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.
December 7, 2000
Government Document Depository
He stared at the papers in front of him, re-reading them for the umpteenth time. There was no room for error once the call was made. He double-checked the name, rank, serial number, incident date -- it was all there. Not to mention the bonus of a current address.
"Yes," he said quietly, yet emphatically, to himself. He'd spent the better part of the year anticipating this day. While others were counting the days till the "new Millennium," he'd been counting the days till the end of his obligation. And this was it.
His fingers trembled as he flipped through the Rolodex. He'd studied that particular Rolodex card every day, hoping to use it, hoping every morning to dial it before the day's end. And now he could. Even though the office was empty, he glanced nervously over his shoulder before grabbing the receiver and dialing. Halfway through the number, the knuckles in his left hand spasmed and almost caused him to hit a wrong button. He let out a long, slow breath waiting for an answer on the other end.
A party picked up and greeted him gruffly. Once more, he checked over his shoulder, then spoke into the receiver. "This is Corporal Gauer, sir. I..." His voice broke suddenly and he swallowed hard before continuing. "I have those papers you've been looking for. The request for a certain set of files...."
The voice on the other end sounded rather pleased and the corporal smiled smugly, then sat back in his government-issue chair. "They're right here in my hand, sir. I'll have them in the mail to you this afternoon."
The voice was immediately angry.
And he was immediately repentant. "This afternoon? Did I say this afternoon? No, sir. I wouldn't think of making you wait. Yes, sir. I'll walk them over to you personally. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Of course, sir."
The other party disconnected and Gauer breathed a sigh of relief as he laid his head on the desk in front of him. His break was short-lived. The sound of an opening door snapped him to attention.
Gauer turned to find his commanding officer heading directly for him. In an effort to look busy, he set the papers in his hand on the desk in front of him and shuffled some of his loose files. As the man drew closer, he stood straight up. "Yes, colonel. What can I help you with, sir?" The smile on his face wilted as he noticed the pile of files in the colonel's hands.
"Resume your seat, corporal," the colonel said, and watched as Gauer took his seat and shuffled some papers about. "Do you know what this is, son?"
Honestly baffled, Gauer replied, "A new research project, sir?"
With a grunt, the colonel set the stack of accordion folders on Gauer's desk. "What do they look like? They're declassified files. Or did you forget what department this is?" Giving a short huff of exasperation, he thumped the top of the paper stack with his index finger and scowled at his underling. "These were opened last month. Hell, the request was authorized over two months ago! Would you like to explain why they're still here in this office when they should be in Denver?"
He was pleased to see the corporal squirm. It wasn't often that his job afforded him that little comfort. The offices were mostly staffed with civilians now. Not that the depository was a boring assignment. He could think of worse ways to spend his last couple years before retirement. He'd done his tours, earned his boring command. Still, being able to make Gauer uncomfortable once in a while was worth it.
Setting his hands on his hips, he gave the corporal a menacing glare. "You needed to get these out of here last week. A rather irate friend called me asking about them. Imagine my surprise when I found them still awaiting their final clearances." He thumped the stack one more time and watched the young enlisted man fidget in his seat.
"I took the liberty of giving them the go-ahead in the computer. All you gotta do is get them boxed and outta here before the 11 AM pick-up today. I gave my word they'd be at the Denver Federal Building by 10 AM tomorrow -- and I'm not going to let the judge down."
Gauer looked at his watch and tried to control his temper. "Begging the colonel's pardon, but that gives me less than thirty minutes, sir."
Controlling the urge to smirk, the colonel set a hand firmly on the stack of files. "Yes, Corporal Gauer. When I was your age, I knew how to bug out an entire unit in twenty minutes. And I should hope that after two years in this office, you would be able to box up files in less than thirty. If you can't, then maybe you need a transfer to somewhere that could teach you the benefits of doing things quickly. Say, the Arctic Outpost?"
Gauer stifled a smart-alec reply. "No, sir. I don't think that's necessary. I'll just have to put off processing these new requests." For emphasis, he pointed to the stack of miscellaneous papers in front of him. "You know the deadline for these is coming up fast."
Unsurprised by the bargaining ploy, the colonel patted Gauer on the shoulder, then surveyed the desktop. "No sense in delaying things -- We only have a couple weeks left to get the requests approved. I'll take the pile off your desk...." He reached for the pile of forms sitting in the center of the desk blotter.
"But, sir!" Gauer set his hand on the stack of forms, only slightly panicked. "Seeing as how I'll have these files handled by eleven hundred, I think it's safe to assume I can process the forms when I'm done." He looked up at his superior officer with a slight smile. "I'm sure the colonel has other things to occupy his time."
"Sure I do," he quipped. "But so do you. Besides this batch for Denver, there are seventy sets that need to be boxed and sent by the end of your shift today. One of the civvies went home sick fifteen minutes ago. I volunteered you to take her place."
Gauer barely managed to suppress his groan. Spending the day boxing documents wasn't a bad job. In fact, it was more active than the desk job he had. Cross-checking security status and approving requisitioned files for declassification seemed to leech the energy from him. Of course it had its undisclosed benefits. It certainly afforded him the opportunity to make an extra buck here and there.
Some people will do anything to keep things secret, he thought with a smile. Then again, some people will do anything to get to the truth --
"This is no time for daydreaming, corporal!" the colonel barked.
Gauer snapped out of his stupor and let his smile wither. "Yes, sir."
"Then let's get on it. By my calculations, you now have less than twenty-four minutes to make that courier pick-up. Let's see some hustle!"
The corporal stood up quickly and took the stack of files his superior offered, then headed to the mail room.
The colonel watched Gauer make his way grudgingly through the door. He gave a slight chuckle and started to leave, but remembered the stack of requests. Gathering up the files from the corporal's desk, he headed for his office to process them.
Thursday of This Week
"But I've already looked there...."
Blair exited his room, pushing a hand through his hair as if it would relieve the headache forming at his temples. He listened through the phone as Jim once again insisted he look in their utility closet in the building's basement.
"I know fishing rods don't just walk away, Jim." Blair rolled his eyes at the typical Ellison comment. "Yeah, yeah -- it's a FLY rod -- it must have sprouted wings... Ha ha... Are you sure you didn't loan it to Simon that last time he and Daryl went --" His comment was cut off by a derisive snort from the other end of the phone. "Fine. Fine. I'll look again."
Conceding was the best way to keep the peace at that moment. He'd look again, then let Jim find it when he got home. Having packed all the rest of the equipment -- since Jim had volunteered to fill in for Henri's day shift -- Blair just wanted to put the stress of the city behind him for four days. No research, no reports, and no bad guys.
"Geez, I hope no bad guys," Blair whispered.
Jim's painfully loud voice boomed from the receiver. Blair held the phone at arm's length. "What? No! I was just... I was just thinking out loud." He rolled his eyes when Jim made a smart-alec comment. "Ha ha.. Yes," Blair mocked, "I read out loud, so I think out loud too. You are just TOO funny today, man."
Any other time, the small barbs would have made him smile and shake his head. Today, though, after a tough week of inquiries at the U and the full day packing for the trip -- well, the Ellison humor was tanking badly. The headache was getting worse, too. Whether it was stress, or just the fact that he hadn't eaten much for lunch, Blair wasn't certain. He just knew there was a knocking in his head that was growing louder.
In fact, if he didn't know better, he'd swear it was resounding in his ears.
There it was again: that knocking.
From the other end of the phone, Jim commanded him to get the door. "Right. Get the door. Got it... Later." Shaking his head, Sandburg turned off the phone and tried to smile at his own folly. He'd been so caught up in planning and prepping for their trip -- not to mention stressing over a certain Sentinel's prized fly rod -- that he'd failed to recognize reality.
Peering through the peep hole in the loft's front door, Blair quirked an eyebrow up at the sight of a man in military fatigues with a corporal's rank. A quick chill made its way up his spine. The sight of the man's sidearm didn't reassure him any. Looking around, Sandburg spied a baseball bat peeking out from under the edge of Jim's leather jacket. He grabbed it quickly, holding it ready as he opened the door a bit -- leaving the chain on, of course -- and greeted the visitor.
"Can I help you?" Blair asked cautiously.
The young man looked down at the large manila envelope in his hand, then up at the youthful face staring back at him. "Uh -- Captain Ellison?"
"Not hardly," Sandburg said without a laugh. "I can sign for that, though, if that's all you need." Blair forced a smile, then shut the door momentarily and breathed a sigh of relief. Setting the bat down next to him, he released the chain. As he reopened the door and peered into the hallway, the courier handed him a clipboard and pointed to a numbered line. After a liberal scribble at #17, Blair handed back the clipboard and reached for the package.
It wasn't going to be that easy, though.
"You forgot to print your name under the signature, sir," the courier said.
Military precision at its finest. Careful not to shake his head at military rigmarole, Sandburg took back the clipboard and filled in the necessary blank under his squiggle. Joke's on you, buddy, he thought. My printing's no better.
Satisfied with the completed form, the corporal handed the package to the curly-haired guy, then turned quickly and headed down the hall to the stairs.
Blair shut the door behind him, and examined the envelope. It was just a regular 9" x 12" mailing envelope, like the kind used for sending reports. He immediately wondered what sort of things the military would be sending to Jim now. "Geez, man. You re-enlisting or what?"
Examining the postmark, Blair flinched momentarily. He knew by the messenger that the package was from the military. But the return address was Washington, D.C., which unsettled him deeply. While the envelope was big enough to hold a sheaf of about forty pages, it didn't seem to be filled completely. In fact, it felt more like it had been reinforced with a couple of pieces of cardboard. He wasn't sure what that meant, but he knew that if Jim wanted him to know, he'd tell him later.
After turning the envelope over once or twice in his hand, Blair forced a shrug of indifference and set the package on top of his backpack. As he turned to walk away, something made him rethink his decision to leave the letter out. Stuffing the parcel into his pack, Blair diverted his attention back to his original mystery.
"Now, if I were a fly rod, where would I be?"
"There's our man."
He looked at his partner and rolled his eyes. "I can see that's our man. I'm the one with the friggin' binoculars!" Sometimes the man just didn't use his brain. Thankfully, the man was a master with rifles and trajectories, otherwise, he'd still be cooking at Fort Bragg.
"You want we should go after him?"
He rolled his eyes again. "No, Jester. I want to go back to base and think of another way to get this job done."
If he rolled his eyes any more, they'd get stuck that way. Smacking his associate in the back of the head, he tried very hard to keep his temper from flaring further. "Jester, you really enjoyed that frontal lobotomy, didn't you?" Jester didn't answer. "Rabb, MacRaney," he said into the radio, "follow the kid. See if he can give you any information."
That task completed, he opened the door, and exited the van. He was pleased when Jester appeared next to him just after he saw his men heading down Prospect.
"What are we doing now, sir?"
He closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "We're gonna go check the premises..."
"What if someone's still home?"
He pulled his weapon and chambered a round before heading across the street. "We can only hope someone is."
Jim hung up the phone and shook his head. His partner must need a vacation more than he'd thought. It wasn't surprising, after the past few weeks. Between cases and class work, Blair hadn't had a free minute in weeks. Still, he strived to be as devoted to each element of his life as he'd ever been. The paperwork didn't always get done exactly on time, but it was closer than it had ever been before. And more than once, Jim had found Blair asleep at his books, be they mug shots or texts. Jim knew it wasn't easy for Blair to handle everything. That's why this fishing trip was so necessary.
As soon as the monthly schedule was posted, Jim had called a friend and arranged for a cabin for their four-day weekend between rotations. There would be no books, no reports, and if they were lucky, no criminals. Hell, there might not even be any fish....
Not that it would be a bad thing.
Jim shook his head and smiled.
Captain Banks stepped away from his office door and headed for Ellison's desk. The smile on Ellison's face let Simon know his shaking head was more from amusement than discouragement. It was nice to see his friend in a good mood. It would definitely work to his advantage.
Jim looked up and chuckled. He'd been so wrapped up in his thoughts, he hadn't heard Simon approach. "What's up, sir?"
"You and Sandburg all set for the weekend?" Simon asked casually.
"Uh, not exactly," Jim began, still smiling. "You know how Blair is. He can lose things he didn't even touch. Never mind the fact that I've told him five times where it is."
Banks gave a deep rumble of a laugh as he sat on the edge of Ellison's desk. "Sounds like the kid still needs some training."
Ellison laughed along and nodded. "On a regular basis, I think."
Banks smiled widely before dropping his news into Ellison's lap. "Well, then, you won't mind lending him to the academy for a couple days, right?"
"'Excuse me?" Jim managed as he sat up straight. "Lend him to the academy? For what?"
Simon stood up quickly and faced down his detective. "Whoa! It's nothing bad. I was just talking with a couple of the academy officials."
Ellison looked at his captain and tried not to panic. Whenever the academy called Major Crime, the subject was invariably Sandburg. Usually it wasn't bad things -- a lecture here, a consultation there but Jim didn't get the feeling it was going to be class work this time. And even if it was, he knew Blair was over-extended. There might not be time in the schedule.
"Ellison!" Banks bellowed, getting Jim's attention. "You didn't hear a word I just said, did you?"
There were chuckles from more than a few of the detectives in the bullpen.
Jim glanced around the office, then stared up at Simon. "Sorry. I was thinking. What does the academy want?"
After a rather dramatic sigh, Simon repeated the offer. "It's time for driver evaluations, and they want Blair to be the Fox for this year's academy chase."
"Oh, they've gotta be kidding," Jim said, hoping it was a joke. When Simon shook his head, his stomach knotted. "After everything that happened last year, they've got the nerve to ask this --" Cutting himself off before he said the wrong thing, Jim turned his attention away from Simon for a moment.
Simon wouldn't be dismissed that easily. "It's just the driving course, Jim. It's an honor to be chosen. They only ask the ones they think can elude capture."
Jim wouldn't hear it. "No, Simon. They pick the ones they think are easy targets!"
"Then why do they pick you so often?" Simon countered.
Ellison clenched his jaw tightly and crossed his arms over his chest. "Cause Captain MacLaren's got a beef with me. Every time I've been picked, it's because he thinks he's got some hotshot who can finally take me down."
The two men stared at each other. Simon let his mind process the information, eventually Breaking into a smile. No wonder old Mackie had always seemed so mad around Ellison. Something else stuck in Banks's mind. "Wait a minute. MacLaren's son was in your class, wasn't he?"
"No," Jim replied quietly. "It was his nephew, his sister's only kid. MacLaren wanted the kid to be number one. Bragged about it, even. I don't know exactly why the captain singled me out for his axe. There musta been at least a dozen of us who finished higher than Todd."
"Yeah," Simon agreed. "But you got all the press at your graduation, didn't you?"
It wasn't something Jim wanted to remember. He'd spent a good deal of the past few years putting it out of his mind. After the Peru incident, his entire life seemed to wind up in the public eye. From headlines to nightly reports, his arrival home after discharge had been covered by World Press; first day in attendance at the CPD Academy was almost as big as Elvis's send-off; even his marriage to Carolyn had made the New York Times Magazine Society pages. It was one of the reasons he'd grown the goatee and pierced his ear for working in Vice. Anything to make himself into someone else. There were days when he wished he were still there, still undercover, practically anonymous.
"Jim!" Banks barked, giving his friend a small chuck on the shoulder.
Ellison blinked and shook off his stupor. "Sorry, I was just --" He stopped when Simon's hand went up.
"Not necessary," Simon said knowingly. The haunted look in Jim's eyes let him know the man still had issues to deal with, issues better left alone.
Simon figured a change of subject was in order. "Look on the bright side, man. Your truck is Safe: the academy supplies the car."
"That's little comfort, sir." With a sigh, Ellison rubbed the back of his neck while finishing his thoughts. "Sandburg will still be at the wheel."
They men laughed, and Simon gave Jim a wide smile. "Well, can't be any worse than you behind the wheel." Seeing the protest forming in Ellison's eyes, Banks held up his hand and pinned his friend with a knowing stare. "And we won't even mention MY car."
There was another attempt at a rebuttal from Ellison, but Banks stopped it with a raised eyebrow. "Don't deny it, Jim. I have the body shop on speed dial because of you! Did you know the mechanics in Transportation actually have a pool going to see how long my car stays OUT of their bays?"
Jim couldn't help but chuckle at that one. If he'd known that before, he would have fixed the win somehow. Of course, there was no denying the fact that he was hard on cars himself. Just ask my insurance rep! Okay, so maybe he was a little harder on Simon's car.
"You know, sir," Jim began, in his own defense, "it's not like I was totally blind that one time --"
"Oh, I do NOT want to hear that," Simon barked. "That 'I-was-fine-by-the-time-I-stopped' speech doesn't work anymore. Face it, Jim. You have a real problem with my car, which is why you don't get to drive it anymore." Banks shoved a hand into his pocket and latched onto his keys, reassuring himself that his vehicle was indeed safe at that moment.
Jim opened his mouth to say something, but found Simon's hand held up again. He tried to listen as Simon mumbled something about smart-alec Sentinels and license restrictions, but it was so jumbled Jim couldn't make out most of it. Just as he was about to comment, Simon turned back towards him.
"Look," Simon began with a sigh, "it's really up to Blair. If he says 'no' then that's the end of it. Just ask him when you see him."
"You can ask him yourself, sir," Jim replied lightly. "He should be here soon."
Simon gave a small groan. "Like you couldn't tell me that five minutes ago?"
"Well," Jim said with a smile, "it was more fun this way, wasn't it? And I didn't have to wait. You know how impatient I am."
"That's an understatement." Banks laughed and shook his head, but noticed Ellison wasn't laughing.
Glancing over at his friend, Simon immediately recognized the look on his face. The one accompanied by the slight tilt to the head, the one that meant something -- or someone -- disturbing was headed their way.
But the sentinel didn't answer. His attention was focused squarely on the man in fatigues standing at the entrance to the bullpen.
Simon followed his friend's stare, turning just in time to see Detective Rafe send an Army corporal towards them. He took up a defensive stance in front of Jim's desk, unsurprised when his friend came around the desk and stood next to him.
They watched him approach, which unsettled him a bit. The man at the door was rather nice, but these two were downright threatening. For all that he was in the Army, he'd rather not face the pair in the corner together -- ever.
Swallowing hard, he forced himself to address the men. "Captain?"
"That would be me," Banks answered. "What can I do for you, son?"
The voice wasn't exactly stern, but then, the man was a captain. It didn't have to be stern to command respect. Holding out the small package and clipboard, he attempted to continue his appointed task. "I need your signature, sir."
Simon took the envelope and gave it a minor glance before reaching for the clipboard. Something small caught his eye, and he took a better look at the package in his hand.
"Uh, Jim?" Banks handed the envelope sideways to his friend. "I believe this is for you, Captain Ellison."
Taking the package in hand, Jim stared at the address label, then nodded in recognition. "Hmph -- got here faster than I thought it would."
"Uh, sirs?" The young man wasn't about to leave without the signature required. He held the clipboard out toward the man behind the desk, while still keeping an eye on the tall black man next to him. "My apologies, captain. I should have been more clear."
Simon finally gave the young man a smile. "It's okay, corporal. Lots of people mistake us for each other. Right, Jim?"
He had the good grace not to laugh. If the captain wanted him to believe it was a common mistake, then so be it. Taking the clipboard back with one hand, he snapped a salute with the other and awaited permission to leave.
Banks couldn't resist. He returned the salute with a firm military stance, and didn't smile again until the corporal was dismissed by Ellison.
Jim watched Simon's shoulders slope down as he relaxed. "You coulda been a little nicer, Simon."
Ellison smiled. "Cause not all captains are hard-asses."
Banks immediately straightened up and crossed his arms over his chest. "Speak for yourself."
He watched as Jim sat down behind the desk and stared at the envelope. It didn't look like bad news; the envelope was too big. Normally bad news came in regular mailing envelopes. This one was big enough to hold unfolded sheets of standard paper. Then again, if the scowl on Jim's face was any indication, it wasn't exactly good news, either. Whatever it was, though, Simon got the impression it wasn't a surprise.
Staring at the dark gold envelope in front of him, Jim flinched mentally. He'd been expecting this for a while. It wasn't that he didn't want to open it; he wasn't ready to re-open wounds that had just begun to heal properly. The papers enclosed were as much a part of his past as they were his future. And for all that he'd actually requested them, Jim wasn't sure he was ready to deal with them just yet.
For the time being, Ellison knew he had to put them somewhere safe. Opening his side desk drawer, he placed them on top of his back-up weapon. It could wait the weekend, of that he was certain.
Watching his friend ponder the envelope made Banks uncomfortable. He felt almost voyeuristic standing there. It was a brief, yet real, glimpse of Jim's vulnerabilities, and it unnerved him. In the space of a few minutes, James Ellison had gone from feared to frightened. There was no doubting the power of that parcel. Whatever was in that envelope was potentially dangerous.
"Jim?" Simon spoke quietly, slipping around the side of the desk and touching his friend on the shoulder. The connection seemed to relax them both. "If you want to talk about it...."
Before Simon could finish the offer, Jim pushed the drawer shut, essentially closing conversation on the envelope. "Later."
Banks knew better than to push. He'd certainly let Blair know about the package. If anyone knew how to run interference for Ellison's tension and stress, it was Sandburg. "You'll keep me informed."
It wasn't a question, but a simple command. One Jim knew came from Simon Banks as a friend, rather than Simon Banks as a captain. "Of course."
If anyone in the office thought the tete-a-tete in the corner was strange, they certainly didn't say so. After all, nothing involving Jim Ellison seemed strange anymore, not after the past few years. Kidnappings, bullpen shoot-outs, bombings, drug cartels, and gangsters -- just another day at Major Crimes. A quiet moment between friends? Nothing strange there at all.
Just as Simon was getting ready to head back to his office, he saw Jim's head tilt slightly to one side. "What now?" he inquired rather tiredly.
Jim gave a chuckle and stood up, surveying the room before settling his gaze on the far door. "Incoming. Sandburg at high noon."
They exchanged amused smiles and relaxed as they watched Blair approach.
It wasn't unusual to find Simon around Jim's desk. But the stares Blair was receiving from both friend and captain worried him. Sure, they were smiling, but it was obvious that something had been going on before he arrived. Simon's arms were crossed over his chest and Jim, well, Jim's refusal to look him in the eyes just screamed trouble.
Blair said a silent prayer that whatever was wrong could be fixed before he and Jim left that evening.
Coming to stand in front of his partner's desk, Blair looked at Jim, then Simon, then back to Jim. "Okay, what'd I do wrong this time?"
Banks gave a warm chuckle. "It's nice to know I intimidate someone." At the confused look on Sandburg's face, he smiled.
"Intimidate?" Blair questioned. "I don't think you really intimidate me, Simon."
That stripped the smile from his face. "Why not?"
"Cause that's really not the way our relationship works," Sandburg replied, totally oblivious to the smirk on Jim's face.
"Then how DOES this relationship work, Detective Sandburg?"
The emphasis on his official title seemed to strike a chord. Blair looked at his partner and pleaded silently for help, only to find Ellison completely unfazed by the verbal exchange. "Uh, respect?" Blair offered. "I respect you as an authority figure, and you respect me because of the fresh approach I take to things."
"Good answer," Banks replied. "And Sandburg --"
"Yes -- uh, sir?"
"I need to see you in my office before you leave," Simon instructed before heading back across the bullpen to his office.
Still in worry mode, Blair set off a barrage of questions towards Jim. It soon became obvious that his partner was neither listening, nor trying to. In fact, Jim looked more distracted than anything else.
"Jim, man, what's going on?"
Ellison shrugged and shuffled some papers on his desk. "Did you find my fly rod?"
"No," Blair replied, setting his backpack on the floor as he took the chair next to Jim's desk.
"I told you where it was."
"No," Blair corrected. "You told me where you THOUGHT it was. There's a difference." Rummaging through his pack, he looked for the package he'd signed for earlier. "Hey, I got something here for you."
"My fly rod?" Jim asked with a smirk, as he watched his friend remove several folders, a couple of books, and a seemingly unending mound of papers. "How can you find anything in there, Chief?"
"I know it's here. I put it in here before I headed down to the storage room for the FIFTIETH time." He noticed Jim's wince when he raised his voice and smiled. "I figured it was important, so I brought it with me." Finding the corner of the envelope peeking out from behind a folder, Blair gripped it firmly and yanked it from the sack. "HA! Told you I had it. Here. Came this afternoon. Military courier."
That caught Jim's attention.
Not to mention Rafe's. Rafe had been heading towards his own desk, when he heard Sandburg mention the military courier. "Geez, Jim. Army must want you back pretty bad if they're sending your recall notices home AND here."
Ellison forced a smile and took the envelope from his partner's hand, watching quietly as Rafe walked away. He needed answers to his questions, but he didn't want an audience. "What were you saying about a military courier?"
Blair relayed the story of how the package arrived, studying his friend as he did so. The fact that Jim had taken the envelope from him, but not opened it, had him intrigued. It hadn't occurred to him that it was bad news. If he'd even suspected there was bad news, Blair knew he would have waited until Jim had gotten home to give it to him. Hell, if it's that bad, I should've waited till after the weekend.
"Jim? What's going on?"
Ellison looked the worry on Blair's face. "It's okay. I just, uh..." Taking a minute to go over things in his mind, he removed the second envelope from his desk drawer and compared the two side by side. What was the likelihood that he'd get two copies of the same documents?
Sandburg watched with no little interest. "What's up, man?"
"Bureaucracy at work, Chief." Jim smiled, and tossed one envelope into the drawer before shutting down his computer and locking his desk. "Is that Flintstone-mobile of yours secured downstairs?"
Sandburg gave an indignant huff then smiled at him. "The 'Vair is parked and locked in the garage."
"Good," Jim quipped. "At least ONE thing will be safe this weekend."
"Ha ha ha." Sandburg grabbed his pack off the floor and slipped it onto his shoulder. "Glad to see you haven't lost that sense of humor, buddy."
"We've searched the whole place. You think the kid took it with him?"
He looked at Jester and sighed. "Rabb and MacRaney already reported that the courier didn't have the package on him. They've got the page of the clipboard with them. Someone signed for Ellison's package. Someone in this building."
Footsteps in the hallway and a quick knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. Holding his pistol at the ready, he sneaked to the door and listened for a moment or so, relieved to hear the footsteps retreat. He wasn't taking any chances, though. "Okay, Jester. Rendezvous at the van in five."
He watched Jester slip out the back door of the apartment before he checked the front door once more. He was halfway to the stairs when he heard voices coming up toward him. They were discussing noises and the fact that Ellison wasn't home.
"Damn." He headed back into the loft, leaving the door open as he made his way to the back door. He managed to get down the fire escape just moments before someone appeared at the top. He heard them yelling and knew he had to vacate the alley, but the last thing he wanted was a witness. Raising his weapon, he aimed for the open back door and fired.
"I don't understand it. I know it's there. I PUT it there!"
Blair took a deep breath and settled his head back against the truck's bench seat. "You may have put it there, but it didn't stay there. I checked exactly where you said it should be. Nada! As in, 'nada thing!'"
They'd been arguing over the whereabouts of the fly rod since they pulled out of the CPD garage. Blair was at the point that he wanted to just buy Jim another rod and have done with it. But Jim was insistent, not to mention stubborn. Several times he'd tried to shift the subject, twice asking about the delivery from the military. Each time, Jim returned to the fly rod issue with gusto. Sandburg sighed and smiled to himself. Typical Ellison avoidance technique.
"When we get back to the loft, I'll go down and get the thing myself," Jim said flatly.
Blair nodded in agreement, but was stopped from commenting by the sound of his cell phone. Pulling out the phone, he hit the ON button. "Sandburg."
Jim watched him talking quietly on the phone and relaxed for a few minutes. He didn't want to discuss the fishing rod any more, but it was better than discussing the package from the military. When he felt like talking to Blair, he would. It was something he had to deal with on his own first. It wasn't a matter of if he would tell Sandburg, just when. And that would be any time after they got back from their fishing trip.
"... Right. I can be there in a few minutes. No, I don't think it'll be a problem. You just need to show us something, right? Fine. Give us about twenty minutes."
Jim listened to his partner talk and got a sinking feeling in his stomach. The last thing he wanted was for Blair to get stuck at the University. Going in to talk to someone usually led to the library and research, which eventually led to postponing things. Not this time, though, if Jim had anything to say about it.
Hitting Blair lightly on the shoulder, Ellison waved his hand at the younger man, silently asking for some recognition and information.
"Hold on, Jack." Blair set a hand over the phone before speaking to his partner. "I know what you're thinking, man, but it won't take that long. Kelso's got something to show us. US, as in both you and me. He says it's important. C'mon, it won't take that long."
Blair's argument was cut short by another ringing, this time from Jim's phone.
Blair could tell by the look on Jim's face that it was NOT good news. "Uh, Jack, I'll have to get back to you on this. I know, I know. But something else is going on. I'll explain when I get more information." He disconnected the call just as Jim was finishing his own conversation. The clenched jaw was not a good thing.
"What's going on, Jim?"
Ellison slapped down his visor lights and hit the siren before answering. "There's been a break-in at the loft."
"No, sir. We don't have them, but we're very close." He winced at the string of expletives that came through the phone at him. "We'll handle it. No, sir. You don't have to tell me what exactly is at stake here."
There was another string of expletives, peppered here and there with threats.
"Of course I understand the importance of this mission," he said in a placating voice. "We'll get them for you, sir." The colonel exhaled slowly, trying hard to control his anger and his fear. "Or die trying. Yes, sir."
The voice calmed.
"Right, sir. Understood." Hitting the off button, he closed his eyes and attempted to gather his thoughts. He picked up the radio and spoke urgently. "Rabb. The name on the delivery sheet: have you made it out yet?"
The radio crackled a bit before Rabb's voice came through. "Looks like Sandburg, colonel."
"You're sure?" There was no turning back at this stage. He had to get this right.
"It's either that or Soundbug," came the reply.
Jester gave a short laugh. "Soundbug. That's kinda stupid. Of course, if it's Sandburg, that makes sense."
"Of course it makes sense," he gritted out.
Jester nodded. "Yeah, cause Sandburg lives there with Ellison."
He turned and looked at the man curiously. "Say that again, lieutenant."
"Sandburg lives at the place on Prospect -- with Ellison. When I was tossing the small room under the stairs, there were a buncha envelopes with the name Sandburg on them," Jester explained, and smiled for his commanding officer. "They were all to the same address as Ellison."
"And you didn't think to mention this before?"
Jester shrugged. "Was it important before?"
He wanted to scream. "Well, kind of."
"Then it's important that this Sandburg guy left just after the courier did?" Jester winced in anticipation of the smack to the back of his head, but it didn't come. When he opened his eyes, he found the colonel gripping the dashboard. "Sir?"
He gritted his teeth against the anger, causing a shooting pain in his jaws. With as much restraint as he could muster, the colonel quietly inquired, "How well do you know this Sandburg character?"
Jester gave a small smile. "While we were standing down by the mailboxes, I saw this guy head out of the elevator and leave the building. I didn't know who he was until we were in Ellison's place. That little room under the stairs has a buncha pictures and stuff, all Sandburg's."
He had to resist the urge to bang Jester's head against the window. Picking up his radio, he gave Rabb a call. "You and MacRaney head back to Prospect and see if you can get a line on Ellison or Sandburg."
"Got it, colonel. We'll call in when we're in position."
Turning to face Jester, he sighed and sat back in the seat. "Back to base for now."
Jester nodded and headed the van toward their temporary home. "You think we could get some pizza or something, sir?"
He nodded absently and mentally reminded himself once more about the man's better qualities.
Jim made his way to the middle of the loft's living room, pushing through the multitude of uniforms standing around. The entire place was in a shambles. One of the sofas was overturned, books were pulled off the shelves and nearly every cabinet was open and emptied. Even without his sentinel sight, he could tell his room upstairs had been tossed just as haphazardly. And there was no way he was setting foot in Sandburg's room.
Jim looked toward the kitchen. Blair stood next to the cooking island, shaking his head. "You said it, Chief."
Jim turned to find his downstairs neighbor scrambling towards him. "Mr. Paulson, what can I do for you? Are the officers bothering you?"
Shaking his head, Paulson motioned to the officers standing around him. "No, no. I called them. There were two men. Dressed nicely: suits, overcoats. I thought it was funny they were in overcoats since it was so warm today. Irene had the back windows open, said the place was getting stale. She just gets cabin fever about this time each year, and I tell her not to open the windows all the time cause it'll drive up the heating bill."
Jim touched the man on the shoulder and waved a hand in front of his face to get his attention. "Mr. Paulson, the men in overcoats? What did they do? How did you know they were here?"
Adjusting his glasses nervously, he continued his narrative. "Oh, I heard some racket up here, thought that nephew of yours was playing his music again or something, so I came to see. I knocked, but there was no answer. I was on my way back down when I ran into Mrs. Shorter on the stairs. She was pretty winded, but she won't take the elevator. Says it breaks down so much, she'd have a better chance of getting stuck than of getting married again. I don't really believe all that, but the elevator is out of service quite a bit and Doreen ain't getting any younger..."
"Mr. Paulson, please," Jim begged. He'd leave the nephew comment for another time. "How did you find out the men were in here?"
"Oh," he said with a lopsided grin. "Well, like I was saying, Mrs. Shorter was coming up the steps, since she'd heard some noises, too. That's when she tells me she saw young Blair leave and that you were already at work. We were just about to the end of the hall when I saw someone go into your place. I left Doreen standing there and ran right in the open door here. I saw the place was a mess and the back door was open, so I ran towards it. Just as I stepped out onto your fire escape, the one raises his gun and shoots at me! I didn't hear anything, but something dinged and sparked off the metal railing so I ducked back inside. I figure the gun had one of those mufflers on it."
"You mean a silencer?" Blair had been listening from a spot just by the kitchen table, but moved closer when he heard the last part of Paulson's story. "You said there were two guys, but you only saw one come in here."
"Right," Paulson confirmed. "When I went downstairs and told Irene, she told me she saw a guy in a suit in the alley. When I described the one I chased, hers was different and ran a different way. I figure they were working together."
"I'd say you figured right, Mr. Paulson." Jim looked around his home. He didn't like the sound of things. The story Paulson relayed was just a tad too familiar. "Did you happen to tell the first officers on the scene what you just told us?" Seeing Paulson nod, Jim gave the man a small smile. "Well, I think you should go make sure Irene is safe. She might be a little traumatized by this whole thing."
Paulson gave a laugh. Ha. This is nothing compared to the last whacko you had in here. She's a tough lady, my Irene. But I guess I should go make sure she's got those windows locked down." He pointed a finger at Jim. "Never know if those boys will be back."
"No, you don't." With a nod and smile, Jim watched the little man leave before he crossed the room to the kitchen area. He needed some aspirin, desperately. "Uh, Chief, anything missing from your room?"
Blair shook his head and followed Jim to the kitchen, only to run into him when he stopped abruptly in front of the refrigerator. "Whoa, Jim! Give a guy some warning." But Blair couldn't finish his thought. Something on the floor held Jim's attention. Stepping carefully behind him, Blair watched as Jim knelt next to a mess of spilled herbs and loose tea. The smell wasn't so much potent as it was undeniably inharmonious. Several empty spice containers littered the floor. In the midst of them sat Blair's favorite tea tin, completely overturned.
Blair knew instinctively that the sentinel was reading something on the floor. "What are you getting, man?"
"A headache, mostly," he replied, not surprised to feel Blair's hand settle on his shoulder. Using the touch to help balance his senses, Jim scanned the tea mess again and picked up a better idea of what he'd already discerned. "I can just make out a couple footprints here. He must have dumped the tea, stepped on it, then moved away. There are tiny bits of tea and spice going toward the balcony." Following the trail, Jim stood and carefully followed the footprints.
"What the hell happened here?"
Sandburg and Ellison turned to find their captain heading into the fray, Megan not too far behind him. Exchanging uneasy glances, they greeted their colleagues then explained what they knew so far from their neighbor.
"This isn't unfamiliar, Jim," Simon commented rather bluntly. "I hate to say it, but I'm getting the feeling we've been here before."
Blair ran a hand through his hair and tried not to let panic seize him. He'd been thinking along the same lines. "We're missing the bullet holes in the doorframe. Oh, and me being chased."
"I'm not following, Sandy." Connor looked to the three men for an explanation, her gaze falling on Blair.
Blair was suddenly completely dry-mouthed. He wet his lips, took a deep breath, and tried to explain as concisely as possible. "Couple years back, one of Jim's old army buddies calls outta the blue and says they need to meet. Well, a couple hours later, Jim's missing and a couple guys IN SUITS show up for target practice here at the loft."
"Let me guess," Megan interjected. "You were the target?"
Giving a nod, he continued. "The whole thing boiled down to a plot to kill an undercover government agent. He had information that would cripple a rogue unit working with some huge drug cartel. The leader of the rogue unit, Colonel Oliver, was in charge of the whole thing. He and Jim had crossed paths before."
"Something personal, I suppose?"
"Extremely," Simon replied, catching Jim's gaze. "But Oliver's dead. I don't see how he could be connected to this."
A shiver worked its way down Blair's spine. "Unless he's not really dead."
Simon gave a grunt of disbelief. "He was shot and fell off the top of a building. You don't just get up and brush yourself off after something like that. He's very dead."
Not that he wanted to be right, but Sandburg was getting that horrible deja vu feeling in the pit of his stomach. "What about known associates? Graf Technologies was pretty much decimated by the time the arrests were finished. Could they have missed anyone? Or are any of them out of jail yet?"
Jim didn't like the way the conversation was going. Colonel Oliver's front company, Graf Technologies, had been closed down a long time ago. If just one of those mercenaries had been released, he knew he was in trouble. And not just him: Blair, too. After all, Blair's testimony had been just as damaging to the covert corporation.
Surveying the loft's state of dishevelment, Jim realized his partner's fears were very justified. It was definitely too familiar. "Chief, call Kelso. Tell him you'll be over to the campus in a while. Don't mention anything about this, but ask him if he's got a few minutes to answer some questions for me."
Banks wasn't surprised to hear that somehow Kelso had gotten into the mix. "I know you probably don't want to hear it, but I'm ordering you two to stay in Cascade until this thing is cleared up. Consider your fishing trip on hold until we get some answers."
Neither Blair nor Jim protested.
He was about to continue when a uniformed officer tapped him on the shoulder.
"Uh, Captain Banks. I've got some information for you or Detective Ellison." He looked over at the large man standing with his arms crossed over his chest. "The alarm system was by-passed, looks professional, and the mailbox downstairs was popped. Looks like they used an old-fashioned lock pull. Effective and fast, but very crude. Especially when you figure your front door lock was picked."
"Picked? You're sure?" Jim asked.
The officer nodded. "Pretty sure. I found some unusual scrape marks on the lock face, completely unlike typical key scoring. Add to that the fact that the jamb is still in tact -- not fractured or stressed -- and it makes sense."
Simon nodded as he considered the information. "Quite a contradiction, don't you think, Jim?"
"Not really," Ellison replied. "You can't take the time to pick a lock in a small, public area like the lobby. Picking a lock in a secluded, upstairs hallway is different." He took a deep breath and crossed his arms over his chest, letting the situation sink in a little more.
Megan looked at the three men around her, at the gloom that was starting to creep into their faces. There were so many questions she wanted to ask. So many things that had happened before her arrival seemed to affect things now. It was a bit overwhelming to think that Jim and Blair had made so many enemies in so few years together. Guess that's what happens when you're the best.
As she watched the uniforms wander around the loft, then slowly disappear , Megan tried to focus on the information brought to light. The trashed loft and the popped mailbox were the most glaring facts, and her mind returned to them repeatedly, until she was forced to ask. "Jim, why on earth would someone want to filch your letters? I don't know about you, but the coupons in my mail aren't worth pinching."
Jim sighed and looked around the apartment. The only uniforms left were stationed in the hallway. He shut the loft door with the uniforms outside, he walked into the kitchen and grabbed the envelope off the table before heading into the living room. "They were after this."
Jim stared at the package as if it could give him the answers he needed right through the envelope. He set it on the coffee table, then walked to the windows.
Blair studied his friend, noting the arms crossed protectively over his chest. He stepped around Megan and took a seat next to Simon on the one upright couch. "Why would they want it? What's in it?"
Jim couldn't answer since he really didn't know. It was easier to explain why the package was important to him. "I never really knew everything about the accident in Peru. It bothered me for a long time after Colonel Oliver's death. Between what Kelso told us and what Oliver bragged about to me, something still seemed missing. I was in Covert-Ops, and I was in the Army. Two different ways of handling things, with one significant parallel: There was always someone higher up who knew the plan." Taking a quick breath, he tried to control his thoughts and words, hoping neither would betray his anger.
"I don't remember exactly when -- I think it was around Halloween -- I was watching something on one of those academic channels Sandburg likes. Something about the Freedom of Information Act and December 31st, 2000 being the cut-off for requesting classified files to be opened."
Simon looked to Blair. "Did you know anything about this?"
"Not a thing." The hurt in his voice was evident to everyone in the room, especially Jim. Blair didn't mean it that way, but he saw his friend flinch.
"I did some research, found out that FOIA didn't cover certain high-risk documents. I contacted the local recruiter, too, to see about having the documents made available for me to read securely, like on a base. He checked me out. Turns out I still have some security clearances. Benefits of my bizarre-circumstances discharge." He turned and pinned Blair with a stare. "In addition, as the only survivor of the crash, I was entitled to a Survivor's Inquiry." Turning back toward the windows, Jim uncrossed his arms, settling one hand on the back of his neck, the other in his pocket. "I filled out all the paperwork for the requests but figured I'd never hear anything."
Connor was confused. "Why would you request something if you thought it wouldn't come through?"
"Confirmation," Banks replied, catching Jim's almost imperceptible nod. "You figured if you didn't hear anything, then there was someone still hiding things. And if you did get the documents, then you'd have the information in hand."
Jim nodded and turned just enough to glance at his partner.
Blair stared at the floor, his elbows resting on his knees, one foot tapping incessantly against the coffee table leg. He didn't understand Jim. Didn't understand why his friend hadn't let him in on such an important quest. The events that led up to the crash were just as significant as the events after the crash. Both had an effect on Jim's sentinel abilities. Those documents could hold the key to unlocking Jim's repressed memories of the Peruvian jungle. In turn, those memories could give Blair insight into Chopec society, Incacha's role as shaman, even Enqueri's acceptance by the tribe. Those papers, those files, they weren't just about Jim's past, they were about his future. Why would Jim keep the information from him?
Jim tried to study Blair's face, but the long curls fell like a curtain around it. He could only imagine what was going on. "I got confirmation in December that my requests had been approved. I didn't want to get my hopes up, so I put it out of my mind. With everything else that's happened since then, it was easy to just forget about it. Until today."
"That's great, man. Really great." Blair pushed himself off the couch and headed for the kitchen.
Sensing that it was time for his best team to talk in private, Simon stood up and motioned for Megan to join him at the doorway. "I, uh -- I think maybe we should run down to the station and see if the forensics team found anything."
Blair headed for the front door immediately. "I'll go with you."
Megan stopped next to Jim, locking gazes with him. She set a hand on his forearm and squeezed lightly. "I'll take Sandy with me, captain." Even though she could see the pleading in Ellison's eyes, there was also a touch of anger. "Why don't you and Jim go over the loft again, see if there's anything the lab boys missed?" She headed for the door, setting her hand on Blair's back as they left.
Once they were gone, Banks took a deep breath and headed for the fridge. "All right, Jim, you wanna talk or you wanna clean up this mess?"
Ellison kicked a throw pillow across the floor. "Are those my only choices?"
"You want to talk about it, Sandy?"
Blair sighed and stared out the passenger's side window. He was thankful Megan had waited till they were almost to the precinct before asking. If he said no, then the uncomfortable silence to follow would be brief. If he started talking, he had the benefit of knowing he could get away with the short version.
Connor took the next corner a little fast, smiling when Blair grabbed the seat and dashboard.
"You've been taking lessons from Jim," Blair managed with a smile.
Megan winked at her passenger. "Glad you approve."
"I didn't say that," he countered.
Letting go of the dash, he settled his head back against the seat. There were so many things that he felt needed to be said, but Megan wasn't the one who needed to hear them. He could have stayed at the loft and hashed it out with Jim, but the timing was wrong. By avoiding the conversation, he wasn't avoiding the topic, just the possibility of hurting feelings.
After all, my feelings are already hurt.
She could only imagine what was going through his mind. There was no way she could ever truly understand the bond the sentinel and shaman shared. But she could understand friendship -- and betrayal. She had to admit she was proud of Sandy for avoiding a scene and managing his anger. Harsh words wouldn't have helped anyone.
Deciding to test the waters, she took a chance that Blair was open to some help sorting out his feelings. "I don't think Jim was right to keep things from you."
"He had his reasons," he replied quietly.
"But you're his partner," she countered. "You deserve to know."
"Maybe I do, maybe I don't." Blair shrugged and replied as honestly as he could. "This isn't really about me. It's about Jim, and his past."
"Which could have a bearing on his immediate future." Megan glanced at Blair. He was staring out the window once again, but his hand was pulling at the cord on his jacket hood. "Aren't you the least bit curious about the contents of that envelope?"
"Hell, yes," he admitted. The question for him, though, wasn't whether he was curious or not, and he told her so.
"Then what IS the question for you?" she asked softly.
"I don't know, yet. It's something I need to figure out." Sandburg looked up as they pulled into the CPD parking garage. "Then I need to tell Jim."
She pulled into a parking spot just a few feet away from Blair's Corvair. "But you will tell him. Right, Sandy?"
Giving Megan a bright smile, he nodded. "Like I can keep quiet?"
They laughed before exiting Connor's car. Megan walked around the back of the vehicle, meeting Blair by the trunk.
"You coming in with me?" she asked, nodding her head in the direction of the garage door.
Blair thought about it for a moment or so, then shook his head. "I've got a couple things I need to do, then I'll probably head back home. If I let Jim clean the whole place, I'll never hear the end of it."
"Rabb, reporting in, sir," came the voice through the radio.
"Tell me you've got the kid," he demanded.
He smiled and hit Jester in the arm in celebration. "Bring him in, Rabb. Bring him in."
The colonel shook his head and refused to hear any more. "I said 'bring him in.' I mean 'bring him in.' I'll expect you at base in forty-five minutes." That said, he put down the radio and pulled out his phone, then hit the speed dial for his boss.
The voice on the other end was gruff and bothered. "This better be good news."
The colonel smiled wide. "We're sixty minutes away from your documents, general."
"Get them and return to base ASAP, colonel."
He nodded out of habit. "As you wish, sir." He disconnected the call and placed his phone back in his pocket. "Company's coming, Jester."
Blair pulled the Corvair into a spot near the Political Science building, then exited the car and headed for the door. He'd called Kelso from CPD garage to confirm that he was still at the University. Whatever the ex-CIA operative wanted to tell Sandburg earlier that day had taken on greater importance.
That deja vu thing was starting again as he headed down the hallway to Jack's office.
Seeing Blair approach, Jack smiled. He motioned him toward a chair then went back to his phone conversation.
"Right. I understand. I can get that information to him, if necessary." Jack scribbled some notes on a pad of paper in front of him. "No. I wouldn't trust that to the computer. You never know who's tapped in. Of course I have a scrambler on my phone, but it doesn't work on a computer." He rolled his eyes in disbelief, then continued his conversation. "Yes, you're right. It's too much of a coincidence. I'll take care of it. You're welcome."
Blair watched Jack as he talked. The way Jack glanced at him every few words didn't reassure him. As soon as the receiver touched the cradle, Blair sat forward in the chair. "I got here as soon as I could."
Kelso nodded. "Look, I know this probably isn't a good time for this, but I've got some information you and Ellison need to know."
"Does it have anything to do with Jim's accident in Peru?" Jack nodded and sat back in his wheelchair. "And let me guess: Colonel Oliver's involved."
Jack gave him a curious stare. "Oliver's still dead, Blair."
Exhaling slowly, Blair sat back in the chair. "Thanks for confirming that. If anyone would know, you would. Guess Graf Technologies is still out of business, too, huh?"
"No," Kelso replied. "That's why I called you. Graf has been re-opened under new management."
That unsettled him. "I think I should get Jim over here." He pulled his cell phone and tried to make the call, but the battery was too low to maintain a signal. "Damnit."
"S'okay. You're better off using my phone, anyway." He held out the receiver and smiled.
They'd covered half the building already. The problem with following a college kid on a college campus was trying to keep track of him. They'd let him enter the building before closing in, but they hadn't counted on the number of students that swarmed the stairwells and halls. Twice they closed in on a person with long, curly hair and a blue nylon jacket, only to find out neither was the right kid.
By the time they disengaged the chase on kid #2, they'd lost twenty minutes. In order to keep from losing each other, they'd walked the floors together. As if the students weren't enough of a problem, the building further complicated things with four floors, not including a basement, and two wings. It took an additional twenty minutes to search, and they'd only covered half the building.
Now, as they stood in an open, student gathering area off the main entrance to the building, they stopped walking long enough to take stock of their situation.
MacRaney tapped his partner on the shoulder. Once he had Rabb's attention, he pointed to the directory on the wall. "There's a familiar name."
Rabb recognized it immediately. "What are the odds?"
They noted the office number and headed for the elevator. They lucked out and found themselves alone. As the car descended, they checked their weapons, then returned them to their holsters just as the elevator came to a stop.
MacRaney smiled as the doors opened to reveal an empty hallway. He pointed to the directional sign on the wall. "That way."
Rabb pulled his weapon and followed his partner down the hallway. Even if the kid wasn't there, he was certain the colonel would be happy to have Kelso taken care of.
Political Sciences Building
Jim opened the stairwell door and gazed down the tiled hallway, his mind still milling over the call from Blair.
The call had truly surprised him. Jim had figured it would take more than an hour for him to calm down. He'd thought it was Megan calling to tell him Blair was with her. Hearing Blair's voice instead had sent a quick chill up his spine. Not to mention the horrible visions it initiated in his mind.
Jim had refused to listen to anything until Blair answered the important questions: Was he okay, was the Corvair okay, and were there any bad guys involved? When Blair laughed, Jim had finally relaxed and let his friend tell him where he was and why.
"I'm in Jack Kelso's office" wasn't exactly what Jim had been expecting.
The worrying had begun again. It had doubled when Blair said to meet him there. So, here he was, heading down the hall, trying to reassure himself that things would be okay. Problem was, he didn't believe it. At this point, it seemed like nothing could ever be okay again.
As he took the corner, Jim realized things were definitely NOT okay. Something didn't feel right. And it sure as hell didn't sound any better.
"I'm telling you, I don't have anything."
It was Blair's voice.
He'd been to Kelso's office before, when Blair had volunteered to help the man move into the larger space sometime the previous summer. There was a floor-to-ceiling window to the left of the door, as well as a large pebble-glass window in the door itself. He could see the door at the end of the hall, not to mention the large silhouette on the other side. He knew by the short hair that it wasn't Blair, and it certainly wasn't Jack.
As he stood there watching, Jim's ears picked up an angry conversation.
"What did Kelso tell you?"
Inside the office, Blair stared at the two men in suits who were pointing guns at him and screamed inside. Deja vu? I can think of a few better French words.
The blond stepped toward him menacingly. He was already backed into a bookshelf; there wasn't anywhere else to go except sideways behind Jack's desk. If he could just hold out until Jim got there, he was sure they would be okay. All he had to do was stall long enough.
And hopefully stay alive while he was at it.
"I don't know what you're talking about, man," Blair protested. "I just came to pick up some books from my professor."
That earned him an elbow to the jaw from the blond. Blair had already gotten a jab to the stomach. Now it didn't matter that his stomach would hurt when he ate. He couldn't eat with a bruised jaw.
Rabb looked at his partner and shook his head. "You bust him up too badly, he can't talk."
"I can't talk if I don't know anything," Sandburg commented sarcastically.
"Oh, don't be so modest, Sandburg." Rabb had the satisfaction of seeing the kid's eyes dart nervously to Kelso. "I'm sure Jack's filled your head with all sorts of tales. Ex-CIA are full of stories. Some of them are even true." His eyes watched for any hint of weakness in either captive. "You received a package this afternoon, even signed for it. You don't expect me to believe you didn't look at them, do you?"
Blair didn't answer. If he acknowledged the papers, he'd as much as admit he knew more than he was letting on. If he could keep up the charade a little longer, they both might have a chance of surviving unscathed.
MacRaney wasn't going to stand there and let a CIA tattletale and an undisciplined hippie play him. He smiled at the one they knew as Sandburg, even as his fist connected with the kid's jaw.
Blair's head snapped back into a bookshelf. He blacked out for a moment. His hands grasped the edges of the case, holding him upright. Blair took several short breaths and blinked his eyes until the ground stopped spinning. Once he was certain the floor wasn't going to sink under him, Blair swabbed his mouth with the back of his hand. He didn't need to look at it to know there was blood there. He could feel it on his skin, and taste it in his mouth.
Jim? Now would be a good time for a Blessed Protector, buddy.
Ellison had taken a great deal of care in working his way to his spot outside Kelso's office. From the doorway on the left side of the hall, he could see through the office window. The blinds were closed, but it wasn't much of an obstacle to the sentinel. The thin slats were parted enough to give him a good enough view, and what his sight didn't pick up, his hearing completed. Unfortunately, it meant he both saw and heard Blair get hit.
Anxiously, Jim listened for his opportunity. It didn't take long.
Jack was getting tired of the badass attitude his captors exuded. It was all too ironic that his invitation to Blair had been meant to warn his friend about the very men holding them at gunpoint. His last skirmish with Graf Technologies had landed him in the hospital. Jack was not anxious to repeat the experience.
As he watched the blond move in for another shot, Jack braced himself against the bookshelf. Blair looked down at his hand and found his fingers in contact with a thick binding. He glanced over and smiled. It was a copy of a class text: People of Power, Revolutionaries through History. He slid it silently forward and grasped it tightly. He just had to wait for the right moment.
For Blair, everything clicked together perfectly.
For Rabb and MacRaney, everything went to hell in a matter of seconds.
Kelso gave a sharp gasp and grabbed for his chest with one hand; his other hand spasmed and pushed things around on the desk. While the gunmen were watching Jack, Jim made a grand entrance through the tall window next to the door. A few well-placed bullets down the center of the pane splintered the safety glass enough for Jim to jump through, still firing. Acting quickly, Blair pulled the book out, aiming it up into his abuser's jaw.
Rabb cussed and turned to fire at the intruder, but by then the man was nearly standing in front of him. There wasn't anything he could do to avoid the fist that slammed into his stomach. To his embarrassment, it dropped him to his knees.
MacRaney tried to recover his wits and his weapon at the same time. He shook his head to clear it, and found his gun on the floor next to his left foot. His first instinct was to reach for it. The sound of the gun being cocked made him think twice. When he looked up, Kelso had a Glock leveled at his head.
"Sloppy, gentlemen. Very sloppy." Jack looked the blond in the eyes and smiled, then shook his head. "Oliver would be very disappointed."
He didn't want to make the call, but it had to be done, now. The general would not be happy.
The time had truly slipped away from him. The "thirty minutes" had suddenly become two hours. The general answered the phone without a greeting. "You have the package?"
"There's been a delay, an incident," the colonel admitted.
"And I'm certain you're handling it." The general shook his head slightly. He knew he should have expected this.
"We're working on containing it, sir."
The general laughed.
"I told you not to underestimate Ellison," he said smugly. "I believe I recommended hitting the courier before he was able to make the delivery."
"It's easier to arrange civilian accidents. Hitting anything military requires special planning."
The general gave a snort of disbelief. "It's not THAT hard to hit a military man."
The colonel shook his head, but remained silent.
On the other end of the phone, the general seethed. "Ellison was a good soldier. Hell, the man survived eighteen months in a jungle where Westerners disappeared on a daily basis. Not only did he conquer the jungle, he completed the mission alone. The man lost his whole team and STILL got the job done."
"Guess that's why you recommended two teams instead of one." It had seemed an incredible waste of resources to send eight men after one. Stories about Ellison abounded, but the colonel hadn't put much stock in them. Certainly he was a well-trained soldier, not to mention a successful detective, but the one involving Superman was obviously outrageous, if amusing. "Sir, I understand your distress over this turn of events --"
"Distress?" There was genuine anger in his voice. "Distress is what you have when you're audited. Anger, colonel. This is anger, and you have no idea how it feels to be me."
Not wanting to further incite the man who supplied his funding, the colonel replied with rare honesty "You're right. I have no idea how hard it is to be a general."
That was one thing the general could agree with, but the tone would not do. "Don't patronize me, colonel. You have no idea how important this is. I warned you about Captain Ellison. Your predecessor underestimated him and quickly learned just how fallible and mortal he was."
The colonel smiled. "Well, I'm not Oliver. And if there's anything you taught us, sir, it's to learn from the mistakes of others. Ollie wasn't up to the task. I assure you, I am."
The general laughed, a full hearty sound, and smiled as he spoke. "Reinforcements are on the way. And I repeat my warning: Ellison is a warrior, tried and true. You underestimate him again, and you won't get another shot. You probably won't even live to regret it. Am I clear?"
Henri hit his partner on the shoulder, then pointed to the double doors of the Major Crime office. His voice was just loud enough to carry across the bullpen.
"Those two will do anything to bolster their arrest records, even give up their vacation to catch bad guys."
Blair barely heard the comment and let it pass. His mind was focused on getting to Simon, then home to the loft. He didn't care what had to be cleaned up. He'd gladly take care of it if it meant not having to dodge bullets again for a long while. Following Jim across the bullpen, Blair tried to smile as he greeted his colleagues.
Jim could see Simon sitting at the large desk in his office. From the looks of things, he had just gotten the word on the incident at Rainier. Jim knocked on the door, entering when Simon waved them in.
Banks looked up at his detectives and huffed sadly. "It's been quite a day for you two." He noticed there was someone missing. "Where's Kelso?"
"He'll be right up. Said he needed to talk to someone." Blair shut the door.
"You two okay?"
They nodded and moved farther into the office as Simon shifted some papers on his desk. "What's the latest?"
Jim took his usual seat on the end of the conference table. "The pair down in Holding refuse to talk. Not that I expected them to."
Blair slouched into the chair closest to the door. "We're lucky they're talking at all, man. Last time one of Oliver's men failed to take me out, he ended up in the morgue."
Simon and Jim stared at each other, knowing he was right.
Banks called down to Holding and set up a suicide watch on their new visitors. As he hung up the phone, his fingers tapped lightly over the file folder on his desk blotter. He held it out toward Ellison. "I -- uh -- I think you need to see this."
That was the last thing Jim wanted to hear at that moment. Taking the folder, he skimmed the information inside. The photo took him completely by surprise. A young man in military fatigues lay face-down in underbrush. His face was bruised and cut, his body angled awkwardly and obviously broken. Without warning, his mind put color to the black and white photo: deep green ferns, sun-speckled moss, and bright red blood crusting over pale skin. For a moment -- for just one horrible moment -- he was back in the jungle, staring down at the bodies of his team.
With a groan, he snapped the folder shut, then squeezed his eyes against the visions. Jim set the folder on the table, and walked to the windows.
"Who is he?"
Blair picked up the folder and studied the picture. He knew immediately who it was. "Oh, man. This sucks."
"You know this guy, Chief?"
Blair nodded slowly. "He's the courier who came to the loft earlier." Something struck him as odd. "Isn't this the same courier who delivered your stuff here?"
Jim and Simon both shook their heads.
Blair looked down at the picture again. "Where'd they find him?"
"In the woods off Rogers Park. A couple of joggers found him." Simon scrubbed a hand over his face as he leaned back in his chair. "Forensics went over the area, but didn't find anything. Just evidence that the body was dragged and dumped where they found him." Locking gazes with Blair, he tilted his head in Jim's direction, silently asking for assistance.
Blair wasn't sure what his captain wanted him to do. "You want us to go out there and look around?" When Simon rolled his eyes and turned away, Blair shrugged and sank further down in the chair. What did Simon expect? After the day's events, all he wanted to do was go home.
There was a light knock on the door.
When no one entered, Blair peeked out the office window. He quickly opened the door.
Jack smiled and maneuvered his wheelchair through the opening.
"Your office is like a labyrinth, Banks."
Simon quirked an eyebrow. "You think it's bad now, you should try walking through it when there's a full moon over Cascade. Whole different perspective." He smiled widely. "Can I get you some coffee?"
Kelso shook his head. "Caffeine keeps me up at night."
Blair smiled. "And here I thought you didn't sleep because you were paranoid."
There was a round of laughter in the office. The sound faded as Jack pulled a file from the pack on his wheelchair and held it up.
When Blair reached for the folder, Jack shook his head. "Jim should see this first."
Blair watched Jim turn away from the windows to retrieve the folder.
The office was silent as Jim read over the papers. When he handed the file to Blair and returned to his spot at the windows, Simon knew there were serious problems.
Blair read the pages, then handed them to Simon. "There's a hit out on Jim? How did you get this?"
"Agent Cameron." Jack saw the surprise on their faces. "During an investigation, an informant came across some papers with very specific details on it. So he called to ask me for help. I called some contacts and got this. The hit was ordered a couple days ago."
Simon settled into a chair at the conference table. "Who ordered it?"
"We don't know." Jack looked to Blair. "Word is, the contract is for Ellison and anyone else who stands in the way."
Blair wasn't certain he wanted to know, but he asked anyway. "In the way of what?"
"In the way of them getting possession of a package."
"What package?" Simon rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. The muscles were tight and aching. The last thing he needed was more tension.
"The package delivered to Ellison's loft." Jack sighed. "I already know about the dead military courier."
That didn't surprise Jim, but something else did. "How did Cameron get involved?"
"Like I said, he called me for help. Cam and I were in Vietnam together for a while. He didn't last long with the agency -- too many morals. We keep in touch, and trade information when necessary."
"Why didn't he come directly to me with this?" Jim didn't like being a third party in the case. It wasn't like Cameron was unfamiliar with him. They had worked together a few times since the Oliver case. Hell, he'd dragged the man to Yosemite National Park not more than a year ago.
"Not enough information." Jack pulled a second file from his pack and set it on his lap. "He didn't want to offer rumors."
Blair and Simon nodded, then looked to Jim who hadn't moved at all.
Jack cleared his throat and pointed to the file on the table. "I know Jim requested the files on his accident in Peru."
Jim quickly turned around and pinned Kelso with a blazing stare. "How the hell do you know that?"
Jack dismissed the anger. "I have my contacts. You don't have to worry about me. You should worry about who else knows."
"Who else could?" Simon asked eagerly.
"Anyone who knew this man."
Blair took the file Jack handed to him and opened it.
"I had just gotten this before Blair showed up. Corporal Dennis Gauer." Jack pointed to the file, but stared right back at Ellison. "Government Document Depository. He was a clerk in the Declassification offices."
Blair didn't like that verb. "Was?"
"Was," Jack repeated. "Gauer's body was found this morning. His commanding officer reported him when he didn't show up for work. They found him still in his car, about twenty minutes from the depository."
Blair set the file down and looked at his friend. "How's this related?"
Jack shrugged. "I don't think it's coincidence that two men are dead and the common bond between them is declassified documents. I'd lay odds that both their fingerprints are on the package, wherever it may be."
Jim picked up the corporal's file picture. "Someone had to tell the bad guys which courier had my parcel. Gauer would have access to that information." Without another word, Jim headed out of the office and crossed the bullpen to his desk.
He returned a minute later with the package from his desk. Jim set it on the conference table, then stepped back and crossed his arms over his chest.
Blair looked up at him. "But you know this was delivered by a different courier."
"Different courier? What is it?" Jack looked at them.
"A duplicate delivery from the government." Jim pushed the envelope toward Simon. "What if Gauer didn't know the request got processed twice? He could have processed one and tracked it, but completely missed this second one."
Simon smiled and stood up. "I'll take it down to the lab myself."
As Banks prepared to leave his office, Jack made his excuses to go home. Seeing the guilt in Blair's eyes, Simon stepped to his door and opened it. "I'll be sure to keep you in the loop, Jack. As for you two." Simon pointed to Jim and Blair before continuing. "Go home. I'll see you both back here bright and early tomorrow."
By the time they reached the loft, Blair looked forward to nothing more than sleeping. He couldn't guarantee it would be good, but at least it would give him a break from thinking. Sometimes it was a curse to have an overactive imagination. Every sort of conspiracy scenario had been coursing through his mind since visiting Jack at the U.
Unfortunately, they were fast making the transition from imagination to reality.
Jim watched his roommate wander around their home picking things up and putting them wherever he could find room. It wasn't perfect, but at least it was off the floor. What amused Jim the most was the fact that as Blair cleaned, he rambled.
"Covert-Ops. Black-Ops. Black Helicopters. Hidden agendas. Guys with silencers. Area 51. Kennedy Files."
"You're reaching on that one, Chief."
Blair looked up in the midst of shoving books on the shelf. "Reaching?"
Jim smiled sadly. "I don't think the crash accident had anything to do with Kennedy or Alien Experiments."
Blair shook his head and dropped the books. "With the way things are going, man, you don't know that for sure."
"Then let's find out." Jim kicked the wayward throw pillow and grabbed the envelope off the table where he'd left it. He was just about to rip it open when Blair stopped him.
"Are you prepared to do that right now?"
Jim looked down a the envelope. "What do you mean by that?"
Blair tucked a few curls behind his ear before setting his hands on his hips and shrugging casually. "I'm just wondering if you're in the right frame of mind for this."
Jim tossed the envelope at him. "Fine. You do it, then. You're so damn eager to see what's in here."
"And you aren't?" Blair was confused.
"No. Yes. Maybe. Aw, hell. I don't know anymore." Jim took a heavy breath and turned away from Blair. He didn't know exactly what he wanted. On the one hand, he wanted to know who else was involved with the accident. On the other hand, he didn't want to disturb the emotional peace he'd finally reached.
"What is it that you really want, Jim?" Blair set the package on the table and took a seat on the floor. "You want to know who really sabotaged your mission? You want some recourse, maybe? What about evidence to prove it wasn't your fault?"
"What do you mean? It will ALWAYS be my fault!" Jim headed for the stairs, but Blair's voice stopped him.
"Because you survived and they didn't?"
Jim stopped and turned around on the steps, staring down at the floor, but not focusing. If he concentrated, he could still see the faces of his men, just as they'd been on the tarmac before leaving for the mission. Young faces, old faces, familiar faces -- all of them. But it had been so long, and each time it took more and more concentration to see them clearly. Sure he had pictures, but that wasn't the point. Losing those memories would be losing a part of himself. It didn't matter what Detective Jim Ellison accomplished after surviving the crash. What mattered was how Captain Ellison honored the sacrifices that had helped him survive.
Blair stood and headed for the kitchen. "Look, Jim. There's no way to know just why you survived and they didn't. But you can't blame yourself. You already know that Colonel Oliver had a lot to do with it. It was his dis-information that got you shot down."
"But he wasn't THERE, Sandburg." Jim sat down on the steps, his elbows resting on his knees as he tried to control the nervous twisting in his stomach.
"And what could you have done, Jim?" Blair grabbed two beers and headed for the staircase. "You don't even remember how YOU got out of the wreckage. How do you know you could have done anything?"
"They were my men. My responsibility. I wonder if I missed anything in their training. Could we have done something after the first barrage hit the chopper? Why didn't we bail when we knew we were crashing? What happened after we landed? Why didn't the Chopec save anyone else?"
Blair handed a bottle to Jim and smiled. "You realize that you just said more about the accident in two minutes than you have in the past two years?"
With a shrug, Jim stood and grabbed the beer, then walked to the windows. "I feel like I've wanted to say that for years. And now I feel guilty 'cause I did."
After all his years of therapy, Blair understood that. "It's normal, Jim. But you can't dwell on the guilt. You have a right to ask those questions. You have a right to answers."
"No, I have no rights now. I gave them up when I lost my team." Jim took a long draw from his bottle and focused on the envelope still lying on the table. Setting the bottle down, he snatched up the package and prepared to rip it apart.
Blair grabbed Jim's arm and the two locked gazes. "You don't want to do that."
"No, you don't want me to do this."
Blair nodded. "True, I don't want you to rip it up. But even if you never open it, Jim, you can't just shred it. Someday you may be ready to read it. Maybe you never will, but you owe it to your men to let someone read it someday." He wet his lips and took a deep breath before continuing. "The men on your mission had families, people who cared about them. If you don't think you're worthy of the truth, then find someone who is."
Jim stared at him and tried to sort out the jumble in his gut. "And then what? Let another Colonel Oliver wannabe come after them?"
Blair shook his head. "You just keep going round and round, man. If it's not one thing, it's another. You're so bent on discouraging yourself that you've lined up one argument after another. At one point in time, you mustered the courage to ask for these. Nothing has changed since then."
"You know? You're right." Jim pushed the envelope at Blair's chest. "Nothing has changed. I'm still responsible for innocent people dying."
"NO!" Blair's anger pushed forward as he threw the package into the yellow chair and advanced on Jim. "I'm sick of your contradictions. You want to know, but you don't want to know. You want to be a martyr, but you don't want to get involved." He poked Jim in the chest with each word. "You want to do right by your team, but you can't do right by yourself. Make up your mind, Jim."
Jim looked away from the truth in the words. "It's not that easy."
Blair scoffed at that. "Nobody said it was! The choices you've made in your life have NEVER been easy. Why should this one be any different?"
Jim shrugged. "Why do you care?"
Blair took a step back. "What do you mean?"
"What's in this for you, Sandburg?" Jim crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at Blair. "What do you get if I open that package?"
"Maybe nothing." Blair confessed. "And maybe a lot."
Blair ran a hand through his hair as he collected his thoughts. "Suppose you get some proof that someone else was involved with the crash. It could be the key to unlocking your memories. And that would be a huge accomplishment."
"Who for? You planning on writing a government expose?"
Blair threw his hands up. "I'm talking about benefiting your senses! If you remembered more about your time in the jungle, we could explore those memories, maybe isolate what Incacha taught you. It's a whole original source that we haven't been able to tap. How did you train? How did you handle zone-outs in the jungle? How did Incacha know you were a Sentinel?"
"I'm not sure it's worth it." Jim walked back to the loft stairs.
Blair set his hands on his hips. "What if it helped save lives later?"
"Spare me the twisting speculation, Bones." Jim climbed slowly, hesitating on the top step. "This is just logic. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one."
Jester looked out the window and announced that the reinforcements had finally landed. He watched them approach and immediately went to open the door.
The colonel eagerly watched his man proceed to the door. If he'd known what was on the other side, he would have shot Jester.
Jester opened the door and snapped to attention. "General?"
The colonel stared blankly for a moment, then snapped to as well. "Sir. It's good to see you."
"No, it isn't." The general smiled. "That's why I'm here." As he stepped through the door, his eyes scanned the building's interior. It looked like an old garage. It even smelled like a garage. The mass of broken equipment in the corner confirmed it. He had to admit there was little chance of being discovered out in the woods. And the landing strip was well hidden -- not that his transportation made any noise.
The lieutenant watched as the two men who had accompanied the general took up positions on either side of the door. Through the open door, he could see there were still four men outside. Two were securing the helicopter, while two more unloaded gear.
"If you'll follow me, sir."
The general followed the colonel up a staircase to a second floor lounge of some sort. He made his way toward the window and watched as his men secured the area. "Now, colonel. I want to know what you're planning."
He opened his eyes, then shut them tightly. Everything was spinning out of control. He forced his eyes open and lay there until the swirling stopped. The first thing he registered was a leaf. And a spider crawling across it. The little black bug blurred and he blinked a couple of times. As he did, the spider and leaf appeared and disappeared several times. When his sight finally returned to his control, he looked for the bug. He could feel his eye stretching, drawing tight on his optic nerves. Finally, he spied the spider. It was weaving a web between two leaves at the top of a tree. It took a conscious effort for him to pull back. As he did so, he realized he was lying under the tree, and the spider was some two hundred feet up in the canopy.
There was a moment of panic, then another urgent problem: he couldn't hear. He sat up as slowly as possible, fighting hard to maintain his balance. He reached for his ears to check for wounds. Finding them intact, he checked the rest of his head. A few cuts and scrapes, and a little blood flowing from a gash over his eye, but nothing to indicate major head damage. Still, there was complete silence.
He decided to put it aside and check out his surroundings. He could sit up, so he hoped he could stand as well. Bringing his legs up under him, he pushed himself up. The effort winded him; pain shot through his back and down his left leg. He clenched his jaw and proceeded to scan his surroundings.
That's when it hit him. The smell of blood and jet fuel. But he couldn't find anyone. No one. He called their names, but no one answered. He was alone. He limped toward the burning hulk of the helicopter. As he passed a small tree, he thought he glimpsed one of his men to his left. He turned, but found no one there. It was difficult, but he knelt down and reached for the spot where the man had been. The area was warm. If he moved his hand a fraction of an inch, the ground was cold. Unbidden, the image of his fallen teammate appeared, then disappeared again.
He moved away from the spot, managing to make it around the entire perimeter of the crash sight. But they were all gone. Out of breath and patience, it became hard to focus or function. The world seemed to spiral again, and he turned to compensate, but it did no good. Suddenly, he was stopped by a pair of powerful hands. Looking down at the painted warrior in front of him, he swayed once more, then fell backward onto the lush jungle floor.
He looked up at the man kneeling next to him and was filled with a sense of trust. He smiled and extended his hand, watching as the other man grasped it firmly and smiled. The man's blue eyes smiled down at him as well and he began to slip into the darkness.
He caught a sudden movement out the corner of his eye and he tried , in vain, to move. To his horror, a dark form raised a gleaming knife and plunged it into the stranger. The body fell over sideways, falling to the ground next to him. He stared into the gloom, mesmerized as the darkness resolved and a face emerged.
It laughed at him, then walked away. With what was left of his energy, he turned his head to find his new friend lying beside him, dying. The blue eyes still smiled; he could feel the man's hand reaching for his. As one last torture, his hearing came back just in time to hear the man forgive him with his last breath.
He stared into the wide eyes as the blackness mercifully began to claim him again.
"I'm sorry, Blair."
It was just a nightmare.
Jim sat up quickly, his heart beating heavily in his ears. There was an annoying ringing sound as well. He tried to move, but the covers were wrapped about his legs. Closing his eyes, he steadied his breathing, hoping to calm down quickly. The phone could wait.
Jim rubbed his hands over his face trying to erase the disturbing visions. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and began disentangling them from the covers.
Jim tried to pull the sheets faster, and was almost free when he heard Blair answer the phone. Something had to be wrong. Calls at two in the morning are never good news. Finally working free, Jim stood up and peered over the railing into the living room.
Blair grabbed the back of the couch for balance. "Jack -- calm down."
Jim grabbed some pants and a shirt and hustled down the steps. Cripes. Does it ever stop? He almost fell twice as his attention was divided between the stairs and the conversation.
"Right. We'll be there as soon as we can. I'll call you right back on my cell phone. Try to get yourself out of the house! All right, I understand. Stay where you are, then."
Blair hung up the phone and ran for his backpack, searching frantically for his own cell phone.
Jim gave a shrill whistle and waited for Blair to face him. He held up the phone that had been sitting in the charger next to the stereo. "Right here, Chief."
Jim turned on the phone then tossed it to his partner. He grabbed his own phone out of the other charger and dialed dispatch directly to report the incident.
Blair bounced nervously as he waited for Jack to answer. "Oh, man. You're okay? Right. You're okay for now. We're on our way. Just keep talking."
"We're not on our way till you get dressed." Once Jim finished tying his boots, he took the phone from Blair and pointed to the open French doors. "Get some clothes on, Chief. I don't think Jack could stand those stupid boxers any more than I can."
Blair looked down at the garment as he walked into his room. "What's wrong with them?"
Jim stared after him. "They're Bert and Ernie."
"Hey!" Blair shouted. "They were a gift!"
Jim could hear Kelso laughing on the other end of the phone. "Yeah, you can laugh. You don't live here." He continued the conversation as he gathered jackets and keys. While they waited for Blair to dress, Jim kept Jack talking and calm.
Jack had secured himself in his computer room. The house's security system had been bypassed, obviously, and the regular phone and electric disabled. It was nothing less than he'd expected. That's why the computer room had been fortified when the house was built.
Minutes later, Blair and Jim were speeding toward Kelso's neighborhood. Blair took over the conversation with Kelso. They were discussing the back-up generator that powered the outside security cameras when there was a loud explosive sound on Jack's end. Blair tried to keep him talking, but the line went dead.
"Damnit. They've got him."
Jim pushed the gas pedal to the floor.
As they rounded the corner onto Jack's street, they saw an empty cruiser with its lights still running. There were two bodies in the street, one on either side of the car. Jim pulled his truck up to the curb. There, in the headlights, were two men in dark suits. One had Jack's limp form slung over his shoulders in a fireman's carry. The other had an automatic weapon in his hands. They were both heading for a dark colored Suburban. At least they were until Jim jumped out of the truck and pulled his gun on them.
"Freeze! Cascade PD!! Put him down -- slowly!"
The man closest to the Suburban turned his gun toward the Ford and fired.
As bullets peppered the hood and grill, Jim and Blair ducked behind the doors of the truck. Jim chanced a peek through the window, then threw himself sideways into a roll. As he came up, he leveled his weapon on the man closest to the Suburban and fired. The two shots felled the man swiftly. The perp carrying Kelso sidestepped and almost fell himself.
"Hold it right there!"
Jim aimed for him, but couldn't get a clear shot because of Jack. "Make it easy on yourself...." He watched the man dump Kelso in a heap and run for the Suburban. The couple shots he squeezed off missed and the Jim could only stare as man pulled away. For one second the assailant looked back over his shoulder, and Jim got a good look at his face. There was something too familiar about him.
"JIM!" Blair was torn between Jim's safety and Jack's health. Jim was staring into the dark, breathing hard but completely unresponsive. Jack lay in a heap on his front lawn. Blair bounded around the truck and grabbed for Jim's arm. He shook him slightly, and was relieved to see Jim blink a couple times, then look directly at him.
"Blair? You okay?" Jim rubbed his eyes and glanced over to where he'd last seen Kelso. "You look after Jack. I'll check out the uniforms and the bad guy."
Blair quickly crossed the lawn to find Jack trying to sit up. Grabbing his shoulders, he gently pushed him back down. "Take it easy. Looks like they clocked you pretty good."
Jack ran a hand gently over his forehead. It came away bloody. "Yeah. I'm sure I'll have a scar, too."
Sandburg chuckled. "You know women love a man with scars."
"If that's the case," Jack said with a smile, "then I should have a bigger harem than you." He started to laugh, but stopped as pain coursed through his head again.
Jim knew before he even hit the sidewalk that neither cop was alive. He checked anyway, and walked back to his partner, his emotions floating between anger and sorrow. He gave the bad guy a once over, grabbing the few items from the pockets. Standard covert operations, there was no ID on the body, just a couple more guns and a switchblade. "Bet he's got a handcuff key hidden in the heel of his shoe, too."
"What'd you say, Jim?"
"Nothing." Jim shook his head and turned around to face his partner. "How're we doing, Chief?"
"He'll live." Blair took a deep breath and looked down at Jack.
Jim noticed that Jack was shivering. Removing his jacket, Jim spread it over Jack's chest, covering him up to his neck. "Keep still, an ambulance is on the way."
"Easy for you to say. You're not lying on a damp lawn in your pajamas."
Blair chuckled, then glanced over his shoulder at the prone body. He looked nervously to Jim.
"He's not going anywhere, Chief."
Blair sighed. "He's not talking, either."
The general shook his head at his man. The fact that he was bruised and bleeding meant nothing to him.
"How could you be so stupid? I told you we would take action tomorrow. Who gave you orders to go after Kelso?"
The man hemmed and hawed but didn't answer. That didn't please the commanding officer.
"I asked you a question. I can admire your loyalty. What I can't stand is your stupidity!" The general circled his man threateningly. "Kelso is not a threat."
"We didn't go to eliminate him," the man volunteered in his own defense.
The general pushed close to the man, ending up nose to nose. "Then just what did you go to do? Chat?"
"It was our intention to see if he had any information on our target's weaknesses."
That made the general laugh. "That was a wasted trip, then. I already have that information. Your plan cost you 50% of your team. I'll take disciplinary action when we get back to home base. And I expect it will be severe, soldier." He was proud that his man didn't flinch at the threat. Some small part of him felt redeemed, and he decided to forego further discipline. "Dismissed."
Jester gave a crisp salute and walked away quickly. As he left the room, he glanced at his immediate superior. The colonel had watched everything. It made him feel bad that he'd failed. He knew the colonel would be upset, but wouldn't say anything until he was out of the general's line of sight. And by the time that happened, Jester hoped the mission would be over.
The general watched the man leave, and turned to head back upstairs. He stopped at the base of the steps and spoke to the colonel without facing him. "You can be certain that discipline is in order for you as well, colonel. You know the rule: the commanding officer takes responsibility for his men's actions."
"Yes, sir." The colonel forced himself to remain calm. "All for one, and one for all."
The general nodded once, and headed up the staircase. He walked to the window and stared out over the cement pad and blacktopped lanes. It was rather nice watching the sun rise over the trees. It promised to be a nice day.
"Well, Ellison. I promise I'll get you this time. Even if I have to do it myself."
The cleanup at Kelso's took a little over two hours. The EMT's spent most of that time arguing with Jack, who refused to go to the hospital. They were upset by the lack of electricity and a standard phone line. Not surprisingly, Jack made two calls on his cell phone and had both lines fixed within thirty minutes. The medics weren't so easily persuaded, so Blair volunteered to stay for a while longer.
Jim thought about the last hour of conversation with Kelso and Sandburg. If it didn't have something to do with government conspiracies, it had everything to do with social rituals and ancient rights of passage. Given the background noise and the early hour, it didn't take long for him to fall asleep. That's when Blair decided they should leave.
"You think Jack's okay?"
Jim shook his head as he shut the loft door behind him. "I think Jack's a lot more okay than we are, right now."
That set off alarms in his head. "What do you mean?"
With a sigh, Jim plopped himself on the couch and slouched down. "I'm tired, I'm hungry, and I'm grouchy 'cause I'm tired and hungry."
"Like that's the only reason," Blair mumbled as he began pulling out pans to fix breakfast.
There was no use replying to the comment, since Blair had moved on. Jim knew he deserved whatever barbs Blair threw at him. He just had to take them as gracefully as possible and wait for an opportunity to make up for his wrongs. After the argument the night before, Jim realized that Blair was right. Someone needed to know what was in the mission documents. Maybe a lot of people did.
The envelope was sitting on the coffee table where they'd left it. Jim picked it up and ripped it open. Reaching in, he pulled a sheaf of papers out, and peeked inside to see if there was anything left or stuck. The envelope was empty, so Jim turned his attention to the documents.
He grabbed up the cover letter. The more he read, the more confused he became. When he'd read it through three times, he called Blair over.
Sandburg glanced up and accidentally dropped the oven mitt into the pan of scrambled eggs. When Jim called for him again, he turned off the stove, and set the food aside before heading to the living room.
"Read this." Jim thrust the letter at Blair, and returned to sorting through the contents of the package.
"Captain J. Ellison... blah blah blah... recent information brought to light... blah blah blah... time in the Peruvian territory... more blah blah blah... Back pay, minus good-faith payment... readjusted Pension contribution... What? PENSION?" Blair leaned against the arm of the sofa and steadied himself before re-reading the paragraph. "Jim. This is about authorizing back pay and your pension plan." He started to laugh. "There's nothing in here about your declassified documents. It has nothing to do with them!"
Jim took the letter back and pointed to one section. "I think it does, but just by a thread. Check this sentence. They're talking about recent information that confirmed my continued active status on the mission. When I took the settlement for back pay, it was because they couldn't tell anyone just what had happened for those eighteen months in the jungle. I was listed MIA with no beneficiary, which automatically suspended my pay and the contributions to my pension. I'd bet anything that the documents I requested cleared them to change my status for the time in Peru."
Blair was still slightly confused. "But how would that affect the pension records?"
"They're all handled by computer, now." Jim smiled and rubbed his hand over the back of his head. "I had to fill out a form two years ago when they automated things. Veterans Affairs had a seminar on how it would determine our benefits, not to mention active duty time. They probably updated my active dates in the program."
"Which realized there wasn't any pay, so it probably figured what you were due and cranked out notices and this letter." He looked at the letter once again. There wasn't even a real signature. "Jim, this is electronically signed. I bet the only living person who saw this was the person who stuffed the envelope."
It was pretty amusing, in spite of the grim situation. "That's the military for you, Chief. I filled out a ton of applications, and now I get to fill out a ton more, but I don't have what I requested. That's like requisitioning requisition forms. The weapon of the 21st century: paperwork."
Ellison took the letter and stuffed it back into the envelope with the rest of the papers, then tossed the whole parcel back onto the table. It skidded across and over the edge.
"Hey, don't lose that. Did you see the settlement amount they owe you?" Blair picked the envelope up off the floor and set it back on the table.
Jim shook his head and stood up. "Don't worry, Chief. Doesn't matter if I lose it. I've got another complete set at work."
It took Jim a second to understand just what he'd said. Once it registered, he turned to face Blair. "You don't think --"
Blair nodded. "We ARE talking the military, Jim."
They grabbed their coats from the rack by the door and headed for the truck.
"The men are in position, sir."
The general looked at the man with the radio and nodded.
"It's a go. Take Kelso."
The colonel looked at the general and wondered what was going through his head. This wasn't part of the plan. He had to admit that he'd screwed the pooch on this mission, but with the reinforcements the general had brought, the colonel felt Ellison would be an easy hit. There wasn't any reason given to him for the Kelso abduction.
"Sir, could you tell me again why you want to take Kelso now?"
The general pinned his subordinate with an icy stare. "Because they won't be expecting it."
"But why take him at all?"
The icy stare sharpened as the general's eyes narrowed. "Because I realized I have some unfinished business with him, if you must know."
He looked out the window just in time to witness his men crashing through the front door of Jack's house. A few minutes later, the men carried Kelso outside to a waiting Suburban and settled him into a seat. The general motioned to his communications officer. "They need to take him back to camp before we begin phase two. Leave two men there to guard him, and tell them NOT to hurt him. He's to be treated with some care and respect. It's the least I can do for the man who saved my life."
He relayed the message, and gave the general a thumbs-up in acknowledgment.
"All right, boys. Now that you're warmed up, we'll head for the main event."
Banks didn't like the look on Ellison's face as he exited the elevator. He didn't like the look on Sandburg's any better. The two were eyeing him strangely. "Why do I feel like I've got a donut hanging around my neck?"
Jim tried to control his impatience, but it was little use. "Uh, Simon, that package I put in your office -- you were going to send it to the lab for fingerprinting. Has it gone down yet?"
He held up the envelope. "I was on my way there now. It's the first chance I've had."
"Let me help you with that." Jim took the envelope and headed for his desk. He dumped the contents on the blotter: two pieces of thin cardboard, shrink-wrapped together. Jim ripped the wrap off and found that the cardboard cushioned a CD jewel case. By the time Jim had removed the plastic wrap, Blair already had his computer up and running.
Simon picked up a letter that had slipped off the desk, and read it. "Your documents have been digitally transferred to the disc. That's convenient." He watched the two hyperactive men huddle behind the computer. "Let me guess, the package at home was part one, this is part two, and you can't wait to get to the ending."
While he waited for Blair to open a couple of the documents, Jim filled the captain in on the morning's events.
"Oh, man. You gotta look at this." Blair motioned them to the desk. "There's mission reports, air recon, surveillance photos. Oh, this looks good." Blair clicked open a document and immediately found Simon and Jim squeezing him in. "Guys. You're triggering my claustrophobia. Just back off and I'll print these things out."
An hour later, they were silently contemplating the stack of pages and pictures that littered the desk. Rather than read each file separately, Blair had printed things off. A few of the items were of low importance, like the weather reports. Jim had to laugh about that. The report he was given for the mission said clear for deployment, but he remembered vividly the rain that messed with his team's communications gear and added twenty pounds to their packs.
Most of the papers were un-redacted reports that gave explicit information on rebel and mercenary troop activities. They all said the same thing: stay away. There were so many documents that warned about the area, yet it only took two pages to convince the brass to send in Ellison's team.
Jim stared at the report as if he could hear the person reading it to him over his shoulder. Maybe he could. Maybe Oliver was still right there behind him, taunting him like he always did. Colonel Norman Oliver had given a very convincing argument for sending the team in. In it, the colonel made Ellison's team out to be a well-tuned fighting machine, with little chance of failure. At the very least, Jim had enjoyed the boost to his ego. If he'd been less concerned with his career, and more concerned with his team's future, Jim wondered if it would have helped him see through the set-up.
He looked at the picture of his team and sighed heavily. The price of his pride was invoiced on that CD.
Simon sat up and stretched out the kink in his back. "What've you found, Sandburg? Anything interesting?"
"Well," Blair began softly. "I keep seeing this name on all the documents. This guy is copied on everything. And there are some references to private correspondence between Oliver and him. I get the definite impression this person helped plan and carry out your team's crash." He grabbed a bunch of the memos and pointed to the name. "Looks like George Somethingorother."
Simon looked at the document and chuckled. "George? Sandburg, you need new glasses. That's General. And it looks like it's General --"
"Waverly," Jim provided. "General Tom Waverly."
Banks and Sandburg turned to stare, hoping Jim would explain.
Jim sifted through a bunch of the papers until he found a certain picture. Pointing to a man surrounded by several officers, he said, "Waverly was the base commander while I was stationed in Peru. He was transferred after a serious guerrilla attack almost cost us the entire base. I wondered where he went, but I didn't lose sleep over it. Guess I should have, 'cause all these papers say he was active long after the crash." He thought, for a moment, about the last time he had seen the general. "I should have known he would be involved in this. The jungle crash happened just about a year to the day after his transfer. There was really no love lost between us when he left, if you know what I mean."
Simon turned over a few of the many pages while he considered Jim's information. "Did you ever see Waverly after the crash?"
"At the memorial service for my team." Jim swallowed hard before going on. "He had his 'golden boy' with him."
Blair looked up. "Let me guess. Oliver?"
Jim nodded. "There were a couple of us on the base that Waverly gifted with his presence. For a few, he was very benevolent. For others, he was annoying, but tolerated. Oliver could do no wrong. I should have known back then." He shook his head and leafed through some more documents. "I should have known this time, too."
"How could you know this was all related?" Simon looked up from the report he was perusing. "Unless you lived your life as paranoid as Jack Kelso -- or Blair's hacker friend with the cats -- you couldn't possibly have known." When he glanced back at the report, his eyes involuntarily focused on the name Captain J. Ellison, and then on the designation next to it. It was marked "MIA." A shiver shot up his spine and he practically tossed the report across the desk. "You're not responsible for any deaths -- then or now."
"Well, someone is, Simon. I just have to get my hands on him." Jim stared at the picture in his hand, his head twisting sideways as he focused on something peculiar. "Blair, open up this file again." He handed the paper to Blair and waited for it to come up on the monitor's large screen. When it did, Jim had him zoom in and enlarge the image. "Can you get a little more resolution on that face?"
Blair hit some keys on the board, clicked the mouse, and finally achieved the results Jim wanted.
"Well, I'll be damned."
Simon looked at the screen and almost dropped his mug of coffee. "That's not who I think it is. Is it?"
Jim set a hand on Blair's shoulder.
He couldn't explain it, but he sure as hell knew who could. "That's Jack Kelso."
"What's he doing with Waverly?"
Blair stood up and headed for the door, grabbing his jacket as he went.
"I have a feeling we're heading for Jack's place, again." Jim grabbed a bunch of the documents and turned to leave. He stopped short and faced his captain. "Put that disc somewhere safe."
Simon watched Jim leave, and turned to face the computer. "Put it somewhere safe? You're assuming I can get it out of the computer."
Blair closed his phone and cursed again. "There's still no answer. He could be passed out, man. I knew I shouldn't have left him alone."
"Take it easy, Chief." Jim tried to calm him, but he was almost as anxious to talk to Kelso as Blair was.
His mind still on the contents of the disc, Jim almost missed the big, black Suburban that pulled in behind him. "Got your seatbelt on, Blair?"
Before he could answer, Blair was flung back as Jim gunned the engine and took off. The Suburban was right behind them. "Oh, this sucks."
"You said it."
The big Chevy was falling behind, but only slightly. Jim glanced in his mirror, quickly covered the back of Blair's head with his hand and pushed. "Get down!"
Bullets hit the Ford's back window, shattering it, scattering glass over the entire front seat. Jim tried several twists and turns in an attempt to lose the Suburban, but the vehicle kept pace. In a last-ditch effort, Jim took a sharp corner and spun the Ford almost completely around. One of the tires caught the edge of a manhole cover, and the truck rolled over.
By the second roll, both Jim and Blair were unconscious.
If the pain in his head was any indication, Jim was still very much alive. As he opened his eyes and took stock of his surroundings, he saw Blair in a chair to his immediate right, still unconscious. He moved to help, but his arms were restrained behind him, his legs bound to the chair legs.
"Blair. Sandburg!" Jim could move his leg just enough to touch Blair's. He nudged Blair until he woke.
Blair lifted his head and looked around, then closed his eyes and lowered his chin to his chest. "I thought it was all a dream."
"Not quite. More like a nightmare."
Jim and Blair glanced toward the voice. Jack was secured to a chair about three feet away from them.
Jack stared down at the floor. "You two okay?"
They nodded slowly.
Jim opened up his sight in the darkness beyond the small ring of light created by the lamp hanging over their heads, seeing nothing that would be of help. He focused as best he could through his headache and found only two other heartbeats in the room. There were muffled voices on the other side of the door. He relaxed a bit. "They're not here. Probably letting us cool our heels for a bit. Wouldn't be surprised if the place was bugged."
"No need to wire us. We don't know anything more than they do." Jack sighed.
Blair scoffed. "I'd say we don't know everything we should."
Jim heard the door open and focused through the darkness on a figure heading slowly toward them. He tried to pick up the conversation. "We found a picture of you and Waverly."
Jack nodded and took a deep breath. "I was part of Waverly's Council, but I was mostly there as liaison to the CIA. I helped gather information and kept tabs on Waverly's activities."
"You were a plant, Jack."
Blair and Jack looked into the darkness.
The general stepped into the light. "You used your position in my group to report on my activities. You betrayed the company and me."
"You betrayed yourself." Kelso didn't want to rehash old news. "You lost your command because of your own big mouth."
Jack turned his head to speak to Blair and Jim. "The attack on the base was the cartel's way of keeping him in line. He got drunk one night and mentioned the wrong thing to the wrong person. Intel found out about it too late to stop it."
"Were you there that night?" Jim had to know.
He nodded. "It was the worst night of my life." He looked down at his helpless legs. "Second worst, maybe."
Waverly cleared his throat. "Are we quite done?"
"For now," Jim replied.
The general stepped toward Ellison. "Nice to see you, Captain."
"I can't say the same."
The general walked forward and stopped a few feet away. "Last time we spoke was at the memorial service."
Jim remembered that day, remembered the sorrowful face the man general had put on. "You were a pretty good actor back then. I almost believed you were sad over the loss of my team."
"Oh, I was sad. Sad that we didn't manage to neutralize the whole lot of you." The general enjoyed the flash of anger that passed over Jim's face. "I could understand the natives killing my couriers, but when I found out it was you, I cursed your name. Do you know how much money you cost me? We needed the supply line secured. That route had to be opened!" Waverly paced the floor in front of the three captives, his anger barely controlled. "One soldier. One damn, thick-headed soldier! I think at some level I admired your dedication, back then. I needed men like you. Men who weren't afraid to follow through, even if they weren't certain they'd survive. There was just one problem with you."
Jim laughed. "Just one?"
"You're so cocky, Ellison." Waverly stepped forward quickly and punched Jim in the mouth. "You didn't know a good deal when you heard it."
Blair looked at Jim. "What's he mean by that?"
"After I was discharged, Waverly showed up and offered me a job. I hadn't seen him in a couple years, and he just shows up and offers me a job with this small company. I wasn't sure what he wanted, and I didn't really care."
Jack laughed. "I can't believe you asked him to join the Company. He doesn't fit the profile."
Waverly gave a huff of disappointment. "Yeah, he has morals."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Jim said smugly.
That earned him a solid blow to the jaw.
Jim glared at the general. "There's more to all of this than you're telling. You couldn't possibly need to kill me over exposing your dark side. You don't care."
Waverly smiled. "C'mon, Jim. What did I always say? Full disclosure has to be earned."
"Oliver reminded me of that the last time we met." Ellison gave the general an amused look. "Have you talked to him lately? Oh, I forgot. I took out your 'golden boy.'" Waverly's face turned to stone. "Your number two doesn't seem to measure up, does he?"
The general turned and walked back into the darkness. "I don't know. We managed to get you tied up again."
Ellison couldn't let the man go without more answers. There was something missing still in this puzzle. "I deserve some answers, Waverly! I've earned them!"
That stopped him. He turned and faced Jim. "You've earned a one way ticket to join your team mates. I don't understand why you didn't join them a long time ago."
"You think I should have paid my dues by munching on the business end of my gun."
The general gave an emphatic nod. "Any man loyal to his team would have done the same thing."
Jim looked the general in the eyes and spoke very clearly. "Rather hypocritical for you to talk about loyalty. Why don't you just tell me what I want to know? We'll consider it my last request."
Waverly took a deep breath and held it for a moment as he considered the idea. "I guess I can comply with that. Very simply put, Ellison, your documents violate an agreement I made a long time ago." He circled them as he spoke. "When I took the deal with the cartel, I promised them that I would protect their interests. In return, they kept me supplied with everything I needed for a comfortable lifestyle. After I was railroaded out of my command, it was their influence that helped me stay in the military. I got shuffled around from one unit to the next, for a while. After I was sufficiently lost in the Pentagon's system, the cartel gave me money and supplies to pick the men for my own elite unit. I grabbed the best I could find. We were so successful that the drug lords gave us more money. In return for their generosity, I promised to do whatever it took to keep them in business."
Blair glared at the general. "Even if it meant crashing a helicopter in the middle of the Peruvian jungle, in hostile territory."
The general smacked the long-haired kid on the back. "Yes, including downing Ellison's team."
"And don't forget smuggling known traffickers to the United States and providing them with new identities," Jack added sarcastically.
Waverly gave a dark laugh. "You're such a saint now, Jack. I remember Saigon, and Da Ng. You've got a lot of dents in that halo you're wearing."
Jack shrugged. "I didn't give rebel screw-heads access to my military base so they could blow things to kingdom come!"
"Well, we're not all perfect, are we?" Waverly walked around Jack's chair and stood in front of them. "Is that enough information for you, Jim?"
Ellison didn't respond immediately. The general punched him in the stomach for not paying attention.
"It'll do for now. I think you'll have more to say once you're in custody. After all, the only way to survive is to make a deal. Seems you're good at that."
"It's in your best interest to let them go, Tom." Jack looked at his one-time friend.
Waverly shook his head. "His elimination is in my best interest. I get rid of him and the documents, and I keep breathing. You and the kid are just calculated casualties."
"He's an innocent bystander. You two have no history."
The general gave a sad chuckle. "That's not an issue. He's with Ellison, he's involved. Just like you."
Not one to give up so easily, Jack said, "You owe me, though."
"Yes, I owe YOU," he replied. "Not them."
Jack swallowed hard, forcing the lump down. "Then I'm calling in my marker -- for them."
He considered it for a moment, then shook his head. "Sorry, Jack. You may have saved my life once, but you're forgetting one fundamental thing about me: I have no morals." The general pulled a gun from inside his jacket and checked the clip before chambering a round and aiming it at Jim. "I've waited a long time to be rid of you, captain." He pulled the hammer back and prepared to fire.
"I'd look behind you before you pull that trigger."
"Nice try, Ellison." Waverly laughed. "This is where I say 'oldest trick in the book' and turn to find a whole group of officers pointing guns at me. Right?"
"Well, four officers, one captain, and five FBI agents."
The lights came on and the general turned around to find Ellison's captain standing directly behind him. To Banks' left were four officers, their badges displayed as pointedly as their guns. On the right stood Agent Tom Cameron and four of his agents. They also had their weapons trained on him. Waverly dropped his weapon and raised his hands.
"Ellison, you are the luckiest S.O.B.," he yelled as they cuffed him and took him away.
Jim unlocked the door and breathed deeply as he entered the loft. He stopped in the doorway and stared. Even messed up, it was a wonderful sight.
"Uh, Jim? You wanna let us in?" Blair pushed him forward and squeezed past him, allowing Simon to follow. "Man. It feels nice to be home."
Banks shut the loft door behind them and crossed to the living room. "I won't stay long. There's still a lot of paperwork to do. I think the Feds have more forms than we do."
Blair laughed. "That's impossible." He hung up his coat and headed for the fridge for beer. The follow-up from their morning adventure had been an afternoon at the emergency room and the precinct. It was well after four in the afternoon.
"Explain it to me one more time, Simon."
Banks chuckled. "I told you four times already. I'll bet Sandburg could explain it to you by now."
Jim smiled. "That hurts, sir."
Blair handed Simon a beer first, then took a seat on the couch to listen.
Shaking his head, Simon repeated the story a fifth time. "Agent Cameron had a man under cover in Waverly's operation --"
"Lieutenant Jester," Blair interjected.
"Right. Jester got word out that you two were primary targets. Cameron had two agents assigned to shadow you. They were following you when Waverly's men ran you off the road. When you were taken away, the Feds followed at a safe distance and called in reinforcements. Cameron contacted me and let me know the situation. At that point, I told him I wouldn't let his team go it alone. We arrived at the old drag strip and, with Jester's help, took it as quietly as possible. It didn't take much, since there were only six or seven other men. Jester is in debrief with Cameron, and Kelso is recovering comfortably in the hospital. As for Waverly, he and his men are cooling off in the precinct's solitary confinement area, awaiting pick-up for transport with US Marshals." He took a big swig of the beer and stared at his detective. "Are you happy? I'm not telling it again."
Blair faked a pout. "But Simon, it's so nice the way you do it. You take a deep breath and say it all in one big sentence." His chuckles were barely suppressed.
"Watch it, Sandburg. I could still send you back to the hospital for observation."
"Oooooohhh. I'm so scared."
Simon quirked an eyebrow up. "You should be."
It was Jim's turn to laugh. "All right, you two. The last thing I want is more fighting."
Blair and Simon looked at each other, then at Jim, who was now staring out the windows over the city.
Banks set his beer on the coffee table, and headed for the front door. "You guys are still due a long weekend. Even if you don't go fishing, take the next three days off. Um -- I've got some more paperwork to do." He opened the door, but stopped and motioned to Sandburg. "If you need anything, just call. And even if you don't need anything, just call."
Blair smiled. "Thanks, man." He shut the door behind the captain and walked back to the living room. "Jim. I was wondering..."
"You wanna know if I found anything useful in this whole mess." Jim took a draw of his beer and turned to face Blair, who was trying not to look too anxious. "Yeah, Chief. I think I did."
Blair waited for Jim to go on, but he didn't. "You gonna leave me hanging, here, Jim? What did you find?"
Ellison looked around his home for a moment, then back at his friend, and smiled. "It's not what you leave behind. It's what you bring home that matters."
~ Finis ~
E-mail the author of this story, Eddie (Wnnepooh), at firstname.lastname@example.org A BIG thank you to Mackie, Susan L. Williams, and Hephaistos for all their help, and a special thank you to Toni Rae -- for being the big sister when I needed it. -- Eddie Read Eddie's other fan fiction for The Sentinel at Wnnepooh's FanFic Grotto E-mail Faux Paws Productions at email@example.com NEXT on THE SENTINEL: To Be Announced Return to the FAUX PAWS PRODUCTIONS' HOME PAGE
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This page last updated 3/28/01.