Production No. CVT512

written by:

edited by: Deborah and Zerena

Somewhere in Downtown Cascade, Washington

Pedestrians on the crosswalk scattered as the black Pontiac Firebird slid sideways into the intersection, then continued forward onto the cross street. The driver glanced back briefly, then stomped down onto the gas pedal. Smoke poured from the tires as it accelerated rapidly down the road.

Following close behind, but not pulling the fancy movement to round the corner, was a blue and white '69 Ford truck. The driver barely moved with the turn, the steering wheel providing an anchor for him to hold. The passenger was not so lucky. The smaller man tried to keep from sliding across the seat into the driver by using both hands to cling to his door. It wasn't easy since one hand held onto a radio mic. His seatbelt cut cruelly into his hips.

"Jesus, Jim! Try keeping two tires on the road, will you?" Blair Sandburg complained to the driver and his partner, Jim Ellison. "I'd like to live long enough to get some breakfast, man."

Ellison glanced briefly at his partner but quickly turned back to the front. "Sorry, Chief. We're on Monroe heading south. Wait!" He wrenched the steering wheel sharply to follow the Firebird as it took another turn. Hearing a grunt followed by a soft "ow," he looked over again and saw Sandburg pushing away from the door, rubbing his right arm. "We're now... east on 13th Avenue."

Keying the mic, Blair repeated the directions. "Dispatch, we are now in pursuit of the black Firebird heading east on 13th Avenue." Dropping the mic onto his lap, he quickly grabbed onto the dash as the truck swerved to miss a car that had stopped half way into an intersection. "You shouldn't be riding his ass this way, Jim."

"I've got him where I want him, Chief. He's not going to disappear like he did the last time."

"But what if he--" Blair never got to finish the sentence. The driver of the Firebird suddenly slammed on his brakes. To avoid ramming the back end with his truck, Ellison had to jerk the steering wheel to the right while stomping down on his own brakes. The Ford slid off the road, barely missing the back bumper of the Firebird, and down into a drainage ditch. It ended up in a sharp, tilting angle towards the passenger side. Accomplishing what he wanted, the Firebird driver spun his car around and took off back up the road.

Watching the vehicle disappear in his rearview mirror, Ellison smacked his hand onto the steering wheel and looked sharply over at his partner. His expression silently asked Sandburg to complete his sentence.

"I was going to say 'what if he decided to stop suddenly,' but I guess we don't need to go there. Do we?" Blair absently rubbed his newly bruised right arm.

"Don't even start, Chief. Give me the mic."

Rolling his eyes, Blair complied with the request.

The elevator doors opened onto the floor housing the Major Crime unit of the Cascade Police Department. The two men stepped out continuing their heated discussion, unconsciously maneuvering around the officers waiting for the car.

"All I'm saying is that you really should pull back on your aggressive tendencies when it comes to driving. Luckily there wasn't enough damage to the truck this time to report to your insurance company," Sandburg said in what he hoped was a soothing tone to his partner. Ellison hadn't appreciated the ribbing from the officers who had finally stopped their quarry in the Firebird.

"Wanna put a sock in it, Chief? The way I drive is no different than what they taught you at the academy. I seem to remember that you didn't do much better keeping control of your vehicle when the tire blew." Ellison pulled off his jacket as he approached the desks that belonged to him and his partner and hung it on the nearby coat rack. Despite the peeved way he was feeling, he did wait until Sandburg had also removed his coat, took it and hung it beside his own.

"But I was driving it in a controlled manner and kept it right side up. You've got to give me something for that."

"Okay, you get points for neatness." Ellison smiled smugly at the smaller man, then turned his attention to the pile of work sitting in his 'IN' box.

"Smartass," Blair mumbled, knowing that Jim would be able hear him with his sentinel abilities. Moving around to his own desk, he noticed a familiar detective walking into the bullpen. "Hey, Brown. You still have that car accessories catalog?"

"Yeah. Here ya go, Hairboy," Detective Henri Brown answered as he reached his own desk. Grabbing the magazine, he tossed it across the short space to where Blair stood. "Finally going to start improving that 'classic' you drive?"

"Nah, I'm thinking of getting a set of those special seatbelts that race car drivers use. You know, the straps come up over the shoulders and hook into the waist belt. I need something to keep me from getting banged around the truck during Jim's controlled car chases. Might prevent a bruise or two." Blair grinned mischievously at his partner and was barely able to avoid the hand that came swiping at his head.

"Who's a smartass now?" Ellison said with a mock growl. The telephone ringing on his desk forestalled any reply from Sandburg. "Ellison... Yes, he's right here... ~sigh~ Okay, we'll be up there in about 5 minutes."

"Something wrong, Jim?" Blair asked, the smile fading from his face.

"Our master calls, Chief," Ellison returned cryptically. At the blank stare he received from his friend, Jim grabbed Blair's arm and started to pull him towards the elevator. "We have been requested to present ourselves at Commissioner Matthews' office."

"No, man. Not one of his special details again. There's nothing going on with it being the dead of winter." Blair dragged his heels slightly as he was led out of Major Crime.

"I'm sure he's not asking us up for tea. Come on. Let's go find out what little thing Commissioner Matthews wants from us this time." With a gentle jerk, Jim pulled Blair onto the elevator.

The receptionist sitting outside the massive wooden door of the Office of the Commissioner of Police glanced up at the two detectives who stood in front of her desk. "He's expecting you. Knock twice, then enter." With that, she turned back to her computer screen and resumed typing as if she'd never been disturbed.

Looking down at his partner, Ellison shrugged his shoulders at the quizzical expression Sandburg gave him and turned to the doors. Giving the prescribed raps, he opened the door and entered with Blair following close behind.

"Ah, Detectives Ellison and Sandburg. Come in, gentlemen." Commissioner Matthews sat behind his oversized desk watching the men approach. Ellison walked in with a purpose in his step and Sandburg followed slightly behind, his head swiveling around the room as if checking it out. He froze momentarily, seeing a young girl sitting on the leather divan, then quickly moved up beside his partner

"You wanted to see us, sir?" Ellison asked.

"Please, be seated. I understand you had an exciting morning." Matthews sat back in his chair with a knowing smile.

"How did you--" Blair started to say, then inhaled sharply. With a jerk, he removed his foot from underneath Jim's and gave the taller man a dirty look.

The corners of Matthews' mouth curved up slightly at the action. "I try to keep track of all the situations my police force is involved with, Detective Sandburg. It just seems more times than not that you two are involved with most of them." Blair gave a shy grin and ducked his head. Jim just grimaced slightly.

"But that is a story for another time." Matthews rose from his chair and walked around the desk toward the young girl sitting on the couch. "I need a little favor, gentlemen. You are not obligated in any way but I'd really appreciate your help. This is my niece, Krystal. My sister and her husband are on their second honeymoon in Europe and Krystal is staying with me. Krystal, these are Detectives Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg." Matthews placed a hand on the young girl's shoulder.

Krystal Cameron was a petite girl with shoulder length, blond hair and blue eyes. She was considered a 'hottie' among her peer group, but the petulant pout on her face took away from her looks. She shrugged her uncle's hand off her shoulder and slouched down further on the couch. "This is not necessary, Uncle. I'm old enough to take care of myself."

"Krystal!" Matthews scolded. ~Ahem~ "You know the City Council has been involved in some pretty strong debates concerning some fairly controversial issues."

"Yes, sir. The issue concerning the valley land development is one of the hottest, if I recall correctly," Ellison commented. He was beginning to get a feeling about the favor the Commissioner was going to ask of them. "Isn't there a stalemate of some of the issues?"

"Haven't there been threats issued against some of the Council members?" Blair asked, interrupting any answer to Jim's question.

"Yes, but intimidation is a standard tactic of most anti-progress groups. Some of the eco- fanatics have been talking about demonstrating and having a sit-in to prevent the Council from actually meeting. You'd think they would have better things to do with their time."

Blair shuffled nervously at Matthews' reference to ecology protestors. He had several friends who were still members of those groups and remembered joining in with them on one or two protests in the past. Before he could speak up to defend his friends, Ellison cut him off.

"I take it you've received a threat or two, sir."

"On other things, but that comes with the territory, Detective. I've enough security that I'm not worried about myself." Matthews glanced momentarily down at his niece, then again gestured at Ellison and Sandburg to sit in the nearby chairs. He moved to sit beside his niece. "The type of security I receive is only for my immediate family and they're out of town. Since Krystal is the only family I have in town at this time, I'm concerned she might be a target for someone wanting to influence my vote or anything else that I'm involved with."

"And you want us to 'watch over' her?" Ellison's voice held a resigned tone.

"Only for this weekend. I know you are scheduled to be on duty anyway and I was wondering if you'd spend it escorting Krystal to the conference being held at the Crown Point Plaza Hotel."

"The Science Fiction convention? Wow! Do you mean it?" Blair bubbled with enthusiasm. When he saw the confused look on Jim's face, he practically bounced in his chair. "The convention is normally held in Seattle, Jim. It's a really huge event that brings together aficionados of science fiction and fantasy, Anime, gamers. You name it and they are there. The fact that Cascade was able to get the convention here is phenomenal."

Matthews smiled slightly, then quickly hid his pleasure. He knew half the battle was won and Sandburg would take care of the other half: Ellison. The next few minutes had to be played very carefully. "I didn't know you were a follower of science fiction, detective. Then you can understand better why Krystal feels she absolutely has to attend the dress up party on Sunday night."

"It's a costume contest, not a dress-up party. I've been working on my costume for months and I'm sure to win first place," Krystal spoke up in self-defense. "This can be the first step in my career as a special effects artist."

"How can dressing up in some weird outfit help a career?" Matthews asked.

"Excuse me, sir," Blair quickly jumped in to stop the argument he could feel was going to erupt. "For some of the larger conventions, it isn't unusual for scouts of some of special effects firms to be in attendance. They are always on the lookout for budding talent, even to the point of providing scholarships to further training."

"Sandburg," Ellison cautioned quietly. It didn't help a rookie detective's career to dispute the Commissioner of Police, especially to his face and in front of an audience who happened to be related to him.

Matthews had heard Ellison, but pretended that he didn't. "I see. So then it wouldn't be a waste of time or frivolous for her to attend?"

"Absolutely not, sir. If Krystal is looking for a career in design, then the convention would be an excellent event for her to attend. They also have art shows and panel discussions on many different topics including special effects creations."

"Excellent! I knew that you two would be the perfect escorts for Krystal this weekend. Besides ensuring her safety from anyone trying to get at me, you'll be able to understand what she wants to see or do. Thank you so much." Matthews gave the two detectives a broad smile, then turned to his niece. "Now that we have that settled, are you ready to go to lunch, dear?"

Sandburg was stunned. Without even knowing what he was doing, he had just volunteered the two of them to spend the weekend watching the police commissioner's niece. Blair threw an apologetic look to his partner, knowing the older man would not be happy about the detail. Jim just shook his head and turned his attention back to the Commissioner walking over to his desk.

"I've already picked up your passes and, since your transportation will be out of service for a while, I've authorized your usage of a vehicle from the motor pool. You will be careful with it, won't you, Detective Ellison?" Matthews held the badges toward Blair and the letter of authorization to Jim, his neutral expression betrayed by the laughing twinkle in his eyes.

"Uh, yes, sir." Jim stood, leaned forward and took the letter, chagrin flooding across his face. Blair just took the passes and placed them in his pocket.

"The convention starts at 9 a.m. If you could be at my place at 8:15 a.m., I'm sure you'll make it to the hotel on time. Thank you so much, detectives. I won't forget this." With that, Matthews' attention was once again on the work at his desk. Seeing that they were dismissed, Ellison turned toward the office door opened it and left. Blair stood and looked at the Commissioner, then over to his niece. The young girl sat sullenly on the couch, a hostile expression displayed openly on her face. He gave her a half-hearted wave then followed after Jim, closing the door softly behind him.

Blair met up with his partner at the elevators. The taller man stood ramrod straight in front of the doors. "Jim? I'm sorry, man. I mean, I didn't think he'd think--"

"Not now, Chief," Jim growled. "Talk to me after I get my coffee and something indecently fattening and bad for me."

Blair gave his friend a pat on the arm. "I'm with you on that, man."

When the elevator arrived, the two men entered and the doors closed. The silence reigned all the way back to the Major Crime Unit.

Crown Plaza Point Hotel, Saturday Morning

A bronze Taurus sedan pulled into the hotel parking lot and cruised slowly up the main drive in search of a parking space. Surprisingly, there was one open slot not too far from the front entrance. The car quickly swung into the spot.

"You've got to be doing something right today, Jim. This is the third time that you've been able to park close to an entrance. Wanna buy a lotto ticket tonight?" Blair asked as he opened his door and got out of the car. He had been seated in the back of the vehicle, allowing Krystal to take the front passenger seat.

Like the gentleman he was raised to be, Blair quickly grabbed the handle and opened the front door to allow Krystal to step out. The young girl didn't acknowledge the action with anything more than a flip of her head to toss her hair back. She was dressed Goth style, her dark, somber clothes mirroring her attitude. Without waiting for the two men, she started walking to the hotel entrance.

Blair looked over at Jim with a raised eyebrow as he closed the door. The older man just shrugged his shoulders, closing his own door. "Geez, Sandburg. Look at all these people. What's with the weird costumes? Don't they have lives?" Ellison sneered.

"Jim, some of the people who are involved in and attend Sci Fi conventions are CEOs, business owners, college professors and even politicians. Science fiction aficionados are a whole society within themselves. I knew one guy who did his Master's thesis on the dynamics of the show Star Trek and its influence on society."

"Come on, Chief. You're pulling my leg this time, aren't you?"

"I swear, man. His correlation of the advancements made in the medical field to the ideas brought up in the show is enough to make you rethink the usefulness of television." Blair's hands waved in wild abandon, nearly hitting a blue-skinned woman in a shimmering gown. He looked appreciatively at the sheerness of the outfit until his attention was brought back to his surroundings by Jim tapping him on the head.

"We're on duty, Casanova. Keep your attention on our charge." Giving his partner a wry grin, Ellison headed for the front doors of the hotel. Sandburg gave one last look towards the costumed woman, then trotted after his friend.

A dented and rust-encrusted van sat at the far edge of the hotel parking lot. The side windows were covered with a reflective film, allowing the man inside to watch the activity around him without being seen. He wore a headset attached to a sophisticated listening device which was trained on the front of the hotel.

"We're on duty, Casanova. Keep your attention on our charge." He heard the object of his attention say.

"And I'll keep my attention on you, Ellison." Removing the headset, the man shut down the equipment, slung a leather satchel over his shoulder and crawled out of the van.

"Where is she?" Ellison started scanning the crowd of people moving in and out of the doors of the hotel. He'd followed after Krystal through the portals, but lost her when his attention was diverted by Sandburg's collision with another group of strangely but scantily-dressed women.

Standing up on his toes, Blair also searched through the milling people. When Jim pushed forcefully through the crowd around the entrance, he quickly followed.

"She already has a pass, so she wouldn't have gone to registration," Blair stated the obvious, which earned him a side long glare from his partner. "See if you can pick up her voice." Without trying to look obvious, Blair casually placed a hand on Jim's back to anchor his sentinel.

Understanding Blair's statement, Jim stopped in the center of the lobby and tilted his head slightly. Filtering out the male voices, he concentrated on female ones, remembering the whining tone Krystal had used in the Commissioner's office. Jim froze when he heard the young girl's voice.

"...don't know why he thinks I have to have a couple of watchdogs. The only thing halfway promising about the whole thing is that the shorter one is cute and understands what I'm doing. Shit! There they are. Show me where you saw Brand."

Ellison came back to his surroundings. "Found her, Chief. She's somewhere over there." He pointed across the room and started walking in that direction, impatiently shifting around the people in his way. Sandburg followed in his partner's wake, politely apologizing to those his partner jostled.

Reaching the area where he knew Krystal had been, Jim wasn't surprised that the girl wasn't there, but he was a little ticked. He silently cursed the Commissioner for sticking him with this duty as he searched the area for his charge. His frustration grew when he couldn't hear or see her.

"Relax, Jim," Blair soothed, seeing his friend's actions. He stepped closer and dropped his voice to prevent others from hearing him. "Switch to smell. Remember the scent you got from her in the car."

"How could I forget?" Jim wrinkled his nose at the memory. He'd sneezed violently, several times, when the girl had entered the car. When he asked if she'd bathed in perfume, Krystal lectured him about the expense and exclusivity of the brand she was wearing and she didn't expect a policeman to appreciate fine quality things. After that, Ellison didn't speak to her again.

Doing as Blair suggested, Jim took a careful sniff of the air and immediately caught the scent of Krystal's perfume. He coughed slightly at the intensity of the scent. With a terse 'come on' to his partner, Ellison started walking down a corridor toward a room that had two people with strange clothing sitting in front of it.

"Excuse me, sir." The male of the pair stood up and held out his hand, palm facing forward. "I'm sorry, but you'll need a pass to enter this and any of the other convention rooms." The young man was polite, but firm in the duty he'd been given. His female companion sat quietly in a chair, fingering a radio she held.

"Oh, right," Blair voiced absently and dug into the pockets of his coat. He extracted two plastic-coated cards with cords attached. They each had the words 'Platinum Pass' printed boldly across the top and were numbered sequentially, 2 and 3. Waving both towards the door guards, Blair then handed one to Jim and hung the other one around his own neck.

The young man stepped quickly aside and started to say 'thank you, go on,' but saw that he was speaking to thin air. The two men were already through the door. He turned to his companion. "Man! I thought only VIPs got the low numbered badges. Who do they know?"

His companion only shrugged her shoulders and turned her attention back to the crowd. The men weren't actors or anyone important, so who cared.

Rounding a display rack holding bumper stickers, Ellison spotted his quarry. Krystal was facing his direction, standing at a table with display cases full of jewelry. She was with a taller young man wearing his dark hair in a spiky Mohawk and clothed baggy, black jeans and a black t- shirt. The words 'Trust No one' were emblazoned on the front of the shirt. He had an arm thrown casually across Krystal's shoulders, his hand rubbing her arm. He slowly removed it when he looked up and saw Ellison towering over him with arms crossed and eyes glaring.

Krystal looked up and frowned. "What you do want?" Defiantly, she placed an arm around her companion's waist and leaned into him.

"One rule, stay within my sight and you can roam wherever you want. Pull a disappearing act again, and I'll handcuff you to Sandburg until we leave. Make your choice." Ellison's voice easily cut across the noise in the room.

Krystal looked at him indignantly and opened her mouth to retort, but stopped when she saw Blair reach behind his back and pull out a pair of handcuffs. Unobtrusively, he swung them in front of his stomach from his right index finger.

"Make your choice quickly," Ellison ordered.

With an air of defeat about her, Krystal slumped to lean on one hip. "Oh, all right," she pouted. "I'm just going to wander around here until the Anime show starts. Is that okay with you?" There was a challenge in the girl's voice.

With a stiff nod, Ellison unfolded his arms and turned his back on the pair. Grabbing Sandburg by the arm, he pulled him over to the doorway and swung the younger man around until his back was against the wall, facing the room. "Thanks for catching on so quick, Chief. Looks like she bought our bluff."

"Who was bluffing? I was going to handcuff her to you and let her 'enjoy' your presence for the rest of the morning as you gave her the rest of your rules." Blair gave his friend a cheeky grin. "I figured she'd be crying 'uncle' after you gave her the first 100."

Jim rolled his eyes upwards and gave his friend a long-suffering sigh. "Stay here and keep and eye on them. I've got a headache and need to find something to drink." Jim turned to walk out of the room, but hesitated when he felt a hand on his arm.

"Bring me something, okay Jim? I'm going to need some caffeine to keep me alert," Blair said, watching Jim stride away. He saw his partner raise a hand indicating that he'd heard, then turned back to watch the young couple.

Ellison walked angrily out of the room, barely being civil as he cut through the crowd of people traveling through the halls. He barely missed stumbling over the group of young boys and girls who were crowding around another boy spreading trading cards on the ground.

Frustration mounting, Jim finally reached the lobby area. A tantalizing aroma of fresh brewed coffee drew his attention to a brightly decorated coffee cart sitting near the closed lobby bar. Reaching into his back pocket to draw out his wallet, Jim approached the busy server and waited until he was noticed.


Jim quickly turned around at the sound of his name and looked for the speaker. No one nearby looked like they wanted his attention, so he scanned around the lobby. Again, there wasn't anyone looking toward him. Shaking his head, Jim turned back to the woman behind the cart, handed her some bills and ordered a coffee for himself and a cappuccino for Blair.

After pocketing his change, Jim doctored his drink with milk and started back through the building to where he left his partner. He didn't notice the silent figure watching him slide further behind the plants hiding him.

When Ellison disappeared down the hallway, the figure stepped out from behind his cover and walked into the men's bathroom. Surprisingly, it was empty. Stepping into the handicap stall, he set his backpack onto the floor, opened it and pulled out a make-up kit and clothing. Hanging a mirror from the kit onto a sidewall, the man began to carefully apply a red tint to his face.

Same day, Later in the Afternoon

Blair slipped into the darkened auditorium and quietly made his way along the back wall to where he knew Jim would be standing. They had been switching, off and on, watching the Commissioner's niece, and Blair had taken his time away to explore the different displays at the convention.

"How're you doing, man?" Blair asked, leaning against the wall beside his partner. "Anything interesting happen?"

"I'm being bored to tears, Chief. I can't believe that people pay money to come to these things. I mean, who's that supposed to be up on the stage?" There was a definite sneer in Jim's voice.

"You remember him, Jim. The guy from Starship Troopers."

Ellison just looked down at his partner, his face a study in confusion.

"Blockbuster flick with giant bugs and lots of blood, gore and violence. You laughed at the part about the training of the soldiers."

Jim nodded and looked back up at the speaker on the stage. "Oh, right. Co-ed training and uniforms that reminded me of World War II and Germany. I thought that movie left the theaters a long time ago."

"It did. He's promoting his new movie that just came out. Most of the time, you don't get even one movie star at these conventions. Science fiction is mainly on television. Too expensive to put them on the big screen, except for the Star Trek pictures." Blair raised up on his toes to look over a small group of people who were standing in front of him. "Where's Krystal?"

"Front row, far right. She hasn't detached from her 'friend' once since they sat down. I wonder if the Commissioner knows about him."

Blair chuckled. "I doubt it. Did you let your Dad know about the girls you were dating at that age?" At the glare Jim sent him, Blair's grin faded from his face. "Sorry, man."

Both men stood silently until the audience started clapping and cheering. "Looks like it's about to wrap up. What's the next torture on the schedule, Chief?" Jim asked, standing up straight. The people in his line of sight to Krystal had risen to their feet and were starting to exit their rows.

Pulling a folded pamphlet from his back pocket, Blair flipped through a few pages until he came to the one with the desired information. "She wanted to go to a horror make-up demonstration. It's in the McKinley Room. That's around the corner. After that, nothing until tomorrow afternoon and evening."

"Thank God!" Ellison murmured fervently. "She's heading out the door. Let's go, Chief. I want to get this day over with."

"I hear that."

The two men moved slowly with the flow of people out the door of the auditorium. Once through the doorway, they were able to dodge around the milling attendees until they were near Krystal and her companion. The sound of a bass drum beating, along with cymbals clashing, caused both detectives to jump and turn toward the din.

"What in the hell is that?" Jim exclaimed, staring at the group moving in their direction. A man in alien make-up, dressed in some type of armor and carrying a banner, led a group of similarly clad people. They all looked alike with their costumes, long black hair and weaponry.

Blair smiled at his friend's expression. "That's just the Klingons, Jim. They're calling the members of their 'House' to a meeting."

Ellison frowned. "Those aren't Klingons. Not the ones I remember. When did they start making them look like that?"

"Oh, you mean from what they looked like in the original Star Trek series? They evolved between the first series and the second. Made them more warrior-like. Also had a better budget for special effects by then. I thought you didn't watch science fiction, Jim."

"I didn't, but some of my friends did. I wanted to watch Bonanza."

Blair could hear a slightly petulant tone in Jim's voice and laughed. "Why am I not surprised? The world of science fiction television has come a long way since 1965, Jim. One of these days I'll drag you into the present and you might just like it."

Ellison just grunted and continued down the hallway. He threw a few more glances at the passing group of Klingons, noticing that some were definitely female, before focusing his full attention back onto Krystal.

When they arrived at the McKinley room, the chairs were almost all taken. Krystal and her friend were together near the front. Taking their normal position against a wall near the back of the room, Blair turned to his friend.

"I'm getting thirsty. Want me to bring you back something to drink?"

"Yeah, thanks. Make it coffee this time. That soda we had at lunch was going flat. Left a bad taste in my mouth."

"Tasted okay to me, but who am I to argue with you." Blair gave Jim a wide smile at the knowledge that his friend was able to distinguish the freshness of the drink. "I'll be right back. Don't go to sleep, man. Your snoring would be too much of an interruption."

Ellison snorted, gave a half-hearted swing towards Sandburg's head, then shook his head and chuckled. Having Blair as a partner sure made details like this one more enjoyable. With a more relaxed expression on his face, Jim turned his attention to the woman who stepped to the front of the room and up on the mini stage with a microphone in her hand. Her features were obscured with what seemed to Jim like an excessive amount of make-up. Soothing music began playing from the four speakers set around the room and the lights dimmed until there was a clearly visible spotlight focused on the woman.

"As complex and intricate as the human mind may be considered, simple smoke and mirrors can make it believe anything," the woman voiced, raising her hands in a dramatic manner. As she finished speaking, white mist began to billow from the metal boxes on either side of the stage. The spotlight suddenly changed from normal to a flowing mirage of colors that widened until the whole front area of the room was bathed in the changing hues.

Without thinking, Ellison focused on the swirling shades of red, green, blue and purple. The music enhanced the effect of the light show until Jim became lost in the effect on his senses.

On the far side of the McKinley Room, a man costumed in a dark gray cape with a deep hood covering his head had watched the antics of the two detectives before the smaller one had departed. The close friendship of the men was important information to see and remember since it was displayed openly in public.

When Sandburg left, the man casually raised a hand holding a palm-size video camera and started recording Ellison. He noticed how the detective seemed to casually scan the room before coming to rest on the young woman sitting near the front. "Always on duty, despite all the distractions. Definitely different than how your partner seems to be," the man murmured, ensuring no one was close enough to hear what he said.

When the lights in the room changed and the show began, the man noticed Ellison staring at the flickering lights. He watched as the tall man stiffened, then Jim's face went slack, eyes locked forward in a stunned gaze. The watcher was about to move forward when Sandburg returned to the room with two cups in his hands. The young man moved quickly to his friend, set the cups down on the ground, then placed his hands on Ellison's forearms. It looked like he was speaking and trying to turn the larger man away from the light show. Sandburg struggled slightly to keep his friend from toppling over, then Ellison's eyes closed, he shook his head and finally looked at Sandburg.

"I wonder how long you would have stayed that way if your friend hadn't come back, Ellison. Very interesting." Turning off the video camera, the watcher followed the two men as they left the room.

Blair had been very lucky when he went for Jim's coffee. Because of the time of day, the small cafe near the lobby was almost empty and he was able to purchase Jim's drink and his tea quickly. That was a good thing because upon his return, he found his friend mesmerized by the light show flooding the room.

Placing the two cups on the floor near the wall, Blair lightly grasped Jim's arms and started turning him away from the lights. "Jim? Come on, man. This is not the place to do this." Blair pitched his voice in the tone he reserved for guiding his friend with his senses and at a level that he knew only Jim could hear.

"Time to come back from wherever you went, Jim. Come on, buddy. That's it." Blair was rewarded with Jim closing his eyes and shaking his head.

The taller man started to lean back but was stopped by Blair tightening his grip. When Jim opened his eyes, it was to see the concerned face of his partner staring up at him. He quickly looked around to see if anyone had noticed their actions, but they seemed to be just as mesmerized as he had been. Taking his friend by the arm, Jim walked to the door and out of the room as calmly as possible.

"What happened, Sandburg?" Jim asked, rubbing his eyes.

"Your senses must have been overwhelmed by the show." Blair glanced back at the room and saw that the lights were back to normal. "With the music they are using and the different visual effects, I'm surprised I was even able to bring you back as easily as I did. You all right?"

"Yeah. I wasn't expecting that. It happened even before I knew it. Thanks, Chief." Jim placed a hand on his friend's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Guess we better go back in. Did you get my coffee? A jolt of caffeine would taste good right about now."

"Yeah, I set them on the floor near where you were standing. If nobody has kicked them over, they should still be there." Blair turned back to look at the room. The lights were now up, the fake mist had been stopped and the only noise coming from the speakers was the presenters' voice. "Stay there, Jim. I'll bring back your coffee, then take over the watch. We'll meet you in the lobby in about an hour when this is over." When Blair returned, he handed his friend a large cup, gave him a slap on the arm and turned back toward the room.

"Thanks, Chief." Removing the plastic lid and taking a deep draught of the still hot liquid, Ellison walked in the direction of the side exit doors.

After spending most of the hour around the backside of the hotel, enjoying the quiet and his coffee, Ellison walked back into the hotel and waited beside the doors. To borrow a saying from his boss, Simon Banks, his 'spidey' senses were tingling and he was feeling like the day had been too quiet. It was following right along with the hair standing on the back of his neck, which he usually attributed to someone watching him.

As a crowd of people began streaming out from the McKinley Room, more people came from around the corners on either side of the room. They converged in the hall in front of Ellison, blocking his view. He had just started across the area, trying to be polite as he pushed past oddly dressed adults and dodged hyper kids, when a bright flash and loud bang had him reaching for his weapon.

Mass confusion erupted as smoke began billowing from the alcove leading to the men's bathroom. The people nearest to the area started screaming and running toward the exit, causing others to panic.

"Sandburg!" Ellison started pushing past the frenzied crowd. He finally reached the doorway of the McKinley Room only to find a pile of people tumbled upon each other. Jim waded in and began to help them stand, knowing he'd find his friend somewhere in the pile.

Blair emerged from the mass looking slightly dazed. Jim pulled him out of the group and shifted the smaller man to a wall to check him out.

"You okay, Chief?"

"Yeah, yeah. What happened, Jim?" Blair looked around at the smoky area. Hotel staff were heading for the smoky bathroom with fire extinguishers in hand.

"Where's Krystal? Is she still in the room?"

"Her boyfriend took off first and we were just leaving when the explosion happened. She got out of the room ahead of me, then someone must have tripped. Before I knew it, there was a pile of people on top of me." Brushing his wild curls out of his face, Blair started to search around the area.

"I don't see her, Chief. The smoke is making it impossible to pick up her scent, too. You start towards the lobby. See if she's heading for any of the rooms that way or the lobby. I'll go in this direction." Jim pointed in the opposite direction of the lobby.


Jim froze at the sound of his name. He placed a hand on Blair's shoulder to stop him from leaving, his gaze searching the area for the speaker. "Did you hear that?"

"Can you hear me, Ellison?"

"What, man?"

Jim held up his hand to stop any further questions. The smoky haze in the area was hampering his vision, causing his eyes to water.

"She took off out the back door, Ellison. You'd better hurry."

Swinging in the direction he thought the speaker's voice was coming, Jim saw a couple of tall people in long, billowing capes striding down the hallway away from the area. "Head out the back door, Chief. She's gone out that way." With that, Jim took off after the costumed pair.

"Jim? Where are you going?" Seeing that his friend wasn't going to answer him, Blair threw up his hands in exasperation and trotted toward the exit doors.

Ellison jogged determinedly down the hallway towards the lobby, trying not to run over the conventioneers who were curious about the smoke and noise. His quarry seemed to stay just ahead of him despite his speed.

"Hold it!" Jim shouted, causing several heads, except for the ones he wanted, to turn in his direction. Ignoring the indignant cries of those he bumped in passing, Jim broke into a run.

Reaching the lobby of the hotel, he slid to a halt, almost running into a pair of men dressed as Klingons. "What is your problem, buddy?" One of them demanded, laying a hand on Ellison's arm.

Yanking his arm away, Jim pulled out his badge and held it towards the pair. "Cascade PD," he growled angrily, his attention on the lobby. Suddenly, his eyes landed on his quarry. Running in their direction, Jim leaped over a short retaining wall to land just behind them. Grabbing each by an arm, he swung them around to face him.

"I don't know what game you're playing..." Ellison started to say, but stopped when he finally got a good look at who he was chasing. The startled faces of two young women stared at him from under the hoods, their eyes wide in fright.

Releasing their arms, Jim stepped back. "Sorry, ladies," he mumbled and turned to search the rest of the room. A couple of firemen were coming through the front door along with a uniformed policeman, but there weren't any others wearing capes. Whoever had been speaking to him at a level that only his sentinel hearing could pick up was no longer in the room, or had never been there. Frustrated, Ellison started walking back to where he'd left Sandburg.

Confused at his partner's actions, Blair nonetheless followed instructions and took off in the direction of the exit doors. Slamming out the doors, he struggled through the milling crowd until he was able to get a clear view of the back area. Slowing spinning around, he spotted Krystal walking arm-in-arm with her male friend toward a red sports car.

"Krystal!" Blair shouted, jogging in her direction.

Turning sharply at the sound of her name, Krystal crossed her arms across her chest and scowled. "I've got a ride home, Detective. I don't need you anymore today." Behind her, the boyfriend had opened the passenger door and waited. Without waiting for an answer, Krystal turned back to the car and climbed in. The boyfriend closed the door and trotted around to his side to get in.

"Your uncle said we're supposed to escort you today," Blair said slightly breathless when he reached the car. He leaned onto the door by the girl, grasped the handle and opened the door. "Say good-bye and come on out."

The young man at the wheel cranked over the ignition and shifted the car into gear. "You heard her. Later, dude," the boy sneered and stepped on the gas.

The door was torn from Blair's grasp, causing him to stumble back out of the way. The forward momentum of the car brought the passenger door close enough for Krystal to reach out, grab the inner door handle and slam it shut.

"Damn it, Krystal! GET BACK HERE!" Blair screamed, running after the departing vehicle. Seeing that he wasn't going to catch the car by chasing it, Blair started to cut through the different rows of vehicles, moving toward the parking lot entrance.

The red car swung around a final curve, moving towards the exit, when a figure stepped out into the middle of the road. Krystal saw that it was Blair. Hearing the car accelerate, she turned to the driver.

"What are you doing, Brand?" Fear tinged her words.

"If he wants to play, I'm all for it," Brand voiced with an evil chuckle.

The engine of the car roared as it sprang forward. Hearing that, Blair raised his right arm, braced his legs and pointed his pistol at the oncoming vehicle. Softly, he voiced to himself, "Don't make me do this, kid."

Krystal, seeing the determination on Blair's face, slapped at her companion and screamed for him to stop. Surprisingly, the boy followed the order, slamming on the brakes. The car swerved to a stop only five feet from Blair.

"I've got to quit watching Jim. I'm doing his dumb stunts now," he voiced out loud. A trickle of sweat trailed its way down the side of his face.

Keeping his pistol trained on the car, Blair walked around to the passenger side. Grabbing the handle, he yanked the door open. "Get out," he ordered. Krystal obeyed meekly.

Kicking the door shut, Blair leaned down with his weapon still trained on the driver. "Take off. I don't want to ever see you again." Taking Krystal by the arm and stepping back, Blair waited until Brand drove off before dropping his pistol to his side. He turned toward the girl. "What in the hell do you think you were doing? This is not a game. I almost had to shoot him." Blair's anger grew as he realized what he did.

Krystal said nothing, standing with her arms crossed and head hanging down. The petulant but embarrassed look on her face told Blair that she was hearing what he said but not listening.

Tucking his pistol into the shoulder holster his partner had made him wear this morning, Blair once again grabbed Krystal's arm and started pulling her toward the doors. "Come on. Let's go find Jim."

Major Crime Bullpen, Same Day, Later in the Afternoon

Jim Ellison strode off the elevator when the doors opened onto the floor housing the Major Crime division. His face looked like a storm cloud, causing others crossing his path to quickly move out of the way. Blair Sandburg was close behind, pulling a very unhappy Krystal Cameron with him.

When the two detectives reached their desks, Ellison quickly removed his jacket and tossed it onto his chair, then walked to the door marked 'Simon Banks, Captain.' He knocked twice, then entered without waiting to be invited. The door closed firmly behind him.

Blair watched his partner until he disappeared into the office. Digging into his pocket, he brought out a key and pulled Krystal forward by the handcuffs connecting them. He unlocked the cuff attached to his wrist. "Sit there and don't move."

When the girl flopped into the chair, Blair took the now open cuff and snapped it closed onto the arm of the chair. Krystal looked at the cuff, then up at Blair. She opened her mouth to protest, but quickly closed it when she saw the expression on his face. Slumping further into the wooden seat, Krystal's whole demeanor screamed that she was shutting out the room around her.

With a last look of disgust at the girl, Blair pulled off his own coat, grabbed his partner's and hung both on the nearby coat rack. Then, he strode over to Banks' office. Unlike Jim, he knocked and waited for a reply. The door opened quickly and he entered.

"Where is she, Sandburg?" Banks asked the young detective after he'd dropped down onto a chair beside his partner.

"I put her at the chair beside our desks. She won't be going anywhere," came a sullen reply.

Eyeing the two men in front of him, Banks stood up and peered out the blinds of his office. He quickly turned around. "You handcuffed Commissioner Matthews' niece to a chair? What are you thinking? Go let her loose!" Banks ordered.

"Believe me, Captain, it's better if she stays where she is. She'd be gone in a moment if Blair hadn't done that," Ellison spoke up in defense of his partner, then turned to Blair. "I noticed a red BMW following us from the hotel. That belong to the boyfriend?"

"Little bastard tried to run me over with it." Blair's expression darkened momentarily, then he dropped his head. "I had to pull my weapon on him, Jim. I almost had to shoot at him to make him stop. That was too close, man."

His partner's avoidance of using deadly force had been the topic of several discussions. Ellison reached over and gave Sandburg's shoulder a firm squeeze, but didn't comment. Instead, he steered the conversation back to the reason for their assignment. "I reported the car's license plate number to dispatch to find out who this kid is."

"You think he's more than just a boyfriend?" Banks asked, resuming his chair behind his desk.

Ellison stared out the windows toward the outdoors for several long seconds before answering. "Something doesn't feel right. An officer from the Arson squad told me that the device used to create the diversion in the bathroom was a little more technical than what some kid could build. I'm waiting for the full report. Besides, we never saw him go anywhere near the bathroom."

"So, it's possible he's working with someone else."

"Maybe... I don't know. Maybe not. They could have just taken advantage of someone else's plan to create confusion and got lucky." Ellison rubbed his hand over his face.

"Should we have some help for tomorrow?" Blair asked his partner, thinking of what could have happened.

"I can spare Brown and Rafe. There's a flu bug running through the uniformed force and we've been asked to help. I can't pull anyone else away," Simon offered.

Ellison gave his Captain a weary grin. "That's more than I expected. Thank you, sir. Come on, Chief. Let's get her highness back home and let her uncle handle her." Ellison stood up and gave Sandburg a slap on the shoulder to get him moving.

"What if she tells the Commissioner about your treatment?" Simon asked, looking at the door with a concerned expression on his face.

Blair gave his Captain a broad smile. "I don't think she'll do that, Captain. We'd have to tell him about the boyfriend and her actions with him today. Something tells me the Commissioner is not totally blind about his niece, with maybe the exception of who she's running around with, and I don't think she wants him to know about this kid."

"I hope you're right, Sandburg," Banks replied, then turned his attention back to the work in front of him.

After leaving the office and closing the door behind them, Ellison held Blair back with a hand on the smaller man's arm. "Something else happened at the hotel, Chief. I'm not sure if it has to do with Krystal or not."

Confusion and concern flooded Blair's face. "What, man? Your senses go bonkers any other time besides during that effects show?"

Looking around the room to make sure that no one was paying any attention to them, Jim pulled Blair a short distance away from their desks. "Twice I heard someone calling my name."


"It was at a level that only I can hear." That caught Blair's attention. "The first time, I discounted it as just a fluke. The second time was during the smoke bomb confusion. He, and I'm pretty sure it was a man, first asked me if I could 'hear' him, then warned me that Krystal was heading outside."

"And you reacted to him both times. Aw shit, Jim. That means someone there knows about you and gave you a test. Think he could have seen you zone?"

"Anything is possible. I'll have to be more careful tomorrow."

"Did you recognize the voice?"

"No, he really didn't speak in a normal tone. But, it could have had an accent. I'm not sure."

"Damn, Jim! We only just got this assignment. He must have been following us around to show up at the hotel."

"Then the question that should be asked is how long has he been following us and why?" Jim's hands were clenched due to the frustration he was feeling.

Blair placed a comforting hand on his partner's arm. "Easy, man. We'll both be on guard tomorrow and you let me know the minute this guy starts talking to you again. Two pairs of eyes are better than one, even if one set is yours."

Ellison saw the trust and confidence in Sandburg's face and couldn't help the smile that appeared on his own. The one thing he knew he could always count on was his friend's help. It sure felt good.

Unknown Location, Same Afternoon

Brandon Colfax stood nervously in front of the desk sitting in the prefab office of the empty packing plant. He'd arrived nearly an hour earlier, but had been kept waiting before being allowed to speak with the men he worked for.

"What happened, Mr. Colfax?" asked the man behind the desk. He was partially in a shadow, barely illuminated by the light coming from the lone window. "Your only task was to escort the girl out of the hotel and bring her here."

"She had two cops dogging her all day, Vince-- I mean Mr. Trujillo," Brand quickly corrected himself at the irritated look he received. "I tried, honestly I did. Then, the short one, Sandburg, almost blew me away when we were leaving."

~sigh~ "I guess this is what I get for sending a boy to do a man's job." Trujillo ignored the anger that flared on the young man's face. "Tomorrow, you'll try again. Undoubtedly, they'll have some help. So this time, I'll be there to make sure you don't screw up. Frankie!"

Answering the bellow, another man entered the office. Where Trujillo was obviously of a Hispanic ethnicity, this man was almost Aryan with his bright blond hair and sharp blue eyes. Despite the difference in appearance, both were very similar in their attitude towards the young man; he was just a tool to be used for their purpose.

"Yeah, Vince," Frankie answered.

"Brand needs some help in accomplishing his mission tomorrow. We'll need the appropriate costumes to fit in with the surroundings and whatever you need to handle the local cops." Understanding Vince's meaning, Frankie smiled at Brand, but the expression didn't reach his eyes.

The young man became more nervous, wondering why he ever thought working for these men would be fun. "Uh, do... what time should I be at the hotel?" Brand stammered.

"Be here by Noon. We'll travel together," Vince replied, enjoying the terror he was creating in the kid. "Now beat it." Brand scrambled quickly out of the office, ignoring the laughter following him.

Both men sobered as soon as the door closed. "Why do we need that punk, Vince? I could've gotten the girl during the confusion with the smoke bomb." Frankie sat casually on the side of the desk, irritation showing plainly on his face.

"Easy, my friend. Brand's ineptitude allowed us to gage the effectiveness of the girl's escort." Vince leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. "But we can't fail tomorrow. If the Council votes to recommend a refusal on our request to rezone the valley, the consortium stands to lose a lot of money."

Frankie grimaced, knowing that they would pay a heavy price for the failure. "But Matthews' vote isn't the only one that would make a difference."

"You're right, but she happens to be the easiest of the three targets. I don't like to fail, Frankie. We have an opportunity to move up in the consortium and make a tidy profit overall. Do you have the items we'll need for tomorrow?"

"Are you kidding? The costumes were being sold openly to anyone at the convention. We'll easily blend in with the crowd." Frankie grinned at his partner as he slid off the desk.

Chuckling, Vince stood up and walked around to his friend, throwing an arm around the man's shoulder. "I never doubt your abilities." The two walked out of the office.

Science Fiction Convention, Next Day, Early Afternoon

Detectives Henri Brown and L.T. Rafe gazed at the many costumed people wandering around the hotel lobby. They had arrived early and had spent most of their time watching the convention attendees.

"Man! Look at that costume over there, Rafe. That's the most authentic Borg costume I've ever seen," Brown voiced, elbowing his companion to get his attention, then pointing across the room.

Confusion evident, Rafe gazed in the direction Brown pointed. "A what? Borg? What's that?"

"It's a human or alien who's been assimilated by this conquering group of beings known as the Collective. They're part machine, part human. See her? Nice." Brown's voice held an appreciative tone.

Finally seeing what his partner was pointing at, Rafe gave a low whistle. Despite the bulkiness of the costume, he could definitely see that the individual was female. He grinned at the black detective. "Now I can see why you're interested in this stuff."

Brown gave the other man an embarrassed grin. "Well, it is one of the reasons. There's a lot more to it than that. Hey, here comes Ellison."

Both detectives turned their attention to the front doors of the hotel to see Ellison, Sandburg and their charge, Krystal Cameron, step through the entrance. The two men immediately walked over to Brown and Rafe with Krystal following obediently behind. A quiet and lengthy conversation when she had been picked up, along with the promise of being delivered back to her uncle in handcuffs, made Krystal change her whole attitude about being chaperoned by Jim and Blair.

"Thanks for getting us this detail, Jim. Sure beats patrolling the streets." Brown gave the larger detective a friendly smile.

Rafe nodded his head in agreement, but his attention was caught by a tall individual clad in a metallic uniform. Its helmet had a visor with a red light swinging back and forth where the eyes should have been. Rafe looked at his friends and raised an eyebrow in question.

Blair laughed. "It's a Cylon from the series Battlestar Galactica. A machine warrior that was treated like they were dangerous, but always seemed easy to kill." Blair looked at Brown, nodding towards Rafe. "Is he a newbie, too?"

"We have to pity the deprived, Hairboy. Rafe's education is definitely lacking in this department." Brown patted his hand on Rafe's cheek.

The detective slapped the hand away, his face coloring slightly. "Hey! I know about this stuff. I did see the Star Wars film last summer. The sword action by that one character, Obi-wan Kenobi, was awesome. Reminded me of the Highlander."

"He sees only one film of the series and thinks he knows Sci Fi. There were three others before this, Rafe. I bet the only reason you watch Highlander is because of its historical parts."

"Some people have lives, Brown," Ellison broke into the conversation, then turned to his partner. "What's the schedule today, Chief?"

Blair threw a glance at the young girl standing quietly at his side, then pulled a program out of his back pocket. "The costume contest is not until 5 p.m., which means heading for the room at 4 p.m. to get ready. Was there anything special you wanted to see in the meantime, Krystal?"

The polite way in which the question was asked startled the girl. She looked at the large men around her then turned her attention to the program Blair held out for her to see. "There's an auction at 2 p.m., and I really wanted to hear Nicholas Brendon talk after that." At the raised eyebrow from Blair, Krystal blushed slightly and ducked her head. "He's... um, this really cute actor who is on my favorite show. This would be the only chance I'll ever get... to, to..."

Ellison was barely able to restrain the exasperated sigh that tried to escape his mouth. His expression all but screamed 'Lord save me from teenage girls.' He turned his attention to Brown and Rafe. "H., since you can speak his language, why don't you go with Sandburg. Here's my badge. Rafe and I can stay blissfully ignorant of this 'brave new world' and do a sweep of the hotel, then station ourselves outside of whatever room you're in. Check in every half hour and don't hesitate to contact us if anything looks suspicious. Let me know if you see this kid." Ellison pulled out what looked to be a high school photo of the young man that had been with Krystal yesterday.

"I don't know why you think Brandon would want to do anything. His father is a prominent lawyer," Krystal spoke up to defend her friend.

"Any teenager who drives a car like he does, with no visible means of income, is always on my list of suspects. No matter who his father is." Ellison glared down at the girl. His icy blue eyes met and defeated the challenge in hers. "Get going, H."

"You got it, man. Let's go, Sandburg. I'd like to make sure we have a good seat for the auction, since I heard they're going to have props from the original Star Trek up for sale." Brown shifted across to Sandburg and plucked the program out of his hand. Then, giving a nonchalant wave, he started walking through the lobby towards the hallway that would lead to the auditorium.

Blair gave an amused chuckle. "I guess that means I'll be the one watching Krystal and handling the radio."

"You are the junior detective, Chief. We've all served as the low man on the totem pole. Get used to it," Ellison replied with a twinkle in his eye.

Blair just rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right. Like you were ever the low man on any pole. Ready?" he asked, turning to Krystal and holding an elbow out like a formal escort.

Giving the young man a surprised smile, Krystal looped her arm through Blair's and allowed him to lead her off.

"Uh, Jim?" Rafe turned to the taller man next to him. "Do we really have to stay 'blissfully ignorant?' I mean, this all looks pretty cool." Just then, a group of attendees dressed as Klingons walked passed. One of the women's outfits barely covered her 'full' figure and Rafe's eyes followed her appreciatively across the room.

Finally releasing the sigh of exasperation he'd barely been restraining, Ellison grabbed Rafe's arm and dragged him toward the front door. "I've got to talk to the Captain about you being paired with Brown so much. He's warping you."

"What did I say?" Rafe asked, staggering along with Ellison, his arms held out wide.

Ellison's attention was brought back to the room where the applause could be heard. The appreciative noise increased in volume and was soon accompanied by cheering and whistling.

"Sounds like it's over," Rafe commented to the larger man next to him. The only reply he received was a grunt and mumbled 'about time.' Glancing surreptitiously at the detective, Rafe couldn't see any emotion on the man's face, but could feel the impatience emanating from the body. Sandburg must have the patience of a saint. How does he put up with this attitude all the time?

The doors to the auditorium opened, allowing the attendees to stream out. The hallway became noisy with the sounds of boisterous laughter and talking. After what seemed like an interminably long time, Sandburg, Brown and Cameron exited and walked over to the others.

"Anything happen?" Blair asked, noticing the tension in his partner.

"That... feeling is back again," Jim replied, carefully scanning the crowd of people.

"From yesterday?" Ellison just nodded, continuing his watch.

"What feeling? What happened yesterday?" Brown asked, hearing what the two men said but not understanding.

Blair grimaced, not wanting to discuss the matter but knowing he had to explain. "There was someone who was talking to Jim yesterday." At the confused look on the other detectives' faces, Blair stepped closer and dropped his voice to prevent others from overhearing. "By the low level he used, it was someone who obviously didn't believe my press conference last year."

Realization dawned on both Brown's and Rafe's face at the same time, causing Brown to also look around the area. "So, what'll we do now?"

"Nothing for now. We just have to wait and see if he makes a move." Ellison looked at Blair, glanced briefly at Krystal, then returned his gaze to his partner. Understanding, Blair turned to his charge.

"Krystal, we don't have much time before the costume contest. Let's go to the room and start getting ready." Giving a nod to the other three detectives, Blair led the young woman in the direction of the lobby and the elevators.

Ellison watched Sandburg leave and waited until the pair was out of sight before turning back to the others. "H, you stick near the kid's room and help Sandburg escort her down when it's time for this contest to start. Rafe and I'll check the contestants waiting area, the auditorium, then work our way along the path you'll be taking down. We'll meet you at the room just before 5:00."

"Gotcha, man." Brown moved away, carefully navigating through the throng of people still milling in the hallway.

"You think someone is actually after the Commissioner's niece?" Rafe asked.

"I found out this morning that there were attempts on families of two of the council members last night. Luckily, both failed. Then there's the pyrotechnic that was used in the men's bathroom yesterday. It was too complicated for a high school boy to put together and plant by himself."

"What about the guy Sandburg was talking about? Think he's part of the situation?"

"I don't know, Rafe. He pointed me in the direction the girl and her boyfriend were heading, but I'd rather not depend on him being on our side. Let's go check out the auditorium." Pulling their detective shields out and displaying them prominently on their belts, the two men walked toward the door leading into the auditorium.

>From inside the room, obviously young female voices shrieked in excitement. Jim looked through the doors to see a dark-haired young man being quickly escorted through the throng of frantic teenage girls clustered around him. Jim and Rafe were almost trampled as the crowd pushed past them and into the corridor.

"God save me from teenage girls," Jim uttered in disdain, just loud enough for his companion to hear. Rafe laughed heartedly and followed the other into the room.

A figure wearing a hooded cape dropped the video camera he'd been holding back to his side, detached himself away from the corner he'd been standing and followed discreetly behind the detectives.

"Krystal? Which one is the make-up bag? There are three little gray ones," Blair raised his voice to carry through the closed door leading to the bedroom. He was rummaging through a pile of suitcases that had been delivered to the room earlier in the day, trying to help his now nervous charge prepare for the contest.

The bedroom door opened a crack. "The gray one with the tag on it that says 'Make-up.' Duh, detective." The condescending tone was easily heard from the young girl, then the door snapped shut.

Blair threw a dirty look at the now closed door, then resumed going through the bags. Finding the one with the appropriate tag, he carried it over and knocked on the door. It opened slightly and Krystal peeked out. Seeing the valise, her hand snaked out, grabbed the bag and yanked it through. The door slammed shut again.

Blair stared at the closed portal for several long seconds. "You're welcome," he voiced in a tired tone. There wasn't any reply. Walking back into the living room area, he flopped down into one of the chairs. "Low man or not, this is the last time I get stuck with babysitting."

Reaching for a magazine sitting on the nearby coffee table, Blair was startled to hear a knock on the front door. Standing up, he first looked towards the bedroom, then cautiously walked to the entryway. The knock was repeated.

"Yes?" he called out. Looking through the security hole in the door, he saw the youthful face of Krystal's boyfriend from yesterday. "What do you want?"

"Hey, man. Sorry about yesterday. I'm, um, here to help Krystal get her costume downstairs." The young man didn't sound very contrite, but neither did he sound threatening. If anything, he was nervous.

"Hold on," Blair replied, unlocking the bolt. He was just reaching for the chain when he remembered that Brown had told him he'd be down the hall. The detective would have escorted the youth to the room, or at least checked to see if it was okay for him to approach.

Before he could re-engage the deadbolt, something hit the door hard, snapping the chain and forcing it open. Blair stumbled back a couple of steps, trying to keep his balance. Before he could yell out, the barrel of a large pistol was in his face. He briefly looked past the weapon to see the nervous face of Krystal's boyfriend, then a beefy fist filled his vision. Pain flared along the left side of Blair's face, coinciding with the explosion of stars that filled his vision before consciousness fled. He didn't even feel his body impact with, and crash through, the nearby end table.

Ellison had finished checking around the areas where Krystal was going to be for the next couple of hours and stationed Rafe back in the lobby of the hotel before heading up to the room. Something didn't feel right and he was staring at the numbers on the elevator, mentally trying to make the car move faster.

As the elevator approached the floor that held Krystal's room, he detected an acrid but familiar odor. Mace. Pulling his pistol from the holster at his back, Ellison flattened himself to the side of the door, waited until the elevator came to a stop and directed his hearing to the area beyond the doors. As they slowly slid open, he could hear the low moan of someone in pain. Extending his hearing, Jim could only detect one heartbeat in the hallway.

Leaning out and taking a quick glance around, Ellison saw the slowly moving form of Brown lying on the floor a short ways away. The scent of mace was heavy in the air, causing Jim to choke as he scanned both directions of the hallway with his weapon in a ready position. Seeing that there was no visible threat, he moved carefully but quickly over to the prone Brown.

"H.," Jim whispered, feeling along the man's neck to find the steady throb of a pulse. "Brown!" Jim grasped the black detective's shoulder and gave it a shake. The other man groaned in pain and brought his hands up to rub his eyes. Ellison stopped the action. "Don't. You'll only make it worse. Lie still until I check things out."

Patting the detective on a shoulder, Ellison turned his senses to the direction he knew Krystal's room lay. It was at the end of the hall, a suite set off from the other rooms. Zeroing his eyesight down toward the room, Jim saw that the door was not closed completely. Piggy-backing his hearing onto his eyesight, he heard a single heartbeat coming from the room. It was slow, indicating the owner was asleep... or unconscious.

Slinking swiftly up the hall, Jim flattened himself along the wall beside the suite door, slid his hand over the door jam and gently pushed the portal open. Listening again, he confirmed that there was only one person in the room and that that person was beginning to wake up. When he glanced into the room, Jim saw the shifting form of his partner.

"Chief!" he called out, kneeling beside the struggling form. Tucking his pistol back into its holster, Jim lightly touched the already bruising area along his friend's face.

Hearing his name, Blair stilled and forced open his eyes to see the blurred form of his partner looking at him with an expression of relief flooding across it. "Jim? What happened?"

"You tell me. Where's Krystal?"

Blair looked around the area and struggled to sit up. Placing one hand to the lump he knew was forming on the back of his head, the other grabbed onto the hand Jim extended toward him. "Ah, man. I screwed up. The boyfriend was here. He knocked on the door saying he was there to help Krystal get her stuff downstairs. Like an idiot, I unlocked the door before I remembered that Brown was down the hall. Did something happen to him? Is he okay?"

Ellison helped his friend pull himself painfully to his feet. "Someone maced him in the face, then knocked him out. Did you see who came with the kid?"

"No, man. All I saw was this big gun shoved into my face, then someone hit me. How long?"

"Were you out? Couldn't have been more than a few minutes." Pulling a hand radio out of his jacket pocket, he keyed the mic. "Rafe? We had problems up here."

"Everyone okay?"

"Few bumps and bruises. Get someone at the desk to call for an ambulance; Brown took a face full of mace. Can you see the elevators from your position?" Ellison made sure Sandburg was standing firmly on his own two feet before he walked out into the hallway.

"Yeah. Clear view. Looks like there's a car coming down now. I'll call for backup."

"Okay. If the passengers turn out to be the Cameron girl with one or two guys and a teenage boy, let me know and follow them. Do not approach on your own; they are armed. How're you doing, H?" Ellison knelt down beside the now sitting detective. He heard rather than saw Sandburg move past the pair to the elevators.

"My eyes are burning and I feel like a class A idiot. There were at least three, a kid and two guys. The kid distracted me and one of the others sprayed that crap in my face. They were wearing Starfleet uniforms, but had blue make-up and white wigs. Sorry, Jim."

Ellison placed what he hoped was a comforting hand on the other's shoulder. "Don't worry about it. We'll get them before they get out of the hotel. Stay put and wait for the paramedics."

"Jim!" Blair called from the elevators. "The car is here."

The radio crackled to life. "I see them, Jim. There are two guys in some type of red and black outfits holding onto the girl and a boy in black with a cape. She looks frightened, but okay. They're heading this... whoa! They made me. They're moving towards the convention rooms."

Blair and Jim stepped into the elevator. "Stay with them. Let me know if they head outside. You okay, Chief?" Jim asked, noticing Blair wince when he rubbed his jaw.

Blair quickly dropped his hand. "Yeah, no problem. The glass jaw kid strikes again."

Jim looked sharply at his partner, noticing the dejected slump of his shoulders. "Don't beat yourself up over this, Chief. You're not the first this has happened to and you won't be the last." Seeing that he had the smaller man's attention, he continued. "Ask Rafe about the little old lady with the mean upper cut."

"Yeah?" Blair chuckled, his spirits rising out of the basement they had sunk to.

As the elevator doors opened to the lobby, Ellison smiled broadly and gave his friend a wink. Stepping out of the car, Jim's demeanor immediately changed as he swept his gaze around the lobby. Not seeing Krystal or her abductors, he started walking away from the lobby and down the hallway towards the convention auditorium.

"Krystal's outfit is multicolor and form-fitting," Blair voiced quietly. "Her hair is pulled up under a type of black skull cap."

"They're probably too far ahead for me to see her, Chief."

"Then switch to smell. Since mace was used, there has to be a lingering scent on the guy who used it. Don't tell me you can't pick up that smell."

Ellison took a careful sniff in the air and grimaced. "This way," he said and started moving faster through the crowd.

"Smell something, Ellison?" Hearing the mysterious voice from yesterday, Jim froze.

Blair ran into his back with a muffled grunt. "What? Do you see them?"

Jim swiveled his head around. "No. Our 'friend' from yesterday is back, Chief."

"Damn it!"

"He sounds so close, but with all these people--"

"We don't have time for him, Jim. Just shut him out and concentrate on finding Krystal. If the bastard decides to interfere, then we'll handle him." Blair's angry growl snapped Jim's attention back to the area. Seeing the expression on his friend's face, Ellison nodded and picked up the pace again.

When the two men finally reached the open area outside of the auditorium, they saw Rafe standing back near the exit doors. With this position, he could easily see anyone enter or exit the room and guard the exits at the same time.

"They took her in there. I thought it better if I wait out here for you guys. It's getting pretty crowded in there and I didn't want to risk losing them," Rafe advised, keeping his attention on the auditorium doors.

"What about the back exits?" Blair asked, glancing out the doors behind them. He saw flashing lights coming down the road towards the hotel. "Here comes the backup."

"They've got alarms on them. Anyone of them gets opened, we'll know," Jim answered. "Let's go, Chief."

Trotting up to the entrance to the room, Ellison flashed his shield at the two people checking for passes and badges and entered. The costume contest had already started; the announcer was up on the stage explaining the categories. Sweeping his gaze across the crowd, Jim was not able to locate his target.

"Take up a position here at the door, Chief. I'll make a walk through and see if I can spot them."

"Right," Blair replied and shifted over until he was able to stand against the back wall. He would easily be able to track his partner and still watch out for the men who had Krystal.

Ellison had his nose focused on the scent of mace, automatically filtering out the myriad of other distracting smells. Just as he reached the far right side of the room, he heard a muted alarm sound. Their quarry was using one of the back exits. Looking towards Sandburg, Ellison saw that he had also heard the alarm. He gestured to Blair to head back out of the room, then took off in the direction of the alarm.

A black curtain was hanging away from wall, creating a space a couple of feet wide. Finding an opening, Ellison ran along the passage until he came to an exterior door with an exit sign over it. A man standing at the portal was just pulling it shut, hoping the action would stop the annoying alarm.

"Make way! Police!" Jim yelled, causing the man to jump and stumble backwards. Hitting the bar along the center of the door, he slammed it back open, barely slowing down.

The exit led to an alley behind the hotel. Looking both directions, Ellison wasn't able to see his quarry. Taking a deep sniff, he caught the mace scent leading off down the alley to the left and took off running. When he reached the entrance of the alley, Jim saw that he was at the rear parking lot and his targets had just reached a deep green Lincoln Continental. One guy shoved Krystal into the back seat and climbed in beside her. The other, along with Brand, jumped into the front.

Before Jim could run any closer, the vehicle was started and driven swiftly through the lot. He was about to race back into the building when he heard the screeching sound of a car speeding around a corner. It was Blair in the Taurus.

Sliding to an abrupt, spinning stop, Blair yelled, "GET IN!"

Jim practically dove into the car, barely managing to close his door, when Blair stomped on the accelerator. Spewing smoke from its tires, the Taurus tore through the parking lot.

"Green Lincoln. Krystal is in the back," Jim managed to say before he crashed into the car door as Blair took a sharp turn. Looking at his partner sharply, he quickly decided to fasten his seatbelt.

"Told Rafe to get us some help. Hope they know we're the good guys." Blair kept his concentration on the road, quickly catching up with the Lincoln.

Realizing his partner's implication, Ellison pulled out his cell phone, dialed the precinct operator and had her connect him with dispatch. "This is Detective Jim Ellison. We're in pursuit of a new Lincoln Continental--"

"I think it's a Mark VIII," Blair provided, taking a last turn that finally got them out of the parking lot and onto a road.

"...dark green in color, model possibly a Mark VIII. We're currently leaving the hotel ~oof~ damn it, Blair. Watch the potholes. Repeat, we're currently leaving the Crown Point Plaza Hotel and heading south on Jersey, just crossing 15th Avenue."

The smaller Taurus was not gaining on the fleeing car, but neither was it losing any ground. With expertise that would have made any racecar driver proud, Blair wove in and out of slower moving cars. Seeing the Lincoln take a sharp right turn and have problems maintaining control, he continued at the same speed until just reaching the intersection. Then, slamming on the brakes, Blair slid the car sideways into the intersection, jerked the wheel until he was pointing in the right direction, then jammed his foot back onto the gas pedal.

Ellison was clinging onto his door for dear life, a look of shock flooding across his features. Sandburg had just executed a move that only some of the best stuntmen in show business could do and with better designed cars. "Think you should slow down, Chief?" Ellison finally said to his friend after relaying their new course to dispatch. "I promised the Commissioner that I wouldn't wreck the car."

"You won't, Jim. I'm driving... and I won't wreck it." Blair pressed harder onto the gas pedal. He couldn't believe that he was finally catching up with the other car. "Where in the hell is the backup?"

Just as he said that, two patrol cars pulled into the intersection in front of the Lincoln, blocking any further escape up the road. Undaunted, the Lincoln jammed on its brakes and turned into a nearby alley. Blair stayed right with him, swerving to miss the flying boxes and other items the Lincoln kept hitting.

When the alley opened up into another street, the Lincoln turned sharply left and almost spun out. It lost precious distance to the pursuing Taurus. Blair took advantage of that error and began closing the distance.

The Lincoln didn't travel more than another half block when the next intersection was also blocked. Seeing that his escape route was gone, the driver jammed on the brakes again and took the car into a spin so that it was now facing the approaching Sandburg and Ellison. Making a decision, the driver stepped on the gas. It became a game of chicken.

"Chief?" Jim questioned, seeing the determined look on Blair's face and the white knuckles of his hands clenching the steering wheel.

Blair didn't look, or maybe didn't even hear Jim. Under his breath, he was chanting 'he'll back down,' but his full attention was on the car speeding towards him. As the distance between the two vehicles shortened dangerously, Blair suddenly hit the brakes and fought to keep the car straight. Jim automatically threw his hand out onto the dashboard, the seatbelt biting sharply into his stomach.

At the same time, the driver of the Lincoln decided to not continue with the dangerous game. Just before the Taurus stopped, he yanked his steering wheel to the left and braked hard. The car plowed into a group of garbage cans waiting on the sidewalk for pickup. One flew up and over to land onto the roof of the Taurus. When the Lincoln finally stopped, there were garbage cans and trash everywhere.

Leaping out of the car, Jim and Blair ran to the still Lincoln, guns drawn and trained on the doors. "Step out of the car with your hands in the air!" Jim yelled, moving to the driver's side.

Blair had shifted to the back of the car on the passenger side. The windows of the vehicle were heavily tinted, so he couldn't see if there was any movement. He kept glancing at Jim, watching for any sign that the car's occupants were going to make any wrong moves. "Let the girl go," he called out.

The rear passenger-side door opened and Krystal Cameron stumbled out of the vehicle towards Blair. Her black skullcap was gone, allowing her hair to fall in shambles about her head, and tears streamed down from puffy, reddened eyes. She fell into his arms, crying in deep sobs. Blair pulled her around to his left side so that he could keep his pistol trained on the car and backup his partner.

The other car doors slowly opened and the rest of the occupants carefully exited, each with hands held up in a position of surrender. Uniformed officers ran forward and began securing handcuffs to the men as they read them their rights.

Seeing the situation under control, Jim brought his pistol down and walked around the car to his partner. He could see that the smaller man had his arms full.

"They ~ sob~ they said... Oh, God! I want my Mom and Dad," Krystal wailed, burying her face in Blair's chest.

Tucking his pistol into a pocket, Blair put both arms around the trembling girl. "Shhhh, it's okay. You're safe," he said comfortingly. Looking up at Jim, Blair raised his eyebrows.

Ellison gave his partner a knowing smile. "Was that your version of a 'controlled' car chase, Chief?"

Sandburg rolled his eyes. "Wanna give me a hand here, Jim?"

Jerking his head towards the car, Ellison walked over and opened the back door. Blair followed behind, gently leading the clinging young girl to the back seat. He helped her in, then climbed in beside her. Ellison closed the door, then walked around to the driver's side, climbed in and drove away.

Major Crime Unit, Next Day

The elevator opened onto the floor housing the Major Crime unit, allowing the two occupants to exit. Blair moved out in front, his hands up in a position of surrender. "Could you just drop it, Jim? Come on, man. You're making a mountain out of a molehill."

"Me? Who, pray tell, hounded me about my 'aggressive' driving?" Ellison deliberately slowed to fall back behind his partner.

"I was not hounding you. All I had said..." Blair fell silent as he entered the bullpen and saw what was waiting for him. A mangled trashcan was propped on his desk. Applause broke out in the room, detectives and officers moving towards the pair with broad smiles on all of their faces. Simon Banks' office door opened and the black captain stepped out. Blair turned back to look at Jim and saw his friend wearing the same laughing expression as every other officer.

"Detective Sandburg," Banks began, stepping towards the desk. "I was told that I need to ask you why there is a trash can sitting on your desk. A pretty... 'fragrant' one at that."

"Well, Captain... I, I'm not sure myself. Other than the fact that some people around here have a strange sense of humor," Blair replied, his face starting to color in embarrassment.

"It was felt, by myself and the others in the office, that the Detective needed a memento of the first time he caused damaged to a motor pool vehicle," Jim announced, stepping up and laying a hand on Blair's shoulder. "The 'can' was the cause of the damage-- to the car's roof."

"Wait just a minute, man. I'll remind you I had come to a full and complete stop before the Lincoln dropkicked that can onto the roof!"

Laughter filled the room. Realizing he'd lost the battle, Blair dropped his head in resigned acceptance. He felt the hand on his shoulder give a firm squeeze and looked up. Jim was smiling down at him and gave him a wink. That started Blair laughing with the rest of the group.

Banks, clearing his throat loudly, brought order back to the room. Crossing his arms on his chest, he gave Sandburg his most stern look. After watching the smaller man squirm for several long seconds, he said, "I'm sure the Commissioner will be more than willing to accept your explanation on how and why the situation occurred. Welcome to the club, Sandburg." Then, he turned around and returned to his office.

The group clapped again, some offering a few words of congratulations, then broke up. Jim and Blair walked up to their desks.

"What do you think, Jim? Should I have it bronzed?" Blair asked, looking at the object on his desk carefully. "I mean, it is my first."

"Only if you wash it out... frequently and with lots of soap." Ellison sniffed disdainfully at the can. "And before you bring it anywhere near the loft."

Blair took a quick sniff, wrinkled his nose in disgust and started chuckling. "Maybe not." Reaching forward, he grabbed the handle, swung the damaged metal container onto his back and walked out of the room to the elevators.

"I definitely know how to train 'em right," Ellison mused to himself, then sat at his desk to start on the mound of papers waiting.

The End

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