CHECK AND CHECKMATE
Production No. CVT525

written by:
C.L. Combs

edited by:
Toni Rae, Shelley, and Sealie


Thursday afternoon, Cascade Police Headquarters

With a growl, Police Commissioner Craig Mathews pushed away from his desk and his thirtieth reading of the valley resort development proposal sitting there. Deep in his gut, he knew there was something wrong within the innocuous packet of papers. He just couldn't figure out what. Pacing a couple of times in front of his large desk, Mathews reflected that his feeling wasn't due to the typical 'anti-progress/pro environmental' protests or the 'pro-progress/anything for growth' enthusiastic support. Those two groups seemed to pop up on opposite sides of almost any issue. It also wasn't due to the heated debates in the council. Mathews enjoyed a good debate.

Admittedly, the attempted kidnapping on his niece Krystal at the Sci Fi con was a factor. It infuriated him that someone thought they could force his vote by terrorizing his innocent niece. In addition, it made him wonder who had the money to hire the kidnappers. Big money could also be the source of the pressure on and within the council to push the troublesome proposal through. Mathews had learned a long time ago that many politicians had a price. He slowed his pace and took a deep breath. He was very suspicious of the group fronting the proposal. The inquiries he had sent out were coming back almost TOO clean. He just knew there was something dirty going on. He could almost taste it.

For a brief moment, Mathews considered asking his premier detective pair to look into it. But no, there was no indication other than his gut feeling that something was wrong. Besides, they had barely survived the publicity due to an unscrupulous publisher last spring. As politically charged as this issue was, some enterprising reporter was bound to dig up the old reports. He would not toss Ellison and Sandburg into a maelstrom of spotlights if he could help it.

A sharp ring pierced the tense atmosphere. Waiting another ring as he forced his frustration into the background, Mathews picked up his phone. "Donna? Yes, put her through." A smile unconsciously slipped across his face as he automatically relaxed, his voice softening as it grew deeper. "Hello, M'lady... Yes, I'll pick you up around 5:30 tomorrow... That sounds lovely, I can't wait to see you wear it... yes, the mayor knows I'm bringing someone. Just be prepared for his wife, she's bound to give you the third degree... Really? That should work... I'll see you tomorrow, M'lady." The slightly goofy smile on his face lingered as he hung up the phone. Only the sight of the packet on the desk banished it away.


three hours later, across town

A man sat in the shadows, a small desk lamp directing light onto his work. A cell phone by his elbow rang. Opening it up, the hoarse, accented voice of the watcher answered, "Yes? Then I have the final go-ahead?" He laid down the tiny screwdriver he held as he listened to the message. Piles of colorful wires, plastic squares, and electronic bits surrounded the laptop on the table. "Yes, by tomorrow night... Is the list of targets accurate?" He turned over the small object he held. It was a decorative tag with the name, 'Police Commissioner Craig Mathews', printed in fancy letters. "It will be done." Clicking off the phone, the man leaned forward into the circle cast by the lamp. "Just as soon as I neutralize my adversary."


Next afternoon, Major Crimes

Detective Blair Sandburg closed the folder containing the crime scene photos and rubbed his eyes. This was the one part of his job he really hated. The aftermath of one person's violence against another could be gruesome, especially when committed with a semi-automatic. He was so glad they had arrested the three perps yesterday. He just wished he didn't have to look at the forensics photos again to write up the report. There was no way he could ever be able to view a bloody scene as dispassionately as his friend. He glanced at his partner sitting at the next desk over. The tight grip on the pencil and the clenched jaw reminded the younger man that Detective James Ellison wasn't as unfeeling as he could appear. Jim simply had learned how to deal with it in a controlled manner.

Feeling the glance, Jim raised his head to meet his partner's eyes. "How you doing, Chief?"

"Okay," Blair shrugged. "Just glad to have this one done. I still can't believe those jerks would open fire on a scared kid who accidentally dumped his drawer on the floor instead of their sack." The younger man looked away, shaking his head at the inhumanity of it all.

His own temper flaring briefly, Jim clenched his jaw and exhaled out his nose. Once back in control, he pulled out another file. "We did solve it, thanks to your idea of tracking the burning oil from their getaway car at the last robbery scene." Jim secretly hoped reminding Blair of his senses would ease the horror from the young detective's eyes.

It worked. Blair managed to give Jim a smile as he commented, "Yeah, but it was you who did the tracking. It was so great to see the expressions on their faces when we all yelled, 'Freeze, Cascade PD'."

Jim chuckled, though he noted the tired expression on his partner's face. It had been less than a week since the shaman from Botswana had disappeared. While Jim's gut told him that Nya was dead, it was hard to confirm without a body. Blair especially had taken it hard, feeling there should have been something they could have done to protect the elderly guide. The Quick Liquor case with a shot-up young man hadn't helped. Studying his friend, Jim quietly suggested, "Hey Chief, we've been at this a while. Why don't you take a break?"

"Okay." Blair scooped up his mug by the handle. Walking around their desks, he then glanced into Jim's cup. "You want some coffee?"

"Sure." Jim handed his mug over, head bowing back down over the file.

When Blair returned, he paused a foot from his partner's desk, hands holding the mugs of steaming coffee. The dark scowl on Jim's face as he listened to a caller didn't bode well. Wondering if something had gone wrong with their case, Blair quietly placed one of the mugs to the right of his friend and sat down in a nearby chair.

"Can't you give me anything more, Ted?... The potential list of targets is huge... Yeah, I appreciate the heads up... Yeah, thanks." Jim hung up the phone and ran his hands over his face.

"What's up, Jim?" Blair inquired. "Something wrong?"

After a heavy exhale, Jim softly suggested, "Let's go into Simon's office, so I don't have to repeat this."

"That was so NOT reassuring," Blair muttered as he followed the taller man to their captain's office. Knocking on the door, Jim walked in on Simon Bank's gruff, 'enter', Blair on his heels.

"What's up? Nothing wrong with the Quick Liquor murder case, I hope?" Simon asked worriedly.

"No sir," Jim replied. "I just received a phone call from an old associate."

"Old, as in 'covert ops' old?" Blair asked, remembering the last time one of Jim's covert ops friends came into town. Jim had disappeared, Blair had been shot at and chased, and a close friend had nearly died. In short, an experience the young man did not want to repeat.

"Yes. Apparently, he's heard there's a hired assassin in Cascade."

Simon nearly spilled his coffee. "What? Who's the target? What's the motive?"

Jim shrugged. "No one knows, except it's someone who was once one of the elite and trying to get back into the game. Ted said it's barely more than rumor, but he wanted to pass it on in case there's something to it."

"So all we have is that there's an unknown assassin after an unknown target in Cascade?" Simon stared at Jim incredulously.

"A once very GOOD unknown assassin after an unknown target," Jim clarified.

"That doesn't give us much to work with," Blair commented thoughtfully. "What do we do?"

"About all we can do is come up with a list of potential targets and warn them," Simon replied with a shake of his head. "But I'll get Taggart to do it. I want you two to concentrating on finishing up your current case. Committed murders are a higher priority than maybe murders."

"Yes, sir," Jim replied, shepherding his partner out the door.

As they walked back to their desks, they passed Simon's office manager, Rhonda. She gave both detectives a sunny smile, practically humming as she tapped on her keyboard. "Man, she sure is in a good mood," Blair commented.

"Probably another date with 'C.M.'," Jim replied.

Before Blair could begin another round of guessing whom Rhonda's mystery man was, his phone rang. "Detective Sandburg. Yes, patch him through." He quickly mouthed 'possible connection to Nya' to Jim before focusing his attention back to the phone. "Yes sir, I've met Nyajiru. You have a message from him for me?" He flashed a puzzled look to his partner. "When did you get this letter?... What's the date on it?... Okay, could you bring it to the station this afternoon?... No, I understand. My partner and I will come to you..." Blair swiftly scribbled down an address. "How about in an hour?... Thank you, Mr. Khawaja."

While resisting the urge to eavesdrop, Jim was still anxious to hear what it was about. "Something about Nya?"

"Yep. A Mr. Khawaja said he had received a letter from Nya, and wants to pass some of it on to me."

Jim frowned. "How does he know Nya? I didn't think he knew anyone in the area."

Blair shrugged. "Apparently, it is postmarked a couple of weeks ago. Mr. Khawaja said he had met Nya on a trip through Botswanna years ago. However, Nya had an old, Canadian address for him, so this letter was late getting to him."

"I don't like the sound of this, Chief. We still don't know what happened to Nya."

"I know, but maybe this letter could give us a clue. We've got to check up on it."

Jim sighed. "Okay, but why can't this Mr. Khawaja bring it to us?"

Blair sighed. "Because the guy said he doesn't drive, and his health is too poor to stand around for a bus in this damp weather. Sounds like he's pushing a hundred, so figured the least we could do was to go to him."

Jim still didn't like the sound of it, but knew Blair would go alone if Jim refused to join him. "Let's go, Chief."


South side

The address Mr. Khawaja had provided was near an abandoned factory. The once tidy row of homes now displayed broken shutters, peeling paint, and yards filled with more dried weeds than grass. The gloom of the overcast day only added to the atmosphere of despair that hung over the neighborhood like an unhealthy fog.

"Man, I can't believe how fast everyone pulled out of here once the factory closed," Blair commented as he drove. "This was once a nice neighborhood full of families. But when all the old employees moved away, the property values plummeted. Now, it's mostly the elderly and working poor living here." Blair parked in front of a two-story house that had definitely seen better days.

"In amongst the crack houses and thieves," Jim commented as he cautiously scanned the area. He unfolded his long frame out of Blair's Volvo, alert for any sign of trouble that may be lurking behind the untended homes. Blair looked about in dismay, then studied his car a moment. "Do you think it's safe here?"

His partner barely spared him a glance as he continued his surveillance. "We're police officers. We're supposed to be able to take care of ourselves."

Blair rolled his eyes. "No, not for us. For my car."

Now Jim rolled his eyes. "I doubt any self-respecting thief would look twice at this bucket of bolts."

"Hey!" Blair interrupted, not liking the insult to his classic.

"And even if they did, it's so slow we could catch them on foot."

"It's not that bad!" Blair protested. Jim simply raised an eyebrow. "Okay, so it breaks down a lot, but it's not that slow."

Jim shook his head as he walked towards the house, hunching his shoulders as the mist thickened into a light rain. "Whatever you say, Chief. As soon as my truck's out of the shop, you won't have to worry about it."

"That would certainly solve the problem," Blair retorted as he followed his partner, "If we'd brought your truck, we would have had to bribe the thieves into stealing it."

Jim was about to defend his beloved 'sweetheart' when a twinge on his sentinel radar made him pause on the bottom porch step.

Blair trotted to catch up, noticing the frown on the sentinel's face. "What's up, Jim?"

"I'm not sure. Something's bothering me, but I don't know what."

"Do you smell something? Hear something?"

Nostrils flaring, Jim tried to latch on to a faint lingering odor with little success. "A scent. But it's gone now. I can't identify it."

"With the rain, that's not too surprising." Blair ran a hand over his hair, trying to brush off the water droplets before they could soak in.

"Yeah, it's probably nothing." Jim knocked on the front door as Blair dodged a spot where rain leaked through a hole in the porch roof.

A hoarse voice with a slight accent called out, "Come in."

Jim opened the door with a mental frown, concerned about an unlocked door in this neighborhood. The two detectives stepped inside, glancing around the plain entryway. A threadbare rug lay in the center of a wooden floor; the light green pattern had once been a match for the dingy walls. On the right was a small hallway. Jim glanced down the narrow corridor as his partner walked further into the entryway. The older detective spotted a set of stairs at the end, presumably leading to the basement. The voice carried from a room on the left. "Please come to the parlor."

Without explanation, the hair on the back of Jim's neck rose as his muscles tightened. Senses going into full alert, Jim reached out towards his partner. "Wait a min..."

Blair, standing on the rug a couple of steps ahead, was starting to turn back when the floor beneath him disappeared. "JIM!" he shouted as he fell. Barely hearing his partner's returning shout, Blair was suddenly shooting down a slide to the floor below. He tumbled off the end onto several blankets, triggering a dart. Dazed from the hard landing, Blair was pulling at the object biting into his shoulder before he fully realized something was there. He groggily stared at the needle in his hand for a moment before his eyes rolled back into his head and he fell face first to the thin mat beneath him.

"BLAIR!" Jim shouted as his partner disappeared from view. He dropped to the floor where his friend had been moments earlier, only to discover the concealed trap door was back in place. He pounded on it for a moment, but couldn't get it to dislodge. Remembering the stairs, the sentinel jumped to his feet and raced to the hallway. Halfway to his goal, he was suddenly bombarded with flashing strobe lights. A thought tried to break through the sensory curtain, but it was too late. Jim was trapped in a zone.

In another room of the house, a lean figured stared at a bank of monitors. One screen showed Ellison, standing in the hallway, his face slack and unresponsive. Another showed Sandburg, face down and not moving. "My research has paid off, Ellison. Now I can complete my assassinations without your interference." The man stood up, collected his jacket from the back of the chair, then limped out the door.


Major Crimes

Inspector Megan Connor handed a thick folder to Rhonda. "Here's that report for the Captain." She glanced at the other woman, noting the good mood and the smile threatening to burst across her face. "Ah, another night out with Sir Galahad?"

Rhonda blushed, glancing around to check that they were alone. "Yes, we're going to The Skylight for the Alzheimer's Support fundraiser."

"Isn't that the new fancy restaurant downtown?" Megan asked as she perched on the chair near Rhonda's desk. "It's supposed to be magnificent."

"Yes," Rhonda nodded. "Though I'm a bit nervous about going."

"Whatever for?"

"It's the first time I've gone to a public function with him, with a much higher class of people than I'm use to."

Megan took in the atmosphere of Major Crimes, noting Henri Brown in his torn T-shirt and a uniform officer wrestling a suspect dressed in leather and jeans into a chair. "Considering this bunch, a higher class would be easy to find."

"But Megan," Rhonda glanced around again and leaned forward, "This is a high priced charity function with THE MAYOR! And his WIFE! What on earth do I say to them?"

Megan hid her smile with a shrug. "Lovely party. Lovely dress. When will the rain stop? All the usual subjects ought to work."

"But what are they going to think of me? I'm just a secretary."

"Rhonda, anyone who can handle Captain Banks and keep up with THIS department is not 'just a secretary'. I was told when I came here that Major Crimes is the elite. That makes you elite, too."

Rhonda only looked more concerned. "I'm not sure that's how the mayor's wife will look at it. And what if it hits the papers? What are the guys going to think? What's the Captain going to think?"

Chuckling, Megan pointed out, "You'll make Ellison richer." At Rhonda's blank stare, Megan explained, "He'll win the 'Who is Rhonda's C.M.?' pool."

Rhonda simply shook her head. "I'll never live this down, you know."

Megan leaned forward and stared into her eyes. "It doesn't matter what they think. It doesn't matter what the mayor's wife thinks. What matters is if you think your knight is worth it."

Rhonda nodded. "He's worth it."

"Then go enjoy your evening. Besides, what are the chances that any of these lads would even hear or care about a high society charity function?" Just then, Rafe walked by, dressed neatly in a nice suit and tie. Megan and Rhonda followed him with their eyes, then looked at each other. "Okay, I withdraw the question."


South Side

Jim continued to stand frozen in place, barely breathing, his eyes wide and blank as the lights continued to dance about the hallway. The sentinel was oblivious to the passage of time, his unconscious friend downstairs, or the steady beat of rain on the roof above.

However, that rain was having an effect elsewhere in the house. A leak had developed in a small room near the back. The small drip grew into a steady stream, flowing down the wall and over a metal box. Inside, water began dripping onto the array of glass and plastic switches, causing a sharp sizzle. Then with a shower of sparks, all the fuses inside shorted out, plunging the old house into darkness.

At first, the end of the light show did not affect the sentinel, deep in a zone. Then the steady beat of rain became a loud roar as the sky opened up to dump as much rain as possible onto the earth below. The change caused a twitch in Jim's jaw. Outside, the increased water flow proved too much for the wobbly gutter barely hanging onto the roof's edge. It came crashing down, hitting the side of the old house with a thunderous clatter.

The noise jerked Jim to the present. His dry eyes blinked as he inhaled a large gulp of air into his depleted lungs. Muscles that were tired from their rigid stance released, dropping the sentinel to the floor. Jim found himself kneeling, doubled over as he continued to breathe heavily through his mouth. Confused, head aching, and feeling terribly adrift, Jim tried to regain control by closing his mouth and breathing through his nose. A scent teased his mind, begging to be remembered. As he took another whiff, the sound of pouring rain curled around the scent, triggering a memory:

Jim lay sprawled across the wooden decking of the observation platform as he leaned over the edge. He held Yuri's wrist as the assassin dangled in the air over a dam spillway in the canyon far, far below. Water flowed over the cement, beautiful yet deadly due to its distance from the platform.

The camouflaged face below him stared into his eyes defiantly. "Why do you save me?" the accented voice demanded.

"Because you're gonna stand trial," declared Jim fiercely. He held tightly onto the wrist, as if that would impose his will on his enemy.

Only Yuri didn't seem to be fazed by his peril. The assassin laughed, a chilling sound that echoed against the rocks. "Your country will trade me for the next kidnapped American. How will you feel to see me go free?" The second hand rose to join the first clenched around Jim's wrist. The assassin was probably inspired by the thought of thumbing his nose at his adversary by slipping through Ellison's system of justice.

Before Jim could respond, a shot cracked through the air. Jim witnessed the eyes become stricken after the bullet hit its mark. The second hand dropped, then the first relaxed. Unable to hold on to the dead weight without help, the sentinel felt his enemy slip through his fingers. Stunned, he watched as Yuri fell the immense distance to hit the spillway below, the body disappearing into the churning water.

"Yuri," Ellison gasped. The scent was Yuri's. Stomach now churning with shocked realization, he identified it as the same scent that had teased him before. It had been at all the other sites where he and his partner had been 'tested'. He leaned forward, resting his aching head against the wooden boards. It's been Yuri all this time. He figured out that I had these senses. He's been the one observing us, testing me, testing Sandburg, searching for a weakness. Yuri was the one who kidnapped H. He was the one who separated Blair and me when we were searching for Kraynor. He was even the one who kidnapped the little boy in Alabama. Ah, hell, he must be the assassin Ted warned me about, trying to get back into the game. Meaning he had to get Sandburg and me out of the way, which means his job is set for right now!

That thought was the extra boost Jim needed to push himself to his feet. He swayed in the hallway a moment, the memory of his partner falling through the floor flashing through his mind. Jim turned to the stairs leading to the basement. God damn it, Yuri. If you've hurt Blair, there is NO where on this earth you can hide. Pulling his gun, Jim cautiously crossed the distance to the stairwell.

Leaning against the wall, he tried to shake off the effects of remaining zoned for so long. Once he felt a bit steadier, he carefully filtered out the pounding rain to search for both his friend and any danger that lay between them. The slow, gentle beat of a heart at rest was a relief to the fearful sentinel. Jim closed his burning eyes a moment as he relaxed a fraction. Then he forced himself to straighten up. Surely a strategist like Yuri wasn't done yet. Tired from the extended zone and without his guide, Jim was vulnerable. Still on alert, Jim slipped something out of his pocket and into his left hand.

Then he carefully negotiated the steps, watchful for any danger. The sight of his partner, lying face down on the nest of blankets set beneath the slide, almost pushed Jim into racing across the dark room. However, his military training kicked in, keeping the cop in control. He paused a moment. "Chief? Blair? Come on, buddy, talk to me." Peering through the gloom, Jim thought he saw his friend's fingers move, but he wasn't certain. He took another step forward as he focused his hearing on his friend's reassuring heartbeat and steady breathing.

Yet he didn't notice the clear wire strung across the bottom step, nor did he feel it through his jeans when his leg pulled it forward. The wire tugged the switch on a tape recorder, which led to three large, battery-powered speakers.

Suddenly, the booming heartbeats of nine individuals, out of sync from one another, filled the small room. In addition, wails of unhappy babies and screams from terrified women punctuated the heartbeats. Covering his ears, Jim fell to his knees in agony.


Downtown

A black van with the insignia, "Party Favors and More" backed into a loading dock. A husky man with a clipboard waited impatiently. "It's about time. We only have another hour to finish setting up the room before the bigwigs get here.

A lanky man stepped out of the van. "I have everything you need to make the party a, how do you Americans say it? Ah yes, to make it 'a blast'. Yuri limped back to open the van door.

"I hope so. This is the first big event The Skylight has hosted, and my boss lady wants it to be a success."

"I'm sure it will be, how you say, crashing success." Yuri handed over a large cardboard box labeled, 'Nametags'.

"You mean, a smashing success," the other man corrected as he carried the box into the building.

"That, too," Yuri whispered as he followed with another box.


Major Crimes

Simon stopped by the desk of Detective Joel Taggart. "Any luck with the victim list?"

Joel simply shook his head. "It's endless, Simon. Without more to go on, it's rather pointless to even try to warn anyone. Doesn't Jim have any more information?"

"It didn't sound like it. But you could ask him."

Joel turned to search the Major Crimes bullpen with his eyes. "I haven't seen him since you handed me this assignment."

Simon checked the clock, surprised at how late it was. "They should have been done by now. Give him a call."

Joel picked up his phone, checked his phone list, and pushed the speed dial for Jim's cell. After several moments, Joel glanced up to his captain and friend. "No answer."

Simon frowned. "Out of order? Out of range?"

Joel shook his head. "No, it's ringing, just no one's picking it up."

"Try Sandburg's." Simon tried to hold onto his patience as Joel disconnected the number for Jim and punched the speed dial for Blair's cell phone. Realizing something was up, Connor and Brown wandered over to Joel's desk.

Joel listened for several rings before shaking his head. "No answer from Sandburg, either."

"That's not like Sandy," Megan pointed out. "He's been very carefully lately not to forget his phone."

"Nor does it seem likely that both he and Jim would forget," Joel added.

"How long have they been gone?" Rafe asked as he joined the group.

Simon glanced at the clock again. "Only three hours. It's probably nothing."

Everyone looked at each other, remembering the past few months. First, there was the mysterious man at the Sci Fi convention who seemed to know about Jim's hearing. Then there was Henri's kidnapping to lure Jim into a series of sensory tests. Only a few weeks ago, a third party had separated Jim and Blair during a missing witness case for another series of mysterious tests.

"Or it could be something," Joel replied slowly, stating what the group of detectives were thinking.

"Or it could be something," Simon agreed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He was thinking of what had happened the last time Sandburg was with Nya. It was enough to shoot his blood pressure through the roof.

"Do we dare take the chance it's nothing?" Henri asked. "That dude who abducted me is still out there."

"And he knows about Jim's abilities," Megan delicately added, worry filling her voice.

"Which means this might be one of THOSE things," Simon sighed. He hated it when he had to deal with the sentinel business. Plus there was always the possibility that Blair had been tricked into drinking more of Nya's 'tea'. If either were the case, he didn't want to send any black and white on patrol to deal with it. He wanted people who already knew about the sentinel thing and have a better idea how to handle it. "Rafe, Brown, pick up the address of their contact and go check it out. Hopefully, they just forgot their phones in the car. If not, I want to know as soon as possible."

"Yes, sir." Both Rafe and Brown grabbed their jackets as they dashed out the door.


South Side

A high-pitched, chirpy ring emitted from Blair's jacket pocket. However, the soft ring had no chance against the din echoing off the cement walls. Nor did it have the power to overcome the drug that still had a tight grip on the young detective. The guide slept on, oblivious to the noise.

The sentinel, however, was a totally different story. The various loud sounds threatened to overpower Jim, his ears physically hurting from the vibrations. There wasn't even a definite pattern he could latch onto and filter out. His only prayer was to focus on something else, anything else but his hearing.

The grainy texture in his left hand increased, deepening into ridges. As Jim concentrated, the feel of the wood drew some of the pain away from his ears. Carefully, his thumb rolled it slowly over his middle finger, feeling the grain, feeling the roundness, feeling the pointed tip on the end. Once the sentinel had gained a bit of control, he shoved the tip of the toothpick into his palm.

He felt pain, but a different, welcomed pain. The new focus helped to shift the noise further away. Cautiously, Jim mentally touched his inner dial marked 'hearing', just as his guide had taught him. With excruciating slowness, the dial turned, slowly allowing the sentinel to reach almost deafness. Finally, he managed to work his eyes open. His head throbbed from the abuse it had received, but Jim ignored it. He spotted three speakers hanging in different corners of the square basement.

Anger unexpectedly boiled through him. "Damn you, Yuri," Jim growled as he grabbed a crow bar that hung over a neglected tool bench. Jim stormed to the first speaker, tearing it off the wall and smashing it with a swift downward swing. The noise reduced. Then Jim stormed to each of the other two in turn, yanking them down and smashing them into bits. Only then could he take a deep breath and allow the tight grip on his hearing dial to loosen.

Once released from the prison of sound, he checked for other traps, working his way over to kneel by his friend's side. Sensitive fingers gently felt Blair's pulse before searching for any broken bones or other injuries. Once his examination found nothing, he rolled Blair onto his back, head resting on Jim's knee. Jim's hand brushed against a needle lying underneath him, confirming the detective's suspicions that his partner had been drugged. Oh God, please don't let it be a poison like he gave H. By now, it would be too late for the antidote. The rolling action provoked a small moan from the younger man. Jim patted the face he could barely see in the gloom. "Chief? Chief? Come on now, it's time to wake up. Come on."

Another moan rose from Blair's lips. "'im?" He shifted slightly as a shiver shook his body.

Jim's hand switched to Blair's shoulder, rubbing it in circular movements to warm him. "It's okay, Chief. I just need for you to wake up now."

"M'rning?"

"No, it's..." Jim triggered the light on his watch and whistled, "nearly evening, buddy. You've got to wake up so we can go catch the bad guy."

"'ad... guy?" Blair dragged his eyes open. "See?"

"It's too dark for you to see. But let's get you on your feet." Jim slipped his hands under Blair's shoulders to help him rise.

"Hmm umm." The head shook weakly as the rest of the body remained limp.

Jim felt his gut twist, but kept the worry out of his voice. "Oh yeah. Time to rise and shine, partner."

Above, someone knocked on the door. A few moments later, Jim could hear it creak open. "Sandburg! Ellison!" a voice called out.

"We're down here, Henri! Bring flashlights and be careful! There may be more traps!" Blair shifted as Jim's yell echoed in his head. Jim dropped his volume. "I know, partner. Just hang in there."

"Jim," Blair asked groggily, but a bit more clearly. "What's going on?"

Jim took the improvement as a good sign. "We've had another visit from our mystery watcher. He drugged you and put me into a zone. Only now I know who he is."

"Who?"

"Yuri."

"Yuri?" Blair knew the name sounded familiar but he was too sleepy to make the connection. "Did you say drugged?"

Just then, heavy steps trotted down the stairs. Jim shielded his eyes as Brown and Rafe emerged, beams of light streaming ahead of them into the room.


The entrance to The Skylight, downtown Cascade

Rhonda took a deep breath as she handed her coat to her date, nerves making her tense. Yet he seemed to know that, his hand pausing long enough to squeeze hers before taking their coats to the coat check room. Rhonda turned to the full-length mirror on the wall. To everyone else, she was checking to see if her hair had survived the downpour outside. However, she was really checking the room behind her, wondering if she could make it through the evening without putting her foot in her mouth.

Craig Mathews stepped behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders. Their eyes met in the mirror. Rhonda was again amazed that such a good-looking, successful man would be interested in her. Yet the warm glow in his eyes confirmed that was the case. "You'll do fine, M'lady," he whispered into her ear.

Gratefully, she reached up and squeezed one of his hands resting on her shoulder. "Thank you, my knight," she whispered in return. She turned away from the mirror and took his arm. Together, they joined the party.


Across the street, Downtown Cascade

Yuri peered through a scope into the restaurant, then checked his marker on the utility wire, flapping heavily in the wind and rain. Such devices were more of a familiar comfort than anything else. The new weapon didn't require the accurate marksmanship that had been part of his trademark in the past. However, it did require less rain than the current downpour. He also needed all his targets in the room.

Glancing at the laptop to his right, Yuri could tell that about half of his tracking devices had been picked up from the entry table, and were currently circulating around the party. He would wait for the rain to ease and for most of his marks to arrive. After all, he had plenty of time. The picture of Ellison standing in the hallway, neutralized by a simple strobe light, brought a tight smile to his mask-like face. He had Ellison to thank for the last two painful years and the medication he was still forced to take. It was surprising how easily he could topple his nemesis.

Switching on his headset, Yuri could hear the various voices of Cascade's most powerful people. One voice in particular caught his ear.

"...my lady, Ms. Rhonda Cameron..."

Another tight smile broke through his control. His enemy's benefactor, the Police Commissioner himself, had arrived. He was the main reason Yuri took the contract on the Cascade council members. Not only did it give him a chance to show Ellison that Yuri was still the better man, but it would be a personal strike against Ellison. If he also accidently hit the attractive secretary from Major Crimes, it would only add to his moment of triumph.


Southside

Jim stood in a dry spot on the porch, watching the paramedics check Blair over while he tried to ignore his own headache. Thankfully, his partner was recovering quickly from the drug. Yet Jim was impatient to be off, to find Yuri and stop whatever assassination he was planning to commit in his city. The only problem was that Jim had no idea where to look. More cars pulled up to join the collection of vehicles parked in front. Jim spotted Simon climbing out of his car, but decided to wait for his captain to approach him. The rain was still falling in sheets, so the detective figured he'd be getting wet soon enough.

The tall captain shook off the rain from his long trench coat. "Is Sandburg going to be okay?"

"I'm going to be fine, Simon." Blair stood up and walked away from the paramedics repacking their equipment. Jim noticed that his partner's eyes were still slightly dilated. "I'm just about over the knockout drug Yuri gave me."

"YURI!" Simon exploded. "I thought he was dead!"

"We never found a body," Jim reminded him.

"Damn, he has to be the assassin your friend warned us about!" Connor and Taggart had joined them in time to hear Simon's rant, also shaking water off their coats.

"That's not all, sir," Jim added forlornly.

Blair checked their surroundings to make sure he wouldn't be overheard, then lowered his voice. "Yeah. Jim says Yuri's been the one watching and testing us the last few months."

Simon growled and paced a small circle, trying to keep his temper in check.

"Who's Yuri?" Megan asked.

"A top Russian assassin." Blair glanced worriedly over to his partner, whose face currently looked like it was made of granite. "Jim had some dealings with him when he was with the Rangers. Plus a couple of years ago, Yuri assassinated a Russian poet here in Cascade. When he tried to assassinate another immigrant, we and the FBI protected her. We thought he had fallen to his death on a dam spillway, but apparently we were wrong."

Simon had stopped his pacing to also study Jim worriedly. "How long were you zoned, Jim?"

"Zoned?" Blair turned to the sentinel accusingly, though he wobbled slightly on his still unsteady legs. "You never mentioned you zoned!"

"Yes, I did. You were just in La La land and don't remember."

"How long?" Blair repeated Simon's question sternly.

Jim rubbed his face wearily, trying to hide his headache. "I'm not sure, but probably about two hours."

"WHAT!" Several of the police personnel combing the house turned to look at Blair's outburst. Waiting for their attention to return to their tasks, Blair continued quietly, "You've never been out that long. How do you feel?"

Jim shrugged his shoulders. "I'm fine. The important thing now is that while we're standing around, Yuri's on the loose preparing to kill someone."

"Jim, how can you be sure of that?" Joel asked.

"Because this whole stunt was to keep Blair and me out of the way while he does his thing. If the fuse box hadn't blown, who knows how long I'd have been in that zone and Blair would have been unconscious." Jim turned his mind away from the sound overload. He'd tell Blair about that one later when they had more time.

Blair shuddered. He had no idea what the effects of a prolonged zone would do to a sentinel. A constant worry was that Jim would be in a zone so long, he wouldn't be able to get his sentinel out.

Jim, however, had already put the incident out of his mind. "Joel, were there any Russians on your list?"

Joel shook his head. "No, but I wasn't looking for any Russian targets, either."

"But there's no way to tell who hired Yuri," Simon pointed out. "If he's trying to get back into the game, he might not be too particular about who he'd work for."

"Jim!" All turned to see Rafe dash out of the house. "We just found this!"

As Jim took the brown envelope with his name scrawled across it from Rafe's eager hand, Simon barked, "Did forensics check it?"

Rafe nodded. "Serena examined it before handing it to me."

"I don't hear or smell anything suspicious," Jim confirmed. Nevertheless, he opened the envelope carefully. Tipping it, two small coins rolled out onto his other hand. Rafe aimed his flashlight to illuminate them.

"What are those?" Megan asked.

"They're Russian coins," Blair explained bleakly. "It was Yuri's trademark to leave two coins at the site of his assassinations."

"But he didn't kill you two," Joel pointed out worriedly.

Jim then slipped two fingers inside, and pulled out a photo. It was a candid picture of Police Commissioner Craig Mathews, stepping out of his car. 'Can you live with your failure, Ellison?' was printed across the top.

"Oh man, he's going after the Commissioner!" Blair moaned.

"Taggart," Simon barked, "Get Mathews' home number and check there. Rafe, call his..."

"Sir," Megan interrupted. "He's at the charity function at The Skylight this evening."

Everyone turned to stare at the Inspector. "I know the woman he's dating," Megan uneasily blurted out.

Jim's eyes turned bleak. "Rhonda."

Megan unhappily nodded.

"THAT'S who C.M. is?" Rafe asked, flabbergasted.

"MY Rhonda is dating the Commissioner?" Simon questioned, looking both shocked and slightly ill.

"Which means Rhonda's in the line of fire," Jim growled. "Come on, Chief." Jim jumped off the porch and raced through the rain to the Volvo, Blair on his heels.

"Joel, call up the security at the restaurant, let them know what's up," Simon barked over his shoulder as he dashed to his own car. "MY Rhonda?" he muttered again as he opened the door.


The Skylight, Downtown Cascade

Mathews swung Rhonda around the dance floor. He couldn't remember the last time he'd enjoyed dancing so much. The music was lively and fun while the floor was full, but not so overcrowded that they were bumping into people. Of course, the most important factor was the lady he danced with. He loved her smile, the way her royal blue dress swirled around her legs, the way her eyes sparkled with warmth. In all his adult life, he had never felt this much in love. She felt so good in his arms, he didn't want to let her go.

Then he noticed the young policeman at the entryway looking in his direction. For a moment, he twirled Rhonda around so he wouldn't have to view the officer. He wanted to ignore his responsibilities for this one magical night. However, he knew that was selfish. If they were willing to hunt him up here, then something big must be going down. For half a second, he considered asking Rhonda if the Major Crimes detectives were onto anything big, since one or more of them were usually in the middle of most major occurrences. But no, he had promised both Rhonda and himself he would never take advantage of her that way. Besides, not everything that happened in the city involved that special team.

With a sigh, he maneuvered Rhonda through the crowded dance floor towards the officer.


The Skylight entrance

Blair gripped the dashboard of his car tightly. Jim had refused to let him drive since he was still groggy from the drug. However, after hearing the poor car chug from Jim's heavy foot and witnessing several near collisions on their way to downtown, Blair felt he'd been scared out of the drug's effects.

The Volvo slid into a spot near the service docks, Simon's and Taggart's vehicles skidding in next to them. Blair jumped out of the car and dashed after his partner, knowing the rest of their unit was behind them.

As they stepped off the elevator, Blair immediately spotted the Commissioner and Rhonda. Neither looked very happy as they listened to the young officer standing next to them. Rhonda's eyes grew wide as she spotted half of Major Crimes spilling out of the elevator.

Mathews turned to Ellison and Banks as they walked up. "Is this true?" The officer stepped back, staying alert to his surroundings and leaving his superiors alone to talk.

Before Simon could speak, Jim held up a hand. "Let's keep it down. Yuri is known for his high tech listening devices. We don't want him to either escape or shoot."

Rhonda looked fearful as Mathews softly acknowledged, "So it is true? But who has me targeted and why?"

"We don't know at this time, sir," Simon whispered. "However, we do know that a very good assassin has taunted Ellison with your death."

Mathews looked grim. He wasn't so much worried about himself as he was that Rhonda or other innocent people might get caught in the crossfire.

Noticing his sentinel's head tilt, Blair quietly asked, "Jim, what do you hear?" A part of his mind noted that while the question caught everyone's attention, no one questioned it. Oh well, guess I won't have to come up with a cover story for this group.

"There's a buzzing noise close by," Jim replied. Everyone glanced at each other worriedly as the sentinel closed his eyes to concentrate better.

Blair unobtrusively laid a hand on his sentinel's arm. "Filter out the music... Now filter out the voices... Can you pin-point a location?"

Pale blue eyes blinked open in surprised. Jim turned to the commissioner. "Sir, the buzzing is coming from you."

Mathews' eyes bulged out. "What?"

Jim reached over and unfastened the nametag. "Where'd you get this?"

"They have them pre-made for all the guests," Rhonda spoke up. She was still trying to read her boss' face to determine if he was mad at her choice of date. Simon hadn't looked directly at her yet, which she didn't think was a good sign.

Jim flipped the tag over as Blair and several others joined him in staring at the back. "There's a tiny transmitter here."

"A bomb?" Megan asked, remembering to keep her voice down.

Joel shook his head. "Looks more like a locator for a smart bullet."

"Then let's kill it." Blair grabbed the punch cup from Rhonda's hand, holding it out so Jim could shove the tag inside.

"Is it safe now?" Mathews asked.

"This one is dead." Jim turned to stare into the restaurant. "But I hear more."

Simon's face grew grimmer. "How many more?"

"At least six."

"Ah hell," Simon muttered as quietly as he could. "So, if this is a targeting system for a smart bullet, WHERE is Yuri?"

"Probably not in the restaurant," Jim softly thought out loud. "He's probably in a building across the street with a clear line of sight into the main room." Simon pulled out his cell phone, placing a call to Brown and Rafe downstairs.

"If this Yuri starts shooting his smart bullets, do they need a direct line of sight to the target?" Mathews asked.

Ellison and Taggart both shook their heads. "The bullets can maneuver, penetrating glass, wood and soft tissue to reach their target." Joel explained.

"Which is conveniently fastened on the chest of each victim," Blair muttered forlornly.

"Meaning anyone standing between the shooter and the victim will also be shot," Mathews put together. He barely kept from shuddering, thinking of what might have happened had Yuri pulled the trigger while he was dancing with Rhonda.

Simon slapped his cell closed. "Brown is having the building next door surrounded, then they are going to do a floor to floor search. I also have a couple patrols blocking off the surrounding streets."

"I'll go with them," Jim replied as he turned to the stairs. "I know Yuri well enough to guess his moves." When Blair took a step after him, Jim turned back. "No, Sandburg. You help out here."

"Jim," Blair growled.

"No, Chief. You're still fighting that drug. Besides, someone has got to find a way to neutralize those targets fast." Jim then dashed to the elevator.

Blair glared at his partner's back, yet had to admit he was right. Taking a deep breath, he gazed into the main room, forcing his mind to work. Hearing the music filtering out into the lobby, he asked, "Is that a band playing or a DJ?"

"It's a band," Rhonda replied.

Blair gave her a smile. "Think you can convince them to play louder?"

"And hide what we're doing?" she caught on as she grabbed a napkin. "Anyone have a pen?" Simon whipped one out of his pocket and handed it to her. Their eyes met briefly, neither quite knowing what to say to the other. Then Rhonda bent her head down to write a message for the bandleader.

"Just don't take too long and be careful," the commissioner requested worriedly. Rhonda gave her knight a brave smile before heading back into the crowd.

"I'll find the owner and explain what is going on. There may be a back room we can evacuate everyone to." Simon walked off in search of the kitchen.

"So how do we neutralize the transmitters?" Megan asked.

Blair glanced at the punch cup still in his hands to the huge bowl in the main room. "I think it's time for a new party game."


Jim stopped on the floor just below The Skylight and dashed through the carpeted corridor to the window. Carefully, he estimated where Yuri would have to be in order to shoot into the restaurant. Spotting the marker, Jim knew he was right. He turned to race back to the elevator, the sentinel intent on turning the hunter into the hunted.


Across the street

Yuri's first clue that there was a problem was when the band music suddenly blared into his ears. Yanking the headphones off, the assassin rubbed his ears for a moment. Then he checked the laptop. Unexpectedly, his targets began disappearing, one by one, off the screen. He stood up and howled, "NO!"

Then he gained control of himself. "Ellison." With vicious moves made jerky with anger and frustration, Yuri unhooked his equipment, picked it up, and stormed out of the room. He wasn't going to be caught, not this close to getting back into the game. He would escape and take on his adversary another day.


The Skylight

With the band whooping in the background, Simon and the Commissioner tried to explain to The Skylight's owner and the party organizers what was going on. Taggart and Connor quietly slipped through the crowd as they covertly checked for bombs

Meanwhile, Blair had his own assignment. He raced around the restaurant, the large glass punch bowl sloshing in his arms. Urgently, he requested everyone he passed to place their nametags into the bowl. Most, thinking it was some kind of game or weird raffle, laughingly dropped their tags in. After all, the charming young man with pink punch soaking his shirt sure seemed insistent.

"What do you think you are doing?" The large, matronly woman looked at the detective all- aghast. "This wasn't authorized!"

Blair looked up as the mayor joined her. "What's going on, honey?"

Ah hell, it's the mayor's wife. Blair gave her his best puppy dog look. "Please, ma'am. It's important."

"Do it, Nancy." Blair felt relief flow through him at the sound of the commissioner's voice.

"But Craig..."

The mayor, studying the grim expression on his friend's face, immediately added, "Do it, dear." He unhooked his own tag and dropped it into the punch.

Looking exasperated, his wife rolled her eyes and unhooked her tag. Blair accepted it, then dashed over to the next group.


Across the street

After taking a headset from Rafe and gulping down two aspirins, Jim joined the search of the building. He knew they didn't have much time. Either Yuri would start shooting, or he would realize that something was up and make a break for freedom. Jim had no intention of letting the assassin get away this time.

He had reached the second floor when he heard a nearby service elevator making its descent. About to leave it for the ground crew to cover, Jim suddenly paused. A faint whiff of scent teased his nose as the car passed by. "Yuri," the sentinel growled. He was already racing through the stairwell door as he shouted into his mike, "The perp is in the north end service elevator!" He then concentrated on pounding down the stairs as fast as he could.

Before he had reached the lowest floor, he heard gunfire. He yanked open the door and slipped out in a crouch, ducking behind a trash dumpster with two other officers. "He's making a break for it!" Brown warned across the airwaves.

Jim spotted his prey hopping into a black van. As it pulled out into the road in a hail of bullets, the sentinel dashed across to his partner's Volvo. Thankfully, he still had the keys. Jumping in, he gave chase before any of the other officers could make it to their own cars.

The van soon dodged around the blockades by taking an alleyway. Trashcans flew up in the air in rapid succession, barely missing Jim and the Volvo. "At least I'm not in the Taurus from the motorpool," the detective grumbled as he swerved to miss the flying debris. "Though it would probably run faster." It felt like his foot was practically on the 'classic' car's floorboard.

Yuri was soon on a narrow, curving street following a river. Jim had to focus on his driving, trying to keep the car under control on the wet street. Due to his familiarity of the road which Yuri lacked, the Volvo was amazingly gaining on the van. They had entered one of the few straight stretches when Jim noticed a small door open in the back of the van. Focusing ahead, he barely recognized the tube pointing at him before he heard a trigger release. "DAMN!" was all he could say as he immediately yanked open his door. Jim rolled out of the car just as a missile fired from the back of the van. It roared into the Volvo, exploding into a spectacular fireball. Jim rolled into a small ditch, sliding to a stop just inches from the heavy flow of rain water. He lay face down in the cold mud, covering his head as pieces of car rained down around him. "Sandburg is NEVER going to forgive me for this." Once the heated shower of metal eased, he cautiously lifted his head.

The black van was just navigating the curve ahead, traveling too fast for the road and the current conditions. It skidded on the wet street and was soon spinning out of control. As Jim watched, it slammed into one of the cement posts holding the 'Riverside Park' sign. Apparently, it triggered one of the devices inside. The vehicle blew up, sending another tower of flames into the gloomy evening sky. The detective again ducked as more debris flew his way. Once the rain of metal stopped, he crawled out of the ditch just as Brown's car pulled up. Rafe and H. both jumped out, staring at the van burning merrily and what was left of Blair's Volvo. Then they spotted their mud-covered friend. They immediately dashed over to help him to his feet.

"Was that Yuri?" Rafe asked as he nodded his head towards the van.

"Yep," Jim replied. His headache had returned with vengeance.

"So we don't have to worry about him again," Henri commented as he helped his fellow detective over to his car, leaving the patrol cars behind them to call it in and handle the aftermath.

Jim didn't reply, only pausing a moment to stare at the wreckage.


The Skylight Entrance

Simon stood on the service dock puffing on his cigar as he listened to his cell phone. Quietly, Rhonda slipped out the door, trying to gauge her boss' mood. The tall captain caught her eye and waved her over. Closing the phone, he found himself staring at the woman whose skills and experience were more valuable to him than gold. "So, the commissioner, huh?"

Rhonda nodded hesitantly. "I never planned for this, sir."

Her boss sighed, "Love rarely is planned." His expression turned stern as he inquired, "Are you still loyal to my team?"

"Yes, sir," Rhonda replied just as seriously. "I would never do anything to jeopardize Major Crimes."

Simon's face softened. "Then see what you can do to salvage your evening."

Rhonda's face burst into a brilliant smile. "Thank you, sir!" She quickly turned to find her knight.

Blair passed her as she raced to the door. "Hey Simon, Rhonda looks pretty happy. You give your blessing to her and the Commish?"

"That's 'Captain' and 'Commissioner' to you, Sandburg," he gruffly reminded his youngest detective.

Blair's grin only grew wider. "You really are a softy, aren't you?"

Practically growling, Simon replied, "So soft I'm going to kick your butt all the way back to the station." Glancing back to the door, he asked, "How's forensics doing with your nametag soup?"

"Serena's still going through it," Blair replied, "But at least the mayor and another member of the council was included on the target's list. 'The Commissioner'," Blair emphasized the name, "thinks it may have something to do with that valley development proposal he thought was suspicious and is currently investigating. This afternoon he got a lead that the backers are actually drug dealers trying to gain a foothold in that community. Apparently, the mayor and the other councilwoman had also been reluctant to pass the proposal."

Scowling, Simon glanced out across the street. "All this for land development? What is this world coming to?"

Blair's expression turned worried. "Any word from Jim? I heard that he chased after Yuri."

"Ask him yourself, Sandburg," Simon pointed to his three detectives as they walked towards the dock.

"Hey Jim!" Blair yelled as he spotted his partner. He jumped to the ground to meet him. "Did you catch Yuri?"

"Sort of," Jim mumbled, head down.

Blair stared wide-eyed at his friend, noticing the muddied clothes. "What'd you do? Tackle him?"

"Not exactly," Jim quietly replied. As his nose picked up a sweet smell, he followed the scent to his partner. He stared at the large stains on his friend's shirt. "What did you do? Proposition the wrong woman?"

Blair rolled his eyes. "No, I just solved the transmitter problem with punch. What happened to Yuri?"

"Yuri's van spun out of control near Riverside Park and crashed into the signpost," Rafe explained. "It blew up on impact."

"Ah, man," Blair replied, thinking that was the reason for his friend's downcast expression. "Oh well, I guess this means we don't have to worry about him anymore."

Jim kept his eyes lowered. The same part of him that felt uneasy after Yuri's plunge into the spillway and assumed death was still making itself known. Jim wasn't going to accept that the assassin was dead until he saw a body. But he had other, more immediate matters to attend to. "Simon, can we bum a ride home?"

Simon frowned, studying his detective. "Are you feeling all right, Jim?" He noticed the strained, innocent looks on Brown's and Rafe's faces.

"Yeah, I'm okay, just need the ride."

Blair had also noticed his partner's pale face and pained expression. "I'm okay to drive now, Jim. Give me back the keys, and I'll take us right home."

Jim only shuffled his feet and wouldn't meet Blair's eyes. "We need a ride, Chief."

Suddenly, the significance of the words hit the young detective. "WHY do we need a ride, Jim?"

Jim finally looked his partner in the eye. "Because we can't drive the Volvo."

"Man, Jim, what's with you and cars anyway?" Blair erupted, throwing his hands into the air. "How bad did you wreck it?"

Jim just stared at him, a loss for words. Henri couldn't help but interject, "Well, you might want to borrow Rafe's latest Consumer Reports." Rafe jabbed an elbow into his partner's ribs, realizing this wasn't the time for jokes.

Blair's eyes grew even wider. "You TOTALED IT? Jim! How could you?"

"He didn't exactly total it, Sandburg," Rafe inserted, feeling a bit sorry for the senior detective. "It just kinda, well..."

"Blew up on him," Henri supplied, trying to keep from smirking. Though the frown from his captain soon erased his mirth.

"You blew the engine? Figures," Blair grumbled.

"Not exactly," Rafe, Henri and Jim all replied at the same time. Jim gave his friend an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, Chief. I didn't know Yuri had rigged a rocket launcher on his van."

"ROCKET LAUNCHER!!!!" Blair shouted. "He shot a ROCKET at my car? Is there anything left?" Henri and Rafe solemnly shook their heads. Blair's own head dropped to his hands. "My poor car."

Seeing his friend wince, Simon asked softly, "Are you really okay, Jim?"

"Mostly just cold and sore," Jim replied, looking miserable.

"From having to bail out of a moving vehicle into a muddy ditch before the rocket hit it," Rafe added, staring at Blair.

"WHAT?" Blair looked up at his friend. "Damn, Jim, are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah," Jim rubbed his face with his hands. "I just really want to go home."

"Then let's go," Simon replied, taking pity on his best detective. He gently guided Jim towards his car with a touch to his back.

"A rocket launcher," Blair repeated mournfully as he followed them. "I swear, Jim, that is the LAST time you drive my car without me..."

The End


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