Production No. CVT518

written by:

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.

Dead calm.

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.

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