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.

Skip Commercial