New Arrivals
Author-Kim Jackson
Titles

Fathers Don't Always Know Best
(part one)
by Kim Jackson

Summary: Jim is kidnapped by a couple of guys who specialize in torture and who are out to punish bad fathers. And he's not the only one. With a little help from some new friends from California, can Blair and Simon find Jim before his time runs out? Crossover with Diagnosis Murder. Rated R.

Disclaimer: Jim, Blair, Simon, and all other characters don’t belong to me. Any other characters do belong to me so if you wish to use them, please ask.

Los Angeles

Kane Stark walked across the empty parking lot toward his car. His was the only car in the university parking lot this time of night. He had been at the library late in order to finish his term paper, which was due on Monday.

He paused as he heard what sounded like rustling behind him. He turned around but saw no one. The wind picked up and Kane shivered. It was a cool night, unusual for Los Angeles this time of year. He pulled his brown leather jacket closer around himself and continued walking. It had probably just been the wind blowing the leaves in the trees, he reasoned.

He paused again. He thought he heard footsteps behind him, but when he turned, there was nothing. He sighed. It was just his overactive imagination, and that story about two men kidnapping people wasn’t helping either. People had been disappearing left and right in LA these past few months and only a very few showed up alive. It had the entire campus on edge. It was just his nerves and his imagination playing tricks. Nevertheless, he picked up his pace, pulling out his car keys.

As he neared his car, strong arms suddenly wrapped around his neck from behind and started dragging him backward. Kane bucked and kicked, trying to get free from his captor, but the guy was too strong. He then elbowed his attacker in the ribs, and once he was free, kicked him in the side of the head. He didn’t wait to see the guy hit the ground. He took off running toward his car. It wasn’t until he reached the door and found it to be locked that he realized that he had dropped his keys in the struggle.

Oh shit, he thought as he heard footsteps coming up behind him. He felt something impact the back of his head followed by a blinding pain. He slumped against the car and slid to the pavement unconscious.

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

“In this breaking news story, a local college student, Kane Stark, has been reported missing after having failed to return home late last night. Stark was reported to have been at the library at the University of California working on a term paper. The librarian stated that Stark had been there at noon and had left around midnight. She also stated that she had not seen anything suspicious when Stark left.

“Stark’s car was found in the university parking lot where he had parked it yesterday afternoon. There was no evidence of foul play; however, authorities did find a card with this symbol on the dashboard, leading the police to believe that Kane Stark was an apparent victim of a pair of kidnappers calling themselves Tribulation.

“Not much is known about the pair known as Tribulation. They kidnap four people at a time, and they torture their victims without restraint. Not many survive, and those who have don’t say much. What they have told the police paints a nasty picture. According to our sources, the victims are put through a test, but it’s not for the victims but for their fathers. The fathers are apparently asked a series of questions about their children, and the torture only begins when a question is answered wrong. If the fathers pass this test, their children are returned to them. If they fail, their child is killed. Investigators are no closer to catching…”

The TV was shut off. The four people that occupied the doctor’s lounge at Community General Hospital shook their heads. It was a sad report indeed.

“I can’t believe the police aren’t any closer to finding these guys. How long has this been going on? Three months?” Dr. Jesse Travis sat on the couch, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees.

“They apparently don’t leave many clues behind,” Dr. Amanda Livingston commented from her seat next to Jesse.

“Yeah, well, I bet we would have caught them long ago if we were on the case,” Jesse said.

Dr. Mark Sloan, who sat at the table next to his son, Lieutenant Steve Sloan, smiled at the young doctor with the dark blonde hair. He didn’t look old enough to be a doctor, but despite his age, he was a very good doctor. “It’s nice to know you have such confidence in us, Jess,” he commented.

“Well, I think our record speaks for itself.”

“Well, the fact of the matter is, we’re not on the case. So we just have to sit back and watch,” Steve said, taking a drink from his coffee cup.

“Yeah, I know,” Jesse grumbled. “And I hate it.”

Mark got up from the table and carried his empty cup to the sink. After rinsing it out and placing in the sink to wash later, he turned to his colleagues. “Well, back to work. I’ve got a few patients I need to check on.”

Jesse, Amanda, and Steve got up as well.

“Hey Dad, don’t forget about dinner tonight,” Steve said.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be there. You just make sure you’re there,” Mark said with a gleam in his eye.

“Oh come on, Dad. That was one time, and I was involved in a shoot-out. It wasn’t my fault.”

“I’m just teasing you, son. I’ll see you later tonight.”

After Mark left, Jesse and Amanda turned to Steve.

“Have you told him yet?” Jesse asked.

Steve glared at him. “What do you think?”

“You have to tell him, you know,” Amanda said.

“Yeah, I know. I’m just waiting for the right time.”

“When’s that? When you’re walking out the door?” Jesse said sarcastically

Steve sighed. “No. I’m going to tell him tonight, ok? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to work too.”

As Steve was leaving the lounge, he heard Jesse call to him, “Good luck.” Good luck, he thought. Yeah, thanks, Jess. Like that was going to make this so much easier. He knew what he had to tell his father, he wasn’t going to like. He was going to need all the luck he could get.

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

Mark put his fork down on his empty plate, having finished his meal. They had gone to one of their favorite Italian restaurants. It was good to get out. Both he and his son had been so busy lately that they hadn’t had time to go out to eat. Unfortunately, the mood at the table wasn’t good.

Mark looked at his son sitting across from him. Steve had finished half his food and was now playing with the leftovers. He could tell by the look on his face that there was something on his mind.

“Alright, what’s wrong?” Mark finally asked.

Steve looked up from his plate. “What do you mean?”

“Look, it’s obvious that there’s something bothering you. I’m your father. I can tell these things. Now what is it?”

Steve put his fork down and leaned back. “Dad, I have something I need to tell you.”

“Uh oh. I’m not going to like this, am I?” Mark could tell by his tone of voice that it was something bad.

“Dad, do you remember that Murder For Hire operation I investigated a couple of months ago?”

Mark’s heart started pounding. Of course he remembered. There was this group of guys who killed people for money and made it look like accidents. Steve had been brought on the case after the officer that had been sent in undercover had turned up dead. Somehow, they had found out he was a cop and killed him. But they disappeared months ago. Why was Steve bringing it up now?

Slowly, Mark answered, “Yes.”

“Well, they’ve turned up in Cascade, Washington, and the Chief wants me to go to Cascade and find out what I can.”

“You mean undercover.”

“Well, yeah.”

“No.” Mark shook his head. “No,” he repeated.

“Dad…”

“No. You’re not doing this. In case you’ve forgotten, the last guy who went undercover with these guys ended up dead. If they find out you’re a cop, they’ll kill you too.”

“They won’t find out I’m a cop.”

“You don’t know that.” Mark knew he was being irrational, but these guys were brutal when they wanted to be. They didn’t just kill that cop. They tortured him. They didn’t make it look like an accident. They made sure he suffered before he died. Mark’s protective instincts for his son overrode rational thought. “Why doesn’t the Cascade police handle this?”

“This is my case!” Steve practically yelled, grabbing the attention of a few people at the nearby tables. He was getting angry now. He knew his father was worried about him, but he wasn’t a kid and he could take care of himself. “And both police departments believe that I’m the best candidate for the job. I know these guys better than anyone. I’m not asking for your permission, Dad. I’m just telling you what’s going to happen over the next few weeks. Now, if you’ll excuse, I have to get home and pack. I’m leaving tomorrow.” He stood up, tossed a few bills on the table to cover the bill and started toward the exit.

“Steve, wait!” Mark called after him, but Steve ignored him as he stormed out of the restaurant. Mark sighed and rubbed his face. I think I just made a big mistake, he thought.

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

Steve walked out of the restaurant and headed toward his car. He was glad they had taken separate cars because he didn’t think he could stand to be cooped up in the same car with his father. He loved his father to death, but sometimes, he could get a little overprotective.

Why couldn’t he just support his decision? Granted, Mark’s fears were warranted, but this was Steve’s job. It was his responsibility, and he couldn’t just turn it down because he might get hurt. If he did that all the time, he wouldn’t make a very good cop.

Steve knew that his father worried every time he went chasing after some bad guy, but he had never tried to stop him until now. Of course, Mark had been a little overprotective ever since Steve had been shot. He couldn’t blame him for fearing for his son’s life. He just hoped that he would be calmed down by the time he returned.

Steve was so focused on his thoughts as he headed to his car, he didn’t notice someone watching him from an alleyway. The man smiled as Steve got into his car and drove off and then melted back into the shadows. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dan Boone adjusted a few cables and then stood up to make sure all the equipment was working properly. He couldn’t wait to get started with their tests. Tribulation was a complete success in his opinion. Everyone knew about them, of their lessons. Soon everyone will have learned their lesson without having to go through their tests.

They already had one victim. He glanced at the monitors. One showed a man lying in the middle of a small room. Kane Stark, he had been easy to take. He and his father had a terrible relationship. He was perfect. Now they just needed three more. He heard the door open. He stood up and headed to the front door to witness his brother entering the warehouse.

“Ricki, find anyone?” Dan asked.

Ricki nodded. “Yeah, I think so, but…”

“But what?”

“He’s a cop.”

“A cop, huh?” Dan seemed to mull this over. “Good.”

“I don’t know, Dan. Should we be going after cops? It seems kind of risky.”

“No, it’s perfect. It’ll show everyone that no one, not even cops, are safe from us. What’s his relationship with his father?”

“I don’t know much, but he did just have a huge fight with his father not too long ago,” Ricki reported.

“He’ll do.”

“There’s another problem. He’s heading to Cascade on an undercover assignment tomorrow.”

“Cascade,” Dan repeated. It had been a long time since they had been to Cascade. That city had been like a black hole on the map to be avoided at all costs for 8 years. It held a lot of bad memories for them. But maybe it was time to return. He looked at his brother. “I think it’s time to relocate. We’ve been here long enough.”

“Are you sure we’re ready to go back there?” Ricki asked.

“We can’t keep running from it. Besides, every city deserves to witness our tests, to learn.”

Ricki nodded. “Looks like we’re heading to Cascade. What about Stark?”

“We’ll take him with us, and we’ll send the equipment on ahead. And we’ll have to find a good place to set up.”

“We’ll figure that out when we get there. I already have a pretty good idea on one location. Let’s get packing. We’re leaving right now. We have a lot of work to do,” Ricki said, heading deeper into the warehouse.

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

Cascade

Blair Sandburg sat at the kitchen table in the loft apartment he shared with his best friend and Sentinel, Detective Jim Ellison. After studying an open book page, he started tapping out a rhythm on the table. He found out a few months ago after a case that Jim knew Morse code and asked the older man to teach him. He thought it would be a good thing to learn so that if they were ever in a situation where they couldn’t talk to each other, they could still communicate.

Jim had taught him the different combinations for each letter, and Blair had been studying and practicing for weeks. He was at a point where he could understand it if it was done slowly and repeated once or twice. Now he was practicing on doing it himself. It was a long and arduous task, but he knew that it would come in handy someday.

Blair was interrupted in his practicing when Jim came through the loft door, slamming it, and tossing his keys into the basket by the door. Blair looked at his partner and saw the stony expression.

“Whoa, Jim. What’s got you so pissed?” Blair asked.

Jim hung up his coat on the hook and walked into the kitchen without a word. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a beer. He twisted the cap off, tossing it onto the counter, and took a long swig. Blair watched silently from where he sat. He knew that Jim had gone out to have dinner with his father, and by the looks of it, it didn’t go well. Blair got up from the table and went to lean against the kitchen island facing Jim.

“What happened?”

“Nothing,” Jim answered monosyllabically.

“C’mon Jim.”

Jim took another drink from his beer. “Dad and I had a fight, ok?” He walked past Blair toward the living area.

Blair followed him. “You want to talk about it?”

“No,” Jim replied quickly. He took a deep breath. “He said something I didn’t like,” he elaborated before going to sit on the couch and flipping on the TV.

“What did he say?” Blair asked carefully. He knew he was walking on the thin ice right now. Jim in this mood could be dangerous to one’s health.

“Sandburg,” Jim snapped. He stopped and sighed, trying to calm himself down. “Look, Chief, I don’t want to talk about this right now. I just want to sit here, enjoy my beer, and watch a Jags game, ok?”

Blair backed off. “Alright. I won’t press.”

He went back to the table and sat down. Looking down at the books on Morse code scattered all over the tabletop, he smiled. He glanced at Jim and then proceeded to tap out a question on the table. He hoped he got it right and didn’t just succeed in further annoying his friend. He concentrated on every word, but tried to do it fast so that he could get out all of what he was trying to say.

~Are you sure you are ok?~

Jim wasn’t really paying much attention to the game on TV. He was concentrating on Blair’s heartbeat, using the soothing rhythm to calm his nerves, but this incessant tapping intruded. At first, it was annoying the hell out of him until he realized there was pattern to it. He listened and discovered it was Morse code. He smiled a little as he translated the sounds into words in his head.

“Hey Sandburg,” he called.

“Yeah, Jim?”

“Yes, I’m sure I’m ok,” he answered.

“I got it right? You understood it?” Blair asked excitedly.

“Yes, I understood it,” Jim replied, his smile growing.

“Alright!”

Jim laughed. “You’re getting better, kid. But keep practicing. Just not tonight.”

“Sure Jim.”

Blair gathered his books and papers together and headed into his room.

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

The next morning, Jim and Blair had barely entered the Major Crimes bullpen before Simon was calling Jim into his office.

“Ellison,” Simon beckoned.

Jim hung up his coat and went to Simon’s office while Blair sat down at Jim’s desk to get started on Jim’s backlog of paperwork.

“What’s up, Simon?” Jim asked.

“I’m bringing in more help for the Murder for Hire case,” Simon reported.

“What? Captain, I don’t need any help.”

“Jim, you’ve been working on this case for, what, three months now, and even with your Sentinel abilities, you’re no closer to tracking these guys down.”

“Just give me more time, Captain. I can find these guys.”

Simon sighed. “I know that, but it’s out of my hands. The Chief thought it best that we bring in someone who knows this case better than we do to go undercover to try to nail these guys.”

“Like who?”

“Lt. Steve Sloan with the LAPD.”

“The LAPD?” Jim said incredulously.

“Look, we already knew that this all started in Los Angeles. Sloan was the lead detective on the case. He knows more about this case than anyone.”

Jim just shook his head, moving to look out the window.

“I’m not taking you completely off the case. You’ll be Sloan’s liaison. If he needs anything, you’ll be the one he goes to, and any information he finds out will be given to you.”

Jim stood in front of Simon’s desk, his rigid stance and stoic mask both indicative of how much he didn’t like this plan.

“Look, Jim, I know you don’t like outsiders butting into your cases, but this is going to happen. He’s already on his way. He should be here pretty soon in fact. Try to be nice. The operation doesn’t start for another couple days. Show him around the city, get him familiar with the landmarks, and fill him in on the case so far.”

Jim sighed. “Yes sir,” he replied tightly.

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

Blair was working on his fifth report when the shouting started from Simon’s office. He could hear Jim’s raised voice from where he sat. Uh oh, he thought, it must not be good if Jim’s arguing. He didn’t try to listen in on the argument. He knew he’d find out about it later. He continued with the paperwork. He was halfway through the report when someone approached Jim’s desk.

“Excuse me.”

Blair looked up at the tall, blonde man standing in front of him. Blair didn’t recognize him, and then he noticed the badge clipped to his belt that said LAPD. LAPD? What’s LAPD doing here?

“Yeah, what can I do for you?” Blair asked.

“I’m Lt. Steve Sloan, LAPD. I’m looking for Captain Simon Banks.”

“Uh, he’s in his office right now, but he’s in a…meeting right now. You might want to wait.”

“The LAPD?” Both looked toward the closed office door at the exclamation. Well, now Blair knew what this was all about. Whatever Simon was telling Jim had something to do with this Lt. Sloan.

“A meeting or an argument?” Steve asked.

“Uh, a little bit of both,” Blair replied with a small laugh. “Have a seat.” He waved at the chair he usually occupied when Jim was at his desk. “You’re welcome to wait here.”

“Thanks,” Steve said, taking a seat.

Steve looked at the man sitting next to him, analyzing him closely. He was young, in his late twenties perhaps, with long curly hair. Steve tried to determine why someone like him would be here because he seriously doubted the man was a police officer. He just didn’t look the part.

“Uh, you work here?” he finally asked.

Blair smiled. “Not exactly. I’m sort of attached to the department, more like a consultant.” He continued typing the report he’d been working on.

Steve looked at the screen and then at Blair. “A consultant who does paperwork?”

Blair laughed. “Yeah, well, what can I say? Jim doesn’t like paperwork.”

“Jim?”

“My partner. Detective Jim Ellison. He’s not very detailed. A detailed report to him would be, ‘confronted the bad guy, chased the bad guy, and arrested the bad guy.’ That’s it.”

“So you’re more detailed,” Steve commented.

“Yeah. I’m an anthropologist. I’m very good at detail. It doesn’t bother me really. It’s not that hard and it keeps every one happy. It keeps Jim happy because he doesn’t have to do it, and it keeps Simon happy because he has a nicely written, very detailed report.”

Just then, Simon’s door opened and Jim left with a stony expression on his face. He approached the two at his desk. His eyes immediately went to the stranger sitting next to his partner, going over him intensely with his senses.

“Chief, who’s your friend?” Jim asked.

“Oh, this is Lt. Steve Sloan with the LAPD.”

Jim’s lips tightened just a little, so little that only Blair noticed.

“Ah, so you’re Sloan. You’re the one who’s going to be going undercover on the Murder for Hire case,” Jim elaborated for his partner’s benefit.

“Nice to meet you,” Steve said, standing up and offering his hand to the Cascade detective. Jim shook it briefly. “Look, Detective, I don’t mean to barge in on your case. I know what it’s like to have other people butting into your cases. I’ve had it happen to me a time or two. I didn’t ask for this. It was my captain’s idea. Now, I’ll admit that I jumped on the offer because I want these guys caught. They gave me the slip in Los Angeles. I don’t want that happening here.”

Jim stared at the blonde detective with his ice blue gaze. “Yeah,” he said, coming around the desk. “I believe you. Simon wants to talk to you.”

Steve glanced briefly at Blair, who shrugged helplessly, and then made his way to the Captain’s office. Blair looked at his partner as they sat down.

“C’mon, man. Lighten up on the guy, Jim.”

“What? I was civil.”

Blair rolled his eyes. “Barely. Give the guy a break. This wasn’t his idea. Besides, what would you do if a case you’d been working for months suddenly came to a dead end with no leads and no convictions and then started up in another city?”

Jim didn’t answer.

“You know damn well that you’d want to be put back on the case, that you’d do everything in your power to try to catch those guys even if it wasn’t your jurisdiction anymore. So don’t take it out on Lt. Sloan just because you weren’t chosen for this undercover assignment. God, if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought you were in second grade or something.” Blair muttered that last part as he finished up the report he’d been working on.

Jim chuckled. He had to admit, Blair was right. If it had been one of his cases that suddenly started up in LA, he would have been on the first plane out to the coast to do whatever he could to solve it. He supposed every cop would do the same, which showed just how dedicated the men and women of law enforcement were.

“Alright, Chief. I see your point,” Jim said. “I’ll ease up on him.”

Blair smiled. “Good because he seemed like a nice guy to me.”

The door to the captain’s office opened and Simon and Steve stepped out. They walked across the bullpen to Jim’s desk.

“Sloan, this is Detective Jim Ellison and his partner Blair Sandburg. You’ll be working with them for the majority of the time you’re in Cascade,” Simon said.

“Yeah, we met briefly,” Steve said.

“Well, good. Jim, why don’t you show the lieutenant around the city. You know get him acquainted with the layout before he starts his assignment,” Simon suggested.

“Sure, Captain,” Jim said standing up. “Let’s go, Chief.” He grabbed his and Blair’s coats off the rack. Handing Blair his coat, he headed out of the bullpen.

Steve stared after the man, now completely confused. He looked at Blair. “What just happened here? I thought I was going to have to fight him all throughout this case. I mean when I came in here, he was…”

“Cold,” Blair finished for him.

“Yes, exactly. And now he’s not.”

“Well, Jim can be hard to read sometimes,” Blair said. “You really have to get to know him to figure out what he’s thinking and what he’s feeling. Of course, then again, not even some of his friends can figure that out. He’s not a very emotional guy. C’mon.” He put a hand on the LA detective’s shoulder, guiding him out the door. “I’ll give you a few pointers on how to get on his good side.”

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

After showing the visiting detective around the city, the three men ended up at one of their favorite restaurants along the beach for lunch. Blair had just finished his meal and sat back and watched and listened as the two police officers argued over which basketball team was better, the LA Lakers or the Cascade Jaguars. Blair had contributed at first, but this argument had been going on throughout the meal. Finally, Blair just decided to let the two argue it out on their own.

The two detectives had become friends surprisingly fast. Once they found some common ground, it was like they knew each other all their lives. When they found out they both enjoyed surfing, they spent two hours trading surfing stories. Blair had enjoyed listening. He had never been surfing before, and he found it interesting. Some of the stories were actually funny.

“Well,” Blair interrupted the two men, getting to his feet. “As much fun as it is listening to you two argue, I really should be going. I have a class to teach this afternoon.”

“I thought you had the day off,” Jim said.

“I did, but a friend of mine asked me to cover her class for her and considering all the times she covered for me while I was out helping you, I figured I owed her one. I’ll see you guys later.”

“Well, do you need a ride?” Jim asked.

“No. I’ll just take the bus. It’s cool. You guys heading back to the station?”

“Yeah. Right after this.”

“Ok, see ya.”

Steve watched the younger man leave and then turned to Jim. “He’s a teacher?”

“Teaching Assistant, actually. He’s a grad student at Rainier University.”

“How does a grad student get hooked up with a police detective?” Steve asked.

“Sandburg’s working on his doctorate. He’s studying closed societies and the police department is the subject of his dissertation. He just happened to be partner with me.” Jim delivered the standard lie.

Steve seemed to buy that as he nodded his head.

Jim finished up with his hamburger. “Well, are you finished?”

“Yeah. Let’s go.”

They paid for their meal and then left the restaurant and started down the beach. They had parked about block down from the restaurant at Blair’s suggestion so that they could take a walk down the beach. Jim had conceded because it gave the men more time to talk.

Steve glanced at his companion as they walked. “Let me ask you something, Jim. What would your father say if you told him you were going on a dangerous assignment in another city?”

Jim looked at him curiously, wondering where that came from. Then he sighed as his thoughts went to his father. He was still angry at him for what he had said. His father practically accused Blair of mooching off Jim, of just taking advantage of him. That had got Jim royally pissed, and he really didn’t want to speak to the man for a while.

“To tell you the truth,” Jim answered. “I’m not sure I’d even tell him right now.”

Steve looked puzzled. “Why not?”

“I don’t have the best relationship with my father. He wasn’t there much when I was a kid. And some of the things he did and said… Anyway, when I was old enough, I joined the army, left home, and never came back. We haven’t spoken to each other in 15 years. We just started speaking again a few months ago, but right now, I don’t even want to look at him.”

Steve looked appalled. He couldn’t imagine not speaking to his father for 15 years. That was outrageous. He and his father were always together. They lived together. They worked together, and sometimes they even played together. They were more than father and son. They were best friends. What could Jim’s father have done to warrant him leaving home and not coming back even for a visit?

“Why do you ask?” Jim asked.

“Huh? Oh. No reason,” Steve replied distractedly.

Jim lips curved into a small smile. “Let me guess. Your dad didn’t want you to come here.”

Steve sighed and nodded. “I know he was just trying to protect me, and he had every right to be worried, but he tried to order me not to go like I was still a child. We got into this big argument and I left. I didn’t even say good-bye.”

“And you’re feeling guilty,” Jim said.

“Yeah. I know it sounds silly, but Dad and I, we don’t fight much. And I hate it when we do.”

“Well, I’m sure everything will be fine when you get back.”

Both continued walking in companionable silence, neither one aware of the close scrutiny they were getting.

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

Ricki Boone watched the two men walk past and waited until they were out of earshot. He pulled out a walkie-talkie. Bringing it to his mouth, he depressed the button.

“Hey Dan.”

“Yo,” his brother responded from his position atop a sand dune a hundred yards from their position.

“Looks like we found another candidate.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Take them both.”

“Roger that.”

Dan hefted the rifle, cocked it, and took aim.

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

Jim’s head immediately turned to the side as the ominous click sound of a gun being cocked reached his ears. He spun around, his eyesight stretching automatically to follow the sound. He spotted the guy on a sand dune holding a rifle aimed at them.

“Look out!” he yelled, pushing Steve to the ground. He didn’t get out of the way fast enough, however, and as Jim felt the sting in his left arm, he dimly realized that he had not heard the crack of a gunshot like he had expected. It was more like a “pfft” sound. He looked at his arm and pulled the dart out. He looked at it, his vision beginning to blur. “Oh shit,” he mumbled as he fell forward.

“Jim!” Steve yelled as he saw the other man fall.

He grabbed Jim’s arms and pulled him behind a rock outcropping, dimly noticing the tranquilizer dart in the unconscious man’s hand. Once they were safely behind the rocks, he checked Jim’s pulse. Satisfied with the slow, steady beat, he pulled out his gun and peered around the rocks. He didn’t see anyone, and he had no idea where that shot came from. Ducking back behind the rocks, he pulled out his cell phone, intending to call for backup, but before he could dial, he felt a crushing blow to his right temple. He landed next to Jim unconscious.

Ricki threw the crowbar to the ground and smiled satisfactorily. He pulled out the walkie-talkie.

“Dan. We got ‘em.”

“Good work, bro. Now it’s time for the fun part.”

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

Blair looked up at the clock as he stretched languorously. It was 2:00pm. The class had lasted an hour and afterwards, Blair decided to go back to his office to get a little grading done. He’d been at it for about an hour and a half. Maybe it was time to head back to the station. He started packing up his things when his phone rang. He snatched it up after the second ring.

“Blair Sandburg.”

“Sandburg, do you know where your partner is?” Simon’s voice boomed over the line.

“Uh, no, Simon,” Blair answered puzzled. “Isn’t he there?”

“Sandburg,” Simon said in exasperation. “If he were here, would I be calling you?”

“No, I guess not. Well, the last time I saw him was at lunch. In fact, Jim said they were heading back to the station afterwards.” Blair’s heart went up into his throat, and he swallowed a few times to get the words out. “You don’t think something happened, do you?”

There was a sigh over the phone line. “I don’t know. I called him at the loft. I called his cell phone. He’s not answering, and no one has seen him since you guys left this morning.”

Blair’s gut tightened in fear. It wasn’t like Jim not to call, not let someone know where he was, especially if he was on duty. Blair had a bad feeling about this.

“Alright. I’m heading over to the loft, see if he’s been there. I’ll call you once I get there,” Blair said, standing up and stuffing everything into his backpack. He hung up the phone without giving Simon time to respond, gathered his backpack and jacket, and left.

The drive to the loft, which usually took about a half hour, took Blair about ten minutes, propelled by his fear for his partner. He didn’t see Jim’s truck in the parking lot anywhere so he wasn’t surprised when he walked into an empty loft. He looked around the loft carefully but found no trace that Jim had been there since this morning. He sighed and collapsed into a chair. Damn it, Jim. Where are you?

Blair nearly jumped out of his skin when a ringing suddenly emanated from his backpack. He quickly rummaged around in the leather pack until he found his cell phone.

“Hello? Jim?” Blair answered. There was no answer. “Jim, is this you?” Silence. He pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the screen. Jim’s cell phone number displayed on the screen. Putting the phone back to his ear, he said, “Jim, if you can hear me, answer me.” There was still no answer, but as Blair listened closer, he thought he could hear breathing and then there was what sounded like grunting in the background.

His heart started pounding in fear as the silence continued. “Jim, c’mon, man. You’re…

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

“…scaring me here. Jim?”

Dan smiled as he lowered the cell phone and gently placed it on the table. The voice on the other end could still be heard frantically calling to his missing partner. Dan looked at his brother and then at their four prisoners tied to chairs nearby. Three of them were still out from the tranquilizers they had given them, but one was awake and moving. He didn’t know why he was awake. They had given him enough tranquilizers to knock him out for hours.

Jim struggled against his bonds, getting more and more agitated as he listened to Blair’s fear-filled voice calling his name. Jim tried to answer him through the gag in his mouth, but all that came out were grunts.

“Why is he awake?” Ricki asked quietly as they both watched the man struggle.

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll just give him more tranquilizers later.”

They looked back down at the phone, the voice still audible.

“Think this will work?” Ricki asked.

“Yep. They’ll come.”

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

After his repeated attempts to get Jim to answer failed, Blair grabbed the loft phone and dialed Simon’s number. It was answered after the third ring.

“Banks.”

“Simon, it’s Blair.”

“What did you find?”

“Nothing here, but I just got a call on my cell phone just now. I think it’s Jim, but he’s not answering.”

“How do you know it’s Jim?”

“The phone says it’s Jim’s cell phone, but he’s not saying anything.” Blair was talking fast in his nervousness.

“Alright. Slow down. Do you hear anything on the phone?” Simon asked.

Blair took a deep breath and tried to calm down. “Um, yeah. There was breathing and some grunts in the background. And I think I heard two voices talking to each other, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Simon, I think he’s in trouble.”

“Ok, keep the line open. I’m going to put a trace on your phone. Meanwhile, meet me at the station.”

Blair nodded and hung up, remembering too late that Simon couldn’t see him. He put the cell back to his ear.

“Jim, if you can hear me, hang in there. We’re going to find you.”

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

When Blair got to the station, he was entering the bullpen just as Simon was leaving his office, putting on his coat.

“Sandburg, we’ve got a lock on your mysterious phone call,” Simon called.

“Then let’s go,” Blair said.

“Brown, Rafe, Megan, you’re with me,” Simon ordered.

“What’s going on, Captain?” Brown asked.

“Jim may be in trouble.”

That was all he needed to say. Immediately the detectives sprang to their feet, grabbing their coats and heading out of the bullpen.

The trace led them to a vacant house in upper Cascade. It didn’t look like it had been vacant for long. The grass was still neatly cut. The house was in good condition, and there was uncollected mail in the mailbox. Simon pulled the car in the driveway while the police cruisers that had followed splayed along the street in front of the house. Simon looked at his silent passenger.

“Stay here until I give the all clear,” he said. “Ah, no buts,” he added when Blair opened his mouth to argue.

Blair slumped in the seat and nodded reluctantly. He watched as police officers converged on the house, some entering through the front and others going around to the back. Blair’s fingers tapped his thigh anxiously. Finally, Simon came out and motioned for him to come inside. Blair quickly got out of the car and hurried inside.

“Well?” he asked.

“There’s no one here,” Simon answered grimly.

Blair’s heart clenched as his hopes of finding his partner were shattered.

“But this is where the call came from, right?” Blair asked.

“Yeah. C’mon.”

Simon grabbed his arm and gently led him into the other room. The room was empty except for a table. On the table sat two cell phones, one opened, two badges, and two guns. Simon picked up the open cell phone.

“This is Jim’s cell phone.”

Blair looked down at his own open cell phone. Finally, he flipped it closed and stuck it in his pocket. He moved closer to the table to get a closer look at the other objects on it.

“Along with Sloan’s cell, and both their badges and guns,” Simon explained.

Blair closed his eyes. “So they have Steve too.”

“It would appear so.”

“But why would they call me and then leave the line open?” Blair asked.

“It’s obvious that they wanted us here, but the question is, why?”

Brown came down the stairs and approached the two men. “Captain, there’s something upstairs you guys should see.”

They followed up the stairs to what used to be a bedroom but now looked more like an observation room. A large hole had been cut into the wall and replaced with a plate glass window so that the room could be viewed from the hallway.

“Whoa. What’s up that?” Blair asked.

“That’s not all. Take a look at what’s inside the room,” Brown said, opening the door and entering the room beyond.

The room was fairly large, like a master bedroom, and it was empty except for a bank of monitors in the middle of the room. There were four blank monitors in a row situated in a module. Four small headsets lay in a neat row on the table in front of the monitors.

“What is all this?” Simon asked.

“From I can tell, Captain, it looks like monitoring equipment. What it’s for is anybody’s guess,” Brown answered.

Blair stepped inside after Simon and looked around the room. His eyes roamed each nook and cranny until they fell on a camera on the wall in one corner of the room.

“Simon,” Blair said. When he had the captain’s attention, he pointed at the camera.

Simon looked at the device carefully. He noticed that the red light under the camera lens was off, indicating that the camera was off.

“It’s not on,” he reported.

“Why would there be cameras in a vacant house?” Blair asked.

“Well, obviously someone went to a lot of trouble to set all this up.”

Blair took a step toward the monitors and suddenly, they sprang to life. Blair stepped back as a fuzzy picture appeared on the four monitors.

“What did I do?” he asked.

Simon looked around and noticed a metal circle imbedded in the wall on the left side of the room. “Motion sensor,” he said, pointing. He looked back at the monitors. “These must programmed to turn on when the motion sensors are tripped.” He looked back up at the camera and saw the red light was on. “The camera too.”

“This is pretty high-tech stuff, Captain. It can’t be a coincidence that all this is here,” Brown surmised.

“I agree. I want all this equipment analyzed as quickly as possible. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find something.”

Blair wasn’t paying attention to the two men talking. He was focused on the monitor. His heart starting pounding as he moved closer to the monitors, which showed four people tied to chairs situated in a row from four different angles, and one of those people was Jim.

“Oh my god, Simon, it’s Jim,” Blair whispered.

Simon and Henri stopped in their conversation and focused on the monitors. Besides Jim, there was also Steve Sloan and two others, a male and a female. All seemed to be unconscious.

“Oh my god,” Simon whispered. He turned to Henri. “Get tech support in here now. I want to know where that signal is coming from. Go!”

Brown nodded and ran out the room while Simon turned his gaze back to the monitors. He examined his detective closely, trying to determine the extent of his condition. He couldn’t see visible wounds, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t injured at all. Sloan, however, had blood running down the right side of his face from a gash on his temple. The other two seemed unharmed.

“Simon, we gotta find out where that is,” Blair said. There was desperation in the young man’s voice.

Simon put his hand on Blair’s shoulder. “We will.”

They looked back at the monitors in time to see Jim start to awaken.

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

Jim slowly lifted his aching head as awareness slowly returned. He looked around with blurry eyes, trying to figure out where he was. He didn’t recognize the place. He tried to get up and found that he couldn’t. He looked down and saw that ropes completely encircled his chest, securing him to the back of a wooden chair. Ropes also tied his arms to the arms of the chair. Oh great, what now? he thought. He closed his eyes and tried to remember what had happened to land him in this predicament.

He remembered walking on the beach with Steve and hearing a gun being cocked in the distance. He remembered pushing Steve down and feeling the sting in his arm that was some kind of dart. He didn’t know how long he’d been out before he awakened to find himself tied to a chair. Sloan and two other people he didn’t know were next to him similarly tied. He especially remembered one of his captures calling Blair on his cell phone and the panic he felt when he realized their intent. Then there was the sting of a syringe in his neck and then oblivion once more.

He opened his eyes and looked around again. This definitely wasn’t the house they had been in before. This looked more like some sort of warehouse. Their kidnappers must have moved them while he was unconscious, but the question was, where?

Jim looked down at the ropes again. He tested their strength and found them to be secure. There was no way he was going to get free, and unfortunately, he didn’t have a knife handy. He looked to his right and saw Steve tied a chair next to him and the two other people just beyond him, all appeared to be unconscious. Jim extended his hearing to listen to their heartbeats and sighed when he heard the slow, steady beats. He stretched his hearing beyond the room he was in and found two heartbeats in the next room and a third somewhere outside the building. He brought his hearing back down to normal and looked at Steve again.

“Steve,” he called. “Steve, wake up. Steve.”

Steve’s hand jerked and then he slowly lifted his head and opened his eyes. He groaned, his face scrunched in pain.

“Whoa, what hit me?” he asked.

“If I were to take a guess, I’d say it was one of our kidnappers,” Jim replied, noticing the blood on the side of the other detective’s face. “You ok?”

“My head’s killing me, but other than that I’m fine.” He just then noticed that he was tied up. He tried to pull free. “What the…? What’s going on? Where are we?”

“You got me on the where, but I think we’ve been kidnapped,” Jim replied.

Steve sighed, closing his eyes. “Great. Any idea who?”

“No.”

Jim took a closer look at the room they were in. The room itself was very large with several pieces of machinery around. The first thing Jim noticed was the bank of monitors sitting right in front of them against the far wall. The four monitors were blank. There was also a camera on the wall near the ceiling pointed at them. Looking around, he noticed three other cameras aimed at them as well from different angles.

There were several objects about waist high covered with a dingy sheet against the left wall, and next to that was a metal tray table with several knives and assorted blades situated neatly in rows on top. Jim didn’t want to think about what those were for.

Panicked breathing brought Jim’s attention to the woman sitting next to Steve. She had just woken up and realized her situation and was starting to panic.

“What’s going on? Who are you people? Why am I here?” She started pulling frantically at her arms, trying to get them free.

“Hey, calm down,” Jim said in his gentlest tone. He needed to get her calmed down otherwise she was going to hurt herself if she kept pulling at the ropes like that. “Calm down. Hey, look at me. Look at me.”

Jim’s voice finally registered. She stopped struggling and looked at him.

“It’s going to be ok,” he reassured her.

“How do you know?”

“I don’t, but you’re just going to have to trust me. What’s your name?”

“Britney…Mercer. Britney Mercer,” she replied, her voice trembling.

“Britney, I’m Detective Jim Ellison, and this is Lt. Steve Sloan. We’re with the police.”

Britney seemed to calm down a bit at that. “You are?”

“Yes, and we’re going to find a way out of here. You just have to hang in there. Can you do that?”

She swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “Yeah, I think so,” she replied in a small voice.

“Oh no.” A groan came from the fourth member of their group. “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.”

“Hey, you alright down there?” Steve asked.

“No, no, no, no,” he kept repeating, seeming not to hear Steve’s question. He was rocking back and forth as much as the ropes would allow. “Now it’s going to begin.”

Steve and Jim exchanged glances. The guy seemed to be on the edge.

“What’s going to begin?” Jim asked.

“The torture,” he replied absently.

“Torture! What torture?!” Britney exclaimed, her panic rising again.

“It’s what they do. They ask questions, and if the answer’s wrong, they torture you.” He looked at the three people sitting next to him. “But they don’t ask you questions. They ask your father.”

“You’re Kane Stark, aren’t you?” Steve asked. At the guy’s nod, Steve closed his eyes and swore. “Oh shit.”

“Kane Stark. Why do I know that name?” Jim asked.

“He was kidnapped recently in Los Angeles,” Steve replied.

Jim nodded. Now he remembered. He and Blair had been watching the news every night for the past few months, trying to keep up-to-date on the kidnapping case that had so far left over twenty dead that they knew of. After finding out that there had been reports of similar incidents in New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Salt Lake City, and many more, Jim figured that if these guys ended up in Cascade, it would be best if they knew all they could about them. Now it would appear that they have come to Cascade, and he’s going to be one of their first victims here.

“Tribulation,” Jim said. “Looks like they’re not in Los Angeles anymore.”

“So it would appear.”

“Oh shit,” Jim echoed Steve’s earlier sentiments.

The door opened then and two men entered. They were both dressed all in black, and the only difference between the two was that one was wearing a white plastic mask and the other was wearing a black plastic mask to match his clothing. The masks were the same in design, completely covering their whole head. They only thing the prisoners could see of their captors were their eyes and mouth. Both had the same emerald green eyes.

“Ah, good. You’re awake,” White Mask remarked. “Just in time for the show.”

Black Mask moved to the bank of monitors in front of them without a word. He pressed a few buttons and the monitors flipped on, each depicting a different image. One showed a large room in what looked like a house, possibly a living area. A second showed the front porch. Another showed the backyard, and the fourth…the fourth is what caught Jim’s attention. It showed a room with a window in the back wall overlooking a hallway. The top of a bank of monitors could been seen along the bottom of the screen, and right in the middle were Blair and Simon and other police officers behind them. Jim straightened up in his chair as he saw his partner’s face on the screen.

White Mask turned and looked up at the camera located above the bank of monitors and started speaking.

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

Blair watched as the two men entered the room where his partner and the other prisoners were being kept. His heart constricted in fear. So this was Tribulation. He and Jim had been listening to the news about these two for months, and now to see it firsthand, it was scary. Jim had suspected that they would come to Cascade one day, but neither one of them expected that day to be today.

“Ah, I see you discovered my house of pain,” the man in the white mask spoke directly to them. “Glad you could make it. I was hoping you would be smart enough to call the police and have them trace my call.”

Blair and Simon looked at each other. They had already speculated that these guys wanted them at that house, but the question was why?

“There are no microphones in that room,” the man continued, “so if you want to talk to me, I suggest you put those headsets on.”

Both Blair and Simon reached for one of the four headsets on the table and put them on.

“Who are you?” Simon immediately asked.

White Mask laughed. “Do you really think I’m going to tell you that? I don’t think so. But you might be able to guess. If you’re smart enough.”

“Why are you doing this?” Blair asked.

The guy immediately sobered. He answered in a serious tone. “Because some people aren’t meant to be fathers.”

Blair and Simon looked at each other, puzzled.

“Now, the only reason I’m allowing the police to be present right now is because I happen to have two police officers as my ‘players.’ However, I can’t have too many of you in that house. You might try something. So I’m only going to allow members of Major Crimes to be present, and only four members please. The rest will have to leave, and if I see a uniformed cop or even another detective in or near that house, they will suffer.” He gestured to the four people seated behind him. “So I must ask that anyone who is not a Major Crime detective to please leave the premises.”

A full minute went by, and none of them moved. White Mask stared at them from the screen. He nodded.

“So, you want to try my patience. Fine.” He motioned to someone off camera, and few minutes later, Black Mask came on dragging a metal tray over to the four prisoners. Black Mask then picked up a particularly nasty-looking blade with a serrated edge and held it to Jim’s throat. White Mask looked back at the camera. “Let’s see how much pain you can watch,” he said.

“No! Simon!” Blair cried, looking pleadingly at the captain.

“No, wait!” Simon spoke up. He sighed. “Alright.” He looked over his shoulder at the group of cops gathered in the doorway. “Everyone out. Now.”

The officers looked at each other and then reluctantly filed out of the room. White Mask waited for a few minutes, looking at something that was off camera. Soon, only Simon, Blair, Brown, and Rafe remained.

“That includes the hippie,” the man said.

“No way. I’m not going anywhere. Jim is my partner.”

White Mask snorted. “You expect me to believe that you’re a cop let alone a member of the Major Crime unit?”

“I’ll vouch for him. I consider him apart of my department. He stays,” Simon stated firmly, daring the man to argue.

Neither man moved. White Mask stood and stared at them, and Black Mask still held that knife to Jim’s throat.

“You truly are a big man, threatening a bound man like this,” Jim said calmly. “You think you’re some kind of saviors, don’t you.”

“As a matter of fact, we do,” Black Mask whispered in Jim’s ear. He removed the knife from Jim’s throat while the other came over and hit Jim across the face.

Jim lifted his head up and looked at his captor. “You’re doing all this to punish fathers. What was your own father like, I wonder.”

Jim, what are you doing, Blair thought as he watched the scene helplessly.

White Mask spun around to face the detective. At first, Blair thought he was going to hit Jim again, but then he just laughed.

“You’re trying to get me angry so that I’ll say something that I shouldn’t. Well, I’m going to tell everyone this. My parents are dead, and my father was an asshole. Now,” he hit Jim harder this time, “number one rule for all four of you. You don’t speak until spoken to.”

Jim spit out a mouthful of blood and looked calmly up at the man, but he kept quiet this time. White Mask then turned back to the camera.

“All right. The kid can stay. Now I have a few rules for you. Rule number 1, as of right now, you are all stuck in this house. You are not to set foot outside of this house. The bathrooms are in working order and there’s plenty of food stocked in the kitchen so there is absolutely no reason for you to leave. I have cameras posted outside and inside so I’ll know if you do. Rule number 2, you are not to tamper with any of the cameras in any way. We’ll be constantly monitoring them so try to stay away from them. Rule number 3, no cell phones. I want all of you to take your cell phones out of your pockets and place them in the box on the floor next to the table.”

Slowly, the four men took out their cell phones, and they each placed them in the small cardboard box sitting next to the bank of monitors.

“Very good. Now, I want the hippie to take the box and place it on the back porch in full view of the camera. Do that now.”

Blair hesitated, glancing at Simon briefly. He then picked up the box and started for the door, a little annoyed at being called hippie yet again. Why does everyone have to call him hippie? He may have the hairstyle, but he was far from a hippie.

Without thinking, Blair muttered indignantly, “My name is Sandburg.”

“Mr. Sandburg.”

Blair stopped in the doorway. He closed his eyes, belatedly realizing that he was still wearing the headset. He turned around.

“Take that tone of voice with me again, and you’re partner here suffers. You got that?”

Blair nodded slightly before leaving the room. He tried to swallow past the lump that had formed in his throat as he hurried down the stairs and toward the back door. These guys were certifiably nuts, and the last thing Blair wanted to do was provoke them into hurting Jim or one of the others. He was going to have to learn to keep his mouth shut because talking wasn’t going to get them out of this, and it may just make matters worse.

Blair opened the back door and placed the box on the floor in front of the porch, making sure that it was in view of camera located above the door. He then went back inside and hurried back up the stairs. When he got back to the room, the man on the screen spoke again.

“Good. And rule number 4, you will not interfere with the proceedings. You will stay out of this room during sessions.”

“What sessions?” Simon asked.

“You’ll see. Oh, and failure to follow these rules,” White Mask moved back over to Jim and replaced the knife to Jim’s throat. Jim had his stoic mask in place, trying not to show any weakness. “Detective Ellison, here, becomes a roadmap of pain. Do we understand each other?”

“Yes,” Simon answered grimly.

“Good.” He removed the knife again and stepped in front of Jim. “Now I want you to do something for me. These four individuals will be participating in a little game of ours. Detective Ellison and Lt. Sloan, you already know. This young lady,” he pointed at the young girl sitting next to Steve who looked scared out of her mind, “is Britney Mercer and that’s Kane Stark.” He pointed to the fourth prisoner sitting next to Britney. “I want you to bring their fathers to that house and only their fathers. Bring them to that room. I will allow one of you and only one to go outside and use a cell phone. You have 24 hours. I’ll be in touch.”

The monitors switched off. Blair took in a shaky breath. He took off the earpiece and set it on the table. He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and he looked up into Simon’s concerned face.

“Are you alright?” the captain asked.

Blair snorted. “No, Simon, I am so far from alright. Do you have any idea what these guys do?”

“Yeah, I know exactly what they do,” Simon replied. He sighed and glanced back at Brown and Rafe. Both looked worried. Placing his own headset back on the table, he said, “Stay here. I’ll go make the calls.”

Blair didn’t even acknowledge Simon’s departure as he leaned his hands on the table, his head hanging forward. He couldn’t get the image of Jim tied to a chair at the complete mercy of those two sadistic men as they beat him. He felt sick to his stomach.

Henri put a hand on Blair’s shoulder in a comforting manner. “It’s going to be ok, Hairboy.”

Blair lifted his head. “I’m scared for him, H.”

“We all are,” Rafe said, placing a hand on Blair’s other shoulder. “But Jim’s tough. He’ll make it through this, and so will we.”

I hope you’re right, Blair thought because he had a feeling that the worst was yet to come.

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

Black Mask pressed a button on a remote control that shut off the cameras in the room. The two captors then moved to the other end of the large room where they thought they couldn’t be heard. Little did they know that they had a Sentinel in their midst. Jim automatically dialed up his hearing to listen in to the conversation.

“That guy’s going to be trouble,” Black Mask said, looking at Jim.

“He’s a cop. What did you expect? That just makes it more of a challenge,” White Mask stated. He looked at the other man. “You’re not chickening out on me, are you, Ricki?”

Black Mask, Ricki, shook his head. “No, I’m not chickening out on you, Dan. It’s that I don’t want this operation to fall apart on us.”

“Don’t worry, bro. There’s no way they could possibly find us. We were careful.”

Ricki nodded.

Dan moved to the open door and stuck his head out, looking up and down the hall. He moved to where Ricki was standing. “Where’s Maxi?”

“I don’t know. She’s around here somewhere.”

Dan sighed. “I don’t like not knowing where she is, not after what she tried to do the last time.”

“Relax, man. She wouldn’t fink on us.”

“Not for a lack of trying.”

“We talked to her. She understands now.”

“All right, all right. Go watch the monitors. I’ll take our ‘guests’ to their ‘accommodations.’”

Jim watched as Ricki left the room. They must have more monitors in some other part of the warehouse. He wondered just how many cameras they had in that house. He turned his attention to Dan as he came over to the prisoners. One by one, he untied them and led them at gunpoint to another room across the warehouse. He threw each of them into the room and then shut and locked the door.

The room was dark, and Jim dialed up his sight in order to the see the room better. It was small compared to the large expanse they had just been in. There was only one door that Jim could see and one window, which was boarded up and only allowed minimum sunlight in. Looks like there’s no escaping through there, Jim thought. It was too high for any of them to reach anyway. Although, those crates Jim noticed in the corner of the room could be stacked on top of each other underneath the window. They could reach that window if they had to, but those boards would be a problem.

Steve sighed as he looked around the room even though he couldn’t see much. He turned to Jim. “What are we going to do?”

“We have to find a way out of here,” Jim replied.

“That’s going to be a little difficult since we can’t see much except for that window.”

Jim rubbed his forehead in thought. “Alright. There are some crates over in that corner. Stack them under that window and see if you can get those boards off. I’m going to see how secure that door is.”

Steve looked to where Jim pointed, but all he saw were shadows. “What crates?”

“Trust me. They’re there. Go.”

Steve just shrugged and took his word for it. Jim went over to the door and began to examine it closely. First, he tried to the knob, but of course, it was locked. No surprise there. He tried yanking on it hard. This warehouse was pretty old. Jim could tell by the looks of the place. These doors couldn’t be very sturdy. But as he ran sensitive fingers over the portal, he realized that the door was brand new. There was no way he could just pull it open. He took closer look at the lock. It was brand new as well, but it was nothing fancy. He could probably pick it if he had something to pick it with. He looked around on the floor for something, anything to use as a lock-pick, but there was nothing. He sighed in defeat and looked to where Steve was standing on a stack of crates and pulling futilely at the boards.

“Any luck?” Jim asked.

Steve sighed and hopped down from the crates. “No. They aren’t coming off.”

“Damn it.”

“I take it you didn’t have any luck with the door.”

“No.”

A quiet sob brought their attention to the two other people in the room. Britney sat against the wall with her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around her legs. Her head rested on her knees. Her shoulders shook with the force of her quiet sobs. Kane sat next to her, trying to comfort her.

Jim sighed. “We have to get them out of here.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

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

Los Angeles

Dr. Mark Sloan sat down at one of the tables in the doctor’s lounge with a soft sigh, coffee cup in hand. He was exhausted. This was the first time he had been able to sit down for the last twelve hours. This was also the first time he was able to think about the argument he’d had with Steve the day before.

He still didn’t know what had come over him. He didn’t usually forbid Steve from doing anything, especially something job-related. He knew how important Steve’s job was to the younger man. He would never get in the way of that. He didn’t like that Steve was a cop. It scared him sometimes at the danger his son has to put himself in in order to get the job done, but he had never stopped him from doing those things.

Mark took a sip from his coffee mug as he thought about what he had been thinking when Steve told him about the undercover assignment. All he could think about at that time was the poor soul who had gone undercover in the Murder For Hire operation and turned up dead. He remembered when Steve told him about it, and he remembered thinking, God, what if that had been Steve? And then his son was telling him that he was going undercover with those same men, and it brought to life the very real fear that it still could end up being his son who gets killed. He just lost it.

Steve had left that morning. He didn’t even say good-bye, and that made Mark feel even worse. If something really did happen to Steve, he didn’t want the last words he said to him to be spoken in anger. He wanted to call his son and apologize, but he knew that he couldn’t without blowing his cover. He would just have to wait until Steve came home.

Mark was brought out his thoughts when Dr. Jesse Travis entered the lounge.

“Hey Mark. How are you doing,” the young doctor asked as he poured himself a cup of coffee.

“Tired. I’m just enjoying the free time while I have it before it gets busy again.”

“Oh I know,” Jesse said. He came with his coffee and sat down next to the older doctor. “Can you believe three disasters in one day? God must be vengeful today or something.” He looked closely at his mentor and frowned. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” Mark replied, rubbing his face with one hand. “I’m just worried about Steve.”

“Ah.” Jesse nodded in understanding. “I’m sure he’s ok, Mark.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. I just can’t help worrying.”

Mark’s cell phone rang then. He pulled it out of his pocket and answered, “Hello?”

“Yes, is this Mark Sloan?”

“Yes it is. Who’s this?”

“I’m Captain Simon Banks with the Cascade, Washington Police Department. I’m calling about your son.”

Mark’s face turned white. “Oh my god. Is he ok?”

Jesse immediately put his coffee cup down at Mark’s tone and listened intently to the conversation.

There was a hesitation over the phone line. “You’re son’s been kidnapped, Mr. Sloan.”

Mark’s heart plummeted to his feet. “What? By who? Does this have something to do with the undercover assignment?”

“Actually, this has nothing to do with the undercover assignment. Two guys calling themselves Tribulation is responsible. I’m assuming you’ve heard of them.”

Mark swallowed hard. Of course he’d heard of them. How could he not? They were all over the news, and they had been the subject of many conversations between Jesse, Amanda, Steve, and himself. How could this happen?

Mark licked suddenly dry lips before answering. “How many do they have?” If they still had Kane Stark, then that meant they had two including Steve. They would need two more before they started anything. That should give them enough time to find them.

There was a sigh and then came the answer that turned Mark’s blood to ice. “Four. Your son, one of my detectives, and two other people. Your presence has been requested.”

Of course, the next step was to get the fathers of the victims together, and then everything can start.

Mark closed his eyes and asked, “Where?” He quickly jotted down the address given and then hung up.

“What’s wrong? Mark?” Jesse asked, worried.

“Tribulation,” was all the older man said.

“Huh?”

“Tribulation. They’ve moved to Cascade. They have Steve.”

Jesse’s face paled. “Oh God.”

“I have to go to Cascade right away.” Mark pushed himself to his feet.

Jesse stood with him and placed a hand on the older man’s shoulder. “Listen, why don’t you go home and pack a bag. I’ll get you a flight to Cascade.”

Mark gave him the barest of smiles. “Thanks Jesse. And tell Amanda…”

“I’ll let her know what’s going on. You just get to Steve.”

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

Cascade

Simon closed the cell phone with a snap and sighed. That had been the hardest call he’d ever had to make. At least he hadn’t had to break the news to Britney Mercer’s and Kane Stark’s fathers. He had called Joel at the station and, after filling him on what was happening, asked him to track down their parents and have their fathers come to the house alone. Then he had called William Ellison, which had been just as hard, before calling Mark Sloan.

He looked down at the phone in his hand and got an idea. Making a point to keep his back to the camera over the back door, he walked to the box where all the other cell phones were and knelt next to it. He pretended to put the phone back in the box while secretly stashing it away in his coat pocket. He then stood up and casually waked back into the house like he had nothing to hide.

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

William Ellison got out of his car and looked up at the house. It looked like just a normal house, and yet he dreaded what he’d find inside. What sort of things he’d see and hear. No, this couldn’t be the house. It looked too normal, too run-of-the-mill, but this was the address Captain Banks had given him over the phone.

He would never forget that phone call. He had been in his study like every other day before this one. When he answered the phone, it was like any other day, until he heard the deep voice of his son’s boss, Captain Simon Banks. He vaguely remembered meeting briefly with the man after Jimmy had apprehended Aaron Foster, the man who had kidnapped him just to lure Jimmy out to that football field. He knew that the only reason Captain Banks would be calling him was that Jimmy had been hurt or…killed. When the captain told him that Jimmy had been kidnapped and to meet him at this address he had not only been scared but also puzzled. He had guessed that this might have something to do with his son’s work as a police officer, but why did Banks tell him to meet him at this house.

Well, he wasn’t going to get any answers standing out here. He took a deep breath and walked up the front walk to the door. He knocked and waited for a few minutes before the door was opened. He paused as he saw the long-haired young man framed in the doorway. Blair Sandburg, he remembered. Seeing him reminded him of the last thing he had said to his son, the last time they had spoken. He had asked his son why he had let that hippie take advantage of him for so long. He didn’t even know why he said it. Old habits die hard. It just slipped out, and once it was out, he knew it was the wrong thing to say. He could still see Jimmy’s face as his expression hardened and his eyes became like chips of ice. He blew up and started yelling, and William had yelled back in defense. Then Jimmy had stormed out, and they hadn’t seen or spoken to each other since.

“Mr. Ellison,” the young man’s voice brought William out of his thoughts, and he focused his attention to the present situation. “Come in.” Blair stepped aside to let William inside.

William looked around and noticed four other people in the room off to his left. The tall, black man he recognized as Captain Banks. He didn’t know the other people.

Banks approached William and shook his hand. “Mr. Ellison, thank you for coming. These are two of my detectives, Brian Rafe and Henri Brown.” He indicated the two men standing next to him. “And this is Anthony Mercer.” He pointed to the balding, grey-haired man standing off to the side. He looked just as scared as William felt. “His daughter has been kidnapped by the same people who took Jim.”

William looked at the captain. “They kidnapped more than one person?”

“Yes. They have four. We’re waiting for the other two fathers to show up, and then everything will be explained.”

He sure hoped so.

It was a few hours before the others arrived. The first through the door was introduced as Matt Stark. He was a heavy-set man with a round face and salt and pepper hair. A few minutes later, a white-haired man introduced as Dr. Mark Sloan arrived. Apparently, both their sons were kidnapped as well. William didn’t really pay much attention to these others. He had a one-track mind right now, and all he could think about was his son. He focused intently on Captain Banks as he stood in front of the four of them.

“Ok, I’m sure some of you know this already, but for the benefit of the ones who don’t, I’m going to start from the beginning. As near as we can figure, this all started a few months ago. Now this might have started earlier than that. We don’t know, but that’s as far back as we’ve been able to track this thing so far.”

“Excuse me for interrupting, but what are you talking about?” Anthony Mercer asked.

Simon took a deep breath. “The short version is, two men who have yet to be identified have kidnapping people all across the country and torturing them in order to punish bad fathers.”

There was a weighted silence in the room for a while before it was broken. “Tribulation,” Matt Stark whispered.

Simon glanced at him and replied, “Yes.”

William swallowed hard as he tried to calm himself. Jimmy had told him about Tribulation before they had their fight. He remembered how angry his son had been while he talked about it, angry and something else. Fear. There had been a hint of fear in the ice blue eyes. William put his face in his hands as he realized that Jimmy knew that there was a possibility they would come to Cascade and that they would be perfect targets. Oh God, how were they going to get through this?

“What’s Tribulation?” Mercer asked.

“Where have you been? Hiding under a rock?” Stark nearly snapped. “They’re only the biggest mass murderers in the country right now. They kidnap people and they ask their fathers questions, and if they get them wrong…well, they do horrible things.”

Mercer looked at Banks. “And you think these are the people who took my daughter?”

“Yes, we do.”

“So what are you doing about it?”

“Believe me, we’re doing everything that we can. But right now, I need you all to follow me.”

Banks led them upstairs to a room with a bank of monitors in the middle. He stopped at the door and indicated that they should enter first. William wasn’t sure what was going on, but entered with the rest of them. Once they got close to the monitors, they suddenly turned on to show an empty room. Then a man wearing a white plastic mask stepped into the shot. He looked at the camera and smiled.

“Ah, so glad you could make it,” the man spoke. “On the table in front of you are four headsets. Put them on.”

Three of the four worried fathers looked at each other uncertainly and then reached forward hesitantly to take the headsets. The only one who didn’t hesitant was Mark Sloan. He had been through many situations like this one. He knew it was better to do what was told and wait for the right moment.

“Good. You will wear these headsets any time you’re in this room, and you will take them off before you leave.”

“Where’s my daughter?” Anthony Mercer said impatiently.

“All in good time, Mr. Mercer. All in good time. First off, I need go through a few rules. First, anyone who has a cell phone please take them out and place them on the table in front of you.”

They each pulled out a cell phone and reluctantly put them on the table. Once that was done, the man spoke again.

“Good. Hippie, oh, I mean Mr. Sandburg,” the man spoke in a condescending tone. “Please take the phones out to the back porch and put them in the box.”

Blair moved forward, clearly irritated. As he was gathering the phones, William heard him mutter, “When did I become his personal errand boy?”

It wasn’t until after Blair returned from his task that the man continued. “Now you’re all going to be permanent guests in this house for a few days. We’re going to play a little game and here are the parameters.”

He swung a chair around and sat down backwards on it, leaning his arms on the back. There were machines around him that William hadn’t noticed before.

“I’m going to ask each of you three rounds of questions, five questions each. You are aloud two wrong answers each round, but for each question you get wrong,” he placed his hand on the machine to his left. “I’m going to give your son or daughter an electric shock. And if you get a third question wrong, I kill them.”

William felt sick to his stomach. Oh God, he could end up losing his eldest son before they had a chance to make up.

“What sorts of questions?” Dr. Sloan asked.

“Simple questions. Ones that any good father should know. Questions about your child, about their past, about their present, and about their future. Answer these simple questions correctly and everything will be fine. You’ll get your son or daughter back safe and sound. Don’t, and you’ll lose him or her forever.”

“Why are doing this?!” Matt Stark yelled angrily.

The man’s voice became cold. “Because, Mr. Stark, some people shouldn’t be fathers. If you don’t know your child well enough to answer these simple questions, then you don’t deserve to have him or her. Now,” he stood up and turned the chair back around. “Let the games begin. Only one of you will be allowed in this room during each session. First up, Ellison. The rest of you, leave the room.”

William closed his eyes and tried to stay calm. He had to do this. For his son, he had to do this. He felt a touch on his shoulder and looked up into the kind, gentle eyes of Dr. Mark Sloan. The hand squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. William gave the doctor a small smile of gratitude. Then the others left the room and he was alone. He knew they were just outside watching through the window, but for all intents and purposes, he was very much alone.

The man on the screen looked to someone off screen and said, “Bring him in.”

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

Jim paced the small room for the hundredth time. There was absolutely no way out of this room. They had tried the window many times, but the boards wouldn’t budge and the lock on the door was solid. Even his senses couldn’t find any way out. He sighed and slumped against the wall next to Steve.

“Oh God. We’re going to die,” Britney moaned. She hadn’t stopped crying since they were thrown in here.

Kane wrapped his arm more tightly around her shoulders. “No, we’re not. We’ve got something the other victims didn’t have.”

Britney looked at him, wiping tears from his face. “Yeah? What’s that?”

“Two police officers. I’m sure they can find a way out of here. Right?”

They both looked at Jim and Steve hopefully. The two detectives looked at each other.

“Well, we’re certainly going to try,” Steve answered honestly.

Yeah, but no pressure though, Jim thought sarcastically. Jim rubbed his forehead. He had had his eyesight turned up since they were locked in this room in order to see through the dark, and it was starting to give him a headache. He turned down his eyesight. He didn’t need it anymore. He had already memorized the room.

Jim’s head tilted to the side as he his ears picked up footsteps coming towards their location. Steve noticed Jim’s attention was elsewhere.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Someone’s coming,” Jim replied.

Steve listened but didn’t hear anything. “How do you know?”

Before Jim could answer, the door was opened and the one known as Ricki walked in wearing that black plastic mask. Both Jim and Steve pushed away from the wall, quickly on the defensive.

“Ellison, let’s go,” Ricki said, aiming a gun at him.

“Wait. Where are you taking him?” Steve asked.

Ricki leveled the gun on Steve. “None of your business. You’ll know soon enough.” He turned back to Jim. “Let’s go.”

Jim exited the room, closely followed by Ricki. He was taken back to the room they had been in first. The room looked the same except there was only one chair this time sitting in between two machines. He couldn’t quite tell what one of them was, but the other looked like a lie detector. He was strapped to the chair quickly and efficiently so that he was facing the monitors again, and Ricki started strapping both the lie detector and the other machine to his body. Now that he was closer, he saw that the second machine was some sort of electro shock machine. Oh no, he thought. They were going to electrocute him. He quickly turned down all the dials.

Jim looked at his other captor, Dan. “So what’s going to happen now?”

“There’s someone here who’s very anxious to see you,” Dan replied, ignoring Jim’s question.

He moved aside and Jim could see his father on one of the monitors. He was alone in the room, but Jim could see everyone else out in the hall watching through the window.

“Dad?”

“Jimmy, are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“All right,” Ricki said, stepping forward. “Let’s get started.”

Dan turned to Jim and explained, “Now I’m going to ask your father questions about you and you’re going to answer as honestly as you can. And don’t even think about lying because we’ll know it.” He indicated the lie detector with a wave of his hand.

Jim took a deep breath. Questions about him, something that his father wasn’t going to know much about, so he knew he was going to be in a whole world of hurt. Hopefully, his father knew enough to where he won’t be killed.

Jim looked at the monitor again and spotted his partner behind the glass chewing nervously on a thumbnail. He hated that he was causing him so much worry. If only he could get a message to him somehow without alerting the two in the room with him. Wait a minute, he thought. Maybe there was a way. He didn’t have much information about the men holding him, but he could at least give them what he did have. Hopefully, Blair will be paying enough attention to notice.

Jim glanced at the two men, and after making sure, they weren’t looking at him, he started tapping the arm of the chair, forming letters and words with his fingers in Morse code. Hopefully, his partner learned enough that he’ll be able to decipher what he’s trying to say.

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

Blair chewed on his thumbnail as he watched and listened to what was going on in the room beyond. Oh God, he was scared. Why did Jim have to be first? He couldn’t believe it. If Mr. Ellison got just three little questions wrong, he’d lose the best friend he’d ever had. He didn’t now if he could handle that.

He felt Simon nudge him and he took his thumbnail out of his mouth and looked at him questioningly. Simon indicated his thumb with his head. Blair looked down and realized that he’d chewed the nail down to a nub and was close to chewing on his own thumb. He gave Simon a grim smile and lowered his hand to his side before turning back to the room.

“Now, first question,” White Mask said. “What sport did Jim play when he was younger?”

Oh, you should know this, Blair thought. You should definitely know this.

“Football,” William answered without hesitation.

White Mask looked to Jim, who answered in the affirmative. He turned back to the camera. “Very good. Second question, who was Jim’s first girlfriend?”

Uh oh. Blair had a sinking feeling that William Ellison never took that much of an interest in his son’s love life to ask who he was currently dating. Blair rubbed his hands together nervously.

William swallowed hard as he tried to think. He didn’t remember his son ever dating when he was younger. But was that because Jim didn’t date or because he didn’t pay enough attention to notice that he was dating? If Jim did date, he never brought any of his girlfriends home, and William never asked. Oh God. He realized that he should know this. He sighed.

“I don’t know,” he answered softly.

“Too bad,” White Mask said. He signaled to his companion who switched on the electro shock machine.

Jim jerked as the electricity flowed through his body. He only felt a mild burning sensation because he had the pain dial turned down to zero, but it was hard keeping it down. It kept wanting to climb up on its own along with all his other senses. He closed his eyes tightly as he struggled to maintain control over his senses and his body. He was proud of himself for not uttering a sound.

When it was over, it left him panting and weak. It was a few minutes before he could move. His muscles seemed paralyzed. When he finally regained control of his limbs, he continued his tapping, hoping Blair was getting the message.

“Well,” White Mask said, “This one’s tough. But how long can he last?”

That was a good question. The dials continued to try to climb despite Jim’s best efforts to keep them down. He didn’t know how many times he could endure this treatment before he lost control completely.

“Jimmy! Are you all right?” William cried frantically.

Jim looked up at the monitor, still breathing heavily. “Yeah…Dad…I’m…ok.”

“Next question,” White Mask went on.

“Please stop this,” William begged.

“I will when you answer the questions. Three more.”

Blair gripped the window sill tightly with both hands. It was hard seeing Jim suffer like that. He knew Jim would be having trouble with his senses. The electricity would make it hard for him to keep control. Blair feared that before all this was over, it will be worse for Jim than for any of the others.

Blair didn’t even pay attention to the words being said. He kept his eyes on Jim. He wasn’t even aware that another question had been asked until he heard Jim answer yes and realized that William had gotten another question right. Blair was relieved inside, but his brain was analyzing Jim closely. It took him a while to realize that Jim was still tapping the arm of the chair. Why was he doing that, he thought. Then he recognized the pattern. He quickly took out a pen and notepad and started writing.

Blair wrote down each letter, hoping that he was getting it right. Blair’s head snapped up from his notepad when he heard a cry of pain. His face paled. They were doing it again. They were electrocuting him. Blair closed his eyes, unable to see such pain and suffering on his friend’s face. It seemed to go on longer than the first time.

Finally, William couldn’t stand it anymore. He shot to his feet. “Stop! Please!” he yelled in an anguished cry.

The electricity stopped and Jim was left slumped in the chair with his head hanging down on his chest. His muscles twitched spasmodically. He tried to lift his hand and continue his tapping, but he didn’t have the strength.

“Final question,” Dan said. “And remember, you have to get this one right or little Jimmy here dies.”

Everyone waited with baited breath for the question to be asked, the question that would determine the fate of one man. There was so much tension in the air it could be cut with a knife.

“Who was his best friend?”

Jim closed his eyes in resignation. He hadn’t many friends back then. Not many people wanted to be friends with a rich boy. And those he did have, he never really considered his best friends. That was why he never really kept in touch with anyone from back then. Truth be told, he never really had a best friend until he met Blair. But his father wasn’t going to know that. Looked like this was it.

William sat back in his seat. The first thing that came to mind was, oh god, I’ve killed my son because I never took an interest in his life. Then he remembered what Jim had told him during the argument they had had the last time they talked.

*You don’t now the first thing about Blair! He’s the kindest, gentlest, most honest man I’ve met. He doesn’t care about money. He doesn’t even ask to borrow money. He doesn’t even let me buy anything that he needs even though he doesn’t have the money for it. And you know what. He’s there in the loft and in my life because I want him there! He’s the best friend I’ve ever had! And if you can’t handle that…then maybe this whole reconciliation thing was just a huge mistake.*

William glanced back at the young man standing behind the window. He looked frightened, absolutely terrified. Maybe he really did care about his son.

“I’m waiting for your answer, Mr. Ellison,” White Mask said impatiently.

William turned back around and took a deep breath. He hoped he was right about this. “He didn’t have one back then, not until he met young Mr. Sandburg.”

Jim’s head snapped up. At first, he was stunned, and then a smile slowly formed on his face as he answered emphatically, “Yes! That’s right!” His smile grew. His father had listened to him. For once in his life, he had listened to him. Jim would have felt completely elated if not for his current situation. He looked his father in the eyes and saw the apology there. He nodded to indicate that he got the message.

“How touching,” White Mask said. “Congratulations Mr. Ellison. You passed the first round.” He turned to his partner. “Take him back to the room and bring me Stark.” He turned back to the camera. “You can leave the room now, Mr. Ellison. Mr. Stark, you’re next.”

William slowly got to his feet and took the headset off. Dropping the device on the table, he left the room, passing a grim-looking Matt Stark on the way out. He passed the people in the crowded hallway to look for a quiet place, someplace where he could be alone.

Blair watched the older man walk away, looking much older than the last time he had seen him. He wanted to go see if the older man was all right, but he had information, information Jim thought was important, and Simon had to know. He turned to the captain and leaned in close.

“Simon, we need to talk. Alone.” Blair walked down the hall toward the stairs with a puzzled Simon following him.

Mark detached himself from the crowd and followed the two downstairs. He had overheard the young man and was curious. He wasn’t too keen on watching something like that again anyway.

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

Steve paced the small room impatiently. What were they doing to him? What was taking so long? God, he hoped they didn’t kill him. Steve shook those thoughts away. They would have no reason to kill him just yet, would they? Steve was brought of his thoughts when the door opened and the man in the black mask entered and threw a weakened Jim to the floor.

“Jim!” Steve cried in alarm, moving to the other man’s side.

“Mr. Stark, come with me please,” the man said.

Kane Stark swallowed hard and glanced at Steve. Then his gaze went to Jim who hadn’t yet moved.

“Now.”

Kane sighed and followed the man out the room. The door was shut and locked behind them. Once they were gone, Britney approached the two men on the floor.

“Is he…is he dead?” she asked timidly.

“No, he’s still alive,” Steve replied grimly. He looked down at the widely open eyes staring at the ceiling. If not for the muscle spasms and the heavy breathing, Steve would have thought the other detective really was dead. “Jim? Jim, can you hear me? Jim!” He sighed and sat back when he got no response.

He began to check Jim over for any injuries but could find none, and yet the man was unresponsive. God, what did they do to him?

Jim was lost in a maelstrom of pain, just this burning pain that seemed to encompass his very being. He thought he heard voices through the hazy void, but it wasn’t the one voice he wanted to hear, the one voice that could stop all the insufferable pain. But the voices were familiar, and anything was better than this black oblivion filled with pain and agony. He slowly concentrated on those voices, trying to push himself back to reality.

“Jim,” Steve said again.

“Is he ok?” Britney asked.

“I don’t know. Jim, blink if you can hear me.”

Blink? Jim thought hazily. The room came into focus along with two worried faces hovering above him. Why did they want him to blink? He wondered. Well, he could do that at least. He slowly blinked his eyes.

Steve smiled. “That’s good. Can you speak?”

He opened his mouth but all that came out was a croak. He licked his lips, cleared his throat, and tried again.

“Y-yeah. Oh god,” he groaned. The fiery pain was back.

Steve let a sigh of relief. “What happened?”

“Th-they used…electro-shock.”

Britney gasped. “They electrocuted you?” she cried in horror.

Steve took a deep breath. “Well that explains the muscle spasms and the fact that you can’t move. It should wear off soon though.”

“Yeah, right,” Jim said in a stronger voice as he lifted his hand up and turned it so the palm was facing upwards. Of course, he wasn’t going to explain that the reason he couldn’t move before was because he was zoned out.

“Can you sit up?”

“Yeah, I-I think so.”

Steve and Britney helped Jim sit up and lean against the wall. Jim closed his eyes and mentally tried to turn down the dials again. He had more control than he did before, but not by much. This was going to wear him down fast.

Finally, he opened his eyes and said, “We’ve got to find a way out of here before one of us ends up dead.”

“I agree with you there, but what else can we do? We’ve already searched this entire room. There’s no way out,” Steve said.

Jim sighed and closed his eyes again. Suddenly, his hearing spiked and a scream filled his ears. His eyes snapped open and he looked at Steve and Britney. Neither one seemed to have heard it, which meant it had to have been Stark. Jim rubbed his forehead and he tried to turn the dial on his hearing back down.

Steve noticed the motion. “Are you ok?” he asked in concern.

“Yeah. Headache, that’s all.”

Jim closed his eyes and tried to think. They had to find a way out of here. He just needed time to think. Of course, it was hard to think when he could hear screaming coming from down the hall. His hearing just would not stay down. Soon, they would be done with Stark though and then they’d come for Britney and Steve. And then they’d be left alone until the next session, whenever that will be. Then he could try to think of a way of getting all of them out of there.

It was only a short time later that Ricki returned with a limp Stark. After depositing him on the ground, he then dragged Britney out. Steve went to check on Stark and found him to be alive and in the same shape as Jim.

Steve looked at Jim. “Looks like they’ll be coming for me next.”

Jim sighed as he looked at the man lying on the floor. “You know if we wait much longer, none of us is going to be in any shape to get out of here.”

God, he hoped Blair got his message. Maybe they could figure out who these guys are.

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

Blair led Simon to the front room and then took out the notepad.

“All right, Sandburg. What’s this all about?” Simon asked.

“This.” He handed the pad to the captain.

Simon took the pad. “‘Dan.’ ‘Ricki.’ ‘Maxi,’” he read off. “So? Who are these people?”

“Well, I’m guessing that Dan and Ricki are the two guys on camera. I don’t know who Maxi is though.”

“Whoa, wait. What makes you think that? Where did you get these names anyway?”

“From Jim. He gave them to me. He must have heard them talking and managed to find out their names.”

Simon pinched the bridge of his nose. “And when did he tell you this. How did he tell you this?”

“Look, Simon, Jim had been tapping the arm of his chair the entire time he was on camera. It was Morse code. He was sending me a message, that message.” He tapped the pad in Simon’s hand. “Now I think I got it all, but I’m not so sure because it took me a while to notice.”

“How would he know you knew Morse code?” Mark asked as he entered the room.

Blair looked at him curiously but accepted his presence without question. “Jim’s been teaching me Morse code for a few months now. We thought it would be handy to know in case there was ever a time where we couldn’t talk to each other.”

“I’d say this qualifies,” Mark said, walking over to Simon and looking at what was written on the paper.

“But still, I don’t see how three names are going to help us. We can’t do a search on them without last names or a description,” Simon said.

“So what do we know about them?” Mark asked.

“Well, we know they’ve been at this a while, that they’ve been all across the country,” Simon said.

“We also know that they torture people in order to punish bad fathers. Also, by the looks of things, they have got to be in some sort of warehouse,” Blair said.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t help us. There are plenty of warehouses in this city to choose from, Sandburg,” Simon pointed out.

“Yeah, you’re right.”

“Well, they’ve got to be young, maybe late twenties or early thirties,” Mark added.

“How do you know that?” Blair asked.

“Just going by their build and the sound of their voices.” Mark looked thoughtful. “What about this house? We know anything about it?”

“Nothing,” Simon replied, puzzled as to where the doctor was going with this.

“So why pick this house?” Mark asked.

Blair shrugged. “One house is just as good as another?” he guessed. “I mean it’s been vacant for a while. It’s in a neighborhood where not a lot of people go by.”

“Yeah, but when I went down this block I noticed there were plenty of vacant houses. The street is full of them. So why pick this one?”

“You think this house has some sort of connection with our suspects?” Simon asked.

“Maybe,” Mark said thoughtfully.

“You know, I think you’re right,” Blair said.

Simon looked at him with raised eyebrows.

“Well, it’s something that one of them said when we first got here. He said, ‘Welcome to my house of horrors.’ Now, at first, I thought he was referring to all the horrors we were about to see. But what if he wasn’t? What if something bad happened here? What if they used to live here and something horrible happened?”

“I don’t know, Sandburg. That’s a stretch,” Simon said doubtfully.

“I know that, Simon, but it’s the only lead we’ve got.”

“Yeah. If only we could do a search on the house. Maybe cross-reference that with the three names Jim gave us. We might be able to find something,” Mark said.

“If only we had a computer,” Blair sighed. “And without any phones, we can’t call anyone to do the search for us.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Simon said cryptically.

Blair and Mark looked at him quizzically. Simon motioned for them to follow as he headed back up the stairs. He opened the first door he came to, which led to an empty bedroom. After inspecting the room thoroughly, he beckoned them inside and shut the door.

“Ok, there are no cameras in here,” Simon said as he pulled a cell phone from his overcoat.

Blair’s eyes widened. “Simon, where did you get that?”

“I managed to snag one after I made my phone calls, with my back to the cameras of course.”

“All right, Simon! Here, let me have that,” Blair said, reaching for the phone.

Simon pulled it out of the young man’s reach. “What are you doing?”

“Look, we need that information fast, don’t we? I know someone who could do the search faster than anybody.”

Simon sighed and handed the phone to the young man. “All right, but don’t tell him more than you have to.”

“Yeah, I know the drill,” Blair said, taking the phone and flipping it open. He moved away from the other two as he dialed.

Mark went to stand next to Simon, watching the young man curiously. “What’s his involvement in all this?”

“Jim’s his best friend. And his partner. And his roommate.”

“How did they hook up?”

“Blair’s doing his dissertation on closed societies and the police department is his subject. He just happened to get partnered with Ellison. He’s sort of become an unofficial member of the team.”

Mark nodded, intrigued by this man who, with his small stature and ‘60s style haircut, didn’t seem the type to be hanging with cops.

Blair walked back to Simon and Mark, closing the phone. “He said he’ll do it. He’ll call back once he has something.”

“All right. Just make sure to put the phone on vibrate. We don’t know for sure that there aren’t cameras hidden somewhere in this house,” Simon said.

Blair nodded as he set the phone to vibrate and put it in his pocket, making sure it was out of sight.

“Well, we better get back.”

They exited the room and were met with Henri Brown.

“Here you guys are. I’ve been looking for you. Dr. Sloan, it’s your turn.”

Mark nodded solemnly and led the way down the hall. He entered the room alone and sat down at the table. Taking a deep breath, he picked up the headset and put it on.

“Where were you?” the man in the white mask asked.

“Forgive me if I don’t like to watch the suffering of others. I’m not an animal unlike some people,” Mark said harshly.

“Ooh, you’re feisty when you’re angry,” Black Mask said. “Or is that fear?” He turned to the other. “What do you think?”

“I think it’s fear.”

“Let’s just get on with it,” Mark said impatiently.

“Very well,” White Mask said. He moved aside so that Mark could have a good look at his son strapped to the chair.

“Son, are you all right?” Mark asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine, Dad.”

The questions came and went in rabid succession and Mark answered them all correctly and without hesitation. He was glad he and his son talked, both back then and now, so he was pretty confident that he knew just about everything about his son. Maybe he could get through this without having to see his son suffer.

“Very good, Dr. Sloan,” White Mask said, sounding genuinely impressed. “You’re the first one to actually answer all of the questions right in one round. Who knows? Your son may just live through this. Until tomorrow. 9AM sharp. Pleasant dreams everyone.” With those parting words, the screens went black.

Mark breathed a sigh of relief and sat back in the chair, removing the headset. Everyone else entered the room, and Blair moved forward to place a hand on the doctor’s shoulder.

“That was pretty good, Dr. Sloan. You really know your son.”

Mark smiled up at the young man. “We spend a lot of time together. We live together. We work together. We even play together. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever lost him.”

Blair knelt down next to the seat. “You’re not going to lose him. As long as you answer the questions right, and something tells me that that’s not going to be too hard.”

Mark nodded. “Thank you. And call me Mark.”

“Mark. I’m Blair.”

“So what do we do now?” Brown asked.

“Well, obviously there’s not going to be another session until tomorrow so we wait. Try to get some sleep,” Simon said.

Blair snorted. “Yeah right. Like any of us are going to get any sleep.”

Simon sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Yeah, I know. At least try.”

The room emptied until only Mark and Blair were left. Mark hadn’t even attempted to get up. He just didn’t feel like moving just yet. Blair sighed and leaned back against the table.

“Yeah right. I don’t even want to try to go to sleep,” Blair muttered.

Mark looked up at him. “Worried about your friend?” he asked.

Blair blew out a long breath, looking down at the floor. “Yeah. You know, Mark, when I look at you and see the way you act, I can tell you’re a good father. But William Ellison isn’t like you. He and Jim didn’t get along, not even when Jim was a kid. He was never there. He was always working.” He looked into the compassionate blue eyes of the older man. “He pitted Jim and his brother against each other, played favorites. When Jim was old enough, he took off and joined the army. They haven’t spoken to each other since. They only just now started talking again. I’m just afraid that Mr. Ellison won’t be able to pass this test, and I’m going to lose the best friend I’ve ever had.” Blair’s voice broke, and he blinked away the tears that wanted to fall.

Mark stood and put a comforting hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Hey, it’s going to be ok. We’re going to find these guys.”

“Yeah, but will it be in time?”

“You know Jim pretty well, don’t you?”

“Yeah. I’d like to think I do. I mean I don’t know everything. He doesn’t talk much. He keeps a lot of stuff hidden. But I know him better than anybody else does.”

“Then tell him. Tell him everything you know about Jim,” Mark suggested.

Blair looked up at Mark, a ghost of a smile forming on his face. “Yeah. Now there’s an idea.” The smile faded. “Hey, where is he anyway?” he asked, just realizing that he hadn’t seen the other man since he left that room.

Mark frowned. “I don’t now. Come on.”

Blair followed Mark out of the room. He pointed to the left. “He went that way I think.”

They walked down the hall together, each glancing through open doorways. They paused when they heard a loud bang. They looked at each other and then hurried down the hall to a bedroom with two beds, one against each wall. They saw William Ellison with one fist buried in the wall.

“Oh Jesus,” Blair muttered as the two hurried toward the older man.

“Are you all right?” Mark asked.

William was breathing heavily, and his mouth was set in a firm line. “My hand’s stuck.”

“Do you feel better?” Blair asked as he and Mark worked to carefully remove William’s hand from the wall.

“A little bit.”

“Yeah, well, putting holes in walls is not going to help Jim.”

“You think I don’t know that,” William snapped. “I was angry, and the next thing I know my fist is in the wall.” He let out a hiss and then held his breath as Blair and Mark extricated his fist from the wall. He looked at his bloody knuckles with bits of plaster stuck to them and winced.

“Here, let me have a look at that,” Mark said, taking William’s injured hand in his own. He moved the fingers gently but stopped when William let a cry of pain. “Yeah, you definitely broke your hand. Come on. Let’s get this cleaned up and we’ll see what I can do.” He started leading the injured man toward the door.

“Mr. Ellison,” Blair called out. William turned back to face him. “When’s he done, we need to talk.”

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

Concluded in part two...