Production No. BPP-604

written by:

edited by: Deborah and Cassima

Park Place Apartment Complex

Blair and Jim took up their positions outside the door, one man on either side of the opening. Observing the familiar tilt to Jim's head, Blair watched as his partner focused his hearing on what was occurring behind the closed door. He shifted his weight, holding his weapon at the ready, and awaited the go ahead signal.

Jim nodded at the apartment door, then pulled his weapon. "I can only hear one heartbeat, but watch yourself, Chief," Jim whispered, then he yelled, "Police, open the door!"

An arrest warrant had been issued for Robert Johnson. He was wanted for questioning concerning the murder of one woman and the attempted murder of a second. The crimes occurred during a simple break-in that had gone terribly wrong. His car had been spotted in the neighborhood the night the women were attacked in their apartment. He had a long record across several states that included breaking and entering, robbery, possession of stolen property, and assault, but nothing as serious as murder.

Again, Jim focused his hearing beyond the door in front of them. Hearing the suspect moving away from the door, he reacted on instinct, kicking the door in and taking off after the retreating suspect. Blair followed quickly in his partner's shadow, watching his back. Jim moved into the apartment's living room and started to head after the suspect down the hallway leading to the bedrooms.

The Sentinel suddenly paused at the sound of a trigger being pulled back. He dove for cover behind the couch, pulling his partner down with him. The suspect had taken cover and opened fire from the first bedroom down the hallway. Jim returned fire, instructing Blair, "Call for backup, Chief."

Blair nodded, pulling out his cell phone. After reporting the situation, he disconnected the phone. "Some things never change," Sandburg remarked sarcastically, in between exchanges of gunfire. ~bang, bang~ "Call for backup, Chief." ~bang bang, bang~ "Nice simple pickup, we shouldn't have a problem, Chief." ~bang, bang~ "Isn't that what you said, Jim?"

Jim simply glared at his partner in response as he changed the clip in his gun.

After several exchanges of rounds, Jim heard Johnson's gun click as it jammed. Johnson cursed as he dropped the gun to the floor and retreated to the back bedroom. Jim took the offensive by leaping over the back of the couch and attempting to cut off the suspect's escape route.

He managed to tackle the suspect halfway down the hall but couldn't keep him under control. The fight between the two men was an even match up. Robert Johnson had four inches and fifty pounds on Jim but lacked his military training, quickness and intelligence. The two men battled, one to escape, the other to detain.

Blair moved into position, close enough to take advantage of any opportunity to intervene without endangering his partner. As he watched the two men struggle, he was horrified to see the suspect manage to land a low blow and gain a slight advantage. Johnson leveled several punishing blows to Ellison's rib cage. Watching from the sidelines, Blair was unable to act in time to prevent his partner from being disabled. He could only watch as the suspect stomped on Jim's ankle and then landed one final blow in his solar plexus. Jim lost his grip on Johnson as the pain and the sudden lack of air in his lungs overwhelmed him.

With Jim off balance, the suspect had little difficulty shoving him into Blair, who went down underneath his partner's bulk. Without looking back, Johnson headed for the window in the bedroom where the fire escape was located.

Blair quickly got to his feet. He hesitated for a moment, not sure whether to pursue the suspect or aid his partner. Jim, noting Blair's indecision, managed to gasp out, "I'm OK. Go after him."

Jim didn't even attempt to get to his feet. He thought he had heard something pop when he was kicked. It was difficult to judge if there was any serious damage. First, he had to figure out how to get more air back in his lungs; then he could work on the dials, which were up way too high at the moment. Once his senses were back under control, he could check out the injury to his leg. Until he could do that, he knew it was better not to put any weight on it. Blair was the only one who could catch Johnson now.

Blair nodded and started for the back bedroom. Jim watched as his partner disappeared from view. He could hear the sirens and realized that backup was about a block away. Pulling his cell phone out of his jacket pocket, he informed dispatch that his partner was now pursuing the suspect on foot in the alley behind the building and gave the location.

Once he was sure that his Guide would have backup shortly, he had time to check out the ankle. Remembering the mental exercises his partner had been teaching him for the last few years, he attempted to relax and take a deep breath. Oops, wrong move. He had forgotten for a moment about what had happened to his ribs. He winced at the pain and succeeded in turning the dial down a notch. After a few minutes, he was able to examine his ankle with his fingertips. He didn't find anything obviously broken, but the ankle was definitely swelling and turning a bright shade of purple.

He moved back to lean against the hallway wall. Blair was on his own for now, but Jim wasn't too concerned. He had complete faith in his partner; he had meant every word he had said that day in the hospital, after the now infamous press conference. His Guide was a good cop.

Jim stared at the swollen ankle, frustrated that it prevented him from backing up his partner. He knew Blair would make him go to the emergency room as soon as he caught up with Johnson. Not in the mood to fight the inevitable, Jim called dispatch back and requested an ambulance for himself. Better to let an expert diagnose the damage now.

As Blair reached the bottom of the fire escape, he could see Johnson heading for the far end of the alley. Johnson was about ten feet from the street when Sandburg realized he was not going to be able to catch him before he reached the main street. Blair knew that if Johnson reached the busy street, it would be impossible to take him down without endangering innocent bystanders. It would be better to stop him from ever reaching the street.

Noticing several hubcaps lying against the wall of the alley in front of him, he picked one up and, with a flick of his wrist, flipped it like a Frisbee at the fleeing felon. The hubcap caught Johnson on the back of his right leg, causing him to stumble to his hands and knees.

He quickly covered the distance to the downed man. "Freeze! Police! Don't move," yelled Sandburg, pulling out his weapon to cover the suspect. "There's nowhere for you to run. Hands over your head. Get down on the ground," Sandburg ordered in a very deep authoritative voice. He watched the suspect carefully for any motion that would indicate the presence of concealed weapons.

Johnson thought for a moment about rushing the much smaller man, but was quickly dissuaded when two of Cascade PD's blue and silver police units pulled up and blocked the mouth of the alley. Realizing he was outnumbered and outgunned, Johnson laid down flat on the ground, hands outstretched.

The uniforms approached the suspect from the mouth of the alley. Blair recognized Douglas Roberts immediately, but he didn't recognize the other officer. "I could use a little help over here," Blair called.

Blair kept his weapon trained on the suspect as Doug proceeded to search and then cuff Johnson. Listening as they read him his rights, he heard Johnson acknowledge that he understood them. As the officers picked him up off the ground, Johnson turned, attempting to pull away from the uniformed officers to get to Sandburg. Leaning over, he managed to get his face a foot away from his target. As they pulled him away, he sneered angrily at Sandburg. "You little runt! You'll regret this. I would have gotten away clean if it wasn't for you. I'll make you pay for getting in my way."

Blair answered quietly under his breath as he put away his firearm, "The guy can't even make an original threat; 'you'll regret this', yadda, yadda, yadda. He's not even scary. I've been threatened with much worse, even by my own partner."

Doug laughed as he overheard the quiet comment, making Johnson even angrier. Blair followed the uniforms back to the patrol units and watched as Johnson was loaded into the back of Doug's unit

Roberts paused after the suspect was secured before entering the driver's seat. "Nice job, Blair. How did you do it? This guy is almost twice your size, not to mention he already took out that big bad partner of yours. I figured we'd have to scrape you off the sidewalk."

"I tripped him with a flying hubcap," Blair explained sheepishly.

"A flying hubcap?" Doug started laughing again, leaning against the patrol car. "Oh, wow, I wish I had gotten here in time to see that move."

"Yeah, a flying hubcap," Blair answered, imitating the previous act.

Doug just shook his head. "No one back at the station is going to believe this, he muttered under his breath as he climbed into the unit and pulled away from the curb.

Sandburg watched until the unit was out of sight before turning back to the apartment and his injured partner.

As Blair headed back toward the apartment complex, he observed the ambulance attendants wheeling the gurney holding his partner out the front door of the building. Blair hurried to the back of the ambulance. Ellison was wide-awake and alert, his ankle immobilized and packed in ice.

"Sandburg, are you OK? Did you get him?" Jim asked worriedly as he watched his partner approach. Blair rolled his eyes as his Blessed Protector used his senses to scan him for any signs of injury.

"I'm fine. Not a mark on me and yeah, I got him. Doug Roberts is taking him to the station as we speak. How are you doing?"

"Everything's under control, Chief. If you don't mind, I want you to stick around here until forensics is done. You remember the list of stolen property from the robbery, right?"

Blair nodded, "Yeah, I have it in my notebook."

"Good. See if Johnson was dumb enough to keep anything at his place. I really like that little old lady and I promised we would find whoever killed her sister. I want Johnson nailed. Here, take the truck," Jim said, as he tossed his keys to Blair. "When you're done here cleaning up this mess, meet me at the hospital. I should be ready to go home by then."

"You're letting me drive the truck? Be still my heart," Blair smirked, placing his hand over his heart. Looking at the paramedics, he asked, "Hey guys, did you check him for head injuries? He's obviously not himself if he's letting me drive his truck."

"Watch it, Sandburg. I just don't want the truck sitting overnight parked in this neighborhood. It would be stripped before morning. Your driving skills are the lesser of two evils. You just remember, get one single scratch, ding or dent on my truck and first it's coming out of your hide, then your paycheck," Jim ordered, pointing his finger at his partner with every word.

Blair waved off the threats with a rude gesture and a quirky grin. "Yeah, yeah. I know, Dad. I'll be careful. Now, you remember to behave for the nice doctors and nurses or I'll have to ground you."

"Funny, Chief. Quite the comedian, isn't he?" Jim said to the paramedics who were attempting and failing miserably to hide wide grins. They loaded the gurney into the back of the ambulance and pulled away, lights flashing but without the siren. Blair smiled, it was nice not to hear the siren, which was only used when the injuries were life threatening. Blair entered the apartment building to finish mopping up the scene with the arriving forensics team. He just can't help himself. Blair thought. He always puts the needs of the tribe before his own, including small children, little old ladies and his Guide.

Cascade Hospital

It was almost three hours before Blair was able to leave the scene and get to the hospital. He entered the emergency room, heading straight for the admitting nurse's counter.

"He's in Cubicle #3, Blair," the nurse behind the desk called to him, waving him down the hallway. She had been working in the hospital emergency room longer than he had been alive. She had been on duty when Blair had been admitted after Jim rescued him from Lash, and on several other occasions when either Blair or Jim had been admitted for treatment. She was very fond of the two men who obviously had no difficulty demonstrating how much they cared for each other.

Blair smiled and waved his thanks to the nurse. She was old enough to be his grandmother, but he liked to flirt with her anyway. She said it made her day, having a 'younger' man flirt with her. Blair headed straight for the hallway leading to the emergency room cubicles. Pulling back one corner of the curtain on Cubicle #3, he saw his partner, eyes closed and resting comfortably under a blanket. Even though the blanket covered it, the injured ankle was obviously already heavily bandaged. Entering quietly so he wouldn't disturb his partner, Blair headed for the stool sitting on one side of the gurney.

Opening one eye, Jim mumbled, "Hey, Chief. How did it go at the scene?"

"Sorry, Jim. Didn't mean to wake you. If he did do it, Johnson has covered his tracks pretty good. We didn't find any sign of the stolen property. So what's the good news?" Blair asked softly.

"Two bruised ribs and one slightly sprained ankle. I was lucky. A few weeks in a light support brace and I'll be as good as new. I'm on light duty for the rest of the week."

Blair grinned and nodded at the good news. "So are they going to spring you soon?"

Jim nodded. "Just waiting for the paperwork, then we can go. I told the doctor you'd be here soon. He just went to get it. I didn't think there was any hurry. I figured you'd be flirting with Nurse Campbell for at least twenty minutes before you would remember I was back here. What happened?"

"I had to know you were really okay. Now that I've seen you with my own eyes, I'll go flirt while you finish getting dressed---unless you want a helping hand or an audience?" Blair asked with a smirk. "I'm sure I can find some volunteers"

"No, thank you Romeo. I can handle this. You go flirt with the ladies." Jim tilted his head to one side. Recognizing the sound of his Captain's voice in the waiting room, he smiled. "Simon's here."

Blair stepped out into the hallway and waved at the Captain. "We're over here, Sir."

Simon turned away from the admitting counter with a nod of thanks to the nurse. He headed for his friends, an unlit cigar hanging from his mouth. "Sandburg, I didn't realize you were hurt too. Shouldn't you be lying down?" Simon asked with a hidden wink toward Jim, placing a hand on Blair's shoulder.

"I wasn't hurt. Jim was," replied Blair with a puzzled tone, glancing from Jim to the Captain.

"You just called me 'Sir'. You never call me 'Sir'. I figured you were suffering from a head injury," Simon answered. With a pat to Blair's cheek and a sarcastic grin as he entered the cubicle, leaving a stunned Blair standing out in the hallway. "How are you doing, Jim?"

"Fine, just waiting for the release paperwork, Sir." Jim noticed that Blair had recovered from Simon's sudden and uncharacteristic attack of humor and was now standing silently at the foot of the gurney, probably plotting his revenge. Jim hoped he would be around to watch.

Simon nodded at Ellison, then glared at his newest detective. "Sandburg, I heard all about your arrest of Johnson in that alley. Roberts couldn't stop laughing about it back at the station. The story made it to the seventh floor in less than ten minutes. I can't believe you did that!"

"What?" Blair asked, waving his arms. "What did I do wrong now?"

Simon answered in a huff, using his cigar as a pointer, "A HUBCAP! One of the city's biggest, most dangerous criminals, who had just finished taking out big, bad Ellison, and you take him down with a HUBCAP?"

"So? It worked, didn't it? Never argue with success, Simon. Haven't you learned that yet? Besides, he was twice my size. It wasn't like I could have taken him on, one on one. Backup hadn't gotten there yet. What did you want me to do, let him get away?"

"Unbelievable," Simon sputtered, shaking his head. "Just unbelievable." Rubbing his hand across his face, he added, "Sandburg, I need your report first thing tomorrow morning. In the meantime, go home and take care of Ellison. That's punishment enough."

"Hey!" Jim exclaimed, followed by an indignant sigh.

"I'll see you both in the morning," Simon said as he exited the cubicle. Jim could hear him muttering to himself as he stomped down the hallway: "That kid gives me more gray hairs than my own kid. I swear, one of these days, but damn, I wish I could have seen him take that guy down with an old hubcap. What will he think of next?"

Jim heard the frustration in their Captain's voice, then stared at his partner, unable to truly comprehend how Sandburg had managed to arrest Johnson using only a hubcap. Blair simply grinned, waggled his eyebrows, and shrugged his shoulders at his friend.


Blair entered the loft first, dropping the keys into the basket. Turning to his partner, he suggested, "Why don't you go rest on the couch for a while? I'll make us something to eat."

"Nah, I'm fine," Jim answered as Blair shut and locked the door behind him.

Not really hearing Jim's response, he headed into the kitchen. "Do you want something to drink?" Blair asked as he dropped Jim's prescriptions on the counter.

Jim limped over to the couch to sit down. Breaking his own house rules, he propped his injured leg on the coffee table. Picking up the remote, he surfed the channels until he found an old John Wayne western. Catching a glimpse of the time, he looked over at his partner, who was rummaging through the cabinets. "Chief, it's almost 5:30. Don't you think you'd better get going?"

Looking confused, Blair asked, "Where should I be going?"

Exasperated, Jim rolled his eyes and answered, "It's Thursday: Orvelle, the gym, the Junior Jags, remember?"

Since Jim was out of reach, Blair smacked himself on the head, smiled and answered, "Oh, yeah. I forgot."

Several Months Previous

Jim and Blair entered the supermarket, shaking off the raindrops. "Come on, Chief. Let's do this quick. I hate shopping," Jim said as he noticed that Blair had become distracted. One of the advertisements on the bulletin board just inside the door had caught Blair's attention. It was a flyer from the local boys and girls club that wanted responsible adults to coach basketball at the neighborhood club.

Jim read the flyer over Blair's shoulder.

"It says 'responsible'. Guess that leaves you out, Chief," Jim laughed, slapping Blair on the back.

"Funny, very funny, Jim," answered Blair sourly as he continued to look at the flyer.

Jim paused for a moment and then, as he realized Blair was really interested in this, added, "Sorry, Chief. You miss being around kids. You miss teaching every day, don't you?" Jim asked softly, feeling more than a little guilty about the 'responsible' crack.

"Sometimes," Blair answered absently, still eyeing the flyer. At the bottom of the flyer was the contact name. Blair was surprised to see Orvelle Wallace's name.

"You'd be good at this. You can play ball and you're great with kids. Why don't you give him a call, Chief?"

"I don't think so. This flyer is two weeks old. It's probably too late." Blair's words belied the obviously interested tone of voice.

"So, what have you got to lose? The only way you're gonna find out is if you call him," Jim said, raising his eyebrows encouragingly.

"And I haven't spoken to him since before that mess at Rainier. I'm sure he's heard all about it. That incident sure doesn't help my reputation as a responsible adult."

Jim was saddened by the realization that Blair felt too ashamed to face his childhood hero because of the press conference. During the last year and a half, Blair had handled several confrontations concerning the fallout after that episode, usually with a joke and a smart-ass comment. As Jim reviewed the people involved in the previous confrontations, he realized that their opinions hadn't really matter to Blair. On the other hand, Orvelle's opinion was very important to Blair. Jim hoped Orvelle would remember that it was Blair who had believed in him when everyone else-- including Jim-- had believed him guilty of murder. Several of Blair's University friends had stood by him throughout the entire incident concerning his dissertation. They had kept in touch, providing some much-needed support during the months after the press conference. Jim believed Orvelle would also be supportive of his friend. Now all he had to do was convince Blair of that idea. "Blair, if you really want to do this, give him a call. The worst he can say is no."

"That's not the worst he could say," Blair answered with a sad face. Stuffing the flyer into his pocket, he added, "I'll think about it."

Jim knew better than to press his friend any further right now. Blair needed time to sort out his feelings.

Jim watched as Blair paced the floor between the kitchen and the balcony doors for the nineteenth time since they'd gotten home from shopping. Jim was really regretting that 'responsible' crack he had made at the store. At the time, he didn't think Blair would take it so seriously. On the drive home, Jim had tried to encourage Blair to make the call. He had done his best to come up with the right words. Now, as he watched the twentieth pass, he wondered what else he could say. As much as Jim wanted to make the call for Blair, this was a decision Sandburg had to make for himself.

On the twenty-first trip made towards the kitchen, he watched his friend pause. His mind finally made up, Blair headed for the phone and dialed a number.

"Hello, Orvelle Wallace? This is Blair Sandburg," Blair's nervousness was obvious in his voice.

"Hey, Blair. How's it going? It's nice to hear from you. I haven't talked to you since before you left Rainier."

"I know. I've been real busy," Blair answered nervously. "Hey, I saw the flyer down at the supermarket and wondered if you still needed extra coaches?" Blair asked hesitantly, getting right to the point. Jim could hear the expectation of disappointment in his voice. With a silent apology for what he was about to do, Jim turned up the dial on his hearing so he could hear Wallace's response.

"I'm sorry, Blair. All the teams have been assigned coaches "

"Damn," thought Jim angrily, wondering if Wallace had any unpaid parking tickets.

"Sorry to have bothered you," Blair interrupted and started to hang up the phone.

"Blair, wait, don't hang up. Let me clarify. We picked the teams and started to practice last week. We only filled the number of teams that I had coaches already signed up to handle. So I don't need any more coaches, but I do still need assistants. That would involve helping out during practice and keeping track of the score, player fouls and the subbing of players during the games. Not quite as exciting as being the coach I know, but would you be interested in doing that? In fact, I'm coaching the boys fourteen and under group and you could help me out with my team. My assistant had to quit because of too many conflicts with his work schedule."

Blair grinned. "That would be great. I'd love to. Maybe I should mention that I work full- time for the police department now. I may have some scheduling conflicts, too. We've asked Cascade's criminals to operate on a 9-to-5 basis only, but they refuse to cooperate."

Orvelle continued, laughing, "Don't worry about that, Blair. That is why we have a head coach and an assistant coach. We have practice every Tuesday and Thursday night at 6:00 during the rest of September. In addition, there are several practice games that are scheduled to be played on weekends starting in October and the citywide tournament is being held in the beginning of November. We need to finish up before the school season starts. How's that sound to you?"

"Sounds great. I'll see you at practice tomorrow night. And Orvelle thanks."

"Thank you, Blair. It's hard to get volunteers for these kids. Nobody wants to commit his or her time these days. I'll see you tomorrow and introduce you to the team. They are a really good group of kids. I think you'll enjoy this. I know you'll be great with the kids."

Blair hung up the phone. When he turned to his partner, he had the biggest grin on his face that Jim could remember since before the press conference. If Wallace had any unpaid parking tickets, they were history as soon as Jim got to work in the morning.

At the Loft

"I can't believe I forgot what day it was," mumbled Blair under his breath as he headed to his bedroom to change into gym clothes, yelling to Jim an instant later from his room, "What about dinner?"

Jim could hear clothes being tossed onto the floor and dresser drawers being opened and slammed shut. He started to chuckle as he heard Blair's mutterings about the location of his misplaced sneakers.

"Chief, don't worry about dinner. I'm not really hungry right now. Go to practice. I'll call Carmen's and you can pick up the pizza on your way home. We'll have dinner fashionably late tonight. And your sneakers are by the door."

"Thanks, man," Blair answered exiting his bedroom. "Are you sure you can wait that long for dinner, Jim? I won't be home till almost 8:00 PM."

"No problem," Jim answered absently, the majority of his attention focused on the TV.

"Make my half of the pizza veggie this time, okay, Jim? Not that Meat Lover's Supreme you like. And don't forget the extra order of breadsticks this time. I'm tired of fighting you for my fair share."

"Eat faster, Junior. You snooze, you lose the breadsticks."

Blair stopped by the kitchen on his way to the door. "Are you sure you don't want anything to eat or drink before I go?" Blair asked as he opened the door of the refrigerator and grabbed a couple of bottles of water to take with him to practice.

"I'm fine, MOTHER. Get going. You're gonna be late," Jim grinned as his partner ran past him, grabbing his keys.

"OK, OK, I get the message. Take it easy, I won't be late. It only takes ten minutes to get there." Blair took one final look around the apartment before opening the front door. "I'm outta here," Blair waved, then closed the door to the loft and headed down the stairs rather than wait for the elevator.

Jim listened as Hurricane Blair flew down the stairs and out to his car. Once he heard Sandburg's car pull out into the street, he turned his attention back to the television. He thought about how excited Blair was about helping out Orvelle coaching the team. The past couple of months had been great for his buddy's attitude. He really enjoyed working with the kids at the club. He actually started bouncing when he talked about the players, like he used to do when he talked about his students or some new artifact. It had been a long time since Jim could recall Blair having the energy or the inclination to bounce. It was great to see that again.

Jim had attended a few of the practices himself when Orvelle had been unable to make it. Jim had also enjoyed being around the kids. As a cop, he saw the worst of what society had to offer. When he had worked with these kids, he was reminded that there were a lot of good, decent, hardworking people out there. He had a little more faith now in the next generation.

During the next commercial break, he called Carmen's and placed the order for an eight o'clock pickup. He stretched out on the couch and focused on the movie, determined to watch the final showdown.

At the Bullpen

Jim and Blair were each finalizing their reports on the previous day's bust for the case file on Robert Johnson. Blair stood up as his report was printing out, grabbing his mug and Jim's. He headed for the break room to get a couple of coffee refills. Before he could leave the bullpen, he heard his Captain's voice.

"Ellison, Sandburg, my office! Right now," Simon bellowed from the door of his office.

The two men looked at each other and shrugged. Blair put down the two mugs before he followed Jim into Simon's office.

Simon got right to the point. "Both of you, sit down, be quiet and listen. Don't interrupt. I just got off the phone with the District Attorney. He has ordered that Robert Johnson be released. He felt that there wasn't enough evidence to hold him on the murder or attempted murder charges, so we have to let him go," Simon sat back and waited for the explosion. It didn't take long.

Jim vented first. His initial instinct was to pace, but his sore ankle prevented that, which just increased his ire. "His record is longer than my arm and his car was identified in the neighborhood that night!"

Simon had been just as angry as Jim was when the DA had called him earlier that morning. He had argued with the guy for almost an hour. Simon was ready for whatever arguments Jim and Blair could throw at him. "That's not enough. There were no prints found at the scene and none of the stolen property was found at his apartment. Ms. Dames picked him out of the photo lineup we did at the hospital, but being seventy years old with a wandering attention span doesn't make her the most convincing witness. The DA wants more before he'll pursue this."

Jim continued, his voice getting a little louder. "He also tried to kill Sandburg and me at the apartment. He fired his gun at us several times. What about that?"

"According to his story, he was sleeping on the couch when the two of you broke into his apartment. He never heard you identify yourselves as police officers. As far as he was concerned, he was defending himself against armed intruders. That's the story he gave during his statement to Rafe and Brown. IA doesn't believe him, so don't worry about an investigation, but the DA wants a clean case."

"I heard him moving around the apartment before we broke down the door!" Jim yelled.

"But you can't testify to that in court," Simon countered, starting to lose control and raise his own voice.

Blair reached over and put his hand on his partner's arm, before the situation escalated any further out of control. He looked over at Simon and asked calmly, "What about him threatening me in that alley? The two uniforms could back up my statement. Since Doug had already read him his rights and he knowingly waived those rights, everything he said would be admissible."

Simon shook his head. "The DA wants him for the attempted murder and murder charges. I argued these points with him before I called you guys in here. I agree with you. I'm not the enemy here, but the DA is adamant about not pursuing this case at this time. This isn't over, gentlemen. We haven't given up on these charges yet. Rafe and Brown are in charge of setting up a surveillance schedule to keep an eye on him. The DA said that if he leads us to the stash of property stolen from Ms. Dames' apartment, he'd take the case to trial. The DA wants a smoking gun. Remember, it's an election year. He's running for mayor and he only wants to prosecute cases he's sure he can win."

"Oh, brother," Jim said, rolling his eyes. "I don't know which would be worse, if the idiot we already have for a mayor gets re-elected or this idiot becomes the mayor."

"So, the theory is, if we give the guy enough rope, he'll hang himself," Blair said, thoughtfully, ignoring his partner's political incorrectness.

Jim started to head for the door. "I'll talk to Brown about adding Sandburg and me to the schedule."

Simon shook his head. "Hold up, Ellison. You're on desk duty for the next week. You're not released for even light duty yet."

Frustrated by his injury and the DA's stubbornness, Jim said angrily, "Simon! I can't just sit here and do nothing."

"Why don't you and Blair start checking on possible fences Johnson could use? Run an in- depth background check. I want to know about any family in the area, known associates and financial records. Turn over every rock the two of you can think of," Simon suggested. "Maybe you can also figure out where Johnson has stashed the stuff from the apartment and nail his ass to the wall."

"Let's go, Jim," Blair urged, tugging on his partner's arm. Watching his men solemnly exit his office, Simon rose to refill his coffee from the pot behind his desk.

As Simon stood at the window, looking through the blinds into the bullpen, he watched Jim limp to his computer to start a search on potential fences and known associates. Blair grabbed both mugs off his desk and started to head for the break room to grab some coffee.

"Sandburg, get your refills from the pot in my office. I just made it. It will taste much better than that dirty dishwater someone is trying to pass off as coffee in the break room."

"Thanks, Captain," Blair answered as he reversed his direction into Simon's office.

It was the least Simon could do. It was gonna be a long and tedious morning of computer searches, phone calls and file reviews. They were going to need the caffeine.

Park Place Apartments

Rafe looked over at the front door of the building. Four days of watching this suspect and nothing had happened. It appeared that Johnson knew he was being watched. The guy was being careful. He only left the apartment for work and for dinner. Seeing Johnson exit the building, Rafe nudged Brown and pointed. "Our suspect is on the move, but it looks like he's not taking his car."

As part of the investigation, Johnson's name had been run through the motor vehicles registration computer. Robert Johnson only owned one car, a late model blue Ford Explorer that was currently parked around the corner from the apartment building. More importantly, it was parked in the opposite direction from where Johnson was headed.

Henri reached for the car door. "Dinner time. I'll follow him on foot. I bet he's just headed to Wong's. You drive the car around the block. See if you can't get in front of him." Henri crossed the street and started to follow Johnson. Rafe started the car and drove past both his partner and the suspect and made a left turn at the light. Johnson never looked back. He headed straight for Wong's Chinese Restaurant two blocks down the street. This was Johnson's favorite place for dinner. It was the third day in a row he'd had dinner here. Henri watched as the suspect entered the restaurant and saw him following the hostess to a table. Henri entered a small coffee shop across the street from the restaurant.

Henri ordered two small black coffees. As he was waiting for the order, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed his partner's number. "Hey, Rafe, Johnson is inside. I'm across the street in the coffee shop. See if you can't find someplace to park the car around the corner and meet me here. You know the drill."

Henri found a table near the front of the store so he could keep an eye on the door of the restaurant. The bell over the door rang and Rafe entered the shop and sat down with Brown. Henri handed him one of the cups of coffee.

After an hour and a half had passed, Henri started to get worried. "This guy should be done by now! He's never taken this long to eat before."

Rafe nodded, then looked over at his partner as a horrible idea came to him. "Are you sure the front door is the only exit to the place?"

"Oh, God." Henri stood up so fast he knocked his chair over.

Rafe and Brown ran across the street, dodging the cars in the intersection, and entered the restaurant. Brushing aside the agitated hostess, both men scanned the patrons eating at the tables. There was no sign of Johnson. A horrified expression crossed Brown's face as he saw the side exit door.

"Damn! We lost him. Simon's going to kill us," Henri said dejectedly.

"Simon is not the one to worry about. I'm more afraid of Ellison. This guy threatened Sandburg. Ellison is not going to like it when we tell him he got away from us," Rafe answered.

Cascade Boys and Girls Club

"Come on, Joey, run the play. Just run the play," Orvelle mumbled as he paced the sideline. They were down by one point with only seven seconds left in the game. Joey Hillard had the ball. He was probably one of the most talented players on the team, but he was a loose cannon on the court. He wouldn't pass the ball to his teammates. He hardly ever ran the plays they had practiced. He had been taking wild shots all during the game, missing almost all of them. He also had the highest number of turnovers.

Upon Orvelle's order, Blair had taken him out of the game three times during the first half to try to settle him down. The third time, Orvelle said not to put him back in. The worst thing about this situation was that it wasn't a big ego or a selfish nature that caused Joey's problem; it was the result of listening to his father in the stands shouting out all the wrong things to do. Rather than doing what his coaches wanted him to do, Joey was listening to his father. The only reason Joey was back in the game at all was because two other guards had fouled out during the last part of the fourth quarter. There was no one else on the bench eligible to play.

Earlier, Orvelle had used his last time out to lay out the final play of the game. "Jason, I want you to inbound the ball to Joey. Joey, you have got to get the ball down court quick. We will only get one more shot. Joey, I want you to pass the ball to Michael at the post. Michael, keep your hands up high. You are the tallest person playing in the game, so use that height. Joey, if you pass the ball high, they won't be able to intercept it. Michael will take the final shot. You got that, Joey? Get the ball to Michael."

Both teams took up their positions on the court. The referee handed the ball to Jason and started to count. Jason passed the ball inbound to Joey. The opposing players double-teamed Joey, but he slipped out of the trap and got the ball down court. There was only three seconds left on the clock. Joey could hear his father in the stands yelling at him to take the shot.

Michael was wide open at the post, calling for the ball. Joey looked at him, but rather than passing the ball, he took a wild three point shot. The crowd fell silent as the ball headed for the basket. But instead of falling through the hoop, the ball bounced off the rim as time ran out.

As the other team was celebrating their victory, Joey walked off the court. His head was down as he sat at the end of the bench. The rest of his teammates ignored him as they headed for the locker room. His teammates were barely talking to him anymore. They couldn't stand his hot- dogging any more than the coaches could.

Orvelle rubbed his hand across his brow. "Blair, will you try talking to him? I've talked 'til I'm blue in the face and he just won't listen to me. I can't reach him. Maybe he'll listen to you."

"I'll give it a shot," Blair said as he walked over to where Joey was sitting at the end of the bench. Blair sat down next to Joey and started to talk. "Joey, you really need to quit listening to what your father is telling you to do during the games."

"I can't ignore my dad. I have to go home with him. I have to live with him. You don't know what he's like. You just don't get it." Joey tried to get up and leave but Blair blocked his path.

Blair knew that Joey wasn't paying any attention to what he was saying, but he tried to reach him anyway. "Look, Joey, I'm not telling you to ignore your dad all the time. But during the games, you have got to listen to what Orvelle and I are telling you to do. If you don't start listening to us, you're not going to be playing in the games anymore."

The threat of not being able to play caught hold of Joey's wandering attention. "You can't do that. I have to play. You're not the coach. It's not your decision to make!" yelled Joey.

"You're right. It's not my decision. It's Orvelle's decision and I agree with him. Look, you can take the top five most talented players in the NBA, put them on one team, but don't give them time to practice. Then, take five more players, put them on a second team and let them practice together for a couple of weeks. Five guys who can play together well will beat the five superstars every time. This is a team sport, Joey. Right now, you're playing for yourself, not for the team. That hurt us tonight. You have the talent to play in the big leagues, man. You've also got the brains when you choose to use them. You have got to learn to play with others or you won't be playing at all, not here and not for the NBA. Think about it." Blair paused, then asked, "Would it help if I had a talk with your dad? Maybe explain to him what our strategy is and keep you out of the middle of this?"

"No, man, you'll only make things worse. My dad doesn't like you. He's an alumnus of Rainier and knows all about you," Joey said, shaking his head. "You'll cause more trouble if you talk to him." Joey stalked away from Blair and headed into the locker room.

Blair walked back over to where Orvelle was standing. "I don't know for sure, but I think I just did more harm than good."

"I don't believe that, Blair, but I guess we'll just have to wait 'til Thursday to see. I'll give him one more chance. Excuse me, Blair. I'm gonna see if I can't speed those kids up and get them out of the locker room. I want to be out of here before dawn. I'll be right back."

Blair was watching Orvelle enter the locker room when he heard an angry voice behind him ask, "What did you think you were doing, benching my son? He's the best player you've got on this team. He's not gonna do the team any good sitting on the bench. You cost us the game when you decided not to let him play. Just who do you think you are?" Blair turned around and realized he was facing Joey's father.

Squaring his shoulders, Blair answered, "I think I'm the assistant coach, not you. You need to understand that it's up to the coaches to decide who plays and who doesn't. Joey didn't deserve to play tonight. He ignored everything we told him to do."

"My son has a great career as a NBA player in front of him and I'm not going to let you screw it up for him. You have no right making him sit on the bench. He needs to be playing."

"Look, this program isn't just about winning the game. How we win or lose a game is just as important as the final score. We are trying to teach these kids about teamwork and good sportsmanship, not just the skills of the game. If Joey is gonna play for us, he has to do what we tell him just like everyone else on the team. Besides, if he wants to succeed at the higher levels of competition, he's got to learn to be a team player."

"Who are you to talk so high and mighty? You're nothing but a big fraud. You can't teach him anything about teamwork or sportsmanship. How would someone like you know anything about that?"

"I'm not the one screwing this up for him. Hillard, please, let us coach him during the game. You are only confusing him and making things more difficult."

"Sandburg, I'm only going to say this once. I suggest you don't take my son out of the game again or you'll regret it." Hillard was trying his best to be intimidating, but Blair had learned from a master about standing up to intimidation. Jim had been twice as tough as this guy was when Blair had first met him five years ago.

"Hillard, I want you to listen right now. Orvelle and I are going to do what we think is best for the entire team, not any one player. If your son chooses not to be a team player, then he won't be playing here."

Unknown to Hillard, Orvelle and Joey had exited the locker room in time to hear the last exchange. "Do we have a problem here?" asked Orvelle.

"No, Coach Wallace," answered Hillard respectfully. "I think Mr. Sandburg and I have come to understand each other. Joey, get your stuff and I'll meet you out front," continued Hillard as he headed for the exit.

"Sure, Dad. I'll be there in a minute. I just need to grab my bag from the bench." Joey looked at his coaches, an apology on the tip of his tongue. He changed his mind, grabbed his bag and followed his father out of the building.

"Are you OK, Blair?" Orvelle asked, not liking the tail end of the conversation he had just overheard.

"Yeah, we just exchanged words. It's nothing I can't handle. He's just a little upset right now. He'll settle down once he thinks about what I've said. No harm done."

"So, what did you think of Michael's performance tonight?" Orvelle asked, changing the subject quickly. "He's coming along nicely as a post player."

"Yeah, but if we wind up playing man to man, he'll be in foul trouble really quick. His foot speed is just too slow for that type of defense."

"Hank is a much better defensive player, but his shooting percentage is pretty low."

"Too bad we can't merge them together into one player," Blair added with a laugh. "One of the cops at the station has a son who plays for West Side. He's always bragging about what a great outside shooting percentage his son's team has. A zone defense isn't going to work against them and we are playing them in the first round.

"I know. You're a great scout, Blair," Orvelle laughed. "Look, I'll worry about which offense or defense to play during a game, you worry about getting the right kids out on the court. That system has worked great for us so far, right?"

"I'm not going to argue with that statement. Now if we can only get the kids to follow our wonderful system," Blair answered as he held his hand up for a high five.

Orvelle returned the gesture, slapping the raised hand. "Right, and the likelihood of getting fourteen year old boys to listen to the two of us is?"

"Nil!" Both men said simultaneously.

Orvelle paused, looking carefully at Blair's face. "Are you sure everything is all right between you and Hillard? I really didn't like the direction he was heading."

"Yeah, he's no worse than your average undergrad who's worried about their GPA. I've dealt with this kind of thing before, every time I had to hand out a low grade."

"I hope you're right. He seems awfully hot-tempered to me. Let me get the lights and we're out of here," Orvelle said, heading for his office.

Blair exited the gym, waving goodbye to Orvelle. As he approached his car, he saw that the rear tire was flat. As he walked around the car, he realized that all four tires had been slashed. Oh man, thought Blair, this really isn't my night. He checked out the area, but the only other car in the parking lot was Orvelle's and Blair knew he hadn't done it.

Before Blair could call anyone, Orvelle pulled up beside him. "Blair, what are you--Oh wow, man, that's really a shame. Get in. I'll give you a ride home. No one is going to come out to this neighborhood tonight. You can arrange to have the car towed tomorrow."

Blair went around the front of Orvelle's car, and climbed into the passenger seat. He didn't notice the Ford Explorer parked around the corner or its occupant watching them pull away.

At the Bullpen

"Just have the car towed to Ernie's garage on Fourth Street. Tell him to replace all the tires. I'll be by at five to pick it up." Blair hung up the phone and looked over at the meeting being held in Simon's office. It had already been a very long morning and it wasn't even close to lunchtime yet.

Jim hadn't been very happy when he woke up this morning and found out what had happened to Blair's car the night before. Blair had been forced into a ten-minute question and answer period about why he hadn't called Jim. Then, when Jim figured out that Blair hadn't reported the incident, Blair had to listen to another ten-minute lecture on the circumstances and procedures for reporting a crime. When Jim had finally wound down, the first thing he had done was to call Simon to say they would be in late. Jim wanted to examine the scene personally.

Jim had checked the car and the area for evidence, but didn't find anything conclusive. When they finally got to work, the first thing Simon had told them was that Johnson had slipped away from the surveillance team the night before. Jim had immediately demanded that Johnson be brought in for questioning. After that suggestion had been quickly vetoed, he and Simon had adjourned to Simon's office to discuss the issue in private.

Shortly after, Simon had called Rafe and Henri into his office. Blair had been on the phone at the time. When he hung up, he debated joining them but decided against it, particularly since he hadn't been invited. It didn't matter, however, since the voices coming from the office were now loud enough for everyone in the bullpen to hear anyway.

Through the partially opened shades he could see Henri and Rafe standing in front of Simon's desk. From the looks on their faces, the meeting wasn't going very well. Jim had his back to him, so he couldn't tell if he was still angry. Simon was seated at his desk. He had his poker face on which even after years of playing cards with him, Blair hadn't deciphered. Blair picked up the file he had been working on yesterday. He'd find out soon enough what was going on in Simon's office.

"Jim, we don't know for sure that it was Johnson who vandalized Sandburg's car. The gym isn't exactly in one of Cascade's finest neighborhoods. It's right in the middle of the Blue Devil's territory. It could have been a gang dispute or even a random act of violence."

"The timing was right for it to be Johnson. Rafe and Brown lost him before 6:30. He would have had plenty of time to get to the club and slash the tires before Blair left the gym at 7:30."

"Who's watching Johnson now?" Simon asked.

"Megan and Joel have the watch until 11:00, and then Brown and I are back on him," Rafe replied.

"I'll ask the watch commander to increase the patrols, both around the Boys and Girls Club and around Johnson's apartment. In the meantime, Jim, stick close to Sandburg. Don't let him out of your sight. If Johnson is stalking him, you're the most likely person to spot him. Rafe, Brown, don't let Johnson out of your sight for one minute. We are running out of time on this. Now, all of you get out of my office and get back to work."

All three detectives exited Simon's office. Rafe and Brown still didn't look very happy. The glare that Jim gave the two men made it clear he wasn't pleased with his fellow detectives. Blair couldn't let this go on. As they passed by Blair's desk, he spoke up.

"It wasn't your fault, guys. It could have happened to any of us. Nobody's perfect, right, Jim?"

Jim, looking a little sheepish, answered, "Right guys. Sorry, this case has me on edge. Sandburg's right, it could have happened to anyone."

Expressions of relief crossed both Rafe's and Brown's faces.

"We understand, Jim. It's okay, and thanks, Hairboy. I still feel bad about your new car. By the way, how does your team look for this weekend?"

"Don't tell me you're betting on kids' sports, Brown. That's low."

"Hey, it's just a friendly wager with McMillian down in traffic. I'm sick of hearing him brag about his kid and that West Side team."

Blair chuckled. "They're looking good, H. Last scrimmage game is tomorrow night and the championship starts on Friday. I think we're going to give them a good game."

"Good luck, Blair. If things work out with Johnson, we'll come cheer you on. Let's go, Rafe. There are a few leads I want to check out before we have to relieve Megan and Joel tonight."

Cascade Boys and Girls Club

The Jags were up by twenty-six with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter. Orvelle had all the bench players in the game. Even though he had only played in half the game, it had been Joey Hillard's best game of the season, with twenty-two points and eleven assists. He had even run the plays correctly. Orvelle looked over at Blair who sitting on the end of the bench. "Thanks, Blair, it looks like that talk you had with him on Tuesday really helped him get his head together."

Blair smiled back, then focused his attention on the action on the court.

Orvelle called the team together after the final buzzer sounded. "OK, everybody, have a seat on the bleachers. I want to explain what's gonna happen this weekend. There are sixteen teams in the tournament. First game is tomorrow night at 6:00 PM. If we win the game tomorrow night, we advance to the Championship bracket on Saturday morning. The top two teams in that bracket will advance to the State Finals. If we lose tomorrow night, we'll play in the consolation bracket Saturday afternoon. I don't know about you guys, but I plan on winning that first game. We have the ability, but we need to play together as a team, just like you guys did tonight. Hanging on the locker room door is the starting lineup for the game tomorrow night. I'll see you all right here tomorrow at 5:30 PM."

Orvelle stepped aside to avoid the stampede heading for the locker room. Smiling over at Blair, he watched as Joey Hillard saw his name on the list as the starting point guard in the game and gave a 'thumbs up' to his dad, who was sitting in the stands.

Hillard walked over to where Blair and Orvelle were picking up the equipment, obviously angry. "Why did you have Joey out of the game again? He was playing well. As far as I could tell, he was doing everything you asked of him. Yet, he was the first starter taken out of the lineup. Just what problem do you have with my son, Mr. Sandburg?"

"He played very well, Mr. Hillard, but frankly, we didn't need him tonight to win this game. We believed it was better to take him out before an injury could potentially occur. We wanted to save him for the games this weekend when we will really need him," Blair explained.

"Well, my brother, Frankie, is bringing a scout from the University of Washington here for the tournament to check out my Joey. My son has a very bright future ahead of him, but he has to be in the game in order to prove it. I hope you won't do anything else to jeopardize that." Hillard turned and walked away without giving Blair or Orvelle a chance to respond.

As Hillard headed out the exit, Blair started to laugh. "Who is he kidding? What scout is going to check out fourteen year olds playing club ball?"

Orvelle shook his head. "I believe him. Nowadays, colleges are starting to recruit earlier in a player's career. These kids are all in 8th or 9th grade. The colleges that care about the kids getting an education as well as playing ball want to make sure they're taking the right academic courses to get into the school. Saves them a lot of trouble later on. The college scouts who are simply looking for talent attend these citywide tournaments because it saves them time. Normally they would have to go to several high school games to see only a couple of talented players. If they watch the tournament games, they see hundreds of kids in a single weekend. Saves them a lot of time and energy, not to mention money."

Blair shook his head. "It's a game, Orvelle. It's supposed to be fun. I don't understand the mentality of some of these parents. These kids are only fourteen years old. Why push them so hard? Most of them have no idea what they want to do this summer much less where they want to go to college four years from now. Some of them probably won't even stick with the game. A kid's interests and hobbies change on a daily basis. Mine always did."

"I don't get it either, Blair. It's a real shame, but some of the most talented kids are lost to the program because they burn out before even graduating from high school. These parents are living vicariously through their children's successes without paying attention to how their children feel."

Carmen's Pizzeria

Blair left the celebration full of pizza and with a big grin on his face. He and Orvelle had taken the team out for pizza after they qualified for the Championship bracket. It was late and their first game tomorrow was at 8:00 AM. As he left Carmen's, he realized that a spring shower had started. The streets were slick and there was a slight fog rising from them. As he headed for his car, trying not to get too wet, he didn't notice the Explorer that was parked up the street from Carmen's.

He got into his car and pulled away from the curb. The Explorer pulled out at the same time he did. He turned down the street and headed for Prospect. The rain was getting heavier and visibility was much worse. The Explorer pulled up right on his rear bumper with the headlight's high beams on.

"Come on, man. Would you just go around?" Blair looked at his rear view mirror, but the high beams from the car behind him made it difficult to see anything.

Blair started to pull to the side of the road so he could get out of the guy's way, but the Explorer suddenly accelerated and rammed his car from behind.

"Shit!" yelled Blair as he lost control of his car.

The car started to hydroplane across the wet street. Blair spun the wheel, trying to get the car under control, but all his efforts were in vain and he was unable to prevent the vehicle from broad- siding the streetlight on the passenger side. As he looked up, the Explorer pulled around his wrecked car. He tried to catch the license plate, but he only managed to see the first three letters.

Blair was startled by the sound of tapping on his window. He looked out and saw a woman with an umbrella standing by his door with an open cell phone. "I saw the whole thing, and I've called the police. Are you OK?"

Blair nodded, still keeping a tight grip on the steering wheel, unable to force his hands to let go. He put his head back down as he heard the sounds of sirens getting louder.

He must have blacked out for a second, because the next thing he knew the sound of the sirens had come to a halt. The flashing lights from the police car blinded him for a moment. He could see one officer on the radio as the second officer approached him and the woman who was still standing next to his car. The officer opened the car door and, recognizing him, asked, "Are you all right, Detective Sandburg?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I think. Just a little shaken up," Blair answered, still a little dazed.

"Why don't you let the paramedics check you out?" suggested the officer as he took the witness by the arm and led her over to the curb to get her statement. The paramedic, who had been standing behind the officer, knelt down beside the open car door.

"Hey, Blair, what's it been, a whole week since I've seen you or your partner? How are you doing?"

Blair smiled weakly and answered, "Hey, Mac. I'm fine. Look, I'm not bleeding this time."

"I can see that. What do you say about letting me check you over anyway?"

"Fine, I'm not going anywhere. Not in this car anyway." Resigned to the situation, Blair allowed the EMT to check him over.

It wasn't five minutes before Blair saw Jim's blue and white truck arrive at the scene. Jim jumped out of the truck, slammed the door shut and ran to his side. Before he could get a word out, the paramedic looked up and explained, "He's OK, Jim, just a couple of bruises and a minor case of whiplash. We're not even transporting him to the hospital."

Jim answered with a relieved smile, "Thanks, Mac. That's good to hear."

"Take him home, give him a couple of aspirin. If his neck or back starts to bother him, have him see his own doctor tomorrow."

"I'll keep an eye on him. I know what to look for. Thanks again." The paramedic smiled at the two partners as he collected his equipment and left.

"Quit talking about me like I'm not here," Blair remarked miserably.

"What happened here, Chief?" asked Jim, scanning the scene.

"I got run off the road by some lunatic in a Ford Explorer. The color was either blue or black. Between the rain and the guy's high beams, it was hard to tell which color it was. Jim, the guy intentionally rear-ended me. At first I thought it was a carjacking, but he never stopped his vehicle. As he pulled around my car after I spun out I caught a glimpse of the license plate, but all I saw was the first three letters: ABD."

The uniform, overhearing the conversation between the two partners, added, "That pretty much matches what the witness observed. She also couldn't tell the exact color of the truck, just that it was a dark color. She didn't see the license plate, but she did catch a quick look at the driver. She said that the guy turned and stared at Sandburg as he passed by. We're taking her down to the station. We'll have her look at the mug shots, maybe try to get a composite sketch done. I've already called for a tow truck for the vehicle."

Jim watched the patrol unit with the witness in the back seat pull away from the scene. Blair stepped out of his car and started to check out the damage. Jim walked around the back of the car. He turned up the dial on his sight as he noticed some paint smudges on the back of the car. "Looks like there was some damage to the Explorer. I'll arrange for forensics to take a look at it. They should be able to give us more info on the color and possibly the year of the truck based on the paint. Car manufacturers have had to make a lot of changes in the chemical composition of paints the last few years because of all the changes in the environmental regulations."

Blair didn't answer. He just stared at his car, his formerly brand new car.

Jim walked over to his partner and threw an arm around his shoulders. "Hey, Chief. It's not that bad. My mechanic does great bodywork, you'll see. You won't even be able to tell the car was in an accident after he gets through with it. After forensics is done doing their thing, I'll arrange for it to be towed there."

"My car, Jim. Twice in the same damn week. My new car," Blair answered softly.

"I know. Come on. Let's get you home. You've had a long day," Jim said as he steered his partner toward his truck.

Park Place Apartments

"What is he doing? Do you think that's the stuff from the break-in?" Rafe asked as he observed Johnson leaving the front door carrying several boxes. "He could have picked it up from his stash the other night when he ditched us?"

"I don't know, but get Joel on the cell phone. He and Megan couldn't have gotten very far. They've only been off duty for fifteen minutes. We might need their help tailing Johnson. Looks like this case is about to break wide open and I don't want to screw this up."

"Yeah, I agree. He's not giving us the slip this time," Rafe agreed as he dialed Taggert's number.

The two detectives watched as their suspect made two more trips before climbing into his vehicle and pulling away. Brown was careful to stay a couple of car lengths behind Johnson while Rafe was giving directions to Taggert over the cell phone. When Taggert was only a half a block behind him, Brown grabbed the phone from his partner and started to explain his idea.

"Joel, I'm gonna pass him and try to stay in front of him. If he is watching for a tail, he might be getting suspicious. We've been on him for several blocks already. You can move up on him once I get in front."

Brown pulled around in front of Johnson's truck as Taggert moved to one car length behind him. They followed Johnson for another few blocks before he finally pulled off the road into an alley by Chester's Pawnshop.

"Hey, I know this place," Rafe said to his partner. "Chester's has a questionable reputation and was on the list Jim and Blair prepared as possible fences. I know the owner has been busted twice in the last five years for possession of stolen property. I was part of one of the busts when I was back in patrol."

Henri relayed the information to Taggert and Connor as he parked his car around the corner from the pawnshop. Joel parked across the street. All four detectives watched as Johnson made several trips carrying boxes from his car into the pawnshop. It looked like Johnson was giving them all the evidence they were going to need to convict him this time.

"How do you want to handle this, Joel?" Henri asked as he drew his weapon.

Joel thought for a moment before answering. "You and Rafe take the back door. Megan and I will cover the front door and the entrance to the alley."

As Rafe and Brown silently slipped down the alley, Johnson exited the pawnshop for one last trip to his truck. He spotted Rafe and attempted to escape by tossing the box he was carrying at him. Rafe ducked out of the way and tackled Johnson. The two men landed in a pile of garbage. The slimy mess made it difficult for either man to fight very well. Johnson could not manage to get his feet under him quick enough to get away from the officers.

Brown picked his way carefully across the alley to cuff Johnson. Rafe had gotten to his feet and was gingerly removing the remains of someone's lunch from his clothes. Brown stifled a laugh at the disgusted expression he was wearing in addition to the trash.

With Johnson between them, the two men headed back to Johnson's truck. As they came around the front of the vehicle, they saw Joel and Megan coming towards them with another man in custody. They had arrested the pawnshop owner as he fled the store out the front door. After he was cuffed, they brought him over to stand next to Johnson. Joel looked at the items now lying on the ground from the box that was broken open after being thrown at Rafe. "Hey, Megan, doesn't that look like the jewelry listed on the inventory from the Dames robbery?"

"Why, yes, Joel. I believe it is," Megan responded sweetly as she glared at their two suspects.

"Well, it looks like the two of you have some explaining to do. Henri, call for transport and have forensics dispatched to the scene. I want all this documented for the trial. The DA is going to love it."

Both Johnson and Chester slumped against the wall. They were screwed, and they knew it.

Interrogation Room

Jim watched from behind the glass as Megan and Joel interrogated Johnson.

"What do you think, Jim?" asked Simon, as Megan continued to grill Johnson about Blair's accidents. Johnson was adamantly denying any involvement.

"We have him on the break-in and the murder charges. We caught him red-handed with the stolen property just like the DA wanted. With the deal the DA arranged with Chester for his testimony, we have an open and shut case"

"What about the incidents concerning Sandburg? Is he lying?"

"No, as far as I can determine, he was telling the truth when he said he knew nothing about them. I don't want to believe him, but I really don't think he had anything to do with the attacks on Blair."

"Then who did? We all assumed that it was Johnson with the grudge against Blair."

"I don't know. But I intend to find out. Whoever it is, they are still out there."

"Where is Sandburg?"

"He's at the gym. With Johnson being busted, I figured he was safe without me. The citywide tournament started Friday night and he's gonna be tied up all weekend," Jim said with a smile as he and Simon left the observation room.

Rafe walked up to Jim and Simon in the hallway. "We got the list of matches on that partial license plate from the truck that ran Sandburg off the road last night. Nobody on the list has a record, though. The paint chips didn't come from Johnson's truck. There were no signs of damage or recent repair to the front end and the plates didn't match either. H and I didn't recognize anyone on the list with an obvious connection to either Robert Johnson or to Blair. We thought you might want to take a look to see if there are any prior arrests that you and Sandburg were responsible for handling."

Jim took the list from Rafe and starting reviewing the names. On the second page, about halfway down, one name stood out. "Oh, God, Simon. We've been looking at this from the wrong angle," Jim looked up in dismay at his boss, then headed for the stairs to the garage. Simon hurried to catch up. Standing at the top of the stairs, he called down, "Jim, what angle are you talking about?"

Jim paused for a moment on the first landing. "These attacks have nothing to do with Blair's police work. I gotta get to the gym."

Simon called back through the open doorway to where Rafe was still standing. "Rafe, go find Brown and meet us at the Cascade Boys and Girls Club." Simon started down the stairs after Jim. "Ellison, wait up. I'll drive. You need to get there in one piece."

Cascade Boys and Girls Club

The Junior Jags had won the 8:00 AM game easily. Joey Hillard had played great, probably because his father hadn't made it to the game. The second game had not started as well for the team. Joey had fallen back into his old pattern as soon as his father showed up. Not only was his father yelling at him from the stands, his uncle was even louder. A man in a dark suit sat next to the two men, taking notes. Blair had taken Joey out twice during the first quarter of the game, but Joey didn't want to listen to him. In fact, when Joey started yelling back at Blair, Orvelle refused to allow him back in the game during the second quarter. Joey was sitting at the end of the bench, refusing to talk or look at anyone.

The game was tied at half time. At the start of the third quarter, when it became apparent that Joey wasn't going back into the game, the man in the dark suit left the gym. If looks could kill, Blair would have been dead from the glares coming from Hillard and his brother. Blair didn't notice them, but Joey and Orvelle both did. Orvelle thought about warning him, but he forgot as Michael sank a three pointer.

By the middle of the fourth quarter, the Jags had taken the lead by ten points. The other team never got back into the game. After the final buzzer had sounded and the kids were headed into the locker room, Orvelle smiled and looked over at Blair. "Hey Blair, we don't have to be back in the gym until 4:00 for the final round. I'll finish cleaning up here. Why don't you make sure the kids didn't trash the locker room, then we'll grab a late lunch?"

"Sure, I'll meet you back here in ten minutes."

Blair entered the locker room, half expecting the place to look like a hurricane had hit it. He was amazed to find only a few towels left on the floor. After putting them into the hamper, he turned and reached for the exit door, only to have it fly open, hitting him in the arm.

A large man entered the locker room, forcing Blair to take several steps back and blocking his way back into the gym. Wondering what was going on, Blair said, "Hello, Mr. Hillard, can I help you with something?"

"Why wasn't Joey playing in that game? Are you really that stupid? He's the best player on the team and you had him on the bench again!" yelled the angry parent as he forced Blair further back into the locker room.

"I've explained this to you before Mr. Hillard. Orvelle and I aren't going to let Joey on the court unless he's gonna be a team player. This is a team sport and Joey hasn't learned that yet."

"The scout from University of Washington was here. This was Joey's best shot for a scholarship and now you've completely ruined his future."

"I think if you calm down you'll realize you're overreacting a little here. His future is not ruined. He has plenty of time to get his act together. He is only fourteen," Blair responded calmly, trying to defuse the situation.

Hillard didn't appear to be listening. "I warned you what would happen, Sandburg. I told you that you'd regret it if you benched him again. I even gave you two friendly warnings. Now, I have to make you pay."

Blair remembered, too late, that there was a second entrance to the locker room when he heard someone coming up behind him. He attempted to turn, but before he could move, someone shoved him backward against the lockers, the back of his head hitting hard against one of the locker handles. Dazed, he couldn't fight back as he was grabbed by his right arm and spun around. In an instant, his arms were pinned behind him and he found himself facing Hillard.

Slightly dazed, he attempted to focus his eyes on Hillard. "So it was you who slashed my tires the other day and ran me off the road last night?"

"I told you I'd make you regret it, but you obviously didn't get the message. Hold him still, Frankie."

Blair attempted to break the hold that the man had on him, but the guy had too strong a grip on him. After the first couple of shots to his stomach and ribs, the room started to spin, then started to go black. Just as he started to lose consciousness, he could have sworn he heard Orvelle's voice calling out to him. He didn't have the strength to answer as the darkness overcame him.

Jim and Simon entered the club. Several games were still going on. Jim filtered out the noise of the crowd and attempted to find his partner. Simon watched as the Sentinel narrowed down the search. Jim finally located Orvelle Wallace's voice. Fighting his way through the crowd, with Simon right on his heels, he quickly reached Orvelle's side.

"Hi, Detective Ellison, Captain Banks! We won! We made the finals!" Orvelle exclaimed with a broad grin.

"Where's Blair? He may be in trouble." Jim asked hurriedly.

"He was just collecting the last of the stuff from the locker room. I told him I'd meet him right here. We were going to grab some lunch before the last game. I'll show you. This way, guys."

As Orvelle opened the door to the locker room, he called "Hey, Blair, where are you? Hustle it up, I'm hungry."

Simon caught up to Ellison and Wallace, followed by a breathless Rafe and Brown. Jim could hear three male voices in the room. "Damn, we're too late," Jim said as he pushed Orvelle aside and headed in the direction of the voices. Simon followed closely behind.

Both men observed the final blow rendered by Hillard, which caused Blair to double over. The second man was supporting most of Blair's weight at this point. Both of Blair's arms were still pinned behind his back. When Frankie realized they were no longer alone in the locker room, he let go of the limp form. Blair slid to the floor, falling hard onto his right side.

Jim, angered beyond reason by the cruelty of the two men, grabbed Hillard by the arm and shoved him hard against the lockers. "Cascade PD! Don't move! Hands against the wall," Jim ordered as he used his forearm against the back of the man's neck, pinning him against wall, applying just enough pressure to make the man sweat.

"Easy, Ellison. Check on your partner," ordered Simon as he watched Rafe and Brown handcuff the two men and lead them out of the locker room.

Jim carefully knelt beside his partner, checking out his injuries. He gently ran his fingers across the back of Blair's head. He could feel a large lump growing and the stickiness of blood. Running his hands down Blair's side, Jim couldn't locate any broken bones, but Blair showed no signs of regaining consciousness. Jim looked up at his captain, his face drawn. "Simon, we need an ambulance."

Orvelle answered, "An ambulance is required to be on-site at all times during the tournament. I'll go find the paramedics."

After the doctor had done his check, Jim slipped back into the darkened hospital room. Blair had been moved to a private room several hours ago, but he still hadn't regained consciousness. The doctor said he was lucky. Blair's injuries would only require an overnight stay in the hospital. Three of his ribs were bruised, his right wrist was sprained and a muscle was pulled in his right shoulder. The worst injury was the concussion caused when his head was slammed against the lockers. The concussion, and the fact that he was still unconscious, were the reasons Blair was being kept overnight for observation.

Jim sat down in the chair he had moved from against the wall so he could sit beside the bed.

"Nothing is ever easy for you, huh, Chief?" Jim whispered to Blair. He moved closer to his friend, resting one hand on Blair's arm and providing reassurance to Blair and himself that everything was going to be all right.

"Jim." The voice was very shaky and the eyes were a little dazed, but Blair was awake.

Jim smiled and leaned over his friend. "How are you feeling, Chief?"

"Lousy. Did you get the number of the truck that hit me?"

"Yeah, Chief. We have them in custody down at the station. Relax and get some rest. Everything's under control."

Jim watched as Blair closed his eyes and peacefully dropped into a sound sleep.

Silently, Jim left Blair's room and headed for the waiting room. He was amazed to find it packed with the guys from the bullpen and the kids from Blair's team. Most of them were with their parents so there wasn't a seat left in the room. All eyes were upon him as he entered.

"He's fine. He woke up for a minute, but went right back to sleep. He's probably gonna be out for the rest of the night," Jim announced to the group. "Why don't you all go home?"

Orvelle walked over to Jim and handed him a basketball. "After we won the final game, the team took a vote, and it was unanimous. We wanted Blair to have the championship ball. We all signed it. Make sure he sees it when he wakes up and tell him to give me a call tomorrow, if he feels up to it."

With a quick wave, Orvelle left the room followed by most of the kids. Joey Hillard stopped in front of Jim, nervously shuffling his feet a little. "Would you give Blair a message for me? Tell him thanks. I think I understand what he was trying to tell me the other night. And will you tell him I'm s-s-s-sorry, for what my dad and uncle did. It was my fault. I should have known what my da..."

Jim interrupted, "Why don't you give him your thanks in person, Joey? I'm sure he would rather hear it from you directly. And Joey, Blair knows you aren't to blame for what your family did. He wouldn't hold it against you. Wait 'til next weekend and give him a call. You can see and hear it for yourself."

Joey thought for a moment, then nodded and walked away.

Simon walked over to where Jim was standing. "I already know the answer to this, but I'll ask anyway. Do you want a ride home tonight?"

"No thanks, Simon. If you don't mind, I'd rather you dropped me off at the police garage where my truck is. The doctor said Blair would be ready to go home in the morning."

"No, I don't want you driving. You're exhausted. I'll have Rafe and Henri drop the truck off in the morning. Don't argue. Go say goodnight to Sandburg. I'll meet you in the parking lot. I need a cigar."

Blair was sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, spinning the basketball on one finger. He was dressed and ready to go. "What takes them so long to fill out a couple of forms. I want to get out of here. I'm starving, but there was no way I was eating the stuff they tried to feed me for breakfast."

"She should be here any minute now, Chief," Jim answered from the window. "I can hear her coming down the hallway with the wheelchair."

"It's really cool that the kids gave me the game ball. It's a great honor. I'm just sorry I missed that last game."

Jim watched as Blair continued to spin the ball, switching hands. "Quit playing with the ball. It's supposed to be displayed, not played with," Jim ordered, then with a smile added, "The kids really liked having you as their coach. You and Orvelle did a great job with them."

"Yeah, I was never able to play on teams as a kid. Naomi moved us around too much, so I kinda missed out on all the fun of playing team sports."

As Jim turned from the window, he saw that Blair was staring down at the ball in his hands, his expression a little sad. "You're going to miss them now that the season's over, aren't you?"

"What do you mean? Over? It's not over. We qualified for the State Tournament in Seattle, so it's not over yet. Jim, why are you looking at me like that? Are you OK?"

Jim was looking very pale. The thought of Blair, Orvelle and ten fourteen-year-old boys, turned loose on the unsuspecting City of Seattle was too horrifying to contemplate. Oh well, thought Jim, at least Seattle isn't the most dangerous city in America. Right?

The End

Like this episode? Email the writer: trishbsc@aol.com
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