Production No. CVT501

written by:

edited by:
Brenda, JAC, Kelly

There was still a light on behind the office door that had the word "PERSONNEL" printed on it. Inside, the digital clock on the wall of the dimly lit office displayed the time 2341 hours or 11:41 p.m. for anyone who did not understand how to read military time. Underneath the timepiece, the silent figure was sitting at the cluttered desk fidgeting with the paperwork that was lying in front of him. The sudden jangling ring of his telephone caused him to jump and then quickly reach for the receiver.

"Perkins...Where have you been?...Oh, I forgot about that conference. It's just that I've been waiting for you to call...The final roster was supposed to be turned in three days ago... Okay, hold on." Setting the receiver down, the man opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a folder. Opening it to lay flat in front of him, he picked up the top page.

"Okay, those two guys you selected... Yeah, they're both still in this class. My contacts were able to handle the screening. Did you know that there's another guy... Oh, you knew he was coming here. Isn't he the same guy... I thought so. He worked with... What do you mean 'so what?' Him attending a police academy could bring a lot of media... Well, we've got a sweet thing going on here. The one thing we don't need is publicity... Okay, if you say so. But I've got too much to lose if our operation gets exposed. I'll be watching him closely and at the first sign of trouble, I will take steps to remedy the problem."

Slamming the receiver back down onto the cradle, the man stood up quickly. His chair crashed back against the wall and then rolled back towards his legs. He paced back and forth behind the desk and then stopped and picked up the page from the folder. He stared at it for a few minutes before tossing it back down.

"Damn it!" he exclaimed, slapping the folder shut and tossing it into the desk drawer. "I've got way too much to lose." Slamming the drawer shut, he turned off the desk lamp and stomped out of the room.

852 Prospect Three Weeks Later

The long, limber fingers fumbled with the knot on the dark blue tie, adjusting the angle and tautness to ensure that it lay straight but comfortable on the lighter blue-colored shirt. They next checked the shirt buttons, especially the ones on the pocket, to ensure that each was securely fastened. Hesitantly, the fingers brushed across the name tag pinned above the right pocket. It read "SANDBURG" in white letters on a dark blue background. Looking back up, Blair Sandburg studied the image that stared back at him from the mirror. Placing his hands onto the bathroom sink in front of him, he dropped his head and closed his eyes.

"All I need to complete this geek picture is a pocket protector and some white tape on my glasses," he mumbled softly and ran a hand through the rioting curls that lay close to his head. It had been two weeks and he still wasn't used to the length. The sacrifices we make for the things we want the most.

"Oh I don't think so, Chief. Pretty sharp looking cadet standing there if you ask me," Jim Ellison voiced from the doorway of the bathroom. He was leaning casually against the door jam with his arms crossed on his chest. When Blair turned towards him, Jim gave him a confident smile. "Getting butterflies?"

"More like fighter jets getting ready to make strafing runs. Last time I was this nervous I..." Blair's voice trailed off as he turned back to look at the face in the mirror.

Ellison stood up straight and moved to stand behind his friend. The taller man could easily see himself over his smaller friend's head. "You were giving the news conference." Bright blue eyes met darker ones looking up towards them in the glass. The owner of the darker ones nodded and then dropped the gaze.

Sandburg shifted away from the mirror and walked into the main area of the loft where his backpack sat on top of the kitchen table. His friend followed him. "History, man. Something to be remembered but not relived or regretted."

"I hear you, Chief." Ellison's usage of his mother's favorite phrase caused Sandburg to hesitate for a few seconds and then continue to gather his things together. "You'll do fine, Sandburg. You're lucky the academy has changed since I went there. It's no longer a requirement to stay on the grounds unless you live outside of a fifty-mile radius. So that means you'll see my bright and shining face every night."

"Oh, man. Do you think it's too late to claim that I live in Tacoma?" Blair quickly ducked but was unable to avoid the hand swung at the top of his head. Glaring at his friend, he used his fingers to try and control the unruly curls. "Hey, don't mess with the hair, man. It took me hours to get it to reach this level of chaos."

Jim noticed the way his friend's fingers lingered in his hair. "It will grow back."

"Damn right it will. Just as soon as I get close to graduation, I'm developing an allergy to scissors."

Ellison laughed softly and walked into the kitchen area to pour himself a cup of coffee. He leaned back against the counter and watched his friend open and check the backpack for the things he knew he was going to need for the day. "You still okay with this, Chief?"

Looking up from his activity, Blair gave his friend one of his brilliant smiles. "Piece of cake, Jim. At least now I'll be learning the correct way of handling police work instead of the Major Crime version. I'd better get on the road or I'll be late. Not a good thing to be on the first day. Right?" Moving quickly, Blair swung his backpack over his shoulder, walked to the loft door and had it open before Jim could reply. Grabbing his keys, he turned, gave his friend a quick wave and closed the door behind him as he exited.

Staring at the closed door, Ellison listened as his friend walked quickly to the stairwell, trotted down the different levels and finally left the building. "You'll do just fine, Chief. I know it," he said softly then headed towards the stairs to his bedroom to get ready for work.

Cascade Range Police Academy, One Month Later

Blair sat at the rear of the classroom staring at the answer booklet in front of him. Looking around at the other members of his class, he realized he had finished the test before the rest of them. Again. Suppressing a sigh, he fidgeted with his tie and then the collar of his uniform until he saw the instructor at the front of the room watching him. Giving the man a quick grin, he turned his attention back onto the pages in front and allowed his mind to wonder to how he ended up here. As it usually did when he became frustrated, his thoughts drifted to his first day.

Only a month ago he had stood in the courtyard in the center of this building, feeling totally lost and in shock that he was actually enrolled in a police academy. He smiled to himself remembering the fleeting moment of fear that had flashed through him when the sharp sound of a whistle cut through the air. What happened afterwards was as clear in his mind as if it had happened that morning.

Blair was looking around the roomy courtyard that he had been ushered to when he had arrived at the administrative building. The layout of the grounds was pretty simple. One large building, the one he was in currently, held the administrative offices, classrooms and a dining facility. Behind it was a smaller, oblong building with two windows in the front. It was the indoor firing range and Blair thought it resembled a bunker he'd seen in an old war movie. The last main building was the farthest away and fairly new. It contained a gymnasium with a weight room and had a quarter-mile track behind it. Not as large as the university campus but still big enough to make Blair feel insignificant.

Most of the other men and women that had arrived with him had the same lost expression he was sure covered his face. Clutching his backpack, he carefully wound his way through the group until he was standing off to the side. Unsure of what to say to any of the other people, probably a first in his life he would muse about later, Blair studied the design of the nearby flower garden and listened to the voices around him. A sharp whistle cut through the air to halt all the conversations.

"Good morning!" Called a husky, woman's voice. Blair spun quickly around to the owner of the statement and saw two sharply dressed police officers standing erect near the door of the building. One was a man who stood taller than he by a good three inches with stripes on his sleeves marking him as a sergeant. He wore a stern expression on his face and was making a careful study of the group of 25 similarly dressed men and women standing in front of him.

The woman next to the Sergeant was just as tall, wore the rank of Captain on her collar and was also looking over the group. However, her expression was more relaxed, confident and definitely friendly. Once she saw that she had everyone's attention, she shifted into a more comfortable stance and continued to speak.

"My name is Captain Kathryn Schofield, Commander of the Academy. Beside me is Sergeant Charlie Blanchard. He will be in charge of you starting today and will guide those of you who decide to stick it out during the next 5 1/2 months." The Captain relaxed slightly and clasped her hands behind her back. "You have all made a big decision in your lives by showing up here this morning. I commend you for that decision and hope that what ever drove you to our doors will stay within your constitution until graduation and beyond."

The woman's eyes locked onto Blair's for a space of a couple of breaths and then continued on to roving across the group. His heart skipped at beat. She recognized me! I didn't think anyone would with this hair cut. Reaching up, he fingered the curls that swirled high on his neck. God. I hope Jim or Simon didn't have to have a long conversation with the brass to get my application accepted.

"You had to pass background checks by your department to get here so I'm not worried that any of you are not the quality of people needed to protect our cities. But neither do I care about what your former lives were." Again her eyes flickered to Blair's and he relaxed at her words. She flashed a brilliant smile at the group. "You are now police cadets at one of the finest academies across the state and will hopefully soon join the ranks of a strong brotherhood. Again welcome, good luck and I now leave you in the capable hands of Sergeant Blanchard."

Shifting back a step, Schofield turned to the Sergeant and extended a hand to usher him forward. He gave her a nod and waited until she was completely through the doors behind them before turning back to the group.

"Alright. Move forward and make two nice straight lines in front of me." The man's voice was low, strong and easily heard. A smirk appeared on his face as he watched the group of people shuffle forward and jostle for positions. It grew into a smile when the movement halted. "Congratulations. You've just passed your first test with flying colors. You were able to follow a simple order. If you listen to what I tell you and take it to your heart, do what is asked of you and put forward the amount of effort needed to complete what is required, each and every one of you will make it to graduation."

Standing at the end of the back row, Blair had to lean slightly to the left to see past the tall man standing in front of him. Sergeant Blanchard stood facing the group, his hands clasped behind his back. The intensity of the look he was giving to the group reminded Blair of the glare Jim would give him each time his explanations became creative with the truth. When the dark eyes swung in his directions, Blair shifted back and hopefully out of sight.

"Before we get started issuing you the equipment you will use while attending here and classroom materials you will use while attending here, I want to make one very important point. I am here for you. If you are having difficulty with the curriculum, come to me. If you are having difficulty with any of the instructors, come to me. But most of all, if you are having any problems with any other cadet, you better bring it to me. Do you understand me?"

There was a mumbled reply from a few members of the group but most just nodded. The smile that appeared on Blanchard's face almost transformed it into something friendly, but it quickly disappeared. "Okay. Follow me and we'll get you 'would-be' police officers started."

The light tap of a hand on his shoulder interrupted Blair's thoughts. Looking up, he saw the instructor standing next to his desk. The man pointed towards the door. Closing the answer booklet and suppressing a sigh, Blair looked towards the door at the back of the room only to see it closing. Silently, he rose from his chair, walked to the desk in the front and dropped the answer booklet in an empty wooden box marked 'in.' Although he was trying to move as quietly as possible, all the other cadets had turned to watch him hand in his material and then move to the back of the room. However, their heads quickly returned to their own desks when the door opened and the figure of Sgt. Blanchard could be seen standing in the hall.

"Is there something wrong Sergeant?" Blair asked quietly after the door had closed behind him.

The Sergeant turned to walk down the hallway and Blair fell into step beside him. "There's a question concerning some of your work, Mr. Sandburg. The Captain feels that a discussion is needed with you before any accusations are officially accepted."

"My work? Wh-what's wrong with my work?"

"As far as I've been able to find, nothing. But a few of the instructors have raised some questions and the issue of some tests you've taken has raised some concern. The Captain wants to give you the opportunity to answer the questions and talk with the instructors." Blanchard glanced at the smaller man keeping pace with him. He could see confusion and concern in the cadet's face but nothing that would indicate guilt.

Blair's mind raced over the past month and tried to think what any of the instructors might have found to question. "Right," he mumbled. "Let me have my say before kicking me out."

Blanchard stopped in front of an office door with the words 'Commander' and 'Capt. K. Schofield' emblazoned across the glass. He rapped sharply on the door twice and then opened it without waiting for an answer. He allowed Blair to precede him.

The administrative clerk sitting at the desk inside the door didn't look up as the two men walked past into the main office area. Through one set of doors, the large, mahogany desk sitting in front of the windows was empty. Placing a guiding hand onto Sandburg's shoulder, Blanchard aimed the hesitant police cadet towards a second door to the right.

"Please come in, Mr. Sandburg," Capt. Schofield invited when the two men appeared in the doorway. Blair hadn't seen her since the first day but his memory of her appearance was still sharp in his mind. Schofield was a tall, striking woman with light colored hair worn in a short but stylish manner. The only indication of age about her was a streak of silver that started at the hairline above her right eye and flared back. Despite that, she was tanned, fit and trim in the police uniform.

Schofield stood at the head of a long conference table and she wasn't alone. On one side of the table stood Officer Williams, the instructor for report writing and police procedures and Ms. Sanchez who had given two previous psychological exams during the first week of training. "Please have a seat. I'm sorry we pulled you out of class before it was completed but the issues at hand are important"

Moving hesitantly to the chair indicated Blair sat down quickly and tried to relax. "No problem, Captain. I was finished anyway." He gave the woman a quick smile.

"Yes. That's one of the reasons you were asked here today. You were being given the Myers-Briggs Personality Test today, if I remember the curriculum right. That test normally takes an hour and a half to complete and you've only taken about 45 minutes. According to Ms. Sanchez, you also completed her tests in record time and the results were very, uh, general."

"Well, I tried to explain to Ms. Sanchez that it wasn't right for me to take the tests but she insisted that I complete them."

"And why is it not right for you to take the tests?" Sanchez spoke up. The expression on her face was one of extreme irritation. "Do you think that you are special? These examinations are important determining factors on the psychological make-up of all cadets."

"Yes ma'am. But the results are useless if you know how they are devised and how to answer the questions. The two you gave were not too different from the Myers-Briggs test we were just doing. The choices we make on the two statements presented can create a fairly accurate picture of an individual's background, current state of mind and psyche. However, if one has an understanding as to what each pair of statements is looking for, specific choices can be made and the results can be very neutral, lean in the direction the test taker knows the presenter is wanting or be way off the scale."

"How can you know this, Mr. Sandburg? The tests are carefully guarded to ensure that they can't be compromised." Sanchez folded her arms firmly across her chest and glared.

Blair knew he could lose the argument if he allowed his temper to flare like it was begging. Instead, he turned to the Captain. "If she could see my records Captain, my application and the college transcripts accompanying it, she'll see what some of my studies were at Rainier."

Schofield held up a folder. Throwing a glare at the straight-faced man sitting across from her, Sanchez accepted the extended binder. Reading quickly and then flipping through a couple of the pages, some of the anger drained from her face. "You have a decent background in psychology."

"It's a good idea to understand human nature and the make-up of the human psyche if you intend on going into Anthropology. I took a few classes in psychological testing and measurement and have even been certified to give the Myers-Briggs." Blair's statement was made with enough humbleness to eliminate the rest of the hostility between him and the woman. "I'm sorry, but I did try to explain because the same thing happened back at the precinct." This was to the Captain.

"I take it that this information will also soothe the feathers of Mr. Burnstein when he brings me the results of the test you just took." Blair gave her a quick smile but quickly schooled his expression back to one of neutrality.

"You haven't shared your knowledge with any of the other cadets, have you Mr. Sandburg?" Sanchez was checking through some papers she had before her. "I've got three other cadets who had similar results to the tests. Krist, Johnson and Carson."

Blair looked sharply at her and shook his head then moved his hands in a negative motion. "No way. That's totally unethical and I would lose my certification. Besides, those three and I aren't, um, the best of friends. If they were similar to mine then--"

"Thank you, Ms. Sanchez. I think we've got your situation resolved." The Captain quickly jumped in. After the woman exited the room, Schofield passed Sandburg's folder over to Officer Williams. As he read the paperwork, she swung her chair to face the cadet. "Your records also indicate that you've been an observer with the Cascade Police Department for the past four years. I know all about that time but would you please explain to Officer Williams what that entails?"

Clearing his throat, Blair brushed a hand nervously through his short hair and then clasped them in front of him again. "I was working on my... an important study and was attached to the Major Crimes division as an observer. I was allowed to work with a specific detective in order to understand the workings of a closed society such as a police department. During that time I sort of assisted him and a couple of the other detectives with their paperwork and was allowed to be... included in the investigations of some of their cases." Blair could have sworn he heard a chuckle from the woman to his left but her face betrayed no emotions.

Closing the folder with a sigh, the officer returned his gaze to the Captain. "Well, this certainly would explain the work you turned in last week. You obviously have extensive knowledge of police procedures, investigations and report writing."

"Yeah... I mean yes. I ~ahem~ guess I do." Can't help but know how to do police paperwork if your partner makes you handle his all the time.

"Is there anything in the curriculum that you don't have excessive experience with Mr. Sandburg? I'd hate to be trying to teach you something that you would be more qualified to teach yourself." Williams gave the nervous cadet a knowing smile.

Looking quickly at the Captain, he turned back to the officer after she gave him a nod. "Well, I don't have a full understanding of the law studies but do know most of the warrant and patrol procedures and working with evidence at crime scenes. My roommate was a medic in the Army so I've learned First Aid from him and from field work. However I haven't been certified with CPR. I guess I'm a little clueless on the firearms training since I'm not really comfortable with guns. And I'm not sure what all the physical fitness and defense tactics will require but I've had to take classes on diversity and ethics."

"Thank you for your honesty, Mr. Sandburg. Would you mind waiting outside? I want to discuss options with Sgt. Blanchard and Officer Williams." Blair opened his mouth but quickly closed it when he saw the look of determination in the Captain's eyes.

With a nod, Blair stood up and pushed his chair back against the table. Throwing a quick look at Sgt. Blanchard, he exited the room. As he walked past the clerk's desk, the door opened and two officers Blair didn't know entered the office and headed towards the room he had just left. With only a moment of hesitation to watch them, he quickly stepped out into the hallway. Leaning against the wall beside the now closed door, Blair took a deep breath, held it for several seconds then slowly released the air. The calming technique wasn't helping his nerves.

"Hey, Sandburg," a female's voice called from down the hall. Looking up, Blair saw a trim brunette in a cadet uniform moving quickly towards him. It was Lynn Crowder from his class. He'd been trying to get to know her on a more personal level but she had easily rebuffed his advances, preferring to just be friends. "You look like you just got raked over the coals. What happened? Why did they take you out of the class?"

"Oh, hey Lynn. It's nothing. There was just a question about the results of those tests we took in the beginning and some other things. Is the last session over?" Blair walked a few steps towards his classmate still staying near the office door.

"Yeah, we've been released for lunch. You want to go get something to eat? They're having something Mexican in the cafeteria. I understand you don't need to add any hot sauce to the burritos and it's a good idea to have large amounts of milk available." The woman gave Blair a friendly smile and was rewarded with one in return.

"How 'bout I meet you there. I've got to wait for an... um, answer and shouldn't be too long." Blair looked back towards the Captain's office.

"Okay, but don't take too long. We've got to eat fast and get down to the driving course before 1:00 p.m. Our intro to patrol car orientation is this afternoon. I heard we might even get a chance to take a drive to test our abilities if there's time. But I honestly doubt it." She said, giving the young man a saucy wink.

"Huh? Sorry, my mind wandered for a few moments."

A frown replaced the smile. "You're not in some type of trouble are you? Have Carson and Krist been on your case again? Those jerks should have joined the Marines with the attitude they have. They've been talking to me and a few of the other cadets about coming to special meetings with them."

Blair's attention jerked back around at the names. The two cadets mentioned had recognized him the first day and seemed to go out of their way to harass him. Mostly it had been minor taunts and tricks, but it had been growing steadily worse. "No, uh, don't worry about it. They're just trying to have a power trip and I'm not giving them the satisfaction of knowing whether it bothers me or not. Hey, you better head for the cafeteria before they run out of burritos. Just make sure you save me a spot, okay?"

Lynn stared into the beguiling blue eyes of the man in front of her. When she couldn't read anything in the look he was returning, she sighed, gave his arm a squeeze and then walked down the hall.

Staring at the retreating figure of the woman, Blair wondered for a few minutes about what he felt was an obvious flirt. When she was out of sight, he looked towards the closed door to the Captain's office and then moved over to the chair sitting across the hall. Closing his eyes, Blair took a deep cleansing breath, held it for a count of five, and then released it slowly as he murmured a calming mantra.

He was not very deep in his meditation when he felt that he was being watched. Looking around, he thought he saw a shadow quickly back around the corner down the hall. Blair stood and was about to check it out when he caught the sight of two familiar people outside the window next to him.

Stepping to the window, he looked out and saw his two aforementioned tormentors. Cadets Martin Carson and Daniel Krist were as different as night and day in looks. Krist was tall, standing well over six feet, with a thin but wiry frame. He wore his blond hair in a standard Marine style cut that accented his chiseled features. Blair remembered his emotionless brown eyes that always seemed to look at him with contempt.

Carson, on the other hand, was shorter but of a stockier build. He had the look of someone who spent many hours in a gym. Unlike the man beside him, Carson had dark, almost black hair that he wore slightly longer than was authorized at the academy. His crystal blue eyes seemed to echo the cruel laughter that usually came out of his mouth at the oddest of moments.

The two men were standing in the courtyard of the academy talking with two other cadets. Blair could see that it was an intense conversation, Carson leaning forward with a hand placed on one of the other cadet's shoulder. Krist was pulling a couple of folded pieces of paper from a notebook he was carrying as he glanced around the area. His sweeping gaze stopped abruptly when he caught sight of Sandburg watching from the building. He elbowed his friend.

Blair was just stepping back from the window when the Captain's office door opened. Turning, he saw the clerk motion him to return. Taking a last glance through the glass, he walked back into the office.

"We've got a proposal, Mr. Sandburg," the Captain started when he sat down. Both Sgt. Blanchard and Officer Williams were now standing behind her chair. "You've already proven that you are proficient enough in report writing that you can skip those hours. I've also agreed that you can take the final tests for the investigations and the search and seizure classes."

Blair started to ask her a question but stopped when the woman held up her hand. "That only eliminates a couple of hours in the morning for the next two months. You will be required to present yourself to Sgt. Blanchard no later than 11:00 a.m. each morning and to participate to your best ability in all the other courses. I take it you can handle this adjustment?" Schofield stood up, gathered the folder in front of her and started walking towards her office.

Blair couldn't hide his stunned expression and he stumbled to his feet and followed the woman. "Yes, ma'am. I mean, thank you Captain." He almost reached out his hand but suddenly realized that it would be an improper gesture. Blair waited until the woman sat at her desk and mumbled 'dismissed' before turning and leaving the office.

As he closed the door carefully behind him, Blair pumped his fist. "Yes!" he whispered forcefully and almost skipped down the hallway in the direction of the cafeteria. When he rounded the corner at the end of the hall, he suddenly found himself trying to stop himself from falling. His foot had caught on something that had been thrust into his path... a black shoe.

His momentum too great, Blair landed on one knee. The sharp pain from the impact almost made him collapse over onto his side. Pulling himself up, he heard sharp laughter and looked over to see Carson and Krist leaning against the wall.

"You know, Marty, statistics show that most accidents occur when some people are in places that they shouldn't be to begin with," Krist commented to the man beside him. "You've been spying on us, Sandburg."

"What are you talking about?" Blair questioned, putting a little distance between him and the men while he brushed the dust from his uniform. "Do you guys make it a habit of pulling juvenile stunts or is this just some lame way of getting my attention?"

Blair's come back erased the smirking looks on the two men's faces. Carson placed a hand on Krist's arm to stop him when he took a step forward. "You couldn't make it in the academic world, Sandburg. What makes you think you can do any better here?" The man's voice had a soft taunt to it.

"I don't know what you two are up to, but all I want to do is get through the training and get back to my partner and my new job." Blair stood his ground when his defiant attitude caused a visible reaction from the two across from him.

"Your past has already proven that you aren't the quality of person that should become a policeman. The people of Washington need those who have the integrity and ability to take charge when chaos tries to take over. I suggest you find another line of work," Krist replied, pulling his arm out of Carson's hold. Then almost as one, both men turned and walked away.

Blair watched as the two men strode down the hall. "Sounds like they are going through the wrong place for training. I know a group that would have taken you two," he commented to himself as he recalled Krist's words. With a shake of his head to rid himself of the memories of his two encounters with another maniacal individual, Blair continued towards the cafeteria with a limping step.

The Loft, That Evening

"You were able to do what?"

Sandburg smiled as he received the reaction he had expected from his roommate. With a calm expression, he turned away from the stove towards the tall man. "I said, they're allowing me to by-pass the classes on the stuff I've already proven I can do and will let me take final tests on a couple more to see if I meet the qualifications. That means I can be with you in the mornings until around 10:00 for the next couple of months. I have to report to the academy by 11:00."

Ellison shook his head in amazement, a bemused expression on his face. He had arrived at the loft that night to find his friend in the kitchen working industriously on dinner and acting like the cat that ate the canary. It hadn't taken any prodding from the older man to get the information. "You don't think this'll create some problems with the rest of your classmates?"

Blair shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the pot of sauce simmering in front of him. "Maybe a couple, but they've had something against me from the beginning. Most of the other cadets are more concerned about learning what's being presented."

Moving to the refrigerator and taking two beers out, Jim handed one to Blair and leaned back against the appliance. "A couple of hard cases?"

"Yeah. Recognized me from the first day and... you know. Don't worry about it, Jim. A couple of bullies in the schoolyard are nothing to worry about. I'll make sure I tell the teacher if they want to play rough."

"Sandburg-- "

"Let it go, man." Blair moved the pan he was stirring onto a cold burner. Wiping his fingers on a towel lying on the counter, he grabbed his beer and limped towards the living room. Slumping down onto the couch, he realized that Jim had followed him and was sitting down on the loveseat.

"Will you at least tell me the reason you're doing a 'Chester' routine? What happened?" When there was no reply, Ellison became impatient. "Come on, Chief. Spill."

Blair took a long swallow from the bottle he held before he spoke. "It's nothing really, man. I slipped on a wet spot in the hall and bumped the knee trying to catch myself. It's just a little bruised so don't worry about it." He quickly added the last when he saw the concerned look on his roommate's face.

Ellison settled back into his seat and stared. He listened to the rhythm of Sandburg's heart and noticed that it was slightly elevated which meant that he wasn't telling the truth.

Blair knew by his roommate's expression that he had been caught. "Jim, I'm not letting them get to me and you shouldn't either. We both know that I'm going to be the object of resentment and some razzing because of what happened. I'm willing to put up with their antics as long as I make it to graduation and become your partner."

Ellison concentrated on the long-necked bottle he rolled between his hands before looking up. "I told you once, Sand--"

"Yeah, I know." Blair gave his friend a quick, pleased smile but allowed it to fade into a pensive expression. "It is kinda odd about those guys and the psyche tests."

Realizing what his friend was doing, Ellison went along with the change in the subject. "What about the tests? They're standard and have been proven to be pretty accurate."

"I know. Say, what were the results of yours?" Blair raised an eyebrow towards Jim and was rewarded with the man's patented icy blue gaze. "Come on, Jim. Having some insight into your personality, other that what I've observed over the past four years, can be very beneficial to me as your partner."

"Only if I can get the results of yours."

"Wouldn't help you any. I know how the tests are put together and can make the results say whatever I want. That's another reason why I was at Captain Schofield's office. Had to explain about being able to finish them faster than the expected time and with the results being so neutral. What was odd was that the two bozos giving me headaches had test results similar to mine." Blair drained the last amount from his bottle and stood to go into the kitchen. "You finished?"

Realizing that his roommate was trying to change the subject, Ellison decided it was better to not push it. He finished his drink and placed his bottle into the extended hand. "Probably just coincidence, Chief," he replied walking towards the stairs leading to his bedroom.

"Yeah, coincidence," Blair mumbled limping over to the trash bin and setting the empty bottles in a sack. "Been hanging around detectives way too long. Starting to get as paranoid as they are and seeing criminals behind every corner." ~ sigh ~

"You're going to be joining the ranks of the paranoid in less time than you think, Sandburg. You better remember that." Ellison's voice floated down from his bedroom.

Rolling his eyes, Blair moved the pot of sauce he had been working on earlier back onto a burner.

Next Day, Major Crimes Bullpen

"Sandburg's being allowed to--"

"How could Hairboy get--"

"Why's Sandy getting special--"

Ellison sat at his desk with a smug smile on his face as he listened to the blustering of Detectives Rafe and Brown and Inspector Connor. He had told the three of them about the change in Sandburg's work status so that they wouldn't be too surprised when he made an appearance. After allowing the cacophony to continue for a few minutes, Ellison finally raised his hands and motioned the detectives to quiet down.

Just as he opened his mouth, Jim heard a familiar chuckling coming from the direction of Simon Banks' office. Turning around, he saw his Captain leaning against the door jam of his office with a smile almost splitting his face in half.

"So Sandburg smoozed his way into getting some of his workload reduced. I don't know how you knew it would happen, but I'm glad I didn't take you up on that bet, Jim." Banks sauntered up to his detectives and stood with his arms crossed on his chest.

"It was easy to calculate, sir. Sandburg would never brag about any of the experience he's received from us but I knew he'd use that experience when it came to the course work. If there's one thing that Blair wouldn't do is deliberately try to mess up with any tests. It's just not in his nature. So, it was only a matter of time before he would be questioned on his background, experience and ability to perform so well. I just didn't expect them to eliminate that much of the class work."

"Where's the kid now?"

"He's down at the personnel office." Ellison looked at his watch. "He should be here in about another 15 minutes. I don't think that we should make a big deal about all this. I've got a feeling that things haven't been too easy for him at the academy and he probably needs a little normality."

"But what's normal for Sandburg?" Rafe asked.

"I don't think we really want to go there, man," Brown answered with a laugh. "Come on, Rafe. We can go down to forensics and check on the evidence from that robbery homicide. Tell Sandburg that it'll be good to have him around again. We need a buffer from you."

Ellison threw the black detective a dirty look but the other was already moving out of the room dragging a laughing Rafe behind him. He then noticed that Megan Connor was still at his desk. "Is there something you need, Connor?"

"What kind of problem is Sandy having with his training?" Her serious expression mirrored the concern in her voice.

"He won't tell me much about it. Just that it's a couple of guys that recognized him from the news conference back in May. There're always a couple of troublemakers in every class, Connor. He told me he can handle it." Ellison lifted his empty coffee cup, looked into it and then looked up at Banks. The Captain just stared at him and he set it back down with a grimace.

"Doesn't your academy have rules against harassment or hazing or what ever they're calling it here?"

"Of course we do, Connor," Simon answered for his detective. "But what do you think we should do? Find him a bodyguard to get through the course? That'd do wonders for his confidence not to mention how he'd fit in with the rest of his class."

Banks' answer only angered the Australian inspector and she whirled away from the two men. Moving towards the elevator, she spotted the subject of their conversation walking up the hall towards her. His attention was focused on firmly attaching the red temporary badge to his shirt.

"Hi, Sandy. I hear you're doing really well with your training." Megan smiled sweetly at the young man. At her greeting, Blair looked up from the badge and gave back an answering smile.

"Megan, hi. Yeah, I'm doing okay. Or so they tell me." Blair glanced nervously into the bullpen and saw his partner and Simon speaking. "How are things going with you?"

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, sure. Why wouldn't I be all right? Has someone said different?" Again, he looked towards the two men.

"No, no, uh, I was just worried about how you would adapt. I remember what it was like when I went through my academy. Listen, if you need to talk about it, I'm available. Okay?" With a gentle squeeze on his arm, Megan strode down the hallway.

"Right. Thanks... Megan," Blair called after the retreating woman. With a shake of his head, he walked through the doors of Major Crimes and over to the area he knew so well. "Hey, Jim. Simon."

"That's Captain Banks, Sandburg. You better get used to saying it," Simon growled at the young man. "Aren't they teaching you anything about respect for your superiors?"

"Well, actually, Naomi taught me to respect my elders but I didn't think you wanted to be reminded of your age, sir." Blair was able to keep his face still as he watched Simon struggle not to explode.

Finally, the police Captain whirled and stomped towards his office. "Try to make yourself useful, Sandburg" came the parting shot just before he firmly shut the door to his office.

Jim looked at the closed door and then over to the smirking face of his partner. "A smart man would try to make a friend rather than an enemy of the man who will be his future supervisor."

Blair moved over to the desk he used, hung his coat onto the back of the chair and then sat down. "It's too late in the game for me to try and make points with Simon, Jim. I know he's been thinking up different tortures for me ever since I agreed to go to the academy. I'm just getting in my last volleys."

"It's your skin, buddy. Why don't we just follow his last order and get you doing something useful. It'll justify the pay you're receiving for not having to show up for class." Ellison then handed over half of the files that had been sitting in the tray on his desk. Sandburg took what was offered without a complaint; a smirk hovered around the corners of his mouth.

Academy Driving Course Three Weeks Later

The sun was shining brightly on the wet pavement where 12 cadets stood milling around. It had rained earlier in the morning, enough to create puddles around the area. Sandburg stood slightly away from the group, eyeing the positioning of orange, plastic construction cones, poles and barrels. The class had been split into two groups for the training they were entering, defensive driving.

Glancing to his left, Blair could see Carson and Krist standing away from the group. A few other cadets stood with them, listening to whatever the two men were discussing with rapt attention. He had hoped that he wouldn't be paired up with the two men, but at least the training permitted only one cadet in the vehicle during the time of the driving.

"All right, people. Listen up!" A woman's voice barked from behind the group. Almost turning as one, they noticed the petite, black female officer standing with a clipboard tucked under her left arm. Officer Holmes strode forward through the group and turned to face them when she reached the double yellow line at the edge of the course. "As you can see, we've been provided with an excellent opportunity for training using a factor that will definitely occur during the course of your duties. Driving in conditions that are out of the norm. Of course, for those who are from this part of the state, this is the norm." Chuckles rose from the cadets.

"When I call your name, I want you to get into that vehicle over there," she pointed to the police cruiser off to the right. "There is a driving helmet, which you will wear, on the front seat. Shoulder harnesses and lap belts are also required to be worn. These safety requirements are a part of the academy regulations, not just because we're sure you're going to crash.

"Beginning at the 'Start' flag, you are allowed to take one circuit through the course at a low or normal speed. However, once you reach the finish, I want you to come back to the start and go through the course at a pursuit speed. What I am looking for from each of you is your ability to maintain the pursuit while also staying completely in control of your vehicle."

"Carson!" The dark-haired cadet jerked his attention away from his group and took a step in the direction of the instructor. Without another word, she pointed towards the car and then took the clipboard from under her arm.

With a cocky grin to his friends, Carson strode over to the police cruiser, opened the door and climbed in. Donning the helmet, but not securing the chin strap, he started the engine and revved it. The car sped towards the starting line.

Not following instructions, the cadet took off from the start at a high speed. He flashed around the different obstacles, taking the corners with ease. At the end of a straight section of the course were three corridors, each with a red and green light in the center. The objective of the driver was to increase their speed significantly, watch the lights carefully, and swerve into the lane where the green light was illuminated. To do it successfully required sharp eyesight and quick reflexes. Carson proved that he had both.

Accelerating down the center of the corridor, he was approaching 60 M.P.H. when the light over the left one turned green. The police car easily cut over in that direction. Swinging around the last turn sharply, Carson accelerated again and brought the car to a screeching halt in front of the group. The cadets that had been standing with him earlier, along with Krist, broke into an impromptu applause as the man jumped out from the driver's side. He gave a toothy grin to the glaring policewoman as he sauntered back over to his friends.

"Nice show, Carson. But you get 5 points knocked off your score," Holmes said calmly. At the cadet's sharp look, she pointed to the far side of the course. In the area that had several sharp turns, there was an orange cone lying on its side. "Next up, Jones."

One by one, each cadet tackled the driving course until there were just three remaining. "Sandburg! Step up."

Blair calmly approached the police car and followed the instructions that had been given at the beginning of the training. With the helmet firmly on and secured, he started the engine and approached the start of the course. After completing his practice drive, he approached the start again. At the nod from the instructor, Blair stepped hard onto the accelerator and sped off.

Easily, he drove through the course, avoiding all the obstacles and maintained a steady but fast speed. When he reached the part that had several twisting curves, he efficiently negotiated the first and was entering the second when the front tire of his vehicle exploded. Immediately, Blair took his foot off the gas pedal and yanked the wheel in the direction that the vehicle had begun to skid.

The car turned sharply, plowing through the cones and barrels. Blair kept a strong hold of the steering wheel; countering and adjusting for each swerve the vehicle took. At one point, the car tipped slightly off two wheels, but eventually stopped off the pavement on the side of the course. Miraculously, it had stayed upright.

Officer Holmes and several of the cadets charged across the pavement to the still vehicle. Upon reaching it, they saw Blair's helmeted head resting on the steering wheel that he still clutched tightly.

"Sandburg! Are you all right!" Holmes practically shouted at the motionless driver. Placing a gentle hand onto his shoulder, the officer pulled until Blair was sitting back against the seat. His eyes were clamp shut and his mouth hung slightly open, panting breaths emanating from it.

"Can you hear me, cadet?" Holmes voice had dropped significantly in volume, taking on a calm tone. Slowly, she opened the driver's door and squatted down beside the seat.

Carefully, Blair opened his eyes. Dazed, he looked around the interior of the car. Seeing that it was intact, he peeled his hands off the steering wheel and lightly patted himself down. Satisfied, he turned to the woman crouched beside him. "I'm alive."

"I don't know how you kept this thing from flipping, but that was some damn fine driving." Holmes gave the stunned man a wry grin and a pat on the shoulder. "Where did you learn to drive like that?"

Dropping his head back onto the steering wheel, Blair swallowed heavily. "From a guy who's been involved in more high speed chases than I can count. Thanks, Jim." The last two words were whispered, too low for any of the others to hear.

Standing up and stepping back, Holmes watched as Sandburg leaned back, unbuckled his seatbelt and shoulder harness and shakily stepped from the vehicle. Motioning to another cadet, the officer asked him to help Blair back indoors.

Academy Firing Range, Two weeks later

"Attention on the line!" The voice booming over the speaker got the immediate attention of the cadets standing near the back wall. All were either wearing or carrying safety goggles and headsets. At the next order of 'Take your positions,' each stepped forward into their appropriate places and adjusted their safety equipment.

Taking a deep breath and blowing it forcefully out, Blair eyed the standard issue 9mm pistol lying in front of him. He had dreaded this portion of the training almost as much as when he had to go to the barber. The preparatory classes on learning how to breakdown, clean and reassemble the pistol hadn't been bad except for the way some of the other cadets had shown excitement over the process. It was their real enthusiasm for the next step in the training, the actual firing that had bothered him the most.

"You've come a long way, Sandburg," he mumbled to himself as he waited for the order to pick up the gun. "From swearing that you didn't want to be packing a piece to actually being taught how to use one. If they only knew what I've been through."

"Prepare to fire!" The voice over the P.A. system boomed bringing Blair's attention back to the situation at hand. The down range lights were brought up, making the hanging paper targets visible to the cadets.

Picking up the pistol, Blair released the safety, placed the weapon into his holster and took a stance that he had seen Jim take many times before. His feet were spread shoulder width apart, body held relaxed and he was turned slightly to the right to brace his arm against the recoil action. When firing, he knew that he had to hold the pistol comfortably in his right hand with his left hand balancing the weight of the piece and supporting his right.

At the call of 'Commence firing,' Blair drew his weapon and the room came alive with the sound of gunfire. Each cadet fired the ten rounds in the clip loaded in their weapon, placed it back into their holster and then stepped back. The call to reload was announced and the cadets moved forward, removed the empty clip and reloaded with a fresh one.

With each firing, the targets were moved approximately 10 feet farther back down the range. After the third firing, the range master, standing in a booth behind the cadets, pushed a button and all the paper targets began moving forward on the pulley system to which they were attached.

As Blair's target neared, his eyes widened and his heart skipped a beat at what he saw. Neatly placed in the center ring of the human silhouette were multiple holes, none extending outside of that section. A perfect score.

"Not bad shooting, Sandburg," Sgt. Blanchard spoke quietly from behind. "You've had some training before?"

Looking dazed, Blair turned to the Sergeant. "No, not really. I've never been comfortable around guns and this is the first time I've gone through any type of training. I don't like to handle them if it's really not necessary."

"What are you talking about, Cadet," Sgt. Atkins, the range officer, exclaimed as he walked up behind Blanchard. "With a pattern like yours, you wouldn't need much training to be a candidate for the S.W.A.T. squad. I'd like to see what you'd do taking the Gauntlet."

At Blair's quizzical look, Blanchard explained. "It's the town mock up back behind the driving course. Different cardboard figures pop up throughout the course, some criminals and others innocent bystanders. Contests are held to test an officer's reflex ability and precision as they travel down through the course."

"Shooting at people? No. Not on your life, Sergeant." Blair shook his head adamantly. "I may have to be required to take this training, but I still believe that violence only begets violence. You are more than likely to escalate a situation by waving a gun around than by trying to work out a solution peaceably. I'd rather find another option first before resorting to using a gun." Several of the other cadets gathered near the group. Blair could see that his conversation was not sitting well with a few of them.

"What type of situation do you believe would be severe enough for you to use your weapon, Sandburg," Blanchard asked, his voice neutral.

Blair looked down at his hands and then over at his bullet ridden silhouette. When he finally spoke, his answer was barely loud enough for the two sergeants to hear. "Probably only one and I hope I never have to face that."

Blanchard and the range officer looked at each other and then back at the cadet in front of them. Finally Blanchard swung around and ordered the milling cadets back to their spaces. "Collect your equipment and head for the classroom. Have your weapons cleaned and ready for inspection in a half an hour. Dismissed. Move it, Mr. Sandburg. You're still a part of this group, aren't you?"

With a silent sigh, Blair turned to his station and started to gather his equipment. He could tell that the two officers were still standing behind him. Turning back around, he looked each man in the eyes. The Range Officer had a look of exasperation in his. With a shake of his head, the Sergeant stalked off to the door leading to his booth.

In Blanchard's eyes Blair saw something he didn't expect. The man had a marksman pin and obviously extensive knowledge of weapons since Blair had heard him use it when he gave additional instruction to a couple of his classmates. But the look Blanchard was giving Sandburg was one of respect. With a slight nod, the taller man turned and left the firing range.

Startled by what he saw, Blair watched the man walk away and then quickly turned back towards his station and began gathering his equipment. A small smile hovered on his lips.

Academy Workout Room, Three Weeks Later

Blair slammed down onto the workout mat hard enough to knock the breath out of him for a few moments. Gasping, he looked up at the man who had put him into this position.

"What's the matter, Sandburg?" the man sneered down at him. "You're supposed to take me down."

"Just what is your problem, Krist?" Blair slowly rolled over and struggled to his feet. Glancing over at the instructor, he saw that the man's back was to him and had missed the incident.

This portion of the training was supposed to be self-defense with Blair executing moves to counter and stop an aggressor. The other cadets around the pair were going through similar movements of attack, break and then defense but it seemed there was less intent on injuring each other. Krist was using moves that Blair was sure hadn't been introduced into the training sessions.

Before he could get into the beginning position to counter a knife-wielding suspect, Krist stepped forward, grabbed Blair's arm and yanked him off balance. The larger man then swung his opponent around, wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled his arm up behind his back. But before Krist could tighten his hold, Sandburg panicked.

"No!" he growled, stomping down on his captors' foot and jabbing his free arm backwards. Surprised by the assault, Krist wasn't prepared for the actions of the man he held. With a grunt, he let the smaller man go and stumbled back a few steps.

Blair spun around in anger, his hand rubbing his throat. "I've had it, man. With your games, tricks, attitude, everything. I've done my best to stay out of yours and Carson's way with what ever recruiting drive you are on, sit as far away from you as I can in our classes, everything. What in the hell do you want?"

During his tirade, Blair failed to notice the hostile glint appear in his opponent's eyes. He did notice, however, when Krist balled his fists. Sandburg took the preparatory stance of a slight crouch with his hands held waist high but Krist quickly stepped forward swinging both his hands in a circular motion. His action knocked Blair's hands apart, leaving him wide open to the upper cut that smashed against his chin.

Blair flew backwards and landed flat onto the mat. Eyes closed, he lay stunned. Stepping forward to place a foot onto the fallen man's throat, Krist froze when a shrill whistle cut through the air.

"Hold! What's going on over here, Krist?" The Instructor, Sgt. Howell, moved quickly over to the prone cadet and knelt down near his shoulder. "Sandburg? Are you okay?" Placing one hand onto a shoulder, the instructor lightly patted Blair's face.

Blair's eyes fluttered open and looked dazed at the face hovering over him. With a groan, he lifted one hand and felt his chin. The left underside of his jaw felt tender. As his eyesight cleared, he saw the anxious look on the instructor's face. Behind him, he saw that Krist was joined by his friend, Carson. Both men wore smug expressions on their faces.

"I'm... okay, Sergeant," he softly answered the worried man.

"I was just showing him how to stop a larger man making threatening movements, Sergeant Howell. I guess Sandburg forgot how to disarm the movement." Krist's voice sounded so sincere that Blair looked sharply at his attacker. The man's face had an innocent look on it but his pale, blue eyes glittered with anger beneath the stray lock hair that had fallen forward onto his forehead.

"Yeah. I guess I... forgot how to bring my arms up properly." Blair's answer appeared to satisfy Howell, who stood up and offered his hand to help the other up.

"You're sure? It seems that you've been taking more than your share of mat time."

"I'm sure. I've always been able to avoid using force to take care of myself. You can say that I've been more used to using flight instead of fight." Blair grasped the hand extended to him and allowed the instructor to pull him up. He swayed slightly and had to shake his head to clear away the ringing in his ears and the black spots that invaded his vision.

"Why don't you head for the locker room and sit it out for the rest of the hour. There's not much time left. If you have any problems, we'll get you down to the infirmary." Howell slowly led Sandburg off the floor and towards the door marked Locker Room -- Males. Looking back over his shoulder, he called back, "Krist. Since you've taken out your partner, why don't you just park yourself against the wall for the rest of the class."

"Thanks, Sergeant. Um, I'll be all right. Just had the wind knocked out of me. Isn't the first time and probably won't be the last." Blair gave the concerned man a reassuring smile when they reached the door. After glancing over to where Krist was sitting, he pushed it open and entered the locker room. After the door closed, he heard the sergeant's voice raise and instruct the other cadets to continue with their training.

Moving slowly through the room, he finally made it to the locker that had his name printed on a piece of tape across the top of the door. Blair sat carefully down on the bench in front of it and dropped his head onto his chest with his hands resting lightly on his legs. He was concentrating so intensely on his breathing, taking slow deep breaths and releasing the air slowly, that he didn't hear the door of the room open. When Blair finally opened his eyes and started to stand up, he felt a hand grasp his hair at the back of his head.

The hand thrust forward, smashing Blair's head into his locker. Dazed, he felt the hand release his head, swing him around and he was slammed again into the lockers. An arm was pressed against his throat holding him against the locker and partially cutting off his air. Blair clawed at the arm, blinking furiously to clear his eyesight.

"You're just too nosy for your own good. You know that, Sandburg?" A familiar voice hissed at Blair. "How can you even think about becoming a detective if you can't even defend yourself? How effective can you be for your partner with the attitude you have towards guns? I heard you on the firing range." The arm pressed harder.

Blair's eyes finally cleared and he saw that it was Carson. How did he sneak away from the class? The man's blue eyes glittered with hatred. Grabbing at his assailant's arm, Blair caught a fist full of the man's T-shirt and yanked it hard enough to tear it off his right shoulder. His eyes registered a strange looking tattoo of a large 'W' with two rifles crossed on top of it on the right side of the man's chest before he felt a fist hammer into his stomach.

Holding the gasping man tight against the locker, Carson plowed his fist again into Blair's stomach. He smiled evilly when his second hit caused the smaller man to crumple. "You shouldn't listen in on conversations that aren't for you, Sandburg. It's obvious you haven't taken the hints you've been getting up to now so I'll tell you straight out. Quit before something really happens."

A final shove slammed Blair back against the locker, his head making solid contact with the metal. Collapsing to the floor, he vaguely saw his attacker staring down at him as the blackness hovering around the edges of his eyes began to flood his consciousness. Dimly, Blair thought he heard what sounded like a woman's voice speaking and for some reason it sounded familiar. His whirling mind couldn't figure that out.

"Carson!" the voice whispered. "What the hell are you doing?"

The last thing he saw was another figure approaching Carson. Then his world went dark.

Major Crimes Bullpen Same Day

Jim Ellison was going through a police file when an uniformed officer walked past and dropped a packet of papers into his "in" basket. With a look of annoyance, he picked up the packet and scanned the title page.

"Hey! Wait a minute, Campbell. What's this junk?" He called to the departing officer.

Making it to Henri Brown's desk, the man dropped another packet into the basket there. Turning around at the sound of his name, he saw the irritated Ellison holding up the papers he'd just left. "It's an info packet, detective. Came over the wire with a request for distribution to all departments. Have fun reading it." With a false smile, the man dropped another packet onto Rafe's desk and then headed out the bullpen doors.

"We're supposed to be turning into a paperless society and they keep giving us more paper," Ellison mumbled as he leafed through the pages. When what he saw didn't look too interesting, he tossed it into the basket on the desk that Sandburg normally used with a smug smile. He'd let his partner look it over and then give him a short synopsis of what all was there.

Turning back to the file he was reviewing originally, Ellison had flipped through a third page when his peripheral vision registered a familiar shape passing his desk. He looked up and noticed Joel Taggart moving towards Banks' office. The man was reading as he was walking. "Hey, Joel. Good reading?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah Jim. New info on a militia group that occupies our part of the country. You read it yet?" The large, black Captain veered over to Ellison's desk.

"What's so different about this group? Aren't they your run-of-the-mill, chase around the forest idiots playing war games?"

"According to this report, they're--" Taggart started to reply but was interrupted when Banks opened his door.

"Ellison! Drop what you're doing and get in here. Oh, Joel. You come on in, too." Banks voice easily carried across the room to the two men. With a shrug towards the confused look on Ellison's face, Taggart turned back to his original path and walked into the Captain's office.

Following the command of his superior, Jim closed up the file he was working on and followed Taggart. "Something wrong, Captain?" he asked after closing the office door.

"Have you read the flyer out from the State Bureau of Investigations? Tacoma P.D. just called me with a heads up warning over the situation." Banks leaned back in his chair and eyed the two men in front of him.

"Uh, no sir. It's just been delivered to my desk but Joel was starting to fill me in. This new group any worse than what we've already been through?" Ellison fidgeted in his chair and glanced at Taggart. He realized that he shouldn't have just dumped the report onto Sandburg's desk.

"Hmm," Banks murmured, knowing exactly what Ellison did. "This group calls themselves the Washington Freedom Fighters and they're using a different tactic than the others. Tacoma found one of their patrol officers giving literature on the group to another officer in their locker room. Seems that other officer had tipped off the watch sergeant about a conversation he had with the first officer. They're hoping it was just a single incident or someone that'd made it past the background checks. However, knowing the trouble we've had in the past with a certain militia group, the commissioner felt that an information advisory was warranted."

"Recruitment in the ranks? That's a first," Joel commented absently. He was perusing through the information provided in the packet.

"I thought those groups considered our people to be a part of the problem. Aren't we members of the 'corrupt government' that the rest of the people needed to be protected from?" Jim brought up, confused. "I mean, look at how the Sunrise Patriots were."

"That's what we're all hoping for. One thing we don't need to be worrying about is whether our ranks have been infiltrated by--" Banks was interrupted by a knock on his door.

At his call, Rafe opened the door. "I'm sorry to interrupt, Captain, but Ellison needs to take the call on line three. It's from the Academy."

Concern flashing across his face, Jim raised an eyebrow and reached for the telephone. Simon picked up the receiver and handed it over to his detective, punching the button for the correct line.

"Ellison. Hey, Charlie. How are th-- Is he all right?... How'd it happen?... I can be there in about an hour. You sure he doesn't need the hospital?... Okay, I'll talk to you when I get there." When he hung up the receiver, Jim saw the concerned expressions on the two Captain's faces. "That was Charlie Blanchard. He's in charge of Sandburg's class. Blair was found unconscious in the locker room."

Both Banks and Taggart spoke at the same time. "What happened?" "Is Blair okay?"

"Apparently he's good enough to not require a trip to the emergency room, but they don't want him to drive home. Mind if I ask Brown or Rafe to go up with me? They can bring back Sandburg's car." Ellison was moving towards the door as he asked the question.

With a wave, Simon urged the man on. "Go, see which one is free. Call me tonight when you find out what happened. Okay, Jim?"

With a nod, Ellison strode out of the office.

Blair was lightly dozing on a bed in the Academy infirmary. Earlier, when he had returned to consciousness in the locker room, his head and stomach had been hurting and several voices were talking and calling his name.

"Sandburg? Can you understand me? No, don't try to move until the medics get here. We don't know how badly you're injured," Howell stated after Sandburg tried to sit up. His hands easily held the injured man down.

Blair blinked furiously, trying to clear his vision. Looking at all of the faces surrounding him, he wasn't able to see Carson or Krist in the group. Neither could he see anyone that might resembled the woman he thought he had seen.

"Where'd they go?" he asked, looking around confused.

"Who? Mr. Johnson found you alone here on the floor. Do you remember what happened?"

After looking closely at the group around him again, trying to read the expressions, Blair clamped his mouth shut and shook his head. That turned out to be the wrong thing to do. The throbbing pain in his head became worse. With a groan, he closed his eyes and allowed all the noise to fade into the background. The last he heard was Sgt. Blanchard telling the gawkers to move out.

Blair had awakened in the infirmary, a cold compress on his head. The medic was gone but Blanchard was there waiting until he was conscious again. The Sergeant had asked him several questions: what happened, did he see who did it, why? Blair feigned slight amnesia with the questions and asked when he could leave. That's when he was told that Jim had been called. Blair had wanted to melt into the mattress with that news.

The door to the infirmary opened with only a small noise.

"Chief?" Ellison's voice was soft but tinged with concern.

Opening his eyes, Blair looked over at his roommate. "I didn't want them to call you, man. I'm not that bad off."

"Not according to the staff. You were found unconscious and there's bruising around your ribs and under your chin." Jim grasped the younger man's chin to shift his face for a better view but quickly lightened his touch when Blair flinched. Using his sentinel fingers, Jim could feel the heat emanating from the area and the blood pooling into a bruise.

Blair brought up his hand and pushed Jim's away. "That's just a bruise caused during the defense class. Nothing to worry about."

"Did your school yard bullies do this, Sandburg?"

Blair looked around the room but still lowered his voice to a level that only Jim could hear with his special senses. "I don't want to talk about it now. Can I get out of here?"

Ellison's eyes narrowed at Sandburg's statement but just gave him a nod. "I'll check and see if they think it's all right. They don't think you should drive, so my truck's right outside."

"Wait. What about my car?" Blair started to sit up only to be pushed back down by Jim.

"H. rode up with Rafe. He'll drive it back to the loft and then get Rafe to drive him home. Stay put, Junior. Let me get someone who's authorized to release you. We're going to have a long conversation when we get back to the loft. Count on it."

Releasing an exasperated sigh, Blair laid back down onto the bed.

Major Crimes Bullpen Next Day

"All that I'm saying is that if there's something going on there you need to tell someone, Chief. You probably aren't the first to have problems like this and if you don't tell someone what happened, you won't be the last." Ellison was trying to convince his silent partner who was following him as they exited off the elevator.

"Jim, we went over this last night. Yeah, the guys have escalated into a little physical activity but it's nothing I can't handle. The car on the driving course was probably an accident. Listen, I'm over half way through the program." Blair caught hold of Jim's arm and stopped his friend in the hall, just outside of the doors marked 'Major Crime.' "They're letting me take today off, Howell's going to pair me up with another cadet for the defense training stuff and I'm going to keep my guard up around the rest of the class from now on. Give it a rest, man."

"I'm your partner. Partners don't keep secrets from each other and we're supposed to watch one another's back." Ellison's voice dropped and he looked calmly into his friend's face.

Blair could only stare into the bright, blue eyes drilling into his for a minute before he had to drop his gaze. "I know. I mean, we do. It's just that this whole thing is really important to me. I've got to make it through to the end. On my own. What kind of partner will I be if I can't even make it through academy training without you having to save my butt?" Before Ellison could answer, the two men were interrupted.

"Hey, Hairboy," Henri Brown called out strolling up the hallway. "Or I should be calling you Hairless boy. How're you doing there, man?"

"Hey, fine H. It was nothing." Sandburg gave the man a quick smile, running his hand through his short hair. The nickname the detective had given him when he first started working with Jim didn't fit now. With a last look at his partner, he walked into the bullpen.

The other two men looked at each other and then followed behind. They watched the young man wave off or give glib statements to other personnel in the room as questions were asked about him. Blair finally reached his desk, quickly sat down and attempted to look busy by pulling out the paperwork from his basket. The first batch happened to be the report from the Tacoma police.

Brown moved off to his desk and Ellison grabbed his coffee cup. He had started towards the break room when he heard Banks call to him in a low tone that only he could hear. Looking towards his boss, he saw the man jerk his head back into his office. With a glance at his partner, Ellison took a round-a-bout way towards Banks office and quietly closed the door behind him.

"I waited for your call," Banks started after Ellison sat down.

"I'm sorry, Captain. By the time we finished not discussing what he didn't want to tell me, it was too late. I didn't think I should bother you by that time."

"He tell you anything in the end?" Banks asked, moving over to his coffee maker. Picking up the decanter, he filled Ellison's cup.

"Clammed up tight the minute I got him home. He did admit that his head hurt from being 'bumped' against a locker but that was all I could get out of him. Finally, after I developed a headache, he said he was tired and went to his room. I didn't see him again 'til his alarm went off this morning." The frustration was easily heard in the detective's voice.

"What about that friend of yours at the academy?"

"I talked to him this morning while Sandburg was in the shower. Blanchard told me he's not seen anything. Sandburg's been there at the required time, puts a lot of effort into whatever he's doing and has made friends with a couple of the other cadets. Other than that, this is the first time he's seen or heard of anything really being wrong."

By the look on Ellison's face, Banks knew there was something else. He just raised an eyebrow and calmly stared at the man across from him. Understanding the expression directed at him, Jim took a sip of coffee and told about the incident on the driving course.

"And they think the tire blowing was an accident?" Simon leaned forward, concerned over the information received.

"It was only given a general inquiry. The tires were not too worn but due to be replaced at the next servicing of the vehicle. Sandburg says it was an accident and the two guys giving him most of the trouble were part of his group. So they couldn't have caused it."

"Do you think there are others?" Ellison just shrugged and took another mouthful of the coffee.

"What's going on with the kid, Jim?" Banks pulled out a cigar from his desk drawer and started to go through the process of lighting it.

"Pride. Stupid, pigheaded pride. He just told me that he wants to make it to the end on his own." Ellison stood up and walked towards the window facing the bullpen to peer through the blinds. He could see that Sandburg was totally engrossed with the papers he was holding.

"Sounds like a certain detective I know. I guess he's learned as much from you as you from him." Banks' chuckle brought Ellison's attention back into the room. With a sigh, the detective sat down in the chair facing his Captain's desk.

"And he could be seriously hurt if whoever's doing this to him decides to up the ante. As great as he is doing with everything else, the one part of the training that Sandburg's having the most problems with is the personal defense portion. Blanchard told me he talked to the instructor for that course and was told that Blair understands what he's supposed to do, knows the moves, but just can't seem to put his heart into executing them."

"Jim, he is just not the aggressive type. You know it, I know it and Sandburg definitely shows it. What it will come down to is that if the kid gets into a bad situation and has a chance to use his mouth, he'll talk himself out of it."

Ellison chuckled. "I know. Do you want to hear one of the most ironic things out of all of this? He has turned out to be an expert marksman on the firing range. How, I don't have a clue."

Banks' eyes bulged behind his gold-framed glasses. With a choke on the cigar he had been puffing, he started coughing as he accidentally inhaled the smoke. When he could finally catch his breath, his eyes were brimming with tears. A knock on the door forestalled any further conversation.

Sandburg opened the door and stepped into the office without waiting to be called. Ellison could tell that the younger man was upset and worried by the look in the expressive, blue eyes and, through listening, could hear his heart beating sharply.

"Captain?" Blair turned the packet of papers he carried towards the black Captain. "I was reading this report Jim left in my basket and... well, I've seen this symbol. At the academy." That caught both men's attention, causing them to sit upright in their chairs.

Reaching forward, Ellison grabbed the packet and looked at the picture of the symbol the Washington Freedom Fighters used as their own. "Where?" he asked, the tone used brooked no nonsense on Sandburg's part.

Blair looked towards Simon for support but the expression on the man's face mirrored Jim's. With a resigned air, Blair trudged over to the chair next to his partner and sat down. "It was on the guy in the locker room who I was... well, I was trying to make him let me go and I caught his T-shirt. He has it tattooed on his chest."

"Damn it!" Simon exploded in anger and slammed a fist on his desk. His action caused Blair to jump.

"Wha... Did I say something wrong?" Blair threw a startled look at Jim but saw that his partner was barely holding in his anger. Looking down at his hands, Blair mumbled, "Looks like I did."

"How many do you think are involved at the academy?" Ellison leaned towards Banks to say more but was interrupted by Sandburg.

"You think it's the instructors? The cadre?"

"How else could someone who is obviously a member of a militia group get past the screening, Sandburg? The background check performed prior to entry is pretty thorough but you made it through anyway." Simon replied sarcastically but belied the tone with a quick smile.

Jim quickly jumped in to turn the conversation back towards the issue. "There would have to be someone in the personnel department who has the ability to either fudge, cover up or prevent the background checks. But who? The Personnel Officer and administrative personnel are required to do additional screenings before a class starts."

"What if the backgrounds were so well prepared that they would make it through the system?" Simon countered Jim's idea.

"The tests," Blair spoke up softly.

"What tests, Chief?"

"Remember Jim? I told you a couple of months ago that there were others whose answers to the psychological tests were similar to mine."

"Sandburg--" Banks started but was interrupted by Ellison.

"No, wait Simon. Hear him out."

"You see, I'm certified to give one of the psyche tests but I also have an understanding of how most of them are put together. Therefore, I can manipulate my answers to either make my results indicate that I'm the most bland, normal person you'd ever meet or a real psycho. That's what got me in trouble with the commander back in the beginning." Blair paused when he saw that Simon was quickly losing his patience. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jim raise a hand to placate the Captain and quickly got to the point.

"Okay. One thing that I remembered clearly in the meeting was that there were three other cadets who had similar test results as mine. Now either those other three are about as exciting as vanilla ice cream or someone coached them on how to fix their answers. I could believe one or two of us understanding the tests--"

"But not four in the same class. You may have something there, Chief. Who are the others?" Jim asked.

"Two of them are the guys that have been giving me the hassles, Martin Carson and Daniel Krist. I've also seen them talking privately with a few of the other cadets and hand out something on paper. The third is a guy that I don't know too well. Hank Johnson. He tends to keep to himself."

Banks wrote the names down. "I'll get a check on these three just to see if someone in personnel was able to misdirect any reports on them. You said that their test results were similar?"

"Yeah. Ms. Sanchez, she's the one that wasn't happy with me, asked me if I had shared my knowledge about the tests to any of the others because the results were similar. I tried to ask what those results were but Captain Schofield ended the discussion and allowed Ms. Sanchez to leave."

"Could it be possible that Schofield is part of the conspiracy?" Ellison turned back to Banks.

"I doubt it, Jim. She's been the commander there for the last 5 years. Before that, Kathryn Schofield had one of the best records of any police officer in the state. She was a hot burner from the very beginning and has been working her way to the top. How 'bout your friend, Charlie?"

Wiping his hand over his face, Ellison sat back in his chair. "I'd like to say no, but I don't think we can rule anyone out here. I've known Charlie ever since I went through the academy. What are we going to do? We can't slip anyone into the current class. They'd be suspect for sure."

"Well, what--" Blair started but was cut off.

"How about someone being sent in from the Governor's office?" Simon asked.

"Jim, why--"

"No, that'd be worse. The only thing they'd see--" Jim started.

"Hey!" Blair raised his voice to make the two men look at him. "Didn't you two forget something? I'm already in the class."

Ellison immediately shook his head in a negative motion. "No. It's too risky, Chief."

Banks also chimed in. "Sandburg. You're--"

"Don't say it, Simon." Blair growled and pointed a finger at the Captain. The two men looked at him in surprise. "I may not be a cop... yet, but I will be in about two months. I've been around Jim and Joel and the rest of the detectives enough over the last 4 years to know what to do. What you want now is just information on who else might be involved with this WFF group and that will only take me keeping my ears open. Come on. It has to be me."

"What I was going to say, Cadet Sandburg, was that you're already the object of attention of a couple of guys who're surely members of this militia group. What makes you think that you could be effective?"

Blair looked at Jim for support but only saw the same question on his face. Dropping his eyes to his hands, he fiddled with his fingers. "They think I'm a wimp," he finally answered quietly. "After each confrontation, I've just backed away and refused to allow them to rile me."

"And that's a bad thing?" Ellison asked with a soft smile. "Seems like you're using your head this time, Chief."

"Yeah, well you can't say that I don't learn from you every now and then." He gave his friend an answering smile. "So how about it, Captain?"

Banks sighed heavily as he removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's against my better judgement, but you're probably right. You're already enrolled and can move around easier than if we sent in someone new. You're in."

"Captain..." Jim started as he watched Blair bring both hands up in fists and hiss a quiet 'yes.'

"Can it, detective. He's right and you know it. Sandburg's the only one that would be able to move around the grounds without anyone getting suspicious." Simon turned to Blair and pointed a finger. "But he's to keep in direct contact with us and call for back up the minute it looks like he's been made. Do you understand, Sandburg?"

"Right, Captain. Absolutely." Blair nodded emphatically, trying to keep the exhilaration from his expression. Looking at Jim, however, he could tell that his friend was not happy with the Captain's decision.

The Academy Next Day

Blair walked through the front doors of the academy and was relieved to see that the hallway was empty. He was back on the normal classroom schedule since they were now into the part of the training that he didn't know much about: criminal law. Hoisting his backpack a little more comfortably onto his left shoulder, he strode quickly down the hall in the direction of the cadet locker area. He was just going around a corner when he heard his name.

"Blair!" called a feminine voice. Turning, he saw Lynn Crowder trotting up towards him. "Are you okay? We didn't expect you to be back this fast."

"Hey, Lynn. I'm fine. No damage, at least nothing permanent. Did I miss anything yesterday?" Blair continued walking down the hall.

"I'll lend you my notes. Wait a minute," Lynn ordered, grabbing Blair's arm and turning him back to her. "What happened in the locker room? A couple of the guys said you were attacked and the rumor mill has it being by someone in our class. There's a couple of investigator's here looking into the situation."

"What? Investigators from where?"

"Supposedly from the Commissioner's office. Sharp dressers that almost scream Internal Affairs. Did you file a report or something?"

"Damn it! I told them... no, I didn't report anything. Listen, I've got to drop my stuff off at my locker. I'll meet you after classes at the track. You can tell me anything else you've heard while we do PT. Okay?" Blair gave the woman a pleading look.

"Only if you tell me what's going on. And the truth, not the crap you've been feeding Blanchard and the other staff people. Deal?" Lynn stood with her arms crossed, refusing to be swayed.

"There's not much to tell, but it's a deal. See you in class." Separating, Blair turned and continued around the corner while Lynn walked in the opposite direction. He had just reached his locker when his name was called again. This time, it was Sgt. Blanchard.

"Mr. Sandburg. Are you supposed to be here today?" Blanchard was coming out of an office.

"Morning, Sergeant. I was told to just take yesterday off. There wasn't anything seriously wrong with me and I don't want to fall behind in the class work. It's Friday and we have tests on Monday. Was I supposed to take more time off?" Blair questioned carefully.

"From the conversation I had with Jim Ellison on Wednesday, you were going to take the rest of the week off. He seemed pretty concerned over what happened."

"You caught him in a rare moment," Blair quipped back with a quick smile.

"Is there something going on that I should know?" Blanchard bent slightly to look Sandburg directly into his eyes. "I meant what I said the first day. If you are having any problems with your fellow cadets, I expect you to tell me, Sandburg."

"I'm not having any problems that you need to worry about. Really, I've been hurt worse working around Jim. I was told that I'm good enough to attend class but to go easy on the physical activity for a couple more days." Blair fidgeted and took a quick look at his watch. "I'm going to be late if I don't get a move on, Sergeant."

"Then go, but remember what I said." Glancing at his own watch, Blanchard gave Sandburg a quick nod. "Oh, since you won't be in the defense tactics class today, make sure you're available for an interview. There are two investigators that want to speak with you when you have a free hour. I told them you'd be available to talk to them at 2:00 in the Captain's conference room. She felt there was more privacy there"

"Right. I heard they were here. I'll be there."

Blair reported to the Captain's office at 2:00 as he was told. When he was ushered into the conference room, his eyes lit upon Connor and Rafe looking very official in dark business suits. He almost didn't recognize Megan with the severe way she wore her hair and the dark-framed glasses adorning her face.

"This is Ms. Walker and Mr. Thomas from the Governor's office. They are here to look into the situation that occurred in the locker room, Mr. Sandburg," Capt. Schofield introduced Blair to the two. "I've been told that they also want to ask a few questions concerning a situation that occurred on the driving course." The woman raised an eyebrow at the cadet.

"It was... an accident, I'm sure. A tire blew on the cruiser that I was driving, Captain. The road was a little slick and the car slid off the course." Blair's explanation caused the Captain's eyebrow to raise a little higher.

"I see. Well, the room is yours for the next hour since I have a meeting. Mr. Sandburg does have a class at three and is required to attend. I will get a copy of the report, won't I?"

"Thank you for your cooperation, Captain," Megan spoke up. "We'll make sure your request is forwarded."

As the Captain closed the door behind her, Blair opened his mouth to speak but stopped when Rafe motioned him to be quiet. Picking up and placing the briefcase he had brought on the table, the detective brought out a small square device, pressed a button to switch it on and walked slowly around the room. When he had made a full circuit, Rafe turned the device off and gave Connor a nod.

"This room's not tapped so it should be safe to speak," Megan spoke softly and motioned for Blair to join her as she sat at the table. Rafe moved to the door and leaned against it.

"What are you two doing here? I told Jim and the Captain that I could handle this. Don't they trust me?" Blair stayed near the door and folded his arms across his chest.

"Sandburg, trust has nothing to do with this. The Governor was going to send two investigators anyway. She's required to have any training situation investigated when a cadet has been injured under suspect circumstances. We were just able to..." Rafe looked at Megan for help.

"...substitute ourselves to keep it all quiet and prevent any leaks." Connor took over the explanation. "Since we don't know who is involved, and to make sure that no one makes you, Captain Bank was able to send us to do the 'official' looking around."

"Besides, we're the only ones that don't have any history with this place. I went to the academy over near Spokane." Rafe's easy answer explained the absence of the one person that Blair was sure would have appeared.

Losing his anger, Blair slowly walked forward and sat at the table across from Megan. "Okay, so have you learned anything yet?"

"We only just arrived this morning and spent the whole of it getting a tour. Why don't you explain the incident with the car tire problem and what happened in the locker room, Sandy?"

With a sigh, Blair related both incidents with just the minimum amount of information. "The car had to be an accident. Both Carson and Krist were standing at the edge of the course when the tire blew. I haven't had problems from anyone else."

"Unless it was caused by one of the cadre. Who on the staff or of the instructors has paid you the most attention or given you the hardest time?" Connor asked.

Sandburg pursed his lips trying to think. "None of them have really given me trouble. Sergeant Blanchard always seems to be around but that's because he's assigned to our group. Ms. Sanchez has never liked me because I was able to beat out her tests." He smirked momentarily over the memory then became serious again. "There hasn't been anyone else. Really."

"So that leaves us the job of asking innocuous questions," Megan looked at her watch and stood up. "You have to get to class."

"I'm going to meet with another cadet after classes tonight. She said she'd fill me in on some things that she's noticed." Blair also stood up and started to push his chair against the table. He was stopped by a soft, quick touch of Megan's hand.

"You are going to be careful. Aren't you Blair?" Megan's voice was only loud enough for him to hear. Giving the inspector a confident smile, Blair nodded. The three then walked to the door and opened it to the outer office.

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Sandburg" Rafe said as the three left the room.

"You'll be sure to call us if you remember anything of importance," Connor added.

"I'm sorry that I couldn't be of any assistance." Blair shook both Megan's and Rafe's hands then walked through the outer office to the exit. Reaching for the doorknob, he was sure he saw a shadowy form reflected from the Captain's office in the glass before him. Blair knew that she was supposed to be gone so he didn't turn around to check. The shape looked similar to the hazy figure he remembered from the locker room. Dismissing the idea with a shake of his head, Blair opened the door and walked through it.

Schofield listened until the outer door of her office closed then picked up her telephone and punched four numbers. She was trying to maintain her composure, but the anger flared when the phone was picked up on the other end. "Where have you been, George? We've two investigators from the Governor's office... You and those two idiots are creating too much attention. The car accident could have been explained away if the locker one hadn't occurred... Listen, you get hold of those two and tell them to back off and go low profile... Don't you threaten me, George. Just be alert if anything starts. We'll execute our plans then." With that, she slammed the phone down onto the cradle.

Major Crimes Bullpen Same Day

Jim Ellison cursed under his breath as he punched keys on a small, notebook computer. He'd been trying to access the Internet on Blair's laptop but kept getting error messages with the different commands. "How does he get this thing to do back flips when he uses it? All it wants to do for me is play dead," he mumbled.

"What's the matter, Jim?" Brown's mirthful question floated over to his desk. "Sandburg hasn't taught you the tricks of how to get answers from that thing yet? Or did he lock you out with an access code?"

Looking over towards the detective, Ellison opened his mouth to give a sharp retort but was interrupted with a bleeping noise from the computer. Looking back at the screen, the information he was looking for appeared.

"Hey, H. Did the reports get back on those three names we sent through the mill?"

Standing up and walking over to Ellison's desk, Brown reached over to the man's "in" box, picked up the folder on top and held it in front of the computer screen. "I didn't know you were so helpless without Hairboy, Jim. This was delivered to you a half hour ago." With a scowl, Jim yanked the folder down and opened it.

"I know. It was probably delivered by that stealth courier the department hired." Brown's chuckle faded when he realized the seriousness Ellison showed towards the information provided by both the computer screen and the report "You got something there, man?"

"More than just something, H. Seems the WFF has gone into a heavy recruiting mode. It took some doing but I was able to get into their website after convincing them that I was a member of another militia group."


Ellison just looked up at the black detective and smiled. "Look here, H. They're searching for disgruntled former military and police to help them 'defend our state against the growing oppression of the government.' Where have we heard that before? And as usual, there's no indication of who's a member but they allude to having members in significant positions in the community."

"What about Sandburg's playmates? Anything on them?"

"I think the Captain should hear about this first. Go find Taggart, will you?" Ellison asked as he stood up and closed the folder. At Brown's nod, he quickly strode over to Bank's office, knocked twice then entered without waiting to be invited.

"Report on those names Sandburg gave us, sir," Jim announced and handed his Captain the folder he'd carried in.

After doing a quick read through, Simon set the folder down. "So there has to be someone in personnel involved. Carson and Krist have just enough on their records to raise a red flag. The question now is who gave them the okay to get in?"

A knock on the door interrupted the conversation and Taggart and Brown walked in at Banks call to 'come in.'

"Has anyone heard from Rafe or Connor yet?" Banks asked the trio in front of him.

"I got a call around lunch," Brown spoke up. "Rafe said that it looked like they were getting the fifty cent tour this morning but they were going to be able to talk to Sandburg this afternoon and a couple of the instructors. They are going to hang around until class is released and then follow the kid home." Ellison smiled at that information.

"We were real lucky to get the Governor to go along with our plan. At least it isn't Internal Affairs that handles problems at the academy." Taggart's voice was tinged with relief. "What's our next move?"

Ellison glanced at his watch. "The class gets released for the weekend at 6:00 tonight after an hour or two of physical conditioning." He stopped, hearing a snort of laughter from Brown.

"Sorry, man." Brown raised a hand in apology. "I just can't see Sandburg working out."

"You'd be surprised at what he can do, H." The look Ellison gave Brown caused the other to sober quickly. "As I was saying, they get released late tonight. So why don't we meet at my place around 9:00 and compare notes."

"Sounds good to me. With graduation two months away, I'm sure we've got time before we need to make a move." Banks made a shooing motion with his hands. "Now get out of here and see what more you can learn."

Academy Running Track That Afternoon

Because of his temporary restriction with physical activity, Blair was allowed onto the running track but told not to push it. When he exited out of the locker room wearing an academy T-shirt and plain, gray sweat pants, Lynn Crowder was waiting to walk with him out to the track.

"Okay, spill. What's been happening?" She asked immediately after they had some distance from the rest of the cadets.

"Nothing's happening, Lynn," Blair lied breaking into a light jog. "I don't know who it was in the locker room. Probably just a practical joke that went a little too far."

Lynn caught up with him and matched his stride. "Blair Sandburg, I've been around enough to know that you are the worst liar that I have ever met. You don't even try to look me in the eyes to prove that you're not. A couple of us have been discussing the little 'jokes' that have been happening to you and we don't like it. It puts a mark on all of us."

"Who have you been talking to?"

Hearing what sounded like fear in Sandburg's voice, Crowder quickly held up her hands. "Not too many, so don't worry. It's mainly the few of us who have been approached by either Dan or Marty and have gotten suspicious of their talk. Just Hank Johnson, Trish Wilson and Paul Ho."

Having completed a lap, Blair slowed down to a walk. "Tell me about the talk, please? I've seen those two handing out some papers but haven't been able to get my hands on any."

"It's weird talk that they surround with words like rights, freedom and patriotism."

"Did any of you get a copy of what was being handed out?" Blair looked around to see if he could find the two they were talking about. Neither were out at the track and that meant they were probably in the weight room.

"Paul might have kept one. Hank told us that he tore his up and threw it away without looking at it. Come on, Blair. My father is a cop and I've been around him enough to know that what I'm feeling means something is up. Those two are recruiting for something that's not on the up and up. Right?"

"Lynn, I really can't tell you. Just believe me when I say that it's very important that you three don't talk to anyone else. I also need that paper if Paul has it. Please!" Blair stopped abruptly which caused Lynn to stop and face him.

"What's going on, Blair? Lynn asked quietly. "You sit quietly in class and only speak when asked a question. You do everything to keep from being in the spotlight, even to the point of taking beatings and discounting attempts on your life. I know who you are and what you did before coming here. Is that why you are so hell bent on doing this on your own?" Startled, Blair dropped his gaze and turned to start walking rapidly around the track again. Lynn followed.

"Blair, I saw your press conference last May. Hell, I doubt if there was anyone in Cascade that didn't. While I'm not quite clear what happened to create that media circus, it was pretty obvious you were a victim of some zealous people trying to make big money from something you were working on. I hope that one day you'll trust me enough to tell me the whole story." Crowder held up her hand to stop Sandburg's reply when she saw his mouth opening in protest. "Wait, please. Truth or falsehood, reality or wild fantasy, no matter what has happened before, you have proven to me and a couple of others that you'll make one hell of a cop after you get out of this place. But you don't have to do this alone."

Blair walked silently for a few minutes before speaking. "It could be really dangerous, Lynn. All I can tell you is that it's possible there is a group that may be using our academy as well as others to recruit for their organization. My... uh, people are reluctant to even let me do any looking around. I can't ask you or anyone else here to get involved in something that we're not sure is really happening."

"And the two investigators. Are they really from the Governor's office or some of your people?" Blair just locked his eyes onto Lynn's, making a nonverbal request.

Lynn stared into Blair's pleading blue eyes. Finally she dropped her gaze with a sigh. "Okay. I'll get one of the pamphlets from Paul and get it to you before we're dismissed tonight. But if I can help with anything..."

"Believe me, you've been a big help so far. I'll talk to you later. I've got to get at least 2 miles done tonight and walking will take forever." He then broke back into a jog and continued around the track. Crowder watched him for a few seconds then turned and trotted towards the gymnasium.

Neither noticed the figure of Sergeant George Perkins, senior personnel specialist, standing in the doorway of the administration building. He watched the two cadets speak and then separate; Crowder back into the building and Sandburg back to jogging around the track. He jerked when the door opened abruptly.

"Jesus! Don't do that, Captain," Perkins hissed at Schofield. She held the door open staying in the shadows of the doorway as Perkins moved back into the entrance. He glanced at Sandburg and saw that he was now walking across the track field in the direction of the water jugs.

"Why are you so jumpy, George?" The Captain asked in a condescending tone. "Everything will smooth out now that we've gotten those juveniles to do what they were brought here to do. They are the best recruiters we've been able to train."

"I don't think so. I think we've been found out and all hell is going to break loose real soon. I was told that those two from the Governor's office are not asking the standard questions." Perkins turned his full attention back to the field and continued to watch Sandburg. "Also, one of our people was picked up in Tacoma. He was working on a recruit when he was caught."

"So? For every one they find out about, we'll get three more to replace them. Besides, it was just a single incident."

"We also had a hit on the web site this morning. Individual indicated that he was former Army and recently had been involved with the Sunrise Patriots before the Cascade P.D had taken them down. Asked for information on us and how he could join."

"I take it you are going to eventually tell me where you are going with all this." The impatience was evident in Schofield's voice.

"The connecting address from the individual was with Rainier University, Sciences Department."

"Sandburg's been here all day so it wasn't him. But that doesn't mean someone couldn't have been using his computer--" She stopped when Perkins held up a hand and pointed. Turning her attention in that direction, she saw Sandburg moving in the direction of two people walking towards him. "Who are those two?"

"That's Crowder and Ho. We were avoiding Crowder since her father is a veteran on the force. Paul Ho has listened to the information but has given no indication that he's interested... Damn it to hell!" Perkins sudden explosion came as he watched the Asian cadet hand Blair a piece of paper folded in a familiar manner. "That's one of our flyers."

"Calm down!" Schofield ordered. "Those flyers don't even mention us."

"Add it all up, Captain. That flyer gets to the investigators and they are obligated to dig deeper. They'll talk to the cadet who received it. The guy picked up in Tacoma with a similar flyer gets added to the pile and we could be taken out of the game before the starting whistle blows."

An angry expression grew on the woman's face, marring its beauty. "Go find Carson and Krist and get them to help you. The class still has about five minutes before release so we have to do some delaying and diversionary tactics right now. Wait! Where are those investigators?"

"How the hell should I know. They've been talking to instructors, not staff."

Turning sharply, Schofield strode back through the building. "I'll find them and get them off the grounds if they haven't already left. Inform the others and then you and the other two find and confine the loose ends. We were lucky to have lasted this long, George. If we do it right, we'll be packed up and at the compound before anyone realizes what really was going on."

Placing a hand out to stop the Captain, Perkins swore, "Sandburg's mine. I told you he'd be trouble. Now that prick has screwed up my retirement, my pension, everything."

Shaking her arm free and separating at a hallway junction, Schofield called over her shoulder, "You got it, but I never condoned your action. Just remember that." She continued down the hall towards her office.

"This is the only thing they've been handing out?" Blair asked as he quickly perused through the pamphlet. The paper gave no indication that it was propaganda for the militia group. It only contained information concerning increased gun control regulations that infringed on Constitutional Rights, soft laws on criminals and increasing government control. The bottom of the page only gave a telephone number for further information.

"They only gave these out after you had about three conversations with one of them and they felt they could trust you," Paul Ho explained. The young man of Japanese heritage was barely Blair's height but his quiet, confident manner made him seem taller in stature. "I just listened to see where they were going and nodded every now and then. It started sounding like a recruiting drive and I had heard the same type of talk last year around Washington State U. Some other group was on campus trying to recruit members."

"Five will get you ten that number at the bottom is nothing more than a contact that will request background info from the caller. Only when they are sure you are who they think you are will you get the real contact." Lynn tilted the page into her direction so that she could read it.

Blair folded the page back up, stuffed it into his backpack that he had brought to the field and then slung the bag over his shoulder. "No doubt. Thanks for you help, Paul."

"No prob. Just let me know if there's anything else you need. I think Carson trusts me more than Krist. He's talked about going for a drink with a couple of the other cadets." Ho waved his hand in a negligent manner then looked at his watch. "I'll see you two later. According to my watch, we're officially free. I've got the chance to go home for the weekend and I'm not going to waste any time I can spend with my wife."

"Drive safely, man. Spokane is a bit of a distance and I'm sure your wife wants you there in one piece." Blair smiled broadly and gave the other a pat on the shoulder as he turned towards the gymnasium annex and started off at a trot. Paul twisted to look back, gave an answering smile then continued on.

"Okay, what do we do now?" Lynn asked after Paul disappeared through the doorway.

"We do nothing," Blair answered back quickly. "You go change if you need to, gather your things and head home or where ever you usually go on a Friday night."

"But Blair..."

"Lynn, I'm going home just as soon as I get my stuff. It's the weekend and nothing more can be done tonight." Taking the woman by the arm, Blair tugged gently to start her walking with him. "I promise that I'll keep you informed if anything happening. Will that help keep your curiosity in check?"

Pretending to pout, Lynn allowed herself to be led towards the locker room door. "I guess it'll have to be okay."

After entering the building, the two separated. Blair turned to the left and walked through the door to the men's locker room. There was another cadet in the room, causing him to relax with the knowledge that he wasn't alone this time. Approaching his locker, he saw a folded piece of paper taped to the front and pulled it off to read it.

Mr. Sandburg, I need to see you in my office immediately after physical training. Thank you, Sgt. Howell

With a shrug, Blair opened his locker and collected his uniform. Deciding to shower when he got back to the loft, he folded the clothes and tucked them and the regulation shoes into his backpack. Closing his locker with a clang, he walked towards the back of the room and the office of Sgt. Howell.

Giving the door a gentle knock, Blair waited until he heard a muffled 'enter' from the interior. "You wanted to-- " Blair started to say as he leaned through the doorway, but was cut off by hands grabbing the front of his shirt and dragging him into the office. Swung around sharply, he was slammed face first against the wall, the breath knocked out of his lungs.

A strong hand gripped the back of his neck, smashing Blair's face against the smooth concrete. His backpack was jerked from his shoulder and both arms were yanked painfully behind his back. "Hey," he started to choke out but the hand on his neck pressed harder and was joined by the cold metal of a gun barrel placed behind his ear.

"Not one word," a voice hissed out. "I'd really like to blow your damned head off so don't push me."

Blair felt cold metal encircle his wrists. The handcuffs were tightened cruelly on each causing him to hiss in pain. When the gun was removed from his ear, the hand on his neck lifted only to grab an arm, spin him back around and hurl him back against the wall. When Blair was able to see past the black spots that clouded his vision, he looked up and into the face of a very angry sergeant he didn't recognize. Next to him stood another officer he also didn't recognize but who had a name tag on his shirt that read SHORT.

"I told the Captain you were going to be trouble the moment I saw your name on the entry list," the man growled out. He punctuated his words by thumping a fist in Blair's chest causing the young man to grunt with each impact. "I should have shot you instead of the tire the other day. Wouldn't be in this mess now."

"What are you talking about?" Blair finally gasped out when he caught his breath. "Who are you and what do you want?"

"Your worst nightmare, buddy boy. The 'accident' on the driving course should have been your wake up call to leave. Now the only thing you have to look forward to is a very painful death." Grabbing an arm, Perkins dragged Sandburg over to the desk and picked up a roll of duct tape lying on a corner. He continued around the desk and towards a door at the rear of the office.

Looking back at the other officer he growled, "Shorty, go get Crowder and take her over to Carson and Krist. They should be around the main building by now." Officer Short nodded and left the office through the front door, ensuring it was locked behind him.

Blair tried to struggle, break the hold on his arm but the bigger man just jerked him forward and switched his grip to the back of Blair's neck. "I don't know what you're talking about, man. Who are you?"

Jamming Blair against the wall by the back door, the man leaned forward until his face was inches away. "I guess you should know the name of the man that's going to kill you. Sergeant George Perkins. I was going to retire in less than a year. But thanks to you and those other cadets, I don't have anything to retire with. Guess I'll just take it out of your hide."

Opening the door, which faced the back of the academy, Perkins leaned out to see if there was anyone around. Seeing it clear, he pushed the door open wide and jerked Blair out with him as he exited the building. Pulling his pistol out from where he had stashed it in his belt, Perkins jammed it into Sandburg's side. "Just keep your mouth shut or I'll blow a hole in your side and then kill who ever hears you."

Blair saw that they were heading in a direction that he personally had not traveled but knew led to the course known as The Gauntlet. The area was several hundred yards away from the rest of the buildings on the backside of the academy grounds, far enough to prevent anyone from hearing him even if he did call for help. With a sinking heart, he realized that Jim wasn't expecting to see him until much later, since it was his habit to meet a few friends he still had from the university for a drink. Plenty of time for Perkins to make good on his promise.

Forcing his prisoner to move forward at a trot, Perkins wove through the different walls that framed the firing course after they finally arrived at the Gauntlet. Stopping short in the middle of the road that ran the length of the course, he gazed around at the different buildings.

"I'm gonna be missed," Blair blurted out, stumbling to a halt beside the Sergeant. "My friends were expecting me to show up by 6:30. Since I didn't, they've must of called my roommate by now. He works for--" He was silenced by the back of Perkins' hand smashing across his mouth.

"Shut up! I know that your roommate is Detective Jim Ellison and you worked with the Major Crime division. That don't mean crap to me. By the time anyone realizes you're missing, we'll be long gone and you'll be very dead. No one will find your body, either. I'll make sure of that." Finally making the choice of which building to use, Perkins clasped Blair's arm tightly and pulled him to one that had no windows.

Glancing around, Blair saw that the building was nothing but four walls and a roof. There was a cardboard figure of a criminal holding a shotgun positioned beside the door on a mechanical arm, ready to spring out at a policeman going through the weapons course.

With a swift kick, Perkins knocked Blair's feet from under him, causing him to fall heavily to the floor. Grabbing the prone man's legs, Perkins took the duct tape and bound them together at the ankles, wrapping them several layers deep. To further hamper any chance his prisoner had of being able to get to his feet, he wrapped another couple of strips around Blair's knees.

Perkins looked at Blair's face, glanced down at the roll of tape and then looked up again. "Nah. I think I'll let you scream yourself hoarse. No one will be able to hear you out here. Now don't go away." He reached forward and patted Blair's cheek. "I'll be back as soon as we find your friends and take care of them." Then, with an evil chuckle, he stood back up and left the building.

"Perkins! Leave them alone!" Blair screamed at the retreating figure. "They don't know anything!" The only answer he received was more laughter. Struggling against his bonds for several minutes, he finally collapsed onto this back. Sheer strength was not going to get him loose, so he needed to think of a different way.

Since he was in his workout clothes, Blair realized that he didn't have his Swiss army knife to cut the tape. He'd never tried to pick the lock on handcuffs when he couldn't see them and they were too tight around his wrists anyway for him to even get to the lock. With a little effort, he struggled back up into a sitting position and looked around the building for anything that he could use on the tape.

The metal arm holding up the cardboard figure at the door looked like it had an edge that might be sharp enough to cut through the tape. With determination, Blair began scooting across the floor. It wasn't easy, and he picked up a couple of splinters in his hands, but eventually he made it over to the door. Swinging his legs around, he started sawing at the duct tape at his ankles.

852 Prospect, Same Day

Ellison glanced at his watch after he entered his home and dropped his keys in the basket on the table inside the door. It read 6:50 p.m. Removing his jacket, he hung it on the hook then walked into the kitchen area. Opening the refrigerator, he was just reaching for a bottle of beer when the telephone rang. Closing the door empty handed, he walked over and picked up the cordless receiver.

"Ellison," he said into the phone.

"Jim, its Megan."

"Where are you, Connor?"

"Rafe and I are outside of the academy grounds. The Captain hustled us out of the area about 30 minutes ago with the lame excuse that an unexpected meeting had come up and she needed to speak to all of her instructors."

"How did she look? Angry, nervous, scared, what?"

"I think the term you use is 'pissed off.' Anyway, we've been waiting for Sandy to come out but we haven't seen hide or hair of him. His car is still here, too. I think something is up."

Striding over to his coat, Ellison grabbed it off the hook and juggled the receiver as he put it on. "Okay, stay where you are and keep watch. I'll call Banks and let him know what's going down. I can be there in 15 minutes."

"But what if they're getting ready to run? We can't see the building easily from where we are," Connor argued. She was ready to go on a search and rescue mission and could see that Rafe was acting antsy, too.

"Just stay put, Connor. I'll be there as fast as possible." Ellison punched the off button, set the phone on the kitchen counter and grabbed his truck keys on the way out the door. He was pulling his cell phone out of his pocket as he raced down the stairs and out the building, punching the speed dial number for Banks.

Cascade Range Police Academy

The last thread of the tape finally tore away, freeing Blair's ankles. Looking at the tape binding his knees, he figured that the only way he was going to be able to get at it was to awkwardly shift around and try to get the metal piece between his legs. Breathing a little hard from the exertion, Blair rested for a few moments and peered out the door to see if his captor was returning. Relaxing slightly at not seeing or hearing anyone approaching, he started shifting around again to get at the rest of the tape.

As the blue, '69 Ford rounded the corner to the road that lead to the entrance of the academy, the flashing red light on the dash went dark. Ellison didn't want to give anyone at the academy a warning that the police arrived. With a small screeching noise, he stopped the truck abruptly behind the parked car that held Connor and Rafe, exited the cab and squatted down by the car door. They were a couple of hundred yards from the buildings, partially hidden by a row of trees.

"Anything?" he asked. From where the car sat, there was a good view of the parking lots but still enough cover to prevent them from being obvious.

"The Captain has been carrying boxes to that green Cherokee sitting in the front row," Rafe answered from the passenger side, peering through binoculars towards the parking lot. Even with the glasses, he was just able to see the parking area and the front of the main building. "Another guy in a uniform climbed into a large 4 X 4 and drove it around the side towards the firing range."

Standing up slightly, Ellison peered over the top of the car and adjusted his sight until he had a close up view of the building holding the firing range. He saw that the truck Rafe had seen was backed up to a side door of the building.

"Here she is, with company."

Ellison's attention was brought back to the administration building by Rafe's comment. He saw a woman and man in uniform exit the building carrying boxes and walk over to the vehicle sitting with its back hatch door open. After they set them down in the back, the woman took out a fuel can and closed the hatch. She handed the man a set of keys and started walking back towards the building. The man climbed into the vehicle and started to drive off.

Looking over towards the far side of the lot, Ellison saw Blair's car along with three others in an area with a sign that stated 'Cadet Parking.' A uniformed man was using a 'slim jim' on one of the cars, trying to jimmy the lock.

Knowing that they had to move in now, Ellison stood up, stepped away from the car and pulled his weapon from its holder at his back. "We can't wait for the others to show up. They're cleaning out the ammo and weapons and I think they're going to torch the place."

"What?" Rafe exclaimed swinging the binoculars around. "How do you know?"

Connor opened her door and stepped out beside Ellison. "You saw her carry something back in." It was a statement, not a question.

Not realizing what he had done, Jim nodded. "Gas can. Rafe, get on the phone and let the Captain know about the Cherokee and to get a roadblock set up. Let's move out, Connor. We'll go around to the right and towards the back of the building through these trees."

Rafe climbed out of the car quickly. "Wow! I had the binoculars and he could still see farther," he exclaimed incredulously. Grabbing his cell phone, Rafe quickly followed Ellison's orders.

Reaching the building slightly out of breath, Ellison and Connor traveled carefully towards the back and then flattened themselves against the wall near the corner. Jim did a quick lean around the edge to check for anyone that might be there. Seeing two cadets exiting the building, he quickly leaned back and focused his hearing towards them to listen to their conversation.

"That was the last of them, right? There were only three others besides Sandburg?"

"Right. Though I don't understand why she wanted them locked up in the buildings. Wouldn't it have been better to just take them with us and dispose of them later?"

"The Captain wants this place to be burning merrily before anyone gets word of what's been going on. If their bodies are found by the investigators in the rubble, they'll think it was an unfortunate accident and that they just happened to still be on campus."

"But what about Sandburg? Why isn't he with them?"

~evil laugh~ "Perkins wanted the pleasure of taking him out personally. His body will never be found after Georgie finishes with him. The Gauntlet has some great hiding places."

Ellison lost the conversation when the two men had reached the building that housed the firing range and went inside. But he had heard enough, his jaw tightening with the information. "Son of a bitch," he growled.

"What did you hear?" Megan asked, seeing the grim expression on Jim's face.

Ellison looked sharply at the woman beside him. It was still hard for him accept the fact that Connor knew about his abilities. Giving the woman a last sharp look, Ellison turned back to the corner and looked out again. "Two cadets, probably the same two we did the search on. They've got three other cadets locked up around the area and Schofield intends to burn the place to the ground."

"And Sandy?"

"I'm going after him. You wait for Rafe and then start searching the buildings for those cadets. Right now we can only I.D. Schofield, Carson, Krist and the officer that you two saw taking the 4 X 4. There may be more involved so no one is to be trusted. Got it?" Without waiting for an answer, Ellison rounded the building and started running in the direction he remembered that the Gauntlet was located. He silently prayed that he would be in time to rescue his friend.

With a final jerk, Blair was able to split the tape that bound his knees together. He was exhausted from the effort to free his legs but wasted little time in extricating himself away from the cardboard cutout and its controlling mechanism. Shifting his feet around and under him, he was finally able to stand and stagger out the door. The tightness of the handcuffs had caused his hands to go numb, throwing him off balance.

Looking quickly around the area, Blair was relieved to find he was still alone. He now had to find a way to get to a phone and call for help. His cell phone was in his backpack and Perkins had left that in Sgt. Howell's office. "Phone. Where would the closest phone be?" he mumbled to himself stepping into the street. "Just go, Sandburg. Any phone will do."

Moving at a shambling trot, he traveled down the road towards the far end of the facade town. Seeing an opening between two of the buildings that would allow him to get off the weapons course, Blair veered over and stopped just short of the opening. Leaning against one wall, he concentrated on controlling his breathing so that he could listen for Perkins return. He took a few careful, measured breaths that helped calm his frantically beating heart.

Once he felt more in control, Blair stepped forward to look through the opening and listened. Before he stepped all the way through, he heard the heavy tread of boots back behind him and coming down the wooden walk that lined each side of the road on the course. In a panic, Blair rushed forward away from the footsteps and along the back wall of the buildings. Just as he passed another break in the wall, two hands reached out, grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked him to the side.

Before Blair could shout, a hand clapped over his mouth while another crossed his front to hug him back against a broad, firm chest. He struggled weakly, trying to kick at the sturdy legs behind until he heard a whispering voice say, "Sandburg, it's me."

Ellison felt his friend freeze and then collapse weakly against him, eyes closed in relief. Minute shivers could be felt coursing through the smaller body. "You all right?" he asked removing his hand.

Not trusting his voice, Blair just nodded. He felt Jim pat his shoulder comfortingly and then shift him further back into the alcove.

Ellison had worried about the fate of his partner as he traveled towards the weapons range until he was close enough to pick up the sounds of a rapid heartbeat. It had to be Sandburg. He felt more relief when he heard his friend speaking to himself about finding a telephone. Somehow, the young man had been able to escape from where ever he had been held. All Ellison had to do was wait along the path he figured his friend would be traveling. Then, when he had heard the movement of another person heading in the direction Sandburg was supposed to be, he knew that he had to get to his friend first.

"It's got to be Perkins," Blair whispered, seeing that Jim was listening to the person moving along the street on the other side of their building. "He was... he said he was going to come back after me once they took care of some of the others that helped me. We've got to go help them, Jim."

Ellison turned back towards his friend when he heard the anxiety in his voice. What he saw in his eyes, however, was fierce determination. "We will, Chief. The 'Calvary' is here and has already started to search the grounds. Turn around and let me see what's holding you."

"Can you get these off? I can't feel my hands anymore and my shoulders are killing me." Blair said quietly and turned around to present his manacled hands.

Ellison murmured a soft 'ouch' when he saw the way the handcuffs were cinched tightly around his wrists. He could smell a small amount of blood from the area and quickly dug in his pants pocket for the key to the cuffs he carried. Luckily, these handcuffs were the same as his, so Jim was able to remove them with his set of keys.

"Oh, man. Thanks, Jim." Blair turned back around, carefully shook his hands then rubbed the wrists to get the circulation back into them. He opened his mouth to explain what had happened during the day when angry curses filled the air. Blair froze. It was Perkins.

"Damn it! You can't get far, Sandburg," Perkins yelled into the air as he exited the last place he had left his prisoner. "It's going to be worse if I have to look for you, boy!" He started walking, going from one side to the other to check each of the buildings along the road.

Ellison heard his friend's heart rate increase dramatically at the threats, but saw nothing of the fear in his face. He reached down his pant leg and started to pull his backup piece when Blair clumsily placed a hand on his arm.

"No, Jim," he whispered and displayed his injured arms. "I couldn't hold it if I even tried." Looking around, Blair saw a four foot length of a broken 2 X 4 and retrieved it. He was able to clasp his hands around one end but not very steadily.

With a frustrated glare, Ellison secured the pistol back into his ankle holster and straightened back up. "Okay. I'll swing around and come up behind him..."

"Then I'll come from the other direction, draw his attention and you'll take him out." Blair finished his partner's plan nodding his head firmly. He hefted the piece of wood he held to test its weight. "Be careful, man."

"You too, Chief," Ellison replied and then slid out of their alcove and stealthily moved along the rear of the buildings.

Perkins was getting angrier after each building he checked came up empty. Sandburg had been a sore spot to him from the very beginning and he had been looking forward to exacting some revenge. Finding the building he had left his prisoner in empty something within him snapped and the only thing he could think of was finding his quarry.

"SANDBURG!" Perkins screamed as another building came up empty. He blindly fired three shots from the 9mm pistol he carried. Charging across the road, he entered another building. Nothing.

"Freeze, Perkins!" Ellison yelled coming around the side of a structure about 100 feet away. He had watched the crazed man grow more frantic searching for his prey. When the Sergeant started shooting wildly, Ellison knew he had to stop the man. "Drop your weapon and step into the middle of the road."

Without hesitation, Perkins shot at Ellison then jumped into the doorway of the building nearest to him before the other could react. Some semblance of sanity returned when he realized that the person he had just shot at was none other than Detective James Ellison, the partner of one Blair Sandburg. "How'd he find out? We got them all before anyone could call for help," Perkins spoke disbelieving to himself. Glancing quickly out the door, he couldn't see the other man but knew he was still out there.

"There's no where to run, Perkins. Throw out your weapon and then come out with your hands raised." Ellison yelled from where he hid at the side of the building.

Perkins stepped halfway out the door and replied, "I've got your partner, Ellison. You throw down your weapon or I'll put my next bullet through a kneecap. His career will end before it begins."

A board creaked from behind Perkins, barely providing a warning. He started to swing around when something flashed down, knocking his weapon out of his hand. Stumbling backwards, he saw Sandburg brandishing a large piece of wood like it was a baseball bat.

"Why, Perkins?" Blair asked quietly, fingering the board he held. "You're a veteran, close to retirement. What they are postulating goes against everything we've been taught."

Snarling in anger, Perkins charged towards the cadet. Sandburg brought the club down level and jabbed it into the man's stomach, bending him over at the waist and leaving him gasping for air. But that was only momentarily. Blindly, Perkins charged again. This time he caught the smaller man before he could bring his weapon up. Landing out in the dirt road, Perkins scrambled until he was on top and struggling over control of the club Blair held. He froze when he felt the cold steel of a gun barrel press into the back of his neck.

"Drop it now, Perkins," Ellison spoke in a low deadly tone. He pressed his gun harder against the other's neck when the man failed to move. "I don't like the idea of shooting another cop but I can make an exception for you."

Scooting from under Perkins, Blair grabbed the piece of wood back out of his rising hands and then stepped back. "I was wondering when you were going to step in there, man."

"Didn't want to interrupt when you were doing so good at getting his attention, Chief." Ellison smiled and then moved back from Perkins. He pulled out the handcuffs that he had removed from Sandburg earlier and held them out to his friend. "Want to take over here?"

With a broad grin on his face, Blair accepted the metal devices, stepped behind Perkins and pulled the man to his feet. Locking one cuff on Perkins' left wrist, he pulled the arm around a nearby post and secured the other wrist firmly. "My first collar. Man, that feels good." Spying a set of keys on the man's belt, Blair unhooked them and then performed the standard pat down procedure. Perkins just glared when the young man located his back up pistol under the right pant leg.

"There'll be more before the day is over. Do you know who all the players are?"

"Definitely Carson and Krist among the cadets. I don't know if there are any others planted in the class. He talked like Captain Schofield was the leader so I guess her and definitely an Officer Short. He was with Perkins when I got caught."

Ellison leaned over and picked up the gun Sandburg had knocked out of Perkins' hand, tucking it in his belt. Blair tried to hand over the .38 revolver he had taken from their prisoner but was stopped by Jim's hard look. "Keep it and let's get back to the main buildings. I think your playmates are still on campus along with the Captain and at least one other. It looked like they're going to set a fire to cover their tracks."

Sandburg looked at the pistol he was holding then back up at his partner. With a nod, he turned and started trotting in the direction of the academy knowing that Ellison was right behind him. "Where do we start?" he asked.

"I left Connor at the main building. She was to wait for Rafe and then they were to start searching there. We can start at the other end and work towards them."

"The gymnasium. That's where Perkins grabbed me. I wasn't expecting it because I didn't think I had done anything to give myself away."

Ellison could hear the regret in his friend's voice. "Don't beat yourself up, Chief. They've probably been watching you since the first day. You didn't have to do much to spook them." Blair didn't answer.

Arriving at the gymnasium, Ellison took the lead and flattened himself along the wall at one corner. He heard Sandburg move to his normal spot behind him and become still. Focusing on the building, Ellison extended his hearing. The sound of something metal being slammed in a large room created an echo that caused him to winch back in pain.

"What?" Blair asked noticing the reaction.

"Someone is in there banging around. The echo just caught me by surprise." Jim answered rubbing his ear.

"Muffle it down, Jim," Blair's voice spoke calmly beside him. "You need to mute out the echo to locate where the real sound is coming from."

With a nod, Ellison took a deep breath, blew out the air and followed his friend's instructions. The reverbing sounds slowly faded and he heard the clear tone of metal weights being lifted and dropped in a pattern: three slow clangs, three quick ones and then three slow clangs again. Morse code for help. Ellison was also able to hear heavy breathing and muffled grunting.

"Come on. I think we found one of your missing friends. I can also smell gasoline." With a nod, Sandburg followed his partner while sweeping his vision around and behind them as a backup was supposed to do.

Entering the building, Ellison moved in the alcove until he reached the intersection that branched off towards each of the locker rooms. Listening, he could not hear anything coming from either room, but from straight ahead. "What's in that direction?" he whispered and pointed towards the double doors in front of them. This was one of the newer buildings on the grounds and Jim had never been back to the academy since he had graduated.

"Workout room with a weight room on the other side. Clear?" Blair asked gesturing towards the two side rooms.

Nodding his head, Ellison started moving forward until he was in front of the double doors. Sandburg flattened himself against one door while Ellison positioned himself in front of the other. After listening and assuring him that there wasn't anyone in the next room, he grabbed the handle on one and yanked it open.

The large room was empty but now even Blair could hear the clanging noises coming from the room on the far side. Trotting across to the door that lead into that room, Jim paused for a moment to listen then entered the room. Tied and gagged to the reclining incline bench sat a cadet. The man was breathing heavily as he pushed on the machine to bang out his SOS message.

"Johnson?" Blair queried, causing the bound man to jerk in fright and let go of the weights with a bang that caused the rescuers to flinch. He sagged in relief when he saw Blair moving quickly towards him.

"You okay, man?" Blair asked as he untied one of his fellow cadet's hand. Jim had moved around the machine and was taking care of the other hand.

When he had a hand free, Johnson reached up and pulled the sock, that was used as a gag, out of his mouth. "Sandburg. Thank God you heard me!"

"Who did this?" Ellison asked helping the exhausted man up and out of the piece of equipment. Johnson looked suspiciously at the man helping him.

"It's okay. This is my partner, Jim Ellison. This is Hank Johnson, Jim. The other guy who was able to screw with the psyche tests but definitely not one of the bad guys." Blair explained, taking over helping the cadet leaving both his partner's hands free.

"Carson got the jump on me and tied me up here. Said it was my penalty for helping a Commie like you Blair. What's going on? Was he serious?" Johnson allowed the two men to lead him out of the room and across the floor towards the entrance.

"As a heart attack, man. They've been using the academy as a recruiting base for their militia group. I'm sorry you got caught up in this because of me."

"Can you move on your own?" Ellison interrupted after he had checked through the door to the outside. At Johnson's nod, he pointed towards the door. "Give us five minutes and then I want you to run along the back way towards the trees on the other side of the end building. Head towards the road, keep under cover and you should find some police cars there by now. Find someone from the Major Crimes division and let them know that we're heading in their direction. Got that?"

"How will they know that I'm not part of the militia group?" Johnson asked stepping up to the door. Ellison stopped short and looked back at Sandburg.

"Ask for a Detective Henri Brown. Tell him that 'Hairboy' told you to look him up." Blair smiled over at Jim and received a knowing grin. Everyone in the division knew the nickname the black detective called him and it would be the one safe password to use.

"Two more to find, Chief. Let's move out," Ellison announced and quickly exited out the door of the building. Giving his fellow cadet a pat on the shoulder, Sandburg stepped past him and quickly followed his partner.

Inspector Megan Connor was moving stealthily through the administration building, her progress slow due to the number of doors that lined the hallway she was checking. As she rounded a corner to the hall that she knew led to the academy Captain's office, she was startled by a sharp 'hissing' sound that came from behind. Moving quickly back, she turned and saw Simon Banks creeping towards her. He was wearing a flak jacket and carrying one for the inspector.

"Anything?" he asked when he reached her side, handing her the safety equipment to don.

Connor shook her head. "The Captain's office is around there. She might start the fire from there."

"Where's Rafe and Ellison?" Banks leaned over the inspector to peer around the corner.

"Rafe's checking out the other side of the building. Ellison went to find Sandy. He'd heard two cadets talking, told me to wait for Rafe and then took off across the backside of the property. But Schofield had carried a petrol can into the building and I didn't think I should just wait until she used it."

"Okay, then let's go see if she's in." Banks slid around the corner and crept down the hallway, keeping pressed against the wall. Connor followed right behind him until they reached Schofield's office where she stepped quickly past to position herself on the other side of the door.

Testing the doorknob, Banks found it locked. Raising his hand, he mouthed to Connor-- three, two, and one-- and then stepped back and kicked at the door. The lock didn't hold against the force of the Captain's foot and flew open with a crash.

Connor gave the office a quick look then rushed in to flatten herself against the wall by the door. Hearing a low moan from behind a nearby desk, she leaned over and saw the prone body of a young cadet. With a gesture to Banks, she stepped around the desk and squatted down to check the young man out. Rolling him carefully onto his back revealed blood trickling from a head wound but no other injuries. The man's name tag indicated that his name was Ho. His pulse was steady and his breathing didn't seem impaired.

Seeing Connor give him a thumbs up concerning the injured cadet, Banks slide further into the room and over to the doorway that lead into the Captain's office. The door was open and a strong odor of gasoline emanated from the room but it was empty. Turning towards the closed door that he thought might lead to another office, Banks heard a low 'whumpf' from the other side just as he started to reach for the doorknob. As he rattled the knob of the locked portal, smoke began to billow from underneath the wooden closure.

"Get him outta here!" Banks barked to the startled Connor and raced out of the office. "Hold it, Schofield!" he shouted seeing the academy Captain running down the hall. The woman continued to run, making it around the corner of the hall before he could fire his weapon. Chasing after her, Banks stopped at the corner and carefully leaned out. The hallway was filling with smoke, preventing him from seeing clearly. Schofield had escaped.

After a moment of hesitation, Banks turned around and went back towards the office. He met Connor as she struggled in carrying the dead weight of the semi-conscious cadet into the hall and lent a hand. Seeing the smoke building in the office, he grasped the radio mic hooked to his shoulder with his free hand. "This is Banks. We've got a fire going in the Captain's office. Make sure the fire department has been called but under no circumstances are they to be allowed into the building until we're sure it's clear."

Replacing the mic, he took a stronger hold of the cadet and guided Connor back towards the door he had used to enter the building.

Ellison placed his hand back, lightly touching Sandburg's chest, as he slowed near an exterior door of another building. "Was the firing range used today?" he asked in a low voice.

Blair shook his head in a negative motion then realized that Jim had his senses focused forward. "Should be empty. No training today."

"Heard you did pretty good here," Ellison commented, looking at his partner. He didn't expect to see an expression of chagrin appear on the youthful face. "What?"

"You remember what I've said in the past about guns, Jim." Blair looked carefully at the pistol he carried, running the fingers of his left hand along the barrel. "I haven't changed my feelings. I wasn't comfortable on the range and I'm not comfortable with this now. It's not me." Blair turned his gaze towards his friend, asking silently if it was okay. He waited for a reply.

"Do what you think is right, Chief," came the answer. The two men's eyes locked onto each other for several long seconds. With a nod from the smaller man, Jim broke the gaze and turned his attention back to the building. He cocked his head to listen but heard nothing.

"It's empty. They must have finished--" Jim stopped, lifted his head and sniffed. "Do you smell that?"

Blair copied his actions. "I can't smell anything. What is it?"

"Smoke... coming from the Admin building," Jim answered and started running. As he neared the building, he pointed. "This door still lead to the classrooms?"

"Yeah. Left is to... ~pant~... cafeteria. Right... classrooms and offices," Blair forced out as he struggled to keep up with the running detective.

Arriving at the door, Ellison held his hand out a few inches away from the surface and felt for any heat. Feeling none, he reached for the doorknob and tested it. When it gave easily, he opened it carefully and entered with his senses on full alert. Sandburg followed closely behind, knowing that he had to keep a close eye on his sentinel.

Standing silently in the alcove, allowing the door to close behind, Jim directed his hearing to the left. The cafeteria was silent except for the electric hum of machinery. With a gesture to Blair, Jim crept down the hallway to the right.

Passing by several doors, Ellison paused by one that had a plaque beside it that read 'Classroom 105.' Listening, he heard heavy, but muffled breathing. Turning to Sandburg, he raised one finger and then pointed at the door. Bringing his hand back and gesturing for his partner to wait, Jim shifted over to the other side of the door and grasped the handle, his pistol raised into a ready position. Blair sidled up closer to the door; his eyes locked onto his partner.

Quietly shifting the handle, Ellison gave the door a firm push. As it opened wide he leaned back away from the entrance, waiting for any reaction. When none came, he peered into the room only to see a female cadet bound to a chair and gagged by a piece of duct tape across her mouth.

"Lynn!" Blair exclaimed when he saw whom Jim had found. Racing past his partner, he knelt at the woman's side. Tucking the pistol he carried into the waist of his pants behind his back, he grabbed an edge of the tape. "This will probably sting. Ready?" At the woman's nod, he pulled the sticky gag off with a quick jerk.

"OW! Damn that hurt," Crowder complained. Her green eyes were bright with unshed tears created more from terror than pain.

"Are you okay?" Blair asked as he worked at the knots on the ropes binding her arms to the frame of the chair. Lynn opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by Jim.

"Can you handle things here, Chief? I'm going to check further down the hall." Ellison was still standing at the door.

Blair looked at Lynn then back at his partner. "Right. We'll be right behind... you." The words were barely out of his mouth and Jim was out the door.

"God, Blair. I thought you were dead. Hell, I thought I was dead." Lynn struggled to keep her voice steady. "Krist told me it was your fault they had to do this to me. When I asked what... what they did to you, he just laughed."

Blair finally freed one hand and moved around the chair to get at the other. "I'm all right. That was my partner, Jim Ellison. He brought some help to take care of the situation. Did you see anyone else working with Krist beside Carson?"

"Sergeant Atkins. He leaned in and said something about a van being loaded, for them to get moving and then he headed up the hall. What's going on, Blair?" As her other hand was finally freed, Crowder slowly stood up. She groaned at the stiffness she felt from being tied up and slowly followed Sandburg to the door.

"They are with a militia group called the Washington Freedom Fighters and I'm pretty sure Captain Schofield is someone pretty high up with the group. Carson and Krist were plants in our class to try to recruit as many cadets as possible who believed their line of bull. There are staff and instructors involved, too." Blair peeked out the door quickly to ensure the hallway was still safe and then pulled Lynn into the hall. "Head out the back door and make your way to the parking lot."

"Wait! What are you going to do?"

Blair gave the woman a shove down the hall in the direction he had come in. "Back up my partner. Go on!" he said forcefully and then started in the direction Jim had gone.

Ellison was past the classrooms and in the area of the administration offices when he heard the banging of file drawers being opened and closed. He sidled up to the door with the word 'PERSONNEL' printed on its cloudy glass and listened carefully. There were two voices, the same two he had heard when he had been with Connor earlier.

"Why do we have to do this crap? It's Perkin's office. Why isn't he here doing this?"

"You know where he's at, Marty. After he's finished with Sandburg, he'll be back to help finish. There can't be any evidence left around to lead to us so don't miss any of the drawers."

"We wouldn't have this problem if the Captain hadn't stopped me in the locker room. I could have made it look like an accident."

"Forget about that. Concentrate on getting all this stuff together and getting out of here. We were able to get three good enlistees with this class and I'm looking forward to blowing this popsicle joint."

Hearing enough, Ellison opened the door and leveled his weapon at the two cadets. "Plans have changed, fellas. Put your hands up, move around to the front of the desk and assume the position. You do remember what you were taught was the position, don't you?"

The two young men froze at the light bantering tone that came from the police detective in the doorway. Krist momentarily thought about making a move for the pistol tucked in his waistband until he looked into the cold, blue eyes that bore in his direction, as if reading his intentions. With a sigh, he raised his hands and followed his equally cowed friend away from the file cabinet. Both men turned to face the desk, leaned their hands against the front and spread their legs out and away.

Moving forward carefully, Jim placed the barrel of his pistol in the small of the man's back, reached around and removed the weapon from Krist's waistband. Doing a quick pat down, he didn't find any more weapons and moved over to do the same to Carson. Just as he finished, a movement caught the edge of his eyesight, drawing his attention towards the corner and the body lying in it.

Moving carefully, keeping his gun trained on the two cadets, Ellison knelt by the prone form. As he felt the man's neck to check the pulse, he realized that the unconscious man was his friend Charlie Blanchard. Finding the strong and steady beat with his touch, Ellison released the breath he didn't know he was holding and stood back up to take care of the two cadets.

Concentrating on the men in front of him, Ellison didn't hear the other man enter the door behind him until it was too late. The sharp sound of a pistol hammer being cocked brought his head up sharply but Ellison kept his own weapon trained on the two in front of him. "Whoever you are, there are police all around the building."

"I know, and you'll make a good shield to help me get away. Put it down, detective. I'd rather not have to shoot you before it was necessary," Sgt. Atkins spoke in a casual manner that made the hair on Ellison's neck spike.

"Then we have a problem since I don't intend on losing my gun." Ellison prodded his pistol into the back of Carson as he turned up his hearing and scanned around the area. He knew that Sandburg would be coming this way eventually and he needed to make sure that he kept the gunman's attention.

Blair was slowly moving in the direction that he knew his partner had traveled. However, not having sentinel hearing, he had to be extra careful as he moved past each supposedly empty office. He figured that Jim would have checked each of the rooms, but he'd been taught that you couldn't assume that. As he neared the hallway that led to the personnel offices, he heard voices.

Peeking around the corner, Blair saw the back of Sgt. Atkins standing in a door with his weapon drawn. Reaching back, pulling the confiscated pistol out of his waistband, Blair took a careful, deep breath and quietly blew it out. In a voice loud enough for only his sentinel to hear he spoke, "I'm here, Jim. Be ready when I make my move." Then he stepped forward.

Ellison heard Sandburg's warning. "Give it up, Sarge. You're not going to make it out of here unless it's by me taking you in custody. We've got you covered."

"We? You got a mouse in your pocket or something?" the man sneered taking a step further into the room.

"No, actually I've got a partner who has you covered. You should remember him. Blair Sandburg."

"Good try but that's an old ploy. Besides, Sandburg's out of the picture. He's probably fertilizing the grass behind the Gauntlet by now."

Blair stepped quietly up behind the range officer and raised his pistol. "Not hardly."

Atkins started at the quiet voice behind him. Glancing back quickly he saw the curly-haired cadet standing in the hall pointing a pistol at him. "I thought you didn't like to use guns, Sandburg."

"I was once asked what situation would be severe enough for me to use my weapon. Remember my answer, Sergeant? Well, this would classify as the one I was talking about. I really don't like anyone pointing a gun at my partner and threatening him. So put down your weapon and raise your hands." When the man didn't move, Blair wet his lips and took a step closer. "You know what my ability is on the range. Do you want to test me at this distance?"

Ellison watched the exchange between his friend and the range officer. He could tell that Sandburg was nervous, hearing his rapid breathing and accelerated heart beat, but a peaceful smile was the only emotion his face displayed. The Sergeant, on the other hand, was beginning to sweat and the hand holding his weapon trembled slightly.

Carefully releasing the hammer of his pistol and holding it by the trigger guard, Atkins raised his arms with a sigh. Blair leaned forward, took the dangling pistol and then pushed the man into the room and up to where Jim held his other prisoners.

"Good job, partner," Ellison said softly, the pride evident in his voice. His face flushed with embarrassment, Blair just ducked his head and helped with securing the men.

Captain Simon Banks was standing outside of the administration building of the police academy, directing the actions of the different officers as they came to him for assignments, but his main attention was on the building behind him. He had helped Connor bring out the injured cadet and send him on to the hospital but was unable to go back into the building to help search for the escaping Captain Schofield as additional police arrived. Someone had to take control of the situation and, as the senior officer on scene, it was up to him. He just wished he knew where all of his people were.

He was just about to yell for Taggart to take over so that he could go look for his detectives when the front doors behind him opened and two cadets and a police officer stepped out of the building, their arms up and hands clasped behind their heads. Behind them walked Blair Sandburg, a pistol pointing at their backs and Jim Ellison helping another police officer walk out.

Trotting forward, Banks motioned for other officers to come forward to take control of the three prisoners. "Either of you happen to see Schofield in there?"

"She get away?" Blair asked looking between the Captain and Jim.

"Set her office on fire and escaped out the back door while we were helping an injured cadet. No one has seen her leave the academy but we can't find her anywhere on the premises either," Banks explained as he waved forward a pair of paramedics. "As good as she was in keeping her real identity a secret, I have no doubt she was amply prepared to get away if something like this happened. But it does look like the rest of them has been rounded up."

"I've been working here for over five years and never suspected the Captain or any of the others. Either they were very good at keeping their cover or I'm just getting too old for this line of work," Blanchard commented as a paramedic took his arm and started to help him walk towards a waiting ambulance. He stopped and turned towards Blair. "You did a good job of being there for your partner, Sandburg."

"Thank you, Sergeant." Blair said shyly and smiled. He watched as the older officer was led towards the ambulance and helped inside. With a tired sigh, he handed the pistol he carried to Simon and then rubbed his eyes. "Are we finished Captain?"

"I think we've got it covered here. Why don't you two head for the office and start the reports. I'll just wait around until we're sure the fire department has everything under control."

"Thanks, Captain. Come on, Chief. You need to keep up on your skills with report writing," Ellison replied wearily and, throwing his arm across his friend's shoulders, started walking towards the truck.

"I take it that I can't go get my backpack, can I?" Blair asked looking to where his car was parked. "My keys are in it, Jim."

"They've probably got the area secured for the night. I can bring you back here tomorrow and get it," Ellison answered. "Besides, this gives you plenty of time to tell me how this all started. I especially want to hear about the little problem you had with a police cruiser and more details about what happened in the locker room."

Blair stopped abruptly and plastered the most innocent look he could think of on his face. "Jim, I swear to you there's nothing to tell. Well, maybe there is about what happened in the locker--"

Ellison held up a hand to halt Sandburg's frantic speech and focused his hearing in the direction where he saw Rafe and Brown talking. The subject of their conversation was him and he almost groaned at what he heard.

"I swear, H. He was standing up there beside our car and was able to see better than I could with the binoculars." Rafe was pointing up to the road where he had left the car. "I told you that there was more to Sandburg's dissertation than what he said at the press conference."

"Come on, Rafe. Haven't you figured out the whole thing yet?" Brown laughed at the younger detective's expression. He was about to say more when Taggart wandered past.

"Is he just catching on? I thought you were quicker than that, Rafe. Just remember, it stays in the office." Taggart pointed a warning finger at the younger detective then joined in Brown's laughter. The two black detectives looked over to where Ellison and Sandburg were standing, laughed harder then started walking towards their vehicles.

His mouth hanging open in surprise, Rafe also turned to see Ellison and Sandburg looking at him. From the expression he saw on the older detective's face, he knew that the other had been listening to what was said. Giving Ellison a smile and an embarrassed wave, Rafe trotted quickly to catch up with Taggart and Brown.

"What's going on, Jim?" Blair asked. He had seen the three Major Crime detectives talking but hadn't heard their conversation.

"Another situation we're going to need to discuss, Chief," Ellison replied with a sigh and then urged his confused partner into continuing walking towards where he had left the truck.

Cascade Range Police Academy, Six Weeks Later

As strange as it was to believe, the weather was cooperating to give the graduating members of the Cascade Range Police Academy, their friends, family members and fellow officers a beautiful day full of sunshine and a comfortable temperature. Twenty member of the graduating class sat in the first row of the chairs facing the stage, their attention resting solely on the speaker on the platform.

Sergeant Blanchard paused in his speech, looking carefully over at the large group of uniformed officers that made up a large portion of the audience. One female with the group was in a foreign uniform but was clearly an accepted member. It had been a while since the Major Crime division of the Cascade P.D. had accepted a detective straight from the academy and they were going to welcome the rookie properly.

"And so, in conclusion, it is my extreme pleasure to present the future of the Cascade police force. Ladies and gentlemen, fellow officers, please joined me in congratulating class 99-3 of the Cascade Range Police Academy." At that announcement, the 20 former cadets, now all dressed in regulation midnight blue uniforms, stood and turned to the clapping and cheering audience.

Detective Blair Sandburg gave an embarrassed but pleased grin at the extra loud noise that came from his friends. In the midst of the group from Major Crime, Connor and Rafe were trying to out whistle each other while Brown was waving a fist over his head and making a 'whoo, whoo' sound. Banks and Taggart were clapping and leaning towards each other talking and laughing together. Then Blair found and locked his eyes on the one person he was especially happy to see.

Jim Ellison sat slightly apart of the group of cheering detectives. He had a broad, proud smile stretching across his face that spoke volumes about how he felt. His eyes almost glowed at the young man standing in the front. He never would have thought that over four years ago a long- haired, hippie, witch doctor punk by the name of Blair Sandburg would now be a member of this ceremony and officially named as his partner.

Without thinking, Ellison stood up from his chair, mouthed 'way to go, Chief,' and continued to clap. Almost immediately, the rest of the group joined him, making Blair blush harder in pleased embarrassment.

At the almost unheard announcement of 'class dismissed,' the new officers broke rank and scattered towards their groups of family and friends. Blair removed the hat he'd been wearing for the ceremony, shifted around the crowd and eventually made it towards his people. His hand was shaken and his back slapped by the different officers and detectives he knew, and some he didn't know, that showed up to represent the many departments of the Cascade P.D.

When he finally made it to the group he worked with the most, Banks' secretary, Rhonda, immediately hugged him. As soon as she released him, Connor stepped up and also gave him a hug but followed it with a quick kiss that startled him. He looked into her shining eyes with surprise but quickly hid his expression at the quick wink she gave him.

"I never thought I would see this day, Sandburg," Banks voice boomed over the sound of the crowd bringing Blair's attention back to his surroundings.

"I don't think any of us did, Simon. Way to go, Blair," Taggart exclaimed, throwing an arm around Sandburg's shoulders and giving him a comradely hug. "You're one of the few who has earned the title of Distinguished Graduate as well as Marksman."

"How did you end up with a marksman pin, Sandburg?" Rafe asked, eyeing the subject piece of metal proclaiming the honor.

"Yeah, Hairboy," Brown chimed in rubbing the wild curls that covered Blair's head. "We all know how you feel about guns. How'd you do it?"

Smacking at Brown's hand to make him stop, Sandburg ran his fingers through the mass to try to get some semblance of order. It didn't work. "I said that I didn't like guns and have a definite opinion on their usage, but I didn't ever say that I couldn't use one." His statement caused the group around him to break into laughter.

"Speaking of hair, aren't you a little out of regulation Detective Sandburg?" Simon asked eyeing the newest member of his command.

"Well, Captain..." Ellison jumped in to defend his partner but stopped when Sandburg stepped forward and placed his hand lightly on the larger man's arm. Seeing the determination on Blair's face, Jim closed his mouth and stepped to the side.

At the raised eyebrow look he received from Banks, Sandburg pulled himself up to his full height and looked resolutely at the black Captain. "Captain, I went through the academy, taken the weapons training and have done everything required to become a detective. But I hope you weren't expecting me to join the Stepford Detectives and look like the rest of the clones in the office. Someone around here has to look like something that doesn't scream 'cop' when an undercover assignment requires it."

The group suddenly became silent, looking at the pair to see if the Captain was going to explode like they expected. They were wrong.

Banks suddenly laughed and clapped Sandburg on the shoulder hard enough to make the shorter man shift to the side and bump his partner. "You're probably going to make your partner regret that statement, Blair. I'll see you at the party." Banks then drew a cigar out of his breast pocket, plopped it into his mouth and wandered off the field chuckling.

At that statement, the observing group relaxed. Giving final congratulations and handshakes, they all started to wander away until the only ones left were Ellison and Sandburg.

"Glad it's over, Chief?" Ellison asked as the two started walking towards the parking lot.

"More than you know. These last weeks were almost as bad as the first three, what with all the investigations going on. I think Sgt. Blanchard is one of the few staff members left after the house cleaning was done. I understand there were several resignations and early retirements." Blair placed his hat under one arm and started to remove the white gloves he had to wear for the ceremony.

"You uncovered a potentially dangerous situation that could have had some bad repercussions. Internal Affairs is going to have to keep watch for anyone that might have connections to the WFF. And not just graduates from this academy either. I think the Governor is going to request inquiries be initiated by all the police departments."

"Man. I never thought this would be the result of a little case of harassment."

Ellison stopped and turned his partner to face him. "I'm still a little angry that you allowed that situation to go as far as it did, Chief. Next time you tell me. Okay? Partners take care of each other."

Blair looked solemnly up into Jim's face and saw the silent communication the man was sending him. "You got it, man."

Throwing his arm around his friend's shoulder, Ellison started guiding him again towards the parking lot. "Let's go home, Chief. We've got a celebration in your honor to attend."

Smiling broadly, Blair swung his arm up across Jim's back and the two left the field.

The End