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.

Skip Commercial