New Arrivals
Author-Dasha
Titles

Imperfections IV: Necessary Parts
Part Two
by Dasha

See notes and disclaimer in part one.

The next morning, when Blair came out of the shower, Naomi was making mushroom omelets. Jim was on the bottom of the stairs putting on his shoes and casting hungry looks at the kitchen. Blair almost cheered. Something was going right for a change.

Naomi looked up from the stove. "Orange juice or milk?"

"Orange juice."

"So. Seeing anybody special these days, sweetie?" She scooped the omelet onto a plate and handed it to Blair.

"No," he said absently.

Naomi laughed. "Nobody special? Or too many to count?"

"Um, nobody at all."

Naomi leaned over him to pour the orange juice. "Sweetie? Are you all right?"

"Sure. Fine."

"It's just you haven't...I mean, you've had a pretty active social life since you were a teenager."

"I've been busy." Carefully, calmly, Blair did not look in Jim's direction. "I took the exam a whole term early. And then there was some training in order to work with Jim." He looked up at her innocently, willing her to accept the excuse, hoping she would not ask what *kind* of training. "There's been a lot to do."

Naomi looked doubtful. "You've been busy before--" Blair refused to look guilty. He had been busy. He had.

He shrugged. "Being a guide takes some...you know...settling in. So, are you going to see Wiggy and Frog while you're in town?"

"Well, I might have some extra time, since I got here early." The conversation drifted off to other old friends Naomi had in the area and Blair sighed with relief. He really, really did not want to have that conversation about his love life in front of Jim. Actually, he didn't want Naomi to know what was going on either. The truth was, while he *had* been incredibly busy, he could have made time to date. He had made time, in fact. In the beginning of December he had made time twice. At first he hadn't given any importance to the fact that Jim was grumpy and distracted all day and, when Blair had come home toward midnight, had been pale and quiet, jumping at small noises and unable to sit still. Then Blair came home from the second date to find Jim curled up on the couch with a headache so bad he couldn't open his eyes.

Blair hadn't gone out again.

It had been hard, figuring out what to do. Not being able to handle the idea of a guide dating was a sign of a seriously dysfunctional relationship. Sentinels tended to be controlling--possibly as a result of the chaos the sheer volume of sensory input constantly subjected them to. Sometimes they got a little possessive or insecure.

Sometimes the problem was more serious. It was easy, especially when one or both of the partners was socially isolated, for the sentinel-guide dyad to turn into something co-dependant or exploitive. It was something both halves of the partnership were expected to watch for. Jim freaking out every time Blair went out on a date was a very bad sign.

He had almost gone to Jack for help. He had almost tried to talk it out with Jim. He had even considered, briefly, having himself replaced as Jim's guide. Even if he could give up dating forever--even if he were willing to do that--it wouldn't have been a healthy solution. Sooner or later Jim was going to have to deal with Blair having a life beyond being a guide. Heck, sooner or later, he was going to have to start dating himself (after all, nobody could give it up forever). But for a little while....

After all that Jim had been through, needing the full attention of a competent guide was not out of line. Blair could not look at Jim's medical records and think that this neediness or anxiety was somehow 'inappropriate.' Jim was still recovering, still learning to have confidence in Blair's support. Blair was not about to sit him down and tell him he was going about it wrong.

Sooner or later things would have to change. Blair was not looking forward to the conversation where he explained that Jim was going to have to share. He wasn't even sure that was the best way to do it. Maybe they should just start double dating. Maybe it would be enough to just help Jim expand his social circle. Now that he wasn't suffering from ongoing emotional and physical abuse, Jim was starting to connect with his coworkers again. He'd even gone to visit some family members at the end of December. By spring, Jim might be ready to give Blair more space without any discussion or stress at all.

When Blair tuned into the conversation again, Naomi and Jim were talking about superfund site reclamation and forestry. They seemed to be getting along; apparently Jim was willing to share his guide with his mother, even if dating was probably still out. Inwardly, Blair gave a sigh of relief.

That morning there were more meetings at the PD. The task force had shrunk some since taking this new direction, and the other remaining members were mostly occupied with research on the major players. After that there was a meeting with an ADA about an old case of Jim's that was finally coming to trial. The way the lawyer looked at Jim gave Blair new hope for Jim's love life.

"So what's the deal?" Blair asked as soon as the conference room door was shut behind them.

"What deal?"

"What Deal? Ms. Sanchez. How could you *not* notice how she was looking at you." Jim frowned and Blair sighed, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. He was being as obvious as he knew how to be.

"What? Oh. No, it's not like that, Chief. I handed her a pair of hit men last winter. Well, I handed her one, then kind of rescued her when his brother tried to take her out." Jim grinned, looking so wonderfully smug and confident that Blair's breath caught. "Yeah, she thinks I walk on water, but it's not like *that*."

"If you say so. So where are we going now?"

"Stop by the morgue. Dan has a body he wants me to get a look at."

"Oh. How nice."

The body wasn't grisly or particularly horrifying. There was no blood. There were no exposed intestines. It was just dead. Blair made himself take a long look--for practice--and then stood half turned away with his arms folded. Fortunately, Jim didn't seem to need a lot of help. His gloved hands roved efficiently over the body with no sign of hesitation. He scanned every inch, smelled inside its mouth, searched the bag of personal effects Dan handed over. Blair tried not to watch, tried not to listen to the brief report Jim gave when he finished while Dan calmly--almost casually--took notes. And then they were leaving. Walking out the door. Standing in the hall. Finally, Blair checked in with himself to see what he was feeling and was surprised to find that it was mostly relief. He hadn't freaked. He hadn't puked. He hadn't embarrassed Jim. Apparently, he was doing ok.

Well. Fine, then. Why not? It wasn't like death was contagious. It wasn't like American mortuary rituals were any worse or more unnatural than the ones Hal used to go on and on about in intro anthro. It wasn't like freaking out would have done that poor dead person any good. Blair could cope with this. Good.

Actually--very good. They had lunch with Naomi next on the schedule. He was going to have to eat, so it was just as well that he could cope.

They met Blair's mother at an Italian restaurant a couple of blocks from the PD. Blair and Naomi both had large and extravagant Mediterranean salads with fresh cheese and olives. Jim had been leaning toward the pasta primavera with shrimp until Naomi had brought up the living conditions and diet of farm-raised shrimp, after which Jim switched to chicken. Naomi had the grace to look embarrassed and change the subject after that. Or tried to. Conversation kept falling flat and Naomi seemed unusually quiet and unhappy.

Blair didn't need any hints to be able to guess why, but there was nothing he could say, not when he and Jim were planning to meet Gary and Francine right after lunch. What could he say? It's not so bad? There's nothing to worry about? Naomi didn't even know they were planning to spend the afternoon undercover trying to steal luxury cars...and she sure as hell hadn't met their two heavily armed new friends. Blair wasn't sure which one of them was out right crazy and which one was just very, very dangerous.

He didn't remember a lot of lunch and he was sweating by the time Jim pulled up at the warehouse for their appointment.

Francine had selected an area just south of the horse track and the fair grounds. Until about ten years before the short stretch of Gazi Highway between there and a cluster of small housing developments had been mostly trees and marsh, but recently a high end mall and an upscale office park had gone in. Now doctor's offices and quirkily decorated chain restaurants popular for business lunches were springing up.

Blair resolved to keep his mouth shut, going for sullen and suspicious. That had to be a more useful vibe than disoriented and sacred shitless. He glowered a little, making himself live with the dark silence when he and Gary drove out to pick up the rented truck.

Blair waited with the truck, driving a square pattern at the center of Francine's hunting territory. The call came, finally, on the cell phone Gary had given him, and Blair turned toward the rendezvous point.

He arrived only a few seconds ahead of Gary. Smoothly, neatly (really, you kind of had to admire Francine) Gary pulled a white rolls into the back of the truck and Blair hopped out to give him a hand with the door.

"Your fucking idiot partner is playing games!" Gary snarled as he hopped out of the cargo box.

Something in Blair coalesced into steel. The fear seemed to drain out of him and into the ground. Being afraid of getting shot or messing up Jim's bust...he had no idea what he was doing and actually fear had been working for him as a reasonable response. But. If this jumpy, hostile nutcase was actually a threat to Jim, then there wasn't any question of screwing things up or wondering what to do. The only thing *to* do was figure out a way to take this trigger-happy loony apart. "Yeah, right," Blair said coldly.

"Just get in the truck and drive. No funny business."

"No problem, man." Gary fumed all the way back to the warehouse. Unsure what to do, Blair just leaned against the door of the cab, pretending to be unconcerned. Fortunately, Francine and Jim arrived only a couple of minutes later. Francine drove like a maniac--she pulled up at fifty miles an hour and squealed to a flashy halt. It was a wonder the convertible hadn't beaten them. Jim looked like he was all right. Whatever was going on, it wasn't completely out of hand yet. Blair stepped back, staying away from the argument and out of Gary's line of sight. "Since when do we stop to hold the hand of the god-damn marks! Are we playing nursemaid here, or what?" Blair wondered what the hell had happened.

"Cool it," Francine said. "The important thing is--"

"I'm telling Petrie I'm through! I can't watch your back if I got nobody watching mine."

"Just relax," Francine said, but Gary was ignoring her.

"He should've let the old guy drop.

" Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm not into killing on the job here, pal." Jim seemed remarkably cool. He was so convincing that Blair was leaning toward believing him and he had no idea what was going on. He felt himself relax a little. "I do a little time, that's an accepted risk. But I'm not doing life."

"That's part of the territory!" Gary snarled. "Anyway, on this crew, one strike and you're out."

"It is not your decision, Gary."

The argument went on for a few minutes longer, but Blair could tell that Jim had already won. Francine would back Jim just because Gary was pissing her off. Finally Gary stormed off in a huff and Francine went into the office, leaving Jim and Blair to unload the trailer and take it back to the rental place. By the time they returned to the warehouse Gary had reappeared. He was searching the Mercedes. "Any problems?" he snapped.

"No, everything's fine," Jim said. He was a little too polite, just enough to be irritating. Blair wished he wouldn't push it, but that was just his general anxiety about armed criminals surfacing.

"Come back tomorrow afternoon." He watched as Jim and Blair started for the door, then climbed out of the car and headed for the office. When he disappeared, Jim tugged Blair aside and motioned him to be quiet. Blair raised his eyebrows, wondering how you asked what was going on without making any noise. Jim tugged his ear and pointed in the direction Gary had gone. It took a few minutes to find some cover that satisfied Jim. He motioned Blair to hold still and then settled in to listen.

It was, as far as Blair could tell, a nice, clean, focused zone. He was torn between wanting to watch Jim and wanting to be on the look out for any interruption. Blindly, almost awkwardly, Jim reached out his hand. Blair caught it and squeezed reassuringly. After a few seconds, Jim whispered, "Gary is in the bathroom. Francine is on the phone with Petrie....They're arguing." Blair kneaded the cool hand.

"Damn. He wants her to shut it down," Jim breathed. "No, it's ok." There was a long silence, then Jim said. "That's it. Well, things are--wait--she's on the phone again." But this call was to her hair dresser and the next to her bookie. Neither particularly helpful. When she was finished on the phone, they waited a few minutes more to see if she would leave and they could take a look at the office for themselves, but Jim said she was settling down to eat a sandwich so they gave up and headed home. "So your mom comes into town every year?" Jim said casually, just like they were having a normal conversation and hadn't spent the day with Bonnie and Clyde lifting cars.

"Um. Yeah. Sometimes in the summer, too."

"So she's already done all the tourist stuff."

"Huh?"

"Looking for ways to pass the time this weekend."

"Don't sweat it. If we get cabin fever she had friends in town. We don't have to entertain her every minute."

Jim seemed to think about that. "So...you're from here? Originally?"

"Nah. We just lived here while I went to high school. Well. You know. Naomi got on this 'stable environment' kick. And the economy wasn't real great in the 80's." Blair frowned, remembering that during the 80's Jim was deployed overseas. "The world got very...isolated and dull. The Regan years. Lots of communes shut down, the only protests that ever drew a crowd were anti-nuke, there were yuppies everywhere you looked."

"Your mom must have hated it," Jim said dryly. Blair wondered if he was being mocked.

"We had a little apartment in a converted house not far from the university." He smiled. "The owner was this little old lady...she was tired of her place being trashed by undergrads. She let us have it cheap. It was tiny, but...." It had had real (if battered) hardwood floors. The ceiling in Blair's little room had slanted at odd angles and there'd been a miniature balcony out the window.

"Why Cascade?"

Blair shrugged. "It's where we were. Mom knew some people. It had a good school system." Blair sighed. It was all about ten years ago, now. "My junior year, they had advanced placement courses. And they had an arrangement with Rainier; we could take one class at the college each semester for free. Only a couple of us actually did it. I took trig. And intro anthropology. And intro psych."

"Trig?" Jim asked.

"The guy teaching trig at my high school was a maniac. A tenured maniac. I walked half a mile three times a week in the rain for night classes on the far side of campus in order to escape him. Real piece of work. He hated girls, musicians, male cheerleaders, anybody in the band, and geeks."

"Geeks? And he was teaching *math*?"

Despite himself, Blair laughed. "Now that you mention it, he'd have been much happier in some other job."

Blair talked about his high school all the way home. Somehow, with Jim, the stories were funny...although, *god*, those stories had been tragic at the time. High school always was, he supposed. And really, how could you take it seriously....But somehow his car breaking down on the way to the prom and that mess in chemistry with the sulfur, and being in love with Penny Joseph who hadn't even known he existed and all the rest of it...hadn't seemed funny then. Before he knew it they were home. And--weirdly--everything felt ok. It was like any normal day and Jim hadn't come close to having his head blown off by Gary-the-trigger-happy-gun-nut or letting some old man die....Damn. Jim had told him what had happened on the way back from dropping off the semi. All things considered, Blair was better off not thinking about it. He tried to recapture the mood of the trip home. "So where did you go to high school?"

"Saint...Mary's...." Jim froze for a moment and then charged up the remaining stairs two at a time. "Something's wrong with your mom--"

"What--" Blair started, but Jim already had his key in the lock. He threw the door open to reveal Naomi sitting in the center of the living room in full lotus.

Jim gaped. "What...?"

Blair sagged, the alarm and confusing dissipating as quickly as it had risen. "It's ok. She's meditating."

"Her heart's barely beating!"

Blair motioned him to keep it down. "She's really good at it."

While Blair shut the door and took off his jacket, Jim stared at Naomi, steady and motionless on the floor. "I don't--" at Blair's shush, Jim lowered his voice. "*I* meditate, and I don't...." He gestured helplessly.

"You're not very good at yet."

Jim considered her for a moment more, then crept around her and up the stairs. Blair took off his jacket and went to the kitchen to see what was around for dinner. Cucumber and onions were marinating in good vinegar and olive oil. It was strong and they couldn't store leftovers in the fridge...but it might be good for Jim to eat something aggressive. There was catfish in the fridge which hadn't been there before. A compromise between the carnivore and the bunny rabbit--thank you, mom. Grilled vegetables from the health food store on Walker St. Blair was starving just thinking about it.

Jim was coming down the stairs, arguing with Simon on the phone. It reminded Blair that they weren't really seeing enough of Jim's boss or coworkers. He wondered if there was any research out there on the isolating effects of being undercover. He wondered if he ought to quit worrying so much.

Jim made noises about being good and following the rules to Simon and rang off. "Has she said anything?" he asked, looking at Naomi.

"Nope."

"She's been like that since we came in."

Before Blair could finish reassuring Jim that this wasn't abnormal or dangerous behavior, Naomi was back. She stood up and stretched, and Jim stared his jaw hanging slack. Thoroughly squicked, Blair punched him in the shoulder. "Cut that out."

"What?" Jim asked stupidly.

Blair wondered what his mother's pheromones were like, to get this kind of reaction from a man who hadn't even thought about dating for a year. Then he winced, wishing he could erase ever having even thought that. Yuck. "Don't do that," he murmured. "Mom? You hungry?"

"Oh, I'm famished," she said, coming to join them.

She apologized again for loosing her cool and going all 'supermom.' Her self image didn't include being either controlling or fearful. Blair could understand that, but he was having enough trouble managing Jim and Jim's job. His mom being all weird was just that tiny bit too much more.

They started dinner. If they broiled the fish it would only take a few minutes. Everything else was pretty much finished. Jim peeked at the cucumbers and onions and then looked at Blair worriedly. "No problem," Blair mouthed.

There was a knock the door. "Are you expecting anybody, Mom?" Blair asked as Jim went to open the door.

The door flew open and Gary barreled in. His gun was out and pointed at Jim's stomach. "We've got to talk, Sport."

Francine followed, not visibly armed but the look in her eyes was almost as scary as a weapon would be. Blair would have swallowed, but his mouth was completely dry.

Jim took a slow step backwards and said steadily, "Take it easy with that thing."

Gary was nearly foaming at the mouth. Jim's calm seemed to almost piss him off more. "You've been watching us," he snarled.

"You're paranoid, man." This was not the tack Blair would have taken, but he kept his mouth shut and stood very still. He remembered, dimly, that he was trying to project fearless and irritated, so he attempted a scowl.

"Better paranoid than dead. You left the warehouse right after we finished the job. And I saw you drive off only a half-hour ago."

Blair's heart sank. Well. That was true, wasn't it? He wondered how Jim was going to reasonable their way out of this one and if he should be looking around for something heavy to hit Gary with. And then Naomi stepped forward and chirped earnestly, "They were with me. I picked them up. We were all going to dinner and I have the bigger backseat."

Blair tried not to gape. Naomi was smiling. She looked pleasant and polite. 'I'm going to get my mother killed,' Blair thought wonderingly. And then his mouth took off on its own: "Yeah, if we would have known you guys were hungry, we would have invited you. It'd be nice to get to know you better."

Naomi looked at him in surprise. "Would it?"

Francine still looked unhappy, but now she looked unhappy with Gary. "Oh, come on, Gary, we're all on the same team here." Gary waved the gun at Naomi. He was still angry, and she had gotten in his way with that alibi. "What about her? Where does she fit in?"

Naomi with a crazy thug waving a gun in her face turned to be exactly the same person as Naomi with a cop carrying her out of a sit-in; filled with loathing, but ruthlessly polite. "I'm his mother," she said nicely.

"Don't be flip with me, lady," Gary snapped and Blair realized that he thought she was lying. That pretty much put a pin an any ideas Blair might have had, but while Gary was distracted by his hostility Jim sprang. Before Blair could blink, Jim was holding the gun and Gary was pinned to the floor. Gary laughed bitterly. "Well. I guess now we find out the truth, don't we?"

Jim shook him. "The truth is I don't like people busting into my apartment with guns and bad manners." He released Gary and stood up. Furious and slightly scornful, he ejected the clip and handed the empty gun back, which only seemed to make Gary angrier. They were both on edge now. Blair liked Jim better calm. "He could have just killed you, Gary," Francine snapped. "What more proof do you want?"

Jim stepped back slightly and looked magnanimous. "What do you say we start fresh?"

Gary looked for one to another, frustrated and enraged. Blair almost felt sorry for him; after all, he was *right*, they *had* been listening, it *was* a setup. But Gary stormed out and the dangerous moment was over.

Francine smiled apologetically. She looked, actually, like she'd been having a pretty good time, except for her impatience with Gary. "Um. Look. I'm sorry, guys. We'll see you tomorrow, ok?"

"We'll be there." Jim said.

Naomi smiled politely, "Nice meeting you."

"Yeah." With one last, bewildered look at Naomi, Francine left.

The silence was ringingly loud and very welcome. Blair considered fainting. Or maybe taking a break to puke.

"So." Naomi said at last. "What, ah, was that all about?" "That would be our case," Blair whispered, unable to look at her.

"The, ah, carjackers?"

"Yeah. Them."

Naomi looked at the closed door. "If you know who they are, why don't you just arrest them?"

Good question. Wonderful question. "We want their boss," Jim said. "The guy pulling the strings from out of town. These are just the little fish."

"Oh. So you want to get close to them." She glanced at Blair and visibly collected herself. "Should we have invited them to dinner?"

Blair choked.

Jim looked unhappily at the door. "How the hell they find out where we live?"

"You know," Naomi said slowly, "that was kind of fun."

Blair choked again. "What?"

Naomi's smile was expanding. "You know. Keeping your cool, not blowing your cover. Very exciting." Blair buried his face in his hands, but Naomi didn't seem to notice. "Well, let's get dinner moving. Jim, you set the table."

They talked cop all during dinner. Mostly it was stuff they'd done with forensics. Every time Jim seemed to forget himself and try to slip a car chase into the conversation, Blair gently kicked him. There were limits on how much he was willing to share with his mother, no matter how receptive she seemed. They talked until nearly eleven, then Naomi headed into bed and Blair made up the couch. Jim--

Jim was still sitting at the table. Still, but not zoned. Blair watched him for half a minute, then went off to brush his teeth and get ready for bed. When he got back, Jim was sitting at the table, but now his gun was laid out in front of him.

Damn.

"Hey," he said softly, not sure if he should approach.

Jim nodded, but didn't look up.

Blair glanced at the closed door to his room and came a little closer to Jim.

"Talk to me."

Jim shook his head, anger flashing there, and hurt. "You know...you read about those...personality disorders people like me get. I can still..." Jim swallowed and tried again. "They came here, into my *home*, they pulled a gun on us, on your mother--"

"And now you have a quiet minute to deal with that?" Blair suggested.

"I can still *smell* them. They were...in my...home. Chief--"

"Ok. I got it." Blair laid a hand on Jim's shoulder, and when he didn't pull away, leaned against his side. "It's ok."

"I'm losing my mind, here, Chief--"

"No. You're not."

"Blair--"

"No. You are not. Your response is completely normal. People waving guns and threatening you burst into your home--"

"I'm losing my mind. You can't say this is a reasonable--"

"It is. It is. It's a reasonable reaction to the input you're receiving. You *can* smell them. It's not your imagination. You are not developing an emotional problem, you're reacting proportionally to a particularly vivid and legitimately dangerous experience." Jim closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "You're ok," Blair promised him. "You're ok."

"Every once in a while, I can hear Adrian downstairs. He throws a tantrum every time somebody touches his desk. Paranoid. Hysterical....Blair, I can't stop listening for them. This is territorial sentinel bullshit, and I can't turn it off."

"You *can't* think this is the same thing! Geez. You are not Adrian. He has a lot of strikes against him even on top of--"

"And I don't?"

Blair closed his teeth hard and thought for a moment. "Jim, I'd know if you were...losing it. Do you trust me?" He waited for answer, but Jim stared resolutely at the closed front door. "Right," Blair said, trying to conceal his own disappointment, which wasn't important anyway. "We'll talk to Jack tomorrow."

Jim's head snapped up and looked at him hard. "It's not that I don't trust you," Jim said softly. "But I think you're too...attached to admit it to either one of us if I were getting out of control."

Surprised, Blair smiled. "Yeah. Damn right, I'm attached." And finally, finally, Jim seemed to know that. The first research Jack Kelso had done when he came to Rainier had shown that the greatest predictor of sentinel health and lifespan was how much they thought their guide *liked* them. If Jim knew--really knew--that Blair cared, his chances had increased dramatically.

"What?" Jim asked.

Blair smiled and shook his head. "Jim, you're fine. Yeah, you're...alarmed. You feel invaded. But this is not Joel leaving his coffee on your desk, which you find annoying. This is two people showing up at our front door who will--will--kill us if they have *any* idea what we're really up to. You can't stop listening for them? Good. Because they may come back. Listen. Set the alarm. Sleep with your gun beside the bed. Hell, take us all to a hotel under an assumed name."

Jim blinked at him. "You're not scared of them," he said. "I can smell it."

"You're not scared of them, either. You're scared of you." He would have gone on, but Jim flinched slightly, so Blair got quiet to give him some time.

"Ok," Jim said, at last. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Slowly, Jim got to his feet and put his gun away.

"Do you want to wash the floor where they were standing?"

Jim scowled. "I can handle it."

"Ok. Do you think you can sleep? Or do you want some tea?"

Jim softened slightly. "I'm ok. I just...."

"It's ok."

"Yeah. It's ok. Thanks, Chief."

The next morning they had breakfast with Naomi and then headed out to meet Francine and Gary. On their way out the door, Naomi called, "Have fun with the criminals." Blair met her eyes. She was hiding worry under her humor. Blair felt the world was a very surreal place.

"Remember," Jim said. "We don't know what they're going to tell us today."

"Well, yeah," Blair said. "I was thinking I *wouldn't* tell Francine what you overheard with your super hearing." He frowned, thinking about Francine. "You know, she's not that bad for a car thief." "Well, maybe you should get to know her better."

"What?" Jim couldn't have just suggested what it sounded like he suggested.

"Well, your mom's been urging you to date."

"Ha, ha. Very funny." But Jim only looked like he was half joking. "Oh, come on! I can't--can't--"

"Hey, man, nobody's asking you to compromise your high level of standards. It's just that the more information we have, the closer we get to nailing Petrie. Give it a try. Talk to her."

"Talk to her."

"Yeah. Talk to her."

Blair entered the office alone, wondering if he was crazy. But as jumpy as he felt, Francine didn't seem to see anything wrong. She waved him to a chair and said amiably, "Most people lose their appetite when they're angry. I eat." She pulled a salad and a cranberry muffin out of the tiny refrigerator behind the desk.

"You're angry? If I did anything--"

She sighed. "No, no. It's not you." She frowned. "Look, I'm real sorry about last night. Gary can be a real hard-ass, you know, but that's also what makes him useful." She waited for Blair's forgiving nod. "How's your mom?"

"Oh, her? Don't worry about her. She's used to this stuff. My dad used to run contraband from state to state. My grandfather was a rumrunner. There's a rumor he used to work for old Joe Kennedy." He imagined his very proper, very formal grandparents as hardened criminals, and weirdly the image sort of worked. "Kind of a family tradition, huh?"

"I guess you could say it's in the blood." Blair tried to feel like the kind of person who drove trucks full of hot VCRs for a living. But really how could you tell? Naomi was apparently believable as some kind of gun moll or something, and Francine seemed just like any of a dozen corporate executives who worked down town. "What?" Francine asked.

"I was just wondering... You don't seem like the type of person to be in this line of work."

"Neither do you."

Ah. So much for his convincing attitude.

Francine smiled. "You know, it's weird. It's like a rush, you know. It's like driving a fast car, or bungee jumping from a helicopter."

"You've done that?" Never mind the helicopter, he couldn't imagine why people bungee jumped off of anything. Not even after he'd seen "Land Divers of Melanesia."

"I guess you could say I'm what they call an adrenaline junkie. I love that feeling when you're taking the big risk."

Crazy, Blair decided. She's completely crazy. No matter how nice she seems; don't forget that. They talked for a little while longer, until a phone call came in. Apparently it was what Francine was waiting for, because she sent him out to round up Gary and Jim for a meeting.

Gary tried to follow them when they left the warehouse. Jim lost him and then headed back to the PD. Francine had announced that they would go after the Lamborghini tomorrow. Jim was thrilled. This was their chance to get Petrie, much sooner than he'd hoped. Blair, who had heard the plan Jim had in mind on the way...wasn't entirely thrilled. Not entirely. Although, the way Jim described it there shouldn't be any risk.

"He's going to be in a hurry to unload that Lamborghini. He's going to want to shut Francine down and get out of town. We'll offer him as much money as he can expect to get anywhere else. Our buyer will be somebody his people already know. I mean, I don't think he's going to have any other choice but to take this deal."

"Our buyer?" Simon asked, surprised. "Who do these guys know besides you two?"

Blair glanced at Jim and sighed. "My mom."

"Your what?"

"Francine and Gary stopped by last night and met Blair's mom."

Simon blinked at them owlishly. "You know, I never got the memo on this new policy. Since when did we start introducing our suspects to extended family?"

"It wasn't planned," Jim said. His face didn't give away how tight things had almost been. "They stopped by. Naomi said hello--she was great by the way, Chief."

"Er. Thanks."

"And Sandburg's been telling stories about how he comes from this long line of criminals--"

"Ah." Simon murmured. "That's nice."

"Simon, this will work. We couldn't have set things up more neatly if we'd planned it out beforehand."

"And Mrs.--Ms.--Sandburg agreed to this?"

Jim smiled. "We thought we'd talk to you first, sir."

"Ah."

***

It went almost exactly according to plan. That evening they picked up Gary outside of his apartment building and whisked him away in a non-descript van. Simon was there, along with Jim. Both of them were armed. Blair was still trying for sullen; even though it wasn't convincing, at least it was consistent. Naomi...well, Naomi was perfect. Calm. Polite. Completely cold blooded. Blair could almost believe she was smuggling hot luxuries in and out of Eastern Europe.

She handled Gary very well. Blair did not let himself think about how well. She raked him with her full attention, alternating mild contempt with appraisal and flattery. Gary ate it up. It was not an insight into his character Blair appreciated, especially since it was his mom whom Gary was looking at with desire as well as grudging respect.

There were things that, in the context of one's *mom* it was just better not to think about.

"Hm... What about Francine?"

"Well, from what I hear, you're the one who's really in charge." "You heard right."

All right, a lot of the guys she'd dated had been somewhat...ungrounded. Maybe downright flakey. A couple had been appalling stupid--if gorgeous and earnest. And, yes, fine, all acts and expressions of life were beautiful. Hell, until this fall, those were words he lived by. But if that little trip had lasted just thirty seconds longer, he would have *had* to wipe that hungry smirk off Gary's face. He just would have had to.

Afterwards they all went out for Pizza; one meat-lover's with extra bacon and one white Florentine with eggplant and mushrooms. They went through two pitchers of beer, most of that divided between Simon and Naomi, since Jim still wasn't comfortable drinking very much on top of his whole sensory thing and Blair felt like he was constantly on duty.

Simon and Naomi turned out to have a lot in common. Weirdly, he had apparently been some kind of student radical in high school; civil rights, voter registration, anti nuclear power, environment, that sort of thing. "I believed in everyone, and I wanted to fix everything." He stopped, staring at the empty pizza pan. "Well, there were several of us. Peggy and I, we were sort of the ring leaders. We wanted to save the whole world."

And then the story came out about what had happened at Rossburg. It was pretty much the way Blair had put it together from what he'd heard in court and Jim's brief explanations. "I keep thinking, if I'd gone...If I'd been there, I would have been able to do something, you know?"

After a long minute, Naomi said softly, "Even if you *had* gone, you don't know that you would have arrived on time or that it would have made any difference." Simon shook his head, and she continued, "You chose not to go to a party, Simon. You didn't choose for Peggy to die. Whatever she knew or thought, she did know that."

"Simon," Jim said. "What Peggy was trying to do, you finished. We found the documents she died for. We put her killers away."

But Simon just shook his head, saying things had gotten way too heavy and it was time to go home. Blair and Jim were both sober, so they dropped off Simon and his car before taking Naomi back to the loft.

The next morning, Simon was back at the loft bright and early. There was some trouble getting the money to use in the deal for the Lamborghini. Even with as little as Blair knew about legal requirements, he was sure that unless they caught Petrie physically in possession of a hot car or taking a payment for one, they were out of luck.

Naomi took off early to spend the day with Wiggy at the co-op. She offered repeatedly to help out with closing the trap, but Blair wanted her out of the way and Jim didn't argue. While they waited for the money for the buy, Simon drilled Blair on the plan and his role in it.

All in all, Blair felt pretty good about the whole thing. The money arrived--at the last possible minute, but it got there--and as they drove toward the warehouse Blair was reassuringly aware that this time they were completely covered by back-up. The police were keeping their distance until the last moment, but getting out of this alive was much less dependant on Blair's ability to convince people he was a professional criminal.

They were greeted at the warehouse by a nearly rabid Gary. Where the hell have you been? We should've left ten minutes ago."

"The computer went down at the bank," Jim seemed convincingly grumpy. Before this case, Blair had never guessed how much of police work was acting. "Just relax. We're here, aren't we? Hey, where's Francine?"

"Francine and our sponsor had a disagreement. She won't be joining us today. You and I will take your pick-up, and the kid will meet us in the truck."

Blair's position was a quarter mile from the dock, just above an old fishing pier that was closed for repairs. A moment after Blair parked, Brown pulled up in an unmarked car. "You've still got the money? Let's get you wired," he said, hopping out. "Petrie may want to make the pay off here instead of at the warehouse."

He tried to look calm and blasé as Detective Brown taped the listening device to his chest. It felt kind of unreal and very unlikely. He glanced at his watch. Right about now the Lamborghini should be coming out of the cargo hold. As soon as they had it on the ground, Jim and Gary would make their move, Jim covering while Gary snatched the car.

Although the truck was couldn't be seen from the quay, it would take less than ninety seconds for Gary to get here. The only real question was, would the head of the car theft ring show up and take his money here, as Gary drove up, or later, at the warehouse.

Brown looked around, smiled once reassuringly, and disappeared into the piles of construction materials piled beside the water. He wasn't the only cop in the area. They were completely covered. If Gary showed up here, they would be ready.

He took a deep breath and let it out. Surely the car had to be on the ground by now. It occurred to him that if Francine had been wrong and there *was* no luxury car then the case was pretty much fucked because Petrie wasn't going to stick around if the plan fell through. No second chance, here. Jim was going to be so pissed if this case got away from them.

Still, though. If the whole thing was called off, Jim or Gary would call on the cell. Might call, any minute now.

Brown reappeared, one hand cupping the receiver in his ear. "We're on stand by," he said, coming over to Blair.

"Man, get out of here! If Petrie--"

"Petrie's down there--oh, shit. Wait." There was a long, horrible pause, and then Brown blinked. "Sandburg, Simon says get your butt down there and claim your...mother?"

***

Concluded in Part Three...