Later in the Afternoon

Ellison had just slipped his key card into the locking mechanism of his hotel room door when he heard the chiming sound of the elevator stopping at his floor. Knowing it couldn't be Sandburg as he'd left his partner deep in conversation with a female U.S. Marshall, Ellison pulled out the card and shifted the door handle when the green light on the lock illuminated.

"Detective Ellison?"

Out of habit, Jim released the handle, allowing to door to relock as he turned toward the voice. "Yes?"

An older black man walked toward him, his hand holding out a wallet that displayed a gold badge. "I'm Lt. Roger Curtis with the New Orleans PD. Can I talk to you for a minute?"

Jim looked the badge over quickly before the other flipped the wallet shut and stuffed it into the inner pocket of his sport coat. He nodded and reinserted the key card into the door. "Sure. Would you mind if we talked in the room? You probably don't want to discuss your business in the middle of the hall."

"Thank you, sir," Curtis answered as he followed the larger man into the room. "I'm also sort of attending this conference, but my captain called and asked if I would touch base with you about the two cases you and your partner are involved with."

"By any chance, was your captain contacted by my captain, Simon Banks? Just as a courtesy?" Jim didn't bother to hide the sarcasm in his voice.

Curtis smiled ruefully. "I do believe a conversation did occur. Something about you and your partner not being able to stay out of trouble for two seconds, much less two days.

Ellison returned the smile. "Uh, huh. And that was just the polite part of the conversation."

"Well, I haven't heard my captain laugh that much in a long time. I think the two of them spent at least a half hour swapping stories. Cascade isn't the only city to have members of their police force frequently in the public eye."

"I didn't think we were, but you wouldn't know that by the way the Captain talked."

"Anyway, I've been asked to work with you on handling the arraignment process for the two cases so that you're not spending the whole week down at the station."

"I'd appreciate that, Detective, and I know my partner will, too. Just let us know what we have to do and when you need us down there. Is there anything else?" Jim took a step back toward the door.

"No, not really. I just hope you're enjoying your stay in our city and will also enjoy the rest of the conference. They're providing us a lot of information." Glancing at his watch, Curtis sighed and stepped back to the door. "I've got to get out of here and home before I end up being front page news."

Jim noticed the wedding ring on the man's hand. "Special night with the missus?"

"Son's basketball game. It'll be the first one I've been able to go to this season. There's nothing worse than a sulking teen who thinks his dad is always too busy to watch him play."

Jim laughed. "I know what you mean. My boss has a son who used to be pretty good with taking his old man on a mean guilt trip. Eventually they grow out of it."

"God, I hope so. Then I'll only have to deal with my daughter and her daily tragedies." Curtis rolled his eyes.

"Then I won't keep you. Have fun at the game." Ellison opened the door and allowed Curtis to step into the hallway.

"Thanks. Hope you have a fun and quiet night tonight and for the rest of the week." Jim easily heard the stressed word. "I'll contact you later this week on the procedures. Hey! Hold the elevator," Curtis called down the hallway. With a wave, he trotted toward the elevator.

"I intend to make sure it's quiet," Jim commented softly and closed the door.

Tuesday Afternoon

"Jim, you're better suited for the last session then I'd ever be in several lifetimes. They're going to discuss weapons and tactics and you know that is not my thing." Blair was lounging in the chair of their room, shoes kicked off and several sightseeing brochures spread out on the table beside him.

"Which is really why you should be there, Chief. The more you know about the artillery the opponent is using, the more knowledge you have to take them down."

"I know, but I'd really like to take a nap if we're going to go out again with those friends of yours from the ATF. We were out pretty late last night."

Stepping out of their bathroom, Jim finished drying his hands. "This from the man who used to put in a full day at the precinct, go out on a late night date with friends and get up the next morning to teach a 7:00 a.m. class with less than 4 hours sleep. Yeah, right. What's the real reason you want this afternoon off? Truth."

Blair grinned, almost looking embarrassed. "Okay, how did I give it away this time? I know I was keeping my heart rate down."

"Easy. If you were really tired, you'd already be on the bed half asleep. You haven't yawned since breakfast and you just have this... feeling of excitement around you. Besides, I heard you asking the lady at the front desk how far Audubon Park was from here." Folding up the towel he'd used, Ellison hung it back over the rod in the bathroom.

"Damn. Busted." Blair tried to sound contrite, but he failed in the effort. "Okay, here's the truth. How much sun have we had in Cascade over the past couple of months? Almost zero. Look outside, man. Beautiful blue skies, soft breeze and nice warm temperatures. I need a chance to recharge my batteries with that sun before we head back or I won't guarantee how I'll be until summer finally shows up in the great rainy northwest. You really don't want to see me slip into the Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder or just go plain bonkers, do you? Is that a good enough explanation for you, Dad?"

"Well, since you're already bonkers, we wouldn't have known the difference. But coming down with something as serious as the SADs would be horrible. I don't think I could handle a moping Sandburg. I'll let you play hooky for the afternoon, but you'll owe me."

Jumping up and slipping his shoes back on, Blair grabbed his ever-present backpack, picked up a door card and slipped it into his pocket. "Great! Thanks a bunch, Jim. There's supposed to be this old bookstore near the park and you know how I am about those places."

Grabbing the other door card, Jim followed his friend out of their room and down to the elevators. "Just stay out of trouble, okay? I really would hate to have to call Simon again. He's already asking if we're trying to find some way to join the New Orleans Police Department and spent time talking about us with another captain down here."

Pressing the call button, Sandburg turned to his partner. "No problem, man. I'll make sure I stay away from parking garages and donut shops."

When the car arrived, the two got on and rode down to the lobby.

Audubon Park is more than just a treed piece of land in the middle of the New Orleans. It is also an animal reserve, famous for having rare white tigers in residence. Normally there wasn't any reason for the animals to leave their comfortable home, but one of them hadn't been feeling well and was discovered to have an abscessed tooth. A bad tooth on large felines is a very serious situation and it was decided to send the tiger to a prominent animal hospital to get the problem fixed.

Darin Pinchot was not having a good day. He was supposed to have the day off but had been called in to transport an animal for emergency surgery. Since he was low man on the totem pole, having only been employed by the park for a year, losing time off wasn't uncommon. That was only part of the reason for the day being bad. The vehicle he had to use for the transport had some serious problems: rough carburetor, sticky locks and one of the most uncomfortable bench seats he'd ever had to suffer. Then, to top it all off, he was ordered to bring along a very green veterinarian intern.

The 'kid' was going through his large animal rotation and had let Darin know in no uncertain terms that he had no experience with large animals, would not be working on them when he finished his internship, and did not want to work with them at all. Because of his attitude, Darin decided to make the kid ride in back on the return trip to keep an eye on the large cat and even gave him the tranquilizer gun, giving him explicit orders to "not shoot me or anyone else" if he could help it. It did not endear the intern to him.

Pinchot was nearing Audubon Park and cheering up with the thought that his day was almost over. As soon as he could get the truck, the tiger and the intern back to the tiger habitat, he was released for the day. If he was lucky, he might even be able to convince his girlfriend to take the rest of the day off and join him back in their bed, where he'd left her earlier in the morning.

Suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, a small black car whipped out from a side street and right into the path of the truck. Pinchot gasped in fear and yanked on the steering wheel, forcing the truck up over the curb and onto the grass edge of the park. He didn't slam on the brakes. If he had, the sudden stop could have slammed the drowsy feline into the back wall of the truck and cause some serious damage. It wouldn't have been good for the intern, either. Besides, Pinchot didn't think of his brakes, at least not right away. He was more interested in keeping control and avoiding the trees that seemed to just appear in his path.

When he finally did think to use his brakes, Darin was also turning the steering wheel. The two actions caused the truck to tilt onto two of its wheels, and the shifting of the load in the back -- a full grown tiger weighing over 1,000 pounds -- pushed it completely over, passenger side down. Luckily Darin was wearing his seatbelt and, after his head cleared from the panic he felt, he realized that he was hanging from the harness and the right side of his body hurt. Carefully, he checked his extremities for serious injuries before shifting to get his seatbelt unhooked. It took some effort to swing his body around so that he was standing on the passenger-side window; then he heard sounds he hoped to never hear, at least not while he wasn't safely behind protective glass.

The tiger was upset. He'd been roughly awakened from a comfortable rest and the pain in his jaw was returning, though not at the level he'd been suffering previously. Growling angrily, he stood up and immediately staggered against the door to his cage. Unable to hold up against the weight of the cat, the door dropped open with a clang. Pushing its sluggish body back up, the tiger sniffed at the door and the silent body wedged underneath it in a small space between where the barred door was hinged and the wall. The body moaned, causing the tiger to growl again and try to paw at it. Fortunately for the body, the large furry foot wasn't able to fit between the bars. Losing interest, the cat stepped carefully onto the cage door and over to the sagging door of the truck. Smelling fresh air, grass, earth and other enticing odors, the tiger pushed his head against the door and eased off the truck.

Pinchot could tell by the sounds emanating from the back of the truck that the tiger was awake and his cage door hadn't stayed closed. He said a silent prayer for the intern. Even though he didn't like the geek, the last thing he wanted was for the kid to get eaten. Then he heard another sound that made him freeze momentarily -- the thump of the truck's back door as it closed.

"Sweet mother of God," he murmured in fear and pulled his body up through his open window until he could see outside. Pinchot's eyes widened as he watched the large white tiger pad off through the trees and further into the park, still staggering slightly from the residue effect of the anesthetic used on him.

Worried about his companion, Darin pulled himself painfully up until he was sitting on the door of the overturned truck. Breathing heavily, he checked himself over to make sure he wasn't damaged too severely. A couple of bruises on his legs and some soreness in his chest from the seatbelt, but nothing was broken and he couldn't find any blood. Relieved, he swung his legs around until they were hanging down over the side and hopped off the truck. Darin stumbled slightly, feeling some pain from his left knee where it had impacted against the steering shaft.

"Doctor?" Darin called out, limping to the back door of the truck. He was scared to open the door for fear of what he might find. He was answered by a moan and instantly felt relief. The kid was still alive. "Hold on, Doc."

Since the truck was on its side, Pinchot had to pull up on the door to slide underneath it and climb into the back. Once he was inside, he stood for a minute, allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness. The crash must have broke the light, he thought, peering around the dim interior.

"Doctor?" he called softly. "Can you hear me?"

A moan and a grunt came from an area at his feet and Darin dropped down onto the 'floor', formerly the wall, and found the cage door. Feeling around, his hands came in contact with cloth.

"Crap!" the groggy intern moaned as he became more aware of his surroundings. "Wh...what happened?"

"Hey, Doc. Sorry about the rough trip. We had a small accident. Can you tell if you're hurt very bad?" Pinchot scooted back, carefully lifted the barred door and crawling underneath. He rested it onto his back and once again reached for the intern. The arm he touched jerked back. "Easy there, Doc. It's just me. The cat's taken off. Are you hurt?"

The arm lifted and the hand attached to it made its way slowly up to the head, resting on the brow. "Huh? Oh, uh... hurt? Um, I don't know. What happened?"

"Damn idiot driver cut me off and I had the choice of climbing onto another car or heading towards the trees. Wait a minute. Let me..." Leaning up until he was on his knees, Darin dug into his pocket until he located his lighter. Fumbling and flicking the sparking wheel for several seconds, a spark turned into a flame and the interior of the truck brightened considerably.

"Uhhh..." The intern shut his eyes at the sudden light and turned his head.

Reaching a hand forward, Pinchot swung the intern's face back towards him. "Easy, Doc. Let me see if you're hurt. Can you look at me?"

The kid blinked several times before he was able to keep his eyes open.

Pinchot let a lungful of air out in relief. Both pupils looked okay and the Intern didn't look like he was seriously hurt, despite the blood swelling at the hairline. "Looking good, Doc. How's the rest of your body feel? Anything broken? Can you move both arms and legs?"

The intern shifted his limbs, moaning slightly at the aches he felt. "Don't think anything's broke. Get me out of here."

"Do you think you should?"

"We've got to go after the tiger before he hurts someone. Help me up." Rolling over slowly, the intern started to pull himself forward. He lifted his head and frowned at the truck driver until the other man allowed the lighter to go out and began to help.

When the two men were finally standing outside of the overturned vehicle, Pinchot looked the other over carefully. "Don't know how you got out of there with only that scratch on your head."

"I was lucky. You flipped the trunk onto the side where I was leaning." Searching around the area with his eyes, the intern asked, "Which way did he go?"

Pinchot looked at the other for several seconds before he realized the man was asking about the tiger. "Oh! That way, through those trees."

"Where's the rifle?"

"The tranq gun? You had it in the back. Why?"

Wiping at the thin trail of blood threatening to flow into his eye, the intern glared at the man. "Did you think we could just track him down and lead him back to the truck? The only way we'll be able to get him back to the park is unconscious. Let's get it."

Pinchot stepped back from the other, holding his hand out in front of him. "Uh uh, Doc. I'm not certified to use that thing, so I'm not about to touch it. You want to go chase after the kitty, be my guest."

"I've only had one training session with it. I was told you knew how to use it."

Pinchot's bark of laughter didn't have any humor in it. "Yeah, right. Tony told you that, didn't he? The bastard. He knew I'm not qualified and didn't want to call in one of the other drivers. Well, you have fun, Doc. I'm going to tell those nice policemen driving up about the tiger and let them go chase it down."

Turning in the direction the other was pointing, the intern saw the police car pulling up to the curb and an officer already climbing out the passenger side. A second car was racing up the road behind it.

"What happened? Is everyone okay?" the officer asked when he approached the two men.

Pinchot nodded. "Yeah, we're both okay. This idiot in a black sports ca--"

"Officer, my name is Dr. Kramer and we have a serious problem." Kramer interrupted and stepped in front of Pinchot, taking charge of the situation. Painfully, he reached around to his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, showing his credentials to the officer and his partner arriving at his side. "I'm a doctor currently assigned to the Audubon Park Animal Preserve. We were transporting one of our tigers back from some surgery. He escaped after the crash and we need to find him."

The eyes of the officers widened and the second immediately ran back to their vehicle to broadcast the situation. "Was the tiger injured?" the first officer asked. "I remember a show my kid was watching and they said an injured animal is more dangerous."

Kramer looked at Pinchot, who scratched his head and looked in the direction he remembered seeing the animal travel. "He didn't look like he was hurt. Just a little loopy from whatever they knocked him out with."

"He'd received simple surgery on an abscessed tooth. The anesthetic has probably worn off by now, especially if he's found water. We've a tranquilizer gun in the truck and I'm trained on using it," Kramer lied, daring Pinchot to say anything by glaring at the man.

Accepting the man's statement, the officers gathered around Kramer and made plans on how to go after the tiger.

Blair smiled contently as he walked along the edge of Audubon Park. His afternoon of playing hooky was paying off. First he found a juice bar that used nothing but natural products in making their drinks. It was a little expensive, but after his first taste he forgot about the cost. Then, not more than a block away from the park, he found the bookstore, which held a treasure trove of tomes. He was hard pressed to choose from the wide selection, but eventually he decided upon a fairly thick book concerning the people who first settled in Louisiana and how they developed into the variety of cultures who inhabited it today. Now he was going to find a nice quiet area of the park to relax, kick off his shoes and read peacefully.

He'd passed a small play area for children, pausing to watch and enjoy the youngsters entertaining themselves. They ran around, climbed on and jumped from the different colorful pieces of geometric shapes set up there. He then continued toward a stance of trees, which was far enough away from the road and car noises but still not too far into the park. He was just getting comfortable against a large tree when he heard young voices shrieking in fear. Jumping back up, he raced toward the playground.

Halfway there, he saw what was frightening the children. Slowly padding around and sniffing at the ground and whatever was in his path was a large white tiger. For a quick moment, Blair considered running like hell away from the dangerous animal. He'd read stories about people being mauled by large cats, and those animals had done the deed when they were supposedly safely locked behind tall fences and walls. Then the children's cries penetrated through his frozen mind and any thoughts of running away disappeared.

Lifting his hands out from his sides, Sandburg faced the white cat and began moving between him and the children. "Nice, kitty. Hey there, cat. Watch me here, a nice big man and not those little kids. I don't believe I'm doing this." The last he spoke low and to himself.

When he was in position, Blair turned his head slightly and said to the children, "Don't run, walk away and get out of sight. Okay?"

One of the little boys jumped down off a large yellow block and took off running. The minute he started moving, all but a girl and boy ran after him. The sudden movement startled the tiger, causing him to jump sharply in their direction.

"Hey! No! This way, cat!" Blair yelled, attracting the animal's attention by waving his arms. The tiger charged a couple of steps towards him then snarled, backed up slightly and crouched down, his tail lashing in anger. Knowing how his voice could calm a raging Jim Ellison, Blair dropped his tone down to a soft level he used with his partner. "Easy there, baby. It's okay. No one's going to hurt you and I hope you don't want to hurt me. You just stay there and I'll stay here looking very harmless but definitely inedible."

The angry movements of the tiger's tail slowed and his body shifted down into a more relaxed crouch. He kept his attention on the man before him, his ears cocked forward to hear the soothing voice.

"That's a nice tiger. Get nice and relaxed there. Kids?" Blair called softly to the two youngsters still behind him, keeping the tone of his voice at the same level. A sniff and a whimpered 'huh' told him that they heard him. "We don't want to make the tiger angry, so please don't do what your friends did. Okay?"

"Okay," whispered the boy.

"Good. Ease down real slow off the equipment then freeze. I'll keep talking so that the tiger keeps his attention on me. When you get to the ground, let me know. Nice tiger, pretty tiger with your beautiful white fur, long whiskers, love--"

"We're down, mister," the boy announced again in a whisper.

"That's very good. Now can you walk backwards and keep my body between you and the tiger until you get to the sidewalk? If so, move very, very slow and I'll make sure the cat is watching me." Sweat was sliding down Blair's face and he could feel his shirt sticking to his skin. His heart was racing a mile a minute and he was praying that whomever the tiger belonged to would be showing up really soon. "Too bad I don't have a nice big steak for you, tiger. I'm sure it would taste much better than me."

The tiger opened his mouth and yawned, showing his long white fangs. Blair thought he saw black thread in the mouth along the animal's gum line. "Oh, crap. You just had some dentistry, didn't you? I hope they did the job right so that you're not in any pain. I hope your owners show up before you begi--

Tires screeched on cement behind him and Blair turned his head slightly to see flashing lights out of the corner of his eye. Thank God. The cavalry has finally showed up. The tiger turned and looked at the lights on the vehicle and, with a growl, stood up.

"Be real quiet, mister," a rough male voice spoke to Sandburg. "You want to keep the tiger calm."

"What do you think I've been doing for the past 10 minutes?" There was anger in Blair's voice then he blew out a lungful of air and forced his shoulders to relax. "Sorry, sorry. I'm just really nervous here and I don't know what to do next."

"Don't do anything. We'll take care of the animal," a younger voice spoke up.

Blair heard a sharp snapping sound that he knew very well. It was the sound of a bolt being chambered into a rifle. "Hey, you don't have to shoot him. He's not doing anything."

"Don't worry, this will be very quick and he won't feel a thing." The voice sounded closer.

At the metallic sound, the increased volume of Blair's voice and the movement of three more humans towards him, the tiger flattened his ears against his head and surged to his feet. He hissed angrily and stepped toward the nearest human.

Blair's heart jumped into his throat and, not realizing he was doing it, he jumped to the side. Unfortunately his movement put him right into the path of the rifle the intern fired at the tiger. The dart flew straight and true right into the fleshy part of Blair's left buttocks, the red fuzzy end bright against his tan pants.


Blair staggered forward a step at the sharp pain in his backside and only had time to turn and look into the horrified face of the young man holding the rifle. Then there was a roaring sound in his ears and he fell into a black pit of unconsciousness. His last thought was of how Jim would get a good laugh out of the situation.

"Christ!" One of the uniformed officers yelled as he saw the long-haired man get hit by the tranquilizer dart and collapse. Then he saw the tiger jump back as the body hit the ground, whirl and take off in the opposite direction. Grabbing the rifle away from the intern with one hand, he turned to his younger partner and held out his other hand for the darts he held. "Give me those things, call an ambulance for the kid and get some backup," he ordered then turned to the intern. "Let's go, Dead Eye."

Shocked, Kramer looked at the officer issuing the orders and saw the anger in the man's eyes. Knowing better than to argue, he nodded and started running after the cop.

"Central, this is Charlie 2-1," the second officer said into the shoulder mic as he moved quickly toward the unconscious Sandburg.

"Go ahead, Charlie 2-1," replied a female voice over the radio.

"We need an ambulance and paramedics at our location. Civilian down due to a tranquilizer dart." Kneeling down and pressing his free hand against Blair's throat, he relaxed at feeling a slow but strong heart beat. "Let the medics know that the man has a strong pulse and appears to only be unconscious. Also, let the emergency room know that the dart was loaded with a dose of Ketamine that was meant for a large tiger."

"Roger, Charlie 2-1."

Jim burst through the doors leading into the emergency area of Lady of Mercy hospital and quickly strode up to the reception desk.

"Excuse me," he said to the young man typing into the computer behind the counter. "I was told Blair Sandburg was injured and brought here."

Looking up and blinking owlishly through his wire-rimmed glasses, the technician almost stepped back at the intensity of the blue eyes boring into him. Swallowing hard, he nodded and hit a button on the keyboard. The machine beeped and he typed several more keys. "Sandburg? Yeah, he's the guy brought in who was shot. They brought him in a few hours ago. Are you family?"

"Shot? How did he get shot? Is it serious?" Ellison's voice deepened with concern.

"Are you family, sir?" The technician asked again.

Pulling out his wallet, Jim flipped it open to show his badge. "No. Sandburg is my partner and we're down here for a conference. Now how bad is he hurt? If you can't tell me then I want to see the doctor treating him."

The technician peered at the badge then back up at the large man. "Oh, he's not hurt. According to the cop that came in with him, he got in the way of this idiot from the animal park that didn't know how to handle a tranq gun. Ended up with a dart in the butt. He's being monitored in room 4. I'll go find the doctor working on him." Moving around the counter, the technician stepped carefully around the large man and down the corridor.

Jim only had to pace two circuits between the counter and the wall before he saw a small woman walking toward him with the technician in tow.

"Officer?" she questioned, walking up to the large man. "I'm Dr. Coltrain. Bernie tells me you're Mr. Sandburg's partner."

"It's detective. Jim Ellison." He reached out and shook the hand extended toward him. "Sandburg and I are detectives with the Cascade, Washington P.D. and down here for a conference. He's also my friend. How is he?"

The doctor extended her arm back in the direction she'd come and the two started walking down the corridor. "Your friend is currently sleeping off a fairly large dose of Ketamine. It is a common anesthetic used on animals and he's not showing any reaction to it. It would be helpful to have some medical background. You wouldn't happen to know if your friend has allergies to any medications, would you?"

Jim shook his head. "He's into all that holistic, no-chemicals-into-his-body routine. I can call and have a medical report from the hospital back home faxed to you."

Stopping to pull out a small note pad, the doctor quickly penned a number then tore off the paper and handed it to Ellison. "Here's our fax, just have them make it to my attention. Anyway, we're watching to make sure he doesn't go into respiratory distress due to the amount given to him. He's right in here." Pushing open one side of a pair of double doors, Coltrain allowed Ellison to enter first.

Jim stepped up to the gurney and looked down at his slumbering partner. Blair had electrodes attached to his chest, an oxygen cannula at his nose and an I.V. line snaking down into his right arm. The machine next to the bed registered Blair's heart rate and Jim could see that it was slow and steady.

Coltrain pressed a button and printed off a strip of paper about a foot long. Releasing the button, she tore off the strip and scanned the printout of Blair's heartbeat. Nodding, she folded up the paper and stuck it in her pocket. "He's doing okay, but we don't want to take any chances. The sooner we can get a look at his medical records, the better. I just want to make sure he doesn't have any type of condition that might react to the sedative."

Ellison nodded. "I'll call and have some stuff faxed to you right away. Do you know how long he might be out?"

"He should start coming around in about an hour, more or less. It all depends on how fast his body metastasizes the drug. But like any anesthetic, it'll take several hours before it'll be completely out of his system. When he's released, he shouldn't be allowed to drive until morning and I suggest he refrain from any alcohol tonight. If you want, you can hang out here. It might help to see a friendly face when he wakes up."

"You read my mind, Doctor. Thank you."

"You're welcome. If you need anything, just let us know. Luckily, it's a quiet afternoon, so we'll just keep him here until we see how he is when he wakes up." With that, Coltrain gave the tall man a smile and left.

Watching the woman go through the doors, Jim waited until she was completely out of the room and walking down the hall before returning his attention to his friend. Extending his senses, he did his own medical check of Blair and accepted the diagnosis that his friend would be asleep for a little bit longer. ~sigh~ "I can't wait to hear about this one, Chief."

"Hello, Rhonda. Is Simon around?"

"What happened this time?"

Ellison cringed at the question. He'd sat watching his friend sleep for almost an hour before he finally worked up the nerve to call back to the precinct. It was the third time he'd had to call in three days. "What makes you think anything's happened?"

"James Ellison, don't try to lie to me. You're in no way as good as Blair. Speaking of which, where is he?"

"Well, that's what I'm calling about. Could you get in touch with his doctor and have him fax a short copy of Sandburg's medical history to the Lady of Mercy hospital, attention Dr. Coltrain?"

"What happened? Is he hurt bad?"

"Shh, not so loud. The whole bullpen doesn't need to know something is wrong. You know how those guys are. Is Simon in his office? You can listen on the line so I don't have to tell the story twice. Okay?"

"I guess so. Just one minute."

There was a click and Jim pulled the receiver away from his ear as a recorded song started. He grimaced at the age of the song and made a mental note to talk to whoever was in control of programming the system.

~click~ "What happened this time, Ellison? Did you solve some kidnapping case or uncover a plot against the President's motorcade?"

"Hello, Captain. Is the President going to be down here?"

"Don't be a smart ass, Jim. If I knew he was going to be down there, I'd have had both your butts sitting in a jail cell until he left. Now, which one of you does it concern this time?"

"Uh, Sandburg."

"Uh huh. And?"

"You see sir, it's like this. The afternoon session concerned weaponry and you know how he is about that stuff. So he took a little time away from the conference and was just enjoying the weather and... well, he was able to save several children from being attacked by a tiger."


Ellison yanked the telephone away again and switched it to his other ear. "A tiger, sir. Audubon Park has an animal reserve and one of their tigers got loose while it was being transported back from a veterinary visit. He was able to keep its attention while the children escaped, but then he was accidentally shot by one of the handlers with a tranquilizer gun."

"Is he okay?"

"Yes, sir. I'm calling from his room at the hospital and the doctor says he's doing okay." Jim looked over at his partner; he could tell Blair was slowly regaining consciousness. "It was just an anesthetic and he should wake up any time now. If there aren't any complications, I can take him back to the hotel tonight. But they would like to have a copy of his medical history just in case and Rhonda said she'd get it."

"Good God. ~sigh~ Now that you've heard they're okay, Rhonda, please hang up and find someone out there who has a bottle of aspirins or something stronger."

"Right away, Simon."

"Thank you. ~click~ Okay, Jim. Is there anything else I need to know? What agency should I expect a call from this time?"

"I don't think you'll get a call, Simon. According to the officers involved, Blair zigged when he should have zagged and the guy with the gun panicked and pulled the trigger. They just think he was some hapless tourist in the wrong place who was able to keep his cool."


Ellison heard the soft sound and, stretching the telephone cord, moved closer to the bed. "Hold it a minute, Simon. I think he's waking up. Can you hear me, Chief?" Jim asked, resting a hand on Blair's shoulder, keeping away from the monitor electrode.

"Mmmm?" Sandburg shifted a hand from under the sheet covering him, weakly grabbed Ellison's wrist and, holding it against his chest, tried to turn onto this side. "...sssaaf..."

Propping the receiver between his chin and shoulder, Ellison pulled his hand loose and stopped his friend from rolling. "Whoa there, Chief. Don't set off the alarms."

"What's going on, Jim?"

"Sandburg's starting to wake up. He's wanting to roll around on the bed while attached to a heart monitor."

"Can you tell if he's okay?"

Knowing what his superior was asking, Jim performed another medical check on his friend and smiled at what he 'read'. "Yes, sir. He'll probably need another hour or so before he's released, but I think he'll be just fine."

"Thank God. Okay, Jim. Rhonda will get the info down to that doctor before you take him out of there. Do you think you can go the rest of the week without any more incidents?"

"We're certainly going to try, sir. See you on Friday." Hearing a muttered 'I'd better' before the line went dead, Ellison sighed and hung up the telephone. Returning to Sandburg's bed, he heard the younger man muttering. "Sandburg? It's time to wake up."

Sleepy eyes fluttered open, but the glazed look from them indicated that nothing was being seen. "...fiiiivv mins..." Blair mumbled and, allowing the lids to drop back down, rolled his head away.

Jim grasped Blair's chin lightly, turned his face back and patted him on the cheek. "No way, Chief. It's getting late, I haven't had any dinner and I'm not eating hospital food. Wake up or I'm going to leave you here while I go find some pizza."

The eyes opened again and Blair blinked several time before he recognized the shape bending over him. "Jim?"

"Got it in one," Jim answered with a smile. "How are you feeling?"

Shifting in the bed, Blair inhaled sharply when he moved his left leg. "Ow. It feels like I got shot in the butt. What happened?"

Laughing, Jim answered, "You got shot in the butt. Remember?"

"Oh, yeah. There was a tiger at the park and I had it calmed down until that jerk tried to shoot at him." Blair frowned, but it turned into a yawn. "Is it okay?"

"The tiger? Yeah, they finally found him taking a nap on a sunny patch of grass about a half hour later. He was coaxed into another truck and is back in his habitat." Pulling a chair closer to the bed, Jim sat down and rested against the metal railing. "That was a brave thing you did, Chief."

"I was scared out of my wits."

"Some of the bravest acts recorded were committed by people who said they were scared at the time."

"Yeah, well..." Blair dropped his gaze and blushed at the praise. His eyes were drooping back shut.

"How about I find the doctor and see how much longer you have to stick around? I am hungry and I remember smelling pizza on the drive over."

"Drive?" Blair jerked his attention back up to his friend, suddenly awake. "You didn't drive the car over here, did you?"

Jim nodded. "You'd left it at the hotel. Did you expect me to take a cab or bus?"

"Oh, man. I hope the gals in accounting don't hear about this," Blair replied with a groan.

"Don't worry. I won't tell if you won't." Laughing at what his partner considered important, Ellison stood up and went to find the doctor.

"Sandburg, you can't sleep on the bench." Handing the keys of the car to the parking attendant, Ellison trotted over to his partner and pulled him back up into a sitting position. He'd thought Sandburg was doing pretty good when he stepped out of the car as soon as they'd pulled up in front of the hotel. But then the young man sat down on the concrete bench near the doors and promptly fell over asleep. Jim pulled him back up into a sitting position.

"But I'm comfortable here, Jim."

"Come on, Sleeping Beauty. You've a nice warm, soft bed waiting for you in our room."

"It's warm here.... and clean and -- and besides, I don't think I can go any farther." His eyes closed, Blair started to fall over again until a strong hand grabbed his arm, this time pulling him to his feet. He felt the appendage lifted and draped over some shoulders while the arm was moved to encircle his waist. "Hey!"

Chuckling at the indignant sound, Jim shifted Blair until he had him in a comfortable but firm grip and half carried him into the hotel. "Don't worry, I'll make sure you get there." No sooner had they gotten through the doors than Jim's friends from the ATF met them.

"Jesus, Ellison. Is the kid drunk? Do you need any help?" Chris asked, handing his folder and notepad to Vin and moving to Blair's other side to grab hold.

"Thanks, but we're doing okay. Sandburg happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as usual." Ellison smiled ruefully at his partner.

Feeling the second set of hands, Blair opened his eyes and looked over to see Larimore holding him and Tandy standing nearby. "Hey, guys. Guess what? I got shot in the butt." He gave them a lopsided smile; his eyes starting to droop close again and added, "And stopped them from... from hurting... tiger." Then his head dropped back down to his chest and he sagged enough that the two men definitely had to hold him up. Taking a firmer grip on the smaller man, Jim and Chris practically carried Blair toward the elevator.

Laughing, Tandy trotted in front of the group and pressed the elevator call button. "He saved a tiger by getting shot?"

"Actually, he accidentally moved in front of a zoo vet trying to tranq an escaped tiger from the local preserve. The hospital released him when they felt he wasn't in any danger from the amount of sedative used in the dart. Figured I'd wait until he was a little more alert then take him out to get some food into him." Jim tightened his grip on the now heavy body and heard a soft snoring sound. "On second thought, you can help me get him upstairs and we can go get something to eat after we dump him into bed."

Vin raised an eyebrow. "You sure you can leave him alone like this?"

"Sure. Once he's in bed and covered up, he'll stay until morning. I'll turn up the air conditioning and he won't move."

"Why's that?"

"Hates being cold. Give him half a chance to be warm and comfortable, he'll stay put."

"Detective Ellison?"

Turning his head, Jim saw Detective Curtis walking toward the group and almost groaned. "Don't tell me. My captain called your captain again."

Curtis grinned. "Not yet, but the incident is spreading like wild fire down at the precinct. It's not every day someone puts their life on the line by stepping in front of a wild animal and ends up on the wrong end of a tranquilizer dart. Will he be okay?"

"From the effects of the dart, no problem. From the embarrassment of the incident as a whole, we'll see in the morning. Right, Chief?" Looking at his friend, Jim gave him a small shake.

Right on cue, Blair lifted his head and looked around until he saw the new person with their group and gave the man a lazy smile. "Hi. I got shot in the butt." Then his eyes closed and this time he leaned over onto Jim.

Laughing with the group, Curtis shook his head. "I'll let you get him to your room. If any questions need to be answered, I'll make sure they wait until the morning." Then he turned and headed for the hotel entrance.

"Thanks, detective." Jim returned his attention to the elevator just as the car arrived. "Yep. Tomorrow morning is going to be pretty interesting."

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