New Arrivals
Author-Sheila Paulson
Titles

Families
Part One
by Sheila Paulson

Summary: A terrorist threatens an economic summit, while a wealthy woman offers Blair a proposition that may turn his life upside down and sever his ties with Jim. Rated PG-13 (one 'off-camera sex scene' between original characters with no real description of such) .

Disclaimer: Alas, Jim and Blair and The Sentinel do not belong to me. I only borrow them for a little while.

"*Sandburg*! In my office--now!"

At Captain Simon Banks' irritated summons Detective Jim Ellison glanced up at his partner, who had been idly studying a rap sheet on one Michael Clayton, a terrorist reputed to have arrived in Cascade within the past few days. "What did you do now, Chief?" he asked, interested.

Blair Sandburg dropped the rap sheet on Jim's desk, his face the picture of innocence. "You got me," he said. "Simon sounded cranky this morning, so I've been staying out of his way. I can't understand it, but sometimes he just doesn't seem to like me." His eyes twinkled. "I haven't done anything especially annoying today," he defended his actions.

"We'd better get in there before he has to repeat himself," Jim said, rising easily and urging Sandburg toward Banks' office.

"Captain," Jim greeted as they stepped into the glassed-in room.

"I asked for Sandburg, not for you," Simon Banks replied, rising from his desk and eyeing the shorter Sandburg with irritation. "What have you been doing to upset one of the ten wealthiest women in the world?" he demanded surprisingly.

Blair wasn't sure what he'd expected but it hadn't been anything like that. "I don't even know who the ten wealthiest women in the world *are*, Simon. As far as I know, I haven't done anything to any of them. I don't think I've even *met* them."

"Then why is Jennis Wade here to see you?" Simon persisted.

"Jennis Wade? The Wade, Ltd. Jennis Wade?" Jim asked in surprise. "I've heard of her. She lives in Seattle. She's much too old to be Sandburg's type." He turned to his partner. "Do you know her, Chief?"

Astonished, Blair shook his head. "I've heard of Wade, Ltd. though. I don't know what she'd want with me." Wade, Ltd. represented old money. There was an export/import business, underwater oil holdings, timber money, odds and ends of other things. Rich people usually grew steadily richer without a lot of effort. Money at that level was beyond Blair's ken and always had been.

"Well, she's here, and I don't think she's the type to be kept waiting. I've told them to send her up, and you'd better talk with her in here. Ellison, you stay with him."

"What's the matter, Simon, afraid I'll sit at your desk if Jim isn't here to watch me?" Blair asked with a grin.

"Knowing you, Sandburg, you'll open your mouth and stick your foot in it halfway to the knee," Simon replied. Then he looked up, out the glass window--the blinds were open--and said, "Here she comes." He left the office, crossed to meet an elderly woman as she emerged from the elevator, and led her across the bullpen with a display of deference.

Sandburg saw a silver-haired woman in her late sixties or early seventies, slender and erect with a graceful carriage, a proud tilt to her head and facial bones that would keep her beautiful until the day she died. Her suit, in tones of muted heather, spoke of money in a quiet, understated way, and the large diamond ring on her left hand was expensive but extremely simple and tasteful. She moved easily enough and, if her stride was shorter than it would have been in the days of her youth, she did not lag at the side of the much taller Banks.

Spotting Blair, she paused, and Blair felt himself on a microscope slide. If she'd had an old-fashioned quizzing glass, she would have raised it. But her face held no annoyance, only restrained interest, all the more intense for being controlled. She gestured Simon off with a hand motion that made him nod at her and move away, although he didn't look especially happy about it--and would probably take it out on Blair later. Blair wished *he* could deal with Simon's probable temper with a wave of the hand.

Jennis Wade stopped in the doorway, looked Blair up and down as if inspecting doubtful merchandise, and said bluntly, "You're short."

Resisting the urge to stand on tiptoes, Blair refrained from returning, 'And you're old.' Instead he cast one quick, doubtful glance at Jim, who shrugged unhelpfully, and said, "Mrs. Wade?" She reminded him of the wife of the university president, who showed up at faculty gatherings, moving among the peons with dignity and breeding. Mrs. Haviland wouldn't have made such a personal comment, though.

"Blair Sandburg. Hmm. Surely you're too old for hair like that."

Jim made an irritated movement beside him, and Blair could sense the reason for it. It was all right for Jim to take pot shots at him because he and Sandburg were buddies but he didn't care for other people doing it.

"I asked to speak to Mr. Sandburg alone," Mrs. Wade told him pointedly, waiting.

Her Arctic tone would have cowed a lesser man, but Jim was made of sterner stuff. "I'm Blair's partner," he informed her, planting himself at Sandburg's side to present a united front. "We work together."

"Since my visit has nothing to do with...work, I believe we can dispense with the, er, police presence." She gestured imperiously toward the door.

Jim hesitated, and Blair gave him a quick nod. He didn't know what this was about, but he wouldn't find out until Jim left. "It's okay, Jim."

"I'll be right outside, Chief," Ellison said quickly and withdrew, joining Simon.

Mrs. Wade shut the door, and her very presence made Blair wave her into a chair before sitting on the edge of Simon's desk. "Hmm," she said. "So you have proper manners. I didn't expect that, under the circumstances."

"Excuse me, Ma'am, but what can I do for you?" He wanted to insult her in return but he could tell that wouldn't get him anywhere. People as rich as Jennis Wade usually did what they did in their own way, and shrugged off insults the way seals shrugged off water after a swim.

"Does the name Trajan Wade mean anything to you?" she asked.

Blair frowned. It didn't, nothing that leaped readily to his mind, but there was a faint edge of memory that he could barely grasp, lurking in the dim and faded regions of his mind. He said doubtfully, "Traje?" and had no idea where he'd heard the diminutive. Something his mom had said, a long time ago?

Her mouth tightened. "So you do know."

"I don't," he said. "I don't even know where that came from. I heard it a long time ago but I can't remember where, unless I heard it from my mother."

"Trajan Wade is my youngest and only surviving son," she said and paused, dark thoughts in her eyes. She continued immediately, "He never dared challenge me, not until lately." She caught herself. "No, he did it long ago but never confessed until several months ago. Trajan is dying. Leaving me without an heir, or so I thought, except for my daughter Melanie, who became a nun to spite me. Trajan tells me now I was mistaken; he has a child, a son."

*Uh-oh*. Blair suddenly had an insight of where this conversation was going. "Not me," he insisted positively, grateful for his certainty. He didn't want this chilly, controlled woman for a grandmother, not even if a fortune came attached. "My mother never told me who my father was." He felt a sudden chill.

"Naomi never liked me, nor I her," said Mrs. Wade, dismissing Blair's protest. "She resented me, felt I controlled Trajan and would control her if she married him. She refused to marry him. Trajan, weak fool that he was, didn't stand up for himself. Naomi didn't stick around. She continued her wild ways, living with man after man, even in disgusting communes, no doubt taking drugs and engaging in promiscuous sex. I was shocked, frankly shocked, to find that you were a teaching fellow at Rainier University and actually working on a Ph.D."

Stomping down his rage at the insult to his mother, Blair couldn't keep quiet any longer. "No matter what you may have thought, Naomi was a good mother to me. She wasn't a slut. She was a free spirit. She always treated me well, and so did any boyfriend she had. I remember once, one of the guys tried to hit me. Mom had him out the door so fast he didn't have time to pack. We threw his clothes out the window piece by piece and watched them flutter to the ground." God, where had that come from? He hadn't thought about that day in years. All the time in between had provided him with insight. Disposing of the clothes in such a way had given Blair back control; that's why his mother had done it.

"And is this supposed to impress me? She put you in constant jeopardy. She denied you a stable childhood."

Blair jumped to his feet, unable to hold his tongue any longer. "I don't have to take this from you. Naomi did give me stability, because she loved me and that's what mattered. She always told me she didn't know who my father was, and she wasn't in the habit of lying to me. I believe her."

"Perhaps she didn't want you to feel the temptation of the Wade fortune. Perhaps she was afraid she would lose you to us. She had no way of knowing I was unaware of you. Perhaps she moved around so much to keep you from me, from my lifestyle, from my fortune."

Blair felt a thrill of unease spring into the pit of his stomach. His mother might well have wanted to keep a distance from this cold, judgmental woman. Prestige and fortune had never impressed her. She would have considered Jennis Wade part of the establishment she had so disapproved of and scorned her wealth. If she had spent enough time with this Trajan that Blair could remember her mentioning him later, maybe there was a possibility Mrs. Wade was telling the truth, and he hated that.

"Like you would have shared any of it with Naomi," he scoffed. "Or even with me. I know your type. You'd have fought to keep the breeding pure. You wouldn't have welcomed a mongrel into the pedigree line."

"Not then," she said, making no attempt to deny Sandburg's allegation. "But the circumstances have changed. I want my business to stay in the family. And you are surprisingly respectable, apart from this police aspect."

"You're saying the police aren't *respectable*?" Blair asked feeling new anger blossom at her ready dismissal of Jim and all he stood for. He wanted to throw the woman out and never see her again.

"I've investigated your background," Jennis Wade said, and Blair found himself angry that such an investigation had been conducted without his knowledge or permission. "Your scholarship is respected, your grades are high, you are well thought of as a teacher. These things I can respect. But spending time with criminals and drug dealers.... This police observer function of yours, even as an anthropological study, must end."

"You don't have the authority to tell me that," Blair told her, so angry he could barely control his voice. He saw Jim hovering outside on the verge of storming Simon's office and knew his friend had listened to the conversation, maybe not all of it but certainly from the point he noticed Blair becoming upset. Sandburg didn't resent the use of his friend's Sentinel abilities at such a time. It would save having to explain it to Jim. Besides, Jim had also met his mom and liked her. He wouldn't be any happier with this smug woman coming in and bad-mouthing her than Blair was.

"No, but I do control funds that might well benefit your studies. I could finance an expedition to New Guinea, Borneo, or anywhere else you might need to go. I could fund a new wing of the anthropology building at the university. If it is like universities everywhere it is desperately in need of money, support. To deny it funding so you could, er, play at cops and robbers seems a childish thing."

"In case you haven't noticed," Blair told her through gritted teeth, "I don't come with a price tag attached. I'm not for sale to the highest bidder. I think you'd better leave now." He hated her for expressing her contempt for everything that mattered to him and then trying to entice him with a golden lure. With what contempt must she view him to believe he'd yield to her temptation. Sure he'd like the money, anybody would. But the cost was far too high.

To his astonishment, she beamed at him with an edge of approval. "I'm glad to hear you can't be bought, that in spite of Naomi, you possess a degree of integrity," she said. "I will go now, however."

"*Because* of Naomi," Blair snarled. "And the answer to your offer is no. Naomi said she didn't know who my father was and that's good enough for me. I don't want to be a Wade, not if your manipulation is an example of the breed. I'm Blair Sandburg and that's who I'll stay."

Her eyes warmed slightly, the first sign of a real thaw in her glacial exterior. "Very good," she said. "I will go now. No doubt you will contact Naomi and learn that I have been speaking the truth. We will talk again later." She left Simon's office and swept regally across the bullpen with a brief nod in Simon's direction, ignoring the glower Jim threw at her. Blair followed her out of Simon's office but paused, waiting, in the doorway, until the elevator doors closed behind her to make sure she didn't change her mind and return. Then he turned to meet Jim.

Simon hesitated as though he meant to demand an explanation for the invasion of his office then, at a warning glance from Jim, he shrugged his shoulders, pushed his glasses into place with a swift movement, and returned to his office.

Blair hesitated, then he went over to Jim's desk, conscious of his partner following him.

"You listened," he said, lowering his voice so the other detectives in the Major Crimes Unit wouldn't overhear. They were all trying to pretend they weren't paying any attention, but their curiosity was high. He could feel it, sense it from the way they *didn't* watch him.

Jim shook his head. "I came in when you were defending Naomi, but I figured out she claimed you were her grandson. Could there be any chance it's true, Chief?" he prodded gently.

"No!" Then he hesitated. "I don't think so," he temporized. "I've gotta call Mom." Glancing around the bullpen at the other officers at their desks, he said, "But not from here."

"You can do it tonight from the loft," Jim began.

Blair shook his head stubbornly. "I don't want to wait that long. And I'm not sure where she is. I might have to make five or six calls."

"No problem," Jim agreed.

"I think I'll head over there now," Blair decided. Jennis Wade's claim made him too uneasy to leave it until after the stake-out. "I can rendezvous with you as soon as I make the calls." He stared up at the taller man and tried to explain, although he wasn't comfortable enough with his reasoning to admit it to himself, let alone to anyone else. "I've gotta know, Jim. When I thought Naomi wouldn't ever say who my old man was, it didn't matter. It was just the way of the cosmos, you know? I could pretend my dad was Abby Hoffman or Jimi Hendrix or Jerry Garcia, and that was cool, kind of a kick. But I can't imagine Mom liking anybody with a mother like that, not unless he was a rebel, too, and she didn't know about the old bat."

"He could have been one then," Jim offered. "Take it one step at a time, Blair. Even if it does turn out to be true, it doesn't have to change anything unless you want it to. She may feel an obligation, but you're not under one."

Blair eyed him doubtfully. "You think I should give her some leeway?" he asked. He loathed the idea. It felt too much like selling out. His mother had never sold out, not to 'the establishment', not to anyone. Blair's values were different from hers, but he hoped his ethics weren't. He wasn't for sale and it really pissed him off that Jennis Wade could stroll in here and believe she could buy him the same way she bought her designer suits. And then to bribe him by offering money to the university....

"I don't think you should close the door entirely," Jim's tone was circumspect; he chose his words with great care. "Not because she has money but because she might be family."

"Yeah. Right. And where was my so-called father all my life?" Blair demanded. He might resent Jennis' high- handed attitude, but not nearly as much as he did the actions of his potential father who had taken no part in his life and had never displayed one iota of interest in him.

"Maybe Naomi kept quiet on purpose," Jim offered looking a little surprised at Blair's outburst. "Maybe she was afraid they'd use the money to take you away from her legally."

Blair considered Jim's suggestion. It might even be true. Naomi had always been a great mother; she'd loved him very much. Never for one second had she made him think that he was in her way; her men had always known he was part of the package and had accepted it, or they were out the door. She might have been afraid she couldn't fight the wealth and power of Wade, Ltd. for him, afraid she would lose him.

And what did that say for his so-called father, who had supposedly known about him all along and done nothing?

Blair felt angry and uncomfortable as if he wasn't who he'd always believed he was, as if the world didn't revolve around the sun any longer. If his mother had lied to him, no matter what her reasons, if his father had deliberately chosen not to know him....

"I'll catch up with you later," he said abruptly and headed for the elevator. But half way there he caught himself and trudged back. He had responsibilities other than his present worry. "The stakeout..." he began.

"I can handle it," Jim said, realizing Blair's concern was for his safety without backup. "Go on. You'll feel better once you talk to Naomi about it."

Blair hoped so. He nodded and started toward the elevator. "I won't take very long," he promised.

*****

Jim watched the elevator doors close on his partner, and frowned. His resentment for Jennis Wade had grown by leaps and bounds as he listened to her attempt to impose her so-called values on Blair and Naomi. He'd been proud of the kid, standing up to her the way he had, telling her he couldn't be bought. He believed, as Blair did, that the price of such kinship was far too high. But he didn't want to deprive his partner of anything that was rightfully his. Maybe it wasn't legally his, if Blair was illegitimate, but then Jim had known that must be the case from the moment Blair had told him about Naomi and it didn't matter in any way. It might matter to the law when inheritance was factored in, but Blair would probably be glad of that. He liked money no less than the next man, but he wouldn't welcome it if it came with such strings attached.

Sitting down at his desk, Jim picked up the Clayton material and stared at it without seeing it. Should Blair ease up? Was he entitled to that money? Was it his birthright? If so, was the price worth it? Ellison wondered what the old lady had been trying to do. Could she have been testing Blair? No matter how carefully she might have had him investigated, she couldn't tell how he'd react to the temptation of a fortune waved in his face. Blair had reacted the way Jim had known he would, and it had surprised her. But Jim hadn't been surprised. Blair hadn't been raised to value material possessions above more important considerations. Maybe he'd come out of his unconventional childhood believing it was safer not to get too close to anyone because everyone moved on eventually. His eager and outgoing surface persona was often a mask to hide the inner man. At first glance you'd think the kid was all surface, his emotions easily readable, but Jim had learned there was more to him than that; the surface reactions were a defense mechanism. Even with Jim, who knew him well, there were times when he wasn't sure whether Sandburg was throwing a smokescreen his way or simply being what he appeared.

So what was he doing now? The anger with Mrs. Wade had been genuine. Jim could tell that. Occasionally, if he focused on Sandburg's heartbeat and respiration, he could tell there was more going on in a given situation than met the eye, but he tried not to do that; it gave him an unfair advantage. Blair might approve such abilities in theory--he'd probably be excited about them--but he wouldn't want them used against him. This time monitoring had felt important; the shock on Blair's face had set off all kinds of alarms in Jim's mind. He'd been surprised when Blair had talked to him about how he'd felt. But Sandburg's adrenaline had been so high he might have been simply sounding off. Or maybe he'd felt he owed that to Jim, knowing Mrs. Wade had wanted him to walk away and leave Jim and all he represented behind.

Jim winced. That was the last thing he wanted. At first he hadn't been sure what to think of Sandburg, but he needed the help the young anthropologist provided to get his senses under control. In spite of the progress he'd made with Blair's help, he still needed that. Jim had the feeling the Sentinel-Guide partnership required a lifetime commitment, and he'd wondered at his acceptance of the possibility, surprised that he would even consider such an arrangement. Yet Sandburg had worked his way into Jim's life so thoroughly that, at Wade's words, he'd felt a surge of panic--*He can't leave. What will I do without him*?--and had known the reaction was only partly because of the Sentinel factor. When Blair had rejected her, Jim had relaxed, but not entirely. The temptation remained. How could Blair resist the thought of meeting his father? Even if he hated the man, he should have a chance to make peace with him, and Jim wanted to encourage him to do that much. But it made him nervous.

When had he stopped thinking of Blair as a useful helper with the Sentinel talents, a partner to watch his back in a most unusual way, and started thinking of him as such a good friend that his leaving would change Jim's life forever? He didn't totally understand the Sentinel and Guide relationship as it had been practiced among primitive tribes, but the little he'd picked up from the papers and monographs Blair had made him read indicated a permanent bonding, not the same bonding that existed between a husband and wife, or a pair of brothers, or even as casual friends. It was a unique partnership. He had wondered, from time to time, if the primitive Sentinel and Guide had been friends or simply two men doing what needed doing in a dangerous time. But hadn't the depth of the involvement led to a form of commitment?

Unless he found a way to rid himself of his heightened senses, Jim needed Blair. But if they went away tomorrow and he returned to normal with the same abilities as the average man in the street, and Blair finished up his paper and departed....

No! Damn it, he didn't want that. Blair might irritate him with his loud music and the state of constant chaos he created in the loft, but his was a presence Jim had come to depend on, and not only for the tests he ran and his ability to coach Jim when he zoned out. Even as a police observer Blair had proven useful, trailing along behind him at first like an eager puppy, but gradually offering more and more in his understanding of human nature, understanding that helped Jim in his work. And he was incredibly resourceful. Jim thought like a cop, like a military man, and his solutions were those kind of solutions. But Blair hadn't been restricted to one line of thinking. His solutions were inventive, different, like the time he'd cut a hole in the bottom of the elevator and dropped the briefcase bomb down the shaft. Scared Jim out of ten years' growth when he heard the bomb go off, but he'd saved himself and the people with him in the elevator.

Jim cursed Jennis Wade for strolling into the precinct and throwing the cat among the pigeons. How could Blair stand aside from this and pretend it had never happened? How could even he resist the lure of all those millions when he could use the money for his research? Sure he'd rejected her, but he hadn't had time to think yet. What if Naomi confirmed Mrs. Wade's son actually was Blair's father? Wouldn't that change his reaction to her?

"Ellison, you gonna sit there staring into space all day?" Simon snapped from the doorway to his office.

Jim jumped. "Sorry," he said, waving the material on the terrorist at Simon. "I was thinking about Clayton, wondering if he really is in town, and if he is, what does he want here?" It wasn't entirely a lie. He'd wondered that earlier.

"I hope he's not here to disrupt the US/Canadian Economic Summit," Simon replied, coming over to Jim's desk. "There are a lot of people who don't want that particular agreement to go through because of the timber implications. And a lot of others who'd make trouble if they could. I've been talking to the Feds about the possibility that's why Clayton is here. They plan to call in more men to cover the Summit."

"They want us off the case?" Jim asked. He'd never liked it when the FBI waltzed in after the department's hard work and just took over.

"No, because we don't really know for sure that Clayton's here, and because they can't cover it all themselves. If we nab him, they'll take him--and probably the credit, the way they always do, but this time they actually want our help in the process. Clayton might just be passing through or hiding out here, but because of the Summit this weekend, the FBI isn't taking chances. We'll carry on with business as usual, but we might see agents as we go, and they'll want reports. I'll handle that end of it," he added without enthusiasm. "Just keep me posted on what's going down."

Jim suddenly wondered if the real reason Jennis Wade was in town was to attend the Summit. Owning property and business interests in both Washington State and British Columbia, she was certain to have a vested interest in the outcome of the Summit. Blair might have been a convenience for her, although she might have planned to contact him soon in any case.

As if he'd partly guessed what Jim was thinking, Simon said, "That lady who was just here, Jennis Wade? She's one of the delegates to the Summit. She's staying at the Plaza, complete with entourage. I had her checked out after she left. She's representing logging interests. Interesting she'd come to see Sandburg. If there was ever a tree-hugger type, he'd be the one."

"Maybe the environmentalists hired Clayton," Jim mused. "Since the spotted owl controversy, there's been a lot of tension between the loggers and the environmental concerns. Even if all that resentment comes and goes, it might be a reason to try to stop the Summit."

"I hardly think the tree-huggers would hire an international terrorist to disrupt a trade conference," Simon replied, though he didn't sound prepared to discard the idea without further thought.

"There's a lot of money involved with that kind of thing," Jim argued. "And if the other delegates have the clout Wade, Ltd. does, there might be a lot of potential for disaster."

Simon nodded. "There are politicians and lobbyists coming into town like crazy. And they all have one thing in common, they all hate all the other ones. If Clayton's really here, it might have something to do with the Summit. If the stakeout doesn't come up with anything by tomorrow, we're going to have to head over to the Plaza and check that out, warn hotel personnel and show Clayton's picture around."

"And get in touch with the people running the Summit and warn them there could be trouble," Jim replied. "And drag in the Feds."

"If we find Clayton's actually here, I'm going to have to insist on a strong police presence at the hotel, no matter what the FBI wants," Simon decided. He glanced around. "Where's Sandburg? Thought he was going with you on the stakeout."

"He's meeting me there. He had a few person calls to make and he knew better than to make them here."

"What did Wade want with him anyway, Jim?" Simon asked, unable to restrain his curiosity any longer.

"It was a personal matter," Jim replied. "I think he'd have to be the one to tell you."

Simon turned to go, grumbling about personal calls and visits at the station, but without malice, because he'd seen as clearly as Jim had how angry and upset Blair had been by the unsolicited visit. "Get over there to Randolph Street and relieve Baker and Weitz," he said over his shoulder. "I hope you told Sandburg about the back way into the room."

"He knows," Jim said. "We were there yesterday for a couple of hours."

"Call in if anything unusual happens," Simon instructed. "We've got a possibly explosive situation here and I don't want to let it get out of hand." He turned to the rest of the room as Jim left and repeated what he'd just said about the Summit to all of them.

*****

Blair grabbed a cab and gave directions to the street behind the room taken over for the stakeout. Seething with frustration, he struggled to calm himself as he leaned against the seat. Trust Mom to have vanished off the face of the earth, right when he needed to talk to her the most. For all he knew, she was off on some weird ploy most of the time, but he didn't usually begrudge her that, just this time. One of the people he'd called, a woman who had known Naomi since Haight-Asbury, had informed him she thought his mom had gone to New Mexico to participate in a cleansing ritual at a kiva. She didn't know the name of the kiva, or the town it was located in, or even the name of anyone in Taos to contact. She thought the purification ritual lasted a week, and according to her, Naomi had departed two days ago. In other words, she was effectively out of touch for the time being.

The two calls he'd made after that provided even less information. One man, a long-time friend of Blair's mother, said she was going to try to get in touch with her spirit animal. Blair was a little surprised since his mom had never shown any particular interest in Native American culture before, but she would probably enjoy the process. On the other hand, Jim wasn't Native American either, and he'd experienced something of the sort when they were in Peru. So who could say?

Asking both of her friends to have Naomi phone him the minute they heard from her, he abandoned the effort as a bad job and flagged down a passing taxi. The Corvair was in the shop; the rear suspension was shot. It was noon and the streets were heavy with lunch-hour traffic. Blair sat brooding in the back seat, his thoughts far away until the cabby said, "Hey, buddy, there any reason anybody would want to follow you?"

"Follow *me*? You're kidding." Blair straightened, leaning slightly to one side in hopes of getting a glimpse in the rear view mirror. "Not that I know of."

"You're not a spy?" The middle-aged cabbie sounded excited. He'd be the type greet a celebrity by calling the dispatch to exult, 'Guess who I've got in my cab!'

"Anthropologist," Blair replied. "Sorry." Better not mention his connection with Cascade P.D. "What makes you think I'm being followed?"

"Because somebody jumped in a cab as we pulled away, and it's been a couple cars behind me ever since."

"Really?" Blair considered it. He couldn't think of anyone from Jim's cases who might follow him. Then he remembered Jennis Wade and her claim to have had him investigated. "Is it a man or woman?" he asked. Surely she wouldn't follow him herself. Even if she did, she'd probably use a company limo.

"Man. About my age, real thin, wearing a suit and hat. Had a briefcase. Didn't look like a spy either."

"Then he's probably just a businessman who's going in the same direction I am," Blair said. He frowned. The usual run of criminals Jim went after didn't carry briefcases, although it wasn't impossible. There'd been a bomb in a briefcase recently that had given him more than a few bad moments. Unless it was the p.i. Jennis had hired to investigate him, still keeping an eye on him.... "Turn here," he instructed, gesturing at an approaching intersection. "And speed up."

The cabbie grinned and hit the accelerator like a driver coming out of the last turn in the final stretch at the Indy 500, forcing Blair against the seat as he floored it.

"Son of a gun, he's right with us," the cabbie exulted, daring a glance over his shoulder that made Blair wince because it took his attention from the traffic ahead. "I always wanted to be in a car chase. This is great!"

"This *isn't* great," Blair argued. "I'm a police observer. This could be police business. Get back on Richmond; see if you can shake him in all the traffic."

"Gotcha." The cab driver put his heart into it, tearing around another corner, cutting down an alley, swerving to avoid a panel truck backing out of a driveway, trailing a discordant symphony of squealing brakes and raucous curses behind him. Blair turned in his seat and watched. He could hardly pretend to the follower he didn't know what was going on after the cab's antics, so he might as well enjoy the show.

After the first few turns, the other cab slowed, easing into the normal traffic flow. It had definitely followed them, but now it lost interest in the chase, halting when the van pulled in front of it.

"Aw, heck, we're losing him. Want me to give him a chance to catch up?"

Blair shook his head. He didn't understand what it was about, but chose not to pursue it. Jim was on his own on the stakeout and could get into trouble while Blair played James Bond games. Maybe the pursuer in the other cab had realized he made a mistake or had given it up as a bad job.

When the cabby dropped him off at his destination, Blair dug in his wallet and produced a decent tip for the guy, waving him off. He gazed up and down the street to see if the other cab were anywhere in sight, but they'd lost the pursuing vehicle.

Sandburg made certain it wasn't lurking or that the cab driver's skinny businessman was nowhere in sight before he ducked into the doorway that led up to the stake-out room. The only good thing about the whole experience was that it had prevented him from brooding about Jennis Wade's unexpected claim and the bitter thought that his mother had lied to him.

*****

Jim was waiting, watching the apartment building across the street. He had a telescope set up, left behind by the previous team, and sound equipment, none of which he needed himself, although he might not want to focus too carefully without Blair to back him in case he went in too deep and zoned out. There were a couple of bags of Chinese take-out on the table, and when Blair came in he waved him vaguely in that direction. After a quick glance up and down the street, he turned to his partner.

"Any luck finding your mom?"

"No. Naomi's off to find her spirit animal in New Mexico. I probably won't hear from her for days."

Jim must have heard the disappointment in his voice, because he said quickly, "Sorry, Chief. I know you want to get it settled."

"Any sign of Clayton?" Blair asked quickly. He'd said too much about the whole mess already. Until he talked to Naomi he wasn't sure what he could add.

"Not yet. I don't know if he has any reason to come here. Shelton may be his only known contact in Cascade, but he'd be crazy to come right to his house when they could set up a meet at a different location we wouldn't know about. Clayton's too good to give himself away like this."

"Then why are we here?" Blair asked.

"Because even the best of them can be stupid at times, and who's to say he isn't so smug he won't believe we know he's in town. Besides," he added, with a gesture at the sound equipment, "he might phone to set up an appointment, and then we'd have him, even if it was just a message on the answering machine."

"Shelton over there now?" Blair asked.

"No. The place is empty. I focused on it, and I can't even hear breathing. I think they'll meet somewhere else, if they do meet, and I think Shelton would have given him a neutral number. Besides, we don't have any other leads."

"No idea why he's here?" Blair asked.

"Lots of possibilities. Simon thinks he could be here to cause trouble at the Economic Summit."

"That big conference at the Plaza? I know a couple of people who want to stage a demonstration outside. Conservation types."

"Any of them gung ho enough to hire a terrorist like Clayton to disrupt the conference?"

"What?" Blair stared at him in surprise. "No, they're not that kind of people. I know some environmentalists can go over the top for their cause, but not these guys. They simply want their views aired. They show up on TV, maybe get an interview, they'll be satisfied."

"Any chance you could arrange for me to meet them or at least their leader?" Jim asked. "Even if he's a peaceful demonstrator, he might know other elements who aren't and give us a lead to who could have hired Clayton."

Blair hesitated, examining the contents of one of the take-out bags, then pulling up a chair and pulling out various small containers. He nodded slowly. "Yeah, I can take you to meet Maggie. She really believes in peaceful intervention. She gets pretty hot on the subject of demonstrators who go over the top. Violence isn't the answer, she says, and if she hurts another person, then she's no better than the people she's protesting against. You should hear her on the subject. If she knows anybody who might go too far, she'd tell you. I'll call her and set up an appointment, if you want." He took a bite of a crab Rangoon.

"Maggie, eh? Girlfriend?"

Blair shook his head. "Nope. Happily married for ten years. Too bad she doesn't have a sister though. Great lady."

"Jennis Wade is a delegate to the Summit," Jim told him suddenly. "She represents logging interests. She's one of the ones Maggie and your buddies are protesting against."

"Great," muttered Blair, startled to have Jim mention her in that context. "So that's why she's in town, why she decided to show up and spring her little surprise."

"Probably explains her timing, not the claim she made," Jim replied. He saw Blair's face close away from the subject and added, "Listen, Chief, I don't know if you should write her off entirely."

Blair stared at him doubtfully, dropping the rest of the crab Rangoon on the napkin. "Sell out to her? Is that what you want me to do?"

"No way. But this is a major opportunity for you."

"Not an opportunity I want," Blair insisted.

"No, but you don't have to decide right now. Take some time, think about it."

"I don't want to think about it," Blair replied stubbornly. He felt frustrated. Why couldn't Jim see the intrusion of the Wades into his life was no blessing? His mom hadn't wanted them there or she would have told him about them long ago. He was scared, scared they could swoop in and mess everything up for him. Why couldn't Jim understand? Sure, he was probably just trying to keep Blair from making any hasty decisions, but Blair didn't want a peacemaker. He wanted Jim to understand how panicked he felt. Everything could change and he didn't want that. He'd really come to love his life, his Guide duties, his friendship with Jim. How could Jim tell him to consider the option of ending it? Could it mean Jim saw their partnership as a temporary measure. Cops got new partners from time to time. Maybe Jim didn't see their partnership as a permanent one.

Normally Blair would have brushed aside such thoughts with confidence, but he'd had his world tipped upside down and he was still trying to catch his balance. So the words that spilled out were the results of uneasiness and the disruption the Wades had already caused. "Is this a polite way of telling me to buzz off, that you don't need a Guide any longer?"

"Easy, easy," Jim soothed hastily, staring at him as if he couldn't understand the doubts that had led to the question. "Where did that come from? I didn't mean anything like that, Sandburg, and you know it. I didn't say you should take the money and run. Just that if she does turn out to be your grandmother, you don't want to blow her off entirely."

Blair made himself sit down again, stunned at his abrupt reaction. He hadn't meant to explode like that, but the thought that Jim might use her arrival to push him away had shaken him more than he'd believed possible. He'd overreacted but his response had come from a deeply-buried fear that it was all too good to be true. He'd come to love his life so much the thought of changing it scared the hell out of him. Naomi and her transitory relationships had always taught him nothing was forever. You enjoyed what you were doing at the time and moved on without regret. He'd always done that, taken it light, lived for the moment, because the moment was the only guarantee there was. But since he'd met Jim Ellison and started into the Sentinel-Guide thing, he'd found himself looking beyond the moment, wanting to hold onto this particular gift and not pass on when the time was done. He'd never really imagined a friendship that didn't just suit a moment's need, and while he'd vaguely imagined he'd get married one day, a part of him had wondered if he'd be any good at it, because his relationships until now had lacked staying power. But then he hadn't wanted them to last forever, even the ones he'd loved; their time had ended and they'd always parted with mutual consent. Regrets he'd felt had been few enough.

But then he'd met Jim Ellison, a man as different from him as salt from sugar, and he'd started a wary friendship with him. When the back wall blew out of the warehouse where he'd been living he'd moved in with Jim, and he'd believed it was going to be temporary as much as Jim had. But as the days passed, he hadn't moved out, and the longer he stayed, the more he wanted to go on staying. The better he knew Jim, the more he wanted this particular friendship to last. This wasn't a casual, transitory bond. This was the real thing, a friendship he'd trust with his life. He *had* trusted Jim with his life on more than one occasion, and Jim had never let him down. Jim had trusted Blair with *his* life, too. Blair suddenly remembered his utter panic on the oil rig when he'd tried to save Jim from drowning in that oil tank. He had wanted to dive in after him, but he couldn't because then they'd both be trapped. It wasn't that he was afraid to risk himself, but because diving in wouldn't have saved Jim. When he'd managed to pull him out, his relief had been colossal. Afterwards, he'd tried to explain to Jim why he hadn't jumped in after him, and Jim had told him he'd done the right thing, just as he'd said Blair had done the right thing when Lash had him prisoner. Come to think of it, Jim had a lot of respect for 'doing the right thing.' Maybe that was why he wanted Blair to stay in touch with Jennis Wade, if her story turned out to be true.

"I don't think I have anything in common with her," he admitted. "Damn it, Jim, everything was fine before."

"And it's going to be fine again," Jim reassured him. "Just take it as it comes and you'll do great."

"I won't take over Wade, Ltd," Blair countered. "I don't like their position on environmental issues, even if I could imagine a corporate lifestyle."

"Maybe you should show up at the Summit with your friend Maggie's picketers," Jim suggested lightly. "If she saw you doing that, she might change her mind."

Blair grinned, then he remembered his adventure on the way here. "Hey, Jim, somebody was tailing me just now. I took a cab over here and some guy grabbed another cab and followed me."

"You led him here? Do you see who he was?"

"No, we shook him off. My cabby was a NASCAR wannabe. It felt like I was pulling at least two G's when he peeled away from the other cab. I didn't see the guy, but the cabby said he was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase."

"Maybe he was a process server, Chief," Jim said, but his brow wrinkled slightly. Blair wasn't sure what he thought of the story, but he didn't appear happy with it.

"Think he was the detective Jennis Wade had watching me?" Blair asked, then grew angry at the very thought. "Damn it, she's got no *right* to spy on me. I don't get it. Why wait until now to mess with me? She came into Simon's office and started pushing right away. She was testing me, I know, but I hate it. It's crazy, Jim. Besides, if it's true, Naomi didn't want me involved with the Wades." He fell silent, glowering. It still bugged him like crazy that his mom might have lied to him, even if he could understand why, once he'd met Jennis Wade. He didn't want to think she'd lied, even for a good cause. He'd rather she'd told him his father wasn't suitable, unless she'd been afraid he would have made a push for the whole story. If she claimed not to know who his father was, there was nowhere to go, but if she hinted she knew more than she was telling, Blair would have been tempted like crazy by the forbidden knowledge.

"I think you have to wait, Chief," Jim said. "What about Wade's son? He'd be the one to have a real interest. Why is she here in his place?"

"He's dying," Blair remembered. That fact hadn't registered fully until now. If Trajan Wade was really his father, and if he was really dying, Blair realized he wanted to see him. No, he wanted to confront him, to challenge him, to find out why he'd waited until it was almost too late to stake a claim. He felt no grief at the thought of the man's condition; how could he? Trajan Wade was a total stranger, worse, he was a stranger who should possibly have been far more. Until now he hadn't bothered. Blair would feel sorry for anyone living under a death sentence, but his resentment was stronger than any regret.

"Dying? I didn't hear that part," Jim said. "I'm sorry, Chief. Don't you think you should talk to him, at least?"

"Jennis didn't even suggest it," Blair replied. "No mention of meeting my supposed father at all. All she worried about was having to leave her business outside the family. If she felt bad about him dying, it sure didn't show. No wonder Naomi didn't like her. I don't like her myself."

"You don't have to do what she wants," Jim reminded him. "If you want to check on your father, if he really is your father, go for it, even if it's only to give him hell. Don't let it wait until he's dead. It'd be too late to change anything once that happens."

Blair grimaced. "I know. Maybe I'll think about it. I wonder how sick he is, if he's coming to the Summit."

"Simon was going to get a list of delegates," he said. "If Clayton's here because of the Summit, we need to learn all we can about it."

*****

They spent several hours on stake-out, but nothing happened at all. The telephone only rang once in Shelton's apartment, and it proved to be a salesman from AT&T wanting him to switch his long-distance coverage. Shelton didn't come home, Clayton didn't appear, and the only people who entered or exited the building appeared to belong there. Jim took photos of them just in case.

Using Jim's cell phone Blair called his friend Maggie Street and made an appointment with her for later that afternoon. She was surprised to hear from him and asked him to join her in the protest line.

"I'll be working," he said. "I'm an observer with the Cascade Police besides my classes at the University."

"An observer?" she asked. "Where do you find the time, with all you've got going already?"

"It's an anthropology thing," he said, prepared to dissemble slightly if she pressed him for details. It wasn't that he shared any of her feelings about the work he did with Jim. He had discovered he liked it. But the Sentinel stuff had to be secret, and Maggie was a smart woman.

"Oh, for one of your classes?"

"Something like that. I'd join you if I could, but I have a feeling I'd get my butt busted if I tried." He knew Jim would understand, but wasn't so sure about Simon. And he also suspected it wouldn't be...appropriate. The picketers would consider him a spy and the police a defector. Better to stick to one side. "You know I support what you're doing. But what we're worried about is the extreme groups. Jim will tell you about it when we get there."

"Jim?"

"My partner."

"A partner? Hmm. Interesting. I'll look forward to meeting him."

*****

Maggie Street was a woman a few years older than Blair, short and ever so slightly stocky with a pugnacious, bulldog air about her and a firm line to her very determined chin. She wasn't pretty but she had an style that Jim found rather appealing. He liked, too, her firm handshake and the quick, expert way she assessed him with her eyes. The office reflected her interests, with photo art that might have come from Sierra Club calendars of scenic beauty and animals in the wild. Her desk, a massive one of teak, was cluttered with folders, stacks of letters, and a pile of vivid brochures. Maggie was casually clad in slacks and a corduroy jacket over a tee shirt with her group's logo displayed.

"So you're Blair's partner," she said when Blair introduced them. "Interesting." She let the word spin out, making it sound twice its normal length. "How do you put up with the hair?"

"I'm used to it now," Jim said with a grin. "Although I kept wanting to grab the scissors in the beginning."

Blair made a face at him. "Never mind Jim, Mags," he said. "I'm used to Mr. Straight and Narrow now, too. I swear, he color codes the leftovers in the refrigerator."

"What a change," Maggie returned. "Keeping leftovers *in* the refrigerator! It sounds like a case of culture shock for both of you."

Jim burst out laughing. "You called that one right, Mrs. Street."

"Maggie to my friends, and if you're Blair's friend, then you're mine, too. I've known this scruffy little scamp since he was a freshman in college, off and on. Prickly as a hedgehog at first. But now look at him. Working with the police. I bet your mom had fits, Blair."

"Siding with the 'pigs'?" Blair queried. "She did, until she met Jim."

"Pigs, Sandburg?" Jim asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"Come on, Jim, she was coming from the sixties."

"Right." He shook his head.

"Hmm." Maggie's eyes were measuring. "I can see her point. Even if he is Mr. Squeaky Clean, he's got something."

"Would you like me to go away so you can figure out what it is?" Jim returned with a grin.

"No, we can talk in front of you just as well." Her eyes twinkled at him. "But you're here on business. Blair said something about extremist groups? You mean like environmentalists who go too far?"

Jim nodded. "We've been dealing with the problem of a possible threat posed by people like that. With the Economic Summit coming up, we're covering all the bases. Blair says you aren't likely to be involved in any problems, and he's a good judge of character, but you might know of people who go too far."

"My group's entirely non-violent," Maggie insisted. "We're careful about members, because a few of the wilder extremists could damage our credibility. We work a lot with our Congressional Lobbyist; and feel our primary responsibility is to educate the voters. It's a slower process, but the results can be excellent. I'll give you a prospectus."

She passed over a brochure to Jim, a brightly colored, eye-catching pamphlet labeled "The Save the Wilderness Conservancy". "You can take that with you. We accept all donations, and it's a tax write off."

He took it, but frowned. "I understand your group is supposed to be non-violent, and I'm not opposed to looking at your material, but that's not why we're here."

"Easy, Maggie," Blair said quickly. "Let him think it over. You can't make converts in ten minutes."

Jim directed the conversation back to the subject at hand. "What we need to know is the names of any groups or individuals you might know of who would take their cause too far."

"You mean someone who might do something violent for the sake of the cause?" Her brows lifted as if she had put together the clues and grasped the reason for their questions. "Not us," she said promptly. "Let me call in Jeff. He can put together information for you. He keeps his finger on the pulse of that kind of trouble. We picket in the same area as other groups, and we have to be very careful." She punched a button on her phone, and a moment later a man of about forty came in. He was also wearing one of the group's tee shirts over faded blue jeans, and he wore glasses with thick enough lenses to give his face an owlish appearance.

"Maggie?"

"Jeff, this is Detective Jim Ellison of the CPD, and his partner, my old friend Blair Sandburg. I think you met Blair last fall when we went out to survey that wilderness area up toward Seattle."

"That's right. Hey, Blair. Detective Ellison."

"Jim, this is Jeff Karl. He does our PR, and he keeps us organized."

Jim shook hands with Karl, and Blair gave him a friendly grin.

"We're investigating environmentalist groups because we have a lead that suggests a problem," Jim explained, reluctant to give away too much of their purpose or to give any conservationists ideas. "We know there are a lot of environmental groups concerned about the direction this weekend's Summit meeting at the Plaza may take, both here and in Canada, and we can't help wondering if any of the groups or any fanatical individuals might want to cause trouble at the Summit."

Karl appeared shocked. "None that we'd associate with. Unfortunately there are extremist groups who tend that way. I haven't heard that any of them meant to be represented on the picket line, though. I can phone around." He shook his head. "I can understand those groups' sense of frustration, because the environment is dying at an alarming rate. I won't even get started on the horrible depredations made on the Amazon rain forest. The profit motive rules, but two generations from now, those people's grandchildren may not be able to venture outside without protective clothing. And they just don't care. As long as their bankbooks grow fatter, that's all that matters. I don't approve of the violence, but I can understand where it's coming from."

"We'd still like any names you could give us," Jim said.

"I'll make up a list, and I'll also give you a list of our membership as well. The danger group is not a long list, by the way. Most people who take a stand use passive resistance or simple processes of education. We also boycott products. I'll give you a list when we leave. We have pre-printed postcards you could send to the companies who are our worst violators. And we have a list of congressmen to write to as well, and sample letters for people to use as a basis for their own."

"They aren't here for that, Jeff," Maggie said with amusement.

"Sorry." He headed for the door.

"You'll find lists, postcards and form letters in with the organization and individual names he gives you," Maggie said. "All I ask is that you read it before you pitch it. Have you ever seen a tropical rain forest, Mr. Ellison?"

"I spent eighteen months in the jungle in Peru," Jim replied. "I'd say I have an idea of the terrain."

"Then maybe you understand what we're trying to preserve. And it's not just the trees. Closer to home, we're dealing with the northern spotted owl issue. President Clinton ordered logging restrictions a few years ago but that ruling could be challenged legally at any minute. Logging was dropped to about one-fourth of its prior averages in 1994 in the area of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. The Summit wants to reverse such restrictions, in fact the federal appeals court has made it possible for the logging industry to challenge the ruling. We might be taking a giant step backward if it goes through. We've been trying to protect old-growth forests inhabited by the owl. It's been a threatened species since 1990. We lose entire species on this planet daily. And people wonder at dramatic climactic changes. Before you dismiss me as another tree hugger, remember what destruction of the rain forests will do to the whole earth's climate. Read the material. Believe what you see. Some of it is even a little understated."

Jim led the way out of the office in relief. Blair watched him, grinning at the glazed expression in his eyes. "What's the matter, Jim?" he asked when they were in the elevator down to the street. "Don't you like to hear causes preached at you?"

"It was when she started in on those percentage figures that she lost me, Chief. That lady is passionate about it all. If her members feel that strongly, what's to say one of them may not let it get out of hand? I'll call in the list to Simon and check out any local names," he concluded with a glance at his watch. "Quitting time. You want to grab a bite to eat or wait awhile? Or do you want to check out Wade and find out about her son?"

Blair had pushed all that aside when they were at Maggie's office, and the reminder wasn't welcome. "Eat," he voted. "We can go through the list. I know a few people besides Maggie who are into this kind of thing. Maybe there are names on the list I know."

Jim lifted an eyebrow slightly. He knew Blair wasn't brushing him off on the Wade issue. He was trying to avoid it himself. Yet they wouldn't have any peace until it was settled, and the longer they waited the closer they'd come to the Summit. They could hardly hope to deal with personal problems in the middle of a terrorist threat.

Of course Clayton's target might well be entirely different. That he would target the Economic Summit might be logical, but it didn't need to be that. He might be here to assassinate one of the delegates, pure and simple. Or he might be here for another reason entirely.

They thrashed out possibilities all through dinner, coming no closer to a motive for the terrorist's presence. Jim called Simon on his cell phone and relayed what information he had so far, giving two names off the list they'd collected from Maggie Street, people Blair thought might push too far for a cause. Jim had decided it would be smarter if other detectives questioned them. Bringing Blair into it wouldn't help him or the people involved. He didn't think Maggie Street was likely to resort to violence and he was a good enough judge of character to believe he'd called her right, especially when Blair agreed with him.

"I don't know all the members of the local charter, though, Jim," he said. "You just never know. Maggie screens her members, but somebody could have gotten past her."

"I know, Chief, but we don't have the manpower to investigate the entire membership. Her group will be watched at the Summit. That's the best we can do unless we find a possibility before then who's likely to have contacted Clayton."

"Clayton might just be here between jobs," Blair offered. "You know, his buddy Shelton might have found a place for Clayton to go to ground for awhile until he's ready to move on."

"I know. I've thought of that, too. Except the snitch who called it in said he saw him in conversation with a man who wasn't Shelton. And he thought money changed hands."

Blair had forgotten that part. It hadn't been one of Jim's snitches who'd made the report. "He couldn't identify the other person?" he asked.

"No. It was a man, and he was tall, but that's all we've got. Not even hair color. He had a hat on, one of those hats like loggers wear."

"Loggers?" echoed Blair in astonishment. "Maybe we're going at it backward. Maybe it's the environmentalists who are the target."

"Yeah, Chief, but if the terrorist attacks the protesters, he's only going to help their cause."

Blair forked up his last piece of pie and said before he ate it, "Maybe that's what's going on. A sympathy bid. There are people crazy enough to do just that. Sacrifice his own people for what he'd think is the greater good. He wouldn't even have to sacrifice himself. He could call in with the flu on the day it was due to happen."

"Maybe," Jim agreed, doubting that was what was going on here but knowing there were people obsessed enough to pull such a stunt for the sake of the 'greater good'. "Or maybe whoever paid him off was wearing a disguise in case he was seen."

Blair pushed his plate back. "So if anybody saw him, they'd blame the other side?"

"Whether it's the loggers or the protesters or just somebody who stands to make major bucks one way or another, it could be anybody," Jim replied. "There are a lot of issues at stake here. It could even be a private hit."

That made Blair look up. It was one of the options they'd tossed around, but this time it felt a little too personal. He hadn't wanted to think about Jennis Wade and he hadn't wanted to claim her as a possible relative. Neither did he want Clayton to go after her, although there were a lot of delegates and it didn't necessarily have to be her Jim meant. But the idea bugged him. If she was feeding him a line or acting on bad information and no relation, he still wouldn't want her to be targeted by somebody like Clayton. He wanted her out of his life, not a terrorist's victim.

"You still with me?" Jim prodded.

Blair jumped slightly. "Yeah. Just wishing I hadn't had that last piece of pie." It wasn't the best answer he could give, and Jim had to know it, but there were so many complicated emotions running around inside his head that he didn't know how to deal with them.

Jim frowned, realizing Blair had taken the idea of a personal hit to mean Jennis Wade, or at least to fear it might. Instead of weird theories about Clayton and what he was in Cascade to do, Blair had been trying not to think of Jennis Wade and her surprising announcement. Mention of a private hit had made him face the thoughts he'd been avoiding. While Jim was not a great advocate of 'talking out' a problem any more than most men, Blair was more into such openness than he. The anthropologist was always wanting Jim to tell him how this or that Sentinel experience felt, or how he'd worked himself into zoning out. Maybe he ought to encourage Sandburg this time around. It wasn't only that they'd go into the Clayton problem at the Summit without Blair's full attention on the case otherwise, though that was a factor. Carelessness with men like Clayton could result in corpses. But he was worried about Blair, whose face wore the most closed-away expression Jim could remember seeing there. In spite of his theories on Clayton, his mind was far away. And there wasn't a lot of chance of getting him to open up here in a public restaurant.

"Let's go home," Jim suggested. "It's been a long day."

"Yeah," agreed Blair, adding quickly, "I've got a mountain of papers to grade. It'll take me the rest of the evening. I don't want to pull an all-nighter with this Clayton thing hanging over us."

While the stack of papers waiting to be graded were undoubtedly real, they were also a smokescreen to avoid the real issue. Okay, so the kid hadn't been tempted by the Wade millions, but he was still angry and hurt. When he had time to calm down, the idea of unlimited research funding might be too great a temptation to resist. Jim didn't want to think about that. Sentinel powers aside, the thought of returning to an empty, tidy apartment or working his cases alone or with a regular partner no longer had any appeal.

"Okay," he said. "I don't know where you get the energy to do all the things you do. You're spread too thin."

Blair's eyes came up to his and something flashed there Jim couldn't read, an emotion that came and went so fast it was long gone before Jim could even attempt to guess at it. "Yeah," he confirmed. "That's what she said too."

The dinner he had just eaten set heavily in Jim's stomach. "She wanted you to give up the police part, didn't she?" he asked as they left the restaurant.

Blair looked at him then lowered his head so his hair fell forward to hide his face. "She can't waltz in and tell me how to live my life," he insisted. But his voice was slightly muffled and Jim couldn't guess the meaning of his tone. Why was it that the kid could be as open as a sunny day one minute and as obscure as a manuscript in an ancient language the next? You'd think he was all on the surface; open and bouncing around with unlimited energy, letting it all hang out, but Jim had learned over the last couple of years that was a big smokescreen. A lot of it was true, but not all of it. The hidden Blair could still confuse him.

"Nobody can tell you how to live your life, Chief," Jim responded, knowing he'd waited too long to say it and hoping the delay wasn't as obvious to Blair as it was to him. "You have to make that decision for yourself."

"She'll try to tip the scales," Blair said as he climbed into the van. He cast an expectant glance at Jim, then busied himself with his seatbelt.

"You mean she might offer to buy you?" Jim asked.

That wasn't the right answer. He could tell it from the way Blair's shoulders hunched. But he didn't know what answer was expected. "Come on, give me a clue here," he said.

Sandburg leaned his head against the seat and raked his fingers through his hair. "What do you mean?" he asked. As a clue it was about as useful as stale bread.

"Hell, I don't know what I mean, Blair. I know she's got you upset, and you're thinking about Naomi and why she didn't tell you--if it's even true. But I don't know what you want me to do. Talk to Wade? Tell her to back off?"

"I'll tell her to back off myself," Blair returned. "Don't worry about it, Jim. I can handle it."

He didn't sound like he could handle it, but he'd stood up to her just fine in Simon's office. "I know you can."

And that was the wrong answer, too.

"Look, Jim," Blair said almost desperately, "I can't do anything until I talk to Naomi. Just back off, okay?" But he didn't offer one shred of reassurance. Damn it, he was thinking about it.

"You've got all the space you need," he said, but it didn't help either of them. They made the rest of the journey home in uncharacteristic silence. Studying Blair, Jim tried to remember the last time the kid had been so quiet. He always had something to say, an opinion to voice, information to share, plans to make. Until now, Jim would have thought him constitutionally incapable of holding his tongue.

Damn it, Jim thought angrily, beginning to feel frustrated. *What the heck does he want from me anyway? My blessing for him to take off? He's not getting that. I can't give him that.* He knew if Blair decided to take the money and run he'd have to let him. *I can't hold him against his will. He has to make his own decision*. But the thought of standing aside and letting Blair take off didn't set well at all. *So what can I do?* And the only answer that came to him was to wait. Naomi may end the whole mess by denying categorically that Trajan Wade was Blair's father. Sandburg didn't appear to like Jennis Wade or lust after her fortune. *And what about my senses? I need him to manage them. He's always coming up with a new plan or training session or gizmo to help. And it's a not a job I can advertise for in the want ads. I need him for that. But if I tell him that it's the same as saying he has to stick with me for the rest of my life. And I can't expect that of him. He'll finish his dissertation and graduate and need to do more field work anyway. I'm not a lifetime project.

And I don't want to be. I want...* He let the thought trail off. He didn't know what he wanted. He only knew he was uneasy and unsettled and he hated that. He knew he might be losing his partner and he couldn't hold him if Blair wanted to go. Not sure where to go with it, he let it ride, glancing over at Sandburg every now and then. He seemed to be in a deep funk and Jim let it alone.

They reached the loft without touching on the subject again. Then Blair mentioned the papers he had to grade and vanished into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him. Jim focused his senses in Blair's direction and heard him rustling papers with as much fierceness as if they were declared enemies. Even the scrawl of his ballpoint pen was loud and savage.

"So what the hell do I do with him?" Jim addressed the air. "I can't read his mind. He has to tell me what's going on." But that wasn't a solution either, because the answer might not be the right answer, and then it would be final.

Jim took a beer from the refrigerator and took it with him over to the television set, where he stared mindlessly at a couple of sitcoms without coming any closer to a solution to the problem.

*****

Continued in part two...