The Land Of Nye

 

Summary: An answer to the challenge that PJ Browning posted over at A.T.S. and here on her webpage. A challenge that I just couldn' t resist. = ) Involves a kitten, a guy in a clown suit, a open case, and, oh yeah, a beautiful, mysterious woman. {Not my idea! PJ insisted in her challenge!}

Dedication: Here' s a great big cyber hug to CarolROI for volunteering her time to beta this story for me. Carol, you' ve been great and your talent helped be to clean up this story. {{{Hug}}} A big Hug goes out to my DH, who helped me with all the ' technical' stuff you' ll see in here in reference to police work. He' s a cop, he's handy, you think I would pass up the opportunity to bounce ideas off of him? No way!

Spoiler Alert: Okay, I want to warn you, this story is set post TSbyBS, and has Blair doing something that you might not agree with... Being a cop. There, you've been warned. Read ahead at your own risk.

Originally posted: 19 June 1999

Revision posted: 04 July 1999

Now, before this disclaimer/introduction gets longer than the story you' re about to read...On with the show !

 

The Land of Nye

Suisan "Sue" R

It was a dark and stormy night. Lightening flashed across the city of Cascade, Washington as the storm that had been building all day finally let loose with all its fury at one-thirty in the morning.

The snap/crackle of a nearby lightening strike sent waves of electricity coursing over the skin of the tired detective. He'd been tossing and turning for hours, kicking off blankets and sheets that had suddenly felt too rough, only to yank them back over his body as the chilled air invaded his sense of well being. Of course, it hadn't helped that he had stripped his tee shirt off earlier when it had felt like a cloying entity and not the inanimate object it was supposed to be. Sighing, he kicked off the covers again, only this time, he reached for his robe. He was giving up, and he knew it, but until this storm blew over his mind wouldn't allow him to rest. Removing the ineffective earplugs he had worn to bed, he left the relative comfort of the large bed. BOOM! The thunderclap nearly sent him reeling, but after years of training, he was able to retune his hearing to something a little bit below 'normal'. He headed toward the stairs, his mind still racing over the events of the last few days in an unending litany, like a CD caught in a loop pattern he was unable to reset.

He made his way slowly down the stairs, using only his natural eyesight and the not so occasional lightening strikes to light his way. Reaching the living area of the loft, he turned and noticed that his roommate's light was off in his room. Sighing, Jim turned into the kitchen and pulled down a large glass, which he filled with tea from the pitcher in the refrigerator.

Once seated on the large couch, he wondered how he was going to pass the time. Spying a book lying open on the dining table, he stood back up and went to see what it was. "Hmm, Central Lake Regions of Africa: Richard F. Burton. Well, that should put me out if I can read it." Before settling down to wait out the storm, Jim rearranged the furniture, pulling the large

yellow armchair over closer to the balcony doors and bringing a reading lamp over to light his chosen reading material. Setting the glass of tea down on the table, he settled into the armchair and began to read.

Getting up only one time to refill his tea, Jim realized that he was actually enjoying reading this book by Burton. "Maybe there is something in here about his sentinel studies. Maybe that's why Sandburg brought it home." Settling back down, he started to read again, immersing himself in the explorer's writings about Africa in the late 1800's.

SNAP! CRACKLE!

Jim was startled out of his reading by the nearby strike. Glancing up, he spotted a small black cat, back arched, hissing and screeching on the balcony. BOOM! The thunderclap stunned him, and the cat on the balcony had disappeared.

Jumping out of the chair, Jim managed to stub his toe hard against the leg of the table. "YEOWCH! Damn it!" Bouncing on one foot, he managed to lose his balance and fall against the table, spilling his tea, which caused him to slip on the waxed wooden floor and fall crashing into the reading lamp, knocking it over and breaking the bulb.

Blair Sandburg wasn't sure, at first, what had awakened him, but he heard his partner and roommate cursing and he came barreling out of his room to see what was going on.

"Jim?" The other man was still on the floor, holding his right foot, looking out the window towards the balcony.

Approaching him, Blair realized that his friend was still cursing but it also looked like he was looking for something on the balcony. "Jim? Man, what's wrong? What are you doing awake?"

"Huh?" Jim pulled his attention back into the loft. 'Where did that cat go?' He winced as the younger man flipped on the overhead lights, flooding the loft with light.

Crouching down beside Jim, Blair pulled the detective's hands away from his foot. "Let me see, Jim." Carefully holding the foot in his hands, he glanced over the injured digit. "That's got to hurt. What did you run into?"

"Table leg." Jim tried to see past the reflections in the glass, still looking for the cat that had scared him.

Taking the damage to the immediate area under consideration, Blair started to chuckle. "Uh, huh. Sure. You didn't see it in time, or it attacked you, right?"

Surging to his feet, Jim retorted, "That's exactly what happened. I. Didn't. See. It." Hobbling over to the balcony door, he yanked it open and walked out into the heavy rain.

"Hey! Jim! Get back in here, you're getting the floor all wet!" Blair reached out and pulled his friend back in out of the weather. But the rain that the other man had allowed to get into the loft made the floor slippery and they both tumbled to the floor, with Blair ending up buried under his much larger roommate. Rolling off of Blair, Jim tried to regain his footing, but the pain from his injured foot prevented him from doing so.

"Okay, that does it! What or who are you looking for on the balcony?" Blair demanded as he lent a hand to his friend to help him to his feet.

"A black cat, a kitten really. I thought I saw one out there just after that last thunderclap." Jim didn't resist as Blair led him over to the armchair he'd abandoned earlier and sat him down in it.

"Oh? Like any cat would be caught dead outside on a night like this?" Blair ran out to the kitchen and grabbed up a couple of the dishtowels he'd used earlier to dry the supper dishes. He'd noticed the spilled tea when he'd stepped in it.

"Chief, I know what I saw. Or thought I saw. I'm not sure anymore." Pulling his right foot into his lap, Jim began to examine his injured toe.

Wiping up the last of the tea and the rainwater, Blair bundled the towels together and looked over at his friend. "So, how's the toe?"

"Hurts, but I can't detect any break." Jim relaxed back into the armchair. "Thanks for cleaning up my mess, Blair."

Righting the knocked-over glass, which was still on the table, he shrugged. "Like you haven't done it for me in the past?" He pulled a chair out from under the table and sat down, looking at his friend. "So? You going to tell me why you're wide awake at," he glanced at his watch, "three-ten in the morning, hurting yourself and startling me and," he reached out and

grabbed up the book which had fallen to the floor by the armchair, "reading Burton?"

"Couldn't sleep. Thought I'd read a little to try to tire myself out." He reached out and grabbed the book from Blair's hand, "Hope I can remember where I was in this."

Blair watched as the man flipped through the pages of the book, finally settling on a page nearly one-quarter of the way through. "Couldn't sleep? Storm wake you?"

Placing his finger on his page, Jim closed the book. "No, I was awake before it really got to going. I just couldn't seem to fall asleep."

"Jim, you were up at the crack of dawn, five-thirty, yesterday. Then we worked all day on the follow-ups for the string of convenience store robberies. We didn't even make it home until well after ten and you can't sleep?"

Sighing, Jim shrugged. "You forgot one thing, Chief."

"What?"

"Our new neighbor downstairs who insisted on moving in late in the evening the day before this case landed on our desks."

"Oh." Blair studied his friend's face, noticing the dark circles building under the blue eyes, the fine lines of tension near the eyes, the crease in the middle of the forehead. "Jim, I know that normally you don't like them, but do you want to use the white noise generators?"

"No."

"Might help you to sleep, shut off the ..."

"I said 'No', Chief. It's just a touch of insomnia, I'll get through it."

Standing up, Blair pushed the chair back under the table and grabbed up the glass. "Fine. You want more tea?"

"No, thanks." Opening the book back up, Jim attempted to ignore the pain in his foot and the looks his friend kept throwing at him, while trying to get back into the writings of Burton. He was barely aware of the facts that Blair had crept back off to bed and the storm was clearing up.


The morning broke over Cascade, a clear and bright late spring day. Jim hadn't been able to catch a wink of sleep. To top that off, his middle toe of his right foot had swollen up during the night and he couldn't stand to put his normal working shoes on, so had to settle for his well worn-out running shoes.

Blair had awakened to find him in the armchair, more than halfway through the book, and still muttering about a cat that couldn't have possibly been out on the balcony in the storm earlier that morning. Jim had limped off to the shower while he prepared a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. He ate while his partner was getting dressed, then he jumped into the shower.

Jim had opted to dress casual, in faded blue jeans, a white button down dress shirt, his light blue silk tie and the heavy belt that would hold his holster in place at the small of his back. To this he would add his lightest windbreaker, the dark blue one, to help conceal the weapon. He chuckled when he saw that Blair had chosen to wear his newest khaki Dockers, a light green shirt, the multi-colored vest he was so fond of and a pair of dark brown deck shoes. Blair had hated the fact that he had had to cut his hair when he entered the academy, but upon transferring to Major Crimes after graduating, Captain

Simon Banks had granted him permission to grow it back out, now it was just brushing his shoulders.

"You ready to go, Jim?"

Nodding, he got to his feet, taking his dishes out to the kitchen and placing them in the sink. Turning back to face his partner, he said, "Aren't you forgetting something, Chief?"

Blair grinned. "Nope. New holster came in."

"It fits?"

He turned and modeled the latest addition to his 'official' uniform. "Which pocket is it in, Oh Great Sentinel?"

Rolling his eyes, Jim shook his head. "Funny, Darwin. Right back. Your wallet's in the left. Cell phone in the inside pocket of your vest."

"Damn. You are good, Detective!" Blair scooted past him on his way out the door, but not fast enough to avoid the friendly cuff to the back of his head that Jim delivered.

Walking out to Jim's truck, Blair pointed out the newest vehicle in the small lot. "Hey, you think that belongs to the new neighbor?"

Jim looked to the vehicle in question and whistled in appreciation. "Nice. Subaru Outback Legacy, Limited Edition." It was tastefully painted in dark green and beige, with a sunroof and luggage rack. "Looks brand new."

"Wonder what he, or she, does for a living that they can afford that?" Blair climbed into the driver's side of the old blue and white Ford pickup, Jim having handed him the keys, claiming his injury from earlier was causing him some pain even with the dials turned almost all the way down.

Climbing into the unfamiliar passenger seat of his own truck, Jim answered as he closed the door and buckled up his seat belt. "I don't know, but I can guarantee one thing, they ain't a cop."

The elevator dropped the two of them off at the seventh floor, and the best team in the precinct made their way to their department, Major Crimes, where they were greeted by the usual 'good mornings' and a not so unusual bellow from their commander.

"Ellison! Sandburg! My office! NOW!"

Blair led the way, Jim hobbling on his bruised foot, and once inside the office of Captain Simon Banks, they were greeted with the smell of fresh brewed hazelnut coffee, and a scowling boss. "Jim, why are you limping?"

"Stubbed the hell out of my toe last night, Captain."

"Humph. Sit down, both of you!"

They sat down in the two chairs across the desk from the Captain. Handing a file folder to Ellison, Simon continued. "Your clown's been at it again, half an hour ago. This time, he's left you a little present."

Reading over Jim's shoulder, Blair looked over the report. "Oh, man! What happened?"

"Sandburg, I realize that you're still fairly fresh out of the academy, but you've been with this department nearly five years. I'd think by now you would know a murder when you see one." Looking over at Jim, he concluded, "The uniforms and the forensic team are waiting for you at the scene. Go see what you can find out."

Getting to his feet and snapping the file closed, Jim nodded. "Come on, Chief. Let's go earn our pay for the day."

Twenty minutes later, they were pulling up to the most recently hit convenience store, on the eastern edge of the city, close to the Cascade Zoo. The uniformed police officers on the scene recognized them and let them through the barricade, which was actually a line of crime scene tape that stretched all the way around the Stop N' Go.

Stepping into the small convenience store, Jim was able to locate the body by the smell of the blood that had been spilled. Behind the counter, a young man, maybe in his twenties, lay dead, apparently from a single gunshot wound to the chest. The blood on the floor under and around the body told the story to Jim: Bullet had either entered the heart, or went through the main artery and the young man had bled out.

Leaning over the counter to see what Jim was looking at, Blair felt his stomach lurch.

"Not on the crime scene, Sandburg."

"Yeah." He pushed away from the counter effectively hiding the body from his view, and walked over to the field Sergeant, who was standing by the door. "Hi, Sgt. Goodman, what have you got so far?"

Sergeant Brigham Jones Goodman, BJ to his friends, smiled at the young detective. He had been on the force long enough to know that the man before him had proven himself a competent officer long before he had even joined the police force, and didn't resent the fact that the man was now a full fledged detective. "Sandburg, Ellison kick you out again?"

"Yeah," Blair smiled at the grizzled veteran. "Didn't want me heaving on the DB."

Brigham chuckled. "I can see that." He paused to open his notebook. "What we've got is the same as the rest. No witnesses to the robbery, except for the video camera. Serena's securing the tape now, and the man who found the body is over there." He nodded to indicate a nervous looking fellow in a Cascade Zoo uniform standing by a marked unit. "Came in for his morning coffee and found the clerk dead behind the counter, used the phone to call it in. Name's Terrence Walters, claims to be a grounds keeper for the Zoo."

Blair nodded as he wrote down this information in his own notebook. "Thanks, BJ. How's Sarah doing in school?"

"Better. Thanks for recommending that tutor to us."

"Any time." He walked back over to the counter. "Jim? I'm gonna go talk with the fella that found our victim."

"Fine, Chief. Send Serena and Dan Wolfe in here if you see them." Jim stood up from where he had been crouched down over the body. Lowering his voice, he confided, "I can't seem to find anything."

"Your senses bothering you?"

"Nope. It's like there's nothing here for me to find." Jim walked around the counter to stand next to Blair, as if going over the younger man's notes so far. Keeping his voice low, so as not to carry over to the Sergeant, he said, "I can tell that our victim smoked. Menthols. That he used an 'unscented' deodorant and that he recently had been around someone who smoked marijuana. But nothing else."

"Uh, huh. Okay, I'll go talk with Walters, maybe Serena or Dan can come up with more on the victim." Blair closed his notebook and looked up at his partner. "There's got to be something to go on, Jim."

Putting a hand on the younger man's shoulder, Jim nodded. "I'll look around in here a little more. Go talk with the RP." Jim let Blair go and watched as the coroner and the forensic teams flooded into the small store.

Blair approached the man who had found the body. " Mr. Walters? I'm Detective Sandburg, can you tell me what happened here?"


Jim Ellison sat at his desk in Major Crimes, rubbing his face, trying to get his eyes back into focus. He'd been entering his reports on the latest robbery into the computer when his vision had gone blurry.

"Need a break, Jim?" Captain Joel Taggart, formerly of the Bomb Disposal Unit, now of Major Crimes, asked as he held out a fresh cup of coffee towards his fellow detective.

Taking the proffered cup, Jim leaned back from the computer monitor. "Thanks, Joel."

"You're welcome." Joel sat down in the chair next to Jim's desk. "Where's Blair at?"

"Morgue. Picking up the report on this morning's victim from Dan."

"Any leads yet?"

Jim sipped the hot brew, then shook his head. "No. It looks to be the same guy as in the other ten robberies. Same clown suit, same mask, even looks like the same weapon in all the videotapes, but none of our witnesses saw a get away car. The guy never spoke, and so far, Serena's teams haven't found anything outside of a few synthetic fibers that appear to have come from the 'rainbow' wig the perp wears."

Joel shook his head, "But?"

He sighed, "But this time, he left behind a dead man. A twenty year old kid, just trying to make a living while going to the technical institute to be a nurse."

"Tough." Joel looked up to see Blair entering the bullpen. "You two talk to his family yet?"

"Yeah. Well, actually, Blair handled that part. I just couldn't handle it this time."

"Jim, you're looking pretty beat. You sleeping okay?" Joel was concerned. This 'Clown' case had been dropped on Ellison and Sandburg a week ago by the robbery division, when there had only been seven hold ups, now there were eleven and a murder to go with it. And they'd been fresh off a drug case, working with the DEA and FBI, when it landed.

Blair had overheard Joel's question as he approached the desks. "No, Joel, he's not. Storm woke him up early this morning." He dropped the file he was carrying on his desk, which was situated in such a way that the two of them actually faced each other over the desks, and plopped into his desk chair. "Jim, Dan says the gun was a .38. And that the victim, Jeff

Claiborne, was struck in the inferior vena cava, which tells him that the kid bled out fairly fast."

Jim reached for the report, and read it while Blair gave his 'condensed' version. "Looks like the bullet ricocheted off the spine, then ended up lodged in the left lung. Dan reports that he's sent the slug off to state for ballistics." He slapped the folder down on the desk. "But why? Why did the perp shoot this kid? He's not even fired a shot before in all the others."

Joel stood up and smiled, trying to lighten the situation. "Jim, maybe what you and Blair need to do is take a night off, and come back in with a fresh set of eyes. Well-rested eyes."

Blair smiled and nodded in agreement. "Joel's right, Jim. Maybe our perp will take the night off as well and leave us alone for a while."

Jim sat up, "No, sorry, Joel. You're right about needing fresh eyes, but mine and Sandburg's are not the ones."

"You lost me." Joel glanced over at Blair to see that the young man also appeared lost.

"You, Joel. You're on nights this month, right?"

"You did the schedule, you should know, Jim."

He snorted. "Yeah. Look if it looks like it's going to be slow, would you mind looking over the last few tapes? Including the one from this morning?"

Blair hissed, "Yes! Joel could be our fresh eyes! Maybe you could even pick up on something that we've overlooked because we've gotten too close to the case."

Joel looked from one to the other and back again. Seeing the tired lines on Jim's face, the excitement in Blair's eyes, the weariness, the hope... "Sure guys. Leave the tapes. I'll go over them."


The first thing Jim noticed when Blair pulled the truck into the loft's parking space was that the new tenant's vehicle wasn't there. Knowing that it was only six in the evening, maybe they just weren't home from work yet, or maybe they worked the evening shift somewhere. Getting out of the truck, he thought he heard a quiet 'mewling' from the alleyway.

"Jim? Did you hear that?" Blair asked as he came around to the passenger side of the pickup.

"Thought that was my line, Junior." Jim smiled.

"Usually. Think that might be your mystery cat from this morning?" He nodded towards the alley where he had heard the plaintive voice come from.

"Maybe." Jim walked quietly over towards the alley entrance, hoping to spy the elusive feline. The late evening sun was bright, but the shadows in the alley were deep. Not wanting to scare off the cat, if indeed it was the one from this morning, he dialed up his vision to pierce the darkness. He felt Blair's hand go to the small of his back, to anchor him, and they slowly

entered the alleyway. Nothing. The single plaintive cry that had caught their attention wasn't repeated, and they found no evidence of any cats in the alleyway. Shaking his head in defeat, Jim gave up. " I'm starting to think that I imagined it all, Chief."

Blair smiled crookedly, "Well, I can tell you from experience that a tired mind can play tricks on you, but I heard that cat cry too, Jim. Maybe she was just asking to be let in and her owner has her inside already."

"Maybe. Let's head on up." He trudged his way to the entrance of the building, his legs felt leaden and his eyelids felt like sandpaper as he blinked. He proceeded to the lift while his roommate checked the mail.

Opening their mailbox, Blair noticed that the newest resident had finally marked their mailbox. Apartment 207's owner had put only initials on the nameplate, three capital A's stacking in a pyramid. "Guess they like their privacy, but I've seen that somewhere before..." Shrugging off his thoughts, he collected his and Jim's mail and hurried to catch up to the detective.

"Anything worth keeping?" Jim asked as he watched his roommate start sifting thorough the pile of mail.

"Nah, Wal-Mart circular, bill, bill, oh and the latest copy of Fly Fisherman." He handed the magazine to Jim as the lift came to a jerking halt on the third floor. He led the way to the loft's door as the other man was already leafing through his coveted fishing magazine.

Once in the loft, Jim moved as if on autopilot, removing his windbreaker, emptying his jeans pockets into the basket on the side table, walking over to the couch, clicking on the TV by remote, all without taking his eyes off the article on the latest in fly tying techniques.

Shaking his head at Jim's actions, Blair bit back a chuckle and went about putting together a fairly fast meal for the two of them. "Jim? Jim? Come on, dinner's on the table."

Coming up for air, Jim realized that he had somehow managed to 'zone' on the magazine in his hand. Not a true zone-out, but close. "Sorry, Chief. You said something?"

Blair laughed, "Yeah, dinner?" He pointed at the table and sat down.

"Oh, yeah." Getting up off the couch proved to be a little difficult. Still limping slightly, he walked over to the table to see that Blair had put together a meal of ham and cheese sandwiches, tomato soup and a salad tossed with a light dressing. Then he noticed the cold bottle of beer at his place. "Beer?"

Nodding around a mouthful of salad greens, Blair pointedly directed Jim to sit and eat. Once his mouth was clear, he answered, "Yeah. I figure, you eat everything, drink a beer, then drag your tired butt up the stairs with your fishing magazine and the combined effects will put you out like a light in, oh, say an hour?"

"If you say so." Jim dug into the salad, pleasantly surprised to taste the mild raspberry vinaigrette and not the balsamic one that Blair liked to use to 'wake up' his sense of taste. "Thanks."

"De nada." Blair watched as Jim consumed the salad, his soup and three of the four sandwiches that he'd made, all the while sipping slowly at the beer. Seeing that he was done with the bottle and his meal, Blair started to clear the table. "Want another beer, Jim?"

"Nah." Jim stood up and stretched, his back popping loud enough to be heard over the television and the theme song to whatever was coming on at seven p.m. "I'm pretty tired, any more beer and you'll have to lug my ass up the stairs."

"No way! I'd let you sleep wherever you ended up."

"You're all heart, Chief."

"Go to bed, Jim. You need the sleep."

"Right." Detouring to the couch, he picked up his magazine and headed up the stairs to his bed.


Five hours later, he was still awake, frustratingly so. He'd finished reading his magazine, tried a couple of the new fly-tie techniques and liked the results, and even though his body felt leaden, his mind wouldn't slow down long enough for him to get to sleep. Knowing that his roommate had gone to bed about an hour ago, and was now sleeping deeply if the snores were any indication, Jim sighed and got out of bed. Changing into a pair of heavy sweats, he grabbed his running shoes and headed downstairs. Stopping by the closet, he pulled out his 'fanny' pack and placed his weapon, his ID, and loft keys inside and secured it about his waist. Letting himself out of the loft, he padded down the stairwell, out into the cool night air.

Thinking that a little exercise might help slow down his mind, he took off in the direction of the park at a brisk, but comfortable, walk. Midnight in Cascade. It was almost a magical time of night, nearly everyone was asleep, and those that weren't were heading home, or playing basketball. The sound of young people playing on the basketball court drew Jim's attention and he wandered over to see what was going on.

He kept to the shadows, and watched as ten young men, teens really, played a spirited game of basketball. After watching them play for thirty minutes, he realized that they weren't keeping score, just playing for the heck of it.

Smiling, he thought back to when he was their age. He'd been taking classes at Washington State, partying too hard on the weekends and not really sure what he wanted to do with his life. Then he'd gone into the Army, trained as a Ranger, then entered Covert Ops, and his life hadn't been the same since.

Shaking off the mood that had descended on him, Jim moved away from his position and wandered back towards the loft.

A woman's whispering voice caught the attention of his sensitive ears before he could reach the door that would let him into the building.

"Sanjee? Sanjee, I know you're out here! Come on, little one." The voice was soft, feather soft, almost lost to the breeze that was kicking up from the bay. It had a deep timbre to it, but not so deep as to be mistaken for a man's. There was a hint of worry to the tone that the woman was using. "Fine. Play your game a little longer. You know where home is for now."

There was sound of a window closing and the voice was cut off. Rounding the corner to where the tenants parked, Jim could see that while he'd been out the newest neighbor had returned home, for the Subaru was back. Curiosity overtook him and he walked over to lay a hand on the hood. It was warm, and a slight 'ticking' reached his ears, telling him that the engine was still cooling off. Curiosity satisfied, he made his way into the building and back up to the loft.

Creeping stealthily into the loft, he kicked off his shoes by the door and, after getting a glass of tea from the refrigerator, made his way back over to the armchair and sat back down to finish reading the book he'd started the night before.

He hadn't even realized that he'd dozed off until the sound of something hitting the floor in the apartment below startled him. As Jim concentrated on his hearing, convincing himself that he was just checking to make sure no one had been hurt, the noise of a radio talk show came through, loud and clear.

"...We're talking a global conspiracy, people. The Tri-lateral commission, the Illuminati, the real powers that be, folks. And if everything I've gathered so far is correct, they are everywhere. And now to Dee in Tucson on the phone. Welcome Dee, you're on AM Coast to Coast."

"Thanks, Art. I know that you've been talking about the worldwide cover-ups that are going on, but what about the biggest one ever played out in the US? Area 51? When is the Air Force going to come clean about that, huh?"

Bang. Thump. "Damn! Get it through your head, Dee. They ain't ever going to tell the truth!" The same voice from earlier drifted up through the floor below him. But now that he'd tuned it in, he couldn't find the dial to tune it back out. Frustration kicked in. He bolted from his chair and headed out the door before he was fully aware of what he was doing.

He knocked on the door to apartment 207, hard.

"What? That had better not be you, Bernie, or I'm going to hand your head to you..." The door opened to reveal a disheveled, dark blond-haired woman wearing a cropped tee shirt and very short shorts. "Oh! Can I help you?"

Finding his tongue, he spoke to the barely five and a half foot tall woman with strange hazel eyes. "I'm Jim, your upstairs neighbor. Your radio's a bit loud and I've been hearing odd noises down here..."

He glanced into the apartment behind her to see that most of her stuff was still in boxes, except for a table with an up and running computer on it. "Would you mind explaining why you're banging around at one o'clock in the morning?"

Leaving the door swinging wide open, the woman turned, and with hair flying, ran over to the stereo system and turned the volume down. "Sorry about that. I didn't mean to wake anyone." She came back to the door. "I've just not had time to really get moved in." Her smile was sincere, lighting up her eyes, which changed color from a grayish green to a more greenish gray.

"And you have to do it at this time of the morning?" Jim realized he was sounding a bit peevish, but he had been asleep before being rudely awakened. The woman stepped back from the door, taking up what appeared to Jim to be a defensive posture.

"Actually, yes. Sorry that I woke you, but I've been really busy since moving in."

"Just keep the noise to a minimum, would you?"

She shrugged, the movements causing the shirt to rise and reveal a very tight, lean stomach. "Sure. But I really didn't think the radio was that loud."

"It was, trust me."

"Whatever. Look, as much as I'd love to chat a while longer with you, I've got to find something for work. So if you don't mind?" She closed the door in his face.

Jim stood there for a moment, wondering why his newest neighbor set off warning bells in his head. Sure, she was cute, with dark honey blond hair cut in a short shag, and those strange hazel eyes. He guessed her to be about five foot six inches tall, and well built. Shaking his head, he wandered back upstairs, but not before hearing...

"Man, I was hoping to avoid neighbors this time around."


From the smells that greeted his nose when he woke up the next morning, Blair knew that Jim had passed another sleepless night. Exiting his room, he realized he was right. Jim sat in the armchair, reading Burton's book again, and was already dressed for work.

"Morning, Jim. Did you get any sleep?"

Jim looked up from the last chapter he was reading through, "A little, before our new neighbor decided to listen to Art Bell and rearrange her furniture at one AM."

"You're kidding, right?" Blair made his way out to the kitchen where a fresh pot of coffee was waiting and he opened the white bag on the counter to find fresh baked croissants and bagels.

"Chief? Does this look like a face that would joke about something like that?" Jim had come into the kitchen to refresh his coffee, still carrying the book in his hand. "This has been an interesting read, by the way."

Looking up into his partner's face, Blair could see the lines of tension had grown even more pronounced, the eyes were a bit more clouded. "Oh, hell. You want to call in today? I can handle the follow-ups myself you know."

"Do I look that bad?"

Blair nodded, "Yeah, you do. Are you still reading Lake Regions?"

"Almost done. Haven't found anything about watchers or sentinels though." Jim stifled a yawn.

"You won't. He heard about them on that trip, but didn't really get into the research until his next trip to Africa and the subsequent trip to Brazil, years later." Blair had noticed the yawn, but let it slide for the moment. "So? What do you say? Call in and try to sleep? Or am I stuck with a sleepy partner all day?"

Jim smiled, "You're stuck. Besides, while I might be yawning, I'm just not tired."

"Fine. By the time you finish that chapter, I'll be ready to go." He headed off towards the bathroom to shower and get ready for his day. He'd have to stick extra close to his partner today, knowing that exhaustion left the man wide open to zone outs.

Entering the Major Crimes bullpen that morning wasn't easy. For some unknown reason, the elevators had broken down, stuck between floors, and they had had to use the stairs all the way up from the parking garage. That had meant climbing eight levels of stairs, only to exit the stairwell and find themselves in a traffic jam of human bodies.

Spying a friendly face, Blair called out. "Rafe! Hey, Rafe! What the heck's going on?"

The tall, dark, good-looking detective turned to see Ellison and Sandburg trying to cut through the human logjam. "Blair! Jim. Vice had a productive night." He pushed his way through to them and helped them cut a swath to the doors into the bullpen. "Over one hundred and fifty arrests, most for solicitation, some for possession, and quite a few 'illegals'. They're taking over any and all free space to sort through the whole mess."

Closing the doors behind them, the three looked out onto the mass of bodies in the hallway. "One-fifty? That's got to be a record for them since I came up here." Jim watched as he recognized many faces in the crowd, a few who noticed his attentiveness and waved to him, not using all their fingers. "Yeah, same to you too, Sal." He grinned as he returned the hooker's salute.

Turning away from the windows, Jim and Blair made their way to their desks, as did Rafe. They sat down to sift through the paperwork on the robberies. Just before eleven am, Blair found the note that Joel had left them, buried under stacks of reports from all the responding field officers on the eleven convenience store robberies.

It read:

Jim & Blair,

Take another look at that last tape. Watch what happens when the 'clown' entered the store, and where the clerk had gone. I think you'll see what I'm hinting at.

Joel

Locating the tape in question, Blair handed Jim the note, stood up and walked over to Captain Bank's office. He knocked once and poked his head in. "Captain? Can we use your VCR for a minute?" He held up the tape, titling his head towards the man's VCR player and TV.

"We? You got a mouse in your pocket, Sandburg?" Simon started to chew on his unlit cigar.

Blair walked in, followed by Jim, who quipped, "Not a mouse, just a curious partner on his heels."

They watched the tape twice, then it was Simon who caught it. "Damn, it was accidental."

Jim sighed, leaning back in the chair he'd taken over. "Looks that way to me. You agree, Chief?"

Blair dipped his head, pulling his glasses off and brushing back his hair from his face. "Yeah. The 'clown' came in, and finding no one up front, helped himself to the register. The clerk come out of the cooler, sees the 'clown' robbing the store, and jumps him. The gun goes off, the clerk falls to the floor, and the 'clown' hesitates, then takes off with what he was able to get out of the register."

"I'll take this over to the DA's office, let Hidlemier look it over. Maybe, when you catch this guy, we can still pin a murder rap on him." Simon stood up, ejected the tape and placed in back in its cover. Turning back to his detectives, he noticed just how haggard Jim looked. "You coming down with a cold or something, Ellison?"

"Or 'something'. Just a bit tired, Simon. Nothing to worry about." Jim stood up and stretched, his shoulders and back popping loud enough to be heard by all.

"Okay, if you say so." Simon left his office, leaving Blair and Jim to their own devices.

"You should've asked for some down time, Jim." Blair followed his partner back to their desks. "He would've understood."

"Later, Chief, after we put this case down. Then I'll ask for a week's leave, okay?" He sat back down at his desk and started reorganizing his notes on the case in question. He was looking for some connection, other than the clown, in the case, something that might lead them to the reasoning behind the robber's actions, his modus operandi for choosing the stores he'd robbed. There was no real pattern to the days or nights that he'd struck, and he'd never repeated a store.

"Promise?"

"What?"

"The leave time, you promise you'll ask for it and take it?" Blair looked at him over the desktops.

"Promise."

Standing up, Blair reached into his pocket for his car keys. They had opted to bring his Volvo into work, as Jim still wasn't walking very well. "I'm going to go get us some lunch and stop by and talk with an herbalist I know. Any preferences?"

Jim shook his head, still trying to make sense of his notes. "Nah, anything will do. Wait a minute, a herbalist?"

Slipping on his lightweight jacket, Blair nodded, "Yeah, I want to ask Autumn about what herbs can help a person to sleep, without the side effects of those over the counter sleep aids."

"Whatever. As tired as I am now, I'll probably be able to sleep like a baby tonight." Jim sat back and smiled tiredly up at his partner.

"Maybe. But I'd rather make sure of it."


Blair had stopped by the loft on the way back to the station house from the herbalist's shop, not wanting to explain to Jim in the bullpen, just what he had bought. Coming back out to his car, he noticed that the owner of the Subaru was bent over next to her front left tire, cursing at the car.

"Damn you! I cannot afford to be late to this meeting and you just have to go flat and then have nuts so damn tight it would take fifty elephants to break you loose!"

Putting on his friendliest face, Blair walked over to her. "Need some help?"

The woman jumped up to her full height, which was some three or more inches shorter than Blair, and blushed. "Oh! Hi. You wouldn't happen to have an elephant or two handy would you?"

Blair noticed how pretty the woman's eyes were, how they were set in her face at just the right height to emphasize her high cheekbones. She wore hiking boots, snug, faded blue jeans, a teal-green, mock turtleneck with the sleeves pushed up to her forearms, and an oversized blue and green flannel shirt, an ensemble which showed off her attractive build.

"Flat tire?" He came around the front end of the car to look for himself. The tire was sitting on its rim.

"Oh, yeah. That's flat all right." Holding out his hand he greeting her formally. "Blair Sandburg, one of your neighbors."

She smiled, and shook his hand. "Alicia Andreson. Nice to meet you." She nodded down towards the tire. "So? Think you could help me out here?"

"Let's see." He knelt down and grabbed the tire iron, gave a couple of experimental tugs. "Damn, you weren't kidding. These nuts are rather tight aren't they?"

After a couple of minutes flew by, they had gotten the last of the nuts off the tire by working together, and were putting the new tire in place, when a cell phone chirped. "Damn, probably my boss wanting to know where I'm at." Alicia produced a slim cell phone from her back pocket and looked at her helper. "Do you mind, Blair?"

"Go ahead, I'll finish up here." He tightened the next to the last bolt as she stepped away to take the call. He was just finishing up the last bolt, when her raised voice caused his attention, and the tire iron, to slip and he suffered a severe gash on his knuckles on the undercarriage of the wheel well.

"No, damnit! I'm trying, but you haven't given me much leeway." She paused. "The local authorities are looking into it, but ... Yes, I know. Cut me some slack here. I have never failed you before and I'm not about to start now!"

Blair sat back on his heels, holding his burning hand, listening as the conversation got stranger.

"No! I don't need help! I need you to let me call the damn shots! I've been close, was really close the other night. If you hadn't called when you did, this whole matter would be resolved."

Blair pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket and wrapped his hand, then started to put the car back down using the jack.

"Fine. Three more days, that's all I'm asking here. Then you can send in the whole damn Army for all I care!" Alicia snapped the phone shut and walked back over to her car. "Thanks, Blair. I really appreciate the help." Her voice was back down to its earlier warm tone.

"No problem." He picked up the jack and walked back to the rear of the car and the open hatchback. Laying the jack and tire iron on the floor of the Subaru, he closed the hatch and found her right behind him, holding out his wallet.

"You must have dropped this, here." She handed it to him. "I couldn't help but notice, you're a cop?"

Realizing that the wallet must have opened on hitting the pavement, he smiled, "Yeah, Detective actually. Your boss very mad?"

"Uh?" Alicia shook her head, "No, no. But he's turning the pressure up on me. I've got three days to get this assignment done, or he's threatening to send in the rest of the investigative unit."

Blair looked at her. "You're an investigator?"

"Insurance. Just got assigned to the Northwest Corridor."

Not having anything else to say, he said, "Well, it was nice meeting you, Alicia. Good luck."

She shook hands with him, and noticed the bloodied handkerchief, "Oh, did that happen while I was on the phone? I'm so sorry."

"It's nothing, really."

"You sure? Maybe you should come up and let me help you clean that up. Infections can be so nasty."

She held his hand and lifted the temporary bandage carefully to inspect the damage. "Ouch. Doesn't look real bad, but it is going to bruise." She let go of his hand and smiled. " At least promise me you'll take care of that, put some ice on it when you get back to work. That will keep the swelling down."

Blair smiled at the concern in her eyes. "Alicia, I'll be fine, promise. In fact, I'll run upstairs right now to clean it. You probably need to get to wherever it is you were going."

Alicia nodded. She didn't want to, but something inside her liked this man with his long hair and expressive blue eyes. "You're right. But, I'll be home later this evening. You have any problems with your hand, you come over to 207 and let me look at that again."

"Okay, it's a deal."

Impulsively she got up on her toes and kissed him on the cheek. "Great. I'd better go now. See you later?" She climbed in behind the wheel of her car, started the engine and with a final wave, was gone.

"Yeah, later." He walked back to the building and was just entering the loft when his own cell phone rang. "Hello?"

"Chief, where the hell are you?"

Blair smiled as he tucked the phone under his ear, pinning it there with his shoulder, and proceeded to wash his hands in the kitchen sink. "Home. Stopped by to drop off my herbs, met our new neighbor, helped her change a tire. I'm heading back as soon as I get cleaned up."

Jim could hear the water running, the distance it took before hitting the sink. "Just make sure you clean up the kitchen sink when you're done. I don't want to find car grease on my dishes."

"Already done, man." Blair dried off his hands, giving the sink a good swipe with the towel. "So, you still not picky about lunch?"

Jim pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to stem off a headache building behind his eyes. "No. Anything will do."

"Okay, I'll be back there in about twenty minutes."

Glancing at his watch, Jim realized that they'd have just enough time to eat before heading over to the police range. "You still set on going through Hogan's Alley with me this afternoon?"

Still holding the phone to his ear, Blair exited the loft and walked down the stairs. "Yeah. We're scheduled for two-thirty, right?"

"Yes." Jim sighed.

"You gonna make it? You sound really beat."

Heaving another sigh, "I'll make it. I have to. Today's the last day I have to get requalified. I don't make it, I'm on administrative leave."

Reaching his car, Blair slid in behind the wheel, then leaned over to check the glove box to make sure he'd put his new firearm in there. "Okay. I'll let you go, so that I can get back with lunch in plenty of time."

"You do that, Junior." Jim hung up the phone, and glared at his computer terminal, frowning when the letters typed on the screen blurred. "Damn." Deciding that what he needed was more caffeine, he got up from his desk and went in search of either a strong cup of coffee, or a can of soda. Which ever he ran across first wouldn't stand a chance against the bleary eyed sentinel.


Alicia drove her car onto the construction site, parked and climbed out of the Subaru, only to be greeted by a friendly security guard.

"Ma'am, this is a closed site. You can't be here."

Smiling up at the well-built young man, she pulled her ID out of her shirt pocket. "Yes, I can. My company is the owner of this building and I was informed that my new office is just about finished." She glanced at the nametag on the man's chest. "So, McFadden, I need to get in there and make sure that the electricians set everything up according to my specs." She handed him her ID and her business card.

McFadden looked over the ID, her company badge complete with photo, and her business card. "Hallstatt Trust, International? Well, okay. I guess I can let you on site, but I'll have to escort you to your office." He handed the badge and card back to her. "What floor is it on, Ms. Anderson?"

"Andreson. The sixth." She grinned at him.

He smiled back. "Let's go talk to the site boss, grab a couple of hard hats, and I'll take you on up."

Alicia followed him to the construction trailer, which also served as the security shack. McFadden explained who she was and why she was here. The site boss, a crusty old man in his late fifties, handed her a reasonably clean hard hat and, with barely a word to her, left to go yell at a group of seven men who were dallying near the huge crane.

Taking the construction lift to the sixth floor, she noticed that the construction crew seemed to be concentrating on finalizing the seventh floor. 'Which is good, as they only have two more weeks to go before their contract expires. Then the building will be complete. Well, almost.' Walking to the open doorway down the hall to where her office was to be, she stepped in.

McFadden followed, whistling as he caught site of the large open space where a picture window would be installed. The view of the bay was breath taking. "If you don't mind my saying so, that is some site. You must be an executive for this company of yours."

Taking off the hard hat, Alicia ran her fingers through her hair. "No, just a troubleshooter."

"Probably the best, right?"

"Maybe." She shrugged. Walking around the large office space, she started to take note of all the electrical outlets. Turning back to face the security guard, she said, "Look, McFadden, I'll probably be up here all afternoon, making trips out to the car and such. You don't have to stay with me."

"You sure?" She nodded. "Well, then. I'll leave you to your work. If you don't finish up before four, just make sure you tell the guard on duty that you've left."

"I'll do that. Thanks." She waited until he left and she couldn't hear the lift operating any more before pulling a small computer pad out of her left back pocket. "Okay, let's see if you did your jobs right, people."


At two-fifteen, Blair pulled up to the building on outskirts of town that housed the Cascade Police Firing Range. Jim unfolded himself from the passenger seat and stretched, while Blair reached over and pulled his new handgun out of the glove compartment. Holding it in his hand, he joined his partner on the sidewalk.

"What's that, Chief?" Jim pointed at the gun that his partner was carrying. "I didn't realize that you had picked that up."

"Did it yesterday. Alan, the owner of Cascade Rod & Field, gave the okay for me to take it out of layaway since I've paid for over half of it already. Said I could finish the payments later." He held the gun out for his friend's inspection.

Seeing that the clip wasn't engaged, Jim lifted the weapon out of Blair's hand and looked it over. "A Para-Ordanance P12-.45? Chief, not that it's not good gun, cause it is, but I thought you had decided that the department issued SIG-Sauer P220 was enough." He handed the weapon back.

"That's what I thought, until I had a chance to squeeze off a few rounds in that puppy." Weapon in one hand, he raked his windblown hair back with the other. "This may sound a little 'weird' to you, but the P12-.45 felt, well, right."

Jim chuckled, "For someone who doesn't like to handle guns, you sure have gotten bit hard by the 'gun-bug', Chief."

"Don't I know it. Can you imagine Naomi's reaction when she sees my sharpshooter's badge?" He shuddered, already hearing his mother chanting in his head. 'I'm letting this go, I'm letting this go...' "Besides, the AMT .45DAO is a nice off duty weapon, or a backup, but for duty?"

Walking around the building they approached the firing range, where the firearms instructor, Ron Gardner, met them.

"About time you got your ass in here, Ellison. Sandburg, new toy?" The man held his hand out to Blair, who gently placed the weapon into it. "Sweet. Good choice for you. You going try to qualify with it today? I'll sign off for you if you make it." He handed the weapon back.

"Yeah, if you don't mind. Then maybe Captain Banks will sign off and I can carry it for my duty piece."

Gardner snickered. "Ellison, watch it. This partner of yours is aiming to take your place as the best shot on the force. Come on back you two, let's get you loaded up and on the line."

After collecting their ammunition, safety glasses and silhouette targets, the two partners lined up on the firing line and went through the regular qualifying routine. After three hundred rounds had gone down field, Gardner totaled up the scores and signed off on Ellison's 898, and Sandburg's 888, high enough scores to let them keep their expert and sharpshooter qualifications. Looking up at the two of them, he smiled.

"So, Sandburg, you going to run the Alley with Ellison, or do I need to call in one of the other instructors to pair with him?"

Blair shook his head. "Nuh uh. We're partners. We go through Hogan's Alley together."

"Great! The way it should be done! Okay, head on over to the ready room and get your gear on, I'll go set up the course." He paused, looking at the handgun that Sandburg was going to use. "You got a holster for that yet, Sandburg? No? Okay, let me go scrounge up a temporary and I'll meet you both at the starting line." He trotted off, leaving the two men alone.

"You sure, Chief? I can always go through the Alley with one of the instructors. They're used to me not having anyone to run the course with me." They entered the ready room where they were to put on flak jackets and other safety gear that had them looking like swat team members when they were done.

"That was before. Now, you have me as your official partner and partners should run this course together." Pulling his hair back into a short ponytail, Blair placed the riot helmet on his head. "Besides, as tired as you are, I'm afraid you'll zone on something and I'll be stuck with the robbery case by myself."

Jim let out a hearty laugh. "Not going to happen, I'm wide awake after hearing that rocket launcher of yours on the line." He jerked his head to the right. "Let's go before Gardner comes looking for us."

Ron met them at the starting line, handing Blair a nylon drop holster. "Sorry about that, but that's the best I could find. A little unorthodox, but anything is better than nothing." He assisted the young detective in securing the drop holster to the web gear belt and strapping it to his thigh. The P12-.45 fit the holster, barely. But with the security strap in place, at least it wouldn't bounce out while he ran the course.

Hogan's Alley is a standard combat course. Several scenarios are thrown at the officers running the course, never the same twice, forcing them to act and react to each situation according to the 'threat' level. Hostage situations, barricaded subjects, and innocent bystanders popping into the line of fire made it very nerve racking, and done right, it took anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to run the full course. Which is what Ellison had to do, Sandburg was basically just along for the ride. Gardner started them on the course at the time of four p.m.

Five p.m. found the two tired and sweaty partners seated on the grass under a huge oak tree waiting for Gardner to tally up their scores. "How you feeling, Jim?"

"Worn out. At least I didn't zone, much."

"Only twice, both times when the sun glinted off a target and caught you unawares." Blair sipped from a water bottle, then handed it to his friend. "And you came back out of them fast."

Sipping the cool water, Jim nodded. "Guess we know for certain now. A tired sentinel is more susceptible to the zone out factor." He dropped his head onto his raised knees, the bottle dangling from his lax hands.

Rescuing the bottle from dropping to the ground, Blair noticed that Gardner was on his way over to them. "Jim? Gardner's back." He stood up, then reached an hand out to assist Jim to his feet.

Ron smiled at the sight of the smaller Sandburg helping Ellison to his feet. "Good news! You both qualified." Turning to Jim he added, "But, Ellison, your score dropped 20 points from your last time out. You off your feed or something?" Jim didn't answer, just nodded. Shrugging, Ron turned to face Blair. "And Sandburg, you surprised me and the other instructors. We all signed off on your card, here. Take that to Captain Banks, I'm sure he'll sign off on it for you to carry that P-12. And if you ever tire of running about town with Major Crimes, come talk to me. I could use another firearms instructor." Handing the coveted firearms qualification cards to the two men, Gardner shook hands and left.

Sighing, Blair tapped Jim on the arm, "Let's call it a day, guy. I've got some Valerian and Catmint at the house if you can't get to sleep."

"Catmint? That anything like cat nip?" Jim didn't think he would want any of that.

"Nah, it's close though." He justified the lie by thinking that if Jim knew it was catnip, he'd never try it. "It's a mild sedative, and works wonders on relaxing the smooth muscles. Trust me, it won't, or shouldn't, do anything other than relax you." Blair waited until they were in the Volvo before adding, "Besides, your jaguar might like a taste."

Jim moaned, not even having the energy to whap his friend on the head in a soft cuff. "Play nice, Chief."


Alicia was finishing up her work just as the sun touched the distant horizon. She had stopped at the warehouse before heading over to the site to pick up the boxes of components she needed, and made no less than ten trips to the car and back once she arrived, but it was finally done. Now, when HTI got the go ahead to move into the building, all she and her team would have to do was hook up the monitoring systems.

Collapsing all the boxes down into one, she took the lift down for the last time that day. Dumping the empty boxes into the dumpster, she headed towards the security office to let the guard on duty know she was leaving. Seeing that the lights were on, she walked up the steps, stopping on the top on to peek in to make sure the guard was there and not on rounds.

Seeing a tall, lanky, man in a white supervisor's shirt, bent over a filing cabinet, she knocked. The man stood up, startled. He kicked the drawer shut and came over to the door. "Can I help you?"

"Just wanted to let you know I'm leaving for the night." Looking past the man, she noticed a bright multi-colored tuft of hair sticking out of the nearly shut file drawer.

"You the lady that was working up on the sixth floor?"

"Yes."

"Okay, I'll make sure that Tommy knows. Have a good night." He shut the office door.

Jumping off the steps, Alicia muttered, "You too, turkey."

Stopping on the way home to pick up a large salad, a Citra soda, and a half-pint of milk she wondered if she would be able to get more unpacked before that neighbor of hers, Jim, could complain about the noise.

Sitting down at her computer terminal, she sent off a progress report to the home office, ate her salad and sipped on her soda. After that, she tried to get more of her books unpacked and on the shelves before hooking up her television.

Done with what she'd planned on doing for the night, she clicked on the TV in time to catch the local news. The second story caught her attention.

"...And to follow up on the story we've brought you so far, the string of convenience store robberies continues to baffle the police. There have been eleven stores hit so far, and the police admitted today that they haven't got much to go on, and are requesting the help of Cascade's citizens. We go to Talia Shires for the rest. Talia?"

"Don, this is what the police have so far. The gunman enters the store, wearing a clown costume complete with one of those 'rainbow' wigs, demands money from the registers only, then disappears on foot. Up until this latest robbery, no one had been hurt. Now, 20 year old Jeff Claiborne, a student at the Greater Northwest Technical School, is dead. Now that these robberies have turned deadly, the case has been handed over to Major Crimes and Captain Simon Banks assured me that he has his best people on the case, but that his department could still use some help from the public. So, if you have seen something suspicious, or think that you may have seen the suspect leaving the area of one of the stores that was robbed, please get in touch with any of the detectives in the Major Crimes unit. We'll have a list of the stores hit so far, and the phone number to Major Crimes, posted on the screen before out next commercial break. Back to you in the studio, Don."

"Thank you, Talia. So there we have it folks. We often expect our police here in Cascade to be everywhere and know everything. But they can't do their job without our help. Here's the list of stores and the phone number that Talia promised. When we come back, Steve will tell us about this weekend's weather."

Alicia watched as the list of stores and addresses scrolled up her TV screen, and realized that one of them, the eighth, was the 7-11 just up the block from her office building. Her mind clicked into high gear and she turned back to her computer, shutting out the sound of her TV, and pulled up a map of Cascade on the monitor. She pulled up the local news to find the addresses of the robbed convenience stores then she highlighted the addresses on the map.

Wondering if she was jumping to conclusions, she printed off the map, and grabbed up her car keys and a light jacket, intent on learning a bit more about her new city. Maybe she would be able to ferret out the connection between the string of robberies.

After driving around for just over an hour, checking seven of the sites at random, she thought she noticed a pattern. "Go back, Al. What is it you're seeing that you're not seeing?" Going back to the last store, the one closest to her company's construction site, she parked and got out to look around. Hallstatt Trust, International was highly involved with neighborhood renovation projects. This latest building, near the old warehouses of Cascade's dock area, was a perfect example. The lot had been empty, until the project coordinators came in and drew up a plan that would fit in the area. There were a few other nearby construction sites that were also reclaiming and renovating the area, turning the once borderline slum into a beautiful business district, or at least that was the hoped for plan.

She glanced over the billboard that advertised:

Future Home of Hallstatt Trust International

Brought to you by Cascade First National Bank and Cascade Contractors.

Security provided by Delta One.

She remembered the security officer in the trailer earlier that night, and the wig in the filing cabinet.

She got back in her car and drove to the other sites to see if she was right. Only two of the other sites had construction sites near by protected by Delta One. The other stores were close to the security company's main office, except for two of them. One was close to a Family Planning Center, the other by a warehouse. Pulling out her cell phone, she dialed up the security company.

"Delta One."

"Yes, I hate to bother you, but I'm shopping around for a security company in your area. Could I possibly get a list of references from you?" Alicia smiled; the accent she had affected was decidedly European.

"I'm not sure I can do that, Ma'am. It's after hours, I don't have access to that information."

"Oh." She put disappointment into her tone. "Very well then, I'll just take our contract elsewhere, then..."

"Ma'am? Hold a minute will you?"

"Certainly." She listened to the piped music, which was really irritating, as the obviously flustered secretary did whatever it was she was doing.

"Ma'am, sorry about that. Where are you calling from, I forgot."

"Germany. My company is looking to move a base of operations there to Cascade and we'll need good security to protect our investment."

"I thought this was a long distance call. Ma'am if you could give me a fax number, I'll gladly fax you a list of our most recent contractors for reference."

Alicia sighed, "Wundervoll!" She rattled off a fax number to her office in Hallstatt. Then concluding the call with the security company, she disconnected and called Germany.

"Wilhelm! Guter Nachmittas, ist es Alicia." She switched over to English. "There's a fax about to come into you from Cascade, Washington. I don't have time to explain, just scan the pages into the secure modem and e-mail it to me. No, everything is looking just fine. I'll need the technical team here in two days; the new office should be able to open up in three weeks. No, I found a place. Quite nice actually. Not like my home in Vienna, but nice. Yes, I know. But think of it this way, you're not losing a boss; you're gaining a larger office. Auf Wiedersehen!" She hung up and drove back to her apartment.

The expected e-mail was waiting for her. Reading over the information, she found her connection. All of the stores in question had contracted to Delta One to provide roving patrols. But the same company didn't own the stores. There were four different holders involved and one 'mom & pop' set up.

Typing up a fast letter outlining her suspicions, she hoped that Cascade PD would take her information seriously. Not wanting to get involved, and knowing the current forensic techniques, she handled the letter and the envelope with cotton gloves. Feeding the envelope into her laser printer, she printed on the outside MAJOR CRIME. She'd have Bernie, her courier, who was scheduled to drop off the latest update from Headquarters, deliver it to the station in the morning.


He couldn't stand it anymore. He'd turned into bed early, hoping to get to sleep, but so far the condition had eluded his attempts to capture it. Knowing that his roommate had fallen into a deep sleep hours ago didn't help Jim's mood. Deciding that he wasn't going to get there by trying, he pulled on a pair of shorts and an old tee shirt, and padded down the stairs. Using the faint moonlight pouring into the loft from the balcony, he went over to the bookshelves, hoping to find something to read. Spying his copy of Clancy's 'Executive Orders', he pulled it off the shelf to read for the fifth time. Opening the book as he walked over to the dining table, he groused, "Maybe this time through won't grip as bad and I can fall asleep."

Figuring that he'd need something to drink, maybe even a light snack, he laid the book down on the table, and went into the kitchen where he got a glass of ice water and a pear. Seeing that Blair had returned the armchair to it's normal location, he pulled it back by the windows and flipped on the reading lamp, which his partner had neglected to move. Settling down, he started to read the gripping tale of President Jack Ryan.

Somewhere between the third and fourth chapters, he must have dozed off, for the piercing blare of a car alarm startled him badly enough that he dropped the book from his lap as he jumped to his feet.

Reacting on instinct, he headed out of the loft, grabbing his sidearm as he ran down the stairs and into the parking area. Exiting the building, he almost tripped over a small black kitten which screeched, hissed, arched it's back and disappeared into the alley. Shaking his head, he headed over to the car whose alarm was painfully penetrating the still night air. Seeing no one around the vehicle, he approached, carefully keeping his weapon pointed at the ground by his right side.

Inspecting the car, he saw that the leather bra on the front end was scratched, as if by sharp little claws, and there were tiny muddy paw-prints on the hood. Realizing that the kitten he'd almost tripped on might have been the culprit, he started to head back into the building, only to be stopped by the sight of a bright red dot upon his chest, right over the heart.

"Move away from the car, slowly. Drop the gun."

Alicia had responded to the sound of her car's alarm, and had grabbed her handgun on the way out of her apartment, expecting to find that the alarm had run off the thief. But she found a tall man, dressed in a white tee shirt and faded khaki shorts, standing near her Subaru, holding a gun. Engaging the laser sight on her own weapon, she centered the sight on the man's chest.

The alarm on the car was still shrilly cutting through his hearing, but Jim heard the words clearly enough. He complied with the orders, stopping four paces away from the car. The next orders from the woman caught him by surprise.

"Down on the ground, belly first, keeping your arms spread out."

'Felony drop,' his mind supplied. He'd done it often enough, but to have it done to him was humiliating. He dropped as the woman ordered, wondering how he was going to explain his way out of this. He hadn't exactly grabbed any ID when he'd barreled out of the loft.

Keeping her sight targeted on the man, Alicia used one hand to hold her gun, the other to dig out her key chain and turn off the alarm. She heard someone come out of the door behind her and spun around, only to pull up as she recognized Blair Sandburg.

He had been awakened by the sound of the car alarm and bolted out of his room, only to find that Jim was gone and the door to the loft was hanging open. Pulling on a pair of jeans with his nightshirt, he headed out to find Jim, grabbing his and Jim's police ID off the side table as he ran. Running past several of the neighbors, he advised them to get back inside, and they complied, knowing that Blair and his fellow cop roommate would handle the situation.

Reaching the glass door, Blair paused to look out to the parking area, seeing Jim spread-eagled on the ground, a laser point on the center of his back. Alicia Andreson was holding a veritable canon on his partner. Opening the door, he flinched as the short woman turned, automatically tracking her gun towards him. He let out a sigh of relief when she pulled the gun up and returned to holding it on Jim.

Alicia was relieved to see it was the one person she knew could handle this situation for her. "Blair, would you mind calling this in? This jerk was messing around my car."

Blair let out a small chuckle. "Alicia, put the gun down. That 'jerk' is my partner and my roommate." He walked up to her and handed over Jim's badge folder with his photo ID.

Glancing over the badge and ID, she lowered her gun, turning off the laser sight. "Oh, shit." She walked over to the man she had dropped on the ground and squatted next to him. "Why didn't you identify yourself? I could've shot you."

Rolling over to his back, Jim sat up and looked at his assailant. He was surprised to see it was the lady he'd talked to the previous night about her stereo. He grinned as Sandburg came over to help him to his feet. "You didn't give me a chance. And it's not like I had any proof on me." He gestured down at his attire.

Handing over the ID folder, Alicia grinned. "No kidding!" Getting back to her feet, she walked over to her car. "Wonder what set off the alarm?"

Jim approached her side. "I think it may have been a cat I saw." He pointed out the paw prints on the hood.

"A cat? What cat? Did you see it?"

Hearing the concern in her voice, he answered. "Saw it? I almost broke my neck tripping over it. Small, black, bad attitude and a loud voice. Took off towards the alley."

As Alicia walked towards the alley, Jim confessed to Blair, "I swear, Chief, I never heard her approach. I still can't get over that. I should have heard her."

"Jim, you're tired. The alarm was still blaring. It's okay." Blair moved in and started massaging the small of his partner's back, trying to calm him.

"She dropped me. Me. I'm usually the one who drops others first. She caught me off guard." He looked over his shoulder to where the blond was looking for the cat.

Blair raised his hand to Jim's shoulder, "Hey, Alicia may have gotten the drop on you, but she didn't 'drop' you."

"Yeah. Maybe."

Watching her movements, Jim caught the slight whisper of her talking to herself, or to something that he couldn't see. "Damn it, Sanjee. I hope you tire of this game soon." He turned back to his roommate as she turned to come back to them.

Alicia returned to where the two men stood next to her car. She stopped in her tracks as she took in the sight of the two of them standing close together, Blair's hand on Jim's back, moving in small circles. 'Aw hell, cops, partners and from the look of things...' She didn't complete her thought, only walked over to them and apologized. "Sorry about this, Blair, Jim." Alicia held out her empty right hand, clutching her gun in her left

Blair shook her hand, "Not a problem, Alicia. I'm just really glad you didn't shoot Jim here. It's taken me years to get him broken in."

Jim aimed a gentle cuff in his direction, only to have Blair duck under the swat. "I'll give you broken in, Chief."

Alicia ignored the by play going on and walked around them to examine her car again, feeling, rather than seeing, the scratches on the leather bra. "Damn cat. I'll have to replace it now." She wet a finger and gently rubbed at one of the paw prints, "At least it didn't scratch up the paint." She turned just as a marked police unit pulled into the parking area. "Aw, shit!"

Blair looked over his shoulder to where Alicia was looking, and, seeing the unit, volunteered, "I'll talk to them." He trotted off, leaving Jim with her.

Bending over to retrieve his gun, Jim noticed the one in her hand. Straightening, he said, "That's quite a piece, Miss..." He knew her first name, but couldn't recall Blair ever mentioning her last.

"Andreson. Guess we never got around to introductions the other night." She smiled as she 'safed' her gun, jacking the slide back to drop the round out of the chamber, dropping the magazine out and handing it over to the officer.

"Uh, no, we didn't. Jim Ellison." He gingerly took the proffered gun and examined it, having noticed how smoothly and quickly that she'd readied it for his inspection. "Nice. Glock model 29. Built in laser sight. Just what is it you do for a living that you have a weapon like this?" He handed the gun back to her, watching as she made it ready just as fast as she had taken it down earlier.

Alicia shrugged. "It's for self defense. I read up on Cascade before moving here, figured I might need it."

Jim nodded. "Uh, huh. You certainly seem to know how to handle it."

She couldn't resist. A teasing quality entered her voice, and she leaned close to him. "I'm a woman of many talents, Jim. You'd be surprised by what I know and can do." The faint light from a street lamp allowed her to see him blush at her words. The grin that crossed her face could be termed evil. She pulled away just as Blair came back over to them, the police unit driving off.

"That's taken care of. Harris and Tucker will file the report as 'unfounded'. One of our neighbors called in the alarm." He didn't fail to notice Jim's discomfort, or the flirting, teasing grin on Alicia's face. Clearing his throat, he added, "Well, I don't know about the two of you, but I've had enough excitement for the night and only have a few more hours to grab some sleep before I have to be awake again."

Alicia grinned slyly at the younger of the two men, "You're right. I have a long day planned and have been awake too long as it is." She leaned over and kissed Blair on the cheek. "Thanks for your help, again, and Jim?" He looked at her. "Sorry about the mix up. It won't happen again." She turned and walked back towards the building.

Jim watched as she entered the building, so lost in his thoughts he almost missed Blair's comment.

"Wow. She's something else!"

"Yeah, but what?" His question came out a snarl, almost a full growl.

"Jim? What's with the attitude? Alicia apologized."

Shaking his head, "I'm not sure, Chief. There's just something about her that sets off warning bells in my head. I mean, why would she need a piece of hardware like that Glock? Most women who have a gun for self defense get something like a Lady Smith or something similar."

Blair threw his hands up in disgust, "You get off to a bad start with someone and you start looking for trouble? I don't get you, man." He started walking towards the building, leaving Jim to catch up.

"I just don't like mysteries, Chief. She's a mystery." He started climbing the steps behind the guide.

"She's an insurance investigator, not a mystery. Jim, man, let it go. She's a nice lady, and our neighbor."

"Sure, whatever you say, Chief."

Entering the loft, Jim glanced at the clock on the microwave, and realized that, with the adrenaline coursing through his body from the false alarm, he really had no chance of ever getting to sleep that night. Correction, that morning. Returning to the chair and his book, he was amazed that the car alarm hadn't awakened more people. Seeing that Blair was watching him from the door to his room, he said, "Go back to bed, Sandburg. I'm just going to finish this chapter and I'll try to get back to sleep."

"You actually got some sleep earlier?"

"A little."

Raking his hands through his sleep and wind tangled hair, he gave up gracefully. "Okay. I have the alarm set for six-thirty. See you in a little bit." Blair entered his room, closed the door and collapsed on his bed. He was asleep in moments.


Upon waking up that morning to find Jim back in the armchair reading, Blair had made the decision to keep close tabs on his friend. The morning routine had gone fairly smoothly, only Jim had chosen to wear a dark and somber outfit that practically screamed 'I'm in a shitty mood, don't even *think* of messing with me.' So Blair had chosen to dress in a more relaxed, more approachable outfit, which meant tan Dockers, blue tee shirt and his favorite flannel shirt. Figuring that he'd be acting as go-between all day for the other detectives and anyone else who needed something from Jim, he wanted to remind the others of his time before he became a cop.

They had no sooner walked into the bullpen than they were greeted by Captain Banks' morning bellow. It was almost becoming routine. "Ellison, Sandburg. Now!" The call of the Captain came from his office loud and clear through the open door. As they passed Rhonda's desk, she smiled in sympathy.

"Captain?" Jim asked as he entered the office two steps ahead of Blair.

Simon looked up from the letter in his hand, "Well, you're looking better, Jim." He dropped the paper on his desk. "We got a possible lead on your robbery/murder case this morning."

Blair perked up, a lead would mean, could mean, closing the case quickly and removing a stress factor for Jim which would hopefully lead to the man being able to sleep. "We did? How?"

Picking up the letter and its envelope, Simon handed the document over to the young detective. "Looks like someone out there in our fair city may have come up with the connection you two have been looking for."

Reading the letter over Blair's shoulder, Jim grimaced. "Captain, this is pretty thin. Who ever sent this is implicating someone in one of the best security companies around, a company that employs a number of retired cops."

"I know that, Ellison." Simon handed over another piece of paper to the skeptical detective. "That was also in the envelope. If you take a look at that, you'll see that the informant took care to highlight the positions of the convenience stores, and the sites where Delta One provides security and their home office. Almost all the sites are within one to two blocks of each other."

Blair took the map from Jim and looked it over, then went back to the letter that had accompanied it. "Well, that's interesting."

"What is, Chief?"

"Read for yourself." He handed the letter to the sentinel. "See it? The informant speculates that the shooting may have spooked the perp, they use that exact word by the way, and that we should keep an eye on the three stores near this site." He pointed to the map and a location marked down by the docks.

Simon had stood up and come around his desk to see what Blair was talking about. "Sandburg that whole area is in the process of being renovated by several companies. It's one of the Mayor's pet projects."

Jim had to agree. "Simon's right, Chief. Besides, this whole thing could be a set up to draw us away from the true target." He waved the letter to prove his point, only to catch a faint odor wafting off the page. It was a vaguely familiar scent, but from where?

"Maybe, but somehow I don't think so."

Simon looked at the younger half of his best team. "Okay, tell me why, Sandburg."

He shrugged. "Can't really say. But look, the entire letter has a formal feel to it. The writer is well educated, and well versed in terms that only a few outside the law enforcement community would be knowledgeable of."

Simon walked over to his coffee maker and poured a cup for himself. "Sandburg, the public is more aware of those terms thanks to Hollywood and mystery novelists. Sell me on this."

Blair raked his hair back, taking the time to pull a hairband out of his pocket to secure the unruly mass into a short ponytail. "Okay, I can see two possible scenarios here. One, this informant is the partner of the clown and the murder has sickened him or her to the point where they no longer want to participate." He waited for Simon to nod in understanding, which he did, then continued. "Two, the writer is a retired cop who saw something, but didn't pull all the pieces together until the newscast last night. I'm assuming this didn't come in by mail?" He waved the map.

"No, desk sergeant on duty downstairs said it was delivered by a courier around seven-thirty." Simon sat back down and pulled out a cigar.

"Okay, so if it is a retired cop, they want to help, but for whatever reason don't feel like getting involved." He turned to see if his partner was following him. "Oh shit."

Simon looked up to see the blank expression on Jim's face that was typical for a zone out. "How long?"

Blair made physical contact with Jim, dropping his voice into his 'guide' mode, and answered. "I don't know, I never noticed. Jim? Come on here, buddy. Grab the dials and pull them back down to a three. Sorry I didn't catch this earlier." He proceeded to rub his hand up and down the small of the sentinel's back, giving the man two things to concentrate on, hearing and touch.

Jim came back to reality and muttered, "That scent. I know it."

"What scent, Jim? Is that what caught your attention?"

Jim looked at Blair, noting the concern in his shaman's eyes. He had the grace to look, and feel, sheepish. "Let me guess. Zoned?"

Simon let out the breath he'd been holding while Blair had coaxed the detective back from where ever a zone took him. "Jim, as many times as I've seen you do that, I'm still not used to it."

Jim nodded. "Sometimes I'm not either, if that's any consolation, Simon."

"Not really."

Blair broke into the conversation. "Jim, you said something about a smell, a scent?"

Getting back on track, he nodded. "I think our informant is a woman, Captain."

"Why is that?" Simon started to chew on the cigar he had pulled out earlier.

"Because if I smelled that scent on a man, I'd be looking for a drag queen."

Blair let out a snort of laughter. "Man, your time in Vice is showing through." He controlled himself and continued, "Can you tell what the scent is, Jim? A perfume?"

Jim shook his head. "If it is, it's not one I recognize, but the overall scent is somewhat familiar. I just can't place it."

Tilting his head, Blair looked up at his partner. "That could be why you zoned. You were trying to place where you had smelled that scent before. Smell is a powerful memory trigger, even in those of us who aren't 'gifted'. For you, it could be ten times more powerful."

Simon cleared his throat. "Okay, you two. Go do the legwork, see if our 'lady' is telling us straight. If you come up with enough to prove it, we'll set up surveillance on the stores that she recommended."

He waited until the two detectives had left the bullpen, before giving voice to his thoughts. "I just hope that we can catch this 'clown' before he hurts someone else. And can get this anonymous informant to step forward to testify if needed."


The information in the letter proved accurate when it came to the correlation of the stores, the construction sites and the security company. Jim and Blair had proved that to themselves after checking out the first three robbery sites.

Returning to Major Crimes, they conferred with Captain Banks, and together they set up for surveillance on the three stores that the informant had postulated would be next on the 'clowns' list. The only break in the pattern that the robber had held to, was that one of the three had already been robbed, two weeks before, when the case was still under the Robbery Division's care.

At midnight, the teams were in place. Brown and Rafe had the Quick 'N Git, Taggart and Connor had the 7-11, and Jim and Blair had chosen to watch the Get 'N Go.

Due to the possible nature of the robber, and the involvement of the security company, the teams were maintaining near total radio silence. Most security companies used scanners to keep track of police movements and to keep abreast of any traffic pertaining to their coverage areas. Enterprising crooks had also taken to using the scanners to keep out of the way of the police as much as possible.

"Lead to Two, in place?"

"Roger, Lead." Detective Henri Brown answered Jim's call.

"Three? In place?"

"10-4," came the response of Inspector Megan Connor.

Jim relaxed against the passenger door of his truck, "Okay guys, relax, settle in. This could be a long night. Keep the channel open and the chatter to a minimum."

"Roger."

"Copy that."

Taking the earpiece off and laying it on the dashboard in front of him, Jim leaned back against the seat, looking over at his partner, "Chief, did you remember to bring the thermos?"

Reaching over to his backpack, Blair pulled out the item in question. "Yeah, you want some already?"

"Might as well." Taking the thermos from him, Jim poured out two cups of the extra strong brew then handed one of the cups of coffee over to Blair. "Here you go, Chief."

Taking the cup from Jim, he blew on the steaming liquid and took a cautious sip. Looking out the front windshield he questioned, "So, do you think he'll hit tonight, or will we be back out here tomorrow?"

Looking out the window himself, Jim took in the storefront and the light traffic of their location. "I don't know, Chief. Probably not. Why?"

"Cause I'm suddenly wishing that I had brought a book along."

"So am I, buddy. So am I."

The shared chuckles faded and they sat back to keep their eyes open. In Jim's case, his hearing as well.

Two hours later, Blair realized he had a problem. "Uh, Jim?"

"Let me guess...Too much coffee, Chief?"

"Yeah."

"Okay. We could use another look into the store. Your turn." Jim looked over at his partner, "Just make sure you keep your hair down over the ear piece, and your shirt concealing your weapon and the radio. No reason to spook the clerk." Jim had canvassed the store earlier, and there hadn't been enough traffic in the store to warrant his return, so it was Blair's turn.

"Will do. Thanks." Jumping out of the truck, he headed across the street and entered the store. Pausing only long enough to spot the bathrooms, he smiled at the young clerk and trotted back to the men's room. He had a little trouble keeping the radio wires from getting tangled, but was soon exiting the bathroom, drying his hands. Seeing movement in the security mirror above the soda fountain, he ducked back into the small hallway, pulling his gun free of its holster.

There at the counter, waving a gun at the now terrified clerk, was the clown. The lady was handing over a wad of bills to the robber, who grabbed the money and ran out of the store. Blair followed, telling the frightened clerk to call 9-1-1 as he bolted out the door. He spotted the clown running west from the store, and took off in pursuit. Keying his radio as he ran after the robber, he said. "Lead 2 to 1, foot pursuit. Westbound on Shore Drive." No answer. He kept in pursuit, watching as the robber turned down an alleyway halfway down the next block. Muttering under his breath, "Damn it, Jim! Get your ass in gear!" he followed.

The earpiece flared to life in his ear as Blair approached the entrance to the alley. "Hairboy, where are you? We're responding."

Pulling back to conceal himself, he answered in a low voice. "Brown, the service alley on Shore between 4th and 5th."

"Enroute."

Taking a fast look into the barely lit alley, he noticed the white security car and the robber standing next to the open driver's door. Training with a sentinel came in handy at a time like this. As silently as he could, Blair moved in closer to the perp who was shedding the costume. Seeing that the outfit he was shedding hampered the tall lanky man's arms, Blair moved in quickly and quietly. "Freeze! Cascade PD!"

Startled, the clown spun around and found himself looking into the barrel of a very lethal looking gun and a pissed off plain-clothes officer. Realizing the gig was up, he slowly raised his hands and placed them on his head.

Blair had secured the robber in his handcuffs just as Rafe pulled his Taurus into the alleyway, followed rapidly by Connor and Taggart and a couple of marked units. Turning the robber over to one of the uniformed officers, leaving his fellow detectives to inventory the car, and take care of the arrest scene, Blair trotted back to find where Jim had gotten off to. He expected to find his partner talking to the store clerk, but didn't see him in the store. Looking across the street, he saw that the truck was still parked where he'd left it twenty minutes earlier.

Crossing the street, he noticed that Jim was still inside, leaning up against the door. Opening the driver's door, he realized why Jim hadn't responded. The snores were loud enough to wake the dead. He didn't even react when Blair poked him in the ribs. "Oh, man. You're really out of it, aren't you?" Seeing Taggart approaching the truck, he climbed back out to intercept the former bomb captain.

Joel had sent Megan in to talk with the store clerk and get her statement. Spotting Jim's truck, he headed over to see why Jim hadn't backed up his partner. He got about halfway across the street when Blair caught up to him. "Sandburg, what is Ellison doing?"

Seeing no other way around the Captain, he decided honesty was probably the best tactic to use. "He's asleep, Joel."

"Asleep?!?"

"Shhh! Keep your voice down!" Blair looked around to make sure that they were alone. "Look, he's gone something like nearly four days without sleep. This case had him too wound up."

Joel couldn't believe what he was hearing, "Blair, you mean to tell me that Jim's been suffering from insomnia, and you allowed him to work the surveillance tonight? What were you thinking?"

"I wasn't. Look, Joel, I have no right to ask this of you, but can we keep this quiet? Just between us?" He looked up at the older detective, putting his best 'puppy look' on.

Looking into the young man's face, Joel knew he wasn't about to win this argument. "It's against my better judgment... Oh, hell. Just get him out of here and I'll take care of booking the subject in. You owe me for this, Blair."

"And I'll pay you back, Joel. Thanks." Trotting back to the truck, he climbed in and started the engine. Pulling away, he left Taggart to handle the rest of the crime scene, trying to think of ways to thank the man later.

Pulling up to the loft, Blair realized that there was no way he was going to wake Jim up, let alone get him into the loft. "Better to let sleeping sentinels lie." He cracked the windows for fresh air circulation, and left his partner in the locked truck. He got into his Volvo and headed back to the station, not wanting to abandon his arrest and needing to get his report on the matter taken care of before morning.

Returning to the loft at six in the morning, Blair tried again to wake Jim up with no luck. Giving up, he trotted up the stairs towards their apartment. Hearing Alicia talking to someone, he stopped on the second floor landing and saw her outside her apartment, cuddling a playful, feisty, black cat. A mountain racing bike leaned against the wall near her door. Deciding to be friendly, he walked over to her.

"Morning, Alicia."

"Blair! Look who finally decided to come home." She turned so that the cat and he could eye each other. "St. Germaine, meet Blair. Blair, this little scamp is Saint Gee. The bane and joy in my life."

He leaned over, giving the black cat a scratch behind the ears, and was rewarded with a loud purring. "Saint Gee? This is who you were calling for this morning? I thought it was Sanjee."

"You heard me?" Alicia looked at him, puzzled, then let the thought go as Saint Gee leaped from her arms into Blair's. "Well, that's a first. He usually doesn't take to strangers."

Catching the flying furball, he laughed. "Whoa! Energetic, ain't he?"

"Very." She looked at his appearance, "Been working all night?"

Cuddling Saint Gee, bestowing ear scratches, he nodded. "Yeah. Finally got to close a case that had been bugging Jim and me."

"Good. Well, I need to get Saint Gee inside and get ready for my day."

Looking over at the mountain bike, he handed the cat back to her, which caused the cat to protest loudly. "You just getting in?"

"Yep. Up at five every morning, bike three to five miles, then my day really starts."

"Bet you didn't get much sleep yesterday then."

"I got enough. I don't need much. Three to four hours and I'm good to go."

"Yeah, well, I need to get upstairs and to bed. Glad, that Saint Gee decided to come home. See you around." He turned away and heard the door to Alicia's apartment close behind him.

Entering the loft, Blair walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of fruit juice. Sipping on the tangy beverage, he wandered into his room, stripping out of his shirt, armored vest, and undershirt as he went, then, placing the bottle on his bedside stand, he collapsed into bed.

Walking out to her car at eight-thirty, Alicia noticed the slumped figure in the blue and white Ford pickup. Concerned, she walked up to see that it was Jim Ellison. The man was snoring loud enough for her to hear over the morning traffic on Prospect Street. Tapping on the passenger window, she caused him to jump. Seeing that she had his attention, she said, "Morning, Jim. Have a spat?" She climbed into her Subaru and with a friendly wave, pulled away as the tall detective climbed out of his truck.

Confused, Jim rubbed his face and winced as his neck protested the position he'd slept in. "A 'spat'?" Shaking his head, he headed into the building and up to his apartment.

Hearing Blair's snores coming from the younger man's room, he headed over to the kitchen and found a note from his friend.

Jim,

Arrest made. Case closed. Simon gave us today off and this weekend as well. Sorry about leaving you in the truck, but you wouldn't wake up and I was not about to carry you up. Go to bed, sleep yourself out. I'll fill you in LATER.

B.

Crumpling the note up and throwing it away, Jim wandered over to the dining table and picked up his Clancy book before heading up the stairs to his bed. No sooner was he in the bed, than he was out like a light.

~The End~

 

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