Production No. CVT-708

written by:

edited by: Melanie, Shallan & Cindy

Jim led the way into the dimly lit street. He could hear his partner's soft steps hurrying to keep up with his long strides. There was near silence in the buildings around him and the sounds of cars stopping up ahead. The wet streets glistened oily black as they approached the intersection where Simon's car was parked. There, the Captain and Megan waited for the fugitive detectives.

Jim squared his shoulders and stepped away from the curb. He stalked up the middle of the empty street, ignoring the chilly mist that had begun to fall.

When they reached the middle of the block, Simon drew his weapon and pointed it at them. "Put your hands up. You are both under arrest." Megan stepped next to him, her own pistol at the ready.

Spotlights from the buildings around them flooded the street and made Jim draw back. "Nice conduct, sir. We come to you for help and you do this." Caught in the white glare of the lights, the mist seemed to swirl and coil about them as Blair halted beside him. As he drew his gun, the Sentinel's hearing picked up the voices crackling on the SWAT team's headsets.

"I'm taking you both in, now put down your weapons and surrender." The captain's deep voice echoed off the buildings around them.

"Simon... Megan... You know we aren't guilty." Blair's expression was full of disbelief and horror. Several news vans pulled up and were stopped by uniformed officers behind a hastily thrown up barricade. Wendy Hawthorne, from channel 24, and her cameraman crowded forward and started to film.

Another unmarked police car screeched to a halt and Rafe and Henri leapt out. They hurried to a point behind Simon and both spoke at once.

"Sir, you can't do it like this." Jim could hear the anguish in Rafe's softly accented voice.

"It's Jim and Blair, Boss." Henri sounded dumbfounded.

"Now listen-up. Both of you. You go help the uniforms with the press and stay out of this." When the two men seemed to hesitate he barked, "Unless you are ready to turn in your badges, you WILL obey my ORDER!"

Jim let a wry grin twist his lips as he watched the two men almost reel in shock at their Captain's vicious tone. He looked at Blair and spoke almost conversationally. "Remember what I said. We are NOT going to jail."

"Whatever happens, it was worth it." The young man smiled with almost blinding trust. Jim started to step in front of him, and was stopped when a strong hand caught his arm and held tight. "Not this time," Blair said gently and took his place at his partner's side.

"We aren't going to jail, Simon." Jim raised his revolver in one fluid movement. From the corner of his eye he saw Blair draw the small automatic and aim it at their Captain and friend. Then, it all became almost dreamlike. A deathly stillness settled on the street as the snipers radios crackled to life, gouts of yellow exploded from the muzzles of a half dozen rifles. Simon and Megan's shots were almost drowned out by those of the larger guns.

Jim felt the punch of the explosive impacts as they stitched across his chest, and he staggered back. Lying on the wet tarmac he reached out blindly for his partner. His sensitive fingers detected the cold leather of Blair's jacket, soaked now with something that smelled sweet and flowed thick and warm over his hand. For a moment, he let the contact comfort him. Then he was still.

How could everything go so crazy? Jim fought the oblivion that beckoned so seductively and tried to concentrate. How could their lives turn out like this in just four stinking days.

Four days before:

"Ellison -- Sandburg -- in my office!"

Jim had just settled down in his desk chair when Simon shouted the words. He stood up as Blair returned from the break room with his coffee. "Simon wants to see us."

"I thought I heard him bellow." Blair took a sip of coffee and led the way to the Captain's office. "Is something up?"

"He sounded pissed," Jim deadpanned. "Probably at something you did."

The young detective shot a look back over his shoulder as he entered the office. "I'm not the one who turned up on the local news a couple of days ago threatening Tommy Chambers."

"No Sandburg. You didn't threaten Fat Tommy." Simon picked up the thread of their conversation and glowered at his newest detective. "How about Dean Edwards?"

"What?" Blair stopped short and Jim edged around him.

"Somebody set fire to the Dean's office and the records room at Hargrove Hall last night."

Jim sat down, but leaned forward intently. "What does this have to do with Blair?"

"Was anyone hurt?" Blair looked shocked. "I didn't see anything on the news this morning."

"It was after hours." Simon replied, seeming to be studying his newest officer. "The sprinkler system came on. Did a lot of water damage."

"Oh, man." Blair plopped onto the other chair and shook his head. "The computers... all the student records."

"What does this have to do with Blair?" Jim repeated.

Simon took a deep breath. "Where were you last night at eleven-thirty, Sandburg?"

"I was... SIMON! YOU THINK THAT I...?" Blair raised his voice and looked from man to man.

"This is a load of crap, Captain." Jim's voice took on the cold official tone he used when he wanted to throw a tantrum, but couldn't quite bring himself to flout authority.

"I don't suspect you of anything, Sandburg." Simon looked at them wearily. "The only reason I brought this up was... well, someone at Rainier saw who threw the incendiary devices -- empty Snapple bottles filled with paint thinner -- into the offices."

"Who?" Blair paused and added, "who saw it, I mean?"

"George Coburn, the night security guard. He chased the perp to the parking lot. Almost got run down by the getaway car."

"I know George."

"And he knows you." Simon's expression got even more pained. "He said the arsonist looked like you. A lot like you."

"There are dozens of kids at the U who look like Sandburg." Jim snarled. "Hell... most of them do."

"Do they all drive blue sixty-nine Mustang cobras?" Simon sighed, and turned to Blair. "Where were you? Last night? Eleven-thirty?"

"At Natural Notions." When the two older men gave him blank looks, he added, "You know... the health food store?"

"At eleven-thirty at night?"

"I got there at eight. I stayed and talked to Parker for a while. He had a TV on and we watched the play-off game. Afterwards, I helped him hook up his scanner and DVD burner. Parker knows a lot about vitamins, but he's computer illiterate."

"Parker?" Relaxing a little, Simon had his pen ready.

"Parker Williams. He owns the place."

"This whole thing stinks, Simon." Jim was still angry. "Blair would never do something like that."

"George Coburn was reluctant to point the finger at Sandburg. " The Captain softened his voice as he looked down at the papers on his desk. "He thinks a lot of you... thinks you got a raw deal from the college."

"George is a conscientious guy." Blair said pensively, "and he's good at his job. It has to be a coincidence... someone who resembles me."

"And who drives a blue Mustang?" Jim frowned forbiddingly and studied his partner. The kid was just too damn trusting. "This Parker? Tell me he's not a flake? He'll be a good witness...?"

"Parker is almost deaf..." A small, wry quirk appeared at one corner of Blair's lips as something obviously occurred to him. "That's why I helped him install a video security system right after he opened the store. It's motion activated, and the tapes are time coded."

"I'll have Joel and Megan go pick up those tapes." Simon grinned slightly. "I take it that you are a major character in last night's production?"

"I imagine I'll turn up a few times." Blair said absently as he frowned and looked at Jim. "I'd like to talk to George, and maybe get Jim to do his lie detector thing.

"You'll stay clear of him, Sandburg." Simon took one look at Jim and added, "Jim and I will go talk to him. You will stay here and thank your lucky stars that your friend has a problem with shoplifters."

"I... I can almost swear... it was Mr. Sandburg." George Coburn looked up at the two imposing police officers as they stood in front of him. "I couldn't believe my own eyes."

"You say you saw Blair Sandburg throw firebombs into the record office and the Chancellors office?" Simon kept his tone neutral, as he gave Jim a warning look. The captain didn't believe -- didn't want to believe -- that his young detective had anything to do with the arsons. "Are you sure it was him?"

"Yes... No... he would never do something like that. I don't care what they say about him." George stammered as he paced the small office the custodian used. "I've seen a lot of students come through this place. Blair was the best of them."

"But...?" Jim looked more puzzled than angry as he voiced the janitor's unspoken word.

"But..." George hesitated and continued sadly, his voice barely audible. "It was him that I saw."

"Thank you, Mr. Coburn." The captain sighed as he watched Jim stalk out of the office. He didn't like this building, and he knew Ellison hated it here. The wide hallway was empty by the time Simon made his exit so he headed for the lot where he'd parked his car.

Ellison was outside, waiting for him on the steps of Hargrove Hall. He was sitting on the second from the top step, looking at that damn fountain. His pale blue eyes were distant and he was obviously reliving past horrors. Finally he spoke. "God, Simon. Something isn't right here."

"He wasn't lying, was he?" The tall captain sat down next to his detective, heedless of his freshly cleaned suit and immaculate topcoat.

"Only when he said he doubted it was Blair. The man thinks the world of Sandburg, but he also thinks it was him last night."

"Lucky the kid has those tapes to back up his story."

"Yeah... lucky." Jim hadn't taken his eyes off the fountain.

Three days before:

"Sandburg. Get over here and look at this." Henri was staring at the composite drawings spread out over the conference room table. "It could be you and Ellison. And these were from four different witnesses descriptions."

"Oh very funny, H." Blair glanced at the drawings of Jim and himself and shook his head. The guys had been teasing him since he was cleared of setting the fires at Rainier -- and it was getting old fast. "Doesn't the police artist have better things to do?"

"No Hairboy. These are the real thing. Four witnesses described the two men who shot Fat Tommy. They came up with these independently."

"Tommy Chambers' soldiers no doubt." Blair frowned as he remembered the pack of goons that made up Fat Tommy's 'posse'.

The crew of hoodlums had threatened the young detective when he and Jim got too close. The campaign of intimidation had culminated with a telephone call telling them that one of the pizzas delivered to their Monday night football gathering was poisoned. The caller had joked that 'Ellison's little buddy' had pretty bad luck with pizza. That night so did Rafe and Daryl Banks. All three ended up in the emergency room having their stomachs pumped. The poison had been nasty, undetectable by taste or smell and nearly lethal.

After that Jim and Simon had gone all out after Fat Tommy. The pizza delivery boy was dead and for a while so was the case. Then Jim overheard Tommy order a hit on a competitor.

They were very careful. Jim, Blair, and Simon went to great pains to include Homicide in the case. Independent evidence was obtained, witnesses turned, and Thomas Chambers was arrested.

And in a few short months, the evidence was mysteriously tainted, and the witnesses either murdered or frightened into silence. Jim was furious about being unable to testify about what he had heard. Even if he could tell the truth, there was always the possibility that it would be thrown out for legal reasons.

Earlier this week Tommy had strolled past Jim after the charges against him were dismissed and gloated. "Gee Ellison. Why so grim?" The huge man gave Blair an evil smile. "You look like you just lost your best friend."

Jim lunged forward and grabbed Tommy's jacket in both fists. "One way or another, you pig. I'm taking you down."

"JIM!" Blair had grabbed the tall detective and pulled him back, disturbingly aware of the press gathering around, taking it all in. "Come on, Jim. You know this crook is as stupid as he is ugly. We'll get the goods on him again, and he'll get to sample prison cuisine."

Jim calmed somewhat and matched Tommy's nasty grin with one of his own. "Hell kid. This marshmallow'll BE the prison cuisine."

Tommy gave Jim one last hate filled glare before he let his lawyer drag him off.


"What?" Blair was startled out of his reverie by Henri's call.

"You just flaked, man. Pulled an Ellison. Went off into la-la land."

"Oh. I was just... what did you say?"

"Tommy was at the restaurant alone... well... with a date. The witnesses that gave us the composites, were all regular citizens. Just folks having dinner in that restaurant. Most of them talked about the big guy's cold blue eyes."

Blair glanced at the copy of the report then looked at the drawings again. Two men -- these two men -- had walked up to Tommy's table in a crowded restaurant and while the smaller man protested, the tall one had shot the racketeer in the forehead.

According to the witnesses.

A tremor of fear danced over Blair's spine. Not again! It had to be a coincidence. "It wasn't Jim. I was with him all evening, so they can't say it was Jim."

"Hell, Sandburg. I know that." Henri laughingly punched Blair before gathering up the pictures. "You guys got alibis -- right?"

"We..." Blair hesitated, thinking of the wild goose chase he and Jim had been led on last night. A snitch of Jim's had called with a tip about the fires at Rainier. He insisted they meet on a deserted access road near the city dump. "We were waiting for a snitch who never showed up."

"In a bar...?" Henri sounded hopeful as he nodded at the young detective.

"City Dump." Blair had a sick feeling that there would be no ironclad evidence this time. No time coded videos. No impeccable alibi witness.

"Hell!" The muscular detective ran a hand over his shaved scalp and looked at the report again, this time without a smile. "Hell!"

James Ellison could hear his partner talking to Brown in the conference room. He had been on the fifth floor, after sniffing out some buttermilk doughnuts on the coffee wagon. Knowing Blair would berate him about them, he stayed at his desk, wolfing down two of the exquisite pastries. He absently tuned into the conversation down the hall, listening more to the tone than to the actual words.

"It wasn't Jim." His guide's voice -- his own name -- and the apprehensive way it was said, got Ellison's complete attention. Blair was scared. He... they were suspects in Thomas Chambers murder. And Blair, being Blair was telling the truth about their lack of an alibi. When you are on the wrong side of the law (and cops rely on crooks being too dumb to know this) the first rule is 'keep your damn mouth shut'. He popped the last of his doughnut into his mouth as he strolled out of the bullpen.

"Early in the morning to be cussing, Henri." Jim grinned as he walked into the conference room. He sensed his partner's uneasiness and pretended not to know why. "What's up?"

"Err... Jim. It seems that two guys who looked a LOT like us shot Tommy Chambers last night." Blair held out the drawings and the older man could see the eerie similarities.

"What?" Jim frowned. "These might look like us, but we were nowhere near that restaurant." He had heard about Tommy being hit, and had to admit to feeling not one twinge of sadness about it. However, it was a hell of a long stretch for anyone to think he was the trigger man. "I might not mind that the creep is dead, or even that people think I did it, but I'm insulted that anyone would think I'd do it so badly." Jim tried for blase. If he could joke about it, how could anyone think (even for an instant) that he did it.

"Yeah Jim." Henri said absently. "We all know you are much to neat to splatter Tommy's brains all over a bunch of diners."

"Yeah. If I did it, it would be," Jim grinned again as he pretended to consider, "a 'heart attack' or an 'allergic reaction'."

"Oh God! Will you guys cut it out." Blair's voice went up an octave as it got louder. "I can not believe you are joking about this. They described US! I don't care if your feelings are hurt and I don't care if you couldn't have done this because it was stupid because YOU couldn't have DONE this PERIOD!"

"Get a grip Blair." Jim seemed to dismiss his partner's worries. "They can't prove we did it -- because we didn't."

"Oh yeah, and innocent people NEVER get convicted of crimes?" Blair was still angry. "First the fires -- now this mess. And you're acting like it's nothing. Sometimes you have too much faith in the system." He was still scared too. "I know it doesn't always work."

"And here I thought you were always the optimist." Jim said blithely. "Growing up around Naomi must have made you cynical."

"Realistic," Blair kept his voice even. "Sometimes people got busted who didn't deserve it. Just because they 'looked guilty'."

"Relax Chief. Things will work out." Jim made sure his expression was filled with certainty. "We'll catch the hitters."

"Yeah Hairboy." Henri looked uncomfortable with the tense discussion. "Two funny looking guys like this should be easy to find."

Blair sat and muttered something about 'letting this go' while he banged his forehead on the table.

"Easy there." Jim took his shoulder and lifted him upright. "You'll give yourself a concussion.

"This is not a joke." Blair whispered almost soundlessly. "This is not a joke."

"Aww don't worry, Chief." Jim spoke softly, staring intently at his partner. When Blair didn't answer or smile the big detective grinned at Henri Brown, and ruffled his friend's thick curly hair. "I'm tellin' ya kid -- we're too cute to go to jail."

Blair's forehead hit the table with the first of an increasingly distraught series of thumps.

Two days before:

"It looks like him. Number Four, but he is better looking. This guy's hair was definitely dark brown and Number Four's is more of a lighter shade." Mrs. Scally had picked Blair out of the line-up, sort of. "I mean he looks more like the guy than any of the others but not quite, you know? Maybe it's the different lighting."

"Yes ma'am. Thank you." Simon tried to hide his disappointment. She was the only one who showed any doubt at all. Although they had gone out of their way to fill the line-ups with similar types, almost all of the witnesses had unerringly pointed to Jim and Blair.

As the witness was shown out, Assistant District Attorney Clark Cromwell turned on the Captain. "I want those two locked up."

"Mr. Cromwell." Simon fought to stay calm. "These people were, by their own admission, drinking that night. There is no physical evidence. The security cameras weren't working in the restaurant."

"Four people -- solid citizens -- gave a positive ID on BOTH men." The tall, blond man crossed his arms over his chest. Cromwell was a former quarterback, who was being groomed as a future political prospect. The present DA was running for mayor and had all but turned his job over to the well connected golden boy, the coming election just a technicality.

"Sir, this has to be a set up. My detectives volunteered for these line-ups. Jim Ellison is a good cop." Simon tried to make this moron understand. "The man was a highly trained operative. If you believe nothing else, believe that he wouldn't commit a murder this sloppy and stupid."

"I hope he uses that defense." Cromwell smirked and made little quote gestures in the air. "The 'I'm much too efficient a trained killer to have done this' defense. Then I can show that video of Ellison threatening Tommy, and point out his legendary temper." The ADA was almost gloating now.

"You have to see that this whole thing was rigged." Simon was angry and he forgot his resolve to stay calm. "I thought you were supposed to be a friend of law enforcement."

"This case should quiet my critics in certain," Cromwell gave Simon a pointed look, "communities. It will prove to those bleeding hearts in the press that no-one gets away with murder in my town. Even a hot-headed cop and his partner." By his tone, it was clear what he thought of Blair, and his relationship to Jim.

"Sir." Simon contemplated murder himself as he spoke through his clenched teeth. "These two men are thought of as heroes in the community. If you act too soon, and we unravel this frame, you might look kind of foolish. Jim and Blair aren't going anywhere."

"Twenty-four hours." Cromwell walked to the door with a dismissive gesture. "I'll consider letting them turn themselves in."

"Thank you, sir." Simon bit out the words as he tried to glare holes in the retreating back.

Jim laid his badge and gun on Simon's desk. It wasn't the first time, but it never got any easier. The captain looked like he was going to be sick and that unnerved the detective. It was as if Simon had given up. "We didn't do this, Sir. You know that."

"Hell, yes. I know it. But the DA is leaning on us to make an arrest." Simon looked at his two detectives. "You have a lawyer, right?"

"Yeah, we talked to someone." Jim looked at his partner. The kid was just setting there holding his service weapon and badge, studying them as if they held some kind of answer. "My dad arranged for some shark." The expensive attorney had assured them that -- if arrested -- they would be given bail within twenty-four hours. In addition, of course, they would be kept in a secure area of lock-up until then. For their own protection.

It was as if they were already convicted. The last straw was the murder weapon being found this morning. It was the twin of Jim's automatic, fished out of a sewer. The serial number was removed and it was wiped clean. All except for one perfect print on a shell casing. Jim's right index finger-print.

"Go home, Jim." Simon left the rest unspoken. Go home and wrap up your affairs. Go home and get ready to go to jail. "It might be best if you came in tomorrow with your attorney." To turn yourselves in.

"Blair." Jim didn't stop looking at his partner as he touched his shoulder. "Blair. Come on, let's go."

Blair was startled from his reverie. He looked at the service revolver in his hand. "You know, as hard as it was to get me to carry this thing... you'd think I'd be glad to get rid of it."

"Put them on Simon's desk." Jim forced a smile as he patted the tense shoulder. "We'll get them back, don't worry."

Blair stood and laid the badge case and holstered pistol carefully on the desk blotter. "I want to say... Captain." Blair used the title with great earnestness. "Thank you. For everything you've done for me, for us. Thank you."

"Sandburg." Simon recoiled from the suspiciously bright blue eyes. "Enough of the melodrama. You sound like an old movie."

"Sure Simon." The corners of the young detective's mouth quirked, as he turned on his heel and left.

Jim lingered for a moment and studied the captain's grim visage before speaking. "It's just... He was trying so hard to be a good cop."

"Yeah, I know." Simon slumped and shook his head as Jim left the office. As the detective followed his partner through the bullpen, he heard their superior officer mutter, "Some Captain. Pretty soon I'll be kicking puppies and drowning kittens."

Blair stayed silent for the ride down in the elevator. He pressed the button for the garage, but the elevator stopped on almost every floor. On four, they had to wait for the donut cart to be maneuvered on board. Jim stepped out to help, then paused and looked around, and expression of extreme concentration on his face.

"Ellison..." His hearing picked up the fragment of a voice.

"...took his badge." The other voice sounded furtive. "His and the punk's."

"I'm surprised they aren't already in lock-up. There's some guys there that'll love Super Cop's pretty boy partner."

Jim was moving before he realized it. The locker room doors were opened so hard that they both slammed back into the wall. A half dozen officers peered out of the rows of lockers. Several more gawked from the doorway of the gym.

"Jim. Come on." He felt his partner's touch on his back and it calmed him. "Let's go."

Jim backed away and let the doors swing shut. Taking several deep breaths he followed Blair back to the elevators. Behind him he could hear the men muttering.

"...crazy son of a..."

"Did you see that?"

"I think those stories about him are true."

"That super sense stuff?"

"No, that he's capable of murder."

Jim deliberately tuned the rest out as the elevator doors closed and they were delivered to the garage.

Blair headed for the shower as soon as they got to the loft. Jim turned his hearing down as he collapsed on the sofa. If Blair went in there to break down, he did not want to know about it. Jim couldn't even take comfort in the lie that he was respecting the kid's privacy. Facing his friend's pain right now was unthinkable. Not when his own anguish threatened to cripple him.

Jim threw his arm over his eyes and spiraled down into something like sleep. His senses were so jumbled that he barely heard his cell phone ring. Pawing through his pockets, he flipped it open and growled, "Ellison."

"Stressed Jim?" The robotic voice sounded like -- no it was -- an electronic voice synthesizer.

"Who is this?"

"That would spoil the game, cop," the voice crooned mechanically. "So how does it feel?"

"What?" Jim asked as he sat up.

"To be set up? To know you are going to jail, to die for something you didn't do." Jim started to stand as the voice continued. "Don't bother to try to trace this. It won't work. This number is cloned and routed through half a dozen terminals."

"You've obviously gone to a lot of trouble."

"You have no idea." There was an odd, tinny laugh. "It cost a fortune."

"To frame me?" Jim was determined to keep the man talking. He rifled through the desk drawers as he spoke, looking for Blair's tape recorder.

"To send you to jail. To bribe a guard here... a cop there. To arrange your little tryst with some very bad men once you arrive."

"That would take an awful lot of money." Jim ground out the words as he found the tape recorder. The tape was missing.

"Not counting a few incidentals, just over two and a half million dollars. You would be surprised how many cops and cons that much money will buy.

"Wouldn't it have been cheaper to just kill me?"

"But I want you to watch as your sidekick gets passed around for a few hours before they finally put him out of his misery. When you see the truly horrible things that happen to him -- because of you -- you'll be happy to die.

"Look scum." Jim fought the urge to crush the telephone in his hand. "If I sent your ass to jail, it was because you're a dirt bag."

"And afterward... I'll make sure your captain... your friends... find out you were innocent. Their pain will be so exquisite." The voice continued, oblivious to Jim's words.

"You son of a..."

"Careful of that temper, Jim. It just gets everyone into trouble." The line went dead and Jim simply stood and stared at the phone, his mind racing as he went over what he had heard.

Early on it had been clear that this thing was a frame up. However, he had suspected that it was an attempt to discredit his testimony on an upcoming case. Maybe one of Fat Tommy's lieutenants, covering a hit on the boss. On the other hand, it might just have been someone who wanted the two partners off the streets.

Now, though, it seemed to be a plot to get him and Blair behind bars for one or two days. Long enough to be tortured and killed by fellow prisoners and corrupt guards.

It was insane that someone would go to such lengths to seek revenge.

Insane? Hiring hit men and making them up to look like me and Blair. Getting an empty shell casing with my print on it. Luring us out to the city dump, so we would have no alibi.

It was twisted -- excessively complicated -- a house of cards that could have collapsed at any time.

It was insane.

It was working.

"Jim?" Blair came out of the bathroom in a cloud of herbal scented steam. "Jeez, sit down before you fall down." The younger man's face was filled with concern. Blair was wearing only flannel boxers and a towel around his neck to catch the water still dripping from his wildly corkscrewing curls.

Blair was leaner and more muscular since becoming a cop. The tension of the last few days had made eating a low priority and his face had taken on a spare angularity that made him seem even younger than usual. Ellison's mind raced with a hundred images of his guide battered, tormented, and dying, while he was forced to watch helplessly. "Get dressed!" He snarled savagely as he raced up the stairs. "NOW!"

Furiously retrieving his back-up weapon and an old, small caliber automatic he had used during his days in vice from the safe; Jim cursed at the lack of cash there. He had always kept several hundred dollars on hand, a holdover from his days in black-ops.

"Oh hell!" It was when he had hit that dog. The old mutt had run in front of the truck, and they had to take it to the vet. On New Year's Day. The cash had gone for the hip-replacement surgery Blair had guilted him into paying for. His partner had then dragged him over half the city looking for the owners.

That wasn't fair. The kid had offered to pay half and volunteered to look for the owners by himself...

Jim shook off the memory and his face became a cold mask. "You better be dressed when I get down there." He shouted as he grabbed a small box and stuffed it into his jacket pocket. Tugging on a knit watch cap he took the steps two at a time, grabbed his partner by the arm and hauled him through the small bedroom.

He could see the confusion and frustration in the kid's face as he struggled to run and pull on his leather jacket at the same time. Jim gestured for silence and led him down the fire escape. In the cold, dimly lit alley behind 852 Prospect, Jim paused and listened before starting toward the truck. Cars were coming and the sound of one motor was familiar.

"This way." Jim circled around the next two buildings, staying in the alley. "It's Simon." Jim edged forward and pointed toward the front entrance of their building, as several unmarked cars pulled up.

Simon and Megan got out of the first car, and it didn't take a Sentinel to see they were both angry. Simon barked orders to several uniforms to cover the back exits and commanded Megan to take Blair into custody. He would cuff Ellison himself.

"They should be allowed to turn themselves in as planned." Megan's tone was controlled but furious.

That..." Simon's voice dropped to a whisper. "...bastard Cromwell, changed his mind. Said that they had to be arrested tonight. I'm hoping Jim will take it better if we..." The captain left the rest unspoken as he shrugged.

Cromwell, Jim thought angrily. The new assistant DA had been 'on their case' -- in more ways than one -- since this started.

Was he just a political opportunist, or was he somehow in on the plot.

Am I letting panic and paranoia draw me into criminal behavior? Am I dragging the kid down with me?

After that phone call... can I risk doing anything else.

Jim looked at his confused friend, standing beside him as always, and noticed the damp hair. He pulled off his own olive colored wool hat and tugged it down over Blair's ears. "Tuck your hair inside and pull up your collar." Then he yanked the hood of his own jacket forward and led his partner into the rainy twilight.

Blair Sandburg hated being wet. He hated running and hiding, and being cold. He hated it when his partner -- his Sentinel -- did things like this and refused to talk about it.

Fleeing into an alley after a narrow escape from a squad car, Jim pushed him between two dumpsters. Blair tried to catch his breath as Jim watched for the police. "We have to get out of Cascade," Jim whispered as he sank back against the wall.

"For the hundredth time Jim, what's going on?"

"It hasn't been a hundred times, Chief," the weary detective said absently. "You've asked that question, twenty times. Tops."

"That is 'so' not funny." Blair resisted the urge to grab his companion and shake him. Mostly because it would be like shaking an oak tree, but also because the man seemed to be afraid. And anything that would scare Jim Ellison this badly... well, Blair wasn't completely sure he wanted to know about it.

They had crossed Cascade, skirting past the streets and staying in the shadows. Now the watery, gray sunrise was showing through the overcast and they were -- according to Jim -- much too visible.

"Come on. We have to get off the streets before someone spots us." Jim took his arm and stood up, bringing Blair with him. "We're almost there."

"Maybe I should get some roller-skates," the younger man grumbled testily. "Then you could just drag me behind you where ever you went."

"Don't be ridiculous." Jim took off down the back street with his partner in tow. "The pavement around here... much too rough to roller skate on." The exposed paving stones in the old street were slippery and slick with the thick morning mist and other things Blair would rather not think of. His sneakers could barely find traction on the black, greasy looking surface.

A few blocks later, they ducked down a stairwell and into the back door of a ramshackle shop. The basement room was filled with dust and assorted piles of junk. Old TVs, cameras, and typewriters were stacked everywhere, competing for space with CD players, laptop computers and car stereos.

"Ellison. You can't come in here." A large, bald man hustled toward them, a grim expression on his face. "You 'n him are all over the news. I don't need this much heat comin' down on me."

"Shut up Harry." Jim closed the door between the storeroom and the shop. "We need ID and some other stuff. Wheels -- something clean -- and some clothes, hunting gear maybe."

"Ellison. I can't..."

"Harry. If I go to jail, I won't need a snitch. Then, I'll have no reason to keep quiet about certain things."

"ID like you guys need costs a lot." Harry looked around nervously, as if expecting SWAT to burst through the door at any moment.

Jim took a small velvet covered box out of his coat pocket. "This should cover it," he growled as he snapped it open. "I'll need everything on my list by three this afternoon.

Blair looked in amazement at the glittering diamond ring nestled in a tiny pillow of white velvet. An engagement ring, about two carets of glittering blue-white square cut stone.

"Wait here." Harry trotted into his shop, closing the door behind him. Jim listened for a few minutes before sitting down, apparently satisfied.

"Jim? Where did that rock come from?" Blair perched on the edge of the table as he asked the question. "Was it Caroline's?"

Jim flashed a wry grin. "No. Caroline was never one to give back a gift."


"So what?"

"So who?" Blair leaned forward, happy to be thinking about anything else for a few minutes. "Who did you buy that rock for?"

Jim frowned at him, trying to look forbidding. As usual, it didn't work. The glare that could send shivers up the spines of the most hardened criminals did not faze Blair. "Lila."

Blair sat back and shut up. Lila? Jim had told him he loved her, but he had not suspected this. Jim was going to ask the beautiful and mysterious woman to marry him. Before he found out that she was an assassin. Blair remembered watching in horror as she ran into the line of fire to help the detective bring down a sniper. He also remembered the feeling of helplessness as a shattered Jim cradled her lifeless body. "I'm sorry, man."

"I don't know what I kept it for."

"Because you loved her." Blair smiled gently as he studied the big man. "You try to act like this cold blooded, tough guy, but you're more sentimental than I am."

Pain and worry filled light blue eyes as Jim studied him. After a long interval his expression went hard and unemotional. "Harry's coming back. Get ready to go."

Simon Banks muttered to himself as he went through Ellison and Sandburg's case files one more time. The facts were starting to come together but it was taking too damn long. There was a knock on the door and he barked, "Enter!" without even looking up.

Megan Connor sauntered in and sprawled full-length on the sofa. Simon didn't have the heart to yell at her. Joel followed her inside, closed the door and sat wearily in the chair across from Simon. The former bomb squad captain looked tired and troubled as he spoke. "Tech called. They found that the video camera at the restaurant was deliberately disabled. By someone who knew what they were doing."

"And Tommy..." Simon said thoughtfully, "...went to dinner without his cadre of bodyguards and hangers-on. Why? Because he was trying to impress a new woman?"

"It makes the hit seem planned," Megan agreed. "Rather than a crime committed in the heat of anger, like that twit of a DA is saying."

"One more thing, Simon. Homicide sent this up. St. John 'Sinjin' Shad-Davies." Taggart tossed the file folder he'd brought in onto the desk. "He was a comparatively well known movie make-up artist from Vancouver. He was found in the trunk of his car at the airport with a bullet in the back of his head."

"Anyone know what he was doing in Cascade?"

Joel shook his head. "No. He told his partner it was a top secret job... that he'd be out of town for two days."

"We think maybe he was brought here, under some pretense, to transform Tommy's killers into reasonable facsimiles of Jim and Blair?" Megan offered

"I know," Joel said patiently. "It sounds crazy."

"Maybe not." Simon muttered as he flipped though the other files in front of him. He opened one and turned it for Joel to see. "Jim and Blair are scheduled to testify against several high profile defendants."

"Including that little freak, Garret Kincaid, at his re-trial." Joel growled angrily.

"And any case that relied on Jim or Blair's testimony would be as good as dismissed." Simon nodded, a satisfied expression on his face. "It's a hell of a good motive."

"I'm gonna go find out how that make-up guy got to Cascade." Getting up to leave, Joel seemed happier than when he'd sat down. Simon thought it was just relief at having something to do and realized that he too felt a little better.

"Things are coming together." Simon waited for Joel to close the door before adding. "But they have to come together before it's too late."

"You think someone might be after Jim and Blair?" Megan sat up and stretched. "Besides their fellow officers, I mean?"

"Looks that way. You know, now more than ever, I HATE that Sentinel stuff." Simon's deep voice rumbled in annoyance. "It has to be what's driving Ellison. Why the hell else would he have run away? He and Blair would have spent one -- maybe two -- nights in secure, isolated cells before making bail. They would have been infinitely safer there than on the streets."

"There are already news stories about the 'killer cop' and the 'deadly detective'." Megan's tone was harsh.

"If a patrol officer confronts them, I wonder how Jim will react? As a police officer, or as a Sentinel. If someone threatens the kid, I'm scared of what he might do." Only to Megan could he voice the worst of his fears. Simon was afraid that time was running out. "Mostly I'm scared that Jim and Blair will be killed before we can sort out the reason behind this damn frame."

Megan stood up. "I'm going to do a national search for felons who fit Jim and Blair's general description. Those hitter's had to come from somewhere."

Simon nodded, picked up the files and started reading through them, one more time.

"Oh hell!" Jim rolled away from the parapet that overlooked Harry's shop. He wasn't surprised. How could he be, when he himself had capitalized on Harry's cowardice and greed in the past? Sandburg was on the fire escape, white around the lips and clutching the rusty railing as he peered up at Jim. "There are cops all over the place." Jim whispered as he scuttled down the steep roof, climbed over the edge and dropped to the fire escape. "They're setting a trap for us."

"What now?" Blair's apprehensive voice followed him as he scrambled down the steep, creaking metal stairs.

"Now we run." Jim paused only long enough for Blair to catch up, then he raced toward the worst section of Cascade.

The cellar of the condemned building was chilly and damp, but it was the safest place Jim could think of to hide. The torn fragment of foam rubber padding was moist and smelly, but Jim pushed it into a recessed storage area and covered it with several sheets of construction plastic. Wearily he slid down the wall and patted the space next to him. "Sit, Chief."

"Oh man, I'm freaking out." Now that he could finally rest, the younger man paced nervously, as if he expected to be pounced on at any moment. "I still can't believe it. They were going to take us in. Simon... Megan... they are actually hunting us."

"Sit, before you fall down." Jim spoke quietly and -- as sometimes happened -- their roles were reversed. The guide let his friend calm him and persuade him to relax. "We're safe here for tonight."

Blair plopped down and leaned back against the thin foam and crackling plastic, sighing as if it were his new Lazy-boy. "It's official. Being on the run sucks."

Jim didn't smile. They had, sometimes literally, been on the run for the last twenty-four hours. And it did suck. "I'm going to call Steven. I think we can get you to Canada on his boat."

"Me?" Blair sat up straight. "What about you?"

"I'll lay a false trail." Jim thought fast, knowing that Blair would resist. "Once in Vancouver, Steven can give you some cash to spread around. Get you to Mexico. I'll meet you there."

"We go together, or not at all."

"In case you haven't noticed, we're kind of memorable as a team." Jim's tone was more sarcastic than he meant it to be. "You can dye your hair, grow out your beard. You speak Spanish. No one will be looking for you..."

"Because they'll already have you? Right?" Blair finished furiously, glaring at his partner. "I thought we were past this crap."


"The 'let's protect the kid' crap. The 'Sandburg can't play with the big boys' crap."

"You wouldn't last five minutes in prison." Jim's tone was unsparing because he had to make Blair understand.

"Whereas the 'Cop of the Year' would thrive in the warm, friendly environment of the local prison." There was a wealth of hurt and anger in his friend's voice. "Don't you think I know what you're doing? Don't you think I see? You want me safe, so you can turn yourself in. It's killing you... hiding from the law... from Simon."

"Damn it, Blair! The creep told me. He's going to use you to get even with me."

"What?" Blair's voice went up several octaves as he rounded on the angry Jim.

"The person behind this called me, used an electric voice scrambler." Jim slumped back against the wall with an air of resignation. "He... they told me that it was all set up -- cops -- guards -- prisoners -- all bought, and paid for. I was going to be forced to watch... they were going to hurt you, then kill us both."

"Jim?" Blair sounded rather ill. "If I go, you have to come with me. Whoever's doing this wants you dead and is willing to go to a lot of trouble to arrange it."

"Me!" Jim said roughly as he tapped his own chest. "You can still get away. You're only wanted as an accessory. If they have me..."

"Together," Blair whispered the word in a fierce low voice. "Or not at all."

Jim knew when he was beaten. If he tried to sneak away, Blair would simply follow him. Into jail. Into hell itself if he had to. The man he had accused of betraying him -- on more than one occasion -- was willingly to die with him. He wanted to ask his partner what he'd ever done to deserve this kind of loyalty.

Instead, he grumbled, "for a genius, you sure do some stupid crap sometimes." He extended one long arm and with his palm, pushed his friend's head back. "Get some sleep. We have hours before nightfall."

"Jim," Blair sat back up, "we have to figure this thing out. There's a theory... let me think... what if we..."

"Think later, sleep now." Jim urged him back, but as soon as his head hit the padding, he popped up again.

"...whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the solution." Blair squirmed, trying to get comfortable on the thin foam pad Jim had found. The plastic crumbled and stuck to his jacket. "I wonder how many spiders are in this basement?"

"What the hell are you talking about Chief?" Jim looked over at him and frowned. He had been in an odd, fatalistic mood since he'd crawled into this cellar and told Blair, at last, why they were on the run.

Meanwhile, Blair had been fighting sleep, trying to come up with some sort of solution. "We aren't guilty. Therefore somebody has set up an incredibly elaborate and expensive frame. They don't just want us dead. They want us to suffer, Simon too, right? Simon has to suffer too... after we're dead?" He had a fragment of an idea kicking around his head. "If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the solution."

"Didn't Mr. Spock say that?"

"Pay attention, Jim." Blair yawned and continued. "We can't prove it's a frame, but maybe if we give the... whoever it is... what they want..."

"Let them stick us in jail to be killed, you mean?"

"Over my dead body." Blair yawned again and huddled under the scant warmth of his jacket.

"You took the words right out of my mouth." Jim growled and frowned forbiddingly.

"Exactly." Blair's eyelids closed and he let exhaustion overtake him. "Knew you'd catch on..."

When the restless young man finally surrendered to sleep, Jim cast out a net of sensory awareness and let his eyes drift shut. Blair's close proximity made it easy to drowse and still monitor their surroundings. He was at a loss to figure a way out of this. The law was surely keeping an eye on Steven and his father. By now Blair and his photos were all over the local new shows and it was going to be tough getting out of town.

They could get to the mountains and disappear into the forest. You could hike clear to Canada, without ever leaving the shelter of the timberland. But it was winter. And they had no supplies, or even proper coats and boots. Alone, Jim might chance it, but not with his cold-blooded guide in tow. The kid didn't even have his hideous Fargo hat.

It might be possible to steal a car. Jim could hide while Blair drove. With his hair hidden, and sunglasses on, he wouldn't be recognized.

Then there was money. They would need some money. Blair picked a hell of a time to stop carrying that hundred dollar bill. They would get out of town and find a place to hole up and Jim could call Sally and have his dad send him some cash and... he hated the whole idea.

James Ellison did not run away!

He did not hide in the woods or abandoned buildings. He tracked down the bad guys and busted them. The Sentinel did not run away from his tribe. Every instinct screamed at him to fight -- to stay and hunt down the person behind this.

But how?

His mind kept returning to the imaginative suggestions Blair had been prattling about as he drifted off. Some of his ideas were sort of crazy, but maybe 'crazy' was the answer to an insane situation.

Blair woke with a jolt, and sat up. "Jim! Is it dark?"


With a huge yawn, the weary young man burrowed back under his coat. "Th'n I'm gonnasleep some more."

"OK." Jim grinned and closed his eyes.

"We... gonna ~yawn~ do... that thin' I'sed?" Blair's words slurred drunkenly as sleep overtook him.

"Why not Chief." Jim let the curly head rest against his shoulder for a moment before he carefully edged away and stood up. Resolve filled him and he looked around. "Why not. It sure beats the hell out of running away."

"Come on." Jim shook Blair awake after what seemed a few seconds. "We're gonna do what you said."

Blair shook his head and tried to make sense of what Jim was saying. "What did I say?" The basement was as dark as the bottom of a well, and he blinked his eyes to make sure they were open.

"You know 'If you eliminate the impossible, something... something... about doing what's left... even if it is kinda improbable." Jim sounded as if he expected him to understand this. "That Mr. Spock thing."

Memory returned gradually and Blair looked confused. "Sherlock Holmes?"

"Flattered, Chief, but you thought of it."

"I thought of what?"

"The plan," Jim replied as if it explained everything. He opened the door and the pale beam of a streetlight surrounded him.

Blair scrubbed at his eyes with his fists and tried again. "What plan are you talking about?"

"Your plan to trap the creep who's doing this to us." Jim grinned his rare wide grin and tipped his head. "Come on. We're going to go meet Megan."

"But I did not suggest..."

"I know. It's kinda nuts, but I think this situation calls for that."

"Jim... sleep deprivation makes people do and say things that..."

"I'll fill you in on the details on the way." Jim gestured impatiently and headed out the door. "And put your coat on."

Blair followed his friend into the misty darkness, and as they walked he got a cursory, whispered explanation of The Plan. They skirted the streets and kept to the alleys and walkways between buildings. Jim motioned for him to stop as he spied Megan's car. Instinctively Blair grounded his sentinel with a light touch as he cast a sensory net over the area. When he was satisfied that she was alone, Jim led the way out of the shadows.

"Jaysus, Ellison." The tall woman put her hands on her hips and tossed her hair back. "Do you have any idea of the trouble you've caused?"

"I thought I explained it." Jim was almost standing at attention, his every sense on alert. "Didn't Simon tell you?"

"He told me everything." She grumbled and shook her head. "Joel and IA are investigating the guards and officers at the jail as we speak. You know... you could come with me right now. I'd make sure you and Sandy were safe."

"With a murder rap hanging over us?" Jim snapped in annoyance.

"Jim, are you sure?" Blair stepped forward and joined the conversation. "Maybe it..."

"Damn it, Chief. I would rather be dead than go to prison. I almost lost it at Starkville, and I was just undercover there."

Blair remembered how haunted Jim had been after his time at Starkville Prison. He regretted the one time he pressed Jim to talk about it. "I lay in my locked cell and listened to a kid on the next cell block being gang raped. I was helpless. The misery in that place -- the smells -- the sounds. Oh God, Chief. Is that what you want to hear about?"

"I think we should try this." Shrugging off the memory, Blair touched Jim's tense shoulder and smiled. "I know I would hate prison."

"Bloody madmen." Megan got a large duffel out of her car and handed it to Jim. "And I include our Captain in that statement."

"Did you get everything I asked for?" Jim knelt and unzipped the canvas bag.

"Oh, it's all in there," Megan sighed as she shook her head. "Our friend was in town and came through. I just can't believe you're doing this."

"However improbable, Megan," Jim muttered.

"What?" Megan looked at both men. "Sandy? You want to translate?"

"Whatever remains, however improbable, must be the solution."

"You're quoting Nero Wolfe?" Megan asked incredulously.

"Mr. Spock..." Jim started.

"Sherlock Holmes," Blair said at the same time

Muttering about God looking out for mad men, Megan climbed into her car and left.

"Are you sure? I mean you talked to Simon? You told him?" Wide-awake now, Blair sidestepped nervously, looking around the alley they were hiding in.

"Megan said he had everything under control." It was over two hours since Megan had left and everything was ready. Jim zipped up his parka and tried to look confident as he stashed his back-up piece in the pocket. "Everything will work out. We have to believe that."

"If it doesn't..." Blair hesitated before finishing in a rush. "Don't let them use me to make you, I mean, nuts or anything, OK?"

Jim paused and deciphered what his friend had just said before he answered evenly. "They will never touch us. We aren't going to jail, no matter what happens."

"That's reassuring." Blair tried to grin and failed miserably.

"Come on, Chief." Both hands of Jim's watch moved to twelve. "It's time to go."

Simon Banks waited for Jim and Blair at the appointed spot, Megan at his side. The prospect of what was to come almost made him ill. Hand selected members of SWAT were hidden in windows along the street and Simon could hear their hushed whispers in his ear piece.

A little past midnight, he saw two figures at the end of the street. The two silhouettes were unmistakable as they approached, stepping to the center of the deserted street.

Simon waited until they were half way up the street, then drew his weapon. "Put your hands up. You are both under arrest." He was vaguely aware of Megan taking a shooting stance next to him.

The sudden flare of spotlights made Jim shield his eyes. Then he drew his gun. "Nice conduct, sir. We come to you for help and you do this."

"I'm taking you both in, now put down your weapons and surrender." The captain's deep voice echoed of the buildings around them." Simon framed it as an order, as if hoping they would obey this one last time.

Blair stepped forward. "Simon... Megan... You know we aren't guilty."

"Sir, you can't do it like this." Simon was shocked that Rafe had joined them. Word of the two detective's surrender had spread like wildfire. The press had arrived on cue and things were going too fast.

Henri was here, too, and was understandably upset. "It's Jim and Blair, Boss."

"Now listen-up." Simon had to get the two men away from here before something disastrous happened. "Both of you. You go help the uniforms with the press and stay out of this." Both men seemed about to argue until he raised his voice. "Unless you are ready to turn in your badges right now you WILL obey my ORDER!" The two detectives gave him fierce scowls before they stalked away furiously.

Looking back toward the fugitives, he saw Jim grin and say something to Blair. The kid turned to his friend and the warmth of his smile astounded Simon. Then he took his place at his partner's side.

"We aren't going to jail, Simon." Jim raised the revolver and pointed it in his Captain's general direction. Blair followed suit, the tiny automatic almost hidden in his hand.

"We are taking our shot." Several voices rode a wave of static into his ear piece. The SWAT teams rifles cracked above him as he felt his own weapon recoil. He could see the explosions of red burst from the men's chests as they reeled backwards and fell to the street.

Megan fired three times before she lowered her arms. "Oh. Sandy..." Her voice cracked and the captain was reminded of another time and place.

There were screams and curses from the barricades. Rafe's hoarse voice could be heard shouting for medics.

"Targets are down." The SWAT leader reported.

Blair lay motionless, but Jim shifted once. The big detective reached for his friend and, finding him, moved no more.

Stunned silence reigned on the street for a long moment. Black garbed and armored SWAT officers approached the downed men and kicked aside the fallen weapons. The leader looked at Simon and grimly shook his head.

More police cars arrived and Joel got out of one. He pushed past a shocked Henri and stood frozen at the sight of Jim and Blair lying in an ever expanding pool of blood. "Oh... God have mercy." Then he turned his horrified gaze toward Simon. "How could you?"

"They gave me no other choice." Simon seemed to force the words past the lump in his throat until they became a shout. "They gave me no other choice!"

"OH BRAVO!" Everyone turned to see a shadowy form step out of a deeply recessed doorway. "Well done, Captain Banks."

"Who are you?"

"I'm hurt Captain... detectives... and after I sent you all those lovely watches too." As he approached they could see his almost skeletal hands gesturing grandly. Sunken eyes glittering with madness, he crowed, "How does it feel?"

"What do you mean?" Megan finally asked.

"How did it feel to gun down two innocent men. Ellison and Sandburg didn't kill Thomas Chambers. Carl Ross and Billy Trent, two hitmen from St. Louis did."

"Dan Freeman!" Simon bit back a very vulgar curse as he finally recognized the man. "What the hell are you talking about? A half dozen witnesses identified them."

"I had an expert make-up man flown in. You'll see -- when you bring Carl and Billy in -- that there was already quite a resemblance." Freeman looked around, his shadowed eyes burning in dazzling lights. Playing to the audience, he gestured magisterially. "This is my statement. I want the world to know what I did."

"Why did you do it?" Megan advanced on the frail man, her handcuffs in her hand.

"Ellison lost his temper. He lost his temper over a stupid traffic incident... and I ended up going to prison. TO HELL!" The man's voice rose to a howl and then fell to a whimper as he started rocking back and forth. "To hell... I lost everything because of him. Right before I got parole I found out that I was terminally ill, I had a brain tumor. And then... then, in a really sick cosmic joke, I found out that a computer relay that I invented was purchased for TEN MILLION DOLLARS! TEN MILLION DOLLARS!"

Rafe came over the barricade and headed for Freeman with tears in his eyes. "You should still be locked up, you crazy bastard. You endangered a whole city block, blew Jim's cover..." Simon caught the angry detective before he could touch the deranged man.

"He ruined my life," Freeman whined. "Ellison deserved to suffer... to see what it was like to lose everything. Just like you deserve to suffer, Captain. So? How does it feel?"

Henri and Joel joined their Captain. The rage pouring off the men was palpable.

"Cap. Are we just gonna stand here and let this murdering freak talk?" Henri growled angrily, starting forward.

"You are going to stand right there." Simon almost purred as he pinned his detectives with a furious stare. "And shut up!"

"What if they had been arrested, Dan?" Megan stepped between the officers and the object of their wrath.

"You don't need those cuffs. I know I'm under arrest. I know my rights."

"So... what would you have done if we had arrested them?" Megan asked, not unkindly.

"It was all arranged. I kind of like this way better, but it would have worked either way. I fixed it so the regular guards at the jail 'won' tickets to the playoff game. Of course 'my' officers -- Samples and Neil -- volunteered to fill in. Pity they won't get to spend the four hundred thousand each that I used to purchase them."

"Is that all?" Simon asked the man in a patient voice.

"Except for the money I paid to the families of the convicts. The ones who were going to 'do' Sandburg for me." Dan Freeman paused for a moment, then continued. "And the half-million I promised Assistant District Attorney Cromwell on the condition he lock them up on schedule."

"THAT'S IT!" Simon's booming voice echoed from the buildings as a grin split his face. "Did you get that, Ms. Hawthorne?"

"Every word." The blond woman appeared to be reeling in shock, and looked at the captain as if he where were insane. "Captain Banks? Ah... would you care to comment?"

"Jeez, Cap." Henri suddenly looked worried. "Maybe you should sit down."

"We did it!" Megan -- it can only be described as squealed -- before she launched herself at the Captain. "Bloody perfect scheme."

The other officers' jaws dropped and they exchanged looks of confusion.

Simon gave Megan a brief one-armed hug then cleared his throat and shouted. "Are you two gonna lay out there all night?"

The smaller figure tried to sit up and fell back down when his hand slipped in the 'blood' covering the concrete. Jim raised himself on his hands and got to his feet, weaving a little. He took Blair's hand and helped him to his feet. Together the two walked forward.

"NO!" Freeman struggled to pull a gun out of his pocket. Ten handguns and several SWAT rifles appearing inches from his face, as if by magic, changed his mind. He was cuffed and read his rights by a rather embarrassed looking Simon.

Jim looked at the man and felt a cold fury start to well up inside him. Fury at what this man threatened to do. Fury about who he intended to hurt. The afflicted man cringed back against the Captain as he saw his own death in the icy blue stare.

"No, Jim." Blair almost whispered from behind him. "Look at him. What could you do that would be worse than that?"

"Yeah Chief." Jim's expression slowly turned to one of pity.

Blair studied the figure with no emotion at all in his eyes. "Somebody want to take this guy to jail or the hospital or something?" Simon gestured to two patrol officers who came forward and led Freeman away to the ambulance that had just arrived -- with much more care than he deserved.

"J...Jim." Joel blinked away the tears that blinded him as he caught Blair in a brief fierce hug. "Blair, thank God you're OK."

"Somebody better explain this before I start shooting." Rafe looked more annoyed than dangerous.

"Jim... Hairboy, sorry if this is a stupid question, but why aren't you dead. I saw those bullets hit."

"We'll explain everything, but can we get some blankets? I'm all wet and... sticky."

"Oh, it was a gorgeous death scene." Megan beamed as she handed them blankets. "All that extra blood splattering everywhere made a real difference. That was a great plan you came up with, Sandy."

"I should have known." Rafe gave up trying to look serious. "It was all some machination of Sandburg's."

"Ah... guys. I... ah... didn't really think this would work." Blair said in a very quiet voice.

"What are you talking about, Sandburg?" Simon grumbled and took out a cigar. "This whole thing was your idea."

Blair shrugged. "I think I must have been talking in my sleep, because I don't remember saying anything about faking our deaths. I mean it's... nuts! I mean... to... to think that 'The Villain' would just show up and confess?"

"That's what happened, Chief," Jim whispered. "We figured out who the dirty cops were and leaked the story about Simon arresting us. Wendy helped spread the word to the press.

But... Jim, when you told me about the plan, the plan you say I came up with, I thought they'd... like... haul us to the morgue... hide us out in a couple of nice, comfy drawers... until they caught the people behind this." Sandburg's hands were flapping a mile a minute. "I never dreamed that Freeman was behind this or that he would turn up to rub Simon's nose in it."

"Hairboy dreamed up a solution?" Henri thumped Blair on the back and made him stagger. "That is so cool."

"That's not what I said..." Blair started, then shook his head and gave up.

"You said that when everything is impossible, whatever remains -- no matter how goofy -- has to work." Jim paraphrased with a proud grin.

"No I didn't!" Blair frowned and sighed. "That doesn't even make sense."

"You said..."

"I said... that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the solution." Blair spoke so fast the words blurred together.

"Ellison!" Simon's very loud voice got a lot louder. "You mean you risked your lives -- and more importantly -- MY JOB, on some idea Sandburg got from Batman?"

"I think that's Star Trek, sir." Jim replied in a calm voice.

"IT"S SHERLOCK HOLMES!" Blair grabbed his hair, which was soaked with fake blood, and seemed to be considering tearing it out. "And that's not even an exact quote. I can not believe you based this whole freakin' insane plan on it."

"But it was your idea." Jim looked injured.

"I woke up and you told me it was all arranged." Blair bristled with indignation. "I DIDN'T EVEN REMEMBER WHAT I SAID!"

"IT WORKED!" Jim shouted back as he stood nose-to-nose with his partner.

The two men stood and glared at each other for a long moment before they realised that they were the only ones talking. The silence was broken by a deep 'huh-huh-huh' from Simon.

An infectious giggle escaped Megan, while Henri and Rafe were fighting not to laugh at the ridiculous argument.

Joel grinned and heaved a mighty sigh. "It is so good to hear you two yelling at each other. I would have missed that."

Blair struggled to keep the corners of his tightly closed lips turned down, but a rude sounding snort escaped through his nose. That set Jim off and he started to chuckle as he wiped some red liquid off his chin. "This fake blood smells funny.

"I'll have you know that Vince Deal gave us his entire stock." Simon answered in a self-satisfied tone. "It's his personal recipe for cold weather shoots, corn syrup and food color, thinned with a little vodka."

Blair licked a viscous droplet on his lip and shuddered. "Not bad."

"He also came up with those extra strength explosive squibs on short notice." Megan grinned, "Good old Vince. My hero."

"I was grateful for the body armor when those things started to pop." Jim looked at the ragged, gaping holes ripped into the shell of his jacket, now generously ejecting white, downy feathers.

"Body armor?" Rafe lifted the edge of Blair's jacket, grimacing at the gooey, sticky leather as he studied the state of the art bulletproof vest underneath.

"In case some cowboy showed up with real bullets in his gun." Simon looked pointedly at Rafe and his partner, Henri.

Henri looked insulted. "Hey, guys. We probably wouldn't have shot you."

"Can we go home?" Blair had wrapped his blanket into a cocoon and his misery filled voice rose from the depths. "Or to the station? Anywhere with a shower?"

"Sure, come on, son." Joel gave the smaller man's shoulders a comforting squeeze as he steered him toward his car. "You can ride in my car."

Jim stood patiently and watched the two men walk away, an indulgent grin making his eyes sparkle. The others waited and sure enough, Joel turned his head and called back. "You can come too, Jim. I have plastic seat covers."

"Gee, thanks Joel." Followed by the laughter of his friends, Jim went to the car, for once not even seeing the crush of reporters and cameramen as they tried to get the story. Photos of his smiling, dirty (yet still, very photogenic) face would grace the front pages of several newspapers and at least one magazine.

Simon gave the gathered media a brief statement. He told them there would be a press conference tomorrow morning, where he and the District Attorney, and the Chief of Police would explain everything.

As soon as they all got their stories straight.

It was going to be a LONG night.


Special thanks to Mimi, my technical advisor.