Warning: While this is a complete story in and of itself, it probably won't make a lot of sense unless you read "After the Fall."
Summary: Blair's first day on the surface observing the PDs.
Disclaimers: While Petfly and Paramount weren't looking, I borrowed everyone in Major Crimes. Unfortunately, no money was made while I was playing with them and I put them back -- relatively unharmed. This story is not intended to infringe on any copyrights belonging to the PTBs.
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Mpala77 for consenting to beta this story for me. Any mistakes, however, are my own. I'd also like to give a warm thanks to everyone who sent LOCs for the first story. I was overwhelmed by your kindness. A special thanks go to Becky and Robyn (who don't know me from Adam) for their transcript pages!!! I, for one, appreciate all the time and effort that went into creating them.
Blair Sandburg sighed in quiet resignation, looking around the room which had served as his bedroom for the last several years. The bed was neatly made, color photographs from his former life stood in mute testimony on his small dresser reminding him that he had indeed had a life beyond these walls.
He closed his eyes, trying to calm his breathing. He was going upworld; not for a midnight foray, not to get medicine for Jeremiah, but to observe the PDs -- to determine if the Professors might consider an alliance with one of Cascade's superpowers. He would stand once again in the sunlight. He would be on his own; exposed and vulnerable.
He jumped when a warm hand came to rest on his shoulder. He turned to see the laughing blue eyes of his friend, Jim Ellison, newly discovered sentinel. "Sorry, Chief, I didn't mean to startle you."
"No, don't apologize. I was just lost in thought."
"They'll still be here when you get back," Jim said quietly, seeming to understand his friend's concerns. "You're only going to be up top, for what, a week?"
"It's okay to be nervous."
"Would you think less of me if I said I might be terrified?" Blair asked quietly.
Jim smiled playfully. "Oh, I'd probably think you were some sort of self-serving spineless goober."
Blair nodded to himself, realizing the time had come to go. He picked up his two backpacks; one filled with clothes, the other filled with items to aid him in his observation. "I can live with that."
"Here, let me get one of those, Chief," Jim offered, plucking one of the packs from his hands.
"Are you sure you should be straining yourself?"
"They're clothes, Professor. I think I can handle them."
Jim turned and walked into the little combination kitchen-living room area. Blair followed at a slower pace as he straightened a few more items on his way to the door.
"Uh, Jim, would you do me a favor?"
"Would you mind going ahead? I need to lock things up and while I do trust you, man, and I have no doubt you can hear everything I'm doing, I'd like to..."
"Lock up without my seeing the combination," Jim finished for him.
Blair grinned his appreciation. "Yeah, something like that."
"Which way should I head?"
"South. I'll catch up in a few minutes."
Jim nodded and stepped out into the sewer tunnel beyond the door. Blair took one more deep breath then quietly went about activating the security procedures. Once he locked up, it was impossible to tell where the door was. One would have to be a sentinel to see the opening mechanism. The thought brought him back to the present and he jogged after his friend. He found Jim standing beside an old service ladder three hundred feet away.
"Is this the way out?" the sentinel asked as Blair approached him.
"No. It's too close to home."
"That's an emergency escape only." Seeing the confusion in his friend's face, he explained further, "You never want rabbits popping up too close to the warren."
"Ahh. It might make it too easy to find the buried treasures, as it were."
Blair grinned cheekily. "Exactly."
"So how far do we hoof it?"
"It's about four miles to PD territory. We can make the whole trip down here or we can go upside earlier if you prefer."
"We might as well stay down here for a bit longer. No need to face the elements just yet. Lead on, McDuff."
Blair nodded, then walked past Jim, grateful that his new friend seemed to understand his need to stay below just a bit longer.
Blair rested his forehead against the cold steel of the ladder which would lead them up into the basement of a rotted out clothing store. He could do this. He could.
"Sandburg?" Jim asked quietly, putting his hand on the young man's shoulders, trying not to hear the racing heartbeat and the small gasps for air. "You don't have to do this," he said, rubbing small circles on his guide's back.
"Yes, I do," came the firm reply. "They need this information."
"Perhaps I could..."
Blair turned around and faced his sentinel, his blue eyes blazing with determination. "I scare, Jim, but I don't run. I can do this." With that, he turned back to the ladder and began his climb to meet the sun.
Jim smiled proudly at the retreating figure, realizing what it was costing this young man to walk by his side and swore to himself that he would do whatever it took to keep him safe.
"Ellison, my God, I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever gonna see you again," Simon Banks said, quickly making his way around the desk and wrapping his long-time friend in a bear hug. "How do you feel?"
"One hundred percent, thanks to Blair." Jim stepped back to reveal the smaller man.
Simon was stunned when he realized that the young man in front of him was the same person who had kept him apprised of Jim's condition after he had been shot by Kincaid's men. Whatever mental image he had harbored was completely blown out of the water by the curly haired waif, who looked like some sort of neo-hippie love child. "We meet at last, Sandburg." He smiled, reaching forward to shake the Professor's hand. Although Blair smiled and shook Simon's hand firmly, the captain could feel the nervous energy rolling off the kid in waves.
"It's very nice to finally meet you face-to-face, captain."
"To what do we owe this pleasure?" Simon asked with a grin as he leaned back against his desk.
Blair started to speak, but Jim stepped forward and put a hand on the young man's shoulder. "His purpose here is two-fold, Simon. First and foremost, he's here as a representative, an ambassador if you will, for the Professors. He'd like an opportunity to observe us. Based on his findings, the Professors will make a determination whether or not to initiate a trade agreement with us."
Simon's face broke into a broad smile. "That's wonderful news. Of course, you're more than welcome to spend time with us, Professor. We are at your complete... What? What did I say?" Simon trailed off as the young man blanched.
Jim cleared his throat. "Simon, Blair's not a Professor. He's more of an associate."
The captain noticed the intensity of his friend's eyes and decided now was not the time to pursue the young man's origins. He would wait until later and get the full story from Jim. "Of course." He smiled diplomatically. "You mentioned there was another reason he was here."
"He wants to observe me, too."
Simon turned back to his desk and picked up a cigar; sniffing it, but not lighting it. "Why?"
"Jim," Blair whispered in surprise.
"It's okay, Sandburg. I never intended to keep this secret from Simon. Although for the moment, I'd prefer we keep it just between the three of us."
"Keep what between the three of us?" the captain asked, curiously. But looking into the faces of the two men before him, he decided he wasn't really sure he wanted to know.
Jim took a deep breath. "You better sit down, sir. This might take a while."
"Rafe! How are you?" Jim said, clasping his friend's arm.
The younger man pulled Jim in close and pounded him on the back with his free hand. "Shouldn't that be my line?"
"Rafe, I want you to meet a friend of mine. Rafe, Blair Sandburg. Blair, Rafe."
"Hey, man," Blair said quietly as he shook the hand of his sentinel's friend, trying not to squirm under the intense scrutiny he was receiving.
"Blair's going to be my shadow for a couple of days," Jim explained. "Joel," he called out to the former head of the bomb squad. "I'd like you to meet someone. Joel Taggert, Blair Sandburg. Blair, Joel."
"Blair's going to be Jim's partner for a while," Rafe explained cheerfully, delighting in the dark man's double take.
"Partner is probably too strong of a word," Blair hurried to explain when he noticed Jim's jaw clench. "I'm here to observe for a while."
"A ride along?" Henri Brown asked, joining the group. "Good Lord, we haven't... I mean to say... no one has... With Jim? Are you nuts?"
"Want to rephrase that, H?" Jim asked raising one eyebrow, a stern look crossing his face, although Blair saw the laughter in his eyes.
"What I mean to say is... I... uh... I..."
Rafe stepped back from Jim and slapped Henri's back playfully. "Hey, way to make a first impression, partner."
Henri sighed heavily, then stuck his hand out to the young observer. "Henri Brown."
"Blair is an ambassador of sorts. He's on a fact finding mission to determine if the Professors should consider making an alliance with the PDs," Jim explained quietly, then added into the stunned silence, "He's not a Professor, however. Just someone they have entrusted with this mission."
Three sets of eyes flickered between the young man and the group's scout, understanding the situation in a heartbeat. All three broke out in huge smiles and welcomed Blair all over again.
"Glad to have you here, Sandburg," Rafe said enthusiastically.
"Hey, if you ever get tired of Jim here, feel free to hang with Rafe and me." Henri laughed as he ducked the playful punch thrown by Jim.
"Welcome, Blair," Joel Taggert said quietly, reshaking the hand of the young man in front of him. "The PDs are at your service."
Blair's smile brightened the overcast day.
"You can stow your stuff in here," Jim said as he pushed aside curtains to reveal a small room off the kitchen. "It's not a king size, but for a week I think it'll be big enough for you."
"So the whole block of buildings here are filled with PDs?" Blair asked casually while he took in the starkness of the loft. It reminded him of the sentinel in front of him. Clean. No nonsense. Solid. "I'm surprised anything this big survived the fall."
"Yes. I guess you could call this our headquarters. Actually, there are several buildings like this around. Only four buildings over five stories survived, but a good percentage of the two and three story buildings came through as strong as they'd been before."
"Don't they stand out as targets for the Patriots?"
"Apparently, Kincaid has figured out that if he destroys these buildings, we'll have no other choice but to have an all out war where he lives and that appears to be the one thing he's decided against. By some unspoken agreement, the compounds have been classified as free zones. Everything else in his eyes is fair game."
An alarm sounded and Blair spun around looking for the source. Jim placed a calming hand on his shoulder. "Whoa, Chief. That's just a call to the conference room. Means we're having a powwow. Do you want to come or would you rather get settled first?"
"I'll come with you." Blair followed Jim out the door, positive he didn't want to be by himself upworld no matter how safe the PDs considered the compound.
They took the stairs even as more people came out of the surrounding apartments and headed in the same direction. Everyone was casting a speculative eye at each other, trying to determine if anyone knew what the call was about. They walked through a hallway which connected them to the building beside Jim's and filed into a conference room, which apparently had been a store of some sort at one time.
Jim and Blair stood against one of the walls as more men and women poured into the room looking for a place to sit or stand.
"Word has just come in that Cyclops has pulled out of the tower," Simon's voice boomed around the room so that everyone could hear.
The room exploded with inquiries and startled exclamations. The captain let them run their course for a moment before raising his hands for silence. "Apparently, they managed to move their people onto one of their tankers. Rumor has it they're heading north to Alaska."
"But Alaska's cold," someone laughed.
"Yes, but it's probably safer than Cascade," another person quipped.
"When does salvage begin?" Joel asked quietly.
"Now." Simon grinned. "All right, people," he barked to be heard over the din. "Major Crimes and the Bomb Squad get interior recon on this one. They will stay to assist with salvage. Homicide, Narcotics and Forensics have home duty," he yelled louder to be heard over the groans and complaints. "Burglary, Vice and Juvenile have patrol. SWAT and Patrol have recon on the Patriots. Fire, Clerical, City Hall have salvage and transportation duty. Interior recon will take no more than forty-five minutes. Salvage will take no more than four hours. We get in, we get out. If we have to leave something behind, we leave it behind. Today's channel is seventy- two. Let's move like we have a plan, people."
Jim held Blair's arm by the elbow as people started to file excitedly out of the room. "I think you should sit this one out, Sandburg," he said in a low but firm voice.
"Why?" Blair challenged. "Is there something you don't want me to observe about your operation?"
Jim sighed loudly. "No. It's just dangerous. The Patriots are probably deploying just as we are. I don't want you to get caught in the middle of a fire fight." Jim watched the emotions flittering over his young friend's face: fear, excitement, apprehension, and finally, determination.
"This is going to be the first real field test of your abilities, Jim. I need to be there. You've just accepted your senses, but we've only done a few minor tests to help you with control. We have no idea if you'll be able to control them under pressure or in action. No, I need to be there," Blair said, crossing his arms and silently challenging his sentinel to come up with a better argument.
Simon encroached into their circle of conversation, chewing on a well abused cigar. "If you ladies would like to stay behind..."
"Sandburg here..." Jim started.
"Has decided to observe your salvage operation," Blair finished.
"Fine." Simon nodded. "Stay close to Ellison. Talk to Duke regarding a sidearm, but be on that truck in three minutes or you'll have to sit this one out." With that, Simon left the room.
Jim growled, unhappy at the turn of events. "Let's go find, Duke."
"No way, man." Blair shook his head as he headed toward the door.
Jim grabbed the observer's arm and spun him around. "What do you mean, no way? I need to know that if I got into a jam you can cover my back."
"You can and I can, but, man, I am not going to go around packing heat. My deal is that I'm here strictly... strictly... to observe and report. That's it. End of discussion." Blair removed his arm from Jim's grasp and followed the crowd toward the waiting trucks.
Jim shook his head and wondered where his control was going. There was a time when he'd been able to intimidate criminals with his glare; but no matter what he said or did, he could not get the Professor to defer to him. "Meet you at the trucks, Chief. I have to get my gear," he called after the retreating figure. Frowning, he stalked into the hallway toward the armory, never seeing the people scrambling to get out of his way.
"We're clear," Joel Taggert said, exactly twenty-eight minutes after the interior recon commenced. "And people, Cyclops left in a hurry." Joel grinned hugely as he heard the celebratory noises waft up the stairwell.
Simon smiled back at his friend and spoke into his headset, all business, "Okay people, listen up. Major Crimes will scour fifteen through the penthouse; Bomb Squad will take floors nine through fourteen; Clerical will take four through eight; Fire gets the basement through three; City Hall you get the in and out. The elevators work people -- all four major ones and the two service elevators. Major crimes will take service one, Bomb squad two, Fire will get elevators main elevators one and two, Clerical three and four. Let's move like we have a plan. If we're lucky, we'll have about four hours."
"So what are we looking for, Jim? What's the SOP?" Blair asked, practically bouncing beside his sentinel.
"If you find anything which might be useful, put it by the elevators. The City Hall workers will ride the elevators up and down and will be in charge of getting everything onto the trucks. Don't worry about furniture though. We have all that we need, unless you see something you like... like an oak roll top desk."
"Man, you are so subtle." Blair laughed. "So, what should I do? Do you want me to stay with you?"
Jim shook his head. "We're in charge of this floor, Chief. I don't think I'll be straining my senses too much. Why don't we split up and see what we can find?" Jim watched his friend bounce to the nearest door and stop. "What's wrong, Sandburg?"
"I know," Jim said softly. "You're not walking on anyone's grave here, Professor. It's a salvage operation. Cyclops knew what would happen when they pulled out. They probably didn't leave anything too valuable, but you never know. They won't be coming back. Anything we can't use we will trade with the other enclaves; sort of like giving Maura children's books for medicine."
Blair's head shot up in surprise. "Is that how you found me?"
Jim nodded. "The children were expecting another shipment soon. I overheard them talking."
Blair graced him with a megawatt smile, then, as he entered the first office, mumbled something about having to watch what he said around nosy sentinels.
Jim was impressed with the steadily growing pile by the elevator. Blair had a natural knack for salvaging and seemed to instinctively know what would make a good trade. He took a moment to look at the various paintings and sculptures waiting for their trip down, along with plates, candles, solar powered calculators, letter openers, notebooks, pencils, reams of papers, pens and a whole array of books.
"Heads up, people," Simon called through his headset. "The Patriots are heading this way. We still have a half hour so there's no need to panic, but let's wrap things up. Everyone to the elevators."
Jim covered his mic and yelled down the hallway, "SANDBURG."
"Yeah?" a voice acknowledged casually, as if not looking up from what he was doing.
"WE'RE WRAPPING UP. MEET ME BY THE ELEVATOR."
"Okay. I'm in the last room anyway. I think I found the floor pack rat. Apparently, he liked bright shiny things and before you go asking me how I know it's a he, let me say there are Playboys in here older than my mother; and no, I won't be bringing any of them out. If Maura saw these she'd have a conniption and you know who she'd blame, don't you? Yeah, me. So no way, man. I don't need to start messing with my karma, thank you very much."
Jim couldn't help but grin, listening to the softly spoken running monologue. He realized his companion was taking a few last minute peeks into drawers. The elevator bell dinged next to him, making him flinch. "Hey, Stacy," he greeted the petite brunette who appeared as the doors opened.
"Jim," she said professionally, then smiled as she spied the stack. "Nice haul."
"I think Sandburg found a Matisse." He pointed to the stack of frames leaning against the wall. "Isn't that a print of Harmony in Red?"
There was no mistaking the catch in Stacy's breath and the softening of her smile. "We better get it on, hadn't we?" Stacy immediately blushed when she realized the double connotation of her statement, but being the gentleman he was, he ignored the comment.
"SANDBURG!" he bellowed.
"Hey, man, don't get your panties in a wad," came the quiet reply as a hand touched the middle of his back.
Stacy didn't even try to hide her chuckle.
"Blair Sandburg," the young man introduced himself, even as he started putting items on the elevator.
The young records clerk smiled back at him. "Stacy Hansen."
"Down boy," Jim whispered as he bumped into his friend. He had to bite his lip in order to stop the chuckle which threatened to bubble out while he watched his friend trying to look annoyed and waggle his eyebrows at the same time.
"Not bad for your first salvage, Blair," Stacy said as they finished loading their haul into the elevators.
Blair grinned, leaning back against the elevator wall. "Well, it's not exactly my first salvage, but it was one of the more interesting ones."
When the doors opened again, Jim gently pushed his guide out of the way. "Let the professionals unload, Chief."
"Fairly impressive, isn't it?" Joel Taggert asked with amusement as he stood next to the young man watching the unloading process in awe.
"They work like a well oiled machine," Blair grinned, surprised that the elevator was already empty.
"I'm going to help Stacy with the next floor, Chief. You stay with Joel, ya hear?" The elevator doors closed before his guide could protest.
Blair frowned at being left behind, but turned to Joel and asked, "Anything I can do to help? Joel?"
Joel looked lost in thought, shaking his head and sighing. "There's an oak roll top desk in the penthouse suite."
"Hey, didn't Jim say..."
"Yes. He's wanted one for a long time and his birthday is coming up next week. I was just..." He glanced at his watch.
"How much time do we have?"
"Probably twenty minutes."
Blair waggled his eyebrows. "We could get it in ten."
"I'm not sure it's worth the risk, Blair."
"We could get some help."
Joel seemed to ponder this thought for a moment then looked up to see Henri and Darryl load several boxes onto the truck.
"Henri, do you have a moment?"
"Sure, Joel, what's up?"
"There's an oak roll top desk in the penthouse suite," Joel explained.
"And Jim's birthday is next week," Henri added as if reading his friend's mind.
"It'll take ten minutes," Blair added hopefully.
Henri laughed and rubbed his hands together. "All right, let's do it then."
"I'll help too," Darryl added as he joined the group.
Joel shook his head. "Your dad would kill us if we took you."
"Dad said to stick with H and stick with H I will," Darryl countered, defiantly.
Joel looked like he was going to argue, but unexpectedly acquiesced. "Okay, but let's hurry," he said, then lead them to elevator one.
"Everyone out?" Simon asked the section leaders as the final haul was being loaded onto the last truck.
"All teams accounted for, sir. Everyone checked in with their last haul," Davis from Fire reported.
"When will the Patriots get here?" Simon asked no one in particular.
"Probably not for another five minutes," Linda from Clerical grinned as she confirmed the news with her fiancee from SWAT via walkie talkie. "Brad says they're just turning onto Central now."
"Good job, people. Let's load 'em up."
"Simon," Jim said uneasily as he scanned the crowd. "Have you seen Sandburg?"
"He was with Joel, Henri and Darryl," Linda told him, patting him on the shoulder. "They probably got on one of the buses after they finished their last load."
Jim nodded, but didn't look convinced.
"We gotta get going, Jim," Simon said quietly. "We'll check as soon as we get the convoy moving."
"Yes, sir," the sentinel said quietly as he hopped on the back of the truck with Simon, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as the truck lurched forward.
"Rhonda," Simon said softly into his mic, "is Joel on the bus with you? You sure? No, don't worry. Matt, have you seen the new kid? No. Thank you. Robyn, are Joel and Blair on the flatbed with the boys? No. Okay."
"No sign of them, sir?" Jim asked quietly.
"Roger," Jim called over to a young EMT on the back of the truck with them. "Have you seen any sign of Joel or the new kid in the last few minutes?"
"Yeah, they went up to the penthouse with Henri and Darryl about twenty minutes ago. Seems there was some item of large furniture they wanted to get before we pulled out. They made it back, didn't they? Didn't they, sir?"
Jim and Simon looked at each other with horror filled eyes as they jumped off the back of the truck. "Rafe," Simon shouted into the mic. "As soon as the convoy gets back to the compound, get a humvee and circle back to Cyclops. Stay in the alleyway on the Brewster side of the building. We'll come to you. No. No arguments. Get these people to safety first. Out."
Darryl sighed in frustration. "Man, we're never going to get this out of here."
"I think you're right." Henri growled, giving the desk one final push. "What I want to know is how in the hell they got it in here in the first place?"
"In all likelihood they hauled it in before they put the walls up," Blair sighed. "I mean, it is the penthouse. They probably had a lot of the bigger items brought in and stored under tarps until construction was complete."
"We're out of time." Joel sighed, wiping the sweat off his forehead. "We're just going to have to come back another time. I mean, let's face it, Kincaid and his men aren't going to give a damn about a desk." Looking at his watch, he added, "We need to head on down, guys. Sorry to lead you on a wild goose chase."
Blair smiled and put his hand on the captain's back. "It was a great thought though."
"Um, guys," Darryl whispered as he looked out the window to the street below.
Henri leaned back against the desk. "Yeah, D?"
"Where's the convoy?"
"It's right..." Henri began as he sidled next to the teenager and followed his gaze to the empty street below. "Oh man," he whispered.
"They left us behind?" Darryl asked incredulously.
"Oh God," Joel gasped. "We checked in when we dropped off the last load."
"What's wrong?" Blair asked, looking at the nervous men beside him."
"Standard procedure is to check in with your final load," Joel explained, closing his eyes and leaning his forehead against the plate glass.
"We came up here after we checked in. Everyone's going to assume we're in one of the vehicles going back to the compound."
"Okay," Blair said in a quiet voice, trying hard not to panic. "So we hoof it back. Not something I'm looking forward to doing, but doable. How bad can it be?"
"Normally, not too bad," Henri said with growing horror. "But it just got worse."
The four men stared down at the street below them as Kincaid's convoy pulled up to the front of the building.
"What are we going to do?" Darryl asked in a panting whisper.
"We got to get to the basement," Blair said quietly, trying hard not to hyperventilate. "If we can get to the basement, I can get us out of here. We just need to get out of here. We just need to get..."
"Blair," Joel said, grabbing the young man's shoulders. "C'mon, buddy, keep it together."
Blair nodded quickly, taking several deep breaths.
"Can you really get us out of here, Hairboy?" Henri asked quietly, his fear barely restrained.
"Yes. I know all the underground passages around here. If we can get to the basement, we can drop into the sub-basement then into the sewer system."
"How do you want to do this Joel?" Henri asked the former bomb squad captain. "Should we split up?"
"I'd rather not," Joel said quietly, "unless circumstances dictate otherwise. But if we should get split up, let's meet in the sewers about a block... what day is it? Wednesday? Okay, let's meet a block south at Brewster."
"How long do you think it'll take them to do recon?" Henri asked quietly.
"Probably no longer than a half hour, but we're going to have to get out of here now. I have no doubt Kincaid's going to want to come up here personally and observe the view," Joel said, putting his arm around Darryl's shoulders and guiding him out of the room.
The four moved quickly to the stairwell closest to the main penthouse office. Henri opened the door slowly, but flinched before he shut it again. "Bogies. About seven floors down and racing up."
"Let's try another stairwell," Henri suggested, already moving and pushing Darryl and Blair in front of him.
Again, Henri opened the door and flinched. "Someone's coming up, but they're moving slower. Probably about ten floors down."
"Then let's go. We'll go down one floor and regroup. I don't want to be caught on this floor," Joel said quietly.
Henri opened the door and Joel slipped through as point man, taking Darryl's hand and pulling the boy after him as he plastered both of them against the stairwell wall. Henri gently pushed Blair through the doorway then slipped through himself, softly closing the door just as Patriots burst onto the floor from the other stairwell. Moving silently and swiftly, the four men pressed themselves as far away from the inside rails as possible while they moved to the next floor. They could hear voices laughing and talking excitedly about what they hoped to find, but the scavengers coming up didn't seem to be in as big a hurry as their compatriots had been.
Blair closed his eyes as Henri oozed around the door to the floor below the penthouse, but opened them in surprise as the big detective grabbed his arm, They both followed Joel through the corridors and into a small office.
Once they were all in the office, Joel breathed out a sigh of relief. "Any suggestions?"
"Could we wait until they're fully deployed on the floors then sneak down the stairs?" Blair asked hopefully.
"If their system is anything like ours, they're going to have someone patrolling the stairwells. The Patriots might be the enemy, but they're very good at tactics."
"Could we go down the elevator shafts?" Darryl asked.
Henri sighed. "Normally, that would be a great plan, D. But we can't risk it with all the elevator activity there's going to be."
"Could we try to blend in and slip out unnoticed?" Blair asked, trying to be helpful.
Joel and Henri looked at him in shock then shook their heads.
"Why not?" Blair pressed.
"What do you know about the Patriots, Blair?"
"They were a paramilitary unit, a sort of survivalist group who planned for the effects of Y2k and who tried to take over after the earthquakes."
"And what do you know of survivalist groups?" Joel asked with a gentle smile.
Blair blinked blankly at him, then looked over at Henri as the detective rubbed his fingers over his own arm.
"Ahh," Blair said in understanding. "I guess this," he said, pulling out his Star of David necklace, "wouldn't endear me to them either."
"Why don't you just say they're racist mother f..."
"Darryl," Joel said, cutting him off shortly.
"Okay, so much for plans A, B and C. How about we try a frontal assault?" Blair asked with a bravado he didn't actually feel.
"One day on the surface and you're already thinking like us. Must be something in the water," Joel laughed, but then in a more somber tone, asked, "Okay. What do we know about the building?"
"There are six elevators, which will, in all likelihood, be in constant motion. There are two stairwells, which will probably be guarded. I hate to say it, but it looks like Blair's plan of trying to get down the stairwells while most of the Patriots are scavenging is going to be the best strategy," Henri said quietly.
"I hate being right." Blair gave Henri a small grin and the detective slapped him on the back.
"Okay, everyone find something to hide behind for the initial sweep, then we'll see what we can do about getting out of this dump," Joel said with quiet authority, the burden of getting his friends to safety weighing heavily upon him.
"Damn," Simon swore as he and Jim watched the Patriots disembark from their vehicles and race inside the Cyclops building. "Please God, don't let them be in there," he added in a barely audible prayer. "Jim?" he asked in concern as his friend stood statue still staring at the top of the building.
Jim raised his hand to acknowledge the question, but didn't say anything for a moment more. Blinking and shaking his head solemnly, he turned and faced his captain. "All four are in the penthouse."
"How do y... It's that sentinel thing, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir, I'm afraid it is."
"Are they okay?"
"For the moment."
"What are their options?"
"Six elevators, two stairwells; basically either elevator shafts or finding a good place to hide."
"They aren't going to make it, are they?" Simon asked, closing his eyes against the pain.
"I don't see how they could, sir."
"We know Kincaid knows Joel and in all likelihood, Henri. Oh, God, what if they figure out Darryl's my son. I got to get in there. I have to save him." Simon lunged forward in panic, only to find himself slammed up against the brick building of the old Savings & Loan.
"Simon, you've got to get a grip. You won't do anyone any good if you get caught. Kincaid would like nothing more than to put a bullet in your brain or to use you as a hostage against us," Jim hissed, not releasing his struggling friend.
However, his words penetrated Simon's panic and the captain forced himself to take a deep breath. "What are we going to do?" he asked desperately.
"We're going to go in Sandburg's way?"
Jim grinned as he scanned the streets for a manhole. "We're going to go down then work our way up."
"How many floors do we have to go?" Darryl asked in a voice barely audible, a thin sheen of sweat glistening on his forehead.
"Two more to the lobby, then the basement and the sub-basement, then into the sewers," Joel answered quietly, leaning against the wall of the small utility closet in which the fugitives were currently hiding.
"Piece of cake." Henri grinned and patted Darryl's arm reassuringly. "You okay, Hairboy?"
Blair nodded quietly, although his face was drained of most of its color. Was this what it was like to live on the surface; to live in terror of being discovered by someone more powerful, more ruthless? But then again, he wondered how this was any different than living below the surface and making brief forays above? While he would never wish his current circumstances on another, he did find some comfort in not being alone in this predicament.
"Ready?" Joel quietly asked the group. After everyone nodded, he placed his ear on the door and listened for any movement in the hall. Slowly, he opened the door and scanned for any sign of movement. When he found none, he tilted his head for the rest to follow and slowly made his way to the stairwell. One by one, they followed after him.
"What do you think you're doing?" a startled voice demanded. They turned as one to find a young woman in her early twenties holding a rifle on them. Her long blonde hair was pulled back in a tight pony tail which made her appear older.
"We don't want any trouble, Miss," Joel said, raising his hands in submission. "We're just trying to get out of here. As you can see we're not taking anything with us. We just arrived at the wrong time to scavenge and want nothing more than to go home."
The woman's face softened a bit and she started to lower her rifle, but then without warning, she raised it again. "I've got to report you."
"Please, Miss. We know who you belong with and we don't want any trouble. Please," Joel pled in a softer voice.
"I got my orders," she persisted.
"Then you're going to have to shoot us," Joel said firmly, "Because you and I both know what'll happen if your friends find us." With that Joel turned and walked toward the stairwell.
Blair slowly followed the bomb squad captain, although his eyes never left the young woman. The woman hesitated a moment, torn by indecision, then quickly raised the gun and fired at Joel. For Blair, time seemed to stand still as Joel lurched forward, gasping in pain. Henri spun around and kicked the rifle from the woman's hands then slammed his fist into her face, knocking her to the ground. Blair raced forward and eased Joel to the carpeted floor.
"Damn," the older man hissed out. "I didn't think she'd really do it."
"C'mon, lay down," Blair soothed as he gently pushed Joel onto his back. "Let me take a look at your leg."
"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?" a voice demanded from a mic on the young woman's coat. "Everyone report. I want a status check and I want it now!" the faceless voice demanded.
"It looks like the bullet went straight through," Blair said quietly, removing his belt and starting to secure it around the older man's leg. "Let's see if we can slow the bleeding down some though."
"Where did you get medical training?" Joel asked, through gritted teeth.
"Well, once upon a time, I took a first aid class and while I don't have any practical knowledge I have done a lot of reading on the subject," Blair said conversationally as he tightened the belt, trying to ignore Taggert's hiss of pain.
"Lisa. LISA REPORT," the voice screamed.
"Sorry, Sir. Clear," Henri spoke into the mic, mimicking the young woman's alto tones.
Darryl squeezed his eyes tight and crossed his fingers as he rocked back and forth, praying for a miracle.
"Roberts," the voice continued on its roll call.
"You guys need to get out of here," Joel said quietly.
Henri growled. "We're not leaving you, J."
"Look," Joel hissed again. "Do you have any idea what Kincaid will do if he learns that Darryl is Simon's son or that he has a Professor in his custody?"
"I'm not a Professor, man," Blair said quietly, removing one of his tee-shirts and wedging it under the tourniquet to help stem the flow of blood.
Joel laughed quietly. "Who do you think you're kidding, Blair?"
"It's my story and I'm sticking to it," the young observer said defiantly.
"You do realize they're probably going to do another floor by floor," Henri said quietly, his eyes never leaving the face of his long time friend.
"Take Blair and Darryl and try one of the elevator shafts. It'll be the only way out of here now," Joel whispered.
Blair looked at Henri then down at Joel and saw that the younger man was going to follow his friend's advice. Shaking his head, he rocked up into a standing position. "No way, man. No way."
"Look we don't have a choice," Henri said, standing to face the frightened observer.
"You take Darryl. Do as Joel says. He and I will try to hide out until the cavalry appears." Henri started to protest, but Blair cut him off. "The Professors have a creed. No one gets left behind. No one. Now go!" he said, shoving Henri toward Darryl.
Blair immediately knelt beside the unconscious woman and removed her belt. He pushed her over onto her side, not looking up to see if his friends had followed his instructions or not, then secured her hands behind her back and started dragging her into one of the offices.
"God's speed," Blair heard Henri whisper from the hallway as he removed a bandanna from the woman's jacket pocket and tied it around her mouth. He thought briefly of hiding her, but realized he didn't want her not to be found -- just not found until they had escaped.
He picked up the woman's rifle and tossed it into the room with her before shutting the door.
"We might need that," Joel said quietly as he watched the young man's antics.
"If we get caught, we certainly don't want to be caught with weapons on us, man," Blair said quietly, reaching down and helping the bomb squad captain gain his feet, trying to shoulder as much of the man's weight as possible. "What do you think about checking out some of the interior offices?" Blair asked conversationally.
"You know, I didn't get to see any of the floors down here before," Joel chuckled, trying to keep the mood light.
Blair nodded as they made their way slowly into the interior of the building. "Well, I think we should remedy that situation now."
"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? Everyone report. I want a status check and I want it now!" a voice screamed from two different mics in the basement. Jim pressed back into the shadows, his hand keeping Simon at bay behind him.
"Situation is fine in the basement, Commander," the shorter man in front of them said into his mic.
"What's going on?" the taller of the two asked, looking up from a box of rusted nuts and bolts.
"Who knows. Did you hear anything?" Anderson groused.
"No. Probably another spot check. You never know when the PDs are going to show up."
"Man, I think they've already been here. This place is picked clean. We're not going to find anything of value down here."
"Here Commander," the taller one reported back.
"They couldn't have gotten in and out already, could they? Kincaid only discovered Cyclops was pulling out about a half hour before we left the compound. No way they could have beaten us here."
"Well then Cyclops took everything valuable," Hanson sighed. "There's nothing but crap down here."
"LISA REPORT," the mics screamed.
"Sorry Sir. Clear," a low voice reported.
"Now, there's a piece of ass I'd like to get my hands on," Anderson grinned lewdly.
"Oh sure, I'd pay to see that. C'mon, man, you know Quinn would chew you up and spit you out. We wouldn't find enough of your body to bury. No one touches Lisa. No one."
"Yeah, that's what makes her so hot. The danger factor."
"You are seriously warped," Hansen sighed.
Jim felt his captain gently squeeze his shoulder and turned his head slightly to face him, reluctant to take his eyes off the Patriots.
"Did you hear anything?" Simon breathed.
Jim nodded. "Single gun shot. Probably a rifle."
"We can't just stand here," Simon hissed.
"We have no choice. We can't get by them unseen at the moment and there's too much distance between us to get a jump on them," Jim whispered back, putting a hand on his captain's arm to let him know he understood his frustration.
The Patriots poked around for several minutes, but came up with only a few items to fill their small cardboard box.
"I say we blow this joint," Hansen sighed, looking over their meager findings.
Anderson laughed. "Yeah, let's go see if Lisa needs any help."
"Shhh, did you hear that?" Hanson hissed, holding his hand up for silence.
"The door to the elevator shaft," Hanson mouthed.
The Patriots scrambled to either side of the small hatch as the handle jiggled quietly.
"Darryl," Simon hissed, as his son carefully pushed on the small metallic door and peered about for any sign of danger, finding none he crawled out of the shaft. Anderson and Hanson stood quietly, making no movement toward the boy, waiting for the next rabbit to pop out of the hole. Darryl turned to help his friend out when he spied the Patriots.
"Freeze," Anderson yelled. "Now come on out. Stand slowly. Hands up! Hansen, check the shaft."
"Now, now, now, now. What do we have here?" Anderson chuckled to himself. "Why I think we have ourselves the beginning of a real fun party here."
"Did someone say party?" Jim asked casually, pressing his pistol into the base of Anderson's skull.
"I got this one, Dad," Darryl shouted as he jumped onto Hanson's back when the Patriot spun around to face the newest intruders.
"Darryl," Simon shouted in terror as the Patriot easily swung his son to the floor and prepared to slam his gun hilt into the boy's face. However, concentrating so much on the rowdy teenager made him forget his other captive. Simon and Henri hit him at the same time from opposite directions, dropping the man instantly.
"Dad," Darryl whispered, unable to keep the whimper from his voice as his father hauled him to his feet and wrapped him in a massive bear hug.
Jim quickly and efficiently disarmed the other Patriot and handcuffed him to one of the larger pipes which stood like quiet sentries in the basement. After both prisoners were secure, Jim clasped a hand on Henri's shoulder. "Report."
"Joel's been shot. They were on three."
"He wouldn't leave Joel, but Joel was afraid of what would happen to Darryl if they found out he was Simon's son, so we slipped down the elevator shaft. Simon, get your son out of here. I'm going back up to get Joel."
"Henri," Simon said gruffly as the younger man turned toward the shaft. "Rafe, should be at the corner of Brewster by now. Take Darryl and wait for us there."
"Please, H," Simon asked as he tightly hugged his son to him.
Henri nodded and took Darryl's hand in his. "C'mon, D. Let's blow this popsicle stand."
Darryl gave his father a final squeeze and followed the detective toward the small opening to the sub-basement.
"Your Professor is good people. He ever needs anything; you have him see me. Anything, man. I mean it."
"I'll be sure to tell him." Jim smiled at the retreating figure.
"I have a plan," Simon said quietly.
"I'm all ears," Jim said, ignoring the groaning response from his captain.
Garrett Kincaid's face showed nothing as he slowly ground his heel into Joel's bullet wound. The captain grunted in pain, but did not cry out.
"I can see that that bullet hole in your leg hasn't taught you any manners," Kincaid said as he squatted next to the former bomb squad leader. "I'm going to ask you again. How many others are in the building?"
"And I'm going to tell you again, the PDs have already come and gone. There were four of us, but after the woman shot me I had the others leave. No need in all of us getting caught," Joel gritted out as sweat slowly dribbled into his eyes.
"McBride, is my building secured?"
"Yes, Commander. Every entrance is sealed and guarded. No one's going to get in or out at this point. We found Lisa in an office near the passenger elevators. She was tied up, but unharmed. I don't understand why we don't just put a bullet in his head."
"Because he used to be a captain, because he's Bank's right-hand man, and because I give the friggin orders around here," Kincaid ended with a shout, a small vein pulsating in his forehead. He didn't break eye contact with his second-in-command until the blood was completely drained from McBride's face. "Right now, he's a prisoner of war."
"Do you think there's anyone else in the building?" McBride asked cautiously.
Kincaid watched Taggert passively as the wounded man struggled to control the pain then turned his gaze back to his Lieutenant. "No. I think those PD cowards left one of their own behind. Continue with the scavenge. We'll take the good Captain with us when we pull out, if he hasn't bled to death by then."
Blair Sandburg paced back and forth in the small office, berating himself for not being able to come up with a plan to save Joel. He could still hear the captain's voice begging him to leave before the Patriots found him, telling him if Kincaid found out he was a Professor that everyone he cared for would be in danger. It was the only thing which had made him move. No matter how much he admired the bomb squad captain, his ultimate responsibility were to those who had helped him survive for the last ten years.
At least it sounded good in theory. He had run blindly at first, but then realized he couldn't leave Joel behind. No one ever got left behind and by all that was holy, he would not leave Jim's friend.
Rummaging around the office he found himself in, he looked for items which might be useful. He found a half used roll of packing tape, a ratty old softball, a bottle of incredibly bad smelling cologne and a broken coffee mug.
"I must be nuts," he whispered as he gathered his booty and made his way back to his friend.
"This is nuts, Simon," Jim whispered, shaking his head as he jumped down from the side of the semi's cab.
"You have a better plan?" Simon asked, sticking his head out of the window and looking down at his friend.
"Not at the moment."
"Joel might not have much more time."
"If you get caught..."
"I won't be caught." Simon grinned. "You're not the only one who can drive like a bat out of hell, Ellison."
"Good luck, sir."
"You too, Jim. Bring them both back alive."
"I will, sir." Jim hit the truck door twice then moved swiftly back into the shadows toward the elevator shaft as the truck rumbled to life. Covering his mouth and trying not to breathe in the noxious fumes, he gasped into the mic of one of the fallen Patriots. "Red alert. Red alert. Someone's stolen the salvage truck. I need every available man down in the garage. NOW."
With that he moved into the elevator shaft and locked the door, pressing himself into the shadows as he listened to the agitated Patriots race by swearing and cocking their weapons. Focusing his hearing above, he started the long climb to the third floor.
Joel Taggert stared in amazement as everyone in the room left in a stampede of swearing and shoving. "Way to go, Professor," he chuckled, picturing the young man, hair flying, speeding away in the flatbed truck. He tried moving his leg, but ended up arching his back in pain and swearing softly to himself. After several minutes had passed, he composed himself and tried moving it again. Sobbing in pain, he lurched to his feet, holding tightly onto the desk for support as his vision swam.
He hobbled toward the door, but stopped short as he the knob turned ever so slowly. He had nowhere to hide and so stood his ground, not knowing what else to do, but wishing he had his gun.
"Should you be on your feet?" Blair asked, poking his head around the door and quickly scanning the room, before allowing his gaze to rest on the exhausted bomb squad captain.
"But... but... how? I thought you... I mean..."
"Hey, I have no idea, man, but everyone suddenly lit out for the stairs. I think that's our cue to get the hell out of here." Blair wrapped his arm around the bigger man. "Just lean on me."
"Blair, we're never going to make it," Joel gasped.
The young observer laughed. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
"Where are we headed?"
"For the elevators."
"Are you nuts?"
"Yeah, cashews," the young man gritted out as he practically dragged the captain down the corridor leading to the elevators.
"Service or passenger?"
"Passenger. It's a further walk, but the service elevators will probably lead right into a congregating mass of very irate Patriots."
"Well, if you didn't take the truck, who did?"
"Maybe Henri and Darryl?"
"Do you guys always talk this much during an escape?" Jim asked in quiet exasperation as he stepped around the corner.
"Jim," Blair breathed in relief, believing for the first time that they might actually make it out of the building alive.
"Ellison, you're a sight for sore eyes."
"Joel, you're bleeding," Jim said with concern, moving toward them with a panther-like quickness.
"He was a detective, you know," Joel said to Blair with a chuckle. "Yes, Jim, but I'd rather get out of here before I worry about putting a bandage on this little old scab." Joel gasped in pain, but never stopping his forward momentum toward the elevators, although he did allow the scout to wrap an arm around his waist.
"HEY!" a voice bellowed out from behind them.
"How far?" Blair whispered sentinel-soft.
"Twenty feet, center of the hall," Jim said quietly, never turning toward the intruder.
In one swift movement, Blair spun around and threw the softball with all his might at the Patriot. The man had only a moment to blink, not nearly enough time to think about dodging the projectile coming at him in full force. With perfect accuracy, it clocked him in the middle of the forehead, spinning him around and dropping him to the floor in an unconscious heap.
"My God," Joel whispered in awe.
"I didn't..." Blair asked in growing horror.
"No, Chief, you didn't. He's breathing fine." Jim smiled. "He's out like a light and will probably have one hell of a headache when he wakes up though."
"Where did you learn to throw like that?" Joel asked as they began their trek back toward the elevators.
"Saipan Parrots. 1993." Blair slipped the bomb squad captain's arm around his shoulder.
"Little league champs. Undefeated." Blair laughed, knowing he was confusing the hell out of his friend.
Jim pushed the button and they waited in silence for the elevator to arrive.
"Anything?" Blair asked quietly as he watched the sentinel cock his head slightly.
"Empty," Jim confirmed.
"What is?" Joel asked, looking back and forth between the two younger men.
"The elevator," Blair said in a teasing tone that suggested Joel should be keeping up with the conversation.
"What kind of code are you two speaking?" Joel demanded when the elevator doors opened.
"Didn't you get the secret decoder ring yesterday?" Jim grinned cheekily as the three of them moved into the lift.
"What?" Joel demanded, his vision getting blurry. Shaking his head, he tried to make some sense out of the conversation going on around him.
"Here, big guy," Jim said quietly as he braced Joel in the left front corner of the elevator. "Let's get you out of sight."
"Basement?" Blair asked quietly.
"Yeah, let's see if we can make it all the way down."
Blair took a deep breath and pushed 'B' on the panel. Looking up at his sentinel, he smiled nervously and asked, "Can you hear anything?"
Jim closed his eyes again for a moment. "Two and the Lobby appear to be clear."
All eyes watched the digital counter above the door. They breathed a collective sigh of relief as the box continued downward uninterrupted. Jim suddenly stood at attention. "We got company," he said, cocking his gun.
"Jim," Blair said as he rummaged through his pockets. "Dial your smell down to below zero."
"Just do it, man," Blair demanded as he unscrewed the lid of cologne bottle and poured its contents into the coffee mug. Pressing against the wall on Joel's side of the elevator, he waited. Jim, following his lead, pressed himself against the other side of the elevator.
The elevator dinged once it had reached their destination and the door slowly began to open. A man in fatigues stood waiting, a gun held at the ready. Blair moved quickly, flinging the mug's contents into the man's face. The Patriot screamed in agony, clawing at his eyes and dropping his pistol in the process. Jim grabbed him by the scruff of his jacket and tossed him headfirst into the back wall of the elevator. The man went down in a heap.
Blair grabbed Joel by the waist and headed out of the elevator. "Push all the buttons except one through three, man."
Jim complied, then jumped off the elevator as the doors began to close. Grabbing Joel's other arm, he guided them toward the entrance of the sub-basement.
"I don't even know why I bothered coming back for you guys," Jim teased. "Looks like you had everything pretty well in hand. I sort of feel like a useless fifth wheel here."
"I can't believe the man's begging for compliments," Blair said to Joel, trying to assess the older man's condition.
"I'll tell you what. We get out of here in one piece and I'll sing your praises everyday for a month," Joel wheezed.
Blair grinned at his sentinel. "How well does he sing?"
Jim shook his head ruefully. "Let's just say, I think I'm really going to appreciate my dials."
"And just how many of my men did this Serpico wanna-be take out of action?" Garrett Kincaid gritted out as he backhanded his second-in-command.
McBride wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. "No one was killed, sir. However, the punk only took out two. The rest were taking out by Ellison and, from the description we received, Banks."
"And this was after my building was reported sealed tight."
"Y-yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir. We simply didn't have the manpower to do a thorough sweep for a building of this size, sir."
"I am not happy, McBride."
"I understand, sir. I take complete responsibility."
But Kincaid was no longer paying attention to the man groveling at his feet. He walked over to the window of the penthouse and took in the spectacular view. "It will all be mine soon," Kincaid said with quiet determination as he looked down upon Cascade.
"Banks and Ellison understand the rules of engagement. They understand the reasons for which we fight. But this... this upstart with his baseballs and perfume... he must be taught," Kincaid gritted out. "I will have my satisfaction," he whispered with a wild glint in his eye.
McBride closed his eyes and said a quiet prayer. For now, he was safe. As long as he could keep his commander's attention on the new rogue, Kincaid would overlook his failure. He took a small breath in relief. He would personally deliver the young detective up as a sacrifice in appeasement to his angry god.
Blair sat beside Joel's bed, watching the steady rise and fall of the captain's chest. He couldn't believe how lucky they had been. If Jim hadn't have shown up when he had... Blair closed his eyes, not wanting to contemplate the possible alternatives.
"Hey, Chief, has he shown any signs of consciousness?" Jim asked as he handed the young Professor a mug of hot tea.
"You, man, are a lifesaver." Blair sighed after he took his first sip.
"You did good out there, Sandburg. I was fairly impressed."
Blair looked up and felt a warm glow grow within him as he saw the pride on his friend's face. "If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not do it again."
"What and miss all the fun?" Joel mumbled groggily from the bed.
Jim moved closer to the bed. "How are you feeling, big guy?"
"Happy to be alive, thanks to you two. I was foolish for putting us in that situation in the first place."
"Hey, c'mon now, Joel, don't go blaming yourself for that," Blair protested as he took the older man's hand in his.
"Are Darryl and Henri safe?"
"You don't remember them in the Humvee?" Jim asked quietly.
Joel hummed his negative response. "Remembered you though. You were awesome today. I've never seen anything like it. You were hearing things I couldn't hear; turning off your sense of smell, seeing in the sewer when there was no light. I mean, level with me, will you?" he asked, barely able to keep his eyes open.
"I will, Joel. You just get some rest first. Okay?"
"Okay," the older man hummed again as he slipped slowly down through the layers of sleep.
"C'mon, Chief. Let's give the man some time to rest."
Blair quietly followed his friend out into the hallway of the infirmary. "Am I in trouble?"
"Not at all, Chief, and neither is anyone else. It was a hard lesson to learn, but one no one is bound to forget anytime in the near future. I would like to have a roll top desk someday, but remember it's only a piece of furniture. You, Joel, Henri and Darryl are much more important to me than any thing could ever be."
Blair nodded, unable to look his friend in the eye.
"However, I really do think you handled yourself well today. It's nice to know you can keep your head in a tough situation. "
Blair smiled brilliantly at him. "Thanks, that means a lot to me."
"What would you say to some dinner?"
"Oh, man, lead on. I'm starving." Blair bounced at the idea of a hot meal. "Hey, Jim?"
"There's just one thing I got to ask you."
"This wasn't like a typical day for you, was it?"
Jim looked over at the earnest young face of his partner, laughed and continued walking.
"Well, is it?"
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