Production No. BPP-613

written by:

edited by: Elizabeth Knauel, Shelley Knepley and Deborah

Monday Morning, bullpen


Everyone in the bullpen stared aghast at Blair Sandburg as he slammed down the phone and stalked out of the office. Across the room, Jim had been talking with Joel and hadn't realized Blair was on phone, much less the subject of the conversation that had upset his partner so much. Ignoring the questions directed at him by his fellow officers, he quickly followed Sandburg into the break room. He closed the door behind him, giving them some limited privacy.

Blair was pacing while muttering under his breath so rapidly Jim couldn't understand a word he was saying.

"Chief, what's got you so fired up? Who were you talking to?"

"That was the hospital. Monica Andrew died an hour ago."

Jim closed his eyes and shook his head. He and Blair had been the first officers on the scene. "I thought they'd gotten her to the hospital in time."

"They didn't. You know, I'm getting sick and tired of watching these kids die, Jim."

There was a new pipeline of cocaine flowing in the city of Cascade. This time, those being targeted were high school students. The manufacturing process had very low quality control, or maybe Rothchild just didn't care that his customers were dying. So far there had been over fifteen reported cases of overdoses in the past several months. Monica was the most recent victim. Three days ago, during a party, her friends had found her lying on the bathroom floor.

"I'm sorry, Chief. I know how hard this case has been for you." Blair had begun his own war on drugs after his exposure to Golden. He often volunteered to speak to school kids about the horrors of drugs. He was a very popular speaker with the kids and one of the few officers who enjoyed the duty.

"She was going to graduate in May as Valedictorian. Now, instead of watching her graduate, her parents have to arrange her funeral. Rothchild's the one who we ought to be burying. Doesn't he realize that if he keeps killing his customers, he's gonna be out of business?" Blair asked angrily, slamming his hand against the vending machine. "There're five kids dead and one still in a coma with no hope of recovery. How many more are going to die before we stop this guy?"

"No more, Chief. These deaths stop now. We're going to put an end to this guy's business today." Jim stood silently for a moment, watching his partner pace back and forth in front of the vending machines, obviously still very agitated. "Hang on and keep it together for a few more hours, buddy."

Blair continued to pace and mutter, Jim's words washing over him without comprehension. Jim tried again to calm his friend. "If Simon sees you acting like this, he's not going to let you take part in the bust."

When the first three overdoses occurred two months ago, the Mayor, demanding immediate action, had the case reassigned from Narcotics to Major Crimes. For once he had also provided the necessary support by opening up the city coffers for additional funding for anything Major Crimes needed to arrest the group.

Six weeks ago, the case had broken wide open when several of the victims who had recovered from their experience with the drug had all admitted purchasing it from the same dealer. The man had set up for business under the bleachers of the Cascade High School football field. Over time, he had grown overconfident and sloppy. It was an easy arrest for Major Crimes.

To avoid spending the rest of his life in prison, the dealer had agreed to cooperate with the DA and the police. With a couple of brief phone calls and two rounds of emails, he had introduced Jim and Blair to his source.

The cover story they arranged was that they were dealers who were capable of moving large amounts of the drug all along the West Coast. Over the past several weeks, they made several major buys with additional funds provided by the Mayor. The Mayor and the Chief were in favor of this tactic. Every pound of cocaine that Major Crimes got off the streets of Cascade made it less likely to wind up in the hands of kids.

So far they had identified four members of the group after Rafe and Brown photographed them at the drops. Each time they made another purchase, they increased the volume of the sale. It had been a month's worth of hard work convincing Rothchild, the group's ringleader that they could be trusted, but they had finally succeeded. Now they were ready to move in. Ellison had requested a buy so big that Rothchild was handling it personally.

Blair paused mid-stride in the center of the room as Jim's words of warning sank in. "Simon can't pull me off this now. After that little tour we took, they're gonna be suspicious if both of us don't show for the final buy."

"Simon wouldn't hesitate to pull you off if he thinks your head isn't in the game."

Blair wanted to argue, but he recognized Jim was right. If he couldn't get a grip on his emotions, he was a danger to both himself, and more importantly, to his Sentinel out in the field.

Before turning over the large sum of money demanded by the dealers, Jim had requested the opportunity to view the lab. His argument was that they needed to be sure that they were capable of making the quantity of drugs promised.

Sandburg and Ellison had finally been able to view the manufacturing operation two days ago. The drug lab was located in a warehouse down by the docks. Most of the area was abandoned and Rothchild had moved his operation into a former chemical laboratory facility. During their tour, Jim had concentrated on identifying access points and the general layout while Blair distracted their tour guide.

Blair was right about his presence being necessary at this final buy. Rothchild was an elusive drug lord. This was the closest any agency had gotten to arresting him.

"The final briefing's going to start in five minutes. Put your poker face on. Simon will understand your being upset about Monica's death, but he'll be watching to make sure you've got this in perspective and are focused on the case."

"I've got it under control now, Jim. Don't worry."

Jim lightly cuffed Blair on the back of the head. "Chief, we're partners. It's my job to worry."

"Just promise me I'll be the one that gets to put the cuffs on Rothchild."

"That I can do, if Rothchild actually shows."

This buy was going to be the first face-to-face meeting with the group's leader. All previous contact with Rothchild had been via the Internet or with his men. This particular drug dealer was extremely paranoid about being seen. Neither the FBI nor the DEA had a picture of the man, just the name. Until now they weren't positive the man really existed.

Now that Major Crimes knew the location of the manufacturing site, they had come up with a plan to take the group out of action. The final meet was to occur in two hours. The DEA and the FBI had been notified of their intentions. They had just received an acknowledgement from both groups.

Neither group was interested in pursuing this case. The FBI didn't believe it was in their jurisdiction because the operation appeared to be confined to Cascade. The DEA didn't believe that Major Crimes had correctly identified the group that was distributing the drugs. They had their own files on the operation that they had shared once Major Crimes had identified the people involved. According to their files, this outfit was too small to be capable of producing the amount of drugs flooding the streets. They didn't believe this was Rothchild's operation and had declined to become involved.

"Okay, we should head for the conference room. We don't want to walk in late for this meeting," Jim suggested.

Blair took a deep breath and sighed. He straightened his shoulders and reached for the door. "I'm ready."

Jim and Blair were almost the last to arrive. Everyone from Major Crimes was already present. In addition, they had requested extra personnel from Narcotics and Patrol. The room was crowded and noisy with all the additional officers.

Simon was the last to enter the briefing room. "All right people, settle down. The final clearances were just faxed in, so we are ready to move. Let's get this group off the streets before any more kids die," Simon announced. His gaze moved around the room, studying the officers present and confirming their attention was focused on the briefing.

"Ellison and Sandburg will be going in alone. The rest of us will establish a perimeter one block out. We'll wait ten minutes before moving into place at the warehouse exits, just in case they have lookouts. After a second period of ten minutes, we'll move inside. Jim, what's the layout of the warehouse?"

Jim moved to the board showing the floor plan of the warehouse. "We only saw three entrances that need to be covered. There is this door in the back which enters directly into the office area."

Jim pointed to the various access points as he discussed the plan. "There's a second door over by the loading docks on the west side of the building. The main entrance is here on the north side. That's the entrance they're expecting Sandburg and me to use. They've boarded up all the ground level windows. There's no way into the building other than these three doors."

Captain Banks nodded. "Connor, Taggart, you two take the office entrance. Rafe and Brown, the two of you need to cover the loading docks. I'll be out front with Detectives Burns and Carson from Narcotics."

Simon paused for a moment, reconsidering one aspect of the plan. "Ellison, are you sure about not wearing a wire? I don't like the idea of the two of you going in there alone. You and Sandburg aren't going to have any immediate backup if things go wrong."

"We're sure, Captain. Each time we've met with these guys, they've checked us for wires. Besides being extremely paranoid, these guys are pretty high-tech. I'm sure they're capable of detecting any taps or other tracers."

Blair nodded his agreement with his partner's assessment.

Jim continued, "Give us twenty minutes to get inside and get the deal completed before moving in. That should give us enough time to get the evidence we need to convict these guys."

"I don't like it, but we don't appear to have another option. Street patrol will have the area cordoned off with a one-block perimeter from our position. Sandburg, we borrowed this briefcase from the Feds. Outwardly it will appear that the case is cuffed to your wrist, but actually there is a quick release latch right here."

Simon demonstrated the mechanism, flipping open the case and revealing the contents as he continued to speak. "If things heat up, you'll be able to get your hands freed up without having to fumble around with a key. There's two hundred thousand dollars of the city's money in here. They are expecting it back, all of it. In other words, Sandburg, if you lose this case, we'll be docking your pay for the next several years. Clear?"

"I'll be careful with it, sir. Recently I've learned to appreciate the value of getting a regular paycheck," Blair responded offhandedly as he examined the briefcase. He tested the latch release several times before meeting Simon's stare with a quirky grin. His earlier anger was completely hidden.

"Good. Are there any questions?" Simon looked around the room. When no one said anything, he continued, "All right, let's move out. Ellison, Sandburg, wait a minute."

Simon waited until the room had cleared out before turning a stern glare on his newest detective. "About your earlier outburst in the bullpen..."

"...Monica Andrew died a few hours ago, Captain," Jim interrupted.

Simon's expression softened at Jim's explanation. He knew Sandburg had done most of the interviewing of Ms. Andrew's family and friends. Sandburg had a gift for making the victim's family feel comfortable while at the same time collecting the necessary background information.

Blair explained further, "One week, Captain. If we had moved in last week, she wouldn't have died."

"If we had moved in earlier, we wouldn't have an opportunity to arrest Rothchild. He would have been free to peddle his tainted product in another city. We wouldn't be working the case, but the death toll would continue to rise. Someone needs to put Rothchild away, and this is the best opportunity any enforcement agency has had."

Blair rubbed his temples with one hand. "I realize that. It was just that her death was so pointless. She had such potential."

"We'll make sure Rothchild never hurts another kid, Sandburg. Sometimes that's all a cop can do."

Blair nodded. There was nothing else he could say.

Simon studied his face, looking for any indication that this was affecting Blair's performance. Satisfied, he said, "Watch your backs. This guy's very slippery. No one who's ever met this man has walked away to tell the tale."

Monday Noon, Cascade Warehouse District

Jim turned off the truck engine and pulled his keys out of the ignition. Sandburg was fidgeting nervously in the seat beside him. "Are you ready, Chief?"

"Yeah, as ready as I'll ever be," Blair answered shakily.

Jim nodded at his partner, then opened the truck door and climbed out. "Grab the case and let's go. We've only got twenty minutes until the fireworks start.

Blair fastened the briefcase to his wrist before exiting the truck. He quickly caught up with Jim who was already heading for the warehouse. This entrance to the warehouse was accessible by a slightly vertically inclined ramp. Side by side, they entered the building. They walked forward slowly, allowing both Sentinel and normal vision to adjust from the bright sunshine to the dark and gloom inside the warehouse. As they moved towards the center of the building, Jim felt unseen eyes upon them. Someone was watching them from the shadows.

Jim was the first to see the four men standing by the office portion of the building. As each group moved towards the other, Jim instinctively moved in front of Blair, shielding him from the view of the men. He slowed his pace; his instincts were screaming that something was wrong. He fought the urge to leave the warehouse immediately. They had worked too hard for this bust to back out now. Too many lives were at risk if this group continued to sell the tainted cocaine.

Blair peered around his partner's larger frame and studied the men approaching them. He recognized only two of them from the briefing photos. He noticed that two of the men were wearing long coats too heavy for the unusually warm temperature that Cascade was enjoying this week, not to mention the fact that the building was well-heated. Blair noted several conspicuous bulges beneath the coats. Dropping back to move directly behind his partner, he whispered Sentinel soft, "We're missing two people. Jim, can you tell if they're in the building."

Jim nodded. He too had noticed the missing members and was now pretty sure had been watching them as they had entered.

The two groups moved until they were standing ten feet apart. Both groups were staring suspiciously at the other. Discreetly, Jim turned up both his sight and his hearing, searching for the exact location of the two missing gang members. During the scan he noticed the side door had been padlocked. He could feel his adrenaline start to rush. There was only one reason he could think of to padlock a door on the inside and it wasn't a good thing for him and Blair.

He continued his attempt to locate the missing thugs using his senses. He heard the sound of footsteps moving around to the left and slightly behind them. Damn it, the deal had been a set-up. They were trying to lay down a crossfire. Rothchild was planning on killing them, which would allow him to keep the drugs, take the money, and keep his identity a mystery to everyone outside his little group of henchmen. The only question now was whose ambush was going to be sprung first.

Jim mentally reviewed their options. They needed to stall for time. If he was correct and Rothchild had no intention of following through on the deal, they needed to give their team more time to get into position. The layout of the warehouse left only one viable option.

"Which one of you is Rothchild?" Jim asked gruffly as he nudged Blair to move to their right.

One of the two unknown men nodded and stepped forward. "I am. Let's get down to business. Did you bring the money?"

"The money's here. Where's the stuff?" Blair asked, glancing sideways at his partner who was again directing them to move to the right. Trying to figure out what Jim was doing, Blair saw there were several stacks of crates loaded onto carts and dollies. Then it hit him; Jim was trying to maneuver them towards cover. It wasn't much cover, but it was better than standing in the open. Something was very wrong here. Jim must have located the two missing men and he wasn't happy about where they were.

"Back in the office. Let's see the cash first," Rothchild ordered, gesturing for the briefcase.

Blair held up a briefcase, then showed them the cuffs that were attached to the case and his wrist. "No way. We do this at the same time. We want to check out the merchandise, for purity." He plastered the stoic expression that normally graced his partner's face upon his own. He was determined to show no signs of fear despite his growing apprehension. "I'm sure you understand our position. This is a lot of cash to put up front."

"I don't think so," replied the second unknown man as he pulled out his gun. "Hand over the money and we'll let the two of you walk out of here. You'll be much poorer, but at least you'll be alive."

"A double cross?" Jim laughed confidently. "You really don't know who you're dealing with. You're right about our walking out of here, but we're leaving with the money. There are plenty of others who want to do business with us. You're not the only game in town."

Jim tilted his head towards the closest exit, which was the side door. He knew they couldn't get out that way, but it was the direction they would be expected to take and it was the closest area that would offer some protection when the shooting started.

Rothchild smiled. "There's no way out of this building for you unless we allow you to leave. We have the exits either blocked or covered. Let's not make this difficult, just hand over the money," he demanded as he raised his own weapon.

"No way. If it's a fight you want, you got it," Jim responded as they moved closer to both the side door and cover.

The man they hadn't identified was the first to fire. There were additional shots fired from behind them. Jim and Blair dove for cover as the bullets started bouncing off the machinery all around them. Some of the bullets were ricocheting in the direction of Rothchild and his group, forcing them to take cover behind several large drums.

Jim ducked behind several large stacks of boxes sitting on top of a conveyor line. He could see Blair a few feet away, hiding behind some heavy machinery removing the briefcase from his wrist. Jim pulled out his 9mm and fired a quick couple of shots in the direction of Rothchild, quickly ducking back down before they returned fire.

"Chief, they weren't lying about having the entrances blocked. I saw the padlock on the side door. The other two are covering the way we came in. They're going to catch us in a crossfire," Jim called out.

"I'll take those guys; you keep the goons with Rothchild pinned down," Blair yelled back as he fired several rounds in rapid succession at the men coming up behind them.

"Use your ammo sparingly. We don't need to take them out. We just need to keep them from advancing on us until the Calvary arrives. It's going to take them an extra few minutes to break down those doors."

The two goons who had been circling behind them were now in position. As Blair snapped off a couple of rounds in their direction, they returned fire with automatic weapons. Sparks flew all around Blair as bullets rebounded off the machinery that was shielding him.

"I thought the DEA report said these guys didn't have automatic weapons," Blair yelled angrily as he dropped to the floor.

"Since when do the Feds ever get a story right?" Jim yelled back.

Several more rounds were exchanged. Jim and Blair took turns playing a deadly game of jack- in-the-box, popping up just long enough to squeeze off a few rounds to keep the enemy pinned down, but getting back down fast enough to avoid the returned fire. They alternated in both direction and number of shots fired, trying to remain unpredictable. Blair observed Rothchild trying to circle around and flank them. He raised his weapon to fire, but the gun clicked instead of firing. He pulled the empty magazine from the gun.

"Jim! Watch Rothchild, he's moving to your right. I need to reload." Blair dug into his pocked for his last magazine. "The Calvary better get here soon. I'm NOT in the mood to re-enact the battle of the Alamo," he muttered, flinching from the rounds being fired from behind him as he fumbled for the ammunition.

Jim was distracted by a chemical odor that was growing stronger with each passing minute. It smelled like paint thinner, but there was no reason that would be present in the building. He fired a few more rounds in the direction of Rothchild. Shots were returned from behind him, showering both himself and Blair with sparks. Without warning there was a brilliant flash, immediately followed by a shock wave. Blair, who was still in the process of reloading, was thrown to the floor by the force of the explosion. The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was the stack of crates that had been protecting his partner falling and knocking him to the floor.

Simon was standing by the driver's side window of Joel's car. He had driven to the scene with the two detectives from Narcotics. Burns didn't allow smoking in his car, so Simon was forced outside to smoke his cigars. He hated waiting, standing on the sidelines unable to act while his men were in a dangerous situation. Simon had a bad feeling about this arrest, which was increasing with each passing moment.

Henri and Rafe were parked right behind them. He watched as the Patrol Sergeant on duty established the perimeter to keep curious citizens from wandering into the area. "Time?" Simon asked as he took a long drag on his cigar.

"It's only been seven minutes, sir," Megan answered from the passenger seat, checking her watch.

"I have a really bad feeling about this. We're too far away if something goes wrong," Joel whispered under his breath. Simon flinched upon hearing his own thoughts echoing from a fellow police captain.

Suddenly, the sound of gunfire reverberated all around them. Simon ran back to Burn's car yelling, "Move in now." As they got closer to the warehouse, Simon identified the unique sound of automatic gunfire. Ellison and Sandburg were probably both outnumbered and facing more powerful weapons. This situation can't possibly get any worse, he thought, as they pulled up in front of the building and got out of the car.

Just as he started to head for the entrance, the warehouse exploded, shooting a ball of flames up into the sky. Simon started to run towards the doorway again, but Joel grabbed his arm. Simon hadn't even noticed the arrival of the rest of Major Crimes.

"Simon, you can't go in there unprotected! It's too hot," Joel yelled forcefully over the roaring flames engulfing the building.

"Oh my God!" Megan cried as she took in the devastation from the initial explosion.

Simon stared horrified at the entrance to the warehouse, hoping desperately that Jim and Blair would miraculously appear. "Joel, radio this in to dispatch. Get the fire department out here now."

Everyone in the parking lot heard a series of small explosions as the fire increased in strength and started to spread. They were forced to fall back from the heat and smoke billowing from the building.

Rafe quietly asked Henri, "Do you think Jim and Blair could have survived that explosion?"

"If anyone could, it's the two of them," Henri responded, unable to turn away from the burning building.

Blair opened his eyes. His ears were ringing from the explosion. He moaned as he sat up and looked around. He blinked several times, trying to clear his vision. He realized that he was alone. His mind started to race with several disconcerting thoughts. Jim has to be hurt. If he were all right, he would have been leaning over me asking if I was okay. But where is he and how badly is he hurt?

It was difficult to see through the thick, black smoke from the fire. Blair crawled to the place where he last remembered seeing Jim. The shock wave from the explosion had knocked down the crates that Jim had taken cover behind. He pushed aside several crates before he reached down to feel a warm but still body.

Jim was pinned beneath a large crate that had fallen down on top of his legs. He was lying on his side facing away from Blair. Moving the crate off Jim's legs, Blair frantically called out, "Jim! You awake? We really need to get out of here. It would be nice if you were able to move or if I knew for sure it was okay to move you."

There was no answer. He cleared the rest of the crates from the area around his partner. Blair didn't see blood anywhere, but there was a large bruise and lump forming on the right side of Jim's head.

"Jim? You with me yet? We need to move and it would be really nice to know that you aren't seriously hurt here, buddy."

There was still no response from Jim, not even a moan. Blair continued to quickly check him over for other injuries. The fire was getting closer and the smoke much thicker. At least Jim was breathing on his own. It was very shallow, but the rate was okay and his pulse was steady.

"We gotta go, Jim," Blair said hoarsely, the increasing smoke making it difficult to breathe. He started to pull Jim into a fireman's carry before noticing that the fire had spread to block their only exit.

"We're not going to be able to get out this way. Hold on, Jim. I need to find some other way to get us out of here." The heat and smoke surrounded him making it almost impossible to see. He wished he had Jim's eyesight right now. Actually, Jim using his own eyes would be even better.

Blair looked around for something he could use for protection from the flames long enough for them to reach the door where they had come in. The door was open. He could see daylight. He spotted a flatbed hand truck which looked big enough for an injured Sentinel to rest on. "Got it, Jim. I think I just found us a ride," he said, patting Jim's shoulder and hoping for a response.

Coughing heavily now, his eyes watering from the smoke and the effort required for breathing, Blair crawled over to the dolly. When he put his hands on the handle, he screamed at the intense pain shooting up from his hands through his forearms. The bed of the cart was synthetic, but the metal handle had been close enough to the flames to heat up, causing him to burn both his hands. Using his jacket to protect his hands, Blair slowly rolled the cart into position next to Jim. He carefully lifted Jim's upper body onto the dolly, supporting his neck in the event of spinal injury. "Sheesh, Jim. No more Wonderburger for you." Jim's feet hung over the end, but they weren't touching the floor. Blair arranged the hand truck so that it was a straight downhill path to the parking lot. The smoke was blinding and it was almost impossible to breathe. Blair realized that he was losing the battle to remain conscious.

"It's now or never, so I guess now is better than never. Man, I haven't been tobogganing in years. At least the door's open and the doorway's wide, which is good because there's no way to steer this thing. I don't think we'll run into anything. We should be going fast enough to get through the flames and get out without being burned. Yeah, I know. Quit babbling, Sandburg, and move. Even when you're unconscious, I can hear you yelling at me in my head."

Blair gingerly laid down on top of Jim as he used the last of his strength to push off in the direction of the door. He covered their heads with his jacket to protect them from the fire. He felt the searing heat as they moved through the flames, picking up speed as they traveled down the incline to safety.

Simon was talking to the Fire Chief, who had just arrived, when the cart rolled out of the building and crashed into the retaining wall surrounding the loading dock. Simon and every other officer present immediately pulled their weapons and trained them on the two figures on the cart.

One of the men climbed off the cart and staggered a few steps to the railing. The man's face was covered with soot, making him completely unrecognizable to those in the parking lot. The standoff continued until the silence was broken when Joel, recognizing Sandburg's clothes, yelled, "Hold your fire and someone get the paramedics, it's Ellison and Sandburg!"

Joel reached the two men first, with Simon close behind. He caught Blair just as his knees gave way and he started to fall. Blair tried to speak, but no sound came out.

"Take it easy, Blair. We've got you now," Joel said as he lowered Blair gently to a seated position on the ground.

Joel held on as Blair struggled to move back to Jim. "Simon is looking after Jim, so you just take it easy for a minute." He positioned them so that Blair was propped against him, but so that they could both see Simon and Jim. Joel knew Blair would not relax unless he could see for himself that his partner was being looked after.

Simon was checking on Jim, who was finally starting to stir. Pale blue eyes opened briefly, then closed due to the bright light. "Where's Blair? I can't hear him. My ears are ringing," he asked, moving his hand up to shade his eyes before re-opening them.

"He's right here, Jim. You're both okay now."

Simon looked over at Blair, who still couldn't speak but was clearly trying to soothe his partner. Simon realized Blair was mouthing the words 'dial' and 'down'. "He's okay, Sandburg. Actually, he looks and sounds a lot better than you do."

Blair shook his head weakly, disagreeing with Simon. Then he started to cough. As Simon watched, Blair struggled to breathe. Unable to draw enough air, Blair's eyes rolled back in his head and he lost consciousness.

Jim had pulled away from Simon, rolling over on his side and tried to focus on his injured partner. He waved for Simon to help Joel with his partner even though his senses, mostly sound and touch, were spiking. It was a fight to keep them under control. Everything either sounded muffled or was extremely loud. His hands felt as if they were wrapped in cotton.

Joel removed his jacket and put it under Blair's head. Working together, Simon and Joel made Blair as comfortable as possible on the pavement "God, check out his hands," Simon said sadly.

Blair's hands were black and red from the soot and burns.

Before Simon could yell again, two teams of paramedics and their equipment quickly replaced him and Joel. He watched as both his men were put on oxygen and quickly settled on the gurneys and secured for transport to Cascade General. They were loaded into the waiting ambulance. Sirens and lights going, he could only watch helplessly as the ambulance disappeared out of sight.

He glanced back at the warehouse, which continued to burn out of control. The hospital would have to wait. He had to assume command of the scene. The Chief would require explanations as soon as word of this spread. He needed to have answers ready about what went wrong.

Monday Afternoon, DEA Regional Headquarters

Assistant Director Black filled his coffee cup and sat down at his desk. He started to sort through the large stack of papers in his in-box. He had desperately needed the two-week vacation he had just taken. Being an Assistant Director for the DEA West Coast Operations was a stressed-filled job. He dreaded the pile of work which had accumulated during his absence.

The first piece of paper he picked up was a copy of a notification from the Cascade Police Department detailing plans to raid a warehouse. He choked on the coffee as he read the location of Rothchild's operation. How could this have happened? He had been so confident that before he left the city he'd talked this Captain Banks into not pursing the Rothchild operation. It was the only reason he hadn't cancelled his vacation. Reviewing the operation plan, he discovered that it was too late to do anything to stop it now as the operation had started several hours ago.

He picked up the phone and called the Cascade Police Department. It took a while to find someone who could give him a status report, but his worst fears were quickly confirmed. Reports were sketchy, but it appeared that only one detective had made it out of the warehouse unscathed. The forensics teams were continuing to examine the scene and no further information was available.

After hanging up the phone, Black rested his head on the desk, trying to determine the best course of action. Agent Mallory had been in place for two years within Rothchild's operation without anyone being the wiser. Now everything was about to unravel because of Cascade PD's interference. Mallory's body would eventually be identified from his military records. Director West would begin his own investigation as soon as Mallory's death was reported. Best to be proactive in this situation.

He picked up the phone and dialed a familiar extension.

"Whitney, we have a big problem. Mallory's dead and Cascade PD is investigating."

"I thought you had that situation under control?" Whitney asked.

"It was. Something must have gone wrong. I forwarded all those false reports from the files concerning Rothchild's operation. That Captain shouldn't have bothered with the operation as it was described in those files. Mallory was supposed to deal with those undercover cops at the next buy. He had planned to make it appear they had died during a rip-off."

"So what went wrong?" Whitney asked angrily.

Obviously he screwed it up and left us holding the bag. You and I are the only ones who knew what Mallory was doing. Look, we need to get a jump on damage control. You have thirty minutes."

Whitney started to stammer out an objection, but Black overrode him. "Don't waste time arguing with me. Find out everything you can about the operation and call me back."

Black disconnected the line. He spent the next twenty-nine minutes erasing his computer files and shredding the hard copies of everything Mallory had sent in on Rothchild's operation. If they moved quickly enough on this, the documentation would disappear and the investigation would be bogged down as the Police Department and the DEA fought to assign blame to the other.

The phone rang exactly on the thirty-minute deadline. He picked up the receiver. "What have you got?"

After the first few minutes of listening, he smiled at what Whitney had uncovered. "Perfect, he'll be the perfect Judas goat. While the press is crucifying him, we'll slip quietly away. By the time they sort this mess out, we'll be long gone. I'll meet you in the lobby in five minutes. One quick stop at the hospital, then we'll see what's on file at the police department."

Black grabbed his coat. He had a tidy amount of capital stashed away in an offshore account. He had two more operations in place the he could continue to run while lounging in comfort on a nice little Caribbean island. Actually, the police had taken care of several loose ends. Mallory's share was now in his possession. Whitney was a trusting fool who would be easy to deal with, and this Detective Sandburg would be left holding the bag. Life was good.

Monday Afternoon, Cascade General

Simon paced across the Emergency Room as he waited for word on both Jim and Blair. He kept seeing the whole incident over and over again. How had things gone so wrong? All the information they had uncovered about the group from the DEA files indicated this group didn't have access to the firepower that had been unleashed on his men. According to the DEA, this group had been too small to even be considered a low priority for them. The Assistant Director he had been speaking with had described it as 'a waste of their limited resources' and expressed his doubts that Rothchild was actually involved.

The forensics teams had finally been able to enter the building. According to the preliminary reports, the back and side doors had not simply been blocked, they had been padlocked shut from the inside. There was too much destruction from the flames to determine who had fired the shots that had started the fire. Only a few clues had survived the flames.

They had found the remains of six men, four in one location, two in another. All were burned too badly to identify. There was no one left alive to stand trial, but at least the source of the drugs was gone. They had also found the briefcase. Fortunately for the Mayor, the case was fireproof and he would get the money back relatively intact. Lastly, they had found the melted mass of metal that was all that remained of Blair's firearm. This was the evidence that Simon was most concerned about trying to explain. The gun had been unloaded. The rumors were already starting to fly about why the gun was empty. Sandburg's aversion to guns was well known in the Department.

Simon heard the sound of footsteps in the hallway. Hoping it was one of the doctors currently treating his detectives, he moved to the doorway of the waiting room.

He was disappointed to see two men in dark suits instead of a doctor. "Captain Banks?" asked the smaller of the two. At Simon's nod, he continued, "I'm Assistant Director Black. This is Agent Whitney. We're from the DEA. I spoke with you briefly several weeks ago about Cascade's newest cocaine operation."

He paused as he checked his notebook. "We need to speak with Detective Sandburg. We understand that he was the only man to walk out of that explosion unharmed."

Simon's cop instincts were screaming at him that these men were bad news. "You have been misinformed. Ellison and Sandburg both survived the explosion, but no one walked out of that fire unharmed. Detective Sandburg is currently being treated for severe smoke inhalation."

"That's not the information we received from your Department," Whitney sneered.

Simon's anger started to rise. "My officer barely managed to get both himself and his partner out of that warehouse alive! What is your interest in this case? I thought you were the one who said this operation, and the men running it, were too small-time for the DEA to get involved?"

"We're not interested in the drug operation. We are here to take Detective Sandburg into custody as a material witness in the death of DEA Agent Thomas Mallory," answered Agent Whitney coldly.

"WHAT!" Simon yelled, not believing what he was hearing.

"Agent Mallory was working undercover in the operation that your unit took out earlier today. We find it interesting that a detective less than two years out of the Academy with a disreputable history was the only one to walk away from the incident. We would like to know how he managed to do that," Whitney explained, his tone condescending and his poor opinion of Sandburg evident by the sneer on his face.

For one brief second Simon was speechless. Then, anger took over. "I told you he didn't walk away and I don't like the implication you are making. Let me make this clear! First, Detective Sandburg is not going anywhere with you. Nor will you be allowed near him until his condition is stable and his doctor approves. Second, he will not be allowed to speak with you without representation from the Cascade Police Department. At least myself and his partner who, if you recall me saying, was also present during the raid, will be present if and when you are allowed to speak with him."

"That is unacceptable. I'm investigating the death of one of my agents..."

Simon interrupted, "...Which has nothing to do with Detective Sandburg. All enforcement agencies were notified within the required timeframe concerning the raid. All approvals were received before we proceeded. Why weren't we informed there was an undercover agent in the operation?"

"Sorry, that information was deemed need-to-know. I've been out of touch from the Agency for the last two weeks and only saw the paperwork on your raid after the fact. All I can tell you is we have our orders. Detective Sandburg is coming with us. We were hoping to have his cooperation, but if necessary we'll get a warrant." Black waited patiently for the Police Captain to capitulate to his demand. No local law enforcement group had the guts to stand in the way of the DEA.

Eyes flashing angrily, Simon leaned over the two agents in his most intimidating pose. Pounding one finger into Black's chest, he gritted his teeth and replied, "You and I both know that you don't have grounds for that. You are out of line here. I don't know what you are fishing for here, but you aren't going to find it. So I strongly suggest you leave, NOW!"

"Captain, is there a problem here?" a deep voice called from the doorway. Joel was standing at the entrance with Megan. Henri and Rafe were standing right behind them. It was clear from their angry expressions that they had heard part of the discussion.

"I don't think so. I believe these gentlemen were just leaving," Simon answered as he glared back at the agents, daring them to contradict his statement.

Assistant Director Black paled at the sight of the large group of detectives who had them boxed in the room, against the wall. Assessing the situation, he decided that a strategic retreat was in order. He could deal with Sandburg after they collected the files from the PD. With all the officers at the hospital, it would be easy for them to collect the paperwork. He motioned for Whitney to leave in front of him. The group from Major Crimes opened a narrow gauntlet for the two men to pass through. As they reached the elevator, he called back over his shoulder, "This isn't over, Captain Banks." Black glared coldly at the group.

"No it isn't, AD Black. In fact, our investigation has just begun and is about to be expanded. We expect cooperation from your department."

Once the DEA agents had left the floor, Simon turned to his detectives and asked, "How much did you overhear?"

"Enough. We have a dead DEA agent and, for some obscure reason, it looks like they're going to try to blame Blair," Joel replied.

"Brown and Rafe, I want you to head back to the station immediately. Find out everything that you can about the late Agent Thomas Mallory. Megan, rerun the background information on Rothchild's group. Run them through every source you can think of except the DEA. We relied heavily on their information during the planning stages of this operation. Obviously, we were misled. Something here stinks. I smell a cover-up."

"What about me?" Joel questioned.

"Stay here and wait for word from the doctor about Jim and Blair. I need to talk to the Chief and the Commissioner. Something tells me things are about to get very nasty. I want to make sure they're brought up to speed on the story before the press gets wind of this. Bring me all the paperwork and files that we have collected so far. I don't want the DEA to confiscate our documentation as part of whatever they're planning. They're up to something. They aren't playing by the rules on this and I want to know why."

The group broke up and headed off to complete their assigned tasks. By the time Simon was done with his calls, the doctor had not appeared. He rejoined Joel in the waiting room. Joel sat quietly, idly flipping through an extremely outdated magazine. Simon resumed the pacing that was previously interrupted by the appearance of the DEA agents.

"Simon, would you please sit down. You're driving me nuts here!" Joel requested as Simon paced in front of him for the fifteenth time.

"We should have heard something by now," Simon said, running his hand across his head. "I'll go check at the nurses' desk. See if they've heard anything new."

Simon turned around and started through the doorway. He was so distracted that he almost ran over the doctor who was entering the room.

"Captain Banks, I'm not sure if you remember me. I'm Doctor Jones. I've been treating your men." The doctor was still dressed in scrubs, slightly bloody down the front of the shirt.

Simon nodded. "I remember. How are they doing?"

"Detective Ellison is pretty much one big bruise. Nothing is broken; however, he does have a concussion. From what I understand, he was unconscious for only a short length of time. We'd prefer to keep him here for the standard twenty-four hour observation period, but he's fighting us. Actually, he's demanding to see Detective Sandburg. He has requested an AMA release."

"Sounds like typical Ellison behavior," Joel muttered.

"Captain, your man has suffered several concussions over the last few years. Because of his past medical history, I'm strongly against releasing him. I was hoping you would try to talk him out of it since he isn't listening to my opinion."

"Where is he?" Simon asked resignedly.

"Why don't you both come with me to see Detective Ellison? I do have a report on Detective Sandburg's condition. I'd rather say it only once, then answer any questions you all may have."

The doctor led the two men into one of the ER's treatment rooms. Jim was sitting up on the gurney, wearing a hospital gown and arguing with the nurse. When he saw the doctor enter the room, he asked rudely, "Did you bring the release papers?"

"No, Detective Ellison, I was hoping you might listen to your Captain since you refuse to listen to me."

The doctor stepped to the back of the group at the same time Simon stepped forward. His arms were crossed over his chest, his 'you are in deep trouble' expression generally reserved for his son Daryl, on his face.

"Sir, I need to..." Jim started.

"Stand down, Ellison! You are going to listen while I explain this situation to you. I know you want to see Sandburg, but that isn't possible right now. You need to see to you own health first."

Jim started to say something, but Simon continued talking over his objections. "Don't argue, I do NOT want to have to deal with a pissed off Sandburg. If he finds out I let you leave here in your condition, he'll make my life a living hell. Now, do you want to know what I'll do to you if he does that to me?"

"No, sir," Jim answered somewhat meekly.

"Good. For the next twenty four hours you'll remain in this hospital and obey the doctor's restrictions. In return for your good behavior, we'll see to it that you're kept apprised of Sandburg's condition. Do you understand and agree?"

Jim's face was screaming rebellion, but he curtly answered, "Yes, sir."

Usually Simon hated it when Jim reverted back to his military conditioning, but for now he was thankful. He turned to face the doctor. "I believe you said you had information about how Sandburg's doing?"

"Yes, Captain. Detective Sandburg's condition is a little more serious."

"The paramedics said his collapse was due to the smoke inhalation."

"That's what we thought at first, but we now believe he breathed in toxins from the burning chemicals, which has complicated his treatment. We have identified the chemical as carbon tetrachloride. It's a common industrial cleaning solvent. Because Blair was conscious and, from what I understand, exerting himself, his inhalation exposure to the chemicals was severe, but short."

The doctor checked the chart he had carried into the room before continuing. "When he was brought into the emergency room, his heart rhythm was irregular and he was in severe respiratory distress, common symptoms of this type of exposure. As a precautionary measure, we have placed Blair in the Critical Care Unit. Don't be alarmed by this action, gentlemen. Currently he's unconscious and his condition is stable. I do have a couple of questions for you, though. Do you know if Blair has had any previous exposure to chemicals? For example, classes in college, Hazardous Materials incidents, or anything similar?"

"Not that I'm aware of, not as a result of his present duties," Simon answered.

"He took basic chemistry as an undergrad, but it was a one-semester course to fulfill a science requirement. The other science requirements were all in the field of biology," Jim added.

"That wouldn't be a problem then. It usually takes repeated exposures to this class of chemical to cause long-term damage. There are no signs that he ingested the chemical and I know from his medical records that he's not a diabetic. These conditions would increase the risk of long-term damage. Do you know if he has had any alcohol in the last twenty-four hours?"

"No, we were on duty late yesterday. By the time we got home, we were exhausted. He made some tea and we both crashed for the evening," Jim said after a slight hesitation as he reviewed the past day.

"Good, alcohol would have made it easier for the chemical to affect the bloodstream. We'll be closely monitoring his heart and lungs. We will also be watching for signs of either hepatic or renal toxicity. It is much easier for us to do that if he's in the Critical Care Unit. From what I can tell of his current symptoms, I don't think there will be any complications. If his heart and lungs remain stable, we'll probably move him out of CCU tonight. It will be a day or two before we determine if the levels of toxicity were high enough to cause other damage."

The doctor could tell the three men were becoming more apprehensive about their friend the longer he spoke. He tried to reassure them.

"Don't look so concerned. This type of limited exposure does not result in long-term damage. If no complications arise, and I'm not expecting any, he'll be home in a few days. His other injuries are minor in comparison. His right hand has some first and second-degree burns, but there shouldn't be any scarring. His left hand has only some minor first-degree burns. He's actually doing very well considering what could have happened. One of you, not you, Jim may sit with him if you wish. Just cooperate with our staff.

"Simon, why don't you stay with Jim until they settle him in a room? I'll go stay with Blair," Joel suggested.

"Okay, Joel. I'll come find you once Jim's settled," Simon answered gruffly, understanding Joel felt much closer to Sandburg because of all the assistance and support the young man had freely given a few years back when Joel had doubts about continuing to work with the department.

"Would the two of you quit talking about me like I'm not here," Jim inserted.

"Sorry, Jim," both men said in unison.

"Detective Taggart, if you'll come with me, I'm on my way to check on Blair," the doctor offered.

Joel walked over to Blair's bed and stared at all the equipment connected to him.

"It looks much worse than it is," the doctor whispered. "Most of this is just to monitor his condition."

Joel nodded and stared at the monitors. There was a pulse-ox meter attached to Blair's finger. His hands were wrapped with white burn pads covering both palms. He was receiving oxygen through a plastic tube. At least he wasn't on a respirator. There was also a heart monitor softly beeping at a steady rate. To Joel's untrained eye, everything appeared to be normal. Blair appeared to be sleeping peacefully.

Joel sat down on the hard plastic chair that was by the bed. "Hi, Blair. I'm gonna keep you company for a while. Jim's just down the hall. Simon is taking good care of him, so don't you worry about it. You save your strength for yourself. You are the only one who can soothe the mood of an injured Ellison and he is feisty right now, so wake up soon."

Joel kept talking on various topics. He intentionally picked subjects that he and Blair had argued about previously. The kid thrived on debates and Joel enjoyed the heated debates they engaged in periodically. He figured if Blair could hear him, he would wake just to present his own opinion.

Monday, late afternoon, Cascade General

Simon entered the darkened hospital room after a quick trip down to CCU to check on Blair. Jim had fallen asleep shortly after he had been assigned a room. It was a good thing he hadn't forced the issue of the AMA release. He would have fallen on his face before leaving the hospital. He looked terrible. The side of his face was swollen and badly bruised. He doubted that it was possible for Jim to even open his right eye. Earlier, he had called the bullpen to let them know about Jim and Blair. He also called Steven Ellison's office. Simon was well aware that the two Ellison brothers had grown very close over the last few months. As he sat down, he heard a groan from the bed.

"Jim?" Simon asked as he leaned over the bed. Jim's eyes fluttered, then closed tightly at the brightness of the room. "Hang on, Ellison. Let me get the lights turned off."

Simon made a quick trip over to the wall where the switches were and turned off the fluorescent bulbs that were directly over Jim's bed. "The lights are out now, Jim. Try to open your eyes."

Cautiously, Jim re-opened his eyes. "Simon, how's Sandburg? Have you seen him? Is he still doing all right?" Jim asked as he tried to sit up. He quickly changed his mind as the pain in his head increased exponentially as he moved to sit upright.

"Sandburg's fine. He's still in CCU, but the doctor doesn't think he'll be there much longer. Joel hasn't left him alone for a minute. Looks like he's going to be just fine."

"I know you don't understand, but I really need to see him, Simon." Jim's voice was a little rough. His mouth was dry. He reached a shaking hand out for the pitcher of water sitting next to the bed.

"I'll get it, Jim," Simon said as he grabbed the pitcher and poured the water into a cup. He picked up the filled glass and handed it to Jim. "How are your senses doing? Are you having a problem with them? Is that why you need to see him?"

The sound of the door opening interrupted the conversation as Doctor Jones entered the room.

"Nice to see you awake, Detective Ellison."

"How long was I sleeping?" Jim asked, puzzled by the comment.

"About six hours. The nurse woke you after the first three hours to check on you," answered Simon with a smirk. "You were not at your best, so she let you go right back to sleep. You needed it, Jim. If there had been any change in Sandburg's condition, I would have told you."

"The last set of blood tests showed no sign of toxicity and his heart rate is no longer showing any irregularities. If he continues to improve, he'll be out of CCU tomorrow morning."

Doctor Jones returned the chart to the holder and left the room. Jim found the controls for the bed and raised the head of it. "Simon, how did Blair get exposed. The last thing I remember is being pinned down in a crossfire by Rothchild's goons."

"We're not exactly sure what happened. Forensics has theorized that during the exchange of rounds, some stored chemicals were ignited by the gunfire which in turn caused the explosion. We did find the remains of a barrel of carbon tetrawhatever along with numerous other chemicals that were stored in the warehouse. "

"That explains the odor I was picking up inside. I thought it was paint thinner."

Simon knew his next statement would upset Jim, but he didn't have a choice. "Jim, do you remember what happened in there? I hate to do this right now, but we really need a statement from you."

Jim noticed immediately that Simon was hiding something. "What's the problem, sir? Something has got you on edge right now."

"Detective, I need you to tell me what you remember. Officially, for the record, then I'll fill you in on what's going on," Simon ordered.

Jim stared at Simon, hoping for more information, but Simon's glare was equally determined. "Okay, we got to the warehouse right on schedule. When we entered the building, Sandburg noticed two of the members of the group weren't with the others. We figured the deal was a setup almost right away. I had already noticed the doors had been padlocked. I knew they were up to something. If the idea was to keep others out, they would have put the locks on the outside of the door. They were trying to cut off our avenues of escape. Rothchild had brought along a new face. It was this new guy who demanded that we give them the money and walk away. Once the shooting started, Sandburg and I took cover behind some machinery. They had us pinned down pretty tight. Blair and I returned fire, but we couldn't get a fix on any of them because of the crossfire."

"Sandburg was returning fire?" Simon asked.

"Of course he was returning fire," Jim answered, angrily, rolling his eyes at what he believed was a stupid question. "I told you. They had us in crossfire! Actually, he had to reload before I did. In fact, the last thing I can remember is him yelling something about Rothchild flanking us and that he needed to reload. Why the questions, Captain? You're not doubting him now, not after all this time, are you?"

"Not me, Jim. I know there isn't anything he wouldn't do to protect you. He's made that pretty clear. But there are several complications with the case right now. Finding Sandburg's gun unloaded in the rubble is minor in comparison to the other issue."

Simon paused, taking a deep breath. "There's no easy way to say this. The DEA was here earlier. It turns out that there was an undercover agent in Rothchild's operation. They said they wanted to take Blair into custody as a 'material witness' in his death."

"Why the hell didn't you tell me that before?" Jim asked angrily.

"Because you weren't in any condition to do anything about it and I wanted to get more information first," Simon yelled back.

Jim was upset at first, but as he thought about it, he became more puzzled than angry. It didn't make any sense. "Why didn't they tell us about this agent before now and why did they only want Sandburg? Why not me, too? I saw everything that Sandburg did."

"That's the first question that comes to mind. I have a lot of others. Their attitude really bothered me. They were even more arrogant then usual. I have the others checking into the story right now. Why don't you try to rest? There isn't much we can do until I hear from the others, and I made it clear to the DEA they're not getting anywhere near Blair. So there's nothing we can do for now but wait."

Jim shook his head. "I'm not going to be able to sleep until I get a handle on what's going on."

"I'll check in with the office, see if they've turned up anything else yet. You stay in bed. That's an order, Detective."

"Yes, sir. As long as you promise to come right back and fill me in," Ellison replied as he lowered the head of the bed and closed his eyes. Simon reached for the door, only to have it open for him as Steven Ellison entered.

"Hello, Captain Banks. Nice to see you again," Steven greeted as he entered the room.

"Hello, Mr. Ellison. Please excuse my abrupt departure, but I have something I need to take care of."

"No problem, and please call me Steven."

"When I'm off-duty, please call me Simon," he replied as he walked out the door.

Steven looked over at his brother and asked, "How am I supposed to know if he's off-duty?"

"Simon is never off-duty," Jim teased.

Steven laughed and sat down in the chair Simon had recently vacated. "Sorry, Jim. I would have been here sooner, but I was tied up in meetings all afternoon,"

"Thanks for dropping by, Stevie. I really wasn't expecting you, but I'm glad you're here."

"Are you all right? What did the doctor say?"

"I'm fine, little bro. The doctor's just keeping me for observation."

"How's Blair? The message didn't say."

"He's still in CCU, but the doctor thinks that he's going to be fine."

"I'm glad to hear that. When Lily gave me Simon's message, I came straight here. I did try to call Dad and let him know what happened, but Sally said that he's in London for the next two weeks."

"Thanks, Steve. I forgot to have anyone call him."

"Don't be surprised if Sally drops by with some of those cookies you love. She's kinda at loose ends with Dad out of town."

A few hours later

Steven looked at his watch, then back at his sleeping brother. It was obvious that Jim needed more rest when he had fallen asleep in the middle of their conversation. He looked up as Simon quietly slipped back into the room. "I didn't want to leave him alone. Can you believe that? I was afraid to leave my big brother alone in a hospital room."

Simon nodded. "Actually, I understand the feeling quite well."

Steven smiled and climbed to his feet. "Now that you're back, I'm going to go see Blair. Will you tell Jim that I'll see him tomorrow? I'll drop by during my lunch." Steven leaned over his brother and whispered, "Rest easy and I'll check on you later." Jim moved restlessly but didn't wake.

For the next couple of hours, Simon reviewed some of the paperwork Megan had dropped off earlier. He didn't notice that several hours had passed until the door to the room creaked as it opened just a crack.

"It's okay, guys. Come on in, you don't have to be quiet. I'm awake," said a hoarse voice from the bed.

"Since when?" Simon asked, turning to stare at Jim, now doubting whether he had gotten any sleep at all.

"Hey Jim, you're looking much better," Henri greeted with a smile. Rafe entered right behind him, carrying several file folders. He handed them to Simon.

"Captain, your instincts were dead on. Agents Tweedledee and Tweedledum showed up at the bullpen. They demanded all the files from Rhonda. They were really giving her a hard time when we walked in."

A large grin broke out across Henri's face as he recalled that scene.

"You find something amusing about Rhonda being harassed by two agents?" Simon asked gruffly.

"No sir, absolutely not." Brown answered, contritely, but with twinkling eyes. "But watching Rhonda chew them up, spit them out, and kick them out of the bullpen was pretty darn funny. They never knew what hit them."

Simon choked down his own laughter at the image created by Henri's words of Rhonda standing up to the two agents. He himself, had been on the receiving end of Rhonda's ire once or twice. It felt similar to facing down a felon with an automatic weapon pointed at you while being armed with a squirt gun. "Give us your report. What were you able to find out about the late Agent Mallory?"

"Unless the DEA has started paying their people about ten times what we make, this guy has another large source of income. We checked out his assets. The guy was very rich when he died and he didn't even make an attempt to hide it. There's no record of inheritance, lottery, or successful investments. No obvious source for the large amounts of cash we found in his bank accounts," Rafe answered.

"If you examine the files the DEA sent over, you'll find that the agent responsible for checking out Rothchild's operation was Agent Mallory. He's the one who described the group as being both small time and lacking any significant firepower," Henri added.

Simon opened up the file and started to skim over the information they had so far. A picture slid out of the folder and landed on the bed. Jim reached over, then sat up in surprise as he recognized the man. He winced at the pain in his head, regretting how quickly he sat up.

"Simon, Mallory is the man at the meet who demanded that we hand the money over to them. He's the one who started all the shooting."

"This explains why the information we got was so wrong. What if Mallory was skimming cash for his personal use? That would be a good reason why he wouldn't want the group to be taken out," Simon replied.

"He falsified the reports back to his own people. He just didn't anticipate the police department taking down the operation," Jim responded.

"That doesn't explain why they're going after Sandburg." Rafe frowned. "Why go after him?"

Henri snapped his fingers. "I got it. Mallory couldn't have done this all on his own. Someone else had to be involved. If this operation wasn't worth the DEA's involvement, why had they left one of their people undercover in the group? No way was the guy working alone."

"Right," Rafe replied as the pieces fell into place. "What if the DEA didn't officially know that Mallory was involved? What was an Assistant Director doing on a routine pickup of a witness? Those guys never leave the office. Assistant Director Black said he just got back from vacation. If this was a partnership between Black and Mallory, it would explain everything."

"Black was not available to warn Mallory that the operation was being taken down this time. Mallory could have been told about Jim and Blair being cops a while ago. If this had been another simple meet, he could have killed them and kept his cover intact. Now, with Mallory dead, Black is looking to shine the spotlight on someone else while he covers up his involvement. Who better than Blair?" Simon added.

"What do you want to bet, if Blair had been taken into custody, we would have found him dead with either a load of drugs or a lot of cash. Black would have slipped away in the frenzy generated by the press," Jim said, fuming.

The men fell silent as the ramifications of what could have happened sunk in.

Simon finally broke the silence. "It would explain why Black didn't come after Jim, too. Jim's reputation would have been much more difficult to question than Blair's. Rafe, see what you can find out about AD Black. I want more evidence before we bring this to the Commissioner.

Megan threw open the door to Jim's room and ran inside, "Turn on the TV. You've got to see this," she gasped out. Everyone stared at the TV, watching as Don Haas's face appeared on the screen. Behind him was the yellow tape surrounding the scene of the warehouse.

"This is Don Haas reporting. Earlier today, viewers reported hearing multiple gunshots from this location. It was described as a war zone in more than one account. Shortly after the shooting started, a major explosion decimated this area and caused damage to several nearby buildings. Confidential sources have informed this reporter that the explosion that rocked this area earlier today was the result of a police raid on a drug lab gone terribly wrong. In addition to the alleged drug dealers, an agent for the DEA was also killed in the incident. Also injured in the explosion were Detectives James Ellison and Blair Sandburg.

According to my sources, Cascade PD is refusing to cooperate with the DEA's investigation of the incident. Is this because of the need to cover up errors made by the Major Crimes Unit? Was this another case of trigger-happy law enforcement officers entering a hostile situation with guns blazing? We understand that the newest member of the Major Crimes Unit, Detective Blair Sandburg, was reportedly involved in the incident. What kind of officer is being graduated from the Police Academy these days? Are they being taught to shoot first and ask questions later? You may recall the name Blair Sandburg as the former graduate student from Rainier University who was expelled when he submitted a fraudulent doctoral thesis. So far, Cascade PD has no comment on the raid and will only say that the incident is being investigated. We will be providing updates on this story throughout the day as more information becomes available. Now, back to the studio."

Jim turned off the TV as soon as the studio newscasters started talking.

"Well, now we know why they're going after Blair," Rafe said angrily, breaking the shocked silence in the room caused by the news report.

"I bet I know who those confidential sources are and when I get my hands on AD Black, he's going to have a lot of explaining to do," Simon said, visualizing Black's neck between his hands, his grip tightening slowly.

"I'm just glad Sandy isn't awake to see this. It's going to break his heart." Megan sat down on the foot of the bed looking at Jim's unhappy expression.

"Guys, don't say anything to Blair about this. I want to be the one to tell him. I need to be the one," Jim implored. "Megan's right. Blair is going to take these accusations badly."

"Once he finds out, he's going to need all the support he can get, Jim. Don't forget, we're all on his side," Simon admonished.

"I know, Simon. He's going to need every friend he's got if we're going to get him through this with his confidence intact. We need to start damage control on this and start assembling the troops."

"I'll find out how the Commissioner plans on dealing with this," Simon said, already moving for the doorway.

"I'll call Charlie Blanchard at the Academy. They're under attack, too. I'm sure they're going to want to defend themselves against these accusations." Jim reached for the phone on the table next to the bed.

"I'll let Joel know what's going on. I'm sure he didn't see the report. I'll also suggest to the hospital staff that they don't talk about it around Sandy," Megan said as she followed Simon out of the room.

"Rafe and I will head down to the station. Blair has a lot of friends among the uniforms. We'll let them know what's going on," Henri said, nudging Rafe in the direction of the hallway.

Jim waved good-bye with a quick gesture, because he already had Charlie Blanchard on the line.

Monday Evening, Cascade General

Blair knew that he didn't want to wake up. Even before he opened his eyes, he recognized that he was in the hospital. The sounds and smells were unique. His chest and throat ached from all the coughing. He felt a hand reach over and move his hair back away from his face. "Jim?" he croaked weakly.

"No, Blair. It's me, Joel. Take it easy. Don't try to talk. Your throat has to be pretty sore. Would you like some ice chips?"

Blair nodded. He felt a large hand slip under his head, providing support as the chips were placed in his mouth. The cold water soothed his throat.

"Where's Jim?" Blair rasped as Joel lowered his head back to the pillow.

"Don't talk anymore, Blair. Jim is down the hall. In case you don't remember, he regained consciousness right after you got him out of the warehouse. He's been complaining loudly about having to stay the night. Simon's keeping him in line until you're able to deal with him, so don't worry." Joel pressed the call button over the bed. Doctor Jones must have been at the nurse's station because he entered the room a moment later.

"Hello, Blair. I know it's hard for you, but don't try to talk. Your throat needs the rest."

Blair lay quietly on the bed, too tired to argue. The doctor checked his vital signs and made several notations on the chart.

"Well, Blair. I think the worst has passed. I'll make arrangements to have you moved into a semi-private room first thing in the morning," Doctor Jones said with a smile and a pat to Blair's shoulder.

Tuesday Afternoon, Cascade General

Steven had stopped by Jim's room, at lunchtime, as he promised bearing the gift of Wonderburger. He was as angry at the news reports as his brother was. Jim was thankful that Steven had come to see him before seeing Blair.

So far, Blair was unaware of the news reports and Jim wanted to keep it that way until the doctor was sure he was completely out of danger. Steven promised to remain silent on the issue until Jim gave him the word, but he was consulting with an attorney about the possibility of libel or defamation charges against the news reporter. Overnight, all the networks had picked up the story. Blair's reputation was being smeared in both print and television reports, along with the Police Academy and Major Crimes.

It was just after Steven had gone back to work when Doctor Jones brought Jim his release papers. Even though the twenty-four hours were technically not up, the doctor knew Jim had no intention of actually leaving the hospital. Jim just wanted to be in a different room.

Blair had been moved into a room two floors below him just after nine in the morning. Jim had periodically focused his senses to monitor his condition, but Blair appeared to be sleeping most of the time. The hospital staff had been instructed not to mention the news reports to Blair. The television in his room had 'malfunctioned.' Actually, dead batteries had been inserted into the remote and Blair was told the TV wasn't working.

A little after two, Jim was dressed and walking into his partner's room. "Hi, Chief. How are you feeling?"

It was still difficult for Blair to speak. Instead, he waved his hand back and forth in a so-so motion in reply. He picked up a notebook, which Joel had left for him that was sitting on the table next to the bed, and started writing. The bandages on his hands made it hard to write, but it was easier than trying to speak. He kept it simple, asking about Jim's senses.

"They're fine, buddy. Everything's under control, just a little headache. Do you need anything?"

Blair wrote back, "No, Megan's bringing stuff from home, books and CD player. She'll be back soon."

Megan reappeared around four with the requested items and an early dinner for the men. She had checked with the doctor and had brought some of Blair's favorite soup from the deli near the loft. They played a few rounds of poker before the nurses announced that visiting hours were over. After Megan took Jim home, Blair spent the rest of the evening listening to one of his meditation CD's and reading.

Wednesday morning, Cascade General

As Jim entered Sandburg's room, his jaw clenched as he recognized the sound of Don Haas's voice. Shit, so much for keeping the knowledge of the accusations from Blair.

On the television screen, he saw a flash of Charlie Blanchard exiting his car, which was swarmed by news cameras and reporters. He heard Charlie yelling 'No comment' to the vultures as he entered the Capitol building. The next flash was at the police station, Rafe and Brown were similarly surrounded by cameras and reporters as they were about to enter the building. Brown calmly was repeating the phrase 'No comment' as he held the door for his partner.

One of the reporters yelled loudly, "What's it like to have to work with a liar and a fraud, Detectives?"

Rafe turned and started to say something back, but Brown grabbed him by the arm and dragged him into the building with the final words "What part of 'no comment' do you not understand?"

Don Haas reappeared on the screen and started his editorial. "As you can see, we have not been able to get any answers from Cascade PD on the investigation into the death of DEA Agent Thomas Mallory. It's this reporter's opinion that a special board should be convened to investigate the actions taken by the Major Crimes Unit. My confidential sources tell me that the DEA is still not receiving any cooperation from the personnel at the PD. It sounds to me like there is a major cover-up being perpetrated on the public. I consider it my duty to make sure this cover-up is not allowed to continue. The facts of this case must be brought to light."

Jim could hear Blair trying to catch his breath. Between the recent chemical exposure to his lungs and the emotional backlash resulting from watching the news report, Blair's body was fighting him. He sat down on the edge of Blair's bed, he took the remote from Blair's lax fingers and turned off the television.

"Lay back and try to take some deep breaths, Chief. Your lungs cannot handle a panic attack right now, so try to relax. You're the expert on breathing, nice slow deep breaths." As he spoke, he was raising the bed so Blair was almost sitting upright. Their eyes met. Blair slowly calmed and appeared to draw strength from his partner. Jim coached him though the attack, monitoring his lungs until his friend's breathing started to settle. He waited for Blair to say something, anything to break the awkward silence, but he remained quiet.

"Chief, I'm sorry. I didn't want you to find out like this. I was going to tell you what's been going on, but I wanted to wait until you were out of the hospital."

"How did this happen? I didn't do anything wrong. I don't remember doing anything wrong," Blair said plaintively, trying to understand. This was worse than the dissertation fiasco.

"No, you didn't and we know that, Blair. Everyone knows that. The media hasn't gotten any of the facts of the case correct. They're listening and reporting rumors, and if they can't find a rumor, they speculate on the most sensational aspects of the case they can make up. The real story will come out. The rest of the unit is working on it. You're not in this alone, Chief."

Jim relayed all the information they had uncovered about both Mallory and Black. Blair didn't appear to be listening. He had a dazed look in his eyes, which was unnerving to see. When Jim finished, Blair asked, "So what happens now?"

"Simon is coming this afternoon with someone from IA. Don't worry. You're not in any trouble with the Department. The Chief just wants to make sure everything's done by the book. I had to give a statement directly to IA also. They wouldn't accept the one Simon took."

"And then?"

"We rest and let our friends do their job."

"You're gonna sit back and do nothing? I don't believe it!"

"Believe it, Junior. I've learned a thing or two from you over the last few years, the most important being, how to trust and lean on your friends when there's trouble."

That statement finally got a smile to lighten Blair's mood. "I taught you that, huh?"

"You are the master when it comes to friendship, my friend."

"If I'm the master, can I have the remote back?"

"NO, and just how did you get it working anyway? It was supposed to have been disabled."

"The batteries on my CD player died last night. I tried to use the batteries from the remote, but they were dead, too. I asked the night-duty nurse to pick me up batteries for my CD player. I thought that might be the problem with the TV, too, so when she brought me a four pack I tried it."

"Sorry, Blair. We were trying to help."

"It's okay, I understand." As Jim watched, his partner got an evil glint in his eye before continuing. "But if you're really sorry, you'll give me the remote," Blair said in a pitiful voice.

"I'm not that sorry."

They spent the rest of the morning either sleeping or arguing about what to watch on the TV. Uniforms had been placed at the hospital entrances and outside their room to keep the reporters away. The hospital operator was handling the multitude of phone messages asking for interviews.

At lunchtime, Blair received a surprise visitor when Lily Lancin walked into the room carrying a large vase of flowers in one hand and a large bag of food in the other. She wasn't wearing the nose ring, but she was wearing a large silver crucifix and matching earrings. She had on a tight red velvet blouse with an equally tight, short black leather skirt. Three-inch heels drew Blair's attention to her long, well-defined legs. Jim noticed where Blair was staring and cuffed him lightly on the back of the head. "Table leg, Chief."

"Glad to see you're feeling better, Blair," Lily said with a smile as she handed the vase to Jim. "Steven was going to drop by, but Jamison and Wilson are having another one of their quarrels and Steven was forced to referee. He did manage to confirm your diet with your doctor and order you a lovely lunch from Lucille's."

"Great, I hate hospital food and I'm starving," Blair said as he sat up. He, Jim, and Steven had a really good dinner a few months back at Lucille's when that horrible woman had been stalking Steven.

For a short while, they were able to forget about the outside world and enjoy a pleasant lunch. As soon as she was done eating, Lily had to leave. Steven had given her a little extra time for lunch, but there was a major project due the following day and they would be working late already.

Blair stared again at the lower half of her retreating figure.

"Sandburg, I can arrange to have you neutered if you can't control that roving eye of yours. Remember that she's become like a little sister to Steven. If he sees you staring like that, I'm not going to protect you."

"Jim, that view is the best medicine I could have. You wouldn't begrudge me the small bit of happiness that looking gives me, would you?" Blair blinked his eyes innocently at his partner.

"You can look, but don't touch."


The officer from IA arrived just before dinner to take Blair's statement. The man's demeanor was a pleasant surprise to Blair. Even more surprising was that the officer allowed Jim to remain in the room, as long as he remained silent.

Once the official portion of the interview was completed, the officer stood to leave. He noticed the dejected and slightly fearful expression on Blair's face. "Don't worry about this, son. From everything I've seen and heard, you'll be completely exonerated. When the real story comes out, I'm gonna enjoy watching that hack of a reporter eat crow."

"So will I," Jim added.

The IA officer smiled. "For now, both of you keep your heads down. Let us handle the media. You're both on paid leave until we get this resolved."

Shortly after IA left, Doctor Jones arrived with the discharge papers. Simon arranged for them to avoid the gauntlet of reporters waiting outside the main entrance. He was going to act as a decoy by sitting out front of the main entrance in his car. The reporters all knew that, in addition to being their Captain, he was also their friend. Joel was picking them up at the service entrance in a laundry van. A few blocks away, Megan would be waiting to drive them home in her car.

The plan was a great success. They made it to the loft without any of the media realizing they had left, the press still waiting from them at the hospital front entrance.

It was dark when the two men finally entered the loft. The answering machine was flashing with the digital readout showing fifteen messages. Jim reached down and turned off the ringer on the phone. The messages could wait until Blair couldn't hear the playback. He suspected that most of the calls had been from reporters. Simon knew to contact them through their cell phones if he really needed to talk to them.

Blair moved to sit down on the couch and reached for the remote. As the picture brightened, Don Haas's face filled the screen.

"Isn't there any other news in the whole city? Do you mind if we leave the television off, Jim? I've heard more than I ever wanted to from that reporter," Blair requested.

"Chief, you're not listening to that crap he's spewing, are you?

"How can I not? I just can't believe this is happening. I don't think I can go through this again."

"What do you mean, Blair? Tell me what is going through that head of yours."

"This is actually worse than the media blitz caused by the dissertation. I only destroyed my own reputation. I was the only one being attacked by the press. This time, they aren't just attacking me; they're attacking Major Crimes, the entire PD, hell, even the Police Academy. This can't get any worse. I should just..."

"Blair, stop right there. I know where you're going with this. This wasn't your fault. You are not to blame. We just need a little time to get this straightened out."

"You don't really believe this mess can be resolved easily, do you? I should just make it easier on everyone and turn in my resignation now." Blair stood up and headed for the phone.

Jim blocked his path, holding one hand in front of his partner's chest. "Not this time, Sandburg. I'm not going to let you do that."

"It's not your decision, Jim." Blair attempted to move around his much larger partner.

Jim blocked again. "You are NOT going to sacrifice yourself. I won't let you. Trust me. Give me time to find another option."

Blair was too tired to continue the dance. He sat back down on the sofa, hiding his face with his large hands. "Jim, I don't want to drag everyone else down with me. I won't do that to my friends."

Jim sat down next to him, placing one arm across Blair's back. "So why would you believe YOUR friends are going to allow you to take the fall for something you don't deserve?"

"Man, it's just like in a 'Tale of Two Cities', the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Don't you get it? Better me than the entire department."

Jim shook his head. Now was not the time to discuss this with Blair. This incident was bringing up too many bad memories for both of them. "It's late and I don't want to argue with you tonight. Will you wait? Sleep on it first. Don't do anything right now, just give yourself a few days."

Blair didn't answer. Jim shook the dejected shoulders, gently asking again, "Okay? Do we have a deal, Chief?"

Blair sighed. "Sure, Jim. I'll wait, but I don't think I'll change my mind."

"Go to bed, buddy. Rest, give your body and mind a little time to heal before acting on a decision that will change your entire life. Tomorrow is a new day and maybe things won't look so bleak in the morning."

Blair headed for his room, closing the door behind him. Jim heard his friend settle down on his bed, falling asleep almost immediately. Jim waited several minutes until he was sure that Blair was sleeping deeply before he picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number.

"Simon, sorry to wake you, but we have a problem..."

Blair was sure that he wasn't going to be able to sleep, but he dropped off almost right away. When he opened his eyes, instead of seeing his room he was in the jungle. At his feet was a wolf, winding around his legs like a cat.

"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto," Blair muttered.

The wolf licked his hand, then bolted off into the jungle. Once he was about ten yards away and realized that Blair wasn't following, he turned around and barked at Blair. When Blair didn't move, the wolf trotted back over and locked his jaws around Blair's arm, pulling him, but not causing any harm.

"I got it. Follow the wolf. Now I understand why Jim wakes up so cranky after these visions. These spirit guides are really pushy."

The wolf let go and started to run. Blair took off after him. Just as he was starting to get tired, the wolf came to a halt in front of a stone temple. Standing by a pool of water next to a stone altar was Incacha. Blair slowed to a walk and approached the Chopec Shaman.

"Why are you here?" Incacha asked.

"I don't know."

"Why are you here?"

"Because I need to be?"

"Why are you here?"

"Because a pushy wolf dragged me here!"

The ends of Incacha's mouth turned up slightly as he repeated once more, "Why are you here?"

"Man, I thought Jim was the only one who got to experience these visions. Now, I know why he doesn't like these little visits. I'm lost, okay! Why don't you fill me in?"

Incacha smiled. "Enqueri knows his place within the tribe. He also understands your place. That is why you are here and he is not. You have lost your way. Why do you doubt your place within the tribe?" Incacha asked.

"I don't doubt my place with the tribe. I'm Jim's Guide. I know my place," Blair answered.

"That is not your place. More specifically, that is not your only place. You are Shaman to the Great City. Your role is more than simply being Guide to the Sentinel. The entire tribe depends on you. You do not accept this."

"I don't understand."

"Watch." Incacha waved his hand over the pool of water. Blair watched as an image of him speaking with Joel appeared. It was one of several discussions he had had with the former bomb squad Captain when he had wanted to resign from the squad after the Brackett bomb a few years ago.

With another wave of his hand, Incacha changed the image to a scene of him tutoring Daryl, who had been having trouble in school during his junior year and needed to get his grades up. With Blair's help, he brought home straight A's in his senior year.

The next image was of him talking to Megan. She had been extremely depressed not long ago. Her father had suffered a mild heart attack. Her family had been unable to reach her and, by the time they had succeeded, the crisis had passed, but she felt guilty for not being there. Another image of him appeared, consoling Rafe when his girlfriend had dumped him. He had intended to ask her to marry him right before she broke off their relationship.

Now the images were flashing much quicker from one to another. There was one of him and Jim in Peru when Simon and Daryl had been reported missing. Another of him jumping out of the helicopter after Brad Ventriss. Several of their recent cases appeared before the pool went dark.

Incacha stared at Blair. "Do you see?"

"I think so. A Shaman has to be many things to the tribe. He is a teacher, a healer of both bodies and minds, and, when necessary, he is a warrior."

The Chopec Shaman smiled at Blair. "You are opening yourself up to the possibilities."

Blair rocked back and forth on his heels as he assimilated the information Incacha was providing. "I'm starting to understand. Major Crime acts as the tribe's warriors, protecting the entire tribe. Simon would be the Chief warrior, relying on the Sentinel as the strongest of his warriors, looking to the Shaman for the moral direction. I can't walk away from this fight."

"Correct. Your tribe is under attack. The tribe's warriors cannot defend the tribe alone. They look to the Shaman for strength and purpose. That is your role, yet you reject your place."

"I didn't mean to reject the gift you gave me. I just didn't understand it."

"Do you now? Your destiny is with the tribe, as Shaman to the tribe and Guide to the Sentinel. Both are important roles, neither of which can be forsaken. Even now the warriors are gathering, planning their attack against those that would harm the tribe. Your place is with them. Fighting by their side. Follow your heart, Shaman."

"Thank you for helping me to understand." Blair shuffled one of his feet. "Umm, I was wondering. Are we going to be meeting here on a regular basis? It would be nice to have someone to talk to about all this."

Incacha shook his head. "You don't need my guidance. Your faith and understanding will see you travel the correct path. Your Sentinel, however, requires more attention and assurances to listen to his heart than you."

"The occasional kick on the butt," Blair added.

Incacha nodded and faded back into the jungle undergrowth, leaving Blair in front of the temple with the wolf. Blair reached down to pet his spirit guide, asking, "I don't suppose you know the way home, huh, boy?"

Midnight, Cascade Waterfront

AD Black was standing at the edge of the dock, looking out on the bay. He glanced down at his watch, using the button to light the face. Agent Whitney was running late. He fingered the .38 he had in his jacket pocket, wishing that Whitney would hurry up.

He noticed a set of headlights coming down the street. He sighed with relief as he recognized Whitney's car pulling into the parking area. He turned to face his soon-to-be former partner who was coming down the walkway.

"What was so important that we had to meet tonight, sir?"

"There is a late night meeting with the Governor, the Cascade Police Commissioner and Director West. He wouldn't tell me what was happening. I found out from his secretary that he was told I was not to come."

"They know what we've been doing?"

"I'm sure of it. We need to cover our tracks and get out of town. You haven't told anyone about this operation, have you?"

"No, it was too risky. The money is stashed in those Swiss accounts you set up for me. I've got my passport and some traveling cash at the bank in a safe deposit box. As soon as the bank opens in the morning, I'll be out of town."

AD Black shook his head. "Not soon enough. I need to be sure you're out of the way tonight. Sorry about this."

Whitney noticed Black reaching into his pocket and he started to back away. "No, you can't. They don't know anything about my involvement. We made sure there were no ties to me."

"Yes, but you know about me and I can't have you telling anyone."

"I wouldn't do that. We're partners!" He tripped over some rope coiled by the edge, falling backward onto planks. He landed on his back, but quickly rolled over onto his knees, struggling to stand up.

Black aimed and fired one shot to the back of Whitney's head. Cautiously, he looked around to make sure the shot hadn't drawn any unwelcome attention. When he was sure it was safe, he rolled the body off the pier into the dark murky waters of the bay.

He had over an hour to get to the airport, where a private charter was waiting to take him to Bermuda. With the money he had stashed away there plus the money from the Swiss accounts that had been set up in both their names, without Whitney knowing about it, he could live comfortably for a very long time.

While he was passing the time away in the sun and sand, he could also begin planning his revenge. Those men and women in the Major Crimes Unit had destroyed his plans for the future. They would have to pay for their interference, and pay dearly.

Next morning, Loft

Blair slowly returned to the waking world. Last night's dream was still fresh and vivid in his mind. He wasn't sure he completely understood all he had experienced last night, but he knew that he felt much better. As he slowly sat up on his bed, every bruise, scrape and burn immediately made its presence known. He looked over at his alarm clock. How could Jim have let him sleep this late? It took him two attempts to stand, and he slowly shuffled out to the living room. It was time to face the day, which looked a lot brighter than yesterday.

Jim had been up all night. He had spent most of the time on the phone. Everything was arranged. All he had to do now was have Blair in front of the television for the noon news broadcast. At least Blair was still sleeping peacefully. He had thought Blair would have experienced several nightmares with all the stress he had been under. It was almost 10:30 AM and Blair was only now showing signs of waking.

He got a fresh pot of coffee brewing. After that, he started pulling out the pots and pans he would need to make a nice, big, unhealthy breakfast. As he opened the refrigerator door to get out the eggs, Blair shuffled out of his bedroom, rubbing his eyes.

"Morning, Chief," Jim said cheerfully.

"What are you doing, Jim, and why did you let me oversleep?" Blair asked sleepily as he headed for the coffeepot.

"Since your hands aren't in good shape, I decided to make it easy on you and cook breakfast, which should be ready in about thirty minutes. Why don't you take a nice hot shower? I'll change those bandages when you're done," Jim suggested as he added eggs to the mixing bowl.

"Okay, who are you and what have you done with Jim Ellison?" Blair asked, resting his hands on his hips.

"Funny, Junior. I do occasionally cook breakfast and today I was in the mood for pancakes. So, if you want breakfast, go get your shower and be back here in thirty minutes. You snooze, you lose and I get all the pancakes."

"I'm going. I'm going. I'm not about to turn down your pancakes. Are you putting fruit in them again?"

"Yep, blueberry or banana. I couldn't make up my mind which one I wanted, so I'm making both."

"Cool. I'm starving. I'll be right back." Blair smiled and headed back into his bedroom, just long enough to grab some clothes and head into the bathroom. Jim heard the shower turn on and Blair climb in and start to sing. He shook his head and smiled. Blair had seemed so sad and hopeless last night before he had gone to bed. He wondered what had happened during the night to turn Blair's attitude around so completely. He finished mixing the batter as the shower was turned off. Blair was heading for the kitchen, toweling off his hair.

Jim took a break from fixing breakfast long enough to re-wrap Blair's hands. Just as he finished up, he heard Joel out in the hallway and opened the door before Joel could knock. "I see what Simon means. It's spooky when you guys do that."

Blair yelled from the kitchen, "Come on in, Joel. You're just in time for breakfast. I hope you're hungry. Jim's pancakes are some of the best I've ever tasted."

"Sandburg, coming from you, I'm not sure that is a compliment. I've heard all about your strange tastes when it comes to food," Joel laughed as he headed for the table.

When they were done eating, Jim gathered the dishes and left them in the sink to soak. He would wash them later. It was almost time for the press conference to start. He had little time to convince Blair to turn on and watch the television.

Blair and Joel had already moved into the living room and were seated on the couch in front of the television. Jim smiled as Joel was already steering Blair in the right direction. Jim sat down in the chair across from them.

"So, Jim, what do you want to do now that we have the next few days off?"

"Let's give your hands a day to heal up a little more then maybe we can go camping out at Cascade National Park. Right now I want to veg out in front of the TV and check out the scores." Jim reached for the remote and flipped on the television.

As soon as the picture and sound came on, the first thing the men heard was the announcer saying, "And now a special report. The Governor has announced a press conference. The meeting is about to start, and we take you there live.

"I'm not watching this," Sandburg announced as he started to rise from the sofa.

"Wait, Chief. I think you really need to see this," Jim said, pointing to the screen.

Blair glanced at the TV and was surprised to see a wide-angle view of the steps in front of City Hall. Standing at the top of the stairs was the Governor and the Police Commissioner, flanked by Sergeant Charlie Blanchard, Simon Banks and, to Blair's surprise, Eli Stoddard. As the camera panned over the group then down the stairs, Blair's mouth dropped open in surprise. Standing in formal dress uniforms was what had to be the full contingent of every off-duty officer in the city. He had never seen so many cops in one place.

"Who's patrolling the city?" Blair stammered out.

"Skeleton crew, drawn by lot. Everyone wanted to be at City Hall to show their support, but someone had to be on duty," Joel answered, patting Blair's knee. "Watch and learn just how much you mean to the Department, to your family, Blair."

"My tribe," Blair muttered under his breath. Joel didn't hear him, but Jim flashed him a curious look.

The Police Commissioner approached the podium. "We are here today under most unusual circumstances. Normally, the Cascade Police Department would not respond in this manner to the vicious and unsubstantiated attacks targeted towards the Department and our officers by the news media. At the request of many of our ranking officers, the instructors at the Academy and other interested parties, however, we are here today to answer the erroneous accusations that have been made to you, the public, in television news reports and in newpapers over the last twenty-four hours.

"The Cascade Police Department has been investigating this incident and we will make public our findings and provide documentation to the Governor's office and several selected members of the media at the conclusion of this press conference. I would like to remind everyone that, as a result of the police raid on that warehouse, the source of the poison that was killing our children has been stopped. I for one am very grateful to the Major Crimes Unit for their quick and decisive actions in this case. The fact that a major drug ring was taken down at that warehouse seems to have been forgotten in the wake of the frenzy generated by the fictional cover-up story perpetuated by the media.

"I do not take the situation lightly. The death of the undercover DEA agent is indeed a tragedy that I wish could have been prevented. But, according to the facts and documents uncovered during our investigation, there was no possibility that the Major Crimes Unit could have known there was an undercover agent working within the drug ring. This was due to an internal miscommunication within the DEA that made that information unavailable to the Cascade PD. The DEA, in conjunction with the Governor's office, is currently investigating ways in which to prevent a similar occurrence in the future."

A murmur of voices flowed through the audience as the Commissioner paused for a moment. A volley of questions flew from the reporters who had been given front row seats.

The Commissioner held up his hands and cleared his throat, taking charge of the crowd. "Please, hold all questions until the end of our presentation. The first issue I would like to now address are the concerns with regard to the quality of cadets being graduated from the Police Academy. I would like to introduce Sergeant Charlie Blanchard from the Police Academy. He has been an instructor there for many years and is responsible for training many of the officers who are on the streets of Cascade today."

The Commissioner stepped back from the podium as the Sergeant moved forward to speak. "I'm here today to address the inaccurate portrayal rendered by the press of the training received at the Academy by today's rookie cops. As you know, I'm a sergeant in charge of a group of cadets at the Academy. There is a story about a cadet who graduated a short while ago that I now tell to all incoming cadets the first time they are at the firing range. I'd like to share that story with you. Until this particular cadet arrived at the Academy, he had never had any formal firearms training. After his first time on the range, it was obvious that he was a very good shot. One of the other instructors approached him about training for the S.W.A.T. squad.

"I've never forgotten his response. He said, 'I may be required to take this training, but I still believe that violence only begets violence. You're more likely to escalate a situation by waving a gun around. I'd rather find another option first.' When pushed on the subject, the cadet finally said that there was only one situation that he considered severe enough to use his weapon. Many of you might assume that he was referring to some type of self-defense situation. He was not. He was referring to a threat to his partner and to those with whom he serves.

"The cadet of whom I am speaking is Detective Blair Sandburg. I have followed his career since his graduation and can speak with complete honesty that he is a man of his word. Pulling a gun has always been, and will always be, the last resort with this particular officer. The accusation that he instigated the shoot-out in that warehouse is completely ludicrous to anyone who knows the man or who has bothered to check out his service record. I would be honored to serve with him, as would any other officer present here today."

Sergeant Blanchard was forced to pause because of the loud cheers and affirmations of his statements that arose from the sea of officers standing on the stairs. Jim heard his partner whisper softly, "I didn't know. How could I not know they felt this way? I figured that I wouldn't have any support left after these accusations."

"Watch and learn, Chief. Learn just what you mean to all of us." Jim turned his attention back to the TV as Charlie continued with his statement.

"What you may be unaware of, and should understand, is that cadets must pass very strict screenings in order to graduate from the Police Academy. They must demonstrate certain levels of physical prowess and knowledge of the laws that govern our society. Most importantly, they must pass several different psychological assessments. If they fail at any one of these stages, they are washed out from the program. Those individuals with a propensity for violence or a fondness for firing weapons are not allowed to reach graduation.

"Now I would like to introduce the next speaker, Doctor Eli Stoddard, formerly a professor at Rainier University."

Blair gasped as his former teacher and mentor stepped up to the podium.

"I'm here today to address the recent statements in the press that Blair Sandburg submitted a fraudulent dissertation to Rainier University in pursuit of his doctoral degree. Though I am no longer associated with Rainier and cannot officially speak for them, I am well aware of the facts surrounding that incident. Notice, I said the facts, not the erroneous story reported by the press before and after Mr. Sandburg's press conference. The University's cowardly and despicable behavior in the wake of that press conference is the reason I left Rainier. Let me make this perfectly clear: at no time did Blair Sandburg ever directly submit, nor indicate to any University official that the excerpts the publishing company released to the media would ever be submitted as, his doctoral thesis.

"It is a matter of public record that Blair Sandburg was riding along with James Ellison to collect information on a thesis covering the study of closed societies exemplified by such organizations as a police department. I can attest to this personally, as Blair sent me several sections on the subject for my opinion."

Jim raised his eyebrows and gently poked his partner.

"I sent him some drafts. I was planning to publish them as a series of papers to an Anthropology journal, but I never told him that. He just assumed that they would go in a dissertation," Blair answered.

"The University acted prematurely when they called the press conference on the word of an unknown publisher. They never verified the information with Mr. Sandburg about the contents of the information released by the publisher.

"I have known Blair Sandburg since he was sixteen years old. In my 30+ years of teaching, I have never had a student who was as dedicated to searching out the truth as Blair Sandburg. He has always been meticulous in his data collection and documentation. He's not the type of individual who would knowingly submit a fraudulent document for publication."

A roar of support arose from the officers present, drowning out the questions being called out by the reporters. Eli waited until the roar died down before continuing his portion of the presentation.

"I can see that some of you are thinking, Why would he have written a manuscript such as this? As I have never discussed the issue with Blair, I can only speak from personal experience on the existence of a document such as 'The Sentinel'. I have several such manuscripts, works of fiction based on sites I have examined or interesting myths of the tribes I have studied. I wrote them with the idea of best sellers or movies of the week. Most of my peers have similar ideas, though they would probably deny it publicly. The difference is, mine were never mistakenly presented to the world as the truth.

"Since Rainier continues to refuse to accept their responsibility for this fiasco, I can no longer stand silent and allow Blair Sandburg to be crucified for the greedy actions of others. I'm extremely proud to have counted Blair Sandburg as one of my students and have taken a great deal of pride in watching his accomplishments. With his intellect and strength of heart, I submit to you that it is in your best interest to allow this young man to continue in his chosen career as a Guardian of the city."

Jim and Blair's eyes locked at Eli's choice of words. Joel shook his head and smiled. He had met Eli the day before and had spoken for over an hour with the man about Jim and Blair. Eli had been fishing for confirmation that James Ellison was truly a Sentinel. Joel had told him nothing to confirm it, but Eli had mentioned previous debates with Blair on the topic and it was Stoddard who had given Blair the book about the Sentinels of Paraguay.

"Our final speaker for the conference is Captain Simon Banks from the Major Crimes Unit."

Simon approached the podium. Several officers stepped forward with him. Blair smiled as he identified Henri Brown, Megan Connor and LT Rafe. "There have been several accusations leveled directly at the Major Crimes Unit. As most of you know, police departments evaluate their efficiency based on the closure and conviction rates of their units. Over the last several years, Major Crimes has increased the number of closed cases by 15 percent and our conviction rate by almost 25 percent. What this means is that we have increased our success rate in tracking down those individuals who are breaking the law and have been successful in putting them behind bars.

"Major Crimes has the highest solve and conviction numbers of any unit in the State of Washington. Part of the reason for the success of our unit lies in having a diverse background of knowledge and experience in the unit. The personnel assigned to Major Crimes includes a former Army Ranger, a bomb squad captain, a foreign exchange detective from Australia and a pair of detectives who have the second highest solve rate at Cascade PD and the fifteenth highest in the State. Our most recent addition has a master's degree and has specialized in the study of different cultures and psychology.

"The most important reason for the success of the Major Crimes Unit is the manner in which these detectives standing before you conduct themselves. Teamwork is too simple a word to truly describe the actions taken on a day-to-day basis by these men and women. I'm proud to be their Captain, and I thank God each day that they protect our city, the city in which I choose to live and raise my son.

"All the evidence and documentation from our investigation and subsequent raid was submitted to the special investigator that the Governor assigned to scrutinize Major Crimes' actions and behavior. I welcomed this review. The Major Crimes Unit has nothing to fear from scrutiny. Though his investigation is not yet over, he has already submitted his report clearing the Major Crimes Unit of any responsibility in the death of Agent Mallory and is pursuing other avenues.

"While part of me is happy to know my unit has been cleared of any wrongdoing, I am extremely saddened by the need to conduct this press conference. I mistakenly believed the days of witch hunts and McCarthyism were long behind us. But those horrible phrases are the only words I can think of to describe the actions of the media over the past two days. I hope you all take a good long look at yourselves and your behavior before you pursue your next story."

The Commissioner returned to the podium. "Thank you all for attending. This press conference is over."

Jim turned off the television using the remote. His partner was speechless, not a state Jim was familiar with seeing. "Are you all right, Chief?"

"How did you...? Why did they...?" Blair couldn't find the words to express what he was feeling.

"Because, Chief, just like in the movie 'The Search for Spock', the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many."

Blair laughed as he recalled his own literary quote the night before. "Funny, Jim. Your sense of humor is improving; my influence, no doubt. I'm serious, though. I don't know what to say."

"Think fast, everyone's dropping by as soon as they get clear of the crowd, Chief."

Thirty minutes later, the core members of the Major Crime Unit were gathered at the loft. Jim had ordered pizza and subs for everyone. Simon brought beer and soda. The television was not turned on. For a few hours, no one wanted to remember the hassles of the past few days. Blair was standing in the kitchen, collecting a round a drinks for everyone, smiling at the tall tales being told in the living room. Megan, Rhonda, Henri and Rafe were all sharing the sofa. Simon and Joel were sitting opposite each other in chairs. Jim was sharing the loveseat with Blair on the rare occasion he wasn't playing host to the party.

Blair watched them from behind the island in the kitchen, his tribe and, more importantly, his family. As he stared, he noticed a familiar jungle scene overlaying the loft. The appearance of the men and women of Major Crime were shifting to fit that of a tribe sitting around a campfire. Sitting either beside or beneath each person was an animal, their spirit guide. Blair recognized Jim's panther immediately. He gasped as he saw Incacha reflected within the glass on the balcony doors. Blair heard him whisper, "You have found your place."

Jim was the only one to hear Blair gasp. He moved quickly to his partner's side, observing the glazed expression on Blair's face. Jim turned his partner to face him. "Chief, what's wrong?"

The image faded away as Blair heard Jim's question. "Nothing's wrong. In fact, everything's right. For the first time in days, everything's perfect." Noting the doubtful look on Jim's face, he added, "I'll explain later. Since you're here, you can carry these drinks out to everyone since my hands are still out of commission."

The two men returned to the group, refilling the refreshments. Blair launched one of his own tall tales of another of his famous expeditions. It was several hours before everyone went home. Jim was doing the dishes when he recalled his partner's promise of an explanation. "Time to explain your zone-out, Chief."

Blair carried the last of the dishes from the living room into the kitchen. "My what?"

"You promised to explain why everything is 'perfect'."

"Did I?" Blair answered with a smirk.


"I had a dream last night. My spirit guide took me to see Incacha..." Blair started to explain.

"I need to sit down before I hear the rest of this." Jim wiped his hands on a dishtowel and headed for the sofa. Blair sat on the chair next to the sofa so that he was facing Jim.

"Incacha provided the next lesson in what it means to be a Shaman. I always believed my place was at your side, as your Guide, your Shaman, but I was only half right. I was closer a few years ago when I said I was Shaman of the Great City. I'm not only your Guide and Shaman, but also the Shaman to my tribe."

"And your tribe is?" Jim asked, waving his hands.

"All of Cascade, but mostly it is my job to provide guidance to the tribe's warriors, not just you. When I was watching you all from the kitchen, I saw the bullpen gang as tribal warriors each with a spirit guide. I saw your panther."

"What did the rest of them have?"

"Simon's spirit animal is the horse. The horse represents power, faithfulness, awareness of power achieved with true cooperation, guide to overcoming obstacles."

"That's a pretty good description of both Simon Banks and Captain Banks," Jim said with a smile. "What about Joel?"

"Joel had a hawk perched on his shoulder. Megan had a badger lying on her feet. The badger represents bold self-expression, single-mindedness, persistence in service of the mission, cunning and creative action in a crisis."

"Bold self-expression, huh? I guess that explains the pink dingo jacket," Jim said laughing as he recalled their first meeting with the Aussie detective.

"And her croc hunting abilities. Henri's lion was lying across his feet. A buffalo was following Rhonda when she left. The characteristics of the buffalo are feminine courage, generosity, sharing the work and giving for the greater good. That is so fitting for Rhonda."

"So far everyone sounds right on the money. What about Rafe?"

Blair starting laughing, unable to speak for a minute.

"This should be good, what does Rafe have?"

"Rafe has a peacock, representing all aspects of beauty, dignity and self confidence."

"I don't want to be the one to explain that to him."

"I wasn't planning on it. I'm not sure that any of them would believe me. I also saw Incacha again, briefly. I know my place now, Jim. Growing up, I never imagined that I would find a place where I truly felt I belonged, but I have."

"I'm glad to hear you say that, buddy, because I can't see you anyplace but here. Cascade is our territory to protect and I can't do it without you."

"Thanks, Jim. It's nice to know how you feel." Blair yawned. "I feel like I could sleep for a week."

"Then go to bed early tonight."

"I think I will. Night, Jim."

"Night, buddy."

Jim watched as his Guide headed for the bedroom. Simon had passed along some other news before he left. Agent Whitney's body had been found floating in the bay, one bullet to the back of the head. There was no sign of AD Black, but somehow Jim believed they hadn't seen the last of him.

The End

Author's note: Thanks to all who have edited and reviewed this one for me. Especially to Kim and EagleEye for editing, Rona and Cindy for advising and to my Mom for her beta job.

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