MELTDOWN, Part Two
Production No. BPP-619

written by:
Toni Rae

edited by: Gabrielle, Alyson E, and Shelley



Evening, Starlight Motel, Room 112

"Ellison"

"Stevie. It's Jim."

"Jim, hi. Where are you? I've been trying to get a hold of you for three days."

"Is something wrong?" Jim's attention quickly turned from their current surroundings, to the point of tuning everything including his Guide out, as concern for his brother moved to the forefront of his thoughts.

"No. Nothing serious. Well, nothing that can't wait until I see you. Michelle and I just wanted to invite you and Blair to a small dinner party we're having next weekend. It's more of an 'entertain the clients thing'..." Steven trailed off, not quite sure why his brother would want to come to their dinner party, but needing to invite him just the same.

"We'd love to come. Provided, of course, we are back in town. And I don't have to wear a suit." Jim responded to the hesitation in his brother's voice; in fact, he was honored Steven even thought to invite them.

"No suits. Very informal."

"Good. Just call and leave a message on the machine at the loft so we know when and where. Jamison isn't going to be there? Is she?" Jim added the last as almost an afterthought. The VP's attention, as well as her disdain for his partner would make for a long evening. The attention he could probably handle, it was her dislike of his Guide that truly set his hackles on end.

"Will do. And no, Dory's not invited to this one." Knowing how she grated on his brother's nerves, Steven suppressed his desire to tease his brother about the older woman's attentions.

"So how's Lily doing?" Jim asked his brother in an attempt to forestall questioning the younger man about their childhood.

"You have no idea. She let her fingernails grow. I'm sure they were an inch long before, now they have to be at least two. And colors. I didn't even know some of these colors even existed. This week, they're white with little green shamrocks all over them. For Saint Patrick's Day, she informed me. I don't know how she types with the darned things. But I will admit at least I know when she's working because of the clacking noises on the keyboard. Heck, the whole hallway knows when she's working, she makes so much noise. Unlike Mrs. Melvin; I never knew what she was doing she was so quiet." Steven paused to take a deep breath before continuing.

"And then there's her hair. You know, last week I found these long black hairs and long white hairs in the folders I was keeping my presentation notes in. Try explaining that one to senior managers. At least it was a good icebreaker. And this is even after I explained the concept of barrettes to her. Before, not only was it showing up in my files, it would hit me in the face every time she turned around. And let me tell you, a mouth full of hair is not a good thing. At least she uses nice smelling shampoo."

"So you going to fire her?" Jim struggled and failed miserably to suppress the laughter in his voice.

"Hell no! My office hasn't been this organized in years." Steven's ready response, and the lightness of his tone, indicated his fondness for his current secretary, despite her unusual appearance.

As the subject of Steven's secretary ran its course, a decided lull in the conversation resulted.

Steven, suspecting his older brother had something specific on his mind, broke the silence. "So Jim, you have a reason for calling, other than double checking to see if I've murdered my secretary yet?"

"Actually yeah." Jim hesitated slightly, before deciding to ask questions first and explain later. "Do you remember anything about our trips to Hanford as kids?"

"We took trips to Hanford as kids? Isn't that the old plutonium manufacturing plant? What were we doing out there?" Steven's confusion at his brother's words manifested itself in his voice.

"So you don't remember anything about Jake Groves?" Jim rushed on, needing to finish his self-appointed task quickly.

"No. Jim, what's this all about?"

"How about Aunt Faith?" Jim almost hated himself for asking the question. There would be no reason Steven would have known about their aunt when he didn't, would there?

"We have an Aunt Faith? So which one of our parents had a sister they never told us about?" Steven attempted to be unfazed by the admission, but failed miserably.

"Mom. They were twins." Jim almost couldn't bring himself to say the words.

"You're kidding." Steven's stunned shock at Jim's question traveled clearly over the phone line.

"I wish I were." Steven's obvious distress over Jim's questions reassured the older man in a perverse way. At least he knew his brother wasn't keeping secrets from him. His father on the other hand....

"Jim, what the hell's going on?"

"I'm not really sure yet. But I think when this is all over, you and I need to sit down and have a long talk. Then I think we need to sit down and have a long talk with our father." Realizing that his brother was not going to be of any help, Jim decided to try ending the conversation.

"When all what is over? Jim, you lost me here."

So much for ending the conversation. Maybe he'll accept the short explanation. "An old acquaintance of mine and Sandburg's was doing some research out at the Hanford Engineer Works. She called us because her contact out here managed to get himself killed, so we came to investigate, only to find she's been kidnapped. Officially, we're on vacation."

"Aren't you a little out of your jurisdiction?" Steven reverted to logic and mundane questions in an attempt to ease his confusion.

"Let's just say there are still a few people that owe me a few favors." Jim introduced enough of an edge to his voice to forestall any further questions in this vein.

"Okay. So what does this have to do with us?"

Jim took a deep breath before answering the question. As his did so, he noticed a hand resting gently on his shoulder. Funny, he didn't remember Blair moving, he thought, before noticing that Blair hadn't moved. Rather, in an attempt to restore some balance, he'd sat down on the bed next to his Guide, who'd also unconsciously responded to his needs by placing a hand on his shoulder to ground him. He smiled gratefully at his friend and returned his attentions to the phone and his younger brother. "It seems a few of the people working out here knew mom. One of them had a picture of her and another woman in his house. Blair and I found it this afternoon. They looked almost identical." He'd explain about Jake later. Besides, wasn't that something better explained in person?

"So you decided mom was a twin." Steven still struggled to grasp the information his brother was sharing with him.

"Got any better ideas?"

"Not really, no. It just seems odd that dad never said anything."

"You really think so?"

"No."

"So, can we talk about the rest of this when I get back?"

"Yeah, sure. You mean there's more?" Steven's voice held a note of incredulity, testament to his disbelief in what his brother had told him.

Jim responded in half-truths, not wanting to further upset his brother. "Not really. I just think we should see if we can remember anything about Faith. Then we can talk to dad."

"Okay."

"Hey Steven, take care of yourself, okay?"

"Yeah. This is all a little much to take in, isn't it?"

"Yeah. I'll call you when I get back. But if anything comes up you can call me on my cell phone."

"Okay. Night Jim."

"Night, Stevie." Jim reverted to the childhood nickname once again, this time in an effort to reassure his brother everything would be okay.

"Took it a little hard did he?" Blair finally asked, after Jim had had several minutes to compose himself.

"That's a bit of an understatement."


That night the Sentinel dreamed.


Thursday morning, Dilly's Diner, Richland, Washington

"So, what'd Simon have to say?" Ellison asked his partner after the hostess seated them at a small booth in the back of the diner and a waitress had taken their order.

The fact that it was the same booth they'd occupied the previous day was not lost on Sandburg. "I think we're regulars, Jim. Same booth and everything."

"Place like this you don't get to be regulars until you've been doing this for twenty years. Now about Simon..."

"But it's the same table. And we both ordered the same breakfast as yesterday." Blair refused to let the subject drop.

"That's because all the regulars are at their tables and this was the only one left. As for the same order, you always order Mueslix if it's on the menu." Jim patiently explained, though the slight smile he attempted to hide indicated his amusement at his friend's enthusiasm for the subject.

"Oh." Blair's face fell at Jim's words. "But we can pretend, can't we?" The last sentence was accompanied by the patented Sandburg puppy dog gaze; the one designed to have women, children, and difficult partners wrapped around his little finger in seconds.

"If it makes you feel better, go right ahead, Houdini. Now about Simon..."

"Oh right. Well, he had Rafe and Brown pull all of Wendy's phone records, and they came up empty. Other than Jake and a few phone calls to a number listed as general information for the Engineer Works, seems the only person she's talked to in the last few weeks is her editor."

"And did he think to call the editor to see if she told him anything?"

"Already taken care of. Rafe can be very persuasive when he wants to be." Blair grinned at the image of the dapper detective interviewing witnesses. The GQ detective could win the hearts of anyone, usually even faster than Sandburg. "Seems Wendy kept her updated, but that's about it. Short conversations. 'Things are going well.' 'Might need another couple days.' Things like that, but no real information. She promised to call if anything comes up though."

"So, we aren't any further than we were when we got here?" Jim growled in frustration at the situation. "Most of this we could have done from Cascade."

"Ah, yes, but think of the fun we're having." Sandburg grinned at his friend. "And all the things I'm learning about you."

"Speaking of learning, what did Serena get from my shirt? And who did she tell?" Jim deftly returned the conversation to the original subject before the younger man could detour too far down the road to his childhood.

"Just Simon. She's keeping this as quiet as everyone else. Unfortunately, she didn't turn up much. A few trace metals, dust particles, lots of sage, that type of stuff. She's going to run some more detailed analysis and get back to us, or rather Simon, if she turns up anything."

"Matthews didn't find out what was going on, did he?"

Blair shook his head in the negative, thankful that there were not going to be any repercussions from their little research request.

"Good. I hoped that Serena's tests would explain a few things, though." Jim almost pounded the table in frustration.

"Me too. You don't think this could just be an allergic reaction to the sage, do you?" Blair grasped on to his own lifeline.

"If that were the case, why isn't it happening all the time? And why do I have that image of Steven doing the same thing when we were kids?"

"So, it's something that only happens occasionally. Which likely means that someone somewhere is controlling it. But how?" Blair paused for a moment before continuing, as a piece of the puzzle began to take shape. "And what does the fact that you both have a heightened sense of touch have to do with it?"

"That's what I'd like to know. Not to mention the why."

The arrival of the waitress with their breakfast effectively halted their conversation. Both men turned gratefully to their food, grateful for the reprise from their fruitless speculation.

Their breakfasts finished, the time consumed by eating and mindless chatter, Jim turned to Blair and hesitated. Seeking solace in his coffee cup, he drained the last of the sludge in the bottom. Taking a deep breath, he finally blurted out the issue that had been plaguing him since early that morning.

"I had a really weird dream last night. At least I think it was a dream, it might have been more of a vision." There I said it. Now it was time for twenty questions.

"That's funny. So did I."

Blair's answer took Jim momentarily by surprise. Of all the answers he'd anticipated, that was not even in the vicinity of the list. "Um." Taking a deep breath he tried again. "Wolf, jaguar, cougar, bear, fox, and deer? Lots of angst?"

"Yep. Guess that puts this in the vision category." The young shaman smiled at his flummoxed friend.

"Got any ideas what it means?"

"Not a one. You?" Blair knew the idea of a shared vision between them was a major occurrence, but he could tell by the look on his friend's face that this was not the time to press the issue.

"Not really. That's usually your department. I have the dreams, then you interpret them." Ellison grinned, disappointed the smaller man was too far away for a good hair ruffling.

"So what'd you find in the files?" Jim asked, effectively changing the subject from their unexplained shared vision.

"Not much. There are lots of files on something called the Green Run. About a box and a half of them near as I can tell. Not much narrative, just lots of statistics and factual data. Near as I can tell it took place sometime in December of 1949. Which doesn't make sense. That was before Jake even got out here. Why would he have files on it?"

"Jake was kind of a packrat. Anything that struck his fancy he was likely to hang on to. I don't envy his children cleaning out his house. There's no telling what they might find hidden in the back of closets."

"Yeah, but these seemed like specific files. Almost like someone created them for a reason. Anyway," Blair stopped his own train of thought before he went too far off track. "That's as far as I got." He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say 'oh well.'

"Damn. I was hoping the answer would be in there. Is there any reason anyone would want to get a hold of those files? Can you see them being a motive for murder?"

"If someone knew exactly what all the data meant, they might be cause for murder. We've seen them committed for less." A slight note of cynicism about the inhumanity of man entered Blair's voice, causing Ellison to wince slightly. "But someone would have to have a highly technical background to make them worth anything. Unless of course there's something there I haven't found yet."

"Guess that means we're going to have to keep looking." Disappointment radiated throughout Jim's voice.

"And if they are the reason he was murdered and Wendy kidnapped, why didn't the murderer take them with him?" Blair speculated aloud.

"Maybe he got interrupted?"

"Or maybe whoever actually committed the murder didn't know about the files?" Sandburg answered his own question.

"So it was just a grunt following orders?"

"Could be. But why?"

"There's something missing here. I just wish I could figure out what it is." Jim balled his right hand into a fist and began pounding it into his left palm in an effort to relieve some of his built-up tension.

"Maybe the Feds?" Blair responded cheekily, almost without thinking.

"You know, you're right. We've been here for two days now and haven't seen anyone doing any investigating. If this is their case, where are they?" Jim put his finger on at least part of what was bothering him about the situation.

"Maybe they're involved somehow?"

"Could be. Or there's always the other option."

"Which is?"

"Maybe someone forgot to tell them."

"Which means that someone at the facility was involved in Jake's death. Or at least someone who would have shown up when Wendy called the authorities to report his death." Ellison could almost see the wheels turning in his partner's head. "You know, there's still the general information number we could check out. Not to mention the fact we haven't actually seen the one tourist attraction out here..."

"Chief, you read my mind."


"Is it just me or was that the ultimate public relations tour?" Blair turned to Jim, as they left the gloom of the headquarters building and stepped into the late afternoon sunlight. Both men paused to don their sunglasses to avoid the glare.

"They did leave out a few areas didn't they?" Jim replied almost noncommittally.

"Just everywhere they're actually doing something." Blair's voice expressed his frustration with government bureaucracies.

"In other words, they showed us just enough to keep us from becoming suspicious." Jim was taking a surprisingly pragmatic approach to the whitewash they'd just received from the company responsible for the clean up at Hanford.

"Good thing we're the suspicious types." Blair grinned. "So, got any ideas?"

"One or two."

"Care to share them with me, Batman?" Sandburg added the nickname in jest. After all these years I finally learned how to do that!

"Not particularly. But right now I think we need to go for a little stroll." Jim's hand motions and facial expression conveyed the message that he didn't want to talk there.

Slowly they began walking in the direction of the river, away from the sprawling, obviously government constructed and controlled facility. Long, low, flat, warehouse-like structures -- their flatness occasionally relieved by the tall, looming form of a cooling tower or a slightly taller administrative looking building -- sprang from the otherwise unrelenting desert in front of them. The presence of the Columbia River, not far from the complex, did little for the otherwise arid landscape; without prior knowledge of its existence, the river could easily go unnoticed.

"So, what are we looking for out here, man?" Blair voiced his question after they'd moved well away from the building.

"Not sure. Anything that looks suspicious." Jim replied, his eyes scanning the distant horizon looking for anything amiss.

"Oh sure. That'll be easy. Jim, man, the whole place looks suspicious. Take that building over there." Sandburg indicated a low, flat warehouse-type structure about five hundred feet to their left with a wide sweep of his arm. "That one looks deserted. Almost as if it's owner dropped it out of an airplane and then forgot to come use it. And that one over there," he indicated another building, this one off to the right, surrounded by a chain-link fence and large yellow and black signs, "it looks like you'd be taken hostage if you even came close to the fence. Any minute now, I expect the Men in Black to come out and arrest us."

Ellison followed each arm movement with his eyes, magnifying his vision slightly to get a closer look at the structures his friend was pointing out.

Noticing his Sentinel's quiet observation, the Guide placed a hand gently on the other's back to ground him, effectively stilling his conversation in the process.

"Keep talking."

"What? Oh. Why?"

"It's distracting."

"So, you want me to keep doing it? That's so unlike you, man."

"Sandburg."

"Okay, okay." He held up his hands placatingly. "So, find anything?"

"Not about that."

"What? Oh." Comprehension dawned. "Are you trying to tell me this whole place is bugged? How do you bug a whole desert? It doesn't seem possible."

"I'm not telling you anything. You're jumping to conclusions."

"Well, what conclusion am I supposed to come to when you tell me not to talk about something? Usually that means we can't talk because someone's listening." Blair's voice rose slightly as his tirade continued. "Now, seeing as how we are in the middle of a desert, the only logical conclusion I can come to is the place is bugged."

"Who said we were talking logical here. This is the government we're talking about. And the highly classified government to boot."

Blair threw up his hands in disgust and defeat. Obviously he was not going to get anything resembling a straight answer out of his friend. Deciding not to push the issue, he changed the subject. "You know, this reminds me of this time I spent with this tribe in South Africa. They had this almost pathological obsession with security..."

Blair's voice faded gently into the background as they continued to walk, and Jim carefully scanned his surroundings. Occasionally, he'd stop to look at something more closely, but he could find nothing obviously out of the ordinary. The Guide's running monologue kept the Sentinel from zoning on the barren environment. Over an hour later, they found themselves back where they started.

"So, back to the Bat Cave to look at the files?" Blair asked, as they reached the truck.

"Back to the Bat Cave. The key to all this has got to be in there somewhere. I just wish I knew were to find it."

"So back to researching?"

"Yep. Back to researching. You know, none of this is getting us any closer to finding Wendy." Jim unlocked the passenger side door to the truck before walking around to the driver's side.

"Not necessarily true. If we can figure out what's going on out here -- and what Jake knew that got him killed -- we might be able to figure out at least who took her." Blair replied after climbing into the truck beside Jim.

"And if we figure out who took her, we can find her." A note of optimism about the whole case entered Ellison's voice.

"Exactly." Sandburg bounced slightly in his seat. "And if we're lucky, we might even learn a few more things about you in the process."

"So, we're back to my childhood." The glum look on Jim's face matched his tone of voice perfectly.

"Certainly looks like it." Blair bounced even more.

"But what do my mom and Faith have to do with Wendy?"

"Who knows? Maybe nothing. Maybe something that was going on back then is still going on... Hey, that might be it. Now all we have to do is figure out what's going on." Sandburg mused aloud some of his questions surrounding the case.

"Which means back to researching." Jim's glum look worsened.

"Which means back to researching. But in that respect you're in luck."

"I am?"

"Yep. See, you just happen to have a partner who is very good at research."

"I always knew I kept you around for a reason." Ellison gently cuffed the other man on the shoulder before starting the truck.

"My cooking."

"Other than that."


Evening, Starlight Motel, Room 112

"Hey Jim, hand me that file."

The two men were back in their room, lounging casually, intent on their respective projects. Blair sat in the center of his bed, several large boxes of files at his feet, another couple on the small table by the door; the boxes were courtesy of a stop at Jake's after they finished dinner. Several bulging manila files covered the available space on the bed as he carefully flipped through each one.

Jim, on the other hand, rested comfortably on his bed, back against the headboard. In his hands another of his paperback novels held his attention. The foot of his bed also covered in files and paper where Blair's project had spilled over.

"Which file? There are bunches of them over here." Jim looked up from his book and indicated the mass of files in the room with a sweep of his head.

"The one that says box 136, file 12. That's it!"

"What's it?"

"Box 152, file something. That's what the note in Wendy's room meant."

"Okay, so what good does that do us? We don't know what file it is."

"Yeah, but how many can there be in a box? Wait, never mind, how would you know?" Sandburg began waving his arms in excitement. "So, now all we have to do is find the box. And then hope whatever clue Wendy was leaving us is fairly obvious."

As Blair talked, Jim picked up the originally requested file and handed it to his partner, who managed to stop waving his arms long enough to accept it. "Thanks," he responded distractedly, as he stood and began reading the box numbers on the boxes in the room. "102. 112. 113. 185. 2..." He muttered to himself as he read each label. "Why didn't I put these things in some kind of order?"

Meanwhile, Jim returned to his bed, deciding staying out of the way was the better part of valor in this situation. A focused researcher is a dangerous researcher. After sitting down, he reached for his novel and let out a low moan, though it was enough to catch the attention of his Guide.

"What's wrong?" He looked up immediately from his inspection of box numbers.

"Not sure. My hands just felt tingly all of a sudden. Go back to your boxes." Jim waved him off with a nod.

"Are you sure you're okay? We don't want another repeat of the other night." The concern for his friend overrode even his desire to find the answers that would help them solve the case.

"I'm fine." Jim insisted and both returned to their respective projects.

Five minutes later, a scream issued from Jim's mouth.

Blair froze at the sound. His normally stoic friend did not normally communicate via screams, especially ones that sounded like a young child being tortured.

"Fire! Burning! Get it off! Make it stop!"

Jim's words broke the spell keeping Blair immobile. Jumping up, he moved quickly to the bed to find his Sentinel writhing in agony, Jim's legs bent up near his chest as he tried to make himself as small as possible. Oh my God! What's going on?

"No! Stevie!"

Stevie? What? Is this a flashback or a memory? Or both? And what triggered it now? Or is this something else entirely?

"Blair!"

"It's okay. I'm right here. Turn down the dials. Come on. You can do it." Afraid to touch the older man, the Guide opted to use his voice to bring at least a semblance of control to the situation. He clamped down on his own raging emotions at the sight of his friend falling apart. Okay, more than a memory. I can deal with this. Then I'll fall apart.

At the soothing sound of Blair's voice, Jim calmed slightly, although the frantic movements of his body continued.

Hating to do it, Sandburg nevertheless asked, "can you stand, 'cause I don't think I can get you to the shower by myself. And I really don't want to explain to the manager why your bed is full of water if I just drench you here..." Fear made him babble. What the hell is causing this?!

Carefully Jim straightened his legs in preparation to moving. If Blair thinks I can do it, I can do it. Or at least I'll die trying. And if I can just do what he asks, he'll fix it.

"That's it. Just a little closer to the edge now. Careful now. One more movement and you'll have it." Blair's words turned from frantic to encouraging as Jim moved.

Slowly, and with lots of encouraging words, they got Jim to the bathroom and into the shower. Gently, Blair situated the larger man in the bathtub and turned on the water, making sure the temperature wouldn't further aggravate his already sensitive Sentinel. Kneeling next to the tub, he monitored Jim and the water. When both Jim and his clothes were suitably soaked, the low wail that'd begun after Blair had gotten him to move off the bed ended.

Deciding that was his cue to continue, Sandburg began helping his larger partner remove his shirt and socks.

"I draw the line at jeans, man." Blair joked as a small amount of color returned to Jim's face.

Jim looked up at the smaller man, a ghost of a smile gracing his features. "You don't know how happy I am to hear that." The smile gained a little more clarity.

Breathing a large sigh of relief, Sandburg rested his forehead on the edge of the bathtub. "Don't ever do that to me again." Relief and fear made his words sharper than he'd intended.

"Blair, I..." Jim brought a hand up to rest on the back of his friend's head. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Blair's head shot up, dislodging Jim's arm in the process and causing it to bump against the edge of the tub. "Oh man, I'm sorry. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Thanks to you."

Several moments of silent communication passed between the two. Each tried to convey their fear about the situation to the other, because neither could give voice to the terror that held them in its grasp, fearing it would make the situation more real.

"I don't think I can handle another one of these episodes," Blair finally voiced at least part of his thoughts, traces of fear still clouding his deep blue eyes.

"You and me both, Chief. You and me both."

"Think you can finish your shower by yourself?" Sandburg broke the intense mood.

"Yeah." Ellison nodded his agreement.

Slowly, the smaller man stood. The residual fear and adrenaline made his movements sluggish and slow. "You'll be okay?" He needed the additional reassurance as he moved to the door.

"Yeah. But leave the door open will you? Just in case."

Blair nodded as he moved back into the bedroom and began clearing off Jim's bed with jerky movements.

When Jim reentered the room, he found his bed neatly turned down and Sandburg hovering near the end of it. Smiling he asked, "I take it that's a hint?"

"What? Oh. Yeah, as a matter of fact, it is." Blair adopted a tone of voice similar to the one Jim used when he was in 'Mother Hen' mode.

"Okay."

The Guide raised his eyebrows at the Sentinel's easy acquiescence.

"After all that, I'm beat." He crawled gratefully into bed.

"Are the sheets okay?"

"They're fine. I'm fine." Jim tried to wave off his hovering Guide. Is this what it feels like when I do this to him?

"Okay. But I'll be right here if you need anything."

"I know. Don't stay up too late reading." Now it was Jim's turn to become the 'Mother Hen.'

"I won't. I just want to see if there's anything in the files about this. Even though I don't think there will be." Sandburg reached over to turn the light above Jim's head off, leaving the one on the far side of his bed on to read by.

Turning part of his attention back to the files, still placed haphazardly on his bed, Blair kept the remainder on his friend. After Jim had fallen into a deep sleep, he quietly exchanged the files on his bed for a few of Jake's journals, and began to read in earnest.


Jim opened his eyes slowly, not sure what had awakened him. The sound of his partner gently snoring rose from the adjacent bed. As his eyes opened fully, he noticed the abundance of light in the room. Squinting slightly he brought the glowing numbers on the alarm clock into focus. Three-am. He'd been asleep for six hours, which accounted for his sudden wakefulness, but not the light. His eyes traveled farther upward, now trying to locate the source of the light in the room. Easily, his eyes settled on the lamp next to the other bed, it's bulb emitting the constant glow that came with being turned on.

The light source discovered, he turned his attention to the other bed. He smiled at the image presented.

Blair sprawled bonelessly across the bed. His feet were tucked carefully under him, though his head looked more as if he'd fallen over rather than deliberately chosen his current position. His glasses sat slightly askew on his face, and a pile of dusty tomes covered his lap. As Jim watched, another slid gently off the bed to drop to the floor with an almost silent thunk, almost like a deer that suddenly realizes its been spotted and soundlessly disappears into the undergrowth.

That must have been what woke me up. Silently, the large man stood and padded soundlessly between the two beds. With reverence, he removed the other's glasses gently from his face and set them within easy reach on the nightstand -- in their case, of course. The pile of books came next. Without even stopping to look at what they were, he marked the open pages and moved the entire stack to the single empty spot on the small table by the door.

Circling around the bed, he extinguished the light, since he didn't need it and didn't want anything to wake Blair. On his way back around the bed, he grabbed a blanket from the top shelf of the closet. Moving back to the bed, he gently straightened the smaller man's legs and re- situated his head on the pillow. The sweat pants Blair'd changed into earlier were comfortable enough to sleep in. Jim gently placed the blanket over his friend, making sure he was suitably covered up for the rest of the night.

His voice a breadth of a whisper, he said "'Night, Chief," before returning to the comfort of his own bed.


Next Morning, Starlight Motel, Room 112

"I think we need to do a few tests." An already showered and dressed Blair bounced around the room with enthusiasm, as Jim emerged from the bathroom.

Dressed only in his jeans, Jim stopped just outside the bathroom doorway at Blair's words. Beginning to gently towel dry his hair, he groaned. "No way, Darwin."

"This isn't something that's open for discussion." Sandburg's voice took on the quality of an elementary school teacher trying to get her students to behave. "I think I figured out what's going on, but I need your help to make sure."

Jim raised his eyebrows in question.

"Turn up your sense of touch slightly." Blair reverted to his guide voice in an effort to get the Sentinel to comply.

Jim nodded in compliance.

"Anything feel different?"

"Not really." Jim seemed rather stunned by his answer.

"No burning?" Blair asked the obvious question.

"No. No burning." Ellison relaxed his shoulders slightly, not even aware he'd been tensing them.

"I knew it!" Sandburg crowed in triumph.

"Knew what? And can I turn the dial back down?"

"Oh yeah. Sorry, man. There was something in the air last night that affected your senses. The other night, too. And probably when you were out here as a kid. The memories of you and Steven being out here as kids, combined with what was in the air, probably caused your episode last night."

"Okay, what was it?" Jim pondered the new information, as Blair began pacing the room. "And what do my memories of being out here as a kid have to do with it?"

"I think it was radiation. As for the memories, remember you told me about the image of Steven screaming his skin was on fire? That's what you were doing last night. I think the radiation in the air and on the folders triggered that memory, so even though it wasn't much, you reacted to it. The walk we took yesterday probably didn't help matters either."

"Because we both have heightened senses of touch." A light went on in Jim's eyes, only to be quickly extinguished. "But, radiation? You lost me there. There isn't anything going on out here producing radiation." A puzzled note reverberated through Jim's voice. "Even the powerplant is inactive."

"Clean up."

"But they're not producing any radiation..." A look of enlightenment dawned in Jim's eyes. "What if 'clean up' to them means 'disburse'?"

"Exactly." Sandburg's pacing returned to bouncing.

"So they're releasing contaminants into the air instead of containing them."

"That's my guess. Probably polluting the river also."

Jim winced at the thought of radiation in the Columbia River. "And Jake knew."

Blair hated to have to make the next statement, knowing how much Jim cared for the older man. "I think Jake's known for years."

"So, why kill him now?" Jim chose to ignore the implications that his friend knew about illegal radiation releases and didn't report it.

"Wendy."

"Whoever's doing it figured he'd expose them after Wendy showed up and started asking questions. But why not kill her, too?" Jim helped Blair work out the answer to the problem.

"Probably because they figured it would raise a few eyebrows. As far as they knew, Jake didn't have any family and no one to miss him. They probably intended to dispose of the body soon after he died, but Wendy beat them to it. On the other hand, if Wendy showed up dead, her producer would probably show up looking for her film," Sandburg continued with his late-night deductions.

"They figured if they took Wendy, they could help her film her documentary in an appropriate manner."

"Probably figured that they would send her back to Cascade and deal with her later." Blair's hands moved rapidly as he added pieces to the puzzle.

"But how would they know she'd actually air what they helped her shoot?"

"I'm thinking they planned to send her home with only the sanitized tape. Besides, even if she did say something about the radiation releases, who'd believe her?"

Jim grimaced. "All the company would have to do is deny it, claiming she falsified the story. She's done it before. Who's to say she wouldn't do it again?"

Blair picked up a file as he walked past the small table they were currently housed on. "There's no real proof of the releases. Just jumbles of numbers that wouldn't mean much of anything to anybody. It'd be her word against theirs, and with her track record, it'd be no contest."

"So, how do we prove it? And more importantly, how do we find her?" Jim returned their discussion to the basic problem at hand. "Not to mention the question of why they let her call me."

"I think her calling you was an accident. After Jake was killed, they expected her to just leave. Their reasoning being no documentary is worth her life."

"Not realizing how tenacious she is." Jim smiled at the memory of her getting herself kidnapped in the name of a story, admiring her spunk. Besides, if she hadn't called I never would have known about Jake. No one would have.

Sandburg smiled at his own memories, many of them involving Jim's cursing Wendy's name for getting involved in the first place. "They must have been monitoring her phone calls. When she called you, they grabbed her."

"Thinking she was calling me because she knew something. Damn."

"Which, of course, she didn't. And this is not your fault, Jim."

"Tell that to Wendy. Wherever she is."

"She called you for help. Neither one of you could have foreseen her being kidnapped for it."

"Yeah. But if she gets killed, Chief, it'll be my fault." Jim turned bleak eyes to his friend.

"No. It. Won't. Wendy's a big girl. She understood the risks when she came out here."

"Did she?"

"Yes, she did." Blair stated firmly. "You can't be responsible for everything, you know."

"I can't? I thought that's what I was supposed to do -- look out for the tribe."

"That's right. Look. Out. For. You're not omnipotent. You can't change the world! But you can make it better in places. That's what Wendy was trying to do."

The shrill trill of a cell phone -- the notes playing a rousing chorus of 'Charge' -- interrupted the silent communication between Sentinel and Guide. Exchanging puzzled looks, both men moved to locate the source of the intrusion, the contemplative mood effectively broken.

"Where's it coming from?" Sandburg looked around in puzzlement, still trying to isolate the ringing.

"Over there in the corner, I think."

Almost simultaneously, the two men reached the corner in question, only to have the ringing cease abruptly.

Rummaging through the duffel bags stowed in front of him, Ellison soon came up with a plastic evidence bag holding a small cell phone.

"Leave it to Wendy to have her phone ring 'Charge.'" Ellison looked disgustedly down at the plastic wrapped object in his left hand.

"I wonder if it inspires her." Blair ducked and moved out of range before his partner could react to the teasing.

"Inspire her? What on earth is inspiring about 'Charge'?" Ellison realized his mistake when his partner broke into gales of laughter. "Very funny, Tonto." Ellison settled for a retort, vowing a good hair ruffling later when his partner least expected it.

"So, Kemosabe, does it have a number readout?" He continued the joke safely from the other side of the room.

"Actually, yeah. And it's a local number. Wonder who'd answer if I tried to call."

"I don't know, but somehow I think they'd notice you weren't Wendy." Blair shrugged at Ellison's glare. "What? Trust me. There are no similarities between your voice and hers."

"You don't think they'd believe she had a cold?" A slight quirk of the mouth was the only indication Ellison was enjoying the teasing.

"Nope. Not even close."

"Darn. Guess that means you're going to have to do it..." The quirk became a full-fledged grin. Gotcha.

"No way, man. Not going to happen. Not in a million years. Uh-uh. Not this guy. Nope, don't think so."

As Blair continued to protest, Jim hit the appropriate buttons on the phone to return the last call.

Noticing Jim's actions, Blair changed his protests, "Jim! What are you doing, man? I told you they'd never believe you were Wendy."

"Good morning, Public Affairs, Janice Dawson speaking. How may I help you?"

Jim held up his index finger to silence the other man's tirade. "Ms. Dawson," he smoothly began to charm the woman on the other end of the phone. "A friend of mine gave me your number just in case I was ever in town. I came out to see her and can't seem to find her. I'm hoping you can help me out."

"What's your friend's name, sir?"

"Wendy Hawthorne."

"Oh, my."

"Ms. Dawson?"

"I can't talk about this right now, sir." Jim could hear frantic motions in the background. "Meet me at the old administrative building this evening. It's out by the reactor. I'll be there after work, about 5:30." She hung up the phone before Jim had a chance to respond.

"Well, it seems we have a new lead."


That Evening, 3000 Area, Hanford Engineer Works

"So, you think this could be a trap?" Sandburg looked dubiously at the nondescript, warehouse-looking building in front of them. "And why do all the buildings in this place look the same? Well, not all." He amended, thinking of the distinctive cooling towers of the reactors.

"Government issue. Not a lot of variety there." Ellison answered the second question first. "As for it being a trap, 'I think everything's a trap. That's why I'm still alive.'" He quoted the familiar piece of dialogue, much to his partner's chagrin.

"Jim!" he groaned.

Jim was prepared to continue the teasing, when a small sound caught his attention. Tilting his head in the familiar pose, he extended his senses to ferret out the source of the disturbance. Noticing his actions, Blair became all business, and placed his hand on the small of the other's back to ground him.

"Anything?" Knowing the other still had his hearing turned up, his voice was barely a whisper.

The Sentinel shook his head negatively.

"There's a car coming."

"Where?" Blair asked, unable to hear the approaching vehicle.

"Over there." Jim pivoted slightly and pointed to the road, in the opposite direction from the one they'd come.

"Anything else?" The Guide easily followed the Sentinel's movements, continuing to ground him.

"It's either one person by themselves, or a car full with nobody talking to anybody else."

"So you think it's Janice?" Sandburg squinted down the road in the direction Jim was pointing. Now that several minutes had passed, he might have a shot a hearing the car.

"Don't know why anyone else would be out here at this time of day."

"Someone going home from work maybe? Or the night crew?"

"Nothing out this way but this set of buildings. And they've been closed down for years."

"Which makes them the perfect place to hold someone hostage."

"Damn." Ellison suddenly bolted for the door behind them. Finding it locked, he was forced to take several steps backwards and regroup. "Don't suppose you brought that set of lock-picks you got for Christmas with you?" He finally asked, after assessing the locks, and the sturdy construction of the door.

"As a matter of fact..."

"Just get to work, junior. We've only got a few minutes before that car arrives."

"Yes, sir." Blair threw a mock-salute at his partner, who was now standing guard at the edge of the building. Carefully extracting his set of lock picks, he went to work on the door. "Got it." He called softly, several heartbeats later.

Ellison quickly joined him in the doorway. Carefully, with their weapons drawn, they moved into the building, Ellison in the lead, with Sandburg hard on his heels.

An ancient looking entryway greeted them. The old round desk with a high counter-top brought to mind doctor's offices, before they changed to more modern glass-fronted alcoves. A tattered leather sofa and matching chair stood off to one side, providing a deliberate barrier to the corridor leading to offices behind it. A slumping coffee table provided a centerpiece to the arrangement; the covers of the magazines still littering its surface, yellowed with age. Aging carpet, likely installed during the 1960s based on its fading orange color, coated the floor and extended down the hallways. The layer of dust covering every surface provided evidence of the building's long neglect. Zeroing in with his sight, Ellison focused on the coffee table and it's contents.

"1987."

"What?" Sandburg looked around the entryway, trying to decipher the meaning of his partner's words.

"The magazines." Jim pointed towards the coffee table. "They're all dated 1987."

"So you think this place's been abandoned for that long?"

"No. Why put new locks on a building that's been abandoned for fourteen years? And some of those magazines don't look like they've been here that long."

"Okay, good point. But with the amount of dust on the floor, how could anyone walk through here without leaving a trail? Speaking of which, be careful not to touch anything. Who knows where this dust has been."

He rolled his eyes at his friend's instructions. "They couldn't." Ellison stood quietly for a minute and extended his hearing.

Recognizing the other man's listening pose, the Guide reached out to ground the Sentinel, brushing up against a dust-covered wall with the motion.

"There has to be a back entrance." Blair softly voiced his suspicions, careful of the Sentinel's hearing.

Not receiving an answer he tried a different tract. "What do you hear?"

"Voices," Ellison finally responded softly. "But they're too faint to make out."

"Faint as in far away?"

"No, faint, as in muffled."

"Can you filter anything out?"

The Sentinel shook his head negatively. "It almost sounds like they are trying to talk through water, or a really heavy door."

"Huh? What's that mean?"

"I didn't say it made sense, Sandburg. I just said that's what it sounded like." Jim tried to keep the frustration out of his voice and failed.

"Whoa, man." Blair held his hands out in supplication.

"Sorry." He offered the younger man a sheepish grin. "It just feels like I'm missing something obvious here."

"Let's go back to the beginning and start over then. Maybe we'll figure something out." The younger man recognized the building signs of exasperation in the other man. "You can hear voices right?"

The Sentinel nodded affirmatively.

"Can you track them?"

"Yeah. I can figure out where they are, I just can't make out what they're saying." Jim replied almost sarcastically.

Blair rolled his eyes in response. "You don't suppose this has something to do with the sensory spikes you've been having..." He trailed off at the glare the other man shot his direction.

"How would I know? Besides, that was touch. This is hearing." Ellison began moving through the entryway; his clunky hiking-boots leaving distinctive footprints and a small trail of dust on the worn carpet in their wake.

"Sometimes these things are related." He muttered defensively. Following silently, Blair tried to place his feet in the other man's footprints -- so as not to kick up any more dust than necessary.

"Sorry, Chief." The older man stopped several paces ahead. "There's just something about all of this that's really beginning to get to me."

"It's okay, man. None of this makes any more sense to me than it does to you. We just have to figure it out together." He finally caught up to the older man. "Now, let's try this again. Describe what you are hearing." His tone of voice brooked no argument.

Jim smiled and began moving again, a sense of urgency beginning to grip him. "Everything's muffled. I can hear sounds and movement, but nothing distinct. No matter how high I turn up my hearing, everything stays fuzzy."

"Hmm." Blair thought to himself for a moment as they continued to move down the narrow hallway. "What could muffle sounds?" He began to voice his theory aloud, not expecting an answer from the other man. "Water. Concrete. Some types of metal."

"Lead." He stopped walking and turned to look at the younger man, his eyes widening in recognition.

"What?" The Guide could barely make out his partner's features in the dim hallway.

"They used to manufacture plutonium here, right?" Ellison took over the conversation.

"Yeah."

"So one of the substances used to protect from radiation is lead, right?"

"Yeah." Blair began to see where Jim was going with this.

"So, if they were inside a room insulated with lead, their voices would be muffled."

"Okay. But why insulate a room in the administration building with lead? There shouldn't have been anything toxic here."

"'Shouldn't' being the key word in that sentence, Sandburg."

"What are you thinking here, Jim?"

"What if, for whatever reason, a lead-lined storage room was built into this building? They could have been storing things illegally, or just wanted to make sure certain rooms were protected. What better place to hold someone hostage?"

"The vault."

"What?" The younger man's words stopped him mid-thought.

"The vault." Blair nodded as he began to build steam in his explanation, his hands moving furiously. "I read somewhere that all government buildings had to have a vault built into them. That way sensitive data and classified information could be stored there. That way no one had to worry about fire or sabotage destroying the records. Remember last year when they accused a worker at Los Alamos of stealing classified information from the vault? Most bureaus still have them, as far as I know."

"Okay." Jim nodded as Blair continued his explanation, easily remembering the press surrounding the alleged theft of classified information from the top-secret research facility.

"What better place to build a vault than in an administrative building, especially at a complex like this? That way, it would be close to the records, but far enough away from the actual manufacturing process so that it wouldn't cause a problem." Sandburg's hands continued their furious motion, occasionally bumping against the walls of the narrow corridor.

"I follow you. But why not seal it off when they closed off this building. After all, why have a vault where there isn't any data?"

"Too much trouble to build a new one? It might account for the new locks, too. Not to mention the fact that they probably closed this building about the time they started to decommission the facility, so they wouldn't have needed a vault."

"Very good, detective." A voice interjected from behind the two men. "The only thing you forgot was that it is a very nice place to store things that you don't want to be found."

Almost as one the Sentinel and Guide quickly turned to face the new arrival. Jim mentally cursed himself for not hearing the other's approach. At the sudden motion, Blair placed his hand on the wall for balance.

A tall, slender woman stood in front of them. A long mane of dark, curly hair snaked down the back of her light-tan overcoat, contrasting with her fair skin and offset by the bright red sweater she was wearing. The gun easily held in her right hand did not waver.

"I suggest you dispose of your guns, detectives." She said almost cheerfully, enjoying the shocked looks on their faces. She motioned with her left hand towards a dark, open room behind them.

Carefully, they removed their weapons from their holsters. Gently placing them on the floor, each man used their foot to send them into the room she'd indicated. Though each carefully made it look like they kicked them harder than they actually did.

"Janice Dawson, I presume." Sandburg spoke into the ensuing silence, desperate to buy them some time to plan an escape.

"Very good, detective." She nodded her approval. "But not quite accurate. Janice is just a name. As soon as I dispose of you, she'll disappear and I'll become someone else. All very convenient, don't you think?"

"So who are you really?" The younger man asked, hoping for a straight answer.

She waved his question off with a flick of her wrist.

"So, how did you know who we were?" Blair continued to buy them some time.

"Easy. It's not very often my office gets calls from outside police departments. Once the call from the Cascade PD came in, it was easy to figure out who you were and why you were here. Oh, and that little tour you took, awfully noticeable, don't you think?"

Sandburg raised his eyebrows at the mention of the phone call. I wonder who's brilliant idea that one was? Mentally, he vowed to have a little talk with his fellow detectives. "What do you mean? We're just here on vacation. Wanted to see the local environment."

"Somehow, I thought that phone call was a little too contrived." Ellison entered the conversation, even as his enhanced eyesight and hearing were frantically searching for an escape route.

"True. It was just luck you had Wendy's cell phone. But it served its purpose." A sinister smile appeared on her face. "Now, if you will--" she indicated the hallway to their left with a jerk of her head; the gun in her hand never wavering.

With identical resigned looks on their faces, the Sentinel and Guide turned in the direction she indicated.

Silently, Blair held up a single finger in question, knowing the other man was cataloguing the number of bodies in the building. At the other man's nod, he began to smile slightly -- the glimmer of an idea forming in the back of his mind.

"Oh, and detectives," she moved to follow them. "I wouldn't try anything heroic."

Feigning nervousness, Blair began to deliberately shuffle his feet as they moved down the hall, kicking up as much dust as possible. Occasionally, he brushed up against the wall, releasing another cloud. He waved off the question he could see in the other man's eyes, and hoped the older man would forgive him for what he was about to do. At the same time, he prayed to whichever deity was responsible for forgiving guides who deliberately inflicted pain upon their sentinels.

When he felt he'd created enough disturbance in the layer of dust coating everything, he placed a hand on the other's exposed forearm, and cautiously whispered, "turn up your sense of touch slightly." Knowing the other man would hear him, and the woman behind them wouldn't. At the other man's nod, he softly added, "I'm sorry."

Almost the moment the words left his Guide's mouth, the Sentinel's skin began to tingle. Recognizing what the younger man was doing, he cautiously turned the dial up further, even as he prepared himself for the pain he knew would follow.

Moments later, the Sentinel fell into a writhing heap on the floor, moaning in pain.

Stunned by the reaction, the woman behind them hesitated. "What's going on? What's wrong?" The gun in her hand wavered slightly.

Using the second of advantage, Blair rushed her. He grabbed hold of the gun, now held loosely in her hand. In a tangle of limbs they both went crashing to the floor, several feet away from the incapacitated Sentinel, the gun landing several feet down the hallway, in a dark cavernous room just off the main hallway. Lessons carefully taught and learned in the backroom at the gym and on the streets of Cascade, not to mention at faculty lunches at Rainier, gave him the advantage. Though he was still loath to exert his strength over a woman, fear for his Sentinel drove him to win the battle.

As he gained a slight upper hand, he began whispering quietly to the man still thrashing in pain on the floor. "Dial it down, man. It's almost over." His moment of incomplete attention to the woman in front of him allowed her to gain the upper hand. With an almost expert move, she reversed their positions: now Blair lay flat on his back, her above him.

Realizing he had to focus his full attention on the woman in front of him, the Guide reverted to the detective or even the bullied kid, hoping the Sentinel could muddle through on his own.

Grabbing her arms, he kept her from gaining a hold on any one part of his body. Though this maneuver kept her from landing any substantial blows, it also prevented him from mounting an offensive. Even as he tried to gain control of the situation, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. Hoping it wasn't reinforcements, he continued to struggle for dominance.

Several long minutes later -- when asked he would say fifteen, but in reality it was more like five -- the struggling form on top of him crumpled into a heap, her head bouncing slightly as it hit the floor.

Looking up, he placed his hands in a defensive posture, expecting to see a new enemy. Much to his relief, his eyes met the ice-blue ones of his partner. Staggering slightly, the older man leaned against the wall for balance.

"Careful, man." Blair looked at the other's location carefully, searching for more dust.

"What good is it going to do to avoid it at this point?" Ellison grinned ruefully back at him, his lanky frame almost entirely covered in dust, before moving slightly to rest more of his body weight against the wall. He'd never admit it, but working through the zone on his own took more out of him than he'd thought. Well, if you ever needed proof you couldn't do this without him, this would be it.

"Um, well. Okay, good point." He grinned sheepishly back at him. "Um, about that..."

"Never mind, Chief."

"No." He put a hand against the larger man's chest when he began to straighten up in preparation of moving down the hallway. "I'm sorry. It was the only thing I could come up with to distract her. I didn't want to hurt you."

"I know. It's okay." His eyes said what he could not. "It was a good strategy. Course you're going to be doing the laundry for the next month and a half to get rid of all the dust." He grinned down at the smaller man. "Got anything to tie her up with?"

Much to the other man's surprise, Blair pulled several plastic ties out of his back pocket. Leaning down, he expertly bound the still unconscious woman's hands behind her and immobilized her ankles. When he'd finished, he propped her gently against the wall.

"You've gotten awfully good at that, Junior." Ellison's face wore an expression similar to a father's after his son had just pitched a perfect game.

Smiling in gratitude, they began to walk further down the hallway, in hopes of finding the vault and Wendy. "Who do you think she is?"

"No idea. She seems to be more than just the hired muscle though. Maybe Wendy can tell us." The older man moved gingerly down the hallway, his body still protesting its earlier treatment.

"Are you sure you're okay?" A worried look appeared in his eyes.

"Yeah." He waved his friend off. "It'll wear off."

"Are you sure?" He began to bounce slightly. "Cause, you know you could stay here, and I could go by myself..."

"And leave you to the wonders of the vault alone? I don't think so, Darwin." Jim smiled fondly down at his partner and threw an arm casually around his shoulders, more for balance than anything.

"Ruin a guy's fun, why don't you." He groused. "Just think of the things I could find."

"That's what I'm afraid of. Just remember when we get there, I need a shower. Soon. Don't get too carried away trying to dig up some old dirt." He groaned aloud at his own unintentional pun. "Tell me I didn't just say that."

"No can do." A cheeky grin manifested itself on his face. "Think we should call someone to come get her before we take off?" He indicated the woman at their feet with a sweep of his arm, the grin fading.

Pulling out his cell phone, which she hadn't thought to confiscate, he dialed a familiar number from memory. Almost cryptically, Ellison relayed the circumstances of their arrest and their location into the microphone. At his partner's raised eyebrows, he answered the unspoken question, "plant security. They'll come get her and hold her until the Feds arrive."

Retrieving their weapons from the room just behind them and confiscating hers once they'd finally located it in the dark -- Blair wouldn't let Jim use his enhanced eyesight for fear of triggering another episode -- they finally set off in the direction they had previously been walking. Not knowing what was down the hallway, both men kept their weapons at the ready.

"So who do you think she was really?" Blair broached the subject that was bugging both of them first.

"A high-level exec with the company responsible for the cleanup out here." Jim voiced his suspicions, even though he didn't like the implications.

Blair nodded. He'd figured much the same thing, but hadn't wanted to be the one to point it out. "And the guys that were helping her?"

"Probably just a couple goons that she hired specifically to keep people from looking too deeply into the cleanup operation."

"But why? What was the purpose of all of this?" The idealistic kid in Blair reasserted itself for a moment.

"Money. It's a whole lot easier -- not to mention less expensive -- to dump things into the air and water than it is to dispose of them properly."

"But what about all the people that would be hurt?"

"They didn't think that far ahead."

"How could they not?"

"No everyone is altruistic as you are, Chief. Most of them won't stop to help a neighbor cross the street, let alone care that their actions could have wide-reaching repercussions."

"That sucks."

"Yeah, it does."

Several winding passages later, they finally reached the door to the vault.

"You know, I didn't think this building looked this big from outside."

"It's not." Jim looked down at his partner, rather matter-of-factly. "We're underground. Have been for about the last six hallways."

"Which would also explain the muffled voices you heard earlier."

Ellison nodded before opening the unlocked safe door.

"Doesn't look like she was too worried about security." Sandburg tried to peer around Ellison's shoulder to see the interior of the vault.

"Nope. Doesn't look like she was expecting too many visitors or Wendy to escape." His gun at the ready, he slowly moved through the open doorway. Carefully, he placed his back to the wall on the right side of the door.

Following the other man's actions, Blair moved left, his gun held at the ready. "Anything?" He softly whispered.

"No."

"Hello? Anyone there?" A clear voice rang out, echoing throughout the soundproofed room.

Unprepared for the sound, the Sentinel almost fell to the ground, before getting his hearing under control. He heard his Guide mutter under his breath, "I'm going to kill her," followed closely by a "how did she know we were here?" and managed a wane smile and shrugged his shoulders.

Double checking to make sure his Sentinel had his hearing under control, the Guide finally answered, "Wendy?"

"Who are you?" This time the voice was far more cautious.

"Detectives Sandburg and Ellison." Blair kept his tone moderate.

"Oh, thank God!" The relief at his answer was clearly evident. "I'm over in the back corner. They have a bunch of boxes piled in front of me."

"Which back corner, Miss Hawthorne?" Ellison, having regained control of his senses once again, entered the conversation.

"Wendy, please. Left, I think. I'm not really sure. I was always blindfolded."

"How many of them were there?" Sandburg placed one hand on his friend's back to ground him as he searched for her location.

"Just one at night. The woman. She seemed to be the mastermind of the whole operation. She always wanted to know what I'd done during the day. To make sure I hadn't gotten into anything I wasn't supposed to. She had two guys take me around during the day."

"So, three total." Sandburg muttered softly to himself.

Ellison nodded and made a mental note to mention the accomplices to the Feds. At the same time, he wondered how something this complex could be carried out by only three people. It was in the hands of the Feds now and no longer his responsibility.

Finally pinpointing Wendy's location in the back of the room, the Sentinel began to carefully make his way through the maze of boxes cluttering the vault.

His Guide followed close behind him. As they passed some of the boxes the younger man noticed some of the labels and his eyes began to widen. There was enough information to keep an army of researchers busy for a lifetime. An entire corner was filled with boxes, all carrying the distinctive yellow symbols denoting the presence of radiation. "Don't touch anything." He cautiously whispered, not wanting his voice to carry to the back of the room.

At his words, the Sentinel turned slightly, noticing the labels himself. "I do not envy whoever gets stuck with clean up duty on this one."

"They wouldn't have been that stupid... Would they?"

"Who knows, Chief? Who knows? I wouldn't put it past someone to put something in here for safekeeping though." The naivete of his friend still amazed him at times. Silently, he thanked Naomi for instilling in her son the ability to see the best in people.

Reaching the back corner, they began to dig Wendy out of the cage of boxes in which she'd been placed.

"So, how did you know we were here?" After they released her from the boxes and had begun walking towards the exit, Sandburg asked the question that had been bugging him.

"The light, silly." Wendy rolled her eyes slightly at his question. "When you opened the door the light came on. I knew someone was here, I just didn't know who."

At her answer both men rolled their eyes in amazement.


Hallway Outside The Loft

"Can I help you?" Mrs. May asked the tall dark-haired woman poised to knock on the door of 307, her across the hall neighbors. The woman was dressed for the weather, a long tan overcoat covering a pair of sensible gray slacks and sweater. A worn scarf -- that was once bright red -- hung around her neck.

"Excuse me?" Her hand fell, and the woman whirled around to face the small woman walking out of her apartment, obviously on her way out.

"They've been gone all week, so it won't do you much good to knock." The smaller woman shut and locked the door to her own apartment.

"Oh." The woman's disappointment was evident in her voice. "They?" Confusion vied with disappointment.

"Detectives Ellison and Sandburg. That is who you were looking for, isn't it?" Mrs. May correctly read the confusion in the other woman's voice and wondered about it. The entire neighborhood had become rather protective of their favorite detectives, and was loath to allow strangers to invade their lives.

"Yes, of course."

"I'd invite you in for a cup of tea, but I have to meet my daughter and granddaughter," Mrs. May adjusted her scarf and handbag in preparation for the continual Cascade drizzle outside. "Can I tell them you stopped by? Or leave them a note?"

"No. No. I'll just stop by some other time."

"Can I at least tell them you stopped by?" Mrs. May pressed, still trying to find out more about the woman.

"Just tell Jimmy... No, never mind. It's probably best this way." A note of sadness entered the woman's voice at the last, but she turned quickly towards the stairs before Mrs. May had the opportunity to respond.

"That was strange." Mrs. May mused aloud to herself. "I haven't heard anyone call him Jimmy since Carolyn moved out all those years ago." As she entered the elevator, her mind turned to her daughter and new granddaughter, and the strange woman's visit was soon forgotten.


Next day, Richland Memorial Cemetery

The two men stood quietly at the side of the freshly turned grave site. Each was dressed in the best their meager travel wardrobe had to offer. Not finding anything suitable in his duffel bag, Jim had borrowed a shirt and tie from Jake's house. The tie itself looked as if it were older than Jim, but the festive pattern was something Jake would have appreciated.

Though the casket was not due to be interred until later that afternoon, the Sentinel had wanted some time to say goodbye before the formality of the funeral. Besides, I hate funerals, such pompous affairs where everyone showed up to weep, but how many of them would actually miss you?

Jim believed Jake would be at peace now. His grave located next to that of his wife, and some of his demons laid to rest. The Feds had arrived, only after Jim forced the plant security force to call them, and taken Janice and her accomplices into custody. With any luck, all of them would have a new permanent address in Levenworth. A full-scale investigation of the facility and the contractor responsible for its cleanup was slowly getting underway.

"So, Chief, how did you figure out what was going on with my senses?" Ellison finally broke the not uncomfortable silence by asking the question that had been bugging him since their discussion the day before.

"I looked in the journals. Kind of like Alice in Wonderland, there was a big READ ME FIRST sign on the one on top. It told me everything I needed to know." Sandburg grinned like the Cheshire Cat.

"So you think Jake knew what was going on? Knew that I'd somehow end up out here investigating? Maybe knew he was going to be killed?" The Sentinel's voice carried the pain of the older man's death.

"Well, you're being here, at least eventually, was a pretty safe bet."

"Why?" A note of puzzlement entered Jim's voice.

"He left everything to you. Guess he didn't want his Sentinel research to fall into unscrupulous hands." The Cheshire grin widened.

"What about his kids?" Jim thought of Jake's son and daughter, both grown with kids of their own, none of who lived in Washington state.

"Probably didn't think they'd understand the value of what he's collected over the years." Blair began to bounce slightly at the thought of all Jake's research material.

"And he thought I would?"

"Even if you don't your Guide does. Just think of all the things I can learn." The bounce increased.

"That's the part that scares me." A slight grin began to form on the Sentinel's face.

"Very funny, Ellison. But you at least have to like the truck."

"You're not driving my truck, Sandburg!"

"Which one?"

"Either of them." Though Jim's tone booked no arguments, the grin on his face contradicted the order.

"Hey!" Blair attempted to look chagrined. "You can't drive both of them at the same time anyway..." He wheedled.

"Chief..."

"What about the motorcycle?"

"Sandburg!"

"Okay, okay. No driving the truck, trucks." He added at Jim's mock glare. "Or the motorcycle. What is this, house rule number four-hundred and twelve?" He grumbled to himself.

"Nope. These are vehicle rules." He tried to hide a grin. "I left a set in your inbox. Didn't you get them?"

"Not another set of rules!" Sandburg hung his head in his hands. "I don't think I can take the pressure." His hair effectively concealed his grin.

"Pressure? What pressure? No pressure here."

At Jim's innocent look, Blair threw the blades of grass he'd been worrying at his friend. Ellison easily waved them away from his face and lobbed the small handful of dirt he'd been about to return to the grave. A short war ensued, ending only when the family several rows over began to throw pointed glares their direction. Jake, on the other hand, would have approved, both men thought with a smile.

"You know, I'm going to miss him. I realize I haven't seen him for thirty years, but it was always kind of nice knowing he was out here keeping an eye on things." Jim quietly voiced the thought that had plagued him since Wendy's phone call.

"He's still here in spirit." Blair took a deep breath as he tried to phrase his thoughts. "And now I think he's with you. Not that he ever wasn't." He hastened to add, when Jim started to interrupt. Holding up his hand to silence the other man, he continued, "His work is done out here. With what Wendy aired and the AP wire picked up, the whole world knows what was going on out here. I think that was his goal."

"So why didn't he do something earlier? Why did it have to wait until he got killed?" Jim wanted to hit something, to release his building frustration.

Sandburg took another deep breath, knowing how much the older man avoided spiritual issues, he answered tentatively, "The timing wasn't right?"

"Greater forces at work?" A note of disbelief entered his voice.

"Not necessarily. But think about it for a minute. Even with all his documentation, what could Jake do? He would have been fighting a powerful system, and a well-entrenched one. One guy against the government usually doesn't turn out very well."

"I know. I just wish I would have had a chance to say goodbye." The Sentinel heaved a great sigh. "And I wish I could have asked him about my mom, and Faith."

"I know." Blair reached over and placed a comforting hand on the other's shoulder. "But you still have pieces of him left. You'll think about him every time you drive his truck, every time you ride your motorcycle. And you can still ask him a few questions. You might not get all your answers, and you might not get the answers you want, but we can try."

"What do you mean?"

"Jake's files, Jim. And the journals." He added the last under his breath hoping the soft words would go unnoticed, as he hadn't mentioned the contents of the journals to his friend yet.

A dawning look of awareness dawned on the older man's face, replacing one of sadness. "And they talk about my mom?" A note of wonder entered Ellison's voice. "Wait, what do you mean the journals?"

"Um." He hedged. "The journal I looked at mentioned briefly her reaction to radiation. It was almost the same as yours and Steven's." At least it mentioned one of their reactions...

"So you're saying my mom was a sentinel?"

"No. I'm saying Jake kept a lot of information. Some of that information might pertain to your mom. We won't know what it says until we read it." Blair kept his voice firm, not wanting Jim to read anything into his words.

After several moments of thought, he finally responded, "Thanks, Chief." He infused his words with several layers of meaning.

"Anytime, man. Anytime."

The End


AUTHOR'S NOTES:

The events depicted in this episode are not intended to impinge or reflect on the actual cleanup activities taking place at the Hanford Engineer Works. This is entirely a work of fiction, and should be treated as such.

That being said, some of the references and incidents are factual.

In 1942, General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Engineer District, more popularly known as the Manhattan Project, made the final site selection for the plutonium producing reactors: Hanford, Washington. He made his decision based on the ready availability of cooling water from the Columbia River, the sparseness of population and large tracts of previously withdrawn public lands for the Columbia Basin Project, and the proximity to a significant source of electricity.

The Manhattan Project, under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, was responsible for development and construction of the first atomic weapons. The project brought together researchers and scientists in remote locals, including Los Alamos, New Mexico, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington. The Oak Ridge facility produced uranium 235. The Hanford facility produced plutonium 239. The Los Alamos facility constructed the gun assembly necessary for atomic weapons. Hanford's plutonium eventually energized the atomic bomb U.S. forces dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in August of 1945, effectively ending World War II.

The Green Run -- the use of raw or "green" uranium fuel slugs and the deliberate release of high-levels of radiation into the atmosphere -- did occur in December of 1949. Though the actual reasons for the Green Run are still classified by the U.S. Department of Defense, historical speculation ties the incident to detonation of the first Soviet atomic bomb, and resulting high- levels of radiation detected at monitoring stations in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. At the time scientists theorized that the Soviet's rush into the atomic age, caused them to use short- cooled fuel (about twenty days out of the reactor). The AEC decided to test this assumption by replicating the conditions and emission levels in eastern Washington.

Officially, the experiment was to test instrumentation. Secondarily, and unofficially, the experiment was also to discover if they could speed up the production of plutonium. Perhaps unintentionally, the question is still open for debate, the Green Run also served as a radiological warfare experiment -- contaminating foodstuffs and living creatures throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The Green Run was not the only incidence of high levels of radioactive and chemical wastes being released into the water, land, and air surrounding the site. Over the course of life of the site, the nearby Columbia River, the ground, and the air served as convenient disposal locations for the deadly byproducts of plutonium production -- some deliberate, others not. Containment facilities often leaked, or outright failed. As it stands now, the site is the most contaminated spot in the Western world.

Despite the horrors most people now associate with the nuclear industry, and the information now coming to light (workers were unaware of the radiation releases and the contamination), workers at the complex took pride in their job and the mission of what they were doing. Though the entire Manhattan Project was initially coated with a veil of secrecy (even the workers didn't know what they were producing or why in the early years of the complex) as information began to emerge in the early days of the cold war, a great sense of pride and patriotism developed.

In January of 1987, the Department of Energy (DOE) shut down the last defense production reactor at Hanford for safety modifications. Beginning in the mid-1960s, other reactors had been taken out of production, due to waning need. The dual purpose reactor used to generate power was taken off-line in the late 1970s. In February of 1988, the DOE announced the reactor would not be restarted, instead it would be placed on "cold standby". The decision to essentially "moth- ball" the reactor effectively ended plutonium production at the site.

In late 1989, the mission of the complex changed from production to cleanup. DOE, EPA, and Washington State agreed to a detailed, scheduled cleanup of the site by 2018. As cleanup began, initial documentation relating to the history of the site was declassified. The scientific data released stunned the local community. After the initial shock wore off, the community began to take "ownership" of the site and its cleanup; they see the nuclear waste at the site as a challenge.

For more information please see:

Berber, Michele Stenehjem. On the Home Front: The Cold War Legacy of the Hanford Nuclear Site. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Ficken, Robert E. "Grand Coulee and Hanford: The Atomic Bomb and the Development of the Columbia River." In The Atomic West, Bruce Hevly and John M. Findlay, eds. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998.

Sanger, S.L. Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford. Portland, Oregon: Continuing Education Press, School of Extended Studies, Portland State University, 1995.

I also owe a big thank you to several people:

The BPP folks for allowing me to work this story -- and it's one I've been wanting to tell for a long time -- into this season, and encouraging me to write it in the first place.

Art Scott -- for allowing me to borrow his "fetish" even though he didn't know I was doing it. *grin* Collecting of old paperback books from the mid-twentieth century for their covers -- and the art that goes with them -- is a thriving industry. And some of the art is fascinating. All the covers, and books, referenced here actually exist. Next time you have the opportunity to browse through a used bookstore, especially one specializing in collectibles, stop by the paperback section and see if you can find some of the old ones with unique cover art. It's well worth the time.

My book friend Cindy -- for wandering around booths at Bouchercon looking for good book titles and covers that had something to do with redheads. And for just being her.

Thanks to Ronne, Wnne, and other supportive souls with pointy sticks.

Everyone who helped me as I was writing. Many of you answered odd questions, helped me find my way out of the dead ends I'd written myself into, and generally encouraged me to keep going. THANK YOU. Doesn't seem sufficient.


Like this episode? Email the writer: tlinenberger@home.com
Want to comment on production? Contact Black Panther Productions: bpproductions@wildmail.com