs. The majority had been identified by fingerprinting the guests, but there were still twenty or so unidentified prints and at least that many guests either out of town or unknown to the other guests. Dozens of hair and fiber samples had been taken, and cross-matched against samples obtained from guests at the party, but again, they couldn't be sure whether they belonged to a guest at the party or the killer because they still hadn't been able to find all the people at said party. Blair looked at the photos of the crime scene. The couple must have been interrupted during the cleaning up immediately after the party. A lot of the dishes and glasses had been collected on one of the tables. He picked up the photo that showed Miller and Hirken on the floor. Unlike the second murder, the killer had left these bodies in the living room and arranged them where they'd fallen.

He studied the position of the bodies, trying to remain objective. Despite the similarities in how the bodies were arranged in both cases, there were some differences that seemed to jump out. The positioning seemed sloppy and hurried, as if the killer had been worried about getting caught. He hadn't bothered to extend Miller's arms as carefully as he'd done with Garrot's. Blair closed his eyes, seeing the second murder scene, picking out the details. Yes, the bodies were more carefully placed. They were at right angles to each other and the bottom body was perfectly centered. He shivered as he remembered the look of peace on the younger man's face, his head haloed in blood. Blair jumped as a hand came down on his shoulder. He looked up to see Megan backing away with her hands up.

"Take it easy, Sandy. I was just checking to see if you're awake. You know you're not supposed to sleep on the job."

He sat up and ran his hands through his curly hair. "I wasn't sleeping, Megan. I was using a technique called visualization. You should try it some time. It helps improve your reaction time."

Megan shook her head. "If Simon catches you 'visualizing' you're going need that reaction time. How's it going?" There was just a touch of concern in her voice.

Blair cleared his throat. "Fine, fine. How are you and Rafe enjoying working together on the swing shift?" Megan had been temporarily partnered with the debonair detective while Brown's broken jaw healed. Simon had taken pity on him and ordered him on medical leave for the next week after it became evident that talking with his jaw wired shut was not going to work.

"Just great, Sandy. Paperwork's all caught up and Rafe was finally able to finish transferring his little black book into his organizer."

Blair rolled his eyes. Brown had given his partner an electronic organizer for Christmas. He claimed it was because sooner or later the ladies were going to realize that the bulge in Rafe's pocket was from his old little black book and not from some other source. Rafe claimed that he couldn't carry his LBB in his pocket because it kept on ripping the liner out of the pockets, it was so heavy. The teasing and boasting had gone on for a while longer, but everyone could tell that Rafe loved the present. He had gotten everyone to enter their information right then and there. He'd even managed to charm the donut lady, Dilly, into putting in her number. For emergency donut shortages, he had assured her.

"I would have thought it would have taken him at least another week."

Megan shrugged. "It might have, but he decided to weed out some of his old 'acquaintances' who are now married ladies. I say this for the man, he does have some scruples with the ladies."

"Connor, you wound me. I'll have you know that I am always a perfect gentleman with the ladies." Rafe smiled as he strolled up to Blair's desk. As always, he was dressed to the nines in a crisp gray suit and a complimentary tie.

Megan smiled at him. "Uh-huh. I wonder if Rhonda would say that about your behavior last Thursday when she took you home?"

Blair chuckled as Rafe's face turned red, the blush contrasting with the green and yellow bruising on the left side of his face. The bruise was a reminder of Rafe's disastrous dental surgery and the even more disastrous ride home from the precinct that Rhonda had given the handsome detective.

Jim walked up with the Garrot-Block pre-lim forensics report in his hand. "Are they ganging up on you, Rafe?"

Rafe put on his own version of the patented Sandburg puppy dog look. "They are attacking my dating habits."

Jim turned to Blair. "You are criticizing his dating habits? Mr. I'll-date-anything-in-a-skirt?"

Blair looked at Jim with a mock hurt expression. "Hey, aren't you supposed to be defending me, oh partner of mine?"

Jim shook his head. "Some things are just indefensible. Your dating habits just happen to be one of them. At least you've stopped overbooking them."

"Like yours are any better. In fact, when was your last date? I can't seem to remember..." His voice drifted off as he pretended to search his memory. A cuff to the head brought him back. "Oh yeah, three weeks ago. That little blonde thing."

"That little blonde thing teaches self-defense at the local woman's shelter. She also holds a master's in sociology. Karen is a very talented and giving woman."

Blair grinned. "Uh-huh. I bet she is."

Simon came out of his office, his eyes searching for delinquent detectives. Connor and Rafe disappeared as he bore down on the group. "Any progress on your case, Jim?"

Jim handed him the file he had brought with him. "Forensics is a bust. No fingerprints on the glasses or upstairs. The luminol did pick up the footprints. They were able to match them to a brand of sneakers Nike makes. Unfortunately they're fairly common running shoes. The knife was found buried underneath the snow in the yard. No prints there either."

Simon took a quick look through the file before handing it off to Blair. "Damn. The press has been pretty quiet on this so far. They're still having a field day with all the Y2K hoopla. Sooner or later they're going to be looking for fresh blood. What about witnesses?"

Blair shook his head. "None. The neighbor who discovered the body said there were people coming and going all night. She went to bed early, so she didn't hear anything after ten. This killer is either really lucky or picking his victims carefully. Both times were after a big holiday party, so lots of unfamiliar faces and cars."

"But how is he picking his victims? What do they have in common?"

Jim took the two case folders and set them side by side on his desk. The three policemen looked at the photos of the victims prior to death. "Two couples, gay, male, Caucasian. Ages ranging from 21 to 43. Miller owned a cafe, Hirken was a college student, Garrot was an architect, and Block worked in construction. Both couples were reportedly happy in their relationships."

Blair shifted impatiently. "Where would these two couples cross paths?"

Simon tapped on the folders. "Check their credit card receipts. See if they went to the same places. This is Cascade, not San Francisco. There can't be that many gay hangouts." He grinned at Blair's expression. "What's wrong, Sandburg, never been to a gay bar?"

"Well, yes and no."

Jim smirked. "Which is it, yes or no?"

Blair squirmed. "Well, I accidentally went into this bar once in Nurnburg when I was young."

Jim broke in. "Nurnburg? I didn't know you'd been to Germany. Isn't Nurnburg the second largest gay city in Germany?"

"How would you know that?"

"There's a military base there. I was TDY there a couple of times -- temporary duty. Not that I did a lot of sightseeing while I was there. I do remember the wall enclosing the city and the castle that sits above the city."

"Yeah, my Mom and I climbed up to visit the castle. I remember this big rock there."

Simon grunted in surprise. "You and your mom went into a gay bar?"

Blair sighed. "If you guys would let me finish, I would tell you that we wandered in there by accident. There aren't signs posted about that stuff. I probably wouldn't have noticed except for the guy behind the bar. It was the first time I'd ever seen a guy in a dress. Naomi got me out of there so fast that I thought I had whiplash."

Simon and Jim hooted while Blair stood there, chuckling. Simon was the first one to gain his composure. "I guess there is a limit even to Naomi's tolerance."

Blair shook his head, still smiling. "No, I think she was surprised more than anything else. She hadn't expected it to be a gay bar. It didn't look like one. If fact, except for the absence of women, it didn't really look all that different from a regular bar."

"Well, why don't you check out the gay bars here in Cascade. You can compare notes or something, Sandburg."

"Sure thing, Captain." Blair gave him a snappy salute.

"Quit that and get to work. Cruise the bars and see if you can find anything useful." Shaking his head, he wandered back to his office. Only with Sandburg could he hear about European castles and gay bars in the same conversation.

Continue on to Act III...

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