New Arrivals
Author-Sue Kelley
Titles

Easier Said Than Done
Part Two
by Sue Kelley

See notes and disclaimers in Part One.

"Sandburg, are you nuts?" Jim repeated as soon as they were away from the green curtain. "Hate to tell you this, Chief, but this isn't a stray cat we're talking about here, it's a human being with what could be a severe injury; a human being, by the way, whom you know *nothing* about. He could be a axe-murderer or a con man or a --" words failed the detective as all sorts of possibilities flooded his brain.

Blair leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. "And in all probability he's just a hurt kid who is all alone and scared," he pointed out. "You saw him, Jim, he can barely sit up, much less heft an axe."

"And why exactly is he *your* responsibility, anyway?" Jim demanded.

"Oh, that's priceless coming from you, Mr. Sentinel." Jim jumped and looked around, even though Blair's voice had deliberately been pitched too low for anyone else to hear. "We are all responsible for our fellow denizens of Mother Earth."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Oh, please! In what free-love, new-age commune did you learn *that* piece of crap? Or is that what they teach in Ph.D. school these days?"

Blair's eyes lit up, even though only a trace of a grin crossed his face. "Actually, my mom taught me that a long time ago. And she *is* pretty new-age. Look, Jim, he did keep that waitress from getting shot; you said yourself that you couldn't have stopped that guy without shooting him, so Richie in a way saved all three of you. Besides, I know what it's like to be all alone and sick in a hospital with no one around."

"Oh?" Jim raised his eyebrows and waited, but Blair clammed up. With a deep, heartfelt sigh, Jim shrugged. "Fine. Have it your way. But if he's spending the night with you, I am, too. Besides, I was a medic in the Army, I'm fairly sure I know more about head injuries than you do."

"Hey, man, you're always welcome at my place." Battle won, Blair regarded him with a sunny smile. "I've got an extra blanket, and there's plenty of floor."

Jim groaned. "I'll go by my place and get my sleeping bag. Maybe stop by the grocery, too, since I've seen what you try to pass off as food. You just get yourself and our young hero home and I'll meet you there." Jim turned on his heel and stalked for the exit, wondering for roughly the zillionth time in the last month just what saint he'd pissed off in order to have Blair Sandburg in his life.

** ** **

The rain, which had been little more than drizzle when they left, turned into a horrendous deluge before they'd gone fifty miles. MacLeod peered through the T-Bird's windshield, muttering ancient oaths from his childhood. Tessa huddled in the passenger seat, shivering despite the car's laboring heater.

MacLeod had chosen to take the Coast Highway; it was the shortest route and it missed most of Seattle. Unfortunately it was two-lane much of the way and signs warned of the hazards of mudslides and falling rock. At Duncan's direction, Tessa pulled out a road map and flipped on the overhead light to study it. "We can detour over to the Interstate just after we pass Alton Beach. That's about ten miles up the road-- Duncan! Look out!"

MacLeod swerved the wheel wildly to avoid a large rock that plummeted to the road. Smaller rocks and gravel caught in the wake pelted the classic car as its driver fought to maintain control. Finally the T-Bird skidded to a halt on the opposite edge of the road, facing the oncoming traffic, had there been any. MacLeod flipped on the hazard lights and reached over for Tessa. "You all right, sweetheart?"

She nodded, and melted into his welcoming arms with a little sob. They clung to each other tightly until her shivering was less and then she pulled away, grabbing some tissues for her face. "I swear, after we see Richie and I know he's all right, I think I'll strangle him! What was he thinking?"

MacLeod laughed a little at her opposing urges. "I said before, Tessa, I don't think he *is* thinking. He's just running."

"From what?" she demanded. "Felicia is gone. Why didn't he come home that night? Why did he go to the warehouse? The murder just happened Monday; he's been gone since Friday night."

MacLeod didn't answer. He was remembering the fight on the beach. Richie's face when he begged for Felicia's life. And then the look on his face when he'd said, "Mac, I'm sorry," and Duncan, exhausted, angry at Felicia, at Richie, but most of all at himself for ever letting the woman into their lives, hadn't answered. He'd turned away from the teenager, walking along the beach until he'd felt calmer. When he returned to the spot more than an hour later, Felicia was just stirring, and Richie was nowhere to be seen. MacLeod had assumed the boy had gone home. Maybe if he'd said something to the kid, or looked for him before he went back to the apartment, none of this would have happened.

Silently, Duncan started the car and turned back onto the highway.

** ** **

They were just south of Alton Beach when they saw flashing lights ahead. The rain was so heavy MacLeod could barely make out a figure waving at him to halt. The man jogged closer and leaned into the open driver's side window. Water dripped from his hat and soaked his yellow slicker. "You folks heading into Alton Beach? 'Cause the road is closed just past there."

"We're trying to get to the cut-off to the Interstate," MacLeod answered.

The policeman shook his head. "You can't get through. Mudslide early this morning. Where you heading?"

"Cascade. It's urgent that we get there as quickly as possible."

The man shook his head again. "No way. Not before morning. Coast Highway is closed from here to Seattle, rockslides, mudslides, you name it. The road crews think they'll have the slide cleared by midmorning at the latest, and then you could get through to the Interstate. But tonight, no way. Your best bet is to get a room in Alton Beach and wait it out, get a fresh start in the morning. Rain's supposed to slacken off about sunrise."

Tessa and Duncan stared at each other in dismay.

** ** **

"You live here?" Richie asked fuzzily as the taxi drew to a halt in front of a dark warehouse. Blair hopped out and came around to help the younger man.

"Yeah." Blair supported Richie's weight; the kid was none too steady on his feet. "Just me and about a thousand rats."

Richie stopped dead. "Rats?"

"Hey, I'm just kidding," Blair assured him. Actually, the warehouse did have rats, but they usually stayed out of sight. Richie was dragging and he wouldn't be awake long enough to see them anyway.

"Oh," the kid said, starting forward again. Blair got the door opened and got them inside and Richie looked around blearily. "Nice."

Blair laughed. "You don't have to be so polite. I know what it looks like. But I just can't stand campus life--living in a dorm you know--and the rent on this place is within my price range, plus I don't have any close neighbors to annoy."

"No, I mean it," Richie insisted. "I've seen worse. Hell, I've lived in worse."

Blair looked at him closely, seeing the sincerity in his face. He helped the kid take off his jacket and guided him to sit down on the lumpy couch he'd scavenged from the Salvation Army. "You sit there for a minute. I'll get the heaters going and find you a sweater or something to put on." Richie's T-shirt was stained with blood and Betadine from the hospital. "How's your head?"

Richie closed his eyes against the ceaseless pounding in his skull. "Ummm, well, terrible."

Blair chuckled as he rummaged through his clothes for a clean pair of sweatpants and a dark blue sweatshirt. "Here. These should fit okay and they'll be warmer and more comfortable to sleep in than jeans." Richie accepted the clothes and looked around. Blair said, "The bathroom's up there, but why don't you wait a bit. I'm going to make some herb tea. It'll warm you up."

Richie closed his eyes again. 'Herb tea. Mac would love this guy.' There was a heavy blanket of some kind behind him and he wrapped it around his shoulders, snuggling into the warmth. There was something at the back of his mind, something he knew he should be worrying about, but the head injury and exhaustion combined to send him into a somnolent daze. He was vaguely aware of sounds, a teakettle whistling, the ringing of the phone, Blair's low voice; but he didn't pay attention as his body slowly relaxed for the first time in what seemed like forever. The couch dipped beside him and he felt a warm mug being pressed against his hand. "Richie?"

"Hmmm?"

"Look, man, I know you're sleepy, but try to drink a little of this, okay? The doctor gave me some pills he insisted you take, then you can crash for awhile."

Richie pried his eyelids open and accepted the heavy white mug Blair was pressing into his hand. He sniffed the tea suspiciously. "What's in it?"

"Chamomile, comfrey, vivian, some other things. It'll ease your head."

'Yep, definitely Mac's kind of guy.' He sipped the liquid cautiously. It wasn't too bad; hot chocolate would have been better, but this was light and almost fruity. He took another sip and looked around him. "Wow. Some place."

"Have you ever lived in a warehouse before?"

Richie jumped, cursed as the hot liquid sloshed over his hands. Blair leaned forward and snatched the mug before more could be spilled. "Hey, man, easy! It was just a question. I guess that was a 'yes', huh?"

Richie didn't answer. Blair leaned back and studied him carefully, then nodded to himself. "So how long have you been on the streets?"

"I'm not!" Richie protested. "I mean, I was, but I'm not, well, I wasn't."

Blair snorted. "That makes sense." He handed the mug back to Richie. "That was Jim on the phone earlier."

"Jim? Oh. The cop."

"Yeah, I guess the two of you never introduced yourselves. Jim Ellison. He went by his place and then he was going to go by the Madison Motel and pick up your stuff."

It was Richie's turn to snort. "He doesn't need to. My 'stuff' consists of a toothbrush, a razor and a comb." He didn't mention all three were new, bought within the last few days.

There was a long silence, but it was not an uncomfortable silence. For some reason Richie felt safe with Blair. Maybe because Blair had seemed to understand how he felt at the hospital, perhaps because the student wasn't that much older than Richie. In the last few months, since moving in with Mac and Tessa, Richie hadn't been around many people his own age. Tessa was thirty-five, but she was so sophisticated and elegant and so French that Richie often felt as gauche as a child around her. Mac of course was an Immortal, four hundred years old even though to all appearances he was only in his thirties also. Richie had met several of their friends, but they were all like Tessa, rich and cultured and educated about things he didn't even have a hope of knowing. Maybe that was why he had fallen so hard for Felicia-- he gave a little gasp at the thought of her swinging that sword at Mac. His eyes popped open and he looked around wildly. Blair was gone and both mugs were sitting on the packing crate in front of the couch. Richie realized he'd fallen asleep.

"Richie? Did you say something?" Blair appeared from somewhere carrying a plastic tumbler and two bottles of pills. He looked sharply at Richie's face. "Hey, man, what is it? Your head worse?"

"It can't get any worse, I hope. I'm okay. I was just, remembering something."

Blair looked at him with those understanding blue eyes, seeming to hear more than Richie was saying. "Well, here. Take these miracles of modern medicine and then I'll help you to the bathroom."

** ** **

Blair pulled the thickest, warmest blanket he owned over Richie's sleeping body and turned off the lights closest to the bed, leaving that area deep in shadow. He set the alarm for two hours hence and then wearily plodded to the couch. It was growing colder in the warehouse so he wrapped himself in the Serape blanket before lifting his laptop into his lap. Jim should arrive shortly.

Blair closed his eyes for a minute, suddenly aware of just how exhausted he was. It was tempting to just give in and take a nap, but he had way too much to do.

It never failed. No sooner had he pulled up his notes and gotten well and truly engrossed in the lecture he was preparing on Death Rituals among Native American Tribes, than the phone rang again. Blair jumped, cursed, and looked around to see where he had left it this time. He set the laptop aside and disentangled himself from the blanket, lunging across the room to silence the shrill ringing.

"Oh. Mr. Sandburg? Dr. Kyle Green here. From Cascade General, I treated Richard Ryan tonight?"

It was a good thing he added the last bit because Blair wouldn't have known his name. "Oh. Yes, Doctor?"

"Well. This may not be important, but I felt you should know. A man came here oh, fairly soon after you and Mr. Ryan left. He said he was Richard Ryan's father and demanded to see him. The Admissions clerk told him that Richard had been discharged and he became most upset, yelling and making quite a scene. Security had to escort him out of the building."

"Richie's father?" Blair repeated. "I hardly think that's possible."

"Well, I saw the man. I would think he was too young to have an eighteen year-old son, but appearances can be deceiving."

"I'll talk to Richie when I wake him up next time, but I'm sure there must be some mistake. Thank you for letting me know." There was a faint tone of dismissal in his voice.

A short, unhappy silence on the other end of the line. Finally the voice said, "I'm afraid there's something else."

Blair felt cold chills up his back. He clutched the phone tightly as he said, "Oh?"

"You see, the Night Shift clerk is very new and very young and well, somewhat stupid. So when someone called about an hour ago saying he was Richard's father and asking with whom he had left --"

"--She gave him my name," Blair finished.

"No, actually it's worse than that. She gave him your address."

** ** **

"She did *what?*" Jim exploded.

"Shh! Not so loudly." Blair cast an anxious look over toward the bed, but Richie hadn't moved since he'd settled him there. A quick glance at the clock confirmed that he still had over half an hour before he needed to wake the younger man. Ellison was checking the doors to make sure they were locked.

"Damn, Sandburg! This lock doesn't even catch!"

"I know," Blair responded. He grabbed a straight-backed chair and propped it against the door. "I secure it this way." He felt himself flushing at Jim's incredulous stare. "Well, I do when I remember," he muttered. "It's not like I have anything that valuable to steal anyway."

"What about your life?" Jim asked pointedly. Satisfied that the warehouse was as secure as he could make it, he collapsed on the couch and surveyed his surroundings. "It's freezing in here."

Blair silently handed him a blanket and fiddled with the control of the small space heater he'd bought at a garage sale. "I'll make some hot tea," he volunteered.

"Why don't you just turn up the heat?"

"Well, I don't ah, exactly have heat. The building isn't heated." He rushed on at Jim's incredulous stare, "Well, it's so big and drafty I wouldn't be able to afford to heat it anyway. So, did you get Richie's stuff from the motel?"

Jim pulled out a small paper bag and tossed it on the coffee table. "That is the extent of Mr. Ryan's worldly possessions." He rubbed his jaw. "I don't like this mystery 'father' turning up so suddenly. What did Ryan have to say about it?"

"He doesn't know. He was already asleep when the call came." Blair put two earthenware mugs on a matching tray and carried it to the couch. "So whoever called probably *wasn't* Richie's father--"

"I got the distinct impression from talking to MacLeod and Len Powell that Richie doesn't have a father. At least not one he knows about." Jim picked up the mug and stared into it doubtfully. "This isn't some dried weeds or something, is it, Sandburg?"

"It came from a box, man. So who *was* it? MacLeod, maybe? Did he fly instead of drive?"

Jim took a cautious sip of the brew and made a face. "No way it could be him," he said, standing and heading for the kitchen area. "He called, when I was on my way here. He and his girlfriend hit a roadblock on the Coast Highway. There's been some bad mudslides down there and they can't get here until tomorrow. They're holed up in a motel. He gave me the number, in case Richie took a turn for the worse. I didn't tell him where Richie was, just told him to call me when they got to town." He opened a cupboard and poked around in it. "Okay, Chief, where do you keep the sugar?"

"Refined sugar is a poison." Blair relented at Jim's glare. "There's some honey on top of the refrigerator." He slumped down on the couch. "Richie and I talked a bit, before he fell asleep. He didn't say much, but I think you're right. He's on the run from something, or somebody."

"And I have an idea who," Jim grunted, sitting back down. He pulled his small spiral notebook out of his pocket. "There's something about this Duncan MacLeod guy that doesn't add up."

Blair glanced at the sheets closely covered with Jim's handwriting. "What did you do, run a check on him?"

"On both of them." Jim held up a hand to forestall the protest Blair started to make. "Look Chief, you've spent the last month telling me I'm some kind of protector of the tribe, right? *You're* a member of that tribe; plus, at the moment you are the only thing keeping me functional. So I'm *going* to check out some waif you drag home."

Blair controlled his annoyance with an effort. "So? What did you learn?"

"Duncan MacLeod has no actual criminal record; but he *does* seem to turn up a lot when the Seacouver PD investigates mysterious happenings. He's an antique dealer, owns a shop in Seacouver and also agents for several people, including our esteemed governor, *and* the Bolt family. Seems rather well off. Became Richie Ryan's court-appointed guardian in August. Ryan apparently had a juvenile record, but it was sealed when he turned eighteen. Don't know what he'd done."

"Theft, mostly," a voice said from the bed. Richie sat up, blinking in the dim light. "Look, Detective, Mac didn't take me in for anything illegal or immoral or whatever you're thinking. He's a good guy."

"How are you feeling?" Blair asked.

Richie rubbed his temples and winced. "Like they're playing the Superbowl in my skull, complete with half time activities," he admitted sourly.

"You can have another pain pill," Blair offered.

"In a minute. It hurts, but I can think clearly for a change. Look, Detective Ellison, I heard part of what you said. Mac and Tessa are good people. They've done more for me in the last couple of months than anybody else has my whole life. I'm the one that screwed it up."

Jim frowned, but not because of what Richie had said. "Do you hear something?" he asked Blair.

"Just the wind rattling the overhead doors," Blair said.

"No, it's something else, like a scratching..." Jim concentrated. "It's gone now." He directed his attention back to Richie. "So this MacLeod is a great guy, been great to you, and you run away?"

Even Blair could hear the sharply inhaled breath. "No-- it wasn't--"

The power went out, plunging the building into cold darkness.

**********************

Mac focused on the small alarm clock next to the bed. The red digital readout showed 2:43 a.m. From the sound of rain drumming on the motel balcony, the storm was still going strong.

Carefully, so as not to disturb the soundly sleeping Tessa, he slid out of the bed and walked over to the window, pulling the drapes back and staring unseeingly into the sheets of rain.

The Alton Beach Best Western wasn't the Ritz, but the room was clean, the water ran hot in the shower and the bed was deliciously comfortable. Worn out from six restless, worrying nights, Tessa had fallen into a deep sleep immediately. As far as she was concerned, the worst was over. They'd get to Cascade, Richie would be fine; whatever misunderstandings or hurt feelings that had caused him to run away in the first place would be resolved and by this time tomorrow the three of them would be back home. Even the suspicion that Richie might have seen Markham Bolt's murder didn't disturb her terribly; Richie would tell the police, the murderer would be apprehended and that would be that.

Duncan wasn't so sure. He couldn't ignore the nagging feeling in the back of his mind that was yelling at him to get to Richie *now.* Richie was in some kind of trouble, he just knew it.

Maybe they should have left a message for Comanski, or maybe Duncan should have told that Detective Ellison that Richie might know something about the murder. Why hadn't he?

MacLeod knew why. He took care of his own. Tessa, Richie, they were his family; his to protect and Duncan simply didn't trust anyone else to do it.

The phone rang. Duncan crossed the room in two swift strides and grabbed it, silencing it before it could ring again and wake Tessa. "Yes?"

"Front desk, Mr. MacLeod. You wanted to be informed about the state of the roads? We just got word they've cleared the slide north of town and the highway is clear to the Interstate cut-off."

Duncan thanked the clerk and hung up the phone. He glanced at the clock again, then at Tessa. Making up his mind, he gently shook her awake. "Come on, sweetheart, it's time to go."

** ** **

"Well, it's not the breaker," Jim announced, shaking the flashlight in a vain effort to keep the batteries alive. He cocked his head. "Sure you paid the electric bill this month, Chief?"

"Ha ha, yes I paid the bill. It's probably the storm." Blair picked up the phone, started to punch in a number, than stopped with a muffled curse. "Phone's out too. Jim, can I use your cellular? I'll call Cascade Utility, see if they know--"

"The electricity and the phone are *both* out?" Jim interrupted, alarm bells going off in his head. "That's it. We're getting out of here."

"What?" Blair exclaimed. "Jim, it's pouring! Where will we go?"

"My place."

Blair stared at him. "Does this have anything to do with the phone call from the hospital?"

"What phone call?" Richie asked, his voice fuzzy.

"Somebody showed up at the hospital claiming to be your father and the hospital gave them Sandburg's address," Ellison told him.

"My father?" Richie repeated, confused. "I don't have one-- oh, my God!" Panic drenched his words as he scrabbled out of the bed, only to pitch forward on his hands and knees.

Jim and Blair reached him at the same time. Jim bodily hauled him back to the bed. "What are you so afraid of, Ryan? Or who?"

Richie looked like he was trying to answer, but the sudden movements had been too much for him. His eyes rolled back in their sockets as he collapsed bonelessly on the bed.

"Great," Jim groused. He wrapped the blanket around the young man and lifted him easily over his shoulder. "Get your coat and shoes back on, Chief, we're getting out of here."

Even in the short time he'd known Jim Ellison, Blair had learned the futility of arguing when the older man used *that* tone. He shoved his feet into shoes, threw his damp coat around his shoulders, and led the way to the door. Jim looked out first. The rain, if anything, had intensified and he could barely see the hulk of Blair's Corvair. His truck was across the street. "We'll take your car, it's the closest. Got your keys?"

Blair pulled them out of his pocket in answer and started out the door. "Can you manage Richie?"

"We're fine. Just go on and unlock the doors."

Standing water was well over ankle-deep. Jim shambled through it, following the slighter figure of the anthropologist. Blair got the car doors opened, turning on the ignition and automatically turning the radio down and the heat up, before twisting to help Jim settle Richie in the back seat. The teenager was still unconscious and Jim supported his head as he laid him across the seat. Then he ran around to the passenger side.

"Fasten your seat belt," Blair said hurriedly as he put the car into gear. Jim's hand came down on top of his.

"Stop the car!"

Blair had barely touched the gas pedal, now he yanked his foot away as if it were burning hot. "What's wrong?"

"The car--when you put it in gear it made a funny sound, like a click."

"Jim, if this is another crack about my car--"

"No. We're not going to risk it. We'll take the truck." He opened the door, only to jerk back as the window shattered from the impact of a high-caliber bullet.

"Sandburg! Get down!"

Blair was already doubled over in the seat. Jim covered him with his body as another bullet punched through the back windshield, spewing shattered glass over Richie's still form. "That's a military issue rifle," Ellison muttered. Two more bullets blasted the car. Blair gasped and tightened his arms around his head.

Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket and punched in the speed code for Police Dispatch. "This is Ellison, Major Crimes! Officer and two civilians pinned down, shots fired, officer needs assistance! Repeat, we are under fire!" He gave the address and waited for the operator to repeat it before he closed the phone. "You okay, Sandburg?"

"I don't have any holes in me, if that's what you mean. Is it over?"

"Stay down!" Jim snapped. He raised his head cautiously, focusing on the roof of the building across the street. Sentinel-enhanced vision spotted a figure climbing down the fire escape ladder, a rifle swung over one shoulder. Ordering Sandburg to stay still, Ellison kicked the passenger door open and slithered out onto the pavement, gun at the ready. He heard sirens coming closer. 'Must have been a unit already in the vicinity,' he thought, rising to his knees and scanning the area. The gunman he'd seen was gone. Jim heard a car motor start up. "Damn!" he swore, jumping to his feet and racing across the street. Taillights vanished into the rain; seconds later a squad car screeched around the corner on two wheels.

Jim holstered his gun and jogged back to the car. Blair was rather shakily leaning into the back seat, carefully picking glass shards off of Richie with his left hand. His right hung awkwardly at his side. Jim smelled blood.

"Chief," he said sharply, reaching for Blair's arm, "You're hurt!"

"Just a piece of glass in my shoulder," Blair gasped.

"Let me see." Gently, Jim turned Blair around and ran his fingers over the other man's back and shoulders. Sandburg stiffened and gave a little gasp of pain. "Damn," Jim swore.

"What?" Blair's voice was trembling.

"That's not a piece of glass, Chief. That's a bullet."

** ** **

The waiting area was twelve paces deep, twenty paces long. Jim knew this because he had paced both ways repeatedly since arriving at the hospital with Blair and Richie. The younger men were being cared for now and no one had come to give the detective any information yet.

His boss, Simon Banks, had been and gone already, promising to get units out looking for the gunman. Both he and Jim knew it would probably be a wasted effort; the heavy rain had prohibited Jim from seeing the man very clearly or catching the license plate of his car. The only things that Jim was sure about was that the assailant had been male, approximately five-ten, and that his hair had been blond, almost silver blond.

"Detective Ellison?"

Jim looked up to see a tired-looking, middle-aged woman wearing a white lab coat over green surgical scrubs. She approached him with her hand outstretched. "Dr. Patsy Kinser. You're with Blair Sandburg?"

"How is he?" Jim demanded.

"He's going to be just fine. The bullet barely lodged in his shoulder, we got it out with only a local anesthetic. He's a little shocky, but that may be more from the circumstances than the injury. I'd like to keep him here for a couple of hours, just to be on the safe side, but we probably don't need to admit him."

Jim drew in a deep breath and let it out in relief. "That's good news, Doctor. Thank you so much. How about the other one? Richie Ryan?"

"I don't know, I didn't work on him. I believe he's going to be admitted, but his doctor should be with you shortly."

"Can I see Blair?"

"Sure. He's in Treatment Room 7."

** ** **

Blair had been given a mild sedative and was groggy, but still worried about Richie. Jim soothed him as well as he was able, then when Sandburg drifted off to sleep the detective went looking for someone who could tell him about the teenager. Surprisingly, that someone turned out to be the same doctor that had seen the youth the first time. "Well, Detective, I get my way this time," Dr. Green said with grim humor. "I'm going to admit Richie to the hospital."

"How is he?"

"He has several cuts from the glass, a couple required stitches. One cut near his jugular could have been very bad indeed. But I think it will heal without even scarring. He's drifting in and out of consciousness. Would you mind speaking with him? He's very worried about you and Mr. Sandburg and he doesn't seem to believe me when I tell him you're both fine."

Jim felt vaguely ashamed of himself. Part of him had been blaming Richie for Blair getting hurt. He followed Dr. Green into another cubicle, this one with blue walls instead of green.

Richie was again hooked up to an IV and monitors. His eyes were bleary and unfocused and there were dressings on his neck and both hands. When he caught sight of Jim he started to struggle upwards. Jim gently pushed him back. "Easy, kid, don't try to move around."

"You're okay?" Richie asked faintly. "Blair?"

Jim patted his shoulder. "He's okay. Down the hall, but he'll be out of here in a couple of hours. They're going to have to admit you this time, Richie."

The blue eyes were filled with fear. "No--"

"They have to, kid. No argument." He paused. "Richie, I need to know what's going on. Somebody tried to kill us. But I don't think they were after 'us'; I think they were after you. Is that right?"

After a long moment, Richie nodded, then his eyes drifted shut. "Richie? Do you know who it is?"

There was no response.

"Detective?"

Jim turned around. Dr. Green was standing just inside the doorway. "These people say they are Richie's family."

Jim tensed and reached automatically for his gun. A woman came in first, tall, beautiful, with long blonde hair and warm eyes which widened with anguish when they saw Richie. She would have raced to the bed if Jim hadn't moved to stop her. "Ma'am, just one second--"

"Detective Ellison? I am Duncan MacLeod." It was the same faintly accented voice he'd heard twice before over the phone.

Jim let go of the woman, who promptly slipped to Richie's side, picking up his hand and speaking softly in French to the unconscious teen. Jim studied the man who'd entered the room behind her. Long, dark hair, pulled back. Tall, his own height or maybe taller, but a little thinner. Jim correctly concluded that the body under those expensive but casual clothes was in excellent condition.

MacLeod's focus, like the woman's, was on Richie Ryan. He swiftly moved past Ellison to the other side of the bed, where he laid his hand lightly on the boy's forehead. Jim moved so he could see his face. In that second he revised his opinion of Mr. Duncan MacLeod somewhat. No matter what else might be going on, the man obviously cared deeply about the boy.

"Hey, Tough Guy," Jim heard him whisper. The woman, a brilliant smile lighting her face, reached over and grasped his free hand.

The monitor gave a slight "blip" and Jim noticed that Richie's pulse and respiration had elevated slightly. After several seconds his eyes opened. The detective watched with interest as the boy first focused on MacLeod, then the woman, then back at MacLeod.

It was an amazing thing. The fear that had been in Richie's eyes ever since the first time Jim had noticed him slid away. "Mac?" the boy whispered. "I'm not dreaming? You're really here?"

"We're really here," MacLeod confirmed gently. "And we'll stay right here until you're ready to go home."

"Home?" The boy's eyes filled with tears. "You mean, back to Seacouver, back to the shop?"

"Home, Richie. Back home with us."

"Where you belong," the woman added, leaning closer to the bed. Richie moved his head slightly to look at her and his face shadowed. "Don't cry, Tess," he protested, apparently not realizing there were tears brimming in his own eyes.

Behind them Dr. Green cleared his throat. "We'll be moving him up to his room in a few minutes. I'm going to step out to the desk; just ring the bell if you need anything."

MacLeod looked up and nodded his head. Then he saw Ellison, apparently realizing for the first time the detective was still in the room. He frowned, puzzled.

Jim briskly stepped to the foot of the bed, ignoring the voice inside that urged him to step out and let this family reunite in peace. "I'm glad you're here, Mr. MacLeod. I was just asking Richie... who is trying to kill him? And why?"

MacLeod stiffened. For a brief flash Jim wondered if he was going to protest. The expression on Jim's face must have deterred him because he turned back to the teenager in the bed. MacLeod patted Richie's shoulder. "It's going to be all right, Rich. Just tell Detective Ellison what you saw."

Richie sighed. "You know, Mac?"

"I know you were hiding out at the warehouse."

Richie squinted a little in the harsh fluorescent light. His eyes were fixed on MacLeod's face as he whispered, "I saw him shoot the guy. Mac, it was like a movie, the guy was tied up in a chair and, he... he just picked up the gun and shot him in the head.... I don't know how many times." The kid's words were slurred and hard to understand, as if he had a mouth full of Novocain.

Jim's senses picked up something and he frowned. Glancing up at the monitors, he saw that the readings looked quite different from before. His glance fled back to Richie. The teenager was even more pale and his eyes were tightly slammed shut. "Man, my head is pounding.... I'm--quick, I'm gonna--"

Ellison and MacLeod both reacted swiftly. MacLeod snatched a basin from the counter and the detective gently moved the woman out of the way, then rolled Richie onto his side. MacLeod supported the kid's head as he vomited green liquid into the bowl. "Richie?" the Scot asked, his voice concerned. "Richie!" There was no response.

Jim shot another look at the monitors just as a red light started flashing and an alarm sounded. "Damn," he swore, stabbing the call button. When no one appeared immediately, he barked at the woman, "Go out there and get somebody. Tell them we've got a problem."

The woman looked from him to Richie. MacLeod was close to the kid's face, patting his cheeks and calling his name urgently. "What's wrong?" the woman said, her voice rising in anxiety.

"GO!" Jim roared.

Tessa Noel blinked, then before she could move, the curtain was jerked back and medical personnel spilled into the room. Dr. Green took one look at the monitor board before yanking MacLeod away so he could take his place. "Richie! Come on, Richie, answer me!" Pulling a penlight from his pocket, he pried open an eyelid and flashed the light into it, swore softly, then repeated the action with the other eye. "Donna!" he snapped at the nurse who had relieved MacLeod of the basin and was pouring the contents down the sink. "Page Neurology and get someone down here STAT!" He directed another nurse to start Richie on oxygen before looking at the three petrified adults. "Step outside, please."

"What's happening!" MacLeod demanded, his faced suddenly drained of all color.

"I'll be with you as soon as I can, but right now you need to give us some room to work."

Ellison put a hand on MacLeod's elbow. The other man jerked free. "Look, MacLeod, they need to take care of Richie." He all but dragged the other man from the room. Tessa had already exited and was standing in the middle of the hallway, her arms wrapped tightly around herself and terror plain on her face. Not knowing what else to do, Jim guided both of them down to the little alcove where there were a few chairs and a machine that dispensed coffee, water, hot chocolate and ice.

** ** **

Although he didn't know it, Duncan MacLeod was perfectly mirroring Jim Ellison's actions of earlier as he paced back and forth across the small waiting area. Tessa sat quietly in a chair, styrofoam cup of coffee clutched in her hands, staring at the abstract painting on the wall with the intent gaze she usually reserved for Great Masters. Ellison had vanished somewhere. They'd heard nothing in the hour since they had been evicted from Richie's room.

In his four hundred years of life, Duncan had never mastered the art of waiting patiently while someone he cared for was in danger. And he did care for Richie. He wasn't sure when or how that had happened; he'd originally only taken an interest in the kid because he and Connor had both sensed Richie would be Immortal someday. Duncan had promised his kinsman he would keep an eye on the kid, be there for him when the time came. He didn't plan on making Richie a part of his family, his life, until he'd tracked the kid down and realized fully just how alone he was.

A would-be thief Richie might be, but he had pride and he refused MacLeod's offer of money to find himself a decent room. Not knowing what else to do, Duncan offered him a job, overriding Richie's derisive protests by pointing out Richie knew the truth about Immortals, therefore it was in his own best interest to keep him out of trouble. There was, he'd gone on, making his tone as menacing as possible, only one other option. From the way the kid's eyes widened, MacLeod knew he'd assumed what the Immortal wanted him to assume.

So Richie came to work in the shop, and two days later when Social Services showed up, belatedly worried about a minor living on his own, MacLeod forestalled a mess by moving Richie and his few possessions into the spare room and petitioning the court for temporary custody until Richie reached eighteen.

Tessa had been reluctant at first and the first few days had been uncomfortable, with Tessa alternating between suspicion and resentment, and Richie exhausting himself and everyone around him with his nervous hyperactivity and chatter. Then Duncan had to go to Spokane overnight on business. Something happened during that time, neither Tessa or Richie would tell him what, but when he arrived home late Sunday afternoon it was to the shocking sight of the two of them cheerfully playing Monopoly in the kitchen with a giant bowl of popcorn on the table between them.

From then on Tessa was Richie's staunchest defender; he, in turn, regarded her with an affection that was palpable. Sometimes Duncan almost felt left out.

And then the Immortal who called herself Felicia Martins had invaded their lives.

Footsteps in the hall had MacLeod turning to the doorway, but it was only Ellison with another man in tow, a young man with long, curly hair; rather pale and with his arm in a sling. Mac realized he must be Blair Sandburg, who had been injured in the shooting outside his home. Ellison made the introductions and Sandburg shook MacLeod's hand. Then he sat down next to Tessa and started speaking to her in a low, concerned voice.

"Have you heard anything?" Ellison asked. The cop looked tired and MacLeod realized he couldn't have had much, if any, sleep the night before.

"No," he answered.

Ellison rubbed a hand along his short dark hair. "Look, MacLeod, I need to ask you some questions."

"Not now!"

"Yes, *now!* Richie was describing a murder in there, from what I heard. Somebody tried to kill him, and could have killed Sandburg and I in the process. I think I deserve to know what the hell is going on!"

"Detective Ellison--"

"Call him Jim," a voice offered from the other side of the room. Both men turned to see Blair Sandburg sitting beside Tessa, watching them quietly.

Ellison glared at the young man for a second, then his lip quirked in something like a smile and he glanced back at MacLeod. "Jim," he said.

MacLeod relaxed the stiff set of his shoulders. "Jim," he agreed.

"Do you prefer Duncan or Mac?" Blair prodded.

"Either one. Richie calls me Mac." The Immortal hesitated, feeling he should say something more to this young man with the intense blue gaze. "I-- thank you for helping Richie. I'm grateful. And I'm sorry about your injury."

Blair grinned. "I have a feeling that I'd better get used to bullets flying around," he quipped. "But you're welcome. I like Richie."

"So do we," Tessa chimed in softly. Blair patted her hand.

MacLeod looked back at the police detective and sighed, trying to put his thoughts in some kind of order. These two men had been sucked into this snafu because they'd tried to help Richie. It was only right that he tell Ellison the truth, or at least an edited version of it. "I'll tell you what I know. But a lot of it is guesswork.

"You've gathered that Richie lives with us? A young woman with, umm, connections to my business was visiting. She wanted something of mine and she tried to use Richie to get it. When he found out, he was pretty upset, and also, I think *he* thought I was angry. Well, no, he was right about that, I *was* angry. So instead of coming home he took off. I own a warehouse near the waterfront. I think that's where Richie was hiding out. I found some things that suggested he'd been there."

What Felicia Martins had *really* wanted was MacLeod's head. She had passed herself off as a new Immortal when in actuality she was hundreds of years old, an active player in the Game. She'd seduced Richie, convinced him to run away with her, and used him as bait. Duncan's katana had been thirsty for her blood, its owner disgusted and enraged both at Richie's gullibility and his own culpability for putting the boy at risk in the first place. Only Richie's pleas had kept MacLeod from killing Felicia, and the Highlander was still wondering if he might someday regret that decision.

Ellison had been quiet, apparently reviewing MacLeod's story. Now his pale blue eyes narrowed. "Near the waterfront? And Richie said somebody was tied to a chair and shot in the head." He paused. "He saw who killed Senator Markham Bolt?"

Duncan nodded. "I think so."

"And now the killer is after him. But how would the killer know who Richie is?" Ellison demanded.

MacLeod quickly told him about the man who had come into the shop with Richie's card, of course leaving out that the man was an Immortal. "Richie had just picked up those cards a few days before, and he'd already run away by the time the man said he'd waited on him. I know Richie had some of the cards with him and I found one at the warehouse."

"And the assassin found one too," Ellison finished. He glanced at Tessa. "Can you give a description to a police artist?"

Her eyes widened. "Why didn't I think of that? I can draw him for you myself!"

"Are you an artist?"

Blair snorted. "Forgive him, Miss Noel, Jim isn't exactly up on the art world. Jim, this is Tessa Noel! She's the sculptress the University has just commissioned to do the centennial exhibit."

"Oh," Ellison answered. He looked at MacLeod, lost. "Can she draw?" he whispered.

Duncan felt his lips twitch. "She can draw," he assured the detective.

Dr. Green entered the room followed by another man, this one older and with a shock of white hair. "Mr. MacLeod, Ms. Noel. Can we sit down? I'm afraid the news is not very good."

**********************

"Surgery!" Tessa gasped, gripping Duncan's hand tightly. "Isn't that dangerous?"

"We have no choice, Ms. Noel." The older doctor, who'd introduced himself as Dr. Jones, a neurosurgeon, pointed again to the X-ray of Richie's skull. "The blood clot is dangerously close to the brain stem. It could shift at any time, without warning, and in all probability the boy would be dead within seconds."

Duncan shook his head, trying to clear it. The doctor's words were ringing in his head, ominous words like "fenestration", "aerate" and "cerebral vascular accident". He stared at the X-ray film, at the tiny spot that was the object of so much concern. "It looks so little," he murmured, not even aware he was speaking out loud.

The neurosurgeon shot him a quick glance. "It is little, but it's in absolutely the worst possible place. All autonomic functions, life-sustaining functions, are controlled from the brain stem. Think of it as a sophisticated computer, millions of dollars worth of technology and something as simple and as innocent as dust on the wrong chip can cause the whole thing to malfunction."

"Why didn't this show up before?" Blair Sandburg asked. Duncan had almost forgotten that he was still in the room. Ellison was too, but he had retreated to a corner and was speaking urgently into a cell phone.

"The clot didn't form immediately," Green answered. Duncan thought he saw a flash of something cross Blair's face. The doctor apparently saw it too, because he said firmly, "It wasn't anybody's fault. That clot would have formed even if he'd spent the night in the hospital. It was just a fluke, we wouldn't have seen it because we wouldn't have been looking for it, not there."

That didn't make sense and MacLeod frowned. "What do you mean?"

Jones answered, "It's called a displacement injury. It's rare. See, the actual impact to Richie's head in the original incident was here," he pointed to an area on the X-ray. "That resulted in a concussion and some mild edema -- swelling-- both of which were noticed by Kyle, Dr. Green here, and his team."

Duncan nodded to show that he was following the explanation. Jones went on, "But incidents to the brain don't occur in isolation; there was an increase in, well, in pressure, for lack of a better word. So the brain tried to find ways of routing around the injured area; in affect, the brain itself caused the clot."

MacLeod opened his mouth to speak, closed it again and swallowed hard, trying to coax some moisture into the tissues. "The risks?" he finally managed. "This surgery, digging around in his brain... If something goes wrong--" he couldn't complete the thought. Visions of Richie, paralyzed, brain damaged, eventually doomed to become Immortal... how long would he last like that in the Game?

The two doctors exchanged glances. "Mr. MacLeod," Dr. Jones finally said, very softly, "Because of where the clot is, and Richie's overall condition right now, if something goes wrong -- he'll die on the operating table."

"Oh, God," Tessa whispered, her voice stricken. She buried her face in Duncan's shirt and he could feel her trembling. His own mind was filled with horrifying images. Richie was too young, damn it! Too young to become Immortal At barely eighteen his body wasn't even fully developed yet; not to mention his emotional state, battered and scarred after a lifetime spent in the clutches of an uncaring system.

Automatically, as if he was watching from outside his body, Duncan saw himself scrawling his signature on papers attached to a clipboard. Following Tessa and the doctor into the room where Richie was being prepped for the surgery that would either save his mortal life or end it.

Tessa had managed to pull herself together. Ignoring the preparations going on around him, she went directly to Richie's bedside and knelt beside it, talking very softly in his ear. Duncan stood behind her, holding Richie's slack hand, trying to infuse the boy with strength.

Tessa was speaking in French. Duncan listened and smiled. She was exhorting the boy to fight, to get better, telling him of all the things they had planned to do: the opera, the ballet, the wonders of the holiday season.

It was doubtful if Richie would exert much effort for the opera or the ballet, but it would take a far more blasé heart than his to turn away from what Tessa had planned for Christmas.

"Does he speak French?" someone asked. MacLeod turned to see a young woman had entered the room carrying a covered tray. Her English was perfect, but there was just the faintest touch of something there that told Duncan it was not her native tongue.

"No," he answered quietly, looking at Tessa with love and his eyes. "But he'll know what she's saying."

The woman smiled and nodded, waiting until Tessa had stopped speaking. Then she stepped to the side of the bed. "It's almost time, the orderlies will he here to take him to the O.R."

Tessa looked at her, nodded and bent back to Richie's still face. "It will be all right, Richie," she murmured to him, kissing his forehead. "We'll be right here waiting for you when you get back. And when you feel better we will have a little talk about young men who run away from home and don't even bother to clean up their rooms first." She kissed him again.

MacLeod looked down at the still figure of the boy and knew he had to say something. He squeezed the lax hand tightly. "You heard her, Richie. We'll be right here waiting for you." He paused, feeling the tightness in his throat. "Hang in there, Tough Guy," he said finally, his voice husky.

He stepped away from the bed, pulling Tessa with him. The other girl gave him a reassuring smile as she reached under the cover on the tray and pulled out a razor.

Tessa stiffened. "What are you going to do with *that?*" she choked out.

Confused, the girl looked from Tessa to the razor. "I have to shave where the incision will be."

"Tessa, sweetheart, they have to do it. You know that," MacLeod whispered in her ear.

"I know... I just --" she stopped and took a deep, unsteady breath, ignoring the tears that were once again spilling down her cheeks. "You be careful," she warned the girl, trying to force a smile. "Our Richie is very particular about his hair."

The girl gave her an understanding smile. "I will."

There was a light knock on the door and Dr. Green stepped in followed by a couple of orderlies pushing a gurney. He looked at them both. Tessa took a deep breath, then let go of Duncan's hand and walked out of the room. As MacLeod was following her, Green caught him by the arm. "Mr. MacLeod, if it's any help, Dr. Jones is the best. If Richie was my son, Jones is the one I'd have doing the operation. If anybody can do this, he can."

** ** **

Richie had been in surgery over two hours when Jim Ellison found MacLeod in the Surgical floor waiting room. The Highlander was sitting in a chair, his elbows resting on his knees, staring unseeingly at the television set. "Good movie?" Ellison asked lightly, sitting down in the next chair.

MacLeod blinked. "I suppose," he answered flatly.

"Where's Ms. Noel?"

"Your friend Blair went down to the cafeteria with her for awhile. You should talk him into going home, Detective -- he doesn't look well."

Jim noted the "Detective" rather than his first name. He stretched out his legs. "Sandburg is a bit stubborn. He won't go anywhere until he knows how the surgery went. Besides, I don't think his place is all that safe at the moment."

"I guess it wouldn't be." MacLeod took his eyes of the TV to look at Ellison. "Did you report what Richie saw? I'm surprised the hospital isn't full of FBI agents."

"My captain called the Seacouver PD and spoke with the detective in charge of the investigation. Oddly enough the FBI isn't involved, yet. We have some plainclothes in the hospital and a pair of uniforms outside the Operating Room. I'd like to assign an officer to Ms. Noel, too."

MacLeod sat us straight, alarmed. "Tessa? Why?"

"Well, she did see the suspect," Jim pointed out. "That was an excellent picture she drew, it reproduced very well. We're running it though the computer now. I'm betting this guy is a pro, a hired killer."

MacLeod frowned. "What makes you say that?"

"The weapons, for one thing. Last night he was shooting at us with an extremely high powered rifle; the bullet that hit Sandburg was fired from the roof of a seven-floor building several hundred feet away; the bullet traveled through the roof of the car, through the seat and still had enough velocity to wound Sandburg. That's military issue or maybe Russian manufacture, not what you can buy at the local gun shop."

"I've been wondering about something you said earlier," MacLeod said suddenly.

"What?"

"How *did* the killer know Richie was in Cascade? How'd Richie get here, anyway?"

"Bus," Ellison answered promptly. "I found the ticket. He took the 11:15 bus from Seacouver, arrived in Cascade about four a.m. Checked into the Madison Motel between six and seven in the morning, then as best I can tell, he laid low until he walked two blocks to that diner to eat. I met Sandburg there about two-thirty and we'd been there maybe fifteen, twenty minutes when Richie came in."

MacLeod frowned. "The news said Bolt was killed sometime late Tuesday night or very early Wednesday morning?"

"Yeah. The body was found at three ten. M.E. report estimates time of death between ten p.m. and two a.m.; something about weather conditions that night made it difficult to pin down. But since Richie saw the murder it had to be before eleven-fifteen." Ellison frowned in turn. "How far is the warehouse from the bus station?"

"About a half mile. But," MacLeod added slowly, "that area is really deserted. Especially at that time of night. The bus station would have been the closest place for help, or to find a phone."

"Does Richie have a car?"

MacLeod shook his head. "He has a motorcycle, but it's parked in the alley behind our shop and it has been all week. He was on foot that night."

"So what do you think happened?" Ellison prodded.

MacLeod was silent for a few moments, busy with his own thoughts. "We've been having a big problem with vagrants breaking into the building," he said finally. "I turned off the water and put a lock on the main. Richie doesn't have a key to that lock; the only time he would go there normally would be with me. So he would have had to get water from somewhere else."

"I see. So Richie was at Bolt's warehouse for water and he saw the killing? Then ran?"

"Well, running would have been Richie's first impulse in that situation," MacLeod said dryly. "And not that bad of an idea. He knows the area well enough, he would have realized the closest reasonably safe place would be the bus station." Rocketing through Duncan's head was the thought, 'If the Immortal who came to the shop was the killer, he might have been able to sense Richie as a pre-Immortal.'

"But that doesn't make sense, MacLeod," the detective argued. "What you're saying is that Richie sees a prominent public figure being murdered. He runs away, headed to the nearest place he could get help, which is the bus station. The bus station where there is *always* a police officer on duty. But instead of telling the officer what he's seen, Richie jumps on a bus to Cascade? Why Cascade?"

"Offhand, I'd say because that happened to be the next bus leaving," Duncan said with a humorless grin. "You don't know Richie; he doesn't trust the police. If he thought the killer was right behind him, and the bus was there, getting ready to leave, he'd jump on it. And one other thing, he wouldn't have known it was Senator Bolt that was killed. Even if he was close enough to see the shooting, Richie wouldn't know his elected officials if they came up and shook his hand." MacLeod clenched his fist. "Damn! If he had just called me, maybe this all could have been avoided."

There wasn't anything Jim Ellison could say to that.

** ** **

The neurosurgeon had said Richie's surgery would take a minimum of three hours. For those three hours Tessa and MacLeod both seemed very calm. Tessa leafed through magazines she had bought downstairs in the gift shop and MacLeod borrowed her sketch pad and worked on what appeared to be a floor plan. From remarks he made Blair gathered the floor plan was their antique shop and he was planning how to rearrange the stock. A trained observer -- and Blair was one -- could tell that Tessa read each page two or three times before turning it. MacLeod seemed fascinated with moving around a suit of armor.

At three hours, ten minutes into the surgery, MacLeod put down the sketch pad, consulted an old-fashioned gold pocket watch, checked it against the diamond encrusted watch around Tessa' wrist, and started to pace.

Three hours, twenty two minutes. Tessa spread her magazine wide open and began folding each page inward.

Three hours, fifty minutes. Tessa reached into her bag, brought out a bottle of Cutex nail polish remover and some cotton balls, and began stripping the rose lacquer off her nails.

Four hours, five minutes: footsteps in the hall. Both Tessa and MacLeod froze in place as Dr. Jones strode into the room, still wearing surgical greens. He glanced around the room searchingly, spotted the two of them, and gave a large smile. "Everything went fine. Richie came through the surgery with flying colors."

Tessa emitted a choked little sob and turned to bury her face in MacLeod's chest. The Scot, face lit up in relief, wrapped one arm around her shoulders while firmly shaking the doctor's hand. "Thank you, doctor, thank you so much. When can we see him?"

"He'll be in Recovery for several hours. As I said, everything went well, but we'll want to monitor him very closely in ICU until he regains consciousness." The doctor sat down. "I'd like to speak with you about what you can expect in the next few days."

Forgotten for the moment, Blair let out his pent-up breath in a deep sigh. A wave of exhaustion swept over him, so profound that he actually felt his limbs tremble. His wounded shoulder suddenly throbbed as if it would remind him of its presence. He realized just how little sleep he'd had lately.

'Or food,' he silently added as his stomach sent up a violent clamoring.

He looked back over at MacLeod and Tessa. They were listening to the doctor intently. Smiling, Blair slipped out of the waiting room.

He was heading for the main entrance of the hospital when a familiar voice called his name. Surprised, Blair looked up to see Jim Ellison striding down the hall, a large manila envelope in his hand. "How's Richie?" the detective asked.

"The surgery is over; looks like he'll be just fine," Blair assured him in relief. "I'm gonna head home, man, hit the sack. I'll catch up with you later."

Jim grabbed his good arm. "Not so fast, Chief. You aren't going to your place until we catch our gunman." His face became grim. "They still up there?"

"You mean MacLeod and Tessa? Yeah, man, why?"

"Come with me," Jim answered shortly, setting off down the hallway toward the elevators.

He said nothing else until they arrived at the surgical waiting area. Dr. Jones was gone, but Tessa and MacLeod were in the same seats Blair had left them in, wrapped in each others arms. Jim gave a quick nod of his head to a dark-haired man that Blair had vaguely noticed earlier, assuming he was relative of another patient. Now he belatedly realized the man must be a plainclothes police officer.

"Detective -- Jim," MacLeod greeted him, "did Blair tell you that Richie is going to be all right?"

"He did. That is great news," Jim responded. He paused, then went on, "Ms. Noel, do you think you could look at some pictures for me?"

The blond lifted her head from the Highlander's chest to regard Jim through eyes that were bright with happiness even if tears were still spilling down her face. "Of course... pictures of what?"

For answer, Jim opened the envelope and pulled out a piece of flimsy fax paper. Blair could see enough to realize it was a black and white reproduction of a mug shot. "Is this the man that came to your shop?"

Tessa studied the picture, a tiny frown between her eyebrows. "It could be, but the quality of the picture is so poor. I can't say for sure."

"How about this one?"

This picture was color and much clearer than the previous one. Tessa gasped, "That's him!"

"Are you sure?" Jim asked intently.

"Yes, of course. The hair is even the same, that silver blond color."

Jim took a deep breath. Oddly enough, he didn't look happy about this positive identification. "Then we have a problem," he said.

"What's wrong, Jim?" Blair asked.

"The man in those photos was named Erik Lindstrom. South African national of Swedish parents, made his living as a high-dollar enforcer for the Gariboldi crime family out of Chicago."

"'Was'?" MacLeod asked, his tone flat.

"'Was'. Lindstrom was found shot to death, rumor has someone high up in the Gariboldi family started to suspect his loyalty." Jim sighed again. "So, Ms. Noel, you can see my problem with this -- you're identifying somebody who is dead, and who has been dead for the last eighteen months!"

**********************

Concluded in Part Three...