Production No. BPP-609

written by:

edited by: Cassima, Alyson E. and Gabrielle Bessey..


December 20, Morning

It was only 7:00 in the morning and the office was already buzzing with activity. Detectives and officers from the night shift were still finishing paperwork in order to depart as soon as possible and day shift personnel had arrived early to get a jump on the workload sitting on their desks. Christmas was only a week away and all who had vacations planned did not want to change or shorten their plans due to work not being completed.

Even though the biggest holiday of the year was so close, the general surroundings of the bullpen didn't show it. There was a pine wreath attached to the outer door, but that was the extent of decorations with the exception of one desk. This belonged to Rhonda Cameron, Simon Banks' office manager. She had a miniature pine tree, with tiny ribbons adorning it, sitting on one edge. Surrounding that were a few Christmas cards she received, displayed for all to see. On a cabinet behind her desk, sitting on a holiday doily, was a ceramic music box with the figure of a little boy holding a drum. At frequent times during the day, Rhonda cranked the key on the bottom to allow tinny strains of the song "The Little Drummer Boy" to waft across the area. Only the popularity of the woman, and the fact that she had received the music box from her boyfriend, Police Commissioner Matthews, prevented the gift from disappearing or finding its way into the trash.

Detective Jim Ellison was already at his desk with one case file open and three others waiting in his 'IN' box. None of the other people in the area approached after taking a good look at the man. The expression on his face was stern enough to keep even the hardiest person from trying to start a conversation. This morning, Ellison's bright blue eyes contained a laser-sharp glint that threatened to freeze anyone taking a step in his direction and the muscle twitching in jaw warned of a possible explosion of his famous temper.

Jim heard the soft chime of the elevator reaching the floor housing Major Crime and, while keeping his head down to continue working on the file, he focused his other senses in that direction. The odor of cigar smoke and soft musk cologne told him that his superior, Captain Simon Banks, had arrived on the floor. The heaviness of the tall man's footsteps told Jim that Simon was not in a very good mood. Glancing up, what his senses detected were confirmed by the imposing figure of his angry black Captain striding across the room toward his office. With a small but satisfied grunt, Ellison nodded slightly and returned his attention to his work.

Five minutes hadn't passed when Jim raised his head and looked toward the entrance of the office. Focusing his hearing in that direction, he waited. Again, he heard the soft chime and the metal on oiled metal sound that elevator doors make when they open. A familiar voice said 'excuse me', then Jim heard the squeaky tread of sneakers on the linoleum floor. The tantalizing scents of rich coffee and fresh baked confections preceded the entrance of Detective Blair Sandburg into the room.

"Hey, Jim. Sorry it took so long, man. You would not believe what I had to go through just to get us some breakfast. There was this rude lady, in what had to be the most obnoxious looking coat, that butted in line before me yelling that she was double-parked and running late. I mean, I think Megan's 'dingo' jacket looked better than what she was wearing." Blair breezed past Jim's desk toward the one he was assigned, setting down two large styrofoam cups and a bag on his desk, and started divesting himself of the layers of clothing he wore.

The weather in Cascade, Washington was typical for December, cold and damp, and Sandburg really didn't enjoy being cold. His monologue continued. "And then there was the kid behind the counter. Apparently Missy is ill today, so they've got the kid that normally busses the tables behind the counter handling the customers. Let me tell you, I don't think the guy can spell multi-tasking, much less understand what it means or how to employ it. I had to give my order three times before he had it right, 'cause I knew that you would really be pissed if he gave you one of those flavored decaf coffees... and it looks like you're already pissed. What's the matter, Jim?" Blair asked when he noticed that Jim was staring up at him with a passive, but hard look.

"I was just wondering how cold and hard my donuts were going to get by the time you finished with your little speech there, Chief."

Blair reached for the sack and hesitated before opening it. "Well, they didn't have ready those cake ones you really like, so I got you a muffin. And before you go into a tantrum, just trust me when I say you'll love what I did pick up. The smell coming from them had me salivating like Pavlov's dog, so I'm sure you won't mind the substitute."

Ellison took a discreet sniff at the bag and closed his eyes in concentration. "Cinnamon, for sure, and nutmeg with nuts and... oatmeal?"

Sandburg broke into what could only be described as a thousand-megawatt smile. "Yeah, on the nose, Jim! I even made sure they did not have any raisins in them, since you had that trouble a couple of weeks ago. Enjoy." Taking the napkins out of the bag, Blair pulled out a large muffin and set it on his desk, then passed the bag over to his partner. Grabbing the cup that didn't have any stains on the plastic lid, he set the coffee on Jim's desk and plopped down into his own chair.

Ellison peered into the bag handed to him, then over toward his partner. He saw that Sandburg wasn't paying any attention to him, focusing totally on peeling the paper cup off the bottom of his muffin. With another inhalation, Jim smiled at the blend of scents and pulled out his own confection. He was just placing a large piece in his mouth when he heard an angry shout emanate from Simon's office.

Blair also flinched at the loudness and tone of the voice. "Wow, even I can hear that. I wonder who pissed off Simon this time?"

"He was angry when he came in," Jim answered around a mouth full of muffin.

"Can you tell who it is?" At his partner's glare, Blair held up a hand. "Hey, man. It's for our own safety if we have to beard the lion in its den. I'd like to know what weapon we need to bring in with us."

Tilting his head slightly, Ellison easily heard both sides of the conversation.

"Damn it, Joan! You knew that this was my year to have Daryl for Christmas."

"Don't you swear at me, Simon Banks. Our son is old enough to make his own decisions. I just loaned him the money for the ticket."

~sigh~ "I'm sorry for swearing and I know how old Daryl is. This just seems awfully convenient that he'd decided to take this trip during the same week that he was supposed to spend with me."

Bringing his attention back, Ellison turned to his partner. Sandburg was staring at him like an expectant puppy.

"Well?" Blair's impatience was evident in his voice.

"He's talking to his ex. Sounds like she gave Daryl money so he could take a trip somewhere over the holidays."

"Oh, that sucks. Simon had big plans for Christmas with Daryl, and the fact that Joan helped spoil them is not good. I vote that we avoid any reason to go into his office for at least the morning. I don't think I can handle an angry Captain just now."

Ellison nodded and opened his mouth to reply when the phone on his desk rang. Glancing over to Banks' office while picking up the receiver, he saw that the Captain was still in the conversation with his ex-wife. "Ellison... We'll be right up." Hanging up, he turned to Sandburg. "Chow down quick, Chief. We've been summoned." At the confused look on the smaller man's face, Ellison pointed upward.

Closing his eyes, Blair groaned. Jim's gesture automatically meant that they were to present themselves at the Police Commissioner's office, which probably meant that they were going to be 'tasked' for a special assignment. "How long are we going to have to pay the piper, man?"

Ellison sighed. "As long as Matthews is in office, we'll be asked to help him with 'special' cases. Wait." Placing a hand on Sandburg's chest, he looked down at his partner with a frown. "There's not any of those... conventions coming up, are there?

"Nah, man. You're safe from aliens, actors and the mesmerizing light shows that are associated with them at least until March or April." Blair chuckled and gave Jim a slap on the back as they continued toward the elevator.

Jim grimaced. "Just make sure you have that weekend marked on the calendar. I'm sure we'll have to be out of town for some important reason."

"Please go in, detectives. Maybe you can convince him," Matthews' secretary muttered in suppressed anger and pressed the button that would allow entry into the inner office.

Glancing at his friend in puzzlement, Ellison led the way into the Police Commissioner's office. His confusion was cleared up as soon as he saw Craig Matthews limping across the office, a bloodied handkerchief held to the man's cheek.

"Commissioner?" Ellison queried, striding over to the man. "Are you all right, sir?"

Blair almost followed until he noticed another figure huddling on a couch. It was Rhonda, Banks' office manager and, as was revealed over six months ago, Matthews' paramour. Changing his direction, Blair knelt down before the obviously upset woman.

"I'm okay, Detective Ellison. Just a small encounter with one of our local street denizens working with an accomplice. They wanted my wallet and M'lady's purse, and I had to convince them otherwise. But I'm afraid I didn't do a very good job of ducking at the right time."

"Where did it happen, Commissioner?" Ellison asked, gesturing at the cloth at the Commissioner's face. Matthews pulled the cloth away, allowing the other to get a better look at the injury. It was a gash along the man's cheek; long, but not deep enough to require stitches.

"Would you believe at the side door of our very own building?" Suddenly uncomfortable by the scrutiny Ellison was giving him, Matthews replaced the cloth against the wound and limped over to his desk. "I had my driver drop us off there and, believe it or not, this man in a Santa Claus suit walked up and pulled a knife on me. Demanded my wallet and watch. When I refused, he punched me with what must have been brass knuckles, then this youth came running by and knocked Ms. Cameron down to steal her purse."

"Are you okay?" Blair gently asked the shivering woman in front of him.

When Rhonda raised her face, her expression wasn't one of fear, but of anger. "I'm fine, Blair. Just angry that those jerks thought I was easy prey. If they hadn't knocked me down, we would have been able to catch those two." Looking over at the Commissioner, Rhonda gave him a brave smile. The man's eyes softened to show what could only be considered deep affection for the woman.

Ellison cleared his throat to get Matthews' attention back. "That cut on your face doesn't look like it will need any stitches, but I know you didn't wanted us up here for a medical opinion, sir."

"No, detective. The reason I asked you two here is to document the incident and to have it handled with the utmost amount of discretion."

"You want us to handle a mugging case?" Blair's voice held a tone of incredulity.

Matthews sharp glance at the younger man caused Blair to quiet immediately and turn his attention back to Rhonda. "While I know that charges have to be filed in order for a proper arrest to be made, I am concerned about the repercussions the precinct might receive over the type of press this would cause. 'Police Commissioner mugged outside of Cascade P.D. by Sidewalk Santa'. How would it look that even the area of town around our building is not safe? Especially since this time of the year is very important for the local businesses."

"I, uh, understand what you're saying, Commissioner." Ellison pulled out a notebook and pencil from the back pocket of his pants. Giving a quick look over at his subdued partner, Ellison sat down in the nearest chair with the writing instrument poised. "If you could start with a description of the two perpetrators, sir."

An hour later, Jim and Blair arrived back down at their desks in Major Crime. Rhonda was with them, having calmed down enough to go to work. The Commissioner had asked that they escort her down despite her protests that she was able to travel by herself.

As they parted at the entrance, Blair threw a furtive glance at her departing back. "I don't think she was kidding about taking care of those muggers."

"She wasn't, Chief. Rhonda has been taking self-defense classes ever since Garrett Kincaid and company took over the building that first time you were here. I think she's up to a brown belt by now."

Blair smiled and murmured appreciatively over at the woman nearing her desk, "Way to go, Rhonda."

"Ellison! Sandburg!" The strong voice of Simon Banks rang throughout the room. Both men turned to the shout and saw the stern visage of their captain standing in the doorway of his office. Without another word, he turned around and reentered his office, leaving the door open.

With barely audible groans, the two men answered the call. Entering the office behind his partner, Ellison closed the door behind him. Others in the area nearby almost relaxed in relief that it wasn't their names called.

"You gentlemen want to tell me what caused your disappearance this morning?" Banks sat behind his desk with a mug of steaming coffee in front of him, but he offered none to the two standing in front of him.

"We were, uh, called upstairs," Blair spoke up first.

~sigh~ "Does that mean I'm going to lose you two for another 'special' project?"

Ellison spoke up. "Probably not. It was more like a... let's just say it's a minor request that we can handle along with our other duties."

"But one that I don't have a need to know, I take it." The two in front of him looked at each other and said 'no' almost simultaneously before looking back up at him with semi-innocent gazes. "All right, then let's get down to real business. There was another nursing home hit yesterday. The Lewis Memorial Convalescence Center over on Carson Boulevard. It is the same M.O. as the other two, only this time one of the residents had a massive heart attack while his room was being vandalized. He died before medical help could arrive on scene."

"Ah, geez. It's almost Christmas. How can people prey on the elderly at this time of the year?" The disgust could easily be heard in Sandburg's voice.

"The same way they do it every other time of the year, Sandburg." Banks snapped at the younger man, seeing him jump at the harshness of the words. "Con men just know that people are easier to dupe at this time, especially old people."

"We'll head over there right now, Captain." Ellison spoke up to take Banks' attention off his partner.

"Because it's another nursing home and due to the holiday, the press is having a field day with our lack than stellar performance. I want some progress on this ASAP." Having given his order, Banks turned his attention to a folder of papers in front of him. When he didn't hear the two in front of him leave, he looked back up. Sandburg was gesturing at his partner. "Did you two want something?"

Blair jerked his attention toward Simon, then looked quickly over to Jim before taking a step forward. "Well, Simon, we couldn't help but overhear your... telephone conversation earlier."

Banks glared first at Sandburg, then over at Ellison who stood with his hands clasped behind his back looking at some spot on the wall. "You eavesdropped?"

"Well, I could almost hear what you were saying all the way out at my desk and I don't have Jim's ears. We were worried."

Ellison finally looked at Banks. "We're sorry that Daryl won't be spending the holidays with you, sir. If you want, you can join Blair and me at our place for Christmas dinner. Right now we're only having Naomi show up sometime around the 24th."

"Aren't you going to spend the day with your father, Jim? Last I heard, he'd invited both you and Steven over," Blair voiced in surprise.

The muscle in Ellison's jaw flexed; the only outward display of emotion from the man. "He called last night and said he had to be out of town then for a couple of days. Business."

"Ah, man. I'm sorry, Jim."

"Its okay, Chief. Just status quo." Ellison returned his attention to Banks. "What do you say, Simon?"

"I'll think about it," Banks answered noncommittally as he leafed through some papers on his desk. Looking up with his face composed into a neutral expression, he turned a baleful glare at his two detectives. "Now, I suggest we get back to work. And Ellison, keep your ears away from my telephone calls."

"Yes, sir," Jim said contritely as he exited the office. "Thanks, Chief."

"Hey, we escaped with only minor ass chewing. I consider that a huge success, man."

"Then let's take our slightly chewed butts outta here and go check out that nursing home. Maybe we can pick up something that will help us solve the case." Grabbing their jackets as they passed the coat rack, Jim handed Blair's off to him and led the way out of the bullpen.

Blair paused at the doorway when he heard the raised tone of Detective L.T. Rafe's voice. Looking in that direction, he saw the dapper detective sitting at his desk with the telephone in his hand.

"David! Listen to me. Stay calm and we'll think of something... I know it's not fair..." Rafe looked up, feeling eyes staring at him. He was right. Henri Brown, whose desk sat beside Rafe's, was watching him with concern in his dark brown eyes. Embarrassed, the sharply dressed man mouthed a silent 'sorry', then lowered his voice and turned away. "Let's talk about this tonight. And we're also going to talk about that fraternity... Yes, we are. Okay?"

"Anything I can help you with, buddy?" Brown asked as soon as Rafe placed the receiver down.

Rafe smiled nervously. "No, but thanks for asking. David is having a small problem at the college. Nothing to worry about." Feeling another set of eyes on him, Rafe turned to see Sandburg standing at the door to the bullpen.

The rookie detective raised an eyebrow in his direction, then jumped slightly at the voice of Ellison from the hallway. "Sandburg! Let's move it."

Rafe shook his head and waved a hand, releasing the young man to jog out of the room. "Damn academic requirements," Rafe mumbled as he grabbed his coffee cup and headed for the break room.

Lewis Memorial Convalescence Center, Midmorning

The blue and white Ford truck pulled into a visitor parking space outside the one-level brick building. A soft drizzle had started to fall, giving the area a hazy, depressed look despite the Christmas decorations adorning the entrance and several of the windows.

Blair pulled his jacket closer around his body and closed the button at the top in an attempt to ward off the chill he felt through the material. "How some people can prey on places like this just boggles the mind," he said softly, knowing Jim could easily hear him.

"Takes all types, Chief. We'd be out of a job if it weren't for them," Ellison answered, putting the gearshift of his vehicle into park and turning off the engine.

"I wouldn't mind being unemployed if there weren't any more criminals."

"You and me both. But there are bad guys out there and we are needed around to find and arrest them." Opening his door, Jim adjusted the ball cap on his head and stepped out of the truck. "I'll go speak with the administrators of the home and see if they can remember anything more than what they told the uniforms. Why don't you wander around and see if any of the residents might be willing to talk about what happened."

Blair saw the smirk his friend threw in his direction. "What makes you think they'll want to speak to me more than you?"

"Well, I've noticed that... mature women really have a thing for you, partner. Who is it down in personnel that always sends up those great peanut butter cookies for you?"

Blair hesitated for a moment, then blushed slightly as he hurried to keep up with his friend. "Lydia Cronister. She's old enough to be my grandmother, but keeps finding reasons to come up to the office."

"See what I mean? Must be something special about you that creates this special trust with them. So, I think you need to use that special 'something' and go talk with a few of the people." Reaching the entrance of the building, Jim paused to look at Blair. "Besides, Chief, I've already read the report on the robbery and the people who run this place didn't seem to be too cooperative. I think I can do a better job of intimidation if they don't have an audience to appeal to."

Blair chuckled and reached for the door handle. "You're so full of it, Ellison." Opening the door, he allowed the taller man to enter first.

Once inside, Jim saw the sign that pointed toward the manager's office behind the reception desk. Nodding at his partner, he stepped up to the woman sitting behind the desk and pulled out his wallet with his badge. When she pointed behind her, he stepped around the desk and started walking in that direction.

Seeing Jim leave, Blair looked down both hallways branching off from where he was standing. The one down to the left had the appearance of being nothing but residents' quarters, the doors all evenly spaced and the closest one sporting a placard with a person's name on it.

Down the right hand corridor, there were a fewer number of doorways. The odor of food, along with the rattling of dishes, also came from that direction, telling Blair that the dining room was down that hall and probably other common areas of the Center. Loosening his jacket and unwinding his scarf so that the ends hung loosely down his front, he started walking down the hall. Glancing into the first open door to the right, he was correct in his assumption that it was the dining area. Continuing his steps, Blair found the first entrance to his left to be a closed and locked door. The placard beside it read "Pharmacy".

At the end of the hall was a large doorway without any door attached. Peeking through the entrance, Blair saw that it was a community room. On the left side, in the corner, a television was playing. Around it, in wheelchairs and regular chairs with canes and walkers propped to their sides, were mostly elderly men watching a basketball game. Next to that area were several tables with a mixture of men and women, playing chess, cards or other games.

Closer to the doorway were a group of elderly women talking, reading or working with yarn. Allowing his friendliest smile to spread across his face, Blair approached this group and introduced himself while showing his badge. Squatting down on one knee so that the ladies wouldn't have to crane their necks to look up at him, he started to talk to them.

Forty-five minutes later, Blair thanked the ladies for their time, promised that he would return to visit after the holidays and stood up straight to stretch the stiffness and massage the deep ache that had settled into his right leg from kneeling down on it for so long. It was a reminder from the run-in with Dawson Quinn not that many years ago. Even though the bullet wound was long healed, cold and damp weather along with cramped quarters caused the appendage to remember the incident.

As he adjusted his jacket more comfortably onto his shoulders, Blair glanced toward the door. He expected Jim to be standing there impatiently due to the amount of time he'd spent talking to the ladies. Who he saw treading past was the last person he expected to see. It was a familiar looking man with shaggy red hair, and an equally unkempt red mustache and goatee, wearing clothes that looked like they had seen better days.

"OhmyGod," Blair whispered when he recognized who the man was. "Gabe?" he called, raising his voice. But it couldn't be him. Could it? The last time Blair had seen the man he knew as Gabe was a couple of years ago. He'd told Blair that he was there to perform a miracle. Many of the city agencies had been on strike, the precinct had been inundated by homeless people and a hired killer was after a young man in lockup who'd seen the assassin's boss kill a man. 'Gabe' had stepped in front of a bullet meant for the kid. He'd then disappeared when he was at the hospital waiting for treatment.

But that was not the whole story. Gabe had been identified as a college professor who'd disappeared a couple of years before he'd shown up in the Cascade precinct. However, the most important piece of information was that Professor Harold Blake, otherwise known as Gabe, had died of exposure a year earlier. Though no one wanted to admit it, the possibility of the man actually being an angel sent back to perform a miracle wasn't all that far-fetched.

When the man didn't respond to Blair's call, he raced over to the door and slid into the hallway, barely avoiding the nurse walking past. Other than the medical person, the hallway was empty. Blair turned around and peered in all directions, thinking he'd mistaken the direction the man had gone. No one was there. Blair trotted down the hallway toward the front door and in the direction he was sure Gabe had gone. Reaching the foyer, Blair couldn't stop fast enough to avoid colliding into his partner coming around the corner.

"Whoa there, Chief. Where's the fire?" Ellison asked, catching Sandburg in his arms.

"Jim, did you see him?" Blair struggled away in a slightly agitated state. Once he was untangled from Jim's arms, he spun around to look in every possible direction.

"Calm down, Sandburg. See who?"

"You're going to think I'm crazy, but I swear I just saw Gabe. Remember him? From that night at the precinct with the crocodile and Kaplan and Johnny Mercado."

"The guy you thought was the angel? That Gabe?"

"What other Gabe do I know, man? It had to be him." Blair spun around a couple of more times until he was convinced that the one he was looking for wasn't in sight. "Jim, humor me here for a minute. Take a listen around and see if you can hear him. He was always praying or chanting." Blair stared up at his taller friend, his eyes almost pleading.

Jim couldn't refuse, not with the way Blair was looking at him. Tilting his head slightly, he 'listened' to the sounds around the Center. Down the hallway that his friend had come, Jim easily picked up the noises and voices from the recreation room and the kitchen area, but none of them sounded like the voice he remembered from that night at the station. Down the other passage came different sounds; a phlegmy-sounding cough of someone struggling to breathe with an oxygen mask over their face, a moan from another in pain. All he was hearing was from men and women who hopefully were there only temporarily.

Coming back to his surroundings, Jim shook his head sadly. "Sorry, Chief. No one is here but the residents and the staff."

Disheartened, Blair gazed once more around the area. "I know I saw him."

Ellison grabbed his friend's arm and gave it a shake, bringing Sandburg's attention back to him. "I believe you, Blair. But he's not here now. Are you ready to go?"

"Yeah, I guess so. Damn it." The last came out almost as a whisper as the two men exited the building and headed for their vehicle.

Back at Major Crime Bullpen

As he walked toward the doors to the bullpen, Captain Joel Taggart was busily reading a report he'd just finished writing when he almost collided with a smaller, brown-haired figure striding through the opening. Halting suddenly, he looked up to see the obviously furious Inspector Megan Connor wrench her body to just miss his as she barreled by. He could hear her muttering in suppressed rage, American slang intermixing with her Australian cursing.

"Whoa! Hey, Megan," he called out, trying to catch the woman's attention. The Inspector either didn't hear him or just ignored the Captain as she continued in the direction of her desk. Squaring his shoulders, Taggart followed. "What's the matter, Connor?"

Slamming her purse down on her desk, Megan looked up to see Joel's concerned face across from her desk. Holding up her index finger to signal that he wait, Megan yanked at the buttons to her coat and practically tore the garment from her body. She dropped the coat onto her chair, then pressed down upon the back, closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths in an attempt to bring her temper back into control. When she felt slightly calmer, she opened her eyes back up. "Sorry, Joel. I just had the most infuriating conversation with this... this... blasted 'sheila' at the airport! How women like that get jobs that allow them to interact with the public is beyond my reckoning."

"Was there a mix-up in your reservations? I thought you'd planned on going home over a month ago." Joel stepped around the desk so that he was almost a barrier between the angry woman and the rest of the room.

"There weren't any reservations. They had no record of me making them and couldn't find me in their computer. I have a confirmation number, and that idiot couldn't locate it in her computer." Running her hands through her hair to calm the flying curls, Megan began to pace in the little area behind her chair. "I even tried to call my credit card company to prove that they've already charged my credit card, but I couldn't get through. Argh! I can't believe this is happening."

"Did you make another reservation?"

"I'm supposed to leave in three days, Joel. Do you know what the price of a new ticket is when the flight is this close? I almost need to take out a home mortgage to meet that price." Her anger finally running out, Megan dropped wearily down into her chair. Placing her elbows onto her desk, she dropped her face into her hands.

Taggart could see that the woman was close to tears, despite all her efforts to maintain her composure. Grabbing a nearby chair, he pulled it up close and dropped his voice so that she was the only one to hear him. "I know how much you want to visit your family, Megan. Especially at this time of the year. Would you take a loan from a friend until this mess can be straightened out?"

Connor looked up from her hands, surprise written all over her face. A tender smile replaced the fire state was still in her eyes. "Thank you, Joel. But I can't ask that of you. I know that you and your wife have plans that would be severely hampered if you lend me money."

A small grimace appeared on Joel's face for a few fleeting seconds before it returned to being one of concern. "Our plans have changed, but friends help friends during times of trouble." Reaching out, he placed a hand onto Megan's arm.

"Yes, they do. And I'll think about it, my friend." Megan placed her hand over Joel's and gave it a gentle squeeze. Her eyes locked onto Joel's gentle brown ones and glistened with tears.

"You going to be okay here?" he asked, releasing her arm and standing. At the woman's nod, he picked up his papers from where he laid them on the desk and resumed his movement out of the office.

Watching Taggart leave, Connor blinked her eyes furiously to clear the moisture that threatened to spill out and brought her emotions back into control. "Crazy, wonderful Yanks," she muttered, then turned her attention to the work on her desk.

Cascade P.D. Parking Garage, Afternoon

Ellison was just pulling his truck into a parking space in the garage under the building housing the Cascade P.D. when he noticed Detectives Brown and Rafe standing beside Brown's car having an intense discussion. It looked like Rafe was trying to calm the other down. Stepping out of the truck, Ellison could easily hear the conversation.

"Listen, H. If you really need some place to stay, my couch has a hide-a-way bed. David used it until I picked up a new bedroom outfit for his room and he said that it's really comfortable."

"Thanks, L.T., but I don't want to be a bother. This is supposed to be Christmas with David and I know how important it is for you two to spend time together, especially if he's having some problems." Brown raised an eyebrow with a questioning look at his partner.

Either ignoring the hint or just not catching the question, Rafe stayed on the subject. "Hey, man. You're not going to be an imposition. I really understand what you're going through."

"Gentlemen," Jim interrupted, walking closer to the two detectives. Blair was close on his heels. "What happened, H? Where you a bad boy and the 'little woman' tossed you out of the house?" The humor could clearly be heard in Jim's voice.

"That would be a blessing at this point. I was just informed by Lori that her family has decided to spend this year's Christmas season with us." Brown ended his announcement by dropping his head down to his chest and closing his eyes.

"You don't mean..." Jim started, but halted at the nod from the black detective.

Blair gave a low whistle. "Wow. The head 'Pooba' of the triple K is actually going to grace you with his presence?"

"That's Grand Dragon, Hairboy. He takes exception to anyone getting it wrong. He and his entourage left today and are driving across country. They are expected to show up around the 24th, after picking up a couple more of the family on the way."

"How many family members are coming? Do you have enough room?" Blair asked.

"God only knows how many will make the trip. I understand that there will be at least two or three motor homes in the group, but I've been told that 'Grandfather' expects us to make sure he has a room in our place."

"I've offered to let him stay at my place," Rafe interjected, but Brown waved him off.

"You live in an apartment, L.T. It's barely big enough for the two of you."

"We'd offer you a place with us, H, but Sandburg's mom is flying in to spend the holidays with him." Ellison glanced over to confirm the statement with his partner.

"Us, Jim. Naomi said she wanted to spend some time with you, too. She's got some new culinary delicacies she'd picked up on her last trip." Blair waggled an eyebrow at the taller man, then chuckled at the expression returned to him. "Just make sure you remember that she's my Mom, man."

"How can I forget, Chief? Her meditating in the middle of the living room is definitely more disrupting than yours. At least I got you using a better brand of incense." Jim smiled as Blair smacked his arm, then turned back to Henri. "I'm sure things will work out, H. Let us know if we can do anything for you. Let's go, Chief. We've paperwork to file and reports to be written."

Giving the depressed detective a slap on the back, Ellison started walking toward the door that would lead to the lobby of the building and the elevator. Sandburg followed behind, shaking his head in disbelief.

At the Loft, Later that Day

Ellison clutched the mail he'd retrieved from the mailbox in his left hand as he juggled his keys with his right until the loft key was separated. He was just inserting it into the lock on the door to his place when he heard the outside door on the first floor of the building open. Pausing for a second, he listened and heard the crinkling sound of paper sacks, squeaking sneakers treading up the stairs and breath becoming more labored as the individual struggled with the load being carried up the several flights. When he heard the familiar voice of his roommate, he smiled. Blair was grousing quietly over the fact that the building's elevator was out. There had been complaints filed about problems with the system for over a month, but nothing was ever done. It finally died a painful death last week and wasn't expected to be repaired for another week. With a shake of his head, Jim finished unlocking the door, then leaned against the door jam. He began flipping through the mail as he waited for the younger man to make his appearance at the last level of stairs that extended up to their floor.

"Need a hand there, Chief?" Jim asked when he finally looked up.

"That would be nice," came the slightly sarcastic reply. Blair held a stuffed grocery bag in each of his arms and clutched a third with both hands. His arms were aching from the strain of trying to hold onto the bag and juggling the other two. Seeing Jim smile at his words, Blair rolled his eyes as his larger friend casually strolled over to the top of the stairs.

Jim plucked the third bag from his hands and turned back to the loft door. Hearing Blair give an exasperated sigh and trudge after him, Jim stopped just inside the portal and allowed his friend to enter before closing and locking the door.

"Hope you don't mind. Stopped by Chen's and picked up dinner 'cause I really didn't feel like cooking tonight," Blair explained when he saw his friend open the sack he carried and pull out a white takeout container. "Told them to make sure there was absolutely no MSG this time." At Jim's raised eyebrow, Blair smirked. "Hey, I was just as miserable taking care of you as you were feeling the last time."

"So self sacrificing, Chief." Jim smiled to belie the tone of the words.

"I try hard, man. Anything in the mail besides bills and advertisements?"

Setting down the sack and container, Ellison fingered through the letters again. "Mrs. May stopped me. She accepted a telegram for you, again. I don't know how she convinces postal and delivery people to let her sign for things."

Blair just smiled and started to unpack one of the bags he'd set down on the counter. "It's that motherly aura about her, Jim. She just toddles up on that cane of hers, blinks those soft eyes up at whatever carrier is there, and has them totally convinced she's everyone's mother. Watched her do it, man. Talk about a class act."

Ellison chuckled lightly with Sandburg, getting a mental image of their neighbor performing her act. Little did her unsuspecting victims know that the elderly Mrs. May had been known to take a cane or other various weapons to unwanted solicitors and delinquent youths who've try to deface their building with paint.

"Open it for me, will you?" Blair asked, opening the refrigerator to put away the perishable groceries.

Tossing the rest of the mail onto the table, Jim flipped up a loose back flap of the telegram's envelope and easily opened it. Pulling out the telegram, he gave it a quick peruse, grabbed the envelope to check the return address, then read it to himself again.

When his friend didn't immediately read the contents of the telegram out loud, Blair paused. "Jim? What does it say?"

"It's from the American Consulate in China." Ellison stopped and looked up at his roommate, his face carefully devoid of emotion.

Slowly, Blair walked over to his larger friend, his eyes fearfully going from the paper in Jim's hands up to the man's bright blue eyes. Reaching out, Blair took hold of the telegram and started reading. One minute... two minutes passed as he read the message several times. "My mom... They can't find my mom or her group."

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