edited by: Toni Rae and Shirin
Wednesday, Early Morning
Jim's Truck, the streets of Cascade
"So, Jim, any chance of us getting New Year's Eve off this year?" Detective Blair Sandburg asked his partner.
"Sandburg, we were off last year. Surely you haven't forgotten. Or maybe you did, given the condition you were in after Angela's party." Blair's partner, Detective Jim Ellison grinned as he drove through the streets of Cascade.
Blair stared at Jim. "What are you talking about? I was fine. I remember that we were on call and once it looked like we weren't going to work, I went to the New Year's Eve. Angela's party was very nice and she even offered to drive me. But I didn't get there until a few minutes before midnight."
"You came home wearing a Baby-New-Year's outfit. Complete with diapers. Are you still claiming to have been sober and wearing that outfit?" Jim chuckled at the memory of Blair removing his long coat to reveal the outlandish costume that he wore over his dress slacks and flannel shirt.
He turned the blue and white Ford truck into the parking garage of the building that housed the Cascade Police Department. "Still, we had the rest of the week off, once it was decided the world wasn't coming to an end."
The two men got out of the parked truck and made their way to the elevators. Blair appeared to be quiet, but Jim could hear the soft muttering of "there was nothing wrong with my costume, it was New Year's after all," as he ushered the young man into the waiting elevator.
Jim continued. "We won't be the only ones working. I've heard that there's a technology conference going on over the weekend that will have extra patrol officers out. It's not as big a deal as the end-of-the-world panic, but it's big for Cascade."
"Oh yeah, the 2001 Technology Conference, I read about that in the paper. Whose bright idea was that?" Blair asked as the elevator stopped on the fifth floor and several uniformed officers entered. They nodded greetings to the two detectives before continuing their own conversation.
"What idea?" Jim asked.
"Having a convention over the holidays." Blair answered. "Who would have thought that the attendance would be so high? Especially since it hasn't been a big deal until now. We didn't hear about it until the first of the week."
The elevator stopped with a muted ding and the two detectives stepped out on the seventh floor. They nodded to the uniform officers as the men exited with them and walked away down the hallway. Despite the early hour, there was a lot of activity as other members of the police department went about their duties.
Jim led his partner through the doors to the office that housed Major Crime. He followed Blair to their desks and it wasn't until they were seated that he answered Blair's question.
"Evidently someone thought that having a conference on emerging technologies at the start of 2001 would be a creative way of celebrating the New Year." Jim watched as his computer started, then turned his attention to sorting a stack of files that required his or Blair's attention. "Personally, I'd be just as happy with a bowl of popcorn and watching 2001: A Space Odyssey."
Blair stared at the older detective. "You like 2001?" he asked, the disbelief clear in his voice.
Jim shrugged. "It's not one of my favorite movies, but if a person wanted to quietly celebrate the start of the year 2001, that would be one way to do it."
"Well, if we were going to be home, I'd suggest a viewing party." Blair said, frowning as his share of the files grew the more Jim sorted them. "But since we have to work." His voice trailed off. "Although, I have heard it's being re-released next year to commemorate the year. Maybe we could have a viewing party."
Blair stood up and stretched. "You want some coffee? I think I'll head to the break room for a cup of tea."
"Sure, thanks Chief." Jim nodded and handed his cup over to his partner. "Did you finish the report on the Miller bust last night?"
"Finished and awaiting signatures. All you need to do is print it and sign it." Blair gestured towards the stack of files in front of Jim. "The file for it is in there somewhere."
Blair smiled, bowing to his partner. "I live to serve," he intoned solemnly.
Jim snickered as the young man straightened to see the stern face of their captain watching him.
"Uhh. Hi Simon. I mean Captain!" Blair stammered.
"Good morning, gentlemen." Simon Banks' voice rang out catching everyone's attention. The other detectives in the room turned to watch as Banks stared at his best Detective team. "Is this a new form of greeting?" He asked. "It's not necessary that you bow when I enter the room."
"Jim was just thanking me for doing his paperwork again." Blair grinned, watching his partner's face go red. "I was recognizing his gratitude."
Simon sighed, the expression on his face clearly saying that he didn't really want to know anymore past that. "When the appreciation society is done, I'd like to see the two of you in my office."
"Yes, Sir." Both Jim and Blair answered, striving to sound as official as they could.
With another sigh, Simon walked to his office, glancing around the bullpen before entering his office. Blair shot a grin at his partner as he headed for the break room.
Fifteen minutes later, the two detectives were sitting at the conference table in Banks' office. The Captain handed them each files and started speaking while they looked over the contents.
"Before we get to the files, how is your case load looking these days?" Simon asked.
Jim spoke up first. We're waiting for forensics to give us the results of evidence from Ray Tillman's apartment. That will confirm what we already know, that he killed his neighbors. The report on the Miller case, that we wrapped up last night is done and ready for signatures."
"The Rothchild case is moving along. We should be hearing from our contact in a day or so to set up another drop. It may still be a month or so before we're ready to move on it." Blair added.
"Good!" Simon said. "Sounds like you can handle another assignment."
Jim and Blair glanced at each other before looking back to their Captain. "I guess that means you have something for us?" Jim asked.
Simon pointed to the folders. "Gentlemen, you've been assigned to assist with the security detail for the upcoming 2001 Technology Expo."
"What?" "Why us?" Came the objections from the two detectives.
"A company called Tech-Pros is the major sponsor of the Expo. The President and CEO of Tech-Pros is Charles Alderman. He's from Cascade and a close friend of the mayor." Simon explained settling back in his chair.
"Let me guess." Jim sighed. "The mayor called Commissioner Matthews."
"Give the man a cigar." Simon said without humor. "The Commissioner called me this morning wanting me to assign the specialized team of Ellison-Sandburg to the security detail."
Blair sat back quietly, his eyes closed. "This is to be considered part of the compensation for getting me hired, isn't it?"
"Don't worry about it, Chief." Jim assured his partner. "We've certainly pulled worse details before."
"Rhonda's collected available info on the Expo, to get you started." Simon continued, pointing to the files on the table. "Their head of Security is Richard Smallwood. He'll be waiting to meet with you this morning. Basically we'd like you to go over what they have in place and see what needs to be done to beef up the security. Mr. Alderman is suddenly concerned that the security isn't adequate enough for his conference."
At his detective's resigned looks, Simon added. "Look, I know how you feel, it's not my idea of a way to spend the weekend, but it's just come up at the last minute. Until the Commissioner called me, the most attention it was getting was some extra uniforms near the convention center. Now Major Crime is involved. I'm not happy about it either."
Blair grinned, "That's okay Simon. On the bright side, maybe I can find some new software or a larger disk drive for my computer. Better yet, maybe we can find a computer for Jim."
"Get your jacket, Chief." Jim stood up and gave his partner an amused look. "We're taking a trip to the Cascade Convention Center and let's not plan a shopping trip just yet."
"Cause we just had Christmas, Darwin." Jim reminded him as they left their captain's office and exited the Bullpen. "You're still playing with your presents and don't need more toys."
Cascade Convention Center
The Cascade convention center was busy with close to a hundred vendors setting up their booths and elaborate display areas. Looking at the mass chaos it was hard to believe that in twenty-four hours the center would be open to thousands of convention attendees.
In a control room that overlooked the entire exhibit hall, Blair Sandburg stood beside his partner as they watched the frenzy below, listening as Jim voiced his doubts that everything would be ready. He and Jim had spent the past hour meeting with Richard Smallwood and the two of them had pointed out several holes in the security plans.
"When does the convention start? And when does the exhibit hall open?" Blair asked. His question was directed to the head of security.
"The exhibit room opens at 8am on Thursday. But the convention actually starts Wednesday night. Several people are scheduled to make presentations and speeches." Smallwood answered, referring to a notebook he carried with him.
Jim nodded, watching the activities before turning away from the window to face the security director. "Who is expected on Wednesday night? I'd like to go over the plans again for getting the guests here and to the stage safely."
"Of course." Smallwood smiled. "We appreciate the Cascade PD's assistance. The conference grew much faster than the organizers had anticipated, once several of the vendors announced new products to be unveiled over the weekend."
"New products?" Jim asked, glancing at Blair. "This is the first we've heard of any new products."
"Tech-Pros is going to announce their newest chip, the Tech-Pro 2001 Chip. No one knows the exact details about it, other than it's more powerful than anything else on the market and capable of running more than just a computer." Smallwood explained.
"That explains why Mr. Alderman wanted the extra look at security." Blair said.
"Which brings me back to my previous question, about the speakers for opening night?" Jim reminded them. "Then we'd like to take a look around on our own to see what we can spot. There are a couple of things I'd like a closer look at."
"Yes, Sir. Let's go back to my office and go over the details." Smallwood led them out of the control room and down the hall.
Two hours later Jim and Blair were roaming the exhibition hall and checking out several potential security problems they had spotted from the observation room.
Jim waved his hand towards the back wall where several doors were open and unguarded, allowing easy access to and from the loading dock area. "One of the first things they should be doing is keeping someone assigned to those loading bay doors. Anyone could walk through and never be noticed. Especially if they were carrying a box."
Suddenly the tall detective stopped and Blair had taken several steps forward before he realized his partner was no longer beside him.
"Jim?" He asked, alarmed at the stiff posture and air of concentration that had settled over the Sentinel. Stepping back to Jim's side and laying a hand on Jim's back, Blair spoke softly, "What is it? What did you find?"
"Huh? Nothing?" Blair stared at his partner. "What are you talking about? Are your senses acting up again? Let's go back up to the control room where it's quieter. Jim!" Blair called out surprised, as he watched his partner backtrack their steps, carefully studying the vendors, the boxes and the general area of the room.
Jim stopped beside Blair and spoke again. "Nothing. Definitely nothing."
"Then what was that all about?" Blair asked, confused by his Sentinel's behavior and seeming reluctance to tell his Guide what he'd found.
"Nothing. As in no noise, or rather no background noise," Jim spoke low. "It's like something is blocking the sound."
"You think it's a white noise generator?" Blair's eyes widened in surprise.
The Sentinel nodded. "Walking past those last couple of displays is like walking through a bubble. I could hear you, or a particularly loud noise if I was listening for it, but nothing past that without really trying."
Taking another look around the room, Jim led the way to a quiet corner where several tables had been set up as a rest area. While Blair diverted to get them a couple of bottles of water, Jim picked a table that provided an unobstructed view of the room and sat down to wait for Blair. A few minutes later, Blair dropped into a chair, careful not to block his Sentinel's view.
"Okay, Jim. What is going on with you?" Blair demanded, his voice soft with concern.
Jim sighed, allowing himself to relax slightly while keeping a close eye on the exhibit hall. "Someone, probably one of the venders, has a white noise generator. One big enough to create an area similar to a bubble." He paused to take a long drink from the water bottle. "As we walked down the side aisle I realized it was quieter, really quiet compared to the rest of the room. There was a total lack of background noise and it startled me."
"Startled you? What do you mean it startled you?" Blair asked, his concern growing. He knew from long experience that Jim didn't startle easily. "You've used white noise filters before and we've experimented with the effect of generators on your senses."
"Sure, but I was either expecting the results or wasn't using my hearing. Just now I had the dials up on my hearing, listening for anything strange or out of place. When the sudden lack of noise hit, I wasn't expecting it."
Blair nodded his understanding. "So where do you think the source is? I don't know much about these kind of trade shows and have no idea if it's common for a vendor to use a white noise generator."
"I can't pinpoint the source exactly, other than it's in here, towards that back wall. It could be one of the larger exhibitors is using it to block out the background noise for their presentations. Less distraction for anyone trying to pay attention." Jim reasoned, but his voice held a note of doubt that his partner clearly heard.
"But you want to keep a closer eye on things, right?" Blair said, voicing his partner's concern.
Jim took another swallow of water before nodding. "Yes. I want to keep an eye out for it. At least until we know who has it and why."
Their conversation was interrupted by the soft tones of Jim's cell phone. He pulled the phone from his jacket pocket, glancing at the caller id display. "Simon." He mouthed to Blair as he lifted the phone to answer it.
As Jim talked with Simon Banks, Blair watched the barely organized chaos as people prepared for the upcoming conference and the thousands of people expected to attend. The security they had seen so far was adequate, but both detectives had found potential problems. The security director, Richard Smallwood, was good but they all feared his staff wasn't big enough or experienced enough to handle the anticipated crowd.
"Sure thing, Captain. We'll be there as soon as possible." Jim's voice brought Blair's attention back to the senior detective. He waited until Jim ended the call and replaced the phone in his jacket pocket. Taking a last swallow of water he stood, motioning Blair to follow.
"Come on, Chief. We need to leave. Simon wanted to know how things are going here and there's been a lead on the Tillman case." Jim led the way through the maze of display construction and boxes.
"The Tillman case? So does that mean the forensic results came in?" Blair asked. "They corroborated with what you already knew, right?"
"Exactly. Ray Tillman's fingerprints were all over the place. The hair we found on the sofa matches his. We've got him." Jim said, sounding pleased with the results he was relaying to Blair. "Simon wants us there when he's picked up."
"Mr. Ellison, we're needed." Blair quoted as he climbed into the truck and watched his partner walk around to the driver's side.
Jim rolled his eyes. "I knew it. I knew getting you the set of Avenger videotapes would end up being a bad idea. "
"Oh yeah, like you haven't been enjoying them as well." Blair laughed. "Don't think I haven't noticed you sneaking looks at Emma Peel, especially when she's in leather. Speaking of which, you forgot to put up the last tape you were watching the other night. I found it in the VCR."
Jim opened his mouth to argue then simply shook his head in defeat. "Busted!" he sighed as Blair's laughter followed them out of the building.
Jim's Truck, headed for the Cascade Police Dept.
"Whew. That was interesting." Blair commented as Jim maneuvered his truck into its usual parking space in the police department garage. "No one suspected that he was so unbalanced."
Jim shut the engine off before he answered. "Unbalanced enough to commit two murders. Just because he thought they were government spies sent to watch him when the aliens came to take him home. We'll do well if the case even goes to trial. I wouldn't be surprised if the DA goes straight to having him committed." He got out of the truck, wincing as he and Blair closed the truck doors at the same time.
"Not so hard on the door. Okay, Sandburg?" The Sentinel asked, rubbing at his forehead.
"You okay, Jim?" Blair asked, watching his partner with concern.
"I'm fine, just a bit of a headache. The door just sounded really loud when you closed it. Probably because the sound echoes down here."
"You've had the dials cranked up most of the day, haven't you?" Blair asked, knowing the answer before Jim said it. Between checking out the building for the conference and then at Tillman's apartment, the Sentinel had been going most of the day without a real break.
Jim nodded, stepping into the elevator.
Blair followed. He punched the button for the seventh floor waiting for the doors to slide closed. "Now, we've got seven floors to get the dials down a bit." His tone didn't leave room for argument and he was pleased when his partner quickly agreed. "You know the drill, man. Close your eyes and even out your breathing."
Jim allowed the voice of his Guide to wash over him, leading him through a short but effective exercise to get his senses under control again.
As the elevator stopped and the doors opened, Jim took a deep breath willing the last pangs of his headache to fade. "Thanks, Chief." He said gratefully.
Major Crimes Bullpen
"While we have a few spare minutes, I'm going to check the Yahoo account for the Rothchild case." Blair told his partner.
"Good idea, Chief." Jim nodded as he paged through a thick file of his own. "We should have an answer back on where the next drop is, right?"
"Hopefully. If our contact got back to us." Blair turned his attention to his computer while Jim continued to fight with another report.
"Ellison! Sandburg!" Simon's loud voice unexpectedly cut through the office noises causing several people, not just Jim and Blair, to look up sharply. The police Captain didn't sound angry, but his detectives responded quickly to his summons.
Once in Simon's office, both men propped against the large conference table that took up a portion of the room. "How did it go at Tillman's?" Simon asked without preamble.
"Fine, Sir." Jim answered, glancing at Blair and seeing that his partner had noticed the worried look on Simon's face. "He was there and was quite cordial to us. The only problem we had was when we told him it was time to go." Jim paused.
"It seems as though he was waiting for something." Blair took up the story.
"Waiting for what?" Simon asked.
"The aliens who were supposed to be picking him up to go home." Blair answered, pleased that he managed to keep from laughing out loud.
"Aliens." Jim confirmed. "He said that he didn't kill the two neighbors, that the aliens from the ship killed them because they were government agents sent to prevent him from returning home."
"You're not serious." Simon asked, amazed at the tale.
"Well at least he was serious. The uniforms took him in and I imagine that he's going to need lots of mental testing before this one even goes to trial."
"Oh... the DA is going to love it." Simon sighed. "At least it's out of our hands. We've got enough evidence to pin it on him without a doubt.
"I still need a report on your check of security preparations for the Tech Conference, but first you have to see this." Simon handed the two detectives several pages of a fax.
The room was silent for several moments as they read the contents. Then the silence was broken by a soft gasp from Blair followed by an outburst from Jim.
"What? Lee Brackett, a rogue CIA agent, disappears from his cell and no one thinks to inform the authorities until two weeks later?" Jim demanded.
"Read on." Simon encouraged, his agitation clear in his voice. "It gets better at the part where the Feds are reluctant to call it an escape. But they're saying he wasn't officially released either." The captain shook his head with a sigh. "You should have heard the conversation I had with several Federal agents. When they weren't shuffling my call from office to office, the agents I did talk to performed a tap dance to rival Riverdance."
"Where do they think he's headed?" Jim asked, putting the report back on Simon's desk. "Or did they say? To admit that might be admitting that they let him get away."
Simon sat back in his chair. "I was assured that he had no reason to come back to Cascade," he said, a hint of sarcasm coloring his voice.
"So is that why the Feds didn't tell anyone? They didn't think he'd come back here?" Blair asked. "Although I like the idea that they just didn't want to admit that he got away from them, that sounds like the FBI we know and love. Do they have any idea how he got out?"
"No." Simon shook his head. "Or if they do, they're not telling."
"He does have a reason for coming to Cascade." Blair said quietly.
"You think he'll be looking for revenge for what happened when he used Jim to go after the fighter plane?" Simon said. "I don't see him as the revenge type. As I remember, when we took him into custody, he didn't seem to place blame on you or Jim for his failure, he seemed almost respectful that you'd gotten the better of him."
"No, not revenge." Blair pushed away from the table and walked over to the window before turning to look at his partner. "But he does have a reason for coming to Cascade. Especially if he still has an interest in high-tech items."
Jim watched his partner. "You're thinking he'll hit at the conference?"
"I think it's a good possibility. After all, Tech-Pros will be announcing their newest chip, more powerful and faster than anything anyone else has. Of course he'll be interested.
"And not just that one chip." Blair continued walking around the police captain's office. "For the next four days, Cascade is playing host to what has been called a high-tech Comdex that features the latest and best in computer world. Not only a powerful new chip, but there are other companies expected to unveil their newest products. The FBI and CIA don't think that a rogue CIA agent would be interested in that?"
Jim agreed. "He's good a point, Simon. Four years ago Brackett was after a prototype military plane and was willing to take out a city to get it. It's a very real possibility that Brackett could be headed for Cascade again."
Simon studied his best detective team. "Do you really think Brackett would come back to Cascade and go after the Tech-Pro chip?"
The Sentinel and Guide looked at each other, silently asking themselves the same question. Blair gave his partner a small nod and turned back to the window that overlooked Cascade.
"Yes, Sir." Jim answered for the both of them, his voice serious. "We do."
"Here, Chief. You look like you could use this." Jim handed his roommate a cup of hot tea and then settled down on the other end of the sofa, his hands wrapped around an equally hot cup of coffee.
Blair took a cautious sip of the hot liquid. "Thanks, man." He closed his eyes and let his head rest against the soft cushions. "So do you think Simon really believes us?" He asked, breaking the silence between them.
"About Brackett? Maybe. He'd rather not believe us. I know I'm hoping we're wrong. I tried to explain to him later that it's just a really strong feeling that he's going to try for the chip at the conference."
"It's too coincidental and I'd rather not believe in coincidences." Blair said, sitting up to drink some more of his tea. "Everything has a purpose. Like your mom showing up a month ago."
"Blair, please. I don't want to talk about that tonight." Jim sighed.
In the six weeks since Grace's appearance, Blair had tried to talk to Jim about the older man's strong reaction to her arrival. She had claimed to want to get to know her sons and Jim had all but shoved her out the door of the loft. Since then she had seemingly disappeared.
"But what if she really wants to make up for leaving?" Blair asked. "She may have had her reasons and wants to explain them."
"Then she's several decades too late. Where was she when Steven or I was sick or hurt? When Dad had business meetings and Sally looked after us? When we needed a mother, she was nowhere around. I'm not interested in her excuses." Jim took a drink of his cooling coffee and stared out the glass doors into the growing darkness.
The silence between the two men stretched out over several minutes.
"I'm sorry, Jim." Blair's voice was soft as he spoke. "I shouldn't push and didn't really mean to." His voice trailed off.
"It's okay." Jim turned so that he was facing his friend. "I'm sorry I snapped. It's a sore topic with me and always has been. Maybe someday it won't hurt so much, but it's been a long time and the pain is still there."
Early Friday Morning
The shrill ring of the telephone woke both members of the loft. Blair finally gave up on ignoring the intrusive sound and moved to crawl out of bed. Just as his feet touched the floor the ringing stopped. Deciding that either his roommate had answered it or the caller gave up, he slid back under the warm covers.
"Get up, Sandburg!" Jim's voice called out. "No sleeping in today!"
"You're no fun." Blair grumbled. "I bet you never slept in when you were a kid. Every morning you were up at the crack of dawn. Even on Saturdays."
"Of course not, I'd miss the Saturday morning cartoons if I did." Jim grinned at Blair who was not quite stumbling out of his bedroom. As Blair settled on a stool at the counter, Jim pushed a coffee cup towards him. "Here. You drink while I shower."
"So what's the rush?" Blair asked, then took a sip of the hot liquid.
"That was Simon on the phone. Alderman arrived at the convention center this morning and we're to meet him and Simon there as soon as possible."
"Someone broke in last night after his speech and stole the new Tech-Pro 2001 chip." Jim answered as he closed the door to the bathroom.
Blair stared at the closed door then gazed into his coffee cup. "Oh yeah. It's going to be a grand New Year's."
"Sandburg!" Jim Ellison called out, impatience coloring his voice.
"I'm coming! I'm coming!" Blair dashed out of his room, pulling a red flannel shirt over a long sleeve Henley. "Can't a guy finish getting dressed before you shove him out the door?"
Jim watched his partner button up the layers of clothing. "You are dressed. Several times over, in fact. Simon said he wanted us there as soon as possible."
Blair stopped to put his jacket on over the layers of shirts and scooped up his backpack. "I'm ready!" He announced with a grin.
Jim shook his head not wanting to slow them down by pointing out that Blair's long hair was falling from the leather tie. If he said anything, he figured Blair would stop and get the curls under control before he left. Deciding to wait till they were in the truck, Jim pulled open the front door.
"Good morning, gentlemen." A familiar voice pleasantly greeted them.
Jim and Blair stared at the man in front of them, hesitating only a fraction of a second before reaching for their weapons. The movement stopped as Lee Brackett held up a hand holding a gun, covering the two of them.
"Careful Detectives." Brackett motioned them back into the loft, following them in and closing the door behind him. "I just want to talk."
Blair stood slightly behind Jim, a vague sense of deja vu running through him. The first time they had a similar talk with Brackett, the three of them had stood in almost the same positions. Only this time there wasn't a convenient lamp to cover their movements. Besides, the rogue agent would most likely expect such a move.
"What do you want, Brackett?" Jim asked, his voice low and dangerous.
"I'd like to propose a business deal."
"A business deal?" Blair repeated incredulously.
"Yes, Mr. Sandburg. A business deal." Brackett stood at ease, the gun aimed steadily at the two roommates. "Or rather, I should say Detective Sandburg. I heard all about the dissertation circus a year and a half ago. That was quite a stir, even where I was staying."
The one time CIA agent smiled at Blair. "Oh yes, quite the story. Only I know what the real lie was. We both know that Detective Ellison here is a full-fledged Sentinel. I actually thought about coming forward to support your thesis."
"So why didn't you?" Jim asked, watching Brackett and the gun carefully.
Blair stared at his partner. "Jim!"
"No really, I want to know." Jim pressed, anger in his voice. "Although I can guess why he didn't come forward. Like any good agent he knew he might get out someday and that when he did, he could use us again, holding his secret over us."
Brackett smiled. "You used to be Covert Ops, you know how the system works. Of course I didn't want to use my special trump card. I knew someday I'd have need of it and that day is now."
"No, Detective Ellison?" Brackett asked, his amusement in his tone.
"No. I won't let you hold that over Blair. He's been through enough over that business and I won't let you use it against him."
"Jim." Blair stepped closer to his partner. "Don't do this."
Brackett stepped forward, motioning with the gun. "I hate to break up this highly touching scene, but I don't want to overstay my welcome."
"Too late." Blair muttered.
Brackett continued, as though not hearing the young man. "I'm interested in a laser. A particular high-powered laser, I'm told, that requires only a single computer chip to arm and control it. The chip comes from only one source and I already have a source for the chip. What I need is the laser."
"The Tech-Pro 2001 Chip." Blair said.
"You've heard of it then?" Brackett took a step backwards towards the door. "Efficient design. Very powerful. So is the laser that's designed to operate with the chip."
"What are you talking about?" Blair asked, ignoring Jim's look of annoyance. "The Chip isn't designed for laser weaponry. It's a computer chip or at least that's what I thought."
"It's a multi-purpose chip, Detective, and can be configured for various uses. It's very powerful and once programmed, it cannot be erased. That's the beauty of it, it's very dependable and quite indestructible." Brackett took another step backwards so that he stood right at the loft door. At the same time he reached into his pocket and pulled out a round object. "I'm sorry, that's all the time I have at the moment. Detectives Ellison and Sandburg, I'll be in touch."
He threw the object in his hand and it hit the floor with a burst of light and smoke. Jim cried out as the bright light momentarily blinded him. Blair moved towards his partner.
"Go!" Jim shouted as he sank to his knees. "Get Brackett!" At his partner's urging, Blair dashed out the door to find that Brackett was gone and there was no trace of which way he'd gone.
With a muttered curse, Blair went back inside the loft to check on his partner. Jim was sitting on the floor, his hands covering his face.
"You okay, Jim?" Blair knelt on the floor, easing Jim's hands away from his face and looked closely at the watering blue eyes. Not seeing any immediate damage, he helped Jim stand and maneuvered him to the sofa. Once the Sentinel was settled, Blair quickly retrieved a wet washcloth from the bathroom.
"I'll be fine. Brackett get away?" Jim took the washcloth. "Thanks." He gingerly wiped at his eyes.
"Yeah, I'm sorry. He had vanished by the time I got to the door. How are the eyes?"
"They're okay. At first everything was cloudy, but my vision is clearing now." Jim leaned back on the sofa and looked up at a frustrated Blair. "It's not your fault, Brackett caught us both by surprise."
"At least this means we know where Brackett is. Think we should call the Feds?" Blair sighed.
"Why, so they can let him go again? Although we will have to call them, but first I want to report it to Simon." Jim pushed himself up off the sofa. "Come on, Sandburg. Simon's going to think we went back to bed."
"Jim? Are you sure you're okay to drive?"
"I'm fine. Let's get going. We'll call Simon from the truck and report this."
As they walked out the door, Blair mumbled something about stubborn Sentinels, not caring if Jim heard him or not.
Major Crimes Bullpen
"My office. NOW!"
Jim and Blair looked at each other like two little boys being called to the principal's office. Jim had just sat down at his desk and Blair stood, his jacket in his hand, reaching for the coat stand.
"Gentlemen? Today would be nice!" Simon's voice called from across the bullpen. As everyone in the room made it a point to look elsewhere, the two detectives hurried across the room to their Captain's office.
Banks settled into his chair, glaring at his best team. "Now. Would you care to explain to me what happened this morning? Lee Brackett showed up at your loft?"
"Captain." Jim started, standing straight in front of Simon's desk. "We haven't had a chance to go over the details with you until now. I didn't think you'd want to discuss it at the convention center."
Banks sighed. "You're right and I'm sorry. After dealing with that egotistical company president all day, my nerves are shot. Before we get to Brackett, your impressions of what went on this morning?"
Jim looked at his partner since Blair had spent most of his time talking with the president of Tech-Pro and the security personnel while Jim had searched the area looking for how the thief had gotten in.
Stepping forward, Blair pulled out his notebook and looked over his pages of notes from his interviews. "Basically, no one knows or saw anything. After last night's presentation and unveiling, Alderman locked up the prototype chip. Smallwood, the head of security for the conference witnessed the lockup, but didn't have the combination or the key that's required to open the box where the chip was stored."
"Who had access to the key?" Simon asked. He had heard some of the interviews but wanted to hear the facts without the emotional outbursts.
"Alderman and a man named John Grenwall. Grenwall is the vice president in charge of development at Tech-Pros. His room was broken into last night and his briefcase, containing the key to the chip box, was taken. Again, no one saw anything."
"What about the security tapes?"
Jim spoke up. "I viewed the tapes, several times and quite closely. There's nothing there." He said, a bit uneasily.
"Nothing? What do you mean nothing?" Simon asked.
"Nothing. The first of the tape showed Alderman and Smallwood locking up the 2001 Chip in its case and the case being locked in a steel cabinet. No one went close to it until early this morning."
"Then you missed something."
"No Sir, I beg to differ. I didn't miss anything, as there was nothing to miss. No one went near the cabinet or the case. Forensics didn't get a single print that wasn't Alderman's or Smallwood's."
"That's impossible. Unless you're saying that one of them is a suspect." Simon said.
"Right now, we don't have a prime suspect. Other than the one person who would know that a Sentinel would be investigating and took great care to erase any evidence of his being there. Lee Brackett." Blair said. "And there was something else taken."
"What?" Simon asked. "Nothing else was mentioned in the initial reports."
"That's because the vendor didn't notice it until we were almost ready to leave." Jim told him. "One of the vendors had a white noise generator to use during their presentation, to filter out distracting background noise. They discovered it missing after last night's break-in."
"So you're telling me that in addition to the Tech-Pro Chip, a device that can be used against Jim was taken?" Simon said. "That seems to point directly to Brackett because how many people would know the effects of a white noise generator."
"Yes, Sir." Jim said, clearly not happy with the idea.
"So tell me about his visit to the loft this morning." Simon said.
"There's not a lot to tell." Jim said, glancing at his partner. "He surprised us as we were leaving this morning."
"He surprised you?" Simon asked, his disbelief evident.
"That was probably my fault." Blair spoke up. "I was running late and Jim was arguing with me to hurry up. Neither of us had any clue that he was outside. Jim was focusing on me, not outside the door."
"It's not your fault," Jim argued. "I think he had a white noise device which is why I didn't hear him."
"So what did he want?" Simon interrupted the exchange between the two friends.
"All he said was that he wanted to propose a business deal. And that he knew about the dissertation fiasco from last year." Blair answered quietly. "He didn't say anything then because he wanted to hold it over us later. Such as now."
"It's okay, Jim." Blair looked up. "Really. It's okay."
Nodding slightly, Jim turned back to their Captain. "He did say the deal involved a laser and the Tech-Pros 2001 Chip."
"Which has now gone missing." Simon said. "Guess that puts Brackett at the top of the suspect list for that. He would know how to get in and out without leaving anything. Especially since he knew you would be checking out the scene."
"Either Brackett or someone working for him. He said that he had a source for the chip." Jim pointed out. "That still leaves Brackett as our main suspect."
"So what's your plan from here?" Simon asked, sitting up to lean on the edge of his desk.
The two detectives glanced at each other, each mentally listing their next steps. Jim spoke for the two of them since he had a good idea of what Blair had come up with.
"We're going to continue checking out anyone that had any kind of contact with that chip at the convention center. Plus, see if we can get a line on where Brackett is and what kind of laser equipment he'd be interested in."
"Then get on it!" Simon said, his sharp tone had both men moving towards the door.
Major Crime Bullpen
"Morning Jim!" The cheerful voice of Detective Henri Brown rang out as Jim walked into the bullpen. "Where's hairboy this morning?"
"Good Morning, Henri." Jim greeted him. "Sandburg's coming in a bit late; he wanted to get to the bank as soon as they opened this morning." He picked up his coffee cup and headed for the break room before settling back at his desk to work on the never-ending stack of reports.
"Jim?" Simon's voice interrupted him as he finished reading through yet another report and set it aside for his partner. "Will we be seeing Sandburg anytime today?" The police captain asked, looking pointedly at Blair's empty desk.
"Sure, Captain." Jim answered, looking at his watch. "He should..." Jim paused as he realized the late time. "Should have been here an hour ago.
"What time is it?" Jim asked, worry nagging at him.
"Your watch is right, it's ten o'clock. I thought you said earlier he had a quick errand to run and would be in."
"He did. He just had to run by the bank and should have been here over an hour ago." Jim picked up his phone, dialing a familiar number. A few moments later he broke the connection and called another number. Several minutes passed with no response and he set the phone back down. "There's no answer at either the loft or his cell phone. Something's wrong."
"Maybe he just got distracted." Megan Connor offered.
"Maybe, but not for this long." Jim turned to Simon. "I'm going to backtrack and see if I can find him."
"Sure Jim. If you find him talking to some pretty girl, pop him once for us." Simon said.
"Will do," Jim put on his jacket, but before he made it to the door, his cell phone rang. "Bet that's him."
"Hello Detective. I told you I'd be in touch." Brackett's voice came over the phone.
"Brackett!" Jim almost yelled in surprise. "Where is my partner?"
"Detective Sandburg is fine for the moment. He's going to be my guest while you run an errand for me."
"What do you want?" Jim growled into the phone, ignoring the shocked looks from his co-workers.
"Just what I explained at our last meeting. There is a laser that I'm interested in. You are going to get it for me. Retrieve the laser and your partner will remain in good health. Refuse and he will suffer."
Jim closed his eyes, his jaw clenched in frustration. "Let me talk to him."
"The laser is being kept at Science Technologies. It's an experimental laser called the HAL2001. It's small enough for one person to carry. Once you have it, I'll contact you on where we'll meet."
"Let me talk to Blair." Jim demanded.
"Do you understand the instructions, Detective?"
"Yes! Now let me talk to Blair." Jim repeated, gripping his cell phone in frustration and worry.
"Good." Silence followed and Jim was afraid that the connection had been broken. Suddenly a weary voice came over the phone.
"Sandburg! Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm okay. Just a bit bruised. I'm sorry, man. My fault."
"Don't worry about that. Just hang in there."
"Jim..." Blair's voice disappeared to be replaced by Brackett's. "As you can hear, he's alive and with me. How you get the laser is up to you and don't tell me you need your Guide. You've progressed a lot since we last met and I think you can do this without Mr. Sandburg's assistance. Good bye."
The connection went dead. Jim stared at the phone, anger, worry and determination building inside of him as he resisted the urge to throw the phone across the room. He looked up to see Simon standing beside his desk, the captain's concern reflected in his features. "Simon, we need to talk."
Jim paced in Simon's office, pausing only to stare out the window that overlooked Cascade before turning to pace more. He ran his hand over his hair in frustration as Simon entered the office and leaned on the corner of the desk.
"Brackett has Blair." Jim stated quietly looking directly at his captain.
"I gathered as much." Simon said. "How's Blair?"
"He's okay. At least he sounds okay. Said it was his fault. Which I know is a load of bull."
"So Brackett wants you to go after his laser?" Simon asked.
Jim looked at him in surprise. "Your hearing getting better these days?"
Simon gave his friend an offended look. "I may be a Captain, but I was a detective long before you were. It didn't take much to guess what he wanted. He wants you to get the laser in exchange for Sandburg. Right?"
"Yes. That's it exactly. It's an experimental laser by Science Technologies. Called the HAL2001. Evidently its creators like the movie." Jim gave a small smile, thinking back to his conversation with Blair several days earlier.
"Jim, the head of security at ST is a good friend of mine. We went to the academy together and were even partners for a while. Do you want me to call him and ask for his help?"
Jim thought about the question. "Brackett said it was up to me how I got the laser. Although I have the feeling that he'd prefer it if I had to break in. Maybe we could bring your friend in on this. Let him know what we need and that it's to help capture a federal criminal."
"It's worth a shot." Simon nodded. "I'll call Joe and see what we can get set up. Worst case is that he says no and you really have to break in. Best case is that he can arrange a loan of the laser. If nothing else we may have to set it up for you to get in and remove the laser without incident."
Jim nodded his agreement. "It'll have to be tonight. Brackett said he'd contact me as to where we'll meet, but I'm not going to waste anytime. He said he'll trade the laser for Blair."
"We'll get him back, Jim." Simon tried to reassure his friend.
"I know. If I know Sandburg, he'll be angry that Brackett was able to take him and use him against us in this. We both thought we were past this happening."
Simon shook his head. "With you two? Anything seems to be possible. Okay, Detective, get back to work. I have a phone call to make and you have work to do."
Saturday Late Night
Washington Scientific Laboratory
Jim stood in the shadows watching the building across the street from the gray building belonging to Washington Scientific Laboratory. He had only been in the building twice when investigating a robbery several years ago. He felt his jaw clench as the thought hit again that he was about to break into the building to steal a laser for Lee Brackett.
He felt in his pocket to make sure the key card was still secure. At least Simon's friend had been willing to help them as much as he could. A former FBI agent, he was more than happy to arrange for Jim to gain access to the laboratory and the laser. In the event that Brackett wanted the laser obtained by theft, Jim had decided to make it look real. He would break into the building and remove the laser, but he did have some help from Simon's friend, Matthew Leah and the CEO of WA Scientific Labs. The key card they had provided would open several of the coded doors without alerting security and Matthew would be taking care of the security tapes the next day.
Jim quietly made his way across the room to where a large metal box sat on a table against the wall. The paperwork lying beside the box confirmed his assumption that the box contained the HAL Laser. He inspected the box and let out a soft moan. There was a combination lock on the box that Leah had forgotten to mention or possibly hadn't known about.
Closing his eyes briefly, the Sentinel thought back to another time he had faced a combination style lock. That time had also involved Brackett wanting to steal a military prototype plane. He let his memories drift back until he heard his Guide's voice speaking to him.
"All right, now Jim, I'd suggest not relying on your ears, but on your fingertips. Just let the tumbler tell your sense of touch what to do."
Jim reached for the lock and slowly began turning the dial. The lock was a basic combination lock so Jim decided to try listening as well, hoping that by using touch and hearing that he wouldn't zone. Also, his hearing would help if the gloves he wore hampered his sense of touch.
As the dial reached the number four, he felt the first tumblers move and heard a click from the lock. Carefully he turned the dial to the left until a soft click signaled another number. He turned the dial back to the right and stopped on sixteen, feeling the tumblers fall away inside the lock and it slid open easily in his hand.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Jim removed the lock and carefully opened the lid. Nestled inside the box was a simple looking device that had to be the sought after laser. The box was too large to carry or to fit in the gym bag, so he lifted the piece of equipment out of the foam lined box and set it in the gym bag he'd set on the table. He wrapped a couple of towels around the laser to protect it while being carried. Finally, he closed the lid to the box and reset the lock. Taking a quick look around he left the room and made his way downstairs to the freight entrance. Carefully securing the door behind him to make things look undisturbed, the Sentinel kept to the shadows as he left the property and didn't pause until he was a couple of blocks away from the laboratory building.
His hearing turned up, Jim heard the footsteps long before he heard the voice. "Very good, Detective Ellison. I knew you wouldn't have any problems," Brackett said.
"What are you doing here, Brackett?" Jim asked, his grip tightening on the straps to the bag he carried. He moved a step closer to the former agent anger flooding through him.
"Watching a professional at work." Brackett answered easily. Pushing away from the wall he had been leaning against, he moved forward to face the angry detective. "Don't get any ideas about taking me out now. You do and you'll never find your partner."
"Does this mean you're ready to trade?" Jim asked, ignoring the remark.
"Not yet. I have to admit that I was curious to see if you'd really pull off the job." Brackett said, stepping away. "I wanted to see just how far you'd go to protect Mr. Sandburg. It was interesting to see how well you could use those special talents of yours without his help."
"Why me?" Jim asked. "Why pick me for this? You could have gotten in there and taken the laser yourself."
"As a precaution. If you had tripped an alarm, I knew you could talk your way out of it. True, I wouldn't have the laser, but I have backup plans. Besides," Brackett smiled easily. "I knew you wouldn't trip an alarm. Not with your senses. Even in prison I've kept an eye on your career since we last met. You've made incredible progress with Mr. Sandburg."
Jim glared at the man in front of him, wishing he could simply punch Brackett and be done with the whole mess. "Okay, I've got the laser, where's Blair?"
"Not so fast, Detective." Brackett raised a hand that held a gun to silence the detective. "All in good time. The trade will be made tonight, during the New Year's party at the Cascade Convention Center. I'll contact you there."
"What?" Jim almost yelled. "Brackett, if this is some trick, I'll take you into custody now and you will tell me where my partner is."
Brackett continued to smile easily, despite the Sentinel's threats. "I don't think so. You take me; you'll never find Detective Sandburg. The trade will take place during the party, that's where my buyer will be.
"Brackett..." Jim moved towards the former CIA agent.
"Later, Detective." Brackett fired, a small dart embedding itself in Jim's shoulder. "I'll be talking to you later. Please excuse the dart, but I don't need you following."
Jim stumbled and fell to his knees. He flashed a murderous glare at Brackett, unable to focus to speak.
"I've called Captain Banks, he's on his way and will find you here. I'll be long gone and you won't be able to track me." With that, Brackett turned and ran down the alley away from Jim and the laboratory building. The last thing Jim heard were sirens, followed by Simon's voice calling out to him.
Tech-Pro's New Year's Eve Party
The Tech-Pros New Year's party was in full swing around him, but Jim Ellison wasn't paying attention to the actual party. He was using his senses in hopes of finding some trace of Lee Brackett or Blair.
Simon Banks walked up to Jim. "We're all set. If Brackett is here, we'll get him at your call. We cannot let him get out of the building with the laser."
"There's been no sign of him or Sandburg." Jim reported. "I've been making sweeps of this floor and the one above. But without Blair to help, I'm hesitant to try more than that."
"Jim, when he contacts you, let us go ahead and take him. If Brackett has the chip and the laser we can't risk letting him get away."
"And I can't risk him harming Sandburg." Jim countered. "Blair may not even be in the building. I need Brackett to tell me where he is. If we take him too soon, he may not."
"Jim..." Simon started to argue.
Jim's cell phone buzzed softly and he held up a hand to silence Simon.
"Ditch Banks, retrieve the merchandise, and join us on the top floor. There's a lovely view tonight."
"Brackett!" Jim growled and glared at the phone as the connection went dead. "Damn. He's here and can see us, maybe even hear us. Although if he's hooked into the security cameras he probably can't hear us through the noise in the room."
"If you know where he is, let's move in and take him now." Simon tried again.
"I'm not going to risk Sandburg. Besides, if anyone is working with Brackett he or she might show up as well." The sentinel made another sensory scan of the room, wincing slightly at the too loud noises and a whiff of someone's too sweet perfume. Finding nothing to show that Brackett had tampered with the party area, Jim headed out of the ballroom.
He stopped at a small supply cabinet long enough to reach in and pull out a large gym bag. He unzipped the bag enough to make sure the laser was still inside where he had left it earlier. Closing the gym bag and hoping that Blair didn't hit him later for using his brand new bag, Jim walked swiftly down the corridor to the elevators.
A few moments later, Jim exited the elevator onto the top level of the convention center. He looked around the darkened room, looking for any sign of the agent or Blair.
Brackett stepped out of the shadows. "Good evening, Detective. It's nice up here tonight, isn't it?" The former agent called out.
"Where's Sandburg?" Jim responded. Now that he was away from the noise of the celebration, he could easily hear that there were three people on the top floor. His partner had to be nearby.
"Impatient, aren't we?" Brackett asked, his tone mocking. "Or don't you trust me?"
"Brackett." The Sentinel growled, letting his hatred of the man who dared threaten his Guide show in his voice. He moved forward, stopping only when the rogue agent held up a hand wrapped around a gun.
"That's far enough." Brackett became all business, as though oblivious to Jim's implied threat. "You have what I want?"
Jim took a deep breath, willing himself to calm down in order to complete his task. Carefully he set the gym bag on the floor between him and Brackett, moving back a step. "It's in there."
"Very good. Very good indeed." Brackett smiled. "No problems, I assume, since you are here and not in jail for breaking and entering. No ill effects from the drug? I tried to use something that wouldn't have an adverse effect on your senses."
"Your concern is touching. Just what are you planning on doing with that thing?" Jim asked. As he tried to keep Brackett talking, he searched for his partner, focusing on Blair's heartbeat and breathing.
"Purely business. I have a buyer lined up that will pay me enough to get out of the country for a while." Brackett stepped towards the bag. "And a business partner who has been quite generous by arranging my release from prison. Now if you'll back up Detective."
"Where's my partner?" Jim demanded.
"You mean you haven't already found him?" Brackett asked, giving Jim a surprised look. "Or maybe you just want to downplay those senses of your's. Must get awfully tiring trying to pretend they don't exist."
The former agent moved backwards, stopping at a small door with a lettered plate reading Cleaning. Keeping his eyes and gun trained on Jim, he reached out and opened the door. With a swift movement, he yanked a bound and gagged Blair Sandburg from the closet. Blair stumbled a bit at the sudden movement, Brackett's tight grip on his arm keeping him upright.
Jim turned his senses on his partner, quickly seeing that Blair was unharmed and not missing the anger that flashed in the dark blue eyes. The young man was furious at being used against Jim.
Brackett pulled Blair forward until they stood opposite of Jim with the gym bag between them. Releasing Blair, he trained his gun on the young man before reaching for the gym bag.
In the brief moment that Brackett's attention was on the bag, Blair threw a look at his partner then lunged sideways, throwing himself into Brackett, both men falling to the floor. Jim dove forward, kicking Brackett's gun away as the former agent struggled to shove Blair off of him. Getting a grip on Brackett's arm, he pulled the man up allowing Blair to roll into a sitting position.
"Are you okay, Chief?" Jim asked, mentally kicking himself as he realized that Blair was still gagged and couldn't answer.
"He's fine for now." A new voice answered. "If he stays that way pretty much depends on you."
All three men looked around quickly to see Charles Alderman, the president of Tech-Pros, standing in the doorway with Brackett's lost gun in his hand, trained on them.
"My business associate seems reluctant to kill you and Detective Sandburg, but I assure you that I have no such reservations." Alderman calmly told Jim. "Now release Mr. Brackett and step away from him."
Jim stared at the businessman. "I suggest you put the gun down. The police will be up here any minute."
Alderman pointed the gun at Blair's head. "Move away, Detective. Or he dies right now."
Pure hatred flashed across Jim's face as he looked at the man threatening his Guide. Not seeing an immediate way out, he released his hold on Brackett, but only moved away a step, towards Blair.
"Easy, Detective." Alderman warned.
"I just want to help my partner up off the floor." Reaching down, Jim gently pulled Blair up to stand beside him, steadying him as the younger man's hands were still cuffed behind his back. He reached for the gag and loosened it quickly before Alderman could stop him.
"Thanks, man." Blair whispered, wincing at the stiffness in his jaw from being gagged.
Glaring at the two detectives, the businessman glanced at Brackett who had moved to stand beside him. "Did he bring it?"
Brackett unzipped the gym bag and looked inside. "It's right here. All in one piece."
"Good. I've got the chip right here."
"You've got the chip?" Blair burst out, his voice raspy.
"I've had it all along. The chip you saw in the case was a decoy in case Mr. Brackett had problems getting it." Alderman smiled. "Either way I was sure to have the chip and all I needed was the laser. Through certain contacts I heard of Mr. Brackett here and contacted him about obtaining his release on the condition that he helped me get the laser to go with the chip."
"What are you going to do with it, now that you have it?" Jim asked, carefully watching Alderman and Brackett.
Alderman took the bag from Brackett and settled the strap over his shoulder. "There are some parties who are very interested in this device. With the chip, the power of the laser is increased significantly. The laser beam can reach further and with more accuracy than the technology in use currently."
"A perfect weapon." Jim muttered.
"Yes, worth several million dollars." Alderman pulled another gun from his coat and handed it to Brackett. "Now all we have left is to do something about the two of you."
"You go on, Alderman, I'll take care of them." Brackett said, taking the gun and covering the partners.
"Yes. Just make sure my payment is deposited. This completes our business. It has been a pleasure." Brackett said.
Alderman nodded and headed for the door leading to the stairs. Watching the man walk away, Jim tensed listening for any sign of Simon in the hallway. He wasn't surprised to hear the police captain waiting in the stairway, one floor down. His attention was then pulled back to Brackett as the former agent stepped close.
"Now, Detective Ellison. Detective Sandburg. It's time for us to say goodbye." He motioned towards the closet where he had kept Blair. "Mr. Sandburg, please step over there."
"What if I don't?" Blair asked defiantly.
"I'll shoot you and your partner and put you in there myself. Admittedly, Alderman was right; I really don't want to have to kill you. Both you and Ellison are valuable resources." Brackett said.
"Go on, Blair." Jim said quietly, watching his partner and Brackett intently.
"It's okay," Jim assured him. With a shake of his head, Blair moved away from his partner but didn't step into the closet.
"Now Detective." Brackett said. "I'll need your handcuffs."
Without a response, Jim slowly reached behind him to pull his handcuffs from under his jacket. He reached out to hand them to Brackett, shifting at the last second to grab Brackett's arm, yanking the other man off balance. The gun went off as Jim swung his other hand around to punch Brackett in the shoulder, forcing him to drop the gun.
The two men went down, scuffling for the gun. Blair stepped as close as he dared, frustrated at the useless feeling that flashed through him. He caught sight of Brackett's gun and kicked it out of reach of the men. Suddenly, Jim got the upper hand and landed a blow to Brackett's jaw. The agent went still, dazed from the punch.
"Cascade Police! Freeze!" Simon Banks' voice rang out in the room.
Jim sighed, relief evident on his face, as he relaxed slightly, watching the police captain walking towards him, detectives and uniformed officers ran into the room. Several officers handcuffed Brackett and led him away.
"We got Alderman as he was going down the stairs." Simon told Jim. "Was he Brackett's partner in this whole scheme?"
"Evidently," Jim answered, his attention on his partner, checking him out for injuries. "From what little Brackett told us, Alderman is responsible for getting him out of prison and since Alderman left with the laser and the chip, he must be the contact with their buyer."
"An Agent McFarland from the FBI called this afternoon to inform me that he and another agent would be arriving to take custody of Brackett tomorrow. Let's hope he has better luck keeping track of Brackett." Simon said, turning to look at Blair. "Blair, are you okay?"
Blair stood patiently as Jim unlocked the handcuffs binding him. He slowly brought his hands around and gingerly rubbed the reddened wrists. "I'm fine, Simon." At Jim's concentrated look he added, "Honest! I'm fine. He didn't do anything to harm me, just kept me restrained.
"Thanks Jim." He added quietly. "And I'm sorry."
"What are you sorry for?"
"For letting Brackett take me. He jumped me as I was leaving the loft and I never knew he was there until it was too late. I guess I was a bit distracted."
The two men began to walk towards the elevator, following their captain.
"Distracted? Do we have a new neighbor?"
"Jim!" Blair protested. "No we don't have a new neighbor." The younger man imitated his partner's teasing tone. "But I was distracted by a woman."
"Hah! I knew it! Who is she?" Jim laughed.
"My mom. I got a letter from her and was reading it as I walked to my car. She wishes us both a Happy New Year."
Just then, their attention was drawn to sounds of celebration coming from the floors below them as well as the streets, as the city of Cascade welcomed in a new year.
"Happy New Year, Simon!" Both men called out, laughing at the good-natured grumbling that came from the man in front of them.
"Hey Jim, was that a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I saw on the table the other day?"
"Yes. Thought we'd watch it to ring in the New Year."
"Sounds good to me, man. I'll make the popcorn and you can get the beer. Deal?"
"Happy 2001, Jim."
"Happy New Year, Blair."
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