edited by: Claire, Mary Ellen M, Kelly Meding
The beehive of activity that was the Major Crime bullpen swirled around Detective Jim Ellison. With a concentration born from experience and necessity, the senior detective was able to filter out and ignore most of it as he worked on his report. Yet underneath, the sentinel was still aware of his surroundings, of who was there and alert to possible trouble. It was that instinct that urged Jim to raise his head in time to see his brother Steven enter the large room.
Jim frowned as he glanced at his calendar. He didn't think they had lunch scheduled, and Steven was way too busy a businessman to just drop in at the station. Leaning back in his chair, he studied his brother as he approached. Steven looked tired and stressed, faint lines new to his face sprouting around his eyes.
Worried, Jim stood up and greeted, "Hi Steven. You okay?"
A faint smile graced his brother's face. He should have known his older brother would guess that something was up. "I'm sorry to bother you, Jim, but can we talk a minute?"
"Sure," Jim replied, even more concerned. He pointed to the chair next to his desk.
Glancing around at the activity, Steven quietly requested, "Is there somewhere a little more private?" Jim's frown deepened, pushing Steven's insecurity button. "Or I could come back some other time."
"No," Jim shook his head, sensing that whatever Steven needed to talk about was important. "I think one of the conference rooms is free."
A few minutes later, the two brothers were seated at a table, a mug of coffee tucked into Steven's hand. "Okay, spill it," Jim ordered gently.
Taking a deep breath, Steven paused, then sighed. "It's probably nothing."
"If it's got you this worked up, I doubt it's nothing." Both Ellison boys were raised to be strong and independent. Jim knew that it was a huge step for Steven to even come to him.
Taking another moment to gather his thoughts, Steven finally began. "About three months ago, I started getting these little, well, notes. Sometimes with gifts, and other times not." Jim raised an eyebrow. Steven shrugged. "The first was a red rose with a note saying 'You caught my heart'. It was so out of the blue, I even checked with the front desk to make sure it was suppose to go to me. Another time it was a mug with a packet of my favorite coffee, the note saying I was working too much overtime."
"Doesn't sound like much of a problem," Jim replied cautiously. "Why haven't you mentioned these notes before?"
Steven shot his brother an uncomfortable look. "Because I didn't know who they were from and usually forgot about it until the next one showed up a week or so later. I mean, at first I thought it was someone's idea of a joke, so I didn't want to give it credence by reacting to it. Then when they continued coming, I thought maybe someone in the office was just being nice. There didn't seem to be any steady pattern in the beginning. After about the fourth one, I began asking around, trying to keep an eye out, but I couldn't figure out who was doing it. If I still had Mrs. Clark, I'd have sent her digging, but since she's retired, I haven't had a secretary long enough to even meet everyone yet."
Jim gave his brother a smirk, trying to lighten the heavy mood. "Oh yeah, what number are you on now? Five or six?"
"Seven." Steven faintly returned the smirk. He had entertained Jim and Blair for several hours last month with his outrageous secretary stories. "Actually, I think this new one has potential, especially after I convinced her to leave the nose ring at home."
Jim chuckled as he tried to picture his brother handling that discussion. "So I guess we can leave out your secretaries."
Steven nodded. "Actually, it was the new one, Ms. Lancin, who suggested I might want to contact the police about this."
"So what made you decide this isn't just someone being nice?"
Running a hand through his hair, Steven reached into this briefcase. "They've been appearing more regularly and becoming increasingly more personal. More, ah, comments about my appearance and how much I work. And this last one..." A faint splash of color danced across the younger man's cheeks as he pulled it out.
Jim took the letter printed on a rose pink sheet of paper.
I noticed you stopped at Sprouts last night. Hopefully you are not falling ill or being hampered too much by your shoulder. It's probably just the stress of your job, since you're obviously in wonderful shape. Soon you won't need those alternative treatments. Once we are together again, I promise to kiss it and make you feel much better.
Jim glanced at his brother. "Again?"
Totally baffled, Steven lifted his hands and shrugged. "I haven't had a date since Debbie five months ago."
Jim nodded sympathetically. The breakup of the sixteen-month relationship had been hard on his brother. "When did you go to Sprouts?" It was an herbal and health store his partner, Blair Sandburg, often went to.
"Last night. I wrenched my shoulder at the gym last week and Motrin just doesn't seem to be working. A friend suggested a liniment they make there." Steven looked his brother in the eye. "I've never been in the store before. Heck, Paul had to give me directions."
"When did you get this note?"
Jim didn't like what that insinuated. "She had to have been following you."
"I didn't see anyone. But then..." Steven sighed.
"You weren't expecting anyone to be following you," Jim finished reassuringly. "Have you received all these notes at work?"
"All except the fruit basket last week. That was delivered to my apartment."
Jim's expression was grim. "Has there been any other type of contact, like a phone call or visit?"
"Just the notes, as far as I can tell. I've had a few hang-ups at home, but I figure they're just wrong numbers. Since I don't know who it is, I can't really say if she's been in my office, although I think she has."
"She just seems to know too much. She knows how long I work, what coffee I like, where the one flower she sent me was placed, and even that I hurt my shoulder. How could she know all that?"
"Some people can be pretty ingenious when they want to find out something," Jim muttered worriedly. "Have you told anyone else about these?"
"Ms. Lancin, since everything for me comes through her desk and she questioned me about it. My housekeeper, Mrs. Tillis, since she picked up the basket for me last week. And I asked building security to keep an eye out, but it was more like some big joke to them."
Hearing the embarrassment and dejection in his brother's voice, Jim reached over and squeezed his shoulder. Peering into the pale blue eyes so much like his own, he assured him, "I don't think this is a joke. In fact, I don't like this at all."
Steven still didn't look too convinced. "If whoever this is likes me that much, why doesn't she just introduce herself?"
"This isn't about real love; this is about delusions and stalking."
"Damn." Steven buried his head in his hands when Jim named his fear. "I was afraid of that. I just don't understand it. Why me? It's not like I'm famous or a model or something."
Jim could only shake his head. "I'm not sure why she's fixated on you. That's Sandburg's area of expertise; maybe he can tell you. But she has, so all we can do now is find out who she is and see if we can resolve the situation." Jim tilted his head as he continued to study his brother. "Would you like me to investigate?"
Steven raised his head and nodded. "I don't think she's going away anytime soon and it's just getting too weird."
Just as long as it doesn't turn violent. Jim pushed away thoughts of Rebecca Schaeffer, the young actress killed in her home by a stalker. He didn't want to scare his brother needlessly. "Do you mind if I bring Sandburg into this? This is more his kind of thing than mine."
Steven paused, thinking. "Okay."
Jim felt himself relax slightly. While Steven had been much more understanding about the incident over Blair's dissertation than their father, Jim wasn't sure if his brother totally trusted his partner yet. "Okay, I want you to make up a list of everyone and anyone you've contacted in the last three months. New companies, co-workers, neighbors, clients, stores where you shop, anything you can think of. Especially anything new around the time this started." Expecting his busy brother to complain, Jim was surprised when Steven immediately agreed. Damn, he's more scared about this than he's letting on.
Then Steven glanced at his watch. "Damn, I've got a meeting in twenty minutes."
"Why don't Sandburg and I drop by your office around 6?" Jim suggested. "We'll go out to dinner and discuss our plan of attack."
The first real smile since he had arrived stretched across Steven's face. "That would be great. Thanks, Jim."
"Anytime, Steven," Jim returned the grin, then grew serious again. "Just keep an eye out for any car following you or anyone showing a lot of interest."
"I will," Steven promised as he grabbed his briefcase. Jim watched as he wove through the crowded bullpen, looking every inch of the confident businessman that he was.
Yet there in the conference room, Jim had seen his little brother. The little brother who had once looked up to him and would run to him when scared or unsure. Steven hadn't shown Jim his vulnerable side in a very, very long time. It worried the older man to see it now.
Monday evening, the Burbank complex
"...had to have followed him, Chief. There is no other explanation." Jim parked his truck a block from the large business complex that housed Steven's company along with several other firms.
Blair nodded thoughtfully, noting the worried tone in his friend's voice. "Possibly. Although, did Steven pay by cash or credit card?"
Jim glanced at him. "You think this woman may have accessed his financial records?"
"What better way to track someone if you're interested in them?" Blair shrugged. "It just depends on how invested this person is in Steven at this point."
Jim muttered darkly as he climbed out of the truck. Blair slowly followed, studying their surroundings. He had never been to the complex before. Four dark glass towers rose twenty floors towards the sky, all connected by a common first two floors. It looked sleek, clean, modern, and a bit intimidating to Blair. It also somehow reminded the young detective of Steven Ellison.
With a start, Blair pushed away his own insecurities. While he always felt like the poor, dorky cousin when it came to Jim's brother, Steven himself had never acted that way towards him. Blair also felt guilty about the way the media had swarmed Steven when his dissertation about Jim's abilities surfaced. But this wasn't about Blair Sandburg. This was about his partner's brother, who was being stalked by an unknown predator. Perhaps Blair could make up for the previous incident if he could help Steven now.
The guard in the large lobby pointed them to the third bank of elevators. Noting Jim's glare, Blair whispered, "We don't know who Steven talked to. Let's get the facts before you start busting heads."
Jim shrugged as they got into the elevator. Blair covertly studied his partner. He was definitely in protective sentinel mode. Even worse than that, he was also in protective big brother mode. While Blair had been the recipient of that mode on more than one occasion, he rarely saw Jim in it for someone else.
Jim quickly exited the elevator when the door opened onto the tenth floor. Blair followed him around the main desk of Griffin Enterprises and two quick left turns. Then Blair nearly plowed into Jim's back when he suddenly paused mid-step. Quickly stepping to the side, Blair spotted the cause. Steven had apparently gotten another new secretary.
The slim young woman was dressed in a black blouse in the Goth style. Her hair was dark brown except for several dyed white locks. Dark purple lipstick stood out on her pale face, with her extremely long black nails completing the picture. At the moment, she was intently tapping away at her computer keyboard. She was definitely different from the last one whom Jim had described as a middle-aged blonde who wore a size 3X and liked pink. Upon further study, Blair noted that she really was quite pretty, in spite of her dark outfit. Looking up, she politely asked, "May I help you?"
Luckily, Jim had managed to compose himself before their eyes met. "Ms Lancin?"
Suspiciously, she replied, "Yes?"
"Is Steven in?"
Taking another look at the tall man, she asked, "Are you the policemen Mr. Ellison talked with earlier?"
"That's right," Blair replied, trying not to chuckle. He always told Jim that his looks screamed, 'cop'. "I'm Detective Blair Sandburg."
"And I'm Detective Jim Ellison," Jim added. "I'm Steven's brother."
The young woman's eyes widened. "Really? Well, Mr. Ellison is in his office right now finishing up a report. I can buzz him if you like."
Before Jim could reply, Steven stepped out of his office. "Ah, you're here." He turned to the young woman. "Ms. Lancin, I just sent the final report to you via email. Could you get that out in tomorrow morning's mail?"
"Not a problem, Mr. Ellison," the young woman replied solemnly.
"Then I'm leaving for the day," Steven replied with a weary smile. "Let me grab my briefcase and we can head out."
While Jim hated to bring up the subject so soon with Steven looking so exhausted, he had to ask. "Do you have any of the other letters? I thought we could take them with us and look them over during dinner."
Steven tensed slightly, but enough that his sentinel brother could spot it. "I only have that last one. I tossed the others."
"I saved the ones from the last two weeks," Ms. Lancin jumped in. She hopped out of her chair and walked over to the cabinet. Her fingers dancing over the tops of the hanging files, she missed Steven's surprised look. "I also accidentally found another folder one of the others kept with a couple of notes."
Trying not to smile at his brother's expense, Jim tapped Steven's shoulder. "Let's get your briefcase, Sandburg can grab the files, then we'll head out."
Catching Jim's eye as the older man steered Steven into his office, Blair walked over to give the young woman a friendly smile. "This is great that you kept them, Miss Lancin."
The woman gave him a pained look. "You can call me Lily. I'm not use to being called 'Miss'."
Blair chuckled. "I know what you mean. I'm still getting use to 'detective'. Anyway, we appreciate your efforts, Lily. We'll need everything we can get to help Steven out."
Lily gave him a worried look as she handed over the folders. "I hope you can do something. Mr. Ellison's been really fair and honest with me so far, and I don't want to see him hurt."
Blair, about to open one of the files, looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"
Lily waved a hand over the files. "Those are some weird letters. They remind me a little of the ones a friend used to get from her ex-boyfriend who was stalking her. He's a real scary dude who just wouldn't let her go and even tried to kill her mother. But the worst part was how he had her looking over her shoulder all the time and afraid to leave the house so she wouldn't run into him. I was so glad when they tossed his butt in jail, but my friend's really worried about what's going to happen in another sixteen months when they let the creep out. But anyway, I'd hate to have something like that happen to Mr. Ellison. Why, he even said I could leave early Wednesday so I could go to the Morrissy concert. There aren't too many bosses who would be that understanding when I've only been here two weeks."
"You got tickets?" Blair asked, eyes shining. "Cool. That should be a great show."
"I know, my friends and I have been looking forward to it for weeks. Which is why it was so nice of Mr. Ellison to let me go." She leaned a little closer to Blair. "I kinda worry about him since it sounds like she's following him. What if this weird chick has a gun?"
Blair nodded, knowing her concern was all too real. "We're going to try our best to stop it, and these could help a lot." He gave her a reassuring smile. "Though there is something else you can do." He handed her one of his cards. "Give me a call if you hear or see anything you think is suspicious. I'd appreciate it, and I know Jim would, too. He's really worried about his brother."
Lily looked worried herself. "I'll do anything I can to help."
Jim stepped out of the office with Steven. "Ready, Chief?"
"Yep. Let's go."
Twenty minutes later, Lucille's
Once they were tucked away in a corner table at Lucille's, Jim carefully extended his hearing. The high dividers with the mix of real and imitation plants gave a sense of privacy, but the sentinel wanted to make certain. First, he tuned out Blair's eager descriptions of the unique Cajun/American cuisine and related subculture. Then he concentrated on the tables around them. The family with three teenagers on the right was discussing football and an upcoming band competition. The couple behind him was in their own world, while the four ladies behind Blair and Steven were busy discussing writing techniques. Before Jim could scan any farther, a sudden crash sent a spike of pain through his head.
Blair broke off in mid sentence when Jim's hands went to his ears. "Damn," he whispered, realizing what had happened. As a puzzled Steven watched, Blair gently rubbed his partner's shoulder. "Easy, Jim. I know it's hard, but find the dial. Take a deep breath. That's it. Visualize..."
Realization hit Steven full in the face. The noisy collision between a busboy and a child must have hurt his brother's sensitive ears. After the media blitz and Blair's so-called public confession, Jim had admitted to him that he really was the sentinel Blair's dissertation had declared. At the time, Steven had been surprised that he really wasn't surprised. Deep down, he knew his older brother was gifted, just not the specifics of his gifts. He'd even teased Jim that now that he knew his 'trade secret', he might have to hire him to check on buildings being remodeled. While Jim had said the senses could be damn annoying, he still had been envious. But now, seeing the pain on his brother's normally stoic face, Steven realized that Jim had been downplaying the disadvantages, as usual.
Watching Blair softly soothe his brother, a sharp jab of jealousy pierced his heart. He was so envious of the younger man's easy relationship with Jim. A selfish part of him felt that he should be the one helping his brother. Yet Steven was honest enough to admit that it was his own fault that he'd lost that place by Jim's side. He should be glad Blair knew how to help his brother and leave it at that. Shoving the jealousy away, he focused on Jim.
Jim blinked to find two pairs of worried eyes riveted on him. He closed his own eyes again to rub his temples. "I hate it when that happens."
"Are you okay now?" Steven asked quietly, wondering just how often 'that' happened.
"A bit of a headache, but I'll survive." Jim forced his head up. "Where are those letters?" Blair rolled his eyes and pushed the folder towards his partner.
Knowing a misdirection tactic when he saw it, Steven sighed and played along. "I also have that list you asked for earlier." He bent over to pick up his briefcase as the waitress arrived.
Once they had given their drink orders to the waitress, Jim quickly began scanning the letters. He didn't like what he read. The tone of the letters was intimate and flirty, implying a relationship that wasn't there. Thankfully, there was nothing threatening within them, but he could see why his reserved brother was so uncomfortable. Taking a deep breath, Jim noted the faint scent of a light musk fragrance lingering on the letters.
"You've been getting these for about three months?" Blair asked, reading each one as Jim finished and passed it to him.
Steven nodded. "There weren't very many at first. At least a week would go by before I'd get another one. Since I'm so busy, I really didn't think much about them."
"In this one folder, the dates are about a week apart," Blair commented as he compared the earlier two with the two Jim had just passed him.
Checking the dates on the small stack in front of him, Jim commented, "Yet these in Ms. Lancin's folder seem to be coming about one per day."
"They are now," Steven confirmed. "That's why when she suggested I talk to the police, I thought maybe I should."
"Yeah, the letter writer's definitely escalated." Blair tapped the notes in front of him as he thought. "Not only in frequency, but in content. More intimate, more knowledgeable of you and your life."
"I just don't get it." Blair looked up to see Steven shift in his chair, the slight blush on his cheeks indicating his unease. "Why me?"
"Well, if this is an erotomanic, which is likely since you don't know who it is, they usually fixate on someone they see as an authority figure or of a higher class than themselves." Blair indicated Steve's smart shirt and tie with a hand. "You dress nicely, are a rising business man of a successful company, and come from a good, upper class family. You would be considered a tempting target."
"What's an 'erotomanic'?" Steven asked, curious in spite of himself.
"It's a type of delusional disorder, where a person is deluded into thinking he or she is loved by another person. It's only been recognized recently as a separate disorder, because it's usually considered secondary to another mental disorder like schizophrenia."
"So this person falsely thinks I love her?" Steven asked, praying the person after him wasn't schizophrenic as well. "But if she thinks I love her, why not contact me?"
Blair paused a moment, trying to think of a way to best explain it. "It's like when you're a young teenager. Most go through a period where they fixate on someone, like a TV star, a musician of a popular band, a favorite teacher, or even a police detective who helps them out." Blair shot Jim a smirk, remembering Stacy Newman, a young woman who had awakened after an eight year coma to discover she had totally missed her teen years. She had fallen for Jim while they were helping her.
"Like a crush," Steven prodded.
"Exactly. A teen will envision a relationship with someone that's safe because they're unattainable. Only erotomanics are stuck in that stage, lacking the social skills to make real friendships or intimate relationships. So they build fantasy relationships with some person from afar." Blair stopped talking when he noticed the waitress approaching with the drinks.
Once they had given their orders, Jim returned to the topic. "This is more than a high school crush, Chief. This person honestly thinks Steven knows them and loves them."
"That's why it's a delusional disorder," Blair patiently explained. "Reality has nothing to do with it. It wouldn't matter if Steven was happily married with three kids. This person would still build her delusions thinking they are 'soul mates' and that he loves only her. Since he is someone 'important' in her mind, his love makes her a worthwhile person."
"But how does she find out all this stuff about me?" Steven waved his hand then winced. "Like my shoulder and going to Sprouts?" Jim frowned, realizing his brother's shoulder was still bothering him.
"Erotomanics tend to be above average in intelligence, so they can get very creative in finding ways to gleam as much information about you as possible and thus be closer to you. The more information they know about their love object, the more intimate they feel towards them. That's why actors and actresses tend to be targets; there are tons of details about their personal lives made public by magazines and TV shows like Entertainment Tonight. The stalker feels that they 'know' that person, because they know so much about them. Plus, that's why they become stalkers. Every time they see you it makes them feel more a part of your life. Whether you know they're there or not, it feeds their delusions to think that you do know they're there and love them."
"So what if I just confront this person and tell them to bug off?" Steven asked, searching for a way to deal with the situation.
Blair shrugged. "Probably won't do any good. You'll be paying attention to her, giving her a response that in her deluded state, she will twist into something that means you love her. For instance, telling her to 'go to hell' would become 'my life is hell without you'. The delusion thrives on contact with the love object."
"So what do I do?" Steven asked forlornly, highly uncomfortable being described as a 'love object'.
"Usually, there are only four ways to stop a stalker. One is to scare them off, which only works if the person isn't that invested in you." Blair could see by the gleam in his partner's eyes that Jim liked that option. "Two is to totally disappear. You'd have to move somewhere far way, cutting off every tie you have with your old life and obtain a totally new identity."
Steven stared at him in horror. "No way."
"Agree," Blair nodded. "Not only is it incredibly rough on the victim, but it can be almost impossible to do. There is almost always some link that a person misses and the stalker will find. Option three is incarceration."
"That's probably the most reasonable," Jim agreed firmly. "It's now illegal to stalk someone in this state, so with evidence we can put them away."
"While praying they fixate on some other poor person," Blair muttered.
"So what do I do to build my case?" Steven asked.
"We start by having you obtain a restraining order," Jim replied. "It will establish that you don't want contact."
"On who?" Blair countered. "We need a name to get a restraining order."
The three men stared at each other a moment, broken when the waitress arrived with their food. Once she was gone, Steve quietly asked, "What's the fourth option?"
Blair's eyes dropped to the plate in front of him. "Death of the stalker."
"Then we'll have to try incarceration first," Jim observed grimly. "Which means we have to find out her name."
Twenty minutes later, Jim glanced up from Steven's list to see his brother idly picking at his fish. "Steve, you okay?"
Steven dropped the fork and sighed. "I keep wondering if I'm being watched, WHEN I'm being watched. How much she's been digging up on my personal life. I feel like I need to jump up and look over my shoulder real fast to see if anyone's there."
Jim reached over and gently squeezed his brother's shoulder. "We'll catch her. It'll just take a little time."
Deciding Steven needed a distraction, Blair pulled a name off Steven's list, "Who's Dory Jamison?"
"One of the new vice presidents," Steven replied, rolling his eyes. "She and the main VP I work under, Jake Wilson, have fought with each other since day one."
"She show any interest in you?" Blair inquired.
Steven snorted. "Only as a means to get back at Jake. They each try to score off the other, and I'm in the crossfire."
Jim appraised his brother a moment, again noticing the fatigue. "How bad is it?"
Steven shrugged. "Nothing Jake and I can't handle so far. I've just had to stay on my toes more than normal."
Jim studied him a moment more, knowing Steven was telling the truth but that it was still taking a toll on him. Oh well, one problem at a time. "What's this 'Charity auction' thing?"
"One of Jamison's ideas," Steven sighed. "Apparently, the president of Children's Hospital is good friends with the director of The Community Lights Foundation, so she talked him into letting her do a bachelor's auction to benefit the hospital. Some sort of political thing. Anyway, Jamison figured that it would be good publicity for our company to be involved, so the next thing I knew, I had 'volunteered'."
Jim's eyes narrowed. "Volunteered to do what?" Steven's face turned beet red.
A snicker escaped before Blair could stop it. "You're one of the bachelors?"
When Steven didn't reply, Jim's eyes widened. "You're kidding?"
Steven shook his head. "Jamison thinks it's a riot. Jake just kinda shrugs while telling me to at least get a decent bid, so that the company doesn't look bad." He glanced at Jim. "It's for Children's Hospital. I just couldn't back out."
Jim nodded. He knew that Children's Hospital was the one charity Steven really cared about. "So when is this auction?"
"Next week. I had to fill out a bunch of forms about three months ago so they could do a background check on me." Steven smiled. "Guess they wanted to make sure I wasn't an abuser or pervert on the side."
"Too bad they can't do the same for the ones bidding on you," Jim replied thoughtfully. "So that means you filled out the paperwork at the same time the letters arrived?"
"It was around that time."
Jim glanced at Blair. "That sounds like a good avenue to pursue, along with Jamison."
"Wait a minute," Steven interjected, sitting up straight. "You can't go to my bosses with this."
"Why not?" Jim asked.
"Jim," Blair rolled his eyes. "We don't want to get Steven fired."
"Then we'll have to be subtle." Steven and Blair looked at each other, then at Jim. Jim lifted his eyebrows. "What? I can be subtle."
Blair looked at Steven. "I'll do the digging into Jamison for you."
For the first time, Steven felt truly comfortable with Jim's partner. "Thanks, Blair."
With a shake of his head, Jim turned to the next item. "Okay, another question. Do you have Caller ID?"
Steven looked puzzled. "No. Why?"
"I want to find out if those hang-ups are wrong numbers or the letter writer checking on you."
Steven took a deep breath. "I guess I just call the phone company?" His mind whirling, he tried to figure out when he'd have time to call.
"Have Lily do it for you," Blair suggested, reading the strain on Steven's face. "It sounds like she really wants to help."
"Lily?" Jim asked.
"Ms. Lancin," Steven answered.
Jim chuckled. He knew his partner could charm her. "By the way, bro, where did you pick her up at? The University? Looks like a couple of the gals Sandburg's dated." Blair gave Jim a playful glare.
"The employment agency sent her over." Steven shook his head. "I think I'm on their reject list, since I've gone through so many. So I get the odder ones."
"Yeah, but she seems on the ball," Blair replied.
Steven smiled. "Yeah. She's the first one who's been able to figure out how to work the fax machine."
"Just do me a favor and don't ask her out, Chief." Jim gave Blair a pointed look. "She's bound to turn into a weirdo if you do."
"Like YOU have such great luck with woman?" Blair countered. Noticing that Steven was starting to relax, they continued to banter for the rest of the meal.
Hour later, Burbank Complex
As Steven's car pulled away from the curb, Jim monitored the area with his senses, alert for any motion or noise. When nothing seemed to take an interest in Steven's BMW, he sighed and climbed into his truck.
Blair glanced up from his notes. "Nothing?"
Jim shook his head. "I'm worried, Chief. I can tell he's tired between the tense situation at work and the auction stuff. This stalker is just one more thing he doesn't need."
"By the way," Blair prodded gently. "What did Steven mean about not being able to turn down Children's Hospital?"
"They saved my life when we were kids."
"What?" Blair turned to face his partner. "You never mentioned that!"
"Not much to mention." Jim shrugged, staring straight ahead. "I was pretty young at the time. I don't even remember the accident and Pop would never talk about it. Sally said it was only due to the great work at the hospital that I survived. So Steven has always contributed to it."
Seeing the darkening gloom around his friend, Blair attempted to cheer him up. "Hey man, it sounds like Steven can handle the work stuff. We just have to support him through the stalker stuff."
Unconsciously clenching his jaw, Jim stared straight ahead. "At least she hasn't made any threats yet."
"Ah, that might actually be a bad sign, Jim."
Worried blue eyes instantly turned to his partner. "What do you mean, bad sign?"
Blair sighed. "Well, of course it depends on what mental problem the stalker has. But statistically, only three to five percent of erotomanics who threaten to kill their love object actually do it. It's when an erotomanic starts saying things like he and his love object will be 'united' on such and such a date that you need to get worried. They tend to think they will be united in death."
Jim took a deep breath. "I don't like the sounds of that. This woman has already inferred that she and Steven will be 'together again'."
Blair sent a worried look to Jim. "It gets worse. Erotomanics are more likely to kill a close friend or family member of their love object because they think that person is standing in their way."
"I can handle it," Jim replied with a shrug. "I just don't want her going after my brother." With that statement, Jim started the truck. Blair sighed, worried that Jim wasn't taking the all too real threat to himself seriously.
Tuesday morning, Griffin Enterprises
Steven wearily leaned against the elevator wall and closed his eyes. He was so tired. Five hang-up calls had interrupted his sleep until after one in the morning. It had been too late to write them off as wrong numbers or telemarketers, so Steven knew Jim was right: it had to be the stalker. The realization had filled him with tension, so he had had very little sleep even after the calls stopped.
After hours of tossing, he got up early to drive to the old train station his company was remodeling. He needed to check that the supplies he had ordered had been delivered as promised. Arriving at the same time as the crew, the foreman had taken the opportunity to talk with him. The crew had found unexpected but extensive water damage upstairs. After viewing the damage and discussing the situation with the foreman and the architect, who had arrived early to take a look, Steven compiled a list of suggested solutions. Now he just had to figure out which one was both safe and affordable. He had walked out to the parking lot with the architect, who had patted him hard on the back and asked if he was feeling okay. Steven had somehow managed to shrug it off without being too grouchy, but he wasn't sure he had been convincing.
Later, as his car crawled with all the others in rush hour traffic, Steven found himself covertly studying his fellow commuters in the surrounding cars, even using his rearview mirror to examine the ones behind him. With each female occupant, he wondered, 'Is it her? Could she be following me?' He finally cranked up a talk show on the radio to distract his thoughts.
Now he had to somehow find the energy to handle a full day of work. He stretched his aching shoulder, praying he could last without falling asleep at his desk. Getting off at his floor, Steven's feet traveled to his office on autopilot.
"Hi, Mr. Ellison."
Steven gave his new office assistant a quick once over as he tried to smile. Today she was wearing a red velvet top under a black linen jacket. A huge, silver, Celtic cross on a black beaded chain hung from her neck. Too bad my stalker isn't a vampire. That cross would scare her off. At least the deep red lipstick was an improvement over the hideous purple from yesterday. "Hi, Ms. Lancin. Have I had any calls yet?"
Lily shook her head, studying him worriedly. "Just Mr. Wilson. He said he'd be down around ten."
Glancing at the small digital clock on her desk, Steven noticed it was already 9:30. He sighed, thinking of all the work he had to do and wondering what extra project Jake would dump on him. Then he remembered Blair's suggestion. "Ms. Lancin, could you do me a favor? I'd like to get Caller ID on my home phone."
Eyes and voice growing hard, the young woman inquired, "That weirdo calling you at home now?"
Steven shrugged. "I've been getting a lot of hang-ups and Jim thinks it might be her."
She grabbed the telephone book. "I'm on it."
Steven stepped around her desk to walk to his office when the building delivery man arrived. The uneasy feeling that had plagued him all day grew. Turning around, he watched as Lily signed the clipboard and was handed a mailing box the size of a video. "Is it for me?"
Lily gave him a fretful look. "Yes. And it's the weirdo's handwriting." She picked up a small business card that had been carefully placed next to the phone. "Do you want me to call Detective Sandburg, Mr. Ellison?"
Steven ran a hand over his hair, hating to have to call for help but knowing he was out of his league. "Yes."
Twenty minutes later
Jim stormed up to Lily's desk, Blair barely keeping up. The sentinel was becoming very annoyed with the person bothering his brother. However, his beef wasn't with the young woman at the desk. "Good Morning, Ms. Lancin."
"Hello, Detective Ellison," Lily replied, subdued.
Blair, reading the signs, asked, "How's Steven?"
"He looks really tired. But then, he said he had some hang-up phone calls last night."
Flames briefly sparked in Jim's eyes before he controlled his anger. "Have either of you opened the package?"
"No." Steven stepped out of his office in time to hear Jim's question. "I thought there might be some fingerprints or something you could use."
"Good thinking," Jim praised his brother, noting for himself the fatigue on the younger man's face. "Any progress on that Caller ID?"
"It's all set up," Lily piped up. "I'll pick up the box at lunch." Steven gave her a grateful smile.
"We HAVE to be ready before Gafkin arrives! You should have your people organized well enough to handle this!"
"Don't worry about MY people. Worry about your own!"
Steven groaned. Noticing Jim's eye on him, Steven whispered sentinel soft, "Jamison and Wilson. Gafkin is the company head." When Jim's eyes grew speculative, Steven sent a pleading look to behave.
The first person around the corner was a man about Jim's size and age. His blond hair was slicked back, and the blue eyes held a determined, self-assured look. Jostling for space in the narrow hall next to him was an impeccably dressed woman of about the same age. Her dark head was held at an arrogant angle while her dark eyes were cold and just as determined. Stopping at the desk, she looked down her nose at Lily. "Another odd one, Ellison?"
Steven barely kept from glaring. Blair suddenly realized that jaw clenching must run in the Ellison genes. "This is my new secretary..."
However, Jamison had already dismissed the girl from her attention and turned to examined Blair and Jim from head to toe. For a moment, Blair felt like he was a dish of Jell-O on a dessert tray. "Who are you?"
Before Steven could speak, Jim offered his hand, meeting her challenging eyes with a bland, arrogant stare of his own. "Jim Ellison, Steven's brother."
Jake sent a puzzled glance at Steven as the woman purred, "I see good looks run in the family." With Jamison's attention held by Jim, Lily covertly passed the package to Blair. "May I ask why you're here?"
"Just needed to talk to Steven about a family matter, Ms...?"Jim returned politely, but not backing down.
"Ms. Dory Jamison. I'm one of the Vice Presidents of this company." She continued to study the large man in front of her. "In fact, I need to speak with your brother. We have an urgent meeting coming up."
Catching the brief, startled look that crossed Steven's face, Jim realized that this was the first time the younger Ellison had heard of it. Jim tipped his head slightly in deference, though his eyes plainly stated it was by his good will alone that he was allowing her near Steven at all. "That's fine. My partner and I were just leaving. Come on, Chief." Blair quickly followed Jim's lead.
Watching the two men walk down the hall, Jamison asked, "Partner?" with a slight sneer.
"Steven's brother is a police detective," Jake replied, again shooting Steven a puzzled look.
"That's right," Steven replied, struggling to keep the sharpness out of his voice. He hadn't liked the way she looked at Jim, nor the haughty sneers she'd given Blair and Lily. While normally he could ignore Jamison's rudeness, a part of him felt that family should be exempt. "He and his partner, Blair Sandburg, are two of the best detectives in the city."
"Hmm," Dory murmured. Then she shook her head in dismissal, turning to glare at Steven. "We need to talk."
Steven elegantly indicated his office with a hand. "After you." He caught Lily's sympathetic eyes before turning to follow.
An hour later, Major Crimes
"ELLISON! SANDBURG! My office, NOW!"
Jim and Blair exchanged glances. "What now?" Blair asked, eyes wide.
"You got me," Jim shrugged. They stood up in unison, then bravely walked into their fuming captain's office.
Blair closed the door behind him. "Yes, sir?"
"Sit." Simon Banks waited until they were in front of him, then waved a folder. "What's this about fingerprints off of a video tape? Which case is this?"
Jim and Blair glanced at each other. "Actually, sir," Jim began as he sat up straight, unconsciously fallen into his 'military mode'. "That is a case I'm working on for my brother."
"Brother?" Simon questioned. "Steven?"
"He's being stalked, Simon," Blair jumped in, wanting to put their leader in a sympathetic mode. "He doesn't know who she is, and she's escalating."
"For Steven to even come to me means he's nervous," Jim added. "And after reading those letters, I don't blame him."
It worked. Simon frowned worriedly, remembering the soft-spoken young businessman. "Where are these letters? And what's a video tape have to do with it?"
Blair jumped up to get the letters as Jim explained, "It arrived at his office this morning. We're hoping to get some finger prints or some kind of a lead, so we can at least identify this woman."
Simon glanced at the report. "There are a couple of partials, but we'll need someone to compare them to, or we're just shooting in the dark."
"I know, sir," Jim replied. "But it might help later when we need hard evidence pinning her to the crime."
Blair returned, carrying both folders and a video. "Serena just returned the tape." He handed the folders over to Simon. "May I pop it in?"
Simon nodded as he began to read.
Blair turned on the TV and VCR, slipped the tape in, then punched play. An image of a building burst onto the screen. "Ah, Jim..."
"That's Steven's apartment building," Jim confirmed.
They watched as Steven pulled into his designated spot, parked his BMW, and climb out. "Jim, isn't that what Steven was wearing last night?"
"You're right, Chief." Jim continued to focus on the image as it followed his brother up the sidewalk and into his building. The screen briefly went black before showing a large piece of paper with the words, "Where did you go last night?" written in a shaky scrawl.
"God, Jim." Blair's eyes were wide with worry. "She really is trying to keep close tabs on him."
Simon cleared his throat. "Okay, you two. I won't assign you new cases this week. Just finish up your current ones, and concentrate on catching this pervert."
"Thanks, Simon," Jim replied gratefully as they stood up.
Tuesday afternoon, Burbank Complex
"It's not our problem some fancy businessman is having trouble with a girlfriend." The pale, flabby man who was head of security shrugged. "We have more important things to do."
"More important than the safety of the people in this building?" Jim growled menacingly.
"Jim," Blair hissed under his breath, knowing his sentinel could hear it.
The head man, apparently not realizing the danger he was in, waved Jim off. "We have to keep this whole building secure. Which is too big a job to be chasing after some poor, heartsick woman."
This time, Blair grabbed Jim's arm before he could lunge. "This isn't doing any good. Let's get out of here."
Jim gave the man his deadliest, feral glare. In a voice cold enough to freeze nitrogen, he stated, "I'll leave with this warning: If anything happens to my brother in this building, your ass is mine."
Blair shook his head as they left the security office. "Oh, that's a good way to win them over."
"I don't care if I win them over. I just want the airbag to protect Steven."
Blair sighed. "Maybe he's more competent than he sounds."
"I doubt it." Jim glanced around the bank of computers. "Now, which tower is this 'Community Lights Foundation' in?"
Blair quickly consulted his notebook. "Southeast. Are you ready to talk with them?" Having watched the sentinel grow tenser and angrier as the day worn on, Blair wasn't sure how much Jim would take without exploding.
"Yeah." Jim rubbed his face a moment. "This is the one I really want to talk to."
Blair nodded as he followed his partner into the elevator. "Yeah, considering how much info Steven would have given for the background check."
"Plus they're in the same building," Jim pointed out. "In spite of the airbag's whining, once you're past the front lobby, security isn't that tight. Anyone from any of the towers could take an elevator to the second floor, walk across to another elevator, and ride up into another tower without question."
"Especially if they are charity employees," Blair replied thoughtfully.
Getting off on the ninth floor, the partners followed the signs to the Foundation's office. Stepping through the door, they were faced immediately with the receptionist's desk in the cramped office. In direct contrast to Steven's petite Goth secretary, the Foundation's secretary was a tanned body-builder. Dressed in a casual short sleeve, baby blue blouse and dark blue slacks, the blonde woman ruled her desk. Blair briefly wondered how fast she could break him in two, though the way she was checking Jim and him out, he didn't think 'hurting' them was what she had in mind. "May I help you?"
"I'm Detective Ellison and my partner, Detective Sandburg. May we speak with your boss?"
Her eyes widened. "Is Betty in trouble?"
"No, ma'am," Blair assured her politely, giving her one of his best smiles. "We just have a few questions for her." He quietly studied the office filled with boxes and filing cabinets. Next to him, Jim suddenly sneezed hard. Blair handed Jim a kleenex as he noted the dust clinging to the nearby boxes.
The woman turned. "Terry, could you take these men back to Ms. Lesley?"
It startled Blair for a moment when a short-haired figure in a dark blue sweatshirt and jeans stood up from among the boxes. "Yes, Ms. Lundy." Dark eyes studied them a moment before waving them to follow. Blair was glad for a guide, considering the winding path through the boxes to the back office.
Terry knocked on the door before opening it. "Ms. Lesley, there's some cops here to see you."
A petite, nervous woman glanced up. "For the policeman's ball? Heavens, that's not for at least another five months!"
"No, ma'am," Blair replied respectfully. "We'd like to talk with you about the bachelor's auction."
"Really?" Ms. Lesley turned around and gazed at them speculatively. "Did Commissioner Mathews finally agree to send me some bachelors?"
Blair's eyes grew wide as Jim smoothly interjected, "No, ma'am. My brother's one of the bachelors to be auctioned off--"
"And he convinced you to join up?" she interrupted eagerly.
Blair smothered a snicker as Jim's cool nearly broke. "No! Actually, we'd like to discuss your procedures for the auction."
The woman frowned. "Whatever for?"
"My brother, Steven Ellison with Griffin Enterprises, has been bothered by someone sending him strange letters. We're trying to track down how information about his life was given to the letter writer."
"Another one?" Then Ms. Lesley looked up. "Terry, that will be all. Continue working on that flyer for me."
Once the silent employee had reluctantly left, Blair carefully prodded, "Another one?"
Ms. Lesley waved a hand. "Apparently there are a lot of psychos in this town."
"Well, just in case we're talking about the same psycho, could you please give us the names of any one else who's had letters?"
"And scare off my bachelors?" She flipped several of her dark braids over her shoulder. "I should say not!"
Noting the flash of anger in his partner's face, Blair quickly replied, "If you still want Steven Ellison in this charity function, you need to cooperate with us." That seemed to cool the woman down a bit. "Steven said that you collected information to do a background check?"
"Of course," Ms. Lesley answered, still perturbed. "After that 'Marry a Millionaire' scandal, we've been extra careful about who we allow in the show.
"Who has access to the background check information?" Jim asked.
"Myself. My staff: Joanne Lundy, Suzie Craig, and Terry Hudson. And the nice police officer who does the checks for us. Commissioner Mathews set it up."
"May I have the name of the officer?" Blair requested. After a haughty glare, Blair explained, "Just so we can make sure no one at his end gave the information to anyone."
"All right. But if ANY ONE of my bachelors drops out at this late date due to you, I WILL call the Police Commissioner. I'm friends with the mayor and his wife, you know."
"Yes, ma'am," Jim replied through gritted teeth as Blair flipped over a clean sheet of paper.
Tuesday evening, Steven's office
"Have you found those files yet?"
Lily pulled her head out of a filing cabinet. "I finally found the hard copy, but I can't find the electronic one."
Steven closed his eyes a moment, forcing his weary mind to work. "Okay, that was the week Mrs. Brennon was here, and I seem to remember her accidentally deleting a whole directory."
"A WHOLE directory?" Lily repeated, eyes wide. "Couldn't she recover it?"
Steven shook his head. "That woman destroyed everything she touched."
"Well, I can look through the backups."
"Never mind. Give me the hard copy, and I'll type in the section I need at home tonight."
Lily walked over to her desk and picked up a diskette. "Here's all the updated info on the Parkstreet Station renovations and the Turner project. I can make up pie charts and bar graphs once I know what you need."
Steven gave her a weary smile as he took the disk and the folder from her. "Thanks. I should have that pulled together tonight."
Steven and Lily looked up to spot Blair and Jim entering the office. "You about ready to go home?" Jim asked.
Steven's brow wrinkled in puzzlement. "Why?"
"Because it's nearly seven, and I thought I'd ride home with my brother," Jim quietly told him.
"This have something to do with the video tape?" Steven asked, his gut tightening. He had been too busy during the day to call Jim about it.
"Yeah, we'll discuss it once we get to your place." Jim could see the strain increase across Steven's shoulders.
To break the tension, Blair glanced at the stacks of folders on Lily's desk. "What's up?"
Steven ran a hand through his hair. "The heads of the company are flying in from Europe on Thursday, and everyone has to present status reports on the various projects."
"Ouch," Blair winced. "That doesn't give you much notice."
"Can't be helped," Steven replied with a shrug.
"Are you about ready?" Jim asked. Steven had deep circles under his eyes. His older brother's concern rose another notch.
"What about your truck?" Steven asked.
"We came over in my car." Blair gave his partner a smirk. "Since Jim does strange things in the passenger seat because he isn't allowed to drive my car, it'd probably be better if he rides with you."
Lily glanced at Blair. "Why can't he drive your car?"
Giving her one of his charming smiles, Blair suggested, "Why don't I walk you to your car, and I'll tell you about it on the way."
Returning the smile, Lily grabbed a couple of folders and her purse. Yanking her cape off the coat rack, she replied, "Sounds like a deal."
Steven lifted an eyebrow at Jim. "You aren't allow to drive Blair's car?"
Jim gave his imitation of a stone wall. "Sandburg holds grudges."
"Grudges for what?" Steven walked back into his office, picking his briefcase up from the floor.
"I was driving his last car when it blew up."
Pausing after tossing a couple of diskettes into his briefcase, Steven stared at his brother. "You blew the engine? Driving it in a chase, I'd bet."
Jim stared at the ceiling. "Actually, the perp had a rocket launcher."
Steven snorted, struggling to contain his laughter at the image Jim just provided. "You mean, the car LITERALLY blew up?" Jim's shrug was enough to send Steven laughing. "No wonder Blair won't let you drive his new car." Steven led his brother through the office to the elevators.
"Wasn't MY fault," Jim retorted. "It could have just as easily have been Blair driving."
"So you do strange things in the passenger's seat to get back at him?"
Jim finally smiled. "Actually, he was refering to the test drive..."
The wild story Jim weaved about the Cobra's test drive had Steven chuckling the rest of the way to the underground garage. Then suddenly he stopped and stared, all the good humor flowing out of his body. His nicely detailed car was now a mess. Someone had written, 'Why is your brother after me?" in soap across the hood of his BMW. The rest of the car was covered in X's and O's, while the two tires Steven could see were flat. For a moment, he felt like he might become physically ill.
Then a warm hand squeezed his shoulder. Faintly, Steven heard Jim talk softly over his cell phone as his comforting hand continued to rub the tense muscles. Then the same soft voice spoke directly to him. "We'll get her."
"Yeah," Steven replied slowly, his eyes never leaving the car. "But will I still have a life by then?"
Wednesday afternoon, Major Crimes
Leaning on his elbows, Jim rubbed his face wearily. A soft voice asked, "You doing okay, Jim?"
Jim managed a slight twist on his lips to reassure his partner. "Just tired. Any luck with the background check on Jamison?"
"While the nicest thing anyone has called her is 'witch', her record is clean so far. Still waiting on some information, though." Blair lifted an eyebrow. "How about you?"
"Turns out it was one of your old academy friends, Johnson, who did the background checks on the bachelors. He's a lot more helpful than Ms. Lesley. We found three more reports of 'volunteers' who received weird letters after signing up. I've contacted them all. Two of them only received a couple letters a few months ago, and one received three letters about six to eight weeks ago. However, none have received one in the last four weeks."
"It fits," Blair nodded. "Erotomanics will often inexplicably switch love objects. The guy who killed Rebecca Schaeffer actually stalked singers Debbie Gibson and Tiffany for a while. However, it sounds like this one has focused on Steven, so she's leaving the others alone."
"Lucky them," Jim replied.
"How's Steven holding up?" Blair asked.
"At the moment, it's a toss up on what's scaring him more: the stalker or the presentation for the company big wigs tomorrow."
"Just what he needs," Blair replied with a shake of his head. "He's got to learn a way to relieve stress, or he's going to have a heart attack before you do."
"Hey, Ellison!" Henri Brown approached with his bright smile. "Got your mail." He dropped the envelopes onto Jim's desk.
"Thanks, H." Jim began sorting through the stack. "Steven was working out in the gym regularly, but hurt his shoulder last week."
"Yeah, I noticed he was trying to loosen it up during dinner the other day. Has he tried--"
"What the..." Jim interrupted, pulling a letter out of the pile.
"Isn't that the same color stationary--" Blair began.
"That Steven's stalker is using." Jim pulled out a drawer, his right hand searching before Blair helpfully yanked out a pair of gloves for him. Taking the gloves, Jim suddenly stopped. He leaned over the envelope, sniffing.
"What is it?" Blair asked softly, glancing around to make sure no one was watching them.
"A faint musk fragrance. It was on the other letters Steven's received. Smells familiar, but I can't place it." Shoving the mystery to the side for the moment, Jim swiftly slipped the glove onto his hand, then gingerly felt for anything suspicious. Sensing only a folded piece of paper inside, he opened the envelope and pulled out the letter. With Blair leaning over his shoulder, Jim unfolded it and read:
"Great," Blair muttered darkly. "There's the first threat, and it's against you."
"Too bad she picked the wrong person to threaten," Jim growled, anger glowing in his eyes. "She'll get to Steven over my dead body."
Blair ran a hand through his hair nervously. "Yeah, well, that's what I'm afraid of."
Wednesday evening, Steven's office
Steven leaned back from the computer, rubbing his eyes with one hand while holding his cell phone to his ear with the other. "Yeah, Jim, I know it's nearly nine... Maybe another half hour... No, she had that concert tonight... Well, she did volunteer, but I had already told her she could go. Not her fault this got dumped on me... Maybe, but she's really worked hard for me this week... Yeah, I kinda wish I'd gone to more concerts when I was her age, too... I could take a taxi home, you know... Okay, I'll be ready to leave then... See you, bro." Steven folded up the phone and sighed. Moving the mouse, he set the next color slide to print. He stood up and stretched, wincing at the pull of his sore shoulder. It seemed to be getting worse instead of better. Probably stress. Trying to hold back a yawn, Steven walked out of the office and down the hall to the group's only color printer.
Once he was gone, a shadow fell along the wall of Lily's area. Hands in black gloves popped open the lid of the coffee pot, pouring a liquid in with the freshly made drink. After swirling the contents around, the hands replaced the pot and the shadow disappeared.
Steven returned, sorting through the slides in his hand. Setting them down on the open folder on Lily's desk, he noticed that the coffee was finally done. His mind still three quarters on how to set up his last slide, he picked up his mug and walked over to the maker. After pouring a cup and taking a drink, Steven jerked back as he wrinkled his nose. "Yuck," he muttered as he picked up the sugar dispenser. "I thought I did it right." He poured in a generous amount and stirred it. Taking another experimental sip, he grimaced in disgust. "Guess I did something wrong." He walked back into his office, mind already back on his presentation.
Twenty minutes later
"...think he'd go for some Chinese?" Blair's voice drifted down the hallway as the elevator door opened.
"I hope so, Chief. I'm starved." Suddenly, Jim paused in the hallway, head tilted.
"Don't... Don't touch me."
"Steven!" Jim was instantly flying down the hall, Blair quickly recovering to follow him. Before they had reached Griffin Enterprises main desk, both spotted someone in the shadows dashing out of the hall leading from Steven's office. The same fragrance from the letter tickled the sentinel's nose. "Freeze! Cascade PD!" The person simply disappeared around the corner.
"I've got it!" Blair shouted, waving Jim towards his brother while he chased the shadow. Dashing down two dim halls, Blair barely kept the shadow in view, only catching a glimpse here and there. At one point, the shadow shoved a rolling table with folders in front of him. He barely managed to dodge the cart on wheels without falling on his face. When he finally thought he was gaining, the chase was cut short when a tall body suddenly stepped into his path. Blair and the other man collided, sending plastic viewgraphs flying in all directions.
"You should watch what you're doing!" the man yelled. "Now I'm going to have to do these slides again! I could have you fired for this!"
"Good luck," Blair muttered as he jumped to his feet. He raced down to the end of the hall. Though he could clearly see in three directions, there was no movement. Heart in his mouth, Blair chose one and carefully crept down it, checking the doors and entryways, wondering what was going on with Jim and Steven.
Fear adding speed to his steps, Jim raced to his brother's office. "Steven?" he called out as he paused by Lily's desk. Moans and rustlings drew him into Steven's main office. "Steven? Answer me." He paused a moment in the doorway, shocked to see Steven sitting on the floor in a corner, pulling at his blue shirt. The sentinel immediately noted the dazed look and dilated pupils. Ah Steven, what has she done to you? "Stevie?"
Blinking slowly, his younger brother attempted to work loose the buttons on his shirt. "It scratches, Jimmy," the shaky voice announced.
Jim eased himself down to his brother's level, kneeling on the floor a foot from him. "What scratches?"
"The shirt. And, and the room's cold, and so dry it's pricking my skin, and it's spinning around, around, around..."
Jim's stomach clenched. Steven's voice was higher than normal, almost like he was drunk or high. Knowing his brother hated drugs and had been concentrating on his presentation, Jim was certain he hadn't had anything stronger than coffee. At least, nothing he'd know about. Could he have been slipped something? His experience in covert ops and PD told him yes, especially considering the shadow creeping out of the office. "Steven, do you remember someone being here?"
"Don't touch me," Steven yelped as he flinched, jerking away from his brother. He began to tremble, staring out into space. "Hurts to touch. And, and my shoulder, like it's on fire, it hurts so deep. And everything's spinnninngggg. My head, my eyes, my tummy..."
Spotting the subtle change on Steven's face, Jim just barely grabbed the trash can in time. As Steven emptied his stomach into the container, Jim swiftly reviewed his options. One stood out in the forefront he had to get Steven to a hospital as quick as possible, in case he got too much of whatever it was that he was slipped. Absently, he yanked off his own leather jacket and draped it over his brother's trembling shoulders as Steven finally sat up.
The jacket immediately caught Steven's attention. "Soft." His fingers lightly ran over the material. "Ripples turning and curving... Warm and fuzzy. Jimmy, I'm going to be sick again." As the slim body was again wracked with dry heaves, Jim wrinkled his nose as he reviewed the can's new contents. Wasn't much more than coffee in there. Figures, since Steven had been too stressed to eat much the previous night. Jim briefly wondered if the younger man had eaten anything the whole day. Certainly wouldn't help matters, especially if this was something he had ingested.
Blair slid through the doorway. "Sorry, Jim. I ran into somebody, literally, and lost her." He noticed the pair on the floor. "Jim?"
"Never mind." Jim waved him off, still concentrating on Steven. "Call an ambulance, tell 'em to meet us downstairs. We've a victim given an unknown substance. Then help me with Steven."
Steven flinched back from their hands, throwing his arms at them. "Don't touch me! Hurts!" Perplexed, Blair's brow puckered. He suddenly realized he had pieces of a puzzle in his hands, he just didn't know what to do with them. Deciding to figure it out later, he flipped open his cell phone.
"Steven, look at me." Jim finally caught his brother's eye. "Concentrate on me. We need to get you out of here. We won't hurt you."
"Jim?" Steven stared straight into Jim's eyes, tremors still shaking his body. Seeing the muscles contract and relax, Jim wasn't sure if Steven was chilled or about to seizure. "Warm?"
"I'm right here, and I'll get you warm. I need to get you downstairs, okay? Can you ease your arm over my shoulder?"
Talking carefully, calming Steven with his voice, Jim managed to help his brother onto shaky feet. Mindful of his precious burden, Jim followed Blair down the hall to the elevator.
Two hours later
Simon and Blair found Jim pacing one of the hospital's small waiting rooms. The grim look on his face did nothing to alleviate Blair's fears. "Jim?"
Jim glanced up. "Find anything?"
"Not yet," Blair replied worriedly.
"Forensics is going over Steven's office right now," Simon assured him. "At Sandburg's request, the contents of the coffee pot and Steven's mug are on their way to be analyzed immediately."
Jim gave Blair a weak smile. "Thanks, Chief."
"I also sent Connor to track down Ms. Lancin," Simon added. "We thought that maybe she might be able to shed some light on what's going on."
"Any word on Steven?" Blair asked anxiously.
"They're waiting on the toxicology reports." Jim struggled a moment to hold on to his control. "It's been rough. The tremors kept getting worse. He'd suddenly fight against the medics and hospital personnel, especially when they tried to put in the IV. I was about the only one who could calm him down. His body temperature keeps dropping. I think one of the nurses said it was 96.2 at one point." Then Jim stared at the ceiling, fighting his emotions. "He stopped breathing once. They got him going again right away, but his breathing's still pretty depressed."
Simon squeezed Jim's shoulder, realizing the incident had been too close to what had happened with Blair during his Golden OD. It must have scared his friend to the depths of his soul. "But he's still fighting, Jim. That's a good sign."
"But why?" Pale blue eyes turned to Blair in agony. "I thought you said these erotomanics don't normally hurt their 'love objects'."
Blair met his partner's eyes, trying to convey his worry. "They don't usually. However, what if this person wanted to kidnap Steven, and tried to drug him?"
"And they got the amount wrong or something?" Simon suggested.
"Or he had an unforeseen reaction to the drug." Blair again stared up at his partner. "He is your brother, after all. Maybe he reacts weirdly to medication just like you do."
"But we know why I react weird," Jim pointed out, referring to his heightened senses. "That can't be it."
"Are you sure about that?"
Both taller men turned to stare at the young detective. Before either could form a question, Lily burst into the room, Megan on her heels. "Is he okay? What happened?"
Simon stared at the young woman in full gothic regalia. The white streaks in her dark hair had been joined by red and purple ones, the latter matching the deep purple, lacy, sleeveless blouse that hugged tight to her slim curves. A short, black leather skirt, flowing black cape, and three- inch black platform shoes completed the outfit. A silver Celtic pendant matched her dangling earrings, while harsh hospital light glinted off her purple stone nose ring and the silver bondage chain encircling her waist.
Blair, for once, barely noticed her legs. He lightly touched her thin shoulders as he bent a little to look her in the eye. "He's in with the doctors right now. We're waiting for them to come out and tell us something."
Tears began to trickle from her eyes. "I knew I should have stayed and helped him with that presentation. But he told me to go to the concert."
Jim had quietly inhaled the young woman's scent. Sweat from multiple bodies mixed with cigarette and pyrotechnic smoke, along with faint scents of pot, alcohol, and leather. In short, just the way his roommate always smelled when he got back from a concert. Yet underneath it all, the sentinel found the light rose fragrance Lily wore in Steven's office and the fruity scent of her shampoo. Neither matched the musk from the letter. Which meant he could officially remove her from the suspect list. "He wanted you to go. If you were there, you could have been affected, too."
Lily shook her head as she wiped her face, smearing black mascara across her cheek. "Maybe I could have prevented it, though. That weirdo isn't after me. I should have been there."
"Did you see or hear anything suspicious before you left, Ms. Lancin?" Simon asked, trying not to stare at her hair.
"No, or I wouldn't have gone."
A doctor stepped into the waiting room. "Detective Ellison?"
Jim immediately turned to the lanky man in green scrubs. "My brother?"
"Is in a very deep sleep at the moment. And we now know the reason why." The doctor looked at Jim intently. "Is your brother into bodybuilding?"
Jim raised an eyebrow at the unexpected question. "No. He works out, but mostly just to relieve stress."
"Was he at a party?"
"Was he about to go to bed? Perhaps needed to take something to get to sleep?"
"No, he was in his office preparing an important presentation." Jim glared at the doctor. "What's going on?"
"We believe your brother ingested gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or more likely, one of the home brewed versions of gamma-butyrolactone. They can also be found in diet supplements like RenewTrient."
"GHB and GBL," Blair condensed thoughtfully. "Liquid X."
"Easy Lay," Lily chirped in, recognizing the names Blair listed.
"Huh?" Simon stared at the two younger people, bewildered.
"GHB is a naturally occurring nutrient that can be synthesized like a drug," Blair explained. "It has numerous uses, like aiding childbirth, promoting muscle development, and as a sleep aid. It is also sold at raves and can be used as a date rape drug."
"One of the many reasons why my drink never leaves my hand while I'm out partying," Lily added. She frowned thoughtfully. "Guess we now know WHY the weirdo did it."
"Weirdo?" the doctor asked, both impressed at the information Blair knew and still trying to get a handle on the situation.
"My brother is being stalked," Jim swiftly explained. "Now, is Steven out of danger yet? Or do you have some antidote?"
"There's no antidote." The doctor shrugged. "We can only provide support care until it works itself out of his system. Admittedly, many of his reactions would suggest he took a much higher dosage than we could find in his blood, but the worst should be over barring complications. His breathing will continue to be monitored, but he should sleep for the next two to eight hours." He glanced at the group standing around Jim. "You may as well go home. Nothing any of you can do tonight."
"I'm staying, doc." Jim pinned the man with a glare.
The doctor nodded. "I'll send a nurse down for you once they have him settled. Then let them know if you need anything."
"Do you want some uniforms, Jim?" Simon asked.
"Not yet." Jim stared thoughtfully down the hall as he watched the doctor walk away. "I honestly doubt she'll try anything tonight. We're just going to have to come up with a better plan to get this bitch."
"Then call me in the morning." Simon ushered Megan and Lily out the doors.
Jim turned to Blair, who was admiring Lily's legs. "You should go home and get some sleep, too."
"No way, man." Blair declared firmly, returning his attention to his partner. "If you're staying, I'm staying. Besides, I'm too excited to sleep."
"Excited?" Jim queried, trying to figure out where that came from.
"Didn't you catch it? Man, I've wondered about it, but Steven's never shown any signs before. Of course, touch isn't the most obvious one, so--"
"Back up, Darwin." Jim raised a hand. "Catch what?"
Blair rolled his eyes at his partner's denseness. "Come on, Jim. Think about it. Steven's been having trouble with a shoulder hurting that drugs can't help. Remind you of anybody? Like, say, your shoulder before you got kidnapped by that Colonel?"
Jim's eyes widened briefly, finally catching what his partner was thinking. "Doesn't prove anything."
"But why do you think I know so much about GHB? After that incident, I started doing some digging into possible drugs that might have adverse effects on you. GHB was one of them."
"What's special about that one?" Jim asked, still trying to follow his partner in the Sandburg Zone.
"Remember the street name Lily mentioned, Easy Lay? That's because GHB supposedly enhances sexual activity. Besides lowering inhibitions, it's been reported that it enhances tactility." Blair wiggled his fingers in the air. "The sense of touch."
"Where are you going with this, Sandburg?" Jim asked, too worried to be patient.
Blair took a deep breath. "You are a sentinel with all five senses heightened. You and Steven have the same set of parents. I once calculated that since you're a sentinel, Steven has a 25% chance of being a sentinel, too."
"But he's not," Jim pointed out.
"True," Blair conceded. "There's another 25% chance that he doesn't have the sentinel gene at all. However, he also has a 50% chance of being a carrier. Which means not only can Steven pass on the sentinel gene to his kids, but that he'd most likely have one or two heightened senses himself."
"Like the test subjects in your Master's thesis?" Jim frowned as he tried to follow. "So now you think Steven might have a heightened sense of touch like mine?"
"Close, anyway. It wouldn't be as strong as yours, since I suspect you need the full sentinel package to reach your level. But it would be much better than a normal person's."
"But I never noticed Steven having it when we were kids," Jim replied, not sure he liked the idea that Steven was similarly inflicted with the gift. "And certainly he'd mention it."
Blair rolled his eyes. "Jim, you are the worse person in the world to know what's normal. Hell, you still can't figure out when you're seeing something none of the rest of us can. Plus touch is subtle. Steven could have enhanced touch, but since he's always had it, he has no way of knowing it's different from anybody else."
"We also had the same father," Jim muttered darkly.
"Sure, Ellison men need to be strong. Can't be touchy feely, would make you look weak," Blair played along. "Steven could have either repressed it like you, or naturally developed a strong control on it. But lately he's been exhausted, stressed, and then fed a drug that enhances the very sense he's struggling with."
"Spinning it out of control." Jim again looked worriedly down the hall. "In the ambulance, when he was fighting the IV, he said it felt like a stick up his arm." Jim met Blair's eyes. "That's how it feels to me when my senses are out of control. And in the office, he was fascinated by my jacket. One of the reason I bought it was because of how good it felt."
"It's also a good bet he's going to have problems with other drugs." Blair shook his head. "Good thing neither of you got into the drug scene. It's quite likely you wouldn't have survived. In fact, maybe you both have a natural aversion to them, in order to protect your senses."
Before Jim could ask another question, an older woman in a nurse's uniform walked up. "Detective Ellison? I can take you to your brother now."
"Go ahead, Jim," Blair urged him. "I'll check with Rafe and see if they found anything at the office."
Gratefully clapping Blair on the shoulder, Jim followed the nurse to his brother.
Early Thursday morning, hospital
The bewildered voice aroused Jim from his doze. Rubbing his eyes, Jim looked to find Steven blinking sleepily at him. He leaned over to raise the head of the bed for him. "Hey Stevie, how you feeling?"
"Tired. Sick. Like I'm getting over the flu or something." Steven glanced around, blinking as a shiver ran through him. "This is probably a dumb question, but where am I?"
Jim leaned over, pulling up the blanket to cover his brother's shoulders. Steven still looked too pale for the sentinel's peace of mind. "You're at the hospital."
Pale blue eyes pinned Jim's calmly, though his muscles tightened. "Why am I at the hospital?"
Jim sighed. "Do you remember anything?" Steven shook his head slightly, eyes still maintaining contact with his brother's. "Because someone slipped you a drug and you had a very bad reaction to it."
"I did?" Steven managed to free a hand and rub his face a moment. "I, I remember sending Ms. Lancin off to her concert. I was finishing up the presentations, making slides as I went in case something went wrong with the laptop..." Steven sighed. "Everything gets kinda fuzzy after that."
"Sandburg said you might have trouble remembering," Jim commented.
"Wait." Steven blinked for a moment. "The coffee I made a few hours after Lancin left. It tasted funny."
Jim nodded. "That was it."
Steven glanced down, staring at the blanket. "She did this, didn't she?"
Jim didn't need to ask who 'she' was. "We think so."
Jim clenched his jaw a moment. "We suspect she wanted to abduct you, and slipped you a drug that would have made you easier to handle. Only it hit you harder than she probably anticipated."
"Damn." Anger struggled with fear a moment. "Meaning if I hadn't reacted the way I did, she'd have me right now?"
"No," Jim assured him. "Blair and I were right there. We would have stopped her."
Steven's hand tightened around a section of blanket and squeezed. "What time is it?"
"A.M. Thursday morning."
"What?" Steven shot to a sitting position on the bed, only to curl over as his stomach protested.
"Easy." Jim rubbed the tense shoulder.
"Easy nothing," Steven gasped. "I've got to get to work, now."
"You're not going anywhere until the doctor releases you."
"You don't understand." Steven glanced around the room. "Where's my clothes?"
"You're the one not understanding," Jim retorted. "You were pretty sick last night, Steven. You even stopped breathing once." Steven turned his attention to Jim, eyes growing wide. "After scaring the hell out of me, you WILL listen to your doctors and follow their directions to the letter. Hell, if it's that important, I'll send Blair to do your presentation. He had all that experience as a TA."
Still feeling lightheaded and nauseated, Steven reluctantly laid back down. "Only if you can get him into a tie and lose the earrings." He hissed as he shifted the arm with the IV.
Jim chuckled, glad to see his brother being reasonable. "As long you don't ask him to cut his hair again. Took him forever to grow it out after the academy. I got tired of people asking if he was my partner or little orphan Andy."
Steven chuckled too, realizing his eyes were getting heavier. Suddenly, a thought hit him. "You..." the younger man paused to swallow, hating to admit his weakness but needing to ask. "You sticking around?"
"I'm guarding your back until you're on your feet again," Jim assured him, gently rubbing his shoulder. "And I have a few ideas on how we can catch this stalker once you're hitting on all cylinders again."
"Good," Steven yawned as his eyes closed. Jim's comforting hand eased him into sleep.
"...drug addicts in our company!"
"Steven Ellison is NOT a drug addict. I've known the guy for three years, and in all that time, he's rarely drank more than two beers. He most certainly doesn't take drugs."
Blair sat up on the plastic couch. He had a pretty good idea who was coming down the hall.
"Then explain THIS? Good God, he ODed the night before Mr. Gafkin and the others arrived in the U.S.! You do understand how bad this looks?" Blair wasn't surprised to see Dory Jamison enter the room.
"He didn't 'OD'." Jake Wilson was right next to her. Blair could see the anger on his face. "They said he had a bad reaction to something." Another tall, older man with gray hair silently walked behind the arguing pair. Blair couldn't read a thing on his poker face.
"A reaction to what? Coffee?"
Blair could feel his anger rise. Steven nearly died last night due to an unexpected attack while he was working late hours trying to do his best for his company. Only now this woman was trying to destroy his reputation. Steven didn't deserve that. What he needed was peace and quiet.
Before the feuding pair could reach the doors leading to the patient rooms, Blair stepped in front of them. "Hold it."
Dory gave him a glare. "What do you think you are doing?"
Blair didn't move an inch. "It is only a little after seven o'clock in the morning and Steven Ellison is sleeping right now." Blair ignored her snort of disgust . "He had a very rough night, and you are not going to wake him up."
"We need to speak with him," Jake told him firmly. "It's very important."
"At this moment, Steven's health is more important," Blair firmly declared.
"And why do you think YOU can tell us anything?" Dory sneered. She examined the long hair, jeans, and the rumpled, blue checked flannel shirt in disgust.
"Because you don't want to deal with me." Everyone looked up to see Jim Ellison standing slightly behind his partner glaring at them. Ice seemed to flow from the furious blue eyes. "My brother is asleep. You may see him once he's well enough to return to work."
"Mr. Ellison?" The older man stepped between the two VPs, his voice carrying a slight accent. "How is Steven?"
Noting the real concern reflected in the eyes before him, Jim thawed slightly. "He's still pretty shaky, but the doctor said he's out of danger, Mr...?"
"Gafkin." The confident man held out a hand.
"Detective James Ellison," Jim replied. Blair lifted an eyebrow. When Jim trotted out his full title, he was asserting his authority.
"Steven is a good man," Gafkin commented with a smile. "I can see it must be a family trait. May we talk a moment?"
Jim indicated a quiet corner with his head. Leaving Blair to keep the other two from storming Steven's room, he walked over with the company head. "Sir?"
"I am glad Steven is doing better," Gafkin began. "I've talked with him several times, and he has always impressed me with his honor and integrity. Which is why I'm worried about what happened here. I understand the police are involved?"
Jim nodded. "Steven has been stalked the past few months. We suspect this incident is connected."
Jim swiftly explained the situation. "I was concerned earlier about the security of the Burbank complex. Now I'm very concerned about my brother's safety there."
"I can take care of that," Gafkin replied, anger also brewing in his eyes.
Jim decided to see how much further he could push. "When Steven woke up earlier, he was worried about his presentation today."
Gafkin waved him off. "He does a good job with his weekly reports, so I know what's going on with his projects. There are other projects we're more concerned about." The man sent a measuring look at the two VPs arguing with Blair. "At this point, I'd rather he take a couple of days off and get back on his feet again. Tell him to have whichever secretary he has working for him this week to send me the Powerpoint file later."
Jim nodded. "I appreciate that, sir, and I'm sure Steven will, too."
"Just take care of that young man for me. He has tremendous potential with Griffin Enterprises. I'd hate to lose him."
"Don't worry, sir," Jim replied with a faint smile. "My partner and I have no intention of letting anything more happen to Steven."
"Then I suspect he'll be safe." Gafkin then marched over to his people. "Let's go."
"But..." Dory began, waving a hand at Blair.
"No buts. Ellison needs to recover, and you both need to be ready in an hour for the meetings." With that reminder, both VPs followed Gafkin out the door.
Blair watched them leave. "Does Steven have to make the meeting?"
Jim smiled, pleased with himself. "Nope. In fact, Gafkin gave him the next couple of days off."
"Cool." Blair glanced at his partner. "How'd you manage that?"
"Apparently, Steven's more valuable to him than those two."
Blair chuckled as a nurse approached them, carrying a large arrangement of red and yellow roses. "Detective Ellison? This just arrived for your brother."
Frowning, Jim took the clear glass vase as Blair snagged the card. Opening it, Blair read, "I'm sorry our night together was ruined by your brother. I promise to make it up to you next time."
"Damn." Jim resisted an urge to throw the vase against a wall. "She tries giving Steven that crud again, he might not make it."
"I'll check up on this, see if I can get a lead," Blair told him. "Are you going to take Steven home?"
Jim shook his head. "She already sent him something there, and most likely knows his phone number."
"Yeah," Blair nodded, "even if it's not her, Steven's going to be jumpy every time the phone rings. So you taking him to our place?"
Jim again shook his head. "I've got the keys to our father's cabin. Steven loved that place when we were kids."
"Has he been back there since?" Blair asked, curious.
"No," Jim sighed. "Steven and our father haven't talked since Steven graduated from college. Dad disapproved of the job Steven accepted, and Steven refused the offer from Dad's company."
Blair stared at Jim. "They haven't talked since then? Man, they're as bad as you."
Jim shrugged. "Pop reaped what he sowed. In any case, it's out of the way so Steven can rest without worrying about that woman."
Mid morning Thursday, Ellison cabin
Sitting on the sunny porch step, Steven quietly stared at the cup of tea in his hands instead of the beautiful fall view. "So, you're saying I have a heightened sense of touch?"
Blair nodded eagerly. "We can do some tests to make sure. But after last night, I'd bet on it."
Steven didn't look nearly so happy. "So this means that injuries like my shoulder are going to hurt no matter what?"
"There's ways to control it," Blair assured him.
"Like you did with Jim at Lucille's the other night?" Steven continued to stare at the cup. He could feel the faint cracks and bumps in the ceramic glaze, with the raised lines denoting the leaf pattern. The warmth from the tea seeped into his palm while his finger traced a small indentation on the rim. Couldn't everyone feel that? How much of that was only something he and Jim could feel?
"Pretty much. I can teach you a couple of meditation methods that should help. And as a side benefit, they'll help relieve some of your stress."
Standing in the doorway, Jim noticed that Steven didn't look all that impressed. Not that he could blame his younger brother. He knew from experience what it was like to have senses unlike anyone else's. "Hey Sandburg, your soup's starting to boil."
"What?" Blair bounced up. "Thanks, Jim." He darted into the kitchen.
Steven watched the younger man dash through the back door. "He always this enthusiastic?" he asked.
"Yeah." Jim took the seat Blair vacated. "You should try living with him."
"No, thanks," Steven remarked with a slight smile. "I'll leave him to you."
Jim stared at his brother a moment. "How are you doing, really?"
Steven shrugged. "I don't know. I still have that woman after me, and now I find out I nearly died last night because I have a heightened sense of touch." He snorted. "You know, I've wondered what it would be like to have your gifts, to hear things and see things no one else can. It would be so useful to be able to hear a brace about to go, smell smoke before a fire broke out, or see a crack before it really got a chance to do some damage. But instead of a cool sense like that, I get stuck with one that's more a pain than anything worthwhile."
"I don't know about that," Jim leaned back in the chair. "Actually, my sense of touch is probably the one that gives me the most pleasure. Like out here. Do you feel that breeze?"
Steven closed his eyes. "Yeah."
Jim, fleetingly wishing he had his partner's way with words, gently asked, "Doesn't it feel good, especially as it takes away the heat of the sun off your skin?"
"Yeah," Steven admitted.
Before Jim could continue, a sound caught his attention. It was a car driving up the private road to the cabin. "Steven, head for the bedroom. Tell Sandburg there's a car coming."
Steven's eyes blinked open. "Any idea who?"
"Not at the moment." Jim walked through the cabin to the front step, only to nearly groan when he recognized the large car bouncing down the dirt track. Steven did NOT need this. Impatiently, he waited for it to park next to his truck, and the gray-haired occupant to step out. "What are you doing here, Pop?"
"Jimmy." William Ellison ignored the question until he had reached the porch. "How is Stevie? I heard that he was nearly killed last night in his office."
Before Jim could open his mouth, Steven's voice replied coldly, "Why should you care?"
"Stevie?" William's eyes lit up eagerly, soaking up the sight of his younger son standing in the doorway.
Steven didn't noticed, too caught up in his own building emotion. "I'm fine, I'm staying with Griffin Enterprises, so you can go home and ignore me for another thirteen years."
William stood upright, his own anger growing. "You are in my cabin, Steven. You could at least address me civilly."
"Go to hell, old man." Steven coldly turned away, fury boiling on his face. He stormed through the cabin and out the back door. William didn't need Jim's heightened senses to hear the bang as the wooden frame slammed into place.
"Damn," Jim glared at his father. "Your timing is as bad as always." Jim turned to chase his brother, leaving Blair to stare at William in bewilderment.
He didn't have to go far. Just down the hill from the cabin was a large rock next to a stream. As kids, they used to play with their plastic soldiers all up and down it's uneven surface. Jim found Steven perched on it, tearing up a bright red and orange leaf as he stared at the rushing water. For a moment, he studied the younger man. Steven was still pale from his recent poisoning, exhaustion more noticeable on his young face and in the slump of his shoulders. His hands shook slightly while his fingers carefully tore the leaf along the veins. He looked so alone and desolated. Jim suddenly recognized a lot of himself as he used to be in his brother. He quietly walked over and sat next to him.
Neither spoke for nearly a minute. Then Steven softly asked, "Should I get ready to leave?"
"No." Jim shook his head. "Though you sure didn't help matters any."
Steven ran a finger along the skeletal remains of the leaf. "Why should it be any different? I used to try so hard to please him, but nothing I've done has ever been good enough for him. If I got a B, I should have gotten an A. If I got an A, I should have gotten an A+. I always joined the wrong clubs, took the wrong electives, pledged the wrong Frat." He sighed as he twirled the stem in his fingers, feeling the stretch of its flexibility vibrate on his skin. "It was even worse after you left, Jim. He only had me to concentrate on, and I just never made the grade."
"Yeah, you did." Jim reached over to drape a comforting arm around Steven's shoulders. "He just never told you before. He might now, though."
Disbelief and bitterness colored Steven's voice. "You sure about that?"
"All I can say is that I was surprised at how he had changed when I saw him for the first time a couple of years ago. He really wanted to reach out to me. I think he was trying to reach out to you just now."
Jim shrugged. "He heard you nearly died last night, which is true, I might add." He tightened his arm around his brother, thankful to feel the warmth of his body and the slight movement of his chest as Steven breathed. "Maybe he just realized you could die before he does, and he'd never have a chance to see you again."
Silence reined again for several moments. Then softly Steven remarked, "He looks... grayer. Older. Smaller, somehow."
"We've grown up. He's grown old."
Steven continued to stare at the stream. "You think I should talk to him."
"Might be a good idea. I won't say it'll be easy. Hell, it was downright painful when I did it that first time. Nor can I say that he and I will ever agree on anything. But it might be worth your while."
Steven finally shifted so he could look into his brother's eyes. "I'll do it for you."
"No," Jim countered firmly. "Do it for yourself. Or you might want to do it for Sandburg." At Steven's surprised look, Jim squeezed his shoulder. "One of the many things Dad and I disagree on is why I'm still working and living with Sandburg after the dissertation disaster."
"Ah hell, then we better move." Steven slid down from the rock and gave his brother a hand. "Dad will tear that poor kid to pieces before Blair knows what hit him."
Jim chuckled. "Don't count Sandburg out. Let's just get there before he starts drawing on his mother's curses against the establishment."
Steven chuckled too as he walked up the path. "I don't know. I'd kinda like to see that."
When they entered the cabin, they could both feel the freeze in the air as William pointedly concentrated on a newspaper and Blair ignored William while he chopped up celery for the soup. William immediately switched his gaze to his sons, eyes softening. "Are you all right?"
Steven nodded. After the two men stared at each other, Jim awkwardly suggested, "Hey, let's give Sandburg some room here." He ushered the other two into the other room. A few minutes later, he returned to the kitchen.
Blair indicated the living area with his chin as he stirred. "How's it going?"
"Uneasy, but at least they're not about to kill each other." Jim leaned over to sniff. "Smells good, although I didn't know ginseng went with chicken."
"Steven needs to build up his energy reserve. Last night took about all he had, and this meeting with your father isn't going to help." Blair tapped the spoon along the side of the pot before laying it down next to the stove.
"I know." Jim tilted his head a moment. Feeling the discussion was progressing about as well as could be expected, he turned back to Blair. "You do okay with the old man?"
Blair snorted. "We ignored each other, since we have nothing to say. He and I are never going to get along because I don't worship the almighty dollar and remain faithful unto it. But I can deal with it as long as you two get along." Walking over to the table, Blair opened his laptop. "I did hear back from Rafe."
Jim pulled out a chair. "What did he say?"
"It was a home brewed version of GBL that had been slipped into the coffee. According to Serena, it was pretty potent stuff. Steven's lucky we were there when we were."
Jim nodded, frowning at the reminder. "Any luck with the flowers?"
Blair shook his head. "Paid for in cash, though most of the transaction was over the internet. Rafe's trying to see if he can track it down. Sounds like she might have picked them up herself, though no one remembers seeing her."
"You mean, she was at the hospital?" Jim's eyes grew hard at the thought that she was so close without him knowing it.
Blair nodded worriedly. "And that's not all." Jim looked at him, puzzled. "Rafe said you were left another message, warning you to stay way from Steven."
Jim shrugged it off. "I'd like to see her try to keep me away."
"If Steven has today and tomorrow off, what is next on his agenda?"
"The charity auction." Steven had just entered the kitchen in time to hear Blair's question. At Jim's puzzled look, he added, "Dad got a call from the office."
"Figures," Jim muttered.
"That's this Saturday, right?" Blair asked, trying to get back to a relatively safe topic.
Steven nodded. "Though there is a dry run tomorrow evening I have to go to."
"We have to go to," Jim corrected.
"There'll be tons of people there," Steven pointed out. "I should be okay."
"Yeah, but I still think it is too much of a coincidence that the Foundation is in the same building as your company, got the information for a background check, and has four potential suspects."
"Four?" Steven queried.
"Yeah, Jim," Blair added. "There's Ms. Lesley, the awesome Ms. Lundy," Jim and Steven exchanged smirks at Blair's obvious admiration of the body builder. "And Suzie Patton who was out of the office when we were there. That's three."
"Don't forget Hudson." Jim found two sets of eyes staring at him, dumbfounded. "What?"
"Ah, Jim, Terry's a guy," Blair slowly pointed out.
"Yeah," Steven agreed. "You don't think I'm being stalked by a guy, do you?" Steven could barely control a shudder at the idea.
"No, Terry Hudson is female," Jim corrected.
"You're kidding," Steven replied, stunned. "He, I mean, she didn't look like a girl to me."
"No way," Blair added, shaking his head. "I know what a woman looks like."
"So do I, Chief. Terry is definitely female. It's just hard to tell under the baggie sweatshirt."
William stepped into the kitchen. "I need to go." He looked at Steven a moment. Steven stared back, not quite sure what to think. He had hated his father for so long, yet now he strangely did not want the old man to leave.
William switched his gaze to his eldest. "Take care of him."
Jim simply replied, "Always."
Thursday afternoon, Ellison cabin
Blair pulled a blanket over Jim, who had fallen asleep on a beat up old couch next to the fireplace. The younger man stood a moment, debating on whether to start a fire. But the afternoon sun was still heating the small room, and Blair knew the task of hauling wood and working the grate would wake up the sentinel. Jim had had so little sleep the night before, he needed the rest more than a fire.
Turning, Blair spotted Steven in the doorway, studying his brother. Putting a finger to his lips, Blair indicated the kitchen with a tilt of his head. Steven nodded agreement.
Following Jim's brother into the kitchen, the anthropologist in Blair noted how much of a difference clothes made. In jeans and a red flannel shirt, Steven appeared as much at home in the cabin as he did in the office with his ties and designer suits. Yet he seemed more approachable now, like Blair could talk with him and not wonder if he met the standard. As Steven sat in a chair, Blair felt comfortable asking, "Would you like some tea? Coffee?"
Steven gave him a weak smile. "Better be tea. My stomach still isn't too happy with coffee yet."
Blair winced. "That's understandable."
As Blair filled the kettle, Steven glanced at the living room door. "Is Jim all right?"
"Just tired. He was up all night, and his senses have been on alert since he found you in your office."
"Do his senses wear him out?" Steven asked, feeling so totally out of his field.
"They can if he's been using them a lot, or if he's had to filter out a lot of extra input." Blair adjusted the flame on the stove, then pulled out the chair across from Steven.
"Like at Lucille's the other night?"
"Partly. He was using his hearing to check out the place and the crash caught him off guard." Blair studied Steven covertly, trying to figure out what Steven needed to hear. "You may have some trouble, too, but not nearly as bad. Since Jim has all five senses heightened, they are much stronger and he has more drawbacks to deal with than you."
Instead of being reassured, Steven's frown deepened. "What kind of drawbacks?"
Pausing a moment, Blair suddenly realized that Steven did need to know this information. While he might not be a full sentinel, there was always the possibility that one of Steven's future kids could have all five. Perhaps if Steven understood, a nephew or niece of Jim's wouldn't go through what Jim did. "There's the zoneout factor. It's when Jim becomes so focused on one sense, he loses touch with all the other ones."
"Wait a minute." Steven's eyes lit up as a memory came to him. "One time when we were kids, Debbie Corner's puppy got lost, and we helped look for it." Steven chuckled as he remembered. "Or I should say Jim was helping and I was tagging along, as usual. I was only about five at the time. Anyway, we were out alone in the woods near our house, when all of a sudden, Jim just froze. At first, I thought he was playing, but when he wouldn't respond I got really scared." Steven frowned, trying to remember something. "I was scared that maybe he was sick again."
"Again?" Blair prodded.
Steven shrugged his shoulders. "Jim had an accident when I was small. I don't really remember much, except Sally being upset and Jimmy walking really careful when he got back home." Steven shook his head to get rid of the unpleasant memory. "Anyway, there in the woods, I had to shake him really hard to get him to come back."
Blair nodded. "That does sound like a zoneout. Jim was probably trying too hard to see or hear the puppy when he lost track of everything else. That's why sentinels need partners to guard their backs while they use their senses."
"Which is what you do," Steven concluded. He gazed straight into Blair's eyes. "I want to thank you for that. I know you took care of Jim when his family let him down." Steven looked away. "Hell, you've been more of a brother to him than I have."
Blair was shocked. Was that jealousy he saw? Steven Ellison, smart, successful businessman, was actually jealous of an earth child anthropologist turned detective? Any reservations Blair had of Jim's brother melted on the spot. "No, I'm his partner. You're his brother. He may need us in different ways, but he needs us both."
Steven met his eyes again, mutual understanding flowing between them. Then the kettle whistled, breaking the spell.
Friday afternoon, Major Crimes
"...I still don't know why I can't go to my office." Steven waved his hands as he followed his brother into the bullpen. "I've got a ton of stuff to do, and Ms. Lancin hasn't been there long enough to know what's going on."
"Come on, man. You got the day off," Blair pointed out. "Only idiots like Jim and myself go in on our day off. And we've regretted every single time..."
Jim smiled as he listened to Blair and Steven banter. It felt good to have them getting along so well. The time at the cabin had been well spent.
"Ellison!" Jim looked up to see Simon standing in the doorway of his office. "I need the paperwork for the Hessmen case."
"Right there, sir." Jim scooped up the folder from his desk and trotted through his captain's door.
Steven smiled a moment, enjoying the sight of his tough, older brother having to answer to someone else. Then he turned back to Blair. "Is there at least some way I can check my email?"
"Sure. Let's set you up on Jim's computer. He hates it anyway."
A few moments later, Rafe walked in and spotted Blair. "Hey Sandburg! Got a minute?"
"Be right there." Blair patted Steven on the back and walked over to Rafe's desk. "What's up?"
Rafe had the internet running on his computer. "I've been trying to backtrack that request to the floral shop, but I seem to have hit a dead end." He pointed at the screen.
"Okay, looks like Steven's stalker has computer knowledge," Blair replied softly, not wanting Steven to hear and ruin all the good down time he'd had. Blair sat down in Rafe's chair and started tapping away at the keyboard, Rafe looking over his shoulder.
A few minutes later, Joel Taggart walked in carrying mail. "Hey Ellison, you've changed," the hefty detective joked as he tossed a stack onto Jim's desk. He gave Steven a large smile, well aware of the recent problems with the stalker. "You taking over for Jim?"
Steven chuckled. "No way. It looks like you have more paperwork than I do, and I don't get shot at."
Joel laughed. "And probably get paid better than we do, too." He patted the younger man on the shoulder. "Take it easy, and don't be such a stranger."
Steven returned the smile, feeling safe among his brother's friends and co-workers. Finishing the email to Lily, he hit 'send' and leaned back in the chair. He glanced at the large stack of mail tilting on Jim's desk. Might as well be useful while he was there. Steven began sorting through all the envelopes and packages. Pulling a large padded envelope out that was threatening to tip and collapse the whole pile onto the floor, Steven started to set it aside, but paused. His fingers felt something out of place. Feeling the side, something long and hard stood out to him. He searched the room with his eyes, finally spying Blair and Rafe. "Blair?" he called.
Blair pulled his eyes away from the screen. "What's up?"
"There's something strange about this package."
Blair and Rafe exchanged worried looks as Blair rose from the chair. Both walked over to Jim's desk to look at the package. "Just a PO box," Rafe commented as he studied the return address.
Suddenly, Jim was standing there, too. "What's going..." Jim's attention focused on the package.
"You expecting anything, Jim?" Blair asked.
Jim gave a little shake of his head as he took a deep breath. A familiar fragrance floated up from the heavy paper. "It's from the stalker."
"What?" Steven exclaimed. "Why would she send you a package?"
Simon, attracted by the crowd around Jim's desk, growled, "Maybe she's decided to do more than threaten. Rafe..."
"Calling forensics now, sir," Rafe replied, phone in hand.
"Threaten?" Steven repeated, worried now. "What threats?"
Blair threw Jim a glare. "She's sent a couple of threats to Jim."
"What?" Steven stood up, eyes wide. "You never told me that!"
"Nothing to tell," Jim replied absently, feeling the package gingerly himself. "I've been threatened before, Stevie, and will probably be threatened again."
"But not over me." Steven glared at Jim, noting the 'Stevie'. "I'm not six anymore, JIMMY. If it has something to do with me, I need to know."
Jim glanced up. "It's okay."
Steven continued to grow angrier. "No, it's not. Not when she's threatened you. Hell, she nearly killed me the other night, and she 'loves' me. I don't want her hurting you."
Jim swiftly draped an arm around Steven's shoulder. Ignoring his brother's attempt to shrug him off, he led them over to a quiet corner. Jim turned to face the younger man, maintaining contact by wrapping a hand around Steven's shoulder near his neck. "I was going to tell you. But the first letter came the afternoon before she poisoned you with that damn drug, so I didn't get the chance. Then I wanted you to get well, not have to worry about me."
Steven stared into his brother's eyes. "I won't have you hurt because of me."
"It's not because of you; it's because of HER. Don't forget that." Jim gently squeezed the shoulder, still holding Steven's eyes. "The only way to stop this is to go after her together. If she takes offense, too bad. Besides, with every threat to me, there's more evidence and more charges we can bring against her. When we find this bitch, I want to make sure she's put away for a good long time. Okay?" Steven shifted his eyes to the floor. "Okay?"
"Okay," Steven answered with a sigh. "Just don't hold anything back from me. I'm a big boy now, and have been for a long time."
Jim rubbed his brother's shoulder comfortingly. "I know and I won't."
Blair walked up. "Forensics has it now." He glanced between the brothers, hoping he wasn't interrupting anything. "But they think it's set up to send a knife or something into the hand of the person who opens the envelope."
"Damn her," Steven whispered. The unknown woman had made him anxious, scared, and angry in turns. Now he was furious that she would try to hurt Jim. His brother gave his shoulder another comforting squeeze.
"One other thing." Both Jim and Steven turned to him questioningly. "Rafe and I have tracked down that order of roses from the hospital."
"Roses?" Steven asked.
"The ones from the hospital that you had the nurses give to the sick old woman whose kids hadn't arrived from overseas yet," Jim reminded him. Steven nodded, remembering. The lady had reminded him of Sally, the housekeeper who had raised them.
"Yeah, anyway, the order came from the Community Lights Foundation office."
"I knew it," Jim growled.
"So what do we do now?" Steven asked.
"Next we get a warrant and send some officers to search their office. Then we go to that auction rehearsal." Jim patted Steven's back before stepping away.
Blair looked at him in amazement. "But the stalker will probably be there."
Jim smiled grimly. "I'm counting on it."
Friday evening, Trinity Theater
Standing behind his brother, Jim searched the group of people with both his eyes and his nose. He could spot Ms. Lundy way up ahead, checking off bachelors on her list. There were also many others milling about. Jim overhead someone mention something about an orchestra, so he assumed that was part of the group. There were also many volunteers setting up the sound system, decorations, and other miscellaneous tasks.
Suddenly, a voice cut through the crowd. "Oh no! We can't have those flowers next to that curtain!"
"Ah, hell," Jim muttered, dropping his head into his hands.
He caught both Steven's and Blair's attention. "What's up, Jim," Blair asked softly.
"You remember that woman from the art fair who thought I was 'perfect'?"
Blair couldn't hold back a snort, increasing Steven's curiosity. "Oh yeah. Why?"
"She's here." Jim glanced around the crowd, wondering if he could hide.
Another snicker escaped before Blair could stop it. "Look at the bright side. She'd probably bid on you if you were in the auction, and who knows what she'd request for a 'date'."
Steven glanced between the two men. "What?"
Jim continued to avoid eye contact as Blair smirked. "When we worked the Riley Damn Arts festival last fall, there was this one artist who thought Jim was 'perfect' and wanted to draw him."
Steven lifted an eyebrow, sure he was still missing something. "So? What's so bad about that?"
"She was into figure drawing."
"As in," Steven also began to grin as he guessed, "nude figure drawing?"
Blair was practically beaming. "Yep."
Steven snickered, too, before he could ask his brother, "I don't suppose you took her up on her offer?"
"Hell, no." Jim glared at his grinning guide. "I have no intention of being 'immortalized' that way." He tapped his chuckling brother on the shoulder. "Your turn."
As Steven signed in and picked up a packet of information, Jim took a deep breath. Ms. Lundy was wearing the same light, spicy fragrance that Megan Connor wore on occasion. It was definitely not the musk scent of the letters. That ruled out the body builder. Good thing, too, considering how his partner was flirting with her. He had to cuff Blair on the head to get him to move away after Steven was done.
Unperturbed, Blair asked jauntily, "Where to now?"
"I'm suppose to go backstage," Steven replied, glancing through the information sheet.
"Then we'll go with you and look around the area for anything suspicious." Jim began to usher Steven forward.
Steven rolled his eyes. "I'm beginning to feel like an untrustworthy invalid."
Blair chuckled. "How about 'famous rock star' instead?"
Steven shook his head as he ducked under a rope. "So now I'm a spoiled, immature brat?"
"Nah, we already guarded one of those," Jim commented, his eyes sharp. "You're no where near her category."
"That's a relief."
Both Jim and Steven looked up to see a tall man waving from a small bunch of good looking men in their thirties and forties. Steven smiled in recognition. "Hi, Chuck," he returned as he walked over to join the group.
Blair glanced at his partner. "I'll go right, you take left?"
Jim nodded. "And stay sharp, Chief. I can almost feel her eyes on us."
"Then you be extra careful," Blair replied. "She's already tried to hurt you once today."
In answer, Jim patted Blair's shoulder and began his search.
When Blair returned from his scouting trip, he spotted Steven with the same group of men, listening to Ms. Lesley go over the rules of behavior for the auction dates. Deciding that Bettina Lesley was too skilled at making contacts and manipulating people to be Steven's stalker, Blair stepped up a few rungs on the ladder that led above the stage. High enough to see over heads without triggering his acrophobia, Blair used the perch to observe the people rushing about.
Then he noticed one of the gophers approach Steven. Unable to hear the exchange, Blair frowned when Steven walked away from the other bachelors. He jumped down from the ladder to catch the young man. "What did you say to Mr. Ellison?"
"Oh, his secretary's on the phone in the main office. Needed to talk to him."
"Oh," Blair nodded. He was about to follow Steven when a light voice caught his attention. Turning, he stood dumbfounded when Lily walked up, carrying a heavy clipboard and several folders.
"Hi, Detective Sandburg," she greeted breathlessly. "Have you seen Mr. Ellison? I have some papers for him to sign."
"Damn!" Blair exclaimed. "Lily, find Jim and tell him Steven's been lured to the main office. NOW!" The young detective dashed for the office, praying he wasn't too late.
Lily stared at his departing back a moment, then turned to look at the mass of people surrounding her. She was so short, she couldn't see over the heads of the men present. How she was suppose to find Detective Ellison in this crowd was beyond her. But since Detective Sandburg sounded upset, she needed to try. She managed to slip around one large man carrying a cello when she ran into a hard body. Looking up, Lily easily identified Jim Ellison's worried face. "Ah, Detective Sandburg said--"
"That Steven's been lured into a trap," Jim finished for her. He had already gently pushed past her and began to run in the same direction as his partner. Wondering how he knew, Lily raced after him.
Steven walked into the quiet office and headed straight for the phone with the receiver off the hook. He picked it up with easy grace. "Hello? Ms. Lancin?" Dial tone was his only answer. As he jiggled the button on the main set several times, he suddenly felt a shiver climb up his back. Noting just how quiet and dark the office was, he simply knew. She was there. Striving for calm, Steven set the receiver back on the cradle and turned around. "I know you're here." Silence. "Why are you doing this?"
"I want us to be together before you have to go on a date with someone else," stated the husky voice matter-of-factly.
"But why," Steven persisted. "I don't even know who you are."
"Yes, you do. I'm your soul mate, your destiny."
Blair had said the erotomanics are delusional. Was it better to play along with the delusion, or try to break it? Steven didn't know, but the crawling of his skin determined his path. "How can you say that? You nearly killed me the other night."
"NO! I didn't hurt you. Your brother hurt you!"
Steven finally located the voice. He could barely make out the figure in the shadows. "Jim didn't hurt me. You hurt me with that drug. I nearly died from reacting to it."
"I would NEVER hurt you! I just wanted you to relax." The figure took a step forward. The faint light revealed Terry Hudson. "It had to be your brother. It's all his fault we aren't together!"
"Steven!" Blair burst in, skidding to a stop. He spotted Steven standing tensely by the desk.
As Blair turned to see what Steven was looking at, his friend suddenly shouted, "Look out!" Something heavy slammed into Blair's face, sending him crashing to the floor.
"Leave him alone!" Steven ordered, placing himself between the fallen Blair and the woman who had hit him with the side of a gun.
"I just want us to be together," she pleaded.
"You don't need a gun for that." Blair had managed to sit up, holding his eye.
She tried to aim the gun at Blair without pointing it at Steven. "It's your fault, too. You're helping his brother."
"Blair is my friend," Steven softly pointed out, trying to catch her eye. "I'm not going to like you if you hurt him."
"But they've turned you against me."
Steven shifted slightly, staying between the gun and Blair. "No, no one makes me do anything. The only one who has turned me against you is you."
"But you LOVE me!" she wailed. "We are suppose to be together forever!"
"Then drop the gun," Blair softly bargained in his guide voice. "You really don't want to shoot me, and you might accidentally hit Steven." Blair crossed his fingers before starting to slide his hand towards his own gun.
"He's right," Steven pleaded, changing tactics. "Drop the gun, and we can talk."
"NO!" Finally spotting an opening, she began to depress the trigger.
Suddenly, a shot rang out. Shocked, Steven watched as the bullet penetrated her hand, causing her to drop the gun. "Freeze! Cascade PD." Steven didn't think his brother's voice had ever sounded so good.
Crying out, Terry turned towards the side door, racing for freedom. As she crossed the threshold, a clipboard clobbered her in the face.
The three men stared a moment at the woman stirring on the floor before Jim walked over to cuff her. Lily poked her head around the corner, still standing on the chair she had used to reach the stalker's face. "Detectives? Mr. Ellison? Are you all okay?"
"Just a little banged up," Blair replied, hissing as he felt the swelling around his eye.
"Well, I called your captain. He should be here soon with backup."
"Thanks, Ms. Lancin." Jim smiled at her before lifting Terry to her feet.
"Mr. Ellison, are you okay?" Lily asked, noting the haunted look on her boss' face.
Steven shook his head a moment, then turned to smile at her. "Mr. Ellison is my father. You can call me Steven."
"Only if you'll call me Lily," the young woman suggested, returning the smile.
Jim leaned against the stage ladder as he and Steven watched a female officer lead Terry Hudson away. He glanced down at his partner, sitting in a chair next to them. "How's the eye?"
Blair shrugged as he continued holding the towel filled with ice that Lily had brought him. "Sore. But it could have been worse."
"Yeah." Jim glared at his brother. "What on earth possessed you to stand in front of that woman's gun?"
Steven shrugged. "I figured she really didn't want to hurt me, so maybe I could keep her from shooting Blair."
Before Jim could point out the holes in that theory, Bettina Lesley stormed up to them. "What kind of an idiot are you! Shooting a gun in a theater, at one of MY people no less!"
Jim glared at her. "What kind of people do you hire? She was about to shoot my partner and has been stalking my brother for months."
"That's no excuse! You've almost ruined this production!"
"I'm sure it's not that bad, Betty." Both Jim and Blair straightened up as Commissioner Mathews walked up behind Lesley.
"Craig, what kind of people do you have in that police department, anyway? I've got a lot of anxious people in this theater. It's a miracle no one's quit yet."
"Oh, I don't know," Mathews replied easily, glancing around. "Looks to me like it's given everyone something to talk about."
"Well, you need to make it up to me," Lesley pouted. "You should be in the show."
Mathews threw up his hands. "I already told you that I have a steady lady. In fact, you've met Rhonda yourself."
"Then what about the officers who got me into this mess?"
Mathews looked at Jim and Blair. Blair smiled as he lowered the towel. "Sure, I'd love to be in it."
"Eek!" Ms. Lesley stared in horror at Blair's swelling eye. "We can't have you up on stage looking like THAT!" She glared at Jim. "You'll have to do it."
"WHAT?" Jim exclaimed.
"Now that that's settled," Mathews threw a 'You-are-doing-it-or-else' stare at Jim before ushering Ms Lesley back to the crowd, "why don't we take a look at the security..."
"Welcome to the party, big brother," Steven announced, trying to keep a straight face.
"Why me?" Jim moaned.
"Yeah, why you?" Blair moaned with him. "I'd LOVE to have women fighting over me, man."
Next evening, back stage at Trinity Theater
"I feel like a GI Joe doll in a Ken suit," Jim complained.
"It's not that bad," Steven replied, straightening his brother's tie. Both were dressed in sharp black tuxes.
"I still think Blair could do it even WITH the black eye," Jim grumbled.
"Hey man, I got MY date the old fashion way," Blair joked. He was wearing a dark blue suit, which only emphasized the bruise around his eye.
"What date?" Steven asked.
"Joanne and I are going out next weekend." Blair gave the brothers a wide grin and waggled his good eyebrow. "Apparently, she's impressed that I jumped in like that to save Steven."
Jim stared at him in amazement. "The body builder? She could bend you into a pretzel, Chief."
Blair's grin only grew wider. "Yeah, I know."
Jim shook his head as he rolled his eyes. "You are sick, Sandburg."
Steven glanced around the backstage area nervously. "You guys are sure that Hudson chick is locked up?"
"Definitely," Jim replied reassuringly.
"Yeah," Blair added. "We not only got her on stalking, but on poisoning you, threatening a police officer, assaulting a police officer," he waved at his eye, "sending a dangerous package through the mail, and a boatload of other charges. You don't have to worry about her for a while."
Steven released a heavy sigh. "Good." He looked first at Jim, then at Blair. "Thank you, both of you. I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't helped me."
Jim squeezed his shoulder. "That's what brothers are for."
"Steven Ellison, you're up next."
Taking a deep breath, he gave the partners a nervous grin. "Guess I'm up."
"Knock 'em dead!" Blair encouraged him as he walked out on stage.
Jim shook his head. "I still can't believe this."
"You'll do fine," Blair told him.
"Yeah, but that damn artist is out there. I swear she was looking at me earlier like I had already dropped my boxers."
Blair snickered. "Let's just hope she doesn't have any money." Then he narrowed his eyes. "By the way, I heard that the airbag security chief at the Burbank complex was fired. You wouldn't by chance know anything about that?"
Jim shrugged his shoulders as a self-satisfied smirk crossed his face. "I believe Mr. Gafkin had a few words with the building manager."
Blair shook his head. "You're evil, man."
"James Ellison, you're up next!"
"Break a leg, Jim." Blair patted his partner on the back as Jim straightened up and walked towards the open stage.
Passing his brother, Steven whispered, "Be careful of the lights to the left of the stage. They nearly blinded me."
"Thanks," Jim replied, grateful for the warning.
"Next we have the older brother to our last bachelor. James Ellison, an Army hero who is also a decorated detective of Cascade's finest, is just as yummy as his brother Steven." Remembering the procedure, Jim dutifully turned around next to Ms. Lesley at the podium. "He'll definitely keep his date safe at night, eh girls?" Jim fought to keep from blushing as a cheer came up from the crowd. Steven had been right about the lights. Only imagining the dials kept Jim from being blinded. As it was, he couldn't see any of the crowd to the left of the stage.
"May I have an opening bid?"
"I'll bid one hundred!"
Years of military training was all that kept the sentinel from visibly flinching. That was the artist's voice. So much for the 'hoping she doesn't have any money' idea. Jim could see her at one of the tables on the right, leaning forward expectantly while grasping her card with '55' marked on it tightly.
A scattering of voices drove the bid higher, until only the artist and another voice in the brightly lighted area was left. Jim could make out a British accent in the second voice, though he didn't have a prayer of seeing the lady herself.
"Seven hundred, twenty-five!" the artist finally called out.
"Seven seventy-five!" shouted the English woman.
Ms Lesley waited a moment until she saw the artist shake her head in disappointment. "The bachelor goes to number 347!"
Jim walked off stage, blinking his eyes. "Hey Jim, you did pretty good!" Blair greeted him cheerfully.
"At least a hundred more than me," Steven added with a smile.
"Yeah, well, that artist was going after me for all she was worth," Jim explained with a shudder.
"Oh man, she didn't win you, did she?" Blair asked, eyes round with horror.
"Thank God, no. Though I couldn't see who did."
"Sirs?" All three turned around to find a young woman with a camera. "I'm with the Cascade Times. May I take a picture of the two Ellison brother bachelors for tomorrow's paper?"
Nodding their heads in agreement, Jim leaned an arm on Steven's shoulder as they both smiled for the camera. A flash later, Blair returned to their sides. "So, what do you do now?"
Steven shrugged. "We'll be given the names and numbers of the ladies who won us, and then we make arrangements."
All three turned to find a beautiful woman in a blue evening gown standing behind them. Dark waves of rich brown hair tumbled down her back as blue gray eyes sparkled in the lights. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I'll be leaving in the morning to return to England. I'd like to exchange information, Mr. Ellison, before I go so I may contact you when I'm back in Cascade."
Jim's eyes grew warm as he admired the tall, trim woman. "I'd be glad to, Ms...?"
The smile was warm and full of promise. "Ms. Amanda Chambers."
A matching smile filled Jim's face. "Ms. Chambers." Being won in a bachelor's auction might not be so bad after all.
A week later
Long fingered hands flipped through a newspaper, boredom evident in the lazy turning of the pages. Suddenly, both hands grasped the pages tightly, fingernails nearly tearing the paper. There was the picture of Jim and Steven in their tuxes, a couple of sentences barely visible underneath. In a fit of rage, the newspaper was thrown to the floor. "IT CAN'T BE!" a woman screamed. A vase was throw on top, sending glass shards skittering across the smiling faces. More crashes could be heard as the woman screeched, "YOU'RE SUPPOSE TO BE DEAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
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Stalking is a serious crime that can create extreme fear, anxiety, clinical depression and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in its victims. It can be dangerous not only for the person being stalked, but for everyone around them including family, friends and co-workers. Confronting the stalker will often reinforce the behavior instead of deterring it. If you or someone you know is being stalked, you do not need to feel helpless or simply put up with it. Not only are there now anti-stalking laws in most states, but there are people out that can help. Please check out the following books and websites for more information:
Stopping a Stalker:A Cop's Guide to Making the System Work for You, by Captain Robert L. Snow
I Know You Really Love Me: A Psychiatrist's Account of Stalking and Obsessive Love, by Doreen Orion, M.D.
Stalking Victims' Sanctuary: http://www.stalkingvictims.com/
Stalking Rescue: http://www.stalkingrescue.org/