New Arrivals
Author-Kim Jackson
Titles

The Dangers of Chicago
Part One
by Kim Jackson

Summary: Jim and Blair are in Chicago for a police seminar. Jim meets an old friend who has an unusual secret, and someone is out to kill Blair. Crossover with Early Edition. Rated R for language and violence.

Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters don’t belong to me, unfortunately. I’m just borrowing them.

Eight-year-old Jimmy Ellison sat forlornly in the lobby of the Mead Corporation building. His shoulders were slumped dejectedly as he kicked his feet back and forth. When his father had invited him to go with him on his business trip to Chicago, he thought they were going to spend time together seeing the sights of the city, but he’d been wrong. They’d been here for three days and all Jimmy had seen so far was the hotel and the lobby of this building as he waited for his father to finish his numerous business meetings.

Jimmy sighed. He didn’t know why he thought things would be different. He had never really been close to his father especially not since his mother and father broke up.

William Ellison was a hard, stoic businessman who worked hard to support his family. The problem was he never had time to spend with his boys. Not that he tried. William Ellison was not a caring and loving father. He would rather do work in his study or go to a business meeting than play catch with his sons.

Jimmy ran his hand through his hair as he leaned back in the chair. He didn’t even know why his father had even taken him with him. He almost wished that he had stayed in Cascade with his little brother, Stevie, who hadn’t been able to come because he had the flu and was being taken care of by Sally, their housekeeper.

Finally, Jimmy had enough of sitting there. This was the third time he was forced to sit in the lobby and wait while his father went to another business meeting, and he was tired of it. He got up from his seat and casually strolled out the front door. He had seen a park across the street and decided to go take a walk over there.

Walking across the street after checking for traffic, he saw all the people enjoying the sunny Chicago weather, couples walking hand-in-hand, joggers following an asphalt path, children playing, and people having picnics in the open area.

Jimmy suddenly felt extremely alone. Walking over to a park bench along the jogging path, he sat down and stared down at his feet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Little Gary Hobson was very excited to be in Chicago. Coming from a small town like Hickory, Indiana, he was excited to be in a big city like Chicago, but what he was most eager about was Navy Pier. Ever since his friend had returned from his vacation in the Windy City and told him all about the amusement park, he had been desperately wanting to see it. He had begged his parents to take him, and eventually they agreed to take him to Chicago for a week’s vacation.

They had arrived in Chicago just that morning, and Gary had wanted to go to Navy Pier first thing, but his mother thought it might be fun to have a picnic in the park down the street from the hotel first. Gary had grudgingly agreed.

Gary sat in the grass and watched his parents unfold a blanket and lay it on the ground. Having nothing to do, he began to get bored. He grabbed his football and got to his feet.

“Mommy, daddy, can I go play?” he asked.

Lois Hobson looked at her five-year-old son and then at her husband, Bernie, who nodded. “Um, well. Ok, honey, but don’t stray too far.”

“I won’t, mommy.”

Gary walked through the park, throwing the football up in the air and catching it. It wasn’t much more fun than watching his parents set up the picnic area. It would be better if he had someone to play with.

As Gary walked, he noticed a boy a few years older than him sitting all alone on a park bench, his head hanging low. Gary thought he looked sad and lonely. Feeling sorry for him, Gary decided to engage him. He ran toward the boy but stopped when he looked up at him with pale blue eyes.

“Hi,” Gary said hesitantly.

“Hi.”

“I just saw you sitting here and thought you might like to play catch with me.” Gary held up the football.

The boy’s face lit up into a big smile. “Sure!” he exclaimed happily, hopping off the bench.

“Great! I’m Gary Hobson.”

“Jimmy Ellison.”

“Do you know how to play football?” Gary asked curiously as the two boys walked to an open space in the park.

“Yeah. I play on a team.”

“Really?” Gary seemed pretty intrigued by this. “I don’t play many sports, but I hope to someday. Maybe be on a team, a football team, but right now I just like to play catch with my dad.”

Jimmy stopped walking, the smile disappearing from his face. “You play catch with your dad?”

“Yeah, but he’s helping Mom. But we can play.”

Gary didn’t seem to notice the sad expression that had returned to Jimmy’s face. He wished just once his dad would play catch with him. Pushing those sad thoughts to the back of his mind, he hurried to catch up with Gary. Standing a fair distance from each other, they began to throw the ball back and forth.

“So do you live here in Chicago?”

“No, I’m from Cascade, Washington. I’m just here with my dad on a business trip.”

“Your dad’s here? Where is he?”

“He’s in that building over there,” Jimmy replied, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the tall building behind him. “He’s in a business meeting.”

“Oh.” Gary noticed the disappointment that flashed across Jimmy’s face for a brief moment and decided to change the subject. “Well, I’m not from around here either. I’m from Hickory, Indiana. I’m here on vacation with my parents. Have you been to Navy Pier yet?”

Jimmy caught the ball thrown to him and looked down at it, spinning it in his hands. That had been one of the places he’d been looking forward to visiting.

“Jimmy? You ok?” Gary asked.

Jimmy looked up at the dark haired boy, his mud puddle green eyes filled with concern and sympathy. Jimmy pasted a smile on his face. He nodded and threw the ball back.

“Yeah, and no, I haven’t been to Navy Pier yet.”

More disappointment and sadness, Gary noticed, and it seemed to Gary that Jimmy didn’t have very many happy times in his life. Gary was determined to change that.

“Well, I’m going there later today. Maybe you can go with us,” Gary suggested.

“I don’t think my dad would go for that.”

Gary’s face fell. “Oh. Well, we’re going to have lunch in a little while. Maybe you can have lunch with us then.”

Jimmy smiled. That he could probably do. It would probably be at least another hour before his father got out of his meeting. He might have time to have lunch.

“Ok.”

“All right!” Gary exclaimed excitedly.

Silence fell between them as they continued throwing the football back and forth. Then Jimmy tilted his head to the side as if he were listening to something and then looked back at Gary.

“Are those your parents?” he asked, pointing at the couple sitting on a blanket in a patch of shade across the park.

“Yeah. How did you know that?”

Jimmy’s eyes widened momentarily as he realized he had inadvertently used his special abilities. He quickly regained his composure and shrugged nonchalantly.

“Just a lucky guess.”

“Good guess. Hey,” Gary ran forward, ball in hand, “bet you can’t throw this through that tire swing over there.” He pointed at a tire hanging from a tree limb by a thick rope.

Jimmy hesitated a moment and then smiled. “Bet I could.”

“Oh yeah. Prove it,” Gary challenged, holding up the ball.

Jimmy grinned, took the ball, and turned toward the tire swing. Focusing his sight on the tire, he threw the ball on a perfect arc, landing it through the middle of the tire.

“Wow! How did you do that?” Gary exclaimed, awed.

Jimmy just shrugged modestly. Gary ran to fetch the ball. Returning quickly, he thrust the ball in Jimmy’s hands.

“Do it again!” he urged.

Not wanting to disappoint his new friend, Jimmy complied, throwing the ball perfectly through the tire for the second time in a row. Gary clapped delightfully. Retrieving the ball, Gary asked Jimmy to do it again, requesting he take a few steps back this time. Gary continued doing that, each time asking Jimmy to take a few steps back, and each time Jimmy made the throw perfectly.

Gary was awed. He couldn’t understand how Jimmy could throw so perfectly each and every time and from so far away. It was amazing. He had never seen anything like it.

“Amazing! How do you do it?”

Jimmy shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes I can just see and hear things that no one else can. That’s how I knew they were your parents. I could hear them talking about you.”

“Wow! Can you do anything else?”

“Well, I can smell things from really far away, and sometimes things taste funny and feel weird.”

Gary’s eyes were round. “Really? Can you tell what we’re having for lunch?”

Jimmy tilted his head to the side and took a sniff of the air. “Smells like bologna sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and potato chips.”

“You’re right! That’s awesome!” Gary chirped.

“Really? You…you don’t think I’m a freak?” Jimmy asked self-consciously.

“No. Why would I think that?” Gary asked, puzzled.

Jimmy lowered his eyes. “Because what I can do isn’t normal.”

“No,” Gary agreed, “but that’s what makes you special. Being special is good. I would love to be able to do what you can do. I think it’s the most amazing thing in the world.”

Jimmy looked up, a smile slowly forming on his face. Gary patted him on the shoulder.

“C’mon. Do something else,” Gary urged excitedly.

“What?”

“I don’t know. Oh, wait! I have an idea!”

Gary and Jimmy spent the next half hour playing around with Jimmy’s senses. Gary got so excited every time Jimmy used his senses he’d clap his hands and practically jump up and down in delight. Jimmy was just glad to be accepted and not viewed as some sort of freak of nature. It was the most fun he had ever had.

Their fun was cut short, however, as Gary’s parents declared lunchtime. Running over to where his parents sat, Gary introduced his new friend.

“Hello Jimmy. I’m Lois and this is Bernie.”

“Hey kiddo,” Bernie greeted.

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am, sir,” Jimmy said politely.

“Oh, such a gentleman,” Lois said, impressed.

Jimmy’s cheeks reddened in embarrassment.

“Mommy, Daddy, can Jimmy eat with us?” Gary asked.

“Well sure. Have a seat, boys,” Bernie said.

The two boys sat down on the blanket enthusiastically and accepted the sandwiches given to them.

“So Jimmy, are you from here in Chicago?” Lois asked.

Jimmy shook his head as he took a bite out of his sandwich. “No,” he answered after swallowing. “Cascade, Washington.”

“How long are you here for?” Bernie asked.

“Not long, I don’t think.” Jimmy’s head suddenly tilted to the side, and his face became worried. “Uh oh.”

“What?” Lois asked.

“My dad’s out of his business meeting. If he finds out I’m gone, I’ll be in big trouble. I gotta go.” He jumped up from the blanket, leaving his partially eaten sandwich behind.

“It was nice meeting you, Jimmy,” Lois called.

“It was nice meeting you too, Mr. and Mrs. Hobson. Thanks for lunch,” Jimmy called back as he rushed across the park.

“Jimmy! Wait!” Gary yelled, running after him. Jimmy stopped and turned back to face Gary. “I had fun today.”

Jimmy smiled. “Me too.”

“Here. Take this.” Gary thrust the football into Jimmy’s hands. At Jimmy’s puzzled expression, Gary explained. “To remember me by. To remember this day.”

Jimmy clutched the ball tightly as if he was going to take it away at any minute. “Thanks Gary.”

Gary nodded. “I hope we meet again someday.”

“Me too. Bye Gary.”

“Bye Jimmy.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Present

Jim Ellison, detective and Sentinel of the Great City, stood in the kitchen of the loft cooking a hurried breakfast of bacon and eggs.

“Get a move on, Sandburg. You got twenty minutes to eat your breakfast. We have to be at the airport by 7:00.”

Blair Sandburg, anthropologist and Guide, shuffled out of his bedroom, buttoning his jeans. “Alright already, Jim. Hold your horses,” he said as he sat down at the kitchen table. “You know the seminar doesn’t start for a few days. Why do we have to leave right now?”

“I thought you’d want to have some time to see the city,” Jim replied, dumping the bacon and eggs onto a plate.

“Well, yeah, but why are you so anxious?”

Jim brought the plate over to the table and set it down in front of his partner. “No reason. Eat.”

After making sure his partner was eating, Jim headed up the stairs to his loft bedroom.

A few days before, Captain Simon Banks, Jim’s boss and friend, announced that Jim and Blair were to attend a police seminar in Chicago. Jim had tried to get out of it, but truth be told, he wanted to go to Chicago. The minute Simon had mentioned the Windy City it got Jim to thinking about the five-year-old boy he had met there, Gary Hobson. He hadn’t thought about him in years. Actually, he hadn’t really remembered him until Simon had mentioned Chicago. Now he couldn’t stop thinking about him.

Sitting on his bed, Jim grabbed his hiking boots and started putting them on. As he was tying them, he caught sight of his football sitting on his dresser. He got up from his bed, walked to the dresser, and picked it up. It was pretty old. He’d had it for a long time, nearly thirty years, but it was in surprisingly good condition. It was the same football he’d played catch with Bud with and the same one he and Steven had played with. It was also the same football Gary had given him.

How could he have forgotten Gary Hobson? The day they met had been the best day of Jim’s life. He’d had the most fun that day. It was the first time he’d been treated like a friend rather than a rich boy or a freak, and it was all because of Gary Hobson. The football had even been given to him to help him remember, but he had still forgotten. Although it still offered him comfort even if he didn’t remember why. Whenever he was upset, angry, or scared, it was the first thing he’d grab, and it always made him feel better.

“Jim? Jim?” A hand on his shoulder brought him out of his reveries. He looked over into Blair’s concerned face. He hadn’t even heard him come up the stairs.

“What?”

“You ok? I thought you were zoning there for a second.”

“No. Just thinking.” He put the football back on his dresser and turned toward Blair. “You finished eating?” At Blair’s nod, Jim headed past his partner toward the stairs. “Then let’s go.”

“Aren’t you going to eat?”

“I already ate. Let’s go.”

Puzzled by Jim’s odd behavior, Blair followed him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Arriving in Chicago, they quickly rented a car and headed over to the hotel complete with banquet hall where the seminar would be taking place. After checking in, they headed up to their room, Blair giving Jim curious glances the whole time.

Blair placed his bags on the bed farthest from the door as it had become a ritual that Jim take the bed closest to the door to satisfy the need of the Sentinel to protect his Guide. Watching his friend’s slightly hurried movements, Blair couldn’t keep in his curiosity anymore.

“Ok Jim. What’s with you?”

Jim gave him a puzzled looked. “What do you mean?”

“Why were you so anxious to get to Chicago?”

“Later. C’mon.” Jim walked to the door.

“Where are we going?” Blair asked, following him out into the hall.

“Someplace I want to see."

Blair sighed. He was getting annoyed at Jim’s evasiveness.

Half an hour later, they were pulling up next to one of the few green parks in Chicago. His curiosity rising, Blair got out of the car and followed Jim as he walked across the park toward a park bench along a jogging path. Jim stopped and stared at the bench, and Blair couldn’t keep quiet anymore.

“All right Jim. Why are we here?” Jim didn’t answer. “C’mon man. Talk to me.”

Jim sighed and sat down on the bench.

Blair sat next to him. “Bad?”

“No, actually something good.”

“Then tell me.”

Jim stared down at his hands for a while. Blair thought he wasn’t going to answer until he started speaking.

“I’ve only ever been to Chicago once. When I was eight, my dad went on a business trip here, and he took me along. I was excited. I thought we were going to spend some time together. We didn’t and all I got to do was sit in the lobby while my dad went to his business meetings.

“On the third day, I got tired of it and went across the street to the park, this park. Sat down on this bench. And that’s when this kid comes along—not too much younger than I was, maybe five or six—and asks me if I wanted to play catch. I don’t know why, but I felt so happy. Accepted. He was so excitable and so in tuned with others’ feelings, almost empathic, kind of like you. He seemed to know right away that I was upset and tried his hardest to cheer me up.

“We spent the whole afternoon playing and talking. It was so much fun especially after he found out about my senses. He got so excited. Kept asking me to do things. I think it was the first time I actually had fun using my senses. You know what he told me? He said that my senses are what make me special and that being special was good.”

“Sounds like a smart kid,” Blair said, “So what ever happened to him?”

“I don’t know. I never saw him again. My dad got mad that I had wandered off. We left that same day. He did give me his football though.”

“You mean the one you were holding this morning?”

Jim nodded, looking solemn.

“If this is a good memory, why the long face?” Blair asked.

“Because I didn’t remember,” Jim mumbled.

“What?”

“I forgot. I forgot him. I forgot that day. I didn’t remember until Simon mentioned Chicago.” Jim sighed as he leaned back against the bench. “You know I don’t get it. It was a happy memory, one of the few I have. Nothing traumatic happened. He even gave me that football to help me remember. So why did I still forget?”

“Well, you used your senses a lot that day, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, when your dad basically called you a freak when you were ten, you couldn’t handle that so you not only repressed your senses, you repressed any memory associated with them, and that would include that one.”

“Yeah, that makes sense, I guess,” Jim said, nodding.

“So what do you want to do now?” Blair asked, changing the subject.

Jim shrugged, looking sheepish. “To tell you the truth, I hadn’t really planned anything else.”

“C’mon, man. There’s got to be something in Chicago that you want to see.”

“Well,” Jim began, “I’ve always wanted to see Navy Pier.”

Blair stared at him, his eyebrows raised. “Navy Pier? The badass detective, Jim Ellison, wants to go see Navy Pier. And people call me kid.”

“Very funny, Junior,” Jim said, cuffing the younger man in the back of the head.

“Hey, I was kidding. I’ve always wanted to see Navy Pier too. C’mon.”

They spent the rest of the day seeing the sights of the city: the field Museum, the Sears Tower, and the Museum of Science and Industry, to name a few. Then around 5:30 p.m., they dropped the car off at the hotel and decided to take a walk and maybe find someplace to eat dinner.

“What about here?” Jim asked as they came upon a fast food restaurant.

“Burger King? What are you, kidding? That’s even worse than Wonderburger.”

Jim sighed. He was beginning to get annoyed. They had walked about five blocks and had passed at least seven different restaurants, all of which Blair had shot down.

“Chief, that’s the 8th restaurant we’ve passed. Will you just pick a place?”

“Fast food restaurants. They don’t count. I am not eating in a place that serves grease and fat in the place of food.”

Jim rolled his eyes. “Chief, I’m hungry. Now the next restaurant we come across we are stopping there. No arguments.”

Blair glared at Jim, which he ignored as he walked on ahead. When he came upon the next restaurant, Jim stopped in his tracks and stared, mouth agape. It was a health food restaurant. Jim groaned.

“All right. Now this is my kind of restaurant,” Blair said, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

“No. I am not eating there,” Jim said, shaking his head.

“Oh, come on, big guy. You said yourself. The next restaurant we come to we stop. No arguments,” Blair said, smiling smugly.

“I didn’t mean this. This is a restaurant for rabbits. I’m not a rabbit. I’m not eating here.”

“I thought you were hungry.”

“I am, but…”

“Hotdogs! Get your hotdogs here!”

Both men turned their heads at the interruption to see a hotdog vendor standing at the corner. They looked at each other and smiled, both thinking the same thing. They went and bought hotdogs.

On the way back to the hotel, Blair stopped in front of a convenience store.

“Hold up, man. I need to buy some things. I’ll meet up with you back at the hotel.”

“Are you sure? I could come with.”

“Jim, I’m a big boy. I can shop by myself,” Blair said sarcastically, smiling.

Jim gave a playful swipe towards Blair’s head, which the younger man ducked to avoid.

“I’ll see you at the hotel, man,” Blair said, laughing.

“Ok, but don’t be too long.”

Blair shook his head at his Sentinel’s overprotective nature. It was nice to have someone care about him enough to bother, but sometimes it just got on his nerves. Besides, he didn’t want Jim to know that he had forgotten to pack deodorant. He would never hear the end of it. It was Jim’s fault anyway. The man was in such a hurry he practically pushed the young man out the door, and he didn’t have time to make sure he had everything.

Entering the store, Blair heard a bell chime as he opened the door. He waved politely to the clerk as he passed and headed down an aisle to where the deodorant was kept. It was only 6:00 p.m., but the store was completely void of customers.

Looking at the different kinds of deodorants, Blair quickly picked one and was heading back towards the counter when he heard the bell chime, signaling another customer coming in. Blair didn’t think anything of it at first. Until…

“Open up the cash register, and don’t try anything.”

Blair froze mid-stride. Stifling a groan, he quietly made his way to the end of the aisle and carefully peered around the corner. A burly man stood in front of the counter, holding a gun on the clerk, who was frantically stuffing money into a sack. Dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt, the muscular man stood tall. Unlike the clerk, he didn’t seem nervous. He didn’t even seem interested in the money.

Blair sighed. Couldn’t he buy some deodorant without getting into trouble? Obviously not. After all, he was the illustrious trouble magnet. Ok, he had to do something. Taking a deep breath, he stepped out of the aisle and slowly approached the robber.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gary Hobson, bar owner and receiver of tomorrow’s newspaper today, ran down the street as fast as he could. He stopped at a street corner to catch his breath, taking the time to check the paper and make sure he got all the details right. He quickly scanned the pages, locating the right article.

CONVENIENCE STORE ROBBERY LEAVES ONE DEAD At approximately 6:05 p.m. yesterday evening, an attempted robbery took place at the convenience store on State Street. While attempting to talk the robber down, 29-year-old Blair Sandburg, visiting police observer from Cascade, Washington, was shot point blank in the chest. He was taken to County General Hospital where he was pronounced dead after hours of surgery.

Gary folded the paper and looked at his watch. 6:02. There was no way he was going to make it there to stop the guy from going into the store. Gary groaned. Why does the paper always cut these things so damn close?

Gary sighed. Well, if he could get there in time to stop the guy from shooting that Sandburg guy, everything will be ok. Now all he had to do was find something to help him do that. Looking around, he spotted a group of kids coming toward him, one of them holding a baseball bat. He ran toward the kids, grabbed the bat, and continued down the street, ignoring the kid’s protests.

Gary raced down the street, hoping that he made it in time. When he reached the store, he saw that the guy was already inside, holding a gun on the clerk behind the counter, and a young man with long, curly brown hair, whom Gary assumed was Blair Sandburg, was walking towards him with his hands held up in front of him in a placating manner.

Gary took a deep breath, gripping the bat tightly. He put his hand on the door and pushed, holding the bat ready. His heart sank when he heard a bell chime and saw the robber turn around to aim the gun at him instead. Gary swung the bat at that point, hitting the robber in the forearm and causing him to drop his gun. Gary smiled. His victory was short-lived, however, as the man suddenly slammed into him, pinning him to the wall. Hands encircled his neck, and he suddenly found he couldn’t breathe. He frantically clawed at the guy’s hands, but his strength was quickly leaving him as black spots danced in front of his eyes.

Gary felt consciousness slipping away when his attacker’s eyes widened in surprise and pain, his grip loosened, and he fell to the ground. Gary slid to the ground, dragging in great gulping breaths of precious oxygen and rubbing his bruised neck. When he looked up, he saw Blair Sandburg standing there holding the bat Gary had dropped.

“Whoa,” Blair whispered. He looked almost in shock. Slowly lowering the bat, he put two fingers to the guy’s neck to check for a pulse, sighing in relief when he found one. He then turned to Gary. “You alright?”

Not trusting his voice at the moment, Gary just nodded, still messaging his neck.

“Here. Let me help you up,” Blair said, offering his hand. Gary accepted gratefully.

“Thanks,” Gary rasped.

“No, thank you. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t come along. I’m Blair Sandburg.”

“Gary Hobson.”

“Oh, here’s your bat back. Lucky you had it.”

Gary forced a smile as he accepted the bat. Yeah, lucky. He was going to have to make a note to find that kid and give his bat back. Sirens suddenly filled the air. Gary sighed. At least he wouldn’t have to field any questions from the long-haired man. Of course, now he would have to answer to the police, which could sometimes be worse depending on who answered the call.

“Well, cavalry’s here.” Blair paused as he surveyed the scene. “Jim’s going to kill me,” he murmured.

Gary raised a questioning eyebrow. What did that mean?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After Blair finished giving his statement to a uniformed officer, he made his way through the numerous police cars to the ambulance where his savior sat on the back bumper. He had tried to quietly slip away in the chaos, but Blair had grabbed his arm and dragged him along, convincing him to get checked out. He had consented rather reluctantly to allow the paramedics to examine him. His indignation showed clearly on his face.

“How are you doing?”

“Better,” Gary replied, wincing at the pain speaking caused.

“Hurts to talk, huh?” Blair asked as he sat down on the bumper next to Gary.

Gary nodded.

“Know how that feels. I’ve been strangled a time or two.”

Gary raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“One of the dangers of being a cop’s partner,” Blair explained, seeing Gary’s expression.

Silence fell as Blair replayed the scene in the convenience store in his mind. He had known that he wouldn’t be able to talk the guy down. He hadn’t even seemed very interested in the money. He had seemed more interested in Blair, which was strange and more than a little unnerving. Then in came Gary, wielding a baseball bat, and totally knocked the guy for a loop. It hadn’t exactly gone as Gary had planned, Blair was sure, but it ended well though. There was one thing that still bothered the young grad student though.

“Gary, can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“What were you doing with a baseball bat anyway?”

“Uh…w-well…” Gary stammered. He seemed very flustered for such a simple question.

“That’s what I’d like to know.”

Both men looked up to see a dark-haired woman walking towards them.

“Brigatti,” Gary said.

“Hobson, why am I not surprised to see you here. You want to answer the question?”

“Well, you see, I-I was on my way home from a-a baseball game with some friends.”

“Right.” She crossed her arms across her chest. “At 6:00 in the evening?” She didn’t seem convinced.

“So we played late,” Gary said with a shrug.

“Uh huh. Hobson, why is it that every time there’s trouble I run into you?”

“I-I was just in the right place…” Gary began.

“At the right time, uh huh. You always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Why is that?”

Blair really didn’t like where this conversation was going. He stood and moved in between Brigatti and Gary. “Hey, lay off.”

“Who are you?” Brigatti asked, looking him up and down.

“Blair Sandburg, police observer. I also happened to be the one he saved in there. So back off.”

“Well I’m Detective Brigatti, and I’m just asking him a few questions,” she said defensively.

“That’s not what it sounded like to me,” Blair said, his voice strained as he tried to keep his anger in check. “It sounded like you were implying that he had something to do with this.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to. You implied it perfectly well. Look, it doesn’t matter why he was here or even why he had the bat. What matters is that he was here to stop that guy, and you are not going to interrogate him.”

Brigatti kept her face carefully controlled. She was almost as stoic as Jim could be, but Blair could still tell she didn’t like his little outburst.

“Is there a problem here?”

Jim came to stand next to Blair, but the young man was still staring at the female detective.

Brigatti looked at Jim. “Who are you?”

“Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade, Washington Police,” Jim said, producing his badge. Putting the badge back into his pocket, he looked at his partner. “You alright, Chief?”

“Fine.” He didn’t take his eyes off Brigatti.

“What’s going on?”

“Detective Brigatti here is trying to blame Gary for all this.”

“No, I wasn’t! I was just asking Hobson a few questions!” Brigatti yelled.

Jim looked at the dark-haired man sitting on the bumper of the ambulance looking amused and amazed not only at the confrontation between the fiery detective and the young grad student but also at the sudden appearance of the Cascade detective. A smile slowly formed on his face, and Jim gave him a smile and nod in return before turning his attention back to Brigatti.

“So what were you trying to find out?” Jim asked.

“Just what happened here.”

“That’s not what it sounded like to me.”

“Look, I was just trying to find out how he always seems to be in the middle of things. Every time there’s trouble he seems to find it.”

“That just makes him a trouble magnet, and last I looked that’s not a crime. As my partner so eloquently put it, what matters is that he was here to prevent disaster. What do you care how he did it?”

Brigatti narrowed her eyes. She looked ready to argue, but apparently changed her mind as she turned back to Gary. “We’ll talk later, Hobson.” And then she was gone.

Blair shook his head as he watched her go. “Man I hate people like that. They think they know everything, and then when they’re proven wrong, they lash out.” When Jim didn’t answer, he turned to look at him. Jim was staring at Gary, and Gary, Blair saw, was staring right back. Both had expressions of amazement and joy.

“Gary Hobson.”

“Jimmy Ellison. Or is it Jim now?”

“Yeah. Not many people call me Jimmy anymore.”

They gave each other a big, hearty hug, slapping each other on the back and laughing.

“I can’t believe it! It’s so good to see you!” Gary exclaimed as they pulled away.

“Yeah, you too. What are the odds that we’d meet here again?” Jim said.

“I take it you know each other,” Blair stated.

“Oh sorry, Chief. Yeah, this is Gary Hobson. He’s the one I was telling you about.”

“Oh. You’re him. It’s nice to meet you. Jim’s told me so much about you, although he neglected to tell me your name.” Blair shook Gary’s hand, giving Jim a mock glare. Jim just shrugged, a sheepish look on his face. Blair just rolled his eyes.

Gary smiled at their by-play. “Well, it’s nice to meet you too, Blair. I’m glad you’re alright.”

“Yeah, you too.”

Jim, as if just noticing Gary’s injuries, gripped the young barkeep’s chin, tilting his head back to get a better look at the bruises encircling his neck.

“Are you alright? What happened?”

“It’s nothing. I’m fine. The guy just got a little rough.”

“Let me see.”

Gary endured Jim’s scrutiny, casting sidelong glances at Blair.

Blair leaned close to Gary and whispered, “Don’t mind him. He does this a lot with people he cares about. You should feel honored. He rarely shows this side of him. Although he often becomes the mother hen from hell.”

Jim glared at Blair who smiled innocently back. Jim returned his attention to Gary’s neck, shaking his head in amusement.

“It doesn’t look too bad,” Jim said, releasing Gary’s chin. “So what are you doing here? I thought you lived in Indiana.”

“I did. I moved out here when I was 18. What about you?”

“We’re here for a police seminar.”

“Which is probably going to be really boring. Hey, do you think we can use this whole robbery thing to get out of it?” Blair asked hopefully.

“Nope. Sorry Chief. Nothing short of us being in the hospital will get us out.”

“Damn. Although…” Blair’s voice trailed off, raising his eyebrows as if he were considering the idea.

“Don’t even think about it,” Jim said, seeing the look on his partner’s face.

Blair laughed, throwing up his hands in a ward off gesture. “I’m kidding. I’m kidding. You think I want to spend more time in the hospital than I already have? No thank you.”

“Very funny, Junior,” Jim said indignantly, giving Blair a gentle swipe to the back of his head. Turning to Gary, he asked, “So Gary, got any free time?”

“When?”

“Now.”

“Yeah. We don’t have any plans. We were just going to head back to the hotel,” Blair said.

“Uh, well. One second.” Gary stepped away from them, took out what looked to be a newspaper, and started leafing through it.

Jim and Blair traded puzzled glances.

After a few minutes, he came back and said, “Yeah, I have some time.”

Jim and Blair continued to stare at him questioningly. When it became obvious that Gary wasn’t going to offer any explanation, Jim just shrugged and said, “Ok, how about a drink? You know any good places?”

Gary smiled. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A man sat in a dark sedan just down the street from the convenience store, staring disdainfully as the long-haired young man talked with his annoying partner and a dark-haired man. He couldn’t believe the police observer had come out of that damn convenience store unscathed. Then again, he should have known that moron Jacobs would mess things up.

“You got lucky, Mr. Sandburg. But your luck won’t hold out for long.”

Pulling out his cell phone, he dialed a familiar number.

“Mason. Yeah, it’s me. No, Jacobs failed. I want you to go after him. No, forget about making it look like an accident. That didn’t work. Just get it done.”

Snapping the phone closed, he put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim and Blair followed Gary into McGinty’s Bar. They stopped just inside the door and looked around approvingly at the crowded bar.

“Wow. You own this place?” Blair asked.

“Yep.”

“Impressive,” Jim complimented.

“Thanks. Why don’t you guys take that table over there while I get the drinks,” Gary suggested, pointing to an empty table in the back.

Nodding, the sentinel and guide headed towards the empty table while the bar owner went over to the bar. Sitting across from his partner, Jim looked around, impressed that the place was doing so well. He was happy for Gary. He was glad he had such a successful business. Most people from small towns like Hickory wouldn’t be able to make it in a big city like Chicago. Jim was glad Gary wasn’t one of them.

As Jim’s eyes scanned the bar, his gaze settled on Gary, who was standing at the bar waiting for the bartender to finish with a customer and talking to a young black woman sitting at the end of the bar. Judging from the way her fingers moved over the paper in front of her, Jim concluded that she was blind.

Jim’s hearing kicked in at that moment, and he caught the last thing that was said.

“So how did it go?” the young woman asked.

Curious, Jim opened his hearing a little more to listen to their conversation.

“It went fine, Marissa. Just fine,” Gary replied.

“Why don’t I believe you?”

The bartender, a heavy-set man with white hair, finally finished with the customer, approached the two.

“Alright, Hobson. What can I get for…whoa! What happened to you?” the man asked, looking closer at Gary’s neck.

Marissa stood up, a look of worry on her face. “Gary? What is it?”

“He’s got bruises all around his neck,” the man answered.

“Oh my god!”

“I’m fine,” Gary assured them.

“You don’t look fine, Hobson.”

“Crumb, will you just get the drinks, huh? Three beers.”

“Alright. It ain’t none of my business,” Crumb said, backing off. He left to prepare the drinks, leaving Gary and Marissa alone.

“What happened, Gary? Did something go wrong at the convenience store robbery?” Marissa asked.

“Well, n-not exactly. I did manage to stop the guy, but...well, I guess he thought my neck was one of those stress balls and decided to squeeze.”

“Gary, this isn’t funny! You could have been killed! I wish you wouldn’t take so many risks like that.”

“Well, I don’t have much choice, do I? The…”

“Here you go, Hobson. Three beers,” Crumb said, placing three mugs of beer in front of the tavern owner.

“Thanks. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to enjoy my rare free time and entertain some friends.”

Jim turned around in his seat as Gary started gathering their drinks. He was dimly aware of Blair speaking to him, but he was too wrapped up in his thoughts to listen.

He had known. Gary had known about the robbery. Jim had thought it strange that Gary had shown up with a baseball bat, but Jim hadn’t thought anything of it at the time. It was obvious though, that he had come prepared, which begs the question, how did he know? It was obvious that he didn’t want anyone to know, judging from how flustered he got when that Brigatti woman started asking questions. There was no way Jim could think Gary had anything to do with the robbery. He may not have seen him for thirty years, but he still felt he could trust him.

Jim was brought out of his musings when a beer was thrust into his face, causing him to jump and slosh beer on his hand.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to make you jump,” Gary said as he sat down at the table. “You ok? You looked kind of out of it there.”

“I’m fine,” Jim replied as he wiped the beer off his hand and the table with a napkin.

Blair gave him a meaningful look, a silent question behind his blue eyes.

“I’m fine,” Jim assured him. “I was just thinking.”

“Must have been some pretty deep thoughts,” Gary said.

“I was just thinking about the robbery and what could have happened if you hadn’t been there.” Which was partially true.

“Oh. Well, it was just a right place, right time kind of thing.” Gary shrugged, taking a swig of beer.

“Nevertheless. You saved Blair, and I thank you for that.”

“Yeah, thanks, man,” Blair said. “I don’t want to know what could happened if you hadn’t come along.”

“It was no problem.” Gary gave them a strained smile, his cheeks coloring in embarrassment.

Jim could hear his heart speed up and decided to change the subject. “So Gary, what have you been doing with yourself these past thirty years?”

Gary smiled. “Uh, nothing much really. My life isn’t very interesting.”

“Oh come on. It can’t be that bad,” Blair said. “Give us some details. Are you married?”

“No. Not anymore.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“It’s ok. It was a long time ago.”

“What happened? If you don’t mind me asking,” Jim said.

Gary sighed as he ran a hand through his thick, dark hair. “I honestly don’t know. I thought everything was fine. I thought we were happy. Then I come home on our anniversary to find that she’s changed the locks. I call up to her to ask what was going on, and the next thing I know there’s a suitcase flying at my head.”

“Ouch. That’s harsh,” Blair said, giving him sympathetic look.

Gary nodded solemnly. “She wouldn’t talk to me for a while and then I get served with divorce papers.”

“She give you a reason?” Jim asked. He knew how the young man felt. Going through a divorce was painful, but Jim had had an easier time of it. He knew it was coming. Poor Gary got blind-sided by it.

“No,” Gary answered, shaking his head. “And I didn’t ask. On top of that, I quit my job.”

“Why?” Blair asked.

“Well, I was a stockbroker and…”

“Oh, never mind, then,” Blair interrupted.

Gary laughed. “Ok, I admit that it wasn’t a fun job. I didn’t enjoy it, and I only took it so Marcia could go to law school. Since she was divorcing me, I didn’t see any reason to keep it. Besides, I hated that tie, and my boss…well he wasn’t exactly liked.”

“So how does a guy go from being a stockbroker to owning a successful bar?” Blair asked.

“Oh well, that just sort of fell into my lap,” Gary said with a laugh.

“How’s that?” Jim asked.

“Well, the former owner, McGinty, sold the bar while he was drunk so he didn’t get a fair price for it and sold it to a guy planning on knocking down the bar and a few other buildings in the area, including an orphanage, to build a parking structure.”

“What? What kind of man would knock down an orphanage to build a parking structure?” Blair asked in disgust.

“The kind of man who lost his family in a plane crash and basically lost his faith in humanity. He just stopped caring about people.”

“Oh,” Blair muttered, looking at Jim.

Jim returned Blair’s gaze and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He could relate. He didn’t know what he would do if he ever lost Blair like that. The young man had become like a brother to Jim, and there was no way he would be able to handle losing him.

“Anyway, the kids and I had a little talk with him,” Gary continued, “and he decided not to build the parking structure. He gave McGinty a fair price for the bar and then handed it over to me.”

“Just like that? He just gave you the bar?” Jim asked.

“Yep. He said that he had no use for it and that he owed me,” Gary said with a shrug.

“Wow,” Blair whispered.

“So what about you, Jim? You married?” Gary asked.

Jim leaned back in his chair. “Not anymore. We’ve been divorced over two years now.”

“Sorry.”

“No, it’s ok. We’re actually better friends now than we were before.”

“So you’re a cop now, huh?” Gary said conversationally.

Jim nodded. “For about eight years now.”

“How long have you been a detective?”

“I’ve been in Major Crime for five years. I was in Vice before that.” Gary opened his mouth to ask another question, but Jim beat him to it anticipating what he was going to ask next. “I joined the army when I turned eighteen. I moved up in the ranks to become Captain in the Army Rangers as well as Specials Forces and Covert Ops. After a failed mission in Peru, I left the army, moved back to Cascade and became a cop shortly thereafter. Any more questions?”

Gary just shook his head, looking thoughtful. “Failed mission in Peru,” he muttered under his breath. He looked Jim straight in the eyes, his expression serious. “The helicopter crash?”

Jim’s face was stoic, and only Blair noticed the slight clenching of Jim’s jaw. Blair put a hand on Jim’s arm comfortingly. Jim gave him the barest of smiles before returning his gaze to Gary.

“So you heard about that,” Jim said.

Gary nodded grimly. “I read about it in the paper. I was pretty upset to hear that you were presumed dead. I even went to your funeral.”

Jim’s brow furrowed. “They had a funeral for me?”

Gary nodded. “Your father and brother were there too.”

“They were?”

“Yeah, and they looked pretty upset.”

Jim stared at his hands. He couldn’t believe it. They’d had a funeral for him and his father and brother had both been there. Obviously they cared, but then again, if they cared so much why hadn’t they contacted him after he got back from Peru? Why were Jim and Steven reunited only after Jim had accidentally run into his brother at the racetrack after Jim was named Cop of the Year? Why did Jim have to go see his father to find out more about his past in order to solve a murder connected to an incident that happened when Jim was ten? These questions swirled in Jim’s mind until a warm hand squeezed his shoulder gently.

“Hey, you ok?” Blair asked.

Jim looked into the face of his partner and smiled in reassurance. “I’m fine, Chief.”

“I’m sorry, Jim. I didn’t mean to drudge up bad memories,” Gary said.

“It’s fine,” Jim said, waving away the apology.

Silence fell as the three sat companionably, drinking their individual beers.

“So Blair,” Gary broke the silence. “What do you do besides being a police observer?”

Blair took a pull from his beer before answering. “I’m an anthropologist, a grad student, and a TA at Rainier University.”

“So how does an anthropologist get partnered with a police detective?”

Jim and Blair exchanged glances. Blair leaned forward and placed his beer on the table. “I’m working on my doctoral thesis. Jim happens to be my subject.”

Gary seemed to take this at face value as he nodded and took a swig of beer. They talked for anther hour or so about each other’s interests, hobbies, favorite sports, etc., just generally getting to know each other.

“Well,” Jim said, draining the last of his beer. “It’s getting late. I think we should be heading back. We have an early start tomorrow.”

“Oh right. Gotta be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for that seminar,” Blair said sarcastically as pushed himself to his feet.

“What’s with you, Blair? You’re usually chomping at the bit to go to these things.”

“Yeah, when it’s interesting. Not when they have the most boring guy in the world speaking.”

“Ah, you must be talking about Dr. Paul Abrams,” Jim said knowingly.

“Who else?”

Gary raised his eyebrows and looked at Jim questioningly.

“Paul Abrams was the speaker at the last seminar we attended,” Jim explained. “He put almost everyone in the room to sleep. I’m not kidding.”

Gary’s eyebrows rose even higher into his hairline. “Wow. He must be extremely boring.”

“He has the most monotonous voice I’ve ever heard. I don’t know why they keep asking him to come back.” Blair said, running his hand through his unruly curls.

“Because he’s got good information to share,” Jim answered.

“Yeah, but no one can get that information because they can’t stay awake long enough to listen.”

Jim laughed, clapping his partner on the back. “All right, Chief. That’s enough. It’s time to go. Gary, it’s been fun.”

“Yeah, it was nice meeting you,” Blair said.

“You too.”

Jim gripped Blair’s shoulders and steered him toward the door, Gary following close behind. They stopped just before the door.

“Listen,” Jim said, turning to the young bar owner, “the seminar goes until 4:00 p.m. tomorrow. After that, we’re wide open. Maybe we can do something.”

“Uh, well, I don’t know. I might have some things I might have to do tomorrow. I’ll let you know. What hotel are you staying at?”

After giving Gary their hotel and room number the sentinel and guide left.

Back at the hotel, Blair tugged on Jim’s shoulder as the older man was heading toward the bathroom, bringing him to a halt. “Hey Jim. At the convenience store, the robber, he…well...he seemed very interested in me.”

“What do you mean?”

“It was almost as if he was watching me, waiting for me to make a move. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being paranoid. It just unnerved me a bit.”

Jim saw the slight shudder that racked the small frame. He put a gentle hand on the young man’s shoulder and lifted his chin up so they were looking into each other’s eyes.

“Calm down, Chief. The guy’s in jail. He can’t get to you. Now all we have to do is get through this seminar, and then we can head home. You ok?” Jim noticed the kid’s hands were starting to shake.

Blair nodded shakily. “Yeah. It’s all just starting to catch up to me, I guess.”

Jim put an arm around Blair’s shoulders and gently steered him toward the beds. “C’mon, Junior. Let’s hit the sack.”

After seating Blair on the bed and helping him get ready for bed as the kid was quickly losing steam, Jim headed into the bathroom. When he came out, Blair was already under the blankets fast asleep.

Jim stared down at his partner, a gentle smile on his face as he absently brushed a stray curl from Blair’s forehead. Blair had become the most precious thing in Jim’s life, and he didn’t even know how or when it had happened. Blair had just wormed his way into the older man’s life and his heart and made himself at home there. Jim didn’t know what he would do if he lost him.

After stripping down to his boxers, his normal nightly attire, Jim slipped into his own bed, but sleep didn’t come easily for the Sentinel. He couldn’t stop thinking about the robbery and what could have happened if Gary hadn’t been there. He thanked god and all other deities that looked after trouble magnet guides and saw fit to send help in the form of a bar owner. He also couldn’t stop thinking about what Blair had said when they got back to the room. If Blair’s observations were true and the guy really had been watching his partner, then there had to be a reason. Just the fact that he had been watching Blair at all irked the sentinel. But what more could he do? The guy was already behind bars. There was nothing more he could do. Still, he felt like he should do something.

Shaking his head, Jim pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind to be analyzed later, turned onto his side, and joined his partner in sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Good morning, Chicago! It is a beautiful Monday morning, and it looks like it’s going to be a nice sunny day…” A hand snaked out from under the pile of blankets on the bed and slapped the alarm clock.

Groaning, Gary pushed back his blankets. He could already tell it was going to be a cold day. He bundled himself up in his blankets again and turned over. He had been waking up at 6:30 a.m. for the past three years just because that’s when the paper always showed. He deserved at least a few minutes more sleep in his nice warm bed. The paper could wait this morning. Gary closed his eyes, trying to get back to sleep before the cat…

“Meow!”

Thump

…arrived. Gary sighed. Couldn’t he get a break at least one day? Gary shook his head. He refused to get up just yet. He wasn’t ready.

“Mrrow!”

“Go away! Come back in five minutes,” Gary yelled.

“Mrrrrrrrrrooooww!” The cat was getting impatient.

“All right already. I’m coming.”

Gary slowly pushed the blankets back and made his way to the door, grumbling the whole way. The cat sat atop tomorrow’s newspaper, staring up at him innocently as he opened the door.

He gave the cat a glare and stepped aside. “Well come on in.” He stooped to pick up the mystical periodical and followed the orange tabby back into his apartment.

After feeding the cat, Gary sat down on the couch and started leafing through the paper. Not seeing anything extremely pressing, he began to wonder why the cat was so impatient for him to get up and get the paper until he reached page 5.

“Oh no.”

VISITING POLICE OBSERVOR SLAIN AT HOTEL 29-year-old Blair Sandburg, visiting police observer from Cascade, Washington, was shot and killed just outside his hotel room early yesterday morning at approximately 7:05 a.m. Mr. Sandburg was reported to be in town along with his partner, Detective James Ellison, to attend a police seminar taking place in that very same hotel. The body was discovered by Detective Ellison, having heard the shots on his way to retrieve Mr. Sandburg, but didn’t see anybody when he got there. No one reported having seeing anything suspicious, and police are still trying to track the killer.

Folding the paper, Gary checked his watch, 6:40 a.m. He had 25 minutes to get to the hotel and warn Jim and Blair. He leapt off the couch, threw on some clothes and his shoes, grabbed his jacket, and hurried out of the apartment. He rushed past the bar so fast he didn’t notice Marissa sitting there.

“Hi Gary. Anything interesting in the paper today?” she asked.

Gary paused long enough to put on his jacket and answer her question. “You could say that. You know those two guys I was here with last night? Well, one of them is going to get shot this morning.”

“Oh my god.”

“Yeah, listen, I don’t have time to talk. I gotta go.”

He raced out the door and came to a stand-still. Traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see. People were honking their horns. Others were getting out of their cars in favor of walking. Gary glanced at the front page of the paper. The headline read, WOREST TRAFFIC JAM IN CHICAGO HISTORY.

“Perfect.”

Knowing he wasn’t going t get a taxi, Gary sprinted down the street at a dead run. Why is it that I always seemed to be running, he thought. I should really get a car. Then again, walking, or in this case running, was easier in the sense that he didn’t have to worry about parking. Parking was murder in this city.

When Gary finally reached the hotel, he only had about five minutes to find Jim and Blair. Leaning on his knees to catch his breath, he looked around the lobby. There were people everywhere, coming and going, and a whole lot of police officers heading off to the banquet hall for the start of the seminar. Scanning the crowd, Gary finally found Jim standing impatiently just outside the banquet hall. He hurried over to him.

“Jim!”

Pale blue eyes searched the crowd for the owner of the voice, and his face split into a smile when his eyes fell on Gary. “Gary! What are you doing here?”

“Where’s Blair?”

Jim’s smile faded at the anxiety in Gary’s voice. “He went back up to the room. He forgot his book. Why?”

“We have to get to him. Now.”

Jim’s face hardened. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“Look, don’t ask me how I know this, but he’s about to be shot.”

“What?”

“I don’t have time to explain. We just have to get to Blair now before it’s too late.”

Jim stared at him long and hard, calculating his heart rate and the determination in his eyes. He then tilted his head to the side, and Gary assumed he was using his heightened senses. His face paled and his eyes widened.

“Oh shit.”

He took off towards the elevators. Gary ran after him, wondering idly what he had heard, but at the same time not wanting to know.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Detective Paul Armstrong walked through the crowded banquet hall. He always hated these police seminars. He thought they were a waste of time. He never learned anything useful anyway. Toni Brigatti’s partner, Winslow, was walking along side him, grumbling. Armstrong had to smile.

“Tell me again why I’m here,” Winslow said.

“Because you were tricked,” Armstrong replied casually.

“I can’t believe I fell for it.”

Brigatti was supposed to be the one to come. She and Armstrong were the ones chosen off the roster to attend this seminar, but she managed to convince her partner to go instead of her, claiming that she had a family emergency to take care of. Armstrong knew the truth though. She just didn’t want to come, and he could guess why. She didn’t want to run into that Detective Ellison and his partner again.

Armstrong couldn’t believe what had happened when Winslow told him. Ellison had really ripped Brigatti a new one, and his partner hadn’t done too bad either. He couldn’t help but laugh at that. No body had ever done that to her. No body had had the nerve to do that to her. This Ellison guy must really be something.

They walked out of the banquet hall. It was still too early yet to take their seats, and it was getting a little crowded in there. Pausing to scan the area, Armstrong spotted Hobson hurrying through the crowd of the lobby. What is he doing here? He watched as Hobson called out to someone and then greeted a tall man with short-cropped hair that screamed ex-army. He matched the description Brigatti had given of Ellison.

Leaning toward Winslow so he wouldn’t have to yell over the crowd, he asked, “Is that Ellison?”

Winslow followed Armstrong’s gaze and nodded. “Yep. That’s Ellison. What’s he doing with Hobson?”

“I don’t know, but they seemed to know each other.”

They watched the two talk. Then Ellison’s head tilted to the side, and Armstrong saw the look of horror that appeared on the detective’s face before he sprinted toward the elevators with Hobson right on his heels.

“That can’t be good,” Winslow commented.

“I think something’s wrong. C’mon.”

They pushed their way through the crowd to follow the two men.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blair dug through his duffel bag, searching for his book on Sentinels. He thought it might help him stay awake during Dr. Abrams’ lecture. It’s considered rude to read while someone was talking, but Blair thought it was even ruder to fall asleep while someone was talking. Pushing aside changes of clothes, he found the book at the bottom of the bag. He pulled it out and smiled. He knew he would need it.

He put the duffel back on the floor near his bed and headed toward the door, patting his pockets to make sure he had the room key. If he lost that key, Jim would kill him.

He left the room and automatically turned toward the elevator, tucking the book into his ever-present backpack. He didn’t notice the guy walking behind him with a gun. He also missed Jim and Gary hurrying out of the elevator ahead of him.

“Blair!”

Blair looked up in time to see Jim barreling towards him. He only had time to utter, “What the…” before Jim was tackling him to the ground. He heard a gunshot and seconds later felt white hot agony spread through his left shoulder and down his arm. Pain exploded in his head as it made contact with the ground, and then he knew nothing more.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim and Gary had gotten off the elevator in time to see Blair leaving the room and the guy coming up behind him with a gun pointed at the young man’s back. Jim only had time to yell his friend’s name and tackle him before the guy started shooting.

Jim shielded Blair’s body as more shots were fired. Finally, the shooting ceased, and Jim could hear footsteps as the shooter retreated. He looked up to make sure the guy was really gone, and that’s when the smell of blood flooded his nostrils. Oh god, he thought as he looked down at the unmoving figure beneath him. Blair’s face was pale, and Jim noticed a widening red stain on Blair’s shirt just below the collar bone.

Jim quickly stripped off his jacket and outer shirt. He bunched up the shirt into a ball and pressed it against the wound to stop the bleeding. He heard Gary coming up behind him.

Gary knelt down next to Jim. “Oh god. Jim, is he alright?”

“He was shot in the shoulder, but he losing a lot of blood. Gary, come here.” He grabbed Gary’s arm and pressed his hand against the wound. “I want you to hold this in place and keep putting pressure on it.”

Gary nodded, and Jim started running his hands expertly over Blair’s body, looking for other injuries. He didn’t find any other bullet wounds, but he did fine a large lump on the back of Blair’s head where it had impacted with the ground.

“Ok, looks like he hit his head on the ground. Probably a concussion. Here, take this.” He handed Gary his cell phone. “Call 911 and tell them there’s been a shooting at the Sunset Arms Hotel and tell them to send an ambulance.”

“Where are you going?” Gary asked when Jim stood up, wiping blood on his jeans.

“I’m going after the shooter.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gary watched the detective go, his gun out and pointed at the ceiling. Gary hoped he would be ok. He glanced down at the paper where he had dropped it on the floor to help Blair. The headline had changed. Now it read, SHOOTING AT SUNSET ARMS HOTEL. Underneath that was a smaller headline that said, “Visiting Detective Makes the Arrest.” Gary sighed. Jim would be fine.

He turned his attention to Blair. The young man had given no indication that he was waking up anytime soon, which worried Gary. The longer he remained unconscious, the worse off things could be. Gary noticed grimly that the shirt was already soaked through with blood, and he applied a little more pressure. It was still bleeding.

He heard footsteps coming up behind him, and he thought for a minute that the guy had an accomplice who was coming to finish the job. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand on his shoulder until he realized that it was Armstrong and Winslow. He never thought he’d be so glad to see them.

“Hobson, what happened?” Armstrong asked.

Gary returned his gaze back to Blair as he answered. “He was shot. I already called an ambulance. Ellison went after the shooter.” He pointed in the direction Jim had gone.

“All right. Sit tight,” Armstrong said. He patted Gary’s shoulder as he stood up straight. He pulled out his cell phone. “This is Detective Armstrong. There’s been a shooting at the Sunset Arms Hotel. I need back-up now.” Flipping his phone closed, he turned to Winslow. “Stay with them.”

Winslow nodded, and Armstrong ran down the hallway.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim reached the end of the hall in time to see the door to the stairwell closing. He burst through the door and hurried down the stairs after the shooter, keeping his hearing trained on the man’s harsh breathing.

He followed the guy to a side entrance that led out to a side alley. Making out the rapid heartbeat of the shooter, Jim followed him further into the alley. He saw the guy come to an abrupt halt at a dead end and pointed his gun at him.

“Freeze! Police!”

After looking frantically for an avenue of escape and finding none, the shooter stopped. Defeated, the guy threw his gun away and slowly put his hands up in the air.

Jim grabbed the guy’s shoulders and shoved him roughly into the wall. Putting his gun back in his holster, he pulled out his handcuffs and cuffed the guy.

He leaned forward and whispered harshly in his ear, “You just tried to kill my partner. Bad move. I should kill you right now just for the hell of it.” He smiled in satisfaction as he heard the shooter’s heart rate climb. “But I’m not going to do that because I want some answers, and you better be ready to give them.” He pulled the guy away from the wall and pushed him toward the mouth of the alley.

As he was escorting his prisoner toward the end of the alley, he heard sirens in the distance. Someone must have called for back-up, he thought. As they were approaching the side entrance of the hotel, the door opened, and a tall, black man stepped out, gun held at the ready.

“Detective Ellison?” the man questioned.

“Yeah.”

“Detective Paul Armstrong, Chicago PD.” He pulled out his badge for Jim’s inspection. “I see you caught him. Good work.”

Jim didn’t acknowledge the praise. He wasn’t in the mood to be friendly. He led the perp to the mouth of the alley just as squad cars were arriving on the scene. He handed off his prisoner to one of the uniformed officers.

“Take him back to the precinct and put him in a holding cell,” Armstrong ordered.

“When will you be doing the interrogation?” Jim asked.

“As soon as I get back to the station.”

“I want in on it.”

“No way, Ellison. This isn’t your jurisdiction. Let us handle it.”

“The guy tried to kill my partner!” He turned an icy glare on the Chicago detective. “I want in.”

Armstrong knew he wasn’t going to win this. He could see it in Ellison’s eyes. He sighed. “All right. You can sit in, but you do not participate. You say one word, and I’ll have you out of there.”

Jim didn’t like it, but what could he do? This wasn’t his jurisdiction, and it wouldn’t help to get this guy angry. He was going to need cooperation if he was going to find out who this guy is and why he was trying to kill Blair.

“Fine.”

“All right. Listen, why don’t you head to the hospital with your partner. I’ll hold off on the interrogation until you can get there.”

Jim nodded and headed back into the hotel, grateful to be getting back to his partner. He reached the spot where he had left Blair with Gary in time to see paramedics lift his partner onto a stretcher and wheel him away with Gary by his side. Jim picked up his pace to catch up but stopped when he noticed a newspaper lying on the ground. He recognized it as the same paper Gary had been carrying when he came running up to him. It still had drops of Blair’s blood on it.

He was about to leave it behind when the headline caught his attention. He stooped to pick up the paper, his eyes fixed on the article that detailed what happened not five minutes before. How is this possible? He turned to the front page. When he saw the date, his jaw nearly dropped. That couldn’t be right. That had to be a typo, but then again the whole article he just read couldn’t be a typo. He was going to have to have a long talk with a certain bar owner.

He picked up his jacket where he had left it, put it back on, and tucked the paper into it. He then hurried down the hall to catch up with the paramedics. He ran up to the waiting ambulance as they were loaded his partner into the back. He patted Gary on the shoulder as he past and gave him a smile in thanks as he got into the back with Blair.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gary stood on the sidewalk, watching the ambulance as it sped down the street towards the hospital. He would have liked to have gone with them in the ambulance, but there wasn’t room for both him and Jim, and he knew that Jim needed to be with his partner.

Armstrong came to stand next to Gary. “So they’re your friends?”

“Yes. They’re my friends,” Gary answered shortly.

“Tell me something, Hobson. What were you doing at the hotel?”

Gary looked at him, not liking where this was going. “I was visiting.”

“You must have known that the seminar was today. So why would you come to visit if you knew they couldn’t talk long?”

“I was in the neighborhood,” Gary replied indignantly, walking away.

Armstrong followed him. “You seemed in an awful hurry when you got here.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Then, shortly thereafter, you two ran off in a big hurry. It was almost as if you knew that something was going to happen.”

“I said leave me alone>”

“Did you know that something was going to happen?” Armstrong asked.

“Look!” Gary stopped and got into Armstrong’s face, his anger rising. “I just saw a friend of mine get shot right in front of me. I had to sit there and watch him bleed, and there was nothing I could do. So save your fucking questions for some other time!” He stalked off, leaving a stunned and chagrined Armstrong in his wake.

Gary walked down the street, trying to burn off his aggression. He had never been this angry before, but he had a right to be. How could Armstrong be so cold-hearted? How could he ask those questions like he was conducting an interrogation when Gary had just witnessed a friend being shot?

“Gary!”

He heard Armstrong coming up behind him, but he didn’t stop. He didn’t want to talk to him anymore.

“Gary, wait!”

Finally, he stopped. “What!”

“Look…I’m sorry. You’re right. I was out of line. Sometimes I just can’t control my curiosity.” Gary didn’t answer. “But can you blame me? I mean you’re a puzzle.”

“Yeah, a puzzle that you have no right to even be looking at. This is my life, not some mystery for you to solve.”

Armstrong sighed, staring at the ground. “You’re right. I’m just trying to do my job.”

“Your job is to catch criminals. I’m not a criminal. You should know that by now.”

There was a silence between them, and Gary began to get a little antsy. All he wanted to do was get out of there and get to the hospital to see how Blair was doing. This was just wasting time.

“Look, why don’t I give you a ride to the hospital. It’ll be faster than trying to catch a cab, and I’m sure you want to get there as soon as possible to check on your friend.”

Gary looked him up and down, calculating his sincerity. “No more questions?”

“No. No more questions. I promise.”

Gary sighed. He really didn’t want to go anywhere with Armstrong, but he also didn’t want to wait to get a cab, and it was too far to walk. He wanted to get to the hospital as fast as possible. He supposed if the detective kept his mouth shut, he could bare being in the same car with him for a while.

“Fine.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The man in the dark sedan cursed as he lowered his binoculars. “Damn it! Not again!” He raised his binoculars again and took a good, hard look at the man standing on the sidewalk watching the ambulance driving away. “This guy is beginning to get on my nerves.”

“You want me to kill him for you?” the man sitting next to him asked.

The first man lowered his binoculars again and looked at his hired thug. “No. Not yet. We’ll follow him first. Wait for the right moment, and then we’ll take him. I want some answers. I want to know how he always seems to be there whenever Sandburg needs help.”

“What about Sandburg?”

“He’ll have to wait. I want to make sure this guy doesn’t interfere again. Once we’re finished with him, then we’ll deal with Mr. Sandburg.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ride to the hospital wasn’t that bad. Armstrong was being smart and keeping quiet, which was fine with Gary. He didn’t need anymore of his questions right now.

When they finally reached County General Hospital, Gary gratefully got out of the car and walked through the hospital’s automatic doors. He saw Jim sitting in one of the waiting room’s plastic chairs with his head in his hands, a clipboard with the necessary paperwork lying forgotten and empty on the seat next to him.

“Jim.”

Jim looked up. “Gary.”

“How’s he doing?”

Jim sighed and rubbed his face. “The bullet hit an artery in his shoulder. They’re giving him blood transfusions. They’re waiting until he’s a little more stable before taking him up to surgery to repair the damage.”

“Oh god.” Gary sat down next to Jim and put a hand on his shoulder. “How are you doing?”

“I’m ok. I called my captain. Let him know what happened. He wanted to come. I told him no.”

“Why? Seems to me like you could use a friend right now.”

Jim looked him in the eye. “I already have one.”

Gary felt a warmth in the vicinity of his chest. He didn’t know why, but it felt good to hear Jim say that. Sure, he already knew that they considered each other friends, but hearing him actually say it, it just made it official.

“Besides, he’s a lot of work to do right now. I couldn’t pull him away,” Jim continued. He paused a moment. “Gary, we need to talk. Alone.”

Puzzled at this sudden turnaround, Gary nodded. “Um, ok.”

They stood up, and Gary followed Jim into the men’s room. Gary waited as Jim checked to make sure they were alone.

“So what’s up?”

Jim turned toward him, pulled a bloody newspaper from his jacket, and held it up for Gary’s inspection. “I found this on the floor of the hotel. You want to explain how this is possible?”

Gary recognized it immediately as his paper. He sighed, his shoulders slumped. He knew he forgot something, but he was so focused on Blair, he didn’t think to stop and figure out what. He looked Jim in the eyes. Jim was waiting for an explanation.

“I don’t know how it’s possible. I just know that I get tomorrow’s newspaper today. It tells me what’s going to happen that day, and I go out and change it.”

Jim scoffed. He leaned forward on one of the sinks and looked into the mirror. “This is crazy.”

“You saw the story, didn’t you?” Gary asked. He didn’t have to elaborate which story. He had left the paper turned to that page when he left the bar that morning.

“Yes, I saw the story. That’s the only reason I’m standing here listening to this.” He sighed again and brushed his hand through his hair. “Ok, let’s say I believe this. Where does it come from?”

“I don’t know. That’s one of the questions I used to ask myself.”

“Used to?”

“Well, it’s been showing up at my doorstep with a cat for three years now. Eventually, I just stopped asking.”

Jim looked into the mirror again. Gary could see that he was really trying to grasp this.

“That’s how you knew Blair was going to get shot?” Jim asked.

“Yes. The paper said that Blair was going to be killed right outside his hotel room at about 7:05 this morning.”

“And the convenience store?”

“It’s how I knew about that too. Blair was supposed to have died then too.”

Jim’s head snapped around. “What do you mean?”

“The paper said that he was going to be shot and killed during that robbery.”

Jim lowered his eyes, looking thoughtful. “It can’t be a coincidence.”

Gary raised a questioning eyebrow. “Huh?”

Jim explained, “When we got back to the hotel last night, Blair told me that the guy at the convenience store was more interested in him than the money.”

“So you’re saying that he was actually there to kill Blair?” Gary guessed.

Jim nodded. “And make it look like a botched robbery attempt.”

“So what does that mean?”

“Two attempts on Blair’s life in two days. That’s much too big a coincidence. I’m guessing that these guys were both hired to kill Blair, most likely by the same person, and since they failed…” Jim let the sentence hang.

Gary’s eyes widened in horror as he grasped his meaning. “He’s going to try again.”

“Bingo.”

Jim moved past him so fast Gary didn’t even register he’d moved until he heard the door behind him creak open. Gary groaned. Oh, this is not good, he thought. Why did things always have to get more complicated? He took a deep breath and left the bathroom to follow Jim back to the waiting room.

“Armstrong,” Jim called, striding toward the Chicago detective. “I think my partner’s still in danger.”

“What?”

“I have reason to believe that the guy we arrested today was a hired gun and so was the guy at the convenience store robbery.”

“What? What gave you that idea?” Armstrong looked skeptical.

“Look, Blair told me that the guy who tried to rob the convenience store was more interested in him than the money. Now, what kind of robber isn’t interested in the money he’s trying to steal? Add on this attempt on him today, and it can’t be a coincidence.”

Armstrong looked at him thoughtfully, rubbing his hand over his mouth. “I don’t know. That sounds like a stretch.”

“Listen to me. I think the robber was hired to kill my partner and make it look like a robbery gone bad, but he failed so his employer sent someone else. He must be getting impatient because he didn’t even try to make it look like an accident. He’s going to try again.”

When Armstrong remained silent, Jim snapped. He grabbed his jacket and pulled him toward him. “Look, my partner’s life is at stake. I’m not taking any chances. Now if you’re not going to help, then I’ll do it myself,” he growled.

“Back off, Ellison! This isn’t your jurisdiction! I could have you taken off this case if I so please.”

That got Jim’s attention. He sobered and released Armstrong’s jacket. Gary breathed a sigh of relief. For a minute there, he thought that Jim was going to punch him. Right now it would have been a sight to see, but it wouldn’t have helped any.

“I’m sorry.”

“Look, I’ll have a couple of uniforms posted outside your partner’s room, ok?”

Jim nodded.

“Anyway,” Armstrong continued, “while you were gone, the doctor told me that your partner was just taken to surgery and that you should go up to the fourth floor to the surgical waiting room. Meanwhile, I’m going down to the station, see if I can find out more about our guys. Once you’ve seen your partner and know he’s ok, meet me down at the station, and we’ll do the interrogations.”

“Right. I’ll be there,” Jim said. He started toward the elevators but stopped when he heard his name called.

“I’m sorry about what happened to your partner. I know what it’s like to lose a partner.” A glance passed between Armstrong and Gary that didn’t escape Jim’s attention. “No cop should have to go through that. I’m glad he’s ok.”

“Thank you.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim sat beside Blair’s bed in ICU. He and Gary had sat in the waiting room for two hours. Jim had been so worried he would periodically get up, pace around the room about five times, and then sit back down. A few minutes later, he’d get up and do the whole thing over again until finally Gary told him to relax and sit down. Jim had sat down, but he was far from relaxed.

He couldn’t help moving around though. He was worried about Blair. He had been in the hospital many times, more times than he would like to admit. The waiting was always the worst part.

On top of that, his mind kept replaying what happened at the hotel. If he had been just two seconds later, he would have been too late. But he’d told himself, no, he wasn’t going to dwell on that. Blair would be ok. He had to believe that.

Jim checked his watch. It was only five minutes from the last time he’d checked. He was waiting to hear from Simon. He’d called his captain just before he came to the surgical waiting room and had him checking past cases and past arrests to see if there was anyone who had a grudge against either Jim or Blair.

Jim sighed and placed his hand over Blair’s. He’d gotten permission to sit in the room for as long as he wanted. He had enforced his authority as a police officer, telling the doctor that Blair was under police protection, and therefore Jim had a right to sit in with the young man. Of course, Jim neglected to tell the doctor that he wasn’t Chicago PD, but he didn’t need to know that.

Gary poked his head into the room. He’d been waiting outside the room to give Jim time alone with Blair.

“Hey. How’s he doing?” Gary asked.

“He’s doing ok. The doctor said the surgery went well. The bullet did hit an artery in his shoulder, and he lost a lot of blood, but he should make a full recovery.”

“That’s good. Has he woken up yet?”

“Not yet.”

There was a silence in the room. Gary stared down at Blair, relieved that he would be all right. Jim looked at Gary before opening his mouth to speak.

“Gary.”

“Hmm?”

“I have to get down to the station, but…I don’t want to leave Blair alone.”

“Well, I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s got guards outside his room.”

Jim sighed. Blair would probably be all right. Security was just down the hallway, and there would be two police officers right outside Blair’s room, but Jim still didn’t want to leave him alone.

“I know. I just don’t want him waking up alone, and I’d feel better if someone were in the room with him,” Jim explained.

“Oh.” Gary ran his hand through his dark hair. “Well, I’d do it, but…” He held the paper up. “I’ve got things I have to do.”

Jim nodded. He understood. The paper called, and Gary couldn’t ignore it anymore than Jim could ignore his senses.

“But I might know someone who could,” Gary added.

Jim looked up. “Who?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Concluded in part two...