Disclaimer: All of the charactersexcept Bob Ryan, Anton Delvenko, Crazy Addy, Little Boy, and Sandra Abrahms, who popped up out of nowherebelong to the guys at Pet Fly, not me. I just borrowed them for a whilekind of a long while as it turns outbut I'm returning them unharmed at the end, I promise. Oh, and no money exchanged hands, yadda, yadda...
Author's Notes: I confess to being GUILTY of scene(s) stealing for this one. The story sort of assembled itself around a couple of good visual scenes from Secret. I know it's bad form, but I couldn't resist. You could think of this as a 'missing story from...' piece, instead of a 'missing scene from...' piece if it makes you feel better.
Dedication: To Majik, who brow-beat me into finishing this with unstinting flattery and shameless begging. (Besides, she made good on our dealsee Withdrawal on her page!)
"Ellison... wake up," urged a voice that seemed to come from miles away.
Groggily, Jim raised his head and tried to concentrate on the blurry shape in front of him. Joel Taggart's face finally came into focus.
"Jim, can you understand me?" Taggart asked again.
"Yeah..." Jim murmured, suddenly aware that his truck was surrounded by squad cars, their lights strobing in the darkness. He caught a whiff of fish and brine and realized that he was somewhere down on the docks.
"Jim, I'm sorry to have to do this."
"What?" Disoriented, he stared up into Taggart's troubled face. He caught a glimpse of another figure standing just behind Joel. It took Jim's confused mind a moment to recognize himBob Ryan, another detective who'd recently been assigned to their department. There was an odd look on Ryan's face, too, although not one that matched Taggart's.
"Jim Ellison," Joel said in a grim voice, "I'm placing you under arrest for suspicion of murder. You have the right to remain silent..."
"Murder?" The image of Sorenson, dead in his car in the parking garage, filled his mind. "Sorenson was dead when I got there."
Taggart stared at him blankly for a moment, then shook his head.
"Jim... I don't know who this Sorenson is, but the charge has nothing to do with him. You're being arrested for the murder of Blair Sandburg."
Stunned, Jim offered no resistance as Joel locked a set of handcuffs over his wrists.
Run... They're coming... Pain... Jim... no... don't shoot... Pain... Darkness...
Jim rubbed the side of his neck and looked up abruptly as Simon entered the interrogation room. "Simon," Jim almost gasped in relief. "What's going on? What's happened to Sandburg?"
"That's what I'm hoping you can tell me. Right now he's missing... presumed dead."
Simon's words hit Jim like a physical blow. For a split second, his whole world lurched and his senses spun out of control. A part of his mind screamed in panic at the loss of his Guide, his friend. But his heart pounded even louder in denial. Blair couldn't be dead. There had to be a mistake. He clenched his fists, using the physical sensation as a point of focus. Slowly, the world stopped spinning.
"What happened?" Jim was surprised at how calm his own voice sounded.
"I checked my voice mail when I got home from the Commissioner's dinner and there was a message from you," Simon explained, his expression grim. "Something about a lead on the Anderson case and to contact you at the loft at 4:00 am. When I did call, Sandburg answered the phone. Sounded like I'd woken him up. When he realized you weren't there, he started to go ballistic. Said you'd gotten some strange call to meet an informant. Someone named Sorenson. He was rambling on about the fact that you were supposed to be back by three and that he was worried about you. He was convinced that something was wrong. I tried to calm him down, but he wasn't buying it. Then he said that he heard someone at the door. He called out your name, there were gun shots and the line went dead. By the time we got there, the place looked like a shooting gallery and there was no trace of Sandburg. We put out an APB on both of you. That's what turned your truck down at the pier."
Simon took a deep breath and dropped a manila file on the table in front of Jim. "Forensics ran a match on the bullets we found. They're from your gun, and your prints are the only ones on it."
"But you didn't find a body..." Jim murmured, his mind racing. "What about blood stains?"
"Nothing in the apartment. We're still canvassing the neighborhood, but so far no one's seen anything."
"Then there's a chance... Simon, you've got to believe me. I never left you any message, and I didn't kill him," Jim swore, looking up into Simon's eyes. "The last time I saw Sandburg, he was alive. I did get a call. From an old informant."
"This the same guy you told Taggart and Ryan about?"
"Yeah... he said he had some information for me... wanted to meet right away."
"At the parking garage at 1st and Belmont?"
Jim nodded. "Sorenson had been an addict. He'd been clean for a long time, but he sounded shaky. Like he was either using again and needed a fix, or he was scared. Sandburg and I were supposed to take off at three and get in some fishing this weekend, but I decided to meet Sorenson anyway. He'd given us with some good information a year or so ago... I figured maybe we owed him some help. He was dead when I got there. I heard someone in the shadows, but before I could even get my gun out, I got hit with some kind of dart." Jim touched the red welt on his neck. "The next thing I knew, I was in my truck down on the docks and Taggart was shaking me awake."
"Jim, we sent a squad over to that garage. There was nothing there. No car matching the description you gave Joel, and no body."
"Someone's gone to a lot of trouble to make it look like I killed Sandburg. It all fits. Except for one thing. Why would I do it? There's no motive."
"Internal affairs and the DA's office don't see it that way," Simon said quietly, reaching into a brown evidence envelope and dropping a plastic bag filled with white powder on the table. "Forensics found a dozen of these when they went over the apartment."
Jim stared down at the bag, shaking his head in denial.
"They'll submit this as evidence that you were dealing, Jim. That Sandburg found out about it and you took him out to keep him from turning you in."
"I give you my word Simon, I've never seen this before. Whoever planned this must have planted it when he went after Blair. It's a set-up."
"Of course it is," Simon growled. "Unfortunately, it's a damn good one. Even if we don't find a body, there's enough incriminating evidence to paint you as a cop gone bad."
"Finding out who's behind this will take care of countering the evidence," Jim responded grimly. "And I don't care about my reputation right now. The important thing is to find my partner."
"Jim, it's been nearly four hours. If he is still alive, why hasn't he tried to contact us?"
"I don't know," Jim answered worriedly, rising to his feet and pacing the small room. "Maybe he's hurt. Maybe he's just scared and he's running without thinking." Jim stopped pacing and looked at Simon evenly. "I need to get out of here, Simon. I can find him. I know I can."
"Jim, you're a prime suspect in his murder, or at least his attempted murder," Simon protested. "I let you out of here and the Commissioner's going to have my head."
Jim opened his mouth to argue, but there was a soft knock and the door opened. Jim caught a glimpse of Ryan standing outside before Joel's massive bulk filled the doorway. The look on his face froze both of them.
"Simon," he said softly. "They want you downstairs... Coroner just brought in a body... cause of death was two shots in the back... the ID says it's Sandburg."
All the way down to the morgue, Jim held onto the belief that there had been some mistake. That hope was crushed when saw Blair's suede jacket amidst a pile of clothing on one of the exam tables.
In silent shock, Jim picked up the jacket and carried it with him to the lockers where the bodies were kept. Numb, he stood next to Simon as the morgue attendant twitched the sheet back from one of the corpses.
The sight of the body on the table caught both of them by surprise. Jim's grip tightened spasmodically on Blair's jacket, but it was Simon who finally spoke. "That's not Sandburg," he exclaimed, looking up at the attendant in anger. "What kind of bad joke is this?"
"No joke, Captain. We ID'd him off the wallet we found in the jacket pocket," stammered the man in defense, moving swiftly to the pile of clothing and plucking out Blair's wallet.
"It's Sandburg's," Simon muttered, snapping the wallet shut and handing it to Jim.
"So's the jacket," Jim added softly. "It's the one he's been wearing all week."
"How the hell did this guy end up with them?"
"Either Sandburg gave them to him, or he took them," Jim responded, extending his senses to scan the body. "Probably the latter. This guy's been living on the street... pretty rough territory, too. He took two in the back?"
The attendant nodded, his eyes moving nervously between Simon and Jim.
"About Sandburg's build, and in the dark..." Simon's eyes narrowed as he studied the corpse. "I'd say whoever was after Sandburg took this guy out by mistake. That could mean that Sandburg's still alive somewhere. Question is, where is he, and does whoever's hunting for him realize that he's made a mistake?"
Jim examined the jacket, opening his senses. He identified the rents where the fatal shots had shredded the suede and shuddered as he picked up Blair's familiar scent under the stronger odor of the John Doe. He pushed the flicker of fear aside, reminding himself that it wasn't his partner that had taken those bullets. He concentrated, trying to focus on the other clues that clamored for his attention. There was a blood-stained hole in the front of the left shoulder and on the left collar there was an odd chemical smell that he immediately recognized, along with another blood stain.
"Does he have a cut or wound along the left side of the head or neck?" Jim grilled the attendant. "Any wound in the left shoulder?"
"No... nothing. Just the two bullet holes to the back."
Jim nodded his thanks and stepped away from the table. He moved to the pile of clothing, searching through it for other traces of his young friend.
"You log this guy as a John Doe," Simon ordered the attendant. "I want Sandburg's name off this chart."
"Wait a minute, Simon," Jim interrupted. "Leave it for now. The fewer people who know that Blair's still alive, the better the chance we have at finding him."
Simon considered Jim's words and nodded. He turned back to the attendant and Jim heard him threatening the man with vivid details of what would happen if anything leaked out about the true identity of the corpse. Jim turned his attention back to the items on the table. In a small plastic bag, he found the beaded wrist band that Blair had worn for as long as Jim had known him. Beyond that, there was nothing else that belonged to his friend.
"He's out there Simon... he's got to be... but he's running out of time... he's hurt, maybe even drugged," he murmured softly as Simon joined him. "From what I picked up off the jacket, he could be lying in some alley or basement, bleeding to death."
"Jim, slow down. There were no blood stains in the apartment."
"Have forensics take another look at his jacket. There's a third bullet hole. In the left front. There's no damage to the back, which means the bullet didn't go all the way throughit's probably still in his shoulder. And there's a good-sized blood stain inside. The suede and the lining absorbed most of itprobably why you didn't find any in the apartment. Either that or he got hit after he left there. There's also blood and a trace of something chemical on the collar. It's the same smell that I picked up from the dart that took me out."
Jim paused, letting his instincts direct his thoughts. "We've got to find out where our JD hangs out. That's where we'll find Blair."
"That's assuming you're right about this guy rolling Sandburg for his jacket. What if the kid just dumped it or gave it away to the first person he saw and kept moving. It'd be a smart move. That jacket's distinctive."
"Blair knew someone was after him. There's no way he would have put someone el se in danger. Our John Doe must have found him and figured him for either dead or no trouble. He took this too," Jim said, holding up the wrist band. "It's been cutEven if Sandburg had given up the jacket voluntarily, he would never have parted with this."
Jim stared at Simon, his eyes unfocused, his mind racing. "Where'd they find the body?"
"About twelve blocks from your place... Hamstead and thirty-first," Simon answered, checking the log. "We could concentrate the search in that area. If our JD did roll him, could be he's still there."
"Doesn't make sense," Jim muttered. "That's a pretty ritzy neighborhood. That guy's been living near something that's generating a lot of diesel fumes. The smell of it permeates his clothes. Sandburg couldn't have made it that far with that drug in him... he's got to be closer to home. That still leaves us with a lot of places to search."
Jim tried to sort out the possible locations in his neighborhood where his roommate might have taken refuge. "There's an old foundry about five blocks east of the apartment. Those diesel pumps put out a lot of fumes. And there's a big garage about a mile south. I'll have to start at the apartment and see if I can pick up anything..." He was so focused that Simon's next comment caught him off guard.
"Well , what are we waiting for?"
"We? What about the Commissioner?"
"You're in custody... mine. If he's got a problem with that I'll let the two of you explain it to himafter you've figured out what this is all about," Simon answered firmly.
Pain... Jim... where are you?... Pain... No, don't... Darkness...
Jim stared out of the car window, trying to concentrate on solving the puzzle of his partner's disappearance. His own fears kept intruding, making it difficult to stay focused. His senses weren't cooperating either. They surged against his control, and he had to fight to keep them dialed down. He didn't want to risk a zone-outnot until he had his Guide back at his side.
After stopping at the lab to have a sample of Jim's blood drawn for analysis, they'd gone down to the garage to pick up Simon's car. Simon had been adamant about driving. "You're in custody remember? You get your head together and start trying to figure out who could have orchestrated this mess."
Jim shook himself and took several deep breaths, pushing his concerns for Blair to the back of his mind in an another attempt to do just that. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the whole picture of eventsSorenson, the phone call, the darts, the drugs, the message to Simon and the attack on Blair. One by one, the pieces began to settle into place. A name suddenly floated into his mind.
"Anton Delvenko?" Simon asked in confusion. "The drug dealer you put away three years ago?"
"He was more than just a dealer, Simon. He was the major supplier for the entire northwest coast. He was a smart operator. It would have been child's play for him to set this up."
"He's in prison, Jim. Granted, that doesn't mean he's lost his connections on the outside, but if he was going to come after you, why wait three years?"
"Because his parole was just denied." Jim recalled the look of hatred that Delvenko had directed toward him when he'd been on the stand. "I testified at the hearing a month ago, remember? And it was close. He'd spent the last three years being a model prisoner and the board was leaning toward an early release. The DA had pushed for the admission of new evidence that we'd uncovered about his dealings since the trial and that changed their minds."
"I agree he's a candidate, but he's not the only one. You've managed to generate a fairly long list of enemies who wouldn't mind seeing you taken out of the game."
"But not many of them have the sophistication to pull off a set-up like this. He does," Jim answered, his instincts telling him that he was right. "And like you said, in prison or not, he's still got the connections to pull it off."
Simon nodded and pulled to a stop in front of the apartment. Jim shifted out of the car, examining the building and the surrounding streets with a critical, searching eye. As they moved inside, he tried to look at everything in a different way, as if seeing it for the first time. He allowed himself a quick smile. Blair would have approved.
Simon pulled a set of keys out of his pocket. "No sign of forced entry," he murmured as he unlocked the door and pushed it open.
"They probably used my keys and put them back on me when they returned the gun," Jim speculated. "You said Sandburg called out my name?"
"Yeah, he must have heard the key in the lock. Thought it was you coming in."
Jim nodded and moved forward into the apartment. He took three steps into the room and stopped, scanning it slowly, his senses accumulating information that he'd try to assimilate later. Simon had been right when he'd said that it looked like a shooting gallery. He could still smell the gunpowder fumes hanging in the air. The thought struck him that there was far too much damage for just one gunman.
"How many bullets did forensics recover?" Jim eased around the overturned kitchen chairs, crossing to where the phone still lay on the floor in front of Blair's bedroom door.
"Ten or twelve, I think."
"And how many shots did you hear?"
"Two... no, three," Simon replied after a moment of consideration.
"Doesn't make sense. Sandburg would have been out of here long before they shot off a dozen rounds. Did you find any in there?" Jim asked, gesturing toward the bedroom.
"Most of them," Simon answered grimly.
"Overkill," Jim muttered, crouching to examine two splintered holes in the wooden doors. "I'd bet these are the ones that you heard. The rest were added for effect, and to make sure you'd ID my gun as the weapon. That might even mean that there was more than one shooter."
"One to take him out and one to dress up the scene and plant the drugs," Simon nodded, following Jim's train of thought.
"And now two to chase him." Jim rose to his feet and faced the front door. "Sandburg must have been standing here... when they started shooting he probably dove into his room... his windows open onto the fire escape."
Jim moved into Blair's bedroom, his senses extended to their limits. Amidst the mess, he could smell the acrid odor of gunpowder mixed with the dusting chemical that the forensics team had used. Under all of it lingered the familiar smells that his mind associated with Blair. There was something elsethe distinctive smell of blood.
He did get hit in here. Jim eyed the splintered window casing before crawling out onto the narrow metal fire escape platform. The smell of blood was stronger once he was outside of the room. He searched until he found a splatter of dark, reddish-brown spots on the side of one of the metal struts.
Up or down? he wondered. He closed his eyes, trying to envision Blair on the platform, flinching as bullets exploded around him in the dark. Abruptly, he shook his head and opened his eyes. Statistically, instinct drove people to seek shelter in high places, so the odds favored that choice. But Blair was afraid of heights. Even panicked, Jim couldn't imagine him climbing upward into the darkness. Not when he knew that the ground was only a few feet below.
Jim swung himself over the edge of the platform and dropped easily to the pavement. He glanced toward both ends of the alley, then turned his attention to a careful scrutiny of the ground, hoping to find something that would confirm his hunch. A gust of wind blew some litter past his ankles and he experienced a brief flash of anger at mother nature's reckless approach to evidence preservation. A flutter of something white caught his eyea handful of feathers tangled in a coiled length of fine twine. One of Blair's homemade fishing lures. He'd been carrying one or two around with him for weeks, a gentle reminder of the fishing trip that Jim had promised.
"Anything?" Simon's voice floated down from the loft window.
"He was here."
Jim concentrated, filling his mind with an image of the alley as it would have appeared in the dark. To his left, it opened onto a street about twenty feet away. At four o'clock in the morning, the area would have been lit with streetlights and a few neon signs. There would have been some traffic. Maybe even a pedestrian or two.
"If he was trying to find help, he would have headed to the main street. But if he was trying to hide, he'd go in this direction." Jim gestured to his right, where the alley led onto another that crossed it only ten feet away.
"You go ahead," Simon called out. "I'll have Taggart contact the prison and do some checking on Delvenko's visitors and phone calls over the last month."
Jim walked to where the alleys intersected. A team had canvassed the area, but no one had recalled seeing anyone matching Blair's description. That favored the odds that he'd headed in this direction.
He had a suddenly flash of Blair, panicked and confusedin pain from the wound in his shoulder. He could almost see the younger man, lurching toward the safety of the alleys, trying to lose himself in the darkness. Jim turned to the right, his senses casting outward. He picked his way around piles of debris. In the dark, Blair might have fallen, or at least bumped into something on his mad dash. There was a heavy metal dumpster a few feet in front of him. Jim eyed it critically. Along the left side of the far end, he found what he was looking fora dark stain of blood.
Just a few drops at the apartment, but there's much more here. How badly was he hurt? Jim shuddered and forced himself to keep moving.
If Blair had made it this far, then he couldn't have been struck by the tranquilizer dart in the apartment. That meant he'd gotten farther away before whoever was chasing him found him againor at least got close enough to try to stop him. But why the tranks? Why not just shoot him? Had they switched to the drugs because shooting him outright would have revealed their presence? Jim realized that was probably the answer. They'd wanted to hang Blair's death on himthey wouldn't have wanted any witnesses to say otherwise.
Jim followed the alley to where it opened onto a narrow side street. He shook his head and fought off a growing sense of despair. There were too many choices. Too many directions Blair could have gone. And there was no time to check them all himself. Jim pulled out his cell phone and punched in Simon's number.
"I've tracked him to the next cross street. We're going to need some extra eyes from this point on."
"Ryan offered to help. He can coordinate the search teams while Taggart follows up on Delvenko," Simon suggested. "But I thought the idea was to keep this quiet." "We'll have to risk it," Jim answered grimly. "We don't have the time to check out all the possibilities ourselves. Call 'em in. I'm going to keep heading south for a little while longer."
Jim signed off and pocketed his phone, crossing the street. Carefully, he picked his way through the piles of accumulated trash. His eyes caught the reflection of metal and he quickened his pace. A chain link fence suddenly blocked the way.
"Dead end..." Jim searched for some other way out of the alley. There were several doors leading into the adjacent buildings, and Jim spent a few minutes testing them, hoping to find one that would open. But none did. Would Blair have tried to go back to the street? That would have depended on his pursuers. He called Simon's cell phone once again.
"Simon, have someone check the canvassing interviews," he suggested. "See if anyone mentioned anything unusual."
"I don't know for sure... Something that might relate to his attackers. No one remembers seeing Blair, but maybe they saw whoever was chasing him."
"I'll get on it," Simon agreed.
Jim turned his attention back to the alley, his own instincts telling him that Blair had indeed headed this way. He could close his eyes and picture it. But where had he gone from here? He turned back and eyed the fencing critically. Even without an injured arm, the chain link fence would have been a difficult climb. Noisy too, he reflected, as he grabbed onto it and heard it rattle.
"Maybe he did go back to the street," Jim muttered, turning around again and looking back up the alley. His cell phone buzzed and he pulled it out, answering it almost absently.
"Taggart was a step ahead of us," Simon reported. "He'd already checked with the traffic detail in your area last night. Someone complained about a dark van with two men in it. Seems they had a spotlight of some kind that they were flashing into cars and buildings. Apparently they were in the neighborhood for some time. Complaint came in at around 4:15."
"That's got to be them." Jim studied the street doubtfully. "That means Sandburg had to have come this way. If they'd been on foot he might have risked one of the other, busier streets, but not with them in a van where they could pluck him off in a matter of moments."
He thanked Simon and closed the phone, turning his attention back to the fence and the surrounding area of the alley. A stack of crates ascended to a narrow ledge on the building to his right. The ledge continued over the fencing and connected to a set of fire escape platforms about twenty feet beyond.
Gingerly, Jim started to climb the stack. On the wall at the top he saw an old emergency light. In the darkness, that light would have cast a faint glow into the alley. Enough for Blair to have seen the escape route and try for it.
Jim inched out onto the ledge and his face tightened with anger. His mind filled with the image of his partner, running for his life in the darkness. The thought of Delvenko, smirking with satisfaction in his cell made him almost snarl in rage. His foot slipped on the narrow shelf and he spent the next few moments struggling to regain his balance. He drew in a deep breath, willing himself to regain his control and focus.
Put it aside, Ellison. Find Sandburg first. Delvenko's not going anywhere.
He crossed the final stretch and eased out onto the fire escape landing. Up or down, he asked himself again. He examined the drop to the cluttered alley below and then glanced back toward the street. Up, he decided abruptly, starting the climb himself. With the choice between jumping down into the darkness and his pursuer's searching at street level, Jim was certain that even Blair's fear of heights wouldn't have stopped him from trying to reach the roof.
Jim's eyes flickered across the expanse as he pulled himself up. He caught sight of the rooftop access and crossed to it. He examined the door closely and felt a twinge of fear when he saw the blood smeared across the knob. The rusted padlock was still in place. He checked the roof top again and found only one possible point where Blair could have gone across to the next building. He contacted Simon.
"I'm on the roof of the warehouse three blocks south of the apartment," Jim reported. "He was here. Looks like he tried to get down into the building from the rooftop access, but it's bolted shut. There's only one way he could have gone and that's to the next building south. I'm headed there now."
"I'll shift the search teams," Simon answered.
Jim nodded, his mind and senses already scanning ahead. He climbed a short ladder onto the adjoining building, looking for the next clue. While he searched, he did some quick calculations. It was almost noon. Blair had been missing for nearly eight hours. Eight hours with a bullet in his shoulder. It had taken Jim thirty minutes to trace him this far. How long it had taken Blair to make the same trip was hard to tell, but Jim estimated maybe half the time. That would have put him up on the rooftops when the call had come in about the van. Wherever his assailants had caught up with him still lay somewhere ahead. He'd found no traces yet of the John Doe either, but Blair's erratic path was leading him toward the old foundry.
Jim scouted the rooftop and found another trace of blood on the raised edge that bordered the east wall. He looked over, but found no way of getting down and guessed that Blair had stopped there momentarily in his mad dash. He could see the street clearly from his vantage point, and wondered whether the men hunting Blair had caught sight of him there. If they had, they might have stayed at street level and used a high range rifle to deliver the drugged dart, intending to knock Blair out long enough to either take him back to the apartment or dispose of him elsewhere.
He circled the roof, growing more perplexed as he realized that there was no way down. To reach the nearest building, his partner would have had to jump at least ten feet across a chasm of open air. The soft sound of grinding metal called to him. He glanced up, trying to focus on its source. On the nearest building, the access door swung open in the wind. Instinctively, he knew that Blair had to have gone that way.
"But how? How did he get across?"
Jim's gaze swept right and left, but he saw no way to cross the gap between the two buildings. Frustrated, he looked down and caught sight of a long wooden board lying on the pavement below. Focusing his sight, he saw the smudged brown stain of more blood. Something clicked in his head. He turned to his left and found a pile of similar boards stacked a few feet away.
Jim retrieved one and lugged it back to the edge. Levering it out, he maneuvered it until it crossed the span. Taking a deep breath, Jim climbed up onto the edge and set his foot on the board. It wobbled, nearly pitching him off. He compensated, shifting his balance as he worked his way to the other side. When he stepped off the plank, it shifted and slid, dropping to the pavement below. Jim glanced over the side and saw it resting squarely on top of the first.
Loose gravel rattled under his feet. He crouched down, examining an odd depression in the stones. Somethingor someonehad been dragged across the rooftop. His eyes flickered along the trail and he rose to his feet, following it to the doorway. He found another smear of blood and pushed the door open, stepping inside.
"Blair!... Sandburg, can you hear me?" He fought against a rising tide of panic, straining to pick up the slightest response to his call.
The only answers were the distorted echoes of his own voice and the creaks and groans of the old building. The reek of diesel fuel filled his nostrils and he pulled back for a moment, gasping for fresh air. He started down, stepping to the sides of a short flight of six steps that led to a second door. There were dark brown stains on several of the stairs and there was another smeared hand print on the door frame.
Pushing the door open, he found himself on the top floor of the old warehouse. He took several steps inside and stopped, his gaze sweeping the nearly empty space. In the dim light that filtered in through broken and grimed windows, he found blood stains leading straight into the room. The trail ended abruptly in a smeared puddle. In the middle of the dried pool was a small, crudely whittled wooden toy. Jim picked it up and examined it closely before stuffing it into his pocket. There was no sign of Blair. It was as if he had vanished.
"Blair!" Jim shouted again, rising to his feet and calling out his friend's name desperately. "Blair, answer me! It's Jim!"
Still nothing. Confused, he moved back to the door and up the stairs again. Jim blinked as he stepped out into the sunlight.
He had to have come this way. Everything points to it. But where did he go?
Closing his eyes, he tried to reconstruct what had happenedtrying to determine if he'd overlooked something important. He was convinced that Blair had managed to cross over to this building on the wobbling wooden plank. Jim thought back to his earlier speculation that Blair's assailants might have seen him on the other rooftop and he let his mind take that idea even farther.
If Blair had been struck with either a bullet or one of the drugged darts while he'd been working his way across, he would have fallen. There would have been no trail in the gravel. No bloody print on the door.
Jim shook his head in confusion, remembering how fast the drug had acted on him, even with his higher level of resistance. He opened his eyes and stared at the drag marks again. There was nothing to suggest that anyone else had been present. If Blair had been struck with one of the darts, he shouldn't have been able to move. But he had. What did that mean?
The pieces of the puzzle suddenly came together. What if, as had happened to Jim, the board had shifted at the last minute and Blair had pitched forward onto the roof? The drugged dart might have just grazed him. He might have fought off the affects long enough to drag himself to the door and inside.
Jim swept his gaze over the gravel, extending his vision to it's limits. If the dart had just grazed him, then it should be here, somewhere. His head started to pound and the pebbles of gravel started to blur together.
"Easy Jim, this isn't the time for a zone-out."
He looked up in surprise, certain that he'd find his partner standing right next to him. But there was no one there. Shaking, he closed his eyes and filled his lungs, struggling to reach the calm, focused state that the younger man's presence always created. He envisioned his Guide at his backBlair's hand resting on his shoulder in silent support. He took another deep breath and, for a moment, he convinced himself that Blair was there.
"Focus on finding what doesn't belong here..."
Jim's eyes snapped open and he swept the area again. A gleam of something bright drew him forward and he unearthed a small brass dart from the gravel. Careful not to touch it with his hands, he scooted it into the plastic evidence bag that he'd drawn from his pocket and eyed it uneasily. The smell was the same as he remembered from the dart that had taken him down in the garage. Blair had been struck, probably as he fallen forward. He'd taken some of the drug into his system, but not enough to flatten him instantly.
It made sense, but it still didn't account for his disappearance. The trail definitely led to the top floor of the warehouse. What had happened after that? Was that where the John Doe had found him? Jim fingered the odd toy he'd found on the cement, then crossed back to the access and opened the door. The strong smell of diesel fumes assailed his senses as he fumbled for his phone, punching up Simon's number once more.
"Simon, I'm four blocks south, on the roof of the old Edmunds warehouse," Jim reported, dragging the name of the building from somewhere in his memory. "Get the teams here now. I've followed the trail as far as the top floor inside, but it just stops at that point. I'm sure Blair made it inside and that this is where he caught the dart. It may have just grazed him, but that stuff is pretty powerful. Between whatever it sent into his system and the blood loss from the bullet wound, if he is still alive, he's going to be pretty out of it. We'll have to do a full search. He could be anywhere in here. Oh, and have them keep an eye out for anything that might be linked to our JD. This has to be where he and Blair connected."
"How do you know that?"
"Remember the diesel smell? The whole place reeks of it. The old foundry is next door."
"I'll redirect the teams and meet you there."
"Make sure they bring some lights," Jim warned. "Parts of this place are as dark as a tomb."
"Let's just hope it's not Sandburg's tomb," Simon replied grimly.
"Amen to that," Jim whispered in agreement as he headed back into the building.
Falling... Falling forever... Pain... Jim... Pain... Jim... no, don't... Pain... Darkness...
An hour later, Jim was on the rooftop again. The smell of the diesel fumes was overwhelming. His head was throbbing and he couldn't think straight. He rubbed his temples, trying to will away the headache and a growing sense of despair.
There was still no sign of Blair. While the others had begun searching the rest of the building, Jim had put all of his skills to the task, concentrating on the top floor. But he'd found nothing beyond the small crude toy.
He pulled it out of his pocket and fingered it. Looking at it, but not really seeing it. He rubbed his temples again, this time in wearinessthe events since midnight had taken their toll both physically and emotionally. During his frantic search, he'd come close to zoning out several times. He was convinced that it was only his bleary mind's ability to imagine his Guide's presence at his back, that had kept him from losing it. Now he felt like his senses were shutting down, leaving him numb. Jim felt stretched. He knew that his mind wasn't as clear as it needed to beas Blair's safety would need it to be.
"Here, maybe this will help."
Jim looked up. Simon was standing next to him, offering a cup of coffee.
"Thanks." Jim sipped at the hot liquid gratefully.
"They're checking the last two floors now," Simon said softly, crouching beside him. "But it doesn't look good." He paused and glanced out over the rooftop for a moment, then shifted his attention back to Jim. "Unless we find something down there to give us another lead, we're going to have to consider that whoever was after him, found him. If they did, he's probably dead. We may never find a body."
Jim's jaw clenched and he stared down into the steaming cup. "I can't accept that, Simon." Jim's voice was quiet, filled with determination. "I won't accept it. Not until I know for sure."
"He was here, Simon! He made it this far. We know that the JD found him. Maybe someone else did too."
"Someone besides the ones that wanted him dead, you mean. Jim, we don't have any proof of that."
"We have this," Jim said firmly, holding up the small toy.
"I know what Sandburg means to you, but you're grasping at straws."
"And I'll keep grasping at anything that might lead us to him, until we find him. Someone left this. Once we figure out who..."
Simon's radio chirped, interrupting Jim's comment. "Banks... yeah, we'll be right there. Come on," he said, quickly clicking off the radio and rising to his feet. "They've found someone's campsite on the third floor."
"Don't worry, I'll take care of you."
No... don't... please... it hurts... Pain... Falling...
"Stay quiet... stay safe..."
Jim... he's coming... no... don't shoot...
"It hurts," Blair finally murmured out loud, the darkness that had been surrounding him for so long finally ebbing away. He struggled to focus on the huge figure that knelt next to him, but the pounding in his head made it impossible. At least the voice sounded friendly, not like...
Blair gasped, eyes widening in terror as fragments of confused and frightening memories flashed through his mind. "They're coming... they're after me..."
"No one will find you here, I promise," the soothing voice responded.
"Jim..." Propelled by a frantic sense of urgency, Blair tried to sit up. The movement sent the familiar blackness surging over him again, along with a renewal of the pain.
"Jim... shot me... I need... help..." He stumbled over the words as the pain sent him tumbling back into the dark hole he'd just climbed out of.
"Don't worry," soothed the voice. "I'll help."
Pain... Jim... no... don't... Darkness
Simon and Jim dashed down the steps and were met by a uniformed officer at the stairwell door. He directed them toward the south end of the building, where Ryan's team was sorting through the mess. What appeared to be just another group of haphazardly stacked crates, turned out to be the "campsite" that they'd discovered. It was more than just a temporary rest stop, Jim realized quickly. It was a permanent living quartersat least as permanent as any of the homeless could manage. There were piles of torn magazines, bags of tin cans and odd pieces of junk, stacked in neat piles. Jim scanned the area, seeking some clue that might connect this place, or its occupant, to Blair.
"Looks like someone's been living here for some time," reported one of the officers. "We found a whole box full of photos and old bills. All addressed to a William Temian."
"Think it's our John Doe?" Jim nodded. He turned his attention to sorting through a bundle of clothes that had been tossed onto a blanket-covered mattress. It was the messy pile that had drawn his attentionso at odds with the order he saw everywhere else. He unrolled a ragged jacket and a handful of items dropped onto the blanket. Jim picked up one of the objectsit was another of Blair's fishing lures.
"He must have found Sandburg upstairs, taken his jacket, come back here and stashed everything else. Then he left, unaware that someone was hunting for whoever was wearing that coat."
"They found the body about seven blocks from here. Let's see if the coroner's finished his report yet."
While Simon contacted the morgue, Jim started searching the rest of the area, intent on seeing if he could find any of the small, wooden toys in the man's collection. He froze when he felt a shiver run down his spine, like a warning or a premonition of danger. He raised his head abruptly, hunting for the cause. His gaze settled on Ryan, who was digging through a box of papers.
Jim studied him carefully. He'd been so focused on his own search that he'd been only vaguely aware of the man's presence, but now that he thought about it, he realized that Ryan had been watching him closely. Why?Probably because you've been acting strangely. The other cops in the department had grown used to "Ellison's lucky hunches". Ryan was new to the group. Jim shook his head, pushing away the distracting thoughts. By the time Simon had finished his call, Jim had gone through everything . He'd found no trace of another carving.
"They're still running some tests, but we've got the preliminary reports." Simon announced. "Cause of death was two .38 slugs in the back. They came from your gun."
Jim just nodded, not surprised at the news. "Could they tell if he died where they found him? Or was he killed somewhere else and dumped there?"
"Blood at the scene was consistent with that being the location of death. Time of death is being set at 5:00 am."
Jim's eyes narrowed and he rose slowly to his feet, his mind racing. "You talked to Blair at 4:00, right?"
"Just a couple of minutes after."
"I figure it took Sandburg fifteen or twenty minutes to make it this far. Forty minutes later, our John Doe was killed. What time did the report come in on my truck?"
"About 5:30. Where are you going with this?"
"If the JD was killed at 5:00, they would have had only thirty minutes to get my gun and keys back on me and put my truck at the dock. They wouldn't have had time to return and search for Sandburg, even if they'd realized that they'd made a mistake and killed the wrong man."
"They could have come back afterwards," Simon argued.
"I don't think so. You had men covering the neighborhood by what... 4:30? They were still chasing the wrong man at that point. And there wouldn't have been any reason to kill this guy if they already had Sandburg."
"More straws Jim?" Simon asked softly. "All right, let's go with that scenario for the moment. That still doesn't tell us what happened to Sandburg. If the JD didn't stash him away somewhere and the killers didn't find him, then where is he?"
"There was someone else here. Someone big enough to carry Blair away. Someone who makes these," Jim added, holding up the carved toy.
"That's what we need to find out," said Jim grimly. "And I think I know who to ask."
"I have to go for a while..."
No... don't... find... Jim... needs me... needs... his Guide...
"No one will find you here. It will be all right. I promise you."
Run... Escape... Pain... Jim... where are you?... Jim... no, don't shoot... Darkness...
Jim directed Simon to an intersection nearly ten blocks away.
"Just who are we looking for?" Simon asked, as he eased his car through the traffic.
"Crazy Addy," Jim replied, scanning the sidewalks.
"I don't know her real name," Jim explained. "She's sort of a fixture in the neighborhood."
"Another street person."
"She considers this her turf. She knows everyone who lives on it. Even the transients. And she knows Blair."
"Now why doesn't that surprise me? So you're hoping she'll know our John Doe... Temian?"
"He's been set up in that warehouse for a while," Jim said, nodding. "She'll know him. More importantly I hope she'll know who he hung around with. Who he'd let close to his space."
"Whoever made that little toy..."
Jim stiffened as he caught sight of a familiar shopping cart on the sidewalk ahead. "Slow down. Pull over here... that's her rig."
Simon eased the car to the curb and Jim got out, scanning the sidewalk.
"You see her?"
"Not yet, but she can't be far. She wouldn't leave Buffy," Jim gestured to a stuffed orange dog that was perched on top of the cart.
"Buffy?" Simon asked skeptically.
"There she is," Jim announced abruptly, heading into a narrow alleyway. "Addy!"
Simon saw a short, elderly woman look up in response to the name. Her face was lined with wrinkles and Simon wondered whether she was 50 or 150. She eyed Jim suspiciously for a moment as he moved toward her, then her ancient face cracked into a toothless grin.
"Jimmy!" She wobbled forward to give him a hug. She glanced beyond Jim expectantly, and the smile of greeting changed to one of disappointment. "Where's the kid?"
"That's what I want to talk to you about Addy. Blair's missing. And he's hurt. I need your help to find him."
"Now who'd want to hurt that sweet boy," Addy muttered, picking absently at her scarf.
"Some very dangerous men. And they've hurt someone else too. Someone you may know."
The old woman whimpered, fear shifting across her face. "Someone hurt Addy's friends?"
"There was someone living in the old Edmunds warehouse, Addy. Someone who liked to collect things."
"Neat Freddy? They hurt Neat Freddy?"
"I'm not sure of his name," Jim answered, squeezing her arm in gentle consolation. "He's down at the station. In the morgue. Will you come down and identify him?"
"Don't want to see no dead bodies."
"Addy," Jim said soothingly. "The man that was killed was wearing Blair's jacket. We think that the men that killed him, thought he was Blair."
"I told him... I told him to be careful..." Addy shook her head in dismay and looked curiously up at Jim. "I thought you said you'd take care of him, Jimmy."
Simon saw Jim flinch as if he'd been struck.
"I'm trying to Addy. That's why I need to find him. The men who killed your friend, who hurt Blair, are still out there."
"Won't go look at dead bodies,' Addy repeated.
"All right," Jim temporized. "Tell me about Freddy. Tell me who he trusted."
The old woman looked at Simon dubiously, then glanced at Jim. "Freddy didn't trust no one."
Frustrated, Jim suddenly remembered the small toy and pulled it from his pocket. "Addy, I found this in the warehouse... where Blair was..." he handed it to her and saw a glimmer of recognition in her face. "You've seen one of these before, haven't you?"
"Little Boy's," she whispered conspiratorially. "He makes 'em. Leaves 'em in trade when he takes something."
Jim exchanged a quick look with Simon. "Addy, we tracked Blair as far as the warehouse. I think your friend Freddy found him there. But he's not there any longer. Would Little Boy have gone there? Maybe to visit Freddy?"
"Maybe," Addy murmured cautiously.
"Would Little Boy have helped Blair if he found him? Would he have taken him some place?"
"If Little Boy took him then he's okay."
"Addy, Blair's hurt," Jim repeated. "He's been shot . I need to find him and get him to a hospital."
"Little boy wouldn't hurt Blair. He'd help him. He's big, and he's not too smart, but he's always collecting things that are hurt. Tries to make 'em better. Saw a kitty he'd found once. He showed it to me. He was awful sad when it died."
"Do you know where he lives, Addy?" asked Jim anxiously. "Do you know where I can find him?"
"He don't trust no one either. He moves around a lot."
"I bet you know where to look."
Addy's expression became troubled. "Secret. Promised I wouldn't tell."
Jim closed his eyes for a moment, fighting off a wave of weariness and frustration.
"Jimmy sad?" Addy asked softly.
"Addy, if you don't help me, Blair will die," he whispered , his voice full of pain. "And Little Boy could get hurt too. The men who shot Blair already murdered one man in error. They won't care about killing another."
Addy plucked at her scarf nervously and shuffled her feet. "Can't tell where he lives," she said finally. "I promised... and I always keep my promises."
Jim's shoulders sagged as he realized that she meant what she said. He'd tried his best to persuade her...
"But I can tell you where he is now," she added, her face lighting in a smile. "He's not home now. So I won't be breaking my promise."
"You know where he is, right now?" Simon took control as Jim just stood there, surprised by the fast turn of events.
"Every day like clockwork," she rambled, grinning now. "He feeds the pigeons at the little park."
"The little park... the one behind the diner?" Jim asked, recovering his wits finally.
"He's kinda shy you see," Addy whispered conspiratorially again. "Don't like strangers."
"Thank you Addy," Jim murmured, giving her a hug. "Just one more thing. How will I recognize him?"
Addy cackled and stared up at him grinning. "Why you just look up Jimmy. You just look up."
Minutes later, Simon screeched to a stop in front of a small diner. Jim sprang from the car and ran toward the back, coming to a halt just as he approached the far corner of the building. Simon was only a step behind him and peered around Jim's shoulder.
"This is a park?"
Simon saw only an old park bench and a pot with dead flowers amidst the normal debris in the alley. A small flock of pigeons fluttered and cooed, picking at the ground around the iron seat.
"The old man who owns the diner has an odd sense of humor." Jim heard a soft shuffling noise, and then a man came ambling into view. He was at least six inches taller than Jim and nearly 50 pounds heavier.
"Must be the guy who gave him that nickname," Simon murmured, staring at the approaching figure.
Jim nodded and strained to look closer. He immediately realized where the nickname came from when he saw the slack features and the man's enlarged, almost distorted head. "Downs Syndrome or maybe FAS," he thought to himself, recalling Addy's comments.
Motioning for Simon to stay where he was, Jim shifted around the corner and walked casually toward the bench, anxious not to frighten the man. Easing himself down on the seat, he pulled out the small toy, holding it in his hands. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw Little Boy lurch to a stop.
"It's okay..." Jim called out softly. "I'm a friend of Addy's."
Little Boy watched him uncertainly. Jim struggled to keep his own impatience from showing. He couldn't afford to lose this man.
"This is very good," he said, holding up the toy and examining it closely before he shifted his gaze to the bigger man. "It must take a lot of work to make them."
A tentative smile flickered across Little Boy's face and he took a step closer. "Long time."
"I understand you come here every day." Jim caught the suspicious look on the man's face and quickly added, "to feed the pigeons."
"Feed the birdies," Little Boy nodded, a relieved expression on his face. He moved another step closer and then stopped, cocking his head to the side as he stared down at Jim curiously. "You're Addy's friend?"
Jim forced himself to lean back into the bench. "I am. I have another friend. He's Addy's friend, too. I think you know him. His name is Blair. Blair Sandburg."
Little Boy stared at him blankly and shook his head. "Don't know," the big man said, dismissing the question. "What's your name?"
Jim told him and tried to lead the conversation back to Blair again. "Are you sure you don't know my friend? I think you met him... early this morning?" He was unprepared for the look of fear that suddenly crossed Little Boy's face.
Little Boy stared at Jim in panic, Blair's confused ramblings ringing in his ears.
Ellison rose to his feet, uncertain as to why the big man was afraid of him, but convinced that he could lead them to Blair.
"The man you found in the warehouse this morning... when you left this," he held out the toy. "He's my friend, my partner..."
"You hurt him..." Little Boy protested, taking another step backward.
"No... no I didn't. But there are other men who did. Men who may still be looking for him."
"You go away."
"I can't do that," Jim answered, taking a cautious step toward him. "He's hurt, but I didn't hurt him. I want to help him."
"Little Boy helps." The man backed further away, the fear evident in his voice.
"Just take me to him," Jim pleaded. "I promise you nothing will..."
The explosive discharge of gunfire erupted in the alley. Jim whirled in the direction that the shots had come from . He caught a glimpse of a black van at the far end of the alley, as a bullet whizzed by his ear. Instinctively, he dove forward grabbing Little Boy, trying to push him to safety. The big man pulled out of his grip with surprising ease and thrust Jim away with enough force to slam him into the wall of the diner.
Dazed, Jim heard Simon call out. There was answering fire from his police revolver and then the screeching of tires as the van pulled away. Jarred almost senseless and gasping for breath, Jim slid to the ground. He caught sight of Little Boy lumbering down the alley, but he couldn't persuade his numb limbs to move.
He was suddenly aware of Simon at his side and realized that the gunfire had ceased. "Go... after him..." Simon took one look at Jim and then ran toward the end of the alley where Little Boy had disappeared.
Jim's eyes locked on Simon, who had halted at the end of the alley, glancing left and right. Despair washed through him as he saw his captain turn and shake his head.
Leaning wearily against the side of the building, Jim realized that they'd lost him. And in doing so, they might also have lost Blair.
Running... it's dark... need to get away... they're coming... who are they?... Pain... what do they want?... Pain... don't go out there... they'll catch you... falling... no... Jim, where's Jim?... find him... Pain... it hurts... keep running... you're dead if they catch you... Falling... Falling forever...
Simon jogged back to Jim's side, pulling out his cell phone. "This is Captain Banks... get me dispatch," he barked into the handset, glaring anxiously down at Jim. "You okay?"
"Yeah..." Jim croaked, still struggling to get his breath. "We've got to go after him, Simon. He knows... where Blair is... I'm sure of it."
"You're not the only one, Looks like the guys in the van must have realized their mistake." Simon shifted his attention back to the phone. "Yeah this is Banks. I want an APB out on a Caucasian male, 6 feet 7 or 8, 290-310 pounds. Goes by the name of Little Boy... no known address... last seen at 17th and Concord. He's wanted in connection with the disappearance of Blair Sandburg."
"Simon, tell them to be careful," Jim urged. "If they spook him, he'll hole up somewhere and we'll never find him."
Simon nodded his head. "Do not approach, do not apprehend... if he's sighted, contact me at this number. And make sure that black van's still on the sheets. Whoever's driving it just took a shot at this guy. Read it back."
Jim concentrated on taking some deep breaths. By the time Simon was finished he was ready to move again.
"Well, this wasn't a complete waste," Simon sputtered. "At least we know he's strong enough to have carried Sandburg out of the warehouse."
"We know he's the one who made the carving. And we've got something else." Jim picked up the ruined shards of what had once been a table knife and used it to pry a bullet out of a splintered wood door frame. He dropped it into the small plastic evidence bag that Simon pulled out of his pocket.
"But no gun to match it against," Simon cautioned.
"Not yet," Jim acknowledged, glancing back down the alley to where Little Boy had disappeared.
"So where to now?" Simon asked as they headed back to the car. "You want to try Crazy Addy again? See if she'll change her mind?"
"No... she's not going to budge on that decision. It's part of her code of honor."
Jim leaned against the car and tried to gather his thoughts. The ticking clock in his head was louder than ever. Time... that's what they needed... and that's what they were running out of. Not knowing how badly Blair was hurt made it critical that they find him as soon as possible. And they weren't the only ones looking. The men in the van had to be professionals, otherwise they would have already cut and run. Their contract called for Blair's death, and without meaning to, he had led them right to the only person who knew where his partner was.
Jim became aware of something painful sticking him in the right leg and dug in his pocket, pulling out the wooden toy. This was the only clue they had, and it told them nothing. Or did it? He stared at the carving as if seeing it for the first time. The wood was an odd colorstained with streaks of orange. He held it to his nose and sniffed it, catching a faint scent of something citrusy.
"Fruit... This was made out of wood from a fruit crate."
Simon looked at him uncertainly.
"There's a wholesale warehouse only a few blocks west of the foundry," Jim explained excitedly. "It's the only one in the area. That must be where he gets the wood."
"You think he lives near there?"
"Maybe... close by at any rate. At least it gives us a point of reference."
Jim reached into the car and pulled out a city map. He made a mark at the point of the warehouse, another where the wholesaler was located and a third one at the "park". He connected the lines, forming a small triangle. "Somewhere in here... that's where he lives."
"That still gives us over a dozen blocks and god knows, how many buildings to search. It's going to take some time. How sure are you about this?"
"Most of the street people have their own fixed areas, like Addy. I'm betting that Little Boy's turf is even more limited. He comes to the 'park' everyday at the same time. We'll check out the wholesaler and find out when they dump their crates. He probably stops there when no one's around. Remember, Addy said he was shy."
Jim eyed the map again and nodded, convinced he was on the right track. "Somewhere in the middle of this is where we'll find him. And Blair."
Run... They're coming...
"We have to find a safe place..."
The owner of the fruit wholesaler was puzzled by their questions, but eager to help. There was such a supply of the crates that they were broken up daily and dumped into a dumpster behind the building, where a trucking company picked them up every morning. A quick call gave them the time.
"They're the truck's ninth stop," Simon reported. "Usually between 5:00 and 5:30."
"And the wholesaler closes by seven," Jim glanced at his watch, grimacing when he saw the time. It was nearly 4:00 pm.
"We've got time to join the search teams. We can check out some of the buildings and then get back here for surveillance later," Simon offered quietly, seeing the anxious look in Jim's eyes.
Jim nodded, his face a tight mask. He shifted in the seat and gazed out the window as Simon drove. Neither spoke, but both of their minds were filled with troubling thoughts. Jim's screamed at him that time was slipping away. Blair had been wounded nearly twelve hours earlier. The gunshot wound could become infected in that timean infection that could kill him if left untreated much longer. If he wasn't already bleeding to death, and if the gunmen didn't find him first. Just hang on, Chief, he found himself praying.Just hang on a little longer.
Hanging on was exactly what Blair was doing. He clutched desperately at the huge man that dragged him deeper into the dark building, trying to stay on his feet as everything spun around him.Run... they're coming... Pain... falling... no... Jim, where's Jim?... find him... Pain... it hurts... wait...
"Wait!" he gasped, frantic to make the giant of a man stop for just a moment. His words were lost in the groan of pain that tore from his throat as his injured shoulder was jostled.
"Be safe." murmured Little Boy. He maneuvered Blair through a doorway and into a small, dark storeroom. "Be quiet. No one find."
"No..." A screaming voice inside his head insisted that was the wrong choice.Jim, where's Jim?... find him...
"Be quiet. No one find." Little Boy repeated, lowering Blair to the floor.
"No... My friends... they'll... be looking..."
"Bad men looking. Jim looking..."
"Jim..." Blair whispered his friend's name in confusion, his head pounding so hard it was difficult to even focus on one thought at a time. He groaned again in objection as the man pulled from his grip.
"Wait... Jim... he's... my friend..."
"Jim bad. He hurt you," Little Boy argued, shaking his head. "You told me."
"No..." Blair shook his head, closing his eyes to try to still the spinning of the room. But that only made it worse.
"Little Boy help. No one find you here."
"Please..." Blair pleaded. "You don't... understand... Jim... is my friend... he's a... detective... a policeman... he can help... we need... to find him..."
"No police," Little Boy said abruptly, his arms waving in distress.
Blair shuddered as another wave of pain rippled through him. "Jim won't... hurt you..."
"You stay here. Be safe." Little Boy moved to the doorway. "You be quiet. Be safe."
"No... no don't..." Blair cried out, panicked at the thought of being closed in the room. "Don't... shut... the door..." His plea fell on deaf ears and he watched the door closing, the room immediately growing darker. Fear drove Blair to try to rise again. Pain stabbed through him and he collapsed on the floor.
"Please... don't... don't... leave... me here..."
Falling... Falling forever...
When Blair woke again, he shivered with feverish chills. His mind was foggy and his world full of pain. He lay in the darkness, barely able to keep his eyes open for longer than a few moments at a time. Dazed as his mind was, there was a part of it that kept screaming at him to keep awake, to move.
Jim... have to find... Jim... The urgency of the sending drove him to try again. He began to crawl, dragging himself toward the door.
He managed to move a few feet before the whirling in his head pushed him into blackness once more. When he found himself awake, he tried again. His efforts to reach the door became a living nightmare of pain and inky nothingness. Pulling himself up to grasp the knob was an exercise in agony and he cried out in relief when his fingers finally wrapped around it.
Relief fled when he tried to push it open. Sobbing in frustration, he battered his fists against the door, but it refused to move.
"No!" he protested, dropping heavily to lean against the wall. "Let me... out of here..."
His right hand dropped to the floor and he felt a length of metal pipe under his fingers. In a fit of anger, he picked it up and banged it against the door. He shivered again, feeling the draining effects of his rising fever. Struggling to fight off the tide of blackness that threatened to sweep him away, he gripped the pipe tighter.
The Sentinel stood at the edge of the rooftop, staring out into the falling darkness. He swayed in exhaustion and the glimmer of lights twinkling from the city around him blurred as he lost his focus. But he refused to give up. Closing his eyes he searched with his hearing, desperately seeking the presence of his Guide. He was out there somewhere, and it was his duty to find him. To protect him. Without him he could not protect the tribe. Without him he could not be whole.
Concentrate... sift through the sounds... find the heartbeat of the Guide...
"Jim, snap out of it..."
Find your soul...
Simon grabbed his friend and shook him hard, snapping Jim's head back and forcing him to turn around. He felt Jim gasp, drawing a shuddering breath into lungs that were starved for oxygen. Simon watched anxiously, cursing himself for not recognizing the signs of a zone-out. Sandburg had explained it, how many times?
"Jim, are you all right?"
Jim's eyes locked onto his. Simon's breath caught in his throat at the glimpse of something ancient and fierce in his friend's icy blue stare. Then Jim blinked and it was gone, replaced by a look of utter weariness and emotional pain.
"Simon..." Jim rubbed his eyes, forcing himself back into the present. "Anything?"
"No sign of him yet. The teams are still out, but it's slow going."
Jim nodded and glanced out over the city. It was full dark now and the lights glittered almost mockingly. He shook himself, pushing back his fears, concentrating on the job at hand.
"Any sign of Little Boy?"
Simon shook his head. "I've got a squad on surveillance at the wholesaler. They'll call us the minute they see anything." He eyed Jim worriedly and stared out over the city himself.
Simon had lost track of how many buildings they'd searched. How many cups of bitter coffee he'd drunk trying to stay on his feet. Trying to keep up with Jim, who plunged on like a man possessed. Well, that was true, wasn't it? He was a man possessed. The look he'd seen in Jim's eyes... it was far beyond the anguish of a cop who'd lost his partner, or a man who'd lost his friend. It was...
Simon found himself at a loss for words of explanation. He glanced back at Jim, his eyes narrowing in concentration as he tried to understand the connection between Jim and Blair. He still found it almost impossible to believe that the lone-wolf detective had formed an attachment to such an unlikely partner. Of course, there was more to it, if he could believe even half of what Sandburg had told him. The Sentinel and the Guide. An ancient bonding.
Simon shook off the mystical implications and returned to the concrete world that he knew best.
"Forensics matched the drug in the dart you found on the roof, to traces in your blood sample. The guys who took you out in the garage are the same ones that are after Sandburg. We've got that connection made. And Taggart's made some progress on Delvenko."
Jim turned to look at him, his face hard and his eyes fiercely probing.
"Turns out he's had three repeat visitors over the past month. His lawyer and two others. Joel's trying to match up the security camera shots from the prison with the mug books. If we're lucky we'll get a positive make on one of them."
Jim nodded, waiting silently for Simon to continue.
"He discovered something else. When he went to log in the drugs they found in your loft he came up with a surprise. Turns out two of the bags match a load that we took in about three months ago on another case. Same packaging, same sample match."
"It came out of evidence lock-up?"
"Looks like we've got a problem on the inside." Simon's face grew hard. "I knew Delvenko had connections, but inside my own squadroom?"
"That explains why the frame is so tight." Jim's jaw was clenched so hard in anger that he could barely get out the words. "It also explains why the guys in the van showed up when they did. Someone tipped them off that the man in the morgue wasn't Sandburg. Someone on the side... someone I know..."
His voice trailed off ominously. Simon grabbed his arm.
"Due process," he said firmly, forcing himself not to flinch when Jim's icy stare turned his way. "No matter who it is, they're entitled to their day in court, Jim. You swore an oath, remember? 'To serve and protect...'"
"That's a cop's oath," Jim retorted. "It doesn't apply..."
"It doesn't apply to who?" Simon interrupted him angrily. "To Sentinels? If what I remember Sandburg babbling about is accurate, it applies to Sentinels even more."
"Simon... you can't expect me to let whoever did this walk away," Jim objected, his voice strained with the emotions he was struggling to hold in check. "They've hurt him... God, they're still trying to kill him! What if I can't find him? What if I can't stop it?"
"They won't walk away and we will stop it."
"What if we can't?" Jim whispered, glancing away. "What if he's already dead?"
"Wouldn't you know? As connected as you two are, wouldn't you feel it if he was dead?"
"I don't know," Jim admitted softly. "I seems impossible that I wouldn't know... know that I'd failed."
Simon's hand gripped Jim's shoulder in a gesture of comfort, then he turned his friend toward the stairs. "No one's failed yet. Come on. We've got to keep looking."
The pipe was almost too heavy to lift again, but Blair forced himself to raise it, smashing it against the door with what little strength he had left. The darkness of the room matched the vacuum in his mind. Time had ceased to have any meaning except for the unending period between the ringing of the metal as it struck and his next rasping breath.
"Jim, where are you?" Simon called into the headset.
"Just starting on the third level," Jim responded, shining a flashlight over the darkened expanse of yet another warehouse floor.
"Meet me downstairs. Little Boy's been spotted."
Fifteen minutes later, they pulled up behind the unmarked squad car that was on stake-out at the wholesaler. Jim eased quietly from Simon's car and focused his hearing toward the back of the building. He caught the distinct sound of a hammer drawing out bent nails. One heartbeat. "He's there, and he's alone."
"All right, I'll circle left, you go right..."
"No, Simon," Jim objected. "We can't take the chance of scaring him off. We'll have to follow him and hope he leads us to Sandburg."
"Jim, we don't even know if he'll head back to wherever he's got him stashed. We're running out of..."
"Time. I know," Jim agreed quietly, breaking off as he cocked his head, listening intently. "He's moving... that direction."
Jim pointedstraight into the heart of the area that they'd been searching. He turned his head and his pleading gaze locked with Simon's troubled one. Finally, Simon nodded. Reaching into his car he pulled out Jim's gun and badge and handed them to the detective.
"Go. Stay in touch. I've got the medics on standby."
Jim pocketed his shield and holstered his gun, raising his eyes to meet Simon's steady gaze again.
"Go," Simon ordered, "Find him."
His unspoken thanks shining in his eyes, Jim nodded once, then disappeared into the shadows.
The air rattled in his lungs as Blair struggled to draw another breath. His whole body felt numb and he had to look down to make sure he still held the pipe. How long had it been since he'd raised it? He seemed to remember the ring of metal hitting metal, but he knew his mind was playing tricks on him. Maybe he'd never really lifted it at all. It was odd, but even the pain seemed like it was gone now. Maybe he wasn't really even here. Maybe he was at home, asleep in his bed in the loft. Maybe he'd wake and find this was just a bad dream.
He wished he could wake up. He'd like to see Jim, make sure he was all right. Maybe Jim would come and rouse him. He'd done that before when Blair had had nightmares after he'd nearly overdosed on the Golden. After Lash. After...
Yeah, Jim would wake him up and this would be all over.
All he had to do was make some noise.
Blair glanced down at the pipe in his hands.
Jim eased around the corner of a dilapidated warehouse and then jerked backward as he saw Little Boy stop and turn in his direction. Breathing hard, Jim struggled to focus his senses, but his own exhaustion was eating at his control.
"He's stopped again," Jim reported to Simon over the headset. "He's at the back side of the old packing plant."
Jim closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on his hearing, filtering out the underlying current of city noises and focusing on Little Boy's breathing as a means of establishing his position. He'd been following the big man for hours and Jim was beginning to lose hope. Little Boys' path had been erratic, zig-zagging back and forth from one building or trash bin, to another. He was still headed into the area that they'd been searching, but he moved slowlytoo slowly to suit Jim. Now he was investigating still another dumpster set close to the rear door of the abandoned three-story building.
The sounding of a fog horn from the bay diverted his concentration for a moment and when he tried to focus back on Little Boy's breathing, he suddenly realized that he'd lost it. Alarmed, he ran to where he'd last seen the big man and looked around in panic. Nothing.
"I lost him, Simon," Jim gasped into the headset. "He was right in front of me a moment ago, and now he's gone."
"We're three blocks away. Help'll be there in just a few minutes."
"We're close, Simon. Sandburg's here somewhere. I know he is!"
"Concentrate, then," Simon suggested. "Now's the time for some of that sensory magic of yours."
Jim froze, realizing that Simon was right. In his weariness and panic, he'd been running blindly. He forced himself to take several long slow breaths, calming himself before he entered the building. He opened up his senses, his vision adjusting automatically to the dark interior. A vibration from the floor above sent him searching for a way to reach the next level. He moved quickly, pausing briefly on the second floor before continuing upward.
The third level had been converted to storage. It was filled with crates that were stacked as high as the ceiling in some areas. He wove his way around the piles of packing debris and broken machinery, then paused, trying to reorient himself. A whisper of sound caught his attention and he turned to his left. He concentrated again, straining for a repeat of the tell-tale noise.
He finally heard itthe sound of metal tinging softly to the concrete floor. Moving quickly, Jim followed the fading echoes to a closed door that was blocked by a heavy crate. He saw scrape marks on the floor, indicating that the crate had been moved to it's position fairly recently. He paused again, listening intently. His own pulse soared at the faint trace of a familiar vibration.
Dragging the crate aside, Jim unblocked the door and pulled it open.
He nearly staggered in shock as he caught sight of his Guide's crumpled body on the floor, a short length of metal pipe next to his outstretched hand.
Blair lay on his side, the long, curly hair spilling across his face. Jim dropped to his knees, horrified by the matted blood that covered the left side of his Guide's head and the soaked, crudely rigged bandage that was wrapped around his left shoulder. Gently brushing aside his hair, Jim sought the carotid artery at the younger man's throat. Blair was so still. What if he'd been wrong?
"Come on... Come on..."
He gasped out loud in relief as he felt the slow, but regular throbbing of his Guide's pulse. Gently, he eased his friend to his back, one hand under Blair's neck to support his head.
"Simon, I've got him," Jim called into the headset. "He's still alive, but we need help in here fast."
"Where are you?"
"Third floor, south end of the packing plant... looks like a store room of some kind. I found him shut in here."
A shudder suddenly rippled through Blair's body and he moaned. Jim was abruptly aware of the feverish heat radiating from the younger man.
Blair moaned again and his eyes blinked open. There was no recognition in the pain-glazed stare that he directed up at Jim.
"Blair, it's Jim... Just lie still."
The younger man's head tipped back and he grimaced in pain. His eyes sought Jim's and this time there was a glimmer of awareness in them.
"That's it... just stay awake... help's on the way..."
Blair grabbed at Jim's jacket, locking his fingers in the fabric. "They're... after... me..." he whispered deliriously.
"I know... it's going to be all right... trust me..." Jim gripped his Guide tightly, as he began to shake with chills.
"Man... it hurts..."
"Blair... listen to me," Jim said urgently. "Stay awake... Stay with me now..."
Blair tried to answer him, but it was a struggle just to breathe.
"Don't you quit on me, Sandburg. You hear me?"
"I'm getting you out of here now. There's a med team waiting downstairs."
Carefully, he started to raise Blair off the floor. A groan of pain escaped through his Guide's clenched teeth.
"Leave him alone!"
Jim looked up to see Little Boy's huge bulk filling the space, his face dark with anger.
"I'm not going to hurt him," Jim started to explain, but Little Boy took a threatening step forward.
"Already hurt," he growled. "Little Boy help. You go away."
Jim eyed him carefully. This man had saved his friend's life. He didn't want to hurt him, but he wasn't about to let anything stand in the way of getting Blair to medical help. Slowly he moved his right hand toward his gun. Blair's soft words stopped him.
"It's... all right... he's... a friend..."
Little Boy's confused gaze shifted to Blair.
"He won't... hurt... you... or me..."
"I won't," Jim added softly. "I want to help him. There's a doctor..."
"No doctors." Little Boy argued, shaking his head in distress. "Doctor's hurt."
Blair struggled to meet the man's eyes. He could sense the determination in his Sentinel. Jim was in full "protection mode" and that could translate to action faster than Little Boy could blink. "Please... listen to him..."
"Little Boy help," the giant muttered in confusion.
"Yes, you did," Jim agreed. "But he needs more help than you can give him. You remember your kitten? Addy told me about it. Remember how sad you were when it died?" He paused and the giant nodded, his face filled with sadness. "I don't want Blair to die. I don't want you to be sad again. Let me take him out of here... so he can get well."
Little Boy paused, considering Jim's words. "Little Boy doesn't want to be sad," he said abruptly, moving to Blair's side. Between the two of them they lifted the younger man to his feet, supporting him when he sagged in their grasp. Jim tensed as he picked up the sound of creeping footsteps in the outer room.
"Simon, where are you? We've got company," he whispered into the headset.
"We're out front. Can you sit tight until we get up there?"
"I don't think so. We need to move or they'll box us in. Just get up here as fast as you can."
Jim shifted his hold on Blair, gesturing with a jerk of his head that they should bear to the left as they exited the room. They made it about twenty feet when Blair faltered, his head rolling back onto his shoulders.
Jim urged Little Boy farther to the left, seeking a spot that would give them some cover. They eased Blair down to the floor, leaning him against a pile of crates.
Jim heard the footsteps again and focused, trying to place their location. The sounds were muffled, but he finally sorted out two different patterns. He glanced at his suffering partner and made a fast decision.
"I'm going to try to head them off. You stay here with Blair," he whispered to Little Boy.
The big man started to nod, then froze, his face contorting with fear at the sight of Jim's gun. With a sudden lurch, Little Boy rose to his feet and bolted away from them into the darkness, slipping from Jim's desperate grasp.
In dismay, Jim looked at Blair again, reconsidering whether to leave him alone, or wait for Simon. He knew he'd have a better chance of taking the gunmen out if he was moving on his own. As long as he could keep himself between them, his Guide would be all right, he decided.
"Don't go taking a stroll on me now, Chief," he teased, touching Blair lightly on the arm to get his attention.
"Not... a... problem..."
"I'll be right back," Jim assured him, rising to his feet and moving silently toward their pursuers. He focused his senses on his targets, no longer worried about zoning out, no longer having to imagine Blair's presence. His Guide was with him. He was still alive. It was up to the Sentinel to keep it that way.
Moving like a silent shadow, Jim worked his way through the maze of crates and debris that littered the floor. He heard the clock ticking in his head, reminding him of his Guide's desperate condition, but he forced himself to patience, a panther stalking his prey. He came upon the gunmen moments later and eased behind a crate, waiting for them to move into range. When he judged them to be close enough, he stepped out into the open, gun already raised to fire.
The men looked up in surprise at the same instant Simon's voice rang in his headset. Jim winced at the explosion of sound in his ears and managed to dart back behind the crate just in time to avoid a bullet. He fired and heard a grunt of pain followed by a heavy thud as one assailant fell. He rolled to his right and shot again, dropping the second man to the floor.
Rising cautiously, he tensed at the sound of running feet. He turned to see Simon and a dozen other officers pounding toward him. As they drew to a stop, he suddenly caught the murmur of a low pitched voice. He turned, listening anxiously.
"It's good to see that those other clowns didn't fail completely."
Jim cursed at himself for not anticipating that there might be a third gunman. As he bolted toward the source of the sound, he prayed that his mistake wouldn't cost his Guide his life.
Blair winced at the gunfire. Fearing for Jim's safety, he tried to move, but his body wouldn't respond. His head pounded and the room spun around him so badly that he could hardly see. He flinched again at the third gunshot and found himself straining to listen in the silence that followed.
He caught a flicker of movement and looked up. The death that he'd fled from earlier materialized out of the darkness.
"You led us quite a chase, kid."
The gun in the man's hands held him mesmerized. He shivered again, not with the fever this time, but with the certainty that he was about to die. He swallowed hard, raising his eyes to meet the gaze of his pursuer.
The man pushed Blair's head backward into the crates with the barrel of his gun, eyeing him closely.
"It's good to see that those other clowns didn't fail completely. Too bad I can't just let you bleed to death. It would satisfy the terms of the contract and hang Ellison out to dry. But I don't have the time. Delvenko will just have to be satisfied with you dead and Ellison convicted on drug charges."
Blair stared up at him, his mind reeling in confusion. He knew he should say something. He knew he should try to stall for time, but his throat was too tight to form any words.
"Nothing personal, kid." The gunman rose to his feet, moving backward a few steps.
Blair saw the gun start to rise and braced himself for the bullet. Suddenly there was a flash of movement from his left and a huge shape crashed forward, directly into the line of fire. Little Boy screamed in anger and tried to take the gun. There was an explosion of sound as the weapon fired. The big man grunted and staggered, dropping to the floor. Transfixed by what he'd just witnessed, Blair watched in shocked horror as the gunman raised the weapon once more, targeting his chest.
He winced twice, as two more deafening explosions filled the air. Dazed, he watched the gunman stagger and fall backward. Blair was only vaguely aware of Jim crouching next to him. His eyes were fixed on Simon, who knelt at Little Boy's side.
Jim saw the frozen expression on his friend's pale face and knew something had to be done to reach him quickly. Gently, he cradled Blair's head in his hands, hoping to redirect his attention, but the younger man resisted.
Simon looked up at them, shaking his head sadly.
"NO!" The cry erupted out of Blair, suffused with anguish.
"Look at me, Chief," Jim urged, applying more pressure so that Blair had no choice. "It's over... do you understand me? It's over..."
Blair's tried to turn his head away, but Jim held him firmly, forcing his Guide to look at him instead. Eyes wide, mouth working to form words that refused to take form, Blair trembled as a sob finally broke free. Shaking convulsively, his eyes fluttered shut and his body sagged in Jim's hold.
"Get that med staff over here now," Simon ordered as Jim eased Blair to his side, cushioning his head.
"Blair stay with me... Open your eyes..."
"No..." Blair whispered, his mind shrieking in exhaustion and denial.
"Damn it, Sandburg, don't you die on me!" Jim cursed, his own voice filled with a combination of pain and anger.
Blair tried to hold off the blackness, but it was too strong. He was painfully conscious of his Sentinel's desperate pleas as it swept him away.
Falling... Falling forever...
Several hours later, Simon found Jim outside one of the ICU rooms, staring in through the glass. Blair lay pale and motionless on the bed, surrounded by banks of monitors.
"How's he doing?"
"He's still critical," Jim responded quietly, his gaze never shifting. "The head injury looked worse than it was. He's got a concussion, but they don't think it's too serious. They got the bullet out of his shoulder pretty quickly, and although he lost a lot of blood, it doesn't look like he'll have any permanent damage."
Jim paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts before he continued.
"But the gunshot wound went untreated for too long. He's running a fever from the infection. Right now, they're pumping him full of antibiotics to try to get it under control. They think... If he makes it through the next eight hours, his chances should be pretty good."
"You need some rest."
Jim shook his head angrily. "What I need is a way to connect all of this to Delvenko. Did ballistics match any of the guns with the bullet we took from the park?"
"One of the first guys you took out. Looks like you were right about their being professional talent. Unfortunately he's not going to tell us anything. Neither is his partner."
"What about the third man?"
"Still in surgery. He's a match to one of Delvenko's visitors. I hope he makes it, because without him, we've got no case. Those were your bullets they dug out of Blair's shoulder and the John Doe. And there's still the question of the drugs they found at your place."
"He admitted to Delvenko's involvement. I overheard him tell Sandburg that Delvenko had ordered the hit, and that they'd planted the drugs."
"That's one more reason to hope that Sandburg pulls through. You need him to corroborate your story."
"You're wrong Simon," Jim whispered softly. "I just need him. I need him to be bouncing on his toes, pestering me about tests. I need him to be sacked out on the couch with all his papers cluttering up the kitchen table. I need him to be staring at me with that innocent puppy-dog expression on his face and mischief in his eyes. I need..."
Jim's voice faltered and he stared through the glass, his hands clenching into fists at his sides. "I need to find a way to make Delvenko pay for this." Jim finally shifted his gaze to his captain. The desperation in his eyes made Simon shudder. "I need your help." "You've got it. Taggert's already checking out the shooters to see what other connections he can find. I'll see what else I can dig up. I still want to know who's involved inside the department. I'll let you know as soon as we've got anything."
"Thanks, Simon," Jim accepted Simon's assurances with a nod and then turned his attention back to his partner.
Intensive care was one of the most demanding nursing duties. The emotional stress of caring for critical patients whose chances of survival were often less than one-in-a-thousand was draining. Few nurses stayed with it for long and many of those who did turned cold and officious as a means of dealing with the strain. A precious few, like Sandra Abrahms, had found a way to ride the emotional roller coaster and still maintain their own personal balance.
With only three patients to attend to, Sandra finished her rounds quickly. It was a matter of pride with her that she did them in person, once each hour. She didn't have to. The banks of monitors in the ICU nursing station tracked and registered more information on each patient than anyone would ever need. But they were just machines. They couldn't look into a patient's eyes, reassure them with a gentle touch, or share a whispered confidence. Sandra firmly believed that her physical presence often made the difference for the struggling minds trapped in the injured or diseased bodies.
Of course on the bad days, she often wished that she didn't demand it of herself, but she never missed. At the end of one of those days, she took herself home to her apartment, fed her cat and hugged her pillow, crying out her pain and the loss of her patients in the dark. Often, she'd promise herself as she surrendered to sleep, that the next day would be her last. That she'd request a new assignment. But when the morning came she would find herself full of hopethat this would be a good day. And that was why she stayed. On good days, miracles happened.
She found herself standing outside one of the rooms, gazing in on the two occupants. She glanced at the chart that hung next to the door and allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction. Yes, this had been a good day. "A very good day," she whispered.
Sandra started as the older man beside the bed raised his head and looked directly at her. She recovered her composure quickly and offered a tentative smile. The older man stared intentlyas if he were looking not at her, but right inside of herand then nodded, a small smile of his own softening the grim face. Sandra nodded and stepped back, knowing that the detective's attention would immediately return to his partner.
;As she made her way back to the nursing station, she found herself thinking about the unlikely pair. When the younger man had arrived, it was touch and go, with all the signs of a bad day in the making. The extent of his injuries and the complications of the infection had everyone shaking their heads doubtfully. In private of course. Certainly out of sight of the older man who had stationed himself outside of his partner's room and refused to budge.
She'd dealt with police officers before, so she recognized the dedication of the older man as he waited, his face unreadable as he stared through the glass. He'd been frustrated with their rules that kept him outside in the hall, instead of inside next to his partner's bed. Partners. She still found it difficult to believe. They were as mismatched a pair as she could imagine. On the surface at least. Underneath that...
Sandra shook her head and pulled out the younger man's chart, scanning it again as she added the newest readings to the record.Blair Sandburg... age 28... occupation, police observer/Anthropologist. Observer/Anthropologist... what was that? She shook her head, wondering whether admitting had gotten it right. One thing was certain; he was a civilian, not a cop. Would that explain the continuous parade of uniformed officers and detectives that had either called or wandered through over the past few hours? Was someone upstairs nervous about a civilian being injured, and they were sending over the troops to make a positive PR impression in case somebody checked?
She thought about it for a moment, then shook her head. No, all of them had seemed genuinely concerned about the young man, although they had walked cautiously around his partnerEllison. Jim Ellison, that was his name. She hadn't blamed them. The older man had been a grim, silent shadow, barely responding to the consolation and encouragement that the visitors had offered.
He'd spooked her too, but for a different reason. Every time she'd gone in to check on his partner, he'd stopped her, asking in soft, surprisingly reasonable tones just what she was looking for, what the next level of improvement should be, nodding his head in silent thanks when she'd finished her explanations. That hadn't bothered her. But when she would come out of the room, he'd ask for an update and his eyes had bored into her as if he were a human lie detector, testing to see whether or not she was telling the truth. That searching, unyielding gaze had sent cold shivers down her spine.
After several hours of silent, motionless waiting, he'd begun to pace the corridor, his gaze still fixed on his partner as he stalked back and forth like a caged cat. He'd gently badgered them to bend the rules, to let him stay in the room with his partner. He'd arguedonce again softly, reasonablythat his friend would do better if he was at his side. Privately, Sandra had been tempted to agree. When they'd given him his five minutes of visiting time each hour, she was certain that the younger man had responded to his partner's presence. During the time that the older man was at his side, holding his hand and speaking in quiet, even tones, his overall readings had shown a sharp improvement. Progress that fell off somewhat when his partner was banished to the hallway again.
There were connections here that went far beyond the normal "men in blue" partners thing, she mused. The detective was obviously fiercely protective of the younger man, but in her opinion, Ellison acted less like a cop worried about his partner and more like an anxious older brother. Then there was the almost psychic connection that they seemed to have. That was her only explanation for it. The older man seemed to know exactly what was happening with the younger man, even before the monitors picked it up.
She'd seen proof of it herself. Two hours earlier Ellison's pacing had suddenly stopped. He'd stared in through the glass, an odd, tense expression on his face. He'd called out frantically for helpseconds before the monitors had triggered the code on his partner. He'd been inside the room before any of them, positioning himself at the bedside, reaching out to touch the younger man reassuringly, murmuring urgently to him to hold on. And hold on he did, rallying quickly. Sandra had been too busy to catch everything the detective had said, but she'd picked up a little. She recalled Ellison saying something about a "dial" and "turning it down". It had made no sense to her, but Sandburg had responded with a whispered objection, which the older man had countered, urging him to "listen to me for once and try it anyway".
Whatever he'd suggested had worked, because the younger man's stats improved almost immediately. When his partner finally drifted off into a normal sleep, the older man had settled himself into the chair at the bedside, his long fingers wrapped around the younger man's wrist possessively. He'd stared up at her, his eyes challenging her to try to move him from his chosen spot. Sandra shivered at the memory of those hard, ice blue eyes. Somewhere she'd gotten the courage to stare back, meeting his gaze with an even, determined one of her own. There had been a brief, but silent battle of willsone that Sandra was sure that she was going to lose until he suddenly looked away, his gaze flickering toward his partner anxiously. When he looked back up at her, the eyes were softer, filled with fear, exhaustion and a silent plea for understanding.
Which was why he was now inside the room, instead of outside in the hall. Those eyes had spoken to her with a need that she couldn't deny, and now, based on the younger man's rapidly improving stats, she was glad she hadn't. She glanced at the monitors again, made another quick notation on the chart and reached for the phone to call the attending physician.
"Dr. Martins? Sandra Abrahms in ICU. I've got good news. Mr. Sandburg's readings are all improving nicely. Looks like we're ready to upgrade him... Yes sir, I have orders to contact the precinct upon any change of status... I understand... I'll be happy to take care of it. " Hanging up the phone, she switched to an outside line.
"Yes indeed, a very good day," she murmured happily to herself as she dialed another number. "Hello, this is Cascade General. I'd like to speak to a detective Bob Ryan, please..."
Jim caught the movement in the hallway and shifted in his chair, nodding to Ryan when he saw the man beckoning to him. Turning his attention back to his partner, he wrapped his long finger's around Blair's slender wrist, instinctively measuring the beat of the steady, throbbing pulse. Satisfied with the signs of the younger man's improving health, he released his grip and rose to his feet, stretching muscles that were protesting the long vigil. He crossed to the door, shutting it quietly behind him, so as not to wake his sleeping Guide.
"How's he doing?" Ryan asked, staring through the glass window into the darkened room beyond.
"Better. They've taken him off the critical list. If he gets a good night's sleep, they're going to move him to a regular room." Jim yawned, suddenly feeling his own reaction to the past day and a half of stress.
"You look like you could use a good night's sleep yourself," Ryan observed.
"Yeah, I could." Jim scrubbed at his face in an attempt to make himself more alert. He felt wiped. If he didn't get some real sleep soon, he knew he was going to have a hard time keeping the necessary controls on his senses. They already felt like they were cutting in and out. He concentrated on turning down the dials, tuning out the almost painful thundering of Ryan's heartbeat. "What's up?"
"Simon sent me over. He wants you to come down to the station. Says he's got some information for you."
"On Delvenko?" Jim pushed away his own weariness, roused by the prospect of revenge.
"He didn't say. He's keeping a pretty tight lid on whatever it is. Guess that's why he wants you there."
Jim nodded, his gaze flickering to his partner's still sleeping form. As eager as he was to take down Delvenko, he felt uneasy about leaving Blair alone.
"You're sure he wants me down there now? It's nearly midnight."
"Hey, I know it's late. Don't shoot the messenger, all right? Look, if it's any help, I'll stay here and keep an eye on him. If he wakes up looking for you, I can at least tell him where you've gone."
Jim eyed Ryan suspiciously, absently rubbing at the prickling sensation at the back of his neck. Rolling his shoulders in an attempt to loosen the tension seemed to help and he pushed the nagging feelings aside.Just my senses going out of whack.
"Thanks, I appreciate it. If there's any problem, get the duty nurse. Her name's Sandra Abrahms."
"I'll call you if there's any change," Ryan promised, easing the room door open. When Jim hesitated, Ryan gave him an encouraging smile. "Better get moving. Simon's not in the mood to be kept waiting. Trust me on that."
Jim gave him a brief smile, knowing full well just how impatient Simon could be when his detectives didn't run to obey a summons. He took one more quick peek to assure himself that Blair was still sleeping soundly and headed for the stairs. With any luck he'd be back before the kid woke, bearing good news.
As he jogged down the stairs, Jim's mind was already racing, trying to anticipate what Simon wanted to tell him. It had to be about Delvenko. Or maybe... maybe Simon had tracked the leak in their department. The thought of someone he knew being involved in the attempt on Blair's life sparked his anger once again. He was so absorbed in satisfying thoughts of vengeance, that he pushed the stairwell door open violently and strode out into the hospital lobby without looking. He came up hard against someone's shoulder and stepped back, blinking in startled surprise at the collision.
He blinked again, this time in confusion, when he realized it was Simon.
"Ellison, don't those super-senses of yours work indoors?" Simon growled in annoyance, brushing drops of coffee off of his camel hair coat. The expression on Jim's face stopped him from adding anything else. "Jim, are you all right?"
"Yes, sir... I'm fine..." Jim stammered. "I was just coming down to the station to see you."
"I'm touched, Jim, but I told you I'd let you know if we developed any new information. Unfortunately we haven't." Simon brushed away the last of the coffee and glanced up at Jim again, startled to see the look of intense fear on the detective's normally unreadable face. "Jim, what is it? What's wrong?"
"Ryan!" Jim expelled the man's name like a curse and whipped around, bolting back to the stairs. In panic, he took them two at a time, desperate to reach his partner. He dialed his hearing up to the limit and strained to filter out the chaos of the hospital noisebuzzers sounding for nurses, patient's groaning in pain, babies crying in the nursery, computers beeping at erroneously entered keystrokes, Simon pounding up the stairs behind him. A fragment of a whispered comment reached his ears, too soft to make out the words, but the intent was clear and so was the source. Ryan.
Jim took the next landing at a run, berating himself for his own stupidity. His senses hadn't been playing him false. They'd been trying to tell him something all along. He just hadn't seen it. Ryan had been there, dogging their every move since Joel had arrested him at the pier. He'd been at the station when the JD had been brought in, hell, they'd even put him in charge of the search teams. He'd fooled them all, offering to "help" in any way he could. And now he was here, at the hospital, and Jim had blithely walked off at his word, leaving Blair helpless.
As he rounded the final landing, Jim strained for the sound of his Guide's heart, hoping desperately to hear it beating strong and safe. Wrenching open the stairwell door he staggeredBlair's pulse was pounding wildly, his partner's muffled scream for help fading as his breathing began to falter. Jim raced down the corridor and slammed open the door to Blair's room. His momentum carried him into the figure that was looming over the bed, pressing a pillow down onto the anthropologist's face.
Desperately, Jim pulled Ryan away from the bed, throwing him across the small room and into the wall. He reached out, pulled the pillow away and caught a flash of dazed blue eyes staring up at him before something hard connected with his jaw. The force of the blow sent him reeling sideways onto the bed. He heard Blair gasp in pain and blinding anger ripped through him. Jim threw himself at Ryan, his hands locking around the man's throat like a closing vise. Ryan's hands clawed at his, his eyes bulging in fear, but Jim didn't release the pressure. Rage burned through the Sentinel, a fury born out of the desire for vengeance, filling him with the need to destroy the man he held. The assassin who had tried to kill his Guide.
Dark hands locked on top of his, but he resisted their attempts to pull him away. There was a voice screaming in his ear. He refused to hear it, bent on silencing the beating heart of the man he held.
"Jim, stop this! You're killing him!" Simon beat at Jim's arms, but there was no loosening of the deathgrip he had on Ryan. "Damn it, Jim if you kill him, Delvenko will have won. You'll go to jail and Blair will be alone. Is that what you want?"
Simon's words elicited a flicker of recognition in the hard blue eyes, but the pressure of Jim's hands didn't lessen. Desperately, Simon reached into his holster and pulled his gun, driven by his duty to stop Jim any way he could. "Ellison... let him go! Now!" Simon ordered.
To his amazement, Jim suddenly released Ryan and turned away. Ryan dropped to his knees and Simon moved behind him, his gun still drawn, ready to protect the battered man from further attack, and to keep him from making any attempt to escape. Satisfied that Ryan wasn't going anywhere, Simon's gaze shifted back to Jim. The detective was at Blair's side, supporting the younger man who'd somehow managed to raise himself into a sitting position. Simon watched in amazement as Blair, still pale and shaking, placed a calming hand on Jim's arm and whispered something too soft for anyone except the Sentinel to hear. Jim shook his head angrily and seemed ready to pull away, but Blair murmured something again, his fingers twisting in the fabric of Jim's shirt sleeve, his eyes locked on his partner's face.
There was a moment of tension as blue eyes locked with blue. Simon tightened his grip on his gun, uncertain as to who's will would prevailSentinel or Guide. Then he saw Jim close his eyes. The tautness of the older man's body seemed to flow out of him abruptly and he sagged down on the edge of the bed, his head bowed. Simon saw Blair lean in toward his partner, his usually animated face and eyes filled with concern. The anthropologist whispered something else to Jim and the detective's head swiveled toward Simon. He shuddered at the cold rage that still burned in the Sentinel's eyes when they focused on Ryan's quivering form. Blair reached out to touch the older man's cheek, and with only the strength in his fingertips, turned Jim to face him.
Simon realized then, that what had made Jim release his hold on Ryan hadn't been "his" words shouted in anger, but a whispered plea from Guide to Sentinel. There was another, almost inaudible conversation, with Blair doing most of the talking and Jim shaking his head in denial. Finally, Jim nodded, reaching forward to grasp Blair's arm just above the elbow, the Sentinel's angry expression smoothing into one of peace as he physically connected with his Guide.
As if suddenly aware of his presence, Blair raised his eyes to Simon's. Still amazed that Blair had managed to containno, not just contain, but quenchJim's killing rage, Simon nodded back, holstering his gun. Hauling Ryan to his feet, he pulled the man's hands behind his back, giving in to a small degree of personal satisfaction as he tightened the cuffs.
"You two going to be all right?" he asked softly, watching as Blair wrapped his arms around his partner protectively, meeting Simon's gaze with a fierceness of his own before nodding in answer.
With a sigh that was partly envy, partly disbelief, Simon pulled Ryan from the room, leaving the Sentinel and his Guide to their healing.
What had begun as a nightmare, ended as a lesson in friendship.
Jim contemplated the symmetry of that as he leaned against the balcony railing, watching the city lights sparkle in the clear evening sky.
As he'd predicted, the deadly plan that Delvenko had crafted came apart at the proverbial "seams" once they'd found the right "thread" to pull. After spending ten minutes locked in an interrogation room with Taggert and Simon, Ryan had given them everything they'd needed.
The DA had been delighted at the opportunity to file new charges against Delvenko and Internal Affairs had immediately put it's own investigation of Detective Bob Ryan into full gear.
What "had" surprised him was how quickly the case was nailed down, and how minimal his own involvement had been in wrapping up the loose ends. Simon had been the driving forcea combination of Mac Truck strength, Bulldozer determination and Sherman Tank firepower, all rolled into one.
Jim knew he had Simon to thank for the speed in which the charges against him had been dropped and his records cleared. The captain had burned up the phone lines, called in favors and when things still hadn't moved fast enough to suit him, he'd made several "In-person" visits to the appropriate parties. Jim didn't bother to suppress the grin that filled his face at the thought of some of his least favorite paper-pushers facing Simon's looming figure and short temper.
And he still marveled at the trust that Simon had shown in his protestations of innocence. The captain had risked everything by letting him stay involved in the investigation, not to mention letting him off on his own to hunt for Blair. That was a gesture of friendship that Jim would not forget.
There had been unexpected support from other sourcesother "friends"as well. Simon had taken Jim's plea for help to the other detectives of the unit. The result had been amazing. It was quite possible that this "case" would go into the books with the fastest "solved" record in the history of the department. From the number of names on the reports, it was clear that Simon had had no lack of volunteers and that Blair now had a whole squadroom of Blessed Protectors. The efforts they'd made throughout the whole ordeal gratified Jim and took some of the sting of betrayal out of Ryan's actions.
Jim still wasn't completely clear on the reason's behind Ryan's involvement. He'd seen the transcripts from the initial interrogations and they'd indicated that Ryan had been on Delvenko's payroll for a long time. The details of his participation in the whole scheme were in the hands of internal affairs. When he'd questioned Joel about it, the bigger man had simply placed an understanding hand on his arm and promised him that he'd know everything he needed to later, that things were "under control" and that he should spend his time taking care of his partner.
He'd taken that sage advice to heart, spending the first two day's after Ryan's arrest planted firmly at Blair's bedside. Simon had finally persuaded him to go home by the end of the second day, although he suspected that his Guide had said a few words to the captain and instigated the whole thing.
When he'd opened the door to the loft that night, he'd had nothing on his mind other than the intent of climbing the stairs and dropping fully-clothed onto his bed. One look at the devastated apartment and the horrifying possibilities of what "could" have happened had hit him full force. He'd collapsed onto one of the chairs and held his head in his hands, finally yielding to the fears that he'd been holding at bay. The realization of what the loss of his young friend would mean had shaken him. It was only by picturing Blair's calm, smiling face in his mindthe face that he'd just left in the hospitalthat he'd been able to gather his control once more.
That had been five days ago. Now, he no longer had to imagine that face. His Guide was back home and in the final stages of recovery. In fact, Blair's energy level was nearly back to full strength and Jim had been hard pressed to keep him involved in the sedentary pursuits that the doctor had prescribed.
The soft shuffle of papers drew Jim's attention to the young man who had been in his thoughts. He turned slightly and watched Blair ease himself off the couch and cross to the kitchen. Jim heard the ting of a spoon hitting the side of a cupno two cupsand smiled, turning back to gaze out onto the city again. He didn't need to see his Guide to monitor his well-being and physical presence, but he'd found it immensely soothing on his own still frazzled nerves.
He was painfully aware of Blair's brooding silence as his Guide joined him on the balcony and handed him a cup of coffee. The younger man had been uncharacteristically quiet since they'd returned to the loft after attending a small funeral service for Little Boy. An envelope containing enough money for a cremation and private ceremony for both Temian and Little Boy had been waiting for Jim on his desk the day Blair was released from the hospital. Jim didn't know who had been behind italthough his money was on either Simon or Joelbut the gesture had warmed him and he knew that Blair had been deeply touched.
Out of everything that had happened, the death of the gentle homeless man had hit Blair the hardest. He had only dim memories of the attack and his subsequent flight. He'd grown grim when Jim had told him about the man who'd been killed by mistake, and he'd paled at the risks that Jim had taken with his senses during the frantic search. True to form, Blair had tried to take the responsibility for everything onto his own shoulders and Jim had been forced to call in Simon to help put things into perspective.
Still, some guilt remained. Jim knew that the anthropologist was having a difficult time coming to grips with the knowledge that he owed his life to another man's death. Blair was mourning the loss of a friend that he'd never had time to know. Jim could relate to what he was feeling. During the ceremony he'd sent his own prayer of thanks along with the hope that it would somehow reach Little Boy's spirit and help it rest peacefully, knowing how much Jim appreciated his selfless act.
Jim shifted his position so that he could see Blair's face when the young man joined him. "You okay?" he asked softly.
"Yeah... I was just thinking... about the ceremony. It was nice of the guys to do that, you know?"
Jim nodded, but remained silent, hoping that Blair would keep talking and let the healing process begin again.
"I know it's probably illegal, but I was thinking that it would be fitting if we spread his ashes at the 'park' where he used to feed the pigeons," Blair murmured quietly, staring outward, not meeting Jim's eyes. "What do you think?"
"I think he'd like that. What do you want to do about the carvings?" There had been very few possessions left to dispose of when they'd found Little Boy's "home." Jim had accepted a box full of Little Boy's wooden toys and had given them to Blair just that morning. At Blair's suggestion, several had been placed with the body before the cremation, but Jim was curious about the rest.
"I'm going to contact a friend of mine over at the Children's Museum. I'm sure they'd love them for their collection. I thought he'd..." Blair's voice cracked and it took a few moments before he could continue. "I thought he would have liked that."
Jim heard the rustle of fabric as Blair pulled something from his pocket. A small object was placed in his hands a moment later, so familiar, that he didn't need to use his Sentinel vision in the fading light to see what it was.
"I saved this one for you. Simon didn't think that they'd need it for evidence and I thought... well, I thought maybe you'd like to have it."
Jim closed his hand around the small wooden toy. It had been the clue that had finally led him to his Guide. The lifeline that held him to his sanity. A wave of familiar guilt and fear swept through him, and he turned his face away from Blair. The young man's hand was immediately on his shoulder, urging him to turn back.
"I want you to stop feeling guilty about this. You weren't responsible for what happened."
Jim looked down into his Guide's troubled face and drew a deep breath. "Blair, this was my past that threatened your lifethat could have ended your life. If we hadn't found you when we did..."
"But you did find me. I knew you would."
"Jim, listen to me. Even when I was half out of my head, I knew that you'd be looking for me. I knew you wouldn't give up."
"Good thing you didn't give up," Jim responded. "If you hadn't been beating on that door with the pipe, even I wouldn't have known where to look."
The first impish smile Jim had seen in days crossed the younger man's face. "Yeah, well I'm not sure if I should admit it, but it was your goofy house rules that gave me the idea. You know... no noise after ten o' clock."
"How'd you know what time it was?"
"Hey, I figured it was ten o'clock somewhere, man." Blair grinned and then the smile faded, replaced with a look of determination. "Look, I just want you to know that this isn't scaring me off. I'm where I want to be and I'm doing what I want to do. The crazies from your past are just part of what comes with it. Who knows? You might end up dealing with someone from my past one of these days."
"Now I'm worried. Just how many gun-toting, drug dealing academics have you got hiding in the closet of your life, Chief?"
"Don't underestimate them, Jim. You've never seen the feeding frenzy at grant time. Let it go okay? You've got to dump that guilt, man. It's not healthy."
Jim shut his eyes for a moment as the tight knot of fear in his chest loosened. "How did you know?" the Sentinel asked softly.
"Just like I was sure you'd find me," the Guide whispered. "I know you too well. I know the value you place on friendship."
"I hope you do," Jim murmured, smiling into the darkness.
~ End ~
Author's Additional Notes: See, Majik was rightthere was smarm!
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Page last updated 8/15/03.