Hard Time

By Suisan "Sue" R

October 2000

Category: Story/Drama/Action

Rating: PG-13, for "adult" language and some situations, which may cause certain stomachs to churn.

Warning: Original Characters, both male and female, appear throughout this story, one of which will make appearances in later, yet to be written stories. If OC's are not your cup of tea, avoid this story. If you don't like the idea of seeing what COULD go down inside a detention facility/prison -- avoid this story. However, if you like OC's, watch "OZ" and like it...Please read this story. <G>

Synopsis: What should have been a simple "jail house" interview with a possible informant goes horribly wrong. Does Detective Blair Sandburg have what it takes to handle the situation?

Archive: SA Contest site until after judgment, then it goes public -- at various sites.




Cascade City/County Detention Center

Control Room/Command Central

 09:21 hours

"Sandburg! What the hell happened here?!?" Captain Simon Banks stormed into the room, his voice announcing his presence to all that were gathered there.

Simon flinched as Detective Blair Sandburg's head snapped around searching for the owner of the voice, his hand drifting toward his holster and closing on air. Recognition flickered over the young man's face, and Simon breathed a sigh of relief when Sandburg's hand moved away from the empty holster on his hip.

"Captain. It's not good, Sir. We still don't have everything squared away, but the staff here says they have one cellblock no longer under their control and several officers are unaccounted for."

Banks knew what the kid wasn't saying. There was a good chance that the missing officers were being held hostage. Simon chewed on his unlit cigar as he looked around the command center of the Cascade County City Detention Center. Several of the facility's staff were either climbing into riot gear, monitoring camera relays, or looking for something to do. And more were pouring in the front doors every minute. It took him a little bit to realize it, but someone was missing...

"Sandburg, where is your partner?"

The young man didn't answer, just shook his head and quietly pointed to the main viewing monitor, which had just switched over to show the uncontrolled cellblock. Simon followed that haunted blue gaze, and felt the chunk of icy dread grow from a small cube to an iceberg in his stomach.

The inmates of the cellblock had somehow managed to overpower the guards, corralling them into the center of the 'day' area. Four guards were in uniform. However, it was the fifth man, in plain clothes, which drew his attention. Kneeling on the floor, hands behind his head, Detective Lieutenant James Ellison looked like he wanted to rip someone apart.

Pulling the youngest member of his command to his side, Simon quietly questioned him. "Blair? How in the hell did this happen? It was supposed to be a routine visit. How did Jim end up in there, in the middle of this? Did he zone out or something?"

"I don't know, Simon. We had just finished up the interview with Kilarney and for some reason, Jim decided to accompany him back to the cellblock. I came in here to wait for him and, well, it all broke loose." Blair shook his head, his eyes glued to the screen that showed his partner. "Too fast. It went down too fast, I couldn't get to him in time..."

The despair in Sandburg's voice caused the normally hard, tough as nails Captain to reach out a supportive hand to his man. "Sandburg.... Blair, there was nothing you could've done to prevent this. It was just bad timing." Pulling the smaller man close, Simon dropped his own voice down to a mere whisper. "Besides, I'm willing to bet that Jim's just glad that you weren't with him. You get into enough scrapes as it is."

Commander Rick Johansen stepped into the command center, having been called from a meeting with the Commissioner, just in time to see his old beat partner give the smaller man with him a reassuring clasp on the shoulder. 'Simon Banks giving comfort? Never thought I'd live to see this day.' Rick shook his head as he recalled seeing the younger man arrive with Detective Ellison earlier to interview an inmate over some information he reportedly had for them.

Knowing the situation had to be bad, he needed to gather more information on it before making any decision. Bypassing the men and women that were suiting up in the Center's riot gear, Rick walked up behind his best monitor technician. "Stacie, what have you got for me?" Stacie Harrington turned away from the monitors and looked up him.

"Not much yet, sir. I just pulled the tapes and started going over them." She must have seen something in his eyes, for her next words were clearly meant to reassure him. "I'll find out what happened, you can bet your paycheck on it, sir."

Clasping the brunette on the shoulder, Rick nodded. "I trust you, Stacie." Taking his first good look at the monitor, he asked, "Who are the men in there with the inmates?"

She returned her attention to the large, central monitor and pointed out the men as she named them for her commander. "Harris, Blevins, Cartwright and Deans from our staff. Detective Ellison from Major Crimes." Glancing over her shoulder towards the only non-staff members in the room, she continued. "Sergeant Camryne called Captain Banks as soon as I had ID'd Ellison."

"I'm glad that he did. Do your best, Stacie." With a final encouraging smile, he left the technician to her work and approached his old patrol partner. "Simon? Sorry that this happened and that your man got caught up in it somehow."

Simon curtly nodded. "Nothing we could've done to prevent it, Rick. What's your operational stance on something like this?"

Sparing a glance for the young man whose partner was in the middle of the situation, he said, "We cannot negotiate. I'm sorry, Simon. The men in that particular cellblock are some of the worst this city has to offer. I cannot allow even the slightest chance that they might escape."

A chill encompassed Blair's heart and turned to solid steel bands, sending a vicious shiver down his spine. "Commander? What are you saying? You're going to leave my partner in there? That Jim's as good as dead?" He silently pleaded with the Jail Commander to retract his previous statement.

An almost electrical current ran through Blair as the commander's brown eyes met his. "No. I'm not saying that, Detective. We'll do our best to get your partner, and my men, out of there in one piece." Rick Johansen looked up as one of his men cleared his throat. "Excuse me, gentlemen. I have a group to brief and get ready."

Blair found an empty chair near the control panels and monitor screens and collapsed into it. His eyes locked once again on the image of his friend, kneeling on the hard floor of Cellblock 4. The thoughts in his mind had slowed to a crawl and he heard his inner voice whisper, 'Whatever it takes, I'll get you out of this. Whatever it takes.'

He watched Stacie Harrington as she again rewound the tape she was going over and noticed that she sent a concerned glance his way. His fists were tightly clenched where they rested on the control panel, and he had the feeling that his body language one of near despair. His attention was riveted on the screens in front of him when he felt a gentle squeeze on his hand. He looked up at her, meeting her hazel gaze and wondering what she was trying to do. Her voice was soft as she tried to reassure him. "We'll get him out, you just have to trust us."

Not trusting his voice at the moment, Blair could only nod in gratitude. He knew his smile was weak as he watched her let go of his hands and return to studying the tape of the events that had led up to his Sentinel being where he was. Locking his gaze once again on Jim's image, he willed the man to hear his mental voice. 'Be careful, man. Don't piss them off any more than you have to.'

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Jail Hallway

09:02 hours

Detective James Ellison shook his head as he walked down the long hallway with Jason Kilarney and their escort, Guard David Jacen. "Jason, you know that I have to have more than that for me to even begin to think about approaching the PA on your behalf."

The middle-aged man in the bright orange jumpsuit walked alongside Jim and just two steps ahead of the guard. "Oh, come on, Ellison! I've played you straight! You'll see! My info is pure!" Jim allowed the doubt he felt show in his face and Kilarney sighed in defeat, then shrugged. "Look, Detective, all I'm asking for is some consideration when I go before the judge next week at my sentencing."

Stopping at the door of the cellblock that Kilarney now called home, Jim nodded. "We'll see. If your information pans out, I'll see what I can do. Now, let's go grab that letter for your attorney so that I can get out of here and see just how accurate you've been." He motioned for the guard to open the sturdy steel door that was clearly marked with a bright white, and rather large, number 4.

Watching as the guard pulled an electronic key card from his shirt pocket, sliding it through the card reader, Jim tried not to flinch at the noise of the solenoid lock disengaging. Jacen pushed open the door and gestured to Jim as he advised, "Straight ahead to the next gate, Detective. I've already radioed to Harris that you're coming in with Kilarney here." Ellison nodded his thanks and let Kilarney precede him into the secure area.

Jim knew it was unusual for anyone, much less a detective of his reputation, to actually set foot inside the cellblocks of the Detention Center, but it apparently happened often enough that it didn't raise too many security concerns. Passing the guard, just a few steps behind Kilarney, Jim waited until David had pulled the door shut and he heard the lock re-engage before following the orange suited inmate deeper into the facility.

The guard at the next gate smiled in greeting as Jim and Kilarney approached while looking down to punch the release code into a keypad embedded in his desk. "Jason, your roomie is throwing a fit -- something about a photo he's missing?"

Kilarney let out a small groan. "Oh, man! That ass! How many times do I have to tell that Neanderthal that he mailed it out?"

This guard, who must be the "Harris" that Jacen had mentioned, let out a chuckle as he did a perfunctory pat down of the inmate. "Probably a few more times before he gets it through that thick skull of his. You're clear. Go on back."

Jim watched the by-play between the guard and his informant with amusement. He had never had the opportunity to work in the detention facility, but he figured that in spite of the rules and regulations to the contrary, some relationships had to develop between the guards and inmates. As he walked past Harris' post, he noted another inmate readying a mop bucket for cleaning detail and realized that he'd have to dial his senses back. The cellblock was, for the most part, spotless, but the smells of so many bodies cramped together, along with the strong odor of disinfectant in a space with very little ventilation, was already threatening to over power his sensitive nose.

Jim followed Jason Kilarney to his cell, and stepped inside as the inmate walked over to his rack where a letter was lying on the neatly made bed. The informant picked up the legal sized envelope and turned to hand it over, just as a shock wave of sound drove Jim and the inmate to their knees. 'An explosion? What the hell?' Years of Army training helped Jim identify the noise, just as his eyes started to water profusely and his sinuses started to burn.

Richard "Rikky" Martinez had seen the tall detective walk into the cellblock with Kilarney and recognized the man for who he was. A feral grin crossed his face as he 'accidentally' mixed his mop water with two fluids that should never be mixed -- ammonia and bleach with very little water. Pushing the bucket towards the door to the cellblock's office, he pulled his shirt up over his mouth and nose as a cloud of fumes roiled upwards. Ducking back into the supply closet, he grabbed up the bottle of kerosene that his buddies had managed to sneak in past security, and pulled a lighter out of his pocket. Then, lighting the wick, he tossed the 'cocktail' into the center of the day area.

Within moments, his cohorts had overpowered the three guards on duty inside the cellblock while he took care of Harris as the guard stumbled out of the office, eyes tearing. Handing off the disabled guard to one of his men, Rikky stepped towards the cell that Kilarney called home. Inside he found his fellow inmate and Detective Ellison, stumbling to their feet, trying to recover from the fireball, their eyes streaming tears due to the fumes from the potentially lethal mix of ammonia and bleach.

"On your feet, Pig." The voice penetrated the ringing in Jim's ears, just as someone hauled him to his feet, then pushed him out of the cell. Jim's sinuses were on fire and his eyes were tearing so badly that he didn't see the low bench in front of him until he fell over it. His martial arts training, both in the Army and with the police force, enabled him to take the fall without too much pain and he managed to roll back up onto his feet.

"Hey! Rik! Who have you got there?" His hearing was acting up, the words echoed strangely in his head.

"Oh, man! It's Ellison! We're outta here!"

Now Jim knew he was in trouble. That last line sounded like it had been spoken under water.

Jason Kilarney staggered after Martinez and Ellison, wondering what the hell was up, and the shouts of the other inmates sickened him. He shook his head as he quietly spoke up, "No, he's signed our death warrants."

With a savage kick to the back of Ellison's knee, Martinez dropped the Detective back to the floor. "Hands behind your head, and cross your ankles. You know the routine, don't you, Pig?" Jason shivered as he took in the unholy smile gracing the Latino's face.

Jason watched as Detective Ellison merely nodded, his jaw muscles twitching and visibly turning to hard granite as he complied with the inmate's order. The four guards on the floor near Ellison looked to be in pretty much the same mood as the Detective. And it was painfully obvious to him that they suffering from the effects of the chemical cloud still lingering near the ceiling, just as he and the inmates not involved in this, what ever this was, were suffering. Glancing up through tear-laden eyes, Jason noticed the fog like cloud was hardly moving. Someone in the facility's main control room must have turned off the ventilation system, thus limiting the fumes to the cellblock and not allowing them to escape into the rest of the jail.

Jason flinched as Rikky walked up to him, but otherwise held his ground. He'd been in Cellblock #4 for just over three months now, whereas Rikky had only been there a week. But, unlike the others in the block, he knew the real reason that Rikky Martinez was in jail, knowledge that he'd gained while working as a trustee in the booking area, knowledge that made him sick. He just didn't think it was time to reveal that information to the other inmates, not yet.

"What did you say, Kilarney?" Rikky was trying to intimidate him. He was attempting to make his voice and tone as threatening as possible, and Jason had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling at the implied threat.

Looking into his dark eyes, Jason kept his voice nice and even as he replied, "You heard me, Rik. I don't know what game you're playing here, or what you hope to gain, but you're likely to get all of us seriously hurt. Maybe even killed."

"Bullshit! Sure, if we only had the four guards here, I could see that. But we've got ourselves one of Cascade's finest! Mr. Police Officer of the Fucking Year!"

"That won't matter to anyone, Rik," a new voice growled, and the Latino turned to face the speaker. Ellison.

Jim held tight rein on his temper, taking only shallow breaths in an effort to negate the effects of the toxic fumes on his lungs. The pain from his knee, the one that the Latino had kicked out from under him, was excruciating and the damn dials weren't much help. He'd barely managed to keep track of the conversations going on around him and when he heard the inmate who had kicked him make the statement about having 'one of Cascade's finest', Jim lost control of his tongue. "That won't matter to anyone, Rik." Good thing he'd heard Jason Kilarney call the inmate by name. It got the man's attention.

Martinez spun and Jim couldn't move fast enough to avoid getting knocked across the mouth with a wild fist, sending him to the floor. The Hispanic inmate loomed over him, hands clenched in rage as he snarled, "And what makes you so damn sure about that, Pig?"

One of the guards, Harris, was helping Jim back to his knees as he took the time to answer the inmate's question for Jim. "He's right, Rikky. It's policy. The Commander won't go against policy for anyone. Not the Chief of Police, not even the Mayor herself."

"Fuck you, Harris! You're full of shit! You don't know what you're saying!" In his rage, Rikky swung on the officer.

Not thinking, Jim brought his own hand up to block the blow, capturing the fist and nearly crushing it as he spoke quietly. "What if he does?"

Their gazes locked and Jim could actually 'feel' the rage pouring from Martinez through the connection of their hands. Then the inmate was leaning over Jim, his voice full of hate. "Are you ready to die, Ellison? 'Cause I promise you, that is what will happen if I don't get what I want."

Knowing that he wasn't in any shape to take on the inmate or any of his cohorts, Jim let go of the fist and shook his head. "No, I'm not ready to die, but if it keeps scum like you off the streets of my city..."

He allowed the unfinished sentence to hang in the still air. There were twenty men assigned to Cellblock 4. Apparently only five of them were behind the insane plan, yet Jim could sense what they all knew. All would pay the price if Rikky lost control of the situation, or his temper, and actually killed one of the officers. He watched as the majority of inmates slowly made their way back to their cells, pulling the doors secure, effectively locking themselves down. Only Kilarney remained in the open bay area, but even he separated himself from the hostile group, taking a seat against the wall near his cell.

To Jim the message was clear enough: we're not involved -- we won't help, but we won't interfere either. He had to school his expression not to show his satisfaction at the actions of the inmates. He and the guards were in trouble, that was clear enough, but at least it wasn't against an entire cellblock population. Just six men, but he was hurt and so were the guards. Glancing towards the main door of the cellblock, Jim allowed himself to think about Blair. 'Thank God Sandburg decided to stay up in the control room.'

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Control Room

10:12 hours

Blair's attention kept drifting, from the monitor screen that showed the inside of Cellblock 4, where his partner was, to the screen that the monitor technician was using to go over the tapes. After watching the leader of the inmates - someone had ID'd him as Rikky Martinez - harass his best friend, he'd had to ask for directions to the nearest bathroom. Once inside the confines of the white tiled room, Blair tried to compose himself, which he thankfully managed to do without tossing his cookies. Now he was trying to assist the technician, Stacie, by applying his anthropological knowledge to the events that had gone down, and were still doing so, inside Cellblock 4.

"Stacie, wait a minute, back up." He sat up straighter in his chair. What was it that he thought he saw?

Stacie hit the pause button on the machine, then started to rewind the tape. "Say when."

Not saying anything, Blair concentrated on the images flying backwards on the screen. Where was it? He'd seen something..."There!" He called out into the silence of the control room.

Jabbing the 'stop' button, she halted the tape then started it again, this time in frame by frame instead of the normal playback pace. "What did you see, Sandburg?" Her tone of voice was puzzled. They'd gone over the tape four times already and this was the first time that Blair had reacted this way.

Pulling his glasses out of his pocket, Blair shook his head. "Stacie, I've told you before, call me 'Blair,' okay?" Sitting the thin gold frames on his face, he peered closely at the images floating across the screen.

"Fine. Blair." Her voice was a soft soprano, husky from too much talking, and on occasion shouting, over the past half-hour with inmates, guards who were evacuating the Cells surrounding #4, the Commander and people over at technical support. "So? What did you see?"

He wasn't trying to ignore her, just concentrating on the images from the tape, looking for what ever it was that had triggered his earlier outburst. "Freeze that!" he called out and the picture jumped on the monitor as Stacie rapidly halted the tape. "What are you doing, Martinez?" Blair mused aloud, trying to literally crawl into the inmate's mind.

He was gently moved aside as Stacie leaned in closer to view the image herself while somehow ignoring the fact that she was practically leaning against his shoulder. Not that he minded; she wasn't a bad looking lady and any other time...His wandering thoughts were brought up short when she let out an explosive breath. "Damnit! Hang on, let me see if I can clean that up." He watched as she turned back to her control board, her fingers flying over the keyboard. Whatever she was doing seemed to work, as the image on the screen cleared a little bit.

Martinez was frozen in place on the tape, hand raised just behind his head, holding a bottle with a flaming wick barely visible. Blair needed more information, needed it from someone that knew more about the Jail than he did, and he was sitting right next to his closet source for that type of data. "Stacie? What do you know about the inside of the cellblocks?"

Grimacing, she shook her head. "More than I want to, and not enough. Why?"

"Rewind the tape about one minute, and watch Martinez." He sat back and waited as she rewound the tape one more time, then let it play at 'normal' speed. Her eyes zeroed in on the screen and from the small movements of her head, he could tell that she was following the actions of the inmate he'd pointed out.

"Damn, he pulled that Molotov cocktail from inside the supply closet!" She sounded pissed. Guess something like the cocktail wasn't a normal part of the supplies.

Bobbing his head, Blair flashed her a smile. "That's what I thought I saw."

Snarling, Stacie stopped the tape once more, hitting the rewind button and let the machine whir and buzz as it worked for fifteen minutes. Her expression was almost feral as her mouth quirked up into a snarling grin, and then she winked at him when she stopped the tape. "Okay, so let's see how he could've gotten that in there..." Blair nodded his consent as he moved in closer to her side to watch the images with a new purpose in mind.

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Briefing Room

10:06 hours

Captain Simon Banks stood in the back of the Detention Center's briefing room, listening as Commander Rick Johansen and Lieutenant J.J. "Joey" James gave the fourteen man 'tactical response' team their orders. Glancing at his watch, he was startled to find that only forty-five minutes had passed since he had arrived at the facility. The staff here had managed to evacuate and lock down every inmate within minutes of the incident and the small technical staff, only one person really, who was now being assisted by Sandburg, had been working feverishly as well. Reaching up, Simon loosened his tie in effort to stave off the heat building in the room.

"Simon? Got a question for you..."

He jumped. He'd been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't heard the Commander walk over to him. So much for the theory that only Ellison or Sandburg, and on occasion, Rhonda could sneak up on him like that. "Sorry, Rick, wool gathering. What do you need?"

"Your man, Ellison? What kind of man is he?" Simon watched as Rick shifted nervously on his feet. "Simon, I'm not prying here, but I need to know. We've got a plan, but I need to know how Ellison's mind works before I implement it."

Simon studied the face of his old partner, not caring for the hesitation he could see in the man's eyes. "What kind of plan, Rick? I need to know the plan so that I can try to guess what Jim's reaction would be. Better yet, Sandburg should probably hear it too - he's the best judge of Ellison's character, since they've been partnered for years."

Rick nodded. "I'll ask him then. The plan is really quite simple..." He hesitated, then gestured for Simon to join him. "Come over here, and Lt. James can update you on it while we go over it again."

Simon followed the Commander over to the table where a large blueprint had been laid out. He glanced at the men gathered around the table, all strong, capable looking men. One was wearing gold lieutenant's bars on his collar. If he had to make a bet, Simon would lay money down that the Lieutenant was a former military man. Light blond hair cut into a perfect 'high ...tight', his smallish compact frame exuded confidence. Rick was introducing him as the Captain pulled his mind back to the matter at hand.

"Simon? I'd like you to meet Lt. J.J. "Joey" James. Joey, this is Captain Banks. His man is the detective that got caught up in the situation in CB4."

Lt. James curtly nodded his head in greeting. His bass voice seemed to rumble from deep within his chest as he spoke. "Captain, I'm sure the Commander has explained to you. We need to know how Ellison is liable to react when we stage our little 'surprise' for Martinez and his happy campers."

"He tried. I wanted to hear what your plans are before answering."

The lieutenant's eyes narrowed, but then he abruptly shrugged. "Sure, I can see your point, Capt'n. Look, the plan is fairly simple..." He leaned over the table and the blueprints, using a firm finger to make his operational plans plain to Simon. "We've got two ways into the cellblock; the main door, and this service hatch in the back of the day area. I've got a couple of men working on clearing that for our secondary team. The primary will take the front. I managed to procure a few non-incendiary devices - flash-bangs - that we'll use for a distraction, but then we'll just roll on in and take the inmates down. Hopefully with as little damage to our men, and yours, as possible." James' face broke into a feral grin, his lip twisting into a sick parody of a smile. "Sort of a limited Sec-Op Six."

Jerking his head up from the blueprint he'd been studying, Simon was shocked by the words. " 'Sec-Op Six'?" Seeing the expression on the lieutenant's face, he turned to the Jail Commander. "Rick? What the hell is he talking about?"

Commander Rick Johansen aimed a go-to-hell look at the Lieutenant, who quietly excused himself and his men from the room. Waiting until the last member of the tactical team had left the briefing room, Rick gestured for him to take a seat. "Simon, this isn't easy for me to tell you. Hell, I didn't even know about Sec-Op Six until I took command here two years ago."

Simon listened to Rick explain the operational stance formally known as Security Option Six, a plan of action that had come about during the McCarthy era, a way to keep the country secure in case of invasion by foreign powers, way back in the nineteen fifties. The plan was real, but was it right? His heart constricted as he thought of having to explain this to Sandburg, and he'd have to, just so that the young detective could give an honest opinion on how Ellison would react.

"Rick, I have to tell you, I don't like this. It sounds risky as hell and your Lieutenant seems just a little too eager to do this."

Rick nodded, "I know, Simon. I don't like it any better than you do. Those are my men in there. But if we allow this to drag on..."

Cascade City/County Detention Center

10:23 hours

Stacie left one of the 'extra' guards who had been called in for this fiasco in charge of the control room as she raced down the halls towards the briefing room. Pushing past the tactical team that had gathered in the hall, she barely paused to knock, then burst into the room. "Commander! I've got something you have to see!"

The Jail Commander's head came up as she blurted out her announcement. Without stopping, she zipped around him to the TV/VCR in the corner, for the first time noticing that the tactical team and Sandburg had followed her inside the room.

"Stacie, what is it?" Johansen called out to her from his seat at the conference table.

"Watch this." She hit the play button on the remote and pointed to the screen.

Simon moved in closer to Blair's side as the woman's cold voice filled the silence in the room. The tactical response team and Rick moved in closer to the monitor, watching the screen intently. Watching the images over the heads gathered in front, he leaned over slightly and quietly asked, "Blair, what did she find?"

"Honestly?" The young man's voice was hard, with a touch of ice, as he answered. "What appears to be a dirty cop."

Behind his glasses, Simon felt his eyes pop open wide and he snapped his attention back to the screen.

Stacie didn't say a word, just stood off to one side to let the tac-team watch a former team member in action. The time/date stamp on the videotape showed it to be early in the shift, about 0730hrs, and the image captured was damning. On the screen, an uniformed guard came into Cellblock 4, stopped by the office for roughly a minute, then walked over to the supply closet. Stepping out of the camera range for a minute as he started to pull cleaning supplies out, he returned with a small bottle that he opened up, sniffed, then shook his head and put back in the closet. Before placing a fresh mop on the cleaning cart, he used something to cut off a strand of cotton, then disappeared into the closet again. Nothing truly damning. Until he pushed the cart to the first cell, nodded a greeting to Martinez who was standing there, then pushed the cart past to the next cell. Where he left it, unattended.

The guard walked back to where Martinez was standing, surrounded by five other inmates, and struck up a conversation with them.

Harrington stopped the tape at this point, and once again became the center of some very intense stares. Keeping her voice quiet - her throat was starting to hurt from all the talking she'd done since the incident went down, and she also didn't want to color the evidence with her own suspicions - she spoke up. "I've kept the volume down, the sound echoes like mad, but now I'm going to turn it up. Most of you have worked with Blevins. Listen for his voice." Without explaining further, she started the tape up again, upped the volume, and the room was filled with loud noises of a cellblock waking up. And voices.

"All set, Rikky."

"Thanks, Eric. Just remember, stay to the back wall later when I give the signal and you shouldn't get hurt."

"This will teach those bastards to kick me off the team."

"Yes, it will, won't it, mi compadres?" The group of five inmates, all Hispanics, nodded and laughed. The guard, Eric Blevins smiled as he walked off to return to his duties of supervising the cleaning of the next cell over.

"Sucker." Martinez spat on the floor behind Blevins, then nodded his group into his cell.

Rick Johansen reached out and removed the control from Stacie's hand, stopping the tape. The silence that fell on the room was deafening. His voice was grave as he spoke into that silence. "This changes everything. Lieutenant James? Let's think this through again." Handing the remote back to his technician, schooling his face to remain neutral, he asked, "Stacie, thank you for finding this. Anything else we should know?"

She ejected the tape and nodded. "Yes, Sir. I've shut down the ventilation system completely, after putting it on heavy extraction to clear the air, and then I put all the locks back on manual. I have the override codes if you need them."

Rick waved off her offer. "Keep them. What about what's going on in the cell?"

Blair Sandburg stepped forward and Rick turned his attention to the Detective. "Except for the five men with Martinez, all the inmates in the block have isolated themselves. Stacie and I talked it over. We think they're signaling us that they won't interfere." The Commander nodded. The detective might just be right.

A snort of derisive laughter drew his attention back to Stacie Harrington as she handed the damning tape over to him. "But they won't help us either. I finally got a good close look at the weapons. All of them have some sort of shank, and four of them - including Rikky - have taken the collapsible ASPs off our men."

Rick nodded absently. The ASP's were hard metal, collapsible batons kept on the utility belts of his guards, but could easily be deadly impact weapons in the wrong hands. "Good, I can deal with that. What about injuries, can you tell?"

"Looks like Cartwright and Deans may have some flash burns from the Molotov cocktail. They were pretty close when it was tossed, but all of the men in there, inmates and guards alike, have to be suffering from the toxic fumes." Her voice was devoid of emotion as she related the story to him.

Not news that he wanted to hear, but important all the same. "Has Rikky talked to any of your people yet?" The monitor techs had the ability to talk to the inmates via wall speakers, but it was also a way to talk with the guards on duty.

Stacie shook her head. "No sir. We managed to limit all communications with the cellblock to just me, Tony or Sergeant Camryne."

"Has he given you any idea what the hell he's after?" Rick hoped that her answer would be in the positive. It was.

"Yes, sir. Out. And not just him, but the others involved in the take over." Stacie glanced over at Blair and his Captain, her body language defensive as if she didn't want them to overhear what she had to tell him. Rick knew that the two of them had been holed up in the back of the control room most of the morning. Maybe they missed something? He nodded to Stacie, motioning her to continue her statement, which she did with obvious reluctance. "Sir? He's threatened to kill one of the hostages if we don't do something soon."

Shit, that was not what Simon or Ellison's partner needed to hear. "How soon?"

Stacie shrugged. "Not sure. I think we've managed to stall him for a little while, telling him that we can't make that decision, and that you were in a meeting across town and haven't made it back yet."

"Good, good. Quick thinking. Now, do me a favor and go stall a little more."

"Yes, sir." He watched her as she stiffened then turned away from him to practically stomp out of the briefing room. Rick knew she wasn't happy, hadn't been happy, with a number of the standard operating procedures, and had been working like a woman possessed on 'modernizing' the SOP. He'd even worked with her on some of the updates. If only this incident had waited one more week, then the new SOP's would've been in place.

Blair watched as the tall technician walked angrily from the room to comply with the Commander's order, her face strangely blanched of color. Tugging on Simon's sleeve, he quietly asked his captain, "Simon? What's going on? Stacie doesn't look happy and, to be quite honest, you look rather bent out of shape as well."

His question was ignored as Captain Banks approached the Commander. "She knows. Doesn't she, Rick? Somehow she knows what your damn plans are."

As Blair watched, Commander Johansen turned stone cold eyes toward the captain. "She knows what our response is supposed to be in an incident such as this. She's part of the tactical team as well. She can handle it, Simon."

"Handle what?" Blair stepped out from behind his tall captain to face the Jail Commander.

"Sec-Op Six."

Blair felt his mind whirring into high gear just as his heart went into overdrive, and the three words Rick Johansen had spoken rang through his head like the tolling of a death knell. Then the underlying fury, the pure cold fury that he had fought so hard all his life to hold at bay, came blazing forth. "You can't be serious! You're just as likely to kill your own men, not to mention the inmates that are not a part of this and my partner!" Blair had read about the plan during his history studies, and it had made him sick back then. Now the idea scared the hell out of him.

"Sandburg!" Simon Banks' bellow was loud, loud enough to be heard in the hallway outside, and the quiet conversations going on amongst the tactical team members fell deadly silent.

He spun to face his boss, his fury still building up inside. "Captain! You cannot be seriously considering letting them do this! It's insane! There are other ways to handle this!" Blair locked his eyes onto Simon's face, willing the man to step in, to take over the situation, to protect Jim.

Simon shook his head. "Blair, this is their facility. I cannot, will not, override Commander Johansen's decision, nor will you."

"But, Jim..." His hope started to crumple inside, the fury banked for a while, but still burning.

Simon held up his hand, letting it come rest on Blair's shoulder, clearly offering what little comfort he could. "Knew the risks when he gave his oath to protect the city and people of Cascade. So do you."

Blair looked up into the Captain's eyes, saw a flicker of disgust there and knew the man hated the idea as much as he did. Glancing around the room at the men gathered there, he decided he didn't much care for the hard resolve on their faces either. "You're right, Captain." He sighed as his shoulders slumped. "I don't like it, and neither would Jim, but you're right."

Squaring his shoulders, Blair approached the obvious leader of the tactical team. Glancing down at the man's nametag, he addressed him. "Lt. James. Do what you have to do, but if my partner should happen to die because you're too gung-ho to see straight, I'll make sure that I whisper your name in his ear as he dies - just so he can haunt you for the rest of your life."

Lieutenant Joey James watched the man turn on his heel in a parade perfect about face and walk out of the room. A small shiver of fear churned in his stomach, feeling that somehow, if anything did happen to Ellison, Sandburg would make good on his threat. And the dark look thrown at him by Ellison's Captain, as the man left to follow Sandburg, only made him more determined not to fail. Gathering his team in with his eyes, he said, "Okay, now that the dog and pony show is over, let's get this right."

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Control Room/Command Central

10:48 hours

//Hey, Chica!//

Stacie Harrington's eyes narrowed at the words coming over her intercom. Putting as much calm into her voice as possible, she depressed the speaker key. "What, Martinez?"

//The Commander made it back yet? I'm getting really bored here and may just have to find some way to entertain myself.// Even as he spoke, Rikky was running his homemade knife along the jaw line of John Cartwright.

"He just came in. Sergeant Camryne is briefing him now." As she watched the monitor, Rikky switched his attentions over to Brodie Harris, and she could see a line of blood welling up behind the knife as he slowly dragged the blade across Harris' face.

//Ah, that's good, Chica! You tell him that I'm getting impatient and wish to speak to him now, or I'll slit one of these nice throats I have here.//

Stacie snapped off the intercom in disgust, just as someone touched her. Reacting on pure instinct, she lashed out, nearly taking out Blair who'd come up behind her and laid a hand on her shoulder. She pulled her blow just in time to avoid hitting the man. "Sorry, Blair." Then she noticed his face and felt the anger rolling off him. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing! Everything! Oh, shit, I'm not sure anymore!" He paced along the back wall of the control center, his anger and confusion evident to all who sat in the large room.

Taking a guess at what was bothering the detective, Stacie nodded to one of her fellow monitor technicians, one who had also been speaking with the inmates of Cellblock #4. "Tony, take over for me. I'll be right back." Grabbing up a portable radio from its charger base, she pulled on the upset man's arm until he stopped resisting and followed her.

Leading Blair from the room, she escorted him through the halls until they stepped outside the main entrance of the Detention Center into the chilly, drizzly spring morning. Stacie heard him take in a deep breath of the cool, moist air before he turned a remorseful, almost apologetic, face towards her. "Sorry about that. I didn't mean to lose my cool back there."

Leaning up against the wall, one foot kicked up behind her to brace herself, Stacie smiled weakly at him. "Not a problem. I understand where the anger is coming from. If it's any consolation to you, I'm not too thrilled with the plan myself."

Blair snorted. "Really? I couldn't tell." Stacie glared at him, not appreciating the sarcasm in his tone; the expression on her face must have worked. "Sorry, putting my foot in my mouth again."

Letting out a sigh of disgust, she shook her head. "Oh, it's not you, Blair. Just my past coming back to haunt me."

"Why? What is it?" A look of concern fluttered over the detective's face as she tried to block out the memories flooding to the surface. "Stacie? Is this about Sec-Op Six?" Gods, Blair's voice was soft, pleading, almost wheedling as he quietly intruded in on her thoughts.

"Yeah." She dropped her eyes, not wanting him to see the pain that was floating too close to the surface for her own comfort.

"Can you tell me?"

"I've seen it in action. It was, to put it mildly, messy."


Stacie snorted in disdain, "Can't tell you. It's still under investigation, seven years after the fact, and the Corps still hasn't come to a conclusion."

"The Corps? You were a Marine?"

"Ages ago. Boggles the mind, doesn't it?"

Blair shook his head. "Not really. Jim's former Army. Rangers. I've been around him long enough to know a former military person when I see the way they carry themselves."

"Thanks. I think." She was about to ask him for more information on his partner when her radio squawked at her.

//Stacie? We need you in Control now. Lieutenant's about to go into operation.//

Lifting the radio to her mouth, she answered, "Copy, Tony. Don't let them in the back until I get there." Dropping the radio back to her side, she looked over at the detective. "So? You want to watch this go down in the Control Room? You'll have the best seats in the house, well, except for the Tac-Team."

She watched as his lithely built body shivered, either from the cool damp air or dread. She wasn't sure which. But his voice was strong as he nodded and answered her, "Yeah, I think I'd better."

"Let's go then."

Once again she led the way, making sure that the detective followed her, through the myriad of halls and into the Command Center, the true heart of the whole Detention Facility. She hated the plan, the SOP's that were the guidelines for such an event, but it was her job to make sure that the Tactical Teams were covered as best she could. Even if her gut was telling her that this wasn't the way, not the right way, to deal with the situation.

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Inside Cellblock 4

10:41 hours

His legs were starting to cramp, the knee that had been so viciously kicked out from under him throbbed in time with the beating of his heart, and his senses seemed intent on not listening to his mental commands. Jim Ellison tried, but couldn't tune out the sounds of the actions and words going on around him. He knelt on the hard concrete flooring, his hands secured in his own damn cuffs behind his head, his sentinel hearing kicking in and out.

"Move it!"

//What the hell is going....//


The soft touch of a hand on his shoulder brought him back from his auditory excursion.



The inmate looked back towards the table where Rikky Martinez and his group were quietly talking, then turned his gaze back to Jim. "Rikky said I could help you, if you need it." Jim watched as the man turned his attention back on the group of guards kneeling in a semi-circle, still keeping his voice low. "It's against regs, and I don't want to hear about it Harris, but I've squirreled away some aspirins if you need any, detective."

"Kilarney..." Brodie Harris started to protest, just as Jim tried to shift his weight again and had to bite back a pain filled groan. "Thanks. Can you get to them without too much trouble?"

He hated this. He'd been taught better -- never to show weakness, never show pain, but the years of being partnered with Sandburg and being a Sentinel had opened him up to a new world. Waiting until the informant left to go over to talk with Martinez, then enter his bunk area, Jim leaned closer to Harris. Keeping his voice low, he asked, "Harris? What is Commander Johansen likely to do in this situation?"

Brodie Harris shook his head. "I'm not real sure. Probably evacuate as many of the surrounding cellblocks as possible, then leave it up to the tactical team to see what they can do."

Eric Blevins, the youngest of the guards that had been on duty in Cellblock 4, moaned. "Oh, crap. We're dead."

The iceberg of dread that had been building in Jim's stomach lurched upwards. Looking at the redhead's face, seeing the certainty there, he asked, "What do you mean?"

Grass green orbs stared back at Jim from a rapidly paling face. His voice was shaky and Jim could hear fear in the three words that the guard spoke. "Sec-Op Six."

"Eric, you don't know that for fact," Brodie hissed at his fellow guard.

"I know Lt. James, Harris. He was always bragging about how he'd handle the order. He wants a chance to put it into action."

Keeping track of the quiet conversation between the two guards, Jim looked back over his shoulder to see Kilarney approaching. "Cool it, guys."

Jason had returned and was holding out his hand with two red and yellow gelcaps in it, gesturing helplessly. "Sorry, Ellison, but Rikky didn't want to let you loose." Jim nodded and allowed his jailhouse informant to drop the capsules into his mouth. He tried to dry swallow the pills, but he realized that Jason was also holding a small paper cup of tepid tap water steady so that Jim could chase the medication down with a sip. Jim swallowed the water and medication gratefully and nodded in thanks. Then the inmate squatted down beside him as if to talk with Jim, but Jason's eyes were on Harris. "Brodie, I don't think that Rikky is the one behind all this..."

"Yeah, I kinda figured that out. He's smart, but not that bright," the guard agreed.

Jason offered up his information. It wasn't much, but Jim was happy that at least he might have something to work with. "They clamed up when I approached them about the Tylenol, but I overheard a little bit. Not enough to make a difference, and I don't speak Spanish..."

Brodie's face lit up just a tad. "What did you hear?" Jason relayed the words in halting, broken Spanish. Jim's mind was working furiously on the translation and he noticed how Harris' expression changed. The sentinel couldn't blame him, if he had the gist of the translation correct.

"They're expecting Lt. James to pull something soon." Jim translated, and was rewarded with a look of shock on the guard's face. "My Spanish is a bit rusty..."

Harris shook his head. "No, you're right, Detective."

"What can you tell me about these inmates, Harris? What are we looking at here?" Jim needed to learn all he could, about his captors and the other inmates, to begin to plan a course of action.

"Jason, you might want to leave..."

"I already know about the charges against Rikky, Harris. But you're right, I'll leave you five to your chat." Jason Kilarney stood up, stretching his back, then returned to his previous position against the wall by his cell.

"Ellison," Brodie began in a soft voice. "Every single inmate in this cellblock is in here because they are either 'problem children' or because they've been charged with murder in some capacity."

"Kilarney?" Jim looked over at the jail house informant, already knowing that it was true.

"Yeah. Rikky's probably the worst, though. He's got no less than six charges he's facing."

"And the others?"

"Them too, but Guerruro? The short little bastard? He's the one to keep your eyes on. Hot tempered." Brodie cut off his explanation as Jim heard someone getting up from the table behind him

"YO! Harris! Shut your mouth!" Martinez. Damn.

Silence reigned in the cellblock once again and Jim sent his hearing out, trying to keep track of the rapid-fire conversation going on at the table behind him, as well as listening to the other sounds in the detention center. It was hard, the noises reminding him too much of the days that he'd spent undercover in Starksville. The only real difference this time was that the inmates here knew who, and what, he was. Sagging back to rest on his heels, he tried to focus on the one bright hope that he had left: Sandburg was safe on the other side of the walls. Then pain lanced through his lower back, as someone kicked him right over the kidneys, and he dropped to the floor. Twisting so that he wouldn't kiss the pavement, he saw the shortest of the captors standing over him. It was Guerruro, the one Harris had warned him about.

"Rikky didn't say you could relax, Ellison." The smile that crossed the inmate's face was one of pleasure as he reached down to haul him back onto his knees. "Don't move."

Staring daggers at the retreating back of the short, pock-faced man, Jim tried to block the pain flaring up his back. "Sonuvabitch." Pushing past the ringing in his ears, Jim barely heard the lock on the gate disengage just as the lock on the main door let go. Then he heard another sound coming from somewhere behind him, but just as he figured out where it was, it was too late.

Before he could call out a warning, he was blinded and deafened by no less than three rapid, yet small, explosions.

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Hallway outside Cellblock #4

10:58 hours

Lieutenant James nodded as his second team notified him by radio that they were in place and ready to go. Tapping his ear bug radio with two sharp taps, he acknowledged. Looking over his chosen team, four good men, he smiled. "Ready to rock and roll?" The men nodded as he and his second man pulled the flash-bangs from their trousers. Keying his radio over to another frequency, he said, "We're in position, Stace. Open the locks."

//Locks open.//

Joey frowned at the toneless quality of the woman's voice, then gave the door in front of him a small pull and found it open. "Thanks, Stace." He keyed back to his tactical frequency. "On my command..."

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Control Room

10:59 hours

Stacie Harrington had flown into the Control Room, forcing Blair Sandburg to keep up with her. She was now seated before the massive control panels, operating the lock systems and watching the monitors with the intensity of a cat eyeing its prey. Moving on nearly silent feet, she felt Blair move into place right behind her chair, and couldn't help but notice that Commander Johansen and Captain Banks had come into the room behind him and were now looking over Blair's shoulders at the monitors.

// We're in position, Stace. Open the locks.// The sound of the tactical team's commander came over the radio link.

Reaching to hit the toggle, Stacie muttered under her breath. "This isn't going to work..." Swallowing against the dread rising in her chest, she hit the toggle switch and keyed the radio. "Locks open."

She barely noticed when Blair clasped her on the shoulder. Her entire attention was focused on the monitors and speakers before her, intent on doing her part of the job, even though she felt the mission was going to fail.

// Thanks, Stace.//

Taking a second to glance over her shoulder at the young detective behind her, she gave him a weak smile then returned her attention to the monitors. Just as Lt. James pulled open the door to Cellblock 4, she switched the main view screen, the one that had the best recorder on it, from the view that had shown the tactical team in the hallway to the one that showed the inside of the besieged cellblock.

Flash bangs went off in the day area of the cellblock, momentarily overcoming the camera with feedback, but the image cleared quickly. However, what the view now showed was not encouraging. Instead of a simultaneous entry from the main door and the service hatch, the teams entered in haphazard fashion, not as a cohesive unit.

The next few seconds were intense as the five-man team, which had entered from the main door into the cellblock, pulled up their stun shields and charged up their batons. The inmates and the hostages were obviously still trying to recover from the effects of the flash bangs, except for one of the hostages; Detective Ellison was on the floor, his arms pressed tightly to his head.

"Dial it back, dial it back, man." Blair whispered as if trying to reach his partner. Stacie couldn't help but overhear the plea, but had to keep her mind on the task at hand. The plan was rapidly falling apart at the seams.

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Cellblock 4

11:01 hours

He hadn't had enough time to readjust his hearing, and having his eyes assaulted at the same time nearly drove Jim Ellison nuts. The pain in his ears from the explosions and the total lack of sight, as the flash bang devices overwhelmed both senses, was nearly intolerable. Dropping instinctively to the floor, bringing his arms up over his ears in a vain attempt to push past the pain, he missed most of what took place around him. Instead, he concentrated on hearing the calm, reassuring voice of his Guide in his head, encouraging him to dial back the pain, to push past the sound ringing in his ears and reconnect his overloaded sight.

His sight cleared first and he rolled over onto his side to see five black clad men engaging the five inmates with what appeared to be clear plastic shields and riot batons that had energy discharging along the 'working' ends. As his hearing cleared up, he heard the sound of badly oiled hinges creaking somewhere behind him. The sound of the discharging batons crackled through the air, punctured with screams of pain, which reminded him too much of the last sounds of the men who'd made the infamous "List" in Starksville, just before Vince killed them in the ring.

"Fall back! Fall back!"

Jim snapped his head back to see the men who had entered the cellblock through the main door slowly backing away from the enraged inmates. Two of the men were clutching bloody wounds on their arms; another was dragging an unconscious inmate by his feet while the last two provided as much cover as they could. The hatch that had just opened behind him slammed shut, and the sound of a sliding latch grated across the room.

Rikky Martinez and Enrique Carbajal tried to push past the men who had stormed into the cellblock and were now dragging Sauel Guerruro, unconscious, from the room. Both of them had taken multiple hits from the stun batons and shields, but had been able to shake off most of the effects. Sauel hadn't been so lucky. He'd taken more than a half dozen hits from the stun shields and had fallen at the feet of the officers who were now dragging him out.

Manuel Perez and Pedro "Papa" Caledones had turned their attention away from the group that had rushed in the main door when the loud sound of the service hatch opening had reached them.

"Fall back! Fall back!"

The shouted command rang through the air, and before Manuel or Papa could reach the hatch which had opened, it slammed shut and was secured. Pounding his fist against the hardened steel, Manuel showed his frustration.

Across the room, Rikky kicked at the solid door that had slammed shut in his face. "Mother fuckers!" Turning on his heels, he pushed past Enrique and stalked up to the five men he and his crew held hostage. Reaching out, he pulled Eric Blevins to his feet. "I should kill you right now, Blevins! Just to teach those assholes a lesson!" Putting his words to action, the enraged inmate backhanded the hapless guard across the jaw.

Jim flinched at the sound of the solid fist hitting the young man's chin, knocking the man out. "Martinez!" he shouted as he rolled back onto his feet.

Dropping the unconscious guard, Rikky turned to face Ellison. "What?! You want some of this, Ellison? 'Cause I'd love to have a new punching bag."

Shaking his head, Jim said, "No. What just happened wasn't Blevins' fault. Your anger is going to get you and your crew killed." He held his ground as the inmate walked up to him, invading his personal space.

"You think so, Detective?"

"I know so." Eyes locked together in another battle of wills, and an unnatural silence filled the cellblock. Knowing that it wouldn't serve anyone, Jim broke the eye contact first. "You need a negotiator. Someone who knows how the guards around here are likely to respond."

"Ellison!" Jim ignored Brodie Harris' protest, forced himself not to react as one of Martinez's men, Enrique perhaps, approached the guard who was trying to rise to his feet. The sound of Harris being subdued bothered him, but he had to get inside the mind of the inmate standing before him. Later, he'd try to explain to Harris and the others what he was doing.

Rikky Martinez smiled at the sound of the scuffle taking place behind him, which Jim couldn't see, and then looked up past him to someone else. Someone, who, according to the sounds that Jim could hear, hair brushing against cloth, was nodding. The sickly smile turned greasy, "You offering to help, Ellison?"

"Yes." And Lord help me if I fuck this whole thing up.

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Main Hall outside of Cellblock #4

11:11 hours

The scene that greeted Commander Richard Johansen as he barreled down the hall wasn't encouraging. "One, and two, and three, and four." Lt. James applied the compressions, while Valdez gave the breath of life to the inmate they had hauled out of the cellblock. Behind them, tending the cut on his upper arm, Williams called in the paramedics that had been on stand by.

Within moments, two paramedics were there, taking over the CPR as they tried to revive the inmate. A second set of paramedics had also arrived and were helping the first team set up a radio connection to Cascade General, hooking up leads to the EKG and warming up the defibrillator.

"Lieutenant! What the hell went wrong?" Rick Johansen asked of his tactical team leader as he watched the paramedics work.

"I'm not sure, sir. Either the timing was off, or the inmates were expecting us, but I don't see how." Lt. James looked up the hall, and Rick followed his probing gaze. The team that had been sent to open the service hatch was approaching. "Excuse me, sir. I need to get the briefing from my men so I can give you a full report."

Rick stepped aside as the Lieutenant brushed by him, then turned to watch as the paramedics loaded the downed inmate on to a gurney and wheeled him away. Sighing, he turned to follow them down the hall, motioning for the injured members of the tactical team to proceed him. "What a damn mess."

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Control Room

11:09 hours

Captain Simon Banks had watched the whole attempted rescue of the hostages in Cellblock 4 go down the tubes from the safe confines of the Control Room. Seeing his detective writhe in pain on the floor after the flash bangs had gone off had torn at him. His attention had been split between watching the action going down on the main screen of the monitors, and watching the youngest member of his team and the partner of the man who was in the middle of this mess. Over the speakers, the people in the control room could hear Lieutenant James give the order to fall back, and Simon had seen the tension increase across Sandburg's shoulders. The man had a death grip on the chair in front of him, his eyes locked on the screen. Stepping in closer to offer him support, Simon heard him mutter.

"Dial it back, dial it back, man."

Shaking his head, Simon placed his hand on the shoulder in front of him and watched as Stacie Harrington stopped the tape recorder, ejected the record, and inserted a new tape. "Sandburg?"

Blair shook as if he was trying to release the tension that had built up in him, then he turned to face his Captain. "So much for that plan, huh?"

"Sandburg. Blair. Jim's okay, you can see that for yourself." Simon nodded at the monitors where they could see their friend regaining his feet.

"For now."

Harrington slowly twisted her chair, dislodging Blair's hands from the back, and stood up, the tape held in a white knuckled grip. Simon noticed that she was just as tense as he and Sandburg were, her voice nearly shaking with frustration. "Tony? Take over. I need to view this in Briefing." The other tech nodded and the woman turned her attention towards him, a rueful smile on her face. "I could use some help, if you're interested, Captain? Blair?"

Curtly nodding, Simon took the technician up on her offer and with a kind arm thrown over the shoulders of his detective, followed her out of the room to the briefing room that they'd visited earlier.

"Harrington? Any idea what went wrong?" he asked as he and Blair walked behind her in the hall.

Stacie entered the briefing room, holding the door open for the two men accompanying her as she answered the Captain's question. "A few. One of which is that the service hatch in there probably hasn't been used since the facility was built. I was surprised that Yost was able to get it to open at all, let alone secured again after the 'el-tee' gave the order to fall back." Closing the door behind them, she walked over to the TV/VCR and loaded in the tape. "Captain, before I start this, can I get you and Blair some coffee?"

Sandburg answered before he could. "I'm okay, Stacie." Simon waved off her offer as well, and watched as Blair pulled his glasses from his shirt pocket and gestured towards the VCR. "Let's get this over with." He had to agree with Sandburg. They needed to resolve this situation, soon. He pulled up a chair, and together the three of them started to review the tape.

Cascade City/County Detention Facility

Briefing Room

11:51 hours

"You fucked up, that's what happened, Joey!"

"It would've worked, Stace! If Yost had been able to get that damn hatch opened in time, it would've worked!"

"Bullshit! And you know it, Joey! You just wanted the opportunity to try a stunt like that ever since you read the specs on Sec-Op Six! Admit it!"

"Fuck you, Harrington! I don't know why I've kept you on the team, you don't have the stomach for this..."

"That's ENOUGH!" Commander Rick Johansen's voice rolled into the room. Stepping forward, he positioned himself between the two fighting officers. "Joey, sit down! Stacie, you too." Waiting until they had settled back into their chairs, on opposite sides of the briefing room's long conference table, he sighed. "You two are as bad as children who don't want to share. You're not exactly inspiring Captain Banks or Detective Sandburg with your displays of temper."

Stacie sank back in the hard chair, her eyes lowered. "Sorry. But you saw the tape, Sir..."

"We all saw the tape, Stacie. What we need now is a calm, rational, discussion to see what options we have. Not a damn hotheaded debate!" Rick grimaced as he realized that his last words came out a bit harsher than he'd intended.

Against the back wall of the room, at the far end of the table, Blair Sandburg looked up and his quiet voice floated on the still air. "Why the stun gear? Why not a full frontal assault with weapons the inmates couldn't possibly expect?"

Captain Simon Banks looked shocked. Rick had watched Sandburg since he returned to the facility and realized that the young man's appearance was deceptive. He looked like, and was, an academic, serving the public in a harsh duty. Long, wildly curling hair made him look like a refugee from the late sixties, but that exterior seemed to hide a brilliant, and hopefully devious, mind. "Sandburg?" Simon's voice sounded leery.

"Hear me out, Captain." Sandburg stood up and gestured towards the blueprints, prints that Rick had watched him study while Harrington and Lt. James had their little shouting match. "Commander? May I?"

Rick nodded, interested in hearing what this young man had in mind, and raised his hand to silence the protest he could see his Lieutenant getting set to deliver. "Go ahead, Sandburg."

Bobbing his head in thanks, Sandburg managed to avoid meeting the glare that Joey James threw his way and launched into whatever he had in mind. "Okay, so the first plan didn't work. Fine. Big surprise. No, that's not meant as a criticism, but we're past that point in time and nothing we do now will correct that. Right?" Rick had to hide a smirk as there were murmurs of agreement from around the room. The detective, the 'kid,' had just nailed the entire tactical team without stepping too hard on any toes. "Okay. So, we need to get our men out, limit damage to the other inmates and take control back. Forget what happened earlier, forget the service hatch - they'll be watching that now - what's left? Anything?"

The silence that met Sandburg's question wasn't encouraging, but several of the tactical team members leaned forward to look over the blueprints, trying to find another option. Rick also leaned over the table, trying to see where, or what, the detective was driving at.

"Damn." The soft curse pulled his attention to Harrington as she looked up at Blair, her eyes gleaming wickedly. "The vents."

"The vents."

Lieutenant James cursed and rose up over the table. "The goddamn vents!?" Rick watched as Joey leaned over and studied the blueprints, his finger tracing the airshafts that were clearly marked and noted that no less than eight led into Cellblock 4. "But how to use them?" The Lieutenant sounded like he was thinking, a good sign in Rick's eyes.

The Jail Commander sat back, enjoying seeing his people now working together once again as they sorted out the problem. Looking down towards the far end of the table, he spotted his old patrol partner, who was also smiling in satisfaction as his detective worked with the jail's tactical team to put a plan together.

"...I can reopen the shafts, but keep airflow to a minimum, that should gain us access - but will one of your men fit through them?"

"That's not the only problem we're looking at, Stace. Most of my team have their handguns in the lockers, but we need a rifle. Preferably a high powered one, maybe with a scope on it..."

"Would an Ruger Mini-30 do?"

Rick leaned forward, his arms resting on the tabletop, a shocked expression on his face. "Stacie? Where can we get hold of one of those?" The military and law enforcement agencies had used the rifle she had named for years, but the detention center never had the need for one. Until now.

She had the grace to blush. "Uh, my car?" Rick nailed her with his hardest look and she volunteered, "I *was* supposed to go to the range this morning..."

"I'd forgotten. We may just take you up on the offer, but I have to ask. Can you handle it?" Rick wasn't asking if she could handle the weapon. If she had one in her car the chances were that she could, but he wanted to know, needed to know, if she could handle the rest of the responsibilities, should they decide to go with the half thought out plan.

The Jail Commander watched as the woman nodded tersely, her color fading as she realized what she had just volunteered for. And there was Sandburg, moving in close to her side, offering silent support. The crackle of a radio broke the tension.

//Commander? Could you return to Control? We've got a new development.//

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Cellblock #4

11:42 hours

The inmates controlling the cellblock had moved their hostages, separating them from each other to make talking between the men difficult. And Jason Kilarney had been forcibly removed from the day area and shoved back into his cell. Jim regretted that, even more than he regretted having volunteered to help his captors out with their negotiations with the jail's staff. But, even if Harris and the others didn't understand, he knew that if they had a chance to trick Rikky Martinez and the others into screwing up, then they had to force the issue. That meant getting the inmates to trust one of them, namely himself.

"You need information, Martinez. Find out what happened to Sauel, why was he dragged out of here."

Rikky nodded in agreement with his statement, and Jim noticed how Papa was casting approving glances towards Martinez. "I'll get that when I'm ready, Ellison. Now, you have any other bright ideas?"

Jim shrugged, his hands still locked in his cuffs behind his head, as he knelt on the hard floor near the center of the day area. "You've asked for your freedom, but have you thought about what you're going to do once you're outside these walls? How you're going to survive the manhunt that will surely follow?"

"There will be no "manhunt", Detective. Not if they don't want to find bodies of their friends scattered throughout the county." Rikky toyed with his homemade knife as he answered.

Jim allowed himself a mental chuckle over the information the inmate had just given him. Now, how to play it? "So, have you asked for transportation large enough to handle all of us? Or are you going to leave someone, maybe one of your own men, behind?"

The outburst of rapid fire Spanish that erupted was hard for him to follow, but the emotions were easy to track. Manuel Perez, Enrique Carbajal and Pedro 'Papa' Caledones were yelling at Martinez, concern on their faces, upset over the idea that one of them might be left behind. Jim forced himself not to smile over the outburst, and glancing across the room to where Harris knelt, saw the dawning of recognition on the guard's face.

The argument ended abruptly as Rikky picked up a towel and started flinging it up towards the camera that allowed the jail's staff to keep an eye on the cellblock. "Chica! Answer me, puta!"

//She's stepped out for a few minutes, Rikky. What do you want?//

The male voice that answered was the one that had been identified as belonging to Sergeant Camryne. That much, Ellison had been able to gather from Harris and the other guards before they'd been separated.

"Hey! Sarge! You'll do. What the fuck did you do to Sauel? And you'd better get this straight - I'm tired of talking to you or Tony, from now on all I want to hear is the chica."

//Sauel's being treated by the doctor. As soon as I hear something, I'll have Harrington pass it on to you. She should be back shortly. I'll let her know how much you missed her.//

"You do that! And until she talks to me again, no more free show!" The towel he'd used to flag down the control room and get the attention of the Sergeant was flung one last time to land over the camera, obstructing the view of the cellblock.

Cascade City/County Detention Facility

Control Room

11:51 hours

The tall man standing in front of the control banks for the facility's monitors and speaker system cursed his luck as the towel that Rikky had thrown settled over the camera, neatly covering the entire view field with whiteness. "Damn. Tony? The Commander is in Briefing. Get him on the horn." He stared at the now useless monitor, as Tony Raymond contacted Commander Johansen by radio. As he stood there, Sergeant Drake Camryne could swear that he felt new gray hairs trying to infiltrate his coal black hair. Deep blue eyes flashed in anger as he took in the situation. It wasn't good. He knew Stacie Harrington had been on duty for over twelve hours already, having come in last night to cover for a sick technician, and now, thanks to Martinez's demands, he'd have to keep her here longer.

"Tony? Pop that tape out. Let Stacie see it when she gets here. And get another tape in there. Might as well record everything, including a damn towel, and whatever you do - do not turn off the sound monitor to that cellblock." Drake looked over his shoulder just as the Jail Commander walked into the Control Room.

"Drake? Now what's..." The Commander's voice cut off when he looked towards the monitors. "Damnit! What the hell happened?"

Sandburg walked in then, holding the door open to admit Captain Banks and Stacie Harrington, letting the door close softly behind him just as Drake updated his boss. From the look on the detective's face, he was shocked at not being able to see into the cellblock where his partner was. Drake couldn't blame him. But even as he updated the Commander and the rest of the group, he could hear Tony adjusting the gain on the microphones. The sound was loud and clear, but there wasn't much going on at the moment. Drake stepped aside to let Stacie pass, watching her as she shoo'ed Tony Raymond out of his chair and took control of the boards. Sandburg was right behind her, stepping up to the back of the Lead Technician's chair, and she wasn't reacting adversely to that intrusion. Which was very odd, for Stacie.

Commander Johansen nodded in agreement with his decisions. His voice was soft as he responded. "Okay, she stays. I know, I know, Drake. Stacie's been on duty a long time, but look at her. She's not going to want to leave, even if I order her to. What' s the word on Guerruro?"

Drake sighed and shook his head. "Not good, Commander. He's dead."


"The doctors over at Cascade General are trying to figure out why. I've already looked over the shields and the batons. None of them appeared to have been at full strength." Drake looked his commander in the eyes and gave his final statement. "But you know how that could've been covered up."

Johansen actually growled. "Oh, I know. Go grab Joey and take him to my office."

Waiting until the sergeant had left the Control Room, Rick walked up behind the technician that was now going to have to handle even more responsibility. "Stacie?"

She jerked head around to face him. "I heard. Tony?" Her fellow technician looked up from the tape he was trying to review. "Did you give Rikky any idea where I went?"

"No way! Neither did Camryne."

"Stacie, go get your tactical gear. Now. Before I have to put you back on the playing field, I want you to have everything you might need." Rick pulled the chair out from under her, lifted her to her feet and gave her a gentle push towards the door. "Go grab some fresh air, and maybe one of those teas you like to drink. While you' re doing that, think about how we can stall Rikky."

Nodding her acknowledgement of Johansen's orders, Stacie waited until she saw Tony settle into her place before leaving the Control Room. She didn't realize that Sandburg was following her, not until she heard footsteps on the loose gravel of the employee parking area.

She spun on her boot heel fast, one arm coming up in a snapping movement towards the area where her tail's head should be, and froze. Literally froze her momentum, becoming as still as a statue. Blair was her follower, and his arms had come up in what would be a totally ineffectual counter-maneuver to her strike.

"Whoa! Didn't mean to startle you, Stacie." His voice was quavering as he slowly dropped his hands.

Dropping her offensive stance, she started to shake. "Damnit, not now." Turning on her heel once again, she resumed her walk to her car, hearing the crunch of gravel as Blair fell in beside her.

"Stacie? How long have you been on duty?" She tensed, her shoulders trying to bunch up. The last thing she needed was someone, even Blair or her Commander, questioning her ability to handle her job. "Look, I don't mean to pry, and I have no idea what Johansen has in mind for you to do, but if you're too tired..."

"Stop it!" The sudden outburst startled both into silence. Approaching the black Dodge Durango that she'd been aiming for all the while, Stacie keyed open the back hatch, then sat down on the tailgate, her head resting in her hands. "I' m sorry. I don' t know what' s come over me. I shouldn' t have snapped at you like that, Blair."

She noticed how he moved in towards her, his hands softly brushing aside the long hair that had escaped it's loose braiding, until those hands were resting on her shoulders. Sandburg's voice wasn't condescending, as she feared it would be, but rather full of honest concern. "Stacie, you're tired. Aren't you? I can see it."

Raising her head, Stacie stared at him. She'd seen his face for the first time this morning, but he'd been so focused on his partner, Ellison, that she never realized that the man standing before her had any more compassion to spare. But there it was, reflecting in those blue eyes. Hesitantly, she clasped his arms and tried to connect with him to partake of the quiet inner strength she could feel radiating from his compact frame.

Blair met her brown gaze unflinchingly. The warmth of her hands on his upper arms flowed into him, pushing away his own doubts about her ability to make it through the day and what lay ahead of her. His vision started to play tricks on him and he suddenly saw her face overlaid with that of an animal. A fox. A red fox who was grinning at him. The vision abruptly ended when she pulled away from him, leaving him slightly dazed and a little confused.

Stacie dropped her grip on Blair s arms, falling back into the storage area of her truck, snippets of the last conversation she'd had with her mother floating to her. 'Beware of the Wolf, Kitling. For I've seen him - he walks with a strong Cat beside him and when they enter your life, forever will it change.' She shivered in the cool spring air, not because of a chill of the body, but one of the soul. For as she'd looked into Blair's eyes, she'd seen a wolf. Rolling over onto her side, she pulled up the floorboard and revealed a stash of weapons.

Blair let loose a low whistle when her stash was revealed. For the bed of her truck was a custom job, with hiding places for all manners of weaponry. There were no less than three rifles, a shotgun, and enough ammo boxes to supply all that were shown, and a few more, for a week of intense shooting at the police range. "Stacie? Why do you have so many guns hiding in your truck?"

She snorted as she pulled up the rifle she'd told her commander about. "I'm a Marine. Born and bred. Daddy would kill me if I wasn' t prepared for anything that might come my way." Stacie handed the rifle over to him and reached back to pull up the ammo for it, along with a spare magazine clip. Flipping the carpet back over the hidey-holes, she scooted back to the tailgate and stood up.

Blair stood back as she closed the hatch, then followed her as she walked around to the passenger side, opened the back door and pulled out a black canvas back pack. "Let me guess? Your tactical gear?"

Hefting the bag onto her shoulder, she nodded. "And a few other things. Namely a handful of homegrown herbs I can brew into a tea to keep me awake far longer than a whole pot of coffee could."

They walked back towards the Detention Center in companionable silence. Stacie led the way inside and made straight for the Briefing Room that the Tactical team had taken over. "Valdez? Where's Lt. James?"

A well-built young Hispanic looked up from the handgun he was cleaning. "Sergeant Camryne came looking for him a little bit ago. I don't know where they went."

Reaching behind her, she took the rifle and ammo from Blair. "Here. Hold this for me, will you? And don' t mess with it. If I have to adjust the sights, I'll use you for my next target practice."

Valdez set his weapon aside and gently removed the rifle from her hands "No one will touch it, Stace. Trust me."

"About as far as I could throw you, Valdez." She smiled to take the sting out of her words and turned to face her companion. "Blair? Let's go grab that tea."

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Briefing Room

12:37 hours

Blair rubbed at his eyes, tired from studying the files that Sergeant Drake Camryne had delivered to Commander Johansen. He, Captain Banks, and Johansen had been reading over the files, trying to come up with some idea of what the inmates in control of Cellblock 4 were capable of.

The files spread before him on the Commander's desk contained everything that the Sergeant, Harrington, and the rest of the support staff could dig up on the inmates. Rap sheets, reports from guards that had been filled out after incidentswith the inmates in question, family contacts, visitor's log, in coming and out going mail contacts, you name it. There were a wide variety of reports contained within the four files.

He looked up as a fresh cup of strong coffee was placed before him. "Thanks, Stacie."

"You're welcome." He watched as Stacie Harrington passed out the rest of the coffee, then reclaimed her own seat around the Commander's desk. "Did I miss anything?"

"Nothing much, Stacie. I've worked here a while, but I never dealt with the inmates closely. I'm not sure what we're supposed to be looking for here." Commander Johansen gestured at his paper-strewn desk, a scene that Blair knew well from his Rainier days.

"Face it, Rick. You never were a people person- even when we were on patrol together." Blair tried to hide a smile as Simon Banks leaned back in his chair, sipping his cup of coffee and twisting his friend's tail with great chutzpa. "Now Sandburg here, he's a people person." Now he really had to try not to smile. Simon had often teased him about just how much of a 'people-person' Blair had been in the past and now he was getting credit for being such. "And he's been quiet too long, so I' m willing to bet he's come up with an idea or two."

Startled from his mental wanderings, Blair looked up from the small notepad that he'd scrounged from somewhere, and the page of notes he'd scribbled there. "Excuse me, Captain?" He'd been listening with half an ear while trying to get his notes in some semblance of order.

"I asked if you have anything to add, Sandburg?" Simon smiled at him, "Or have you just been doodling all over those pages?"

He blushed. He'd played the "absent-minded Professor" too long to fool Simon. The man probably knew all his tricks better than he did. "Maybe." Looking up at Johansen and Harrington, Blair clarified himself. "First off, I'm not a psychologist, just a former anthropologist. Anything that I might have is pure speculation."

Johansen nodded, "I can live with that. What have you got?"

Consulting his notes, flipping back and forth between pages in the notebook and the files on the desk, Blair started his rambling monologue. "First off, Martinez can not be the mastermind behind the take over. He's bright, but not that well organized."

"What gives you that idea, Blair?" Stacie asked quietly from her end of the Commander's desk.

"His criminal background. Possession of crystal meth, felon in possession of a firearm, five counts of murder in a gangland style street sweep, murder of his own sister and the possible rape of his own niece. He's messy. Escalating crimes, but messy methodology. Putting aside the rape of his niece, everything he's done has been in a fit of rage. The rape must have been over control, not a crime of passion. The possession of the meth? That was just pure bad luck of a kid just turned 18. And the possession of a firearm? Heck, any smart criminal knows that if you're about to be stopped, you ditch the weapon."

"I think the real mastermind behind this whole take over is actually Pedro "Papa" Caledones. First off, he's the oldest member of the group. Second, his crimes, three counts of Homicide, possession of controlled substance with intent to deliver, and felon in possession of a fire arm, are still under investigation and the charges may not stick. He's slick. He wouldn't have been caught if someone in his posse hadn't turned informant on him and fingered him for the murders."

Flipping over another page, he continued his brief sketch of the inmates, trying to impress both Johansen and Harrington with the details of the personalities he'd just read about in plain, dry reports. Simon had already made his position clear on his abilities. After all, it was due to some of the strings the Captain had pulled that Blair was now a part of Major Crimes, as well as a consultant for the whole Cascade Police Department. Putting his knowledge of psychology together with the experience of Stacie and Commander Johansen, Blair was happy to see that his mini-profiles of the inmates were proving surprisingly accurate, considering the lack of comprehensive details in the files. Stacie assisted him there. She'd dealt with the inmates of the facility than the Jail Commander had and her questions and insights were proving very helpful to him.

By the time Blair left the Commander's office, trailing behind the others, he had a fairly clear picture of just what the inmates controlling Cellblock 4 were capable of - namely murder in a variety of methods - should they be allowed to regain their freedom. Pushing aside the dark thoughts intruding on his brain, Blair found himself being gently hauled down the hallway by Stacie, who had grabbed his elbow and gotten him moving. Her non-verbal rebuke, a simple raised eyebrow, reminded him. Time was not on their side.

Cascade Detention Center

Briefing Room

13:19 hours

Simon came back into the Briefing room with yet another strong cup of coffee in his hand as he took in the sight before him. The tactical team had come up with another plan and were busy around the room, cleaning and checking weapons, readying their gear. What surprised him was not how efficiently the team was going about their business, but that Blair was there, sitting beside Stacie Harrington on the floor as she checked over the rifle she'd brought in from her car. The two young people had been side by side through this whole mess almost from the beginning, acting like a team themselves, one offering support to the other when it was needed and vice-versa. Spotting Rick in the corner of the room, he walked over and pulled up a chair next to his friend.

Rick looked up from the blueprints he was studying again, as Simon sat down next to him. "Simon, we may have a little problem with our plan."

"Oh? I thought you and the Lieutenant had it all worked out." Seeing the painful grimace, Simon grew concerned. "What is it, Rick?"

Handing the Captain the blueprints, Rick pointed to a section, a rather large section, of the ventilation system. "I've only got one person who will fit through that section of the vents - and I can't spare her from the Control Room."

"What about someone from the SWAT team?"

"Not available. Most of the SWAT team is down in Olympia at a conference. The ones that are still here are built like most of the team you see here."

Simon thought about the situation, not liking where his thoughts were leading him. "Maybe I could call in one of my other detectives? Brian Rafe is a pretty good shot...No, damnit. He and his partner are working a string of residential break-ins and a double homicide."

Rick sighed, "I suppose I could set Stacie up with a radio tied into the speaker system - if Technical Support could get me the gear we d need in time."

"Sounds iffy."

"It is."

Simon allowed his eyes to roam the room, until he spotted Stacie and Blair sitting side-by-side. The woman was tending to her rifle, almost in a loving way, while his detective was cleaning his own weapon. Even as he watched, the technician absently reached for a glass of tea, just as Blair reached for his own, and the two of them looked up to meet his gaze. Simon didn't even turn his attention away as Stacie put her tea back down, placed her rifle on the drop sheet she'd found, and stood up in a smooth motion. Words too quiet for him to hear were passed between his detective and the woman. Then she was walking over towards him and Rick.

Rick didn't even look up at her near silent approach. "Stacie, can you set up a radio link with the gear we have here so that you can stay in contact with Martinez no matter where you are in the facility?"

"I thought you might have been talking about me, Commander." She dropped into a crouch beside Simon, and he could almost swear that he could her brain working, before she answered. "No, not really. It would sound different to Rikky and might clue him in. Why?"

"See what you can do. I may just have to send you into the vents."

Stacie stood up in a hurry. "Me?"

"Can you do it?"

Simon watched as the confident woman that he'd come to know in the last hours paled and started to breathe a little too fast for his comfort. He wasn't even aware that Sandburg had come up behind her until the young detective spoke.

"Stacie, breathe. Nice and slow, that' s the ticket." Blair looked towards him. "Simon? What' s going on?"

"Stacie? Go change into your gear. Tony and David will set up the link." Rick ordered the woman, who was obviously still in some kind of distress.

"Yes, Sir." She nodded sharply and left the room to comply with the command.

A tug on his shirt sleeve drew Simon's attention back from the distress he'd seen on Harrington's face, and he turned to see Blair looking at him. "Simon? What's going on? Surely Johansen isn't going to send her in with this group of hulking behemoths."

Simon ignored his question and stared at Rick, "You're going to do it anyway? Send her in? That kid?"

Rick turned stone cold eyes towards him. "That kid is one of the best shots in Cascade and a former Marine. She can handle it, Simon."

"Handle what?" Blair stepped out from behind him to face the Jail Commander.

"Sniper. She's going to have to take out Martinez before the Tac-Team storms the cellblock."

"I'll take her place."

"Sandburg!" Simon's bellow was loud, causing all the quiet conversations going on the room to fall silent.

"I'm doing it, Captain. You've seen my score on the range. Jim is the only member of the department, outside of Sergeant Gardner, who's better than I am, and Gardner's on medical leave."

The serious tone and the pure conviction in the eyes of his detective made Simon sigh in resignation. "Fine. Rick? Have you got a spare vest for Blair here?"

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Control Room

13:47 hours

Stacie had resumed control of the monitors and made contact with Rikky shortly after being ordered to change her uniform. She'd been stopped by Commander Johansen when returning to the control room. He explained that he had changed his mind, but wouldn't tell her why. Maybe Lieutenant James had convinced the Commander that she wasn't the right person for the job. It wouldn't surprise her.

The towel covering the camera had been removed once she had spoken to the inmate holding the guards and the one detective hostage. She'd managed to convince him, hopefully, that Sauel Guerruro was okay, just knocked unconscious by the number of stun hits he'd taken. When Rikky demanded the return of his fellow conspirator, she had to refuse. "Rikky, Sauel' s being treated by the doctors over at Cascade General. If we bring him back here, he's going to have to be watched very closely by the nurse."

//I thought you said he was fine! You lying to me, Chica?//

"He is fine, Rikky!" She shook her head, trying to think back to her own medical training, to come up with a plausible excuse. "Look, Sauel was unconscious a bit longer than the docs over at Cas-Gen thought he should have been. They just want to keep a close eye on him, make sure that he s getting the very best care."

//Good. That's nice of them, Chica.//

She watched as he leaned over Ellison's kneeling form, saw the detective nod his head to whatever it was that Rikky had asked of him. To her, it looked like Ellison was actually cooperating with the inmates. But when she'd asked Blair about that earlier, he assured her that no matter what it looked like, there was no way that Jim Ellison was going to be a party to Ricardo Martinez hitting the streets of Cascade a free man.

//Hey! Chica! Let me talk to the Commander!//

"I'll have to get him in here, Rikky. May take a few minutes."

//Then do it. I'm not going anywhere. Yet.// The laughter that rolled through the cellblock was eerily echoed over the speaker system, distorting it into a maniacal, chilling sound.

Snapping off her end of the connection, Stacie spun her chair around to see Blair Sandburg standing in the door to the Control Room, dressed in the all black uniform of the tactical team.

"What the hell are you doing, Blair?"

"Taking your spot. Hope you don' t mind." He didn't waste any time, pulling her from her post and nodding for Tony Raymond to take her spot. "Come on, you need to get some fresh air and to let Rick know that Martinez wants to talk to him." When had she lost control of her life? Why were so many people telling her what to do and when to do it?

Giving in to a strange impulse, she allowed herself to be persuaded to leave the room, following the devilishly good-looking detective. "Uh, Blair? The Commander's office is that way?" Stacie pointed down the hall over her shoulder, in the opposite direction from the one they were heading.

"I know, but he and Simon are outside smoking cigars."

"Oh." Once outside the building, she started to walk towards the designated smoking area, only to be held up by a restraining hand on her elbow. Stopping, she looked at her escort. "What?"

"You don't mind me taking your spot, do you, Stacie?"

"Depends. How good a shot are you?"

"Gardner gave me my Rifle expert badge last month. You?"

Leaning up against the wall, she nodded. "Three months ago. In light of that, I don't mind."

"You didn't want to do this, did you?" Damn, how did he know?

She inhaled a shaky breath. "No. But I would've."


Stacie hated to admit this, to anyone, and yet..."I'm claustrophobic. Not severely, just enough that tight, cramped spaces put me into a full panic attack. I was not looking forward to crawling through the vents."

She watched as Blair tried valiantly not to chuckle, his shoulders shaking with the effort, but in the end he failed. "I'm sorry, Stace, I don't mean to laugh. But I have a hard time seeing you panicky."

She aimed a swat at his head, which he ducked. "Laugh all you want, Blair. But it s the truth. I didn't even know I had the problem until I lost it in the Box at Parris Island."

"The Box?"

"Part of Marine survival training."

"Oh." He looked up from his shoes, and his denim blue eyes bored into hers as he softly confessed, "Well, at least you don't fear heights."

"You?" He nodded. "Oh, heights I can deal with, but put me in a two by two room and I freak."

"Must hate elevators then."

"Avoid them like the plague."

"Me too."

They both dissolved into laughter, and Stacie could feel the tension of the past hours draining away from her body and soul. She hoped that the laughter helped Blair as well. They were just recovering as their bosses walked up to them, reeking of cigar smoke. Stacie tried to get herself under control. She could see Blair struggling to do the same, as Commander Johansen and Captain Banks strolled by them.

"Well, if you two are done with your socializing, shall we go get the party rolling?"

Still chuckling slightly, she nodded and followed her Commander back into the facility, Blair not too far behind her.

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Cellblock 4

13:21 hours

His knees were killing him. He had no idea how much time had passed. Rikky had taken his watch, but from the numbness setting into his legs, Jim Ellison had to guess that several hours had gone by. His arms weren't in much better shape. Rikky Martinez had tightened his cuffs too tightly, and the inmate's constant taunting of the woman on the intercom and his fellow hostages was getting on his nerves.

He was just wishing that something would happen, anything, when the intercom snapped to life again.

//Martinez! This is Commander Johansen. You wanted to talk to me?//

The voice over the intercom got the inmate's attention and Jim watched as Rikky stepped away from Deans, who he was starting to play with, leaving a harsh line of blood on the young man's pale cheek. "Ah, Commander Johansen, how nice of you to finally join us." Martinez's voice was full of confidence and barely hidden rage.

//You seem to be digging a deep hole for yourself, Rikky. What is it you want?//

"What does every man in this fucking place want? Out! And you'll let me and my compadres go, too, or I'll start killing your guards. Inch by inch while you watch."

Jim watched as Rikky Martinez put action to his threat. Standing over Deans, holding the guard's head, he started to cut the man's face. Again. This situation was rapidly going downhill. If something, anything, was going to happen, it had to happen soon and it had to start outside the cellblock. The Commander's voice was low, as if he was trying not to startle anyone, but the words were harsh.

//Rikky, you do that and you'll get out of there all right. In a body bag.//

Rikky threw back his head and laughed, his hand pulling the shank dangerously close to Deans'ear. "Ah, but that is the beauty of this situation! You see..." Jim didn't move. The inmate had abandoned Deans and was walking towards him, his voice lowered to a level just about absolute zero. "...I won't start with your men, but rather Detective Ellison here." His muscles tensed under the hand that clasped his shoulder. "How would that look on your record, Commander?"

There was no immediate answer from the intercom, leaving Jim the hope that Commander Johansen was going to play this situation out in the only way he could.

//All right, name your terms, Rikky.//

"Commander, NO!" Brodie Harris lurched to his feet, only to have them knocked out from under him by Enrique, one of Martinez's cohorts. The guard was gasping, trying to draw air into lungs that had suddenly been emptied, and didn't even seem to notice as the inmate that knocked him to the floor slid a shank into his body. Jim even heard the blade scrape against bone as it sank into Harris' shoulder, just below the collarbone.

The sudden spike of blood smell, fear, and excitement sent Jim scrambling for his control dials as he tried not to heave from the odors. Rikky s laughter echoed in the cellblock as he noticed the reactions of his prisoners. Jim hadn t even realized he closed his eyes until he felt the hand under his chin, and was forced to look Martinez in the eyes.

"What? Big, Bad Ellison can't stand the sight of a little blood?"

"Was that really necessary?"

Never removing his eyes from Martinez's, Jim watched as the inmate slipped the collapsible baton from his waist band, extended it with a flick of his wrist and held it against his exposed torso. "Yes, it was. Just like," Rikky swung the baton and it connected with the left side of Jim's ribcage before he had a chance to move, "this is."

Trying to breathe through the pain in his side, Jim missed the rest of the conversation between his captor and the Commander. The sudden flare of stimulus had sent his control over his senses spinning wildly, and it took a few minutes for him to regain partial control, just enough to bring his pain dial down to a manageable level. He landed on his side, nearly on top of Harris, and he took a moment to use his sense of hearing and touch to gauge the wounded man's vitals.

Rikky walked back over to them and smiled down at them. "We' ll see who gets out of here in a body bag." With a final savage kick to Jim's ribs, the gloating inmate joined his companions at the table behind the hostages.

The kick completed what the baton blow had started, and Jim felt two ribs snap in his chest. Harris was in slightly better shape, but was going into shock. Deans and Cartwright sidled over to their wounded compatriots against the previous orders of their captors, and tried to assist Harris and him as best they could, which for now meant blocking any further blows with their own bodies. Blevins never moved a muscle. His fear, which was rolling off of him in waves, rooted him to the floor.

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Hallways between Cellblocks 1 ...2

14:00 hours

With the aid of a battery-operated drill, the final screw securing the plate of steel over the maintenance hatch fell free, into the waiting palm of Stacie Harrington. The two men with her, David Jacen and Blair Sandburg, caught the plate before it could hit the floor and slid it off to one side. The shaft was dark and carried the echoes of voices from all over the detention facility. Squatting back on her heels, the technician pulled a small flashlight and a piece of paper from the tool bag at her feet, handing them both to Sandburg.

"Here you go, Blair. You sure about this?"

Blair tucked the mini Mag-Lite he was handed into a pocket and opened the map of the vent system she'd given him as he bobbed his head once. "I m sure. Besides, you have your part to play in this as well."

"Oh yeah, I do. Just make sure you don't miss." Standing up, she reached over and picked up the rifle leaning against the wall. It was encased in a soft cover, to prevent any undue noises should the detective drop it in the vents. She handed it to him and watched in satisfaction as he pulled it free of the cover and inspected it. Again.

Blair grimaced as he looked the rifle over, and Stacie wondered what he was thinking. She had loaded the weapon with 7.62x65 rounds, six of them, which were fully jacketed to prevent mushrooming. It was her private rifle, one that her father had given her for her 21st birthday and it pleased her to see the detective taking care of it. After he slipped the weapon back into it's sheepskin cover, which would help to keep the noise level of it banging against the shaft walls to a bare minimum, she nodded her approval as he checked his radio.

"Radio check, testing, 1,2,3..." His voice was barely above a whisper, but it didn't have to be. The microphone was actually built into the ear bud and was sensitive enough to actually pick up on his heartbeat, if she wanted to do that.

She naturally couldn't hear the response, but it must have been a positive one, for Blair said, "Thank you" before turning to face her and David Jacen again. "I'm ready. Let's get this show on the road." And then he was gone, sliding into the airshaft and disappearing in the bowels of the system. Stacie couldn't even see the blue filtered light from his Mag-Lite.

Looking towards David, she nodded and together they carefully replaced the access hatch over the opening Blair had crawled into. She used the drill to replace the screws, being careful not to screw them in too tightly. Then David picked up the toolkit and they made their way back to the control center.

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Control Room

14:07 hours

Commander Rick Johansen looked up at them as they entered the control room. "Eagle enroute?"

"Yes, sir." David Jacen responded. "If he can keep up a decent pace, and doesn't get turned around in there, he should make it to his perch in fifteen minutes."

"Good. David, go make sure that technical support has a good track on him, and for God's sake, don't let him get lost." Rick watched as his man acknowledged his orders and left the room. Then he turned his attention to his lead monitor tech. "Stacie? You about ready?"

She didn't say a word, just shooed the tech sitting in herchair away from the control panel and pressed the intercom key to Cellblock 4. "Martinez."

//Hey! Chica! What's the word?//


Rick looked over at Simon Banks. There was no real reason for him to be in the control room, watching this whole scenario go down, but then again...He had not one man, but two that were now deeply involved in it. Rick couldn't kick him out, and he doubted his old friend would go anyway. Besides, he wasn't in the way, just took up a little space against the back wall as Stacie Harrington made her request for a show of good faith from Martinez. Her voice and demeanor was calm, cool, collected. However, it was her hands that gave away her tension to Rick. She was twirling a pen, weaving it through the fingers of her left hand in an absent gesture. His attention was drawn back to the monitors and intercom at the sound of the detective's name.

"Anyone but Ellison, Chica. Lady's choice. But I insist that you be the one to come in and get him."

Rick bolted from his chair and kept her from replying. Shaking his head, he gestured for her to keep quiet as he keyed the mic and spoke to the inmate. "Unacceptable, Rikky. I'll be the one to come and collect the man that she chooses."

Looking his eyes on the monitor screen, he observed Rikky Martinez shaking his head slowly. //I don't think you're taking me seriously, Commander. Very well.// Then he made a motion with his hand, and the people in the control room behind him gasped in unison as Manuel Perez, one of Rikkys co-conspirators, slipped up behind Eric Blevins and slit his throat.

Stacie leaped to her feet, pushing away from the control panel, hand going to her mouth as she nearly ran him over trying to find a trashcan. Rick stared at the screen, helplessly watching the misguided guard thrash on the floor of the cellblock as he slowly died. Turning away from the monitors, he saw Simon standing next to Stacie, holding her close in a friendly embrace, and even Rick could see the shudders running through the technician's slender frame. Damnit. Why did this have to happen on his watch?

Cascade City/County Detention Facility

Cellblock 4

14:15 hours

"...Anyone but Ellison, Chica. Lady's choice. But I insist that you be the one to come in and get him."

The words, delivered in a voice that could only be called slimy, slithered around the day area of Cellblock 4. Jim shifted on the floor where Rikky had decided to leave him and Harris, straightening his legs out, willing them to work. Pins and needles raced up through his hips into his spine as blood flow was slowly restored to his aching legs, which caused the pain in his knee - the one that Rikky had kicked earlier - to flare. The distraction almost caused him to miss the reply. Not from the lady that had been talking with the maniac, but from Commander Johansen.

//Unacceptable, Rikky. I'll be the one to come and collect the man that she chooses.//

Rikky Martinez shook his head slowly. "I don't think you' re taking me seriously, Commander. Very well." He made a motion with his hand, and Jim Ellison watched as Manuel Perez stepped up behind the guard, Blevins, and calmly slit the man' s throat.

The sudden, overpowering, metallic stench of human blood spilled into the air, as did the stink of fear and insane excitement. The sounds coming from the dying guard were horrendous; gurgling, wet sucking sounds as Blevins tried to draw air in through a ruined neck. His thrashing only helped him to bleed out, but not fast enough to ease the suffering of the hostages left behind. Jim rolled back onto his knees, his control gone, the Sentinel within demanding justice, intent on killing the gloating figure standing over the fallen man.

Jim lunged to his feet, but he didn't get more than three steps towards Rikky before someone tackled him from behind. The impact with the hard floor knocked the breath out of Jim and he didn't resist as the man who'd tackled him rolled him onto his back. It was Enrique Carbajal. And the inmate standing above him shoved a shank against his throat to get his point across. Jim got it. No moving. But that didn't stop him from making eye contact with Enrique and trying to get across the point that no matter what else happened, he was a dead man and Jim would be his own personal Angel of Death. It must have worked, for the inmate blinked and instead of re-engaging Jim's gaze, looked up towards Martinez.

The leader of this whole situation called out, his tone full of magniloquence, "Chica! See what your Commander made me do? Make your choice and come collect him, or we take another one!"

Silence descended on the cellblock and Jim could hear the stunned gasps, and a few quiet voices calling out encouragement to Martinez, from behind the locked doors of the individual cells. The answer was long in coming, and Jim wondered what was going on, but then the intercom crackled back to life and the soft, smoky soprano voice of "Chica" drifted into the room.

//Harris. I choose Harris.//

"I look forward to meeting you, Chica. You come, alone of course, and I'll gladly give you Harris."

The sound of the connection being terminated on the other end rang through the near silence. Rikky was chuckling. Jim twitched under the body weight of the man holding him down, his anger not fully under control yet, as the idea of a lone woman walking into the lion s den muttered darkly in his mind.

Enrique hauled him to his feet and Jim nailed the man with one of his glares. He didn't even flinch, just applied a small amount of pressure to his shoulders, pushing him back to his knees on the floor. Using the motion of his body as a cover, Jim was surprised to hear the man whisper, "Rikky's insane. That chica walks in here? She's dead, or worse."

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Control Room

14:29 hours

Simon Banks couldn't believe what Harrington had done. She'd actually pushed her Commander aside and wrested control of the intercom from him long enough to make the choice forced on her. After making the call to Cellblock 4, she had turned and left the room, but not before he caught a glimpse of the anger that was evident in the woman's warm brown eyes. He made to follow her. He wasn't needed in the control room anyway, and had nearly caught up to her when she savagely pushed open the main doors and ran outside, towards the flower box near the smoking area he and Rick had visited earlier. He walked slowly towards her and could hear her violent retching echoing off the brick walls that surrounded the makeshift courtyard.

That was how Simon Banks found her. Kneeling over the planter, heaving up her guts, long hair spilling over her face as the pins holding it up fell, while her body writhed in convulsions. Walking up behind her, he gently reached out and pulled her hair away from her face, hands on her shoulders. He waited patiently until the worst of her reaction passed. When he was sure the storm was over, he pulled a clean handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her.

"I'm dead."

The quiet voice barely registered on his ears, and he shook his head. "No, not yet. But I think Rick' s going to chew you pretty good once this is all over, young lady."

Stacie turned around and sank to the ground, resting her back against the side of the planter she'd just puked in. Wiping her mouth, she nodded. "I deserve it, Captain. I fucked up." A bitter chuckle escaped her. "Guess the Gunny always knew that. He called me SNAFU from day one."

Simon sat on the edge of the planter, away from the foul pool, but close enough to the woman to hear her muttered statement. "Well, I'm not going to tell you otherwise, Ms. Harrington. That's for your Commander to do. But maybe you could tell me why you did what you did?"

She was crumpling the hankie he'd given her in her hands, twisting it, and she refused to look up towards him. "I couldn't let another man die, not on my watch, policy be damned." She sighed as her shoulders dropped. "Not again."

Sensing that there was more behind what she had done than the death of Blevins, Simon let his long arm take his hand down to rest on the woman's shoulder. "I understand, Stacie, and to be honest, I think you just managed to reach the intercom before Rick could." He smiled gently as, for the first time since catching up to her, the girl looked up and he caught a glimpse of something changing behind her dark eyes. What that something was, he wasn't sure, but her eyes had changed from soft to hard as stone as he watched. "Now, you ready to go back in there and face the consequences of your actions, Marine?"

He watched as Stacie rose to her feet and brushed of the seat of her dark blue uniform trousers before she walked away from him and back into the building they'd left only minutes before.

Simon watched her, seeing a bit of Ellison in the ramrod straight back, the squared shoulders. Rising from his seat, he pulled out a fresh cigar to chew on as he followed her back inside. It didn't take him long to find her and Rick Johansen. They were just outside the control room, near the door that would lead her into the back of the facility and, eventually, to Cellblock 4.

Their conversation was too hushed for him to hear, but he saw her nod and Rick's face flushed with anger as he tapped on the glass to the control room. The grinding sounds of a solenoid lock releasing carried down the hall, and with a hard pull the Jail Commander yanked open the heavy steel door, closing it behind Stacie as she stepped through the portal. Simon walked up to his friend just as the man turned away from the door with a heavy sigh.

"She's a pistol, isn't she Rick?"

"More like a damn loose warhead, Simon." He reached out and slammed a fist into the brick wall. "Damnit! It wasn't her decision to make, it was mine!"

"Did she make the wrong choice?"

"No!" Rick's head snapped up as he glared at him, his eyes flashing with anger. "Harris was the only choice to make! But, damnit, I' ll have to suspend her after this. And I hate losing good people - for any reason."

Simon gauged his old friend's reaction. It was way off scale. "Rick? She's special to you, isn' t she? You're afraid for her safety in that nut case's area."

His friend slumped against the wall, his posture speaking volumes to him. "Simon, she's been working here for three years. Stacie was the only person who made the transition from Commander O' Rourke to me smoother for everyone involved. I just put her in for a promotion to sergeant, and now that's gone."

"Maybe." He grinned around the stogie clenched in his teeth when Rick glared at him. "Depends on how this all turns out, wouldn' t you say?"

Simon watched Rick. The man's face was so expressive that he could actually see the man think. And that face lit up as everything Simon had tried to get him to understand apparently fell into place for him. "Damn, you're right.  It' s not so much how you write the report, but what you say in the report ." A slight snicker slipped past lips that were starting to halfway smile. "I always hated that swift, diabolical mind of yours, Simon. But you' re right. And the others will back whatever spin I put into the official report. Stacie is just too valuable to lose."

Removing the Arturo Fuente cigar from his mouth, Simon gestured towards the control room. "Then let' s get in there and watch her work this."

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Darkened Air Shaft

14:43 hours

Cramped inside the ventilation system, Blair concentrated on making as little noise as possible while he wormed his way towards his destination. There was very little chance that anyone, other than whoever was listening on the other end of his radio set up, would hear the slithering rustle of the combat rip-stop cloth outfit he was wearing, but better safe than sorry.

Coming up to yet another intersection, Blair pulled out the map that Stacie had given him, then the Mag-Lite, and studied the paper in the filtered blue light. Okay, if he was reading the map correctly, he had only one more turn to get through before reaching the perch above Cellblock 4. Shoving the map and the light back into his shirt pocket, he inched his way through the intersection, made the turn, and added yet another bruise to his collection. "Ouch. Damnit. Another one for the hip." He kept his voice quiet, but...

//Eagle? After years of being partnered with Ellison, I thought you would've learned how to get past the pain - and how to duck.//

Grimacing as he twisted his body around the tight ninety-degree turn while pushing the rifle ahead of him, Blair spoke into the voice-activated microphone clipped to his ear. "I know how to do both, Jacen. Trust me."

"Doesn't sound like it on my end."

Stifling yet another curse by biting his lower lip as his left knee contacted solidly with non-yielding galvanized steel, he tried to ignore the comment and found he couldn' t. "This isn' t easy, Dave. How would you like to be in here, twisting your body in ways you never knew you could? This sucks, man. I' ve been in a few tight spots, but never like this."

Blair let out a sigh of relief as he finally cleared his way around the tight corner and could see the grated opening about six feet in front of him. David Jacen had been keeping up a conversation with him for the past fifteen minutes or so, but had fallen silent five minutes ago and had yet to tell him why. He continued sliding down the shaft, hoping that Dave's hesitation meant that he was about to update the reluctant sniper on the situation in Cellblock 4.

//You about to enter the nest, Eagle?//

"Yeah, I believe so. Got about four, maybe five more feet to go before I can look down into the block and know for certain. Why?"

//Uh, the Commander wanted me to tell you...Martinez had one of the hostages killed a few moments ago.//

Something in the man's flat, toneless voice sent a spike of ice cold fear into his heart, stopping it. Gripping the covered rifle tightly in white knuckled fists, his voice softer than it had been, Blair asked, "Jim?"

//No. He's hurting, pretty bad from the look of things, but your partner's okay. It was Blevins.//

The shudder of relief that ripped through his body almost made Blair ill. A man had died, a man he hadn't known, but he was thankful that it wasn't Jim. "I'm sorry." But he wasn't, he was overjoyed. His friend was safe! And his lack of concern over the death of Blevins made Blair hate himself.

//Uh, Eagle? Stacie's back and heading towards Cellblock 4. She won't go in until you signal you're in place.//

"Roger." With a final mental shake, Blair started moving again. A few minutes later he was peering down into the room below. The sight of a body lying in a large pool of blood sickened him, just as the sight of his partner, now sitting on the floor next to the wounded guard, sent a shiver through his body. Resting his head against the floorof the air duct, Blair sent up a quick prayer of thanks to any deity that would listen. Raising his head again, he studied the grate covering the opening.

For some reason, the designers had built it so that it could be opened only from inside the airshaft. He didn't know why that should be, but was thankful that was the way of things, for it made his job easier. Carefully shining the miniature Mag-Lite around the edges of the covering, Blair found the latches, and with the utmost care to keep as quiet as a church mouse, popped them open and swung the cover out of his way.

Uncovering the rifle in the tight confines was a bit of a hassle, but soon Blair was ready. The weapon didn't have a scope on it, just open sights, but he'd been practicing and knew he could make the shot. If he could get around the idea of actually shooting a fellow human, that is.

The inmates that had taken over the cellblock were talking loudly, and Martinez was going on about what he was going to do with his next hostage, should Commander Johansen not give in to his demands. The rapid-fire street Spanish was hard for Blair to follow, but what he overheard hardened his resolve. The bastard was actually planning on trying something with Stacie when she showed up! An eerie calm settled into his mind as he spoke quietly to activate the microphone on his radio. "Eagle in the Nest, clear view."

//Roger, Eagle. Stand by one.//

He settled into the best position possible, barely pushing the business end of the sniper rifle out into the open room. Not that anyone would be looking up until he fired the first shot, for who would expect an attack from 18 feet up a sheer wall? Blair waited for Dave to get back on the radio, but wasn't surprised when a new voice came over the earpiece.

//Eagle, you have a go.//

"Copy ' go'." It was Commander Johansen who had spoken but Blair needed to confirm the order.

//Correct, you have a go.//

"Roger the 'go'- going silent." Blair reached down to the shirt pocket where he'd stuffed the tiny radio and turned it off, then pulled the earpiece/microphone from his ear. He had things to do, to say, which would bring up too many questions if someone - anyone - overheard him.

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Control Room

15:06 hours

Commander Johansen was grim as he gave the order to the young man on the other end of the radio. "Eagle, you have a go."

//Copy 'go'.//

"Correct, you have a go." Rick absently let his attention wander to the monitors spread out before him, one showing the inside of Cellblock 4, another the passageway just outside the main door to the same. And several more showing where his tactical response teams were set up to storm the whole place, once the signal was given. Sandburg's response scared the hell out of him.

//Roger the 'go'- going silent.//

He keyed the mic in his hand frantically. "Sandburg, no! Stay in open communication!" Silence. "Sandburg!" When the man didn't respond, the Commander knew it was too late. Standing up and swinging around to face the detective's Captain he demanded, "What the hell is he doing, Simon?! That wasn't part of the plan!"

Captain Banks looked as shocked as Rick felt. He'd never seen that particular shade on the man's face before. Evidently Simon wasn't used to Sandburg breaking rules of conduct either. "Rick, relax and trust him. I'm sure that Sandburg has a damn good reason for killing his radio link." Simon reached out and clasped a hard grip on his shoulder, pushing Rick back down into the chair he'd bolted from. "Think about it. What if a sudden burst of feedback hit the com-net? It could give away Blair's position and the element of surprise."

Allowing himself to sink back into the oversized office chair, Rick had to agree with his old partner. "I see your point, and his. But I wish he had told us earlier that he was going to do that."

Simon's face broke into a wide toothy grin, the ever present cigar clenched in his teeth. "Fine. Tell you what. When this whole thing is over, I'll let you have a piece of Sandburg's ass if you want it. But you' ll have to stand in line behind me, got it?"

"Uh huh. And who's in that line before you?"

Pointing at the main monitor screen, the one showing the hostage incident, Simon shrugged. "Who do you think?"

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Hallway outside Cellblock #4

15:10 hours

Stacie Harrington handed her radio to Lieutenant James, who was shaking his head. "Stacie, I don't like this. Sounds like Sandburg's going to go vigilante on us."

"I don't think so, Joey." She shook her head as he turned a perplexed gaze up at her. "Don't ask me why I think that, I just do."

"Woman's intuition, Stace? Or have you become more than a simple former Marine turned cop?" He'd been her Sergeant before taking over the Tactical Team, and with their often-rocky relationship, Stacie wondered if the man would ever learn that she didn't like his idea of humor.

"Just a hunch, okay?" She turned her attention to the large steel door separating her from the inside of Cellblock 4. Her own hand had disabled most of the electronic locks when the incident had started over two hours ago. The card readers would no longer work, for there were at least two such cards in the possession of Rikky Martinez or one of his men, so Stacie would have to use the keypad and her override codes to open the solenoid lock. Before punching in the last digit of the string of ten numbers, she glanced back over her shoulder at the Lieutenant. "Watch my six, will you, el-tee?"

The Lieutenant nodded, accepting the responsibility, his face showing his dread as she entered the final number, yanked open the door and walked into the cellblock. Her back was being covered by no less than seven men, but two of them weren't wearing body armor. If Stacie was able to pull off her end of the plan, part of the manpower would be needed to pull Harris to safety.

Before keying in the code needed to open the inside gate to cellblock 4, Stacie pulled her shoulders back and fell into a parade-ground perfect stance of attention. Looking beyond the gate, she could see Martinez waiting as his followers moved in to stand behind the hostages. Her face a mask of solid stone, she keyed in the proper code and, as the door released, walked into the cell.

Cellblock #4

15:12 hours

The grating, rolling sound of the main cell door being unlocked caught the attention of every man in the room. Even the inmates who had locked themselves into their individual cells held bars in tight fists as Stacie walked into the cellblock. She could almost feel the tension floating in the air. Allowing her gaze to slide pass the grouped Hispanics, she spotted Jason Kilarney, who had been forcibly moved into his cell by Caldones. She allowed herself to feel some relief. The inmate was a nice guy in a bad situation and had worked with her in the past, shifting furniture from office to office while talking politics. She'd even rewarded Jason by buying a Pepsi for him, taking him outside, and letting him have a smoke. But that part of her couldn't be allowed to show in here, not now. She had to be a different woman, one who few people ever saw outside of the Marine Corps.

Richard "Rikky" Martinez was looking down the short hall, having spotted her. Stacie saw him signal his crew. Then he was approaching her, stopping only when he stood a few feet away from the gate as she opened it.

Leaving the door hanging open behind her, Stacie took three steps into the room, halting only when Martinez gave the order.

"That's far enough, Chica." He closed the distance between them and addressed her again. "Remove your shirt."

"What?" What the hell was this?

"You heard me." Rikky moved his hand and Stacie watched as three knives went to three throats. "Take off the shirt. Have to be sure that you didn't bring something in here that could harm one of us."

Keeping her mission face intact, she reached up and unbuttoned the top button of her uniform shirt then unzipped the hidden zipper. Shrugging out of it, Stacie revealed the gray heather sports bra that was all she had on under the blouse. Holding the blouse out at arm's length, she struggled not to shake apart as the oily gazes slipped over her form. The only wolf-whistles or catcalls to ring through the room came from Martinez and his crew.

"Very nice, Chica. Now, turn around - slowly." His smile grew more predatory as she complied with his command, and he reached out to snatch the light blue shirt from her hand.

Spinning back around to face him, not that she ever really took her eyes off of him for more than a split second, she saw him bring her uniform up to his face and sniff it. Her mask slipped as her eyes narrowed in disgust.

"Very nice. Too bad I didn't know you before getting stuck behind these walls. We could've partied well together, I think."

Enrique, Manuel and "Papa" pulled their hostages to their feet. That last phrase Rikky had used must have been a prearranged signal, and Stacie saw that the three men were keeping their shanks pressed to the exposed throats of the hostages.

Jim tried to make eye contact with the female guard to warn her, as he felt the knife that Enrique was holding to his jugular press hard against his flesh. He had managed to work his hands out from behind his head, as had Cartwright and Deans. While it had hurt to twist his wrists in the nearly too tight hinge cuffs, Jim now had more freedom of movement, for what little good it would do him. Cocking his head slightly to one side, he opened up his sentinel hearing, trying to find out if the lone female guard had backup outside. His attention was caught by something else.

<Come on, Jim! Open your damn ears! I know you can hear me. I just need a sign. Nod or something.>

Blair's voice! Where the hell was he? Moving his head, as if trying to get Enrique to lessen the pressure, Jim piggybacked his sight to his hearing and, looking in a mirror across the cellblock by the bathroom area, saw his Guide's reflection. He was lying in the ventilation shaft, and he was armed! But how to signal that he had, indeed, heard him? The pressure on his neck let up and he smiled as he straightened up, barely nodding.

<Yes! You hear me!> Blair was obviously fighting to keep his voice steady, quiet, and yet audible. At least to Jim's ears. <Okay, we're going to get you out of there, but you have to be ready to slam the dials way down on your hearing when you hear me say "Green". Smirk or something if you got all that. I'll see it.> The look that crossed Jim's face was one which he'd been told could freeze even the most hardened criminal hearts.

<Oh, there's that patented Ellison glare. Thanks, Jim. Now, relax and just be ready to move.> Jim watched in the mirror as Blair shifted slightly, resting the body of a rifle in the palms of his hands. Having very little else to do, the sentinel zeroed his vision in on the weapon. It looked like a Ruger Mini-30, possibly the civilian model, which meant that Blair had five rounds in the magazine and maybe one in the chamber. But could his friend take the shot when he needed to? Jim's attention was pulled back to the only female in the room as she responded to the naked innuendo in Rikky's remarks.

"Not likely, Martinez. You're not my type. I came here for a reason. Let's get down to business."

With a casual move, Rikky threw the woman's shirt onto one of the bolted down tables to his side. "You might change your mind, Chica." Stepping off to one side, the inmate cleared a path for her. "You want Harris, take him."

Stacie moved slowly, warily passing the inmate as she glided over to where Harris lay on the floor. Jim noticed that she was forcing herself not to look at Blevins' body or the thickening pool of blood. He couldn't blame the woman, and watched as she dropped to one knee beside her coworker. "Brodie? Can you walk?"

Brodie Harris opened his eyes, and answered her soft-spoken question. "Stacie. Maybe. Help me up?"

Reaching out with both hands, she grabbed him by the forearms, braced herself and hauled him to his feet. His gasp of pain reminded Jim just how injured the man was. And must have reminded the woman as well. "Sorry, B."

Panting against the pain, Harris stood there, clutching her arms. Finally, he let go and started to walk towards the gate and his freedom. Jim couldn't help but notice how Stacie assisted him, supporting Harris by wrapping one arm around his waist.

"Stop, Chica." Both guards froze, bodies tensing visibly. "Keep going Harris, I just want to talk to the lady for a minute." It was going to happen, right now, in front of him and there was nothing that Jim could do, or say, to prevent it or warn the female guard.

Letting go of Harris' waist, she gently pushed him towards the gate, her voice steady as Jim listened to her reassure the wounded man. "Go, Harris. I'll be right behind you." She waited until Harris was past the gate before she turned to face her tormentor.

"What now, Martinez?" Her soprano had dropped half an octave, upping the intensity.

Rikky walked up to her, closing in on Stacie's personal space. The inmate circled her, touching her body in random places: her shoulder, her lower back, her hair, from which he pulled bobby pins, causing the mass to spill down her back. Jim could only watch as the man stalked the woman like a cat waiting to pounce on a helpless mouse. Rikky slowly paced around her until he was facing her again. Then he used the collapsible baton he'd taken from Harris to gently caress her exposed collarbones. "You should wear your hair down more often, Stacie."

Jim saw the slight shudders race through the woman's body before she answered. "Against policy." She was cool, factual, and it only seemed to amuse Martinez, who chuckled at her.

"So serious. Why not stay here and keep me company, Chica?" He leaned closer to her, the baton resting against her neck. "We could have some 'fun' before I leave."

<Jim? Get ready. I can't let him touch her again.> Jim turned his gaze back to the mirror and watched as Blair shifted the ballcap on his head around, putting it on 'backwards' so that the bill wouldn't interfere with his ability to shoot.

Inside, where no one could see it, Jim allowed himself to smile at the words of his partner. He might have a reputation for being a libertine, but Blair Sandburg was one of the most gallant men he knew. Chivalry might be dying a slow death in the rest of the world, but it had a torch carrier in the Shaman of the Great City.

Hallway Outside Cellblock #4

15:31 hours

Lieutenant Joseph Joel James watched as Brodie Harris stumbled out of the door, without Harrington, and into the waiting arms of Manrique Valdez and Billy Ray Johnson. That's when the man's pain filled eyes found him, and he gasped out, "Joey, get in there! Rikky's planning on raping Stacie!"

Joey hissed in anger. "Not on my watch, he won't! Valdez, Johnson, get him up front. The medics are waiting." Turning to the rest of his team, he moved them into position behind him, for he would be the first through the door when the time came. Keying the radio, he spoke.

Control Room

15:32 hours

//Command, did you catch that?//

"Yes, we did, Joey." Rick Johansen was leaning against the control panels, his gaze fixed on the main view screen. "Martinez is too close to Stacie right now for you to move in - wait for the signal from Eagle."


Glancing over at Simon Banks, Rick voiced the question racing through his mind. "What the hell is Sandburg waiting for?"

Simon tore his eyes from the scene being played out in Cellblock 4 and literally snapped at him. "Probably a clear shot!"

Silence crashed into the control room and Rick noticed that none of his people dared look towards him or Simon. The techs Stacie had left in charge of the boards kept their eyes on the monitors. David Jacen kept trying to quietly raise Sandburg on the radio. The only other sound to intrude on the tableau was the soft crackling of the tactical team's radios as they set up.

//Gold and Blue, make ready.//


//On mark.//

Rick locked gazes with Simon, neither one of them budging as the words from the tactical team rolled into the quiet room. Banks didn't break eye contact as he softly spoke to him. "Rick? Trust me, Sandburg won't let anything happen to Stacie or the hostages. He's just waiting for the right moment."

Breaking contact, Rick looked back to the main screen. "It had better happen soon."

Cellblock #4

15:35 hours

Apparently Stacie couldn't take the invasion of her space anymore and slid one step backwards causing the baton to drop off her shoulder. "You must have a death wish, Martinez."

Pulling the metal baton back up, Rikky stared at the brunette. "Not me, Chica. But it looks to me like you do. I didn't tell you that you could move."

Her voice dropped into the temperature range of liquid helium. "Touch me again, and we'll see who's got the death wish."

Rikky actually growled. Guess no one had ever told him 'no' before, Jim thought. Good for Stacie. "Enrique, the choice is hers. Kill him." Jim's head was yanked backwards. He could feel the knife break the tender flesh under his left ear and his heart thudded to a halt before Stacie suddenly yelled.


"Wait!" Rikky's voice held a tinge of triumph. "You have something to say, Chica?" Enrique released his head and Jim was allowed to see the scene playing out before him.

Stacie wasn't watching her torturer but, rather, locked gazes with Jim. He could tell that she was looking at the side of his throat where Enrique had started the slice. He tried to convey to her that he was all right, that she didn't have to do anything...

"What do you want?" Before her voice had been full of confidence and self worth. Now it was full of bitter, utter defeat.

<Jim, get ready to dial it back. You'll have to take it to 2 or lower.>

Taking a few steps away from the subdued female guard, Rikky motioned for her to follow him, but she didn't. "Chica? All I have to do is give Enrique the word and Ellison is dead. His blood will be on your hands."

Jim cringed as Stacie took a step towards Rikky, who was playing with the baton that he'd used earlier to crack two of the sentinel's ribs. The inmate was still trying to twirl it around in his hand and failing miserably. Jim couldn't believe that the woman was actually going to do as the inmate obviously wanted her to. Hadn't she been trained for this kind of situation? Damnit.

Control Room

15:37 hours

"Don't do it, Stacie. Don't give the bastard what he wants..." Rick's voice echoed in the control room. He watched in horror as the woman moved to follow the inmate.

Behind him, Simon was willing Blair to take the shot - Martinez was in the clear! No hostages were around him and Harrington was not in the line of fire.

Cellblock #4

15:38 hours

Blair tightened his grip on the rifle, making ready for the shot that would put Martinez down, when his inner voice told him to switch targets. Blindly obeying the whisper in his mind, he chose. <Jim, when I give the word, drop to your left.>

Stacie stopped. And even from where Blair sat, rifle at ready, he could see her lock gazes with Martinez. "I don't think so, Rikky." The steel that had left her voice was back and the fury was no longer banked.

"Excuse me?" Martinez brought his baton back in a threatening gesture, as if he was going to strike Stacie.


Jim moved to his left just as Stacie exploded into action, Blair fired his first shot, and the men Jim had heard waiting in the halls outside burst into the cellblock.

At the hoarse shout of his Guide, Jim Ellison dropped in the direction that Blair had instructed him to move. He pulled the control dial back on his sensitive hearing just in time, as the rifle barked and hot fire flared across the top of his right shoulder. He heard, and felt, when the round that had creased his flesh entered the chest of the man behind him and Enrique Carbajal ceased to exist, dead from a single shot to the heart, fired by Detective Blair Sandburg.

Stacie Harrington had had enough of Rikky Martinez's crap. 'Show time, girl.' Pivoting on one foot, she aimed a blazing spinning back kick at the inmate's arm, disarming him of the baton, then followed up with a snap-kick to the Hispanic's thigh, making contact with the nerve cluster. The man dropped like a poleaxed bull. She danced back out of range as a second shot rang out.

Blair had fired his first shot, taking out the inmate behind his Sentinel, then moved on to his next target, lost in the cold fire of his mission. He squeezed the trigger a second time and Martinez died. He was aiming at his next target, "Papa" Caledones, when the tactical team swarmed into the cellblock, getting into his line of fire.

//GO!// Lieutenant James yelled into his radio at the sound of the first shot. As he entered the cellblock, he saw Stacie dancing away from a fallen Martinez, then the man's chest blossomed a red flower as a second shot rang through the room. Bringing his handgun up to bear on his target, Joey pulled the trigger on the run, taking out the man standing behind Deans, just as Gold's squad leader took his own shot and the inmate that had started to push his knife into Cartwright's back fell.

Blair relaxed his grip on the rifle, letting it clatter to the floor of the air duct as he started to shake. His mind blanked on every detail of what he'd just done, except one. As much as space would allow, he started to rock back and forth as he muttered, "Oh, my gods. I shot him, I shot my own partner, I shot Jim." The words spilled from his mouth, over and over, in a sick imitation of the calming mantra he used when meditating.

Pushing his way past the fear that had engulfed his heart, Blair looked back down into the cellblock to see Stacie pushing her way through the tactical team. She was trying to get to Jim. That was *his* job. Pushing the Ruger out of his way, he pulled his body around, earning a few more bruises, then pushed his feet out the opening, and readied himself to drop to the floor. Before he dropped, he caught sight of Stacie as she delivered a resounding slap to the back of Lieutenant James' hand, who was trying to hold her back, and forced him to release her. Looking at the distance he'd have to drop, Blair tried to gather his courage, watching as the former Marine snatched her uniform blouse from where Martinez had thrown it, then raced over to Jim's side. She ripped open his partner's ruined shirt and pressed her makeshift compress against the sentinel's bleeding wound. Jim nodded at her, then blue eyes met his and Blair needed to get to the ground now.

Twisting around one last time, Blair slithered out of the vent and dropped to the floor of the cellblock. But instead of landing on hard flooring, he landed on something soft that let out an "oomph" as it broke his fall. He still felt his right knee give way and pain flared up his leg. Rolling to his left, he realized whom he'd landed on. How Stacie had gotten from Jim's side to where she had became his landing mat, he'd never know. He just assisted her to her feet and then accepted her help to reach his partner's side.

Rick ran through the corridors of his facility, just a few paces ahead of Simon and the paramedics. He wasn't normally one to let others face danger, but this time he'd been forced to merely watch and observe. Entering Cellblock #4, he looked for Stacie and saw her standing over the two detectives that were under Simon's command. She seemed to be okay, even if she was out of uniform.

Reaching out, he pulled on Simon's arm to clear the way for the paramedics who needed to get through, followed by more of his guards. Even before the wounded and dead were removed from the bloody scene, inmates who had locked themselves down would be transferred to other cellblocks. It was going to be a long, messy process, but once Rick and his people had done their jobs, written reports and conducted interviews, he would gladly turn the whole SNAFU'd incident file over to Internal Affairs and whatever Federal Investigators were called in to handle the 'after-action' study.

He hadn't even realized that he still had a grip on Simon's arm, until his friend shook it off. Rick watched as the man approached Sandburg, Ellison and Stacie. Once more, he was surprised to see the normally stoic Banks kneel down beside the young man, who was holding on to his partner's hand, and offer comfort to Sandburg, all while trying to stay out of the way of the medics who were starting to treat Ellison.

Glancing at his watch, Rick made a mental note to himself. 'Richard Andrew, you are getting too old to handle ten hour shifts with this much bullshit packed into them.' Then he rubbed a hand over his close cropped hair and could swear that he felt more gray hairs there.

Cascade City/County Detention Center

Commander Johansen's Office

19:06 hours

"This just in to the News7 report center...A failed escape attempt at the Cascade City/County Detention facility has resulted in the deaths of six men, with injuries sustained by several others. As soon as our reporter on the scene can gather more information, we'll pass it on. Now on to other news..."

Commander Rick Johansen snapped the television off as he turned to face Simon. "I don't know how we managed to keep this whole thing as quiet as we did, but I'm thankful that I didn't have to deal with those reporters until after it was over."

Captain Simon Banks nodded as he watched his friend drop into the chair behind the desk. "I think you can thank your Ms. Harrington for that. She kept fielding phone calls during the incident, telling anyone who asked that it was just a simple unscheduled training exercise."

"Stacie. Speaking of which, here." Rick threw a file folder across the desk, which slid to a stop before it could hit the ground. "Give those the once over. I didn't even have to tell them what to do, or how to say it."

Opening the file, Simon found that it contained several reports on the resolved incident and discovered they all had two things in common. Praise for Stacie Harrington's handling of the situation until Sergeant Drake Camryne could respond and, surprisingly enough, praise for Detective Blair Sandburg for his handling of the situation and his assistance during the incident. Closing the file with a chuckle, he handed it back to Rick. "They look an awful lot like my report, which your secretary was nice enough to type up. Here." Reaching into his suit coat, he pulled the report out and handed it to the Commander.

"The staff likes her. So do I, Simon." Rick took the offered report and added it to the incident case file. "Any word on your detective?"

Ellison had taken a round to the shoulder, but Martinez had broken two of the detective's ribs. Ribs that needed surgery to repair them. "Yeah. Jim's out of surgery and the doctor tells me he should make a full recovery."

"What about Sandburg?"

Letting out a sigh, Simon replied. "Now that is another kettle of fish. He's still shook up. Blair has never fired a shot in the line of duty before, and taking that drop from the vent into the cellblock twisted the hell out of his knee. So I have a team of detectives looking at medical leave."

The knowing smirk that crossed Rick's face was nearly evil in its intensity. "Isn't that normal for those two?"

Cascade General Hospital, Post Surgical Unit, Fourth Floor

19:25 hours

Stacie Harrington and Lieutenant Joey James paced the corridors of Cascade General Hospital, searching for the rooms of the patient they were looking for. "There it is, room 405," the fairly tall woman pointed out. "You think Brodie's awake yet?"

Joey shrugged and walked up to the door. "Only one way to find out. Come on." Stacie and Joey had a long talk after filing their reports, and while she still didn't really like the Lieutenant, she had to admit that he was probably the best man to lead the tactical team for the Detention Center. Shaking her head, she followed him into Brodie Harris' room to find the two men already engaged in a lively discussion.

Blair stopped just outside of room 425, resting while he tried to adjust the brace on his right leg, and wishing he could just ditch the cane that a physical therapist had gifted him with down in the Emergency Room. Pulling a hair band out of his pocket, he pulled his hair back, then, after rapidly knocking on the hard wood, pushed open the door.

"About time you got your butt in here, Chief." Jim Ellison smiled as Blair stepped, no limped, into the room. "When did you do that?"

Glancing down at his knee, Blair said, "What? This? Oh, right about the time that you decided to pass out in the cellblock. Guess the pain or blood loss must have overwhelmed you. I didn't want to crawl back through the vents, so I thought I'd just drop in on the scene, you know?" Carefully making his way around the hospital bed, Blair reached out and gripped Jim's arm. "Sorry about the shoulder."

Laying a gentle hand over the one on his arm, Jim replied, "Blair, it's okay. You did what you had to do. I just didn't move fast enough for you."

"But I shot you!"

"Yeah, good thing you're such a lousy shot, or I'd really be in a world of hurt." Jim made sure that the smile accompanying the words was brilliant, and his voice's tone was light and bantering. The last thing he needed to do was let his best friend go through a guilt trip over what he'd done.

"Man, next time I'll put the damn bullet through your shoulder instead of just giving you a new scar across the top." Blair let loose with a mischievous grin, "Maybe you just wanted a new scar to show your latest girlfriend? Is that why you didn't move fast enough?" Jim felt the tension between him and Blair fade as they both broke out into sudden laughter, reaffirming their trust in each other with the playful banter and mock swats at each other. Their mild horseplay was interrupted by the sound of quiet knocking on the door to his hospital room.

"Come on in, the party's just starting," Jim called out, knowing it couldn't be a nurse - they tended to just barge in unannounced.

Stacie Harrington poked her head in the door. "If I'm not disturbing?"

"Stacie! Come on in!" Blair hopped to his feet, and greeted the guard. "How's Harris doing?"

"He's going to be fine. Lieutenant James is in with him right now. How are the two of you doing?" She asked the question of both of them, but Jim answered her before Blair could.

"Fine. I should be out of here in a few days, but Sandburg here..."

Stacie shook her head, "You know, I still can't believe you did that, Blair! That was an eighteen-foot drop! You could've broken your neck!"

Wriggling an eyebrow at her, Blair chuckled. "Nah, I had this really nice landing mat..."

"Well, the next time you do something even remotely as stupid as that, I'll let you hit the goddamn deck. Got it?" The tone the woman was using reminded Jim of some of his best, and worst, drill instructors in the Army.

He started to shake in suppressed laughter. It wasn't often that someone - other than himself or Simon-- would light into Sandburg, but here was Harrington, dressed in blue jeans and a white tee shirt, doing just that. A small chuckle escaped his control, and Jim suddenly found himself the target of warm brown eyes.

"And you! The next time you decide to take a tour of my facility, you had damn well better be accompanied by a guard at all times!"

Wiping the smile from his face, Jim nodded. "Yes, Ma'am!"

Stacie grinned as she flipped her hair back over her shoulder. "Good. I'm glad we have an understanding, Detective Ellison. Now that business is taken care of, do you still need a ride home, Blair?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Okay, meet you downstairs in a few minutes." Jim watched, amused, as she leaned over and gave his roommate and partner a quick peck on the cheek. He wasn't even trying, but he still heard Stacie whisper gently to Blair, "Don't make me wait too long." Which, for some strange reason, caused his friend to blush.

Waiting until the woman executed an 'about face' movement and left his room, Jim brought a hand up to gently swat the back of his drooling partner's head. "Down, Darwin."

"What? Oh, that. Uh, well, it's like this..." It took Blair about two minutes to try to explain to him that Stacie was just being a friend. That nothing was going on between them, how could it, they had just met, and it couldn't possibly work out. He was just going to help Stacie study for her upcoming rank advancement tests. She was taking two at the same time, wasn't it odd that a person would do that? It had to be the fastest and most twisted path of logic that Blair had ever tried to lay before Jim and before he could get a word in edgewise, Blair quickly hobbled from the room and was gone.

Jim was still laughing when his Captain came into the room. Who did Blair think he was fooling?

"Jim? Did I just see Sandburg leave with Harrington?"

"Probably, Simon. She was nice enough to offer him a ride home."

"Good. The way he seems to attract trouble, maybe she can keep him out of it until you're back on your feet."


A few months later

Captain Simon Banks was looking over the transfer and promotions list that Rhonda had handed to him earlier. He'd lost Megan Connor two weeks ago when she had returned to Australia, and his division had been running light ever since. Ellison and Sandburg had returned to full duty status two weeks before that, and everyone was happy about that. Jim Ellison stuck on desk duty was not a person anyone wanted to be around very long, except for Sandburg. And even there, the patience factor had been running a bit low. Simon chuckled as he tried to decide who had been happier about Ellison's medical clearance coming through, him, Sandburg, or the rest of Major Crimes.

Absently flipping over to the third page, the one that listed the divisional transfers, he found that Rhonda had highlighted a section. Reading over it, Simon found himself reaching for his aspirin bottle in a preemptive strike.

From Detention Command

To Major Crimes

Detective Stacie Harrington

Effective Monday

"Oh, this should prove interesting..."

The End




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