New Arrivals
Author-Sheila Paulson
Titles

Families
Part Four
by Sheila Paulson

See notes and disclaimer in part one.

Around eight-thirty, Jim tore himself away from the game and dragged a reluctant Blair to his feet, and both of them went to get ready for the gala at the Plaza.

"I hate dressing up like this," Blair complained when he emerged from his room. In defiance of the tux, which he couldn't avoid, he'd left his hair loose instead of tying it back but he'd left on the glasses he'd worn to grade the papers. They were nearly finished, at least. With midterms behind him and finals still a couple of months away, he was relatively caught up, though he needed to finish up a few notes on his ongoing Sentinel research project. He would have preferred to stay home and do that than go to a party with his supposed grandmother and with Trajan Wade but there didn't seem to be a way out of it.

Jim looked classy in a tux for a man whose usual dress style was casual. Straightening his bow tie and giving his collar an uncomfortable tug, he greeted Blair with the comment, "I think a sadist designed this get-up."

"Cheer up," Blair replied, though he felt the same way. "At least we don't have to go through the torture women do. Stockings and heels? Bras? You wonder how they live with it. Make-up, too. We shave and get dressed and that's it."

"Yeah, but when you see them, the end result is worth it," Jim said with a smile. "Come on. We're already late. We shouldn't have waited until halftime."

Sandburg was glad they had. He'd needed that quiet, companionable time to face up to the ordeal of the evening. He'd told Jim about Trajan Wade, not every detail, but the gist of what the man had said. Blair hadn't wanted to talk about it at all, but if Jim was going to meet his supposed father, Ellison had best go prepared. It would be Jennis and Trajan who weren't prepared, because all they knew about Jim was that he was a detective--unless Jennis had had him investigated, too. But that wouldn't tell her what kind of person Jim was. He'd surprise them for sure.

It seemed he wouldn't have a chance to surprise Trajan. When the two men arrived and turned in their glossy, embossed invitation to an elegant doorman in tails, they were ushered into the hotel's vast ballroom. It was full of local celebrities as well as the delegates from various states and provinces, all dressed in their very best. Beautiful people and the moneyed class moved with quiet elegance while an orchestra in white jackets played classical music at just the right volume not to disrupt the conversations in progress. Discreet waiters with trays of drinks and canap‚s passed among the crowd pausing to allow the guests to make their selections then moving silently on.

Tuxedos and elegant evening gowns were the order of the day, although Blair spotted a couple of Canadian Mounties in their red serge dress uniforms among the crowd, maybe here to protect those Canadians involved, or just as a display of North of the Border solidarity.

Blair saw Simon Banks before he noticed anyone else familiar; the Captain was standing over near the band talking to a grey-haired man who vaguely resembled the late Nelson Rockefeller. Over in the opposite corner, Maggie and Fred Street had come to represent the environmental issues, since there would be no picketing until the morning. Maggie wore a deep burgundy dress that was designed to make her appear taller and slimmer, and her heels were higher than before. Spotting Blair, she lifted her champagne glass to him and smiled. Beside her, Fred looked as totally uncomfortable in his tux as Blair did, tugging at his collar to make it looser. He was a veterinarian, Blair remembered, one who worked with livestock rather than people's pampered pets, a latter day James Herriot. A tux wouldn't be his usual attire.

Jim leaned down. "I'm going to head over and talk to Simon," he said. "Do you see the Wades anywhere?"

Blair looked. Then he spotted Jennis, accompanied by Stephanowski, who hung at her elbow as if he'd been grafted there, his eyes busy as he watched the crowd for threat. He wasn't the type to wear a tux as part of his normal attire either. Noticing Blair, he nodded once, gravely, and his gaze moved on.

"Jennis is over there," Blair said. "I don't see Trajan."

"You going to talk to her?"

"Not now," Blair decided. "I'll come with you to talk to Simon, and if she wants to say anything, she can choose her time."

But he watched Jennis as they crossed the room. Stephanowski leaned down and said a few words in her ear that made her look up and follow her bodyguard's direction. Blair felt pinned in her eyes, like a butterfly on display in an exhibit, but her expression softened. Whether it was the tux that won her approval or a vague, grandmotherly instinct, Blair found the expression made him nervous. It had been far easier to stand up to her disapproval than to a sign of favor.

Throwing her a quick, nervous smile, he scuttled off after Jim, determined to avoid a confrontation as long as possible.

Simon eyed them both, eyeing Sandburg's tuxedo with a lifted brow, surprised that Blair had cleaned up so well. "So far nothing," Banks said. "No one's seen Clayton, and I've got a few men discreetly circulating, showing his picture to the waiters, the hotel staff. I'm not sure he'd come here tonight, except that with everyone packed in here, he'd have a good target if he wanted to trash the place. Even the governor is here. There's even a man from Washington. Clinton wants to keep up on what they settle; he's taken a stand on the timber question, though of course that's only a part of what the Summit means to address."

"That's assuming the target is everyone here, stopping the Summit entirely, as opposed to an assassination attempt on one individual," Jim replied.

"What about in the Summit conference room?" asked Blair. "That way they strike directly."

"True, but we've got men staked out in there tonight and the whole hotel is under guard," said Simon. "Taggart's been through the conference room three times. Not only is Cascade PD here, but the county sheriff's office is represented, even state troopers. There's a SWAT team standing by in case anything goes down tonight. And of course the Feds are here," he added without enthusiasm. "The FBI, not only from the local office but reinforcements from Seattle, too, and I think there are even some from D.C. They've been lurking around from the beginning. Even if we make the collar, they're going to grab Clayton and run. But this time, with so much to cover, they need our help." He made a face.

"I noticed a few of them," Blair said. He wasn't surprised to hear the Feds were here. They'd popped up before when another terrorist was involved. It must be the standard protocol. Put an FBI agent in a tux and you could still tell he was a Fed. It was the overall attitude, more than the clothes and the ear wire. Pity none of them looked like Dana Scully. *But then,* he thought wryly, *you can't have everything.*

"And if anyone brings in anything that might be explosives, they're being checked," Simon went on. "Briefcases. Hotel guests' suitcases. Though, of course, people have been checking in all week. The hotel holds all the delegates but other rooms are still available."

"What about women's purses?" Blair asked. "I've spotted a few that are big enough to bring guns and explosives too."

"We thought of that, too," Simon informed him, lifting an eyebrow at the question. "That's why we had the checkpoint like those you see at the airport, to scan people for weapons. Local celebrities didn't like that, or the delegates either, but they understand there could be a threat. Most of them are used to taking precautions."

"No lie," agreed Blair. "I'd bet a good dozen people in this room are privately hired muscle."

"Make it two dozen," Jim corrected. "And there are environmental interests represented here, too. Everyone wants to get his two cents worth in before the Summit assembles tomorrow morning."

"I want you to circulate," Simon told Jim. "See if you can pick up anything, if any of the delegates are nervous or worried, if anybody looks particularly smug. Try and notice if anyone leaves unexpectedly early. It's possible Clayton is here, in all this crowd. He's clever enough to have disguised himself. He has to know there are hardly any pictures of him out there."

"He's no Carlos," Jim said, adding to Blair, "a terrorist everybody tried to get for years."

"No," agreed Simon, "but he's one of the big ones. That's why the Summit has to be his target."

"Or the governor?" Blair suggested. "You said he was here."

"He could get to the governor in other ways, without risking all this security," Jim disagreed. "No, he's either after one of the delegates or the Summit itself. Simon, what's your take on those names from the break-in?"

"I thought it was suspicious that two of them had been left off the list, so I told them to run it as quick as they could. We should hear tonight. They'll call me here if anything turns up. There's nothing local on either of them, though Maggie Street is known to us as having organized several peaceful demonstrations. They *were* peaceful, too. They never tried anything, never blocked the roads, cooperated with us when asked. All they wanted was the exposure. But you can't tell with protesters. Most of them can be as peaceful as-- well, as Sandburg here, but all it takes is one bad egg in the barrel."

"Not Maggie," Blair said. "I've known her for years. She means it. If anyone in her group turns out bad, it will be devastating to her."

"Then we'll hope she's clean," Simon replied. "Sandburg. You know Jennis Wade, maybe you have an in with her. I know you and Jim talked to her this afternoon, but keep an eye on her. All the reports I've seen on her say she's outspoken and doesn't care who she steps on to get what she wants. She's the type to make enemies. I don't think she'd tell us everything she knows, but if there's a chance she might tell you..."

Blair hesitated. Part of him resented the insinuation that he might manipulate Jennis, even if it was for the greater good, but on the other hand, he wouldn't want Simon's job tonight, or the weight of its responsibility. The resentment was as much because he didn't want to talk to Jennis Wade than anything else.

"Come on, Simon, you can't expect him to spy on her," Jim objected.

"Who the heck said anything about spying," Banks exploded. "We're trying to save lives here, in case the two of you had forgotten. This isn't a game."

"Easy, Simon, you'll blow a gasket," Blair said hastily. He still didn't want to talk about the relationship between him and the Wades. The fewer people who knew, the better he'd like it.

Banks wore an exasperated face, but Jim stepped in. "Come on, Sandburg, we'll go see her together," and steered him Blair across the room.

Jennis Wade was in her social mode tonight, and the greeting she bestowed upon them was as false as it was socially acceptable. She held out a hand to each of them in turn, almost as if she expected them to kiss it, and spoke their names. "A good turnout, wouldn't you say?" she asked.

"A dangerous one," Jim countered.

"Because of the threat you spoke of?" She nodded. "Perhaps. But living in a glass cage never appealed to me. If I ran from every threat, Wade, Ltd. would truly be 'limited'--to a small business with no more pull than a local organization."

Her dress was mauve, touched with silver here and there, designed specifically for her. Blair was no expert in women's fashions; fewer fields held less interest for him, though he enjoyed the end product when it adorned a babe like Cheryl Ransome. But he could tell from the very lines of this dress that it had been styled for his grandmother. She was small and neat and impressive, style and power in one elegant package, and maybe he was the most influential woman Blair would ever meet, but she made him nervous.

"Sensible precautions--" began Jim only to have her make a chopping gesture with her hand.

"Of course, sensible precautions, but Doug has bored me on the subject enough tonight." She gestured at the bodyguard, then dismissed him from her attention, nearly doing the same to Jim, who withdrew without moving as if he'd focused his senses on the room at large rather than on Jennis Wade.

"And you," Jennis said to Blair as if they were the only ones present. "You met your father today, I understand. It took a great deal out of him; he won't attend tonight. I will need him tomorrow morning, so it is better he rest now."

Blair hesitated, then tried to delicately pose a question he hadn't been able to ask Trajan. "How long does he... I mean...."

"At most a year," she said flatly, to dismiss the subject. "The doctors say it could be longer, but will most likely be less. He's still able to function now, but it will mean hospitalization eventually. While I deplore the secrecy that kept me from knowing you until now, I understand why he did it, one small defiance. Perhaps it was even for the sake of Naomi, knowing she could not afford to fight me for you in court. He even said he believed he'd helped you escape me." She shook her head. "Reacting as if I were a prison. The only cage he ever lived in was of his own making. I'd have respected him if he'd fought for that girl, though I would have decried his taste."

"You have no right to judge my mother." Blair said through clenched teeth. "No, she doesn't live according to your standards, but she has her own and she's always been faithful to them. She doesn't sell out for money or special interests, and she puts people first." It hadn't taken Jennis very long to make him angry.

"I happen to believe there should be a degree of dignity in life, and I despise promiscuity. It's simple laxness in behavior. She put too many people first, as I see it."

Blair's temper boiled over. "You can't call my mother a slut," he started, his voice low and intense. Jim's hand came down on his shoulder and his fingers tightened their grip.

"Easy, Chief," he cautioned.

With a struggle, Blair reined in his rage. "Interesting how she never tried to impose her values on you," Blair ground out, still steaming. "She wasn't self-righteous or holier than thou. And she's kind, something you don't know anything about. Given a choice, I know which way I'd go."

"I've made a study of you," Jennis said, undismayed by Blair's anger. Though the mood between them was so tense, their voices had not been raised and no one else, except Jim, of course, and possibly the ever- present Stephanowski had heard a word of their conversation. Blair didn't mind Jim hearing. A part of him wanted to prove to Jim that he wasn't tempted by the glamor of Jennis' lifestyle, and another part wanted an ally at his back.

"You're lucky you can afford to buy so many people, to spy on me," he said. "I know people can do that now; I know they say the real power is in information. But if you know that much about me, you know where I stand. That's not going to change."

"I found out you were a respected scholar," Jennis said as if Blair had not interrupted. "I found out you possess tremendous loyalty to your friend." She gestured almost dismissively in Jim's direction. "I know you're clever, resourceful. You've traveled widely and done research that has been well rated by those who know what they are talking about. I have also learned about the concept of the Sentinel, a most intriguing field of study. You might want to study Doug one day," she added with a careless gesture at her bodyguard. "His hearing is phenomenal. I researched the subject thoroughly and believe he has one of the Sentinel senses. I suspect your 'partner' has several." Blair felt Jim tense and didn't dare turn to look at him for fear of confirming it. Sensing their heightened awareness, she smiled a smug and contented little smile. "That would be useful to me. Most useful. I am willing to pay highly for what benefits me. So you see, you need not give up your research, or even your friend, should you choose to accept what Wade, Ltd. has to offer."

"Jim is not for sale, either, even assuming your wild guesses have anything to do with reality," Blair said. "I've found a lot of people like Doug, with one sense heightened. I've even found a few with two." Let her think Jim had one or two senses, but he wasn't about to give his friend away. "The instinct has mostly been bred out of us, at least in modern society. We have other means of protection."

"But not bred out of a man who spent eighteen months alone in the jungle?" countered Jennis. "You see, Blair, I do know about you, I know about you both. I've followed your career for several months now, ever since Trajan found the courage to confess what he had kept from me for so long. Why else would you be involved with the Cascade police, with this man, when your field of study has nothing to do with law enforcement?"

"And your point is?" Blair pushed. He was glad Jim had not jumped in and admitted or denied her words. Even if the current argument was partly about Jim, the struggle for control was between Blair and Jennis; it was theirs to resolve.

"My point? Nothing, at least not at the moment. But I want Wade, Ltd. to stay in the family. I want it so much I might be forced to take action to insure that it is."

"If that's a threat--" Blair began, but Jim did speak up now.

"Blair can't be bought or bribed. Before I'd let it come to that, I'd remove the threat."

"How?" she asked, smiling smugly.

"I'd go public," Jim said without a moment's hesitation, causing Blair to whirl and stare at him in astonished disbelief, torn between worry for his friend and sheer exhilaration at the offer Blair would never let him carry out. "You'd have no hold over him then," Jim continued levelly. "And what can you claim for a certainty? Nothing. It's all theory on your part. I can claim to have heightened vision in the way your bodyguard has heightened hearing. It will hardly rock the academic community. Yes, I have very good vision. But so have other people."

"Jim, you don't have to do that," Blair cried, causing people nearby to turn and stare at him. He lowered his voice immediately. "I mean, she's just testing her guns. She knows she can't expect me to play her game if she threatens either of us." He felt an overwhelming gratitude and love for his friend for saying what he had, for offering to sacrifice so much on his behalf but he wouldn't let Jim do it. He'd find a way to get around Jennis. What he knew now was that, no matter what she said or did, he owed her nothing at all. If she was his blood, then more power to Naomi for keeping them apart. He turned to face his grandmother, his eyes hard and angry. "If you harm him in any way, I guarantee you will regret it. I will never come into your business, no matter what threats you make. You can't control me. I won't let you. Jim won't let you. If I were you, I'd settle for what rights you might really have, and write off the rest as a bad job."

She eyed him measuringly. "So you've got spirit, spunk. That's the Wade blood in you, even if it was diluted by a generation."

"No, that's what I learned from Naomi--and from having a friend like Jim," Blair told her. "There's nothing of you in me, nothing of what I believe in and stand for. And I'm glad of it."

"He's right," Jim said, resting a hand on Blair's shoulder as a sign of their solidarity. "Try your worst and you'll see it doesn't get you anywhere. You're not buying a slave here, you're trying to control a human being, and slavery went out a long time ago. You're so used to buying what you wanted that you think everyone is for sale. Well, there are people who aren't, and Blair happens to be one of them."

"This isn't finished," she said coolly. "Even if you think it is."

"Yes, it is," Blair said. "Because you can't win, not against Jim and me."

"We'll discuss it later," she said, adding coolly, "Excuse me, I see the governor over there. I must pay my respects." She whisked away and Doug Stephanowski followed her, pausing long enough to shoot them an apologetic glance.

"Damn it," Blair ground out. "God, I'm sorry, Jim. I won't let her give you away."

"It's okay, it's not you, Chief. I can take the heat if I have to. We don't need to come out with the whole story. But I don't think she'll do it, not after the way we countered her. She was testing the waters, seeing if she could get to you through me, and now she knows she can't. She didn't leave because she wanted to keep her hand in with the governor. She retreated to regroup and think of another strategy."

"Why can't she just give it up?" Blair groaned. "I don't want her business; she has to know I loathe the whole idea and I hate the way she talks about Naomi."

"She's pretty self-centered," Jim agreed.

Blair was silent a minute, then he said, "Hey, thanks, man. You really blew her away when you said you'd go public."

"What did you think I'd do? Let her force your hand? Come on, Sandburg. She didn't expect either of us to react the way we did. She may have been furious, but she backed down. You didn't. Keep that in mind."

"But it's not right for her to endanger you," Blair said. "If anybody figures it out, they might figure out ways to get at you; you know, shine a bright light in your eyes when you're trying to investigate, things like that."

"Nobody's going to find out," Jim said. "At least not from her. Or me, either. Come on, let's do a quick check of the place, see if we can spot anything out of place."

Blair fell into step with him, still stewing over Jennis' threats. It wasn't fair to risk Jim like that; he wouldn't agree to Jennis' terms now if she made him an outright gift of ten million dollars. If she was the measure of Wade, Ltd. then he wanted no part of that either, not that he had ever been tempted.

But he couldn't let the anger take over; it wouldn't do Jim any good.

"I want to try to focus my hearing, see if I can pick anything up," Jim said.

Blair shook his head, watching the crowds that milled around the room. "In here? You'd be drowned by heartbeats. I think we should leave the ballroom first."

Jim nodded. "Let's head out the back way, where I've seen the waiters disappearing, and go through the kitchens. I want to talk to the waters. Even if the Feds checked them already there might be something they missed. And if we can get away from all these people, then I want to listen, focusing out everything to see if I can center on a ticking bomb."

"Just make sure it's not just a travel alarm clock," Blair countered, grinning. His spirits were soaring. How could he stay down when Jim had just offered to make the ultimate sacrifice on his behalf? There weren't many men of Jim Ellison's caliber in Blair's book.

"You think I can't tell the difference," Jim asked.

"Just don't let me get stuck in an elevator with any bombs," Blair replied.

"No way, Chief. When that thing went off, I thought for a minute you'd gone with it." His face darkened as he recalled that moment. "You knew you were safe but I didn't until I went rushing down and Simon handed me the phone. A part of me knew, some Sentinel link, but I didn't dare trust it. You were crowing about how you'd done it and it took me a good ten seconds to register what I was hearing. I was floored when I heard what you'd done." He gave Blair an affectionate nudge with his elbow. "I promise you, if we take any elevators, we'll bring a blowtorch along just in case. Elevators and you make a dangerous combination."

"No lie," agreed Blair.

They made a sweep of the kitchens, talked to a couple of the staff, but didn't come up with anything new. No one there was out of place. If Clayton was there, he'd been here for months, setting up his cover. And that wasn't his usual style.

*****

"Well, that wasn't much help," Blair said as they wound their way through endless back corridors on the way back to the ballroom after a series of brief interviews in the kitchen premises.

"No, but I didn't expect it to be staff. Who else comes here? Delivery men? Meter readers? Nobody would worry about a familiar stranger because he'd be in and out again. But one of them could come in like that and hide in a storage room or in the heating ducts. That's why we're here. I want to check the heating pipes out and see if the dust is disturbed and I want to focus my hearing and see if anyone is lurking out of sight. I need you to stand guard over me while I do it because it's going to take a lot of concentration."

"That's what I'm here for," Blair agreed. Glancing up and down the cross corridors to make sure no one was coming, he nodded for Jim to reach up and open the nearest vent. Dragging up a chair as Jim levered himself into the shaft, Blair stood on it and poked his head in. "Anything?"

"You don't need a Sentinel to tell nobody's been in here for months," Jim replied. A muffled sneeze followed his words, and he slid toward the exit. Blair stood aside to allow him out, then stood chuckling at the dusty streaks down the front of Jim's tux.

"I don't think that look's gonna fly in the ballroom," he pointed out.

Jim muttered to himself and started brushing himself off. "Go find a dishcloth or something," he encouraged, shooing Blair in the direction of the kitchens.

"They dry dishes in a machine," Blair called over his shoulder, but he went. A sympathetic chef produced a cleaning rag for him and a damp sponge, and Blair hurried back to the cross corridors. "Here you go, Jim," he began, his voice trailing off when he realized the passage was deserted. "Jim?"

Alarm shot through him. He stood staring down the corridors in all four directions; no one was in sight. But an enemy may have been near enough to hear Jim climbing into the air vent, if not here, within a nearby room. Maybe Clayton *was* here and he'd decided Jim was a threat, and removed him. "Jim," he called again, urgently but without raising his voice. Jim would hear him if he didn't yell, and he wouldn't alert a terrorist to his presence.

Nothing. No response, no movement, no sense of presence at all. The chair still stood propped where he'd left it, but there was nothing else to indicate that they had even been here. Jim would have been able to notice the dust he'd brushed from his clothes, but Blair wasn't a Sentinel, and right now he needed a Sentinel to find Jim. It could be that Ellison had spotted Clayton or another suspicious character and needed to follow him and there had been no time to wait for Blair's return, but Jim could have been jumped by the terrorist or one of his helpers and might be in desperate trouble now, with only Blair to know he was even missing. And he had no gun, no real police training, nothing but his wits to use against a terrorist that was so good he'd evaded Interpol and the CIA for years.

He concentrated furiously, knowing every second he wasted might endanger his friend. The heating duct Jim had climbed into went in both directions, one end obviously proceeding across the hall; Blair could make out the enclosed space blocked off from the high ceiling where it crossed the passage. It stretched too far for a lurker in a room beyond to hear Jim's investigation, so that left the other direction. Sandburg went down that corridor and paused at the first door he came to. There he halted. "Jim?" he said in conversational tones, knowing his friend would hear him--if he was safe and all right. But there was no answer.

Frustrated, worried, Blair reached for the doorknob--and jerked it back again. He wasn't armed. If he went in there and found Clayton, he'd only be giving the man another hostage. Pressing his ear against the door he listened, wishing, not for the first time, that he had Jim's abilities. One thing he'd learned from Jim was the ability to focus and concentrate, so he wouldn't pass up on any signals that were obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. You didn't need to be a Sentinel to find clues. Normal people did it every day.

He could hear nothing, so he pushed the door inward, revealing a dark storage room, metal shelving units visible in the light from the corridor. Half expecting a hand to grasp his wrist, he reached inside and felt for the light switch. When light sprang up from a pair of long, florescent tubes overhead, he realized he'd discovered a pantry. The shelves were stocked with institutional-sized cans and boxes. He saw one labeled 'Peaches' before he dismissed the food from his mind and concentrated on Jim. There were several aisles invisible to him from where he stood, and only the thought that Jim might be lying in one of them injured gave him the resolve to check them out. He found an empty room; no one was here; it was really as deserted as it felt. It was also tidy, well cleaned, and there were no trails of dust in the floor to mark the intermittent arrival of people to carry supplies to the kitchen.

That was why the sight of a small object on the floor in the furthest corner caught his eye. Blair approached it carefully, bent to see what it was, and came up with a thin length of wire, coated in red plastic, about two inches long. It could have been from anything; maybe the electric wiring had needed work. But Blair couldn't help thinking of a bomb. It was too small for useful fingerprints so he didn't hesitate to hold it and examine it.

He took out his handkerchief from the pocket of his tux and fitted the wire neatly into its folds where he wouldn't lose it, then he returned to the corridor where he quickly checked the next few rooms. Nothing. No trace of Jim. No evidence anyone had ever been there.

"Where are you, Jim?" he demanded. "Don't do this to me. I don't know where you are. I don't know where to search next. I don't..." He closed his lips firmly over his list of inadequacies and realized there was one thing he *could* do, one thing he'd trained for, one thing he did better than anyone else.

"I'll be back in a minute, Jim," he said to the empty passage. "Count on it." And then he raced like mad for the ballroom.

*****

Jennis Wade narrowed her eyes when she saw Blair approaching, glancing beyond him to see if Jim was with him, but when he looked right past her and stormed up to Doug Stephanowski, her displeasure was marked. Blair didn't care. He had far more important things to think of.

"You've got heightened hearing," he informed the surprised bodyguard. "Come with me. Right now."

Doug's mouth dropped open and he turned automatically to his employer.

"Never mind her, this is important," Blair insisted. And to his grandmother, "You want this conference to go on, don't you? You'll be safe here long enough to loan him to me." Doug was a good six inches taller than Blair and built like a weight lifter, but it must have been clear to Jennis that Blair didn't care. He meant to have his way even if he had to fight six weight lifters to do it. She nodded automatically. Blair scarcely noticed the respect in her eyes as she watched him lead her bodyguard away. He didn't notice Simon either, but Banks saw him and started moving in his direction.

"What's this about?" Doug asked when they left the ballroom.

"Somebody took Jim," Blair said. "I only left him for a few minutes. I can't hear him, but if he's nearby, maybe you can pick him up. I don't know how good your hearing is, but I'd bet it was one of the reasons that you were hired."

"I'm good," Doug admitted. "I first noticed how good I was during the Gulf War. Out there on the desert, alone at night, I'd be able to hear approaching Scuds before anybody else. Saved our bacon a time or two. I realized it was a special ability, but I didn't know what it was about, only that I was glad of it. I can tone it down when I don't need it, but when I'm working, I use it."

"Good, it sounds like a genuine Sentinel ability," Blair said, relieved. "I want you to focus it now. You know what the party sounds like in the distance. Can you block that out? Do you need me to coach you through it?"

"No, I can identify sounds and block them if I concentrate hard enough. What else do you want gone?"

"Your heartbeat and mine. That way if you hear any near at hand, you'll know it's not us. Have you got a gun?"

Doug nodded. "Okay, let me do it. And, look? If I get sucked in, poke me in the arm. Usually what I need to listen for isn't quite this subtle."

"Believe me, I know all about it. I've found a lot of people like you," Blair admitted. "Go for it."

Standing here watching someone other than Jim Ellison focus his senses, or at least his hearing, felt weird to Sandburg, but he couldn't help holding his breath as he watched the taller man. He heard footsteps approaching, spotted Simon, and waved his hand abruptly to stop him. Simon appeared affronted but he must have noticed the fear in Blair's face because he pulled himself to a stop. He took out his gun and checked it, and waited.

"Ignore him, he's with us," Blair said to Doug, lowering his voice. Doug nodded vaguely, already lost in concentration.

Sandburg knew the moment he found something. He was used to the signs from Jim, though Doug's reaction was different, sharper, fiercer. He had his gun out in a second, then he relaxed and lowered it but didn't holster it. Slowly he turned until he was facing the chair Blair had dragged up against the wall. He raised his free hand and pointed. "Heartbeat," he said. "In there."

"Simon!" Blair yelled urgently and jumped onto the chair, pulling away the grating like a paper barrier. He could see a shape in the shaft, and when he leaned in he realized it was a pair of shoes--filled with feet, connected to tuxedoed legs. A man lay in the shaft, and this close, Blair could hear his breathing, regular and deep but slightly too fast. But at least he was breathing.

"*Jim,*" he cried, his stomach twisting at the sight of his friend jammed unconscious into the vent. There was no answer.

"What the hell?" Simon cried, jumping up on the chair beside him. It wobbled and groaned under their combined weight but it held them.

"We were only separated a few minutes," Blair said. "God, Simon, he's out cold."

"We have to get him out of there," Banks replied. "Jim. Come on, Jim, can you hear me? God, I hate to move him without knowing how badly he's hurt."

"We can't treat him up there," Blair objected. "It's too small for me to fit in there with him. I think we'll have to pull him out." He wanted to do it himself, but he knew he wasn't big enough to support Jim's dead weight. "Come down," he said. "Doug, get up there. You're big enough to hold him when you get him down." He curled his finger's around Jim's ankle, reassuring himself at the sound of his friend's breathing, and then he let go and jumped down.

"I'm gonna call 911," Simon said and took out a cell phone as he jumped to the floor. "If Jim's been out long enough for you to get help, that's too long. I don't like it." He punched in the numbers and gave quick directions to whoever answered the phone.

Blair shivered. That Jim had been out too long went without saying. Had the attacker been Clayton himself? Had he got the drop on Jim? If so, how could he have managed it? Jim was too in tune with his senses for anyone to approach him from behind without notice. If he'd been shot, they would have heard it unless the gun was silenced. Now there was a nasty thought. He shivered again.

He watched Doug's every move as the big bodyguard gently worked Jim from the vent, checking him carefully every step of the way. "He doesn't have any obvious broken bones," he called down. "Okay, I'm going to lower him to you now. Lie him flat and prop up his feet, in case he's in shock."

"Shock?" Blair echoed unhappily, though that would explain the rapid breathing. He and Simon moved together in perfect union, as though they had choreographed their steps, and received Jim's legs. Doug moved with them supporting his back and shoulders, then pausing momentarily. "He's been hit on the head, I think. Don't know how anybody sneaked up on him if he's like me."

"Worry about that later," Simon said, casting a quick glance at Blair. "Come on. Easy there. Hang on, Jim, we've got you."

They lowered the Sentinel to the floor, Blair fussing over him the whole way. "Come on, Jim, open your eyes. You can do it. It's okay, he's gone, whoever he was. You're gonna be fine."

Doug went into the open storeroom as Blair and Simon laid Jim flat and Simon spread his jacket over Jim to keep him warm. "I think he's just stunned," the Captain said. "He hasn't been shot. There's just this lump on the back of his head, and it's not even bleeding." His long fingers probed the lump, and Jim flinched but didn't open his eyes.

"He felt that," Blair cried eagerly. "Come on, Jim. Wake up." God, it scared him to see Jim helpless like this.

Doug returned with an institutional-sized box of Special K cereal in his hands, and before Blair or Simon could question the need of such an unlikely item, he knelt, lifted Jim's legs and slid the box beneath his feet. "In case of shock," he explained. "Though if he's in shock, I don't think it's too bad. Check out his pupils."

Simon did it. Jim's eyes looked normal and they responded to the light, a lot more quickly than Blair would have expected until he realized part of that was the Sentinel ability.

"I don't get it," Doug said. "When I'm in a situation like this, I concentrate. Nobody gets the jump on me. If he has this Sentinel sense Mrs. Wade talked about, he should have heard somebody sneaking up on him. Unless it's like he said in there, just vision." He shook his head. "No, the old lady was too sure. He probably has it all. Then how could anybody fake him out?"

Blair snapped his fingers. "White noise!" he said. "You could blur sound with a white noise generator."

"Yeah, all terrorists carry them in case they run into cops with super hearing," Simon objected scornfully, evidently finding the idea unrealistic.

"He might well carry one," Doug defended Blair's theory. "I know there have been times when I couldn't pick up anything, and I suspected it was white noise generators, running during meetings and conferences where no one wanted anything they said to go any further than the room. For all this potential terrorist of yours knew, the entire hotel could have been bugged to prevent anybody getting into the place illicitly. You know, sound detectors, motion sensors, heat monitors, the whole bit. A high tech terrorist would know how to get around a system like that."

"Simon, this is Doug Stephanowski. He's Jennis' bodyguard. Doug, Captain Banks, CPD," Blair finally introduced them. "Doug's got enhanced hearing, Simon."

"I figured that much," Simon replied.

"I've seen a lot of high tech security in my line of work," Doug explained. "I'm not just muscle. If this character you're worried about is one of the big time terrorists for hire, he'll know all that. He wouldn't suspect a...Sentinel, but he'd expect to cover himself with whatever high tech security busters he could carry without restricting his movements. After I stop and think about it, I can tell what's going on. Have you tried white noise on your friend?"

Blair nodded. "Yeah, it works. I guess we just didn't..."

A groan from Jim made him fall silent and he bent anxiously over his partner. "Hey, Jim? You with us?"

Ellison's eyes opened. Instantly he closed them, his brow wrinkling in distress. "Oh, man, who put everything on overload?" he groaned.

"It's okay, relax, focus," Blair chanted. "Easy now. Concentrate. You're not in overload, you've been bopped on the head."

Jim's eyes opened again and he stared up at Sandburg, his expression twisting with self-disgust. "I let somebody get the drop on me?" he demanded. "Come on, Chief, I was paying attention."

"You weren't thinking of white noise generators, buddy," Doug reminded him.

"White noise generator?" Jim said in disgust, trying to sit up.

Blair pressed his palm flat against Jim's chest to keep him from trying. "No way, you were out a good ten or fifteen minutes. That's way too long for you to just bounce up again. Simon called the paramedics."

"And you're going to the hospital," Simon replied.

"You're kidding? For a little bump on the head?" Jim struggled against Blair's hand, but didn't have the right angle of leverage to throw it aside easily, especially if he felt as bad as he looked.

"Simon's right," Blair said. "You have to be checked out. There can be complications from getting zapped on the head. You probably are okay; you're too stubborn not to be, but I don't want to take chances, not if your senses were overreacting a minute ago."

"They're fine now," Jim replied, casting a narrow-eyed glance at Doug Stephanowski querying how he'd become involved in the situation and to remind Simon and Blair to watch what they let slip in front of him.

Noting the look, Blair said, "I couldn't find you. Whoever jumped you shoved you into the air shaft. The only shot I had was using Doug's hearing. He found you, too. I worked with people with one Sentinel sense for a couple of years before I ran into you and I thought he was our best shot."

Jim started to sit up again, and Blair exchanged a quick glance with Simon before withdrawing his hand and offering it to Jim to pull him into a sitting position. Jim eased up, spilling off Simon's jacket, caught his head in his hands, then collected himself. "See, I'm okay. I'm not dizzy, or only for a minute. What happened? Clayton really came up behind me with a white noise generator?" He passed the coat to Simon who brushed it off and put it on again.

"Probably, we don't know for sure," Blair told him. "But it's the only thing that makes sense unless they used gas on you, and I didn't smell anything like that when I came back from the kitchen. And you would have smelled it a heck of a lot easier than I would. You didn't, did you?"

Jim shook his head. Immediately he looked like he regretted t he motion. "I didn't smell anything."

"I figured you didn't," Blair said. "I just thought maybe he'd have access to stuff like that. Besides, I found this in the store room. Maybe it doesn't mean anything, but you never know." He produced the piece of wire, passing it to Simon.

"It could be," Simon said, pushing his glasses into place and squinting at it. "Detonator wire. I don't like this. It's small enough it could have been overlooked. Where was it, Sandburg?"

"In that first storage room." Blair pointed. "Almost under the edge of one of the shelves. If Clayton was in there, he might have heard Jim checking out the air vent and realized he was near to being busted."

Footsteps in the hall made Jim and Doug turn quickly a second or two before Simon and Blair reacted. A team of paramedics approached, carrying their equipment. They'd obviously come in through the kitchen entrance according to Simon's instructions, and they were accompanied by two men in tuxedos who wore matching official frowns.

"FBI, Special Agent Wallace," one said, shoving his badge at the group. "And this is Agent Kilmer. Just in case these folks aren't really paramedics."

"We called paramedics," Simon said. Producing his badge, he rose to explain to the Feds what was going on, while Blair gestured the uniformed man and woman down to examine Jim.

They checked Jim out competently and thoroughly and asked a number of questions to test his level of alertness. He displayed no evidence of a concussion, but Simon ordered him to go with them for the X-rays they felt he ought to have. It wasn't likely he'd be admitted; he displayed no double vision, he was clearly alert, and his vitals were strong and steady.

"It's a precaution. If the doctor releases you, you can come back afterwards," the woman EMT told him. "It's routine to examine a patient in the hospital if the victim's been unconscious as long as you were. I know it doesn't feel very long but it doesn't need to be."

"To him it might not feel very long," Sandburg blurted. "It felt like a month to me."

Simon nodded. "Go with them, Jim."

Jim grumbled about a waste of time, but Simon shook his head. "Go with them," he repeated. "This is only going to get hairier and I want to make sure you're in top form for it. Now we know someone's here, we're going to do a floor-by-floor search, and the men posted in the ballroom are checking too." He added to Doug. "Thank you for your help on this, but you should go back to Mrs. Wade now." He turned to the FBI men to converse with them. Stephanowski shrugged, gave Jim and Blair a wry grin, and turned in the direction of the ballroom.

Blair drove Jim's van to the hospital after the ambulance and parked in the lot. By the time he reached the emergency room, Jim had already been taken for X-rays; it must have been a slow night. Blair settled down restlessly in a chair, ignoring the stares of waiting people and ER staff personnel, who weren't used to tuxedo-clad visitors.

When Jim appeared not too much later, he was on his feet again, in complete control. From experience Blair could tell from the slight line between his brows that he had a headache but that was inevitable, and he was dressed and ready to leave, not in a wheelchair so he could be taken off and admitted to a room. He'd managed to clean the ventilator dust from his tuxedo, and if he was more rumpled than the average guest at the gala, probably no one would notice.

When he saw Sandburg waiting, he grinned and held up his hands clasped over his head like a triumphant Rocky to indicate he'd been sprung. Blair went to meet him.

"White noise," he greeted with a big grin. "We're going to have to run tests on the possibilities. Just think, if they're going to use it against you, we're going to have to teach you to recognize it when it hits."

"You never quit, do you, Sandburg?"

"Not when there's a whole new area to research." He didn't dare make a fuss over Jim. Ellison didn't go for things like that. So it was better to be casual and flippant, and tease him like crazy. This time it didn't entirely work.

"Not when I screwed up," Jim said sourly. "Clayton sneaked up on me and I didn't have a clue."

"Clayton was prepared for anything; he didn't know he was going to have to face a Sentinel, but he had the tools for it. All it means is that we have to be more careful, watch each other's backs." When Jim glowered, he added, "It wasn't your fault. Come on, let's head for the hotel. I want you to think about how it felt when we set up the white noise generator so you could relax. See if you can pin anything down from it that you can use at the hotel. Because you and Doug are the only ones who'll have a clue about it, and I don't think Simon's very gung ho about using him."

"He's not even gung ho about using *you*," Jim said, sounding more like himself.

"You know, I just can't figure that out. Here I am, one of nature's wonders, and Simon--"

Jim groaned. "One of nature's blunders, did you say?"

Ducking away from Jim's mock punch, Blair couldn't help grinning. Sure they had a major terrorist to take out, but they'd come so far already. Clayton had better watch out.

*****

By the time they returned to the gala, the evening was starting to wind down. They'd missed the speeches, which didn't upset either Blair or Jim, and no one had taken pot shots at the various speakers in their absence. When they returned to the ballroom, the last of them was just finishing his address. They could hear the final applause fading and the orchestra tuning up again from the hallway outside. Entering the room, Jim and Blair saw that dancing had started.

"Think he backed off because of all the security?" Blair asked, glancing around the room. He spotted a few men from the Major Crimes unit, and a lot of Feds, circulating grimly. None of them were dancing and many of them stood in pairs, probably obvious to a criminal with Clayton's background.

"If he means to blow up anything, he'd want to set up and get far away before he did anything," Jim replied. "I know Joel's working on it, checking out all the likely places, and I know he knows his stuff. But I still want to try to listen for explosives."

"Do they all tick loudly enough for you to hear anything?" Blair asked. The one in the elevator had been unobtrusive until they realized what was going on. He couldn't remember ticking in particular, only the way his scalp had crawled and the way his chest had tightened as he watched it counting down, making breathing difficult. Of course Jim might have noticed it but only if he was concentrating.

"Not necessarily," Jim said. "Bombs with ticking clocks attached are pretty much out of date. But I might sense it anyway. It's worth a shot. I wonder if Simon's talked with Taggart lately."

They spotted Simon and moved over to join him. "Hi, Jim," he said. "I see they let you go. Or did you make a daring break-out?"

"They did let him go," Blair concurred. "At least I think they did?" He eyed Jim thoughtfully as if prepared to return him to the ER.

"Yes, they let me out," Jim replied with an edge of sarcasm. "Anything go down while we were away?"

"No. The Feds ran a sweep of the whole place," Simon explained. "Taggart and their bomb squad are still looking. We haven't come up with Clayton. But they didn't search every hotel room. There's not enough staff for that. He could be checked in under an assumed name, in disguise. His picture has been circulated among all the hotel staff and will be shown to all the rest of the staff tomorrow."

"Great, all we need is somebody who thinks he sees terrorists under every bush," Jim replied.

"Not much choice. We've taken every possible precaution but it may not be enough, especially with that piece of wire Sandburg found. They're going to bring in dogs to try to sniff out explosives," he concluded. "You didn't get a whiff of C-4 when you were wandering around, did you?

Jim shook his head. "Nothing. I don't know whether we're overreacting or whether there are just too many stimuli here for me to pin anything down." He frowned. "So nobody caused any trouble while we were gone?"

"Not terrorist trouble," Simon replied. "But your Mrs. Wade got into an argument with one of the environmentalists. It was just a question of raised voices for a few seconds. None of the delegates found anything unusual about it, though."

"It wasn't Maggie, was it?" Blair asked anxiously. He was positive she wasn't involved in Clayton's activities.

"No, it was her cohort, Karl. Your friend Maggie smoothed it over. But now the Feds are interested in him and they took him off for questioning. They didn't keep him, though. I saw him heading out onto the dance floor a minute ago with a tall redhead."

Blair craned his neck expectantly and was rewarded with a glimpse of Jeff Karl whirling around the dance floor with none other than Cheryl Ransome. Either they'd met through the Conservancy or she'd joined because of him, for the two of them seemed very close. On the other hand, that was her nature. It might not mean a thing.

"Cheryl," he told Jim.

"Where?" Jim turned hastily to study the dancers, then he raised his eyebrows. "You used to date *her*?"

"Well, you don't have to sound so surprised about it," Blair complained.

Simon gazed past them to where Jim was pointing and did a double take. "You dated *that* woman?"

"Come on, guys," groaned Blair. "Sure, she has her...advantages, but Jim's jacket is smarter than she is."

Jim and Simon exchanged a knowing glance, and Blair squirmed, enjoying his reaction. But tonight business had to come first. "Did you ever find out anything about Karl's background?" Jim asked.

"Yes, and that's one of the reasons the Feds questioned him," Simon told them. "He'd been arrested before, twice, back east, for taking part in demonstrations that got out of hand. Apparently he bashed a cop over the head with a sign during the course of the demonstration but his lawyer got him off with community service."

"There's a big distance between losing control in the heat of the moment and hiring an international terrorist," Jim said.

A movement beside him made all three men turn and there was Jennis Wade. "Do you dance, Blair?" she asked.

He wanted nothing less than to dance with the woman, but Simon nodded encouragingly. Blair could see the wheels turning in his head. If it gave them an in with her, then it was a good thing.

He nodded and led the woman onto the floor. The band began to play a waltz.

"I understand from Doug that your friend's abilities are not enough to keep him from being attacked from behind," she said as the music started. "I wanted you to know that I wouldn't make claims about him behind your back."

"He has sharp eyes," Blair said, deciding he could admit that much when Jim had said so earlier. "But as for finding anyone with all the abilities of a Sentinel...I've encountered a great many people with one sense enhanced, like Doug. It could be simple genetics. Sometimes it's the rudiments of a Sentinel power. But I don't think there could be many people in our society who have all five senses enhanced." It didn't sound like Doug had said anything to Jennis about Jim's abilities, and Blair had to hope he wouldn't say anything later. He collected himself and added, "I'm not interested working for your company, and that's final. If you have an interest in knowing me without it, that's fine, otherwise, we might as well say goodbye right now."

"You *are* a Wade," she said approvingly as he guided her across the floor. "You stand up for yourself."

"Trajan's a Wade and it sounds like he never did," Blair reminded her. "And you're a Wade through marriage yourself."

"Not true, Blair. My husband was my third cousin. I was born Jennis Wade and didn't need to change the name. I was raised to believe who I was mattered and it always has."

"I believe who I am matters, too," Blair said firmly. "But it isn't because of a heritage or a name, it's because of what I made for myself. I know you hate Naomi, but she taught me to find the best in myself and go for it. What did you teach Trajan, that he was a Wade and automatically elite? It didn't do him much good, did it, being a Wade?"

"There is some truth in what you say," she admitted. "I believe you would like my daughter Melanie, or rather Sister Jerome. She always had the courage to stand up to me, too. I resented that, but I admired it, too."

"She's still your daughter," said Blair. "Leave her the business. She may have to hire a manager for it though nuns are a lot freer these days."

"I still want you for the business. I might leave it to you. And what would you do with it?"

"I could decline the inheritance," Blair said flatly.

"I believe you might. Don't worry, I haven't changed my will yet. Though seeing you stand up for yourself and defend your friend as you did has given me a better opinion of you than I had expected. I understand police officers form a strong bond between partners. Evidently you have done the same, although you are not actually a policeman. I could assist your friend's career."

"He can manage it just fine without you," Blair defended Jim. The music wound down and they stopped dancing.

"I believe so. You dance...adequately."

"You should see me on tribal dances," Blair said with a quick smile. Jennis Wade drove him nuts; she was arrogant, selfish, ruthless, but she had a certain style. If she weren't his grandmother, he'd probably even like her.

"I hope one day I'll have the chance," she said. "Believe me, I have not yet given up, but I am in excellent health. I can take my time. But not very *much* time," she finished. "Thank you for the dance." She stared around the crowd, noticed McGrath, the delegate from British Columbia, speaking to one of the Mounties, and headed in his direction without any further farewell.

Simon materialized at his side. "I don't know what it is about you, Sandburg," he said. "Because I don't believe you set out to make trouble, but I just had four separate FBI men demanding to know what you were doing dancing with the unofficial chair of the Summit. And do you know what? I had no idea. I don't like that. It's my business to have information. I told them I couldn't help who she wanted to dance with--reminded 'em money talks." The look on his face said Blair better talk next.

"She's a sort of...relative," Blair said reluctantly. "From way back."

"You didn't know her yesterday morning," Simon reminded him. Blair tried to look past him in hopes of seeing Jim. He'd have liked backup for this. But Jim had disappeared--no, there he was, leading Cheryl Ransome onto the dance floor. Blair would have to razz him about that later. A tall woman, Cheryl was wearing flat-heeled shoes, which brought her eye to eye with Ellison. There seemed to be a great deal of eye contact.

With no one to provide distraction, Blair heaved a rueful sigh and said, "She might be my grandmother."

Simon had noticed Jim, too, and at first he didn't register Blair's words, then he spun around and stared down at Sandburg open-mouthed. "Jennis Wade? Why aren't I surprised? Nothing you do would surprise me, Sandburg." Then his face softened. "I take it you didn't know before she came in and sprang it on you?" he asked.

Blair would have resented the question if he hadn't remembered Simon had met Naomi. "You called it."

"Not very good news," Banks mused.

"I'm getting used to it. Now that she knows she can't buy me off or threaten to tell the world about Jim's senses."

"And your father?" Simon posed the question warily, half-expecting Blair to tell him to mind his own business.

The father part was not nearly as satisfactory. Jennis Wade was trying, according to her own lights, to make the most of a bad situation, and even if it was a situation she'd helped create, it would not have been such a crisis if Trajan Wade had ever developed a backbone.

"He's around, too," Blair said, and then, in an obscure attempt to punish both himself and Simon for the conversation, he added, "He's dying."

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah." Not even Blair could find it in him to be glad of Trajan's impending death.

Simon frowned. "Look, kid, I know this is a lot to take in, but you should have told me when you found out you and Jim were going to be investigating the Summit. Don't you think you might just have a conflict of interest here?"

"No," Blair said firmly. "I don't." He looked up at Simon. "She showed up and wanted to buy me. I don't owe her anything. She's threatened to expose Jim--no, we didn't tell her, but she had me investigated." His mouth curled. "Believe me, Simon, being related to her--maybe related--won't interfere with what Jim has to do here. I guarantee it."

Simon pondered it, his face unreadable. Then he adjusted his glasses with a quick gesture. "I hope not, Sandburg."

"You think I'd do anything to make it hard for Jim?" Blair asked quickly. "Come on, Simon."

"You might not have a choice," Banks replied.

Blair knew that was true, but he didn't like thinking of it. He'd had enough of the discussion. "Look at Jim." He gestured at Ellison on the dance floor. As a subject changer it worked, because Simon nodded.

"I don't get the feeling he's questioning her about Jeff Karl."

"Yeah, and he jumped all over me about being professional when we had to go to that strip club. I'm gonna ride him like crazy when this is all over."

"You dated her yourself. I don't think you have a leg to stand on."

The two men shared a companionable grin, then Simon shrugged. "Duty calls," he said. "I'd better go play nice with the Feds."

"I'll just wander," Blair said to the captain's retreating back.

He found Maggie and Fred and talked to them for awhile, was greeted rather paternally by McGrath, exchanged hellos with several of Jim's fellow cops. If Clayton was here, he was probably in disguise, and likely had access to state of the art make-up. Even a simple appliance or two could change the shape of a man's face, contacts could alter the eyes, and wigs were simple. He could even be disguised as a woman.

Charmed by such an imaginative theory, Blair let his eyes drift over the women in the room. He found a few he might have suspected of being female impersonators, but closer checks didn't reveal a noticeable Adam's apple--the easiest give-away--on any of them. If Clayton were here at all, he was most likely here as a man; he wouldn't have to remember to watch his body language so carefully. But even if he were here, he couldn't very well get through the checkpoint with a gun, though Blair had learned from working with Jim that there were guns that didn't set off x-ray devices. Even bombs could get through. Look at Pan Am 103.

But would even a Clayton take out this many people to complete his commission? Unless he was hired to stop the Summit, and even then it would be more likely he'd wait and place a device in the actual Summit chamber.

If assassination were his plan, he might have a good shot tonight. Blair glanced up, trying to see if there were any spots high above where an assassin could lurk, in the lighting vents, a balcony? The Feds probably had all that covered, and it would be hard for Clayton to make a getaway.

"Blair?"

He jumped, turning quickly to find Doug Stephanowski towering over him. "Hey, Doug."

"Just got a call Trajan would like to talk to you. He's still up in his suite. You up for it?"

Blair grimaced. The last thing he wanted to do was see Trajan Wade again. What he'd have liked much better was simply to go home and crash. But Jim was still dancing with Cheryl, talking to her earnestly, while she blinked at him in an attempt to understand words bigger than one syllable. There was nothing else Blair could do while he waited, so he might as well go see Trajan Wade. Get it over with. "Yeah, I guess so," he admitted reluctantly. "Where is he? The suite?"

"Yes. The last door, Penthouse D. He said he'd leave the door open and you could go right in."

"He up for company? It's pretty late." He glanced at his watch. Just past eleven. It seemed like it should be much later than that.

"He's probably been asleep. I'm told he wakes up in the night and can't fall asleep again. He'd only sit there and worry." He eyed Blair knowingly. "I realize you don't think much of him, but I feel for the guy. Lived all his life under his mother's thumb--except for when he was married, and then he lived under his wife's thumb. Some guys just tend like that."

"Yeah," agreed Blair. "Okay, I'll go. If you see Jim, tell him where I went."

"With that redheaded bird, he probably wouldn't notice if the ceiling caved in," Doug said in a man-of-the- world tone. He added, "I'll key you up." The penthouse level required a key to operate the elevator; it had been handled by the desk staff during the questioning. Probably the Feds had a key, and Simon might, but Doug could do it just as well.

Blair grimaced as they set off for the lobby and the elevators.

*****

Continued in part five...