edited by: Jo Ann and Shelley
Early Tuesday Morning
"Come on, Chief!" Jim Ellison called out, his impatience evident in his voice. "If we have to attend the training session, we might as well be on time."
The voice of his partner, Blair Sandburg, drifted out from Blair's bedroom. "All right, all right. I'm coming. If you're in such a hurry, why don't you go on ahead. I'll drive my car and meet you there."
"And give you a chance to obfuscate your way out of attending? No thank you. Not only would I have Simon on my case, but if you remember, the Commissioner asked that we attend." Jim leaned against the door, arms folded across his chest, as he waited for his younger partner to exit the small room.
"Would I do that to you?" Blair grinned as he walked through the bedroom door, his backpack slung over his right shoulder, as he finished buttoning the blue flannel shirt he wore.
"Do you really want me to answer that?" Jim asked as he turned to open the door, ushering the young man out the door in front of him. "Besides, we're partners. That means that when one of us suffers, we both have to suffer."
Blair sighed his defeat as he walked down the stairs with Jim. "I'm going to remember that, you know. And I'll use it when it's most inconvenient for you."
Jim just shook his head as though daring his partner to carry out his threat. The two men left the building, got into Jim's blue and white Ford truck, and drove away, still grumbling about the training class they had to attend.
What they failed to see was a figure dressed in gray, crouched low on the roof of the building across the road and down the block from 852 Prospect Street.
"So, Ellison. Since my surveillance began, you and your Guide have always been together. The two of you work together, vacation together, and live together. The only things you don't do together are sleep, shower, and date. You are always there for each other. Together you have become Cascade's best detective team."
As the truck disappeared around the corner, the man in the gray jumpsuit stood up gingerly, packing the equipment used to listen to the Sentinel and Guide. "But," the man continue to muse to himself, "how would the great Sentinel and his Guide do if they were separated? Can Ellison, who used to be a loner, function as well these days without Sandburg?"
With that thought, the man slowly made his way down the stairs to the street and into a black van parked in the shadows. Stopping only long enough to swallow two pills with a swig from a bottle of water, the man drove away.
Major Crimes Bullpen, Cascade Police Department
The two detectives barely had time to sit down at their desks when they heard Captain Banks from the doorway to his office. "Ellison! Sandburg! My office please."
Blair grinned at his partner, "Uh-oh. I think we're getting called to the principle's office."
"Not me, Chief. I didn't do anything."
"Oh, really? What do you call trying to correct the instructor on the proper way to disarm a person during a riot?"
"I call it being helpful." Jim tried to paste an innocent look on his face.
"Jim, you nearly dislocated the man's shoulder." Blair pointed out.
"He deserved it. Especially after the crack he made and picking you to 'help' with his demonstrations."
Blair winced slightly as he rotated his arm back, stretching the shoulder muscle. "Okay, I won't argue with you there. Hi Simon!" He greeted their captain as they entered his office and took their usual spot, leaning against the large conference table that took up a third of the office.
"Good morning, gentlemen." Simon sat back in his chair as he watched them get settled. "I trust the department training seminar on crowd and riot control went well?"
"Just fine, sir. Very helpful," Jim answered, shooting Blair a look that warned the young man to stay silent. But Blair couldn't hide the grin that threatened to give them away.
Banks sighed. "Jim? Do I want to know why your partner has a cat that ate the canary look on his face?"
"Good. I didn't think so. By the way, I just got a call that Lt. Williams was released from the emergency room and will be fine."
"Thank you, sir." Jim had the grace to look embarrassed as Blair snickered behind him. Simon simply shook his head, knowing he'd get the full story later. "In which case, I assume this means that school is out and you can get back to work now."
Getting up from the chair, Simon picked up several files and handed them to Jim, who promptly turned and handed them to his younger partner. Blair grimaced then started to look through the thick stack of papers.
As Blair scanned the pages, Simon walked back to his chair and his cup of coffee. "Randall Kraynor is scheduled to testify next week in a trial against his former employer."
"The Stolz trial?" Jim asked, looking over Blair's shoulder at the picture in the file.
"That's the one. Kraynor was one of Stolz's junior executives. We suspect that before that, he worked for one or more of Stolz's competitors, not that he's willing to comment on other employers." Simon told them. "The District Attorney feels lucky that he's even talking about Stolz."
Blair whistled softly, "Looking at this list, he's being ambitious and likes to live dangerously. Before working for Stolz, he was linked to some of the major drug dealers in Washington."
Simon nodded, "Ambitious and greedy. He's admitted to skimming money from the books at all of the businesses. Plus he's suspected of selling information between employers."
"So what happened?" Jim asked. "His current and former employers start comparing notes?"
"Not exactly. As long as our boy was dealing with accounts and numbers he was happy, not really caring where the money came from. Then one night while working late, he accidentally walked in on his boss knifing a courier who had lost part of a shipment. Murder was more than Kraynor wanted to deal with so he split, bringing copies of the books with him. That's when he decided to get out and came to the police."
"What kind of deal is he getting?" Blair wondered out loud. "The DA's office has to be pleased to have him come forward. Stolz's operation has been on the hit list for a long time from what I've heard."
"Oh it's a rather sweet deal from his point of view. In exchange for his testimony against Stolz and any other of his former employers he'll be protected from those same former employers who would very much like to see him dead." Simon answered. "The DA is hoping to take down several major drug dealers with Kraynor's testimony."
"And we've got the protection detail?" Jim asked with concern. He knew from previous experience that protection details didn't always go as planned, no matter how simple or well planned they were.
Simon smiled, "I know what you're thinking, so you'll be happy when I tell you that honor went to Brown and Rafe. They're with the witness at his home since he refused to move into a safe house. What I want the two of you to do is to start checking into that list of employers and see who is most likely to be at the top of the 'get rid of Kraynor' list. Maybe you can also get him to talk about his former employers a bit more."
Blair looked up from the stack of papers he held. "Judging from this list, it may be easier to list the people who wouldn't want him dead. It'd be a shorter list."
Any response to his comment was stalled as Simon's phone rang. Frowning at the interruption, the captain picked up the receiver. "Banks."
Jim looked at Blair and nodded at the door. His partner nodded his silent agreement and they both moved towards the door. Just as they had the door open and were almost out, the voice of their captain stopped them. "Wait a minute!"
"So close." Only Jim could hear Blair's softly whispered words.
The detectives turned back and resumed their spots at the conference table. As Simon broke the connection and set the phone down, he stood up to face them.
"That was Brown. Get over to Kraynor's house now. Someone decided to try to take Kraynor out this morning. Shots have been fired, one uniformed officer is injured, and Kraynor is missing." Simon picked up the phone again, "I'll call for more back up and forensics to meet you there."
"We're on our way, Captain," Jim said as he and Blair headed out the door.
Kraynor's House, Northern Cascade
Jim's blue and white truck pulled up to Kraynor's two-story brick house just as an ambulance pulled away. "Wow, being a junior executive must pay well." Blair said, looking around the expensive neighborhood.
His partner glanced around. "It does when the junior executive is in charge of the accounts and skimming money from his employers."
The two men got out of the truck and quickly spotted their co-workers, Detectives Brown and Rafe who were talking with a member of the forensics team.
"Hey guys. What have you got?" Jim asked just as Blair called out his own greeting.
"Who was in the ambulance that just left? Simon mentioned something about an officer being down, but he didn't say how serious." Blair added.
"Actually, no one was in the ambulance." Henri Brown answered. "Martin Johnson's arm was grazed in the initial shooting. The paramedics said it didn't require stitches. They patched him here when he declined a trip to the hospital."
The group stood in the doorway at the front of the large house as Jim inspected the damage caused by gunfire to the heavy wooden door. "So what did happen?" he asked again.
Rafe spoke up as he led them through the house to the living room. "It's been quiet here for the past couple of days. No one, other than someone from the police or the DA's office has been in or out and Kraynor hasn't even mentioned wanting to go anywhere. He's mainly been there on the computer for hours at a time." Rafe pointed to the living room where an expensive looking computer was setup.
"This morning started out normal enough. We arrived to relieve the guys that pulled the night shift just as Kraynor was getting up. He had an appointment at the DA's office to go over more testimony and details. He was in the bedroom getting dressed."
Brown picked up the story. "As we were checking over the house, there was a knock at the front door. Johnson answered, thinking it was the driver from downtown, only when he opened the door the shooting started. He saw a car out front and there were shooters at both the front and back of the house. While the uniforms returned fire, we went to get Kraynor out of the house. When we couldn't find him, we realized that in the initial confusion, he had slipped away."
"So, you don't know if he got away on his own or if he was taken?" Jim asked, piecing the events together in his mind to see how everything had happened.
"Honestly, no. There were no signs of a struggle in the bedroom and it all happened so fast that I'd guess that it was a planned escape. It was as though someone was waiting because just a few moments after the shooting began it stopped. We went after them and got a partial plate from the car. There's no sign of our witness anywhere in the neighborhood."
As they talked, Blair walked over to look at the computer system. "Rafe, you said Kraynor spent a lot of time at the computer?"
Rafe nodded. "From what we've seen, he did nothing but sit there reading websites and news groups. His access was monitored as far as his email." The detective answered. He waved a hand towards the computer. "All of that has been checked by forensics so if you want to search it, go ahead."
Blair sat down and switched the computer on watching as the system started. Soon, he was looking at the log in window. "Damn, it wants a password." He looked around the desk area to see if the former executive and accountant had left anything behind that might contain passwords. What he found was a list of account numbers and names.
"Jim, look at this. It must be the accounts where Kraynor stashed the money he was skimming." Blair held up the sheet of paper.
"It is, Chief." Jim confirmed. "I saw the list in the folder of information from Simon. Where did you find that?"
Blair pointed to the desk. "Right here, beside the computer monitor." He paused as he had an idea. "No. It can't be that simple. It's so simple it's ludicrous."
"What is?" His partner asked.
"Just watch." The detective said as he keyed in an account number marked by an underline. As the login screen cleared and the desktop appeared, Blair shot a triumphant look at his partner. "The idiot had his password set as an account number. He probably changed it periodically, hence the list of numbers."
Jim shook his head. "Isn't that a little obvious? Sort of like having your luggage lock set as your birthday."
"Something like that," Blair said as he started searching through the massive directories and programs.
"What are you looking for?" Jim watched as Blair's hands flew over the keyboard and mouse.
"Not sure, really." Blair murmured. He continued to search through the computer files as Jim talked with Brown and Rafe, making suggestions for narrowing the search for the missing witness. The two men thanked him and went to talk with a person from the DA's office about the morning's events. The senior detective then turned back to watch his partner at the computer.
Suddenly Blair sat up and crowed with glee. "This is interesting." He pointed out an email that was displayed on the screen. As Jim read the words, both of them smiled, realizing the important lead Blair had found.
The email from someone called Anders. When the email was read the first time, it read like someone inviting an old friend to spend the weekend at a cabin in Cascade Forest. But as the detectives read it several more times, they could see the veiled questions and responses. It looked like an offer of protection. The writer offered a place where a person could get 'away from all of his problems and relax comfortably'. According to the replies, Kraynor had eagerly accepted the offer.
"Anders was not a name on the list from Simon," Jim pointed out. "We have no way of knowing if the offer is legitimate or if it's a trick to get Kraynor away from us to kill him."
"Look at this, Jim." Blair opened another file. "It's a map that was attached to the email from Anders. Looks like a road map of some kind, but with no roads marked."
"True, but I'd guess it's a section of the Cascade Forest. That block to the edge marked with an 'R' could be the ranger station at the beginning of the hiking trails. It's a long shot, but it could be where he's headed."
"I remember that area. We went camping up there one time." Blair nodded. "I don't remember seeing any cabins, though. And this map looks like it's directions to a cabin that's several hours walk from the ranger station. Could a jeep even get there?"
"Not easily. That's a pretty dense area, although emergency vehicles could get in. But if they drove, it'd leave obvious tracks. In order to stay hidden, I'd guess that they'd park at the ranger station and hike in." Jim agreed. "Can you print that?"
"Sure. I'll print the map and any relevant emails. We can compare the map to maps of the forest area. Oh, man, I'm hungry. One of us missed breakfast this morning."
"Whose fault is that, Chief? I was on time. You were the one running late." Jim reminded him.
"Thanks, Jim. Kick a guy when he's down and hungry," Blair grumbled as he pulled the last page from the printer then started shutting down the computer system.
"Would it help if we stopped by the deli for sandwiches on the way back to the station?" Jim asked, hoping the young man would agree so they could get started on the maps.
"Sounds good to me. I'm ready."
Still discussing lunch plans, they left the house, never seeing the black van that sat in the driveway of an empty house nearby. The driver watched them leave, overhearing their lunch plans as well as the earlier discussion about the missing witness.
A slow smile pulled at the watcher's face as he thought about the over heard plans. He had been looking for an appropriate test for Ellison and Sandburg only to have them drop one at his feet. He didn't care about the missing witness; he simply wanted to see how the two men reacted in a solo situation. A plan of his own began to form in his mind.
The van pulled way, unnoticed.
Major Crimes Bullpen
Jim walked into the busy bullpen and stopped at his desk long enough to hang his jacket on the coat stand behind it. Nodding a greeting to Joel as the captain walked through the door, Jim walked towards Simon's secretary, Rhonda. He couldn't help but notice the vase full of purple orchids that adorned her desk.
Holding back a sneeze, Jim pointed to the flowers. "Very nice. From your admirer?" It was well known that Rhonda had been seeing someone who evidently liked to send her gifts and flowers, but Rhonda would only smile when asked about her mystery man.
"Yes, they are." She looked at the flowers. "He just sent them this morning. We have a dinner date tonight." Looking up, she saw the detective was barely suppressing a sneeze. "Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't realize you were allergic."
"No, no. Flowers don't usually bother me unless there's a lot of them." Jim assured her. "It's just because I'm standing right here by them. Is Simon in his office?"
"Sure, go on in. He's expecting you." She waved him towards the Captain's office.
Jim took a couple of steps then turned back to the secretary's desk. "Rhonda, would you do something for me?" At her nod he continued. "Blair should be here in a few minutes, and we need maps of the National Forest area and the number of the main ranger station up there."
"Sure, Jim. I'll give them to Blair when he gets here, or I'll just leave them on your desk."
"Thanks." Jim stepped over to knock on the door to Simon Banks's office. At Simon's called out invitation, Jim walked in, greeting the big man seated behind the desk.
"Hi Jim, come on in. Want some coffee?" Captain Banks held up a glass coffee pot from the credenza behind his desk. In answer, Jim shook his head, holding up the bottle of water he carried with him.
"Where's your partner?" Simon asked when the young detective didn't appear with Jim.
The detective leaned against the conference table. "I had to drop Sandburg off at the loft to change." At Simon's questioning look, Jim grinned. "We stopped for lunch and he had a slight run-in with a tray of soft drinks."
"Do I really want to know the details?" Simon tried to hide his smile at the mental image that Jim described.
Jim chuckled. "Probably not. Besides, Sandburg would kill me for telling you about it. Let's just say that the man who has faced many of Cascade's worst criminals was taken down by a kid carrying a tray of Diet Cokes and fries."
"You're right, I don't think I want to know. While we're waiting for your partner to show up, why don't you fill me in on what happened at Kraynor's this morning, including the email and the map you mentioned on the phone." He paused to take a swallow of coffee. "I've got Brown and Rafe working on who set up the escape and I want you and Sandburg to focus on finding him."
After taking a drink from his water bottle, Jim proceeded to tell Simon about the morning's events and about Blair finding the emails that they hoped would lead them to their missing witness. He ended by explaining their suspicions that it had all been planned to help Kraynor escape.
"So you think the whole shooting was a setup? By whom?" Simon asked when Jim finished his report.
"It's a possibility that we should consider, along with the obvious that it was an assassination attempt. There are plenty of people that would want him dead. There's probably a waiting list by now."
"True." Simon nodded his agreement. "But I do agree that he disappeared a little too easily. With all the people we had in and around the house, he must have had a route planned that would get him away before we could get after him. The DA is going to love us for this, you realize. Without the testimony and books from Kraynor, he doesn't have a case."
Jim sighed. "I know. It was well planned, though. While the shooting was going on in the front, Kraynor evidently went out the bathroom window. He was supposed to be getting dressed for an appointment with the DA so no one was in the bedroom with him at the time. Someone must have known that a car would be coming to pick him up and simply got there first."
"What about the officer that was shot? He's going to be okay, from what Rafe said." Simon asked.
Jim nodded. "Johnson was grazed but treated at the scene. I think he was going to report back then head home. His arm was understandably sore."
"Between the emails and the map that Sandburg found, we have signs that the whole thing was planned with the aid of someone named Anders. A date or time wasn't specifically mentioned, but he got them less than a week ago. That's too close to be simply coincidental." The detective looked out at the bullpen and saw that Blair's desk was still unoccupied. With a frown he checked his watch.
"Sandburg not in yet?" Simon turned to look at the bullpen.
"No, Sir and he should be. He's had plenty of time to change and get here."
"Unless the road crews have rerouted the traffic on Robson for the ever continuing construction work." Simon pointed out.
"No, not today. I came in on Robson, and the traffic was fine." Jim pushed away from the table. "I'm going to go give him a call. He probably got started talking to our new neighbors and lost track of the time."
Simon groaned, "Not another new neighbor? Wasn't the last one a year or so ago enough?"
Jim laughed at Simon's pained expression. "It's not that bad this time. She's already taken, and I've met both of them. In fact, Sandburg and I helped them move in a couple of weekends ago. It turns out that Laura's partner loves to cook exotic food. As soon as Blair found out, he and Kim started exchanging recipes nearly everyday. It's become dangerous just to eat dinner."
Simon waved him out the door. "As long as he makes the famous Sandburg Chili for next Friday when we watch the Jags' game at my place, I'm happy."
"Yeah, but you don't have to eat the other stuff he cooks. Some of it belongs in forensics for identification," Jim grumbled as he closed the door behind him and headed towards his desk.
As he sat down, his phone started ringing. Muttering under his breath about ever-late partners and the creative excuses his seemed to find, he answered the phone as he turned part of his attention to his computer monitor.
"Do you know where your partner is?"
Instantly Jim's attention was solely on the voice coming from the telephone. It wasn't a voice he recognized, and he couldn't be sure, but he could almost hear an electronic hum to the voice. His first guess would be that the voice was electronically generated. "Who is this?" He asked.
The voice spoke again only it did not give the answer Jim wanted. "Do you know where your Guide is?"
Jim's grip tightened on the telephone receiver as he stared at the phone, momentarily speechless. Guide? Few people knew that his Sentinel abilities were real and that Blair was his Guide. Outside of that close group, only one person had ever referred to his partner as his 'Guide,' and that person was supposed to be in prison. "Brackett?" He ground out between clenched teeth.
"No, Detective Ellison. This is not Lee Brackett. He is exactly where you think he is, in the Washington Federal Prison." The voice chuckled humorlessly. "You still haven't answered my question. Do you know where your partner is?"
"Yes, I know where he is, or at least where he's supposed to be. Now why don't you tell me what this is all about. If you've done anything to hurt him, you'll answer to me." As he spoke, he waved Henri Brown over to his desk. He silently handed Brown a hastily written note to get a trace on his phone. Brown nodded and quickly made the appropriate phone call for the trace.
"Are you sure you know where Blair Sandburg is? And why automatically assume that I might have anything to do with his current whereabouts?" The voice held the mocking tone that it'd had for the entire conversation, which only served to infuriate the Sentinel even further.
"Why don't you tell me where you think Sandburg is?" Jim asked. "Who is this? What sort of game are you playing?"
"This is no game, Detective Ellison. Let's call it a test. A test of your abilities." The voice laughed. "You're the Sentinel, you find him. You seem to be very good at finding people, so find your partner, and you may find your missing witness. Although I suppose I should warn you that there will not be clues left to lead you in the right direction this time. It's just you and your senses."
As the voice spoke, Jim continued to focus his hearing past the mocking words, hoping to hear any kind of background noise that would give him a clue about who the caller was and where he was calling from. Other than the sound of the voice, there was nothing at all.
"Good luck, Detective. I'll be most curious to see how you do. It's been interesting so far. Oh and give my regards to Detective Brown. Good bye, Ellison." There was a series of clicks and Jim quickly dialed his hearing down before the dial tone started, signaling the broken connection.
"DAMN!" Jim slammed the phone down and looked up at the members of Major Crimes who had gathered around his desk. A group of concerned faces looked back at him. He saw Brown standing at the corner of the desk. "Anything?"
The detective shook his head. "Nothing conclusive. The call was evidently from a cell phone, and it was routed through several switches. They couldn't trace them all."
Jim reached for the stack of maps he had collected. He and Blair had planned to sort through the maps to find some clue to tell them where to start hunting for Kraynor. As he spread out the first one, an aerial view of Cascade Forest, he heard Simon walk up to his desk as the members of Major Crimes moved back to their work.
"Jim? What's going on? Who was on the phone, and what was the call about?" Simon's tone of voice did not leave room for Jim to argue, although he looked at the maps spread out on his desk, his desire to start searching plain on his face.
"It's Sandburg." Jim told him. "The caller never identified himself, just wanted to know if I knew where my partner was. He also said if I find the witness I'll find Sandburg."
"You think he's the person responsible for Kraynor disappearing?" Simon asked.
"I don't think so. If he were, why use Sandburg to lead us to him?" Jim paused, lowering his voice slightly. "He knows I'm a Sentinel, and he called Blair my Guide. He also made references to the search in Alabama for the young boy. He said that I'm very good at finding people but that there be no clues this time."
"Whoever this is has to have been watching us, although I haven't a clue how. I would hear or see anything unusual. What's important now, though, is that this person must have Blair." Jim stopped talking, his hands clenched on the edge of his desk.
"Are you sure? It could just be a hoax to get you off your game." Simon suggested.
Hope flashed across Jim's face, mixed with uncertainty. As much as he'd like to think that it was a hoax, his gut instinct told him otherwise. Just to be sure, he picked up his phone and tried both the loft number and Blair's cell phone. There was no answer at either number. But as he hung up, Jim had an odd expression on his face.
"What is it, Jim?"
"The more I think about the phone call, the more I think it was an electronically modified voice. That's why it didn't sound familiar and why I couldn't hear any background noise at all. No sound of breathing, no cars, nothing. And just now, as I called the loft, I heard a faint click as though the call was being rerouted. No one else would be able to hear it normally."
"So what does that mean?"
"I think it confirms that whoever this is knows what he's dealing with and how to manipulate both me and Blair. From his references, I'd say that he might even be the same person who took Brown." Jim stood up, grabbing his jacket. "It's getting late and I want to be at the ranger station before dark."
Simon moved to leave with Jim, but the detective stopped him. "This person seems to just want me and/or Blair. Please, I'm asking you to stay here in case Blair does show up and this is just some wild goose chase."
"No, Jim. You need backup," Simon started, but he found himself talking to air as Jim ran for the stairs, not willing to wait on the elevator. "I'm going to regret this," he said. "I'm going to seriously regret this after I've had a long talk with those two about following orders."
"Jim is never going to let me live this down," Blair thought to himself as he pulled off his damp jeans and dropped them to the floor. "And it wasn't even my fault. The kid wasn't watching were he was going. Nooo. He was too busy arguing with his mom over what toy he wanted."
Digging through his closet, Blair pulled out a clean pair of dark blue denim jeans, making a mental note to do laundry the next weekend. He pulled them on and tucked in his shirt, trying all the while to hurry. Jim had the map and email printouts, and he wanted to get started on searching for the location marked on the simple map.
Absently buttoning his jeans, Blair was thinking about the case when the phone rang. He jumped as the shrill noise cut through the silence. He stared as it rang a second time, tempted to let the machine answer the call. "Could be Jim though," he told himself.
"Hi, Chief. Simon wants us back over at Kraynor's. Meet us there." The connection broke before Blair could get in a word.
"Gee... hello to you too, partner. Why, yes, I am changed and getting ready to leave. Meet you at Kraynor's? Sure, no problem." The young man mimicked a conversation with his partner as he set the phone down. He thought about calling the detective back to see what the problem was, but he decided that Jim had probably left the precinct as soon he'd made the call.
A puzzled look came over Blair's face. "Jim must have made the call from the truck on his cell phone." Blair mused as he picked up his jacket and backpack to leave. "If he had been at the station, there would have been more background noise. Granted I'm not the one with enhanced hearing, but I didn't hear a thing except Jim's voice."
Shaking his head in wonderment at his partner, Blair picked up the keys to his Volvo and walked out the door. His mind still on the phone call, he started his car and drove away.
After the Volvo had turned the corner, a black van pulled out of an alley across from the loft. The van's driver smiled to himself as he watched the young detective drive away. He had been thinking of different ways to separate Ellison and Sandburg to achieve his tests. "How opportune," he thought to himself, "that their current case would provide the perfect scenario." After checking to see that the equipment he needed was all in the back, the man drove away, heading north out of Cascade.
Blair pulled his car into the driveway of the house where he and Jim had been earlier. He immediately noted the absence of his partner's familiar blue and white truck.
"Well Jim, this was your idea, so where are you?" Blair asked out loud as he got out of the car to walk around the house looking for signs of his partner or anyone else. "Maybe you're just stuck in traffic or caught at the station."
Digging in his backpack for his cell phone, he groaned as he remembered leaving it on his desk to recharge the night before. In his rush both times at the loft, he had forgotten to pick it up. "Just great, I guess I'll just wait for you to get here."
Being careful of the crime scene tape at the door, the detective let himself into the empty house. "While I'm waiting I'm going to go take another look at the computer in case we missed anything earlier. Evidently Terry from forensics hasn't had a chance to come pick it up yet." But as he sat down and started the computer, his thoughts kept going back to the terse phone call from his partner. He didn't think Jim was angry with him over the incident at lunch. Not with the amount of teasing Jim had done on the way to the loft. He hadn't taken that long to change and had been about to leave when Jim called and diverted him. Even when Jim was in a bad mood, he was usually more informative on the phone. Plus, something about the tone of voice bothered Blair the more he thought about it.
Convinced that something was wrong and perturbed that he hadn't picked up on it earlier, Blair decided to call the station, but to do that he'd have to use the phone on the desk. He paused, reluctant to contaminate the crime scene more than he already had, in case they needed to search for something else. But his worry for his partner won out and he reached over to pick up the phone to call the station. He figured he'd start there first and if Jim wasn't there, maybe Simon could fill him in on what was going on.
Just as his hand touched it, the phone rang, startling him. He pulled his hand back, staring at the phone, unsure if he should answer it. On the third ring, he decided to answer and slowly picked up the receiver.
"Hello?" He answered, his voice a bit uncertain.
"Do you know where your partner is?"
Blair stared at the phone in shock, unable to say anything.
At his continued silence, the voice spoke again. "Mr. Sandburg? I know you must still be there. Tell me, do you know where your partner is?"
Gripping the receiver tightly, Blair forced his own voice to remain steady. "Who is this? What do you want?"
"Who I am is not important. What I want is to know if you know where your partner is. Or should I say your Sentinel?"
Blair's breath caught in his throat. "Sentinel? What are you talking about?"
The voice sighed, a touch of impatience showing. "Your partner, James Ellison, is a Sentinel. I know about your so-called faked dissertation and Ellison's abilities. It explains a lot."
"Look, whoever you are, the paper was false. I made it up. Jim Ellison does not have the abilities described in my dissertation." Blair closed his eyes as he said the words. Even as he said them, he had the feeling that they were not believed.
"I don't think so, Mr. Sandburg." The mysterious voice told him. "Ellison can do things that no one else can. The two of you together are a formidable team."
Understanding dawned. "You're the one who orchestrated Henri Brown's kidnapping. Everything we experienced was designed for a Sentinel. You've been watching us, testing us, haven't you? When Jim heard someone calling him while at the convention. It was you."
"Very good, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair interrupted the compliment. "What's happened to Jim? Where is he?"
"Detective Ellison is just fine. Worried about his Guide, but he is physically unharmed. As for where he is, well, you find your missing witness, Randall Kraynor, and you just might run into Ellison. Good bye, Detective Sandburg."
"Wait!" Blair yelled at the phone only to have the buzz of the dial tone answer him.
"Damn!" He resisted the urge to throw the phone across the room, the conversation spinning in his head. Whoever the caller was had evidently been watching the two of them for some time now. He knew about Jim's abilities and that Blair was his Guide. The young man sighed. "This sucks. It really sucks," He announced to the empty room.
Now he knew he needed to find Jim. He headed for the door, reaching for his cell phone only to remember again, that he didn't have it with him. Grumbling, he turned back to the desk phone, his concern for his partner overriding any thoughts of being careful at a crime scene. He picked up the phone, momentarily thankful that he hadn't thrown it earlier and keyed in Jim's cell number. He frowned as Jim's voice mail answered. He left a message just in case the whole thing was a hoax, but he had a bad feeling that it wasn't.
Next he called Jim's number at the precinct. Hanging up on the voice mail that answered, he immediately dialed Simon Bank's number.
"Simon, this is Blair."
"Sandburg? Where the hell are you? Jim tore out of here an hour ago to look for you. I've got APB's out on your car."
"What?" Blair sagged against the desk. "Where did he go? And did he get a phone call asking about me? I'm at Kraynor's house. I came here after I got what I thought was a phone call from Jim wanting me to meet him."
"Jim never called you about a meeting at the house, he was waiting for you here when he received a phone call, wanting to know if he knew were you were." Simon's voice lowered lightly. "The caller knows Jim is a Sentinel and called you his Guide."
"I don't have time to explain everything, but I think whoever is doing this has been watching us for a long time. I also think he's the one who kidnapped Henri a few weeks ago and insisted Jim and I find him. I don't know if he had anything to do with Kraynor's disappearance or if it's just a convenient coincidence for him. But I was told that if I found Jim, the witness would be nearby."
"That's what he told Ellison, that to find you he'd have to find the witness. Jim took off for the main ranger station at the hikers entrance to Cascade Forest. He had the map you found and maps of the area. I've been trying to call, but I can't get through to the rangers up there.
Blair turned to the computer he had turned on when he had first arrived. "I can print out another copy of the map and get up there."
"Sandburg, how do you think you're going to find him in the middle of the woods?" Simon asked. "Get back here and we'll set up teams to go in."
"I'll do what the caller suggested. I'll start at the ranger station and look for the cabin. If we can find where Kraynor has holed up, we'll find each other." He quickly hung up the phone, cutting off any further argument from the police captain. Finding the correct file and printing the map, Blair quickly shut the system down and left the house. Thankful for the recent tune-up on the Volvo, Blair headed the car north, towards the forest.
Ranger Station, Cascade Forest
Jim brought his truck to a screeching halt in front of a quiet building that housed one of the ranger stations for Cascade Forest. It also marked the beginning of several hiking trails, some of which he and Blair had traveled on during previous camping trips.
Before he ever got out of the truck, Jim knew the station was deserted. There were two other jeeps parked at the back of the building, but there were no people. The door to the station was locked with no indication of where anyone was. Jim circled the building looking for any clues as to where Blair would be and if he had even been at the station.
He retrieved the map Blair had found from the truck and compared the aerial view to his present position. The location marked on the map looked to be a several hours walk from the station, and it was already late in the day. Also, the wind had picked up speed, and the sky was getting dark with rain clouds. Anxious to find his partner as soon as possible, Jim reached under the seat of the truck and pulled out a backpack stocked with emergency supplies.
Before starting into the woods, Jim carefully extended his senses, hoping for a sound or a glimpse or even a scent of something to indicate this was the right track. Nothing. All he had to go on was his gut instinct, which told him he was right.
"Hang on, Chief. I'm coming." Jim murmured as he shifted the pack over his shoulders and started a fast-paced walk into the woods.
Watching via a security camera attached to the outside of the ranger station, a man in a camouflage jumpsuit smiled as he settled back and awaited the next arrival.
Ranger Station, Cascade Forest
(An hour after Jim's arrival)
Blair pulled his Volvo into the gravel parking area of the Ranger station. He immediately spotted Jim's truck parked near the point where the established hiking trails started. Frowning, he got out of his car and walked around the truck, looking for any signs of his missing partner. Not seeing anything, he walked up to the door, tugging on the handle to find the door was locked.
"What the hell is going on here?" Blair muttered as he walked around the building again, trying the back door and all the windows. The building was locked up tight and Blair didn't really want to try breaking in unless he had a good reason to.
Giving up on getting into the building, Blair walked back to his car to retrieve the map he had printed from Kraynor's computer. Jim was a much better tracker than he was, but he'd have to give it a try in hopes of finding his partner before major trouble found either of them. Just as he reached the car, he felt water hit his face as heavy rain drops began to fall.
"No. Oh please. Not rain. Anything but that," the now wet young man pleaded to the sky. He jerked the car door open and dove inside. "This sucks. So totally sucks." Sighing, he studied the map, trying to get an idea of the path he needed to take. No one lived in the area, but cabins were available for campers. There weren't many such cabins, but the cabins that were out there were far apart, as much as several hours.
Resigned to the fact that in order to find Jim he would have to get very wet, Blair hopped out of the car, his jacket pulled tightly around him. He ran to the trunk, opened it and dug around for supplies to take with him. After shoving everything he could into his backpack, he closed the trunk and headed into the woods, aware that the only sounds he heard were the rain and the squishing of his shoes in the wet earth.
Again, the man in the camouflage jumpsuit smiled as he watched the detective trudge off into the woods, still grumbling about being wet and cold. So far, things were going according to plan. Ellison and Sandburg were now separated and it would be hours before they found each other. He had little doubt that they would eventually find each other, but he was curious as to what would transpire before the reunion took place.
"As Blair would say, this sucks," Jim commented. As the light rain quickly became a downpour and soaked him and the pack he carried.
He had been walking for over an hour in the growing darkness, hoping to reach the cabin before the storm actually set in. Nature had other plans; the strong wind and rain made it increasingly difficult for the Sentinel to use his senses to pick out the sounds that he hoped to hear. If Blair had been with him, it would have been much easier. But if Blair were with him, he mused with a snort, he wouldn't be out in the woods walking in a storm.
Stopping just long enough to shift the pack to a more comfortable spot, Jim rubbed his hands over his eyes, letting the water wipe away some of the weariness. His head was beginning to hurt from the tight control he tried to maintain on his senses in the absence of his Guide. Taking a deep breath, he continued further into the woods towards his destination.
Blair paused, struggling to get his breathing under control. He leaned against a tree and tried to ignore the water that ran down the trunk to soak through his soggy jacket, shirt, and pants. Even his shoes felt full of water. In the dark, he hadn't seen the tree roots until he stumbled down the small incline. Now he was soaking wet, bruised and sore from his fall. He was also now off the path he had been following. The best he could hope for now would be to stay in the general direction he had been walking before tripping and sliding down the hill.
"Damn it, Jim. Where are you?" Blair muttered as he straightened up, trying to see anything through the growing dark, the trees, and the pouring rain. "When I find you, you had better be okay, because if you're not, I'm going to kill you." The young detective sagged back against the tree. As he spoke the words, a part of him realized they didn't make the best sense. Another part of him didn't care; he just wanted to find Jim and get to someplace warm and dry.
His monolog was cut short by a sudden flash of lightning that was quickly followed by a crash of thunder. Mixed with the sound of thunder was a sharp crack and the sound of a tree falling somewhere nearby. Blair instinctively ducked, looking around for where the lightening bolt had struck. "That was close," Blair murmured, not seeing where the tree had fallen.
Pushing himself away from his tree, Blair ran his hand through his dripping hair. "Jim? Where the hell are you?" Blair asked of the growing darkness, setting off again through the trees in search of his partner. Unable to climb up the mud covered hill, he continued on the best he could in what he hoped was the right direction.
Jim moved smoothly though the trees and underbrush trying to ignore the pouring rain. Periodically, he stopped and extended his hearing and sight, hoping for some sign of his partner, their missing witness, or the elusive person who had evidently been watching them for some months.
Trying to filter out the sound of the rain pounding down around him, the Sentinel thought he could almost hear the sound of faint footsteps on wet ground then the sound of a door closing. He tried to piggyback his sight with his hearing, almost able to hear his Guide's voice talking him through the process. But his fatigue was catching up with him and he felt the grayness of a zone beginning to overtake him. With a shake of his head he pulled back slightly before trying again. Without Blair to ground him, using his senses in the storm was becoming increasingly dangerous.
Without warning, a bright flash of lightening eerily lit up the forest around him. The flash was immediately accompanied by a sharp crack and rolling thunder. His senses overloaded between the flash and the noise, Jim moaned and fell to his knees, oblivious to the wet mud and leaves under him. He clenched his eyes closed as his hands covered his ears and he wrestled with the mental dials to get his senses back under control.
Finally, the Sentinel straightened up, although his head was still ringing from the aftereffect of thunder blasting his turned-up hearing. The desire to find his Guide over rode the pain, and he moved deeper into the woods in the direction that he thought he heard the footsteps and door closing.
"Jim, you know I hate being cold and wet." Blair muttered out loud as he walked. "I hate being cold and wet in the dark woods. I hate being cold and wet in the dark woods in a storm."
The litany continued as Blair moved from tree to tree. "This is ridiculous, you know. Knowing my luck, you're back at the truck grumbling about my being out here. I didn't intend on getting out here and getting lost. You were supposed to make it easy and be at the Ranger station, not charging on ahead, alone and without your Guide."
As another flash of lightening lit up the forest, Blair thought he saw the shape of a structure in the distance. Wet, cold and exhausted, Blair didn't stop to think if it was the cabin were Kraynor was hiding or what else could be waiting for him. He simply forced his weary body to move in the desired direction.
Stopping to rest against a large tree, Jim checked his position with the map he carried with him. If he was right, there should be a bridge just ahead. He extended his enhanced sight through the darkness and barely saw the outline of a bridge in the distance. Satisfied he was on the right track, he pushed away from the tree and moved forward.
After another fifteen minutes of walking, he reached the wooden bridge that spanned a deep gap that cut through the woods. The structure had been there for many years, but it looked fairly sound. Jim considered his choices. He could either attempt to cross the bridge, or he could take the time to climb down the muddy hill and back up the other side. He frowned as he thought about the time it would cost him.
That made his decision for him. Hoping that the soaking rain hadn't made the already crumbling old wood more unstable, Jim carefully stepped out on the bridge. He glanced down and knew that a fall probably wouldn't kill him, but from this height, he wouldn't make it out on his own.
Slowly, he moved across the bridge, watching the opposite side growing closer with each step. Suddenly, his feet dropped from under him and he was falling through a hole. Desperately, he reached out, his hands catching the edge of the next wooden beam. "Please hold, please hold." He chanted as he pulled himself back up only to realize that while he had fallen through the hole, he wasn't sure he could make it up at the same spot without physical damage to himself. He began to inch his way to the stronger support beams running the length of the bridge. Soon, he was able to swing himself up over the side of the bridge.
Staring at the hole, Jim realized that he never heard the wood creak and split before he fell. He should have heard something, because he had kept dials turned up despite the storm. Picking the rest of the way across, Jim heaved a sigh of relief as his feet touched the dirt on the other side. Breathing heavily he sank to his knees.
"Damn!" Jim yelled in frustration. With the noise of the storm, his own exhaustion and his worry for his partner, he had completely missed the small minute sounds such as wood breaking. Now that he realized he had missed sounds, he just hoped he hadn't missed important evidence that would lead him to either Blair or the missing witness.
To make it worse, the detective was fairly certain his progress was being monitored since the mysterious caller had called this a test of his abilities. "When I get my hands on you..." the threat ended in a low growl as Jim adjusted the backpack and moved off into the woods towards his destination.
Via a high-powered scope, a figure in gray watched the Sentinel disappear into the woods. "So, it seems that without your Guide, you tend to miss things. I would have thought you'd have heard the crack of the weakened wood, but you didn't. The noises of the storm and your concern have kept you distracted. Interesting."
The watcher frowned that he had lost track of Sandburg's progress after the young detective's fall down the hill. No problem though; he would still know when Sandburg reached the cabin. Of that he had little doubt. Ellison and Sandburg would most likely reach the cabin.
He took a sip of water and settled back in his van to wait.
Blair pushed himself forward until he had reached the edge of the clearing surrounding the small cabin. Now that he was there, it occurred to him that he had no way of knowing if Jim was inside or needed help. Neither did he know if Kraynor was inside.
"You're not going to find out standing out here in the rain," Blair muttered quietly. "Which means you need a reason to get closer in case someone looks out and sees you."
Thinking quickly, Blair tried to form a story of being a lost camper. "Like that's a stretch," he thought to himself as he eased from his hiding place to slowly approach the front porch of the cabin. As he reached the stairs he heard two voices arguing. A smile crossed his face as he realized neither voice was Jim's.
The door to the cabin flew open and a man Blair recognized as Randall Kraynor ran out, yelling at someone behind him. There was a look of terror on the man's face as he ran down the steps and collided with Blair.
The two fell into the mud in a tangle of arms and legs. Blair felt a hand on his arm pulling him upright. He winced as he tried to stand, pain shooting up from his ankle. It wasn't broken, but it hurt, probably twisted in the fall.
"Good evening," the man holding him up said. "Mr. Sandburg, isn't it? One of the lead detectives in the Westlake Mall case a month or so back."
Blair stared at the man feeling as though something very important had just been said and had flown right over his head. He was soaked through to his bones, his ankle hurt, he was cold, and he was exhausted; the last thing he could manage to think of was a case from two months ago.
He opened his mouth to attempt a reply when Kraynor yelled from behind him. "A detective? Here? Anders, I thought you said the police couldn't find me up here. What the hell is he doing here?"
"Would you believe I was camping and became lost?" Blair asked innocently. "I just need a phone to call for someone to pick me up. When the storm hit, I got turned around..." His voice trailed off as it became apparent that the man holding him, Anders, didn't believe him.
"Mr. Sandburg." Anders smiled coldly. "I seriously doubt you just happened to be out camping. The campgrounds are nowhere near here. This cabin doesn't even show up on the official maps."
"They aren't? Oh man, have I gotten turned around." Blair tried his camper story a final time, gasping slightly as the grip on his arm tightened.
"Please, don't insult my intelligence or your own." Anders roughly pulled Blair up the stairs. The detective tried to fight back, but his hours in the woods had taken their toll, plus his ankle complained if he tried to put too much weight on it. He found himself being pushed to his knees on the wide front porch of the cabin.
"Anders, what are you doing?" Kraynor asked, nervously.
"I'm going to take care of things, just as I told you." Anders held Blair in place as he pulled a gun from under his coat. "First you, then the young detective here. Detective Sandburg came after you, and you both died in the resulting shootout. Perfect, don't you think?"
Before Kraynor could say anything, a shot rang out, the bullet catching him in his chest. He stared in shock as he fell to the floor.
Anders watched him fall. "If there were to be a next time, you would know better than to cross me and steal my money. Who do you think financed Stolz's operation, him? That little toad couldn't finance a day at the circus. When you stole from him, you were stealing from me. That's something I can't tolerate."
Blair tried to pull away from the hand that quickly shifted from his arm to his hair, pulling his head back painfully. But the exhaustion from his hours in the woods had slowed him down considerably. For the first time since he'd cut it, he regretted it growing back to its former length as Anders tightened his grip to hold Blair in place. "Now, Detective Sandburg. It's your turn. Nothing personal, you understand, it's business." Anders shifted so that he stood in front of Blair and as he did so, he kicked at his captive's injured foot. Blair moaned, looking up to see Anders's gun raised and pointing at him.
"Hold it right there. Detective Ellison, Cascade PD." Jim's voice rang out across the clearing.
Anders spun, dragging the young man around so that he held Blair between himself and the approaching detective. He still held the gun pressed against Blair. "I don't think so Detective. In fact, I think you're going to let me walk away from here."
"Of course. I have your partner. You wouldn't want me to kill him, would you?" Anders called out.
"It's me you want. Let him go." Jim inched closer to the cabin. He tried not to focus on the pain in Blair's pale face, keeping his attention instead on the stranger holding the gun. It wasn't Kraynor, and he wasn't sure if it was the same man who called him.
"Honestly, Detective Ellison, I'm only here for Randall. You and your partner are just unexpected bonuses."
The man wasn't their watcher, which meant he didn't know about Jim's Sentinel abilities. Jim raised his gun slowly, sighting carefully to miss the Guide being held. "Then I'm sorry to tell you that bonuses were cancelled this year." With that, Jim fired with precision. The bullet hit Anders squarely in the hand holding the gun, sending the gun flying.
Anders yelled and rolled, looking for the weapon. But before he could find it, Jim was on him, holding him down as he handcuffed and placed the gunman under arrest. He quickly checked Kraynor and was satisfied that the injured man wasn't going anywhere.
Jim then turned his attention to Blair. His partner was sitting against the porch railing where Anders had pushed him when Jim fired. Blair's eyes were closed, clenched with pain as he tried to calm down.
"Blair?" Jim asked. "Stupid question, but are you alright? What hurts?"
"You're right, Jim. Stupid question. But the answer is that other than being wet, cold and exhausted, my ankle hurts. I think I twisted it when Anders pushed me down the first time."
"First time?" Jim moved to check the ankle and was pleased to see that it wasn't seriously injured.
Quickly, Blair related the events to Jim. As he finished, Jim stood up suddenly, staring out into the woods.
"What is it, Jim?" Blair struggled to stand up, only to have Jim's hand gently hold him down.
"Stay put, someone's coming." After a brief moment, the detective's face relaxed. "It's the cavalry, Chief. Simon must have found the rangers, and they're on their way."
Just then, a large group carrying lights and equipment entered the clearing. With them was Simon Banks. Simon waved, calling out as he climbed the stairs. "Ellison, the next time I tell you or your partner to wait for backup, I damn well want you to listen."
"Yes, Sir." Jim simply agreed with his captain. "We need some medics up here. Kraynor has a gunshot wound to the chest, but it looks like he dodged at the last second and it missed his heart. He's lost a lot of blood though. Sandburg has a twisted ankle."
The paramedics moved in, checking both patients. As they worked, Simon led Jim to the side, away from the crowd. "Jim, is that your mysterious watcher?" Simon asked pointing to Anders being led away by the state troopers that were with the group.
"I don't think so." Jim sighed, watching his partner being treated. "He didn't know anything about my senses. He said he was actually here for Kraynor. His name is Anders, probably the same guy who emailed the map. He admitted that he's been bankrolling Stolz's entire operation."
Simon stared, "He's Stolz's boss?" Jim simply nodded, too tired for much else.
"And your watcher?"
Jim shook his head. "I don't know. I have a few ideas of who it could be, one of which is almost impossible, but I don't know for sure. There are not many people who could have set up all of this. If he set it all up, he may have just been taking advantage of the situation. We may never know."
Seeing the paramedics were done with his partner, Jim walked over and helped the young man to stand up. "Okay Chief?"
"I'm fine. Or rather I will be once I'm warm, dry, rested and have my foot propped up. It's not bad enough for a hospital stay... it's just a minor sprain." Blair yawned, weaving slightly where he stood.
"Come on, Chief. Let's go home. We'll sort out the paper work tomorrow." Jim carefully led his partner down the staircase and to one of the waiting emergency vehicles. Within moments, the group had pulled away, leaving the clearing in quiet.
From the shadows, stepped the man in the camouflage jumpsuit. "So, Ellison, it seems that you can function without Sandburg, but not at peak efficiency. Impressive shot, though. I'll have to remember that for later. And I have no doubt that there will be a later."
He climbed into the black van and carefully pulled away, not wanting to attract the attention of the rangers and police. As he left, the rain started again, erasing any tracks of his passing.
Author's Notes: I want to thank the wonderful editors and staff of Black Panther Productions for all of the help with this story. There's no way I could have finished it without them. Thank you and congratulations on a great season! I also want to thank comet and Heidi for their moral support and for listening to me babble while writing this. Thank you!!!
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