Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. I use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.

Spoilers: See Author's Notes...

Warnings: This story contains bad language.

Author's Notes: For one episode in particular and minor for another, but if you've seen them all, don't read the names of the episodes, which follow the story for the readers who haven't seen everything, because some of the enjoyment might be lost. If you want to be spoiled, click HERE.


Golden Opportunity
by
Ismaro

ligela@sympatico.ca

 

"Hey, Jim?" The sweet baritone voice was made slightly tinny by the cellphone. Jim Ellison, Sentinel of Cascade could always tell the difference between Live and Memorex.

Ellison smiled without knowing it. "Hey yourself, Sandburg. You coming into the department this afternoon?"

"No, sorry, man. I got a call from a grant committee. Someone submitted my name and thesis topic to them, I don't know who, but when I find out, I'll probably kiss 'em. Do I happen to owe you a kiss, Jim?"

Blair's laugh was echoed by his partner's. "Nah, what a horrible thought! I'll have nightmares all night long." When the chuckling was done, Jim started his interrogation of Sandburg, the Sentinel's need-to-know as Blessed Protector of his Guide coming into alignment with the natural curiosity of a best friend for the other's unexpected good luck.

"How much we talking?"

"$5,000, and can I use it! Wine, women, song, car engine overhaul..."

"Yeah, well, don't forget the rent, Croesus. You don't get to kiss that off!"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. I'll catch it up with my tutoring fees next week anyway." The Guide's good humour sparkled through the wires. "This is a really great bonus, though. I wonder who did this for me."

"I don't know, but you owe them a thank you! What is this committee? They award prizes or fund anthropology or what?"

"It's a group I've never heard of, a private foundation, the Michaels-Hilliard Trust or something." A crackling of paper accompanied the information. "I've got an interview in half an hour, and I'll probably be late home. I know it's my turn to cook, but can you get dinner?"

"Yeah, sure, but it's coming out of the grant money, Chief."

"S'okay! If I get it, this is gonna be so great, Jim, I have a list of texts I really need on sensory perception, plus some folklore that's Sentinel-related, and the computer could use..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Count your textbooks when the money comes in." Jim shook his head with amusement at the grand plans of his best friend and roommate. He certainly hoped the grant came through. Blair's very real contribution to Major Crimes was, unhappily, unpaid; he was only a police observer to TPTB, and as a graduate student ABD, he was chronically broke and in debt. "So where is this place you're going to again?"

"Um, 12115 Elm Street. Out in the boonies. I'm not really sure where that's at. I'm driving down Elm now, but I'm nowhere near it yet."

"That doesn't sound like a place where a foundation giving away cash would be located," Jim muttered.

"I think it must be in the areas undergoing gentrification. There's that whole district where they've torn down the crackhouses and put up businesses and pricey townhouses instead. You know."

"Hmm, the Cumberland Project."

"Yeah, yeah, that's right. The Cumberland area. It takes in blocks and blocks of the city, and Elm runs right through it. I figure the place must be there. The letterhead on the notice I got is expensive enough to run to an office down there."

"Sounds logical," Jim allowed. But there was something niggling at the back of his mind, something he could not quite grasp hold of, a trace memory that he did not have time to try to catch just then.

"Look, Jim, the light's changing and I gotta go. See you for supper. Wish me luck!"

"Good luck, Chief!" The phone went silent and Jim smiled again as he deposited his receiver into the cradle on his desk, then went back to work on the Kaminski file.


Blair Sandburg, a man who wore many hats, including that of Guide to the Sentinel and Shaman of the Great City of Cascade, turned his attention to his driving and the speech he intended to give at the interview. He had made innumerable speeches for grants and loans committees in his thirteen-year university career studying the reality behind the tribal 'myth' of Sentinels, people with hypersenses and a calling to protect their tribe. However, it never hurt to brush up his presentation, and Blair mentally reviewed everything he knew would sway a bunch of suits in his favour.

He hardly noticed the addresses on Elm Street as they slipped higher and higher. In fact, he passed right through the Cumberland Project and out again before he reached the building numbered 12115. That woke him up. He found a parking space without any difficulty at all, and had a sinking feeling he knew why. Although on the marge of the gentrified district, this part of Elm Street was right at the merging of expensive territories with indoor parking and locked gates, into the ghetto areas.

Blair turned off the engine and looked at the building. It was an old red brick affair, dirty with decades of grime from the city, but that said nothing about it except that it had been built when buildings were built to last, and it had lasted well. There was a name inscribed in the capstone of the doorway, 'The Liberty Building', and on the ground floor of the five story edifice, backed by Venetian blinds, gold paint etched the glass with 'The Michaels-Hilliard Foundation', much like the names on other windows—Petrov and Visky, Atty's-at-law; Jerome Lautrec, D.D.S.; Marcello Computer Services—a dozen or so professional offices.

It was all appropriate enough, Blair decided, though the Foundation's name was brand new, while the others were flaking off. Someone had to be the newest tenant, after all, and the Foundation must be very new for no one to have heard of it.

The Guide looked at the creamy deckle paper and the gold lasered letterhead, back to the blinded window, and again to the letter. $5,000. Blair took a deep breath and let it out. His nerves were playing tricks on him, he decided. Any misgivings about the Foundation must be based in his fear that he might lose the grant.

Blair exited the Volvo, pulled his tie straight, and headed for 12115 Elm Street, First Floor office on the right.


"Ellison!"

The roar was more than the usual command voice of Captain Simon Banks. Jim heard a trace of worry in it, and Banks was a man whose nerves were made of steel.

Jim was up and almost running before the third syllable of his name.

He rounded the door into Banks' office. "Captain?" he asked.

"This just came in!" Simon waved a bulletin in the air with a not-quite-steady hand.

Jim had to pluck it out of his friend's grip and it almost tore in the doing.

"Sorry," Simon muttered, looking down at his desk.

When Jim looked up, his face was ashen.

"You don't know where Sandburg is, do you?" Captain Banks concluded.

"No, Simon, I may know, but I don't think it's good." Jim explained, "Blair went to an interview at 12115 Elm Street for a committee grant. We thought it was in the..."

"Cumberland Project. I don't think so, Jim. I think it ends around 11000 or so. Further down Elm Street—I don't know what's there."

Jim leaned against Banks' desk and scowled, then shot a ringing fist onto its top. "The Paulos case! The witness was at 12200 Elm, that's where I went to interview her. It's a few blocks down from Cumberland, and the area isn't what I'd call safe."

The captain of Major Crimes and his best officer exchanged looks of great apprehension.

"I'll call him." Jim whipped out his cellphone, ignoring Banks' own phone, and speed-dialled Blair's number. "Come on, come on, Chief! Answer!"

After fifteen rings, even Jim Ellison had to give up.

"She's after him, Simon." There was no doubt in the Sentinel's declaration, but much dread.

"You could be right, Jim. I'll send a squad car over."

"I'm heading out now. Put out an APB on the Volvo. Let me know what you find out."

Captain Banks did not even question the need for his best detective to take off after his unofficial partner and ridealong when a squad car had been delegated to it. It was the Sentinel thing to do. The Guide was in danger. Banks began making contingency plans, just in case.


Blair's cellphone had been confiscated. His captors agreed it might bring in a few bucks. The ringing they ignored until it died away, when they turned it off.

"So," said the pretty brunette in the long-sleeved peasant blouse and skirt accessorised by the Sig Sauer in her fist, "now we go through with our plan." She giggled, and an icy draft whirled through the empty office of 'The Michaels-Hilliard Foundation'.

"Plan, what plan?" Blair challenged with bravado, his hands tied behind his back, a goon the size of King Kong at his shoulder, holding the end of the rope. "What kind of plan is this? Grabbing me? You know they're gonna be after me! They're gonna go after you!"

"Yeah, well, it all adds to the enjoyment of the thrill, Blair, honey." There was that slightly insane giggle again. "Besides, it's worth it!" The woman's manner changed in an instant as she thrust the muzzle of her weapon hard into the Guide's chest, once, twice, a third time. "It's worth plenty to me!"

"Why? What did I ever do to you? Seems like I'm the one who should a vengeance thing going on you, not the other way around!" Blair was honestly baffled.

"Yoooooooooouuuuuuuu," the brunette sang tauntingly, "got to be free. I didn't. I don't think that's fair, Blair." She laughed again. "Not fair, Blair, not fair, Blair, not fair, Blair." The rhyme seemed to have captured her thinking mind.

Sandburg knew with nausea that he was not only facing an angry enemy out for revenge, but one who was out of her mind, though whether from drugs or her recent life experience, he couldn't tell.

"Hey, I was the victim here!" he protested, trying to find some way to influence his captors. He looked back at the goon. "I was the victim!"

"Who cares?" asked the goon. "You fit the description. I say, go for it!" He began to hee-hee-hee in a disturbingly high tone.

"Yeah, see, Grant here, he sees things my way, don't you, Grant?" The brunette leaned in to place a wet one on her aide-de-camp.

Then she lolled against the goon's, Grant's, shoulder and whispered loudly, "You know I don't like smart men, Blair. I can't push them around. But I can push you around, no matter how smart you are, as long as I have this!" She jabbed the gun into Blair's side again. "And with my Grant's help, hey, babe!"

Grant, six and a half feet of muscle from his scalp down, said, "Yo, baby" and tugged on the rope.

Blair grimaced as the tension on his arms grew from uncomfortable to painful. The brunette caught the look and hit her boyfriend's biceps. "Hey, we don't want him hurt yet! We need him for about an hour, right?"

"Oh, fuck, just what do you want from me?" Blair sighed in despair and resignation, trying to resettle himself again as the pressure loosened and he could twist back into shape. "Just what the hell do you want from my life?"

There was a tinge of anger in his last words, and the brunette smiled a fond smile—like that of a snake for its prey.

"You're gonna help us smuggle some drugs, Blair, baby." The sing-song was back in her voice.

"Not again!" Blair couldn't believe this was happening.

"Oh, yeah, again. Only different this time."

Blair just stared at her, shaking his head with confusion.

The woman was eating up the position of stage front and centre, and she started to declaim.

"See, I happen to know that you got booked the last time. And I happen to know that the only reason you didn't go to trial and get convicted was 'cause I said you didn't have anything to do with it. And see, I went to trial and got convicted and they threw me into THE CASCADE PRISON FOR WOMEN!"

She clubbed Blair with the pistol, hard, just behind the ear, where the bruise wouldn't show. He flinched back and saw madness in the woman's eyes.

"Do you know what THE CASCADE PRISON FOR WOMEN is like, Blair, baby? It's HELL and I got to go there and you got to go home. That's not fair, Blair, is it?"

Blair weighed the merit of pointing out that his tormentor had been a felon with counts of robbery and extortion on her rap sheet when she added heroin trafficking and kidnapping to the list, and that this had had more to do with her conviction and sentence than he, the victim of her wiles, ever had, but decided against trying logic with a person who waggled a weapon around as if it were a college football pennant.

It was probably a good call. The rant was not yet finished.

"At THE CASCADE PRISON FOR WOMEN, you know, HELL, I got a cellmate. MATHILDA THE HUN. I got to be her BITCH. You never got to be anyone's BITCH, did you, Blair, baby? I don't think that's fair, Blair." She was dopily swinging her head in time to the gun's movement, and Blair couldn't keep his eyes off the weapon.

The goon was cackling happily.

"See, here, let me show you what MATHILDA THE HUN gave me for an engagement present." The young woman rolled up the right sleeve of her peasant blouse. There was a jailhouse tattoo of a heart in red, with the name 'Matt' on the inside. The outline of the tattoo was ringed with cicatrices, obviously scarring from cigarette burns.

Blair felt sick and swallowed hard. The woman nodded lazily at this and rolled her sleeve back down again.

"No more little slip dresses for me, now. I like little slip dresses, Blair, baby, and now I gotta wear long sleeves. Do you think that's fair, Blair?" The pathos in her voice was a grand tribute to egotism.

"No, no, I don't think that's fair at all," Blair started, only to be cut off by another whack on his skull. He rocked dizzily before regaining his composure.

"It was a rhetorical question," the brunette spat out. "I don't really need your opinion, you know."

Grant was enchanted by his lover. "Oh, yeah, give it to him good, babe!"

There was another wet kiss that Blair tried to avoid seeing, only to have his chin grabbed and pulled so that he had to face the gunwoman.

"So, like, I was telling you about HELL, wasn't I?" she resumed. "Well, after I got my engagement present from MATHILDA THE HUN, I made real nice with the authorities. I can make nice, can't I, Blair baby?"

"Uh, yeah," Blair muttered, not sure if this was another rhetorical question he was going to be pistol-whipped for again.

But this time, his agreement was accepted with vigour. He relaxed a trifle.

"Oh, yeah, I can make nice. And I accomplished three things in my life in HELL that I'm very proud of." Victorious, she prodded, "Do you want to know what they are?"

"Yeah, uh, yeah, I want to know what they are," Blair parroted promptly, trying to force some veracity into the sentence.

"Fiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrssssssst, I found out who was running the tits into HELL, and now I am an in-te-gral part of the operation." Again, the drunken flailing of the weapon menaced the police observer, and he knew that if she had indeed become part of the drug smuggling into the prison, the con had probably become addicted to the drugs herself.

"Second," the brunette straightened up with pride, "I got myself transferred out to a minimum security jail. How I did it, I conned the pig warden into thinking I was just poor little helpless me, pushed into all kinds of danger and sordidness by my brother and my boyfriends, never had a chance. Never had a Chance! That's such a laugh! Isn't it a laugh, Grant? Oh, it's his name, by the way, that gave me the idea for luring you here, Blair baby. Knew you wouldn't turn down a golden opportunity for some free money."

Blair swallowed while the maniacal laughter of two disturbed individuals filled the room. He was not sure what they were laughing at, and he was terrified out of his wits.

"See, Blair, babe, you're just like me. Free money. You want it just like I do. And I was the one who ended up in HELL for it, while you got to go home. So now, it's time for a little retribution," the brunette gloated.

"Oh, fuck, then, just tell me what you want me to do," Blair gave in at last.

"Oh, but I haven't told you my finest accomplishment yet! I escaped! I escaped from HELL. And now you're gonna take my place, there, Blair, baby, 'cause that's the right thing for you to do."

Iris Johnson put her head back and screamed with laughter.


When Jim pulled up at the Elm street address, he found the Volvo being gone over by the two officers from the squad car behind it.

Ellison pulled out his badge and took over. "What have you got?"

"Not much, detective," the young black uniformed cop admitted. She gestured to the car. "Nothing there, as far as I can tell."

"Nothing inside either," said the paunchy white cop who was her partner. "It looks like this place was vacated recently, and there's only one office with anything at all in it, and that's not much." He pointed to the 'Michaels-Hilliard Foundation' window.

"Okay, let me in there."

Jim scouted the car first, and there was nothing at all but Blair's own academic detritus and a lingering scent melded of low-level anxiety and the herbal conditioner the Guide used, to be found. Jim had to focus so hard on the scent that he very nearly zoned, and the other policeman noticed his haze. "Just thinking, that's all," Jim covered for himself.

He betook himself into the fake Foundation offices, and found as little as the patrol officers had found. There were three sets of footprints in the layer of dust on the floor. One sized exactly for Blair (Jim found himself envisualizing just what pair of shoes Blair was wearing to leave that sole print), one for Iris, and one for a guy roughly Jim's height and weight by the look of them. There was a frayed piece of rope cut through at the other end, and Jim picked out the fingerprints on it. Two sets, one larger, one smaller, and he guessed it was Iris and her boyfriend-du-jour. There was also the scrap of deckle that had led Blair out on his ill-fated venture.

Jim picked it up with latexed fingers and held it fragilely, the last item he knew his Guide had held. He brought it to his nose without realising it, and the puzzlement on the black woman's face drew the Sentinel out of his absorption in the trace of his bond with Blair. "Checking for perfume."

"I didn't touch it, but I got close. Didn't smell anything," she offered.

"Yeah, well, there's a little hint of Shalimar on it, but I don't know how much good that will do us. But there's something else too, and I just can't pinpoint what it is." He placed the letter into an evidence envelope with a frown of concentration.

Dragging his eyes away from the letter, Jim gave one long screening of the room again, and came up with more prints on the window where the new gold name had been brazenly displayed.

He issued directives to the uniforms about the evidence and called Simon on the cellphone.

"Captain? There's nothing here except prints. How fast can the data base turn up matches?" Pause. "That's not fast enough. They've taken him somewhere and the Volvo's here." Pause. "No, no signs of violence, but I think there are two of them, Iris and some heavy of hers, and they've tied Blair up by the looks of things." Pause. "Good idea, and if you come up with any names for her current boyfriends, can you bring them up on the data base for me? I'm gonna try a little uncommon sense." He flipped down the cell phone and pocketed it, and saw the other officers staring at him. "Inside joke," he suggested, not entirely sure why they were watching him.

Then Jim Ellison, Sentinel of the Great City of Cascade, and Blessed Protector of Blair Sandburg, his Guide, went over to the window and memorised the patterns of the fingerprints on it. One print for each, all he felt he could handle without zoning, but he analysed the best prints there as carefully as anyone had ever taken Bertillon measurements a century before.

When he had them cemented in his mind, the detective shot back to Major Crimes and the information Simon had dug up for him on the computer.

"Jim," the captain called as he saw the Sentinel arrive. "Here, look, Iris's prints, and the prints of two guys she was 'pen' pals with at Starkville." He ceded his spot in front of the computer in his office to Jim, who sat transfixed before the monitor.

"Can you really make anything out of these, Jim?" Simon asked with disbelief.

"Yes, sir, I think I can." Jim looked up at his friend. "Simon, I'm gonna do something a little risky."

"Is this one of those Sentinel things you do?" The police captain's voice was filled with a horrified distaste.

At Jim's nod, Simon started moaning, "No, no, don't wanna know, not having anything to do with this—"

And Jim cut him off at the knees. "This may be the only way to get Sandburg back. To get Blair back." The tenderness with which Ellison spoke his Guide's first name, seldom used by him, abruptly halted Simon's attempted retreat.

"Yeah. It's for the kid. Tell me what to do," Simon committed to the effort.

"I'm gonna compare my memories of the prints I saw at the Foundation with these from the data base."

"You can do that?" Banks was incredulous.

"I can try," Jim said stalwartly. "Only I'm gonna have to go deep into my mind for this, and keep the memory sharp, side-by-side with each of the thirty prints, twice."

"What do I do?"

"I'm gonna use a technique Sandburg taught me, a meditation thing, and I need you to ground me in case I zone."

"Jim, I don't want any..."

"It's for Blair, Simon. I gotta find him."

The sincerity and dedication in Jim's avowal moved the police captain more than he could have said. So he just nodded, and the gleam in Jim's eye told him he was well understood.

"Just watch me, Simon, and if I seem to be getting lost in a trance, provide a little extra stimulation to another sense. I'm gonna be stuck on visual, so try auditory or touch."

"You mean, shout in your ear and whack you with a case file?" Simon tried to lighten things up. "Just like usual."

"Yes, sir, just the usual stuff." Jim's lips were thin, but they turned up at the edges nonetheless.

And together the Sentinel and the friend who shared the secret of the destinies of Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg went to work to try to save the Guide's life and liberty.

It seemed to Jim as if the process took forever, but Simon timed him anxiously and knew it took only five minutes, forty-three and some fraction of seconds for him to 'make' Iris Johnson's fingerprint. That and two yells in his ears, a hard pinch to the arm that would leave a bruise, and a shaking of Jim's shoulders that could have torn his head off if Simon had not been careful.

"It's her. That bitch, that cunning little bitch, it's her!" Jim was caught between rage and exultation.

"Okay, okay, Jim, now we know it's Iris who's behind this. What else can you find out from the prints?"

Jim turned back to the job, and in seven minutes and twenty-two seconds or so, he 'made' Grant Everhouse, or Greg Evers, or Gary Emerson, or a half dozen other aliases the man had had in a twenty-eight year old lifetime.

Simon had only had to yell this time. Jim seemed to have picked up the hang of a very useful forensics tool. A monster, Blair had called his Sentinel admiringly. Simon reflected silently on the kind of team the two men, so much different from each other, made together. It was the best team he had ever seen, the best partnership, too. He knew damn well that Jim Ellison was petrified for his best friend, and that he would move heaven and earth to get to Blair's side. He patted Jim's shoulder, partly in congratulation for identifying the prints, and partly in sympathy.

Jim reached up to touch Simon's hand himself, acknowledging their mutual victory. But just to make sure he hadn't missed something, Jim brought up the mug shot and prints of Iris's other 'pen' pal, and he suddenly shouted, "Hell! I don't believe it!" when he saw the screen.

"Jim, Jim, what is it? What have you got?" Banks was quick to go back to the page displayed, looking for clues.

"Simon, I know this guy!"

"What, you put him away?"

"No, he's a cop. I know him from Vice. He must be working undercover. He's Harry Blundell, whatever the screen says."

The screen ID was Henry Blocker.

"Let me at the phone," Simon demanded, and he placed a call to Vice which led him to call Narcotics too.

When the second conversation was finished, he filled in the impatient Sentinel, who was champing at the bit.

"Yeah, you're right, he's undercover, but he transferred from Vice to the Narc Squad and he's investigating the drug smuggling trade in and out of Starkville Prison."

"So? Anything we can use?"

"Captain MacMurray in Narcotics brought me up to speed. Blundell has found out that not only is Grant Whatever involved in smuggling drugs into Starkville—he was paroled a few weeks ago, by the way—" "Yeah, yeah, okay!"

Simon glared but picked up the recitation again. "Iris was involved in drug running into the Prison for Women while she was there, and when she was transferred out to Palo a Jail, she apparently had the intention of setting up shop there, but she escaped first!"

"Iris Johnson in a minimum security facility. God, Simon, that's sickening!" Jim stared in despair at his fellow officer, wondering why they bothered to put violent offenders away if the bureaucrats were going to play stupid tricks like that afterwards.

"Yeah, I know, Jim. But do we really have time for that now?"

Jim stopped and reconsidered things. He reached out a hand. "Gimme that envelope, Simon!"

Banks handed over the 'Foundation' letter. Jim had donned latex gloves again and took the letter out. He held it to his nose, so closely and with such an intent expression that the captain began to believe for the first time that maybe, just maybe, they would get Blair Sandburg back alive. He had seen something like this before, and whether it was an inspired guess or amazing policework, the only person he knew who could do it was Jim Ellison, and only for Blair Sandburg.

"I've got it!"

"What, Jim?"

"The odour. There was Shalimar perfume masking it, and it isn't exactly the same, but I've got it now. Thank God for latex!"

"What! What is it, man?" Simon was on tenterhooks.

"Golden. It's not exactly the same, it's a variant of some kind, but it's Golden, Captain. Trust me on this."

"Oh, my sweet Lord," Simon groaned.

Blair Sandburg and Golden. The combination had nearly killed Jim, Blair and a whole garageful of police officers. The designer hallucinogen was freaky, turning some suicidal, some paranoid and others manic. Jim had suffered from Golden poisoning himself, and the one constant was the golden aura that surrounded or filled the field of vision. No one needed a repeat of the Golden debacle, least of all Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg.

"So what do you think?" Simon had to pry Jim's thoughts away from ugly memories.

"Huh?"

"Jim," he said patiently, "what do you think we should do now? What do you think Sandburg's chances are?"

Jim looked at his boss with fear in his eyes. "I'd bet Iris is either having some kind of field day topping him up on Golden, or she's entrapped him into one of her narc jobs again."

"Best guess?"

"Money. She's got him entangled in drug running. Maybe afterwards..."

"First let there be a before, Jim!" Simon cautioned the Sentinel, seeing a spiral into torment about to happen.

Jim drew a deep breath and refocused himself. "Best guess: she's drug running into Paloma. Most recent connection. Easiest facility. Fast money."

"Good! Great! Now to stop the bitch!"

Two men slapped high fives with retaliation glowing in their eyes.


Grant was close behind him, so much like Jim's careful ushering of his Guide that Blair felt his eyelids sting. But instead of Jim's hand at the small of his back, it was the Sig Sauer. Iris was waiting in the getaway car this time. She couldn't show her face anywhere close to Paloma, and had donned a short red cap of curls over her long black hair.

She had sent Grant into the Visitor's Area with strict instructions about Blair Sandburg: Don't let him out of your sight. Don't go through the search procedure. Make sure he knows if he screws up, you're gonna start shooting people.

It was the last instruction that bought Blair's compliance. Grant had begun that high-pitched giggling again at the thought of blowing people away and playing 'Pocketa-pocketa-pocketa' with drivers of passing cars, his right index finger as the imaginary pistol.

Blair had no doubt at all that Grant would enjoy the game far more when the gun was real.

So they had walked up the long ramp into the jail, and straight through the doors. A minimum security facility, Paloma had a set of bungalows for it's non-violent prisoners, four to a house, and a main building for offices, group meeting areas, punishment cells, holding cells, and just about any other use necessary to 'ordinary' life. Most of the prisoners were on their parole, on their honour that is, trusted not to walk away, trusted not to steal, trusted not to traffic in drugs or use them.

Iris had no business being in Paloma. It was a place for bad cheque artists and small time thieves. Blair looked around at the women serving short sentences, feasting their eyes on him and murmuring appreciatively to each other about their dream lives, and the contrast between these people and Iris was strong enough to make him gag.

Iris could have posed for the poster for 'Hardened Criminal of the Year'. Some of these women—Blair could imagine them taking his classes at university, selling him juice at a convenience store, running their own businesses with talents discovered and nurtured by the penitentiary system acting as rehabilitators for real.

He wondered which of them was Iris's connection. She was supposed to be Blair's sister. He fit the description of her real brother, who had never bothered to visit, probably because he was in prison in Idaho or Vermont himself.

But the matronly officer at the desk greeted him cheerily and he had no more time for reflection.

"Yeah, hi, I'm Andy Young, and I'm here to see my sister, Mary Ellen Young. Um, I've never been here before and I don't know the drill."

Blair's puppydog eyes held that glint of real helplessness that cops pride themselves on being able to tell from hard-luck lies, the blue sense it was called. Officer Pamela Shore put out her hand to shake his, having checked his name and description against the visitors list and called a subordinate to man the desk.

Grant slipped the Sig Sauer into his pants pocket, both hands tenting the pockets and flexing them back as if nervous. He turned away, apparently rubber-necking, to avoid Shore's hand.

"If you gentlemen will follow me..."

"Nope, not me," Grant established lightly, still peering around. "I'm just his ride."

Blair could hear 'Pocketa-pocketa-pocketa' in his mind. He hastened to fill the gap.

"Uh, yeah, this is my buddy Cecil," and got that deer in the headlights look as he realised that he had hardly chosen a butch name, then ran on, "he's my ride and he's not visiting today, just me and Mary Ellen, gives us more time to ourselves, y'know..."

Shore smiled reassuringly. This was a newbie to a jail environment if she had ever seen one. She came forward to escort Blair through the procedure, waving a hand to 'Cecil' to take advantage of the waiting area chairs. He sat accommodatingly enough, and began to flirt silently with the appreciative inmates.

Blair was in a special kind of hell. He knew his own life was at risk, that Iris would either shoot him or dope him to death when they were done there, but that the lives of so many people for whom he saw real hope of making it on the outside rested squarely on his breaking the law.

So he pulled himself together and went through the process. In a minimum security environment, the visitors were hardly more than frisked. Blair wasn't carrying anything obvious. He was led into a visiting area, and waited restlessly for his 'sister' to show up.

The petite blonde he had been expecting turned out to be a petite redhead. He didn't recognise her from her description, and fumbled the ball when Young entered the room.

"Andy? Hey, Andy, wake up!"

"Mary Ellen?" Blair cried incredulously, shifting a sidelong glance at Officer Shore, who was beginning to frown.

Blair grabbed his 'sister' and swung her around and kissed her cheek noisily. "Hey, Sis! I almost didn't recognise you with that hair! When'd you do it?"

Mary Ellen simpered coyly. "Just last week. You like it, Andy?"

Blair drew back and surveyed the woman. It wasn't difficult to maintain a distance in these circumstances. "Hey, yeah. It's you, you know! Feisty. She always was feisty," he said to Shore with a grin of bravado. "Weren't you? Feisty I mean."

"Oh, yeah, Andy," and Mary Ellen's eyes turned from limpid pools of blue into pellets of lead as she grabbed her 'brother' and hauled him bodily toward a table at the back of the room, "I've always been feisty."

Blair let out a nervous chuckle and saw to his amazement that Shore had slipped back into motherliness and was stepping away to give them some privacy. So much for the blue sense at Paloma.

"Hey, Sis, how you been doing?" Blair asked to keep up the charade.

"Not so bad, not so bad," and so the chatter went until Mary Ellen was sure they were no longer under Shore's eye.

Then "Give!" was hissed into Blair's ear.

He put a hand up to cough into, nothing blatant, because he wasn't using his hand. He was using his tongue to pry off the patches on the insides of his cheeks. The drug, whatever it was, was tightly rolled in plastic packets, and he knew from Iris that it was uncut, that Mary Ellen would cut it in the prison kitchen with kitchen implements and kitchen supplies.

Blair nearly started to gag.

"Hurry up! We don't have that much time!" Young hissed and went on to describe in a natural voice what her plans were when she got out of Paloma.

Blair managed to get one drug packet onto his tongue. He cough-spat it into his hand and went to work on the other packet.

Shore never saw a thing. The transaction took less than thirty seconds and a mere three 'coughs' to complete.

Blair was now officially a drug smuggler. He wanted to vomit all over again. In fact he began to turn green and grabbed at his stomach.

"Are you all right, Mr. Young?" Shore asked, noticing Blair's colour at last.

"I think I have a virus or something. Is there a bathroom?"

Shore showed him to one, and this time she watched to make sure Blair did not hide anything in the washroom. All he left behind was his lunch. The motherly woman was all concern for the nice Young man with the virus.

At least, Blair thought, the virus story kinda corroborates the coughing. He made a mental note to keep coughing off and on while rinsing out his mouth. Then he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror, and he lost some indeterminate stomach fluids that time.

He very carefully refused to look at his reflection when he rinsed out his mouth the second time.

"You should be careful with that virus, Mr. Young," Officer Shore suggested solicitously. "You might be better off home in bed!"

"No, no," Blair managed to smile, "I had to see my sister. It's been too long, y'know? Can't let a little thing like a virus stop me, now, can I?"

He looked from guard to inmate and back again.

Mary Ellen came to the rescue. "Hey, Andy, hey! It's okay to cut the visit short. You don't look too well to me either. Can you come back again?"

"Um, yeah, sure, whenever I'm allowed to," Blair said, thinking ironically, whenever Iris allows me to.

Shore discussed general and specific visiting schedules as Blair pecked at Young's cheek and she whispered a message, "Tuesday at noon.".

He had no idea what the meaning of it was, but guessed it was a payoff time or something like it and went with it, good-bying, waving, walking out to greet 'Cecil' half-heartedly, coughing off and on.

"You okay there, bud?" 'Cecil' asked.

"Yeah, yeah, we're fine, we're okay. Got a virus or something. That's all." Blair was wondering if there was anything left for him to retch up, because it felt very much as if he might not be finished with his nausea.

"You don't look so good," 'Cecil' said menacingly, under the pretence of gruff solicitude.

Blair stroked the inside of his mouth with his tongue, poking it out, as though trying to wipe out the vile taste, then did the other side: proof there was nothing in there but natural Sandburg body parts. "Yeah, I'm fine. Really. Everyone's worried for nothing, y'know?"

Sangford smiled him on his way and there was Grant behind him, hand in pocket, gun in fist, to push him out as quickly as possible.

"Bye now," Grant called happily to a few of the women. He probably had a list of names, Blair thought sardonically, but whether possible dates or customers he couldn't tell.

Then the relief hit him that he'd gotten Grant out of Paloma without loss of life.

Then the realisation hit him that he was Iris's puppet and his strings were about to be cut.

And he found out what he had to lose when he started retching in dry heaves beyond the prison gates. It was everything.


Jim was on one line and Simon another.

"No go at the Prison for Women," Simon announced shortly. "No one resembling any of 'em have been around."

"Simon! We got them!"

"Where?"

"Paloma! Blair was just there with Grant Whatever. He was supposedly some inmate's brother. He's been and gone. They're out there close to Paloma." Jim's voice was halfway between rejoicing and discouragement.

"Okay, Jim, relax, okay, okay," Simon urged his friend. "We're on their trail."

"They don't know what they were driving, Simon! How do we get them?"

Jim screwed up his face in thought while Simon rubbed his face hard.

Then Jim began to smile. "Paloma's on Highway 82, and they're heading east or west and it's all open land along 82. The only off route is to get onto the freeway at either the Byington or Mojave junctures, whichever way they're going. Then the only way is north or south, and we can block all four locations, the Byington, Mojave, Riverdale and Snohomie off ramps. If they're driving any distance at all, we've got the time to trap them!"

Simon wasted no time on talk. He picked up the phone and got the Highway patrol on the blockade plan instantly.

Then they got into Simon's sedan and drove toward Paloma, waiting, waiting, waiting to hear.


Iris snapped, "What's the message?"

Blair was still woozy, sitting in the backseat of the white Subaru that was the getaway car, lost in his self-condemnation and fear. He did not answer fast enough.

Iris clouted him with the Sig Sauer.

He groaned again and Grant chuckled in his chest from behind the wheel. "Do it again, Iris. You know what this nerd called me? Cecil! Whack him one for me!"

Iris obliged. Very very much.

Blair was barely at the limits of consciousness by the time she hit him again. He'd taken too many knocks to the same place on his skull. When he moaned, Iris looked carefully at his colour and decided to end things fast.

"What's the message, Blair, baby?" she wheedled.

"Uh, uh," was all Blair could manage.

"Mary Ellen told you something to tell me, didn't she?" Iris coaxed, putting a hand out to stroke Blair's chest.

Grant frowned forbiddingly. Iris ignored him.

"Blair? C'mon, I know you remember!"

"Tues-Tuesday. At, um, noon," Blair faltered. He was relatively certain that was correct. "Tuesday at noon," he repeated, surer the second time.

"Good job!"

Iris high-fived Grant and they both turned to Blair with grins that made his heart skip.

"I think you have a little reward coming, Blair, baby!" Iris announced, rooting around in her purse for something Blair knew he didn't want to know.

"Yeah, Blair, baby," Grant echoed with that unnerving giggle again.

"Here you are. Open wide!" Iris commanded.

Blair pulled back as far away as the distance would allow. "Uh, uh," he voiced, mouth closed.

It was the drug. Whatever the drug was.

Fuck, some things you could become addicted to on the first hit!

"Uh-uh," Blair kept saying.

"Grant, honey?"

"Yeah?"

"When we get to Mojave, pull over before we get onto the highway, 'kay?"

"Sure."

So he did, and although Blair tried to make a break for it, he found the doors locked—a child protection feature, ironically enough—and himself

trapped.

All Iris had to do was pinch his nose. His mouth opened automatically.

Golden.

He knew it at once.

Golden.

Oh, God, he was a dead man. She had sent him to Hell, just as she had promised.

But Iris was not through with her revenge. Not quite yet. She had Grant pull out into traffic on the highway and shoved Blair onto the road.

She and Grant raved hilariously as Blair stumbled up the centre line, all three of them completely out of their minds.


Jim was on the cellphone, bouncing back and forth among the blockade points, harassing the cops for news. They did not hold it against him, the highway patrol cops. They knew it was his partner who had been kidnapped. But it took time to block a huge area of the countryside to all traffic safely, and there had not been enough time yet to throw the net out and catch Blair Sandburg before he fell.

Jim was beside himself. Simon had to reach out and take his hand before he broke a bone, slamming at the dashboard.

Simon was driving like a fiend to reach the closest point to Paloma's location from the police station: the intersection of Mojave and 82.

When he got there, he and Jim found the double-laned, double-direction, highway just in the process of being blocked as required, cones and flares still being put into place along the middle line heading west, flagmen finding positions. But they confirmed that no traffic had been allowed onto the ramp since the first patrol car had pulled up and that no vehicles with three occupants had been sighted or turned off the ramp.

No one mentioned vehicles with occluded windows. They were working with what they had.

Simon pulled onto the freeway and started toward Byington. With the flashing lights going from the roof, he floored the accelerator and drove even faster and more dangerously than a fiend would. He drove like Jim Ellison.

They were a long way from Byington.

"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon! Simon, you can do better than that!"

"SHUT UP, officer!"

Jim whacked the door beside him.

Simon put out a hand for an instant and nearly lost control of the vehicle as he manoeuvred around and between other traffic on the highway.

"Calm down, Jim."

"I shoulda driven."

"We'll get him. Look ahead, Jim! Can you see anyone in any car that looks like Blair?"

Jim looked ahead and screamed a long, wailing, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

He had seen Blair Sandburg. He wasn't in a car. He was meandering down the centre line of the highway., waving at the traffic.

Jim's primal scream of anguish was lost amidst the car horns that pierced the afternoon peace.


This was cool!

Whoa, so totally cool!

Awesomely cool!

Excellently cool!

Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow.

Spell it backwards.

Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow.

Wow! It was still the same!

Overwhelmingly cool!

Blair was having fun. Lots and lots of fun. He waved to the drivers of the cars that went past him and took the shriek of their horns as personal Hello's!

He turned and bowed to one green car whose four passengers were all pointing at him and waving to him.

This was great!

Whoa, so totally great!

Etc.

When he got to the Wow part again, he began to laugh hysterically. Wow was Wow and Wow was Wow and Wow! What else could you say?

Except cool!

He thought, This must be Heaven! Everyone and everything has a halo!

Everyone and everything were bathed in golden light.

Blair started pointing things out to himself as he tripped down the highway going opposite to the flow of traffic.

That car had a halo, and that truck had a halo, and that sixteen-wheeler!

What a rush! It must be an archangel in disguise! St. Mack! Yeah, that was it. The trucks were all angels!

Well, it only stood to reason.

Blair, however, was not standing too well, but he did not mind. The draft from the long-hauler spun him around and he went with it.

He spun down the centre line, windmilling with his arms, with fancy footwork only people like Fred Astaire and the very, very intoxicated could pull off.

Blair had no problem with the footwork at all.

And the horns! They were all the nice audience, telling him how much they liked his performance.

Blair stopped and waved and bowed and was spun around again.

He laughed and laughed and laughed.

Then he decided to improve his act.

He started cartwheeling down the centre line. Hey, it was golden too! He got a really good look at the centre line every other second. It was haloed in gold. He must be on his way to the heavenly gates.

Blair was not sure he was allowed into heaven, being Jewish and really supposed to be believing in Sheol, but then again, there he was, with angel trucks on the highway to heaven trumpeting their appreciation of his attempts to entertain them, so who was he to complain?

Complain about going to heaven?

Blair started giggling as he cartwheeled and his line became very unsteady. He was not worried in the least, and he noticed that the six vehicles that had to dodge around him were especially appreciative of his act.

Cool!

Whoa, so totally cool!

Etc.

Finally, however, Blair had to stop for air and the Energizer Bunny began to bow and rise as he heaved in lungfuls of oxygen. Yet everyone was still blowing their horns, and he knew inside that the performance was not over.

Not yet.

What could he do next?

Oh! Right!

He could let the audience play with him!

He could dodge the trucks, just like the trucks dodged him!

Wouldn't that be fun!

He chortled and chuckled and chuffed his way across the path of an oncoming pickup that just loooooved him for doing it.

Gee, that had looked a lot like Jim's! No, it was black. And gold, of course.

Everything was golden.

Blair was the Golden Boy himself!

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!


Simon was certain Jim was going to have an aneurysm. "What do you see, Jim?"

Jim was fixated on some point in the distance.

"What do you SEE, Jim?"

Still no answer! Was the Sentinel zoned? Simon began to slow the car, intending to try to haul Ellison out of the supposed zone, when the man came to and began screaming.

"Don't slow, don't slow, faster! Faster! He's gonna get killed!"

"What? How? What are you seeing?" Simon burst out in frustration, trying to keep the velocity up without overturning the car or driving anyone else off the road or having a collision.

"He's, Blair's, he's in the middle of the road, Simon, and he's jumping and turning tricks like an acrobat! Oh, my God! I don't believe it!"

"God, what now?"

"He's started running back and forth in front of the cars. Oh, God, don't slow down now, Simon, for pity's sake!"

Simon sent up a prayer to the real heaven, and stuck to his task like a dreadnought.

But it was becoming harder and harder to keep the pace up, because somewhere up ahead, the blockade had been put into place, and it was stopping the traffic, forcing the vehicles ahead of them to slow.

"Sweet Lord," he whispered over and over again, unconsciously. "Dear sweet Lord."

And he was passing between a pickup and a pair of motorcycles that were doing sixty, unable to glance up into the rearview mirror to see if he had made any of them skid off the concrete.

Still Jim harangued him for more speed!

And he was trying to overtake a sixteen wheeler that was doing sixty-five, only it would not get out of the way! Every time Simon swerved, the rig was before him, back and forth between the two lanes, an unbelievable act of driving by the trucker, as if he or she were psychic and knew which way the sedan would turn!

"What's his problem?" Simon yelled, leaning out of the window, gesturing with his left hand, trying hard not to skid off the concrete himself!

"I've got the bastard's plate. He's going down for this! I'm taking this one down myself!"

Simon sincerely believed that the driver of the big rig was in danger of his life. Jim Ellison was not someone you wanted to have angry at you.

Thankfully, the driver got the message somehow and moved over so that Simon could forge ahead.

"Oh, Jesus, oh, sweet Lord have mercy!"

Simon finally got to see why the big rig had been reeling back and forth between lanes.

Blair was right there in front of him!

Simon pulled hard to the right and Sandburg swung in the backdraft. Watching in the mirror, he could see Blair bow and wave. Simon had a mouthful of bile to swallow.

"Pull over, pull over," Jim bellowed. "Goddamit to hell, pull over, Simon!"

Simon did his best, but at the rate he was going, with the other traffic slowing ahead, and the element of surprise having held him back, he was having a difficult time of it.

"Pull the HELL over!"

Jim grabbed the wheel himself and Simon was pulled over to the right. They hit the ditch, bounced up, sideways, the other sideways, down and forward.

Then the sedan died.

Jim Ellison had found a new way to kill a car.

Neither man could have cared less. They were shaking themselves from the aftermath of the car wreck, strung out with tension.

But Jim was unbuckling and his door was opening and he was trying to scramble out of the ditch.

"What are you doing, man?" Simon yelped in trepidation. "Stop, Jim, don't do this!"

"That's my Guide out there. I'm gonna go get him. Stay out of my way, Simon, because I will tear apart you and anyone else who gets in my way."

The nearly silent vow sent shards of sleet down Banks' spine. He held his peace, and began praying again, for the safety of both Sentinel and Guide.

Jim attained the top bank of the ditch. He looked forward to gauge the rate of slowing from the jam ahead, and back towards Blair, taking in the momentum of the vehicles between them, one by one.

It was not done by calculation. It was not done by Ranger training. Perhaps it was done by prayer.

But the Sentinel found one single scintilla of time when he could make his move and he made it. He stepped calmly between the rear of the sedan and the grill of the oncoming furniture van and walked to the centre line.

Now there was nothing between him and Blair Sandburg, except the yellow line and the traffic which must, which must stay in their lanes.

Jim walked forward.

"Hey, Blair?"

Blair was back to doing acrobatic tricks. Jim thought he ought to have known that someone as limber as his partner, with all his Yoga-honed suppleness, would have been able to turn backflips endlessly, but somehow, it never occurred to him to ask.

Now he knew.

It was time for Blair to stop.

"Hey, Buddy? Chief? You hear me?"

Nothing.

Jim walked forward, lithe and sure, long, strong strides, but Blair was moving more quickly and was outdistancing him, heading right into the faster traffic. Oh, shit!

Jim broke into a run, and that was the worst thing he could have done.

Blair stopped for air, and turned around, bowing and waving again, and caught sight of his Golden Sentinel. Wow! This must be heaven! Simon was probably around somewhere too, and maybe Naomi, and Megan and Joel...

Man was this fun!

"Hey, Chief?" Jim called, still running strong. "C'mon, slow down, I'm an old man here!"

Blair watched Jim running toward him and finally got the idea! It was a foot race!

Well, Jim was not going to be allowed to win this one! Blair was quick like a bunny! He grinned with all his heart in his eyes and smile and cried out, "Catch me if you can!"

Then he turned and pelted into the traffic moving towards him.

Jim damn near had a heart attack at the beauty in his Guide's face as he had smiled that last smile full of the love between them, unburdened by earthly concerns, and when Blair took off running, the Sentinel was stricken with the fear that it would be the last time he would ever see his best friend's smile.

God, no, that could not happen! It could not happen!

Jim Ellison would not allow it to happen!

He watched the traffic ahead as he ran to see which would pass Blair before he could get to him, and there was one car, one goddamned red car back there, one driver who could not cope, going too fast too close behind too inexperienced too impaired, just one car travelling right down the middle of the road across the centre line, but that was all it took, and he had to get

to Blair before that damnable driver got there first.

Because then it would be all over.

Maybe for the both of them.

Jim pulled out all the stops. He dug into the concrete, jettisoned his jacket, put his head down, and raced the race of his life.

Of Blair's life.

No breath for crying out to Blair to stop him. Breathe in, breathe out, push the ground behind, catch up, catch up, catch up.

Damn that single red car! It was closing the gap faster than Jim was!

Ellison redoubled his efforts. Simon prayed. Blair was giving thanks for the fun with all his joyous spirit.

The red car kept on coming.

Then Jim cried one last cry. "Help!"

That is what saved them.

The Guide stopped short and turned around, to see Jim reaching out, stumbling in his last attempt to catch up, and saw Jim's need.

He picked up his heels and sped on golden wings to his best friend, the other half of his soul.

They collided in a split second before the fucking red car could swerve from its placement in the middle of the highway, down the centre line of the double lanes, and Jim grabbed Blair and threw them both into the ditch.

The red car blew its horn as it passed.


Epilogue:

Jim crept into the hospital room where Blair slept peacefully. He scanned the monitors then scanned his partner with his hypersenses, satisfied that both were telling the truth: Blair was safe and on his way to wellness.

It had been a pitiable scene by the time the EMT's arrived. The beauteous golden glow had worn off, and Blair was beginning a collapse like the one he had had before. Jim held him in his arms, mute, weeping, Simon by his side, his arm flung around Ellison as if to hold the man together. There were tear tracks down his face too, and now and again the captain of Major Crimes brushed at his eyes.

Blair was keening, babbling, his thoughts turning to paranoia, and Jim thought he might be having a flashback to his first poisoning, that horrible, horrible trip he had been sent on by the drug manufacturers.

They had received word via Simon's cellphone that Iris and Grant had been stopped up ahead. Jim just said quietly, "Get her transferred out of state, sir. Tell them there are death threats out on her. Because there are."

Simon nodded his understanding.

Jim was only able to let go when the techs came to help him because Blair opened his eyes and said, "Jim? Jim."

The quiet satisfaction in that one final word lent a grace of safety to the Sentinel's soul. It meant, I'm glad you're here, I trust you, I'm here for you too.

So the Sentinel knew that the Guide would be there for him, in the hospital bed, no matter how long he had to be hooked up to machinery.

So the Sentinel kept watch as the Guide slept and healed, and forgot about the rent while he thought about suing the State of Washington on Blair's behalf for a whole pile of money.

A golden opportunity, perhaps, but one they would both have preferred to have missed, for the halo of sunlight on the short turf of Jim's head and the one on the long curls of Blair's were the only gold either of them ever needed to see in their lives.

~ End ~

Author's Additional Notes: The spoilers are for The Girl Next Door and Blind Man's Bluff. I've wrote this masterpiece in twelve hours straight and I couldn't think any longer. You guys all know these episodes, right? Fill in the blanks.


E-Mail Ismaro at ligela@sympatico.ca
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Page last updated 8/15/03.