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, Part 2
by
Sue Pokorny

.

(If you haven't already, you may want to read Trust, Part 1 first)

Act I

Simon swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry, his eyes wide behind the wire rimmed glasses perched across his face. A tightness in his chest reminded him to breathe, and he coughed at the acrid cloud of smoke that wafted in his direction from the devastation before him.

A sound from behind him made him tear his eyes away from the ghastly scene, focusing his rising anger at Lee Brackett.

"That wasn't quite as satisfying as I'd hoped," Brackett remarked, dryly. His eyes remained on the destroyed building as his face took on a bemused expression. "But I suppose it will have to do."

Simon rose to his feet and took a step towards the mercenary. "You. Are. A. Dead. Man." His voice was low, more of a growl than a statement.

Brackett simply smiled. "Tell me something I don't know, Captain." He shifted on his feet and revealed the hand gun he held trained on Simon's heart. "But I doubt if you'll be the one delivering the final stroke." He glanced back at the compound, his eyes squinting as if trying to come to a decision. "I would very much like to believe Ellison and Sandburg are dead, but we both know they aren't your ordinary pair of cops, don't we?"

"If they are alive, Ellison won't stop until you're dead."

"I'd have to agree with that assessment, Captain. That's why I've decided to hold onto my ace in the hole." He grinned at Simon, his perfect white teeth flashing a contradiction to the insanity in his eyes.

The meaning of his statement was not lost on the policeman. "I'm not here alone," Simon stated as he glanced around. The team of four intelligence officers which Jack Kelso had arranged to travel with him was nowhere in sight. and the captain tensed, suddenly registering the fact he was indeed alone. The realization was not a welcome one.

"Your team has been dealt with, Captain." Brackett took a few steps until he was only inches from Banks' ear. He leaned forward, pitching his voice low and soft. " Believe me, you are very much alone."


The silence was broken only by the sounds of the concrete tumbling to the ground from the heap that had once been Brackett's compound. A figure moved, carefully dislodging the debris, which had partially covered his aching body. A dusty, dirt-streaked Jim Ellison shook his head, instantly regretting the action as the steady throbbing escalated into a mind numbing pounding. Taking a deep breath, he desperately searched for the mental dial that would allow him to bring the pain down to an acceptable level.

A sound to his right caught his attention and he shifted his focus as a pile of debris began to move. "Sandburg?" His voice was harsh and he cleared his throat, repeating the name. "Sandburg? Blair? You okay?"

A head emerged from beneath the rubble and Blair blinked, looked in the direction of the voice, then squeezed his eyes shut. "Oh, man. What the hell happened?" His voice was as rough as his partner's. He extricated one hand from beneath the rock and brought it up to his head, gingerly touching the growing knot above his left temple.

"I'd say Brackett was expecting us."

Jim pushed his way to his feet, breathing deeply as he waited out the short attack of light-headedness. As soon as his vision returned to normal, he took stock of his aches, quickly deciding there were no serious injuries. He made his way carefully across the debris littering the small room and knelt next to his partner. "How are you doing?"

Blair had not moved, most of his body still buried underneath the pieces of concrete. "I'm okay. I think."

He slowly moved his legs and arms, forcing the collection of rocks away from his limbs. He hissed as a large slab fell from his back, scraping skin exposed through the large tear in his dingy white shirt.

"Careful." Jim removed the rock and examined the raw skin on his partner's back. "You got pretty scraped up, Chief." He leaned closer and took a good look at the darkening bruise and lump on his friend's forehead. "Looks like you took a pretty good whack to the head, too."

Blair nodded slightly and managed to open his eyes. He squinted up at his partner, taking in the sentinel's appearance. While there were a few scrapes across Jim's face and arms, he had apparently been able to avoid serious injury. Blair took a deep breath, coughing as the dust from the settling debris filled his throat.

"Think you can move?"

Blair quickly nodded and held out a hand. Jim pulled the smaller man to his feet, steadying him as he regained his equilibrium. Blair brushed some of the dust from his jeans and looked at their surroundings.

"Why would Brackett blow his own base?"

"Either his need for revenge is stronger than his need for the plutonium, or he's just plain crazy."

Blair laughed humorlessly. "Like that was ever in doubt."

Jim moved toward what had once been the front of the building. The explosion had caved in the entire front room, destroying most of the functional base. He and Blair had been at the far end of the room, near the corridor where he had been held before, when the blast occurred. The initial force of the explosion had thrown them both forward into the relative safety of the corridor, the interior wall shielding them from the building's partial collapse.

He moved through the rubble, instructing Blair to follow closely. The remaining walls were beginning to crumble, large pieces of concrete continually succumbing to the call of gravity. By the time they had picked their way to safety, most of the structure lay in ruins.

The Chopec warriors who had accompanied them were waiting at the edge of the clearing, apparently having realized -- probably from the Chopec Sentinel -- that the two men from Cascade were okay and working their way through the debris. Jim briefly exchanged words with the Chopec Sentinel before turning back to his partner. Blair was holding a hand to his head, his eyes once again squeezed shut against the burgeoning headache.

"The Chopec said two men left from here right after the explosion. From the descriptions, one of them was Brackett. From what I can gather, he must have had some kind of remote he triggered as soon as we entered the building."

"Great." Blair lowered his hand and looked at his friend in disgust. "We walked right in, just like he wanted us to."

"I'm sorry, Chief." Jim looked sadly at his friend. "I thought I could trust him."

Blair stared at his partner. "Brackett? Why would you trust Brackett, Jim?"

Jim shook his head and looked off across the clearing. "Not Brackett. Simon."

Blair's eyes narrowed as he tried to understand the sentinel's meaning. "Simon? You mean Simon was here?"

Jim merely nodded, the pain of betrayal clouding his chiseled features. "He warned me about two men coming up behind us. Then he waved me into the building." He hesitated a moment before continuing softly. "Right before it exploded."

Blair shook his head, trying to put his conflicting thoughts into some kind of mental order. "How would Simon know we were here? I never told him. How could he know where to find us unless -- " His eyes went wide and he looked to Jim, seeing the confirmation of his conclusion in the sentinel's eyes. "Oh, God, Jim. It can't be true. Simon wouldn't betray us like this."

Jim just shrugged, his eyes taking on a look of defeat. "I want to believe that, Chief. But the Chopec saw him leave with Brackett."

"We have to talk to him, Jim. There has to be some logical explanation for all this."

Jim sighed and placed a hand on the shoulder of the one man he did trust. "I hope you're right."

Blair nodded and took a deep breath, comforted by the physical contact. "Now what?"

"Now, we find Brackett. He's on his own now, and he's running from whoever hired him to steal the plutonium, as well as the Feds."

Blair turned and looked back over the destroyed building. "I don't suppose any kind of communications equipment survived."

Jim squeezed his shoulder and smiled at his partner's ability to focus on the problem at hand. "There was a radio room back down the corridor. It may have been shielded from the blast, but it'll probably take some time to get to it. Do you have anyone in particular you want to reach out and touch?"

Blair grinned and shrugged." Not like we have much of a choice, but I figure Jack Kelso would be a good place to start."


"Jack. It's Blair." Blair spoke into the microphone, thankful his former colleague still maintained his short wave radio. He had shown it to Blair years ago, telling him that nobody ever really retired from the company, they simply moved on to another type of service. Blair had not wanted to know exactly what "type" of service Jack still performed for the government then, nor did he want to know now. He just hoped this service would be enough to help them.

"My God, Blair! Are you all right? I heard about Cosgrove. I guess I really messed up on that one. I'm sorry, kid. I had no idea he had gone bad."

"It's okay, Jack. We're fine." He stressed the word 'we', hoping Kelso would pick up on the reference.

"We? Good. I feel a lot better about your safety now."

Blair looked up at Jim and smiled. Jack understood. The fading light of day flickered across the sentinel's features, accentuating the dark circles under the man's eyes. Even with the help of the Chopec, it had taken them the better part of the day to unearth the communications gear. Now Jim looked as sore and tired as Blair felt.

"Jack," Jim bent down and spoke into the microphone. "What's the situation back there?"

There was a moment of static before Jack's voice returned. "Not too good. " The voice paused and static filled the air for a moment. "Your captain is missing."

Jim smiled grimly -- he had expected that.

"And I have a message for you from Lee Brackett."

Jim's eyebrows shot up. That he had not expected. "What's the message?"

"He says he wants to meet with you. He says he'll give you 24 hours to return to Cascade. After that, his hostage will die."

Jim furrowed his brow in confusion. "Hostage?"

Blair shrugged, his face showing his own lack of understanding. "I don't know who he could..." His voice trailed off as his brain supplied the only logical answer. "Simon." He looked up at Jim, his eyes wide with shock. "He has to mean Simon."

Jim nodded, having come to the same conclusion. He was as confused as ever at his captain's part in all this, but a part of him still refused to believe Simon would betray them despite all the evidence to the contrary. "What else did he say, Jack?"

"Not much." The voice was bathed in static, but the words were still decipherable. "I'm afraid I may be the cause of some of this. After I learned about Cosgrove from an old CIA connection, I informed your captain of Brackett's escape. I planned on sending someone to look for Blair and Banks insisted he go along. I know they arrived and had reached Brackett's compound, but since then there hasn't been any communication from them. If Brackett got to them..." His voice trailed off, obviously coming to the same conclusions as the Cascade cops. "I'm sorry, Blair. I guess I've been out of the game a little too long."

"This isn't your fault, Jack. You got me here, and I found what I was looking for." He looked up at Jim, letting the sentinel's presence fill him with renewed purpose. "Now it's up to us to take care of the rest."

Jim patted Blair's shoulder in agreement and leaned down again. "Jack, we're going to need some help. Can you find us a transport back to the U.S.?"

The ex-CIA agent's voice was suddenly all business. "I've already checked, hoping I'd hear from you soon. There's a plane leaving from Lima in four hours. Can you make it?"

"We'll make it."


The flight back to the States wasn't quite as bad as the flight to Peru, Blair decided. Maybe it was just because he had Jim for company rather than a bunch of crates. Jack had arranged for them to hop another cargo plane from Houston to Sacramento and had a private plane waiting to transport them the rest of the way to Cascade. One of these days, Blair was going to sit down and ask Jack Kelso exactly how he was able to work his magic. On the other hand, maybe it was better if he didn't know.

It was past dusk by the time they returned, less than two hours before Brackett's deadline. Jack Kelso met them at the airstrip himself and ushered them into a waiting van. As soon as Kelso had swung himself into the rear of the van and pulled his folding wheelchair behind him, the vehicle pulled away from the small private airstrip and began to make its way toward Cascade.

"Thanks for all your help, Jack." Blair shook his friend's hand.

Jack smiled warmly, grasping Blair's hand firmly between both of his own. "I'm glad you're all right, Blair." He looked across the van at Jim and amended his statement. "Both of you. I just wish things hadn't gotten so messed up."

"Lee Brackett has a way of doing that." Jim smiled reassuringly. He knew Kelso had great affection for Sandburg and was certain the man had done all he could to help. He was grateful to Kelso for being there for Blair when the young man wasn't sure who to trust. "Where does he want to meet?"

"He instructed me to take you to the docks. He said to meet him near the end of Pier 11." Jack looked from Blair to Jim, his mouth set in a grim line. "I don't like this. You'll be too exposed."

Jim nodded his agreement. "I know, but right now he's holding all the cards."

"Maybe we should call Major Crime," Blair suggested.

Jim shook his head. "We can't risk it, Chief. If Brackett has Simon, he wouldn't hesitate to kill him at the first sign of trouble."

"I know that, Jim. But I was talking about Jennifer's murder. You're still a wanted man. Maybe if we explain what's going on to Joel, he'll be able to shift the investigation in a different direction -- and find some real evidence to connect Brackett." He smiled at the surprise he saw in his partner's eyes.

"I appreciate the thought, Chief, but that is the least of our worries right now."

"I know you're worried about Simon, Jim. So am I. And we need to concentrate on finding Brackett and beating him at whatever sick little game he has planned. I just think that would be a lot easier if we didn't have the rest of the Cascade P.D. breathing down our necks. Maybe if we get his name at the top of the list, it'll make it a little hotter for him and give us some kind of edge. I'd really feel better knowing Joel had the whole story so he could start working at clearing your name."

Jim seemed to consider the statement before nodding. "I guess it couldn't hurt, Chief. Besides, that's not something I'd want on my tombstone."

Blair smiled and shook his head, accepting the cell phone Jack handed him. "No. I'm sure you'd prefer your Tombstone with sausage and pepperoni."


Act II

Joel wiped a hand over his tired face and leaned back in the leather chair. It was a comfortable chair, well built and sturdy, but he had no desire to take up permanent residence in it. He was worried about Simon. He had not heard from the captain since he had blown out of the bullpen almost two days ago after a short but cryptic phone call.

Joel had done a pretty good soft shoe routine between the commissioner and the chief, trying to cover for his friend. But the brass was beginning to become insistent, and he was running out of excuses. He wished to hell that Simon would call in -- or better yet, storm back into Major Crime, demanding that Joel get out from behind his desk and get back to his cases. But somehow, Joel knew that wasn't going to happen.

Between the murder investigation and search for Jim, the disappearance of Sandburg and, now, Simon's vanishing act, Joel was at a loss as to where to turn. Not only did the brass want Ellison on a platter for the murder of Jennifer Conroy, the Feds had been back, insisting on speaking with the missing detective. Add to that the attack on Sandburg, then he and Simon both suddenly going AWOL., and Joel couldn't help but add everything up into one big mess. Somehow this all fit together, but Joel was missing one vital piece of the puzzle. If he only had a clue what that piece was...

The phone on the desk rang, catching the big man off guard. "Taggart."

"Joel, it's Blair."

"Blair!" Joel looked around as he realized his voice had jumped quite a bit in volume. Henri Brown met his eyes from his desk directly outside the captain's office and quickly stood, making his way to the open doorway. "Blair. Where are you? Are you all right?"

"Yeah Joel, I'm fine. So is Jim."

"Jim?" His eyes widened at the name. "You found Jim?"

"Yeah, Joel. Listen, I need to explain some things to you, and I don't have much time."

"Blair, is Simon with you?"

There was a pause on the line and Joel could hear the young man take a deep breath. "Listen, Joel. Lee Brackett has escaped. He's behind everything. We're pretty sure he's the one who killed Jennifer and kidnapped Jim. He wanted Jim to break into some plutonium plant in South America, but..."

"But Jim decided not to cooperate."

Blair gave a small laugh. "You could say that. We're on our way to meet Brackett now."

"Where?"

Another pause. "I can't tell you that, Joel."

"Blair, you need backup. You and Jim can't take Brackett on alone."

"No choice, man. Brackett has Simon."

"Damn." Joel closed his eyes and leaned heavily on the desk. "What do you want me to do?"

"We know the Feds are looking for Jim. Probably knew all along Brackett would come after him. We also know Brackett set Jim up for Jennifer's murder. We need you to take care of that. We'll take care of Brackett and get Simon back. But I don't want Jim to have to deal with a murder charge when this is all over."

Joel smiled, knowing how much Blair worried about the welfare of his partner. Here they were, about to take on an ex-covert military man bent on revenge and the kid was more concerned about his partner's reputation. "Don't sweat it, Blair. We'll take care of it. We found traces of Jim's blood type in the truck. According to the splatter patterns, whoever killed Jennifer Conroy was outside the truck. And we found drag marks outside the driver's door indicating the driver was pulled from the truck. I don't think it's going to be too hard to convince the D.A. that Jim was a victim as well."

"Thanks, Joel. Just get it cleaned up, okay? We'll be in touch as soon as we can."

The connection was severed and Joel slowly replaced the phone in its cradle.

"Well?" Brown was still in the doorway, but he was now flanked by Rafe and Megan Connor.

"Lee Brackett is involved in all this." Joel looked at the detectives, an unfamiliar anger sparking his eyes. "He's the one who had Jennifer Conroy killed, and he's the one who took Jim."

Megan looked confused and Joel remembered the Aussie Inspector had yet to come aboard when Lee Brackett had held the city ransom with the threat of releasing the Ebola virus into the air. He quickly explained how Brackett had used the threat to force Jim to break into a top security military installation so that he could steal a prototype aircraft. Jim and Blair had managed to outsmart him, but Brackett had vowed revenge on the two men who had dared to beat him.

"This Brackett sounds like a real nut case," Megan observed.

Joel nodded in agreement. "And he'll stop at nothing to make sure Jim pays."

"Can Jim handle him?"

Joel exchanged a knowing look with Brown and Rafe, the two detectives nodding to affirm his own opinion. "With Jim and Sandburg together? Brackett doesn't stand a chance."


Clouds obscured the faint light from the moon, casting the docks in a blanket of darkness. A single lamp shone from above, bathing the wooden pier in a faint, ghostly glow.

"I am not liking this, man." Blair pulled up the collar of the army surplus jacket Jack Kelso had provided for him and hunched his shoulders against the chilly wind blowing in from the sea. He squinted out into the darkness, seeing nothing but the rolling waves in the inky blackness of the night. "It's creepy."

Jim glanced at his friend and gave him a small smile of encouragement. "Creepy, huh? Anybody ever tell you that you have an amazing grasp of the English language, Chief?"

"I'm standing on a dock, in the middle of the night, waiting for some madman to kill me. Excuse me for not being terribly eloquent, Jim."

Jim gave a soft chuckle. He knew Blair's constant complaining was the younger man's way of trying to keep Jim from overextending his senses. They had been standing on the pier for nearly four hours, and the waiting was starting to eat at their nerves. Brackett's deadline had come and gone, and Jim was really starting to get annoyed with this game. His patience was wearing thin, and he was beginning to get one hell of a headache from the effort of keeping his senses on alert.

A low rumbling from out on the water grabbed Jim's attention, and he turned to look out over the waves.

"What is it, Jim? Do you see something?"

"No. I hear something. It sounded like a motor of some kind. " He continued to scan the area, his sentinel sight slicing through the darkness.

"Just relax," Blair intoned. "Get a fix on the sound, then let your eyes follow your ears. You can do this, man."

Jim nodded and did as instructed. The darkness lifted and he gazed out over the water, his eyes locking onto a small jet boat about a quarter of a mile out. Lee Brackett sat perched on the back of the driver's seat, a pair of night vision binoculars raised to his face.

"Welcome home, Jimmy." Brackett's voice floated to him from across the distance. "I know you can hear me, so why don't you just listen for a moment? There's a boat anchored at the end of the pier. I want you and Sandburg in it. I know I have quite a head start, but I'm sure a man of your talents will be able to track me quite easily."

"Jim?"

Blair had kept his voice down to a mere whisper, but Jim still winced. "He wants us to follow him," Jim relayed, his attention still focused on Brackett.

"In case you're interested, your captain is fine -- for now. I'll take you to him if you can keep up."

Brackett laughed and laid on the air horn, making Jim gasp from the sudden sound. He placed a hand over his ears to ward off the resulting ache, only slightly aware of the distant sound of the boat's engine as it roared to life and sped off into the darkness.

"Jim! Jim, are you okay?"

Ellison shook his head to clear it and turned to look down the dark pier. He could just make out the hull of a small boat rocking against the wooden structure. They had discovered the boat when they had first arrived, but at the time had no idea it had been Brackett who had anchored it there.

"He wants us to take the boat at the end of the pier. He wants to lead us on a wild goose chase."

Blair looked down the pier and out into the open water. "Are you gonna be okay with this?" He remembered Jim's fear of open water and hoped the sentinel would be able to keep the fear under control.

"I'll have to be. Let's go, Chief."


Jim kept his hearing and sight closely focused on the small jet boat which cut through the dark waters less than a quarter of a mile in front of them. Blair handled the chore of driving through the choppy waters, leaving the sentinel free to concentrate on their prey. Jim had seen no sign of Simon within the craft and they could only hope they would have a chance to rescue the captain before Brackett initiated whatever he had planned.

They were perhaps ten miles out into open water when the island came into the sentinel's view. Brackett's boat veered toward the distant piece of land and disappeared around the far side of the island.

"He's heading for that island." Jim had to raise his voice to be heard over the thrum of the motor. He raised his hand and pointed toward the small patch of land just becoming visible on the dark horizon.

Blair squinted, seeing nothing more than a darker black shape in the middle of the already black night. He nodded and swung the boat to the right, following Jim's direction, heading straight for what he hoped was the island. He knew there were hundreds of little islands of the coast, most of them nothing more than the tip of a burnt out volcano or tiny patch of rock in the middle of the vast ocean.

As they approached, the island loomed large before them, and Blair slowed the boat, steering it around to a dark cove on the far side. His heart skipped a beat as his eyes picked up the faint outline of the jet boat bobbing in the water near the shore. At Jim's silent command he cut the engine, remaining quiet as the Sentinel focused his senses on the area.

"I can hear a heartbeat a short distance inland." Jim's voice was hushed, blending with the soft lap of the water against the boat.

"Brackett?"

Jim shook his head. "I don't know. Maybe." He listened for another second, then shook his head again. "No. The rhythm is too relaxed. Whoever it is hasn't been moving around. They're either unconscious or asleep."

"Simon?"

By the faint light of the moon, Blair could see the hope in his partner's eyes and knew the same emotion was reflected in his own. He hated the fact they had been driven to question their trust in the captain, and he knew they both desperately wanted the chance to give Simon the opportunity to explain.

Jim turned the key and was rewarded with only a slight sputter and whine of the engine. "Damn!" Another attempt brought the same results.

"What?" Blair moved closer, his eyes darting around in the darkness.

Jim narrowed his eyes at the controls, laughing quietly as his sight landed on the gas gauge. "We're out of gas."

"What?!" Blair's voice transmitted his surprise.

Jim shrugged. "I guess Brackett didn't want us making any unexpected stops. Looks like we go in the old fashioned way." Finding two plastic oars attached to the inside of the hull, they rowed the small craft the rest of the distance, securing the boat a few yards from the other. Jim quickly checked the other boat, recognizing it as the same craft he had seen from the dock.

"It's his boat," Jim confirmed, looking around the small cove. "But I can only sense the one heartbeat."

"Maybe he had another boat waiting?"

"It's possible. I lost track of him once he went around the cove." He moved back to the shore and pulled his gun from his belt. "Stay close, Chief."

Blair nodded, "Consider me your shadow, man."

Jim grinned at the thought and led the way inland.


Act III

The first light of dawn was beginning to shine through the clouds as Jim motioned silently for Blair to duck down behind an old rotting log. The small island had some vegetation, most of which was dead or dying. There were scraps of metal strewn about which Jim quickly recognized as mortar shells. From the quantity of the casings lying around and the devastation of the terrain, Jim concluded that the island must be one of the ones used by the local Naval port for periodic target practice.

He was sure Brackett picked the island just for that reason, but decided to keep his suspicions to himself for the time being. The heartbeat they had been following was close -- just on the other side of a small rise. Jim lowered himself to the ground, worked his way to the edge of the rise and peered over.

Simon was directly below him, facing in toward the center of the island. He was positioned in a deep rut, which was probably the result of an exploded shell launched at the island during a past drill. The captain's arms were secured behind his back and his ankles were held together with duct tape. His eyes were closed, but flew open in alarm as he registered Jim's presence.

Quickly Jim scurried down the embankment, landing in a crouch near the captain's feet. "Easy, Simon. It's me."

Without the aid of his glasses, Simon squinted in the dim light, his eyes lighting up at the sight of his friend. "Jim!" The relief at seeing the sentinel alive was unmistakable in his voice. "Thank God! I thought you were dead!"

Jim smiled and pulled a small knife from his pocket. "It was close, Simon."

Simon nodded in understanding. His eyes darted back to the top of the rise, another look of relief passing over his features. Jim turned to see the form of his partner hurry down the embankment to join them.

"Hey, Simon," Blair grinned. "How's it going?"

You tell me." Simon returned the younger man's grin as Jim hastily cut through the tape securing his wrists and ankles.

"We lost Brackett," Jim informed him. "He led us out here, then managed to give us the slip."

"Why lead you here at all?"

Jim took a deep breath and motioned to the area surrounding them. "Did you notice the metal casings lying around?"

Simon shook his head, explaining that he had been unconscious when he arrived. He had no idea where he was or why he had been left alone. Blair, on the other hand, caught on and his eyes widened in shock.

"I think this is one of the islands the navy uses for target practice," Jim explained.

Blair shook his head in disbelief.. "Talk about jumping out of the frying pan, man."

Jim smiled at the attempt at levity. "And I bet the fire is going to get real hot real soon."

"Then I suggest we make tracks, gentlemen." Simon pushed himself to his feet slowly, gingerly stretching muscles that had become cramped from his long period of inactivity.

They climbed back to the top of the rise and began the short trek back to the cove. The escalating light of dawn made it easier to traverse the terrain, but also illuminated the devastation surrounding them.

"So, Simon," Blair began, trying to take his mind off the possibility of missile showers. "Mind explaining how you knew Jennifer Conroy's name?"

The question caught Simon off guard, and he looked at the younger man in confusion. "Jennifer Conroy? She worked at the Tobacco store in the mall. Why?"

Blair and Jim exchanged glances, but neither of them answered. The captain suddenly nodded, his face showing his surprise as the cause of the question became clear. "Her roommate said she was hired by a man at work. You thought that man was me?" Simon's disbelief was apparent in his voice.

Blair shrugged. "I didn't know what to believe, man. First you knew her name, then we find out you knew where she worked. Then there was the guy in the shadows at the loft. You gotta admit you were acting a little weird that night, man. Then I was attacked at the loft, and you were the only person who knew I was going there, then the conversation about Jim with the Feds..." He trailed off, realizing Simon had stopped walking and was staring at him in shock.

Simon cleared his throat and took a deep breath. He turned toward the far side of the island, carefully avoiding the gaze of his two friends. "Jennifer Conroy asked me about Jim. I just figured she had met him sometime when he had come in to pick up something with me. It never occurred to me that she would --"

"She didn't." Jim had stopped also and now stood near his partner. "I don't think she had any idea about what was happening, Simon. She thought it was all some big prank, and I believe she was genuinely glad we met. She even said that she owed you one for helping her."

Simon nodded and smiled faintly. "She was a nice girl. I thought you two would hit it off." He turned his attention to Blair. "As for the rest, I did see the guy down in the alley that night, but he was gone by the time I got there. I just had a strange feeling so I decided to stick around until Jim got home. Maybe I've been hanging around the two of you too long." He chuckled slightly. "Next I'll be seeing black jaguars and wolves in my dreams." He looked back at Blair, his normal tone warm with affection. "You scared the hell out of me when you called the station and told me someone had been waiting for you at the loft. After what happened to Jim, and seeing the man in the alley the night before, I was worried I'd have two missing detectives instead of one. I swear to you I had nothing to do with that, Sandburg. I know you were pretty worried about Jim, but to think I would do anything to hurt you..."

"I didn't want to believe it, Simon." Blair had the grace to look ashamed. "I didn't really believe it, I was just -- confused."

"He wasn't the only one, Simon." Jim explained about finding the notebook in Brackett's room at the compound. "Why didn't you tell me you were keeping notes on this sentinel thing? Why didn't you at least tell Blair?"

It was Simon's turn to flush with embarrassment. "It was the only way to keep all this sentinel information straight. I know you and Sandburg have a pretty good handle on this whole thing, but I figured I might as well -- ah, hell, Jim. I thought it would help me to understand whatever it is you two seem to do."

"Geez, Simon. All you had to do was ask."

"And what, Sandburg? Listen to you go on in some scientific jargon that nobody in his right mind could understand? Besides, I knew if I said anything to you about wanting to know more about sentinels, you wouldn't be able to resist the opportunity to revert to lecture mode, and I just didn't have the stomach for that." He smiled to let the younger man know his gruff words were not to be taken seriously and the return smile indicated Blair had already figured that out. "But I still can't believe you thought I would betray you like that."

"Whatever we did or didn't think isn't important right now, sir." Jim's expression was one of relief. "Right now I think we'd better concentrate on getting off this island before --" Jim suddenly tilted his head, his eyes searching the skies to the south. "Take cover!" He pushed Simon quickly and turned, pulling Blair down to the ground and covering the younger man's body with his own. He heard a soft groan as Simon hit the ground a few feet to his left. A few seconds later, the whine of the missile became audible, and the ground shook with a vengeance.

"Move! Move!" Jim scrambled from the ground, pushing his partner in front of him. "Get back to the boat!" The three men ran, dodging back and forth in an attempt to avoid the seemingly constant stream of explosions. A mortar hit a few yards to their left, throwing all three to the ground. They covered their heads as the dirt and debris rained down on them, pelting their exposed skin like small shards of glass.

After a few more explosions, the sounds ceased and silence filled the area. Simon tentatively raised his head to find Jim staring out across the island. "Jim?"

The detective held up a hand as he focused his hearing on the surrounding waters. "I think we're okay for the moment. They're reloading." He quickly looked around, finding the spot his partner had landed and rushed to the still figure. "Sandburg? You okay, Chief?"

Jim and Simon sighed with relief as the younger man rolled over onto his back and began to brush the layer of dirt from his sleeves.

"Is it over?" he asked in a tired voice. "Please, just tell me it's over and that this has all been one hellishly bad dream. I'm going to wake up safe and sound in my own bed where nobody has the desire to kidnap me or punch me or blow me up."

Jim exchanged an amused look with Simon and shook his head. "Sorry, Chief. No can do."

Blair opened one eye and squinted up at his partner. "Lie."

"Okay. This is all a bad dream."

Blair opened both eyes and looked up at Jim's grinning face. "I can see we're going to have to work on your obfuscation talents, Jim." He allowed himself to be pulled to his feet and wiped the rest of the sand and dirt from his clothing. The ten pounds or so that had managed to get underneath his shirt and jeans was terribly uncomfortable but would just have to wait. If it was this bad for him, he hated to think what it was like for Jim with his enhanced sense of touch.

"Let's get back to the cove." Jim pushed Blair along in front of him and motioned for the captain to follow. "I would really rather be in open water before they begin round two."

"No argument from me, man. I am way past my explosion quota for the year."

Simon shook his head and let out a low chuckle as he followed closely behind.


When they arrived at the cove, Jim headed straight for Brackett's boat, followed closely by Simon. A strange feeling made him pause and turn. He tapped Simon on the arm to get his attention and both men exchanged looks of concern as they noticed the third member of their party standing very still, about ten yards up the beach. Sandburg was frozen in his tracks, a look of intense concentration on his face as he stared at the small boat.

Jim moved back toward his partner, wondering if maybe the younger man had been thrown a bit harder than they initially suspected. "Blair?" He took a step forward, laying a comforting hand on the smaller man's arm.

Blair blinked once and refocused his eyes on those of his partner. "We can't take that boat."

Jim frowned in confusion. "What? Blair, we have to get off this island. The other boat is out of gas. This is our only choice."

Blair shook his head, his own forehead wrinkling in confusion. "I - I don't know. I just had a feeling something terrible would happen." He shrugged and averted his eyes. "I can't explain it, Jim. I just know we can't take that boat."

Jim nodded and moved back to the small craft, releasing his senses. His eyes widened in surprise when his sense of smell detected a slight odor of plastique. Wading out to the stern of the boat, he focused his sight on the area immediately under the motor, detecting a small, amber light blinking on and off. He came back around the craft, his face showing his astonishment. "It's rigged all right. Looks like it's on a remote trigger. Brackett isn't going to take the chance we might get off this island alive."

"If he was going to trigger it by remote, then he would have to be close by, right?"

Jim smiled at his partner's logic. "We'll make a detective out of you yet, Junior." He had no idea how Blair had known about the bomb, and at the moment, didn't care. As long as Sandburg was paying attention to his intuition, Jim was content to pay attention to Blair.

Wishing Joel Taggart were along for the ride, Jim checked the interior of the craft, finally coming up with a red plastic gasoline container. Shaking it, he could hear the liquid sloshing around inside, and by its weight he could tell the container was more than half full.

He looked over at their original craft, nodding his head in its direction. "What about this one, Chief? Getting any bad vibes from this boat?"

Blair flashed him a momentary look of irritation. "It doesn't work that way, Jim."

Jim grinned and quickly filled the boat's tank with the liquid from the container. From the smell, Jim could tell it was a gasoline/oil mixture, which was normally used in high performance crafts such as these. "That should do it," he announced. He shifted his attention toward the island. "I think we'd better get going."

Blair and Simon didn't need to be told twice. They scrambled on board the small craft as Jim pushed them from the sand and jumped in to join them. Blair started the engine, which sputtered a few times before it eventually caught. He backed the craft away from the shore before turning it and gunning the engine toward the open sea. They rounded the cove and made way toward the far side of the island. They all breathed a sigh of relief as the shelling resumed. The explosions were now muffled by the distance and the noise of the engine, as well as the rush of wind past their ears.

Blair pointed the boat due west as per Jim's instructions. He opened the throttle and carefully steered the small craft through the rolling waves of the ocean. A hand on his shoulder got his attention, and he turned to see Jim pointing at what appeared to be a ship at two o'clock. Not wanting to try and shout above the din of the engine, Blair nodded his understanding and steered the boat in that direction.

As they approached the ship, Jim instructed Blair to cut the engine and pull up alongside the much larger craft. He caught the rope ladder that dangled down the port side of the ship and anchored the speedboat to it. "Stay in the boat, Chief."

"No way, Jim." Blair shook his head. He looked defiantly at his partner, his determination unwavering. "I want Brackett as much as you do."

Jim started to protest, but one look into the stubborn blue eyes told him any argument would be lost. Besides, Blair was a trained cop now. Long gone were the days when Jim could order him to "stay in the truck", safely out of harm's way. He still wanted to keep his partner safe, but he could no longer deny Blair's right to accompany him into a dangerous situation. Blair was his partner -- officially. And, even thought this was not an official case, Blair was also his backup. And he wouldn't want anyone else in that role. Besides, Blair was right. After the hell Brackett had put them both through, he had as much right to Brackett as Jim did.

He nodded tightly, a small smile turning up one corner of his mouth.

"I'll mind the store," Simon volunteered. "You two just make sure you get Brackett."


Act IV

Jim moved quietly along the deck of the ship, pausing next to the large window of the upper deck. He waved a hand and crouched down as Blair followed suit. Blair settled in next to the sentinel and raised his eyebrows in a silent question.

Jim tilted his head, turning the dial up on his sense of hearing. He filtered out the sounds of the water crashing against the sides of the ship and the high pitched scream of the seagulls that seemed to fill the air with sound.

"We should really be making way, sir."

"Not until I give the word. I want to be sure they're dead. I don't want to take any chances."

Jim latched onto the familiar voice, rage rising like steam from his belly. Brackett was here. Jim focused on the voice, pinpointing it in the small room directly ahead. He widened his focus to include the entire area and was pleased to find only two heartbeats. He pulled the pistol Kelso had supplied him from his belt and nodded at Sandburg. He held up two fingers before closing his hand into a fist and jerking his thumb behind him to let his partner know Brackett was not alone in the room.

Blair swallowed hard and nodded his understanding, waiting for Jim to take the lead. Jim once again focused his hearing on the small room. He felt Blair lay a hand lightly on his arm and out of the corner of his eye, saw the younger man point back behind them, indicating his intention to circle around the wheelhouse and box the fugitive in from the other side. Nodding his agreement, Jim edged closer to the open door and peeked around.

Bracket stood near the opposite door to the wheelhouse, sunglasses perched atop his head as he peered through a pair of binoculars toward the tiny island they had just escaped from.

Luckily, they had rounded the far end of the island and approached the ship from the rear. Jim was fairly sure Brackett had not seen their approach, and their boat was now anchored on the far side, out of a direct line of sight. Leaning back against the bulkhead, he closed his eyes, keeping his hearing dialed up, and waited.

"Okay, Jim," came the quiet whisper. "I'm ready."

Ready for what, Jim did not know. But he knew that when he made his move, Blair would be in position to back him up. He mentally clicked off the distance Brackett had been standing from the other man in the room and opened his eyes. He took a few quick breaths and counted to three before rising from his crouch and aiming his gun through the window of the wheelhouse.

Brackett reacted immediately as the detective's appearance was reflected in the glass on the opposite side of the room. "Behind you!"

The other man jumped in surprise and whirled around, bringing his gun up into position. Before he could get a shot off, Jim fired. The bullet shattered the glass before continuing on its path, catching the gunman in the upper chest. The man fell back against the window and slowly slid to the ground, leaving a bloody trail on the glass behind him. It didn't take enhanced senses to know he was dead.

Brackett made a sudden move for the gun, grabbing it and diving out the doorway on the opposite side. Jim darted through the narrow wheelhouse and peeked around the doorway. He pulled back quickly, just as a bullet grazed the wooden frame.

"It looks like I've underestimated you again, huh, Ellison?"

"I guess so," Jim called in return. Brackett was backing up along the side of the wheelhouse, his gun trained on the opening Jim was tucked behind. "But it will be your last mistake."

"Oh, I doubt that, Detective. You may be my biggest mistake, but I doubt that you're my last."

"Give it up, Brackett. You're under arrest."

Jim chanced a look out the door and watched as Brackett took another step back, finally clearing the wheelhouse. He stepped closer to the railing and peered over the edge. A large life preserver attached to a thick white rope swung out from behind the wheelhouse, and connected solidly with Brackett's head. The impact sent the fugitive flying forward, fumbling for his balance. The gun dropped from his hand and skittered across the deck, finally dropping over the edge into the water below.

Brackett chuckled sardonically as he pushed himself to his knees and held his hands up. "O.K., Detective. Looks like you win."

Jim's smile never wavered, nor did his gun as he moved from the doorway and advanced toward Brackett. "The jury's still out on that one."

His finger tightened ever so slightly on the trigger as his hatred took over. It would be so easy. One squeeze and this maniac would never be able to harm another living soul. His kind didn't deserve consideration. He killed without conscience and would continue to do so until he was stopped. Permanently. Brackett's heartbeat increased, and an odd sense of pleasure washed over him at the indication of fear.

"Jim."

Another racing heartbeat became discernible as the soft sound of his partner's voice filtered into his consciousness. His gaze flickered to the figure standing behind Brackett, still holding the end of the rope that was attached to the life preserver. Blair stared directly at him, his eyes flickering momentarily to the gun Jim held in his hand. At one time, killing a man such as Lee Brackett would have been easy for him. But, the pleasure of pulling the trigger and watching Brackett fall had been tempered. He had changed. Sandburg had changed him. He no longer was that man. He knew Sandburg would enjoy seeing Brackett go down after everything he had put them through. But not like this. Not at the cost of their own souls.

Jim took a deep breath and let the rage dissipate as he slowly exhaled. "Today's your lucky day, Brackett."

Brackett's grin could have been charming, if not for the insane coldness of his eyes. "My luck ran out three years ago, Ellison. I've only got one goal now." He looked from Jim to Blair. "I will see you pay."

"For what?" Blair turned and stared at Brackett, incredulously. "What the hell have we done to you except stop you from killing thousands of innocent people?"

Brackett couldn't help but raise his eyebrows in surprise at Blair's question. "What have you done? You killed me. I had a reputation as the best. I was the best."

"You were a whore. You sold yourself to the highest bidder."

Rage crossed Brackett's face momentarily before once again being replaced by the cold, calculating smile. "That's an interesting analogy, but, I guess I can see your point." His tone was almost conversational. "I was a businessman, Professor. I supplied a service to people who needed it. I was only doing my job."

It was Blair's turn to sneer. "Just a business, huh? A simple case of supply and demand?"

"Right!" Brackett's smile widened. "Now you're starting to understand."

"No." Blair shook his head slowly. "I don't understand. Why bring Jim into it? You knew what kind of man he was. You knew he would never help you."

Brackett shrugged. "You could say it was a challenge. I never could resist a challenge. When I read your thesis on Sentinels -- and figured out our beloved Detective Ellison here was the embodiment of those studies -- I couldn't resist the chance to test your theories. Hell, you should be thanking me for validating your thesis. Instead I get sent to prison where I become a laughing stock. " His voice suddenly became terse and the snide smile faded from his face. "Nobody believed in Superman here." He jerked his chin at Jim, but his eyes continued to bore into Sandburg's. "Nobody wanted to listen to my crazy ramblings. Then your little press conference gave me a tiny bit of credibility. When I was offered the chance to escape in exchange for the plutonium, I had to take it. Of course I never really needed you to break into that plant. The plutonium is on its way to its new owners, and I'm now a very wealthy man. Having my revenge on the two of you was just icing on the cake.

"By the way, I saw your press conference. You looked like you were in incredible emotional pain. It must have been terribly hard for you to give up everything you'd worked for. I almost felt sorry for you." The smile returned to his lips, but the dark hatred continued to fill his eyes.

"I didn't give up a damn thing."

Surprised by the venom in his partner's voice, Jim lowered the gun a bit as he watched the two men face off. He couldn't help a small smile. Blair might come across as a pacifist, but when backed into a corner -- or defending his sentinel -- he could be as dangerous as any military operative.

"Is that so?" Brackett continued to bait Blair, turning toward the smaller man. He stopped as he noticed Jim tense and held up a hand in mock surrender. "I'm not going to do anything to hurt him, Jim. I mean, let's face it, what more can I do to him than you've already done? You've taken his career, his academic integrity as well as his chance at a Nobel prize. Tsk, tsk, tsk. No. I don't need to hurt him. You've already taken care of that, haven't you?"

Jim knew Brackett was baiting them. He was pressing salt into an old wound that, if he was blatantly honest, had never completely healed. But that wound was between him and Blair. They had managed to repair most of the damage, and they were getting their lives back on track. There was no way he was going to allow this psycho to ruin that. Even as he cautioned himself against Brackett's motives, he could feel the rage rising again. His finger tensed against the trigger.

"No, Jim. That's what he wants." Blair was watching him again, his dark blue eyes wide. "Don't you get it? If you kill him, he wins. Like he said, he's already dead. If you pull that trigger he succeeds in making you something you despise. He succeeds in making you like him." Blair's hands tightened into fists as he tried to get through to his friend. "Trust yourself, Jim. Trust me. Don't let him win, Jim. Don't let him win."

Jim stared at Brackett, trying to ignore his partner's words. He knew Blair was right. He knew exactly what Brackett was trying to do. But, damnit, he wanted to pull the trigger so bad he could almost taste it. He saw the insanity in Brackett's eyes and knew Blair was right. If he pulled the trigger, Brackett won. And there was no way in hell he was going to let the bastard win.

Not trusting himself to speak, he nodded tightly and released the tension in his arm. Motioning with the gun, Jim backed up, indicating Brackett should follow. "Let's go."

The ex-CIA rogue shrugged and placed his hands on top of his head. He moved quietly back into the wheelhouse, stepping over the body of his accomplice. Jim turned about to tell Blair to have Simon bring the speedboat around and anchor it to the cabin cruiser . A movement caught the corner of his eye.

Lurching for the control panel, Brackett slammed his open palm against the button for the horn. An ear splitting noise filled the tiny cabin. Jim dropped to the ground, his eyes squeezed shut against the pain of the sudden audible assault, his hands instinctively covering his sensitive ears. Brackett picked up the dead man's semiautomatic and began to pepper the air above their heads with bullets. Blair fell flat against the deck, pulling Jim's body with him. The gunfire stopped suddenly and was replaced by quickly retreating footsteps. Blair raised his head and glanced up, only to see an empty room, the small door on the far side swinging open in the salty ocean breeze.

A low moan brought his attention back to Jim who was struggling to his knees. He placed his hands on his partner's shoulders and spoke in a low voice. "Jim, man. Come on. I know it hurts, but you have to dial it back. Brackett's getting away."

Jim nodded and with a supreme effort managed to lower the level of discomfort until it was only a nagging ache. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes, smiling at Blair's look of concern. "I'm okay. Where's Brackett?"

Before Blair could answer, the sound of a motor reached them from the opposite side of the boat. They scrambled to their feet and ran along the deck to the rear of the ship. Jim aimed his gun at the swiftly moving speedboat and fired a few shots. The boat was already out of the pistol's range, but Jim could clearly make out the figure of Lee Brackett waving and smiling gleefully.

Another boat moved around the stern and Jim pushed Blair to the ladder as Simon pulled up alongside.

"What happened?" Simon yelled as Blair began to climb down into the smaller craft.

"Don't ask!" Jim dropped down into the boat and Simon relinquished the wheel. He pointed toward the tangle of wires Simon had pulled out from the radio in an obvious attempt to make it work. "Any luck?"

"No," Simon admitted. "All I could get was static. I sent a mayday through anyway, but I don't know if anyone picked it up."

Nodding at the captain's statement, Jim gunned the motor, turning the wheel to point the craft in the direction of Brackett's.


Blair sat down in the passenger seat directly behind the driver and hung on for dear life. The pounding of the waves against the hull of the speedboat was relentless, and Blair was sure that each wave would be the one to crack the fiberglass and send them all to a watery grave. As the shore of the tiny target island grew closer, Blair could make out the distant sounds of shells exploding as the navy ship continued its practice drills, unaware of the pursuit invading its territory.

The boat hit a large wave and went airborne for a few seconds. Blair's heart jumped into his throat. The concussion of the craft hitting the surface of the water was enough to send a shock all the way up his spine into his teeth. He swallowed and tried to focus his eyes on the wide expanse of open water before them. The staggering wind stung his eyes and he was forced to squint in order to see at all.

Jim had managed to close the gap, but Blair could tell they were not going to be able to catch Brackett before he disappeared behind the tiny island.

A muffled explosion hit the water near them, cascading them with a shower of salt water. Jim fought for control as the small craft was thrown sideways. He managed to keep the boat afloat and once again pointed the bow toward the island. Brackett had just made it around the point when a huge fireball rose from behind the ridge of the island, followed moments later by an incredible BOOM!

As they neared the point , Jim cut the engine and steered the speedboat around the ridge. The scene that met them stunned them. Brackett's boat lay in pieces across the water, some still burning. The three men stood and stared at the wreckage, their eyes searching for a body.

Another small craft approached, pulling up alongside theirs.

"Are you three all right?"

Blair looked at the Navy officer, his mind still reeling from the shock of the abrupt end of the chase. He nodded before turning back to the debris.

"I'm Lt. Nichols of the USS Brackett. I'm going to have to ask you to follow me back to the shore."

The three Cascade policeman exchanged looks of surprise.

"You've gotta be kidding!" Blair laughed incredulously. He looked to Jim who just shrugged.

Simon snapped out of his stupor and turned to face the lieutenant. "I'm Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade P.D. I'll explain everything when we get back on dry land."

The lieutenant hesitated, but finally decided to accept the captain's words. "Yes, sir." He glanced at the debris and waved his hand to indicate the area. "Was there anyone aboard that vessel?"

Simon turned back to his detectives. Jim raised his head, a slight twitch in his jaw the only movement on his face. After a few moments of concentration, he turned to Blair, a ghost of a smile playing on his lips. He shook his head slightly at his partner's unasked question, and Simon could sense the great relief in his eyes. It was over.

"Sir? Was there anyone on board the vessel when it exploded?"

Simon nodded in response to the lieutenant's question, but didn't take his eyes off the two partners.

"I'm sorry, sir," The lieutenant. said softly.

Simon felt his own relief surfacing and allowed a small smile. I'm not.


The bullpen was bustling with activity when Jim and Blair stepped through the doors.

Joel Taggart was the first to welcome them back. "Glad you're both okay." Joel slapped Blair on the back and gave Jim a wide smile. "It's been pretty quiet around here without you two."

"I figured you'd like a little vacation from the excitement, Joel."

"No way, man." Joel shook his head. "I've kind of gotten used to the rush. Can't just cut me off cold turkey like that."

Jim returned the captain's smile. Raised voices from Simon's office caught his attention, and he nodded toward the closed door as he took his seat behind the desk. "What's going on in there?"

Joel turned and glanced toward the office, his smile fading. The blinds were partially shut, but they could still make out the large form of Simon Banks towering over the two other men. "Feds." Joel's distaste was evident in his voice. "They showed up here a couple days ago looking for you. From what I gather, they were here to ask you for your help in locating Brackett."

"Considerate of them." Jim's disdain was written on his face.

"They could have let us know about the escape a little sooner," Blair offered. "Maybe if we'd known Brackett was out, this whole thing could've been avoided."

Jim nodded. "And maybe Jennifer Conroy would still be alive."

At the mention of the woman's name, Joel returned his attention to the two detectives. "IA's decided to close the case. We were able to get a voice sample from the Feds, and Jennifer's roommate positively identified it as the man who called Jennifer about the job. Seems Jennifer didn't pick the phone up in time, and the entire conversation was recorded on their answering machine. That along with the evidence from the crime scene was enough to convince them of your innocence. They're pinning her murder on Brackett."

Jim nodded, relieved he wouldn't have to face an IA board. "Thanks, Joel."

The door to Simon's office burst open, and the two federal agents stormed through the bullpen without a word to anyone. Simon crossed the room and perched himself on the corner of Jim's desk, his angry eyes following the Feds until they disappeared into the elevator.

"You and the Feds have a nice chat?"

Simon scowled at Jim's remark. "Let's just say they won't be so sure of my 'cooperation' next time they have a problem." He took a deep breath and some of the tension drained away. "They knew about Brackett's escape weeks before they showed up here. They figured since Brackett was obsessed with you he would eventually show up here. I let them know how much we appreciated their timing."

Jim grinned. The entire floor had probably heard how much Simon hadn't "appreciated" the Feds' timing.

Joel broke the silence by patting Blair on the shoulder. "You really had me worried, Blair. You disappeared into thin air. Just like Jim. I've never seen Simon so worried."

Blair and Jim exchanged a quick glance. They had already apologized to Simon for their lack of faith in his loyalty, but the captain still looked hurt that his two friends had doubted him. "I just didn't know who to trust," Blair admitted, not able to look either captain in the eye. "I know I should have, but..."

"Sometimes things get a little muddled," Jim finished for him. "Even things that should be crystal clear." Jim raised his eyes to Simon's, hoping his friend could read the apology there.

"Aw, hell. I guess I can understand." Simon waved his hand to dismiss the apology. "If I'd seen that much evidence against me, even I'd have wondered about myself."

Jim smiled and clapped his boss on the arm, glad to see the friendship had not suffered because of the situation. Joel excused himself to answer a phone call and Blair moved around to the front of the desk.

"I do have one question, Simon." Blair frowned, his head tilted in thought. "Just where did Brackett find that notebook?"

Simon shrugged. "Now that is something I haven't been able to figure out. I kept it in a locked file drawer in my office."

Jim shrugged. "Brackett was good at his job. A locked file drawer would've been child's play to him."

Simon nodded. "I guess I'll have to find somewhere else to keep it."

"Maybe if it wasn't filed under 'S' for 'Sentinel'..." Blair grinned up at the captain, his eyes dancing with humor.

"For your information, Sandburg, it wasn't filed under 'S'. It was filed under 'U'."

Blair exchanged a confused look with his partner.

"U?" they both repeated in unison.

Simon crossed his arms and leaned back, a smug expression on his face. "For 'Unbelievable'."

Blair's eyebrows rose in surprise, and Jim smiled widely. "Maybe you should have tried 'O' for 'Obfuscation'."

Blair nodded, his smile a perfect match to Jim's. "Or 'G' for 'Guidebook'."

Simon couldn't help himself. "Or maybe 'D' for 'Don't let Sandburg see this'..."

~ Finis ~

(Author's Note: The USS Brackett was a real ship. It was actually a Navy Evarts Class Destroyer built in the Puget Sound shipyards. The Brackett fought in WWII and was decommissioned in 1945. I just couldn't resist using it!)

E-mail the author of this story, Sue Pokorny, at SPok507@aol.com
Read Sue's other fan fiction for The Sentinel at Shycat's Sentinel Domain
E-mail Faux Paws Productions at fauxpawsproductions@yahoo.com
IN TWO WEEKS on THE SENTINEL: Lullaby (10/11/00, FPP-602) by Iris Wilde
    In 1966, a rapist preyed upon the inhabitants of Cascade's red-light district until he was caught and imprisoned. It's 34 years later... and history is repeating itself.
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