Golden Orchid Restaurant

"So, how'd you do it?" Joel leaned back as the waitress removed his empty plate.

"Do what? Eat my noodles?" Phuc's eyes sparkled as she maintained an innocent face. "Really, Uncle Joey, I've been able to do that for a very long time. Hadn't you noticed?"

Joel tossed his wadded up napkin at his lunch companion. "Very funny, brat. Now, how did you pull those guys together?"

Phuc's smile became more serious. "Part of it was just giving them time."

"And the rest?"

"The annual evaluations were this last month. I took the tests right along with my men. Proving that I could handle the physical challenges just as well as they could quieted the dissenters. Then they found out that I had a mean fastball." Phuc waited for the reaction.

Joel started laughing. "In other words, they needed a pitcher for the squad's softball team."

"Exactly." Humor and pride was evident in her voice. "After I pitched a no-hitter against those egotistical jerks from Vice, nobody cared if I was a woman, or Asian, or from out of town. We're a well-bonded, cohesive unit now and I don't want suspicion from anyone to tear that apart."

The unspoken message came through loud and clear and Joel was appropriately chastised. "Okay Fooey, I understand."

Phuc felt bad for coming down on her long-time friend. "Tell you what, we're having a picnic tomorrow before the game with Narcotics. Why don't you come by the park and say hello to everyone. They'd love to see you away from the department - all the families are going to be there. If something about one of the squad members still bothers you after that, then I'll help you look into it. How's that?"

That sounded great to Joel, but before he could answer her, Phuc's cell phone began to ring. She had it to her ear before the second ring.

"Captain Nguyen."

Watching her slip effortlessly into professional mode pleased Joel more than he would ever be willing to admit. It startled him when she suddenly sat straight up.

"What... how long ago? Were there injuries? What's the address?" Before Phuc could reach for her pen, Joel had his out and handed it to her. She barely acknowledged him as she scribbled an address on the palm of her hand.

Joel Taggart didn't miss the bomb squad, but it never crossed his mind to stay behind. By the time Phuc had ended the call, he had tossed enough money to cover lunch on the table and had retrieved both of their coats. When he realized how presumptuous the gesture seemed, he faltered.

Phuc didn't seem to notice. "Let's go. We'll take my rig."

"You don't mind my tagging along?" Joel couldn't quite keep the grin off his face.

"It's your case too." Phuc accepted her coat and headed for the door, causing Joel to rush to keep up with her. "Our bombing suspect didn't want to go down. Apparently he had some type of grenade with him."

"Oh, God!" Taggart grasped Phuc's arm and forced her to face him. "Ellison and Sandburg?"

Phuc kept her voice as soft as possible. "My people are on their way there. All they knew was that the suspect is still at large and an ambulance was dispatched to the scene."


Unidentified Storage Unit

The metal door squeaked in protest as it was swung open. A figure dressed in dark baggy clothes stood silhouetted against the afternoon sun. Not bothering with the light, the figure moved to the center of the room and knelt down next to a stack of boxes. Gloved hands slowly, reverently, opened the largest of them. Inside, wrapped carefully in well-washed cotton were dozens of blocks of a clay-like substance, each about the size of a man's hand.

Still in shadows, the figure picked up one of the blocks and caressed it lovingly. A raspy, hoarse voice broke the silence. "Soon, very soon, they will pay for what they have done to us."


Explosion Site

With the practiced ease of someone who had driven in the chaos of Los Angeles traffic, Nguyen slipped her SUV through the jumble of vehicles to park between the ambulance and Simon Banks' familiar sedan. "Go check on them, I'll find out what went down." She gave Joel an encouraging smile, but did not expect an answer as he clambered out before they had come to a full stop.

Simon stepped away from the ambulance to greet Joel. "They're okay, Taggart; just a little battered."

"A little battered? We were told the guy lobbed a grenade at them. How on earth..." Taggart leaned against the side of the ambulance as the wave of relief threatened to buckle his knees. He wiped his hand across his face and took a shaky breath before continuing. "I was expecting body bags, Simon."

"I'm sorry." Banks rubbed a comforting hand across Joel's shoulders. "I didn't realize you had been told there was a grenade involved. It was a shock grenade, not an anti-personnel one."

"No shrapnel, thank God. I bet their ears are really ringing though." Joel's eyes widened as his own words sunk in. "Ellison?"

"Sandburg will take care of him." Banks was limited in what he could say on the subject, but those six words said it all and Taggart knew it.

Before either man could comment further, the ambulance door popped open and a sandy- haired paramedic they didn't recognize leaned out. "You can take Ellison home now. We're going to be transporting Sandburg in a few minutes." Seeing the concern on the faces of the two men in front of him, he continued, "Sandburg's shoulder is pretty banged up. I don't think there's a fracture, but it may be dislocated. He needs an x-ray to be sure."

The door opened the rest of the way and another paramedic helped a pale Jim Ellison out of the unit. One look at the hurting man and Banks wondered if he should be going to the hospital too. The paramedic saw Simon's concern. "He's bruised, but otherwise all right. His ears will be ringing for a few hours from that blast though."

That explained everything to Banks, and he immediately took charge of the situation. "Jim, I'm taking you home. Give Joel the keys to your truck and he'll pick Sandburg up at the hospital and drive him home."

The fact that Ellison handed over the keys to his 'sweetheart' without any complaints showed his friends just how much he was hurting. Joel took them with a reassuring smile. "You take it easy, Jim. I'll see you at the loft in a little while with Sandburg." He gave Ellison's arm a pat and moved away to find Nguyen.

Banks was worried about what the blast had done to the Sentinel's sensitive ears so he kept as quiet as possible as he helped Jim to his car. Once he had him settled, Banks moved back to the ambulance to check on his other battered detective.

"How ya' doing, kid?" Banks took a minute to study the younger man, resting on his right side on the narrow stretcher with his shirt cut away. Already, dark bruises were forming on the back of Blair's left shoulder, compounding the painful looking scrape underneath it. A nearly matching scrape was evident on the other shoulder. Loose gauze covered both of his forearms and his right hand. Sandburg was dozing and unaware of Simon's close scrutiny.

"It's not as bad as it looks." The voice of the paramedic drew Simon's attention. "Like my partner said, he took a considerable blow to his shoulder and you can see that it broke the skin, but we're pretty sure that there's no fracture. Whatever hit him left a nasty bruise that's gonna pretty much immobilize him for a few days."

"Elbow." A sleepy voice startled the two men.

"What was that, Blair?" Banks leaned closer to hear the explanation.

"Got squished between the ground and Jim... tryin' to... protect me... sure got... bony elbow." As the words faded out Banks looked at the paramedic in alarm.

"Don't worry, we've given him a heavy dose of painkiller. That's why he's drifting in and out. There's no sign of a head injury." The paramedic leaned over and spoke in Sandburg's ear.

"Mr. Sandburg, can you hear me?" After receiving a soft grunt in reply, he continued. "Do you know how you got the abrasions on your back? Did that happen when Mr. Ellison fell on you?"

Blair carefully licked his lips before answering, but his eyes remained closed. "The fence, got 'em crawling under the fence. Long day, man."

"I bet it was, cowboy." Gentle, healing hands carefully pulled a blanket over Blair then moved away.

"Sandburg... son," Banks waited until he was sure he had the younger man's attention. "I'm going to take Jim home. Joel's going to follow you to the hospital and give you a ride home when you're done. Is that all right?"

Blair nodded, but again didn't open his eyes. "Take care of him, Simon. He's got to be really hurting."

"What should I do for him?"

"He'll need to get the dials under control. Use the white noise generator... keep the loft kinda' dark... that'll help him regain control." Blair tried to shift around. "Damn, these painkillers, my legs feel like rubber. If I could get up, I'd refuse this little trip to the hospital; I hate to make Jim go through this on his own."

Banks was having similar thoughts about Jim dealing with the aftermath of the blast without his Guide, but knew that the younger man's needs were just as serious. He tried to sound indignant as he answered, but couldn't keep concern from coloring his attempt at humor. "What am I, chopped liver?"

"Nah, ham, definitely ham. Just help him as much as you can, Simon and I'll be there as soon as I can."

"I'll do my best, Blair." Simon didn't know where he could touch the prone form without causing more pain, so with a slight nod, he climbed out of the ambulance.


Taggart waited impatiently as Nguyen talked to one of her officers. Just as he was about to force his way into the conversation, she moved towards him. Joel didn't waste time with pleasantries. "Well?"

"We've recovered every surviving scrap of the grenade he used. Hopefully, we'll be able to find a serial number and trace its origin. The search of the house hasn't turned up any more of them, but the search won't be done for another hour." She knew how important this case was to everybody involved.

"What about the C4? Is it the same as what was used in the bombings?" Joel knew it would take time to get the lab results back on the chemical make-up of the explosive, but he trusted the instincts of the woman he had trained all those years ago.

Phuc understood the real question. "My gut tells me it's the same stuff. Looks like the heat's off my guys. Now it's up to Ellison and Sandburg to piece it together. How are they?"

"They'll be all right, just a bit bruised and battered." Joel's face didn't show the confidence that his words indicated, but Nguyen let it go as she joined her officers as they continued to comb the alleyway.


The Loft

Banks winced as the keys rattled in his hand and the lock clunked open. Never before had he been so acutely aware of the myriad of noises that accompanied daily activities. Behind him, Jim Ellison was thin-lipped as he entered the loft and headed straight for the couch without uttering a word.

The captain immediately sprung into action, following Sandburg's instructions to the letter. He remembered one of them casually mentioning how Jim used the white noise generator to help him sleep sometimes, so Banks climbed the stairs before even removing his coat. Sure enough, next to the neatly made bed was the small plastic device. By the time he was back down the stairs, Banks had it working.

Still silent, Banks set the noise generator on the coffee table before turning off the corner lamp. After giving his eyes a moment to adjust he moved back to the front door and removed his coat, hanging it on one of the empty hooks. Simon stood there for a moment, studying the other man. Ellison was leaning back, his head tipped towards the ceiling. Tight fists were clenched on dirty, denim-clad knees. Even in the faint light through the windows from the setting sun Simon could see the lines of pain marring the strong face.

Banks took a deep breath and squared his shoulders before walking across the room to sit on the edge of the coffee table. "Jim? Jim, you need to dial everything down." He tried to keep his voice as soft and calming as he could, but the visible marks of pain on Ellison's face only increased.

Forcing down his escalating concern, Banks tried another approach. "Jim, let's just concentrate on your hearing. You need to turn down the dials. I know this is hard without Blair, but you need to get this under control before Sandburg gets back from the hospital."

"Blair?" For the first time since Banks had removed Ellison from the blast site, the Sentinel seemed aware of what was going on around him. "I hurt him, I felt the bones..."

"No. You didn't hurt him, Larson did." It was a struggle, but Banks kept his voice even. "Larson's the one who's been terrorizing this city, he's the one who chose to attack rather than surrender. Sandburg's hurt because of Larson's actions, but you can help Blair by working to get your senses back under control before he gets here."

Ellison thought for a moment before giving a stiff nod. As Banks began talking him through the dials once again, Ellison forced himself to breathe deeply and concentrate on his captain's words.


The Loft, Four Hours Later

Banks had a splitting headache, a throbbing throat, and a new appreciation for the work that a Guide does so very effortlessly. The progress that they had made was negligible and he was running out of ideas.

Jim was still on the sofa, still in pain, and still struggling to maintain control. Abruptly, he sat up, the first hint of a smile Banks had seen all day on his face. "Blair." His words were whisper- soft, the voice even hoarser than Banks'. The turning of the doorknob confirmed the Sentinel's hopes.

Taggart eased through the opening door, one arm securely around the pale young man he was supporting. After dropping the truck keys in the basket and making eye contact with Banks, he turned back to his charge. "Blair, let's get you into bed before you collapse on me, okay?"

Even Joel had to strain to hear the quiet response. "No. Couch." Joel started to argue, but then the Guide spoke again. "With Jim." Admitting defeat, Joel steered him towards the sofa, as Banks helped Ellison shift to the end of the sofa. Jim snagged several pillows and with Simon's help made a comfortable spot for his hurting friend.

Once Sentinel and Guide were situated, the two other men quietly moved to the balcony. Ellison tracked their progress until the balcony door slid shut, then he turned his full attention to Sandburg.

Sandburg lay on his right side, his head resting on the pillow that Jim had on his lap. The starchy smell of the sling that cradled Sandburg's left arm scratched at the Sentinel's nose. Under the sling, a hospital scrub shirt covered the heat of deep bruises. A hospital scrub shirt that had replaced the comfortable flannel the young man had started the day in. A momentary flash of anger hit Ellison as he remembered gifting his partner with that shirt on his last birthday. A small voice in his head reminded him that so much more could have been lost than a birthday present and he let the anger go as he continued to observe his friend. Eventually, sleepy blue eyes reopened and stared at him from a smiling face. Ellison couldn't help but smile back.

"Hey, Chief, how ya' doing?" Without a second thought, sensitive fingers began to smooth the tangled hair; carefully removing the debris he knew would make the younger man uncomfortable.

Sandburg recognized the grooming ritual for what it was, a need for the older man to reconnect, and didn't object. "I'm okay, man. Just a little bruised."

"Because of me." The guilt was back in full force and Ellison looked away.

"Jim." The frailty of the voice forced Ellison to look back. "When he threw that grenade, I thought I was dead. Then, before I could react, you landed on me and that thing exploded. All I could think... if that had been..." Blair stopped to take a steadying breath. "When I opened my eyes, I expected to see your dead body, cut to shreds from the shrapnel."

"It was a shock grenade, not an anti-personnel one."

"Did you know that when he threw it?" Blair knew the answer before he had asked the question and didn't expect a response. "You were ready to sacrifice yourself to save me; I think I can live with a few bruises."

Jim wasn't ready to let go of the guilt. "Are you sure it's just bruises?"

"Nothing's broken, nothing's fractured, everything's where it's suppose to be. The splinters have been dug out of my back and the gravel's out of my hands and arms. Now let's take care of you."

Rapidly becoming too tired to argue, Jim leaned back and let his Guide's presence wash over him as together they worked at bringing the rampaging dials under control.


Out on the balcony two exhausted old friends looked at each other. Simon was the first to speak. "How is Sandburg, really?"

"His shoulder was dislocated." Joel rubbed a callused hand over his face. "That's why he was in so much pain."

Simon shuddered at the thought of such a painful injury. "Ouch. Should he have left the hospital so soon?"

"It wasn't open to discussion. Sandburg made that abundantly clear. What about Jim? I can't imagine what that loud of an explosion would do to his hearing." Sometimes Joel tried to picture what life would be like with Ellison's gifts. This was one time he was grateful that he really couldn't imagine it.

"Sandburg makes it seem so easy." Frustration was apparent in the taller man's tone. "I tried everything I could think of, but I don't think I was much of a help. As much as I hate to see Sandburg hurting, I'm sure glad you brought him home." Banks reached for the door. "Let's find out how we can help them." Nodding in agreement, Taggart followed him into the living room of the loft.

Soft snoring greeted the two men as the door closed quietly behind them. Banks stared in amazement at the change in Ellison, now relaxed and sleeping peacefully. Silently Banks gaped at the sight, but before he could form the question Sandburg opened his eyes. A wordless conversation occurred between the three awake men as Sandburg slowly raised his right hand to press his finger against his lips. Banks continued to study the changes the Guide had brought about in such a short time as Taggart moved about the rest of the loft.

Joel handed a soft blanket to Simon as he balanced a full glass of water in the other hand. Simon took the offered comforter and shook it out before draping it over the pair. Then as Joel shook out Sandburg's next dose of painkillers he moved the phone to put it within reach from the sofa.

Sandburg watched as his friends saw to his comfort, then smiling, he closed his eyes. The two men understood their gentle dismissal and silently moved to the outer door, locking it behind them, and leaving Sentinel and Guide in healing slumber.


Banks' Office, The Next Day

"Simon, should we have left them alone last night? They were still in pretty rough shape. Maybe we should call them?" Taggart paced back and forth with an empty coffee mug, never stopping in front of the full coffeepot.

"They're doing fine. The lights in the loft came on about two hours ago so they'll be here anytime." Banks was studying several reports on his desk and didn't realize just how much information he had given away.

"How in the heck would you know that? Are we adding a psychic to our roster now?" Taggart paused, then grinned. "All those phone calls you've had this morning... you've got somebody checking on them, don't you?"

Thinking clear back to their days as rookie cops, Taggart couldn't remember a single time he had seen Banks blush. Before now. "You old softie, you've got someone watching out for them."

"I asked one of the patrols in the area to let me know when they saw some signs of activity over there, that's all." Banks went back to reading the papers on his desk. Before Taggart could come up with a retort, the phone rang and Simon lunged to answer it. As had been the case all morning, Banks' side of the conversation consisted of only a curt 'thanks' before hanging up the receiver.

Simon tried to ignore the man standing in front of his desk as the minutes ticked by. When that didn't work, he slowly and grudgingly admitted to the contents of the phone call. "They've left the loft, should be here any time now." When he heard the snickers start, Banks looked up with his best glare. "Go drink your own coffee, Joel." Several heads popped up as Taggart left Simon's office, openly laughing.

Joel was half way across the Bullpen when the doors opened, admitting Sandburg and Ellison. His laughter dried up as he looked at the two men leaning on each other as they limped across the room. "Hey guys, are you sure you should be here?"

Ellison gave the older man a tired smile. "We just want to get an update on the case and then Sandburg's going home." He pointedly ignored the expression on Sandburg's face as he looked past Taggart and addressed the captain. "We were hoping to review what forensics found at Larson's place, see if we can get an idea of his next move."

"Of course." Banks turned to Taggart. "Joel, why don't you round up what's come in so far and join us. Have Captain Nguyen come in too." Concern clearly written on his face, Simon held the door open wider as his two detectives hobbled through, Sandburg still sporting the sling on his left arm.

"How are you guys, honestly?"

Sandburg was the first to speak. "He's still got a residual headache, and there's still some ringing of the ears. We've worked on it some more this morning, but it'll be a while before he can shake off all the effects and..."

Jim cut him off when Blair stopped to take a breath. "Sandburg's gonna be pretty stiff and sore for a couple of days. The doctor said that..."

"When did you talk to my doctor?" Blair turned carefully to look at his partner.

Ellison looked sheepish. "I called this morning while you were in the shower. All he'd tell me was that he wouldn't release you for active duty for at least a week."

"That's fine, cause your knee won't be ready for that long either, even if we get your hearing back on line fully."

"I can hear just fine."

"No, you're having spikes. I can see it in your face."

"Gentlemen." Banks leaned forward to get their attention. "I get the point, you're both grounded for the rest of the week."

"Grounded?" Both voices asked in unison.

"Desk duty. I said that you'd be on desk duty for the rest of the week. Are you contradicting me?" Banks used his best glare on them.

Ellison took one look at his partner's face and realized it was up to him to answer the captain. "No, sir. Desk duty it is, sir." Only another Sentinel would have been able to hear the slight squeak at the end of his answer.

The arrival of Taggart and Captain Nguyen saved them all. Nguyen looked at the group curiously then Joel shook his head at her ever so slightly, stopping any questions she may have had. He sat down at the large table and subtly indicated a chair for Phuc. She sat down; curious about the conversation they had just missed.

Banks was all business as he started the meeting. "Captain Nguyen; thank you for meeting with us. I realize that your team has training drills this afternoon, so we won't keep you any longer than necessary. What can you tell us about the explosives from yesterday?"

"I must admit that I was very surprised at the sample of C4 that your men found yesterday. There was barely enough for the lab to run an analysis on, let alone for someone to find in a search of a room like that." She paused and studied Jim in an apparent attempt to get some answers to her unasked questions.

Taggart understood both her curiosity and the need to keep some things unsaid so he jumped in to keep the meeting on track. "There was enough residue to run an analysis, right?"

"Umm, yes." Joel's tactic worked and drew Nguyen's attention back to the investigation. "We've been able to match the chemical signature and the C4 that we recovered from the earlier bombing attempts is from the same batch that was produced in that house."

"You're sure production was there?" Ellison wanted to be sure to tie Larson to the bombings in every way possible.

"It appears so." Nguyen shuffled through the stack of papers she had brought in with her. "Some of the more volatile ingredients for the production of C4 come in specialized packaging and we found the empties under the basement stairs."

Blair sat up suddenly. "How much C4 did he make?"

"How on earth would we know that?" Simon's question was barely heard by Sandburg and Nguyen.

"Of course! If we take the amount of any one of those compounds and work it into the formula that we know he used in the production of the C4..."

"We can extrapolate the total amount that was produced." Sandburg finished her thought.

"Subtracting the amount that we've already recovered would tell us if there's anymore out there." Nguyen was already across the room and plugging the numbers into the computer as fast as Sandburg could read them off to her. Taggart looked on proudly as Ellison and Banks just shook their heads and waited for answers.

After the final numbers came up, Nguyen turned to the rest of the occupants of the room, her face ashen. "There's almost ten pounds unaccounted for."

Simon rubbed his face roughly as the words sunk in. "Obviously this case is a long way from being over. Any idea where he may have the rest stored? Or could his next attack be already underway?"

"What else do we know about Larson? Anybody come visit him, who did he hang out with?" Ellison stiffly climbed out of his chair and began to move about the room, forcing the tightness from his limbs. "This couldn't happen in a total vacuum, somebody had to have had contact with him."

Taggart opened yet another file. "According to the neighbors, Larson was a quiet guy, kept to himself. No visitors that they remember, no lights on at odd hours. That matches up with the forensic report. The only fingerprints they found were Larson's. Mrs. Kendrick, from across the street, remembers signing for an UPS shipment one day when Larson wasn't home, but that's about it."

"UPS? Oh that's great!" Disgusted, Sandburg tossed his pen onto the table.

"Detective Sandburg, many of the components in C4 are quite innocent on their own." Nguyen's voice was calm, even though she had thought the same thing on many occasions. "We can't ban every product that some criminal has found a corrupt purpose for."

"Joel, what about his phone records?" Ellison's frustration was beginning to show.

"We got the court order, records should be in our possession this afternoon."

Nguyen interrupted Taggart. "With a little bit of luck, we should have a trace on the history of that grenade he used on you two. We found a partial serial number; well, actually the first eight numbers, which should give us a pretty good idea of where it came from."

"Good." Banks looked pleased with what Nguyen had been able to put together in such a short time. "Let Taggart know as soon as you come up with something. He'll be taking the phone records to Ellison and Sandburg as soon as they come in."

Jim started to object. "Sir, I'll be..."

"At home too, for the rest of the day." Simon's tone indicated that discussion on the subject was a moot point, and Ellison wisely backed down. Banks continued. "Larson's mug shots have been distributed to area patrols. Maybe we'll get a break; Lord knows we need one."

Sandburg interjected. "What about the kid in the pictures? Do we have an ID on him yet?"

"No, and right now finding those missing ten pounds of C4 is more of a priority." Banks looked at Nguyen as he spoke, hoping that the missing explosives would be found without the necessity of risking the Bomb Squad members.

Phuc recognized that the meeting was winding down and excused herself to return to her own duties after assuring the men that her unit would be ready to handle that amount of explosives if necessary.

The door had barely closed behind Nguyen before Sandburg had Larson's map out of his coat pocket and on the table. "Larson didn't have anything marked on the map, but see what you can feel on it, Jim."

Ellison was trying to keep up. "What am I looking for, Chief?"

"I'm not sure, but you'll know it when you find it." Sandburg grinned at his partner.

Banks rolled his eyes as Ellison obediently began rubbing his fingertips over the oft-folded paper.

Taggart moved closer to Banks and Sandburg. "Forensics went over that with a fine tooth comb. They didn't find anything."

"They were wearing gloves, right?"

Simon answered Blair's question before Taggart could. "Of course they were, Sandburg. That's standard procedure."

Unaware of the argument going on behind him, Ellison quietly studied the map, using all of his senses.

"There!"

The other three occupants of the room stopped and stared. Blair was the first to speak. "Where?"

Ellison pointed to an area of the map. "Here. The texture is different and there's something else..." His voice trailed off as he bent down to sniff at the map. Simon started to ask, but Sandburg's elbow silenced him. Eventually Jim straightened up and turned to the waiting group. "The oils from his hands are the most concentrated here, too. Almost as if he kept rubbing over this one spot."

Taggart turned his head as he tried to see what Ellison was pointing to. "So what's there?" He could feel Banks looking over his shoulder.

"Where do we need to be concentrating our efforts, Jim?"

Sandburg had already anticipated their captain's questions and pulled a new copy of the same map out of his coat pocket. "Here Jim, mark the areas on this copy of the map." While Ellison unfolded the fresh copy of the map, Blair pulled out a felt-tipped marker for him to use.

"Great idea, Sandburg." Banks was honestly impressed with the younger man's ingenuity, even more so when he pulled out a second copy of the map and began to transfer Ellison's information to it with a blue marker. Brown and orange marks were already on it.

Sandburg continued to inscribe as he answered the unspoken questions. "Orange is Larson's place; brown is the locations of the earlier attacks. Hopefully, we'll detect a pattern to all this pretty soon." Once he was finished, he tucked his copy back into his coat as Ellison handed the other two over to Banks.

Banks carefully placed the original map back into the evidence bag and handed the copy to Taggart. "I want you to check on every minority owned business in the target zone, and I want you two," he paused and turned to Sandburg and Ellison, "to go home! Is that understood? Taggart will bring the phone records to you when they come in. Now get!" Banks watched as his office emptied.


The Loft, Late That Afternoon

Ellison growled as he handed the sling back to Sandburg. "This doesn't do much good if you're not wearing it." Blair started to object until he looked up and saw the expression on his partner's face, then he silently slipped his arm into it and allowed Jim to help him with the straps. Ellison had to move gingerly, as not to bump into any of the stacks of files that surrounded the younger man. He could hear the rumblings of Sandburg's stomach, but the approaching smell of pizza meant that he didn't need to remind him to eat. Even limping, Ellison reached the front door only seconds after there was a knock.

"Hey Joel, come on in." Seeing that Taggart had the pizza boxes well balanced, he instead took the files the older man had tucked under his arm.

Taggart set the boxes on the kitchen table before moving next to the sofa. "I brought the phone records for you to go through. What are you working on now?" Taggart silently thought it looked like the records department had exploded and floated down into the men's home.

Ellison handed Taggart a soda as he answered for his partner. "He's trying to find a connection between Larson and someone in the department. He's kinda like a dog with a bone about it."

Taggart couldn't help but smile at the analogy. "Well, he might be right about that. Fooey tracked down that grenade as far as could be done with only a partial serial number." He picked up a slice of Sandburg's favorite pizza and moved closer to the young man.

"What did she find?" Sandburg grabbed the offered slice of pizza with his good arm.

Joel took a swallow of his drink before answering. "There were dozens of grenades with those same first numbers, but twenty of them were in our evidence lock up."

"Damn." That got Ellison's attention. "Have they all been accounted for?"

"According to the records, the ordnance in question was ordered destroyed by the Bomb Squad before Fooey took command. There's no proof that all twenty made it into the disposal canister." Taggart's slumped shoulders showed just how discouraged he was. "She wanted so much to believe that her people weren't involved in this."

"Maybe they weren't." Ellison was having a hard time with the idea that someone in the Bomb Squad would risk hurting one of their own. "How did the Cascade PD end up with the grenades? I don't remember a case where we confiscated them."

"We didn't." Joel flipped through one of the files he had brought with him. "Three years ago, a group of Eco-terrorists were busted up in the Puget Sound area. The grenades were confiscated then. They were traced to an ordnance shipment that was stolen in Florida last summer. Our department was charged with destroying the grenades once the trial was over."

"Proving how many were actually destroyed is virtually impossible after the fact." Sandburg whispered the words that no one wanted to say, as he went back to studying Larson's phone records.

Ellison approached the situation from a different angle. "Joel, what do we know about the original theft in Florida? How many grenades were involved? Any other weapons?"

Taggart shook his head. "The Army's not telling, but I've got some feelers out with my own sources. In fact..." Joel's words trailed off as he checked his watch before moving out to the balcony with his cell phone. Ellison watched with amusement; Taggart was as meticulous as Sandburg was in his own way.

"Hand me the map, will ya'." Blair's question caught the Sentinel by surprise and he looked around to see what his partner was up to. Sandburg was still seated on the sofa with his nose buried in the papers Joel had brought over, his right hand raised in anticipation of being handed the map. Whatever pattern the younger man had discovered would soon be shown on the city map if the red pen clamped in his teeth was any indication.

Jim bit back a laugh as he handed the folded paper to him. "What have you got there, Einstein?"

Sandburg carefully checked cross-streets as he made his red marks on the map. "Larson got a lot of calls from phone booths. Let's just see where they are all located."

"All?" Ellison wilted slightly at the sound of that.

"Yeah, no two calls were made from the same location, and look..." Blair was quickly marking red dots in three areas on the map. "All these calls came from one of three areas in town."

Jim zoomed in on the map and saw that Sandburg was correct. The calls came from three definitive areas, all three outside the quiet part of town that was so well worn on Larson's map. Cross-checking another file, Sandburg started marking with a green pen, carefully numbering each mark.

"Now what?"

Sandburg didn't even look up as he answered. "The home addresses of current and former members of the Bomb Squad, going back ten years."

"Why that far back?" Ellison was much more curious and intrigued with his partner's theories than he would ever admit.

"Simple." Blair capped his pen and tossed it down on the coffee table as Joel came back into the room. "The Bomb Squad is its own micro-culture within the department. The officers within that unit work and train together at a level far beyond what the rest of us do. Yet, to achieve any real type of advancement they usually have to transfer to another division, or wait for one of the few senior officers to retire."

Ellison nodded to himself as he thought through what his partner was telling him. "Okay, let me get this straight. If Joe Blow were a member of the squad and wanted a promotion, he'd be better off to move to say, Homicide, where there are more chances to move up the ladder."

"Actually, that is usually beneficial to everyone." Taggart joined in the conversation, the look on his face showed that he had not been successful in his hunt for more information. "Since units like the Bomb Squad and SWAT aren't active enough on a daily basis to warrant a full staff, most of the guys pull a double duty, just joining the squad when we have something go down. Of course in Cascade, that happens a lot." Taggart smiled at Jim's raised eyebrow.

"Answer me this, Joel." Blair picked up one of his pens and began playing with it as he spoke. "How many of those shared-duty guys would be on the Bomb Squad full time if they had a chance?"

"I'd say all of them." Joel understood where Sandburg was headed. "So would most of the guys who gave it up because they're too high in rank in their everyday police job."

"And how many of the squad positions are absolutely, 100%, full time no matter how slow the violence and mayhem are?"

"Blair's right." Taggart answered Sandburg's question while speaking to Jim. "The only guaranteed position is the captain; the rest of members perform other duties within the department. And yes, before you even ask, I know that some of the past squad members applied for the captain's position as a way to get back in."

Jim tapped his thumb on his lip as he thought for a minute. "What do your instincts say about this, Joel?"

"At first I couldn't imagine the guys I worked with being involved in something like this, but every cop instinct I have has been screaming 'dirty cop' at me since this whole thing started. Fooey's convinced now that her unit's not involved, and I trust her judgment. I never considered a former squad member, but it sure fits."

"It literally fits, look." Now that he had the two larger men's attention, Sandburg pushed the map closer to them. In the center of one of the groupings of red dots that marked the origins of the phone calls that Larson had received was a lone green slash locating the home address of someone with ties to the Bomb Squad.

"Who is it?" Even the Sentinel had to turn up his hearing to catch Joel's pain-wracked words.

Sandburg consulted his list. "David Philips, does that name mean anything to you, Joel?"

"No way, absolutely no way is he involved in anything dirty!" Even Ellison was surprised at the passion in Taggart's voice. Jim tried to remember if he had ever worked with the man.

"Who is he, Joel? I can't remember ever meeting him."

"Only the finest and most honorable man I've ever worked with. There's no way in hell that he could be involved in something like this. He'll be at the park tomorrow to cheer on the squad at the game, you'll meet him then and you'll see that you're dead wrong about this."

Jim decided that it would be wise to change the subject. He tapped on the section of the map that they had marked off in blue; the area that Larson had handled the most. "What did we find out about the businesses in this area?"

Joel made a visible attempt to calm down. "That's an eighty block area. Most of it is a pretty ritzy section of town, but part of it is commercial. We've got twelve possible targets. Seven of them have enough security to handle the threat on their own."

"And the rest?" Jim already knew what Joel's answer would be.

"Extra patrols, that's all the brass would go for without something more concrete."

Sandburg was surprised, however. "That's all? That really sucks. What about the kid, any word on him?"

"Kid?" Ellison blinked as he tried to keep up with his partner, then he realized that Blair was referring to the unidentified young boy seen in the photos at Larson's house. Joel came to the same conclusion a few seconds later.

"Nope. He's not a missing kid, and there's nothing noticeable about the background of the photos to help us trace them."

"What about the lab that processed the prints, Joel? Can we track it that way?"

Sandburg's question was again answered in the negative. "Sorry, kid, we already tried that. It was developed at one of those national chains. There's at least twenty branches in town"

Jim had to agree. "So much for tracking him that way."

The three men sat deep in thought as they reviewed the files well into the evening. Finally, stiff and discouraged, Joel called it a night. "Sorry guys, I can't read any more of this tonight. Besides, Sandburg looks dead on his feet."

Ellison looked over at his partner and smiled. Taggart was right, it was time to put the younger man to bed. One attempt to move himself off the couch made Ellison wonder who was going to put him to bed, let alone Sandburg.

Taggart took pity on him and pulled Jim to his feet. "Why don't I help you clean this up?"

"That's okay, I've got to loosen up." Jim flexed his knees as he stood, taking a handful of soda cans into the kitchen. He returned with Sandburg's pain pills and handed them to Blair without a word.

Blair smiled a silent thanks as he shook out two pills and took them with the last few swallows of his drink. As Taggart watched the exchange, he gathered up the empty pizza boxes. "Well, at least let me take these down to the dumpster for you, since it's on my way."

"Thanks Joel." Jim followed the older man to the door and locked up behind him. He turned around in time to see Sandburg struggling to get up. "What do you need, Chief?"

Sandburg sank back down as he answered. "Was gonna help you clean up, man."

"Forget it, buddy. When those pills kick in, you'll be pretty loopy; don't want you falling on your face."

Sandburg's legs were already beginning to feel like rubber, but he would never admit it. Instead he tried to look insulted as he settled back down and picked up the map again, cross- checking the addresses with the print-outs that Joel had left behind.

"Hey, Jim!" The excitement in his voice brought Ellison out of the kitchen. "There's a private school in the area that you've got marked off."

"Sandburg..."

"Come on man, that kid has to go to school somewhere. Just how many coincidences can we have in one case?" Blair watched his partner expectantly, waiting for that one moment he knew would come.

Ellison held out for a few seconds before admitting defeat. "All right, on our way to the softball game tomorrow we'll stop by the school and have one of the administrators look at the photos; see if they recognize the boy." He offered a hand up to his seated friend. "If you get a good night's sleep and feel up to it in the morning."

Blair accepted the help. "Thanks, Jim, I'll see you in the morning."

Ellison fondly watched him shuffle to the downstairs bedroom. "Good night, Chief."


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