Day 1.

Blair's alarm rang at six-thirty. He hadn't fallen into bed until after two. Stretching and with the Nike slogan of "Just do it" running through his head, he threw off his covers and got out of bed. "Don't think about it," he repeated to himself like a mantra, "just do it." He pulled some clothes out of his closet and went into the bathroom to shower.

As he stood under the hot spray, he remembered why he had wanted to be up earlier than Jim. To the best of Blair's knowledge, Jim had intended to spend the evening alone, watching the game. However, there had been four empty beer bottles in the drying rack. Jim wouldn't have drunk that much on his own, so, Blair reasoned, Jim had entertained a guest. Pouring shampoo on his hair, Blair speculated as to the identity of the other beer-drinker.

It hadn't been Simon, because the captain had left earlier in the day with Daryl to see how Little Stogie was doing in his new winter pastures. Blair stuck his head under the water and rinsed the soap out of his hair.

Rafe and Henri were working a stake-out and wouldn't be relieved until this morning. Grabbing the bar of soap, he lathered his body, still running through the other detectives at Major Crime as possible guests.

"Come on, Chief. You've been in there at least an hour," Jim called from outside the door.

"Shit," Blair muttered as he dropped the soap, startled by Jim's voice. He scrambled through the rest of his shower, then dressed as fast as he could. With deliberate nonchalance, he walked into the kitchen. "Morning, Jim." He eyed the bottles still in the rack and took them out and put them in the recycle basket. "Someone come over last night?" he asked as he reached up and took out his box of granola.

Jim smiled at him over his coffee mug. "As a matter of fact, Steven dropped by."

Blair froze in the act of pouring his cereal into the bowl. "Steven?" That was one person he hadn't considered.

"Yep." Jim leaned against the counter, buttering some toast, then carried his plate over to the table and sat down.

Blair poured his milk and joined Jim at the table, his face etched with worry. "How's he doing? Is he all right? What did he want?" he asked, all in one breath.

"To blow off some steam," Jim told him. "Pop doesn't approve of his new girlfriend."

"Girlfriend?" Blair asked, fascinated as always by Jim's family. "Who is she?"

"All I know is that her name is Michelle." Then Jim added too casually, in Blair's opinion, "I invited them over for dinner."

"When?" Blair asked, waiting for the catch.

"We haven't made definite plans. Steven has to check Michelle's schedule." Jim took a sip of his coffee and added, "I told them you'd cook. What about that Chicken Piccata you made a few weeks ago?"

A feeling of contentment washed over the younger man. Jim wanted him at his family dinner. Blair didn't even mind cooking, although he sensed that Jim wasn't serious about that part. Jim just wanted Blair to know he was included.

"Okay," Blair agreed. "But you have to make dessert."

Jim walked into the bullpen. Blair was at his desk immersed in paperwork. He sat down and noticed that there was a saved message on his phone mail.

"Jimmy?" the recorded message played back. "Could we meet for lunch today? There's something we need to discuss."

"Oh, shit," Jim muttered to himself. In the two years since they had started speaking, this was the first time his father had called to set up a lunch appointment. Could he really be this upset over Steven's new girlfriend?

Rummaging in his wallet, he found the phone number for his father's office and called. With his shoulder propping up the phone, his idle hands folded and then unfolded the square piece of paper on which he'd written the number.

"Hello? This is James Ellison. May I please speak to William Ellison?" Jim asked the secretary who had answered. He picked up a pen and started doodling around his father's phone number.

"Just a minute, sir," came the crisp reply.

"Jimmy," a gruff voice came over the receiver. "Thanks for calling me back. Are you free today?"

"Yeah, Pop." Jim felt a lead ball drop in his stomach. Lunch was not going to be pleasant. He'd have to listen to his father complain about Michelle, and the fact he sided with Steven would eventually come out, and then there'd be a scene. He hated scenes.

"Why don't we meet at Crescent Beach. It's on the waterfront near--"

"I know where it is," Jim interrupted. "I'll meet you there at one."

He hung up the phone. Then, restless, he glanced over at Blair and saw that the younger man was on the phone, writing something down. Jim opened his hearing.

"Fourteen cases?" Blair asked. "And you found them missing yesterday morning, Mr. Simpson?"

"That's correct, Detective. Several pallets of similar cases were left alone. But one pallet, I don't know, they just destroyed several cases and took the rest. The place is a mess."

"Any footprints? With runny ink coating the floor, there's a possibility that the thieves may have left tracks."

"Yes. The patrolmen who came took pictures and put down paper to get copies of the footprints."

"I don't understand what you want from us. I'm sure the other officers will do--"

"I don't want regular policemen. I need detectives. This isn't a little crime, this is major and aren't you Major Crime?"

"Yes, but--" Blair was interrupted again.

"This is my warehouse. I can't let this happen or my reputation is shot. I run a secure business and several big companies have trusted me for years. I want you to recover my missing cases of ink."

Jim walked over to Blair's desk. Blair looked up at him and Jim mouthed the words, "We'll go over."

Blair gave a sigh and told the caller, "My partner and I will be over shortly." He then hung up the phone. "Man, I can't believe we're gonna go and check out some cases of stolen ink."

"All in a day's work. Who knows, maybe the ink was designated for something big, like counterfeiting money," Jim said jokingly.

"Or baseball cards," Blair added, getting into the spirit of the exchange.

"Besides, it's better than paperwork." And brooding about lunch, Jim reflected. "My father called," he said abruptly.

"What about?"

"He wants to meet for lunch."

"Maybe he wants your opinion about Steven's girlfriend."

"In your dreams. He's back at pitting us against each other. I bet anything he wants me to take his side and do something to get Steven to break it off with this girl."

"Maybe not."

Jim rolled his eyes. "The old man never changes."

"You haven't met with him yet. Don't condemn him until you find out what he really wants."

"Easy for you to say, Chief."

The warehouse was located on Holt Street. Jim pulled into the large parking lot located adjacent to it. The two detectives jumped out of the truck and headed for the main office. The manager met them at the door.

"I'm Sean Makowsky. Simpson, the man who owns the building, called and told me to expect you."

"We're here just to look around. I don't believe the other officers missed anything yesterday, but I told Mr. Simpson that we'd, uh, just look around," Blair finished lamely. The large man was making him nervous. He didn't want to leap to conclusions, but the manager was giving off vibes that he didn't want them there. That made Blair question whether the man might have something to hide.

"I understand that the thieves left tracks?" Jim asked, keeping a professional demeanor. He wasn't giving any indication whether or not he suspected the manager.

"This way," Makowsky told them gruffly.

He led them through the main entrance up the main aisle, then turned right at a corner. Pallets were stacked almost to the ceiling with boxes labeled fiber boards. Blair looked at the precarious mountain and hurried his steps; he didn't want them falling on him. They continued on until they came to an empty section in the wall of stored merchandise. There were still a few remaining cases. A large violet shoe print was still visible across one of the boards that made up the pallet. Between the other boards, one could just make out several colors puddled on the floor below.

"Anything else, Detectives?" Makowsky asked.

Blair knew that the manager wanted them to leave, so he deliberately misunderstood the question when he answered. "I think we can handle it from here. You can go back to your work and we'll show ourselves out."

The manger grunted, but he turned around and left them alone. Jim had his head cocked to one side, his eyebrows pinched together.

"Is he gone?" Blair whispered.

Jim gave him a quick glance. "He is now," then turned his attention to the floor. "Let's see, I can pick out at least six separate colors on the ground."

Blair whipped out his notebook and began writing notes. "What colors?"

"There's royal blue, a golden yellow, a peachy, brownish, red." Jim stuck his fingers in a pile of the ink and rubbed them together. "You know, Chief? This feels more like toner than ink."

Blair peered over Jim's shoulder. "I wouldn't think you could tell after it's dried." He jotted 'toner' down under the word 'red'. "What other colors can you see?" Blair readied his pen.

"There's a green, kinda like grass. And a bright purple. This particle looks gray, but it could be a mixture of two other colors, I can't tell."

Jim stood up and pulled an evidence bag out of his pocket. "Gimme your Swiss Army knife."

Blair withdrew the item from his pocket and handed it to Jim. "What are you--oh." He huddled down and held the bag, while Jim scraped some of the ink or toner off the floor. Blair couldn't detect any other place where it had been scraped, so he deduced that the other cops didn't think it was important. Maybe Simpson was right.

When Jim had finished and had closed the evidence bag, Blair took a piece of his notebook paper and did a rubbing of the footprint. It was too bad that he only had a pen; a pencil would have made the rubbing clearer. Jim nodded as Blair slid the paper with the print back inside his notebook.

"What next?" Blair asked, looking around. "Are you going to question anyone?"

"Not yet. First I want to look over the files made by the officers who responded to the call. Then I'll decide who I'd like to talk to."

"Sounds like a plan." Blair caught Jim looking at his watch. "Getting nervous about lunch?"

Jim gave him an incredulous look and then turned to leave.

Blair took a few running steps to catch up. "Maybe nervous isn't the right word. How about anxious?"

"I'm not nervous, or anxious. I just don't want to be late. Dad hates tardiness."

Blair winced at Jim's harsh tone. Jim was still jumping through hoops to please his father and he didn't even realize it. "Why don't you drop me off at the station and I'll run the ink blots down to Forensics and then track down the initial reports. We'll meet back up after your, uh, family meeting?"

Jim gave him another glare, which Blair laughed off.

Jim entered the restaurant and was shown directly to a table. His father was already seated, nursing a martini. Jim thought cynically that the old man was already fortified for an altercation. As he sat down, he noticed that his father's eyes looked drawn, as though he hadn't been sleeping very well.

"Hello, Dad," he said, taking a seat.

"Hi, Jim."

The waitress came by immediately, handed them both a menu and asked Jim if he would like a drink. Ordering a Coke, he picked up the menu and began looking it over. His father didn't touch his.

"You know what you want already?" Jim asked, perplexed as to why his father was ignoring the menu.

"They have the best salmon here," William responded absently.

Jim didn't feel in the mood for fish. He was perusing the other choices when suddenly his father spoke, breaking into his concentration. "I'm glad you could make it, Jimmy."

Jim nodded, outwardly smiling, while his instincts were telling him to be wary.

After placing their orders, Jim sat back and looked at his father closely. The older man was immaculately dressed, as usual. There seemed to be more lines on his face. Anxiety began to edge into Jim's consciousness. "So, what's up?" he asked directly, but not expecting an equally direct answer.

His father looked everywhere but at him. William took a sip of his martini. He set his glass back down, then began. "You know Jimmy, whom you marry is a very important decision."

It was about Steven. Disappointment warred with anger. He began to prepare mentally for the argument.

His father continued. "You only know a woman so much before you marry her. Then afterwards, you find you know too much. It may take a little time, but the surprises can be" -- he paused, possibly trying to find the right words-- "horrifying."

Why was his father being so melodramatic? Michelle couldn't possibly be horrifying. After thinking through the words a second, Jim came to the conclusion that his father might be referring to him. Forgetting about Steven, he answered defensively. "My marriage with Carolyn ended because of me. I couldn't express my feelings, so she thought I didn't have any. All my life, I'd been trained to keep everything inside, so it wouldn't be used against me."

"Is this another thing you blame me for?" William asked, sounding beaten.

"No. I don't blame you for my broken marriage. It was doomed before it even began."

"I think most marriages are. Most of the men I know are divorced. They leave their wives-- the wives leave them--it's all the same." William took another sip of his drink. "The important thing to remember is that when and if you marry, she should contribute something irretrievable to the marriage."

"Like lots of money?" Jim asked cynically.

"Or prestige or contacts, or something that can help you with your life or business," William answered. He took a sip from his drink and then added coldly, "Something she can never take back from you."

"I'm a good detective, Dad. I don't need to marry the mayor to get a promotion."

"You're deliberately misunderstanding me."

"That's because you're not making any sense," Jim countered aggressively.

William continued as if he hadn't heard Jim. His eyes looked dazed, as if he were lost in his memories. "Remember that painting?"

Jim stiffened. What painting? And what did that have to do with their conversation about marriages? "No," he responded hesitantly.

"Your mother had bought an oil painting of a cougar, when you were about three. Until that time, you had a phobia about entering the front foyer, so Grace hung it on the wall opposite the library door. She said the hall was too big, sounds echoed strangely, which made you confused. I thought her idea was ludicrous." William shook his head in disbelief. "But, you know, it worked. Right after we hung that painting, you'd toddle out of the kitchen into the foyer and stare at the picture for hours. Grace said that the cat calmed you, or helped you to concentrate, or something like that. You never had trouble in the foyer again." William laughed, "Although you complained endlessly that the cat should be black instead of yellow. That animal became like an imaginary friend to you. Sometimes I think you were more upset that she took that painting than--never mind."

Jim stiffened in shock. He had recognized his spirit animal as a toddler? Waves of emotions threatened to overwhelm him. The waiter set their food on the table, yet it barely registered. Bud's death had resulted in his senses becoming repressed, but before, when the enhanced senses had been active, had his spirit animal guided him? Laughing sardonically to himself, he thought he might have listened better as a child, without the usual hang-ups that generally plague adults.

Jim remembered his lunch and looked down at his turkey club sandwich. He tried to pick it up and take a bite, but his appetite was nonexistent. Much to his surprise, he noticed that his father was also having difficulty eating. In fact, William's hand was shaking so much that his soupspoon lost most of its contents before it reached his mouth. After three tries, he set the utensil down and cast his troubled gaze back at Jim.

"Why is it," William began, "that children never listen to their parent's wisdom?"

Jim made a motion to answer, but William put up his hand to forestall him. "Let me continue, son." William took a sip from his martini. He took a breath and continued. "I didn't. My father told me that Grace would break my heart. Did I listen--no. We had nothing in common. I wanted to make a name for myself in the business community. She wanted to do her science."

Science? Jim couldn't believe that his mother was a scientist.

"There was always something more important than me. Like you said, we were doomed before we ever began."

Jim didn't know what to say. Did his father see it as his duty to keep Steven from making the same mistake that he had? Steven wasn't engaged to Michelle, they were only dating.

William continued, his words spoken without inflection. "I'm sixty-two years old. I've been married and divorced. Most of my friends and colleagues have been married and divorced." He stressed the last word as if that word were the most important in the world. "The only people who have survived intact--"

"Survived intact?" Jim interrupted. "What kind of phrase is that?"

"Divorce is like a war. Both sides want to win. Both sides want hostages. Wounds are inflicted with words, not bullets. Arguments are like small skirmishes, each hoping to maim the other. Then there's nothing, an emptiness that echoes all around you. You search for something to remind--" William paused and then changed tracks. "What were you like after your divorce? Sullen? Uncommunicative?"

Mentally, Jim had to agree, but he refused to acknowledge it. When he didn't say anything, William continued. "But you had your job, though, didn't you, Jimmy? You didn't fall apart because you buried yourself in work. It was the same for me."

Jim saw red. "But you had two children depending on you. I had only myself. It's not the same," Jim stressed.

"Divorce is a soul-wrenching agony," William continued as if he hadn't heard Jim. "The feelings of failure can be overwhelming. Here I was alone with two boys, and I didn't know what to do. The two of you cried for your mother. Hell, I cried for her too. But she didn't listen. I couldn't cope. The empty house--the echoes--I couldn't stand it, so I worked. I buried myself in my job."

Jim felt weak and hurt by the revelations. His father should have showered them with affection instead of closing them off altogether. Thrusting his mind away from the depressing thoughts, he tried to analyze dispassionately what his father was trying to say. But he was getting confused. His father talked in circles. One minute he was referring to monetary gain and the next to emotional deprivation. What prompted this conversation that brought out such painful emotions? It couldn't be Michelle.

"What in the hell does this all have to do with the woman bringing something to the marriage?" Jim let his confusion show.

"Your mother," William made an attempt to explain. "She brought nothing to the marriage. Entertaining and socializing with business associates was very low on her priority list."

Yet another jump in topics. Jim's head was throbbing in its attempt to keep up.

"When she left," --William paused as if considering his own words-- "there was nothing of her left. The only sounds in the house were of Sally cleaning and you and Steven playing. It was like she had never been there."

Jim's mind was spinning. He thought back to his house. His mind shifted from room to room. Could he pinpoint anything from before his mother left? He couldn't recall anything. But then, Jim didn't even remember the painting. A chill ran down his spine. His father was right, nothing of his mother remained. "When she left," his father had said, "she left nothing of herself behind." No wonder his father was so emphatic about a spouse giving something of herself to her marriage. His father had misinterpreted his own observations and arrived at an erroneous conclusion. William had needed something tangible to hang on to, and when Grace left, there was nothing for his father to grasp.

Jim was beginning to understand his old man. What a monumental step this was in their relationship. There was one thing that still confused him, though. This lunch was supposed to be about Steven's new girlfriend. His father had not merely strayed from the topic, but actually avoided it.

Jim took a large bite out of his sandwich, then went back to studying his father. William still seemed preoccupied in his own thoughts. He wasn't trembling anymore, yet his internal agitation was palpable. His eyes darted all over the room, refusing to linger anywhere, even on his son. Jim watched as his father took a deep breath and started to speak, while his eyes were constantly shifting. "Your mother called last--" he started before his eyes zeroed in on the restaurant's entrance. He stiffened, then rose from his chair.

Jim turned and groaned audibly as he recognized Steven and a woman who could be none other than Michelle. Jim felt the disappointment, like a rock settling in his stomach, that their intimate conversation was at an end. He might have made some headway with the old man in getting him to understand that he was misjudging Michelle, and should give her a chance. Getting to his feet, Jim placed his hand on his father's shoulder in an effort to get him to sit down once more. The obstinate old man remained standing, his face cold in anger, waiting to chastise his younger son.

Steven and the woman were happily whispering together, oblivious to the impending storm. The hostess, armed with the menus, brought them over to a table and had them sit down. Steven pulled the chair out for the woman, then went over to his own side of the table.

Jim noticed that William's hands were clenched at his sides, his knuckles bloodless. "Come on, Pop. Sit down, you're attracting attention," Jim told his father in a hushed voice.

William spared a look at Jim, then left the table and strode purposefully over to Steven. With a sigh of resignation, Jim followed, dreading the upcoming encounter.

From the moment Steven identified his approaching father, his demeanor became defiant and belligerent. He murmured something to the woman. Without meaning to, Jim heard his brother's soft words. "Don't worry, Michelle. I'll handle this." Jim didn't think it was going to be that easy.

Steven stood up, but motioned Michelle to stay in her seat. "Hello, Dad." Steven sounded pleasant, but his gritted teeth belied his tone.

William looked at his son, then at the woman, then back at Steven. "I thought we'd already discussed this," he said condescendingly. "Why are you still wasting time with this particular woman?"

"My time is my own," Steven answered back, still under control, but his hostility apparent. "I suggest you go back to your lunch and let us enjoy ours."

William's face became suffused with color. A large cloth napkin grasped in his hand was thrown down on the ground as his temper was released. "I find this woman wholly unsuitable. Look at her, she's dressed in jeans, for God's sake."

Jim glanced at the woman's black jeans and very pretty blouse. Then he looked at his own dark blue Dockers. Neither of them was going to win a fashion contest. It seemed his father was grasping at straws to make his point.

"Dad." Jim tried again to defuse the situation. He was beginning to wish Sandburg were there. His partner was good at this kind of thing. "This is not the time or place to be starting a fight."

"It's none of your business!" Steven bent down and picked up the napkin, handing it back to William. "Go back to your table and leave us alone. There's nothing you have to say that's worth listening to. And nothing I can say to make you understand."

"I understand more than you think," William retorted, winding up for more. "This gold-digger has you wrapped around her little finger."

Michelle jumped to her feet. Steven lost all semblance of control. "We don't have to take this." Steven grabbed Michelle by the arm and led her towards the front door of the restaurant. He turned around and glared at his father. "I knew that getting to know you again was a mistake, but I listened to Jimmy and thought I'd give it a try. I am such a fool. Goodbye."

There was a finality to his voice that Jim caught. His father's stony face was devoid of any emotion, so it was hard to tell what he was thinking. Just as Steven walked out the door, Jim heard him whisper, "I'll call you later." Jim nodded back, then the door closed.

Without prodding, William let himself be led back to the table. The bluster was gone, and so was any inclination to talk. Jim wanted to vent his own emotions over his father's pigheaded tantrum, but he couldn't. The strange empathy he was feeling was probably Sandburg's influence. Four years ago, nothing would have stopped him. Although, four years ago he hadn't started talking to his father. Tradeoffs, he supposed.

Blair stumbled into the loft, juggling a bag of groceries, his keys, and--the doorknob. Jim was going to have a cow when he saw that Blair had broken it. Using his foot, he slammed the door shut, cursing himself, life and the heavy load he was carrying. Propping the bag on a lifted knee, he tossed the keys and the doorknob into the basket and continued into the kitchen. Conscious that Jim would be home in less than an hour, Blair started immediately on dinner. Both men had been busy during the afternoon and never had a chance to talk. Blair instinctively knew that lunch had been difficult, and he wanted everything relaxed that night to help his friend unwind.

After removing the bundle of files from the bag, he began unpacking the groceries and putting away the ones that were not designated for dinner. Working fast, but efficiently, Blair peeled potatoes, grated cheese, and threw together the au gratin potatoes. Next he opened the oven and took out the stale bread and broke it into pieces for stuffing. As he waited for the water to come to a boil, he cut the thick pork chops in half and seasoned them. Just as Blair stuck everything into the preheated oven, he heard footsteps in the hall.

"Chief, you okay?" Jim's concerned voice preceded him into the loft.

"Damn," Blair muttered under his breath. He had wanted the Sentinel to be struck first by the smell of the cooking food, not the hole where the doorknob should be. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just turned the thing a little harder than I should have, and the knob came off in my hand."

Jim laughed. "You been messing with my weights again?"

Blair flexed his arm muscle. "Naw. I'm just naturally strong." Despite their light banter, Blair could read the fatigue on Jim's face. Blair went back to cleaning up the kitchen, while Jim grabbed his tools and tried to fix the door.

With a last wipe, Blair tossed the sponge into the sink. Opening the fridge, he removed two beers and sat down at the table. He calculated that he had forty minutes to go over the files before dinner would be ready. The first manila envelope contained the preliminary report by the officers who'd responded to the burglary call. Blair took a sip of beer as he read over what they'd written. The mode of entry was listed as a busted lock and a broken back door. A photograph of a footprint had also been included. Several of the warehouse personnel had been interviewed. No one admitted to knowing anything.

Jim walked over to the table and opened the second beer. "I think we need to buy a new doorknob. You really did a job on this one. I've jerry-rigged it for now." He bent down and fanned the folders out. "These the files?"

"Yeah, but I don't think they're going to help much." Blair handed him the file he had been reading and picked up another.

Jim settled in a chair. While his eyes were still glued to the paper, he asked, "Aren't you going to ask me about lunch?"

"I already know," Blair responded. He studied Jim's drawn features and sad eyes. "The two of you argued, accomplished nothing, and now you're depressed."

Jim laughed humorlessly. "It was worse than that." He went on to describe what had happened. "The only good thing that resulted from our meeting is that I'm beginning to understand what's going through his mind." Jim shook his head and he chugged his beer. "Scary thought, huh?"

Blair gave him an encouraging smile.

"My father has equated material possessions and business advancement with emotional stability."

"Sounds like you," Blair observed. Then before Jim could take offense, he added, "After Peru, you buried yourself in police work. If you were busy fighting the bad guys, then you wouldn't realize how lonely you were."

"You're wrong. I was trying to forget what happened. Pop wants something that can't be taken away. In the case of Michelle, she's not giving Steven anything big, so when she leaves him, Steven will be left with nothing. Dad's got everything all twisted in his head and he's making everyone nuts."

"He was probably the same way when you guys were kids. Thinking one thing, but it gets mixed-up in his mind so that when he speaks, it comes out as something different." Blair felt for the first time that Jim might actually have a chance at a real relationship with his father.

"But the thing about my mother still has me--"

"Your mother?" Blair interrupted. "You didn't mention that the two of you talked about her." The police report slid out of Blair's hands and fell lightly onto the table. He unconsciously leaned closer to Jim.

"Dad seemed preoccupied. At first I thought he was talking about Michelle and Steven, and the next thing I knew he was referring to himself with my mother. It was all very strange." Suddenly, Jim's eyes widened. "I almost forgot to tell you. One of the stories he told me was about a painting that hung in our foyer. Remember that hallway, by the front door?"

"It was pretty big. And elegant. But I don't remember seeing a painting."

"There isn't one now. Dad told me that when I was a little kid, my mother hung a picture of a cougar in it."

"Why a cougar? I can't see that fitting the decor."

"I'm sure it didn't. Dad said Mom hung it so that I wouldn't be afraid of the big room anymore. I'd sit and look at the painting." Jim paused. It looked to Blair as if he were trying to find the right words. "Dad said that I wanted the cat to be black--its yellow color was wrong."

Blair stiffened as though shell-shocked. "You must have recognized a black cat as your spirit animal," he said slowly as his mind wrapped around the idea. "Do you know what this means?"

"Yeah. I had my senses when I was a toddler and the jaguar must have been visible to me."

"Do you think you told your mother about the cat, but couldn't really describe him right and the cougar was the best she could come up with?" Blair's mind was jumping all over the place with ideas. Maybe Jim's mother knew about her son's enhanced senses. It was possible. In fact, it was more than likely, he reasoned.

A telephone rang. Jim pulled his cell phone out the same time that Blair realized that his was still back at the station. He must have left it under a pile of papers as he was collecting the files he had wanted to bring home.

"Sure, tomorrow would be fine. That'll give us a chance to clean up here a bit. Wouldn't want to give Michelle the impression we were the typical bachelor slobs."

Blair shook his head and laughed silently. As if Jim would let this place get dirty. His sensitive nose detected the smallest dust bunny and he'd vacuum it up with his new portable Dirt Devil.

"Okay. Bye, Steven." Jim closed his phone and looked over at Blair.

"Yeah, I heard. Company is coming tomorrow night. And I'm supposed to cook," Blair said with mock weariness.

"I'll give you a hand. We'll go shopping after work."

Blair got up to check on dinner.

Jim picked up the reports and began reading them over. "Did you find anything we can use?"

Blair closed the oven door. "The only thing that caught my attention is that two of the workers that were questioned yesterday didn't show up for work today. I don't know if they're spooked because of the questioning, or they got what they took the job for. Maybe they're both sick?" Blair joked.

Jim gave a small smile, then turned his attention back to the reports. "Where does it say that two workers didn't show up?"

"Not in there. I called and talked to one of the foremen. He said that the workers' names are Jack Teale and Bill Kaiser. Delmar was the officer who questioned them yesterday, and nothing they said raised a red flag."

"Yet they didn't show up at work," Jim reflected. "I agree, I find that rather suspicious."

Jim pushed the paperwork to the side of the table as Blair set down the plates and silverware. Jim poured them each a glass of milk, while Blair took the food out of the oven and brought it over to the table. They dug into their dinner in companionable silence.

"This is good, Chief," Jim complimented, after he had finished one plateful. "You know," he added as he reached over for seconds of potatoes, "we should question those two men ourselves tomorrow. They might have a logical reason why they missed work today."

"Let your built-in lie detector try and catch them up." Blair grinned, wolfishly. "Sounds like a plan."

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