Cascade, Washington

Jim navigated through the streets of Cascade, pointing out various places to his new temporary partner, Ken Christian. Even though he liked the young detective, it was still odd to see someone other than Blair sitting with him in the truck.

"The Lunch-Time deli over there is pretty good. Sandburg says they have the best vegan sandwich in town. Personally I go for the philly cheesesteak sandwich," Jim said, pointing to a busy cafe a block down from the police station.

"Great, I'll have to try it while I'm here." Ken turned to look at Jim. "I guess no one knows how long I'll be here. Captain Rivera didn't say and neither did Captain Banks." He watched Jim drive and the Cascade detective had the feeling that the younger man was inspecting him visually. After a moment of comfortable silence, Ken spoke.

"If you don't mind my asking, Andrew's friend mentioned that Detective Sandburg used to be a college student in Anthropology and that he taught classes. Is that right?" he asked.

Jim nodded, suppressing a groan. He had an idea of where the line of questioning would lead and really wasn't too surprised by it.

"So how does a college student end up as a detective in one of the most famous departments in the state of Washington? Better still, how does he end up partnered with the detective who has won 'Cop of the Year'?"

Jim glanced at his companion, quickly turning his attention back to the road. Christian's face didn't give anything away, but there was an edge to his voice. For a fleeting moment he wondered if the man had once had a bad experience with a professor to produce a bad attitude towards teachers.

"Actually, it's simple," Jim answered easily. "When we first met, he was doing his dissertation on closed societies and was paired with me as an observer. Several years and a lot of experience later, we decided to offer him a job and he took it."

"That's quite a leap from professor to detective."

"I agree, it is quite a jump. Though Blair wasn't actually a professor. He was a teaching fellow at Rainier," Jim told him, pausing to glare at the traffic when a small car cut him off at an intersection. "But Sandburg once said that to go back to the academic world after his stint with Major Crimes would be like jumping off a roller coaster and onto a merry-go-round. Academia is not all it's cracked up to be."

Ken nodded. "I can't argue with that logic," he said quietly, watching out the window of the truck as they headed towards the suburbs of Cascade. A comfortable silence settled between them.


Nadia Harford's house, Cascade, Washington

"4218 Constance Circle," Christian read from his notes. "Gads, that sounds expensive," he added, looking around at the houses in the area.

"It is." Jim managed not to grimace. "Expensive and powerful. Nearly everyone who lives in the Cascade Club area has both money and power and aren't afraid to use it. Which means it's next to impossible to handle an investigation around here without them calling the mayor and complaining about the police handling of the matter."

"Sounds like fun. Not," Ken sympathized. "Every city must have areas like that. In Bonita, it's a country club subdivision with lots of actors and athletes living there. Nothing ever happens in the neighborhood that someone doesn't call and complain about. One day someone even called that a police car was sitting on the street for too long."

As the two men talked, Jim pulled his truck up in front of a large two-story house. The house was of Victorian design, with intricate work around the door and windows. The lawn was immaculately kept, with several stone statues sitting to the side alongside a pristine white gazebo.

Ken touched Jim's arm lightly, drawing the detective's attention to a spot on the side of the lawn where the once bright flowers had been destroyed. The remains of a bench lay next to a bare spot, where something may have once stood.

Jim nodded, getting out of the truck, and once Ken had joined him, led the way up a cobblestone walkway to the front door of the house. The heavy looking wooden door was decorated with delicate carvings. Beside him, he heard a soft, impressed "wow" at the work.

He located the doorbell and pressed it firmly. From deep inside the house, he could hear the sound of musical chimes ringing. A few moments later a young woman in a uniform of black pants and white shirt opened the door.

"Yes? May I help you?"

Jim held his badge and identification up for her to see, his partner doing the same. "I'm Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade Police Department. My partner is Detective Ken Christian. We're here to speak with Mrs. Harford about a report the department received that her house was broken into during a recent rash of robberies in the area."

The woman carefully inspected the ID's and badges. "Detective Christian is not from Cascade, he's from California," she stated.

"Yes ma'am," Ken spoke up. "I'm part of an exchange program between the Cascade and Bonita police departments. It's a fairly new program to acquaint officers with police work and laws in other states."

"I'm sorry, but Ms. Harford is busy. There really isn't anything she can tell you. Besides, the report is false. Nothing is missing from the house."

"Do you mind if she tells us that?" Jim asked, barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "Is Ms. Harford in or not?"

"Martha, who was at the door?" a soft voice called out from another room.

Jim raised an eyebrow at Martha. "May I?" He stepped past her into the hallway. Ken followed him into the house.

"Two detectives from the Cascade Police Department, ma'am," Martha replied, her displeasure evident in her voice. "They wanted to speak with you about the recent robberies in the neighborhood."

"Horrible business. There have been police officers and insurance people all over the place for days." The owner of the slightly accented voice appeared in the doorway to another room.

"Good afternoon, gentleman, I'm Nadia Harford." A tall, light skinned woman with shoulder length red hair stood before the two detectives. "Martha, would you please get them something to drink?"

"That's quite alright, Ms. Harford. We don't want to take up too much of your time," Jim said, stepping towards her. "I'm Detective Ellison and this is Detective Christian." Nadia moved forward to shake their hands.

"Please, let's go into my office and sit down." Nadia motioned them towards the door she had just come through. Ken looked at Jim, who nodded and followed the tall redhead into the room.

"Please excuse Martha, she's quite protective of me," Nadia said after the three were seated in comfortable chairs in front of a polished oak desk. "Dreadful business, having one's possessions stolen in the middle of the night." She shook her head. "Do you have any leads?"

"Not at this time," Jim told her, pulling a notebook out of his pocket. "But we're not here to talk about the other robberies."

"No?"

"We've had a report that your home was broken into and several pieces taken. One of the neighbors that they officers talked to said she heard it from one of your staff."

"Ridiculous!" Nadia snapped. "Nosey neighbors. They have no right to be spreading rumors about me. I assure you, my house has not been robbed."

At his words, a look of pure anger had flashed over the delicate features before a patient look replaced it. But Jim still caught the look. While Nadia was speaking, he focused his hearing and clearly heard the woman's pounding heart. She was lying and he knew it. He just couldn't prove it.

"Why would a neighbor say you had been robbed?" Ken asked. "The witness said she had been talking to a staff member and that items had been taken just over a week ago."

"How should I know?" Nadia answered, annoyance in her voice. "Obviously someone is very much mistaken. If one of my employees is spreading gossip, believe me, they will be terminated immediately. I don't have time for such things and I would hope that the Cascade police department has better things to do than to follow up false tips."

"Would you mind if we looked around? Maybe talked to your staff to see if they've seen anything pertaining to the robberies?"

"Do you have a search warrant?"

"No, we don't," Jim admitted. "We just want to ask some questions."

"Then I'm sorry, Detective Ellison. If you don't have a warrant, you can leave. I have an important art show and social event at the end of the week, and I can't have my staff interrupted." Nadia stood, the interview clearly over. "Martha will show you out.

"Thank you for your time," Jim said evenly, furious that he couldn't accomplish more.

"Good day, Detectives," Nadia said quickly as she turned her back to them and left the room.

"Gee, guess that's our signal to leave," Jim heard Ken mutter under his breath so quietly that only a Sentinel would hear it.

Suddenly Martha appeared in the doorway. "Ms. Harford asked me to show you out."

Without saying another word, the woman briskly led them to the door. "Good day, Detectives," she said simply as she opened the door, closing it quickly as they exited.

"Gee. Nice," Ken commented.

Jim sighed in frustration. "Let's head back to the station. I want to call down to Bonita and talk to Sandburg and Wood about their case. Just a feeling I have." He turned to walk back towards the truck when suddenly he stopped.

"What is it, Jim?" Ken asked. Jim shushed him with a wave of his hand. Focusing his eyes on the house, he listened, carefully filtering out the sounds around him.

"Hello? Erik Gray? It's Nadia Harford. Are we still on schedule for an end of week delivery? Good. The police were just here. No, it's not a problem. Stupid neighbors told them about the robbery. No, that problem as been taken care of. She should never have said anything." There was a pause in the conversation. "No! You don't need to come up. I've got it under control. We'll be ready when your guys get here. Good bye."

"Jim?" A hand grasped his arm, shaking him urgently. He shook his head, hoping he hadn't zoned. He didn't think he had just listening to the phone conversation in the house. If he zoned and Blair found out, his Guide would ream him out for being careless.

"Are you alright?" Ken asked, his eyes full of concern. "You got quiet and then very still. Something wrong?"

"No, I'm fine. I thought I heard something, but evidently not. Come on, let's go."

"Why did you mention calling Andrew?" Ken asked, keeping pace with the detective while getting back to the earlier conversation.

"Because their case involves Mexican and South American art and antiques. According to the reports, several of the stolen pieces are from South American tribes. Plus, a couple of the statues that were in Nadia Harford's study look like they are of South American origin. It may be nothing, or there could be a link." Just talking about the art and pieces magnified Blair's absence and Jim wished again that his partner was with him, not in California.

"It's worth checking out," Ken agreed, as the two men climbed into Jim's Ford truck.

"So tell me, Detective," Ken asked as they drove away from the big house. "How did you end up driving an old truck like this? It's almost older than I am."

"It's a classic, Christian. A classic," Jim protested.


Bonita, California
(A day or two after Hayes' arrest)

"Good evening, Lee." A lightly accented voice called out.

The young man being spoken too jumped at the sound of the voice. He spun, looking for the speaker, relaxing only when an older man in a black suit stepped out of the shadows.

"Sheesh, Mr. Gray. You nearly scared a year's life out of me," the young man complained. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing a dark strand off of his forehead.

"That is what you get for showing up unannounced," the older man admonished. "You know you're supposed to call first. What if I hadn't been here?"

Lee Carver shrugged his shoulders, his eyes focused on his dust-covered sneakers. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again. It's just that I have some news. Hopefully good news."

The older man, tall and impeccably dressed in a dark suit with a black shirt, motioned Carver over to an office area. He indicated the young man sit even as he sat down in a comfortable looking chair behind a desk. "Tea?" he asked, pointing to a teapot resting on a warming plate.

"No thank you, Sir," Carver declined.

"So, Mr. Carver. What is this news of yours."

"I met a man two days ago and, if he checks out, he may be a good candidate to replace Hayes."

"Oh really?" The man raised his eyebrows, disbelief in his voice.

"Yes, sir." Carver nodded. "His name is Blair Sands. He's a transplant from up north, came down here to get away from never ending days of rain and snow."

"And how did you happen to meet Mr. Sands?"

"I was in Mike's Coffee shop the other day and heard this guy talking to a friend about being out of money and looking for work. He said he was desperate because he's about to be kicked out of his apartment," Carver told him. "So I sat where I could listen for a bit. Among other things, he said he wouldn't mind going back to driving a rig, that it could be good money and he wouldn't have to worry about keeping the apartment." He paused, looking at his employer.

"Go on," the man urged.

"After twenty minutes or so, the friend left and the guy stayed there, drinking coffee. When he finally got up to leave I followed him and caught up with him outside. We talked and I told him I might know of a job driving a truck. As long as he could follow orders and ask no questions."

"What did he say to that?"

"He thought about it. I think the no questions part made him nervous. But then he sort of brightened and said he'd be interested. I got his name and address to run through the system. So far he's clean," Carver finished, watching his employer nervously.

"Sounds interesting. Hayes was an idiot for getting arrested the other night. Didn't you tell him not to go back to that warehouse?"

"Yes, Sir, I did. I have no clue as to what he thought he was doing." Carver shook his head.

"Go find your Blair Sands and arrange for him to meet us here tonight. I'd like to talk to him before we make him an offer."

"Cool!"

"We may have need of him soon. I heard from Nadia today. She's ready for us to send a shipment up to her. The party is scheduled for the end of the week."

"The end of the week? That's going to push it some, isn't it?"

"Perhaps. But we're both anxious to get the operation moving so we have a backup plan in case things go awry here. Who knows what, if anything, that idiot Hayes will tell the police."

"He doesn't know much, there isn't much he can tell," Carver tried to assure the older man.

"Perhaps. Go now, I'll see you and Mr. Sands back here tonight at 9pm."

"Yes, Mr. Gray. Thank you." Carver got up and quickly made his way out.

Erik Gray leaned back in his chair and watched the young man leave. Lee was good, he was very good and would some day be able to take over the day-to-day operations, leaving Gray free for other interests. But that wouldn't be for a while yet. Gray picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory.

"Hello? I have need of your services. The name is Sands. Blair Sands. Lee met him today and believes he'll be a suitable replacement for Hayes. Yes, Hayes is an idiot. No, I don't want you to handle him. That would arouse too much suspicion. Just check on Mr. Sands. Thank you. No, that's it. Good bye."

Gray pushed the off button on the handset and set the phone down on the desk. Pushing the just finished conversation to the back of his mind, he began reading through the mail on his desk and working through the day's tasks.


Cascade Police Department, Major Crimes

With a sigh, Jim sat down at his desk and dug through several sheets of paper until he found the one he wanted. He had been trying to get a moment to call Blair but, since he and Christian had talked to Nadia Harford, he hadn't had a free moment. Rafe and Brown had tracked their suspect in a murder investigation to an apartment building in downtown Cascade and it took the help of several detectives to bring him in. It just seemed as though something else prevented him from getting to the phone until now. Finally, he found the phone number he was looking for and dialed.

"Hello? May I speak with Blair Sandburg please? Yes, he's in Captain Rivera's department. He's not actually employed by the Bonita PD. He's on loan from Cascade. He's working with Detective Andrew Woods," Jim spoke into the phone, his irritation growing. "Look, just get Woods on the phone, I'll talk to him."

After several moments of silence broken by soft clicks, a familiar voice came on the line. "Hello, Detective Woods here."

"Woods, it's Jim Ellison from Cascade. Look, I'm trying to find Blair."

"Hi Jim, it's good to hear from you," came the voice of the detective he'd met in Bonita.

"Where is Blair?" Jim asked, his irritation turning to worry. Something was wrong and his Guide was involved, he was sure of it.

"Jim, you're not going to like this." Jim could almost hear Woods' heartbeat over the phone. He kept silent while the Bonita detective explained the recent events.

"HE WHAT??" Everyone in the Major Crimes bullpen looked up sharply at the outburst from Jim Ellison.

"He went undercover," Woods repeated, his voice calm. "It was his choice. For the record, I tried to talk him out of it, but he puts up a good argument."

"Did you even argue with him? Or just let him go at the first suggestion." Jim ignored the looks of surprise from his coworkers.

"Hold on a minute, Ellison. Blair strikes me as a grown man. He made a case that he was the best candidate for the job and I eventually had to agree with him. He told us he had experience in undercover work. That is true, isn't it?"

Jim took a deep breath and knew that he shouldn't be angry with the detective in Bonita. He knew better than anyone that Sandburg had a way of talking until he got his way. Plus the former student could talk his way into and out of most anything.

"I'm sorry Woods, I tend to be a bit protective of Sandburg. He's right, he does have experience at undercover work and don't tell him I said this, but he's good at it." Jim forced himself to relax. "Have you heard from him lately?

"Not since he went to meet Carver and Gray. Those are the two men he had to meet with last night. Assuming that goes well, he'll be in as their truck driver. We have a method of communication set up, but it's up to Blair to contact us."

"Gray?" Jim recognized the name, although he couldn't remember where. "Hold on a moment?" he asked Andrew. Not waiting for the man's answer, he started paging through notes from the past several days. Just as he thought he was mistaken, he saw a small note he'd written after talking to Nadia Harford. He had overheard her make a phone conversation and a name. "As in Erik Gray?" he asked Andrew.

"That's the name. Why? Do you know him? He's known as an art dealer here and he doesn't have a record of anything illegal, but Blair said that's the name he was given."

Jim quickly shuffled through notes looking for any more references. "His name was mentioned during a witness interview, but I don't have anymore information on them. Christian and I were looking into a reported robbery. Several houses in a very upscale neighborhood were broken into and several items stolen and we had a report of another. Gray's name was mentioned, but not in connection with the robberies. I think it was the maid telling Harford that Gray was on the phone. Jim finished, not wanting to tell a stranger that he had overheard a conversation.

"Coincidence?"

"Right now, I don't know. But let's stay in touch. If you hear from Blair, let me know. If you get any more info on Gray let us know and I'll do the same."

"Sounds good. We do know that Gray deals with museums and private collectors up and down the coast, so it may be nothing."

"Maybe, but we'll keep an eye on it. Thanks for your help."

"You're welcome. Wish I'd had better news for you. That partner of yours is something else though. He's good."

Jim laughed. "I shouldn't be surprised. Nothing is surprising where Sandburg is concerned. Just don't be thinking you can entice him to stay."

"The thought hadn't crossed my mind. Speaking of partner's, how is Ken working out up there? "

"He's making himself at home up here. He's been working with several of the detectives in the office and going on calls with me and an Australian Inspector we have."

"Australian Inspector? That's one you'll have to tell me about. Sounds like an interesting department you've got." Andrew paused and Jim could hear a voice talking in the background. "Sorry, Ellison, I've got to run. Talk to you later."

Jim said goodbye and replaced the handset on the phone base.

"Do I even want to know what that was all about?" Simon Banks stood next to Jim's desk.

"Probably not, Sir," Jim answered. "It seems as though my partner has gone undercover as a part of the case in Bonita."

"HE WHAT?"

With a snort, Jim proceeded to bring his Captain up to date on the conversation with Andrew Woods. Several times Simon sighed or shook his head, but he let the detective finish before asking questions.

"So Nadia Harford mentioned this Gray during the interview?" Simon asked.

"She didn't exactly mention him, Captain," Jim answered uneasily.

Simon frowned. "What, exactly, did she say?"

"She called him. I heard her call him on the phone." At Simon's look that clearly begged for patience from any source, Jim continued, "Captain, she was in a hurry to get us out of the house. So I was curious why and listened to find out. As soon as we were out of the house, she made a phone call and asked for Erik Gray. She told him that we'd been there."

"You're just telling me about it now?"

Jim breathed a silent prayer of thanks that Blair wasn't there to witness the conversation. "Yes, Sir. With nothing to go on and with assisting with Brown and Rafe's murder case, I'm just now telling you." He grinned, "Besides, it's not like I could tell you in front of Christian. He doesn't know I heard the phone call."

"But you used your senses in front of him. What if you had zoned, Jim?" Simon asked, concern in his voice. "Sandburg will have both of our butts in a sling if you pull a stunt like that and zone out in the field."

The Sentinel felt his face go ever so slightly pink.

"You didn't."

"Just for a second and not deep. Ken touched my shoulder to draw my attention to something in the yard and I snapped out of it."

Simon shook his head, muttering under his breath about juvenile detectives, sentinels and their guides.

"Sir?"

"Nothing, Jim. Nothing," Simon told him. "So what is your next step?"

"I'm going to run Gray's name through our records and see if he has any connections here in Cascade. Maybe Nadia Harford's house was not robbed, but I have the feeling she's connected to Gray somehow."

"Sounds good, Jim. Keep me updated."

"Thank you, Captain." Jim left the police Captain and returned to his desk in the bullpen.

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