edited by: Eagle Eye and DeltaQEd
Fog crept across the cold, darkened landscape. Its spidery tendrils first caressing, then devouring from sight everything within its path...
Unconsciously, Detective James Ellison shuddered, as the scene beyond the double-paned glass mirrored his own growing sense of unease. What had started out as a typical case, soon became steeped in unexplained accidents and occurrences bordering on the paranormal.
Blankly staring out at the fog, Ellison's thoughts traveled back to the first day when the whole nightmare started.
Three days earlier....
Spotting the cluster of police vehicles, Ellison pulled up beside the decaying warehouse and shut off the ignition. Casting a sideways glance at his partner, Jim unhooked his seat belt and slid out of the truck. Slamming the door, he waited as Sandburg rounded the vehicle and together they made their way down to the dock.
"Captain," Jim greeted the tall African-American, as his cool, steel blue eyes surveyed the scene with practiced ease. Forensics was performing a preliminary examination on a body recently pulled from the water. "What have we got?"
Tearing his eyes away from the scene, Simon turned to the two detectives. "Dock workers discovered a floater this morning."
"Any ID on the body yet?" Blair Sandburg inquired, brushing back the wind swept curls from his face.
Rising from her examination, Serena Chang handed the former grad student a sealed evidence bag containing the man's wallet. Slipping on a pair of rubber gloves, Blair extracted the wallet and opening it, inspected the contents.
"John Wallace," he read aloud from the driver's license, then shrugged. "Does the name mean anything to you?" He asked, the question encompassing both his partner and the captain.
"Never heard of him," Banks admitted, ruefully.
A slight frown marred Ellison's brow. It was unusual for Major Crime to be called in on an apparent case of drowning. "Then why are we here?"
Sandburg looked up from his perusal of the wallet's contents awaiting Simon's reply.
"Because this is the third drowning incident in as many weeks."
"Is there any connection between the victims?" Blair wondered.
"Not that they've been able to determine," Banks replied, scowling.
"The first one washed out of the drainage overflow system about two miles from here. Based on his lack of ID and physical appearance, they're assuming that he was one of the transients that take shelter in the abandoned warehouses down here along the docks."
"What about the second victim?" Ellison inquired.
"Tim Talbot," Simon quickly responded. "He was the construction foreman for Caldwell Construction."
"If it weren't for the first victim, I'd say that's our connection right there." Wordlessly, Blair held out the man's wallet. The picture ID stated that John Wallace was an employee of 'Savage Demolitions'.
"Demolitions?" Banks' eyebrow rose in question.
"He's right, Simon," Jim interjected. "Because of the city's plans to revitalize the water front, a lot of these old warehouses have been demolished to make way for new construction."
"All right," Banks said, coming to a decision. "I want you to check into their backgrounds, see if there's a connection."
"What about the first victim?" Ellison commented. "It might help if we could identify him. See if there's a link to the other two."
"We could check out the homeless shelters and soup kitchens," Sandburg suggested.
Simon nodded. "Good idea. In the meantime I'll have all case files transferred to you and Jim."
"Very good, sir." Ellison responded as his partner re-bagged the wallet and handed it back to Serena with a grim smile.
"I'll have a composite drawing of our John Doe sent to you as soon as I get back to the office," Chang offered.
"Thanks, Serena," Jim replied before turning to his partner. "Let's go, Chief. It looks like we've got a lot of ground to cover."
With a parting nod towards Simon, Blair fell into step beside Ellison. "Aren't you going to examine the body?" He asked as they made their way back to the pickup.
"Maybe later. Right now I want to get started on those background checks."
Sandburg paused. "You don't think the deaths are related, do you?"
Stopping a few feet away, the larger man turned back. "It's too soon to say, Chief. It could be nothing more than a coincidence."
"I guess," Blair replied with a troubled frown. "But I've got a strange feeling about this."
"Developing a cop's instincts, Serpico?" Ellison asked, grinning.
A shadow flickered across the younger man's features. "Nope, survival instincts, pure and simple."
About to question Sandburg's cryptic statement, a snapping sound drew the sentinel's attention upward. About thirty feet over his partner's head, a large crate hung suspended from a crane. Piggybacking his sight to the sound, Jim spotted the cause: the cable holding the crate was fraying.
With a shout of, "Watch out!" Ellison launched himself at the smaller man, barely knocking Sandburg out of the way before the crate came crashing down.
Rolling aside, Jim sat up and anxiously eyed his partner. "Are you all right?"
Sitting up, Blair flexed his left shoulder where it had soundly connected with the dock. "Yeah, I'm fine. Man, that was too close." With a shudder, he looked at the spot he had just been standing.
Picking himself up off the ground, Ellison turned and offered his hand. One quick tug brought Blair smoothly to his feet.
"Jim!" Simon Banks exclaimed, striding towards them. "Are you two all right?"
"We're fine, sir." Walking over to the crate, Ellison picked up the end of the frayed cable, examining it closely. "Although I'd like to know why this broke."
"You don't think it was intentional, do you?" Concern marred the captain's features.
"It doesn't appear to have been cut." The sentinel shrugged. "It's probably just a coincidence."
"Yeah, well if you ask me, it's one too many." Blair grumbled.
Jim could tell the younger man was still spooked. The slight tremors that coursed through Sandburg's body were a dead give away.
"I'll have forensics check it out," Banks offered. Like Sandburg, the incident had scared him more than he wanted to admit. Had it not been for Ellison's lightening quick reflexes, both men would have been killed.
"I'd appreciate that, sir."
"Yeah, thanks, Simon." Blair chimed in.
"Come on, Chief, we've got background checks to run." And with a final glance towards Banks, Jim headed for the truck.
"Ah, the joys of police work." The smaller man quipped with a bob of his brows before following.
Stopping at the red light, Ellison took the opportunity to glance over at his partner. Sandburg had been unusually quiet since leaving 'Savage Demolitions'.
"You going to be all right with this case, Chief?"
"What?" Blair replied distractedly. Tearing his gaze from the surrounding landscape, he looked questioningly at Jim.
"The case," Ellison repeated, stepping on the gas as the light turned green. "Are you going to be all right with it?"
The younger man's eyes darted away. "Sure, I mean I ought to be use to dead bodies by now, right?"
The sentinel's forehead crinkled in a frown at the increase in his guide's respiration. He was use to obfuscations from Sandburg, but this was different. Blair seemed to be avoiding the main issue altogether.
"That's not what I'm talking about, Chief, and you know it." Pulling into a parking slot outside of Caldwell Construction, Jim shut off the ignition.
Popping open the passenger door, Sandburg began to slide out of the truck, only to be stopped as Ellison placed a hand on his arm. Wordlessly, Blair turned back, his haunted eyes silently questioning.
Ellison's concerned gaze searched his partner's face. "This has got to be bringing up some bad memories for you." In his mind's eye, the sentinel recalled the entire, terrifying incident. Pulling Sandburg's lifeless body from the fountain. The EMT's pronouncement that there was nothing more they could do. The overwhelming sense of loss and denial.... With a shudder, Jim dismissed the abhorrent images. "I know it does for me."
Softly, Blair sighed, closing his eyes briefly before he too banished the memories that were indelibly imprinted in his mind. "I'm not going to lie and tell you it doesn't, Jim. But I'm a cop now. It's part of the job."
Ellison really hadn't expected another answer. In the three years that Sandburg had been with him before becoming his 'official' partner, the younger man had always given 100% no matter how dangerous or personal a case became.
"Yes," Jim replied, smiling, "it is." His expression sobered. "But you know I'm here if you need to talk, right?"
Blair's gaze softened. He knew what it cost the older man to make the offer. Even after all this time, after all they'd been through together, Jim still felt uncomfortable when it came to discussing personal issues. And how much more personal could you get than the subject of dying.
"I know, Jim. Thanks."
With a brisk nod, Ellison released his partner and slid out of the truck.
Jogging up the steps of the two story building, Jim pulled open the door and, stepping aside, allowed his partner to precede him.
The reception area was small and, although the place appeared deserted, Ellison's acute hearing picked up voices coming from the rear of the building. "This way," he said, stalking down the short hallway.
Pausing at the last closed door on the right, Jim raised his hand and knocked.
Abruptly the conversation inside ceased, and a few seconds later the door was opened by a young woman in her early twenties. Blond, hair pulled back in a ponytail, green eyes looked at him questioningly.
"Can I help you?" She inquired.
Jim produced his badge. "I'm Detective Ellison and this is Detective Sandburg. We'd like to ask you a few questions about John Wallace."
"Elaine?" A masculine voice queried from further in the room.
The woman turned to address the voice. "It's the police; they want to talk to us about John."
A moment later a man appeared. A quick assessment judged him to be in his middle fifties. Yet, despite the gray hair, mustache and slight paunch around the middle, strong facial features and an intense gaze, revealed a man of authority.
"I'm Ryan McKenna," he said, introducing himself. "This is my daughter, Elaine. Please, come in." Stepping aside, he ushered them inside the small office.
"You said this was about John?" McKenna questioned.
"Yes, sir," Ellison replied, taking the lead. "Unfortunately Mr. Wallace was found dead this morning from an apparent drowning."
A small gasp escaped the woman's lips.
"We were wondering why John didn't show up for work or call this morning," the older man replied, stunned. "You said apparent drowning?"
"Ah, yeah," Blair responded. "We won't know for certain until the Medical Examiner's office has completed their examination."
"When was the last time you saw Mr. Wallace," Ellison inquired, getting back to the business at hand.
"Last Friday," McKenna said. "One of the old warehouses down on the docks is earmarked for demolitions..." The two detectives exchanged glances. "John went down there to check out the site so we could submit a bid."
"How?" A strained voice asked and Jim looked up to see tear filled eyes peering at him. "What happened." The young woman's voice was rough with emotion.
"We're not sure," Blair regretfully admitted. "Did Mr. Wallace have any enemies?"
"You think John was murdered?" Elaine asked, aghast at the prospect.
"We're simply examining the possibility," Ellison explained. Straightening, his voice took on an authoritative tone. "We're going to need a list of the jobs he's worked on for the past few months.
"Yes, of course," McKenna replied, then turning to his daughter asked. "Elaine, would you please get that information for the detectives?"
Casting an angry glare towards the two men, she left.
"I'm sorry about that." The older man told them. "Elaine is... was," he amended, "fond of John, we both were."
A few minutes later they had the information and exited into the late afternoon sunlight.
"Man!" Blair exclaimed, pausing at the head of the step. "I hate delivering news like that."
Ellison grimaced. "It's never easy, Chief. Unfortunately it comes with the job."
"Yeah, I guess. I just don't think I'm ever going to get used to it."
"The good cops never do." Jim replied, smiling down with pride at the smaller man who was oblivious, his attention captured by something else.
"Hey, look at this," Sandburg said, thrusting the list he had been reading towards his partner.
Ellison spotted it right away. Both Talbot and Wallace had been involved with the construction of a new office building being erected down on the docks. An uneasy shudder rippled through him. It was the site of the old warehouse where David Lash had nearly succeeded in killing Sandburg.
"Jim? Are you all right?"
Shaking off the abhorrent memories, Ellison peered down into the concerned face of his best friend. Thank God Sandburg hadn't realized the significance. But then again, the kid had been drugged and was pretty much out of it that night.
Expression softening, Jim smiled. "I'm fine, Chief."
Suddenly an offensive odor permeated the air. "Do you smell that?" Ellison asked, nose wrinkling in distaste.
"What?" Sandburg looked up, eyes questioning.
Another shudder rippled through the larger man, his frown deepening. "I can't quite place it." He said, looking around for the source of the stench.
"Filter out the smells you can identify." Sandburg began guiding the sentinel through the procedure.
Closing his eyes, Jim took a calming breath and concentrated. Seconds later his eyes snapped open, alerted to danger by a sudden gust of wind and brief cry of fright from his guide.
"Sandburg!" Ellison cried out in alarm, the sound of his own voice releasing him from the temporary paralysis that had ensued at the sight of his guide plunging down the steps.
Rushing forward, Jim knelt beside the crumpled figure. "Are you all right?" He asked worridly, while checking for injuries.
"Oh, man," Blair groaned, softly. Opening his eyes he started to sit up, only to be pushed back down by his anxious partner.
"No, don't move until I've had a chance to check you out," Ellison commanded.
"I'm all right," Blair protested. Batting at the exploring hands, he sat up.
"Does anything hurt?" Concerned orbs of blue searched Sandburg's face for any indication of pain.
"The front of my leg feels banged up a bit." Blair admitted, grimacing. Cautiously he touched the back of his head, wincing when he felt a lump. "The back of my head too." Pulling his hand away, Blair examined his fingers. "At least there's no blood," he quipped. "That's always a good sign."
The larger man scowled. "This isn't a joke, Chief. You could have been seriously hurt."
"You don't have to tell me, man." Sandburg acknowledged, getting to his feet with Jim's assistance. "What the hell happened? One minute I'm standing there and the next thing I know I'm taking a header."
Ellison felt his skin crawl, the eerie feeling was back. "I'm not sure," he admitted. Forehead wrinkled in a frown, Jim scanned the area. Then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the strange sensation ceased.
"Jim?" Blair questioned, anxiously. The last time the sentinel had behaved this way, Blair had ended up floating face down in a fountain.
The fear in Sandburg's tone called to him. Wrapping a protective arm around the younger man, Ellison prodded him towards the truck. "Come on, let's get you checked out."
Stubbornly Sandburg stood his ground, refusing to budge. "I'm fine," he insisted. "I don't need to be checked out. What I need is to know what is going on with you."
The worry lines were back. "I wish I knew, Chief," he replied, distractedly. "But whatever it is, I don't like it..."
Varying shades of blue, gray and white converged in a void. A dark, malevolent force emanated from within, drawing Ellison towards its swirling center. Valiantly he fought, fear raging with denial. His pleas going unanswered as with a final cry of "Sandburg!", Jim was sucked inside.
Slowly turning in a circle, Ellison surveyed the surrealistic landscape surrounding him. A cave of some sort, its rock walls and dirt covered floor glowing with an unnatural, incandescent light.
Unconsciously, the sentinel shuddered as an unnerving sensation scuttled across his skin. All around him an unseen presence loomed, causing the hair on the back of his neck to bristle in response.
"Who are you? What do you want?" Jim demanded aloud, only to have his question echo and fade off into the distance.
The gentle plop, plop of dripping water captured Ellison's attention. Wrinkling his nose in distaste at the stench of mildew permeating the air, he nonetheless found himself drawn towards the sound.
Cautiously making his way through the maze of tunnels, the eerie sensation that he wasn't alone accompanied his every step. Finally, the passageway opened up to reveal a large cavern. At its center sat a pool of water, its fathomless depths, dark and ominous.
Suddenly a rancid odor assaulted his senses, and Ellison whirled to face the threat. Before him stood John Wallace, his pale complexion and bloated features made even more grotesque by the unnatural blue-tinged light.
"You let me die," Wallace condemned, as Jim backed away in horror.
"You let us all die," another voice accused. Glancing sideways, Ellison recognized Tim Talbot from the forensics photos.
"No... no," the detective protested, shaking his head and backing away. "It wasn't my fault!"
Turning, prepared to flee the hideous apparition, Jim stopped dead in his tracks. There, before him, Blair floated face down in the pool of water.
"No! This isn't happening," Jim gasped as the horror of that day at the fountain rose up to choke him.
"I really didn't want to do it." Alex purred from her perch on a nearby rock. "But I didn't have a choice."
"YOU'RE NOT REAL!" Ellison bellowed.
Alex quirked a brow. "Oh really?" Slowly she slid off the rock, morphing into Lash during the process.
"Who am I now?" He taunted, smiling, an insane gleam in his eyes as he twisted a yellow scarf between his hands.
"None of this is real..." Jim whispered, shaking his head in denial.
"Hairy Blairy was wise enough to know," Lash chanted in a sing song voice, his gaze straying to the pool. "It wasn't enough to save him though."
Unwillingly, Ellison's glance followed to where his guide floated, hair fanned out in a halo around his head, a yellow scarf trailing behind.
Throwing his head back, the sentinel roared. "SANDBURG!"
Bolting upright in bed, Jim's heart was pounding at a furious rate. Reaching up to swipe at his sweat drenched face, he took deep, gulping breaths, trying to slow its frantic pace.
"It was just a dream," he muttered repeatedly. Unfortunately, there was a part of him that didn't entirely believe it.
Ellison studiously ignored the surreptitious glances from his partner. The kid had been at it all morning. Ever since Jim had emerged from his bedroom looking like he hadn't slept at all.
"Are you sure you're all right, Jim?" Sandburg asked again. "Because I hate to tell you this, man, but you look like shit."
"I didn't get a lot of sleep last night." The older man admitted with a weary sigh.
Any reply Blair might have made was forestalled as the elevator reached their floor and the doors parted.
"Hey, Jim," Joel Taggart called, spotting Ellison. "We've identified your John Doe. Some of the regulars down at the soup kitchen on Cannon recognized him from the forensics photo."
Pausing, the two detectives expectantly waited for Joel to continue.
"His name is Art Cummings. Apparently he used to work at one of the warehouses down on the waterfront until it was shut down a few years ago." Taggart's expression sobered. "Unfortunately, his wife died about the same time, and he never did recover from the duel loss."
"So, we've got another connection to the dock," Blair commented thoughtfully.
"There's more," Joel interjected. "After Cummings' house was repossessed, he started living in the warehouse where he once worked. Even after it was demolished and new construction began, they couldn't keep him out of there. More than once security had to throw him off the premises."
"What's the address?" Ellison inquired, already certain of the answer.
Taggart scanned the file. "666 Mariner Road," he read aloud.
It was the same address. Knowingly, Jim nodded then turned to his partner. "Come on, Chief, we'd better go check it out." Pivoting, Ellison headed for the elevator.
"Thanks, Joel." Blair tossed over his shoulder as he hurried to catch up with Jim.
Ellison was amazed at the change. The decrepit old warehouse, where Lash had met his fate at the wrong end of Jim's gun, was gone. In its stead was a new concrete foundation on which steel girders were being erected.
The place was a beehive of activity as everyone went about their appointed tasks. Pulling along side a green trailer that denoted the on-site office, the two men climbed out of the truck.
Snagging one of the workmen, Jim presented his badge. "Where can I find the foreman?"
"He's checking out a problem towards the rear of the building," the worker replied, pointing in the general direction. "If you plan to go in there though, you're going to need some hard hats. Hang on a sec and I'll get you a couple." Entering the trailer, he quickly returned carrying two bright yellow hats. "Here you go," he said, handing them to the officers.
"Thanks," Blair said, grinning as he jauntily plopped it on his head.
Rolling his eyes at his partner's enthusiasm, Jim followed suit. "Let's go, Chief," he said, prodding Sandburg in the direction the worker had indicated.
Making their way around mounds of dirt, they entered the concrete and steel structure. Filtering out the noise of construction going on around them, Jim honed in on the sound of voices. "This way," he commented, starting towards them.
Rounding a cement column, they came upon two men engaged in conversation. The subject, a large crack in the foundation's floor. About six inches wide and three feet long, its rough, jagged edges were wet with moisture.
"We've tried patching it, Hank." The younger man was saying. "Several times, in fact. But when we come in the next day, it looks like this again."
"Ah, excuse me," Jim said, interrupting their discussion. Once again he produced his badge. "I'm Detective Ellison and this is my partner, Blair Sandburg. We're looking for the foreman."
"I'm Hank Webber," the older of the two men said, introducing himself. "What can I do for you?"
"We'd like to ask you a few questions about the drowning deaths of several people connected with this project," Blair told him.
"That'll be all for now, Chris," Hank said, dismissing his companion.
With a glance at the detectives, the younger man nodded and hurried off.
Webber turned back to the two men. "I knew about Tom, of course. But you said drownings, as in plural?" He questioned, confusion evident in his features.
"There have been two other deaths," Ellison explained. "The first was a transient by the name of Art Cummings."
The foreman appeared shocked. "I'd wondered why we hadn't seen Art around for the past couple of weeks. Used to be we'd have to toss him out of here on a regular basis. He was a nice, old fella." Webber's voice trailed off as he smiled sadly at the memory.
Jim continued. "Then yesterday morning, John Wallace was found dead about four miles from here."
Hank frowned, then shook his head. "I don't recognize the name."
"He worked for the demolitions company that cleared the site." Sandburg supplied, earning himself a sideways glance from his partner.
"Is there any reason why someone wouldn't want this project to be completed?" the senior detective asked.
Webber shrugged. "Not to my knowledge. This building is going to provide a significant boost to the waterfront's economy."
Jim removed one of his cards and handed it to the foreman. "If you think of anything else, we can be reached at this number."
"Of course, Detective," Hank replied. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to work."
"Well, that wasn't very much help," Blair commented as soon as the foreman was out of hearing range. "Now what?"
"Maybe I can help." A voice called out. Turning, Sandburg and Ellison saw Chris, the younger man they'd seen talking to Webber earlier, coming towards them. Stopping a couple feet away, he glanced around nervously. "I heard what you told Hank," he said.
"Do you know something about it?" Jim queried.
"I don't know anything about the drownings," Chris replied. "But there's been some really weird stuff going on around here."
The comment piqued Sandburg's interest. "Like what?"
The man shrugged, noncommittal. "Strange noises, unexplained lights..."
"What, you think the place is haunted?" Blair interjected with a ghost of a smile.
Ellison merely looked disgusted. "Come on, Chief, let's go."
"NO, WAIT!" Chris exclaimed. "I'm not crazy and I'm not making this up. There's a sense of evil surrounding this place, and it seems to center right here." He added, waving a hand towards the large crack in the foundation.
Grimacing, Jim moved closer and kneeling down, ran his fingers along the jagged edge. They came away wet. Raising them to his nostrils, he sniffed and was suddenly transported back to the cavern from his nightmare.
"NO!" He gasped in horror and, a second later, he found himself back at the construction site.
"Jim? What is it?" Blair questioned, his brows pleated with concern.
Shaking off the last vestiges of the nightmare, Ellison rose.
"It's nothing," he denied. Pulling out another card, he handed it to the worker. "If anything else happens, give us a call."
Looking at the card, Chris assured them he would.
Nearing the truck, Jim realized that it felt as if an oppressive weight had been lifted from his shoulders. A sensation that had appeared and grew stronger the closer they'd gotten to the unexplainable crack.
Blair had contained his curiosity until they were in the vehicle and headed back to the station. "All right," he said. Patience at an end, he turned to face Ellison. "You want to tell me what happened back there?"
It was on the tip of Jim's tongue to lie but, even as he opened his mouth to speak the words, memories of what happened the last time he'd refrained from mentioning his dreams to Sandburg, rose up to haunt him.
"I had a flashback," he said instead.
Blair frowned. "A flashback to what?"
"A dream I had last night." Ellison replied.
Finished recanting his dream, Jim glanced over at his silent partner to gage his reaction.
"You know," Blair replied thoughtfully, "dreams are often our subconscious minds way of dealing with stress or unresolved issues. I can understand how the drownings would have stirred up memories of the whole thing with Alex but, Lash was years ago, man."
Damn. Ellison had been hoping he wouldn't have to bring this up.
"There's something I haven't told you, Chief." He paused momentarily, "That new building they're putting up is sitting on the exact location where an old warehouse stood. The same warehouse where Lash almost killed you."
"Oh man!" Sandburg exclaimed, nervously running a hand through his hair. "So," his Adam's apple bobbing as he tried to swallow past the sudden lump in his throat, "do you think there might actually be something supernatural going on here?"
Jim sighed. "I don't know," he admitted. "At one time I would have scoffed at the idea, but after all we've seen, after all we've been through, I just don't know anymore."
"When we get back I'll run a search on the area through the station's database, see if anything else turns up."
"Good idea," Ellison commented as he eased the truck onto the off-ramp.
Sandburg slipped off his glasses and rubbed wearily at his tired eyes. Picking up the nearby coffee cup, he sipped distractedly, then grimaced at its contents.
"Any luck?" Jim asked, relieving his partner of cold, stale brew and handing him a fresh cup.
Blair took a sip, sighing blissfully. "Well... yes and no," he replied, turning the monitor so Jim could see the screen. "The police database wasn't much help, so I decided to check out some online sites dealing with the paranormal."
"Supernatural Hot Spots," Ellison read aloud, glancing at the monitor. "Surely you're not serious."
"Come on, Jim. You said yourself that we couldn't deny the possibility..."
"Why do I feel as if I'm about to take a trip to the Sandburg zone," the older man muttered.
Blair ignored the intended sarcasm. "It says here that there are certain places where the Earth's natural elements converge to create what are known as 'hot spots'. Apparently these areas are ideal locations for observing paranormal activities."
"And?" Ellison prompted, sensing there was more to come.
"And," the small man grinned, triumphantly, "we have one right here in Cascade."
"Let me guess," Jim replied. "The construction site."
"Bingo!" The former grad student acknowledged.
Ellison rubbed at the bridge of his nose where the headache that had been threatening all day, finally burst forth.
"So, what exactly are you suggesting here, Chief?"
Blair's expression sobered, a hint of fear clouding his normally vibrant blue eyes. "I think Lash is back."
The words, though softly spoken, cut through the air and Jim's heart like a knife.
"No!" He roughly denied, shaking his head. "I killed the bastard, he's dead!"
All activity in the bullpen stopped.
Sandburg noted the concerned looks his partner was garnering. "Will you just calm down," he quietly hissed at the larger man.
His jaw clenched against barely contained emotions, Ellison grabbed a chair and, placing it beside his partner's desk, sat. "All right," he ground out. "Let's hear the rest of it."
Eyes darting around the room, Blair was relieved to see the people returning to their work.
"It makes sense, Jim. We know Lash liked to drown his victims, and all of the deaths have been connected to the site where he died. A place that is well known as a 'hot spot' for supernatural activity. Add in your dream and the so-called accidents that have been happening lately, and I think it paints a pretty convincing picture."
"If what you say is true, then why is he back? What does he want?"
"It's simple, Jim. He wants revenge."
Suddenly the air felt as if it had been sucked from Ellison's lungs. He'd killed the bastard once and would gladly do it again. There was no way that psycho was going to get anywhere near Sandburg this time. Only one problem, how do you kill someone who's already dead?
Questioning blue irises turned to his partner, to the man who with the vast knowledge of obscure facts, somehow always provided the necessary answers. "So, what are we going to do about this, Chief?"
The younger man sighed, looking defeated. "I wish I knew, man. But whatever we do, we'd better do it quick, before somebody else ends up dead."
The ensuing silence laid heavy between, each man caught up in his own thoughts when suddenly a ding rent the air, startling them both.
"What is it?" Ellison inquired, looking up.
"I was running a search through the Herald's database looking for water related accidents or deaths," Blair replied, calling up the appropriate screen. Slowly, he scanned the results, his breath catching as he stumbled across the article detailing his own near death experience.
"Are you all right?" Jim asked, concerned.
Lips compressed in a grim line, Blair nodded before quickly moving onto the next article. A moment later he called out, "Hey, Jim, take a look at this."
According to the item Sandburg was indicating, a young architect had been discovered dead in her bathtub by her landlord. However, since there had been no evidence of foul play, it had been assumed that she had drowned after falling asleep, and the death had been ruled as accidental.
Sandburg glanced at the older man. "How much do you want to bet that she was the architect on the project."
"I've never been one to make sucker bets, Chief." Ellison replied, morosely. "What is it?" He asked, noticing his partner's thoughtful frown.
"I need a calendar," Blair muttered as he began rummaging through the desk. Finally producing one, he began making notations in various blocks.
"Damn!" He cursed, softly.
"What is it?" Jim growled, his patience wearing thin.
Sandburg showed him the calendar on which each of the drowning deaths had been meticulously recorded.
Ellison shook his head, still not understanding the significance.
"Come on, man!" Blair exclaimed, a hint of exasperation coloring his tone. "Don't you see the pattern?" Less and less time occurred between each incident. It's almost as if with each death he's growing stronger."
The famous Ellison scowl was back. "If what you say is true, then we should be able to predict when he'll strike next."
"Tomorrow," the former grad student replied, having already calculated the date. "But even if he holds true to form, we still don't know where or who he'll attack next."
"You said he was out for revenge, Chief. So wouldn't the 'who' be us?"
Sable curls bounced as Blair shook his head. "I don't think so, Jim. So far he's just been taunting us. I don't think he's strong enough yet to take us both on."
A small smile played at Ellison's lips. Trust Sandburg to assume they were going to face Lash together. The smile faltered. Not if I have anything to say about it, Jim thought.
"So," he asked aloud, "how much time do we have?"
The younger man shrugged. "It's hard to say. According to what I've read so far, in most instances the entity, for want of a better word, needs to claim seven souls in order to garner enough strength to achieve their desired goal, whatever that might be."
"And he already has four," Ellison commented sourly.
"That we know of," Blair reminded him.
"How do we stop him?"
"That, Jim, is what we need to find out."
Hoping Sandburg had left him some hot water, Jim reached up and rubbed a clear spot on the steam fogged mirror. The reflection staring back, a brutal reminder of the long night with relatively little sleep. Afraid that if he slept, somehow Lash would appear to extract his revenge. And what better target for that revenge, than Blair. By harming the younger man, Lash would also succeed in delivering a devastating blow to the sentinel. And so he had lain poised on the periphery of sleep, waiting and watching. Besides, he finally admitted in the hour preceding dawn, there was no way he wanted a repeat of the previous night's dream. The image of Sandburg dead by Lash's hand had been much to real...
Slowly the sound of dripping water overrode the painful image. Thinking Blair hadn't completely shut off the faucet, Jim flung back the shower curtain, only to stumble backwards in shock and horror.
Cerulean eyes, wide open in death. A yellow scarf wrapped around his neck, Sandburg lay in the water filled tub.
"NO!" Ellison gaped in disbelief. Legs threatening to give way, he leaned against the closed bathroom door shaking his head in denial until a squeaking sound drew his attention from the horrific sight. Honing in on the sound, Jim's eyes rose to the bathroom mirror, once again clouded over with steam. And even as he watched, letters slowly started to appear as if written by some unseen hand.
WHO... AM... I... NOW...?
"No! This isn't happening." Turning, he grasped the doorknob and, flinging open the bathroom door, found himself sitting upright in his own bed.
Breath coming in harsh gasps, Jim stumbled out of bed and down the stairs. The only thought on his mind, ensuring that Sandburg was safe. That it had been nothing more than a bad dream. Quickly crossing the hardwood floor, he grasped the doorknobs and, with a deft twist, thrust through the French doors.
Startled from the gentle embrace of sleep, Blair jack-knifed awake, the abrupt movement sending him tumbling onto the floor. Scrambling backwards until pressed up against the futon he raised his hands, as if pointing a gun, and shouted, "FREEZE, POLICE!"
Seconds ticked by, the only sound the harsh breathing of the intruder and wild staccato beat of Sandburg's own heart. The hulking figure in the doorway stepped forward.
Alert to the movement, Blair shouted. "Stop or I'll shoot!" And although tremulous in quality, there was no denying the conviction behind the uttered words.
"I don't think you're finger's loaded, Chief." Came a familiar voice from the darkness.
"Jim?" The smaller man squeaked, his body slumping with relief.
A click from the bedside lamp heralded the diffused glow that filled the room.
Hand trembling with adrenaline, Sandburg pushed the hair out of his eyes and glared up at his roommate. "Christ, Jim, you scared the shit out of me. You want to tell me what this is all about?"
Heartrate slowly returning to normal, Ellison looked down at his partner. A soft sigh of relief escaped through parted lips. "Sorry about that, Chief." He murmured an apology.
"Save the Maxwell Smart impressions, Jim, and just tell me what the hell is going on." Blair demanded, pushing up from the floor to sit on the edge of his bed.
The sentinel's trepidation was normal, what concerned Sandburg was the haunted look still evident in the larger man's eyes. "Come on, man, you're starting to scare me."
Once again Ellison considered lying. The dream, so vibrant, so real, had scared the hell out of him. The last thing he wanted to do was impart those images on his sensitive partner. Sandburg had enough demons to deal with as it was. And yet, Jim could not deny the trust currently directed at him through two concerned blue orbs. Defeated, his gaze strayed to the clock radio on the nightstand. It would be going off in twenty minutes anyway.
"I'll put the coffee on. Why don't you grab a shower and we'll discuss it over breakfast."
"All right," Blair replied, scrubbing a hand over his tired features. "But..." his determined expression pinned the older detective, "we will discuss this one way or another."
With a brief nod of acknowledgement, Ellison whirled and disappeared out the door, grateful for the small reprieve.
"Oh man!" Blair exclaimed, more than a little disconcerted by the recounting of Jim's dream. "It's no wonder you freaked out."
"I did not freak out." Ellison growled.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Sandburg waved the protest aside, totally unaffected by the larger man's glare in his direction. Abruptly, the smile faded, gaze fixated on the coffee mug clenched in his hands. "What if it was more than a dream? What if it was a premonition?"
The softly spoken words tore at Ellison's heart. "It's not going to happen, Chief." Worried blue spheres rose to meet his own intense gaze. "I promise."
The shrill ringing of the phone caused both men to jump. With a slightly sheepish grin, Jim quickly rose. Crossing the short expanse, he snatched it up on the second ring. "Ellison."
"Jim, it's Simon. We've got another one."
Immediately Ellison's eyes fell on the younger man. "Where?" He asked gruffly.
"The marina," Banks responded. "Slip fifty-three."
"We'll be right there."
The marina bustled with activity as Jim parked the truck and the two men climbed out. The body, already having been pulled from the water, laid on the dock beside a luxurious sailboat named 'Pride II'. Placing a hand on his partner's back, Ellison gently nudged his reluctant partner forward.
"Simon," the senior detective acknowledged their captain with a nod. "What have we got?"
"The deceased's name is David Beach," Banks replied.
"The city planner?" Blair questioned, his gaze flickering towards the man currently being loaded into a body bag.
"I'm not going to ask how you know that, Sandburg," Simon responded, mouth set in a grim line. Turning to Ellison he continued. "There's evidence that he'd been drinking. I suppose," he speculated, "it's possible that he simply fell overboard in his inebriated condition. But the mayor has requested that we give this our top priority." Banks eyed his best investigative team. "Do you have any leads yet?" He asked hopefully.
"Well, actually," Sandburg began only to be cut off by Jim.
"We're still looking into it, sir."
Banks' gaze traveled between Sandburg and Ellison. It was obvious that they were keeping something from him. Just what that something was, Simon wasn't sure he wanted to know. "Keep me informed," he ordered gruffly before stalking off towards his car.
The captain gone, Blair looked up questioningly at his partner.
"I know what you're thinking, Chief." Ellison said. "But do you honestly think Simon's going to believe that a ghost is responsible for all this?"
Sandburg grimaced. "I guess not. Even after three years of seeing what you can do, he still has a hard time believing this sentinel stuff. But eventually we're going to have to tell him something, Jim."
"We'll worry about that when we have to." Ellison replied. "Right now we've got work to do."
After a quick examination of the body that revealed no overt clues, the two men boarded the boat. Beginning below deck, they thoroughly inspected the cabin. Coming up empty, they returned up top to continue their search there. Other than a few scattered beer bottles and a couple of scruff marks the deck, like the rest of the boat was in pristine condition.
"Maybe it was just an accident," Blair commented in the face of Ellison's growing scowl.
"I don't think so, Chief. It's just one too many in a string of coincidences."
The younger man frowned. Up until now he'd held out some small hope that there was another explanation for the deaths. But if a skeptic like Jim Ellison actually believed that Lash was responsible then... "Oh man," he groaned, then peered up at his partner. "What are we going to do about this, Jim?"
Cold, steel blue eyes narrowed dangerously. "I think it's time we confront this lunatic on his own turf."
"I was afraid you were going to say that." Blair visibly shuddered. "The construction site?"
Ellison nodded. "That's where he's been leading us all along."
"And what are we going to do when we get there?" Sandburg asked, his brows rising questioningly. "I don't think you can arrest a ghost, Jim."
"Well, we've got until tonight to figure it out."
"Tonight!" Blair squeaked, wiping suddenly sweaty palms on his slacks as he followed Ellison.
Hoping off the boat, Jim turned to lend Blair a hand. Eyes widening in horror, he barely had time to issue a warning as the sail's boom came loose, striking Blair in the head and sweeping him overboard.
"CHIEF!" Ellison yelled, then swiftly stripping off his jacket, Jim dove into the water.
Ignoring the shock from the frigid water, Ellison surveyed the murky depths. There! Just a head of him a series of air bubbles floated towards the surface. Kicking off, Jim propelled himself towards the rapidly sinking figure. Reaching out, he snagged Sandburg's jacket, abruptly stopping the downward spiral. Pulling the limp man closer, he obtained a firmer grip and kicked upwards.
Their heads broke the surface of the water, Jim gasping for air from protesting lungs, while Blair remained eerily silent. Making his way over to the dock a myriad of hands scrambled to relive Ellison of his burden. "Be careful with him," Jim barked as even more hands helped him from the water.
Brushing the others aside he knelt beside the unconscious man. Putting his head to Blair's chest, Jim was relieved to hear a faint heartbeat. A relief that was short lived as Ellison realized his partner wasn't breathing.
"NO! This can't be happening. Not again." Jim cried aloud. Tilting Blair's head slightly backwards, the distraught detective covered the blue tinged lips with his own and began manual resuscitation.
Worried onlookers anxiously gathered as Ellison continued his frantic attempts to revive his partner. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Blair choked and began coughing up water. Turning the younger man on his side, Jim kept up a constant litany of reassurances and encouragement, all the while unconsciously rubbing Sandburg's back. It wasn't until the EMT's arrived and the crowd parted that Jim relinquished Blair into their capable hands.
Rousing himself from the memories, Ellison turned from the window, his gaze falling on the still form in the hospital bed. Despite the still present oxygen tube, Jim found the gentle rise and fall of Blair's chest somewhat comforting. Once again he had come too close to losing Sandburg. Determined to end this before Lash could strike again, Ellison straightened, his rigid countenance speaking volumes.
"Jim!" Banks called again, this time more forcefully.
Blinking, Ellison turned towards the voice to find Simon standing in the doorway to Blair's room.
"Are you all right?" The captain asked, concerned.
"I'm not the one who was nearly killed," Jim spat out with barely concealed anger.
"How's the kid doing?" Simon inquired softly. Stepping further into the room his gaze fell on Sandburg.
"The doctor says he has a concussion. They want to keep him overnight for observation." Pale blue eyes turned to Banks, the anguish within their depths almost palpable. "He stopped breathing, Simon."
"What the hell happened out there, Jim? And don't feed me some bullshit about it being an accident." Pinning the detective with a determined glare, Banks said, "Don't you think it's about time you told me what's really going on."
Ellison sighed, resigned. "All right, but you're not going to believe it. And the only reason I'm even telling you is because if something happens to me, I want you to promise that you'll keep Blair safe."
"Of course I will," Simon sputtered indignantly. "Now will you just tell me what is going on?" And as Ellison explained Simon's brows arched incredulously upwards.
The sound of voices slowly penetrated the cocoon of darkness surrounding him. Indistinguishable, Blair tried to open his eyes to see who was speaking, but his eyelids felt leaden and his efforts proved unsuccessful. So instead, he tried to focus on the voices, a task made all the more difficult by the pain reverberating through his skull. But the hushed tones held an ominous, urgent quality that set his instincts on alert. So he concentrated, pushing past the pain until finally the voices became recognizable.
"Come on, Jim." Banks was saying. "You honestly expect me to believe that a dead man is responsible for everything that's happened?"
"I know it sounds crazy, Simon, and normally I wouldn't believe it either. But I've been having these dreams..." Ellison's voice trailed off and Blair felt a momentary surge of panic.
The captain's voice brought him back into focus. "Jim, if you're right about this then how do you expect to fight him?"
"I haven't figured that one out yet," Ellison wryly admitted.
"And yet you're determined to do this?"
"I don't have a choice, Simon. If I'm right, Lash will just continue his reign of terror."
"Well then, at least let me go with you. Any one of the detectives at Major Crimes would be happy to keep an eye on Sandburg."
"NO!" Ellison was adamant. "You promised me, Simon."
"I don't like this, Jim. The kid's going to skin me alive when he finds out."
"Then don't tell him."
Blair heard the resigned sigh. "NO!" His mind screamed and yet he was unable to verbalize the word, for once again darkness was descending and the voices grew further and further away.
"JIM!" Simon called as the detective opened the door. Ellison turned. "You'd better come back alive. I don't want to have to break the news to Blair that you're dead."
"I'll do my best, sir. You just worry about Sandburg. Lash has already tried several times to kill him and failed. If I don't come back there's nothing but you standing between him and Blair."
"And I'll be waiting," Banks solemnly replied.
A quick nod of thanks and Jim disappeared out the door.
"Not that I know the first thing about ghost busting," the captain muttered, his gaze falling on Sandburg. "Ah, what the hell. With these two, nothing should surprise me anymore."
"Captain Banks?" A voice called, startling Simon. Looking up he recognized the nurse in the doorway.
"Your office called. The police commissioner would like you to contact him right away. You can use the phone in the visitor's lounge.
"Thank you," Banks acknowledged the message and, with a parting smile, Suzanne left. Once again his gaze fell on the sleeping man. Sandburg was down for the count. Surely the kid would be all right for a few minutes while he returned the commissioner's call. And anyway, he'd only be a short distance away. Justifying his decision, Simon headed towards the lounge.
As if doused by ice, cold water, Blair's eyelids snapped open. Uncertain as to what had startled him awake, the detective searched his memory, gasping with realization as he recalled overhearing his partner's plans. "Damn it, Jim," he groaned. "You can't do this alone..."
Removing the nasal tube, Blair pushed the bed covers aside and gingerly climbed out of bed. One hand going to his throbbing skull, he carefully made his way over to the closet. Opening it, Blair was relieved to discover his clothes, ID and badge. His wallet and gun however appeared to be missing. Jim must have taken them for safe keeping, he thought, pulling the clothes from their hangers and dressing as quickly as his injuries would allow. Easing himself into a nearby chair, Blair donned his socks, then grimaced with distaste as he slipped his feet into still damp shoes. The jacket came last as he went to the door and cautiously peered out. Luckily the coast appeared to be clear, but he couldn't shake the sensation that Simon was lurking somewhere nearby. Slipping out of the room, he quickly made his way down the hall and into the nearby stairwell.
Even though his room had only been on the third floor, Blair was breathing heavily by the time he reached the ground level. A rolling cough erupted from deep within his chest and Blair found himself holding onto the stair rail for support until the cough subsided. Oh, man, this is not good, he thought, but the condition of his lungs was the least of his worries at the moment as fear for Jim drove him onward. Trying to appear as inconspicuous as possible he exited the stairwell, made his way across the lobby of the visitor's entrance and through the sliding glass doors.
Once outside he paused, uncertain how to proceed. He didn't have a car and, even if he had some money, the bus lines didn't travel to the docks. That it was also raining didn't help matters any.
Just then a cab pulled up to the curb and its passenger disembarked. Without thinking, Blair caught the open door and climbed in.
"I'm Detective Sandburg with the Cascade PD," he explained, displaying his ID. "I've got an emergency and need to get to 666 Mariner Road as quickly as possible. I don't have any money on me at the moment, but if you contact the station tomorrow they'll make sure that you're fully reimbursed for the fare."
Examining the proffered credentials, the cab driver gave a quick nod. "Hang on," he said turning back around and he stepped on the gas.
With a relieved sigh, Blair sank back into the seat. The pounding in his head had eased a bit, but inside he was like a coiled spring, his thoughts consumed with worry for his partner.
His patience stretched just about to the breaking point, Simon once again glared at his watch. Damn! If he'd known the commissioner was going to keep him talking this long, he never would have left Sandburg alone.
"Yes, sir," he replied placatingly as soon as he could get a word in edgewise. "I understand and I assure you I have my best man on the job... Yes, sir it is. In fact, Ellison is following up a lead," Banks rolled his eyes, "even as we speak... I will, sir. Just as soon as I know something definite. Good ni..." Simon winced as the phone on the other end was slammed down mid sentence. "That went well," he commented sardonically.
Keenly aware of just how long he'd been gone, Simon hurried back to Blair's room, his brows pinching with concern when he discovered the bed empty.
"Sandburg?" he called. Striding over to the bathroom, he knocked on the closed door. "Blair, are you in there?" Receiving no answer, he opened the door and peering inside, found it empty. "Damn it, kid, where are you?" Turning, his eyes fell on the closet. "No, don't tell me..." the captain muttered, shaking his head. Crossing the room, he yanked open the closet door, his growing suspicions instantly clarified when he found it empty. He knew exactly where Sandburg had gone. "Oh shit," he groaned. "Jim's gonna kill me." Maybe he hadn't gotten to far. And with that thought in mind, Simon hurried out the room.
"Are you sure this is the place?" The cabby asked doubtfully a short time later.
Sitting up, Blair glanced out the window. "Yeah, thanks," he said popping open the door and climbing out.
"You want me to wait?" The driver called out.
"That won't be necessary. Thanks again for your help," Sandburg replied, then slamming the door he turned, the cab and its driver instantly forgotten.
Hitching his collar against the pouring rain, Blair eyed the ominous structure, lit this time at night by only a few scattered security lights. Feeling as if he was running out of time, he quickly made his way around the perimeter of the chain linked fence until he came to the main gate. Stopping as another round of coughing nearly doubled him over, he waited for the worst of it to pass then squeezed between the narrow opening in the chained and padlocked gate. Recalling the route they had taken the last time they were here, Blair started picking his way across the treacherous, rain soaked ground.
Nearing the structure, he came to an abrupt halt. There, just a few feet ahead, a man laid crumpled face down in a pool of water. JIM! His mind instantly screamed. Fearing he'd arrived too late, Blair raced towards the figure.
Heedless of the large puddle, he dropped to his knees beside the apparently lifeless form and, grabbing a hold of it, turned the body over. The audible gasp of relief at the unknown face of a security guard staring up at him brought on another bout of coughing and Blair doubled over at the effort of his lungs expended trying to exude themselves from his body.
Eventually the cough subsided, leaving him feeling spent in its wake. The pounding in his head had also increased in intensity, no doubt in retaliation for his excessive activities. But he couldn't afford to worry about that right now. Jim, not to mention Lash, were still out there somewhere.
"I'm sorry," Blair whispered, gently closing the dead man's eyes. Then, taking the dead man's gun, he climbed to his feet and stumbled towards the building.
Stepping inside the steel and concrete frame, Sandburg shuddered. It felt as if the temperature had suddenly dropped twenty degrees.
The perimeter security lights cast intermediate patches of shadows and light within the structure, their glow diminishing the further inside Sandburg traversed. Intent on finding Jim, Blair failed to notice the shadow he cast on the far wall as he quickly passed through one of the lit areas. Nor did he see the shadowy figure that followed behind a few seconds later.
Almost to his intended destination, Blair stopped. Weapon ready, he cautiously peeked around a concrete pillar when suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. Startled, he whirled, raising his gun.
"Whoa, Chief. It's only me," Jim said, raising his hands.
Releasing a pent up breath, Blair slumped in relief and holstered his weapon. Then, without warning, he reached out smacking Ellison on the arm. "Damn it, Jim," he groused. "Don't sneak up on me like that."
The older man glared. "I wouldn't have to if you'd stayed in the hospital where you belong. And don't try and tell me you feel fine," he added before Sandburg could protest. "I can see the pain in your eyes and hear the congestion in your chest."
Blair scowled. Sometimes it sucked having a sentinel as your best friend and partner. "Okay," he admitted. "So I've had better days. But you can't do this alone, Jim. Don't you see, Lash has been trying to separate us all along."
"Divide and conquer," Ellison commented thoughtfully.
"Exactly," Blair agreed. "We're dealing with an unknown force here, Jim. The only way we stand even half a chance of defeating Lash is if we face him together."
Ellison grimaced. "So," he relented, "have you figured out a way to send him back to hell or wherever it is he came from?"
"Me?" Sandburg squeaked, eyebrows rising. "This is way beyond my area of expertise. Besides, you're the one who has premonitions and can see and talk to his spirit guide."
"Well, if you expect me to know what to do then we're in deep shit." Came the sarcastic reply as Jim visually scanned the surrounding area. "I'm not sure he's even here. I've been here for a while now and haven't seen anything suspicious yet."
"Trust me, he's here," Blair said with conviction. "I found the security guard, dead, face down in a puddle. How much do you want to bet that the cause of death will be drowning."
"Damn," Ellison muttered, then cast a worried gaze towards his partner who had begun coughing. "Are you sure you're up to this?"
Adamantly shaking his head, Blair fought to get the cough under control. "Doesn't matter," he finally croaked. "We have to stop him, now, before somebody else winds up dead."
"There's a good possibility that the someone could be us, Chief."
"Come on, man," Sandburg retorted with a look of admonishment. "You gotta think positive. There's enough bad vibes around here as it is."
Ellison knew his partner wasn't as optimistic as he pretended. The rampant heartbeat and minute tremors were a dead give away. "Okay," he said, smiling gently. "Where do we begin?"
Blair glanced around. "I'm only guessing here, but if I'm right, then that mysterious crack in the foundation is the passageway between his world and ours."
"Let's do it then." And with a warning for Sandburg to stay close, Jim took the lead.
The crevice didn't look any different to Blair. At least what he could see of it in the near dark. "I can't see a thing," he grumbled. "I wish we'd thought to bring a... " A small light clicked on, illuminating the immediate area... "flashlight," he finished lamely, casting a glare in Ellison's direction.
"Always be prepared. That's my motto," the older man quipped.
"You're a cop, Jim. Not a boy scout," Sandburg retorted.
Shrugging, Ellison knelt to examine the crack. Reaching out, he carefully touched the fissure, while unconsciously steeling himself against another mental onslaught. Instead there was no reaction. Frowning, he pulled his hand away.
"Anything?" Blair questioned, looking hopeful.
"Nothing," Jim replied, shaking his head and rising. "Are you sure this is the right place?"
"Do I look like Shirley MacLaine?" Sandburg shot back, nerves make the retort sharper than intended. "Sorry," he apologized with a sheepish grin.
Ellison waved it off. They were both on edge.
"Damn it!" Blair cursed. "I know he's here. I can feel it. Why don't you show yourself?" he shouted, eyes darting about as if he expected Lash to appear out of nowhere. But instead of a response, there hovered only an eerie silence accented by the steadily falling rain.
"You wanted to be me," Sandburg tried again. "Well here I am, come and get me," he taunted.
"NO!" Jim yelled in warning, but it was already too late. Suddenly a brilliant, bluish white light erupted from the crack. Unprepared, the harsh glare seared the sentinel's sensitive vision. Raising an arm to block the light, Ellison turned his face away.
"Sandburg? Chief?" He shouted, fear setting his nerve endings tingling.
"Jim!" He heard the strangled gasp.
Then, as suddenly as it first appeared, the light faded. Blinking furiously, Ellison tried to see beyond the remaining brightness, which seemed to have burned its way into his retinas. Unsuccessful, he tried picturing a dial in his mind and imagined turning the dial down until finally the light diminished and his sight returned to normal. And what he saw had Jim fearing for his sanity and Sandburg's life.
They were in the large cavern from Jim's dream. And just like in the dream, a large, dark pool stood before him. Only this time Sandburg wasn't dead; yet. Lash however was in the process of making the sentinel's worst nightmare come true.
Blair lay face down, half in, half out of the water as Lash held the struggling man's head beneath the surface. Struggles that were growing weaker by the second.
In one fluid movement, Ellison pulled his gun and trained it on Lash. "LET HIM GO!" The words, though softly spoken were deadly in their intensity.
Slowly, the blonde headed man turned, his pale brows rising with amusement as he sited the weapon. "What?" He asked. "You think you can kill me? I'm already dead."
Squeezing the trigger, Jim fired. Watching with satisfaction as each of the five slugs tore through Lash's chest. The body jerked and his hold on Sandburg was broken.
Released, Sandburg erupted from the pool. Coughing and sputtering, he pulled himself from the water's edge.
"You all right, Chief?" Ellison inquired, casting a quick glance towards his partner.
Still coughing up water, Blair merely nodded.
With an enraged cry, Lash sprung to his feet and whirled to face Ellison. "You shouldn't have done that," he hissed and, with a wave of his hand, the detective's gun was wrenched from his grasp.
Eyes widening, mouth dropping open in surprise, Jim's glance flickered from Lash to the gun now laying a few feet away and back again.
Shaking his head, the apparition made a tisking sound. "I could have told you it wouldn't do any good," he commented as if talking to a dim-witted child. "I was trying to make his death quick and easy," the maniacal gaze hardened. "But now, thanks to you, he's going to die slowly and painfully."
A slow smile crept over the crazed features. Raising his hands, Lash began twisting them, as if wringing out a wet garment and, on the ground beside him, Blair began choking.
Face contorted with pain, Sandburg clutched at his throat, trying to claw loose the invisible band constricting his airflow.
"Please, don't!" Jim pleaded, taking a step forward.
"Ah... ah... ah," Lash warned, waggling a finger in Ellison's direction. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. That is, unless you want me to snap his neck like a twig instead. I can, you know," he boasted. "Being dead has given me powers beyond comprehension."
"Then why kill Sandburg?" Jim demanded, his worried gaze going to the man in question. Eyes screwed shut, lips parted in an unvoiced cry for help, Blair's pallor was taking on a ghastly bluish hue.
"Because I can be him," Lash stated matter-of-factly.
"Be me instead," Ellison blurted out in desperation.
Lash cocked his head to the side. "Now why would I want to do that?"
"Because," he said, choosing his words carefully, "if you become Sandburg you'll be nothing more than a has been anthropologist and a second-rate cop. But, if you become me, you can be a sentinel."
His eyes narrowed, "A sentinel?" Lash questioned, intrigued in spite of himself.
"Let Sandburg go and I'll tell you," Jim said, his tone noncompromising.
Not even daring to breathe, Ellison could tell the psycho was mulling over the proposition. Finally, Lash's hands fell to his sides and Blair collapsed like a rag doll. Jim could hear the gasping breaths of his partner and longed to rush to the younger man's side. Instead, he held his ground, gaze focused solely on his adversary.
"All right, Detective. I've let him go. Now tell me," Lash demanded.
"Jim, no, don't," Blair rasped, his expression fraught with fear.
"It's someone who's five senses are genetically superior to that of your average man," he replied, ignoring the unspoken plea. "I can see, hear and smell things no one else can. My sense of taste and touch are also beyond normal parameters."
"Jim, you can't," Sandburg croaked, struggling to his feet.
"SHUT UP!" Lash bellowed and with a flick of his hand, Blair was hurled aside. Crashing into a boulder, he crumpled to the ground.
"Don't hurt him!" Ellison yelled, his face contorted with anger, his body fairly vibrating with suppressed rage. Breathing heavily, he forced the anger back down. Spreading his arms in a non- threatening manner he said, "Leave him alone and I won't fight you. You can be me."
Eyes alight with insanity and the thirst for even more power, Lash gestured towards the pool of water.
Jim cast an anxious gaze towards his injured partner. Barely conscious, Sandburg's normally vibrant blue eyes were clouded with pain, and blood trickled from a cut just above his right brow. But at least Blair was still alive.
Silently, Ellison cursed his sentinel abilities. For while they had aided him once before in finding and saving his partner from Lash, they'd left him ill prepared for dealing with the supernatural creature the madman had become. "I'm sorry, Chief," he murmured.
"I'm waiting," Lash said, clearly growing impatient despite the sing-song quality in which the words were delivered.
Turning back, Jim stared straight ahead and expressionlessly walked to the edge of the water.
"Kneel," Lash ordered.
Behind them, Jim heard Blair groan softly. Jaw clenched against the overwhelming desire to strike out, Ellison knelt.
"Are you all right, Chief?" Lash said, mimicking the detective's voice and mannerisms. Laying his hand on Jim's head, he began stroking the short-cropped hair. "See," he boasted. "I can be you." Suddenly his hand clamped down on Ellison's neck and he forced the sentinel face down into the pool.
At first Jim fought the natural urge to struggle, but as his lungs became depleted of air and he experienced for the first time the actual horrors of drowning, panic set in. But by then it was already to late. As Lash's supernatural strength effortlessly held him down, the man's maniacal laughter filtered down from the surface to mock Ellison's flailing attempts to break free. Eventually Jim's vision began to grow dark and he knew the end was almost near. I'm sorry, Chief, he thought.I didn't know...
The sound of a jaguar's cry broke through Blair's semi-conscious state, bringing him fully awake. Immediately his gaze sought out Ellison and his eyes widening in horror at the sight of Lash attempting to drown Jim.
"NO!" He yelled in denial and, propelling himself to his feet, Blair launched himself towards Lash.
Both men hit the water with a resounding splash and, as a life and death struggle between the two combatants began, Ellison broke free of the water, chest heaving as he coughed up the vile liquid.
Sandburg fought, fear and anger egging him on. But between his injuries and the recent near drownings, his strength was quickly waning. Lash's hands clamped around his neck in a vice-like grip and he was forced backwards beneath the dark water. Blair bucked once, twice and suddenly he was free.
Sputtering as he broke the surface, he was surprised to see Jim's arm wrapped around Lash's neck as he clung like a leech to the man's back. Reaching back, Lash clawed at Ellison's cheek, leaving bright tendrils of blood in their wake. But the sentinel's grip was tenacious and he refused to let go. Face suffused red with anger and a primal scream emanating from his lips, Jim forced Lash's head beneath the surface and held it there. Muscles bulging from the strain, he countered the specter's struggles until, finally, they ceased. With a grunt of satisfaction, Ellison shoved the body away and watched it sink.
The threat averted, Jim wearily swam over to where Sandburg was barely treading water. His partner's face was blank with exhaustion and, even as he watched, Blair's eyes closed and he slipped beneath the surface.
"Whoa! It's all right. I've got you," Jim said, snagging the sinking man and hauling him back to the surface.
Wrapping his arm around Sandburg, he started towards the bank. Blair was too weary to offer more than a token assistance of a few half-hearted kicks. Finally Ellison sensed the shoreline beneath him and lowering his legs, half dragged, half carried Sandburg from the water until they stood in it merely knee deep.
"You okay, Chief," Jim asked, his worried gaze searching his partner's face even as he reached up to touch the still bleeding cut above Blair's eye. The younger man hissed and flinched away.
"Sorry," Jim apologized softly.
"It's all right," Blair said, his own gaze coming to focus on Ellison's face. Seeing the scratches, his brow wrinkled with concern. "What about you?" he asked, reaching up to lightly trace the deep gouges. His hand came away red with blood.
"I'll live, thanks to you," Jim replied, smiling gently.
Slowly the two men clasped their bloodied hands together as dark blue orbs met sky blue irises in silent communication. The combined blood merged to form a single bead which trailed off to splash into the pool beneath them. The droplet began to grow and expand, spreading outwards like an oil slick on the water.
Spotting the strange occurrence, Ellison frowned. "Come on, Chief," he said, gripping the smaller man tighter and prompting him towards the shore. "Let's get out of here."
"What is it?" Blair asked as Jim's growing concern communicated itself. Looking around for the source of the alarm, Sandburg gasped in surprise at the crimson water surrounding them and picked up his pace.
Stumbling onto the dry safety of the water's edge they turned, Ellison's firm hold on his partner the only thing keeping the exhausted man upright.
"What the hell is going on, Jim?" Blair questioned anxiously as the scarlet stain continued to expand, covering the entire surface of the pool.
"I don't know, Chief," Ellison cautiously admitted. "But..."
Suddenly, Lash erupted from the water. Eyes blazing with anger, face contorted with rage, "You're both dead!" He screeched.
Without even pausing to consider what effect the water might have had on the weapon, Blair shoved Jim aside and scooping up Jim's discarded gun; fired. The bullet struck the surface of the water, igniting it into a wall of flames. Screams of agony echoed throughout the cavern as the flames quickly engulfed Lash and continued to race across the bloody waters. As the fire grew larger the heat built, driving Ellison and Sandburg back even further from the water's edge. Smoke rolled over them, causing their eyes to sting and their lungs to burn. Blair had doubled over coughing when Jim noticed a sudden change in the air pressure surrounding them. Fearing an explosion, Ellison bellowed a warning and tackling Sandburg to the ground, covered the smaller man with his body.
And around them, the world went white...
Eyes closed, arms covering his head, Jim felt the brightness surrounding them fade. The temperature, hot and suffocating only moments before, was now cool and damp. Cautiously, he lowered his arms and opened his eyes. They were back at the construction site.
"Jim?" Came a groan of complaint from beneath him.
"Sorry, Chief," Ellison replied, rolling off his partner. "Are you all right?" He asked peering down with concern.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I could use a hand getting up though," Blair ruefully admitted.
Carefully, Jim helped Sandburg to his feet, one arm remaining securely wrapped around the unsteady man.
Blair glanced around, noticing their surroundings. "What happened?"
"Your guess is as good as mine, Chief."
Worry filled eyes locked onto Ellison's. "Do you think Lash is finally gone?"
Jim glanced to where the fissure once etched the concrete foundation only to discover that it had disappeared completely. "I think it's a pretty safe bet to say yes." Turning back to Blair he smiled gently. "But even if he does come back he'll find us waiting for him."
"Yeah," Sandburg readily agreed, returning the smile with confidence. "Lash should have known better than to try and take on a sentinel."
"Or his guide," Jim added. "So, whadda say, Chief. You ready to get out of here?"
"More than ready, man. This was just a little too weird."
Slowly, they began making their way outside, Ellison supporting the still unsteady Sandburg.
"Has been anthropologist and second-rate cop, Jim?" Blair questioned with a hint of annoyance at Ellison's earlier comment.
"Well, I didn't want to make you sound too appealing, Chief," Jim said reasonably. "Living with you I only have to worry about wet towels on the bathroom floor. With Lash, there'd be dead bodies littering the bathtub."
"Hmmm," Blair replied with a purse of his lips. "You've got a point..."
Failing to locate Sandburg, Banks had wasted little time rushing to the construction site. Despite finding Jim's truck empty and seeing no sign of either man, Simon knew without a doubt that they were both here, somewhere.
Opening his trunk and pulling out the bolt cutters, the captain made short work of the padlocked gate. However, once inside the property, Simon wasn't sure where to begin his search. Luckily he didn't have to look far. Squinting through the pouring rain he saw two familiar, if somewhat bedraggled, figures stumbling towards him.
"JIM!" He bellowed, rushing forward. "Are you two all right?" he asked, falling into step beside them.
"I'm okay, but I think we'd better get Sandburg back to the hospital where he belongs."
"I'm fine," Blair protested even as his legs gave way.
"Or maybe not," Ellison quipped, steadying his partner even as Simon's arm snaked around Sandburg to offer additional support.
"Oh man, why is it always me?" Blair whined.
"You know, Chief," Jim warned. "It still might not be too late to trade you for Lash."
"That is so not funny, Jim," Sandburg retorted and as the three men continued towards their vehicles, the rain and night blanketed them from view.
Fade to black.........
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