NO CENTER LINE



LRH Balzer






Prologue

Cascade Washington,

Monday, June 15, 1998

"-- So that's when Joel decided to give up riding horseback," the detective said, with a shrug, draining the last of his pint of beer.

"You're kidding. That's freaky, man. Then what happened?" Sandburg grinned across the table. "Well?"

"Then he joined the bomb squad." He pretended to ignore the resulting howl of laughter and casually raised his hand to catch the attention of the waitress, motioning for her to bring him another beer.

"I'm almost done with this glass," Sandburg said, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Make that two. That story was hysterical. Joel really was on the mounted police squad? I never knew that."

"Yeah, well." His eyes focused on Blair's hands, wrapped around the beer glass, and panic hit him with irrational speed, superimposed with remembered images of the kid on life support, of oxygen, morphine, and all the other drugs and devices used that had been used to keep the pain away and the young man breathing. "Are you sure you're allowed to drink this stuff?" Rafe asked, his voice harsher than he had intended.

"Yes." Sandburg finished off the last of his glass with a defiant tilt of his chin. "Or do you need to check with my doctor to verify that?"

Rafe looked up from Blair's tanned hands, past the browned arms showing beneath thin white cotton shirt, to stare at the police observer's face, concentrating on the faint sunburn on his nose and forehead from his days in Mexico. There was little trace of his own nightmare in the man sitting across from him. Blair was very much alive. Not dead. "Sorry." He shifted, uncomfortable for the first time since they reached the restaurant, and he let the action turn into a glare in the direction of the kitchen. "What's taking so long with our food? We don't have all day."

"Relax, man. It's only been ten minutes since we ordered." Sandburg leaned across the table and touched his forearm for a moment, conveying his understanding of what had just happened. Once the tension had drifted away, the younger man withdrew his hand and glanced around the restaurant, changing the topic. "This place isn't half bad, you know. Nice atmosphere, with all the plants and everything. I've never been here before. Is the food good?"

"I don't know. I haven't been here before, either. It just opened up two or three weeks ago."

"Amazing what can happen in three weeks," Sandburg said, with a laugh. "One minute this place is empty. For lease. Then suddenly it's full of people and the hip place to be. Kinda weird, man. Kinda--" The carefree voice broke off as he suddenly became aware again of his lunch companion's pale face. "Now what did I say?" Blair asked, exasperated, edging toward anger.

"Sorry," the detective mumbled. "This was supposed to be a pleasant lunch to celebrate you coming back to work at the station. I didn't mean to remind-- It just sneaks up on me sometimes."

"I thought nothing sneaked up on you cops. Aren't you supposed to leave your emotions at the door?" Sandburg's flippant attitude faded when he saw his friend's jaw tighten. "Sorry, that was out of line. It's my turn to apologize, okay? Listen, I know it's been a strange couple of weeks, but it's all behind us now. Alex got away from us initially, but she's safely locked away now, right? I'm okay. Everyone's okay. Even the nerve gas has been found. Everything is fixed." As though it completed his thought, Sandburg picked up a bread stick and bit into it, absently wiping the crumbs off the table.

"You were dead."

He heard himself say the words and wished fervently he could recapture them when he saw the young man across from him flinch.

A soft exhalation. "Yeah, I was. Just for a little while." Sandburg chewed the bread stick slowly, not meeting his eyes.

"We haven't talked about it. Not really. We've talked around what happened, but we haven't discussed.." He was feeling braver now. The waitress put the refills in front of them, and he took a healthy swallow of his beer. Then a second swallow while he waited for Blair to answer him.

"Up until now, every time we've had a chance to talk, you've steered the conversation away from what happened. I didn't think you'd want to talk about it." The reply was so quiet he could hardly hear it.

"I figured you would tell me whatever you were comfortable in telling me, whenever you were ready. I'm not even sure how much you remember of it."

"I remember most of what happened. Why are you asking me this now?"

"Why not?" he pressed on. "We're friends, right? Friends talk, right? That's what you're always telling me."

Sandburg nodded, then looked up at him, intense blue eyes pinning him back against the fake leather seat. "That's right. Okay then, what do you want to know?"

It was all suddenly back in his court, and he wasn't sure how to frame his questions. He took another gulp from his glass, and Sandburg interrupted before he could speak.

"Hey, how come you're drinking on duty?" The chewed off bread stick was pointed at his glass.

"Huh?"

"You never drink on duty." Sandburg was studying him thoughtfully, and he didn't like the feeling. He never liked it.

"I'm not on duty. The captain gave us the rest of the day off. Weren't you listening? We were just in to do some paperwork."

"Oh."

"The Brighton case is wrapped. So are the robberies at the Springcrest mall."

Sandburg looked puzzled for a moment, as though he couldn't place that case.

"The jewelry stores? The emerald display?" he prompted. "It's been an on-going case for several months."

"Oh, right. The clerk died at one store."

"Yeah." He died, but you're alive. The detective picked up his glass, taking the few swallows that were left. He studied the empty glass, frowning. He should have ordered another pint instead of a glass. He looked back toward the kitchen, willing the swinging door to open and the waitress to bring their food.

"You can have mine. I've had enough." Sandburg slid his untouched second glass of beer across the table.

"No, that's okay. I can get another later."

"Really, take it. You're right, I still have medication I'm taking. Technically I can have alcohol, but I think I've reached my limit on an empty stomach."

Again the nervousness hit him, and the detective could feel a tightness across his chest. If it was hitting him like this, how was Jim handling it all? How did Ellison sleep, remembering his friend -- his own roommate -- lying dead on the grass at the university? What had happened?

Rafe found himself shivering suddenly. He had seen something that morning. He wasn't sure what it was -- a light. A shimmer of something from Jim's fingertips as his hands cradled Blair's face.

He wasn't sure what was plaguing his dreams at night the most: remembering that Blair had died or remembering that little spark of electricity that had brought him back to life. The cough. The water dribbling from his mouth. Blair Sandburg dead. Then, not dead. Pronounced dead by the paramedics. Pronounced alive by Jim Ellison.

Brought back to life by . . .

By who? By what? How?

How?

As if out of nowhere, shocking him back to the present, the waitress appeared with their meals, putting the Thai noodle salad in front of Blair and the chicken pita sandwich in front of Rafe. He stared at if for a moment, trying to remember where he was and why he was having lunch in a restaurant with a formerly dead man.

"What's wrong?" Sandburg asked quietly. "Something in your pita?"

"No. Uh, maybe I will have your beer, if you don't want it. My throat's dry."

"Sure." Sandburg passed it back to him.

Rafe took a quick sip, then dug into his meal quickly, letting trite comments about the quality of the food replace other topics. Despite his consuming curiosity, he really wasn't sure he wanted to know what happened. And Sandburg didn't bring up the subject again, so he assumed that it was still too uncomfortable for him to talk about. The last thing Rafe wanted to do was force the kid to relive that morning. He had made the offer, at least. He had let Blair know that he was willing to talk about it, if he wanted to talk about it with someone.

When the two partners had entered the bullpen that morning after a three week absence, there had been actual silence in the room. No one knew what to say. How to you say 'welcome back' to someone who had died and come back to life? It sounded so trite. 'Hi, Blair. Glad you're not dead anymore. So how was your holiday in Mexico?'

Something had happened in Mexico. The captain knew about it. So did Megan Connor. Neither were talking, outside of a few rehearsed statements about Alex being caught and Ellison and Sandburg staying behind in Mexico to vacation for a week or two. Apparently they had 'earned it', but it wasn't clear what they had actually done. Simon Banks had immersed himself in paperwork and brought out some cold cases that had been shoved aside while they had worked on more urgent matters. Megan had taken a month holiday and gone back to Australia to make a few long term arrangements, since she was going to stay on in Cascade for a while longer than originally intended. Convenient.

Whatever had gone wrong before Sandburg had died, was now right. Life had backed up two months, picked up some stitches, patched up some rips, mended the fences, and Ellison and Sandburg were back. Presto. Case closed.

"You're making me nervous, man," Sandburg said, softly, the noodles wrapping and unwrapping around his fork.

"Sorry."

"That's the third time you've said that since we got here."

"Well, I mean it."

"Okay."

Rafe took a bite of his pita sandwich.

"I'm fine, now." Sandburg put down his fork. "If you need to know this, then I'll tell you. No--" he said, waving down Rafe's urgent apology, "I want to tell you. You and Henri were there. You were in the bullpen when we were fighting a month ago, when Jim really started losing it. You knew he had kicked me out of the loft. You were there at the university, at the fountain. You were there when I came to. You saw what happened when I went to the station a day after I got out of the hospital. You have a right to know."

"But I don't need to know, Blair. I don't even think I want to know."

"Well, I can only tell you part of it, anyway. The rest is between Jim and me. We are--"

"Oh, don't tell me, please. I don't need to know this," Rafe said, burying his face in his hands.

Sandburg grinned at him. "I won't ask what you thought I was going to say. Rafe, Jim and I have been through a lot the last few months, but I think we're okay now, if that's what you're asking. We spent the last two weeks in Mexico just talking about what's happened, trying to fill in all the pieces for each other. Last month . . . It's difficult to explain, but Jim had a breakdown of sorts, and I didn't help matters any by refusing to acknowledge it. I'm supposed to be his friend, his partner. But I messed up and so did Jim. Alex-- she was unfinished business for us. He and Simon went down to deal with it, and as soon as I could, I followed."

"With Megan," Rafe said, the quiet anger heard by both of them.

"She just happened to be there. It could just as easily have been you. Or Henri or Joel, for that matter. I was in the hospital for a twenty-four hour test when Megan came by to bring me Jim's message that he and Simon had gone to Mexico. I asked her to check into it, then we followed them down." Sandburg became pensive, lost in memories of whatever had happened down there.

Rafe cleared his throat. "I guess we all couldn't go. Someone had to stay up here in Cascade and take care of the home front."

Sandburg nodded, suddenly wiping a tear from his eye. "I better start eating this or we'll never get back to the station."

Half an hour later they wandered out into the mid-June afternoon sun and began their walk back to Cascade Police Department where their partners were interrogating one of the accomplices to the Springcrest robberies. The police department was four blocks away, the tinted blue windows reflecting the buildings around it. Rafe's eyes automatically sought it out now, almost as though checking to make sure it was still there. That nothing had happened to it while he was off at lunch.

He smiled at his own compulsion. Strange how central that building was to his life. He focused on the seventh floor, knowing Brown would be there, and he wondered how they were doing. They hadn't joined them for lunch as originally planned. Yet, it had worked out well, just him and Sandburg. It was actually the first time they had done something together, usually part of a larger group, playing poker, watching a game, catching a beer after work. Like tonight. He frowned, trying to remember if there were extra tickets to offer Ellison and Sandburg.

Rafe had dressed casually today, accepting the ribbing of his partner about slumming it. Faded jeans, comfortable tennis shoes, and his Cascade PD cap. A light jacket over his T-shirt, hiding his holster and gun. There was a baseball game that night he was going to with some of the guys at the station, and he didn't feel like going back to his apartment and changing first, especially since Brown's wife had offered to make them dinner before the game. That woman could cook!

Beside him, Sandburg walked silently, obviously enjoying the day, his hands stuffed in his pockets, his face raised to the sunshine. The light breeze rippled through his untucked Mexican shirt and blew his hair back from his face. It was so rare that the kid wore his hair loose these days. It was almost always drawn back into a ponytail, as though that would make him appear older. Trouble was, when you were the youngest, you were always the youngest -- until someone else came along to fulfill the role. Rafe was only a year or two behind Jim and Henri, but he had still been the kid of Major Crimes for long enough. When Sandburg had arrived, he had gladly handled the title on.

"How's Jim doing?"

Sandburg glanced over at him, but didn't seem surprised by his sudden question. "Jim? He's okay. I'm glad Simon gave us the time off. Jim really needed it. Especially after what happened in Mexico. You know, with Alex and everything."

"Yeah, I read their reports."

"Oh. Right." Sandburg glanced at him, eyes wary. "I haven't had a chance to read them yet."

"I'm sure they left out all the good stuff," Rafe said, enjoying the uncomfortable glaze on the other man's face. "So how was Mexico?"

"What do you mean?" Sandburg asked, the words striving for casualness.

"Your holiday."

Sandburg stared at him for a moment, then smiled and shrugged, as though he knew he'd been left off the hook. "Mexico is Mexico," he said, kicking at a pebble as they walked. "We stayed at one of the beaches on the west coast. Mainly just slept and recouped. I was kinda tired at first. Guess I wasn't as healthy as I thought I was -- I swear I slept the first forty-eight hours straight. My ribs still hurt a bit from the CPR. I thought about going to see some of the archaeological sites, but I had already seen the ones in that area and Jim wasn't really interested. Guess we were both burned out. We talked a lot, like I said."

"Everything okay between you, two?"

"Yeah." Sandburg smiled to himself, then shrugged again. "It'll take a while to work it all out, but at least we're together again." He laughed suddenly. "We sound like an old married couple. Together again."

"I knew what you meant," Rafe said. "You don't have to explain."

"It was strange going back to the loft," Sandburg admitted, softly. "After what happened at the university--"

"When you died?"

He nodded. "Afterwards, I was just back home from the hospital for a few days when Jim and Simon left for Mexico. He insisted I stay behind, since I was still under doctor care. I couldn't do it, though."

"Do what?"

"Stay behind. I thought I was going to go out of my freakin' mind. The loft seemed to close in on me." As though something had just occurred to him, he looked back to Rafe quickly. "Did I ever thank you for your part in putting the furniture back in the loft? If I didn't, then let me say that was really cool. I really appreciated it, man. So did Jim."

"No problem. My pleasure." Rafe said nothing when Sandburg turned down a side street, detouring slightly, stretching out the walk back. He still had the feeling the kid wanted to talk, needed to talk to someone who wasn't going to give him a lot of advice. Simon Banks, Joel Taggart -- and even Jim Ellison -- all three would probably leap to solve any misgivings Sandburg had. But sometimes a person just needed to talk, needed someone to listen to them. Rafe let the silence stretch out over several minutes, then nodded to himself when Sandburg spoke.

"I was scared when I left the hospital. So tired, and yet afraid of what it would look like, what I would find there. What I wouldn't find there. Jim's been . . . well, I guess I'd have to say that he's been my best friend for a few years now. I couldn't -- I can't -- even imagine him not there in my life. There was some other stuff going on at the time . . ." The voice trailed off.

"Like that business with your dissertation?" Rafe prompted after a minute or two. The entire station had heard Ellison's rant about the paper.

"Hmm? Yeah. That, too. Yeah. And other stuff. It's hard to explain. Jim was . . ." Sandburg sighed impatiently, running one hand anxiously through his hair as he tried to put into words what he was feeling, what he had felt then. "Jim was, like, majorly stressed out, I guess you might say. He'd been on edge for a while, for a few weeks, and I guess that whole business with the dissertation and that case we were working on with Alex, it all sorta pushed him over the edge. Just for a while. He's okay now," Sandburg added quickly, looking up at him, anxious.

"I know. He's fine. He looked great today, actually."

The words seemed to reassure the young man, and he nodded to himself, still looking down at the sidewalk as they talked. "Yeah. He's up and running again. He had a lot of his own healing to do, you know, with what happened at the university."

"When you died."

Sandburg groaned. "Do you have to keep saying that?"

"Well, you did."

Sandburg stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, one hand in his jeans' pocket, the other capturing his hair at the base of his neck. "Rafe, do you mind if I ask . . Just wondering what it looked like . . .Uh, how did Jim . . . when I, you know . . . What did it look . . . I don't know how to ask this. What happened that day?"

The sun was in his eyes when he tried to look at Sandburg. "Didn't anyone tell you?"

Sandburg shook his head slowly, afraid to look away from him now. "Please?"

Rafe glanced around and saw a deserted bench not too far away, and he motioned for Sandburg to join him there. "Okay. What happened... We got there, and you were already in the fountain. We didn't see you at first. Headed up the stairs to Hargrove Hall. Jim suddenly did an about-face and saw you. Brown and Jim pulled you out. Then the captain and Jim did CPR on you until the ambulance arrived."

"I know the paramedics gave up."

"They did." He paused, trying to figure out how to word the next part. The strange part. The part he didn't understand. "Simon was trying to get Jim to leave your side, to let the paramedics do what they needed to do. Jim was pretty torn up. Then he turned around and went back to your body and knelt beside you. He touched your face . . . and then there with this light--" Rafe stopped short at the sharp gasp from Sandburg.

"You saw it?"

He nodded, swallowing, then continuing because he knew if he didn't finish his sentence right then, he probably never would finish it. "And the light went from his hand to your face. And then you came back to life. He put his hand over your heart and pressed and fountain water started coming out of your mouth."

Sandburg had his arms wrapped around him, as though he were freezing cold. "Shit."

Rafe panicked. "I mean, that's what I saw. I think. Could have been the angle of the sunrise or a lot of other things. Maybe even--"

"No." Sandburg shivered. "No, you saw it right. I'm sure."

It was Rafe's turn to ask. "What happened there, Blair?"

Sandburg stood up, and for a brief moment, Rafe thought he was going to start running down the sidewalk. But he only looked up at the Cascade PD building, his eyes probably staring at the seventh floor, too. "I don't know, man. My memories of that day are like swiss cheese. I was just wondering what it looked like to others. Believe me, this was a new one for me . . . " Sandburg started walking again, drawing Rafe along with him. "That wasn't in the report. I read Simon's report."

"No. It wasn't it any of our reports. We all saw it though."

"I did, too." Sandburg stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, and Rafe had to gently direct him to one side, to let the pedestrians walk by. "I saw it. The whole out-of-body experience. You were wearing a blue shirt, a long beige coat, right?"

He nodded, wiping his sweating palms on his jeans.

"Jim kept yelling, 'No'. Simon said, 'It's all over.' Jim came back over to me, and said, 'It's not over, do you hear me?'"

"Maybe you weren't dead--"

"Simon told someone to call the coroner. I was dead."

"But maybe--"

"Rafe?" Sandburg's voice had an odd quality about it.

"Yeah?"

Sandburg was studying the sidewalk. "Thanks for telling me. About what you saw. About the light."

"You believe me?"

"Yeah."

"I don't know what it was or what it meant."

"Neither do I. But thanks for telling me." Again, he wiped his hand over his face, as though drying tears.

"No problem." He quickened his pace as they turned the corner to the police station. Only a block away, and he could safely deposit Sandburg in Ellison's capable hands. At this point, he wanted nothing more. All the energy that Sandburg had shown earlier in the day was gone, and Rafe knew instinctively that once the kid was back with Ellison, things would be right again. "Come on."

A white van drew up in front of them as they went to cross the street, just missing them. It jerked to a stop and blocked the crosswalk, preventing them from going forward. "What--?" Rafe grabbed at Sandburg and pulled him back onto the sidewalk. "Move it!" he yelled at the driver.

The side door panel opened to reveal two men with guns raised, pointing at Rafe. "Hands on top of your head, both of you. Move away from him." He could hear the back door open and a third man appeared, also with a weapon.

"Get behind me, Blair," Rafe whispered fiercely as he raised his hands, stepping between them. "No way," he called out as he tried to catalog their attackers. One: Hispanic, five-eleven, thirty years, straight black hair that needed a cut. Armed with a Magnum. No visible scars. Two: White, brown hair, short, almost military cut, six feet, thirty years, scar along side of jawline. Third: white --

"Get in here," Mr Hispanic ordered, moving aside so the van door was clear.

"Leave him alone," Rafe said loudly, risking a quick glance to the police station. Where the hell was everyone?

The kidnappers were eerily calm, considering what they were doing in broad daylight. "We want you, not him, Detective Rafe. Just come peacefully, and he won't get hurt. Come on. Hands up." The third man pushed Sandburg back and jabbed his weapon at Rafe's shoulder, sending him staggering forward.

"Rafe?" Sandburg had his hands on his head, fingers interlaced, and Rafe knew how much that must be hurting him. Ribs still only partly healed . . .

"Just stay cool, Blair." He was motioned into the van, and he froze, trying to figure out what to do, how to play this. Surely someone in the scattering crowd would have reported it to the station. Maybe if he went with them, they'd leave Sandburg alone. He took a step toward the van, ignoring Sandburg's shout.

"What are you doing? What do you want with him?" the kid yelled, moving toward the van, hands still on his head.

No, Blair. Stay back.

One of the men in the van put his gun down, then stepped out and grabbed hold of Rafe's elbow, dragging him to the door while he roughly tied the detective's hands behind his back. "You can tell your friends at the station that he's joining the chorus line," the man said to Sandburg.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Sandburg kept edging closer. "Are you guys crazy? We're a block from the police station!"

"Exhilarating. Daring. Deadly," the third man said, laughing.

"Sandburg, stay back!" Rafe ordered, as the police observer came closer yet.

"No way, man. I'm not letting them take you anywhere. What do you want him for?"

Rafe saw the man inside the van move his weapon to rest on Sandburg. With a quick shift of his hips, Rafe balanced on his left leg and gave a sharp snap kick with his right foot, catching the kneecap of the man who was tying him up, and putting himself once again between the gunman and Sandburg. All he needed to do was buy another thirty seconds or so and help would surely be there. They were only one fucking block from the station!

The third man grabbed Sandburg and flung him out of the way, and as Rafe tried to shield Ellison's partner, he heard a gun go off and felt the fierce, blinding pain of a bullet passing through his side. He fell heavily to the pavement, his cheek scraping along the rough surface of the street.

"Damn it!" The man who had been tying Rafe up a moment before, kicked him sharply in the ribs now, adding to the blackness settling over him. "Look at him! He's no good to us now."

Rafe's hearing began to fade on him and he struggled to stay awake. They weren't out of danger yet. Sandburg was unprotected.

"Take the other one, then," the man in the van suggested.

No! Rafe tried to scream, but nothing came from his mouth but a garbled moan. The roar in his ears merged with a echoing ringing noise and he opened his eyes, forcing himself to stay with the scene. He couldn't move his head, but he saw as Sandburg's feet and the third gunman passed within inches of where the detective's face rested on the street.

Then they were gone. Into the van. With a distant squeal of tires, the van pulled away.

Too late . . . he tried to tell the police when they arrived. You're too late.

The last thing he saw before unconsciousness claimed him was Jim Ellison's face, as dark as the blackness that swallowed him a moment later. I'm sorry . . .


Chapter One

"Nashman..."

"Joe? Is something wrong? Is Nick okay?"

"Nick's fine. I called them just now and Cassidy says he's fine. He's sleeping."

"Is Lynette there? She's supposed to be watching him."

"She's there. She was making some lunch for him."

"Then why are you phoning?"

"Hmm? Just wondering if maybe you've heard anything yet?"

"No, I haven't heard anything yet, Joe. I just got off the damned plane. How could I?"

"Oh. I figured you'd be there already. Your flight was supposed to arrive thirty minutes ago."

"It was late. It happens. I just got off the plane and turned my cell phone back on and ten seconds later it rings."

"Who called?"

"You did, Bubba. I'm talking about this call."

"Oh. So I guess you haven't heard anything yet then."

"No, I haven't. Joe, remember when you drove me to the airport and I told you that I would call you from the Seattle hotel tonight after the meeting?"

"Yeah."

"Well, what part of that are you having trouble with, Bubba?"

"Listen, Nash, you weren't the one to talk to Cassidy on the phone twenty minutes ago. What am I supposed to say to her when I call back later?"

"Don't call her. I'll call her tonight, after I call you."

"What if she calls me?"

"Tell her I'll call her tonight."

"So I should just wait for your call then?"

"You got it, Bubba. -- Are you at SIU?"

"Yeah, why? Need something?"

"Just wondering how Harvey is doing."

"He's here. He's on the computer trying to find some leads, match up the disappearances."

"You tell him from me that he goes home at midnight and he doesn't come back until after 8:00 tomorrow morning. He will pace himself during this investigation, do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Sure, Nash."

"Then you tell him. Make him understand."

"Sure."

"That goes for you, too. I'll call you tonight, Joe."

"Right."

(Pause) "You okay?"

(Pause) "Take care of yourself, too, Nash."

"I will, Bubba. I will."


Seattle, Washington

Friday, June 19, 1998, 12:45 p.m.

Rain lashed against the cab window, leaving Nash Bridges' view of the city a murky silver and gray. He glanced down at his clothes, absently brushing lint from the deep green jacket, tugging at the brocade vest, and wondering suddenly if his white T-shirt would be out of place in the more traditional Northwest city. It had been many years since he worried about what he wore to work; he judged the people who worked for him based on performance, not appearance. But this wasn't San Francisco; it was Seattle. And he wasn't in charge at this meeting.

That was always a sore spot with him. He liked being in charge. It just made everything easier. He liked having his people around him. He liked the feeling that his people, the Special Investigations Unit, were a living organism, each functioning in their own way, but providing him -- the brain, as it were -- with the information he needed to make an intuitive leap and put the pieces together. Nash Bridges had long since acknowledged his place in the grand scheme of things. He was the organizer. The focal point. The one who made the decisions. Not only the one in charge of the SIU, but the one responsible. Not only the Head of the Clan, but a father figure, a big brother, as well.

Joe had been left holding the reins back at the station, and Joe Dominguez was certainly capable of minding the store. Joe was his right hand. And his left hand. Hell, Joe was the reason SIU worked the way it did, although Nash would never have been able to put into words just exactly what it was that made it work. He wanted to believe it was his own skill, his own damned luck that kept it going, but he strongly suspected that Joe was the reinforcement to every move Nash made. Joe certainly was never intimidated by Nash. He had his own sense of style, his own way of going about things, often as though Nash's suggestions were 'cute' but to be humored, not seriously followed. Though he had tried, Nash had never broken Joe out of the habit of ignoring his orders, and deep down inside, Nash hoped he never would. Joe was Joe. That's what made him work. Yes, Dominguez would keep the investigation going while Nash took in the Seattle meeting. The SIU would continue on, because of Joe and all the people he had hand picked to work with him.

Harvey Leek, a veteran of the force, was probably glued to his seat, eyes fixed on the computer, pulling in every scrap of information he could that might, just might, give them a lead. He could picture the man now, bent over his desk, sharp eyes looking slightly unfocused as he scanned computer text at an almost super-human speed. The Jerry Garcia black armband, probably over clothing salvaged from a surplus or retro store. White lock of hair falling from the brown tangle of curls. A man of many contrasts. Peace-loving hippy, but deadly marksman. Heart of gold, but with a violent temper when it erupted. For all appearances a scatter-brained, absent-minded professor, but appearances were often wrong. He was a surveillance expert, computer hacker, and was up to date with all the latest gadgets. If anyone could come up with information, it was this man. He seemed to pull dates and names from the air -- not blessed with Nash's own photographic memory, but Harvey was still able to perform miracles.

Well, we need one now. Come on, Harvey. Work your magic.

Michelle Chan would be working along side him, flushing out her own sources, using her own way of dealing with this. She was on the phone, calling in favors, calling past snitches. She'd been working with them for a year now, formerly from juvenile and auto theft. Nash had worked with her on one case, then put a request for her to be transferred to his unit. She was young, but persistent. And she could take care of herself, despite Nash's admittedly chauvinistic tendency to want to keep her away from the danger. She was tough, she could survive on the streets. And there were times that a female could go where no male could, even though they had dressed Evan up on more than one occasion and sent him in as a female.

Evan Cortez.

Evan, the man Nash Bridges' daughter was in love in with. Evan was Nash's protégé. The rising star. The young man was passionate about his work, dedicated, persistent. Brilliant. Quick thinking. He needed to work on his temper and self-control, but then, so had Nash at his age. Evan was a trusted co-worker in SIU, someone Nash felt comfortable in sending on any assignment. He was proud to call Evan a friend.

And Evan Cortez was the reason Nash was in Seattle.

Damn it, Evan. Where the hell are you? You better damned well be alive. Just hang in there, buddy. Hang in there.

Because it all came down to family. Maybe not blood family like Nash's father Nick, or his sister Stacy, or his ex-wives, but they were family just the same.

Joe Dominguez was like a brother to Nash. They'd been partners and friends for twenty years, seeing each other through marriages and the birth of their children, divorces and death. Hell, Pepe was even convinced they were a couple, a gay couple. Try as he might, Nash couldn't convince Pepe otherwise, and he had finally stopped trying.

Harvey, the crazy cousin. Michelle, the younger ward.

Evan, at times, was his younger brother. And when Nash had first discovered that twenty-nine-year-old Evan and Nash's own nineteen-year-old daughter Cassidy were sleeping together, well, it had taken him some time to adjust to that little piece of news. He knew about Evan's reputation with women and Cassidy was so young. But they were in love, that was clear enough from the looks on their faces and his subsequent conversations with them over the next week.

Which ended up meaning that Evan was also edging into the son category. And Nash may not have given them his blessing, but he certainly had agreed to let them make their own choices

Evan had been a constant shadow at the hospital in mid-May when Nick had had his stroke, helping wherever he could, the pain of Nick's collapse visible on his face, as well. Nash had seen how the young man had supported Cassidy, still trying to stay out of her father's way, fearing reprisal for being there, for loving her. One dark evening, the night they thought Nick wouldn't make it, Evan had appeared at Nash's side, one arm hesitantly moving around his shoulders, then drawing him in. Nash had felt the fear in the tentative gesture, but he had felt the compassion, too, and found himself responding to the simple display of caring, releasing tears he didn't know he had been suppressing, even from Joe.

Co-worker, underling, friend, younger brother, son. Any and all of those reasons was why Nash Bridges had come to Seattle.

Evan Cortez was missing. He had been kidnaped not even a block from SIU, in broad daylight.


1:15 p.m.

Captain Simon Banks glanced at his watch, then looked back out at the gray June day, at the rain that fell without a break as they sped down the freeway. "We're almost there. We still have forty-five minutes before the meeting starts, Jim -- I'd like to stop somewhere to get a cup of coffee," he said as they finally pulled onto the off-ramp, heading downtown.

"And have a cigar."

He shrugged, patting the cigar pouch in his jacket pocket. "Maybe, if we have time." Banks smiled briefly. "Okay, Jim, I think you've convinced me. There's a place on Senega and Fourth."

James Ellison's hands tightened briefly on the steering wheel, then he nodded, pushing past his reluctance to detour from his destination. "I'll watch for it."

Banks turned back to the passenger side window. It had been a long trip down to Seattle from Cascade. It was only an hour and a half, but the ongoing tension and silence of his detective weighed heavily in the truck. The captain closed his eyes, trying to rest them for a few minutes. He had almost fallen asleep several times in the past hour, but each time, the idea of leaving Ellison alone with his thoughts kept him awake.

"I'm okay, Simon."

"What?" he asked, straightening in his seat.

"Sandburg's alive. I'll find him."

"Damn right, we will."

"I mean it. He's alive."

Banks looked over to the detective, the conviction in Ellison's words beginning to make him nervous. "Jim . . . We don't know for sure if--"

"I do. I know."

"How? Still hearing things? Or did you have a dream this time?" he asked brusquely, then his eyes widened as he realized his almost sarcastic remark had been accurate. "You had a dream?" he repeated.

"Last night." Ellison drove onward, taking the '69 Ford truck through the city streets. "Do you want the long version or the short?"

"The short," he said quickly, adding with a smile, "As few details as possible, please."

Ellison nodded, the barest hint of a smile touching his face for a moment, then he took a deep breath. "I saw him, Simon. Well, I saw the wolf, actually," Ellison corrected, casually turning a corner on a late light. "In my dream, I was moving through the jungle when I heard him whimper. I followed the sound and found the wolf crawling toward me. He had been beaten. His ears were flat, his tail was between his legs. He was terrified and in pain. I knelt beside him, and he moved forward enough to put his head on my lap. When I touched him, he became Sandburg. He was unconscious. I couldn't rouse him. But he was alive."

"Maybe it was just a dream, Jim," Banks said softly. "He's been gone four days, without a word. Without a phone call, or ransom note, or anything," he amended. "Don't get your hopes set on this."

"I heard him that first day. And last night, it was a dream, but I know the difference. It was one of those dreams. A Sentinel dream."

"And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

"But not this time."

Ellison was so damned calm about it, that the captain found himself gritting his teeth trying to hold back his comments. Yes, they had told Banks later what else had happened when Blair Sandburg died at the university that morning a month ago. But they didn't have to say much. He had been there. He had seen this man touch his partner's face and bring him back to life. The strange light. All because a waking dream had told Ellison he could do it.

But life wasn't like that. The extraordinary, inexplicable, and unexplainable events that seemed to hover around Ellison and Sandburg were not the norm. They were filed under "once-in-a-lifetime." Those moments were unique, different, not something that was going to appear around every corner, redeem every situation gone bad. It wasn't about to happen again four weeks later, no matter how much a part of the captain wanted to believe that.

Then again . . . Banks smiled, looking away. This is Sandburg we're talking about. All bets are off.

The shrill twitter of his cell phone broke the silence. He reached into his suit jacket and drew out the phone, answering as it rang a second time. "Banks."

"Captain, it's Brown."

Banks braced himself, waiting for the news, knowing Ellison was probably listening. "How's Rafe?"

"He's awake! Doc says he's going to be okay. He's going to be fine. He's awake, Captain." Detective Brown's excitement echoed through the digital phone.

Beside him, Ellison, of course, had heard and now let out a sigh of relief. "That's great, Simon. Tell him that's great," he said, eyes still on the road. "That's wonderful news."

"Brown," Banks began, then cleared his throat. "You take care of him for us. We'll come by and see him as soon as he can have visitors. I can't say how relieved we are. Jim's with me right now and he says to tell you that this is wonderful news."

"Oh, man . . . I wish I had better news for Jim. I know what he's been wanting to hear."

Ellison smiled grimly. "Tell him that Rafe being okay is the best news I've heard all week. We'll get Sandburg back, then we'll go watch that baseball game we all missed."

Banks passed the message on, then added, "Give him our best, okay?"

"Will do. Ah, man, he's awake. This is awesome, you know what I'm saying? You know what I'm saying?" Brown laughed, the thin edge of hysteria and exhaustion audible. "It's gonna happen, man. We're gonna get Hairboy back. Tell Jim not to stop believing, man."

"Is Rafe able to talk at all?" Banks asked, gently.

Brown's voice turned serious, reporting now as detective, not friend and partner. "A few words, not much. He's only been awake for a few minutes. He was anxious about Sandburg the moment he opened his eyes, though, sir. He was mumbling about Blair, saying he shouldn't have gotten shot."

"Who got shot?" Ellison asked, sharply.

Banks repeated the question. "Brown, was Sandburg injured or just Rafe?"

"Hang on, I'll ask him. I'm just standing outside his room right now, cuz the doctors were in with him. I had to tell you." Brown had obviously called them from the hospital on his cell phone, either ignoring the signs restricting the use of cell phones, or most likely, ignoring them in his excitement.

Banks could hear the muted voices as Brown and Rafe spoke to each other. Jim's sigh of relief beside him answered the question, though, before Brown even came back on the phone.

"Captain, he doesn't remember them hurting Blair. Just taking him. I've written down a description of the men, as best Rafe was able to give me. He's not too coherent at the moment. Oh . . . he's sorta faded out again."

"Let him sleep, Henri. Can you write up whatever you remember he said and fax it to me at Seattle Police Headquarters. It may be the first good description we have of these men."

"Yeah. Okay . . .. Sure, man . . . Um . . . where are you? I need a piece of paper or something. I can't find anything. Gimme a sec--"

Banks listened to the catch in Brown's breathing on the phone, knowing how exhausted the man must be. "Actually, Henri -- fax it to Taggart. He's in my office. He can fax it to me."

"Okay . . . Right . . . Fax it to you at your office."

Banks winced at the dazed undertone to his officer's voice. Brown had hardly moved from his partner's side all week. "Henri, once you do that, then I want you to call your wife, have her pick you up at the hospital, and go home. See your family. Get some sleep. We have a guard on the room -- Rafe will be fine until you get back there."

Ellison interrupted suddenly. "Simon, can he ask Rafe about the van? A license plate number maybe? Did they give any clues to where they had gone--" he began, pulling to the side of the road and stopping the car. "Let me talk to him," he said, reaching for the phone.

Simon shook his head, moving the phone to his right ear, away from Jim. "Brown, call me after you send the fax. Otherwise, I'll hear from you tomorrow unless there's something new to report."

Brown's answer was interrupted by a yawn. "Will do." The line went dead, and Ellison slapped at the steering wheel.

"I wanted to talk to him."

"You wanted to interrogate him , Jim, and he's barely coherent. Rafe is asleep, as well."

"They might know something--"

"Brown would have told us. Let's find out what his fax says, then if we have to, we'll give him a call."

Ellison rested his elbows on the steering wheel and rubbed at his forehead, trying to calm himself.

"I know you're anxious about the kid--"

The detective's jaw tightened in anger. "What do you expect? I should have this down pat by now. 'Proper behavior by an officer when his partner has been kidnaped.'"

"A moment ago you were convinced he was alive--"

"He is!"

"Then what's with the attitude now?"

"He's hurt! I told you. The wolf crawled over to me. He was frightened." Ellison looked over his left shoulder, getting ready to turn back into traffic. "He's frightened."

Banks put a cautioning hand on his arm. "Wait a minute, Jim."

"I want to get to the station."

"You haven't slept much in the last week. And I doubt if you've eaten a full meal." Banks glanced out the passenger window at the small strip of stores along the side of the road. "We're in luck. There's a fast food place on the corner. I'll go get my coffee and you can grab a hamburger."

"The meeting--"

"We'll be on time for the meeting. That's why they call it 'fast food'."


1:30 p.m.

Frank Black started up the stairs to the Seattle Police Headquarters, wondering briefly if this would be the last time he visited this building, at least for the near future.

Returning to Seattle was supposed to be returning home. The house, the dog, the neighborhood. Everything pointed to a time of peace in his life, a necessary break from the madness of the preceding years. A time where he could live with some measure of normality and enjoy his family. Maybe live as other families did, in the moment, in the here and now.

And beyond that, he had wanted to protect his wife and his child, and Seattle had seemed the best choice at the time.

He shrugged, opening the main door to the station. Maybe it had been the best choice. It gave them a few more years together that they may not have had otherwise. Maybe it had been the only choice, he had no way of knowing. For all his strange abilities, he had not been able to foresee the future nor stop the events that had unfolded over the last four years.

The universe unfolds as it should.

He shrugged off the murmured whisper of the old poem. He was not convinced.

Regardless, he thought, as he pushed the button for the elevator, it's time to move on, to get on with my life. He had spent two weeks in the cabin waiting, wondering what was happening in the world beyond. Catherine was gone, he had become convinced of that, and finally he had packed their bags, taken his daughter Jordan, and returned to Seattle.

The elevator arrived, and he stepped inside and pressed the button for the fourth floor. When the car was full, the doors closed and it began to move upward.

Am I moving on or am I just returning to what I know? To some sort of anchor for my life? He and his little daughter were relocating to Washington, D.C., where he would be working with the FBI again. He had finalized the arrangements the day before and had originally planned to leave immediately for a brief trip there to see about leasing a home for September, but when Woodward had phoned him, Black hadn't found it within him to refuse the request. He owed these people a lot, and if they thought he could help -- if they were so desperate that they were asking for his help -- then he was willing to show up. He had found someone to look after Jordan for the afternoon and evening, and committed his time.

Second floor. The doors opened. The doors closed.

Frank Black was for many years an FBI agent who specialized in hunting down serial killers, and after his move to Seattle, he had continued profiling killers for the Seattle police and other police departments on the west coast. Added to that was his 'unique and disturbing ability' as one person had described it, of seeing inside the mind of one of these killers. His work, of late, had taken him away from serial killers as he turned his abilities toward even more devastating battles.

But this wasn't about the Millennium factions, or about serial killers. At least, not that Woodward had mentioned so far. He knew few details about what had occurred, but he had already gathered that this was a case that had shaken the Seattle PD. Woodward was grasping at straws, pulling in any help he could find. A Seattle police officer, one of their own, had been abducted. That alone was enough to make him want to help. It rang every bell for him, since it was hardly a month since Catherine's disappearance and presumed death. The memories surfaced and he battled them back into place. This wasn't about him, or his problems. He had to keep his mind focused on his task, or he'd be no use to the men and women gathered.

Third floor.

Once he and Jordan were settled in DC, then he'd take some time to process it all and deal with his wife's memory. Meanwhile, he would take one step after another and cope with what life had thrown at him this time. He had a daughter to raise. And there was always an agenda, whether he was in DC or in Seattle. The Millennium factions were still active, still pulling at him.

Fourth floor. The doors opened and he stepped out into the busy corridor. Woodward's office was to the left, so he threaded his way down the hall, pausing before the section chief's door before knocking. A familiar face was leaning against the wall outside the conference room on the far side of Woodward's office. Late forties. Tanned. The clothes were trendy, expensive, and the man wearing them was comfortable in them. They were an extension of his personality. T-shirt and jeans: casual, yet the quality was unmistakable, even to Frank Black. Brocade vest: expressive, different, flamboyant. Lightweight silk suit jacket: expensive, tailored, well-bred. It took Black a moment, but he placed the name with the face and took the few steps required to stand before the man.

"Nash Bridges," he said, softly, not wanting to startle him from his intense perusal of the file in his hands.

Fervent eyes met his, searched for the memory, then Bridges shifted the file and held out his hand in greeting. "Frank Black. Did they call you in on this? If they did, I'm breathing easier already. Or should I be more worried that it's that serious?"

"I'm sorry, Inspector Bridges. I haven't had a chance to see the file yet. Are you here about the Seattle police officer who was kidnaped?"

"It's Nash, please." He looked back to the documents in his hand. "One of my men has been abducted as well. Same M.O., from what I've read. And there were others."

They both turned as Harold Woodward stepped from his office and saw them. "Frank, thanks so much for coming. And you are?" he asked, shaking first Black's hand and then Bridge's.

"Nash Bridges, Special Investigations Unit, San Francisco."

"Evan Cortez," Woodward replied, putting another name to the city. "He's your man?"

"Yes." Bridges tensed, as though waiting for more.

"I know all the names. I've been studying these files since five o'clock this morning, which is why you received a phone call at nine o'clock. I wish we had noticed the pattern before."

"What is the pattern?" Black asked.

"Police officer kidnaped within a block of the station he worked at. Nine cases, up and down the coast, beginning a month ago in San Diego, then Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Portland, Tacoma, and a week ago, here in Seattle. We have another possibility, although it doesn't fit the M.O. entirely, in that last Monday in Cascade, a police observer was kidnaped. It may or may not be connected." Woodward handed Black the file. "We've still got thirty minutes before the meeting," he said, unlocking the conference room. "You are both welcome to sit down in here and read the files while you're waiting. I'll have someone bring in coffee. Can I have anything else sent in? Did you have lunch?"

"Thank you, Harold; I've eaten."

"I'm fine," Bridges said. "I'd like to read this."

Woodward left them alone and they settled at one end of the executive table. Inspector Bridges returned to studying the documents, a blank pad of paper beside him on the table. Frank placed his file on the glossy surface and sat for a moment, his eyes closed, preparing himself for what would be inside. He was asked once if he was praying, and in all honesty, he didn't know. On one level, he probably was. Praying to a merciful God that somehow he, Frank Black, would be able to help solve the problem. But more than that, he did it to clear his thoughts, his expectations, his preconceived ideas, and to look at the case with uncompromised attention.

He couldn't bring back Catherine, but maybe there was a chance he could help Nash Bridges and the others.


1:45 p.m.

Ellison parked the truck, edging into the tight spot, aware of the thrumming of his nerves. When Banks got out to put some money in the meter, Ellison took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself. He was almost shaking from the tension, from trying to listen for Sandburg's voice in the madness of the last four days. He brought up a memory now, straining to hear his partner's quiet instructions to breathe, to center himself. When he finally opened the door and got out, he looked across the hood of the truck to Simon Banks' concerned face.

"I'm okay."

Banks nodded, then turned to glance up at the building they were headed to. "I haven't been here in years. You?"

Ellison shrugged, locking his door. "Not since I got back from Peru." He pulled his jacket closer, feeling chilled in the damp, spring rain, his hands icy. He tried fumbling with his touch sensitivity dials, but he was already having problems controlling his senses. He stared up at the building, blinking his focus clear as the rain fell on his face. Now that he was here and the meeting was fifteen minutes away, he found himself strangely reluctant to go inside. "How did they think to contact us?"

"Harold Woodward used to work in Narcotics in Cascade. We've kept in touch. He called me first thing this morning to ask if we had any cases with similar circumstances."

"Why hasn't this hit the papers?"

"I'm not sure. Some of the officers involved are undercover. Most of the abductions were initially attributed to local sources."

The edginess was getting worse. Ellison shoved his hands in his pockets, trying to keep pace with Banks. "How many?"

"If Sandburg's case fits the M.O., Woodward says he thinks there are ten related abductions."

"Ten." Ellison slowed down as they approached the building, then stopped, causing the captain to pause again to wait for him. "Why have they taken ten? Why from different cities?"

"That's what we're here to find out. Come on, Jim. Let's go inside."

Ellison felt his head buzzing, his captain's voice shifting volume as he struggled to listen. He was vaguely aware that he was falling forward, black spots disrupting his vision. His link with his partner. He felt Sandburg cry again. Not here. Not nearby. But somewhere, Sandburg was crying. Cold. Hungry. Afraid -- terrified. Ellison intimately felt the fear, the despair. His name being whispered. Suffocating. A gag or something in his mouth.

"Jim!" Suddenly, Banks' voice was in his ear. "Jim! Snap out of it!"

The shout pierced the fog in his mind, bringing some semblance of order to the confusing signals his senses were providing him. He was in Seattle, standing on the sidewalk outside the police station.

"Jim?"

"Give me a second," he mumbled, his grip tightening on Banks' arm. "Don't move." He tried to reclaim the link, the tenuous connection to his Guide, but it was gone again, and he groaned at the loss.

"What's wrong?"

He could hear Banks' tight question, the captain's whispered words not wanting to know if it was Sentinel-related. Sorry, Simon. I'm a Sentinel without a Guide. I know I'm falling apart, but this is the best I can do.

For a brief moment, he had felt Sandburg's presence. "He's still alive."

"Do I want to know how you know that?"

"Probably not." Ellison straightened and took another steadying breath. "He's alive. He's very cold -- his skin is icy -- and he's terrified."

"Oh, God." Banks pulled away from him, allowing him to stand on his own. "You sure about this, aren't you?"

"Yeah."

"Why is this happening now? It hasn't happened before, with you and Sandburg, has it? Is this just some leftover business from Mexico, from your enhanced senses then?"

"Maybe. I don't know. I haven't sensed his presence quite this strongly before." The word was wrong. "No, not his presence. I was picking up a sense of his awareness. What he's feeling. It's stronger now."

The captain's dark eyes met his, wide with apprehension. "Uh . . . Any idea where he is?"

"None. I don't think he knows where he is." Ellison glanced down at his watch. "Let's go in. We have five minutes."

"Jim?"

"I'm sorry, Simon. I don't have any answers for you or even answers for me. Let's find out what they have to say, then I want to go back to Cascade. He's not there, but he's not here in Seattle, either. I would have known that, I think."


2:00 p.m.

Frank Black watched the Cascade police officers walk into the room and take their seats. As with most of the men gathered in the room -- and it was entirely a male group, he had noticed -- these men had "cop" stamped all over them. He turned back to the picture of the officer taken -- no, this was the city that had an observer taken, whatever that designation meant -- and he looked down at the young face. The picture was dated a few years before, the observer staring into the camera with a disarmingly mischievous smile, long curly hair framing an inquisitive face. The eyes were what drew Black, and he knew immediately this man wasn't a cop. His eyes were fresh, innocent, and almost naive.

But an "observer"? What did that mean? Observing what? Black looked back at the date on the photo, then over to the two shell-shocked men. Sandburg had been an observer for well over two years. What exactly was his relationship to these police officers?

He studied the shorter of the two men. The detective looked exhausted, his eyes bloodshot, but there was also an edge of hope about him that was missing in many of the others gathered. As if he knew something.

The door to the conference room closed and Harold Woodward took the podium, set up at one end of the table. Woodward was in his early sixties, a veteran in police work, and a highly skilled detective in his own right. That he had pieced together this trail of abductions was quite a feat, for police departments, especially those crossing county or state borders, were notoriously self-sustained.

Introductions were made; some were names that Black had heard before, men he had spoken to or corresponded with about cases, and now he was able to connect the name to the face. The men from Cascade were introduced last. The tall, black man was Captain Simon Banks, Head of Major Crimes in Cascade, a port city to the north of Seattle, less than an hour from the Canadian border. It also had an international airport and the city was in the same battle they all shared against the drug trade and smuggling. He had come across Cascade tie-ins while dealing with the mafia, syndicates, and Asian triads, as well as gang warfare and weapons control. The man next to him was introduced as Detective Lt. James Ellison, also of Major Crimes.

Flash: Face dark with terror. A cry. A whimper cut off. A knife flashing, catching the light of a dying sun.

Frank Black sat motionless, hardly daring to breathe. Where had that come from? He wasn't on a crime scene. He had nothing personal of the victim's. Yet the image had been clear.

Across from him, Ellison sat with his elbows on the table, his face hidden in his hands. His captain was watching him, concern etched on the man's face. Ellison's shoulders moved as he took a long, shuddering breath, exhaling slowly.

As though he had seen the same visions.

Flash: Eyes wide in terror. Keening sound coming from the gagged mouth. The knife blade, reflecting the victim's face.

Ellison hadn't moved, face still hidden, his hands clenched in fists before his eyes, as though blocking the sight.

Black watched him for a moment longer, then looked quickly through the file. Sandburg, Blair, the profile read. Masters degree in anthropology. Currently employed by Rainier University in the Department of Anthropology while he worked on a doctorate in anthropology. Police observer, a copy of the application attached, stating he wished to study the police department, doing his doctorate on closed societies. The profile finished with two words: Ellison's partner.

Partner? Black glanced back at the file, wondering when the supplied profile was dated, but it was recent. Was Sandburg now an officer, as well? No, the current form still had him down as an observer. From the young man's appearance, perhaps the status was a more personal one. It was clear they were close friends, at least, from the look on Ellison's face. Several of the men gathered at the table had similar haunted, exhausted appearances. Others, the head of departments or units, like Banks and Bridges, were also fighting burnout and the heavy weight of responsibility for one of their own.

Woodward finished the introductions and opened his file folder. "I'd like us to look at the facts, gentlemen. Please open your files and follow me through the concrete evidence we do have, before we begin to take this a step further. Let's take it from the top. One month ago yesterday, in San Diego." He led them through the cases, not pausing on details, just enough to familiarize everyone with the cases.

San Diego: Monday, May 18. 11:15 a.m. Detective Jorge Diez, age 31, and his partner were walking back to the station after completing an investigation at a nearby crime scene, when a white van stopped beside them. Three men emerged, with sub-machine guns, and held the partner back while tying up Diez and securing him in the van. He wasn't injured at the time, although the partner suffered a dislocated shoulder from his efforts to break free of the powerful man restraining him. Descriptions of the men were attached. The muscle man: Caucasian, extremely strong, solid. 6'4". Dark hair cut short. Accent: possible German or Slavic, the partner couldn't say. The two gunmen: One was Hispanic, 6' tall, long straight uneven hair. Magnum gun. The other was white, brown hair, military cut. Same height, about six feet. The driver was black, but Diez's partner had only had a brief glimpse of him.

There had been no ransom note. It had been assumed the abduction was drug related, as Diez had been working on several cases involving drug trafficking.

Los Angeles: Wednesday, May 20. 4:40 p.m. Lt. Pat Hollis, age 29, was leaving the precinct after his shift, heading out to dinner with another officer. They had decided to walk to a restaurant on the next street over. As they walked through the parking area next to the restaurant and approached the door, a white van drove onto the lot. The officer accompanying Hollis was brutally knocked unconscious. Witnesses saw the other officer being pulled into the van, then the van sped away. There were no reliable descriptions of the abductors, other than that there were two or three men seen, all with guns. No ransom note.

Santa Barbara: Friday, May 22. 1:50 p.m. Peter Labenstoff, undercover officer, age 30. Abducted one block from station on his way back from lunch. Alone. White van reported by witnesses.

Monterey: Sunday, May 24 9:30 a.m. Detective Scott McBride, age 30. Abducted while walking from his car to the police station. Description of van and abductors matched previous descriptions. Brown-haired gunman also reported to have a tatoo on his forearm, and a scar along his jawline.

Santa Cruz: Tuesday, May 26 9:10 a.m.. Lt. Sam Faddis, age 29. Abducted a block from office. Faddis was speaking to his partner on the cell phone when it happened, so the partner heard the abduction, but no other witnesses stepped forward.

San Francisco, Friday May 29 6:20 p.m. Inspector Evan Cortez, age 29. Abducted while leaving the SIU headquarters with his partner, heading to their cars after their shift. Partner was able to give a matching description of one of the abductors, but was knocked unconscious during the resulting skirmish.

Portland: Wednesday, June 3, 2:45 p.m. Assistant Chief Jack Kelly, age 32. Abducted when he left the police station to go pick up his son from elementary school to take him to daycare. White van. No description of abductors.

Tacoma: Tuesday, June 9, 11:35 a.m. Undercover Detective William Fong, age 29. Abducted while walking with girlfriend outside the police station. White van, and long-haired Hispanic gunman were reported by the traumatized woman.

Seattle: Friday, June 12, 8:25 a.m. Lt. Glenn Relkie, age 30. Abducted while getting into his car parked a block from the station. White van reported.

And the last case, the possible tie-in. Cascade: Monday, June 15, 1:30 p.m. Civilian Blair Sandburg, a police observer, age 29. Abducted while returning from lunch with a police officer. White van. No description of abductors. Police officer accompanying him was shot in the side and also suffered a severe head injury. He has not regained consciousness.

While Woodward continued to speak, Frank Black closed the file, letting the images of the men settle into his thoughts. There certainly appeared to be a connection between the cases. The consistency of the white van and the abductors' pattern of behavior. The ages, according to his notes, were all between 27 and 32. All were involved in detective or undercover work. He checked back to Jack Kelly's file, the Portland officer, to confirm his suspicions, and noted then that all officers were single. Kelly was divorced and a single father.

Ignoring the conversation proceeding in the room, Black stood, taking his file, and moved over to the credenza beneath the window. Withdrawing the photographs from the file, he laid them out along the narrow table, looking carefully at the faces and ignoring the background material. Ten males. Two Hispanic. One black. One oriental. Six white. He closed his eyes and looked at them again, not seeing the differences but the similarities. Eight of the ten wore earrings in their left ears. Five of the ten wore double earrings. All but one had short hair, stylishly cut.

Black stared at Sandburg's picture. The anomaly. All but this one man abducted were the same height, same build. All but one could have been runway models. And the tenth, Sandburg, though he lacked the height for a model, had a beauty of his own, almost exotic in appearance. There were few men that Black had ever seen that he would use the word 'beautiful' in describing, but there was something very sensual about the young man. There was something very sensual about all of the young men pictured, but the rest had an edge to them that this one did not have.

Flash: The compact body tossed into the air. A tangle of bloody limbs. Slit throats. Sightless eyes.

He felt a presence beside him and looked into James Ellison's eyes. "Your partner was not the intended victim."

Ellison said nothing, but handed him a fax. Black read it quickly, realizing that this was a statement from the officer who had been with Sandburg when he was abducted. It clearly said that this officer, Detective Rafe, felt that he was the one the abductors had wanted, but when he had been injured, they had taken Sandburg instead.

"Do you have a picture of this man?" Black asked, quietly.

Simon Banks handed him a photo of Detective Rafe from the file they had brought with them from Cascade. Black placed Rafe's picture over Sandburg's and they stared at the mosaic spread across the credenza.

Ten almost identical faces. Same body type. Same build. Same age group. Same look. Same profession.

Black stepped back from the table as the others in the room gathered around to see what he had put together. Banks and Ellison came with him, standing before him, Ellison's intense blue eyes drilling him back against the wall.

"What do you see?" Ellison's question came out half under his breath.

Black knew he wasn't referring to the photographs. "Your partner."

"He's alive." Not a question. A statement.

"At the moment, he is." Black stared back. "You are connected to him." There was no verbal response, but the man's entire body language confirmed his thoughts. "I'm picking something up through you."

Ellison nodded. "Tell me."

The urgency was palatable. Black looked over to Woodward, and the man turned at his gaze and quickly joined them. "We need a room," Black said.

"Right now, Frank? We were hoping to profile--"

"I'll join you in thirty minutes. Right now, I need to talk to these two gentlemen. We have a young man who has been kidnaped who does not meet the abductors' criteria. There's a strong possibility that he might prove to be our link to them. We have to move fast, though. He's dying."

"How do you know--" Woodward cut off his own words. "What am I saying? This is why I asked you to come. Take my office. We'll continue on here. Anything we should know?"

Black took the offered magnetic card. "Harold, Cascade is part of the case. But take the information on the man accompanying Sandburg. Ignore Sandburg. He was not an intended victim." He turned to Ellison and Banks. "Gentlemen, we need to talk."


Chapter Two

"SIU. Joe Dominguez. Can I help you?"

"Joe? It's Nash."

"Already? What time is it?" (Pause) "It's only five. What's wrong?"

"What makes you think something's wrong? I'm just phoning to talk for a minute."

"Why? Has something happened? You said you wouldn't call until later, man. What happened? Have all you detective bosses figured it out? Is the meeting over? Did you figure out what happened to Evan--"

"Hold on there, Bubba. I'm just taking a break. I want to talk to Harvey for a minute."

"Harvey? Uh, okay. Sure. I'll get him on the line." (Pause) "Hey, Harv! Harvey! Nash wants to talk to you. Line two."

"I'm here. Nash -- any word?"

"Not yet. Something interesting though, Harvey. I want you to look around and see what you can find."

"What have we got?"

"We're looking at the abduction of ten men from ten different police stations. All were detectives, either undercover or investigations. All were the exact same body type and weight as Evan. Eight had earrings in their left earlobe, five had two earrings. All had short hair, styled. All regularly wore sunglasses. All were sharp dressers. All were currently single. Any of them could have worked as a model. Six white, two Hispanic, one black, one oriental."

"Multi-racial group... Models, Boss? I'll pass that on to Evan later."

"Harvey, when we get Evan back, you can tell him anything you want. Get on it."

"I'm on it. I trust you'll let me know if you find out anything else."

"I soon as I know it, you'll know it, Harv."

"Thanks, Nash. Here's Joe again."

"Nash?"

"Joe, I see they just brought in a tray of sandwiches and I'm hungry. I'll call you after the meeting tonight."

"I know. I was listening before, last time I called. You'll call me tonight from the hotel after the meeting. I heard you. I just was wondering if there was anything else I can do."

"You're there, Bubba. Knowing you're there means the world to me. Keep an eye on Harvey. Get him whatever he needs. I have a feeling about this one."

"That's good, Nash. I'll leave my cell phone on."

"Later, Bubba."


Three days previous

3:00 a.m.

Blair Sandburg opened his eyes carefully, his head whirling like he was coming off a college drunk. With a low groan, his eyes fell shut and he pressed one hand flat against the cold surface beneath him to keep him from falling off the edge of the planet. At least the lights had the decency to be off, but he would be a lot happier if someone turned up the heat. And took out the garbage. And filled him in on what was going on.

Jim? Where are you, man? I think I'm in trouble here...

His body pains began to register, concentrating in his stomach and his tortured head. He was lying on his back, legs and arms sprawled bonelessly on a metal floor that wasn't quite even. It had grooves on it that dug into his back. It was hard to breathe past the fumes, and the suffocating feeling lingered, causing him to tilt his head back to take a bigger breath. He ended up coughing, which only sent painful spasms through his abdomen and skull. A hand was there to support his neck as he gasped for air.

"Jim?" he managed to croak out tentatively.

"Take it easy," a low voice beside him cautioned. "Once you wake up, it'll take an hour or so before your head clears."

A wave of nausea threatened, spurred on by the cold realization that it wasn't Jim beside him, after all. "What did you do to me?" Sandburg whispered, desperately trying to keep his stomach under control. He had no energy to turn to his side, which made throwing up definitely not a good idea.

"I didn't do anything to you, buddy. Unfortunately, I'm a prisoner just as much as you are."

That got his attention. Prisoner? Sandburg's eyes opened again, blinking back the distorted, shadowed images, and he turned his head cautiously until he faced the man stretched out next to him. "Who are you? Where am I?" he gasped, moaning as he realized that he was in something that was moving, and at the moment they were going over metal grates on a bridge, which set up a horrible vibration beneath him. His stomach complained again at the movement, the acid taste in his mouth close to dangerous.

The man seemed to understand how he was feeling, reaching out to place a hand on Sandburg's forearm. "Breathe slowly. They drugged you. It'll take awhile for the feeling to pass. In answer to your question, you've joined a traveling freak show. My name's Evan Cortez, with the San Francisco Police Department, Special Investigations Unit. I'll introduce you to the rest of the crew once we stop and everyone's awake."

"Are you undercover now?"

"No."

There were other things he could ask, other possibilities, but Blair couldn't think of them at that exact moment. His brain was having a hard time thinking at all. Come on. Come on. Prisoners? He decided that if Evan was a cop, and they were both prisoners, then Evan was probably in the 'friend' category. "Hey ..." He grasped at the young man's hand, squeezing it as a spasm shook him. "What do you mean by 'Freak show'?" His stomach hurt when he spoke, but at least they were past the bridge deck.

"Just lie still right now. You'll find out soon enough. What's your name?"

He started to answer when the truck took a left turn, sliding him up against the side wall. "Blair-- ouch -- Blair Sandburg. Uh ... I'm living-- here-- in Cascade." He had to force the words out. The truck continued down the road, and he tried to relax a bit.

Cortez gave a funny laugh. "Sorry to disappoint you, Blair, but I don't think we're in Cascade any longer." Cortez grimaced as he moved slowly back to lie on his side. Sandburg studied him in the faint light. He was wearing a gray pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt. He lay curled slightly, his arms clenched around his stomach, obviously in some pain.

"You okay?" Sandburg asked, still staring at him, his sight slowly clearing in the near darkness of the room he was in.

"I'm better than I was yesterday," Cortez said, softly, but his eyes stayed closed, shut tight.

What happened yesterday? Sandburg wanted to ask, but the words stayed silent. He closed his own eyes for a moment, then carefully opened them and looked up at the ceiling. Except it wasn't really a room; it was the back of a huge moving van or semi-trailer. He tried to lift his head and look around more, but he couldn't manage it. As he lay there, he listened intently, imaging he was Jim and could isolate the sounds ... Jim? Oh, my God ... Jim, where are you? Where am I? ... Rafe? They shot Rafe ... The memories slammed against his bruised mind as he fought to sort them all out. He remembered going for lunch with Rafe. Walking back. The van ... They shot Rafe, then grabbed him. The cloth pressed over his mouth and nose. Then ... nothing ... until now.

Until he had woken up here. Wherever here was. The traveling freak show. The traveling part was easy to figure out; he was in the back of a semi-trailer, he decided. The was no light except for the reflection of the brake and rear lights, the connections visible within the trailer. He could hear others with him. Others lying down on the cold, hard surface. Evan had said that he would introduce him later, so it sounded like they were all prisoners.

The truck turned onto a gravel road, and he slid slightly in the opposite direction, the rough vibrations jarring his aching body. Someone at his feet moved, groaning, rolling over. He looked down, seeing the light reflect off a chain. Moving one leg slightly, he saw his ankles were cuffed and chained to a post on the floor. Great. He let his head fall back to the hard floor.

"How many people are in here?" Sandburg whispered, not trusting his stomach with any further effort.

Cortez hesitated. "Eight. There were two more, but ..." His voice trailed off.

"Are they dead?" Sandburg asked, not wanting to know.

"Yeah." Cortez offered no further explanation, and Sandburg chose not to ask.

The smell registered on his mind, then. He had been with Jim once when they had investigated a murder scene. The body had been there a few days unattended. The room smelled like this, but not as bad. "Evan? Are the bodies here, too?"

"Yeah." Cortez moved closer to him. "Sorry, kid. You chose a bad time to wake up." He moved his left arm to rest on Sandburg's chest, gently patting his right shoulder in an attempt at comfort. "Why don't you go back to sleep? Take advantage of the time you have to rest. You'll probably feel better when you wake up. Excuse my closeness, but we're both cold."

"S'okay." Sandburg swallowed several times, forcing himself to breathe when he instinctively wanted to hold his breath and not inhale contaminated air. His lungs won, though. He shifted closer to Cortez, appreciative of the young man's efforts to calm him.

Jim had slept beside him while they were in Mexico. It was such a simple gesture, but somehow Jim had known that he was still unsettled inside and while he could reason with himself in the daytime, at night it all fell apart. He would lie in bed, scared of waking up in the cold fountain waters and drowning. Afraid to go to sleep because he might die. Afraid that Jim was going to die.

Oh, the list could go on ... Afraid of the nerve gas. Afraid of the men who had held Megan and him at gunpoint. Afraid Megan would be killed in front of him. Afraid Simon would never come back. Afraid he'd never find Jim in the jungle.

And the biggies ... Afraid of Alex. Of her hold over his partner. Afraid of what Jim was doing.

Jim had gone to her, drawn from his sleep, pulled down the street, ran down the beach, knowing she would be there. Jim's eyes had been half-lidded, glazed. She had been the same, groping him, her hands possessively over his body. Caught in some primitive vision that was compelling them both.

Blair had stumbled after his partner, tripping on the sand as he ran. And saw them. Together. Ripping their clothes off. Jim with the woman who had killed him. Jim and Alex. And she'd done it again -- pulled a gun out. Jim's gun. She had taken Jim's gun and was going to shoot him with it. With his own partner's gun.

Blair gasped now, fighting again for air. This was where Jim would pull him close every night, hold him until the fear ran out, until they both could sleep. For it wasn't just Blair who had nightmares.

Tears ran down his face, unseen in the darkness.

Jim. Oh, man. Where are you? Wish we were telepathic... I assume you're looking for me, right? ... Like I had to ask ... Yeah. Well, finding me would be like such a good thing, man. I don't know where I am. I don't know what happened, not really ... He shivered again, suddenly wondering if his partner was safe. His memories were rather hazy. He remembered Rafe pushing him back, the sound of the gunshot, Rafe falling ... As far as he could figure, Jim hadn't been there. If you were here, you'd hear my heartbeat skyrocket just now. I admit to being a little freaked. I mean, I'm flashing on not only Alex, but Lash right now. That same creepy feeling in that dentist chair and standing on the beach.

He gasped, trying to catch his breath, then pushing out the rank air from his lungs. Oh, man ... why did I think of Lash?

"Just relax. Get some sleep." Cortez's voice beside him was edged in pain and exhaustion.

Blair remembered Jim's voice in the church, telling him to go to sleep. He had felt better after that talk, knowing Jim was there, feeling everything work between them again. He hadn't wanted to go to sleep and later was glad that sleep had eluded him and he had heard Jim leave the church.

Jim ... where are you?

"Sorry." The gravel road was making his stomach queasy again, rattling his bones. His mind refused to shut down, swirling thoughts and images that he attributed only partly to whatever drug they had given him. Finally, the semi geared down, turned, stopped, then slowly the trailer moved in the opposite direction.

"We're backing up," Cortez whispered, not raising his head. "Probably back to the warehouse."

"Warehouse?"

The engine was turned off. A door slammed closed, but then there was silence. Except for the raspy breathing of eight men. And the flies.

"Get some sleep. They'll leave us here until morning."

"Who? Who's behind this? What do they want?"

He tried asking another question, but soon understood that Cortez was asleep.

Instead, he pictured his partner in his mind, knowing the Sentinel wouldn't rest until he was found. He pictured Jim's hand resting on his chest, where Cortez's hand was. Finally, Sandburg closed his eyes and gave in to the steady pull of drugs still in his system.

Find me, Jim. Jim?


3:15a.m.

James Ellison froze, his head tilted to one side, listening.

"What?" he heard from a distance.

He waved Simon Banks quiet, still listening to the rapid heartbeat. Sandburg's. He tried to follow it, tried to pinpoint it, but it wasn't something nearby. The sound was coming from ... within. He placed his hand over his heart, feeling his own body striving to echo the beat, to match it. Blair?

Jim?

He threw himself toward the sound, toward Sandburg's voice, unaware of his body's collapse in Banks' office or of the captain catching him before his head impacted with the edge of the conference table. He pushed through the darkness, following the faint trail of sound until he lost himself in the carrier hum of his Guide's soul.


6:30 a.m.

Someone was calling him.

"Not now, Harv," he mumbled. He hated stakeouts. Especially when he was cold. He could feel it in his bones this morning.

"Hey, Cortez. Wake up."

He froze. That wasn't his partner's voice. What? Harvey?

"Hey!"

Evan Cortez woke fully at the slight touch to his foot. "What?" He leaned up on one elbow, blinking first to see where he was, then groaning and wiping a hand over his face. "Something happening?"

Pat Hollis was already sitting up, one ear pressed against the side of the trailer. Slivers of light came in through the top of the rear doors. Hollis' black sweat suit was almost as dark as his skin, and in the dim light, he was difficult to see. "I hear voices outside," the Los Angeles detective said, calmly. "It's daylight. How you feeling?"

"You saw what happened last night. I fuckin' hurt, man," Cortez said, sharply. The trailer was damp and cold; it was hard to believe it was June. It felt like winter out, but the brief glimpse he had seen of the outdoors the previous day had been of pounding rain. Spring in the Pacific Northwest. He eased back from where he had been curled around Sandburg, immediately shivering at the loss of warmth.

"I was just asking." Hollis voice was distant, abrupt.

Way to go, Evan. Hollis is one of the good guys. Cortez rubbed at his forehead, trying to ease his pounding headache. His body hurt, sharp pains across his shoulders, his lower back. His thighs burned. He gasped as he sat up. "Sorry. I shouldn't have directed that at you. Not your fault. I'm just a little fuckin' on edge." He sighed slowly, setting his legs straight in front of him. "How long have you been awake?" he asked, as soon as he caught his breath.

Hollis shifted away from the wall. "An hour or so. I've been working at these cuffs. I used to be damned good at this stuff," he said with a grunt, resuming his efforts to get rid of the metal restraints around his ankles. Each of them wore the cuffs that had an eighteen inch chain linking their ankles. It made walking difficult. It made walking quickly impossible.

Not that I could get very far right now. A six-year-old could take me down. Cortez shivered, trying to pull himself back to the conversation with the Los Angeles detective. "Never was much good at locks without a pick set," he offered, raising one ankle an inch or so to look at the cuff. Nash would have had the cuffs off seconds after the lock had snapped shut on them. But then, Nash wasn't here and Evan had never gotten around to asking the SIU chief how he did that.

Hollis chuckled. "Now where I lived growing up, everyone knew how to spring a lock."

The words hung in the air for a moment before Cortez connected with them. "I thought you said your father was an actor in Los Angeles and you grew up in Beverly Hills," he said softly, rubbing at his forehead again.

"Hey, kids get their kicks somehow or other. We did our bad boy scene the same as the rest of them." Hollis gestured toward Sandburg's sleeping form. "He must have arrived while I was sleeping. I assume they drugged our dinner last night."

"He was here when I woke up. I don't think much of my dinner stayed down, so I woke up a few hours ago. He was pretty disoriented." Cortez drew his legs up, trying to ease the tightness across his stomach.

"Where's he from?"

"Says his name is Blair Sandburg. Cascade."

"Cascade, Washington. What's next? Canada?" Scott McBride, the detective from Monterey, joined the conversation, maneuvering his body to sit upright beside Hollis. "Shit, I hurt. How's everyone else doing?"

Hollis shook his head, indicating the man on his other side. "Sam's not doing too well. Bleeding hasn't stopped."

"Bastards. I thought I had it bad, but they did a number on him." McBride wrestled his anger under control, tugging on his ankle chain, anchored to one of a series of hooks that ran down the middle of the trailer. "Jorge's dead. Peter's dead. Sam might not make it. Are they going to do us all?"

"Maybe." Hollis listened again at the wall. "Voices have gone away. Something's happening though." He went back to studying the lock on his ankle.

McBride looked over to Sandburg, then to Cortez. "Is this guy a cop?"

"I didn't ask. The rest of us are, why wouldn't he be?"

"Doesn't look like a cop," Jack Kelly muttered, rolling over onto his back to lean up on his elbows. "I took a look at him earlier, when you were spooned up sleeping with him like he was your lover."

"He was cold. So was I," Cortez retorted. "It's called conserving body heat."

"Just so it's clear you're not going fruity on me. It's bad enough having to put up with the crap these guys are dishing out. I don't like it in the police force. I don't allow it in Portland." Kelly tugged on his dark blue sweatshirt. "I hate these cheap fleece things. They never make them long enough."

Cortez's hand formed into a fist, ready to turn on Kelly when Hollis kicked at Cortez's foot. "Take it easy. We're on the same side, believe it or not," Hollis finished, with a warning glare at Kelly.

The SIU detective forced his temper under control, turning his back slightly on Kelly and concentrating on Sandburg, one hand resting on his forehead.

"When did he get here?" McBride asked, arms wrapped around himself.

"Late last night. He woke up early this morning, but the drugs and chloroform wiped him out." Cortez patted the side of the man's face, but there was no reaction. "He's cold."

Kelly leaned over Cortez to get a better look. "Too scrawny for a cop," he said. "Hair's not right, either. Too girlish."

"Maybe he's vice," McBride ventured, missing the barbed looks the others gave to Kelly. "Or in one of those high school undercover units."

"Can't you keep it down? A guy's trying to sleep here," William Fong grumbled from the other side of Sandburg.

Hollis threw a rag across at Fong. "Wake up. We've got to talk here. This is the first time we've all been together and not drugged." He waited until they were all sitting up and staring at him. "With Sandburg here, we're at ten. Ten Little Indians. That's us, men. They're knocking us off one by one. Minus Jorge and Peter, that's eight. And Sam's not doing well."

"Neither is Glenn," McBride announced, looking at the man who lay between him and the rear doors. "His skin is like ice, and his breathing is off." He tried to rouse the man, but received no response.

"So there are five of us still functioning, six if you count Sandburg." Hollis took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "And Evan and Scott won't be running around much today."

Cortez bristled at the words. "If there's a chance for us to get out of here, I'm with you. I'm not staying here, even if I have to crawl."

"I'm with him," McBride said. "I may feel like road kill, but I'm not going to lie there and let them drive over me again."

"So what do we do?" Fong asked. "In case you haven't noticed, they've got ample firearms and manpower to keep us under lock and key. We're prisoners, my friends. No one knows where we are. We ain't leaving here."

"I find it unlikely that ten cops could disappear without a public reaction. I know that if no one else cares, my partner is looking for me," Hollis said firmly. "Dan's the best."

"My partner, too," Cortez whispered, leaning his head back. Harv? Sandburg moaned, and Cortez moved his hand to the young man's shoulder, squeezing it gently, calming him. "I'm part of a unit," he added, proudly, "and I know they're all on this." Nash Bridges was a miracle worker. Between Nash and Harvey and Joe and Michelle and everyone else, he knew San Francisco was being turned upside down looking for him. Trouble is, I'm not in California.

McBride shrugged. "I don't have a partner. I work mainly on my own, but there were witnesses to my abduction, so I'm sure there's an alert out for me."

"Anyone have family?" Fong asked, looking around, then resting his head back against the side of the trailer box. "A girlfriend? I got me one. And right now, I bet she's half hysterical wondering what happened to me. She hates the fact I'm undercover. Didn't mind me being a cop, but hated when I transferred to the Port of Tacoma undercover unit."

Cortez smiled, one hand still resting on Sandburg's chest. "My family's in Chicago, but the SIU is my family, too. We take care of each other. And, yeah, I've got a girlfriend." Images of Cassidy came to his mind, the hot blast of water from the shower descending over their joined bodies. The soap in his hand, fingers trailing down her silky skin. Her laughter, her whispers. The two of them in bed, the covers a jumble of sheets and blankets that they took refuge beneath in the early hours of the morning, when they were too tired to do anything else. Waking up beside her, his hand tangled in her hair, his face next to hers on the pillow.

The scene was ripped apart by the memory of the previous day, standing blindfolded, naked and leather bound, restrained by some device that linked the collar around his neck to his wrists, pulled tight behind his back. His body then forced into positions he had heard of, and seen pictures of, but never imagined he would endure. Cassidy ...

She was so young. Too young to hear what had been done to him. Too young to hear about what might yet be done to him. If it happens, will I be the same then? Will I ever be able to look her in the eye? Look at my reflection in the mirror? Despair rushed over him, and he closed his eyes, drowning in the grief of a lost might-have-been, wondering if he'd ever see her again.

Hollis shifted, listening intently. "Voices again. Listen up. We make a promise, okay? If any of us gets a chance to escape, we do it. I want to know that someone gets word out about this operation. We don't try and save the next guy. If one of us gets loose, we run for it. Agreed?"

"Agreed." McBride raised his hand before him, locking it into a fist.

Fong and Jack copied the signal, Cortez joining them before turning his attention to Sandburg, who was groggily touching his head, eyes opening.

"Evan?"

"Yeah. Can you sit up?" Cortez helped the Cascade prisoner to lean back against the sidewall. Before he could say anything more, a sharp rattle at the end door signaled their day had begun. Six pairs of eyes watched as the doors were unlocked and then swung open.


6:45 a.m.

"Jim? For God's sake, man, what the hell am I supposed to do?" Simon's voice, hardly more than a whisper, was clear, the first sound his zoned mind had heard in hours.

Ellison opened his eyes to the foggy realization that he was lying on the floor of Banks' office, covered with a blanket, a pillow under his head. From the light visible through the slated blinds, it was early morning. He looked to one side to see Banks sitting on the edge of a chair nearby, his face hidden in his hands.

He tried to force his tongue and mouth to work. "Can you get me a cup of coffee? And some Tylenol?"

"Jim!" Banks was on his knees beside him. "Are you back? If so, may I say right now, don't you ever do that to me again! You got that?" The captain helped him up into a chair.

"I'll do my best," he murmured. "At the risk of sounding ungrateful, Simon, I really could use some pain killers, and I suspect we both could use a cup of whatever that coffee is that I smell." He took a tentative sniff. "What is that? Columbian Dark?"

"Yeah." Banks moved from his side over to the credenza behind his desk. "I made a pot about ten minutes ago. Had I known you could be lured out of a zoneout with coffee, I would have made it three hours ago."

"Three hours? I was zoned that long?" Ellison rubbed the back of his neck, amazed at the knots and tension there. "I'll have to mention to Sandburg about the coffee angle."

"What the hell happened, Jim? One minute I was on the phone talking to Brown at the hospital, and suddenly I see you move your head like you're doing that senses-listening thing you do, then you're taking a swan dive." Banks handed him a cup of black coffee, then dropped some pain tablets into his palm. "Has the kid okayed those pills?" The captain looked startled at his words, adding immediately, "Sorry, Jim. I shouldn't have mentioned--"

"It's okay. He's missing, not dead. Understand?" Ellison popped the pills in his mouth, swallowing a mouthful of too-hot coffee. "I heard him last night, Simon."

"Heard who?" Banks sat down at his desk, cradling his own cup of coffee.

"Sandburg."

"What?" Bloodshot eyes widened. "How? What kind of a range do you have with your hearing, anyway?"

"I've no idea. Sandburg seems to think that it will continue to extend as I get control of my senses. But I heard him. I heard his heartbeat."

"Then he was in the building somewhere?"

"No. I think he was a distance away. Simon ..." Ellison trailed off, staring at a spot on the floor. "Simon, I don't think I was using my sense of hearing this time."

"You're not making sense, Jim -- If you'll pardon the pun. What are you saying? That you heard his heartbeat with your eyesight?"

"No. But it was internal, rather than external. It wasn't with any of my five senses. It was beyond that. I ..." Ellison shrugged, shaking his head. "I don't have the vocabulary for this." He rubbed his neck and tried again. "For lack of a better way of saying it, I experienced his heartbeat. A different level of sensory awareness, maybe--"

Banks interrupted. "Hold it right there. Just stop a minute. What are you talking about? A sixth sense?"

"I don't know. Maybe a seventh or eighth sense." Ellison met the captain's disbelieving stare. "I don't know, Simon. I don't know what it was. But it was real, as real as I can hear your heart right now."

Banks grimaced. "I'd rather not know that you can hear my heartbeat. It quite frankly gives me the willies." He took a sip of his coffee, giving himself a moment to compose his thoughts. "Jim, I'm no expert at this stuff, but maybe you just hooked onto a memory of him or something. We'd been talking about him for twelve hours straight when this happened. It's possible, isn't it?"

"I don't think so. I don't know what it was, but it was real. Immediate. Almost like I was there with him for a moment."

"So where is he, Jim?"

Ellison shook his head slowly, his eyes closed. "I don't know. But he was alive and he was frightened."


7:00 a.m.

Holding his breath, Sandburg watched as the key slid into the lock at his feet. The chain was kicked free of the post, the noise jarring his raw nerves. Three men had stormed into the semi-trailer ten minutes before and had begun to remove their prisoners one at a time. Sandburg was the last of the group to be released, except for two men who hadn't moved since Blair had woken up. The anthropologist was also careful to keep his eyes away from the two bodies now visible at the back of the semi-trailer. It was bad enough knowing they were there; he didn't want to see them. Every time he heard a fly buzzing, his stomach rebelled.

"Get up." The tall man with arms like a wrestler snarled at him, and Sandburg scrambled to his feet, weaving as dizziness hit. He was turned around and pushed face-first against the side of the trailer. "Don't move." His arms were drawn back, leather cuffs were strapped to each wrist, then somehow fastened together. The man finished, then hooked his arm and sent him stumbling toward the door.

A sharp rapping sound got his attention, and as the police observer raised his head, he saw the one of the other men, this one with a scar above his eye and a very large gun, at the entrance of the semi-trailer, motioning for him to leave. "Well, little ugly duckling," the scar man growled, "let's see if you can keep yourself alive a few more hours."

Sandburg kept his gaze averted, trying not to meet the man's dark, flashing eyes. He walked unsteadily to the end of the box, then turned and clamored awkwardly down from the edge, landing with difficulty on his feet, then falling to his knees in a mud puddle, the cold water soaking his jean legs. A harsh yell brought him to his feet again and he stared down at his bare toes, only then noticing that his sandals were missing. Come on, Sandburg. Wake up. Pay attention.

It was early morning. The sky was gray and overcast. He stood motionless, waiting to be told what to do next. He could hear the wrestler man still inside the trailer ordering the injured Santa Cruz cop to get up.

The rain had stopped, but it was windy. A shot sounded and Blair stumbled forward, almost losing his balance as the chain between his ankles tripped him up. The sound echoed again in the semi-trailer, and the huge wrestler jumped down from the back, walking past him as though he didn't exist.

"Through the door."

Blair looked up to see a broad-shouldered Hispanic man at the entrance to what was probably a warehouse. A quick peak around showed a deserted field with a thick growth of trees at the far end. The semi-trailer, as well as a large, older house, hid most of the view.

"Inside," the scar man ordered.

He walked into the building, feeling the cement floor beneath his bare feet. It was a new building, smelling still of lumber and sawdust and fresh paint. The sounds echoed as he walked across the floor. A hammer. A power saw. From the entrance, it was easy to see that the ceiling was twice as high as any of the rooms within, and he wondered if it looked like a mouse's maze from the rafters above. He could hear voices, a man was shouting somewhere, but he could see no sign of the other men who had been held prisoner with him in the semi-trailer.

"What's this?"

Sandburg flinched at the sound of disgust in the newcomer's voice and turned his head to look at the lean man who had just emerged from an office. A black, long-sleeved, skintight T-shirt was tucked into low-rise black jeans, equally tight. His belt was studded leather, the buckle huge and polished silver. He wore a leather band on each wrist, diamond studded. He had short, platinum-blond hair. For all his youthful attire, the man was in his mid-forties and in excellent physique, his choice of clothing flaunting his body. Still, Blair thought, this is not how he normally dressed. This was a camouflage of sorts. An act.

The man stood now to one side, his hands on his hips, scowling at Sandburg as though he were a pile of excrement. "This is not what I wanted." The venom in the voice was deadly. The man spun around, reached to the wall by his office door and took down a clipboard, running his finger down a list. "Cascade? Did you go there? I thought I was quite explicit about what and who I needed." At six feet, four inches, the man had a few inches on the three men who obviously worked for him, but his domineering personality would have made him intimidating whatever his height.

"The guy you wanted was shot, Jurgen. We grabbed this one. Figured he was better than nothing." The Hispanic gunman slipped his weapon back in his shoulder holster, feet planted solidly as he held his ground. "If you don't want him, we'll get rid of him."

"I don't want him. I was quite clear that my standards were to be matched exactly. I don't have time for sub-standard material."

"Then we'll deal with him ourselves. Put him in the back room." The Hispanic man gestured for the scar-faced man to take him, and Sandburg found himself lifted by the back of his shirt, his legs barely touching the ground. Whoever had a grip on him moved through the building, through the maze of corridors and rooms. The walls they passed were unfinished on the corridor side, the joints and wiring uncovered. Several of the doors were open, and Sandburg glanced quickly, noting that there were no ceilings. The rooms were dark, so he couldn't see what was inside, but he had the impression they were empty. A power saw buzzed again from somewhere, echoing above him. Beneath that sound, a highspeed electric drill. This place was still in construction, he thought, dully, as he was dragged across a painter's drop sheet down the corridor.

The scar man opened a door, and Blair was released abruptly, wavering for his balance. He looked up, startled to meet Evan's eyes. They were in a room filled with boxes, and the scar man was rummaging through one of them. Blair stared at Evan, silently questioning what was happening, but Evan only looked away. The San Francisco cop was naked, arms tied behind his back, still chained at his ankles. The wrestler gunman was fastening a lock through the chain.

A rubber ball was stuffed in Blair's mouth, tied in place by a gag. Struggling only brought a sharp clout on the side of his head. He was lifted again by the back of his shirt, and the trip through the warehouse continued. It wasn't that large, but it had a maze of rooms.

Another door was opened. A room with a bed. And a ceiling. He was pushed down to the mattress, his feet then lifted by the chain. A lock fastened the chain to the bottom frame of the bed. Without being spoken to, the man turned and left the windowless room, closing the door behind him. The small area smelled musty, and Blair let his breath out slowly through his nostrils, trying to calm his frantic nerves. Fleetingly he wondered when the sheets were changed last and if there would be mice. The building seemed new enough, but that didn't mean that mice -- or worse yet, rats -- hadn't made the place their home.

After a moment of lying paralyzed, he shook himself alert and struggled to get his arms from where they were bound. Several minutes later, he knew he had no chance of escaping. He was bound securely. He was going to have to wait and discover what happened next.

With the gag in his mouth, he couldn't even scream for help, so he did the next best thing.

JIM!!!


7:15 a.m.

JIM!!!

Ellison put down his coffee mug slowly, but the hot liquid still sloshed over the edges when the ceramic mug hit the table.

He was vaguely aware of Simon Banks looking up from his phone call, then immediately excusing himself and hanging up. "Jim?"

Ellison turned to stare at him, eyes wide.

"Jim? What's happening?"

"I heard him again."

"Sandburg?"

He nodded, swallowing. Listening.

"What did he say?" Banks asked, his voice no more than a whisper.

"Just my name. He screamed my name."

"Shit." The captain moved slowly from his desk, approaching Ellison as though he were trying not to spook him. "Are you sure it was him?"

He nodded again, his mouth suddenly dry. "Same as last time. I heard him. But not with my hearing. I felt his fear."

"This is because of what happened in Mexico, right? Your senses heightened?"

"Maybe. We thought the effects had mostly faded." Ellison met Banks' worried frown. At least the captain believed him, and he knew how difficult it was for Simon to have to deal with anything to do with his Sentinel abilities.

"Can you tell anything else? Where he is? Who has him?"

"He's alive, Simon. Right now, that's all I know for sure."


Chapter Three

"SIU. Joe Dominguez. Can I help you?"

"Joe. It's Nash."

"Nashman. What's up?"

"I've got something else for Harvey to work on."

"Do you want me to get him on the line?"

"No, just ask him about this. The week before Evan was abducted ... Did anything unusual happen? Was he approached by anyone about having his picture taken for a magazine or a calendar?"

"That sounds pretty specific. Good lead?"

"Maybe, Bubba. Worth looking into, anyway. The FBI profiler here mentioned that the missing men all looked as though they could be models. When the point came up again, Bill Franklin of the Santa Barbara PD made the comment that his detective who disappeared had been approached two weeks earlier by a man who wanted to know if he would be willing to pose for a picture for a national magazine article on police detectives. He had thanked the man for the offer, but said he had to turn him down, since he still occasionally worked undercover. The guys at the station teased him about it for a few days. When that incident was related, the Tacoma chief said his detective had been approached in the lobby of the police station three days before he was abducted, asking if he would pose for a national calendar of police officers, the proceeds which would go to charity. His man was flattered by the offer, but said he had to turn it down due to his current assignment."

"So you're wondering if anyone approached Evan? I don't remember him saying anything about that."

"Do you honestly think he would have told you, Bubba?"

"Yeah. I guess I would have teased him about that, huh?"

"Well, Woodward suggested we all take a break to make a few calls and see if this lead goes anywhere. Check with Harvey. Evan may have said something to him. They talk."

"What about Cassidy? Do you want me to call her?"

"No, I'll do that later. Just talk to Harvey first. See if he remembers anything."


Seattle, Washington

Friday, June 19, 1998, 6:15 p.m.

Jim Ellison took a deep breath, trying to get past the pain in his temples. He'd given up on the dials; it didn't seem to work without his guide. He didn't want it to work without his guide. He sat stiffly in the leather-padded armchair, letting his thoughts drift, his head tilted back to relieve the stress on his tight neck muscles, eyes closed. Listening. Straining to hear that familiar voice.

The voice of his guide. Deep, resonant, calming. Achingly honest. Demanding. Piercing. Exacting. Loving. Caring. And these last few hours -- desperate, weak, and oh, so trusting.

It was the trust that tore at the sentinel now. "Where are you?" he whispered, so low that he could scarcely hear it himself.

No response, not even the shadow whispers he had heard that afternoon.

Somehow, he felt Sandburg was sleeping, off wherever he was, and that small thought cheered him. For if he was sleeping, then nothing more was happening to him. Or if he was unconscious, then he was safe in the oblivion.

Yet he missed his guide's voice.

In Mexico, he had indulged himself, letting the words and timbre of the young shaman's voice bathe him like soothing oil. They had talked a lot in those two weeks, reclining on the warm sands during the day, walking along the ocean beach in the evening, and waking from a bad dream in the middle of the night. Hours and hours of talking in between hours and hours of companionable silence. Reconnecting, in many ways. There had been great healing in the moments and days after Blair's near-drowning, but much of it was instinctual, putting aside what had gone wrong and reinserting themselves into their destiny.

Chief? That destiny, as you called it, is plural. And singular. Together. One. I'm not doing it without you. I'll find you.

Fears abounded still, but they were fears that they held in common. They had discovered that their greatest worry was that it would happen again one day. Another sentinel. Another misunderstanding. Another series of events that would begin to drive them apart.

So they had begun to redefine themselves. To reaffirm who they were as individuals, and who they were as Sentinel and Guide.

And beyond that, to find within their collected selves their answers and their peace.

Chief? I don't know if you can hear me, but I'm still here. I'm looking for you. Believe that. Keep yourself together. Don't let them destroy what is you. The rest we can deal with -- you know that. Hell, we've been through it all before. Just don't let them get to that part of your heart that is mine also. Fight for it. Keep it safe.

The healing had begun in Cascade, been tested in Mexico, then healed there again. Idealism faced reality. Good intentions faced outside forces. Despite it all, they had managed to communicate. It had been shaky, but he had done it. After his first encounter with Alex in Mexico, he had stood on the beach and asked for Sandburg's help. He had talked to him when they were following Alex's trail. He had been honest about his fears. About the strange forces that pulled him in different directions. The temple. Alex.

Stay near to him, and he will Guide you, the old Sentinel-Warrior had told him.

Yet Incacha had twice told him to go on alone. It made no sense. First he had left Sandburg behind in Cascade. Then he had left him in the jungle to go after Alex at the temple. Because Incacha had said so. Even now, he couldn't say if Incacha had been right or wrong. But Incacha had told him how to bring his guide back to life, and he had trusted those words. Sandburg had told him to trust the visions. To do what they told him to do. If he left, he would return.

And he had returned. When he had the visions while in the pool, Incacha had pointed him back to his guide, to his Light. He understood now that the temple experience was something a sentinel had to do alone, without his guide. To be tested. To find his path. His Light. Alex had only herself, and in the end, it had not been enough.

Blair Sandburg was enough. All. After everyone had left, he had stood inside the temple with his guide, and he had read to him the words on the walls. He had placed his hands on his guide's shoulders and pointed to the drawings and had explained them to him, not stopping to consider why he knew what he knew. And then, when they sat together the edge of one pool, he had started to tell him about what he had seen in the visions ... and it had started to vanish from his memories. "You're my Light," he had whispered, no longer remembering exactly what that meant, but only that it was true.

And the writing on the walls became meaningless. And the pictures became meaningless. And the future faded into the present. He had traveled the circle and had returned to his beginning. His guide. His Light.

Who had not forgotten. The things he had told Sandburg, Sandburg remembered.

I'm looking for you, Chief. I haven't forgotten you. I may have forgotten the secret of the Universe, but not you.


"If he comes up with anything else ... Thanks, H. We'll keep you informed... . Right ... Take care of yourself. Bye." Simon Banks disconnected the call, staring thoughtfully across the surface of Harold Woodward's paper-strewn desk. "Brown says that Rafe was approached, too, while we were in Mexico."

"Does he have a description?" Ellison asked, still sitting with his eyes closed.

"White male, mid-forties, bleached white hair, nose-ring, slim athletic build, between six foot two and six foot four. Wore a designer beige suit, white shirt, silk tie. Rafe said he had a mid-American accent and used the phrase 'excellent opportunity' several times."

Frank Black looked up, impressed. "He has an excellent memory."

Ellison cracked an eye open, a smile touching his lips. "Mr Efficient strikes again. Did he get a name?"

"No name given, no identification, no specific names presented for who was behind the calendar." Banks shrugged. "Henri said that the guy gave Rafe 'bad vibes' so he jotted down his description. Nothing ever came of it, but it's all recorded in Rafe's notebook." The captain stood. "I'm going to the next room to pass this on to Woodward."

"Simon, if you don't mind, I'm going to stay here. My head is buzzing."

Simon rested one hand on his shoulder, squeezing it briefly before leaving him to the relative quietness of Woodward's private office.

Ellison endured the silence for sixty seconds, then said, "You've been wanting to ask me something all afternoon. Go ahead."

Frank Black moved to sit in the chair next to him, leaning forward, hands steepled before him. "When was the last time you felt your partner's presence?"

"At the beginning of the meeting."

"And before that?"

"Outside. Just before we came in. Then nothing for three days previous."

"Why do you suppose that is?"

Ellison pushed himself out of the chair, pacing, trying to find the words he wanted. It was strange vocalizing any of this to anyone but Sandburg, or perhaps Simon. "I don't know. I don't usually sense him. This is all new for me. The first time, I thought maybe it was a one-shot deal, you know? Nothing permanent."

"What did you feel the first time? What did you get from him?"

"It was three in the morning, thirteen hours after he was abducted. It was his heartbeat, accelerated. He was frightened."

"Anything else?"

"No. Not for a few hours. Then I thought I heard him call out to me. Again, his fear. That was it."

"Then this afternoon?"

"He was cold. Terrified. Hungry. In pain. He felt like he was suffocating." Ellison sat back in the chair, suddenly exhausted. "Maybe I was just over-tired. Reaching. My subconscious at work."

"Is that what you believe?"

He shook his head. "No. No, it felt real." He drummed the armrests of his chair, then looked up at Black. "What about you? You said you see visions or images of what a killer sees. Is someone trying to kill my partner?"

Black said nothing for a moment. When he did speak, he chose his words carefully. "I noticed something when you walked into the other office. An awareness. A level of awareness."

Ellison listened, registering the man's heart rate, his breathing.

"I see visions," Black continued, when it was clear the Cascade detective was not going to respond. "Images. Glimpses into the mind of a killer. I pick up these images when I'm at a crime scene, or perhaps physically in contact with something belonging to one of the victims. I shouldn't have seen anything today."

"But you did."

"Yes. When you walked into the room. You're connected to him somehow."

Ellison sat up slowly. "What did you see?"

"I had three separate visions of this young man," he said, pointing to Sandburg's picture from the Cascade file." Black paused. "I think we saw something at the same time."

"I'm not a psychic," Ellison said, bluntly. "I didn't see anything. It's just a feeling."

"I'm not a psychic either. I don't see into the future. I see the present, or the past. I see what impassions a killer, what they are focusing on."

"A killer was focusing on my partner?"

"Yes. But there was a difference this time." Black frowned, then looked up at him sharply. "I believe I saw whatever it was you were feeling."

"How? How do you see these things?"

"I don't know. It just happens. How is it that you can hear him? Sense what he's feeling?"

Ellison stared back at him, finally shaking his head. "I don't know."

"Then we'll put aside what we don't know and concentrate on what we do know. Agreed?"

He nodded slowly.


Nash Bridges closed his cell phone, staring at the file in his hands. Evan's picture stared back at him: the black leather jacket, T-shirt, dark hair, earrings. Nash couldn't remember at first why this picture was taken, but as he studied it, the memory came slowly. A case about a college theater group. Evan had auditioned for a part to get closer to the lead actor, a man suspected of trafficking heroin during his off-time. Evan had needed a series of photos to go with his fake resume, and Michelle had dressed him up and taken the shots. They had stayed in Evan's file at SIU, and when Nash had needed several photographs to bring with him, he had brought them, since they were recent and much larger than the small ID photo on his official file.

And now it was a photo, eerily like nine other photos on display on the credenza. Just like the other missing detectives. What is it, Evan? What is it about your look that got you kidnaped?

Bridges met the eyes of the man across the table from him. Santa Barbara. Bill Franklin. Franklin shrugged, discouraged, and closed his file. A moment later, the captain stood and walked over to the credenza, hands in his pockets, staring at the photographs as though willing the answers to come.

The room echoed with conversations between other police department representatives, private discussions on cell phones, speculation, past cases, and, basically, a lot of question marks. Bridges glanced across to the chairs where Banks, Ellison, and Frank Black had been sitting at various points in the afternoon. Only Banks was there now, on the cell phone, speaking quietly to someone in Cascade. Ellison and Black were nowhere to be seen, probably back in Woodward's office.

Nash leaned back in his chair, the file momentarily forgotten. Something was going on with that trio. Bridges had worked with Frank Black once before on a case in San Francisco involving serial killers. The FBI profiler had been professional, distant, and somewhat vague about his source of information. If the guy was making intuitive leaps, he was a bonafide athlete. He had helped with their case in San Francisco, though, and Harold Woodward certainly had great faith in his abilities. Nash Bridges was not one to ignore a source that worked.

Ellison was a strange one, as much an enigma as the man who was his partner. The observer. The one who didn't match the rest, and who, according to Black, wasn't an intended victim. It was clear to see his appearance was different, as was his vocation, but he had double earrings and was every bit as sensual in appearance as the other men. He worked with, if not for the police. There still were some similarities, yet Frank Black had confidently taken his picture away, replacing it with that of another man.

James Ellison. Nash remembered Ellison from the News magazine article almost eight years ago, the joys of having a photographic memory. "Beyond the Call: G.I. Survives Jungle Ordeal" the cover read. The face had been haunted, lost, and he had turned to the article and read the powerful story of the man's fight to live in the jungles of Peru. Through the years, Nash had noted Ellison's name whenever it appeared in articles or police reports, always entertaining the thought of bringing Ellison to work for him in San Francisco, to the SIU, if circumstances worked out. But Ellison had settled into Cascade and Joe Dominguez had decided not to take an early retirement and had stayed and worked with him, so Nash Bridges had let the idea go.

His cell phone rang. "Nash."

"Nash? Harvey. I got your message from Joe, but I can't help you there, man. Sorry. I wish I could. If Evan was approached by anyone, he didn't tell me about it. Did you try Cassidy?" Harvey asked, cautiously. They all still considered the affair between Cassidy and Evan as unspeakable, as though Nash would explode in anger at any moment it was mentioned. Where they got that idea ... Nash smiled. Possibly, because he had exploded at Cassidy when he found out, then had calmly, clearly, threatened Evan. Both kids had held their ground before him, which was something he wasn't used to with either of them. They were both willing to fight for their relationship, even from the big, bad, Dad. It made him feel a little better about the situation, although he hadn't told them that.

Maybe he would now.

"Thanks, Harvey. I'll call her. It was a try."

"Boss, I'm onto something here, though. That gave me an idea. I'm tracking down a few names and I'll get back to you. Maybe in an hour?"

"I'll be here." He broke the connection with Harvey Leek and stared thoughtfully at his phone. With a sigh, he hit the speed dial for his daughter's phone, almost wincing when she answered right away.

"Hello?"

"Cassidy, it's Dad."

"Hi, Daddy. Did you find out anything?" She was trying to be calm; he could hear it in her voice, the words quiet, but tumbling out faster than she normally spoke.

"Still working on it, honey. Listen, Cass, I have a question for you. It may not mean anything, but we're just tracking down some leads." He stopped, hearing the sounds of traffic. "Are you driving? Pull over for a minute. You'll need to think about this one."

"Okay. Just a sec." The phone crackled as she put it down. A moment later, she picked it up again, "Okay, I'm back. What's your question?"

"In the last few weeks, did Evan ever mention being approached to have his picture taken for a calendar or a magazine article?"

"Uh-huh."

Nash blinked. "Was that a yes?"

"Yeah, it was no big deal. Why?"

"When was this?"

"I don't know ... Grandpa was still in the hospital. We were walking around in the park by the hospital and Evan told me that when he was getting into his truck to come meet me, someone stopped him in the parking lot at SIU and asked if he was interested in doing some modeling for a magazine. The man said it was for a charity or something like that."

"What did Evan tell him?"

"I think he said he told him that he had a job that took a lot of his time, and he hoped they were able to find someone." Cassidy paused, and Nash could picture her sitting in her car, winding her hair nervously around one finger. "Dad? Does that mean something? Is that who kidnaped Evan?"

"I don't know, honey. Maybe. Did he say anything else about the conversation with this man?"

"Um.... No, not really. Said the guy was creepy."

"Creepy? Did he say what he meant by that?"

"No. Wait-- Yeah. He said something about knowing I feel when Larry stares at me."

"Who's Larry?"

"A guy at school. Larry. You know the kind, the ones who look at you and you feel like they're picturing you with your clothes off."

"Gotcha. So this guy made Evan feel that way?"

"Yeah." A sniffle came through the phone. "Dad?"

"I'm here, honey."

"Did this happen to the other missing detectives?"

"Some of them. We're just checking now."

"This guy might have kidnaped them?"

"He might have."

"Find this bastard, okay? Kill him if he so much as touched Evan."

Nash sat up, rubbing his forehead at his daughter's harsh words. "I hear you, Cassidy. I won't promise I'll kill him, but I'll certainly make sure he stands trial and gets put away."

"And if you find Evan -- Tell him I love him, okay? No matter what." The last words were whispered. Cassidy knew. She was well aware of what the possibilities were.

Nash's eyes brimmed unexpectedly, and he covered them with one hand. "I will. And I care about him, too, you know," he added.

There was no response for a moment, but he could picture her again, wiping the tears from her eyes. "Thanks, Daddy. That means a lot to me."

"I'll call you later tonight. Are you heading home?"

"Yeah. I just stopped off for groceries on the way."

"Good girl. Bye now. Give Nick a hug for me."

"I will, Daddy." The line went dead.

Nash composed himself, then lifted his head and called out to Harold Woodward, "Add San Francisco to that list. Unknown male approached Evan Cortez about a photo shoot."

Woodward added a checkmark to the whiteboard. "So far, that's five of the ten. Let's see if we can put together a description of this guy."


7:50 p.m.

Ellison had joined the other group in the conference room, half-listening to the conversation. Ten names were pinned up on the corkboard, none of which was his partner's. It was strange to be there, yet somehow excluded. While Simon had joined the other in putting together a profile of the victims, using Rafe as the tenth cop, Ellison and Frank Black had spent most of the afternoon and evening trying to find clues in the brief images and feelings they had experienced.

He didn't want to think about Black's vision of a knife in Sandburg's face. Of bloody limbs and sightless eyes.

Sandburg was alive when that happened and although he had felt nothing since then, he was convinced his guide was still alive now.

A uniformed officer entered the room, heading straight to Woodward. "This just came in for you, sir," he said, then left the room quickly.

Woodward scanned the document, then called everyone to order. "We've had a white van matching our vehicle description located in a shopping mall just off the I-5 near Everett. Stolen Washington state license plates. The Everett police have impounded it and their forensic team is going over it now."

"How far is that from here?" one of the California captains asked. "Can we go take a look at it ourselves?"

"Everett is about forty-five minutes north. There's no indication at what exact time the van was left in the lot, although it would have been abandoned there after the last parking lot check by security at five-thirty this morning. The stolen plates were discovered at six o'clock this evening, and they came across our investigation while running routine checks on the vehicle itself. They have agreed to work with us on this case."

Simon Banks leaned over to Ellison and whispered, "Well? Should we go check it out? You might get something they missed. Would you be able to tell if Sandburg was even taken in that van?"

"Possibly. I don't know." He rubbed his forehead. "I wouldn't mind heading back to Cascade tonight, once we finish here. We could stop in Everett on the way."

Simon nodded. "Sounds fine. We've given them all the information we can about Sandburg and Rafe. We'll all be more effective working at this from our own area. Joel's already instigating a trace on the man who approached Rafe about the photos. That's a good description to go by, if we can connect it to anyone. We're sending a police artist around to the hospital tomorrow morning to get a composite drawing of him from Rafe, to see if we can match it to anyone on file."

Nash Bridges' cell phone rang, and the man stood up and walked into the corridor to answer it. Ellison extended his hearing to take in the conversation, no longer caring about privacy issues, not when his partner's life was involved. He had been touching on all the calls, tuning out if the conversation was of a personal nature.

"Nash? It's Harvey." The man's voice was low, in shock. Ellison listened closer to the rapid heartbeat, the catch of his breathing.

"Harv ... What is it?" Bridges asked, quickly.

"I found them."

"What? Where? Are they okay?"

"I mean, I found them on the Internet." It didn't sound good. Ellison sat up and turned to stare at Bridges where he stood frozen in the corridor.

Nash had one hand over his free ear, totally concentrating on the conversaton. "What did you find?"

"Got a pen? Write this down."

Nash looked up at where he had left his pen and paper in the other room. Ellison scooped them up and brought them to him. Bridges nodded his thanks, then uncapped the pen. "Go ahead."

Harvey reeled off a long Internet address, then a complicated set of instructions, ending with, "Got that? Then, at the second sign-in, put 'Laraby' under name, and 'pixie' is the password. Then choose 'Extreme B&D', then 'Detectives in Bondage'. There are five pictures up. Evan's is there. That means he's still alive, Boss."

"Harv, you've done well. I'll get back to you. Have you found the source yet?"

"No. Finding the website was the first step. That took me several hours. Finding where this is happening might take weeks, at which time they might be long gone, I'm sure."

"Stay on it," Bridges said, then slipped his cell phone into his pocket. He stared at the piece of paper in his hand, then looked up to Ellison. "Well, this is the old case of good news and bad news," he said, with a forced smile. " I guess we need to find a computer and check this out."

"There's one in Woodward's office. I'll ask him." When Ellison stood at the door of the conference room, he was suddenly aware of the noise in the room shutting down, all eyes turning to stare at him. He wondered what his face must look like.

Woodward turned from where he was writing on an easel, the felt pen in his hand stilled. "What did you find out?" he asked, straightening.

"The San Francisco office found a website. We need to use a computer."

"Is it them?" someone asked.

"Yes."

"Mine's in my office."

"Do you have Internet access?"

"Yes." Woodward let them into his office and soon eighteen men were crowded into the small room. Nash Bridges typed in the URL then waited as the graphics-heavy, X-rated site loaded. Ellison stood at the back of the office, able to see every pixel on the screen. Beside him, Simon Banks waited, jaw as tight as Ellison's, arms crossed over his chest.

"Gay porno? What is this? Why are we wasting our time here?" The burly Portland chief backed away from the monitor, already repulsed. "Jack Kelly would never be involved in something like this." He looked across at Ellison. "Now his observer -- His type I'd expect to find here."

Nash Bridges pushed away from the desk and stood, his fist grabbing the front of the Portland chief's starched white shirt. "Another comment like that, and you'll be singing soprano with the best of them. We're here to work together and support each other in this -- not to attack each other. You got that?"

"I don't answer to you, Bridges. Maybe you put up with this crap in San Francisco, but not where I"m from--"

Woodward broke in. "You can leave and go back there if you want to," Woodward said, pointing to the door. "No one's making you stay."

The man glared back at him, then moved to stand to on the opposite side of the desk from Bridges. "Let's just get on with this filth and see what's so important here." He looked once more at Ellison, who stared icily back at him.

"Ignore him, Jim," came Simon's advice, whispered near his ear.

"I am," he replied. "I don't really give a damn what he thinks."


Pictures began to load on the screen, and Nash typed in the first set of names and passwords, taking them further into the web of links. A small black button flashed "Live Action Thrills" in one corner of the screen, and he moved the mouse over to it, then clicked. More images began to load. Men, mostly naked, wearing restraints, some in neck collars, head harnesses, various devices strapped to their bodies, some tied to tables or chained up to walls. Closeups shots of cock straps and cock rings, plugs and other paraphernalia. The pictures loaded slowly, provocatively, while the audience of stunned police officers stared mutely.

Bridges typed in the second set of name and password, waiting for the VISA okay to flash on to admit them. He really didn't want to know how much it cost the SIU's account for the privilege to enter this page. Judging by the pictures displayed, someone was making good money at it.

"Detectives in Bondage," Bridges murmured, then clicked on the site. As Harvey had said, five small thumbnail pictures began to load, asking the viewer to vote on who's turn it was that night. Viewer votes would determine the outcome. According to the clock on the screen, the action was going to happen in less than an hour. The victim's name would be announced just before that. VOTE NOW! flashed at them. VOTE NOW! LIVE ACTION THRILLS... DEATH AT YOUR DOOR... YOUR PRIVATE GLIMPSE TO THE EROTIC PASSION OF ULTIMATE DOMINATION... COPS 'SERVICING' MANKIND... WHOSE TURN IS IT TONIGHT?

Nash clicked on the first thumbnail and it slowly began to load, filling the screen.

"My God. That's Scott," the Monterey Police captain whispered.

The naked man hung in chains, facing the camera, obviously unable to stand. He looked drugged, his eyes staring off into space.

The Portland Chief pushed closer, his finger on the screen as the second picture loaded. "Jack Kelly. What the hell is he doing there? Who's behind this perversion? Where is he?" The man was locked into full headgear, complete with gag, looking like something out of 'Silence of the Lamb'. His stance was as animated as the previous picture was passive, pulling at his restraints, anger and fury evident in every muscle of his corded body.

The third image began to load, and the Los Angeles police captain groaned. "He's black. Must be Pat. Yes, that's him," he said as the picture loading became clearer. Restraints pinned the man's arms behind his back, sweat glistened off his chest as he strained against the bonds holding him in place.

"Oh, Evan," Nash murmured, as the fourth picture loaded. He recognized the tatoo on Evan's shoulder, as the picture slowly revealed Evan spread out, face down, on a bed, his hands chained to the bed post, his legs spread suggestively, ankles chained to the foot of the bed. Evan's face, turned to the camera, showed half-lidded eyes, a caricature of sensuality probably caused by drugs.

The fifth man was William Fong, his face partially hidden by a head harness, arms drawn upward as he hung suspended from his wrists. The Tacoma captain he worked with sagged into a chair, beyond shocked, shaking his head in horror at the scene.

They returned to the first page. VOTE NOW! VOTE NOW! BE A PART OF THE ACTION... SHOW THE COPS WHO THE TRUE DOMINATOR IS.. YOU ARE... ACT NOW! RESERVE YOUR SPOT.

"What about the other five?" one man whispered desperately. "Where are they?"

There was an ad for videos, and Nash clicked on it. Thumbnail images came up, these large enough to see the faces of four of the missing men. "What are they? Sex films? Snuff films? For sale, just like that? Anyone can buy this stuff?" Sam Faddis' captain dropped to a chair, his face buried in his hands. "They killed him?"

WHO'S NEXT? scrolled across the screen. VOTE NOW!


9:00 p.m.

Ellison stood beside the truck, his key fumbling in the lock. Rain lashed down around him, fueling his impatience, his own ineptness at performing such a simple task. His fist slammed impatiently on the doorframe as he tried to get himself under control and try again.

"Jim?" A dark presence at his elbow, a firm hand pressed into his shoulder.

Ellison leaned on the door, resting his forehead against the coolness of the window. "Damn it, Simon," he whispered. "Sandburg's out there. He's waiting for me to come get him."

"Let me drive."

"I've got to find him."

"I agree with you. But I think I need to drive."

"He's out there."

"He is. We'll find him."

Ellison felt the keys gently pried from his fingers. Wordlessly, he released them and walked slowly around the truck to the passenger side, waiting a moment for Simon Banks to get in and open the lock. The door closed firmly behind him and he leaned back against the unfamiliar seat, feeling disoriented in his own vehicle.

"Do up your seat belt."

He leaned the opposite way and grabbed the lap belt, fastening it, the reverse motion feeling awkward and enhancing his sense of 'wrongness' with what was happening. "Is everyone going to Everett?" he asked, as Banks turned the truck into the evening downtown traffic.

"Bridges is following us, but I think the Tacoma Chief and Woodward are the only other ones that will be there. A few people had to get flights back tonight. As a group, I think we've done all we can do at this point. There's no need for all of us to go there." Banks glanced at him. "You'll be able to tell if it's the one that took Sandburg?"

"Yes."

"It's a start."

"He's out there. He's alone." Ellison stared out the passenger window, his fists clenched tight against his knees. "Do you think they did that to him, too?" His question finally voiced, he looked across to Banks.

"We'll find him. And them," Simon said, facing forward, eyes on the road. "Jim, what if they did? Would you be able to handle that?"

"Handle it? What do you mean? I'll kill them."

"I mean ... Sandburg. Would it affect your relationship with him? Come between you?"

"No," he whispered. He closed his eyes, mentally reaching for his partner. "No, Simon, it wouldn't. Whatever was done to him, was done to me."

Banks nodded. "Maybe they spared him. That website ... none of the men looked like Sandburg. He's the wrong type for that."

"And just what 'type' is he?" Ellison asked, his voice harsh.

"What did Kincaid call him? Mr Natural? Sandburg is different. Not into body building, the latest clothes, designer sunglasses, worrying about his appearance--"

Ellison laughed suddenly. "You should see him getting ready for a date. He fusses more than Carolyn ever did."

Banks glanced over to him. "How so?"

"First it's what to wear, as he drags out every tacky shirt he owns. Lately he's taken to raiding my closet, although I make him dry-clean the shirts before giving them back to me. Then it's showering early enough so that his hair has time to dry naturally."

"I can see that. All that hair-- Doesn't it plug up the drains?"

Ellison grimaced. "I've got a special filter in the drain now. I make him clean it out every time he showers. Then he's got to have a close shave at the last possible moment." His face lost its smile. "Mr Natural," he said, softly, affectionately. He looked out the side window. Where are you, Chief? I miss you.

Banks said nothing, his jaw set.

They traveled north along the I-5, heading to Everett. Ellison enhanced his eyesight slightly, without consciously being aware of it, looking through the darkness at the highway before them. The radio was off, the only sound in the truck was the whish, whish, whish as the wipers valiantly attempted to keep the windshield clear. Beside him, he could feel Simon Banks' tension, the captain's hands tight on the steering wheel.

Lights flickered past. Gas stations. Diners. Then nothing for a few more miles. A turnoff. More gas stations. More diners. Then nothing. Nothing.

Jimmm ...

The barest whisper of sound. He sat up straighter.

Jim?

Louder now. His hands hit the dashboard, gripping the smooth surface.

Jimmmm ...

Softer. Fading. Gone.

"Jim? What is it?" Simon's voice, louder, but not closer.

"Sandburg," he whispered. Then looked out the side window. "Pull over."

"What?"

"Pull over!" he demanded, leaning over to grab at the wheel. "Now!"

Banks knocked his hand away, steering to the shoulder of the road. Ellison was out of the truck, standing on the gravel at the side of the freeway, face uptilted to meet the rain. The car following them swerved slightly, its headlights catching him as Bridges' rented sedan pulled up behind the truck. Ellison held up one arm, hiding his face from the painful glare that suddenly shut off. He was shaking.

"Jim?" Simon walked around the truck to him, shoes crunching on the loose stones. "Where is he? Jim?" Simon came right to his side, lending the physical support Ellison didn't realize he needed. It was hard to stand upright, his knees threatening to buckle.

"He's ... back there." Ellison waved in the direction they had come from. He'd heard him. Past by him. He was back there.

Nash Bridges stood at the open door of his car, eyes warily watching it all, not approaching them. Ellison could hear the rapid beating of the man's heart. He met his eyes, knowing the worry and desperation he saw was mirrored in his own. Then Ellison stepped away from Banks, walking south along the side of the freeway, past Bridges.

The rain was cold. Miserable.

Blair was miserable. Frightened. It was hard to breathe.

Ellison looked further along the freeway, eyes reaching back the direction they had come. A red and blue glow caught his attention and he turned to see his truck turned around and following him along the side of the road, the police lights warning motorists. He nodded briefly to Simon, strengthened by the answering wave of the captain's hand.

He turned back to the darkness. It had been some time since they passed a town. Where had Sandburg been? Somewhere here. His feet quickened, drawn toward his guide, as surely as he had been drawn toward the temple in Mexico. But never there had his wants, his desires, and his needs been so totally in synch as they were now. His mind and body agreed.

A new presence at his side. He spared a quick glance to see Bridges walking next to him.

"Keep going. Don't stop," the SIU detective said. "Find him."

He kept going. The surface changed beneath his feet. An entrance lane leading onto the freeway. A rest stop. He turned into it, his stumbling walk changing to a quick jog. Simon took the truck past him, parking it, then joining him on foot as he ran past the restrooms and picnic tables.

Three semi-trailers were parked in the back area. He stopped at the third. His hands rested on the side of the trailer as he walked down its length. He curved around to the back, the door sealed closed. "Open this."

"How?" Bridges asked, already up on the ledge, staring at the bars and the door seal.

Simon turned and ran back to the truck, and Jim could hear the police radio, the request for the fire department. And an ambulance.

"Cancel that," he said to Bridges. "Tell him to tell them not to come. Not yet. Check my truck for tools to open this."

Ellison's splayed hand stopped at the lower corner of the door. Listening. Listening. Zoning in on the sound of a familiar, beloved heartbeat.

"Jim?" Simon's voice finally got through to him, and he blinked again. "Why no backup?"

"Wait till we take him away. Then call them." Darkness hid them now. No one but them at the rest stop. No one would know. It was too late to help the rest tonight. Only death. He had nothing to say to them. No hope to offer them.

His own hope lay beyond the door. And his hope might very well be their only hope.

Simon drew him back a few feet while Bridges broke through the lock, axe slicing through the air with repeated thwanks. Ellison stood, dazed, watching, waiting, waiting, then leaping forward to catch his partner as the door was raised and Sandburg tumbled into his arms.


Chapter Four

"SIU. Joe Dominguez. Can I help you?"

"It's Nash."

"What? What's happened?"

"Keep a lid on this but we've got one back alive. Four dead."

"Shit, man. Who's alive?"

"The observer from Cascade. The others are wrapped up and I'm not touching them. I lost my dinner already just opening the back of the trailer here. The smell was overwhelming. Bubba, put Harvey on."

"Sure. Uh, Nash . . . the bodies . . ."

"I don't think Evan's one of them, if that's what you're asking."

"Oh. Okay. If you're sure . . ."

"No, I'm not sure, Joe. I wish I was. Can you put Harvey on?"

"He's right here."

"Nash?"

"Harv, we've found a semi-trailer. Four bodies. I'm not sure who they are, but I'm betting these are the four men whose pictures aren't up on that website. You did good on that."

"Tell me that when we have Evan back."

"I'll do that. We found one man alive in the trailer, the police observer from Cascade."

"How is he?"

"He's alive. We just found him a minute ago, so I don't know any other details."

"He's not on the website."

"No, he's not. Expect an email from a Captain Taggart of Cascade. He's sending you this young man's picture. Find out what you can. I want to know why he's still alive."

"I'll do what I can. Anything else?"

"Hang in there, Bubba."

"Yeah. Here's Joe."

"Nash, anything I can do here?"

"Joe, I've got to go. Just keep everything safe there for me, okay?"

"You got it."


Time stalled . . . Hearing. Smell. Sight.

Hearing: Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

Smell: Copper. Death.

Sight: The divider separating them lifted a crack. Glimpse of hair. Skin. Blood.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

Cloying stench of decay. Blood. Another scent he knew.

The door rose, screeching metal on metal.

Motion. Falling. A blur of familiar features.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

The Guide. The Guide. The Guide, echoed in his veins, thrumming against his temples.

Blood.

A silent scream ripping through the fabric of night.

Falling. Falling.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

The Sentinel surged forward, reason thrust aside as sight-fused-with-hearing-fused-with-scent. Touch.

The Guide. His Guide.

My Guide.

Face pressed into the seam at the bottom of the doorway, the body fell forward when the door was raised. With a strangled cry, Ellison caught his partner in his arms, the momentum knocking him to the pavement, buffering the fall as best he could.

My Guide.

He sat up quickly, pulling the naked body toward his chest, hearing focused only on the heart and lungs, monitoring, counting the beat, the respiration. "Chief? Blair?" Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

Panic sent an adrenaline rush through his system. No response, there's no response. But that was okay, he told himself quickly. This time, it was okay. Sandburg was breathing. His guide was alive.

He's alive. He's with me.

With me.

As though he belonged to a different reality, Simon Banks appeared through the darkness and knelt beside him, touching the pulse at Sandburg's neck. "Steady. Breathing seems even. You okay with him?" the captain asked, standing, not waiting for an answer. "Much as I'd rather stay here, I better check this out," he added, indicating the semi-trailer behind him. "Jim?"

Numb, Ellison looked up, his mouth opening and closing soundlessly. His hearing cut in and out, trying to focus on the heartbeat of the man in his arms, and what Simon was saying to him, and the sound of Nash Bridges talking to someone on his cell phone. The cars passing on the freeway, just out of sight. The ocean waves crashing against the shore, miles to the west. Crashing, water sliding over rocks. Too far. I've gone too far.

Control was all over the board. He needed to center himself or he would risk zoning, and that was not an option.

Thump-thump.

He looked down, hearing settling around him. Simon's shoes shifting on the pavement. Bridges, gasping for air, jumping from the semi, one hand over his mouth, the other over his stomach.

"I'm fine here. Go ahead." Ellison closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and studied his partner. Sight focused, cataloguing, searching for anything wrong. Touch followed, one hand carding through the lank curls, feeling his skull, while the other held him close, protecting and shielding him while he was so vulnerable. No head injuries. He leaned forward, letting his guide's weight fall back onto his supporting arm, rain splattering the eyebrows and lashes, the fine bones, the slight growth of beard on the firm jaw. He traced the familiar features reverently, cheekbones and nose, pausing over the open lips, feeling the brush of air on the tips of his fingers, lips moving to frame his name.

Ellison's heart quickened, relief and fear clutching at him. "I'm here," he whispered. "Lie still. I'll take care of everything."

The faintest nod, a fluttering of lashes, a shiver. Sandburg's head tilted slightly to one side as he swept his free hand along the young man's jaw line. Light stubble. Shaved within the last six hours. The bone beneath was sound. There were no serious facial injuries. Cuts and bruises, yes, but they would heal. The eyes opened, looked vaguely in his direction, then closed again. Pupils dilated.

His right hand rested on Sandburg's throat, registering the pulse again, reveling in the sensation of life beneath his fingers. The heartbeat was racing; it would take time before his guide relaxed fully. He had been drugged, certainly. A moment, then Ellison touched both collarbones and skimmed down the breast bone. Ribs. Center to sides. Bruised. Possible fracture on two, but it would take an X-ray to detect it. He could feel the heat of contusions across the lightly furred abdomen, but no guarding, no sign of peritonitis. His hand passed around to the back to rest above Sandburg's kidneys.

A dark shadow before his eyes, blocking his sight, became Simon Banks' hand, and he tore his gaze from his partner to the captain.

Simon's mouth was moving, the sound suddenly connecting. "--hear me? Jim?"

"I hear you," he said, nodding, then looking back at his partner. "He's alive. I don't think there are any serious injuries. He's been drugged with something."

"Jim, his arms are fastened behind his back. I'm going to unfasten the buckles. Is it safe? I don't want to hurt him."

The request made sense. Ellison looked back to the collarbones, moving touch-sensitive fingers to the shoulder sockets. The muscles were strained on one side, he decided, but it wasn't dislocated. He nodded, holding the body still while Simon worked behind, undoing straps and buckles. Finally the hands dropped free. He checked for needle marks, but saw none.

"J'mmm ..."

"I'm here, Chief," he said immediately, shifting Sandburg as raindrops splashed into his face. It was raining harder, each drop bouncing off the pavement, sliding down blades of grass, knocking against the roof of the public restrooms, drowning out the heartbeat he was trying to focus on, swishing under car tires, catching on pine needles, reclaimed by the ocean waves that pounded against the rocks.

Too far.

He laughed at his own lack of control.

Thump-thump.

There.

The captain stood to take off his lightweight raincoat. "We have four dead bodies, Jim. Smells worse than putrid in there. We need to call in the authorities on this."

The authorities. Detective Ellison blinked, feeling the dazed 'otherness' fall away. He had work to do. Sandburg was back, and he was alive, and he might just have the answers they needed.

"Give me a minute, Simon." Monitoring Sandburg's breathing was a distraction, but Ellison's mind was trying to work several steps ahead, plotting like a chess master. If A, then B or C. If not A, then D or E. If A, then B, then F. The tangle of possibilities soon got out of hand and he shook his head to clear it, water flying from his short hair like a wet dog, then he settled back to the first two sets. If Sandburg was able to remember anything that might help them, it might very well be an advantage to keep his rescue a secret for now. If Sandburg was ...

"Come on, Jim. Why the delay?" Banks asked, impatiently, holding the coat up as a makeshift shelter from the rain. "If he's unconscious, we should be calling an ambulance, too."

Ellison sat back, Sandburg still in his arms, and looked up at the captain. "Simon, can you lock up the trailer again? Make it look like no one has touched it?"

Banks met his eyes, then shrugged. "Maybe. You have a good reason for this?"

"Hear me out. Let me finish checking Sandburg, though. Everything hinges on how he's doing."

"Okay. We'll close up the trailer. -- Jim, let me help you move him out of the rain first. There's a picnic table under cover just behind you."

Ellison turned to see where Banks was pointing, then nodded, accepting the captain's help in moving to the shelter. Simon spread his coat over the table, and Ellison rested Sandburg's limp form on top of it, then pulled off his jacket, draping it over his partner's torso, offering him a measure of dignity and warmth. Anger boiled up within Ellison, that his partner had been abandoned, tossed aside, and left for dead. Not even worthy of the extra effort to kill him.

Granted, that had worked in his favor, at least, Ellison thought, his hands cupping Sandburg's face. His guide was alive. It easily could have been otherwise. In a way, it was good he was drugged right now. The utter terror Sandburg had been in hours earlier was gone, replaced by the false complacency that would allow the sentinel to get him to safety with the least amount of trauma as possible. It had bought Ellison time, time he needed desperately.

"Oh, God ... Jim, let me call an ambulance," Simon said, when he took a good look at the observer. The captain's arm went up protecting his nose from the smell.

What smell? Ellison opened his sense and realized that the dial was turned down as far as he could get it. He knew now why Bridges looked ill, why Banks was gagging. Sandburg smelled of death. Two or three hours shut in with decaying corpses had left a sickening stamp on his guide. He reeked of death.

He was breathing, though. Alive. Foggy blue eyes peeked at him through thin cracks, following his movements. Death's hand had once again been about to grab him.

With a ragged sigh, Ellison laid his head gently on his partner's chest, listening to his heart, his lungs. "No, no ambulance. Not yet, Simon ... He's cold. A blanket maybe? And a bottle of water?"

"I'll get them from your truck." Banks moved away quickly.

Sandburg stirred, eyes opening wider for a moment, shivering, and Ellison stroked his forehead gently, offering the reassurance that was needed. "Chief, I'm here. You're safe."

"Jim." The soft murmur of his name sat in the air like a blessing, gently falling like the rain around them.

"Just rest. You're with me. I'll take care of everything," he repeated, knowing it was what Sandburg needed to hear.

The faintest of nods, then the eyes closed again.

Ellison continued almost dispassionately with his examination, his hands gently checking, probing, touching. He had to find out quickly what the scope was on his partner's injuries. Five lives might well depend on his next few decisions. The list of injuries was short -- simple brutal facts that he mentally catalogued, disassociated -- for now -- with any kind of emotional reaction. Sandburg had no broken bones in his arms or legs. There were scrapes, scratches, cuts, abrasions. Deep bruises in places. Blood. Skin scraped raw. Signs of physical assault. Signs of sexual assault. Signs of exposure and mistreatment and lack of food and water.

All of which he had expected, given the circumstances.

All of which he would deal with.

Ellison turned his head at the soft curse behind him. Bridges moved toward them, putting away his cell phone. The SIU chief peered down at Sandburg, grimaced at the lingering smell, then dropped to the picnic bench, weary. "I closed the door and replaced the bar. I can't do anything about the seal."

"Thanks."

"How did you find him?" Bridges asked, staring now out across the night-hidden fields behind the rest stop.

Ellison shrugged. "Lucky guess."

"You zeroed right in on him. How did you know?" Without waiting for an answer, Bridges turned and looked at Sandburg on the table behind him. "How is he?"

"Alive. Nothing life threatening, as far as I can tell. Simon's just gone to get a blanket." Ellison shook his head as Bridges began to remove his jacket. "Save it. One of us has to look unrumpled."

"I take it you have a plan. Well, I suppose one of us should. What do you want to do?" Bridges looked out across the darkness. The heavy clouds hid the moon and stars. The only light was the overhead freeway floodlights illuminating the rest stop's entrance and exit lanes, harsh light sending deep shadows as Simon moved toward them.

Ellison glanced at the semi-trailer. "We can't help them," he replied, when Banks was close enough to hear. "We need to help my partner, so we can find the rest."

"Do you think he can tell us anything?"

"We'll know as soon as this drug wears off." He took the blanket and spread it over Sandburg as the two men waited, alert to every noise around them, nerves tight, weapons ready. The blue and white pickup was the only vehicle in the lot. Simon stood with his back to them, his eyes on the road. Nash watched the other direction where they were also vulnerable, the fields and bushes and trees.

Ellison ran through another quick check of his partner, then tucked the blanket closer and straightened up. "He does need medical help. I can't diagnose everything here." He had hoped to be able to look after his guide himself, but the ribs needed x-rays. A doctor needed to check out the traces of sexual abuse and take tests that he was unable to do alone. "Once he's been looked at, we can leave with him."

Simon moved closer and sat next to Nash, still watching the road. "So we take him in. But where?"

"Somewhere quiet. Where this can be contained."

"Why the secrecy?" Simon looked back at him then. "Give me some details."

"The trailer would have sat here unnoticed for a few days. He would have been dead by then. No threat to them. Wait until tomorrow morning, then we call in the police. Ask them to report five bodies."

"Let them think he's dead, for now." Banks turned and glanced at Sandburg.

"I agree." Nash nodded, his eyes narrowed. "Our ace in the hole."

"Amy's at Bellevue General," Simon said, looking back as Jim wrapped the blanket tightly around his partner. "Let me see if she's on duty tonight." He pulled out his cell phone and hit a two digit number, then waited. Feeling his detective's eyes on him, he shrugged, smiling. "Okay, we've seen each other a few times. Are you satisfied?"

"Simon, who you have on speed dial is your business not mine," Ellison said, returning the smile. It felt so good to smile again. He held the bottle of water to his partner's lips, coaxing him to swallow.

"Amy Billings, please." Simon listened for a moment, then gave them the thumbs up signal and moved away from them to take his call.

Bridges stood up, restless. "Let me go get the rental. It's down the road still. I can put my suitcase in the trunk and you can get him into the back seat of the car." Without waiting for a response, Bridges moved away quickly, the surrealistic lighting sending his shadow first one direction, then the next.

Alone for a moment, Ellison carefully sat his partner up. "Chief? We're going to go for a car ride, okay? Get you some help." The fever warm body pressed closer against him, face resting in the crux of his neck. Ellison let the rush of emotion sweep over him, drawing Sandburg closer. "I think a bubble bath is in order, kid."

"Hot ... mmmm"

"Yeah, nice and hot. You'd like that?" he asked, softly, his voice offering shelter and calm and the memory of peace.

"Mmmm ... hot," was mumbled into his neck.

"We'll see what we can do. Can you concentrate for a minute? Huh?" he asked, tilting Sandburg back to look into his eyes. "You with me? Huh?"

"Mmmm ... J'mmmm ..."

"Close enough for now. Hey, Chief, are you in pain at all?"

The anthropologist stared back at him, eyes dull. It seemed to take a minute for the question to register, then Sandburg blinked back tears. "Breathin'."

"Does it hurt to take a breath?"

"Mmmm ... 'urts."

Ellison ran his hands over the ribs again, concentrating on the two that seemed bruised or possibly cracked. Without putting too much pressure on them, he couldn't tell. His sense of touch would only reveal so much through layers of skin and tissue. He was reluctant to give him much to drink yet, in case there were internal injuries, but after observing him and checking his stomach muscles again, he relented.

Steadying Sandburg's head slightly, Ellison held the bottle to the crackled lips, smiling as he greedily swallowed a few more mouthfuls. "Easy. Let this settle first, okay?"

The guide nodded, then grabbed hold of Ellison's hand as he went to pull it away. "No. No. Jim ..."

"I'm here. I'm not going away." He kept one arm around Sandburg's shoulders, and placed his other hand where the young man could grasp hold of it.

Simon Banks returned, lit cigar in his mouth, probably equally to calm his own nerves and also to cut through the rank smell around Sandburg. "Okay, Amy knows which doctor to contact. They'll be ready for us -- a private room near emergency. She'll be waiting for us at the side entrance off Burris Street. The only ones initially aware of our presence will be the two of them and whoever they choose to do the x-rays." Simon smiled down at Sandburg. "Glad to have you back with us, Blair." He rested his hand on the young man's forehead.

"Mmmm ..." Sandburg's eyes opened a fraction, then drifted shut again. A moment later, he coughed abruptly, gasping from the sudden pain that caused. "Jmmm?" he whimpered, his head resting on Ellison's shoulder as the sentinel rubbed his back soothingly.

Banks jumped backwards, hastily putting out the cigar. "Damn. Sorry, kid. I never thought--"

"It's okay," Ellison murmured. "It's probably the night air as much as the cigar smoke, Simon. He's got a couple bad ribs. He's cold, too. Give me a hand; I'm going to wrap him up better. His hair is holding most of the smell so I'll put my jacket around the top of his head. I can turn down my sense of smell, but I don't want Bridges passing out while he's driving."

"I warned Amy about it. She said they've got some good soap that'll help get the smell out of his hair. He doesn't have any clothes to burn, but I think I'll leave my coat in the back of the truck until I see how it's fared."

"He really stinks, doesn't he?" Ellison said, gathering the Sandburg closer. "How many bodies did you say?"

"Four. Wrapped up pretty well, but they're a few days old. Pretty ripe in there, regardless."

"Sandburg was right by the rear door. How far away from them was he?"

"Six feet from the closest ones."

"Do you think they're the four detectives we're missing?"

"Jim, to be honest, I didn't check. Neither of us did. I don't know if we'd be able to identify what's wrapped up. By now--" He shook his head in remembered horror at other times in his career when he had the misfortune to be on the scene of week old, untreated corpses.

"So he doesn't know if Cortez is one of them?"

"I think he's convinced himself that he isn't." Banks watched as the sedan slowly approached them. "Jim, what are we going to tell Bridges about your senses? About you two? He's not stupid. He knows something's up."

"When he asks, we'll tell him what he needs to know." Ellison hoisted Sandburg into his arms. "Let's go. I've got everything I came for."


Nash Bridges watched them carefully set the police observer in the back of his rented sedan, Banks' supporting him while Ellison moved around the car and crawled in from the other side.

"Okay, I've got him." Ellison eased the young man closer, murmuring apologies as he arranged his partner to recline against him.

There was no hesitancy in the Cascade detective's actions, no thought of hiding such blatant intimacy. Sandburg lay enfolded in Ellison's arms, snug against him, held with all the tenderness of father with a drowsy, sick child, with all the possessiveness of a lover. Bridges diverted his gaze and stared at his map of the area, studying the freeway's turnoff for Bellevue, as they settled into the back. Well, if they were lovers, then Banks was in on it, too, as the man leaned over them, tucking the blanket closer, arranging the extra jacket and coat to best offer comfort and warmth. The heater was already turned up full blast, taking the spring chill from the car.

"Drugged, you say?" he heard Banks ask. "Concussed at all?"

"Drugged, I think. It's clearing slowly." Ellison tilted the bruised face back to look in the young man's eyes. "He's pliant, though."

Pliant? Bridges turned around. "Drugged with what?"

Banks shook his head. "Anything to make him not resist them. Rohypnol or GHB. Even alcohol or chloroform." Banks frowned. "At least he's not frightened -- yet. I'm sure he's going to be when he starts registering everything." He carefully shut the back door and slipped into the front seat, taking the map from Bridges and folding it to show the section of freeway they'd be using. "Follow me, but in case we get separated, take the 405 exit, then stay on it until you get to Bellevue. Here's the route to the Bellevue General Hospital from the freeway. There's a service entrance accessible off Burris Street. Jim knows what Amy looks like. If you need anything, here's my cell phone number."

"I'll take care of them," Bridges said.

Banks nodded, then looked back at his two men. "Jim?"

"He's sleeping at the moment. Let's get going." There seemed to be a few unspoken words passed back and forth between Ellison and Banks, but finally the tall police captain sighed and, with a last look at Sandburg, got out of the car.

They waited for him to get into the pickup, put his seatbelt on, and warm the truck up for a minute, then followed him north onto the freeway. Half a mile up the road was a turnoff where they were able to exit the I-5, take the overpass, then come back on the freeway heading south.

"Warm enough?" Bridges asked, as the car settled into the journey.

"Yes. Thank you." Ellison met his eyes in the rear view mirror, then looked down. "He's sleeping. His fever isn't any worse."

"Do you mind if I open the window a bit?"

Ellison smiled, a flash of white teeth in the dark interior of the car. "Go ahead. He still smells."

"Not his fault." Bridges rolled down his window just a crack. "Let me know if it gets drafty."

"It'll be fine. You can roll it down even more. The fresh air is good."

He rolled it down an inch and left it. The pickup was easy to follow, keeping to the right, its speed never varying from the posted limit. "Do you mind me asking what's wrong with your partner? Besides being drugged?"

"Exposure. I doubt if he's had any food or water in the last few days."

"And?"

"And ... he's been worked over. They had fun with him," Ellison answered, carefully.

"Raped?" He had to know.

"I think so. It looks like it." Ellison's reply was quiet. "That doesn't mean that Cortez was."

"I saw the ad on the Internet. If he wasn't already, he probably will be in the next few days, if we can't find him." Nash kept his eyes on the twin red tailgate lights of the truck in front of him.

"Would you be able to handle it, if he was?" Ellison asked, a few miles later.

Nash felt the bite of tears, then blinked his eyes clear. "No choice. We'll deal with it. You're dealing with it."

"I haven't begun to deal with it," Ellison said, his voice suddenly icy cold.

Nash glanced quickly to the rear view mirror. None of Ellison's hostility was aimed at his partner. In fact, if anything, the look on the Cascade detective's face as he gazed down at Sandburg was more vulnerable than before. "What do you mean?"

"When he's awake, then we'll deal with it together." Ellison looked at him again in the mirror. "Together. That's the only way. Step by step."

The miles sped by. They turned onto the 405. Ellison seemed preoccupied with keeping his partner warm and quiet, murmuring reassurances when Sandburg stirred at all, occasionally coaxing him to drink a few mouthfuls of water.

"Tell me about Cortez."

Ellison's request took him off guard; he had been trying not to think of Evan. Nash shrugged, shifting his grip on the steering wheel. He'd driven the Cuda for so long that any other steering wheel just felt wrong. "What do you want to know? You read the file."

"Are you his partner?" Ellison wasn't backing down on it. But anyone could see how much his partner meant to him, so he deserved some kind of answer.

The difficult part was that there were no simple answers to his questions. "Yes and no. I'm his boss. Technically, we work as a unit, and I assign work depending on each individual case and the skills of those in my unit. Evan's the youngest -- we call him the 'kid' sometimes. He's a good ten years younger than any of us. Sometimes he works as my partner, as Joe's partner, but usually I team him with Harvey Leek, another guy in our unit."

"Are you close to him?"

Images crossed Nash's thoughts. Evan, shot through the neck, bleeding on the floor of the bank. Sitting by his bed in the ICU, waiting for him to wake up, wondering for a while if he ever would. Evan talking to him, lying in the bed, drugged, crying, saying he was going to quit. Two years ago. How much had happened since then?

Cassidy. Cassidy had happened since then, although something had crackled between the two of them since Evan joined SIU and they first met. Back when his daughter was still in high school. And now they were in love. Much as Nash hated the idea, he knew there was little he could do about it. And never would he have wished this on Evan.

"Yeah, I care about him. More than I'd like to admit it. I never had a son, and in some ways--" Nash stopped on the thought, surprised by his own revelation. "In some ways, he's the son I would have had. Would have wanted."

The answer seemed to appease Ellison, for he said little the rest of the trip, just alternately stared out the window or down at his partner. Twenty minutes later, Bridges paused at a light when they turned off the freeway at Bellevue. He turned to say something and saw Sandburg was awake, eyes half lidded, contentedly resting against Ellison's chest. Again, the intimacy of the level of trust was jarring. Ellison's rather cold, distant persona, taken into consideration with what Bridges knew of a dangerous track record and military past, seemed so at odds with the man sitting in his back seat.

He flashed on an image of himself sitting there, Evan in his arms, and the scene dissolved. It wasn't right. Something was missing. "How long have you been partners?" he asked.

"A few years."

"And roommates?"

"The same. He moved in shortly after we began working together."

"And it's worked out okay?"

"What's worked out okay?" Ellison asked, looking up, as though he'd missed the question.

"Working together? Living together?" Bridges asked, carefully.

Ellison didn't answer right away. A smile crossed his face, as though he recognized the question Nash hadn't asked. The shadowed eyes looked down at his partner, at the bruised hand that rested against his chest as he dozed. "It's working out. Hard work sometimes, but yeah, it's working out. I wouldn't have changed it."

The light became green and Nash followed the road to Burris, then turned down it into the hospital loading zone. Simon Banks stood at the side doorway, already moving out to the car as he pulled into the driveway.


"Is that them?" Amy's soft voice behind him.

He reached back and grasped her hand, grateful for the comfort it gave him. Simon could feel his heart pounding in his chest, too recent memories of the last time they had brought Sandburg to a hospital front and center in his thoughts. Amy's other hand found the small of his back, pressing firmly as though grounding him.

Relax. Everything's going to be fine. He's back. We got him back.

"It looks like his car ... Yes, it's them. Hold the door." Simon slipped out the side entrance, bending to peer into the back seat of the car as it stopped just a few feet from the door. His heart was still racing, and he wondered suddenly if Jim could hear his heartbeat the same as he could hear Sandburg's. The thought was oddly disturbing. It didn't really bother him that Jim could zero in on his partner's heartbeat, or even on Simon's own heartbeat, if the situation demanded it, but that Jim would know when he was frightened was something he would prefer to keep under wraps. He had a cool, tough image to maintain, after all.

Jim was slowly setting the kid upright, Blair's head lolling on his shoulders. There was a firm gentleness about Jim's actions, a confidence in how he handled his partner that Simon found calming. Jim was focused. Sandburg would be okay. Even if he looked like hell, and smelled like it.

"I got caught at the last set of lights," Bridges said, rolling down his window all the way. "We made it here with no problems, though."

"That's good news, at least. I listened to the police scanners on the way here. No mention of the semi-trailer." Simon opened the back door. "So he traveled okay?"

Bridges nodded. "He slept most of the way."

"Need help?" Simon asked Jim.

"I'm going to get out on this side and bring him with me." Jim stepped out with his left foot, sliding to the edge of the seat, then drawing Blair toward him. Sandburg's eyes were closed, but he was frowning at the unwanted movement. One hand reached for Jim, clutching hold of his shirt as he was lifted and brought into the hospital. Amy pointed down the corridor, and Simon watched until his two friends disappeared down the hallway into the room set aside for them.

Leaning on the car's door frame to mask his trembling hands, Simon spoke quickly to Nash. "Go ahead and park in the regular lot, then go in through Emergency. I'll meet you there."

"You mentioned getting a motel room for the night, Simon. I saw a place just where we turned off the freeway. Stay-N-Save. It's getting late -- Why don't I get us some rooms? It'll give me a chance to air out the car."

"That bad, eh?" Banks nodded, smiling grimly. "Good idea. Get a double room for us, maybe adjoining to yours, if possible. Or a suite, if it's available. That would make it easier." Simon smiled again, this time in humor. "I've stayed there before. Get the side away from the freeway. It's quieter."

"Will do. I'll come back here as soon as I've checked us in."

"Ask for Amy if I'm not in the waiting area." He watched Bridges drive off, scanned the area for anything suspicious, then went into the hospital.

So far, so good.

Amy had showed Simon which room they had reserved, a private examination room set aside for emergency situations. This certainly constituted one as far as Simon was concerned. He knocked on the door and entered quickly, shutting it behind him.

Sandburg was sitting on the edge of the examination table, his head forward. He would have pitched off the table, if not for Ellison's firm grip. The room was warm, the extra coats and jackets that had kept Sandburg from getting chilled had been removed, and a thin paper sheet was draped over his lap.

"Can you help him lie down? The doctor -- Dr Morrison -- will be here in just a moment." Amy smiled gently at Blair, whose eyes still weren't focusing quite right. "He's just arranging to take a dinner break." The nurse patted the top of the examination bed.

Jim started to ease Blair to lie flat when his partner suddenly exhibited signs of life.

"No," burst from the cracked lips. "No." Blair pulled away from Jim then, eyes blinking furiously. Even Simon could hear the frantic breathing, could see the panic in his muscles as he resisted. "No table."

"The doctor's just going to check you out, Chief."

"No." Blair worked his way off the table, landing on his feet, his knees immediately buckling from his weight. "Please," he whispered, as Jim caught him. "No."

Jim took him by the waist and hoisted him back onto the table. "It'll be faster this way, buddy. I'll be right here."

"No!" Blair's arms flailed out, trying to push himself off the table, frantic in his attempt.

Jim let him go, watching carefully as Sandburg stumbled blindly away from the examination bed, ready to catch him as he faltered and began to crumble. "It's okay. I won't put you back there." Blair's legs gave out, and Jim lowered him to the floor as Amy moved the bed aside. Ellison looked up at her. "I'm not sure what's wrong, but can this Dr Morrison check him out down here instead?"

"I'll speak to him about it. He's aware of the situation." With a last look at Simon, Amy left the room.

Simon crouched down beside them. Jim was sitting back against the wall now, Blair scrunched up into a foetal ball facing him. Sandburg's hands were in two tight fists, pressed against his eyes, his body rocking wildly as he tried to calm himself. Ellison had one hand on his back, the other on his shoulder, slowly drawing him closer. "Hey ... Just relax. We're not putting you on the table, okay?"

"No table," Sandburg panted. "No table."

"No table," Ellison repeated, glancing up to the captain, sharing a look of puzzlement.

"Hurts," Sandburg whispered. "Hurts. Hurts."

"What hurts, Chief?"

"Breathing."

Jim shook his head in frustration, but his voice stayed calm. "Let's get you turned around then. If you sit straight, your ribs won't hurt as much, okay?"

"Kay." Eyes still closed, Blair allowed them to reposition him to sit on the floor in front of Jim, leaning back against the sentinel. His body was fraught with tension, moving stiffly as they coaxed him to work with them. Simon grabbed the cotton blanket from the examination table, setting it on the floor beneath him, and they wrapped another blanket around him. The entire time, Blair's eyes didn't open, clenched tight, his breath coming in short, gasping pants. He clutched Jim's hands on either side of him, pulling the older man's arms around him.

Dr Morrison entered the room and Simon stepped back, quickly assessing this physician. Amy had said his name immediately when Simon had told her what they were facing, and Morrison had a high recommendation from her, which went a long ways in Simon's books. Morrison was a middle-aged Native American man, his long hair pulled back into a pony tail. His dark eyes fastened on his patient immediately, and he took off his white lab coat and placed it, and his clipboard and stethoscope, on the examination table. He turned on two lamps in the room and switched off the overhead fluorescent lighting.

Moving slowly, he knelt to one side of Ellison, and gently reached out to Sandburg's forehead, his thumbs lightly pressed on the center of the young man's forehead, his fingertips poised over both temples. With slow, featherlike motions, he began to rub light circles with his fingers. Sandburg tried to pull away from the unfamiliar touch, but gradually relaxed, then leaned into the calming, healing massage.

"Let your arms go around him," Morrison said, softly, to Jim. "Let him be safe again."

Ellison wrapped his arms across Sandburg's chest, easing his guide's head to rest back against him. Blair still had a tight grip on his hands but after a moment, the vise-like clamp shifted to Jim's arms, tangling in the material of his shirt.

Morrison kept up the massage for another minute, then addressed Sandburg. "Blair? My name is Benjamin Morrison. I'm a doctor. Your friend Jim has brought you here for me to take a look at you. When you're ready, I'd like to check your scalp and your face to see if you have any injuries there. May I do that now?" His fingers stilled their touch, but he kept his hands lightly around Sandburg's face.

Quiet now, Blair opened his eyes, staring at the stranger. He said nothing for almost a minute, then his eyes looked to one side and saw Simon on his right.

"Hey, kid." Banks smiled at him, trying not to let his worry show.

"Jim?" Blair whispered.

"I'm here. Right behind you."

Sandburg melted back against the sentinel. "He okay?" Blair asked, breathlessly.

"He's fine. Let him check you out. I did the best I could, but I'd really prefer if a medical doctor took a look at you."

Blair nodded, then looked to his left, his gaze fastening on the examination table. A violent shiver shook him, as he cried out and closed his eyes. Jim wrapped his arms tighter around his chest, murmuring soft encouragements.

Morrison began the massage again. "Amy," he said over his shoulder. "Could you and your friend move the bed into the corridor? We don't need it."

She moved his stethoscope and clipboard to a counter, then Simon helped her wheel the bed through the wide door. When Simon reentered the room, he could see that Sandburg's tension level had dropped considerably.

"Blair, could I check your skull?" Morrison asked. "I hear you were hit on the head. You don't have to move or anything."

Sandburg nodded, then relaxed further as the doctor gently massaged his scalp, his fingers lightly probing the two bumps on the back of his skull.

"Blair, hold these for me for a minute, will you?" Morrison handed Sandburg his small flashlight and a wooden tongue depressor, the young grad student automatically releasing one hand from Jim's sleeve to accept them from him. When he was ready, the doctor said, "Thank you. I'd like to check your ears. Could you hand me my flashlight? It'll help me see better."

Sandburg passed him the narrow flashlight, hardly reacting as his head was turned first one direction, then the other. Morrison kept up a light dialogue as he checked Blair's eyes, then surprisingly, Sandburg made no complaints as the doctor asked for and received the tongue depressor, stuck it in his mouth and looked at his throat.

Damn, he's good. Simon knew he was grinning. Hell, Jim was smiling, too, both men relieved beyond words that this doctor knew what he was doing with a traumatized patient.

"Lookin' good, Blair." Morrison rested one hand on Sandburg's shoulder. "I'd like to listen to your heart and listen to you breathe, but before we do that, what would really be helpful was if you would let me take a sample of your blood. We can ask Amy if she would then take it and check to make sure that whatever you were given is leaving your system. I'm sure that would be a big relief to you, right? I know needles are probably way down there on your list of favorite things right now, but if I promise to be as quick and painless as possible, would you work with me on it?"

Sandburg nodded, watching as Morrison quietly took three vials of blood from his outstretched left arm.

"Blair?" the doctor called softly when Sandburg's eyes closed. "Blair?" No response.

"He's been in and out of consciousness for the last hour." Ellison carefully laid him flat when Morrison finished.

"I need to get some papers and an examination kit. I'll be back in five minutes. If there is any trouble at all, just call for help. Press the red button on the wall."

"I'll do that."

Morrison stood and handed the vials to Amy. "Drop these off, then come right back," he said, almost inaudibly, although Simon could see Jim watching them. Morrison then turned to the captain. "May I speak to you in the hallway for a moment?"

"Certainly." Simon looked at Jim again as he followed the doctor into the corridor.

"Benjamin Morrison," the doctor began, holding out his hand.

"Simon Banks."

"What's your relationship to the patient, Mr Banks?"

Simon took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. "I am the captain of Major Crimes Department of the Cascade Police. Blair Sandburg works with our unit. His partner is with him now: James Ellison. Jim Ellison. They are also friends and share an apartment. Blair is also my friend," he added, making sure the doctor understood this was the most important part of their relationship.

"Can you give me a brief case history?"

"Blair has been missing for four days. He was found about forty-five minutes ago, locked in a semi-trailer with four bodies."

"Which certainly explains his smell."

"Yes. We haven't been able to question him yet about what occurred. He's been drugged, as far as we can tell."

"How was he found? Clothed, unclothed? Tied at all? Gagged? Blindfold?"

"His hands were bound behind his back."

"How? Ropes, cuffs?"

"It was a leather device. It buckled. I have it in the truck if you need to see it. I have it in an evidence bag. I removed it wearing gloves."

"I might want to look at it later. Thank you. Amy mentioned the possibility that Blair was not only physically assaulted, but also sexually assaulted."

Simon nodded. "That's a distinct possibility. We believe he was kidnaped by a group that films their victims being abused and assaulted for an Internet audience. The four bodies I mentioned are also believed to have been used in what are commonly called 'snuff' films. The bodies have not yet been reported."

"Yes, Amy explained to me the secrecy behind this." Morrison stared back at the closed examination room door. "His partner -- Jim?"

"Yes, Jim." Simon cleared his throat, then added quickly, "May I say that they are very close friends, nothing more--"

Morrison held his hand up, shaking his head slowly. "They care for each other deeply. That's my only concern right now. Any other information is unnecessary. I'll be back in about five minutes. You can either wait here, or wait inside the room. When Amy comes back, could you please ask her to remain in the corridor, unless there's an emergency."

"I'll tell her that -- and thank you, Doctor. I appreciate the care with which you're handling him. Blair Sandburg is a strong, unique, soft-hearted individual who in no way deserved what happened to him. And he may also be a vital link to information on where five other men are being held, to make it worse for him."

"No one deserves something like this."

"There's something else--" Simon said, as the doctor turned to leave. "I don't know if this has any bearing on how you deal with this situation, but one month ago, Blair almost died. He was assaulted and left to drown in a fountain. The EMT's gave up on him -- told us he was dead. Jim kept on with CPR regardless and brought him back." Simon wiped his hand over his eyes, trying to wipe away the burning tears.

"Thank you for telling me that," Morrison said softly, his hand on Simon's forearm. "He's special to you both, isn't he?"

"I can't begin to tell you."

"And Amy says that you believe his life still may be in danger?"

"Yes. We feel that if we keep his discovery under wraps for a few more hours, we might be able to buy some time -- not only for him, but also time to help us locate the other five missing men."

Morrison listened intently to him, nodding slowly as he put together more of the pieces. "I'm going to go ahead and fill out the paperwork that I need to do, we'll run the tests, but I'll keep everything off the computers for at least 24 hours, or until I hear from you. There are tests that need to be done as quickly as possible to preserve the evidence and to determine what was done to him. You may discover, though, that he may never remember the details."

"Doctor, I don't know if I want him to remember any of this." Simon watched the doctor disappear down the corridor. Summoning his strength, the captain turned around and went back into the examination room. And froze.

My God.

The nightmare was back.

Ellison was kneeling beside the still, pale body of his guide. Shaking hands cradled Sandburg's face, Ellison's back hunched over the motionless young man, his forehead resting on his partner's. The chanted mantra echoed through the sterile room. "Stay with me, Chief. You hear me? Stay with me. Listen to my voice. Follow it back." Tears from one man bathed the other's face. "Don't be afraid. I'm here. Stay with me. Damn it, Sandburg. Open your eyes!" And Ellison's mouth pressed over his partner's, breathing life into the stilled lungs. Trembling hands caressed the unresponsive face. Another breath.

"Jim?" Simon whispered, crouching beside them, his hand resting on Ellison's curved back. "Should I--"

He felt it. He felt the connection this time. Eyes wide open, Simon saw the panther and the wolf. Saw the wolf turn to face the panther across the room, then the powerful explosion as the two collided and merged. Saw the sentinel's lips seal his guide's, the offer of life passed from one to the other. The offer accepted. Again.

Ellison collapsed at the same moment Sandburg took a ragged gasp of air. Limbs trembled beneath his hands as Simon reached for them both, holding them, covering them with a prayer and his own desperate need to touch them, to feel the life in each of them.

And then Blair was awake, frantic, sobbing in abject terror at what he remembered, clinging to Jim who was hardly strong enough to hold up his head. Whatever had happened, it had left the sentinel depleted, exhausted ... and smiling, tears still running down his face, his arms wrapped around his guide.

Jim opened his eyes and looked at Simon, then turned his head to place a kiss on Sandburg's forehead.. "He's alive. He's with me. The rest we'll deal with. Hear that, Chief?" he said, whispering it to the young man lying beside him on the floor.

"They're ... gonna ... kill ... them." Blair gasped out. "Jim ... I ... we ... help them ..."

"I know. We'll get through this, we'll get you fixed up, then we'll do everything we can to help the others. I promise you that," Jim whispered back. "Your Blessed Protector is just running out of gas right now. Keep on breathing, okay?"

Please, Simon added, falling back to rest against the wall behind them, burying his face in his hands. I don't think any of us has the strength to go through this again.


Chapter Five

"Nash."

"Nash, it's Harvey. Did I catch you at a bad time?"

"I'm checking into a motel for the night. Talk to me, Harv."

"I just checked the Internet site again. We've only got four alive now, if we're going by the pictures there."

"Who's missing?"

"William Fong."

"Damn. -- What about Evan?"

"His picture is still there. The same one they've had all along. Nash, I asked for more details on the four videos they have for sale -- looks like only two of them are snuff films. The other two are videos of what appeared live on the net, plus segments that didn't get on the net. No identity given to the men who were killed, although the references to police officers is plain. From what can be seen of the victims' faces in the ads, I'm fairly certain they're four of the ten kidnaped men."

"Well, we'll know more tomorrow once the bodies are examined. It'll be awhile before we hear anything, I suspect. The bodies aren't in great condition."

"I did some more checking, Boss, and it looks like they have been -- and, no doubt, will be -- doing their B&D act on one of the men publicly on the Internet every two nights. They get votes, then say they make their choice based on votes from their subscribers, but there's no way to verify that, of course. My guess is that they just do whoever they want to."

"So we have two nights before the next one?"

"Best guess, right now."

"Harvey, have you found anything else on who's running this show? Any idea where they might be?"

"Man, they're good, whoever they are. The company that owns the VISA account has been in business for over five years. Money goes to bank account, and I can't do much about getting info on it until tomorrow morning when the banks open in Chicago. It's a Saturday, but some of the branches are open Saturday mornings. I should be able to find out something."

"Good work. Now, go home, Harvey. It's already eleven-thirty. Get some sleep so you can get an early start in the morning. There's nothing else we can do tonight."

"Will do. Boss -- how's the man you found?"

"After I check in here, I'm heading back to the hospital. He wasn't firing on all thrusters earlier."

"Drugged?"

"Yeah. Drugged, beaten up, thrown in with a bunch of dead bodies. Probably suffering from a huge case of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He didn't look like we'd be getting any information out of him for quite a while."

"Do you think he was-- you know ... hurt?"

"Are you asking me if he was raped?"

"I was trying not to ask that. But, yeah, that's what I'm asking. I can't stop thinking about Evan. What are they doing to him? What condition is he going to be in when we get him back?"

"Whatever happened to him, we'll make sure he gets the right help."

"Right. Anything else I can do now?"

"No ... No. Just keep working on the case. If anything breaks, we'll keep in touch."

"Will do. Nash, you didn't answer my question earlier."

"I know. It's not an easy question to answer. Ellison seemed to think his partner had been sexually assaulted."

"Did he mention Evan at all?"

"Bubba, he wasn't saying much of anything last I saw him. They still have him at the hospital. I've got to make a few phone calls, then I'm going to swing by and get them. I'll call you, Harv. Go home."

"Just closing everything down. Joe's insisting on driving me home ... damn it, Nash. I feel like I'm deserting Evan, though. He's still out there; he's not taking a break, is he? What right do I have to go home to my nice comfortable place? What kind of a friend am I to just forget about him and go about my life? As if his suffering means nothing. As if it doesn't matter that his goddamned picture is displayed for the fornicating public to stare at and jerk off to. Is that fair? Is that right? Huh? Surely there's something -- something -- I can do. Damn it to hell. Damn it..."

"Harvey? Harv?"

"Nash? It's me -- Joe. Listen, he'll be okay. I'll take him home."

"Good plan ... take care of him."

"I will. I guess there's nothing new at your end?"

"Not since I last spoke to you. We've got Sandburg at a hospital. I'm going to call Frank Black and fill him in on everything."

"Frank Black, eh? Mr Psychic Connection?"

"Joe, they seem to grow them here. Ellison -- Sandburg's partner -- is much the same. I haven't figured out all the angles yet, but I'm gonna."

"Good luck, man. I'm taking Harvey home now. Keep me informed."

"I will. My cell phone is on, Bubba. Use it if you need to."


Present

11:30 p.m.

Bellevue General Hospital

Jim Ellison held his breath as Banks carefully helped him sit upright, shifting him to lean back againt the wall. A wave of dizziness swept over him, taking him almost to the point of darkness, then it shattered into a kaleidoscope of shifting black spots before the muted colors in the room focused and steadied. It was difficult to breathe; his heart was thumping loudly in his chest, fear, exhilaration, and adrenaline fighting for control. His hands were shaking, his palms damp with sweat. The weakness was ebbing, but Ellison still felt drained, as though he had run a long-distance marathon.

He had done that once, while in college, run a marathon. He had collapsed as he crossed the finish line, chest heaving, his leg muscles cramping from the exertion that he hadn't properly prepared for. Only his stubborn determination to finish had kept him going, plus he had bet two classmates a six-pack of beer that he could do it, and while the beer wasn't much of an incentive, the unwillingness to quit or look bad in front of his so-called friends had provided the additional motivation he needed. Looking back on the event, he had long since recognized his own need to win, to prove to himself that he could do whatever he set his mind to do.

Still unwilling to open his eyes, he wished -- not for the first time -- that his enhanced abilities were more along the lines of augmented physical stamina and reinforced muscles rather than the five senses and whatever else went with them. It was the "whatever else " that gave him the most trouble.

Yet, whatever it was, it had brought Sandburg back to him.

Sandburg's heartbeat filled his senses. He breathed in the sound, felt it reverberate through his body. Eyes closed, he could see it. Mouth closed, he could taste it. Five senses alive with the echo of his guide's life force. The whys could wait. Why had he been taken? Why had Jim heard him, sensed him, at such a great distance? Why had he stopped breathing? Why had it taken only three breaths to bring him back? Would it happen again?

"Jim?" Banks' voice, shrouded in anxiety. The single word catching on the captain's lips. The question hanging in the air.

Ellison opened his eyes, looked up at his longtime friend crouching beside him, and smiled. "Thanks, Simon. I guess that took more out of me than I thought." He let his eyes close again, finding his guide, listening beyond the gentle hiss of oxygen to lungs drawing air in, pushing air out.

"Are you okay?"

"I will be. Can you move him closer?"

Banks laughed, the sound abrupt in the small room. "I'm afraid to touch him. Can you tell me why the hell he stopped breathing?"

Ellison cracked open one eye to see the captain frowning, leaning over his shivering partner, on the floor a few feet away from him. In the last ten minutes, Sandburg had improved dramatically, allowing Morrison to take his blood pressure, temperature, and tape several sensor pads to his chest, monitoring his heart activity. Ellison's headache resurfaced when he realized that Sandburg's chest hair had just grown back from the last time his friend had been hooked up to a heart monitor, a month previous. "He's fine, Simon," Ellison said, firmly, largely for his own benefit.

"How can he be fine? He stopped--"

"I know. I know. He stopped breathing. But he's okay now. He's with me again. He was just a little spooked." Ellison caught Sandburg's bleary stare. "Right, Chief?"

Sandburg nodded, eyes closing sleepily, a thin sheen of sweat on his forehead, trickling dirt down his face. He lay on a blanket, another draped carefully over him. One hand had escaped the cover, fingers extended along the cool tiled floor in Ellison's direction.

Banks wasn't convinced yet, though. "Why don't we let the doctor look at him again before we start moving him around? What do you think?"

Perched on a stool at the counter, Dr Morrison glanced up from the papers he was filling out. "You do whatever makes Blair feel secure. I'll work with you on this. I'd like him to get comfortable with my presence."

"Just bring him over here," Ellison repeated, then started to move toward Sandburg, knowing the captain would intercede.

"I don't know why I'm doing this," Banks mumbled, but it was with infinite care that he tugged on the blanket, sliding the young man across the floor, while moving the portable heart monitor with the other hand. With Ellison's help, they maneuvered Sandburg to rest semi-upright against his partner. "How's that?" he asked, smiling as Sandburg noticeably relaxed, though his wary gaze still concentrated on the doctor. His eyes didn't look like they were truly focusing on anything. The hand that had been reaching before was now taloned onto Ellison's leg beside him.

"Thanks, Simon. You feel okay, Chief?" Ellison looked down at the top of Blair's head against his chest. His guide was subdued at the moment, withdrawn, the drug in his system regaining control. He was breathing, though, and his heart rate had stabilized. Sandburg showed no sign of the previous cessation of respiration that had terrified Ellison, and obviously Banks, as well. Yet the fact that Sandburg was still pressed up against him, wearing an oxygen mask, the wires from the monitor snaking across the blanket, were silent witnesses that things were far from being returned to normal. There was a catch in his inhalation, leftover from the earlier sobs that had wracked the slim body as isolated memories returned. Shivers still reverberated through him.

Morrison stood and watched them for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was soft. "Simon, would you please take this report to Amy? She's in the lab at the other end of the corridor, to your right." Morrison held out the clipboard, and Banks took it gratefully and left the examination room with a backward glance at Ellison.

Morrison shut the door after him, then turned and studied them again, his dark eyes assessing the situation. He gathered a few things, then crossed back to sit next to Ellison, slowly reaching to remove the blood pressure cuff from Sandburg's arm. "I think we're done with this. Everything looks fine here, Blair." The doctor waited until Sandburg looked up at him, then continued, "Before we go on, I'm going to check your partner, just to make sure he's okay." He began to wrap the cuff around Ellison's arm.

"What are you doing?" the detective put one hand out to stop him, but the doctor persisted, only showing how weak Ellison was.

He pressed his stethoscope in the crook of Ellison's elbow. "I'm checking your blood pressure."

"But I'm not the one who stopped breathing."

"You're the one who needed help to sit up," Morrison replied, easily. "Now, I'm willing to write it off as a nervous reaction if you want, but--"

"That'll be fine. Whatever. You're here to check Sandburg, not me."

"It is the patients who need a physician," Morrison quoted, as he took the reading.

Ellison waited, resigned, his eyes closed again.

Limbo. He felt as though he was caught at the crossroads. At a way station. He could ignore the directions spreading out around him, the myriad of options beckoning for his input. Decisions awaited him ... but not at this particular moment. Now, he could rest, and Sandburg also would rest. He had nothing left to give, except his arms wrapped around his guide.

Morrison released the cuff and put it to one side, lightly squeezing Ellison's arm before moving to touch Sandburg's. "Blair? Are you ready to talk to me yet?"

Ellison relaxed as he felt his partner nod his head. Sandburg still was only half-awake, only partially aware of what was going on around him. His fever seemed to have dropped back to just above normal. His heart rate was slightly elevated since the doctor had joined them on the floor, but nothing serious.

"Blair, do you know where you are?"

"Hospital," his guide answered after a moment.

"Which hospital?"

Sandburg glanced around, then shook his head.

"You're in the emergency department at Bellevue General Hospital. Do you understand where that is? Your friend Jim brought you here."

Ellison smiled as Sandburg's fingers grabbed hold of his arm again, as though confirming for himself that Jim was still there.

"Why -- here? Jim?"

"Hey, Chief. I checked you out when we found you, but this guy can do a much better job of it," he said softly.

"Blair," Morrison began, tilting his patient's face up to look at him, "you were drugged with something. We're not sure right now what it was, but we're running tests. We should know something in a little while. Meanwhile, let's check out the rest of you, okay? Blair?" he prompted after a moment, when Sandburg's eyes remained closed.

"Yeah," he whispered.

Ellison shifted his partner forward, then with Morrison's help, eased him to lie flat on the floor. The physical proximity had done what he had intended, but the examination would be easier if Sandburg was supine. "Doc, even before he ran into this breathing problem, he's been drifting in and out of consciousness since we found him. And when he was conscious, he tended to be very pliant -- I'm assuming a drug like Rohypnol or something like that. A sedative."

Morrison nodded. "That's what we're testing him for. I don't want to put this off indefinitely, but I usually like the patient's permission before beginning an examination."

"Under the circumstances, I'd like you to go ahead and examine him. I think we can take his 'yeah' as permission. You and I both have a good idea of what happened and I know tests should be done as soon as possible," Ellison said, carefully moving the oxygen tubes into place. "His ribs hurt. Left side, bottom two."

"Thank you, Dr Ellison," Morrison said, reaching for his clipboard.

Ellison smiled, then, shrugging. "Sorry, I was a medic in the army. I did my share of triage." Ellison folded another blanket into a pillow and gently placed it beneath his partner's head.

While the doctor took Sandburg's pulse and checked his temperature, Ellison leaned back against the wall and took a deep, calming breath. He was starting to feel better. Stronger. Not as light-headed as he had been. But the need to sleep was wearing at him. I just want to get this over with and go home. Or go somewhere else. He intercepted his guide's hand as it raised to push away the oxygen feed that was irritating him. He could feel the restless tremors in Sandburg's body, the aches and pains beginning to register as the drugs lost their potency, and he rested his hands gently on the young man's face, willing the discomfort to leave.

It may not have erased the pain, but it calmed his guide immediately.

Morrison glanced at the thermometer and jotted the results on his chart. Without looking up, he said quietly, "Detective Ellison, would you be unnerved if I told you that you have the energy aura of a healer?"

Ellison looked down at his hands, resting on each side of Sandburg's face. The image flashed through his mind again, the wolf and the panther, the vision that had brought his partner back from death. Tears formed in his eyes. "Right now, at this moment, to be a healer is my greatest desire."

Sandburg blinked, the lost blue eyes opening to stare up at him. "Jim?"

"I'm here, buddy."

"He's gonna kill them."

"Then let's try to stop him, okay?"

"I think ... I ... remember ... a house," Sandburg whispered, drifting off again.

"We'll find it," he promised.


Three Days Previous

10:45 a.m.

The Warehouse

Sandburg woke with a start at the sound of voices and the door opening.

Shit. What? Where am I?

There was a rush of emotions as he tried to calm himself. How the hell did I fall asleep? Anger and terror wrestled with mass anxiety as his pounding head assessed his current situation. There was nothing good about it. He was in major trouble here. Bound, gagged, chained to a bed. He had a horrible sensation in the pit of his stomach that he knew what they were doing elsewhere in this building. And he didn't want to imagine it happening to him.

"We've got rolls of plastic," one man was saying. "Just use that."

"And what? An oxygen mask?"

The door opened all the way and the overhead light flicked on, at first blinding Sandburg before revealing two of the gunmen, the man with the scars and the muscle man. Both glanced over at him as they entered, but then took no heed of him, continuing their conversation as he lay bound and gagged on the bed.

Hello? In case you hadn't noticed, there's someone else in the room!

It occurred to him briefly, then, that maybe it was better that they did ignore him. The alternatives weren't pleasant.

"Bill's got a mask. Ask him." Scar Man went over to the small kitchen counter at the back of the room and opened and closed the cupboard doors looking for something.

"Where is he? At the house?"

"Yeah. Cook's got breakfast happening. I'm going over later to get some."

"I might, too. Is Jurgen there? I haven't seen him for a few hours."

"He's either there or with one of the stars."

Muscle Man gave a harsh laugh. "He takes his 'conditioning' work seriously."

"Idiot's 'conditioned' one guy dead already. That's $250 grand we're out." Scar Man opened a small refrigerator. "Want a beer?"

Sandburg twisted his head upward, getting his first real look at the room. It was a break room of sorts, with the bed added. An odd collection of bits and pieces. It was new, unfinished, rough. Unpainted wood. Exposed wires. Jurgen? He matched the name to the man who hadn't wanted him. The 'house'? Probably the house he had seen when he got out of the semi-trailer. Jim? No sign of his partner. He had felt a fleeting hope that somehow Jim would be there, yet Blair was also relieved that he wasn't, for that meant that Jim was out there looking for him, not kidnaped with him.

"I'll have a beer later. I was hungry until Jurgen gave me this job. He's nuts. Why not just dump the bodies? Or bury them somewhere? Why the fuck does he have to do this?"

"He may be crazy, but he's done this routine several times before and he knows what he's doing. Usually. Once in a while, like the other night, he loses it, but I've been with him five years and he's yet to sacrifice an entire setup just to satisfy himself. Want some coffee?" Scar Man asked. "I don't like Jurgen's flavored stuff." He went over to a sink in the room and filled the coffee carafe as he spoke. "The set's almost ready, I noticed. Everything on schedule?"

Muscle Man dropped heavily into one of two chairs set around a small table on the wall opposite the bed. "With the stars driving around all night, the locals Jurgen hired got a lot done. What does he tell them it's for?"

"Usually, that it's a private recording studio. He has these posters and framed pictures he puts up of music producers and it generally keeps them quiet. This is our third setup, and we've never had any trouble. " He laughed. "We actually sold the last one to a country and western singer who wanted a home studio. Little did he know ..." An electric saw whined loudly. "Who's here now? Besides Bill?"

"Who's working? Bill. New guy, friend of Bill, name of Lyle or something like that." Muscle Man looked directly at Sandburg. "So what do we do with the little guy?"

Scar Man glanced over at him as he turned on the coffee maker. "Pete said to just leave him here for now. I'm sure we can think of something for him later," he added with a grin.

"Or we could go into business for ourselves," Muscle Man said, getting up and sitting on the bed next to Sandburg, mussing his hair roughly. "There must be a trade somewhere for little beauties."

"Not the same money in it, though. Jurgen knows his business. He knows what sells. Gimmick plus risk plus lean, mean bodies. Big and muscular--"

"But not as big and muscular as the Master." Effortlessly, Muscle Man flipped Sandburg from his side to his back, reaching for the fly of his jeans. He undid the button, then leaned forward to swat Sandburg across the side of the head as he struggled to get away. "Learn some manners, there, boy." He continued to play around with Sandburg, pinning him down, knocking him about, not hurting him but working at scaring him.

It was working, Sandburg thought, the moment he had the chance to think again. At least Muscle Man hadn't unzipped his jeans. I've got something to look forward to. Jim ... oh, Jim...

He had to control his breathing, calm himself down. The gag was making it impossible to get the air he needed.

"Coffee's done," Scar Face said. "Want a cup?"

"I want this nice little mouse for the cats," Muscle man said, sliding his hand beneath the Mexican shirt. His palm glided over Sandburg's chest, lightly combing through the hair along his breast bone. "This reject's got fur. No wonder Pete wanted to keep him. He gets off on that, doesn't he?"

"Hairy bodies, yeah. But he likes to shave them. Doesn't care if he takes the skin along with the hair."

"Hey, think Pete would mind if we sampled the merchandise?"

"What? Him?" Scar Man pulled the carafe aside and stuck his mug under the stream of coffee. "As long as Pete gets first stab."

"Ouch," Muscle Man said, leering down at him. "Would you like that, pretty boy? Getting stabbed? Bet you've never had that nice little ass properly 'conditioned', have you?" The massive hand reached for Sandburg's zipper, ripping it down in one quick yank.

"Karl! Leave him alone. We've got work to do. We can take care of him later." Scar Man handed him a mug of coffee. "I'll help you get the plastic."

Reluctantly, Muscle Man -- Karl --stood up, then peered down at Sandburg. "Later, little mouse."

They walked out of the room and turned off the light.

Shit. ShitShitShitShit ... Jim ... Come on, man. Find me. I do not like the sound of this.


Present

11:45 p.m.

Bellevue General Hospital

"Karl." Sandburg looked up at his partner. "Karl. Muscle Man was Karl."

"That's good. Any other names?"

He shook his head. He knew he had heard other names, but his memory wasn't clear. Scar Man had a name. The man in the house had a name. The man who hadn't wanted him.

There had been other faces, too, but he couldn't remember them. Karl, he remembered. Karl's size, his arms. Big rough-skinned hands.

"Blair?"

Sandburg blinked. The doctor was waiting for him. An unanswered question floated out of his memory and he wondered what it was that he had been asked. Jim was there, too, leaning back against the wall. He looked tired. His hair was mussed.

Jim didn't like his hair to get mussed.

"Blair," the doctor asked, "I'd like to give you a head-to-toe check. Would you let me do that?"

Sandburg nodded. He was starting to hurt. His back. His stomach. His head hurt, too, a dull throbbing.

Morrison put on some gloves and did a quick secondary exam, keeping the blanket over Sandburg whenever possible, then he jotted down some things on his clipboard, talking out loud as he did, so Sandburg would know what he was writing. "While I'm doing this, I'm going to ask a few questions, just to get some medical information from you. Have you had any illnesses in the last two years?"

Sandburg stared at him, then coughed and turned slightly to look at his partner. "Jim?"

"Yes." Ellison smiled at him.

"You-- You tell."

"Do you want me to answer the questions?"

"Yes."

Morrison interrupted. "Blair, I would prefer it if you were to tell me."

"No. Jim can." Sandburg closed his eyes, dismissing the doctor.

Ellison could fee his heart rate climbing, the slight shivers that shook him. "Does it matter?" he asked the doctor.

Morrison considered it, then shook his head. "Okay, Blair. But I want you to tell me if he says anything that is wrong."

Sandburg shrugged, then nodded, then said nothing during the standard questions that were asked about his medical history, allergies, past surgeries, and so on. Ellison answered them all, reciting hospital stays and reasons with precise, short replies. But then the questions were more direct, and his partner could no longer answer for him. Morrison questioned about what he had eaten that day, and he finally answered, "I don't know. I don't remember. I'm not hungry."

More questions about his last consensual sexual experience, any drugs or alcohol he may have had in the last few days, or if he remembered being sexually or physically attacked were left unanswered. It was all too difficult to remember. He turned his head and looked back at Ellison. The sentinel. There was a comfort in seeing him sitting there, listening. Jim will remember. He'll take care of it for me. I'm sorry, Jim. I can't remember. I'm too tired. Take care of it all for me.

Ellison met the doctor's eyes, then nodded for him to continue. Morrison performed the necessary tests, oral examination, fingernail scrapings, genital and rectal examinations, samples, swabs, and body scrapings -- everything that was necessary to document a sexual attack and possibly identify the assailant. Blair remained silent through the entire procedure. If he didn't acknowledge it, maybe it hadn't happened. If he didn't think about it, didn't dwell on it, it might fade away altogether. His eyes didn't want to stay open, anyway.

As the rest of the questioning progressed, Sandburg became increasingly withdrawn, shivering beneath the blanket once the physical examination was over, wanting to be warm. He remembered briefly being warm. In the car, with Jim. And that other man. Before that, he remembered being cold. He remembered hurting. Being afraid. He remembered struggling to breathe. A knife. A knife ...

He opened his eyes quickly, but he was in the hospital. Hands touched him, gentle hands, but they weren't Jim's. He knew they were safe hands, because Jim was sitting there calmly. Jim wasn't worried about this man touching him, so Blair tried not to be worried either. But the worry crept up on him anyway, until he was shivering. He felt Ellison sit him up and he pushed back into the enfolding embrace. He'd let his pride and self-sufficiency surface another day. At this moment he just wanted to be safe and he wanted to be warm and Ellison would provide both unhesitantly.

"Blair?" Morrison said, finally. "We're all done here. Would you like to get cleaned up? We can wash your hair, too, and try to get rid of that smell."

The smell. That's what that was. But not just a smell, it was a taste, too. He could taste the smell. He wanted to brush his teeth, rinse out his mouth. Now that it had been brought to his attention, the smell was overpowering, tainting the clean air he breathed in. Hands over his eyes, Blair coughed, gagged a few times, then turned his head toward Jim. "I just want out of here."

Ellison's arms squeezed him gently. "Do you want a shower? I can help you."

He nodded. "I feel gross."

"That's understandable." Morrison helped him to his feet, then Ellison took his place, steadying him as he struggled to stay upright. His knees alternately locked and buckled, but finally he tottered unaided. It felt like a small triumph, a step in the road to recovery. A literal first step.

Morrison stood in front of him, disconnecting the monitors, removing the sticky little patches in the middle of the shaved spots on his chest. "Can you stand on your own? Good. Looks like the drugs are almost out of your system. Blair, there's one more thing I need from you."

"Urine sample, right?" Sandburg said, wearily, looking down at the blue blanket he had been lying on. Ellison was wrapping the other one around him like a toga.

Morrison smiled. "How'd you know?"

"Experience."

The doctor directed him into the tiny bathroom attached to the examination room, then handed him a clear plastic cup and a lid. Sandburg shut the door.

Then, in a rushed panic, he opened the door, his hand shaking. He looked at Jim, not knowing how to ask his question because he wasn't sure what his question was. Jim knew, though.

"How about we leave the door open a crack, and I'll guard it for you? That sound okay, Chief?"

"Yeah."

"We'll go to the motel as soon as we're done here. We can get some sleep then, okay?

"Okay." He turned away, taking care of the urine sample and leaving it on the shelf above the sink as he had been instructed. The bathtub wasn't very big. It was more of a shower with a little tub beneath it. He didn't want to step into it. He drew the blanket closer around his body and looked down at the tub. "Jim?"

"What's wrong?" Ellison asked, from the other side of the partially open door.

"Bath at motel?"

"Sure."

Sandburg stood in the bathroom, lost, a washcloth in his hand, until Ellison reached in and drew him out again.


Three days previous

Mid-day

The Warehouse

Evan Cortez froze, half-hunched over, as one end of his ankle chain was released, and then the buckles on the back of his head gear were unlatched. The gag fell from his mouth. His jaw ached. He was still pulling the mask off his face when he realized he was in a different room than he had been held in before. Instead of a narrow room with a mat on the floor, this windowless room was roughly twenty feet square, a kitchenette along the back wall with a sink, a stove and a small fridge. To his right, a table and two chairs. To his left a bed, where Karl was unlocking a chain from around the metal bed frame. Evan's dark eyes fastened on the young man lying twisted on the bed.

Blair Sandburg from Cascade.

Strange how they were all reduced to names and locations. Before this, if he'd had to put a city with his name, it would be the city where he had been born and raised, where his family still lived. He had always been 'Evan Cortez from Chicago', but for the last few weeks, he had been 'Evan Cortez from San Francisco.' At least that was better than the names that these psychos called him.

Or the names he called himself. Coward. Inept. Spineless.

He knew he had given up, that these men had broken something inside him. He did not exist as a person in their minds, and the concept was slowly invading his own thoughts. He had no value. No worth. Evan Cortez was used, soiled goods. His body, his mind, and now, his spirit were defiled.

Drugs, he had to remind himself. You feel this way because you were drugged. But it didn't change how he felt. The degradation ate at him, just as it would eat at this other man. Blair Sandburg from Cascade, a city he had never been to. He'd never even been to Oregon. Evan vacationed in Chicago, or south of the border. Once in New Orleans. But he had never been in this area, before now.

Welcome to Washington.

Somewhere, at the state border, there was probably a sign that said that. Welcome to Washington.

And here he stood, naked in a room with three other men, two of whom had watched as pictures were taken of him that morning. He had been bound in ropes and suspended from the ceiling, he remembered that, but there were other things that had happened that he could scarcely remember. The drugs had their benefits.

Karl stopped whatever he was doing with the locks and moved across to the doorway of the room. "Hey, star. You with me here? Or are you still in LaLa land?"

"I'm here," he said, then coughed as his dry throat reacted. He was still coughing when something flew across the room and hit him in the face. He wrenched his neck trying to avoid what turned out to be his gray sweatsuit.

"Put it on. No need to give him a free show." Karl said, gesturing to Sandburg with this head. "It'll be his turn soon enough. Pete's gone for supplies, but he'll have a real appetite when he gets back."

Evan held the clothes in front of him. He was so used to being naked now, that he hardly noticed it unless someone mentioned it. The sweatsuit felt like it was his, the only damned thing that belonged to him. They'd taken his watch, his rings, his gun, his clothes. The only thing they had left were his earrings. They had assigned him the pair of sweats. Gray. Everyone had a different color. His were gray. For some reason, every time he was taken out of his room, he returned to find the sweatsuit had been laundered. Sometimes it was even warm from the dryer. They were the same ones--he had checked them at first, but the snags were always the same, the slight rip in one cuff, and after the first week, he had thought of them as his.

One day he had lain on his mat on the floor and held the freshly dried sweatshirt and sweatpants to his chest, seeking comfort from the illusion of warmth, not daring to imagine anything beyond the simple, basic, creature-comfort that probably had nothing more to it then Jurgen not wanting to catch anything from them. The same reason he was forced to shower twice a day. And take vitamins. And eat food.

"Hey, star. I said to get dressed. Am I going to have to help you?" Karl's voice was grating.

Evan shook his head, then turned his back and struggled into the clothing. He had great difficulty getting his foot, with its long chain and cuff attached to his ankle, through the leg hole of the pants, but after several tries, he accomplished it, tugging the chain out. The cuffs hadn't come off since that first day when they had been attached to his ankles.

"Turn around," Karl demanded.

Evan turned to face him, standing stiffly upright, knowing that any attempt to retain his dignity was usually shot down. Humiliation was the name of today's game. His eyes widened slightly to see Metzger, the man with the scars, standing with Karl.

"Hands on top of your head," Metzger snapped. "Karl, lock up his ankle chains."

Evan wanted to tell them it wasn't necessary, but the gun Metzger produced kept him quiet.

Karl threaded the lock through the chain and the ankle cuff, and snapped it closed.

"Clean him up, star," Metzger directed Evan, pointing to Sandburg. "He stinks. I don't want to deal with Pete if he gets angry. Pete gets fussy, and for some reason he likes this one."

"You have twenty minutes," Karl added, as he shut the door, locked it, and they walked away.

Evan groaned, trying to push back the headache he knew from experience would grow to monolithic proportions. Whatever drug it was they gave him was wearing him down. He hated the way it made him feel -- dreamlike, lethargic, apathetic about what was happening to him. Too tired to do anything else, he dropped into one of the chairs and stared across at Blair. Then pulled himself to his feet, when he realize that Blair was awake, blue eyes pleading with him. "Sorry, kid." He stumbled across the room, sitting at the edge of the mattress. "I'm going to take your restraints off, okay?"

Blair nodded, staying virtually motionless while Evan's hands fumbled with the buckles of the leather arm restraints. That done, he reached for the gag, unbuckling the catches at the back of Blair's head, then gently pulling the balled gag from the young man's mouth.

"--anks." Blair's mouth was dry, his lips cracked from being stretched open.

Evan got up and went to the sink, finding a mug to fill with water and bring back to him. He helped Blair sit up and then held the mug for him to drink, when it was clear Blair's hands were both still numb from being restrained. "Take it slow."

"Yeah. Thanks," Blair repeated, between his efforts to swallow the water.

Evan took a good look at him, keeping his face as calm and detached as he could. Karl had left some towels and a teal blue sweat suit on the bed. Sandburg's jeans were damp where his bladder had emptied sometime in the twenty-four hours of his imprisonment. At least the jeans were baggy enough to get off past the ankle cuffs, and Evan helped him wiggle out of them, then handed him the damp wash cloth when the young man's hands were steady enough to clean himself up.

"Where are we?" Blair asked, not meeting his eyes.

"I'm not sure exactly. They call it 'the warehouse'."

"What do they want us for?"

Evan took the cloth and rinsed it out, then brought it back. "They do live performances for the Internet. Charge a hefty fee for people to watch. They make videos, too."

"They killed those two men in the trailer. Shot them." Blair's hands faltered as he awkwardly wiped down his neck and chest.

"I know." Evan helped him into the sweatshirt. "I've been watching them closely over the past few weeks and they're organized. Experienced." He paused. "Are you a cop?"

"No," Sandburg said, shaking his head. "Not really. I work with a detective in Cascade. He's my partner."

"Your partner?"

"Yeah. I-- I'm an observer. Grad student working on my doctorate."

"Oh."

"Sorry. I'm not much help."

They got the sweat pants up past the ankle cuffs, then Evan began a systematic look through the cupboards and drawers of the kitchenette, looking for anything that could be useful. Finally, he returned to the table, exhausted and sore.

"Are you okay?" Blair looked up from where he sat hunched on the bed.

"I'll be fine."

"What did they do to you?" Blair slowly got to his feet and walked over to sit in the other chair.

Evan shook his head. He really didn't want to talk about it. His memories were vague, but disgusting. His skin felt diseased. Nausea threatened and he swallowed against the bile in his throat.

"That guy said twenty minutes, so he'll be back soon." Blair reached out and grabbed Evan's forearm that rested on the table. "Can I do anything to help you?"

"No," he said. "It's too late. Someone bought me today. They'll pick me up on Tuesday." Evan could feel his chest clench, the panic clutching at him. Someone bought me. They sold me and someone bought me. I'm just a toy for some rich man to get his balls rocked. "Someone bought me," he whispered again, but it didn't sound any saner. He swore then, softly, the tremors passing through his body in waves.

Evan was vaguely aware of an arm around his shoulder, a cup of hot, bitter coffee pressed into his hands. He laughed suddenly, hearing the hysteria behind it. Tears rolled down his face to drip into the black ceramic mug. "At least they have to go easy on me. I'm lucky. I'm damned lucky, you know? They can't punch me or I'll bruise, and they can't cut me or do anything to me that will lessen my value. Because someone bought me. Someone fucking bought me!"

He lost it then, only fleetingly aware of arms holding him, gently stroking his back as the sobs were wrenched from his body. He hadn't let himself think about his future at all, but there was something about this young man's empathy and gentleness that let him share his pain.

Evan desperately needed someone to tell him that everything would be okay. He had to believe that. He had to believe that Nash would find him. That Harv would be there. That Cassidy -- oh, God. That Cassidy would still care about him, despite what they had done to him.

But Nash and Harvey and Cassidy weren't here. Blair was. And despite not knowing anything about him, Blair Sandburg cared.

It was the gentleness that helped the most, he realized later, when he had time to think about it. And it was the gentleness that gave him the strength to rein in his fear and anger. "Thanks," he whispered, wiping his eyes on the arm of his sweatshirt. "I've got to talk to you quick before they come back. Listen, okay?"

"Okay." Blue eyes looked across at him intently, determined.

"First, in case you get away. Tell Cassidy that I love her. Tell Nash to take care of her. Tell Harv -- that I'll miss him." Tears ran down his face but he had no time to deal with them. "Did you get that?"

Blair repeated it back to him, understanding the urgency. He also repeated back the other information that Evan gave him, rough ideas of where they were, who had them and why, and then, the few precious details of what was happening to Evan on Tuesday.

"What about you?" Evan asked finally, looking at Sandburg as footsteps approached the doorway. "Any messages?"

Blair shook his head and smiled. "My partner knows how I feel about him. Thanks anyway, though."


Present

12:00 midnight

Bellevue

Sandburg shivered violently, turning toward Ellison, wordlessly accepting the embrace offered.

The memory fragments frightened him. He knew the memories were from the beginning of his captivity. He had been uninjured at that point. Nothing of what he had just remembered explained the bruises, the vicious aches and pains that almost took his breath away now. The pain inside his body.

Someone had bought Evan.

Had someone bought him? Had he been sold to someone? Had someone come and taken him, used him, and discarded him? He remembered the man in charge hadn't wanted him ...

Karl had, though. And someone named Pete. And maybe even the Scar Man.

His body hurt. His stomach muscles were spasming. His lower back and legs and thighs were sore. He hurt inside.

Had they ...

Arms tightened around him, as desperate to give comfort as he was to receive it, and he added his own strength to the embrace, grabbing hold of the back of Ellison's shirt.

Don't think about it. Not yet. Don't imagine things that might have happened when you don't remember. Don't do it. Don't panic. Don't let it change you.

"Jim?" he whispered, his face buried against his partner's chest.

"I'm here," Ellison whispered back. "We'll deal with whatever happened to you. I'm here. We're together. I'm not going away."

The words were like manna to a starving man. "You're damn right, you're not going anywhere."


Chapter Six

"Nash."

"Hi. It's Joe."

"What's up? I just spoke to you half an hour ago. Is Harvey okay?"

"Yeah. I took him home. Where are you now?"

"At the motel, trying to figure out if it's too late to call Frank Black."

"What do you mean 'too late'? Is it over? Did you find them or something?"

"No, I just meant that the man has a little daughter and I remember how much I hated being called at home late at night when Cassidy was little."

"Oh, right. Yeah. I remember that. Lisa didn't like when I called all the time."

"That wasn't work, though, Bubba. That was just you calling all the time."

"I didn't call that much, Nash."

"No. Only three or four times a night."

"See? Not the 'ten thousand times' she always said it was."

"Bubba, why are you calling? Is there a point to all this?"

"No. I guess not. Just felt like calling." (pause) "Harv's pretty down. Wouldn't let me stay around."

"He'll work it out." (pause) "Stay close to him tomorrow, though. Don't let him close up."

"Okay. Sure. I'll talk to him."

"No, listen to him, Joe."

"Right. I can do that."

"I know you can."

"Nash, you got any gut feelings about this one? About Evan?"

(pause) "I think about him. About the things that might be happening to him. Then I think about Cassidy and the feelings she's going to have to cope with if he's dead -- or if he's alive. She's my baby girl, Joe. I don't want her to have to deal with any of the things that might have happened to him. And I don't know if Evan's gonna survive this, either way."

"He's strong, Nash -- you know that. And she's your kid, man. Give her some credit."

"There were four bodies in that trailer tonight, Joe. They were all strong men. Good cops. And they're dead."

"Harvey believes Evan's still alive."

"And I'm going to keep on believing that along with him, Bubba, until I know one hundred percent otherwise."


Present

12:10 a.m.

Seattle, Washington

Frank Black carefully hung up the phone, watching as the receiver cut the connection. He sighed and leaned back in his desk chair, staring at the computer screen before him, the screen saver idly spinning. It had been a quiet evening after he left the police station. He had picked up Jordan and brought her home, then they had walked down to the neighborhood park so she could run around and play after staying inside all day. When full darkness came, it was almost 10:00 p.m. They had strolled back, hand in hand, silent, comfortable, walking through the tree-lined streets. The weather was mild but the rain came down in uneven patches: pouring rain, then a light sprinkle, almost a mist, then the heavy rain again. Twice they had stood under a tree, protected by the leaves, and waited until the downpour ended.

"I'm going to miss the rain," Jordan had said, looking up at the gray sky.

"You are? Why would you miss the rain, honey?"

"It's alive. It makes the world feel alive. I like the sun, too," she added, looking up at him earnestly. "But I'm going to miss the rain."

"It rains in Virginia, Jordan."

"Mary said it didn't rain there like it rains here. How does it rain in Virginia?"

He had rested his hand on her curly red hair. "We'll find out. I really don't remember how it was different."

"I won't forget this." She had stared at him, serious, at her small hand grasping his larger hand.

"Neither will I."

"Do you know Ten Little Indians?"

The sudden question had startled him. "The story?"

"I don't know. I think it's a song."

"Why, Jordan? What made you think of the song?"

"The men were talking about them before. The men you were looking for."

They had reached the house, and he faltered as they walked up the stairs. It was one thing to have this gift -- this curse -- himself, but Jordan also had it and the thought sent pain through his chest. He saw things, and she did also, in her own way. What would that do to the mind of a child? How could she interpret the pain, the sick and inhumane things people did to each other?

"Only five left, Daddy. Five are dead, and five are left." Large blue eyes looked up at him, this little six-year-old child, made in his image.

Please don't ask me how they died. Please don't ask me why ... He had bent down and hugged her, then they had entered the house and she had readied herself for bed, finding her stuffed animal and a book for him to read to her. Life righted itself again.

Five dead and five alive. Time was running out.

Nash Bridges had just confirmed what Jordan had told him, except Nash had only mentioned four bodies found. One man had been found alive. With the slightest touch to his mouse, the explicit photographs from the Internet site reappeared on the screen, bursting onto his consciousness, pushing him farther into the dark world of his other sight. His head jerked back in reaction, his eyes blocking the depictions on the screen. The humiliation and fear on their faces. Eyes already hollow and lost. Prisoners of war, held in Seattle's backyard somewhere.

With a soft sigh of frustration, he turned off the computer and went to bed. He had no answers for even himself tonight.

Please don't ask me why ...


Present

12:15 a.m.

Bellevue, Washington

Midnight passed. Nash Bridges stood at the window of the motel suite staring down at the parking lot. The rain had stopped, but the pavement was still damp and water pooled in the lower areas, reflecting the security lights. He was bone tired. It had been a long day, from the first phone call from Woodward, the hurried flight arrangements, the six-hour meeting in Seattle, the drive to Everett that was cut short by the discovery of the semi-trailer at the rest stop at the side of the freeway. Then back down to Bellevue. And now ...

And now I'm damned pissed off.

Questions that he had put off were clamoring to be answered, or at least addressed. He had just spoken with Frank Black. Black's lack of surprise at what they had found was equally disturbing, almost as though the FBI profiler had expected the news. Nash had given him the address to the motel, and Frank had said he would join them for a late breakfast the next morning.

So, the next step would be ... ?

Harold Woodward. Nash fingered the cell phone number, folding and unfolding the small piece of paper. Considering the case, it was unlikely Woodward was asleep, but Nash's reticence had more to do with the uncertainty of how Woodward would handle the information. Would he feel constrained to immediately open the semi-trailer, especially since the Seattle detective who had been kidnaped, Glenn Relkie, was not among those believed to still be alive? Or would Woodward be willing to go along with their suggestion that the 'discovery' be put off?

Ellison had seemed convinced that his partner would be able to provide them with information, and Banks had agreed. That was placing a lot of faith in a traumatized civilian. The trust between them was apparent. And I've obviously been caught up in their belief system.

Or maybe it was because they reminded him of the SIU. Nash, Joe, Harvey, Evan. It had not happened overnight, but now they worked together flawlessly -- he trusted each one of them with not only the job, the cases, but with his own life. And more importantly, not just his safety, but his friendship, and his family.

Nash stepped out of the motel room into the night air, pulling the door closed behind him. Down a flight of stairs into the parking lot, he crossed over to his rental, his hand pausing on the door handle, the key not quite connecting to the lock.

This was what was wrong. Nothing felt quite right, and it was throwing him off. The car was wrong. The city was wrong. The people he was with were wrong. He wasn't sure he knew what he was doing with these men. Why him? Why had he chosen to check out the van in Everett, or pull off the road when they did? What was it about them that drew him to them? Yes, he had known of Ellison. Had that been enough for him to hook up with them?

How had Ellison known that his partner was in that particular semi-trailer at that particular rest stop?

Nash had seen the truck abruptly pull to the side of the road. It hadn't been planned. He had thought there was car trouble, or maybe they had received a call on their cell phone. So he had pulled over to the shoulder behind them, got out of his car, and then, baffled, followed Ellison down the side of the freeway to the semi-trailer.

There's no way in hell that Nash would have found Evan. Not like that. It was as though there was a string pulling Ellison toward it unhesitatingly, right through the rest area and up to the correct trailer.

Damn it. He must have known something. Ellison must have received some kind of prior information. No one is that lucky.

I'm the one who's famous for being lucky. So why can't I find Evan? Why isn't it that easy? Nash's fist came down on the hood of the car, frustration tearing at him. He was overtired, that was it. Stress.

The image of the bodies wrapped in plastic inserted itself into his consciousness. Evan wasn't one of them. He couldn't be.

"He's still alive." He said it again, out loud. "He's still alive. Evan Cortez is still alive, and I am going to get him back."

And if that meant ducking the rules and putting off a phone call to Woodward, then that's what he would do.


"Relax. I'm here. Just relax, buddy." Ellison did his best to keep out of the technician's way, but his partner did not want to stay on the x-ray table; it was a battle to keep him calm enough to have the necessary x-rays taken. Sandburg continued to fade in and out of awareness, sometimes hardly cognizant of his surroundings, at other times caught in a different reality, memories taking over and forcing their terror on him. "Lie still, okay? One more picture, Chief. One more x-ray. I'm right here. Whatever is scaring you, it's not going to hurt you any more."

He's not going to hurt you.

Ellison touched his forehead. "It's over. You're with me." It was heartening how that phrase worked time and time again, easing the frantic heartbeat.

"Jim?" Eyes closed, Sandburg whispered for him, even as he struggled against him.

"Right here. I'm here! Look at me." Calling it frustration did not begin to cover it. Anger at what had caused the fear in the first place. Sentinel rage that his guide had been hurt. Grief, welling up within him. And then back to frustration that he couldn't get through to his partner. At a nod from the technician, he added, "Okay, just lie still for a few seconds. Got that? Come on, Sandburg, work with me here! Lie still!"

The reprimand got its desired effect, although Ellison's jaw muscle echoed the frightened stiffening of his partner. Then it was over, the x-ray taken, and he released Sandburg's wrist, catching him as he rolled off the wide table and landed on his feet, clutching his lower ribs.

The technician avoided looking at them. "Just wait here for a minute. Let me take a look at these to make sure they turned out." He disappeared into another room, and Ellison ignored his request, wrapped the blanket securely around his partner, and ushered him into the hallway.

So what is it about tables, huh, Chief? First the examination room table, then this one.

Sandburg shivered, glancing up at him, searching his face. Then he moved a step away from Ellison, eyes closed, and the detective allowed him the need to reestablish himself.

"Just let me know what I can do," he said softly, listening to the rapid pounding of his guide's heart.

Sandburg nodded, shifting slightly closer to him, but still standing on his own.

Ellison looked up as Dr Morrison exited the room at the far end of the corridor. Morrison glanced around, searching out who else was there at this hour, then moved quickly to join them. "Why are you out here?" the doctor asked, quickly.

"The technician told us to wait until he checked the x-rays."

"Let's go back to the room. He can call us there if there's a problem. Simon and Amy have gone to the pharmacy to fill an order for me." Morrison drew them along with him, speaking softly as he walked. "I've got some medications for you, Blair. I'll explain what they're for. And I have some soup, some broth, for you. I'd like you to try to drink the whole bowl before you go. You need to get some nourishment into you. That first IV drip won't take you far."

Sandburg nodded, gradually needing -- and accepting -- Ellison's help by the time they reached the room. The padded exam table was still missing, but now, in its place, were four chairs, and Sandburg gratefully sank into one of them, pulling the blanket closer around his shoulders. Dull eyes opened briefly, glanced around, then closed. At Ellison's brief squeeze to his shoulder, he nodded again, acknowledging the gesture.

"Chicken or vegetable broth?" Morrison held out two bowls, smiling gently when Sandburg opened his eyes to stare at them, blinking back the exhaustion.

"Vegetable," Sandburg murmured, accepting the bowl in hands that still shook. Spoons forgotten, he lifted the rim to his mouth and took a tentative sip.

The doctor handed the other bowl to Ellison, shrugging at his surprised reaction. "You should eat this."

The detective started to refuse, then changed his mind and accepted the bowl with a nod of thanks. The broth was good, nourishing, touching a need that he hadn't realized he had. Hunger. He finished the bowl and put it on the counter behind him. "How are you doing?" he asked his partner.

"Okay." Sandburg's voice was quiet, lacking the energy to speak in anything above a whisper.

Simon Banks poked his head in the room, handing a paper bag to Morrison. "Just what the doctor ordered," he quipped. White teeth flashed a smile at Sandburg, then he looked over to Ellison. "I just spoke with Bridges. He's on his way here."

"We'll probably be ready in--" Ellison looked at the doctor, who held up one hand, fingers splayed, "--in five minutes, if the x-rays look okay."

"I'll go watch for him. He's got us rooms booked at the motel, and I, for one, am looking forward to sleeping tonight." Banks left, closing the door.

Ellison looked back at Sandburg, then lunged quickly to catch the bowl as the lax fingers released it. It was almost empty, just a few mouthfuls left, so Ellison retrieved his own spoon. "Let's just finish this off, okay?" he asked, softly.

Sandburg allowed himself to be fed the last few spoonfuls, then nodded as the bowl was put aside. The nod turned into a shaking that within seconds became half-choked sobs, his face twisting into a mask of grief and misery.

Ellison knelt quickly in front of his partner. Exhaustion wore at Sandburg, just as it wore at Ellison, and the younger man's breaking point had just been shattered. "Chief?" he murmured, his hands resting on the arms of Sandburg's chair. He wanted to embrace the younger man, but he sensed this was not the right moment. His own need for contact was not as important as his partner's need for autonomy. "You're gonna be okay," he whispered. "We'll get through this."

Sandburg held his hand up as though warding him off, but as Ellison moved to withdraw, his guide shifted so their palms met, pressed together tightly, desperately, fingers meshing, knuckles white. "Yes," Sandburg answered, gulping for air, believing his partner's words even through his despair.

Morrison touched Ellison's shoulder, then handed him a tissue box. "This will probably happen on and off tonight. Just let him work through it. He needs to let this out."

"I will." Ellison watched Sandburg struggle to breathe around the sobs while the doctor quickly explained how the two different ointments were to be applied and when the pills were to be taken. "What about his ribs? Is he hurting them like this?"

Morrison shook his head slightly, then bent over to rest a hand on Sandburg's curled back. "Blair, I'm going to go check on the x-rays on your ribs so you can both get out of here. Jim is here. Let him help you, okay?"

That seemed all the encouragement that Sandburg needed. Ellison leaned forward to accept his partner as Sandburg took refuge in his arms, clinging to his shirt, burying his face against his chest. Morrison smiled gently, his hand resting on Sandburg's head for a moment, a silent blessing, then the doctor left the room.

"Jim? Jim?" Eyes closed, Blair's hands desperately, blindly, clutched at him.

"I'm here," Ellison whispered.


Nash pulled into the hospital parking lot. The evening was cooling down, but it was still pleasant. No rain. He walked briskly through the Emergency ward, catching sight of Banks slumped on a bench in a side corridor. "How is he?"

Banks tried a smile, but the overall effort was wasted. "The drugs are continuing to work through his system, they tell me, but he had a hard time with the examination. Spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak." The Cascade captain let out a slow sigh. "He's almost ready. The doctor is in looking at his x-rays." He wiped sweating palms on his suit pants.

"Any word yet on what he was drugged with?"

"No. Anything from chloroform, alcohol, Rohypnol, GHB." Banks stood and stretched, fighting back a yawn. "Did you have any problems getting the motel rooms?"

"I got a suite. I figured it would be cheaper and more efficient in the long run."

"Thanks."

"Simon, I spoke with Frank Black. What's your call on contacting Harold Woodward?"

Weary dark eyes stared at him. "Why?"

"He's leading the cooperative effort to find these men."

Banks rubbed his forehead, eyes closed. "Your concern, then, is if he'd go ahead and investigate the trailer, without giving us the time we need to set up something else."

"Exactly. The men in it are dead. They aren't going anywhere."

"On the other hand, the longer we wait, the more deteriorated the bodies will become. Forensics will have a difficult time as it is, determining cause of death."

"You know, I can't help thinking that it's too late for these guys. We've got four men out there, alive, who need help. Maybe I'm just motivated because one of those men is mine."

"You want input from me? My by-the-book answer? Well, the official thing to do is to call him. Explain the situation. What we don't need is a charge against us for hampering a police investigation. Like it or not, we are out of our jurisdictions here. So, for that matter, is Woodward. By tomorrow morning, we'll be dealing with the FBI, as this case has gone across state lines."

Nash sat down beside him. "And if I don't tell him until later? What will you do?"

Banks looked across the hall at the closed examination room door. Both men could hear the sound of harsh sobs from within. "Jim thinks he can get information from his partner; he just needs some time, which is why he didn't want Woodward notified yet. I trust Jim -- I trust them both. I guess the question is -- do you trust them?"

Nash smiled then, shaking his head in wonder. "Yeah, Bubba, I believe I do. Ellison found his partner when no one else could. Maybe I want to believe he can find Evan, too. I also believe we're running out of time." Nash took a deep breath and continued, "I spoke with Harvey--"

"Your computer expert?"

"And he's Evan's partner."

"Let me guess." Banks looked at him wearily. "There are only four pictures up now."

"On the nose, Bubba. William Fong has dropped out of the race."

Banks swore. "So we're assuming he's dead now?"

"I guess until those bodies are examined, we can't be sure who the rest are. The pictures on the website may not mean anything."

They both looked up as the doctor came out of the examination room. As the door opened, then quickly closed, they could hear Sandburg's obvious distress and Ellison's soft words of comfort. The doctor looked over to Banks, then glanced at Bridges questioningly.

The Cascade captain stood. "It's okay. This is Nash Bridges. He's working with us on the case. One of his men is among the missing officers. Nash, this is Doctor Benjamin Morrison."

Bridges stood as well, his hand extended to shake the doctor's hand.

"How are they doing?" Banks asked.

"We're done in there. I've just finished explaining the medication and pills to Jim. The man should have been a healer." Morrison smiled. "I should rephrase that. He is a healer."

"What about the kid's ribs?"

"I'm just getting the x-ray results now, but unless the injury is severe, we usually don't bind them any more, in cases like this. Jim's been told what to watch for." The doctor glanced back at his chart. "Simon, where can I reach you about the drug test results?"

"We have a motel room," Banks said, then looked to Bridges who provided a business card with the phone number of their room. "What's wrong with Sandburg?" the Cascade captain asked, his attention focused on the sounds from within the examination room. "He was doing fine a few minutes ago."

Morrison crossed his arms, shaking his head slightly. "Blair's been through a difficult time. The drugs and the trauma combined are messing up his memories and, as you can hear, playing havoc with his emotions. Just let them be for a few minutes."

"How's Jim?"

"He's much better. Seems to have more or less recuperated from whatever happened to him. I'm listing it as a stress-related collapse."

Nash frowned, glancing to Simon as the doctor left them. "Did I miss something? What happened to Ellison?"

Simon smiled grimly. "Sandburg stopped breathing, Ellison did CPR and brought him back, then collapsed himself from the effort."

"Oh. Is that all?" Nash shook his head. "Why should I be surprised?"

"I've learned never to be surprised with those two."

"I can see why."

"I'm going to go bring the truck around to pick them up." Simon took a few steps, then paused, looking back at him. "And Nash?"

"Yes?"

"Don't call me 'Bubba.'" Banks gave him a friendly, warning smile, and walked away.


Awareness returned slowly. He knew who he was. He knew he was in a hospital. And that Jim was with him.

Jim's here. It's over. Jim's here.

I want to go home.

Pretend it never happened.

Jim's here.

Blair Sandburg pressed the tissue against his burning eyes, letting the thin material absorb his tears. "Can we go?" he whispered, not raising his head from where it rested on his friend's shoulder.

"We're going soon. Just relax for a minute."

He nodded, blindly. Everything was just a little too intense at the moment. He felt overloaded, circuits fried. It was all he could do to cling to the here and now. Cling to Jim. If it wasn't for the part of him screaming to get out of there and go home, he would probably have resisted any attempt whatsoever to get him to move and shatter his tenuous hold on reality.

Jim is here. I can do this. If I couldn't, he would tell me.

He closed his eyes again, hoping the growing pain stabbing behind his eyes would ease. Relax, his partner had said.

I hope you realize just how much I trust you, Jim.

Blair breathed out slowly, letting himself sink closer against his partner, then he inhaled the scent of strength that was Jim Ellison's alone. Sentinel. The word drifted through his thoughts like a reassuring mantra. Sentinel. Sentinel.

"Simon went to get the truck." Jim took the damp tissue from his still shaking hands, replacing it with a dry one. A warm comforting hand stroked over his back, possessive, protecting, and serving. Not rushed. Not self-conscious.

Affirming. That was it.

"Where's the doctor?" Three words, but his voice faded out by the third.

"In the hallway. He's talking to Amy." A pause as Jim listened, then, "They're talking about your medications. He wasn't sure how well she knew you before."

"Thank him for me, 'kay?" Blair whispered, reluctantly withdrawing from the stabilizing connection, trying to stand on his own. He blew his nose and looked around for a garbage can. Two wobbly steps brought him close enough to drop it in the plastic-lined disposal. He wavered slightly and grabbed at the counter; his partner appeared at his side and supported him back to the chair. "I smell."

"Yeah. A little."

A hand ruffled his filthy hair, coming to rest on his bare shoulder. Hiding the telltale, red marks. Covering them. Warmth bled through the touch, and with a brief squeeze, Jim reached behind him and snagged a bundle of clothing.

"Come on, I'll help you get into these."

These turned out to be some surgical scrubs. They didn't fit him. Too big, but he couldn't seem to get his arms through the holes, and his partner came to the rescue again.

"Hey, Chief. Stay with me, okay? We still have to get you to the motel and cleaned up before you sack out."

"Motel?"

"Yes, we're not in Cascade, buddy."

We're not? His head came up, looking around the room again. "Where?"

"Bellevue."

That didn't make any sense. Made him feel dizzy again. "But she's here -- Amy?"

"Transferred here two months ago."

"Oh." Blair stopped trying to help and let Jim do up the ties on the scrubs without his 'assistance.' "Oh." The door opened, but the man who entered wasn't the doctor. It was another man, one who looked vaguely familiar. Trying to put a name to him just made the headache worse.

"We're almost ready," Jim said to the man, glancing over his shoulder as he spoke.

"Sorry I stink," Blair whispered, staring, recognizing him finally as the man who had driven him to the hospital. But there was something more ... Something else ...

The man smiled. "Don't worry about it. I understand. I, uh, stopped at a store and bought some vinegar. It'll take the smell out of your hair," he said, looking right at him. "Do you remember me?"

Blair started to nod 'yes', but ended up shrugging. "Sorry."

"My name is Nash Bridges." Intense eyes fastened on him, as if the name should mean something to him.

It did. "Nash ..." The name. Something. The name.


Three days previous

Mid-day

The Warehouse

"Someone bought me today. They'll pick me up on Tuesday." Evan sat across the room from him, awkwardly wiping tears from his eyes. He was scared, Blair could see that easily. Evan was a cop, a good cop, in a special investigations unit, and he was scared. He was also tired, too tired to fight any more, and Blair knew how dangerous that was. He didn't want to think what would make someone like that scared.

Jim was scared sometimes, though. When Blair was freaked out about something, Jim would tell him that it was okay to be afraid, especially when you had a good reason. But then you had to set your fear aside and figure out a way around it.

He shivered, his hand smoothing the sweat suit he was wearing. He had nothing on beneath it, his bare skin rubbing against the new fabric.

Someone bought Evan.

What did that mean? He glanced around the room, looking through his own tears, then stood awkwardly and forced himself to walk over to the coffeepot. He had smelled it earlier, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee turning his stomach then. It was having the same effect now, but it was hot and maybe familiar to this fellow captive. He knew his mind wasn't grasping the significance of what Evan was telling him. His head felt clogged, sluggish. Like he wasn't firing on all thrusters.

There's a problem with the anti-matter regulator. Shields down on B Deck, Captain Kirk. Scotty's voice whispered the thought, and he smiled.

And someone bought Evan. Can they do that? Can you buy a person?

With trembling hands, Blair poured the coffee into a black mug and then shuffled back across the room to where Evan sat hunched over. He collapsed beside him, his arm draped around Evan's shoulder, and pressed the mug into the other man's hands.

Evan laughed suddenly, and Blair shivered at the hysteria behind it. Tears rolled down Evan's face to drip into the ceramic mug. "At least they have to go easy on me. I'm lucky. I'm damned lucky, you know? They can't punch me or I'll bruise, and they can't cut me or do anything to me that will lessen my value. Because someone bought me. Someone fucking bought me!"

My God ...

For a moment, Blair thought he was going to throw up.

Evan's terror became his, sinking beneath his consciousness, then it surfaced and he was able to disassociate himself from it long enough to wrap his arms around the other man, holding him, gently rocking him as the sobs were wrenched from Evan's body. Regardless of his own situation, Blair could feel the other's pain, and there was a passionate need within him to comfort the man, to be someone else's arms. Someone else should have been there, offering this support, but they were alone, and Blair was all Evan had.

"Thanks," Evan whispered finally, wiping his eyes on the arm of his sweatshirt. "I've got to talk to you quick before they come back. Listen, okay?"

"Okay." Blair still felt dizzy, disconnected from what was happening. But Evan had sounded intense, and Blair did his best to listen. They didn't have much time. Already footsteps echoed down the hallway.

Evan cleared his throat nervously, still wiping at his tears. "First, in case you get away: Tell Cassidy that I love her. Tell Nash to take care of her. Tell Harv -- that I'll miss him." Tears ran down his face unchecked now, as the door opened. "Did you get that?"


Present

12:30 a.m.

Bellevue, Washington

"Easy," Jim murmured, holding him.

His hands taloned into Jim's shirt, anchoring himself. With great effort, he looked back at the other man. "Nash?" he got out, panting, trying to catch his breath. "Evan?"

"Yes?" The man moved closer, heedless of Jim's arms tightening around Blair.

"Evan." He leaned his head back on Jim's shoulder, needing that security to go back into the memory and tell Nash the message. Tell Nash ...

"Chief?" Jim asked him softly. "What do you remember?"

Already it was fading. How could it disappear when it had been so vivid a moment before? So incapacitating?

Then he found it, the message Evan had asked him to deliver, but his energy was gone again, his head heavy. "Jim, help me out here."

"What do you need?"

"I don't know. I can't concentrate. I need to ..." Abruptly, he could feel strength, the dizziness calming. Blair lifted his head and turned around to face Nash. "Evan said ... to tell Cassidy that he loved her. Tell Nash to look after her. Tell Harv that he'd miss him."

As quickly as the strength had appeared, it vanished, and Jim had to repeat the rest of his almost silent words to Nash. "He needs you to find him." Blair felt Jim's arms supporting him, keeping him from crumbling to the floor.

"You saw him? When? How was he?"

Too many questions. He couldn't think. He closed his eyes, shaking his head slightly, then jumped as the man touched his arm.

"Don't." Jim's quiet order was instantly obeyed by the other man, and Nash stepped back. "We'll find out what happened, but let's get him to the motel first. Not here," Jim said softly, sternly, but without anger, as if he knew the desperation that Nash was feeling.

"Just tell me if he was alive the last time you saw him," the man whispered.

"He was alive," Blair answered, before the memory swept him away in the deadly current.


Two days previous

The Warehouse

The room was dark, windowless, claustrophobic.

It probably wasn't even a room, Evan realized slowly. It was too small, a storage closet, echoing his breathing. The cement floor was cold beneath his bare skin. He raised his head, blinking, staring at the thin ribbon of light beneath the door. A moth drawn to the flame, he reached toward to it, his hand meeting instead a cloth, a towel, and he wrapped his fingers around it, dragging it closer.

The movement prompted a thought. I'm not tied up.

He moved from his side to his back. Where am I now?

An attempt to push himself upright ended in a flash of pain, and he pressed the towel first against his lower back, then, understanding the problem, wrapped it beneath himself, wondering if he was bleeding. Maybe he would just bleed to death and it would all be over.

But it -- this -- was all over. Whatever had happened, had happened to him hours ago. It was just the drug releasing him to consciousness, his body presenting him with the aftermath.

He swore softly, then swallowed back tears of frustration. Where are you? Nash? Harv? Joe? Somebody?

Damn it. Get me out of here.

His breathing faltered, and he struggled to calm himself, kicking out with one leg, then freezing as he encountered something with his foot. What? It took a precious few seconds to realize that the breathing he heard was not just the echo of his own. Someone was there beside him. A second kick brought a muffled response.

A name came to him. "Blair?" How he had come to that immediate conclusion, he wasn't sure.

He was rewarded with a frightened groan, then the man he was shut away with began struggling in his bonds.

"Steady," he whispered. "I'm not tied up. I'll release you." His hands fumbled in the darkness, with hooks and catches, buckles and straps. Movement hurt, but the pain was localized, and once Evan registered what it was, he chose to ignore it.

"Thanks, man." Soft panting beside him. Shivers and sobs, combining, then controlled.

"It's okay." Evan shifted, holding his breath at the spasm of pain that brought.

"You all right?" Blair asked.

"I'm alive. That's what counts, right?"

"You said it. Stay alive until you can get away. Or until they rescue you." Blair took a deep breath and forced himself to exhale slowly.

But what if they don't?

"What do you mean?" Blair asked, and Evan realized he had spoken aloud.

He said nothing. Why crush the hopes this man had? Why pass on his own growing despair that help would come too late this time? No Nash to the rescue. No Harvey to flash a smile at him and tell him everything would be okay. No Joe to make some smart aleck remark that would make him laugh, despite his terror.

Evan felt an arm around his shoulder.

"What happened to you?" Blair whispered, drawing him close. "Did they hurt you?"

"Jurgen raped me." He gagged on the words, the bile burning his throat. "The fucking bastard raped me."

"Shit." Blair had frozen at his words, but then was released into action, as though the admission from Evan dismissed his own needs and his own fear. "Lie still. Let me check you over."

"I'm okay. I just don't want to move," he said, stilling Blair's hands. "I've got a towel there. They won't let anything happen to me," he added. "I'm sure I was all doctored up afterwards."

"I'm sorry, man." Blair stayed beside him for a moment, the arm steady on his shoulder, then he drew away. "Is this door locked?" He managed to get to his feet, finding the door handle and turning, but the door was bolted securely. "Then unless you have some great idea to get us out of here, we just wait, I guess."

"Yeah."

"Jim will find me." Blair's voice sounded so sure of himself, that Evan found himself nodding in agreement.

"Jim? He's your partner, right?" He grasped on to the thought, wanting to talk about anything other than how he was feeling right now.

"Yes." Blair peeled off his sweat shirt and helped Evan sit up and get into it. "Jim sorta has this arrangement with me. I get myself into a mess, and he comes and gets me out of it." He laughed, then repeated, "He'll come."

"Nash used to. I don't think I'm high on his priority list at the moment."

"I find that hard to believe. Hell, even if something happened to Jim, Simon -- he's the captain of Major Crimes where Jim works -- Simon and the others would come looking for me. I'm sure it's the same where you work."

"Then what's taking them so long?" Evan hissed.

"You've got to give them time, man."

"I'm running out of time."

"Do you think they've given up? I can't imagine that." Blair's voice softened. "Tell me about them," he asked, settling next to Evan, his arms wrapped around his bare chest to warm himself.

"Why?"

"I'm just curious who you work with. Tell me about your partner."

He didn't want to talk about them, but he found himself speaking, sharing about the SIU, how they worked together, and how a month before he had almost lost his partner. "It was terrifying, you know?" he whispered. "There I was, yelling into my cell phone that an officer was down, and Harv just lay back in my arms with this crazy, bewildered look on his face, like 'what the hell just happened'. He just kept staring at me, then looking around him, then back to me."

"Did you catch the shooter?"

"Yeah. But only after more people had been killed."

There was a pause, then Blair said quietly, "Sorry to hear that. That must have been awful."

"So where are they?" Evan asked, moving closer to Blair.

"Out there. Looking for us."

They sat side by side for several minutes, shivering from reaction more than the cold.

"Maybe I got too good at hiding," Evan said, finally.

"What do you mean?"

"I told you about Cassidy. She's Nash's daughter. He didn't want us going out so we spent several months hiding from him."

"But he found out?"

"Yeah."

"And?"

Evan shrugged. "He didn't kill me. But he wasn't happy about it, either." Evan pressed his fingers over his eyes. "I love her. I love Cassidy. But I hated the hiding. I hated lying to Nash. It goes against every instinct I have. I really respect him, you know? He's damn good at what he does. And he believed in me. In my abilities. He believed in me before anyone else did. And how did I reward him? How did I thank him? I lied to him. I deceived him. I stole from him the one thing he really valued above anything else." Evan bit back the tears, angrily rubbing them from his eyes. "I fucking deserved this."


Present

Bellevue, Washington

"Evan didn't," Sandburg whispered, shaking his head.

"He didn't what," Ellison asked.

"Deserve what happened to him. He loves her." Sandburg's words faded out altogether as he slumped against Ellison, giving in to the exhaustion.

The Cascade detective caught him, holding him upright, but it was apparent that his guide's energy had been used up, his mind and body demanding rest.

"Evan didn't deserve what?" Bridges asked softly, helping Ellison wrap a blanket tighter around his partner.

"You'll have to ask him later. First I want to get him to the motel and get him cleaned up."

Bridges nodded, his thoughts clearly elsewhere.

Ellison ignored him and concentrated on his guide's pulse and body temperature, relieved that both seemed fine. "Well, Chief, it looks like you're going out the same way you came in. There better be a jacuzzi in this motel. My back's going to need it." Ellison scooped up his partner, struggling to get a good grip on him. Bridges helped him through the doors, then Simon Banks helped Ellison place the young man on the front seat of the truck. Ellison leaned across to do up the middle lap belt, then got in beside him, leaning Sandburg back against him.

"I'll meet you there at the motel. Park around the back. It's easier," Bridges said, heading to the hospital's emergency parking lot.

Simon shut the passenger door, then turned to say goodbye to Amy and Dr Morrison. "Thank you both for all your help. I can't begin to tell you how your discretion in this is appreciated, how many lives it might save."

"I'm on duty until 8:00 a.m. Call me if there are any problems. I can also stop by your motel on my way home after my shift, if you need me," Morrison said, then shook hands with Banks and went back inside the hospital.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Amy asked, one hand slipping into Simon's.

"Thanks, but we'll be fine." Simon glanced back at Jim. "We'll call if there's something we can't handle."

"Take care of him," she said, softer.

"We have every intension of doing just that," he answered. "When do you get off work?"

"I was actually off at midnight, so I'm heading home now. You know where to reach me." She waved at Ellison in the truck, and Jim waved back and turned away, allowing Simon and Amy a moment of privacy.

And taking a moment for himself.

Blair was asleep. Alive. Jim eased the dark head back to his shoulder, relishing the chance to touch, to feel that Blair was not in pain at the moment. To feel the body's echo, the regular pulse, the even breathing. His guide was back; he felt whole again. He put his arm around Blair's shoulders, drawing him closer yet, and closed his eyes, relaxing, taking advantage of the brief respite.

And he tried to shake off the growing feeling that things were going to get worse before they got better.


Chapter Seven

"Hello?"

"It's Nash."

"What is it? Wait a sec -- It's Nash, honey."

"Tell Ingar I'm sorry it's so late."

"She was still up, don't worry about it. We were actually talking about Evan."

"Well, that's what I'm phoning about. This may turn out to be nothing, but I had to talk to someone."

"Then I'm glad you called, man. I just wish I was there with you. What's wrong?"

"I may be reaching at straws here, but I have a good feeling about this one. Blair Sandburg, the Cascade man who was kidnaped, said that Evan is still alive."

"Had he talked to him?"

"Not only that, Evan gave him some messages to pass on."

"Like what?"

(Pause) "He wanted me to-- to look after Cassidy. He wanted her to know that he loved her." (Long pause) "Sorry."

"That's cool, man. You're not alone -- I'm sitting here blubbering like a baby."

"I just wanted to tell you that before you went to bed."

"Do you want me to tell Harvey?"

"I don't know ... yeah, tell him. I'll be calling him in the morning before he leaves, but maybe it will help him sleep a bit better tonight. I know this doesn't prove anything, but at least we know he was alive recently."

"Yeah."

"What is it? What are you thinking, Bubba? I know that tone of voice."

"It's nothing. The news is great, Nash. It sounds great."

"And? Come on, what is it?"

"No, really. It sounds great."

"Joe ..."

"Okay, okay. It just ... well, it just sounds like Evan's giving up, man. He's saying his goodbyes. He doesn't expect to survive this."

"Then I'm going to have to surprise him."


"Need any help?" Nash leaned against the doorway of the small bathroom, his arms crossed, a tired smile on his face.

The two Cascade officers, sleeves rolled up, had the police observer sitting in the bathtub, Jim supporting Blair while Simon scrubbed down his back amid a cloud of bubbles. Blair was half asleep as they worked, hardly aware of what was happening as the water around him gradually muddied from dirt and dried blood. His head lolled forward and Jim's right hand came up to support his partner's face.

The detective glanced up at Nash. "You said you had bought some vinegar?"

He handed over the bag. "Shampoo his hair, put the vinegar on, then rinse it well."

"Thanks." Ellison set the white plastic bottle on the rim of the tub, then looked back at Nash. "Give us about ten minutes and he should be relatively cleaned up enough to talk--"

"Ouch!!" Blair jerked forward in the tub, gasping for breath, his eyes opening. "Ouch," he repeated. His hand rose from the water to grab hold of his partner's forearm, the wide, unfocused gaze seeking Jim's reassurance.

"What's wrong?" Ellison asked, looking to the police captain. "What happened?"

"My fault," Simon muttered. "I pulled a small piece of duct tape off his lower back. Better to do it when he was relaxed." Simon rested his hand on the police observer's back. "That was the last of it, Blair. Sorry about that."

"S'okay."

"At least warn me next time," Jim said softly, as he reached down and pulled the plug to drain the water, letting cleaner water fill the tub partway. As he turned, Nash saw the exhaustion on Ellison's face, the dark circles beneath his eyes, the tension across his forehead as he struggled to keep his eyes open.

Their captain noticed, as well. "Jim, take this," Simon said, passing a soapy washcloth to him. "Do his face and neck. We all need to get some sleep. If we can get him marginally clean, that'll be good enough for tonight. He can have a hot soak in the tub tomorrow morning."

"What are his injuries?" Nash asked.

Simon rested back on his heels, slowly stretching his back muscles. "He's got two bruised ribs and one cracked rib, all on the left side. Mild concussion. His wrists and ankles have cuts and bruises. Skin rubbed raw on his right ankle. As you can see, he's covered in cuts, scrapes, and bruises, but nothing serious. And the rest of it, of course -- the drugs and the other assault," Simon finished, his voice lower, glancing to Nash, who nodded his understanding of what Simon was not saying. "The doctor felt he should be okay tomorrow," the captain said, louder. "Right now, he's struggling with not only the drugs, but also he's exhausted, dehydrated, and hungry."

"Hungry," Sandburg nodded, water dripping from his hair. Then he shook his head. "No. No food."

"Okay. How about some tea?" Ellison asked. "We can get you some of your tea."

"My tea?"

"I brought some. What kind do you want?"

"My tea? Sleepy Time."

"No problem." Jim glanced up at Nash. "Could you put some water through the coffee maker in the other room?"

"I'll do a pot of it." At least it gave him something to do. Nash filled the coffee maker with water, then waited until it had started dripping through before going back to the bathroom door.

Blair looked back quickly as he caught sight of Nash, then closed his eyes as the washcloth was re-soaped and once more traveled over his neck and face. "I tried to tell him. I tried ..."

"Tell him what?" Jim prompted, rinsing the cloth and wiping the soap from his partner's face.

"That he didn't deserve it." Blair's eyes opened then, and Nash saw the look the young man directed at his partner. "You found me."

"I did," Jim said, then took the re-soaped cloth from Simon and started to wipe down Blair's shoulders and chest, while Simon worked shampoo into his wet hair.

"I told him you would," Blair murmured, with a faint smile. "It's our deal." The smile faded, a frown creasing the exhausted face.

Jim froze. "What is it?"

Blair shook his head, then shrugged. "I didn't like the man with the rough hands."

Jim flinched as though physically struck, but kept working on his partner, gently cleaning the bruised abdomen. "How do your ribs feel?"

"Okay." Blair sleepily followed the progress of the washcloth. "I'm tired."

"We'll get you in bed soon, kid," Simon promised. He traded looks with Nash, then took a cup and eased Blair's head back to rinse the shampoo from his hair.

Nash flashed on another scene, but he could not picture himself bathing Evan, even with Harvey's help. There was a different dynamic here. These men had crossed lines that he had never approached. Even with Joe, he couldn't imagine this. A lifetime of roles had not prepared him for the simple task of ministering to another male.

Such a damn simple thing.

They made it look so natural: Simon working more shampoo into Blair's hair, trying to erase the smell of death. Jim helping his partner soap down his legs and feet. It wasn't a parent bathing a child. Or a lover his beloved. But yet it was both. An extension of one being to encompass another. It was almost as though there were no lines dividing them. No walls to say where one began and the other ended. Strength flowed from one to the other, particularly between the partners, but also between them and their captain.

Trust.

The absolute trust.

To look at these men, he would not have suspected it. Jim Ellison, even now, his face carved in stone, his jaw clenched in anger at whoever had done this to his partner, yet with gentle hands supported the young man's shoulders while Simon Banks poured clean water through the tangled hair. Simon managed to have a slightly perturbed look on his face, but it was at what had transpired to put him in this situation, not directed at Blair.

And Blair was the enigma. Wiry and strong. Abused and exhausted. Trusting not only his life, but his body to these men, when God knows what had happened to that body at the hands of other men in the last few days. Accepting it not as a frightened child, but as an exhausted soldier who can go no further, knowing he is now in home territory and he can let go of the fight to survive and place himself totally, absolutely, into the hands of another.

And it would have worked no matter which one of them was in the tub. If necessary, Nash knew Jim and Blair would not hesitate to help Simon, or Blair and Simon would help Jim.

Nash stood silently at the door, not moving as Jim and Simon conferred briefly, then Jim stripped down and joined his partner in the tub, gently maneuvering Blair upward to stand beneath the shower spray, turning him to let the water wash the soap away from his bruised skin. Blair stood passively, eyes closed, letting the warm water pound his shoulders and the back of his neck, a faint smile touching his face. Jim let him stay there for a minute, then turned the water off. He wrapped a towel around his own waist, then, with Simon's help, assisted his partner in stepping from the bathtub and settled him on the towel-covered floor beside it, leaning him back so his hair hung over the rim of the tub.

Simon took another towel and draped it over Blair, covering him more for warmth than modesty. "Okay, let's do this." He supported the young man's head with one hand, reaching for the vinegar bottle. "Can you open that for me?"

Jim took the lid off the vinegar and promptly sneezed.

"Dial it back," Blair whispered, not opening his eyes.

Jim nodded, sneezed one more time, then poured the vinegar over his partner's hair, letting the liquid drip into the tub. Only then did he look over to Nash, still standing silently in the doorway. "How long do we leave this on?"

I'm acting like a damned voyeur, and they haven't said a word. Nash had to clear his throat. "Uh, sorry. Leave it on a few minutes. Give it time to work."

Blair sat up straight suddenly. "Wait -- what day is it?" he whispered, grabbing at Jim's arm.

"Saturday. Early in the morning."

"Fuck. Jim-- Jim! Evan -- he's going to be sold on Tuesday."

"What?" Nash moved closer and would have grabbed the young man's shoulder, but Simon was in his way, blocking him in the small bathroom. "What are you saying?"

Blair looked over at him, registering his presence again. He took a deep breath, trying to control his breathing and talk clearly. "Someone is buying Evan on Tuesday. We have to help him -- find him before that. He helped me, Jim," he said, looking back at his partner, anxiety and terror stamped on his face, his breathing more ragged. "Evan ... made them stop. We have to help ... him."

"We're going to, buddy." Jim placed one hand on Blair's chest, the other at the back of his neck. "Just relax. Breathe in and out. You're safe."

"Evan's not!" Blair stiffened, not allowing himself to be soothed. Blue eyes opened to find Nash again. "He needs you."

"Where is he? Who did they sell him to?" Nash asked, leaning forward to look into the still-drugged eyes.

"On Tuesday," Blair murmured, as the last remnants of energy left him. He sank back against Jim, his body trembling from the effort to stay awake, breaths coming in short gasps. "He stopped them for me."

"I'll have to thank him later," Jim said softly, his voice strained, and Nash could see him visibly absorbing his partner's pain, Blair's body relaxing, calming, even as the lines on Jim's face deepened as the detective became weaker.

"It hurt," Blair whispered, his eyes closed, fingers again clutching Jim's arm, then slumped forward, leaning against his partner.

"Sandburg?" Simon checked him quickly, then turned his attention to Ellison. "He's pretty well out of it. How are you doing?"

"I'll be fine." As though dizzy, Jim sat down beside the younger man, one hand going to his face, taking a breath and letting it out slowly. "I'm surprised he was able to tell us that."

They continued speaking together quietly as Nash stared at Blair's sleeping face. Someone is buying Evan. How? Nash stood slowly, bracing himself against the door jamb, then cleared his throat. "How accurate do you think--?"

Simon shook his head. "There's no way of knowing for sure, but Blair seemed pretty clear about which day this is happening. He must have heard something. I'd say we need to proceed on that information." He stood and washed his hands in the sink, drying them and then tossing the hand towel to Jim. "You okay here?"

"We're fine. I should be okay in a few minutes, and then I'll help him rinse this off."

"Call if you need help. Come on, Nash, let's go to the other room. Jim can finish up here." Simon touched the top of Blair's head as he passed him, but no words were exchanged.

Nash followed him through the bedroom and back into the main room of the suite. Feeling an uncharacteristic weakness, the SIU captain dropped onto a chair at the table, rubbing one hand across his brow. He felt frayed, shaky. "Tuesday. I've got till Tuesday, then."

"That still gives us two days. Blair will be able to answer more questions in the morning, once all the drugs are out of his system. His memories are just beginning to come back, and from the signs of physical and sexual abuse, he's going to have a lot to deal with."

Nash looked across the table to Simon. "Will he be okay?"

Sitting across from him, Simon nodded, yawning. "Yes."

No hesitancy. No 'maybe'. No mention of therapists and counselors. Just 'yes'.

Then you can, too, Evan ... Just stay alive. For now, just stay alive.


Jim dug into the large duffle bag, searching for a pair of Blair's boxers and a T-shirt. The pain tablets were on the night stand, and he snagged the prescribed ointment as he headed back to the bathroom. Blair was still resting on the floor, groggy from his five-minute nap, his head tilted back to let the vinegar rinse drip from his hair into the tub. "How are you doing, Chief?"

Blair opened bleary eyes and looked up at him. "Uh, thanks, Jim." He coughed and his left arm moved closer to his ribs, guarding them.

"You're welcome," Jim said, smiling gently as he crouched beside him. "How are you doing?" he repeated, sliding touch-sensitive fingers along his partner's left side, to trace the bottom two ribs. "Everything okay here?"

Blair nodded, slowly moving his head from side to side, stretching his neck. "I think so. I'm just so tired, I can't think."

"Well, let's get you rinsed off and into bed." Ellison helped him to his feet and back into the tub. He steadied him with one hand, while checking the flow of water with the other. Satisfied the temperature was okay, he tugged on the shower valve, then maneuvered his partner under the spray. "That's it. You're doing good." He risked his sense of smell, monitoring the sharp vinegar scent. "Let's get some of your own shampoo on your hair now. It'll get rid of that salad smell."

"Okay. Whatever." Sandburg was barely awake, no longer even trying to follow what was happening.

Ellison turned Sandburg to face the shower nozzle as he massaged shampoo through the long hair, his eyes checking out his partner's back, shoulders and legs. As Dr Morrison had stated, Sandburg had come away from his experience with relatively few injuries. It could have been worse. Much worse. But Blair was alive, and that's what ultimately counted. The drugs they used seemed to cause the disorientation and compliancy. He had gone without food and water for perhaps the last two days of his absence, which, coupled with the drugs, had left him dehydrated. The IV in the hospital had helped, as had the water and soup.

His thumb paused over the lump on the back of Sandburg's head. The swelling was going down already, a good sign. "How does this feel?"

"Hurts. Just a little," Blair added, his eyes closed again, as Jim put him under the spray. The soap bubbles gathered around their feet. "Hey, got a razor?"

"You want to shave now?"

"Yeah." Blair yawned, then mumbled, "Why not? I always shave ... in the shower. And I don't ... want to rub vinegar ... in my beard to get the smell out. It makes me feel sick."

"Stay put. I'll get a razor from my bag." Jim stepped out of the tub onto the wet floor, then moved quickly into the bedroom to get his shaving kit. If Sandburg wanted to shave, so be it. As long as he didn't cut his neck doing it.

Blair plucked the razor from his hand, when he got back in the shower. "Thanks." He grabbed the bar of soap, lathered up, and, eyes closed, slowly shaved, while Jim watched anxiously, waiting for the first sign of blood. Blue eyes opened to smile at him. "I'm not going to ... cut myself. I do this ... every morning," he yawned, "not even as awake as I am now."

"That's not too reassuring, Chief." Ellison reclaimed the razor handed to him and put it on the shower shelf. "Anything else?"

"Conditioner?" the younger man asked, yawning again and stumbling forward.

"I've got it right here. I have no plans to spend all night getting the knots out of your hair."

"Good. Hate knots." Blair leaned against the wall as Jim released him to get the bottle of conditioner.

"Not a problem I've had to worry about," Jim murmured, then he smiled when Blair let out a guffaw of laughter, steadying him as he gasped from the sharp pain in his ribs. "Easy."

"That's what they all say," Blair joked, tossing off the long-standing joke between them. A shadow crossed his face and he sobered again. "Fuck."

"It's okay," Jim said, quickly. "We'll deal with it. Let's get the conditioner on."

It took a few more minutes to work it through Blair's hair, then rinse it off again and get his partner safely out of the tub. He wrapped a towel around Blair's hair, then helped the uncertain hands dry himself off. Through it all, Sandburg stayed quiet, face downcast.

"It's over, Chief," Jim whispered, helping him on with his T-shirt.

"Maybe for me. But Evan's out there."


Simon Banks stretched, trying not to be too obvious about monitoring the man sitting across from him at the table in their motel room, his face buried in his hands.

The San Francisco captain looked drained, his eyes red from exhaustion. For the last twenty minutes, Bridges had stood at the doorway of the bathroom and watched them clean Sandburg up, and the few times Simon had looked over at him, it was clear that the SIU chief was hurting emotionally.

And why shouldn't he? We have Blair back, which must be a constant reminder that Evan is still out there. And now, more than ever, under a time limit to get him back.

"We'll do whatever it takes to find your man," Simon said, softly.

"Yeah." Bridges nodded, unable to say more.

"So what did you decide about Woodward?"

Again the shell-shocked look, then the slow blink as his words became clear. "Woodward? Right. I guess I better make up my mind about that." He let out a deep breath, shaking his head slowly. They had all been going on little sleep, little food, and too much caffeine over the last week. For Nash Bridges, it had been a month since Evan was kidnaped. Finding a link between the abductions, then the Internet site, the four deaths, Blair's recovery, it all added up to a hell of a lot of input for one person.

Simon shook his head. I have Jim to go through this with. To talk to. Who does this guy have? "Why are you here alone?" he asked.

"What?"

"Why did you come alone?"

Nash shrugged. "It was my decision. I figured I could send for someone if I needed help. It was supposed to be just an information session, and I couldn't spare the manpower. I'm already missing one man."

Simon nodded, understanding the reasoning of another captain. There were other cases to be worked on -- crime didn't come to a halt because one man disappeared. Although his Major Crimes department had come to a halt. Rafe in the hospital, Brown at his side. Jim focused on searching for his partner, and Simon watching him in case he zoned again. That basically left Joel and Megan to handle all the cases -- the two rookies to the department.

"About Woodward," Nash said finally. "I'll call him now, before it gets much later, but I'll ask him to wait until mid-morning before sending someone to open it. Maybe set up a stakeout in the interim to watch the trailer in case anyone approaches it. Easy enough to do with a surveillance van."

Simon handed him his cell phone. "Make the call then. Tell him where we were on the highway. I marked down the rest stop. The last one heading north before reaching Everett."

It was after one in the morning, but Woodward was still in his office, saying little when Nash gave his report.

"That's right, Harold. Four bodies ... We don't know who they are ... That's a possibility, but we don't know for sure yet." Nash leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees, one hand over his eyes. "He wasn't one of the men whose picture was on the website, but that doesn't mean ... We don't know that for sure yet. It's only a ..." Nash glanced across to Simon, his frustration clear. "Yeah ... I hear you, Harold. Just wait until you know for sure ... Yeah, we'll get these bastards."

"I'm with you on that one," Simon added softly.


"You okay?"

Blair closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation of the cool sheets, the sheer nirvana of lying on the soft mattress. Safe. "Yeah, Jim. Thanks." He could feel the bed move slightly as his partner sat beside him, but his eyes wouldn't open.

"I'll go get your tea when I'm done here."

"Thanks." He succeeded in prying one eye open. "Are you going to ... have a ... shower?" The words were hard to form his mouth around, but he was able to do it if he concentrated.

"In case you don't remember, kid, I already had a shower," Jim said, rifling through his duffle bag. "And don't let it get around at the station that we're having showers together."

"I won't ... believe me, Jim ... Thanks for helping me." He managed to get his eyes open for a moment and reached out and snagged Jim's arm. "But I had a shower ... you just helped. You need one? ... I'm okay." His partner looked and sounded exhausted.

Ellison stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "Maybe a quick one, then. I'll be right back." Ellison took a pair of boxers with him, then paused at the doorway to the other room. "Simon, keep an eye on him. He's in bed. I'm just going to clean up."

Blair smiled as he disappeared into the bathroom. "Old 'Mother Hen' Ellison strikes again." He shivered, his eyes closing. Okay, maybe this time I want someone around. His emotions kept bending on him. He'd be fine, then suddenly a wave of terror would grab at his throat, shaking his limbs. Then he'd get himself under control until the next batch hit. Right now, he felt sleepy. Safe. The blankets were keeping him warm and protected. The bed was so different than the one--

No.

"Sandburg?" Jim's voice rang out from the bathroom.

"I'm okay, Jim," he said, softly. Just took a detour in my thoughts and found something I didn't want to think about. He rolled over onto his side, curling around a pillow.

Simon came into the room and sat beside him. "Jim's just having a quick shower."

"Yeah. I told him to."

"Good. He needs to unwind a bit."

Blair rolled onto his back, then lay still until the dizziness passed. "How was he?" he asked, wishing his eyes would open to see the captain's face.

Simon rested his hand on Blair's shoulder. "Jim handled it okay. He was scared -- hell, we all were. But he was convinced you were alive. I think he 'felt' your presence or something a few times."

"How?"

"I'm not sure. He didn't know."

"Wow." Blair could feel himself closing down, the struggle to stay awake ending abruptly. "Jim?" he whispered.

The shower abruptly cut off, the shower curtain pushed aside. Jim's voice came out of the steam. "I'll be right there. Just wait." He appeared a moment later in a T-shirt and boxers, dragging a towel across his short hair as he stumbled from the bathroom. "What's wrong?" He let the towel rest over his shoulders as he sat on the bed beside his unresponsive partner. "Chief?"

"Jim, I think he just wanted to know you were here."

Ellison tugged the blanket up further, then buried his face in his hands, too exhausted to move or think. "We've got to ..." his voice trailed off. "Something."

Simon went around the bed and took the towel from Jim's neck. "You're almost asleep, but too stubborn to lie down. Get in and scoot down," he said softly, nudging the detective between the sheets, then covering them both with blankets. "There's nothing else we can do tonight. Just rest. We'll have a busy day tomorrow."

"Now you're the mother hen," Ellison murmured, his eyes closed

"If I am, it's because you both have driven me to it. Now don't make me make it an order."

Ellison nodded briefly as he drifted to sleep.

Nash was standing at the entranceway, and Simon took him by the elbow, steering him from the room and turning out the light as they passed through the doorway. "We need to get to sleep, as well."

"Someone bought one of my men. I'm supposed to sleep?"

"If you want to help him, you will. We're all in desperate need of sleep. Running on gas fumes. We've got to get to sleep or we'll be useless tomorrow. "

Nash nodded as he moved mechanically over to his small suitcase, put it on one of the beds, and opened it. He couldn't remember what he wanted from it; he stared at the neatly folded clothing blankly. "I'm as bad as Jim. My brain's fried," he said finally, reaching in for his bed clothes.

Simon dropped his duffle bag to the floor, then quickly stripped and put on his nightshirt. "Nash, you shouldn't be doing this alone. Your SIU functions as a unit. I've already asked you this, but why did you come alone? Almost every city sent two representatives."

Nash closed the suitcase, then wiped one hand over his face. "I thought I could do this."

"This isn't about you. It's about Evan. What are you going to do when you get him back?" Simon dragged the bedspread to the bottom of his bed. "Are you close enough to him to do for Evan what Jim is doing for Blair? Can you hold him, offer him love and support until he is able to stand on his own?" he asked, getting into his bed. "Because that's what he's going to need."

Nash was still standing in the middle of the room, his bed clothes tucked under one arm. When Simon clicked off the night lamp, he shook himself awake and tried to answer the question. "No. Not like that. I can't do that. Not to the extent he's going to need." Nash retrieved his cell phone from his jacket pocket and touched the first speed dial. "Joe? It's Nash. One last request for the night. Make arrangements for Harvey to fly up to Seattle tomorrow. I'm going to need help on this one after all.... I know you're willing to come, but I think I'm going to need Harvey for this one."


Saturday, June 20

3:45 a.m.

"Jim?"

Ellison turned over quickly, dragged instantly from a sound sleep. "Yes?" He glanced beyond his partner to the clock and the time, then moved closer to rest his hand on Blair's shoulder.

"Where are we?" Sandburg's eyes blinked, sightless in the darkness as he shivered. "Not Mexico?"

"Not Mexico," Jim said softly. "We're in Bellevue. In a motel."

"Is he here?"

"Is who here?" Blair was already falling back asleep, and Jim pulled him closer, letting him settle against him.

"Crawford."

"No." Crawford? Daniel Crawford had kidnaped Sandburg half a year before. It had been several months since Crawford's trial had ended, and his partner had never mentioned the man since. "He's not here."

"Good."

"Get some sleep. Don't worry about him."

"I won't. Jim, why are we here? I can't remember why."

"I do," he whispered, laying his head back on the pillow.


6:30 a.m.

Blair woke up slowly, feeling groggy, disoriented. Cobwebs, he thought. My brain is full of cobwebs.

He finally found a command to open his eyes and stared out at a room he hadn't seen before ... maybe. He turned his head and found Jim, tracking him as he moved around the room. Jim was already dressed, cleaning up, folding clothes and packing his duffle bag.

He lay still, not wanting to move from his warm cocoon. For some reason, he knew they were in Bellevue. Doing ... something. In Bellevue. Something had happened ...

For a moment, it was there, then it flittered away, out of his reach. He closed his eyes, still not moving. In fact, not moving was very high on his list of things to do. Moving would mean pain. Why, he wasn't sure, but he wasn't willing to check it out, either. The sound of the duffle bag's zipper. A chair being moved slightly. The drapes opening.

Through closed lids, he could see the sunshine, feel it on his face. It felt good. Warm.

Then he opened his eyes and his world tilted. A man's outline. Bright light blinding him. The man coming closer. "No!" he yelled. "Don't touch me!"

"Chief? Easy."

The voice was Jim's, not ... not whoever he thought it was.

But the bright lights.

Hot lights.

A man's outline.

A bed -- no. Not a bed. A table. An examination table. He was on an examination table.

"No," he whispered, feeling hands on him, touching him.

These hands were different, though. Not intrusive. Not painful or rough like-- Or seductive like--


Two days previous

"Don't!" he had whispered.

"He's gone now. He's finished with you." The camera man came closer, stepping out of the light, holding one of his ever-present, styrofoam 7-Eleven coffee cups. "What are you doing awake already?"

"Please," he murmured, repeating the useless request. "Don't."

"I won't hurt you, luv," the man said. "Don't mind him. He just doesn't like your type."

Smooth hands touched him, rolling him onto his side and releasing his handcuffs. He couldn't move; any commands his brain sent were completely ignored by his body.

"That better, luv? Here, let me readjust the light. I know how he wants it set for later. And I know how I want it right now."

The hot light returned, making him feel like he was broiling in an oven, his bare skin burning. "Hot."

"Yes, you are," the man purred. "Very." Hands touched him then. His hip. Stroking down his hip, onto his bare outer thigh. "He doesn't like your kind. Says there's no money in it. He's wrong. You're perfect, in my books. Absolutely perfect." The hand continued along his thigh, down to his calf, going right to his toes, stroking the bottom of his foot. The man spoke again from the end of the table. "Not like this, though. I picture you lying on a blanket. Surrounded by flowers. A wine glass, empty, lies on the blanket, near your open hand. You are naked, defenseless. Inviting. Vulnerable. Offering yourself. Ready to be taken. The wind is caressing your skin, like a velvet blanket."

The man's hand left his foot, trailing upward through the hair on his shins, stopping for a moment at his knee, then drifting over it.

"Your hair is loose. Free. No beard, no trace of facial hair. Michelangelo's David. Beauty is as seductive as power, but Jurgen is blind to that. Beauty like this, men would pay for ... Perfect. The curls ..."

Blair tried to move, but was caught by the drug still, like a fly in a spider's web. The man's hand touched him. Combed through his pubic curls. Cupped his scrotum. Curled around his penis.

His heart felt ready to explode, the wild pounding almost unbearable. Jim! Please! Help me! He screamed -- he wasn't sure what -- and the hand left his groin, still moving upward.

"You're not ready yet," the voice continued. "It's the drugs. He's going about this all wrong." The hand stroked through his chest hair, circling one nipple. "A hole here ... Wonderful idea. The ring. Golden, with a jewel. A diamond. A man's tongue caressing it, licking it. Beginning in the heat of the day. Finishing you by the warmth of the sunset."

His throat. Hands glided up his jaw, touching briefly at his hair. The voice became harsh. "It's a disgrace the way they've left you without food. You should be eating ... honey. Dripping from my fingers. Would you like to suck my fingers? Or my cock? The honey would be a good touch."

"Pete! What are you still doing here?" Scar Man's voice now. "I thought you were supposed to be setting up in the next room."

"Just playing. Jurgen's a fool. This little one would net us a fortune."

"Well, Jurgen may be a fool, but he's calling the shots and paying the bills right now. And he wants the other room set up for tonight. I'll take care of your little toy."

"Just remember that I get first stab at him."

"If you don't take him by tomorrow, we will. Jurgen wants him gone."

"Why? He's making use of him."

"He says he can't get off on drilling this one. Other than fixing camera angles, he's no good."

Blair was rolled off the table with no warning, not that he had control enough to protect himself from the fall.

"Careful!" Pete yelled. "Don't damage the goods. Those are my goods."

"Fuck you," Scar Man muttered. Blair was lifted, hoisted over one shoulder, his bare buttocks slapped roughly. "We'll put him back in the closet. If Jurgen can't see him, he won't go ballistic on us."

"Just give me the key this time."

Blair could feel his stomach clench with nausea as he was blindly taken through the warehouse, his arms dangling uselessly. Don't throw up. Don't throw up.

Whispered words ran through his mind, knowing the dangers of upsetting these men.

And more whispers, chanted. JimJimJimJimJim


Present

"I'm here. I'm here." Ellison stroked his partner's forehead, wincing at the tight hold Sandburg had on his wrists. "Chief? Open your eyes."

"Jim? Jim?"

"Take it easy. I'm here." He leaned closer, making sure his presence was known, in case ...

Blue eyes opened to look at him, then Blair lunged upward, arms encircling Jim's neck. "Jim!"

"Yeah. I'm here." He didn't know what else to say, just sat and held his partner, gently rubbing the tense back, trying not to think of the waking flashback that had prompted this. "I'm here."

And that was calming to his partner, the fact that he was there. It was so simple sometimes. Just be there. Just listen. Just ...

Just hold him.

Physically hold him. Mentally hold him. Emotionally hold him.

Then let him go free.

It took almost five minutes this time before the stranglehold on his neck loosened.

"Sorry," Blair whispered, as Jim helped him to sit up.

"After all this time, you still have to say that?"

He nodded, looking down, as though ashamed.

"Sandburg? Tell me what happened."

And he told him. The entire flashback. The fear. The terror. The humiliation.

This time it was Jim who reached for him, deliberately drawing him closer. "We bathed you last night. His touch is gone. We've removed all trace of him."

"In my mind, though," came the whisper.

"Then we will rob his power." It made sense to Jim, and his belief in his own words was passed to his partner. He strengthened the warm embrace, inhaling deeply, his face pressed into his guide's hair.

Blair laughed in spite of himself. "You're like a cat checking to see if his mark is still there."

Jim's hold tightened. "You scared me, Sandburg. What if I hadn't found you?"

Blair found his body trembling in reaction and he turned his face into the side of Jim's neck. "You did though," he whispered. "You did."

"Not on time."


"I'm alive, Jim. You were on time," Blair said firmly. He was still shivering, grateful for the arms around him. Jim didn't seem inclined to break the contact, so Blair kept quiet, letting his thoughts float. Faces came into focus, then drifted away. He wasn't sure who they were. "Thanks." Blair's eyes sought Jim's when he was finally settled back against the pillow.

"Hey, how's your head?"

"My head?" The young man considered the question. "Not too bad, I guess. No headache. Kinda dozy."

"So, same as always?" Jim teased, gently.

Blair looked up quickly, but read the concern in the sentinel's eyes. "Yeah." He looked around, trying to center himself. "So ... I'm okay, right?" He swallowed, as shadowy memories slowly cleared, like fog lifting on a sunny day. "Jim?" he whispered.

Ellison used two fingers to raise his chin. "It's over. You're back."

"I'm not in the hospital, either," Sandburg said, relieved ... then that memory slowly returned. "But I was. Amy was there. And another man. " He looked over to Jim. "And you."

"Every step of the way." Ellison said softly, touching the side of his face.

"Thanks."

"Just glad you're back." His hand traveled down to grasp Blair's hand.

"Me, too." Sandburg's stomach growled. "Guess I'm hungry," he said, with a laugh, clutching Jim's hand. "No, don't leave yet," he added quickly, as Jim went to stand up. "Please." He was embarrassed by the slight desperation in his voice.

Jim wasn't, though, and squeezed his hand. "No problem."

"Guess I was drugged a lot of the time."

"Yes," Jim said after a moment, almost reluctantly.

"I don't remember much," Blair added. "It's all kinda blurry."

"The drugs can cause amnesia. Don't force yourself."

Blair stared at him, feeling a slight tightening across his chest. "But I need to, don't I?" he said softly. "I need to remember." He looked out the window, at the blue sky -- all he could see from where he lay. "Evan," he murmured. "I need to find Evan."

Jim started to shake his head, but abandoned the gesture. "Blair ..."

"It's okay, Jim. I'm okay." Blair sat up straighter. "Oh, God." He wiped his eyes on the back of his forearm as memories surfaced. "I'm okay," he repeated. He pushed back the blankets and put his feet on the carpeted floor. "Where's Simon?"

"Probably still sleeping. I'm supposed to meet them for breakfast at 7:30 downstairs."

"Me, too?"

"How are you feeling?"

"I don't think that matters much," Blair said, standing and stretching carefully, then turning to face his partner. "I remember enough to know that Evan is in danger. If we don't find a plan in the next day or so, he's going to be sold. And I can't let that happen."

"Chief--" Jim stood in front of him, one hand outstretched to halt him.

"What?"

Jim rubbed at his forehead. "Slow down. You need to take it easy."

"No can do." Blair walked to the bathroom and splashed some water on his face, then stared at his reflection in the mirror. He had dark rings under his eyes. He had marks on his arms, on his wrists. White gauze circled his right wrist. He looked like something the dog dragged in. What could he possibly do to help Evan? He had no idea where Evan was. His memories of the last few days were like swiss cheese. And what he did remember was of no help.

Maybe it was better not to remember the things that must have happened to him. His body bore the marks; his memories didn't have to supply the details. What purpose would it serve?

Jim appeared beside him and set two bottles of pills and a tube of ointment on the counter. "Don't shut me out. I'm here. I'm with you. We do this together, do you understand?" Determined blue eyes met his.

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

Jim's arm went around his shoulders, Jim's lips touched his forehead. Then he was at the doorway, looking back. "Have a shower quick, and we'll go down to breakfast. If you need help with washing your hair or anything--"

"-- I'll call." Blair smiled as his partner disappeared back into the motel room, leaving him alone.

No. Not alone.

"Thanks," he whispered.


Chapter Eight

"Hello?"

"Nash? It's Joe. Harvey's booked on a flight at nine o'clock. Where do you want him to go when he gets there?"

"Tell him to rent a car and then call me on my cell phone."

"Will do. Everything okay there?"

"Yeah. As good as could be expected."

"How's the police observer?"

"His partner just poked his head in the room to say they'd both be joining us for breakfast in a few minutes, so I presume he's doing okay."

"Anything more on Evan?"

"No. I'm sure Ellison would have told me. I'm hoping I'm gonna find out more at breakfast. Frank Black and Harold Woodward are supposed to be joining us at 7:30."

"When? Oh ... Guess that's in about five minutes. So ... when will I hear from you? Half an hour or so?"

"I'll call you when I have any news, Bubba."

"Right. Same here. If I have any news."

"You going in to SIU?"

"Might as well. If you, Harvey, or Evan aren't there, someone better show up or Michelle's gonna take over."

"Then I'll leave it with you. Be gentle with her, Joe."

"I will. Call me, right?"

"Will do."


June 20, Saturday

Bellevue, Washington

Nash stirred his coffee, idly watching the swirl of color gradually become even, as the milk mixed with the darker liquid. At least it was sunny outside, although he wondered briefly why it mattered. He wasn't in a very 'sunny' mood. His brief conversation with his daughter Cassidy had ended with her in tears and hanging up on him. Find him, Daddy. For God's sake, just find him. And quit trying to protect me! You want to help me? Just find him. One way or the other -- I've got to know.

"Nash?"

He looked up as the three men from Cascade joined him in the restaurant booth, sliding aside for Simon to sit next to him. "Sorry, I was miles away." He took a good look at the young man across from him, shocked at the difference in his appearance. If he didn't know what the observer had been through in the last week, he'd never have guessed it. And much of it had to do with the man sitting next to him, frowning at something on the fork at his place setting. "Good morning. You both are looking better than you were when I last saw you."

"Thanks." Blair nodded briefly, offering a faint smile.

He did look better. The improvement was dramatic. His hair was clean, hanging in loose, damp curls to his shoulders. He had shaved and his face was relatively unmarked from his ordeal. Whatever the kidnapers had done to him, they had been careful. That alone gave him hope that Evan might survive. Of course, not all the scars were on the outside.

"So any idea what you want to order?" Simon asked, staring at his menu. "The breakfasts are good here."

"Eat here often, Simon?" Jim asked, helping his partner take off his jacket.

"A few times," the captain intoned, refusing to be drawn into admitting anything else. He then closed the menu with a wide smile and nodded as the waitress came by for their order.

"Anything to drink?"

"Coffee, please," Blair said, gracing the young woman with a beatific smile.

"Same here," Jim added, turning to his menu and studying it intently. "I think I know what I want already."

"Are you ready to order?" she asked, shifting her attention from Blair to Simon. "Or would you like to wait for the rest of your party?"

Simon glanced at his watch. "We'll wait another five or six minutes, and if they haven't shown up, we'll order then. Thanks, Macie."

"You're welcome," she said with another smile, moving on to the next table.

"Macie?" Blair asked, leaning forward to whisper loudly to Banks. "You know the waitresses here by their first names? Are you holding out on us, Simon? Just how well do you know this place?"

"Well enough," Simon said, ignoring Blair's playful nudge to his partner. "She's coming back in a minute, Sandburg, and you haven't even opened your menu yet."

Blair shrugged. "Can't read it. No glasses."

"I've checked it out for you. How about the special?" Jim asked, leaning over and reading the item to him.

"What else is there? Anything with fruit?" Blair squinted at the menu his partner was holding.

"How about the Eggs Benedict? You can get fruit instead of hash browns."

"Sounds good to me. I'm hungry." Blair looked around trying to see the waitress. "Where's Macie gone?"

"She'll be back."

"So, Simon," the young man persisted, his elbows on the table, chin resting on the heels of his hands as he scrutinized the captain. "Just how often would you say you eat at this restaurant? Once a month? Once a week? Every few days?"

"What are you basing this on, Sandburg? The fact that I know the waitress's name?"

"To start, yeah."

"Just shows you're not a detective," Simon answered, catching her attention from across the room.

"Why?"

Jim took a large slurp of his coffee and put it down. "Because it's on her badge, Chief. Surprised you didn't notice it there. You were certainly staring."

Nash hid his laugh behind his napkin as Blair turned a wonderful shade of red when the well-busted young woman returned to their table to take their orders. It was educating listening to the three men talk. Blair Sandburg certainly felt safe at the table, even with Nash present. He was at the end of a booth seating six, across from Nash and hemmed in by his partner. Simon and Jim began a conversation about a case one of their detectives had called Simon about that morning, brainstorming ways to help her, and that left Nash to find something to say to the young man. He had a lot of questions to ask him, but now, sitting at a table in a family restaurant, didn't seem to be an appropriate time.

"How are you feeling this morning?" Nash asked, finally.

"Fine, thanks." Blair met his eyes, then looked away, as though he, too, didn't know what else was safe to say in a public place. He reached for his coffee, took a swallow, then clumsily put the cup back down, spilling it unto the saucer. "Damn," he whispered.

Without a break in his own conversation, Jim reached across with a napkin and put it on Blair's saucer, under the cup, letting it soak up the liquid. Then he was pulling out his cell phone to call a detective by the name of Joel, to fill him in on something unrelated to the kidnapings.

"Thanks, Jim," Blair mumbled, staring at the cup and saucer. He looked small sitting at the table. Young. Suddenly very tired.

"I guess we're all a bit clumsy this morning," Nash said, and pointed to a stain on his jacket lapel from where it had dripped from the bottom of his cup earlier. The waitress had spilled his coffee when she brought it to him, so when he went to have sip, the liquid from the saucer dripped on his jacket.

Blair glanced up at him, looked at the spot, then finally smiled his acknowledgment of Nash's comment. "Evan's a week older than me," he said, his eyes raising higher to meet Nash's gaze.

The other conversation at the table died out instantly at the mention of Evan's name. Jim ended his phone call.

Nash glanced to Jim, wondering what his reaction would be. Instead of the immediate change of topic he had anticipated, Ellison gave a brief nod of his head, mute permission for Nash to ask a question. Regardless, he knew the detective would cut the conversation short at the first sign of distress from Blair.

Nash thought a moment, then asked, "Did you have much opportunity to talk with him?"

Blair shook his head. "No. I had more contact with him than the other men, though. He was usually kept away from them," he answered, calmly.

"Why?"

There was a reluctant pause. "I think it was because they were selling him."

"Was he injured?"

"Same as me. Not as bad as the others. Jurgen was--" Blair stopped suddenly, frowning, then turned quickly to his partner, a look of surprise on his face. "Jim! That's something! The leader's name was Jurgen. Jurgen ... something. It was his first name."

Ellison's notepad was out and he was jotting down the information. "What did he look like?"

"White hair -- you know, the bleached kind. Tall, as tall as Simon. Thin. Wore leather." Blair was blinking rapidly, trying to remember. "Crude. European, I think. Trace of an accent, not much."

"Matches Rafe's description of the man who approached him," Simon put in. "I'm going to call Brown and get him to trace it." He pulled out his cell phone and glanced at his watch. "He should be up already."

"Anything else about him?" Jim asked.

"Uh ... Businessman. He's in charge. What else, what else?" Blair muttered to himself. "He was into the whole domination thing. Power freak. Oh -- this is the third time they've done this. There must be some sort of record of them if they've done this before, right?"

"Good. Good," Ellison said, turning the page of his notepad and still writing. "Anyone else? Who was helping him? You mentioned Karl."

"Karl?" Blair's fist pounded lightly on the table. "Oh, right. Karl. Muscle man." He shook his head. "Can't come up with anything else on him. Scar man was another guy. And Pete."

"Pete?" Jim stopped and looked up, eyes intent on his partner.

"Pete. The camera man," Blair said, struggling to keep his voice level.

Nash glanced to Ellison's face, not surprised to see the tight-lipped anger registered there. A long look passed between the two, with a slight shake of Sandburg's head, asking for something to remain between them. Ellison nodded, agreeing reluctantly.

The waitress appeared at their table, perpetually smiling, and happily placed a hot plate in front of Blair. "There you go. Eggs Benedict with a side fruit dish, and for you, sir," she said to Nash, "mushroom and ham omelet, whole wheat toast." She turned and took the other two orders from a second waitress. "Your special with an extra side of bacon," she said to Jim, "And Simon, your usual -- made with margarine, not butter."

"Thanks, Macie," Simon said, checking out his deluxe cheese omelet.

"I'll be right back with more coffee." She moved on to the next table, checking with them before heading behind the counter.

"Your usual, Simon?" Blair asked, smiling.

"They're quick here, aren't they? Usually served within ten minutes of ordering," he responded, still ignoring the teasing.

"Hey, Simon, could you ask Macie for some grape jelly? There's only marmalade here," Jim said, poking through the bowl of jams and jellies.

"Yeah, Simon," Blair added. "And I'd like milk with my coffee, not cream. Could you see to that? Huh?"

Nash jumped in. "And ask about dry cleaning for my jacket--"

Simon swivelled to face him. "You, too?" He jabbed his fork in the direction of his friends. "I'm used to putting up with this stuff from these two, but I thought we understood each other. Captain to captain."

It felt good to smile, to laugh, however short-lived it was. They settled down to eating their meals, the silences growing longer. Nash stared at his empty plate, wondering what the omelet had tasted like. He had no conscious memory of eating it. He looked up to see Blair push the rest of his eggs over to his partner.

"Eat the fruit, okay?" Jim said, softly.

Blair nodded, took the small bowl from the larger plate, and made an attempt to eat the fruit salad while Jim finished off his breakfast. Macie appeared again a few minutes later, refilled their coffee cups, and took their empty plates.

"Blair?" Nash felt Jim and Simon's eyes fixed on him, then finally Blair looked up. "Blair, how much do you remember of what happened?"

The young man shook his head. "I don't know. It's like ... I don't know I remember it until it comes into my thoughts. But ..." his voice trailed off, then he looked over to his partner. "Jim, remember how it was with Crawford? I started remembering afterwards? A week or two later?"

"Yeah, I remember," Jim said, studying the table.

"Jim, a week's too long. I need to remember before Tuesday."

Ellison's eyes, when he turned to look at his partner, said volumes. Nash knew that look. That pain. He'd seen it on his own face that morning. To see it etched on Ellison's hardened features was difficult, but then Ellison had his partner sitting next to him. Nash didn't. Evan was still out there.

Blair looked back at him. "I'll tell you everything I know. Anything I can do ..."

"Not now," Ellison said, firmly. "Wait until the others are here. You only need to say it once."

"It's okay, Jim. I--"

"Just wait," he repeated, reaching into his wallet and placing a twenty on the table.

Nash's phone rang, and he answered it quickly. "Bridges."

"It's Frank. We'll be there in five minutes."

"We've finished breakfast -- let me see where we can meet." Nash looked over at Simon. "Any suggestions?"

"I'll check if we can use a meeting room here. Easier than trying to talk about this in a public restaurant. Tell them to meet us in the lobby of the motel. We'll figure something out." Simon glanced at his watch, again, then at Jim and Blair. "Why don't you go back up to the room for a few minutes and relax? I'll call you when we've got a location." He looked around for Macie, then caught sight of one of the motel employees and left to go speak to him.

"We'll be in the suite." Jim slipped out of the booth, Blair following him. Ellison reached back and snagged his partner's jacket, still lying on the bench, and handed it to Sandburg, who silently put it on.

By the time Nash finished his conversation with Frank Black, he was alone.


Jim slid the key card into the lock, then pushed the handle on the door, holding it open for Blair, who moved past him and walked through the first room to the adjoining bedroom. Jim closed the door, pausing a moment before following him. His partner had been silent since leaving the motel restaurant, walking slowly beside him as they crossed the parking lot, then up the flight of stairs to their suite.

When he entered the room, Blair was already lying down along the foot of the bed, curled up, his arms folded over his stomach. His eyes, instead of being closed, were open, staring vacantly across the room, his heartbeat too fast and too loud. He was scared. Probably terrified of what he would remember, of the memories waiting to be unraveled.

I know I am. I couldn't protect you this time. There had been times, only too recently, where he had left his partner unprotected, vulnerable. There was only so much he could blame on Alex's influence, and the rest fell on his own shoulders. Despite admitting his guilt, despite the healing that had occurred between Blair and him, there was still an ache in his heart that condemned him for not taking better care of his guide.

He sat on the edge of the bed, one hand resting on his partner's back. There was nothing really to say, and besides, touch spoke louder than words, at least between them. Words were dangerous, spoken rashly, spoken without thought -- even spoken with good intentions but no substance. Touch, however ... touch between a sentinel and guide was different. Clearer. Touch said what words could not. He couldn't lie through his touch -- he could only connect.

Blair shifted slightly as Jim rubbed his back, rolling to look up at him through soul-dark eyes. Jim smiled sadly, leaning over him, his right hand moving to rest over the wildly beating heart. A month ago, he had touched Blair's face, and Blair had breathed. He'd touched Blair's heart, and it had begun to beat again. What could he do now to ease the pain? To heal the memories and the heartache?

His left hand opened and Blair put his hand in his, palm to palm, fingers folding over to complete the connection.

In the Temple of the Sentinels, there was a symbol that he had watched his guide studying thoughtfully, longingly. He had memorized it -- in fact, it was all he had taken away from the temple, the memory of that drawing. One night a week later, while they stayed at the Mexican resort hotel far away from the jungle and the temple, he had followed Blair out to the water's edge, watching him as he sat cross-legged on the sand, eyes closed, listening to the crash of waves on the shore. He could feel his partner's pain, the uncertainties, the questions, the fear -- and he had sat beside him, taking his hand and putting their palms together. Connecting.

It hadn't been Blair who cried that night.

But it had been healing for them both.

And now, Blair's fingers curled over his, echoing the symbol in the temple, the connection of their souls. It brought rest to them both. There was no time to sleep, no time to recharge themselves by conventional means. But this worked. The declaration of Sentinel and his Guide to each other. Palm to palm. Heart to heart. Soul to soul, knitted together.

The ticking of his watch finally registered, and he stood, releasing his guide's hand. There was someplace they needed to be. From his duffel bag, he took out the pills and the ointment and handed them to Blair, who got up and went into the bathroom. A few minutes later, Blair came out and they left the room.

Not a word had been spoken, but sometimes, Jim Ellison knew, his arm resting across his friend's shoulders, words weren't necessary.


Blair followed Jim into the small conference room, reaching out to shake hands with two men he had never met before. Frank Black was the FBI profiler, he was told, and the furrowed face studied him with open curiosity. The other man, Harold Woodward, was the head of the combined task force looking for the missing policemen. He looked rough, as though he hadn't slept for a long time, and Sandburg felt guilty that he had slept the night through.

Vague whispers reminded him that through those precious hours he had dreamt, that he had awoken, that he had spoken with Jim about his dreams, and that he had slept again in peace. Woodward looked as though peace was a word no longer in his vocabulary. He was angry. Determined. Driven. But mostly, he was angry.

Without meaning to, Blair moved closer to Jim, accepting the mantel of his partner's aura resting over him, even though two inches of air separated them.

They sat at a table, Simon on his right and Jim on his left. Across from him was Woodward, Frank Black across from Jim and Nash across from Simon. Hands folded on the table before him, Blair waited nervously for the questions to begin. Woodward was on his cell phone, talking to someone, and as Blair listened, he realized they were talking about the trailer he had been found in. They were keeping it under surveillance, but no one had gone near it yet.

Frank Black was watching him.

Blair shifted uncomfortably, not sure of what to do. It was eerie, uncomfortable, knowing the man was looking at him, wondering what he was thinking. Sharp eyes dissected him, probed at him, and Blair's hands clenched together, trying to ignore him. He knew his damned heart was beating fast again, and that Jim was hearing it, but at least Jim was letting him cope with this on his own. Which meant that this Frank Black guy must be okay, if Jim wasn't having any bad vibes about the situation.

Damn freaky man, though.

He chanced a glance in Black's direction and was caught. The mega-intense gaze softened instantly, and Black smiled gently at him, compassion and caring evident on the man's face. Blair nodded at him and looked away. Okay, so Black wasn't quite the ogre he had thought he was, at first. But still, the man kept watching him and Jim, too, almost as though he couldn't keep his eyes off them.

Woodward put away his cell phone, and Blair's heart double-beat again. "Mr Sandburg. Thank you for meeting with us. I know this must be a very trying time for you."

"Thank you. But a friend of mine is still in danger -- along with several other men -- and I want to help any way I can," he replied, grateful that his voice remained level.

"Let's take it from the top, then," Woodward said, removing a small tape recorder from his suit coat pocket. He placed it in the middle of the table, in front of Blair. "I'll ask you some questions, Mr Sandburg, and you answer them the best you can. If any of you other gentlemen have questions, please pose them. Give your name first, so the transcriber can correctly identify you. She knows my voice, and will be able to identify Mr Sandburg, but I want to make sure everything is done correctly. Do you understand?"

"Yes," they all murmured.

"Mr Sandburg, please tell us--"

"Can you call me 'Blair'?"

"Certainly. Blair, please tell us what you can remember about your abduction."

"My abduction? Uh ... this van stopped in the crosswalk. Some men got out and approached my friend Rafe. They tried to grab him and he yelled at me to run. I was yelling, I think, trying to stall for time or something -- I mean, we were a block away from the station. There were probably cops around somewhere, right? -- but then Rafe tried to get at them because they were pushing me around, and they shot him." He paused, staring at his hands on the table, and swallowed. "I don't remember much after that. I guess they put me in the van and took me away."

"What's the next thing you remember?" Woodward asked.

"I was in the trailer. I woke up. I guess it was the same trailer Jim found me in; I don't remember any of that. The trailer was on the road, driving around. I met Evan then, I remember. I was cold. It was dark, no lights. We were in the trailer a long time -- I found out later it was because Jurgen, the leader, had the driver keep the truck away from the warehouse while the workers were there, so no one would be suspicious."

Woodward put out ten photographs on the table, arranging them so Blair could see them all. "Did you see any of these men during your abduction?"

He blinked, pointing to Rafe. "He wasn't there."

"Sorry," Woodward said, withdrawing the picture and returning it to his file. "I am removing Detective Rafe's photograph," he said, for the benefit of the tape recorder. "What about the others?"

Evan's picture was right in front of him, and he rested his fingertips on top of it. "I saw him the most. We were put together a few times."

"Evan Cortez, San Francisco, SIU. Anyone else?"

Blair studied the other eight photos, pointing finally to several. "I remember him," he said, pointing to the black officer, "but I don't remember his name. I'm sorry. I was drugged for a lot of the time and--"

"We understand," Woodward said quickly. "Just tell us what you do remember. That man you just identified is Lieutenant Pat Hollis, Los Angeles, LAPD."

"Oh. I didn't know his name."

"Anyone else?"

"Him," Blair said, pointing to a man he remembered wearing a dark blue sweat suit. "And him," he put his hand on a photo, remembering the young officer talking about his girlfriend, someone he obviously cared for a lot.

"Jack Kelly, Assistant Chief, Portland. And William Fong, Detective, Tacoma."

It was strange having names attached to the faces. He stared at the other faces, but they all looked the same and it was hard to pinpoint any one person. He looked at them again, moving from face to face, then turned to his partner. "There seems to be a common theme here. They all look alike. I remember them saying that I wasn't the right 'type'. Jurgen didn't want me because I wasn't the 'right type'. But these men all kinda look alike," he repeated, frowning. "I don't look like them."

"Question from Bridges, SIU," Nash said, "Blair, what did they say to you about the 'look' they wanted?"

Blair stared at his hands, once again clasped on the surface of the shiny table. His memories felt like they were doors with glass windows on them. He could peak in quickly as he passed by them, but he had the horrible feeling that if he stopped and actually opened the door, it would all come out, like a flood wall breaking under the stress. He had fluttering images of the camera man talking to him, of Jurgen's hands on his body, on his hips, of pain--

"Easy," Jim whispered, his hand resting on Blair's forearm. "Let it go."

He smiled shakily. "You're learning the lingo."

"Have to, if I hang around you," Jim said softly. "Just answer what you can."

"Thanks." He shivered, trying to focus again, looking up to Woodward. "Sorry. I--"

"That's okay. We'll come back to that question later. I have a few questions about several other points you brought up. Jurgen -- do you have another name for him?"

"Like a last name? No. That was it."

Jim interrupted and read off the information he had taken down at breakfast about Jurgen. "Did I get that right, Chief?"

"Yeah," Blair said, wiping his palms on his jeans before continuing. "I didn't see a lot of him. I think. I don't really remember a lot of what happened while I was there."

"Okay, that's fair. Let's just deal with what you do remember," Woodward said. "You mentioned a warehouse. Tell us about that."

"It was this building ... single story, new, I think. Not huge, but a good size. It didn't look like much from the outside, but I only so it once. Inside though, they were fixing it up to be a film studio. There were a lot of small rooms that looked like movie sets. They were all decorated differently: one was like cellar, another a dungeon, a bedroom, a-- a doctor's office--" He stopped and rubbed his eyes, feeling a panic building up within him. His hands were shaking, not much but enough to be a distraction to him. The room swam as tears filled his eyes and he blinked them back. Come on, come on. Don't do this now.

Jim turned slightly and whispered, "Take your time."

"We don't have time, Jim," he answered, harshly. "I need to do this."

"I'm not stopping you. But give yourself time to process--"

"I don't want to process it," he hissed, under his breath. "I don't want to fucking remember any of this." He covered his face, taking a few deep breaths, then dropping his hands to rest flat on the surface of the table. "I was held in two places, in a large break room along the rear of the building," Blair said, his voice louder as he pushed himself onward, "and in a closet near where the video storage room was. I remember seeing the room as I passed by it."

"Were you allowed to walk in the building unescorted?"

"No. Not that I remember."

"Can you draw the layout of the building?" Woodward asked, placing a pen and paper before him.

"I don't know." Blair picked up the pen and stared at the paper, then turned it sideways. "Here is the entrance," he said, touching a point on the far left of the paper. "Jurgen came out of an office here." He then pointed to the other side. "I was held here, usually. In a break room," he looked up and around the meeting area, "in a room about this size, about ten by ten."

"Any windows?"

"No. Not in the that room. There were windows, but they were way up high in the warehouse and had been blacked out so the light wouldn't get in."

"Why?"

"Because of filming," he answered.

"What else to you remember about the building?"

"Lots of hallways. Small rooms with no ceilings -- open to the roof."

"Because of the filming?"

"Yeah."

"Did you hear any other noises? City sounds? Airplanes?"

"No, sorry."

"How many men were there, besides the abducted men?"

"Jurgen. He was the leader. Karl, the muscle man. Scar Man. The tall Hispanic guy. The camera man. The guy in charge of fixing the building up and putting together the sets. He had a helper. I heard them working, but I didn't see them. I think there was a guy who drove the truck."

"The camera man's name is Pete," Jim said, startling Blair until he remembered that they had already talked about him.

"Right."

"Who drove the truck?" Woodward asked.

"I don't know. I think he was black, but the lighting wasn't good. Maybe it was the Hispanic man. Maybe Muscle Man."

"What kind of weapons did you see there?"

"Guns. Big guns."

"Like submachine guns?"

"No. Just regular guns, I guess. I'm not much help with guns. They all look the same when they're pointed at you."

"Jurgen didn't like you?" Woodward asked.

"Not at all."

"What did he do to you?"

"What?"

"How did you know he didn't like you?"

"I told you, he said I wasn't the right type."

"And the other men were the right type?"

"I guess."

"So how did he treat you?"

Blair started shaking and he didn't know why. Across the table, Frank Black caught his breath, one hand covering his eyes, and at the same time beside him, Jim tensed, looking as though he was going to zone. "Jim?"

"He held a knife on you." Jim opened his eyes and stared at Blair's throat, as though the faint pink marks would begin to bleed again if he looked at them closely enough, carefully enough.

"He slit the throat of at least one man, possibly two," Frank Black added, his voice a smoky rasp. The measured, calm words were frightening. "Ear to ear. One stroke. The knife always discarded. He doesn't keep the knives. Someone brings them to him."

"He held a knife on you," Jim repeated, anger building in the man's face, the chiseled jaw tight.

"Jim?" Blair whispered, his eyes closing as he slid into the memory.


Previous

The Warehouse

His eyes wouldn't open. His eyelashes were glued together. His eyelids were too heavy to lift.

His back hurt.

His stomach ... He swallowed ineffectively, fighting the bile that rose to his throat. He tried to raise his head, but his sense of direction was off kilter. He wasn't lying on his back; he was lying on his stomach. No, that wasn't right, either.

One eye opened, but what he saw made no sense. His hands dangled down in front of him ... because he was over someone's shoulder, maybe ... but as his brain began to fill in other blanks, he realized he was lying sideways, bent over an examination table, his arms hanging off one side, his legs hanging off the other. Which was probably why his head felt funny and his stomach hurt.

Or not.

Nothing made much sense and he couldn't get his brain to work. Think! he ordered himself. Jim! "Jim!" he called out instead, the word muffled. He was gagged. Which explained why he had trouble swallowing.

"Who are you asking for, luv?" A man came into the room and Blair lifted his head slightly, long enough to recognize the camera man.

No, not again.

"Hngh," he croaked.

"Oh, you're not too bad. You'll be fine." The camera man was doing something to the lights, adjusting them. "Jurgen's angry." The man's voice dropped, as though that was an unthinkable thing to consider. He crumpled up a 7-Eleven styrofoam coffee cup and threw it away as he cleaned his area.

"Hngh," Blair repeated.

"Bothering you, huh? Poor lamb," the camera man said, patting Blair's backside as he went passed him. "Well, they'll take you back to the break room. Maybe you can have a nice hot shower later, and you'll feel better."

As if on cue, two more men came in the room and spoke with the camera man, but Blair couldn't follow what they were saying anymore than he could move. The voices became louder, all merging together. They were fighting, yelling. He felt the table jostle and he groaned as it continued. Finally, another voice, louder yet, exploded in the room, and then he was suddenly flipped over unto his back, his head hanging off the edge still, his throat bared. A hand grabbed his jaw, pushing his head back farther, so he couldn't breathe. He opened his eyes as he tried to get enough air through his nose, but the touch of a knife at his throat made him freeze.

Jurgen was standing by his head, one hand at his chin, the other holding the knife. At his throat.

The man was laughing, but his eyes were dead. Lifeless. Cold.

Then Jurgen stopped laughing, and Blair didn't know which was more frightening.

The knife cut downward, slitting the gag.

"Beg," he said.

Blair stared at him, his tongue dry and swollen in his mouth.

Fists grabbed his hair, lifting his head and slamming it against the side of the table. Without letting go, Jurgen dragged him sideways until his head rested on the examination table.

"Beg," Jurgen repeated.

Blair gasped, trying to make his mouth work. He groaned as water was flung in his face, some finding its way to his parched lips.

"Beg!"

"Please," he whispered, although the sound that emerged from his mouth was distorted.

It was enough for Jurgen, though. "Give me a rag to wipe my hands," he said coldly, as he turned to Pete. "Get rid of him. After tonight, I don't want to see him again."

"But I need him to set up the shot, the lighting."

"I want to do the film in one take. I'll use the star. I don't want him here."

"Why not just give him to me? I'll cut you in on the proceeds," the camera man said quickly.

"Keep him out of my sight."

"Can I have him?"

"No." Jurgen turned and left the room, Pete following him.

Blair was alone. The lights blazed down on him. He still couldn't move. His legs and arms trembled as muscle control slowly returned.

"Please," he whispered again, staring directly into the white glare, his tongue thick.

No one answered. His ears were ringing. His heart was pounding so hard, it felt as if a giant fist were hammering into his chest.

Time drifted by. He heard a noise, footsteps echoing, then the familiar voice. "We'll fix you up, luv," the camera man said, sliding into the room. He brought a glass of water, holding Blair's head while he drank. "I don't have time to help much right now, but I know where your friend is. He can take care of you. I have to go soon. I don't stay here and Jurgen likes to lock everything up after midnight. The security alarms are turned on then." Hands fussed with him, straightening him to lie on the table, then stroking over his skin.

Trying to evade the hands, Blair rolled onto his side, almost off the table, then pushed himself upright, praying the room would quit revolving. He clutched Pete's arm as the man came around the table, steadying himself. He felt the soft hands cupping his face, the man's lips on his cheeks, the smell of cigarettes on the man's breath.

"You'll be okay, luv. I gave you something to make you feel better. I won't let anything happen to you. We're going to make a lot of money, you and I, once this is over."

"Please," he whispered, feeling the drug taking effect. "No."

Pete helped him off the table, but his legs wouldn't hold him upright and he felt himself spiraling downward, darkness claiming him before he hit the floor.


Present

Ellison groaned at the look on his partner's face. Is this what I look like when I'm zoning? He gently reached to touch his guide, hoping to ground him somehow, but Blair responded to the light touch with a sudden jerk, obviously shaken from what he remembered. "Chief?"

"Jim?" The lost blue eyes found his, searching his face.

"You back?"

"Yeah." Blair looked down at the table, his hands still clenched together before him as he struggled to control his breathing. "Excuse me," he said glancing up to the men sitting around the table. "Give me a sec. I'll be okay."

"We can take a break, Sandburg--"

"No, Simon. I'm fine. I just remembered some stuff." Blair closed his eyes, exhaling through his mouth, then drawing in a raspy breath.

Frank Black appeared beside them and handed Blair a glass of water. "Here. Drink this. It's only water."

There was something in the slight emphasis the man put on the words that caused Sandburg to frown. "What do you know?" he asked. "How do you know about the drugged water?" Other words came back to him. "Do you know who this is? How did you know about the knife? I heard someone say that there. That he only uses one once, then throws it away. How did you know?"

"Probably the same way that your partner knew that you were at that particular rest stop, and which trailer you were in," Nash Bridges said softly.

The room got quiet. Quieter. Six pairs of eyes sought each other as secrets fought to stay hidden. Trust comes at a price, and these men had paid the price too many times already.

"Does it matter?" Simon Banks asked, finally.

"Maybe," Bridges said, not meeting their eyes. "I want to find Evan Cortez. Alive. I need to know who I'm working with. I'm placing my man's life into your hands. What do you expect me to do?" He looked up then, searching their faces.

Woodward spoke. "I can vouch for Frank. I don't know exactly what he can do, or how well he can control it, but I stake my reputation that he is trustworthy."

"Thank you, Harold." Black returned to his chair.

"I've worked with Frank before," Nash said. "I don't understand where he gets his information, but it helped solve a near impossible case."

"And I will vouch for Jim Ellison." Simon Banks took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. "And I don't pretend to understand why he can sense the things he does, but I listen to him. And I trust him." Simon looked directly at the police observer. "And I trust Blair Sandburg."

"And you are connected somehow," Black said, looking from Blair to Jim. "Whatever the reason, what I normally see is amplified."

"What do you normally see?" Blair asked.

"I see what the killer sees."

"Jurgen?"

"In this case, yes, I believe I saw what Jurgen saw." Black paused. "The detail is beyond what is typical for me, though. He amplifies it," Black said, looking at Ellison. "There is a resonance between you that ... that is not important now. I saw a long hallway. It is dark. Night. You were in a small room. A doctor's office." He pressed his eyes together, then relaxed as the images came back into focus for him. "The killer comes into the room. You are naked, lying on your stomach crossways over the examination table. Another man is there. Two other men. They are fighting. The killer looks at your body. You are just as he has left you. His marks are on your skin. He is angry at what he had done."

"Are you saying he is remorseful?" Simon asked.

"No. He is angry that he was weak. He shouldn't have bothered." Black thought about it for a moment. "This is important. He has an image in mind. The perfect body. Powerful. The body before him is beautiful, but he has no time for beauty. It offers nothing for him."

Jim reached a hand around Blair's back, feeling his partner lean toward him


Blair shivered, trying to control his reactions in front of all these men, but the images Frank was painting were far clearer than his own memories, his words drawing out the events, the events drawing out the terror he had felt when the knife had been at his throat. He had felt the blade bite into his skin and knew the man had the capacity to kill him, the desire to see him die in his arms.

Distantly, now, he felt Jim's touch. How totally opposite. One man wanted him dead, wanted to feel him die. The Sentinel's overwhelming desire was for him to live. One man saw no value in him, threw him out with the other discarded bodies. To Ellison, he was of utmost worth. Another man wanted his body, saw him as a toy, a thing to be desired and used. To Jim, he was a friend, a brother, a guide, a man to be cared for and protected.

Frank Black's voice droned on. "He wants to kill, he likes to kill, to destroy, but he can't pull the knife across your throat. He has difficulty going through with it, as though your body has a barrier surrounding it that he cannot get past. The powerful, strong bodies, he can kill. His own power and cunning are a match for them. But the beauty and innocence of your body leave him no weapons to fight against. He is not beautiful. He is not innocent. He holds the knife at your throat, wanting to slit it. He lets it rest by your jaw, knowing he can kill you with one swipe. But he can't do it. Instead he makes you beg, so that he can attempt to feel his power. He had to free you from the gag."

"He wanted me to beg," Blair whispered. "He kept telling me to beg."

"Did he do anything else to you?" Woodward asked, quietly.

"I don't know. Like I said, my memory is like--" He froze as other images dropped into place, but they were isolated and, at first, made no sense. "Evan stopped something once. It wasn't then. It was another time."

"Chief?"

He looked up at Jim, not wanting to voice what the Sentinel already knew, what everyone else at the table already knew. "I don't remember what happened," he whispered, staring at the pain in his partner's blue eyes. "But I know what must have happened, Jim." Blair turned to Woodward, then glanced to the tape recorder. "I remember bright lights. People in the room. The camera light. Evan came in, and Jurgen started screaming at him to go away. Evan pulled me off the table, had me up against him, holding me up. I couldn't stand. I-- I had no clothes on. I kept trying to grab Evan's sweatshirt but my hands wouldn't work. Evan was yelling at Jurgen. Jurgen was putting a bathrobe on. It was black. With a red dragon embroidered on it. He said it was time. They had to start. He told the other men not to hurt Evan. When we went out, another man was brought in. The Chinese man whose picture you showed me."

"William Fong."

"Yeah. He was drugged; he couldn't stand up either. They were holding him up. Scar Man and Muscle Man. The room was black with lots of Chinese words and it looked like ... I don't know, an opium den or something. Not that I know what an opium den looks like, but it's sorta what I imagined it would look like. I'm not sure why I was there ... I think I was supposed to be the test run or a stand-in or something. There was a mat on a table, and they put the man -- Fong -- on the mat. Jurgen yelled at Evan to take me out of the room and then Jurgen took some needles ..." Blair's voice trailed off and he pulled up the sleeve of his sweater. "Do I have spots on me? Like from acupuncture needles?"

Jim shook his head. "Not that I've seen."

"Oh." Blair stared at his bare arm, then pushed the sleeve back down. "I was just wondering if that was what he had done instead. But he raped me, didn't he?" He stared at his partner's shell-shocked face. "Jim, I know it happened. I don't remember it, but Evan knew it. And you know it, too, right?"

From his other side, a quiet entreaty. "Blair ..."

"It's okay, Simon," Sandburg said, turning to the captain. "It's okay."

"We'll get him," Banks said, his dark eyes smoldering with anger.

"And I know how," Blair said simply. Nausea threatened, and he pushed back from his chair, stumbling backwards, then running from the room. He could hear footsteps following him as he ran to the restroom across the hallway from their meeting room. Once inside, the queasiness left as he came to a shaky halt, waiting for Jim to catch up to him before he turned and flung himself against the detective, desperate for a moment of safety.

A minute passed before Jim relaxed his hold and asked, "Are you okay? Are you going to be sick?"

He shook his head, reluctant to move away. "I thought I was, but it passed. I'm all right."

"Do you want to go back in there?"

"Give me a minute, okay?"

"As long as you need. You don't have to go back in there."

"I do." Blair took a few deep breaths. "I'm feeling better now." He took a step toward the door and turned to face his partner. "I need to talk to you first."

"Then talk."

"Okay. Just listen to me, then -- please? Let me talk."

"I'm not going to like this, am I?" Jim asked, his eyes reflecting his frustration.

"I know how to get Evan out of there. And the other men. I know how to do it."

"What do we need to do?" Ellison asked.

Blair stared at his partner's face, his friend's face, wishing it could be different. But they had no time -- and as far as he could see, this was the only chance of getting Evan and the others back.

"Chief?"

"I'm going to let them capture me again."


Chapter Nine

"Is he there yet?"

"Joe? Have you abandoned all standard greetings?"

"No. Hello, Nash. Good morning, Nash. How was breakfast, Nash? Where's Harvey?"

"He hasn't called, but it's only 9:30. His plane wouldn't have landed yet."

"Oh. Okay. It just seems longer, I guess."

"Where are you?"

"SIU. Kinda empty here. No one else is here. Just me."

"Where's Michelle?"

"At court testifying on an old case of hers that's gone to trial."

"Well, just man the phones. I've gotta go here, Bubba. I promise I'll call you when anything happens."

"Sure. I guess I'll be here, barring another earthquake or other major disasters."

"You just keep those happy thoughts. I'll talk to you later."


June 20, Saturday

Bellevue, Washington

Ellison shook his head firmly. "No." He turned to walk out of the restroom, but Sandburg snagged his arm.

"Jim, I need to go back there. To let them capture me again. And I know how to do it."

"No. No way."

"Yes." He waited, watching Jim's cold expression spread from his eyes throughout the man's body. Jim could do 'stubborn' better than anyone. Well, almost anyone. Blair was also regarded as rather skilled in that area.

"No," the sentinel repeated. "I'll go. Just tell me what--"

"Sorry. I'm going. I owe them. I owe Evan. And I need to do this."

"I understand how you feel, but -- no. You're not going. You're not a cop. Let someone else--"

"Isn't that Simon's line?"

"He's right about that."

"Jim, it's got to be me. No one else will do."

"No."

"You're not listening to me. You're not even giving me a chance to explain what--"

"We'll rescue Evan, but you're not going back there."

"Then how are you going to find him?"

Ellison frowned, drawing back, a spark of anger in his eyes. "Sandburg, if you know where he is, why haven't you told us?" he growled. "What is this martyr complex that you feel you have to do this on your own?"

"Jim, I haven't even told you what my plan is."

"It won't--"

Blair turned around and headed to the door of the men's room. "No use talking to you."

"Chief--" Jim took a few steps and dragged his partner to a halt with a quick yank on his arm. "Just wait a minute."

"What for? Are you going to listen to me?" he asked, pulling away from the detective, his left arm held tight against his ribs. Now was not the time to admit how much that had hurt physically. "No. You just assume that--"

"Yes," Ellison exploded in a fierce whisper. "Yes, damn it, Sandburg. I'll listen."

Well, that took him by surprise. His eyes narrowed. "You will? Really?"

The jaw tightened. The hand on his arm released. It took a moment before the detective could get himself under control to respond calmly. "Let's go back upstairs. You're right; we need to talk." Jim held open the door for him. "I'm not convinced there is any way in hell I'm going to let you go back there. And if you can't convince me, you're never going to convince them."

"I have to do it, Jim," he said, not moving.

"Fine. Let's go talk. Convince me."

Blair stood uncomfortably, shifting from one foot to the other. His back hurt. His arm hurt where Jim had grabbed him. He had a headache the size of Pittsburgh. His stomach was starting to feel decidedly weird. "Go where?" he asked, still suspicious. He had expected a major battle for this and was just starting it when Jim suddenly caved. But appearances could be deceiving. He knew he had the only way of getting to Evan, and there was no way Jim could do it for him. "Jim--" he said as Ellison was heading out the door. "Where are we going to go?"

"Upstairs. Private. Alone."

"What about Simon and the others?"

"No."

Single words. Not good. "Upstairs?" he repeated. Well, Jim wouldn't handcuff him to the bed or anything like that. Not with witnesses. "Okay." Blair moved past him to the hallway, pausing as Jim's hand on his shoulder directed him to stop.

"I'm going to tell them you need to lie down for a few minutes."

"It's only been like half an hour or so since I was lying down," Blair pointed out. "Can't you think of something else?"

"No." Jim's head tilted in that 'I'm-listening-to-your-vital-signs' kinda way. "Besides, you need to lie down." Blair leaned back against the corridor wall as his partner went inside and spoke to the four men. Whatever it was Jim said, he didn't take long to say it, for he was back out in less than a minute. "Come on."

The stairs were worse than last time to manage, the pain in his side growing worse, the cut on his lower calf throbbing. And Jim knew he was hurting; there was no way Blair could disguise it. His forehead had a sheen of sweat on it, his body language clearly showing injury.

But it would work into his plan beautifully. He hoped.

They finally reached the top of the stairs and Jim opened the motel room door. Blair scooted in quickly and walked through to their room. He turned after a moment and stared back through the open doorway, but Jim was still standing in the other room, unmoving, his body rigid with controlled tension.

Deal with it, Jim. Please don't fight me on this.

Blair crawled onto the bed, moving higher until his back was against the headboard, his knees raised to ease the pull on his abdominal muscles. A stupid tear ran down his face, and he angrily wiped it away. Damn it, you bastard. Trust me!

Jim appeared in the doorway, his image a blurry watercolor. "I'm trying, Chief. I'm trying, but do you know how difficult this is for me? Do you know what you're asking me to do?"

"I'm asking you to be my backup. That's it. Just back me up and get me out of there."

"Where? We don't know where the warehouse is."

"I can get to it. But I'm going to need your help. It's more complicated than just finding the warehouse. Evan's not there anymore."

"What?" Jim finally stepped into the room.

"Pete told that me that Evan was taken to a different place, to get him ready to be sold. It wouldn't be good for the buyer to go to the warehouse for him, and the man would be picking up Evan in person."

"So how is you going to the warehouse going to get Evan back?"

"I'll get Pete to take me to him, then you can take it from there."

"No."

"Jim, listen to me! Pete won't hurt me. I think he'd take me there."

"Why don't we just find the warehouse, rush it, and arrest them all? Force them to talk. Plea bargain. I'm sure Jurgen's assistants will tell us--"

"They don't know where he is."

"How do you know that?"

"I don't know. I think Pete told me. He talked to me a lot."

"Then why does Pete know where he is?"

"Pete drove them."

"Then why wouldn't Pete tell us, if we arrested him?"

"Because it would be too late. If they're threatened at all at the warehouse, the guy guarding Evan at the other place would just kill him."

Jim came to sit beside him on the edge of the bed. "And why would Pete take you there?"

"Because I'm not a threat. If you arrest Pete, I don't think he'd say anything about Evan -- he's scared. But if I fake amnesia, he finds me, takes me back to the warehouse, and then I convince him that seeing Evan one more time would make me happy, I'm sure he'd do it."

"Just because you asked him?"

"This guy is ... well, he's different, Jim. He's kinda obsessive. And he's obsessed with me, which might be to our advantage."

"Might?"

"It will be to our advantage."

"Still not convinced. Besides, how are you going to let Pete find you?"

"By remembering." Blair shivered, reaching to pull a pillow onto his lap, something to hang on to. "That's where I need your help."

"What do you mean?"

"Remember how I helped you recall the message Jack left for you the time your answer machine didn't record it?"

"Yeah."

"Well, I'm no sentinel, but I am a sentinel's guide. I don't have your phenomenal memory for things, but I'm probably more aware of sounds than most people, because of my training with you."

"So what do you want to remember?"

"I was in a truck -- well, a semi-trailer -- going to the warehouse that first time I woke up. I remember a bridge, a gravel road. A dirt road. I remember the feel of the pavement changing. We might be able to figure out around where I was."

"I don't know this area, but we could get the others to help us." Jim paused.

"And your secret will still be safe. This isn't anything Sentinel-like, Jim. This is just remembering. And I think you can help me remember a bit better." Blair sat up straighter, wincing again from the ache in his side. He looked up as Jim moved closer up the bed, the man's hand reaching under Blair's shirt to touch his ribs, to trace the path of the pain. "I'll need a map."

"I've got one in the truck."

"A good map -- detailed. And someone who knows the area."

"Harold Woodward. Frank Black. And Simon lived in Seattle for a while."

"He did? When?" he asked, gasping as Jim's fingers touched a particularly sore spot.

"In college."

"Oh. I didn't know that."

"Chief--" Jim withdrew his hand impatiently.

"Okay. The point is, Jim, Pete likes me. I think this plan will work. I don't think he would let anything happen to me." Blair eyed Jim carefully, aware of his partner's intense stare at the far wall.

"He likes you? That's supposed to reassure me?"

"He didn't do anything to me, Jim. It wasn't him."

"How do you know that? How much do you remember? Not very much, as I recall."

"He just wants to film me."

Jim turned to him, incredulous. "Are you nuts? Don't you get it, Sandburg? The man makes snuff films!"

"That's not what he wants to do with me--"

"The man makes snuff films -- What are you talking about? You can't seriously think it would be safe for you to be with him?"

"Jim, listen to me. You have to trust me. You have to trust my judgement--"

"Oh, no," Ellison said, bouncing from the bed to stand before him. "You are not going to wave that word in my face. Trust. Sure, I trust you. I trust you with my senses. I trust you to watch my back. I trust you with my life. And I trust you to find trouble if it's anywhere remotely in the same neighborhood that you are--"

"It's still about trust!" Sandburg yelled back, clutching his side. "You have to trust me on this, because you weren't there, Jim! You don't know what I saw. You weren't there!" He watched, stunned, as his partner crumpled before him, dropping to his knees at the side of the bed, his head resting on crossed arms, face hidden. "Jim?" he whispered softly, one hand reaching to touch the top of the sentinel's head.

"If I could have been there, I would have."

"I know. I know, Jim. That's not what I meant," he whispered, bending over his partner, resting his head on Jim's curved back.

"Do you know what you're asking me to do?" The muffled question was fraught with pain.

"Yes," Blair answered, his eyes brimming with tears. "I'm sorry."


Nash knocked with the toe of his shoe, balancing a tray of coffees and muffins. Amazing. He'd gone from being captain of the SIU in San Francisco, snapping out orders and devising strategies, to a delivery boy. There was nothing really he could do to help them other than getting coffee and donuts. "Room service!" he called, kicking the door to the motel suite again.

Frank opened it, his solemn face almost smiling as he rescued several sugar packages that threatened to slide from the tray. "We're just getting started."

Nash put the tray down by the sink and glanced quickly at the others, trying to read the mood of the room. Harold Woodward was rummaging through his briefcase, looking for something. Simon was definitely hovering over his two men. Jim was aloof, all business. Blair sat almost listlessly on the edge of one bed, his thoughts far from the bustle around him. Frank was doing what he had done all along -- studying the two partners, seemingly fascinated by whatever it was he was seeing about them.

"Here they are. I've got detailed maps of the county and neighboring counties," Woodward said. "Which do you need first?"

"A general road map of this part of the state." Ellison took the proffered map and spread it out of the table in the main room of the suite where they had all retreated to. "Could you also arrange for a police composite artist? We need to get an idea of what these men look like, and Sandburg can help us there." As Woodward picked up his cell phone to make the call, Ellison smoothed the creases of the map, his hands flattening the diagram as he studied it briefly, then pointed to one specific spot. "Sandburg was found here, at a rest station on the east side of the I-5, heading north. He has some memories of that trip, and of the first trip he took to the warehouse where he was held. We feel he has some specific indications that might be helpful in pinpointing an area."

Nash looked over at Blair, still seemingly disconnected to the proceedings in the room, his shoulders slumped, his face far sadder than any face deserved to be. Without pausing to consider his actions, Nash moved to sit next to him, one arm slipping around him, unsurprised when the young man leaned into the embrace. A lone tear ran crossways down Blair's face to drop onto a curl, caught and glistening in the sunlight coming in through the open window. His lower lashes, as were his partner's, were ringed in red. These tears were not the first for either of them.

"Are you in pain?" he asked quietly as the other men were gathered at the table looking at the map. He would be of no help to them, not knowing the area at all, but he could offer what he was able to this one. It didn't bring Evan any closer, but it still helped ease some of the tightness across his chest.

Blair shrugged, then sighed. "Not really. Just a little. My ribs," he added, softly.

"Are you comfortable? Would you rather lie down?"

"No," came the soft reply. "I'm fine, thanks. Just tired." Without moving his head from where it rested against Nash's shoulder, Blair looked up, meeting his partner's searching gaze and a soft smile touched his lips, reflecting through the expressive eyes.

Ellison nodded, as though to himself, then continued his search. With a heavier sigh, Blair straightened up, one hand resting briefly on Nash's leg as he stood. "We'll find him." He moved to his partner's side, Ellison making room for him automatically, although he hadn't turned to see him coming.

Nash fixed Blair a coffee, remembering how he had ordered it at breakfast -- another plus for a photographic memory -- and took it to him, smiling as it was gratefully accepted, Blair's long fingers curling around the warmth of the ceramic mug.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome." He brought the others their coffees, then perched against the back of a chair, watching the proceedings. We'll find him. He closed his eyes, holding on to that thought. It was difficult to just sit. He should be doing something. Maybe he should be elsewhere looking for leads. For anything.

But there was nowhere to start but in this room.

His cell phone rang, startling him. He flipped it open, irritated by his reaction. "Talk to me."

"Nash? It's Harvey. I've got a rental and I'm heading your way. Joe said Bellevue. Where abouts?"

He gave Harvey the address, then hung up, already feeling less scattered. His own people were coming. Maybe Jim Ellison could find Blair by some supernatural method, but if anyone could be trusted with finding Evan, it would be Harvey.

Ellison pulled out a chair at the table and had his partner sit in front of him. His hands rested on Sandburg's shoulders, grounding both of them. "What do you remember about the road?" he asked, his voice level, taking on an entirely different quality. "Think back. Go back to it."

The young man's eyes were closed and he sat with his hands on top of his partner's. "I can remember ... At the end of the trip it was gravel. Bumpy. For at least five minutes. Before that it was paved, but there were lots of bumps on it, like pot holes."

"A private road, or seldom used road," Woodward said, slowly shaking his head as he stared at the map. "Lots to choose from. How long were you on that road?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes ... There was a bridge we crossed. I could feel the grates or whatever they are as we went over it." Blair sat up straighter. "First was a smooth road. We were going fast, but not fast like a freeway. It didn't feel like a freeway. Then the bridge. Fairly long bridge. Then the bumpy road for ten or fifteen minutes, then the gravel road for five minutes."

Woodward had fastened on the word 'bridge', laying down a clear plastic sheet over the map, then circling several possibilities with a felt pen. "You could feel the grates of the bridge?"

"Yeah. Sort of a shivery vibration."

"How long did that go on?"

"A few minutes. It was a long bridge."

Woodward stared at his map. "We're talking about a bridge crossing a river, a bay, or even Puget Sound, and that would be high enough to let the occasional boat pass through a few times daily, probably at set times." He looked across at Blair, thoughtfully. "We're narrowing it down. You turned off the bridge to your left?"

"A sharp turn. Very soon after leaving the bridge."

"Did the truck slow down or stop at all?"

"No. I don't think so."

Frank Black spoke up then, his voice, as always, sending shivers down Nash's spine. "Blair, can you remember much about what happened yesterday? Your trip in the semi-trailer?"

The young man shook his head. "Not too much. Just bits and pieces. No. Sorry."

Woodward turned over a sheet in his legal-sized note book. "Let's set up a time schedule. That might help. What was the first contact with Sandburg yesterday?"

"Friday morning, 3:00 a.m.," Ellison said immediately, then stopped, his eyes moving to Simon Banks' as though asking permission to say more. The two men stared at each other, both weighing whether it was safe to speak.

Woodward picked up on it and straightened up from where he was bent over the table. "If I may," he said, "if something confidential needs to be said, it stays in this room." He looked around at each man, accepting the curt nods of agreement. "Now, I've worked with Frank Black. I have no idea how he does the things he does, but as I said before, I trust him. Whatever it is between you, Ellison, and your partner here, I'm willing to work with it, if there's a chance we can rescue the others before they are killed. Right now, my usual ways of getting information are drying up. I'm more than willing to try the unusual." He waited a moment, then asked, "What happened at 3:00 a.m. yesterday morning?"

"I dreamt that Sandburg was terrified and in pain, then lost consciousness. It seemed to me it was happening at the same time as I was dreaming it." Ellison's hands moved on his partner's shoulders, kneading the tight muscles.

"Blair?" Woodward asked.

Nash groaned at the frightened look of panic that crossed the young man's face. He clutched at his side, as though his body remembered something that hadn't reached his conscious thoughts yet. "How did you hurt your ribs?" he asked suddenly.

Blair turned to him, gasping to catch his breath, his tongue licking dry lips before answering, "I don't remember how I hurt them."

But with the words, came the shock of memory. Still behind him, Ellison wrapped his arms around his partner and held him while the images and scrambled pictures sorted themselves out.


Previous

"Don't move, luv."

Blair groaned. The floor was cold beneath his cheekbone, where the side of his face rested on the smooth tiles.

Water was running. He could feel the echo of it, the rumble along the floor, along his hip and thigh. His back hurt.

Steam. There was steam and water.

He was cold. A shiver shook him, waking him from his forced sleep.

I've zoned again, he thought. For it wasn't really sleep. He suspected that he did things during that time, that part of him was awake during his 'absences'. A part of his mind was still working.

Just like Jim, he mused, comforted by even thinking the name. Jim would zone out, lost in a whiteout of his senses.

Except I've been drugged and can't remember what happened.

There was water running.

He opened his eyes, surprised that he could.

Now where am I?

It was a large room, considering the relatively limited size of the warehouse. A luxurious bathroom. Water was running into a black bathtub near where he lay. It had clawed feet. Gold clawed feet. The floor was a shiny black. The facets were gold.

Probably fake.

He glanced up. No ceiling. A set, then. Now what?

The camera man came back into the picture and set his styrofoam cup on the edge of the sink. "A bath will make you feel better," he cooed, hoisting Blair up and helping him into the bathtub. "You did well, luv. Jurgen got everything set up and he's happy about the performance we're filming later."

The water was hot -- not scalding, but hot enough to make the cuts and bruises ache, and it made other parts of him hurt. Pete whistled a tuneless song as he turned the water off. He snapped a pair of handcuffs around Blair's left wrist and then around the handhold on the wall.

"That's so you don't slip under the water and drown," the camera man said, retrieving his coffee. "Have a nice soak, luv. We just got the tub set up for a film on Sunday night, so you're the first occupant. Enjoy. I'll be back in a few. Jurgen asked to see me. I think I'm staying the night. Jurgen usually locks up at midnight, but filming ran late. Maybe we can spend some quality time together later, hey? Would you like that? We could use the set with the round bed. Proper lighting. I've got a nice bottle of wine, too ..." He left the room, still whistling the door closing with a hollow thunk.

Propelled into action as his arms and legs began to reconnect with his brain, Blair stood up, only to come up short as his wrist stopped him, knocking him off balance in the tub. His feet slipped on the smooth bottom, his legs going out from under him, and he landed heavily on the rim of the tub, cursing loudly at the fiery pain that flared in his side when he tried to breathe.

There was no way he could lie back in the tub, his left wrist keeping him just high enough for his body not to reach. It made the drag on his ribs hurt more, and he had to get his legs underneath him to ease the stretch. He was still there, draped over the edge of the footed tub, his eyes closed against the bright studio lights, when Pete returned two hours later to take him out of the cold water.

"You done?" The key turned in the lock, the handcuffs falling from his numb hands. "Sorry I took so long, luv. Not very comfortable, was it? I thought you'd like it more than that disgusting shower, but Jurgen wanted to see the footage we took, so I couldn't stay with you. Maybe another time. I'm usually here by nine in the morning, but it could be slow then, so ... We could have scented candles and soft lights ... Maybe some bubbles. And white wine -- no -- Champagne. Would you like that?"

Strong hands reached into the tub and dragged him up, hoisting him over one shoulder. "You're all wrinkles. We've got to do something about that hair. Jurgen wanted me to cut it off, but I like it on you. Never was one for a hairy body, but yours," Pete said, patting his rump, "Yes, yours I can't keep my hands off, luv. My million-dollar baby. I've got some shampoo in the bathroom. I'll shower you off, shave you, then maybe Jurgen can be convinced to keep you around longer. You fix up pretty. I don't have anything for your curls though. What do they use now? Gel?"

Dazed, Blair was taken to the small shower that was used by all the men, a cheap stall that was probably newly purchased but already showing the stains of not being cared for. It looked like someone had rinsed paint brushes in it earlier, smelling of turpentine and other fumes. He coughed from the scents, then cried out as the pain shot through his ribs.

Pete continued to talk but his words no longer translated to Blair's sleep-fogged mind. Rough hands worked a cheap vanilla-scented shampoo through his hair, then pushed him under the dribble of water and impatiently tried to get the shampoo out again. He was pulled out before he could turn his face to capture some water to drink, the cool spray teasing on his cracked lips.

He wasn't sure what happened next.

Three men blocked the door of the bathroom. His vision faltering as dizziness hit.

Pete's voice -- outraged as he was taken from the camera man.

Hands dragging him away.

Then nothing.


Present

Blair's voice trailed off. As much as he tried, nothing was clear after that. "I think they took me out then. I don't remember seeing Pete again."

"They?" Simon asked, gently.

Blair looked up at him, grateful for Simon being there, the solidness of the captain's presence in the room. "The henchmen. Muscle Man, Scar Man, another guy, too. Maybe the Hispanic guy. I'm sorry, Simon. I wish I could be more exact."

"You're doing fine, son."

"Do you know what happened when they took you out?" Jim asked, from where he had knelt at Blair's side as he related his memories.

Blair looked down to see their hands clasped together, in the way that gave him strength and calmed his emotions. Why or how it worked, Blair wasn't ready to investigate that. It worked, and right now, he needed it to work. But Jim had asked a question, one he had no answer for.

"Sorry. It comes in bits and pieces. I don't know why I remember what I do remember."

"That's okay. You're doing fine."

Woodward was writing notes, but finally stopped, his pen tapping against the paper. "So, you think that's what happened at 3:00 a.m. that matches Ellison's--" Woodward's voice broke off.

"My dream," the detective filled in.

"What else do we have?" Woodward looked down at his legal pad of paper. "What time was he found at the rest stop south of Everett?"

"About 9:30 p.m.," Simon answered.

"It was raining then, wasn't it?"

"Pouring."

"Was there water under the trailer?"

"It rained all day yesterday," Jim answered, still holding Blair's hand.

"How long do you estimate the trailer was there?"

"Blair was in the trailer approximately three or four hours, according to the doctor. Much of this was based on how old the wounds were, scrapes and bruises, and his absorption of the odors from the bodies. The van itself was not dirty, but he had dirt that had to be cleaned from the cut on his right calf, dirt not found in the trailer. The wound was fairly recent."

"My leg hit the side of the door when they threw me into the van," Blair said. "It was muddy." He shrugged as the men turned and stared at him. "Sorry."

"Feel free to add whatever you want."

"I just remembered it."

"Tell us about the van," Woodward asked, softly.

"I think I told you everything already. That's all I remembered."

Frank Black stood up suddenly and moved over to Blair. There was something about the look in his eyes that was frightening. He put his hand on Blair's shoulder, but looked at Jim as he spoke. "I saw him in the van. He was gagged. They threw him inside. He landed on top of bodies. They threatened him with a knife to lie still and not move."

"Were these the wrapped bodies from the semi?" Woodward asked.

"No. These had been recently killed. The blood hadn't dried yet on their skin. Their throats were slit. The men held a knife at your throat," Frank added, looking at Blair's neck.

"The meeting at Seattle P.D. had already started," Jim said. "That would make it about -- 2:15 p.m.?"

"Sounds right," Frank agreed.

Blair shivered. They were talking about something he didn't remember -- didn't want to remember -- but he knew they were right. He knew it had happened. He knew ... "Their eyes were open," he whispered. He looked to Frank, who nodded, then turned to the man still close at his side. "I was in a van, Jim. A white van."

"The van discovered in Everett. Forensics in Everett have been going over the vehicle and will call me with their report -- I was actually expecting their call an hour ago." Woodward took his cell phone out and placed it on the table, ready.

"We could verify the blood samples. Blair's wound would have bled." Simon smiled at him apologetically.

He smiled back, curiously detached from what they were discussing. He had seen the bandage on his leg, but hadn't paid attention to what Jim was doing when he changed the dressing. It was strange to suddenly remember getting the injury.

Woodward was flipping pages in his notebook. "From what we were already told by the Everett police, the van was found at 6:00 p.m. The motor was still warm, indicating it had been abandoned approximately twenty to thirty minutes previous."

Simon glanced at the map. "So, Sandburg is put in the van with several bodies at approximately 2:15 p.m. He is taken from the van prior to 5:30 p.m."

They all turned and stared at him, but he had nothing to add, so they kept talking.

"At about ... 6:30 p.m. last night, I had the feeling that Sandburg was sleeping or unconscious," Jim said. "He wasn't moving."

"He wasn't moving, or the vehicle he was in wasn't moving?" Nash asked.

"I don't know. I just had the impression he was safe." Jim shrugged. "Safer, anyway."

"Away from the others," Frank mused, then nodded, agreeing. "The time is right. If they transferred Blair into the semi-trailer near the mall parking, abandoned the van there at 5:30, then drove to the rest stop, 5:45 or 6:00, disconnected the semi-trailer, they could have left in the truck tractor. It could easily hold three people across the front."

"In that case, we are still trying to ascertain where he was between 2:15 and 5:30 p.m.," Woodward said, staring at the map. "And there are five grated bridges within the area, with similar road conditions around them."

Bridges ... There was something about a bridge, about water ... Blair closed his eyes, remember the sensation of the bridge, of crossing the grated metal surface.

His breath caught in his throat as a second memory detached itself. He felt Jim's hand on his back.

"You're in the trailer. Remember how it feels going over the bridge deck," Jim's voice said, a soft echo of his own words, his own voice when he spoke as a guide. "Do you have it?"

"Yeah," he whispered, trying to catch the second memory, the echo.

"Remember the feeling of the bridge ... except now you're in a van. It feels different. Just a little bit different." Jim's voice was hypnotic. "The tires, the vibration is different, but you can still recognize it."

"Yeah," he whispered again, feeling the scene change.


Previous

He had huddled against the rear door, trying to stay away from the bodies. They had thrown him to land on top of them, his bare skin touching their bare skin, and the feeling was terrifying. They were dead. Their eyes were open. The construction men, he thought, his face pressed against the door. In the front of the van, Muscle Man was in the driver's seat, concentrating on the road in the rain.

He felt the bridge deck as they passed over it. It sent unpleasant vibrations through his body, giving him a sour taste in his mouth. The gag hurt, biting into the side of his lips.

A cell phone rang, and the van swerved as the Muscle Man -- Karl -- picked it up.

"Yeah? ... The Indian reservation ... Uh-huh. Lighten the load... I dunno. The 3:10 if I can make it. If not, the 3:50... . It's Friday; the traffic will already be a bitch coming over this way ... Yeah, I'll be there ... yeah ... No problem. You just be there on time. We need to be back by nine ... Huh? ... 7:55 if we're lucky... . No way. Next one will be too late... . So I fucking memorized the schedule I've done it enough ... If you don't hear from me ... Fuckin' idiot," he finished, tossing the cell phone on the passenger chair.

The van swerved again, but the road seemed different; the feel of the pavement had altered. Ten minutes of driving and they left that road, heading along an unpaved road, deep bumps as the van hit potholes knocking Blair about. His hands tied behind his back gave him no way to keep himself from falling, and one particular bad jolt rolled him onto his side, face to bloody face with a corpse. He lunged backward, knocking his head against the back of the van in his desperate attempt to get away from the body.

The van had stopped.

The side door opened and Muscle Man took out first one body, then the other.

"You ready?" the man asked, hooking Blair's elbow and dragging him closer. His back scraped along the dirty floor. A cloth was pressed over his nose, and with the gag in his mouth, he had no choice but to breathe in the fumes that rendered him unconscious.


Present

Ellison had to close his eyes to steady himself. It was hard to see Sandburg sitting so calmly at the table reciting what had happened to him. Ellison still had his hand on his partner's back, the open-palm touch connecting him with his guide. He's steadying me, too, he had to admit.

Yes, they were getting closer to an idea of where this warehouse might have been located. Woodward was going through his massive briefcase looking for a Western Washington information book that would give him the times of the local ferries.

Yes, Sandburg was handling this all remarkably well. Even Simon seemed to be relaxing as the kid calmly answered their questions, relating traumatic details of his capture in as clear a style as though he were giving a damned lecture on correct victim responses in a hostage situation.

But there was no way that Sandburg had remotely come close to convincing him that there was a safe, or reasonably safe way for him to get back to the warehouse and help rescue Evan. Yet his pleas remained sound. If Evan was at a different location -- it was quite possible they would lose him if they rushed the place as Woodward proposed to with his SWAT unit.

"Sorry, that's all I remember," Sandburg said finally, exhausted by their questions and his memories, sagging ever-so-slightly against Ellison hand.

"You seem sure about the times he gave."

"I remember thinking them over and over, trying to remember them. I couldn't figure out what he meant, but you're right," he said, with a curious smile, as though this were some damned puzzle they were trying to solve. "They're probably sailing times. A ferry."

"Which the Sound is riddled with," Woodward muttered. He started to say more, but a sharp rap on the door caused them all to turn, hands going to weapons.

Simon went to the door, as Ellison moved to stand in front of Sandburg. "Who is it?"

"Is Nash Bridges there? Captain Bridges?"

Nash stepped forward, a relieved smile on his face. "Harvey." He opened the door to a man in his early-to-mid forties, comfortably embracing him, drawing him into the suite, then embracing him again before introducing him to the others. "This is Evan's partner, Harvey Leek, a valued member of our SIU group."

As well-tailored as Nash Bridges appeared to be, this man was the opposite. His clothes looked as though they had been thrown on, an almost 'Blair Sandburg' style of dress that came from shopping at the local thrift store because the salesclerk was cute. Harvey had an orange and green shirt that looked to be a reject from the sixties, a yellow woven vest that was loose and bulky enough to hide his police-issue holster and weapon, and curiously enough, a Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead black armband. Brown curly hair was interrupted by a patch of white curls on his forehead, an unruly mass of contradictions, much like Ellison's own partner.

Harvey Leek was not what Ellison had expected. He looked nothing at all like the pictures they had of Evan Cortez, either in age, or dress, or style. But then, Jim admitted, he looked nothing like Sandburg, just as Rafe looked nothing like Brown.

Blair stood up and approached him, still walking awkwardly, past time for his pain medication. "Evan talked about you a lot," he said.

Harvey looked embarrassed. "Aw, he probably either exaggerated or made it up."

"I'm sorry he's not here," Sandburg whispered, eyes once again filling with tears. "We'll get him back."

"Damn right we will," Harvey whispered back, then closed the distance between them and drew Blair into a warm hug. "I'm glad you're safe," he said softly, but still heard by sentinel ears. "I deeply wish that Evan was here, safe, too, but please don't think that I would wish your places reversed."

Sandburg nodded against his shoulder, then pulled back from Leek and stumbled against Ellison, who was directly behind him.

Ellison held out his hand. "Jim Ellison. We'll do what we can. We think we have some good leads here."

Harvey smiled, his sad eyes crinkling as he looked at the other man. "Thank you for your help, Detective Ellison. You have my undying gratitude for helping us. I'm sure that after everything your partner has been through, it would be so easy to just pack him up and go back to Cascade, rather than stay and assist us."

"My pleasure," Ellison found himself saying. "We'll do everything we can."

"Any news?" Harvey asked, then. Dark circles beneath his eyes matched those in the group he was now joining.

Nash filled him in on what they were working on while Harvey commandeered a corner of the table, took out a lap top computer, and set it up, tying into the phone line and pulling up information on Western Washington State ferries before Woodward had found the correct page in his book.

"Kingston to Edmonds is a match," Harvey said, as he keyed up the correct screen. He turned and pulled another item out of the large black briefcase he had come in with, and within two minutes, the streamlined, portable printer was spitting out copies of the on-line schedule.

"He mentioned an Indian Reservation," Woodward said. "I've got information on them here in my book. Where--"

"Port Madison Indian Reservation is to the south of Kingston," Harvey announced, peering at his computer screen as Woodward tossed his directory onto the bed, in defeat. "And Port Gamble Indian Reservation is to the north."

"Bridges nearby?"

"There is a bridge in the south to Bainbridge Island, and one in the north to the peninsula near Shine."

"Distance?"

"About the same to each. Ten to twelve miles."

Sandburg leaned forward, staring at the computer. "Could you look something up for me?"

"Certainly." Harvey's eyes softened as he looked at the young man, knowing what Blair had been through, and who he had been with. "What would you like?"

"Could you look up the 7-Eleven stores in Washington?"

"What do you need, Sandburg?" Simon asked, shaking his head. "The Yellow Pages are right here. We can have it delivered."

"Specifically," Sandburg said, "I want the 7-Eleven stores by Kingston, Washington. Get their fax numbers, too, if they have one."

"Why?" Harvey asked.

"Because that's how I'm gonna find Pete. Every morning he has a cup of coffee with him. And it's hot. It has to be nearby."

"We fax or take Pete's picture to the 7-Eleven stores in the area," Ellison said, his hand resting on his partner's shoulder, "we find out which one he frequents, then tomorrow morning--"

"--he'll get his coffee, a donut, his newspaper -- and me," Sandburg said, with a triumphant smile, looking at the others, then turning to face Ellison. "Thanks for backing me up, Jim," he whispered. "It'll work. I know it will work."

The thundering noise in the sentinel's ears was the echo of his own heartbeat. That's what I'm afraid of. How can I possibly let him walk away with you?


Chapter Ten

"Joe Dominguez, SIU. How may I help you?"

"You can help me by tuning into the newscast there tonight at 6:00."

"Nash! What's happening? Did it work? I've been waiting all afternoon for someone to call. You'd think that with two of you there, at least one of you would have time to call poor, old me left behind to man the fort, but, nooooo ... Out of sight, out of mind. Forget that I'm all alone, running everything by myself -- huh? What? -- Oh, Michelle is here and she says to say 'hi' to you and Harvey. 'Hi!' There, I said it. Have you heard from that bank in Chicago yet? No? Then get to it. Scram, woman. Out of my space -- Ouch!"

"Joe, Joe, Joe ... When will you learn?"

"She didn't have to pinch my butt."

"Someone's got to do it when I'm not there."

"Yeah, right. None of you show me any respect ... Seriously, Nash, I'm glad to hear from you. Excuse my babbling. I'm just worried, that's all. What's happening, man? Did you get anywhere with the 7-Eleven faxes?"

"Not yet. They haven't been sent out yet; they're still getting information together and deciding on how to handle the calls. The police composite artist just left here and she'll do up a good copy and get it out to the various department's involved."

"Where are you now?"

"Everett Hospital."

"Everything okay? Who's hurt?"

"We just had ourselves a honey of a media circus earlier today, Bubba. I'm hoping it'll show up on the news stations in San Francisco, as well. Be sure to tune into it. Should be on in half an hour."

"Yeah? What about? Which plan did you go with?"

"We faked the opening of the semi-trailer that Blair was found in. Whew -- if it was ripe in there last night, it was twice that at 1:00 when we reopened it."

"How did you get Blair 'out' of the semi-trailer when he was already 'out'?"

"We kept the majority of the police officers, news crews, reporters, and the like well back, then got the ambulance attendants to bring in some equipment. Sandburg was all scrunched up in a body bag that was lifted into the semi-trailer - supposedly with equipment in it -- then he made his miraculous exit on the spine board."

"And they bought it?"

"Hook, line, and mortgage."

"Then what? Did they interview him?"

"Not yet. We got him and Ellison into the ambulance without talking to anyone, and the ambulance headed off to Everett Hospital. We stayed behind while they brought the rest of the bodies out."

"Anyone identify them?"

"Yeah. The names we had thought. Harold Woodward was pretty broken up. None of the other cities had an officer there until just before the coroner's wagon left and the captain of the Santa Cruz Police Force showed up via helicopter. He had been at the Seattle-Tacoma airport when he got the news. San Diego and Santa Barbara Police Departments have their officials on route to Seattle, where the bodies have been taken."

"So now what happens?"

"Well, we were all interviewed. Word is out that Sandburg has amnesia. If we can find out where this Pete guy gets his coffee, maybe he can have a happy reunion with Sandburg."

"And what if he just shoots him?"

"Blair seems convinced that he won't."

"Isn't this the kid with Swiss cheese for memories?"

"He's pretty set on this. Even his partner has backed down. For now, anyway. The agreement is to go ahead with the idea, and we'll monitor it. At least if we can capture Pete, that's a start."

"Won't he just cop a plea if he gets caught? Lessen his sentence?"

"He's probably heading for life imprisonment so it won't make much difference. Jurgen is the one we want to catch. And according to Blair, Evan's at a different location now. If we take down one group, the others will slip through our fingers."

"So the plan is -- what? -- to follow the camera man and Blair to one place, then follow them to the second place and capture them all at once?"

"More or less."

"Won't monitoring them be a problem? These guys will have the latest surveillance equipment."

"I don't think that's going to be an issue here, Bubba. Ellison's surveillance equipment is the best I've ever seen in operation. You'll just have to take my word for it."


June 20, Saturday

Everett, Washington

4:30 p.m.

Blair lay quietly in the hospital room, holding on to his partner's hand tightly, trying to fight the growing weariness that was creeping over him. He had a sneaking suspicion that the shot Dr Morrison had given him had more in it than the good doctor had told him. I should have read that paper I signed. Serves me right.

His head jerked as he discovered himself drifting off, and he opened his eyes. Jim's hand squeezed his, but the detective's concentration was focused elsewhere. Jim had headphones on, monitoring what was happening back at the I-5 rest stop, listening to Simon's voice as he spoke to the last of the media.

"Jim?" he said softly, then smiled when the sentinel turned to him. "I wanna hear."

With a reluctant nod, Jim took the headphones off and handed them to Blair, since he was totally able to hear clearly from where he sat.

I wonder if he could hear all the way to the rest stop? That's what? Ten miles? He had tested Jim at a quarter mile, a half mile, and at even a mile. There had been times when, out of control, Jim's senses had picked up conversations that they estimated were two or three miles away, but he had no way of consciously focusing on a single conversation at that distance. Now, if someone were standing on a mountain, and the sentinel could actually see them, could he listen to them by piggybacking his hearing on his sight? Hmmm ... I see more tests when this is over, my friend.

Simon's voice came over the microphone, stealing Blair's attention as he heard the captain express his relief to the reporter that Sandburg had been through a terrible ordeal, but he was alive, although they had yet to see what his condition was.

It was weird hearing the sincerity of the captain's voice, almost as though the staged event had been real. He had sounded so shaken. But then, the real thing had happened the evening before. Blair couldn't remember much of the previous night, except falling and being caught, opening his eyes and seeing Jim looking down over him, and the cool raindrops landing on his face mixing with his partner's hot tears.

Or was Simon thinking about the university fountain?

Blair certainly had. And Jim had, in the ambulance, his hand clenched so tight over Blair's that it hurt. He could see it on the detective's face: the panic when the ambulance attendant had put an oxygen mask on his face, just like had happened a month before. Only then, he had needed it. This time, it was just for show. Almost. The smell of the bodies had been overwhelming, almost making him physically sick to his stomach and bringing back dim remembrances of that smell on his skin, on his hair.

Even now, two hours after his apparent 'discovery', Jim was still at his side, almost afraid to be parted from him. Looking back, certainly, at what had happened a month ago. More than that, he was probably looking ahead to tomorrow morning, when he was going to have to let Blair go with Pete. It'll work, Jim. Please don't fight me on this.

He couldn't concentrate on what he was hearing and pulled the headphones off his head, leaving them to lie on the bed next to him. Jim didn't really need them on, anyway. He let his eyes close, trying to relax, trying not to think about the next day.

Without intending to, he dozed off, waking when someone touched his arm or something. It wasn't Jim; it was ... the doctor. Dr Morrison. It was okay, then. Jim was there, standing aside for the doctor to look at him. That's what had woken him. Not someone touching him, but the sudden absence of touch.

Prearranged, Dr Benjamin Morrison had met them at the Everett hospital when the ambulance arrived. For the sake of the local staff, Morrison was introduced to his patient and partner as being sent by the sheriff's office as a part of the Emergency Response Team, a specialist in trauma cases from Bellevue dispatched to handle the call. No one at Everett Hospital seemed to question how he had made it to the hospital before the ambulance. Before the local group knew what was happening, Ellison and his partner were safe in this semi-private room, a police guard on the door and Dr Morrison insisting on complete privacy for his traumatized patient.

"Just rest, Blair. Take advantage of some down-time." The doctor's hand paused along his forehead and the side of his face, then Blair felt the blood pressure cuff on his arm. Familiar things now: the hospital gown drawn down to listen to his heart and lungs, his pulse taken, the click of the thermometer against his ear. No use in saying he wasn't sick. They would do it anyway.

Jim's hand settled over his brow, fingers extending into his hair, a sentinel blessing. Guarding, protecting.

Strange how something like that could put him to sleep.


Ellison glanced up when the door opened to let in Nash Bridges and Harvey Leek. He was sitting on the edge of his partner's bed, watching him sleep, and Harvey perched on the room's other bed.

"How's he doing?" he asked, peering down at Blair's pale face.

"It's been a long day," Ellison said, tugging the blankets higher. It wasn't cold in the room and Sandburg was resting comfortably, but it made him feel better. At least he was doing something. "He's sleeping finally."

"Is he okay?" Nash asked.

"Just tired. I think being there at the trailer was draining on him. How did it go at the rest stop after we left?" Ellison stood, stretching.

Nash shrugged as he sat in one of the chairs. "That's hard to say. On one hand, it went beautifully. The news crews and reporters were convinced that Blair Sandburg is one lucky son-of-a-gun. There were so many camera flashes when he was lifted out of the semi-trailer and taken to the ambulance, that I was blinded by them ... On the other hand, there were four bodies. It was still a grisly discovery and I can't get away from the smell."

"I know what you mean," Simon said, entering the room. "I thought it was bad last night, but this was way worse."

"Try Thai food," Harvey offered.

"What?"

"Try some hot Thai food. Your face breaks into a sweat and gets rid of the smell. Either that or cigars work. We always carry cigars with us."

"I wondered why you kept one around," Nash said. "I never got around to asking you and Evan why you each kept a cigar when neither of you ever smoked it. Thought you were taking lessons from Bill or something."

"Nope. It works wonders for the smell."

"I'll remember that next time I'm in this situation."

"Well, as someone who had a cigar with him today," Simon said, patting his jacket pocket, "and made good use of it, I might add -- I say we get some Thai food after the news broadcast anyway. I haven't eaten anything since breakfast today, and we're going to be up late tonight planning for tomorrow."

Ellison glanced at his watch. "The news is on soon."

"Good. Woodward said to see what the reaction is on the 6:00 Evening News, then go from there. He'll meet us later tonight, but he, understandably, has to be at Seattle P.D. to handle the official announcement of the discovery of Glenn Relkie's body."

"Where's Frank Black?" Ellison asked.

"He left shortly after you did, following up on some leads. Based on what Sandburg told him, he's checking the FBI database to see what he can come up with on previous instances of a crime like this. He said he'd call soon." Nash rubbed at his forehead, his thumb and index finger pinching the bridge of his nose, trying to ease what was probably a fairly hefty headache that Ellison could identify with. "Man, I can't think. Anyone got some Tylenol?"

Harvey reached into one pocket and withdrew a small container that he tossed to his captain

Nash popped a couple pills into his mouth, dry-swallowed them, and continued, "Dr Morrison will release Sandburg at 8:00 p.m. -- in about two hours. We have a motel booked for tonight in Lynnwood, along Highway 524, about two or three miles from Edmonds, where the ferry docks. It's close enough for Sandburg to believably wander down that way. Woodward's secretary reserved two rooms: one for the three of you, and one for Harvey and myself. Same motel."

"Sounds like everything is moving ahead." An icy fist clutched at Ellison's heart again. He paced the room as the other men talked quietly and finally stopped in front of his captain. "Simon, I don't know about tomorrow yet. It doesn't feel right. I can't let him do this."

"He seems confident that this man won't--"

"Last night, he almost died, lying on the floor of a hospital, not breathing. What if it happens again? I won't be there. Will this Pete be able to bring him back?"

"I thought we were going to see how Pete handles seeing him, then go from there. You'll be able to tell how sincere the man is, won't you?" Simon was leaning back in his chair, arms crossed, watching Ellison as he continued to pace.

Nash glanced to Sandburg, keeping his voice as quiet as the other two men. "Jim, if you don't mind me asking, how can you tell if the man is sincere or not?" He turned then, sharp eyes fixed on Ellison, who had stopped, caught frozen by the casual remark. "It stays in this room, but I think I have a right to know just how you propose to monitor this man, follow him from a distance without losing him, without him knowing he's being followed, then listen in on conversations in this warehouse, determine how many men are inside, who they are and if they are armed, how safe Sandburg is and whether the SWAT team should move in -- or whether the SWAT team should wait until your partner -- your civilian partner, I might add -- leads you to where Evan is being held. I have heard not one word about what kind of surveillance equipment you plan on using, I've seen no request put in for what you will need, or is this standard equipment you keep in that little toolbox in the back of your truck?"

Ellison looked away, staring out the window as he listened to the SIU captain's very valid questions. How to answer them was another problem. He could hear Simon's heartbeat picking up as the questions continued -- and Sandburg's.

"He has good hearing." Sandburg's eyes opened to meet Ellison's as he turned. "He's right, Jim. They have a right to know."

"Define: good hearing. How good?" Harvey asked, leaning forward, fascinated.

"He can hear a fly walking on the ceiling in the hospital lobby, three floors below us."

"Augmented?"

"Natural."

"His eyesight, too? He'd have to, to monitor what was happening at that distance," Harvey mused. "I can see it working ... Yeah ... You'd be able to sit across the street or down the block and casually see if the guy has sweat on his upper lip, or listen to his heartbeat to see if he's telling the truth or not. Bet you're a hell of a poker player. You could see the reflection of your opponents' cards in their irises." He looked over at Ellison with renewed interest. "Almost sentinel-like, if you had a few more senses enhanced."

Ellison's face remained frozen, but Sandburg smiled, sitting up in the bed, one hand over his ribs still. "Harvey, you surprise me. Not too many people have ever heard of sentinels. But he'd need five senses for that. Jim's just an excellent cop with good hearing and good eyesight, and I'm confident in his ability to track me," his guide said, smoothly deflecting one issue, while posing another.

"I haven't decided yet," Ellison said.

"I have. I want to do this." Sandburg's words were firm. Stubborn. "I'm sure it will work. Isn't that enough?"

"Chief--" He stopped at one look from his guide, his arguments lost. How can you do this, sitting exhausted on a hospital bed? How can you stop me from stopping you?

The hospital phone rang, and he moved quickly to pick it up before Sandburg could. "Ellison."

"It's Frank Black. I've taken the information Blair gave us and tracked down the other two previous setups. This time he's using police detectives. Two years ago, ten doctors were kidnaped in the mid-west, Chicago down to New Orleans, and three years before that, ten lawyers on the Eastern Seacoast. All, interestingly enough, with the same body type as the men taken here. None have been found alive. Several of the bodies have never been recovered. Because the doctors and lawyers all came from different cities, the connections in the cases weren't noticed for some time, but from the method of operation on all three sets of kidnaping and murders, it appears we have the same man behind them."

"Anything on him yet?"

"Nothing. I'm working on it." Frank paused, then continued, "For this man to remain successful, he needs to remain hidden. It would be imperative for him to cover his tracks. He moves into an area, settles into a seemingly legitimate business, then sells it later and moves on. Blair had mentioned that he had heard the last base location was sold to a country and western singer in the mid-west."

"We've passed that on -- it's being traced."

"Good. I'll continue here. I'll meet with you tomorrow morning. Harold is letting me know where you'll be."

"Thank you." Ellison hung up the phone and relayed the information to the others.

"He's got away with this twice before," Harvey exclaimed. "We are getting this guy, boss," he said locking eyes with Nash, as though expecting an argument, "if I have to bring him down with my own bare hands, I'm going to get this guy."

"Hey, I'm on your side, Bubba," Nash said softly, hands up. "Don't preach to the converted."

"I think about what he's doing to those men, and my mind goes ballistic." Harvey jumped up from the empty bed and paced the room, much as Ellison had earlier. "I swear, if he so much as puts a bruise on Evan--" He stopped as he saw the look on Sandburg's face. The two men stared at each other for a moment, before Harvey whispered, "What did he do to him? Do you know for sure what he did?"

Sandburg couldn't answer, but before Ellison could phrase a reply, Nash stood and placed himself in front of his friend and co-worker.

"Harv, when Blair saw him last, Evan was alive."

"Was he raped?" Harvey looked from Nash to Blair. "Was he raped?"

"Yeah. So was I," Blair added, as though daring Harvey to make a reply.

Harvey sank to the edge of the bed, the wind taken from his anger. "I'm sorry. I knew that. I wasn't thinking."

"I just meant that I'm alive. I'm going to be okay."

"I know."

"You've got to keep thinking that way about Evan and the others." Sandburg glanced up at the television, redirecting the man's focus. "Harvey, it's almost time for the news. Can you fix the reception?"

"What? Uh, yeah. Sure," Harvey said, moving to the televison set. He spent another few seconds trying to clear up the reception, then they silently watched the televison reporter tell about the police raid on a semi-trailer parked illegally at an Interstate-5 rest stop, and the subsequent discovery of the bodies, plus one man who had survived the brutal attack and was now at Everett Hospital. The coverage switched to Simon Banks, standing tired and weary by the semi-trailer as the body bags were removed.

"Captain Banks of the Cascade Police?"

"Yes?" He turned and faced the camera and the reporter.

"Can you tell us what happened here? We understand four bodies were found, but also one man alive?"

Simon nodded. "Blair Sandburg, a police observer in Cascade, was found alive, but in serious condition at 11:30 a.m. He has been taken to Everett Hospital."

"How long was he missing?" the reporter asked.

"He was kidnaped a week ago."

"Any indication of what his injuries are?"

On the TV screen, Simon shook his head, looking at a loss for words. "He's sustained some kind of head injury. He didn't know who we were or who he was."

"Permanent?"

"I have no idea at this time."

"Any idea who did this?"

"I wish I did."

The image shifted to a photograph of him, and Blair chuckled, turning to the Cascade captain. "Ever thought of being an actor, Simon? That was some performance. But then, you always say I'm brain damaged."

Instead of reacting with a come-back, Simon remained serious. "It was impossible to stand there and not be close to tears. You weren't there when Harold Woodward identified his detective as one of the men killed I was the lucky one there." He glanced to Nash, feeling the other man's eyes on him. "I don't want to see that look on anyone else's face."

"I agree," Nash said.

"We'll get him back," Blair said. "It's only Saturday. They have to keep him alive at least until Tuesday. That gives us two days to find the warehouse."

The television report had changed to a press conference on the steps of Everett Hospital and they all quieted again to watch it.

Dr Morrison stood before a sea of microphones and gave the official report, repeating that the young police observer was suffering from severe trauma and amnesia. "He's undergoing tests at this time, and I hope to have better news for you tomorrow morning." The report when on to discuss the four bodies found, listing their names, their police departments, then going to interviews with family and friends. A full fifteen minutes was given over to the kidnaping, the murders of the police officers, the Internet link, then moved on to the rest of the news, promising more on the 11:00 newscast.

Nash groaned. "Who told them about the Internet tie-in? If anything, all that's going to do is draw more people to the site."

Simon shook his head. "It wasn't mentioned this afternoon at the semi-trailer. They've got another source. Not surprising, with this many departments involved."

Harvey flicked to the next station, and they watched the last minute of their coverage, again the footage of Dr Morrison giving his prognosis. "Well, if they are watching the news at all -- and I'm sure they will if they hear that their semi-trailer was found -- they're going to be surprised that Blair survived."

Simon's cell phone rang and they all turned to stare at him as he dug it from his jacket pocket. "Banks here."

Ellison picked up Harold Woodward's voice.

"Banks? ... I've got a meeting setup at 8:00 tonight with the Sheriff's office in Everett. We're dealing with three counties here -- four if we count Skatgit County where Cascade is. The sheriffs and Emergency Response Team leaders from Kitsap and King Counties will be joining us at the Snohomish County office."

"What county does Kingston fall in?"

"Our prime target area -- Kingston, Bainbridge Island, and over the peninsula to Shine and Port Townsend -- are all in Kitsap County. The semi-trailer was found in Snohomish County which handles Everett, Lynnwood, Edmonds and area. The Seattle-King County SWAT unit will be coordinating."

"I'd like to be there, Captain," Ellison said, his voice low.

Simon nodded that he'd heard. "Harold, I'd like to bring the others with me. Jim Ellison is trained in SWAT work and is particularly suited for this mission."

"Bring Nash Bridges, too -- he has a stake in this. Jim Ellison will coordinate getting Sandburg to the motel tonight -- that's his role. Everett Police Department will assist him as needed -- he has only to ask. Harvey Leek can accompany them, then continue his own investigation via computer, as per his request; a secured line has been set up in his motel room. Snohomish County and the Lynwood Police will be providing undercover security tonight, watching the motel. We'll contact Leek later at the motel and include him in a conference call when we've examined all the information we've put together so far. For now, Ellison's primary concern should be his partner and making sure Sandburg is prepared for this assignment. If he's not able to complete his role, we need to know asap so we can move on to a different plan. At this point, though, we don't have many options. Our whole plan is based on one camera operator getting a regular cup of coffee at a 7-Eleven Convenience Store."

"I understand. Nash and I will be at the meeting." Simon disconnected his call and passed the main details on to the others.

Ellison stared at his partner until the young man shifted under the intense gaze. Despite the fact that Sandburg was sitting on the edge of a hospital bed, he was far calmer than he deserved to be. Confident. Determined. Cases scrolled through Ellison's mind, times before when he had put Sandburg into danger by convincing him or allowing him to go undercover with him or alone, against known killers like the Iceman, Carasco, Ray Weston, Warren Chapel and others. What was so different about this time?

"Is it because it was my idea, Jim?" Sandburg asked softly, for his ears alone.

Ellison carefully sat on the edge of Sandburg's bed, and asked, "Tell us again what you know about this guy. Every scrap of detail that you can remember. And why you think this will work."


10:00 p.m.

Lynnwood, Washington

Blair turned as Jim closed the door of the motel room after him and locked it. The detective went immediately to the large duffle bag that held their things and rummaged through it, removing a few toiletry articles and taking them in to the bathroom. "The doctor said straight to bed," he said, coming out again and going back to the duffle bag. "Your medication and toothbrush are on the counter. Do you want to have a shower first?"

"No. I'll have one in the morning." He was tired, more tired than he should have been, since he basically had laid around relaxing in the hospital all afternoon and evening. "What about you? You're like this one big knot of muscle."

"I'll be fine once this is over."

"A hot shower might help."

"Maybe. Get ready for bed. You need some sleep before tomorrow."

"I'm not arguing," Blair answered. He unbuttoned his shirt, carefully shrugging out of it, then slipped out of his jeans, tossing both onto a chair, scarcely aware of Jim's moving around him, taking the clothes and hanging them up, then steering him toward the bathroom. "Thanks." He shuffled inside, shutting the door firmly to hovering sentinels. By the time he emerged fifteen minutes later, Jim was unpacked, ready for bed, with the only light in the room the lamp between the beds. "I'm beat. I don't think I'll have any trouble sleeping tonight."

"I'm going to go over the case information again. I'm not sure when Simon will get in, but we'll be quiet." Jim stood motionless as Blair moved in front of him.

"This will work, Jim."

"I don't like it." Ellison's body hadn't relaxed at all. His jaw flexed, never a good sign.

I'm too tired for this. "I don't want to argue with you about it." Blair stumbled toward his bed, crawling beneath the covers and turning his back on his partner. It'll work. Evan and others are still there. We'll get them out, then we can get out of here and go back to Cascade and back to the loft.

Earlier that evening, while still in the hospital, he had spoken with Rafe on the phone. It was good to talk to him, to know he was really alive and would be out of the hospital in a week or so. Rafe had felt guilty about what had happened, as though he had been negligent by allowing four armed men to shoot him and kidnap Blair instead.

But like Harvey had said, Blair would not have wished it otherwise. Maybe Rafe would have been sold, just like Evan was supposed to be. Maybe Rafe would have been beaten and abused, like the murdered men had been. It could have just as easily been Rafe dead, instead of one of the other men, two who were found strangled and two shot in the head

Blair realized with a horrible shudder that he had heard the shots when they had been killed. He had been standing just outside the semi-trailer that first morning.

Maybe Rafe would have been raped, like they had been. Like I was.

Though he was trying to remain quiet, he made a sniffling sound that drew Jim to his side. "Chief?"

"Get in bed," Blair ordered, swiping at his eyes without turning around, not caring what he sounded like.

"Chief?" Jim slid in beside him, touching his shoulder.

"I need to sleep. And you need to sleep. I need your senses working tomorrow."

"It's too risky."

"It'll work," Blair whispered back. It has to.

"He's hurt you already. What makes you think he won't hurt you again?"

"He won't. I know him." Blair shivered. "Jim?"

The sentinel pulled him closer, half-growling when he saw how cold Blair's skin was. He felt chilled to his bones suddenly. Jim reached up and folded the bedspread so it doubled over Blair's side of the bed.

"He wasn't that bad, Jim," he murmured, allowing the ministrations.

"Don't defend him."

"I'm not. Compared to the other guys, though, Pete was a saint." The medication had kicked in, putting him to sleep. At least he'd stop thinking about it for a while.

"He raped you."

The words woke him up a little. "Actually, I don't think he did. I think it was Jurgen."

"Do you remember anything about ... what happened?" Jim asked, as though he hated to ask the question.

"I remember thinking that I had been raped. I don't remember why I thought that, but I did. My body remembered it, too."

"He raped you." It seemed strange when Jim said it. Jim was angry about what had happened, furious that someone had violated his friend and his partner and guide. And angry at his own helplessness, his inability to stop it from happening. Maybe his fear that it would happen again. Then Jim asked it aloud. "What if he does it again?"

The thought had occurred to Blair. What if it happened again? What if he went back to the warehouse and was raped and this time remembered it? Was conscious through it? If it gets Evan and the others back, so what? So fucking what? Their lives are at stake. Even if I have to play kissy-face with an obsessed photographer, it will be worth it if I can help rescue them. No one else can do it.

The words had been going through his brain all day. No one else can do it. No one else can do it.

At what cost was one life? Two lives? Five men were still kidnaped -- five lives at risk, and he could do something about it. How could he not do it?

And no one else could do it.

Jim couldn't do this.

A wave of aloneness swept over him. And panic. His heart was hammering in his chest. Blindly, he turned over, instinct directing him, drawing him into the sentinel's arms.

This was Jim's fault, this needing. Jim and his stupid 'fifteen minutes'. Blair wasn't sure what he hated most: that he desperately needed the time, or that it worked. That was the strange part. It worked -- it didn't get rid of the problem, but it gave it some context. I am not alone. More than anything, that's what it had taught him. It had ingrained itself into him that he was not alone. Someone was with him, someone cared if anything happened to him, someone would be there if it did. Someone valued him.

Sissy.

Maybe. So what? Wasn't he allowed?

Fraidy-cat.

Definitely, at this particular moment, anyway.

Wuss

Blair shifted closer to Jim, demanding the warmth and comfort and security that was being passed to him, as though by osmosis. It amazed him that Jim didn't mind this huggy stuff. Jim initiated it usually. So what did the sentinel get out of it, except for what Jim described as a transcendent peace that encompassed him when he knew his guide was safe.

Even now, Jim seemed suddenly more relaxed, calm, and settled. Less 'Jim' maybe, and more 'Sentinel'. Jim had told him once about a comment Simon had made, that he could imagine them a hundred years ago, in the jungle, the sentinel on watch in the night, his guide close to him to keep him from zoning even as he slept. Then their positions would reverse, the guide watching while the sentinel slept, the enhanced senses still monitoring his guide's pulse, the sentinel instantly aware of any danger, as though using his guide's vision and hearing while his were resting.

Is that was what was happening now? Was this closeness, this need to be physically close, something within the matrix that made Jim a sentinel? And, I guess, made me a guide?

Or was it the depth of friendship they shared, clumsily expressed in daily life, but manifesting itself in crisis situations?

Or was it ...?

Whatever, was his last conscious thought as he drifted back to sleep, wrapped in warm security.


Blair didn't move once he fell asleep, but Jim waited nearly fifteen minutes before getting out of bed and retrieving the files. He was long since past the time of feeling guilty about taking comfort in holding his guide. Or trying to explain it -- that was Sandburg's department. He just knew that he had to do it, and it worked. It calmed Blair, and it calmed him. There was an amazing sense of awed pride in the massive trust Sandburg had in him, to allow himself to be that vulnerable.

Jim sat on Simon's bed and read the case folder one more time, then turned on the 11:00 news and watched the coverage, the sound virtually turned off. Every few minutes, he would look at his guide, unmoving beneath the mound of blankets, and he would seek out his heartbeat and his breathing rate, then go back to what he was doing. Then he would listen outside the room, to Harvey at his computer in the next suite, the clack of the computer keyboard, the SIU detective's fingers drumming on the table as he wrestled information from his laptop.

Simon came in finally, his voice dropping to a whisper when he saw Blair was asleep. "I just watched the 11:00 news with Nash. Basically the same coverage as before, but with more information on the other missing men ."

"I saw it, too. This media alert is going to put Jurgen and his men on edge. Anything on our 7-Eleven faxes?" Jim asked, getting up and putting away the case folder.

"Nothing yet. Since Sandburg usually saw Pete midday, we're going to take the pictures around to the morning staff at the 7-Elevens in the area. Most day staff begin at 7:00 a.m. Once we get an idea which one he was at, we can arrange for Sandburg to be there. We don't want to miss him if he comes by earlier than usual."

"And if none of them identify him?"

"Then we take a gamble. They'll finish canvassing the 7-Elevens by 8:00 and we'll take it from there." Simon filled him in on the rest of the plans, then stripped down and got into his bed, stretching at the luxury of being horizontal. "We're meeting for breakfast at 7:00 at the pancake house down the street. I put in a wake-up call for 6:30." He rolled over, asleep and snoring within seconds.

Jim turned off the light, then crawled back into bed beside his partner, the slight movement of the bed stirring Blair from his sleep.

"Jim?"

"Shhh. Go to sleep."

Blair's eyes fluttered open, seeing nothing in the darkness. "Daniel Crawford's in jail, right?" he asked, shivering.

Crawford again. It was easy to see the parallel to Sandburg's mind though. Both times he was victimized. "Yeah." Jim's arm went around Blair's shoulders, tugging him closer. "Why?"

"Just wondering."

"He'll be there for a while. He won't be eligible for parol for a long time."

Blair nodded, his eyes closing again.

"Did Pete remind you of Crawford?" He couldn't keep the anger from his voice.

"No. Not really. Just thinking ..." There was a breathiness about Blair's words that rang alarm bells for the sentinel.

"What are you thinking about?" he asked, softly, regaining control of his emotions. "Can you tell me?"

Blair said nothing for a while, and Jim listened to see if he had fallen back asleep. Almost, but not quite, he decided. "Chief?"

A yawn, then the drowsy voice. "Thinking about how different people are... Yet they do the same thing. Crawford wanted little boys... but used me instead. He didn't go through with it, but he still ... touched me."

Jim's hold tightened, but Blair kept on talking, comfortably tucked under Jim's arm. Probably feeling safe here. Not a luxury he has during the day, with everyone around.

"Jurgen ... I don't remember much of what happened, Jim. It's all blurry. Out of focus. Just feelings, really. I haven't remembered anything new all afternoon and evening."

"Chief ..."

"Jim, Pete was different, though. He really liked me."

You're not making this easy on me, buddy.

"He won't let anything happen to me, Jim. I'll be safe there." Nodding to himself, Blair drifted back to sleep.

No, you won't. It's my job to keep you safe, not his. You haven't convinced me, Chief.


June 21, Sunday

Bellevue, Washington

It was a beautiful morning, as mornings went. The sun was out, promising to be a warm day. The slight breeze caught his hair, lightly blowing the curls that fell free to his shoulders. He was clean-shaven and scrubbed and bandaged. He had one of Jim's pullover sweaters on. It was pale blue cotton and two sizes too big and hung low, half off one bare shoulder. The wind went through it, tickling his midriff. He wore an old faded pair of slim cut jeans, one knee worn through, and cheap sandals he had bought that morning at a corner store, purple thongs that snapped as he walked. Physically, he felt better -- his ribs hardly bothered him at all, and his other aches and pains were fading, and walking wasn't causing him discomfort.

As prearranged, he had wandered from the restaurant that morning as Jim went to use the restroom, already lost in the crowd as his disappearance was discovered. Amazing how easy it had been. Five dollars had been enough to pay for the ferry as a foot passenger, and he had pocketed the change without looking. Dazed. It was the look he was after and one that was coming easily. Drugged. Tired.

When the ferry had docked he had started walking along the side of the road, refusing the offer of a ride from a group of girls in a pickup truck. The sandals weren't made for walking quickly, so he took his time, watching his early morning elongated shadow move before him as he headed west.

He was tired when he finally reached the 7-Eleven. It was this store. The clerk had identified Pete, then was told to go home for the day and a female police officer took her place. Blair used the restroom, then sat on the single stair outside the front door, his eyes closed, facing the still rising sun. It was almost nine o'clock. The warmth felt good on his face. The breeze teased at his hair. He could smell the ocean water of Puget Sound. Maybe later he would get some coffee, but he was still full from breakfast and it was nice to sit and rest after his walk.

Jim had been funny that morning, fussing with him. Blair had woken to find his partner had brought him a still-warm blueberry muffin and a huge mug of creamy hot chocolate. Not exactly his usual morning fare, but this morning it had been perfect. Half awake, he had broken the muffin into small bites and eaten it, sipping at the fragrant comforting drink. Jim had left him alone to have his shower and take all his various medications and put on the salve where it needed to go. When Jim came back, it was with a T-shirt for him that had a picture of the Space Needle with "I Love Washington" but a heart where the word love should be, and he also had a pair of boxers with the Seattle's Mariners logo on it. They were all he could find, Jim had said.

"Why did you buy them?" Blair had asked, only to discover that Jim hadn't brought enough clothes for him -- just the single change of clothes he had worn the day before. Jim had been embarrassed at his lack of preparedness. He had thought the one set of clothing would be enough for him to take Blair home in.

He'd worn the boxers, but instead of the T-shirt, Blair had taken Jim's blue sweater from the duffle bag and pulled it on. Jim said he looked like a street waif in it, and Blair agreed, but it was more the look Pete would have liked than a touristy T-shirt.

Then they had sat, side by side on the edge of the bed. They were supposed to go to the restaurant, but Jim didn't want to go, and Blair didn't want Jim to feel so bad. So finally he had taken the initiative and he had been the guide on watch that Simon had talked about. He tugged the sentinel over until Jim's head rested on his lap, and then he gently placed his hand on top of Jim's hair. Once before, when Lila had died, he had done this, and it seemed to comfort Jim, caught beneath the blessing of his hand.

They didn't talk much at times like that, but that wasn't unusual for them anymore. There were days they talked, and days they didn't, and it didn't really matter. Sometimes not saying things, just living and enjoying the company of the other, proved to be his favorite timesof all. A walk along the beach, staring out at the waves as they rolled into the shore. Around the seawall, watching the boats in the harbor. Companionable silence.

Companionable. That's a nice word, Blair mused now, his eyes still closed as he felt the sun on his face.

Somewhere nearby, Jim was watching him. Jim was there. "Hi," he whispered, sentinel-soft. "It's a beautiful day. It's not raining."

Some birds overhead cawed. He could hear the traffic on the main thoroughfare; another ferry had docked, the stream of cars passing by. He could faintly smell gas from the gas pumps, just a few yards away from him. He could hear the faint dinging sound of someone filling their gas tank. He could feel the breeze rustling his hair, the sound of it moving the leaves on the trees that surrounded the store. Sometimes, he could pretend to be a sentinel. Except he couldn't actually hear Jim, but he was comforted that Jim could see him, could hear him when he whispered. The warm feelings worked together to make him feel sleepy, as he rested in the morning sunlight outside the front door of the 7-Eleven.

Ten minutes. Half an hour. Forty-five minutes.

His butt was getting sore. He went inside and used the bathroom again, returning the key to the woman at the counter, who smiled at him nicely. It was disappointing to remember that she was actually a cop who knew who he was, and not just someone who was being nice to him, just because.

Twenty minutes. He yawned, his eyes closing again. The sun was directly on him. The wind had picked up a bit, gusts whirling around him every once in a while, blowing his hair around a bit, and making him shiver. Bu then it would die down, and he'd feel the warm rays again. People would go into the store, then a few minutes later, leave again. No one spoke to him. Forty minutes, and he wondered idly how long Jim and Simon and the others would let him sit out there. What if Pete didn't show up? Then what? What if he went to more than one 7-Eleven, or went a different way to work that morning, or even made his own coffee instead of buying it?

He shivered as the breeze cut through his sweater again, and wrapped his arms around his chest. He yawned and leaned his head on his knees, face still turned to the sunshine. There was something soothing about the rays, calming. It gave him a confidence that everything would turn out okay, especially on such a beautiful day. A cat rubbed against his leg, and he opened one eye enough to stroke its silky black hair. It purred loudly, putting its paws on his knee and touching a cool nose to his ear, bringing a smile to his face. Then it curled beside him on the stair, not close enough for him to touch, but close enough to be companionable.

That word again.

He had lost track of the time. He wasn't hungry yet, and he didn't need to use the restroom again, so he didn't move from his comfortable spot. The cat purred occasionally, but napped, just like he found himself doing.

Another ferry, he could hear the horn now as it docked. Traffic on the road. The sound of a car pulling up to the store. Door opening and closing. Footsteps. The cat stopped purring.

"My god! Luv, is it you?"

His eyes snapped open as a dark shadow came between him and the sunshine.


Chapter Eleven

"Good Morning, SIU--"

"Joe?"

"Nash? What's happening?"

"Sandburg walked off the ferry in Kingston an hour ago. We're still waiting for contact."

"Think it will work?"

"We don't have much choice, Bubba. Too many possibilities otherwise. This is the closest we have to a sure thing."

"How safe can he be? Isn't he taking a big risk doing this?"

"That's been the argument for the past twenty-four hours. He insists this man won't hurt him."

"Oh, Michelle's got an I.D. for you on him. Sounds like it's a match, anyway."

"Excellent. I've got a pencil -- shoot."

"Scum's name is Peter Angelo Turnalo. Age 37. No fixed address. Born in Rome, Italy. Moved to San Francisco with his parents when he was thirteen. Several priors. He's on our database here."

"What for?"

"Possession of black market pornography videos. Suspicion of involvement with a pornographic kid-flick ring, but charges were dropped for lack of evidence. He served six months for a drug charge, trafficking sedatives. He's been involved with several borderline legal triple-x movies, mainly gay stuff."

"Sounds like our man, all right. Anything outstanding on him that we can pick him up on?"

"Nothing that I can see. We've checked him out on the national database, but aside from a whole lot of unpaid traffic tickets all over the country, he's clean at the moment."

"Joe, check and see if the times and locations of those traffic violations matches the part of the country where the doctors and the lawyers were kidnaped. If we could get an idea where their previous setup was, and how they dismantled their operation, it might help us now."

"I'll get on that right away. It shouldn't take long. Anything else?"

"What about Jurgen? Anything at all on him?"

"No, at least not under any spelling we could come up with, first or last name. And no connections by anyone with a name remotely like that and Pete Turnalo."

"Well, keep on it. Hang on ... Wish us luck, Bubba. A man just approached Sandburg."

"Luck, man. Luck."


Sunday, June 21,

10:45 a.m.

Kingston, Washington

Blair blinked owlishly at the camera operator, but decided not to say anything. Besides, his mouth was suddenly as dry as the Sahara.

"Luv? Blair?" Pete started to crouch down in front of him, but suddenly stood up and looked around, piercing eyes scanning the parking lot, the gas pumps, then taking a step into the store and checking it out. Satisfied no one else was around, the dark-haired man returned and squatted in front of him. "Luv? I heard you were still alive." He smiled, tears forming in his eyes as he looked down at Blair. "Head's a bit messed up though, huh?" Pete reached out, lightly fingering Blair's hair, then wrapped a curl around one finger and tugged on it gently before releasing it, his warm hand trailing down the side of the young man's face.

Don't move, Blair cautioned himself, slowly breathing out as the hand caressed his hair again. Don't pull away. It took all his concentration to keep himself calm, but he knew the moment he showed any fear, Jim would show up, despite their plan, and Pete would be eating dirt. "Hi," he whispered, instead, glancing up at Pete, then petting the black cat that had crept closer to his side. It sniffed at Pete's hand and he scratched its nose. Satisfied for the moment, it moved away, returning to its previous position, watching him through slitted eyes.

"I've got two cats at home," Pete murmured. "This little male seems to like you."

"Cat," Blair said, softly, breathing out again, willing himself not to panic. "Nice cat." Great dialogue, Sandburg. Try complete sentences. But he couldn't think of anything to say except, Where's Evan, you bastard? -- which probably wasn't a good opening, considering the circumstances.

Pete studied him carefully, smiling each time Blair's heavy-lidded gaze met his eyes. "What are you doing out here, all by yourself, luv? They said on the radio that you'd wandered away from the cops during breakfast. I actually drove around the area seeing if I could find you."

That took him by surprise, and he wondered what Jim had made of that statement. "I'm hungry," Blair offered, glancing up at Pete. There, I added a verb this time. If he could keep his conversation simple, it would give Pete more power in the situation and hopefully bring out the man's protective nature. "Please?" he asked, his voice wavering, staring at the man with an innocent, woebegone smile. "Hungry?"

"Sure." Pete stood, then offered his hand to Blair, who allowed himself to be drawn to his feet. The cat hissed at him and disappeared into the shrubbery in front of the 7-Eleven. "They've got food in here."

"Thank you, Pete," Blair whispered, striving for shy and hoping he didn't look like an imbecile as he let Pete usher him into the store.


Nash sat behind the wheel of the car, Jim Ellison beside him staring at something happening a block away. It was one thing Sandburg explaining to them that Jim had heightened sight and hearing; it was another thing seeing the man sitting there, obviously observing and listening to a conversation he shouldn't naturally be able to hear without surveillance equipment. For some reason, Nash thought, with a private grin, if Ellison was bionic or whatever like the Six Million Dollar Man, it would have been easier to accept rather than it be 'genetic'. Yet Harvey seems to have heard about it before. I'll have to get him to let me read some of those articles he was talking to Blair about.

The silence in the car dragged on. Ellison was monitoring the conversation, but unfortunately there was no way for Nash to listen in on what he was picking up. "So is that Pete?" he asked finally, touching Ellison's elbow to get his attention.

"Yes," the detective answered, after a moment. "Turnalo, right? Is that what Joe said?"

"Peter Turnalo. Age 37--"

"I heard the rest," Ellison said, cutting him off, still staring up ahead. "Let them know he's made contact and it appears to be going smoothly. No indication of danger at this point. Let it play out longer."

Nash phoned over to Woodward, who was coordinating everything, and passed on the information about Turnalo. So far, everything was on schedule. Blair had reached his destination and Pete had shown up when he was supposed to. Long range cameras had just reported good clear shots of the man, probably already on route to be developed to confirm his identity. At this point, anything could blow the case wide open.

Binoculars up, Nash had a glimpse of what Ellison must be seeing. Pete Turnalo was wearing a navy windbreaker and jeans with a sharp crease down the front. His wavy dark hair was cut short in the back, but long in front, one heavy curl sliding down over his forehead, his olive skin darkly tanned. Not just one, but three gold chains hung around his neck, another thick gold chain on his wrist, along with three rings on his left hand, and more, probably, on his right. Nash smiled, ready to bet that the man was doused in after-shave and cologne.

Turnalo had taken Blair into the store and now was exiting it, leading him by the hand, and gently helping him into a red convertible sports car. Blair looked lost and young and vulnerable, his arms crossed over his ribs, still protecting them as he worked his way past Pete's suspicions. Through the binoculars, Nash was able to see that already Blair had evoked a similar need in Turnalo to protect him that they all had experienced.

On closer examination, he realized that Blair was probably hugging the sweater about him -- his partner's sweater -- more for security than to ease any pain. For a moment a tear lingered in the corner of Nash's eye at the deadly risk this young man was taking for Evan and the others.

"Everything looks okay so far," he ventured, trying to convince himself by hearing it out loud.

Ellison nodded, his jaw clenching, and Nash knew he had come to the same conclusion. "He's getting ready to pull out."

Nash started the rental car, listening to it idle as Ellison passed on Turnalo's car information and license plate into his cell phone. There were two possibilities for a route Turnalo might take, both leading to bridges. The northwest route left from Kingston along Highway 104 toward Port Gamble, over a bridge to Shine, then branched off into several directions. The southwest route was a two-lane paved road that intersected with Highway 305, then went over a bridge to Bainbridge Island. The only way on or off the island was via that bridge on the north side, or on a ferry that ran from Winslow on the eastern side of the island, across Puget Sound over to Seattle.

"Let's go," the Cascade detective ordered, still staring down the road. He continued talking to Woodward on the phone, "He's pulling out, heading southwest toward Indianola. Cancel the crew along 104."

Nash drove along the tree-lined road, quickly losing sight of the small sports car as he kept back. Far overhead, a traffic helicopter held an extra passenger, a member of the Seattle SWAT team who was tracking the red convertible. Beside him, Ellison monitored the conversation in the car half a mile ahead of them, the cold look on his face testament to his continued concern over the situation.

Unable to hear anything, Nash drove on down the road, comparing the man next to him with the one he had seen earlier that morning, his arms wrapped around his partner, unwilling to let him go. And comparing him to the man who had sat later at the breakfast table, listening without comment, silently supportive, as Sandburg went over his undercover role with Woodward, the young man's expressive hands moving as he talked. Sandburg was an excellent communicator, able to explain exactly what he felt Turnalo would do if he found him. So far, he was right on the money.

It was an unusual partnership across the board. Age. Background. Appearance. The rather disturbing fact that Sandburg was not a cop. Yet their record in solving cases was phenomenal. At first, Nash assumed it was all Ellison's ability and the kid was just for show, but as events unfolded, he had come to realize the important part Sandburg played in their partnership. What he had seen initially as Ellison playing a dominant role had more to do with Sandburg being half-alive. Even as they sat in the restaurant, Nash had thought that Ellison would usurp his authority and flatly refuse to let him go. But however much Ellison wanted his partner safe and by his side, somehow within himself, he found the strength to let him go. And it was tearing him apart, but he was letting the rope out as far as he dared, ready to pounce the moment things started going bad. That the case had proceeded as far as it had, indicated a high level of support between them and his belief in Blair's abilities.

Nash had to do that himself, every time he sent one of his team out on an assignment. And it only got worse, the closer he became to them personally and emotionally. He thought back to times when Joe had been under deep cover, and remembered his own trepidation, beyond the concern for a co-worker, for a friend. It was part of his soul out there.

Still at the restaurant -- before Harvey and Frank and he had left, leaving Blair the opportunity to believably wander away -- the group had said goodbye and wished the young man luck. Jim had held out his hand palm out and Blair had looked at him for a long moment, then pressed his own palm against his partner's. It was more passionate than if they had kissed, more emotional, somehow, to those who watched them. A promise, a covenant between them. One soul dedicated to the other.

Yet Jim Ellison had let him walk out of the restaurant.

Nash glanced at him now, seeing what that decision had cost Ellison, the pain on his face.

It was part of Jim Ellison's soul -- part of who he was -- riding in the sports car ahead of him on the winding road. Nash had seen the depth of love and support and comfort this man had given to his partner over the last thirty-six hours and knew that it was because of that total acceptance that Blair was able to do what he was doing now, instead of staying that traumatized victim he had been when they recovered him. If I learn nothing else from this, it would be this. That I have seen a man restore his partner to health and sanity, by simply overwhelming him with the tangible reality of their belief in, their devotion to, and their love of each other.

And that's what had happened. Ellison had simply absorbed Sandburg's pain. Nash was sure of it. He'd driven out the humiliation, the fear, and the anxiety, replacing it with himself. No easy feat.

Nash geared down, glimpsing the car a quarter mile ahead of him. He was glad he had asked Harvey to come up. Between the two of them, maybe they would just have enough support and love to offer Evan when they got him back.

We've got to find him. That was all there was to it. Yet the second thought crept in. What if Evan's already dead, and this is all for nothing? Nash's fingers clenched on the steering wheel as he fought back the thought, focusing himself on the current situation. Seconds later, it had returned. Evan, hang on. For God's sake, hang on, man. We're doing the best we can.


Shit.

His first sight of the warehouse sent his heart hammering again. There it is. That's where everything happened.

It didn't look like much, just a nondescript building that could have been a new barn or other storage area. Lumber was stacked to one side, under tarps, waiting to be used. Besides Pete's car, the only other cars were a black Bronco 4x4 parked by the house and over by the warehouse was an ancient purple Gremlin with rusted fenders and a Ford pickup truck that was probably a lot newer than Jim's. Trying to look dazed at where he was, Blair looked around sleepily, noting that the trees bordering the property hid the road from his sight, and so the opposite would apply. Not that there would be much traffic anyway along the gravel road, other than the local landowners.

He wondered how Jim was going to proceed. The roads would surely be watched, and by now the men would be familiar with the cars belonging to the locals.

"Come along, luv. Jurgen's not here -- just as well. He's not going to be happy that I brought you back. But I couldn't let you stay there, now, could I?"

Blair summoned up a shining smile for him, pushing his hair back from his face as he turned all his charm on the camera man. "I remember you."

Pete beamed. "What else do you remember?"

Blair shrugged, looking around again. "Not much."

"What did they tell you?"

"They?" he asked, looking back at Pete, frowning.

"The people who found you. What did they tell you?"

"I don't remember them. I didn't understand them."

"But you remember me?"

Blair nodded. "I remember you had a camera and there were bright lights here. Am I an actor?" he asked, slowly, looking up at Pete with puzzled eyes.

"Oh, yes," the man breathed, closing the distance between them, his hands resting on Blair's shoulder. "I'm going to make you a star."

"Yeah?" Blair asked, feigning interest, smiling.

"I will most definitely take pictures of you. But first ... I want to make sure no one has touched my new set for tonight. Let's go inside and see what's happening." Pete frowned suddenly as he looked around, his eyes glancing up to the high-flying traffic helicopter with its station's call-letters clearly marked on the side.

"It's a helicopter," Blair said.

"Yes, my love, and the helicopter is making me nervous." Pete took him by the elbow and steered him inside the warehouse.

Hope you got that info, Jim. That helicopter is way too close, man.

He followed Pete like a faithful puppy dog through the building, but there was no sight of any of the other men, so he said nothing. Pete seemed to be looking for someone. At the far end of the building, past the room he had been held in before, was an exit to the back of the property, and when Pete pushed the door open and went through it, Blair stayed with him, trying to mutter under his breath what it was he was seeing, hoping that Jim could hear him.

Pete walked out across the field, his boots stepping through the mud that Blair's thin sandals were no match for. Not wanting to be left behind, he slipped out of them, holding them in one hand as he picked his way after the camera man.

"Karl? Why are you here? I thought we were doing nothing until tomorrow!" Pete called out to Muscle Man, who was overseeing two men digging a trench, all three clad in heavy work gear.

Karl's eyes went straight to Blair, who kept his gaze as childlike and innocent as he could as the angry man crossed toward him. "What the hell is he doing here?"

"I found him sitting outside the place I stop at for coffee," Pete said, moving between Karl and Blair before he could make a grab at the young man. "I figured I better pick him up before someone else does," he said, lowering his voice so the workers couldn't hear.

"Get him inside." Karl looked back to the two men he was supervising, probably hired locally and not part of the regular crew. "Keep working," he called to them, then began to walk toward the warehouse. "Turnalo, I swear you are going to get us noticed. What if you were followed? What if it was a fucking setup?"

"You heard the news last night -- hell, you called me and told me to watch it. The kid has amnesia."

"Since when do you believe everything they say on television? -- Get him out of sight." Muscle Man gave him a sharp whack on the back.

Turnalo grabbed Blair by the arm, steering him back toward the warehouse. "Karl, what are you doing here?"

"Jurgen called us in. He wants to be ready to get out of here mid week. After what happened with the semi-trailer, we're going to bury the bodies here before we go. With all the construction and everything, it won't be noticed. These two think they're digging a trench for underground pipes."

"What about the other workers that were here?" Pete asked, absently handing Blair a rag to wipe his feet with as they went into the building and waited just inside the entrance for him to finish. "What happened to them?"

"Jurgen did them on Friday morning. I dumped them, but I doubt if they'll be found any time soon."

"That's what Raul said about the semi-trailer."

"He's livid about that. Says that someone had to have given the cops the information. How else would they know to break into that particular semi out of all the semi-trailers that are parked up and down the freakin' I-5?"

Turnalo shrugged. "No idea. Bad luck, I guess."

"Jurgen thinks this whole setup is falling apart. First the semi-trailer found, then Mr Cascade here being still alive. He's ready to close up shop and move elsewhere. Says the merchandise deal is the only one worth anything. His buyer confirmed this morning."

"What about the film tonight? Is it still happening?" Turnalo stood behind Blair, his arm resting casually over his shoulder, as he leaned forward to nuzzle his neck. "I've got a willing partner to do the set up for it."

"Unless you hear otherwise, better to continue with the plan. The set's ready, isn't it?"

"I did the finishing touches myself." Turnalo's voice dropped, his tongue tracing the edge of Blair's ear. "The executive comes home from work, comes into his bedroom, puts down his briefcase, and stretches. It's been a hard day. He removes his suit jacket, letting it fall on the floor. Then he goes over to his bed and looks down. At you. Lying waiting for him. It's every businessman's fantasy. Of course, in Jurgen's version, he'll have a parking ticket in his hand and the cop who gave it to him is the one lying there. Ready to take his payment, if you get my drift."

Blair swallowed, feeling his already pounding pulse go up one notch. This was one freaky man. He managed to keep his face looking vaguely uninterested, as though he wasn't really following the conversation and screaming inside. Instead, he focused his attention on Karl's earlier comment. 'Says the merchandise deal is the only one worth anything. His buyer confirmed this morning.'

That could only mean that Evan was still alive. Yes!

Now he had to concentrate on keeping himself alive, or Jim would kill him later.

Turnalo tugged on his hair, the other hand sneaking around to tug his shirt from his jeans. "You're still muddy. Strip out of those clothes and have a shower."

"Don't leave him alone," Karl ordered, heading back outside.

"Oh, I won't," Pete said, with an intense smile.

Blair shifted slightly away from the older man's enthusiastic clutch, rubbing his eyes as though tired, in an attempt to keep out of his reach.. It worked for a few steps until he stumbled blindly over an electrical cord, groaning as Pete caught and steadied him, then used the opportunity to turn the helpful hand into a seductive caress.

"Come on, luv."

"Pete, where's Evan?" Blair asked.

"Evan? Your little friend? He's with Jurgen, luv," Pete answered, pulling the sweater over Blair's head, then gently fingering the dark bruise over his stressed ribs.

"I want to see him."

"You do? He'll be here tonight. You can see him then, okay?" Pete let him reclaim the pullover.

"I miss him."

"Maybe Jurgen would let me get some pictures of the two of you together. Would you like that?"

"Could you ask him?"

"He should be calling soon. I'll ask him. Now come on; let's get you cleaned up."


4:30 p.m.

Ellison rubbed his forehead, listening. His headache was monstrous, but he dared not take the pain level down -- he was quietly terrified that he would lose Blair's voice and be unable to find it again. This was the longest he had ever sustained focus on his hearing, and at a much further distance than he normally attempted. And all without his guide. So he sat stiffly in the passenger seat of the car and repeated most of Blair's words all afternoon, peripherally aware that Nash and Harvey were writing everything down. There was no chance to put anything in context for them. He couldn't even listen to them or monitor what was happening around him, or he'd lose his precious connection to his partner.

The day had progressed slowly. Blair had showered around noon, but as yet his clothes had not been returned. He had largely been ignored, back to lying on the bed in the back room, his ankle cuffed to one bed post. Turnalo had apologized profusely for locking him up, but he said he had business to take care of and Blair would be safer there out of the way. Around 3:30, just as Ellison was ready to suggest that they forget Jurgen and go in immediately and get his partner, Turnalo walked into the back room and told Blair that Evan would be brought to the warehouse that night sometime.

Blair was ecstatic, thrilled that his plan was working and, in no uncertain terms, insisted that Jim wait until then. He maintained that he was safe, that no one was bothering him, and that maybe the officers watching the bridge would spot Jurgen and they'd be able to pull him over before he even got back to the warehouse.

Sandburg mumbled constantly, lying on the bed, trying to sound like he was still mentally confused, in case the men at the warehouse were listening in on him. "I like Evan, you know? He's my friend ... I had a dog once, did I ever tell you about him? I remember him. His name was Industry. I didn't name him. Johnny did. Really, truly, he wasn't my dog, he was Johnny's, which was why he named him. The other one was named Business. Business and Industry. I always thought they were strange names for dogs, but they didn't seem to mind."

And so it continued, all afternoon. Ellison sat and listened to his partner, aware of Sandburg's battle to keep him focused and not zone on his hearing. After the third adventure of Johnny and Blair and Business and Industry, Jim started repeating them for Harvey and Nash's benefit. If nothing else, the kid could tell a story.


6:45 p.m.

" ... which is why Industry didn't have a tail." Blair coughed, his throat dry.

The door opened and he glanced over at it, aware suddenly of the dark shadows in the room. Somehow it had gotten closer to night.

"Hey, luv."

"Hey, Pete," he answered, trying to sit up on the bed.

"Still hungry?"

"Yeah," he nodded. He'd been hungry for quite a while now. "Thirsty."

"I bet. Whatever were you prattling about in here? I could hear you talking away to yourself."

"Just talking. Telling myself stories so I wouldn't be lonely. Is Evan still going to come?"

"Should be here in a few hours. Here's your dinner. Come eat with me." Pete put the soup on the table, then released Blair and helped him to his feet and over to the chair. He took the seat opposite him and ate his soup, a piece of bread in one hand.

Blair stirred the mushroom soup, then drank it. The sour dough bread was buttered, and Pete had brought him a piece of lemon meringue pie that he ate rather quickly, all the while chatting with him and getting very little back in the way of conversation.

He sipped on his tea, slowly feeling the room grow warmer. I'm naked. It was strange to sit across from someone and eat your dinner while naked, when they were clothed. Not that being naked usually bothered him -- Naomi and he had lived at a nudist colony one summer. It's just that suddenly he felt like he was being stared at.

The tea smelled funny, and he said that to Pete.

Pete was looking at him. From wwwaaayyy across the table.

Blair blinked, grabbing hold of the table edge as the room shifted.

Oh-oh.


7:10 p.m.

Harvey noticed it first. "Nash?" he called out the driver's side window. "I think we have a problem here."

His boss turned his way, eyes widening at the look on face, then Nash mumbled apologies to the group he had been speaking to and came over to the car. "What is it?"

"I'm not sure exactly." Harvey unlocked the door to the backseat and Nash slid in. "He hasn't moved in about three minutes. Nothing. Not even blinking. I've tried shaking him, yelling at him, and there's no reaction."

"What happened?" Leaning forward to the passenger seat, Nash waved his hand in front of Ellison's face, but there was no response.

"Near as I can figure, he's catatonic. Now Blair mentioned this to me. Said it happens when he focuses too hard on hearing or seeing something, but this time, I think it was neither."

"What do you mean?"

"I think," Harvey said, scratching his head, "I think he was trying to smell something."

"Smell? Something in the air?" Nash rolled down the window and sniffed the air.

"No, I think it had to do with something that he heard from Blair. The last thing I heard Jim say was something about the tea that Pete had brought Blair."

Nash stared at the motionless man. "He was trying to smell it from here?"

Harvey shrugged. "Maybe he's got a super-nose, too."

Nash groaned. "Great. So what's wrong with him now?"

"Blair said that if anything like this should happen, that maybe Simon Banks could bring him out of it."

"There's nothing we can do?"

"I tried, but he's like a zombie."

"Then I guess we call Simon Banks quick. Without Ellison's super-ears, we don't know what's happening there." Nash moved to get out of the car.

"Is the road block at the bridge set up yet?" Harvey asked.

"Just now." Nash leaned against the passenger side of the car and stared once more at Ellison. "Damn. This is not good, Bubba. I'll go talk to Banks. He's in Seattle with Woodward, but maybe they can helicopter him here." Nash started to move away, then paused at the grimace on Harvey's face. "What?"

"Oh. Nothing. Just Blair's gonna be pissed at me for letting his partner zone."

"Forget Blair. I'm pissed at you."

"Really?"

"Nah. But when we find Jurgen, please give me at least a minute alone with him before the rest show up, okay?"


9:30 p.m.

The bed was soft beneath his face.

He forced his eyes open, focusing on the candles. Lots of candles.

His cheek moved across smooth cool sheets as he turned his head to the other side. Whatever he was lying on was black and shiny. Satin? It felt good and he moved his face back and forth over the silky fabric.

He giggled to himself, humming. Blair on black satin ...

A harsh light came on, blinding him, and he tried to cover his face with his hands, but he couldn't seem to find them. How could I have lost my hands? Panic set in, robbing whatever coherent thoughts had managed to escape his drugged stupor. Where are they? How will I finish my thesis? How will I ...

Just as suddenly, the panic vanished as pain registered. He opened his eyes again, realizing they were shut, and he was face down on a bed. The pain -- his wrists ... He squinted, focusing his attention, working his way through the confusing thoughts teasing at his mind. I've got handcuffs on. He lifted his head, gasping at the dizziness that caused, then looked at his other hand, equally locked to the brass headboard of the wide bed.

Handcuffs.

Bright lights.

I'm naked.

He cried out, a strangled sound that frightened him.

"Easy, luv. I'm not quite ready for you yet. As soon as I have this set up, then we'll have some fun." The voice had no body, but he knew who it was.

The handcuffs were loose and he fought to get out of them, but his sluggish brain only seemed to be able to interpret every other command, leaving him to flail helplessly on the mattress. Both legs, he soon discovered, were tied with leather straps and buckles to the brass foot posts, leaving him spread-eagled across the bed as he tried to get loose.

"Mmmm ... looking good, dearie. Wiggle that ass for me. Come on," the voice encouraged.

He froze then, realization seeping in, then taking hold as the fog lifted even more. He knew the who, what, and why, and the when seemed to be right now. "No," he whispered. "Jim?" The word popped out of his mouth, too soft for the camera operator to hear him, but it scared Blair anyway and he bit his tongue. "Let me go," he said, louder.

"When we're ready. You don't mind, do you, luv? It gives the film a bit more mood if we use the cuffs. They're padded," Pete said, as though that should make all the difference. He stepped from behind the camera, a bottle of oil in his hand, and approached the foot of the bed.

Turnalo was dressed differently than he usually did. Gone were the jeans and offbeat T-shirts, and in their place he wore a pair of black leather skintight pants and a sheer black shirt open to his naval. The camera was to Blair's right so Turnalo moved to his left, climbing onto the bed behind him. "No, luv, keep looking toward the camera; don't watch me. Don't worry, we'll do fine. This is just a test piece I'm doing to send to some friends in Los Angeles. They'll let me know what kind of money they'll put up for the whole project. Since Jurgen was nice enough to provide the set ..."

The oil was cold, but quickly warmed in Turnalo's hands, the fingers smoothing the lubricant over his legs, while murmuring Italian phrases that Blair was glad he didn't know. The hands moved up his thighs, and rested on his buttocks, kneading lightly. Turnalo groaned in ecstasy as Blair tried to escape the probing fingers that slid within him and beneath him to caress his genitals. The more he fought, the more turned on the man was.

JIM? Where the hell are you? Please! What are you waiting for?

The sound of a door slamming had Pete cursing, doing up his zipper, and reaching for a towel. "What are they doing here? We were supposed to be alone. I said I would watch everything." He dried his hands, throwing the towel to land on the small of Blair's back as he went to his camera and turned it off.

"Turnalo?" a voice yelled out. A voice that wasn't Jim's voice, and Blair bit back a sob, trying to control his wild fluctuating emotions.

"What is it? I'm on the bedroom set," Pete yelled back, fussing with his camera, rewinding his video tape.

"Pack up! We're getting out of here!" Pounding feet followed the voice, a crash of equipment echoing and re-echoing through warehouse, then Scar Man appeared in the doorway, his eyes wild. "Get out of here!" he yelled at Pete. "Get rid of him and get out of here -- now!"

"Why?" Turnalo demanded, not moving from his camera.

"Jurgen wants us to be off the property in fifteen minutes! He'll be here in two -- says there's a roadblock up just before the bridge. He wants all the stars dead and buried. We've got the backhoe ready." Scar Man disappeared down the hallway, still knocking into things as he ran.

Jim? Blair held his breath as Pete moved quickly to unlock his handcuffs and release him from the bed. Jim? Did you catch that? Are you out there?

The backhoe. The big ditch.

Jim?

Turnalo swore loudly, the string of Italian curses punctuated by his arm gestures as he ranted for five or ten seconds. Still muttering to himself, Pete's anger turned to action as he unlocked both sets of handcuffs, then moved to the straps around Blair's ankles that had also served to hold him immobile on the bed. As Blair stared at him wide-eyed, Turnalo wiped at the sweat running down his face, blinding his eyes to his task. "Not fucking now. Why fucking now?" The last strap was undone and he turned away, ignoring Blair as he stared at his equipment, hundreds of thousands of dollars he was going to have to abandon. He touched one camera, his body shaking as he tried to suppress his anger and remove it from its mount.

Head still reeling from whatever drug Pete had given him, Blair rolled from the bed and moved away from the camera man, taking a step toward the door, not knowing what else to do. His back prickled from the massage oil, chilling him as cold air brushed across his bare sensitized skin. Oil ran down the inside of his legs, his legs wobbled as he tried to walk. A door was open somewhere. In the confusion and panic, maybe he could get out, maybe he could even find the other men, maybe he could ...

He had almost reached the door when Karl staggered down the hallway, a body slung over his shoulder, blood dripping from the black skin to the ground. Pat Hollis. Blair groaned; he had lost one already. Karl roared a curse at him, and Blair's heart slammed against his ribs as the first true wave of terror struck him.

"Turnalo! Forget the fucking cameras!" Karl yelled. "Kill this one and dump him in the ditch with the others! Now! We don't have time for this!"

"Leave him to me. I'm just getting my camera -- it cost me a bloody fortune. I'm not leaving it here."

"I said 'leave it'!"

"Mind your own fucking business!"

Blair made his move as Karl stepped inside the doorway to confront Turnalo, slipping past him out into the hallway, his bare feet sliding on the damp floor. He was halfway to the outer door when there was a roar like a tidal wave behind him as Karl slammed into him, knocking him to the ground. The muscle man grabbed him by the hair and one arm, picking him up and throwing him against the wall. Blair hit hard along his shoulder, his head jerking on his neck, then he crumpled to the floor, landing awkwardly as he collapsed. A searing pain through his right ankle almost sent him into unconsciousness, but he fought to stay alert, rolling immediately as Karl came at him again, a vicious kick impacting on his already damaged ribs, but missing his head and face, where the kick had been aimed.

"Stop!" Pete's voice echoed through the dark hallway. "He's mine. I'll take care of him! -- You take care of your own fucking mess," Turnalo snarled, pulling himself up to his full height as he came between Karl and Blair.

"Just do it!" Karl snarled back, bending to grab the Los Angeles detective's body he had dropped moments before. "Jurgen said that no one is left alive. Metzger's already taken care of the two workers out back and me and Raul's got the stars. Kill your fucking toy, Turnalo, or I'll do him for you!"

"Fuck off! I said I'll do it." Pete grabbed Blair's arm, dragging him to his feet, hardly aware of the strangled scream the young man made as his foot touched the floor. He pulled him down the hallway in the opposite direction to what Karl had taken.

It was dark already outside, the cool air heavy with moisture, the ground muddy beneath his feet. The fluorescent overheads that usually lit the compound were out; the only light now was the inconsistent illumination of the full moon as black rain clouds rolled across the sky, blanketing it, as though covering the massacre from rational sight.

And it was a massacre. And it was going to get worse.

The pain in Blair's ankle was blinding and he fell to the ground when Turnalo released him, gagging on the bile that rose to his throat.

"Run! Go across the field," Turnalo hissed at him. "I won't stop you. Just go!!"

"I can't," Blair gasped, trying to stay conscious, to fight his way past the incapacitating nausea that was cramping his stomach. "I can't w-walk, let alone run! What did you g-give me?"

"Oh, for--" Turnalo dragged him upward again, striding across toward the house, heedless of Blair's cries of pain and narrowly avoiding the car that careened up the gravel road, wheels spinning as it came to a sudden halt just a few feet from where he stopped.

"What are you doing?" Jurgen stepped out of his car. "Kill him."

"Evan?" Blair yelled, grabbing at the man's arm. "Where is Evan?"

"In my trunk. And you," Jurgen said, turning and backhanding Blair with such force that his head snapped back from the impact, "this time you will stay dead, do you understand." Jurgen strode toward the warehouse, disappearing inside.

"Fuckin' shit!" Turnalo kicked the side of Jurgen's car, his fury momentarily out of control. "I could have made a fortune off you," Turnalo said, his last kick connecting with Blair's hip and sending him into the mud. "Damn him. Him and his stupid macho flicks. He doesn't care a fuck about art." Turnalo stood motionless for a moment, then laughed to himself, reaching into the car and swiping the keys from the ignition. "He takes my money, I take his money," he muttered, and went around to the trunk and opened it.

Darkness hid what was happening, but hope flared within Blair for the first time since he had been recaptured. Movement toward him made him flinch automatically, but the hands that touched him were soothing. "Evan," he whispered, but it came out as a half-sob.

"What did you do to him?" Evan's voice. Evan's hands.

Jim? You can come now, okay? He's here. I found him.

"Lie still," Evan said, as he tried to sit up.

"No. Get out of here. Now! Before it's too late," Turnalo snapped, pointing across the field, then turning to go back into the warehouse.

Evan pulled him upright, struggling to catch him again when he couldn't stand. "What's wrong?"

"M-my ankle's broken -- are you okay?" Blair's face was buried against the other's bare shoulder, his hands digging into Evan's forearms. The world was tilting dangerously, his head was reeling, and he had a good suspicion that he had a concussion.

Evan got his arm over his shoulder, half-carrying him as they stumbled toward the back of the house and out of sight. Blair could feel the other man's body shaking, Evan trying to catch his breath.

"Evan?"

"I'm fine," he said, shortly, resolutely moving them forward, but Blair could hear the pain in his voice. "Consider me Jurgen's fattened calf." Evan stumbled again, cursing as he tried to get a better grip on Blair. "What I wouldn't give for my automatic right now," he gasped, "except I can't see anything."

"And w-where would you put it?" Blair laughed, a hiccuping sound bordering on hysterical. He quickly clamped his mouth shut. Neither of them had on a stitch of clothing; the mud he had fallen in was at least helping to darken his skin from the damning moonlight that had chosen to reappear from behind the clouds. "Evan, we can't get out th-that way. They'll see us. Evan!" he whispered, unable to hold his head upright. Tears streamed down his face, his ankle aflame with pain.

Evan faltered finally, ten steps past the corner of the building, weaving to a halt. "Blair?" He groaned, his body going limp as he dropped, pulling them both down onto the muddy field. "There's nowhere to go," he gasped.

"They'll k-kill us if we stay here." It was hard to think. He had to do something.

"They'll kill us anyway," Evan said, his voice scarcely loud enough for Blair to hear. The moon slid out from behind a cloud, and the shadows on Evan's face showed that he had been beaten recently, despite Jurgen's promise to keep him undamaged for the buyer. His eyes stared upward, one a narrow slit, almost swollen shut. "When they come out that door, they'll see us." Evan groaned again, then curled on his side, his hands around his waist, bent double.

"No!" Blair rolled to one side and shook him."Evan? -- No!" He tried sitting up again, but fell back to the ground, gasping from pain that was quickly becoming incapacitating. He could hear voices around them, then a scream of agony from the warehouse, suddenly cut off. Someone else was dead. Jurgen was yelling, telling everyone to hurry.

He crawled to his knees, trying to breathe. A choked sob bunched in his throat, strangling him. He had to hurry, too. But hurry where? There was nowhere to go, not quickly.

Jim! I need you! Where are you? Don't leave me here!

JIM!


Chapter Twelve

"Bridges."

"Nash? It's Joe."

"Now's not a good time to talk, Bubba."

"What's happening?"

"Hang on. Let me pass you to --"

"Joe? It's Harvey."

"What's happening?"

"Not good, man. I don't know how to describe it, but it's like Ellison's catatonic. We can't get through to him. His captain is here now trying to bring him out of it, but meanwhile we have no idea what's going on."

"What happened? I thought he was like a Superman guy or something. So why's he catatonic?"

"Blair said he zones out when he concentrates too much on one of his senses--"

"Huh??"

"He zones -- I don't know, man. That's what the kid called it. I just know that now we've lost our contact with what was happening there. It's been over two hours."

"So un-zone him."

"We would if we knew how."

"So what's he doing? Just sitting there in his Superman cape and drooling?"

"More like he's frozen. You know, like my computer when it freezes up."

"Oh. Right. Strange, huh?"

"You said it. Wait a sec ...I think we've got him back. Joe -- I promise we'll call you whenever we've got something, but I gotta go now, man."

"Hello? Hello? ...Figures. Sure, you'll call. Sure. I'll believe that when my hair grows back."


Sunday, June 21, 9:48 p.m.

Bainbridge Island, Washington

JIM!

Ellison came back with a frantic gasp for air, his heart wildly pounding in his chest and a splitting headache threatening to tear his skull open.

Jim?

"Jim?"

"Sandburg?" he gasped.

"Damn it, Jim. It's Simon." Banks' thumb was pressed into his shoulder, using pain to bring him out of it. "Concentrate! We need you here!"

"I am here," he murmured, his upper body tilting forward so he could rest his forehead on the dash of the car, the heels of his hands pressed against his temples. His head was whirling, the headache increasing as he realized he had zoned, and he had the sinking suspicion that it had been for quite awhile.

"About time, Ellison." Banks' ragged sigh only reinforced his suspicions.

"How long?" he asked, when he found the strength.

"Too long," Simon muttered. "Two and a half hours -- maybe more. I've been here for almost thirty minutes and I was about ready to give up. Jim, listen to me. We show activity at the property. We've stopped the ferries and all traffic from the bridge for the last several hours, but Jurgen still managed to get there. He must be based on the island at a different location."

"Where's Sandburg?" Ellison sat up then, his enhanced sight struggling at first, then focusing properly as he looked through the crowd of people outside the car. He could have sworn he had heard Sandburg's voice just a moment ago ...but there were only a handful of SWAT members -- their jackets spelling out their unit -- mixed with men in dark suits and loosened ties from a half dozen different police departments. Frank Black stood with Harold Woodward, and at the far end of the group, off to one side, were Nash Bridges and Harvey Leek. No Sandburg.

Feeling himself under scrutiny, Bridges turned and looked at him, then nudged Leek and the two men moved to join him. "Are you okay?" Nash asked. "You scared the hell out of us."

"What happened?" Ellison's voice sounded low and harsh to his ears, his throat still tight with tension.

"I don't know," Harvey said, smiling slightly, one arm leaning on the roof of the car as he bent over to talk. "And I have a feeling I'm never really going to find out, am I?. One minute you were telling me what was going on, that Turnalo was giving Blair something to drink, and then you said that Blair said it smelled funny, and you just sorta faded out on me."

"Then what?"

"Well, then we couldn't bring you out of it, so we called Simon and he came over as soon as he could. He said not to call an ambulance or anything, that you were zoned."

"That's what Sandburg calls it. It happens sometimes," Ellison confirmed, still rubbing his forehead as he pulled himself from the car to stand with them.

"Which is why Blair is your partner, right? He keeps that from happening?" Harvey asked, steadying him.

"Yeah. Usually. Or he can bring me out of it right away." He ignored them for a minute, trying to listen again, but he'd lost the direction. "What's the situation? Simon?"

JIM!

Ellison pushed away from Harvey, taking several steps to the south, his body and senses alert.

"Jim?" Simon Banks came up behind him. "What is it?"

JIM!

"He's calling me. He's--" Ellison started walking, blindly, almost stepping off the road into a ditch, stopping only when Banks tugged on his arm. "I thought I heard him before, too. I've got to go," he said, still feeling dazed. "He's hurt . . ." There was a phantom pain in his ankle, another that fanned his headache until he willingly scrambled to find the dials, trying to turn it down so he could think. He pressed his fists hard against his temples, gasping at the pressure at the base of his skull and at the crown of his head.

"Ellison!"

He opened his eyes to see Frank Black approaching at a run, and he knew what the man wanted. What he had seen. The two men seemed to amplify each others gifts; with every step of Frank's closer to him, the pain became clearer and focused. The fear -- Sandburg's fear for his life -- and for Evan's. The thought -- the impression of his guide's desires -- that the sentinel would go to him.

Black arrived at his side, pulling at his elbow. "Hurry!" he said tensely, without apology, pushing Ellison back to the car. "We've got to go!"

Not questioning the authority in the man's voice, Banks grabbed Ellison's other arm and they ran with him to where Bridges already was behind the wheel, the motor started, and Leeks had the back door to the car open. They pushed Ellison ahead of them into the rear, then Black crawled in behind Ellison, while Banks ran around to the passenger side. The car was rolling before the captain had the door shut, laying black rubber marks on the road as Bridges pushed the car through its gears. "What do you see, Frank?"

"The knife. Bodies. He's slitting throats. But he's angry. This isn't how he likes to do it." The detached, emotionless voice was eery.

"Simon, he's having trouble breathing." Ellison's face was buried in his hands as he put every ounce of control at his disposal on his hearing.

Banks looked back at the startled group they had left behind. "I've got to advise Woodward what we're doing. Any suggestions?" They rounded the corner and lost sight of the gathered SWAT team. His cell phone rang as he was pulling it out. "Banks."

"What the hell is going on?" Ellison heard Harold Woodward exclaim into the phone.

"Tell him we're moving in," Frank Black said, then took the phone that Banks handed to him. "Harold? We've got to move now. Get your men in place. They're killing the officers. Hold off until you hear from us again." Black continued talking, but the words faded out.

They're killing my guide.

Harvey was sitting sideways in the back seat, and he leaned forward, his ear by Ellison's. "Concentrate, Jim. Find him. You can do it. You've heard him already."

They're killing my guide. His world began to spin with the loss. With the distance. He needed to be there and he wasn't. They're killing my guide.

"Jim! Listen to me."

They're killing my guide. I need-- He struggled to get out of the car, then, when that didn't work, he tried to get into the front, to make the car move faster, but they pulled him back, holding him in the rear seat.

Soft words in his ear. "Jim, listen. Listen to me."

"Sandburg?" he whispered, but it wasn't the voice of his guide.

But it was the voice of a guide, nonetheless.

"Jim? Concentrate. Find him. You can do this. You've heard him once; you can hear him again."

"Where is he?"

"Listen to me. Focus and look for him."

The words and voice began to register. Take shape. A speaker. Harvey.

He turned and stared at the man, watching his mouth move, watching the words, lulled by the tone.

And it fell in place. He had control.

He shook off the hands and closed his eyes. Listening.

A child complaining about a broken toy.

A woman talking to a friend on the phone about dinner plans.

A dog scratching at the door.

Television.

Radio.

Television.

Music.

A teenaged girl giggling with another on the phone.

A bird's wings brushing the air.

A leaf detaching from a branch and falling, falling . . .

A man's voice, enraged. What have you done?? The sentinel clung to the words, trying to stabilize his fragile connection as best he could.

He recognized the other speaker as Turnalo. You robbed me of my money. I robbed you of yours. So how does it feel?

Where is he? Damn you! Fucking damn you! Where is Evan?

I let them escape.

Why? WHY?

You should have let me keep Blair. You should have--

A gun fired and a bullet tore the life from Turnalo.

Ellison reeled from the sound, his hands over his ears, blocking the echo that no one else in the car could hear. He tried to find the connection again, but it was gone. Wild elation that Sandburg was free mixed with his other knowledge that his guide was injured, in pain, frightened. Yet -- and he had to focus on this -- yet, Sandburg was free. And as long as he was free and alive, there was concrete hope. Ellison wasn't sure exactly why he had let Sandburg do this, how the kid had convinced him. It went against everything his gut told him, every instinct he had. And they were good instincts, too. 'Protect the guide' was his most sacred instinct, and it was the first one that Alex had corrupted.

He had spent the next two weeks 'after Alex' letting that instinct take root again, letting his desire to keep his guide safe, protected, and at peace have full reign. That time in Mexico, walking together on the beach, talking, laughing and crying, had been idealistic, for he knew he wouldn't be able to take that degree of neediness into the city, into their busy schedules, into their careers and jobs. It wasn't practical; it was suffocating in its extreme. Blair Sandburg was a grown man who had his own life to live. As much as Ellison had a need to keep him safe and protected, Sandburg was not some domesticated bird in a cage. He needed -- required -- demanded -- his freedom.

Ellison was just amazed that Sandburg came back to him, time after disastrous time. That was the wonderful thing about homing birds; they came home. They knew where home was. Sandburg had a way of seeing past Ellison's own insecurities into his heart and knew that he had a home there.

Confident bastard.

Then again, it was practical; it was love at its best.

But for now, he had to find his guide.


"What was that?" Evan whispered.

"A gun."

"I know. But who is shooting whom?"

Blair stared at him, unable to think of anything to say, so Evan continued, "Only one shot. Why?"

"Maybe it's Jim," Blair said hopefully. He closed his eyes, his face sinking into the mud, but Evan's sharp rap on his arm woke him before he could slide further into sleep and suffocate himself.

"We've got to keep going. The woods."

Blair nodded, pushing himself back to his hands and knees. They crawled forward over the clay-like soil, staying close to the uneven ground as they moved through the partly cleared land behind the warehouse. Neither could stand, but running quickly over this bumpy ground in the darkness would probably have been disastrous, anyway.

He'd gone on all of twenty-five feet when Evan's hand on his foot stopped him, and he collapsed, exhausted, his limbs shaking from the brief exercise. "What?"

"Shh."

He lifted his head slightly to see what it was that had alerted Evan.

Jurgen.

Shit.

The sliver of moonlight escaping the clouds lit up the bleached hair. It was Jurgen all right. He was dragging something. Someone. By the legs. Blair's heart nearly jumped from his chest when Jurgen came close enough for him to see that it was a leather-clad body. The gun shot he had heard then ...It was Pete. Pete was dead. Pete was ...Oh, my God! Jim, Pete is dead.

He flattened himself, hardly aware of the clammy mud chilling him to the bone, and clamped a hand over his mouth, keeping the scream in. He wanted to sink further into the cold muck, to let it cover his naked body like quicksand. And adding to his horror -- he had no idea why he was grieving. Why the thought of Pete dead terrified him. The man had just tried to rape him on camera, and here he was crying because Jurgen had killed him. But he couldn't stop the tears.

He felt Evan's hand touching his bare leg, holding on to him, trying to comfort him as best he could, rubbing his calf, the only place he could reach. But the tears wouldn't stop once they had started, blinding him as he lay huddled on the ground, his fist in his mouth, crying. Jim ...Where the hell are you? Please. I'm so tired.

Evan slapped at his foot, then pointed once he had Blair's attention. The back door to the warehouse opened and Raul came out, striding through the mud to grab one of Turnalo's arms and help Jurgen drag him to the edge of the freshly dug ditch. "What happened?" they heard the Hispanic man ask tersely. "Who shot him?"

"He let Evan out of the trunk of my car, just so his precious toy could escape."

"Idiot." Raul dropped his side of the body, standing by and watching as Jurgen kicked it until it rolled into the ditch. "The tractor is ready when we're done. It'll only take two minutes to fill this in. Karl knows how to run it; just say the word. I confirmed the boat. It'll be there. The Bronco's almost ready. See if there's anything else we need. I've already loaded the small filing cabinet, the computer, and the raw videos. We're clear unless there's something else you need in there."

"I'll tell you what I need," Jurgen spat out. "I want Evan back. I need him alive. I've taken the money for him already. Chan Lu will be by Tuesday for him and I fucking better well have something to give him."

"Will one of the others do?" Raul asked in his monotone, flapless voice.

"No! Chan was specific. Evan matched. No one else matched that closely -- not for the money Chan was offering. Find them! He was with the reject who couldn't walk -- how far could they get?" Jurgen whirled around, staring blindly into the darkness around him. "Evan!" he screamed. "You will come here now! Unless you want a repeat of this morning--!" The threat hung in the night air.

"No," Evan whispered, his hands over his ears. Blair twisted to face the other way and wrapped his arms around Evan, shocked to feel his skin hot with fever. He was sick, Blair realized. Not just in pain, but actually ill with fever, as hot as Blair was freezing cold.

Blair watched silently as Jurgen stormed back into the warehouse, Raul trailing him as though caught in his whirlwind and sucked right along. Clouds had crept over the moon, hiding it, hiding the light, and hiding them. Evan was crying.

The wind had picked up, shaking the trees. It swept over their bodies, chilling them. At least it would help Evan's fever, Blair reasoned, but it made him shiver and made his head ache fiercely and the shaking sent stabs of pain through his leg. He started to get up, then dropped down again quickly when Karl and Metzger came out of the warehouse, dragging another body through the mud. Blair could barely see what they were doing; in the darkness he couldn't make out who it was they had brought out, except that he was naked and male.

The wind brought the sound of them talking his way and Blair wondered briefly if wind affected Jim's hearing. He had once said to Jim that not everything was about him. But that wasn't really true. It was amazing how few steps there were between any topic and a connection he would make to his sentinel. Forget the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Try the Two Degrees of Jim Ellison.

They rolled the body into the ditch and wiped their hands. Metzger counted quickly. "I'm starting to lose track here. The two workers, Turnalo, and two of the stars," he said as they turned back to the warehouse. "Just our two runaways and one star left, but he wants to do them himself."

"Why? What does it matter who kills them?"

"He just fucking does. He was going to kill our black star tonight; he probably feels cheated that we did him ourselves. Humor him. Meanwhile we can get the flashlights out and search for his missing prized star." Metzger quickened his pace. "Hurry up. I want out of here."

"Do we have time for this?" Karl asked, jogging beside him, then he grabbed Metzger's arm and pulled the other man to a halt. "I say we bug out and get clear. This entire project is gone --why's he risking everything on it? If there's a roadblock up, the cops have an idea where we are. We should have just left everything. The boat's ready. What's stopping us from just going there and leaving this?"

"Jurgen."

"Not me. He doesn't scare me. He's a fucking lunatic. Why's he got to be the one to kill them? He takes too bloody long."

Metzger, his scarred face distorted in the light from the open doorway, only shrugged. "Like my shrink used to say back at the Vet Hospital -- maybe he needs closure." Any reply was lost as they disappeared into the building.

The wind howled through the trees, the leaves rustling, sounding like a flock of birds lifting off.

"Evan?" Blair whispered, into the young detective's ear. "We need to get to the woods."

Evan stared hopelessly at the hundred yards that separated them and the shelter of the trees. "I can't do it. You can't do it." He looked back the way they had come. "Maybe the house? All the lights are out. I bet no one is in it."

"What if it's locked? We'd be stuck there." Shivering, Blair looked back at the black indication in the shadows of where the ditch was. Five bodies. Metzger was losing count. "I have an idea."

"What?" Evan groaned as he pushed himself upright.

"If we can't hide in the woods, we've got to get to the ditch. It's not very far."

"What? Why?"

"Don't ask. Just stay with me."

Don't stop and think about it.

Blair made himself move quickly, shaking wildly as he crawled the fifty feet to the edge of the ditch. If it had been lighter out, he would have seen dark spots before his eyes. As it was, he just felt faint, thinking that at any moment he would pitch forward in a dead faint. He could hear Evan behind him, trying to keep up. His hands and legs alternated, moving him forward. His foot hurt from his broken ankle bumping against the ground. His hands and knees were scraped raw from the rocky surface. He didn't want the men to exit the warehouse and see him crawling naked across the field. The thought launched him forward, and with a sigh and a shudder, he rolled himself over the edge of the ditch, down into the tangle of dead bodies.

"Blair?" Evan gasped, as he reached the edge. "What are you doing?"

"Get down here!"

Evan looked over his shoulder at the warehouse, then slid down into the ditch.

"We have to get under them." He didn't think about what he was doing; he couldn't. He just did it. Not looking at the twisted faces, Blair grabbed at one torn throat, his hand catching the blood that still oozed from the body long after the heart had stopped pumping it. Then he wormed his way under the last naked body they had put there, the blood smeared over his own throat. Beneath him, he felt Turnalo's rapidly cooling body, and Blair pushed him aside, crawling into the hollow he had left, Evan beside him. They tugged Turnalo's body back until it lay sprawled over them, the blood from his bullet-torn face dripping onto Blair's throat. Don't look. Don't look. Oh, man. Oh, man.

Evan shifted beside him, reciting prayers or something in Latin, and Blair turned to look at him. Evan's face was bloodied like one of the Chopec warriors, streaks of mud and blood covering his chest. His eyes were closed, his lips moving soundlessly. He had two earrings in his left ear.

My earrings are gone.

They had removed them when he was in the hospital, after the fountain. When he was back in the loft, Jim had given them back to him, along with his wallet and pocket watch, but the earrings were in a little plastic bag and there was blood on them. He had left them on the dresser in a bowl. Then he was in Mexico for two weeks and when they returned, the earrings felt strange in his hands, so he had put them back in the bowl. But he had cleaned them first. One day, maybe he would wear them again.

Evan's earrings had blood on them.

He turned his head. Turnalo was lying on Blair's other side, his lifeless limbs half covering him, the intimate embrace copying his actions of an hour before. Had it only been an hour? Half an hour? What happened? Everything was going smoothly, Pete had shown up and taken him back to the property, Evan had been brought there -- his plan was working perfectly. Then it all started falling apart. I tried, Jim. I really did. I thought I could do it.

He was so cold. He wanted to go to sleep, but there was a dead, naked body above him, and the sightless eyes stared down at him. He knew it was Jack Kelly, but he didn't want to think about it. And beneath him somewhere was Pat Hollis. Why? Why are they dead and not me? So far, Jurgen and the other bastards had claimed the lives of seven of the ten men they had kidnaped. Why did I bother coming back here? I didn't do any good. They're still dead. I didn't help at all.

Can you explain it to me, Jim? Huh? Where are you, anyway? The weight on his chest was making it hard to breathe. Evan's leg was against his, and he could feel the fever heat radiating from him. His own ankle seemed to have settled into a nightmare throbbing, shafts of pain piercing his leg every time he shifted. He felt himself drifting the moment he lay still, and he remembered he had a concussion. He glanced at Evan. Dark, bleary eyes were fastened on him, and their hands touched, clasping, hidden beneath Turnalo's body. Evan squeezed his hand, and Blair returned the pressure. Evan was alive, even if everyone else was dead.

"Stay awake," Evan whispered.

I found you, Evan, but I haven't helped any, have I?

The damp earth stank around them. Everything stank in a grave. He was in a grave. They were going to bury him here, but maybe they would be safe then.

Jim? I think I'm going to start screaming any time now.


Beyond the trees, the car coasted down the gravel road, its tires grumbling in the darkness as it crawled alone, the motor and headlights off. Finally it came to a halt, and five men poured from the open doors, blending in with the shadows. Dressed alike in black jackets, faces darkened to hide from the light which still bled from the moon, even through the darkening layer of clouds, they followed Ellison to the edge of the property, moving over the old wooden fence, then dropping to the ground, watching him.

He listened, eyes closed first, casting his net upon the water and pulling in the sound, just as his guide had taught him. Throw, bring it in, filter. Throw, bring it in, filter. Throw, bring it in, filter. And it worked. A heartbeat.

Sandburg's heartbeat.

Fast. Terrified. But it was Sandburg's heartbeat.

"Got it." He moved forward, gun drawn, ready, his eyes already adjusted for the cloud-dark night. The ground was uneven, muddy from the rain late that afternoon, trees and brush and a thicket of blackberry bushes gone wild. He paused long enough to untangle a branch from his jacket, unsurprised to see Frank Black at his heels, helping him. To his left and back, Simon, and beyond him, Nash and Harvey. Simon said something to him, but he shook his head that he couldn't hear him; his hearing was anchored somewhere beyond the warehouse that was within their sight now.

He moved forward another thirty feet, then angled to his right and paused again behind the farm house. There were no curtains on the windows, no blinds. He shifted his hearing then, cast another net over the structure, but there was no sound. No heartbeats, anyway. A house with no one in it. He shook his head at Simon, then looked around the corner of the house toward the warehouse, leaving Simon to explain to the others what he meant, but probably not what he was feeling.

A black Bronco 4x4 sat in the middle of the dirt road, its doors wide open, the interior light on. Ellison traced the direction it was headed in and tracked its path through the mud, noting it had come from behind the warehouse, not from the gravel lane leading to the public roads that they had driven in on. He moved sideways, sliding to the far edge of the house, following the muddy tire gouges with his sight until they disappeared into the woods. He forced his sight beyond that until the trees halted his progress. He threw his hearing further, pushing it eastward until it reached the water. Voices. The creak of a boat on the dock.

He crouched down as the door to the warehouse opened. A man, from his appearance probably the Hispanic man that had been reported at the scene of the abductions, exited with a box of papers, placing it the back of the already packed 4x4, then went back inside.

Ellison stayed with him, listening to the footsteps, letting them carry his hearing inside the building. It paid off instantly.

I'm done. Take this, Raul. That's the last of the videos. Grab the cameras, at least the Panavision one. I don't want to replace it.

That's about all I can take if Metzger's coming with me.

Put the camera in the passenger seat. Metzger can take Turnalo's car.

We need to go. We don't know how soon before they storm the property.

I'm not ready yet. I haven't finished with them.

Who's left? I thought there was only one.

One of the workers.

Let Metz and Karl take care of him.

I want to do it.

They might have beaten you to it. They're in a hurry.

I told them to leave one for me.

Whatever. I'll meet you at the boat. I'll grab the camera and head out. I'm not waiting.

Ellison's hearing jumped from Raul to the other man, Jurgen, centering on him as he moved through the warehouse. Ellison turned his head, looked at Simon, and said quietly, "One man is preparing to leave in the Bronco. He's got all the videos and paperwork."

Simon nodded and indicated that he would take care of it.

Ellison looked back toward their car, then pointed to Frank Black, talking quickly and almost silently. "Call Woodward. Tell him there are two heartbeats in the back field to the south of the warehouse. One of them is Sandburg's. Currently inside the building, a man by the name of Raul and one other who I assume is Jurgen, plus four other distinct beats. Tell Woodward there is a private road leading to the east side of the island. Somewhere there is a dock with a boat at it. He needs to secure that as well. Got that?"

Black nodded, stepping back into the darkness and disappearing.

Ellison looked over to Nash and Harvey, then with a nod of his head, they followed him across the courtyard to flatten themselves along the side of the warehouse. He listened within, counting again, but there was a heartbeat missing already.


I have some grave decisions to make ...

Blair felt the tear run down his face. He couldn't even laugh at his own puns. At least the wind didn't bother him here. He could hear it up above, whistling as it traveled through the trees. The bodies around him were still warm, too -- even Evan's body was fever hot -- but he was cold.

He couldn't keep his eyes open, but he knew he had to. Staying awake was very important at this point, despite his great desire to sleep. He had to stay alert, especially because Evan was sick. But Evan kept squeezing his hand every time his eyes closed, so maybe Evan was thinking the same thing.

They heard voices approaching -- Metzger's calm voice and then Karl's angry one. "I say we leave now. Let's just dump him and go."

"We have our flashlights; we can check around. Realistically, how far could they have gotten?"

"Who gives a shit--"

"Shut up," Metzger said. "He's coming. Don't rile him now."

Blair braced himself as the new body rolled in on top of them. Evan's grip tightened on his hand. The blood dripped from the man's neck to run across Evan's bare shoulder. Evan made a soft, strangled sound.

Jurgen's voice floated over to them, the harsh consonants of his accent distinct as his frustration topped. "I said I would take him here."

"He's just one of the workers, not one of your stars. We left him for you."

"Go find Evan. We aren't leaving until I find him, Metzger."

"Just going to get the flashlights from the tool box," Scar Man said. "We can't see anything."

Karl cleared his throat. "Why don't we just go, Jurgen? This is fucking ridiculous. We can get another one like him on any street corner."

"NO! It has to be that man."

"Why?"

Jurgen's shadow fell on them. Blair could feel the tremors coursing through Evan. He squeezed his hand, willing him to not move as the man came to stand at the edge of the pit. Don't look down here. Don't look. Don't look.

He held his breath and closed his eyes.


"What have you done??"

Ellison heard the scream of rage from the back of the warehouse and moved quickly along the side of the building, Nash and Harvey still with him. They stopped and looked around the corner as an automatic fired twice in succession. Jurgen had his gun out, shooting one of his workers point blank. The man toppled back out of sight into a ditch. The other man had his hands up talking quietly, moving away from the edge of the hole. Ellison found Sandburg's heartbeat again, but it seemed to come directly from where Jurgen was standing.

"Fuck! Listen to me, Jurgen. I didn't kill them. Neither did Karl; he was with me the whole time."

"Then who did?"

"Who's left? Raul's the only one who is left."

The sound of the Bronco's engine turning over snapped both heads to the warehouse, but the 4x4 was on the far side of the building.

"Jurgen, Raul's leaving now. Did you say he could? Huh?"

"Why would he do this to me?"

"I don't know. But I didn't do it. We've got to get out of here now!"

Metzger turned his back on the enraged man and started running toward the warehouse, pulling a Luger from the holster beneath his jacket. Jurgen aimed his automatic at him, but didn't fire, his hand shaking as he continued to fume. Another shot rang out, but it was behind the detectives, near the Bronco. Jurgen's head turned, and Ellison could see the question on his face. If Raul was the only one left, besides Jurgen and Metzger, who fired the shot or who was Raul shooting at?

Ellison was asking the same question. It hadn't been Simon's automatic, but a double-action revolver. Was Raul shooting at Simon then or had someone else entered the picture? There were too many things for sentinel ears to listen for. And only one thing he wanted to listen to.

But if they stepped out now, they risked being shot from behind. Two weapons against two weapons. And he hadn't found Sandburg's exact location yet. He'd lost the heartbeat.

"Jim? Is anyone alive inside?" Bridges asked, leaning against the side of the warehouse and watching back the way they had come.

Ellison tilted his head, straining to listen, to go through the motions of throwing that damned net out, catching the sounds, and filtering them for what he wanted to hear. It worked, or at least he thought it had. The warehouse was empty, but for one heartbeat -- not his guide's. Someone was in the warehouse trying to free themselves from a pair of handcuffs. A man -- he could hear the frantic curses and prayers, and he could hear chains rattling as the man moved, and remembered what Sandburg had told them about the metal cuffs at their ankles. Noises ...Metzger was inside now, Jurgen close at his heels.

Ellison turned to the two men beside him, snapping out orders. "Harvey, go check on Simon. He might need help. Be careful though. I can't tell if there are others back there. Bridges, you're with me." His words all ran together, he spoke so fast.

Harvey's eyes met Nash's, silently checking, then he moved out at Bridges' quick nod.

"You're in charge," Bridges said to the Cascade detective. "Call the shots."

Later he would thank him for cooperating, but now was not the time. Ellison took a quick look around the corner to the back entrance of the warehouse. "Stay with me. I'm going in the warehouse after them. There's a man in there that won't be alive long."

Bridges grabbed his arm as he started to move. "First -- are they out there? Blair and Evan?" he asked, looking to the field where the one man had been gunned down before their eyes.

Ellison turned his hearing back out to the field. Sandburg's heartbeat was still there, still strong and far too fast. Another heartbeat with his. They were breathing, not speaking. Not moving. "Sandburg is there. Someone is with him. And someone else is inside. I don't know if one of them is Evan, but the one inside is in trouble, and he's got company."

"Then let's go."

Ellison turned away from where his partner lay hidden in the field. He rounded the corner and entered the warehouse, Bridges on his heels as they ran through the maze of corridors. I'm coming, Chief. Just give me a few minutes and I'll be there.


"We've got to get out of here." Evan's sudden whisper made Blair jump.

"Why? It worked."

"But what if they bury us here? The tractor is sitting there ready. We're trapped under these bodies." It was getting to him, Evan knew. Lying naked in a grave of dead bodies would probably get to anyone, but it certainly had pushed him past his ability to cope. He knew he was sick, too. His head throbbed. His eyes wouldn't focus right. His body hurt in places he didn't want to consider, didn't want to remember. His fevered skin crawled with the sensations of dirt and mud and cold and dried blood and wet blood and the stench of the pit he was in.

He tried to push Karl's body off him, his struggles growing more frantic as the heavy body refused to move. He was suddenly suffocating, feeling like the dirt was already coming down on him, trapping him, surrounding him. He turned his head, shoving the weight to one side, but an arm fell back and hit him on the face as the body moved.

Blair moved the arm before Evan could scream, but he lay with his hands over his face trying to catch his breath.

Come on, Cortez. They're dead. They aren't the ones you need to be concerned about. Concentrate now. Concentrate.

He had to get out of the pit.

The body was still over his legs, sideways. He sat up partway and tried pushing it off. Blair was trying to help but was too tired and in too much pain to do much. The young man had gotten them this far, but Evan knew he wouldn't last much longer. With a last shove, Evan finally succeeded in freeing them, the body rolling to one side, Karl's head back and mouth still open in a silent death scream.

Evan twisted away from the sight, his breathing ragged as he tried to catch some air. He pushed himself up to his knees, then gingerly stood on Karl's body to look out of the ditch. His eyes had become adjusted to the dim light, and he could see across to the back door of the warehouse, still propped open with a brick. "Blair, they must be busy inside," he whispered, then looked over his shoulder the other direction. "This is our chance. Let's get out of here and into the woods. We're almost halfway there."

"He's going to come looking for us," Blair mumbled, but accepted Evan's hand up, groaning as the wave of dizziness hit him. "You can't lift me," he added, feeling Evan's hands at his waist preparing to boost him from the ditch.

"I just did." Evan shook from the effort, possessed by a second wind that was already fading. As he paused to catch his breath, he looked down and caught the briefest glimpse of metal below Karl's shirt. He brushed the material aside and drew a knife from a sheath on Karl's belt, then scrambled out of the ditch. He sprawled beside Blair, rolling to his stomach to stare back at the warehouse. "Damn. Someone just went in there. Not Jurgen or the others." He shivered, trying not to cough. "Someone else."

That got Blair's attention, shaking him from the stupor he was slowly drifting into. "Yeah? Who?" he asked attempting to arch his head and look.

"I don't know. I didn't get a good look at them. They were in black. Neither Jurgen nor Raul were wearing black. Blair ...I've got a feeling something is going to happen soon. We've really got to get out of here. I have a knife. I can protect us. I have a knife. We can do it." He was babbling, clinging to the knife's hilt.

"Or maybe we should just wait then," Blair said, collapsing back to the mud. "Jim will find me."

"No. Come on." Evan managed to get to his feet, hoisting Blair up again. "I have a knife."

"I can't walk!" his companion gasped, grimacing in pain. "Evan, no . . ."

With a quick twist, Evan had Blair up over his shoulder in a fireman carry and started moving. That lasted all of ten feet, before his knees gave out, and he tumbled over to his side. Blair flew from his shoulders to land in a crumpled heap beyond him.

"Shit." Evan reclaimed his knife before it disappeared from his sight in the sodden ground, then he crawled over to Sandburg, trying to get him up again. Blair rolled away from him, curling up. "Come on -- move!"

"Go without me!" Blair hissed, his body shaking from cold and pain. He had landed on his right arm, a stone cutting into the skin, blood seeping from the wound. It was raining now, the moon virtually gone.

"You can't stay here." Evan pulled him upward, hooking his shoulder under Blair's arm, moving them forward, then putting both his arms around Blair's torso and dragging him when it was clear Blair couldn't put any weight whatsoever on his damaged foot. The rain steadily increased in intensity. Low clouds held the echo of light from Seattle, across Puget Sound from the island; they could see shades of black, but depth vision was robbed. The sliver of light from the warehouse's back door outlined a path directly to the pit they had been in.

Evan had his left arm around Blair's back, his right hand, still clutching the knife, was trying to help him move. At least Blair was smaller than he was, shorter and lighter. Maybe he could do it. He could get them to the woods, then find somewhere to hide. With the knife he could protect them. The knife would help.

He stumbled, almost tripping over an exposed stump root. He had to concentrate on what he was doing. The wind was distracting him, making things move around him, making him think things were out there. The wind sent the rain pelting against his skin. He could feel Blair shaking helplessly from the cold.

Nash? Harvey? His mind screamed the names. His body shook with cold now, colder than he'd ever imagined being.

"Jim?" Blair whispered, hanging onto Evan.

Crack!

A bullet whizzed by them and they were down in the mud again. Evan raised his head, looking back. "It's Jurgen. He's coming from the side of the warehouse."

"He won't shoot you," Blair mumbled, staring up at the dark sky. The rain tapped across his face, soothing his forehead with cool strokes. "Jurgen needs you."

"I'd rather die."

"No!" Blair took a deep breath and Evan could hear the rattle in his chest. "Jim's here."

"Where is he then?" Evan demanded, looking up as Jurgen drew closer to them, passing the ditch, his bleached hair almost glowing in the dark.

"Jim's here," Blair murmured, his eyes closing, his head falling to one side.

Evan slapped at his face, but there was no response. Nothing.


Ellison ran silently through the darkened warehouse, Nash Bridges at his heels, the man cursing beneath his breath when he couldn't see where he was going. The sentinel's sight adjusted instantly as he moved, twisting left, then right, noiselessly kicking doors open with his foot, his gun held stiffly ahead of him as he looked into each room, each small set. The corridors and roughed-out rooms had no ceilings, open to the two-storey-high warehouse roof. Somewhere lights were on, but it was in a different part of the warehouse from where they were, leaving them to move through the shadows. He could hear heartbeats, two of them, but couldn't focus on where they were in the maze of corridors and rooms.

Then suddenly, he froze outside a door, listening to the sound of a struggle, one man cursing, begging for his life, as another swore back at him. Ellison kicked the door open, the hollow wood smashing against the inside wall from the force, and Nash moved into the doorway firing as soon as he saw Metzger, his knife at Scott McBride's neck. The bullet hit the scar-marked man at the center of his throat, at the same place he was preparing to slice through his victim. The body jerked, the knife clattering to the floor as Metzger released his hold and collapsed backward.

"Help him," Ellison ordered, and kept moving, leaving Nash behind to release the Monterey detective.

There should be another heartbeat. Where was Jurgen?

He had left his guide unprotected.

Ellison raced out the main entrance into the courtyard, lowering his weapon slightly as Simon emerged from behind the badly eroded, purple Gremlin. "Where's Jurgen?" he demanded, his sight flickering over the area. The police cars and SWAT trucks were just arriving, the red and blue lights flashing over the property.

"I don't know who we got. Harvey and I wrestled one guy down and cuffed him. Fucking martial arts expert. I didn't see anyone else come out," Simon said, gasping for air. He had a cut over his left eye that he batted at angrily. "We had our hands full."

"Raul or Jurgen?"

"Hispanic guy. Harvey's taking him to the SWAT boys."

"It was Raul. Jurgen's fair; white hair." Ellison moved to the edge of the warehouse, then around the corner, gun out. No one was there. "He's gone back to the field. Tell the SWAT captain that we're only missing Jurgen now. The rest are dead. Bridges is inside with McBride. I'm going after Jurgen." The mud clung to his soft-soled shoes as he ran along the side of the building, making an odd slapping sound. As if reacting to the crisis, the wind picked up, gusting through the trees, tearing the new spring leaves from the branches with gale force. Rain drenched him, running down his collar and cooling his neck and shoulders as he sprinted toward the back of the property.

At the corner of the building, he paused for a brief second, then spun around it, gun out. Jurgen was running east toward the trees, and the sentinel's heightened sight brought another distant figure into focus near the line of trees bordering the field, a man lying face down in the mud. Dark hair, rain plastering it to his forehead, the glimpse of two earrings in his left ear. Evan Cortez. And a body beneath him, unmoving.

My guide.

Long legs pumped into action as he raced after Jurgen, peripherally aware of Nash Bridges emerging from the back of the warehouse and following him.

Jurgen turned, spotted him and danced back, changing his position so he could see Ellison clearly in the light from the doorway. "I'll shoot him!" Jurgen screamed, waving a gun in each hand, a knife handle glinting from his left boot. "Stand back! I'll shoot them both!"

Ellison stopped, wavering in the darkness. Directly behind him, he could hear Nash running still, out of Jurgen's line of sight.

"Jim, move aside and I'll take him."

"He's mine," Ellison whispered, then darted to his right, drawing Jurgen's attention as the sentinel's sight focused and he took aim. Three shots rang out almost spontaneously, two taking Jurgen, one between his eyes, one over his heart. The third, from Jurgen's gun, narrowly missed Ellison, but sped off into the night without meeting a target. Jurgen spun and dropped, convulsed once, then was still in the mud and rain. The sentinel looked back at Nash, his gun still in position after firing. He had to clear his throat before the words would come. "He's dead. We're clear."

He turned then and staggered toward the two men huddled ten feet from the edge of the woods. He dropped his gun and showed both hands to Evan who was bent over Sandburg, trying to protect him from yet another unrecognizable man.

"Stop! Leave him alone," Evan screamed, rain and tears running down his face, one step away from collapse. He held a knife out before him, waving it menacingly. "Take me instead! I'll go with you. He's dead! It's too late."

Ellison dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out his badge, still moving forward, desperate to get past the last five feet to his guide. The heartbeat was clear. Sandburg was alive, but Evan was delirious and armed with a knife that made him dangerous to get near. Dangerous for Sandburg, as well, since Evan's control would be hampered by his fevered desperation to protect his friend. "Evan, I'm a cop! James Ellison, Cascade P.D," he yelled over the roar of the wind. "That's my partner. I'm here to help you."

Please, God. Not this close.

Evan choked, gasping, hardly able to make sense of what he was seeing, what was happening. The knife was still held out before him. "Don't hurt him. Please don't hurt him. I'll kill you if you come any closer. I swear I will."

"I won't hurt him. He's my friend, my brother. Let me get to him."

"Evan?" Bridges came up behind Ellison, moving past him, his hands out as his calm voice shrouded the scene. "It's okay, Evan. It's over."

"Nash?" Evan sounded confused, unable to believe what he was hearing.

"I'm here. It's over."

With a groan, Evan looked away, his face turning to stare at Jurgen's body. A movement caught his attention, and his gaze slowly traveled up to Bridges' face as Nash holstered his gun and knelt beside his young detective.

"Hey, Bubba."

Evan said nothing, just stared at him blankly.

Slowly Nash took the knife from his hand, laid it aside and gathered him in, gently wrapping his arms around him. "It's over. You done good. He's safe."

Evan closed his eyes and leaned against him, the weight gradually increasing as he relaxed. He nodded that he had heard.

Ellison moved past them, dropping to his knees at his guide's side. "Chief?" He slid his hand down the bare back, then checked his neck before turning him onto his back. "Sandburg?"

The world shifted again. He touched Blair's forehead, his hand trailing down the side of his face. The pulse was steady, but fast. Skin icy and clammy. Shock and the early stages of hypothermia. He kept touching him, checking him, willing him to respond. "Hey, buddy. It's me, Jim."

At his name, his guide seemed to pull himself from a great distance, eyes flickering open. Nothing happened for a long moment, then suddenly his hands were reaching up for Ellison, grasping his arms, letting himself be swept up to the sentinel's chest, pressing against him, sobs wracking his body when he knew, finally, that he was safe. Ellison collapsed with him, sheltering him, wrapping his arms around his battered guide, rain washing the tears from his face as he murmured Sandburg's name.

'It's over' could hardly express what he was feeling.

"Jim?" The whisper caught in the air.

"Yes," he answered.

"Evan?" Blair asked. "Is he--?"

"He's here. He's safe."

"Good," his guide breathed, still clinging to him.

"Evan! My God, Evan!" Harvey appeared out of the darkness, almost knocking Nash out of the way as he tried to get at his partner. "You're alive. My God, you're alive." He wrapped his arms around Evan, pulling him closer. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Reaction hit then for Cortez. With a sob, Evan buried his face against Harvey's neck, fingers taloning into the back of the other's jacket as he held on. "Harv, I thought I'd never see you again," he wept, resources gone. Nash's arms went around them both, and Evan grabbed hold of Nash's hand and held onto both men as though terrified to let go.

Simon brought an armful of emergency blankets, handed half of them to Nash, then the two captains wrapped their respective men carefully, trying to protect them from the wind and rain and the swarm of officers that now flooded the area, after the fact. Cameras flashed at the ditch and by Jurgen's body, a scant twenty feet away from where they sat huddled against the downpour. Ellison could hear Simon's voice, calling for the paramedics, calling for two stretchers, barking orders at anyone who came near them.

"I knew you'd come," Sandburg whispered, his face pressed into Ellison's neck.

"I said I would." He leaned over so his cheek touched his partner's forehead.

"They're all dead, Jim." Sandburg shivered and Ellison wrapped the blanket tighter around them both, lifting his head briefly to watch as the paramedics drove the ambulance along the side road toward them. They'd have to stay on the gravel or risk getting stuck in the muddy back field.

Sandburg had said something that he needed to respond to. "You and Evan are alive, and so is Scott McBride."

"I wanted them all to be alive." Tears ran down Sandburg's face, spilling onto Ellison's neck.

"So did I. But we did the best we could."

"Even Pete is dead."

"I know. Jurgen shot him."

"Why?"

"Because he let you and Evan escape."

"He did that for me? He risked his life for me?"

Not quite, Chief. He did it because he thought he could make money off you, and he was angry that Jurgen spoiled his plans. Later, he would talk to Sandburg about what had happened, put it in some sort of perspective. Who knows? Maybe Turnalo did care for Sandburg on one level, but Ellison knew he'd never feel sorry that the man was dead.

Ellison looked up, watching the scene unfold, his sight fastening beyond the warehouse, beyond the farm house, to a single man standing by the roadside. Frank Black looked at him across the distance and smiled, as though he knew the sentinel was watching. He saluted his farewell, turned, and walked down the gravel road alone, his hands in his pockets, hunched slightly against the harsh weather.

Ellison sighed, content for the moment to let the wind and rain rage about him. Sandburg was crying softly, but he was safe. The sentinel looked down at him and shifted their positions slightly, so that beneath the blanket he could take his guide's hand and press his palm against his partner's.

Sandburg's breath caught. Lost blue eyes flickered open to look at him. Ellison bent to kiss the muddy forehead, and when he looked at him again, the eyes were soft with tears. No longer lost, but found.

By the time the stretcher arrived, Sandburg was asleep in his arms, calm and peaceful, blissfully trusting his partner to take care of the world.

And he was more than willing to do just that.


Epilogue

"Joe? It's Nash.

"Nashman... Everything okay now?"

"Well, Bubba, we've got him out of the hospital."

"No shit, man? That's the best news I've heard all day. So how is he?"

"Sleeping right now. The hospital released both Evan and Blair this morning after keeping them for forty-eight hours, and we went straight to Seattle P.D. to get their statements taken and sign the paperwork. We're coming home tomorrow."

"What time? I'll be there. Hell, I think we'll all be there. Should I tell Cassidy and Nick?"

"I already did. Flight arrives at 10:25 a.m. They know to look for you."

"Uh, what about Evan and Cassidy? You know . . ."

"They talked on the phone last night some, but both of them ended up basically crying over the phone lines. This'll take awhile, I suspect, but he's alive and in one piece and I'm starting to think he's gonna heal up just fine. We may have to have plastic surgery, though, to have Harvey separated from his side -- Just kidding, Harv. Say hi to Joe."

"Hi, Joe."

"Harv, how's it going, man?"

"Fine. I'm gonna sleep a week when this is over, but right now I can't get this stupid grin off my face. Here's Nash."

"Hey, how's Blair? He had a concussion, right?"

"They both did. He has a broken ankle, but the doctors say it's a clean break and will heal up quickly -- probably quicker than if he had just sprained it. Hang on, Joe . . . Just a minute . . . There, I'm outside. I didn't want to talk in there with everyone listening."

"I'm listening, brother."

"I don't know how to word this. Hell, I don't even know what I'm trying to tell you, Bubba. It's something I saw. Ellison's has these abilities, you know, the seeing and hearing -- and probably smell, too -- but what amazed me wasn't any of that. I saw him with his partner . . . I can't explain it, but it's almost like he merged with him. Nothing separated them for about two minutes when we were out in that god-awful freezing field of mud. He just held him and before my eyes, the kid got better. His ankle was still broken and he still had a concussion, but inside you knew that he would be okay. He went to sleep. As much as I wanted to do that for Evan, I couldn't. I just kept telling him that everything was going to be okay, but it was just words. I couldn't make him believe it. Ellison believed it, and he passed his belief to Blair. Downright awesome. Then I saw Harvey with Evan, saw Harvey kiss his forehead, saw Evan slowly relax as he stared at Harvey's smiling face, and I knew it would happen there, too. Maybe not as easily, but I knew that Evan had a chance."

"It's called love, Nash."

"I know what it's called."

"Then why do you get so uptight about it? I don't get why it surprises you after all this time. What do you think made Evan come back to the SIU after he was shot in the throat that time? You convincing him? Your clever arguments? No way, man. It was the fact that you were there, by his bedside, day after night until he was okay on his own. That's what did it. You cared."

"I didn't do anything. I didn't do any of the things Harvey did the other night."

"Maybe you weren't supposed to. Maybe that's Harvey's job."

"Then what's my job?"

"Ask Simon. I bet he knows. All I know is that when I have needed you to be there for me, you have been there. You are my dearest friend and brother."

"Damn."

"What?"

"Can't find a Kleenex. You've got to warn me before you say stuff like that."

"I'll see you tomorrow, Nash. Have a good sleep."

"Thanks, Joe. Wait -- all that stuff you said, you know it goes for me, too?"

"Yeah, I know."

"Good. See you tomorrow, Bubba."

"Have a good evening, Nash."


Seattle, Washington

Tuesday, June 23, 1998, 3:30 p.m.

Nash Bridges closed his cell phone and walked back into the hotel room. Harvey was busy getting everyone's coffee order so he could call down to room service. It was too early for dinner, so they had made reservations for five o'clock at the Chinese restaurant across the street from the downtown Seattle hotel. That would still give the Cascade group time to get home early that evening.

Meanwhile, they all seemed to need this time to be together. Survivors sharing a moment of their lives, one that no one else but them would really understand. Since Friday afternoon, he had been with Ellison and Banks, sharing their pain, their joy, their fear, and their triumph. He wasn't willing to leave yet. Joe hadn't asked, but nothing was stopping them from getting on a plane right now and flying back to San Francisco. Two hours and they'd be there.

But he needed to be here. Ellison and Harvey were talking, telling Sandburg about Harvey's few minutes as a 'guide' -- whatever that meant. Harvey seemed to get what they were saying, and Sandburg was excited about it, although he could hardly keep his eyes open he was so tired. He had passed up the chance to have a short rest, one that Evan had taken quickly. Evan's spirits were still shaky, taking refuge in sleep. Dr Morrison had paid them a visit at the Seattle hospital the men had been taken to, and had discussed with them the potential problems ahead for all of them. So they'd be watching Evan's sleep patterns, his diet, and his emotions for the next little while. Nash had offered his place, but in the end Evan agreed to stay with Harvey for a week, at least. He needed to be somewhere safe.

Nash smiled as Harvey casually walked to the adjoining bedroom door and glanced in, probably the third time in the last fifteen minutes. The conversation had shifted, Simon and Jim discussing a case they had worked in Cascade, tied directly to one the SIU was working on now. Harvey settled back at the table across from Simon, his lap top computer open and taking notes. There needed to be more of this happening between cities, but the problem was that no one had time to do it. You dealt with your own problems first, almost relieved when they went elsewhere, because there were always more cases to take their place.

"Your partner seems to have lost his battle," Nash said, sitting on the edge of the bed. Blair was slumped against Jim on the couch, eyes closed.

Simon chuckled. "What was that? Eighteen minutes," he said, looking at his watch. "I said fifteen, Jim, and you said twenty."

"Eighteen is closer to twenty," Jim responded, smiling. "Pay up."

Simon dug his wallet out and handed over a dollar bill, standing to help Jim scoop up his partner. The captain carefully supported the ankle cast as they carried him to the adjoining room. The man was still chuckling when he came out. "The kid may be stubborn, but we've got him pegged." He crossed his arms and mimicked the police observer. "I'm not tired, Jim. Leave it alone. I don't want to lie down. And I want a large latte, extra shot, no flavors added. Got that?"

The knock at the door and call of "Room Service" made them all laugh. Sandburg hadn't even lasted long enough to get his coffee.

God, it feels good to laugh again.


Ellison settled his partner on the bed, smiling softly as Sandburg shifted in his sleep, not even waking as he was transferred to lie on one of the beds in the other room. He tugged the bedspread free and pulled it over his guide, careful of the cast around his ankle. The young man was out like a light, curled on his side, fast asleep. With any luck, he'd get a solid nap in before they left for dinner. One last meal with new found friends before they went their separate ways.

He brushed the hair back from Sandburg's forehead, feeling for temperature and pulse. Both were fine; the kid was just exhausted, probably would be for a few weeks, as would Evan, sound asleep in the next bed, cured around a pillow that he was squeezing the life out of.

They were going home.

At least three out of the ten were. Scott McBride had been the only other officer to live through the ordeal. The Monterey Police Department had issued a formal acknowledgment of Blair Sandburg's efforts in allowing himself to be recaptured so the rescue team could locate the warehouse. Sandburg had been despondent the last two days that it had not gone as he had envisioned it; he had not been able to rescue the two other men who had been killed that night, Jack Kelly and Pat Hollis.

That was the worst of it. That seven men had died. Kelly and Hollis, plus the four men they had found dead in the trailer Friday night, and William Fong's body that had yet to be recovered. At least they knew he was dead, not missing, leaving them always to wonder. One of the videos confiscated was a snuff film which graphically showed how he had died.

Seven men. Plus two years earlier ten other men had died, and two years before that, another ten men. Twenty-seven men, in addition to the others who had also been caught up in Jurgen Sholtz's insanity. There were workers hired locally in each of the setups who had no idea what it was they were building, digging trenches for pipes that would be graves for others and themselves. How many innocent men had fallen victim, only to end up as missing or with unexplainable deaths, their bodies waiting to be found days, weeks, months, or even years from now?

The known total of deaths attributed to Jurgen Sholtz's little empire was approaching forty. Of the eight men involved with Sholtz, only three had survived. Raul Ramos had been taken alive, although Harvey had almost twisted his neck in two, and the man responsible for the set construction, Bill Hart, and his helper Lyle Michaels were not on the property that day and were both at large, but their pictures and descriptions were up at every police station in the country. It would only be a matter of time.

Jurgen Sholtz, the man who masterminded the entire affair, had been shot to death by Nash Bridges and Jim Ellison. Sholtz had killed two of his own men, Pete Turnalo and Karl Mactire. Several workers hired from the town of Bainbridge Island to do construction or labor were missing and presumed dead at this time. Three of their bodies had been found on the property, in the mass grave, but four local men were missing, all of whom had answered ads to work on the property. No other bodies had been discovered on Shotlz's property, or at the rented farm house three miles south of the warehouse, where Jurgen Sholtz had stayed. His bedroom in that house had been unbelievable. There was evidence that other young men besides Evan Cortez had been held prisoner there, and when Ellison had walked through it, he knew that at one time Sandburg had been in that upstairs room, although he blessedly had no memory of it.

This was one summer when there would be no summer school for Sandburg, no classes, just time to relax, maybe work on his thesis, maybe some camping and time to put their lives back together. Jim checked his forehead again, smiling as his partner pushed his hand away as though batting at an irritating fly. Get used to it, kid. I'm going to be a little protective for a few weeks.

His fingers traced the empty earlobes, and he realized how long it had been since he had seen the familiar earrings. He missed them. Just as he had missed so much about his friend.

He sighed, tucking the bedspread around him, then returning to the others.

They were still talking about the one case in the main room when the scream sounded half an hour later. It wasn't his guide, but he could hear Blair's pulse racing. As one, they all stampeded through the doorway to find Blair already at Evan's side, trying to console the thrashing man, caught in the nightmare that would probably haunt him for some time to come.

Harvey skirted past the others, gently moving Blair into Jim's arms with a quiet, confident, "You take care of him. I'll take care of Evan." He then gathered his sobbing partner in his arms, raising him to his shoulder as Evan tried to pull himself from the bad dream.

"We're fine here," Jim said, and Simon took Nash by the arm and took him back to the other room.

"Is he okay?" Blair whispered, trying to look back at Evan in the darkness of the room.

Jim kicked his shoes off and stretched out along the bed, leaning back against the headboard, settling his distraught guide against him. With a sharp tug, he brought the bedspread back to cover them. "He'll be fine. Harvey's there." he said, softly, tuning out the two men on the next bed. His arm gently stroked Blair's trembling back, smiling as his partner relaxed against him.

"Jim?" Blair murmured, his eyes closed, his head resting against Jim's chest, over his heart.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for being here," Blair breathed, asleep a moment later.

It took Harvey awhile longer to calm his partner, but finally Jim could hear Evan's respiration slowing into the ease of sleep. Harvey was curled around his partner, his arms wrapped around the younger man, both facing Ellison.

"You know," Harvey said, his voice soft so only the sentinel could hear him, "I get so angry at this man sometimes . . . we fight, we bullshit about things, I have taken advantage of him, and I have totally taken him for granted. Yet I have shared more of my heart with him than I shared with my ex-wife when we were married. We have talked about our dreams, our loves, our pain -- things I have shared with no one else. When I have needed him, he has always been there for me. He's been just a phone call away, if I can get the courage to call him. I have cried on his shoulder, and he on mine. I have been stinking drunk with him and have gotten into a mess of trouble with him." His voice trailed off, as memories flooded.

Jim said nothing, waiting for him to continue, content and comfortable knowing Blair was sleeping peacefully again.

"I used to be embarrassed about it," Harvey went on, after a few minutes, as though he hadn't stopped. "I used to worry about it, wondering what others would say, about rumors and innuendos. About the dangers of sharing so much of myself with another. About how vulnerable that would leave me one day if he transferred to a different unit, or moved to a different city. Or was killed."

Harvey gave a little laugh, tightening his hold about his partner. "But, you know what? I don't care anymore about what people will say. And I don't worry about fighting with him, or yelling matches we've had, or the times we don't see eye to eye, or when I have hurt him or kept things from him. Hell, I'm not perfect and neither is he. But I know that when the crunch comes, there's no doubt who I will go to; I know he will be there for me, without question. And he knows I will be there for him. Twenty years down the road, I want to have the relationship and friendship with him that Nash does with Joe Dominguez. I used to be so jealous of them, of their closeness, until one day I was sitting in the surveillance van listening to Evan tell me about some girl who had just dumped him, and I put a hot dog in his hands and made him take a bite, and suddenly I knew I had found that person, that-- that--"

"Soulmate," Jim provided.

"Yeah. That soulmate." Harvey closed his eyes, resting his head beside his partner's on the pillow.

Jim Ellison tilted his head to rest it on his partner's, letting his tears disappear into Blair's curls. "You're a wise man, Harvey." He drifted to sleep, a smile on his face.

And his palm was against his guide's, fingers intertwined, their two pulses beating as one.


~The End~


Back to The Loft