New Arrivals
Author-Sheila Paulson
Titles

Families
Part Three
by Sheila Paulson

See notes and disclaimer in part one.

Blair's first class came and went so fast he might have sleepwalked through it. He retreated to his office to grade papers and forced himself to concentrate on them and not on the events of yesterday. So he might have a shot at millions of dollars. He didn't want it. The price tag was way too high. Someone was following him, but whoever it was hadn't hurt him and hadn't pursued the chase when he realized he'd been spotted. Then there was Jim, urging him not to turn his back on the 'golden opportunity'. Couldn't he see it wasn't an opportunity but a weight to hang around his neck? Couldn't he understand that Blair was happy with his life and didn't want to change it? Or did he understand all too well? Maybe he wasn't happy with his life. Maybe he wanted Blair to leave. He'd been over all this in his mind a hundred times but the equation didn't improve. He didn't want Wade's money and the lifestyle that went with it. But what he did want, the life he had now, the best life he'd ever had, he might not be able to keep. There weren't enough millions in the world to make up for what he'd be losing.

He heard a knock on the door. *Oh, great, one of the students, wanting to know his grade.* "It's open," he called.

But it wasn't a student, it was a stranger, a tall man, extremely thin, wearing a business suit that was very well cut but still hung loosely on him as if he'd recently lost a lot of weight. He had a hat on but he looked bald beneath it, so maybe it was vanity that had made him wear it indoors. His eyes were blue, but they held a weary expression of patient suffering as if pain was a constant companion. Blair had seen that look on people with chronic illnesses, people who lived intimately with pain. The man was probably in his early fifties, but the deep lines from his nose to the corners of his mouth and the washboard of his forehead made him appear older. Even his skin hung loose and lifeless. Tall and skinny with a suit and hat. Could this be his mysterious tail?

What scared Blair even worse than that possibility was that he was vaguely familiar; he'd seen him before. He couldn't remember where; the man he'd seen had been younger, fitter, with a lot of hair, almost as much as his own.

"Blair?" said the man, a smile lighting his face and masking the pain as temporarily unimportant. "Let me look at you."

And then it came together, and Blair found himself trembling, almost physically ill. He hadn't seen this man before, he'd seen a photo of him. Concentrating for all he was worth, he tried to recall, and gradually an image came to him of a man with long hair, his arm draped around the shoulders of a younger Naomi, both her arms around his waist. He couldn't remember all the details but he was sure that was the picture where her hair had been long and perfectly straight ("I used to iron it," she'd said when showing him the picture). Was that where he'd heard the name 'Traje'?

"Trajan Wade," blurted Blair, jumping to his feet.

"You know who I am?"

"Naomi has a picture of you. And I vaguely remember hearing her mention your name. She called you Traje."

"She was the only one who ever did," Wade replied. "But how could you call that out of the blue unless..." His voice trailed off then his eyes widened with shock. "Mother. She contacted you? I never meant her to do that, not before I had a chance to see you for myself."

"Then you're a day late." Blair was conscious of his prickly attitude, of his rigid pose, desperate and dogged. He didn't want to talk to this man, this possible father who hadn't bothered with him until it was almost too late. The air of illness that hung about Trajan Wade was real; he knew without Jennis' explanation that Wade was dying. That scared him as much as his claim of fatherhood did. "She showed up at the precinct yesterday, pissed off Jim's boss, and pulled a ritzy number on me. My hair's too long. I'm too short. I have the bad taste to work with a cop. She offered to buy me, and I'm not having any. So if you're here with a checkbook, you can just forget it."

"Checkbooks are Mother's job," Trajan replied. He stood there shakily, swaying slightly. "May I sit?"

Blair waved at a chair. God, he wished Jim was here. He didn't want to do this on his own. He didn't want to listen to Trajan, not when it would mean accepting that Naomi had lied to him. Having met Jennis Wade he could understand why she might have done it. Wade, Ltd. would have gone against everything the young Naomi believed. She would have been terrified of seeing Blair absorbed by the establishment. She would have never doubted the courts would award the child of a penniless hippie to the wealthy Wades rather than to her. So she'd made sure that didn't happen. But it still hurt. Maybe she couldn't have told him when he was little, but he'd been an adult for a long time now. She could have told him. Even when she visited a few months ago, she could have explained.

Trajan subsided gratefully into the one comfortable chair in the room, the one Blair had scrounged from the office of a departing colleague so the dean wouldn't have to sit on one of the grey plastic institutional numbers the students used. As soon as he was seated, Blair retreated to his desk, using it as a barricade between him and the man who might be his father.

"Did you follow me yesterday?" he asked, anger edging his voice. "Did you watch my apartment? What the hell was that for?"

Trajan didn't deny it for a second. "I was...trying to work up the nerve to face you," he admitted. "I know it's late in the day for me to make a claim on you. I know I shouldn't have said anything to Mother without talking to you first, but I had to. You don't know her. She pushes and pushes. Nothing has ever been good enough. Damn it, I've been good at my job. I've worked hard for her all these years. I squelched my natural inclinations. I didn't have the guts to get out like Melanie did, though I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and try to believe she had a vocation and that she wanted to be a nun, instead of thinking that she'd found the one place Mother couldn't drag her away from. Mother swallows people up."

"I got that feeling myself," Blair said. He didn't mean to help Trajan out; he didn't owe him that.

"You only spoke to her once," Trajan said. "She devours people. We weren't just her children, we were her trophies, her lackeys. We did everything her way. We weren't encouraged to have thoughts she didn't place in our heads. She's obsessive, controlling. I wanted to escape her, but I never could. I only had the strength to try once. And that's how I met Naomi."

Blair nodded. He didn't say anything. Let Trajan plead his own case. He might listen but he felt no obligation to do anything else.

"You can't imagine what it was like," the dying man said. "You've probably been raised to be a free spirit. I can't imagine Naomi trying to control your life. She didn't, did she?"

Blair shook his head. No matter what his mom had done, it hadn't been that. "Only in that she gets too enthusiastic, carried away, and her enthusiasm can roll over you like a bulldozer. But controlling my life? No."

"It was the enthusiasm that I first noticed. I was just out of college; Harvard Business. No options for me. Mother chose it, Mother gave an endowment. Mother made sure my grades were high enough to qualify. But I'd just graduated with an MBA, and I told her I wanted the summer free. She was very gracious; she knew I would have to come back; I had nothing of my own. She controlled all the money and I'd been so well conditioned it never occurred to me I could just walk away. I went to San Francisco. I bought myself some hippie clothes; you should have seen me. I'd been letting my hair grow all through my Master's program, so I would have looked the part except my clothes were new and squeaky clean, just like me. I looked like a narc. At least that was what Naomi said the first time she saw me."

He paused, either collecting his thoughts or catching his breath. "She was like fresh air, a breeze that comes dashing through, catching up anything loose and pulling it along in its wake. I was smitten." His eyes were dreamy as if he were reliving that moment. "I'd never even imagined anyone like her before. I didn't know there was such a thing as freedom, and that's what Naomi was. In fact, that summer, that was what she called herself. Free. I'd watch her, she'd be all but dancing along the street like the wind would catch her and carry her for a step or two. I hardly thought she could be real."

Blair found himself grinning. He could sympathize. There were times when he'd hardly believed Naomi was real, either. And he remembered Jim's reaction to her rearranging of the loft. Naomi was about as subtle as a hurricane.

"I moved in with her that same day," Trajan said reminiscently. "She introduced me to a whole new way of life. There was a side to it all I didn't like, a deliberate squalor that I couldn't really take easily, but she used to laugh at my fastidiousness. It wasn't that she lived in dirt," he said, striving for fairness. "Or that she didn't bathe, although some of her friends didn't. She'd tossed aside all the rules Mother had always emphasized. It was hard for me to adjust but it was a miracle, too. She didn't care one iota for anything Mother said, and at the time, that was a revelation. I started believing I could be free too. I wanted to marry Naomi."

"Did she feel the same way?" Blair asked. His mother had never talked about marriage plans, not that he could remember.

"She insisted marriage was a pass‚ institution, and she didn't want to be bound by society's rigid rules," Trajan remembered. "She said we were together and that she was giving me her heart, her soul, her spirit and her body, and that no piece of paper and no establishment judge or minister could make that any less real. I'd been owned all my life, she insisted, and it was time to learn that people couldn't be owned. It was like manna in the wilderness to hear her talk like that. I honestly believed I could be free of Mother's control.

"It was a glorious summer. I met people like Timothy Leary. We went to Woodstock. Naomi was magnificent. I remember one thing she did there. We found this kid, he was about twelve or thirteen; he'd come to Woodstock with his dad who was a con artist working the crowd. Naomi might have been a free spirit but she thought he was too young for it all. She found him spaced out on grass, took him with us; we had a big tent; it was blue and green and white, it was beautiful at night when we had the lantern lit. And when the poor kid got sick and spent half the night throwing up, she took care of him, sitting with him with the tent glowing behind her. I saw how gentle she was with him and I knew right then what a great mother she would be. One of the most vivid memories I have is of her sitting there on the ground, with this kid all doubled over while she held his head and talked to him. She was a mess; there was vomit on her skirt, but she didn't care. She just sat there talking, saying soothing words to poor Petey, and I knew then I would never love anybody as much as I loved her. And I never did."

Blair hadn't heard that story before, though his mother had occasionally talked about Woodstock to him, and how she'd met Jimi Hendrix, and what a great time she'd had. But, watching Trajan Wade, he felt a sudden moment of sympathy. This man really had cared for Naomi, and it hadn't been only the promise of freedom and escape that she had offered. He'd seen her through and through.

"So why didn't you stay with her?" he asked abruptly.

Trajan jerked as if Blair had showered him with cold water. He heaved a sigh that racked his stricken frame and made Blair feel like an insensitive jerk. "I wanted to. But it didn't work like that. We returned to San Francisco and three days later Mother showed up. She had the limo stop outside and she came in. She was graciousness personified in an attempt to make Naomi look bad by comparison. I was afraid Naomi would buy into it, you know, try to act the lady, try to play Mother's game, but she didn't. She was just Naomi, uncompromising, free. She didn't try to offer tea or do any of the things Mother would expect from her set. She just said, "I love your son."

And Mother sneered down her nose at her and said, "Why, when he's so easy to influence?" She turned to me and I just shriveled, the way I always did. They talked, and the longer they did, the surer I was they'd never understand each other or respect each other. Naomi saw 'establishment', but before you think she was simply using the labels and the catchwords of her generation, she was also seeing how Mother was toward me. And what I turned into when she was there. She told me after Mother had gone to her hotel that I let her control me. I knew it was true. I've always been weak; knowing it doesn't mean I know how to stop being that way. Mother smothered all of us when we were growing up. David--my older brother--died when he was twelve, and Melanie escaped to her convent. But I didn't have a way out until Naomi. And that didn't work either."

"Why not?"

"Because she was right. I let Mother control me. I wanted Naomi to save me but what I wanted most was for her to take over and get me away from Mother. I knew I couldn't do it myself; I thought Naomi could. She was every bit as strong as Mother was. I thought she could get me free."

Blair shook his head. He couldn't see Naomi doing it. She'd have expected Trajan to free himself. If he didn't she would be unable to respect him, and one thing she'd always told Blair when he was growing up was that she couldn't stay with a man she couldn't respect.

"Mother stayed a week, meeting with us every day. She didn't threaten your mother. You must understand that. She didn't believe she had to. She did tell me Naomi was strong and independent. She could respect independence in others, just not in her son. On the last day, she came over, and Naomi went into our bedroom. When she came out, she had my things, all packed and she gave them to me. I remember what she said as vividly as if she'd said it yesterday. 'When you're ready to live and be free, come back. Until then, I'd rather you didn't stay.' Mother thought she'd won, but that's not really what happened. What happened was that I lost."

Blair could appreciate the subtle difference, though he doubted Jennis Wade would. "So you went away with your mother?" he asked.

"I couldn't stay. I'd been dismissed. I went."

"Just like you were a parcel, passed around between them without any control," Blair said.

Wade grimaced. "Precisely. I don't know if I've gained any strength over the years, or if it's only spite now that I have nothing to lose. I lived my life Mother's way after that. I married the woman she wanted me to marry but we never had children. Sharon couldn't. You could imagine Mother took that as a personal affront. She wanted me to divorce Sharon and marry again, so that I could give her grandchildren, but I did care for Sharon, although it was never as strong as what I felt for your mother."

"What you felt for Naomi couldn't have been strong enough, and she knew it," Blair said. "If you'd cared enough, you would have stayed." He could imagine Naomi's hurt when she realized Trajan wasn't going to stay with her. Maybe she'd convinced herself Blair wasn't Trajan's child because it would hurt too much if he was. For the first time he felt a little sympathy for his mother.

"When I bumped into one of the old gang and he said Naomi was pregnant, I telephoned her. She wouldn't talk to me at first. Then she came on the line and said what good would it do. She wanted no part of my family; she wasn't going to sacrifice herself or her child to the--what was it?--tin goddess of Wade, Ltd. She said she wanted to stay away from us, and I agreed to that. It was really the best thing I could do for her. It wasn't that I didn't want to know you. I did. But I was afraid if I said anything, you'd wind up just like me, and that would be the cruelest thing I could do to a child."

Blair felt cold, his scalp tight. It was true, then. He shivered involuntarily. He'd hoped all along that Trajan would say he'd made it up because he wanted a reason to get his mother to back off and give him peace.

"Naomi was a good mother," he said, defensive and awkward. What was he supposed to do now? He didn't have a clue. Oddly enough, he found himself remembering the scene in The Wrath of Khan when Kirk and his son David had embraced so awkwardly. David had told Kirk he was very proud to be his son, but Blair wasn't proud. He was angry, ashamed, afraid this man's weakness could sweep through his life and deny him everything that was good in it. The thought of hugging Trajan Wade made him feel even more awkward and embarrassed than Kirk and David must have felt. Nothing on earth could have propelled Blair around the desk to touch him.

His revulsion must have shown on his face because Trajan slumped in his chair. "I don't expect you to care about me, not after my behavior," he said. "I simply wanted to explain, so you would know why. It doesn't make me a good man or worthy of being your father, and I don't expect you to care, not after so long. But I'm dying. Perhaps Mother told you. I have an inoperable brain tumor. Most days I can get around; I'm weak and tire easily. Sometimes I have excruciating headaches. But there's nothing that can be done. I've gone through radiation and chemo; it didn't help. One day it will kill me; with luck, I'll have a little time free of a hospital before then. Sharon died five years ago so she doesn't have to see me fading away. You won't either. I'll be in town this weekend for the Summit with Mother. I'll see that you're notified when I die."

"And that's *it*?" Blair demanded hotly. "You waltz in here and tell me this story and then just walk away? Didn't you learn *anything* from the way you've lived your life? I don't particularly want you, and I don't feel I owe you anything at all, but if you're going to feel like you've done your duty and can die happy, then Naomi was right. You've never been free, and I feel sorry for you. You're not my father. I'd rather think I was a lab experiment or that I came from a wild night of partying and Naomi doesn't have a clue who she was with than to think I come from the Wades."

"What do you want of me?" Trajan asked sadly, cutting through Blair's frustrated, unhappy thoughts. "You can't want me for a father. You can't want me in your life."

"I don't," Blair said. "But you owe me an explanation, even if it's just so I can understand."

"How can I make you understand?" Trajan asked sadly and rose to his feet, steadying himself on the arm of the chair. "When I don't understand myself." He moved slowly toward the door. "I'm sorry. I mostly came to apologize. I'll be in town for a week. If you want to talk to me, I'm staying at the Plaza." He pulled a card from his pocket and laid it carefully on the corner of Blair's desk. "Those are my home and business phones when I'm in Seattle. If you want to pitch it when I walk out the door, I'll understand. But I loved your mother with my whole heart and my whole soul. And in spite of everything that never stopped being true." He shuffled across the floor quietly, his steps unsteady, and the door slid shut behind him.

Blair stood unmoving for a long moment, then he reached out and picked up the card. With savage intensity he tore it right across and flung the pieces in the general direction of the wastebasket.

"Damn it," he moaned. "Damn it."

Then, reluctantly, he found the pieces and retrieved them, tucking them into the top drawer of his desk and pushing it closed before he changed his mind. Collapsing into his chair, he hid his face in his hands and sat there a long time.

God, he wanted Jim. He wanted a friend who would understand, would sympathize, would just be there for him if he wanted to rant and rave or if he wanted to sit quietly brooding. Besides, Jim would be practical about it. He'd say it didn't matter, that Blair was who he was, that he'd made his own life without knowing who his father was, and having this weak character for a father didn't matter one iota.

Surely Jim wouldn't tell him to keep the door open after he heard all this.

Or would he feel it more strongly? How much of a man was heredity? Blair considered his life, of the careless, casual way he'd passed through it, forming no real, strong ties until now. Was that any better than Wade's helpless squirming under his mother's thumb?

Another rap on the door made him lift his head and say warily, "Come."

It was one of his students. "Mr. Sandburg, you're late. It's time for class to start. We thought I'd better come and get you."

Blair nodded. "Thanks, Terry." He rose to his feet, only dimly conscious of a moment of pride. Students were required to wait only so long when a full professor was late, and for a teaching fellow, the waiting time was short indeed. That the students had sent one of their number for him instead of welcoming a free period had to be a positive sign. And he needed anything positive he could find in his life right now.

*****

Jim saw Sandburg appear in the doorway, hesitate there, and then square his shoulders, crossing the bullpen to Ellison's desk like a man setting out across a quicksand-ridden, crocodile-infested swamp. When he reached the desk, he didn't say anything, only stood there.

"Chief?" Ellison jumped up to face him, alarmed at the sight. "You okay? You have a run-in with your tail?"

"Yeah, but he wasn't a tail," Blair admitted. For a moment, he stood there silently, then he forced out a reluctant explanation. "He was Trajan Wade, working up enough nerve to confront me. He showed up at the university this morning between classes."

Jim glanced around; Simon's office was empty. Banks had left the Major Crimes unit to collect information from the forensics team on another case and probably wouldn't return until after lunch. "In here," he said, and steered Blair into the Captain's office, closing the door behind him and drawing the blinds. "So he made his appearance," he prompted, realizing Blair needed to explain what had happened, even though it must have been a real lollapalooza.

Blair nodded. "He says it's true, Jim, that he's my father," he admitted reluctantly. "He told me all about it, how he met Naomi, the whole bit. Damn it, Jim, I don't want him. I don't."

"You don't have to have him," Jim said immediately, realizing that was what the younger man needed to hear. "He gave up any right to you a long time ago. There's more to being a father than blood. That's always been the easy part."

Blair sagged with relief as if this time Jim had said exactly the right thing. Then his head came up and he met Ellison's look head on. "Still think I shouldn't close the door on him?" he challenged, braced and wary, unsure of the answer.

"If he's really dying, I think you'd feel bad about it...later, if you walked away entirely," Jim said, hesitating, trying to pick the right words. Blair didn't like his answer, but then he probably felt resentment, even hatred to his father right about now. Under the circumstances how could he feel anything different? Yet Jim knew Sandburg too well to believe he could turn away from a dying man and not feel guilt afterwards. Once Trajan Wade was dead, Blair would hate himself if he didn't make a gesture now, even though the man didn't deserve anything other than what Blair had already given him by hearing him out.

"I managed just fine without a father," Blair insisted desperately as if someone might tell him different. "I don't want one now."

"Then don't think of him as one," Jim said. "Think of him as a man who once loved your mother. That's really all he can be to you. That's the only thing he has the right to." He reached out and rested his hands on Blair's shoulders, feeling the muscles beneath his grip as uncharacteristically tight as wires. "You made your own life without him, and it's a good life. You learned good values. You have the right to choose how you want to keep living it. All I'm saying is that you're strong enough to spend time with the guy now, especially since there...won't be a chance later."

"I hate him," Blair said, his voice barely audible, staring at the floor, pulling back enough that Jim held his shoulders at arms' length. But he didn't let go.

"He's weak," Blair continued in disappointment. "He let his mother run his life, he didn't have the courage to fight for Naomi." His eyes lifted , huge and wide, from his contemplation of Simon's floor, staring at Jim as if he could find all his answers spelled out on Ellison's forehead. "God, Jim, what if some of him is in me?"

Jim tightened his grip, shaking him lightly. "It's not. There's not one shred of any of that in you. Weak? You're about as weak as a stampeding rhinoceros. And courage? My god, Chief, don't you know what a brave man you are? Look at the way you stood up to Lash. How you figured out a way to get rid of that briefcase bomb in the elevator. I've never seen you panic. Sure you've been afraid, but who isn't sometimes? You never let it get the upper hand. You've been a damn fine partner. You're nothing like Trajan Wade."

Blair sagged, leaning against him in what felt like sheer relief, but he pulled away instantly as if he'd been presumptuous. He looked at Jim again, gathered his courage to him in a visible effort and said, "I don't want Wade, Ltd., Jim. I don't want to leave." He sounded like he was fighting for the right to stay as Trajan had never fought for Naomi.

*Oh, god. He thinks I've been pushing him away. He's not trying to take off. He's hoping I'll let him stay. The cleaning, all that, it's not a goodbye, it's a way of showing he wants to stay.* In shocked realization Jim stared down at his partner, his friend, then he grabbed him and tightened his grip on Blair's shoulders. "Leave? Who said anything about leaving? You try to leave, Sandburg, and I'll come after you and drag you back by the hair. We're partners, remember."

Blair was tense and resistant but when Jim spoke, a second flood of relief ran through him and his arms came around Jim tight for a relieved instant. He let go quickly as if he were a little embarrassed at being so demonstrative. Remembering where they were he probably didn't want to make a spectacle of himself in front of Jim's fellow cops, even with the blinds closed. But his face was radiant with relief and his eyes were shining brightly as if he might cry.

"You kept talking about not closing the door to what they had to offer and I thought you were finally fed up with me," he admitted. Now that he knew it wasn't true, he could say it. "Damn it, I thought you'd had enough and finally had a way to dump me."

"I thought you'd *want* to leave," Jim said, able to be honest in return. "There aren't many people that can turn down a fortune the size of the Wade money. I was afraid I'd be out a Guide--and a friend."

"Glad to know you have such a good opinion of me," Blair teased. His good spirits were returning rapidly. "Can you see me in a three piece suit, in a corporate office, for Pete's sake? They'd probably make me cut my hair. I don't want that. I never did. Besides," he concluded with a wicked grin, "who's gonna take care of *you* if I turn into the CEO of Wade, Ltd? You think you can find a spare Guide in the want ads?" He sounded nearly slap-happy with relief. Jim felt a surge of contentment and delight flow through him. Blair had wanted to stay that much? Well, he'd wanted him to stay as badly. Maybe this Sentinel-Guide arrangement was really supposed to be a lifetime commitment. He didn't know if those ancient Sentinels and Guides had been friends too, but he thought they must have been. They had been a team, knowing each other inside and out. Just as he and Blair were learning to.

"I thought this was supposed to be *my* office," said Simon from the doorway. Jim had heard him coming, but Blair jumped at the sound as if he'd been concentrating so hard he'd shut out everything but himself and Jim. Banks lifted an eyebrow in Jim's direction, which meant he'd probably seen the hug, but didn't want to know anything about it. Jim realized with surprise that he wasn't embarrassed at being caught displaying affection, even if he hoped none of the others had noticed.

"Sentinel business," he said quickly, knowing that was a part of the greater truth. "Right, Chief?"

"More or less. Besides, we'll give your office back, Simon. It's lunchtime and I'm starving. I know a great health-food place over on Yorkshire."

"Health food? Are you kidding, Sandburg. I want red meat," Jim countered. "A nice, juicy burger, dripping with fat, cholesterol, calories."

Blair grimaced. "Do you have any idea what that'll do to your arteries?" He sounded like he was at the top of his form, nearly bouncing off the walls in his good humor. Jim doubted he'd even remembered yet that Trajan Wade was evidently his father. *God, it wasn't Wade, Ltd. that made him so down, it was me, Jim realized. No wonder women complain that men don't talk.*

"They're my arteries, let me worry about them. I'm not going to confront your gra--Jennis Wade without a good hearty meal first."

Blair frowned, but he didn't tense up the way he had before. "Don't worry, Jim, you can handle her," he said. "Just be your usual bullheaded self."

"Am I missing something here?" Simon asked, looking back and forth at the pair of them.

Blair grinned suddenly. "Be nice to me, Simon. When I'm a millionaire, I can remodel your office for you, so you can lock up and keep the peons out." He started for the door and Jim fell into step with him.

"I don't *want* to know," Banks replied positively, shaking his head as they went out.

*****

Jennis Wade was present at the hotel and consented to an interview in her suite when Jim had them call from the desk to explain that the police wanted to talk to her. The desk receptionist had been startled, her eyes growing huge at the sight of Jim's badge. Jennis Wade was not the type of guest who was usually visited by the police. She angled a smile past Jim at Blair, who didn't vaguely resemble her concept of an officer of the law. She was cute, and Blair grinned at her. He didn't feel as intimidated as he'd expected at the thought of encountering his grandmother. In spite of everything, as long as Jim was on his side, he could handle ten pushy CEO's.

Jennis Wade's door was opened by a middle-aged woman in a trim business suit, who ushered them in. "Mrs. Wade will see you in the lounge," she said, taking them across the entry room of her suite and opening a door to a second room, posh and luxurious.

Mrs. Wade was seated behind a small writing table, several folders strewn before her. As they came in, she closed them automatically, and raised her head. "Detective Elli--Blair!"

"I'm Jim's partner," Blair replied, discovering she wasn't as intimidating as he'd remembered. She had tremendous presence, but her startled reaction to the sight of him helped, proving he had more power than she'd wanted him to believe.

"But not a policeman," she corrected gently, reproving him for a social faux pas.

"A special consultant to the police," Blair corrected with a note of pride in the fact. "But we're not here because of me. This is police business."

Her eyebrows lifted gently. "Indeed? And do you assume I would know anything about 'police business'."

"That's what we're here to find out," Jim said. "We're here about a possible disruption of the Summit by a terrorist threat. Indications imply that a terrorist for hire by the name of Clayton is in Cascade and that militant environmentalists may have hired him because of the logging issues."

"Logging is a business," Jennis said smoothly. "I've heard all the sob stories about owls and their huge territories, but I have a business to run. I believe the needs of human beings are more important than the needs of a few birds, and it's my business to supply those needs."

"And if owls had their own bankbooks, you might reconsider," insinuated Blair. "Don't tell me you're risking the survival of the spotted owl for the sake of humanity. No one could swallow that. Say instead that you're making a good profit out of cutting trees."

"Of course I am. I'm sorry to hear a few birds will die, but I do think priorities could be maintained. Are you implying that because I want to run my business profitably--which is, after all, a part of the American dream-- that I and others like me are to be subjected to terrorism? I can't believe what this world is coming to."

"People on the other side of the issue hold as strong views as you do," Blair told her.

"Of which you are one?" She eyed him speculatively. "But then, you've had nothing to lose until now."

"And still don't," Blair returned firmly. "That's not the point. I'm not the issue here. What is the issue is that a delegate or even an innocent bystander could be hurt or killed. We're not here to tell you how to vote. That's not what the police do."

"No, we're here to find out if you've received any threatening letters, any calls that have tried to warn you to vote a certain way or else," Jim replied. "We can't completely prove at this point that there will be a terrorist attack at the conference, but the presence of a known terrorist for hire and several other factors suggest a link. Besides, there's really nothing else in Cascade at this time that's worthy of a man of Clayton's caliber. We can't take any risks with the conference."

"You can't shut it down," Jennis said coolly. "I refuse to let terrorists dictate my actions. If I give in to them now, I always will."

"I've heard that before," Blair replied, remembering being trapped in the wired elevator and the way the building owner had refused to deal for what had felt like years. "And in principle, you're right. But we can't let innocent people die so you can cut more trees. I suspect you'd value human life much more than the lives of endangered owls, especially since those humans buy your products."

"I don't appreciate sarcasm, young man," she snapped. "You may be my grandson, but there's no excuse for disrespect."

"It's not disrespectful to speak the truth," Blair replied.

"And we're not here to fight," Jim interjected. "Mrs. Wade, have you been threatened? That's the bottom line here. Anything between you and Blair can wait until the conference is over."

"You're right, of course," she agreed. "And it's true. I have received threats. They were telephone threats, on lines I don't routinely record, so I have no proof of what I say. They were at irregular intervals so I could not detect a pattern and begin recording, and they found me both at home and at corporate headquarters, and once in a restaurant. There were four calls altogether. They said if we went ahead with the Summit and strengthened the logging position, action would be taken. They didn't say what action. And I say 'they' because the person in question whispered and I was unable to tell if the speaker was a man or a woman."

"But it was someone who knew where to find you at any given time," Jim pointed out, "and who could find out your personal phone numbers."

"Detective Ellison, I am a public figure, well known and easily recognized, especially in Seattle. When I go out into the city, I go in my limousine, usually with a small entourage. I do not feel that I was dogged and followed. If I was seen by a potential terrorist, he might choose to telephone me at the restaurant to make a point. It's entirely possible a member of my corporate staff may have informed the caller of my planned destination. People do a great deal for money."

"Some people do," Jim agreed. "The point is not whether you were followed in Seattle but whether the threat is real and whether a terrorist act will be carried out at the Summit."

She eyed him with an edge of respect. "Of course it is, Detective. But whether or not that is planned, the Summit will continue. It shall be your responsibility, and that of the police, to protect us from this mysterious Clayton you mentioned. I assume we shall be forced to endure a police presence in hopes of deterring him from taking action."

"You can count on it. I'm with the Major Crimes unit, and my captain, Simon Banks, is pulling out all the stops to protect the Summit. Not to mention the fact that an international terrorist must automatically involve the FBI. We're working with the Feds on this one."

"Does that mean you will be there, too?" Wade asked Blair unexpectedly, focusing her attention on him. She lifted her lorgnette and eyed him through the lenses. It magnified eyes that were exactly the same color as Blair's.

"I go where Jim goes," Blair reminded her. "We're partners."

"But surely, as you are not officially a police officer, you should not be taken into a dangerous situation," she pointed out with a slight edge in her voice that hadn't been there before. She almost sounded angry but he thought the anger might be directed inward, and not at him.

*My god, she's actually worried about me.* Blair stared at her in astonishment, then he said, "I've done it often enough before. I go where Jim goes." It wasn't entirely true; there had been instances where Jim had held him back because he wasn't trained to face those particular threats, but this time he'd be in the center of it, especially since Jim would need to concentrate his senses fully as they sought out Clayton or any of his people. Jim's concentration would be intense; he could zone out. Blair had to be there, and that was that. But he was astonished to think anything could get through to Jennis Wade. He might be Trajan's son, but she didn't hold Trajan in respect and had not liked Naomi. So why would she care for an unknown grandson who didn't match her stereotypes of what a Wade should be?

"At least you're no coward," she said, then turned to Jim before he could respond. "I hold you personally responsible for him."

"Wait a minute," Blair objected, not wanting her to try to set conditions or Jim to buy into them. "Jim isn't responsible if I screw up or if the hotel blows up and falls on me."

"Easy, Chief," Jim cut in. "We watch each other's backs. Mrs. Wade. We'll do our best to protect the Summit, no matter how we feel personally about logging, spotted owls, or you. That's our job. Anything you want to decide about Blair will wait. When the conference is over, then you can talk to him about this supposed kinship. Right now he doesn't need the distraction."

"I can handle the distraction," Blair said. "But right now saving lives is more important."

Jim nodded. "If the person who's been calling you calls again, you need to let us know. Anything you can think of that might help us, we need to know as soon as you think of it."

"I don't know anything that would assist you," she admitted. "But I'm not going to relinquish my position simply because there's a danger. I've stood my ground all my life and if I go down, by god, I'll go down fighting."

Blair couldn't help but respect that, even if he felt she'd 'stood her ground' by riding roughshod over anyone who got in her way. He was mixing his metaphors but it was true. Jennis Wade might be strong and brave, but she was also ruthless and very rigid in her beliefs. He respected her, he might even admire her, but he didn't like her, and wasn't sure he ever could. Besides, he wasn't the type to back down from a fight. The two of them together would be like a pair of wild dogs, snapping at each other.

"I'd rather you didn't go down in the Cascade Police jurisdiction," Jim told her with a wry grin. "Remember, anything you think of, or any new threatening calls, let us know. I assume you have the number?" Blair suspected he would set up a tap on her phone to trace any such calls, should her enemy try again. He proved it by saying, "We can put a trace on your line."

Her face hardened. "I resent--" she began, then she broke it off. "If it will save the conference, I must endure it." She did not look remotely happy about the idea. Turning her attention from him she spoke to Blair. "You aren't what I expected, and I can see you have a strong will and a mind of your own. Perhaps there is hope for the Wade line."

"I'm a Sandburg," Blair told her. "And nothing you can do or say will change that. I'm not Trajan, if he really is my father. I'm me, what I turned out to be, no thanks to anyone named Wade."

"And he turned out well," Jim added. "I won't go on or I'll give him a swelled head, but don't think you can make him into something he doesn't want to be."

She might have taken it as a challenge, but instead she bestowed on Jim a smile that almost held approval. "You're his friend," she discovered. "Not simply his partner."

"Yes," said Jim simply. "I am. Come on, Chief, there are still a few more delegates to question."

Blair paused in the doorway to say goodbye--he wasn't sure what to call her; easier to think of her as a possible witness for the police to protect than to remember she might well be his grandmother--and found her regarding him with an unreadable expression in her eyes. He didn't know what to think of her or what she expected of him, and it was easier to nod in farewell and follow Jim from the room without trying to solve it.

"Did you pick up anything in there with your senses?" Blair asked as they headed for the elevator.

"Only that she had brochures from the various environmental groups in one of the folders. I saw them before she could close it."

"So you think she's playing 'know your enemy'?"

"Probably. She doesn't go into anything without complete information. I think she knows more than she's telling us."

Blair nodded. "I think so too. If she it might be someone at Corporate headquarters who gave away her plan to visit the restaurant, she wouldn't rest until she figured out who it was."

"You think she knows who's behind it?" Jim asked.

"I don't think so. Because if she did, she wouldn't just have fired the person, she'd have had him or her arrested for threatening her. She would have wanted to have him vivisected. Money talks. You can bet she'd have gotten anybody to jump if she hollered. I think she might have a few suspicions. She might be giving an employee enough rope to hang himself, because she'd hate like anything to think a 'spy' had penetrated her fortress. What I do think is that we ought to check out everybody who came with her, because she'd want to keep trouble close where she could watch it."

"That's what I think, too. Let me get things started on the phone tap, then we'll check out the rest of her staff ."

*****

They spent the rest of the afternoon at the Plaza, where they encountered other detectives or federal agents there to perform similar questioning in the corridors and on the elevators as they moved around the building. Joel Taggart was there, working with FBI bomb experts on the chance Clayton might want to take out the entire Summit at one go. So far, no bombs had been found.

Jennis Wade had a personal entourage of six with her for the Summit, including her personal assistant, Maud Anderson, who had answered the door to them and who was about as impregnable as the Bank of England and equally reliable. Neither Jim or Blair would have suspected her of anything faintly resembling treason to her boss any more than they would have believed she would pick her nose in public. Jim tried the shoe test with her anyway. He didn't plan to take chances. Her feet were long and very narrow, and at least three sizes too small.

Then there was a team of three 'bright young men', all personable, all similar in appearance and attitude, none of whom had a run-down left heel footprint. Jim watched for that as he talked to them. It had dawned on him as they talked to the staff that the theft needn't have been perpetrated by the terrorist wanting to cover their actions but by the logging interests wanting to learn their enemies. The only thing that kept him from embracing that theory was that Maggie Street was the only environmentalist who had reported such a break- in. Unless the Wade money had tracked the threat far more thoroughly than anyone was admitting and had pinned it on a member of that group, or unless there had been other break-ins that weren't reported or that were managed too smoothly to be noticed, Jim still thought the computer disruption at the Save the Wildlife Conservancy was meant to cover up the actual criminal by an activist who hadn't realized the information was already in the hands of the police.

The three 'bright young men' were all facts and figures types, well aware of the value of public relations, and not one of them said a word that could be misconstrued or that was not 'politically correct.' They looked like they had been mass produced in a Wade, Ltd. cloning factory hidden in he cellar of one of the corporate buildings. Not one of them would have dreamed of wearing a run-down shoe.

The fifth staff member was obviously hired muscle, there to protect Jennis Wade. Doug Stephanowski admitted he'd been in the adjoining room during their interview with his boss, listening in. Both his heels were worn down but directly from the back and not to one side. His feet were huge, too, and could never have left the smaller prints in Maggie's office.

Jim listened to the heartbeat and respiration of each of the witnesses, trying to act as a human lie detector, particularly when he showed each of them in turn the one photo of Clayton he had. As if he had sensed what Ellison meant to do, Blair shifted fractionally closer. Knowing he was there to watch out for any potential zone-outs, Jim concentrated, letting his senses flow, but controlling them the way Blair had taught him. If any of the men were lying, he had no nerves at all. There wasn't a thing out of place about any of them.

The sixth member of the staff was Trajan Wade himself; Maud Anderson reported he was lying down; that he slept in the afternoons because of his illness. Since it was doubtful he had the nerve to cross his own mother and since he had more to lose as a family member, he was not a likely suspect, but Jim resolved to interview him later during the weekend. He didn't think Trajan had hired a terrorist, but it was possible he'd seen or noticed something that might help them figure out who did.

After that, they met with several other delegates to the Summit, none of whom claimed to have received any threats, except for the last one, a Canadian from British Columbia named James McGrath. Like Jennis Wade, logging was one of the main foundations of his business, and he was determined to take a stand at the Summit.

"Yes, I've had threats," he said. "And not just over the Summit. You learn to live with things like that, otherwise, you might as well hide in a hole, eh? Not me. Threats go with the territory. These were directed toward the Summit, that's all."

"Did you ever get anything in writing?" Jim asked.

"No, it was all on the telephone. A person who whispered. Made me wonder if it was just a normal, canny disguise or if he might have known the threatener's voice." Clayton wouldn't bother with phone calls. He was the solution to the caller's threats not their instigator. McGrath, like Jennis Wade, didn't recognize the one photo they did have of Clayton. He stared at it and shook his head. "Never saw him. Never expect to. Men like that, they stay in the background. You can tell from that photo. He didn't know it was being taken or he'd have turned away or blocked it; you can just tell. But I'll know him if I see him, and I'll report it instantly. I don't know if anything is meant to follow up the threats or if someone's just trying to scare us into voting his way, but I don't scare, not from a few whispered words over the phone."

He didn't have anything else to add, and he'd come with only a secretary, who was female and very attractive, possibly a companion as well as his support person. Jim checked their feet; hers were far too small and McGrath's, in elegant Gucci shoes, were far too wide.

*****

"That didn't get us anywhere," said Blair as they left the hotel.

"Just enough to tell us the threats were directed at the logging interests. And evidently were made by the same person," answered Jim. "And you stood up to Jennis just fine."

"She can't *make* me take over Wade, Ltd," Blair insisted, half hoping Jim would concur. He wasn't used to dealing with people who believed their money could buy anything they wanted.

"No way, Chief. She'll probably try, but all you have to do is stick to your guns."

"No problem. God, she must think everybody's for sale. I won't live like that."

"You know better. She doesn't. So you're a step ahead of her."

Blair smiled. "Thanks, Jim. But I can't help..." He hesitated. "If she really is my...grandmother..."

"You don't want her running into danger," Jim said, understanding exactly where Blair was coming from.

"Just because I don't really like her is no reason to want her in danger," Blair insisted. He felt like he had to prove concern for her safety meant only that.

"You wouldn't want anyone in danger from Clayton," Jim said easily. "Want to grab some dinner? I think Simon wants us to head over to the Plaza later on. There's a gala reception tonight for the delegates to the Summit. Black tie. He got the two of us an invitation, and a bunch of the other guys from Major Crimes. We'll be tripping over the Feds there, but maybe it will help."

"Black tie," Blair groaned. "I hate dressing up like a penguin."

"Well, it's either that or lurking around the corridors dressed like a maintenance man, and Horst and Feldman have already been assigned that job."

"You didn't say anything to Simon about Jennis Wade, did you?" Blair didn't want Simon to know about his new relations, but Jim might think it could cause a conflict of interest and feel it was his duty to tell his captain.

"No. If you wanted him to know, you'd tell him. It won't interfere with your work tonight, so it can wait. He'll probably blow his stack when he does find out, but we can deal with that when it happens."

Blair liked the sound of that 'we'. He couldn't believe how much happier he had felt all afternoon, knowing not only that he'd overreacted but that Jim had, too. Their partnership was going into its second full year, but they'd started uneasily enough, too different to mesh without difficulty. Now that they made such a good team, he didn't want to rock the boat. Knowing Jim was as committed to the partnership as he was relieved the specter of the previous night, and he could tell Jim's mood was as good as his when they reached a restaurant they both liked. One of the reasons they often came to this restaurant was because they could get 'normal' food and the things Blair liked on the same menu.

Jim had brought a copy of the list he'd picked up from Maggie Street for them to go over. After they'd ordered and were waiting for their food, he pulled it out of the inner pocket of his jacket. "I thought you might want to go over these lists, Chief. See if there's anyone you know."

"I'm not officially a member myself," Blair replied. "But I've been to a couple of meetings. Pass it over."

He skimmed the list. "Hey, here's Professor Grisham."

"You know him?"

"Yeah, he's a physics prof. Very highbrow, aloof. Knows his stuff, but his classes are tough." Blair shook his head. "I can't see him getting committed to the environment. He sees everything as numbers and formulas. Kind of dry. I think it's his wife who has the interest. Yeah, here she is. I met her at one of those faculty teas you just can't get out of." He grimaced. "Nice lady. If she's in league with terrorists, I'm Howard the Duck."

"Yeah, and you don't look a thing like Howard the Duck," Jim agreed, taking up a bread stick and studying it as if he meant to focus his vision on it. "Anybody else."

"You gonna eat that or play with it?"

In answer, Jim took a big bite. "Go on," he said around it.

"At least Naomi taught me not to talk with my mouth full," Blair said, ducking when Jim threw a fake punch at him. He was sorry he'd mentioned Naomi; even if he and Jim had resolved their problem, there was still one to be settled with his mother.

If Jim noticed, he didn't say anything. "Too bad she didn't teach you to clean out the sink after you shave."

"Hey, I could grow a beard." He cocked his head, considering it. "Maybe I should. You know, a nice long one, like Moses. It might be worth it to see Simon's reaction if I showed up without shaving for a few days. He'd freak."

Jim shook his head sententiously. "No. It's not you. There'd be so much hair people would wonder if you were a werewolf."

"Yeah, right." He studied the list again. "Omigosh, Cheryl Ransome. Awesome."

"Who is she? Awesome that she's on the list?"

"No, just awesome. You should see her, Jim. Best looking woman I ever dated. Not much upstairs though. It didn't last. You couldn't *talk* to her. She was always asking me what I meant even when I was just being normal, not talking work or anything, and it bugged me after awhile." He shook his head regretfully. "I've gotta say I'm surprised she even knows what the environment is. Too many syllables in the word."

"Dumb blonde?" Jim hazarded.

"Actually, redhead. Nearly six feet tall. They used to call her 'Mount Cheryl'. Double entendre if I ever heard it. She probably joined because a friend did or boyfriend. If she's been working with a terrorist...." He shook his head. "Not possible."

"Anybody else?"

Blair ran his eyes over the names. "No. I probably would match a face to the name if I ran into any of them, but the only other person I really know in the organization is Maggie. That's funny."

"What's funny?"

"Maggie's not on this list."

"No reason why she should be. We know about Maggie already."

"Yeah, but that Jeff Karl isn't on the list either. And him I don't know about."

The two men stared at each other. "And he prepared the list," Jim mused.

The waiter arrived then to bring them their food, and there was a pause until he left. But right then neither man's mind was on food. Blair said slowly, reasoning as he went, "He might have left them off because they're administration not rank and file. But if he left himself off on purpose, he might hope he could get away with it because we'd already met with him. Or might not notice. But if we just turned in the lists like we did, he wouldn't be checked out for a criminal record."

"You called that right," Jim said, taking out his cell phone and punching in numbers. "I'll call his name in, and I'll have to call in your friend Maggie's too. We'll see if they come up with anything on either of them."

"Probably not Maggie," Blair said. "At best she'd have been involved in passive resistance, but I don't see it. She really believes in her anti-violent stance."

Jim relayed the information. "It might not mean anything," he said when he'd completed the call and returned the phone to his pocket. "Karl might have pulled up a list that didn't include the administration and not even thought about it. But if he wanted to keep his name out of police attention, this would have been a good way to go about it."

"Then why stage the break-in?" Blair asked.

"Either he's innocent or it was a cover-up, to throw suspicion away from him. He wouldn't have had to break in. But if he's guilty, he could have doctored those lists, and the break-in might have been to keep Maggie from noticing any names were missing."

"That could be," Blair agreed, considering it. "I hate to say it, but belonging to Maggie's group could be great cover, considering how she runs the local branch. She could have been infiltrated."

"Why bother to join if you're a troublemaker?" Jim wondered.

"Well, to see what action they're going to take, which businesses they're going to protest, what lobbying they'll be part of, I guess. Or maybe to have a fall guy to blame for whatever it is they're going to do. That would just kill Maggie, having her group take the fall. It would destroy the organization."

"True, although one individual's actions shouldn't stop the cause itself."

Blair realized he wasn't sure what attitude Jim had toward the loggers and the environmentalists and decided he didn't need to know. Jim's attitude was anti-violence, anti-terrorism, and he would fight just as hard to defend Maggie's group, if they were the target. He'd struck it lucky when he found his Sentinel. He'd been crazy to think Jim had meant to dump him. He should have known Jim would want the best for him--and the best was working with Jim, not tying himself to a rich bitch's apron strings like Trajan Wade had done. *I've got a heck of a father,* Blair thought ruefully, then cheered himself with a far more positive thought. *But I've got the greatest friend in the world.*

"It won't, if Maggie has anything to do with it," was all he said. "Hey, did you notice Karl's feet when we were over there yesterday?"

"Didn't have any reason to pay them particular attention," Jim said, his present attention on his steak.

"Maybe you could concentrate, call up the image. It's there in your mind, if you saw them at all, even in passing."

"Yeah, and if I zone out and pitch face down into my sirloin, you're gonna explain it to the management?" Jim asked. "Come on, Chief, if I try anything like that, I want to do it at home."

*****

So an hour later they settled in for a little Sentinel work. Replete from the delicious meal, neither man was up for actual hard work and would have enjoyed a relaxed evening watching a game on the tube, or at least until it was time to leave for the gala. But Blair never let an opportunity pass by, Ellison knew. He was sure the minute they walked in the door, Sandburg would have him hard at work, concentrating on fleeting images that hadn't registered the first time around. He wasn't wrong.

"Now I want you to relax, Jim," Sandburg said, his voice taking on the relaxing tone of a hypnotist the minute they sat on the long couch. He probably did know how to perform hypnosis, but Jim wasn't up for experimentation at the moment. He kicked off his shoes, ignoring the mock groan from Sandburg.

"Cheer up, Chief," Jim told him. "You don't have heightened senses. If I take off my shoes, no biggie. If you do, I have to tone down my sense of smell."

"Low blow," Blair returned with a grin, deliberately kicking off his loafers and sitting cross-legged like a yogi beside Jim on the sofa.

"You like riding on the edge, don't you?" Jim said ominously.

"Just pushing a little," Blair said. "Come on, Jim, focus. Concentrate. Close your eyes. That's good."

Jim obeyed, surprised, as he always was, how easy it was to relax and go with to Sandburg's guidance in such a situation. There weren't many men he'd rely upon when he was in such a vulnerable state but he'd never hesitated to trust Blair, even before he knew him very well. Whether that was the Sentinel-Guide relationship kicking in automatically or whether he'd always known, instinctively, that Blair was completely safe didn't matter. Just as the Sentinel had protected the tribe, the Guide protected the Sentinel, watched over him, allowed him to focus and use his gifts in complete safety. As their friendship had grown, Jim had found it easier and easier to relax completely, to give in to the soothing tone that coaxed him through the process.

"Listen to me, Jim. Your other senses are at rest now. The only thing you hear is my voice. I want you think back, to remember, when we were in Maggie's office. Concentrate on it. Remember. Feel it come around you, the whole essence of the place; the sight, the taste, the smell, everything."

He let everything drift, Sandburg's voice his only link with conscious awareness. His concentration, his consciousness, narrowed down to that one, thin thread of sound. His breathing slowed and he was scarcely aware of his own body. Did an out-of-body experience feel like this, the total relaxation, the drifting sensation? He was completely relaxed, able to focus entirely. It was easy....

Maggie's pugnacious, bulldog face appeared before him as vividly as a photograph. The bright brochures, the thick, rich carpet, the smell of furniture polish and Maggie's perfume...lilies of the valley.

"Got it? Good." Blair always knew when he found his focus. "Now concentrate. Remember. Jeff Karl. Can you see him?"

"Yes, I see him," Jim said slowly, his words faint and far away as if someone else were speaking. "Tee shirt and jeans. Thick glasses. Owl eyes. Hair like Dennis the Menace's father."

Beside him, Blair chuckled faintly, suppressing the sound. But Blair was not a distraction; he was a natural part of the focus, so Jim wasn't diverted from his memories. "Sneakers," he said. "Nike's, white with green stripes. Knots in the laces."

"Good. You're right on target now," encouraged Blair in the same soothing, relaxing voice he'd used all along. "Keep with it. Watch his feet. Notice the carpet behind him. Notice his tracks in the carpet. Check out the size of his feet."

Jim's focus narrowed in on the carpet behind Karl, concentrating on it with his whole intensity. Blair's voice faded away as he studied the markings there, so faint as to be invisible to everybody else as anything but faint scuff marks. But Jim focused in on the pile of the carpet, bringing it up close. He could see every strand of fiber, every fleck of dust, every worn spot, every twist....

"Jim? Come on, Jim. Wake up." A hand on his arm, tightening, startled him so much he jerked and nearly pulled away before he realized what had happened. He'd gone in too deep. Straightening up, he opened his eyes to see Blair, both hands spread in defense, already relaxing.

"I zoned out?"

"Not completely. I just had to say your name a couple of times. Man, if you could bottle that concentration of yours and sell it to my students in time for finals, they'd get a lot better grades." He reached out and grasped Jim's wrist, feeling his pulse. "I'm keeping track of your pulse rate when you pull a near zone-out. It slows down every time. Man, I hope you never have to concentrate that hard when I'm not on hand to pull you out of it."

"What, you think I'd pass out?" Jim asked. He didn't feel that way now, just pleasantly relaxed and comfortable. But he was also home, secure in the loft, in the presence of a man he'd come to trust with his life instead of being involved in a life and death struggle with an enemy. No wonder he was relaxed.

"No, just might be more vulnerable to attack before those cop senses of yours kicked in. So, what did you find? You were in there so intently I was sure you'd spotted something."

"You were right. I could Karl's his footprints going all the way to the door. There was a run-down area but it was the right side of the right shoe. There was nothing with the left heel at all, just normal wear. He couldn't have been the one who broke in." Jim stretched, wiggling his shoulders, and relaxed again. "He'd have had a key, anyway."

"But he might not have used it so we'd think an outsider had done it. Oh well, it wasn't him." Blair almost sounded disappointed. "It would have been fun going to court with that evidence. 'Your honor, the crook had a worn down left shoe. I saw the marks in the carpet."

"Well, it wasn't any of the forensics team," Jim replied. "Or us, or Maggie and her husband. No visitor should go to the file cabinet; they'd sit at that chair in front of Maggie's desk. She said the cleaning crew comes in around 6:30 in the morning, so it wasn't them. But you're right. Once we find the correct foot, we'll need more than that." He remembered going to court with only his Sentinel senses providing information and being shot down for it. He wouldn't try that again.

"You think it really was Clayton?" Blair asked.

"I think Clayton has better things to do than steal membership lists; sending him in there would be like sending a tank after a motorist who ran a stop sign." He stood up and stretched again. "You want to catch part of that Jags game until it's time to go to that reception?"

Blair grinned. "Yeah, I still haven't graded my papers but I'll bring 'em out here and work on them during the commercials. Grab me a beer, okay?"

He went off after his papers, and Jim grinned as he headed for the kitchen. It was good to have a normal atmosphere in the loft after the tensions of last night. Better to know the person following Blair had not been Clayton or a terrorist looking for a threat to use against Mrs. Wade but simply Trajan working up the nerve to see him.

Jim knew Blair was far from content with the situation; he wouldn't feel it was over until he could talk to his mother, and Jim hoped like mad Naomi would say, "No, Trajan isn't your father. It's only wishful thinking on his part." But he couldn't bank on that. What did worry him was Sandburg's sense of responsibility. After their trip to Peru when Blair had turned down the offer of that field trip to Borneo, Jim believed he'd made a commitment to his Sentinel studies and to the life he lived now. He wouldn't abandon it easily. But what if Wade tried to make him believe it was his duty to take over Wade, Ltd?

Blair returned, plopped a stack of papers on the table, and grabbed the beer Jim held out to him. "Man, this feels good," he said. "You think I'd have a chance to kick back and watch games like this if I listened to Jennis Wade? She'd probably want to drag me to business meetings or have me set up hostile takeovers." He shivered. "That's not the life for me."

"Money talks pretty loud, Chief."

"Money can scream its head off." Blair took a long swallow of his beer and gave an 'ahhh' of pure pleasure. "It doesn't talk my language."

"People don't shrug off major bucks so easily."

"Yeah, well, most people weren't raised by Naomi," Blair returned. "Come on, Jim, you know that's not the life for me." Jim doubted he could have talked like this last night; the subject had been taboo then. Now, both of them were comfortable with it. "Sure I'd like a lot of money. Anybody would. But that kind of money takes away any chance of anything I like doing. Sentinel research? No way. Field trips? Forget it. Finishing up my Ph.D? Why bother? You couldn't *pay* me to go that route. I'm gonna tell her if she makes me her heir, I'm gonna give it all to the Hare Krishnas."

"She'd have a heart attack on the spot."

"No, better," Blair cried excitedly, waving his beer bottle. "I'll give it to the tree huggers. Maggie's group, and Greenpeace and, what else? The Sierra Club. The Cousteau Society."

He sat there laughing, his eyes alight, and Jim watched him and smiled. Blair Sandburg, CEO of Wade, Ltd? It would never happen. Not that Blair couldn't make a go of it if he had to, but he didn't have to. He had no obligation to try. It would crush this out of him, all his eager excitement, his joy in living, and would turn him into a Trajan Wade, grim and depressed. Jim couldn't have stood that.

"Why stop there?" he asked as he turned on the television set and changed the channel for the Jags game. "Give it to the police department. She doesn't think much of us either. And we could use a better forensics lab, and a great retirement fund."

"Yeah, money, who needs it?" Having rejected millions of dollars, Blair could view great wealth with pure contempt.

They grinned at each other companionably and settled down to watch at least the first half of the game.

*****

Continued in part four...