Thank you to my three musketeers! Athos! Porthos! Aramis!...okay Tonya, Sandy and Robin. Special thanks to Sandy for pointing out a glaring difference in terminology. To think, Canadians and Americans see there as being few differences between nations. Beware! You can send an unsuspecting American into fits of hysterical laughter just by referring to a utility pole (which still sounds weird to me) as a hydro pole (which is what we call 'em up here in the great white north, at least in this part of Canada we do) But it seems that at one time we all called them telephone poles, so in deference to my US friends (paula smirks at Sandy) I changed it to telephone pole. Even though around here our telephone cable is now run underground. We did discover though, that fire hydrants are fire hydrants on both sides of the border. Now I wonder what telephone poles are called in other parts of the world?
The metal clang of the mailbox closing and the retreating footsteps of the postman interrupted the usual quiet of breakfast. Slowly pushing himself away from the table, wincing at the too loud scrape of the chair against the tiled floor, he stood and stretched, yawning loudly. Lean muscles covered the six foot plus frame hidden beneath skin that was tanned and leathered from hours of labour outdoors. Hiking up his boxers and running a quick hand through closely cropped, blond hair, he went to collect his mail. Another routine beginning to another routine day. The thought managed to dampen any enthusiasm he could muster.
Flipping through the junk mail and bills, paying little attention to what was there, he almost missed it. Small and brown, the envelope was completely void of any identifying marks. This one had been hand delivered. He tossed the other letters to the floor and with fingers that were suddenly clumsy, opened it. One piece of plain, white paper fluttered to the ground. Heart pounding, he bent to pick it up. The few words that were boldly typed across the centre of the sheet sent a charge of electricity through him. "This is your wake up call." Flipping it over, he found an internet address written in tiny, precise script.
"Yes!" The word was quietly hissed as he walked back to the kitchen, crumpling the paper and envelope into a ball. Standing over the sink, he reached for a book of matches and saw with some amusement that his hands were actually shaking in anticipation. He felt as if his body was going into adrenaline overdrive. Striking a match, he set fire to the wadded up paper and dropped it into the sink, watching as it burned slowly against the stainless steel. Each lick of the yellow flame against the cold surface reawakened the soldier buried within him. When the last of the paper was nothing but ash, he went to his computer and punched the power button. Nervously pecking at the keys, he entered the address "www.col.rangers.net/sleeper.html" , and held his breath as it downloaded onto the small screen. Smiling, he saw the name and image of his prime target along with a list of secondary targets. He committed them to memory and then clicked on the grinning skull icon at the bottom of the page. A blinding flash of psychedelic colour lit the screen, dissolving what had been there.
Reaching for the phone, he called his boss. It was with no regrets that he informed the man he was quitting. It had been a dead end job anyway.
His world had suddenly come alive again.
"This is war, Sandburg!" Jim Ellison's roar reverberated off the walls, shattering the usual morning silence of the loft.
The coffee cup halted as it was brought to his lips and Blair Sandburg, part time grad student/teacher, part time police observer, and full time guide to a sentinel, watched wide-eyed from his perch in the kitchen. Slamming of drawers and not so muffled curses, with the name Sandburg being dispersed liberally throughout them, preceded the detective down the stairs from his bedroom. The anthropologist saw pink socked feet angrily stomped down stairs. He watched as an equally pink-shirted Cascade detective strode purposefully to where he sat to glare at him.
Making the mistake of trying to swallow and laugh at the same time, Blair tried to choke back the coffee that threatened to go down the wrong way. James Ellison, Sentinel of the Great City, was a vision in pastel.
"What is wrong with this picture?" The detective held the shirttails in his hands. He raised an eyebrow at his partner and then looked down with disgust at the ruined garment. "I'm so glad you think this is funny, junior."
"Ah Jim, I'd have to say that you look in the pink this morning," Sandburg laughed. "But, you know, I think deep grey pants would look better with that shirt than the white boxers."
The Sentinel treated the younger man to a tight-lipped scowl. "Why is it so hard for someone who is so smart to separate the colours from the whites?" Ellison sighed. "He who laughs last, Sandburg. You're going to replace this shirt and the socks," Jim tossed over his shoulder as he started back up the stairs to his room.
"Hey!" Blair's eyebrows shot up, his voice rising with them. "I didn't do that. I haven't done any of your laundry in the past couple of weeks. Besides, don't you usually send your shirts out?" He picked up his empty mug and took it to the sink. "So I guess if the shirt fits, wear it, man," he chuckled. "You can't pin this one on me."
The last of the breakfast dishes had been put away when Blair heard his partner descending the stairs once more. The pink shirt had been exchanged for a pale blue and the detective was just buttoning his last cuff as he walked into the galley area of the loft. Noticing that his jaw still had an angry set, Sandburg decided it was best to leave the teasing alone.
"What time is court today?"
"10:30," Ellison answered tersely as he grabbed the juice from the fridge. "I'm just going to barely have enough time to make it across town." He poured himself a glass. "Do you want a ride in?" The question had been an automatic one and he regretted it as soon as he spoke it. There was no way he would be able to detour to Rainier and still make it to the courthouse on time. He only hoped Sandburg realized that.
"No, that's okay, Jim. Since I don't have to go into the station with you this morning, I thought I would do some work here and then head out for my class." Blair hung the damp dish towel on the rack under the sink. "Can I get a ride back home with you though? My car's still in the shop. They have to replace the brake pads but didn't have the right parts."
"Yeah, sure," the older man grumbled as he fished his keys from the table.
"Good luck in court. I'll talk to you later," the anthropologist called to his friend's back but the door had already slammed shut. "Whew," Sandburg smiled to himself, "wonder what his reaction would have been if I had messed up his shirts?"
"Please state your name and occupation and then be seated." The bailiff's drawl dripped with boredom. The case had dragged on through most of the day with only a short recess at noon. It was just coming up to 2:00 when Ellison was finally called to give testimony.
"Detective James Ellison, Major Crimes Division, Cascade P.D." The long hours of warming hard benches had his nerves on edge. At best courtrooms made him nervous. The heightened senses that allowed him to be a first rate detective left him vulnerable as a witness. To tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth was never an option. Clearing his throat, he shifted uncomfortably in the chair. The tie he had hastily put on that morning seemed to have shrunk and he pulled at the knot, hoping to loosen it enough so that he could breathe. Licking at dry lips, he stared at the prosecutor who seemed to be taking his time in approaching and asking his first question. He took a deep, calming breath. He would just deliver his evidence and be on his way.
The district attorney seemed at last ready to start when the detective felt a slight change in air pressure. The doors of the courtroom swung open, admitting a lone figure who quickly and quietly took a seat at the back of the room. Ellison smiled at his partner's jaunty little wave and settled back, ready to answer the first question.
"Hey Chief, what're you doing here? Thought you had classes this afternoon?" Jim had spotted his friend waiting for him in the hallway. "Not that I'm not glad to see you."
Shifting his backpack onto his shoulder, Sandburg fell into step with the detective. "Yeah, well, I do. I have to get back there for a late lecture at 6:00. I called you around lunchtime to let you know that they fixed my car and that I didn't need a ride after all." Blair pulled his sunglasses down over his eyes as they left the dimly lit building and walked out into the bright afternoon sun. "When Rafe told me that you were still here, and that you didn't think you would be called to testify anytime soon, I decided that if I got the chance I'd come down and keep you company."
"Good thing you did too," Jim smiled as he pushed the walk button. "I had been sitting there so long that I really got myself into a state by the time they called me." He guided the younger man across the street when the light had changed. "It helped to see a friendly face."
"All in a day's work for your guide and sidekick," Blair laughed. "Where we headed? I parked next to you and your truck's up the other way."
"Time to put on the old feedbag, kimosabe. I couldn't eat before and now I'm starving." He squinted into the sunlight, trying to decide which fast food restaurant would satisfy his craving. "You got time for a quick bite?"
"Sure," Blair answered as he grabbed his friend's arm and pulled him away from the greasy spoon he was heading for. "But how about picking a place where I can actually find something I want to eat?"
Ellison's retort was lost in the sound of breaking glass. The plate glass window of the small diner shattered into thousands of tiny pieces, sending razor sharp shards onto the customers. Both men stood rooted, momentarily stunned, until the pain filled screams of the people inside began to register. The rain of glass had transformed the restaurant into something resembling a bloody battlefield.
Entering the diner, Jim looked at the old man behind the counter. "Are you all right?" Making eye contact, he asked, "Can you call 911?" At the man's nod he joined his partner in helping the injured. Fortunately, not too many had been sitting directly in front of the window when it had collapsed. Spotting Blair in the far corner of the room, wrapping a napkin around a small child's arm, he went to a young woman sitting on the floor who seemed to be the most in need of help. She looked up gratefully, clutching a trembling hand to her bleeding shoulder.
"It just all came down on us," she gasped. "What happened? Was it an earthquake?"
"Whatever it was, it's over." He smiled reassuringly at her. "Let me take a look at your shoulder."
Carefully lifting the cloth away from the cut, Ellison checked for any glass that may have been embedded. Seeing none, he quickly tore a table cloth into long strips and made a compress. Taking the woman's hand in his, he placed it over the makeshift bandage. "It doesn't look too deep at all. Keep some pressure on it." He helped her to her feet and a chair. "Were you cut anywhere else?"
"No, I'm okay. Thanks." She gave him a shaky grin.
Satisfied that she was all right, he moved on to the next one. Both he and Sandburg worked quickly and efficiently until the paramedic team arrived.
"I told you that eating in these places wasn't healthy," Sandburg's strained voice came from behind the detective, who had just finished giving a statement to a uniformed officer.
Ellison turned to his partner, taking note of his pallor. "You okay, Chief?"
"Yeah," Blair nodded. "Just a lot of blood. Kinda got to me for a minute. So what do you think happened? I didn't feel any tremors."
"Neither did I. I was just as surprised as you when the window shattered. Maybe a stress point that finally collapsed?" He put an arm around his friend's shoulders and headed for the door. "I don't know about you, Sandburg, but I've lost my appetite. I sure could go for a beer about now though."
"Sounds good to me, but aren't you still on duty, Detective Ellison?" Blair's eyes crinkled mischievously, a sure sign that he was recovering from the episode in the diner. Jim smiled down at his partner, wishing, not for the first time, that the kid would try sympathy rather than empathy. His guide was too willing to take on other people's emotions, leaving himself too open.
"Nope," he said, holding out his arm for Blair to see his watch. "5:15 p.m. In fact I could put in for fifteen minutes of overtime."
"5:15 already?" It came out as a groan. "Man, time flies when you're havin' fun. I gotta get back for that class."
"You're sure you're up to it? You still look a little green."
Blair smiled at his friend's concern. "I'm fine and I can't miss this one. So I guess I'll see you back at the loft."
"Okay kid, I'll see you at home." Jim watched his friend disappear down the street. His guide's resiliency never ceased to amaze him. Somehow, Sandburg always managed to roll with the punches and come out fighting. Suddenly aware that he was standing alone on a public street with a grin plastered to his face, the detective shook himself. Making sure his stern 'cop' look was in place, he went in search of a cold beer and a sandwich.
From the roof of the courthouse, sunlight danced off the lens of a camera. The mechanical whir of the shutter releasing was followed by a satisfied grunt. Like shooting ducks in a pond. Wiping sweat from his brow, he carefully stowed his gear. Standing slowly, he flexed his legs, trying to relieve the strain of muscles that had been in a cramped position for too long. He had spent most of the day on that roof. Hefting two large dufflebags, he slung them over his shoulder and made his way to the fire escape. Hunting season in Cascade was officially declared open.
Ellison found it tucked in with the folders that had been deposited on his desk. Giving the top sheet a cursory glance, assuming it had fallen out of another file, he started to place it aside to be sorted out later. When he saw his own surname printed boldly at the top of the page, he stopped to study it.
Sandburg looked up from the text he had been studying, startled by his friend's outburst. "Jim, what is it?"
Wordlessly, the detective tossed the stapled papers in his partner's general direction as he reached for the phone. Blair caught them before they hit the floor and scanned them to see what had sent the detective into a near frenzy. The top sheet was a crudely drawn graph. Squinting at the messy scrawl that covered it, he hoped he had read it wrong. Quickly flipping to the next page there were three charts meticulously filled in and dated two days past. He turned to the following page, his heart sinking as he saw the words scribbled at the top, Ellison-Carolyn Plummer (wife). Below was a rough sketch of a human body. A thick, red, grease pencil had been used to circle the area around the heart. The last page was a photograph and he was sure that this was what had sent Ellison into a panic. The picture was of a smiling Carolyn, standing in front of a car. The area around her heart had been circled with a thick, red, grease pencil.
"Carolyn, it's Jim. Give me a call as soon as you get this message." Disconnecting the line, he dialed again. "Carolyn Plummer please." Forcing air through clenched teeth, he waited. "Hi Carolyn...Oh, sorry. I see. For how long? Do you know if...? All right then, I'll try that. Thanks."
"No luck?" Blair asked, placing the papers back on the desk.
"Vacation." Ellison reached for the leather bound journal that sat next to the computer and began flipping through it. "I'm sure I still have Wendy's number here."
"Wendy?" Sandburg was sure he hadn't heard the name before.
"Sister." Jim ran a finger down the page, finally finding the one he was searching for. "They're pretty close. Maybe Carolyn's visiting her. They're both living in San Francisco now." He dialed and then began to tap his fingers impatiently. "C'mon Wendy, be there."
Going to stand in front of the desk, Blair studied the charts again. He heard the soft click and the muffled hello as someone picked up. Holding his breath, he watched his friend's face, waiting for the worst.
"Wendy? Hi it's... Damn." Ellison slammed the phone down with such force that Blair expected to see it crumble into dust. At Sandburg's questioning look, the detective grimaced. "I know, I know. I'll leave a message." He lifted the receiver and dialed the number.
Blair pulled his chair up closer to the edge of the desk and once again looked at the papers that had been left. What he held in his hands seemed to be a sniper's worksheet. The graph noted various external elements and their effects on a bullet's trajectory and velocity. This was followed by a sheet that recorded the date and number and type of rounds fired. Another chart seemed to be a log sheet of general observations. Beneath this was a sketch of what Sandburg assumed was the location from which the sniper would be shooting. The last sheet was the most disturbing. His eyes were automatically drawn to the red circle that marked the target. Turning this over, he looked at the picture of Jim's ex-wife. He could only hope that she was safe.
"I had hoped to never see one of those again." Jim's voice was filled with loathing. He took the material from his partner's hands and slowly thumbed through its pages.
"Then this is for real?" Blair couldn't hide his wonderment. "It's like...it's like..."
"It's like exactly what it is, Chief. It's a killer's handbook," Jim sighed. "Every military, mercenary, or gun-loving creep keeps one. It's our bible, our diary, the scrapbook we use to record our successes." He shuddered, trying to shake off less than pleasant memories.
"We, Jim?" Sandburg hadn't missed the implication. "You...?"
"Yes, me." Anger flared at the accusation he thought he saw in his guide's eyes. "I had to follow orders, like any good soldier, Sandburg." His voice was cold. "I'd be a natural for a job like that, wouldn't I?" Painful recollections and indignation at Blair's reaction hit him hard. He looked away, afraid he wouldn't be able to survive his friend's scrutiny. What had the kid expected? He had been a soldier. Employed by his government to protect home and country. Trained and programmed to obey, he had been good at it. He wasn't about to apologize for that, even if he couldn't forgive himself for all of it. The kid still had no right to judge him.
As that last thought ran through his mind, Jim felt a hand come down on his shoulder and give it a squeeze. He looked up into eyes that held nothing but understanding and perhaps a little sadness. Why had he thought he had seen anything else there?
"That must have been hard for you, Jim. I'm sorry." His shoulder was given another squeeze before Sandburg moved to stand by the computer. "So what do we do now? What about Carolyn?"
"I'll send this up to forensics and then I guess it's back to phone calls. Someone has to know where she is." He noticed the closed blinds on Banks' office. His captain's version of 'keep out'. But he was sure that this was something the man would want to know. "And we tell Simon."
"Aren't you forgetting something here, man?" The anthropologist shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Something important?"
Ellison was puzzled by his partner's look of exasperation. "What're you getting at, Chief? Until we find Carolyn and get some details from forensics there really isn't a lot else we can do." As usual the kid had jumped two steps ahead of him and the detective couldn't tell in which direction he was headed.
"Well, that's not exactly true," Blair's voice dropped to a near whisper. "There's probably a ton of information sitting on those pages. We just have to look for it. But that's not what I'm worried about. What about you?"
The Sentinel couldn't help but smile at the determined set of his friend's face. "Don't worry, Sandburg, I know that I'm a part of this too. I just don't have enough to know what part...yet. We'll figure it out." He got up and started for Banks' office. "Let's go talk to Simon, Chief."
The gentle rap on the captain's door was met with a less than welcoming "What?!"
Jim hesitated before turning the knob, giving his partner a quick look and mouthing "oh boy" at him. Sensitive hearing had picked up the sound of a pen being slammed down on a desk and the elevated heartbeat of his superior.
"Maybe I better wait at your desk." Sandburg tried to walk away but found his arm in Ellison's vice-like grip.
"You're with me, kid." He pushed the door open and prepared himself for Banks' steely glare.
"What is it, Jim?" The words were clipped and impatient. "I have to have a budget justification on the Chief's desk by tomorrow morning. Unless this is life or death, I don't want to hear about it." The captain's eyes widened slightly as he watched Ellison close the door behind him. He was certain now that he didn't want to hear about it. "So what have the two of you gotten yourselves involved with this time?"
"I found this on my desk, sir." Jim placed the sniper sheets in front of Simon. "It's not us, Captain. It's Carolyn."
Both Ellison and Sandburg sat at the conference table, giving the captain time to look over the pages. The detective sat almost ramrod straight, staring down at his hands clasped in front of him. The slight twitch of the jaw muscles was the only clue as to what was going through his mind. Blair could see the tension building in his friend and reached across the table to lay a hand on his partner's arm. "She's probably okay, Jim. Wouldn't we have heard something if she wasn't?"
"She's supposed to be on vacation, Blair. What if no one's missed her yet?" He pulled his arm away, not wanting to be placated just yet. Carolyn had been his wife and was still one of his closest friends. He knew, deep down, that if she were in trouble or hurt he was somehow the reason for it. Why else would he have received the gruesome report?
Simon walked over to the conference table shaking his head. "You've tried to contact Carolyn to make sure this isn't some sort of hoax?" He knew he was asking the obvious.
"She's on vacation, Simon. I've left messages for her and her sister, both. No one at SFPD seems to know where she was going. I'm going to try them again. See if I can't get them to do some searching for us. They can check her house." Ellison pulled at his ear. "I'll check with her parents, too. I just hate alarming them before we know what's going on."
"If what's written here is on the up and up you know we're dealing with a professional." The look on the captain's face was one of pure distaste. "Just look at this. Ultramatch AR-15 rifle, 2490 hollow points. My God, he's even worked out range and velocity for stationary and moving targets..."
Jim rose abruptly from his chair to pace the room, interrupting Banks' litany. "I know all that Simon! He just doesn't sound like a professional, he sounds military." He stopped his pacing and leaned heavily on the back of a chair. "I can even smell the friction compound he's gotta be using."
Up until this point Blair had sat quietly listening to the two men, understanding little of it. He'd read the information recorded there but none of it had made any real sense until the last two pages. "You can smell the compound, Jim?" He finally had something he could work with. "Is it one you recognize? Maybe something that could be traced back to this guy?"
"Maybe..." Ellison's voice softened as he picked up the sheets and held them closer to his nose. "It's faint...smells something like what we used to use..." He broke off, the frustration back in his voice. "No, nothing I can recognize."
"You know who might be able to help out here, don't you Jim?" Banks knew he wouldn't need to remind his detective. "Why don't you go and talk to him and I'll get things rolling in San Francisco."
Sandburg was surprised when the elevator doors opened on the 5th floor. He had naturally assumed they were headed for the garage. "Who we going to see, Jim?"
"Will Gowling. He used to head the S.W.A.T. team a few years ago until a sniper caught him in the back. The injury was bad enough to get him off the team but he's still the best ballistics man anywhere. And he's kept himself up-to-date with the latest developments in sniper shootings." He steered Blair through the double doors that faced them. "That was a great suggestion, Chief. Good thing one of us is still thinking."
"You think Gowling will know about it?"
"If it's out there, Sandburg, he'll know about it." Ellison nodded in the direction of where two men stood going over some files. "There's Will." He steered Blair in their direction and called in greeting, "Hey Will, I need to pick your brain."
Both men turned in the Sentinel's direction and Sandburg was once again surprised. The younger of the two men, who looked hardly older than himself, smiled a hello. Curly red hair and a sprinkling of freckles across his nose and cheeks made Gowling look barely out of his teens.
"Jim! Good to see you." The lanky six-footer reached out a hand. "And Blair Sandburg, I presume? I've heard a lot about you." He flashed a quick grin. "Mostly good."
"Mostly good?" Sandburg laughed. "I must be improving."
"So Jim, what's this all about?"
"Have there been any new developments with friction compounds?"
"Yeah," Gowling sounded surprised. "In fact I just got a sample of some and a survey the company wants us to fill out if we decide to try it." He reached behind him and plucked a small tin from the lab table. "I haven't had a chance to even look at this yet. But I made a few calls around and some of the other S.W.A.T units around the state seem to really like it." He carefully popped the lid off the container.
Sandburg watched his partner's face, knowing that as soon as the canister was open Ellison would be able to identify it if it was the same compound. The sudden light of excitement in his friend's eyes gave him the answer he had hoped for. It was a match.
The Sentinel took the can from Gowling. "What's this called? It looks like a different base than the usual. Don't think I've ever seen it in a liquid before."
"No, you wouldn't have. It's not the usual sulfide base. It's a non-corrosive phosphorous." Will began to talk a little faster as his excitement grew. "That's the beauty of it, Jim. It's a liquid. You can use it just about anywhere...bullets, triggers. It's going to increase our accuracy if everything I've heard about it is true." Snagging the survey form from behind him, Gowling read, "Moly-Fision. That's the name of the product. I can get you a list of suppliers and manufacturers if you need one."
"That would help a lot, Will. Thanks." The detective handed back the tin. "Is it widely available?"
"Not yet. It's still at the beta stage. I think just professionals are looking at it right now. Maybe some suppliers have been distributing it commercially. But I doubt it." He slid down from the lab stool. "Let me get you that list. I'll be right back."
"A lead!" Blair excitedly slapped his friend's arm. "This is great."
"A lead?" Jim's voice was a mixture of surprise and concern. "Sandburg, you've got to stop hanging around the station so much. I'm starting to worry about you." His face relaxed into a small grin. "But yeah, a lead to our shooter. Nice work, Chief."
Shadows and light played across Jim's strong features as he stood looking out the balcony windows. An entire day had gone by with no news of Carolyn. San Francisco police had no idea of where she had planned to vacation. A trip to her house had revealed nothing. It had been locked up tight and seemed untouched. There was still no word from Carolyn's sister and Ellison began to suspect that the two were traveling together. That left contacting her parents. He dreaded having to make that call and would put it off for as long as he could. With a frustrated sigh he gathered up his cup and plate from the coffee table and headed into the kitchen. The day had precious few hours left in it and he knew that come morning he would have to call the Plummers.
"Can't sleep, Jim?" Blair's own sleep filled voice startled Ellison.
The detective had been so focused on Carolyn that he hadn't heard the bedroom door open. Sandburg stood beside him, hair tousled, barely awake. Even with the encroaching five o'clock shadow, his Guide managed to look no more than a kid. Jim watched with fond amusement as his friend moved, as if by instinct, reaching for the kettle and filling it with water.
"I was just heading up to bed, Chief," he answered, gently taking the kettle from the younger man's hands. "Why don't you head back to bed too. What are you doing up anyway? I thought you said you were tired enough to sleep through the next couple of days."
"Couldn't shut my mind down I guess," Blair yawned. "I keep waking up every hour. Too wired to really fall asleep." He trained a concerned gaze on his partner. "Thinking about Carolyn?"
Ellison rubbed at weary eyes with a thumb and forefinger before nodding yes. "She's out there, somewhere. I don't know if she's all right, if she needs help or is hurt. Or worse. The not knowing is killing me."
"We'll find out something soon, Jim." Blair tried to put as much confidence into his voice as possible. "She's probably on a cruise somewhere and doesn't even realize what's going on." He ran his fingers through a tangled mass of curls. "But you're right, it's hard not to worry. I think that's what's been keeping me up too."
"Oh c'mon, Sandburg, you hardly know her." Fatigue, and the frustration of not knowing, shot the words from his mouth almost before he had finished thinking them. Jim saw his partner turn away quickly but not before glimpsing the hurt in the always expressive eyes. Mentally kicking himself, for not having better control over his temper he attempted to apologize. "That wasn't fair, Chief. I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it, Jim. You're tired." Blair smiled up at him and headed back to his room. "Try to get some sleep."
"Way to go, Ellison," Jim whispered as he watched the French doors softly swing shut.
"Morning, Jim." Will Gowling stood in front of the detective's desk, a coffee cup balanced precariously on a stack of papers. "I talked to Simon yesterday and he told me what was going on, so I did a little digging on my own. Hope you don't mind?"
Clearing folders from the chair next to his desk, Ellison invited the other man to sit down. "Not at all. Don't tell me that's what you came up with."
"It's not as bad as it looks. Really." Gowling slowly sat, placing the cup on the floor beside him. "What I did was put together a list of nearby suppliers. Then I checked that against gun dealers that might carry the sniper model our shooter claims to be using. That's one hell of a gun, Jim." He pulled a neon folder from the bottom of the stack and handed it to Ellison. "What I came up with was a match of about thirty dealers. This other stuff is just the separate lists. I thought you might want to keep them on file too. I've faxed a copy of this to SFPD as well."
Scanning the list, Ellison whistled softly. "These are all within a 100 mile radius. No wonder everyone in America seems to be armed these days."
Gowling scowled, "Does seem that way. But these are the serious dealers. The ones that would stock what this guy is using. And provided that they're playing by the rules, there should be records for every sale." He leaned forward and pointed to a dozen spots that had been highlighted. "These are the sellers that might be stocking Moly-Fision. It's been on the market for a few months it seems. But it's probably relatively new to everyone except the fanatics."
"This is great Will. It's going to save me a lot of work. Thanks."
"Anything to help you find Carolyn." The ballistics expert reached down and picked up his coffee. "Call me if you hear anything. And if you need an extra pair of hands to help track down those dealers, let me know."
"Thanks Will, I'll do that." He held up the folder. "I really appreciate this. I'll walk out with you. I need a coffee."
He had just grabbed his coffee cup when Rafe called excitedly from across the room. "Hey, Jim! Line one. I think you better pick it up."
Shrugging his shoulders at Gowling, he picked up the phone. "Ellison." With eyebrows that threatened to crawl up into his hairline, he dropped into his chair. "Carolyn?! Thank God! Are you all right? Where are you?" Laughing with relief, Ellison listened to his ex-wife's long tale of rental cars and mountain getaways. "But you're home now. Yes, I know there's a squad car outside your door. Let me explain." A half an hour later he had convinced Carolyn of the seriousness of the threat and had arranged with her superiors for around-the-clock surveillance. Until they found the sniper the threat still existed.
Holding the boiling pot at arms length, Blair emptied the pasta into the strainer. Billowing clouds of steam immediately fogged up his glasses and forced him to look away. As he did, he saw his partner enter the loft. Giving his friend a quick smile, he shook the last of the water from the linguine and tossed it back into the pot.
Ellison followed the spicy aromas into the kitchen, a grin spreading across his face. "Hmm, let me see. Garlic, definitely garlic. Parsley and cheese." He took another deep breath. "Hot pepper, salt, white wine and olive oil."
"And?" Sandburg waved a wooden spoon at him, signaling for him to go on.
"And clams. No wait, mussels," he finished and waited for Blair's reaction, very pleased with himself.
"Right on both counts, Jim. Clams and mussels." The anthropologist took the simmering sauce from the stovetop and tossed it into the pasta. "Dinner's going to be ready in about five minutes."
Reaching into the pot, Ellison fished out one of the mussels. "So, this is a pretty fancy meal for a weeknight. What's the occasion?" He scooped the tender piece of shellfish with his fingers and popped it into his mouth. "Very nice, Sandburg," he smiled appreciatively.
"No occasion, really," Blair set the bowl of linguine on the table. "Some of the guys in the department went digging and decided to share the clams. When I stopped off at the market to pick up some French loaf, I saw the mussels and thought that I'd add some."
"Just wanted to turn it up a notch, did you?" Jim smiled at his partner's look. "Never mind. Something I saw on some cooking show one night. I'll go get washed and be right back." He headed for the bathroom, leaving the door open as he washed his hands. "I tried to reach you, Chief. I heard from Carolyn."
"You did?" Blair was standing in the doorway. "Is she okay?"
"She's fine," Jim smiled as he grabbed the towel from the back of the door. "You were right. It wasn't a cruise, it was a mountain getaway, but she had no idea about what was going on. She made me laugh. She told me that she and her sister had rented a car and that it decided to breakdown in the middle of nowhere. The two of them were stuck on a mountain road for a couple of hours until a ranger rescued them. I know it's not funny, but you should have heard her tell it." He chuckled as he remembered it. "It was some diabolical plot of the car's. Poor Carolyn. But the important thing is that she's safe and we've arranged for her to be under guard until we know what's going on."
"What about the sniper? Any luck on tracing him?" Sandburg had gone back to the dining area and was dishing out the linguine. "Did finding out about that Moly-fision lead anywhere?"
"Will managed to narrow down the suppliers for us. He concentrated on the area around Cascade but we sent copies of everything he found to San Francisco too, just in case." Ellison twirled the long strands around his fork, taking the time to enjoy the aroma before actually tasting it. "You know Chief, this is really good. Maybe you should skip anthropology and switch to culinary arts."
"Sure," Blair laughed. "I'll think about it." He poured himself a glass of wine. "But, you know Jim, none of this makes any sense. This guy goes to all the trouble of stalking Carolyn to take her picture and everything. He makes up this bogus target sheet and sends it to you. And then nothing. You haven't heard from him again, right? So what's his game?"
"Wish I knew, Blair," the detective sighed. "All we can do is follow up on any leads and try to make sure Carolyn stays safe until we find this guy." He reached for the baguette and broke off a piece. "But I agree with you, it doesn't make any sense."
"It just makes me nervous, Jim." Blair put his fork down and looked steadily at his friend. "You're a part of this, too. Or he wouldn't have contacted you. Maybe you are the target. When's he going to make his move?"
"Ask me something I know the answer to, Chief. Until we can get a lead on who he is or until he makes another move, we just have to wait it out." Ellison looked at his partner's barely touched meal. "This is great linguine Sandburg, why don't you try eating some. Nothing's going to get solved tonight, so just relax."
"I know, you're right." Taking a deep breath, Blair forced a smile. "I can't help worrying sometimes. You know me. Start early and avoid the rush." He picked up an empty clam shell and turned it over in his hands. "I don't suppose that there's any chance that you'd consider around the clock protection too?" He asked the question quietly, his eyes focused on the shell.
"I think that might be a little premature, kid," Ellison reasoned. "We don't know what this guy's objective is yet. For all we know, Carolyn is it and he just decided to add a little extra taunt by sending something to me. I'll take a look at the cases we worked together and see if anything sounds like it might go somewhere." Reaching for the bowl, he took a second helping. "Try not to worry, Chief.
The words on the page had begun to run together and Blair realized he had no idea what he had just read. With a tired sigh he closed the large tome and reached over to turn out the light by his bed. For all of Jim's reassurances there was no shutting out the fear that the detective was the real target. It was the only thing that made sense. The sniper's log sheets were more thumbing a nose in Ellison's face than a taunt. Sandburg was sure it had just started. Shifting down further under the blankets, he tried to concentrate on something else. As much as he tried, his brain refused to let it go. Images of what might happen flashed through his mind. Each of them ending with his friend being killed by a sniper's bullet.
Throwing the covers back, he sat cross-legged on the bed. The more his mind played with each scenario, the more agitated he became. And Jim's attitude. Blair wondered how his friend could be so nonchalant about it. Now that Carolyn had been found and put under guard it was as if Jim had gone to yellow alert. Try not to worry, Chief? How could he not worry? Groaning softly to himself, he laid his head in his hands. Out of all the possible professions, why did his sentinel have to be cop? He was sure chartered accountants didn't receive cryptic messages from psychos. At least then all he would have to worry about as a guide would be Ellison's zoning out from boredom or an allergic reaction to ink stained fingers. With a sigh, he flopped back down onto the bed. He sometimes feared that his partner saw himself as almost invincible. Jim was always too ready to go in where angels feared to tread. Sure, the heightened senses gave him a definite edge, but it had been proven, and heart stoppingly so, that they didn't make him bulletproof.
Rolling onto his stomach, he closed his eyes and tried to relax. What did it matter? He could worry all he wanted but it wouldn't change anything. Jim would be Jim, and wherever that took the sentinel, Blair knew one thing was certain. He would be right there beside him.
Rucker Ellison slowly straightened. He had just finished checking the gauges on the scuba gear when he heard the noise a second time. As far as he knew he was alone at the substation. Andrea had gone into the mainland for some supplies and wasn't due back for a few hours. But he was sure he had heard the soft rumble of a motor. It was a small engine by the sounds of it. Shading his eyes against the glare off the water, he searched for signs of the boat.
The seascape before him was as calm and peaceful as always. The smooth surface rippled against the wind, sending small waves gently lapping against the shore and the side of the cruiser. The soothing sounds were barely heard over the screeching of gulls as they circled above. Shrugging his shoulders and assuming it was the trick of an echo or the engine of a small plane that he had heard, Rucker went back to the task of inspecting the diving equipment. Twisting around, he reached for the needlenosed pliers from the toolbox behind him. Just as his fingers found the tool they sought, bright lights and pain exploded inside his head. He fell into a heap on the deck. Lying there, on the bottom of the boat, he fought back the blackness, trying to gather the energy to open eyes that were squeezed shut against dizziness and nausea. His hand gingerly went up to his temple and connected with wetness. Pulling it away, he struggled to focus on his fingers. With a surprised grunt he saw that their tips were blotted with red. Part of his mind tried to understand what had happened but soon lost its battle as consciousness slipped away.
Whistling off key as he walked to his pickup, Ellison was feeling as if a small weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Carolyn had been discovered safe and sound and she would stay that way until he had a chance to figure out what was going on. A quick call to her that morning had confirmed that police were stationed in and around her house. Still sounding annoyed at being placed under house protection, she had finally relented and promised her ex-husband that she would stay put. For the time being. She had also reminded him that she too was a trained officer and well equipped to take care of herself.
Jim knew that hoping the gunman's silence was a sign that his game was at an end was a false hope. It rarely ended so soon. The detailed planning that had gone into the sniper's log warned of more to come. Though he would never admit it to Sandburg, the whole situation had him unnerved and perhaps the tiniest bit frightened. Carolyn had been targeted because she was close to him. That much was obvious. His ex-wife had escaped injury, but he wondered if that was by design or because she had been out of town. Had they just gotten lucky with this one? Whatever small peace he had found in the knowledge that Carolyn was unhurt quickly eroded as his anxiety grew. More than anything, the detective hated cat and mouse games. He wanted it up front and out in the open. If someone was after him, let it be about him. A flash of white caught his eye and his breath snagged in his throat as he approached the truck. A large, watertight envelope had been taped to the windshield. He heard Blair coming up behind him as he tore it from the glass.
"Another one." It hadn't been a question and Ellison heard the resignation in his friend's voice. Sandburg had been expecting this as well. "For whom the bell tolls, man."
Taking care to not corrupt any evidence that might be on the package, Jim slowly ripped the envelope open. The tangy smell of the compound that had covered the first sheets wafted up as soon as it was opened. "It's from him." He gingerly pulled the papers out. "Got a notebook in that pack of yours, Chief?"
"Yeah, sure." Blair swung the bag to the ground and pulled out a pad of long paper. Following Jim's instructions, he laid the tablet on the hood of the Ford and watched as his partner carefully set the papers out. "Geez, Jim, look at the name. Rucker. It's dated yesterday." He watched with morbid fascination as each sheet was turned. "Oh no," Sandburg looked away. The target this time was a head shot. The final photograph was of Rucker Ellison lying on the deck of his boat. "Oh no," Blair whispered again and sagged against the side of the truck.
Ellison gathered up the papers and put them back into the envelope. Wordlessly, he handed the pad of paper back to Sandburg and walked around the truck to the driver's side. It wasn't until he was sitting behind the wheel and Blair had jumped in beside him that he allowed himself to react. With an angry flick of his wrist, the detective sent the package sailing into the windshield before it landed on the dashboard.
"What's going on Chief?" The words were breathed out in complete anguish. "Is this guy going to slowly work his way through my family?" He pulled his cellphone out of his pocket, hesitating. "I really don't want to make this call."
Blair pulled the cellphone from his friend's grasp and asked gently, "What's the number, Jim? I'll call." He quickly tapped in the number and held the phone to his ear. He could feel his own heart thudding in his chest and could only imagine what his partner was going through. After the fifth ring, someone picked up. "Hi, I'd like to speak to Rucker Ellison please." His eyes widened and he glanced over at Jim. "Sure, I'll hold." With a sigh of relief he handed the phone back to Ellison. "That was Andy, she's gone to get him."
"The bullet just creased his forehead," Jim explained to Banks. "It happened yesterday. Rucker thought it was someone hunting out of season. Both he and Andy did."
Simon took the cigar out of his mouth and leaned back into his chair. "But he's all right?"
"He's got a nasty headache," Blair smiled. "But other than that he's okay." He favoured his friend with a worried glance. "And maybe Jim will eventually let himself believe that."
"I do believe it, Sandburg," Jim's voice was cold. "But it doesn't change anything. Carolyn and now Rucker have been targets. I'm the only common denominator between them." He folded his arms across his chest. "It's not too hard to see what he's doing. Carolyn was just a threat. Rucker was actually injured, if only slightly. And I have to believe that this guy is in complete control. I don't think he intended to do anything else but wound my cousin."
"So then the question is who's next and how bad is it going to be?" Simon grimaced. "Have we come up with anything from what little we have to go on?"
"Nothing, sir," Ellison shook his head in disgust. "Will's been doing some checking into the rifle and the compound but so far nothing has turned into a lead." He flexed his shoulders, trying to relieve some of the tension there. "And as for who's next? Anyone who's close to me. But it'll depend on how much this guy knows, too."
"He's gotta know quite a bit, Jim," Blair offered. "Would you have put Rucker on your list of people you're close to? You don't see him all that often. I'd known you for over a year before you ever mentioned him."
"The kid's got a point, Jim." Simon took off his glasses and began to clean them. "For all we know, this guy has been doing his homework for a long time."
"Well I know one thing for sure and that's you stop riding with me, Chief." Ellison gave his partner a pointed look. "If this guy is targeting friends and family, Sandburg, then you're going to be at the top of his list."
Blair looked up at his partner, pleased and surprised by what he had said. "Thanks for the sentiment, Jim, but no way. I'm sticking with you." He held up a hand to put a halt to his friend's argument. "You said that the sniper is probably a professional. Whether I'm ten miles away or standing right next to you, I don't think that's going to change anything. He got close enough to take pictures of Carolyn and actually shoot Rucker."
"Blair's right, Jim," Simon pulled a folder from a neatly stacked mound of reports. "I didn't want to show you this until all the facts were in. You had enough on your mind with Carolyn missing." He handed the file to Ellison. "I think our shooter has already played target practice with you two."
"What is it, Captain?" Blair quickly scanned the report in his partner's hands. "It's about the diner? But I thought ..." Sandburg paled as he read further. "A bullet?"
Banks nodded. "Same calibre as the one mentioned in that sniper's log on Carolyn. And I'm sure with a little checking back with the police looking into Jim's cousin's shooting, we'll find the same calibre again." He stood up and went to stand behind his detective and, pointing at a highlighted paragraph, continued, "The insurance investigators found the bullet when they were looking for a reason for the window to collapse."
"Damn, why didn't we find out about this sooner, Simon?" Jim handed the folder back to the captain.
"As I said, Jim, we were waiting for more details." Banks went back to his seat behind the desk. "The only reason this even made it to Major Crimes is because both you and Blair filed a report with one of the uniforms on the scene. When I saw the ammo they pulled out of the floor, it was like a red flag being waved."
"So this guy has been floating around Cascade for a while?" Sandburg shuddered at the thought. He and Jim had been targets for days. "Man, we might just as well get matching shirts with bullseyes painted on the back."
Blair sat on the almost decadently soft couch in William Ellison's living room. His shoes seemed to sink into the carpeting, nearly lost in the deep pile. Glancing around the room, he noted the artwork. Original oils by artists he actually recognized. The furniture was solid, heavy. It was a comfortable room. He liked it. Sinking back into the sofa, he sighed. The see-saw battle between the Ellisons, father and son, had been raging for almost an hour. He was starting to get a headache.
William Ellison paced in front of his son. "This just isn't acceptable!" He stopped and pointed a finger at the detective. "I will not be locked up indefinitely in my own home. I have to leave in a few days for a business meeting on the east coast." His blue eyes had narrowed to angry slits.
"This is for your own protection." Equally blue eyes glared back at the older man. "It'll only be for a few days. But until we find this guy I want you to stay under protective custody." Jim Ellison's voice rose in volume with each word. Obstinance was a characteristic shared by all the Ellison men. If it was going to be a battle to keep his father safe, he was prepared to fight. Crossing his arms, he waited for his father's next argument. He had been involved in enough of them to know the old man wasn't finished.
"Can you give me any guarantees that this will only be a few days?" He took a step closer to his son. "Or that I'm not going to lose a very large investment because of this?"
Having moved to stand behind the elder Ellison, Blair had a clear view of his partner's face. He knew the mention of money had been the wrong thing to say and winced, waiting for the explosion. He didn't have long to wait.
"Money?!" Jim was incredulous. "We're talking about your safety...your life...and you're worried about some investment?" Shaking his head in disgust, he was ready to admit defeat. He and Stephen had come second to business deals all through their growing up years. It seemed his father placed himself second to them as well. "All this time and you still haven't gotten your priorities straight. Fine. I can't force you to accept protection. You do what you want." He started to turn away when he caught his friend's expression.
"What, Chief? You heard him. I've talked until I'm blue in the face." He looked back to his father. "He just won't listen."
"Why don't you stop talking to him like a cop." Blair felt the older Ellison's gaze on him. "Maybe he'd like to hear from his son."
Taking a deep breath, the detective slowly let it out. If it would make his father listen to reason he would try anything. "Dad? Please." He grasped his father's arms, feeling the man tense. "I'm worried about you. More than that I'm frightened for you. Please, let me try to keep you safe." He watched as his father's glare softened into a grin.
"I guess I can put that meeting off for another week," William said quietly after a few minutes. "I'll do whatever you suggest, son."
Blair watched father and son and smiled. Letting out his breath, he rocked back on his heels quite pleased with himself. One Ellison meltdown averted.
"Stop looking so smug, Sandburg," William Ellison tempered the statement with a smile. "But thank you, I think I just needed the right incentive." He rested a hand on his son's arm. "What about Stephen. You've talked to him?"
"I called and told him to stay put. Two detectives are there with him now. He's safe. But he's going to get the same from me if he gives me an argument." Scanning the living room, Jim frowned. "I never realized how many windows there were in this place. I want to move you to a safe house. Somewhere it'll be easier to watch. Both you and Stephen."
William couldn't hide his amusement at his son's surprise when he agreed to the move. Chuckling, he asked, "When do I have to be ready?"
"Pack fast and light, Dad. The sooner you two are tucked away and safe, the better I'm going to feel."
Nodding, Ellison's father headed for the staircase. Stopping at the bottom step, he paused. "Jim? What about you? Are you safe? Shouldn't you be staying with us?"
"I don't seem to be the target, Dad. He's after my family." His father seemed to accept that and continued to the second floor. "The bastard knows how to really hurt me." The last words were barely a whisper but he immediately felt his partner's hand on his back. Drawing strength from the touch, he finally voiced the fear that was eating away at him. "I'm afraid that someone I love is going to die because of me."
"It's not going to happen, Jim." The sentinel's despondency pulled at the anthropologist. He hated to see the fear and guilt that had begun to haunt his friend's expression. "You'll find him first."
"Thanks Blair." Jim gave the younger man a sad smile. "Just don't make promises I can't keep.
The gentle roar of a lawnmower three houses down from the Ellison home was the only sign of life on the old treed street. A large man pushed the machine across the thick, green carpet of grass nearly dwarfing it with his size, thigh and calf muscles strained against the faded denim jeans. A walkman swung against his hip, the headset worn over top a black baseball cap. As he followed a straight path across the lawn his long strides slowed and a hand went up to one ear. The short sleeve of the sweat drenched t-shirt pulled back to reveal the vivid tattoo of a grinning skull. Listening intently, a smile almost warmed the coldness of his grey eyes.
"I never realized how many windows there were in this place. I want to move you to a safe house. Somewhere it'll be easier to watch. Both you and Stephen."
"Got ya on the run, do I Jimmy boy?" A satisfied grin crossed the tanned features. "That'll just add to the fun."
With a new bounce to his gait, he quickly finished the last strip of lawn left to mow. Dragging the mower to the back of his van, he pulled open the double doors and lifted the machine inside. Before locking up, he tossed the "For Sale" sign over the short privet hedge and back onto the lawn where he had found it. Patience had paid off. He had known that Ellison would go to his father. Now it would only be a matter of waiting for the right time. Another one of the cop's family would go down. This time right in front of his face.
"A real Kodak moment, Ellison." Climbing into the driver's side of the van and checking that his rifle was still stowed out of sight but easily accessible, the subject of Jim Ellison's nightmares turned the key in the ignition and pulled out onto the street.
Packing the last of the things he thought he would need, William Ellison pulled the zipper closed on the suitcase. He could feel his heart pounding against his ribs and tried to control his panic. Now that he was alone he could admit to himself that he was scared. His son thought that there was someone out there who wanted to see him dead. A faceless enemy. He had never been a part of Jim's police life or army career. They had parted ways long before that. The violence of his son's world had never occurred to him. These were things that he read about in the newspaper or watched on television before going to bed. Snipers were characters in suspense novels not real threats that suddenly turned your life upside down. Was he so naive to believe that the fear and violence that existed would never touch him?
Fear. Fear made a person do stupid things. Fighting with Jim about police protection, that had been stupid. The only reason he could give for his stupidity was fear. To admit that he needed protecting meant that a threat existed. If that threat existed for him then it also existed for his sons. And it was for them that he feared the most. Why had it taken up until now to realize that this was the world in which his oldest son lived? He should have been afraid all along.
"Dad?" Jim stood in the doorway of the bedroom, not daring to enter a place that had always been labeled off limits unless invited. "Are you okay? Just about packed?"
"Yeah..." Looking around the room, the older man drew a shaky breath. "I think I have everything I need." He bent down to pick up his suitcase but found his son's hand already wrapped around the handle. The eyes that gazed into his weren't so different from the young man that had walked away from his home so many years ago. They still held the same guarded expression as if waiting for the next disappointment or hurt. Clearing his throat, William decided that this might be the time to erase some of the disillusionment he was responsible for. "Jim..."
The detective slowly straightened, waiting for his father to continue. The emotions that had played across the older man's features were almost impossible to read. But his father just stood there, seemingly at a loss of words. He wanted to say something to put him at ease but couldn't seem to find words of his own. He smiled ruefully, thinking that the two of them were a great pair.
Ellison's father finally gave up trying to find the right words and hoped that actions would speak for themselves. The movement was awkward after many years apart but the older man threw his arms around his son, drawing him into a tight hug. He wasn't sure what Jim's reaction would be but hoped that his intentions would be understood. Seconds later he was rewarded as he felt an arm come around his shoulders and give them a quick but gentle squeeze.
"Dad? Dad? You okay?" The detective stepped back to look at his father, his thoughts a jumbled mess of emotion.
Smiling, the older man nodded. "Yes, fine. I...I just wanted you to know that I'm glad you're here." He blinked back against the moisture in his eyes. "It means a lot to me that you are."
"C'mon Dad," Jim said warmly, his arm once again lying across his father's shoulders. "They're waiting for us downstairs."
There were two exits from the two-storey Ellison home onto the street. Carefully setting up the tripod, the sniper eased the rifle into it. He rested his elbows on the soft soil of the cedar bed that hid his position and bided his time. Patience was one of his strongest virtues. Closing his eyes, he breathed in the strong woodsy fragrance of the tall shrubs, thinking ahead to the forest retreat that awaited him once the job was completed.
He had had no problem getting to the yard that would give him the best vantage point. William Ellison lived in a rich neighbourhood. Not rich enough for the guarded gate communities that seemed to be popping up, but rich enough that it was deserted during the day. People were either off vacationing or working to pay for those vacations. He had seen the window stickers announcing that the homes were protected by one security company or another. And maybe they were, but he knew how inadequate that really was. The false belief that money could buy you everything, including safety, had made this job that much easier.
Movement across the street caught his eye. Resting the stock of the rifle against his shoulder, he used the telescopic sight to get a better view. The large garage door slowly opened to reveal a late model truck that he recognized as the cop's and a black limousine with smoked windows. Grinning in anticipation, the shooter realized that Ellison wanted to play the shell game.
"Well, well. Now if I were you Jim, which one would I stick Dad in?" He watched as the truck pulled out and started down the long driveway. "Nope, don't think so." He trained his sights on the limo. But something made him look once again at the truck. The driver of the truck wore a dark coloured Jags jacket with a baseball cap pulled down low over his brow. The passenger was a grey haired man, mustached and wearing dark glasses. "Nah, you wouldn't make it that easy for me would you, Jimmy? Hiding dear old Dad in plain sight?"
Chuckling to himself, he swung the rifle back to the limo. "No of course you wouldn't. But nice try. Gotta give ya points for that." His finger slowly caressed the trigger of the rifle, hesitating ever so slightly. He'd get maybe one or two shots before things would become too hot to remain where he was. The couple of shots had to count. "Betcha those windows are bullet-proofed too. So how do I get daddy out of the car?" An unpleasant grin creased his face as he found the solution to his problem. "Just one way to do it."
The rifle suddenly moved back to the truck that had just left the driveway and was turning onto the street. Picking his target carefully, he squeezed the trigger. Two rounds were released, shredding the driver's side tires of the old Ford. The driver of the pickup fought with the wheel but couldn't regain control. The blown out tires sent the truck onto the sidewalk and careening dangerously close to a telephone pole. With one hard tug on the steering wheel the driver managed to change its course enough so the truck only glanced solidly off the pole. The added momentum finally tipped the vehicle onto its side as it skidded to a noisy halt a few yards up the street.
Silence and stillness were a sharp contrast to the ear piercing scream of metal against the paved road. The sniper watched, holding his breath. It would all happen fairly quickly now if his plan was a good one. As if on cue, the limousine rolled to a stop not far from the wreck and the rear passenger door opened. A grey haired individual broke away from arms that were restraining him and ran to the truck.
"Jim!" The agonized wail could be heard over the shouts of the other passengers in the limousine. "Oh my God! Jim!"
"Time to bring the old guy down," the shooter sneered. "Sorry Jimmy, I had really hoped you'd be awake to see this." The rifle bucked against his shoulder and he watched as his quarry dropped to the pavement.
The world had finally stopped spinning but now stood at a very strange angle. With a groan Jim Ellison began to take inventory of his surroundings. His head pounded mercilessly and he didn't think he'd be able to visualize the dials to reduce the pain to a manageable level. The reason why he was on his side in the truck eluded him but at least he had landed on something soft. He let his eyes slowly close, content to take refuge in sleep or unconsciousness. It didn't seem to matter which as long as it stopped the horrible throbbing in his head. He'd have to get Blair to help him with those dials again.
Memory flooded his brain, driving away the headache. With a start he realized the soft cushion he had landed on was his partner. Blair lay unmoving beneath him. The kid had been driving the truck when the world had unexpectedly spun out of control. He remembered the gunshots. There had been two of them. Had Blair been hit?
Carefully maneuvering himself off of his friend, Jim gave his guide a cursory check. His breathing and pulse seemed okay but he couldn't rouse him. He couldn't see or smell any blood. Listening again, he reassured himself that Blair's breathing was unhampered. That's when he heard it. His father's frantic calls for him. But his dad should have been out of danger's way. The car he was in was bulletproofed, the windows and body were reinforced to withstand almost any assault. Procedure dictated that the other car would continue to its destination regardless of any obstacles. Why was his father not on his way to the safe house?
Propping himself against the dashboard and steering wheel, the detective managed to stand and gain enough leverage to attempt opening the passenger door of the truck. With a shove that had bruised muscles screaming in protest, he slammed his shoulder against it. The door held fast, wedged firmly shut when the truck had collided with the telephone pole. With a roar of frustration he pushed at it once more and felt it give way. If only slightly.
The crack of rifle fire stopped his third attempt. Panicked shouts and return fire followed, driving the sentinel into a renewed frenzy. Mustering every ounce of strength he had, he forced the door open and quickly hoisted himself out of the truck. His father lay face down surrounded by a small group of plainclothes and uniformed police. None of the careful planning had saved his father from the sniper's bullet.
Joel Taggart was the first to break away from the group. Running to the truck, his relief was obvious at seeing his friend emerge relatively unharmed.
"Jim," the captain's voice was strained. "Your father's alive. The bullet caught him in the lower back. Ambulance is on its way." He helped Ellison down to the street and looked back, waiting for the police observer to follow his partner out of the truck.
"He's out cold, Joel." The detective was torn in two. He had to see how his father was but didn't want to leave his friend's side. "Stay with him." At Taggart's nod, he went to his father. The shrill keen of sirens were already sounding in the distance.
William Ellison moaned as the agonizing fire in his back became unbearable. Without opening his eyes he knew he was moving and, judging from the sounds around him, he was in an ambulance. The vehicle's motion jarred the stretcher he was on, causing him to gasp again.
"Can't you do anything for the pain?" His son's voice cut through the fog.
"I've given him all I can. We're almost there."
A cool hand came to rest on the elder Ellison's forehead, soothing away some of his distress. "We're almost there, Dad." William Ellison could barely remember the last time he had heard such concern in his son's voice. Concern for him. "You're going to be okay."
Forcing his eyes open, he looked up into his son's face. "I know," he whispered. "Thank God you're all right. I thought..."
Stroking back the hair from his father's brow, Jim hushed the older man. "I'm fine. Don't worry about me." Swallowing hard, he blinked against tears. "I'm sorry, Dad. We...I let you down." The sentinel watched as his father's hand, creased with age but still possessing impressive strength, came to rest on his arm.
"You didn't let me down, Jim." He gave his son's arm a squeeze. "I know you did your best." He saw the younger man's mouth open to protest. "No buts...
Not trusting his voice, the detective could only nod.
"He got knocked around in the crash. But he's okay," Jim lied. "You just rest." He had no idea how his friend was. His insides twisted as he thought about the last time he had seen his partner. Blair's still unconscious form was being pulled from the wreck. He could only hold onto the knowledge that his guide's heartbeat had been strong and steady as they placed him on the stretcher. Climbing into the ambulance with his father, leaving behind a friend he loved like a brother, had been one of the hardest things he had ever had to do. The shooter was going to pay and pay dearly.
"Look, I told you I'm fine. When are you going to let me out of here?" Blair's pleas had become almost a whine. Ellison smiled as he heard Sandburg's voice coming from one of the cubicles in Emergency. Zeroing in, using smell and sound, he easily found his friend perched on the edge of a bed, glaring at an intern.
"Hey Chief." The detective's smile broadened when Blair launched himself from where he sat, giving him a bear hug.
"Jim! You're all right!" Sandburg shot the medic a black look. "Nobody could tell me anything. Joel told me that you had left with your dad. He said that you weren't hurt. But I wanted to see for myself." He took a step back and looked his partner up and down. "You are okay, right?"
"I'm fine, buddy." Turning to look at the physician, he asked, "How's he doing?"
"Right now, I'd say that Mr. Sandburg is doing well."
"Uh, let's not talk about me like I'm not in the room," Blair interrupted.
Ignoring the anthropologist, the doctor continued. "But that's because we've given him a mild painkiller. In a few hours he's going to be very sore. There was a lot of bruising, nothing broken. He was remarkably lucky considering he was in a truck that overturned."
"Are you going to release him? He was unconscious for a long time."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Will someone address at least a small part of this conversation to me?"
The intern favoured Sandburg with a smile. "He seems alert but I think we should still be wary of a possible concussion. He assures me that you have some medical training?"
Jim nodded, pulling Blair in closer to his side. "I'll look after him. Trust me, he'll be better off with me." He grinned down at his partner. "I'm sure if you check his records here you'll find he has a red flag by his name. They never keep him longer than they have to."
"Thanks, Jim." Sandburg's tone dripped sarcasm.
The doctor scribbled something on his clipboard and then handed a slip of paper to the detective. "Prescription for the painkillers. Can't give him anything stronger until we know for certain that he's not suffering from a mild concussion." With that, the man gave Blair's shoulder a pat and left the small room.
"Jim? How's your dad? Joel told me what happened."
"Holding his own, Chief," the big man sighed. "He's still in surgery. I spoke with the surgeon and he was pretty optimistic. Luckily the bullet managed to miss the major organs. He said that they were looking at a lot of tissue damage though and that surgery could take a while." Walking to the bed, he grabbed Blair's jacket. "Let's get this filled and then you can get a ride back to the loft with Joel."
"You can forget that, man," Sandburg's voice was firm. "There's no way I'm going anywhere until I know your dad's going to be okay."
"You're sure?" The detective hated to admit that he was feeling just selfish enough to want his friend with him. Everything felt as if it was about to become unhinged. The game with Carolyn had been sick enough to frighten him and it was now more deadly. Rucker and his father were the sniper's first victories and so far it had been no contest. The fear that had lodged itself in the sentinel's stomach over a week ago was slowly eating away at his confidence. It was all too personal...all too painful. Each hit of the gunman's bullet tore another hole in him as he was left a helpless spectator forced to wait and anticipate the next attack. It didn't take a genius to know who could be next on the list. Stephen and Blair were the only ones who were close enough to him to matter.
"Hey Jim, you still with me?" Blair's voice was laced with concern. "You kinda stepped out there for a minute. You sure you're okay?"
Ellison smiled at his friend. If his world was about to fall apart then the person standing in front of him would be the only thing that would hold it together. His guide had saved his sanity and his soul when everything that had been James Ellison had shattered into sensory overloaded chaos. Sandburg was his anchor and his balance. He wasn't ready to let the younger man out of his sight just yet.
"I'm okay, partner. Let's go check on my Dad."
"You have mail."
The harsh white glow of the computer monitor was the only source of light in the otherwise dark room. Grey eyes, that reflected the cold light, never wavered from the mail that now filled the screen. A new set of instructions and a new agenda. His superior was becoming anxious to see an end to the game. Things would be sped up. The news was both disappointing and exhilarating. His toying with Ellison would soon come to an end but the fun would be just that much more lethal. It would be interesting to see how long Ellison could last.
A little trip to the hospital was in order.
The elevator ride up from the bowels of Cascade General had been anything but pleasant. The overpowering smells of ammonia and other things that he didn't care to think about assaulted Stephen Ellison's nose. The police van had deposited him and the two detectives near the morgue entrance.
"Stop looking so scared," Ellison snapped at the two men. "I told you that I take full responsibility for my safety."
The younger of the detectives could only grimace. "But will you take responsibility for ours?" His accented voice was barely audible over the groan of the ancient elevator.
Leaning back against the far wall of the car, the tall black man nodded in agreement. "Yeah, if anything happens to you, your brother is going to kill us." He sighed and folded his arms across his chest. "Jim Ellison is one scary guy when he's mad."
Giving them a lopsided grin, the younger of the Ellison brothers could only agree. "Tell me about it, he's my brother. But it's my father, too, that's been hurt. I need to know that he's going to be all right."
The elevator doors opened slowly onto the surgical ward, depositing the three men. Rafe and Brown exited the car first and scanned the empty corridors, hands gripping police service revolvers that were still holstered.
"All clear Henri?" Rafe waited for his partner's nod before allowing Stephen Ellison out into the hallway.
Forgetting the threat that existed, Ellison shoved his way by the two men to look for his brother. A shout from behind him drew his attention. Jim was charging down the corridor yelling for him to get down. Brown and Rafe suddenly had their guns in hand and were focusing on something at the other end of the long hallway. The sound of gunfire erupted just as his brother's body collided with his.
"Jim, please," Blair entreated his friend. "There was nothing you could have done! He wasn't even supposed to be there." He reached out and snagged the sleeve of the other man's jacket, halting his step. "Will you please listen to me?"
"I am listening. I heard what you said." Fury twisted his features. "It doesn't change anything. Both my father and brother are lying in that hospital because I couldn't protect them!" He pulled his arm from his guide's grasp and went to lean against the kitchen counter, hands shoved angrily into the pockets of his jeans. "Tell me that's not what happened." Walking over to the table, he pushed two large envelopes from it, scattering their contents to the floor. The envelopes had been found tacked to the door of the loft. "I even have the damn pictures to prove it."
Sighing, Sandburg dropped onto the couch. "You're not Superman. There was no way you could have stopped what happened. You did everything right with your Dad. They should have kept on going. That was the plan, the whole reason you set up the decoy." His partner's stance never relaxed. "He's going to be fine."
Ellison's laugh was derisive. "Yeah...fine. He just spent the last 4 hours in surgery, Chief. And when he wakes up I have to tell him about Stephen."
"What about Stephen?" Exasperated, the younger man sprang from the couch to stand next to his friend. "Something happen that I don't remember? Jim you knocked him out of the way!" He turned the detective roughly to face him. "If you hadn't smelled that compound and gone searching, Stephen would probably be dead right now. But you were there, man. Instead of being in the morgue he's nursing a few stitches. You. Were. There!" In complete frustration, Blair ran a hand through his hair. His words may as well have fallen on deaf ears for all the effect they had.
"It all could've ended tonight," Ellison argued. "Don't you see? If I had been prepared that bastard would never have left the hospital alive. I should have taken him down." Groaning, he rubbed at his eyes with the heel of his hands. "Instead, he's still out there somewhere and Stephen has to play dead until we can track him down."
Blair pulled his friend's hands down from his face, forcing him to took at him. "Don't do this to yourself. You weren't the only police officer there. Rafe and Henri were there too and they were caught off guard. No one expected him to show at the hospital." A thought occurred to the anthropologist. "It's almost like he has inside information or maybe..."
"I want you out of here." The harsh words interrupted his thought.
The demand had nearly slipped by him. "What?!" Blair had known that the conversation would eventually reach this point. "No, I'm staying. We've been over this. Where could I go that I would be any safer than here with you?"
"Safe?" The sentinel was incredulous. "Being around me doesn't make you safe. It makes you a target."
"It probably wouldn't matter where I was, Jim, I'd still be a target. You know that. You've figured out this guy's game." Sandburg tried reason rather than argument. "You need me here and I need to be here. I'm your partner."
"I know you are. But I need you safe. Alive and well." Jim's eyes softened as he smiled. "So far I haven't been doing such a great job at keeping anyone who's important to me any of those things. You agreed that it was the best way to protect my father and brother. Why is it any different for you? You can't argue it both ways, Chief."
"Oh c'mon, Jim," Blair grinned. "You know me better than that. Besides, there's one big difference. This is what I signed on for. You're the Sentinel and I'm the thorn in your side. We're a team." His grin widened. "I'm the brains and you're the brawn."
"Is that so, Einstein?" the detective laughed. Turning serious, he cupped a hand around the back of the younger man's neck. "If you're so smart, then why are you still here? It's getting to be too dangerous."
"If you want me out then you're going to have to throw me out. That's the only way I'm leaving, Ellison."
Giving his partner's neck a gentle shake, Jim looked into earnest blue eyes. "Thanks kid," he sighed. In answer to Sandburg's questioning look, he continued, "Thanks for still believing in me. God only knows why you do, when I don't."
"That's because I know you better than you do, Jim." Blair reached up and held onto the wrist that rested on his shoulder. "I know that there isn't anyone else who would work harder at keeping me safe. So you see, my motivations are really selfish."
Nodding, the older man felt his breath catch in his throat. "Selfish, that's you all over, Sandburg. Now why don't you go lie down before you fall down. You've had one hell of a day."
"Like you haven't," Blair sighed. "Are you going to be able to get any sleep?"
"Not yet. Thought I'd try to find a movie or something. I'm too wound up." Grabbing the remote and the television listings, the detective made himself comfortable on the couch. "I'll see you in the morning, Chief."
Even though his body was begging for a nice soft bed, Blair couldn't do it. He knew that Jim would only sit there and berate himself for everything that had happened. Shaking his head, he went into his room and grabbed a pillow and blanket. No way, pal. You are not going to sit out here alone. He crossed behind the couch to sit at the other end.
"I kind of feel like a movie, too," he lied, knowing it was an easy one to see through. Resting his pillow up against the armrest, the young anthropologist tried to find the least painful position. The intern had been right. He could feel every battered and bruised inch of his body.
Rising from the couch, Jim took the blanket and draped it over his friend. "Here, why don't you stretch out. Did you take any of those pills?" Smiling at Sandburg's sleepy nod, he bent down to push the coffee table out of the way. Moving to the floor, he propped himself against the couch, happy for the company. He snagged a cushion from the other sofa and began to look for a decent movie. A sigh from behind him drew Ellison's gaze from the television screen and back to Blair.
"I know you're feeling really bad about all of this, Jim, and you're not going to feel better until you catch this guy." He watched as his partner turned away and absently began to run through the channels. Blair sometimes wondered if he was the only one privileged enough to see this James Ellison. No stone mask hid the feelings inside. The sarcastic humour, that acted as a shield against revealing too much, gone. No more the sentinel, the cop or the ex-ranger, just his friend. "But you will get him. It's going to be okay."
"Thanks Blair," Jim had trouble getting the words past the tightness in his throat. He couldn't trust himself to look at Sandburg. The day had taken its toll emotionally. It was enough to know that he still had the trust and support of his friend and wouldn't have to face his tomorrows alone. "Get some sleep."
Daryl Banks ran up the seven flights of stairs to Major Crimes. The man had told him he had 20 minutes to get the envelope to Jim. The cross-town bus had been slow and his 20 minutes were almost up. He skidded to a halt as he reached the doors. The teen had been so sure that the envelope had something to do with Blair. He thought that Blair was in trouble. But there he was sitting at Jim's computer. Breathing a sigh of relief, he hurried over to the desk.
Sandburg's smile was brilliant as he looked up to see Daryl crossing the room. "Hey, what brings you all the way down here?" He looked quickly at his watch. "Isn't it kind of late for you to be roaming around town on your own?"
Still trying to catch his breath after the mad dash to the station, the younger Banks could only grin. He threw himself into the chair next to the desk and handed the anthropologist the package. "Some guy asked me to deliver this to Jim. Said it was important and that I had 20 minutes to get it to him. Weird." The teen looked around the room and into his father's office. "Where is he? And where's Dad?"
Blair's smile faded as he took the package. He'd already seen too many of them not to recognize it. "Who gave this to you, Daryl?" He caught some movement in the corner of his eye and saw Jim entering the bullpen. "What did he say?"
"Well it was weird, like I said," Daryl paused to grin up at Ellison, who had thrown an arm around his shoulders. "I was on my way home from basketball practice and this guy comes up to me and asks me if I'm Daryl Banks. I felt pretty safe, I was with a bunch of my friends and there were still a lot of people around, so I said yeah, I was. He hands me that envelope and tells me that I have to get it to Jim in 20 minutes."
"And that was it?" Jim asked.
Daryl shook his head. "No. I told him that I didn't think I could make it here that fast and that he should bring it to you. He kinda scared me then. He was big. And man, I mean big. I betcha my Dad would have to look up at him." He laughed nervously. "He hands me a bus ticket and tells me to get on the next bus downtown, like he never heard me say I didn't want to do it. So I did what he said. He stood there and waited for the bus to come and for me to get on it. I saw him walk away when the bus pulled out."
Jim took the envelope from Blair and looked quickly inside. What he saw there made his heart miss a beat. Taking a deep breath, he forced a smile and turned to the teenager. "Yep, been waiting for this information. Must have been one of my snitches. I'll have to talk to him about using the boss's son as a courier." He closed the flap of package. "Now how about getting you a ride home?"
"Nah, that's okay, Jim. I'll just get my Dad to take me home. Where is he anyway? He's never outta here before 6:00."
"He's still in a meeting with the Mayor. He called earlier to say that he probably would head straight home from there. I think I saw Joel getting ready to go. So why don't we see if you can grab a ride with him." He patted the boy on the shoulder and went in search of Taggart.
Blair and Daryl barely had time enough to get into a heavy debate about the Jags chances of making it to the playoffs when Jim returned with Joel.
"Hey Daryl," Taggart's voice boomed from across the room. "Let's ride, kid!"
The boy exchanged a quick good-bye with Sandburg and waved at Ellison as he raced to catch up with Joel at the elevators. Jim watched the two of them, waiting for the doors to close, and then returned to his desk.
"You're scaring me, Jim." Blair knew his partner well enough to know when the man was shaken. "What's in the envelope?"
Ellison's face was grim as he dumped the packet of papers onto the desk. He quickly flipped to the last page, the photograph, dreading what he would find there. "Dear God." Sandburg turned the picture for a better look and blanched. "Simon."
Opening his eyes, Banks' first reaction was to immediately shut them tight against the pounding in his head. He could feel where the skin had split at the back of his skull and the warm trickle of blood that ran down his neck. He carefully opened his eyes once more. He was in the oldest part of town. He could see the backs of the old apartment buildings that now stood vacant. Cascade had grown and left this far behind.
The police captain chided himself. He had been such a fool. After how many years on the force, he had still made himself an easy target. One phone call, that was all it had taken, and he had went rushing out. Never mentioned to a soul what had happened or where he was going. The caller had said that Daryl had been injured and he went running. Never bothering to ask for details, those he could get later.
"Yeah, right," he sighed to himself. And there he stood. Bait. Trussed up like a package waiting to be delivered. Thick rope held him firmly to an old lamp post that stood in a neighbourhood that would never hear the laughter of children or sounds of life. Not until it was razed to the ground and rebuilt. He looked up into the starless night sky and sighed once more. At least it didn't look like rain.
"You're awake. Perfect timing." The stranger's voice came from behind Simon. "While I was waiting for you to join me, I had some time to think and I think I came up with a creative little twist," the man laughed. "Sorry, small joke." He stepped around to stand in front of Simon.
An involuntary gasp broke the silence as Simon gazed up at the man who stood at least five inches taller than him. His blond hair was cut in the regulation crew cut to match the fatigues he wore. A rifle was slung across one shoulder and Banks recognized it as being the same model recorded in the sniper's logs. Russian hollow points were neatly tucked into an ammunition belt. The captain watched, mesmerized, as the man wound a long string of piano wire in his hands, twisting the ends into small knobs.
"Ya see," the gunman continued. "I was thinking, just to make it more interesting, that I'd tie this around your neck and the pole. But I had to wait until you were awake. I didn't want you to cut yourself if you leaned into it." He gave Banks a wide grin.
"How considerate of you," Simon said dryly.
"Think nothing of it," the man smiled and went to stand behind the pole. "You coulda sliced a vein or artery and bled to death before Ellison got here." He carefully looped the wire around his captive's neck. "There really is no value in a dead hostage."
Simon could feel the wire bite into his neck as the ends were twisted together. There was no give in it at all. He could only look straight ahead. "Ellison is going to be hard to surprise. He's going to be ready."
"I know," was blondie's smug reply. "It won't matter. He's going to have to rescue you." He stepped from behind Simon and stood looking down at him, hands resting calmly on his hips. "He's the hero. Always does the right thing." Reaching into a pouch of his jacket, he pulled out a roll of duct tape. "It's not that I haven't enjoyed our little talk, I have. I just don't need any more distractions." He pulled a piece from the roll and placed it over the captain's mouth. Giving Simon's cheek a quick pat, he noiselessly jogged into the shadows of the buildings.
With a groan of desperation, Banks tested the ropes that bound his hands. The cords held fast. He was going to have to remain in the role of hostage and bait. He only hoped that Jim was thinking more clearly than he had and wouldn't come alone. The vision of seeing his friend... friends, he knew that Blair would never let Jim out of his sight... gunned down in front of him began to take form with alarming clarity.
Will Gowling stood looking over Sandburg's shoulder. A map of the older sections of Cascade covered Ellison's desk.
"Here, this is where the picture was taken," Jim pointed to and circled a name on the map. "You can just barely make out the names on the street sign just behind Simon." He squinted up at Gowling from his hunched position over his desk. "You know the area, Will. If you were the sniper where would you be?"
Resting a hand on Blair's shoulder, the ballistics expert slowly straightened. "As long as nothing's changed, Jim, I think he'd probably be here." Gowling pulled the photograph closer and pointed to a building off to Simon's right. "This area in behind is too low and wouldn't offer him much cover and the area directly in front of him was demo'd last year."
The detective looked at his watch. "The note said not to be there before 11:00, we've got a little less than 2 hours to set up and get out there. Maybe we can get a couple of sharp shooters of our own in there without him noticing."
Will nodded. "I'll call down and see what can be arranged." He rubbed at his chin. "It's strange though. He hasn't made any demands, set any rules. It's like he doesn't care if you go alone or with half of Cascade's police force."
Blair looked at the picture. Simon was tied to a pole, obviously unconscious, or worse. The picture had been taken during daylight hours. Glancing through the windows of Major Crimes, he frowned at the darkness. "How long do you think he's been out there?" He started to ask the question that had been plaguing him since the package had been delivered. "Do you think that he's..."
Tight lines of fatigue and guilt were etched into the skin around the sentinel's eyes. "We just have to believe he is, Chief." He rubbed at his face with both hands, sighing as he did so. "This time there was no target sheet. He's using Simon as bait." Sinking into his desk chair, he braced himself for his partner's reaction. "So you sit this one out, Sandburg. I'll take one of the other guys with me and arrange for some back up."
Will looked from one man to the other and cleared his throat. "I think I know where this is going. I'll head down and start collecting what you're going to need."
Blair watched Gowling walk away. "Smart man," he said quietly. "Knows when it's going to hit the fan."
"Sandburg..." Ellison's tone was definitely threatening.
"What?" The anthropologist's expression was guileless. "You're going to have to go in there with all senses wide open, Jim. I'm not the target. You are. He's made that pretty clear. Everyone he's gone for has had one thing in common. They're Ellisons. Or were. I think that's why Carolyn was just a warning." He leaned forward on the desk and lowered his voice making Jim almost strain to hear him. "You're going to need me there."
"Sorry professor," the detective's face was set. "There are plenty of holes in your theory. We don't know who the target is. And the Ellison family name... that doesn't count for much. No one's shown us the party guest list. There's nothing to say that you're not at the top of that list or that Simon's not on it." He was adamant. "It's too dangerous and you're not going to risk yourself because of some misguided sense of duty." He knew as soon as he had said it, it was a mistake.
"Misguided?" Blair's face was stone. "You are too much sometimes. You know that?" He stood straight, giving himself the vantage point of being able to glare down at his friend. "It's a good thing one of us puts some value on your life."
"Which I appreciate, Blair. But this goes both ways. I value your safety too much to let you go out there tonight." Jim's eyes begged for understanding. "Please Chief, go along with me on this one. I'm not going to be able to handle any more guilt."
"Guilt?" Sandburg's features softened. "We talked about this." He crossed to his friend's side of the desk and sat on its edge. Placing a hand on his partner's too tense shoulder, he waited for Jim to look up at him. "You can't take responsibility for any of this. You've done everything you could to protect the people you care about."
"It hasn't been enough." Emotion made the words rough. "He got to Stephen. He got to my father. They were both supposed to be safe! Rucker, now Simon," Jim leaned back in his chair, breaking his contact with Blair. "What happens the next time, Chief?"
"I don't know, Jim. All I know is that I want to be there." He watched his friend's face and knew that the detective would never go along with it. Sighing, he admitted defeat. "Okay, but wear a wire at least. Talk to me while you're out there. I've gotta know that you're okay."
For the first time, in a long time, the sentinel realized he had just won an argument with his guide. A small smile tugged at his lips. "Thanks Blair. It'll be a lot easier knowing you're here. Safe." He got up and started to make his way to the elevators. "Better get ready if I'm going to make that deadline." Half way to the doors he realized that he was alone. Turning, he called, "Coming down with me?"
Letting out a long breath, Blair slid from where he sat on the desk and followed his sentinel to the elevators.
Henri Brown sat quietly in the seat next to Ellison. Each man wore a kevlar vest and headset. The plan had been a simple one. Go in and get Simon out. The fact that the S.W.A.T. team would be out there, covering their backs, helped the young detective relax. A little. He stole a quick glance at his partner, wondering if Jim was as wired as he was about this. If he had to judge by outward appearances, he would have guessed that Ellison wasn't worried in the least. Only the white knuckled grip on the steering wheel belied the older man's emotions.
"Can't believe you talked Sandburg out of going with you, Jim." Henri elected to break the silence. Conversation always relaxed him.
"Every once in a while he listens to reason, H." The older detective gave Brown a quick grin and then laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"Sandburg, I've got my headset on, he just said he heard that." Ellison consciously relaxed his tense muscles. Knowing that his guide was only a whisper away had given him the reassurance he was going to need. Blair had been right. He was going to be needed out there if Jim wanted to attempt the piggybacking of two or three senses. This way he had the best of both worlds. Sandburg was out of the line of fire but still with him in case he zoned.
It was just after 11:00 when the old truck turned down the last street. Simon would be just ahead. Most of the street lights were out, either broken or turned off to save the taxpayers money, so much of the detectives' path was lit by headlights only. Henri Brown leaned forward in his seat, pulling against the seatbelt, trying to peer through the darkness. The buildings on either side of the street were just deeper shades of black being swallowed up into the night.
"It's almost impossible to see anything, Jim," Brown's voice seemed quiet in deference to the almost absolute silence of the world outside the truck. "I can barely see past the headlights." With slow and deliberate movements he undid the buckle of the seatbelt and pulled his revolver from its holster. He laid it on the seat next to him.
The narrow street came to a sudden end. A concrete barricade crossed it, making it impossible to drive any further. The old Ford slowed to a halt, its tires crunching over stone and debris. "He's just up ahead, H." Jim gestured straight ahead. "Chief?" Jim spoke into the headphones. "We're here. You with me?"
Henri still couldn't see a thing in front of him but Ellison sounded pretty sure of himself. The younger man assumed he had caught something in the reflection of the truck's lights. "If you say so, Jim." With a sigh he got out of the truck and followed his partner up the street.
Ellison cautiously proceeded to his captain. Simon was only twenty or thirty feet away, standing very still. Zeroing in his sight, the detective was certain he could make out the small patch of grey that covered the man's mouth. It was with little effort that he could hear the panicked beating of his captain's heart. Blair's voice spoke softly into his ear, asking him what he saw, what he was hearing.
"Can't say this place is going to be on the cover of Homes and Gardens anytime soon, Sandburg." He stopped to scan the surrounding buildings. "He's too well hidden. I can't see him. I can hear him." He placed a hand to the headset. "Yeah, I want to try it." Jim held out his arm, halting Brown's step. "I think I heard something. Hang on a minute." Seeing Henri nod, he turned his attention to the rooftops. Sight piggybacked hearing as he searched for a clue to the sniper's whereabouts. He started with the building that Will suggested and was immediately rewarded. He could hear another heart beating with a strong and steady rhythm and the soft sigh of calm, easy breaths.
Brown stood patiently waiting for Ellison's signal to move. His partner seemed mesmerized by something on one of the buildings. Try as hard as he could, he might as well have been blind for all he could see.
"Uh Jim?" He gently grabbed the older detective's arm. "You okay, man?"
Fifteen miles away, sitting alone in Simon's office, Blair heard Henri's worried voice. Shit. "Jim, you're going to have to pull back a little. You're starting to freak Brown out, big guy." He waited for his friend to answer. "That's it, follow my voice back." Finally Jim's voice could be heard through the speaker and he released the breath he had been holding. "Welcome back, Jim." He laid his head down on folded arms. This would be the first and last time he let his partner talk him into being a long distance guide.
"Sorry H. Let the S.W.A.T. guys know that we may have a possible location on the shooter. The building that Gowling pointed out."
Ellison and Brown quietly jogged the rest of the distance to where Banks stood. Jim could hear Brown passing along the information to the tactical team leader. Keeping his hearing and sight turned up, he scanned the area for any others that might be ahead of him. Everyone had been working on the assumption that there would be only one shooter but experience in the military had taught him that snipers often worked in teams. The way ahead of him seemed clear.
They were almost to Simon when the first shot rang out. The bullet struck the dirt directly in front of the police captain, sending grit and stone flying into the air around him. Ellison saw his friend jerk in surprise and then heard his painfilled moan. His first thought was that the bullet had ricocheted and had hit Banks. Focusing his sight a little more, he caught the slight glint of the wire around Simon's neck. A second shot impacted against the pole just above Banks' head, causing the man to flinch once again.
"Henri, tell them to take that guy out if they can." The urgency in Ellison's voice didn't go unnoticed by Sandburg. Jim quickly explained the situation. "He's got some kind of wire tied around Simon's neck, Chief. Every time he moves it cuts into him."
The two men reached Simon's side just as a volley of shots erupted from behind them. Cascade's S.W.A.T. team had finally moved into position and were returning fire. Ellison had to give Brown credit. The younger detective was still with him, never faltering, even though the sniper's rifle could have been turned on them at any moment.
Gunfire ended almost as soon as it had started and the victorious shout of one of the police marksmen could be heard. Brown's headset crackled and he confirmed what he and Ellison had already guessed. "They got him, Jim."
Jim reached out, grabbing Simon's arms and holding him steady. "See if you can do something about the wire H, I'll hold him still." He looked into his captain's weary but gratitude filled face and was sure the tape hid a smile. "I'll get that tape off of you in just a minute, sir." Glancing behind Banks to Brown, he could see that the ends of the wire had almost been twisted apart.
"Okay, Jim. It's off." Henri added his support as Simon suddenly sagged forward. Quickly untying the ropes, he helped Ellison lower the man to the ground. Kneeling behind his captain, Brown offered him something more comfortable to lean against. He watched as Jim took the corner of the duct tape in his hand and gave it quick yank, apologizing that it was going to hurt. He could only wince in sympathy.
"Get the paramedics in here, H."
Simon waved a hand in the air. "No, no. I'm all right." It came out as a wheeze. "Just get me out of here." He pulled a handkerchief out of a pocket and held it against one of the shallow cuts where the wire had bitten into his neck. "Help me up."
"Simon, I really think..."
"That was an order, detective." Banks' voice found its strength, silencing the protests of both men.
"At least let them take a look at your neck, Simon," Jim insisted. "Those cuts look nasty."
Simon nodded his agreement. "All right, they can do that much," he sighed. "Where's your shadow?" He thought Sandburg's absence seemed strange.
"I'm pinch hitting for Hairboy today, sir," Brown chuckled. "Jim actually convinced him to stay behind."
Simon shook his head in wonderment and immediately regretted it. "Had me worried there for a minute." He gave Ellison a grin and leaned back against Brown once again to wait for the paramedics.
"He said he was worried, Sandburg, not that he cared," Jim laughed into the headset. "Yes, he seems fine, we're just getting him checked out." The sentinel looked heavenward and sighed. "Yes, I'll keep you updated. Oh and Blair? We got the shooter." Even through the headphones both Banks and Brown could hear the exuberant shout of "great!" that made Ellison wince and pull the earphone away from his head. "We'll see you back at the station, Chief."
"I don't know who he is," Ellison stood looking down at the body on the coroner's table. "I'm sure I've never seen him before. Hopefully prints will give us something."
"You're sure?" Simon sounded as if that couldn't be possible.
The detective nodded. "I'm sure. But you think I'd recognize someone who has systematically gone through my entire family, making them targets." His eyes caught the flash of white on Simon's neck that hid the cuts. "Family and friends," he corrected. "I thought that seeing him would give me some answers. I wanted to make some sense out of this."
Blair could hear the fatigue in his friend's voice and the slump of Simon's shoulder's warned that the captain wasn't doing much better. "The connection is there, Jim. We'll just have to dig a little deeper for it, I guess. But you both look dead on your feet. Can we call it a night?" He raised his eyebrows, looking expectantly from one man to the other. "The threat is over, you can figure out the whys tomorrow."
Simon looked down at this watch, surprised to see that it was only a little after midnight. "My body's telling me I'm exhausted but my mind isn't ready to shut down yet." He pulled the white sheet back up over the body. "You two get on home. I'll see you tomorrow. I mean later on today."
"I'm not sure I could sleep right now either, Simon," Jim admitted. "And Sandburg...he never sleeps." He gave his friend a light shove with an elbow. "Why don't you come on back to the loft with us and unwind for a while?"
Banks considered the offer. The thought of going back to an empty apartment didn't seem all that appealing. At least not yet. Being used as a pawn and tied to that pole for hours had shaken him badly. Maybe some downtime with friends, and a chance to talk it all out, would help him sleep. "Thanks Jim. I think I will. But to be honest, I don't know if I'm ready to get behind the wheel just yet." He held slightly shaky hands out for both men to see.
"Not a problem," Blair grinned. "I can drive." His smile grew wider at Simon's pretended gasp of horror. "It'll be fun, sir. Just ask Jim."
Ellison pushed the younger man out the doors of the coroner's room and glanced back at Banks. "You can always ride with me, Simon." He laughed softly, knowing that the offer was like putting the man between a rock and a hard place. The police captain had had to sign too many accident and damage reports with the name of James Ellison attached to them.
"I think I'll take my chances with Sandburg, Jim." Simon chuckled, relieved that he finally could. "Nothing personal."
"I'll try to live with the hurt, sir."
The quiet drive back to the loft gave Ellison time to go over the night's events. It nagged at him that he didn't recognize the sniper. He had been sure that the man would have worn the face of some enemy. There had been no identification on the body, not that he had expected any. The only identifying mark had been the tattoo of a grinning skull. It had roused some deeply buried memories but nothing concrete enough to hold on to. It only added to the frustration of not having all the pieces of the puzzle. He looked to the empty seat beside him, missing the soothing presence of his partner. Blair would have been talking non-stop, doing everything he could to take his always brooding partner's mind off of the problem at hand. He could hear his guide's voice telling him to just let it go. And maybe for tonight he would. Regardless of the shooter's identity still being a mystery, it didn't change the fact that he was lying stone cold dead back at the morgue. Checking the rearview mirror, he smiled. Simon was listening intently to a story his partner was relating and somehow Sandburg had the man smiling. Taking a deep and cleansing breath, as his guide called it, he let the stress of the last couple weeks flow out of him.
The blue Ford pulled into its spot in front of the apartment on Prospect, the quiet of the night restored as the hum of the engine died. Getting out of the truck, Jim waited for Simon's sedan to pull up. Blair would have to park it out on the street. He leaned against the truck's fender and closed his eyes. The cool night breeze was light against his skin as he enjoyed the peace of the early hours. He heard car doors opening and Simon's laugh. Heaven only knew what tales the kid was telling him.
"It's true, Simon," Blair's voice drifted across the distance. "Although you'll never get Jim to admit it."
Ellison opened his eyes at that and stood a little straighter. He watched as the younger man gave Banks a conspiratorial wink and nodded in his direction. "See what I mean?"
The shrill ring of the detective's cellphone stopped him from listening any further. Jim would find out what stories his partner had been telling about him later. He had left instructions to be called as soon as an identity had been discovered for their John Doe. This might be the one piece he needed to fill in the rest of the puzzle.
"Ellison." He held the phone to his ear as he watched Blair cross to Simon's side of the car and stand on the sidewalk. Banks still seemed a little shaky but waved off Sandburg's help.
"Say good-bye to your partner." The voice on the other end rasped.
Oh God. He started to run towards the street. "Blair! Get down!" Jim saw the younger man's head jerk around to look in his direction. But the warning had come too late. The whine of the bullet as it sailed towards its target registered with sentinel hearing seconds before he saw his best friend's eyes widen in surprise. The momentum of the bullet slammed the anthropologist into the car. In slow motion he saw Simon reach out to catch Sandburg as he sank to the pavement.
Jim was only vaguely aware of Simon's urgent commands into a cellphone. Blair lay against the captain, his blood already pooling onto the sidewalk. In the stark moonlight its bright red was robbed of colour, turning it black. The sight and smell of it became so intense that it had the sentinel's senses reeling as he held his hand firmly against the wound. He watched as the thin rivulets seeped between his fingers. Touch gone wild could feel his guide's heart as it beat...could feel the surge of wetness against his hand with every pulse. He heard each struggle for breath and felt the thin stream of air as it escaped through the chest wall.
"Don't...zone on me, Jim." Blair saw his friend's eyes start to lose their focus and reached to grab the sleeve of his jacket. "Please." The words were almost agony to force out. "Not strong enough..." He watched, relieved to see awareness return to his partner's gaze.
"I'm right here, Chief," Jim spoke softly, brushing his hand against his partner's cheek. "Help's on the way." He glanced quickly at Banks for confirmation.
Simon felt the slight body in his arms suddenly tense in pain and cursed his helplessness. "It's on its way Sandburg. You just hang tight." Turning his attention to his detective he asked, "Jim, you okay?" Seeing the man nod, he continued, "I want you to hold onto Blair. I think it's time I put some of those first aid lessons to use." He slowly and carefully moved the anthropologist to lean against Ellison. Catching the detective's puzzled look, he tried to smile with some reassurance. "I'm going to get the first aid supplies from my car."
"That's good," Blair's words came out in a wheeze. "I was afraid...he was talking...emergency surgery." Grimacing, he tried to pull more air into his lungs.
Patting Sandburg on the arm, the captain smiled gently. "I missed that week." He dug his keys from his pocket and quickly went to pop open the trunk of his car. Within seconds he was once again kneeling with the two men, the first aid kit sat open beside him. Pulling out a small roll of cellophane, he tore a piece from it, then took the adhesive tape and cut three pieces. "Okay Blair, let's see if we can't do something to help your breathing." He looked up into Jim's face and saw that the detective understood. "Ready?" Both Simon and Jim heard the rush of air as Jim removed his hand. Pulling back Sandburg's shirt and jacket, and placing the wrap over the wound, Banks quickly taped it down on three sides. He held his breath as he waited to see if the makeshift bandage would do the job.
"Nice work, Simon. A flutter valve." Jim smiled down into the face of his partner. "That should help, Chief." The smile faded when he saw Blair's eyes begin to close. "C'mon Blair try to stay awake, okay?" Ellison swallowed hard against the panic and held his guide closer. Sandburg's cheek felt cool and clammy under his hand. He knew his friend was losing ground with each passing minute.
"Tired, Jim." Sandburg forced his eyes open. "Really tired," he sighed. "And cold."
"Give me the keys to the loft, Jim. I'll get some blankets." The captain checked his watch. "The EMTs will probably be another ten minutes at least." Grabbing the keys tossed to him, he ran for the apartment building.
Settling himself to sit on the pavement, Jim leaned against Simon's car and lifted his guide to his lap, getting him off the cold concrete. Sandburg had started to tremble against the cold so the detective wrapped his jacket around him as best he could, offering body heat until Simon returned with the blankets. "Better?" He felt, more than saw, Blair's nod against his shoulder. Resting his cheek against the top of Blair's head, he whispered, "Stay with me, kid."
"I want to." A wave of pain stole away his breath, leaving the younger man barely enough for a gasp. His fingers dug into the solid muscle of the arm that held him close and he tried to burrow more deeply into his partner, hoping to draw on his strength. The arms around him tightened as he heard Jim's quiet apology.
"I'm sorry, Blair. I thought we were safe." Ellison held his breath as he felt another tremor of pain course through his friend. It was taking too long. Where was the ambulance? It had seemed like hours since Simon had contacted them. "I know it hurts. It won't be much longer. You're going to be okay. Just stay with me."
The sentinel heard the echo of his guide's heartbeat begin to slow. "C'mon, Chief, don't start lying to me now." Ellison didn't care that his voice broke or that the overwhelming fear of losing his guide brought the burning sting of unshed tears.
"You promised me that I wouldn't lose anyone." Silence was his only answer. Looking down, Jim saw the dark lashes slowly lower. "Blair?"
"Your family's okay," came the sigh. "Haven't lost anyone."
"You're my family, Sandburg!" Jim's words shook with emotion. "Don't ever doubt that."
Peering through the nightscope of the sniper rifle, the man sneered. He couldn't tell if Sandburg was dead or not, but judging from the look of grief on Ellison's face it didn't really matter. He had gotten what he wanted. With Tolbert's help he had managed to hurt everyone Ellison was close to. He had chipped away at the smug cop who had been responsible for his brother's death. Tolbert had been a useful tool, inflicting just enough pain...doing just enough damage. He had wanted Ellison to feel the guilt and the loss he had felt when he lost his brother. But he had wanted to toy with him first. Failure was heaped upon failure and in the shadows he watched the cop bend with each one. He knew that the killing stroke would be Sandburg's death. He had watched the detective for months before starting his attack, plotting out every step of his plan. It hadn't taken him long to determine whose death would hurt Ellison most.
Now it was down to just the two of them. He didn't want his brother's killer to die by some anonymous sniper's bullet. It was too personal for that. They would meet and the detective would know the face of his executioner. The cop would hear the reasons why he alone was to blame for the pain his family had suffered. He would hopefully carry that and the guilt of his partner's death to his grave.
"Why do you do this to yourself?" Simon had latched onto Jim's arm, spinning him around to face him. "Ellison, come on...stop it!"
The sentinel blinked hard and took a breath. The strong odour of disinfectant and sickness assaulted his senses. "Simon?" Feeling disoriented, he looked around. "I zoned?"
Pulling on the arm he still had in his grip, Banks dragged the detective to a nearby chair. "Why do you do it, Jim?" He forcefully pushed the other man into the chair and then sank into the one next to him.
Ellison's brow furrowed as he tried to make sense of the captain's question. "Why do I zone?"
"No, Jim," he said softly. "Why do you listen? It can't be easy for you. Does Sandburg know you do this?" He saw the detective shake his head. "I didn't think so. He'd have a fit, you know."
"I know." It came out as a sigh. "You asked me why? I can't tell you, except that I need to. It's the only way that I can feel like I haven't deserted him. I don't want Blair to be alone." Jim kneaded the back of his neck. "I know it doesn't make much sense because he doesn't know I'm there. But Simon, I could no more stop listening than I could ..."
Banks watched the colour drain from his friend's face. Ellison's head tilted, listening to words the captain could never hear. "Jim?" The other man held up a hand, silencing him. His detective's face was a stony mask, his body held rigid. Simon wasn't even certain that he was breathing. The two of them sat that way for a few tense minutes, Banks never taking his eyes off Jim's face. He knew that, whatever was going on in Emergency, he would know the outcome before Ellison even spoke a word. If the saying was true and the eyes said it all, then the fear he saw there spoke volumes. The kid was in trouble.
The harried admittance clerk looked up from the form she was typing, exasperated enough to vent her anger at the unsuspecting soul that had interrupted her. How was she expected to admit anyone to a hospital if she couldn't file the ridiculously long forms? "What is it?" Her head snapped around from the archaic typewriter to glare at the young man standing across from her. Her anger evaporated when she saw him. He looked lost, scared and truly apologetic for having disturbed her. He had a bit of the country about him, the kind of boy she wished her daughter, anyone of the five of them, would bring home and eventually marry.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but I can't find my friend." The words were stammered out. "He was brought here...I went to information but there wasn't anyone there to help me." He finally raised his eyes to meet the clerk's.
"Let me see if I can help you." She smiled up into warm brown eyes. "Just tell me your friend's name and I'll see if he's been admitted."
"Sandburg...Blair Sandburg," he said, returning the smile. "And thank you ma'am."
The woman quickly tapped in the data and was rewarded. "He was brought into emergency about an hour ago. Oh my," she looked up at the man, "gunshot wound." She continued reading. "He must still be in emergency, I don't have any other information. Gunshot wound?"
"Yes ma'am. He works with the police. Blair's still in emergency?" He chewed at his lower lip. "That can't be good. Can you direct me? I haven't been in Cascade very long."
She watched the young man walk away, armed with directions to emergency. She chuckled to herself, wondering if he had four brothers. She'd get her girls married and out of the house eventually.
The detective suddenly went limp and sank back into the chair. Leaning his head back against the wall, he rubbed his face with both hands. "Thank God!" He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "He's okay, Simon," Jim smiled. "Got a little hairy for a minute. They couldn't inflate his lung and it was interfering with his heart. But it's okay now." He looked away as he felt tears of relief forming. He knew that his captain would understand but he still felt the need to at least give the impression of maintaining some control. The last few weeks had stripped him of so much, leaving him exhausted.
"I'll be back." Ellison rubbed his palms on his jeans before getting up. "I want to go and check on him. Maybe they'll let me see him now."
"I'll be waiting right here, Jim. Let me know what they say."
Stopping at the door, the detective glanced back at Banks. "You don't have to stay, Simon. It sounds like Sandburg's doing just fine. You really should go home."
"And I will," the captain smiled. "Just as soon as I have a chance to look in on him and say hi." He covered a yawn with the back of his hand. "You just tell him I'm waiting to see him and not to keep me waiting too long."
"I'll do that, sir."
Heading for the emergency and observation area, the detective heard his name being called. Turning around, he saw a man with a briefcase running towards him. The man was a stranger, Ellison judging him to be in his late twenties, early thirties.
Giving the younger man a crooked grin, he corrected him. "That's detective, not captain. And can this wait? I was on my way to check on my partner."
"Yes sir, I understand completely." The response was crisp and Jim almost expected it to be accompanied by a salute. "But this is about Mr. Sandburg. Is there somewhere we could talk?" Deep brown eyes searched the hallway and finally spied an empty room. "Perhaps here, sir? It's about the identity of the sniper."
The detective followed the other man into the small room. He was anxious to finally have an answer to the question that had plagued him since the entire ordeal had begun. With a quick check to make sure that Blair was still doing well, he turned his complete attention to the man who now stood in front of him. "First of all, who are you?" He pulled himself to his full height, crossing his arms across his chest.
"Franklin Oliver, sir," the younger man held out his hand and stared intently as if watching for some recognition. "Civilian attachment to the Department of Defense. Your fingerprint search caused quite a stir. Dwayne Tolbert...the man suspected of the sniper shootings...has been assumed dead or missing in action for the last 5 years. Is the name familiar to you at all?"
Shaking his head, the sentinel felt the beginnings of unease. Oliver's heartrate was a little too fast for normal and his breathing seemed too shallow. The light sheen of perspiration could have been the result of his jog down the hospital hallway but the detective thought he looked too healthy for that. Blair had once referred to his being a human lie detector and perhaps he was because alarm bells were starting to go off. "Can I see some identification, Mr. Oliver?"
"Of course," Oliver smiled. "I have it here in my briefcase." The briefcase sat on a small table that stood between the two men. The clasps snapped open. "I can understand your being cautious, sir." He flipped the lid up. The faint scent of a friction compound wafted into the air.
"Blair?" Simon Banks poked his head into the room. He was surprised to find the anthropologist alone. "How you feeling, son?" Nearing the bed, he noticed Sandburg's obvious fatigue and inwardly shuddered when he saw the chest tube that protruded from under the sheet and blankets. "I've been waiting for that partner of yours to come back and tell me how you were doing. So I decided to see for myself."
"Thanks Simon." Blair's smile was a pale version of his usual. "I've been waiting for him too. Don't know how much longer I can stay awake." A twinge of pain drove the smile from his face as he clutched the blanket. Seeing Banks reach for the call button, he stopped him. "No don't, the doctors told me what to expect. It's okay...honest."
"Why don't I go find Jim. Knowing him, he's got your doctor cornered somewhere," the captain laughed softly. "Interrogating him."
"You really don't know where he is?" A look of panic crossed the young guide's face. "But there are other cops around. Right?" Not thinking, he tried to sit up but the pain drove him back down. "What if that guy is here?" Breathing was once again becoming an agony that radiated in his chest and shoulder.
"Sandburg, relax." Banks held the anthropologist still. "We have men on this floor. If anyone approaches your door he'll be stopped. You're safe."
Another wave of pain stole Sandburg's breath. "I'm not worried about me. He's not after me." The throbbing in his chest was becoming more severe. "Go find him, Simon. Please." Getting the captain's reassurances that his friend was just fine, Blair waited for him to leave the room before reaching for the call button. He knew that Simon wouldn't have left if he had known that he was in pain. The anthroplogist's side felt as if it had been enveloped in white hot fire. "He's not fine," Sandburg forced out through gritted teeth. "If you're listening big guy, help's on the way."
"You still don't get it do you?" Franklin Oliver held the gun in both hands. "You still don't know why I wanted to take out your family, one by one." His laugh was humourless. "Are you that arrogant? You can kill a man's brother and then just forget about it?"
"Brother." Ellison couldn't see any family resemblance but there was only one Oliver that could have caused him this much pain. "Norman Oliver."
Oliver sneered at him, taking a step closer. "You really are a detective. That didn't take you too long to figure out."
If you're listening big guy, help's on the way. Jim's heart skipped a beat and he had to bite back the relieved smile. His guide was awake and that was all that mattered. "You waited a long time to avenge your brother's death. That was almost three years ago." The sentinel could hear Simon's urgent whispers to the uniformed policemen. One had spotted him, and Oliver, going into the small room. "He couldn't have been that important to you."
"My brother was important to me!" The sentence was vehemently spat out. "Norm was all the family I had." Oliver squeezed the handle of the gun, causing it to quiver in his grip. "Three years. Yeah, well I have you to thank for that too. When he died and the drug shipment never made it through, I ended up being an unwilling guest of the Cali cartel. It took me almost three years to get away from them."
"And now here you are," Jim smirked. The detective could hear several heartbeats just behind the door. The odour of Simon's cigars, that hung about the man whether he had one lit or not, had begun to tickle his nose. He knew they were almost ready to make their move. If he could keep Oliver just angry enough they would be able to catch him completely off guard.
"You don't seem to be taking this very seriously." Oliver's eyes narrowed. "You're not walking away from this."
"What do you want me to do?" Ellison saw the door open ever so slightly. "I could lie to you and tell you I wasn't responsible for your brother's death. But we both know what happened." He had to force himself to not look at the door. "I could beg you for my life, but I doubt you would consider it." Jim shrugged his shoulders. "I'm all out of ideas."
"Why don't you beg me for your partner's life." Oliver saw the flicker of emotion and smiled. "Right after I'm done with you, I'm going to finish what I started." He took another step closer, moving around the table that separated them. "He wasn't supposed to live."
"Sandburg rarely does what he's supposed to." The detective's smile was genuine. Jim, get away from the door. We're coming in. "But there is something I should tell you...company's coming."
Jim wasn't sure if Simon had heard him or if his timing was just that impeccable. As if on cue the door was shoved inward, drawing Oliver's attention. The gun shifted from its target as Oliver spun to see the cause of the noise, surprise evident on his face. Banks entered the room followed by three uniformed policemen. Seeing his chance, Ellison lunged for the wrist that held the gun before it swung to point at the captain. Both men went down heavily with the detective landing on top. The muffled pop of gunfire suddenly filled the room and the two figures on the floor stopped struggling.
"Ellison!" Simon watched, stunned. Breathing a sigh of relief, he saw Jim start to get up. "Just because we're in a hospital doesn't mean you can give me a heart attack," Banks growled out as he went to his detective to help him stand. "Give me your hand."
"Thanks Simon," Jim groaned. He gripped the edge of the table to steady himself, wishing the world would stop turning. "You better get a doctor in here." He nodded towards Oliver. "He's hit."
With just a look from the police captain, one of the officers left in search of medical help. The other began to apply first aid to Oliver. Banks' grip on Jim's arm tightened and he guided the sentinel to a chair. "What about you? Are you all right?" He could never remember seeing his friend look so pale.
With a weary smile Ellison nodded and got to his feet. "For the first time in weeks, I think I am. Or at least I will be." He stopped at the door. "Just wanna check on Sandburg and then I think I'm going to sleep for a week."
"I'll just..uh...tidy up things here." Simon gave his friend's shoulder a gentle push. "Better let Sandburg know you're okay. I don't think they're having much luck keeping him in bed." Looking back to the semi-conscious man lying on the floor, Banks knew he couldn't wait to have his curiosity satisfied. "Jim, hold up a minute. Who is this guy?"
"Simon Banks, let me introduce to you Franklin Oliver." He knew, from the puzzled lift of his captain's eyebrows, that Simon needed more answers. And in time, he would get them.
"No, wait. Don't give me anything to sleep just yet." The sentinel could hear his partner pleading with the doctor. The words were coming out in painful wheezes. "I'll lie still. I promise. I just need..."
"You just need to follow orders, Chief," Jim admonished his friend. Crossing the room, he went to stand opposite the doctor and at Blair's side. He acknowledged the physician with a smile and then turned his attention back to his friend. "You need to rest, kid. You look like hell."
"You checked a mirror lately, man?" Sandburg smiled tiredly, sinking back into the pillows. The strain of staying awake and fighting the pain was beginning to take its toll. "Can't possibly look any worse than you."
"Don't tire him out too much, detective," the doctor warned. "But I suspect your being here will calm him more than a sedative." He set a small cup, containing the pills, on the night stand next to the bed. "I'll leave these here...just in case." After adding a quick note to the chart that hung from the end of the bed, he stopped to look at Ellison. "Your friend's right, you know. You do look worse than he does. Get some rest, the both of you. And you," he pointed at Sandburg, "I'll see later on today." With a shake of his head he left the room.
Folding his arms, Jim chuckled warmly and leaned his hip against the bed. "I think we've been told." Amusement gave way to concern as he took stock of his partner. "How're you feeling Chief?" He didn't like the look of the dark circles that seemed as black as the lower lashes that rested against them. His eyes strayed to the tube as he heard the soft bubbles of air that escaped from it into a bottle. Emergency surgery hadn't repaired all the damage. A light touch on his hand brought his gaze back to his guide's.
"I was worried about you," Blair's voice was just more than a whisper. "What happened?" He followed his partner's movements as Jim reached for a chair and drew it up to the bed. Strong fingers wrapped around his and he smiled.
"I'll tell you all of it after you've had some rest," Ellison promised. "Now I just want you to get some sleep. But it's over. Really over this time."
His friend's face became a blur and the words were losing some of their meaning as fatigue started to win out. Blair was sure, though, that Jim had said it was over. "The other...?"
The detective nodded and squeezed the younger man's hand. "We got him. He won't be able to hurt anyone again." He leaned his forehead against Blair's arm, taking a deep breath, before being able to look again into his guide's weary eyes. "I'm so sorry he hurt you."
"Not your fault," Sandburg replied. "No one blames you."
Swallowing hard, Jim had to look away. "I do." There was so much forgiveness in his partner's words, in his gaze. Forgiveness he didn't think he yet deserved. Blair's fingers curled around his, holding on tightly.
"I know you do," he sighed. "No use going for the sympathy vote." His eyelids fluttered as he fought off sleep. "Got you beat...hands down."
Standing, Jim felt Blair's grip slacken as he finally gave in to sleep. "Yeah, I guess you do," he smiled down affectionately at his friend. Laying his hand against the side of Sandburg's face, he softly stroked his cheek with his thumb. "I love ya, kid," he told his sleeping guide. "Sleep well."
Simon Banks let the door to the hospital room slowly swing shut. After years of being the detective's captain and friend, he knew that the man would be suffering. Guilt and self-reproach would be weighing him down. But standing at the door, listening, and knowing that his entering would have been an intrusion, his worry lessened. Ellison had found his solace and now both he and Sandburg could heal.
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