There are references to the following episodes: Fool Me Twice, Trance and Prisoner X. I wouldn't categorize any of them as major spoilers. I mean, you know that in the end our guys win. For those who just adore finding time-line problems, consider this story and its connecting ones as a year or two in the future. That should take care of that.
There are also references to the following stories I've written: Candle In The Dark and An Essential Friend.
If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you may say, "Mountain, move," and the mountain will move. Nothing shall be impossible for you.Paraphrased from Matthew 17:20
He knew she screamed because he saw her mouth open, the corded muscles in her neck strain and vibrate. But he heard nothing, not even the gurgle that followed the plunging of the knife into her heart. With a single tug he removed the jeweled dagger and with morbid fascination, he watched the wound be replaced by a crimson geyser and he bathed his hands in the warm red drops...
"No!" Jim Ellison shouted and his eyes flew open. He recognized the tall ceiling of his own loft and gave a relieved sigh. It had just been a nightmare, one of several that had plagued him since he'd been tortured a few months ago. Mind games, tricks his brain played on itself as it tried to make sense of what made no sense. Apparently he'd fallen asleep on the sofa and the dreams had come for him. Thankfully, Sandburg wasn't around. He hadn't told his roommate about the nightmares yet. He didn't know why but it just felt like something he wanted to get under control before he shared. Control. Something they constantly argued about.
A ray of sun hit one of the windows oddly and Jim squinted when it bounced into his eyes. His military background instinctively calculated the time from the source of light and he realized it was late afternoon. Why was he home, napping? He remembered going to work. Then he had left... to pick up Sandburg at the university. Damn. He sat up in confusion and frustration. He was supposed to pick up Sandburg at least two hours ago. How the hell did he wind up at home on the sofa?
It was the smell that caught his attention. Even as he tried to put his thoughts in order, he sniffed the tangy, cloying sweetness of blood, and when he reached down for his shoes, he saw the stains on his hands, felt the stiffness that the dried, reddish-brown crust caused. With a sick burning spot in the pit of his stomach, he stood and followed the scent upstairs to his room. There on the floor near his bed he discovered the dream hadn't been a dream after all.
Sinking to his knees beside the body of the unknown woman, he lost himself in the blood and wondered what the hell he had done.
"This is not why I called you, Simon," Anthropology grad student Blair Sandburg said as he opened the burgundy sedan's passenger door. He tossed his backpack inside, then slid in next to the tall African-American man who held an unlit cigar between his teeth."I could have snagged a ride home easily. But, damn it, I'm worried about Jim. He's never forgotten to pick me up before. He's not answering at the loft and he's not picking up his cell phone. This is so not him," he added anxiously.
In Blair's opinion, Jim Ellison was the poster boy for responsibility. One of the first things he found out about Jim was that if Jim said something, he meant it. For instance, when Blair's apartment had been destroyed when a nearby drug lab exploded, Jim told Blair he could move in with him for a while. That had been like five years ago and Blair still occupied the "spare room" in the loft. To someone who studied humans on a regular basis, it was easy to see where Jim had learned to be responsible. First, his father had been a strict disciplinarian. Then Jim had gone into the Army, following tons of written and unwritten rules and obeying orders without question. From there, he became a detective, another life bound by laws and orderliness. So, no, it didn't fit that Jim would promise to pick him up at the university and then not show up.
Captain Simon Banks glanced over at his dejected passenger and started to tell him to stop his mountain-building. Jim probably had a perfectly good explanation for not picking up his partner. Perhaps his truck had broken down or he was in an emergency situation such as rescuing someone from a burning building or delivering a baby. But Simon couldn't tell Blair that because he knew without a shadow of a doubt, Jim would not leave his friend stranded without letting him know why. If it took pulling a baby out with one hand while hitting speed dial on his cell phone with the other, the detective would have done so to keep his roommate and best friend from worrying. Jim was fanatical when it came to responsibility and rabid when that responsibility involved Sandburg. So while Simon wanted to make light of the situation, he couldn't. So he just clamped down harder on the cigar and headed toward the loft.
"You feel it too, don't you, Simon?" Blair asked, sensing the silent struggle in the captain.
"Don't go all mystical on me, Sandburg. It's just a simple fact that Jim wouldn't leave you hanging without an explanation."
Simon knew what Blair was hinting at. Jim was a unique individual known as a Sentinel. Due to a genetic advantage all five of his senses were enhanced. Blair had traced this trait back to the times when humans lived in tribes and needed a highly skilled sentry to protect them. But while a Sentinel knew what he was back in those days, Jim had been caught offguard when his senses suddenly manifested themselves. He thought he was losing his mind when he began hearing sounds humans were incapable of hearing and seeing from incredible distances. But Blair's studies made him recognize the detective's plight and after convincing Jim he knew what he was talking about, he became Jim's Guide-- his teacher in all things Sentinel, especially the use and control of his hypersenses. Then they began noticing their relationship was deepening from mere student/mentor to something they eventually called the Sentinel/Guide connection. It was as if their souls had meshed and they could communicate on a higher plane.
The captain was a practical man and other planes of existence and psychic connections made him nervous. It was bad enough, he thought, that they had confided in him about Jim being a Sentinel and Blair being his Guide. But it had all been disclosed for practical reasons: Simon had gotten Blair police observer credentials which made it possible for the Guide to act as Jim's partner in the field. That had worked out well because the duo solved a record number of cases and if truth be told, Blair made Jim a better person. The cop was more stable, more approachable, more understanding of his fellow earth dwellers.
If the situation had stopped there, Simon would have been a happy camper. But the captain kept noticing how many times they involved him in their Sentinel/Guide escapades and like an idiot, he'd asked why. That was when they told him about the Sentinel/Guide/Watcher link. He wanted to deny it; no way did he want to exist in what he disdainfully called the Sandburg Zone. But looking back over the past few years, he had to admit being connected to them in some way. He watched over them, provided back up and support and comfort...
"Did he seem okay when he left the station, Simon?" Blair asked, wondering if Jim had been sick and maybe he was passed out somewhere now, waiting to be found.
"I haven't seen Jim all day. I was in a budget meeting at the mayor's office this morning and when I got back around noon..."
"When you got back...?" Blair prompted.
"Brown said Jim had left... to pick you up."
"The last time this happened..." Blair didn't finish because he knew Simon could fill in the blanks. Jim had gone to question a suspect and disappeared. He was found six weeks later, out of his mind after having been tortured. Only by the grace of God and his Sentinel abilities, had Jim come out of the situation mentally whole.
"You said you tried calling the loft?" Simon asked as he turned the corner and saw Jim's blue and white pickup in its usual parking spot in front of the apartment building.
"He didn't answer," Blair said hollowly when he saw the truck. He reached for the door as Simon pulled up behind the vehicle.
"Stay in the car," Simon ordered as he unsnapped his holster. He approached the truck cautiously, ignoring his small sigh of relief when he didn't find Jim's body slumped over in the floor. His bespectacled eyes went to the car to tell Sandburg what he hadn't found and that was when he saw the grad student making his way into the building. Muttering curses, he took off after the disobedient Guide.
Blair knew Simon was going to be furious but something inside, maybe that infamous Sentinel/ Guide connection, told him he would find Jim in the loft and that his friend needed help. The first thing he noticed was that the door was unlocked and he debated whether to wait on Simon before going in, but he heard the bigger man directly on the steps below him and figured he was close enough. So he entered.
When he saw Jim sitting on the stairs leading up to his room, he grabbed his chest in relief. "Man, you have scared the hell out of us. What are you doing here? Don't you know I've been waiting for you?" he asked in a rush that was fueled by both his relief and the remains of his fear. When Jim didn't reply, his calming heart speeded up again. Just as he started toward his eerily silent roommate, Simon burst through the door.
"Sandburg, if you ever do something like that again..." Because Blair paid no attention to him, he scanned the room and saw Jim. "Ellison, do you know the trouble you've caused? Your part--" he paused, sensing something wasn't right.
"Jim?" Blair walked to the bottom of the stairs and looked up at the man who was still sitting unmoving. Immediately, he noticed the bloodied hands that had captured the Sentinel's attention to the point of zoning. "Oh, God," he whispered.
Simon brushed past him and started up the stairs, his weapon at ready. Jim didn't even blink as he moved around him and up to the room. Two minutes later, he returned to the top of the stairs to find his two men still in the same place. "Sandburg, you better get him to talking. I've already called this in." He indicated the cell phone which had replaced the gun in his hand.
"Called in what, Simon?" Blair asked as he inched toward Jim. Simon didn't say anything, but his bleak look gave Blair a chill. "Who?" he asked, filling in the silence.
"A woman. I don't know who she is."
Blair nodded and walked quickly past Jim and Simon. Perhaps if he knew who it was, he would know what to say to bring Jim out of the zone. But as he stared at the woman, her peaceful face at odds with the pool of congealed blood that was her chest, he realized she was a mystery to him as well. Why was she in the loft, so very, very dead?
Simon found him leaning over the body. Great. Now he had two people who had zoned. He touched the grad student on the shoulder. "Sandburg, Blair, we can't let the police find Jim like this."
Blair shivered and looked away. "You are the police, man."
"Not in this case. You know there's no way in hell I can be involved in this investigation. The homicide team is on its way and they are going to want answers. Jim's the only one that can give them, Sandburg. We need to know what he knows."
Blair nodded and with a lingering glance backward at the body, walked back to stair just below Jim. "Hey, Jim. Can you hear me, buddy? I know you must have seen something pretty awful here and that old Sentinel in you decided you needed a break and took you to a faraway place for a while. But you have to come back now. There is a wrong to be righted and you're the only one who can do that, man. Are you listening to me, Jim? You're needed here. I need you here."
Jim blinked. "She's dead," he said softly.
"Who killed her?" Simon asked, coming down to join them.
Jim turned his head toward his captain. "I don't know. I think it was me."
"No!" Blair answered sharply. "No, it wasn't you, Jim. I'm sure of that. Aren't you, Simon?" He glared at the man.
Simon ignored him. "Who was she, Jim?"
Jim closed his eyes, picturing the face on the floor, seeking recognition. "I don't know." He looked at his hands and saw the blood. "Did I kill her, Simon?"
"Only you can answer that, Jim."
"I don't know. I thought I was dreaming... Maybe it wasn't a dream though. Maybe it was real," he said hauntedly. "There have been so many dreams since..."
"Since when?" Simon urged.
"Since the director..."
Blair flinched. The director was the man who had been paid to destroy Jim's mind. He had found the Sentinel to be a difficult case and had kept a detailed account of the techniques he'd used. In the end, he'd known Jim would come after him and had left the papers for his subject to find. Thinking the report might help Blair understand him better, Jim had given him permission to read it. Blair had first been intrigued, then sickened by the way the director had tested Jim. The drugs alone... Drugs. "Jim, look at me," he commanded softly. The blue eyes moved slowly toward him. "How do you feel?"
Blair dismissed that as the usual lie and let his own eyes decide the issue. Jim seemed spaced, not zoned, his reactions were sluggish, and his pupils were dilated, even for him. He nodded and glanced at Simon. "He's been drugged, captain."
"We'll have him tested before he's taken down to the station." Simon looked at his detective who was once again staring at the blood on his hands. "I think you better contact a lawyer for him."
"Simon, you can't possibly--"
"Don't start, Sandburg," Simon said angrily. "What I think won't make a hell of a lot of difference to the officers investigating this, okay? To them, I'm going to be just another witness like you."
"Witness to what? We haven't seen anything, Simon."
"Just a bloody-handed Jim and a corpse upstairs," Simon said bitterly. "Get a lawyer."
Before Blair could retrieve his address book, officers poured through the open loft door. Simon groaned when he saw the man leading the parade. "This just got a whole hell of a lot worse," he muttered and put his hand protectively on Jim's shoulder.
"Who is that, Simon?" Blair asked, instinctively recoiling from the thin, mustached man who was wearing shades despite being inside.
"Commander Lyle Cooper," the man replied himself. "Internal Affairs."
Commander Cooper stood by silently while an officer read Jim Ellison his rights and clasped handcuffs around his wrists. As head of Internal Affairs he didn't work cases often, but Ellison was a special concern. With the detective involved, everything had to be by the book because the press would be watching the Cascade P.D. closely on this one. Ellison was a high profile member of the department, too high profile in Cooper's opinion. The media loved him and the citizens considered him a cross between Dirty Harry and Andy Taylor-- a cop who cared about the people and had a deadly aim.
Cooper didn't trust cops who had records like Ellison's. He solved cases too easily, survived stunts that should have had him buried three or four times over. That meant one of two things: either he had inside information he was hiding from the department or he was manufacturing situations to make himself look good. And this whole thing about refusing to have another cop as a partner was suspicious as well. Instead, he dragged around some long-haired grad student as his backup, involving the civilian in his narrow escapes and miraculous saves.
Cooper had been waiting years to get something on the man. If it had been anyone else, the investigation would have been over long ago. But the mayor wouldn't hear of unwarranted harassing of his favorite officer, a man who'd already gotten him reelected once. And what the mayor wanted, the police commissioner enforced, and so on... Ellison therefore had been untouchable.
Until now. This murder was the perfect opening for a full investigation into the man's background. Nothing opened doors like a murder. Cooper grinned as he heard the skeletons begin to jangle in Ellison's closets. Much like the sound of the man's badge rattling in his pocket...
Simon saw the grin and wondered if the day could get worse. Jim's troubles had just multiplied. His contacts in the department had not only informed him of Cooper's interest in his detective, but had also intimated the mayor was shielding Jim. However in a murder investigation, the mayor's protection didn't mean shit and Cooper was going to take advantage. "Where the hell is that lawyer?" he asked as Blair walked up.
"The guy I wanted is out of town on a case. But he's going to have an associate meet us at the station."
"Good." So far Jim wasn't talking, other than to mumble an "I don't remember" or two. If that would last until a lawyer was present... "Are we going to get this man to a hospital while there's still something left in his blood to be found?" he called loudly.
"Hospital?" Cooper asked suspiciously.
"For a drug test," one of the homicide officers answered.
"You think he's on something?"
"We think he was given something," Simon corrected, gritting his teeth and craving a cigar. "Just look at his eyes, commander."
Cooper shrugged. Drugs would just make the case against Ellison stronger. When Banks and Sandburg insisted on accompanying Ellison to the hospital, he went along too. He didn't trust the three of them together. Records showed that Banks had been involved in some of the escapades, especially a really wild one in Peru. He would have to be watched as well.
The receptionist at the E.R. desk noticed them enter and reached for a special folder in one of the cubbyholes in the small office. "Which one of them this time, Captain Banks?" Sadie Farmsworth asked. Det. Ellison and his partner were in so often, the staff had decided to have photocopies of their paperwork on hand. Fill in the problem of the day and send them to the back. It was the least they could do for their favorite cops. "Looks as if nothing is spilling out or falling off so I'm guessing the situation isn't too bad."
"Det. Ellison needs a drug test administered," Simon said, having forgotten how familiar the staff was with the three of them. Maybe he should have suggested another hospital. He flicked his eyes over at Cooper who was taking it all in with a look of impatience. No, it was good they were here. Jim was going to need all the friends he could get.
"Somebody been messing with you again, detective?" Sadie asked sympathetically as she filled in the reason on the form. "We'll have someone look at you in just a minute. Or are you feeling sick, hon?"
Commander Cooper was appalled. "Ma'am, this man is under arrest for the suspicion of killing a young woman, a woman who could have easily been your granddaughter. All we need is a simple blood test so we can ascertain whether he is under the influence of a legal or illegal drug!"
Sadie grabbed her glasses and took a good look, first at the man who was yelling at her and then at Jim. Her eyes widened when she saw the handcuffs. "Why this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. What kind of joke is this, Captain Banks?"
Simon shook his head. "No joke, I'm afraid."
She looked at Jim again. From experience she could tell he was fighting something in his system and her heart went out to him. It was bad enough that the bad guys had done something to him, but now his own people were turning against him. No, she thought as she glanced at the obviously troubled captain and Mr. Sandburg. It was plain they didn't like this business at all. That meant the rude man with the mustache was at the root of this matter. "Captain Banks, if you and Mr. Sandburg would escort the prisoner to Cubicle Three, I'll find someone to help you." The men unerringly went toward the designated area, Cooper a step behind. "I'm sorry, sir," Sadie said politely. "There can only be so many non-medical personnel in the work zone."
"But he's a prisoner," Cooper said huffily.
"Yes, so you said. But since he's accompanied by Captain Banks, I'm sure we're well protected," she said flatly. "By the way, I don't have a granddaughter," she muttered as she turned away.
"Who knew Mrs. Farmsworth could be so daunting?" Blair commented as they left Cooper behind. They were acquainted with all the E.R. and admitting staff. Mrs. Farmsworth was an older lady, grandmotherly even if she didn't have a granddaughter, and Blair often wondered why they had such a nice lady working as dangerous an area as the emergency room. Tensions were always high there with tempers and emotions often flaring. Of course, now he realized the grandmother was made of steel.
"I Sing The Body Electric," Jim said softly.
"Stop reading my mind, Jim," Blair chided. Ray Bradbury's memorable story of a robotic grandmother fit his thoughts perfectly.
Simon glanced quickly at the two of them. "You're joking, right? About mind-reading?"
"Just a figure of speech, Simon," Jim reassured him.
"With the two of you, I never know," Simon muttered as Blair laughed at his nervousness. They reached the cubicle and Jim, hampered by the handcuffs, took the single stool while Blair perched on the gurney. Simon just leaned against the wall.
"So who am I supposed to stick?" Dr. Mandy Cuthbertson said as she pulled back the curtain to the cubicle.
"Dr. C.," Blair said in surprise. "I thought you had left the E.R. to become a lab rat."
"I still have to get in patient hours, Mr. Sandburg. Besides, Sadie called and said Det. Ellison needed help." When she had worked the E.R. the doctor had discovered that Jim Ellison didn't always respond as he should to standard treatment. Although he didn't know it, he was one of the reasons she had gone into lab work. She figured if one person didn't respond conventionally, there had to be others so a variety of other protocols should be devised. "So you think you may have been drugged, detective? Change places with your partner and we'll get us some proof." She looked at the handcuffs. "Are those absolutely necessary?"
"No, ma'am." Simon unlocked them on the advice of medical personnel.
Dr. Cuthbertson took the blood easily and handed it to a passing nurse. When Jim moved to stand, she stopped him. "How do you feel, detective? Any blurring of your vision?" A faint blush tinged his smooth-shaven cheek and she didn't wait for an answer. "Gentlemen, if you would excuse us? I think this man needs to be examined."
Cooper pounced on them as soon as he noticed them outside the cubicle. "Where's Ellison?" he demanded.
"Being examined by his doctor," Blair said. Up till now, he had been content to let Simon speak to the commander. But he was unsettled by the discovery of Jim's blurred vision. Why hadn't he told him and what other symptoms was he having? Damn it. He should have realized Jim would be reacting badly to any drug. Just because he was unnerved by the body shouldn't have made him lax when it came to his Sentinel's health.
Blair damned himself again when fifteen minutes later, after a nurse ran into the cubicle, the doctor came out and approached them. "Mr. Sandburg, get in there and keep your partner talking. Do not let him fall asleep or drift off into one of those fugue states of his. Understand?" Blair raced to do her bidding. "Captain Banks, do you have any idea when the drugs may have been administered to the detective? Standard absorption and metabolic rates don't apply to him."
"Sometime around noon," Simon guessed. "What's going on, doctor?"
"What's going on is that Det. Ellison has been given a lethal combination of depressants. He said he fell asleep on the sofa earlier. It's a wonder that he woke up. Why he is alive is one of those mysteries that seem to tag along with the detective. I'm going to admit him--"
"He seems fine to me," Cooper said, smelling a set-up. They weren't fooling him. Apparently this had been arranged to keep Ellison out of jail.
"And your name is, doctor?" Dr. Cuthbertson asked authoritatively.
"Commander Lyle Cooper, Cascade P.D."
"And when did the Cascade P.D. start making diagnoses on patients, sir? That man in Cubicle Three is suffering the symptoms of an overdose. His blood pressure is dangerously low. His autonomic responses are being suppressed, meaning his respiration and heartbeat are slowing. To let him walk out of the hospital in his condition would be a violation of the oath I took as a doctor. And I'm prepared to defend that in court if need be," she said angrily.
Simon touched her on the sleeve as she turned to leave. "How bad is it, doctor?"
Her anger disappeared. She knew how much this man cared about Det. Ellison. Although not as vocal and not as physically protective as Mr. Sandburg, the captain was always there asking questions, keeping tabs on the detective's condition. "I'm not going to lie to you, captain. It's a serious situation. From what I can tell, the drugs are just now starting to be metabolized by his body. Why the delay?" She shrugged. "For that same reason, I'm reluctant to give him more drugs. So we're going to try the old-fashioned way-- keep him awake and alert, give him water to flush out his system, and hook him up to monitors just in case the old ways fail." The doctor gave him a small smile, trying to balance the news she'd given him. "We'll get him through this, Captain Banks. It's never easy with them, but they always make it somehow."
"Thank you, doctor," Simon said, his eyes toward the cubicle. "It means a great deal to know you're working Jim's case."
"We have a lot of hours invested in the two of them, don't we, captain?" Simon nodded and the doctor hurried off to notify Admissions.
"I guess we'll have to set up guards outside the room," Cooper began, whipping out his cell phone.
"If you want to waste manpower and the taxpayer's money, be my guest," Simon replied, too worried about Jim to care about offending Cooper. "But you and I both know Jim Ellison is in no condition to run and even if he could, he wouldn't."
"He's one of your officers, you have to stick up for him," Cooper said, dismissing the captain's attitude.
"He's also a damn fine cop, an honorable man, and my friend. If, and I do mean if, he did stab that woman in his apartment he was being controlled by some outside force. Why you're insisting on all these stronghold tactics like handcuffs and guards has more to do with you than Jim." Simon paused, knowing he was about to make an enemy for life. "You do what you have to do, sir, and I'll do the same. See you around, commander."
Cooper stood there in shock as Banks disappeared behind the curtain, joining Ellison and Sandburg. The policemen in the department feared him and he liked that. But here was Banks, a man he'd actually left alone until now, blowing him off in the middle of a public place. Hmm. It seemed he had his work cut out for him on this case. Good thing he was just the man to take care of it.
Blair looked at Jim as he and Simon got into a mild argument about an old case and he didn't know whether it was wishful thinking or not, but he thought his roommate looked a lot better. His eyes seemed more focused, his reactions natural and fluid, and his attention wasn't drifting as it had earlier in the night. They would have to wait until the latest tests came back, but Blair was pretty sure Jim was past the crisis point.
For the past seven hours he and Simon had alternated talking to Jim. He had begun the marathon by relating events happening at the university. Jim was almost as familiar with the campus and its denizens as he was with the police department and he listened and made comments. Then Jim began to tune him out, as he normally did on occasion, and Simon had taken over. He had Jim go over the current cases, since it was unlikely Jim would complete the investigations any time soon. Dutifully, Jim had filled the captain in. Then Jim had brought up the subject of old cases and all three of them had comments and insights into those. While all this was going on, Jim was being given water and even coffee when he swore he was going to float away if the water pitcher was refilled one more time. Other than the occasional breaks when the doctor stopped by to run tests or when Jim's bladder protested all the liquids, the conversation was endless and by the time Dr. C. came by with the latest results, Blair was sure he was attending a weird slumber party.
"And they say women can gossip for hours," Dr. Cuthbertson said as she entered the room. "I guess those people never met you guys."
"Not gossip, doc. Work-related discussions," Jim clarified with a tired grin. Come to think of it, some of it could be labeled gossip, he thought sheepishly.
"Uh huh," she commented, unconvinced. "Whatever you were doing, you can stop now. You latest lab results are good. So you, Det. Ellison, can go to sleep now and you two," she stared pointedly at Blair and Simon, "can go home and get some rest."
"I'll just--" Blair began.
"No, you won't," Dr. Cuthbertson interrupted. "From what I've heard, and the guard posted outside, all of you are going to need to be rested before I release the detective from the hospital."
"What have you heard?" Simon asked quickly.
"Nothing that I believe. Still, I think your associate, Commander Cooper, is going to be difficult and you should all be in top form. So no overnight visits this time. Tell them goodnight, detective. You'll see them tomorrow." She looked at her watch. "Actually, later on today."
After goodbyes that were too brief in his opinion, Blair slumped in the passenger's seat of Simon's car and thought about what he had knew now about who was doing this to Jim. He glanced at the captain, wondering if it was time to share.
"What is it, Sandburg?"
Guess so. "I know who's behind this, Simon. Jim does too. That's why he was talking about the dreams. I really wish he had told me about the dreams earlier. I could have helped, you know? Anyway, I think that's why he's so sure he did it." It had bothered him earlier that Jim believed he could actually murder someone in cold blood. If the woman had been involved in some crime, hurting someone else, sure, Jim could kill to protect. Hell, that's why he was in this mess to begin with. But to just stab someone...
"Sandburg, were you making a point somewhere in that monologue?"
He'd forgotten Simon wasn't as skilled as Jim in deciphering his ramblings. "Yeah, Simon, there's a point: Brooks Quinlan is involved in this."
"Aw, damn," Simon muttered. Brooks Quinlan, Sr. blamed Jim for killing Brooks Quinlan, Jr. Never mind that Junior was up to his neck in gunrunning at the time, Jim had to pay for the death. So he had had him kidnapped and sent to the director to be tortured and destroyed from the mind down. Jim couldn't even speak when they had found him and his thoughts were just jumbled images. But under Sandburg's care, Jim had bounced back to his old self quickly and he had led the FBI to the director. And the director had pointed them in the direction of Brooks Quinlan. Both were now in a federal facility in Indiana, awaiting trial. "How do you know this, Sandburg?"
"I recognized the mixture of drugs Jim was given. The director used it to try to break him."
"And you know this how?"
"We have the director's file on Jim."
Simon nodded. The file the FBI had searched for high and low. "So you stole a file and obstructed a federal investigation? You know the penalty for that?" God, if it wasn't one thing with the pair, it was another.
Blair threw up his hands in innocence. "We didn't steal anything, man. The director had it hidden in an airport locker. He told us where to find it. And we kept it because... because it shows Jim as he really is. You know what I mean, Simon."
The captain did and he understood why it wasn't turned over. If people, especially the government, found out that Jim was a Sentinel he'd end up as a guinea pig, or worse, a weapon to be used and abused as the g-men saw fit. "I'll call Richardson when the hour's decent and see what he can find out about the contacts Quinlan's had in prison. I'll also fax him the vitals on the victim. Maybe she was connected to Quinlan as well." Richardson was the federal agent assigned to the Quinlan case.
Simon pulled to the curb in front of the loft. Blair reached for the door and stopped suddenly. "Damn. I forgot about the lawyer. You don't think he's still waiting at the station, do you?"
"I called earlier and had him sent home. He's going to meet us at the hospital tomorrow, hopefully before Jim gets sprung."
"Nice save, Simon. You're getting good at this," Blair said with a grin as he opened the door. Simon groaned and rested his head against the steering wheel as he mumbled something Blair couldn't hear. "You're going to have to speak up, Simon. I'm Blair the Guide, not Jim the Sentinel."
"I said go pack a bag. You're staying with me for the next few days."
Blair's chin hit him in the chest. "There's no need, Simon. I know the loft's still a crime scene so I'll just crash at my office tonight. I'll be okay."
"You just told me Brooks Quinlan is involved in this. Apparently prison isn't stopping him from getting at Jim and although at the moment he appears to be one of the few who doesn't know that the easiest way to get to Jim is through you, he won't stay dumb for long."
"What about Jim?" Blair asked in a panic. He hadn't thought about Quinlan trying a different tactic.
"I had a word with the guard before I left. I didn't know who was setting Jim up but I figured it would suit their plans well if Jim conveniently committed suicide. So even as the world is being protected from Jim, Jim is being protected from the world."
"Man, this is getting way complicated. But you don't have to--"
"Save it, Sandburg. I'm too tired to argue, okay? Just get your stuff and let's go."
Blair nodded and bounded up the steps. Simon was right; they were both too tired to argue. But he was crashing at the captain's only for the night and then they would talk. If they didn't kill each other first.
As soon as Jim awakened, he knew the drugs were completely out of his system. His energy level was up, his senses sharp, his thoughts clear. Too clear actually. Because now he recognized the haze of yesterday was induced by one of the director's dark potions and that meant... He braced himself and continued the thought. That meant he had killed the woman in the loft.
For weeks he had fought the director's control of him. He'd had his anger, frustration, and a good deal of worry about Blair dealing with his absence to sustain him through the worst part of it. In the end when he'd felt himself weakening, when all the careful controls he and Sandburg had erected were being stripped away from him one by one, he had worried he would hurt someone, either blindly or because the director ordered it. The thought had scared him so badly, he had withdrawn within himself and refused to let any aggressive behavior escape. Not even when Quinlan had attached him... Damn. He'd had no memory of that until now. Did that mean all the memories of those lost six weeks were returning? What a hell of a way to start a prison term.
Sandburg would have a fit and Simon would be livid, but he knew he was going to serve time. Not because a good lawyer couldn't get him off, but because he wasn't even going to allow counsel to try. If he was so weak that he had allowed himself to commit murder, he deserved to pay for the crime. He had let his guard down, had put everyone at risk. Hell, it could have just as easily been Blair he had killed.
Briefly he considered blaming others for his predicament. No one should have believed him when he said he was fine. He'd been tortured, starved, and brainwashed for six weeks. Someone should have said, "you need to see a shrink." Someone should have been monitoring his every move, waiting for a meltdown. But no. He was Jim Ellison. He hadn't broken. He wouldn't break.
But he had. From the time he'd left the station yesterday until he'd awakened on the sofa, he'd blacked out. He had no idea of where he had gone, what he had done, what had been done to him. All he knew was that the woman was dead and his hands were covered with blood. He deserved to be punished.
And this time he wouldn't be going in undercover. He couldn't become someone else, blame whatever anger that surfaced on another personality. He would be an inmate like the rest of them and there would be people there he had arrested and they would be as angry as Brooks Quinlan which meant they would be just as eager to destroy him. Could he live like that day after day, knowing no note would get him out, no Simon to rush in at the last minute, no Blair to soothe away the pain in his soul? And he didn't want Blair hanging around waiting for him to be paroled. His roommate needed to get on with his life, go to Borneo or wherever the hell he wanted to go. He didn't want his partner clinging to the past because that life was now over. He would never be a cop again. He would never be a Sentinel again. The senses, being genetic in nature, would still be around but prison would surely strip him of control and he'd end up just another nutcase ex-con. Thousands of them roamed the streets. One more wouldn't even be blinked at.
He laughed at himself as he found his clothes. He hadn't thought a pity party was his style but he'd done a pretty good job of it. Never mind the unidentified woman in the morgue or the citizens he had disappointed or the friends he had let down. No, it was all about him and his feelings, his guilt. Now it was time to get over himself. He knew what had to be done and he would see to it it was done in the least painful way possible to those who cared for him.
"You look like you're going somewhere, detective," Dr. Cuthbertson said as she entered the room and saw him slipping on his shoes.
"As soon as you sign my discharge papers, doctor."
"There's no reason to keep you. Your final tests appear normal so I'll give Captain Banks a call--"
"Please don't do that, ma'am," Jim pleaded. "Just do the papers and I'll have the officer outside give me a ride to the station."
"Your friends wanted me to notify them."
"I know, but I don't want you to. They've been through enough. They don't need to watch as I'm being booked and fingerprinted. I don't want them humiliated like that."
The doctor looked at the man standing so ramrod straight in front of her and knew then and there that whatever he thought he was guilty of, he couldn't be. "Such nobility was common among the Romans, detective," she said gently. "But I think you're confused. The Romans only threw Christians to the lions, not themselves." She saw his jaw tense and knew she had struck a nerve. He was definitely preparing to sacrifice himself on someone's altar and because he was her patient, there was nothing she could do but comply. "Give me a few minutes to complete the paperwork, detective, and then you're out of here."
"Thank you, Dr. Cuthbertson."
Fifteen minutes later she watched him get on the elevator with the officer who had been guarding him and debated what to do. Her mother had always told her that in life she was going to meet some bad people, but there would always be good ones to balance them out. Well, one of the good ones had just left. And two other good ones deserved to know it. With determination, she caught an elevator and went down to the emergency room. She smiled when she saw Sadie Farmsworth on duty.
"Hey, Dr. Cuthbertson," Sadie said when she saw her. "How's our favorite detective doing?"
Good. Sadie had brought the subject up. Now there was no question of ethics at all. "I just released him and he had his guard take him down to the station."
"I bet Captain Banks and Mr. Sandburg didn't like that at all."
"They don't know anything about it. I was supposed to call them before the detective was discharged but he asked me not to. Since he's my patient, I have to abide by his wishes even though I know Captain Banks is still at home since he had such a late night here."
Sadie nodded understandingly. "I haven't talked to the detective since yesterday. Maybe I'll give that nice captain a call and see if I can visit him at the station."
"That would be nice, Mrs. Farmsworth. A very friendly sort of thing to do. I'm sure the captain will be pleased to hear from you. I'll leave you to your phone calls. Have a good day."
"You too, doctor." Sadie reached for a copy of Det. Ellison's paperwork. Under contacts was Captain Simon Banks, work and home numbers. She hummed as she dialed.
Blair jumped ten feet in the air out of Daryl Banks' bed at the double sounds. Stumbling out of the bedroom Simon's son used when visiting his father, he looked around for the captain. He was in the kitchen, ignoring the portable phone that had apparently been thrown against the wall and now resided in several pieces on the floor. "Simon? What's happening, man? Jim's okay, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he was sleeping comfortably when I called to check on him."
"I take it that was before?" His eyes indicated the remains of the phone. He squinted at the clock on the stove. 8:23. Who the hell had ticked Simon off this early in the morning. Oh yeah. The last thing Simon had said before they went to bed was that he wanted to wake up early to call Agent Richardson. "Everything okay in Indiana?" Blair asked cautiously.
"Richardson was as freaked as we were. Said he'll get right on it."
Okay, the problem wasn't the agent. And it wasn't Jim. Looked like he was going to have to ask. "Why the attack on the phone, man?"
"You want some orange juice or something? Help yourself to whatever's in the fridge. The coffee's ready too."
Blair shook his head and stifled a leftover yawn. At least he was consistent in his roommates; getting information out of either of them was as bad as a root canal. "The problem with me staying here, Simon, is that you can't escape into your office and close the door in my face."
Simon snorted. "Couldn't even if I wanted to. I called to check in with the station this morning. My call was transferred to the commissioner's office. It seems I'm to take a few days vacation, starting immediately."
Blair understood the plight of the phone. "What exactly does that mean, Simon?"
"It means that Cooper is picking on the wrong fucking guy this time! I haven't been a nice, easygoing captain all these years for nothing. I have allies, Sandburg, and I am not going down quietly."
Blair tried to picture Simon as a nice, easygoing captain and concluded that must have been before he got involved with the department. "What's with this Cooper guy? Why is he so determined to get Jim and now you?"
Simon sighed and grabbed a mug of coffee, motioning for Blair to do the same. "Jim has his own way of doing things and that was the case even before this Sentinel stuff got thrown into the mix. He has a sense of right and wrong that does not give an inch, nor allows for much in the way of a gray area." Blair nodded. So far Simon hadn't said anything he didn't know in explicit detail. "Because of that, he's not afraid of Internal Affairs. Most cops see an IA officer and they clam up, wondering who the person is after and hoping it's not them. Jim sees Cooper or one of his agents and he nods like he does to every fellow officer and continues what he's doing. Cooper doesn't like that so he starts looking into Jim's files. He wants to start something but Jim, especially after working with you, has made the mayor look good. His Honor tells the commissioner he doesn't want Jim touched. That just makes Cooper more determined. It's a wonder if he didn't drool on himself when he heard about what happened at the loft."
"So this is just some show of testosterone? Because Jim doesn't tremble at the sight of him?"
Simon frowned. "Why do you sound so surprised? You can't tell me there aren't professors at Ranier who act like that."
Department politics. Simon had a point. "What are you going to do?"
"Jim comes first. I mean even if he did stab this woman--"
"What do you mean if he did?" Blair broke in. "You know he didn't."
"I don't know anything, Sandburg. I wasn't there. And neither were you."
"Jim couldn't kill anyone in cold blood."
"We don't know what the circumstances were in the loft," Simon pointed out reasonably. "We don't know what Jim was told, what he was led to believe."
Blair shook his head. "Jim didn't kill her."
"How do you know, Sandburg?" Simon asked. It was kind of touching the kid had such faith in his partner, but it was also like wearing rose-colored glasses. Jim had never denied the violence of his background. With the right combination of drugs and mental manipulation, that violence could easily be tapped. Especially after the events of the past few months. Damn it, he should have been expecting something like this to happen.
"I know the same way you would know if you weren't so damn stubborn," Blair said.
"Don't start, Sandburg," Simon said, cutting him off. He knew exactly where the observer wanted to take the conversation and he wasn't going there. Not now. Not when Jim's freedom and his own career were in jeopardy.
Blair took a deep breath and debated what he was about to do. It was going to be dangerous, of that he was certain. When people were angry, they sometimes lost control. When people were frightened, control slipped as well. When they were both... Maybe he should wait until Jim was around. But it was for Jim he had to do this. "I'm sorry, Simon, but we are going to start this and we're going to finish it once and for all."
"Let it go, Sandburg," Simon warned one final time.
"No. You're acting like you're just a cop in this."
"Maybe that's because I am a cop. I have a badge and a gun to prove it."
"And you have a heart and a mind to prove you're a Watcher, Simon, our Watcher. It is within your power to know whether Jim committed this murder or not. You're just too scared to try, man."
Simon pinched the bridge of his nose, knowing he was on his last nerve and Sandburg was playing it with expertise. Why the hell did the loft have to be a crime scene? Under normal circumstances, they both would have stayed at the loft and then he could just walk out and end this conversation. But there was no way in hell he was going to be run out of his own home. "Listen to me, Sandburg. You and Jim can play 'psychic network' all you want but leave me out of it. I don't want any part of it!"
"But you are a part of it, Simon, and you have been since the beginning! Who put up with Jim when he was going through his lone wolf act after Jack Pendergrast disappeared?"
"He was a good detective. A little attitude comes with the job."
"Who did Jim confide in when his senses came online and he thought he was going insane? Who did he trust with the truth when I finally got him to understand what was happening to him?"
"I was his commander. He had a duty to tell me."
Simon tried again. "He told a friend. So what?"
"Why you, Simon? You weren't his only friend. Hell, I'm not even sure you were that close back then. How did he know he could trust you with knowledge that could mean his life if it fell into the wrong hands?"
"The same could be said of you."
"No, you're wrong. I knew what was happening to Jim. He needed me to provide him answers. He had to trust me. You, on the other hand, he decided to trust-- we decided to trust."
"When the hell do I get to decide anything, Sandburg?" Simon asked angrily. "Jim made a choice to be a Sentinel, not just have the talents. You made a choice to stay here as his Guide and not go to Borneo. When do I get to choose?"
"Now, Simon. You decide now. Jim has enough doubts of his own. If you choose to stand with us, then you must do so with the clarity that can only come from using the gifts you have been endowed with."
"This is nuts, Sandburg! I--" The phone, the unbroken one in the living room, rang. Part annoyed and part relieved, Simon answered. "Banks!"
Blair wondered if he should back off a little. Not all Sentinels and Guides had Watchers but he and Jim definitely needed Simon. In the jungle a Sentinel's territory was a few square miles at most. Here, there was Cascade and all its surrounding territory. The threats were greater, the dangers more dire. Simon gave them more flexibility, more confidence, the ability to take greater chances because they both knew if something happened to one, Simon would be there to take care of the other.
"Thank you, ma'am. We'll owe you." Simon put down the phone and glanced at his temporary roommate. "Get dressed, Sandburg. That was Mrs. Farmsworth. It seems Jim was discharged and had the guard drive him down to the station."
"Why didn't Dr. C. call?" Blair asked as he scrambled toward the bedroom.
"Because Jim asked her not to."
Ten minutes later Blair was still trying to figure it out as the car sped toward downtown Cascade. "What was Jim thinking, leaving the hospital without us?"
Finally, an easy question from the kid. "He's going to be booked, Sandburg. Fingerprints, mugshots, the works. It's going to be humiliating enough for him. These are people he's worked with for years. He's talked with them, joked with them, bitched with them, and now they are going to have to treat him like the criminals he's brought in. His dignity is going to be sorely tested."
"But he knows we wouldn't let him go through it alone."
"Exactly. And if it wasn't for Cooper I'd let him keep his pride, even if it meant tying you to a chair. But if Jim is feeling guilty, he's liable to let Cooper talk him into making a statement and that could be disastrous."
"What about the lawyer? Did you get him?"
"He's on his way to the station too." The cell phone rang and because the traffic was suddenly thick, he indicated that Blair should answer.
"Captain Simon Banks' phone." A second of silence. "Oh, hi, Joel... Yeah, we heard and we're on our way right now. Commander Cooper isn't anywhere around, is he?... Good. If he shows up, could you... Yeah, run interference is what I mean... Okay, I'll tell him. See you in a few." He put the phone on standby and looked at Simon. "The bad news is that Jim's at the station. The good news is that Cooper hasn't shown up yet. And you were right, Simon. You do have allies. Joel says to tell you everyone is behind you at the station. Whatever you need, just ask."
Simon nodded. Joel Taggert, captain of the Bomb Squad, was a good friend. He was also awfully fond of Jim and especially Blair. "Now you can stop worrying, Sandburg. Joel will take care of Jim until we get there."
The phone rang three more times, all calls from someone in the department letting them know what was going on. So many people showing their support should have made Blair happy, but the reason he was fielding so many calls was because there was a traffic accident ahead and they were caught on the middle of a bridge. No way to back up, no shoulder to pass on. They were stuck. And as Blair sat there fuming, there came the call he'd been dreading.
Blair looked up as Simon made his way back to the car. He had walked up ahead to see if he could be of any help, partly because he was an officer and the other three-fourths because he wanted to hurry the situation along. "No injuries, Sandburg. Once the wrecker gets here, we should be able to go."
"Let them take their time now, Simon. It's already too late."
"What the hell are you talking about, Sandburg?"
"Joel just called again. Cooper has Jim in interrogation."
Simon pounded his fist against the roof of the car. "Damn. Jim's lawyer get there?"
Blair nodded. "But he sent him away. Jim waived his rights."
"Jim did what!" Simon slumped against the car. "If Cooper leaves us anything to beat up, I've got first crack at your partner."
"Be my guest," Blair said bitterly. "Get in some licks for me too."
"Hey, Chief, Simon," Jim said as his two friends walked into the interrogation room. Cooper had left ten minutes ago but he was told to stay where he was. Now he knew why. "Hope you didn't go all the way to the hospital looking for me."
"Could have happened, but didn't," Blair said dryly as he and Simon sat down across from Jim. "Some people care about their friends more than others. We know when you left the hospital. And no, Dr. C. did not call."
"You're pissed at me," Jim said unnecessarily. It was quite obvious. "I was just trying to protect you, Chief. Why should you have to stand around and watch me get processed?"
"Maybe because I'm your friend. Maybe that's what friends do, be there for each other in good times and bad. But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you, Jim?" His blue eyes blazed with indignation. "You have to go through the bad times by yourself because that's how you've always done it, right? Forget that you have a partner now. Forget that you should have at least let your commanding officer be present. No, you just flexed that jaw muscle of yours and did what you had to do and damn the rest of us, right, Jim?"
It had been a while since he'd seen his partner so angry. He turned to his other visitor and caught him staring through him, almost zonelike. "Help me out here, would you, Simon? You understand, don't you?" Jim asked desperately.
Simon nodded. He understood quite a bit now that he had allowed himself to fully experience what being a Watcher meant. Most of the sensations he was familiar with, he just hadn't known where they were coming from. "Sure I do, Jim. I understand you're being as much a jackass as Sandburg says."
Jim had expected them to be upset but this was over the top. "Believe it or not, I was trying to help you guys out. What good would it have done for you to be here? You couldn't have stopped me from being booked. What would you have done other than stare at me? Handed me the wipe to get the ink off my fingers? Given me something to smile at when they took my picture?"
"Maybe we could have stopped you from talking to Cooper," Simon said. Joel had met them in the parking garage with the unpleasant news that Cooper was on his way to the D.A.'s office with Jim's confession.
"I'm guilty, Simon. It didn't make any difference who I talked to or when. I would still be guilty."
"Shut up!" Blair yelled. "How many times do I have to tell you that you didn't kill that woman!"
"Chief, I know--"
"You know nothing, Jim Ellison! You don't know a fucking thing!" Blair slammed out the door.
Jim stared at the door in amazement. "What was that all about?" he asked his remaining friend.
"That was about a loss of faith."
Jim's shoulders sagged. "I know I let him down, Simon. But I never wanted him to have so much faith in me. I didn't ask for it."
"You got it wrong, Jim. He didn't lose faith in you; you lost it in him. I'm sure he's wondering now if you ever had any in the first place."
Confused blue eyes sought Simon's brown ones. "I don't understand, sir."
Simon sighed. "When Sandburg got into the Golden and ended up shooting your gun in the parking garage, you told him it wasn't his fault and he believed you. Why? Because he has faith in you and what you tell him. He always looks for truth in what you say, even if he doesn't happen to agree. Faith, Jim, pure and simple faith. But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? He tells you that you did not stab that woman in the loft and what do you do? You dismiss his words immediately. You do not even take time to consider them. You don't remember killing her, do you?"
"But you'd rather believe the worse than giving the words of your Guide any credence. Where was your faith, Jim?"
"Blair sees what he wants to see, Simon."
"Blair sees far more than you and I know, Jim. You should realize that by now. And did you listen to his words? He said he knew you didn't do it. Not that he thought you didn't, not that you didn't do it because you weren't in full mental control. He told you you didn't do it. And you ignored him. Completely. You may as well told him that he nor his opinion meant nothing to you at all."
"That wasn't what I was going for, Simon," Jim said defensively. "You don't know what the director did to me."
"But Sandburg does. He told me about the file you recovered. Before you shut your ears to his declaration of your innocence, did you take into account that he had read the file, that he recognized on sight the drugs you had been given, or that he'd read and memorized your reactions to everything the director had done to you? No, you didn't take that into account, Jim. Because if you had, you would have realized that maybe the kid knew what he was talking about when you asked did you kill her and he said no."
Simon shook his head sadly and continued. "By ignoring his answer you dismissed everything Blair has been to you since you met. He is the one person you've allowed to get to know you. But according to you, he doesn't know you at all." He watched his detective's face pale and knew he was finally getting through to the man. "Where was your faith in Blair, Jim?" he questioned again, this time very softly.
Jim closed his eyes and felt pain that wasn't his own. Blair. Blair was hurt and he was the one who had hurt him. "Blair didn't know anything about the dreams, Simon. I should have told him. Then maybe..."
"Maybe what, Jim? Maybe then he wouldn't be so quick to say you didn't kill anyone? Well, he knows about the dreams now and he still says you're innocent. I know about the dreams too, Jim. What would you say if I told you I know you didn't kill that woman too?"
Jim focused on his captain. "I would ask you how you knew."
"The same way Sandburg knows." Jim didn't react. "Well, at least now I can tell Sandburg it was nothing personal," Simon said as he got to his feet.
"You'll take care of him?" Jim asked softly.
"If you had cared enough to ask, you would have known he stayed at my place last night."
The famous Ellison jaw clench highlighted his profile. "I care, Simon."
The captain nodded. "But about what? About what's happening in Cascade right now or about what happened in Indiana? You can't live in the past and the present, Jim. Sandburg told me earlier I had to make a decision. I think it's time for you to do the same."
Jim flinched as the door closed behind his friend. Simon was right, as usual. It was time to decide.
As Simon rode the elevator up to the seventh floor, he worried he'd been too hard on Jim. But years of leading officers had taught him that sometimes you had to be tough and other times you had to coddle. With mule-headed Jim Ellison, tough usually worked. Although Sandburg seemed to get quite a lot of milage out of coddling.
Thinking of Sandburg, Simon turned toward the Major Crimes bullpen in search of the distraught Guide. He figured Sandburg had left interrogation and headed directly to his office. It was part of a pattern he himself had created. Whenever Sandburg and Jim got snippy with each other, invariably they were called into the office for a little chat; the action was now instinctive.
Until he crossed the threshold, he had forgotten he wasn't supposed to be there. From the grins and calls of welcome he received, his men had not. "When Hairboy showed up, we knew you couldn't be far behind, captain," Brown said, speaking for the entire squad. "Hell of a deal for both Ellison and you, sir."
"It will take more than Cooper to bring down either of us, gentlemen."
"We hear you, captain, and we want you to know we're behind you one-hundred percent."
"Thank you for your support. I just hope you don't live to regret it," Simon said, wondering if the city could survive if Cooper suspended everyone in Major Crimes. "You said you've seen Sandburg?"
Brown nodded. "He's in your office. He's okay, isn't he? We all kinda figured you'd be looking after him until this mess with Jim is taken care of."
Simon chuckled silently. It seemed he was the last one to figure out where he fit into Ellison's and Sandburg's lives. Apparently the rest of the world already knew. "Yeah, I have that covered. You guys okay on your own?"
"A case is a case, captain. Nothing hot has been dropped into our laps."
"Good. Keep me informed." He nodded for them to go back to work and stepped into his office. Sandburg sat slumped in front of his desk. "If it makes you feel better, he didn't believe me either."
Blair sat up. "Believe what, Simon?"
"When I told him he was innocent."
The grad student studied him closely. "Why did you tell him that?"
"Because I know he didn't kill her."
"You've made your decision then?"
Simon shrugged. "If you want to call it that. I don't think I really had a choice, did I?"
Blair grinned. "Sometimes fate, destiny, karma, whatever likes to give us the illusion of choice. It makes us more pliant, I think." The grin faded. "Now if we could only get Jim to bend a little."
"You know how he can be when motivated by guilt. We'll just have to go around him."
"I can do that," Blair replied eagerly. "Where do we start?"
The phone rang before Simon could reply and the captain stared at the phone. According to his superior, he wasn't supposed to be in his office or anywhere near the station. What the hell. The whole station knew he was there. "Banks," he answered firmly. A couple seconds of silence. "We'll be right there." He looked across the desk at Blair. "I think we have our starting place."
"What's up, man?"
"That was the D.A.'s office. He wants to see the two of us right now."
"Uh, Simon," Sandburg whispered as they walked the thick-carpeted halls of the Cascade Justice Building, "when you said the D.A. wanted to see us, I thought you meant one of the Assistant D.A.'s."
"Apparently Cooper took this to the top."
"Is this good or bad?"
The captain shrugged. "We're about to find out."
The secretary led them into the well-apportioned office of the D.A. "Captain Banks, Mr. Sandburg, I'm glad you could make it," D.A. Raymond House said, motioning them into seats. "Since we all know why you're here, I may as well get to the point. Commander Cooper visited me this afternoon and brought me this." He indicated a folder on his desk. "I haven't read it. In fact, I'm going to lock it in my desk drawer since I'm going out of town this weekend. My secretary doesn't have a key to this drawer, neither do the A.D.A.'s. So I guess when Judge Collins holds bail hearings this afternoon, he will find the D.A.'s office unprepared. It will be unprepared until I return to town on Monday. Do you understand?"
Simon and Blair traded glances. "Yes, sir," Simon replied as he stood. "Were we here, sir?"
"If I were to check my schedule, I would have to say no." Simon and Blair turned to leave. "The mayor is not the only one who has an electorate to answer to," House explained softly. Next year he was planning a House for the House campaign. He couldn't afford to prosecute a town favorite and probably end up with egg on his face when it turned out the man was innocent. Hopefully, by the time he returned, there wouldn't be a case pending against Det. Ellison.
"We understand, sir," Blair said, almost reading the D.A.'s mind. "Come Monday, you'll have someone to prosecute. But it won't be Jim Ellison."
"Thank you, gentlemen."
They were both silent until they left the building. "What do we do now, Simon?" Blair asked, still stunned by the sudden turn of events.
"Prepare for the bail hearing."
Blair thought of all things he didn't own. "You think bail's going to be set high?"
"Mrs. Collins, the judge's wife, is very involved in the amnesty movement. She was at that dedication ceremony a year or so ago when Genevieve Benet exposed the truth about President Lemec and his corrupt government in Saint Germaine. She would have died if Jim had not given that missile a hotter target. It is well known that the judge remembers the incident in great detail."
"Damn," Blair said in awe. "I was lukewarm about House as the D.A., but he knows how to get what he wants, doesn't he?"
"He's a politician, Sandburg. They all know," Simon said dryly. "I want to check in with Agent Richardson. Maybe he's found something that can help us. Do you need to go by the university for anything?"
"Nah. It's Friday. I usually spend the day working at the station."
"Well, I don't think either of us are welcome there today. Feel like lunch?"
Blair searched his stomach and found he was hungry-- for the first time since Jim had forgotten to pick him up. Must be a good omen. "Yeah, Simon. I could eat a horse."
"Then you're picking up the tab, Sandburg."
"Court is now in session," the bailiff boomed. "The Honorable Judge Alfred Collins presiding."
The clerk stood and addressed the court. "First on this afternoon's docket is the State of Washington versus James Ellison, matter of bail."
"Defense, state your request," Judge Collins said.
Jim's lawyer stood, young but confident-- especially after talking with Captain Banks. "We request that James Ellison be released on his own recognizance."
The judge nodded. "Objections from the State?"
"None, your honor." The two assistant D.A.s barely looked up as they consulted their files for the next case.
"I have an objection, your honor," Cmdr. Cooper said from the seats behind the prosecution's table.
Judge Collins sighed. "And you are?"
"Commander Lyle Cooper, Internal Affairs Division of the Cascade Police Department, sir. This man has confessed to murder, your honor. He has no business getting bail, much less being released on his own recognizance."
"Commander, I don't appreciate outsiders disrupting my court. But you have brought up a serious matter. What about this confession?"
The two prosecutors looked at each other. "We don't know anything about a confession, sir."
"I handed it to the D.A. himself!" Cooper yelled.
"Speak again, commander, and I'm going to have to fine you for contempt of court," the judge warned.
"The D.A. is out of town, your honor. We can only work with what we have."
"This is an outrage!" Cooper sputtered.
"It certainly is," the judge agreed. "Two hundred and fifty dollar fine, commander. Pay the clerk on your way out."
"Ask Ellison. He'll tell you he confessed," Cooper said, pointing at the defense's table.
"Five hundred dollars, sir. I hope you have your check book handy," Judge Collins said dryly. He turned toward Jim. "So what about this confession, detective?"
Blair, sitting behind the defense, looked over to the man sitting beside him. "We're screwed, Simon," he whispered. It was supposed to have been so easy. Why did Cooper have to mess it up? Jim would confess and the judge would have no choice but to deny bail.
Jim stood, his hands solemnly clasped behind his back. "Medical records will show I have been under the influence of very powerful drugs, your honor. In fact, I was only released from the hospital hours ago. Therefore, any confession I may have made would surely be tainted by the remnants of the drugs in my system."
"Bullshit!" Cooper shouted angrily.
"One thousand dollars and a night in jail," the judge declared, glaring at Cooper. "Bailiff, remove this man from my court." Cooper started to argue but thought better of it and with a huff, allowed himself to be escorted out. "So, Detective Ellison, are the drugs completely out of your system now?"
"Yes, they are, your honor."
"And do you feel you should be released on your own recognizance?"
Jim heard Blair suck in a breath and hold it. "Yes, sir."
"Because there's a murderer running free in Cascade, your honor, and I can't do anything about that while in custody."
"Good answer, detective. You are hereby released on your own recognizance. Call the next case, clerk."
Jim shook his lawyer's hand and turned to the bench behind him. "You guys coming or what?" he asked the two statues who were staring at him. "We have an investigation, you know."
"Yeah, like who switched Jims when I wasn't looking," Blair muttered.
His partner just smiled.
"I guess the logical place to start investigating would be the loft," Jim mused as they climbed into the captain's car. "Has forensics given the all clear?"
Simon nodded. "And for your information, Det. Ellison, we've already started the investigation. The woman killed in your apartment was Dorie Heyward. She was Brooks Quinlan, Jr.'s fiancee at the time of his death. It was rumored she was the one who got him involved with the guns in the first place. The senior Quinlan must have heard the rumors as well, leaving her alive until her death could be of some use to him."
"How decent of him," Jim remarked, acid dripping in his voice. "What else have you discovered?"
"Prison records show Quinlan has made a number of Internet calls to someone here in Cascade. Richardson is working on getting us a name."
"It's nice to know that while I sat on my ass drowning in self-pity, you guys were working the case," Jim said self-effacingly.
Blair patted him on the shoulder. "I'm just glad you finally saw the light. What caused the big turn around?"
"I not only saw the light, Chief, but birds tweeting about my head as well," Jim replied with a laugh. "Let's just say I was run over by a tank named Simon. He packs a mean wallop."
"You hit him?" Blair asked Simon in amazement.
"Only with the truth, Sandburg," Simon said, understanding what Jim meant. "You have your laptop with you?"
"Good. Joel is letting me borrow his password so I can get into the station files without tipping anyone off."
Jim frowned. "Now I'm confused. Why can't you use your own password, captain?"
"Because Cooper convinced the commissioner that Simon should take a vacation," Blair explained quickly. "You think the judge is really going to make him stay in jail tonight?"
"Depends on how well he apologizes," Simon said. "Not to mention how quickly he pays the fine."
"Serves the bastard right."
"We're actually in agreement, Sandburg." Simon reached in his pocket for a cigar, celebrating the look on Cooper's face as the bailiff took hold of his elbow.
"I'm still lost," Jim admitted. "Why is Cooper after you, Simon?"
"Because I'm your Watcher, Sentinel, and anyone who tries to get to you, has to go through me first," Simon declared. He could feel Sandburg grinning in the backseat.
"Your decision, sir?" Jim asked, remembering the conversation in the interrogation room.
"My decision, Jim." Ellison had just as big a grin as Sandburg. "So what do we do now? Get matching T-shirts?"
Jim laughed, remembering when Blair had asked about secret handshakes and code words. "I really should avoid letting you two spend time together," he said between chuckles.
"We keep telling you the same thing, man," Blair rejoined. "It's not safe to leave Simon and me alone."
"Definitely not safe for Sandburg," Simon added.
"There wasn't any permanent damage done to your apartment, was there?" Jim asked.
"Nah. Just a phone I have to replace."
Before Jim could ask for clarification, a howl came from the backseat. "We are all idiots," Blair declared as the loft came into view.
"Thank you for your unsolicited opinion, Sandburg," Simon said acerbically.
"Nah, man. I'm serious. An important clue is staring us in the face and we haven't paid any attention to it."
"What's that, Chief?"
"Your truck, man. If you were so drugged that you can't remember what happened, how did you park the truck so straight?"
"Someone shoot me," Simon said as he parked. "Sandburg is a better investigator than I am."
"Cheer up, captain," Jim said, getting out of the car. "It's not your fault you're a desk jockey now. Probably getting a little slow in the field, you know."
"I'll give you slow, Ellison." The two men played chase up the stairs. One of the neighbors peeked out to see what was going on. Blair just smiled and shrugged as he trailed behind them. He was definitely going to have to tell Daryl about this.
They were waiting for him when he finally reached the loft. "Is he always this slow, Jim?" Simon asked.
"Yeah. Sometimes he's so slow I just wish I could scoop him up like a hairy football and carry him with me," Jim said as he slowly scanned the loft. "But he has a tendency to get nauseous when I do that, so I settle for slow."
"You two ever think about taking your show on the road?" Blair said, secretly pleased by their antics. Everything was starting to be normal again.
"Speaking of road shows, hook up the computer and patch me into the department system, Sandburg. Then you two can get on with your detecting and I can get on with mine."
They left Simon at the table with the laptop and faced the living room. "Okay, Jim. We know someone had to drive you here. We know someone killed Dorie Heyward. What we need to know is if it was one someone or two. I want you to take a deep breath, then tell me who's been in our home."
"There's been a crowd of people through here," Simon pointed out.
"Yeah, but Jim knows the forensics team and their techniques. He can filter all that out."
"But there are still too many smells left, Chief," Jim said with a frown. "Can you remember who from the department was here?"
"That's it!" Blair said as Simon started to recall the names. "Jim, every building has its own unique smell, including police headquarters." Jim nodded. "Filter out that scent and every scent that it's attached to. What's left?"
Blair put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Filter that out too, Jim. What else is there?"
Jim's nose wiggled. "Perfume?"
Jim nodded. "There's something else. A spicy scent. Vaguely familiar."
"Does it bring any images to mind?"
He closed his eyes. "Colors. Fabric. Crowds. Noise." His eyes popped open. "Little Cuba."
Blair remembered being caught up in a festival in the Cuban section of Cascade during a case where a cop killed his partner. "Attach your sight to the smell and see where it leads, Jim." While Jim processed the command, Blair glanced at Simon who made no pretense of working at the computer; instead his entire focus was on them. "Taking notes, Simon?"
"It's been a while since I've paid close attention to what the two of you do."
"Actually, I would say you've been actively avoiding it."
Simon couldn't deny the accusation. He had always been uneasy with the Sentinel thing, especially because he was usually the one who had to come up with a reasonable explanation in the final reports. "That was then, Sandburg. Now, paying attention is in the Watcher job description, right?"
"It's in every job description, Simon," Blair said as he watched Jim slowly climb the stairs, following a trail only he could see. "Don't get so caught up in titles and lists of what you think you're supposed to do. Just be Simon, and all the bases will get covered."
"I hear what you're saying, but I can't help but be impressed at how hard you and Jim have worked with his Sentinel skills. A year ago he couldn't have sorted through all those smells, at least not without zoning."
"If you think that's something, you should see what he can do with his hearing," Blair said excitedly. Finally, someone he could talk to, someone who not only understood but wasn't a security risk. "Jim bitches about our testing sessions, but they really do help."
"Will he continue to improve or will he eventually reach a plateau?"
"If you're looking for historical documentation, I can't give it to you. But my educated guess is that he can stretch his senses indefinitely. It's like learning, Simon. Our brains never reach a saturation point."
"Chief, I need the evidence kit," Jim called from his room.
"Coming, Jim." He dug a miniature forensics kit from his backpack and Simon looked at him strangely. "What? They give them to us down at the station," he explained defensively. "Jim's always finding something and we don't want to taint any evidence so..."
"So combined, you're a four-legged walking crime scene unit."
Blair grinned. "Something like that."
"Sounds like I need to increase your caseload. Can't have all these skills going to waste, can we?" Simon mused aloud.
"Sandburg, you want to get your ass up here before he takes away our lunch hour?" Jim yelled.
"Hour?" Simon's brow wrinkled. "You guys still taking an hour?"
"Uh, Jim needs me," Blair said in a panic. "I'm coming, Jim!"
As Blair scooted up the stairs doubletime Simon turned to the computer, hiding his grin.
"What is it, Jim?" Blair asked as he inspected the piece of red plastic his partner held between the jaws of the forceps. It was translucent, faceted on one side and flat on the other. "Looks like a 'jewel' you'd find at the Dollar Mart."
Jim froze as tendrils of memories began yanking at his brain cells. "Did they find the murder weapon, Chief?"
"Yeah. It was under the sofa. According to Cooper, you dropped it when you fell asleep."
"What did it look like?"
Blair shrugged. "It was just a regular knife. No serrated edges or anything."
"So it wasn't what you would call a dagger with a jeweled handle?"
Blair looked closely at Jim, finally realizing this wasn't just idle conversation. "No, Jim. It was just a plain knife."
Jim placed the plastic in an evidence bag, then sat down on the corner of his bed. "In the dream I pull the dagger out of the woman's chest. The blood spurts out and I bathe my hands in it."
Blair sat beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder to keep the nightmare from taking control. "You think this piece of plastic comes from the dagger?"
He nodded, remembering the colored 'jewels'. "Someone's been playing with my head. Not that we didn't know that already, but at least we have tangible proof."
"It also confirms you didn't kill Dorie Heyward. It's a pretty safe bet that the dagger was as plastic as this 'gem'."
Jim looked at his partner. "I no longer needed confirmation, Chief. I thought you understood that in the courtroom."
"Jim, I don't think I've understood too much since the moment I realized you were late picking me up."
Jim nodded. "It's been a pretty confusing time for me too. I've been living a self-fulfilling prophecy, Chief. Ever since I got my marbles back," he tapped his head ruefully, "I've been waiting for them to be snatched away again. It's like the past kept calling out to me, distracting me from the here and now. That's what made me so vulnerable to the dreams and to whatever occurred here. I then made everything worse by not listening to you. It wasn't that I didn't trust you or have faith in your opinion of me. It was just..." The words didn't want to come.
"Just what, Jim?" Blair prodded helpfully.
Jim stood and raked his fingers through his short hair. "Everyone blew off the time I spent with the director. Especially me. I was assaulted, Chief. Mentally and physically abused."
"I know, Jim," Blair said softly.
"But did you know I couldn't accept it? Nothing in my past experience had prepared me for being dominated, Chief. As a child, I was taught that if you were strong enough, smart enough, and ruthless enough, anything was possible. The director, however, showed me the flaws in that way of thinking."
Blair was standing beside his friend in a heartbeat, a hand darting out to clasp his muscled arm. "You weren't dominated, Jim. In the end you were strong enough to defeat him. Others would have self-destructed under the pressures you were submitted to. You, however, had the strength of mind to shut down until you could rebuild your defenses."
"It wasn't strength, Chief. It was you. I knew I could shut down because you would be there to 'crank me up' when the time came. My faith in you never wavered. The candle never went out."
"But it dimmed?"
"No. I was at fault. Instead of looking toward home and the light, I looked back."
Blair gave a fleeting smile. "Lot's wife syndrome, huh?" he asked, referring to the biblical story of the woman who turned back to look at an evil city and became a pillar of salt.
"Yeah, but I get to have a second chance. At least I hope I do." He placed both hands firmly on Blair's shoulders, forcing him to look directly at him. "Am I forgiven?"
Blair stared at him solemnly. "Yes."
Jim's eyes widened in amazement. "Just 'yes'? No groveling required? No favors demanded? No penance to perform?"
"Just a plain yes, Jim. You've punished yourself far more severely than I ever could. And as far as favors go, I just know there will be no griping when it comes time for your next set of tests."
"I think I just talked myself into trouble," Jim said with a shake of his head. His eyes then searched the face he knew so well. "We're okay, Chief?"
Blair smiled and nodded. "We're okay, Jim."
"Hot damn!" a voice floated up from downstairs as Blair helped Jim search for others clues in the bedroom. "Jim, I swear you put the 'd' in detective!"
"Does this mean we get our lunch hour back?" he asked as he and Blair hurried down the stairs to see what had excited their captain.
"I'll think about." Simon pointed to the computer screen. "Come here and tell me if you recognize this man, Jim."
Jim frowned as he checked out the picture without taking a step. The man with the thin beard and small eyes seemed vaguely familiar but details were a.w.o.l. "Who is he, Simon?"
"Ricardo Rivera. A federal hacker finally tracked down Quinlan's contact in Cascade. Mr. Rivera has a rap sheet as long as my arm and he currently lives in the Little Cuba sector. Hell of a call, Jim."
"Thank you, sir. What do we do now?"
"We go by the book. I'm going to call this information in and we're going to let the detectives assigned to the case handle it. We can't forget that Quinlan isn't our only enemy."
Commander Cooper, Infernal Affairs. Jim nodded, not liking the idea of someone else going after Rivera, but understanding Simon's wisdom. He listened as Simon passed on Richardson's information. The detectives were going to pick up Rivera and question him. Then they would call the loft and let them know what had happened.
"Anyone hungry?" Jim asked as they prepared to wait. "I thought the city would be paying for my meal tonight but since I'm on my own, any takeout preferences?"
"Simon's the newest member of the team, let him decide," Blair offered. "There's a list by the phone, captain."
Simon grunted when he saw the long list of numbers. "Is this your idea of dinner? It's a wonder you're as healthy as you are."
"What's the matter, Simon?" Jim asked, knowing his friend. "You're favorite delivery joint isn't listed?"
"Thankfully I have the number memorized. Be prepared for a feast, gentlemen."
Blair just shook his head. "We are such bachelors, man."
"Speak for yourself, Sandburg. Jim and I are divorced gentlemen. That means we went into battle and emerged, scarred but still standing. You, on the other hand, have yet to be tested."
"Forgive me for daring to put myself on your level, Simon. I am unworthy," Blair replied, with a sweeping bow.
Simon traded glances with Jim. "Don't worry, Jim, I'm not touching that one." He turned to dial the phone.
"Hey, Jim, I'm going down to the corner market for some soft drinks since depending on what Rivera says, we may have to go down to the station tonight," Blair said as he grabbed his jacket. "Wouldn't want Cooper thinking we're drunk on beer."
"Good thinking, Chief. Need money?"
"Got it covered. Back in a sec."
"Where's the kid going?" Simon asked as he completed his order.
"To get soft drinks. We may be called in for questioning later." He paused, arguing with himself and losing. "Listen, Simon. I apologized to Blair and I think I owe you one too. You both supported me and I was too stubborn to accept your advice and offers of help. I'm sorry for being such an ass."
"Apology accepted, Jim. We all have days when 'Ass' seems to be our middle name."
Jim laughed. "Oh, the things you admit to when Sandburg isn't around."
"Hey, I have an image to keep up with the kid. Lord, help us if he discovers I'm not the paragon of authority that he thinks I am."
Jim had to agree. Unless he was truly livid, Blair had already lost his fear of him; if Simon lost the ability to scare some sense into him on a regular basis, none of them would sleep at night. "I'm going to take a shower, captain. How long before the food arrives?"
"Perfection takes time, Ellison."
Jim rolled his eyes and wondered if he should have told Blair to get a bag of chips while he was at the store. There was always popcorn...
An hour and a half later, they were all pleasantly full and the dishes were done. The food had been good, the conversation light and joking. But beneath it all was tension as they waited for the call from the station. As they settled on the sofa, prepared to kill more time, Blair thought he would take the opportunity to test a theory.
Instinctively, Jim reached for the item Blair tossed him. Only after it was in his hand did he realize it was a plastic jeweled dagger. He started to drop it, then everything began to gray before fading to black.
"What the hell?" Simon blurted as Jim fell to his knees and began to stab a spot on the floor. The silent pantomime continued as Jim let the dagger fall and apparently washed his hands over the spot. Then he went back to the sofa, curled up, and went to sleep. "Sandburg, what the hell have you done!"
"I knew it," he muttered to himself, then looked up to answer his captain. "It's a post-hypnotic suggestion, Simon. The dagger triggers it. This is how they convinced Jim he'd killed the woman. He remembered his actions but not why. If I can reverse the suggestion, Jim may start to remember everything."
"Stop explaining and just do it!" Simon declared.
"Here, hide this until I'm ready for it." He handed him the dropped dagger, then leaned over his partner. "Jim, wake up!"
With a jerk, Jim's eyes flickered open. He looked at his position on the sofa and then at his two friends. "What happened?" he asked cautiously.
"What do you think happened?" Blair replied.
Blair touched his shoulder comfortingly. "No, it wasn't a dream, Jim. It's a post-hypnotic suggestion. Something we've handled before. Something we can erase." Because he and Blair had used hypnosis before, Jim went under quickly and Blair carefully canceled the suggestion. Then he pulled his friend out of the trance. "How do you feel, Jim?"
Jim closed his eyes, then opened them. "I think things are starting to clear in my mind."
"And this?" Blair held out the dagger.
"A harmless toy."
Simon gave a sigh of relief. "If you're starting to remember what happened, Jim, maybe we should get you down to the station."
"Sounds like a plan to me. Better call the station and make sure they hold Rivera until we get there. I want to gauge the man's reaction when I walk in."
Blair nodded and grabbed their jackets. "Sounds like fun."
"How you doing, Rico?" Jim asked as he sailed into the interrogation room with Blair and Simon. The other detectives retreated to the observation room.
Rivera's heart began to race. That Dorie bitch had called him by his nickname before he killed her. Had Quinlan lied about the detective not remembering anything? Nah. He began to relax. Ellison could have gotten the information from any of his homeys. "Do I know you?" he asked, plastering a bewildered look on his face.
"You've been to my home, been in my bedroom. And now you act like you don't know me. I'm hurt, Rico."
"Sorry, man, but you really do have me at a disadvantage." His lawyer leaned over and whispered something in his ear. "So you're the cop who offed that chick? I read about you in the paper, man. Damn shame they stuck the story on page 9. You'd think murder would get more respect than that."
Jim smiled. "Since you feel that way, Rico. I'll make sure your picture gets on the front page."
"You can try, detective, but I don't think communicating with a poor, downtrodden convict is much of a crime. I was just trying to lift his spirits."
"I just bet you were," Jim said dryly. "Chief, do you have that item I asked you to bring along?"
"Right here, Jim." He flashed the silver-painted dagger, then laid it in his partner's hand.
Rivera's pulse shot off the scale. Quinlan had fucking lied to him! That stupid toy was supposed to send the cop off the deep end, make him forget what happened. It seemed to work yesterday... but maybe that had just been an act. A set-up of one Ricardo Rivera. Quinlan was going to pay! "You tell Quinlan that no one fucking sets up Ricardo Rivera! Tell him I'm going to enjoy watching his ass fry!" His lawyer leaned over and whispered again. Rivera shoved him away. "No, I will not shut up! I am not going down for this by myself. Why don't you get the hell out of here? Me and the cops got things to discuss."
Jim and company left Rivera spilling his guts to the other detectives. "That was satisfying," he managed to say before his fellow officers swarmed over to offer their congratulations. The news had spread quickly through the department.
"Quinlan sure doesn't know how to choose accomplices," Blair said, remembering how quickly the director had turned Quinlan in.
"It's not in his choices, Chief, but in his handling of them. Brooks Quinlan is not a very nice guy."
Jim had been so busy talking to Blair while accepting the squad room's deep relief on his behalf, he hadn't noticed when Cooper entered the room. Suddenly, the place fell silent. "Cooper," Jim acknowledged politely, but the eyes which had been so warm and sparkling as he greeted his fellow officers had turned to ice. "I take it you heard we found the real killer."
"No congratulations?" Simon growled.
Cooper flicked his eyes toward the captain, then settled on Jim. "You managed to redeem yourself nicely on this one, detective. However, I know you. Next time, gentlemen."
The three let the warning roll off their backs. "Hey, Commander Cooper?" Blair called when the man turned to leave. "It could be worse, you know; you could be in jail." Cooper stopped, then continued through the door.
"There goes trouble, my friends," Simon said softly.
Jim shrugged. "Just another mountain that needs moving, Simon. As long as we keep the faith, we'll be fine."
"Amen, Jim," the Watcher replied and took his Sentinel and Guide home.
"Hear the news this morning?" Dr. Cuthbertson asked as she stood at the emergency room desk.
Sadie Farmsworth nodded. "Didn't surprise me at all. You know what I'm looking forward to? The day that Commander Cooper shows un in the E.R. What's the longest wait record?"
The doctor agreed with the plan. "Call me and I'll make sure I miss any vein I'm aiming for."
Sadie leaned over and whispered. "Or you could let me play nurse. 'Oh, you ordered an I.V., doctor? I thought you said enema.'"
Dr. Cuthbertson burst out laughing. "You're a wicked woman, Sadie Farmsworth!"
Sadie smiled. "I know. That's what my five grandsons tell me all the time."
"Excuse me," a voice called and they turned to see a florist deliveryman peering through a forest of roses-- two vases full in fact. "Could you help me?"
"Who are the lucky ladies?" Sadie asked, swinging around to the computer. Keying in to Admissions' files, she had access to all the room numbers.
The guy turned the vases until the cards were directly in front of his nose. "Let's see. The first one goes to a Dr. M. Cuthbertson. And the other is for a Sadie Farmsworth. Think you can find them for me. These are getting heavy."
"I...we..." Sadie tried to speak, but found herself too flustered to complete the sentence.
Dr. Cuthbertson took a deep breath and recovered from her shock. "This is your lucky day, sir. You're looking at those women."
"Then I would say it's your lucky day." He handed them each a vase. "Hope you enjoy, ladies."
The cards were identical and typically brief: "Thank you for your faith. Love, Jim Ellison."
The two woman shared a smile that lasted for at least a week.