Disclaimer: You know the drill: They don't belong to me, probably never will. They belong to PetFly and Paramount, and in many ways, the fans that refuse to let them go!

Thanks once again to Carol for Beta'ing my work for me.

Special Note: I can't recall which one of the many TSFF writers out there was the first to give Detective Rafe a first name, but I liked it and have decided to use it. To whomever you are...Thank you. I've always liked the name Brian.

Spoilers: None that I can think of, but this continues the story of Alicia Andreson who first appeared in Land of Nye, (and the subsequent sequel Nye Until Dark) so that means that Blair's a cop and this is set a year, maybe more, after the events that took place in TSbyBS.

Feedback: Oh yes! Please! I love feed back. I live for feedback!

 

 

Danger Is Nye

Suisan "Sue" R.

Alicia sighed as she pulled into the small parking area. Five days. A very long five days, spent in the desert country around Las Vegas, and she was feeling very worn out. At least the phone calls back to Cascade, touching base with Bernie and Blair had made the trip somewhat manageable. But her arrival back 'home' had left a bitter taste in her mouth.

She'd been looking forward to some serious 'down' time, catching up on her sleep, but Bernie's arrival at the airfield had crushed all those hopes.

~ Two Hours Earlier ~

Exiting the hangar, she heard her name being called and turned to find the person approaching her.

"Alicia!"

"Bernie? What the devil?" She dropped her flight bag and embraced the woman. "You didn't have to meet me, I did bring the car this time." Looking in the older woman's amber eyes, barely visible in the sodium lights, she saw something. "Bernice?"

"Al, I'm sorry. I just found out myself, or I would've have warned you." Bernie held on to her smaller friend's shoulders.

She shrugged off the embrace. "Warned me about what?"

"He's coming in earlier than we expected. He'll be here by Wednesday afternoon."

Anger coursed through her body, transforming her voice into a low growl. "Shit! Damn! God Damn him!" Snatching up her flight bag, she strode purposely towards her car, leaving Bernie behind.

~ Present ~

Shutting off her car's engine, the anger having been defused by the long drive back to Cascade, she hauled her weary body out of the driver's seat and grabbed her duffel bag from the cargo space. Slamming the hatch back down, she trudged into the building that was now her home.

Knowing that she'd arrive back in Cascade in the early morning hours, she had neglected to completely change her clothing. After all, who would be up and about at three am on a Sunday? Taking the lift to the second floor, she opened the door to her apartment and let herself in. Dropping her bag to the floor, she made for the kitchen, looking for anything that she might have left in there that had caffeine in it. Her search of the fridge was rewarded with a bottle of ice tea that was tucked behind a pitcher of water. Leaning against the counter, sipping her tea, she realized that something was wrong. Saint Germaine hadn't come out of his room to greet her. Placing her bottle on the counter, she walked through the apartment softly calling and whistling for the kitten. He didn't respond. Prowling back to the living room, she found a note on the top of her computer:

Alicia,

Don't be alarmed when you come in on Sunday and you can't find little Gee. He's been spending a lot of time with Jim and me upstairs. In fact, that is where he is right now. I left him there with Jim when I came down here to leave the note. I'll look for you later, to return Gee to your care and drop off your key.

Blair

Reading the note, Alicia was relieved and confused. "Gee? Spending time with Jim? Blair, I could see, but Jim? I didn't think that Gee was all that fond of him." Shrugging out of her camouflage shirt, she walked into her bedroom and collapsed on the bed before she could shuck the rest of her 'uniform.'


Jim sat up in his bed, wondering what had woken him from a sound sleep. From below, he heard the sound of something being dropped to the floor and smiled. 'Alicia must have just gotten home.' He lay back on the mattress, listening to the woman move around in her apartment along with the one sided conversation she was having. Looking down towards the foot of his bed, he spotted Saint Gee curled up on the dark blue comforter. Filtering out the sounds coming from the kitten's owner, and focusing on Blair's heartbeat and breathing, he drifted back to sleep.

Blair was surprised that he had managed to wake up before Jim, but took advantage of the situation to grab a quick shower before coaxing Saint Gee to following him out of the loft and back down to his home. It was just after six am as he used the key that Alicia had entrusted to him and opened the door to her apartment.

He nearly tripped over the olive drab duffel bag that lay on the floor just inside the door, only catching himself by bringing his foot forward. Hard. Saint Gee streaked past him into the apartment and down the hall. Blair wasn't sure exactly what happened next, but he did recall moving. Fast. Dropping low, he ducked behind a wall that would remove himself from Alicia's line of fire.

She wasn't even aware of what had pulled her from sleep, but she slid her hand under her pillow and rolled out of bed in one smooth motion. Engaging the laser sight on her Glock 29, she swung out into the hallway that would lead to the living area. Targeting by sound alone, she moved the sight along the walls, seeking her target... There! By the door! Movement!

Alicia's heart thudded in her chest as she heard the familiar voice call out to her. "Alicia! It's Blair!"

"Blair? Oh, dear God!" Her voice sounded confused, disoriented. The laser sight that had been tracking him abruptly faded from view.

Dropping her right hand, keeping the gun handy but no longer 'at ready' she walked into the living area cautiously. The barely rising sun dimly lighted the room. Approaching the corner, she jumped at the soft voice wafting up to her from near her knees.

"A little jumpy this morning?"

Spinning on her heel, she dropped to her knees, placing the weapon on the floor. "Blair! I'm so sorry! I wasn't expecting anyone..."

Getting to his feet and holding out a hand to assist her to her own feet, he said, "That's all right, Alicia. I didn't even realize you were home until I tripped over your bag." He pointed in the general direction of the door.

Walking quietly over to the offending object, she kicked it against the wall, moving it out of the way. Grimacing sheepishly, she flipped on the overhead lights and turned back to him. "I usually don't set traps, I was just too tired to think clearly."

Bending over to retrieve her gun, Blair walked over to her, handing the Glock back. "No harm done. But I thought you weren't due in until this evening?"

She raked her left hand through her hair. "Change of plans." Looking down at what she was wearing, she swore. "Crap! I need to change clothes." She headed down the hall to her bedroom, calling out over her shoulder, "Stay for a few minutes, will you, Blair?"

"Yeah, sure." He walked over to the couch and sat down, only to be joined by Saint Gee. "And why didn't you tell her I was friendly, Gee?" The only response he got was a loud purring as the kitten settled onto his lap. Alicia's last comments had caused Blair to think. She had been dressed in mottled tan and brown camouflage pants and a light tan tee shirt, her dark blond hair mused from sleep. Not what one would call 'normal' sleepwear.

"Thanks for watching him for me. I missed waking up to a friendly face." Alicia's soft words pulled him back to the present. She'd changed into a pair of deep maroon shorts and a heather gray cropped tee shirt. She leaned over the back of the couch to pet her kitten as he lay in Blair's lap.

Realizing that she was talking about Saint Gee, Blair pushed aside the mental images that his mind had insisted on putting on display. "Not a problem."

"So, did he behave?"

"Purrfectly." He managed to 'trill' the word, just like a cat. "Gee even brought Jim a 'gift' or two."

Alicia heard the 'purr' in Blair's voice and laughter overcame her composure. "Oh, my. I... Oh, my." Fighting to regain control of herself, she leaned over and thumped her head on the couch cushions. "Oh, dear lord! Blair! Do not make me laugh when I haven't had my daily allotted caffeine intake!" Her laughter settling, she wandered out to the kitchen and started to make a pot of strong coffee.

Following her, Blair realized that she wasn't fully awake. He hadn't thought his comment had warranted that kind of response. "Alicia? What time did you get in this morning?"

"A little after three, I think." Turning the coffee maker on, she found her tea bottle on the counter and, grimacing, dumped the rancid leftovers into the sink, throwing the bottle away. "Hey, I need to get cleaned up a bit, but could I entice you into going out to breakfast? I'm buying."

Knowing that he didn't have any plans, Blair nodded. "Sure. Why not?"

"Good. Give me an hour and tell Jim he's invited too, and you two can show me the best place for morning eats around here."

"Okay. One hour then. Meet you down here or in the parking lot?" Blair started to walk towards the door.

"Parking lot, I think."

Nodding his head in agreement, Blair scooted out of the door and returned to the loft to found his roommate up and about. "Hey, Jim! Glad you're up. Alicia's home and has invited us to go out to breakfast."

Looking up from where he sat in the armchair, reading the Sunday paper and drinking his first cup of coffee, Jim smiled. "I know. She got in about three o'clock."

Raking a hand through his hair, Blair snorted. "You heard her come in, didn't you?"

"Yeah. What did she drop on the floor?"

"Her duffel bag, right by the door. Tripped over it when I let myself and Gee in." Entering the kitchen, Blair reached up into a cabinet and pulled down a coffee mug for himself, filling it with the fragrant brew from the carafe. Walking back into the living area, he sat down on the couch across from Jim and placed the mug on the coffee table. "I'm not sure, but I think that Alicia may have been 'reactivated' while she was away on her trip."

Looking up from the sports page, Jim pinned his friend with a curious stare. "What makes you say that?"

"I woke her up, and believe me - that isn't something you want to do. She's really jumpy in the mornings." He opted not to tell Jim about her pulling 'target' practice on him, and continued. "Anyway, she must have fallen asleep in her clothes, she was wearing these camouflage pants, not green but tan and brown, and a light tan tee shirt. Looked good on her too, but it reminded me of a uniform."

Folding the newspaper up and dropping it to the floor beside the chair, Jim stood up and stretched. "Maybe, Chief. After all, she was in Vegas, close to Nellis Air Base, she may just have had to report for a debriefing."

Blair looked up at his roommate in surprise. "You're not the least bit curious about this? After all the digging into her background that you've done over the past week?"

Carrying his coffee mug back into the kitchen, Jim explained. "I am curious, Chief. But I'm also tired of running into stonewalls. I've decided that if there was anything that I, or you for that matter, need to know about her, we'd ask Alicia."

Joining Jim in the kitchen, Blair had to agree. The two of them had run across so many dead ends during their 'routine' background investigation of Alicia Andreson, that it looked as though the only way they'd ever get anything back about her was to ask the source herself. Even Jim's military contacts had dried up. "So? We drop it?"

"Have to. Serena got back to me about the tests I asked her to run on the original letter that tipped us off to Phelps. She couldn't come up with anything that would warrant us bringing anyone in for questioning."

"Dead end. We know that she sent the letter, but can't prove it - in court anyway. So it's a no go. Right?"

Smiling down into his partner's face, "Right. Now, since we were invited to breakfast with her, I'd better go shower and clean up."


Alicia met them in the parking lot, and after a little debating, the three of them piled into her Subaru, Blair in the back seat and Jim riding shot gun. All of them were dressed very casually. Jim directed her to a restaurant near the Interstate, a family operated business that was famous for its hospitality, and its amazingly huge pancakes.

They were seated in a booth, fairly close to the door, enjoying each other's company and their breakfasts as Alicia regaled them with the tale of her investigation in Vegas.

"... It was quite funny. You see, this poor bloke had had an accident while out in the back of beyond north of town and tried to make it out as though he'd been 'abducted' by aliens, just because he couldn't remember where he'd left his company truck." She let out a titter of laughter, "His blood alcohol level was so high when the state patrol found him, I'm not surprised that he couldn't remember anything. Anyway, Brian had been trying to get this fella to 'fess up to what actually happened for two weeks..." Her voice trailed off as she glanced towards the entrance.

Looking over his shoulder to see what had drawn her attention, Jim spotted a tall, lanky, dark haired man approaching their table.

" Alicia? Alicia Andreson, it is you!"

Standing up, Alicia hugged the younger man to her. "Bill! Oh god, it has been so long!"

"I wasn't even aware that you'd come back Stateside until I spotted you, girlfriend! Shame on you for not telling me sooner!" The flamboyant man mockingly aimed a punch at the smaller woman's shoulder.

"Do it, Bill, and you'll end up on the floor. Again." Turning to face her two friends, she made introductions. "Jim, Blair, this is William Earle. Bill, this is Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg, my neighbors."

William looked at the two men seated together and fairly drooled. "You are so damn lucky, Al! First it was that Gunter fellow in Vienna, Jean-Pierre in Paris, then that sinfully gorgeous Spaniard Sergei! Where do you find them all?" He twitched an eyebrow at her, his eyes twinkling in merriment.

Alicia tried to hide her smile, but failed miserably. "Bill, enough!" She sat back down on her side of the table, moving over as William squeezed in next to her.

Placing his chin in his hand, his elbow on the table, he looked at his friend's men. "So, tell me, guys. How did the Capt... Ouch! Al, that hurt." He leaned over to rub his shin where Alicia had kicked him.

"Sorry, leg spasm. Have you eaten yet, Bill?"

Neither Jim or Blair took Alicia's explanation as fact; the sentinel had heard her heart rate increase dramatically when her friend had slipped, almost calling her 'captain,' not to mention having heard the sound of flesh hitting flesh under the table. She'd purposely kicked her friend's leg to shut him up, a split second too late.

"'Sorry', she says. Damn, you know I'm a fair and tender delicate creature. I'm going to bruise." He fairly whined that last statement, as if bruising was something to be feared. Looking up from the table, he stood up again. "Well, I have to be going. Carl and I are going for a Sunday drive up the coast. I'm stationed at McChord now, Alicia, try to stay in touch, will you, darling?" He reached over and planted a kiss on her forehead. Then, waving at a tall, good looking blond man by the door, he hurried off before she could respond.

Rubbing her forehead, Alicia looked at her two guests. "Sorry about that. Bill can be a real handful."

Blair smiled at her as he put his coffee cup back on the table. He'd picked it up to hide a giggle as he realized why the man had just accosted Alicia in the manner he had. "I bet. He's 'family' isn't he?"

"Yeah." She looked off, grinning lopsidedly, towards the window where she could see her old friend climbing into a sporty black BMW with the blond he'd waved at. "He only acts that way when off duty and away from the base. Other wise, you'd never guess."

Jim's glance bounced between his shaman and their neighbor. "You lost me. 'Family'?"

Blair launched into an explanation of the gay community, the social structure, the need to sometimes hide your sexual orientation, which gave Alicia a chance to finish the fresh fruit that she had ordered for breakfast, in place of the hash browns that would've normally been served with her bacon and mushroom omelet. During his lecture, she started to rethink her previous opinion about the two men. After all, if the two men were homosexual, would Jim be ignorant of the terms used by the gay community?

The drive back to their apartments was filled with laughter as Jim finally caught on to some of the more obscure slang used by the gay community and relayed a couple of amusing stories about his time in Cascade's Vice Squad.

They parted company in the elevator when the lift stopped on the second floor. Alicia heading to her place and the men continuing onto theirs and the weekly chores of cleaning the loft and washing clothes.


Monday morning dawned bright and clear, making the upcoming day that much more of a hassle for the two detectives. Standard Operating Procedures for Cascade's entire police department stated that: '...If a plain clothes officer, you will appear in court in a suit. Barring that, you shall appear before the court in your dress blues.'

And they had a court appearance this morning. Well, not really a court appearance - but meeting with the City's new Prosecuting Attorney to go over a case. Two cases actually: Stuart Phelps and Kinny Hackett.

Kinny Hackett case: Attempted Armed Robbery of The Garden Spot, thwarted by the team of detectives James Ellison and Blair Sandburg.

Stuart Phelps Case: AKA The Convenience Store Clown. The former security guard had already signed a full confession stating that he was the one behind the robberies, but when confronted with a murder charge, he stated that it had not been him, that he hadn't killed or hurt anyone. His attorney had gotten the confession overturned, since there had been nothing said about murder charges until his client had already signed the confession. The Judge had agreed with the defense counsel and threw the case back at the PA's office, and the arresting officers.

Now it looked like the arresting officers would have to work on building a case to prove that Phelps was not only the killer of Claiborne, but a thief and a liar as well.

Jim could hear his roommate muttering in the downstairs bedroom as he dressed in his gray dress slacks, white shirt, a maroon tie and topped it off with his navy blazer. On mornings like this, it was fun to be able to hear the mumbled, one sided, conversation of his partner. Easing his foot into his dress shoe, Jim focused his hearing.

"I do not believe this! I washed this shirt three damn times, and I still can't get all the fur off of it!" Blair Sandburg exited his room, going straight to the kitchen. Searching through the many drawers there, he was finally rewarded with his sought after prize. "Ah-ha! Duct tape! That should do the trick!"

The sound of tape hitting, then pulling away from fabric, was more than Jim could stand. Getting to his feet, he wandered down the stairs to join his guide. Raising an eyebrow over the other man's antics, he said, "Problem, Chief?"

Blair jumped. "Argh! Don't do that, Jim! Make some noise or something, will you?"

Brushing past the agitated man, Jim reached for the coffee mug he'd left on the kitchen counter earlier. "Sorry." Refilling the cup, he turned to see what progress his partner was making. "Blair?"

He looked up from his 'taping' job, "Yeah?"

"You missed a spot." Grinning like a fool, he side-stepped the friendly tap that was aimed in his direction. "Watch it. You almost made me spill my coffee."

Shaking his head in disgust, Blair laughed. "And that would be a crime, because?"

Walking over to the dining table where the morning's newspaper lay, Jim shot his remark over his shoulder, "Because, you're going to be the one stuck in the courts building with me. All morning. Without letting me get my full daily dose of coffee in my system first."

Shuddering in exaggeration, Blair replied, "Ooo, not a pretty picture you're painting." Taking another strip of tape off the roll, Blair continued to remove fine, silky, black cat hair from his white shirt. Giving up in frustration, he rolled the used tape into a ball, threw it out and put the duct tape back in the drawer he'd found it in. Walking over to his friend, who was reading the sports section while standing at the table, he asked, "So, did I get enough of it off, or do you think the new PA will notice?"

Looking up from the page he was reading, Jim looked his friend's shirt over. Understanding the need to make a good impression on the newest member of the legal system, one that they would have contact with in the future, he said, "Well, unless PA Crawford has suddenly developed sentinel sight, she won't notice the fur that Gee left behind."

"Great! Let me go grab my jacket and I guess I'll be ready." Turning on his heel, Blair zipped back into his room, only to return a few moments later, carrying his light gray suit jacket and struggling with his light blue tie.

The jacket was part of a matched set: Gray jacket, gray dress slacks and a matching vest which, due to the expected summer heat, Blair had opted not to wear. The suit, and the pale blue, silk, tie had been a gift from Jim when Blair had made detective rank eight months ago. Glancing at his watch, Jim realized that they were running a few minutes behind schedule. Grabbing up his coffee mug, he drained it on the way to the kitchen, placed it in the sink and headed for the door.

"Come on, Chief. Fix the tie on the way, we're late." Snatching up his keys out of the basket, Jim opened the door and left the loft.

Hurrying to catch up, Blair slipped into his jacket, leaving the tie hanging loose around his neck. After making sure that the loft's door was firmly closed and locked, he sped up his pace. "Jim! Man, wait up!" Catching up to his partner at the elevator, he attempted to tie the tie again as the lift's door closed.

Seeing the problem, Jim batted his partner's fumbling hands away from the tie. Reaching up, he straightened the collar of Blair's shirt, and was tying the slipknot on the tie as the elevator doors opened onto the second floor.

"Morning, fellas." Alicia smiled as she stepped into the lift, dressed in her normal office wear: Navy Blazer with the double world globe emblazoned on the breast, bright white shirt and, for this morning, a navy blue skirt.

"Morning, Alicia." Blair knocked Jim's hands away as he greeted their neighbor with a smile. He noticed that his roommate merely nodded his greeting.

Looking both men over, she wondered if she had judged them wrong yesterday. Again. She had caught them in what appeared to be an embrace. "Going to court?" She pointedly checked out their attire.

" Nah, just an informal meeting with the PA."

She quirked an eyebrow, "Ah, the dress codes must be more stringent than I ever had to work with. This over that case that you broke before I left for Nevada?" The lift stopped and she proceeded the men out of the car and down the hall to the parking area.

The three walked over to where their vehicles were parked side by side. Jim, his curiosity getting the better of him, asked, "How do you know so much about prosecutorial proceedings, Alicia?"

Opening the driver's side of her Subaru, she flashed a smile at the tall detective. "Oh? Didn't I tell you? I used to be a security officer in the Air Force. Got dragged into JAG court quite a bit." She climbed into her car, slammed the door, and once the engine was started, waved and pulled out.

Jim stared after her, puzzlement on his face. "Damn!" He forcibly opened his truck's door, slamming it after he was in.

"What?" Blair asked as he settled into the passenger's seat.

"She actually gave that up." He started the pickup.

"Gave what up?"

Backing the truck out of the spot, he had to wait for traffic to clear before pulling onto Prospect. "That she's prior Air Force Security."

"Uh, Jim? We knew that already. Remember?"

"Yeah, I know. I just didn't expect her to admit to it, that's all, Chief."

Blair closed his eyes and shook his head, "I don't get it. Why shouldn't she admit to her military training? You do."

"True. But then I could hardly avoid it after my 'rescue' had been plastered all over the national news."


Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Crawford was running late, and flew into her office to find detectives Ellison and Sandburg already there waiting on her.

"Sorry, gentlemen. Judge Danvers was in a foul mood this morning." Walking around her desk, she dropped a stack of case files on the surface, then picked up another folder. "Okay, lets get down to it. Phelps' attorney is disputing the video evidence from the Claiborne shooting." She opened up the file, "Stating, and I quote, 'The evidence presented shows no direct tie between my client and this horrendous crime.' Unquote." Throwing the file onto her already overflowing desk, she turned back to the detectives. "And I hate to admit this, but he's right. I cannot use that tape in court, the 'clown' in the video never spoke, never showed his face, and while he is the same general height and build of Mr. Phelps - there is no way to prove that it is, indeed, him."

Jim straightened in his chair. "Deborah, we'll get that tie in. We, Sandburg actually, confiscated Phelps' gun when he arrested him, we're just waiting for the results of the ballistics testing."

Deborah shook her head. "Sorry, Jim. Got that this morning. No match."

"Excuse me?"

"Sorry, Blair. But the test was conclusive. The bullet that was removed from Claiborne, and the rounds fired through the 9mm that you took off of Phelps upon his arrest, they don't match." She sat down behind the desk, looking at the two men.

Jim sat in silence for a few minutes. "May I see the report?"

Deborah shook her head as she slid a copy of the ballistics report over to the older detective. "Here, read for yourself. Hell, you'll probably understand it better than I do."

Reading over the report, Jim let out a frustrated sigh. "Damn, a Berretta 9mm. There seem to be a lot of those hitting the streets these days."

Deborah frowned. "I thought you were on the stakeout with your partner, Ellison. You didn't know the make of the gun Phelps was using that night until now?"

Seeing Jim's discomfort, Blair jumped in. "Jim was, incapacitated, when the robbery went down and well into the night. Sudden flu bug, right Jim?"

The sentinel smiled at his friends fast thinking, "Yeah, I was, uh, puking my guts up at the time."

Deborah held up her hand. "That is more than I needed to know, thank you."

"Semi-automatic handguns have another notorious attribute, Counselor." Jim added.

"Oh? And what's that?"

"The barrels can be easily replaced, thus changing the rifling pattern."

Sitting back in her chair and crossing her arms, she scowled at the detective. After a few moments of intense silence, she said, "Can you prove that? Or better yet, find the barrel that matches the patterns left on the slug that ended Claiborne's life?"

Blair pulled out his ever present notebook. "Maybe, yeah, here it is. Phelps reportedly bought his gun at Cascade Rod and Field, ten months ago. The serial numbers matched up with the store records..."

"Okay. Good. Now, I have to be in Family Court in ten minutes, so what I want from you two," she gathered up the files she needed and walked them to the door, "Is a complete investigation, or Phelps may just walk on the murder rap." Closing the office door behind herself and them, she hurried off.

Blair stared after her, then turned to his partner. "He could really walk on that?"

Jim let out a sigh. "Yeah, he could. Come on, Chief." He started walking at a fast pace, leaving his smaller counterpart to catch up.

"Wait up, Jim! Where are we going?"

"Cascade Rod And Field."


Alicia had blown into the offices of Hallstatt Trust International, breezing past the receptionist with out a word of greeting. Fuming in repressed anger, she rode the elevator up to the sixth floor. Bursting into her office, she startled the only occupant.

Bernice "Bernie" Goldwater looked up from the fax machine, which was spewing copious amounts of paper, "Damn Al! Give a girl a heart attack, why don't you?"

"Sorry." Moving towards her desk, she stripped out of her jacket, revealing her sidearm - secure in a shoulder holster. "I'm still in a rotten mood."

Gathering up the papers from the machine, Bernie said, "Uh, huh. I can see that. You talk with Hiram yet this morning?" She walked over to the desk, placing the papers before her friend. "Here, Roberto sends his regards."

"Great!" Alicia picked up the papers, guessing that there had to be no less than thirty sheets, and glanced over the cover page. "Well, that was a fast turn around. Wait a minute, Hiram? Why would I need to talk to him?"

About to leave the office, Bernie glanced over her shoulder, just as Alicia's private phone rang. "That's probably him now. Said something about an 'incident' at Corporate Headquarters."

"Oh, now what?" She picked up the phone, "Andreson."

"Alicia, Hiram. We've got a problem."

"I already know about the Director's decision..."

"Not that. Worse."

Alicia sat up, leaning on her elbows. "Worse? Hiram, out with it."

"The Director's entire traveling entourage has taken ill, he'll be arriving in Cascade with only Wilhelm, Roberto and, of course, myself."

"What the hell happened?"

"Food poisoning. Over half the Headquarters staff had to be treated at St. Katarina's Hospital. Near as the medical staff can figure out, it had to be either the kartoffelsalat or the brats that were served for supper in the cafeteria."

"Oh, that's just great, Hiram! I don't have enough staff here to cover what needs to be done, and now the Director expects me to provide security for him?!?" She kicked the desk as she pushed away from it, sending her chair rolling until it crashed into the wall behind her.

"Alicia, he trusts you. We've not received any threats against the Director since you took care of the last problem a year ago. He feels that your presence, with Wilhelm and Roberto's should be enough to deter anyone foolish enough to take the chance."

Switching the call to her cordless phone, she got up to pace the office. "Fine! Just tell me one thing, Hiram."

"Anything, angel."

"Don't try to snow me! I'm really not in the mood."

"Sorry, I meant no offense. What is it you need to know?"

"When are you scheduled to arrive in Cascade?"

"Ah, Wednesday evening. Your time."

"I'll see you then. Give the Director my regards." She didn't wait for him to say anything, just hung up on him. Looking out the large window that showed the rather impressive sight of Cascade Harbor, Alicia contemplated her life. "What the hell did I do so wrong in a past life that I got stuck with this one?"


Alan Casland looked up as the door chimes announced he had customers. Spotting two of his favorite police officers, he put aside the book he was reading and greeted them. "Jim! Blair! What brings you out to my place on such a fine morning? Looking for a new weapon already, Sandburg?"

"Not yet, Alan. I haven't even finished paying for my last one," Blair answered as he and his partner walked up to the counter that the owner of Cascade Rod and Field was leaning against.

"That Para-Ordinance P12 working out okay?"

Jim chuckled, "Oh yeah, you could say that, Alan. Damn near out scored me on the range with it."

"Great! See? I told you, that piece was meant for you, Blair!" Alan stepped out from behind the counter, his face showing his concern. "Okay, I'm just guessing here, but neither of you is shopping, so you must be tracking something?"

"Alan, you know a Stuart Phelps?" Jim asked as they followed the owner towards the back of the well-kept shop.

"Stu? Oh, yeah. Regular customer. Works, or I should say, worked for Delta One. This visit have something to do with his arrest a few weeks ago?" Alan had reached the area where he kept his sales records and pulled open a file drawer.

"Yeah, we're doing leg work for the PA."

"Ouch. Crawford?" Alan Casland had served as a fellow officer in blue, State Patrol, until twelve years ago when a severe accident on a traffic stop, ended his career. He was still friendly with all the officers that served in the area, and kept track of certain ones, like Ellison and Sandburg. As a team, they were unbelievable, separately they could still work a case like nobody's business.

Blair blinked in surprise. "You know her?"

"Oh, you could say that. She was just a wet behind the ears deputy PA when my case came to trial, but like those bulldogs she raises, Deborah went after the guy that clipped me and nailed his hide to the wall." Alan pulled a file out of the cabinet. "Here we are, that should have everything you need." He handed the file over to Jim.

Opening the file, Jim noticed that Alan was a meticulous record keeper. Every transaction that Stuart Phelps had had at Cascade Rod And Field, was noted, ammo purchases, weapons bought, times that he visited the indoor firing range out back..."Alan? You recall this last visit of his?" Jim flipped the file around so that the proprietor could read his own notes.

Pulling a pair of reading glasses from his pocket, he glanced over the page, "Oh, yeah! He came in, looking for another Berretta 9mm. Must have had a used one in stock, I'm showing a test fire notation."

Blair looked over the notes. "You let him test fire a gun that he didn't purchase?"

"Only because it was a used gun. I don't allow test fires on brand new ones, unless the buyer has already put a substantial down payment on it." He smiled at the young man. "I rarely make exceptions, like I did in your case."

Jim broke in, "Do you recall if you went onto the range with him? Stuart that is?"

Alan closed his eyes and thought. "I don't think so. I had another customer in at the same time, I just handed Stu the key and let him go." He opened his eyes again, looking into Jim's pale blue orbs. "Okay, spit it out, Ellison. What are you looking for?"

Jim sagged against the wall. "We're trying to connect Phelps to the murder of the Claiborne kid. The convenience store clerk that was shot by the clown?" He saw Alan nod. "Anyway, the ballistics test didn't match up..."

Alan interrupted, "And there's a chance that Stu pulled a barrel switch on you, and me, after that kid was killed. Right?"

Blair looked up from the file he was reading. "Could he have done it?"

The shop owner smiled at the younger officer's naiveté. "Yeah, he could have done it. Right out there on the firing range. Let me see that file again, Blair."

Handing the file back, he looked up at Jim, who refused to let the smile in his eyes reach his face. 'There's a chance that that other gun's still here.' Blair thought to himself.

"Damn! Sold it! Two days ago."

Sighing, Jim pulled out his notebook. "To who, Alan?"

Seeing that Jim was going to hand copy the information, Alan shook his head. "Hold off, I'll get you a copy of the bill of sale. And you can have Stu's file to copy as well -- if you promise to bring it back. Can't have the Feds breathing down my neck." He walked over to where he kept a desktop copier. The casual observer would never notice the slight hitch in the man's walk that told the two visiting officers just what the extent of the former Trooper's injury was. For Jim, it was the barely audible creak of the polymer composite that told him the story: A prosthetic leg, below the knee. Blair just knew the story, as told to him by Alan.

A simple traffic stop turned ugly. Alan had pulled over a speeder, and was issuing the ticket, when a drunk driver swerved in and clipped the officer against the vehicle. The damage to his left leg was so severe that the only recourse the surgeons had was to remove the limb. The knee had been badly mangled, and the lower leg totally chewed up. If not for the fast thinking speeder, Alan could've bled to death on the highway. Luckily for him, the speeder was a trauma nurse, late getting to work, and she was able to assist him until the ambulance pulled up. Then she'd proven a valuable witness, for she had recognized the car that had hit the officer and was able to direct investigators to the drunk's doorstep. It had been her ex husband. She and Alan had been married now for nine years.

Blair pulled himself back from his memories just as Alan came back over to them.

"Here you go. Good luck getting a hold of the new owner. I understand that he travels a lot on business." Alan handed off the paperwork to Blair, who read the name on the bill of sale and groaned.

"Who is it, Chief?" Jim reached over and snagged the copied bill from his partner's limp hand and read it for himself. "Oh, Shit! That's just great!" He turned on his heel and stormed out of the store.

Blair looked at Alan as he trotted after Jim. "Thanks, Alan! I'll make sure to get the file back to you!"

"Just make sure that partner of yours goes easy on the new owner!"

"I'll try!" And he busted out the door to catch up with Jim who was waiting outside, pacing in an agitated state.


The drive back to Central Precinct was tense, and silent. Jim had called in, after cooling down a bit, and found out that Captain Simon Banks was looking for them, as was the Commander of the Detention Division. They arrived in the Major Crimes bullpen and from Rhonda discovered that the Captain was in a foul mood, and the Detention Commander was there as well, sitting in Simon's office.

Walking up to the Captain's door, Jim knocked once, then entered, Blair on his heels. "Rhonda said you were looking for us, Captain?"

Simon nodded curtly, "Jim, Blair. Close the door."

Jim moved further into the office as Blair closed the door behind them. The Commander stood up as they entered.

"Commander Rick Johansen, this is Detectives Ellison and Sandburg," Simon introduced the fair haired, stout, man. "You want to tell them what you just told me?"

"Sure." Johansen turned to face the mismatched pair, "You two were the ones that brought Hackett in, right?"

Something in the Commander's tone, sent up red flags in Blair's mind. "That was the kid we brought in from the Garden Spot, right?"

Johansen nodded. "That's the one. I hate to tell you two this, but you won't be going to trial on his case."

Dread dropped like a lead ball into the young officer's stomach. "Why?"

"He hung himself in his cell this morning."

"Shit!" Blair spun on his heels, leaving the office at a near run.

Jim nodded towards Simon, indicating that he'd check on his partner in a minute. "Commander, do you have any idea why? From what we were able to gather, this was Hackett's first offense. He had a good chance of just getting probation."

Johansen sat back down, raking his hands over his close cut scalp. "My officers found a note, he claimed that the need was too bad, too hard to just survive. Hackett had refused recreation time, and fifteen minutes later, when the Jailer went to check on him, he was gone."

Jim closed his eyes. It was one thing to lose a case in court, but to lose one before it ever got to trial simply because the defendant had a drug problem so severe that he couldn't imagine living with out his daily 'fix'?

"We did everything we could, Detective. Had him on a suicide watch, in a populated cell block, but he slipped through the cracks." Johansen was unnerved by the seasoned detective's reaction. "The medics believe that he managed to break his neck, if that's any consolation."

Simon waited for a response, any response, from his detective. "Jim?"

He opened his eyes, looked over at Johansen, then back at Simon. "I'm okay, Captain." He nodded at the Detention officer. "Commander, let me know if your investigators find anything else, and thank you for telling me in person." He stepped out of the office, and walked through the bullpen, looking for his partner. He knew, without using his senses, where to find the young man.

Entering the men's bathroom, he found his partner leaning over one of the sinks, his face damp from where he had obviously splashed water, probably to try to regain control of himself. "Chief?"

Reaching up for a couple of paper towels, Blair dried off his face. "I'm okay."

Leaning against the doorframe, folding his arms across his chest, Jim smiled weakly. "No you're not. Look, the Commander promised to get back to me when they finish the investigation."

Throwing the used towels into the trash, Blair sighed. "Fine. Like it's really going to help anything. That kid needed help, not to be arrested and tossed into a cell..." He turned his back to his friend, trying to hide his rising emotions.

Standing back up right, Jim walked over to his friend and gently turned him to face him. "Chief, Blair, you're right. But that 'kid' had made his choice. He didn't have to pick up a gun, or a drug-laden needle, and ultimately end his life, but he did. I'm not trying to justify what he did, nor make excuses for it. But it was his choice."

"I know. But it doesn't make it any easier to handle."

Jim shook his head. "No, it doesn't. And I hope that you never lose touch with that part of yourself that makes you understand, or try to, why people do what they do."

Blair brought his hands up to clasp Jim's where they rested on his shoulders. "Me neither. 'Duty and Humanity, are often incompatible. The road forks -- but my body is one.' I just can't 'check my humanity at the door.' I wouldn't be me if I could."

"You must be doing better if you can quote Zen." Jim released his partner and cocked his head towards the door. "So? You ready to head over to see if we can pick up that gun?"

"Yeah, let's go." They stepped out of the bathroom and proceeded to the elevators. "Wait a minute, won't we need a warrant?" Blair asked as they entered the waiting car.

"Honestly?" Jim took his partner's nod for an answer. "I don't think that will be necessary, even if I haven't spoken to him for two weeks." The small talk faded and they entered the underground police garage, walked over to Jim's truck, then left.


Alicia was just getting ready to leave for the day, when her phone rang. Scowling, she answered. "Hello?"

"Alicia, I really hate to do this to you..."

Her shoulders dropped as she threw her jacket over the back of her chair and sat down. "Hiram? Now what?"

"The Director has changed his mind. Again. We're leaving Austrian airspace even as we speak."

"Excuse me a moment, Hiram." She reached out, put the call on hold, then let out a blood-curdling scream, thankful that the office was sound proof and no one outside would've heard her. Taking a couple of deep breaths, she returned to her call, her voice once again calm and business like. "Sorry about that. Just had to get something off my chest. So, what's your updated ETA?" Alicia reached into her desk for a pen, and a large legal pad, and began to take notes.

"We should touch down in Cascade Tuesday night, early Wednesday morning. Wilhelm and Roberto are with us and have already demonstrated their displeasure."

"Uh, huh. Were you able to get anyone else cleared by the doctors? Or will I need to look into hiring local help?"

"No, no one else. And the Director doesn't want you to hire local help."

Alicia screwed her eyes shut and felt the tension in her jaw, neck, and upper back increase exponentially. "Fine. I'll see what I can do. I have about four men on the current security staff that I trust." She let out a sigh. "Guess that will have to do. Okay, so tell me the rest."

"We were able to change our hotel reservations, same place, same room, just an earlier arrival time."

"Hiram, that is not what I meant." She placed the pen onto her desk blotter. "What have you found out about the incident at Headquarters?"

"Simple accident. There is no conspiracy here, Alicia." Hiram was amused and it showed in his voice.

"Well, excuse me if I don't believe you. It's just too coincidental for me."

"Do you wish to speak with Wilhelm or Roberto about this? I'm sure that they will be able to soothe your paranoid mind."

She let out a short snort of laughter. "That is why you hired me, but yeah, let me speak to one of them."

"Just a moment..."

"Alicia?"

"Roberto, so tell me. What caused the outbreak of 'food poisoning' at HTI HQ?" She sat back and listened to his response.

"So you're both satisfied that it wasn't intentional?" she asked.

"Yes."

Alicia stood up and stretched, easing some of the tension that had crept down her back. "Okay. Go get some sleep, Rob. I'll need you and Will wide awake and alert when you land in Cascade. Also, you are to call me when you're no less than two hours out. That will give me time to get to the airfield to meet you."

"I understand. You're not real happy about this situation, are you?"

"What do you think?"

"Well, if it's any consolation, neither are we."

She looked at the receiver in her hand as the phone line went dead. "Yes, but we'll do our jobs first, then bitch later." Placing the handset back in the cradle, she snatched up her jacket, slung it on, then headed out of the office, grateful that Bernie had left earlier and hadn't heard that shameful display of temper when Alicia hadn't been able to hold back her scream of frustration.


Blair looked over the paperwork in his hands, the request for a search and seizure warrant specifically aimed at recovering a weapon registered to someone that his partner knew well. Or should've. And if Jim's formative years had been anything close to 'normal', then he would have been closer to the new owner of the gun. Feeling the truck slowing down to a halt, he brought his gaze up to see that they had arrived at the Cascade Racetrack.

"Let's get this over with, Chief." Jim climbed out of the truck and slammed the door shut. Without waiting for his partner, he started walking towards the main offices. A phone call to the racetrack earlier had supplied the information that the man he needed to talk with was, indeed, in attendance today. Blair caught up with him, just as he reached for the door, and they walked into the cool interior.

Checking over his partner as they headed up the stairs to the office they needed, Blair couldn't help but notice the tightly clenched, square jaw line. At the top of the stairs, he reached out to the older man. "Jim? You need to relax here, buddy. You go in there like this, radiating your anger, and he's going to get all defensive and, maybe not cooperate."

"He'd better cooperate." The words barely got past tight lips, coming out in a growl.

"Jim!" Blair deepened his grip on his friend and pulled him to a stop. "That's exactly what I'm talking about! Where is this anger coming from? You keep this up and you-know-who is going to make us get a damn warrant!" Making eye contact, he lowered his voice, going into his 'guide' mode. "Come on, take a couple of deep breaths, relax, let the anger go."

The sentinel in Jim automatically followed the advice of his Shaman, his guide, his brother. The anger dissipated, no longer burning so brightly, but rather cooling into a dying ember in his heart. Quirking a smile at his partner, Jim nodded. "Thanks, Blair. You're right, I cannot afford to let my anger push him away."

Blair released the arm he'd been holding, using the same hand to brush loose hairs away from his face. "No problem. That's what I'm here for, remember?"

Now that Jim had calmed down, he dared to make a suggestion. "Jim? Maybe I should be the one to approach him? Let you distance yourself from this?"

Jim scrubbed his face, his hand lingering over his eyes for a moment as he rubbed his temples. "Okay, it's really your case anyway. Let's get this over with."

They approached the offices and were shortly shown into the spacious office of the track's owner. The tall, dark haired, well-dressed business man came to his feet as his visitors were shown in. "Jimmy! What brings you down here! And Sandburg, I hear they finally gave you a badge?"

Taking the lead, Sandburg answered the enthusiastic greeting. "Hello, Steven. Yeah, Jim finally got a 'real' partner when I graduated the academy."

Steven Ellison walked around his desk and shook Blair's hand, then turned and clasped his brother's shoulder in welcome. "Congratulations, Jimmy! Now, Anna said something about you two needing something from me?"

Blair held up the piece of paper that Alan Casland had copied the bill of sale on, pulling his glasses out to 'read' the thing  as if reading an actual warrant -- to the man standing beside his partner. "Steven Ellison, you have registered as the owner of a used Beretta 9mm semi-automatic hand gun, recently purchased at Cascade Rod and Field. This warrant allows the City of Cascade, the State of Washington, to seize that weapon in pursuant of a murder case." He handed the sheet of paper over to the now confused younger Ellison.

"What?" Steven turned to look at his brother, "Jim? What's going on? What murder? Is the gun stolen?"

Jim reached out a reassuring hand, placing it on his brother's shoulder, feeling the tremors coursing through the younger man's body. "No, Stevie, it's not stolen..." He explained why he and Blair needed to confiscate the gun and the tests that would need to be run before they could return the weapon to him.

"I've got to ask, though; why do you need a gun, Stevie?"

Shaking off his brother's hand, Steven walked around his desk to open a drawer. "We've had a prowler problem here. I bought the damn thing in case I needed to leave here late at night, for protection." He pulled the gun out of the drawer, ejected the magazine, then racked the slide back to retrieve the bullet from the firing chamber, then handed everything over to Blair and watched as the younger man placed it in a evidence bag.

"Thank you, Steven," Blair said as he sealed the bag shut. "I'll just go wait in the truck; you two need to talk." He walked out, leaving the Ellison men alone.

"Have you reported the problem?"

"I took the required firearms course."

They had spoken simultaneously, startling each other. Steven was the first to fill the subsequent void. "Yeah, I reported it. Two, maybe three, months ago -- the PD is doing something called 'extra patrols', but they haven't seen anything suspicious."

Jim nodded his head. "What's been going on? Anything been taken, missing or vandalized?"

"All of the above." Steven sat down behind his desk, gesturing for his brother to take a seat himself. He continued as Jim settled into the wing back chair across the desk from him. "Tack's been noticed missing, some of the drugs from the Vet's shed, the track has been screwed up by what appeared to be a motorcycle. Thankfully, though, none of the horses have been messed with."

Leaning forward, placing his arms upon his legs, Jim asked, "Do you want me to look into this? See what's going on? Talk to who ever has the case?"

"Would you?"

Seeing the hope that flared in his brother's blue eyes, Jim smiled. "Yeah, Stevie, I'd be happy to. After all, what good is it to have a cop in the family if he can't help you out from time to time?"

"I didn't want to ask, it's just that I don't think that Zowalski seems to understand how serious this could be." Steven shook his head. "But I'd really appreciate it."

"Zowalski? I know him. Detective over in the Third Precinct. Probably has 'short timer's' disease." Seeing the confusion on his brother's face, Jim grinned as he explained. "He's due to retire in two months. He's probably avoiding digging too deep so as to avoid getting tangled into a case that would force him to stay a bit longer to clear it."

"But wouldn't that entice him to work the case faster? Clear it with plenty of time to retire?"

"You'd think so, but I'll talk to him anyway."

Steven smiled, relief showing plainly on his face. "Thanks, Jimmy, I really mean that. And since you're looking into things for me..."

Jim threw up his hands, forestalling the words about to leave his baby brother's mouth. "Stevie, I draw the line at 'fixing' parking tickets -- just pay the damn things."

He shrugged. "Never hurts to ask. And why do I get the idea that your partner didn't really have a warrant?"

Getting to his feet, Jim chuckled, feeling more relaxed in his relative's presence in this moment than he had thought possible. "I'd better go, before Sandburg decides to take off without me." He held out his hand, which Steven took into a firm grip and shook. "I'll keep you posted on your gun, Stevie. Would you like to borrow one of mine in the meantime?"

"Thanks, but no. I really shouldn't need it. I'm not even sure why I bought that one in the first place." They parted company amicably and returned to their work, Steven getting the track ready for the up coming racing season; Jim retreating back into the familiar world of police work.

Blair relaxed as he spotted his partner approaching the truck. He noticed a slight bounce in the older man's step, but he decided not to comment on it. After all, Jim would protest that he doesn't bounce; that habit belonged exclusively to one Blair J. Sandburg. They made it back to the Central Precinct in time to check the appropriated gun through Evidence before taking it over to Forensics for testing. After writing up their contact reports, updating PA Crawford of their progress, and bringing Captain Banks up to speed the two partners decided to call it a day and took off for home.


Blair snapped the hardbound book closed, causing Jim to jump slightly on the couch, where he sat channel surfing. Grinning at his ability to have caught the ever-vigilant sentinel off guard, he stood up and stretched. "Jim? I'm going to take this back down to Alicia. I'll be right back." He noted his roommate's distracted nod, the man had his attention riveted to the flickering television, and deciding that there wasn't much chance of Jim zoning on the appliance, left the loft.

Knocking on the door to apartment 207, Blair heard the familiar, and loud, greeting of Saint Gee. When Alicia opened the door, he was shocked by her appearance. She was pale, dark circles had taken up residence under her eyes, her mouth was set in a tight line, and her normally bright, warm, green-gray irises were stone cold. Holding the book close to his chest, keeping his voice low, he asked, "Is this a bad time, Alicia?"

She carefully shook her head. "No, come on in, Blair." She stepped aside so that her neighbor could enter her home, smiled weakly as Saint Gee started his 'weave through legs' routine on Blair, and closed the door. Softly.

Turning around to face her, he couldn't help but notice how quiet she was being. No music floated on the air, and he knew that Alicia loved to have either music or talk radio filling her home. Even Saint Gee's voice had seemed a little subdued. "Alicia? You feeling okay?"

"Just a headache. Brought it home with me." She padded over to her kitchen on bare feet, lifting the lid of a small saucepan, letting the steamy aroma waft into the air. Leaning over the pan, she inhaled some of the steam.

Pausing to place the borrowed Burton book on a side table, Blair followed his neighbor into the kitchen. The aroma that drifted to his nose was tantalizingly familiar. "Willow bark tea?"

Alicia nodded, impressed with his apparent knowledge. "Yeah, that with some valerian and ginger root and a smidgen of chamomile thrown in for good measure." She nearly jumped out of her skin as she felt his hands reach up and test the tension in her neck. "Though, if I can't get rid of this, I may end up in the Emergency Room."

"The ER? For what? A shot?"

"Yeah. I hate to do that though. They tend to knock me out of action, something that I cannot afford tonight."

Blair felt the taut muscles in her upper shoulders and neck gently, knowing from working with Jim's headaches that the last thing she needed was pressure on the sensitive, over stimulated sinews. "Whoa, that's tight. I might be able to alleviate some of that, if you want me to try?"

She turned to face the young man. "I'd like that. Let me get a cup of the tea poured and I'll give you a chance."

He nodded, then left the kitchen to find just the right place to have her sit, where he could stand behind her to work on her neck. Deciding that the straight back chair at her computer desk was probably his best bet, he pulled it over towards the balcony doors, which he opened to let the fresh evening breeze enter the apartment.

Seeing where Blair had decided to set up, Alicia walked over to the French doors, sipping her bitter brew as she did. When she made to sit in the chair as she normally would've, he stopped her and made her straddle it backwards.

"No, I want you to sit this way in the chair...that way you can't get away from me." Blair held the mug of medicinal tea for her as she settled into the chair.

"Now, drink a little bit more of that, and then I'll start. In the meantime, tell me, how long ago did the headache start?"

She snorted into her mug, luckily not spilling any of the contents. "You want the truth?" He had walked around to where she could see him and squatted down so she didn't have to crane her neck to look at him, his hand resting on her knee. He nodded. "Sunday morning. I got some bad news when I got home, I'd guess that's when the tension started to build."

"Oh, okay. That's not too bad. Here." He reached out and took the empty mug from her hands, placing it on the nearby dining table. Walking around behind her, he gently placed his hands on her shoulders and just started gently running his hands up and down; from neck to shoulder joint, back to the top of the neck and down the middle of the back, like he was stoking Saint Gee. Just enough to gently stimulate, without causing more pain. As he felt muscle groups starting to relax under his ministrations, he slowly applied more pressure, until fifteen minutes later, when he was kneading pliant muscles. During the process, he was very aware of the sounds coming from Alicia's throat; she was practically purring.

She was barely aware that Blair had stopped the massage, but when she did notice, she sat up, rotated her neck … which 'popped' quiet loudly … and rolled her shoulders. "Ah, you're a miracle worker, Blair. Thank you." She slowly got to her feet, knowing that one can become slightly disoriented after such a deep massage, and turned to face her masseuse.

Blair grinned. "No problem. By the way, where did you learn to purr like that?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "I purred? Really?"

"Yeah, it was, well, interesting. Never have met a person who could purr like a cat."

"Too many years living with felines, I guess I picked up some of their mannerisms." Looking around, she spotted Saint Gee, sleeping comfortably on the back of the couch. Feeling the urge to bother the sleeping cat, she sauntered past Blair, unconsciously proving her point.

'Damn! She even moves like a cat!' The thought crossed his mind as he watched her. As he continued to watch, she scooped up the black cat and cradled him in her arms, bestowing chest scratches and making a noise that sounded like a 'Purrrreowrrr' to his ears. Crossing the floor to stand beside her, he reached out and gave the relaxed cat an ear rubbing. "I don't know what you're saying to him, but Gee seems to like it."

"I'm not sure either. I just know that it's a sound that one of my former cats, Princess, used to make when she had kittens to talk to, to calm down or reassure." She carefully turned Saint Gee back over and placed him back in the same spot that she'd removed him from. Looking up, she noticed that Blair was watching her intently. "Blair?"

Realizing that he'd been staring at her, he dropped his eyes. "Sorry about that."

"Oh. And here I thought I had something on my face, or stuck between my teeth." She smiled and crossed over to the side table where he'd left the book earlier. Picking it up and turning back to face him, she said, "You finished it already?"

Reestablishing eye contact with her, he answered, "Yeah, just before I came down to return it." As Blair watched, she moved lithely over to the massive bookshelves and replaced the borrowed tome then reached up and pulled another one down.

"If you liked that, you might find this interesting to read." Alicia silently crossed the floor and placed the book into his hands.

Tearing his eyes away from Alicia, Blair looked over the book. " 'The Celts by Gerhard Herm'?"

She nodded. "Yes, it's about the Celtic Empire that spanned Northern Europe for about 2000 years. Traces all their influences on other civilizations like the Romans, Greeks, and the Germani. It also goes into some detail about how many early scientists were wrong to throw the Picts into the same group with the Celts and Gaels." Realizing that she had launched into a lecture, Alicia blushed and averted her gaze. "Sorry, I tend to lecture when I get rolling on about anything Celtic."

Blair let out a soft laugh, "Oh, that's okay. You should see me when I get to going on about South American cultures." They shared a quiet laugh, which faded naturally. Glancing at his watch, he said, "Oh, man! I didn't realize I'd been here that long. I'd better get back upstairs."

"Well, if you insist," Alicia purred as she aimed a rather blatant 'come hither' look at her guest. "Thanks for the neck rub, it really seems to have helped."

Catching the look, Blair decided that two could play at the flirtatious game and returned a similar look to her. "If you liked that, someday you're going to have to let me give you a full body massage, Alicia."

She felt a shiver travel down her spine at Blair's seductive tone and the idea of such a man giving a full massage..."Maybe. I'll keep the offer in mind."

"Please do." Blair smiled, then crossed over to the door, clutching the latest loan from his neighbor's rather eclectic library. Turning at the door to find Alicia standing close to him, too close, he gave her a peck on the cheek as she opened the door for him. Then, before he could allow himself to go any further, he scooted out.

Closing the door softly, Alicia leaned her back against it, her hand rising to her cheek as she met the rather amused glance of Saint Gee. "Well, that was interesting." Gee flipped his tail and jumped down from his perch on the back of the couch, disappearing down the hall in a black blur of motion.


Jim glanced up from the book he was reading, having given up on finding anything to watch on television, as Blair came back into the loft. Seeing what he was carrying, he asked, "Borrowed another book, Chief?"

The young man crossed over to the living area and sat down next to his roommate on the couch, silently handing the book over. "Yeah, Alicia recommended it." Sinking back into the couch cushions, he raked his hands through his hair.

Looking the book over, Jim realized that he probably wouldn't be interested in it, but could see where his friend would be. Handing it back, he said, "So, that's what took you so long? You got lost in Alicia's private library?"

"Nah. When I got down there I could tell she wasn't feeling too good, she even had a herbal tea brewing on the stove, so I asked what was wrong. Her headaches must be pretty close on a level with some of yours, Jim, her neck was as hard as granite." He had started to rub his hands together, in an effort to keep the muscles from cramping after working so long on Alicia's massage.

Jim grinned, "So, you offered your services?"

Blair brought his head up sharply, nailing his friend with a scathing glare. "I offered, she accepted, and we talked. That's all."

"Hmm, hmm. Sandburg, this is me you're talking to. I know you." Trying to get his point across, Jim wagged a finger at his partner. "Table leg. Remember?"

Disgusted, Blair shot up from the couch and bounced out to the kitchen, where he grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator. "I don't know her well enough, yet, to know if I want to be more than her friend. Lay off the 'table leg' cracks, Jim."

"Whoa! Sorry, Chief." He got up from the couch and approached his guide, who was leaning against the counter by the sink, glaring at him. "I meant it as a joke." He waited until the angry glint in Blair's eyes faded as his apology was accepted. "So, are you saying you're not all that interested in Alicia?" Reaching into the fridge, he pulled out his own bottle of water, opened the cap and took a healthy swig of the cold fluid.

Blair watched him, his mind working at a furious pace, until it clicked. "No, but I bet that you are."

"Maybe." Jim pondered the idea for a minute before continuing. He shrugged as the words spilled from his mouth. "She intrigues me."


Tuesday had dawned in a typical fashion for Cascade, damp and gloomy. Alicia had opted against her normal morning bike ride. The drivers in this city were bad enough on dry roads; she didn't want to tempt fate by riding among them on wet streets. Arriving at the office shortly after 6 am, she made arrangements for the four-man security team to check over the hotel arrangements for the Director's arrival.

Alicia smiled up at her coworker who was approaching the massive desk. "Morning, Bernie."

The older woman returned the smile, "You got in early today. Anything I need to know about?" She pulled up a chair and sat down across from her friend.

"Nothing much, other than the Director will be here, in Cascade, later tonight rather than tomorrow like we had planned for." Alicia had the satisfaction of watching the rage build, then get squelched, as Bernie digested the information.

Shaking her head, Bernie growled. "He *never* sticks to an itinerary, does he?"

A burst of laughter escaped her before Alicia could control herself. "Of course not! Good thing that we know that and had laid in plans for such a contingency."

"So, have you contacted the local team yet?"

Sliding a piece of legal paper out from under her desk blotter, Alicia shook her head. "No. Here, look this over and tell me what you think?" She handed the paper over.

Taking the document, Bernie scanned it, then scanned it again, looking over the plans that Alicia had outlined. "Looks good. These are the four men you want on the team?"

"Yes, with Davis in charge." Picking up a smaller piece of paper, she said, "Here, that is the name of the hotel security agent that Davis will have to work with while the Director is staying at the Marriott Essex. I talked with him this morning, he's expecting Davis and the rest of the team no later than one pm."

Bernie nodded as she stood up and retrieved the other paper. "Okay, I'll get in contact with the men and make sure that they are up to speed." Taking a closer look at her friend's face, she commented, "Al, you still have that headache from yesterday?"

"You knew?"

The older woman snorted. "Of course. And if you don't mind my saying so, you still look worn out. If you trust me to handle the arrangements, I'll take over here for the day and you can go home and rest."

Spotting the determination in the amber eyes, Alicia simply nodded her head. "Okay, I get the hint. I'll leave it all in your capable hands." She stood up and reached for her blazer that she'd thrown over the back of her chair earlier. As she was tugging the garment on, she looked back to her friend. "Bernie, I've got Roberto or Wilhelm to promise to call me when they're two hours out of Cascade. That will probably be late this evening or tonight, I'll meet the Director's plane at the airfield, escort him to the hotel then pick up with them again in the morning. Would you please stress to Davis that he and the team are expected to..."

Bernie held up her hand, forestalling the words tumbling from her friend's mouth. "Al! Enough. We all know what our jobs are, as do you. We'll be ready. Now, go home and get some rest, or you'll be likely to snap the Director's head off, rather than be the nice, polite, young lady that I know you really are."

"'Lady'? Yeah, right!" Alicia grabbed up the briefcase and walked towards the office door.

"You might fool everyone else, Alicia Andreson, but you can never fool me." Bernie walked with her to the door. "You are a lady, even though you refuse to admit it."

"Damn straight." She smiled an evil little grin as she tossed the remark over her shoulder. "Never could've gotten to where I am by being 'a proper' woman."

"Just don't forget to let that other half of yourself out once in a while, just to flirt or 'play' with some good looking man, or you may just end up regretting your life." With those parting words, Bernie gently pushed Alicia out of the office and closed the door behind her.

Staring at the solid wood door, tears threatening to build behind her eyes, she whispered to herself, "Like I already do, Bernie?"


Jim wondered what to do with the rest of his day. Blair had been called into PA Crawford's office earlier, reportedly to go over his testimony with a fine tooth comb, and it looked like that would go on for the better part of the day. Since Simon didn't like having his teams of detectives working without their partners, and he'd finished retyping all the reports that had accumulated on his desk, reports that Records had sent back up for 'clarification' -- the Captain had given him the rest of the day off. 'Lost Time' he'd called it. "More like a waste of time." Jim groused as he pulled into the parking area by the loft.

Spotting a familiar car, he grinned. "Someone else is home early." Climbing out of the truck, he wandered over to the Subaru and, without touching the vehicle, felt the heat radiating from the engine. Glancing up towards the second floor, he carefully extending his hearing and picked up the sounds of a radio, playing yet another talk show, and what sounded like pages rustling as a reader leafed through them. The grin on his face widened as he picked up the plaintive sound of Saint Gee, apparently begging for his mistress' attention. The sound of a teakettle whistling brought him back from the edge of a zone out.

Most of the other neighbors that lived in the building were day workers, except for the one young man that rented the small, one bedroom, unit across from Alicia's place. That one was a night worker who slept most of the day. Going into the building, climbing the stairs, Jim entered his home and decided to change out of his work clothes, since it was highly unlikely that Simon would call him back to work. After changing, he grabbed a large glass of tea from the refrigerator and sat down on the couch, picking up his reading of Tom Clancy's Executive Orders where he had left off...President Ryan had just ordered a nationwide quarantine, due to the unthinkable outbreak of Ebola.

Unconsciously, he extending his hearing to pick up the radio talk show that his downstairs neighbor had on, and smiled as he recognized the voice of the EIB Network -- Rush Limbaugh.


Giving into Saint Gee's demands, Alicia absently reached out and gave the kitten a couple of strokes along the spine, flipped over another page in the report she was reading, then placed the entire folder on the coffee table and went out to the kitchen to make her favorite cup of tea, Earl Grey, with a touch of honey and milk. Returning to the couch, she let her black cat curl up in her lap and continued her reading.

One cup of tea later, she felt her heart jump in her chest as she read the name of one of the people that Ellison, and somehow Sandburg, had come into contact with and arrested. "No. Can't be." Dumping the rest of the report, and Saint Gee, to the floor as she stood up, she hurried over to her computer and booted up. Once connected with the Internet, she entered the Cascade Police Department files, and with a little judicious 'hacking' got into the photo database and pulled up the booking photo that matched the name she had found. As the man in the photo glared out at her from her monitor, she found herself shaking. "Oh, God! It is him!"

A knock on her door caused her to practically jump out of her skin. Trying to calm herself, she called out, "Just a moment!" and shut down her computer. Opening the door she was surprised to see Ellison standing there. "Oh, hello, Jim."

Sensing her physical reactions, not to him but to whatever had held her attention, he smiled at her. "Alicia. Sorry to bug you..."

Grinning, she interrupted, "You're not bugging me. Come on in." She held the door open wide and closed it behind him, "What can I do for you?"

Jim watched as she hurried over to the couch, picking up scattered papers from the floor and table, shoving them into a open briefcase, which she then snapped shut and locked. "Well, I had noticed that you were home, and, well, I was wondering..." Taking his courage in both hands, he offered up the invitation. "Are you free for lunch?"

Alicia snapped her head around to stare at her tall visitor, and was embarrassed to have a nervous laugh escape her. "Excuse me?"

He felt the heat rising in his face, heard her heart rate increase, and bravely repeated his question. "I was just wondering if you'd like to go out and grab something to eat?"

She couldn't believe her ears. The man she was reading the history of, the one that she'd put on the ground with her gun aimed at his heart, her upstairs neighbor, was asking her out? "Uh, sure. I could eat."


Jim had insisted on driving, but Alicia couldn't complain. The old pickup that he owned ran perfectly, if a little bumpy on some of the roads, and the place that he'd brought them to served a wonderful vegetarian pita. Their conversation was friendly, changing topics often as they went from one subject, to a side tangent to a complete detour. Touching on everything from current politics, favorite movies, music, investigative techniques, to complaining about the weather, which had stubbornly refused to clear. In fact, outside the small café, it had begun to rain in earnest, the rain coming down in sheets.

The talk lagged as the waitress came back by to refill their tea glasses and gather up their plates. Once she was gone, Alicia asked another question in what had become a free exchange of information. "So, Jim, you said earlier that you were in the Army?"

"Yeah."

"What was your MOS? Your job?"

Jim leaned back in the booth. "I'll tell you mine, if you'll tell me what you did in the Air Force."

"Fair enough." She sipped on her tea, then continued. "And it's only polite if I go first, right?" She watched as he nodded. "Okay. I trained in Security. AFOSI to tell the truth." Seeing his brow pucker in confusion, she clarified her remark. "Military Intelligence?"

"Oh. I guess it's safe to assume that you can't talk about it then." He had kept his senses reigned in, not wanting to chance a zone out in public, but he also wanted to engage them to see if she was telling the truth.

"Not really." Alicia clasped her hands together on the tabletop and pointed her index finger at him, "Your turn."

"Ranger, Seventh Group."

"Hmm, Covert Ops." She grinned, "I worked a joint operation with them once, back in 93, they were an interesting group of people."

Jim allowed the surprise he felt show on his face. "How did you like working with the Army?"

A short snicker, that stopped just inside her throat, could be heard clearly. "That group wasn't simple Army. All men, full of testosterone, prideful, stubborn, SOB's that couldn't believe that a 'fly-babe' could possibly know what she was talking about. Oh, yeah, I enjoyed that experience." She shook her head, "I wanted to pound the Major's face into the ground, but in the end, I behaved myself."

"Combat Training?"

"In spades."

"Didn't think the Air Force had training like that."

"Sure they do. We're fighters too, you know. Someone's got to train our pilots how to handle themselves behind enemy lines should they get shot down."

Jim nodded. "Okay, that makes sense. I guess I'm just used to thinking of the Air Force as an overhead support group. A way to get the 'real' fighting force where they need to go."

Alicia shook her head. "Army."

"Sky Jockey."

"Oh, ho?!? You want to exchange insults, Ground Pounder?"

Jim laughed. "No. Not really. I'd probably lose." They laughed together, relaxing further in each other's company. After they had settled down, and finished off their tea, Jim paid for the meal and they hurried out to his truck, getting drenched in the process.

The steady rain had changed over to a full deluge by the time they returned to Prospect Ave. The streets were flooding as the sewer system tried valiantly to keep up with the sudden demand. Deciding that they had nothing left to lose, Jim and Alicia dashed from the truck into the apartment building, laughing like children. Standing in the entrance way, they watched as the rain came to an abrupt stop, making their mad dash seem wasted.

Alicia led the way up the stairwell, having noticed that the lift wasn't working again, and at the second floor landing, she turned to look at Jim who was standing one step below her. "Hmm, I like this."

"What?"

"You're finally at a level that I can handle."

Jim took the final step up to join her on the landing. "You don't like men that tower over you, shorty?" He moved in closer to her, forcing her to crane her neck back to keep eye contact with him. Upon reflection later, he would decide that it was her green/gray eyes that had proved his undoing. The flash that appeared in them was the only warning he had as she faked a punch towards his stomach, causing him to bend in closer, where she grabbed him by the neck and pulled him into a kiss.

Knowing that she was playing a dangerous game, Alicia decided that she didn't care, as she felt Jim's arms come up around her back, pulling her closer into his embrace. The butterflies in her stomach took to flight and she could feel her body responding to him, deep in her woman's core. Her heart was pounding, her blood began to boil and the thought briefly crossed her mind that Bernie would've approved. Pushing the thought aside, Alicia brought her hands away from his neck, letting them travel down his well-muscled arms, then on to his back. Melting into the arms surrounding her, she was enjoying the sensations that he was arousing in her. Until the face she'd seen earlier flashed across her mind, ruining the mood. Reluctantly, she broke off the kiss and moved away from the tempting body before her.

"Jim, I'm sorry..."

"I'm not."

Looking into his eyes, his fire and ice blue eyes, Alicia chewed on her lower lip, wondering why she had reacted the way she had. "I shouldn't have done that, I can't believe I did that."

Jim held her still in his arms, trying to gauge her current reactions, as opposed to the ones he'd detected during the kiss. "Alicia?"

A final shudder passed through her body, as she glimpsed the concern in his eyes. "Jim, I really like you. A lot. But, oh god, I just can't afford the distraction right now." She leaned her head against his chest, relishing the sound of his racing heart under her ear, the damp cloth of his shirt cooling her cheek.

Tucking her head under his chin, he leaned against the wall behind him, pulling her with him, pulling her body into closer contact with his. "I'm a distraction?"

"Yes. A pleasant one."

Jim sighed. "But one you can't have right now? Can I ask why?"

Pushing slightly against his chest, she pulled her head up and softly answered. "I have an assignment coming up, one that I need to focus on, and..."

He brought a hand up to her face, gently laying a fingertip on her lips to halt her words. "Shush. I understand, Alicia."

"Do you?"

"Yes." Smiling, he released her, allowing her to regain her footing. "Just tell me one thing."

"Okay."

"How long will this 'assignment' last?"

She let out a weary laugh, "Only a few days, a week at most."

Reaching out a hand, he pulled her chin up and laid a gentle, fleeting, kiss on her lips. "Fine. I'll be waiting when you're done."

Sighing, she reached up her hands and clasped his face in them. "I hope so."

Noise from the level below them caused them to separate in a hurry as one of the older residents, Mrs. Catropa, cleared her throat. "Well, now that you two are through 'talking', do you mind?"

Blushing, the two allowed the old woman to pass them, then with a final hug and peck on the cheek, Alicia ran to her apartment and disappeared within.


Jim stood under the showerhead, letting the hot water stream over his head, down into the tub. Going over the events of the afternoon with Alicia, he found himself returning again and again to the kiss they'd shared. Even with the steam filling the air around him, he could still smell the scent that was definitely all hers: Exotic spices, herbs, a touch of citrus and a light musky odor that had spiked during the kiss. The feel of her body close to his, tucked into all the proper places; the sound of her heart racing, the taste of her mouth...

He swore and shut off the shower as the water suddenly went ice cold. Scowling, he stepped out and dried off, wondering if it was possible for him to have zoned on a memory. Feeling a rush of pleasure coursing through his veins, Jim smiled and realized that, yes, it was possible to zone on a memory. Changing into dry clothes, he gathered up the wet garments and towel, intent on getting the items into the wash before they could ruin.

He had just returned to the loft from the laundry room, when Blair came bursting into the apartment. The young man was swearing, in several languages, and spotting his partner standing in the kitchen, tossed a manila folder down on the counter.

"You're not going to fucking believe this, read that!"

Quirking an eyebrow at his irate friend, Jim picked up the folder and glanced over the papers within. It was a preliminary report from the Forensics lab on Steven's gun. According to the ballistics technician, Josh Weissen, the rifle marks on slugs fired from the confiscated weapon didn't match the ones on the bullet pulled from Jeff Claiborne's body. It was close, but not close enough. The technician had concluded his report by adding that he was sending the spent bullets, both guns and a copy of his finding to the State Crime lab in the morning. All of which he would hand carry to Olympia.

Closing the folder, he found himself under the close scrutiny of his younger partner. "That happens sometimes, Chief. Maybe the lab rats at State can find the marks we need."

Blair curtly nodded his head. "Maybe. But in the meantime, PA Crawford is preparing to throw the murder charge out." Reaching into the refrigerator, he noticed that Jim didn't seem as upset about this latest information as he thought he would've been. The man's next words only served to confirm his theory.

"So, when we get in to the station in the morning, we make plans to hit all the pawn shops in the area, looking for a recent addition, or records that could lead us in the right direction."

The guide nearly dropped the pitcher of tea, so startled by Jim's calm words that he could only stare at the man lounging against the counter. After a few moments of silence, Blair quipped, "So, your day off went well I take it?"

Jim recognized the question for what it was  the start of a fishing expedition. "Yeah, it did. Thank you very much." And he slipped past his roommate to walk over towards the balcony.

Blair followed him. "Okay, so I know you weren't home when I called about noon to invite you to lunch, so where did you go?"

"Out."

"In this weather?"

"I like the rain. Everything smells so clean afterwards."

"Jim? This is me you're talking to? Your roommate, who knows you don't like getting your feet wet if you can possibly avoid it?" Glancing back over his shoulder into the loft, he spotted a pair of drenched running shoes near the door. The rain had cleared off about an hour and a half ago, so Blair knew that his friend had to have been out in the downpour. Smiling slyly, he returned his attention back to the sentinel. "So, where did you and Alicia end up?"

Snapping his head around, Jim stared at his friend. "What makes you think that I went anywhere with Alicia?"

Slowly reaching up, the guide ran his fingers across his partner's upper lip, the tips coming away lightly covered in a pale shade of lipstick. "Simple, my dear Doctor Watson.... Pink isn't your color."

Bringing his hand up quickly to wipe away the rest of the 'evidence', Jim felt the heat of blood rushing to his face. "Oh, all right. I took her to lunch. Okay?"

"Uh, huh. Funny, when I ran into Mrs. Catropa downstairs, she had a different tale to tell." Ducking under the swat aimed at him, Blair moved away from Jim. "Hey! You get caught kissing a neighbor lady in the stairwell, you got to expect people to spread the word!"

Jim groaned and shook his head. Leaning against the railing, still damp from the rain, he admitted to most of what had transpired. Omitting the obvious, as his friend was already well informed by the building's gossip lady. He also felt safe in not telling his guide about the small zoneout he'd experienced in the shower.


Alicia had sat down hours earlier to try to finish reading the files that Roberto had sent over on Ellison, and Sandburg. Her phone rang just as she was completing the part of Blair's file where he had reportedly admitted to having submitted a fraudulent thesis paper to his doctoral committee. Reaching over, she absently picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Two hours out."

Slapping the file down onto the low coffee table, Alicia stood up. "Thank you, Wilhelm. Going to Sat-phone." Hanging up the phone, she grabbed up her company blazer, thankful that she had thought to shower and change earlier. With barely a glance backward, she left her apartment, tripping over a black, fuzzy, speeding object as Saint Gee streaked back into his home as he raced from a tenacious Pomeranian. Slamming the door shut, she managed to separate the two animals, and reached over to scoop up the little dog.

"And just who do you belong to, Little One?" The dog was growling in frustration, but making no effort to wriggle out of her grasp or snap her fingers off as she reached out to the tag hanging off its collar. Reading the address on the tag, Alicia shook her head. "Oh, great! That figures." Tucking the tan and white 'bedroom slipper' under her arm, she headed over to apartment 204, to return Mrs. Catropa's pet to the elderly woman.


Greeting the man who ran Hallstatt Trust International with an iron fist, Alicia was surprised when he personally handed her a large, bound, document. "Hallo, Fräulein Andreson. I had this delivered to me while we held over in Washington DC. Thought you might find it interesting reading."

"Director, welcome to Cascade. And thank you, I think." She couldn't tell what the older man had just handed her, the airport lights just weren't strong enough for her to make out anything beyond it's apparently being a book.

The Director let out a chuckle, obviously pleased with himself. "Ah, Alicia! Don't worry, it's just more research on the young man that you had Roberto and Wilhelm working on."

"Ellison?"

"No, no. The other one."

"Oh?" She waved him and the rest of the entourage towards a stretch limousine that was parked near the company plane. "This way, sir. I've had the team at the hotel alerted to your arrival, everything checks out fine." Alicia made sure that she and Wilhelm were the last ones to enter the vehicle, letting Roberto and Hiram get in first, followed by the Director. Turning in her seat to inform the driver that they were ready, she finally greeted the rest of the entourage.

Hiram reached up and turned on a small reading lamp, illuminating the interior of the limousine. "Just how is it that you've come into researching one of the company's grant recipients?"

Her head snapped around, and she stared at Hiram. "What?"

The Director chuckled again as Hiram explained, "Mr. Sandburg was a promising Anthropologist. After our 'experts' read his Master's thesis, that document that your holding in your lap, they decided to help fund his research. You two share a common interest in 'outdated' and controversial theories."

Pulling her eyes away from his face, she looked down at the 'book' in her lap. Thankful for the better lighting in the passenger compartment of the limo, she opened the cover to read the introduction, trusting the driver, Wilhelm and Roberto to keep watch over their mutual charge.

'His interest in Burton's book...Well, well.' Closing the cover, she looked back up at the Director. "Sir? Just how much do you know about this 'theory' of Sandburg and Burton's?"

"Enough. Please, Alicia, we'll talk about it later. Privately."

"Yes, sir." Inside, she wondered if she'd be able to sleep tonight. The more she dug up, or rather the people that she trusted dug up, on Ellison and subsequently Sandburg, the more interested she became in the two men.


Jim had awakened at his normal time, gone through his 'morning routine', then woken up his partner. They had a long day ahead of them. After checking in with Simon, by phone, they headed out to begin canvassing all the various pawn stores, gun shops and getting with the many informants they had cultivated over the years.

Blair estimated that he and Jim had talked with about 30 people so far this morning, gathering paper trails when possible on sales of 9mm Berettas over the past three months, or tracking down new gun owners that had avoided going through 'normal' channels. In other words, people who had bought the guns off the streets: Gang members, couriers, nervous businessmen, and concerned housewives. While most of the people had been put off by Jim's attitude, they normally opened up to the former grad student. After reassuring the new owners that they weren't after them for purchasing a handgun, that if at all possible, their cooperation could come up for consideration in any cases pending against them in court  and there were a few of these  the two detectives were able to confiscate fifteen guns that matched the one that Blair had taken into custody when he had arrested Stuart Phelps.

After detouring to the police labs to drop off the weapons for testing, making sure that they had kept the 'owner's' list with the serial numbers to the guns in question, they headed over to try to get in to talk with PA Crawford. Luckily, she was in.

Deborah Crawford looked up at the two men walking into her office after she had yelled out 'come in.' Smiling up at them from her position on the floor she warned them, "Watch your step," gesturing to the newspapers spread about the floor space, protecting the carpet. A couple of whines accompanied her warning.

Taking in the scene before them, the most ferocious PA the city had ever seen, surrounded by scattered newsprint and holding two squirming puppies, Jim felt a grin growing on his face. " More 'rescued' pups, Madam Prosecutor?"

She managed to coax the puppies off her lap and rose to her feet. "Yes, unfortunately. One of the paralegals found them this morning on the roadside. Momma and one other pup had been hit by a car, how these two avoided the same fate is nothing short of a miracle."

Folding himself into a lotus position, Blair joined the two playful bulldog pups on the floor, was immediately dubbed 'fair game' and found himself quite busy trying to keep the puppies from chewing on his clothing, his hair, or anything thing else they could get their teeth into. "Jim..."

"No, Sandburg. I know where you're going, and before you ask, no."

Catching onto the conversation, Deborah stepped in. "Sorry, but I already have found homes for them. If you'd stopped by earlier, maybe." Walking back around her desk, she sat down in her chair and glanced up at Jim. "So, Ellison, please tell me you're here with 'good' news in the Phelps case."

Seeing that his partner was too occupied with the puppies, Jim brought her up to speed on their progress so far in their investigation.

"You have the list of the 'illegal' gun owners?"

"Yes, and it's staying right where it's at."

Deborah nailed the detective with a cast iron look. "You are not giving those guns back. They were purchased illegally, therefore forfeit under current federal laws, Ellison."

"They won't be getting the guns back, nor will I allow the people that purchased them get prosecuted for wanting to protect themselves or their families."

"Detective, you realize that by withholding that information you, yourself, and your partner could be brought up on charges?"

Jim nodded tersely, but it was Blair who answered for them both. "We'll work something out with them. Maybe even help the 'honest' owners to obtain new guns and a license, while working something else out with the gang bangers and drug dealers." He managed to stand up without stepping on a puppy, "I was kinda hoping to work with you on that issue."

Deborah leaned back in her chair, arms crossing her chest. "Let me guess, in exchange for their cooperation, they get a lesser charge or a 'get out of jail - free' card?"

Jim nodded as he agreed with her, partially. "Something along those lines. The ones that willingly gave up their guns, knowing full well they wouldn't be getting them back, and have cases pending before the court, should have their cooperation taken into consideration when sentencing recommendations are made." It was the old game of 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' that had been played out for as long as written law had existed, going all the way back to the time of Henry the First of England, the man that gave the concept of 'one law for all' to his country, then the world as England expanded her rule.

"Okay." Deborah unfolded her arms and leaned forward again, her body language matching her words. "I'll take it under advisement. You'll let me know when these cases come up?"

"Yes."

"Good. And good work on the investigation so far. I'm rather impressed. With any kind of luck, we'll get the evidence we need to nail Phelps with the murder charge." She looked up at the two men standing across from her. "That is, if you can get any of your 'informants' to testify that they had personally exchanged barrels with him in court."

Blair nodded, understanding why the PA would possibly need such testimony. "We'll see what we can do, should we get a match."

With all parties satisfied, Jim and Blair excused themselves from the PA's office, and left the courts building in search of lunch. They still had about 17 more stores to cover before calling it a day, and they had to put in an appearance at the Precinct at some point today.


Alicia was really starting to hate her Director. After dropping him off at the Marriott Essex late last night, early this morning, she had been hoping that jet lag would keep him hotel bound at least until later this afternoon. But no, he had other plans in mind, sight seeing, shopping, and trying to convince her that she must have a new ensemble for the upcoming Grand Opening Gala for the Cascade office of Hallstatt Trust International. So she had found herself, along with Robert, acting as chauffeur, and Wilhelm, acting as bodyguard, going from store to store in the more affluent shopping districts of the city. The man had already plunked down over $2000 on a couple of new suits for himself, another $1000 or so on suits for Roberto and Wilhelm, and now the group had found themselves in a exclusive Women's Clothier, where everything that Alicia deemed 'suitable' he objected to, and vice versa. The latest dress that the Director has chosen for her to 'try on' was the worst so far. It made her look more like a High School student, getting ready for Senior Prom night, than a woman in her mid thirties.

Stepping out of the changing room to model the dress for the Director, she heard Roberto struggle to swallow a chuckle and nailed him with her best glare. "This is ridiculous." The thought crossed her mind that it was probably a good thing that Jim, or Blair, would never see her like this, which caused her to blush as she picked up on the noise coming from her boss.

The Director sighed, hoping his security agent hadn't picked up on his own stifled laughter. "Ah, Fraulein, it is hopeless. You assure me that the dress you have chosen will prove acceptable to local standards?"

Hopeful, she nodded. "Yes, sir. It shall. And allow me to move freely if needed."

He waved her on. "Go and change then. We should be getting back to the hotel to see if Hiram has recovered yet from his malaise." They had left the consultant behind since the man had obviously been suffering from jet lag. And while the Director didn't want to admit to such a weakness, he was feeling a bit tired himself and knew that he needed to rest. But putting the serious Andreson through the torture of dress shopping and tour guide had been enlightening. She had only been in the city for a short time, but had already learned much about it. He was heartily satisfied with his choice of managers for the new office.

Alicia darted back into the cubicle, stripped out of the mauve taffeta dress and gratefully changed back into her slacks and dress shirt, strapping her gun back onto her waistband before concealing it under her blazer once again. Seeing that the Director was ready to leave, she sent Roberto to pull the car up to the storefront. Once she spotted the company's car, a modified black Mercedes-Benz 600E at the curbside, she stepped outside to perform a routine 'threat assessment.' Carefully scanning the immediate area, she spotted nothing out of the ordinary, and signaled to Wilhelm and the Director to proceed out to the Mercedes. Opening the driver's side back door for the two men, she watched in gratification as the often-rehearsed routine moved along. Wilhelm entered the back seat first, effectively putting himself between the street and the Director who quickly followed the bodyguard into the vehicle.

She wasn't, then, sure what had drawn her attention to the motorcycle that had come around the corner, a block ahead of their location. But two things did register in her brain: Two riders, and the passenger was handing off a weapon to the driver as the passenger then took over control of the bike. When she spotted the weapon, her hand went for her gun as she shoved the Director into the car.

"DOWN!"

The shooter on the motorcycle started his deadly rain, spraying the area around his target with rounds. Alicia had ducked under the meager cover afforded her by the Mercedes as she finished clearing her Glock model 29 from it's holster, activated the targeting laser and came up looking for her targets. A burning sensation in her upper left arm caused her to hiss, but she kept her objective in mind. Pinpointing the cyclists as they passed her position, she aimed and fired two rounds. The bike went down in an uncontrollable slide, piling into a building not far from where she stood. She ran over to the assailants as Roberto, following procedures, gunned the powerful engine and drove off in a squeal of tires.


Detective Brian Rafe couldn't believe what he was seeing. He'd seen the strange group of four, a older man with two younger men and a young lady, in the shopping district, going from shop to shop, ever since he'd arrived to pick up his rented tux for his cousin's wedding. He was just leaving the shop when a motorcycle came around the corner and all hell broke loose. Dropping his garment bag, he pulled out his cell phone, called the situation in, and raced towards the scene, just as the black Mercedes pulled away at a break neck speed, leaving behind the small, dark blonde, woman. Before he could reach her, she took off after the shooters, who had crashed, and watched in horror as she calmly shot both of the downed men, in broad daylight, in front of several witnesses, himself included. He pulled out his shield and his service weapon as he continued to run towards the woman.

Sliding to a stop, Rafe took aim on the woman. "Police! Drop the gun!"

Deactivating the laser sight on the Glock Alicia complied with the order. The gun dropped from her hands, which she then raised in surrender.


Captain Simon Banks had taken note of the latest comings and goings of his division's members. Joel Taggart had dropped by, on a break from the academy, to touch base with everyone. Then Connor had shown up, checked her e-mails, then ran out again after informing Rhonda that she had to meet with a CI on the case she was still working with Narcotics. Brown was looking a bit lost, as his partner had requested some lost time to handle getting ready for a wedding, as he updated his reports on the department's computer. Ellison and Sandburg had finally come back in from their follow up work on the Phelps case and were busy trying to put their notes into some semblance of order. All in all, a very nice, quiet day in Major Crimes. The phone on his desk rang even as the thought raced across his mind. 'Never should've even thought that Q-word.' He picked up the phone and answered tersely, "Banks."

After listening to the caller for a minute, he slammed the phone down and stepped out of his office. "People! Listen up!" The bullpen descended into silence. "We've got a major shooting in the 1200 block of Government Ave. Two down, several wounded, one subject in custody. We're canvassing. Let's move!" He had the satisfaction of watching his team move out with hurried, but not frantic, movements. Detectives, plain clothed officers and the uniforms. He caught up with Henri Brown, just as the detective reached the elevators, with Ellison and Sandburg on his heels.

"Brown, go to Cascade General, back up your partner."

"Rafe?" Henri was clearly confused, then a thought occurred to him. "Oh, hell. He's not hurt is he?"

The elevator opened and the four men, Simon, Jim, Henri and Blair, entered as the Captain explained. "No, he was the arresting officer and one of the witnesses. He's escorting his subject to the ER, shooter took one in the arm."

Henri nodded, as Jim asked a question. "Captain, do you have any idea what went down?"

"Just what I told everyone else, Jim." Simon removed a cigar from his jacket pocket and began to chew on it. The elevator opened onto the garage level and they stepped out into barely contained chaos. Units, marked and unmarked, were pulling out of various parking slots, and pulling out of the garage. Nodding to Henri, Simon dismissed the detective to his assignment and walked over to his unit and managed to pull out of the garage just ahead of Ellison's pickup.


Doctor Abrams examined the wound on the arm of the woman sitting on the exam table. She was wearing handcuffs and being guarded by no less than three officers. Two were uniformed officers; the other was a detective. The woman was disturbingly quiet as he cleaned out the wound, which looked like either a knife wound, or a graze from a bullet. Looking up to meet the lady's eyes, he said, "Miss, this isn't too bad. I can either stitch it or apply butterfly closures."

"Butterfly." The voice was low, tense, and that one word was all she had uttered since the exam had begun.

Nodding, he sent a nurse out to grab what he needed from supplies. When she came back, he finished dressing the wound, then with a nod of his head turned his patient back over to the custody of the police and left the room to attend to other patients, some of them from the same incident that the woman had reportedly been injured at. Abrams smiled as he realized how much information he could gather from those other patients.

Rafe reached out to assist the small woman down from the table, but had to step back as she hopped off the table and glared at him. Careful not to grab her by the injured arm, he escorted her out of the ER and into the waiting patrol unit, climbing into the back seat with her. Just before he shut the door, he spotted his partner approaching. Stepping back out he called out to Brown. "Hey, H."

Henri stepped on over to his partner's side, looking the young man over to reassure himself that Rafe wasn't hurt. Once that was completed, he bent down and took at look at the prisoner in the back of the marked unit. Whistling softly, he straightened back up. "That's your shooter?"

Nodding, Rafe responded. "Yeah. Hasn't said more than two words since I arrested her." Reaching into his pants pocket, he pulled out a set of keys. "Get you to do me a favor, H?"

"Left the car at the scene?"

"Had to. After Technical Support gets done over there, would you make sure it makes it back to the garage?"

Henri took the keys from his friend, "Sure. You need any help with her?"

"No. We're going straight back to Central. Meet you there?" Rafe started to climb back into the unit.

"May be a while, but yeah." Henri closed the door, securing his partner and the prisoner, then tapped on the window to get the other man's attention. "Talk to you later, Brian." Stepping back, he watched the unit pull out of the circular drive and into traffic.


Slowly, the investigators trickled back into Major Crimes. They had spent three hours interviewing witnesses, while Technical Support had gathered up evidence. Jim had been surprised to see that the 'rounds' that the first two shooters had used weren't normal slugs, but rather shards of metal that looked like small torpedoes. He wanted a look at the weapon that had fired the things, but that had been confiscated first, along with the weapon that the other shooter had used. One of the techs had turned a bag over to Captain Banks that contained one of the 'projectiles' that had been recovered. He vowed to get a closer look once everything settled down a bit.

Entering the bullpen, he found Brian Rafe listening to a tape with a woman's voice on it. Focusing his hearing, he clearly heard the words and came to halt, shocked.

"Jim?" Blair touched the sentinel on the arm, drawing him back from the edge of another zone out, the second one of the afternoon. He'd zoned out at the crime scene, but wouldn't explain on what, and now this. "Jim? What is it?"

Jim shook off the hand on his arm and with a scowl, approached Rafe's desk. "Rafe, you have a chance to interview your subject yet?"

Brian looked up, shutting off the tape. "No. She refused to speak without counsel present. She's already called someone, but listen to this. She used a recorded line and spoke only 6 words." Rewinding the tape back, he pushed play and the voices on the tape came through the speakers.

Male voice: "Hello?"

Female voice: "Et Arcadia Ego. Cascade, Washington. PD."

There was a 'click' on the tape as the call was terminated. Rafe stopped the tape. "That's it. Any idea what she was doing?" He sighed when Jim shook his head. "Damn. It sounded like a code phrase or something like that to me, I was hoping..."

"Sorry, if it is, it's not one I recognize."

Blair had heard the voices, and stepped closer to his fellow detective's desk. "Rafe? Could you play that again? I think I might have a translation for you, it sounds familiar to me." He was very aware of the hopeful look that was aimed at him by the perplexed detective. "No promises, but it does sound vaguely familiar."

Ignoring the sounds around him, Blair closed his eyes and concentrated on the words that were issuing from the tape player. "Et Arcadia ego?" He muttered under his breath, puzzling over the words in his mind.

Jim watched, and listened, as his partner and friend began to pace in a tight circle, obviously concentrating on the words and not the voice that spoke them. The tone was flat, almost dead, and familiar to his sensitive ears. Jim knew, from those six words uttered, who it was that Rafe had arrested. Sitting down in a chair next to the younger detective's desk, he decided to leave Blair to his mutterings and see what he could get out of the witness/arresting officer. "So, Brian, what the hell happened?"

"It was unbelievable, Jim!" Catching the senior investigator's 'shushing' hand signal, he dropped his voice so as not to disturb the pacing and thought process of the former grad student. "I don't know who she is, but she's damn good at whatever it is she does. I couldn't react fast enough, I mean, I was there, saw the whole thing go down and couldn't react as fast as that lady did. She must've seen the motorcycle approaching and realized what was about to go down, for she shoved a older man into a car, slamming the door shut behind him, used the vehicle for cover and came up firing as the car hauled ass out of the area. Two shots! She took the bikers down with two shots, surprised me so much that when I realized what she was doing I couldn't stop her." Rafe had to stop in his narration to take a breath and Jim jumped in.

"Stop her?"

"Yeah, she ran up to the other shooters, and shot them both. Double tapped them both." He shook his head, "I didn't even realize that she'd been hit until I was putting the cuffs on her and found the blood dripping off her left hand."

"She was hit?"

"Yeah, must have taken the shot while they were still firing. I've seen some pretty amazing shots, but she had to have been wounded when she took them down, cause the only shots I heard after they crashed were hers."

Jim could tell that Rafe was still running on an adrenaline high from the incident; he couldn't blame him. Before he could ask anything else, Blair spoke up.

" 'In Arcadia I'? What the hell?"

"Chief?"

Blair spun on his heel to face the two sitting at Rafe's desk, " 'Et Arcadia ego', it's Latin, or vulgar Latin. But why would someone use that phrase for a code?"

Jim and Rafe didn't have a chance to answer as just then, Jim was hailed from the doorway to Major Crimes. Looking over his shoulder to see who had called his name, he spotted Josh Weissen approaching him, carrying a very odd looking weapon in a clear plastic evidence bag. "What the hell is that thing, Josh?" Jim got to his feet as the ballistics specialist walked over to him.

"I was hoping you could tell me. I showed it to Gardner and he couldn't tell what it was, sent me over to you. Saying something about your time in the Army might give you an idea?" He handed the weapon over to the former covert-Ops operator.

Taking the weapon in hand, Jim looked it over. It had a pistol like grip, a Tommy gun like cylinder behind the grip, a shortened stock, and a fairly wide mouth barrel. And it appeared to be made entirely of some kind of hardened plastic. He estimated the total weight to be about 10 pounds, and he didn't know what it was. Jim fought the urge to remove the thing from its protective wrappings, wanting to examine the weapon closer.

Simon came out of his office. Seeing a gathering of his people around Rafe's desk, including Weissen from the labs, he walked over to see what had everyone so fascinated. Looking over the shoulder of Blair, he spotted the odd looking weapon in Jim's hand. "What the hell?!?"

Jim looked up and spotted his captain standing behind his partner. He also thought he saw a flash of recognition cross the man's face. "Captain?"

"Let me see that thing." Blair stepped out of his way, clearing a path to Jim's side.

Simon gingerly lifted the weapon from Jim's hands and took a closer look. "Well I'll be damned! I didn't think they were manufacturing these for sale yet."

"You know what that thing is, Captain?" Weissen couldn't hide his excitement.

"Yeah, only seen them in books though."

Jim quirked an eyebrow as his brain suddenly supplied the information he'd been seeking. "A Pancor Jackhammer."

"Yes." Simon handed the weapon back to his detective. "Here. Hang on to that. I've got a meeting with Chief Warren. Watch this group for me, Jim." At the detective's nodded acceptance of responsibility, he left the group.

"Okay, I give up. What exactly is a 'Pancor Jackhammer'?" Rafe looked back to Jim for an explanation.

Jim handed the weapon back to Weissen, "Essentially? It's a shotgun."

"Not like one I've ever seen." Josh cradled the shotgun in one arm as he dug into his pocket for something that he handed over to Ellison. "And I've never seen a round like that either."

Jim took the object from Josh's hand and now that he knew what the weapon was, he now recalled the proper name for the 'rounds' that had been used in the shooting. "It's a flechette. There are about twenty to forty of these babies packed into a normal shotgun shell, the Jackhammer holds ten rounds, which means that you have access to about two to four hundred flechettes that can damn near cut a man in half. Deadly as hell."

Josh paled, "Two hundred of these damn things? Support teams reported only finding about forty of these 'flechette' things at the scene." He lifted up the shotgun for emphasis, "And the chambers on this were empty."

Jim nodded. "Okay, that means we've probably got more victims than we thought." He turned to face the primary investigator. "Rafe? That car you saw pull off, to the best of your knowledge, was that the target of the people that used that?" He pointed to the shotgun.

"Yeah." He closed his eyes, replaying the scene in his head. "They must have gotten at least two rounds into the car. A black Mercedes. One of the larger ones. Should have body damage on the passenger side from the shooting." Glancing up at the chief detective, he grimaced. "Sorry, I can't recall any other details about the car."

"You gave us enough." Jim clasped the detective on the shoulder. Bringing his eyes up to address the room full of people he put the investigation into a higher gear. "Okay, Blair? Get to work on that phrase that our 'other' shooter used. Find out exactly what it means and anything else you can dig up." His partner nodded and scooted over to his desk, firing up his computer and taking his reading glasses out. "Rafe? Call the hospitals and clinics, see if you can find any other victims that might match our case. The rest of you, if you can, follow up with some of the witnesses that weren't injured. Maybe we'll get lucky and someone will have gotten the tag number on the Mercedes." He watched as the bullpen started to jump. Turning back to the support tech, he handed back the flechette. "Keep that gun safe. I'm sure that Captain Banks will want another look at it."

"I'll put it in the heavy lock up in my lab." Josh left the bullpen, intent on getting back to his lab and finishing the tests he had planned for the weapon and the rounds that Ellison had named 'flechettes.'

Jim nodded, and deciding that he, and Blair, needed a cup of coffee, walked over towards the break room, carefully avoiding looking into the interrogation room that held the only surviving shooter from this afternoon's incident. He knew who sat in there, but didn't want to acknowledge her existence, let alone talk with her right now. From Rafe's accounts of the events, she had killed two people, in cold blood, without a care that she'd been seen doing so. It added up to only one thing in his mind: Black Ops. Something he didn't want to get involved in, that disgusted him, and that it was her, only made matters worse.


Captain Banks entered Chief Roger Warren's office at the man's shouted invitation, to find not only the man himself, but another man as well. A man dressed in a suit whose demeanors practically screamed 'Fed' to him. "Excuse me, gentlemen. Chief? You wanted to see me?"

Warren looked up from the report he was reading. "Yes, Captain, I did. Your people are working the incident from Government Avenue, right?"

"The shooting? Yes." Simon noticed that there were more visitors in the office, standing in the background, valiantly trying not be noticed.

"Thought so." Warren stood up and gestured to the men standing in his office. "These gentlemen are here to take over the case." He made no attempt to hide his displeasure at that idea.

"What?"

One of the visitors, a tall swarthy looking man, stepped forward and introduced himself. "Ali El Saduhl, Captain. We were called about this incident, as it involved one of our operatives, and came as soon as we could."

Simon shook the man's hand as he looked him square in the eyes. "One of your operatives?"

"Yes. One of our best. Assigned to guard the Director of Hallstatt Trust. I was informed that she had been brought in? For questioning?"

"Someone was, she hasn't spoken to any of my detectives yet."

Saduhl smiled, "That is how it should be. Can you show us to your department? We'll need to gather up everything that is pertinent to the case, including our operative."

Simon got over his shock and found anger in its place. "And just who the hell are you?!?"

The smile on Saduhl's face faded. "We represent a number of groups, Captain. FBI, CIA, Interpol, US Secret Service, Department of Defense." He had pointed to each man, or men, that were representatives of each department named. "I myself am from NSA."

"And which one does my suspect, your operative, belong to?"

"Actually, she belongs to no one. But she is registered with the USSS and DOD as a Dignitary Protection Specialist. If what occurred is what I think it was, she was merely doing her job."

The tall black Captain seethed. The case was a messy one, sure, but his men and women were more than capable of handling the whole thing, without outside help if it had been a normal case. Apparently, it wasn't. "Chief, I have to let you know, I don't like this."

"You don't have to. Just get these men down to Major Crimes and make sure that they have everything they need before leaving. Capice?"

Nodding his understanding, Simon led the large group out of the Chief of Police's office and down to Major Crimes. By the time they had reached his department, several of the visitors had broken off, going to other offices within the Precinct. Only NSA agent and one other man remained behind him. Once there, Simon stood in the doorway, taking in the activity as his people worked the case that had exploded into existence, not wanting to do what he had to do.


Blair looked up from the computer to see Simon leading a well-dressed man down the hall towards the door to the bullpen. 'Uh-oh, Fed.' Reaching across the desktops, he caught Jim's attention and pointedly directed his attention towards the door. He saw the detective stiffen and the jaw muscles clench as he spotted the strange visitor for himself.

Jim came to his feet just as Simon entered the bullpen and raised his voice in announcement. "People! Your attention, please?!" His voice roared out over the din of the bullpen and silence fell. "I need you to gather up all your notes, interviews, testimonies, everything and turn them over to this gentleman. As of now, this case is no longer any of our concern."

"What!?!"

'Of course, you would be the one to object.' Simon thought as he turned to face the older half of his best team. "Jim, the case is closed. Get your notes together and fork them over to the agent."

Jim took a moment to glare at the men assembled behind his Captain, and recognized one. "Saduhl. A little far from home, aren't you?"

"Ah, Captain Ellison. Wondered where you had gotten off to. And no, I'm not." Saduhl stepped forward and produced a photo ID badge which he handed over to the former Ranger. "As you can see, I'm now working for your government."

Jim looked over the ID, passing it over to Blair who had stepped up beside him, and without another word, turned back to his desk and began gathering up the notes he had compiled on the case. Once he started doing this, everyone else started moving too. Within a few minutes, seven uniformed officers had been tagged to play courier by the NSA agent. The other visitor that had appeared in the bullpen, nodded to Saduhl, then, walked over to the interrogation room and opened the door, then stepped inside for a few minutes. Jim grabbed Blair by the arm and tried to turn his attention elsewhere when the door opened back up to reveal the identity of the shooter who been held in there. Too late. His guide recognized her, his heart rate skyrocketing as he took in her appearance.

"No." That one word contained so much. Shock, disbelief, awe, and an almost prayer like askance.

"Chief, let it go."


Alicia looked up from the tabletop that she'd been studying for the past four hours or so, expecting to see the detective who had arrested her, not the man that walked in the door. Snapping to her feet in reflex, she stood at 'parade rest', out of respect for the man's rank, even though he wasn't in uniform. "Sir!"

"Relax, Captain. Sorry I didn't get here sooner. You ready to leave?"

"Yes, sir."

He watched as she came around the table, spotting the bandage on her upper left bicep. He held out a hand to stop her. "You were injured?"

She looked down at the bandage, then back up at the older gentlemen. "Flesh wound. Nothing serious, General." Her white dress shirt had been butchered by the ER staff that had treated her, leaving her with only one intact long sleeve and a bloodstained shirt. Stains that would've ruined it on their own, but now… well it might as well be a rag.

"If you're sure, then let's get you out of here." The general led her out of the room, only to have her halt as she looked into the bullpen. He grasped her elbow, gaining her attention and pulled her away from the window. Looking over his shoulder, he spotted the detective who had protested the groups action, and his partner watching them. He made a mental note to ask her about them, later. Just as they approached the elevators, one opened up to reveal a man in the uniform of Hallstatt Security.

Alicia nailed the man with a glare. "The Director?"

"Wilhelm..."

She cut him off, piling him into the wall, her hand on his chest. "The Director?"

The man blinked, then nodded. "Fine. Shoulder wound. Not serious."

"Good. Now, Wilhelm?"

"Dead. Ten rounds to the chest."

"Damn." Alicia felt her legs turn rubbery, and was grateful for the general's support. She looked back up at the man who had delivered the news. "Davis, I'm sorry. I know that Will was your friend." Her voice had gone from its earlier growl to a soft, soothing whisper. "Tell me, Roberto?"

Davis nodded his head, accepting the apology. "Rob's going to be okay. Took a single round in the shoulder, as well as a few cuts from flying glass."

Sensing that they were drawing a crowd, General Hammond cleared his throat and indicated the still open elevator. "Andreson? We need to go. Now."

With a curt nod of her head, Alicia stepped into the elevator, followed rapidly by the General and Davis. The door closed but not before she spotted Jim Ellison, staring at her from down the hallway. 'Well, you didn't really want to get involved, did you Al?' Her mind supplied as her heart started to break, denying the idea.


Blair and Jim returned home to the loft, after what had proved a very frustrating day, to find that their door had been kicked in and a warrant pinned to it. Pulling the paper from the door, Blair read it over and handed it to Jim as he stepped into the apartment. The place had been tossed; nothing left unturned, and was a mess. Going over to the table, he noticed that the files that Jim and he had gathered on Alicia were gone, and his laptop had been messed with. Hands shaking, he pulled the computer over to him and turned it on. "Damn!"

"Chief?"

He spun around to face his friend. "It's all gone! All my notes, my files, everything! They reformatted the hard drive!"

Looking at the search warrant that had been pinned to the door, Jim felt a rush of anger. His privacy had been invaded, violated, all because of one Alicia Andreson. His voice was a low growl as he asked, "Your sentinel notes?"

Blair felt a surge of fear and ran towards his room, sliding to a halt and dropping to his knees, reaching under the bed and pulled out a couple of large boxes. Opening the lids, he found that his handwritten notebooks hadn't been disturbed. He sighed in relief. "They're safe, Jim."

Jim didn't have a chance to voice his relief, as the phone rang. Reaching out he grabbed up the receiver in the kitchen. "Ellison."

"Ellison, let me speak with Sandburg." The voice of Deborah Crawford came through the line. Seeing a relieved partner stepping out of his room, Jim motioned the younger man to the phone and handed it off to him.

Wondering who could be calling, Blair answered. "This is Sandburg."

"Sandburg, I just finished talking with Judge Pitts and Phelps' attorney. I'm sorry, I've been ordered to drop the murder charge."

"What?! Why? We're getting the evidence we need! Deborah, we just need more time!" Blair noticed that Jim's head shot up, then tilted a bit to the side as he focused in on the conversation.

"Pitts feels that you're just wasting the City's time and Taxpayers money chasing an impossible lead. In return for my office dropping the murder charge, Phelps pleads guilty to several counts of armed robbery." Deborah sighed. "The Judge has already signed off on the deal. He gets a two-year sentence, suspended, Supervised Probation for five, then unsupervised probation for another three. I'm sorry."

"Suspended sentence? He doesn't do any time?"

"No."

"That sucks!" Blair didn't even say goodbye, just hung up the phone. Turning around to clue his partner in on the Phelps case, he realized that he was alone. The door to the loft left wide open. "Jim?"

His partner didn't answer him, but Blair could hear someone running down the stairs. "Don't do this, man!" Knowing that his roommate had heard everything, piled on top of a very frustrating day, he wondered what his friend was thinking. Running out the door, he could hear someone banging on a door on the floor below. Sprinting to catch up with his partner, he caught up to him just as the door to apartment 207 was opened.

Alicia had just stepped out of the shower when the knocking, no make that banging, rattled through her home. She pulled on her robe, then padded down the short hallway to her room, intent on ignoring the persistent pounding. Besides, she had a friend visiting, who could answer the door if she wanted to.

Agent Frances Locke, United States Secret Service, carefully opened the door, gun at ready, knowing it was too early for their ride to be here. She found herself facing a very upset, tall, man. Keeping her gun at ready, she went over in her head where she had seen this man before. Then it occurred to her, she'd seen his photo in the apartment upstairs that she had helped search. Her voice was cool as she addressed the man. "Detective Ellison, need I remind you that you're off this case?"

Jim glared at the woman standing before him. "I need to speak to Andreson. Privately." He knew that this woman had to be a federal agent, and therefore armed, but he didn't care.

"Frances? It's okay, let him in."

Jim pushed past the agent, and approached Alicia who was standing in her bathrobe in the middle of the living room. "We need to talk."

She nodded, looked behind him to grab Frances' attention and spotted Blair standing in the doorway. "Yes. We do. Frances? How much time?"

The agent glanced at her watch. "Two hours."

"That enough time for you, Ellison?" She stepped back as his ice blue eyes flared in anger. Walking around him to approach the agent and Blair, she felt her heart skip a beat as she picked up on the absolute disgust in the younger man's eyes. Anger she could, and would handle, disgust..."Frances, leave."

"Al, I'm not supposed to do that."

"I don't give a shit! Leave. What Ellison, Sandburg and I have to talk about is not for your ears!" She instantly regretted snapping at the agent like that, but she could apologize later.

Waiting until the door had shut behind the Agent, Jim launched into his 'talk' with Alicia. "Just who the hell are you?! How is it that you can kill two people in cold blood, in full view of several witnesses, including a cop, and get the case yanked out of our hands?! Not to mention walking out of a holding cell without ever answering a single damn question!"

"That it? Or do you have more?" She couldn't help but notice that Blair had taken up a stance behind Jim, as if watching his partner's back.

Her calm voice infuriated him further. "Damn it! The damn Secret Service tosses my place, destroys my partner's laptop, and a whole group of alphabet department agents waltz in, confiscate everything we had gathered on that shooting and we're not told why?! So tell me, Andreson, who the hell are you!?"

She had watched as he paced her living room, carefully avoiding stepping on Saint Gee who had darted into the room and took up a seat on the back of the couch and was now glaring at the detective. "I'm still Alicia, but there is more to me than meets the eye."

"No shit! So tell me, so that I can make some sort of sense of everything that has happened. Because I can tell you, I'm not liking what I'm thinking right now."

"I can't tell you everything. But shall I take a guess as to what you're thinking?" She took his snort of disgust as an answer. "I'm not an assassin."

He stalked up to her, towering over her. "Right. Then the two men you shot in cold blood were an 'accident'?"

"No. I did that." She refused to back up, not in her own home and not to this man. To any man, ever again. "Are you going to tell me that you haven't done worse?"

"I've never killed in cold blood!"

"Somalia."

Jim blinked, then stepped back from the petite woman. "What? How in the hell? That was a mission!"

"You're out of it, be grateful! Some of us never have that luxury! I did as I was trained to do. Doing my damn job! I don't like it, I never have! But I will not stand here and let you, of all people, judge me!" She had him up against the wall and reached out and opened the door. "Get out!" She managed to include Blair when she was pushing Jim, and gladly tossed them both out of her place.

Jim found himself standing the hallway as the door slammed in his face, once again. He looked up to see Agent Locke returning and walked away, his partner by his side, he heard the agent open Alicia's door behind him and caught a sound that ripped him apart.


Blair watched as Jim systematically moved about the loft, picking up that which the Secret Service had tossed. He was helping out, rearranging the furniture, and wondering how he was going to ask the question that was burning in his mind.

"Jim?"

"What?"

"I want to ask you something, about what Alicia said..."

Jim's head snapped up from behind the kitchen island where he'd been trying to get the cabinets back into some semblance of order. "What, Chief?"

Blair bit his lip, then decided to go for broke. "She mentioned Somalia? What did she mean?"

Shoulders slumped, he walked around to the front of the couch and sat down. Scrubbing his face, he muttered. "I wish I could say that I didn't know. That I'd never been there. God, what a mess!"

"Jim?" Blair walked up behind his friend, placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Man, if you can't tell me, don't."

Leaning back, Jim reached up and patted Blair's hand. "No, I can tell you. It's just not very easy for me. She was right, I'm damn lucky to be out of the 'game'." Shifting on the couch, he looked up at the concerned face of his partner. "You might as well sit down, Chief. This is going to be a long story."

Blair came around the couch, sat down next to his friend, and waited. Pretty soon, he was rewarded with Jim giving up a story from his past, his past with the Army and Covert Operations.

"I was sent into Somalia on a mission right before I went to Peru. I didn't like the mission objectives, but I was the type of soldier that didn't ask questions, until after the job was done. I wish I never had thought to ask, that I'd allowed myself to remain in the dark." Seeing that Blair was fully interested, Jim knew that he couldn't back down now. He'd have to tell the truth. "I was sent in to kill a man."

"Why? What was he?"

"A simple merchant, or so I thought. I found out later that he was a middle man for a spy network that was peddling defense strategies of NATO's on the black market."

"A spy?"

"A family man. Trying to make a decent living. Once I had identified him, I walked into his shop late one afternoon, and took him out. I broke his neck." Jim leaned forward, his head in his hands, despair radiating from him.

Blair sat back on the couch, his thoughts running through his mind so fast that he couldn't track them coherently. After a few minutes, he reached out and touched the depressed sentinel on the arm, causing the man to look up at him. The sadness in the blue eyes..."Jim, you did what you'd been ordered to do. That's not the same as what Alicia did."

"Maybe. Maybe not." He shook his head. "I went in there to condemn her for doing what I've done in the past." Leaning back again, he dropped his head on the back of the couch. "Five, six years ago, I never would've batted an eye at what went down. I would have gotten angry, but I never would've said what I did to Alicia."

"Jim, you're not the same man. Not anymore." He reached down and took up his friend's right hand in his, giving it a hard squeeze. "And from what I've heard, I'm glad. That man that you were, he just wasn't the real you. You're better than that."

"Am I? I'm still a trained killer, Chief. One that has been tempered by friends that won't let me become that man again, but a killer all the same." He brought his head back up to look his guide in the eyes. "I've killed in the line of duty, for friends, to protect the public, my 'tribe' if you will. How can I possibly judge Alicia like I did? If not for Peru, my senses flaring up like they did, I could've turned out to be just like her. I know that."

"No, you couldn't. Trust me on that, Jim."

"Oh?"

Blair let a smile creep over his face. "Tell me, if this incident hadn't gone down like it did, if Alicia hadn't been involved, how bad do you think it would've been?"

Closing his eyes, Jim felt a shudder run through his body. "We'd have been working an 'unsolvable' murder."

"But instead we got to work on a case that, granted, got yanked out from under our feet, but it proved  to me at least  that whatever it is that Alicia Andreson really does for Hallstatt, she's damn good at her job."

A quirky smile crossed his face. "Sounds to me like you're willing to 'forgive and forget' there, Chief."

Blair shrugged. "Maybe. I just know that I liked Alicia before this went down, before I realized that she could kill someone, maybe I'm just willing to give her a chance."

"What changed your mind?"

"You did."


Alicia finished dressing, into her other Hallstatt 'uniform', and rejoined Agent Locke in her living room, a small over night bag in one hand, a briefcase in the other.

Frances looked up from the book she'd been reading for the past hour to glance at her charge. "Feeling better?"

"No."

Closing the book, she stood up and walked over to her old friend. "Al? I couldn't help but hear...."

Alicia dropped the over night bag and glared at the brunette standing before her. "Couldn't help but hear? What did you do? Drop a damn micro bug?"

Frances made no apologies. "You're trying to change the subject. Ellison? From what I gathered from your reaction after he left, you were interested in him?"

"No. Maybe. Oh, hell. I'm not sure anymore, Frankie." She could feel tears that had fallen earlier trying to well up again.

Frances pulled the slightly smaller woman into an embrace. "Shush. Al, don't worry about it. I just hope that you were able to have a little fun, before this went down. You've been alone too long. I bet that you haven't even dated since the divorce was finalized, have you?"

"I couldn't. I, I ..." She couldn't finish.

"You loved him. I know. But he tried to kill you, and for some reason that made you afraid to get close to anyone else."

Alicia broke from the comforting embrace. "Can you blame me? That son of a bitch stabbed me! Left me for dead! I didn't even know why!"

"Al, let it go. You're safe now. Remember?"

She drew in a shuddering breath. "I know. It took a few psychologists to get that through my head, but I know that. But it doesn't really matter, he killed the old me that evening."

Frances gathered the other woman into her arms. "Alicia, Al...I know that was a rough time for you. And the choices you made afterwards, any regrets?"

"Some."

"Like?"

Alicia pulled away. "Like not trusting any man I met. Volunteering for assignments that I had no business taking. Going through additional training that made me too valuable to just 'let go', telling General Hammond that I'd rather get the hell out instead of taking that transfer with him up to Wyoming."

"Al, that was years ago. So was the incident with Lee." Frances pulled her friend back to face her. "You've been alone too long. If you want to work things out, then tell Ellison the truth! Tell him who you are, what you're doing. I'm sure the Director would understand."

Alicia nodded thoughtfully, then tensed as someone knocked at the door. "Guess my ride's here."

Frances walked over to the door, and after carefully opening it, stepped back to let Alicia's boss walk into the room.

"Alicia! You're looking well."

"So are you, Director Weishaupt. That sling makes you look like a battle weary veteran." She stepped aside to let the other person with the Director step into her home. "Hi, Bernie, thanks for coming."

"No problem. Is the little guy ready to go?" Bernice Goldwater walked over to the couch, where Saint Gee lay, watching everything and everyone with an air of superiority.

The Director stepped up behind Alicia, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Thank you, again, for saving my life. That's twice now."

"I wasn't keeping score. Wilhelm?"

The director sighed, "Already on his way home. Hiram goes with him, to explain to the man's family."

Alicia nodded. "And Roberto?"

"Waiting downstairs in the car."

"Are you sure I can't talk you out of this? We really should put the Grand Opening off until I can finish making sure that there were no others involved."

"No. I'll not allow terrorists to cause me to run."

Alicia sighed. She knew what his answer would be before she ever had asked. "Fine. Frances? Let the Treasurer know that we appreciated his assistance, as well as extending our gratitude to the others?"

"I'll do that. You going to a safe house?"

"Yes, I have the perfect spot in mind." Grabbing up her overnight bag again, she walked over to Saint Gee who was shamelessly enjoying the attention that her coworker was lavishing on him. "Gee, Bernie will be taking care of you for a little while  behave yourself. I don't want to come home to hear all about the 'presents' you brought her." She gave the little black cat an ear scratch and then turned back to her boss. "After you, Director." Without a backwards glance, Alicia walked out of her apartment, leaving Saint Gee, Bernie and Agent Frances 'Frankie' Locke behind, wondering if she could ever come home again.

Bernie looked up at Frances, cradling Saint Gee in her arms, and asked, "So, Frankie, how do you propose we fix this little problem of Alicia's?"

The Agent looked at Bernice, and smiled a very wicked grin. "I have an idea. She's really been alone too long. You willing to help me with a little forgery?"

"Isn't that against the law?"


Jim had just put the finishing touches to the living area, Blair had left to go pick up a late dinner from The Garden Spot, when someone knocked on his door. Walking over, he opened it to find Agent Locke standing there. "What do you want?"

"From you? Nothing. Here, a gift from Alicia." She handed over a briefcase, turned on her heel and left. She had gathered up the files that had been strewn around her friend's place, had Bernie write a quick note in a hand writing that was reasonably close to their friend's, and packed everything into a briefcase. She just hoped that Alicia would understand. She and Bernie were only trying to help.

Jim was still standing in the open doorway when Blair returned a minute later, the briefcase forgotten in his hand.

"Jim? What's with the look?"

"Huh?"

Blair scooted past him, then after placing the take out on the kitchen counter, closed the door after pulling his friend clear. "I passed that agent friend of Alicia's on the stairs, she didn't look happy."

"I don't think she was, Chief. I got the impression that she's mad at me for some reason." Jim walked over to the dining table, placing the briefcase on its shiny surface. "She brought this up. A gift from Alicia she said."

"What do you suppose it is?"

Taking a deep breath, Jim opened up the case. "Only one way to find out." He felt Blair walk up beside him and they both looked over the contents.

There was a small note from Alicia, Jim doubted that because the scent on the paper was all wrong -- written in a small, precise, script:

Jim and Blair:

These reports belong, rightfully, to you both. If you really want to know who and what I am -- listen to the cassette. I don't know if I'll be back. Don't worry about Gee, Bernie will watch him for the next few days. If I don't come back, he'll have a good home with her.

Alicia A. Andreson

Lifting up the first file, Jim looked at the contents and realized that it was a very thorough background report on Blair. He handed that to his partner and picked up the next, thicker, file and read the first few pages of his own background check. Then he found the cassette. Walking over to the stereo system, he placed the tape into the player and turned it on. He recognized the voice of the talk show host that Alicia liked to listen to, late at night.

"...And back to Art Bell, Broadcasting live from the Kingdom of Nye." That was the voice of the talk show's announcer, followed by the host's voice.

"Okay, I've got new proof for you, tonight, that the security people at Area 51 are equal opportunity employers. If you go to my web site, you'll be able to see the very same picture that I'm looking at right now. I don't know when this photo was obtained, and I apologize for the quality, but if you look closely enough, you'll see that is a woman descending on a what is known as a 'zip line' from a black helicopter. From the eyewitness account, this woman appears to have been in charge of this 'exercise'. Now, I'm awaiting a video from my source, and as soon as I get it, you'll be able to access that as well on my web page. So, here's to equal rights. Ladies, you've finally got someone on the inside of Area 51, congratulations."

The tape ended, leaving both men puzzled.

"Jim? You don't suppose that..."

"Don't even go there, Chief. Just get that computer of yours fixed so that we can check it out."

 

 

~~~ The End ~~~

(Of this part of the Nye Series anyway. <G>)

Okay, there it is. Tell me what you think. I have another part of this story running around in my head, but feedback will get me to 'write faster.' Sorry, but I just couldn't seem to work Saint Gee into this story as much as I wanted to. And if it seems a bit 'evil' to leave you wondering about Alicia's past, and po'd about case against Stuart Phelps (and yes, things like that really do happen) and whether or not The Director knows about Sandburg's 'research' ...Don't worry. I'll try to wrap things up in the next part.

Suisan "Sue" R.

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