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.
Trust (Season Finale)
The waitress squeezed through the crowd and approached the table, her serving tray loaded with frosty amber bottles.
"Here you go, guys." She leaned over, placing the bottles in front of each of the patrons and collected the empties. With a flirtatious smile, she accepted a crisp bill from the cute, curly haired man and made her way to the next table.
Blair Sandburg grinned, his deep blue eyes fixated on the retreating waitress as she glanced back over her shoulder and gave him a playful wink. He took a deep breath and shivered as a feeling of pure lust washed over him. "Wow!"
A heavy hand on his shoulder dragged his attention back to the table, and he looked up to see his partner smiling at him like a disapproving parent. "Down, Romeo. She's too much for you to handle."
Blair's eyes opened wide in surprise and he couldn't help but let go an indignant snort. "Excuse me? Too much? For me? Since when, man?"
Jim Ellison nodded and took another draw from his beer, his eyes moving back to the blonde waitress who seemed to be enjoying the attention from his young partner. "Since she's probably got a boyfriend who plays for the Seahawks." He laughed at the momentary look of panic in Blair's eyes. "Or maybe she's a drug dealer who's moving in next door, or the daughter of a gun runner, or..."
"Okay, Okay. I get the point." Blair sighed, his eyes still on the beauty across the crowded bar.
"So, what are we plotting over here?" Captain Simon Banks joined the partners. He threw his arm across Blair's shoulder, causing the shorter man to exchange an amused look with his partner.
The entire squad had come tonight to honor their captain on his 10th anniversary as the commander of the Major Crime unit. They had all met at Simon's favorite steakhouse down the street and regrouped here at Flannigan's Pub for a beer or two. The night was still young and they all needed the down time to relieve the stress of their jobs.
"Who's Sandburg targeting this time?"
"The blonde waitress." Jim nodded his head in the general direction of the girl.
"Shelly." Blair's smile widened at the young woman's name. He looked at the captain, his eyebrows rising a few times, his eyes sparkling with delight.
"Shelly, huh?" Simon tried to suppress a grin and leaned closer to Jim. "Better put a leash on him, Ellison. He hasn't had his shots."
Jim chuckled and took another drink. He turned away from the table, just as Sandburg wound up to give Simon a speech on the mating rituals of some remote Amazonian tribe. Tuning out his partner's anthropology lesson, he glanced around the crowded room, his blue eyes catching and holding a lovely pair of emerald green ones at the bar. The eyes were encased in a beautiful heart shaped face surrounded by soft auburn hair.
He returned the young woman's smile and, with a quick glance back at his companions, made his way through the small crowd.
"Is this seat taken?" He gestured at the recently vacated bar stool immediately to her left.
"No." She shook her head, causing the auburn hair to brush against her shoulders. "Please, join me."
"I'm Jim." Ellison set his bottle on the bar and held out his hand in greeting.
"Jennifer." The young woman took the hand and squeezed it warmly. She glanced back at the table full of men across the bar, smiling as they all clinked their drinks together in a toast. "I take it you're celebrating something?"
Jim followed her eyes back to the table of detectives, smiling as his sensitive hearing picked up the words of the toast. "Right now they're toasting my partner's rather dangerous love life."
She looked at him, her confusion written plainly on her pretty face. "Partner? Are you cops or something?"
Jim nodded and took another sip from his beer. "Detectives. Major Crimes. We're here celebrating my captain's anniversary in the department."
She smiled, a gesture that brightened the entire room. "A room full of cops, huh? I feel safer already."
Jim spent the next few hours deep in conversation with Jennifer. She was very easy to talk to and Jim found himself becoming more and more comfortable with her as the time passed. Of course, it could've simply been because he had not had to deal with anything remotely to do with a crime the entire evening, he reminded himself, but he was feeling too good to care. He was in the company of a beautiful woman and he was actually relaxed. Since he was only on his second beer of the evening -- and nowhere near drunk -- he could only attribute his current euphoric state to Jennifer's intoxicating presence. The Major Crime gang had begun singing some old Irish tune the bar's owner was attempting to teach them and Jim couldn't help but laugh at the spectacle.
"Are they always like this?" Jennifer was enjoying the show, also. Her eyes were sparkling as she watched the detectives swing wholeheartedly into the chorus.
She laughed, the sound reminding Jim of bells at Christmas time. She checked her watch, her expression turning to one of regret. "I have to get going, Jim. I know this is rather forward, but do you think I could talk you into giving me a lift home? I don't think I should be driving."
"I think I could be convinced." Jim leaned closer, a mischievous smile on his face. She leaned toward him and planted a soft kiss on his lips. "I'm convinced. Let me go tell my friends."
He stood and walked back across the room, grabbing his jacket from the pile at the back of a booth.
"Hey, Jim! Where ya been, man?" Blair looked up at him as he shrugged into his jacket. The shorter man's eyes were glassy and he was obviously having some difficulty standing straight. He followed Jim's path back to the bar , his eyebrows rising in surprise as he saw Jennifer smile and wave. "Whoa, man! And you have the nerve to talk about me?"
Jim looked at his friend with tolerance. "Her name is Jennifer. She works in the mall and she doesn't feel up to driving herself home." He took another critical look at his slightly inebriated friend and frowned in concern. "Maybe I should take you home, too, Chief. I think you've had enough."
Blair waved him off. "Nah. Three's a crowd, man. Simon can drive me home, right Simon?" He turned, his voice rising in volume as he called the captain's name.
"What is it now, Sandburg?" Banks noticed Jim's jacket. "And just where do you think you're going, Detective?"
Blair slapped the captain's arm and pointed across the bar, his voice a loud stage whisper. "He's taking Jennifer home."
Simon glanced across the bar and let out a low chuckle. "Jennifer, huh?" He returned his attention to Jim and gave him a shooing motion. "Go. Go. What the hell are you waiting for?" He noticed the detective's look toward his partner and understood the man's immediate concern. "Don't worry. I'll make sure Junior gets home. Now go before she sobers up and changes her mind."
Jim laughed and patted the captain on the arm. "Thanks, Simon. Don't wait up!"
Simon steered Blair into the loft, throwing the young man's keys into the basket beside the door.
"Whoa, man. Stop the ride, I wanna get off!"
Simon shook his head but couldn't help but smile at the younger man. Blair had matched the bigger men, beer for beer, and he was definitely beginning to feel the effects. Simon had decided to walk him up to the loft, which was a good thing since the young man had barely been able to move in a straight line once he stepped out of the car.
"Okay, Sandburg. Let's get you to bed."
Blair giggled and slapped at the hands that were holding him upright. "I am not that easy, Simon. I hardly ever go to bed on the first date." He tried to sound indignant, but the giggles killed the illusion.
"I'm sure women everywhere are sighing in relief."
Bank's steered the young man through the doors to his room and pushed him onto the small bed. Blair turned onto his side and immediately curled into a ball, his eyes drifting closed as he fell into an alcohol induced sleep. Simon sighed and shook his head at the sight of the young man curled up so innocently before him. He had no idea what it was in Sandburg that brought out the protectiveness in other people, but he couldn't deny he was as affected as anyone else.
He pulled the afghan from the bottom of the bed and laid it over Blair's inert form. With a low chuckle and another shake of his head, he quietly moved out of the room, closing the door softly behind him.
Blair awoke to the intense pressure of his bladder. He opened his eyes, recognizing his room in the darkness. The stale taste of beer in his mouth reminded him of the recent celebration and he groaned as his head began to register the slight rotation of the room. Since it was still dark, he deduced he hadn't been home very long.
The need to attend to his bladder forced him to push himself up from the warm comfort of the bed. A second effort got him to his feet where he swayed, his eyes squeezed tightly closed, as the wave of dizziness washed over him. As soon as the room leveled itself, he padded his way to the bathroom, using the walls to maintain his tentative hold on balance. He didn't bother to turn on the lights, knowing that his head would not appreciate it and it would probably be more bothersome than illuminating.
He quickly emptied his bladder, hoping like hell his aim was true. Jim would not appreciate waking up to that in the morning. The thought of his roommate made him wonder if the man had come home yet. He remembered Simon driving him back to the loft because Jim was taking the redhead from the bar home. What was her name?
Oh yeah, Jennifer.
Jim had left to take Jennifer home. She was pretty, from what Blair could remember. Just Jim's type. He was glad for his friend. God knows the big guy could do with a little more romance in his life. Although, if the truth be told, Jim's track record was not much better than Blair's when it came to his choice of women.
Blair made his way out of the bathroom and turned toward his bedroom. A movement in the living room caught his eye and he squinted into the darkness, making out the figure silhouetted against the balcony doors.
"No, Sandburg. It's me, Simon."
Blair rubbed his tired face and moved a little further out into the loft. He pulled his arms around his torso to ward off the slight shill of the larger room. "Simon. What are you still doing here?"
"I was too tired to drive home so I thought I'd crash here on the couch. I didn't think you'd mind."
Blair shook his head and stifled a yawn. "No. That's cool. I take it Jim hasn't made it home yet?"
"He's a big boy, Sandburg. He can take care of himself."
Blair was surprised at the gruff tone of Simon's voice. A yawn reminded him of the late hour and he decided the captain was probably as tired as he was.
Simon moved suddenly and walked toward the front door, grabbing his coat in the process. "I'm going out to have a smoke. You go on back to bed, Blair."
Blair just nodded as he watched the captain quietly open the door and disappear into the shadows of the hallway. A frown on his face, Blair made his way across the loft and peered out the large glass balcony doors, into the dark street below. A flicker of movement caught his attention and he squinted into the shadows across the street from the building. He was able to make out the form of a man in the darkness, the faint outline blending with the shadows of the night.
He watched for a few minutes, his eyes becoming more accustomed to the dark. The man was leaning against the building, his head tilted up as if he was looking straight at Blair. After a few moments, the figure averted his gaze and stepped back quickly into the shadows. Blair squinted, wishing he could remember where he had left his glasses. His eyes roamed the dark street, trying to discern the difference between what was there and what his slightly inebriated imagination was creating.
A sound from behind him made him jump and he let out a breath when he recognized the tall form of Simon Banks move back into the loft.
"I thought I told you to go back to bed, Sandburg." Banks tone was gruff, but Blair ignored it.
"Did you go down to check him out?"
"Check who out?"
"The guy across the street. He was standing there watching --" Blair stopped abruptly as he returned his attention to the scene below. There was no sign of the mysterious observer and he was suddenly unsure if the figure hadn't been a figment of his overtaxed imagination.
Simon joined him at the balcony doors and scanned the street below. "There's nobody there, Sandburg." He turned to look at the smaller man, the faint moonlight highlighting the confusion in Blair's eyes. "I think you'd better get back to bed, kid."
Simon gently turned him and steered him back to his room.
Blair shook his head slowly. Maybe he was a little farther gone than he thought. "Yeah. That might be a good idea. Goodnight, Simon."
Stepping out of the bathroom, Blair decided the shower had helped to make him feel almost human. Almost.
The marching band that had been playing in his head when he had first awoke was now reduced to a single drum, beating a soft but persistent rhythmic pattern behind his eyes. The inviting smell of coffee tickled at his senses and drew him into the kitchen where he found Simon sitting at the table, reading the paper and sipping on a cup of the aromatic liquid.
Simon looked up, grinning as the younger man stumbled into the kitchen, made his way to the counter, grabbed a mug from the strainer and poured himself a cup. Blair held the mug to his face, breathing in the steam before taking a small sip, his face breaking into a contented smile.
Simon chuckled, a low vibrating sound that echoed through the quiet loft. "You look like crap, Sandburg."
"Good morning to you, too, Simon." Blair took another sip of the coffee, feeling it flow down his throat and warm his stomach, the sensation somehow dampening the pounding of his head. He wandered over to the table and took a seat opposite Simon. He looked up at the captain, ignoring the bemused grin. "Is Jim still asleep?"
Simon's grin slipped momentarily, causing Blair to focus his attention on the bedroom upstairs. He placed the mug on the table and quickly stood, making his way to the staircase leading up to Jim's room.
"Sandburg, Jim's a big boy."
Blair hurried up the stairs, his heart thudding in time with his head. Jim's bed was neat and undisturbed. He glanced at the clock on the bedside table. 10:15. He tried to quell the sudden feeling of trepidation that began to gnaw at his gut, but the concern had already taken hold.
Blair ran back down the stairs and headed directly for the front door. He grabbed for his jacket only to be thwarted when a strong hand grabbed his arm and turned him roughly around.
"Blair, Jim's fine. He's just a little slow getting home this morning."
"Did he call?"
Simon shook his head and sighed in exasperation. "No. He didn't call. You're not his mother, Sandburg. Jim doesn't have to check in with you every minute."
Blair bit back a retort, knowing that Simon was only trying to help. While it was true Jim did have a life of his own -- a part that didn't concern Blair at all -- it was not like the Sentinel to stay out all night and not let his partner know where he was. Jim was the most responsible person Blair knew. After all the lectures he had given his younger friend about the consideration of a phone call when Blair had come home from an all-nighter, there was no way he was going to believe Jim had just forgotten to call. That was definitely not the Jim Ellison he knew.
The phone rang, causing him to jump.
"See," Simon smiled. "That's probably Jim now."
Blair nodded, crossed to the table next to the couch, and picked up the phone.
"Hello?" He felt a twinge of disappointment when a voice he recognized as Joel Taggart asked for Captain Banks. "Yeah, he's here." He held the phone out to the captain. "It's for you."
Blair made his way back to the table and resumed his seat as Simon barked a greeting into the receiver and listened in silence to the voice. His head was still pounding and he was contemplating getting up to dig the aspirin out of the medicine chest in the bathroom when Simon's voice broke through his consciousness. "I'm on my way."
The urgency in the captain's voice made Blair look up, the cold ball a fear that had begun to form in the pit of his stomach growing a little larger.
"Come on Sandburg. You're with me."
Blair furrowed his brow in confusion. "What is it, Simon? Is it Jim?"
Simon shook his head and grabbed his coat off the hook by the door, tossing Blair's leather jacket to him. "No, it's not Jim. We've got a body on the pier. A woman's body"
Blair breathed a sigh of relief and caught the jacket, but made no move to put it on. "Simon, I'd rather just stay here and wait for Jim --"
"Sandburg. May I remind you that you are now an official member of the Cascade P.D. and under my command. You and your partner are next up on the rotation so I would like at least one of you to be present at the crime scene." Blair had taken a step back at the harshness of Simon's voice and Simon cringed at the momentary flash of fear in the kid' eyes. He softened his tone, acknowledging his understanding of Blair's concern for his partner. "Jim's probably on his way home as we speak. You can call him from the car and tell him to meet us on the pier."
The wind tugged at his jacket and he pulled the collar up to ward off the slight chill in the air. He pushed his hair behind his ears, trying to ignore the strands as they whipped across his face in the breeze. He followed Simon to the crime scene out along the pier, his mind only half on the flurry of activity going on around him. His call to Jim's cell phone had gone unanswered and the tug of concern for his partner had continued to haunt him. He had no viable explanation to give for his feelings of anxiety, but something deep inside was telling him something was terribly wrong. Call it an instinct or gut feeling -- whatever it was, it was telling him to find his partner. And it was getting stronger.
They crossed to the large form of Joel Taggart, who was with a small group of people standing near the plastic covered body. Although he had gotten more accustomed to this part of police work over the years, Blair had never quite gotten comfortable being near the corpses. Jim still looked at him in concern every time his heart skipped a beat or a there was a hitch in his breathing, but he had learned to control his reaction to the sight of the dead bodies -- at least on the outside. On the inside, he was still sickened by the atrocities human beings could impose upon one another and wondered if he would ever be able to 'check his humanity at the door' as his partner seemed to be able to.
"What have we got?" Banks took charge of the scene, posing his question to Taggart.
"A fisherman found her here about an hour ago." The detective squatted down beside the body and lifted the plastic sheet, drawing a gasp of horror from Sandburg.
Blair's feelings of anxiety over his partner's whereabouts exploded into full fledged panic as he stared at the glassy green eyes and limp red hair of the dead woman. His mind flashed to the bar the night before, quickly recognizing Jennifer's features.
He felt a hand steady him as his knees threatened to buckle and grabbed onto it gratefully. Slowly he raised his head and looked into the eyes of Simon Banks. He couldn't speak around the lump that had suddenly lodged itself in his throat, but he could see his fear reflected in the captain's dark eyes.
Blair glanced back at the body, only one thought racing through his head. Where the hell was Jim?
Blair stood off to the left of the small group as Simon spoke quietly to Joel. He was aware of the quick looks of concern he was receiving from both of the captains, but didn't acknowledge them. He stared at the plastic sheet, his mind not able to grasp anything except the fear that Jim was somehow in terrible danger. He could hear Simon's voice through the whistling of the wind and latched on to it as an anchor against the despair he felt welling up inside.
"Her full name was Jennifer Conroy. She worked at the Tobacco Bowl at the Mall."
Blair turned his attention toward the captain, who glanced at him with a worried frown.
"Check there for a current address then have a unit secure her home until we can get forensics to check it out."
Blair looked up and noticed the captain's eyes on him and quickly looked away. Something wasn't right. He thought back to last evening, trying to force his brain to focus. He remembered Jim introducing the woman as Jennifer, but he couldn't remember his partner mentioning her last name -- let alone where she worked. How would Simon know that?
He glanced back up at the captain, who quickly finished with Joel and approached Blair.
"According to the M.E., there's not enough blood here to account for the amount she should have lost. She must have been killed somewhere else and dumped here." Simon took a careful look at Sandburg, his forehead wrinkling in concern. "You okay, Sandburg?"
Blair wasn't able to meet the captain's eyes. He pushed a strand of hair behind his ear and watched as the body was placed onto a stretcher. "We have to find Jim."
"I know. I'm having an APB put out on him and the truck."
Blair turned to Simon, his eyes wide with shock. "You what? You don't think Jim had anything to do with this?"
Simon took a deep breath and squeezed the bridge of his nose. "No, Blair. Of course I don't. But Jim did leave with her last night. As far as we know, he was the last person to see her alive. He may be the only one who can tell us what happened. That is if --" He didn't finish the sentence and Blair looked at him, a cold fire burning in his blue eyes.
"If he's still alive. That's what you were going to say."
Simon sighed and placed a hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "Look, Blair. I'm not trying to say anything."
Blair wrapped his arms around himself and nodded in response. "He's alive, Simon. I can feel it. Jim's alive and he's in trouble." He looked back at the captain, the anger in his eyes now replaced with a haunted look. "We have to find him, Simon." Blair's voice was soft and low and Simon could almost feel the intensity of his statement.
"We will, kid. We will."
Continue on to Act II...
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This page last updated 2/2/01.