See notes and disclaimer on part one.
"Damn. The door was open when you got here?"
"Yeah, it was open."
"God, what a mess. There's no way to tell what's missing, not in all this."
Blair tried to gather his thoughts and himself into some semblance of order, willing the throbbing beat in his head to the background as best he could. The voices had been circling around the rim of the dark well that was his current residence for some time before he could get enough beyond the pain to take note of them. One particular voice, dark and smooth and deep, finally rolled over the edge of the well and fell down into his cognizance.
"Nothing missing--nothing other than Jim, that is. And where the hell is that ambulance?"
Blair played with the sounds for a minute, enjoying the cadence, the rhythm. It took coming a bit further out of the dark haze of unconsciousness before he realized that the pleasing noises were words as well. Then it took a minute more to string them into a sentence that made sense, and by that time there were more words lapping over the edge and cascading down into his awareness.
"Maybe Jim took off after whoever it was did this." Young, male, and worried: Blair categorized this speaker as he strung the words together, and a name floated up into his mind: Rafe.
"Jim would never leave willingly if Sandy was down. Never. And especially not without calling it in." Female, this time, softer, the words closer to him as he reached for them, above him somehow. The voice continued, "That tanker fire at the docks, Captain? There were a number of casualties on the scene, and I'm sure emergency services are still trying to deal with that."
Megan, his mind supplied the name, and put Simon in place of "Captain" when someone beside him grunted in reply to her comments. Blair used the names to lever himself closer to the outside world these voices inhabited, talking around him and the pain in his head.
Pushing the dull beat of pain behind him, Blair slowly surfaced. There were more voices, several more, but he concentrated on these closest to him, forcing himself to string their words together. Then the image of Jim, sprawled out on the floor beneath a dark-haired boy while his hands were yanked behind him and handcuffed by another boy, blonde, green-eyed, fell in the midst of everything. With a loud gasp, Blair came all the way awake, struggling to sit up. Much to many voices' consternation he pushed at the hands trying to hold him down on the floor, slapping at the grip that refused to let go of his shoulder, the hand trying to keep something cold and wet on his head.
"Blair!" the dark, deep voice bellowed as a hand grabbed his wrist, and everyone froze, including Blair. Opening his eyes he found Simon's face a scant foot from his own, one dark hand out to gently but firmly circle Blair's wrist. Blair's own hand had wrapped around Megan's wrist in a crushing grip, but she still held a bloody dishtowel towards his head. Behind Simon, Rafe hovered, and beyond him were two uniformed officers. Forensics techs, Blair categorized them in the split second before everyone started talking at once. Simon's second bellow calmed things, and in the sudden silence Megan rocked back on her heels so Blair could sit up.
He was still at the loft, sitting on the floor, that floor covered now with his own and Jim's belongings. Automatically reaching for the source of the throbbing pain in his head, his hand came away wet with blood. Blair stared at it for a moment, before looking around him. Couch and chairs were overturned, the table was upended, and food and poker chips had been scattered everywhere, along with books, cd's, dishes... Numbly, Blair accepted the dishtowel from Megan, wiping his hand then putting his elbow on his knee and resting his head against that same hand. Shoving away the shreds of darkness lurking at the edge of his vision, he took in the disastrous state of the room without speaking, before realizing that there was one face missing, one voice that he should have heard above all the others.
"Jim?" He asked, and as Blair's gaze came round to the captain squatted on the floor beside him, Simon shook his head.
"We were hoping you could tell us what happened."
The thin wail of a siren slowly built behind Simon's voice, and Blair closed his eyes again, kicked angrily at the scattered M&M's and poker chips close to his foot. His mistake, his foolishness, his insistence on being right had done this. Damn! After everything that went down with Alex Barnes you'd think he'd have learned to listen to his Sentinel when he said something wasn't right, when Jim started acting funny about someone. But no, Blair had to shrug it off, tell Jim he was getting cold, cynical. No matter that Jim was a Sentinel and Sentinels had these amazing senses and they knew things and had instincts, not to mention Jim's instincts as a soldier and a cop and...
Belatedly, Blair realized that their assembled friends and colleagues were still waiting for his answer, and that if Derek really had taken Jim time was of the essence. Damn, why did the man have to speak up? Why couldn't he have let things be, not been so heroic, just let...right. And then he wouldn't be Jim Ellison, Cop of the Year and Sentinel of the great city, cool guy and loyal friend who was maybe a little close-minded at times, but hey, who wasn't? It was just more politically correct to be close-minded about things Jim held dear; liberals, conservatives, everyone in between was close-minded about something or other. Everyone had their sacred cows.
Including Blair Sandburg, B.S., M.A., now permanently ABD, lately cum Detective, and don't forget the Guide gig that got him onto this roller coaster in the first place.
Yeah. Right. Some Guide he'd turned out to be: almost four years of practice and he had yet to get things right.
"Derek Mansfield," he said, then repeated it, for effect, to see how it felt to have his stupidity repeated in front of the rest of the group. "Derek Mansfield. The low-life juvee I'm supposed to be mentoring into something resembling a higher life form. He came here to get me, for some reason. Jim challenged him, and I guess they took him instead."
He didn't have to have brushed Jim's concerns about Derek off so completely; they could have discussed it, worked together on this, found a solution together. But no, Blair had to get on his high horse, his religious high horse, and prove that the Academy hadn't changed him, prove that he could still be the bleeding heart do-gooder with the best of them. And now Jim was paying the price for Blair proving he hadn't changed, proving that Detective Sandburg hadn't checked *his* humanity at the door, not yet.
"They?" It took Blair a minute to realize that Simon had repeated his question twice. He opened his eyes, met Simon's concerned gaze, saw the paramedics coming through the door, followed by a more uniformed officers. Megan moved aside and as the paramedic knelt beside Blair he saw Rafe in the kitchen, cell phone open and talking rapidly, excitedly into it. Blair caught Henri's name before he decided he didn't want to listen anymore. That was great, just great. Let's advertise Detective Sandburg's idiocy to the rest of the Major Crimes unit. He couldn't blame Rafe, he knew that it was only because--as members of a closed society--they cared deeply about their own, knew that he was included in that closed society, had been for quite some time, but it still rankled that his bad judgement--
His introspection was sidetracked by the paramedics. The short chubby one was opening his ubiquitous orange equipment box while the other man, slimmer and darker, snapped on rubber gloves and began to examine Blair. Wincing away from the light shining in his eyes, Blair looked at Simon again. The tall Captain still squatted next to him, an immovable bulk the EMT's simply had to work around.
"We thought it was Rafe and Megan, come for his keys." He sucked in a gasp as the paramedic probed the gash on his forehead, then closed his eyes as the other one reached for his arm and fastened the blood pressure cuff around it. "We were talking, Jim wasn't paying attention to much. I opened the door without checking, so they just pushed in. Four of them, three guys and some girl. Derek called the blonde guy 'Sean,' and the big wrestler type was 'Moe.' Like I said, they were going to ransack the place and take me, but Jim challenged Derek, so I guess they took him instead." He laughed, breathlessly. "Moe was huge, man, huge like in a cartoon or something. Jim didn't have a chance against him, not the way--" Suddenly aware of ears that didn't need to hear the rest of this, Blair cut off what he was going to say, taking refuge in the busyness of the paramedics.
"Blair, were Jim's allergies still bothering him?" Simon's voice was careful.
Eyes still closed, Blair nodded, not trusting himself to speak as the image of Jim, ripping at his shirt and screaming aloud in pain at Blair's touch, replayed itself across his mind.
No one said anything, but that had to be Simon's sigh he heard.
The Velcro was loud as the paramedic released his arm from the cuff. The second EMT pushed his hair aside to probe at the bump on the left side of his head, where the ache started and spread throughout his entire skull. Blair gritted his teeth and refused to make a sound as the large lump was probed, none too gently. He was *not* going to the hospital, he was gonna get out there and find Jim and Derek and--
"Blair, can you identify them?"
His eyes snapped open, and Simon's gaze had moved from simple concern to downright worried. Damn. He did not want to buck Simon about the hospital, not at all.
"Yeah, give me a chance and I can pick all three of the sonsabitches and the wench out for you."
Simon looked from Blair to the paramedic, who frowned.
"He's got a nasty gash and a large bump. Possible concussion; he should rest until he can get to his own doctor. If he can't get to his own doctor we'll take him in and run a CT scan at the hospital."
"Whoa, hey, wait a minute there. I am *not* going to the hospital. That's like so not where I'm going." Several people took breath to argue with him, but Blair tuned them all out and found and focused on the one person he knew mattered the most. Sitting on his heels in the midst of the debris of Derek's visit, Simon watched Blair, his expression unreadable, while the EMT continued to recite all the reasons why Blair should go to the hospital right now--or at least get checked out by his own doctor before doing anything even remotely strenuous.
"Mr. Sandburg, are you listening to me? You really need to--"
Blair waved the pudgy man off, and leaned forward to catch Simon by the arm. Ignoring the paramedics, he shifted himself close in to Simon, and hissed, "Man, you *know* I have got to go with you! Jim's--" A quick scan around the loft showed Megan and Rafe busy with the uniformed officers, all sorting through the debris with gloved hands, and Blair locked his gaze on Simon's face again. "Jim's 'allergies', man, they're out of control! Look, he-he was puking in the toilet after you left because the smell of the *garbage* got to him, Simon! We have to get out there and find him and I *have* to be with you! You know it, man, you know it!" After a beat, he added, "Sir."
Simon stared expressionlessly at him for a minute longer, then, sighed and nodded.
"Just because I know it doesn't mean I have to like it, Sandburg." With one last measuring look at Sandburg, he turned to the EMT. "I'll keep an eye on him, and someone will see to it that he gets to his doctor later today."
The sandy-haired EMT frowned, but Simon was already getting to his feet, heading for the stairs. Blair was the next target of the man's displeasure but he was prepared for that.
"Just give me whatever it is I have to sign." Ignoring the disapproving frown, Blair pushed himself to his feet and felt inordinately proud of one Detective Sandburg for not falling over or fainting once he was upright. Pudgy sighed and reached for his clipboard. The second EMT, taller and dark-haired, approached with a couple of butterfly bandages, and by the time he had those applied to the gash on Blair's forehead, his partner had the paperwork ready. Blair scribbled his signature, and grabbed the copy the man shoved at him, before turning his back on both men. Megan appeared, holding a glass of water and some aspirin out toward him.
"I thought this might come in handy." She watched as Blair nodded his thanks and took the aspirin. "Guess it's a good thing I didn't want to have to explain why Rafe spent the night at my apartment, even if he would have been sleeping on my couch," she said wryly. Blair stared at her for a minute, then nodded.
"Yeah, yeah, I guess it was."
She took the empty glass from him, and headed over to drop it on the kitchen island. Rafe was still supervising the forensics techs over on the other side of the loft. Blair headed into his room to survey the damage. He squatted on the floor beside the largest pile of stuff, digging his shoulder holster out of the mess. It settled into place with moves that still felt foreign. Right, maybe, but not yet familiar, nor comfortable. His gun was still tucked inside the specially made Inuit wolf mask Jim had given him when he graduated from the Academy. Despite the mask being tossed on the floor with the rest of his belongings, the pistol had stayed put.
Simon came into the room, sweeping the damage with a practiced eye. Blair looked up from checking the load in his gun before settling it into the holster. The flash of approval in the darker man's eyes was unmistakable. Simon hefted the gun he held in one hand up.
"Looks like they missed Jim's gun, too," he said, before tucking it into the back waistband of his pants. Hopefully they'd get to hand it over to Jim, soon.
Simon waited in the door, his eyes once more sweeping Blair's room, cataloging the damage: books and artifacts knocked off shelves, the desk drawers emptied onto the floor, bedclothes ripped off the bed and piled on top of everything.
"They either didn't think to look for the guns, or didn't find them," he said, patting his shirt pocket for a cigar. "That and the pattern of destruction we're looking at here leads me to believe we're dealing with amateurs. They didn't really know what they were doing, besides getting off on tearing things up a bit." Half a cigar appeared in his hands, and it was immediately clenched between Simon's teeth.
Blair found his badge wallet on the floor beside his bed and shoved it into a back pocket. Simon still stood in the door, watching, but Blair wasn't ready to stand up and face the fact he didn't know what to do next, not yet. Behind the larger man, out in the main room, the hubbub continued, flashbulbs going wild as the evidence of his idiocy was documented. Simon took the cigar from his teeth, and studied it for a minute then looked up at Blair again. The big man's gaze was oddly gentle.
"Blair, do you have any idea where they might have taken Jim?"
Another few seconds of searching through the rubble netted him one slightly stretched out hair band. Sitting back on his heels, Blair pulled his hair back into an abbreviated ponytail and snapped the elastic band around it before he answered Simon.
"No. Not off hand. Derek's grandmother doesn't seem to pay much attention to his comings and goings, but I doubt they'd take Jim there. He's a wrestler, lifts weights at the school a lot...I'm not sure, but those places at least give us a star--"
Simon's cell phone cut into his speculation, and Blair found himself holding the Inuit mask, turning it over and over in his hands as Simon pulled his phone out. What did he really know about Derek? That he played a mean game of one on one, seemed to enjoy classic acid rock--
"WHAT? Are you sure?" Simon whirled around, stepping back into the hallway between Blair's room and the kitchen where he nailed Megan and Rafe with his patented "I AM THE CAPTAIN" stare. "Did either of you notice if Ellison's truck was missing when you drove up?" Both were shaking their heads when Blair shoved past Simon, heading for the key basket. He pulled Rafe's keys out, and then his own. The basket was empty.
"Jim's keys are missing." Blair's gaze met Simon's across the room, and Simon raised the cell phone to his mouth again. "Henri? Got a license plate yet on those vehicles?" He listened, then nodded. "That's Jim's truck all right. Okay, stay with him, you got that? Do NOT lose that truck. Call it in, and get someone else to pick up the other car if it takes off. Use your phone, not the radio; we don't want to take a chance they've turned Jim's radio on. As soon as you've done that, call me back with your location. We're on our way."
Simon snapped the phone shut with a flourish. Every eye in the room was on him.
"Henri was almost sideswiped by two cars drag racing out on the northern end of Cascade Highway. One of them was Jim's truck."
Blair had his coat on and was out the door before Simon finished saying, "Sandburg, you're with me."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jim Ellison was in hell. An accumulated effluvium of stale sweat, booze, and old sex permeated the canopy covered bed of the small truck he'd been tossed into an eternity ago. Despite the miasma, the Sentinel breathed desperately through his nose, afraid to open his mouth for fear the twin tastes of bile and his own blood would have his rebellious stomach retching again. He'd probably already regurgitated both kneecaps and maybe a few toenails onto the soiled material beneath him. When he found a stray moment to think straight, any small instant that wasn't consumed in fighting his senses, in frantically trying to make the damn dials work, Jim tried not to worry about Blair, still in a limp huddle on the floor of the loft the last sight Jim had had of him.
Squealing tires cut through his thoughts, adding to the noise blaring from the speakers at the back of the cab to exacerbate his misery. Jim's bones resonated along with the thin aluminum body of the truck with every beat of that so-called music. Damn, who'd have thought Metallica would have been one of the bands from his era that survived to screw up another generation's music appreciation skills.
Shifting once again on the scratchy, synthetic blanket that he could never seem to avoid, no matter where he was thrown by the motion of the truck, Jim swallowed against another urge to vomit. Nothing like lying on steel wool to prove a man's sensitive side. His entire torso was raw from the constant motion against the blanket. There wasn't any position he landed in or found for himself that didn't put more pressure on his already straining arms, or pull his ankles any closer to his hips than they already were. Not that it did him much good, Eagle scout the boy may not have been, but someone, somewhere, had taught Derek Mansfield how to hogtie a pig, but good.
The truck went up on two wheels as it screeched around another corner, and Jim slid over and slammed into the side of the bed again, his face landing in puddle of his own vomitus. Inching away from the pool, Jim sighed, and closed his eyes and tried once again to turn all the dials down. His sight was about the only sense that wasn't out of control, thanks to the dark safety glass in the canopy windows. Though that made it almost certain that Jim could expect no help from passing strangers; no one was gonna accidently see him in the back of the truck, nope, not even Sandburg had luck like that.
Sandburg...stuck underneath Moe on the floor of the loft after Derek had pistol-whipped Blair, Jim had zoned on the scent of his Guide's blood. He came out of it only when Derek's large class ring made intimate contact with his upper lip. Jim had shaken off the zone to the taste of his own blood, and found himself being held upright in Moe's grip.
"What's the matter, Detective," Derek had sneered, "You epileptic or something?" "Something," Jim had answered, staring coldly at the boy as he found his feet and shrugged off Moe's help. As long as they were focused on him, Blair was ignored. Jim was fine with that. After a moment Derek had looked away, and waved Nose-ring and Stinky forward. Sean held up two key rings, and the girl another.
"I know you drive the hayseed truck, Macho Man, which set of keys is yours? We might have use for a truck later tonight."
Jim considered stalling, but the still form of Sandburg behind Derek was good enough reason to cooperate. He nodded toward the girl.
"Those are mine," he said, and was amazed when Sean returned the other two sets of keys to the basket. Then Moe had shoved him toward the door. No one had thought to close it behind them, and Jim felt a small measure of hope at that. If anyone showed up at their door, Rafe in search of his keys, or whomever, they'd know something was wrong. Still fighting for control of his senses, Jim had gone along quietly, almost willingly, and stopped with Derek and Moe at the rear of the small black pickup. Nose-ring and Stinky had headed for his truck, giggling, and already entwined in each other's arms. Any thoughts of escape Jim might have had fled when Derek had unlocked and yanked open the canopy door. Overcome by the odors pouring out of the camper, Jim had gagged and doubled over. Moe and Derek had laughed, but Jim's nausea left him helpless as they shoved him through the door, into the stench, hogtying him as insurance against escape before they jumped out and locked the door behind them.
And here he was, an eternity later, helpless in the hell created by his own overactive senses. Hopefully by now Blair had revived, and had the cavalry out looking for him. Jim could do nothing but try to ride this one out. Whether or not the cavalry was going to have any idea *where* to look for him was something Jim didn't even want to think about.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Held back against the passenger seat in Simon's sedan by his seatbelt, Blair drummed his fingers on the armrest--softly, soundlessly, as a man who was used to riding with a Sentinel should. Only he wasn't riding with a Sentinel tonight, he was riding with Simon, rookie detective with his Captain, chasing their noses in the foothills surrounding Cascade--and hoping he still had a Sentinel to ride with when the night was over. Blair said nothing as Simon cut the cherry lights and the sirens and turned off Cascade Highway onto Schefflin Road. Despite the aspirin he'd taken before leaving the loft, his headache remained, though he wasn't sure if it was the residual effects of two blows to his head or his fear for Jim that still pounded behind his eyes. Taut silence stretched between the two men, silence that filled the shadowed interior of the car and then overflowed out into the turbid night beyond them, muffling whatever sounds might have come from the houses and farms they passed.
Even when they left the blacktop behind, following the headlights onto the gravel farm road that wound up into the hills, Simon was silent. Seemed he couldn't think of anything else to say to his newest detective, nothing after he'd offered up the standard "Jim's a good cop, and he's tough, Blair; he'll hang on until we get there." Oh, and don't forget "He knows we're looking for him, and we know who took him. You know that's half the battle." Platitudes, useless platitudes was all they were. Words couldn't erase the hunger in Derek's eyes when Jim challenged him, the hunger of a young buck when he sees the seasoned, older warrior and wonders if he can do it, if he can take his elder down. Just like the young gunfighters must have eyed men like Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and a hundred other unsung heros in the wild west; the way bigger, stronger, younger warriors in primitive societies always stalked the older, wiser men, in hopes of taking them down and taking their place, their women--their mojo.
The Law of the Jungle, it was called, and only the strongest survived. Jim Ellison was normally one of the strongest, easily voted most likely of anyone to survive, but not tonight. Tonight something had already turned his incredible genetic advantage against him, transformed his greatest strength into his greatest weakness. Their friends usually thought Jim looked after Blair, took care of him, and in some cases it was true. But the truth was Blair looked after Jim. Simon was the only one who understood that. Blair was the one who checked the ingredients on every consumable that came into the loft, the one who did the research and worked out the parameters on what Jim's senses could and could not handle. He was the one Jim depended on to make sure those senses were an asset, and not just a one-way ticket to a padded room with a free fitting for a straightjacket thrown in. Sure, Jim was tough, but like any finely tuned and highly strung instrument, the slightest push could send him out of tune, out of adjustment--leave him vulnerable.
Just like something had tonight, back when Blair didn't think this particular nightmare could get any worse. But it had, because this time, instead of Blair protecting him when he was vulnerable, a near out-of-control Jim had taken control, pushing Derek and getting himself hauled off. That left Blair to run after them and hope to god he got there in time, arrived before Jim's heroics got him killed. Turn about was fair play; after all, Jim had run to rescue Blair more than the reverse, but still, being the runnee sucked, no matter which way you looked at it. And Blair hadn't been able to stop him, had caught on too late to what his Sentinel was doing, and when push came to shove he'd wound up out cold on the floor while the hyenas he'd let in made off with the wounded jaguar.
Shit. Blair dropped his head into one hand, accepting the pain of the cut from Derek's gun hitting his palm as his just deserts. That particularly vivid picture was *not* an image he wanted to hold on to, at all. Taking a deep breath, he told himself Jim was okay until proven otherwise, and concentrated once more on willing his headache away. He wanted to be in some sort of shape to help his partner if--*when* they caught up to him.
Simon's cell phone rang and one dark hand, almost invisible in the faint light of the digital dash, reached out to snag the phone and push the connect button. The car never slowed down, taking the gravel turns at a speed definitely above optimal recommendations as Simon barked, "Banks." He listened, and Blair waited some more, staring out the window at the passing trees, their trunks long ghostly legs spiraling out of the dense undergrowth before flashing away into the pitiless night behind them. Above the foothills, to the south and miles away, the pale blush of Cascade could be seen, the overcast sky glowing with reflected streetlight. Out here, though, there was nothing, no light, just more trees, the damned clouds, and the unremitting gloom.
No sign of a misplaced turquoise and white truck, nor one slightly-wacked-out detective.
"You're sure? Okay, wait there. We've got the sheriff's deputy behind us, and we'll be there in five." Without further adieu, Simon punched another button and dropped the small handset back down on the car seat. Eyes on the road, he told Blair, "Looks like they turned aside at an abandoned farm. Henri's keeping an eye on them from the main road."
A small eternity later, a large rural mailbox flashed in their headlights, and Simon eased up on the accelerator. Then there was a flash of silver, and Henri's car appeared, parked in the entrance to a logging road, their headlights briefly illuminating the warning sign about merging trucks. Simon braked, and maneuvered past Henri up to the overgrown tilly hump that blocked further access to the road. Henri was at Simon's door the minute they stopped. Megan and Rafe pulled in behind them, and Joel followed. Last of all was a County Sheriff's Suburban that disgorged not one, but two Deputy Sheriffs.
"I got far enough down the driveway to see Jim's truck; it's parked by the house. The other rig kept going; I couldn't see where it went. Whoever was in Jim's truck got out and went into the house." The whites of Henri's eyes flashed in the darkness as he glanced to where Blair stood on the other side of the car, and then continued, "No sign of Jim, nothing I could see, anyway."
"This is the old Chalmer's place," one of the deputies stated, his face hardly visible in the darkness. He held one hand out toward Simon. "Desmond Rafferty, County Sheriff's office. This is Deputy Tony Newhouse. Old man Chalmers died last year, kid lives in Los Angeles or someplace. Got a fancy lawyer working on changing the zoning so he can subdivide it and sell. Shame of it all is that it was a damn fine farm."
As if that made any difference to anything now. Turning his back to the group, Blair stared into the surrounding forest, willing his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Where was Jim now? Had he been able to keep the fragile control Blair had helped him establish before Derek and his friends came bursting in?
Moving a couple of steps away from the murmur of voices as Simon and Rafferty began to quietly put the raiding party in order, Blair spoke softly into the night.
"Jim, man, I don't know if you can hear this, but hang on, okay? The cavalry's on its way, we just have to get our collective asses in order here. Territory and all that, you know? Just hang on, man, hang on. We're almost there, okay?"
Taking a couple of steps toward the driveway that led toward the house, toward Jim, he damped down quickly on the thought they might have dumped Jim somewhere else, that he might not even *be* with whomever that was driving his truck. No sense borrowing trouble, and, if they were lucky, it would all end here and now.
After an interminable minute everyone was loaded and ready, Rafferty handing three red tinted flashlights to Simon, who passed them on to Joel and Megan, keeping one for himself. Blair and Henri followed Simon and Deputy Sheriff Rafferty down the dirt driveway across from their parked cars, lights carefully pointed at the ground. Joel, Megan and Rafe got to go cross-country with Deputy Newhouse, headed down and around to hopefully come out at the back of the farmhouse at about the same time as Simon, Blair and Henri got to the front.
It still felt odd not have anyone yelling at him, "Sandburg, stay in the truck!" Or "Stay here and call for backup." Felt still more odd to be stepping carefully up the road with Simon, gun drawn and at the ready. He hadn't yet had any reason to fire his gun, or use it on anyone, not yet. Mostly he still talked his way out of stuff, or just the threat of his and Jim's guns had been enough to have the criminals backing down.
Somehow, when it came to Derek, Blair didn't think the *threat* of anything was going to be much of a deterrent at all.
The trek down the driveway was made in silence, the soughing wind in the pines and the gurgling creek behind the house covering their footfalls. The house itself was almost invisible against the darker mass of trees that surrounded it, Jim's truck a pale smudge at one side.
Blair stuck *right* behind the Sheriff's deputy as he slunk up beside the old truck, close enough to see the empty bed when the deputy shone his faint light on it. Nothing, and no one. Rafferty moved on to the cab, and Simon quickly took the other side. But, again, there was no one, nothing visible in the pale red light. Blair bit back a sigh of frustration. Okay, that meant Jim had to be in the boarded-up house, had to be.
Once more Rafferty took the lead, across the yard that was more dead pine needles than grass, up the concrete steps into the empty doorway at the front of the house. Blair was grateful that no one argued with his right to be the one at the Deputy's heels as they quietly entered the house. There was no one in the front room as they went in, nor was anyone in the dining room or the small bedroom and the bathroom that led from it. The back door creaked as they left the dining room for the kitchen, and Newhouse eased his way into the building to find four guns pointing his way. Behind him lurked the other three Major Crimes detectives.
Simon shook his head and waved at the steps off to the right of the back door. Joel nodded and took point as that group went slowly downstairs. Blair was right behind Rafferty as he checked out the stairs that led up from the other end of that wall. At the top a faint glow of light could be seen, and that might have been giggling they could hear. Practically sliding up the wall, the fifth step creaked under the Deputy's weight, and the other three men carefully stepped over it. At the top of the stairs an empty hallway led to three doors. It didn't take Sentinel senses to smell the odor of raw sewage leaking from behind the first door visible from the top of the stairwell. Someone was still using the bathroom here, whether the plumbing worked or not. Halfway down the hall another door was open, the room beyond it dark. But at the end of the hall a third door had a sliver of light coming from beneath it, and there was definitely giggling coming from the room beyond.
Stalking down the hall, Blair shared a disgusted look with Simon before moving up beside the Deputy Sheriff, who stood scowling at the door. Simon gestured Henri into the dark room, and then came up beside Blair. A few seconds later, Henri came out shaking his head. Rafferty gently tried the doorknob, and finding it unlocked, looked back at Simon. The captain nodded, held up three fingers, and slowly counted down with them. As Simon finished the count, Rafferty flung the door open, and Blair led the way into the room, yelling, "Police, freeze!"
Bare bottom up in the air, Sean froze, while beneath him the blonde chick squealed. Much more than her tattoo was exposed this time, and she grabbed at the blanket beneath her, before the Deputy's voice boomed a second warning.
"The man said, 'FREEZE!'" She froze this time, and both kids blinked wide-eyed at the four officers now filling the room. Blair wanted to check the place out, was dying to see if Jim was there, somewhere. But he was a good cop now, and he held his gun on the kids while the Deputy pulled Sean off the girl, then stood them both up in the corner with their hands on their heads while he searched the blankets on which the girl had been lying. Looking up at Simon when he finished, he said, "No weapons."
There was a collective release of tension in the room, and Blair gratefully dropped his own gun back into its holster. He spun around, searching the area for one Sentinel, slightly hard-headed and abrupt at times, missing since three hours ago. Nothing. No Jim, just a few empty liquor bottles, a camping lantern, and two naked teenagers with a pile of dirty blankets. Simon barked over his shoulder at Henri, in the doorway, "Get Connor up here." Henri nodded and was gone. Blair stared as the deputy carefully shook out two blankets, and handed one to each shivering suspect. Sean's..."ardor" had noticeably cooled, and the girl had a tattoo of a butterfly on one breast. They stood there, mouths open--a far cry from the hyenas that had burst into the loft earlier that night.
"Is this them, Blair?" Simon's voice was careful, controlled, his anger barely contained. Blair looked at him, then around the room again, before nodding. His head was throbbing again, and he was still trying to process the fact that Jim wasn't in the room, hadn't been in the hou--unless he was downstairs. Jim was probably completely out of it, that's all; unconscious if *he* was lucky, and maybe they didn't want an audience, so they'd taken Jim downstairs. He turned toward the door, only to be stopped by Simon's hand on his chest. He looked up into gentle eyes.
Oh, that's right, Simon had asked him a question.
"Yeah, they were there," Blair said, shooting the couple a digusted look. "You can't miss her perfume, the loft probably still reeks of it. His name's Sean, and he had a real good time searching Jim's room, and then handcuffing him."
As he finished, Megan hurried into the room, Henri a step behind her. The Australian was slightly out of breath, her face streaked with dust. She was pulling cobwebs from her curly hair. With a guilty glance at Blair, she stepped around in front of Simon.
"Sir, downstairs? We found stereo equipment, electronics, other items, probably stolen." She stopped, caught her lower lip between her teeth for a moment, and flicked another glance at Blair. "There's, um...there's no sign of Jim."
Simon sighed, and turned toward the kids. But Blair was there ahead of him.
"Where is he? What the hell did you do with him?" He yelled, grabbing Sean by the shoulders and pushing him back into the wall. The girl shrieked and fell back, into Megan's grip, but Blair ignored her for now. Sean's eyes were wide, and his Adam's apple bobbed as he gulped for air. But he didn't answer--didn't do anything except maintain a great impersonation of a tiny rabbit in the predator's grip. Putting his face up into the young man's, Blair shoved him up against the wall again and grated out, "Where the hell is my *partner*?"
"Blair!" Hands were pulling at him, and the boy was whimpering in his grasp. Blair fought them off, keeping the pressure on Sean, but there were too many of them, and Henri and Simon practically lifted him off his feet as they pulled him back. Rafferty was there too, prying Blair's fingers loose from the blanket wrapped around the now openly crying young man. Once Sean was free, Simon and Henri dragged Blair back several feet. Off to one side now, Megan had a firm lock on the girl's elbows, while Joel and Rafe stared open-mouthed at the scene from the doorway. Deputy Newhouse could be seen in the hall behind them, peering into the room over their shoulders.
Simon wouldn't let go of Blair, even though Henri had already released him. Blair shot a sullen look at Simon.
"I'm fine, I'm *cool*, all right? Geez. I'm cool, I'm cool! Let me go already."
There was a long silence as Simon stared sternly at Blair. Blair stared back until the Captain sighed and let go, turning to face Sean. Blair shrugged, resettling his jacket on his shoulders, and took a couple of steps away from Banks. Then it was his turn to glare at Sean--who wouldn't or couldn't face him, turning his face into the wall as he sobbed. Rafferty cast a sympathetic look their way, but Blair wasn't sure if it was for him or his Captain. Then the deputy stepped back, leaving Simon a clear path to the boy. Taking a moment to adjust his glasses, Simon stood up to his full height before addressing Sean.
"My detective did ask you a question, young man. I'd suggest you answer it."
All they got was more sobs from the boy, as he closed his eyes and slowly sank to his knees. Simon sighed, and suddenly the girl spoke up.
"Shit, Sean, put a sock in it! All you gotta do is tell them what they want and they'll leave you alone. That's how these things work. I can't believe you're so stupid." Jerking her arm from Megan's grasp, she stepped forward and fixed her gaze on Simon. "Look, the stuff they took is in the corner there." One black-tipped finger pointed the corner out. "It's all there, all of it. The computer and everything. Now can we go?"
Dead silence in the room. She had to be kidding.
Turning to her, Simon smiled. If the girl had known him better, she wouldn't have looked half so cocky. Blair found a grim satisfaction in anticipating her reaming.
"And you are?" Simon asked. Encouraged by his gentle tone of voice, completely missing the steel beneath his enquiry, the girl smiled and shifted under her blanket so one white shoulder gleamed in the lantern light. Someone snorted, but it wasn't Blair.
"Yolanda. Yolanda Burke." Her smile grew. "The stuff's all there, Captain. I promise."
"Ah. Thank you. I'm sure Detective Sandburg appreciates the care you took with his belongings. But, Miss Burke, there is still this little matter of my missing detective."
Yolanda blinked. Her eyes flickered over to where Sean had controlled his sobs, but was still gasping for air. He managed to glare at her, but she just made a face at him. Then she turned back to Simon.
"I'm sorry," she simpered, the blanket slipping further from her shoulder, "I really don't know anything at all about him. Sean and I were just here to, you know..." She smiled again, and this time there was more than one snort.
Blair took half a step toward her, but Henri's hand on his elbow stopped him. Blair shot a glare over his shoulder at his fellow detective, but Henri simply shook his head briefly. Dammit, the wench was lying through her teeth! But Henri was right, and Simon was in control here.
"Miss, not only were you seen driving my missing detective's stolen truck, we have an eyewitness who places you at the scene of a kidnapping, a kidnapping that involves a highly decorated police officer. I suggest you drop the innocent act before you're in any deeper than you already are. I assure you, I am quite resistant to your..." Simon hesitated, then his teeth flashed as he grimaced toward her. He continued, "Your charms. Your interests would be better served if you cooperated--"
"I told you, I don't know," Yolanda cut in stridently. "I didn't have anything to do with any of this. Look, my dad is--"
"Miss, I don't give a rat's ass who your dad is," Simon snarled at her. Yolanda blinked again, and then took a step backward as he advanced toward her. "I am a police captain with a missing detective, a detective last seen in the company of, among others, you and your friend here. Now if you have anything further to add to your comments so far, I'd suggest you do so, NOW."
Mouth agape, she stared at him. She gathered the blanket up over her shoulder, and looked around the room for sympathy. Finding none, her gaze returned to Simon. Her brow wrinkled in confusion.
"But, the stuff we took is *right* there and--"
Every head swiveled toward Sean, still huddled on the floor. Again, Blair found himself restrained by Henri's hand, and again, though he returned Blair's glare with sympathy, the bald detective refused to let go. No one said anything, and, Sean shifted uncomfortably under the combined weight of their attention. Shooting a quick glance at Blair, he stared off into the darkness.
"The quarry, the old gravel quarry," he said again.
"The one Chalmer's son tried to start up?" Rafferty asked, taking a step forward and kneeling beside Sean. Gulping audibly, Sean nodded.
"There's a shooting range there now. Derek, and Moe, we set it up. Yolanda and me...uh...we were supposed to meet them there after, after..." his gaze flicked over toward Yolanda--Yolanda, who, if looks could kill, would be sent up on murder charges right now.
"You stupid little shi--" she started, but Megan's abrupt tug on her arm put a stop to whatever else she had to say.
"You know where this quarry is?" It was Simon's turn to ask as he looked toward Rafferty.
The deputy nodded up at the taller man.
"It's at the back of the property, a mile or so from here. The driveway extends past the house, on up the valley, straight to the quarry. Neighbors down the road complained about the noise and dust, he had to shut it down." His gaze settled on Henri, before coming back to Simon. "It makes sense, since your man saw both vehicles turn in and the other one isn't here now. We know they didn't go back out the way we came."
Blair couldn't believe they were just standing around and talking. It was one long step over toward Simon before he grabbed his elbow.
"Well, c'mon, then, let's go! What are we wasting time here for? We can take Jim's truck and they'll think we're Miss America and John Wayne here and we can be right in the middle of them before--"
Simon's gentle grip on his arm stopped Blair as he headed for the door. Still holding onto Blair, Simon focused on the shivering boy in front of them.
"What were they planning to do, son?" Sean didn't say anything, just shivered again. "Son?" Simon asked, his voice velvet steel.
"Don't you dare, Sean, you shut up, you shut up, NOW!" Yolanda screeched, before Megan got her in a headlock with one hand over her mouth. Joel moved over, ostensibly to offer backup, but Megan had the girl well in hand.
"Derek..." Staring at Yolanda, struggling in Megan's grip, Sean paused, and swallowed. Then, refusing to look in their eyes, he continued, his voice barely above a whisper. "He wanted...the old man, he begged before he died. He was just a bum, someone Moe and Derek found out on the streets one night. And then there was this girl...Derek thought a cop would be tougher, he thought...he wanted..." Every eye was on him, and no one was breathing. "He thought a cop would be fun..he wanted to make a cop beg, he wanted to see what it was like to...to off a cop. He's been planning this for a couple of weeks, he wanted you." Sean's gaze flicked over to Blair before he said, "He thought you'd be easier to get. But then your partner was there and--"
"Megan, you and Joel stay here, Miranda these two and get them down to lock up. The rest of you are with me."
Blair was already halfway down the stairs as Simon issued his orders, Rafferty and his deputy at his heels. Seconds later, the men burst out of the house. Rafferty and his deputy started off towards the road, but Blair grabbed Rafferty's coatsleeve as Simon, Rafe, and Henri erupted from the house behind them.
"Jim's truck, if the keys are in it, we can take it, and he'll think we're those two, coming up to meet them," he repeated. Blair didn't wait to see if Rafferty was coming with him, he ran for Jim's truck and jumped in, reaching down to the left side to check for the keys. Yes! They were in. Rafferty joined him in the cab, and the truck lurched as the other four policemen landed in the bed of the truck.
"Where to?" Blair asked, and Rafferty opened his mouth to reply when they all heard it: Not one, but two gunshots, echoing in the distance.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Continued in Part Three...