edited by: DebbieLD and Toni Rae
The Charles Manor was once known as a 'nice' hotel, at least a three-star rating in the Cascade tourist guide. A person could spend a comfortable night or lengthy stay in quiet luxury for a decent price. What kept it from receiving a higher rating was its location near the industrial part of town.
But that was more than 15 years ago and the neighborhood in which it sat had declined significantly. A couple of the surrounding plants had closed and were now havens for the homeless and the target of vandals. Drug deals were frequent occurrences in the dark doorways of the hotel and 'working' women decorated the busier streets not far away. They were the types of people who stayed there now, mainly asking for a room for only a night even though they didn't use it for the whole time. Those who stayed longer rented by the week, though there weren't many and they usually occupied the top floor of the eight-story building.
Faith Chandler Sutton was one such person.
Angrily, the woman paced back and forth across the dingy carpet of her room. The drapes covering the single window were closed and a dim light barely illuminated the room. But the woman strode angrily across the floor, avoiding the meager amount of furniture as if the room was brightly lit.
"How could I have missed him? It was so simple, so easy," Faith raged through clenched teeth. "If I hadn't been distracted..."
With a barely expressed scream, the woman swung her arm out and smashed her fist into the lamp sitting on the small end table near the bed. The resounding crash grated in Faith's ears. She clutched at them, dropping down to sit on the bed and rock in pain. When she was finally back in control, she looked up to see her reflection in the cloudy mirror on the dresser.
"Next time," she vowed.
Ellison's eyes popped open and his hand automatically stretched out for his gun sitting on the coffee table. A soft sound from the back of the loft had awakened him from his light sleep. Extending his hearing, he heard a whispered 'Just me, Jim' and relaxed. It was Blair. The young man carefully shuffled into the bathroom and quietly closed the door behind him. Jim could tell his friend was feeling the aftereffects of the attack yesterday from the slowness of his step and the low groan he was unable to completely suppress. Jim still couldn't believe his Aunt Faith had attacked his roommate outside their own home.
Shifting his hearing, he focused on the man who occupied his bed upstairs. It had taken a little convincing, but Steven Ellison had yielded to his brother's persuasive invitation to stay the night under his protection, only after their parents agreed to go back to William's house with police protection. While Jim didn't think his parents were in any great danger, it was better to be safe than sorry.
His brother could be another story. Many years before, Grace Ellison had left her husband and young sons to take care of her deranged twin sister. She'd had her sibling committed after the woman had tried to kill the young Jim. The reason: Faith was a sentinel like her nephew and felt he was a threat. She'd also lost her guide and wasn't in control of her senses. To keep her dangerous sister away from her children, Grace eventually made Faith believe that William Ellison and their two sons were dead. All had been fine until Faith learned last fall that her sister had lied about the deaths.
Now Faith was back in Cascade. She'd 'visited' Jim's home once pretending to be his mother. It hadn't been a happy reunion. Yesterday, she'd attacked Blair in the alley right outside the loft and almost went after Steven. Jim wanted to keep both of the younger men nearby until he could find a safe place for them to stay while he went after his aunt.
Throwing off the afghan covering him, Ellison rose from the couch and stretched until he felt and heard loud pops emanating from his back. The piece of furniture was not the most comfortable place to sleep compared to his bed, but Jim knew he would be able to get some rest when he could be strategically situated to protect his Guide and his brother.
"How are you doing, Chief?" Ellison asked when Sandburg reappeared and moved into the kitchen area.
"I'll live, but my body wishes otherwise," Blair replied quietly. He shifted and rotated his right arm, wincing at the pain that radiated from his shoulder. "Bruise along the shoulder and a small lump on the back of the head. Standard Op when working with the Ellison clan. Is Steven..."
"You don't have to whisper. Steve's dead to the world and will probably stay that way for another hour. He always could sleep through a brass band when we were young. I used to have one hell of a time getting him up for school each day. It usually took Sally's cooking to get him out of bed."
"He could smell it all the way up in your room? Pretty strong sense of smell if he could detect the odors all the way up there. Maybe it's heightened just enough to pick up some things, but not enough to give him problems like his sense of touch does."
"You think Steve has two heightened senses?"
"It's possible. His tactile sense is definitely up there, especially after what you told me about the trip out to Hanford when you were kids and with what happened at the bachelor auction. It wouldn't be uncommon for him to have one or two more, especially since you have all five. Genetics, man." The excited tone in Blair's voice caused Jim to groan inwardly. He knew his roommate would want to test his theory and pitied his brother.
"Think about what we talked about last year, Jim. Faith is a full sentinel like you." At his friend's sharp look, he amended his words. "Well, not completely like you, but you know what I mean. Next generation comes along, you and Steven, and you're a full sentinel while he has a couple of heightened senses. I've been able to go through all those journals that we found at your godfather's place, but I want to go over them again. Maybe the abilities breed true in every generation. And I would be willing to bet your mother has one or two heightened senses. That would mean there is a possibility any children from either of you could produce a sentinel, depending on who you marry. Hmm. I wonder what Amanda's background might bring into the mix."
"Hold on there, Darwin. You leave Amanda out of your scheming. If, and I stress the if, we get to a point in our relationship when we might think about marriage, having children will be something we will both agree upon. Right now, Amanda and I are just friends with no guarantee of anything between us getting serious. Don't go counting your sentinels before they're born."
"Ooh, touchy. You must be more interested in her than I thought," Blair murmured with a gleam in his eye.
"Sandburg, leave it alone. Another marriage might not be in the cards for either me or Steven."
"Speak for yourself, brother," Steven Ellison's voice floated down from the upper level of the loft. It was rough sounding, making it obvious that the younger man had just awakened. "Just because you've got commitment problems doesn't mean I'm going to follow suit." The sarcastic, teasing tone took the bite out of his words and Steve leaned over the stair railing to smile at his brother. "I have high hopes for Michelle and me."
"Good God!" Jim exclaimed, making a show of checking his watch. "It's not even 6 a.m. and you're awake. Don't tell me you're actually getting up?"
"Ha, ha. You're about as funny now as you were when we were kids, which is not saying much. We corporate types are usually up and through our first meeting before you police types even step into the door of your favorite donut shop." Pulling on the robe his brother had given him the night before, Steven walked down the stairs and moved into the kitchen with the others. He looked longingly at the coffeemaker and, when he saw that its carafe was empty, sat down at the table with a sigh.
Seeing the younger Ellison's expression, Blair chuckled and turned to start the coffee preparations. He was enjoying the camaraderie between the two brothers, especially how relaxed Jim was despite the events the night before.
"What's the game plan, Jim? I can't be hiding out at your place for any great length of time. I do have some important meetings I have to attend this week."
Jim had been expecting the question. His brother was not that different from their father, dedicated to a corporate job and willing to do what was necessary to be successful. "I understand, Steven. But Aunt Faith is still out there and I wouldn't put it past her to make a play against you to get at me. I'd like you to stay with Sandburg at least for today and tonight. Hopefully, by tomorrow, we'll locate where she's staying and catch her before she can move out or skip town."
"Or come after me again," Blair voiced only loud enough for his Sentinel to hear. He glanced over to his partner and received a small answering nod.
"I'm going to go talk to Mom again this morning and see if she can think of any place Faith might hole up. Think you can take a break from your busy life just for today?"
Steven gave his older brother a small, smirky smile. "I guess I can suffer missing one day at the office. But I have to call Lily to let her know where I am and ask her to reschedule my appointments. She tends to get worried and will start calling all over the place if I don't at least give her that courtesy."
"Got you that well trained already, huh?" Jim laughed at the scowl that suddenly appeared on his brother's face. He shoots, he scores.
"More of that wonderful Ellison wit. You don't know how lucky you are to have grown up as an only child, Blair. Older brothers can be such a pain." Steven gave his brother a glare.
Blair turned around and smiled wistfully at the younger Ellison. "I don't know, man. Having been around Jim for over five years, I don't think I would have had any problem growing up with him."
"What are you talking about, Sandburg? You're still growing up. I've been able to teach you to hang your coat up when you come in, but I don't know if I'll ever get you out of the messy bedroom stage." Jim lifted his hands and stopped the potholder that came flying at his face. He flung it back at his roommate, then quickly moved over to the stairs and fled up to his room. Laughter from the kitchen floated up after him.
When he reached his parent's house, Ellison stepped out of his truck and scanned the area. He nodded toward the sedan that was parked a half block away, acknowledging his protection in the form of Det. L.T. Rafe at the wheel. Ellison didn't think he needed a guard, but it was easier to convince his brother and partner to accept their own protection if he was also covered. Glancing down the road, he easily spotted the squad car with two officers and nodded. Both appeared to be alert and watching the different activities in the area.
Extending his senses, Ellison searched around for any indication of danger. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the quiet neighborhood. Checking internally, he didn't feel any indication that his aunt might be nearby; no warning growl from an enemy sentinel's spirit guide. Pulling his senses back down to a more normal level, Jim started up the walk to the front door. It opened just as he stepped onto the front porch.
Grace Ellison stood hesitantly in the doorway. She searched her older son's face, a timid smile on her lips.
Jim looked at his mother, comparing her appearance to the memory he had of her as a child. He saw sparkling silver strands in her hair that hadn't been there all those years ago. They complimented the soft dark locks lying loose and casual on her shoulders. Her eyes were still a brilliant shade of blue and any other signs of her age only seemed to enhance her looks. To Jim, his mother was as beautiful as he remembered, if not more.
"Hi, Mom," Jim voiced softly and held his arms slightly away from his body.
Seeing the invitation, Grace stepped forward and threw her arms around his neck. She found herself engulfed in his strong arms and pulled tightly to his chest. Tears threaten to spill from her eyes. Giving her son a firm hug, she turned her head to kiss his cheek then pulled away. She stepped back out of the doorway to allow Jim to enter. "How are you this morning, Jimmy? Are Stevie and Blair coming?" Grace looked around her son toward the road.
"I'm fine, Mom. I left Steven with Sandburg at the loft. Hopefully the two of them can keep out of trouble today, but you know kids. Where's Dad?"
"He's in the kitchen having coffee. We were just about to call your place." Taking her son's hand, Grace led him through the house. Jim knew the way, but allowed his mother the comfort she found in the action.
William Ellison looked up from his paper when the two entered the room and stood up. He reached out a hand, which his elder son took without hesitation. "Jimmy. We weren't expecting you until later. Do you want any breakfast? I'm sure Sally could fix something pretty quick."
Looking around the cheery room, Jim saw the dirty breakfast dishes waiting by the sink and Sally, the housekeeper, looking at him expectantly. "No thanks, Dad. I've already eaten. Just coffee if you have some. I came by mainly to talk to Mom about Aunt Faith."
An expression of pain crossed Grace's face at the same time a scowl appeared on William's. The three sat down at the table and Sally came forward with an empty cup and a full carafe of coffee. After she'd poured a cup for Jim and refilled the other two, the Asian woman quietly moved further into the kitchen where she wouldn't be noticed but could still pay attention to what was going on.
"How is Mr. Sand-- Blair doing this morning? Is Stevie still at your place?" William asked, searching his son's face.
"Blair's a little stiff and sore, but he'll be okay. I've asked him to stay with Steven until we can set up a safe house." Jim took a careful sip from his coffee and turned his attention to his mother. "The reason I came over, Mom, was to ask if you could think of any place your sister might hide out, anything at all that might help us find her before she tries to go after Sandburg again."
"Why would she go after him, Jimmy? Why not you like she did when you were small?" William sounded genuinely confused.
"For one thing, I'm not a helpless child. I'm very capable of protecting myself. So, she probably realizes that she can hurt me more if she goes after him. And she can, Dad." At his father's confused expression, Jim continued, "I told you how much he helped me when we first met and I was so out of control. Remember? Well, our partnership goes further than just him being someone who knows about sentinels. The connection between a sentinel and his guide is a very close one and I'm not sure just how sane I'd be if something happened to Blair."
Silence filled the kitchen for several long seconds. "But, but, with all your training--"
Jim cut his father off. "You told me how Aunt Faith was with her guide, how Mom said Lyssa stopped her from having her 'spells'. How was she after Lyssa was killed?"
"She snapped, William. She blamed herself completely for Lyssa's death. There wasn't much I could do to help her except keep her calm," Grace answered the question quietly.
"Not too long ago, another sentinel tried to get to me by killing Blair. It was only through a miracle she didn't succeed. Faith could be doing the same thing and I don't want to give her another opportunity to succeed. Think, Mom. What happened the other times that Faith escaped from the institution?"
Grace stared down into her coffee cup and saw that it was nearly empty. A soft touch on her shoulder made her look up to see Sally standing near and holding the carafe of coffee. Nodding, she watched the housekeeper fill each of the cups on the table, then shuffle back away. She felt rather than saw the eyes of the two men on her.
"Each time, a few days after she had escaped, she'd contact me and tell me where to find her. I'd go through her stuff for any evidence of where she'd been. The hotel receipts indicated that she always stayed in out-of-the-way, near empty, rundown places and paid her bills in cash."
"Where would she get the money? I thought you were in control of her inheritance." William's question sounded accusing.
"The hospitals didn't forbid the patients the opportunity to purchase things, if the staff was willing to go into town for them. I always made sure that Faith had money for anything she wanted. The staff was supposed to be controlling how much she had at any one time and let me know when she needed more. This last time, she was able to steal my driver's license and some slips from the bankbook. I thought I'd just lost my license."
"So, what we need to do is check motels and hotels that are away from noise and have low occupancy. She's probably ditched the car she had since I know what she's driving." The ringing of Jim's cell phone interrupted them. Apologizing to his parents, he opened the phone and said, "Ellison."
"Hey, Jim. How are things going?" It was Blair. Jim stood up, stepped away from the table and walked over to the back door.
"We're fine. But I don't think you're calling just to check up on us. Is something the matter there?"
"Uh, no. Not really. Listen, Steven needs to run by the office. It would be a real quick trip. He has some important papers that have to be signed today. Then he wants to head over there to spend some time with his parents. I thought you should know before we show up."
Jim sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Okay. If he absolutely has to go in, make it a quick trip. And I'd rather you wear your weapon, not carry it in your backpack. You hear me?"
"Sir, yes sir!"
"Sandburg, I mean it."
"I know. Come on, man. I'm taking every precaution necessary. Don't want or need a repeat of yesterday. I'll even make sure that I don't lose our protection in the traffic. We're leaving now and it shouldn't take too long."
"Okay. We'll look for you in about an hour." Closing up his cell and walking back to the table, Jim saw his parents watching him anxiously. "Steven and Blair will be over in a bit."
"I know it's probably none of my business, Jimmy, but why do you have to remind your partner to wear his gun? He's still a detective, isn't he?"
Jim grimaced slightly at his father's question. It wasn't the first time someone asked about his partner and guns when it came to police work. "Yes, he's still with the force, Dad. Sandburg is more effective if he uses his mouth before resorting to his weapon, but he's the first person I'd choose to back me up. I trust him with my life and he's never failed me."
William held up his hands in surrender. "Sorry."
"It's okay." Jim smiled to take the bite out of his words, then turned back to his mother. "Is there anything else you can think of, Mom?"
Grace shook her head. "I'm sorry, honey. Every time Faith called me, it was to meet someplace that she felt safe or didn't cause her to have headaches and it was a different place each time. One time was in a library after hours. Another was at this old warehouse that had been empty for years. She said the smells had all faded and the silence was soothing."
"There are lots of old warehouses and libraries around town, but it's better than nothing. I'll get the others started on pulling up a list of possibilities." Jim pulled out his cell phone again and hit the speed dial for the precinct.
Blair shifted down into second gear and swung his Cobra in a tight turn around the corner, then quickly accelerated to get back up to speed with the rest of the traffic. He glanced over at his passenger and chuckled when the man grabbed at the armrest on the door. "Relax, Steven. I'm a much safer driver than Jim is, especially when I have someone in the car with me."
Steven looked down at his arm as if it didn't belong to him and visibly relaxed it. "Sorry. I'm never comfortable when someone else is driving."
"It's that Ellison control gene. I think your brother got a double dose. Uh, where should I park?" Blair asked when he saw the building Griffin Enterprises was located in the distance. "I don't think the parking garage would be a good idea. Too enclosed."
"There's usually some places along the street, but you might have to search around a bit. Wait, there's a guy pulling out just up ahead." Steven pointed through the windshield.
Blair leaned forward and squinted. "Good eyes, man. It's close enough to the building, too. Maybe you have three enhanced senses."
Hearing the eagerness in Blair's voice, Steven laughed. "My eyesight is as normal as yours. Locating parking places is more of a survival habit I developed due to my trips to larger cities. I hate walking for blocks and refuse to pay the ridiculous prices parking garages charge."
Downshifting the car, Blair pulled up until he was behind the exiting car with his left turn signal blinking. When the car pulled out, he slid into the open space with ease and turned the ignition off. He grabbed onto his passenger's arm when the other started to open his door. "Whoa, wait a minute. I don't see the police anywhere around. Let's wait a few minutes for them to show up."
"Blair, the first officers had to stop and take care of that accident and you saw that they called for backup. Look, we're not even a block away from the front door. It's daytime and in the open. Do you really think my aunt would be crazy enough to try something here? The parking garage, yeah. Here, I really doubt it. Come on."
Blair, looking into his companion's pleading face, dropped his resolve and nodded. Both men stepped out of the vehicle and met in front of the car. They had just started across the street when Steven stopped and snapped his fingers.
"Briefcase. I left it on your backseat. I'll need the papers in it." He turned and trotted back to the car. He'd just pulled the satchel out of the Cobra and closed the door when he heard the sound of screeching tires and a revving engine. Steven turned in the direction of the sound and froze when he saw a black car sliding sideways around the corner and accelerating... straight toward Sandburg.
"Blair! Look out!" Steven screamed and charged toward his friend.
The younger man had been searching around the area and was just as surprised to hear the car. When he swung around to look, he saw that it was Faith behind the wheel and she was barreling down the road toward him. Before he could move, a body slammed into his and they both went flying across the street.
Blair rolled painfully and ended up on his face in the middle of the next lane. Scrambling to his feet, he looked over to see that Steven was closer to the cars by the curb and slower in rising. The sound of a car horn blaring brought his attention back to the direction Faith's car had gone. The vehicle was spinning around, almost smashing into a minivan traveling in the opposite direction.
Faith's car had completed its turn and was now heading back in his direction. Blair glanced over at Steven, screamed for him to run, then pulled his weapon and turned back in the direction of the approaching car. Firming up his stance, Blair leveled the gun at the car, took a deep breath and tried to calm himself as he'd seen his partner do on many occasions.
The sound of a police siren and more tires burning rubber on the pavement came from behind. Backup was finally there. Their arrival caused the car traveling toward him to slam on its breaks, stopping less than 20 feet away. Blair stared over the barrel of his gun at the face of the woman who'd just tried to run him down. He saw her look at him for several moments with fury in her eyes, then turn in Steven's direction. Several expressions seemed to flash across her face before he saw her jerk the gearshift into reverse and send the car back down the direction it had come. Like a professional driver, she spun the car in the middle of the road and took off.
One police car swung around Blair and followed the fleeing vehicle. The second one screeched to a halt behind him and two uniformed officers bolted out. The driver ran over toward Steven and the other moved carefully up behind Blair.
"Detective?" the young officer called out when he was close. Officer J.D. Danko saw that Sandburg was still standing with his weapon pointed down the street, but he was beginning to shake as the aftershock of what happened started to set in. Taking a few steps closer, he again asked, "Are you okay, Detective Sandburg?"
"Oh, man," Blair moaned. He dropped his arms, but kept hold of the gun with both hands. Tremors seemed to spread throughout his whole body. Only one other time had he ever seen eyes looking at him the way Faith's had a few minutes ago. It had been over three years ago and they had belonged to another sentinel named Alex Barnes.
A gentle hand touched his back and another rested on his arm. "Why don't you let me take that for you, Blair." The hand on his arm slid slowly down until it reached his hands and took hold of the pistol. Turning his head, Blair looked into Danko's youthful face and released his hold on the gun. Blair had gotten to know the junior officer after he'd found that the other had been helped at Christmas by Gabe the angel.
Blair closed his eyes and sank down until he was seated on the ground. "That was, like, way too close. Thanks for showing up, J.D." Pulling his legs up and resting his head on his knees, Blair started taking deep breaths to calm his nerves.
Danko patted Blair's shoulder. "Just doing my job, Blair. How are you doing?"
Before he could answer, Blair heard Steven's panicky voice call out, asking if he was okay. When he looked in that direction, Blair saw the other officer struggling to keep Steven on the sidewalk. The younger Ellison looked pale, his eyes wide in fright.
"Think you can move out of the street?" Danko asked, moving around until he could face Sandburg. He held a hand out, his other holding onto the weapon.
Blair gave a nervous chuckle and took the hand offered, allowing the officer to pull him up. Taking back control of his revolver, Blair walked slowly, with Danko following, to the sidewalk and joined the other two.
Steven grabbed Blair's arm and dropped his head on the smaller man's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Blair. If I hadn't been in such a hurry; if I'd listened to you... God, I'm sorry," he rambled.
Blair sagged on one leg and leaned his weight onto the side Steven was holding. "Forget it, man. I think she would have still tried for me no matter where I was. Let's just get your briefcase, get you up to your office and the papers signed. Then we can head over to your parents." Turning to the officers, Blair said, "Thanks, guys. Got time to follow us in before escorting us over to his parent's house?"
"Honest, Jimmy. We're both okay. The police showed up before she could do anything."
"Where's Sandburg now?"
Steven looked over to where he saw Blair perched on the corner of the desk that belonged to his secretary. The young man was talking animatedly with his hands and interspersing the conversation with what some would call his charming smile. "He's over talking to Lily. Did he really spend time studying the underground culture that follows the grunge bands?"
~chuckle~ He probably did, but more than likely he's just using the topic to make time with your secretary. Let me talk to him.
Steven frowned at his brother's words, then heard Blair ask Lily where she went to party. "Blair!" he called and raised the phone receiver. "Jim wants to talk to you. Leave Lily alone and let her do her job."
Startled out of his conversation, Blair looked up to see a grim-faced Steven gesturing to him. "Excuse me," he apologized to the woman and stood up. "What? I was curious about her Goth following. Honest, man."
"It took me a long time to find someone as qualified as she is, Sandburg. Just leave her alone, okay?" Passing the telephone to Blair, Steven gave the smaller man a stern gaze.
There wasn't any anger in the younger Ellison's voice, but Sandburg could see the typical Ellison protective stance in him. "Hey, no problem. Sorry." When Steven turned away, Blair smiled smugly then raised the receiver to his ear.
"Yeah, Jim... No, I wasn't hitting on Steven's secretary. We were just discussing... Come on, man. Quit laughing. You and your brother are just alike when it comes to... Listen, do you want to know the details or not?"
"Sorry, Chief. I'm laughing more at my brother than you. He complains a lot about Lily and her peculiarities, but he sure is sounding like a protective father. I'd stay away from the girl unless you want to see if he has a few other Ellison traits. Now tell me exactly what happened."
"She was driving a black Taurus sedan. No license plate on the front and I can't remember if there was any on the back. I might have seen it, but I'm a little too shook up to remember right now. I did see her face real clear, Jim. Her eyes..." Blair shuddered at the memory.
"It's okay, Chief. You're safe now."
Blair brushed back his hair with his free hand and forcefully blew out a lungful of air. "Yeah, by the grace of God and Cascade's finest. I'm sorry to say this about a relative, Jim, but your aunt is a menace and we need to catch her before she gets lucky with a third try. And I don't think it's a good idea to keep Steven with me."
"Agreed. I want you to go to the precinct and put an APB out on the car. Leave a couple of the uniforms there and have the other car follow you in. The officers can flip a coin to see who stays inside with Steven."
"What about you?"
"I'll be right in. This is the second time that woman has had the element of surprise and I think it's time we take control of the situation."
Major Crime Bullpen, Simon Banks' Office
Jim Ellison leaned against the door and looked at the faces around the office. Banks sat behind his desk, lost in thought as he absently fiddled with the unlit cigar in his hands. Detectives Brown and Rafe huddled in the corner, surprised at being included in the meeting, watched the interaction between the senior members of their group and their newest one. Connor was perched near Sandburg, her growing anger easily read in her eyes.
Ellison had just spent the last hour explaining the whole situation, with Sandburg filling in the details Jim tended to leave out. It hadn't been easy telling the group that the sentinel invading their territory this time was a blood relative of his and that she had now tried to kill Sandburg a second time. Or the fact his mother and aunt were twins and Faith had been the one in town last year, not his mother. Ellison did leave out the fact that his brother had one, possibly two, enhanced senses since he didn't feel it was relative to the situation. They were now trying to decide what their next course of action was going to be.
"I can't spend all my time watching over my shoulder for Faith to come at me again." Blair pointed at his partner when he saw the larger man open his mouth. "And I'm not going to go into hiding while you're out there searching. It's not going to happen, man. Remember what happened the last time you went after a sentinel without me to back you up? No offense, Megan."
Sandburg threw in the last when he remembered the Australian Inspector had been backing up Ellison when he first battled Alex Barnes. Connor had saved Ellison's life, but Barnes had escaped and the rest was something no one wanted to remember.
"None taken, Sandy. What's past is past, as you Yanks would say. The question now is what can we do to make sure history doesn't repeat itself?" Connor's voice held a note of steel in it.
"Well, you're not going to like it, Jim, but what if I--"
"No, Chief. Absolutely not," Ellison growled, moving away from the door to stand over his partner.
"It's the only way I can think of to flush her out, Jim. And its not like I'd be alone." Blair stood up so that he wasn't completely overshadowed by his partner, though he still had to look up. He stared defiantly into Jim's face.
"What part of 'no' don't you understand, Sandburg?"
"All of it when you use that tone. Who died and left you boss?"
"Ellison! Sandburg! Knock it off and sit down," Banks ordered, his voice rising easily over those of his men. When the two didn't move, he continued, "Do I have to repeat myself?"
The two men stared at each other for several long seconds before Blair sat down in his chair and Jim moved back over to the door. Both men crossed their arms over their chests and stared off into different areas of the office.
"Now, no one has died, I'm still the boss and I want to hear what he has to say. What is your idea, Sandburg?" Banks asked, glaring sharply at Ellison to make sure he stayed quiet.
Blair glanced quickly at his partner before turning his full attention to his captain. All of a sudden he didn't feel so confident about his idea. "Well, uh, I thought that maybe we should force Faith to come after me when we're ready for her. We could pick an area that is open, but not too populated, and you all could be waiting around for her to show up."
"And maybe succeed at what she's failed to do to you twice before," Ellison interrupted, his voice deadly calm. "She's a sentinel, Chief. We'd have to be far enough away so she couldn't sense us... me."
Blair locked his eyes with his partner's, almost pleading for understanding. "She's not a trained sentinel, Jim. You are. Remember how you knew Alex was in the area?"
"I saw the jaguar."
"Right! You saw it before she showed up. So you should be able to see your aunt's animal in the same way."
"Wait a minute. What are you two talking about?" Banks asked. The two continued as if they hadn't heard him.
"It could work, Jim. And the minute you give me the high sign, I'll be running. She'll have a hard time hitting a moving target."
"Unless she's decided to use a gun this time. Sandburg, there isn't any guarantee I'll see her cougar. I didn't see it when she went after you in the alley."
"Excuse me, gentlemen. Do you want to let the rest of us in on this conversation?" Banks tried again.
"In a minute, Simon," Blair said absently, waving his hand at the other. He didn't hear the sharply inhaled breath from the two men sitting behind him. "Jim, you had your parents in the loft and Faith attacking me was the furthest thing from your mind."
"But it shouldn't have been."
"HEY!" Banks' yell brought everyone's attention to him. He glared at his newest detective. "I want an explanation from the two of you and I don't want it 'in a minute', Sandburg."
Remembering what he'd said to his captain, Blair had the good graces to be embarrassed and a little nervous. After looking over at Jim and getting a slight nod, he said, "Uh, sorry, Captain. Jim thinks that it's not a good idea, but I think we should set me up as a decoy."
"I got that part."
"Oh, yeah, right. Well, when Faith decides to come at me again, Jim should be able to know she's in the area by... her... spirit animal." The last part Blair mumbled when he realized he was bringing up something that they hadn't discussed before with the whole crew. Silence filled the office.
Banks stared incredulously at Sandburg, who was staring down at his hands, then looked up at Ellison. The older detective had his eyes closed and was pinching the bridge of his nose. "Does he mean what I think he means?"
"Yes, sir," Ellison replied.
"Do all of you have..."
Blair answered the confused man. "From what I've been able to learn, all sentinels have an animal spirit to help guide them with the mystical part of themselves. I don't know if it has just been a coincidence, but Jim's, Alex's and now Faith's spirit animals have all been big cats."
"And you two can see them?"
Blair cleared his throat. He'd seen the spirit animals for all of them in the room, but knew that wasn't a topic to be discussed. At least not at this time. "I can't, not really. I mean, I saw Jim's, but that was after Alex had killed me and Jim..."
Simon could see that the subject bothered the young man and he couldn't blame him. Who wanted to remember their own death? "Oh, right. ~ahem~ So you're thinking that Ellison should be able to see this, this ghost cat before his aunt even shows up?"
"It's possible, Captain. I did see Alex's at that robbery and she wasn't in the immediate area." Ellison took over the conversation when he saw how disturbed his partner was becoming. "But I still say it's too dangerous. There's no guarantee I'll see the animal before she arrives."
Banks moved his gaze between his two detectives, then looked at the other three in the room. Brown and Rafe appeared to be totally confused over the whole conversation, but Connor had an expression of satisfaction on her face; as if many of her questions had been answered.
"Okay, this is what I think. Sandburg, your idea sounds good and we'll go with it. That is, unless you can think of something better, Ellison."
Jim had opened his mouth to protest, but couldn't get the words out. He didn't want his partner and friend to be the bait in a trap for his aunt, but he couldn't think of any other way. Resigned, he shook his head and slumped back against the door.
"I didn't think so. Okay people, this is how it will go down. Sandburg, you'll have a wire and be set up in an area that is open enough so it can be watched easily from a distance, but not too busy. The best place I can think of is the open-air mall off Washington Avenue. Know which place I'm talking about?"
"Yeah," Blair answered excitedly. "The Pine Valley Mall. It has this great little bookstore about half way down, right next to a health food store. I love going down there when the weather is nice. If I had been working towards a psychology degree instead of an anthropology degree, I would have been able to write dozens of papers on the sociological habits of--"
"I'm glad you know the place," Banks interrupted. "Connor will be on foot in the area. I'm sure you can make yourself look like someone who would shop around there. Brown and Rafe, you'll set yourselves up at each end of the mall. I don't think I need to tell you where to set up, do I, Ellison?"
"No, sir," Jim replied quietly. His face was devoid of expression, but the muscle twitching in his jaw betrayed the anger he felt.
"Then that's it. I want this all ready to go no later than 4 p.m. this afternoon. Dismissed. Oh, Jim. I'd like to see you for a minute."
Jim held the door open for the others to leave. Blair stopped and asked with his eyes if he should also leave. At the taller man's nod, he walked out and Jim closed the door behind him.
"This situation is completely different from the last one, Jim."
"How so, sir? There's another sentinel in town and she's going after me by trying to hurt someone I care about." Jim's answer was calm and cold.
"Damn it, man! This other sentinel is your aunt. Family. She's your own flesh and blood and you're acting like that means nothing."
Ellison locked his eyes onto Banks', the cold blue gaze sending a cold shiver down the black captain's spine. "Faith Sutton stopped being a part of my family the day she tried to kill me. She's now trying to get at me by going after someone who is very important to my life. I damn well intend to make sure she doesn't succeed."
Banks' face hardened. "Then you listen to me, Detective. I expect this operation to go down by the book. When you catch Ms. Sutton, she will be arrested, mirandized and booked like any other suspect. Do I make myself clear?"
"If that's the way she wants it."
The two men stared at each other in a way some would call a test of wills. Finally, Ellison gave his boss a short nod, opened the door and left the office. After the door closed, Banks dropped his head to his chest and silently prayed. Hopefully, by tomorrow the whole situation would be over and their lives could get back to whatever they considered normal.
Pine Valley Mall, Early Evening
Blair looked up from the book he was pretending to read, used the sales slip as a marker and closed the tome. He'd been sitting on a bench on the mall for over two hours, trying to act relaxed and not thinking about why he was there. But the nervousness he'd started with was now turning into impatience and it was getting harder for him to stay seated.
Standing up, Blair adjusted his light jacket after a short stretch. Fortunately, the weather wasn't its usual chilly dampness. The near cloudless sky was darkening into a beautiful sunset and the temperature was hovering at a comfortable range. A light breeze came from the west, bringing with it the promise of a nice night.
"Ah, man. I'm starting to get hungry and that Mr. Tube Steak stand is just too tempting. I think I'll take a short walk." Blair spoke just loud enough for the microphone he wore to pick up, but not for anyone else to hear unless they were standing in front of him... or they were a sentinel.
The microphone was secreted carefully in the layers of clothing he normally wore instead of being attached to his body. Blair had protested vehemently when the precinct technician had suggested taping the device to his chest, knowing it would require him to shave the area first. After a short but intense discussion, with Blair protesting loudly that he was not going to lose any more hair for the police force, it was agreed that the mic would be hidden in his clothing.
Acting as casual as possible, Blair walked down to the food stand, bought something to eat and wandered back to 'his' bench. Taking a small bite of his meal, he glanced around the area. Since evening was approaching, the number of shoppers in the area was decreasing. Blair hadn't even seen Connor since he'd first arrived. For some reason, his instincts were telling him that nothing was going to happen tonight.
Taking another bite, Blair leaned back and started mentally reviewing the two times Faith had attacked him. Each time he hadn't been away from the loft for very long before she'd shown up. Why was she waiting now? Glancing at his watch, he saw that it had been nearly three hours and she still hadn't made her move. Folding the wrapper back around his food, Blair pulled out his book, opened it up and again pretended to read. Finally he murmured, "I've been thinking, guys. Something is wrong here."
Sitting in his truck hidden not far away, Ellison smiled slightly at his partner's statement. He'd been keeping both his sight and hearing trained on Sandburg, watching as the younger man went from being scared to his current state. He also knew his friend's mind would not be idle and was not surprised when he finally started talking. Increasing the level of his senses carefully, Ellison checked the area one more time before returning his full attention to Sandburg.
"And before you get angry at me for talking out loud, listen first. Frankly, I don't think she's anywhere near to hear any of this. I mean, look. I've been here for almost three hours and nothing has happened. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that I haven't been attacked or had some maniac try to run me over with a car. But why hasn't she tried anything? Unless I wasn't the target in the first place."
Ellison sat up straight as the meaning of Sandburg's words penetrated his consciousness. Why hadn't Faith showed up? A seed of fear blossomed in his chest. Leaning forward, Ellison snatched up his radio microphone and called the dispatcher.
Steven Ellison hit the 'enter' button on his computer and turned away from the monitor and back to his desk just as the clock sitting on the corner chimed the hour. Glancing over, he saw the time to be 6:00 p.m.
Damn! Where did the time go?
Looking down at the different piles on his desk, Steven decided he had to leave now or he would never get away. The only thing bad about leaving now was that he had to be escorted by a policeman out of the building and back over to his brother's loft. The last time he'd spoken to Jim, they had agreed he could go back to his own place only if their aunt had been caught. Since he hadn't heard anything, Steven figured the operation was still ongoing. Therefore, it was probably best if he just waited at Jim's place until it was over.
He was reaching over toward his intercom button when the device buzzed at him. Surprised, he pressed the button. "Yes, Lily?"
"Mr. Ellison, there's a woman here who would like to see you. She says... she's your mother." Lily's voice was calm, but it held a note of uncertainty. Her formality in using his name indicated that the visitor had an appearance of importance.
"I'll be right out," Steven replied and hurried to the door, grabbing his jacket off the back of his chair and quickly slipping it on. Opening the door with a smile on his face, he called out, "Mother, what are you..."
Steven's voice faltered when he got a good look at who was waiting in the reception area. The woman standing in front of Lily's desk certainly looked like his mother, but the evidence he noticed showed him it wasn't. The woman was dressed in an expensive designer dress of creamy silk with matching coat and her dark mass of hair was styled elegantly. Very unlike how he had last seen his mother and understood her to be. But what really betrayed the woman's real identity was the sly smile on her face and the wild glitter in her eyes.
"Hello, sweetheart. Come give your mother a kiss." Faith turned toward her nephew, held out an arm and waited. The other arm was clamped close to her body with the hand buried in her suit jacket pocket.
Steven looked down at the hidden hand then back up at the woman's face. Her smile widened and she nodded slightly to confirm what his eyes asked. Hesitantly, he moved forward until he was close enough for Faith to lean forward and place her arm around him.
Moving her face near his ear, she whispered, "Do anything to give me away and I'll kill the girl." She nudged the gun hidden in her pocket momentarily into Steven's ribs, then stepped back and said in a normal tone, "I'm sorry to bother you at work, dear, but I have to leave town tomorrow and I thought we could have dinner tonight before I go."
Wetting his lips nervously, Steven glanced over toward Lily. The younger woman was standing behind her desk waiting. She appeared to be completely unaware anything was wrong. Turning his attention back to Faith, he gave his aunt a hesitant smile. "Of course, uh, Mother. I was just finishing up anyway. Let me tell the officer outside where we're going so that he--"
"Oh, I've already talked to him and he's heading downstairs to his car. He said he'd follow us over. Let's go, dear." Faith slipped her free arm around Steven's and held on to it tightly. "I've already made reservations and we don't want to be late."
"Yes, Mother. Uh, Lily, why don't you head on home. I won't be back tonight and there's no reason for you to stick around."
"But what about the Carson file? You said it had to be completed tonight." Lily held up a manila folder.
"Oh, yeah." Steven glanced at the woman standing beside him, noticing the steely look in her eyes and her pursed lips. He knew she wasn't going to stand for any delays. "Maybe you could do me a favor and take the file over to Carson's place on Prospect Avenue. It's on your way home and there's not much more I can do with it until he decides if he wants to hire us. I'd meant to do it earlier, but the time got away from me." Steven struggled to sound as casual as possible to the young woman. He'd never forgive himself if anything happened to her.
Lily leaned over and flipped through her Rolodex. Standing up and tossing her braided hair back, she gazed into her boss' eyes, seeing the apprehension. "Of course, Mr. Ellison. I'll shut your computer down, too. Enjoy your dinner," Lily replied, walking around her desk and into Steven's office.
Once the young woman was out of sight, Faith jerked her nephew around to face her. She pulled out the revolver and held it under his chin. "I meant what I said, Stevie. I need you. Don't think for a minute that I won't shoot that little girl to prove I'm serious. Now let's go."
Placing the revolver back in her pocket, Faith again slid an arm around one of Steven's, pulling him out of the office and toward the elevator. As the glass door slowly closed, Lily carefully leaned out from behind the wooden portal into Steven's office and carefully watched until the pair had disappeared into the elevator. Then moving quickly, she searched through her Rolodex again, picked up the telephone and a pencil and punched in a number.
With a muttered curse, Ellison slammed the mic for the truck radio back into its cradle and grabbed the portable radio being used for the operation. He was about to key it when his cell phone rang.
"Detective Ellison? This is Lily Lancin. I think there's a problem."
"What's wrong, Ms. Lancin?"
"This woman showed up saying she was Steven's mother and wanted to take him out to dinner. But Steven didn't seem too happy to see her.
"What did she look like?"
"She was tall, dark hair with some silver and dressed in this outfit that just screamed money. It struck me odd the way Steven looked at her, like she wasn't supposed to look that way."
Jim rubbed his hand over his face. It had to be Faith. His mother had promised to stay with his father until her sister was caught. "Are they still there?"
"No, they just left. I waited until they got onto the elevator before calling you."
"That was very smart. There was an officer who was supposed to stay with Steven until he was ready to leave. Is he still there?"
"That's the odd part, Detective. Terry, uh, Officer Johnson had escorted the two earlier visitors we had, but didn't show up with this woman. She said she'd already talked to him and he was down at his car. The whole thing didn't feel right, then Steven asked me to take a file over to a client's place on Prospect Avenue since it was on my way home. The business is on Michigan, not Prospect, and I don't live anywhere near there. That's when I knew I had to call you."
"I live on Prospect, Ms. Lancin. You did the right thing in calling me. Just stay there and we'll be over in a few minutes." Without waiting for a reply, Ellison closed up his cell phone and started the truck. Slamming it into gear, he jammed his foot onto the gas pedal and sped toward the mall, bringing the truck to a tire-screaming halt at the curb near Sandburg's bench.
Blair was already on his feet and waiting for his partner to stop his truck. He'd seen Jim racing toward his position and knew that his friend must have found out something about their quarry. Yanking the truck door open, Blair had barely settled onto the seat before the truck was moving again.
"Faith has gone after Steven," Jim ground out, his concentration on the road.
"What?!?" Blair exclaimed. "How do you know?"
"I just spoke with his secretary. She said that our mother was just there and took Steven out to dinner. She just walked in there and took him!" Ellison slammed his fist down on the dash of his truck.
Blair reached out a hand and rested it on Jim's arm. "Whoa, easy, man. What about the officer who was supposed to be watching him?"
"You don't think she'll try to kill him, do you?" Blair asked quietly. "I mean, he's not a sentinel or a guide. He's not a danger to her or connected to you except for being your brother."
Ellison's jaw muscle twitched as he ground his teeth together. Why hadn't they suspected this? Was it because they assumed history was going to repeat itself when another sentinel had shown up in Cascade? His territory? So why did Faith want Steven?
"Call the rest of the team, Chief. Let them know we're heading over to Griffin Enterprises to see if we can pick up any clues about where Faith has taken my brother. I'd like a couple of them to head over to my father's place and keep a close eye on my parents."
With a nod, Blair reached for the portable radio.
When Ellison and Sandburg stepped off the elevator on the floor housing Griffin Enterprises, they saw Lily sitting on a bench near the entrance to the office. Her eyes were staring off into space and her face had almost a sickly green cast to it.
"Hey, Lily," Blair called softly as he approached the still woman. When she didn't answer, he knelt down in front of her and took hold of one of her hands. It was cold and clammy. At his touch, the stunned woman looked down at him. "Lily?"
Ellison could hear that the woman's heart was beating painfully fast and she was breathing in short gasps. When she looked up at him where he stood behind his partner, he could see that her eyes were wide in fright and the pupils dilated. Without a word, the young woman raised an arm and pointed down a short hallway that led toward the restrooms and a utility closet.
"Stay with her, Chief," Jim ordered, pulling his revolver from its holster behind his back. Extending his hearing, he focused it down the hallway toward the rooms. He couldn't detect any heartbeat. Changing to his sense of smell, he tested the air. He could smell the residue of gunpowder and blood coming from the Ladies room. Moving cautiously up to the door, he opened it just enough to see inside.
What met his eyes was the sprawled and very still body of Officer Johnson. Blood stained the hole in the man's chest and pooled on the floor. His lifeless eyes stared at the ceiling.
"Sandburg?" Ellison raised his voice so that it would reach his partner. "Call Simon and have him get an ambulance and the forensics team over here. We'll also need the Coroner."
"What is it, Jim?" Blair asked, walking toward his partner. He was stopped and pushed back up the hallway. They stopped near Lily. Tears were now streaming down her face, smearing the heavy make-up around her eyes.
"You don't want to see it. It's our missing officer. I guess Ms. Lancin found him after she spoke with me." Jim looked compassionately down at the stunned young woman. "Faith must have killed him before taking Steven. Stay out here with her and wait until the medics arrive. I'm going to check around the office and see if I can find any evidence of where she could have taken my brother."
Not waiting for an answer, Jim entered the outer office of Griffin Enterprises and extended his senses. He knew that Faith had been there. In the back of his mind, he heard a low, menacing growl he knew wasn't coming from his own spirit animal. It had to be from Faith's.
When he couldn't pick up anything with his eyesight, Jim switched to smell. He easily recognized the aftershave his brother used. He'd helped Steven buy it last year after having a sneezing fit over the other stuff his brother had worn. Jim also picked up the scents from Lily's presence and a lingering residue from when Blair had been there earlier. Filtering through those that he knew, Jim was able to pick up a faint odor that was very gentle and unassuming. It was a perfume he hadn't smelled in a long time, Lily of the Valley, and it triggered a distant memory. He remembered it from when his aunt had visited the loft pretending to be his mother, but he also remembered it from the last time he'd seen the woman before then. It had been when he was a child and she had tried to kill him.
"Did you find anything, Jim?" Blair asked.
Coming back aware of his surroundings, Jim looked down to see his partner standing at his elbow. The younger man had a hand resting lightly on Jim's arm, grounding the Sentinel and preventing the man from losing himself in his sensory search. "It was definitely my aunt, Chief. Her perfume is here. I remember it from last year at the loft, but I also remember it from when I was a child."
"Ah, man." Blair released his friend's arm and ran a hand through his hair to brush it back from his face. "Why would she take Steven? Bait for a trap against you?"
"I don't know. Damn it! We have no idea where she's holed up and there's nothing here to lead us."
Blair stared around the office, then turned to watch Jim pace around like a caged animal. He could see his friend's frustration and anger building and knew that the infamous Ellison temper was going to erupt soon. Unless...
"Jim, can you sense her?"
Ellison paused in his pacing and glared at his partner. "I just told you I could smell her perfume, Sandburg."
Blair shook his head and moved closer. "No, man. Sense her. Down in Mexico, when you were chasing after Alex, you told me that you were following after her even though you weren't receiving any stimuli to your senses. She was another sentinel who also had a spirit animal that you were able to see. You knew she went after me at the college and you were able to find her at the temple."
"We're not in Mexico and I'm not in some mating lust after my own aunt."
Blair could hear the disgust in Jim's voice and almost chuckled despite the situation. "I didn't say you had the hots for her, Jim. But she is another sentinel in your territory. You should be able to sense wherever she's hiding. Come on." Taking his partner by the arm, and checking around to see if anyone was watching him, Blair pulled him into Steven's office and over to a chair. Going back over to the door, he locked it.
"Sit down, Jim. You need to relax and go into a meditative trance to be able to pick her up."
Ellison resisted the hands trying to push him down into the chair. "What makes you think this will work?"
"Have you got any better ideas? Your mom has no idea where Faith is and, so far, the search for her has come up empty. Now sit down and start your breathing. You know the drill." With a last forceful push, Blair got Jim into the chair.
Resigned to the fact that he wouldn't get any peace unless he tried his friend's suggestion, Ellison allowed himself to be pushed into the chair. Following Sandburg's directions, he closed his eyes and started taking slow, deep breaths.
"That's it. Relax and focus," Blair intoned. He positioned himself on the arm of another chair and lowered his voice down to the level he knew would guide Jim into the mental state he needed to be in. "Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and slowly let it out. Start moving your mind into that area of your brain that is pure sentinel. You have to let him come forward and use his abilities to find the one invading his territory."
The gentle tones of his Guide's voice filled the Sentinel with comfort. As instructed, he mentally reached down inside of himself and... found himself standing in a jungle setting he knew very well. Without hesitation, he started jogging through the foliage until he came to the platform under a familiar statue where a large black jaguar lounged. The animal watched him approach, its tail swishing in agitation.
"I need your help. Another sentinel has come and taken my brother. I need to find her before she can hurt him."
The animal stood up and slowly morphed into a man who looked remarkably like Jim. He was wearing jungle fatigues, his head was covered by an olive green bandana and he held a Chopec spear in one hand. The warrior stared at his civilized counterpart; he was calm and waiting for Jim to speak.
"You are a part of me," Ellison voiced, stepping close and lifting his hands slightly away from his body with the palms upward. "You've helped me in the past. The last time was when I was chasing another sentinel who had hurt my Guide. I'm asking you to help me again so that I can save my brother."
The other's pale eyes searched across Ellison's face. Jim could almost feel the heat from the orbs. "You have tried to deny me in the past," the warrior accused. "Your fears try to rule you."
Ellison dropped his head, expelling the air forcefully out of his lungs and allowing his arms to fall back down. The accusation was once true. But he'd learned you couldn't deny his true self no matter how much it scared him. A long-haired, unconventional college student turned detective had taught him that. Raising his head back up, Jim glared at his alter-self.
"I do not deny you anymore. Let me prove it. Come forward and help me." In a pleading gesture, Jim again raised his arms outward with the palms up. He kept his eyes locked on the warrior's.
The warrior gave the man across from him a grim smile and morphed back down into the black jaguar. Then the beast leapt from the platform and into Jim's chest.
Jerking back to awareness, Jim stood up and swung his gaze around the room. He opened all his senses to the surrounding area and dismissed all that did not belong to Faith. Walking purposefully, he went to the office door, unlocked it and strode out into the reception area. Blair was close on his heels, keeping very silent as his partner worked.
When he reached the reception area, Jim locked onto the scent he knew belonged to his aunt. Closing his eyes, he sunk into himself and felt for where the female sentinel was hiding. In his mind, he 'flew' across the city until he was at an old abandoned factory. He knew of the place, but had never had occasion to visit it when it had been open. Now the building sat in a part of town slowly being abandoned by other businesses and would eventually be torn down. Finding himself at the entrance, Jim stepped through the door.
He extended his hearing to see if he could find the ones he knew would be there. Two heartbeats could be heard, up on a higher level and further back in the building. Jim started to move forward, but stopped when a cougar stepped into his path. His aunt's spirit animal. The big cat growled menacingly at him and crouched down to guard a doorway leading to the stairs. Not wanting to give too much of a warning, Jim backed out of the building and concentrated. Suddenly he found himself back in the outer office of Griffin Enterprises.
"Well?" Blair asked when he knew his partner was back and aware of his surroundings.
"Let's go. I know where they are, but I'm not sure if I warned her of my coming," Jim answered, leading the way out of the office and into the hallway. He saw a pair of paramedics sitting with Lily, one trying to coax the woman to talk to him while the other took her vitals. Another pair was coming off the elevator with a gurney, being guided by a uniform officer to the restrooms.
Striding quickly, Ellison made it to the elevator before it closed and held the door until Sandburg jumped into the car with him. After the doors closed, he leaned back against a wall and closed his eyes again. He was jarred back to awareness by Sandburg's voice.
"Come on, Jim. What happened? I can't help you if I don't know what's going on."
"Sorry, Chief. I connected with... myself, you could say. We were able to use Faith's perfume to find her. She has Steven at the old Andersen factory on the north side, but I don't know if she knows I found her. We've got to get over there fast," Jim explained. Then he gave his partner a smile and clapped a hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "Thanks for the help, buddy."
Blair gave his friend a pleased smile. "Just doing my job, man. Big question, though. Do we call for backup? I know she's family, but she's also a killer. Simon will only let us get away with using 'it's a sentinel thing' for so long."
"We'll wait until we get there, then call. By the time they show up..."
"You'll have freed Steven and arrested Faith," Blair finished.
Ellison captured his friend's eyes with his own. "Or one of us will be dead." At Sandburg's shocked silence, he continued. "Faith is not Alex and she tried to kill me once before. Also, she's a rogue sentinel who has been without a Guide for a very long time. How sane do you think she is now?"
Blair dropped his gaze and swallowed heavily. "Oh, man. We'll have to be very careful." The elevator door opened and the two exited the car. Pulling out their badges, both men got past the uniformed officers guarding the front of the building and made their way to Jim's truck.
Ellison stopped his friend before he climbed into the cab. "Not we, me. She's already tried to kill you twice. I want you to wait outside when I go in."
"No way, Jim," Blair protested. "You are not going in there without me. The biggest edge you have over Faith is your control and I can make sure you keep it. Besides, you'll need someone to get Steven out once we find him."
Ellison stared down at his friend, seeing the defiance and determination in his face. He knew that if he tried to leave Sandburg behind, the younger man would find some way to follow him. "Fine. But you do everything I tell you to do or I'll handcuff you to the truck and go in on my own."
"Hey, no problem." Blair held up his hands in surrender. "You senior detective, me junior detective. You lead and I follow."
Ellison nodded and walked around to the driver's side. "Just don't forget it, Chief."
"Like you'd let me," Blair mumbled and climbed into the truck. When the vehicle didn't start, he looked over at Jim and smiled sheepishly at the glare the man was giving him. Of course, Jim had heard him.
Andersen Waterbed Factory
Steven Ellison rattled the loose board that was part of the group covering the lone window in his prison. He'd been worrying at it since being shoved into the room by his aunt. He'd thought he might be able to escape if he could get the board free.
Faith had driven him directly to the factory, ignoring his questions and pointing her gun at him the one time he tried to resist her. Why here? Is this where she has been staying? More important, how long were they going to stay here?
With a rusty shriek, the board came free and Steven fell backwards onto the floor. Scrambling back to his feet, he rushed over to the window only to sag in defeat. Looking out the dirty glass, he saw what he already knew. The room he was in was on the second level of the building overlooking the ground floor of an empty factory. However, there wasn't anything around the window to help him get down. Even if he could get the rest of the boards off, he would have to jump at least 15-20 feet to reach the lower floor.
Turning back around, Steven slid to the ground, pulling his legs up until he could wrap his arms around his knees. He was still in this pose a while later when he heard footsteps moving toward his door and the mechanical sound of a lock being opened.
Faith pushed the door open, staying in the hallway. When she saw that her nephew was seated across the room, she lowered the gun she'd been holding and walked forward until she was standing just inside the room. Casually, she tossed the sack she'd brought with her across to Steven.
"I brought you a change of clothes. You need something more comfortable for the trip and I won't have his scent on you. Put them on."
Steven tossed the sack to the side and stared defiantly at the woman. "I'm not going anywhere with you, Aunt Faith. What in the hell do you think you're doing?"
"I need your help, Stevie. You understand what I have and can help me control it. We're leaving his... this place and going to find one of our own. We won't have to worry about money since I've been able to get control of my inheritance from..."
"From who? What are you talking about?"
Faith stared at the young man before her for several seconds before softly saying, "If I had only known you had the same thing she had. I could have had you with me instead of her. I wouldn't have had to accept her help after my dear Lyssa's death." When she noticed the confused look on Steven's face, Faith moved forward until she was completely inside the room and knelt down. "They haven't told you, have they?"
"Told me what?"
"About what I have, what you have. Our gifts. Don't you know what you have?"
"Jim and Blair have told me I have a couple of senses that are heightened and Jim has all five. Are you saying you're like Jim?"
"I'm NOT like him!" Faith shouted, causing Steven to shift back in fear. Seeing this, Faith forced herself to grab control of her anger. She rubbed at her temple to ease the headache that was flaring. After schooling her face back into a calm expression, Faith continued, "They've kept the true knowledge of your gifts from you because you were able to hide them. Otherwise you'd be at your brother's side instead of that, that hippie. You obviously know how to control them. I need your knowledge, your help to control my senses."
Steven inched sideways to put distance between himself and the woman. It sounded like she was rambling. Rather than give into her psychosis, Steven pretended ignorance. "Aunt Faith, I don't know what you're talking about, but why don't we go someplace, um, nicer where we can discuss it. You mentioned dinner earlier. We can call Jim and have him meet us. I'm sure he will help me understand what's going on and I can then help you."
A frown marred the beautiful woman's face as she stood up and pointed the pistol at her prisoner. "Don't patronize me, boy!" Faith snarled. "Get changed. We're leaving in an hour. He's coming and I'm not going to let him corrupt you the same way he did her." Grabbing the doorknob, Faith pulled the door closed behind her with a firm slam. A metallic rattle indicated that she'd locked the door again.
Steven covered his face with shaking hands and struggled to keep from panicking. "Oh, God," he moaned. "This can't be happening. Somebody please help me."
Jim stopped his truck almost a full block away from the buildings where he knew Faith was holding Steven. Shifting his eyesight, Jim peered down toward the building until he could see the front with sharp clarity. There weren't any streetlights to illuminate the building, but the bright moon shining above made the area look like high noon to the Sentinel. What also appeared to his eyes was the figure of a cougar pacing up and down the sidewalk in front of the entrance.
"What do you see, Jim?" Blair asked, trying to peer down the road. He was lucky to see an outline of the building.
"She's in there. I can see a cougar guarding the front door," Ellison replied, pulling his cell phone out of his jacket and punching a telephone number.
"Cougar?" Blair squeaked and leaned forward to see clearer. "You mean you're seeing her spirit animal. Right? What am I saying? Of course it's a spirit animal. Cougars don't live in the city."
Ellison scowled at his partner, then nodded before turning his attention back to the phone. "It's Ellison, Captain. I'm pretty sure we found the place Faith has taken Steven... No, sir, you really don't want to know that... We've called for backup and it should be here any moment... Yes, sir. I remember our conversation... I understand, sir." Closing the phone, Jim turned to his amused passenger.
"I could hear him all the way over here, Jim. What's Simon being so loud about this time?"
"Nothing important. He was just reminding me of something we talked about at the station. Go ahead and call in the rest of the team. I'm going to do a little recon and see if there is another way into the building." Tossing his cell to Blair, Jim climbed out of the truck.
"Whoa, wait a minute, Jim. You are NOT going in there alone. Remember what we talked about?" Blair practically fell out of the truck to get over to his partner. He caught up with the larger man when before he was 10 feet from the truck. "Wait, man!" Blair ordered, grabbing Jim's arm.
"We don't have time, Sandburg. Who knows what is going on in there? I am not going to let that woman hurt my brother."
"Then stand here, focus on the building and find out what's happening. We're not that far away, so it should be easy." Glaring at the larger man, Blair kept a tight hold on the arm until he felt Jim relax, then dropped it. When he saw his Sentinel shift his stance into the position the man used to maximize his hearing, Blair opened the telephone and dialed. He turned his body so his talking wouldn't distract his partner.
Ellison easily extended his hearing toward the factory and located two heartbeats. One was on the second level toward the rear of the building. By the rapid rate and the gasping breath that accompanied it, he knew he'd found Steven and that he was all right. Scared, but that was to be expected.
Jim felt no small measure of comfort in knowing his brother was safe. Relieved, he searched around the building until he found the second heartbeat. It was on the first level and not far from the front of the building. Jim could also feel Faith clearly and knew she was also aware of his presence. The woman was waiting for him to come after her through the front and he wasn't going to disappoint her... much.
He turned back to his partner just as he was closing the phone. "How far away are they, Chief?"
Blair shrugged a shoulder. "Brown and Rafe had already left your parent's place. So I'd say five, maybe ten minutes at the most. Why?"
"They're both in there, but Faith is waiting for me to come through the front. Steven's up on the second level and he sounds like he's scared."
"I can't blame him. What do you have planned?"
Jim smiled. "We're going to give her what she wants, sort of. I'm going to head around to the side or the back and find a way in. Wait a minute. Let me explain the whole thing before you go ballistic." Ellison held up a hand to stop the outburst he knew was coming. "The place is all locked up and it'll take a bit to get in. When Brown and Rafe show up, have them take the truck, drive to the front and park. Tell them to park at an angle so that it's not easy to see into the cab. You follow me after you tell them. I promise I won't head in until you get there. Okay?"
"On your word, man."
Ellison held one hand up and placed the other over his heart. When he saw his partner nod in agreement, he gave the smaller man a slap on the shoulder and started jogging around the side of the building. He found an entrance but, through a window, saw crates sitting against the portal. No way he was going to get in that way, so he continued around to the back.
A security light on the building showed a set of stairs leading up to the second level. Ellison smiled. Safety codes would dictate that the entrance not be barred to prevent someone from exiting in an emergency. So there should be a simple lock that he could easily pick.
Which there was. When he heard the soft snick that meant he'd unlocked the door, Jim checked his watch. Nearly ten minutes had passed since leaving his partner on the other side. Extending his hearing, he listened to Blair's breathy words as he hurried around the building.
"All right, where did he go? If he -- shit! What did I just step in? Can't smell anything so it can't be that bad. Jim!" Blair's voice raised slightly to call out his partner's name, then dropped back down to a whisper. "Where in the hell is he? If that man went in without me... There he is." Seeing the larger man standing at the top of the stairs under the security light, Blair increased his speed.
"You're about as quiet as a herd of elephants, Sandburg. Why didn't you just shoot off a flare to let her know where we are?" Jim complained when his partner arrived at the entrance.
"I doubt she even knows we're back here, Jim. I told Rafe to turn up the radio when they drove up and to call Brown by your name a couple of times. She's probably so focused on those two it would take a flare to shake her away from them. Is it open?"
Ellison pulled on the handle and opened the portal. Retrieving his weapon from where he'd tucked it in his belt to work on the lock, Jim looked pointedly down at his partner. With a sigh, Blair dug into his pocket and pulled out his own revolver to satisfy the other.
Stepping into the building, Jim heard Blair follow and the door close behind him. Then he felt the smaller man lightly touch the back of his jacket and understood that Blair wasn't able to see very well. It would take a few minutes before his night vision could kick back in after being under the outside light.
Ellison tilted his head slightly and listened into the areas ahead. Filtering out the sounds from his partner, Jim zeroed in on his brother and started forward through a maze of hallways until he was standing in front of a door secured with a padlock. A dim light was visible at the bottom. Tapping Blair on the arm, Jim felt the smaller man step back and around until he was in a position to guard his partner. Tucking his weapon into his belt once more, Jim pulled out his lock picks and started to work on the device. It opened easily.
Steven stood up quickly when he heard sounds coming from the other side of door to his prison. Spying the board he'd pried off the window earlier, he picked it up and moved to stand beside the door. With shaking hands, he raised the piece of lumber over his head and waited.
When the lock opened, Jim lifted it out of the latch and quietly turned the knob. Knowing there was a light in the room, he quickly dialed back his vision so he wouldn't be blinded. Pushing the door open, he whispered, "Stevie?" An explosion of air came from beside the portal.
"Jimmy?" Steven gasped out and stepped out into the open. The younger Ellison was visibly pale and shaking.
Jim stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his brother, feeling the hard shudders racking his body. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, nothing that a few years of therapy won't cure. How did you find me?"
"It would take too long to explain right now, but I promise I will later. Ready to leave?" Jim asked, stepping back to gaze into his brother's face.
Steven gave what he hoped was a brave smile and nodded. "Let's get out of here."
"I can't go yet. Faith is still in the building. She's got to be stopped from ever trying to hurt you again. Go with Blair. He'll get you safely out of the building." Ellison turned to his partner and stopped him before he could protest. "Please, Chief. I'm trusting you to get my brother out of here and to safety."
Blair opened and closed his mouth a couple of times to protest, but couldn't think of a good counter-argument. Finally nodding, he reached a hand out to guide the younger Ellison out of the room.
"Wait. What's in here, Stevie?" Jim asked, picking up the sack lying against the wall.
"Clothing. She was raving something about 'his smell' being on me. I have no idea what she was talking about," Steven replied, moving forward to stand beside Blair.
Jim looked into Blair's face and saw an expression of understanding appear. Digging into the sack, he pulled out the clothing meant for his brother. Jim could smell the gentle scent of Lily of the Valley coming from the articles. He looked back up at his partner and smiled grimly. "I know what you're thinking. It just might work. Now get my brother out of here."
With a nod, Blair took Steven by the arm and led him toward the exit.
Ellison didn't hesitate to peel off his jacket, shirt and T-shirt and dress back up in the different items. When he was sufficiently covered, he crept out of the room and started to move stealthily down the corridor. He extended his hearing dialed his eyesight back up to see in the dim area.
Sandburg struggled to keep his breathing calm as he led his charge back out of the building. For some reason, the corridors seemed brighter than what they'd been on the trip in. His adrenaline was surging enough to keep his fear at bay, but a small voice in his mind was telling him to hurry back to his partner. He was up against another sentinel, who also happened to be a family member. But more important was the fact that the other was obviously insane, which made her even more dangerous.
Blair was surprised when he finally reached the door of the factory he'd entered earlier. Maybe his sense of direction wasn't as bad as everyone accused it of being. Leading Steven out of the building and down the stairs, Blair relaxed slightly when he saw Simon and Megan moving toward them. "Thank God you're here," he exclaimed softly. "Get Steven out of here. I'm heading back to help Jim."
"Sandburg, wait," Banks ordered, grabbing the young man's coat.
"No time, Simon. I've got to get back up there. Jim's gone after Faith and I don't know how he's going to react when they meet." Shaking off the hand holding him, Blair bolted back up the stairs and into the building.
"Blair! Damn it." Banks glanced over at the Inspector, seeing her standing with the younger Ellison. "Get Mr. Ellison out of here, Connor. Let the others know we're in the building going after the suspect." Then he took off after his detective.
Faith Sutton knew her enemy was in the building. She couldn't miss seeing the form of the black jaguar stalk through the factory. She'd thought he'd been in the truck with his young companion when it pulled up in front of the building and was ready to shoot whoever stepped out of the vehicle first. No matter who she shot, it would slow down the other long enough for her and her nephew to get away.
But neither man would leave the truck and she almost left the safety of the building to attack them as they sat. That was until she heard the scream from some type of large cat coming from further back in the factory. Investigating the sound, she saw the dark feline slinking through the shadows. He was here to ruin her plans and take her companion. She could not allow that to happen.
With a maniacal gleam in her eyes, Faith firmly clasped her pistol in both hands and headed toward the room where she'd left Steven. Her hearing was coming and going like a weak radio signal, causing her head to ache. Her eyesight wasn't much better; the smallest amount of light had her wincing in pain. This lack of control made her angrier at the man she knew was trying to ruin her plans, the one similar to her. Her nephew, James Ellison.
Jim didn't need to use his senses to track his quarry. He could feel Faith moving through the empty building toward him, tracking her like she was on his radar. As she got closer, Jim could feel the sentinel part of him trying to step forward and take control, and it was a struggle to not just give in and let him. She was the enemy, invading his territory and threatening his tribe. But he was not just a sentinel; he was also a cop. That part of him knew it had to stay in firm control.
Rounding a corner, Jim felt the other at the end of the hall. "I know you're there, Faith. Throw out your weapon and come out with your hands raised," he called down the corridor.
Surprisingly, the woman obeyed. In a way. She stepped out into the open, but she kept the pistol. It was pointed in his direction. "You shouldn't have come, Jimmy. You almost had me fooled wearing those clothes. But I didn't need to smell you to know that you were here. That damned animal of yours gave you away. I won't let you stop me the way your mother did all those years ago."
"My mother helped you after the death of your guide, Faith. She abandoned my brother and me to take care of you. Even after you tried to kill me, she stayed with you."
Anger flared in the woman's eyes. "You were a danger -- going to take everything away from me. After Lyssa... Grace was mine until you came along. But your brother... Steven is like your mother and he will help me. You won't stop us from leaving together."
"I've already stopped you, Faith. Steven is safely out of the building and under police protection."
"NO! I need him! He can help me get control and I won't have to be locked up anymore." Faith raised her hands and pressed them into her head as a sharp pain flared behind her eyes, then through her head. With a small moan, she sagged against a nearby wall. "I'll be able to leave and find my own place to live."
"You can't force someone to be your guide. They have to want to help you." Ellison explained, moving carefully toward his aunt. "Steven doesn't know how to guide a sentinel. He won't be able to help you." Ellison's attention was so focused on the woman in front of him that he didn't hear the arrival of Sandburg until the younger man was behind him. The presence of his Guide calmed him in the presence of the other and helped him get a firmer control of the Sentinel in him.
"I can help you, Faith. I know how to make the pain go away and help you get control of your senses. But you have to give Jim your gun first," Blair spoke in a low, calm voice, hoping he could get the distraught woman to listen.
As if an alarm went off, Faith's eyes snapped open and she clearly saw Jim standing in the corridor. But the one that drew her gaze was the smaller, long-haired man standing to his side and slightly behind him. She knew what the man was to her nephew, what she could never have. Her anger flared into a blinding rage.
"It's not fair!" she shrieked. Raising her pistol, she aimed it at Blair.
His eyes widening in alarm, Jim spun around and tackled Blair just as Faith fired her weapon. The two flew into a nearby empty room and landed heavily on the floor.
The impact of his partner's body against his own knocked the wind out of Blair and he lay stunned for several seconds before he realized something was wrong. "Jim?" He received a soft groan as his answer before the larger man finally rolled off him.
Blair scrambled quickly to his knees and over to his partner when the man didn't answer. Jim lay on his side with both hands clutching at his thigh. His eyes were clenched shut; his face showing the pain he was in.
"Oh, God. You're shot!" Yanking his coat open, Blair pulled loose his shirt and ripped the bottom off. Wadding the piece, he pulled one of Jim's hands away and pressed the cloth down onto the wound. "Just lie quiet, Jim. Let me get the bleeding slowed down, then I'll call for help."
Before Ellison could answer, a familiar voice called out in a loud whisper from the hallway, "Ellison! Sandburg!" It was Banks.
The tall Captain did a quick look into the room and, seeing his two detectives, stepped in. "What happened?"
"She tried to shoot me, but Jim decided to play linebacker and knocked me out of the way. Took a bullet in the leg." Blair didn't look up from his partner, concentrating on the leg under his hands.
Opening his eyes, Ellison focused on his Captain. "She's still in the building, Simon. I-- I can't hear her, but I know she's not far away. ~groan~ Damn it, Chief!"
"Sorry, but I've got to stop the bleeding." Blair shot an apologetic look at his friend before looking up at Simon. "We'll be okay here."
"Just stay put. The paramedics should be here pretty soon. Knew we'd need them." The last was a mumble that only Ellison could hear. Banks was already out the door and moving down the hallway.
"Got to find something to tie this down," Blair said in a low voice, more to himself than his patient. He glanced around the room, but couldn't find anything to help.
Blair focused back on Jim. His friend was fumbling with his buckle. "What?"
"Use my belt. Tighten it over the wound, but don't cut off the circulation."
"Right! Pressure bandage." Blair helped Jim remove the belt and carefully routed one end under and around the thigh. He tightened the strap down, noticing his friend jerk in pain. "Dial it back, Jim. Don't shut it all the way down, but bring the pain back to a level you can handle. Come on, man. You can do it."
Ellison concentrated on his Guide's voice, closed his eyes and obeyed. He felt the pain reduce down to a level he could handle, then he felt another sensation. His eyes snapped back open, fear filling them. "Shit! Where's my gun?" Struggling to sit up, Jim swung his head around the room in a search.
Blair grabbed his friend and tried to force him to lie back. Despite his wound, the larger man was able to give his partner a decent fight. "Calm down, Jim. I don't know where your gun is, man. You need to weld a chain onto that thing and attach it to you. Here's mine." Digging into his pocket, Blair pulled out his revolver and shoved it into the other's hands. He was turning his attention back to the wound when he saw Jim freeze.
The metallic sound of the hammer of a gun being locked back filled the room, causing the two men to jerk. Blair quickly shifted around until he was kneeling in front of his partner and looking up at Faith. The woman was standing just outside the door. She was pointing her gun at them.
Blair raised his hands in surrender and was opening his mouth to speak when he felt Jim grab the collar of his jacket and shirt and yank him backward. Surprised, Blair didn't resist and flew over Jim to land in a heap behind his partner.
Ellison hoped he hadn't hurt Sandburg by grabbing and tossing him out of the way, but he knew his friend would've tried to protect him even to the point of taking a bullet. He wasn't going to allow that to happen. As soon as he threw Blair, he had the gun in his hand up and pointing at Faith. His hands shook slightly, surprised at how much the woman looked like his mother. He knew the sisters were twins, but it was disturbing all the same.
"Don't do it, Faith," Ellison warned, keeping his voice low and calm. "There's no threat here."
"You were a threat from the moment you were born, Jimmy. I was here first, but you took away my home, my place here in Cascade. My own sister lied to me and had me committed because of you." Faith's eyes glittered with the hate that consumed her. "Why? Why!?!?"
Jim stared at his aunt, struggling to control the voice in him that said 'shoot her'. "I don't know, Faith. I didn't ask to be born a sentinel. Maybe it was because you weren't able to protect the tribe after your guide died. I don't know, it just happened."
"Lyssa, I'm sorry," Faith whispered in anguish, tears streaming down her face. "Why did you leave me?" The gun in her hands lowered.
"It wasn't your fault Lyssa died."
"Paul killed her. He was jealous of how she helped me." Faith's eyes took on a faraway look.
"That's right. It was Paul who did it, not you. And your sister helped you afterwards." Ellison kept his voice low, watching the woman in front of him sway. The gun in her hands was lowering.
"Grace knew how to help me. She wasn't as good as Lyssa, but she understood what I was going through." Suddenly Faith's eyes snapped back into focus and she glared down at her nephew. "Until she betrayed me by having you. I want it back, Jimmy. All of it." Faith started to raise the gun, then jerked forward and into the door jam as a bullet slammed into her side. The sound of gunfire echoed through the factory.
Faith's eyes widened in shock when she turned her head and saw who'd shot her, the gun dropping from her hands. Sliding down the metal frame, she collapsed in a heap as her legs lost strength and gave away. "Gr-Grace?"
Grace Ellison appeared at her sister's side and dropped the small revolver she had used to shoot her sister. Grabbing her around the shoulders, Graced helped ease the dying woman down until she was lying flat. She placed one hand around her sister's body and used the other to caress her face.
Faith's body seized up as a spasm of pain rippled through it, then she collapsed back down and turned pain-filled eyes to her sister. She saw the anguish in her twin's face, the tears in her eyes. "W--why?"
Grace tuned out everything around her, her son in front of her and the people coming up the hallway behind her. She focused completely on the woman in her arms. "I love you, Faith. You're my sister. But I love my son more. I gave birth to him, then abandoned him because of you. But I couldn't let you kill him because of the madness I couldn't stop. Please forgive me."
Faith's eyes drifted away from the face over her. The pain in her side was fading and it was getting harder to breathe. She thought she heard someone calling her name and turned to look down the hall. Her eyes widened in surprise at something she was seeing and raised a shaking hand in supplication. Absolute joy radiated in her face. "Lyssa," she breathed.
Grace felt the last breath leave her sister's body after she said the name of her deceased friend and guide. With a shaking hand, she leaned forward and gently closed Faith's empty eyes. Feeling a warm arm mold around her body, she turned and buried her face in the chest of her eldest son.
Jim cradled his mother's sobbing body against him as the sound of others approaching reached his ears. He recognized the cigar smell coming closer and, looking up at the one kneeling nearest to him, shook his head slightly at Blair's questioning gaze. "Have Simon give us a few," he murmured, then returned to comforting his mother. Despite having a bullet in his leg, Jim Ellison felt at peace.
Understanding his friend's need, Blair stood and went to meet the approaching captain.
The flashing lights of police cars filled the area. A lone ambulance sitting among the blue and silver vehicles was the place of the most activity, the gurney sitting outside the back doors surrounded by several people.
The paramedics had hurried into the building and the wounded detective was wheeled out on a gurney. Sandburg stayed on one side of the rolling bed, sticking with his partner all the way. On the other side walked Grace Ellison, clinging to her son's hand like he was going to disappear at any moment. Because their patient wasn't in any serious danger, the paramedics kept their distance from the group.
Earlier, Ellison had argued that he was perfectly capable of walking out of the building; that was until he stood up. The loss of blood made him lightheaded and, when he tried to walk, he almost fell over onto Sandburg. That elicited a call for medical assistance.
"How did you get here, Mom? You were supposed to stay with Dad." Ellison frowned at the woman traveling with him.
Grace wiped at her eyes. She tried to smile bravely at her son. "Even before your men showed up, I knew there was trouble. I-I made them tell me what happened then forced them to bring me here. I thought I could talk to Faith, convince her to let Steven go and come back with me. I was wrong." Tears again streamed down her face.
"Aunt Faith wasn't... I don't think anyone could have gotten to her. She took Steven because she thought having a couple of hyper-senses gave him the ability to help her. I don't think anyone could have helped her by this time." Jim looked over at Blair, questioning him with his eyes. His reply was a shrug then a negative shake with his head.
"But you said she was going after Blair to hurt you. If she wanted Steven, why did she attack Blair?" Grace stared at Blair, noticing how close he stayed to the gurney and the hand he had resting on Jim's shoulder, then dropped her gaze.
"I've a theory about that," Blair interjected, bringing the other's attention back to him. "You are like Steven in that you have a couple of heightened senses, and you were able to help your sister for all those years, until she felt you had betrayed her. Knowing she needed help after escaping this last time, she thought that it had to be from another family member who also had heightened senses. Jim was out because he was like Faith -- a challenger. Remember when you told me how she always got upset after you had visited your sons and that was why you closed yourself completely off from seeing them?"
At his mother's confused nod, Ellison stepped in, "She could smell me on you after the visits, Mom. To Faith, it was like you were consorting with the enemy. When she thought we were dead, she felt safe and no longer threatened in her place with you. Until she found out we were alive."
"Right. Now the first time she came after Steven, we had both been up in the loft. However, since I live with Jim, my association with him is stronger and therefore his scent is all over me and my clothes. And I'm his Guide. So, I was a major obstacle. The second time, I think it was just pure rage because I was again with Steven."
Arriving at the ambulance, Banks asked the paramedics for a few minutes before they transported Jim. When they left, he waved to where Connor was standing and she escorted Steven to the group. Released, the younger Ellison ran forward, grabbed his mother and pulled her into a tight hug."
"God, Mom! What are you doing here?" he asked, releasing her and stepping back to looked into her face.
"We've already been over that, Stevie." Jim shifted on the gurney and winced in pain. This immediately brought his brother's attention to him.
"Are you okay, Jim? Man, I didn't mean for anything like this to happen."
"None of this is your fault, kid. It's not the first time this has happened and it probably won't be the last. Comes with the job." Jim gave his brother what he hoped was a comforting smile.
"You can imagine how much confidence that gives me, being his partner," Blair quipped to lighten the mood.
Jim glared at his partner. "Don't start, Sandburg. You don't want me to start reciting all your past little incidents, do you?"
Banks entered into the conversation. "No, we don't. It's getting late and I want this scene wrapped up. Connor, escort Mrs. Ellison and her son to the precinct so they can give their statements." When the three left, he turned his attention to his detectives. "This does not look good, Jim. How are we going to explain the fact that the mother of one of my detectives kills her twin sister for kidnapping her son?"
Jim looked at Blair for a few seconds before turning back to Simon. "That's not how I remember it happening, Captain. The weapon used to kill Faith Sutton actually belongs to my father and I confiscated it from him earlier this morning. I had to use it to defend Sandburg and myself after I'd lost my own."
Banks stared down at Ellison, his expression blank, before swinging his gaze over toward Sandburg. The smaller man was nodding in agreement.
"That's right, sir. Jim had lost his gun pushing me out of the way when Faith tried to shoot me. And after that, I was too busy trying to keep Jim from bleeding all over me to give him mine. Lucky thing he had that other gun." Blair's deep blue eyes didn't waiver under the intense stare Simon was giving him.
"So blood is thicker than water," Banks finally said, turning his attention to his injured detective.
Ellison could hear the roar of his spirit animal, which was joined by the howl of his Guide's wolf. He glowered at his superior. "I protect those who are of my tribe, whether they are my blood or not. And I do it believing and accepting the laws that govern me. How they are interpreted is another discussion."
The two men stared at each other for almost a minute in silent communication. Finally, Banks nodded. "I'll have an officer meet you at the hospital to take your statement, Jim. Sandburg can take your truck and follow me back to the office to give his. I'm sure this will all be wrapped up quickly. Right?"
With a final grunt, Banks plopped his cigar into his mouth, turned and went to talk with the forensics team.
"I'll take care of everything, Jim," Blair assured his partner as they watched their boss walk away.
"Thanks, Chief. Just make sure you remember to come by the hospital and pick me up when you're done."
"I don't think so, big guy." Blair grinned broadly. "You've a hole in your leg and I think the bullet is still in there. I predict at least a three-day stay in the hospital after they take it out. If you're a good boy, that is."
"No, come on. Sandburg, it's not that ba--"
"Ready to go, Detective? The emergency room doctors know you're on the way and the surgical suite is all warmed up and ready," the female paramedic said cheerfully as she stepped up to the gurney.
Blair chuckled at the resigned expression that appeared on his partner's face. He wasn't going to fight the inevitable for once. Giving Jim a pat on the shoulder, Blair stood back to allow his friend to be loaded into the ambulance and waved as the vehicle pulled away.
Chuckling and shaking his head, Blair turned and headed toward Jim's truck. "This is one for the books. For once, I'm not the one who got hurt."
At the Loft, One Week Later
The ringing of the telephone brought Blair's attention away from the journal he was reading. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was after 8 p.m. and couldn't think who would be calling this late at night.
"I got it, Jim," Blair called up to the bedroom on the second floor of the loft and got up to answer the insistent ringing. "Hello... Yes, Jim Ellison lives here... A what?... Oh, okay. We'll be right down."
"Who was it, Chief?" Ellison asked, stepping carefully down the stairs. He leaned heavily on the cane in his left hand and balanced himself with his right on the railing.
"The night manager at the Double Tree Hotel." Blair walked back into the living room until he was standing behind the couch and waited until his friend was all the way down the stairs.
"That's where my mother is staying. Is something wrong?"
Blair hesitated a few seconds before speaking. "He asked if we would come down there tonight. There were two envelopes left at the front desk with strict instructions on when to contact you, me and Steven."
Moving with a heavy limp, Ellison headed for the telephone and dialed the number for his brother's place. The phone on the other end rang four times before the answering machine picked up the call. Jim canceled the call. "Steven isn't answering. Either he's out on a date or he was called before us. Let's go, Sandburg."
Putting down the phone, Ellison headed for the front door. Grabbing his coat, he struggled with it and his cane until Sandburg gave him a hand. The smaller man then put on his own coat, grabbed his keys out of the basket and helped his friend out the door.
The drive to the hotel was made in silence. It wasn't until Blair parked at the front door that he said, "I don't see Steven's car. Should we wait for him?"
"His car is in the shop. He'll probably be coming by cab." Ellison opened his door and struggled to get out. He was just about to attempt to stand when Blair appeared at the door with an outstretched hand. Muttering 'thanks', Jim took the offered hand and allowed himself to be pulled up. He took a few seconds to breathe through the pain the action had caused, then followed his friend into the hotel.
"May I help you, gentlemen?" asked the young lady behind the admissions desk.
Ellison's reply was subdued. He pulled out his wallet and presented his badge and I.D. "My name is Jim Ellison. You called about some envelopes."
The woman looked at Blair, then back up at Jim. "Will Mr. Sandburg be coming, too? I have one envelope for him."
"Uh, that would be me." Blair stepped forward, giving the young woman a gentle smile as he held out his own wallet. "Steven Ellison is on his way. We think."
"Just a minute, please." Walking into the back room, the woman took about a minute before she returned carrying two envelopes. They were obviously from the hotel, its logo displayed prominently on the upper left corner. She handed one to Jim and the other to Blair.
"Could you tell me if Mrs. Grace Ellison is still registered here?" Jim asked.
Typing on the keyboard of the computer in front of her, the woman paused then said, "No, sir. She checked out early this morning. Before noon."
With a quiet 'thank you', the two moved away from the counter and into a fairly empty part of the lobby. Blair helped Jim sit down on one of the couches, then sat in a nearby chair. Before the two could open their pouches, they heard someone call their names.
"Jim. Blair," Steven Ellison voiced from the front door. He looked a little harried, dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt, his windbreaker over it unzipped. "What's this about someone leaving something for us. Is Mom here?"
"She checked out this morning. This was left for you and me at the desk." Jim held up the envelope so Steven could read the words printed on the front: James and Steven Ellison. "Apparently she left instructions that we were not to be called until tonight."
Shocked, Steven collapsed onto the couch by his brother. "She left us again? Without saying good-bye?"
Jim sighed and stared into his brother's sorrowful eyes. "I don't know, kid." Then he tore open the envelope, pulled out the thick parchment and read the short note. When he finished, he gave a heavy sigh and read the note aloud:
My dearest Jimmy and Stevie,
Please don't hate me for doing things this way, but I knew you would try to talk me out of what I have to do.
First and foremost, I love you both very much. I am so proud of the men you both have become and truly regret that I was not there to share your childhood. Though I know you both forgive me for not being there when you were growing up, I can't forgive myself for missing that special time.
Second, despite what you told the police, we all know I killed my sister. I can still see her blood on my hands and hear her last words. They will haunt me forever unless I get some help. So that is what I am doing. There is a very good clinic in Canada where I might be able to find the help I need. Maybe one day I can forgive myself for what I did. The one consolation I have is that Lyssa was waiting for Faith.
Please don't try to find me, at least not for a while. I have already talked to your father and explained everything. Though he wasn't happy, he agreed that this is for the best.
I love you both very, very much.
When he finished, Jim handed the paper to his brother to read himself. He watched the sadness grow on his brother's face and the tears form in his eyes. When Steven finished, he folded the parchment back up and handed it over to his brother. Jim placed it back into its envelope.
"Do we try to find her?" Steven asked, searching his brother's face. Jim had slipped on his mask of stoic acceptance, so he couldn't read what the man was thinking.
"She asked that we don't. Maybe we should respect her wishes," Jim answered quietly.
Steven wiped his eyes. "God, I need a drink."
Struggling to his feet, Jim reached out a hand. "The bar is right behind you, bro. I haven't taken any painkillers for a couple of days, so a beer would taste pretty good right about now. Let's go."
Taking his brother's hand, Steven stood up and followed Jim. He almost bumped into the larger man's back when he stopped and turned around.
"You coming, Sandburg? I know you're driving tonight, but you can still have a soda with us."
Blair smiled at his partner and nodded. "I'll be right in. You two go find us a table."
Ellison saw his friend fingering the unopened envelope in his hands. He was curious about what his mother would be writing to his friend, but knew Blair would tell him what it said if it was important. He nodded back and, throwing an arm around Steven's shoulder, led him through the lobby and into the hotel bar.
"How's your secretary doing? She still working for you?" Jim asked, hoping a new subject would help his brother over his pain.
"From what I can see, Lily's taking that officer's death as well as can be expected. She took a couple of days off, but I think she's..."
When the two brothers were out of sight, Blair opened his envelope and pulled out the paper.
Thank you for all that you have done for my son. Faith knew what he was and what he had from the very beginning. A sentinel, you call him. I just knew he was special, though I had hoped my sister was wrong. She wasn't. And after seeing what Faith went through with her special abilities, especially after she lost Lyssa, I prayed that one day he would find the one who was meant to help him with his gifts. Unlike my ex-husband, I knew you were the one the first day we met.
Though I know I don't have to ask this of you, I am anyway. Please take care of Jimmy. Protect him from the danger his gifts bring. He has my temper and his father's stubbornness, which probably makes him a very hard person to be around at times. But he is a good man and protects those who become a part of his family. Believe that you are a part of his family.
Though he may resent the dependency he has on you in order to maintain control, please continue to help him so he never becomes like my sister. Forgive me for placing this heavy burden on you, but Jimmy's sanity is in your hands.
I am forever indebted to you,
Grace Chandler Ellison
Blair released the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Winning the confidence of William Ellison had been a long, uphill struggle; he still didn't know if he completely had it yet. But to have Jim's mother trust him from the start was a shock. It also gave him a great sense of relief.
A full smile blossomed on his face as he folded the letter back up. Blair would take care of Jim. He had had every intention of doing it whether Grace Ellison asked him or not. Come hell or high water, he was his Sentinel's Guide and he would serve in that position faithfully until their deaths.
He wouldn't tell Jim of the contents of the letter, at least not all of it. Knowing his friend's pride at all he has accomplished on his own, the request to protect and care for Jim would stay between Blair and Grace. Tucking the envelope into his jacket pocket, Blair stood up and walked into the hotel bar.
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