Acknowledgments: Thanks to the TSLurkers for encouraging me to finish this -- without them, I'd still be floundering around page 63. Also, to LRH Balzer for giving me a scene which she described so wonderfully months ago on the SA list.

Author's notes: This has been a long story in coming -- it began as a funny little TS story which popped into my head while watching Jim with his golf clubs in "Vow of Silence". But for me to write a short story is akin to Margaret Mitchell trying to write Gone With the Wind as a one act play. This turned into a massive story which includes humor, angst, h/c, and some smarm mixed into a complicated plot that took on a life of its own. There's also the familiar Jim and Blair banter and friendship, which I love so well. Thanks for your patience and enjoy!


Fidus Amicus

"Ellison! Sandburg! My office!" Captain Simon Banks' voice boomed across the Major Crime's bullpen.

Working side by side at Jim Ellison's desk, Jim and Blair exchanged wary glances.

The long-haired student held up his hands. "Don't look at me. I didn't do anything," he said, then grinned mischievously. "At least nothing that can be proven."

Jim arched a dubious eyebrow and stood. "C'mon, Chief. Let's get this over with."

Blair reluctantly followed his partner, but grabbed his arm before they entered the office. "Is he muttering anything?" he asked in a sentinel-soft voice.

Jim tilted his head slightly and a corner of his lips lifted. "Something about his coffeemaker and how his coffee tastes like sweaty socks."

Blair grimaced. "That is so not good. I have a feeling we're not going to enjoy this."

"Do we ever like getting reamed?" Jim ushered a glaring Blair into the office ahead of him.

"Close the door," Banks ordered.

"Yes, sir," Jim replied, gently shutting the door. He sat in one of the two chairs in front of the captain's desk, and noted that Sandburg retreated to a corner of the conference table behind him. Coward.

Banks lifted his gaze from the paperwork he was reviewing... with a red pen. "I hate this shit."

"Uh, what shit do you hate, sir?" Jim asked. Although Captain Simon Banks was a friend, he knew when to separate work from personal, and this was definitely one of those times.

Simon's dark eyes narrowed behind his gold-rimmed glasses, studied Jim a moment, then he sighed, his broad shoulders slumping. "The usual shit -- politics. I heard from the commissioner this morning. He has a special assignment for the 'police officer of the year.'"

"Damn," Jim said.

"Cool," Blair commented at the same time.

Simon's glower returned -- this time it was aimed at the observer. "Not cool, Sandburg. I have nineteen current unsolved major crimes in the city of Cascade and a dozen detectives to work them. Now I'm supposed to give up my best team for a weekend so they can play golf."

Jim frowned. "Golf, sir?"

If possible, Simon's scowl deepened. "Yeah, you know -- fore, tees, greens, Tiger Woods."

"Greg Norman," Jim interjected.

"Norman? He hasn't even made the cut in half the tournaments he's played in the past few years."

"He's a legend -- the Shark."

"He's a has-been. Woods is the man now."

Jim shook his head impatiently. "Maybe Norman's had a few bad breaks lately, but--"

"Excuuuse me," Blair broke in. "As much as I find this subject fascinating from a purely anthropological view, personally it's boring. Can we get back to the matter at hand?"

Jim squelched a smile at the shock on Simon's face -- it was the first time Blair had reeled the discussion back in line. Usually the student was the one who had to be reined in from one of his protracted discourses.

"Why us?" Jim asked.

"Because the commissioner wants the 'Policeman of the Year' to attend. It's a golf charity for the Children's Hospital being held at the Cascade Country Club. He says it's good PR for the department."

"You said your best team -- does that mean I'm going, too?" Blair asked warily.

"Do you know how to golf?" Simon asked.

Blair shrugged. "I watched a tournament on TV for five minutes before I fell asleep."

Jim groaned and covered his eyes with a hand.

Simon removed his glasses and rubbed his brow. "The commissioner said he wanted you there, too, because of your unique position in the department and the fact that Jim's arrest and conviction record has doubled in the past three years, ever since you two teamed up."

Blair sighed in resignation. "At least it's for a good cause."

"That's where Steven and I learned how to golf," Jim commented absently.

"Do you think your father will be there?" Blair asked.

Jim shook his head. "I think he's out of town this week." He looked at Simon. "When is it?"

"This Saturday. The tournament starts at eight a.m. You and Sandburg will be in the second foursome, along with a Mr. and Mrs. Jason Harmony," Simon said, glancing down at a paper in his hand.

Jim frowned. "Jason Harmony?"

"Do you know him?"

"I knew a Jason Harmony in high school. I kind of doubt it's him, though."

"Why?" Blair asked.

Jim shifted uncomfortably. "He, as my father would say, 'lived on the wrong side of the tracks.'"

"Did you know him very well?"

"We played football and basketball together. Had some good times, you know, the usual jock stuff."

He could feel Blair's curious gaze on him. His past was something he rarely discussed with anybody, even his partner.

Simon passed a brochure and another paper from the stack on his desk to Jim. "The commissioner's office registered you and Sandburg last week."

Jim scanned the brochure, then the confirmation for himself and Blair. "What dinner is this?" he demanded.

Simon leaned back in his chair and a patently innocent smile lit his face. "Oh, didn't I mention the formal dinner tomorrow night at the clubhouse?"

"Gee, you must've forgotten." Jim would rather have root canal done with his sense of touch turned up than dress like a penguin and make small talk at a perfectly boring dinner party.

"You mean we have to wear tuxes?" Blair asked, his expression reflecting Jim's feelings.

Simon nodded a little too enthusiastically. "And you can't wear blue jeans on the course Saturday. The clothing code is strictly enforced."

"I'm afraid to ask," Blair began.

"I think Sandburg and I have to go shopping," Jim said with as much excitement as a person going in for a colonoscopy. "Blair's going to need golf clubs."

Simon stood and opened his door. "Rafe. Get in here!"

Blair glanced at Jim apprehensively.

The young detective came immediately and his puzzled gaze jumped between Simon, Jim and Blair. "Sir?"

"You golf, right?" Simon asked.

Bewildered, Rafe nodded.

"Can Sandburg borrow your clubs?"

Rafe's eyes narrowed and he crossed his arms. "They're titanium, specially made for me."

"Is that a yes, Detective?" Simon asked, the warning note clear in his voice.

Rafe looked like he was going to refuse and Simon crossed his arms, mirroring Rafe's stubborn pose.

Blair jumped up and stood between the two men. "Hey guys, it's okay. I'll just rent a set."

Rafe's gaze softened as he looked at Blair. Jim knew the two younger men, despite their clothing tastes -- GQ and Goodwill -- were friends. They had gone out together on occasion when the 'old men' of Major Crimes weren't quite up to the task.

"What do you need them for?" Rafe asked.

"There's a golf charity at the country club this weekend," Blair replied. "No sweat, Rafe. Like I said, I can rent a set."

"Have you ever played?"

"A few times," Blair replied vaguely.

Jim narrowed his eyes, recognizing a Sandburgian obfuscation. It seemed odd that he wouldn't admit to never having golfed since he made no secret of his dislike for the game.

"All right," Rafe finally conceded. "As long as you bring them back in the same shape as you borrowed them." He aimed a forefinger at Jim and narrowed his gaze. "I'm going to hold you responsible, too."

Blair laughed. "Thanks, man. I promise I'll take good care of them."

"Stop by this evening to pick them up, but I'll need them back by Monday for a seven a.m. tee time," Rafe said.

"You got it," Blair assured.

"We'll be by around eight tonight," Jim called out. "After I take Sandburg clothes shopping."

Rafe shuddered. "Why does the thought of you helping Blair shop for clothes scare me so much?"

"Could be the white socks," Blair said without missing a beat.

Jim tossed a pen at Blair who dodged the flying missile.

"Out of my office. I have work to do," Simon growled.

Laughing, Jim, Blair and Rafe returned to the bullpen and their respective desks.

Blair groaned. "I hate clothes shopping. Can't I just wear my best blue jeans, the ones without holes?"

"Sorry, Junior, but the commissioner will kill us both if you show up looking like one of the Beverly Hillbillies," Jim said, his eyes twinkling. "We'll head over to the mall after work."

"What about you? What are you going to wear?"

"I happen to have appropriate golf wear in my closet."

"Does it still fit?" Blair asked, the epitome of innocence.

"Watch it, Chief, or I'll get Rafe to take you shopping."

Blair sighed. "All right. I'm going to put myself in your hands."

"That's how I feel every day, Chief," Jim said with a genuine smile. "C'mon, let's get these reports done so we can get out of here."

Blair shook his head as he smiled and spoke in a voice only a sentinel could hear. "Sometimes you're such a sap, Ellison."

"Up yours, Sandburg."

Chuckling, Blair opened the next file in the computer and began typing from Jim's scrawled notes.

"Oh, man, you mean I have to get the pants for men with big butts?" Blair complained.

"They're the brand I buy, Sandburg," Jim said irritably. "Roomier in the hip and thigh means--"

"Big butt pants."

Jim took a deep breath to stem his impatience. "More ease of movement, like you're going to need when you golf."

Blair brushed his hair back with an impatient hand. "This sucks."

Jim ignored him and searched for a pair in his guide's waist size and inseam. He pulled out a tan pair and a navy blue pair and thrust them at Blair. "Try these on."

Blair held them like they were a pair of tarantulas but didn't argue. He headed to the nearest fitting room and smiled at the fastidious man standing behind the counter, who was eyeing Blair like he expected him to moon him.

"Hi," he said to the man. "How's it hangin'?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "Sandburg. Fitting room. Now."

"Sheesh, he deserved it, Jim," Blair said under his breath.

Jim merely waved him into the room, then turned to the clerk. "I'm going to need a golf shirt for him, too."

"This way, sir."

Jim followed him through the upscale men's department to a circular rack of polo shirts. He immediately spotted a blue one the exact color of Sandburg's eyes and lifted it off the rack. It was a size medium -- perfect. When he returned, Blair was already standing outside the fitting room.

"How'd they fit?" Jim asked.

"They were a little big in the butt," Blair said dryly. "I'll take the tan pair."

Jim handed him the shirt. "This goes with it."

Blair examined the shirt's front left side. "Ooooh look, it even has an alligator on it."

The sarcasm in his partner's voice brought a grin to Jim's lips that he quickly squelched. Someone had to take this seriously.

"That'll be it," Jim said to the clerk. He pulled out his credit card.

"I'll get it," Blair said, passing Jim's credit card back to him.

"The total is seventy one dollars and thirty three cents," the clerk announced.

Blair changed direction and handed the man Jim's card. "If you insist, Jim." He leaned close to his partner. "I'll pay you back in installments."

"Consider it an early birthday present," Jim said.

"My birthday was two months ago."

Jim shrugged. "A late present then."

"Definitely a sap," Blair said with a fond twinkle in his eyes.

Jim signed the credit slip and tucked his card and the receipt in his wallet. Blair grabbed the shopping bag and the two men headed to their next destination.

Twenty-five minutes later Jim stood in the back room of the formal clothing rental shop wearing a light blue shirt, black tux jacket, cummerbund and black boxers.

Wearing a complete tux -- including pants -- Blair caught his sentinel's eyes in the mirror and grinned evilly. "Big butt pants."

"Shut up, Sandburg." Jim glared at him.

"One word: Wonderburgers."

Before Jim could strangle his partner, the man returned bearing a pair of trousers a size larger than the previous. Jim tugged them on, relieved when those fit.

With each of them bearing a plastic bag carrying their respective tuxes, Jim and Blair returned to the truck.

"You want to grab something to eat before we go to Rafe's?" Jim asked.

"Sure. How about that little Italian place around the corner? They make a mean chicken Caesar salad," Blair said.

Jim was about to put in his vote for a burger place when he saw the gleam in Blair's eyes and the meaning of his words sunk in.

Just my luck to get a guide who thinks watching my weight is his job, too.

So the kid had a point. Maybe he could stand to lose a few pounds.

"All right," Jim said, starting up the truck.

Blair's eyebrows shot upward. "What? No arguments?"

Jim shrugged. "Would it help?"

"No, but that's never stopped you before." Blair leaned back and grinned smugly.

Jim merely grunted.

It was almost nine o'clock when Jim and Blair finally arrived home. The tuxes were hung in their rooms and Jim ensured that Blair removed the tags from his new trousers and shirt and placed them on hangers also.

Jim grabbed Rafe's golf bag which Blair had set by the door. "C'mon, Sandburg. Time for some golf lessons."

"No way, Jim. I'm not going to swing a club until I have to," Blair argued.

"You can't just show up on the course Saturday and play golf."

"Why not?"

Jim sighed in exasperation. "Because you'll embarrass yourself."

Blair smiled with tolerant amusement. "I could care less what people say about me. Are you afraid I'll embarrass you?"

"I'm only worried about you, Chief."

This time Blair laughed. "I don't think this tournament requires you to go into blessed protector mode. Don't worry, Jim. Things'll work out. They always do."

Knowing he wouldn't be able to change his partner's mind, Jim snagged two beers from the fridge and joined Blair on the sofa, handing his friend one of the bottles. He tried to hang onto his irritation with his guide, but he was too tired. Besides tomorrow night they'd have to be on their best behavior at the party. He watched the programs sail past as Blair surfed through the channels and wasn't surprised when his roommate settled on the Discovery network.

"Why do you think the commissioner gave us less than two days' warning about this golf charity?" Blair asked, keeping his gaze on the pyramids of Egypt which swept across the screen.

"So we wouldn't have time to buy plane tickets out of the country," Jim deadpanned. He yawned and covered his mouth with his palm.

Blair turned to look at Jim. "I thought you liked golfing."

"I do, but I hate being on display. If I'd have known winning that award meant being paraded in front of the press, I would've quit the force."

"And done what? Enter the world of management and be chained to a desk? You love being a cop."

Jim picked at the beer label, dampened by the condensation on the bottle. "Yeah, I know, but sometimes I wonder what my life would've been like if I had done something else. Who knows, maybe I'd be CEO of my own company."

"And you'd hate it. The need to protect is ingrained in your genes, man. Besides, your animal spirit would be awfully pissed at you."

Jim laughed. "I suppose you're right. I guess I can survive two days of being in the media's eye."

"I don't think you have to worry about that a whole lot, Jim. The cream of the social crop will be at this thing, along with local celebrities. I have a feeling you and I'll get lost in the shuffle."

Jim smiled. "You're right, Sandburg. One cop and his observer partner won't even warrant a candid snapshot." He gave the back of Blair's neck an affectionate squeeze. "Thanks, Chief."

"No problem." Blair turned his attention back to the television.

Jim took another sip of his beer, glanced at his partner and smiled fondly. Five minutes later, the Egyptian pyramids proved more effective than counting sheep for the exhausted sentinel.

"How did I ever let you talk me into going to this thing?" Blair asked, attempting to straighten his bow tie for the ninety-eighth time.

Jim stepped up to his friend, batted his hands away and fixed the tie. "There. Now quit fooling with it or you'll mess it up again."

Blair, his hair pulled back in a tight ponytail and wearing his glasses, looked like the college professor he aspired to be instead of the hyperactive graduate student who was usually at Jim's side.

"It's for a good cause, remember?" Jim reminded.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. It's just that I had to cancel a date with this gorgeous blonde with legs up to here." Blair drew an imaginary line across his neck.

"Wipe the drool from your face, Chief, and let's get out of here."

Blair grinned. "With an IQ of 158."

Jim rolled his eyes as he grabbed his keys from the wicker basket. "How the hell do you find these women, Sandburg?"

"They find me." Blair waggled his eyebrows.

Chuckling in spite of himself, Jim guided his friend out the door. "Maybe you'll get lucky tonight."

Blair snorted. "Two words, Ellison: table leg."

"Those are my two words, Junior."

The two men descended the stairs side by side and walked out to Jim's beloved '69 Ford truck. Blair eyed the old vehicle for a moment then smiled wickedly. "I'm gonna love to see their faces when we drive up to the country club in this."

"I'll have you know this truck--"

"Is a classic," Blair finished in unison with Jim.

Twenty-five minutes later, Jim handed his keys to one of the valets who barely hid his revulsion for the "classic."

"I don't want to see a scratch on her," Jim warned.

As the young valet got into the truck, Jim's sentinel hearing heard him mutter, "How will you be able to tell?"

"I'll be able to tell, kid," Jim called out.

The valet's mouth dropped open and Jim merely turned toward the country club's entrance.

"What was that all about?" Blair asked, hurrying to catch up to Jim.

"Just using my senses like you taught me, Chief."

Blair frowned, but didn't comment. Instead, he tugged at his tie nervously and Jim grabbed his wrist, forcing his hand down.

"You look fine, Chief. Relax."

"Easy for you to say. You grew up in this world."

Jim stopped just outside the door and tugged Blair to the side to let an elegantly dressed couple stroll past them into the building.

"Don't get all weird on me, Sandburg," Jim said. "The only difference between them and you is where they buy their clothes. Just be yourself." He smiled encouragingly. "That's more than good enough for me."

Blair's face reddened. "Thanks. Sorry for freaking like that."

Jim patted his cheek. "That's okay, Chief. I'm used to it." Blair sent his sentinel a feigned scowl and Jim laughed. "Come on, let's get this foolishness over with."

Feeling like Butch and Sundance -- or maybe that was Laurel and Hardy -- the two men entered the glittering lights of the country club. A stringed quartet unobtrusively set in a corner played a classical piece, probably one of Mozart's. For a fleeting moment, Jim felt like he was twelve years old again, seeing the club for the first time through a child's wide-eyed enchantment. Then the feeling was gone and he saw the glamour for what it truly was -- a shallow radiance to hide the emptiness beneath.

"Wow. I feel like Cinderella," Blair murmured.

Jim clenched his jaw to stifle his sudden restlessness. "The truck turns into a pumpkin at midnight."

"Sure, no problem, Jim," Blair said distractedly.

The sentinel followed his guide's gaze to a cluster of young women ranging from their late teens to early twenties. Jim would bet they were the latest crop of debutantes. He leaned close to Blair's ear. "Don't strain something, Chief."

Blair drew his attention back to his friend. "No problem, Jim. I'm sure their weekly allowance is more than I make in a month."

Jim gave his shoulder a squeeze and with unspoken agreement, the two men moved through the crowd toward the buffet table.

"Do you think they have doggie bags?" Blair whispered.

"We can always ask," Jim replied.

Grinning, Blair grabbed a plate and handed it to Jim, then took one for himself. As they picked their way through the exotic food and were trying to figure out what would be safe for Jim's hypersenses, a husky man with dark hair and mustache approached them.

"Jimmy Ellison?" the man said.

Jim straightened warily and studied the speaker a moment, then a wide smile lit his face and he stuck out his hand. "Bill Conley. What're you doing here?"

Conley shook Jim's hand vigorously then tugged Jim into a quick backslapping hug. "I was going to ask you the same thing."

Blair watched, fascinated, as Jim flushed. "PR work for the police department."

"That's right. I've seen your name in the paper a few times. Cop of the Year, too, as I recall," Bill said with a sly grin.

"No big deal."

Blair hid his smile at Jim's modesty. Though Jim more than deserved the award, he always downplayed its significance.

Jim turned to Blair. "Bill, I want you to meet my partner, Blair Sandburg. Blair, Bill Conley. We went to high school together."

Blair offered Conley his hand and after a moment's hesitation, the man gripped it. "Nice to meet you, Bill."

"Same here, Blair."

Though Conley kept darting curious glances between he and Jim, he didn't ask any questions.

"So what've you been up to these last twenty years?" Jim asked.

Bill shrugged. "A little of this, a little of that, and enough of it all to buy a membership here."

Jim whistled low. "Life's been treating you pretty good then."

"I can't complain."

Blair noticed two men and two women headed toward them. They all appeared to be around Jim's age.

"Look what I found," Conley called out.

For the next few minutes chaos reigned. Blair watched Jim's face light up as he slapped backs and shook hands with the new arrivals. Obviously they were more of Jim's former classmates.

Blair merely munched on the buffet food from his plate as he observed the four men revert to their former high school jock personas. It was odd to see Jim so relaxed around them since Blair had assumed the memories of his school days were much like the painful memories of his father. The two women stood off to the side, looking like they were exchanging the latest gossip.

Jim suddenly grabbed his arm and Blair found himself the center of attention. He hoped he didn't have any spinach from the dip caught between his teeth.

"This is my partner Blair Sandburg. Blair, this is Mark and Amanda Joseph, Bill's wife Louise, and Jason Harmony," Jim introduced.

Blair shook hands with each person in turn, noting Mark's blond hair and boyish face, his wife Amanda's red hair and pixie features, Louise's cheery round face, and Jason's movie star good looks.

"You don't look like a cop," Mark said, frowning.

"He's not," Jim replied. "He's a graduate student working on his doctorate."

"On what?"

"My dissertation is on the inner structure of closed societies, more specifically the police," Blair replied smoothly. He noticed the confused expressions Jim's high school buddies exchanged. "You know, the thin blue line."

Jim shot him a glare, reminiscent of the one he'd given him in Simon's office three years ago. Blair merely smiled innocently.

Jason grinned, showing perfect white teeth. "Didn't know you were a babysitter, Jimmy."

Blair opened his mouth to defend himself, but Jim broke in smoothly, "Just like I babysat the three of you in school."

The resulting laughter eased the tension.

Jim laid a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Actually, he's a good detective. I keep trying to talk him into signing up with the department."

Blair's muscles relaxed and his defensiveness slipped away. "Only because he wants a partner he can pawn off his paperwork to."

Jim chuckled, gave his shoulder a quick squeeze and released him. He turned back to his former classmates, grinning. "So what have you guys been up to?"

The men laughed and the reminiscing picked up again. Amanda and Louise drifted away, lost in some conversation which Blair suspected he and Jim were the subject of since they kept glancing at them.

Blair shifted his weight from one foot to the other. As much as he found Jim's past fascinating, he could only take so many jock stories. He looked around and spotted a man standing head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. He smiled. An escape.

"Hey, Jim, I'm going to talk to Orvelle Wallace. I'll catch you later."

Jim glanced at him then at the former professional basketball player they'd met while working on a case. "Okay, Chief. Say hi for me."

"Will do." He backhanded Jim's side lightly and said in a sentinel-soft voice, "Just keep the dials down with all the perfumes and noise."

Jim nodded in acknowledgment and Blair wound his way through the crowd toward one of his long-time heroes.

Blair glanced at the clock on the wall -- eleven thirty-nine. After talking to Orvelle, Blair had wandered around, rubbing elbows with Cascade's upper crust. He had homed in on a pretty brunette who looked familiar. The moment she opened her mouth, Blair remembered her as a student in his Introduction to Anthropology course two years ago. He'd given her a D and it didn't appear her IQ had risen since that time.

He sighed heavily and shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he leaned a shoulder against the wall about thirty feet from Jim and his buddies.

"You look as bored as I feel."

Blair glanced up to see a blond woman standing beside him. Though she was a few years older than him, he admired her slender figure encased in a form-fitting black dress that stopped three inches above her knees. He swallowed and managed a charming smile. "That would be very bored."

She smiled in understanding. "Very, very bored. My name's Cynthia."

He grasped her extended hand. "Blair Sandburg."

She leaned against the wall beside him. "I don't think I've ever seen you at the club before."

"That's because I've never been here before."

She arched a thin eyebrow. "Have you just moved to Cascade?"

Blair grinned. "I've lived here for twelve years. I'm a graduate student at Rainier."

Her gaze slid across Blair's body, making him feel like he'd just been pinned like a butterfly in an entomology collection. "What are you studying?"


"That sounds interesting. So how did you get an invitation to something as mucky-muck as this?"

Blair didn't know whether to be indignant or amused. He chose amusement. "My charming personality."

She threw back her head and laughed, exposing a pale slender throat with a diamond necklace that would've paid for a year of tuition.

I'm definitely out of my league here.

"Cynthia, come on over here," Jason Harmony called out, waving his hand. "I want you to meet an old friend of mine."

"Time to be put on display again," she said in an irritated aside to Blair.

He frowned slightly and followed a few steps behind her as she joined Jim and the small crowd surrounding him.

Jason wrapped a proprietary arm around the blonde. "Jim, this is my wife Cynthia."

Jim smiled and shook her hand.

"And this is his partner Blair Sandburg," Jason introduced.

Blair grinned. "We sort of met already."

"Yes, Blair and I were just discussing how boring these soirees are," Cynthia said with a blase shrug.

Jason's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, but he was smiling, exposing perfect white teeth. "Then I think it's time to go home. We don't want to arrive late for our tee time." He glanced at Jim. "Which I'm looking forward to now that I know you'll be in our foursome."

"Who's the fourth?" Cynthia asked.

"Blair," Jim replied.

The woman's face lit up. "It looks like this won't be as boring as I had originally thought."

Blair's face heated beneath her open perusal.

After a round of good-nights and promises to get together after golf tomorrow, the group broke up until Jim and Blair were the only ones left.

"That was," Blair paused deliberately, "Interesting."

Jim's face was thoughtful. "Yeah, it was." He shook himself and started toward the door. "Let's go home, Chief."

Blair fell in step beside Jim. "So this is how the other half lives."

Jim sighed and asked tolerantly, "What's on your mind, Sandburg?"

His partner knew him too well. "So what was it with Cynthia? You think she and Jason have a Hollywood type marriage? You know, each one doing their own thing but staying together for the deference achieved by social status?"

"You're putting way too much thought into this, Chief. I think Jason and Cynthia just have a little more money than the average married couple. Nothing more, nothing less."

Blair snorted. "First off, they have a lot more money than the average couple, and secondly, Cynthia was coming on to me with all the subtlety of a freight train before Jason called her over."

"It must be your magnetic personality." Jim wrapped an arm around his shoulders as they walked outside into the cool night air. "Don't worry about it. She was probably just bored. Tomorrow we'll be golfing."

Blair glanced at his watch. "Don't you mean today?"

Jim groaned. "Sorry, Sandburg. I had no idea it was so late."

The student shrugged. "No sweat, man. It was good to see you relax."

"It was fun reliving the old days," Jim admitted with a sheepish smile. "When I left Cascade, I kind of forgot about the good times." He sobered. "I guess the bad times overshadowed them back then."

"But there's been enough time in between now to forget the bad and remember the good," Blair concluded softly.

"Yeah, I guess." Jim handed the parking valet his ticket. "I was never very good at this stuff, Chief. You were the one who helped me to let go a lot of the bad shit. Before you, I don't think I could've handled a reunion like that."

Blair blinked, surprised by his partner's heartfelt admission. He patted the big man's arm. "You would've been fine, Jim," he said firmly. "You're always giving yourself less credit than you deserve."

Jim shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. But still, I don't think I've ever thanked you for all your help dealing with my dad and brother."

"You're welcome," Blair said simply, knowing the detective was coming close to embarrassment. "There's the truck."

A parking valet stepped out of the truck and Jim handed the kid a five dollar bill. The valet looked at it, then back at Jim. "Gee, thanks, mister." He didn't bother hiding his sarcasm.

As Jim glared at the kid, Blair covered his grin with his palm. Inside the truck, Blair chanced a look at Jim who caught his gaze.

"What?" Jim demanded. "When I worked here--"

"You were a parking valet here at the country club?"

"My old man wasn't too happy about me working around all his rich buddies, but I refused to quit. He was the one who told me I had to get a job to build character."

"As if your dad knows about character," Blair murmured.

Jim shot his guide a questioning glance and the student belatedly realized Jim's sentinel hearing would've picked up his muttered words.

"You have the most character of anyone I've ever met and your father still considers you a disappointment," Blair explained. "His loss."

A flicker of some indefinable emotion flickered through Jim's eyes. "Thanks, Chief," he said quietly. When he spoke again, the huskiness was gone from his voice. "When I was a parking valet, a five dollar tip would've been damned good."

Blair chuckled. "That was twenty years ago, man. Haven't you heard of inflation?"

"Yeah, it's used to fix a flat tire."

Blair merely shook his head in tolerant amusement. "Neanderthal."

"Neo-hippie punk."

The two men turned to look at each other and burst into laughter.

Amazing for Cascade, Saturday dawned clear and warm -- a perfect day for golfing. Jim tucked his powder blue polo shirt in his waistband, then buttoned and zipped his navy colored pants. It had been a long time since he had golfed and suspected he would be a little rusty. However, he had the advantage of heightened senses and toyed with the idea of using them during the tournament. But wouldn't that be cheating?

Trotting down the stairs, Jim spotted his partner setting bagels and cream cheese on the table. He also noted that Blair wore his tan trousers and dark blue polo shirt, and wasn't certain whether to be relieved or anxious that he had capitulated without more grumbling. "Morning, Chief."

Blair turned and smiled at his friend. "Morning, Jim. Get any sleep last night?"

Jim reached past Blair, snitched half of a cinnamon and raisin bagel, and took a bite out of it before answering. "Yeah, I actually slept pretty good. Clothes look good, Chief."

Blair wrinkled his nose. "I feel like a poster boy for the Rush Limbaugh Adoration Society."

Jim lightly tugged the younger man's ponytail. "Don't worry. No one could ever mistake you for that."

The student drew a hand along his brow and shook it, as if he'd been sweating. "Whew! That's a relief."

Jim moved around Blair to the coffeepot which had just finished brewing and poured them each a cup of coffee as the younger man brought two juice glasses to the table. It was an easy camaraderie that existed between the two men, each familiar with the other's morning habits and routines.

As was their custom, they split the morning paper with Jim taking the front part and Blair the sports section as they ate their breakfast.

"Woohoo! Mariners won their seventh game in a row. Looks like Brown owes me twenty bucks," Blair crowed.

Jim lowered his paper and sent his partner a mock glare. "Are you doing some illegal betting, Sandburg?"

"Who me, Officer?" Blair asked, all wide-eyed innocence.

Jim merely rolled his eyes. "Don't call me when you need bail money, Chief."

Blair chuckled and the two men returned to their respective papers. Fifteen minutes later, with the dishes in the sink and the table cleared, Jim and Blair headed out the door with their golf bags slung over their shoulders. They carefully set the clubs in the back of the truck.

"Do you have any questions, Sandburg?" Jim asked as he drove toward the country club.

"About what?" Blair asked.

"You know, golf rules or how to swing the club or scoring?"

"Thank you very much, but I think I know all there is to know about scoring." Blair's dark blue eyes danced with mischief.

Jim sent him a scowl. "That wasn't what I meant."

"Chill, Jim. I know the basics and I can even keep my own scorecard," Blair assured, then looked out the windshield. "Amazing what five minutes of TV golf can teach someone."

Jim didn't know whether to laugh or growl in frustration. "Listen, Chief, if you need any help, don't be embarrassed to ask. I mean, you know I won't make fun of you."

"I know that, and I promise I'll ask if I have any questions," Blair said as he gave Jim's bicep a light punch.

Again, the parking valet who took the truck didn't look impressed, but at least he didn't make any insulting comments about Sweetheart. As Jim and Blair hoisted the golf bag straps over their shoulders, a golf cart came streaking toward them and pulled to an abrupt stop. A young man probably still in high school, hopped out of the drivers seat. "Here, I'll take those for you."

Blair and Jim exchanged a shrug and handed the pimply-faced kid the two bags. He strapped them onto the back of the cart, talking a mile a minute.

"You two don't look familiar. You play here often?" Before Jim could reply, the boy kept going. "This is my second year caddying here and I think I would've seen you before. I'm on the high school golf team. Took third in state last year. I figure I'll be giving Tiger a run for his money in a few years. What group are you in?"

It took a moment for Jim to realize the kid was actually waiting for an answer. "The second foursome, with the Harmonys."

The boy grinned, revealing a crooked front tooth. "I know them. Caddied for them before. They brought some VIPs from New York or Los Angeles -- or maybe it was Chicago -- to golf here one time." He finished strapping the bags to the cart and came around to stand in front of Jim and Blair. "Good tippers, too." He stood, obviously waiting for the not-so-subtle hint to kick in.

Jim growled and dug into his trouser pocket to hand the boy a ten dollar bill.

"Thanks, mister. Go to the clubhouse and sign in. I'll make sure these are waiting for you at the tee box." The boy tucked his tip in his pocket, jumped back into the cart and, with a spray of gravel from the walkway, sped away.

Grinning, Blair stepped closer to Jim. "Talkative, wasn't he?"

"I hadn't noticed." He looked deliberately at Blair. "I must be used to students running off at the mouth."

Blair barked a short laugh and slapped Jim's back. "C'mon, let's go get teed off."

Jim groaned at his weak pun, but hurried to catch up to his partner who was headed for the imposing glass and brick building. Once inside, they easily spotted the line where the celebrity players were signing in. Jim spotted his old friends and joined them, aware of Blair hanging back slightly.

"We were wondering where you were," Jason said. "We thought we were going to have to put an APB out on you and your partner."

"You've been watching too many cop shows," Jim said with a grin.

The line moved quickly as they talked and soon they were headed outside. Mark, Bill, and their wives were the foursome following the Harmonys, Jim and Blair.

Jim looked around, noting how the grounds had changed little since he had last played here, almost twenty years ago. "Still keeping the fairways in good shape," Jim commented.

"They should be able to with the membership fees," Bill commented wryly as he took a practice swing with his driver.

"What does it cost now a year?" Jim asked curiously.

"Fifty thousand," Mark replied, as he held a club across his shoulders and twisted at the waist to loosen up.

"Wow! If I had that, I'd never have to worry about tuition," Blair said. "So what do you get for your money, besides the honor to play this course?"

Jim heard the hint of sarcasm in Blair's voice but doubted anyone else had. He was too accustomed to his guide's nuances after living together for so long. Besides, he agreed with the anthropologist -- fifty thousand could be used for a whole lot better things than the privilege of belonging to an exclusive country club.

"Social esteem," Jason replied with a smooth smile.

"Of course. Belonging to such an establishment raises your status among your peers as well as those poor slobs who have to work for a living." Blair smiled to take the intended sting from his words.

"Poor slobs like Jimmy here?" Jason asked deliberately without missing a beat.

Jim stiffened, but forced himself to relax. Jason had always been the one to jerk his chain, even when their social standings were reversed in high school. "That's right. I'm just a poor dumb cop who has to work for a living."

Blair sent Jim a startled look and his cheeks flushed slightly. The detective knew Blair was embarrassed -- the student hadn't meant it to become a put down for Jim. He gave Blair a slight smile and wink, hoping he'd realize Jim hadn't taken offense. The gradual easing of Blair's tense muscles told Jim he did.

Jim stepped over to the golf bags and found his, then pulled out his three wood. As he stretched and worked out the kinks in his back and shoulders, he watched as Jason's wife approached Blair. Opening his hearing, he listened in on their quiet conversation.

"Hi Blair. I'm glad you're here," Cynthia said with a blinding white smile.

"I wish I felt the same way," Blair said with a quirky grin.

"Don't you like to golf?"

Blair shrugged. "I'm only doing it because it's for a good cause. Personally, I'd rather be at the library. I have a paper due on Tuesday."

Damn it, Chief, why didn't you say something? Jim thought. The student too often put Jim's job and responsibilities ahead of his own. Blair would probably end up getting only a couple hours of sleep a night to get the paper done on time. Jim would pay him back, maybe take him out to eat after today's tournament, then make all the meals until the paper was done. He would even make some of those macrobiotic dishes Blair was always getting him to try. It was the least he could do.

Cynthia leaned on her five iron and studied Blair thoughtfully. "You're not like everyone else here."

Blair laughed. "What was your first clue?"

"You're not all caught up in making money." Cynthia's expression was far too serious for the light-hearted atmosphere surrounding them.

"My mom taught me that money is on the bottom of the list of important things in life. Personally, I find learning, meeting new people, and making friends is a whole lot more satisfying than watching my bank account grow." He glanced over at Jim and smiled slightly.

Jim glanced away, touched by the fondness in his friend's eyes. Guilt followed quickly. Blair had given up a hell of a lot for him, and he only hoped their friendship helped to make up for that loss.

Cynthia laughed, but it was a bitter sound. "Believe it or not, there was a time when I believed the same thing."

A voice came over the speaker system and Jim cringed. He'd had his hearing turned up too high.

"Easy, Jim. Dial it down." Blair's soothing voice came from close beside him.

He focused on his guide's voice and brought the dial down. He gave Blair a nod of gratitude.

"The first foursome is teeing off," Blair said quietly. "Are you all right?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. The announcer caught me off guard. I'll keep it dialed down the rest of the day."

Blair smiled affectionately. "Or at least until the next time you want to eavesdrop."

Jim's face warmed. "Sorry."

"Hey, it wasn't like I was putting the moves on her and wanted some privacy. C'mon, man." He turned away to watch the players in the first foursome hit down the fairway.

As the first group moved down the hill for their second strokes, Jim, Blair, Jason and Cynthia stepped into the tee box.

"What's par?" Blair asked.

"Four. Three hundred and eighty five yards with a dog leg left," Jim replied, then tilted his head slightly. "That means it curves to the left."

Blair grinned. "Got it." Then he asked in a low voice, "Are you going to use your senses?"

"That'd be cheating."

"Are you going to use your senses?" Blair repeated with a knowing smirk.

Damn, sometimes his friend knew him too well. "I was thinking about it," he admitted. "I haven't played golf since my senses came on-line."

"What the hell? Give it a shot. It's not like this is for money or anything. Besides, it'll give you a new exercise in using your senses."

Jim shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "It doesn't seem right."

"Just for the first hole," Blair encouraged.

Jim sent him a mock glare. "And here I thought you were Mr. Principled."

Blair snorted. "Like hitting a little white ball towards a small hole in the middle of a green circle is a true test of character?"

The detective stiffened perceptibly. "Golfers are expected to maintain integrity at all times. It's an honor issue."

Blair studied him for a moment, his expression thoughtful. "I never thought of it that way. No wonder you like this sport." His voice didn't hold any sarcasm. "Maybe you're right."

Startled, Jim sent Blair a questioning look at his change of mind. But before he could ask, the announcer came over the speakers again and this time Jim heard the words.

"Now in the tee box is Jason Harmony and his beautiful wife Cynthia. And the Cascade Police Department's Policeman of the Year Jim Ellison and his partner Blair Sandburg."

"You the man!" A voice that sounded suspiciously like Brown's rose above the polite applause.

Blair leaned close to Jim. "I've heard that voice before."

Jim turned and spotted two familiar figures among the crowd. "Yep. Looks like Brown and Rafe are here."

Blair searched the throng and saw the two detectives. He waved. "Hey, guys!"

"Don't encourage them," Jim growled.

The younger man chuckled and shook his head at his partner's grumpiness.

"Would you two like to go first?" Jason asked as he joined them.

"Why don't you and Cynthia take first and second, then Blair and I?" Jim suggested.

Jason shrugged. "Sure. Whatever."

Jim and Blair moved over to where Cynthia stood. Jason teed up his ball and took a practice swing with his driver. After making certain the fairway was clear, he took the proper stance and hit the ball with a clean resounding thwack.

Jim easily followed the ball with his sentinel vision and whistled low. "Good one, Jason," he approved. "About 275 yards down the middle of the fairway."

Blair added his congratulations while Cynthia stepped forward to the woman's box. She gracefully bent at the waist and stuck her tee in the ground, then balanced the ball on it. She took her own practice swing then hit. It went less than two hundred yards but it, too, was straight down the fairway.

"Do you want to go next, Chief?" Jim asked.

"Nah. I still have to pick out a club to use," Blair said.

"The driver -- the number one wood. You know, the big round club with the longest shaft," Jim said nervously.

"Uh, right. Thanks," Blair said as he moved toward Rafe's golf bag. He pulled out a club and held it up. "This one?"

Jim scowled and quickly joined him, leaning close. "That's your putter." He tugged out the driver and handed it to his partner. "Are you sure you can do this?"

Blair shrugged and accepted the club from Jim. "Can't be much different than swinging a baseball bat."

Jim's mouth dropped open. "Sandburg--"

"You're up, Jimmy," Jason called out.

With one last look at his guide who was smiling calmly, Jim teed up. As he took a practice swing, he hoped Blair wouldn't be too embarrassed if the kid whiffed the ball. He really wished Blair had swallowed his pride and allowed Jim to give him a few pointers.

Jim stepped up beside his ball and wrapped his hands around the club grips, interlocking his fingers for more control. Planting his feet about eighteen inches apart, he bent his knees slightly and took a moment to open his senses. The head wind was light, barely ruffling the hair on his forearms. He sighted the flag which was partially obscured by trees, but Jim's eyesight allowed him to focus in on it and gauge the distance by a crow's straight flight. He was peripherally aware of Blair watching him intently and suddenly realized the anthropologist would know what he was doing. Abruptly, he turned his sense dials down and drew the club back, twisting at the waist. He swung smoothly, allowing his entire body to fall into the motion and the club head struck the ball with a satisfying chink.

He followed the arced path of the white ball against the blue sky and watched it drop to the fairway about twenty-five yards behind Jason's. Not bad, but not great. At least he hadn't embarrassed himself.

He stepped back and his guide stepped forward. Jim's stomach churned and he tensed as he watched Blair plant the tee in the ground, then try to balance the ball on it. It kept falling off and only by sheer force of will did Jim keep himself from helping his partner. Finally, the ball was settled on the tee and Blair took an awkward practice swing, nearly hitting the tee accidentally. Jim flinched and debated closing his eyes until Blair had driven the ball, but he owed it to the younger man to support him. God knew Blair had been there for him. Of course, a golf swing was a little different than helping with preternatural senses....

Blair settled himself in position and drew the club back... and swung with the practiced ease of a professional. Jim's mouth gaped as he tracked the ball's flight as it arced through the air to land in the fairway some twenty yards in front of Jason's.

Blair picked up his tee nonchalantly and strolled back to his bag.

"How the hell--" Jim began.

"Naomi lived with a golf pro for a little while when I was fourteen," he replied with a shrug. "He taught me, said I had a natural gift, but I couldn't see myself chasing after a little white ball for the rest of my life." Blair smiled. "But, back then, I didn't understand the underlying personal code of conduct which goes along with the sport."

Before Jim could recover from his surprise, Jason joined them. "Didn't think you had it in you, Sandburg. Nice shot."

"Thanks," Blair replied.

Jason and Cynthia climbed into their golf cart and headed out. With Jim in the driver's seat -- some things were a given -- he and Blair followed them.

"I don't know why I worry about you so much, Sandburg," Jim commented with fond exasperation. "You always land on your feet."

Blair laughed. "Hey, the cat's your spirit animal, not mine."

The foursome continued playing the first hole with Jason and Blair getting on the green with their second shots. Jim's fairway stroke put his ball in the bunker and he used his sand wedge to pitch it onto the green, along with some flying sand. Cynthia used her nine iron to put the ball onto the green with her third stroke, then she putted first, being the farthest one from the hole. As she lined up her shot, Jim watched Blair squat down, hold his club up to eye the angle of his ball to the hole. There was a bit of a slope so there would be a slight break.

Cynthia put hers away, taking a bogey -- one over par. Jason was next and he got it to within a foot of the hole. His next putt dropped it in the hole for a par. Blair straightened and Jim watched him set his stance, take a couple practice putting swings. Then he stepped up and Jim held his breath as the ball traveled twelve feet to plunk into the hole.

Jim grinned and high-fived his partner. "Nice birdie, Chief."

Blair's cheeks flushed under his praise. "Thanks."

Jim glanced at Jason and found his old high school chum scowling at Blair's back. Jim's protective instincts rose and he stepped between his guide and Jason. When he realized what he'd done, he smiled wryly to himself. This was only golf, not a criminal confrontation. Obviously, Jason's competitiveness in high school hadn't waned over the past twenty years.

Jim lined up his putt and the ball rimmed the hole. He groaned as he ended up with a bogey. But he could relax knowing that Blair knew how to play golf -- and that he was damned good at it.

As they progressed along the course, Jim found himself beside Jason more often than not and the two men talked about their high school days, recalling teachers and students. It had been a long time since Jim had reminisced about those years without the bitterness associated with his father.

"Remember the time we threw the smoke bombs in the girls locker room?" Jason asked as he waited for Jim to hit his second shot on the eighteenth hole's fairway.

Jim paused, recalling the girls running out in various states of undress and he chuckled at the adolescent memory. "We were damned lucky we didn't get caught."

"We should've, but you warned us about the principal coming." Jason tilted his head slightly. "I never did figure out how you knew."

Jim's palms grew moist as a piece of the sentinel puzzle fell in place. He had obviously had his hypersenses for years and used them without realizing it. How many times had he heard or seen or smelled something and didn't realize nobody else had sensed the same thing?

"Just lucky, I guess," Jim said with a forced smile. He sliced the ball, sending it off into the rough, and grimaced. "Damn."

"Concentration, Jimmy. Concentration. That's what the game is all about." Jason slapped his back. "Seems to me you had the same problem in basketball. We might've won the state championship if you hadn't lost it."

Jim recalled that game and another puzzle piece fell into place. He must have zoned on the court in the final seconds of the second round of the state championship basketball tournament. Of course, he hadn't known it was a zone-out then. At seventeen years old, it was called fucking up.

He climbed into Jason's cart since Blair had taken theirs into the rough on the right side of the fairway to help Cynthia find her ball. His gaze zeroed in on his partner who was smiling easily as he talked with Jason's wife. What would have happened to the cop if he hadn't run into Sandburg three years ago? He would've been messing up a lot, and that was assuming he could handle his senses alone -- a big assumption.

Jason steered the cart toward them to help search for the lost ball. As they approached Blair and Cynthia who stood side by side looking around, Jim opened his senses to see if he could spot the ball in the taller grass. On the edge of his awareness, he heard a familiar click and, without thought, Jim hollered, "Get down!"

Blair instinctively grabbed Cynthia around the waist and pulled her to the ground just as a rifle shot cracked the stillness. Jim heard the slug bury itself in a tree trunk ten yards away, and spared a moment of gratitude and relief it hadn't hit Blair.

Jason reacted immediately as his foot came off the cart's pedal and he ducked down beside Jim.

"Get down," Jim hissed to Jason as the sentinel rolled out of the golf cart onto the grass. His fingers scrabbled at his back for his gun, but he had left it at home, not expecting to need it at something as innocuous as a golf charity. He should've known better.

Jason scrambled out behind him, his shoulder pressed against Jim's as they remained in the relative safety behind the golf cart. As Jim listened intently, he also scanned the area where Blair and Cynthia had been. He spotted them flat on the ground behind a bush, which gave only sparse protection from the sniper. His heart missed a beat as he heard the glide of a bolt action rifle sliding home another round.

"Keep down," he shouted at Sandburg.

Another shot exploded and a split second later a bullet dinged off the golf cart between Jim and Jason, who covered his head with his arms and made himself as small as possible. Jim listened intently, filtering out the extraneous sounds: the rapid heartbeats close to him, the exclamations from the gallery thirty yards away, a car horn from the nearby road, and his own raspy breathing. He stood cautiously, expanding his search to include his sentinel field of vision and was peripherally aware of Blair scrambling up behind him and placing a light hand on his back.

"Anything?" Blair asked with his uncanny knack of knowing when Jim was done scoping an area.

Jim shook his head in disgust. "The sniper's gone." He turned to his partner and noted the grass stains on his knees and the sweat on his forehead. Even though his senses told him Blair wasn't injured, he couldn't help asking, "Are you all right?"

Blair sighed and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine."

With the imperative question answered and his concern for his friend alleviated, Jim gave his attention to the Harmonys. Jason had moved away from the cart and was helping Cynthia to her feet. She was trembling and her husband was trying to calm her. Although both were shaken up, neither appeared to be wounded.

Three of the security personnel the club had hired for the event came running up. "What happened?" the head of the contingent called out as the group approached.

"One shooter. Rifle. From the north," Jim replied.

The rent-a-cop leader looked at Jim. "Who are you?"

Jim dug out his badge. "Detective Ellison, Cascade P.D. Have your people try to keep everyone here until the police can talk to them."

The man looked like he wanted to argue, but then nodded curtly and pulled a cell phone from his jacket pocket. Jim absently listened to him call his people and pass on his orders, though the detective could tell he wasn't happy. This whole fiasco was going to become a political and media circus.

Brown and Rafe came running across the fairway to join them. They flashed their badges at two of the security men, who let them by. Their worried glances flew from Jim to Blair. "You two okay?" Rafe asked.

"Yeah," Blair reassured with a nod.

Their relief was palpable.

"We've got units coming in," H announced. "They'll block the exits to the course."

Jim nodded, but he knew the would-be assassin was long gone. "I doubt they'll find anyone, but we might get lucky."

"Captain Banks is on the way, too," Brown added. He stepped closer. "This is going to be a nightmare with all of Cascade's money and power here, including the mayor," he said in a low voice, echoing Jim's thoughts.

"No kidding." Jim rubbed his brow, feeling a headache settle between his eyes.

More security personnel converged on the eighteenth hole to help control the crowd who gathered to see the excitement.

"I don't think anyone saw anything, but we'd better make sure. Start with the spectators," Jim said.

"Gotcha, " H said, and he and Rafe jogged off.

Jim and Blair joined Jason and Cynthia who appeared to have calmed down.

"Are you two all right?" Jim asked.

Jason nodded. "Thanks to you. How did you know?"

"I caught a flash of light out of the corner of my eye." Jim shrugged. "My old army habits kicked in."

"Thank God they did," Cynthia said, her voice husky.

"Why don't you two go sit in the cart?" Jim suggested.

Their arms around one another, the couple retreated to the cart and were immediately surrounded by officials and security personnel.

"How did you know?" Blair repeated in a low voice, asking for the truth this time.

"I heard the round being chambered," Jim replied.

"What do you think?" Blair asked, his eyes uncharacteristically somber. "Was this a random shooting or was there a specific target?"

"My gut's telling me this wasn't random."

"Which means either one of the Harmonys or one of us was the target."

"I'm afraid so, Chief." Jim took a deep breath and smelled the lingering scents of fear from the Harmonys and Blair. "Have you ticked off any students or professors lately?"

Blair snorted. "Probably, but I doubt any of them would go after me with a rifle."

"The sniper could've been hired."

Blair's eyes widened. "A contract?"

"It's possible. As soon as we can get out of here, I'm going to the station to do some checking," Jim replied. He kept his voice steady, but couldn't hide the anger threading through his words. "And I want you to make a list, too."

Blair opened his mouth to protest, but was stopped by a lift of Jim's hand. "Does Brad Ventriss ring a bell?" the detective asked curtly.

Blair's eyebrows drew downward. "He's in prison."

"He might have contacts on the outside, and with his daddy's money, he could've hired someone."

Reluctant resignation stole across the younger man's face. "All right. You win."

"No, Chief. We lose if we don't find out who the sniper was after," Jim said firmly.

Blair searched his partner's face for a moment, then nodded. "You're right. Next time he may not miss."

"You sure you're okay?"

Blair rolled his eyes in affectionate exasperation. "Other than a few grass stains on my 'big butt' pants, I'm fine."

Jim smiled at the return of his guide's irreverent humor. He knew he was being overprotective, but ever since Alex Barnes had drowned Blair four months ago, Jim couldn't seem to stifle the need to watch over him. Those days before Blair's drowning, the two men's relationship had unraveled until their friendship had been almost irrevocably lost. It wasn't until they'd returned from Peru did they begin building a stronger bridge, one which Jim hoped could span whatever lay ahead of them.

Jim looked across the fairway to see a familiar figure striding toward them. "Simon's here and he doesn't look happy."

"How can you tell? He always looks like that," Blair teased.

"His cigar is lit."

The observer ducked his head and grimaced. "Shit. He isn't happy."

Jim sighed. "C'mon, Chief. Let's give Simon a rundown and give our statements."

Reluctantly, Blair followed his partner into the chaos.

After telling Simon what happened and giving their official statements to a patrol officer, Jim, Blair, Jason and Cynthia Harmony were escorted to the clubhouse under the protection of two security personnel. Jim had drawn Blair aside for a minute, explaining how he wanted to talk to Jason and Cynthia about who might have a grudge against them. The clubhouse seemed a relatively safe place to hold the conversation.

As they came off the eighteenth green, news cameras and reporters greeted them, shouting questions about the shooting. Fortunately, more security arrived like the cavalry and made a barrier so Jim, Blair, and the Harmonys could escape into the clubhouse without anymore interference.

Once inside the cool spacious building, Blair slouched into a sofa and laid his head back. "I'll never say golf is boring again."

Jim remained standing, but closed his eyes and rubbed his brow. "I'd rather have boring."

Blair frowned, recognizing his sentinel's distress. "Headache?"


Both men knew what caused it but with the Harmonys close by, they couldn't very well say anything.

"I could use a drink," Jason said. "Cynthia? Jimmy? Blair?"

"Manhattan," Cynthia replied, sinking onto the couch beside Blair.

"Iced tea," Jim said.

"Same here," Blair called out.

"I'll be back in a minute," Jason said. "I'm going to call the office, too."

Cynthia glanced at him sharply, but lowered her gaze when he turned away.

"Does he call the office a lot?" Blair asked quietly, picking up on her disapproval.

"Only about ten times a day, seven days a week," she replied.

"He sounds like a workaholic."

"Sometimes I think he loves his work more than me."

Blair could clearly hear her bitterness in the same sad story he'd heard more than once from other people. Men and women pursuing the American Dream -- power and money -- to the exclusion of family and loved ones. "He seemed to be pretty worried about you after the shooting."

She turned on the couch to face Blair, drawing up one leg and tucking it beneath her. "I'm sure he loves me. It's just that I get so frustrated. He works such long hours and then when he's home, he spends half his time on the phone." She examined her acrylic nails painted with tasteful mauve polish. "He was so different when we were first married."

Blair smiled. "As much controversy as there is about innate and learned gender behaviors, I've noticed that men do have a natural tendency to want to provide for their mates; the better provider he is, the better husband he is. It probably relates to Darwin's survival of the fittest concept."

"But you're not like that," Cynthia said.

Blair glanced at Jim, who was watching him with a faint trace of a smile on his lips. "I might feel that same intrinsic drive if I was married." He shrugged. "It's hard to say."

Cynthia studied him, then clasped his hand. "You wouldn't," she said without doubt. "You don't care about material things."

Discomfited, Blair discreetly withdrew his hand from hers. "Don't be so certain about that. I'd be lost without my books and computer."

Jim coughed to gain their attention. "Do you know of anyone who might have a grudge against you or Jason?" he asked the woman.

Cynthia shifted to face Jim and crossed her long parlor-tanned legs restlessly. "None against me, but take your pick with Jason. I'm sure he's made enemies with the business."

"Like who?"

"Check the latest acquisitions. You'll probably find at least a half dozen."

"Why would they be mad enough to kill him? It's only business, right?" Blair asked.

"When a person is talking about millions of dollars, it's more than business. It's an obsession," Cynthia replied.

"Is Jason obsessed?" Jim asked.

"Jason lives to make money. I know he never wants to be poor again, but there are worse things than being poor." Her eyes became distant and troubled.

Jim and Blair exchanged glances, wondering if there was more to this than a woman feeling ignored by her husband. Being a workaholic wasn't a federal offense, but Cynthia acted like it was akin to first degree murder.

A commotion at the door caused them to look up. The Josephs and Conleys joined them, with the two women going to stand directly in front of Cynthia.

"Are you all right?" Louise asked her.

Cynthia clasped her hands. "I'm fine, thanks to Jim and Blair."

"Did you see anybody?" Mark asked, as he and Bill stood slightly apart from the group.

"No," Jim replied. "It sounded like a high-powered rifle so I'm sure our sniper was far enough away that nobody saw him."

Jason returned, bearing four drinks. He handed Jim and Blair their iced teas, then gave Cynthia her Manhattan. He moved to stand behind the sofa where his wife sat and rested a hand on her shoulder. "I want the bastard caught," Harmony stated.

"The police are working on it," Jim reassured.

"I want you on it," Jason said flatly. "You and Sandburg. You two are supposed to be the best."

"I'll have to check with my captain, but the case was probably assigned to someone already," Jim said.

"I'll feel better, knowing you're working on finding whoever shot at us," Cynthia said to Blair, latching onto his hand once more.

Blair surreptitiously glanced at Jason, but Harmony didn't seem upset that his wife was clinging to another man. But, then, after what happened, it shouldn't be surprising she was looking for comfort. He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "I'm only an observer, Cynthia, but I'll do what I can."

For a moment, Blair thought she was going to kiss him, but she merely smiled. "Thank you."

Amanda sat down on Cynthia's other side and Louise across from them in a wingback chair. The two women then demanded that Cynthia tell them everything that happened on the course.

Blair eased off the couch, and moved to stand by Jim. The sentinel had finished his tea, but the etched pain lines in his brow and at the edges of his mouth told Blair his headache remained.

"Who might want you killed?" Jim asked Harmony without preamble.

Jason, flanked by Bill and Mark, shook his head. "Nobody. We acquire and sell stock in troubled computer companies."

"What about hostile takeovers? Those companies that didn't like you buying your way into control?"

Jason smiled a smile reminiscent of a barracuda. "You sound like your old man, Jimmy."

Blair felt more than saw Jim tense and rubbed his back lightly. "Easy," he whispered sentinel-soft. The detective's muscles slowly relaxed beneath his guide's grounding touch.

Jason shrugged. "Sure, we've probably made some enemies, but their style is assassination in the board room, not with a rifle." He narrowed his eyes. "What about you, Jimmy? You probably have more enemies than anyone else in this room."

"More than likely," Jim agreed. "That's why Sandburg and I are headed over to the station." He set his empty tea glass on a side table. "C'mon, Chief. Let's go."

"Aren't you staying for the luncheon and awards?" Cynthia asked, emerging from the gossip session.

"Sorry, but I want to get started on this right away," Jim replied.

"But Blair could stay. He did save my life." Cynthia's lower lip turned outward in a pout.

Blair's face warmed with embarrassment. "Actually, it was Jim who saved our lives. And I really have to go, too."

The two men said their good-byes, then Jim guided Blair out of the pretentious clubhouse with a light hand between his shoulderblades. They picked up their golf bags on the rack by the door and slung the straps over their shoulders. All the caddies seemed to have disappeared.

Jim handed a valet his card and waited until the boy had jogged out of earshot. "It looks like you were right about Cynthia. She practically oozed pheromones." The sentinel wrinkled his nose.

"She wasn't very subtle about it either," Blair agreed. "I wonder if Jason turns a blind eye to it or just doesn't care."

Jim shook his head. "He didn't seem upset, but he had to have seen what she was doing. Maybe we should be looking for a spurned lover of hers."

"Maybe." Blair felt sorry for the woman, married to a man who was married to his job. It didn't excuse her infidelity -- if indeed, she had affairs -- but it explained where she was coming from. As much as he hated to admit it, he found himself wanting to help her. To be her friend.

"Don't even think about it, Chief," Jim said with uncanny perceptiveness. "If for no reason other than she's part of an ongoing investigation."

"I don't mess around with married women, man," Blair reassured. "Bad news there."

Jim canted an eyebrow. "Are you speaking from experience, Romeo?"

"I didn't know she was married at the time, all right?" Blair admitted reluctantly.

"Only you, Sandburg."

"Yeah, well, I was only twenty. She was twenty-nine." Blair could see the woman in his mind's eye and he scowled at the image. "She had me eating out of her hand for about three months before her husband caught us. Gods, that was humiliating."

Jim grasped Blair's shoulder and gave it a sympathetic squeeze. "Gotta watch out for those older women, Chief."

Blair snorted. "At least I know Cynthia is married and I won't make the same mistake twice."

The valet brought the truck around, then parked and hopped out. "Nice truck. A real classic," the young man said, running a gentle hand along Sweetheart's hood.

Jim grinned and handed the kid a twenty. "Yeah, that's what I always say, too." He sent his guide a smug look.

Blair choked back his laughter as they set their clubs in the back of the truck and climbed into the cab. He had a feeling the valet knew how to "work" for his tips.

"What do you say we stop at Wonderburger and take lunch to the station?" Jim suggested.

Blair considered vetoing the idea, but his stomach took its cue to growl. "Sure, why not? We were almost shot this morning. What's a little cholesterol compared to that?"

Instead of the expected grin, Jim grimaced and stared out the windshield. "Who would've thought a damned golf charity would be dangerous? I expect bullets when we're working the streets, but not on a high class golf course."

"It wasn't your fault, Jim," Blair said patiently, knowing exactly what his sentinel was thinking. Jim would take the blame for the rain if it caused injury to his guide. "Even if this guy was after you, you didn't hold the rifle. You didn't squeeze the trigger. Some asshole out there did. Not you!"

Jim's jaw muscle worked overtime, flexing and unflexing. "But--"

Blair cut him off. "No buts, Jim. It. Was. Not. Your. Fault. Comprende?"

Jim took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "My head gets it, Chief. But the rest of me--"

Blair rested a hand on Jim's forearm. "I know. Me, too."

Jim flashed him a grateful smile, then concentrated on driving. Blair kept his palm on the detective's arm until they went through Wonderburger's drive thru and Jim truly relaxed for the first time since the shooting.

Twenty minutes later, with the burgers and fries scattered across Jim's desk, the two men went to work. Jim ran a cross-check of felons he'd put behind bars with those released in the past six months. Blair made up his own personal enemy list as he divided his time between that and working on Conner's computer to research the Harmonys. Oblivious to the few detectives working that day, they pored over the information they gleaned. Blair continued to surf the Internet, finding out more about the Harmony's social life and their charitable donations.

"Hey, Jim, did you know your buddys' company donated five hundred thousand dollars to Congressman Haney's re-election?"

Jim joined Blair and leaned over his shoulder to read the short article and study the picture of Jason and Haney shaking hands at an election rally. On either side of the two men were Bill and Mark smiling widely. The detective whistled low. "That's a pretty hefty contribution."

"For a politician who believes in capital punishment and is in the NRA's back pocket," Blair said, not bothering to hide his dislike of the congressman.

"Haney's done some good things for law enforcement," Jim argued. "He's been an opponent of plea bargaining and supporter of stricter terms for felons."

Three years ago, Blair would've argued with Jim, but he'd seen too many criminals literally get away with murder. He could understand Jim's feelings and, surprisingly, he -- the liberal hippie -- agreed with some of Haney's stricter stands. "I suppose, but I still don't like some of his other, more radical, views."

Jim chuckled and cuffed the back of Blair's head lightly. "Radical? Haney?"

Blair laughed, realizing how inappropriate the word was for an ultra-conservative politician.

A harried Simon Banks strode into the office and paused by Jim's desk. He popped a French fry in his mouth, then grimaced. "These are cold."

Jim grinned and wandered back to his desk, followed by Blair. "They've been setting there for over two hours, sir."

"Now he tells me," Simon growled. He gestured toward the papers scattered across Jim's desk. "Find anything?"

Jim leaned back in his chair and stretched. His vertebrae snapped audibly. "Lots, but I'm not sure how much help any of it will be. We've got over twenty-five names of perps I arrested, were convicted and have been released in the past six months. Sandburg's made up a list, too, of possibles who may have a grudge against him."

Blair removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "How'd it go with the press?"

"Do the words 'feeding frenzy' mean anything?" Simon asked in a dry tone. "They're treating this like the crime of the century even though no one was hurt. It even made CNN."

Jim scrubbed his face in his palms. "Shit. Could this get any worse?"

"Never ever ask that question, Ellison."

Blair darted his gaze between a worried Jim and a pissed-off Simon. "Oh-oh. What is it?"

"The mayor told the chief he wants you two to handle it. He wants you to put it ahead of everything else on your desk." Anger vibrated through Simon's resonant timbre.

"Son of a-- We've got a double homicide, five related robberies, a possible arsonist, and four drug-related deaths, and you're telling me this case has precedence?" Jim demanded.

"I'm not telling you this, the goddamned mayor is." Simon's voice boomed across the bullpen, bringing everyone's attention to the three men. The captain glared at them. "Don't you have work to do?"

The other detectives quickly turned their attention back to their computers and files.

"Jeez, Simon, we know it's not you," Blair said quietly, playing the peacemaker, a role the anthropologist often found himself in.

"I suppose the money men are pressuring the mayor," Jim said, his way of apologizing to his friend and boss.

Simon's shoulders slumped, and he seemed to deflate before their eyes. "Jason Harmony was one of the most vocal."

Blair's gaze flew to Jim. "So he really did it."

"Seems that way," Jim said dryly, then said to Simon, "Jason said he wanted the force's 'best team' on it. I told him it was probably assigned already. He didn't like that."

"So he badgered the mayor to get you two on the case," Simon finished. He shook his head. "It shouldn't surprise me. Harmony has always been a staunch supporter of the police department."

"We figured that by his social calendar," Jim said. "Sandburg's been doing a little research on the Internet."

Simon perked up noticeably. "Anything interesting?"

"Nothing that would give us a motive," Blair replied, reading between the lines.

"Well, keep me on top of this. I'm sure the chief will be riding me for results."

"There's one other thing you should know, Captain," Jim said. "Jason Harmony and I went to high school together."

Simon frowned. "That shouldn't be a problem, should it?"

"No, sir, but I thought I should tell you in case someone brings it up."

"Forewarned is forearmed." Simon sighed. "I'm going to work a couple hours then go eat. You two want to join me?"

Jim glanced at Blair. "Chief?"

The younger man smiled, pleased that Jim would ask him before replying. "Sounds good. How about that new Sri Lankan place on Sixth?"

"What the hell. Can't give me any more heartburn than this case," Simon said.

As the captain went to his office, Jim and Blair exchanged grins. Then their attention returned to the problem at hand, and their amusement faded.

Jim rubbed his belly as he entered the loft and headed straight to the fridge to get a bottle of water. He twisted open the top and tipped it up to his lips, drinking half the contents before he lowered it. "My mouth is still burning from that stuff."

"It was pretty hot, wasn't it?" Blair commented cheerfully.

Jim carried his bottle into the living room, sank onto the sofa and tipped his head back. "I had the mild."

Blair frowned, suddenly realizing his friend's discomfort could be sentinel-sense related. "How's your headache?"

"There, but not as bad as it was earlier," Jim replied, then downed the remaining water. He set the bottle on the coffee table and slumped back on the couch.

"You should've said something. If you have a headache, it just follows that you'll have more trouble with your controls."

Blair went into the bathroom and returned a few moments later with a cool damp cloth. He placed it on Jim's forehead, then settled cross-legged on the couch, his knees touching the sentinel.

"Thanks," Jim murmured, keeping his eyes closed as he held the cloth in place.

"I want you to relax now, Jim. You know the drill. Deep breaths, in and out." Blair talked him through the familiar actions as he practiced the meditation routine with his friend. When his and Jim's breathing matched, he said softly, "Your taste is set at a five. Bring it down to a two, Jim." He watched his partner's brow crease slightly, then the easing of the etched lines. "That's right. Feel better now?"

Jim opened his eyes and smiled one of his rare smiles that lit his blue eyes from within. "Yeah, a lot better." He ruffled Blair's curls. "Thanks, Chief."

Blair couldn't help but return the smile, but rolled his eyes heavenward at the same time. "You have to tell me these things, Jim. I can't read your mind, you know. There's no reason for you to hurt if you don't have to."

Jim studied him for a long moment, his eyes warm. He propped his forearm on Blair's knee. "I know. It's just that old habits are hard to break. That and the fact that I'm a little stubborn."

"A little stubborn? So says the man who never gave up on his partner when he was kidnapped by a psycho; suckered in by the girl next door who turned out to be a drug dealer; or when said partner was strung out on Golden." Blair smiled fondly. "And I wouldn't want you any other way."

Jim swallowed hard and Blair saw his emotions in his unusually open face. "Ditto, partner," Jim said, his voice husky. Then the self-conscious detective reached for the remote and turned on the TV.

Blair shifted around, but remained close enough to his friend that Jim could keep using his leg as an armrest. A golf tournament came up on ESPN and Blair groaned. "Anything but golf."

Jim grimaced. "For once, I agree."

He flicked through a few more channels and stopped when Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd popped up on the screen. It was a welcome diversion from the day's stressful events.

Soon after, the loft was filled with the soft snores of Blair and Jim, who still clutched the remote in one hand while his other curled around his guide's knee.

As Jim filled his coffee cup from the first pot of the day, he heard Blair stumble out of his room and into the bathroom. Three minutes later -- give or take a few seconds -- the shower came on. Jim smiled to himself. He knew Sandburg's routine as well as he did his own.

Jim punched the toaster handle down and stirred the scrambled eggs in the frying pan. He pulled the Sports section out of the Sunday paper and stood leaning against a counter as he sipped coffee and read about the Mariners and the opening of the Seahawks summer camp. Another month and pre-season football would return, and three months after that, the Jags would be back. Caroline never understood why he loved fall and winter so much.

Sandburg, dressed in only two layers of shirts in deference to summer, white socks, and a pair of faded blue jeans, wandered in and Jim handed him a cup already filled with coffee. Blair took one swallow and Jim could almost see his brain come on-line.

"Morning, Jim."

The sentinel squelched his chuckle. "Morning. You're up early for a Sunday."

Blair shrugged. "I figure we have to check out those suspects on our lists."

Jim shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "You don't have to go with me, Chief. You've got that paper due on Tuesday."

The smile faded from the anthropologist's face and a stubbornness equal to his sentinel's replaced it. "I'm your partner, Jim. That means I watch your back when you're on the street. I'm also your guide, which means I ensure you don't zone or become overwhelmed by too much stimuli." He paused and spoke in a softer voice. "And most importantly, I'm your friend, which means I care what happens to you out there."

Jim's throat felt tight and he turned away from Blair to turn off the stove and stir the eggs. Although he'd been against having a partner for most of his years at Cascade P.D. because of the trust issue, he couldn't imagine not having Blair by his side. Oh, he still went on routine calls without Blair, but usually Simon or Megan were there to be his substitute guide. However, to be brutally honest with himself, he wanted Blair with him today when he visited the men he'd arrested and put away. However, it didn't seem fair since Blair had so much schoolwork to do. But how did Jim counter his frank and heartfelt reasoning?

He couldn't.

Jim carried the frying pan to the table and divided the eggs between his and Blair's plates. Returning with a plate piled high with toast, Jim sat down across from his roommate. "All right, Chief. We'll try to get back early enough that you have some of the afternoon to work on the paper."

Blair grinned, which lit up his entire face -- a face Jim had come to cherish in the three years they'd been together. "Sounds good. That'll give you some down time, too."

Blair never failed to worry about his sentinel's well-being, yet Jim too often in the past had put his own needs in front of his guide's. The memory of nearly losing Blair in the fountain that early morning ambushed Jim and sent a shaft of pain straight through his chest. He quickly glanced down and concentrated on spreading peanut butter on his toast.

Blair was here. Blair was alive. And Jim was damn well going to keep him that way.

Breakfast was interspersed with snippets of conversation about a news story or a cartoon in the comics section. When Jim read his horoscope aloud, Blair scooted his chair close to him and slipped under his friend's arm. He leaned back against Jim's shoulder and read his own horoscope when Jim was finished. Between both of them, they managed to remember Simon's, Joel's, and Conner's birthdays.

As Blair read Simon's horoscope aloud, the younger man's hair tickled Jim's jaw and chin, and the detective smiled fondly. No other person but Blair had ever been allowed to invade his personal space so thoroughly; with Blair it felt natural, like ancient sentinels and guides who had only one another to rely on when scouting and protecting the tribe.

Trust and companionship -- cornerstones of a sentinel and guide's relationship for ages. Cornerstones Jim and Blair were still forming and strengthening.

Still tucked along Jim's side, Blair pointed to the weather forecast in the paper Jim was holding up. "Gee, rain. Who would've thought?" Blair said with a grin. "When isn't it rain?"

Jim laughed with him, and the two men drank their coffee as they read the last section of the paper together. When their cups were empty, Jim raised his arm so Blair could duck out from under it and the two men rose to clear the table. They placed their dirty dishes in the sink to be washed later -- a major concession on Jim's part, but he wanted to get home early to give Blair time to work on his paper.

The next five hours were spent getting in and out of the truck as they talked with a fraction of the suspects gleaned from the lists Jim and Blair had compiled yesterday: released felons; some of Blair's former students and a professor or two from the U; former employees of Jason's company. When they finally parked in front of 852 Prospect, the two men had nothing to show from their day except glazed eyes and damp clothing from the drizzling rain.

"Whose turn to cook?" Blair asked as they trudged up the stairs since the elevator wasn't working again -- surprise, surprise.

"I cook. You write."

Blair couldn't help but grin. "Me Tarzan. You Jane."

Jim tugged on one of Blair's curls. "Who are you calling Jane?"

"Good point. Me Tarzan. You Cheetah." Then Blair found a spurt of energy to race up the last flight of stairs and unlock the door before Jim could catch him.

Laughing, Jim entered the loft to find Blair's head emerging from the fridge with two beers in his hand. The younger man handed him one and Jim smiled his thanks. A blinking red light on the answering machine caught his eye and he hit the button to replay the messages.

"Hey, Jim, it's Jason. I just wanted to let you know in spite of the excitement, it was great seeing you again. How about lunch tomorrow, my treat, and do some more catching up? Call me at 555-9834."

The machine announced the date and time of the call and clicked to the next one, which was from one of Blair's TA friends asking him about a visiting lecturer. The third message started in.

"Blair, it's Cynthia Harmony. I hope I didn't talk your ear off yesterday. It really was nice having someone actually listen to me." A long pause, then quietly, "It's been a long time. Thanks again."

Blair stared at the now-silent machine. "She sounded sad."

"Chief," Jim warned.

Blair held up his hands, palms out. "I was just commenting, man. For a moment I was afraid she was going to ask me to have lunch with her."

"You wouldn't, right?"

"Jeez, Jim, I already said I'd steer clear of her." Blair stalked into his room.

Nothing like pissing him off, Ellison, Jim thought. Now he'll probably spend the evening in his small bedroom.

But Blair returned carrying his laptop and a pile of books interspersed with papers which had scribbled notes across them. He laid the whole mess on the dining room table. "Is it okay if I work here until supper's ready?"

Relieved that Blair wasn't upset, Jim nodded. "Sure, go ahead, Chief. It'll be at least an hour."

"What're you making?"

"My world-famous lasagna," Jim said with a theatric flourish which was so out-of-character, Blair doubled over in laughter. "Go ahead and laugh, Junior. You won't be when you taste it."

Blair managed to get his amusement under control. "I'll be too busy trying to get my share." He smiled. "Since you're cooking, I'll take clean-up duty."

"No. You're going to do your homework, eat when supper's ready, then return to your work while I clean up."

Blair scrutinized his partner, who had donned his floral apron. "So what did you do?"

Jim pulled tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and hamburger from the refrigerator. "What're you talking about?"

"You're obviously feeling guilty about something or you wouldn't be volunteering for cooking and clean up."

"Maybe I'm just trying to be thoughtful."

Jim expected a smart ass retort, but Blair merely studied him long enough to make Jim uncomfortable. "What? I just thought since it's my fault you didn't get to work on the paper yesterday or most of today, this was the least I could do."

"You're not."

Alarmed, Jim asked, "Not what?"

"Trying to be thoughtful. You are being thoughtful. Thanks, man."

Embarrassed, Jim merely grunted in response and set to work browning the burger and slicing the vegetables. He could almost hear Blair's smile, which brought an answering grin to his own face.

The tapping of the computer keys accompanied Jim's preparation of the lasagna and French bread. Comfortable silence surrounded the two men, both glad they possessed an island of tranquility and sanity within the loft and with each other.

After Jim put the lasagna in the oven, he went up to his bedroom to return Jason's call. He didn't want to disturb Blair, who seemed to be immersed in his project.

The phone rang twice before Jason answered. "Hello."

"Jason, it's Jim. I got your message."

"Hey, Jimmy, I'm glad you called back. You on for lunch tomorrow?"

"Sounds good, but I have to warn you. I can't talk about the shooting since it's part of an ongoing investigation."

"No sweat. I know how the police work."

"Yeah, I guess you do. Blair did a little investigation into your company and social life."

There was a long silence. "You suspect me?"

Jim laughed. "No. He was trying to find out who might have a grudge against you."

"Oh." There was relief and humor in his voice. "So, did he find any good dirt?"

"I told you I can't discuss it."

Jason chuckled. "That's okay. If I really want to know, I'll call the chief."

Jim tensed, not liking someone going over his head. "Ethically, he's not supposed to tell you anything either." The laughter that came over the line grated against Jim.

"Don't be such a Boy Scout, Jimmy. People do favors for their friends all the time."

Jim clamped down on his irritation. He was no virgin when it came to office politics; it's just that he didn't participate in the political orgies. "What time tomorrow and where?"

"How about McKenzie's downtown at one o'clock?"

Jim's mouth watered. McKenzie's had the best steaks in town, but it was also the most expensive.

"My treat," Jason said, as if reading Jim's mind. "I know how much you cop-types get paid, even if they have a rich daddy. See you at one tomorrow."

The line went dead before Jim's renewed irritation could be vented. Jim may have a rich daddy, but he had never asked him for money. And he had no plans to ever do so. He had washed his hands of his father and his business years ago, although a couple baby steps had been taken to reconcile with his old man in the past year. Things would never be comfortable between them, but maybe they could be together for more than ten minutes without starting world war three.

The oven's timer dinged, breaking into Jim's dark thoughts. He trotted down the stairs and checked the lasagna -- it was done. He set it on the cool stovetop and proceeded to clear half of the table to eat. Blair helped, piling books into two neat mountains on either side of the laptop.

"You okay, man?" Blair asked as he laid the silverware next to the plates.

"Uh, yeah, fine. Why?"

"You look like you just bit into a lemon with your taste buds on high."

Jim set the lasagna on a hot pad between the two plates. "I called Jason and told him lunch sounded good."

"And?" Blair asked from his place by the table.

Jim placed two pieces of steaming French bread on each of their plates, then sat down. "He said something. It ticked me off, but he hung up before I could yell at him."

"Ah," Blair said, nodding in understanding. "So the words got stuck inside and you couldn't blow like Volcano Ellison."

Jim stared at his guide a moment, then shook his head as he was smirked. "'Volcano Ellison'?"

"Hey, if the mountain fits..." Blair's eyes twinkled impishly.

Jim lightly whapped the back of his head. "Eat, Sandburg, and spare me any more geological analogies."

"Yeah, I wouldn't want to create a 'rift' between us."

Jim groaned.

"You know how those 'chasms' can pop up between the best of friends," Blair said, feigning innocence.

"If you don't stop with the puns, you're going to see 'earthquake' Ellison in action."

"Ooooh, I'm 'shaking' in my boots."

Jim dropped his fork and covered his face with his hands, hiding his amusement behind them. The last thing Jim wanted to do was encourage him.

Blair's laughter spilled around Jim and a hand landed on his shoulder. "C'mon, Jim. Eat before it gets cold. I promise I'll behave."

The detective removed his hands, not bothering to hide his own amusement. "That'll be the day."

Blair snorted, but let Jim have the last word and the two men put a considerable dent in the lasagna and bread before pushing their plates away. True to his word, Jim shooed Blair back to his computer and set about washing dishes and tidying up the kitchen. Only when the kitchen passed his own "white glove" test did Jim drop tiredly onto the couch to watch some television. A replay of a golf tournament on ESPN2 reminded him of an errand.

"Damn," he muttered as he stood.

"What?" Blair asked, lifting his head.

"I have to take Rafe's clubs back to him," Jim said.

Blair slapped his forehead. "Tee time Monday morning, right?"

"Afraid so." Jim yawned and wished he could just lie down on the sofa and watch something mindless. "You stay here. I'll take care of it."

"But--" Blair began.

Jim held up a hand. "No buts. It'll only take me an hour or so to run them over and get back."

"Thanks," Blair said.

Jim managed a smile as he donned his jacket. "No problem." He picked up his keys and made sure his wallet was in his back pocket. "See ya."


The detective closed the door quietly behind him and jogged down the stairs, anxious to return the clubs and come home to crash.

Blair re-read the last paragraph he had typed and nodded to himself. He was already halfway through the research assignment -- at this rate, he'd easily have it done by Tuesday. Raising his head, he became aware of how dark it had become. He glanced at the clock on the stove and frowned. Jim had been gone over two hours. Rafe's place was only twenty minutes away. Had Jim decided to hang out with the other detective for a little while?

Uneasiness flittered in his gut and refused to be soothed. Blair didn't like that little flutter -- he had learned the hard way not to ignore it.

He picked up the phone and dialed Jim's cell phone. A ring sounded from Jim's bedroom and Blair bounded up to find Jim's cell phone on the nightstand by his bed. The flutter increased to a frenetic flapping. He called Rafe and the young detective answered on the second ring.


"Rafe, Blair. Is Jim still there?"

"No. He left over an hour ago," Rafe replied, worry creeping into his tone.

Blair forced the frantic feeling down. "He probably stopped somewhere."

"I don't think so. When he left, he was pretty wiped. Said he was going home to sack out."

"I'm sure he just got sidetracked." Blair didn't know who he was trying to convince, himself or Rafe.

"I'll drive the route to your place, see if I can spot his truck," Rafe offered.

"No, that's all right. I'm going to give him a little more time." Blair managed to rein in his apprehension. "What's your tee time tomorrow?"

"Seven. Henri, me, and two detectives from Robbery," Rafe replied. "By the way, you did great yesterday. From what I heard, you would've been the winner if you'd been able to play the last hole."

"Thanks. I, uh, played some when I was a kid."

"You're a natural, Blair. You and Jim ever want to golf, let us know."

"We will. See you tomorrow."

"Call me if he doesn't show up," Rafe said.

"You got it. Good night." Blair stared at the phone for a long minute. He wanted to call Simon, then the hospitals, but was he overreacting? Maybe Jim had stopped by the store to pick something up and run into an old friend. Or maybe he'd run into a robbery in progress.

Suddenly the phone rang in his hand and he nearly dropped it in surprise. "Ellison and Sandburg residence."

"Sandburg?" Simon's voice was unmistakable.

"Yeah?" He couldn't have said anything more to save his life.

"You'd better get down to the hospital."

Blair's heartbeat triple-timed. "How bad?"

There was a moment of startled silence at the other end. "All I know is Jim went off the road and rolled the pick-up. An ambulance took him from the scene."

Be calm, Blair. Calm.

Fuck calm! Shit. Shit. Shit.

"I'm on my way." Blair punched off the phone, grabbed his backpack and car keys, and raced out.

Simon Banks sat in a corner chair of the waiting room and watched Blair bounce from one end of the corridor to the other. He was exhausted in moments merely observing him. How the hell did the kid keep up that level of energy?

"Sit down, Sandburg," Simon ordered in a weary voice.

Blair clenched his hands into fists at his sides and looked like he was going to defy the captain, but suddenly the student's shoulders slumped and he dropped into a chair beside his unofficial boss. "He's been in there over an hour. What if they've given him something he's reacting badly to?" He sprang to his feet, but Simon grabbed his wrist and firmly tugged him back down.

"The paramedics said he wasn't hurt too badly. Some facial cuts and bruises, and a possible concussion. His left forearm was cracked, but it wasn't broken," Simon said.

"Who's the doctor?"

Simon shook his head. "I don't know."

Before Simon could react, Blair had bounded off to the nurses' station. He groaned silently and followed.

"Who's examining Jim Ellison?" Blair asked, his usual tact and charm lacking due to his fear.

The nurse glanced down at a sheet on her desk. "Dr. Mooney."

"I don't know him. Is he new?"

The blond RN nodded. "He started a month ago."

Blair spun around, nearly hitting Simon, who stood behind him. "He won't know about Jim."

"It's in his records, Sandburg," Simon said, holding his hands up in a placating manner.

"But what if he didn't look? Or maybe they couldn't find them?"

Simon grabbed Blair's arm to keep him from charging into Jim's examination room. "Excuse me." The captain looked at the nurse's nametag. "Debbie. I'm Captain Simon Banks and Detective Ellison is one of my men. Most of the doctors here are already aware of Detective Ellison's drug sensitivities; is Dr. Mooney?"

Debbie frowned. "I don't know. I suppose I--" She broke off at the sight of a tall, skinny doctor walking toward them. "There's Dr. Mooney. I'll ask him."

Before she could open her mouth, Dr. Mooney fixed his gaze on Simon and Blair. "Are you two here for James Ellison?"

"Yes," Blair replied. "How is he?"

The doctor stuck his hands in his white jacket pockets. "It's hard to say. He's unresponsive and cata--"

Blair jerked out of Simon's grasp and stepped right up to Mooney, their toes touching. If Simon wasn't so upset, he would've found the one foot height difference between the doctor and the anthropologist amusing.

"What did you give him?" Blair demanded.

"Excuse me," Dr. Mooney said haughtily.

"What the hell did you give him?" Blair demanded, his eyes practically smoldering with rage, and Simon was glad he was on the student's side.

"I don't think--"

"Dr. Mooney," Simon broke in before any of the doctor's blood was shed by a pissed-off guide. Jim didn't have anything over Blair in the protective department. "Did you read Detective Ellison's file before you treated him?"

Dr. Mooney stumbled around with a few grunts and monosyllabic words.

"I take it you didn't, because if you had, you would know he has severe drug sensitivities." Simon never raised his voice, but the intensity behind the words paled the doctor's face.

"Uh, well--"

"I want to see him. Now!" Blair headed toward the exam room.

Dr. Mooney opened his mouth, took one look at Simon's thunderous expression, and snapped it shut. He followed Blair, but his swagger had diminished considerably.

Simon contemplated adding his presence, but knew from experience how small the rooms were. Besides, Blair had things under control. Simon allowed a small chuckle of fondness and admiration for the fiery anthropologist, then walked back to the waiting room.

Oh, yeah, Jim was in good hands.

Anger pulsed through Blair with every step closer to his sentinel, but when he saw Jim in a zone-out, all his rage fled, replaced by concern and determination. Jim was sitting on the exam table, his left forearm held in his right hand, and staring straight ahead with the too-familiar blankness of a zone-out. Little cuts and scratches, some with accompanying bruises, colored his pale face with red and pink and black and blue. A nurse stood beside him, obviously wanting to help, but unable to figure out how.

Blair stopped directly in front of Jim. He grasped his right bicep in one hand and used the other to rest against his left cheek. "Okay, Jim, it's time to come back now. I don't know what you zoned on, but you can't stay there. Listen to my voice, feel my touch."

He could feel Dr. Mooney's presence, sense his bewilderment, but it was only a low buzz in the back of his mind. His total concentration was on Jim and bringing him back. Blair continued his litany in a low voice and less than a minute later, Jim blinked, then grimaced and a low groan escaped him.

"Hey, you back with us, buddy?" Blair asked gently.

It took Jim a few moments to focus on his guide. "Sandburg? What're you doing in here?"

"Simon called me. Said you'd had an accident with the truck." Blair straightened and raked a hand through his unruly hair. "Damn it, I should've gone with you. You were too tired to be driving."

"I didn't fall asleep. The brakes gave out," Jim said, the tic in his jaw working overtime.


Dr. Mooney stepped forward and spoke stiffly to Blair. "I don't know what you did, but now you may leave so I can do my job."

Blair remained by Jim's side, his chin lifted in a pugnacious angle and every single muscle shouting defiance. "No way. I'm staying right here."

Jim appeared startled, but wisely kept silent.

Dr. Mooney's nostrils flared, and looking up, Blair could see the hairs in the taller man's nose. He quickly looked away, unable to decide if he should laugh or feel repulsed.

As the doctor gave the nurse her orders to immobilize Jim's forearm in a brace, Blair leaned close to his pallid-complexioned partner. "What brought on the zone?"

Two spots of pink appeared on Jim's cheekbones. "I was listening to your heartbeat."

Not expecting that answer, Blair stared at him in shock, and finally shook his head in fond exasperation. "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."

"Well, don't let it go to your head, Chief," Jim muttered, but his blue eyes were warm and a smile tugged at his lips.

Blair grinned. "Not likely with you here to keep me in line."

Jim snorted. "That'll be the day."

Thirty minutes later, a tired and aching Jim came out of the exam room with Blair close beside him, ready to catch him if he stumbled. Simon met them in the corridor. "How're you doing, Jim?"

"Sore, exhausted, and pissed," Jim replied.

Simon glanced questioningly at Blair. "Jim's brakes gave out," Blair explained. He lowered his voice, "Do you think it's the same person who shot at us yesterday?"

"It would be awfully damn coincidental if it's not." Simon propped his hands on his waist. "It looks like you're the intended victim, Jim."

"Appears so, sir," Jim said curtly.

"I'll have your truck towed over to the police lot and the brake lines checked," Simon assured. He withdrew his cell phone from his jacket pocket. "I'm also going to put someone outside your building."

"You don't have to. I'll be able to hear anybody--" Jim began, but was interrupted by his guide.

"Thanks, Simon, we appreciate it," Blair said firmly.

Jim tried to glare at the student, but the detective only managed to look cross-eyed.

"With those painkillers, you're not going to hear anything," Blair explained. "And if someone's after you, I sure as hell don't want them to take advantage of the situation."

Simon closed his phone after putting in his request for a surveillance team outside of 852 Prospect. "The kid's right, Jim. You're not in any shape to do your sentinel thing."

"Jeez, even my captain's gangin' up on me," Jim said.

Blair, attuned to his sentinel, knew Jim was near the end of his reserves. "Right now, you need to get home and in bed." He looked at Simon. "He's already taken a painkiller, so he'll be crashing soon."

"Bad choice of words, Chief," Jim said with a hint of a smile.

Blair groaned. "Sorry. Come on, let's get you home."

"Do you need some help, Sandburg?" Simon asked.

"I think we'll be all right," Blair replied. "Why don't you head home, too? You look as tired as I feel."

Simon raised his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I think I'll do that. It's been a long weekend. Rafe and Brown should be in an unmarked car outside your building when you get there. If they aren't, call me at home right away."

They walked out of the hospital together and Simon helped lower Jim to the passenger seat of Blair's Volvo. Then the three men bid each other good-night, and Blair drove to the loft. Jim leaned his head back and closed his eyes, the pain he was experiencing evident in his clenched jaw. Blair remained silent, not wanting to bother his partner until they arrived home.

Pulling into a parking space, Blair searched the area and spotted Rafe and Brown in a nondescript sedan. Blair breathed a sigh of relief. He trusted them with his life. But, more importantly, he trusted them with Jim's life. After sending them a discrete wave, he helped Jim out of the Corvair.

It took three times longer than usual to climb the stairs -- the elevator still wasn't fixed -- with Jim leaning heavily on Blair and stopping on each landing to catch his faltering breath. Once in the loft, Blair steered him toward his own room.

"Where're we going?" The drug made Jim slur his words.

"If you think we're going to climb one more set of stairs, you're crazy," Blair said. "You can have my bed tonight."

"Awww, c'mon, Chief, it's too small."

Blair nearly laughed at Jim's adolescent whine -- Jim never whined. At least not with an adolescent twang, he amended silently. "How about the couch?"

"Yeah, better," Jim replied, his eyelids slipping downward.

Blair lowered Jim to the loveseat. "Wait here. I'm going to make up the couch." The anthropologist hustled to the linen closet, grabbed a clean set of sheets and quickly threw together a makeshift bed. He raced upstairs, stole a pillow from Jim's bed and put that on the couch. When he turned to his partner, he smiled gently. Jim was canted to one side, his mouth open and his eyes closed as he snored quietly. Even though he hated to disturb him, Blair knew he'd be stiff and sore tomorrow if he slept in that position all night.

Blair shook Jim's right shoulder. "Hey, Jim, c'mon, wake up. Time to go nighty-night."

Jim scowled, but didn't open his eyes. "Nighty-night, Chief?"

Blair grinned. "Sleepy bye?"

Jim cracked an eye open. "Go 'way."

"No can do. You're going to thank me for this in the morning."

Jim's reply was a weak snort, but he allowed Blair to help him up and cross the four feet to the sofa-turned-bed. Blair removed his shoes and socks, then his shirt and, with a bit of maneuvering, his trousers. He lowered the older man's head and shoulders to the pillow, heedful of his injured arm and bruised body. Then he lifted his legs and feet, grunting as he did so. "Jeez, Ellison, remember what we said about the Wonderburgers."

"Like 'em," Jim muttered as Blair covered him with the other sheet and a blanket.

"Yeah, I know you do, buddy," Blair said softly, but Jim had already passed into slumber.

He stood over the sleeping man, releasing his lingering fear and satisfying his need to ensure his sentinel was safe. It was funny how most people thought Jim did all the protecting -- only Simon realized it was an equal and balanced relationship between sentinel and guide. Most everyone else only saw a short, curly-haired student with the big tough policeman. Blair smiled to himself -- there was a time when he saw the two of them that way, too. Before he got to know the man beneath the sentinel.

Blair touched Jim's head lightly, feeling the short soft hairs against his fingers and grateful for the affirming contact. "Good-night, Jim."

He wandered into the kitchen and put water on for tea. Someone had tried to kill his best friend twice. He'd been too focused on Jim to think about it before, but now the realization brought a cramp to Blair's gut and he nearly doubled over in anguish. Would the third time be the charm? Seeing Jim in the hospital had frightened Blair enough -- what would seeing him in the morgue do?

Destroy me.

Blair began his deep breathing exercises to stave off the rising panic attack. He wasn't going to fall apart, not when Jim needed him. Maybe later, after the bastard was caught, Blair would lock himself in his office at Rainier, far from Jim's sentinel senses, and let the anxiety wash through him.

Yep, a plan. Plans were good. He could work with a plan.

And the present plan was to make some tea. That he could handle.

Tomorrow he would handle the rest.

Jim awakened groggy, his mouth tasting like an army had marched through it, and his eyes refusing to follow his orders to open. He licked his lips, but his tongue was as dry as his lips. He didn't remember going on a drinking binge last night, but he must've, because he had the hangover from hell to prove it.

He shifted and sharp pain skidded up his left arm, forcing a low moan from his parched lips.

"Take it easy, Jim."

Blair. The familiar voice calmed him, eased him, and he was able to dial the pain down a notch or two. He even managed to pry open his eyes and found his guide's anxious face hovering over him.

"Don't move too fast, buddy," Blair cautioned. "You're probably pretty sore."

"Wha' hap'ned?" Jeez, was that him slurring his words like an alley-dwelling wino?

Blair lifted his head and held a cup to his lips. Cool, blessed water flowed into his mouth, across his tongue and down his throat. He swallowed until it was all gone. "More?"

Blair lowered his head and smiled. "Let's wait a few minutes and make sure you're going to keep that down."

Jim glared at him.

Blair chuckled -- actually chuckled -- at Jim's most intimidating glare, the one that could make hardened felons confess and turn against their dear old grandmothers. "Forget it, Ellison. Save it for someone who doesn't know you're a sap."

Jim's scowl faltered. It was obvious he had to find a new way to intimidate his guide -- something like tickling? "So, what happened?" he asked when it was obvious Blair wasn't going to give in.

A frown claimed the younger man's lips. "You don't remember?"

Jim turned his sight inward. He recalled eating lasagna for supper, then having Blair get back to work on his paper while he cleaned up the kitchen. Then he'd sat down to watch some TV... and he'd remembered something. "Rafe's clubs. I took them back."

Blair's smile returned. "That's right. Then what happened?"

Jim tugged at the curtain hiding the memory, and it slid away. "Shit! The brakes. Somebody cut the truck's brakes. I couldn't make that turn on the bottom of the hill on Elm and..."

"Yeah, you rolled," Blair finished somberly.

Jim glanced down at his casted wrist. "Broken?"

"Fractured. Plus you've got cuts and bruises all over your body."

Everything came back to him. "I'm the one he's after."

"Or she." Blair grinned, but it was a weak facsimile of his usual one. "No offense, but your taste in women leaves something to be desired."

Jim felt his face heat with embarrassment. "Yeah, well, at least I don't schedule two dates in one night."

"Hey, that was nearly two years ago. I haven't done it since."

"Not for lack of trying," Jim said, unable to stop teasing his guide even though every cell in his body was hurting.

"How's your stomach feeling? Any nausea?" Blair asked.


Blair twisted open a bottle of water and held it out. Jim accepted it with a nod of gratitude, and drank nearly half of it immediately. Though he would've like to drink it all, he knew it was better to spread it out a bit.

The anthropologist perched on the coffee table and clasped his hands, letting them hang between his knees. "Simon had a team watching the building all night. It was Rafe and Brown."

Jim chuckled, but it was interrupted by a sharp twinge, and he wrapped his right arm around his ribs. "I'll bet they were pissed they had to spend a Sunday night on stakeout."

Blair didn't laugh. "You give them and yourself too little credit. They're your friends." Before Jim could reply to that, Blair stood. "You need some help into the bathroom?"

Suddenly aware of his full bladder, Jim nodded. His muscles protested every motion, but by the time Jim finished in the bathroom, including brushing his teeth and shaving, he was feeling less shaky and his body had loosened up considerably. It seemed he wasn't hurt as badly as he'd first assumed.

He shuffled out of the bathroom and his nose perked up at the smell of coffee, eggs, and bacon. "What's the occasion?" Jim asked as he accepted a steaming cup from Blair.


"Bacon for breakfast? The number one arch enemy of arteries everywhere?"

"Ha ha." Blair turned away to get the plate piled with English muffins. "It's not like we never have bacon."

"Once in a blue moon ring a bell?"

Blair faced him and planted his hands on his hips. "While you're using what's left of that half wit of yours, breakfast is getting cold."

Jim snickered, but knew better than to let out a full belly laugh. His ribs and sternum wouldn't appreciate it. He eased himself into a chair and was grateful it was his left wrist and not his right which was broken.

"I have a class to teach at eleven, then office hours from two to four, but I'll be home right after that," Blair said.

"You aren't coming down to the station?"

Blair's eyes widened. "No, and neither are you."

"C'mon, Chief, I can still make phone calls and do paperwork."

"Simon called this morning--"

"I didn't wake up?"

"No, Jim, you didn't wake up," Blair said patiently. "Simon told me to tell you to stay home today. There'll be a car watching the place all day. He's having the lab guys go over your truck this morning."

"He'll call with the results?"

"Dumb question. Yes, because he knows if he doesn't, you'll be bugging him all day."

"I should go down and take a look at it, Chief. With my senses, I might pick up something the techies missed."


"If I sit here all day, I'm going to go nuts. You don't want to come home and find the place scrubbed to an inch of its life, do you?"

Blair tried to hold his glare, but his lips won the battle and widened into a broad smile. "Only you would use cleaning for blackmail purposes."

Jim knew he was winning. "Whatever works."

"Jeezus, Jim, you were almost killed last night."

The minute trembling beneath his skin gave Blair's agitation away and told Jim he wasn't nearly as composed as he wanted Jim to believe. He set his fork on his plate and rubbed Blair's arm. "Everything's okay. It takes a helluva lot more than a faulty brake to kill me."

"How about a bullet then?" Blair's eyes shimmered with emotion.

For the first time Jim noticed the dark circles as evidence of the younger man's sleepless night. He probably stayed awake to keep an eye on me the entire time. Jim flinched at the knowledge, sorry to be the one who kept Blair awake when the younger man needed his sleep. "I'm sorry, Chief. I don't mean to make light of attempted murder, but now that we know they're after me, we know where to concentrate our investigation."

Blair jumped to his feet and carried his half full plate to the sink. He kept his back turned to Jim as he rinsed the remnants down the disposal. "It also means you're going to be damned careful and let those men out there do their job."

Jim's eyebrows jumped up. "I didn't know you'd be so upset about something like this."

Blair turned around slowly and clutched the edge of the counter behind him. "'Something like this?' Damn it, Jim, someone's out to kill you. How would you feel if our positions were reversed?"

"I'm a cop, Blair, and you're only a--"

Blair slapped the counter and the sharp report resounded in the high-ceilinged room. "Don't you dare say it!" The younger man's voice trembled. "Don't you fucking dare say that I'm only a grad student. A bullet or a cut brake line or a knife or any of a dozen murder weapons don't differentiate -- they kill without regard to what you do or who you are."

Jim stared at his guide, shocked by the vehemence in his tone. He pushed himself up slowly and walked over to Blair's tightly strung body. "I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't mean--"

Blair held out his hands imploringly. "We have been partners for three years now, best friends for at least the last two, if not longer. How can you even think I wouldn't worry or care what happened to you?"

Bewildered, Jim shook his head and wished he could string words together like his partner and make them describe how he felt. "I never thought that you didn't care or didn't worry, Chief. Never. You've proven your friendship and loyalty in more ways and more often than I can count."

"Then be careful, Jim. Let those men out there do their job. If you want to go down to the station, call Simon and have him contact the stakeout team. They can come up and get you and escort you to the station."

Jim ground his teeth, hating that he would be treated like he couldn't take care of himself. Jeezus, he'd been a Ranger and in a lot worse situations. He shifted his gaze to Blair who stared at him with a mixture of defiance and fear -- fear for him. It was then he understood -- he was no longer a Ranger, no longer a lone wolf in the department. No longer solitary. He had a friend and with that came a responsibility to stay alive and safe.

He settled his right hand on Blair's stiff shoulder and squeezed it gently. "All right, Blair. I'll behave myself."

Blair searched his face for signs of duplicity, but there wasn't any to be found. His shoulders slumped and he nodded. "Thank you."

"No, thank you." And Jim smiled fondly. "Now I suggest you go shower and get ready to go. I'll give Simon a call."

"What about your lunch date with Jason?" Blair asked.

Jim had completely forgotten about it. "I'll call and cancel."

"If you're feeling up to it, maybe you should go," Blair said, surprising him. "You can have your 'bodyguards' escort you and stay close. In fact, if it's at one, I could meet you there. That'll give us another pair of eyes to watch for--"

"Whoa, slow down, Chief. I'll be all right with my, as you put it, 'bodyguards'. You don't have to run yourself ragged chasing after me. Why don't you use that time to finish up your paper?"

Jim watched the indecision play across Blair's face, idly wondering how someone with such an expressive face could be such a good poker player.

"Okay. I mean, it makes more sense. I can get the paper done and spend more time with you then," Blair said. He met Jim's eyes, his own filled with concern. "Please be careful and no super-sentinel stunts, okay?"

"I'll behave myself. Now go shower. I'll take care of the kitchen. Even one-handed, I do a better job of cleaning than you."

Blair chuckled. "No argument there, buddy. But be--"

"Careful," the two men finished together.

"Okay, okay, I can take a hint." Blair headed for the bathroom, but stuck his head around the corner and his eyes twinkled with mischief. "How does it feel being the mother hen-ee for a change?"

Before Jim could toss something -- a plate or a wisecrack -- at him, Blair disappeared, his laughter echoing behind him.

Jim leaned against the elevator wall of the downtown building which held McKenzie's Steak House on the top floor. His head ached, as did his arm, but he didn't want to take one of his painkillers, knowing it would knock him out. He had spent the previous hour going over his truck, which the forensics team had confirmed had its brakes cut, but only three quarters of the way through. The rest had come unraveled during the course of Jim's driving. The educated guess was the brakes had been cut anywhere from six to thirty-six hours previous, leaving too much time and too many people to account for, although Simon requested a list of valets who had worked at the Country Club during the charity. He had given it to Megan and Joel to check out. Jim hadn't found anything the techs had missed on his truck, and only succeeded in making his headache worse.

He glanced at the two suited men in the elevator with him -- Dev and Jonesy, both good detectives and both dedicated to guarding him. He was lucky. Even though not everyone in the department liked him -- much of the dislike stemmed from envy -- the brothers in blue took care of their own. If it had been Dev or Jonesy or Rafe or H or one of a hundred other cops who needed around-the-clock protection, Jim would've volunteered extra hours to do his share. That's just the way it was.

The scents of the restaurant hit them as soon as the elevator doors slid open.

"I think I just stepped into heaven," Dev said, closing his eyes to sniff the delicious aromas.

"Damn, you're a lucky SOB, Ellison," Jonesy said. "Who's footing the bill?"

Jim grinned wryly. "An old classmate -- Jason Harmony."

Dev whistled low. "I wish I had an old classmate buddy like that. He's listed as one of the top twenty richest men in Cascade."

"How would you know?" his partner demanded.

"Hey, I read the paper," Dev said with feigned wounded dignity.

"Gee, I thought you just looked at the pictures."

Jim smiled at the partners' antics and wondered if that's how others saw him and Blair. Remembering some of their bullpen conversations, Jim realized they probably were. "I hate to break this up, but I see Jason. Where are you guys going to be?"

"By the bar. We'll have some Coke and split an appetizer," Jonesy replied. "Not everyone has a rich buddy he can fob off his bill to."

Though the two men were ribbing him, Jim's conscience twinged. He'd be enjoying a steak while they could barely afford a couple drinks and an appetizer. He'd make sure they got at least a sandwich each and pay for them himself.

"I'll come over there when I'm done," Jim said and wove his way through the tables to where Jason sat, talking on his cell phone and unaware of Jim's arrival. He wore an obviously expensive dove gray pinstriped suit, probably an Armani, with soft black Italian loafers. He appeared every inch the successful businessman.

Suddenly Jason looked up at him, started to smile, then his lips changed direction and formed a frown. "What happened to you?" he asked, ignoring the person at the other end of the phone.

Jim shrugged. "An accident. I'll tell you about it while we're waiting for our food."

Jason nodded, then blinked and turned his attention to his phone. "That sounds good. Just make sure we're getting what we're paying for. I'll be back in the office after four."

Jim lowered himself to the chair across the table from Jason and deliberately looked at his watch, which he had moved to his right wrist. "A three hour lunch?"

"We'll need at least that much time for you to tell me what happened to you."

Their waiter arrived and the two men ordered drinks, a Coors for Jim since he hadn't taken a pain pill, and a martini with a twist for Jason.

"A martini lunch?" Jim asked, arching an eyebrow.

Jason shrugged. "Goes with the suit and job. Personally, I prefer jeans, an old sweatshirt and what you're drinking."

Jim laughed. "That's the Jason I remember."

Jason chuckled, but brought the conversation back to Jim. "So tell me what the hell happened."

Three hours later, Jim set down his third empty beer bottle. He was comfortably stuffed and felt a faint buzz at the back of his brain. The pain in his wrist and bruised body had faded to almost nothing. Maybe he could convince Blair beer was a better painkiller than the medication the doctor had given him. On second thought, Blair might condemn the painkillers and the alcohol, and insist on trying meditation to control the pain. Jim would keep his mouth shut.

He had told Jason about the murder attempt last night, as well as their conclusion that Jim was the target. After Jason had warned him to be careful, almost as vociferously as Blair had, Jim convinced him they had taken precautions, including the two detectives Jim had pointed out not long into their conversation. After Jim told his tale, the two men had segued into memories from high school, which brought laughter and groans from each of them.

"I'd better get back to the station," Jim said. "There are a couple things I want to do before heading home."

"You shouldn't even be going into work at all," Jason argued.

Jim shrugged. "I'm not very good at doing nothing when somebody's trying to kill me."

"I can understand that. But take it easy, okay?"

"I plan to."

It was after four o'clock when the two men stood and walked toward the bar where Dev and Jonesy were leaning back in their chairs, their appetites satisfied to the point of discomfort. When Jim had said he wanted to buy the two cops something to eat, Jason had insisted on paying for their meals, too, and had ordered them the biggest steaks in the house, along with all the trimmings. The entire bill for the four of them had been five hundred dollars, not counting the tip. Jason had paid it without batting an eye.

Dev and Jonesy stood when the other two men approached them.

"Jeez, thanks Jim, we didn't expect you to pay for our lunch," Dev said.

Jim grinned and pointed at Jason with his good hand. "Thank Jason. He took care of it."

Dev and Jonesy each shook Jason's hand and expressed their gratitude.

"No problem. You just keep this guy safe," Jason said, putting an arm around Jim's shoulders.

Jim rolled his eyes and walked to the elevator. Jason fell into step beside him while Dev and Jonesy took up a position behind and to the side of them. As they traveled downward in the elevator, Jason's phone rang.

"Hello," Jason said.

Jim, his hearing tuned up as he automatically scanned for danger, listened to both ends of the conversation.

"Contact has been made," said the person at the other end -- Jim recognized it as Bill Conley's voice.

Jason's heartbeat increased slightly as he smiled. "Good. The plan is working then. Remember, we don't want to rush this, Bill. Everything needs to be set in place perfectly."

"I know," Bill reassured. "How was lunch with Jimmy?"

"Great. He's standing next to me in the elevator right now."

"Tell him hi for me, would ya?"

"Sure will. I'll be back in the office in about fifteen minutes," Jason said.

"See ya then."

Jason closed his phone. "Bill says hello."

"Maybe the four of us can meet for lunch next time," Jim suggested.

"They would've come today, but we're in the middle of some sensitive negotiations right now and they were needed to field calls and punt actions."

Jim shook his head. "You make your business sound like a game of football."

Jason grinned widely and slapped Jim's back carefully. "It is, Jimmy. You get the same adrenaline rush."

"No, thanks. I'll stick with police work."

"If you ever get tired of it, give us a call. We could use another partner. The Fabulous Four, right?"

"Thanks for the offer, Jason, but if I wanted to work in business, I could've done that in my dad's company. Four walls and paperwork." He shuddered.

Jason studied him. "But you wouldn't have somebody trying to kill you either."

The elevator came to a gentle stop and Jim was relieved it put an end to Jason's recruitment speech. He liked Jason, but they had vastly different lives from what they'd had in high school. Coming from lower income families, Jason, Bill, and Mark had scrambled their way to the top and relished the lifestyle afforded them now. Jim had grown up around money, but had willingly tossed it all aside for dangerous jobs -- first the army, then law enforcement -- with little monetary benefits. But it was the belief that he could make things better and maybe help some people in the bargain which gave him something far more valuable than material goods.

Maybe it wasn't so odd that he and Blair had ended up the best of friends.

"Thanks again for lunch," Jim said to Jason.

"You're welcome. Why don't you golf with us some time at the club? We could use a fourth," Jason said.

"I might just do that." He deliberately looked at his wrist brace. "After this comes off."

After a round of farewells, Jason climbed into his personally chauffeured Lincoln Town Car which was waiting at the curb for him.

"I'll hike the six blocks to get the car while you wait here with Jim," Jonesy volunteered with more than a trace of envy in his voice as he watched Jason's car pull into the downtown traffic.

"Why don't we all walk to the car?" Jim suggested. "After that meal, I could use a little exercise."

"You sure you're up to it?" Dev asked.

"I'm fine. Besides, maybe we can draw out my stalker." And he started walking.

"Banks is gonna kill us," Jim heard Jonesy mutter to his partner.

Dev snorted. "Hell, Sandburg scares me more than Banks."

Jim stifled his amusement at the thought of the 150-pound grad student reaming out the two husky detectives. Two seconds later a frustrated Dev and Jonesy joined him. Fortunately for Dev and Jonesy, but unfortunately for Jim, the sentinel didn't see or hear anything unusual and there was no attempt on his life.

Blair glanced at the clock on his wall: 3:45. Fifteen more minutes and he could head home. He tried to concentrate on his research paper, but he couldn't shake a lingering feeling of dread. It wasn't the frantic feeling he'd had last night while waiting for Jim. But something felt strange -- off-kilter. He lifted his phone receiver to dial Jim's cell phone, but set it back down. Jim had promised to behave and Blair trusted him.

3:47. He saved what he'd written on both his hard drive and a floppy, then shut down his computer.

3:52. A light knock sounded on his partially open door and irritation flared. Why did students always wait until the last minute?

"Come in," he called, working to keep the annoyance out of his voice.

The door swung open and Cynthia Harmony poked her head in. "Hi Blair."

Startled, the grad student stood and came around his desk. "Cynthia. What are you doing here? Are you all right?"

The woman, dressed conservatively in pale green trousers and a matching print blouse, smiled. Classy. That was the only word Blair could use to describe her.

"I'm fine," she replied. "I'm actually here to ask you some questions about the curriculum at Rainier."

"Why?" As soon as the word escaped his mouth, Blair realized how rude he sounded, but Cynthia didn't seem to notice.

"I'm thinking about going back to school and since you seem to know a lot about the college and I know you, I thought I could pick your brain."

Blair relaxed enough to give her a sincere smile. "That all depends on what subject you're interested in. If it's business, I'm afraid I don't have a clue."

"Actually, I was thinking about archeology. I know it's not exactly anthropology, but from what I understand, the two are closely related."

Blair wouldn't have pegged Cynthia, dressed in her expensive designer clothing, to be an "old relic" type person, but then he didn't know her that well either. He removed a pile of books from a chair and motioned to it. "Have a seat and I'll see if I can answer your questions."

Cynthia gracefully sank into the chair and crossed her right leg over her left. She looked around his office and laughed, a light musical sound. "You weren't kidding when you said you wouldn't know what to do without your books."

The anthropologist shrugged. "Ever since I was a kid, if I had any spare money, I spent it on books. I still do." He paused. "So why archeology?"

The woman shrugged and worried her lower lip between even pearly white teeth. "It seems so interesting. I loved the Indiana Jones movies."

Blair caught himself before rolling his eyes. How often had he heard the same words from young idealistic freshmen? He decided to tell her the same thing he told them. "Archeology, overall, is slow, painstaking work and you usually end up living in a tent for weeks and months at a time, often times without the conveniences of things we take for granted: hot water, electricity, microwave popcorn." He smiled to ease his blunt words. "It would also mean you and Jason could be separated for months at a time while you're working at an excavation site."

Cynthia shrugged. "Maybe that's not a bad thing."

Warning bells went off in his head and he held up his hands, palms out. "Look, Cynthia, I'm not a marriage counselor. If you and Jason are having personal problems, you should see a professional. In fact, I could give you the name of one--"

"No, please, I'm sorry, Blair. I didn't mean to embarrass you or make you feel uncomfortable. I really am interested in going back to school. I think it would do me good, and archeology sounds exciting." She tilted her head and her blonde hair fell across her brow, reminding him of Meg Ryan. "Maybe I could sit in on one of your classes, and see what anthropology is like. That is, if you don't mind."

"We're over halfway through a semester so you probably won't get much out of it."

"But I'd get enough to decide if I enjoy the subject."

University policy said a person had to sign up for a class -- for credits or audit -- before they could sit in. But what harm could it do? It would give Cynthia something else to think about besides her workaholic husband. Nobody but Blair would know. Well, and Jim. He couldn't not tell his partner after reassuring him he would stay away from Cynthia Harmony. Jim might not like it, but what could Cynthia do with forty other students in the classroom?

"All right," Blair agreed. "My 101 class meets Tuesday and Thursday evenings from seven to nine."

Cynthia smiled. "That sounds perfect. Jason works until ten almost every night."

"Have you told him you'd like to go back to school?"

"Yes, and he's actually very supportive. I was kind of surprised because he usually likes me to greet him when he comes home." She wrinkled her nose. "A little June Cleaver clone."

Blair laughed. "Nobody could mistake you for the Beav's mom."

"Why thank you, Blair. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were flirting with me." Cynthia's coy expression startled him.

"But you do know better," Blair said quickly. He leaned forward and rested his tightly clasped hands on the desk. "I like you, Cynthia, but you are married. I can be your friend, but that's all."

"I'm sorry," she said, her face flushed. "I didn't mean to come on to you. It's just that I'm so used to--"

"It's all right," Blair assured. "I just wanted to make sure we were both on the same page here."

"We are. I'll behave. I promise."

The anthropologist chuckled. "We're cool. Now, about anthropology..."

An hour and a half later, Cynthia and Blair left together as they made their way to the almost-deserted parking lot.

Talking and laughing, neither one noticed the man with the camera.

The key in the door's lock brought Jim's eyes flashing open as he sat on the couch in the loft. A moment later, Blair entered the dim room and tossed his keys in the basket. Relief filtered through the detective.

"Hey, man, are you all right?" the anthropologist asked, hurrying over to his partner.

Jim gazed at the younger man, relieved to see him but unable to figure out why he had been so anxious for Blair to get home. It was pretty obvious Blair wasn't the target, but it wasn't in Jim's nature not to worry about his guide. "Yeah, I'm fine. I was just getting a little worried. You said you had office hours until four then you'd be home."

"Oh, jeez, I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't even think to call. I meant to leave but somebody stopped by my office right at four." Blair sat down on the couch beside him and scrubbed a hand over his face. "It was Cynthia Harmony."

"What?" Jim would've jumped up to pace, but he was too sore and exhausted. "Are you crazy, Sandburg?"

"Settle down, Jim. I didn't go looking for her. She said she was interested in going back to school and wanted information on Rainier, and since she knew me..."

"And one thing lead to another?" Jim ground out.

"No, absolutely not, Jim. I told her flat out I would be her friend and help her out, but I wouldn't be any more than that."

"So what did she want?"

"She had questions about archeology and anthropology." He grinned sheepishly. "And you know how I get when I start talking."

Jim's disquiet eased and a smile tempted his lips. "No, really?"

Blair slapped Jim's knee companionably. "Careful, man, or I'll entertain you with 'The Global Cultural Similarities of Shamanistic Practices.'"

Jim pretended to think for a minute. "Actually, that sounds kind of interesting."

Blair stared at him, his eyes wide. "Sometimes you surprise me."

"Have to keep you on your toes, Chief. What do you want for dinner?" He began to push himself up.

Blair stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Just stay here, Jim. I'll throw something together."

Sinking back into the couch, Jim studied his partner. "What about your paper?"

"It's done. I just have to do a final read tonight or tomorrow. No biggie."

Jim studied him to determine if he was obfuscating, but there was nothing but sincerity. "Why don't you order Chinese? I'll even spring for it. That way you can work on your final read while we're waiting for the food to be delivered."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure, Chief."

Blair tossed him a grateful smile and picked up the phone.

With Jim's truck in the shop getting its brake line repaired, Blair drove the Volvo to the station the next morning. They made a stop at Rainier on the way so Blair could drop off his paper, and since the anthropologist didn't have a class to teach until that evening he could spend the day with Jim.

On Monday, Simon had given Joel and Megan the list Jim had compiled of people with grudges against him, and they had made a considerable dent in those names. The two detectives had also spoken with the clubhouse valets who'd worked during the golf charity. When Jim and Blair arrived at the bullpen, Simon called them all into his office for an update.

Jim leaned back in his chair carefully, heedful of his still painful ribs. Blair sat on his right with Joel and Megan across from them. Simon had taken the head position of the conference table.

"Did you two come up with any possibles yesterday?" Simon asked Joel and Megan.

"We checked out the valets, but ruled them out. From Jim's list of released felons, we have two names," Conner reported. "A Mark Woodson and an Elijah Donovan."

"Woodson went up for four on a felonious assault and Donovan two for dealing drugs," Jim said, then frowned. "How'd Woodson get out so early? He should have at least another year."

"Model prisoner," Joel replied. "He's got a job as a car mechanic."

"Why do you think he might be a possible?" Blair, who'd been following the conversation like it was a tennis match, asked.

"When we brought up Jim's name, the man went bonkers," Megan replied. "However, after he calmed down, he apologized."

"Did you believe him?"

Megan glanced at Joel, who replied, "Yeah, we did, but since he'd been in for assault and the fact that he works at a garage, we left his name on the list."

"What about an alibi for Saturday?" Jim asked.

"He said he was out biking with a friend," Joel said.

"Have you checked out his story?"

"Not yet. His mate's a trucker. He's out on the road," Megan answered.

Jim rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. "Woodson was convicted of beating up an acquaintance who supposedly borrowed his Harley without permission. He's got a helluva temper, which was why he threatened me, but my gut's saying it's not him."

"What about the other guy?" Blair asked. "Elijah Donovan?"

"Small time dealer. He sold to support his own habit. He didn't strike me as dangerous," Jim said.

"So why him?" Blair asked the two detectives across the table from him.

"No alibi. He says he slept until one on Saturday," Joel replied.

"See if you can get a hold of Woodson's friend. Most truckers have cell phones these days," Simon said. "Do we have anything else on Donovan other than no alibi for Saturday? Does he own a rifle? Would he know how to tamper with a brake line?"

"We'll check into it, sir," Megan said.

"All right," Simon said. "There's only seven names left. Conner, Taggert, I want you two to talk to them."

"I can take a few of the names," Jim said.

Simon shook his head firmly. "No way, Jim. You're deskbound for the rest of the week. And when you leave the building, you'll have two police officers with you."

"I'm not going to sit around while someone's trying to kill me, sir. I need to be out there, looking for the bastard."

"You need to stay here where you'll be safe. I won't have you murdered for no reason other than to appease your pride."

Jim jumped to his feet, inwardly flinching at the pain that arrowed through his injured body. "Damn it, Simon. Let me go with them. I put these people away; I know them. I may be able to see or hear something no one else can." He stared at his boss and friend, willing him to understand what he couldn't say in front of Joel and Megan.

Simon's mouth thinned to a grim line as he stared at Jim, who met his gaze and held it. It wasn't the first time the two stubborn men had locked horns, but usually they didn't have an audience. Finally, the captain relented. "I don't like it, Ellison. If there's someone out there determined to kill you--"

"He's going to get me sooner or later," Jim finished quietly. "At least give me a chance to meet him one-on-one."

Simon nodded slowly. "All right, Jim. You and Sandburg can go with Joel and Megan."

"But Captain, we could cover twice the ground in half the time if we split the names."

Simon aimed his unlit cigar at the sentinel and the appeasement which had been there earlier disappeared. "You will not, I repeat, will not be going anywhere without two other police officers -- in this case, Joel and Megan."

"He's right, Jim," Joel said in his quiet, but firm voice. "Let us help Blair watch your back."

"I appreciate the help, man," Blair said with a smile directed at the soft-spoken man.

"You're supposed to be on my side," Jim growled.

"I am, buddy, that's why I want to stick with Joel and Megan," the observer said in a low voice. "More protection, more chance of staying alive."

Jim grumbled a little more, but capitulated, more so to soothe Blair than his boss. "All right, but it seems like a waste of manpower."

"Keeping you alive is hardly a waste of manpower," Banks said, his voice as dry as sawdust. "Anything else?"

"Where do we go after this, sir?" Megan asked. "The only clue we have is a slug taken from a tree on Saturday. If we come up empty after talking with these last seven men, what then? Wait until they try again?" Her voice was firm, but no one could mistake the worry in her eyes.

Simon dropped his pen onto the open file on his desk and shook his head. "I don't know."

The bleakness in the three words startled Jim. It was obvious everyone was taking the threat to his life personally and, though their friendships warmed him, it also made him uncomfortable. "Look, we all know the budget won't allow around the clock protection on me any longer than a week. If he doesn't try again in that time, I'm going to assume he's given up."

"We don't know that."

"We'll do it on our own time."

"You can't assume anything."

Simon, Joel, and Conner all spoke at the same time. Blair was gazing at him silently, his eyes both fearful and understanding.

Jim held up a hand. "We're spinning our wheels sitting here. Let's get going and catch this son of a bitch so we don't have to have this discussion later."

"Jim's right," Simon said in the thick silence that followed. "Get to work, people."

The scrape of chair legs on the floor heralded the rise of the three detectives and one observer. Out in the bullpen, it was agreed that Jim and Blair in the Volvo would follow Megan and Joel as they worked their way through the list. Joel handed Jim a copy of the remaining suspects' names and addresses.

At the first address, nobody answered their summons. Blair caught Jim's eye and tapped his ear while motioning toward the apartment door. Jim listened, but couldn't hear any signs of occupancy. He shook his head.

The next place yielded the same results, but a neighbor informed them the man was at work. She even told them his employer, Ironside Works, and that he usually got home about six thirty. The third suspect's home was halfway across town. Megan and Joel waited for Blair and Jim to join them, then they approached the small rundown house together.

As they neared it, Jim extended his senses and heard two heartbeats, which were beating faster than normal. The rapid breathing and moans and grunts told Jim all he needed to know. The suspect was in there with a woman. He leaned close to his guide, who had kept an unobtrusive hand on Jim's back. "He's not going to be happy."

Blair frowned his question.

"He has company. Female company," Jim replied.

A grin lifted the corners of Blair's lips, even as pink flooded his cheeks.

Megan pounded on the door and Jim heard the creaking of springs abruptly halt. For a long minute, there was silence. The Aussie knocked harder. "Cascade Police. Open up."

Colorful cursing from the bedroom inside made Jim grimace. Ed Arliss wasn't a happy man. Heavy footsteps preceded the door swinging open to reveal a man with oily hair, stained jeans zipped but not buttoned, and a nearly threadbare shirt with the buttons undone. Arliss eyed the contingent and when he spotted Jim, anger filled his broad face.

"What the hell do you want, Ellison?" Arliss demanded.

Jim forced his muscles to relax, to pretend to be offended. "I'm hurt, Eddie. Here I thought you'd be happy to see an old friend."

"Fuck you, Ellison."

"I see prison didn't clean up your dirty mouth, but then it's hard to remove stains as ground in as yours."

Arliss' cheeks flushed to scarlet and his hands fisted at his sides. Conner and Joel shifted so they were shoulder to shoulder in front of Jim, and the sentinel could feel Blair's fingers gripping the back of his shirt.

"We have some questions we'd like to ask you," Joel said, keeping his voice strictly professional. "Where were you Saturday, approximately 12:10 p.m. -- that's ten minutes after noon."

"I know when that is," Arliss said. "I was with Myrna."

"Who's Myrna?" Conner asked.

"My girlfriend." He smiled, revealing stained and crooked teeth. "You can meet her if you want. She's in bed." The way he said it left no question in anyone's mind as to what they'd interrupted.

"Yes, please," Joel said.

Arliss scowled. "Yes what?"

Joel's broad shoulders moved with a silent sigh. "We'd like to talk with her."

"Myrna! Get your ass out here!" Arliss shouted without warning.

Jim flinched and his temples pounded. His hearing, though not on its highest setting, was above normal. He turned the dial down, not surprised to see Blair studying him with concern. "I'm okay," Jim assured him in a low voice.

"Aren't you the gentleman," Megan commented to Arliss, her sarcasm as sharp as a lion's tooth.

Arliss' face expressed his confusion -- he probably didn't know if he'd been insulted or complimented. Finally, a woman with a ratty bathrobe wrapped around her pale skinny body came out of the hallway. Her face was colorless, except for two red splotches on her cheeks, which could have been a bad make-up job or the result of interrupted activities. The scent of those earlier activities reeking from her made Jim dial down his sense of smell before he became physically ill.

"Yeah?" she asked, her somewhat vacuous gaze roaming across Jim and the others.

"These are cops. They wanna ask you--" Eddie began.

"Where were you Saturday around noon?" Megan interrupted.

"Uh." The single word seemed to take most of her brain cells. The few remaining ones appeared to be working on the question. "Uh, let's see." Her expression lit up like she just realized she had a Bingo. "Me and Eddie were makin' love."

"Are you absolutely certain?" Joel pressed.

She nodded, her eyes wide but not quite as vacant as they'd been earlier. "Yes, officer, I'm certain. We were right here." She giggled. "Well, not right here. We were in the bedroom."

"Thanks for your time," Jim cut in curtly. It was obvious it wasn't Eddie. He turned on his heel and heard Blair follow him, and Joel and Megan thanking Arliss for his time.

"You okay?" Blair asked quietly.

"It wasn't him," Jim said without doubt.

Jim expected his guide to ask him how he could be so certain, but Blair only nodded and the sentinel was pleasantly surprised by his acceptance without an interrogation. Jim folded his body into the Volvo's passenger seat.

"Next place is on Summerset," Joel said, stopping by the car. "Why don't we stop for something to eat before going there?"

Blair glanced at his sullen partner. "You hungry, Jim?"


"Lunch sounds good," Blair said, not acknowledging Jim's surly reply. "There's a great little Mom and Pop place not far from here."

"We'll follow you," Joel said.

After Joel and Megan moved back to their car, Jim said irritably, "I said I wasn't hungry, Sandburg."

"Maybe not, but the rest of us are," Blair replied calmly.

Jim bit his tongue to keep his displeasure silent.

An hour later, they came out of a small hole-in-the-wall fifties type cafe. Jim had eaten a grilled chicken sandwich and a hearty salad -- every bit of each. He must have been hungrier than he thought.

And his guide had known it. That was why he had insisted on eating.

He glanced at Blair and found the anthropologist looking at him. Jim smiled his gratitude.

Blair merely grinned in return and pulled onto the street to follow Joel and Megan's sedan to their next destination.

Sitting in his office waiting to teach his Tuesday evening class, Blair hit speed dial one.

"Ellison," came the familiar bark.

"Hey, Jim, you doing okay?"

There was a huff of air which could've been amusement or exasperation. "Yeah, Mom, I'm doing fine. I even ate all my supper."

"Even the string beans?" Blair teased.

"And the spinach," Jim bantered and the grad student could hear the smile in his voice. "How about you, Chief? See any strangers lurking?"

"None stranger than usual. I should be home around nine thirty or ten. Class goes until nine."

"Call a patrol car before you leave the building."

Blair gripped the phone tighter and kept his voice intentionally light. "The uniforms have better things to do than escort police observers to their cars. I'll be okay, Jim. Nobody's after me."

Thick silence filled the airwaves between them. "All right," Jim finally capitulated. "But if you're going to be later than ten, call me. Got it, Chief?"

"Got it." Blair couldn't stop the warmth from flowing through his words. He'd never had anyone who cared about his whereabouts before and for some reason he couldn't fathom, it felt good. For somebody who'd grown up in a footloose environment, where shackles -- both emotional and physical -- were akin to prison, it was an odd realization.

"I'll see you in a few hours then."

"Did you take a painkiller?"

"No. I'm keeping my dial down a notch."

"All right, but if you have to go down another notch, take the painkiller instead and get some sleep, okay?"

"Okay, Mom. See ya later."

"Bye, Jim."

Smiling, Blair punched the phone off and stared at it a moment before placing it back in its cradle. He looked around his office, remembering the first time Jim had entered it; remembered the cop's anger and defensiveness when Blair had tried to explain what was "wrong" with him. And Blair remembered the moment he felt the premonition of danger and rushing out to see Jim standing in the middle of the street in a zone-out with a garbage truck bearing down on him. The student had never questioned the foreboding, but had accepted it. It wasn't until later, when Jim had been kidnapped by Oliver that Blair had begun examining the premonition he'd once again experienced. And again when Lila had come back into Jim's life. Although Blair hadn't understood that feeling of dread until Lila's past had come to light.

Did he feel that same dark premonition now? He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, finding his center with little difficulty after years of practice. Something dodged around his awareness, but it didn't feel the same. It was ephemeral, dipping and hiding among the myriad of thoughts and emotions. There was some meaning to it, but Blair had no clue what it was. He concentrated on Jim, bringing him to mind, but there was no waves of anxiety, no darkness surrounding him. Jim was safe for now.

So what was the elusive shadow hiding in the fringes?

A knock on his door startled him out of his thoughts and his eyes flashed open, plunging him back to reality. "Come in," he called out.

The door opened and Cynthia Harmony stepped inside. This evening she wore snug jeans, an emerald sweater which hugged her breasts and slim waist, and a new backpack slung over a slender shoulder. She could've passed for a student fifteen years her junior.

Blair stood. "I wasn't sure if you were coming or not."

"I couldn't decide what to wear." She shrugged. "I didn't think my usual wardrobe would fit in."

"When in Rome..." Blair began. "You look great." Embarrassed by his impulsive compliment, he glanced at the clock on the wall. "Time to go." He grabbed his notes and glasses.

Ushering Cynthia out ahead of him, he locked his office door and led her to the anthropology lecture hall.

"Sit wherever you'd like." He smiled at her. "And if you get bored, don't feel bad about slipping out early."

"I'm sure I won't be." She glanced around and her wide eyes reminded Blair of a child's on Christmas morning. "I'm really excited about this."

"It's funny. Most people would look at you and think you have the world at your feet. A handsome husband, a wealthy lifestyle."

Cynthia's expression faded. "I look at you and see someone who's truly happy, and I envy you."

Blair blinked, uncomfortable by her melancholy. He forced a laugh. "Nobody's life is perfect, Cynthia. We make our choices and we have to live with them. If we want to change because of past bad choices, then that's up to the individual. No one else can live your life."

"I know. It's just taking that initial step that's the most difficult."

Blair leaned down and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Remember there's people who'll help you, if you let them."

She laid a hand on his. "Thanks, I'll remember."

Blair drew away. "I'd better start class."

Two hours later, Blair concluded his notes, fielded some questions from a couple giggling coeds, and finally headed toward the exit door. Waiting for him was Cynthia.

"That was great," Cynthia gushed immediately. "Your experiences in Ruwandi were amazing."

"Part of the joys of being an anthropologist," Blair said with an embarrassed wave of his hand. "Did you drive here?"

She nodded. "I parked by your car."

"That was a good idea. We can walk out together. I just need to stop at my office and get my stuff."

Ten minutes later, Blair stood by Cynthia's red Mercedes. He waited until she got in her car before staying good-night and turning to his own.

"I'll see you Thursday evening," Cynthia called out as she drove away.

Blair lifted his hand in farewell. That had gone better than he had anticipated. Although he hadn't told Jim, he had been worried that Cynthia was taking his class simply to get closer to him. But her grasp of the subject matter was amazing and she'd asked him intelligent questions as they'd walked out to the parking lot.

Sighing in relief, Blair slid into his Volvo and headed home.

The next two days passed uneventfully. There were no more attempts on Jim's life, but they had come to a dead end in their investigation, too. Except for a few fading bruises and his healing forearm, Jim was back to normal and chomping at the bit to get out on the streets. He had checked with four of his snitches, but nobody had heard anything.

The waiting, as well as remaining under protection, were fraying Jim's nerves, making him impatient and sharper tempered. He hated being chained to the desk now that he felt almost normal and the person trying to kill him remained at large. Of the twenty-seven former felons interviewed, only four remained on the list of suspects. Woodson, Donovan, Glen Chapman, and Russell Leonard. Chapman had an alibi for Saturday, but it was a weak one; Leonard wasn't living at the last address they had for him and there was no forwarding address.

"Here's some fresh coffee, Jim," Blair said as he set Jim's mallard duck cup on the desk.

Jim merely grunted and wrapped his palm around it only to set it down so quickly, he spilled coffee on the file spread out across his desk. Jim jumped to his feet and grabbed some tissues from a nearby desk to blot up the liquid. "Shit, that's hot, Sandburg! You could've warned me."

"Sorry, man, but when I said it was fresh, I figured you'd know it was hot."

"You figured wrong." Jim tossed the kleenex into a nearby wastebasket and dropped back into his chair.

Blair remained standing, warring with his own impatience at Jim's ill-humor. "Next time I'll get you fresh cold coffee," he said petulantly. He sat down in his own chair set at a ninety degree angle to Jim's and ignored the sentinel.

Jim scrubbed his face in his palms, recognizing Blair's simmering indignation. "Sorry, Chief. It's just that this shit is starting to get to me."

Blair arched a thick eyebrow. "'Starting' to get to you? Jeezus, Jim, everyone's busting their butt trying to find this guy and you act like everybody but you is sitting on their ass."

"I know, I know, but it's been five days and we've got nothing except four names."

"It's more than we had five days ago," Blair reminded. "Plus there hasn't been another attempt on your life."

Jim stared at his friend. "There will be, you know," he said softly.

"Maybe not. Maybe he gave up."

The desperate hope in Blair's face made Jim's gut clench -- he'd been concentrating so hard on finding his attacker, he'd failed to see how all this was affecting his guide. He rested a hand on Blair's tense shoulder. "Why would someone who tried to shoot me in a very public place only try one more time then give up?"

"Because he's realized it's a stupid risk. He doesn't want to get caught and go to prison."

Jim kneaded Blair's shoulder gently. "I wish I could believe that, Chief, but I can't. But I am going to do everything in my power to catch this guy before he gets another chance. You have to trust me here, Blair."

"Now I'm really worried." The observer smiled tremulously. "You called me Blair."

Jim tapped his cheek. "Hey, that is your name."

"Really? I was thinking about trading in my old pass for a new one with Chief on it."

"I don't think Chief down in the K-9 section would like that. Of course, trim two or three inches off your hair and you and Chief could pass for cousins." Both Jim and Blair had befriended the German shepherd drug dog the year before when Chief had helped them with a case.

"Funny, funny. See me laughing," Blair retorted.

Jim grinned, glad to see Blair's funk had passed. Usually, the grad student was so upbeat that Jim forgot how well he could mask his anxieties. "It's nearly four thirty. What do you say we head home and grab something to eat before you have to go in and teach?"

"You sure? I still have a couple more reports to do."

Jim deliberately closed the file Blair had been inputting into the computer. "They'll be here tomorrow."

After rounding up Jim's evening security team, the four men headed to the underground PD garage. As they approached Jim's truck, the sentinel suddenly grabbed Blair's arm, halting him. He tilted his head to the side, hearing an ominous ticking from beneath the truck.

Jim jerked Blair around and against his chest, setting himself between the truck and his guide. "Bomb! Clear the garage."

A split second after Jim's shout, controlled chaos ensued. A frantic call was made to the bomb squad. Everyone in the garage was herded out. The police department, sitting above the garage, was evacuated.

Twenty minutes later from across the street, Jim kept his hearing turned up while Blair grounded him with a hand on his back.

"How the hell did someone get in under our noses like that?" Banks demanded as he paced near the sentinel and guide team, leaving cigar smoke in his wake. "Jeezus, we aren't even safe in the police building."

"Take it easy, Simon," Blair soothed, keeping his voice low so he wouldn't bother Jim. "Let's just be glad Jim heard it."

Banks stopped his frantic pacing to give his best detective a hard look. "What's going on?"

"It's timed to go off at five o'clock, sir," Jim replied, his head cocked to the side. "It sounds like it's pretty amateurish. Nothing complicated. In fact--" Jim shook his head. "There's no explosives. Just a timing device."

"Why--" Blair began.

"I don't know," Jim answered with a puzzled frown, guessing his guide's question. "If they're out to kill me, why not just do it? Why the game?"

"And when did it become a game?" Blair asked thoughtfully. "The sniper seemed deadly serious on Saturday. The cut brakes were bad, but they weren't a surefire way of killing you. And now a bomb that isn't a bomb? What am I missing here?" he questioned the two veteran detectives.

Jim drew a cool implacable mask over his features. "Sandburg's right, Simon. What the hell's going on?"

"Maybe we're looking in the wrong place. Could somebody be trying to scare you off a case?"

Jim considered the cases he was currently involved in, including those going to court, but there were none serious enough that someone would try to take him out. At least, he didn't think so. "Maybe, but it doesn't seem likely."

"Tomorrow I want you and Sandburg to go through your current caseload with a fine tooth comb," Simon ordered. "I want to catch this son of a bitch and put him away where he belongs."

Jim glanced at Blair, whose blue irises had darkened to midnight within his pale face. "We all do, sir."

A member of the bomb squad gave the all-clear signal, and cops and civilians swarmed back into the department building. Jim, Blair and Simon went directly to the garage where Jim's truck still stood in one piece.

"Well?" Simon demanded gruffly.

Miller, the head of the bomb squad, held up a crude looking timer device. "This was it. No explosives attached to it or anywhere else in the truck. We had a dog go through it to be certain."

"Mind if I take a look?" Jim asked, tugging on a pair of latex gloves he pulled from his jacket pocket.

Miller handed it to him. "Knock yourself out."

Jim lifted the timer to his nose and he breathed deeply, hoping to filter out some scent other than the clock's components. He wrinkled his nose.

"What is it?" Blair asked.

"I don't know," Jim replied. Cautiously, he sniffed again. "There's something here. I can't place it, though."

Blair stepped closer to his partner and spoke sentinel-soft. "Sift through the odors, Jim. Throw out the ones you recognize. Filter them out. Figure out what's left."

"I've smelled it before."

"Where?" Blair asked.

Concentration knitted Jim's brow as he struggled to place the odor. "I don't know, but it wasn't that long ago."

"Could it have been from one of the suspects you talked with?" Simon asked.

Jim handed the device back to Miller, then peeled off his gloves, futility and frustration in his terse motions. "Maybe. I just don't know."

"Easy, Jim," Blair soothed. "It's in your sensory memory. You just have to find it."

Jim nodded, but didn't look optimistic. Suddenly, he raised his head and smiled coldly. "We may not have to go that route." He pointed up at a security camera lens. "Let's play Candid Camera and see who shows up."

Simon followed his gesture and grinned. "I think we just got the break we needed."

"Jimmy!" Jason Harmony called out as he hurried to the detective's side. "Are you all right?"

Surprised at his presence, Jim replied, "Yeah, I'm fine. What're you doing here?"

"I was visiting with the chief when we were evacuated. I was there when he was briefed on what was happening. For some reason, I had a feeling you'd be in the thick of this." Jason said grimly, shaking his head. "Damn it, Jimmy, what if that had been a real bomb?"

"It wasn't and everyone's safe," Jim stated, shifting restlessly. He disliked being the center of attention when all he wanted to do was get back to work and find the perpetrator.

"Do you have any idea who did this?"

"Not yet, but I think we'll have our answer soon."

"How?" Jason asked curiously.

"Security cameras."

Jason followed Jim's line of sight and smiled at the lens aimed in their direction. "Looks like he made a mistake."

"We're going to get him this time."

"Good," Jason said fervently. He glanced at his watch. "I have to get back to the office, but I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

Jim gave him a reassuring smile. "I'm all right. Thanks."

Jason and Jim shook hands and said good-bye. Once the businessman was gone, Jim turned to his guide. "You've got class in an hour. I'll have a patrol car take you over to the U."

Blair shook his head. "I'd rather get a ride back to the loft, then I can pick up my car."

"They can do that," Jim agreed.

"What about you?"

"I'm staying here. The forensics team has to go over the truck, and while they're doing that, Simon and I'll check out the security tape."

"Maybe I should stay. I can call and cancel--"

"I don't want you to get in trouble with the university, Chief," Jim said. "Simon's here. He'll make sure I don't go in too deep with my senses."

Blair glanced at Simon, naked worry in his eyes.

"Go on, Sandburg. I'll keep an eye on him, and get him home safe and sound."

"Should he tuck me in, too?" Jim asked dryly.

Blair's lips quirked upward. "That's not a bad idea."

Simon rolled his eyes and muttered something about God saving him from short paladins. But the gruff captain found himself smiling at his favorite team.

The VCR had been rolled into Simon's office for a private showing of the afternoon's parking lot adventures. Jim, Simon, Joel, Megan, Brown, and Rafe all squeezed into the room, hoping it held the evidence needed to end their search.

Simon rewound the tape, then hit play. A grainy black and white image appeared but Jim had no trouble identifying it as the parking garage. Jim's Ford truck could be seen clearly on the left side of the picture. The time in the lower right corner of the screen read 12:16 p.m. An occasional car rolled across the lens' eye, and a person or a group of people passed by once in a while, but no one approached the truck. The detectives watched the video silently for a few minutes.

"Fast forward, Simon," Jim said, standing behind the other detectives with Simon propped against the wall beside him.

Jim heard the captain's finger press firmly on the forward button and time sped ahead. The sentinel kept his attention solely on the screen, his eyes narrowed and focused as he used his sight to track the taped movement. Sounds faded and his body felt odd, light, incorporeal.

Suddenly a big hand clamped down on his shoulder and his name was uttered, though it sounded far away.

"Damn it, Jim, don't do this," Simon was saying, his head close to Jim's so no one else could hear them.

Jim blinked dry eyes and swore to himself. "Thanks," he whispered sheepishly to his boss.

"I promised Sandburg." Banks' gruff voice couldn't quite mask his concern.

Jim's face heated under the reprimand. He should be glad it was Simon and not Blair who caught him zoning. His guide would've taken a chunk out of his ass at the stupid stunt.

He turned his attention back to the screen, but kept himself from becoming totally immersed in the rapid movements on the video.

"Back it up," Jim suddenly said.

Everybody's head jerked up at his sharp voice and Simon immediately rewound the action.

"Stop. Now play," Jim said.

The screen showed the same monotonous scene, then a man carrying a gym bag entered from the lower right corner. He was rubbernecking, like he was trying to see everything at once... or maybe ensuring no one was watching him. He abruptly changed directions and disappeared on the far side of Jim's truck. Then the screen was again empty except for the parked cars. A minute passed and the man emerged back on screen, still carrying his gym bag, and walked out of the lens' field-of-vision. The time was 4:06 p.m.

"Elijah Donovan," Jim said, and saw Megan and Joel nodding in agreement.

Without prompting, Simon rewound and played the action over.

Jim focused in on the gym bag as he kept his fingernails digging into his palms to keep him from zoning. Not as effective as Blair's presence, but it worked in a pinch. Scoping the bag before and after, Jim could see the tiniest difference in how the bag hung from Donovan's shoulder. It was lighter when he came out from the other side of the truck.

"Gotcha," Jim said, pumping his fisted hand in victory.

As the detectives broke into exclamations of success, Simon picked up his phone and requested a search warrant. Half an hour later, two cars filled with Major Crime detectives, and two patrol cars raced toward Elijah Donovan's residence.

Once in Hargrove Hall, Blair checked a corridor clock and found it was a few minutes after seven. Nothing like being late for his own class. He raced down to the lecture hall and skidded into the large room. Faces turned his way and mixed exclamations of pleasure and disappointment filtered among the students. As he trotted down the ten steps to the podium, he spotted Cynthia Harmony in the third row. She gave him a small smile and wave.

"Sorry I'm late," he spoke to the gathering as he opened his backpack and pulled out his notes for the evening class. "Contrary to popular opinion, I'm usually well-organized."

A quiet round of laughter sifted through the crowd.

Blair smiled and put on his glasses, bringing his students into focus. "Quiz time. Paper and pencil only."

The groans that arose were genuine and loud, and Blair covered his mouth to hide his amusement.

After the short quiz was handed in, Blair launched into his lecture. It was nearing eight o'clock when unease whispered through him. He faltered in the middle of a sentence and had to backtrack in his notes to find his place. The unease grew, graduating to a cold lump in his gut. His entire body felt icy, except for his palms which were damp with fear-sweat. He lost his place again.

"Uh, let's take a ten minute break," Blair announced.

He ignored his puzzled students as he squatted down and rummaged in his backpack for his cell phone.

"Is something wrong?" Cynthia asked.

Startled, Blair glanced up to see the woman standing directly behind him. "I'm not sure. I've got to call my partner."


Blair nodded. He found his phone and walked away from Cynthia as he hit speed dial two -- Jim's cell phone.

One ring. Two. Three. Four.

Five rings.

Panic crested within him. "Damn it, Jim, answer."

Sirens filled his head, acrid smoke burned his nose and mouth, heat licked at his skin, and renewed pain in his arm and ribs made Jim Ellison groan. He managed to pry open his eyes and flames filled his vision.

Donovan's house. Or what was left of it.

The lingering odor of natural gas told Jim the story in technicolor.

He pushed himself upright to a sitting position and was relieved to see Simon Banks kneeling beside him. The captain helped Jim to his feet.

"How're you doing?" Simon asked quietly, as if he knew Jim's senses might be a problem.

"Okay, I think. Everybody else?"

"Nobody else is hurt. You and I were the closest."

Jim's head throbbed and he rubbed his temples. "I had my hearing turned up. I heard Donovan in there and then the hissing sound."

"The gas," Simon said soberly.

"Yeah, it must've been. That's all I remember."

"You yelled at everyone to get down, then the whole damn thing blew up."

A cell phone's ringing startled them.

"It's not mine," Simon said, his hand on his phone.

Jim reached into his pockets, but his phone wasn't there. He and Simon looked around and spotted it on the sidewalk about five feet away. Simon retrieved it and handed it to its owner.

"Ellison," Jim said hoarsely.

"Jim?" Blair's anxious voice cut through the fog in Jim's head.

"Chief, what's wrong? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." He laughed shakily. "I-I thought, well, I thought you were in trouble."

Jim didn't laugh. "Elijah Donovan put the timer on the truck. We came over with a warrant to search his place, but before we could even get close, his house blew up."

Blair's "shit" was accompanied by the sound of a muffled thump.

"Chief? What happened?"

"Uh, well, I just sat down. On the floor."

"I'm okay, Chief. Nobody was hurt," Jim quickly reassured. "Except for Donovan. He was inside."

"So he was the one?"

Jim nodded even though Blair couldn't see him. "Yeah, we're pretty sure it was him. After the fire's out, a team will go through the rubble and see what they can find."

There was a long moment of silence.

"I'm okay, Blair. Really," Jim said softly.

"I know. It's just that I had this feeling--" he broke off, but Jim heard the anguish in his tone. "I thought you were hurt or... or worse."

A wave of emotion curled through Jim and he had to swallow back the tide before he was overtaken by the swell. "Do you want me to come over there?"

"No, that's all right," Blair replied, his voice stronger now. "As long as I know you're safe, I'll be okay."

"I am. I'll be hanging around here for a little while, but I should be home by ten," Jim said.

"If you won't be, call," Blair reiterated Jim's earlier words, and the sentinel could feel the smile in them.

"Same goes for you, Chief."

"Yeah, yeah, I know." But there wasn't any impatience or annoyance, merely affectionate teasing. "See you soon."

"Bye." Jim closed his phone and met Simon's half-fearful, half-curious expression. "He knew."

Simon held up a hand, palm out. "I don't need to know about this, right?"

A smile played at the corner of Jim's lips. "No, sir, you don't."

"Thank you." The relief in the two words made Jim grin even wider.

Then the sentinel looked toward the burning building which was now being doused with fire hoses. "Donovan was on the bottom of my list," Jim said quietly.

Simon withdrew a cigar from his pocket. "You never know about people, Jim. Maybe the time he spent in prison changed him, hardened him. Maybe revenge is what kept him going."

"I suppose." Jim dialed down his sense of smell before breathing in deeply. "All I know is I'd like to sleep for the next forty-eight hours."

"Why don't you take tomorrow off? Take a three day weekend and get away."

Jim thought about Blair and knew the grad student only had office hours in the morning. It would do them both good to get away. Camping? Jim felt the awakened ache in his ribs and wrist. No, his body wouldn't appreciate sleeping on the ground. Maybe they could go to Seattle for the weekend and see that new anthropological display that Sandburg had been talking about. Stay in a nice hotel, eat at a strange restaurant Sandburg would like, go to the display; and wasn't the annual big outdoors show at their convention hall this weekend?

"That's a good idea, Simon. Blair could use the break."

"Both of you could. Head on home, Jim. I'll call you with the forensics and ME's results," Simon said.

"My truck's still at the station."

"Joel can give you a ride."

Jim's sense of duty prompted him to stay, but relief and exhaustion were good motivators. Besides, it would be nice to go home and not have someone looking over his shoulder, even if it had been for protection. "Okay."

"Okay? Here I was expecting an argument."

"I'm too tired to argue," Jim said with a faint smile.

"Did hell just freeze over?" Simon asked innocently.

Before Jim could defend himself, Joel joined them.

"Is everything all right, Blair?" Cynthia asked as he returned his phone to his backpack.

He glanced up to see her distressed countenance. "Yeah, everything's fine. They figured out who was trying to kill Jim."

"Thank god. Who was it?"

"A small time drug dealer he put away a couple years ago," Blair replied. He shook his head. "It's sad that he couldn't just put it all behind him and go on with his life."

"I'm glad Jim is all right. Jason said the two of them were good friends in high school."

"I thought you graduated with them, too."

Cynthia shook her head. "No. Jason and I met in Chicago."

"How long ago was that?"

"Five years ago." Her face became pensive. "It doesn't seem like it's been that long."

Looking back on that same number of years, Blair nodded in agreement. Five years ago he was still searching for his sentinel.

He looked around to see most of his students had returned and were visiting among themselves. "Break time's over."

Cynthia returned to her seat and Blair continued his lecture. An hour later, he ended the class, and again, he and Cynthia left the building together.

"You and Jim seem pretty close," Cynthia said thoughtfully as they strolled across the asphalt.

"We're good friends and roommates," Blair said with a shrug. "Plus I ride along with him so I can get data for my thesis. We've faced some pretty hairy stuff."

Suddenly Cynthia stumbled and fell against Blair. He instinctively caught her while her arms went around his neck.

"Ow, ow, ow!" she cried, putting most of her weight on one foot.

"What happened?" Blair asked.

"I twisted my ankle in that hole."

Blair glanced back to see a small pothole in the parking lot surface. "I should take you to the hospital to have it x-rayed. Make sure it's not broken."

She shook her head. "No, I'm fine, really. It doesn't feel broken." She tried to put some weight on it and gasped sharply as she tightened her hold around him. "But I don't think I can drive myself home."

"I can give you a ride," Blair offered, feeling guilty for not seeing the hole. He shifted his backpack and wrapped an arm around her waist. He helped her toward the Volvo. Maneuvering carefully, he unlocked the passenger door and eased her into his car.

"I feel so stupid," Cynthia said, her cheeks flaming with embarrassment.

"Don't worry about it," Blair reassured with a smile. "Could've happened to anyone. In fact, I think I'm going to talk to somebody tomorrow before this happens to anyone else. Are you all the way in?"

She nodded and he closed the door. He slipped into the driver's seat and noticed Cynthia struggling with her seatbelt. "Need some help there?"

She smiled shakily. "First I step in a hole, then I can't even fasten my own seatbelt. Am I pathetic or what?"

Blair chuckled. "Maybe unlucky, but not pathetic. Can I give you a hand there?"


Blair leaned across the seat, pulled the shoulder harness down across her chest and leaned over to click the seatbelt in place. Her breasts were only an inch or two from his face, but he behaved like a gentleman. Finally, he straightened up behind the wheel and fastened his own seatbelt. "Are you sure you don't want to go to the hospital?"

"No. I just want to go home."

"Okay. I have to call Jim to let him know I'll be a little late," Blair said, reaching for his phone.

Cynthia shot him a strange look, but didn't comment.

And in the shadows, a camera clicked and whirred softly.

On Friday morning, Jim drove Blair to the campus to pick up Cynthia's car and deliver it to her place with the detective following him. The weekend trip to Seattle was postponed in lieu of relaxing at home, as well as catching up on projects around the loft. Laundry was done, groceries were bought, bills were paid, emails were answered, floors were swept and scrubbed, dust was exorcised, and lesson plans for a certain grad student were organized.

Mainly, however, Jim simply enjoyed the freedom to come and go without someone constantly watching him. Unless that someone was his guide, which he didn't mind, except when they went to Home Depot Saturday morning to buy a washer for the bathroom faucet and Blair insisted on checking out the new Office Max next to it. Two hours later, they returned home: Jim with his single washer and Blair with a bag of notebooks, pens, folders, three ring binders and disks. Not to mention the phone number of the attractive young woman working in the copy center area.

Blair stood in the doorway of the bathroom while Jim replaced the washer, all the while soliloquizing about the differences between the people who shopped at Home Depot and at Office Max. When Jim jokingly suggested he write a paper on it, Blair took the idea to heart and disappeared into his room for a notebook and returned with an announcement of going back to the two stores to gather data. So Saturday afternoon at the loft passed in peace and quiet... and Jim was totally bored. So bored that he rented an action movie and a foreign film with subtitles, thinking he and Blair could watch them that night. And they did, with a bowl of popcorn between them, insulting each other's movie tastes, and taking turns retrieving bottles of beer from the kitchen.

On Sunday, the weekly ritual of reading the paper over breakfast was followed, as well as the lazy afternoon sprawl in front of the TV watching anything sports related. Blair plunked away at his keyboard, dividing his attention between another anthropological paper and the TV. Jim read two more chapters of the Kerouac book which had been sitting around the loft for weeks.

It was the routine of the weekend and the time spent together that revived and refreshed sentinel and guide. Without a death threat hanging over Jim, Blair could relax, and with Blair's contentment, Jim felt his own tensions slide away. He didn't know if it was because they were so attuned to each other, or because they were such good friends.

More than likely it was both.

When Monday morning arrived, both Jim and Blair felt rested and ready to tackle the week.

"Ellison! Sandburg!" Simon's familiar shout brought their heads up in unison, and Jim was reminded of those stupid dogs with the bobbing heads in the back windows of cars.

"Last time this happened, we ended up golfing and getting shot at," Blair whispered to Jim as they made their way to the captain's office.

"As far as I know, there's no golf charity at the country club next weekend," Jim said dryly.

"It's probably a car wash this time and they want you to stand on a busy street corner with a sign," Blair muttered.

"That'd be good PR for the department," Jim said sarcastically.

A teasing smile captured Blair's lips. "At least among the female populace of Cascade."

Jim cuffed the back of Blair's head, getting more hair than head when the younger man ducked. "Jealous?"

"I don't need to hold a sign to get a woman's attention."

"No, just climb a ladder," Jim bantered and ushered him into Simon's office before Blair could fling back a retort.

"I take it you two had a relaxing weekend?" Simon asked wryly, though his dark eyes twinkled.

"Yes, sir," Jim replied. "Thanks for the extra day."

Simon waved his unlit cigar. "You needed it." He opened a file on his desk. "I have the final results of forensics here. I told you they found a rifle in the burned wreckage of Donovan's place. Ballistics matched the bullet from the tree as coming from the rifle. That, with the security camera's evidence, is enough to close the book on this one."

"How'd he die?" Jim asked.

"Asphyxiation. The tox report said he was so high on drugs, he wouldn't have noticed the fire until it was too late."

"What about the rifle? Was it registered to Donovan?"

Simon searched through the file, paused and scanned a sheet. "The serial number had been filed off, then the fire destroyed it even more. They might be able to raise part of it, but there's enough circumstantial evidence that forensics didn't figure they needed to."

"I suppose." Jim leaned a broad shoulder against the window and crossed his arms. "I still don't understand why he did it. He was a drug user and small time dealer. There was no record of him assaulting anyone or even possessing a firearm. What made him come after me?"

Simon leaned back in his chair and the overhead lights glimmered on his glasses. "The only person who can answer that is dead."

Jim rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. "It's just seems strange."

"Did he have a girlfriend? Or maybe a friend we could talk to?" Blair asked, glancing at his partner.

"It's over, Sandburg," Simon said without force.


Jim held up a hand. "Let it go, Chief. Simon's right. It's over." He pushed away from the plate glass window. "Was there anything else, sir?"

Simon shook his head. "Business as usual, and I'm putting you back on the rotation."

"Yes, sir." He walked to the door and opened it, allowing Blair to go ahead of him. Before Jim left, he met his boss's eyes. "Thanks again for the weekend, Simon. It wasn't just me who needed it."

"Yeah, well, the kid deserves some downtime, too," Simon said brusquely, but his eyes couldn't hide his almost paternal affection for the grad student.

Jim sent him a smile that told him he knew exactly what Simon meant, then joined his partner.

"We need to do it now."

"No. We need one more week, then we'll have what we need."

"If he'd done his job right the first time, we wouldn't be in this position."

"This way is better. There won't be any further investigation and we'll be in the clear."

"You mean, you'll be in the clear. You'd be the first suspect."

"Exactly. Everyone thinks the sniper was after Ellison, and Donovan won't be telling anyone otherwise. With him gone, there's no trail for the police to follow."

"But we're letting this drag out too long. The problem has to be taken care of."

"I know, and it will be. Sandburg and Ellison are tight. We need it irrefutable."

"We don't have any more time. One word in the wrong ear and we're done for."

"As long as we have all our ducks in a row, everything will go as planned."

"This isn't a carnival game. We're talking millions."

Heavy silence dominated the plush room.

"All right. Friday night. We need a few more pictures."

"Friday night then."

Blair locked his office door. It was late afternoon Friday and he had a date that evening. Then tomorrow he and Jim were driving to Seattle to see the anthropological display at the Natural History Museum, as well as go to a Mariners baseball game in the evening.

Life was good.

He drove back to the loft and was surprised to see Jim wasn't home yet. The red light was blinking on the answering machine and he pressed it.

"Chief, it's me. I'm filling in for Sawyer tonight on a stakeout. He picked up the crud that's going around. I can handle the stakeout -- nothing major. No need to spoil your evening, too. I'll see you in the morning."

Blair felt bad for his roommate but respected and admired the code he lived by. Integrity and honor were integral to Jim, and Blair knew the compassion, the tenderness, and the generosity housed within James Ellison's soul better than anyone. Jim rarely let others see that side of himself, fearful of having those qualities used against him. Blair's throat tightened with that precious knowledge he alone possessed. He'd never had a friend like Jim before; and couldn't foresee ever having another as close again.

Tomorrow morning he'd make pecan pancakes for breakfast then offer to drive to Seattle so Jim could sleep. After a night on stakeout, Jim could use the rest so he could enjoy their weekend excursion.

Blair quickly showered and changed into black jeans and a royal blue shirt with a black henley beneath it. He left his hair unbound and tugged on his hiking boots. By the time he was ready, he only had ten minutes to make it across town to pick up his date. He grabbed a jacket, his keys, cell phone and wallet, but left his backpack and hustled out the door.

Twenty minutes later, he knocked on Susan's apartment door. Just as she opened the door, Blair's cell phone rang.

"Hey, Susan. Just a second. Got a call," he said unnecessarily as it rang a second time. "Hello."

"Blair, it's Cynthia." She sounded out of breath. "Could you come over here?"

"Uh, Cynthia, I'm actually--" He caught Susan's glare out of the corner of his eye.

"Please, Blair. Jason and I just had this huge fight and I need someone to talk to."

He turned away from Susan and spoke in a low voice. "What about Amanda or Louise? Maybe you should talk to one of them instead."

"No. We're really not that close. Please, Blair," she pleaded and a sob escaped her.

Blair felt himself weakening. Cynthia had come to class this past Tuesday and Thursday, too, and he had seen her interest in the subject matter shine in her eyes. If she needed a friend to talk to, he could do that. "All right. You're at home?"


"Where's Jason?"

"He left." Cynthia was hiccuping now.

"Okay. I'll be there in fifteen minutes." Blair pushed the off button and turned to Susan... only to have the door slammed in his face. "Susan, I can explain."

"I should've known you were too good to be true," came the angry shout from the other side. "You can take my number out of your little black book. You seem to have more than enough as it is."

"No, it isn't--"

"Go see Cynthia, and don't ever come back here."

Blair closed his eyes and shook his head. Damn. So much for this first and last date. Shoving aside his disappointment, he strode back to his car and jumped in. As he drove, he thought back to his conversation with Cynthia. The woman sounded frightened. Had Jason threatened her? No, she would've told him if he had. It sounded more like she was finally sticking up for herself and Jason didn't like his June Cleaver with a backbone.

He opened his phone to call Jim, but closed it again. There was no reason to drag Jim into the middle of a marital spat. Jason was Jim's friend, and Cynthia was Blair's. If he called Jim, he might just end up putting them on opposite sides in a domestic dispute. No, there was no reason to tell Jim now. He'd explain it in the morning.

Blair drove up the winding driveway into a circular drive. Cynthia's red Mercedes was parked there, telling Blair she had been out sometime during the day. Feeling somewhat intimidated by the million dollar house, Blair hurried up the sidewalk and rang the doorbell. There was no answer. He tried again and waited. Nothing.

Finally, he turned the doorknob and was shocked to find it unlocked. He pushed open the door and stuck his head inside. "Cynthia, are you here?"

Stark silence filled the house.

With a feeling of dread, Blair searched the downstairs, but didn't find anyone. His apprehension rising, he climbed the wide staircase. Shivers ran up his spine despite the warmth of the interior. He wanted to turn around and run out, away from the uneasiness that pressed down upon him.

He eased open the first door at the top of the stairs. It appeared to be a spare bedroom and it was empty. He crept down the hallway on his tiptoes, though why he was being so stealthy, he didn't know. The next door was cracked open only an inch or two. Blair placed a trembling hand against it and pressed it back. A king size bed dominated the room, but it was the feet on the floor sticking out beyond the far side of the bed that sent Blair's heart hammering in his chest.

He forced himself closer to see who was lying there and spotted a growing stain of crimson on the carpet beside the body. His hand flew to his mouth and his stomach recoiled in horror.

A sharp jab in the back of his shoulder made him arch in shock and the room shimmered out of focus, then into darkness. Blair didn't even feel the floor when it came up to meet him.

Jim generally disliked stakeouts. But he hated stakeouts without his guide to keep him company. It meant he had to be more alert to the signs of zoning. But even more importantly, he missed the lively discussions between them. Whether it be arguing about the merits of bathroom spray deodorizer versus cedar chips or the legalization of prostitution, Blair had an opinion on everything and anything.

He glanced at his co-worker -- he couldn't think of anyone but Blair as his partner -- and saw the half-closed eyes of a man on the verge of slumber. For a moment, he was tempted to give him an elbow jab, but then he'd have to listen to Tucker complain about his wife's nagging, his mother-in-law's disapproval, and his oldest kid's nose piercing. He'd already heard more than he ever wanted to know about Tucker's family.

Jim crossed his arms and settled in for the evening. He only had to be here until two a.m. when the shift changed, and even though it was only eight thirty, the object of their stakeout was already settled in front of the TV with a six pack of beer. It was going to be a long night.

His phone rang, startling him. He frowned as he dug in his pocket for it. Who'd be calling him? Did Blair have car problems?

"Ellison," he answered. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Tucker stirring.

"Jim, it's Simon."

The low somber tone of his boss chilled Jim to the marrow. "What happened?"

"There's been a murder at the Harmony's."

Jim closed his eyes in relief that it wasn't Blair, but then felt guilty when he pictured Jason and Cynthia. "Who?"

"Jason Harmony. Died of two gunshot wounds to the chest," Simon said.

"Shit." Jim rubbed his brow. "Suspects?"


The long pause brought a shiver of dread to Jim's spine. "Who?" He could barely force the single word question out.


"What?!? Why would Sandburg kill Jason? Besides, he told me he had a date tonight." Icy fear slid through Jim's veins.

"Can Tucker handle the stakeout alone for an hour or so?" Simon asked.

Jim blinked. "Yeah."

"I'll swing by to pick you up and have another detective take your place with Tucker." Simon sighed and it sounded bone-deep weary. "I'll be there in about ten minutes."

Jim gave Tucker the basics, leaving out the suspicion that Blair was the murderer. It was crazy; insane. Anybody who knew Sandburg knew he could never commit murder.

What if it was self-defense? Then what was Blair doing there in the first place? Jim distinctly remembered his roommate telling him he was going out that evening, but he hadn't given the identity of his date.

What if his date had been with Cynthia? No! Blair wouldn't have an affair with a married woman, especially after what had happened to him when he was younger. Blair was too smart to repeat his mistakes.

What if Cynthia hadn't hurt her ankle at all last week, but Blair had used it as an excuse to be late?

Damn it, Ellison. Knock it off. Blair wouldn't do anything that stupid.

Headlights came up behind them and Jim recognized Simon in the driver's seat of the dark colored sedan. Jim gave Tucker a terse "good-bye" and slipped into the passenger side of Simon's car. As soon as he closed his door, Simon stepped on the gas pedal.

"What the hell's going on, Simon? We know Blair wouldn't shoot anybody, much less murder someone," Jim demanded. "Especially Jason Harmony."

Simon's Adam's apple slid up and down. "Unless he was having an affair with the man's wife and got caught."

All the air whooshed from Jim's lungs and he struggled to find air. His vision winked in and out. "No, he wouldn't!" Instead of a bellow, it came out a whisper.

"There's pictures, Jim. He and Mrs. Harmony in compromising positions," Simon stated flatly, though his eyes were haunted.

"Pictures can be manipulated. She was attending Blair's evening class. She said she wanted to learn more about anthropology. He wasn't having an affair with her."

Simon glanced at him sharply, the streetlights casting uneven light bars across his face. "Did he tell you this?"

"Yes! Ask him. He'll tell you."

Simon's gaze skittered away to face forward, his shoulders stiff beneath his overcoat. "He's not there. He ran."

"What?" The single word exploded in the confines and even Jim flinched at his roar.

"When the first unit got there, they saw Sandburg. He was running away from the scene."

"They made a mistake. It couldn't have been him."

Simon took a deep breath. "Then why is his car, wallet and cell phone at the Harmony's?" he asked softly.

Pain stabbed through Jim's head and he pressed his fingertips to his brow. "No. He didn't do it." He rubbed his temples with his fingertips. "What did Cynthia say?"

Simon shook his head. "She was hysterical. The family doctor had to come and sedate her."

"Did she say anything?"

The long pause grated on Jim's nerves and made his stomach nauseous.

"She said Blair shot her husband," Simon said quietly.

Jim closed his eyes and leaned back against the headrest. No, he didn't believe it -- couldn't believe it. Blair was not having an affair with Cynthia Harmony and he did not kill Jason. No way in hell was Jim going to believe that load of shit. Somebody set up his partner and he was damn well going to find out who.

Just as soon as he found Blair.

Jim's eyes flew open. "What about Blair?"

"There's an APB out for him, and they're saying he's dangerous, even though he left the gun at the scene."

"Goddammit, Simon, they're giving the go-ahead to use extreme force on him and he doesn't even have a weapon."

"We don't know that."

"We do know that! And if you'd stop being a fucking police captain, and be Blair's friend for a minute, you'd know the same thing." Jim's fury spilled out, striking his friend and boss with full force.

"That's enough, Detective," Simon ordered in a steely voice. "If you can't at least pretend to be objective, I'm going to ban you from the scene and anything to do with the case. Do you understand, Ellison?"

Jim bit the inside of his cheek and tasted blood. "Yes, sir."

Simon pulled into the Harmony's driveway and rotating red lights from a dozen police vehicles, including the Chief of Police's, met their sight. This was a fucking nightmare and Jim's guide was caught right in the middle of it.

Simon and Jim showed their badges to the uniformed officers standing guard in front of the huge house. They were allowed inside, only to be met with an apoplectic chief.

Chief Wilkins, a man about Blair's height, but weighing at least forty pounds more, stalked up to Simon and Jim. "What the hell's going on, Captain Banks?"

"I don't know, sir. I just got here myself," Simon said stiffly.

"Where's that long-haired observer of yours, Ellison?" the officious man turned on Jim.

"I don't know, sir," Jim said with the same intonation as Simon.

Wilkins stepped up to Jim and jabbed him in the chest. "You find him and you charge him with murder. Do you understand, Detective?"

"Where is your evidence, sir?" Jim's soft-spoken words were threaded with steel.

The chief's complexion went from red to near purple. "He was seen leaving the house, Cynthia Harmony witnessed him shooting her husband, and his car is out front. What else do you need, Ellison? A signed confession?"

"Yes," Jim stated, holding Wilkins' gaze.

Wilkins opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He switched his venomous gaze to Banks. "If Ellison gets in your way, I expect you to suspend him." Then the chief spun on his heel and marched out of the house, his assistant close on his heels.

"The son of a bitch has Sandburg tried and convicted," Jim muttered.

"Looking at the evidence, you have to admit--" Simon began.

Jim swung around, his hands curled into fists at his sides. "No, I don't! It's circumstantial."

"What about Mrs. Harmony's word?"

Jim didn't want to think about the most damning piece of evidence. "I'm going to take a look at the body." He climbed the stairs with Simon following closely. The room was easy enough to find with people spilling out of it.

Jim shouldered his way inside with his badge and growls. Jason's body lay on the floor next to the bed, which was mussed as if some one -- or some ones -- had been rolling in it. He was wearing a suit that was now soaked in blood. Of course, Jason Harmony was beyond caring at this point. The stench of blood and death filled Jim's nostrils and he gagged a moment before he got his dial turned down. A tech was holding a plastic bag with a revolver in it.

"Is that the murder weapon?" Jim asked.

The man nodded. "A Browning nine millimeter."

"Can I see it?"

The tech handed it to him and Jim opened the top and took a deep breath. Only gun oil and cordite. He sharpened his vision and sighted in on the serial number -- it hadn't been tampered with. "Who's is it?" Jim asked.

"Mrs. Harmony said it was her husband's. He kept it in the nightstand."

"So how'd Sandburg know it was there?"

The tech merely stared at him, obviously aware that it was better not to say anything. He held out his hand and Jim gave the gun back to him. "I want to know whose prints are on it," Jim said.

"That'll be given to the officer in charge."

"And who's that?"

"Howard Simkins from Homicide," Simon Banks said.

Jim knew Simkins. He wasn't the most brilliant detective but he was an honest cop. Jim ignored the people crawling around looking for pieces of physical evidence as he squatted down beside the body. Jason's eyes were open and unseeing. Even after all the bodies Jim had seen in his adult life, he could barely hold down the bile rising in his throat. He had known Jason a long time, maybe not that well, but they had shared memories. It hurt to see him dead.

But it hurt much worse to know Blair was being sought as the suspect in his murder. Jim pushed all personal feelings aside and concentrated on the body and the surrounding area, opening his senses. He searched the carpet but too many people had walked on it to separate their foot imprints from earlier ones. He quickly set aside the heavy thick scent of blood and sorted through the remaining odors: deodorant, shampoo, mouthwash, handsoap, and the most pervasive -- Jason's own body waste voided at the time of his death. A fleeting scent caught his attention and he tried to pin it down, but it was gone, leaving nothing but a vague sense of unease.

He straightened and walked around the bed. He touched the silky sheets, a tiny part of him enjoying the sensuous glide of material across his fingers and palms. Leaning closer, he sniffed the sheets and coverlet. Perfume he recognized as Cynthia's, along with the fainter smell of Jason. But no Sandburg. If he had been in the bed, Jim would've picked up something -- he knew Blair's scent too well to miss it.

"Anything?" Simon asked in a low voice.

"Blair hasn't been in this bed," Jim said quietly, but firmly. "Cynthia was not too long ago, and Jason probably this morning, but not Sandburg."

"How can you be so sure?"

Jim fixed him with a glare, but didn't speak.

Wearing latex gloves, Simon held up a manila envelope. Jim's gaze latched onto it, then met the captain's somber expression. Jim pulled on a pair of gloves and Banks gave him the envelope. The sentinel's fingers shook as he opened it and slid out a stack of five by seven inch pictures. Each one was of Cynthia and Blair and most of them were taken at the University. Cynthia with her arms around Blair's neck and his arm around her waist in the U parking lot; Blair leaning close to Cynthia in his Volvo; Blair smiling at Cynthia and her smiling back.

"There isn't a single one that implicates Blair in an affair with her," Jim stated.

Simon's mouth dropped open and he grabbed one and pointed at it. It was one with Blair leaning close to Cynthia in the Volvo, his face turned toward her chest and his hands out of sight. "What about that one?"

Jim's mind raced. "She hurt her ankle last week. Blair gave her a ride home. Maybe he's checking her ankle."

Simon took the stack of pictures from Jim and shoved them back in the envelope. "How many people knew about her ankle?"

"How the hell should I know? Blair called me and said he'd be late because Cynthia stepped in a hole and he had to drive her home," Jim said impatiently. He looked around at the faces that had turned at his raised voice. He ignored them. "I'm going to check Sandburg's car and see if there's anything in there that might tell us what the hell's going on here."

He stalked out of the bedroom, barely missing a collision with the men from the morgue to pick up the body. Jim's mind raced as he bounded down the stairs and out to his roommate's car. Had Blair lied to him about his relationship with Cynthia? No, Jim had believed him. Still believed him. But it appeared he was the only one who did. He had to talk to Cynthia, find out where the pictures had come from. He had to ask her if Blair shot Jason and hope his senses could detect a lie when she answered.

Still wearing his gloves, he opened the Volvo's driver's side and leaned in. Blair's scent was overwhelming in the vehicle. He had obviously showered right before leaving the loft -- the scent of his shampoo was almost overpowering. He spotted Blair's cell phone and wallet sitting on the seat. Why hadn't he taken them in with him? In fact, why had he come to the Harmonys in the first place? And Jim couldn't -- wouldn't -- believe it was for a tryst with Cynthia.

He straightened up outside the car and opened his sight and hearing as he searched futily for his missing guide. Why had he run? What the hell was he thinking by leaving a crime scene?

"Where the hell are you, Chief?" Jim murmured, his voice husky with fear.

Run rabbit run. Run rabbit run. Run rabbit run.

The words formed a cadence in his mind, urging him on, making him continue away from that place even after he had put miles between himself and those burnt, blackened things. The sprawling lawns had become smaller and smaller until concrete outstripped the grass, and rundown apartments replaced single homes. Glass and refuse littered the alleys and the stink of urine and vomit assaulted his nose, cutting through the reek of smoke and charred flesh.

His breathing was jagged, slicing his lungs and overtaking the cadence which had filled his head for so long. Cramps tightened his gut and he dropped to his knees, adding his own sordid stench to the other foul odors as he lost whatever food was in his stomach. His head throbbed and everything was out of focus, like watching a movie underwater. Sounds tumbled in and out, and he could make little sense of them.

Where was he? How had he gotten here?

Run rabbit run.

He pushed himself to his feet and started moving further into the jungle of rotting wood and broken glass and cold suspicious eyes. Colliding with something hard and immovable, he stumbled back and fell to the ground. The unforgiving brick wall hurt and he groaned aloud.

He remained on the floor of the alley, panting and gasping and trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't. His vision remained blurry but sounds were starting to trickle in as identifiable -- a car horn, a man cursing, a woman shouting, a cat meowing.

"You okay, mister?"

He cringed away from the voice -- away from "it" -- and clapped his hands, hoping to scare it away. Guns didn't work, but clapping did. Who had told him that?

"Don't be scared. I ain't gonna hurt you."

Amazingly the words made sense and he blinked, bringing a young girl with huge brown eyes and wearing a baseball cap into focus. The burnt fire things scattered, disappearing back into the bowels of the earth where they had escaped. He closed his eyes and almost sobbed in relief.

"Hey, mister, you look like you got some bad stuff," she said. She inched closer and he scuttled backwards like a crab. "It's okay. I ain't gonna hurt you."

Hurt. Pain.

"Head hurts," he finally said.

She squinted at him. "I don't see anything, but that don't mean nothin'." She looked around the dimness warily. "It ain't safe to stay here. You can come to my place if you'd like."

He blinked. "Home?"

She nodded. "That's right. My home."



A high-ceilinged room flashed through his scrambled brain and warmth touched the ice-cold patch in his chest. "Okay."

She reached out slowly and took his hand. "C'mon, I'll help you."

He felt himself pulled to his feet by the surprisingly strong girl, and almost fell face forward onto the ground. She caught him. "Take it easy. I gotcha."

He allowed her to lead him, not caring where they went, but only wanting to escape. Escape what, he didn't know. Only that it was important he get away. He shuffled along beside her for a time until they stopped in front of what looked like a solid wall. She pushed aside some cardboard boxes and a board, revealing an opening into the building just big enough he could wriggle through. She urged him down to his knees then through the hole. Once inside, he sat and waited until she joined him. After she re-covered the opening, she stood and took his hand once more.

She led him through a maze of broken furniture and glass and old newspapers, to another hidden entrance. He went through it without encouragement and blinked when he found himself in a fairly neat room with a double bed along the far wall; a shelf along another wall held a hot plate and toaster oven. A crate set on the floor contained dishes and odds'n ends; another crate was filled with foodstuffs. A small table with two chairs sat in the center of the room.

He didn't recognize this place.

"You want somethin' to eat?" she asked.

He thought about that and shook his head. "Tired."

She eyed him critically. "You can sleep on the bed iffen you take off your shoes first."

He nodded and clumsily tried to untie the boots on his feet, but the laces outwitted him.

"I'll do it," she said with an air of impatience. She quickly removed his shoes. "Come on, mister, let's get you over there."

With her helping him, he finally found himself on a soft mattress and slumber beckoned him.

Charley walked over to the small table and sat down, propping her elbow on its surface and resting her chin in her hand as she watched her unexpected guest sleep. Why had she brought him here? She hadn't brought anyone else here ever before. This was her secret place. It had been hers alone for the past month. So why him?

She studied his dark curly hair that hung a couple inches below his collar and the fine lines of his jaw and nose. His full lips were almost too pretty for a boy, but it didn't make him look like a girl neither. In fact, Charley thought he was about the hottest guy she'd ever seen.

She squirmed in her chair, recognizing her own weakness in bringing him here. But then, he didn't look like he'd been on the street too long neither. Early on she'd learned which men to stay away from; the look they had -- sort of like they were taking off her clothes with their eyes. She shivered. No, she stayed away from men like that.

But this one. He wasn't like that. He looked lost. Alone. Probably the same way she'd looked when Toby had taken her in and shared this place with her. He hadn't wanted anything from her but to be a friend. He had taught her how to survive on the street without turning tricks, even though he himself hadn't been so lucky. He had died a month ago. He had found a new supplier, but the drug had been mixed with something bad and Toby was gone. And Charley was lonely.

She stood and wandered over to the bedside. Sliding her hands into her jeans pockets, she watched the pretty man sleep. He had gotten some bad drugs, too, but he was luckier than Toby. She had found him and he would get better.

Charley glanced at the lightening sky and knew she had rounds to go on. It was the best time to find food with the stores just throwing out the old and damaged stuff. She rested a hand on his shoulder. "I'll be back."

Then Charley slipped out of her home, leaving her guest asleep.

Simon reined in his fast-unraveling temper. "Damn it, Ellison, they're getting to it as fast as they can."

Jim glared at him and jumped to his feet to stare out at the coral-colored sky from Simon's office window. "It's not fast enough. Sandburg is out there somewhere, hurt, maybe dying."

"You don't know that."

"The hell I don't," Jim shouted back. "If he could, he would've called me. We both know that."

Simon took off his glasses and set them on his desk. His eyes felt as if someone had poured a bucket of sand in them. "Maybe he's scared."

"Of me? C'mon, Simon, he knows I'd never believe he killed Jason."

Ellison sounded like a stuck record -- a comparison only people his age would understand. "What if he's scared to call you because he did kill him?"

Jim's jaw tightened and a muscle jumped into his cheek, but for the first time, he didn't refute it. Maybe he was finally waking up to the facts. Facts Simon hated facing. Facts that pointed to Blair as an adulterer and a murderer. No, he didn't believe Sandburg did it either, but it would do no good for him to become as single-minded as Jim. Higher-ups were watching him and Simon knew it. One false move or even a hint of nepotism, and Simon would be cut out of the information loop. That would accomplish nothing.

Simon's phone rang and he snatched it up before the first ring ended. "Banks."

"Captain, it's Chang." Her voice sounded tired, defeated. "The only prints on the gun were Blair's. The shell casings were wiped clean."

Simon closed his eyes as a wave of hopelessness washed over him. "Thanks, Serena."

"You're welcome." There was a long pause. "He didn't do it, did he, sir?"

"What do you think?" Simon asked gently.

Serena sighed. "I wish I knew."

Simon placed the receiver in the cradle and met Ellison's eyes. He had listened in, thus sparing Simon having to pass on the bad news.

"I've gotta get out of here, Simon. I'm going to look for him," Jim announced, but much of the fire was gone from his tone.

"Where? There're a million places he could be in the city. And what if he took off on the interstate, left Cascade?"

"No. He's still here," Jim said with frightening certainty.

Simon didn't argue. He was better off not knowing these things, things like sentinel and guide connections. "I'll go with you."

Jim shook his head. "No, sir. You need to stay here and coordinate." He paused as he rubbed his brow. "And keep me informed. Please." The last word was strained.

Knowing how much that small concession cost his friend, Simon nodded gently. "You know I will."

Jim straightened and the momentary vulnerability vanished. "I'll have my cell phone with me, sir."

"Don't take a chance with one of those zone-outs, Jim."

"I won't. Thanks, Simon."

Jim strode out of the office like a man with a mission, and Simon supposed he was. To find Sandburg -- his guide and friend -- one way or another.

He bolted up, though the waking part took a few minutes longer. Sitting up in the unfamiliar bed, he looked around his surroundings, at the stark conditions and eclectic decor. There were two windows set high in the wall letting in sunlight through smoky panes. A movement beside him made him glance down to see a girl curled up and sleeping on the far side of the bed. Her curly black hair was tied back in a ponytail and her mocha skin was smooth. She didn't look like she could be more than twelve or thirteen years old.

He shifted away from her even as he wondered who she was and how they had come to be sleeping in the same bed. His brain felt mushy; thinking took major effort and still, he had no idea what was going on.

"You're awake," the girl said as she sat up. "You're lookin' better."

"Wh--" his voice broke and he had to clear his throat. "Who're you?"

"Charley. What's your name?"

"Blair," he responded automatically, then wondered how he knew that.

She wrinkled her nose. "Isn't that a girl's name?"

"Isn't Charley a boy's name?" he countered with a frown.

The girl thought for a moment then shrugged. "Whatever." She levered herself off the mattress and gazed down at him. "You want somethin' to eat?"

"Yes," Blair replied without hesitation, then felt his face burn with embarrassment. "I'm sorry. I don't even know who you are or where I am or how I got here."

"Yeah, you were kinda out of it when I found you this morning." She walked over to a wooden crate and rummaged around it, coming up with a dented can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup and a can opener. "This okay?"

Blair squinted at the can and nodded. "That'd be fine. Thank you."

She appeared startled. "Uh, you're welcome." As she opened the can, she spoke. "I was out makin' my rounds 'bout two hours before the sun come up when I found you in an alley, lyin' there like you didn't know up from down, so I brung you here." She tossed him a shy smile. "This is my place."

"You live here alone?" Blair asked.

"Now I do." She poured the soup into a battered pan and set it on the hotplate.

Blair felt odd lying there while the girl did all the work. Something told him he wasn't used to sitting around doing nothing. He swung his legs off the bed and planted his stocking feet on the bare floor. He pushed himself upright and vertigo swept through him. Casting out a hand, he caught himself on the edge of the mattress and closed his eyes, only to have the dizziness increase. He quickly re-opened them, breathing deeply.

"You okay, Blair?" Charley asked as she stirred the soup.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little weak, I guess," he murmured. Slowly, he eased his hand away from the bed and found himself a bit more steady. Another more urgent matter made itself known. "Uh, do you have a bathroom?"

"Yep," she said almost proudly. "I'll show you."

Blair held up a hand. "That's okay. If you just tell me--"

"Go out and then go right a little ways. You'll see it at the end of the hall. It flushes and everything. Sink even works."


By the time he returned -- feeling a little more human -- Charley had the soup divided between two bowls. She motioned to a chair by the table. "Go ahead and sit down. I'll get us some water."

He did as she said and watched her fill two mismatched glasses with water from a plastic jug. She set one down in front of him and he drank it down greedily. He hadn't been certain if the water in the bathroom was potable and didn't want to test it. "More please?"

She smiled and re-filled the glass he held out. "How're you feelin'?"

Blair catalogued the muscle aches and pains, and the headache which had receded to a dull roar. "Better, I think."

"Eat your soup. It'll help."

Silence filled the small room as they ate.

Finally, with his thirst and hunger appeased, Blair studied his small savior. "How long have you lived here?"

She shrugged one slight shoulder. "Five, six months."


Sadness shadowed her face. "Not always. Toby, he found me after I--" She suddenly stood and picked up their bowls. "He found me pukin' my guts out after I ate somethin' bad. This was his place. He took care of me."

"Where is he?"

Charley poured some water into the pan she had heated the soup in and set it on the hotplate. "He died," she said matter-of-factly. "Drugs. He tried to get off 'em, but couldn't kick it. I tried to help him, but--" She turned away and dashed a thin arm across her face.

Blair instinctively stepped over to her and gathered her in his arms. She turned within his embrace and buried her face in his chest, but didn't cry. "He was good to me, y'know?" she continued, her voice muffled against his shirt. "Never asked nothin' of me but to be his friend. He worked the street, but never let me out until the johns were gone. He said I reminded him of his little sister."

Blair's breath hitched in his throat. "I'm sorry, Charley."

She shrugged, then slipped out of his arms. "Yeah, everybody's sorry, but nobody cares."

Blair opened his mouth to say that wasn't true, but stopped himself. He didn't know anything -- not even how he ended up here. "Where'd you find me?"

"By Li'l Oscar's. 'Bout five blocks from here. You was in the alley."

"Did I say anything?"

She shot him a strange look. "No, only that you was hurtin'. Where'd you come from? You don't look like you been on the street too long."

Blair tried to recall, but there was only a black hole where his memory should've been. "I don't know. I can't remember."

"Them drugs musta been really bad."

"I don't use," Blair said without thought, then blinked. "At least I don't think so."

"Roll up your sleeves," Charley said.

Blair did so. The inside of his arms were clean.

Charley scowled. "If it wasn't drugs, what was wrong with you?" She took a step backward. "You ain't sick, are you?"

"No, at least, I don't think so." He held out his arm, then winced when his shoulder protested. "Ow!"

"What's wrong?"

He rubbed the back of his left shoulder. "It feels like there's a bruise or something there."

"Turn around."

He did so and Charley lifted his shirts. Her cool finger pressed his skin and Blair jumped. "Ouch!"

"You got some bruise with a needle mark in the middle, like someone gave you a shot." She lowered his shirts.

"I don't remember," Blair whispered. Pictures flashed through his mind, like a camera at high shutter speed: a blond woman; a pool of blood; a gun in his hand. He recoiled from the images and stumbled back. "Oh, God."

"What's wrong? You look like you seen a ghost or somethin'."

"Something," Blair said quietly. "I-I didn't have a gun, did I?"

Charley's eyes widened and she shook her head. "No."

Blair's body sagged with relief. "Good."


"I saw these pictures," he began and his hands fluttered in frustration. "I don't know what they meant."

The water in the pan boiled and Charley turned off the hot plate. "It'll be okay, Blair. I can tell you ain't a bad person."


"Your eyes," she said, then poured some of the hot water into one of the bowls to wash it.

He studied her, seeing street smarts that went way beyond her biological years. Living on the street probably brought latent survival instincts on-line within her. She'd make an interesting study of the underground society of homeless children.

Startled by his thoughts, Blair couldn't help but wonder if he was usually so fascinated by people.

The picture of a warrior from a long-ago tribe flashed in his mind. There was something important about it, but the harder Blair tried to focus on it, the more elusive it became.

He took a deep breath and sighed. He had to figure out who he was and where he belonged, but was fearful of going to the authorities after the violent visions which had inundated him.

No, he could only hope his memory loss was temporary and try not to be a burden to the girl who had found him.

Jim drove slowly through the affluent neighborhood where the Harmony's house was located. Earlier that morning, he'd spoken with Mark Joseph and Bill Conley at the company they'd owned with Jason. Both seemed to be in a state of shock, and monitoring their vital signs, Jim had found their grief to be genuine. The only time there'd been an odd physiological reaction had been when Jim asked them if they thought Blair was guilty. Neither had given him a clear answer, but both their heartbeats took a jump. Puzzled, Jim had left their company and spent the rest of his morning extending his senses, trying to find some sign of his guide, but all he'd gained was a monumental headache.

His cell phone rang and he flinched at its loudness. "Ellison," he answered before it could ring again.

"Jim, Simon. I just heard Simkins and his partner are getting Mrs. Harmony's statement at her place," Simon said.

Jim sat up straighter, his headache and exhaustion disappearing beneath a surge of adrenaline. "When?"

"He got the call half an hour ago. They probably just got there. Where are you?"

"About three blocks from Harmony's. I'm headed there now," Jim said tersely.

"Don't cause any trouble, Jim," Simon warned.

Jim clenched his teeth. "I'll be a good boy and make nice with the other children."

"I'm serious, Ellison."

"So am I. I'll call you later." Jim pressed the off button and tossed the phone onto the seat next to him, the same place Blair usually resided.

Five minutes later, a woman dressed in a maid's uniform let him into the house.

"I'm here to see Mrs. Harmony," he said, flashing his badge.

"She's in the front room," the woman said, pointing to a door down the hallway.

"Thank you." Jim strode to the indicated door, knocked once, and entered.

Cynthia Harmony, Simkins, a man Jim recognized as his partner Houser, and a woman wearing a conservative dark colored skirt and jacket all glanced up at his arrival.

Cynthia rose and went to him, putting her arms around him. "I'm so sorry, Jim."

Startled, Jim stepped back, out of her embrace. His nose twitched at the perfume she wore, and he dialed down his sense of smell. "What're you sorry for?"

She lowered her head and wiped her nose. "For what I did to Jason and Blair. My behavior was inexcusable."

Jim's heart skipped a beat and he dug his fingernails into his palms to keep from demanding the truth from her. "What did you do?"

Lifting her gaze, she met his eyes as a tear rolled down her flushed cheek. "I was unfaithful to Jason. Blair was just so nice and understanding..."

"What do you mean?" Jim demanded, oblivious to his audience.

Another tear slid down her face. "I didn't mean it for it to happen. He was just so exciting -- his enthusiasm for anthropology was so... so captivating. I could see how much he loved to teach. Jason used to have that kind of passion, but for the past few years the only passion he had was making money."

Jim gave in to his least violent impulse and took hold of her shoulders, forcing himself not to shake her. "What about Blair?"

"The night he brought me home, it just happened. I swear I never meant it to go that far, but it felt so good to have someone treat me like a woman again."

Jim listened intently to her heartbeat and though it was a little fast, it didn't speed up like it would for a lie. Neither did her respiration change. According to his senses, she was telling the truth. His hands dropped away from her. "What happened last night?"

"We were just going over that, Ellison," Simkins finally spoke up. "You can sit in if you'd like."

Jim would've preferred to do the questioning, but he didn't dare endanger his precarious position. He nodded shortly and moved off to stand by the fireplace, his arms crossed over his chest and his trembling hands curled into fists. Cynthia sent him a watery smile and went back to her perch on the sofa.

Simkins switched a tape recorder on and said, "All right, Mrs. Harmony, I'd like you to tell me in your words what happened Friday night."

She used a kleenex to wipe her eyes and blow her nose, then began to speak. "I knew Jason was going to be working late Friday and asked Blair after class Thursday if he'd like to come over. He got here about seven thirty or so." She glanced down at her hands which were mangling the tissue. "We, uh, went upstairs right away."

Jim clenched his teeth so hard his jaw ached. She spoke so convincingly that even his sentinel senses didn't detect any deception, but he knew... He knew Blair hadn't been having an affair with her. In the first place, he would have smelled her on him when he came home. Secondly, Blair hadn't been in her bed last night. And thirdly, although he knew Blair had made some bad choices with girlfriends -- Maya and Iris, to name two -- his guide wouldn't have an affair with a married woman.

"Blair and I were, uh, just starting when Jason walked into the bedroom." Cynthia paused, and her lower lip trembled. "He had those pictures."

"What pictures were those?" Simkins asked.

"Of Blair and I. He had a private investigator following me."

"Had you had other affairs, Mrs. Harmony?"

"That is irrelevant to what happened last night," the business-like woman interrupted. "As Mrs. Harmony's lawyer, I expect you to stick to the events which occurred last night."

Jim placed his hand over his mouth, not trusting himself to remain silent without the physical restraint.

"I'm sorry," Simkins said. He turned back to Cynthia. "So Mr. Harmony showed you and Mr. Sandburg the pictures?"

Cynthia nodded. "Jason was so angry, I thought he was going to tear Blair apart with his bare hands. Blair must've thought so, too, because he grabbed the gun from the nightstand."

"How'd he know it was there?" Simkins interrupted.

Good one, Jim cheered silently.

"The last time Blair had been here, I showed it to him," she replied.

"Go on, Mrs. Harmony," Simkins said with the proper amount of professionalism and sympathy.

"Blair reached for the gun and when Jason started to attack him, Blair shot him." Two more tears leaked down Cynthia's face.

"What were you doing during this time?" Simkins asked.

"I was in a state of shock. I felt guilty for cheating on him." She blew her nose again.

"What did Mr. Sandburg do after he shot your husband?"

Jim bit his tongue to stop the angry denial which sprang to his lips.

"He dropped the gun on the floor by Jason's body and pulled on his clothes. I told him not to run, that I would testify that it had been self-defense, but he wouldn't listen to me. He said he didn't want to lose his position with the police force or as Jim's partner."

Jim swallowed hard at that. If he didn't believe so completely that Blair was innocent, Cynthia's last statement may have convinced him of Blair's culpability. Blair would worry about losing his place at Jim's side, but if he was innocent, he would know the sentinel could root out clues everyone else missed.

>If he was innocent! Damn it, Ellison, he is innocent.

So why hasn't he come to me?

"Then what did you do after Mr. Sandburg fled?" Simkins was asking.

"I-I checked for a heartbeat, b-but Jason was dead. So I called 9-1-1," Cynthia replied quietly, her voice trembling.

How did she do it? She sounded so sincere that if Jim didn't know Sandburg so well, he would believe her story.

"Do you know the name of the private investigator who took the incriminating pictures of you and Mr. Sandburg?" Simkins' partner Houser asked.

Cynthia shook her head then buried her face in her palms. Her lawyer rested a soothing hand on her back.

"If that's all, Detectives, I'd like to escort my client back to her room. The shock has been terrible," Cynthia's lawyer said.

Simkins glanced at Jim. "Do you have any questions, Ellison?"

He had a load of them, but knew he wouldn't get more than one chance to ask the important one. Focusing his senses tightly on Cynthia, he asked quietly, "Did you frame Blair Sandburg for the death of your husband?"

Cynthia's pulse spiked and her breathing grew ragged. Gotcha bitch, Jim thought without a shred of apology. He kept his steady gaze on her, not giving away any of his thoughts.

She rose and strode to stand stiffly in front of Jim. "I thought you were Jason's friend. I would think you would want his murderer caught as badly as I do."

Jim studied her, keeping his expression calm as he catalogued her dilated nostrils and wide open capillaries beneath her skin. "I do. But I also know Blair didn't kill Jason." He paused and smiled coldly. "And I will prove it."

Then Jim spun on his heel and sauntered out of the front room. In spite of his bravado, his heart pounded almost as hard as his head throbbed. Cynthia Harmony killed Jason. He had no doubts.

He only had the evidence which his sentinel senses provided.

Which meant he had no evidence at all.

"What the hell happened?"

"How the hell should I know? Jason said he had everything set. He had the pictures from the PI and the gun in the night stand."

"So how did Sandburg end up killing him?"

"Jeezus, how do I know? I wasn't there."

"What do you think she'll do now?"

"If she planned on telling the cops, she would've by now."

"Then she's planning something else."

"It seems that way."

"She's a fucking shark. She probably wants the whole operation."

"It was her idea in the beginning. I told Jason not to cut her out."

"Water over the dam. We'll have to meet with her. Find out what she wants."

A long minute of silence.

"Do you think she killed Jason and framed Sandburg?"

"I wouldn't put it past her. Jason always underestimated her."

"Which means we want her on our side."

"We don't have a choice."

Blair awakened to a hand on his shoulder shaking him. "Jmmm?" he mumbled, still caught within slumber's web.

"C'mon, Blair, get up. We got to go and see what we can find."

Blair opened his eyes to the single ray of a flashlight cutting through the darkness. "What time is it?"

"'Bout three o'clock. We got us a good three hours to see what we can find afore folks start wakin' up," Charley said.

Although something told Blair he wasn't a morning person, he had no intention of falling back to sleep when he could help earn his keep. "Gimme a minute to wake up." He lurched to his feet and pulled on the outer shirt he'd removed before crawling into bed.

As he tugged on his boots and tied them, Charley sat down on the bed but held the flashlight where Blair could see what he was doing.

"Them are nice shoes, Blair," Charley said. "Where'd ya get 'em?"

"When I was in Mexico a few months ago," he replied without thinking, then halted his motions. "How'd I know that?"

Charley shrugged. "I seen it happen before. It's the drugs."

Blair finished tying his laces, and perched on the bed beside Charley. "Did their memories come back?"

"Yeah, pretty much. It just took a while."

"How long's 'a while'?"

"A few hours, a few days." She shrugged. "Don't worry. You're safe with me, Blair."

If it weren't so true, he would've laughed at the thought of a young girl protecting him. He gave her a one-armed hug. "I know I am."

She smiled, then led him out of their little room.

Two hours later, their arms were laden with overripe fruit and vegetables, and dented cans, as well as packages of stale bread. Blair had to admit the girl knew how to forage.

"We got us a good haul tonight," Charley said with a cocky grin. "Seein' you scared off the others."

Blair cast her a puzzled look. "Do you usually have trouble?"

"Sometimes. If they're bigger'n me, I usually leave 'em. Toby was a little bigger'n you and he and me made some good hauls, but he needed money for his drugs."

Which was why he turned tricks.

Blair's stomach rolled at the thought of a kid selling his body. "How old was Toby?"

"'Bout your age, I think."

"How old do you think I am?"


Blair frowned. "I'm not that young. I'm twenty-nine."

Charley stumbled to a stop and gaped at him. "You ain't a kid?"

He blinked, pleased he'd remembered another fact. "I guess not."

The girl shook her head and continued walking. "Damn, you're the same age as my mom."

This time Blair's step faltered. "Where's your mom?"

"Don't matter. Don't care."

Even in the dim light, Blair could see her chin jut out stubbornly. He forced a smile. "Hey, who am I going to tell? I can't even tell you where I live."

Charley walked in silence and her sure footsteps told Blair she was no stranger to the night. Although he respected her right to privacy, she was still a kid.

Suddenly the alley lit with a searchlight and Charley ducked into an alcove. "C'mon, Blair."

He obeyed without question and they remained hidden until the police car had gone past. Charley stepped out cautiously, peering first one way then the other. "It's clear."

Blair followed her down the alley. The cops hadn't been looking for him. They were merely following their normal rounds, something they did every night.

It couldn't have been that they were searching for a murderer who had killed someone with a gun.

With his arms crossed, Jim stood in front of the loft's patio windows and the rising sun cast a coral hue to his chiseled features. He stared out across his city, balancing on the edge of a zone-out. After nearly forty hours of no sleep, Jim had finally been forced by Simon to go back to the loft and get some rest. That had been nine thirty last night. He had tried to sleep, but his subconscious had other ideas. Every time he hovered on the verge of slumber, he'd jerk awake to the sights, sounds, and smells of his guide hurt... dying.

Having had his fill of nightmares, Jim had been up since five o'clock. The few hours of sleep he had obtained had left him with little rest. Only a nagging sense of unease.

He had to approach this like a military campaign. His objectives: to find Blair and to prove Cynthia had killed her husband and framed Blair. Easily stated; not so easily achieved.

The APB had yielded no sign of Sandburg, not even a suspected sighting. Because it was the weekend, Jim used Blair's address book to call his university friends. None of those he'd questioned had seen nor heard from him since Friday afternoon. He had then called the head of anthropology and convinced him to give Blair the benefit of the doubt; to hold his teaching position by having other grad students fill in until Blair returned. Today was Sunday and there was little he could do without a starting point to find Blair.

Friday night. Blair had told him he had a date. Who? Had there been some T.A. he'd been talking about? No. And it wouldn't have been one of his students, because although many people thought Blair was flighty and a lothario, Jim knew he would never compromise teacher-student ethics by dating a coed. Besides, most of them were too young to interest Blair.

Who else? He thought back to the times Blair had been at the bullpen during the past week and tried to remember if there had been a woman there. He couldn't recall any.

Last weekend. Office Max. Blair had gotten the phone number of the young woman working at the self-copy center.

Jim glanced at his watch. Seven thirty three a.m. Office Max opened at nine, but they probably had employees there an hour earlier for set-up.

Jim grabbed his jacket and keys and hustled out of the loft. He locked the door behind him and ensured there was a key above the door just in case.... He arrived at Office Max five minutes before eight and after waiting only a few minutes, a car parked along the side of the building. Jim jumped out of the truck and met the man at the employee entrance.

"Detective Ellison, Cascade P.D.," he announced, holding up his badge, as he joined the startled man who wasn't much older than Blair. "I'd like to ask you a couple questions."

"Ah, sure, officer. What is it?"

"My partner has been missing since Friday night and he may have had a date with one of your associates," Jim began. "He and I were here last Saturday, around eleven a.m. He had gotten the phone number of the young woman working in the copy center. I need her name and address."

"Uh, well, I'm not sure who was working that day, but I can check the schedule."

Reining in his impatience, Jim waited for him to unlock the door, then followed him inside. The manager lead him to a front office where a computer-generated schedule was pinned to a bulletin board. He studied the schedule only a couple seconds. "Susan Jacobs. It looks like she's scheduled to be in this morning, too."

"What time?"

"Eight," he replied. "So she should be here any minute."

"I'll wait." Jim crossed his arms, almost daring the man to try to make him leave. The manager wasn't suicidal.

It was only five minutes later when Jim's sentinel hearing detected the entrance of another employee. He smelled a floral perfume and quickly dialed down his sense of smell. The woman entered a moment later.

"That's Susan Jacobs, Officer," the manager announced.

Susan appeared surprised. "What is it, Dave?"

"This policeman wants to ask you some questions," Dave the manager replied.

Jim whipped out his badge. "Detective Ellison, Ms. Jacobs. Do you know a Blair Sandburg?"

She nodded, her eyes wide. "Is he in trouble?'

"You could say that," Jim admitted. "Did you see him Friday night?"

Her cheeks flushed. "We were supposed to go out."

Jim leaned forward. "Why didn't you?"

"Just as he got to my place, his phone rang. It was some woman wanting him to come over." Susan's lips curled downward. "I thought he was a nice guy."

"Do you know who the woman was?"

"Cynthia," Susan answered without hesitation. "I told him not to call again."

"Did Blair say what she wanted?"

Susan shook her head. "I didn't ask. I didn't want to know."

"So you didn't go out with him that evening, and you saw him for only a few minutes?"

"That's right."

"What time was that?"

"About seven fifteen. He was late, too."

Jim's mind raced. Cynthia had called Blair, probably pleading with him to come over for some concocted reason, and the anthropologist had just wanted to help her. Instead, she had framed him for killing Jason. But then why had he run?

"Thank you, Ms. Jacobs. You've been very helpful," Jim said perfunctorily. He turned to leave, then paused. "Blair is a nice guy, Ms. Jacobs. He was only trying to be a friend to Cynthia."

Then the manager escorted Jim to the door and let him out. He walked over to the truck, but leaned his forehead against the side mirror for a moment, relief making him dizzy. He finally straightened and reached into his pocket for his cell phone to call Simon.

"Banks," came the tired voice.

"Simon, it's Jim."

"What time is it?"

"After eight. I have proof that Blair didn't intend to go to Cynthia's Friday night, and that she called him to come over to her place, which means he hadn't made a date with Cynthia and they weren't having an affair," Jim said in a rush.

"Repeat that, but go slower. You sound like Sandburg."

Jim smiled grimly and reiterated his statement.

"Where's your proof?" the captain asked.

"The woman he planned to take out was with him when he got the phone call from Cynthia. She said Blair called her by name."

"Even if he didn't plan to go over there, it doesn't change the fact that he did."

"But Cynthia said they had set the date the night before."

There was a long moment of silence which Jim imagined Simon rubbing his eyes. "It's a start, but not nearly enough, Jim."

"I know that, sir," Jim said stiffly. "I'll get you more. I just need time."

"What're you planning to do?" Simon asked suspiciously.

"The only option I have left. I'm going to follow Cynthia Harmony until she gets careless."

"That could be construed as harassment."

"Not if she doesn't know I'm there."

"All right," Simon said, reluctance in his voice.

"Has there been any word on Sandburg?"

"No, nothing. It's like he dropped off the face of the planet."

"He's in the city, Simon."

A heavy sigh came across the airwaves. "I'll have to take your word on that, Jim. Is there anything I can do at my end?"

"Did Simkins ever find out who the PI was who Jason hired?"

"Ah, yeah." There was the sound of papers sliding across one another. Simon must've brought whatever he could home to look over. "Robert Jenkins. Has an office on Nyes Place."

"I know where it's at."

"Jim--" Simon began in a warning tone.

"Is it against the law to hire a PI to find a missing person?" Jim asked innocently. "I'll call you later." He punched off the phone before Simon could try to dissuade him.

"Hell, I do jobs like this all the time," Robert Jenkins readily admitted. "Some guy or lady doesn't trust his or her 'significant other' and hires me to get the goods on them."

Jenkins was about the same age as Jim, but, Jim noted with some satisfaction, had less hair -- only a fringe around a bald pate. Although he had a few more pounds around the middle than the detective, Jenkins was in decent shape for a private eye. Jim was lucky the man had been coming into his office on a Sunday afternoon and had met him there.

"When did Mr. Harmony hire you to follow his wife?" Jim asked, keeping his voice neutral.

"Two weeks ago Tuesday. I remember 'cause I'd just seen him and his wife in the paper a couple days before. They'd been at that golf charity where some guy had shot at them."

Jim grimaced, remembering all too well.

"It was kinda funny," Jenkins began. "I asked Mr. Harmony about it and he just kinda shrugged, like it didn't bother him."

"What do you mean?"

"You're a cop. You know about instincts. I just hadda feeling that Harmony hadn't been worried, like he knew the sniper wasn't after him."

Jim thought back to how Jason had acted right after the excitement at the golf charity. He had seemed upset, but then Jim's attention hadn't been centered on him. All his doubts about Donovan being the shooter returned full force. Donovan had been small time. Jim had never known him to use a weapon, much less a sniper's rifle. He may have cut the truck's brake line, but even that seemed out of character for the drug dealer. However, the monitor in the police garage had shown Donovan planting the timer on Jim's truck. And wasn't it damned convenient how Donovan's place had blown up just as the police surrounded it?

"Had Mr. Harmony told you specifically why he wanted his wife tailed?" Jim asked.

"He said she was seein' some young punk with long hair and earrings, and he wanted proof of their affair when he filed for divorce."

Jim's mouth gaped. "Did he know the name of this 'young punk'?"


Son of a bitch. Jason Harmony had set up Blair. But for what? Jason had been the one killed. And how did all of it tie in with Donovan? Or was Jim grasping at straws.

Cynthia Harmony was the key. Of that, Jim was certain.

Jim stood. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Jenkins."

The PI stood and shook Jim's proffered hand. "For what it's worth, Ellison, I don't think Harmony's wife and this guy -- Blair Sandburg, a grad student at Rainier -- were having an affair. During the time I watched them together, they never kissed or whispered sweet nothin's in each others' ears. And the only time I seen Sandburg at the house was when he gave Mrs. Harmony a ride home after she hurt her ankle."

"Would you swear to that in a court of law?"


"Thanks." This time Jim's tone was sincere.

"What day is it, Charley?" Blair asked as he and the girl sat by the table playing a card game.

She glanced at a small calendar on the wall where the days were crossed off. "Looks like Sunday."

"Sunday afternoon. Time to watch the ballgames," Blair said quietly.

Charley glanced up from the fanned cards in her hand. "That what you do on Sundays -- watch ballgames?"

"Yeah. At least I think so." He smiled crookedly.

The girl gave her attention back to her cards, then discarded one on the growing pile in the center of the table. "Your turn."

Blair picked a card from the deck, but his mind was moving in that odd jerky fashion where not-quite-memories were tempting him. His fingers were on a keyboard and words across a laptop monitor. A home run hit on the TV screen and a high five with somebody. Then a bottle of beer. A sense of belonging and contentment.

"You gonna play or daydream?" Charley asked impatiently.

Blair shook his head, scattering the disjointed images. "Uh, sorry." He added the nine to a run he was working on and threw out a queen. "I wish I could remember who I am."

Charley glanced at him, then lowered her gaze. "Then you can leave."


Charley threw her cards on the table and stood. "I don't feel like playin' anymore."

Blair frowned. "Why? What's wrong?"

"Nuthin'. I'm gonna go for a walk. Might find some stuff."

"Mind if I go with?"

She shrugged. "Suit yourself."

Uncertain why Charley's mood had changed so quickly, Blair followed her out of their hideout. Once outside, he stood for a moment, allowing the afternoon sun to sink into his pores. "It's summer."

"Yep. Another month and it's gonna get colder. Wetter, too."

She began walking and Blair fell in beside her. "I suppose it must get kind of lonely living by yourself."

"A little." The girl was more stubborn than J--

The name escaped Blair before it could form. "I'd be real lonely if you hadn't found me," he said.

Another shrug of those slender shoulders. "But as soon as you remember, you'll go home."

The proverbial light bulb lit up. "You don't have to live by yourself. I could help you find a home."

"With foster parents? They're almost as bad as my mom." Charley's lips pressed together tightly.

"What did your mom do to you?" Blair asked gently.

Charley kept her gaze aimed straight ahead. "She was never 'round to do nothin'. And iffen she was around, she usually had a man with her."

A young boy with curly hair and a woman with reddish hair flashed through Blair's mind. His mother and himself. Years ago. Only the two of them. And whatever man she was with at the time.

Blair's throat tightened. "That must've been tough. Your mom liking those men better than you."

Charley turned to look at him. "It don't matter. It's better this way. If I don't care about nobody, it don't hurt when they go away."

"But it hurt when Toby went away, didn't it."

They walked for a couple blocks in silence, until Charley led them to a school playground that was almost eerily quiet. She sat down on a swing and Blair gingerly lowered himself to the one next to her. It held and he rocked back and forth in rhythm to Charley's motions.

"Toby liked me," Charley began in a low voice. "I don't know why, but he did. And he took care of me. Nobody ever done that for me before."

A man with cool blue eyes flickered in Blair's thoughts. No, not cool, but extraordinarily warm blue eyes.

"When he died, I felt like a part of me was gone, too. That never happened before. My stomach hurt so bad and all I wanted to do was cry, but I didn't. Toby didn't like to see me cry. Said it hurt him." She shook her head. "I didn't understand then, but I kinda do now. It's not a hurt like when someone hits you, but it's a deep down hurt, like when your stomach hurts after you ate somethin' bad. But even worse than that." She continued to swing gently back and forth. "I don't ever want to hurt that bad again." Charley scuffed her toes in the worn path under the swing and gazed at Blair. "I don't want you to go, but I don't want you to stay neither."

"Because you'll hurt when I leave?"

Charley nodded and one tear rolled down her smooth cheek.

Blair moved off the swing and knelt in front of her. He thumbed away her single tear. "But that's all part of being human, Charley. We have to love and be loved or we shrivel up and die inside. There'll be times when it hurts, but what about all those times when you laughed and had fun with Toby? What if you had never met Toby? Think about all those things you would've missed out on."

A tear trailed down her other cheek. "But why can't we have the good without the bad? Why did Toby have to die?"

Blair reached out and embraced the girl, who buried her face in the curve of Blair's shoulder as she hugged him back. Her body shook with sobs and hot tears dampened Blair's neck and shirt. "That's right, Charley. Just let it out, sweetheart." He continued to murmur soothing words to her until her cries lessened and she was only hiccuping softly.

Did he have someone like Toby out there looking for him? Someone who watched out for him and treated him like a little brother?

Jim. He had Jim. The picture of the blue-eyed man invaded his thoughts again and Blair put the name with the face -- yes, the man was Jim. But who was Jim?

Charley drew back and wiped a sleeve across her runny nose and damp cheeks. She made a face. "Crying's for babies."

Blair smiled fondly. "There's nothing wrong with crying, Charley. Everyone cries sometimes."

"Even you?"

"Even me." He straightened and his knees creaked in protest. He definitely wasn't a kid anymore. "What do you say we walk some more and just enjoy the fresh air?"

Charley stood. "Okay."

A block away, a police car turned onto the street which went past the school. The memory of the gun and blood made Blair turn his back to the approaching car. "C'mon, Charley. We need to get out of here," he whispered urgently.

Charley didn't argue, but led the way toward the alley they'd come out of. "You in trouble with the cops?"

"I don't know. Maybe. I won't know until my memory comes back."

The police car sped up and followed after them.

"Run, Blair," Charley said. Nimble-footed, she led them through the alley then down a narrow corridor between buildings.

"Aren't we going away from your place?" Blair asked in between gasps.

"Don't want to lead them to it," she replied.

The police cruiser's siren had been switched on and echoed through the alleys and back ways, but this was Charley's territory. Within fifteen minutes, they could no longer see or hear the police car. Blair bent over at the waist as he gasped for air. The young girl was winded, too, but caught her breath much quicker.

"What'd you do, man?" Charley asked. "I ain't had the police chase me that far before."

Blair straightened and wiped the sweat rolling down his face. "I wish I knew, Charley."

On second thought, maybe I don't want to know.

"What do you mean, they lost him?" Jim demanded.

"He was with a girl," Simon said from the other side of the phone conversation. "A young girl, maybe twelve, thirteen years old. Probably homeless."

"What the hell is he doing on that side of town? How did he get there? And why's he with the girl?"

"How should I know, Ellison? He's your partner," Simon snapped. "Jeezus, I'm sorry, Jim. This is just getting way too complicated. First your theory that Donovan and Harmony were connected; and the attempts on your life were only a diversion; and that Jason Harmony was setting up Blair and Cynthia. Now Sandburg's running from the police in the company of a young girl. Why isn't anything simple with you and Sandburg?"

Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. "Believe me, Captain, I wish I knew. Are there units looking for Sandburg in the area?"

"They brought in another patrol car to search, but nothing so far."

"I'm going to head over there. See if I can turn up anything."

"All right. Keep me informed."

"I will. Oh, sir, has the background check on Cynthia Harmony come through yet?" Jim asked.

"No. I'll let you know as soon as we get anything."

"Thanks, Simon." Jim switched his phone off and put his flashing lights on. He broke every speed limit in the book to get to Blair's last known location. When he arrived, he cast out his hearing, hoping to get a fix on his voice or, if he were extremely lucky, his heartbeat. But he couldn't risk going too deep. Blair wasn't there to pull him out of it and he was too tired to catch himself if he got too close.

For the next two hours, Jim cruised the neighborhood slowly, listening and searching for any sign of his guide. But his efforts proved fruitless, and, tired and dejected, he drove back to the loft to grab a shower and something to eat before going back to Harmony's to stake out Cynthia.

He had nowhere else to go.

Water. Fountain. Cold. "This can't be happening." Panther. Wolf. Tribal warrior. Stone temple. Yellow scarf. Bloated face. "I can be you." Elevator. Macarena. Explosion. Checkered squares. Ebola. "You are his guide." Blind. Golden Fire People. Clap. "Guns don't work, Chief." Gunshot. Blood.

Blair bolted up in bed. Sweat rolled down his face and between his shoulder blades, sticking to his T-shirt. The nightmare's talons loosened and Blair breathed a sigh of relief at the realization that it hadn't been real. That he wasn't shot or stabbed or blown up -- at least, not in the past few hours. But underlying the horror of his nightmare, there was a sense of loss for the man who'd spoken in his dreams, "Guns don't work, Chief."

In the darkness, Blair could picture an underground garage with cars and a gas pump. There were men with guns and another man, blind, stumbling toward him. "What're you doing, buddy?" It had been Jim. He had been blind. Had been. Temporary. Like his amnesia. He hoped.

"You awake, Blair?" Charley asked.

"Uh, yeah. Sorry I woke you."

"You didn't. It's time to go out. You comin' with?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Blair replied, injecting a note of enthusiasm. All he really wanted to do was curl up and pull the covers over his head. If the pictures he saw in his mind's eye were real, then he didn't want to go back to that life... except for Jim.

He tugged on his shoes and shirt, then joined Charley who carried the flashlight. They didn't get nearly as many provisions as the night before, but it wasn't a bad haul altogether. Blair, however, didn't enjoy the foraging as much this time. Paranoid, he constantly searched for police cars.

When they arrived back at the small room, it was dawn, and time for breakfast. Splurging, Blair made pancakes and they used dark Karo syrup for the topping. Charley smacked her lips appreciatively and Blair found himself enjoying her delight in the treat.

It was Monday morning. Time to start a new week. Back to school--

School? Wasn't he a little old to be a student? Graduate Student. Rainier University. Anthropology.

Blair jumped to his feet, too excited to sit still. "I go to school at Rainier University," he announced to the surprised Charley. "I'm getting my doctorate in anthropology."

Charley scowled, her dark eyebrows drawn downward. "You remember."

Blair's excitement crashed, like a hot air balloon dropping back down to earth. He plopped down in his chair. "Not everything. But maybe if I went back to the college, I could figure it out."

"Suit yourself." She stood and gathered their plates, but before she could move away, Blair clasped her wrist.

"You could come with me, Charley. I know you don't want to go back to your mom, but I bet we could find a place you would like to stay. Some place maybe with a girl your own age who you could talk to and be friends with."

"I like it here. Don't have any rules but my own."

"Wouldn't you like to go to school and meet kids your own age? Play with them and exchange secrets. Buy new clothes. Not go out early in the morning to find food."

Charley glanced away, unable to hide the longing in her dark eyes. "And if I ain't good, or if I say or do something wrong, I'll get hit."

"No, Charley. If someone hit you when you did something wrong before, they were wrong, not you."

Charley pulled out of his grip and began to wash the dishes in the water she'd heated while they were eating. "I'll go with you to this university, but I ain't gonna promise anything else."

Blair smiled. "I hear you, Charley." Those words echoed through Blair's mind but they were spoken in a woman's lilting voice. Naomi. His mother.

Yes, the memories were coming back quickly now, but would there be memories Blair didn't want?

Jim parked outside of the building which housed Harmony's office. Cynthia had left the house at nine Monday morning, her svelte navy blue skirt and jacket were more in the line of a businesswoman's than a recent widow. She had glanced up and down the road carefully when she'd pulled onto the street outside of their driveway. But Jim knew she wouldn't see him -- he had parked three blocks away. Only another sentinel could've detected his presence.

Cynthia had gone straight to the company. She'd given her keys to the valet and entered the building like she owned it. Maybe she did now. After a minute, Jim followed her. He knew Harmony's office was on the sixth floor, so he got off on the fifth and used his hearing to find Cynthia. Her voice was amazingly easy to detect, as were Bill and Mark's who were involved in a conversation with her.

"We didn't expect you here so soon after Jason's death, Cynthia," Mark said.

"Spare me the bullshit. I turned the tables on you two and Jason." She laughed, but it was a cold sound. "Lucky for me I overheard Jason's call to the hit man he hired. Too bad the bastard couldn't hit the side of a building or Jason would be here and I wouldn't."

Cynthia's true colors had just turned to a dark shade of black.

"We don't know what you're--" Mark began.

"Forget it, Mark," Bill broke in, then asked cautiously, "How did you turn it around, Cynthia?"

"I figured Jason would be making his move soon, so I played right into his hand, but I knew what cards he was holding. I had moved the revolver to the other night stand, so when he went to get it, it was gone. I set up stupid Sandburg but didn't know he was going to run." Cynthia sighed. "The drug wasn't supposed to be that potent."

That was the smell Jim had detected in the bedroom Friday night.

"It was supposed to knock him out for only a few minutes," Cynthia continued. "Long enough to get his prints on the gun and give him some memory loss."

Son of a bitch! If Blair had been drugged, he could've had a Golden flashback. Hadn't the doctors warned him about the possibility? And the memory loss? That would explain why Blair hadn't called him. He didn't remember him.

Damn it! This was going from bad to worse.

"You even used Jason's scenario, with Sandburg taking the rap," Bill said with an odd sense of admiration.

"The only difference was I was the one who was supposed to die," Cynthia said. "But I didn't like that part."

"So what do you want?" Mark demanded.

"What I wanted in the beginning. My rightful share. Something Jason didn't give me. Instead he gave me an allowance, like I was some little girl he could control."

Jim listened, still bewildered by one thing. Were they talking about the acquisition of companies or some other kind of business? An illegal, illicit one?

Suddenly his cell phone rang and Jim's hands flew to his ears as he cringed. He struggled with his dials and after the third ring, he managed to answer the phone. "Ellison."

"Jim. Get down to the university. Blair's been spotted."

He would be back for Cynthia Harmony and his two former classmates. But now he needed to find Blair. He hustled out of the building and to his truck, a sense of foreboding growing.

Find Blair. Find his guide.

Blair raced down a street he knew but didn't know. This time Charley was the one who followed and she did so without complaining. It had simply been bad luck when the first person who spotted him was a dark-haired woman wearing a security uniform. She'd called him by name, but he didn't recognize her.

"Why haven't you turned yourself in, Blair?" she'd asked him.

He had only been able to stare at her.

"Jim's been worried sick about you. In fact, all of your friends are and we know you're innocent. We know you didn't murder anyone," she'd continued to speak.

But the images in Blair's head told him otherwise -- the blood and the gun. So he'd done the only thing he could: he turned and ran.

Police cars converged from four directions, their shrill sirens adding to Blair's blind panic. Charley tugged him off toward an alley and he followed. They jumped over bushes as they cut through a cluttered lot, headed for the area which was Charley's home ground. Tires squealed as official vehicles tried to head them off. Then a car braked right in front of them and the cop on the passenger side jumped out, his revolver held between both hands.

"Freeze, Sandburg!" he shouted.

Fear fueled by adrenaline sent Blair and Charley scrambling back into an alley and a gunshot exploded. The bullet struck the building instead, spattering brick fragments in their faces.

Another police car blocked off the other end of the alley, leaving them trapped unless they could go over an eight foot wall. Blair couldn't, but he could help Charley escape. "Get on my shoulders then climb over the wall," he hissed to the girl. She scrambled up to do as he said and a few moments later, her weight was gone. She gazed down at him from the top of the wall. "Blair?"

"I'll be okay, sweetheart. Go!"

With one wistful look, Charley jumped to the other side. Her "oomph" made Blair flinch. "Charley?"

"I'm okay," came her faint reply. "Come back."

"I will. I promise." Then Blair heard her footsteps scamper away.

Blair hunkered down behind some garbage cans, searching for an escape, but there was none. He was trapped.

Brakes squealed as a truck joined one of the police cars.

"What the fuck's going on? Who fired the shot?" an angry voice demanded. A voice which sounded familiar.

Some mutterings, then silence.

"Blair? Chief? You in there?" the voice called out.

Blair shook his head in frustration, trying to recall the owner of that voice.

"C'mon, buddy, it's me, Jim. Remember?"

Jim. Blair allowed his warm tones to wash through him and stir the chaotic mess which was his memory. Pictures of a tall blue-eyed man: fishing; watching a Jags game; glanced by a car fender; shot in the arm; patting his back; mussing his hair.

"Jim?" Blair's voice wavered.

"Yeah, Chief, it's me. What're you doing hiding in here?"

"Th-they shot at me."

"It was an accident. They shouldn't have done that." Jim's voice sounded strained. "I promise no one will shoot at you anymore."

"You'll protect me?" The words dredged up another series of memories: Jim freeing him from a dentist chair; Jim knocking him down right before an explosion; Jim covering him with his own body when a car blew up; Jim helping him to his feet after he'd been beaten.

"Yeah, buddy, I'll protect you."

Blair's heart thumped in his chest. Could he trust him? What if it was a trick? What if this Jim wasn't really a friend? What if he just wanted to shoot him like the other cops?

To serve and to protect. A sentinel's duty.

Blair shook his head, wondering where the hell that had come from? A sentinel? The tribal warrior. Jim.

"You're his guide." He was Jim's guide?

He wasn't certain; didn't know who or what to trust.

"I need your help, Blair." Jim's voice was closer.

Blair jerked his head up to see the man from his scrambled memory -- sharp blue eyes now filled with concern and affection; a warm yet tentative smile on his chiseled features. Every instinct told him he could trust this Jim, yet...

Jim extended his hand. "C'mon, buddy, take my hand and we'll walk out together."

As if moving of its own volition, Blair's arm rose and his fingers met Jim's. He rose slowly and his palm moved over Jim's, skin gliding over skin. The older man's fingers curved gingerly around Blair's hand. Holding him; safeguarding him; supporting him.

"Blair?" Jim asked softly, the uncertainty in his eyes touching something deep within the younger man.

"Yeah, Jim, it's me," Blair whispered, sentinel-soft.

Jim opened his other arm and enfolded Blair close to his chest. The guide pressed his ear to his sentinel's heart, listening to the strong, steady beat. A large hand cupped the back of Blair's head, fingers tenderly massaging his scalp, and he relaxed fully within Jim's embrace.

For a long moment they held one another, oblivious to the cops who watched, silent and respectful. The officers may not have understood the sentinel-guide relationship, but they did understand a partnership. Although there was an APB out for Blair, no one was going to interrupt a reunion between partners.

Finally, Jim drew back, but cupped his guide's face within his palms. He gazed into the achingly familiar dark blue eyes, the pale complexion and three days of whiskers that shadowed his cheeks and jaw. "God, Chief, don't scare me like that again."

Blair laughed weakly. "Believe me, I wouldn't have done it this time but I couldn't remember -- who I was, who you were, anything. In fact, things are still kinda messed up." His expression clouded. "Did I kill someone?"

Jim's breath stammered in his lungs. "Why?"

"I remember a gun and blood, but nothing else." His expressive eyes searched Jim. "I'm not a murderer, am I?"

Jim's throat grew tight and he fought to speak, to reassure Blair. "No, you're not a murderer, but someone's gone through a lot of trouble to make everyone think you are."

Blair glanced at the cops ringing them. "Do they think I am?"

"They're only doing their job, Chief. You're a suspect in a murder case. But I'm going to be the one to take you in, not them, okay?" He heard Blair's heart take off like a jet engine. "Take it easy, Chief. I won't let them put you in jail. We have to catch the real killer and for that, I'm going to need your help."

Blair nodded.

Jim wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "It'll be okay now, Chief. No one's going to frame my partner and get away with it." He steered Blair down the alley toward his truck and spoke to the patrol officers. "I'll take him in." He narrowed his eyes at the cop who had fired at Blair. "I want to make sure no one else takes a potshot at him."

"Look, Ellison, I was only--" the guilty cop began.

"I know you were only following the regs, but he was unarmed," Jim stated. "And he's innocent." He lowered his head and spoke close to Blair's ear. "Let's go, buddy."

Blair nodded, and Jim kept his promise to protect him as he tucked his guide close to his side and led him to the truck.

The first stop was the hospital where Jim had them examine Blair and take a blood test for toxicology. During Jim's examination of his guide, he'd found the bruise and needle mark on his shoulder, confirming what Cynthia Harmony had told Mark and Bill about giving him some sort of drug. If it was a derivative of Golden, or was composed of some of the same chemicals, it wasn't improbable for Blair to had had a flashback, causing him to run.

When Blair had come back with a clean bill of health, Jim had reluctantly driven him down to the station. He called Simon so the captain could meet them in booking. Banks had been there when they arrived and Jim could see the relief in his eyes although the gruff captain wouldn't show it any other way.

"You led us on quite a chase, Sandburg," Simon said.

"You're Captain Banks, right?" Blair asked tentatively, so different than his customary self-assuredness.

Simon nodded and spoke more gently. "That's right. Can you remember anything about Friday night, son?"

"Not much," Blair admitted. "Like I told Jim, just a gun and blood." He shivered visibly. "He said I didn't kill anyone. He's telling me the truth, isn't he?"

Jim watched Simon closely, wondering how he would answer after informing Jim "someone" had to stay impartial.

The captain rested a hand on Blair's shoulder. "He's telling the truth, Blair. You could never kill anybody," he said firmly, his dark eyes steady on the younger man's.

Blair closed his eyes and his shoulders slumped, even as Jim's muscles untensed.

"Thank you," Blair said hoarsely.

Simon glanced at Jim and raised his eyebrows in question. Jim merely shrugged. He didn't know what to tell the captain other than what he'd already said: Blair had partial amnesia.

"Blair," Simon said and the younger man opened his eyes. "Jim has to book you. Do you know what that means?"

"I'll be charged with murder, then fingerprinted and have my picture taken," Blair said with a husky voice.

"That's right. But we're not going to let them put you in a holding cell. I'll call in a few favors and have you held in my office. Is that all right?"

Blair studied Simon, then nodded. "Yes, sir."

Jim noticed the anguish in Simon's eyes at Blair's uncharacteristic reticence. Being framed for murder was bad enough, but when the frame-ee couldn't even remember what had happened, it was doubly unsettling.

Jim led Blair to a man in a uniform behind a desk. "This is Sergeant Knoll. He'll get you entered into the computer. You just have to answer his questions and I'll be right here if you have a problem, okay?"

Blair nodded, still looking somewhat wan but steadier.

Jim stepped back to where Simon stood.

"Don't leave his side, Jim," Simon said quietly. "With the chief hell-bent on making an example of Sandburg, I'm going to have to call in some big favors to keep him out of a holding cell. I may not be able to do it right away, so if he does have to go in one for a little while--"

"Don't worry. I won't let him out of my sight until he's cleared," Jim vowed.

"That may take some time," Simon warned.

"I'll stay with him," Jim reiterated stubbornly.

"I know you will." Simon presented Jim with a folder which he'd been carrying in his hand. "Here's the background on Cynthia Harmony and the company."

Jim took it eagerly and opened it up, balancing it on his arm as he scanned the information.

"She was an actress in Chicago?" Jim asked, looking up at Simon.

The captain nodded. "Not too bad either, by the sounds of it."

Jim rubbed his chin with his forefinger. "When she gave her statement to Simkins and Houser, I listened to her heart and respiration to see if she was lying. They only changed once: when I asked her flat out if she framed Sandburg for her husband's murder. I caught her off-guard. She hadn't been prepared for my question."

"You're saying that she can control her heart rate and breathing?"

Jim shrugged. "Actors act, which means they have better control of their physical, mental and emotional reactions than someone like you or I."

"Damn. How does that tie into Harmony's company?"

"It says here Harmony, Conley, and Joseph started their own business eleven years ago, but it didn't really do that well until about four years ago. That was right after Jason and Cynthia got married." Jim paused to ponder the information. "I have a feeling if we dig a little deeper into some of their more recent acquisitions, we'll find they're probably fronts."

"For what?"

"Got me. Maybe money laundering. Mob ties. Chicago is a hub for things like that. Cynthia may have had the contacts and Harmony, Conley, and Josephs had the business to make it look legit."

Simon removed his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. "This is pretty far out in left field, Jim."

"Believe me, I know that, sir. That's why we need Blair to implicate Cynthia."

Simon re-placed his glasses and sighed. "All right. I'd better get tap dancing." He took the folder back from Jim and paused by Blair on the way out. "I'll see you later, Sandburg."

Blair managed a smile for the captain, then finished the paperwork with Knoll. Jim joined him.

"I guess I'm ready for the next step," Blair said.

"I'm not," Jim said softly. He took a deep breath. "Okay, Chief. Let's get this over with."

Jim took care of fingerprinting him personally, even though he hadn't done it in years. He rolled Blair's fingertips one at a time in the ink pad then onto a piece of paper. He hated doing it; hated feeling so damned helpless to stop this parody of justice.

"Hey, it's all right, Jim. I know you don't liking doing this, but it's your job," Blair said quietly in that uncanny way he could read Jim's emotions. "I understand."

"I hate this, Chief. I know you didn't do it, but I can't prove any different right now, and all the evidence points your way." Jim handed his friend a towelette so he could wipe the ink off his fingers.

He then had Blair's picture taken, complete with the little placard that gave his name and reduced him to a number. It took nearly two hours to get through the process, and at the end, they still hadn't heard from Simon.

Simkins and Houser wandered into the booking area right after Jim finished up.

"I found out you brought in our suspect," Simkins said, eyeing Blair. "I'm surprised you didn't call us, considering we're the detectives in charge of the case."

"I was going to after I had Blair booked," Jim obfuscated.

"Looks like you're done," Houser said.

Jim nodded. "I am. He doesn't remember anything."

"That seems awfully coincidental," Houser said with a curl of his upper lip.

Jim felt Blair stiffen beside him and laid a calming hand on his shoulder, but spoke to Houser. "It'd be a waste to talk to him now since he's still recovering from the side effects of a drug."

"He uses?"

Jim shook his head impatiently. "He was given an injection against his will Friday night." He crossed his arms. "Awfully coincidental, don't you think?" he asked, throwing Houser's words back at him.

"What're you saying, that Sandburg was framed?" Simkins asked.

Jim switched his attention to the senior partner. "That's right. I have a strong suspicion about who actually killed Jason, but we're going to need Blair to get the evidence to prove it."

Houser made a rude noise. "C'mon, Ellison, you're reaching, here. Hell, Sandburg's not even a real cop."

Jim's muscles bunched dangerously as the fight or flight instinct came on-line for Sandburg's defense. He forced himself to a facade of calm, though his shoulders felt knotted and tight. "Sandburg may not have a badge, but he's been my partner for three years now, and I know him. He didn't kill Jason Harmony."

"So you're saying Mrs. Harmony is lying?" Houser demanded as he took a threatening step toward Jim.

Simkins grabbed Houser's arm, but spoke to Jim. "Were you going to put Sandburg in a holding cell?"

Jim forced his angry gaze away from Houser. "If I had to, but Captain Banks is trying to get him deferred to his office at least for the rest of the day."

Simkins seemed to be considering his words. "I think interrogation room three is open." Jim glanced sharply at Simkins and opened his mouth to argue, but the homicide detective interrupted. "There's a table and chairs so we can talk, unless you'd prefer putting your partner in a holding cell right now."

Jim silently apologized for thinking Simkins wasn't all that bright. "Good idea."

"Jim?" Blair asked nervously.

"It's okay, Chief. I have you covered," Jim said quietly.

"What about handcuffs? Isn't a suspect supposed to be cuffed?" Houser demanded.

Simkins sighed heavily. "Look, Ellison would give you or me the same courtesy if one of us was arrested."

Houser didn't look happy, but didn't open his mouth again.

The path to the interrogation rooms was a familiar one and they arrived in number three a couple minutes later. It was empty except for three chairs and a table which had seen better days.

"Get another chair, Houser," Simkins said, then ignored his partner's grumbling as he left the room. "Houser's a good cop, just a little overzealous," Simkins said to Jim. "Another year or so and he'll be a good detective."

Jim relaxed marginally -- he understood overzealousness. In fact, he used to know an overeager detective down in Vice years ago who had been the same way. And he'd earned a place in the Major Crime unit, as well as garnering Policeman of the Year for two years in a row.

"Did you read Sandburg his rights?" Simkins asked.

Jim nodded. "Yeah."


"He did and I understand them," Blair replied.

When Houser returned with his chair, Jim hardly flinched. The young detective sat at the head of the table with Simkins on his left and Jim on his right. Blair sat beside Jim. The sentinel glanced at his guide whose face remained pale and his eyes wide. "How're you doing, Chief?"

Blair managed a weak smile. "Scared. I wish I could remember what happened that night, but everything is like, mixed up in my head. I see a gun in my hand and blood soaking into a carpet." Blair's right hand, which was resting on the table, curled into a fist. "I don't remember shooting anyone, and the thought that I might have makes me sick."

Jim gripped Blair's shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "You didn't shoot anybody. Somebody set you up."

Simkins studied Sandburg thoughtfully, and Jim imagined he could actually hear the cogs slipping into gear. "The evidence does seem awfully tight, doesn't it?" the homicide detective commented. "Usually in a murder case, there's more blanks to fill in. But with this one, it's like someone already filled in the blanks so we'd read it the way they wanted us to."

"That was my thought, too. That, and I know Blair couldn't kill anyone."

"Has he had a tox screen?" Simkins asked, motioning to Blair.

Jim nodded. "We stopped at the hospital on the way in. They did it there. They're going to fax the results to Captain Banks."

"So who's your suspect?" Simkins asked, though Jim figured he already knew.

"Cynthia Harmony."

Blair glanced over at Jim, his brow creased. "She was coming to my evening anthro classes."

"That's right," Jim said. "What else do you remember?"

Blair's left hand fisted beside the other on the tabletop. "She seemed to enjoy the class. She'd ask me questions when we walked to our cars afterwards."

"Did you ever go to her place?" Simkins asked.

Jim tensed. "You don't need to answer him, Chief. You can have a lawyer present."

Blair shook his head. "No, it's okay, Jim. I want to figure out what happened." He turned to Simkins. "She twisted her ankle one night after class. I gave her a ride home." He looked at Jim. "The next morning, Jim took me over to the campus so I could drive her car back to her place. Jim followed me. I didn't see her that morning, though, and Jim gave me a ride home from there."

"So you were never there other than those two times?"

Blair rubbed his forehead. "I-I think I went there Friday night."

"Why?" Simkins pressed.

"She called me. Said she and Jason had a fight and she needed someone to talk to."

"So you went over there?"

Blair nodded. "Yes. She sounded upset."

"What happened when you got there?"

Jim could see Blair try to drag the missing fragment out of his memory. "I-I don't remember."

"So it's possible you did kill Jason Harmony and you just don't remember doing it?" Houser broke in.

Blair looked lost, like a child who had gotten separated from his mother in a crowd. Jim swallowed hard, willing his partner to deny Houser's accusation.

"I-I don't know. I j-just don't think I could ever shoot another human being," Blair said, his voice trembling.

"Do you carry a gun when you go out with Ellison?" Simkins suddenly asked.

"No," came Blair's immediate reply. "I mean, he asked me to one time, but I couldn't."

"Are you scared of guns?"

Blair shook his head. "No. I don't believe in them."

"Do you know how to use one?"

Blair blinked and nodded. "A friend of my mom's taught me when I was fifteen years old." He smiled slightly. "When Naomi found out, we were out of there so fast."


"My mom."

As Simkins considered that, Jim digested the new information about his friend. Blair had never told him how he'd learned to shoot, and Jim had never asked in spite of his curiosity. He imagined Naomi's reaction to finding out about Blair's lessons and smiled just a little.

"Have you ever owned a gun?" Simkins asked.

"No." There was no hesitation in Blair's answer.

"Why did you run from the scene?"

"I was scared," Blair replied without thought, then frowned. "I-I remember seeing the golden fir--"

Jim heard his heartbeat increase dramatically and a line of sweat pearled on his forehead. He leaned close to Blair, putting an arm around his shoulders. "They can't hurt you, Chief."

Blair turned to gaze at Jim, and the sentinel was surprised by the desperation within his eyes. "I tried clapping like you told me, but it didn't work. I had to run; had to get away."

"What the hell's he talking about, Ellison?" Houser demanded.

Keeping his arm around his guide's shuddering shoulders, Jim answered, "About eighteen months ago, I was blinded by the drug Golden while doing some undercover work. The dealers found out I was a cop and sent pizzas dosed with Golden to Major Crime. Blair ingested an almost lethal amount unknowingly when he ate a piece of the pizza." Jim grimaced, the helplessness of that episode making him grow angry and restless.

"I remember that," Simkins interrupted. "I was in the garage when Sandburg was shooting off your spare gun. You talked him down from the car hood." Simkins paused. "From what I recall, he almost died."

Blair stiffened within Jim's arms, but remained silent.

"That's right," Jim said. "The doctors said flashbacks might occur, but none ever did. If he was injected with a derivative of this same drug, it could've produced a flashback, making him see things that weren't there."

The interrogation room was quiet for a long minute. "Do you realize that Sandburg might have shot Harmony if he didn't realize what he was doing?" Simkins asked softly.

Jim's heart skipped a beat. Shit, he hadn't thought of that possibility. If only Blair could remember...

"Chief, I want you to try really hard to remember what you did when you arrived at the Harmonys," Jim said in a low voice. "You drove over there in your Volvo. Do you remember?"

Blair closed his eyes. "Yeah. I remember driving into their circular drive and seeing Cynthia's car sitting out. I figured she must've gone out that day. I went up to the house and rang the doorbell, but no one answered. I tried again."

"Did someone let you in?" Simkins asked.

"No. I put my hand on the doorknob and it turned. I was surprised it wasn't locked. So I went in."

"What did you see?"

"Nothing. Nobody was around and it was really quiet." He shivered. "Too quiet."

"What did you do then?" Simkins prompted.

"I-I looked around the main floor, but it was empty. I went upstairs."

"Was anybody up there?"

Blair's hands twitched and his eyes flew open. "I don't know. I c-can't remember."

Hysteria tinged his voice and Jim nearly lost his own composure. He wasn't used to seeing Blair this way -- so uncertain and afraid. "Relax, Chief. Do those deep breathing exercises you're always trying to teach me. C'mon, buddy, you can do it. In. Out. In. Out." Never would Jim have imagined starting a breathing mantra for his friend, but it seemed to work. Blair's brow smoothed and his gasps receded, then he closed his eyes again. "Now, I want you to think back to Friday evening, Chief. You walked up the staircase. What did you find up there?"

"Still quiet. Nobody there. I pushed open a door and saw something," Blair said.

"What did you see?" Simkins resumed his questioning.

"Feet on the floor sticking out from the end of the bed." He opened his eyes and the pupils were huge.

Jim's own breathing grew a little distressed. "Then what?"

Blair blinked and his shoulders slumped. "That's all I remember. Until I woke up at Charley's place."

"Who's Charley?" Jim asked.

"A girl. She found me, let me stay with her."

"Was she the girl you were with yesterday and today?"

"Uh, yeah." Blair raked his dull dirty hair back from his face. "I have to go back and see her. I promised."

"Once we get you cleared and the charges dropped, I'll take you there," Jim reassured.

Blair managed a thin smile. "Thanks, man. She's a good kid."

Simkins cleared his throat. "So you're saying Jason Harmony was dead when you got there?"

"I don't know."

"Cynthia Harmony probably injected Blair with the drug while he was looking at Jason's body. The injection is here." Jim pointed to the place on Blair's shoulder. "That would indicate that someone standing behind and above him gave him the shot."

"Why give him something?" Houser asked.

Jim shrugged. "Probably to knock him out long enough to get his prints on the gun." He continued carefully, "And maybe the loss of memory was also part of it. If Blair couldn't remember if he shot Jason, he couldn't defend himself and would have to believe the evidence."

Houser drummed his fingers on the table, while Simkins stroked his jaw. Blair remained silent, his gaze downcast. Jim wanted to jump up and pace, but restrained himself.

"You said you could get Cynthia Harmony using Sandburg," Simkins finally said. "How did you plan to do that?"

And Jim explained.

After five hours and jumping through many hoops, Blair was riding in Jim's truck and headed back to the loft. The younger man sat stiffly, as if afraid he would collapse if he gave in even a little to his apprehension. All his memories had returned, with the exception being those which he needed the most. He could barely recall entering Harmony's place Friday night, though he could remember with horrifying clarity the scarlet blood and holding a gun. Jim had explained that by saying Cynthia had put the weapon in his hand while he'd been unconscious and he'd awakened to see Jason covered with blood. Still, there were enough doubts in Blair's mind to make him nervous about his role in the upcoming play.

"What if she doesn't admit anything?" Blair asked, tugging at a loose thread on his grimy black jeans.

"She will," Jim assured. "From what I heard while she was talking to Bill and Mark, she likes to brag."

"So she said she'd set me up?" Though Blair had already asked Jim the same question in a variety of forms, he had to be certain.

Jim reached across and patted his knee. "Yeah, Chief, she did. You didn't kill Jason Harmony."

Blair nodded then leaned his head back against the truck seat. He could feel Jim shooting him concerned looks. "I'm okay, Jim. I just feel like all this is happening to someone else, y'know?"

A moment's pause, then Jim replied, "I know. You've had a helluva three days. After you shower and change into some clean clothes, you'll feel a hundred percent better."

Blair couldn't help but chuckle. He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at his friend. "Don't forget the hot meal under my belt and tucked into bed with my teddy bear."

Jim grinned wryly, embarrassed by his maternal platitudes. "Sorry."

"Don't be. It's one of your charms."

Being with Jim and away from the police department, Blair felt some of his tension dissipate.

"Why did all this happen?" Blair broke the companionable silence with the soft-spoken question.

"I'm not sure," Jim said, the little crinkle showing between his eyes.

Blair gazed at Jim for a long moment. "I'm sorry."

Jim shot him a startled glance. "For what?"

"They used to be your friends."

With Jim's shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows, Blair could see the corded muscles in his forearms as the detective gripped the steering wheel tightly. "People change."

"I suppose, but talking about old times like they weren't planning a murder and framing it on me..." Blair waved a hand in the air. "It just seems like it would hurt a little, is all."

Jim's jaw muscle leaped into his cheek and he remained silent for three blocks. "I guess it does a little, but up until two weeks ago, they were pretty much strangers to me. I mean, we lived in the same city and they knew I was a cop, but they never called to get together. When we finally did see each other again, it was by chance, and afterwards, they were only using me." Jim shrugged, but Blair could see the pain behind the forced nonchalance.

Blair reached over and rubbed Jim's shoulder. "It sucks."

"Yeah. But I'm going to take them down without any regrets. They crossed the line when they went after you," Jim said, his quiet words lined with steel.

Blair's throat tightened, so he kept his hand on Jim's shoulder, taking a lesson from his partner and letting his touch speak for him.

An hour later, after Blair had showered, changed clothes, and eaten a hot meal courtesy of his roommate, they went to meet Simkins and Houser at their pre-determined location -- a hundred yards from the Harmony's long winding driveway. Blair stepped into the dark, nondescript van and nodded to Simkins and Houser. When the older homicide detective held up the wire, Blair sighed and stripped off his shirts to let Jim attach it to his torso.

"You know how much it's going to hurt when the tape comes off?" Blair grumbled.

Jim grinned up at him as he tore off another piece of the cloth tape to hold the wire against Blair's hairy chest. "A lot."

"Asshole," Blair muttered.

"Hey, it's not my fault you've got as much hair on your chest as you do on your head."

Blair snorted. "You're just jealous." He glanced at Simkins who was watching them with an amused smile. "Why can't you just use the radar thingie and record the conversation that way?"

"It's not as reliable, but we will be using it as a back-up in case she finds your wire," Simkins said.

"I'm not letting her anywhere near me," Blair said with a shudder.

Jim finished with the microphone and wire, and patted Blair's back.

"How's the arm?" Blair asked, pointing to the soft cast Jim still wore from his truck accident over two weeks ago.

Jim flexed his fingers. "A little sore, but it's not going to slow me down."

"Glad to hear it," Blair said, part serious, part teasing. He tucked in his T-shirt and left the shirttails hang with his outer shirt.

"You know what you're supposed to do, Sandburg?" Houser asked, his tone insinuating he wouldn't know.

"I've got it," Blair said with a hint of impatience. "I tell her I remember everything and if she wants me to forget, she'll have to make it worth my while."

"How much?"

"A million dollars."

Houser narrowed his eyes, but didn't ask any more inane questions.

It had been dark when they'd arrived and it was nearly nine o'clock now.

"Time to get the show on the road," Simkins said. "What's the word?"


"All right. Ready whenever you are."

Blair took a deep breath to calm his quaking nerves. He'd tried not to think about this evening ever since Jim had outlined his plan in the interrogation room. Not that it wasn't a good plan, but Blair's stomach was doing cartwheels, telling him he probably shouldn't have eaten the soup and pita sandwich Jim had made for supper.

Two strong hands grasped his shoulders and Blair's line of sight was filled with Jim's worried countenance. "If you don't think you can do this, say the word, Chief. We'll get her some other way."

Blair took strength in his sentinel's presence and shook his head. "I can do this."

"I know you can, but--" Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. "Hell, I should've never suggested this. What if she just decides to shoot you right away? We're too far away to get to you if it goes down that way. No, we'll find another way."

Blair smiled gently and caught Jim's wrist. "Hey, I'm the one who usually has the panic attacks. Relax, Jim. I'll be all right -- you're the one who's always saying I can talk my way out of a paper bag, whatever that means." He grinned wider, then grew serious. "Besides, I know you'll be listening."

"Damn right I will be." Jim took a deep breath and gave him a ghost of a smile. "Be careful, Chief." He opened the van's back door and patted Blair's back. "All right, Sandburg, it's your show."

Blair wanted to make a smart aleck retort, but his mouth had gone dry and he only nodded. Then he was leaving the safety of the van.

"Test your mike," Jim said.

"This sucks," Blair said into his shirt where the mike was hidden as he walked toward the long curving driveway. "Can I help it if I'm irresistible to women? Just because my anal-retentive roommate hasn't dated in--"

"It works, Sandburg," Jim called out irritably.

Blair chuckled softly, the familiar bantering calming his frazzled nerves. "I'll see you soon," he whispered, knowing the mike wouldn't pick it up, but Jim would.

Blair kept to the shadows as he approached the house. He was surprised at how easily he made it to the front door. He'd been expecting some kind of alarm system to be activated by his advance. There was merely a single light illuminating the porch. He rang the doorbell.

Footsteps grew closer, then stopped. Blair waved at the little peephole. "Hi, Cynthia."

There was the sound of two locks being undone then the door was swung open by the woman herself. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"You invite me in and I'll tell you." Blair fixed a sexy smile on his face as he forced his gaze to roam up and down her slender figure, finding any attraction he may have had for her gone. There was only disgust and anger.

"I should call the police."

"Go ahead. I'll tell them a little story myself."

Cynthia's eyes narrowed. "What're you talking about?"

"Cut the games, Cynthia. Let me in so we can talk."

She glared at him for a minute, and Blair kept himself still as he held her gaze. Finally, she sighed and stepped back, opening the door to let him in.

Blair stepped across the threshold, suddenly very aware of the microphone beneath his shirts. Cynthia closed the door and Blair found himself face to face with a revolver.

"And here I thought you were a bright guy, Blair," Cynthia said mockingly. "It wasn't too smart of you to come here. I can kill you and tell the police you came back to take care of me. Self-defense, pure and simple."

"Ah, but then you'd find yourself in prison for the murder of your husband," Blair said with confidence he didn't possess.

"How do you figure that?" Her lips curled into an ugly sneer.

"I left a note in my room, explaining how you lured me over here, gave me an injection, then placed the gun in my hand so it would look like I killed Jason."

She threw her head back and laughed. "Whose word do you think they'll take -- an impoverished college grad student's or the poor aggrieved widow's?"

"Probably not aggrieved, and definitely not poor," Blair commented as he turned his back to her to roam further into the expansive house. His shoulder blades itched, wondering when the bullet would enter between them. "Jason left you everything, including his share of the business." He stopped and turned to face her fifteen feet away. "That's what you wanted, wasn't it? After all these years, you decided you didn't like being treated like a child; no more allowance for little Cynthia, but access to all the money you wanted, when you wanted it. I figured you probably planned to move back to Chicago and live in style while you picked up your acting career. Hell, you could even buy your own theater, and choose whatever plays you'd like to star in. Who would've thought buying financially troubled computer businesses would be so lucrative?"

If Cynthia was surprised by his knowledge, she didn't show it. She smiled coldly. "Yes, who would've thought?"

"When Jason showed up in Chicago, he must've seemed the perfect catch -- he was handsome, charming, and a partnership in a business. Perfect for your plans. Buying those companies that were going under, then selling them for double or triple what they paid for them--"

"It's a sweet deal. They get fifteen percent and the buyers eighty-five percent of the supposed sale."

Blair inclined his head. "And all of them were dummy corporations."

"Not all. They had to have some legitimacy. But their, shall we say, less-than-above-the board clients couldn't just deposit their millions in the neighborhood bank. This way, they had a legally recognized money trail," Cynthia said. "Since I originally introduced Jason and Marcus, I figured I should get my own share."


Cynthia walked closer to Blair and paced back and forth in front of him, but the gun remained in her hand and she wasn't near enough that he could try to steal it from her. Not that he wanted to just yet. He still didn't have what he needed.

"Marcus liked the theater," Cynthia continued. "We hit it off, were together for a few months, then broke up but stayed friends. Marcus had this idea of laundering the family's money through these dummy companies. He just needed to find someone in the world of business to handle the legit side. Jason was fairly smart and he had a business which could be exploited. He was also hungry for money and had very few ethics." Cynthia shrugged. "Exactly the type of man Marcus was looking for. I introduced them and Jason ended up playing the front man and I got to be the little wifey, a role I got tired of playing."

"So you killed Jason?" Blair asked, hoping to get her confession.

"About three weeks ago, I said I wanted to become a full partner -- four equal partners instead of three. He laughed at me. I told him I'd go to the cops. He didn't know I was bluffing." Cynthia's finger twitched on the trigger. "Then the bastard tried to have me killed."

"The sniper at the golf tournament?"

Cynthia laughed but there was no humor in it. "It gave Jason the perfect alibi with a hundred witnesses. Luckily for me, your partner yelled or I'd be dead. I suspected Jason was behind it, so I started listening in on his phone conversations. I was right, but then I heard him change tactics." She shook her head, faint admiration in her eyes. "Jason surprised me. He was more creative than I would've thought. Since his perfect alibi didn't work, he had to try something that would place blame directly on somebody else."

"Me," Blair said huskily.

"Not at first. Elijah Donovan got the credit for the sniper, the brake lines, and the phony bomb."

The blood left Blair's face as the truth became clear. "Jason wanted to throw all suspicion off him, so he made it look like Jim was the target all along. He hired someone to cut the brake lines, then had Donovan put the timer on Jim's truck, knowing full well the security cameras would catch him."

"Like I said, brilliant." Cynthia smiled wistfully. "I really wish I hadn't had to kill him."


"No, Jason came up with the gas idea for him." Cynthia sighed. "I suppose Jason was a decent husband for the most part."

"But you were greedy."

"Motivated," Cynthia corrected. "It was either kill Jason or let him kill me. Either way, you were going to be the fall guy."

Blair's heart tripped. "Lucky me. You had me fooled. I really thought you liked anthropology."

"I'm an actress, Blair. I can fool anybody, including the cops who came to question me about Jason. Jim was tough, but the evidence was on my side."

"Evidence you planted."

"I did do that well, didn't I?"

Come on, Cynthia, talk some more.

"Were the pictures yours or Jason's idea?" Blair questioned.

"Jason's. I just took advantage of it."

"Jenkins, the private investigator who took them, will swear we weren't having an affair," Blair said, remembering what Jim had told him.

Cynthia arched her eyebrows. "I'm impressed." She shrugged. "But it's his word against mine."

"And mine."

"I don't think so." She centered the gun on Blair's chest. "You see, you broke in here and I had to defend myself against my husband's killer."

"They say the grass is always greener over the septic tank," Blair babbled.

Cynthia stared at him a moment in bewilderment, then shrugged. "Whatever. I'm really sorry I have to do this--" And her finger tightened on the trigger.

The door exploded inward, startling both Blair and Cynthia, but the anthropologist recovered faster and charged toward the woman. He caught her around the waist and they crashed to the floor together. The gun went skittering across the shiny floor to land at Jim's feet.

Cynthia fought like a wildcat, baring her teeth and using her legs to strike at Blair. Her knee came up, but he turned enough that the blow caught his hip rather than something more vulnerable.

Jim grabbed her flailing arms and Blair scrambled off her as the detective jerked her to her feet none too gently. Jim held her wrists in one hand, wrapped an arm around her waist with his free arm, and hooked his right leg over hers to secure her. She flopped around some more, her breath coming in harsh gasps and her face red with fury, but she finally gave in to the solid wall of muscle which constrained her.

"Are you okay, Chief?" Jim asked anxiously.

Blair planted his hands on his knees as he leaned over, panting and willing his heart to stop trying to escape his chest. "Yeah, yeah, I'm okay." He had never seen a more beautiful sight than the sentinel storming in to save his guide. He smirked at his own fanciful thought -- Jim was just doing what Jim did best: saving his butt. "Your timing was impeccable, as usual, Jim, though I have to admit you cut it a little close this time."

"Yeah, but I think I broke the record for the one hundred yard dash. Luckily, I was halfway here when I heard you say grass." Jim managed a shaky smile. "You're right, Chief. No more Wonderburgers, at least for a week or two."

Blair snorted, but his witty riposte was interrupted by the arrival of Simkins and Houser. The latter clapped his handcuffs on Cynthia, and Jim gladly gave her over to his care. The sentinel joined his guide and ruffled his hair.

Blair ducked away. "Not the hair, man. You know the rules."

Jim's eyes widened in mock astonishment. "You have rules? When did this phenomenon occur?"

"Funny, funny, ha ha."

"Great comeback, Junior."

Simkins covered his grin as he joined them. "Good work, Sandburg. We've got her on attempted murder, and enough to question her testimony about her husband's death. We're also going to see what shakes out with their company, and bring in Harmony's two business associates. I have a feeling we're going to see some domino action -- one falls, they all go down."

"So do I have to go back to the station?" Blair asked.

Simkins' smile faded. "I'm afraid so, but it's only a formality. There's more than enough reasonable doubt with the taped conversation. Her lawyer might plead entrapment, but it won't stick. She was definitely going to shoot an unarmed person." He motioned to Blair's chest. "You can remove the wire now."

Blair groaned. "The sacrifices I make."

"I'm glad he's your partner, Ellison," Simkins said, then followed in Houser's wake. "See you at the station."

Alone except for his partner, Blair grumbled as he removed his two shirts.

"I'll be careful," Jim promised.

Blair glanced at his friend, expecting to see a teasing glint in his eyes. Instead, Jim had lowered his head, effectively hiding his expression as the detective began to peel off the tape carefully. Uneasy at Jim's avoidance, Blair said, "I was just kidding, Jim. It doesn't hurt that much."

Jim remained silent, his sensitive fingers removing one, then two strips of tape so adroitly that Blair hardly felt the slight pull of hair.

"It was too close, Chief," Jim finally said softly.

Blair knew exactly what he was thinking. "Maybe, but it doesn't change the outcome. Thanks to you, I'm alive."

"Thanks to me, you were framed for a murder you didn't commit, injected with a drug, and lived on the streets for three days," Jim said, self-reproach in his voice.

Jim removed the last piece of tape without Blair even noticing since he was so intent on his friend. "We really have to work on this ego trip of yours, Jim."

At that, Jim jerked his head up to meet Blair's gaze. "What're you talking about, Sandburg?"

Blair buttoned his shirt deliberately, letting Jim stew for a minute. Finally, he looked into his friend's face, seeing self-accusation in his expression. It didn't surprise him. "You think that everything that happens to me is somehow related to you? Well, I hate to tell you this, Jim, but sometimes things just happen to me. How was Brad Ventriss your fault? How was Iris your fault? And even people like Kincaid and Lash were not your fault. I chose to become your partner."

He and Jim had been over this topic often in the past three years, and Blair thought Jim had finally "gotten it", but he obviously hadn't. Or his protective instincts were too deeply ingrained.

The stubborn planes in the detective's face gradually softened and he sighed. "You're right, Chief," he finally admitted. "Do you think it's just me or does it have to do with this sentinel thing?"

Blair smiled. "A little of both, and a lot of compassion and caring behind the tough guy front."

Jim blushed, just as Blair knew he would. "I got you loud and clear, Chief. But I can't promise I won't feel that way again."

Blair laughed. "If you didn't, I'd worry about you."

Jim chuckled sheepishly. "Let's get down to the station and get that over with. You're probably looking forward to sleeping in your own bed."

"Oh, yeah," Blair breathed prayerfully. "Tomorrow's going to be a busy day. I have to make some phone calls, then look up a friend."

"Charley?" Jim guessed.

Blair nodded. "I owe her my life, man."

"Which means I'm in her debt, too." Jim drew Blair into a hug; a hug which seemed to last a little longer and where Jim's arms held him a little tighter.

But Blair wasn't about to complain.

Blair had left Jim and the other three people who'd come with them at the school playground where he and Charley had sat on the swings only two days ago. It seemed another lifetime. His memory didn't fail him this time as he unerringly walked toward Charley's hidden home.

He had been fortunate. Cynthia Harmony hadn't lasted more than an hour under interrogation. The Chief of Police had been suitably embarrassed to be found supporting a criminal and had congratulated Simkins, Houser, Simon, and Jim more enthusiastically than deemed necessary. He'd also apologized to Blair -- a miracle in itself.

Mark Joseph and Bill Conley were awaiting indictments on charges of illegal trading, along with a number of other corporate offenses, as well as accessory to murder and attempted murder. They were already pushing for a deal.

The drug Cynthia had used on Blair had two ingredients similar to Golden, and did cause some memory loss. Luckily, there didn't seem to be any lasting effects. However, Blair shuddered, remembering the flashback which accompanied the drug sometimes too vividly. Like last night when he thought he'd sleep like a baby -- his shout of terror had awakened both Jim and himself. The two men had drunk tea and discussed his nightmare, then had slept until mid-morning.

So all that remained was Charley and a promise Blair had every intention of fulfilling.

He arrived at the vacant building and squirmed through the small hole, then stood up on the other side.

Jim had wanted to come with him, but Blair had talked him into staying behind. First off, his broad shoulders would've never fit through the hole. Secondly, Blair suspected Charley would be angry and disappointed if he brought someone else to her home.

A sound to his right made Blair turn to see Charley stepping out from behind a pile of boxes. She looked just as he remembered her, including the ball cap tugged low on her head. He smiled, hoping to ease the distrust in her chocolate brown eyes. "I promised I'd come back."

She crossed her arms and shrugged. "Didn't have to. People don't keep their promises."

Blair took a step toward her. "I do."

"You ain't like most people."

Blair laughed. "That's probably true, Charley." He walked toward her and though she appeared wary, she didn't retreat. "I found out who I was and my friends helped me figure out what happened to me. Somebody shot me up with a drug which made me forget and have these weird hallucinations."


"To blame a murder on me."

"Them cops arrest you?"

"Not those who shot at us, but my friend who's a detective."

Charley's eyes widened at that news. "You're friends with a cop?"

Blair smiled. "Actually, I have more than one cop friend, but the one who had to arrest me is my best friend and my roommate."

"Some friend."

"No. He was just doing his job. Then he helped prove I didn't kill anyone, so here I am."

"Why'd you come back?" Charley asked sullenly.

Blair didn't let her fool him. He knew how lonely and afraid she was below the youthful bravado. "I'd like you to meet my best friend, and some new friends." At her panicked expression, he held up his hands. "I told them to wait at the playground for us. I didn't want them to know about your secret place."

Charley relaxed visibly, but her attitude didn't. "Why would I want to meet 'em?"

Blair shrugged. "I just thought you might like to. Jim -- he's my friend -- wanted to thank you himself for helping me."

"What about them others?"

"One of them is a girl around your age. She reminds me a lot of you."

Charley wavered. "She'll make fun o' me."

"No, she won't. I promise."

A little smile touched the girl's lips. "And you always keep your promises."


Charley took a deep breath and sighed. "Okay, but I ain't gonna stay long. I got work to do."

"I understand," Blair said. "I just want you to meet them."

They wriggled out of the hole and re-covered it, hiding it from probing eyes. Blair held out his hand and, after a few moments, Charley grasped it. He smiled down at her, then they walked to the playground hand in hand. As they drew nearer, Charley pressed herself closer to Blair's side. He released her hand to wrap an arm around her slender shoulders.

Once they arrived, Jim, two women, and a girl stood in a semi-circle around them.

"Charley, I'd like you to meet my friend, Detective Jim Ellison," Blair introduced.

Jim squatted down in front of the girl and extended his hand. She rested her palm against his and they shook. "I had to meet and thank the girl who saved my best friend's life," Jim said with a brilliant smile and sparkling blue eyes.

In spite of herself, the girl smiled and seemed tongue-tied. Blair couldn't help but roll his eyes. No matter what everyone said about him being the lothario, his partner possessed a rare charm -- and rarer smile -- that could bewitch females from ages five to ninety-five.

"I really appreciate your taking care of Blair for me," Jim continued. "I know he can be kind of crabby sometimes." He glanced up at Blair and caught his gaze. "But I'd really miss him if something happened to him."

Blair's chest felt tight as he whispered sentinel-soft, "Goes both ways, buddy." Then Blair steered the enchanted Charley away from Jim to meet the other three people. "Charley, this is Hannah Gabriel," he introduced her to the thirty-something woman wearing linen trousers and matching top.

"Hello, Charley," Hannah greeted.

Charley mumbled something that sounded like "hi."

Blair motioned to another woman about the same age in a billowy skirt, sandals, and a sleeveless blouse. "Charley, this is Sharon Laman."

"It's nice to meet you. Blair has told us all about you," Sharon said, her tone warm and friendly. She rested a hand on the girl beside her who was twelve or thirteen years old, and wearing shorts and a T-shirt. "And this is my daughter Billie."

"Hey, we both have boys' names. Cool," Billie said with a contagious smile. "My name's actually Wilhelmina." Her nose wrinkled in disgust. "So I make everyone call me Billie."

Charley couldn't help but grin. "I don't blame you. My name's really Charlemagne."

"Ooooh. I definitely like Charley better." Billie took her hand. "Come on, let's go swing and let the grown-ups talk." She leaned closer to Charley. "They always talk about boring stuff."

Blair watched Billie tug Charley to the swing set, then glanced at Hannah, who was from the Children's Protective Services, and Sharon, a foster parent who had expressed an interest in having Charley stay with them.

"That went way better than I expected," Blair commented with a wide grin.

Sharon watched her daughter and Charley already whispering together. "I don't think I'll be able to separate them."

Everyone laughed, then the adults moved off to sit at a picnic table and talk about boring things.

Two hours later and after a trip back to Charley's so she could bring a few possessions with her, the four adults and two children prepared to leave. Blair grabbed Jim's sleeve as the detective headed toward the truck.

"I'm going to say good-bye to Charley," Blair said.

Jim nodded and smiled in understanding.

Charley was standing by the Laman's car with Billie as Hannah and Sharon were involved in a discussion. Blair moved to Charley's side. "Are you all right with this, really?" he asked the girl.

Charley glanced at Billie, then back at Blair. "I'm cool." She smiled almost shyly. "What you were saying about havin' friends and going to school and buying new clothes, well, I think I'd like to try it. And if I don't like it, I can always go back."

"I want you to be happy, Charley."

Sharon returned to the car and ushered her daughter into the back seat. "Take your time. We'll wait for you." Sharon gave the girl a smile, then climbed in behind the wheel.

"I guess this is good-bye for a little while," Blair said.

Charley stuffed her hands into her pockets and kicked at the dirt with sneaker-clad toes. "Guess so. You gonna come see me?"

"Try'n keep me away."

Charley raised her downward gaze, revealing eyes which glimmered with moisture. "Promise?"

Blair squatted down in front of her. "Promise." He gathered her in his arms and embraced her. Her own skinny arms came around his neck tentatively, then hugged him back.

"Thanks, Blair," she whispered, her voice husky with tears.

Charley released him first and they separated. Blair handed her a slip of paper. "This is my phone number. Call me whenever you want."

She gazed at it a moment, then folded it carefully and slid it into her pocket.

Blair opened the car door for her and she joined Billie in the back seat. "Now you two stay out of most trouble, okay?"

Billie giggled and Charley smiled tremulously. "We'll try," they said in unison.

Blair closed the door and lifted a hand as Sharon pulled away. Charley turned around and waved at him through the back window. Only when Blair couldn't see her anymore did he join Jim in the truck.

"She's a good kid," Jim said.

Blair nodded. "Yeah, she is."

Jim gave Blair's knee a quick squeeze. "What do you say we grab some supper on the way home?"

Blair smiled, recognizing Jim's attempt to cheer him up. "Sounds good. Any ideas?"

Jim rolled into traffic. "Wonderburger."

"No way, man. No gut busters for one month."

"One month? No way, Sandburg. One week," Jim argued, though his eyes twinkled with laughter.

"Forget it, Ellison, you aren't going to win this round."

Jim's expression suddenly changed and he eyed Blair slyly. "How about we golf for it?"


"We golf eighteen holes. If I win, I get Wonderburger back in a week. If you win, no Wonderburgers for a month."

"What am I gaining out of this?"

"The satisfaction of winning."

"Try again."

"A healthy sentinel?"

"Getting closer."

"Healthy meals for a month?" The way Jim said "healthy meals" made it sound like a curse.

"For starters. No house rules for a month--"


Blair ignored him. "And three sensory tests a week for a month."

Jim stopped at a red light and considered the wager. "All right, you're on."

A smug smile tugged at Blair's lips as he crossed his arms.

Jim eyed his partner suspiciously. "So, what's your handicap?"

Blair's eyes twinkled brightly. "You."

Jim sent him a mock glare. "Smart ass. How good are you at golf?"

"Very good." Blair's smile grew. "Very very good."

Jim rested his forehead on the steering wheel and muttered, "I think I've just been conned."

Blair patted his back in feigned sympathy. "Just think how good you're going to feel at the end of the month. After all those healthy meals, not having to worry about enforcing house rules, honing your senses--"

"Enough already, Sandburg."

"After those tofu and sprout meals at night and those algae shakes in the morning--" Blair continued.

"Who said anything about algae shakes?" Jim interrupted.

"Gee, who would've thought I'd be able to use those big butt pants again," Blair mused thoughtfully. He turned eyes dancing with mischief to his friend. "Now aren't you glad I know how to golf?"

And the sentinel's muttered curse was drowned out by his guide's warm laughter.

The End


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