by Sheila Paulson
See notes and disclaimer in part one.
Blair withdrew to his room as quickly as he could, and closed the door behind him. He'd seen there weren't any messages on the answering machine, so Naomi hadn't returned his calls. No easy answers. Maybe there never were.
He worked on papers for awhile, without any enthusiasm, nearly ripping a couple of sheets as he turned them, his frustration eating at him. *What am I going to do?*
The problem wasn't only Naomi and her possible deception, although that hurt a lot worse than he wanted to admit. It was Jim. He kept pushing Blair away, telling him not to close the door to Wade's offer, not to shut out his unknown father. Maybe he was tired of a cluttered apartment and an unwelcome presence at his side. Blair could have sworn he and Jim were good friends. But was Jim such a selfless friend that he could shove Blair out the door without a shred of regret if he thought it was for Sandburg's own good? Probably. He'd been willing to do that over the Borneo expedition. But they'd been through a lot since then. Only Jim stood up for what he wanted, and it was growing increasingly clear since this had happened that he didn't want Blair around, or he wouldn't be urging Blair not to shut out his supposed family. Now he had a ready-made excuse to push him away.
*Don't be an idiot*, he told himself angrily. *You don't know that's what he's doing. Maybe he doesn't know what to say, or have any better idea how to handle this than I do. Maybe he's scared that if he says anything, I'll have to listen to her and take off. After all, who would manage his abilities if I wasn't here?* But that wasn't much help either. He wanted to complete his research, that went without saying. But being a Sentinel wasn't Jim's only value. They were *friends*, damn it. So why was Jim so determined for him to take what Wade had to offer?
Gaining a father shouldn't have created such a crisis, but Jennis Wade had been very adamant about the strings attached to her offer to take Blair into the family. After all, Trajan had never married Naomi. That was clear, which meant Blair was illegitimate. He'd always known that and it had never once bothered him; it didn't bother him now. But it meant that, legally, Jennis Wade and Wade, Ltd. owed him nothing. He wasn't entitled to an inheritance in the eyes of the law, or at least he didn't think he was. He'd seen his birth certificate and there had been no father listed. So there was nothing to tie him in any official context to the Wades. Even if it was all true and he was a Wade by blood, if not legally, they couldn't dictate to him. They couldn't make him stop working with Jim. Jennis Wade didn't know about Jim's Sentinel abilities, though if her investigator was especially good, she might have an idea such a possibility existed. Blair squirmed. He didn't like that.
Mechanically he scrawled a grade at the top of the paper he'd been skimming. He hoped it was an appropriate one but he couldn't make himself concentrate enough to read it a second time. This was stupid. He fanned through the stack of papers, wanting nothing so much as to rip them into tiny pieces and fling them toward the ceiling.
The ringing of the telephone prevented him from doing just that. He waited, holding his breath, listening. What if it was Jennis Wade? What if it was Trajan? Maybe it was Naomi. Maybe this was the moment of truth.
A rap came at the door. "Sandburg." Jim's voice didn't give anything away. But then Jim was good at that. Blair never could read him properly. He'd never met a man who gave fewer physical cues.
He opened the door. "Naomi?"
"Maggie Street," Jim corrected instantly before he had time to get his hopes up. "She says someone broke into the Save the Wilderness headquarters tonight."
"Clayton?" Blair asked, astonished, distracted from his own problems by the news. "Is she still on the phone?"
"No, she wanted to call in Jeff Karl."
"What happened?" Blair asked anxiously. "What was stolen?"
"It wasn't that," Jim replied. "She said whoever did it broke into the computer and deleted a couple of important files. Membership lists, addresses, that kind of thing."
That surprised Blair. "Maybe she can undelete them. If whoever did it only dumped the files, she ought to be able to retrieve a lot of them if she does it right away before she saves anything else."
Jim shook his head. "No, she tried that already. She managed to pull up a little of it but it wasn't in good shape. Whoever did it knew what he was doing. I don't know if Clayton has any computer skills, but it's weird that somebody would pull this so soon after we visited. And that makes me wonder; you said someone was following you before. I didn't notice anybody following us after the stakeout, and I did check a couple of times."
"So did I," Blair admitted. He hadn't been sure what was behind the mysterious cab chase and he'd glanced over his shoulder more than once. "If we could bug Shelton's place, maybe they bugged us," he theorized. "They wouldn't have to follow us to Maggie's or even head over there when we were there. They could wait and go in later."
"Later might be too late," Jim argued. "What would be the point? We already had those lists."
"You got them?" Blair asked. "You didn't leave them in the car? We'd better check them out."
Jim produced the material he'd picked up at the Save the Wilderness Conservancy. "No, it's right here and besides, I called them in, remember? There's a squad over at Maggie's, checking the place out. She said she thought whoever did it wore gloves, and the door was broken open with a crowbar or tool like that."
"But we have the list already," Blair objected, catching himself immediately. "Unless the person following me had nothing to do with the break-in. Maybe whoever deleted the files didn't know we'd already been there and picked up the list. Maybe we've got the jump on whoever hired Clayton. Because the timing can't really be a coincidence, can it?"
"It can, but I don't think it is," Jim replied. "If we weren't followed, a break-in that involved membership lists could indicate a connection with Clayton and the Summit. Though we're really just supposing on that, too," he admitted.
"Clayton's a terrorist for hire," Blair reminded him. "I was checking out the material you had on him at the precinct, and it said he wasn't into causes himself, but he works for whoever pays his price. He's been connected with political assassinations and bombings, but no one's ever caught him. I can't understand people like that. He isn't even doing it because he believes in what he's doing. He's just doing it for money." Having just rejected millions, he was able to dismiss the thought of Clayton's fee with real scorn.
"We don't even know if 'Michael Clayton' is his real name," Jim admitted. "All the information we have on him is pieced together by police, Interpol, the CIA. Half of what we've got on him at the precinct is stuff I called in from my CIA buddy. The Summit is the only upcoming event in Cascade that's really worthy of Clayton. The timing is too good. And since the environmentalists plan to picket the Summit and hope to cause disruptions, I think it's a pretty good idea to assume a fanatical tree-hugger might want to hire him. I want to check out this list, see if anyone on it has an arrest record. If someone messed with the lists, there had to be a reason for it. It wasn't random vandalism or they'd just have trashed the place, not only messed with the computer."
"How did Maggie find out about it so quick?" Blair asked. He was glad to have something to think about that distracted him from his own problems. "She wasn't there, was she? Is she okay?"
"She's fine. She said she'd gone for the day, met her husband for dinner, and then remembered she'd left a stack of material she wanted to work on. They stopped by the office and found the door standing open. She said to tell you she and her husband were fine; the intruder had taken off before they showed up."
"Think we should go over there?" Blair wasn't worried about Maggie, if they'd shown up after the fact but he couldn't help wanting to make sure.
"We can swing by Maggie's office after I drop off the list and see if she's still there. You up for that?"
"Yeah. My papers will still be there tomorrow," Blair admitted. He hadn't made much of a dent in them, not when he couldn't concentrate on anything but the crisis created by Jennis Wade. Besides, if Jim really did want to end their partnership, there might be few chances to work with him in the future and he didn't want to cut them short. "Maybe you can pick up something at Maggie's office that the forensics people missed."
"Yeah, that might work," Jim agreed. "Okay, let's do it."
The police were just finishing up at the Save the Wilderness Conservancy when Blair and Jim arrived. Maggie was still there, and at the sight of Blair, she smiled and went to him to hug him. Jim couldn't help noticing how quick his partner was to offer her comfort. He gave her a reassuring squeeze before turning to shake hands with her husband, a fiftyish man as tall and slender as she was compact and solid, with a bush of thick, grey hair.
"It's okay, Maggie," Blair comforted. "They waited until no one was here. Nobody wanted to hurt you."
"I know. It still makes my skin crawl, though. It's a--a violation. I just can't understand why anyone would want to do violence to us here."
"I don't think it was an act of violence," Blair told her. "I think it was desperation. I think a questionable member wanted to make sure his name didn't come up, if there was a terrorist incident at the Summit."
Jim nodded to himself. Better she hear that theory from Blair. He didn't think she was part of a terrorist plan. She had struck the detective as too forthright a woman to resort to deception, one whose beliefs wouldn't permit random violence. But that didn't mean all her the group's members had the same set of ethics.
"One of our people?" She stared at him, horrified. "I know you wondered about that when you asked for the membership list."
"Not just your group," Jim put in. "We've picked up lists from other organizations all over this general area." He'd found Simon still in his office when he brought the list in and learned that several other groups were already being processed. "It's possible our terrorist has nothing to do with the Summit and, if he does, that he might be hired not by environmentalists but by another group with reason to want the Summit to fail."
Her husband nodded. "I told her that at dinner. I said you hadn't singled out her group in particular."
"We hadn't. But unless there have been break-ins at all the groups, we have to wonder why you were singled out. Maybe our man got wind of us checking out the various organizations and decided he couldn't take chances."
"I suppose it's possible, but we hardly broadcast to our members that you stopped by."
"You wouldn't have to," Blair told her. "If one of your people really did hire Clayton, he's going to be nervous. Even if he saw us stop by and knew Jim was a cop, he wouldn't have any way of knowing you gave us lists. We had those brochures on top of the list when we left and they're bright enough to stand out from a distance."
"And he might have thought it would take too long to reconstruct the membership list from scratch," Jim told her. "How many members do you have? It looked like several hundred names."
"Yes, officially, but some of those people only donate money. They don't necessarily attend meetings. I know all the active ones by name but I might not remember the people who only give regular contributions."
"Jim's going to look around before you lock up again for the night," Blair told her.
Jim noticed the forensics people had finished and were shaking their heads over the lack of fingerprints. Maggie's would have been on the computer and they'd taken hers for comparison; there were still faint ink stains on her fingertips. But they hadn't found anything else. He could tell. "I'm just going to give it the once- over," he said as they packed up.
"Good luck. Whoever did it knew enough to wear gloves," one of them said. "Other than the obvious door, they didn't leave any traces. We took Mrs. Street's fingerprints and Mr. Karl's--he stopped by earlier. But there were only two sets in here, and the computer had obviously been wiped. Someone was in the file cabinets, too."
They went out. Jim hesitated, then he nodded at Blair to get Maggie's attention away from him. Sandburg picked up on the signal immediately, turning to his old friend and starting up a conversation that consisted of news of mutual acquaintances. Jim hid a sigh at the thought of how easily they had come to work together. Remembering Blair's eager theories about the break-in, he tried to tell himself Sandburg had no intention of leaving. He'd tossed away the offer of wealth and position and that was that. But the offer hadn't gone away and would renew itself.
Jim pushed the thought aside. He had a job to do and he needed to do it. Filtering out the distraction of the conversation, he moved over to the computer and stood near it, letting his senses focus on it. He didn't think he could pick up any fingerprints forensics had missed. The computer still bore the traces of their search, and they'd been thorough. So not the computer, then.
But what? He let his eyes drift over the room, with a near-aimless wandering, hoping a clue would stand out. The only thing he noticed were footprints in the deep plush carpeting. They weren't very obvious; no one else would have even thought to examine them. He backtracked the forensic people's footprints from the doorway, filtering them out as he recognized their pattern; one of them was very down at the heels, another was made by a pair of running shoes. Blair hadn't come far enough into the room to have left prints and Maggie, like many very short women, wore high heels, which were easy to separate. Her husband's feet were unusually broad for such a tall, slender man. He'd stayed near the doorway, too.
The carpet hadn't retained many earlier impressions, not from the earlier visit he and Blair had paid, because there was no trace of their prints. But once he'd filtered out everything he could identify, he spotted one other distinct pattern. Narrowing his focus still further, he concentrated on it. Probably around a size eight, not really big for a man's foot, but it wasn't a woman's shoe. A woman's size ten would be about that size, but slightly narrower. He picked up a couple of edges of it crossed by the forensics people and by Maggie's heel prints. This print had been here before the investigation team, and before Maggie had discovered the break- in.
Bingo! The timing was right. He narrowed his focus one final time, trying to pick up distinctions that might carry over. The clearest prints he could find were near the filing cabinet. The left heel was run down more than the right, slanting out near the left edge of the heel. It wasn't enough for identification but if he encountered anyone in the investigation with shoes run down in such a way it would be a start.
He jumped slightly when he felt Blair's hand on his arm; it was the lightest of touches, meant to bring him out of it if he came too close to zoning out. Sandburg always knew when his senses heightened to the point where danger might occur. Jim nodded quickly to let Blair know he was in control, wondering once again what he would do if the younger man decided he had an obligation to follow Mrs. Wade's direction. Simply not use his Sentinel abilities? Guard them and make sure he never focused too intently? Practice drills alone to strengthen his control? None of those options made him particularly happy.
"Maggie's going home now," Sandburg told him. He didn't ask if Jim had found anything. He'd wait until they were alone. So Jim shook hands with Mr. and Mrs. Street and saw them out of the building.
"What did you pick up?" Blair asked in the car. "I could tell you got something and you were concentrating so hard I didn't want you to take it any further in front of Maggie and Fred."
"Just a footprint," Jim replied.
"In *carpet*?" Blair grinned. "Next thing you'll be picking up fingerprints in cloth. This is great! I hope there was something distinguishing about it?"
"Enough that I'll recognize it again. Even in different shoes, he'd still walk the same way. It was a guy with small feet, and his left heel was run down on the outside."
"That's great. If anybody on the list has a record, we can find a way to get a glimpse of his shoes." He grinned. "He might have wiped his fingerprints away but he didn't think about the carpet. Nice work. You weren't getting too close to zoning out?"
"No, I was careful. I figured I might need to be if..."
His voice trailed off and Blair gulped. If he left, that was what Jim meant to say. He was already making preparations for Blair's departure. A cold knot settled into the pit of Sandburg's stomach.
"In case your friends were paying too much attention," Jim corrected but the damage was done. That wasn't what he'd meant to say, and if he thought he could hide it, he was too late. He was seeing if he could make do without a Guide, and that made it all too clear that he thought he didn't need one any longer.
"They wouldn't have noticed anything." Blair tried to keep the stiffness out of his voice. "They just thought you were searching for clues. They don't know what the police do, any more than I did before I started working with you. Because it's not that much like what you see on TV."
"Too much paperwork?" Jim asked with forced lightness.
"I'm used to paperwork," Blair replied. "I have a lot of that at the university, and all those papers to grade, not to mention doing your paperwork at the station. We ready to head home?" The idea of retreating into his room appealed strongly.
"Yeah. I'll just check in and see if there's any word of Clayton," Jim said and pulled out his cell phone. Blair jumped into the van and waited while Jim checked. Clayton hadn't been sighted.
They discussed the case all the way home, both of them grateful for the neutral topic. At least Blair knew he was. He wasn't sure about Jim. It was so easy for him to act like it was business as usual. Didn't he care at all if Blair left? Had this all been just a working arrangement? Blair couldn't read any clues on Jim's face as he talked, but then Jim's face didn't give a lot away. Maybe that was a side effect of his military duty, the all-business approach. Or maybe it was just that, as a very private man, he'd trained himself not to reveal his feelings. And he was definitely a private man. Look how reluctant he'd been for Blair to move in with him. Even now there were times when he needed his space, and Blair had always respected that, except when such claims were clearly an excuse to get out of Sentinel testing. Had he pushed too hard with Jim, expected too much for him? Best case scenario was that Jim just wanted the best for him and thought fifty million dollars might offer that. But Blair knew all those millions would be cold comfort if his best friend wanted him gone.
He retreated to his room as soon as he could do so without making it appear he was in retreat. There had been no calls from Naomi, no calls from Jennis Wade or her son. Blair closed his bedroom door and felt isolated. What right did Jennis Wade have to come into his life and disrupt it so painfully? What right did Trajan have to claim him when Naomi said she didn't know who his father was? And Jim? Why did he have to let Blair down when he needed his support the most?
Standing there in the darkness, Blair shivered. It wasn't cold in the loft but he felt a chill anyway. Why did any of it matter so much? He'd always been footloose, free, able to pick up at a moment's notice and dash off across the globe for field work if he wanted to. No ties, no strings. Naomi had taught him to value his freedom, and he always had. So how had Jim Ellison become so essential to his comfort and security? What was it about him that had enabled him to become a closer friend than Blair had dreamed it possible to have? Was it just the Sentinel and Guide thing? Was there a strange bond, almost like a chemistry, that drew Sentinel and Guide together, a remnant of the collective unconscious, an atavistic function that bound them together without regard to personal choice? Or had it moved beyond that?
From Blair's perspective, it had. Jim wasn't just a subject for his research, the one full Sentinel he'd found. Yes, that was part of the appeal, but take it away and he'd still want Jim's friendship.
He sat on the edge of his bed, his eyes focused on an inner vision of a world without a Jim Ellison in it. He remembered the sheer panic he'd felt on the oil rig when he'd tried to rescue Jim from the oil tank and wasn't sure he could get him out. He'd saved Jim's life there. Did that make him Jim's Blessed Protector? There hadn't been time to visualize what it would be like if he lost Jim there, but now he couldn't help imagining what it would be if Jim shoved him out, pushed him in the direction of his wealthy supposed relations. Jennis Wade hadn't felt like family to him at all. She'd been a cold and haughty stranger, with no spark to suggest a bond of blood. There was no blood tie between him and Jim either, but he felt it, felt a bond that was like nothing he'd experienced before. He'd never had a friendship like this, only casual buddies, work colleagues, fellow students, fellow teachers. It wasn't the same as what he and Jim had.
But maybe they didn't really have it. Maybe only Blair did.
His hands clenched into fists at his sides. This couldn't be happening. Naomi couldn't have lied to him. Jim couldn't want him gone. It had to be a bad dream. He'd passed up the expedition of a lifetime, the Borneo trip, to stay with him and hadn't thought of the missed opportunity since, he'd been so sure he'd made the right decision. And now Jim was trying to push him away. Had he screwed up along the line? Or had he just been stupid enough to let Jim get in past his barricades? Is this why Naomi always chose to keep her relationships light, transitory? But that felt wrong now. He didn't want this friendship to end.
He ventured warily out of his bedroom in search of a cold drink. Jim was up in his bedroom; the light was still on, but he didn't call down to Blair, so Blair remained silent, too, getting a drink quickly and standing sipping it. He was upset and frustrated and knew he wouldn't be able to sleep. Turning on the TV was a bad idea if Jim was getting ready for bed but he didn't want to return to his room. Idly he went over to the windows and looked out without really seeing anything.
A dark shape moved under the streetlight below, and he jumped, realizing he'd been staring as he sipped his water at the man who stood there in the circle of light. He was a tall man, even thinner than Fred Street, wearing a business suit. Could this have been the man the cab driver had noticed earlier, the one who had followed him? It dawned on Blair he'd forgotten a very important facet of that incident; the follower had grabbed a cab right out in front of the loft. He knew where Blair and Jim lived.
Suddenly Blair was very glad he and Jim had taken the list to the station.
Easing away from the window, he let the curtain fall into place. "Jim!" He didn't hesitate to go to Jim with the problem, in spite of what was unsaid between them.
Ellison hurried down to meet him. He hadn't been in bed yet; he was still dressed. "What's wrong, Chief?" He actually looked concerned, a slight pucker between his brows.
"There's somebody watching the loft. I think it's the same guy who followed me. I saw him out the window just now."
Jim reached automatically for his gun. "I think it's time we confronted your tail," he said. Still dressed, he slid his feet into his shoes and headed for the doorway. "Stay behind me. I don't know if he's armed."
Blair fell into step automatically, behind Jim and slightly to one side, the way he did when police action was necessary. They hurried down to the street.
As they reached the pavement, a cab pulled away from a spot near the streetlight and vanished around a corner. But of the watcher, there was no trace.
Jim paced up and down; by the time they grabbed the car and started pursuit the man would be long gone, if it had been him getting into the car. Maybe he'd noticed Blair watching him. Lowering his gun, Jim returned it to the holster and frowned, gazing up and down the street. "He wasn't in the loft," he said. "I'd have been able to tell if anyone had been there."
"How? With your senses?" Blair asked, intrigued.
"I can sense it when someone's been in a room. I know how the place smells, in general, when you and I have been there."
"You saying I need a bath?" Blair teased. It was weaker than his usual teasing, but Jim brightened at his response.
He smiled faintly. "No, but I suppose it's like animals. They can tell things by scent. Everybody has a distinct odor when I focus; it's not good or bad necessarily, it just is. If anyone else had been there recently, I would have known."
"So that's how you know if I have a girlfriend over?" Blair asked. Jim didn't even need eyes in the back of his head to tell about such things.
"One of the ways," Jim replied. He grinned wickedly. " I can smell her perfume. I can even tell when you've been up to a little...extracurricular activity."
Blair felt a wave of red run across his face and was grateful for the darkness of the street. "Yeah, well, I can't have anybody over when you're there. It's like living in a bugged room. And if it comes to that, there's a certain area of your senses we've never done tests on. I ought to ask you whether you get any special side effects when you're with a lady friend. Just think, Jim," he said excitedly, "you must be able to experience incredible fringe benefits. Well, as long as you don't zone out in the process."
"That is not part of the testing," Jim said decisively, his tone final. He didn't blush, but then he wasn't prone that way. He glanced up and down the street a final time. "I think our late-night visitor is gone. But I'll sleep with one ear open tonight in case he comes back and tries anything."
"He hasn't done much yet," Blair said. He'd enjoyed the byplay with Jim; it had felt normal. He hadn't talked like he considered the testing process finished either.
"No, but we don't know that he won't. Listen, Chief," he said as they returned to the loft. "You said the old lady had you checked out. Maybe she's still doing it."
"I thought of that before," Blair admitted. Mention of Jennis Wade had been like a bucket of cold water poured over his head. He didn't want to think of her at all. "It could be, I suppose. But why? What would she want to watch me for now? She has no hold over me, remember? If I do something she doesn't like, so what?"
"Then here's another thing to think about, Chief. And I can't say I like this idea very much. Rich people have a lot of problems the rest of us don't have to put up with--though we wouldn't mind trying for awhile. What if somebody else found out that you might be the heir to the Wade fortune? Even Clayton. Mrs. Wade has a lot of pull. The other side might want to influence her vote at the Economic Summit."
"By grabbing *me*?" Blair stared at him in wide-eyed astonishment. That idea had never occurred to him. "But I'm not..."
"We don't know yet," Jim said. "If it's true, then you could be in danger."
"I can't inherit from her unless she changes her will," Blair said. "Legally I don't have one right unless she wants to give it to me. Besides, you saw her. She doesn't let people manipulate her. Family or not, it doesn't matter. She hates her own daughter because she became a nun instead of going into the business. She doesn't think much of Trajan. The relationship isn't that important to her, not nearly as important as the business is. That's where a terrorist could hurt her, through the business. Not through a theoretical grandson."
Jim locked the door carefully behind them, then did a quick reconnoiter of the apartment to make sure no one had broken in during their absence. "Nobody came in," he said.
"I thought you could smell them," Blair reminded him.
"I can. But I wanted to check anyway. I'm not taking chances with your life."
"Not much chance," Blair said, though Jim's automatic words had eased his tension. There had been no planned consideration in those words; Jim had said exactly what he felt. "I think you're way out on a limb with this, Jim. I can't believe anybody would think grabbing me would make Jennis do one thing she didn't want to do. I get the feeling only one thing isn't expendable to her, and that's Wade, Ltd."
"And having family run it," Jim reminded him. "Anyway, our visitor is gone for now. He can't get in here without me hearing him, so we should be safe enough. But I think we ought to approach Mrs. Wade about the idea tomorrow."
*I don't want to approach her ever again.* "I don't see what good that will do."
"We have to talk to her anyway. We'll be talking to all the delegates to the Summit before the weekend. Let her see the police aren't so bad after all."
"I don't care what she thinks," Blair insisted. "I bet it's all a lie anyway. Naomi would have told me the truth."
Jim hesitated. Plainly he didn't want to talk about it, but he said quietly, "Her son is dying. Do you think he'd lie at a time like this?"
It all came back to that. When people were dying, they tied up loose ends. They faced up to problems that had been unresolved for years. They didn't invent whole new complications to addle an already devastating situation. Damn it, why had Naomi let this happen? And why was his whole life falling apart?
"If he's so gung ho to claim me, why hasn't he bothered to call?" Blair asked, defensive, braced and wary.
Jim said sympathetically, "Maybe he's not well enough."
"Come on. I can hardly be expected to be upset. I never met the man. He didn't want anything to do with me before. Why should he bother now? I'm not a loose end to tie up."
"I think that's exactly what you are to him," Jim returned. "Okay, so if it's true, he's weaseled out of his responsibilities up till now. But the time has come when he can't avoid dealing with it any longer. He's dying. I think you have to make the effort, even if it isn't your responsibility. Even if you don't owe him jack."
"Well, I'm not going to take over any logging corporation," Blair said stubbornly. "If I had to take sides there, I'd take Maggie's. I've been in the rain forests, and I've seen how bad it's gonna get if unrestrained cutting keeps on. Wade, Ltd. doesn't have the greatest reputation either. They tend to pay fines rather than getting things into good shape when they're through. It's cheaper in the long run, just like with strip mining. I don't want any part of what they're doing."
"Or any part of changing it?" Jim asked.
Damn it, that wasn't fair. There he went again, finding a way to thrust Blair into changes he didn't want.
"I don't want that," he insisted. "I don't know anything about running a business, not even a storefront type, let alone a major conglomerate. Besides it wouldn't be me; there'd be a board of directors and stockholders and all that crap. I couldn't do anything, and even if I could, I don't know enough about big business. I'm an *anthropologist*, Jim. I'm a teacher and field researcher, and I'm a police observer. I think that's enough for any man, don't you?" And then, realizing he'd given Jim a perfect opportunity to suggest he drop part of his responsibilities, he said, "I'm going to bed. We can't solve any of this right now."
"You're right. We can't. Do you have to go out to the university tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I have an early class and one mid-morning. I'll finish grading the papers in between, and I can be over at the precinct by eleven-thirty."
"Good. I'll meet you for lunch and then we can go talk to Mrs. Wade and a couple of the other delegates. Maybe there'll be word on the names we turned in." He hesitated. "If you have the first shower, don't use all the hot water."
Blair struggled against an urge to rush to the bathroom on the spot and shower for an hour, but he restrained it. "Yes, master," he said, needing an effort to sound normal. He would use as little water as possible in the morning. He'd even clean up the bathroom afterwards. That would show Jim he didn't need to be pushed away.
Ellison slept badly, dozing and waking, listening for a possible intruder, heading over to the window from time to time, to check out the street below. When his alarm went off in the morning, he would have liked nothing so much as to pull the blankets over his head and pretend it wasn't yet time to get up.
He heard Blair come out of the bathroom and went to have his own shower. The kid had taken long enough. How could anybody spend forty-five minutes in the shower? If there wasn't enough water left...
He stopped, staring. The sink was clean of long, tangled hair, and clean towels hung on the rack. The inside of the shower stall had been wiped down and the tile floor inside smelled like Comet as it sparkled with cleanliness. Amazing.
Deprived of the challenge of yelling at Sandburg, Jim stood there in astonishment. What was all this about? What the heck was the kid trying to prove? Was it a form of apology because he meant to take off? Or was it entirely different?
A part of him wanted to rush off and confront Blair, but what could he say? 'Why did you clean the bathroom?' The only answer would be, 'Because you're always telling me to pick up after myself'. If Jim said, 'Are you going to move out?' and Blair said, 'Yes,' that would be too final. He didn't want to hear it yet.
"Damn it," he muttered savagely under his breath. He cranked the shower dial to full force and stood beneath the water, letting it pummel the tensions from his muscles. The water was hot. But even clean, he didn't feel refreshed.
Blair had fixed breakfast. He did that sometimes, but the end result wasn't always remarkable. He could cook well enough but he hadn't quite grasped the concept of putting jars and canisters away, or remembering to stick the milk into the refrigerator when he was finished with it. Today when Jim came down the stairs, everything was ready and Sandburg whipped it onto the table as he approached with the ease of a skilled waiter. Even the coffee smelled decent. What was more, the counter top was spotless and everything had been tidied away.
Jim frowned at it, eyed the tastefully arranged plate of food, and said, "Who are you and what have you done with the real Blair Sandburg?"
"Just because I finally decide I don't want to listen to your bitching about cleaning any longer..." Blair ragged.
"I don't 'bitch'," Jim responded. "It's only common sense to have the place tidy. You want roaches in your cupboards?"
"I don't mind the little ones you get around here," Blair turned the subject. "You should see the roaches in Fiji. They *fly*, Jim. They're as big as one of your shoes, and they move so fast, if you want to kill one, you have to throw a rock or whatever ahead of them and project their path or they'll get away."
"I don't want to hear it," Jim replied, finding the idea disgusting. He hadn't liked the bugs he'd encountered in Peru either. "And I don't want any here, even if they are midgets compared to these mythical ones of yours."
"They're not mythical. I can prove it. I still have photos from that trip, and one of them has the team with a couple of those little monsters pinned under glass."
"Just like a fishing trophy," Jim returned. "I don't want one on my wall, thanks."
"Any chance you could drop me off at the university this morning?" Blair asked. "My car's still in the shop."
"Aha," exclaimed Jim. "Now we get to the bottom of it. I knew there had to be a reason for this sudden perfection."
"*Sudden* perfection? You mean you didn't notice I was perfect until now?"
"Gee, Chief, I've gotta say it escaped my attention."
Blair shook his head. He had his hair pulled into a pony tail this morning, and was wearing his glasses. Amazing how different he appeared when he did that. Remembering the planned visit to Jennis Wade this afternoon, Jim couldn't help wondering if the slicked back look and the tweed jacket and tie, even though his shirt was casual plaid, were meant to impress his wealthy potential relative.
"Maybe we need to train you not only to see but to notice what you're seeing when you use those powers of yours," he said, shaking his head as if to chide a recalcitrant student. He should have sounded casual and amused, the way he always did when they teased each other. But he was as tense as Jim was. Maybe he was working up the nerve to admit he wanted to leave.
"More tests?" Jim complained. "I feel like a guinea pig."
"At least you don't look like one." He tilted his head and surveyed Jim. "Maybe you need a new look. Grow your hair longer, start wearing a mustache, maybe love beads..."
"Followed by a leisure suit?" Jim grimaced. "No thanks. I'll pass." He wasn't sure what Sandburg was up to this morning. The repartee felt forced to him, and the cleaning in the kitchen was definitely unusual. Pair that with his neatness in the bathroom and Jim could only wonder if Blair felt guilty, and was trying to make up for it in the only way open to him. What did he have to feel guilty about? He hadn't done anything except be more touchy than usual, and Jim could understand that. Unless he was starting to think about leaving after all. Maybe the more he thought about it, the more he realized he'd be stupid not to go for it, not just for the money but for the options: research grant money if not the advantage of family. Jim hadn't been close to his own family for a long time and didn't even want to think about his late father or his brother. But Blair didn't have a bad history with the Wades. He'd just been upset by the suddenness and the fact that his mom hadn't told him. Maybe he really did want to go for it, even though Jim would have said money wasn't that important to him.
But Blair might be thinking of leaving for reasons other than money. He found himself starting to get angry. *Why doesn't he just come right out and say what he means to do? How long is he going to play around?* But he didn't want to force the issue. Maybe he'd have a better idea what was going down after they went to see Jennis Wade. He'd just play along for now, but it didn't sit well with him. He liked to have things out in the open. Yet he couldn't find the words to get to the heart of the matter.
"I'd have to say I can't picture you in a leisure suit, Jim," Blair replied with a tentative grin. He applied himself to his own breakfast; Jim didn't want to imagine what it was; a strange health mixture cereal that didn't come from Kellogg's. He tried to imagine a future where strange objects didn't repose in his refrigerator. Maybe he wouldn't miss that part of it, but it went with Sandburg's presence in the loft, and even though he'd fought like crazy against the kid moving in, and urged him frequently in his first weeks to move out, now he found he couldn't imagine life without him here. He hadn't been conscious of being lonely before, but now that he'd had Sandburg for a roommate, it would be strange, boring, without him. It might be more peaceful, but he wasn't a senior citizen who wanted to sit quietly in his rocking chair. Peace was hardly the primary objective. He got a huge kick out of watching Sandburg go off half-cocked with a crazy new idea, even didn't mind some of the tests and exercises the anthropologist dreamed up for him. Sandburg was a constant challenge, to his lifestyle, his preconceived notions, even his eating habits. He was never dull. And imaginative! What the kid could dream up would boggle the mind. Even before he'd let the kid in, started considering him a friend, he'd defended him to Simon because of his unique approach to Jim's cases. Occasionally his apparently off-the-wall suggestions had led to a new facet of an investigation, and his help in solving cases was not to be scorned.
Jim had to just take it as it came, act as normal as possible. But he couldn't stand between Blair and a fortune. It wasn't fair of him to put ties on his friend, not when he had a chance for wealth and power. The fact that he couldn't quite imagine Sandburg wanting either didn't stop him. What did he have to offer that couldn't be erased by all that money? He was a Sentinel, and Blair was fascinated by the concept. But that was just one part of his work. This could mean a whole new life for him. Jim didn't think he was any more selfish than the next guy, but he didn't want to step aside and let Blair take the money and run. If he thought the millions would be bad for him, he'd say so. But what could he do? He didn't own Blair, he didn't control him. He couldn't keep him here for one minute longer if the kid didn't choose to stay.
They finished up their breakfasts with careful banter, then Blair hurried after his stack of ungraded papers, and Jim dropped him off at the university. No one followed them, no mysterious stranger lurked about. Jim checked the rear-view mirror all the way but saw nothing, felt no sensation of being followed. He deposited Blair and waited until he entered the building before driving off. If there was a pursuer, he knew where Blair lived. Maybe he knew about the university, too. But Jim couldn't go to Blair's classes with him. He had to hope the watcher had the sense not to cause trouble on campus because there was nothing he could do about it. But he felt uncomfortably like he was deserting his partner as he finally drove away.
Simon was in his office when Jim arrived, and Ellison headed over to poke his head in. "Do we have any new leads?"
"We've gone through those membership lists you and the others brought in," Simon replied. "We found a few criminal records, but nothing that might suggest ties with Clayton or possible terrorist activity against the loggers at the conference. There are a few traffic violations, a case of breaking and entering--Stephenson is out checking that one, since he's local--and an embezzlement case, but he's supporting his cause from his jail cell. A couple of the names are still being checked, and of course there's no saying our man might not be using an alias. He could be an activist who infiltrated a local group under a false name.
"But I think we've pegged it right. I sent a team over to the Plaza last night with pictures of Clayton, and one of the bellboys and a maid said they saw him; they were pretty positive of it. He's not staying there. We checked. None of the desk clerks have seen him."
"He's scoping the place out," Jim said without enthusiasm. "We should check out local suppliers of explosives."
"Ahead of you there. Rafe and Brown went over to see TNT Barnes. He won't talk, but he'll know we're watching him. The man's so damn canny. I know he does a major underground business, but there's never been any way to prove it. We'll lean on him a little and hope the pressure will get to him."
"I doubt it," Jim replied. He'd talked to the explosives expert himself on a previous case and had gotten nowhere. "He's so blasted laid-back; you could threaten him with a bazooka at ten yards and he wouldn't break into a sweat. But you can bet Clayton knows about him. If he didn't bring his own supplies in with him, he'll be in touch with Barnes."
"We've given up on the Shelton stakeout and switched over to Barnes," Simon replied. He glanced past Jim toward his desk. "Where's Sandburg?"
"Has a couple of classes this morning."
"I thought since he had a tie with Wade, you could talk to her today, see if she's had any threats? There are a lot of touchy feelings about this lawsuit revival over the timber industry's challenge to logging reductions. I can picture the whole thing going crazy this weekend when the Summit starts or even at that gala ball tonight."
"I already planned to talk to her this afternoon, and some of the other delegates, though all of them won't be here yet."
"I don't know what she wanted with Sandburg--no, don't tell me, I don't want to know unless it ties into the Clayton thing," he added before Jim could reveal that it was Blair's secret, to be shared with Simon only with his permission. "Just find out if she's expecting any trouble."
"I will. And Clayton may not intend explosives. He may take cover and pull a sniper number."
"We're going to do a thorough sweep of the surrounding buildings tonight before the gala, then prior to the conference, and again after it starts. I'm calling in all vacations, at least the people still in the area. We're going to put in a lot of overtime on this one."
"Sandburg has ties with one of the protest groups, too," Jim explained. Simon wouldn't want to let that pass, especially since it could be construed as a conflict of interest. "He knows the head of the Save the Wilderness Conservancy personally."
"And Jennis Wade, too. One day you'll have to tell me," he asked with heavy sarcasm, "how we ever managed before Sandburg teamed up with you."
Jim winced. That wasn't the question. It was how he would manage when the partnership was over.
Simon grinned wryly. "The kid can be useful, but don't tell him I said so. And we're lucky this time. He knows someone on both sides, so I don't have to worry about him playing favorites. We all have our views on the spotted owl controversy, but we know better than to let them stop us from doing our jobs. Sandburg doesn't have the police background. I don't suppose he'd consider the academy?"
Jim shook his head. "Maybe when pigs sprout wings."
Simon caught his tone. "What's wrong, Jim? You've been looking glum all morning."
Jim hesitated. He didn't want to talk about his doubts to Simon, and he really couldn't without explaining about Jennis Wade, which wasn't his to tell. "I don't like terrorists," he said flatly.
Jim was glad Simon had the decency not to express doubts over his answer. He'd known Simon a long time; Banks had paired him with his first partner. He'd seen Jim come a long way. Remembering the man he'd been when Simon had partnered him with Jack, he shook his head slightly. What would the Chief have thought of his previous incarnation? Overreacting from his military career and the stint in the Peruvian jungle, Jim had been at odds with the world at large and so cocky he made Sandburg seem like he didn't know the meaning of the word 'attitude'. But Simon had been right about the partnership. It had started Jim down a new path, and he'd been changing ever since. He was far more comfortable with himself these days, and he owed that, in part, to Simon.
And in part to Sandburg, who had done more than help him with his Sentinel abilities.
But it didn't do any good to think about that.
"What time is Sandburg showing up?" Simon asked.
"In time for lunch. We'll go see Mrs. Wade after we eat."
"Stay in touch. I want to know if she's aware of any threat."
Continued in part three...